With Jamie and Annie delighted to be given money and sent to Fink’s, Taylor and Stephanie waited for Penny LaFore. When she showed up she looked gray, grim, almost sick. She sat with them in the living room and from her purse produced three sheets of paper.
“Stephanie,” she said, “do you have a lighter?”
“In my purse.”
“Give it to me,” Penny demanded.
When Steffie handed over a cheap Bic lighter, Penny said: “I am burning this right after you read it. You may not make copies. You may not tell anyone ever that I’ve been here or that you’ve seen this. There are a dozen people working for the county or city who could have leaked this. But I’m the newest hire, and I’ll be the suspect. So, I’m taking a chance for you. Ready? Read fast, I’m burning this in five minutes.”
Penny delivers the news to Taylor and Stephanie.
My name is Adora Vang and I live in Shipwreck Bay. I am 28 years old and unemployed. I give this statement of my own free will.
I met Nicholas Katanjiev in January, 2015. He came to my apartment door to collect the rent, which was 10 days overdue. He said I had three days to pay or he would personally put me on the street. He said my landlord, Summit Realty, did not have to obey the eviction laws.
Katanjiev phoned the next day and said he could help me and I should meet him at the Crosstown Tavern that evening. I was afraid to go there because of its reputation. But at the time I was working at Want-A-Burger, and they had cut my hours, and I was desperate to pay the rent.
At our meeting Katanjiev claimed he was a movie producer and could get me a part in one of his films. He said the work was easy and the pay was $2000 per day. I did not believe him but was desperate for money.
The next day I met him at the Airliner Motel, and it was obvious that he was not making a movie. He wanted me to entertain men in one of the rooms, and I refused.
The next day he called and said he had paid my rent for January and that he liked me very much. He said he needed someone to help manage his business. He described it as a “very nice clean job.”
Being unemployed, I accepted. The job was to help him manage his prostitutes. There were between 6 and 8 girls working for him at any one time. My job was to keep the sex workers happy, take them to the doctor, listen to their problems, lend them money, help them deal with their parents, anything they needed. They were not allowed to have cars, so I was the chauffer. They all lived in a farm house that was run by Kenji Matsuoka, whose nickname was Kenner. He worked for Katanjiev.
In May of 2017, Katanjiev got an anonymous message, offering $1000 just to consider an offer. The money was in a decorative teacup on a high shelf at Peace, Love & Coffee on Roosevelt Road. Katanjiev sent me to get this money, which was tightly banded, ten $100 bills.
The next day, an anonymous phone message came explaining the offer. It said the job would be to use one of Katanjiev’s girls to distract the ferry captain, Marco Gonzales. The purpose would be to prevent him from making the last ferry run on a certain evening. The message said there would be no violence involved, and the total pay would be $3000 for one hour’s work.
If we accepted this offer, we were to remove the cover from this teapot, which was gold in color, and sitting on a high shelf at the coffee shop. So I went there and set the teapot cover aside, which was the signal we were awaiting the next payment.
I removed the cover of that teapot at ten the next morning, but cannot remember the exact day. I also slipped a note into the teapot that said Nick’s price was $5000 total.
Then I sat in a far dark corner and played games on my phone. There were security cameras in the shop but none pointed at this dark corner. Around lunch time a man came in, pretended to admire the display of teapots, removed the note I had left, and slipped something into the gold teapot. I recognized this man as Daniel Burns. Katanjiev had asked me to get pictures of this man, and I did so while pretending to talk on the phone.
I recognized Daniel Burns because his picture had been on television years back, something to do with the serial killings on Jefferson Road. I had never had any personal contact with Daniel Burns.
In that teapot was another $1000, tightly banded as before. When I got back to the apartment I shared with Katanjiev, there was another text message. It set the date for the operation as May 23. It agreed to pay $3000 more once the operation was done, for a total of $5000, as Nick demanded.
I had no part in the operation involving Marco Gonzalez and have no direct knowledge of it. I do not pay close attention to the news, and did not know that a surfer named Elizabeth Burns went missing that night.
Katanjiev became furious the next day because the final payment was not in the teapot. He too recognized Daniel Burns from the pictures I had taken. I do not have those pictures, because Katanjiev demanded my phone, destroyed it, and replaced it with a new one.
At about this time, Memorial Day of 2017, my cousin Cammie Vang began to work as a prostitute for Katanjiev. This was the beginning of bad times between Katanjiev and myself. My cousin was a kind, innocent soul and I did not want her to have sex with strangers. Kataniev said Cammie was hopeless, could not hold a job, and would end up a street person unless we helped her. And it was true, Cammie was always being fired from the simplest jobs. Katanjiev said he would save the money she earned so she would never become homeless. He promised to open a savings account in her name, however, I cannot find it.
Katanjiev did not like Taylor Burns, son of Dan Burns, because he felt the father had cheated him of $3000. But Katanjiev did engage Taylor Burns to write an app to lure customers to his business. The app never worked correctly, which made Katanjiev furious, since he felt the Burns family had taken advantage of him twice.
I do not know if Katanjiev was aware of the missing woman, Elizabeth Burns. We never discussed it.
In the fall of 2018, Katanjiev began to fear arrest, for reasons he did not explain. He rented a cabin in the Jackson Forest. Katanjiev said we would be safe there, and that the sheriff did not really want to arrest him, but he did not explain why. This was all connected to the case of the ferry run and the missing woman, which I was only beginning to realize.
In September of 2018, deputies arrested Katanjiev at Jackson Falls, after he had a fight with Delbert “Butchie” Block. I picked up Katanjiev at the county jail when he was released the next day, and he said I should shut up and not ask questions.
Katanjiev had often told me we would someday move to Bulgaria, and after he was released from jail, he cried, and said that dream was ruined. Kenji Matsuoka had packed up and fled the farmhouse, and all of Katanjiev’s prostitutes scattered.
On September 31, 2018, Katanjiev drove away in his Range Rover, telling me he was headed for the gym. I have not seen or heard from him since.
Taylor read this in shaking hands, Stephanie looking over his shoulder. Penny snatched the papers away, took them to the sink, lit them on fire and watched them burn to ashes.
“He killed my mother,” Taylor muttered. “I’m going over there. Watch the kids. Keep the kids here.”