Welcome back to our Wednesday and Saturday serial installments! We are happy to continue to share The Glass Bottom Boat by Laura Thomas.
Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9/ Chapter 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14 / Chapter 15 / Chapter 16
LUKE PULLED OUT HIS PHONE, and Nathan answered on the first ring.
“Hey, it’s Luke. Sorry I couldn’t explain things before, but I’m in a taxi right now.” He gripped the car door handle as his driver sped with too much gusto around winding coastal roads.
“No worries. What’s the latest with the boat?”
Luke tried to focus on the call as glimpses of ocean and palm trees whizzed by. “Yeah. The glass bottom boat we saw did not belong to the resort.”
“No kidding? Makes sense, I guess. They told us that much when we arrived. So, Sam or whoever must have taken a chance and used their own.”
“Looks that way, although how on earth did they get their filthy hands on one? They were lucky nobody found them out. Unless they paid one of the resort staff to keep quiet.” He caught the eye of the driver in the rearview mirror. Had he overheard the conversation above the island music on the radio? Didn’t bat an eyelid, so hopefully not. Luke’s mouth went dry. Was he getting in over his head?
“Luke? You still there?”
The driver slowed and pulled to the side of the road in front of a boat-rental place. This was the destination.
“Yeah, can you hold on a sec? I think we’ve arrived.” He leaned over and slapped some notes in the driver’s open hand. “Thanks, man.”
“No problem.” The driver waited for Luke to climb from the taxi and tore away.
Luke exhaled and took in his new surroundings. “Sorry about that. I’m here now, and it looks like there are plenty of boats ready to be taken out. Let’s hope this goes smoothly.” Luke talked as he walked toward the jetty. Several boats were moored there, and a teenage boy manned a small kiosk. “I’m about to rent one from some guy called Jamal. He’s a cousin of a friend at the water-sports desk.”
“Is this safe? Sounds ominous.”
“This was my best option. The resort wouldn’t let me take a boat out by myself, so here I am. I think it’s going to work out. Listen. The receptionist in the lobby told me there are a few other glass bottom boats nearby. Did you manage to pull anything from the internet?”
“Yeah, I have a list of the legit ones along the east coast of the island. If you need me to go any farther, let me know.”
He pulled a map from his back pocket. “Okay, I’ve got a detailed map here, so my plan is to cruise along the beaches and match the boats I spot with the ones you have on the list. I’ll call back and copy down the names once I’m in the boat. I think it’s the best and quickest way until we find a rogue glass bottom boat with no official home. I’m expecting their boat to be tucked away somewhere rather than tied up at another resort, but who knows what their scam is.”
Nathan let out a sigh. “Yeah, they’ve had months to plan this in detail, and we’re going into it blind.”
“We have faith, bro.”
“You do, at least.”
“You bet I do. It’s going to be a long evening, but at least we’re doing something to try to find Madison. If you have any other thoughts, let me know, but in the meantime I’m hot on their trail. At least, I hope I am.” Please let me know if I’m off base here, God. I don’t have time to waste.
“Thanks for doing this. I’m dying to get out there and do something practical myself, but poor Chloe’s a mess here, and I can’t leave her.”
“Your wife needs you. I’ll call you back in five for that list.”
He strode up to the kiosk. A reliable boat would be awesome, Lord.
“Hi, you must be the American my uncle phoned about.” The lanky teenage boy stuck out his hand, and Luke shook it. Jamaica was one friendly country.
“Yes, I’m Luke. You must be Jamal. But I thought he was your cousin.”
“No, my father, Jamal, is his cousin, so I call him uncle. My father isn’t here right now, but I can help you out. No problem.” The boy came out from behind the kiosk and walked down the jetty with an air of authority.
“How long do you need the boat for?”
“That’s the thing.” Luke bit his lip. “I’m not sure. What are the rules?”
“You pay by the hour, mon. We know you’re staying at the resort, so it’s all cool. But if it gets dark, you’re not supposed to be out there—you know what I’m saying?”
“I get it. I’ll try my best to have it back by then, but I can’t guarantee. I’m already starting off later than I’d hoped. I promise to get it back to you eventually, and I’ll pay the hourly rate.”
“Okay, then, let’s get the paperwork figured out. I’ll explain to my father when he arrives. He’ll be cool.”
“Yeah, mon. It’s Jamaica.”
Luke laughed. “Of course.”
After signing his life away along with a hefty deposit on his credit card, Luke was ready to go. He hurried to his allocated boat and performed all the necessary safety checks. At least this boat was a basic model with little to go wrong, and his extensive boating experience would serve him well. He checked the gauge—a full tank of gas would see him into the night. Plus, there was a jerrican with extra fuel, if needed. Water bottles, a couple of towels, and binoculars were stowed in a cubby. It all looked good.
He settled into the captain’s chair and pulled out the map along with the pen and notepaper. A quick call to Nathan provided him with a list of authentic boat places. He sat back and groaned.
Okay, Lord, this is it. He surveyed the map. It was daunting. He closed his eyes. I’m feeling overwhelmed and out of my depth on so many levels. Would You watch over Nathan and Chloe back at the resort? And for Madison… She was in some strange place, afraid, alone. His stomach knotted. She has to be safe, Lord. Protect her, please. Please…
He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. Which way to go? It was anyone’s guess, so he followed his gut. East looked less populated and commercial on the map. Sam would most likely take her somewhere secluded. He shuddered at that repulsive thought and started the boat. Head east.
The sun was less intense, and the wind whipped through Luke’s hair as he coursed through the ocean. The beauty of this place wasn’t lost on him, even during his rescue mission. Neither was his vulnerability on the vast ocean.
His confidence on the water was one thing, but what would happen once he located the first glass bottom boat? That part would take a lot of faith. Which meant his plan would be to play it by ear and exercise caution wherever necessary. If a vessel was being used and full of passengers, everything was operation normal and he could strike it from the list. But what if he saw a vacant boat moored? It would be awkward to make inquiries without sounding like an alarmist. Or having those boat owners call the police. I can’t risk alerting the authorities when Madison’s well-being is in jeopardy.
Luke settled into driving, and within thirty minutes, he spotted two glass bottom boats. Logos on the side of each vessel showed they belonged to the resorts along the coast, and they were in use, so he slowed down to cross their names off his list but didn’t bother stopping. Two down, twenty to go…and five hours of daylight left, if he was lucky. This was going to be tedious and potentially unfruitful. Prayer. It was all he had right now. He would use his wits and implore God to keep Madison safe, believing he would find her. As long as he wasn’t too late.
He sped along the coast, hunting for his proverbial needle in the haystack. There was the possibility the boat might not have been used at all, of course. Or it could have been a getaway vehicle for a short distance, and Madison could be held up in the mountains somewhere by now. Surely not. My gut tells me the boat is key. And my heart tells me I won’t stop looking for Madison until I find her. What does that mean for my future? No, I can’t think further than the present. It was shaping up to be a long night.
Most of the glass bottom boats like the one he was looking for had light-colored canopies, which made them easy to spot, and were labeled with resort logos. The next couple of resort areas didn’t have any moored or out in the ocean nearby, so Luke pressed on. He rotated his shoulders and tipped his head from side to side. Keeping his eyes peeled for the boat and watching out for other ocean traffic were taking their toll. Catamarans, canoes, paddleboats, and the occasional sailboat dotted the turquoise water and kept him on his toes. Maybe Nathan’s help would have been a good idea. But no, Chloe needed him this evening. Luke blew out a steady breath. Chloe must be beside herself with worry. She was counting on Luke to find her sister. He couldn’t let her down.
An unexpected tear meandered down Luke’s cheek. Where did that come from? He wasn’t a crier, but the responsibility he carried tonight was getting to him. How could a woman he met three days ago have such a profound impact on his emotions? He brushed the tear away. Madison had already endured more than her fair share of tragedy and trials. How was she holding up this evening? God, keep her safe.
As he trawled past the next resort, Luke’s heart quickened. Sure enough, a glass bottom boat was attached to a long dock, and it looked empty. This one had no logo and wasn’t on their list, so it needed to be checked out. He slowed down and pulled into the next dock over. He waved at a couple of guys in red shorts who looked like they were in charge.
“I’m only going to be five minutes.” He waved at Red Shorts. “Can I leave it here?”
“No problem, mon.” It was the answer Luke had come to expect in Jamaica.
He strolled along the shore and looked around for any signs of either Madison, suspicious-looking guys, or police. Should he ask Red Shorts about the boat or go and take a look for himself? He took a deep breath and decided on the latter.
A few people dotted the wide dock. A couple of shrieking children jumped off and dive-bombed into the ocean. Luke smiled. Just like his kids back at the orphanage. They would love it here. An older gentleman lay in a hammock, reading a book, and a besotted couple strolled hand in hand. The girl giggled when they passed by. She sounded similar to Madison. Luke bit his lip.
The boat was deserted. Nobody appeared to be in charge, and no customers waited for a cruise. Strange. He looked around and jumped on board. It was well maintained and could probably seat thirty passengers.
“Hey, mon, what’s up?” Red Shorts appeared on the dock and pointed at Luke. “You want to go out or something?”
Luke remembered to breathe. “Um, maybe. I was wondering why it was so empty. No cruises today?” He jumped back off the boat and landed next to the guy.
“Yeah, they came back a few minutes ago. I’m not sure if they’ll be taking it out again today—depends if there’s the demand. It’s getting late to set out.”
Luke glanced out at the setting sun and sighed. “So, it’s been busy all day, has it?”
Red Shorts shrugged. “On and off.”
“Do you stop at any of the other resorts?”
“No. Most have their own boats, or they tell their guests to come here by taxi. You have a lot of questions. You want to go out on the next run or not?” He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Luke.
“Whoa, I was curious. That’s all.” He held his hands up in surrender.
“You on your own, mon?”
Before Luke could answer, an even bigger pair of red shorts sauntered up the dock, and the burly guy stood right in Luke’s face.
“We got a problem?” The newcomer’s voice had an unbelievably low pitch.
“No, sir. No problem at all.” The hairs on the back of Luke’s neck stood to attention. “I was asking about the cruises on this boat.”
“American?” He planted his massive hands on his hips.
Not keen on Americans, eh? “That’s right. Although I live in Mexico. I’m a missionary there.”
Both locals grinned, and the smaller of the two nodded. “Cool. We like missionaries. The thing is, we’ve had some trouble concerning this boat.”
Luke’s brows shot up along with his pulse. “With Americans?”
“Yeah, mon. A couple of meatheads wanted to use it and got uptight when we said no.” He started laughing. “Like we can let anyone come and rent this baby. It belongs to the resort, for goodness’ sake. They were crazy.”
The big guy turned and wandered back to the beach, his bulging biceps quivering with every step. Luke needed to know details. Do not appear desperate. He leaned against a pole and brushed invisible lint from his shirt.
“These Americans, did they say why they wanted to use this awesome boat? Seems kind of strange.”
“They were strange, all right. Arrogant, pushy, and I don’t think they ever drove one like this before. That’s the last we’ll see of them, I can tell you. My brother wasn’t friendly toward them. He got bad vibes, and that always sets him off.”
“Oh dear.” Luke watched the massive man move across the beach, grateful he hadn’t set him off. “Was there a fight?”
“Almost. They left pretty quick and we never saw them again.”
“When was this?”
Red Shorts slid his shades from his face. “Why are you asking all these questions, mon? You know these Americans? Do I need to get my brother back over here?”
Luke started backing away. “No, I don’t know them at all. I’m only interested in the glass bottom boat. I guess I’ll come back another day. You have yourself a great evening. Thank you.”
Luke marched back to the beach and grabbed a sandwich on his way past a café hut. At least he could make his pit stop look intentional. Plus, his stomach demanded fuel. Before heading back on his own boat, he took the phone from his pocket and prayed for a good signal.
“Luke.” Nathan’s voice was tense. “We haven’t heard from you in a while. How’s it going?”
“Slow. Although, I’m certain our guys were trying to rent a glass bottom boat from the resort I’m at right now. The gentlemen here were none too impressed with them.”
“No way. Did you find anything out?”
“Not really. I couldn’t dig too much without looking suspicious. They were touchy about the whole thing. I don’t think they’re too fond of Americans in general anymore. I’m guessing if it was them, our Blue Eyes is lacking in social graces.”
“I can vouch for that.”
“How’s Chloe holding up?”
“She’s cried so much, I’m trying to keep her hydrated. But I managed to get the banking sorted out and can withdraw the cash tomorrow if we need it.”
“Awesome.” At least that base was covered. “How did you manage in a foreign country? I imagined a whole bunch of red tape.”
“They were super helpful at the local bank. Plus, they get a decent bonus in the form of additional bank charges. It’ll be there in the morning for us to collect.”
Luke whistled. How would they go about picking it up? Would they need a suitcase? It was like something out of a movie. He was glad for Nathan’s bodyguard physique. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I’m heading back to my boat, but you’ll be the first to know if I find anything. Look after your new wife, okay? Make sure she eats something, too.”
The jerk-chicken sandwich smelled amazing. He took a huge bite and chewed. Eating seemed wrong at a time like this, but he had to keep his strength up, too.
“Yeah, I’ll try. And, Luke, thanks for going out of your way on all this. I don’t want to put you in any danger.”
Luke swallowed his mouthful. “It’s my choice. I can’t bear the thought of Madison being with those guys, and I want to show her not all men are going to let her down. It’s not going to be easy, but she has to learn to trust again. I want to be there for her. Know what I mean?”
“Hey, wait—you’re smitten, aren’t you?”
“My single brother is definitely smitten. Tell me I’m not right.”
Several seconds of silence filled the air.
Luke gulped. “Maybe.”
“Don’t do anything foolish, missionary man.”
“I’ve got God on my side. I’ll be fine.”
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