Up on Harbor Lights Way in The City stood a series of cheap tin warehouses, and Tasha Wolf pulled up in front of a particularly rusty one. A homemade wooden sign pole listed six businesses housed within, including: KM WORLD AUDITIONS.
Access to that establishment was through a paint-flaking metal door. Tasha pulled it open and shouted into the interior twilight: “Hello!”
“Enter my world,” boomed a friendly voice.
Lights overhead flickered on. Tasha found herself in a spare room, none too clean, that contained a desk, a black leather couch, and a jumble of cameras, tripods and lighting rigs.
“You’re Sally?” said the proprietor. He was a wiry Asian man of average height, in his 30s, with a severe crewcut.
“I’m Natasha Wolf,” she said.
“Well, come in then. Welcome. Welcome.”
The man took her hand in a courtly gesture.
“You were expecting someone else?” Tasha asked.
“Doesn’t matter, happy to see you.”
“You are Kenji Matsuoka, correct?”
“I’m a journalist up from Shipwreck Bay.”
“Everything we do here is legal,” said Kenji. He retreated behind the desk, and began a panicky hunt in its drawers.
“I came up to ask about Maureen Antonio,” Tasha said. “You remember her, I know you do.”
“Could be. Maybe.”
“I’m not with the police. I don’t like the police. You were the house manager for Nick Katanjiev. Your name is on the DBA filings. You, Adora Vang, Katanjiev and Maureen Antonio.”
Looking up from behind the desk, he began to twitch.
“Maureen was treasurer of Flash Entertainment. You were secretary.”
“I’m not leaving. Obviously you’re auditioning prostitutes here. What are you going to do, call the police?”
Inspecting the leather couch first, she sat in it.
“Maybe you’ll talk to me if I take off my clothes. Is that the only way you can relate to a woman?”
Kenji shut down a computer, walked around the desk, and stood in front of her in a challenging stance. He had a distinct smell, of sugar and sweat.
“I would like you to leave my world.”
“Did you ever see this man?” Taska asked. Keeping a tight grip on her ipad, she displayed a photo of Dan Burns.
“I’m sure you have work to do,” she said. “I could get out of here before your next, uhm, appointment comes in.”
“What if I have seen this man. What about it?”
“At the rooms.”
“Yes, okay, could be.”
“Why was he there?”
“To do our business, I guess.”
“He was in business with you?”
“Maureen. Only Maureen.”
Tasha felt like she would levitate.
“He was a customer, then.”
“Yes. I do not know what went on in the rooms. He came to see her often.”
“You took the money and provided security, that’s how it worked, right? So he paid you and went into the room with Maureen Antonio.”
“He did not pay. He went into the room. Because of Nick. It was Nick’s business, don’t ask me, I don’t know. He was comp. We had a few comps. Mostly they were cops.” He sputtered. “Well known cops.”
“How many times did you let Dan Burns into Maureen’s room?”
“So this man had some kind of relationship with Nick Katanjiev, and got free services.”
“Nick was the boss.”
“This man Dan Burns, did he frequent other girls at the motel?”
“Or any other girls that you know of? Think. Way back.”
“We were only in business three years. Maureen was early days. Please leave my world. I have an appointment soon.”
“So this is important. The only woman this man ever visited was Maureen Antonio, and this took place multiple times at the Airliner?”
“And Nick Katanjiev said this man does not pay.”
“You lived in the farmhouse with Maureen, right? For how long?
“Not too long.”
“Did she talk about this man?”
“She was in love with him. She said he was a professor. She said he was a friend of the sheriff. Now, I’ve told you everything and please thank me by leaving.”
“How would you describe Maureen Antonio?”
Kenji sighed. “Very quiet. Very shy. Kept to herself. She was the only girl who read books. Very smart. Are the police going to come around and see me?”
“She disappeared on June 11, 2015. Can you remember…”
“It was a long time ago.”
“When was the last time you saw her?”
“She was going on a date.”
“I don’t know. It was not a business date. It was a boyfriend.”
“A boyfriend? She had a boyfriend?”
“I never met him.”
“Did you ever tell the police this?”
“I have never told the police anything.”
“This boyfriend picked her up?”
“At the farmhouse?And you never saw her again?”
“I assumed she ran away. So many of them ran away. The police are going to come around and destroy my world, I know. it.”
“Did you see the boyfriend? The car?
“The car, yes.”
“What kind of car.”
“I don’t know, it was almost dark.”
“The car or the night, what was almost dark?”
“She got into the car. You didn’t see the boyfriend.”
“Look, girls ran away all the time, we weren’t running a prison, if they went off with the guy for the week or the weekend…” He shrugged. “We didn’t allow ‘free dates,’ supposedly, Nick said, but we really had no choice sometimes.”
“So the car drove off with Maureen in it and some boyfriend and you never saw her again.”
“What did you think when you heard the news?”
“Of course the boyfriend killed her. What could I do? She was already dead. It was partly my fault. I screwed up. I was too easy on the girls. I should have never let out of my sight, which is what Nick wanted. Nick was right. You trust nobody.”
“And so all this media hysteria over the Jefferson Road Strangler and you said nothing?”
“They caught the man. Maureen was dead. What was to be gained by sticking my nose in?”
“Did you ever see this man, Joseph Garland, the man everyone calls the strangler?”
“You let men in and out of the motel rooms and took the money. Joseph Garland never used your services?”
“I’ve never seen him, except pictures on the TV.”
“You’re the one they call Kenner, right?”
“Nick could not pronounce my name.”
“Ah. Where’s Nick?”
“How about Adora, have you been in touch with her?”
“Don’t want to be in touch with her.”
“She is an unpleasant person.”
The main door was opened by a young man and young woman, tattooed and shabbily dressed.
“I’ll be right there,” promised Kenji. He offered Tasha a hand up from the couch.
“I am sorry for Maureen. She was a nice person. She minded her own business and she did not fight with the other girls. Thinking about it, I realized it must have been the Garland man who picked her up and killed her. And this man Dan Burns tracked him down and shot him, because he loved Maureen. But he could not say so publicly, because of course he was a married family man. Nick was right, I never should have allowed free dates. It is my mistake. But please do not send the police after me. Who sent you anyway?”