The Favor

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Chapter 9

Jess was on the screened porch reading Camilla Roberts’ book about a child piano prodigy, when the doorbell chimed. Reluctantly, she rose from the lounge chair and headed toward the front door—taking her time and wishing that whoever was disturbing her peace would give up the wait and leave. When she opened the door, she changed her mind.

“Simon, what on earth happened to you? You look like death warmed over.”

“Believe me, I know. I started to give a bedraggled looking guy at the airport a handout, then realized I was looking in a mirror.”

Jess grabbed his arm and pulled him inside. “Did someone use you as a punching bag?”

“When you sleep less than an hour a day for eight days straight, there are consequences. It didn’t help that I lived on peanut butter sandwiches, bottled water and coffee.”

Jess’ winced. The Simon she knew was the kind of guy who looked as though he just stepped off the cover of GQ, even when he was scruffy. “No case is worth ruining your health. Why aren’t you home in bed?”

“At least I’m alive. Two adults and two children are dead.”

Jess' hand flew to her mouth. "I don't know how you deal with a steady diet of violence.

"How can I help?"

“I desperately need somewhere to crash. I can’t show up at my parent’s house looking like Frankenstein's brother. Mom will have a heart attack. I would have rented a room, but a reputable motel would probably throw me out. You are my last resort. Even a floor will do if I have a pillow.”

Jess shuddered. “No floor for you, buddy. Follow me. I’m going to put you in the guest room.”

When they entered the bedroom, he stared at the plush bedspread. “I can’t sleep in that bed until I take a shower.”

“You need sleep more than a shower, Simon. I can wash the damn sheets.” She folded the bedspread and put it at the foot of the bed, then pulled back the top sheet.

“Give me your keys. I’ll put your bag in the bathroom across the hall. Sleep as long as you like.”

He handed her his keys. “Thanks, Jess. Don’t let me keep you from something important. If you need to go out, I promise to clean up behind myself before I leave. On the other hand, if you happen to be around, don’t’ let me sleep past four. If I do, I won’t be able to sleep tonight.”

If it was up to Jess, he would sleep all afternoon and all night, but she didn’t argue with him.

“Are you sure your mom and Max won’t mind?”

“Are you kidding? They would tar and feather me if I turned you away.”

At four on the dot, Jess heard Simon’s footsteps on the stairs. He sauntered into the kitchen trying to appear revitalized, but the bruises under his eyes told a different story. “Hm-m. Is that coffee I smell?”

“You have a choice; coffee, tea or lemonade.”

“As much I wish otherwise, I’m still groggy. A cup of coffee should help.”

Jess poured a mug of coffee and handed it to him. “You look better, but I think you should use my concealer to cover the bruises under your eyes before your mother sees you.”

“I might take you up on the offer.”

She placed a large salad on the table and pointed to a chair. “Sit. I would have cooked something heartier, but I think you should pack in the vitamins. Just so you know, there’s peach cobbler for dessert if you have room.”

“My first decent meal in eight days doesn’t need to be hearty. A salad is great.

“Where’s your salad?”

“I ate at one, so I’m not hungry.”

“Then I am even more indebted to you.”

“When I asked about your job, Simon, you told me that your job wasn’t dangerous, that your job was to determine the right kind of security for clients. How often do you work in the field?”

“I didn’t lie. But, when our security systems fail, it’s my responsibility to find out why. In this particular case, four lives were lost because of the failure. The victims were innocent people who trusted us to keep them safe.”

“No wonder you had a bad week. Did you find out why your system failed?”

“It was sabotaged by an employee with a grudge.”

“I hope the guilty party is behind bars.”

“He’s dead. He shot himself when the police broke down the door to his office.

“I appreciate your concern, Jess, but that’s all I can share about the past eight days.”

She nodded. “Understood. I don’t think I want to know the details.”

He put down his fork and leaned back in his chair. “I’ve decided to take some time off.”

Jess frowned. “The first thing you need to do is sleep for two days. How long has it been since you took a vacation?”

“Six years. More importantly, Kathryn’s disappearance is weighing on my mind. I need time to look for answers.

“There are a couple of things I need to follow up on. The FBI has accumulated enough evidence to bring Springer in for questioning. If he is charged and released on bond, he will be more lethal than he is now. If he has the opportunity, he will eliminate anyone who can testify against him.”

“Whoa. Sounds ominous to me.”

“Yes, it is. If Duffy’s information is correct, Kathryn has enough evidence to put him in prison for years. I want to find her before Springer or one of his men gets serious about finding her.”

“A PI I hired has been bar-tending at Springer’s club for six weeks. He’s befriended several of Kathryn’s girls. A girl named Teresa has shared information with him. She claims there has been dissension among the employees since Kathryn disappeared. It doesn’t help that the woman who stepped into Kathryn’s position doesn’t have the same rapport with the girls. Several of the girls have threatened to quit, and Springer warned them to get with the program or suffer the consequences.

"Were this Teresa and Kathryn close.

“Teresa says yes. She claims that disappearing was a frequent topic of discussion with the two of them. Kathryn said that if the opportunity to disappear presented itself she would change her name to Ann Smith or Jane Brown. She also claimed she would choose a small town in the Midwest. She was reasonably sure the police would look for her in Laurinburg. Their second choice would be a large city where she could blend in with the masses.”

“Is the information specific enough to have value?”

“Sometimes it's a matter of putting together minor details that solve a complicated case. Kathryn’s friend Duffy made a comment that is food for thought. He suggested checking florist shops. She did all of the flower arrangements for Springer’s parties. Arranging flowers became a passion for her. He also suggested checking out homes for abused women. Helping women is another one of her passions.

“The leads won’t help us find her, but they will help to identify her when we have a short list of people who fit her description.”

Simon was painting a portrait of woman Jess didn't know. Maybe she had never known the real Kathryn.

She muse, “I was hoping we could identify the person who wrote the note. I could be way off base, but I sense he or she knows where Kathryn is.”

“Maybe. Now that we know that mystery man has been to Callaway’s several times, Max and Brian will be on the lookout for him.”

“Did Max send you the photo Brian took?”

“No, he said he would take care of it.”

Jess rose from her chair and retrieved her phone from the counter. “I think you should take a look at the photo. If he was a student at Laurinburg High, you might recognize him.” She handed him her phone.

His brow furrowed as he studied the photo. “He seems vaguely familiar, but for the life of me, I can’t remember where I’ve seen him.”

“Some of our classmates have changed dramatically. When I looked through the annual, I tried to visualize what the males would look like today.”

Simon’s eyes brightened. “That’s it, Jess. If this is who I think it is, he has changed. I haven’t seen him since he was a kid, so I could be wrong.”

“Who is he?”

“I think it’s Kathryn’s cousin Spenser.”

Jess’ eyes widened. “The elusive cousin?”

“I think so. Do you think your mom would know his last name?”

“Kathryn's mom's sister Lydia died a few years back. At the time, Marie was fighting depression because of her estrangement from Kathryn, so her sister’s death hit her hard. She was under a doctor’s care for months. Mom called every day while Ken was at work to make sure Marie was out of bed and dressed. Mom encouraged Marie to talk about Lydia, so it would surprise me if Mom doesn't remember Lydia’s last name.”

After a call to her mom, she grinned. “Cromwell.”

In no time Simon was able to pull up Lydia’s obituary. He read through it quickly, then handed his cell to Jess.

“The obituary doesn’t include a lot of information, but at least it’s a start. The question is; how do we use it?”

Simon responded, “The first thing I’m going to do is find out if he’s on Facebook. If the photo on your cell is not Spenser, we’re back to square one.”

Seconds later, he held up his phone. “Bingo. We have a match!”

“What is our next step?”

“According to the obituary, Spenser’s current job is with Monteith Electronics Firm. If you can research the firm, it will be helpful.”

“I can’t do any in-depth research until Monday evening or Tuesday morning. I need to be at Callaway’s in forty-five minutes. Tomorrow, I’ll be tied up with the church choir for most of the afternoon. Monday, Lehman’s is having their annual summer picnic at Bear Mountain State Park. It will be my first opportunity to meet some of the instructors I will be working with in the fall.”

“No problem. I want to spend some quality time with my parents. Unless there is an emergency, why don’t we plan to pay a visit to Ken and Marie around four Tuesday afternoon? By that time, we should have more information to work with."

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