Beach Traffic: The Ocean Can Be Deadly
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"An incredible moving novel. This story is all about the characters, and what wonderful, developed characters they are. Story is told in multiple POV and it gives you all the feels. This is a gut-wrenching rollercoaster that leaves you feeling for the characters ...feelings of heartbreak as well happiness and hope. I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel to this brilliantly told story."Lisa at Comfy Chair Books
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Graduate student Kat Benson was excited about seeing her college boyfriend, Liam Cross, at their Tulane University reunion on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Kat’s childhood friend, Heidi is looking for great sex and a fantastic weekend hookup. But, things turned bad quickly when they learn a friend of theirs had been brutally attacked. Federal and local law enforcement officials are concerned about a vicious murder on the beach and the disappearance of five women.
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Release date: February 5, 2019
Publisher: Bluestone Valley Publishing Company
Print pages: 323
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Beach Traffic: The Ocean Can Be Deadly
The Egyptian and the short, squatty American sat in cheap, woven aluminum chairs that overlooked the smooth waters of the Outer Banks Barrier Islands. The sun hung low on the horizon, and a magnificent sunset was moments away. Neither man cared nor even noticed.
Aapo el-Masri was a former Egyptian Seaman. He currently worked for one of the many members of the Saudi Royal family who enriched their coffers on the backs of women and children. Aapo picked up the hose of his hookah and inhaled deeply.
He smiled to himself. Life was good. He prided himself on being an independent contractor. He owned his yacht, hired his officers, and delivered his cargo on time. Aapo was currently worth millions of dollars, and if things went his way, he’d make millions more before he retired to the United States in a few years. He loved the West and the American lifestyle. His goal was to live it, but in the meantime, he’d do whatever he had to do to get there.
Aapo smiled as he eyed his one-hundred-and-fifty-foot-yacht moored in the cold waters of the Out Islands on the North Carolina coast, a hundred yards away. The ship was hidden in the shadow of the island and by the trees that surrounded it. It was his yacht and he was proud of it. His dark eyes slid to one side as he surveyed the man next to him. He could hardly believe he’d agreed to work with such an illiterate beast. The man was vulgar, ill-mannered, rude, and irritating. He was also ugly. He personified everything people around the world hated about Americans. Squatty was loud, bossy, arrogant, crude, and basically stupid. Plus, he couldn’t even speak proper English. Aapo el-Masri’s language skills were a million times better than those of the American. Squatty was a gun for hire for organized crime and struck el-Masri as a typical man who worked for the Mafia. Unfortunately, Aapo and Squatty needed each other – Aapo needed access to good-looking guys and drugs, and Squatty wanted women. It was a relationship of convenience that currently worked.
The obnoxious American talked non-stop, slurped his beer, and belched as Aapo nodded his head slowly and sucked on his hookah tip. He watched his yacht rise and fall in the wake of the quiet sea. She was a beauty, and from this distance, he didn’t have to listen to the cries that assaulted his ears when he was on board. Of course, he really couldn’t ‘hear’ them since the ship had millions of dollars of soundproofing material built into its lower decks. He had a secret hidey-hole beneath the lower deck where he stashed women who wouldn’t conform. If that didn’t work, he tossed them overboard into the dark, cold Atlantic. God forbid if he were ever boarded by the United States Coast Guard, one branch of the American service that turned his blood to ice. He’d had a close call just a few days ago, down around Charleston. A shiver ran up his back as he remembered.
“Are you listening to me? You, I’m talking to you, Raghead.” Squatty reached out and grabbed Aapo’s shoulder. “You, yeah you, turban-top.” The American’s voice was loud and whiny. Aapo hated the northeastern dialect of the United States, and Squatty hailed from New York.
Aapo gritted his teeth but held his temper. His voice was quiet. “Of course, I am. What other choice do I have?” He shrugged his shoulders indifferently. It took every inch of Aapo el-Masri’s patience not to reach over and rip out the stupid man’s heart. His fingers twitched in anticipation and his brain lit up with warmth at the thought. He imagined the man’s life blood spilled on the sand in the fading sunset.
“Okay, repeat it then,” the short man whined. “I know you don’t know what I said. Prove it!”
Aapo rose. His height and build were impressive. He stood over six feet four inches. His body was ripped from exercise and hard work. He glared down at the American. “We are ready for tomorrow night. I expect to see you at the assigned places along the way and throughout the evening with handsome men and beautiful women you’ve been paid to gather.”
Even though the sun was setting, Aapo saw the short man roll his eyes and shake his head as though the Egyptian was an imbecile.
Aapo el-Masri’s blood boiled, but he continued, “I expect things to go perfectly. If they do, I will be back in two weeks and we will do this again. Do you understand?” Aapo knew his tone was cold and arrogant, but he didn’t like the little weasel American.
The short man stood. His beady eyes glared as he looked up at the handsome Egyptian. “Things will go well, as planned. But I will not work with you again. You are stupid.”
Aapo looked down at the obnoxious little man. “It would be my pleasure to never see you again. I don’t want you or your kind to help us in this business. We’ve turned our work into a trillion dollar a year business. However, we will need each other to continue. You’ll see.”
The American sneered at him. “You need me. You don’t have my contacts. You could never recruit people to help you.”
Aapo remained silent, a snarl on his face. He knew the weasel was right. He didn’t have contacts with handsome American men to lure the women. He could certainly develop those contacts, but it would take time, and Aapo wanted as few American contacts as possible.
Squatty stood, a snarl on his face. “Remember, one woman is for me. I will take her to do as I please.”
“That is understood.” The Egyptian turned his head toward the sound of an engine. “How fortunate. Your transportation has arrived.”
The American nodded. “I will see you at the allotted place tomorrow evening. Don’t screw up.” The threat was obvious. “Be sure there are no police around.” Squatty turned around and scowled at him.
The Egyptian chortled. “I assure you that if either of us makes a mistake, we’ll both be history.” He lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply as the dumpy man walked toward the Jeep that waited for him.
He shook his head. What an unbearable, repugnant moron.
Aapo el-Masri promised himself he’d never work with the man again. Even if he had to kill him himself.
The man waved the knife through the air like a child’s toy. It glistened in the moonlight. He murmured to himself. His speech was garbled and unclear. His victim, helpless and still, was paralyzed with fright. Her eyes blazed with terror and shock. The knife gleamed and reflected in the moonlight. For a moment, she was mesmerized by the shiny instrument of terror.
The maniac jerked the knife downward. It sliced through the air. He glared into her eyes as she felt pain sear through her body. Her mouth gaped open, and her body flexed in protest. The woman’s lips parted, and her face contorted in agony, but there was no sound.
The man looked at her. “Oh, did you feel that, my dear? Let me try another one. Your drug must be wearing off.”
He locked eyes with the young woman, her eyes gaping pools of agony as he slit her thigh with his knife. Then he held the weapon over her face and let the blood drip off onto her forehead and chest. Even paralyzed, she imagined the warmth of her blood on her face and as it rushed over her thighs.
The man moved his position and kneeled in the sand next to her shoulder. He whispered in her ear, “I don’t rape women. I don’t like to do that. I just like to hurt them.” His smile was malicious as he leered at her.
The woman’s eyes dilated with panic as she acknowledged her fate. She wished now she’d called her family earlier in the evening. Seconds later, she was thankfully unconscious as the man went about his gory work.
The dawn of the June sun burned into the alcohol-sodden brain of party man extraordinaire, Liam Cross. Liam groaned, rolled over, and placed his forearm over his eyes to block the blinding rays of a relentless dawn. The early morning sun shot painful slivers of glass through his head. His tongue was dry as he swept it around in his mouth, displacing the sand and grit lodged in his teeth and gums. He was thirsty, his mouth tasted vile, and his eyes begged to jump out of his head. Liam rolled on his right side, his eyes closed as he tried to reconstruct the night before.
What had he done? What the hell did I do last night? I feel like shit. I’ve never felt this bad from drinking. He cracked open one blue eye, and a searing pain shot through his fuzzy head straight into the center of his brain. He closed his eyes and felt the pain reverberate through his head and down his neck and back. Finally, he very slowly opened his eyes again. He lay on a sand dune about a hundred feet from the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean. A cluster of sea oats had protected him during the night from blowing sand debris, but now they were a pain in his ass as they blew against him and scratched his arms and legs. He peered through the tall grass and watched several early morning surfers catch the waves. He wished he was one of them and not a seriously hung-over MBA graduate from Tulane University turned stockbroker in the Big Apple.
Why do I feel so bad? He guessed the tequila shots had done him in. He vaguely remembered having more than a few shots during the evening. History had proven that too much tequila made him very ill. Of course, he’d added other alcohol to the mix too. Liam was a fan of good beer, and he’d enjoyed plenty of the Outer Banks microbrews the previous evening. But, he knew the beer wasn’t responsible. There’s no way beer did this to me. He hadn’t taken any drugs either. He sorta remembered a party where cocaine, pills, and grass had been plentiful. Where am I? I’m not even sure where I am. Liam sat up, rubbed his eyes, confused and tried to remember the evening before. He inhaled the smell of saltwater, fish, and decomposing seaweed that assaulted his senses and turned his stomach.
There was another smell that wasn’t a beach scent. What was it? He closed his eyes and attempted to identify the metallic scent in the balmy, morning air. He sat up in the sand. It was blood. He smelled blood. Liam panicked, jumped to his feet, looked down, and saw blood on the lower third of his new Brew Thru T-shirt. What the hell? The twenty-seven-year old Casanova quickly checked his arms and legs and touched his khaki shorts. He looked at his rust-colored fingers. His shorts were still damp with blood. He inspected his legs. Rivulets of blood had run down his muscular legs and dried. There was even dried blood between his toes. As quickly as he could, Liam covered his legs with sand. He attempted to scrub his legs with sand to remove the blood. A rancid, coppery smell clogged his nostrils and gagged him. Nausea bubbled into his mouth, and he heaved a large amount of vile-smelling liquid onto the sand. He caught the scent of hops and wine in the vomitus. He fell back to the ground and lay in the sand. He gulped in air and looked from side to side as his confused, alcohol-muddled brain tried to reconstruct the previous evening. The smell of vomit was putrid, and again he turned to his side and heaved until his stomach was empty.
Liam closed his eyes. His head pounded in sync with the surf and his racing heart. The pounding of the Atlantic agonized his brain as the waves rushed on the sand.
Blood. Blood. It was still all over him. It was everywhere. He could taste it. Most of it had dried and left his arms and legs a brownish-rust color. Fear thundered through his body and paralyzed his mind. Whose blood? Why was it on him? What should he do? What had happened?
Liam bolted into the ocean. He frantically tried to wash his body. He rubbed his muscular arms with his hands to cleanse the blood from his body. He squeezed his T-shirt and shorts and rubbed them together, like an Indian squaw who washed her clothes against rocks. Then he swam out, using long, strong strokes to clear his head and body from the toxins of the previous evening. Liam emerged from the ocean, exhausted and spent as he fell on the still-cool sand and closed his eyes.
A few minutes later, he heard a voice above him.
“Good morning, Sir. Are you all right? You look ill.” An older woman dressed in jean shorts and a halter top stood over him. Liam couldn’t see her face in the blinding morning sun. A large sun hat shaded part of her face. He sat up quickly and pulled his legs against his torso to hide his bloody clothes. He noticed she was Asian-American.
“Ah, um, yeah. I’m okay.” His speech was thick, his words slurred. He felt sand between his teeth. He tried to swallow, but it was hard. He touched his tongue with his index finger to see if it was as dry as it felt. It was.
“Are you sure?” The woman squatted next to him and smiled. “I live up there.” She pointed to a cottage above the dunes. “I can call for help.”
Liam focused to understand the conversation. He ran his fingers through his hair. “Um… no. I’m okay. I slept on the beach last night. I think I had one too many,” he confessed. He noticed her perfect white teeth as she smiled at him. She really wasn’t that old.
The woman laughed. “We’ve all been there. My name is Jane. I’ll check on you on my way back from my walk. If you need help, then I’ll get you some.” She smiled and patted his shoulder.
Liam tried to nod but couldn’t remember how. I’m so messed up. Trashed. “I’ll be fine, ma’am. I’m just gonna lay here for a bit.” He hoped he’d convinced her. He didn’t want any company until he was in better shape.
“I’m sure you’ll only lay here a short while. In an hour, the sun will burn you alive,” she promised with a laugh as she stood to continue her walk. She walked about fifty feet and turned to wave.
Liam attempted to smile as Jane walked away. He returned her wave. He placed his forearm across his eyes and tried to replay the tapes in his brain from the previous evening. Hadn’t he met a woman? She’d been a knockout. He remembered her now, what was her name? Wasn’t it Jenna? A beautiful redhead from New York with the longest legs he’d ever seen. She’d flirted with him and sent over several shots of tequila at the outdoor bar at the Brewpub. No, she said she hadn’t sent the drinks. It was confusing. She was an attorney, wasn’t she? Didn’t she say she was a prosecutor from Long Island? He remembered an intellectual conversation with her on the resurgence of New York organized crime. She’d expressed an incredible ambition to prosecute them. His brain just couldn’t remember much else that had happened after that. Things were sketchy, but he did remember leaving the outdoor bar. He’d found Jenna fascinating and beautiful and hadn’t objected when she’d invited him to walk the beach, especially after she’d bought him a growler of his favorite beer. After all, Kat wasn’t due in until around ten a.m. the next day. What harm could it do? It was just a midnight stroll on the beach. Nothing would happen.
Liam continued to sit on the beach and watch the surf as it pounded against the shore in concert with his brain as it pounded against his skull. He still couldn’t remember much from the night before. His T-shirt and shorts still sported blood stains, but they were less obvious. He decided to return to the beach house, so he looked up, located his rental, and walked slowly down the beach in the direction of the rental he planned to share with Kat, his girlfriend, and his old college friends from New Orleans.
The beach house loomed above him. It was ginormous with eight bedrooms still mostly empty. A dozen or so people were expected today for the long weekend that would be a party to remember… something he’d looked forward to for months. He hiked up the dunes through the sea oats and sat on a bench in the shade of an outdoor gazebo. His legs were fatigued, and muscles jumped in his thighs. He felt short of breath and thought he might pass out. His head raged with pain, and his eyes were photophobic from the sun. He closed them for a minute or so and hoped he could visualize what he couldn’t remember from the night before. He wasn’t successful.
Liam opened his eyes, and as they adjusted to the sun, he saw something white blowing back and forth in the wind near a clump of sea oats. He walked over and realized it was a white sweater caught on the branches of the oats. Part of the garment was buried in the sand. His heart stopped when he saw blood covering the front of the sweater. Fear invaded his senses, and he felt dizzy and faint. Had Jenna worn a white sweater? He was sure she had.
Oh my God, oh my God, what have I done? What happened last night? Tears streamed down his face as he walked the remaining distance to the deck. His leg muscles screamed in pain as he made his way up the stairs. He clung to the handrail for support and to prevent a fall. Finally, he reached the top deck and entered the cool, air-conditioned house.
He didn’t see the tall, slender guy with the long brown hair, a camera, and a backpack watching him from behind the dune.
Jane Anders looked for the young man she’d seen earlier on her return walk, but he was gone. She continued to think about him. Something about him disturbed her. The waves had washed away where his body had been in the sand. He seemed to be in trouble, over his head. He appeared more than simply hung over. He’d either partied a lot harder than he’d admitted, or someone had spiked his drinks. She sat, Indian style, on the beach and looked across the Atlantic. The riptide was strong. It tickled her bottom as it pulled the sand away from under her buttocks. She watched the tide continue to chew away at the sand. Lifeguards had already posted signs to warn tourists about the treacherous, killer riptide. Her thoughts returned to the young man she'd met on the beach. She chided herself for allowing her law enforcement intuition to take over.
She waved at her neighbor who squatted down beside her. “What’s up Janie? How’s the book coming along?” Diana offered up a lopsided grin.
“Hey, Diana.” Jane shaded her eyes and grinned at her friend. Diana had long, straight blonde hair and a tall, willowy body. She had hippie artist written all over her face. “Book is fine.” She shook her head. “One day I’m really gonna be an author! I swear,” she said as she shaded her eyes from the sun.
“Yeah, yeah. We’ll see,” Diana teased. “In the meantime, you’re doing a fine job making people believe you are an author,” she said with a grin.
Jane laughed. “Yeah. I’m doing the best I can. It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it? I love this time of year. It’s perfect weather at the beach.” Jane loved living on the coast.
“Yeah, isn’t it a gorgeous day. The sand doesn’t even burn my feet.
Jane grinned at Diana. They were old friends and had known each other since they were kids. Both were native to the North Carolina coast, had grown up on the beach, and set off for the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill at the same time. Jane had been awarded a graduate degree in criminal justice, and Diana had earned a degree in fine arts.
“What have you created lately? I saw you taking stuff out of your kiln the other day. It was shiny and colorful.” Jane peered at Diana over her sunglasses.
Diana was a potter and made beautiful creations in clay under her modest but lovely beach house. She was the only person who knew Jane currently worked undercover with the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She was specifically attached to a task force of law enforcement officials assigned to examine the dramatic increase of sex trafficking on the beach and in coastal areas.
“Oh. I’ve got some new Raku pieces. They’re lamp bases. My new thing is making pottery lamps. They’re beautiful! Come over and see them later. We’ll have some wine on the deck and watch the sun go down.”
Jane stood and brushed the sand off her shorts. “Best offer I’ve had. Sure, I’ll come over for the sunset, or still better, come to my house. I have some great cheese. I’ll check out the lamps then.”
“It’s a date.” Diana checked her watch. “I’ve gotta go. I’ve got a bunch of glazes sitting under the house, and I don’t want them to dry up or get too thick to spread.”
“Okay, see you, then.” Diana waved good-bye as she walked toward her cottage.
Jane enjoyed the morning for a few more minutes and then walked up the dunes toward her small cottage where she’d vacationed as a child. She saw a thin, white, knitted shawl or sweater that had been thrown into a pile of sea oats and hidden in the dune. Part of the fabric was buried in the sand. She searched and found a piece of driftwood a short distance away. Jane returned to the dune and used the stick of wood to un-earth the white sweater. It was covered with dried blood stains or, at least to Jane’s somewhat trained eye, they appeared to be blood stains. Her heart thudded in her chest. She returned the sweater to its hiding place as best she could and partially covered it with sand.
She scaled the rest of the dune to her small 1960s cottage, nestled amid towering million-dollar beach mansions. She dashed into the outdoor shower, wrapped herself in a towel, and ran up the steps to her deck. She changed into Capri pants and a turquoise shirt that made her green eyes greener. She fluffed her short, dark hair and went into the kitchen.
Jane grabbed her cell phone from the kitchen counter and put a K-cup in her Keurig. Then she fired up her laptop. She decided to call Mackenzie Wade, her detective friend on the Kill Devil Hills police force, about the bloody sweater but it was still too early. It was barely seven in the morning. She’d call her later.
Jane’s cell rang an hour later. Agent Paul Servo’s number lit up her screen. She smiled at the thought of talking to him even though she figured it was bad news for him to call so early in the morning.
“Paul, what’s up?” Jane sounded concerned.
Paul sighed. “Someone tried to snatch three young women last night over on the island. One got away. Two teenagers are missing – at least according to the authorities on Ocracoke Island.”
Jane’s heart hammered in her chest. The sex traffickers became braver each month. “Where in Ocracoke? How old are the teenagers?” She reached for her coffee. “Any idea how they got them?” Jane could imagine the scowl on Paul’s handsome face.
“I’m still early in the investigation, but it’s the same old nasty tale. The two girls are fifteen and sixteen.” Jane could hear the frustration in his voice.
“Where were they? Near the same place?”
“They had been to the local community center. They’d attended some sort of pumpkin carving event.” Paul’s voice choked up. “Jane, they grabbed them when they were less than a block from home.”
Jane felt a lump in her throat. “It’s a sad day in America when you can’t walk home from a pumpkin-carving class.” She paused. “Ocracoke's gotten hit a couple of times this year.” She paused. “And those are only the abductions we know about.”
Paul sighed. “Yeah. Probably more when you consider the migrant farm community that surrounds the island. It’s a great location to snatch women. It’s a small town, little law enforcement, everyone knows everybody else. Everybody trusts each other…” Paul’s voice trailed off.
“Yeah, I know.”
“So, the bad guys just grab them, stash ‘em in a van, haul them to a boat, and stick them in a hole. Most likely, the boat is tied up right there at the harbor. Bingo, they’re gone forever.” Paul’s voice was angry. Jane knew he felt helpless, and Paul Servo hated helpless.
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