Avenged to Death: A Jamie Brodie Mystery
by Meg Perry
Who is Randall Chesterson Barkley, and why has he named Jamie Brodie and his brothers in his will? The answer to that question leads Jamie to another answer: the story of what really happened to his mom. Then two murders throw Jamie, Kevin and Jeff into an investigation that uncovers more secrets from the past – and forces Jamie into a decision where there is no option for a happy ending.
November 19, 1980
DEL MAR – A fatal crash on I-5 late last night took the lives of two women and seriously injured three others. Tracy Jemison, 34, of Camp Pendleton, and Julie Brodie, 30, of Oceanside, were killed instantly when Jemison’s Toyota Corolla was struck head on at high speed by a Ford Mustang traveling south in the northbound lane. Two passengers in the back seat of the Corolla, Belinda Marcus, 33, and Marie Crabtree, 34, both of Camp Pendleton, were airlifted to UCSD Medical Center after being cut out of the vehicle. Both are in critical condition.
The driver of the Mustang was identified as Gavin Barkley, 20, of La Jolla. He and his passenger, Kate Bianchi, 19, of Chula Vista, were also transported to UCSD Medical Center. Barkley sustained a chest injury and is in fair condition. Bianchi was not wearing a seatbelt and was thrown through the windshield of the Mustang on impact. She sustained severe head injuries and is in grave condition.
A California Highway Patrol officer at the scene said that the headlights on Barkley’s car were not on. The investigation is ongoing, but preliminary findings indicate that Barkley drove the wrong way up the off-ramp at the Del Mar Heights Rd. exit and struck Jemison’s vehicle in the right lane.
Barkley’s blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was 0.28%, nearly three times the legal limit.
The 5 northbound is still closed between the SR56 and Del Mar Heights Rd. exits and is expected to reopen by 10:00 am today.
Monday, March 30
“Dr. Brodie? I have a registered letter for you.”
I looked up from my desk. Rick, our mailroom guy, was standing in my office doorway with an envelope.
“No kidding.” This was a first. I signed Rick’s clipboard and took the envelope from him. It was heavy stock, thick with pages, creamy white in color. “What the heck is it?”
“Dunno.” Rick took his clipboard back. “Have a good day.”
I leaned against the door frame as I studied the envelope.
Jeremy D. Brodie, D.Phil.
Charles E. Young Research Library
University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA 90095
I recognized the return address as downtown San Diego. The sender sounded like a law firm: Smith, Hendrickson, Delio and Franklin, LLC.
I went next door to Liz Nguyen’s office and waved the envelope at her. “I got a registered letter.”
“It looks like a law firm.”
“It looks like? Open it, ya goof.” She handed me her letter opener.
I slit the envelope and removed the pages inside. “It’s a will.”
LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
RANDALL CHESTERSON BARKLEY
I, Randall Chesterson Barkley, now residing in the County of San Diego, State of California, and being of sound mind and memory and not acting under fraud, menace, duress or the undue influence of any person whomsoever, do hereby make, publish and declare this to be my Last Will and Testament, and hereby expressly revoke any and all former wills and codicils to wills heretofore made by me…
A lot of legalese followed. I flipped through the pages. “Who the hell is Randall Chesterson Barkley?”
Liz stood and looked over my shoulder. “You don’t know?”
“Never heard of him.”
“The lawyers are in San Diego – is it someone you knew as a kid?”
“Not that I remember. And even if it was, why have they sent me his will?”
Liz went back to her computer and opened UCLA’s database page. “Maybe his obituary was in the San Diego paper.”
“Maybe.” I went to look over her shoulder.
It didn’t take her long to find it.
Randall Chesterson Barkley, 85, passed away February 16, 2014, after a long illness. Mr. Barkley was a native of San Diego, a graduate of Stanford University, and the founder of Zaltu Inc. He was predeceased by his wife of forty-two years, Jeanette Cordelia Graham Barkley. There are no other survivors. In lieu of flowers, please donate to Hospice.
I said, “He died over a year ago.”
Liz said, “His name doesn’t ring any bells? He wasn’t your Little League coach or anything?”
“Maybe your dad knows.” Liz gathered some papers. “I’ve got to lead a research session. Let me know.”
“I will.” I went back to my office to get my phone, and found a text from my brother Kevin. “You free? Call me.”
I called. “What’s up?”
“I got something odd in the mail today, delivered to the station.”
“A copy of the will of Randall Chesterson Barkley, whoever the hell that is?”
“Yeah. You don’t recognize that name?”
“No. Do you?”
“Liz suggested that Dad might know.”
“Good idea. Do you have time to call him? Jon and I are about to head out to a scene.”
“Yeah, I’ll call.”
I closed my office door and called my dad. When he answered it sounded like he was outside. “Hey, Dad. Whatcha doin’?”
“I’m at the beach with Colin. We’re taking pictures of plants.”
“Ah.” My nephew Colin was being homeschooled through middle school by his parents, my brother Jeff and sister-in-law Valerie. My dad, retired from the Marine Corps, helped out frequently with the field work. “I just have a quick question.”
I explained. “Does the name Randall Chesterson Barkley mean anything to you?”
Dead silence. I began to think my phone had dropped the call. “Dad?”
He said softly, “Randall Barkley was the father of the man who killed your mom.”
I sucked in my breath. “Holy shit.”
Another moment of silence. I could hear Colin’s voice in the background, telling my dad something. Dad said, “I’ll call you tonight. You going to be home?”
“Okay. Talk to you then.”
Holy fucking shit. The man whose son had caused the fatal car crash that killed my mom – and Kevin and I had a copy of his will? I flipped through the pages again. and something caught my eye.
My own name.
I hereby give, or devise and bequeath all of my property and estate, both real and personal, and wheresoever or howsoever situated, or to which I may be entitled at the time of my death, to be divided into equal shares, among the following:
Jeffrey David Brodie
Kevin Cole Brodie
Jeremy Douglas Brodie
Alexandra Colleen Crabtree
Asher Finn Crabtree
Drew Harris Jemison
Jennifer Louisa Jemison McCune
Joshua William Marcus
Karen Elizabeth Marcus Fornari
Jenelle Renae Shifflett
Who were these other people? I knew my mom had been with some of her friends the night she was killed. I looked at the other names – Crabtree, Jemison, Marcus, Shifflett – but didn’t recognize them.
Were they the children of my mom’s friends?
I flipped through the rest of the will, but there was no mention of anyone else. Randall Barkley’s wife had died before him; there were no other survivors, according to the obituary.
What happened to his son?
I had never heard of Zaltu, Inc. I looked it up online – and nearly fell out of my chair.
Randall Barkley had founded Zaltu, Inc., a software company that wrote code for military satellites, in 1973. The company had done well during the Cold War, stagnated in the 1990s, then took off again after 9/11. In 2003 Barkley sold the company to Lockheed Martin for $600 million.
I blinked and shook my head to make sure I was seeing that figure right.
Six hundred million dollars.
There were ten names on the list of heirs.
Sixty million dollars apiece.
Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I grabbed my inhaler and took a puff.
Then I called my friend – my attorney – Melanie Hayes.
Mel was in court; I left a message with Sunny, the firm’s legal secretary. I texted Kevin – It’s complicated, call me – then called my fiance, Pete. His phone went straight to voicemail. Shit. I wanted someone to talk to now. I glanced at the clock; he should be doing office hours. I took a chance and dialed his office number.
He sounded warm but professional. “Psychology department, Dr. Ferguson.”
His voice brightened considerably. “Hey, yourself. What’s up?”
“I tried your cell but it’s off.”
“Yeah, I’ve got office hours, but there’s no one here. You okay? You sound short of breath.”
“I am short of breath. I think I may have just inherited sixty million dollars.”
He laughed. “Good one. What are you all smoking over there?”
“I’m serious.” I told him about the will. “Six hundred million, divided ten ways. I don’t – I can’t – it’s not -”
“Good God. Did you call Mel?”
“Had to leave a message.”
“Okay. Let’s not get excited until she finds out what this is all about.”
“It looks like a legal will.”
“Yeah, but he may have spent his fortune down to nothing. Don’t start buying up waterfront property just yet.”
When I met Liz at the research desk for our 1:00 shift, she said, “Did your dad know what that will was about?”
I lowered my voice and told her. When I got to the $600 million part, she breathed, “Holy shit.”
“My exact words. But that was years ago. He may have spent it all.”
Liz disagreed. “Nah. A guy like that, who built a business from the ground up? He hasn’t spent it all. He worked too hard to make it.”
“Why would he leave it to us, though?”
She shrugged, as if the answer was obvious. “Guilt.”
I said, “Don’t tell anyone. If it is a lot of money, I don’t want people here to know. At least not yet.”
“I won’t.” She was nearly whispering now. “Will you quit your job?”
“It’s way too early to be thinking in those terms.”
Someone cleared his throat; I looked up to see Clinton Kenneally standing before us. Liz said, “Oh, sorry. Hi, Clinton.”
He bestowed a gentle smile on us. “Good afternoon, Ms. Nguyen, Dr. Brodie. The word of the day is manumit.” He bowed and walked away.
I opened an online dictionary and found the definition. “To free from slavery.”
Liz said, “With sixty million dollars, you’d be pretty damn free.”
I had just stepped onto the bus, on my way home, when Mel called back. “Hey, Jamie. What’s up?”
I told her about the will. “This can’t be real, can it?”
“I’ll find out. Let me call the law firm right now.”
She called me back as I was walking from the bus stop to the townhouse that I owned with Pete. “I spoke to the senior partner’s paralegal. The will is legitimate and has cleared probate, so the assets will be distributed soon.”
“Who are the other people?”
“The paralegal didn’t have any other information. Apparently old man Barkley only did business with Gordon Smith himself.” I heard voices in the background. “My next client’s here. I’ll talk to you later.”
After dinner I was placing the last dish in the drainer when my dad called. “Hey, sport. Sorry I couldn’t talk earlier.”
“Oh, it’s fine. I called Mel.” I recounted my conversation with her. “I wondered if the other names on the list might be the children of Mom’s friends?”
“What were the names?”
“The last names were Crabtree, Jemison, Marcus, and Shifflett.”
“Marie Crabtree, Tracy Jemison, and Belinda Marcus were your mom’s friends. I don’t recognize the name Shifflett.”
“Were they all killed?”
“No. Tracy was. She was driving and your mom was in the front seat. Belinda was paralyzed from the neck down. Marie broke both legs and nearly bled to death, but she recovered eventually.”
“Have you kept in touch with them?”
My dad’s voice was heavy. “No. I tried, but…” He trailed off.
I said softly, “It was too hard.”
“Liz and I looked up the old man’s obituary. It said he had no survivors. What happened to his son?”
“As far as I know he’s still in jail, but I haven’t kept track. I suppose he could have died in prison.”
“How old would he be now?”
Dad paused to do a quick calculation. “Fifty-four.”
“Why would Barkley leave his money to us?”
“I have no idea. He spent enough of it defending his son at trial – I don’t know why he’d leave it to you all now.”
“Dad… What happened?”
He sighed. “Barkley – Gavin Barkley, the son – was driving so drunk he could barely stand, according to the friends at the party he’d just left. He drove the wrong way up the off ramp at the Del Mar Road exit with his lights off and hit Tracy’s car head on at full speed. She never had a chance to put on the brakes.”
I took in a deep breath and blew it out. “Was Gavin even injured?”
“He bruised his heart and broke some ribs, but he recovered pretty quickly. His girlfriend didn’t have her seatbelt on, and went through his windshield. She had a severe head injury and ended up in a permanent vegetative state.”
“How did it even go to trial?”
“The kid pled not guilty. Old man Barkley paid for the best defense attorneys. He had a whole team. It looked for a while like the kid might get off.”
“The prosecutor started bringing us in. Marie was still in a wheelchair at the time, and she testified first. Then Tracy’s husband, Tony, brought his kids in. They were a few years older than you all, and the prosecutor put Drew – the oldest – on the stand. Then he asked me to bring you guys to court.”
“Why? We were so little.”
“That’s why. So the jury could see what Barkley had done. I dressed you three so you matched, in little khaki shorts and blue polo shirts. Dad came with me. I carried you and held Jeff’s hand, and Dad carried Kevin. When they saw you, everyone in the courtroom went ‘ohhhh’ at the same time.”
“Did you testify?”
“Only at the sentencing phase.”
“Did the paralyzed lady testify?”
“Belinda. She sure did. She was still in a halo, but she could speak just fine. Then the girlfriend’s parents brought her in, and that was the last straw for the jury. They were nearly all crying.” Another sigh. “It was brutal, what the prosecutor did, but it worked. The jury recommended the maximum sentence on all counts, and that’s what the judge gave him.”
My dad barked a laugh. “Yeah. It was.”
“Are the other families still in town?”
“I don’t know. Do you want me to find out?”
“No, no.” I’d find out some other way. I didn’t want to put my dad through anything more. “I’m sorry to ask you all these questions.”
“It’s okay. You have a right to know what happened.”
“I’ve always been afraid to ask.”
I could hear the smile in my dad’s voice. “I know, sport.”
I spent the rest of the evening on the phone – first with Jeff and Kevin, repeating all the information I’d gathered. Jeff was dismissive of the will. “There’s no way the old guy would leave us all that money. I bet he left the bulk of it to some charity and we each get a token amount.”
“I don’t know… I didn’t see any charities listed.”
Jeff made a “pah” sound. “We’ll see. I guarantee, he tossed some pittance our way to assuage his guilty conscience.”
“Maybe. But hell, someone dumps a couple of thousand bucks in my lap, I’m not turning it down.”
He just snorted.
When I called Kevin he said, “Gavin Barkley, huh? I can find out if he’s still in jail.”
“Will you? I’d like to know.”
“Sure. I’d like to know too.”
“Jeff thinks there must be a catch. We won’t get that much.”
“Nah. I know how to read legal documents now, remember?” Kevin had just completed a year of paralegal training and earned his certificate; he worked for Mel on the side. “I read every word of that will this afternoon. There are no other beneficiaries. The only question is, how big is the estate?”
I said, “I sure would like to find that out.”
“So would I.”
My last conversation of the evening was with my friend Ali’s dad, Charlie Fortner. Charlie and my dad had worked together at Pendleton for years, until Dad retired in 2002. Charlie had finally retired a few years ago. He and Ali’s mom still lived in the same house where Ali and her sister Lauren had grown up, only a half mile from my dad’s place.
I’d spent almost as much time at the Fortners’ growing up as I had at my own house. Ali’s parents had held out hope that Ali and I might end up together, until Ali and I both came out to them in high school. After their initial shock they’d accepted the news, and I’d stayed close to Ali’s parents.
I wasn’t sure the Fortners would be home. They spent about half the year in their RV, traveling all over the US and Canada. But I got lucky.
Charlie answered the phone. I said, “Hey, Mr. Fortner, it’s Jamie.”
“Jamie! How are you?”
“Fine, sir, thanks. I’m surprised to find you home. I thought you might be someplace more interesting.”
He laughed. “Nah, had to come home and refuel. What’s up?”
“How hard would it be for you to find out if three men who served at Pendleton are still in town?”
“Not hard at all. I’ve got a friend in personnel at the base. But your dad could find out as easily as I could.”
“I know, but I don’t want to ask him. And I don’t actually know the names of the Marines themselves, just their wives.”
“Okay, you’ve got my curiosity up. What are the names?”
“Belinda Marcus, Marie Crabtree and Tracy Jemison.”
Charlie was quiet for a moment. “Ah. I see why you don’t want to ask your dad.”
“He’s the one who gave me their names, but I figured that was enough.”
“Sure.” It sounded like Charlie was looking for a pen. “I didn’t know any of the husbands myself, but my buddy in personnel has been there forever. He’ll know.”
“Thanks, Mr. Fortner. I appreciate it.”
“No problem, son. I’ll let you know what I find out.”
I tossed the phone onto the sofa and blew out a breath. Pete glanced up at me from his laptop. “Find out anything?”
“Just that Kevin read the entire will and there are no other beneficiaries.”
“Jeff doesn’t think it’s real?”
“He’s skeptical. I have to admit, so am I.”
I considered. “It just doesn’t seem possible. It’s too unreal.”
“It’s certainly out of the bounds of normal.”
“You can say that again.”
He grinned. “It’s certainly out of the bounds of normal.”
“Ha ha.” I pulled off one of my socks and threw it at him; it came to rest, draped nicely over his computer screen. “What are you doing?”
“Grading.” He picked my sock off his computer and tossed it to the floor.
I looked around the room. We were in our office, which also served in a pinch as a guest bedroom. Pete was at the long, narrow table that served as our desk, at “his” end, the lamp casting a warm glow on his dark brown hair. Behind him, the mahogany finish on a wall of built-in bookshelves and cabinets reflected the light. I was sprawled on the cushy leather sofa which opened into an incredibly comfortable bed.
We’d completely remodeled this room about a year ago, and had been delighted with the results. I said, “I love this room.”
“Mm. Me too.”
“If this inheritance ends up being just a few thousand dollars, even, we should remodel our bathroom.”
He glanced up at me again. “If that’s how you want to use the money.”
“Hey, it’s a joint decision, right?”
He gave me a look. “That’s not what you said when I was trying to convince you that you could share my salary.”
Pete made significantly more money than I did. I’d been teaching classes as an adjunct in the history department to make up the difference. “Salary is different. This is a one-time thing. What would I use it on for myself?”
“You could get a car.” We’d been living with one vehicle, Pete’s 1998 Jeep Cherokee.
“I don’t want a car. I want a walk-in shower.”
He turned back to his laptop, an indulgent smile on his face. “You probably shouldn’t speculate until you find out how much money’s involved.”
“I know.” I took off my other sock and threw it at him; this time it landed right on his keyboard. “Are you about done?”
“Good God. I’m gonna have to sterilize this laptop.” He tossed my second sock after the first.
“I thought you liked my feet.”
He leered at me over the rim of the screen. “I like other parts better.”
“Uh huh. Like I said, are you about done? Or do I have to throw my tighty whities over there?”
He grinned and closed the laptop.