Anna glanced up to see Sam standing in the doorway of her bedroom. The interruption was surprising since he knew that she was hammering out a publicity campaign for Hallie’s project. She had warned Sam that interruptions stifled her creativity, and he had wisely given her space. His grave manner caused her hands to still over the keyboard.
“Sorry to interrupt, but I have news from Mark. He’s been trying to reach you. You weren’t responding to his text messages, so he called me.”
Anna grimaced. “My mistake. Under the circumstances I shouldn’t have turned my phone on mute. Does he want me to call him?”
“He’s going to be tied up for the next hour or so. He assumed that you were involved in a project, so he shared the latest developments in the case with me. Listen to his voice mail, and then join your parents and me in your dad’s office. There’s been a break in the case. I’ll give you the details when you join us.”
Anna closed down the program she was working on, and picked up her phone. “Be there in five.”
She was still reeling from the newly acquired information when she entered her dad’s office. All eyes remained on her as she took a seat.
“Anna, you’re deathly pale.” Her dad scrambled out of his chair, moved from behind his desk and put his hand on her shoulder in a protective manner.
Anna attempted to reassure him. “Thanks for your concern Dad. I’m confused and disappointed, but I’m okay. On a positive note, the news proves that I’m not paranoid. I’ll let Sam fill you in. If I have questions, or have anything to add, I’ll join the conversation.”
Her dad patted her shoulder, and then returned to his chair.
Sam stopped pacing and took a seat. “Disturbing news, folks. Mark turned over my surveillance reports to Officer Connelly, the police officer who investigated the car incident involving Anna. After he read the reports, and drilled Mark with questions, Rusty Miller—driver of the car—was picked up and questioned. It didn’t take long for him to give up the name of the man who hired him. It was none other than James Brennen.”
Anna’s dad asked, “Why does the name sound familiar?”
“He’s the Summerfield family lawyer.”
“The lawyer who handles the trusts, I presume.”
Sam nodded. “One and the same.”
Anna and her dad exchanged glances.
Sam continued his narrative, “Miller was insistent that the car incident was an ill-advised scare tactic. He’s a free-lance photographer who’s worked on and off for Brennen for more than five years. On the rare occasion that Brennen needs photos, Miller is the preferred photographer.”
Anna asked, “What about the restaurant incident? Is he the guy who gave me a ten-dollar bill to replace my drink, and then stole the cup and straw that I’d been using?”
“He is. The photos he provided Brennen were excellent. Miller handled the job so well, that Brennen asked him if he would be willing to collect a sample of your DNA. The cloak and dagger assignment appealed to Miller, so he said yes. He didn’t want to break into your house, so he had to come up with another option. Hence, the spilled drink incident.
“Then, in late April, Brennen approached him about a third job. Miller considered the job borderline illegal, so he wasn’t gung-ho about taking it on. The money was good, and he was in debt, so he reluctantly agreed. Initially, his plan was to leave a note—one that disparaged the Summerfields—on your front door.
“He was still trying to come up with a way to get the message across without actually issuing a threat. He was running a personal errand when he spotted you coming out of the Dandridge & Roberts Advertising Agency. He made a spur of the moment decision to veer toward you. He had bugged your car, so he knew that you were already on edge. He hoped that you would blame either Beth or Ben for the supposed attempt on your life. He, of course, assumed wrong.”
“What about the other car incident in the Foundation’s parking lot? Did Miller plan to cut my brake line?”
“No. He was removing the listening device that he’d put in your car. He planned to head back to Clinton until he learned that the police were looking for him.”
Anna couldn’t contain anger, “I can understand Miller’s part in this charade, but it’s hard to believe that Brennen would betray Ben and Beth knowing the trauma they have experienced.”
Sam said, “If he embezzled money from Jessica’s trust fund, hiding his actions would take precedence over his friendship with them.”
Anna shook her head. “I don’t buy embezzlement. Ben has kept an eye on the trust funds for years, so it’s unlikely that there are fund irregularities.”
“If not embezzlement, what’s his motive?”
“Beats me. James has been like a protective uncle to Ben and Beth. He’s given both of them free advice on several occasions, and he and his wife frequently get together with the Summerfields during the holidays.”
Sam began pacing again. “A reputable attorney would never do something unethical without a compelling reason. Some of the facts have to be missing. I refuse to believe that his objection to you is personal. For one thing, he’s never met you. For another, lawyers normally don’t make a decision until they have heard both sides of a case.”
“I have no way of knowing whether he’s honest or corrupt, but if keeping me out of Ben and Beth’s lives is his idea of being protective, he doesn’t know the meaning of the word. There’s another loose end that keeps nagging at me. If Miller was following me before Mark and I made the trip to Virginia, how did Brennen know where to find me? How long has he known my whereabouts?”
“Mark caught that too. As for Brennen’s behavior, the people we care about sometimes disappoint us. Ben is disappointed, but he’s also livid. Unless Brennen can come up with a plausible explanation for his actions, a lifelong friendship is going to be destroyed.
“Ben set up an appointment to see the lawyer at one o’clock tomorrow. Mark asked that I sit in on the meeting. At first, Ben wouldn’t agree, but then he recognized the value of having a security minded person accompany him. He agreed to meet me at the Asheville airport at seven tomorrow morning.”
“Anna asked, “Will you be flying to Clinton on a commercial flight?”
“No. Ben will be piloting one of Mark’s charter planes.”
Anna’s dad broke his silence. “Don’t be surprised if it’s a wasted trip. My guess is that Brennen is trying to cover up some kind of illegal activity. If so, he’ll likely plead the fifth when questioned. You’ll probably have to do some digging to find out his motive.”
“That was my assumption.” Sam said. “Ben doesn’t agree. He thinks that he can convince Brennen to come clean. Anyway, it’s worth a try.”
Anna frowned. “I hope that you don’t plan to confront the lawyer without police back-up. If the man is willing to risk his stellar reputation, he must be desperate. He might even be dangerous if he’s cornered.”
“Ben contacted Officer Rick Stanton, a detective with the Clinton police department. He and his partner were part of the team that investigated the Summerfield murders, and Stanton has never given up hope that the murderer would be caught and prosecuted. Over the years, he’s make it his mission to track down every lead that has come across his desk.
“Ben checks in with him a couple of times a year, so they have established a good relationship. Stanton has agreed to talk to Ben and me before we confront Brennen. Between the three of us, we should be able to come up with a workable plan. Brennen is not the violent type, so we don’t actually expect trouble.”
Anna had been closely watching her dad’s expressive face, so she wasn’t surprised when he voiced concern about Sam’s departure. “I don’t like the idea of Anna being here at the farm without some kind of protection.”
“Relax. Rusty won’t be released until Ben reports back to the Raleigh police.”
Anna's face lit up. “Good, then there's no reason why I should continue to hang out at the farm. I'm needed at the Foundation.”
“They'll manage. Until Officer Connelly gives a go ahead, we can't guarantee your safety. Consider the extra vacation days an early Christmas gift.”