Authors: Traci Hohenstein
t looks like some kind of fraternity signet ring. Maybe Phi Kappa Pi?” she said, studying the crest.
“No idea.” Drake turned the ring to examine it more closely. There were initials carved on the inside of the gold band:
“I doubt this is Amber’s. It looks like a man’s ring.” Drake took his cell phone out of his pocket. “Let’s take a couple photos before we turn it over to the police.” He nodded toward the policeman sitting in the living area. “We can show it to the governor and Amber’s friends to see if they recognize it.” Drake took a few pictures before alerting the policeman to their find.
Phipps walked back into the room. “I just got a call from the governor. He and his wife are on board now, waiting for us in the conference room by the captain’s office.”
They walked back to the conference room, where Governor John Knowles, his wife Sarah, and Amber’s two friends were seated around the table. Looking every bit as powerful as his position claimed him to be, the governor stood as they entered the room. Over six feet tall with a muscular build, he wore dark-blue trousers and a white button-down oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His red-striped tie was loosened around his collar.
Rachel felt nervous and wasn’t sure why. She’d worked with powerful people before when she’d been a successful real estate broker and developer in Miami. She’d met several political leaders in that time, but never the governor of Florida.
He smiled as he held out his hand, immediately putting her at ease. “Thank you for coming, Rachel. This is my wife, Sarah. Please call me John.”
She thought the governor looked more handsome in person than on TV. His thick, dark hair had flecks of gray through it, which made him look more distinguished.
Sarah’s blonde hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail and her makeup was perfect. She wore a bright-pink Lily Pulitzer sundress with low-heeled sandals. Rachel had expected her to look more disheveled since her only daughter was missing and believed to have fallen overboard, but she knew that people handled stressful situations differently.
“Thank you so much for being here,” Sarah said with a strained smile. “This is Nicole and Rowan, Amber’s best friends. They were with Amber on this cruise.” She nodded to the girls sitting at the table.
Rachel looked the girls over and took in their casual demeanor. They were both dressed in shorts and T-shirts with flip-flops and were strikingly beautiful, although they looked like they’d been up all night—and they probably had. Nicole had short, spiky, blonde hair with pink tips and reminded Rachel of a pixie. Rowan, in contrast, had long, dark mahogany-colored hair that was thick and glossy.
“Before we get started, take a look at this ring. We found it on Amber’s balcony. Do any of you recognize it?” Drake handed his cell phone to the governor so he could see the picture.
“No. That’s not Amber’s. I’ve never seen it before.”
Drake showed it to the girls. They both shook their head. “Not ours.”
“Did you remember if Josh was wearing a ring?”
They both shook their heads no.
Drake put the cell phone back in his pocket. He’d already e-mailed the photo to the FBI’s tech guys to see what they could find about the symbol. “A previous passenger might have lost the ring. We’re trying to identify it.”
“We hope that you can find Amber. As you can imagine, this has been a very difficult time for us,” Governor Knowles said.
“I know firsthand how difficult that can be. Time is crucial when a person goes missing, and we need to get started right away. Tell us about Amber,” Rachel replied, looking at Sarah.
“I’m having a hard time believing that she fell overboard like the cruise officials have suggested,” Sarah said.
Schultz shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“Why’s that?” Rachel asked.
Sarah nodded toward Amber’s friends. “It was how Nicole and Rowan described the evening.”
“Amber gets migraine headaches sometimes that cause dizziness and blurry vision,” Governor Knowles said as he reached over and squeezed Sarah’s hand. “She told Nicole and Rowan that she wasn’t feeling well. If she was having a migraine, she would have taken her medication and gone to bed.”
Sarah agreed with her husband. “The migraines made her sick, and the drugs made her drowsy. So she’d have gone straight to bed. I think something happened to her between the time she left the club and the time she got back to the cabin. But what?”
“That’s what we want to find out,” Drake answered. “Nicole, Rowan, why don’t you tell us what happened last night at Aqua?”
“We went there after dinner,” Nicole answered. “After about an hour, Amber said she wasn’t feeling well and wanted to go back to the cabin.” Nicole looked nervously over at the governor. She was obviously scared and intimidated by him, Rachel thought.
“Did she say what was wrong?” Drake asked.
“She was seasick and had a headache. I offered to walk her back, but…” Nicole said, looking first at Rowan, then again at Governor Knowles. “She said she didn’t want to ruin our good time.”
Governor Knowles leaned forward and put his hand under his square jaw. Sarah stared at the girls intensely, as though this were the first time she’d heard the story, even though Rachel knew the girls had to have repeated it several times.
“How did Josh get involved?” Drake asked.
“Josh was kind of hanging out with us. He got us into a private VIP room and bought us drinks and snacks. When Amber said she was sick, he offered to walk her back,” Nicole said defensively. She looked at Rowan for help.
“He was a nice guy. He talked about how he liked working on the ship and meeting new people,” Rowan said, trying to help her friend out. “Have you talked with him?”
“Not yet. We’re interviewing all the crew members now,” Drake said, not letting them know that Josh was missing, too. “What time did you get back to the suite?”
“We left the club around one thirty to go check on Amber,” Rowan answered.
“We were concerned about her,” Nicole added. She looked nervously at the Knowleses again.
“What did you find?” Drake asked.
“Amber’s door was closed. We knocked, but she didn’t answer. I opened the door and looked around. I didn’t see her,” Nicole said. “I noticed the sliding glass door was open to the balcony, and I went out there. One of the chairs and a small table were turned over, and Amber’s phone was left under the chaise lounge. When I saw that, I yelled for Rowan.”
“I was changing in my room and heard Nicole yelling, so I headed out to the balcony,” Rowan added.
“I didn’t know what had happened—if the wind blew the table and chair over, or what. I got worried,” Nicole said.
“We ran back inside and called out again for Amber. We searched every room.” Rowan started crying. “We couldn’t believe she wasn’t there.”
“Then what did you do?” Rachel asked softly.
“We decided to look around the ship for her,” Nicole said uneasily. She patted Rowan’s hand, reassuring her.
“We thought maybe she’d gone back to the club looking for us since it was so late,” Rowan said.
“Did you go there to look for her?”
“Yes. We asked some of the employees who were still hanging around if they’d seen Josh or Amber, and no one had. The other guy who was working with Josh…uh…his name was…”
“Andy,” Rowan said.
“Andy. He went with us to look for her. We walked around the pools and the other decks.”
“How long did you look for her?” Rachel asked.
“About an hour, I guess. We came back to the room and called Mrs. Thompson while Andy called the captain,” Rowan said.
“Mrs. Thompson is one of the chaperones,” Governor Knowles said.
“The crew searched the ship and didn’t find anything. By then we’d already started docking,” Nicole finished.
“Tell us about Josh.” Rachel got a notepad out of her bag. “How did you meet him?”
“He was standing outside the club. Amber walked up to him first and started talking to him,” Nicole said.
“He was wearing a uniform?” Rachel asked.
“Yes. He told us that he was a club host and asked if we wanted a private VIP room. We said sure, so he took us to one, and then our other friends came. He was really nice,” Nicole said.
“Did Amber talk with him again?” Rachel asked.
“Yeah. He left to talk with some other people, but he came back a few minutes later. They sat and talked for a while,” Rowan said.
“After dancing with us for a bit, Amber started feeling sick and said she wanted to go back. Josh got her some water, but she was still feeling bad. So he insisted on walking her to her room,” Nicole said again.
“And that was the last you saw of Josh and Amber?” Drake asked.
“Yes,” Rowan and Nicole both nodded their heads.
“Okay. Let’s take a break.” Drake stood up.
“We’d like to stay here and help,” Rowan pleaded to Governor Knowles and his wife.
“We talked about it and asked our parents. We don’t want to leave without Amber,” Nicole added.
“When was the last time you spoke to Amber?” Drake asked Governor Knowles.
“Amber called me from her cell phone right before they left for dinner. She sounded fine and said she was looking forward to the dolphin excursion this morning,” he answered.
“Did Amber have security on the ship?” Rachel asked. She caught Sarah giving her husband a knowing look that only a wife can give.
“No. I tried to get Amber to agree to security, but she wouldn’t budge. She argued that the chaperones would look after them. Amber was about to turn eighteen and wanted some freedom before starting college.” Governor Knowles looked over at Sarah. “I wish I’d sent someone anyway.”
nzo Morrotti sat in his exquisite office overlooking the Miami skyline at the SeaScape Cruise Lines headquarters. He ran his hand through his thick black hair, wondering how he was going to handle this unexpected problem.
He had a headache that would not go away. Opening the desk drawer, he popped open the prescription bottle and shook out two little white pills. He put them in his mouth and took a large swig of water.
The last thing he needed was the FBI crawling all over his ship. He didn’t like that at all. Not that he was worried they’d find anything. It just added complications.
He had an agreement with the Cubans that had to be fulfilled. Those caballeros still had two more shipments to deliver. The local police he could deal with. He had a guy on the inside here, and they had an understanding. But he didn’t have anyone with the feds. He’d have to stay on top of the DEA. And now the FBI investigation.
He pushed the intercom button, and a minute later, his beautiful assistant entered the office.
“Yes, Mr. Morrotti?” Gia leaned across his desk. Her silky blue blouse revealed an abundance of tanned cleavage. A cascade of brunette hair hung below her shoulders, and her hazel eyes stared at him expectantly.
“Gia. Get Assistant Ambrose with the Royal Bahamas Police Force on the phone for me. Tell him I want an update on the missing girl from
.” He barked the orders at her. But she didn’t flinch. She was used to his volatile moodiness.
“Yes, of course. Anything else, Mr. Morrotti?” Gia asked, giving him a little pout.
“Find some information on Rachel Scott. Her company is Florida Omni Search. Have Simon help you with it.”
Simon Goolsby was a private investigator who helped him when he needed the dirt on someone. He heard through his source that Ms. Scott was in town to help with the search. The more he knew about his adversaries, the better.
“Okay. Is that all?”
“Yes.” He dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
His eyes followed Gia as she turned and walked slowly out of his office, shutting the door behind her. Normally, he’d be thinking about her nice, curvaceous ass and all the things he’d do to her later. But right now he couldn’t focus on anything but the situation with the
Should he wait for this thing to blow over, or should he go ahead and risk moving the shipment with the FBI and DEA watching his every step?
He massaged his temples and thought about it. He’d wait for his contact at the Royal Bahamas Police Force to call him back before he proceeded. He needed to find out what the FBI knew about the missing girl before he made his final decision.
fter the interview with Amber’s parents and her friends, Drake and Phipps split up and tackled the interviews with crew members. Right away, Drake realized that most of the crew wouldn’t be very helpful. Either they were too scared of losing their jobs to say anything or they truly hadn’t seen anything that would be helpful to the case.
The last person Rachel and Drake interviewed was a cabin steward assigned to the penthouse floor. She served only the four luxury suites and assisted the assigned butler if needed. She was believed to have been the last person who saw Josh and Amber. Consuela Rodriguez was a petite woman with dark hair and eyes. She wore the same uniform with the
logo that Josh was wearing on the videotapes.
Rachel and Drake had decided that she would interview Consuela. Drake noticed that women responded better to Rachel than to him or any other law enforcement person.
“Hi, Consuela, I’m Rachel. We’re here to help find the missing girl, Amber Knowles. She was staying in cabin one-o-one C.” Rachel handed the steward a photo. “Here’s her picture. Can you tell me about the last time you saw her?”
“Last night,” Consuela said in a thick accent. “I was delivering room service to another cabin and saw her walking with Josh.”
“What time was this?” Rachel looked at Drake. He nodded his head for her to continue.
Consuela answered, “Late.” She paused, licking her lips. “Definitely after midnight.” Her answer matched the time stamp on the videotape.
“Did you see Josh walk inside the cabin with Amber?” Rachel asked.
“Yes.” Consuela answered. She picked at an invisible piece of lint on her uniform.
“Do you remember what she was wearing?”
Consuela shifted in her seat. “A dress. Pink, I think. It was short and shiny.”
This was the dress that Rachel had seen discarded on Amber’s bed. So she had definitely changed when she got back.
“Did Amber or Josh say anything to you?”
“Josh said hello. That’s all.”
“How did she seem to you?” Rachel asked.
Consuela seemed to be confused by the question. “What do you mean?”
“Did she act upset or mad?”
“No. But I think she was sick. Josh was holding on to her.” Consuela pursed her lips.
Rachel thought Consuela might be worried that she was telling them too much.
“Anything that you can remember would be helpful, Consuela. We need to find her,” Rachel coaxed quietly.
“I just saw Josh helping her walk. The girl looked a little pale. That’s all I remember,” Consuela replied.
Rachel looked over at Drake for help.
He asked Consuela, “Have you seen Josh since?”
“No,” she replied.
“Thank you, Consuela. If you remember anything else, please call me,” Drake said, handing her his card.
Consuela took the card and put it in the front pocket of her uniform. She looked at Rachel for a minute.
“Is there anything else you want to add?” Rachel asked her.
She shook her head no and walked out of the room.
Rachel and Drake sat in silence for a few seconds.
“She knows something, doesn’t she?” Rachel picked up the picture of Amber.
“I think she knows more than what she told us,” Drake agreed.
“So now what?”
“We wait. Let’s hope her conscience kicks in and she calls me.”
Consuela left the conference room with a sigh of relief. She headed down the elevator to the crew’s quarters to shower and take a quick nap before her next shift started.
She had learned one important thing early on in her career aboard the
: Keep your head down and mind your own business. No curiosity—that was a requirement of keeping a job here. And she wanted the job, even though she worked sixteen-hour shifts with no overtime pay and few benefits. She sent almost all of her paycheck home to support her family in Mexico. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have enough to eat.
It was funny. That was one perk for people who took cruises—food was available twenty-four hours a day. Passengers could go to the all-night, all-you-can-eat buffets or order room service. Whatever your tastes desired, the ship had it. Especially if you were one of the penthouse guests.
But something peculiar had happened last night at the end of her shift. She’d gotten a room service call to the Jacobsens’ cabin—cabin 101A—the one next to the missing girl’s. She’d dropped off a New York strip steak with new potatoes, broiled lobster tails, and two ice cream sundaes. Mrs. Jacobsen signed for the order and thanked Consuela. Mrs. Jacobsen seemed all right, even though she looked to Consuela to be no more than twenty years old.
But Consuela’s friend Gladys, who was responsible for cleaning the Jacobsens’ suite and taking care of whatever they wanted, said that Mr. Jacobsen spent all yesterday in his suite talking with some of the ship’s employees. Consuela thought that might be all right, because the whole staff had been told that Mr. Jacobsen was a friend of Mr. Morrotti, who owned the cruise line. At first she’d thought Mr. Jacobsen was evaluating the employees, or something. But Gladys said that every time she came into the room to clean, Mr. Jacobsen and his guests would get quiet. Gladys heard something about shipments, and Mr. Jacobsen mentioned Josh’s name a lot. Consuela didn’t want to know any secrets, and she told Gladys many times to be careful about what she said to other crew members. Gladys liked to gossip, and one day it would get her into trouble.
Consuela didn’t know Josh that well, and their paths didn’t cross that often. But what she did know—she liked him okay. He made a point to know her name and say hello every time he saw her.
That’s why the last time she saw him something didn’t seem right. She’d just dropped off the Jacobsens’ room service order and was heading back to the kitchen when she realized she’d forgotten to get the room service check from Ms. Jacobsen. She went back, and this time Mr. Jacobsen opened the door. When she told him what she forgot, he said, “No problem,” and handed her the leather check cover. He yelled to his wife that he was heading out for a minute and walked out behind her.
It was then that she saw Josh and Amber walking down the hallway toward Amber’s room. Josh had his arm around Amber’s waist—not in a romantic way, but like he was helping her to walk. Consuela thought the girl was sick or maybe had had too much to drink.
Josh said hello to her as they passed, like he always did. But what struck her as weird was that he didn’t say hi to Mr. Jacobsen, and Mr. Jacobsen didn’t say hello, either. If Mr. Jacobsen talked about Josh so much, wouldn’t he know him?
Consuela looked back at them—she couldn’t help herself. She saw Josh enter the suite behind Amber.
Mr. Jacobsen was watching them, too.