Read Every Fear Online

Authors: Rick Mofina

Tags: #Fiction, #Thriller

Every Fear (20 page)

45

“B
eth Bannon had a secret life?”

The woman sitting across from Jason took her time answering. She blinked several times, thrust her face into her hands and exhaled. The baby in the stroller was content, chewing on the drool-slicked ear of a rubber bunny. The toy’s molded grin beamed at Jason.

“And you were part of this secret life?” he continued.

The woman cleared her throat.

“I’m scared to death,” she said. “With what’s happened, and my doing this. It’s dangerous for me meeting you like this. I know it’s crazy but—oh God. I’m terrified.”

“Take it easy.”

She nodded.

“You have information on the case?” Jason asked.

The woman nodded. Jason began regretting how he’d forgotten to alert the photo desk. He was out here alone, no pictures to back him up this time.

“Why didn’t you just call me?”

“I needed to know if I could trust you. I needed to see your face to find out if I could trust you. I needed
to do this in person so that I could be certain you understand.”

“Understand what?”

“What it is I know about Beth and how it relates to me.”

“Why not go to the police?”

“I just can’t.”

“Why?”

She gazed at the streams of shoppers in the busy mall, oblivious to them.

“It’s so complicated. It could ruin our lives if things were misunderstood.”

“What things, please?”

“I’m sorry. Listen, you can’t use my name.”

“You haven’t given me your name.”

“You have to understand, even my husband doesn’t know I’m doing this. Swear to me you won’t identify me in any way and in anything you write.”

“I won’t identify you in any way just as long as you help me verify whatever it is you tell me.”

After giving his condition consideration, she bit her bottom lip, then opened her bag, a Gucci bag, found her Gucci wallet, then caressed the baby’s head.

“This is Emily, our daughter. She’s our world. The center of our universe.”

Then the woman showed him Emily’s birth certificate. Emily Ann Montgomery. Then her own driver’s license. Joy Montgomery.

“See? I am her mother.”

Somewhat puzzled, he nodded.

“A few years ago I thought my life was over. My
husband and I were boating. I collided with a small boat while water-skiing. I broke a lot of bones in my pelvic area. The doctors told me I’d never have children.”

Joy’s attention had traveled back to the event.

“It nearly destroyed me, my husband, our marriage. There was the guilt over the accident and its consequences. At the time, we were planning our family. Our business was excelling, our investments were taking off. I couldn’t understand why this was happening. We’re not bad people. We didn’t do anything wrong, so why us? We went through a lot of counseling, support groups, church groups, everything.”

“What about in vitro, surrogate, adoption options?”

She nodded.

“We examined them all. In vitro was out for us.”

“So adoption was how you got your daughter?”

Joy smiled at Emily and nodded.

“So how is this tied to Beth Bannon and her murder?”

“I’m coming to that. First, how much do you know about adoptions in Washington State?”

“Not much.”

There were several types of adoption, she said, those that went through public or government agencies and those arranged through licensed private agencies.

“We learned quickly that with public or private agency adoptions you were scrutinized and assessed, and there were waiting lists that could take years.”

She paused to reflect.

“This all compounded the anguish, the stress. There are so many laws and regulations. There are preplacement
assessments, which are unbearable because every aspect of your life is examined. Your beliefs, everything. You worry to death, thinking, what if you were not deemed suitable? And in some cases, it was the birth parent who had a say on an adoptive family.”

“And you went through all of that.”

Joy nodded.

“It was horrible. We did everything we were supposed to do. Took the courses; at one agency we submitted to lie-detector and drug tests. We’re decent, law-abiding people who just wanted a child. But it went on and on, and it was not getting us any closer to having a baby.”

“Aren’t there, like, independent adoptions too?”

Joy nodded.

“It’s how I met Beth Bannon. One night I went alone to a church-sponsored support group for, well, people like us.”

“Why did you go alone?”

“My husband had given up. The whole thing was taking a toll on him, the business, on us. Our marriage was really straining. That night after the session, I had barely made it into the hallway when I lost it, just completely lost it. I remember it was in a high school and I’d slammed my back against a locker and slid to the floor utterly lost and devastated.”

“Kinda hit rock bottom.”

The woman blinked and nodded.

“Then this young woman, Beth Bannon, appeared. She began consoling me. We went for coffee and talked. We opened up to each other. She said she couldn’t have
kids, was alone in her life, and even considered becoming a nun until she had a temp position with a small law firm that handled private adoptions.”

Jason began making notes as Joy continued.

“Beth told me how she’d learned about the process, but more important, about the anguish of childless people who ached to be parents. She was so compassionate. Understanding. She said the law firm closed after the lawyer passed away, She went on to another job, secretary at some company, but she’d decided she wanted to keep helping people who needed to adopt, that it was a secret calling that gave her life meaning.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, she told me she was kind of like an unlicensed facilitator who helped connect people who yearned to adopt with pregnant women who could not give their baby a good home.”

“Like a black market, or something. Isn’t that illegal?”

“No, it was all done legally. Beth just helped connect people.”

“Did she get a huge fee as a baby broker?”

Joy shook her head.

“No, she was a good person. Beth never asked us for a penny.”

“Really?”

“Swear to God. She told me that she did this secretly, that she went to support groups, clubs, hospitals, looking for people who wanted a child. That’s how she found me.”

“What happened after she found you?”

“She linked us to a young girl from a farm family in California, who’d just arrived in Seattle to stay with an aunt. Beth knew of her from church. The girl was in no position to raise a child and agreed to let us adopt. The decree was signed and that’s how we got Emily. We gave Beth and the woman money for expenses, but I think Beth gave her entire share to the girl.”

A few moments passed in silence as Jason took notes.

“Tell me again how Beth Bannon found pregnant girls.”

“She told me that she had confidential contacts who helped find girls and connect them with adoptive parents. Sometimes it all happened in a matter of weeks, depending on when the mother was due.”

“Did you ever meet the Colsons?”

“No. I don’t know them. First I’d heard of them was through the news. Then when I heard the news just now about”—Joy hesitated—“about what happened to Beth, I couldn’t live with myself without someone knowing that she was an angel, the angel who saved our lives by helping us find Emily.”

Jason looked hard into Joy’s eyes.

“You should go to the police.”

“No, it’s complicated, that’s why I’m telling you. You have the information. But swear to me you’ll keep our name out of the paper, for Emily’s sake.”

“All right. But tell me, Joy, who would want Beth dead? Was it an adoption gone wrong? A young mother who changed her mind?”

Joy shook her head.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to harm her.”

“What do you think her connection is to the Colson case? The plate in the abduction led to her place in North Seattle.”

“I don’t know, you’d have to ask Lee Colson that question.”

“I already did. He says he doesn’t know Beth Bannon, that her murder’s got nothing to do with his family or the case.”

“And you believe him?”

“What do you mean, Joy?”

“Everyone’s got secrets, Jason.”

46

G
race Garner returned to the Homicide Unit’s interview room alone, sat across from Lee Colson, and searched his exhausted, worried face.

“Lee,” she began, “what you’re telling us doesn’t fit with the evidence.”

“I want to see Maria.”

“I understand. I just called Swedish. Her condition’s stabilized for the moment. Listen to me, we need to rule you out as having any possible involvement in any crime here.”

Colson started shaking his head.

“I just—What the hell do you want from me?”

“Will you agree to take a polygraph?”

Colson stared at her.

“It’s only a tool, but it’ll help us. It’ll help everyone.”

Colson looked at his hands. Rough, callused, workingman’s hands, a father’s hands, gentle when he played with his son, Dylan. God, he would do anything to hold him again.

Anything.

Colson raised his head to meet himself in the
mirrored glass, clearing his throat for the benefit of the detectives he figured were on the other side of it.

“I’ve got nothing to hide. If it’ll help find Dylan, I’ll do it.”

Grace nodded.

“I have to tell you certain things first, because the law requires it.”

“What things?”

“You have the right to remain silent…”

Jarred Sandel, four years out of Yale, was with Stein, Brewster and Follis, a midsize firm specializing in criminal law. He’d been following the Colson case and had agreed to represent Lee Colson during the polygraph. The initial fee would come in at just under two thousand dollars.

After receiving the call, Sandel juggled appointments and immediately hurried to the Seattle Police Homicide Unit. He met with Colson, then was briefed by the investigators and Paula Florres, who was with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, before again meeting in private with his client.

Sandel flipped through his yellow legal pad and his extensive notes, then assured Colson, “Lee, the results of the polygraph will be inadmissible. The evidence they have is all circumstantial. Try to relax and tell the truth. Then they’ll cross you off their suspect list.”

Suspect? How had his life come to this?

Because of urgency and resource availability, it was decided between the Seattle Police and the FBI that the Bureau would conduct the Colson session.

FBI Special Agent Bob Heppler got the call.

Six feet five inches tall, he was an imposing figure, but when people spoke with him for the first time, their unease usually evaporated.

Heppler’s blue eyes twinkled behind his frameless glasses and he had the calming demeanor of a gentle giant; one that was more in keeping with a Little League coach or a sheriff from a sleepy town who knew everyone’s name, rather than that of an FBI polygraphist.

While Heppler was known for putting his subjects at ease, he was legendary for helping the Bureau clear some of its biggest investigations. In three separate instances, suspects ultimately confessed to him.

Bob Heppler was a master of his craft.

Prior to giving the FBI nineteen years “and counting,” he had been a polygraph examiner with the Central Intelligence Agency. But he never went into the details of his time there.

Heppler was a devout Mormon, active in his church. He and his wife had raised four daughters and put them all through college. They were contemplating retirement property in New Mexico when McCusker reached him at home. It was Bob’s day off, but the boss needed him to come in.

“Be there in thirty minutes, sir.”

Upon arriving, Heppler met with Grace, Dupree, and the lead investigators on the Colson abduction and Bannon homicide. The detectives confidentially revealed to him every aspect of their cases in order for him to prepare to examine his subject.

Then Heppler met with Lee Colson and his attorney, explaining the process of “preparing Lee for a polygraph examination.” Heppler’s polite, pleasant manner contrasted with the magnitude of what awaited Colson, as the agent familiarized him with his machine.

The polygraph would use instruments connected near Lee’s heart and fingertips to electronically measure respiratory activity, galvanic skin reflex, blood pressure, pulse rate, breathing rate, and perspiration, recording the responses on a moving chart as he answered questions.

“I’ll ask the questions and I’ll analyze the results,” Heppler said. “When I’m done, I’ll give the investigators one of three possible answers: the subject is truthful, the subject is untruthful, or the results are inconclusive.”

Heppler had given his little preparatory talk many times.

“I’m fully aware and expect you to be nervous.” He smiled, making notes with an FBI pen as he conducted the pretest interview, then discussed pretest questions.

About an hour later, Heppler positioned Lee in a comfortable chair moved from the floor’s reception area and began connecting him to the instrumentation of his machine, making a point of sharing how he was trying the new versions of the Trustline and the Factfinder models of polygraphs.

The examination began casually with routine establishing questions and Heppler went over various areas repeatedly, as the ink needles scratched the graph paper, then it pinballed between mundane questions and hardballs.

“Why have you agreed to the examination, sir?”

“To help find my son, Dylan.”

How the hell had his life come to this? His son stolen, his wife dying, a woman murdered, and police suspecting him. How does your life come to this?

“Lee? For this next aspect, I’d like you to answer only ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ All right?”

“Yes.”

“Are you involved in any way in your son’s disappearance?”

“No.”

“Have you ever harmed your son?”

“No.”

Heppler’s glasses had slipped down his nose as he made notations on the graph paper.

“Have you ever harmed your wife?”

“No.”

“Do you know Beth Ann Bannon, the woman murdered in North Seattle?”

“I—don’t know. I—”

“Answer yes or no, please.”

“No.”

“Have you ever had occasion to visit the residence on Brimerley Lane where Beth Ann Bannon was murdered?”

“No.”

“Have you ever had reason to touch the vehicle, a 1998 Toyota Corolla, associated with the crime scene?”

“I don’t know.”

“Answer yes or no, please.”

“No.”

“Did you ever encounter Beth Ann Bannon on a professional or social basis?”

“No.”

“After your marriage, did you ever have sexual relations with anyone besides your wife?”

“No.”

“Did you ever have sexual relations with Beth Ann Bannon?”

“No.”

“Are you employed as a tow truck operator?”

“Yes.”

“Do you desire to establish your own tow truck business?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have the financial resources to realize your desire?”

“No.”

Heppler made tiny indecipherable notations on the graph paper.

“Did you and your wife endure a long period where you believed you could not have a child naturally?”

The chart needles tremored.

“Yes.”

“Did you once tell someone that you would do anything to see that you and your wife had a child?”

“Yes.”

“Did you ever meet Beth Ann Bannon?”

God, he was going round and round with the same questions, Lee thought.

“I honestly don’t know.”

“Answer yes or no, please.”

“No.”

“Did you know Beth Ann Bannon longed to have children of her own?”

“No.”

“Did you arrange in any way to have your son abducted?”

Tears were stinging Colson’s eyes.

“No.”

More notations and a pause.

“Did you harm your wife?”

Colson did not answer. Ten seconds passed. The needles scratched. Ten seconds. Heppler, watching the graph, repeated the question.

“Lee, did you harm your wife? Answer yes or no, please.”

“No.”

“Do you know Beth Ann Bannon’s friends or associates?”

“No.”

“Do you know why your fingerprints are on the 1998 Toyota Corolla found at the murder scene?”

The needles swiped the page.

“No.”

“Do you know how your home address with a personal note naming you came to be in the residence where Beth Ann Bannon was murdered?”

“No.”

“Did you kill Beth Ann Bannon?”

The needles swayed wildly.

“No.”

Heppler’s questions followed the same pattern and
rhythm deep into the afternoon. It wasn’t until early evening that they finished and he began disconnecting Lee from the polygraph.

Grace, Dupree, and the senior investigators had watched the process unseen from the other side of the mirrored window.

“I won’t have the results analyzed for several hours,” Heppler told them when they debriefed in another room.

“What’s your gut tell you, Bob?” McCusker asked.

“It tells me to analyze the results carefully.”

After Heppler had left, Sandel emerged.

“Is my client under arrest, or charged with anything?”

“No, we’ll take him back to the hospital to be with his wife,” said Grace.

During the drive, Grace searched Lee Colson’s face in the rearview mirror of her unmarked Malibu and wrestled with her suspicions.

Is he involved? Is there more to this?

She gazed across Seattle as dusk settled over it and lights sparkled throughout the city. Glimpsing Colson, she knew in her heart that sooner or later, she was going to learn the truth about Lee Colson and Beth Bannon.

Her only hope was that when it came, it would not be too late.

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