Read Lying With Strangers Online
Authors: James Grippando
IT TOOK KEVIN ALL OF FIVE MINUTES TO GET OUT OF HIS JOGGING
shorts and into street clothes. It took him only another twenty to be in the law office of Jennifer Dunwoody.
At first blush, Jennifer seemed like the last woman on earth to be married to Tony Falcone, and that wasn’t just because she’d kept her maiden name. For all his talents and good taste, Tony still had an element of the slick, career criminal-defense lawyer. By comparison, Jennifer was a model of sophistication, an attractive and smartly dressed former prosecutor who seemed more likely to file a bar grievance against a guy like Tony than marry him.
Kevin was her last appointment of the day, an impromptu one at that. She listened with pen in hand but without taking notes as he recounted the entire meeting with Ohn.
“That is so slimy,” she said with all the indignation of a former prosecutor. “I can’t believe he approached you directly, knowing that I represent you.”
“Let’s get past that. What should we do?”
She laid down her pen, then folded her hands atop the desk.
“What do you want to do?”
“Who are you, Socrates? What’s with this answering a question with a question?”
“I simply want to know your thoughts.”
“I have one reaction on an emotional level. But all feelings
aside, I think it boils down to one question. Why would any putative defendant take a deal when he doesn’t think the prosecutor would ever be able to build a case against him in the first place?”
“That’s a powerful argument.”
“So you agree that I shouldn’t try to cut a deal?”
“Would you like me to try to change your mind?” she said.
“Only if you think you can get me past the emotional reason not to.”
“Which is what?”
“I can’t say that I seriously considered Ohn’s offer. Not even for a minute. But I wanted to analyze it logically. By forcing myself to think it through, I thought I might take an honest look at this case—and at me and Peyton. But the more rational I tried to be, the more I realized that I was simply fishing for arguments that would support my own gut feeling. The bottom line is, I love Peyton and would never turn against her. It’s important for you to know that, just in case Ohn approaches you about a deal.”
“I understand exactly where you’re coming from.”
“Good.” He checked his watch. “Sorry I kept you late. It bothered me that I hadn’t said it yesterday when Peyton and I met with Tony, so I felt like I needed to say it to you.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
He rose and started for the door.
“Kevin,” she said.
He stopped and turned. “Yeah?”
“I find it interesting that you left out one very important reason not to cut a deal for yourself.”
“That you believe with all your heart that Peyton is innocent, and that you would never do anything to convict an innocent person.”
“I think that goes without saying.”
“Does it really?” she said.
“Yes, of course.”
“People could read an omission like that different ways, both on the conscious and subconscious level.”
He paused, measuring his response carefully. “There’s no point in reading anything into it. Like I told you: I love her.”
His lawyer waited, as if expecting to hear more.
He simply said good night and closed the door on his way out.
Peyton was dressed in her favorite blue-and-white cloud pajamas, standing barefoot before the bathroom mirror, a glob of toothpaste on her toothbrush. It was almost midnight, and she looked beyond tired. She looked defeated.
Her father had told her not to read the newspapers, but how could she not? Juicy tidbits that the police and prosecutor deigned to leak to the press were her only real source of information. She had virtually no one to talk to, not even Kevin. Least of all Kevin. Things had been awkward between them since the meeting with Tony Falcone. Kevin had apologized, but that didn’t restore the battered trust. She hated having doubts about him, and she sensed that he was doubting her. She’d talked to Tony about her concerns that afternoon, and he’d made a suggestion. It fit with his overall strategy of the case, and he saw no faster way to bridge the gap between Peyton and Kevin.
“Tony wants us to take lie-detector tests.”
Kevin dropped his toothbrush into the sink. He picked it up, collected himself. “Why?”
“Obviously because he thinks we would pass.”
“Of course we would pass,” he said with a nervous chuckle.
“But polygraph results aren’t admissible into evidence. And examiners can make mistakes. Why take the risk of mistake if we can’t use it at trial anyway?”
“If we pass, Tony says he can ask the prosecutor to present the
results to the grand jury. The grand jury can consider it even if the results wouldn’t be admissible at trial.”
“Just because we ask the prosecutor to pass along the test results doesn’t mean he will.”
“Tony says that it would be a real PR blunder if he didn’t. The D.A.’s office would appear to be hiding the truth.”
Kevin rinsed his mouth and put the toothbrush back in the cup. “What happens if we don’t pass?”
Their eyes met in the mirror. “You mean, what if the examiner makes a mistake and thinks we’re lying?”
“Uh, yeah. That’s what I’m saying.”
“Tony says that we’ll just keep the results to ourselves. No one will ever have to know we even took the test.”
He took a deep breath. “Have you decided to do it?”
“It has to be a joint decision. Since we’re preparing a joint defense, Tony thinks it would look really bad if one of us took a lie detector test and the other one didn’t.”
“Do you want me to take it?”
“Only if you want to.”
He looked her in the eye for what seemed like forever. “All right. I’ll do it.”
“Thank you,” she said as she turned out the light.
PEYTON SAT STIFFLY IN AN OLD WOOD CHAIR WITH AN INFLATABLE
rubber bladder beneath her and another tucked behind her back. A blood pressure cuff squeezed her right arm. Two fingers on her left hand were wired with electrodes. Pneumograph tubes wrapped her chest and abdomen.
Seated across the table was Ike Sommers, a former FBI agent who, in the estimation of Tony Falcone, was now one of the finest private polygraph examiners in the business. He was watching his cardio-amplifier and galvanic skin monitor atop the table. The paper scroll was rolling as the needle inked out a warbling line.
“All set,” said Ike.
Peyton felt queasy. She’d been too nervous to eat breakfast, and now she’d wished that she’d gone first and Kevin second. Waiting in the lobby until the conclusion of his test had only made her more anxious.
“Should we leave?” asked Tony. He was off to one side of the conference room, seated beside his wife, Jennifer.
“This whole examination is covered by the joint defense privilege,” said Jennifer. “We watched Kevin’s, so I don’t see why the lawyers can’t watch Peyton’s. Unless we’re making her too nervous.”
“I’m okay,” said Peyton. Still, she was glad that they’d made Kevin wait outside.
“Let’s go then,” said Ike.
Tony had explained the basic process to Peyton in advance, so she knew that the examiner’s first task was to put her at ease. He started with questions that would make her feel comfortable with him as an interrogator. Do you like flowers? Did you ever have a dog? Is your hair purple? They seemed innocuous, but she knew that with each answer he was monitoring her physiological response to establish the lower parameters of her blood pressure, respiration, and perspiration. It was almost a game of cat and mouse. The examiner needed to quiet her down, then catch her in a small lie that would serve as a baseline reading for a falsehood. The standard technique was to ask something even a truthful person might lie about.
“Have you ever thought about sex in church?”
Peyton gnawed her lip. What a giveaway. Didn’t need a polygraph to know that she’d lied about that one.
The room fell silent as the examiner focused on his readings. He appeared satisfied. Peyton knew that she’d been caught, and now he knew what it looked like on the polygraph when she lied. Now he could test her truth-telling on the questions that really mattered.
“Is your name Peyton?”
“Do you like ice cream?”
“Are you a medical doctor?”
“Did you have sex with Gary Varne?”
One glance at the lawyers and Peyton knew that they hadn’t expected that answer. She felt compelled to explain. “The summer before I left for college. We were going steady.”
“Just answer yes or no,” said the examiner.
Kevin’s lawyer didn’t seemed satisfied. Peyton had a sick feel
ing that her response would somehow be misconstrued, but the examiner pushed on.
“Is today Sunday?”
“Have you ever climbed Mount Everest?”
“Did you kill Gary Varne?”
“Are you sitting down now?”
“Are you a woman?”
“Do you know who put Gary Varne’s body in the trunk of your car?”
“Are you deaf?”
“Are you fluent in Chinese?”
“Did you hide your handgun from the police?”
“Are you glad this test is over?”
“Yes,” she said with a cathartic smile.
The examiner turned off the machine.
Tony rose and gave her a little pat on the back. Jennifer headed for the door, saying nothing.
“What’s with her?” asked Peyton.
“Ah, she’ll be all right.”
“She didn’t like my answer about having sex with Gary Varne, did she?”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Tony.
“I told you yesterday that Gary was my first. We lost our virginity together the summer before I left for college. It was before I even met Kevin.”
“The examiner just framed a bad question. There was nothing wrong with my answer.”
“You’re absolutely right.”
“Somebody needs to explain that to Jennifer. I saw it on her face. She thinks I’ve been lying all along about not having an affair.”
“Relax. She’ll be fine.”
Peyton let it go, but inside she felt a growing sick feeling that Kevin’s lawyer was no longer in her camp.
Peyton decided to wait at her lawyer’s office for the official results. When she went back to the reception area, it surprised her to see that Kevin had already left. She wondered if he feared what the test might reveal. She wondered if he’d stormed out in anger after Jennifer had misrepresented his wife’s response to the question about sex with Gary Varne.
It would take a little while for the examiner to interpret the examinations. At Tony’s suggestion, Peyton went out to lunch and came back in ninety minutes. The receptionist sent her straight back to Tony’s office. She stepped in, uttering not a word, the question written all over her face.
“You passed,” said Tony.
She nearly fell over, she was so relieved. She took a seat on the couch.
“What about Kevin?”
“You both passed.”
She tried not to look surprised. “That’s great.”
“Yes. It’s fantastic.”
“But we need to straighten out that question about my having sex with Gary Varne. I don’t want anyone to interpret my answer to mean that I was cheating on Kevin.”
“I’ve already cleared that up with the examiner. Any polygraph examination is good for only three or four test questions. He’ll
confine his final written report to three substantive questions. Did you kill Varne? Do you know who dumped his body? Did you hide your gun? No one will ever know that you were even asked about having sex with Gary Varne.”
“Kevin’s lawyer knows.”
“She heard your explanation.”
“I don’t think she believed it.”
“Look, you’re just going to have to straighten that out with your husband.”
His intercom rang. He hit the speaker button and his secretary announced, “Mr. Esposito is here to see you.”
“I’ll be right there.” He switched off the intercom, started for the door and said, “I’ll be right back, Peyton. That’s my tailor. He just needs a couple measurements.”
“I’ll be fine,” she said.
The door closed, and she was alone. Her eyes started to wander, roaming first over the David Hockney lithographs on the wall, and settling finally on the papers on his desk. She tried to focus from five feet away, then walked over to the desk and took a closer look. It was Tony’s copy of the questions that the examiner had asked her. She picked it up. Beneath it was a copy of the questions he’d asked Kevin.
She looked at hers first. It contained some comments in Tony’s handwriting. Just as he’d promised, the question about having sex with Gary Varne was crossed out with a little note indicating that it would not appear in the final report.
She put hers back and picked up Kevin’s. It looked much like hers, basically the same format. Obviously, Kevin hadn’t been asked about sex with Gary Varne. But as she skimmed from top to bottom, she noticed that something else was missing. She flipped to the second page but still couldn’t find it. She went back and forth, searching, sure that she was just overlooking it.
It has to be here.
But it wasn’t. The examiner had never asked Kevin if he’d killed Gary Varne.
The paper shook gently in her hand as the implications washed over her. Kevin had passed the exam, but he was asked just two substantive questions that related only to his possible role as an accessory after the fact to murder: Did you put Gary Varne’s body in the trunk of Peyton’s car? Did you hide Peyton’s gun?
The door opened, and Peyton quickly put the reports back on Tony’s desk.
Tony looked at her, half smiling and half concerned. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Is everything okay?”
She struggled to keep her gaze from drifting back toward the list of questions atop the desk. “I hope so,” she said in a voice that faded.