Billie McGinn, relaxing at home in her garden,
gets an unwelcome phone call from a Bay County detective.
Detective Blanchard checked her index cards. She had printed the suspects’ basics on a card, a duplicate of the one taped into the Elizabeth Burns Murder Book.
Wilhelmina “Billie” McGinn.
Born 1976, current age 42.
Occupation: Owner, Summit Property Group.
Residence: 14 Gull Lane, Spyglass Hill.
Orphaned, adopted by Thomas and Linda Armstrong.
1994 Graduate, Holy Trinity High School.
Employed by McGinn Associates Realty, 1999.
Married owner Harold McGinn, 2003.
Inherited the business 2011 after McGinn died of poisoning.
Expanded business, changed name to Summit.
Currently single. Active in Catholic charity groups.
Possible motive: Property acquisition.
Bonnie dropped that card into her handbag, ordered coffee at the takeout window, and greeted Billie McGinn. They sat in beach chairs on the nearly-deserted bar patio at Aunt Crabby’s. Storm-washed sand had spread all over the tiles, clogs of driftwood were tangled in the chain link fence that surrounded the patio. Tilted over that fence was a rusted tiki torch falling toward its inevitable destination. Hurricane Georgette had veered out to sea, but its wild waves had reshaped the shore of Poke Island.
“It’s amazing,” Billie said. “One storm, even way out there, can end the tourist season …” she snapped her fingers “… just like that. It’s the most beautiful month of the year, and there was hardly a soul on the ferry.”
Billi4 sat down with a bottle of water and said that was all she needed. Bonnie ordered French Fries, that superior interrogation dish. Picking at fries gave off a hint of nonchalance. The ketchup suggested blood.
Bonnie sipped soda and said: “We want to speak with Nicholas Katanjiev. Have you been in touch with him lately?”
“When was the last time you saw or spoke to Mr. Katanjiev?”
“Early August, maybe?”
“Do you have any idea where he is now?”
Billie doesn’t care to discuss Nick Katanjiev.
“What was the nature of the last conversation you had with him?”
Billie squirmed. “It was a business conversation. I don’t remember what exactly.”
“What was your business relationship with Mr. Katanjiev?”
“Casual in what sense?”
“He handled difficult tenants for me.”
“Meaning what specifically?”
“He collected late rents.”
“Deputy, you know and I know that the law favors tenants and formal court-ordered evictions are … Am I being implicated in a crime?”
“I’m seeking to speak with Mr. Katanjiev. Is it unusual for you to be out of touch for a month?”
Billie shook her head. Her red-tinged hair flapped in the ocean breeze. “I know where he lives, if that helps. He is a tenant.”
“We’ve been there.”
“Why is he wanted by the sheriff?”
“We just have a few questions for him.”
“If it’s about the Mousaka family eviction…”
Bonnie shook her head, sipped coffee that had gone cold. “Did you know Marco Gonzales?”
“Of course. Everyone knew Marco.”
“Do you know where he’s been for the last year or so?”
“Deputy, I give up. Why don’t you just tell me what you’re after?”
“Marco left town 15 months ago. Have you had any contact with him during those 15 months?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Should I retain a criminal attorney?”
“I can’t advise you on that.”
“Did I know Marco, personally or socially? No. I knew him as the man who ran the ferry for years. That’s it. I never saw him socially.”
“Mr. Katanjiev was last seen in the company of a woman named Adora Vang. Have you seen her in the last two months?”
“I don’t know Adora Vang.”
“Do you know Kenji Matsuoka?”
“Kenji? Kenji. No, I don’t know anyone named Kenji.”
“There’s a farm house out on Anderson Road that is listed for rent by your company …”
“I have to stop you right there. I’m not immersed in the finer details of our rental division, my employees handle that. I concentrate personally on waterfront property.”
“So if Kenji Matsuoka was one of your tenants, you wouldn’t necessarily know?”
Billie shrugged, glanced over her shoulder, signaled for a waiter.
“Were you aware of any illegal activities on any of your properties?”
‘Of course not. But I’m not running a police agency. Tenants do strange things.”
“Do you know Daniel Burns?”
Billie pushed the plate containing bagel and lox toward the center of the table. “Where exactly are you going with this, detective?”
“You never heard me say this, Ms. McGinn, but when I stepped into the homicide unit, I reviewed cases going back to World War II. And do you know what jumped out at me? In the overwhelming majority, it was men murdering women. Men beating, stabbing, shooting, strangling women.”
“Somehow,” Billie said, “that doesn’t surprise me.”
“So. Did you know Daniel Burns?”
“In what capacity?”
“He’s a friend. I knew his wife, too. Lovely woman and it’s a shame what happened to her. I sat across the table once from her.”
“She worked for a rival agency. Part time, I believe.”
“Is that the only contact you had with her?”
“Socially, I barely saw her at all.”
“Yet Dan Burns is a friend.”
“I see him around.”
“When was the last time you saw him around?”
Billie sighed. “Months ago?”
“How did you become friends?”
“Years ago. They were looking for a house.”
“So he was a client you befriended?”
“I haven’t heard that name in years. This is turning out to be a very morbid conversation. Next I suppose you’ll be bringing up my husband.”
“What did you know about Ms. Antonio?”
“Up until the day she was murdered, almost nothing. She was a tenant. At our McKinley Street property. It’s not one I’m proud of. When the economy improves, we plan to upgrade it.”
“And she worked for you?”
“That’s not exactly true. She did light managerial chores in return for reduced rent.”
“She was only 19.”
“Nineteen year olds are perfectly capable of taking out the trash.”
“In what other ways did Maureen Antonio make money?”
“I didn’t know. The city police went all through this years ago. I feel like I’m being persecuted here, and I don’t like it. One of my tenants became a victim of the Jefferson Road Strangler. I regret that. She was apparently in the sex trade. I didn’t know that. She listed an employer at the Bayside Mall, and my clerk verified that. This is all in the record, Deputy. Why don’t you come right out and accuse me of whatever I’m being accused of?”
“I’ve made no accusations.”
“That’s the point. You’re the master of insinuation. Okay, let me draw you a picture. Maureen Antonio was the last victim of that pervert Joseph Garland. She was my tenant and she was briefly a student of Dan Burns before she dropped out of BCC. How does that add up to anything? And where does Nick Katanjiev fit in? Exactly what are you investigating?”
“Do you know Arthur Buchanan?”
Billie scoffed. “Everybody on Poke Island knows him.”
“None. I briefly looked in at one of his parties.”
“When was that?”
“Back in May, maybe?”
“Did anyone accompany you to that party?”
“Not that I remember.”
“So in the pre-season, when there’s no jitney service, you took the ferry here in the evening, by yourself, and walked, by yourself, ten minutes over the dunes, through the bird sanctuary, to the farthest cottage on the island, and then looked in, by yourself, at a party attended by much younger people. And then …”
“Please sit down, I have one more question.”
Billie snapped her fingers for the check.
“Did you ever converse with anyone about acquiring the property Liz Burns owned on this island?”
Billie glared at the deputy.
“It’s a simple question,” said Detective Blanchard.
“I see. I see where you’re going and I don’t like it one bit. Because I’m a success, I’m accused of many things in this town. Certain people can’t stand to see a woman like me succeed. They hate the success they can’t have, and enjoy tearing it down. I’d rather not think of you as belonging to that group, deputy. And further conversations will be handled by my attorneys.”
Billie’s going to lawyer up.
Bonnie took a satisfying walk around the Liz Burns lot, convinced that this property was the key to the woman’s murder.
She believed now that Marco had finally told the truth, motivated by a promise that authorities would look the other way on deportation. She believed that Nick Katanjiev caused Marco to skip the last ferry run on the night Liz disappeared. But who was the prostitute Nick used as bait? And who were Nick’s other prostitutes? She might never know. His operation on Airline Road was abandoned, and the employee-victims had scattered.
Billie was covering up the extent and nature of her relationship to Nick. And to Dan Burns. Dan, his son Taylor, and Billie, that was the triangle she was working. Nick was the key. Who hired Nick to distract Marco with a prostitute? And who was the bait girl?