Familiar Face

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Chapter 19

Chapter 19

Brennen & Starkweather’s law office in Clinton, Iowa:

The administrative assistant’s wide smile and twinkling eyes greeted Ben and Sam when they entered the offices of Brennen & Starkweather. Her warm expression left no doubt in Sam’s mind that Ben was a favorite of hers. “Ben Summerfield, get over here and give me a hug. It’s been ages since you’ve honored us mere mortals with a visit.” She rose from her chair and threw her arms around him. "You get better looking every time I see you, young man. It’s a good thing my daughters have boyfriends, or I’d be trying to set you up with one of them.” She turned to include Sam in the conversation. “And, I see that you’ve brought a friend with you. Are you going to introduce us?”

Ben ginned. “Sam’s a schmoozer, Madalyn. I’ll introduce him if you promise not to be taken in by his sweet talk.”

“He’s handsome, too. Where good-looking men are concerned. You can never have too many in your life.”

Sam stuck out his hand. “I’m Sam Weston, Madalyn. I’m not interested in your daughters, but if there comes a time when you are available, give me a call.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Sam.”

Ben cut in, “Madalyn is the advice queen, Sam. She raised six children, and they are all well-adjusted, gainfully employed and happy.”

Madalyn blushed. “All it took was love and the co-operation of a good man who has a gruff voice and a strong constitution. All this non-sense aside, welcome to Brennen & Starkweather, Sam. Any friend of Ben’s is welcome here.”

She turned back to Ben. “James is running late. There are several files that he would like for you to review while you are waiting. I’ve put the files in the board-room. There’s a pot of coffee brewing, and I set out a plate of those brownies that you’re so fond of. I baked them especially for you. If you and Sam need anything else, just give me a buzz.”

Ben looked confused. “I don’t know anything about files. What are they, and why does he want my opinion?”

“I have no idea. James said that you would understand. The boardroom is the second door on the right. I’d walk down with you, but I need to be at my desk to greet one of Mr. Starkweather’s clients.”

Ben gave her another quick hug. “I know the way. It’s really good to see you, Madalyn.”

Ben approached the conference table, picked up the files and glanced at the labels. “Miller must have called James with his one phone call. The top file is labeled Miller’s Reports. So much for the element of surprise.”

He handed the folder to Sam. “Why don’t you review this one. You are more familiar with Miller’s movements than I am.”

“What’s in the other files.”

Ben picked up the second file folder “It’s labeled Harrison Brennen. Harrison is James’ dad. Odd that James should ask me to review his file. I man died when I was quite young."

He picked up the remaining file. “And, this file is labeled PI Reports. Here’s a mystery for you. These reports are those of a PI Harrison hired . . . a year after the murders of my mom and dad. James obviously has access to information that he hasn’t shared with Beth and me, and I’m curious about why.”

Sam nodded. “He’s sharing it now. Why don’t we see if we can get through these files before he arrives.”

Ben crossed the room to the buffet, poured a mug of coffee and put a brownie on one of the napkins Madalyn had provided. “You’ve got to try one of these brownies. If you like chocolate, you’ll love these.” He moved back to the head of the conference table and picked up the file labeled Harrison Brenner. “Might as well get started.”

Moments later Sam heard an anguished groan.

Sam’s eyes flew to Ben’s deathly pale face. Sam had seen similar expressions on the faces of fellow Seals after they returned from a mission that ended with a loss of life. “What is it, Ben?”

Ben handed him a letter. “I thought I was prepared for the worst, but I was wrong.”

Sam scanned the letter:

Dear James,

As my Power of Attorney, son, it will fall to you to do what I could not. After my death, the folders wherein should be given to the police officer who investigated the Summerfield murders.

This letter is my formal confession.

I could give you a whole host of reasons for my despicable actions—gambling and alcohol abuse head the list —but, none are excusable. I’ll just lay out the facts. After a night of heavy drinking, I hired a man named Leon Hicks to get Dr. Richard Summerfield out of my life. The plea was made by a drunken man who was angry. I remember almost nothing about that night, but I do vaguely remember telling my drinking partner that all of my problems would be solved if I didn’t have to deal with Richard. What I didn’t bother to tell Hicks was that I alone created the problem.

Richard’s career as a cardiologist prohibited him from spending more than a few hours a week in his office at Summerfield Industries, but he did periodically check the books. Richard’s dad was still President of the company at that time, so the company was thriving. As CFO, I was able to embezzle $100,000 from the business without detection. I paid the money back, but that doesn’t excuse my actions. (I needed the money to pay my gambling debts) During one of Richard’s checks, he noticed inconsistencies. He called me into his office and demanded an explanation. The long and short of it is that I betrayed my friend’s trust.

He didn’t have me charged with embezzlement, but he did threaten to speak to the CEO and his dad. In order to remain with the company, I had to spend a month in an addiction rehabilitation center.

That evening I went on my drunken spree. When I finally sobered up the next day, I remembered my conversation with Hicks. I was horrified. My attempt to locate Hicks was to no avail. Three days later I received a call from him demanding payment for the job. Words can’t describe what I went through when I realized that I was responsible not only for Richard’s and Claire’s deaths, but for the kidnapping of Jessica.

I haven’t had a moment’s peace since, and I haven’t been able to forgive myself. I’ve tried to make amends to society, but there’s no way to undo betrayal.

You’re strong, James. Please use your strength to help your mother, sister’s family, and the Summerfield’s get past this.

I love you,

Words were inadequate. Nothing Sam could say would lessen Ben’s hurt or his anger. On the other hand, remaining silent wasn’t an option. Unless Ben cooled down before James arrived, the situation could spiral out of control. He kept his remarks professional. “I’ve read the police files and the newspaper accounts of the murders, and I don’t remember seeing Harrison Brennen’s name.”

“The Summerfield’s and the Brennen’s were close. Since my dad didn’t report the embezzlement, the police had no way of knowing what Harrison had a motive for murder. I’m fairly certain that he were never questioned.”

“Is Harrison still alive?”

“He suffered a life-threatening heart attack a few months ago, but as far as I know, he’s still alive.”

“If you want to rant, I’ll listen, but you need to bring your emotions under control before James walks through that door. Putting a fist through a wall might satisfy your anger, but anger will further complicate and an already complicated case. We need answers. There are blanks that need to be filled in.”

“It’s not anger that I’m feeling, Sam. In the past, when I’ve needed advice and encouragement, I’ve gone to either Uncle Jamie or James. I call them the X Factor. Both men have been there for me during the good times and the bad.

“When Mark told me that James hired Miller, my initial reaction was disbelief. That morphed into anger, then disillusionment. I don’t agree with what James did, but now that I’ve seen these files, I know why he sent Miller to Raleigh. He’s stickler about authenticating evidence. He wouldn’t take an unknown PI’s reports as proof of Jessica' authenticity. He was protecting his dad, the same way he’s protected Beth and me.

“I feel acute grief for all of the people who will be devastated when the news about Harrison’s part in the murders gets out. Knowing James as I do, his reaction to the files was probably much the same as mine. James was being James when he sent Miller to check out Anna. He’s first and foremost a protector; has been all his life.”

“Are James and his dad close?”

“According to Uncle Jamie, James had a difficult childhood. His dad was a workaholic, and something of a tyrant. After the tragedy with my parents, his dad changed. He became a better husband and dad. He joined a church, and became a volunteer for several charitable organizations. Uncle Jamie says that Harrison is known as Clinton’s unofficial Father Confessor. Perhaps, he is able to understand the mistakes of others because of his past.

“I’ve been trying to think like James. If our positions were reversed, how would I react? What would I do? I honestly don’t know.”

Before Ben could complete his thought, James Brennen walked through the board-room door.

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