Elizabeth Lowell

The Wrong Hostage





LANE FRANKLIN TOLD HIMSELF that he shouldn’t freak out.

Most fifteen-year-olds would be high-fiving all over the place if they got to spend the summer in Ensenada. Beaches, bims, beer. Life didn’t get any better.

Not that All Saints School was exactly in Ensenada’s fast lane. Despite the sultry summer heat, no girls wearing butt-floss bikinis were shaking it on the school’s beautiful, very private beach. But his cottage was first class and the soccer field was awesome, and with the window open he could hear the surf that broke on the western edge of the campus.

With its scattered four-bedroom cottages, apartments for teachers, dorms for less wealthy students, and a small library/recreation center, All Saints looked like a high-end resort.

It wasn’t.

It was a church school where spoiled kids learned how to take orders, how to sit up straight, how to study, and how to be respectful.


I had it coming. What I did was a crime.

Even if it didn’t seem like it at the time.

Just a little finger time with his nifty new computer and his F’s turned into B’s in the school’s central computer. Too bad he got caught, and way too bad that his father suddenly decided he’d hang around long enough to see Lane registered in a more structured international boarding school.

At least they hadn’t caught him when he’d hacked into a military computer, or that bank, and five or six other sacred cows. Once he got inside, he hadn’t done anything except enjoy getting away with it.

Then he’d had the bright idea of changing his grades so his mother wouldn’t be upset at a row of D’s and F’s.

Everything’s okay.

I’ve done six months. I can do two more.

So what if his roommates had all moved out three weeks ago. He liked the silence and he didn’t have to hide his computer.

So what if the school had enrolled some thugs to play soccer a few weeks ago. So what if the guys looked more like twenty-six than sixteen. So what if they targeted him every time he was on the field. He was quicker and a whole lot smarter than they were.

Lane looked at his watch. Soccer practice would begin in a few hours. Until then he’d do homework. Afterward he’d play games on the computer his mother had smuggled past the school’s tight-assed headmaster a few weeks ago.

He still didn’t know why they said he couldn’t have access to a computer. He hadn’t done anything wrong, but suddenly he didn’t have phone privileges and couldn’t use the library computer. All he could do was write letters.

Like snail mail isn’t really lame.

At least Lane didn’t have to worry about anyone discovering the forbidden computer. Each student cleaned his own quarters and his own clothes and some even did dishes for the whole school.

It would have been awesome to have an Internet connection, but short of breaking into the school offices…

Don’t even think about it.

Don’t give Dad another chance to push Mom into keeping me here. I haven’t had a single black mark in four months.

After his roommates left, he didn’t have friends to talk to, but that was okay. He was used to being alone. When he’d first come to All Saints, the only Spanish he’d known had gotten him black marks for saying it aloud. Some of the kids spoke English, some spoke Chinese or Japanese or French, but most spoke Spanish with various geographical accents he was beginning to be able to separate. He’d always been good with languages, but they bored him.

Now that he had a good reason to learn one, he was a whole lot more fluent than anyone guessed. But none of what he overheard made him feel better.

The last three weeks had really sucked. His telephone didn’t work. When he asked for someone to fix it, nothing happened. When he asked one of his teachers if he could use hers to call home, she backed away like he’d suggested sex on the desk.

That was the day the two badasses swaggered onto the soccer field and stared at him, silently telling him that he was number one on their hit list.

Something had happened three weeks ago.

Lane didn’t know what it was, he didn’t know what had caused it. All he knew was that he’d gone from being a student to something else.

Something that felt like a prisoner.

So what? I’ve held my own with those two pendejos for twenty-one days. I’m nailing my classes. My room is always clean and neat. The teachers like me.

Or they did until three weeks ago.

When Mom comes to visit, I’ll just casually ask her if Dad has changed his mind and maybe I could come home for a week. Or a few days.

Even one day.

Just a few hours.

Because once I’m across that border, I’m never coming back. I’ll live on the streets if I have to.

Lane listened to the relentless surf and told himself that the waves weren’t whispering, prisoner…prisoner…prisoner…

But even that hissing chant was better than remembering the voices of the two thugs as they tripped him, elbowed him, kicked him: You’re ours, pato. You’re dead meat. We’re going to sneak into your room, cut off your balls, and make you eat them.

Lane shut out the sound of the surf and the voices in his memory.

I’m not a prisoner.

I’m not scared.





THE PHONE RANG FOUR times before Judge Grace Silva pulled her head out of the legal documents she was reviewing.

Maybe it’s Ted.


It had been years since she’d cared about her husband-newly ex-husband-in any way but as the father of her child. And if there was a persistent personal sadness that she’d failed in marriage, well, she’d just have to live with it. She’d worked hard to make the divorce and all the legalities entailed as civilized and adult as possible.

For Lane.

But she was real tired of getting calls at all times of the day and night asking for Theodore Franklin. Just because he’d kept his legal address as the beach home they’d once shared didn’t mean he actually lived with her.

“Hello,” Grace said.

“Ah, senora,” said a man’s voice. “This is Carlos Calderon. I would like to speak to your husband.”

Grace didn’t bother to point out that Franklin was her ex. If Calderon wasn’t close enough to Ted to know about the divorce, she had no reason to announce it.

“Ted isn’t here,” she said briskly. And he hasn’t been here in three weeks, which you damn well should know because you or one of your employees has called every day. “Have you tried his Wilshire office, his cell phone, and his Malibu condo?” Or his bimbo mistress?

Si, yes, many times.”

“Is it something I can help you with?”

Grace expected the same answer she’d gotten for the past three weeks-a polite thanks but no thanks.

Instead Calderon sighed and said, “Judge Silva, I am afraid you must come to Ensenada immediately.”

Her hand tightened on the phone. As a judge, she was accustomed to giving rather than taking orders. “Excuse me?”

“It is your son, Lane.”

“What’s wrong?” she asked quickly. “Is he in trouble? He’s been so good for the-”

“It is not something to be discussed over the telephone. I will see you in two hours.”

“What’s wrong?” she demanded.

“Good-bye, Judge Silva.”

“Wait,” she said. “Give me four hours. I don’t know what traffic will be like at the border.”

“Three hours.”

The phone went dead.




GRACE BARELY REACHED THE border by the deadline. Traffic had been heavier than usual, which meant six lanes of stop-and-slow on southbound interstates. The good news was that the Mexican customs officials were waving people through as fast as they could. They might hate Americans, but they loved the Yankee dollar. The only cars the officials stopped held women worth staring at twice.

The customs official in Grace’s lane looked half asleep behind his two-hundred-dollar Ray-Bans. With a practiced, languid gesture he started to wave her dark green Mercedes SUV through the checkpoint. Then he saw her through the open driver’s window. He leaned forward, hand raised in a signal for her to stop.

The same thing had happened to a convertible three cars ahead of Grace and one lane over. That one had held two California blondes out for a little sin and excitement south of the border.

“Good morning, senorita,” he said with a smile just short of a leer. Despite the polite words, his glance never got above her breasts. “And where in my beautiful Mexico are you going?”

Anger snaked through Grace, a welcome vent for the anxiety about Lane that made her shoulders and jaw tight. As a teenager, she’d put up with enough macho male crap to last her a lifetime. She really wanted to teach this border cowboy some manners, but it would take more time than it was worth.

Her grandmother Marta had taught her when to fight and when to duck.

You must come to Ensenada immediately.