Judith Kerrigan Ribbens
My First Book
BETRAYAL by SERPENT
ORIGINS OF THIS BOOK
Some years ago a friend, Maggie Day Stevens, and I were in one of our mutually whimsical moods. We cooked up the idea of writing a murder mystery together. It was to be funny, not terribly murderous, and the main character would be an older English teacher (American, not British), and she would be addicted to cliches.
As fate would have it, our lives went in differing directions and it never got written. That is truly fortunate for you as reader. A book full of cliches would have turned you against reading forever.
Three years ago I was having nightmares, the result of knowing far too much about human suffering as a result of my then-primary profession of mental health counselor. Having been trained as an expressive arts therapist, I knew exactly what to do about it--write about more human pain, of course. That last may seem counter to reason, or as if I badly needed a therapeutic intervention, but I am deeply aware of the power of creativity to heal.
There is nothing that has been so healing in my life as immersing myself deeply into the creative act.
BETRAYAL by SERPENT was in gestation over a long period of time. What a process!
The more I wrote, the more the lives of Anna and her children became real to me. As she dictated her story to me, I felt I became almost as real a friend to her as Cait and Caroline, her best friends in the story. She made sure I knew every twist and turn of her life, even those she never told to others and certainly didn't share with police or even with her lawyer, Conrad Wentworth.
The writings I have added to this web site go beyond the story she tells in this book. There are excerpts from her journals that give deeper insights into the lives of Anna and her children which she has, fortunately, given me permission to reveal here.
I think that, in the time when the events in this book occurred, she really wanted to be heard, and in a way came into her own--a person separate from her identity as wife, which she was forced to give up, and as mom, which time took away from her, and most certainly as a mere character in a story.
I feel privileged to know her. I hope you will too.
Yes. She became that real to me.
Judith M Kerrigan
I took a deep breath, trying for more calm. It didn’t work at all well. I knew what was coming.
“This is from my journal of seven years ago when my husband was killed. I wrote this in the months after the events described, at the insistence of my counselor, to help me come out of my immobilizing shock.”
…Merida, Yucatan, Mexico…September…
The long, mind-numbing plane trip to Mexico was a horror. Fear moved everywhere through my body and I was unable to stop it. I didn’t know fear could paralyze the tips of my fingers, numb my toes, twine around my muscles, drag at my skin. Mostly it sat inside my chest, squeezing my heart, making every breath I took an effort.
Huddled on a hard bench in the airport in Miami, willing myself to breathe, I sat waiting for our flight to Merida. Airport smells made my stomach queasy. Someone nearby reeked of smoke. A woman’s cheap perfume, faint but unpleasant, drifted by on the air. From another part of the airport, fast food greasiness edged its way through the halls and wedged itself in the back of my nose. These smells and the non-stop sounds felt like sandpaper rubbing against my senses, adding irritation to apprehension.
AJ, restless and impatient, moved back and forth in front of the pay phone across the wide lobby, on the phone to his brothers and sister, to MomKat and Aunt Carrie, one last call before we took off again. I watched my black-haired son, at six feet, four inches, towering over most of the passersby, trying to concentrate on anything but what was ahead, the final leg of our flight to Mexico.
I, who loved flying with my husband, dreaded entering the planes to Merida. Each plane on the flight from Green Bay became a prison carrying me through time to knowledge I didn’t want and never intended to learn. Three planes. Two down, one to go.
AJ came back across the room, weaving his way through other travelers who moved swiftly past, or stood in chatting groups, or stood immobile watching the flight listings on the overhead monitor.
“Everything’s as OK as it can be, Mom,” he said, sitting down next to me. “Aunt Carrie is taking them all to a ceilidh tonight down in Kaukauna. Cory wants to sing. MomKat says Alex is wearing Dad’s Packer jacket and won’t take it off. I told her to let him. Marnie swings between clinging to Aunt Carrie and on the phone to her Girls. Was I that weird at twelve?”
I smiled a bit as I pictured Marnie, her long black hair, intense blue-green eyes, tall and awkwardly slim for her twelve years, phone glued to her ear.
“No, you were never weird. You’ve been Mr. Responsible since you were born, although some of your basketball buddies came close to weird. I’ve always thought you were too serious.”
He smiled a little. “They were weird. That’s why I liked them. They were my alter ego.”
His smile faded. “I miss them. College has been way too serious. I miss the fun of high school.” His gaze wandered over the crowd, as if his buddies would somehow materialize to lighten the tensions he’d felt the past few days.
He’ll be longing for the mere seriousness of college before this is over.
I shut out the thought of what would come.
My thoughts turned to Cory of the bright copper hair, our poet and singer and artist.
“I forgot about the ceilidh. It’ll be good for Cory to sing. I hope he sings his own songs, not just the old Irish tunes. It’s a good thing we’re Irish. He’ll get his chance to be himself there. Alex will like it too, although he’s almost too, well, normal, for this family.” An eight-year-old composer-poet and a ten-year-old sports nut-accountant. A twelve-year-old wannabe princess, and a twenty-year-old who wants to know everything. What a contrast!
Normal is a relative term for this family. Alex will want to go to school and spend endless hours on the basketball court. Marnie will gather Sammi and Alicia and more of her Girls and encase themselves in the world of makeup and fashion magazines. Cory will compose poetry and songs and his little mini-plays.
Good! Let them! Better they’re not here!
And AJ, our doctor-to-be, is here to help me identify a dead body—his father’s body.
Thinking about the children, I forgot my own apprehension, but it returned quickly and a wave of guilt and longing twisted through me. I want to be able to comfort all of them and here we are and there they are.
Until the Mexican police and the consulate had said only two should come, we’d had a long family discussion about how to get us all to Mexico. Trying to decide if and how we could all go made the suspense and tension worse, nearly precipitating a family argument. When the first call came, Cory and Alex, their imaginations on overtime, immediately went into scenarios of how they would rescue their father from the jungle. Marnie, at twelve, as Daddy’s Girl, simply refused to think there was anything wrong, believing her dad, her hero, could not possibly be harmed. I wanted to be together with them so I could comfort them with hugs and touches and reassurance. I wanted to be brave for AJ’s sake too. I’m their mom. I’m supposed to be brave for everyone.
AJ caught the worry in my eyes and took my hand, trying to comfort me. All the while I saw his own face tense and lined. Our thoughts ran in the same direction. Will the body be Art’s? Am I a widow? Is AJ fatherless at twenty? And Marnie? And Alex and Cory? Oh god! It’s too cruel!
I was already tired by the days leading to this trip, when we all hovered at The House waiting for news after that first call from Mexico. But I had managed. When Big John O’Keeffe came over and commandeered our library, Art’s home office, to lead the search for his son, Jonny O, and for Art, I managed. When our house was flooded with friends and neighbors and well-wishers and even, outside, the reporters, I managed. I was used to a house filled with people and dogs and cats, coming and going. I always had managed that. It’s what I did as Art’s wife and mother of our children. It’s what I loved to do. It was all I ever wanted to do, be a wife, a mother, have a big Irish family.
This struggle is made worse by memories of the other deaths. I…
“Mom. Don’t go there.” AJ put his arm around my shoulders.
I nodded. I felt tears burning behind my eyelids. My mind swerved there anyway. Such pain! This is bringing it all up again.
My father, a quiet drunk, slowly sipped himself to death when I was eleven, leaving a deep hole in his place, a deep hollow inside of me. His unfilled presence left my mother, Katherine O’Neill, MomKat, in a long gray silence that shut me out. Before that, MomKat had not been a silent woman. When she withdrew it was as if I lost her too. By the time she came out of it, I was emotionally gone from her as well as my father. Drunk or not, I loved him. I missed his presence deeply. It shook my world. I know exactly what this will do to Marnie, to the boys.
In addition, my two much-older brothers, who had already left us—I never knew why—stood at the back of church and then disappeared from our lives totally. I never saw them again.
My Aunt Carrie and my best childhood friend, Caitlin Dunleavy, had taken their place. Not a little girl anymore, I grew up fast after that.
And more pain. Our little baby daughter who died in her sleep at three months, a crib death. He’s right. Don’t go there! I have to shut this out or I’m not going to make it through this!
“I’m here for you, Mom. The others are too. Do you want me to call them again?” Both his arms went around me.
“No. I don’t think there’s time. I’ll be all right. It’s I who should be here for you. I never wanted you to have to face anything like this. It’s the waiting. It’s hard to wait.”
This waiting! This inaction! This helplessness! This gray of unknowing! This watching our belief in the security of our lives ripping and falling away like the shedding of skin. This is pain of a kind I could not have imagined. I never wanted any of my children to know this.
The PA system came to life with a squawked garbled message over the heads of the crowd. Passengers began to stand and gather their things.
“Mom, they’re calling our flight.”
AJ stood, pulled me up with one hand, grabbed our bags with the other, and we walked to find out what Death had wrought this time.
We walked off the plane in Merida into a wet blast of overwhelming heat, humidity, noise, and screaming tropical colors. I felt slapped by the scene. I tried to make sense of it but sounds of strange languages assaulted my ears. Torrents of staccato Spanish, a snatch of German, a brief conversation in French, slow British English, and other languages I’d never heard rattled through my head. Confusion. Chaos. People of all colors and sizes looked like they knew where they were going, laughing, hugging, chatting, while AJ and I stood in the midst of all this, clutching our bags, unable to decide what to do next. Abruptly, we were surrounded by four Mexican police who directed us toward a white door labeled “Securidad”. I was conscious of raised eyebrows, strange fearful glances, people scurrying away with faces averted, and blatant curiosity as we were escorted through the crowd. A man in chinos and sunglasses lounged against the wall and his face followed our progress as police cleared people out of our way. I felt embarrassed, felt my face flush.
I was thirsty and had to go to the bathroom. Without listening when I requested a bathroom, they began the questions the police captain had fired at me on the phone days ago.
As they spoke, that first phone call played over again in my head and I was home, standing in the kitchen, cutting up a chicken for supper. It was September, Monday of the third week after Art and Jonny O had flown out of Green Bay…
On the phone a strange male voice with a Spanish accent asked, “May I speak to Señora Anna Kinnealy, por favor?” He pronounced it “KEN’ a lee”.
“I’m Anna Kinnealy.” I pronounced it correctly for him.
“Señora. I am Capitan Jesus Arispe Sandoval from the Merida Police. I am calling from Merida, Mexico. Is your husband Arthur Kinnealy?” Same pronunciation. His voice was stern, brittle, the cold sharp edge of a knife blade. I felt myself tense. Why would a Mexican policeman be calling me? Why would anyone Mexican be calling me? Why isn’t this Art calling me?
“Yes, he is.”
No call like this can be good. A quick shiver rippled up my back and down my arms.
“Why are you calling? What’s wrong?”
Tiny lumps of dread formed and congealed in my chest. Why would Mexican police even know about Art? What reason could there be except something out of the ordinary? If something is wrong, why not a call from an embassy? A consulate?
“Señora, I am very sorry to inform you that there has been a serious accident. Does your husband pilot his own plane?”
“Yes, he does, but he’s fishing right now.” Of course, he’s fishing. Why would he even be in the plane? He’s not in the plane.
“He’s fishing on a charter boat based at Cozumel but I don’t have the name of the charter company right here with me.” Where is it? I think it’s somewhere in Art’s office.
“Señora Kinnealy, we have information he was flying his plane and has perhaps crashed into the jungle but we have very little information at this time. A distress call was heard at the airport tower here but there was no time to obtain more knowledge because contact was broken too quickly. We would like to know if you have knowledge of his travel plans and the plane registration or identification.”
“But is he alive? Where is he? Is he injured?”
Cold fear coiled inside me now. Suspicion too. How does this man know about me? How did he get this information to call me, if not from Art?
“We do not know with certainty if he was the one flying the plane, but it's not at the airport. At this time we have not yet located the place where this plane went down. We have men out searching the area.”
My mind jumped all over the place. Why is he saying “we”? He sounds like a robot. The plane went down? Art wouldn’t be using the plane right now. Why would he let someone else use the plane? He would never…
“We need more information,” he continued, “and we thought you might know more details of his plans.”
“Señora! Are you listening?”
A harsh, rasping voice grated at my ears, demanding my attention. A police officer had thrust his face up into mine, his black mustache and goatee dominating his features, twitching with impatience. He was almost a head shorter than I am, with a wide body, heavy shoulders, hands on his hips, reeking of cigarettes and sweat. He looked as if I had insulted him. I couldn’t remember what I had said, if I had said anything.
AJ’s mouth opened as if he might protest but he shut it suddenly, lips clamped tightly together. He’s only twenty. He’s even more unsophisticated than I am. We have no credibility with these men. Where is the person from the consulate?
I was so numb from the past days of tension, I couldn’t feel my own face when I touched it. I couldn’t push away the thought that this really had nothing to do with our family, or Big John’s family, that it was all some strange dream and I would wake up sooner or later.
Abruptly, without explanation, the questioning ceased and I was escorted to a dirty bathroom by a very overweight, angry-looking female officer. The floor was gritty under my shoes. There were no stalls, just one toilet, no toilet paper. The seat was smeared with dried feces in two places, discolored, filthy. She paced impatiently, watching every move I made, while I took the few towels that remained to line the toilet seat, relieved myself, used my own tissues for toilet paper, washed my face and hands with wipes from my bag and tried to collect my thoughts.
“Agua, por favor. Yo quiero agua, por favor.” I said to her twice. I was so thirsty. I knew very little Spanish but I was sure of these words. She ignored me, shrugging as if she didn’t understand what I said. She did. Once outside the bathroom door, I heard her tell a male officer what I had said, catching the words agua and gringa.
He ignored both of us.
I had no energy left to protest when we were informed we must now go to identify the body. We were escorted out into the dust and heat and deposited in a police vehicle.
No offer of a visit to our hotel. Or water. Or any help.
While we were still at home in Green Bay, Big John O’Keeffe had called the consulate. They had told him someone would meet us. No one did.
The streets of Merida were a blur of people, dogs, bicycles, mopeds, carts, wagons, and numerous larger forms of transportation. I remember seeing a dusty donkey who I thought looked as tired, frightened and out of place as I felt. I watched AJ lean forward in the police car, absorbing the scenes with intense interest. I felt only dread.
It’s strange how each person deals with these things. His way is to take in every detail. I only want to shut it all out.
Colors assaulted and overwhelmed me. Colors of clothing on the women, fiercely bright colors on many of the buildings, colored flags and banners, colored flowers, colored buses. I love color but these were, in the intense tropical sunlight and in the state I was in, burning and scraping my skin and eyes. I dug through my bag for sunglasses, which brought some relief.
The vehicle was air-conditioned, but dust from the streets swirled faintly through the car. I sneezed several times and finally resorted to holding a tissue over my nose and mouth. That drew a contemptuous look from the female officer, who sat in front with the driver.
We rode a seemingly endless series of streets, through a large business district, past colonial buildings and Spanish churches, through another district where wealthy homes displayed their superiority with long driveways and manicured lawns, and through a barrio of small shacks overcrowded with people who barely had clothing. That was followed by our entry into what seemed like a place of many warehouses. We stopped at last at a windowless cement block building, whitewashed in some distant past, now stained with whatever had been flung at it or poured on it or quite possibly peed on it. Papers, cans, bottles, and miscellaneous junk had been dropped or blown or thrown against it. A cat crouched behind a large metal barrel near its walls. Three thin ragged dogs fought over some scrap, snarling at each other. The air smelled simultaneously of dry dirt, garbage, sweat from the officers with us, and a putrid stink I couldn’t identify.
Capitan Arispe Sandoval arrived in a police vehicle and introduced himself to AJ. He was an inch taller than I, a thin man with a long Modigliani face. His voice held no warmth, all business. He did not make eye contact with anyone, not even with other officers. He didn’t introduce himself to me.
Arrogant! He’s arrogant. I have met lawyers and one obnoxious judge like that! Businessmen, too. They don’t look at people; they scan them, look over them, around them, through them. He isn’t even seeing me.
Without saying a word to me, he took my elbow to escort me in. His grip felt too strong and I pulled away. He reacted by taking an even firmer grip, hurting my arm. Another officer opened the door, then stationed himself inside it, as if guarding it. From what? Why the guard?
I looked at AJ. He mouthed, “It’s OK, Mom.”
It’s not OK, not at all. I’ll have bruises from his fingers on my arm. I jerked my arm away and walked quickly ahead of Arispe Sandoval. A third officer scrambled to open an inner door for me. AJ followed me. We were hurried down a straight grey corridor lined with closed doors on each side and herded directly into a bare room with a long metal table covered with a black cloth mounded by something under it. The putrid smell was now intense. I tried breathing through my mouth. It was terrible. Lighting was dim and I wondered how we would be able to see clearly. I should have counted my blessings. Without any preliminary warning, the Capitan uncovered the lump on the table.
Oh god! Oh god! I took in a sudden breath and gagged, tasting Death.
I was not prepared for this sight at all. Somehow it had not entered my mind that I was to see a burned, decaying human body. Nor would I have been able to imagine what that might be like. I was looking at the charred remains of what may or may not have been a human. There seemed to be legs, arms, a head. There were no features where the face should have been. No hair. No separate fingers or toes, just digits stuck together. The entire body was a charred black massive cinder. Yet some greenish, grayish pus oozed out of a hole where an abdomen might have been. Flies spun dizzily, drunkenly through the air and landed on the green areas, and small maggots had begun to squirm in it.
There is no way to describe the smells. Charred flesh has a smell of its own. Rotting flesh has another. The air was reeking, dry, dusty, thick, and hot.
I was so surprised and shocked I could only stare. I tried to look away and couldn’t. I couldn’t move.
This is not Art! This is not human! This could not have been a living being of any kind.
I remember sensing that my mouth was open with astonishment. I closed it and was sorry I did. One breath though my nose and the full stink hit me and I gagged again. Nausea rose in my throat from deep in my stomach. I fought to keep from retching and lost the struggle. A small man in a dirty white medical coat handed me a pail and I threw up. When I looked again at the corpse, I grew faint.
I glanced at Arispe Sandoval. He seemed almost amused at my horror, one side of his mouth turned up in a small sneer.
“We think this is your husband, Señora. Is there anything you recognize?” His voice was flat, still and cold.
But he’s smiling! Is he enjoying this? Is this his cruel joke? Does he enjoy cruelty?
I turned my eyes back to the corpse. More horror! I was forced to really look for something familiar. I found it. On one blackened, clawed protruding lump jutting out from the body part nearest me, there was a ring stuck in the remains of what might have been a hand. Dirty and discolored, but with an unmistakable outline that was familiar, I saw the ring we had picked out together before we married, the ring that matched my wedding ring. We had designed it ourselves, our own Celtic design. In our entire marriage, I had never seen it off Art’s hand.
In a daze, I held out my shaking hand and saw the Capitan look from one ring to the other and nod. AJ put his arms around me and I saw tears sliding silently down his face, felt his whole body trembling. There was no other way we could find to identify the body. I couldn’t speak.
AJ haltingly told the Capitan the height and weight of the body seemed to match that of his father. But that was a fiction. There really was no way to tell. There were no clothing or personal effects. No luggage. Where were his clothes? His bags?
We were taken to a small office furnished with a paper-littered desk and two hard wooden chairs. The Capitan sat in one, behind the desk, I sat in the other and AJ stood next to me. AJ read the papers Arispe Sandoval presented to us. I signed them. I didn’t care what they said. I just wanted to get out of there. I asked for copies and was informed it was not necessary. That was a lie. Later we had to return to get them. We were ordered to pick up the body in two more days.
Suddenly I was furiously angry. “I want the ring!” I stood up.
“That is not possible, Señora.”
“Yes it is! It’s mine! I want the ring now.”
I turned and ran back down the hall to the room and snatched the covering off the corpse. Reaching down, I broke off the part that had the ring. It crumbled in my hand and I shoved the loose ring on my largest finger.
Turning around, I found myself face to face with the Capitan. He was reaching for me. I drew myself up to my full height and growled, glaring at him, rage pouring off me into the air.
“Don’t you touch me! Don’t you dare touch me!”
I brushed past him as he stood there and went to where AJ stood in the door with the officer who was our driver. “We’re leaving now,” I announced.
I walked outside. AJ followed. I heard the Capitan fume and rant inside.
After an interminable sweaty wait in the hot sun, while we both fought nausea, we were brought to our hotel in a police car.
I woke up flailing the air, a sheet tangled around my body, fear pounding through my mind and my spirit, piercing my chest, searing my heart. I lie in the dark room, exhausted, my body shaking, waiting until my breathing slows, willing myself to a tenuous stillness.
Another nightmare. My enemies, my friends, these nightmares.
They have carried me across years of fear and loss. Sometimes I even welcome them now. They move me to action. They tell my story. When I pay attention to what they reveal, they rip me out of the denial I love so much.
As I stop shaking, I wrap myself in my quilt, leave my bed and move to my desk, turn on the small light, and begin my journal again, as I have so many nights these seven years since our world blew apart.
Writing soothes me, calms my anxieties, mitigates the horror of the pictures that will never leave my mind, no matter how hard I try to erase them. Writing appeases the ghosts who drift in and out of my consciousness.
Writing tells our story. For seven years I’ve made our living writing for others. This journal has been for myself, so I don’t return to the pain and loss that held us all imprisoned in grief and fear for so long.
I know why the nightmare comes now. Today I must tell the whole story to the police who, after all these years, are investigating my husband’s death. I must dredge up all the searing memories.
The clock light glows 2:57 a.m. The smell of a quiet September rain drifts faintly through an open window.
Is it over? Will we finally have some peace?
…journal, Friday, September 20……meeting with police and Conrad…
This morning I showered for a long time, letting warm water and lavender-scented soap dispel the sickly smell of panic. It oozes from my body all day if I don’t scrub it off. It lingers in the air like the smell of uremic poisoning in the nursing homes where the old wait to die. I must be prepared, calm, in control.
The police arrived at the Wentworth & Foster law firm at the same time AJ and I did, walking into the lobby and eyeing us, speculation and suspicion in their eyes. There were two of them, both in suits.
My thoughts at the time: Detectives, no uniforms. I remember Greg Klarkowski. He looks much older, more worn. He doesn’t remember me. He wasn’t a detective then. Dull colors surround him—tans, greys, a streak of brown.
His suit was dark brown, shirt white, tie plain brown. His black hair was cut within an inch of its life, looking like overgrown five o’clock shadow all over his head. There was a bit of gray at his temples. Small pouches sagged at his chin, cheeks and eyes.
His eyes are sharp, alert. He is no fool. No flash. No axe to grind.
Not so the other one. He is bald, bullet-headed, bulky, and closet belligerent. He’s barely controlling his macho mindset. He swaggers, using his eyes as knives, threatening, challenging the room. His color is an angry dirty orange. I see contempt when he looks at me. His face and eyes change to a dark curiosity when he looks up at AJ. AJ’s height demands a form of respect. Shorter people have to look up at tall ones. I know about that. For a woman, I am tall—five feet, nine inches. But I am accustomed to looking up at men too because my Art was six feet, four. I know what that feels like. This man is my height. We stand eye to eye.
He’s examining me again. He sees only female. I see his condemnation. I know condemnation intimately. I have experienced it before from others. And from myself.
They did not introduce themselves.
I wiggled my fingers in a small wave to Ardith Seacrest, Conrad’s executive secretary, who was serenely typing dictation as we entered, her earpiece set over her perfectly coiffed pale blonde hair. She removed the earphones and asked us all to be seated.
I spent the waiting time wandering around the office, looking at the new collection of artwork now on the walls. I’m at home here, having worked part time for the firm for years, since Conrad offered me a job.
As usual, AJ’s blue eyes, peering from under his mop of unruly curly black hair, moved from detail to detail in the room, memorizing everything, his long legs stretched out in front of him.
By use of a discreet button Ardith had already alerted Conrad we were here and he suddenly entered the room. The faint cool smell of his aftershave floated by on the air. A touch of spice, a smidgeon of mint and some fragrance that reminded me of pictures of Thailand.
What a beautiful gray suit. Thai silk. Perfectly tailored. I haven’t seen that one before. It must be new. He looks like an ad for men’s suits from GQ or some upscale men’s magazine.
He faced the police, seated before him. Klarkowski relaxed a bit, but the other man remained tense and coiled.
“Gentlemen, I’ll be with you shortly. Help yourself to coffee. It’s been freshly made,” he invited and he indicated a shelf where several pots were perking away, the aroma combining with the rose-scented sachets Ardith always keeps on her desk.
I love the smell of this place.
Then he turned to us. “Anna, AJ, would you come in, please?” We followed him into his office.
Conrad offered us his usual selection of teas and coffees, his “private stock” as he calls it. As I made tea for myself and got AJ some coffee, he wasted no time in getting to the point.
“Anna, given that you’ve been having more posttraumatic stress again, are you sure you want to go through with this? It may be very difficult, even though these memories are seven years old. They’ll want details, may want to question you extensively. Keep in mind that I will be the one in control though, which is why I set the meeting here. Better here than at police headquarters. Still…”
He waited for my answer, frown lines creasing his forehead.
Seating myself at the long table that dominated his office, I shut my eyes. The night had been difficult. Preparing for this meeting has triggered gruesome memories. I was lucky Conrad was at The House when the police called two weeks ago. He was able to set the meeting here, telling them he had reasons for wanting to sit in on it.
“I had very little sleep last night. I’m nervous. I’m worried. But three deaths now are enough. I don’t want any more. If this will help, I want to do it.”
My mind saw the figures of Art, Andy and Sam as they had been while alive; as they had been for the many years my husband’s law firm was part of our lives. The Firm, we all called it: O’Keeffe, Kinnealy, Soderberg and Moss. It was everything to all of us, the fulfillment of our portion of the American Dream of upward mobility, our livelihood and symbol of success.
“I want to contribute anything I can to finding out what’s going on. If going over events from all those years ago will help, well, then I’ll do it. Maybe what AJ and I remember will help. Maybe this will put it all to rest.”
“Did you bring your journals?”
“Yes. The shorter version and the full transcriptions. I’ll be using the condensed version today, leaving out the more personal parts. Did you get the files I emailed to you?”
Conrad nodded. “Yes, and I’ve read enough of them to know the police don’t really need your input to continue their investigation. They’re fishing. That’s why I offer you a way to back out.”
“I can do this.”
AJ, in jeans and a Packer sweatshirt, was standing at the window, watching the gulls and pelicans fly over the river. He turned to Conrad, arms folded across his chest.
“Tell me again why we have to do this. I just got in from Minnesota an hour ago and before we do this I’d like to know more about why.”
AJ, at twenty-seven and just finishing his MD, has never been one to do anything without finding out all about it first.
“Absolutely.” Conrad nodded emphatically. “I’ll keep it brief. In the process of negotiating your mother’s settlement with The Firm since your father’s death, I found some suspicious discrepancies in their books, including a large influx of money just before your father was killed.
“Anna, I will discuss that with you later. You’ll need to know more about that.” He turned back to AJ.
“Parallel to that, the police departments of Northeast Wisconsin, especially Green Bay and Brown County, have for years battled a rising tide of drugs in the area. Because of the death of your father and two other members of The Firm, they have begun to question if there may have been a connection. This is particularly true due to the most recent death of Sam Soderberg, which is reported to have been execution style. Even though Sam left The Firm some time ago, tentacles of suspicion reach back for many years.
“They are aware, as is anyone who reads the papers and watches TV, that there’s been a Mexican connection with drugs for a long time. I’m sure you realize law enforcement agencies, local through international are exploring every avenue to combat the resulting crimes.
“Since you were the family members who went to Mexico just after your father died, it’s logical that the police called and asked if Anna would cooperate by telling them all she remembers of what happened back then. She agreed and volunteered your services also. I hope that’s all right with you?”
He raised an eyebrow in inquiry. AJ nodded but looked none too pleased. “Is The Firm under suspicion? Is my father’s reputation under suspicion? What’s going on?”
I rose and walked to the window and put a hand on his arm.
“AJ, can we just do this? Conrad can bring us up to speed on his information later. You and I can talk more tonight. You know you’ve never been really satisfied with what you learned in Mexico. Maybe the police should know that now. If you want to back out, I’m fine with that but I have to do this.”
“I don’t want to back out, Mom. Like you said, I’ve always felt something was going on that we didn’t know about or see. I’m just worried about you. It’s re-traumatization. I’d feel better about it if I knew you wouldn’t suffer this again.”
“I have a counseling appointment with Grace this afternoon. She’ll be doing her hypnosis magic to help me relax and release it. Caitlin and Caroline are coming with me as backup. It won’t be anywhere near as bad as living through it the first time.”
AJ remained at the window with his arms across his chest, body language that told me he was steeling himself for the worst.
For him or for me? We both are going to suffer with this. He’s remembering the corpse. I can see it in his eyes.
I looked at Conrad.
“Let’s get on with this.”
Conrad hit his intercom and asked Ardith to send the police in. We took our chairs again.
Introductions were made. The other man’s name was Thomas Rudmann.
Conrad took charge immediately, his demeanor changing, his voice deepening as if he were in court, his face set in serious lines.
“Gentlemen, as you know, I was at Anna’s home when you phoned requesting an interview. Anna does research for a number of firms, ours included, and I was bringing her more work. I have represented her for seven years, since her husband, a senior partner of the firm of O’Keeffe, Kinnealy, Soderberg and Moss, died in Mexico. I attempted to negotiate a fair settlement for Anna for her husband’s share of that firm. I set this meeting because my research into what is now the O’Keeffe law firm left me with suspicions about what had happened back then, and what may still be going on, quite possibly illegal dealings. A few days ago, Arthur Kinnealy Sr. was officially declared dead and Anna will finally be getting the financial settlement due her from her husband’s interest in that firm. With that settled, and two more violent deaths of members of that firm, I believe it’s important to take a long look at what happened. I am recording this and will see that your office gets a copy. In view of my client’s serious previous posttraumatic stress history, I will be stopping this interview if I deem it necessary. Mrs. Kinnealy does want to cooperate with you in every way and so does Dr. Kinnealy.”
He pressed the button on the tape recorder.
“If you would state your names, employers and reason you are here…officers, will you begin, please?”
“Detective Gregory Klarkowski, Green Bay Police Department, drug investigation.”
“Detective Thomas Rudmann, Brown County Sheriff’s Department, also drug investigation.”
Conrad nodded to me, signaling me to speak.
“Anna M. Kinnealy, widow of Arthur Kinnealy Sr., who was formerly a partner in the Green Bay law firm of O’Keeffe, Kinnealy, Soderberg, and Moss.”
“Arthur J. Kinnealy Jr., MD, son of Arthur Kinnealy Sr. I’m called AJ.”
Conrad then set ground rules.
“I want Anna to go through her journals in their entirety with minimal interruption. Gentlemen, you’ll find paper and pens available and I ask that you write down any points you want to explore but save them for later questioning. I think this will keep us from getting off track. I want to emphasize this is entirely voluntary on the part of Anna and AJ and in a spirit of complete cooperation. I reserve the option to end this meeting at any time.
“Anna, begin please.”
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BOOK REVIEWS FROM AMAZON
5.0 out of 5 stars Great debut December 9, 2012
By Dawn Gray
I was pleased and proud when Judy asked me to read her book... and a little apprehensive. First books can sometimes be painful. I can honestly say that painful is NOT one of the things this book is. "Betrayal by Serpent" is a complex and riveting thriller. Beginning with Anna's heartbreak upon the unexpected death of her husband, through the process of building a life by herself for her family, and on to the horrors that she had to fight through, I was drawn into the story and didn't want it to end.
I am eagerly looking forward to the next book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!, November 25, 2012
By Jeannie R
This review is from: Betrayal by Serpent (Paperback)
I don't even know where to begin! This book is one of the most riveting books I have ever read! From the very first chapter you are sucked into a world of intrigue and suspense until the very last word! Incredible attention to detail and clever twists to the story keep the reader on the edge of their seat, and unwilling to put the book down until the very last page is turned! If you are looking for a great read, this is most definitely the book for you!
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