Puzzled, Jess pressed the doorbell a second time. “Something doesn’t feel right, Simon. Kathryn's parents, rarely go out in the evening. Since Ken was diagnosed with diabetes, it is easier to keep his sugar levels under control if they dine in. Marie doesn’t miss eating out because she likes to cook.”
“Dining out isn’t the only reason for going out in the evening, Jess. As I recall Ken was on the school board and Marie was very involved in church work.”
She shook her head. “That was years ago. They stopped all of their volunteer work at about the same time their estrangement with Kathryn began.”
Simon said in puzzlement, “The Ken and Marie I remember were always on the go. I can’t imagine them as couch potatoes.”
“Far from it; their interests have just changed. Ken’s passion is woodworking. When he isn’t delivering mail, he’s usually in his woodworking shop.”
“What about Marie?”
“Marie suffered bouts of depression after Kathryn left home, but wisely began seeing a therapist. The therapist suggested taking up a hobby that would keep her mind off her troubles. A potter friend invited her to attend a ceramics class. Instead of making pots she began making porcelain beads. Eventually, her necklaces became hot items at the local craft festivals. About a year ago she added macramé purses to the line of products she produces.”
“Good for Ken and Marie. I'm impressed.”
“I was aware of their interest in crafts, but I didn’t realize how successful their businesses were until I received Kathryn’s note. I asked Mom if she thought it was a good idea to sell Kathryn’s furniture and give the proceeds to Ken and Marie. I incorrectly assumed they were still struggling financially."
"I didn't realize the Owens suffered financially."
"A few years ago, Ken lost his insurance when the company he worked for moved their home office. He and Marie didn’t want to move, so he was out of a job. At about the same time, Ken was diagnosed with diabetes and Marie was fighting depression, so they were forced to use their savings for medical bills.
“Mom assured me that their financial woes had been resolved. Ken got a job delivering mail, and they both began selling their craft products instead of giving them away. I had seen Marie at a craft show, but I wasn’t aware that her beads had become so popular. I haven’t seen Ken in years.
"Mom, on the other hand, stays in touch.”
“We’ve waited this long to talk to Marie. Another day isn’t going to matter. I’ll give her call tomorrow.”
Jess was impatient. “I’ll call later this evening. If they are not back by tomorrow, Simon, I’m going to talk to Skip Anderson. According to Mom, Skip and Maryanne are the caretakers for their property when Ken and Marie are out of town.”
“It looks as though you won’t have to wait until tomorrow. Unless I’m mistaken, that’s Skip headed in our direction.”
Skip met them with a big smile and an outstretched hand. “Simon, Enright. It’s been way too long.”
“Yes, it has. It’s good to see you Skip. How’s your family?”
“Our sons are six and three. They keep us busy but happy. When you are in town again, give me a call. We’ll grab a meal and catch up.”
“I would like that.”
Skip turned to Jess. “I heard a rumor last week that you won’t be back at Laurinburg High next fall. I hope it’s not true.”
“I was offered a teaching job in Clinton at Lehman’s School for the Performing Arts. It’s an offer I can’t turn down.”
“It sounds like an exciting opportunity, but you will be missed here in Laurinburg.”
“Thanks, Skip. Clinton is not that far away. I will be coming back to Laurinburg periodically. It will always be home.”
“It seemed providential when I saw you and Simon drive by my property. I came over because I have a question for you. Did Marie mention a vacation to your Mom?”
She shook her head. “No. I was concerned when no one came to the door. I assumed Marie and Ken were out for the evening.”
“Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I’m worried and so are the other neighbors. Ken always lets me know when they are going to be traveling. I collect their mail, water their flowers and keep an eye on their property.”
Simon asked, “When was the last time you saw him?”
“Last Friday, and he made no mention of a trip. My family was busy over the weekend, so we didn’t see him. Marie doesn’t work in the yard, so we rarely see her. Ken leaves for his mail route at the same time I leave for work, so we pass and wave every weekday. I wasn’t concerned when I didn’t see him on Monday, but I was when I didn’t see him on Tuesday. I stopped by their house Tuesday evening to make sure they were okay. No one came to the door, so I checked the garage. Both cars were there. That’s when I really began to worry.
“I have a key to their house, so I went in to make sure one or both weren’t lying unconscious. The house was empty, and nothing seemed out of place.”
Simon asked, “Did you check to see if anything was missing?”
“This will sound strange, but the only room I’ve been in during the past eight years Maryanne and I have been their neighbors is the kitchen. When they are out of town, Marie puts her house plants in the kitchen, and that’s where I put their mail. When I visit with Ken, it’s in his woodworking shop. What I’m telling you is that I can’t do a walk-through and tell you if there are missing items.”
Simon nodded. “Anything odd?”
“If you call finding their cell phones on the kitchen counter odd, yes. Who leaves home without their cell phone?”
“What about their laptops?”
Skip shook his head. “Since they both have home businesses, I assume they have one, but I can’t swear to it. Sorry, I can’t be more helpful.”
“Did you call the police?”
“Yes, but not until I contacted our neighbors. I wanted to be sure none of their friends knew about a planned trip. I would have contacted a relative if I had contact information. I don’t know where Kathryn is, and I don’t recall Ken and Marie ever mentioning siblings.”
Simon handed Skip a business card. “Marie has a nephew. I’ll try to reach him. If you think of anything else that might help, give me a call.”
Skip studied the card. “So, you are in security. Are Ken and Marie in some kind of trouble?”
“They haven’t done anything wrong, and you and your neighbors aren’t in any danger. That’s all I’m at liberty to say. I will fill you in when the Owens have been located and the situation has been resolved.”
“You always were a straight arrow, Simon. I guess I will have to trust you.
“I need to get back home. Maryanne will wonder where I disappeared to.”
As Simon and Jess watched him trot back toward his property, she said—as much to herself as to Simon, “Strange. Kathryn missing. Her parents missing. Somethings fishy if you ask me.”
Simon nodded. “Which leaves us with two questions. Did they leave willingly? If they didn't, who is responsible? He handed his keys to Jess. “I hope you don’t mind driving. I need to take care of several messages.”
Jess was too preoccupied with her own thoughts to reply.
Jess would later wonder how she managed to safely drive the ten miles to her house. Her mind was a million miles away. Simon didn’t lift his eyes from his phone until Jess pulled into the driveway in front of her house.
She turned and looked at him. “You told Skip that you would let Spenser know that Ken and Marie are missing. Has he contacted you?”
“Not yet. Right now, the Owens’ neighbors need to know that someone is taking Ken and Marie’s disappearance seriously.”
She started to open the car door, and he put his hand out to stop her. “Don’t go just yet. Max and your mom should be here shortly.”
“You are making me nervous. Is there something you aren’t telling me?”
“I need more information about about a situation in New York. Teresa, the young woman Kathryn befriended, has disappeared. The PI I hired to act as a mole in Springer's organization reported that Springer informed his employees that she was missing, then immediately fired five workers. He did a song and dance about disloyal employees before he officially let them go.”
Jess’ face drained of color. “That doesn’t sound good. Was the PI you hired fired?”
“Yes, he was.”
“Is he in danger?”
“Kane doesn’t seem worried.”
“If Springer is responsible for Teresa’s disappearance would he fire employees? I’m not in law enforcement, but I would be suspicious if a club owner suddenly began to fire his employees. I would question the legitimacy of his organization.”
Simon shook his head. “My guess is that he is covering his bases. He is closing the doors of his club for a week for what he calls renovations. If the police come around asking questions, he can use the renovations claim as his reason for firing workers. As for Teresa, he can claim that she chose to move on to another club.”
“Surely the police and FBI will question his motive.”
“What they believe, and what they can prove, are two entirely different matters.”
“I need a breather. It’s time for me to spend an hour or two at the Meyer’s Creek Clearing to unload some of my anxiety. The last couple of weeks have been chilling. Kathryn’s disappearance continues to be like an ominous black cloud hovering over me.”
“I could edit the information I pass on to you, but ignorance isn’t bliss. If you aren’t aware that you need to take precautions, you become more vulnerable to acts of violence.”
Jess shook her head. “Don’t mind me, Simon. Venting is the way I cope when I don’t have time to meditate.”
“Maybe I should go to the clearing with you. I could use a clear head.”
“Even when you are dead on your feet, you have a clear head. You see the big picture and I only see what’s going on around me. I just wish there was some way to speed up the wheels of justice.”
“Believe me, the agents and officers working on the Springer case would if they could. The main reason justice is delayed and too often denied is because there are men like Springer who buy silence from witnesses. Fear and money are powerful incentives.”
“Thank God I’m too removed from the situation to be of any importance to Springer.”
“One would hope. There’s another recent development that is concerning. Kane, my PI, overheard part of a conversation between Springer and his bodyguard. The topic of conversation was Lawrence Duffy. Kane called Duffy to warn him to stay alert. When he couldn’t reach Duffy, he called the number for Brookhaven and spoke to someone in the office. Duffy hasn’t been seen in days.”
Jess jaw dropped open. “Oh, no! why Duffy?”
“Duffy was Kathryn’s ally. If Springer is aware that Kathryn’s parents are no longer available to be used as bait to draw her out of hiding, there’s the possibility that Springer has started eliminating her allies.”
Jess’ eyes widened in understanding.
“I’m going to drive to New York tomorrow afternoon. I need more information before I decide where my help is needed.”
“You’ve been through a hellish week, Simon. Why don’t you let the FBI and the NYPD handle the situation?”
“You and I are on the list of Kathryn’s friends. That’s reason enough for staying involved.”