“Jane, take a seat wherever you like.” When she was seated, Agent Burke continued. “This may take a while, so if you want to take a break, feel free. Coffee, cold drinks and a plate of your mom’s delicious cookies are on the table at the back of the room." He paused before quipping, "Your mom, by the way, is a fabulous cook. I offered her a job, but she turned down my offer.”
“No surprise there! As much as she loves cooking, her craft business is her priority.”
“Good to know. If she has a business to run, we need to her back home as soon as possible. I asked Simon to be here because he is more familiar with your background, and he knows your friend Jess. He has also met your friend Duffy. He has information that I might not have, and he has insight. Is his presence a problem?”
“No. Simon and I have known each other since childhood."
“He said as much. I’m sure you realize that Springer’s lawyers will try to destroy the case against him by painting you as a revengeful ex-mistress.”
She struggled to remain calm. “Of course. One of my fears is that he will accuse me of stealing from him, but I have copies of his books."
Agent Burke shrugged. “During this so-called renovation, there is a good chance that he will destroy all evidence that you were ever the club’s manager.” He handed her a list of names. Did you hire these people?”
“Yes. There wasn't a lot of turnover in the club while I was manager. When an employee moved on, I hired his or her replacement."
“I would appear that he fired your allies.”
“No surprise there. There are high profile men and women who visited the club. I would like to keep their names out of your investigation, but if that is the only way I can prove that I was his manager, I will. Springer has managed to hide his criminal activity for years. It's high time someone turns the tables on him.”
“Tell me how you met Springer.”
“Springer's corruption started long before I met him. He began his career as a model manager by making contacts with designers and model agencies. Eventually, he purchased a club, originally a legitimate business, hoping to phase out of his career as a manager for models.
"When he realized that it was more profitable to hire vulnerable young girls to act as an escort, the escort service became an offering of his club. Eventually, clients demanded more from the escorts. He added a full line of services, some of them legal, some illegal. As he accumulated wealth, he became vicious. He was involved in money laundering, fraud, bribery and blackmail.
“When I met him, he still had influence with people in the fashion industry. He was introduced to me as a manager. The models I associated with assured me that the only way to get ahead in the industry was through the managers.
“Springer could be a charmer when necessary. Initially I was treated like a rare find. He promised to put me on the cover of Vogue. At seventeen, dreams of stardom, clouded my judgment. I foolishly gave into his wishes. Without my knowledge, he developed a portfolio of photos. He used it as blackmail.
"I had too much respect for my parents to let the photos become public. At a later date, he threatened to burn down my parents home with them in it if I didn’t join his organization. He gave me two options. I could become one of his escorts, or his mistress.”
“Did you ever try to escape?”
“I did, but he had spies watching me. When they took me back to his home, he threatened to burn my parent’s home. That was the day I began to keep daily planners. My constant fear was that he would find the planners. He would have destroyed them, and he would have eliminated me.”
Agent Burke handed her another list. “Do you recognize these names?”
“Yes. All of the men were his enemies.”
“How did you know them?”
“Each one of the men was in the club the day before he was found shot to death. I have a copy of the club's sign-in sheet for each one of the men.”
“The police questioned several people who were in the club that night. Not one of them saw him.”
“That’s because each one of those men dealt with Springer in his office. Springer keeps the sign-in book in the safe. It's one of the ways he keeps the men he deals with in line. If he goes down, so do they."
Agent Burke turned to Simon. “Simon, do you have any questions before we go over the timeline?”
“One. What’s the story on Teresa? Information about her is sparse.”
As difficult as it was for Jane to talk about Teresa without choking up, she realized that she was one of the few people who cared about the young women. If she wasn't willing to fight for justice, who would? “Her mom was a heroin addict and her father an alcoholic. Her dad was killed in a bar fight when she was twelve, and her mom died when she was in the eighth grade. She dropped out of school.
"After her mom's death, she was never in one place long enough to attend school Her mom’s friends gave her a bed to sleep in, but that’s about all she could count on. She would sleep at one house until the conditions became unbearable, then move on. The remarkable thing about Teresa was she never lost hope. She was eager to learn, and eager to succeed.
“I kept running into her on the street, so finally began a conversation with her. When she was fifteen, I took her to the communal home where all of Springer’s girls lived. He wasn’t happy about her being there, but he let her stay. When she was sixteen, she became an escort. She was philosophical about the job. Her goal was to earn enough money to move out on her own.”
Simon asked, “How did she react when you told her you were leaving?”
“She thought it was high time. My main concern about her was that she would continue to antagonize Springer. Obviously, she spoke her mind once too often.”
Before Simon could ask another question, his cell phone rang.
“I need to take this.”
Agent Burke leaned back and stretched. He whispered to Jane. “Why don’t you take a break while Simon takes his call?”
Jane was relieved. She grabbed a cookie on her way out of the office and took a huge bite. The sugar gave her a burst of energy that she sorely needed. When she reached her room, she put the half-eaten cookie on her bedside table and went into the bathroom. She saturated a washcloth with cold water and pressed it to her face. She’d told herself that she was ready for Agent Burke’s interrogation; was convinced she could answer his questions without getting emotional. Wrong. Dredging up memories of New York was painful, especially since Simon was taking in every word. She didn’t like people who played the victim card, and yet no matter how she told her story, that’s the way her story came out.
She wrung out the washcloth and hung it on the towel rack, then closed her eyes and took deep breaths. When she felt more centered, she picked up her cookie and shuffled down the hall to the field office.
“The call was about a potential witness. A PI Simon hired, claims that a man named Ethan Stancil heard Springer tell one of his thugs to take care of Teresa. He told the guy to make it look like an accident. The guy’s reply was that prostitutes overdosing was an everyday occurrence in New York.
“Sorry. I can see from your expression that its’ hard for you to hear certain details.”
“I’ve heard worse. If I had a look of disbelief on my face it is because of the name Ethan Stancil. If it is the same man I know, he is a bartender at the club or was when I left. That Ethan wouldn’t rat on Springer even though he detests the man. He’s a terrific bartender, but he is close-mouthed. I worked with him for seven years, and I never saw him engage in conversation with a customer or a co-worker. It’s out of character for him to tell some PI about a hit.”
“He was drunk, and the PI wasn’t a stranger. Simon hired the PI to go undercover at the bar. The two men worked together.”
“Hm-m. If he poured out his secret when he was drunk, he could deny the episode when he’s sober. Be wary.”
“A little skepticism never hurts. Do you think he will recognize you?”
She shook her head. “Maybe. Being reserved doesn’t mean that a person is oblivious to his or her surroundings.”
“I would like for you be in the office, but off to the side, when I question him. You and Agent Martin. If he isn’t co-operative, feel free to step in. Since he’s worked with you, he might be more comfortable talking to you.”