Kidnapped in Cancun!
A true story of human trafficking for the sex trade.
August, 1990. Private Investigator Deanne Acuña takes on her most dangerous case in this true story of tracking down Faye Franklin, a young American coed who has disappeared during a vacation in Cancun with her girlfriends. With the help of a P.I. in Mexico City, she becomes a part of a team of skilled investigators who search Central and South America, discovering the atrocities of human trafficking.
In order to protect the identities of the innocent, changes have been made in names, locales and dates in the INTUITIVE INVESTIGATOR series.
★★★★★ “Powerful read! I could not put the book down and felt I lived the story right along with all the characters involved. It brings new awareness to a very dark side of humanity that must be brought to light. Thank you Deanne Acuna and her team for their incredible courage and bravery. And may all those innocent hearts be healed with love and grace.” – Rachel, Amazon customer
★★★★★ “Excellent True Story. The insight into how Deanne Acuna’s intuitive powers aid in her detective deductions in fascinating. This story also illustrates the depth and inner workings of how human trafficking works, and how we can all be affected. This book is important and engaging.” – Suzanne Long. Amazon customer
August 1, 1990
Wednesday, 9:00 a.m.
Long Beach, California
Her teenage daughter had been missing for six weeks.
My heart sank. I held the phone to my ear, listening to Ida Franklin. I felt her weary desperation deep inside my chest.
“My husband and I have flown to Cancun twice to search for her,” she said. “The local authorities have told us that they have done all they can do. We hired a couple of private investigators down there, but neither of us is fluent in Spanish so we’re not even sure if they did anything other than take our money. After we came home, I spoke to Brian Masson here in New Hampshire. He sympathized with our circumstances but didn’t have the ability to take an international case. He remembers meeting you through the national organization of legal investigators.”
“Yes, that would be NALI. Brian and I served on a committee together a few years ago. He’s highly qualified and I would recommend him to anyone. He also knows I’m bilingual and certified as an international investigator, which takes him out of his realm of expertise.”
“To be perfectly honest, my husband and I never considered hiring a woman. For safety reasons, that is.” She cleared her throat. “I don’t mean to offend.”
“No offense taken.” In front of me, on my desk, was a framed photo of my son and daughter from last Christmas. Michael is in college. Kitty, a high school senior. I ran my finger along the frame’s edge. “I’m a mother, too. If I were in your situation, I would want the best of the best.”
“Mr. Masson said you are the best he’s ever met. He claimed you find people when no one else can. Is that true?”
“More often than not.” I am proud of my success rate, though I don’t like to make a big deal over it. Nor do I talk openly about my psychic abilities. I prefer to keep those to myself unless someone specifically asks about them. Instead, I let my record speak for itself. “Before I commit to taking a case, I do my own preliminary investigation to weigh the risks. Safety is a reasonable concern for anyone involved, man or woman. Your daughter’s situation will probably require a team of several investigators.”
“Whatever is involved to get our daughter back, we’ll pay for it.”
“First, I need information about your daughter and the friends who were with her in Cancun. Please be honest with me.” I took out a legal pad and pen. “Has she ever taken off on her own before?”
“No. Never. Faye isn’t that type of person. We’ve never had any trouble with her. She’s a wonderful daughter. She’s not reckless or impulsive. She’s extremely responsible with a good head on her shoulders. She called every day to check in to let us know she was safe. The last time we heard from her she was having the time of her life. She’s an excellent student and was looking forward to starting NYU in the fall.”
“When did she disappear?”
“June twentieth. A few hours after our last call, the girls went to a night club around the corner from their hotel. Faye danced quite a bit with a particular young man who paid her a great deal of attention. When her friends wanted to go to another club, Faye let the man talk her into staying behind with him. Since the hotel was so close, she assured them she could get back safely on her own.”
“Did they get the man’s name?”
“Alex. He spoke English without a distinguishable accent so they assumed he was an American tourist like them.”
I jotted down the info. “What about a last name?”
“James or Jones. Celia couldn’t remember exactly. She took a picture of him with Faye. But they were several feet away and the place was dark. The photograph has been enlarged for a clearer view of his face. That man is behind her disappearance. I’m sure of it.”
Her gut instinct was the same as mine. That feeling in the pit of my stomach is a sure sign. Every time I trusted it, I’ve been glad I did.
“I want to be clear that no one has asked for a ransom. Correct?”
“Right. Nobody has contacted us.”
“Tell me about the friends who went with your daughter.” I drew a line under my notes.
“Celia Bracken has been her best friend since first grade. They’re like Mutt and Jeff. Faye is five-five in her stocking feet. Celia is five-ten. Faye has brown hair styled into a shoulder-length bob. Celia has very long, very straight blonde hair. Faye is the academic. Celia is the athlete, and much more out-going. She wanted to attend college in California but decided on NYU because of Faye.”
Mrs. Franklin’s description of her daughter was all that I needed, but I let her talk freely as I wrote down the information. Victims of crime often were in such as state of shock they froze up, unable to articulate any details. Others, like Mrs. Franklin, did the opposite, recalling everything and anything that could possibly help the investigation. Sometimes, a seemingly mundane fact turned out to be important.
“And the others?” I asked.
“Six girlfriends went with Faye to Cancun. Celia, Bonnie Wright, Amanda Canefield, Carla Brontski, Penny Richards and Roxanne Dixon. They are all distraught and feel somewhat responsible for leaving Faye at the club. They’re all nice young girls who just graduated from a private school. I’ve known five of the girls and their families since they started at the school when they were just five years old. Roxanne came to the academy two years ago. I don’t know her as well.”
“But . . . ?” My pen continued writing the names.
“I get the sense that you don’t like Roxanne.”
Mrs. Franklin held her silence for a long moment. “Mr. Masson said you’re psychic.”
“I have certain abilities, yes. Telepathy being one of them. Actually, your tone changed when you said Roxanne’s name.”
“Are you reading my mind right now?” she asked.
Her voice sounded slightly alarmed. I knew she needed assurance. “Not in the way you might think. I don’t always know the exact words you are about to say. But the emotion behind the words comes to me. The stronger the emotion, the stronger the mental imagery you project.”
“Oh. If I sent you something of Faye’s, could you tell us where she is?”
“No. I don’t work that way. If you are expecting me to pinpoint her precise location, you will be disappointed. I’ve trained extensively as an investigator. I run down leads and I go undercover. My intuition guides me, but I also do the legwork. A lot of legwork.”
“You said telepathy is one of your abilities. What are the others?”
“Precognition. I receive warnings of a death or a major disaster before it happens.” Even through the telephone connection, I felt rising fear in Mrs. Franklin. “Before you ask, I don’t have anything about your daughter.”
My shoulders sagged under a heavy pressure. Disappointment. Not mine, though. I was picking up on the waning energy of Mrs. Franklin on the other side of the continent. The fingers in both my hands ached from the strain of a tight grip on the receiver, even though I held it with one hand while I wrote my notes with the other. The physical telepathy came from Mrs. Franklin.
“Please help us.” She sounded on the verge of tears. “Anything you want, we’ll give it to you. We love our daughter and we want her back home.”
My own throat tightened with hers, and I swallowed hard. I needed to make sure my voice would sound professional. “Send me photos of her, including the one in the club with the man calling himself Alex James-or-Jones. Also, give me as much information as you have, no matter how insignificant it seems to you. Do you have the phone numbers for the girlfriends?”
“Right here.” She read them to me. After the last one, she asked, “Should I send some money as a deposit?”
“Not until I decide to take your case. Please let those friends know I’ll be contacting them.”
“I guess I have no choice but to be patient. I pray to God you will help us.”
“I’m sorry I can’t give you a positive answer right now. I’ll get back to you in a few days.”
After I hung up the telephone, I sat alone with my thoughts. Faye’s disappearance was every parent’s worst nightmare, including my own.
For over ten years, I’ve raised my two kids without much help from my ex-husband. The hard times drew me closer to Michael and Kitty, who shares my telepathic ability.
Our psychic connection emerged before she could talk. At six months old, she woke me in the middle of the night with her silent call of distress. I’d found her lying listless and rushed her to the hospital. If I’d slept until morning, the doctors had said, she would have been a victim of SIDS—Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. She and I became so adept at telepathic communication that I’d inadvertently delayed her verbal development. Today, Kitty and I can have entire conversations without realizing we haven’t spoken aloud.
Even now, I knew my daughter was thinking of me. I picked up my office phone on its first ring. “Hi, Sweetheart.”
“Hi, Mom. Who’s Paul?”
“I know a few guys named Paul. Do you have a last name?”
“No. I just keep getting his first name, and that he has something to do with you. Could he be connected to your friends in Puerto Vallarta?”
I had an extended family, of sorts, in the town that felt like my second home. I visited so often over the years that the Padilla family considered me one of their own.
“Not Paulos?” I asked, referring to the name of the youngest Padilla son.
“Nope. Definitely Paul.” She chuckled. “Now I hear a bagpipe.”
An image of another investigator popped into my head. He didn’t play the bagpipes but the symbol was close enough. “Paul Macintosh?”
I smiled to myself. When Kitty was little, she would experience a tingling sensation up her spine whenever she had a psychic hit. The only way she knew how to describe it was a “zing” up her back.
In only a couple of seconds, I remembered Paul had worked some investigations in Mexico.
“He’s just the person I need to contact about a case that I’ve been asked to take,” I said with a smile. “Thanks, honey. You’ve been really helpful.”
“Any time, Mom. Is it okay if I miss dinner tonight? Terry and I want to catch a movie.”
“Sure. I’ll pick up something for myself on the way home.” I already knew Michael wouldn’t be home. He’d taken a summer job at a popular restaurant in Sunset Beach.
After leaving a message for Paul on his answering machine, I checked my watch. Nine-thirty. I had a meeting with an attorney at one o’clock to hand over my surveillance report on a man claiming to have an incapacitating back injury from an industrial accident that had left him confined to a wheel chair. I’d taken pictures of him walking out of a bar at two in the morning and climbing behind the wheel of his car.
I still had enough time to knock out another report and have a bite to eat at Riley’s Deli across the street. I grabbed two sheets of typing paper and a carbon to sandwich between them. Despite the growing popularity of office computers, I still used my Smith-Corona manual typewriter for security reasons. I can’t risk having any private information left inside a computer for a technician to discover during repair or maintenance on the machine.
A few minutes later, a quick knock at my door pulled my attention from the report as a tall, good-looking gentleman came into my office.
“I thought I’d pop in to ask you out to lunch.”
“Ryan!” I jumped up from my chair, rounded the desk and slid my hands around his waist.
His smile broadened as he pulled me close and kissed me.
We had met during my previous case for a young woman whose oldest brother had murdered her parents and was after her. She needed a new identity but couldn’t leave town without her critically injured younger brother. Ryan entered the picture when we needed an auto body shop to change the color of her Porsche, which she couldn’t bring herself to sell as it was a gift from her parents on her last birthday. Ryan ended up also changing the appearance of two vehicles owned by her mother and father.
Lisa and her kid brother eventually relocated to the East Coast while I helped track down the perpetrator, Kevin, in New Mexico. Somewhere along the way, Ryan and I fell in love.
“It’s a bit early for lunch,” I said to him.
He shrugged. “I had some business downtown this morning. It didn’t take as long as I’d expected. I was on my way back to the shop, driving down Broadway, and my car suddenly stalled right in front of this office building.”
“No good, huh?”
I grinned. “Not buying it.”
“In all fairness, I did have business downtown. And I do want to take you to lunch. I can come back later.”
I sighed with regret. “I hate to spoil the fun but I’m waiting for a phone call. And I have an appointment with a client at one o’clock.”
“Then how about dinner tonight? A new Italian restaurant opened up by my place.”
At that moment, the phone rang.
“I’d better let you get that,” Ryan said, then gave me a quick kiss. “Pick you up at six.”
He was out the door by the time I picked up the receiver and recognized Paul’s voice. We exchanged pleasantries before I got down to business, telling him the situation with Mrs. Franklin and her missing daughter.
“Sounds high risk,” he finally said. “I wouldn’t go to Mexico alone if I were you. I’d offer my services but I’m running two big cases that might take a few months.”
“I’m here if you need to talk after you get more information.”
“Thanks, Paul. I trust your opinion.”
“If you decide to take the case, make sure you have all your ducks in a row.”
“Definitely. Ideally, I could use an experienced investigator in Cancun who knows everything about the area. You know—the people, the culture, the police.”
“Smart thinking. Get someone who has connections to pull together a team for you.
“I know a good investigator in Mexico City.”
“That’s almost five hundred miles away.”
“Yes, I know. But I have used him to track down witnesses all over the country and obtain statements from them. I’m sure he’d be a great asset to you.”
“I still need to talk to a few more people before I make up my mind about taking the case. But I’d like to speak to him, too.”
“His name is Ricardo Perez. Hang on while I get his number.”
After receiving Ricardo’s information, I thanked Paul and told him I’d keep in touch. I hung up and stared at my notes, ending in the number for Perez. I toyed with the pen like a miniature baton, flipping it around and between my fingers. It’s an old habit I fall into when I’m concentrating.
I decided to hold off calling the investigator in Mexico City. No point taking up his time while I was still not sure I could deal with the risks involved. Most people think of Cancun as a vacation resort, not a dangerous place. But I visit friends in Mexico often and knew about the violence and corruption of drug cartels. Beyond the relative safety of the hotels, tourists had to be extra cautious. But search for Faye could draw unwanted attention from her captors if I wasn’t careful.
I wanted to help Mrs. Franklin. I wanted to find her daughter. But how far would I be willing to go? Could I put my own life on the line? Would that be fair to my own two children?
August 3, 1990
Friday, 3:00 p.m.
Two days after my phone call with Mrs. Franklin, I received the photograph. But I hadn’t been able to obtain new information out of the five girls when I reached them. As expected, they were guilt-ridden, especially Celia. Each cried while giving me the same story Mrs. Franklin had already told me.
The time had come to call Ricardo Perez in Mexico City. Introductions weren’t necessary. Paul had already let him know about me, my credentials, and that I might be contacting him.
“Deanne, allow me to be brutally honest. I suspect Faye Franklin was kidnapped to be a sex slave. I worked a similar case a few months ago. They use a good-looking young man to find a naïve young woman, usually but not always at a nightclub. He slips a sedative into her drink. When it takes effect, he carries her unconscious to his car and drives her to a secluded camp where these girls are kept. They are shot up with drugs until they are dependent upon them and will do anything for another fix, even having sex with thirty men in one night.”
My stomach clenched. Shocking as the news was, I kept my reaction to myself. “Did you find the girl in that case?”
“Yes, but I had a hell of a time getting her to cooperate. Heroin was everything to her. She did not care what she had to do to get it. To her, I was the enemy, as was the rest of my team. Going with us meant giving up the high. Together, we managed to extract her and get her back to the United States. Currently, she is under psychiatric care. And she’s only twenty years old.”
“Do you think we might be successful in locating Faye?”
“I am sorry to say that the odds are stacked against you. More and more, I am hearing these girls are being transported far from the site of their abductions, making tracking them down more difficult. Girls working in Mexico City could have been taken from Tijuana or Guatemala or anywhere else far away.”
The image of young girls working the sex trade sickened me. “Anything else I need to know?”
“The search can be expensive. In my last case, I had to pay off several officials. If the parents of this girl cannot afford the cost . . . well, chances are slim to none of getting her back.”
“You’ve given me a lot to think about.”
“I’ll be gone for the next two weeks. If you decide to take the case, I will help you when I return.”
I glanced at my calendar and wrote the date on my pad. I couldn’t help but think of the Franklins and the agonizing delays in finding their daughter. But the answer was not to rush into the search without preparation. I could only hope they would understand.
“Thank you for your insight.”
“Please give my regards to Paul.”
“I will. He spoke highly of you. He said if he were me, he wouldn’t take the case if you couldn’t help. After talking to you, I have to agree. Thanks again, Ricardo. I appreciate your time. I’ll call you one way or the other.”
After I said goodbye, I leaned back in my desk chair, reluctant to call Mrs. Franklin. The conversation was not one I wanted to have with the mother. No doubt she was having nightmares about her missing daughter. But Ricardo’s bleak suspicion would be even more shocking and upsetting. I, myself, was having a hard time with the images of so many young girls being forced into drug addiction to become sex slaves.
Tracking down Faye was one thing. Rescuing her would be extremely dangerous. In my gut, I knew I had to help. I won’t deny that the very idea scared me.
My intuition guides me all the time but it’s not battle armor. The ability doesn’t necessarily keep me out of tough spots, but it warns me in the nick of time. We all have intuition. The trick is to pay close attention. That instinct “talks” to us in many ways, particularly through sensations in our bodies.
Ancient philosophies consider the gut, or belly, the “power center.” A strong gut feeling—good or bad—gives us the proverbial power to make a decision. The same can be said about the heart—the center of emotion. For centuries, many cultures believe love emanates from the heart. We also talk of the “heartache” of losing someone.
With my hands resting on my belly, I contemplated the inevitable dialogue with Mrs. Franklin. Admittedly, a few butterflies were inside. I am only human. I wish I could say that I had a clairvoyant vision of the future, assuring me that the circumstances would all work out fine. But I didn’t.
However, I do believe that everything happens for a reason, even if we don’t realize the synchronicity of events until after they happen. Mrs. Franklin had been sent to me because I have the skills to help her. Call it God. Call it Universal Intelligence. Call it Divine Mind. Call it whatever you want. “It” brought her into my life to help her.
My gut was telling me to accept this case.
But what about my kids? I had a feeling in my heart they would want me to help save Faye. Not to say they wouldn’t be worried about my safety. All the more reason why I would be sure to have, as Paul said, “all my ducks in a row.”
I sat up, straightened the notepad on the desk, and reached for the phone. Mrs. Franklin picked up after the second ring. She took the news about Ricardo’s speculation as well as could be expected. We talked about the problems of investigating in a foreign country. I told her Ricardo said the officials would require payment for helping.
“My husband and I already tried that. Bribes didn’t get us anywhere.”
“But Mr. Perez knows how to make things happen. He handled a similar missing person case a few months ago.”
“Does this mean you’re sending us to Mr. Perez instead of taking the case?” she asked.
“No. I would work with him. Following an investigation beyond the U.S. border, particularly in Central America, requires a great deal of coordination that I cannot do alone. Only a fool would go into a foreign country and expect to know more than local investigators about their own people and culture.”
“Yes, of course. I understand. How soon can you start?” Her previous desperation was replaced with a stoic confidence. She believed I was the one who would find Faye.
“Before I give a definite yes, I want to make sure my kids are on board with my decision.”
“Oh.” She sounded a little surprised but quickly recovered. “How old are they?”
“Michael is twenty. Kitty is eighteen.”
“Same age as my daughter.”
“Yes.” My grip on the phone tightened causing my fingers to ache. I sensed my own maternal anxiety meld with hers. “They need to be aware of the situation before I take the case. I would be leaving the country with no idea how long I will be gone.”
“I understand. I just—. She’s been missing for so long already. Every day that goes by . . .”
“I am sorry to put you through more delays, Mrs. Franklin. But Mr. Perez is tied up with another case for the next two weeks.”
“Two weeks?” she echoed. My throat tightened as I felt her constrain her tears of frustration.
“I know this is hard on you and your husband. But I also have to wrap up investigations for my other clients. I will call you as soon as I possibly can.”
“We will be waiting by the phone.”
I hung up. My hand rested on the receiver. I thought of Michael and Kitty, wondering what I would do if one of them vanished for one day, let alone six weeks. Making the Franklins wait was difficult for me, but this was real life, not a television crime drama where everything happened in rapid succession.
I wished I could snap my fingers to speed up the process, but I couldn’t.
My next step was to talk to my kids.
Thursday, 5:00 a.m.
Los Angeles International Airport
Michael and Kitty had not hesitated to give their approval of my investigative mission in Mexico. Granted, they were still concerned for my safety, as was Ryan who had offered to take me to the airport. Due to the limited four–hour nonstop flights and the two-hour time difference, my choices were narrowed to an early morning or mid-afternoon departure, neither of which would accommodate the scheduled meeting with Ricardo Perez on Friday. I decided to fly out on Thursday, taking the morning flight that would allow a safe arrival at my hotel long before dark.
The thirty-five minute drive from my home in Long Beach to LAX in El Segundo could take more than an hour if the morning traffic was particularly heavy, especially along the South Bay curve of the 405 freeway. With the I-105 still under construction, Century Boulevard was the only artery from the freeway to the terminals, and was often a slow crawl with weekend travelers. Ryan picked me up two hours before my seven-thirty flight and, surprisingly, we pulled into the short-term parking structure at six-fifteen.
As I climbed out of the low-slung Corvette, I reached for my purse and my portable cellular phone on the floorboard. Even though the phone’s case was as big as a metropolitan Yellow Pages, heavier than a brick and might only get reception in the large cities of Mexico, I never went anywhere without it.
Ryan grabbed my small suitcase from the back of his Corvette. “Are you sure you’ve brought enough clothes? You had three times this much for our trip to Mexico last November. And that was only two weeks.”
“I don’t need vacation clothes this time. Just the bare essentials.” I didn’t know how long I would be gone, but I had to pack as light as possible to simplify whatever traveling I would be doing. The ability to leave at a moment’s notice was important while investigating.
“I wish I could go with you,” he said, carrying the bag in one hand and slipping his other hand around my waist.
I leaned into him as we walked. “Me, too.”
“Say the word, and I’ll buy a ticket at the counter.”
His offer warmed my heart. “Even if I said yes—which I can’t—you don’t have anything with you.”
An eyebrow lifted. “You didn’t see the backpack in the trunk?”
I turned my head and looked up at him. “Don’t try to fool me.”
“Ah–yes, the mind–reader. How easily I forget.” He grinned and pressed a kiss to my forehead. “So, you already know how much I will miss you.”
“Not as much as I’ll miss you. I’ll call you whenever I can.”
He only nodded.
We walked together to the check–in counter to get my boarding pass. My bag was small enough to fit in the overhead bin so Ryan carried it with him as we made our way to the Mexicana Airlines gate. We bought coffee and bagels for breakfast from a vendor and sat in the hard plastic seats of the passenger boarding area. We chatted about everything and anything except my pending departure.
Despite the light-hearted conversation, I felt the tension of the last two weeks building to this day when I would finally be on my way to Mexico to start the hunt of Faye Franklin.
When the announcement to board the plane broadcast over the P.A. system, I felt an ache in my chest.
He wrapped his arms around me and held me close, whispering in my ear, “I hope you know how much you mean to me.”
“I do.” I swallowed hard. “I feel the same way.”
He leaned back and cupped my face in his hands. “I love you.”
My eyes filled with tears. “I love you, too.”
August 17, 1990
Friday, 10:30 a.m.
Mexico City, Mexico
My hotel was in the colonial district of Coyoacán where Ryan and I had stayed during our trip. I have visited the city many times over the years, but everything had been new for Ryan. Sharing the culture and historical sites had given me a chance to show him how much I loved the country, especially the people. The best part of the entire trip was the warm welcome he received from my friends.
Taking a taxi from my hotel to the meeting with Ricardo Perez was as tedious as the ride into town from the airport. The most densely populated city in the world had a traffic problem far worse than Los Angeles. I’m not the most patient person, especially when the cars are moving slower than the pedestrians. If not for the threat of rain, I could have walked to my destination. August is the wettest month of the year. The higher elevation keeps the temperature in the seventies, but the humidity makes the air feel much warmer. Thankfully, the cab’s AC worked, and I had allowed for delay.
Seeing a familiar restaurant brought back vivid memories of my time with Ryan, making me miss him terribly. I had only been gone for twenty-four hours. I couldn’t start pining for my lover already, especially when I didn’t know how long I would be searching for Faye Franklin. Several weeks could pass before I returned home.
The missing young woman was never far from my thoughts, despite the reminiscence of happier times in this city. Ricardo had talked of abducted girls transported far away from their original location. Could Faye have been brought here to Mexico City from Cancun?
I gazed out the window of the slow-moving taxi, watching the people and studying the windows and doors of the buildings. Intuitively, I did not sense her presence or anything else to guide me in the search. However, I did not rule out the possibility of Faye being in the city.
The taxi driver interrupted my thoughts, asking in English if I was enjoying my first visit. He noticed my intense scrutiny of the neighborhood and assumed I was a tourist. I answered in Spanish that I was on a business trip, and smiled at his look of surprise reflected in his rear view mirror.
“¿No es Americana? ¡Es Argentino!” He wasn’t the first to be misled by my Argentinean accent acquired from my college language professor from South America.
I shook my head. “Yo soy Americana.”
Ten minutes later, in the heart of the city, he pulled up to the address I had given. I paid the fare, slid out of the backseat, and stood on the sidewalk as the car crept away from the curb. The name of a law firm was on the building. Ricardo’s office was on the second floor. My office in Long Beach was also located on the second floor of a law firm. I wondered if we shared other similarities.
To begin with, I didn’t have a waiting room, let alone one large enough to comfortably fit two leather sofas and four matching chairs. I also didn’t have a receptionist’s desk. Or a receptionist, for that matter. The attractive brunette looked up from her work and smiled. She appeared to be in her mid-thirties.
Instinct told me the five men and the other woman in the waiting room were not a random group of clients. We were all here for the same reason.
The receptionist stood, stepped around her desk and greeted me with a friendly handshake. Speaking in Spanish, she introduced herself as Francesca Vasquez, executive secretary for Señor Perez. She said he would be with me momentarily and invited me to sit, gesturing to a vacant leather chair.
Three of the men were quietly talking to each other while the other two and the woman were immersed in various reading material to occupy their time. I suspected they were unaware of our mutual connection to the investigation involving Faye Franklin.
One man with a magazine stood out for his black wide-brimmed gaucho hat paired with his business suit. He had the softened jowls of someone in his sixties with a thick middle straining the buttons on his jacket.
The other three men were much younger. One was probably in his mid-twenties, very handsome with a charming smile. He wore a blue cotton t-shirt and khakis, but I received a mental image of him in a button-down shirt and tie, sitting at a desk.
In contrast, the other two men wore sport coats and slacks. The subtle definition of muscles in their necks and the broad shoulders implied their peak condition, possibly military training.
The woman appeared to be close to my age of forty-two, maybe a little younger. She was smaller, with a petite frame that seemed too fragile for the physical demands of the job I’ve faced. I have an athletic build suitable for scaling a chain-link fence with a Doberman on my heels.
Ten minutes later, the door beside the receptionist’s desk opened, and a dark-haired gentleman walked in.
“Hello, everyone. My name is Ricardo Perez,” he announced, crossing the room to the outer door. He had a pleasant but somber smile on his face as he turned the lock. “Merely a security measure, I assure you. Only to keep people out, not in.”
The others glanced around with expressions that ranged from curious to confused.
“I have spoken to each of you about a missing young woman. I’ve gathered you together to form a team to find her. Her name is Faye Franklin. She is from the United States.”
We nodded in silence.
“I believe you have already met Francesca.” He raised his hand, palm up, in the direction of his secretary.
Her chin dipped as she gave him a look of respect.
He did the same.
Anyone else might misconstrue the admiration as an office romance, but I didn’t get that feeling.
“I could introduce each of you individually,” he said, his open arms including the entire group. “But I prefer to let you do it yourselves. Tell us what you do and where you are from.”
The cowboy spoke. “My name is Hector Diego, and I am a diplomatic liaison between Mexico and the United States. I live in Mexico City.”
The casually dressed young man identified himself as José Ortega. “I am a teacher, secondary level, but I am interested in becoming an investigator. I have known Ricardo all of my life and am grateful for this opportunity to help with the case. My school is on a one month break, and I have three weeks left that I can work investigating.”
The remaining two men, Carlos Rios and Elegio Garcia, were Mexican government intelligence officers investigating the slave trade that extended beyond prostitution. Young children were also being abducted and sold, some as “orphans” to couples desperate for a child, some as house servants and others as workers in sweat-shops. They assured us other officers working similar cases would be available to assist, as needed.
Alicia Fuentes was an investigator in Corpus Christi, Texas who had worked several abduction cases. From her ease with the language, she was as comfortable speaking Spanish as I was.
After everyone finished with introductions, Ricardo spoke. “Each of you has been selected because of the skills you possess.”
A soft knock at the door interrupted Ricardo, who did not appear the least bit surprised. Checking his watch, he nodded almost imperceptibly.
At the same moment, I felt a sudden change in energy. My chest tightened. My throat constricted. I recognized the sensation and knew who was on the other side of the door.
Ricardo turned the lock and spoke English as he stepped aside to usher the middle-aged couple into the room. “This is Dr. Robert Franklin and his wife, Ida.”
No surprise to me, Ida was what I like to call “a classy lady”— dark auburn hair in a sleek pageboy style, light makeup on pale skin, and wearing a light brown knee-length skirt with a matching jacket and low pumps. She was about five-six, probably around one-hundred-forty, and a good six inches shorter than her husband. He had dark hair streaked silver, particularly at his temples. His tanned face displayed character lines from years in the sun, but something told me he hadn’t acquired them on a tennis court or golf course.
The doctor stepped over to Hector, shook his hand and thanked him for being there. He repeated the same greeting with each person, as did his wife.
When I saw him turn to me, I stood and introduced myself.
Ida gasped and stepped around her husband with tears in her eyes and her arms out. “I’m so grateful for what you have already done for us. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person.”
Returning her hug, I felt the burden of her worries lift a little, buoyed by renewed hope. “I only started the ball rolling to Mr. Perez. He’s brought in everyone else.”
Dr. Franklin said, “Modesty aside, Mrs. Acuña. You could have passed off the job and stayed in the States. We are both glad you are part of the team.”
He shook my hand with a firm grip and a direct gaze that conveyed his straight-forward openness. I often assessed a lot about a person by his eye contact, or lack of it. Usually, I knew if someone was telling the truth or a lie by the way he looked at me. “Thank you, doctor.”
“Please call me Robert.”
I nodded. “As long as you call me Deanne, instead of Mrs. Acuña.”
“You’ve got it.” Under the circumstances, his smile was cordial but strained. He glanced at the floor, so briefly that it was hardly noticeable. Weeks of stress and sleepless nights were taking their toll. A momentary struggle with exhaustion passed as he gathered his strength and turned his attention to Ricardo. He thanked him for all that he had done, including the air and hotel arrangements.
Ricardo gripped Robert’s shoulder in a show of support. “We are honored to be of service to you, sir. Please, if you have brought the items we discussed, let us get started.”
“We brought pictures and a VHS tape of our family’s Labor Day barbecue,” Ida chimed in, reaching into her large handbag. She pulled out a bulging manila envelope and handed it to Ricardo.
He withdrew a handful of photos and handed them to me to pass around. I recognized a few that matched the ones I had also brought. Except for her brown hair, Faye strongly resembled her father—tall, slender, high cheekbones, strong jawline. She appeared to have the same shade of blue eyes, as well.
Speaking once again in Spanish, Ricardo asked Francesca to bring the TV and video player from his office which was not large enough to accommodate our entire group.
Francesca nodded and quietly slipped out.
Ida twisted her wedding ring as Robert recited details about their daughter as I’m sure he had already done dozens of times. “Faye is five-foot-ten and one hundred thirty-five pounds—”
“One-twenty-five, dear.” Ida corrected with a gentle pat on his hand.
“Yes. Right. She was . . . is an honor student, cheerleader and very active in our church and community.”
“She also speaks Spanish and French extremely well. Her dream was to spend a year in Europe in a foreign studies program. Getting her passport meant more to her than getting a driver’s license.” Ida’s voice faltered. She bowed her head, unable to say more.
Her husband slipped his arm around her and pressed a gentle kiss to the top of her head.
I was poignantly aware the Franklins were living every parent’s nightmare. I sensed everyone else in the room felt the same.
Breaking the silence, Francesca opened the door and rolled an audio-visual cart into the room. A nineteen-inch television sat on the top shelf with a VHS player beneath it.
Ricardo checked his watch. “I realize some of you may have other appointments. Rather than take everyone’s time by going over each person’s assignment, I will meet with you individually over the next few days. If anyone needs to leave, please speak up now.”
No one raised a hand.
“Very well, then.” He held up the cassette cartridge that was a little larger than a paperback novel. “Now we will watch the Franklin’s movies to study Faye. If her appearance has been altered in any way, she may only be recognizable by her moves, her expressions or the sound of her voice.”
Ida closed her eyes briefly, her pain radiating straight to my heart.
He inserted the cassette into the player that was similar in size to an electric typewriter. The video tape ran about a half-hour, showing edited clips of various scenes featuring Faye Franklin at a family barbecue, at cheer practice, at a football game and a post-game victory party in a pizza parlor.
Halfway through, I heard soft sniffles from Ida. A few minutes later, she quietly left the office with her husband whispering to Ricardo that they would take a short walk.
I certainly understood their difficulty watching their beautiful daughter joking around with friends in the family’s backyard and practicing a spirited cheer routine with her team mates. She was so full of energy and fun, surrounded by the people who loved her. I noticed one young man in the background who was particularly attentive to her, watching her with a fondness in his expression. She interacted with him like a friend, not like a romantic interest. Flirtatious but not provocative, she seemed blithely unaware of her effect on the men in her vicinity.
I couldn’t help but imagine similar behavior at the club in Cancun, and another young man watching her, waiting for the opportunity to make his move.
The final clip showed Faye at the airport with her girlfriends, giddy with excitement for their adventure. Her mother’s voice indicated she was behind the video camera while Faye threw her arms around her father and gave him a big kiss and hug goodbye at the gate. The last shot was the girls waving and stumbling into each other as they disappeared down the jet way.
Francesca turned up the lights, ejected the tape and handed it back to Ricardo before wheeling the cart out of the room.
We discussed Faye’s general mannerisms and the possible changes to her appearance.
Ricardo placed the tape on his desk. “In my previous abduction case, the victim was heavily addicted to drugs by the time we found her. She was a shadow of her former self. Nothing like her photos. Her hair color hadn’t been changed, but she was extremely thin with sunken cheeks and hollow eyes.”
I was glad the Franklins had not returned to hear this conversation.
Alicia raised her hand from her lap. “If you think it would help, I could make some sketches based on Faye’s picture to approximate similar changes to her facial features.”
Ricardo nodded his approval. “With makeup, as well as without it.”
“Of course. Do you want her to look like a cheap hooker or high-priced call-girl?”
“Both. Can you have them ready by tomorrow morning?”
“Sure thing. I’ll need to borrow one of the photos.”
“Francesca will make copies before you leave.”
While his assistant jotted down notes at her desk, Ricardo addressed the group. “As I said earlier, I will meet with each of you individually to finalize your assignments. Francesca will set up the appointments throughout the weekend, so everyone will start work on the case no later than Monday afternoon.”