The Favor

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Chapter 3

With the help of his buddies, Max moved Kathryn’s furniture on time and without a hitch. Jessica didn’t experience the sense of relief she had anticipated to feel. Instead, the anxiety lingered and sleep evaded her. Deep breathing and counting sheep didn’t help and neither did relaxing tapes or reading. There were too many nights when she found herself in the kitchen at one or two making hot cocoa.

Her guilt for not contacting Ken and Marie weighed heavier each day. During one of her restless nights, she made a list of the pros and cons of not contacting them. Wasn't it better to hear about their daughter’s troubles from someone who cared her safety and wellbeing? Maybe not. Maybe it would be better to hear from a stranger. She knew from experience that parents were emotionally involved in their children’s lives even when their children didn’t want them to be. In the past, she steered away from sticking her nose into other people’s business, but a daughter’s disappearance fell into a different category. Didn’t they have some rights?

The brute Springer’s words haunted her. She wondered just how long his arm of power reached. Would he make an effort to find Kathryn? If so, how would he retaliate?

Her mom’s research had turned up several articles about his brushes with law enforcement. On two occasions, he was charged with aggravated assault. She wondered if the charges had been dropped because he was innocent, or because he had friends in law enforcement or high places. It broke her heart to think about Kathryn being caught in his web of violence and corruption.

She and her mom were deeply concerned about Kathryn’s welfare. Without money and work skills, where would she go and how would she provide food and shelter for herself? Information on the internet about her was nonexistent. It was as though her life ended when she left Laurinburg.”

On a Thursday evening when she was at home working on a music arrangement for one of her students, the doorbell rang. Initially, she was tempted to ignore it. She was glad she didn’t when she found a smiling Simon Enright standing at the door. He opened his arms and she walked into them. “Simon, oh my gosh, you have no idea how happy I am to see you.” She moved out of his arms and held the door open. “How many years has it been?”

“Too many. I’ve missed you when I stopped by to see your mom.”

“You are the only one of my friends who checks in with her. Thank you. Are you in town to see your parents?”

He nodded. “Yes. I try to work in a visit once a month."

"Simon, do you by any chance keep up with Kathryn?"

"It's ironic you should ask. Usually Kathryn’s name doesn’t come up at my house, so I was surprised when Mom mentioned her today. She said that Ken and Marie haven’t heard from her in years. The two of us cut times years ago. It's my guess that she cut ties with all of friends in Laurinburg? Why do you ask?"

Jessica gestured for him to take a seat at the kitchen table. “Let me get you a glass of lemonade and then we’ll talk. I hope you still like lemonade.”

“I haven’t had a glass since the last time I was here. Nobody makes it like your mom. By the way, how is she?”

“She’s great. She and Max are out. Have you met him?”

“Her physical therapist?”

She laughed. “Her physical therapist turned boyfriend.”

“Good for her. I met him several years ago. He seems like a great guy.”

Jessica handed Simon a frosted glass of lemonade and took a seat across from him. “He’s been good for her. Tonight’s date night, so they will be out for a while. She will be sorry she missed you.”

“I will be in town for a few days. I’ll call her tomorrow and set up a time to stop by.”

“She will be delighted.” She took a sip of lemonade. “As far as I know, Kathryn hasn't spoken to anyone in Laurinburg in years. I tried to keep our friendship alive. I gave up because her response was lukewarm. I received a letter from her six weeks ago after a six-month hiatus. She’s in trouble, Simon. I would like to help, but I’m don’t want to make her situation worse.”

“What kind of trouble and how long?”

“I don’t know.”

“Kathryn was hell bent on going to New York. I gave her an article to read about some of the issues immature girls face. Too many in the modeling industry fall prey to unethical agents. She laughed and said it wouldn’t happen to her.”

“My argument was that the model’s lifestyle is usually unhealthy. Instead of building self-confidence, cutthroat practices often diminish the physical and mental well-being of the young women involved. She didn’t listen to reason.

“We were both guilty of letting her manipulate us, Jess. Friendship with her was a never ending challenge. I kept telling myself that she would outgrow her escessive need for attention, but she didn’t.”

“She could be caring and generous, Simon. especially to people who were struggling.”

“True. When I was a teenager, I wasn’t tuned in to other’s moods and insecurities. Kathryn taught me a valuable lesson. A cousin and aunt were weekend guests at her house, and her mom asked her to entertain her young cousin. She called me around one that day and begged me to come over and shoot hoops with her cousin Spencer. He was driving her crazy with questions she couldn’t answer.”

“He was a precocious kid who was insatiably curious. She hoped that if I could keep him physically active that he’d keep his mouth shut. He spent a good thirty minutes schooling me on basketball rules and techniques. Usually, know-it-all kids didn’t bother me, but that kid got on my nerves.

“When I won both games of H.O.R.S.E., he had a meltdown. I was sure Kathryn would think it was a deserved comeuppance. I was wrong.”

“I told her it wasn’t a good idea to enable her cousins tantrums.”

’She said that normally she would agree, but she was willing to overlook Spencer’s emotional outburst because he had recently lost his dad.”

“I didn’t stick around to see what happened. She told me the next day that he apologized. I admired the way she stuck up for him.”

“I don’t remember meeting a cousin.”

“You didn’t. It was the weekend before your piano performance with the symphony.”

“That explains my lack of recall. Did he and his mom visit again?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“I remember another kid who profited from her generosity. When we were in fourth grade there was a student who came to school in clothes that were ready for the rag basket. Most of the kids avoided him, but Kathryn kept him supplied in notebooks and pencils. On days his mom didn’t pack a lunch for him, Kathryn shared hers.”

Simon shrugged. “Unfortunately, there was the less pleasant side of her personality. If someone else’s needs conflicted with hers, hers came first. Once she made a decision, she acted on it. If someone got hurt in the process, that was the way the cookie crumbled. When we graduated, I thought our relationship was strong enough to survive a separation. What I didn’t know was that she was ready to move on. Did she tell you how she ended out relationship?”

“No. She wouldn’t talk about your break-up.”

“We had a date the Friday night before she went to New York. When I called her on Sunday, her mother told me about the audition. Kathryn hadn’t breathed a word about the opportunity. When she returned home, she called to tell me she was moving to New York. I was excited for her, but extremely disappointed that she told me after the fact. I asked when I could see her. She said she was going to be too busy to see me before she moved. I didn’t speak to her again until years later.

“I realize she was young and immature, but I was shocked that she could callously walk away without an explanation. We had been dating for two years.”

“Have you seen her since high school?”

“No. The day I graduated from Duke she left a message on my answering machine. ‘Congratulations, Simon. You deserve the best.’ That was it!”

“I’m sorry Simon.”

“Unfortunately, her insensitivity left a few scars. I don’t trust easily. Lack of trust doesn’t bode well for lasting relationships.”

“I’m not an authority on relationships, but it was obvious that your relationship with her was one-sided. Every girl in our class wanted to go out with you. So, of course, their interest in you fueled Kathryn’s interest. Only the best was good enough for Kathryn. You were her ticket for going where she wanted to go.

“Our friendship cooled because of the way she treated you. She used you, Simon, and I called her on it. She told me to back off, and I did.”

“I’m sorry we put you in the middle, Jess.”

She shrugged. “Since your break-up, and my friendship with her, came at about the same time we were leaving for college, there was no time to mend fences. It was hard enough being away from home for the first time, without having to deal with the angst of losing my two best friends. It took months to get back on track.”

He shook his head. “I wonder if anyone gets through high school without developing hang-ups.”

“Probably not.”

“A couple of years ago, I decided I was going to confront Kathryn. On one of the occasions I was in New York, I called her. She wasn’t rude, but she was abrupt. She claimed to be late for a meeting and couldn’t talk. When I asked her to call when she was free, she said she was preparing for an out-of-town trip and wouldn’t be available. At that point, I wrote her off.

“Despite our history, I was concerned when Mom told me about the estrangement with her parents. For all of her faults, she loved her parents.”

Jessica was surprised to hear the story behind his breakup with Kathryn, but probably shouldn’t have been. She debated how much to tell Simon about Kathryn’s secret life. “We didn’t completely lose touch, but our phone calls, emails and texts were sporadic. I made an effort to see her two years ago when I was in New York. She was on tenterhooks, so our conversation was stilted. I sensed she wanted to reach out but didn’t know how. Recently, I learned that she had good reason to be agitated. Simon, she was skillfully drawn into a web of corruption years ago.

“What kind of corruption?”

“Drugs, gambling, prostitution and possibly human trafficking.”

“Damn. I take it she fell prey to one of those individuals who takes advantage of vulnerable young girls who dream of becoming the next Julia Roberts or Heidi Klum.”

“Yes. A man named Wayne Springer.”

“Has she been physically abused?”

“I don’t think so. She was wearing a little too much make-up for my taste, but she is as beautiful as ever. From the little I’ve learned; she’s been living in a prison without walls. By escaping, she signed her death certificate.” She paused before continuing, “I’ll be glad to share what I know if you’re interested. If you don’t want to get involved, I understand.”

“My job is helping people in trouble, Jess. Maybe I can help if she has legal issues.”

“Promise you’ll keep an open mind?”

“If she needs help, I promise that our past won’t affect my objectivity.”

“Give me a sec.” She was back in a flash and handed Kathryn’s letter and note to him. After he scanned the note and letter, he returned them to her. She gave him a quick overview of the confrontation with Springer. “Who knows if he will follow through with his threat, but I would feel better if he was behind bars. He already has two charges of aggravated assault on his record. What I do know is that he scared me. I was on pins and needles until Max and his buddies had Kathryn’s furniture safely out of the condo.

“Springer isn’t difficult to find on Google, if you want to check him out. Information about Kathryn is sketchy. He called her Kat, so in all probability she goes by that name or has changed her name now.”

“If she’s smart, she’s changed her appearance and her name. Have you discussed the situation with anyone other than your mom and Max?”

“No.”

“I seriously doubt that you are on Springer’s enemies list. Undoubtedly, Kathryn is. His desire to seek payback will depend on how much information she has about his business affairs. As for finding Kathryn, the police won’t investigate her disappearance. If a person chooses to disappear, there’s very little anyone can do.”

“So, I’ve been told. My conundrum is what to do about her furniture. I considered selling it and giving the proceeds to her parents, but it’s not mine to sell. My other idea was to share what I know with her parents. Ken and Marie are good friends of Mom’s. If they learn that I’m withholding information, they will be hurt. It seems only fair that they have some say so about whether to search or not search for her.”

“Give me a few days before you contact her parents. I can’t promise that I will get anywhere, but I have resources you don’t have.”

“You should talk to Mom and Max. Mom’s done some research, and Max might have a few ideas. He worked in law enforcement for five years.”

“Interesting.”

“Very. I wondered why he avoided talking about his childhood and early twenties, but I can’t say I was surprised that he was in law enforcement. He looks the part. When he walks in a room, he scopes it out, and he can be overly suspicious.

"The men in his family have a long history of working in law enforcement, so he was groomed to follow in his dad and brothers footsteps. It didn’t take long for it to become clear he was in the wrong field. He had lived and breathed police procedure since he was a kid, so walking away seemed like a betrayal. He says he might have stuck it out if he hadn’t been injured during a domestic violence call. He was put on medical leave.

“The gunshot wound was a wake-up call. It was painful for him to admit he didn’t want to carry a gun, or to be in the line of fire. It wasn’t the injury per se, it was what he calls the futility of the job. He worked to make the streets safer, and the courts turned far too many criminals back out to commit other crimes."

"So he became a therapist."

“He credits his therapist with performing miracles, physically and mentally. By the time the therapy sessions ended, he was ready to face his family’s disapproval. Change his career. He wasn’t a wealthy man, so returning to college meant going into debt. Once his decision was made, he never looked back.”

Simon said, “Some things are worth the sacrifices. Speaking of sacrifices, you have made a few of your own. It couldn’t have been easy to give up a job you loved to return home.”

“I liked my job, but I’ve never considered spending time with Mom a sacrifice. She’s been a real trooper, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know her as a friend. If I hadn’t returned home, I wouldn’t have met my private students or the members of my choral group. I have gigs at Ravenscroft Country Club twice a week, so it’s not as though I don’t have the opportunity to perform. What I’ve learned is that there are opportunities in every town, if a person is willing to get out there and look for them.”

“Your schedule sounds exhausting.”

She laughed. “It can be, but it is also rewarding.”

Simon glanced at his watch. “I hate to rush, but I agreed to meet Chance Middleton at seven for drinks. I’ll talk to Helen tomorrow, then I’ll get back to you about Kathryn.”

“One more thing, Simon. If this business with Kathryn gets ugly, please keep Mom out of it. She’s been through enough.”

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