Masks of Morality

By T.L. Mumley All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Mystery

Chapter 16

While George and Caryssa were dancing on the beach, Anna Beauvais was sitting in her cozy loft nursing a glass of Malbec and watching the Sausalito sunset warm every inch of her space.

The past year had gone quickly, with a nightmarish quality. She had never been able to shake the feeling that she was walking through a storm and could be hit by lightning any minute. But at the same time, nothing seemed real. How could this be her life?

The case had been drawn out to what seemed an eternity. So often she had been on the verge of calling Phil and saying “Drop it all, it’s only causing more hurt.” But something always stopped her. Some compulsion to protect her child’s spirit. Both her girls’ spirits.

As she sipped her wine, she remembered Brandon Garth’s visit, the same day she had met with Caryssa and had such a life-changing flash of insight. What an impression he had made on her. And ever since, she had lost as much sleep over the prospect of ruining this young man’s life as she had over the loss of her own girls.

Brandon had walked into her loft foyer, all six-foot-two of him. He had a lean, athletic build, and classic good looks. Short, blondish hair accompanied piercing blue eyes. And when he smiled, he had the dimples of a child. And really, at only twenty-one, he was still a kid.

Her first thought when she saw him was “I’ve had the opportunity to live free for fifty plus years, shouldn’t he?”

Those amazing blue eyes had looked straight into Anna’s, and before he even spoke, she could see it. Feel it. Those eyes spoke volumes—innocence, a gentle nature, intelligence, kindness, love, integrity. His eyes were a window into his soul.

And what she saw was a purity, so clean, unblemished. An innocence that must be protected. This was the Garth’s only child. Did she wish to inflict pain on his parents along with him? For what? Millions of dollars? Wasn’t there enough exploitation of innocent souls by the political and legal system?

They stood in silence for a moment, just looking at each other. Tears formed in his eyes when he finally reached his hand out to her and spoke. “Hello Mrs. Beauvais, I’m Brandon Garth. I hope I don’t shock you by being here. I just…I needed to tell you to your face that I am so sorry for what happened that… day.”

Then he had started crying. Hard. Years of pent-up anguish washed out of his system. “You don’t know how many sleepless nights I’ve had…um…how awful I’ve felt about my car being the one that your daughter was hit by. I…I know I should have stepped up after realizing…realizing that…uh…I hit someone. A child. Your child. But I…um…I…was scared of going to prison. I wasn’t driving recklessly…in…in fact, I was going below the speed limit since I couldn’t see through the fog. Oh God, Mrs. Beauvais, I am so sorry!”

A million memories flashed through Anna’s mind. The prosecutor’s past words--- “The defense team has a good chance of winning this case, on reasonable doubt alone. But my office has not lost a case in ten years. We will get this bad guy. You will have your retribution, and millions of dollars for the reckless wrong doing…”

The sounds of her beautiful, carefree daughter’s laughter as she took dangerous turns with her board filtered through her thoughts. She knew Brandon was still speaking, but so many images and memories were flashing before her eyes.

Words of wisdom from a parent at the skateboard park further blinded Anna from Brandon’s voice. “Your daughter is more daring than any of those boys out there. But she might get herself in trouble one day with all those reckless risks she takes.”

Reckless risks.” Anna was sure what would be more of a reckless wrong-doing…her going along with winning this case. It had been an accident. Not this young man’s fault any more than it was her daughter’s. There was too much reasonable doubt in her mind to live with.

Anna looked at Brandon with the most sympathetic, caring look she could muster up through all her turmoil.

What am I doing?! “Come further in, Brandon.” She gestured towards the kitchen table. She had mindlessly just left him hanging in the front foyer. “Can I get you anything?.”

Brandon sank into the chair she had pulled out for him, visibly more relaxed. “Thank you, Mrs. Beauvais, I’m fine. A glass of water would be nice.”

Anna reached into the cupboard and pulled out two glasses and filled them each with water.

Brandon took a sip and resumed his story, this time he spoke more steadily.

“I swear on God’s name I wasn’t drinking. I was only sixteen! I hadn’t even had a drink yet at that point in my life. Some friends tried drinking by then, but that didn’t appeal to me. Especially seeing how stupid they were when they were drunk. She came out of nowhere fast. I didn’t even see her. It was almost as if the skateboard hit my car, not the other way around. I lost control because it scared me. It all happened so fast! Oh God…”

At this Brandon broke down again. Tears drowned his face. He slumped onto the table, shoulders wracked with sobs.

Anna knew right then she would not bury her daughters with the destruction of this boy’s life. The media frenzy about “elite white boy privilege” was ridiculous.

How could this be, her letting go after so many years of wanting to put the culpable driver away? She was no longer masked by anger. Her mother’s heart took over.

“And I did stop,” Brandon continued, straightening up and wiping his face with a paper napkin. “It wasn’t like the news claimed. I stopped. I didn’t see anybody. I got out of my car, looked around, even walked around a little, and there was no person, no dog, no nothing. Just a …um … well, a skateboard at the edge of the street. I got scared, maybe there was someone, somewhere. But then wouldn’t there be a …um … a … ” He couldn’t bring himself to say the word.

A body. Anna cringed. Her body was found hidden behind the juniper.

Anna sat there silent, ready to listen some more. Something inside was telling her to hug this kid, but she held back.

After a few minutes, Brandon went on. “My dad…everyone says he is so rich because of his house and how he made it big in the stock market. But truth be told, this would bankrupt him, spiritually if not financially. No disrespect to your daughter ma’am …. uh Mrs. Beauvais. But I would hate what this would do to my parents. They are so good. I could handle prison if I had to as an innocent man. It’s them I am scared for. My mother would die of heartbreak. I mean it really would kill her. She couldn’t survive this.”

Brandon was crying uncontrollably. Anna has survived losing her daughters. Now authority wants to make this young man’s life a tragedy of her tragedy. Hand him a sentence as bad as death.

The next thing she knew, she was holding out her arms, embracing and consoling him. Her soft, gentle words came out without preamble. “Brandon, I want you to know I believe you. I believe what you are saying. I am so sorry you had to go through this. I will not subject you…your family…to a trial.”

She ever so gently took his wet face in her hands. “Brandon, I promise you that. I will not subject you or your family to a trial. I am dropping the charges. I don’t know how these things work. But if it’s up to me? There will be no trial, not one dime out of your parents’ pockets, and even more important, not one day in jail for you. There is no reason for that. You’ve already suffered enough, especially because of the media circus.”

They had sat like that for a while, without saying a further word. When Brandon looked up again, his sparkling blue eyes rimmed red and such distress in them, Anna had reiterated “I do not blame you. I am going to drop all charges against you Brandon. Please understand that. I could not harden my heart enough to do that, not for all the money in the world. Your life is far more important than the damn millions our unjust judicial system is promising me.”

After Brandon left, Anna had gone over to Lois Wright’s home, the neighbor who had allegedly seen the whole thing happen and had called it in. She was finally ready to hear her story.

With a glass of wine in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, Lois was crafting a dark and dreary landscape. She sat at a drafting table painting the scene with watercolors, hoping to peddle it at the summer art and wine festival.

“I saw the blue Honda coming down your street and heard something strange…like the sound of metal popping,” Lois told her, not looking up from her work. “I didn’t have my glasses on, but could make out the figure of young Bianca. I saw her body go flying into the air.”

Anna winced at how casually Lois said those words. As if her daughter’s body were a piece of debris, nonchalantly tossed to the side. But she mustered up the courage to ask “You say you saw the car coming down the street. About how fast would you say he was driving?”

“Honestly, I couldn’t tell from that distance, but he appeared to be sort of creeping along …until he took off. What do you call it…peel out?”

Anna’s voice almost failed her when she asked the next question. “Did…did you see Bianca skateboarding as the car was coming down the street before she was hit?”

Lois put her paintbrush down and stared at her work for a while. “That girl was a sight to see on that skateboard, doing those popping things. With her long blond hair and wiry little body flying down the road, popping up like that.”

Doing those popping things! Mom, look at me on my skateboard, look how high I can jump. Great honey, just be sure you are always in a park doing that…not near the streets. She was a good mom, wasn’t she? She always told her daughter not to skateboard near the streets. How would she know Bianca would do that? Anna felt sick to her stomach, guilt-ridden.

“One more question. Did you see her do that…that day… the …the popping thing?” she asked.

“Oh, for sure. She was doing that thing, bend her knees, bang, and jump, the skateboard pinging up in the air like a dolphin, her arms in the air. I didn’t need my glasses to recognize the tricks of the trade. Seen my grandson doing those pop ups in the park.”

It was almost as if the skateboard hit my car first, and I lost control for a second because it scared me.”

Anna’s heart was pounding so hard, she was afraid Lois might hear it. “I know I promised only one more question…but this is the last one. Did you see Brandon back up, stop to take a look?”

“No…but you see, I had run to my bedroom to find my glasses and call 911 after I realized she was hit. But something strange…the car was past the stop sign and turning into the main street before I ran to my room. When I returned, it was just approaching the stop sign, then did a right turn peel out thing. It was almost as if someone reversed the film in a movie.”

I did back up and got out of my car. I looked all around and only saw a skateboard. So I thought I just hit a skateboard on the road. There was no person! I was frightened!”

The phone rang, startling Anna out of her memories of her visit with Lois. She stood, set her glass on the memory chest that served as a coffee table, and walked over to the phone. She glanced at her caller ID. It was Pierre. She picked up the phone.

“Anna, I have reporters swarming my apartment. It’s driving me nuts!”

“I had two outside the house earlier. It looks like more vultures are starting to accumulate. Isn’t this fun? It’s only going to get worse if we allow this dog and pony show to proceed,” Anna replied.

“What do you mean if?! It’s not like we have the right to drop the case,” he argued. “Dog and fucking pony show? You bitch, my girls were no dog or pony!”

“Oh, don’t we? We are the victim’s parents! The proverbial plaintiffs! It’s gone on long enough. Like I told you after that visit from Brandon. He is also a victim. An innocent top notch college student with not even one speeding ticket to his name. It was an accident. I’m done flip-flopping and wavering. I’m dropping the case first thing in the morning. He is no fucking dog or pony either!”

Silence.

After what seemed an eternity, Pierre finally spoke. “Anna, listen. A lot of work has gone into this trial, the defense and prosecution teams working long hours selecting the jury, piling up witnesses to testify. A lot of money has been poured into it already. I know we will win Anna; the prosecution and wrongful death lawyers are sharks. We deserve this. And that young man, dog or not, has got to pay for what he did.”

“That’s precisely why I want to drop the case! Sending a boy-man—who was just a teen when it happened—to prison? Throwing millions of dollars at us? That won’t bring our family back! Nothing can do that. It’s gone. I want to be able to sleep at nights. And honestly, Pierre. What happened to you? This is not the man I married. This is not our way, the way we were raised to act. Sometimes I think the worst thing we could have done is come to this bloodthirsty country. It’s changed you. I’m not going to let it change me.”

More silence. Then Pierre blew up more.

“You fucking bitch, you never were a good mother! This would never have happened if you hadn’t let her go skateboarding in the fucking goddamn street! You should be ashamed! And don’t put it on me. I’m right to want to avenge our daughters. And our family.”

Then the phone went dead. Anna stood there for a second, phone still at her ear listening to the dial tone. Finally, she placed the phone on its receiver.

I miss you and love you too Pierre.

Those words had stayed in her heart and mind, never making their way to her lips since their divorce. Since Pierre had left her, accusing her of being at fault for both daughters’ deaths.

Anna was climbing the winding wrought-iron staircase to her bedroom when the phone rang again. Sure that it was a reporter or Phil, she kept climbing. But then Pierre’s shaky, pleading voice came over the answering machine. As soon as she heard him she descended the staircase and rushed to the phone, her hand poised over the handset as she listened.

“Anna, I know you’re there. Listen, Cherie. Ècoute moi. I’m sorry I hung up. Je suis desolèe. I’m so sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry I used profanity. I’m sorry for my anger. I’m … ah, mon dieu … I’m not perfect. And, well, I’m hurting too! I…I miss my girls. I miss you. I miss…us. Anna, please! Pick up! I need to talk with you. Anna? Please, please for the love of God, pick up. I want to drop the case too. And fuck the ten million dollars! Fuck revenge. You’re right, it won’t bring back our girls. I don’t know what possessed me to ever think it would. Anna…!”

He was crying. She could hear it in his voice. He had never cried in the twenty-plus years she had stood by him.

When his voice trailed off she picked up. “Did…did you say you want to drop the case too?” she asked, breathless.

“Yes, absolutely.” Then, in the next breath “And I love you. I love you, Anna. I never stopped loving you. And I need you. And I want to hold you right this minute. My life has sucked the past six years without you. Nothing means anything. I’ve been walking around like a ghost and a man possessed. Oh, Anna, I am so sorry. I just did not handle losing my baby girls well. I wanted to stay angry at the world, at God, at you, at him.”

Anna cringed, remembering their former rage against Brandon. An innocent, beautiful boy the unjust American justice system would have manipulated them into ruining.

Pierre continued “I needed to blame someone, and that ended up being the one person I love more than life itself. But I can’t stand to lose you too. And you are all I have left of them. Please forgive me, cherie. I beg you. Can you forgive me? Can we walk through this together now?”

Anna couldn’t speak. Tears tickled her cheeks. She grabbed a tissue and started frantically blowing her nose. Could this be happening? After six years? Had she heard him correctly? After she had gathered her composure she finally spoke.

“Pierre. My love. Of course, I forgive you. Can you come over? Or should I come there?”

“I’ll come there, my darling. It’s the least I could do after what I’ve put you … us … through. I’ll come the back way to avoid the reporters.”

“Good. I’ll leave the back door unlocked. And bring your toothbrush.”

“Okay. I will. I can’t bear to hang up. You hang up first.”

“No. You hang up first.”

“I can’t. You hang up first.”

They both laughed “OK,” they said in unison, “I’m hanging up now.”

When her phone was back in the receiver at last, Anna flung her arms around herself and danced about the loft, as she had all those years ago in Paris when she first knew that she and Pierre would be lovers.

She was still dancing half an hour later when she heard a soft tap at the back door, and a whispered “Cherie. C’est moi.”

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