Outside the Gate
Carol Delaney confronts a parent’s worst nightmare when her twelve-year-old daughter is kidnapped by human traffickers during a family vacation on a Caribbean island. As she works with police and the FBI and organizations whose mission is to rescue victims of sex slavery and rehabilitate them, Carol discovers another world outside the gate of the one she knew.
In the center of town the buildings were made of cinder block, and some of them had glass windows. But the town didn’t seem to have any tourist attractions. It looked like just a place to live for people who worked at the Royal Palms.
Derek stopped the cart in front of a one-story building that was painted white and roofed with palm fronds. It didn’t have glass windows, but inside it was clean and well-lighted, with tables and chairs painted bright blue.
Two little kids without their mother were sitting at a table, eating ice cream out of cups with white plastic spoons.
A plump woman greeted them from behind a counter, asking: “Can I help you?”
“We’re looking for two girls,” Brian told her.
“Were they white girls?”
“Yeah. A redhead and a blond.”
The woman nodded. “They were here. We don’t often see white girls here.”
“How long ago did you see them?” Carol asked anxiously.
“About a half hour ago. They bought cones and then they left. I assumed they were in town with their mother.”
While this last remark faulted her for letting the girls go into town on their own, the image of Amanda walking down the street with an ice cream cone, oblivious of what she was doing to her parents, made Carol even more angry at her daughter.
“Did you notice which way they went?” Brian asked.
“They went that way.” The woman pointed in the direction away from the resort.
“Did you see them come back?” Derek asked her.
“No. I didn’t,” the woman said, shaking her head. “And I was beginning to wonder what happened to them.”
“You were? Why?” Carol asked.
“Well, they couldn’t keep going down this street. It ends at the harbor. So after a while they should have come back.”
“Could they have come back another way?” Brian asked.
“They could have, but I don’t know why they would have. There’s nothing to see on the other streets.”
“They could still be hanging out at the harbor,” Carol said, hoping. “Stacy likes boats.”
“There aren’t many boats,” the woman said. “There’re some fishing boats, and usually a yacht. They’ve been talking for years about improving the harbor so cruise ships can stop here, but that’ll never happen.”
“Thanks,” Carol said. “Let’s go to the harbor.”
They got back into the cart and continued down the street. For a while a dog that had been lying at the edge of the street trotted after them, but it finally gave up.
“Can you think of any other place they might have gone?” Carol asked the boy.
“No. But they’re probably hanging out at the harbor. I used to hang out at the harbor. There wasn’t much happening, but at least I could get away from my family.”
Carol could understand why kids wanted to get away from their families, but she wished the girls had waited until they got back home.
It took them only a few minutes to arrive at the harbor, where they got out and looked around. An old pier extended out a few hundred feet, and several fishing boats were anchored beyond it. In the distance a boat was coming in, bucking the waves.
As they walked out onto the pier Carol looked around for the girls, but there wasn’t any sign of them, and by now she was frantic with worry.
“They’re not here,” Brian said, stopping.
“Then where are they?” she asked desperately.
“They could have gone back another way,” Derek suggested.
“So let’s go back and look for them.”
They were approaching the cart when the boy halted as if something had caught his eye. He leaped into the brush and retrieved it, saying: “It’s a phone.”
“Let me see it,” Brian commanded.
The boy handed over the phone, which was visibly damaged.
“It’s Amanda’s phone,” Brian said after checking for her mark of identification.
“Oh, God,” Carol cried, taking the phone from him to have a closer look at it. She prayed that he was mistaken.
But it was Amanda’s, and it hadn’t been damaged accidentally. Someone had deliberately crushed it.
“I’ll call the police,” Derek said, pulling out his phone.