October 5, 1993
He pinched her left ring finger between his thumb and forefinger, pressing it first onto a pad of black ink then rolling it onto the official card. His fingers were thick as sausages, nails clipped in neat lines, dark hair sprouting above and below the knuckles. Bridget watched as the ink seeped into her skin, like a permanent stain with a sharp chemical smell.
He led her towards a locked metal door and swiped his badge. The door clicked open on a carpeted hallway. At the end, they entered a formal sitting room with blue chintz armchairs, mahogany end tables, and hunting scenes framed in brushed gold. The two large windows were draped with plush burgundy and gauzy liners that shrouded much of the view. A woman in a brown suit stepped forward from the curtains. Bridget jumped back.
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” the woman said. Neatly drawn maroon lines highlighted the curves of her lips. Her hair was whitish-blond, clipped into a page-boy. “Special Agent Chase,” she said, extending her hand. “Agent Wilkinson will administer the polygraph. I’m here to monitor the equipment and data.”
A thicket of colored wire crowned a large black box on the floor. Another box with needles and knobs sat on the table, and next to that was a printer with a thick roll of green paper neatly scrolled in the front.
“All that?” Bridget asked, her voice catching.
“We’ll walk you through it.” Wilkinson pointed her to a seat facing the window. All she could see was the stone tip of the Washington Monument in the distance.
“We’ll start with the easy questions first,” Wilkinson said. He knelt beside her and taped a red wire probe to her right forearm. “We have to establish a base line.” He placed green wires on her left arm and looped them into a pad on her fingertip. She avoided looking at the wires and studied the faint blue-green streaks of her veins. Corpsmen had trouble drawing her blood. Maybe the deepness of her veins would skew the readings. A trickle of sweat leaked down her back. She tapped the armrest with her right finger, and the wires began to shake.
Wilkinson noticed the tapping before she did. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Everyone’s nervous during these.”
“I’m not nervous,” she said too quickly.
Wilkinson waited for her to look at him then offered a half-smile. “Nerves are usually a good sign.”
At his request, she removed her jacket and unbuttoned the top button of her uniform blouse. He pressed cool metal disks against the flesh along the rim of her bra. He taped another probe to her ankle and slid a cuff up over her right bicep. She shivered and crossed her arms over her chest.
Wilkinson stood. “I have to ask you to keep your elbows in the corner of the armrests. The slightest movement can cause interference.”
He stepped back behind the chair out of her line of sight. “We’re ready,” he said. He did not step back into view. He asked for her full name, nickname, address, date and place of birth.
She recited the facts dutifully: “Bridget Jean Donovan. Arlington Gateway, Apartment 1127, Arlington, Virginia. March 4, 1968. Boston, Massachusetts.”
He turned a page. “When did you join the Navy?”
“I was sworn into the Naval Academy July 5, 1986, commissioned May 25, 1990.”
“One of the first classes of women?”
“That must’ve been tough.”
“You could say that.” She gauged the silence. His voice had been friendly, almost inviting. People often wanted to hear more about the Academy, women especially, but she didn’t like to talk about it. A vision of Audrey flashed in her mind, and she pressed her eyes shut at the memory.
“At the Naval Academy you had an honor code, is that correct?”
“Yes, sir,” came out of her mouth before she could stop it. Academy memories always spawned the “sir” response. She reminded herself that the Navy Investigative Service agents were not her superiors. She owed answers and professional courtesy—that was all.
“Can you repeat the Honor Code for me?”
“Midshipmen do not lie, cheat, or steal.”
“Did you ever violate the Honor Code?” he asked.
Her heart fluttered and the wires attached to her arm began to quiver. The real question, she thought, wasn’t whether she had violated the code, but why. She inhaled a deep breath and let it out long and slow. “Yes, I did.”
“How many times?” Wilkinson asked.
“I got some help on a computer program once. Really, I copied a guy’s work. I didn’t understand it, and I passed it in.”
He pressed on. “Outside of this occasion with the computer program did you always follow the honor code?”
She felt her heart shrink. Honor. The word still had a powerful, instinctual hold. “The computer incident is the one I remember most precisely,” she said. Of course, that was a lie. Her right pointer quivered, and she pressed it into the armrest.
Wilkinson tapped a pencil on his clipboard. Chase unscrolled more paper.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
Bridget jerked her head towards Wilkinson. Her private life had no business in the investigation. “No,” she said.
“I see.” Wilkinson stopped tapping his pencil and cleared his throat. “Did you know Audrey Richards?”
Bridget swallowed hard. “Yes.”
“How did you know her?”
“She was my roommate at the Academy for four years.”
“Were you aware that Lieutenant Richards was trying to qualify as one of the first female pilots in a combat squadron?”
“When did you last talk with her?”
“A year ago, maybe a little longer.”
“She was in flight training. She was busy.”
“No other communication?”
Bridget mustered some indignation. “We’d been out of touch. We were both busy with our own careers.”
“Did you consider her a friend?”
“Yes, I do. I mean I did. I do. I don’t know.”
“Captain Fangmeyer said you were assigned to the news desk following the first report of the accident?”
“How did you feel about that?”
“It was good to work.”
“Did you have any concerns about anything you saw or heard?”
She hesitated. “My friend was dead. I had a lot of concerns. I still do.”
“You know there’s been a series of leaks to the press about the investigation.”
“I’ve seen the reports.”
“Do you have any information about that?”
She stayed silent.
“The Washington Post ran an article recently that quoted a ‘defense official’—do you know who that person might be?”
Again, she made no answer.
“Lieutenant Donovan, are you aware that it’s against Navy policy to provide personnel documents to the media, especially ones that contain classified or sensitive information?”
She snorted. “I helped write the guidelines on Navy media inquiries. My job is to speak to the press.”
“I’m going to ask you again. Do you have any information about the material that was supplied to a Mr. Gleason?”
She lifted her hands, and the wires dangled. “Is that really all you want to know?”
“Please, your hands,” Wilkinson said.
“Why are reporters the only people interested in what caused the accident?”
“The Navy’s had investigators on the case from the beginning,” he said.
“No one’s asked me for information.”
“Do you know something?”
Somewhere in the building a compressor kicked on and the radiator vents hissed. Wilkinson inhaled with a wheeze. The thing about silence was that it was never really silent. In those moments when the world fell quiet, memories rushed through her head in whispers that seemed louder than shouts. Bridget didn’t move. She tried not to breathe. Finally she said, “My lawyer advised me not to answer any questions about the case without him present.”
“Does your lawyer know you’re under suspicion for releasing official Navy documents and conspiring to interfere with an investigation?”
Wilkinson stepped in front of her. “We’re conducting an investigation into a security breach. Cases involving the release of classified information are required by law to be investigated. They are punishable by court martial.”
“There was nothing classified in the newspaper.”
“The entire Richards file is classified.”
Bridget looked towards Wilkinson, but he dodged back out of view. Her heart was beating wildly. “Since when?”
“I see.” Bridget sank back into the chair. “Are we finished yet?”
“With the preliminary questions. We’ll need to see you again. You’re not to leave the metropolitan area without notice, and you must be accessible by phone.”
Wilkinson knelt in front of her and untaped the wires. Chase bent over the machine, extracting the coil of paper. “I’m going to give you some advice,” Wilkinson said. “These preliminary readings.” He gestured to Chase, who unrolled the paper, a long pink graph like a cardiogram read-out, and laid it on the table. Wilkinson pointed at the peaks and quivering lines. The entire sheet looked as though it were filled with parabolic sine curves. Up, down, up down. “This is classic text-book. We don’t see it like this too often. If you’ve done something wrong”—he paused and smoothed back his hair—“you won’t get away with it.”
Bridget looked him in the eye. “The one who got away with something is still out there.”
He shook his head. “You’re a terrible liar.”