Meanwhile in the small town Gardner
Months before Kathryn Owens disappearance, she spent hours and hours scanning the web sites of small towns in the Midwest. Springer checked her computer regularly, so Duffy let her use his. The town Gardner appealed to her because of its location on the Missouri River. For her, there was nothing more calming than the beauty of sky and water.
Another of her requirements was a booming economy. She couldn’t survive without a job. and jobs were plentiful in Gardner. The town’s Main Street was dotted with pots of colorful flowers, benches for shoppers and charming storefronts. From one writer’s description, she could almost smell the drifting aromas of coffee and chocolate coming from Beans, Beans and Andy’s Candy Shoppe.
She was cautiously optimistic, about settling in a new town, but kept her expectations low during her cross-country drive. The site’s writer wrote glowingly about the town and its people. To her delight, the actual town exceeded Kathryn’s expectations.
With a new name (Jane), new haircut and new attitude, Kathryn was determined to turn her life around. She liked the town, the laid-back atmosphere and her small apartment. Some might call her second-hand furnishings tacky, but the price was right. Since Gardner was a temporary home, expensive furniture was an investment she chose not to make.
The third day she was in town, she was strolling along a side street when she spotted a help wanted sign in the window of a florist. On a whim, she entered the shop. Nora, the shop owner, was in crisis mode. She was scheduled to provide wedding arrangements in two days, and her helper had broken her arm in a water-skiing accident. Jane offered her services. She explained that although she didn’t have a recommendation from a previous employer, she had experience. She offered to work for a day without pay to prove her skills. In desperation, the owner hired her. By the end of the week, Nora was a fan, and Jane could relax.
Early one Monday morning, Jane breezed into the shop and handed Nora a carry-out cup. “I stopped at the new coffee and tea shop on the corner of Brooks and Main. This treat was the special for today. I hope you like it.”
“You are a dear, Jane. Thank you.” She took a sip and rolled her eyes. “Earl Gray, cream and honey. Divine. What a lovely way to start the day.”
“I’m glad you like it. Unless you have an arrangement that is due before noon, I am going to finish the project Julio was working on.”
“Perfect. He called before he left town. He said to tell you that he left instructions on the workbench. I’ll page you if I need you upfront.”
During the morning, a few customers came into the greenhouse in search of the perfect house plant, but otherwise the greenhouse remained quiet. Jane had always thought of herself as a people person, but found to her amazement that it was a relief not to have to deal with complaints from the club’s customers and Springer’s girls. Plants didn’t talk back.
At noon, Spenser strolled into the greenhouse.
Startled, Jane's eyes widened. “Spenser, what are you doing here?”
“Is that the way to greet your favorite cousin?”
“My only cousin. I’m always happy to see you, but I rarely like the reason you show up.”
“We need to talk. Nora okayed a lunch break.”
She sighed. “Just so you know, Spenser. It’s been a good day up until now.”
When Spenser opened the car door for her, she sniffed. “Is that food I smell.”
“It’s such a nice day, I thought it would be fun to picnic at McNair park.”
“You hate picnics, Spenser. Why here?”
“The conversation we about to have is for your ears only.”
Jane wished that she was a million miles away. She sensed that the contentment she was feeling earlier was about to end.
When they were seated at a picnic table, Spenser gazed out over the water, “I might not like picnics, but the park I could get used to. How’s the hiking trail?”
“Great. A friend and I come once a week. Layla has two very active little boys, so she needs a break now and again. Her husband takes care of the boys on Thursday evenings and we walk. There was no time for walking or jogging when I was in New York. For me, exercise is an excellent way to clear away the cobwebs.”
“That’s another thing we agree on.”
“An hour passes quickly, Spenser, so cut to the chase."
"I admit I’ve been stalling.”
“Spit it out, Spenser. I’m not going to fall apart. I’ve been dealing with bad news for twelve years.”
“Not this kind of news. Teresa has disappeared. If she left on her own, the news is good. If not . . .”
Jane's heart sank. Her greatest fear had become a reality. She regretted recruiting Teresa when it became evident that the young woman wouldn't kowtow to Springers' wishes. Springer, in turn, labeled her a pot stirrer. “She and Springer were constantly at odds. Kathryn was the buffer. She pleaded with Springer to fire her, but he refused. Teresa was his top money maker.”
“There’s more. Springer fired his five most reputable employees. The only workers left are the guys who do his dirty work, and the young women who have nowhere else to go. The police and the feds believe that he is going to make a move, they just don’t know whether he will take out his enemies and leave the country or reorganize and move to another location. For now, the club is closed.”
“He is up to no good. Count on it!”
“Probably. I worried that he would use your parents as bait to draw you out of hiding. Because of my concerns, I made arrangements for Ken and Marie to come to Gardner.”
Jane turned pale. Her voice trembled. “Thank God you didn’t bring them to Nora’s.”
“I'm not a fool. I'm quite aware that Nora isn't privy to your past.”
“I was thinking of Mom and Dad. A confrontation with them won't be pretty. I disgraced them, Spenser.”
Spencer reached out and took her hand. “All of us have baggage, Cuz. I was an angry kid after my dad died. Mom was unable to provide the same luxuries that I had enjoyed in the past. I gave her a hard time. In addition, I was a smart-ass who thought I was smarter than my mom, my teachers and anyone else who tried to steer me in the right direction. It took a kid with Down’s Syndrome to take me down a peg. He said that people who were talented should get down on their knees and thank God for their gifts, not lord it over their peers. He went on to say that the real heroes are the people who are successful against all odds.
“Without thinking, I snapped, ‘And what do you get down on your knees and thank God for. Rick?’”
“He looked at me and smiled. ‘Patience with people who think they are better than their friends.’
“For the first time in my life I didn’t have a comeback. Rick was a sweet kid who everybody loved. Two years later when he died, the entire town mourned. He was always happy, and he wanted everyone else to be happy. The day of his funeral, I made a conscious decision to turn my life around.
“I can still be a jerk on occasion, but at least I have learned the value of an apology.”
“Kids are often insensitive, Spenser.”
“True. naïve. We both graduated from the school of hard knocks, Kathryn. I learned from the past. You can too.”
Tears pooled in Jane's eyes. “I’m trying, Spenser.”
“As for your parents, I gave them an abbreviated account of the past twelve years. No specifics. What else you tell them is up to you. They understand that you did what you had to do to survive. They are guilt-ridden, just as you are. More importantly, they are thrilled that you didn’t want the estrangement any more than they did.
“They were willing to walk away from the life they spent thirty-two years building. I’d say that’s a lot of love.”
“Their current position is my fault. I can’t let them lose everything!”
“We will face whatever comes. We’re family.”
“Why do I suspect that your main objective for getting involved is so that you could persuade me to go back to New York and face the music?”
“Because that was always the plan. You have enough evidence to put Springer behind bars. If you don’t, there will be other Teresa’s.”
“I was hoping I would have at least another month.”
He shook his head. “Springer is moving more quickly than I anticipated. I can’t make you go back. The decision is yours.”
“Can I give Nora the rest of the week? She’s been more than fair to me.”
“I can live with that. By the way, you have another ally.”
“Simon Enright. He guarantees your safety if I get you back to New York.”
“How did he get involved.” She rolled her eyes. “Never mind. I’m not supposed to ask."
"Why wouldn't he? He always stood up for you."
"Correction. He stood up for me when I was a teenager. I’m not sure he’s an ally, Spenser. I was a self-absorbed and foolish teenager. I dated him because he was the coolest guy in town, not because I cared about him. Then, I walked away without a backward glance.”
“He’s a professional. He won’t let his personal feelings get in the way of justice.”
She glanced at her watch. “Where are my parents, and when do I get to see them?”
“I have a suite of rooms at the Graystone Inn. I’m in room 105. Send me a text to let me know when you are on your way.”
“I’m going to ask Nora to stay late so we can chat. It will be seven are later before I leave the shop. You and my parents should go ahead and eat. Dad needs to eat early because of his diabetes.”