Read Chapter 1 of My New Thriller--The Mermaid Broker
In book four of the Vega & Middleton mystery/thriller series, The Mermaid Broker, Bea and Lucy navigate the dark net of sex tourism to find a young high school biology teacher before she falls victim to a disgraced ocean scientist’s sado-sexual mermaid fantasies and throws her to the sharks, literally.
She’d spent much of her life underwater. Friends even teased her about being half fish. For Isabelle “Izzy” Abbott, studying oceans and its inhabitants was her profession--but this time was different. Something was off. The taste on her lips was not the saltiness of her beloved Pacific, but the coppery tang of blood. Isabelle’s pulse rate accelerated. Pale light flickered from the darkness above. The moon? Her feet kicked hard; fingers stretched desperately toward the illumination. She followed the rise of silvery bubbles. Not too fast. The nitrogen build-up could be lethal. Where was her emergency tank?
Lungs near exploding, she broke the liquid surface, gasping for breath. Then, her hand felt something solid. Isabelle was not underwater but lying on a rubbery mat, soaked in her own sweat. When she tried to move her body, restraints bit, into her skin. Zip ties? Handcuffs? Her heart hammered like a trapped animal trying to escape its cage.
Where was she? What had happened? A car accident? Was she in a hospital? A jail? So
many questions. Isabelle forced her eyes open. Her lids were made of concrete, heavy and
gritty. The room spun. Faint, distant strains of music tinkled——discordant wind chimes accompanied by the moaning, agitated sounds of whales. What the hell? As a marine biologist, she recognized the vocalizations immediately as those of animals under grave stress. What sicko would want to weave animal misery into a song?
She gulped hard. Cool, damp air moved across Izzy’s skin and smelled of salt. Goosebumps rose. She widened her eyes, blinking, trying to acclimate. The small, square space around her appeared to have tiled walls like an operating room or a lab. It was illuminated only by a large window into a deep blue aquarium similar to those at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.
A school of dark greyish fish, hundreds of them the size of dinner plates, glided by and disappeared. Black piranhas, a South American species she wasn’t terribly familiar with. Izzy shuddered. A thin, black lateral line stretched along each body from tail to pectoral fin. It was a sensor that indicated distress in the water and a call to attack wounded prey. She held down a pang of nausea. Unable to completely focus, her head ached as if she’d been clubbed by a two-by-four. Maybe she had been. What was going on?
A body lay on a cot across from her. A girl about the same age as her biology students at Santa Monica High School. Pale skin, lank hair, face smeared with gold paint or makeup. Sleeping? Dead? Was she wrapped in a straight--jacket? Yes.
Izzy tried not to panic. Was she in a mental institution? This couldn’t be a dream, it seemed vividly real. She tried to call out to her roommate, but Izzy’s throat was so dry, all that came was a whisper. She licked her parched lips and tried again.
“Hey! Hey, over there, are you awake?”
The girl’s eyes, pallid and sunken, fluttered open. Izzy gasped, stunned by the dim pools of utter despair staring up at her. Anxiety exploded in her chest like fireworks. This was not a hospital, this was something else, something not in the realm of Isabelle Abbott’s experience.
Struggling against her bindings, the girl banged her head against the bedframe. “Help me, please help me. I can’t breathe,” she pleaded. “I’m claustrophobic, can’t handle tight spaces——this thing is destroying me.”
Isabelle winced at the aching sound of desperation in her voice. “I can’t reach you. I’m cuffed to the bed.” Again, she pulled hard against her restraints, but there was no give. “Where are we?”
The girl started to cry with big, deep sobs, then she stopped herself, slowed down, struggling for control. She gasped, “We’re in hell.”