Authors: Rebecca York
Rx Missing (Decorah Security Series, Book #10)
A Paranormal Romantic Suspense Novel
By Rebecca York
Ruth Glick writing as Rebecca York
From his F18 fighter jet, Lieutenant Commander Mack Bradley looked down on a scene of destruction.
His chest tightened as he listened to the choppy, breathless voice of a man trapped in his disabled Humvee.
“This is Whiskey Two Romeo. Convoy hit by roadside bomb. Rockets. Automatic weapons. Repeat Whiskey Two Romeo. The bastards are in the hills to our left. . . Sweet Jesus . . . can you lay down fire . . .?”
Mack kept his own emotions in check as he came around to the convoy’s position.
Stay cool. Do your job. Then get the hell out.
When he got the all clear, he executed the attack, diving on the enemy, delivering a series of 500 pounders before zooming upward again. A typical Middle Eastern bombing run, he thought with satisfaction as he headed back toward the carrier.
Only this time, a heat-seeking missile zeroed in on his engine. He felt the teeth-rattling impact, saw the fire warning light and knew he had only two choices. Go down with the plane or eject.
No choice at all, really, because the escape procedures had been drilled into him.
Adrenaline surged through his system, as he began sending out his call sign and location. There was no time for fear or worry. He simply acted automatically.
“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. This is Lightning 22 ejecting twenty miles south of Senadar. Repeat this is Lightning 22.”
No response came in the moments he had left in the crippled aircraft. He had to trust that they’d heard him as he pulled the handle on the seat between his legs, got his body into position, and prayed that the chute would open.
Seconds later, the seat blasted out of the cockpit with a force of 17 Gs.
As he tumbled through space, there was nothing more to do but wonder if he was going to live or die.
Then, like the old clichéd phrase, his entire life flashed through his mind. He smiled as he tasted his mom’s chocolate chip cookies. Felt again the joy and pride of catching the winning touchdown in the Allegheny County championship game. The scenes came fast and furious, each with the emotions of the moments he’d spent on earth. Hunting expeditions with his dad and twin brother. Midshipman at Annapolis. Flight training. The wild bachelor party before his disastrous marriage.
The sum total of his life. He’d thought he had years to enjoy it, but it had turned out to be so damn short.
He tried to grab on to a good memory—like back when he and Grant had always known what the other was thinking. Instead he had a few stabbing moments to remember how he and Gail had hurt each other. Then everything went black.
At one in the morning, the Winston Funeral Home was quiet as a tomb. The back door had been locked, but Grant Bradley had learned long ago how to get in and out of the right and wrong places.
After slipping his lock picks back into his knapsack, he quietly closed the door and stood for a moment in the dimly lit hallway, listening for signs that he’d been discovered.
But no one dead or alive challenged him. If a rent-a-cop appeared, he could always say that grief made men do strange things.
He’d seen that as a CIA agent. Experienced it for himself when he’d abandoned a promising career as a spook to come home and stare into space until Frank Decorah had asked him to join Decorah Security. That hadn’t worked out so well either. Not when he’d compared his talents to the other guys in the agency. They had several werewolves on staff and a guy who picked up memories from objects he touched. Grant had felt like a second-class member of the team. So he’d left after a couple of years—over Frank’s objections. Frank had said Grant’s talents were going to blossom, but he’d seen no evidence of it. And when Dad had gotten too old to handle his Western Maryland outfitter business, Grant had come home to take it over.
He’d asked Mack to join him. The Bradley twins working as a team again, but his five-minutes-older sibling was still flying high as a Navy pilot, and look where it had gotten him.
Mack was in one of the reception rooms. His body was supposed to be pretty beaten up, which was why the casket lid had been screwed down tight.
But that wasn’t going to stop Grant from saying good-bye—his way.
He’d coped with the grief of his and Mack’s friends all day, plus the awkward encounter with his brother’s ex-wife.
Now he was alone. Very alone. As kids, he and Mack had gotten inside each other’s minds. That talent had faded when they’d matured. But not his love for his brother.
A man with a mission, he moved stealthily toward the coffin which sat on a velvet-draped table. He wasn’t going to break down. He was just going to pay his final respects to a man he had loved with an unwavering steadiness, even when they’d had their disagreements.
As he rested his hand on the polished mahogany of the coffin top, he spoke quiet words to his brother—his best friend.
“I’ve missed you, Mackie. Sorry you didn’t get home for Christmas this year. And that we didn’t get a chance to do some fishing in the fall.” He dragged in a breath and went on, struggling to hold his voice steady.
“Remember the fun times we had together? On the football team. At Ocean City after our senior year. And remember that fight with the Frostburg guys in back of the bowling alley where we got busted by the cops, and Dad had to bail us out. He was mad as hell, and we had to chop wood for the entire winter to make up for that one.”
He knew he was stalling because he didn’t want to look inside the coffin. Yet he
Was that a little bit of the old psychic ability coming back to him? He scoffed at the rationalization and kept talking.
“I brought you some stuff that you might like to have. That championship football that you kept in your room. Your high school ring. And a Snickers bar. Your favorite.”
Grant rummaged in the knapsack again for a Phillips screwdriver, then went to work on the screws that held the lid down.
He carefully set them on the velvet-topped table before closing his eyes for a moment and saying a prayer for strength.
Steeling himself, he lifted the lid with a jerk and looked down into the coffin. A gasp escaped his lips as he struggled to understand the horror of what he was seeing.
Mack’s body was not in the coffin.
Not Mack or anybody else.
Nestled in the silk padding was a featureless man-sized prosthetic
in place of his brother’s remains. Like a department store dummy, only it must have been a lot heavier, since it had to make up the mass of a physically fit, full-grown man.
Emotions smashed through Grant in quick succession like interior shotgun blasts as he struggled to come to grips with the implications.
Shock. Then relief. Then a hundred questions. Was his brother alive—and somewhere else? And if so, where?
That was followed by worry and fear. If he was alive, what had happened to him?
In the end, Grant was left with stone-cold fury as he pulled out his cell phone and took a picture of the lifeless hulk that mocked him in the coffin. Hardly able to keep his hand steady, he mailed the picture to his computer, then to cloud storage.
What the hell was going on here, and where was his brother?
If Mack wasn’t at the Winston Funeral Home, where the hell was he? And why?
He lowered the lid of the coffin but didn’t bother screwing it down, then closed his eyes, feeling like a fool yet desperate enough to try the old trick he and his twin had shared.
“Mack,” he whispered. “Can you hear me Mack?” He kept projecting the message, but there was no answer, and finally he gave up.
Well, gave up on the attempt at mental contact—but not on finding out why his brother’s supposedly mangled body had been replaced by a faceless dummy.
The moment Mack Bradley woke, he knew something was very wrong. At first it was just a kind of free-floating anxiety. A dread he couldn’t identify. But it soon solidified into a more concrete apprehension that sent a shudder skittering over his skin.
Lying very still, he stared at the open wooden-railed canopy above the wide, soft bed. Cautiously he sat up for a better view of the room and saw a writing desk in some English antique style he couldn’t name and a hallway leading to a marble bathroom. Across from the bed was a long, inlaid dresser with a flat-screen TV.
He threw back the covers, swung his legs out of the bed, and noted that he was wearing a navy blue warm-up suit with a white tee shirt under the jacket.
Feeling a little unsteady on his feet, he kept one hand on the bed as he dug his toes into the thick Oriental carpet.
He was in what looked like a very expensive five-star hotel room, not that he’d spent a lot of time in luxury digs.
But he could be on leave. Maybe Dubai or Bangkok? He’d enjoyed R and R in both those locations and splurged on deluxe accommodations. This was the kind of room he’d expect there.
Had he gotten drunk out of his mind last night? And ended up here alone?
Possibly, except that he didn’t remember checking into any hotels. Or dressing in the warm-up suit.
The memory gap made his chest tighten painfully. Wracking his brain, he tried to dredge up the last thing he remembered. From somewhere in the stratosphere, it zinged back to him with gut-churning force.
He’d just dropped a couple of five hundred pounders on some murderous insurgents when a missile had come whistling up his ass.
Now he was
Or was the mission all a nightmare?
No. He remembered dropping the bombs. Remembered the crippled plane. All that was real. Not like this place.
His stomach clenched. Where was he
Heaven? Hell? A hospital?
Was he dead or alive?
He balled his hands into fists, digging his nails into his palms, struggling to ground himself.
He had vague memories of another bed. Narrow. With high sides. A woman taking care of him, speaking to him in a soothing voice, telling him he was safe now. That everything was going to be okay.
He’d opened his eyes and looked at her. Struggled to answer her, but he hadn’t been able to get any words out. Now the scene skittered out of reach. Had
just been a dream?
No. Like the bombing raid, it felt real.
“Calm down,” he muttered aloud partly to hear the sound of his own voice. “You’ll figure this out.”
He flexed his arms and legs, feeling the muscles work, reassured by the physical sensations. Pulling up his tee shirt, he looked down at his abdomen and chest. No injuries as far as he could tell.
Which was good. Right?
In the bathroom, he switched on the light and saw a huge soaking tub, a separate glassed-in shower, a black granite vanity with double bowls and a separate little room for the toilet.
A razor, shaving cream, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste were neatly lined up on the shelf above the sink.
The toothpaste tube was new. So he’d just gotten here, right? Which was why he didn’t remember this place.
But shit, he must have checked in. And he didn’t recall that at all.
He stared at himself in the mirror. Dark hair. Dark eyes. The scar on his chin from when he’d fallen out of a tree when he was eight. He’d been dazed, and Grant had helped him back to the house.
Relief washed over him that he recognized the man who stared back.
But where the hell was he?
His heart began to pound as hard as it had been pounding when he’d pulled the ejection lever on his seat and blasted out into the naked sky. What if ISIS had scooped him up after he’d bailed out?
And then what? They sure as hell wouldn’t have installed him in this palace. Instead he’d be in a dark, dank cell with cockroaches for companions. Not a luxury hotel. Unless they were trying something very tricky? Like that TV series where they convert the guy to Islam.
He was about to fill the glass from the tap to moisten his dry mouth when he saw a bottle of water on the sink. Maybe he’d better use that.
After taking a drink, he said his name aloud.
“Mack Bradley. Lieutenant Commander, US Navy. Born and raised in Cumberland, Maryland. Cumberland High School. Naval Academy. Divorced.”
That last part hurt. He’d been in the Gulf when Ginny had written him to say she couldn’t take the long absences anymore, and she was moving on with her life, with a guy she’d met at work, it turned out.
He rubbed his hand against his chin. No beard stubble. But he didn’t remember shaving.
Repressing a curse, he walked into the dressing area and looked at the neatly hanging clothes, everything from jeans and tee shirts to more dressy sports clothes. Curious about the size, he took down a pair of well-washed jeans. They fit comfortably, and he folded the sweatpants onto the hanger before pulling on a black tee shirt, then a pair of running shoes and socks that were also his size.
Once he was dressed, he looked toward the wall of drapes in the bedroom. When he thought about pulling them aside and taking a look at his surroundings, his stomach clenched into a tight, hot knot. “Jesus. What do you think?” he muttered to himself since he was the only person here. “That you’re going to see smoking pools of brimstone?”
Or maybe a psychiatrist on the balcony who would explain that he was in a high class mental hospital, and he wasn’t getting out any time soon.
Teeth clenched, he pulled the heavy fabric aside and peered out onto a lush green lawn bordered by beds of tropical foliage. Magenta bougainvillea climbed up a high stucco wall bordering a forest. From his vantage point, it seemed that he was on the second floor of a two-story building. Perpendicular to his room, he saw another wing of the hotel.
The peaceful scene was reassuring, until he noticed that nothing was moving out there. Not a person. Not a bird. Not an insect.
When he snatched up the phone on the bedside table, he heard no dial tone. But there had to be someone at the desk downstairs. Someone who could tell him where he was. Except that he was going to feel like an idiot getting into that kind of conversation. Perhaps it was better to play it cool, scout around, and see what he could find out.
Before exiting the bedroom, he looked toward the television set. There was a remote lying under it, and he picked it up and pressed the power button. He got a menu with movies, games, TV. There was a large selection of all three, but he found no live television—only prerecorded shows. If he was bored, he could watch some of this stuff, but he wanted reality, not canned programing.
He turned off the set again and walked down a short hall into a living room furnished in the same opulent style as the bedroom. His keycard was in a slot by the door.
The plastic rectangle had a red and gold design of scrollwork and arches that looked vaguely Middle Eastern—or Indian—but there was no hotel name.
After pocketing the card, he stepped into the hall. No brimstone. Only a long runner of Oriental carpet over polished wood at the sides of the hall, and striped paper on the walls.
He was in room 222.
After noting the number, he hurried to a wide marble staircase which led to a lobby furnished with groups of comfortable couches and chairs.
All very tasteful and very expensive. A stage set with no people.
And when he tried to turn on a computer on the check-in desk, nothing happened.
He thought about cupping his hand around his mouth and calling out, “Anybody here?” Or maybe, “where the hell is everybody?”
But that could be dangerous.
Christ, what if terrorists had taken over the hotel? They’d killed everybody in sight, and they were waiting for the next victim to show up.
But if they’d done it, the attack had been totally silent. Besides, he saw no bodies. No blood. No signs of a struggle like overturned chairs and tables or broken knickknacks on the floor.
He was heading across the lobby when a muffled scream made him stop and reverse directions.