Once she got to Galveston, Janice drove directly to the aquarium. Rather than go through the public aquarium entrance, she went to the entrance in back where Katherine would go in. She spoke to the guard at the reception desk.
“May I speak to Audra Burns, please?”
“I’m sorry ma’am, but Ms. Burns is away on business. Is there someone else I can get for you?”
“Well, you see, my daughter Katherine used to work here and she’s gone missing. I’m trying to talk to her friends to see if they might know where she’s gone. Can I talk to one of the other mermaids? They were all pretty close.”
“I think Nancy is free now. Would you like to talk to her?”
“Nancy? That name’s not familiar. What about Renna or Lacy or Maria?”
“Those three all left the same time as Katherine did.”
“Really? What caused them all to leave?”
“I don’t know. We never did see them much.”
“I guess I’ll talk to Nancy then.”
“I’ll give her a call.”
Janice paced the lobby for a few minutes until a young lady in a wheelchair came through the door. She was wearing one of the older slip-on tails and a sequined gold bikini top. She had blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail and she was chewing gum.
“Mrs. Jackson?” She asked.
“Yes. That’s me. You must be Nancy.”
“Yeah. Nice ta meet ya.”
“Nice to meet you as well. Did you know my daughter Katherine?”
“Fraid not. I hear she was one of the old mermaids?”
“Yes. She’s been working here since the aquarium opened. Do you have any idea why she left?”
“Nope. Mr. Fulton just said there was a dispute and all the old mermaids quit. That’s when I got the job. I’m not sure why they would leave. It’s a fun job.”
“And I always thought Katherine liked it. You say all of the old mermaids left?”
“Yup. Me and the other new girls had to learn on our own. They didn’t even stick around to help train us!”
“Thank you for your help Nancy.”
“No sweat. Hope you find your daughter.”
Janice turned back to the guard. “May I speak to Mr. Fulton?” She asked.
“Let me call his secretary.”
The guard made a call and spoke for a few moments.
“Mr. Fulton is all booked up for today.” He told Janice. “But he has some time free in the morning if you would like to come back tomorrow.”
“Yes I would. What time should I be here?”
“Thank you. I’ll be here at 10:30 tomorrow then. Have a good day.”
Janice found a hotel room for the night and showed up at the aquarium at 10:30 the next morning. A secretary escorted her upstairs to Jonas Fulton’s office, where she was introduced to a handsome man in an expensive suit.
“What can I do for you, Mrs. Jackson?”
“I’m looking for my daughter Katherine. She used to work here as a mermaid and biomedical engineer, but I have been told that she and all the other mermaids quit a short time ago.”
“Unfortunately that’s true. On May 17th they all quit without notice. They left us in quite a bind.”
“Do you know why they quit?”
“No. I only found out afterwards when Ms. Burns sent me an e-mail.”
“Did she tell you what happened?”
“Where is she? Can I call her or send her an e-mail?”
“She’s in South America working to build another aquarium. But I’m afraid she’s in a remote location and doesn’t have phone or e-mail access.”
“That sounds very strange.”
“Sometimes on big projects like this it’s better to keep things under wraps as long as possible. That prevents speculators from buying up the land you’re interested in or from trying to pressure the government for additional taxes and regulations. So she will be incognito for some time.”
“Did Katherine leave a forwarding address or anything when she left? Where do you send her paychecks?”
“Her address wasn’t changed as far as I know. And of course our paychecks are all direct deposit.”
“Do you know anything that might help me?”
“I’m very sorry, but I can’t think of anything. Your daughter is an adult. Maybe she just chose to leave?”
“Not Katherine. She would never leave without telling me. Thank you for your time.”
“If I hear anything about your daughter I’ll be in touch.”
“Good. Thank you.”
Janice returned to her hotel and threw herself on the bed, crying into the pillow for a time. Where could she go next? In time, she remembered Dave Johnson, the policeman who had rescued Katherine before. Perhaps he could help. Janice did not have a phone number, but she remembered he was with a special unit of the Houston police, so she looked up the main number and worked the phone tree until she got connected to his office.
“Dave Johnson here. How can I help you?” He answered.
“Hello Detective. My name is Janice Jackson. You rescued my daughter and her friends from a gang a few months ago.”
“It wasn’t just me. We had a lot of help, including from your daughter and her boyfriend.”
“The reason I am calling you is that my daughter and her husband have gone missing, along with the entire group who were kidnapped before.”
“When was the last time you heard from them?”
“I talked to Katherine on the phone on the 15th, but the people at the aquarium say they last saw them on the 17th.”
“Eleven days. That doesn’t sound good. Can you come to my office? I need to get working on this at once.”
“I’ll be right there.”