Familiar Face

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Chapter 21

Chapter 21

Asheville airport:

The gentle touch of her dad’s hand put a halt to her rambling thoughts.

“Relax, honey. Staring at the door won’t hasten their arrival.”

“I wish I could. I’m worried about Ben’s state of mind, Dad. Sam was evasive when I asked how Ben was handling James’ betrayal.”

“Don’t you think betrayal might be a little too harsh, honey? From what you told me about your conversation with Ben, it’s too early to condemn or condone James’ actions. Sam’s account of the meeting with James was bare bones at best. Until we’ve had a thorough briefing, I think that we should reserve judgement.”

“Ben might disagree with you. His, and Beth’s, history with deception has given them reason to be cautious. They are slow to trust. In the past, James has been their legal and personal adviser when they’ve had issues that they couldn’t personally handle. He has been more like an older brother or uncle. Right or wrong, if their perception is that they can’t trust him, they will no longer consider him an ally.”

“In defense of James, he’s a lawyer and Harrison Brennen’s son. A devoted son would find it exceeding difficult to be totally objective about a criminal case that involves his dad. Judges and prosecutors are expected to recuse themselves if they can’t be impartial. James isn’t a prosecutor, but he is a lawyer and he knows the law.”

“Anna’s mom whispered, “Time to change the subject. Sam and Ben just walked through the door.

When the men joined Anna and her parents at the table, Sam introduced Ben. “Ben I’d like for you to meet Anna’s parents, John and Bertie Kingston. John and Bertie, Ben Summerfield.”

Ben shook John’s hand, then took the seat next to Anna. Without glancing her way, he addressed John and Bertie. “Over the years, one of my greatest fears has been that my sister would end up in an abusive household. I want to thank the two of you for providing a safe and loving environment. It’s obvious that you’ve given her a strong foundation. She’s turned into a beautiful and well-adjusted young woman.”

Bertie was quick to agree. “Yes, she has, but I’ve always believed that much of Anna’s strength was inherited. The circumstances that brought her into our lives were unfortunate, but we’re grateful that my friend at Social Services called us. Initially, we agreed to take Anna for one night. By the time she was down for the evening, both John and I sensed that our lives would never be the same. She was like a breath of fresh air in our lives.

“Unfortunately, John and I hadn’t been blessed with a child, and we’d almost given up hope. Anna, and her story, touched our hearts. She seemed to be carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. The pain in her eyes brought out protective natures that John and I didn’t know we possessed. We knew that it wouldn’t be easy to battle the red tape that complicated her adoption, but she was worth the effort. She’s brought us joy that I can’t begin to describe.”

John added, “As young marrieds, Bertie and I envisioned a house full of children. When that didn’t happen, we tried to fill the empty spaces in our lives with work and possessions. That proved disastrous. We were teetering on the brink of divorce when Anna came along. She taught us the true meaning of love and family. We owe her.”

Tears welled in Anna’s eyes. “I couldn’t have made it without my mom and dad, Ben. I barely spoke for months. They’ve had to deal with my trips to a therapist, recurring nightmares and a defiant attitude. Through it all, they’ve been nothing but supportive.”

Ben studied Anna. “Despite the trauma, we have been fortunate. Good people stepped up to give us a home. It grieves me that our family was torn apart, but I’m grateful that fate has brought us together. I hope that you are as pleased with the results of the DNA test as I am.”

Anna nodded. “For me, the test wasn’t necessary, Ben. I sensed that you were my brother the day we met. My only regret is that learning the truth has brought extreme pain to the Brennen family. Harrison’s confession, in addition to his illness, will be heavy burden for the family.”

“Yes, it will.”

“I sympathize with James, but my degree of pain is far less than yours and Beth’s.”

“I’m numb at this point. As for James’ family, they haven’t been told about Harrison’s confession.”

“Why not?”

“When you and Sam talked, his account of our meeting with James was abbreviated. Since you and your parents don’t know the family, some of the issues we discussed will be of no interest to you. Sam and I will attempt to answer any questions that you have, and then I’ll fill you in with the details of our meeting with the police. Before we answer your questions, I have one for you. Do you intend to press charges against Rusty Miller? If so, I need to inform the Clinton police department.”

“No, I don’t. After I spoke to Sam last evening, I tried to recall the exact circumstances of the incident; where I was standing and exactly what I saw. At the time, I was terribly upset. I let myself be influenced by the statement of my rescuer, Reed Dandridge. I think he over-reacted out of fear for my safety. He was convinced that Miller tried to hit me. In retrospect, Miller’s car was at least twelve feet away. If I had been standing on the curb, the passing traffic would have been closer. There was nothing stopping him from hitting me if he had been hired to kill me.

“When I talked to Mark last evening, I learned that James had already been in touch with the police. Miller was released yesterday, but hasn’t left Raleigh. Mark convinced him to remain in town until I talked to him.”

“I think that you’ve made a wise decision. According to James, Rusty Miller is green behind the ears—has never had a brush with the law. A couple of nights in jail have probably convinced him not to use a vehicle to scare a person.” He paused, took a sip of coffee and said, “Now . . . your turn. Sam and I will field questions.”

For the next fifteen minutes Anna and her parents voiced their concerns and asked questions about Harrison’s life before and after the murders. At their request, Sam and Ben gave them a brief synopsis of the the information in the files James had provided. When questions lagged, Ben glanced as his watch. “If that’s all of your questions, we’ll move on to our meeting with Detective Stanton and Chief Barnes.”

Anna’s dad held up his hand in a stop motion. “If you don’t mind, one more question. What’s the latest word on Harrison’s physical condition?”

“The doctors are saying hours instead of days.”

Anna said, “I hope the police allowed James to be at his dad’s bedside.”

“James hasn’t been charged, and won’t be unless Harrison’s confession is leaked. As long as Chief Barnes is in charge, I don’t see that happening. Barnes is a good friend of Harrison’s.”

Anna’s eyes widened. “Friends? That’s convenient. I suppose that means Chief Barnes won’t make a statement to the press at this time?”

“Not for several weeks. When a statement is issued, Harrison will not be mentioned. Chief Barnes and Detective Stanton agreed that tainting his reputation would serve no good purpose. For the past twenty years, Harrison has been a champion for under-privileged children, the homeless and men and women who are battling addictions. Since there can be no conviction, Barnes prefers not to undermine the programs that Harrison initiated.

“The money Harrison embezzled was repaid years ago, and Barnes questions Leon Hick’s claim that Harrison hired him. He suggested that Harrison was hoodwinked.”

Anna’s dad spoke up. “What’s the basis for his observation?”

“He was a rookie cop when my parents were murdered. The police chief, at that time, assigned Barnes to check into the backgrounds of all of my dad’s friends. Barnes found out about Harrison’s drinking and gambling, but didn’t uncover evidence of Harrison’s embezzlement. Harrison had the reputation of being a loud-mouth drunk, but he never initiated fights. Barnes believes that Hicks overheard some of Harrison’s drunken rants and saw the opportunity to make a pile of money. With Hicks and his girlfriend dead, we’ll never know the truth.”

Anna said, “So . . . James is off the hook.”

Ben shook his head. “Legally, yes. But not in James’ mind. He has a conscious. He’s taking early retirement. Since you weren’t there to suffer through the emotional tension, you might feel that justice isn’t being served. What Sam and I can vouch for is this; Chief Barnes and Detective Stanton didn’t make their decision without questioning James at length. The session was intense. Barnes also gave me the opportunity to express my concerns.”

John’s curiosity wasn’t satisfied. “It sounds as though Chief Barnes knew that Harrison was involved.”

“He didn’t seem shocked when he read Harrison’s confession, but he denies knowing. If he knew and remained silent, he’ll have to live with his conscious.” He paused before adding, “Maybe he’s seen so much that nothing shocks him.”

’Who called in the police?”

“I left the boardroom to answer a text from a potential client. When I returned, I was surprised to see Detective Stanton reading Harrison’s confession. He knew that Sam and I were questioning James about Miller, but I hadn’t requested his presence. It was at James’ request that he was there. James had asked his administrative assistant to contact the police department.

“After Stanton read the documents in Harrison’s folder, he called Chief Barnes. When Chief Barnes arrived, James’ interrogation began. Believe me, the officers asked questions about every aspect of Harrison and James’ lives, personal and business.”

Sam backed up Ben’s claim. “I will vouch for that. The questioning went on for over two hours. We were all emotionally wrung out before their decision was made. As an outsider, it seems to me that everyone involved has suffered enough.”

Anna said, “You won’t get an argument from me about that, Sam. Is Beth okay with the police’s decision, Ben? Did you even give her the opportunity to express her opinion?”

“No, I didn’t.”

Anna was mystified. “Why not!”

“You’ll have to trust me on this one, Anna. Beth is temperamental. She might appear to be emotionally strong, but she’s not. It’s been a long time since she suffered a bout with depression, and I don’t want to do or say anything to change the status quo. I see no reason to share information beyond the statement that the police department issues. If, at a future date, the information is leaked, there’s little chance that the news will go national.

“Whatever I decide to tell her will be face to face. I’ll pick up my car in Raleigh, and make the drive to Laurel Springs. The drive will give me the opportunity to mentally go over the pros and cons of giving her a full accounting.”

Anna questioned the wisdom of more secrets. However, she’d only met Beth once. Maybe, Ben knew best. She directed her next question to Sam. “Now that you don’t have to watch my back, what are your plans?”

“Mark has a situation in Charlotte that I’ve agreed to take care of. I have a rental car waiting for me at RDU.”

Bertie said. “Sam, don’t forget my invitation to spend some time during the holidays at the farm. If you can’t, at least try to join us for Christmas dinner. Ben, if you and Beth are free, our family would love to have you join us.”

“I appreciate your invitation. I’ll speak to Beth and let you know by the end of the month.”

“There will be plenty of food. If you don’t know until the 24th, you are still welcome.”

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