The Favor

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Chapter 19

After polishing off the last bite of breakfast casserole, Jane quipped, “I’m not usually into casseroles, but yours was delicious. I hope you will share your recipe.”

“From the girl who refused to eat anything but salads, I’m going to take that as a compliment.”

“That silly girl finally grew up and found out what she was missing. I’m not a great cook, but I have mastered a few recipes.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Your dad and I used to worry that you were setting yourself up for future health issues. Not only does food nourish your body, it is one of life’s pleasures.”

Jane laughed. “Agents Burke and Martin heartily agree with you. Both have told me how much they have enjoyed your cooking.”

“Your dad and I had cabin fever when we were in Gardner, but since I had the run of the kitchen here in the safe house, the days have flown by. It’s nice to feel appreciated.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Your dad is getting antsy. He’s enjoyed playing chess and chatting with the agents, but he isn’t used to being idle.”

“Both of you have been amazingly supportive and patient. With a little luck, you and dad will be free to return to Laurinburg tomorrow or the next day. I think you will be surprised how quickly the two of you will start getting phone calls again. According to Spenser, your customers are loyal. Just in case your businesses were adversely affected by your unexpected absence, he has started working on a publicity campaign for you.”

“I don’t know what we would have done without him. Except for the circumstances, it’s been a delight to have him back in our lives. For that matter it has also been a treat to spend time with Simon.”

“Simon has been a good friend. I received a text from Spenser earlier today. Unless something unforeseen happens, he will be here tomorrow. Either he or Simon will make sure that you get back to Laurinburg safely.”

“What about you? Do you have any immediate plans?”

“Unfortunately, Springer still controls my life. As long as he’s free, I’m not.”

“Have you given any thought to what you want to do or where you want to live when his trial is over?”

“My first priority is to apologize to Jessica and to thank her for helping me when she could have ignored my plea. I hope to make amends to her and a few others between the time Springer is arrested and his trial begins. I would like to think the trial will be quick, but chances are it will be several months”.

“Have you been able to communicate with Jessica?”

“No. But Mom, it’s because of her concerns about the note I sent that I have the support I do today. She shared her concerns with Simon, and he enlisted the help of Agents Burke and Martin. Simon figured out that Spenser was somehow involved with my disappearance and tracked him down. Spenser, in turn, involved you. That’s why you are here. The police and FBI might have listened to my complaints about Springer, but I doubt they would have provided security for me. It wouldn’t have occurred to them that you and Dad were in danger.”

“Your dad and I have been concerned about your resources. Can you manage financially for an extended length of time without working?”

“If I can sell the furniture from the condo in New York, I’ll be fine. I lived frugally in Gardner, so I still have some of the money I saved during my years in New York. If need be, I can get a temporary job. I would prefer not to because I’m writing a book.”

“Not about Springer’s criminal activity, I hope. If you name names, it’s possible you could be charged with slander.”

“Don’t worry, Mom. My manuscript is a work of fiction.

“I kept daily planners for years, but I only recorded dates, times and events. When I was living in Gardner, I began toying with the idea of writing a novel Good people need to understand that there are corrupt people in the world who are willing to do anything for money and power.

"The writing was cathartic. After a few chapters, I realized that by combining fact and fiction that I might be able to persuade a few young women to rethink their dreams of becoming a model. The fantasy of fame and fortune is alluring. With the right guidance, success is sometimes possible, but more often the dreams of young girls and women are crushed. Way too many of the girls end up with eating disorders and phobias. A few return home and a few end up on the streets

“In my manuscript, Melanie Goodman, the protagonist, is a composite of Teresa, and several of the other girls I worked with. The antagonist is a composite of all of the corrupt men and women I met who preyed on naïve young girls.

“As a means of protection, I am using a pseudonym.”

“Is writing your new passion?”

“No. I wouldn’t even write this one, but I believe that it is a story that needs to be told. On the outside chance that the book sells, I’ll use the profits to help clean up the modeling industry. There are good people in the industry who have the welfare of the girls at heart. I’m sure they will have some ideas about how the money should be spent.”

Perplexed, her mom asked, “Then what?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll find another florist who will hire me. Nora will give me a glowing recommendation.”

“Will it be a recommendation for Jane Brownlee or Kathryn Owens?”

“That’s a decision I haven’t made. I have to solve one issue at a time.”

“Once upon a time, your dad and I were sure that Simon would be our son-in-law. I don’t think he would be here if he didn’t still have feelings for you.”

“This isn’t a best seller romance novel, Mom. Unfortunately, what you are witnessing is the result of foolish mistakes made by a naïve young girl. Me. The girl isn’t going to end up with the hunky security expert or the handsome FBI agent. Finding criminals and providing security for the victims of criminals is their job. I’m one of Simon’s clients and a childhood friend. Nothing more. I owe him a debt I can never repay.”

“The first thing you need to do . . .” Marie’s voice trailed off when a dejected looking Ethan shuffled into the kitchen and asked, “Is the coffee fresh, Marie?”

Marie stood. “You look like you’ve lost your best friend. Sit down, Ethan, I’ll get your coffee.”

He crossed the room and plopped down in a chair across from Jane. “Hey, Kat. I mean Jane. Sorry to interrupt the conversation with your mom.”

“No need for an apology, Ethan. Mom and I were reminiscing. Does the idleness have you down?”

“That’s one issue.”

Marie set a mug of coffee in front of him.”

Marie laughed. “Idleness is not a word chefs understand. If Agent Burke hadn’t agreed to let me prepare meals for the crew. I would be a basket case. Why don’t you take over as head chef for the evening? I would like to learn a few techniques from a trained chef.”

His eyes lit up. “I’d like that. Thanks. I miss being in the kitchen.”

’Kathryn asked, “What’s the other issue, Ethan?”

“I’m leaving the safe house tomorrow, even if the FBI hasn’t taken Springer into custody. Springer is patient. He isn’t going to off one of his past employees when the police and FBI are hot on his trail. He’s the least of my worries.”

Kathryn’s mouth dropped open. When she recovered, she said, “You can’t be serious! What is more important than staying alive?”

“I’m not a target until he knows that I am going to testify. I need to look for a job, Jane. I was able to put a little cash aside when I was working at the club, but my nest egg is disappearing fast. I have obligations and bills to pay."

Jane asked, “Are you sure you don’t have a job to go back to?”

“The restaurant has a new owner. He brought in his own chefs. That’s why I was at the bar drinking the night Simon approached me. Usually I'm not a heavy drinker, but I made an exception that night.

"I don’t remember talking to the PI Simon hired, but obviously I did. Anyway, that’s beside the point. I need to check on my mom, and I need to hit the pavement and find a new job.”

“Surely the previous owner of the restaurant will give you a good recommendation.”

He nodded. “A good recommendation isn’t worth a hill of beans unless there is an opening for a chef.”

Kathryn shrugged. “It’s your call, Ethan, but I hope you will run this by Agent Burke before you make a final decision about leaving.”

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