Ben bristled when James entered the boardroom, but he managed to hold his tongue. Sam, concerned about a contentious verbal battle before James had the opportunity to defend his actions, nudged Ben’s foot under the table. Ben frowned, but his hunched shoulders relaxed, and his sour expression softened.
Sam had familiarized himself with the law firm’s history in addition to reviewing Starkweather and Brennen’s background bios. The law firm, and the men who headed the firm, were held in high regard in Iowa. For his money, James’ photo on the firm’s website didn’t do him justice. He was in his late forties, but the only sign of aging was a sprinkling of gray in his dark blond hair. He possessed the kind of craggy features that appealed to strong women. His manner was confident but detached. Sam detected a flicker of wariness when James’ gaze met Ben’s. His greeting was terse, without warmth.
“I assume you’ve reviewed the files, Ben.”
Ben nodded. His tone of voice reflected his incredulity. “I’m . . . still in shock.”
“As am I. I was physically sick when I read the files last month. I’ve always believed that truth and justice go hand in hand. Now . . . I’m not so sure. Unfortunately, this is one of those times when the truth is brutal. Innocent people will be adversely affected when the truth is revealed.” James’ eyes turned to Sam. “I understand that your name is Sam Weston. Are you the same Sam, that Rusty mentioned in his reports?”
“One and the same. I’m here at the request of Mark Quinn, a co-worker and friend of Anna Kingston’s.”
James nodded. “I know the name. His dad, Senator Quinn, was a man of integrity. Mark’s character traits and philanthropic contributions have received less media attention, but his name is well-known in some circles. Anna’s lucky to have Quinn as an ally.”
“Anna doesn’t have a shortage of allies.
“That’s good to know. I see that you have Miller’s folder in front of you. Did you find any glaring discrepancies in his accounts?”
“Only in reference to the car incident. There are witnesses who claim that Anna would have been seriously injured or killed if a quick-thinking bystander hadn’t pushed her out of the way. They will testify if it becomes necessary.
"Did Rusty act on your orders, James?"
"If you don't believe anything else, Ben, believe this. Rusty acted immaturely. He used extraordinarily bad judgement, but he’s not a criminal. His instructions were to discourage Anna from going through with the DNA test . . . but not through threats.
"I hoped to delay the inevitable until after Dad's death."
"What exactly were your instructions, James?”
James stoic expression didn’t change. “To follow her.” He paused before adding, “Rusty placed a listening device in her car. From her conversations with friends, it was clear that Anna was skittish. She was rattled by the restaurant incident involving Rusty, but it was the incidents involving Philip Cantrell that concerned her the most. After the trip to Virginia, she was more vigilant, paid closer attention to the people around her.
“According to Miller, she didn’t zero in on him, but she told her friend Lindsey that someone was following her. She tried to convince herself that it was the person Mark Quinn hired to watch her back.”
James paused again, then looked at Ben. “She didn’t trust you and Beth, Ben. She felt that she was being pressured to send her DNA sample to you, and she questioned your motive. There was another reason for her resistance. She didn’t want to proceed until she had the complete support of her parents. She didn’t want to do anything that would cause them pain. She adores John and Bertie Kingston. The thought of a family that excludes the Kingston’s is unthinkable to her.”
Ben frowned. “Beth and I would never try to alienate her from her parents.”
“She hadn’t met you, Ben.”
“When a person is emotionally involved, objectivity is difficult. Over the years, I’ve gone out of my way to lessen the hurt and disillusionment of family members of the victims of crime and the family members of the perpetrators of crime. Now, that I fall into the latter category, I admit to being emotionally crippled by the criminal activity of my own father. I wanted to protect my family, and there were no good options.
“There’s no way to describe the last months except to say that I have been living in my own personal hell. My dad’s dying, Ben. Suddenly, I was doing double duty, managing his business affairs and mine. When I found the key to a safety deposit box, I fully expected to find documents that pertained to business transactions. Instead, I found secrets. Devastating secrets. I’ve tried to piece together as many facts as possible before turning the information over to you and Beth.
“Anna and Mark’s visit to Virginia panicked me. I agonized for days before I sent Miller to take photos of her. Initially, I just wanted to verify the reports of the PI my dad hired.”
“Why didn’t you contact the PI.”
“He’s no longer among the living.”
Ben’s voice sounded hollow, “What about the police? I’ve been in touch with Detective Stanton, so I know that the police haven’t seen the files.”
“I put off sharing the information with the police. I was thinking as a man, not a lawyer. I rationalized that there was no reason to reveal the truth until Dad died. We were told months ago that his death was imminent. Frankly, I didn’t want the police hanging around the hospital corridors. Mom’s not well. I’m not sure that she’s physically and emotionally able to deal with any more stress at this time.”
Ben asked, “Do you think that she was aware that he played a role in the murders of my parents?”
“No. It’s difficult to fathom, but Mom was unaware that he was drinking excessively and gambling. They were on the verge of divorce back then. When she wasn’t at the spa, she was on the tennis court or playing bridge. Dad's only interest seemed to be in his antique car collection. He spent most of his free time in the garage tinkering on his treasures. She claims that went for days without speaking.”
Ben said, “It’s hard to believe that anyone is that naïve.”
“Mom craves peace above all else. When there was dissention in our home, she let Dad handle the situation. She was a loving and giving mother and wife when Gina and I were growing up, but she was not a disciplinarian. If you ask her, she’ll tell you that they never had any major issues with Gina and me. That, of course, is not true.
“When we left home, she and Dad slipped into different roles. She became a lady of leisure and he took up fishing. His fishing trips, as I recently learned, were actually trips to Los Vegas for secret weekends of drinking and gambling. His bank account records suggest that there were other women, but only he knows for sure. Mom was a teetotaler, so our home was alcohol free during my childhood. Gambling was considered evil. Dad knew that she wouldn’t put up with either, so he hid his tracks well.
“I suspected that he was drinking, but I didn’t know about the gambling until I read his letter. What you might not know, Ben, is that my dad and I weren’t close until several years after the murders. Mom pampered us. Dad was the disciplinarian. We were expected to live by the house rules. When we didn’t, we were severely disciplined. I frequently broke the rules, so Dad and I were constantly at odds.
“After what the family refers to as his “come to Jesus” moment, he was a different man. Gradually, I learned to respect him, to be proud of him. What we didn’t know, was that it was the murders, not the rehab, that changed him.”
“Now that I know more about your dad’s personality, I find it astonishing that our dads were friends. They had nothing in common.”
“Except for one important fact. They lived in the same neighborhood when Richard’s family moved to Clinton. Dad was in college at the time, but according to Dad’s recollection, he spent lots of afternoons shooting hoops with Richard.”
James nodded. “I’ve told you what I know, Ben. If you have other questions, I’ll attempt to answer them. I’ll warn you though, my research has turned up very few facts, only rumors. I’m completely in the dark regarding many of the details. Maybe, there are some questions that are best left unanswered.”
Ben said, “Maybe. Have you discussed your dad’s letter with your sister Gina?”
“No. Since I opened the safety deposit box, Gina has spent more time in Clinton than she has in Seattle; most of that time sitting by Dad’s bedside. She’s determined to be there for him. Her husband and three teenage children have been patient, but they need her at home. She remains by Dad’s bedside because she idolizes him.
“As her brother, I realize how deeply she will be affected by the truth.”
Ben’s voice was strained. “I can’t fault you for your concern.”
“Don’t think that I’m letting myself off the hook, Ben. I readily admit that some of my reasons for the postponement were selfish. I had no intention of burying the information, but I did try to manipulate the time frame in which the information was released.
“The media loves scandal, so our family is going to have to deal with gossip and innuendo. I’ve already informed my clients that I’m taking early retirement. I hoped to be out of the city before the news broke. My family members are innocent. I hoped that it wouldn't be necessary for them to suffer because of Dad’s misdeeds?”
“Maybe Gina knows more than she admits.”
“I seriously doubt it. Gina met her husband Cal while they were in college, and they married the day after graduation. They moved to Seattle after their honeymoon, and they continue to live in the Seattle area. All of that to say, Gina had very little contact with our family during the calamitous years of Mom and Dad’s marriage. The tension between our parents during family get-togethers was evident to me, but Gina was oblivious.
“Since then, she and Dad have established a close relationship. Until the heart attack, Mom and Dad flew out to Seattle five or six times a year. Gina and Cal’s children have only known the man Dad is today. They will be devastated when they learn the truth about their grandpa.”
Ben nodded in resignation. “You’ll compound their disillusionment if you fail to inform them, James. Don’t wait until they are blindsided. How will they feel if they wake up to headline news that Harrison Brennen was behind my parents’ murders? Or, how will your mom and sister react if they are contacted by the police?” He paused and glanced down at his smartphone. “You’re going to have to excuse me, I have a text message that needs an immediate reply.”
“Of course. If you need privacy, you can use my office.”
As soon as the door closed behind Ben, Sam steered the conversation away from Rusty Miller. “When did the Summerfield family move to Clinton?”
James closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “Interesting question, and I can’t give you an exact answer. Do you have a specific reason for asking?”
“Curiosity. Clinton is a small town. According to the latest statistics, incomes are relatively low, and Dr. Richard Summerfield’s estate was quite large.”
James studied Sam intently before responding. “I don’t usually discuss trust funds, but under the circumstances, I’ll make an exception. Richard’s estate was relatively large, but the money Ben, Beth and Jessica inherited was a combination of Richard’s and his dad’s estates. Richard was an only child.
“Richard’s dad moved his automotive parts company from the Chicago suburbs to Clinton in the mid 70’s. The plant opened in 1978, but I don’t remember when they broke ground. The family moved while the plant was being built. If I remember correctly, Richard was in in the eighth grade.
“Even though he was interested in, and proud of the family business, Richard never entertained the idea of becoming CEO of Summerfield Industries. He was interested in medicine from the time he was a child. He became one of the leading cardiologists in the state. His efficiency is legendary. Besides his practice, he was on the board of Summerfield Industries, and he also wrote two highly acclaimed books.”
“He was very young to be so accomplished.”
“He was brilliant. His death was a tragic loss not only for his family, but for the community.”
The words were barely out of him mouth when there was a knock on the boardroom door. With what sounded like resignation, James murmured, “That will be Detective Stanton. I had Madalyn put in a call to him.”