The Rachel Scott Adventures, Volume 1 (8 page)

BOOK: The Rachel Scott Adventures, Volume 1
8.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

hawn slowly came to consciousness, his whole body screaming with pain. He assessed his injuries. Gingerly touching his face with his fingertips, he felt blood trickling from his broken nose, his right cheekbone was puffy—probably broken—and his left eye was swollen shut. Just moving to a sitting position caused him to groan in pain. He probably had a few cracked ribs, too.

He peered around the room with his good eye. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been out, but he guessed around eight hours, because now a thin strip of light filtered through a small window. The room was about a hundred square feet with a small cot, toilet, and sink. The door looked to be solid steel, and the window had bars.
Just like a prison
, he thought.

He wondered if Amber was being held someplace nearby. When they’d arrived at the island, he was afraid they’d get separated. As an undercover agent, he expected this kind of treatment if he was exposed. But dragging an innocent bystander into this mess was another thing. He hoped like hell she hadn’t suffered the same kind of beating that he had.

Shawn couldn’t believe how everything had gone from bad to worse so quickly. His shift had started just like any other. When Amber and her friends approached him at the club, he recognized her from the staff briefing they’d had earlier that day. All VIPs on the ship were given preferential treatment. He was just taken aback to see how beautiful she was in real life. When she fell ill later that night, he offered to walk her back to her suite. She never mentioned to him that she was the governor’s daughter, and he never let on that he knew.

He’d left Amber on the balcony, comfortably resting, while he visited the ship’s infirmary to get her medicine. On the way back, he was attacked from behind while he opened the door to Amber’s suite. He’d cursed himself—then and since—for letting his guard down.

A noise at the steel door brought him back to the present. The door swung open and a stocky man dressed in army fatigues and heavy, black boots walked in. Shawn didn’t think this was the same man who’d beat him to unconsciousness.

“Who are you?” the stocky man demanded in a British accent.

“Josh McCain,” he answered.

The man huffed and looked at him suspiciously. “Who do you work for?”


The man’s steely gray eyes bored into him. “You. Are. Lying.”

Shawn elected not to say anything and, instead, just stared back at his tormentor.

“Maybe you need some persuasion?”

“I told you the truth. My name is Josh McCain.”

The man shrugged his shoulders. “Your death wish.” He turned and left the room.

A few minutes later, Shawn heard the door open again. This time the man brought a friend to the party.

“Last chance to talk to us. You have something to say?”

Shawn sat quietly, staring back at them.

The other man lunged toward him with lightning speed. A steel rod connected with a sickening thud to the side of his head. Before Shawn blacked out, his last thought was of Amber. And that, somewhere along the way, he’d made a big mistake.


hipps and Cyndy were in deep conversation when Rachel and Drake walked into the conference room.

“What’s up?” Drake asked as they joined them at the table.

“We were just discussing Danny Pezzini,” Phipps answered. “Some new information has come to light. Cyndy just got back from meeting with the coroner. The preliminary autopsy report shows blunt-force trauma to the head, but that’s not what killed him. Cause of death was drowning.”

“How did he get the injury to his head?” Rachel asked.

“The coroner believes that Pezzini could have fallen overboard and hit his head on the way down. The initial tox report found alcohol in his system. No drugs detected, but a full tox screen will take a few weeks,” Cyndy said. “But that’s not all. Luckily, his wallet was on him when the Coast Guard plucked him out the water. We found a receipt from room service in it. On the back was Josh’s name and cabin number.”

“We now have something to link Pezzini and Josh?” Drake took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

“Seems so,” Phipps answered.

“Josh was on Pezzini’s radar, apparently. We were just discussing a theory before you came in. Pezzini could’ve been working for Morrotti. They may have suspected Josh was undercover and Morrotti sent him to take care of the situation.” Cyndy tapped her pen on the table. “Obviously they didn’t know that Josh McCain was an alias for Shawn Gibson.”

“The pieces of the puzzle are falling into place now.” Drake grabbed a cup of coffee from the urn the hotel staff kept full for them.

“How did the meeting go with the witness?” Phipps asked.

Drake went over the details with Phipps. “She made a positive ID on Amber. She’s less sure about Shawn. But we’re assuming it’s him.”

“Back to Pezzini. He may have been following Shawn, waiting for the right time to get him alone, which is awfully hard to do on a cruise,” Phipps said.

“But a very convenient way to dispose of a body,” Rachel said. “He was able to get into Amber’s suite. They fought. Either Pezzini fell or Shawn tossed him overboard.”

“No one reported hearing a fight,” Phipps said.

“True. But doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. Somehow Pezzini ended up in the water,” Rachel said.

“If that’s true, once Pezzini was out of the way, why did Shawn take Amber with him?” Cyndy asked.

“Shawn thought Amber was in danger and that leaving her on the ship was a bigger risk than taking her with him?” Rachel asked.

“Maybe. Or Amber was the target and not Shawn?” Drake added.

“The family hasn’t received a ransom demand. And Pezzini had Josh’s name on the receipt. I still think Amber got in the way, and for some reason, they had to bail,” Phipps said.

“If Shondra’s account of what happened that night is correct, Shawn and Amber were captured after finding a way to shore,” Rachel said. “What happened to them?”

“Enzo Morrotti could be the key to all this,” Phipps said. “If he suspected Shawn was undercover and threatening his drug operation, he could’ve arranged for him to be taken care of.”

“I don’t think they’d still be around Freeport,” Rachel said. “If he went to such great lengths to capture them, he wouldn’t risk keeping them around.”

“Let’s get together with Mike Mancini.” Drake drew a big, red circle around Morrotti’s name on the whiteboard. “See what he knows about Morrotti.”


achel walked into her hotel room after a long day. This was the hard part for her—spending all day searching and chasing leads with nothing to show for it. Even though Shondra provided them with an ID that Amber had made it off the ship, they were back to square one. Where were Amber and Shawn now? Was Amber still alive?

She tried not to let it get her down. Every successful rescue gave her hope that she would one day find her little girl. Mallory would be eight years old this year. Rachel often fantasized about finding Mallory and wondered if her daughter would still remember her. That was her biggest fear—that Mallory wouldn’t know her.

She threw her bag on the bed and slumped down next to it. She was exhausted, and she needed food and a long, hot shower, not necessarily in that order. She grabbed the phone and called the Blue Palm restaurant and ordered a grilled mahimahi sandwich and french fries from room service. Then she saw that she had a message, and when she called in for it, the front desk told her that she had a package and someone would bring it up to her soon. It was probably from the office. Janine occasionally sent her mail when she was traveling. After her shower, she’d check in with her.

Rachel stripped out of her clothes and stepped into the shower. She was proud of her crew even if they didn’t have any solid leads to Amber yet. In three years, she’d been involved in over twenty-five missing persons cases. Sometimes the outcome wasn’t good. She didn’t always find the missing person alive. But those she did find alive gave her hope. Somehow Amber and Shawn had made it off the ship and got to the island. The big question now—where were they?

It was time to think about the next steps.

She stepped out of the shower and wrapped a thick white towel around her body. Running her hand across the steamed mirror, she looked at her reflection. Her nose and cheeks were slightly sunburned despite the sunscreen she’d used, and her normally bright-green eyes looked dull—a sure sign that she was tired.

As she attacked her tangled, long auburn hair with a comb, she wondered if Mike Mancini was attached. She hadn’t felt an attraction to anyone since her divorce from Rick. Not that her hectic schedule left her any time for dating. Mike was also the total opposite of what she was normally attracted to. Rick was always impeccably groomed, down to his thousand-dollar suits and weekly manicured fingernails. Mike had that dark, handsome, rugged look—his muscles bulged under snug T-shirts and tight jeans—and he was a good listener and seemed genuinely caring about her situation. He and Rick had only two things in common: They were both ambitious, and they usually got what they wanted.

What Rachel didn’t know was if she was ready for a relationship yet.

After Mallory disappeared, her marriage to Rick fell apart. While he spent hours at the office working, she spent hours on the street following up on leads the police neglected. When several months passed and they still hadn’t found Mallory, Rick thought it was time to start living their lives again. Rachel resented him for giving up so soon, and he resented her for not moving on. In addition, she always felt that he blamed her for Mallory’s disappearance. If she had taken Mallory inside with her when the phone rang or didn’t answer the damn phone to begin with…
, she thought,
I’m not going down that dark road again

When she walked out of the bathroom, she noticed the package the front desk had delivered while she was in the shower. She picked up the plain manila envelope and sat down on the bed to open it. It hadn’t come from her office, because Florida Omni Search used white envelopes with the company logo. This envelope had only her name handwritten in thick black letters. She was opening the envelope when someone knocked at the door. She let in room service and put a generous tip on the ticket.

The smell of the herbed mahimahi and mango salsa was unbelievably appetizing. She took a bite of the sandwich as she sat back down on the bed. Rachel poured the contents of the package onto the coverlet. A plain sheet of white paper and a photograph fluttered out…

She picked up the photograph and turned it over. A little girl, about seven or eight years old with red hair and green eyes, gazed back at her. The image took a few seconds to register. Then Rachel gasped. The child was Mallory. Rachel’s hand shook as she picked up the piece of paper. She slowly turned it over. Three words made her heart stop:




ike sat down beside Rachel and gently removed the picture she had firmly grasped in her hand.

“Rachel, we don’t know for sure that this is Mallory. The photo could be a fake,” he said cautiously.

She had called Mike when she couldn’t reach Drake on his phone. Rachel felt like her whole world was coming apart when she saw that picture. Her heart raced and her mouth went dry.

Rachel flipped open her laptop and brought up the Florida Omni Search website, which showcased information about missing children, each with age-progression photos. She found the page that featured Mallory. One picture showed Mallory when she was three, and another photo, using age-progression software, showed her at eight years old. Both pictures showed her with big, round green eyes, vibrant red hair, a button nose, and full lips. In the photograph Rachel had just received, Mallory had short hair. In the Florida Omni Search age-progression photo, she had longer hair. Despite the difference in hair lengths, the two pictures were eerily similar.

“What kind of sicko would do this?” Rachel asked, glancing between the photo in her hand and the one on the Internet. Whether it was real or not, someone was telling her that Mallory was alive.

“I don’t know. You’ve been in the media a lot the last few days. And Mallory’s disappearance was a high-profile case,” Mike said. “People do stupid stuff to get a rise out of someone.”

“But what if this is something?”

“First things first, I’ll call the front desk and see if I can find out who dropped this off,” Mike said. “Then we’ll go from there.”

While he picked up the phone to call the manager, Rachel stared at the age-progression photographs of Mallory. About a year after Mallory had vanished, Rachel sent family photos of herself, Rick, and Mallory to the forensic imaging specialists at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The image specialist merged all the photos in a complex program to create a photo of Mallory at age four.

Rachel updated the website every year with a new photo in hope that one day Mallory would be found. But now Rachel had an in-house specialist, Gregg Isbitt, who performed all the age-progression photos for Florida Omni Search. Gregg was an IT specialist formerly with the Atlanta Police Department and a friend of Red Cooper. She trusted him like every other member of her valuable team.

Mike hung up the phone. “No luck. The security camera isn’t working, and the front desk clerk who took the package was busy checking in a guest and doesn’t remember much about the boy who dropped off the package. He described him as a teenager wearing a baseball cap and shorts. That’s it. The boy was probably paid by someone to drop it off.”

“I still don’t get what this means. Could it be the start of some kind of ransom? Four years later?”

“If it is, then they’ll contact you again. I’d give this to Drake and have him take a look. See if he can run this through his lab.”

Rachel nodded. “I left him a message.”

Mike leaned over, gave her a hug. “I know you miss her terribly. We’ll figure this out together.”

BOOK: The Rachel Scott Adventures, Volume 1
8.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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