Authors: Joan Mauch
Copyright 2016 by
All rights reserved.
Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of
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punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
Names, characters and
incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination and
are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations
or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of
the author or the publishers.
No part of this book
may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
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Printed in the United
States of America
While there were countless sources of information that I
accessed during the course of researching and writing “Escape from Ambergris”, the
following were especially helpful and include: the Polaris Project; Cathy
O’Keefe, executive director of Braking
Frundt, trafficking survivor and founder of Courtney’s House;
by MOTFT (YouTube);
The Slave across the Street
by Theresa Flores (
Trafficking, Human Misery: The Global Trade in Human Beings
by Alexis A
hours of online research on Belize and Ambergris Caye.
Thank you also to my friend, former TV producer, Beth Paul,
for keeping me on the right track with respect to TV news production and police
procedure; to members of the Iron Pen critique group, Kristal Shaff, Wayne Sapp
and Rich Miller for their tireless page reviews; and to my family for their
As has been repeated many times, it takes a village to raise
a child—the same can be said for writing and publishing a novel. Without the
assistance of everyone listed here as well as many who are not, this book would
not have become a reality. I would also like to acknowledge the encouragement I
have received from my readers. Without you, it would all be for naught. Thank
you all so very much.
The weight of the gun surprised
Hester. It was cold, meat-locker cold—a dead thing. Oil stained the paper bag
she’d hid it in. She abhorred the mechanical stink of it. Tears filled her dark
brown eyes, making the weapon appear wavy, as though under water. She began to
Her free hand made its way behind her
ear where she traced a circle of rough skin. Almost without realizing it, she
pinched and scratched the hated thing, as if she could somehow obliterate it.
Looking out the window at a
cement-grey sky, she breathed a long heavy sigh. The rainy weather made her
despair even more palpable. Never had she imagined life would serve up such a
cruel helping. For her, things wouldn’t get better, no matter what she did or
how hard she tried.
Taking in a lungful of air, she
wiped her cheek on the sleeve of her thin yellow blouse. What she had to do was
clear. There was only one path available and much as she would have liked to go
a different way, there simply was no other.
She had been fondling the small
revolver for several minutes. It felt warm, having absorbed heat from her
sweaty palm. It seemed to reach out to her, beckoning almost seductively. It
won’t be that hard, it seemed to say.
The shabby room was barely nine by
nine with a single
window to which
ornamental security bars were attached. A metal frame bed sporting a lumpy
mattress and a three-drawer bureau populated it. Carved out of the wall was a
minuscule closet scarcely large enough for her few articles of clothing.
Hester wouldn’t miss the place, for
damn sure. Unable to tolerate life any longer, she knew without a doubt only
she could change it—and for her the change-agent was this gun.
The odor of yet another greasy
supper wafted its way up the stairs and beneath her bedroom door. Rather than
stimulate her appetite, it made her nauseous. The damned dog was barking again.
That was another thing Hester wouldn’t miss.
She swallowed, tried to push down
the lump in her throat and then glanced at the cheap watch encircling her
wrist. A faint smile played on her lips as she recalled the joy she’d felt upon
receiving it. It had been a gift from her mother the last Christmas she was
Remembering that caused Hester the
same exquisite pain it had countless times before. Intense longing for her
family overwhelmed her, nearly threatening her resolve. Tears came in swift
moving torrents, overflowing her cheeks and dripping onto her lap. Annoyed with
herself, she shouldered them away and returned to her plan.
It was time. If she delayed or lost
her nerve, the opportunity may never present itself again and she’d be trapped.
For the rest of her life, however short or long it might be, she’d be
stuck—like a pig in mud, she’d be up to her ears in it, incapable of changing a
thing. Hester understood this with deadly certainty.
The revolver drooped in her hand,
its barrel pointing to the floor. Hester had never handled a weapon before but
had watched countless TV shows in which they were used. The shooter “cocked”
something before firing. She located a knobby thing on top and pulled it back.
Her hands trembled.
Geez, get a
, she counseled herself, there’s only one chance to get this
right. If she screwed up, she knew without a doubt the consequences would be
Taking in several mouthfuls of air,
as if preparing for a race, Hester hooked her long black hair behind her ear,
raised the gun to her right temple—and fired.
Jackson Taylor panned the street as
he filmed B-roll for the story.
“C’mon, let’s go. We’ve been at
this long enough,” Izzie, his reporter whined. “I’m sick of this stupid
festival.” She gave her photographer a hard look. “It doesn’t have to be
Ignoring her disparaging comment,
Jackson continued videotaping. New to Tampa, this was his first experience with
Gasparilla and he was more than a little intrigued.
“So, what’s it about?” He stopped
recording and glanced at his reporter who tapped her foot on the sidewalk, her
arms folded tightly across her chest.
She sighed. “It supposedly
celebrates a Spanish pirate who operated around here a long time ago. The
festival starts with the landing of a ship in the bay. Then the city’s invaded
by pirates and the mayor turns over the key to the city. That marks the
beginning of the festival. It’s
stupid if you
Jackson wrinkled his forehead. “So,
what’s a Gasparilla? Some sort of drink?”
It’s that pirate, Jose Gaspar.”
“And the festival lasts how long?”
“Seems like forever.’ Letting out
another sigh, she said, “It starts with the children’s parade—which was last
week, goes into the Pirate Festival and merges into the
Illuminated Knight Parade. There’s even the Gasparilla Distance Classic races;
the Bay Area Renaissance Festival; Strawberry Festival; the Gasparilla Festival
of the Arts; the Gasparilla Music Festival and the GIFF.”
Before Jackson could ask what GIFF
stood for, she added, “GIFF’s the Gasparilla International Film Festival. I
wish they’d just call the whole thing, “All Things Gasparilla” and be done with
it. The whole thing’s one big bore.”
“Brings in lots of tourists though,
“Yeah, something like four hundred
thousand people—and, as you know, traffic’s tied up like nobody’s business.”
Her face flushed, Izzie seemed about to lose her temper. “If you don’t have any
more questions, can we go now?”
Normally slow to anger, Jackson
swallowed and bit his lip. “Sure, give me a minute to wrap this up.”
“I’m not standing around waiting
for you all day.” When he didn’t respond, she added, “I’m going back to the
Jackson watched as she turned her
back on him and walked down the block. Then he touched the keys in his pocket
and grinned. She wasn’t going anywhere.