Masks of Morality

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Chapter 7

In the end, Anna resolved to spend as much time with Jared during his early years as she could. What kept her awake at nights more than her business was worry over her grandson’s future and the sacrifices Josh had to make. All the “what-ifs.”

At a time when Josh should have been enjoying college, he worked hard trying to support his son. At nineteen, he had already taken work with contractors needing help with roofing, painting, remodeling, and other jobs.

Anna had taken the time to try to get to know Josh’s parents after losing her girls. They were, after all, her grandchild’s grandparents. But Marsha Bowen was the private type, and Josh seemingly went with anything she said. Which was not much.

From what Anna could gather, Josh Jr.—as his parents called him—came from a decent family. Hard working, they owned an antique shop in their hometown of San Anselmo. After Josh Jr. had become a dad at the tender age of sixteen, things had gotten a bit tense in the Bowen home.

Early one morning Josh dropped Jared off at Anna’s. He’d gotten a call to help a roofing contractor that day. Anna offered to make him breakfast, which he gratefully accepted. He slid into the bench seat in her sunny breakfast nook. Jared wandered off to the cubby Anna had created where he could stash his toys.

“Crepes okay, mon fils? And eggs and bacon? And fried potatoes?” Anna asked, opening the fridge. “Oh la la and fresh squeezed orange juice! Do you have time?”

“Sure,” Josh said, and although his eyes looked tired he was smiling. “That would be awesome. I don’t know when I’m going to get lunch. It’s a tight deadline. The roofer’s way behind and the homeowner is totally pissed. Gonna be an interesting day. I need all the food I can get right now!”

“Coming right up!” Anna paused and took off her eyeglasses. “Hey, how are things at home?”

“Oh…well…that. Okay, I guess. You wanna hear something horrible my dad said to me last night?”

“Sure, Cheri,” Anna answered, feeling the sides of her eyes start to quiver. “If you’d like to share, I’d love to hear.”

“Get this. Out of nowhere. Sitting at the dinner table. He turned to me and said ‘Why didn’t that girlfriend of yours have an abortion after she got herself pregnant?’ You know, like it was something she did to herself? Like he wasn’t talking about our baby?! After all these years?! Like he didn’t even know his own grandkid?! Like Cassidy didn’t even have a name?! Jeez.”

Glancing over at Jared, who was playing happily with puzzles in his special corner, Anna was infinitely grateful they had not made that choice. If they had, she would not have her sweet grandson. And Josh would not have his son. She also knew that Cassidy’s pregnancy was not the reason she took her own life. Her daughter had been severely depressed after losing her sister.

Anna’s eye quiver became stronger, and she was afraid she’d start sobbing. “What did you say to your father Josh?”

Josh cradled his head in shaking hands and then looked at Anna. “I can’t…I still can’t believe he said that. I told him Cassidy did not ‘get herself pregnant’.” I had as much to do with it as she did, for cryin’ out loud. I told him ‘He’s my kid, Dad! And he’s your grandchild!’ And then…I dunno…I just couldn’t be there. I couldn’t eat with him. I couldn’t look at him. I ran out the door. And I walked for a long time before I finally went home again. I dunno, Anna. I think I need to get my own place. If I could afford it. Sometimes I feel like I don’t even know my own parents.”

By now tears were rolling down Josh’s cheeks, threatening Anna’s resolve not to break down herself. This was a time to listen. “But you know, Anna? What if she didn’t have the baby? What if she committed suicide before Jared was born? She could have. I know how depressed she was. She was in bad shape. But if she had…? I would never have had the chance to hold my son…”

Anna wiped her hands on her apron, stepped closer, and put her arms around him from behind, kissing the top of his head in a motherly way. “It’s okay, mon Cheri, cry. You need to cry. In France, men cry. It is not considered unmanly. You cry.”

Josh put his head on his arms and sobbed. Quietly. Like a man. So his little boy wouldn’t hear him and think he was the cause of any pain.

It comes back to all the what-ifs, doesn’t it? Anna thought. What if I had not been so close yet unavailable to Bianca that day? What if I had foreseen how distressed Cassidy had become? How had I not seen it?

Anna needed to let go and live in the now. And now, she wanted to do whatever she could to help Jared and Josh.

According to Josh, after the baby was born his mom had taken one look at that little face and said she would take her grandson in and enable Josh and Cassidy to finish high school. After Cassidy’s suicide, and for the next nearly three years, Jared had spent most of his time with both grandmothers, going back and forth between Anna and Marsha. Anna’s marriage had collapsed in the interim, and Anna had been starting her business as well. It had been the craziest time of Anna’s life.

When Josh graduated from high school, his parents had given no more direction to him. They had insisted he be on his own. “On his own” included no financial assistance. It was as if they expected their kid to go from childhood to full self-sufficiency, just because of a piece of paper. In a way, they dropped him off a cliff. Anna didn’t like to judge, but she found it curiously cold hearted, knowing what Josh had gone through.

Anna decided she would help finance Josh’s night courses in landscape architecture. Even though the small college fund she and Pierre had set aside had been exhausted by home and business expenses, she would pinch her pennies and scrape up the money to help him out.

The next day, when Anna walked up her driveway after completing her evening jog, her phone was ringing. By the time she got the door unlocked and entered her kitchen, the answering machine went off. While she was taking off her running shoes, she heard a vaguely familiar voice leaving a message.

Anna turned and started approaching her bedroom door, her hand hovering over the doorknob. She didn’t know why she was hesitating, and then it hit her.

She froze, her heart beating fast. The vaguely familiar voice was clear to her now. Oh my Lord! Why is he calling now, after all these years!

State Plaintiff Attorney Phil van Wagner was finishing his message as she walked over to the answering machine. She did not pick up…she was still shaking, her heart beating in her ears. After he stopped speaking, Anna pressed the flashing button to hear his message again.

“Hello, Mrs. Beauvais. It’s been a while. This is Phil van Wagner. I handled the vehicular homicide case when your daughter Bianca was hit, back in 2004. We received an unusual call today from the local police department. It appears your neighbor, the one who had originally called about the hit and run, recently attended a yard sale a few blocks away. She saw the car … well she allegedly saw the car that struck your daughter. Listen, I can talk better in person so please call us back ASAP. The bottom line is, we have sufficient information to reopen the case.”

Reopen the case?

Anna felt as if someone had sucked the wind out of her. Feeling shivers through her spine, she whipped off her clothes and jumped into a hot steaming shower.

But the heat of the shower did not control the cold shakes. A sense of impending doom washing over her. Anna crumpled. She slid onto the bathtub floor, racked with sobs. She stayed like that for a good ten minutes, the water running over her.

After she had gotten into her pajamas and calmed her spirits she knew she had to call her lawyer back. Hands shaking, she dialed his office number. He answered on the second ring. What she heard next crushed her healing heart further.

“Thanks for calling back so quickly Anna. Lois Wright, the neighbor that had originally called in about the hit and run on your daughter called the local police today. She was apparently attending a yard sale and saw a blue Honda Civic parked in a garage. She recognized the license plate as the one on the car that hit Bianca.”

“After all these years, she remembers a license plate?” Anna realized she sounded shrill, but she couldn’t contain her disbelief. Then “Why didn’t you call the police first?”

“You mean instead of calling you first? In a vehicular homicide case, we never take police reports for granted. Remember now…the official police version of the event differed markedly from what the physical evidence shows happened, and the local homicide folks know that. In fact, both parties were contacted before calling you to reconvene, not just myself, but Delaney as well.”

Melanie Delaney, the accident reconstruction specialist, had been as thorough as possible when she led the investigation nearly five years ago, together with the Sausalito police detective bureau.

But with no license plate recognized or recorded and hence no defendant, the case had been dropped. Filed as a cold case. And there it had stayed all these years.

“Why, after five years, is Lois Wright saying she remembers the license plate of the car that struck my daughter?” Anna asked. As if from a long distance away, she could hear how piercing her voice was. She found herself going into her kitchen to make a cup of herbal tea to help calm her nerves, but when she got there she reached for a bottle of wine instead. A very good, very old, very expensive bottle of red wine.

“From what I gather, she suffers from memory loss. Plus, we think she may be a bit of a drinker,” van Wagner replied.

A drinker. Anna laughed inside, as she rummaged around in a drawer for a corkscrew. “Short-term memory loss? That was five years ago! So she isn’t a very valuable witness then?”

“Actually, the police went ahead and ran the license plate number she gave, which is a vanity plate---KAT2VIC. Lois said she specifically remembers the KAT, as she is a cat lover. It’s as if she was shocked into remembering when she saw the car and license plate again. Anyway, the police traced the license plate to a Bill Garth, who lives two streets from you. They have contacted him as well. And, here’s the thing…he has confessed to hitting a skateboarder on your street in January 2004!”

Anna went to the cabinet and selected a piece of her finest stemware. She set it on the table, which was covered with a treasured table cloth she had designed and created with rare and expensive fabrics from all over the world. She began to pour, but her hand was shaking so badly she knocked the glass over. She watched as the wine spread through the fabric, turning everything blood red.

“Merde!” she screamed. “God DAMN it!!!!”

“I know this is a shock, just when you might have regained some inner peace. But Anna, this is finally your chance to bring the defendant to justice! Let your daughter’s soul rest in peace!”

Oh, my dear Lord. He has no fucking clue how much this hurts!

“I…I don’t understand. Why open the case again. He has confessed, right?!” she asked.

“Ahhh, a confession doesn’t equate to a guilty verdict. All defendants are innocent by law until proven guilty. Plus…well frankly, things don’t add up here.”

Anna took a deep breath. She tried again with the wine. This time she set the stem glass on the marble-topped kitchen island and steadied it at the base with one hand. She poured carefully. She poured until the whole round-bellied glass was full to the brim. Then she lifted the glass, looked at the wine’s color in the light, swirled it around to aerate it a bit. Finally, she brought the glass to her face, the bottom rim at her upper lip, the top of her forehead, and took a deep, soothing inhale.

Oh. Yes. Oh yes indeed. Très bien. This wine was going to do the trick. Already its aroma was calming her nerves. One of the many benefits of having been born French. She knew her wines. And she never scrimped. And her wines never failed her.

Soothed now, Anna turned back to the conversation. “What do you mean things don’t add up? Surely people don’t go around saying they are guilty of vehicular homicide if they aren’t!”

“Well … yeah … you have a point there,” Phil said. “But here’s the thing. Bill Garth is among the folks that lucked out and hit it big with the dot-com bubble before it burst. He retired early and lives in a million plus dollar home near you. He drives an old model Lamborghini and has never been seen driving the Honda. That said, he does own it. It’s registered in his name. But the only time any neighbors have seen that Honda taken out of that garage is when Garth’s son comes home from college. And before he went off to college, it was only the son driving it. His dad bought him the car as a gift after he got his license. By the way, the son is now a medical student at UCLA.”

“A son.” Anna’s mind was racing. “Was he the one driving the car?”

“We don’t know yet. But Garth is likely protecting his son. It’s his only son. We’ll be investigating this further, but whoever was behind that wheel, father or son should be held civilly and criminally responsible for Bianca’s death.”

“But. Wait. This all happened five years ago. If it was the son, he would have been a juvenile. He would have been maybe sixteen years old!” Anna was feeling a little sick. She reached for the wine bottle and topped off her glass.

“True. But you have to take into consideration the legal facts of the case. It’s serious. It’s homicide. Vehicular manslaughter. Murder in the second degree. The victim, your daughter, was only twelve years old.”

“I know,” Anna said. “I know. But…”

“No buts, Anna. The law treats defendants in juvenile manslaughter cases as adults. Besides, he is twenty-one now. He’s not a juvenile. He’s an adult. Quite competent to stand trial. And don’t forget. He left the scene of the crime. He hit your daughter, killed her, and ran. And we need to bring the person responsible for your daughter’s untimely death to justice.”

Anna reached for a chair and sank into it. She took another sip of wine. What her lawyer was saying rang true. How could she not want to move on with this trial, to have justice served? Didn’t Bianca deserve that?! And yet…and yet…this young man wanted to be a doctor. He wanted to do good for people. Save lives. And the whole dot-com thing? Who knew how that family was doing now? Who knew if their investments had disappeared, as so many others’ had? Who knew if they could still make payments on their Sausalito home? Times had changed. Nothing is ever what it seems.

“Listen, Anna…I know this must be so hard for you. But I have a question. Do you still have the skateboard Bianca was riding? I’m asking because the police got a search warrant and took a look at the car. There’s no sign of damage, but of course, that could have been repaired. It’s been five years, after all. In any case, we want to try to determine a matching paint transfer.”

“I…I don’t know. I have not wanted to even think about that thing. I guess I can take a look around my basement and garage.”

“OK, great. We appreciate it. If you find it please let me know. And take care. I’ll be in touch.”

Anna took the bottle and her glass and moved into the living room. She set the bottle on the floor and sank onto the couch, leaning her head back into the soft leather, wine glass clutched to her chest. She felt utterly crushed. Empty, almost. After a while, she leaned into her wine glass and took a huge gulp. It warmed her as it went down her throat.

That’s more like it.” She took another slug.

She had tried so hard to forget that day. Now, her memory went back to one conversation in particular with Ms. Delaney, the accident reconstruction specialist on the case.

“The weather was rainy and foggy that day, visibility questionable,” she had said. “Your road is narrow, winding and there are no sidewalks. Not a good place for a child to be skateboarding. And, without having done a breathalyzer on the driver, we can’t even say if the person was drunk. We have no reliable witnesses to say the driver was speeding. The defense will have a strong case here. They could easily win on reasonable doubt.”

And what about Bianca’s daredevil skateboarding adventures? She would fly higher than any of the boys on the pipe at the skate park, no fear. She was mad at her mom that day, defiantly taking the board on the street. There were too many questions. Could she have been so distraught she rode into the street? Bounced off a rock?

She got up and decided to do what she hadn’t been able to do for five years. She decided to take a look in Bianca’s closet.

She made her way to Bianca’s bedroom. A little wobbly now, from too much wine and no food. She went to the sliding mirrored doors of her daughter’s closet and opened them. She tried hard to focus her eyes. Damn. Should have eaten. But there it was. In the right-hand corner, unmistakable under a pile of other stuff, one wheel popping out of a tear in the bag it was in. Bianca’s skateboard.

Anna pawed through all the stuff covering the skateboard, throwing it all to one side—scarves, sweaters, coats, vests. What a mess. Once the skateboard was clear, she pulled it out of the closet. She sat hard on the floor and lost her balance for a moment. Whoa. Too much wine. Straightening herself with both arms, she set the skateboard between her knees. It was still inside a zip locked evidence bag. She had not touched it since the police had handed it back to her. She had placed it carefully in Bianca’s closet, covered it with a bunch of Bianca’s clothes, and shut the closet doors. Hiding the evidence, she supposed now. In any case, she had not looked back.

It was now time to look back. Anna didn’t want to. But she realized now she had no choice. Time had caught up with her. Taking the skateboard over to the light from the window, she searched it for clues through the bag. There it was. On the left tip of the skateboard, a blue mark, a faint scratching of what must have been auto paint.

Had the cops not seen this after the accident? Well, of course, they must have…but without a car to match the paint, what good would that have done?

The fire of revenge burned inside her. Her rage sobered her instantly. Forget about her previous high-minded thinking. Forget about the driver’s future. Forget about all that. Her twelve-year-old daughter had been killed. Here was some evidence to convict the killer. She would follow up with this, no matter whether the culprit was thirty-five or sixteen, drunk driving or not. Somebody had to pay. Why not the culprit?

She picked up the phone and dialed. Her lawyer’s assistant patched her through to his direct line. “Phil van Wagner.”

“Phil. Phil. It’s Anna. I have the skateboard, the … there is a blue paint scratch on it. Let’s move ahead with this. What’s next?”

“Great! So glad you came to your senses, Anna! Your daughter deserves this. Drop the skateboard off at the Sausalito police department, and have it delivered to Homicide. They work closely with the forensics team. Have you touched the skateboard since the accident, or has it been in use? Typically such evidence would have stayed zip locked at the scene of the crime.”

“No, are you kidding me?! It’s been in her closet for five years. Trust me. I never wanted to see this thing again!”

As soon as she hung up, Anna grabbed the skateboard, her car keys and purse, and flew out the door. She heard her home phone ringing as she swung open her car door, but ignored it.

She drove straight to the police department. She was like a woman possessed. She grabbed the skateboard, waved away the receptionist’s attempts to stop her and find out what her needs were, and walked straight into the chief’s office. As it happened, a detective was sitting across from Chief Carl, discussing a case. When Anna barged in, both men looked over in surprise.

“I…I…excuse me. I’m Anna Beauvais. My daughter…Bianca…she was…well…she was…and I have the…”

Anna couldn’t go on. She looked at the skateboard in her hands. She raised it so the two men could see it.

“Oh. Oh yes,” said the detective. “I remember you, Mrs. Beauvais.” He stood and offered her his chair. “Please. Have a seat. I was the detective on Bianca’s case. Detective Anza. Do you remember me? Would you like a cup of coffee or something? I was just leaving. Would you like to talk with the Chief?”

Anna looked at them, one by one, and at the seat that was being offered. She didn’t remember why she was even there. “No. Thanks. I need to get going…“Um…here.” She thrust the skateboard into Detective Anza’s hands. “This is…my daughter Bianca…it’s her…it’s her…”

Detective Anza took the skateboard from Anna gently. “I know. I know. Thank you. We will use this evidence to catch the person who killed her. Thank you, Anna, for coming in today. Can we…can we offer you a ride home? Anything you need?”

“Oh…uh…no…no thanks,” Anna said. “No thanks…me…I drove here…” And then she turned on her heel and went back the way she had come.

When Anna got home, her cell phone was ringing. After she finally dug it out of her purse, she pressed the voicemail icon and heard a young man’s voice. “Hi… this is Brandon Garth. Please call me. I need to talk to you about the case. Something…well please call me so we can talk.”

Something what? Anna was too tired and stressed out to call him back just now. She desperately needed to take care of herself and that was what she was going to do. She would call him…in due time.

What she did not know was that the “something” he wanted to talk about would change the direction of the case. And her life.


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