Chapter 2-1. Amber Alert.
The following is an unedited preview of my upcoming novel Rachel’s Peril, the first novel in the Rachel’s Peril Trilogy. For more information about the book and more chapters, please check out the Rachel’s Peril page!
Chapter 2. Amber Alert
Part 1. Sarah
Sarah Thompson leaned her head against the steering wheel, trying to contain her frustration. The sound of cars and shuttle buses echoed off the roof above her, and she could smell gasoline and diesel fumes in the air. The text message from her little sister Andrea was clear enough. She was waiting at the Terminal C, near ground transportation, at the first exit from the terminal.
That’s where Sarah was. That’s where the cop waving her on was. But Andrea was nowhere in sight.
She double-checked her phone, then sent a reply.
I’m here… Where are you?
This time there was no response at all. What now?
Sarah was eighteen years old and a bundle of walking contradictions. Dressed all in grey and black, her hair was cut off in jagged, rough edges at her collar, died black with bleached white highlights shifting as her head moved. Dark eyeliner and mascara set off pale blue eyes which scanned the terminal for her sister.
The cop waved her on again. His face was growing tense.
She checked her phone again. Still no answer. Had Andrea’s battery died? What the hell?
A knock on the window. She jerked in her seat.
“You can’t sit here.” The cop… actually TSA … looked cranky. His face was a little round, a little red in the cheeks. Late forties, balding, a good sized paunch. But the gun on his hip and the badge he wore were real enough.
Sarah rolled down the window.
“I’m picking up my little sister,” she replied.
“Go back around, and wait at the cell phone lot until she calls you.”
Feeling her face flush, “She did call me. I’m confused, she says she’s at Terminal C at the first exit.”
The cop frowned. “Well, is she?”
Sarah shrugged. “No! I don’t understand, look, here’s the text from her.” She showed him the phone, with Andrea’s message. I am Terminal C, next to first exit.
The cop shook his head. “She must be confused. How old is your sister?”
“Sixteen,” Sarah responded.
The cop frowned, looking at the text. “And when did she send you this text?”
“Five minutes ago? I tried to call her back and she’s not answering now.”
He stood there for a moment, as if undecided whether or not to take this seriously. Then he looked back at Sarah. “All right, I want you to pull ahead, down there to the end of the terminal so you aren’t blocking traffic. I’ll meet you there in two minutes.”
Sarah nodded, her pulse throbbing in the arteries in her neck. She knew it was nothing. Andrea was in one of the other terminals, and her battery had died, or something else. Andrea was fine.
But sometimes, even when you thought things were fine, they weren’t. She’d learned that the hard way. It still felt like yesterday. She’d been sitting in the back seat of Carrie’s Mercedes, arguing with Jessica, when a jeep came out of nowhere, slamming into the car. Instantly her life had changed. Everything changed. When she woke, her brother-in-law Ray was dead, killed in the accident.
Not accident. It was murder. It had taken away the life of her sister’s husband. Sarah had nearly died herself, and undergone major surgeries that left her left leg scarred with what looked like huge shoe laces running up the outside of her calf up to her thigh. She spent weeks in the hospital, months in a wheelchair, and still went to physical therapy twice a week.
That wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was the panic.
It snuck up on her, always. She’d think about Carrie and the pregnancy, or Rachel after she was born, or her twin Jessica, and a tiny tendril of fear would work its way into her chest. Her muscles would tighten up, her breath quickening, and soon she felt as if her throat were closing and she couldn’t breathe.
She hadn’t told anyone about the panic. She hadn’t told anyone that sometimes she thought she was going to die. But moments like this, her muscles would tense, and the pain in her chest would bloom like some hideous flower, and the tears would be just below the surface ready to burst.
Now, she swallowed the rock in her throat as she pulled the car up to the sidewalk just past the terminal. The cop jogged over to her, then leaned in to her.
Sarah tried to slow her breathing.
“All right… by the way, I’m Officer Harmon. Let me get some details from you, and we’ll find your sister, okay. First, what’s her name?”
“Yes… she flew in on, um… American Airlines flight 3663 from Madrid.”
“Why was she traveling alone?”
“She lives there with our grandmother… she flew in because our niece is sick… and may need bone marrow transplants. We’re all being tested.”
The cop nodded. “I see. Description?”
“Um… I haven’t seen her in a few months.” She felt a sharp pain in her chest as she said the words. The last time she’d seen Andrea, Sarah was still in the hospital, out of her mind with grief and morphine. “She’s um… tall. Six feet. Dark brown hair. Green eyes. Not sure what she’s wearing.”
“All right. And she definitely got off the plane from Madrid.”
“You saw the text,” she replied.
Officer Harmon grimaced. “Yeah. All right, hold still, I’m calling this in. The airport will page her, and we’ll alert TSA and the police to look out for her. She’s in the airport somewhere, all right? She’s probably in the bathroom or something, and you guys will get a big laugh out of this in a few minutes. You got a picture of your sister? On your phone?”
Sarah nodded, trying to contain the panicky feeling bubbling up in her chest. She flipped through her photos as quickly as she could, but she couldn’t find any recent pictures of Andrea. Wait. She went online. Andrea had updated her profile picture just a few days ago.
“I’ve got it.”
“Can you text that to me?” Officer Harmon gave her the number.
A moment later, Harmon stepped away and began speaking rapidly into the microphone at his shoulder. She barely heard the words through the rushing sound in her ears. “White female… sixteen years old… unaccompanied minor… did not meet sister at ground transportation….”
Sarah stared at the steering wheel. Her chest was twisting tighter and tighter, so much that she felt a sharp pain in her sternum. She put a fist to her chest, trying to breathe.
“You all right, miss?”
She tried to answer, but couldn’t, just nodding her head, tears welling up. In her head, the thoughts kept running through her mind. Please be okay. Please be okay. Don’t let her be hurt too.
Hands shaking, she picked up her phone and sent another text message to Andrea.
Call. Me. Please.
Flashes of her hospitalization ran through her mind. The bizarre dreams she’d had of walking through the ghostly hospital with Ray. Waking up to find her leg cut open from ankle to thigh, swollen to triple it’s normal diameter, shoelace-sized sutures criscrossed over the surgical wound, her brain fuzzy from heavy doses of morphine.
In her dream she’d made a promise to someone. Ray? Her sisters? She couldn’t remember what the promise was, and it terrified her.
Jerked back to the present, she looked up at Officer Harmon. “Can you come with me? One of the other officers will keep an eye on your car.”
“Yeah,” she said. The shaking threatened to burst into the open, and the one thing she would not do, the one thing she refused to do, was give in to the slightest weakness in front of anyone else. There would be no fucking tears. No fucking shaking. No panic. No nothing.
She opened the car door and stepped out. The cop got his first good look at her and his eyes went a little wide. She wore a grey t-shirt with the Yellowcard logo emblazoned across it. Whenever it wasn’t too cold she stuck with shorts and miniskirts, hiding none of the extensive scarring on her left leg. Right now she wore black shorts, and the criss-crossed pattern of scars on her leg stood out above her black leather combat boots.
Throwing Officer Harmon off balance helped her regain her own a little, and with one look at her leg, he was off balance. She said, “Where to?”
Harmon didn’t kid around. Taking long strides, he led her through the terminal. She had to run to keep up, and a moment later he stopped at an unmarked door and swiped an access card.
Behind the door was a hallway. Utilitarian, walls beige, floor scuffed tile. She followed him to a doorway and into a large room. Half a dozen uniformed TSA officers sat at desks with security camera feeds in front of them. Three large displays on the wall cycled through various security camera feeds all over the airport.
A tall African American man approached her. “You’re Miss Thompson?”
“Lieutenant Aaron Miller. I’m with the Transportation Security Administration. I understand your sister texted you a few minutes ago?”
Sarah nodded, fumbling with her phone, then handed it over to Miller.
His brow furrowed, and he said, “Your sister lives in Spain? Is her English okay?”
“Yeah, of course,” Sarah responded.
“This text… it’s oddly worded.” He passed the phone back to her, and she read it. I am Terminal C, next to first exit. Miller was right. It was strangely worded. Not like teenaged text-speak, but like someone who didn’t know the language. She slowly nodded. “What’s going on?”
“Just one second… we’ve got an image of her coming through Customs, can you verify it’s actually her?”
Miller nodded to one of the cops. An image appeared on the left most screen.
It was Andrea, standing in a customs lane, holding her passport out to the inspector. She was smiling, wearing a knit sweater that revealed one shoulder, her hair slightly longer than shoulder length. She was taller than the customs inspector.
“What about this… do you recognize either of these two men?”
On the other two screens, images appeared. In the center, a tall, well built man with short blond hair. The image was slightly blurry, but it was clear enough. He carried an iPad with her name on it, and was smiling directly at Andrea, who walked directly toward him in the photo.
The other picture showed a man in his thirties, dark hair, shirt open halfway down his chest with extensive chest hair, getting into a black Lincoln Town Car.
“No,” Sarah said, panic suddenly rising in her voice. “I don’t recognize those men. And I was supposed to pick her up, not some random driver.”
Officer Harmon and Lieutenant Miller met each other’s eyes.
“Miss Thompson, can I get your parents’ phone number?”
“Yes,” she said. Her father would be at the Pentagon right now, or maybe on Capitol Hill, but he was at least in the same time zone. She quickly gave his number to the police, then sank into a chair, the rushing in her ears too loud to hear much of anything else. But some words came through. Amber Alert. Possible abduction. FBI.
She exhaled forcefully. She had to keep it together. She scanned the room. Miller stood there, giving orders. An officer was talking into a phone, reading the license plate of the Town Car to someone on the other end. Officer Harmon was on another phone. With her father? Maybe. She took another breath. She needed to make some calls.