Authors: Traci Hohenstein
, over a thousand feet long and ten stories high, was the largest ship docked at the slips designated for cruise liners. Perched on the top deck was a water park with colorful slides and cascading pools.
“This is one monster of a ship,” Rachel said, looking up.
“It has fifteen hundred staterooms, three nightclubs, a full service spa, a water park, six restaurants, and a casino,” Drake said, sounding like a commercial for the cruise line.
“No wonder my parents take so many cruises. It has everything you need and then some.” Rachel followed Drake up the gangway. She’d never been on a cruise, but she heard all about them from her parents. Since her dad retired five years ago, her parents had taken several. Their ten-day cruise to Alaska was the latest.
Rachel tried to smooth the wrinkles out of her pantsuit as they walked into the impressive ten-story atrium lobby. Sunlight flooded in through a massive skylight. The double staircase and glass elevators encompassed the rest of the lobby, which was filled with happy vacationing passengers. Rachel realized that she and Drake looked out of place among the tourists wearing Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. Special Agent Cyndy Krapek from the Miami field office was waiting in the lobby.
“Nice to see you guys, finally,” Cyndy said as she led them through a maze of hallways to the captain’s office. “The ship is docked one more night so we have a lot of work to do. They’re scheduled to leave tomorrow afternoon and head to Cabana Cay.”
“Where is that?” Rachel asked.
“SeaScape is the conglomerate that owns three cruise ships—
. SeaScape also owns Cabana Cay, which they use as a destination stop for their West Caribbean cruises. It’s located about sixty nautical miles south of Freeport,” she replied, talking as fast as she walked. With her short blonde hair and athletic stride, she gave off a no-nonsense vibe that Rachel immediately picked up on.
“Can’t you hold the ship longer?” They’d need some time to put together a search party. One night wouldn’t be long enough, Rachel thought.
Drake explained to Rachel, “When an American citizen goes missing aboard a cruise ship, even if the ship is in international waters, we can investigate. But unless we have evidence of foul play, we can’t hold the ship longer than twenty-four hours.”
“What about the body the Coast Guard found?” Rachel asked.
“All we know is that the body was male. We don’t know if it’s related to Amber’s disappearance yet,” Cyndy answered, stopping outside a secured door. She pushed the buzzer and waited. “The Royal Bahamas Police Force and the ship’s security crew are still processing Amber’s suite. We’ll head there after meeting with the captain.”
The captain’s office wasn’t as Rachel had imagined. It was small and plain, with a desk, bookcase, and round conference table with six chairs. Cyndy introduced everyone to the captain, Antonio Martin, and the head of security for the cruise lines, Edward Schultz.
Captain Martin was in his late forties, short and stocky, with thick salt-and-pepper hair and an olive complexion. He greeted them with a friendly smile.
Edward Schultz was a complete opposite of the captain. He was tall, very muscular, and bald. And scary looking, Rachel thought. He stood scowling next to the captain.
Captain Martin got right to the topic on hand. “We conducted two full ship searches for Ms. Knowles—the first time when the chaperone notified us that she was missing and again when we got into port. She’s not on the ship, which leads us to the unfortunate conclusion that she went overboard.” He rubbed his palms together.
“Have you had a chance to look through the security tapes?” Drake asked.
“We’re looking at those now,” Schultz told him. “So far, the last image we have of Amber is from after midnight, when she was escorted back to her room.”
“The cameras cover only about half of the cruise ship,” Captain Martin quickly explained. “Mostly open areas. Surveillance cuts off at the main hallway to her cabin.”
“We’d like to take a look at those tapes before we talk to the witnesses,” Drake said.
“We have them right here.” Everyone but Captain Martin sat around the conference table while Schultz uploaded the images to a laptop. Captain Martin stood behind Shultz’s chair while the video uploaded. After a couple of tense minutes, a grainy picture came up of a nightclub.
“This is where Amber and her friends entered the club,” Schultz said.
Wearing a sundress, Amber approached the club with two girls. “We identified the two girls as Amber’s friends and cabin mates,” Captain Martin said as he pointed to the screen. “Nicole Ryan and Rowan Fitzgerald.”
“They look like they’re having a good time,” Rachel commented, seeing the smiles on the girls’ faces. “Who are the guys at the front door?” Both men were wearing the crisp white uniform with the
Schultz cleared his throat. “They are cruise staff members Andy White and Josh McCain.”
Rachel focused on the grainy image that showed Amber talking to Josh for a minute before he escorted her inside.
“Are there cameras inside the club?” Drake asked.
“No, just the entrance. The next shot is about an hour and a half later when Amber and Josh exit the club.”
“What’s the exact time?” Drake asked as he adjusted his glasses and peered at the computer screen.
“The time shows twelve twenty-six a.m.,” Schultz answered. He clicked on another image on the screen. “Next camera picks up Josh and Amber walking down the passageway that leads to her suite. The camera range stops about fifteen feet from her door.”
Everyone watched the screen as Josh and Amber walked down the corridor. She stumbled a little and he put his arm around her waist. Another
employee, a woman, passed them in the opposite direction. She was followed by a man dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. The woman glanced back a couple times and then passed out of camera range.
“That’s the last image of we have of Josh and Amber,” Schultz said. “But we still have a lot of tape to go through. It should take us another couple of hours to review all the security tapes during that time frame.”
“Who’s the employee and guy that passes them?” Drake asked.
“The employee is Consuela Rodriguez. We’ve already talked to her. She doesn’t remember anything out of the ordinary.” Schultz paused and looked over at Captain Martin. “We’re working on identifying the passenger. There’s another suite on the other side of Amber’s.” Schultz consulted a sheet of paper in front of him. “Mr. and Mrs. Jacobsen are staying in there. They are on our list to interview.”
“What’s at the end of the hallway?” Rachel asked. “Just past their cabin?”
“There are two doors at the end of the passageway. One leads to a ladder that goes to most decks. The other door is for employees only and requires a passcode to enter. It takes employees to different areas of the ship,” Schultz said.
“And Josh has access to all doors on the ship?” Drake asked.
“He doesn’t have full access, but he does have access to most of the doors. Employees have different levels of security access depending on their jobs,” Schultz answered.
“Can you show us what doors he accessed the night Amber disappeared?” Drake asked.
“I have that printout right here.” Schultz pulled out a piece of paper from a folder. “The last time he used his card was seven fifty-six p.m., which was at the beginning of his shift.”
“Has anyone interviewed Josh yet?” Drake asked Schultz.
Schultz looked uncomfortably at the captain. “No.” He hesitated. “We haven’t been able to find him.”
hat do you mean, you can’t find him?” Drake asked.
“He didn’t clock out after his shift last night, and he’s not in his room,” Schultz said.
“What happened to him?” Drake looked irritated.
“We don’t know. All his belongings seem to be in the room, including his passport,” Schultz replied.
“What about the other guy who was working with him?”
“We talked to him right after Amber’s roommates reported her missing.” Schultz still looked uncomfortable. Rachel noticed he kept shifting his eyes toward Captain Martin. But the captain’s face gave away nothing. He stood stone-faced. No emotion whatsoever.
“Andy said Josh never made it back to the club. He didn’t get worried until Amber’s friends came back looking for her. That’s when he notified his supervisor, and within minutes we organized a full search of the ship,” Schultz commented.
“Andy didn’t think it was strange that Josh never came back to finish his shift?” Phipps asked incredulously.
“One of Josh’s responsibilities is taking care of the passengers. He’s a VIP host. Andy thought he was just taking care of a sick passenger.”
“Does Josh have a private room?” Drake asked.
“No. He shares the cabin with Andy.” Schultz took a deep breath. “He said that Josh never made it back to the cabin that night, either.”
“How could two people magically disappear?” Rachel wondered aloud.
“We’re hoping to get those answers once we review all the tapes,” Schultz replied.
“The ship was a couple of hours out from the Bahamas when we got the call that Amber was missing. If she went overboard, there’s a chance that she survived a fall.” Captain Martin looked over at the security chief before Schultz spoke again. “Of course, you know the Coast Guard found one body already.”
“We were notified on the way over here. The Coast Guard said the body is a male.” Drake paused. “Are you thinking they found Josh?”
“We think he might have been with her when she fell. We just don’t know yet,” Schultz answered.
“What about the security tapes? Do any of them show an angle from her balcony?” Phipps asked.
“No. There are no cameras on the outside of her balcony. The only cameras we have outside are the ones near public areas of the ship.”
“Can anyone identify the body?” Drake asked.
Captain Martin nodded. “We’re waiting for the Coast Guard to give us a call when they’re ready.”
“We haven’t been able to locate family for Josh yet,” Cyndy added. “Captain Martin gave us the emergency contact for Josh, but no one has called us back.”
“Until then, I want to interview everyone who walked down that corridor between the time the girls left their room to the time Amber was reported missing,” Phipps requested. “Meanwhile, let’s go check out the cabin.”
“Schultz will escort you. The Royal Bahamas Police Force has an officer in the suite now, and we also have security personnel guarding the door,” Captain Martin said.
That reminded Rachel of something she wanted to ask. “Did Amber have security with her on this trip?”
Cyndy shook her head no. “Governor Knowles had insisted Amber bring someone, but she talked him out of it at the last minute.”
aptain Martin closed the door behind his visitors. He was annoyed with the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the FBI for boarding his ship and conducting a search. Enzo Morrotti, the owner of the
, had already warned him that the DEA was stepping up its efforts to stop drug smuggling. He wasn’t the least bit worried that the FBI agents would find anything in their search for this lost teenager. So he was irritated, yes. Worried, not in the slightest.
He ran a smooth operation and only a few crew members knew what really happened when the ship docked at Cabana Cay every week. The ship was specially fitted with hidden compartments that even the most diligent inspection would never discover. The FBI and the girl from the search-and-rescue company could search the ship for the missing girl all they wanted—they’d never find any evidence of foul play, or anything else, either. He’d been over the whole ship himself with a fine-tooth comb.
The situation was unfortunate, but he’d taken care of the problem for good. He thought about the missing girl and Josh McCain. Josh was a hard worker and losing him was regrettable, but this was the biggest run of the month. He wasn’t going to let anyone stop him. The
would depart Freeport tomorrow and head to Cabana Cay on schedule. There, he’d load the ship with the largest cargo to date.
This was his seventh trip to the Bahamas on the
, and he’d proven himself. Mr. Morrotti had guaranteed him a huge bonus at the end of this month. He was already thinking of ways to spend the extra money.
“Captain, phone for you.” One of the deckhands said over the speakerphone, interrupting his thoughts.
“Captain Martin,” he announced with authority.
“It’s Charlie. You wanted me to call you with an update.”
Martin took the phone off speaker.
“Yes, Charlie, go ahead.” Martin hoped everything was under control now. He didn’t want any more mistakes.
“We have the couple in our custody and are heading over to the island tonight.”
“Very good. No more problems?”
“We aren’t getting any cooperation from the guy. But that was to be expected, no?”
“Right. Well, make them comfortable. We’ll deal with the situation tomorrow.” Martin hung up the phone and checked the video surveillance on his computer monitor. The agents would be back soon. He’d be prepared for them.
ow. Amber’s parents spared no expense with her accommodations, huh?” Rachel said as they walked into the girl’s cabin. “This is one of four large luxury suites on the ship. The four of them take up this entire penthouse deck. Each has a master suite, with two additional bedrooms, a living room, dining room, and large private balcony,” Schultz said proudly.
“How much does something like this cost?” Rachel asked.
“About four to eight thousand,” Schultz answered. “They’re very popular, mainly with celebrities or large corporations, and book quickly.”
As they entered the suite, Rachel saw a large framed photograph of a very handsome man on the wall above a black marble table. He had dark hair, piercing blue eyes, and he wore a suit with a red tie that had the
logo on it.
“Who’s that?” Rachel wondered aloud.
“Ah, that would be Mr. Enzo Morrotti. He’s the owner of SeaScape Cruise Lines,” said Schultz. “He’s very hands-on when it comes to running the business.”
A Royal Bahamas police officer stood guard in the living area. Schultz nodded to him and explained that the police were still processing the area and keeping everyone out until they were done.
The spacious living room contained an entertainment center and a wet bar. Rachel walked down the small passage leading to the master suite. “I assume this was Amber’s room?” Rachel asked.
“Yeah. We found her purse and other belongings in there,” Cyndy said, pausing outside the doorway. “Plus, the girls staying with Amber confirmed that this was her stuff.”
The room was beautifully done with lots of polished mahogany, brass, and marble. The nightstand held a bottle of water and a book. Rachel picked it up and read the title:
Gone with the Wind
. That was also her favorite book.
, she thought.
Across from the king-sized bed was a well-lit vanity and small bench. An armoire set into the wall held a huge plasma television with drawers beneath it. In the master bath, black-and-gold marble tiles surrounded the large Jacuzzi tub and ample shower area. Makeup and hair products littered the vanity table. A container of pain reliever and a half-full bottle of water lay by the sink.
Rachel walked back into the living room and into the second bedroom. This room had two twin beds with a pull-down bunk over each. A desk with a lamp on top and double drawers for storage stood between the beds. Clothes lay scattered all over the floor, the beds, and the walk-in closet. The room’s private bath had another shower and Jacuzzi tub. The third bedroom had the same layout, except it had a double bed instead of twin beds.
“This place is larger than my town house,” Drake said.
“The governor obviously wanted the best for his daughter,” Rachel replied. “He probably thought the penthouse would provide more security for her as well.”
“Let’s look at the balcony.” Drake walked toward the sliding glass doors, and Rachel followed.
“When our security crew did the first search, they found Amber’s cell phone, a beach towel, and a single flip-flop out here on the balcony,” Schultz said. “Nothing else. The police searched again and took photos.”
“No signs of a struggle?” Rachel asked.
“One of the smaller tables was overturned, but that is not uncommon with occasional strong winds.”
Rachel examined the balcony railing. It was about four feet high and topped with a wooden bar. “I guess it’s possible she could have leaned over too far and fallen overboard.” She looked up and around the outside of the ship.
“Wouldn’t be the first time someone accidentally fell overboard,” Schultz quickly agreed.
“What happened to her other shoe?” Rachel asked.
“We didn’t find it in the cabin,” Schultz answered. “Another reason we believe she may have fallen overboard.”
Rachel looked out over the water again. “How tall is Amber?”
“Five foot six, according to her driver’s license,” Cyndy answered.
“When someone has had too much to drink, it’s easy to lose your balance if you lean over too far. It’s tragic, but possible,” Schultz said.
Rachel was beginning to feel that Schultz was pushing the “she fell overboard” story a little too much.
“Or someone shoved her. Hey, what’s this?” She crouched down and pointed to a small, shiny object near the bottom of the railing.
Drake walked up and leaned over her. “What do you see?” He kneeled down and picked up a small gold ring.