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My Emerald Jungle: Because There's No Place Like Home
My Emerald Jungle: Because There's No Place Like Home
My Emerald Jungle: Because There's No Place Like Home
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My Emerald Jungle: Because There's No Place Like Home

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Wow! I've just had my daughter, Haley, and her old high school sweetheart, Steve, kidnapped. If anybody deserves a second chance at romance, it's those two. And there's nothing like a little scare and adventure to bring people together.


But something terrible has happened. Haley and Steve never arrived at the secluded island near Puerto Rico. Instead, they're somewhere in Colombia, in the jungle, being held by human traffickers.


I'm afraid for my daughter's safety; but I know she's in Steve's very strong and capable hands.


Or is it the other way around?

Release dateOct 2, 2021
My Emerald Jungle: Because There's No Place Like Home
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    My Emerald Jungle - Adler Stephens

    Chapter 1 - Laura Frazier

    I’m really going to do this, and nothing is going to stop me. It’s barely eight o’clock in the morning, and I’m being swept off my feet by the thrill of adventure – something risky and daring, something involving the kidnapping of my daughter and the man she hates with a passion. Wow! I feel like colored sprinkles on a chocolate donut!

    It’s shaping up to be a terrible Monday morning at the office when tired people drag themselves off the elevators and out of stairwells and plop down in their chairs after enjoying a restful weekend at home and find themselves back at the office wearing their comfortably fancy suits and dresses, picking up where they left off on Friday because, after all, the work comes first here at Frazier Cosmetics.

    Don’t get me wrong. My daughter Haley’s employees are model employees, every one of them. In fact, they’re small imitations of the boss, hand-chosen by the boss herself. Driven, punctual, and efficient, these people can multitask, or get fired trying. Wonderful people, every single one of them. They’re all parts of a well-oiled machine, is the compliment my daughter pays them when she gets the chance.

    But Haley forgets that gears wear out. And I don’t like it when people wear out, especially those who run my business.

    I’d like to stop right here in the middle of the office and ask for volunteers to join me on my adventure. How many of you would like to help me arrange the kidnapping of Haley Frazier? How would you like to see a girl who lives by the clock get so far behind she thinks she’s stepped back in time? I know I’d see nods and smiles all around, shouts of Yeah! and That’s what I’m talking about! I mean, who doesn’t like – and need – a good diversion?

    I’ve lived, and I’ve seen everything except the inside of a prison. So, this little idea of mine – I still can’t believe I’m doing this – might be the thing that gets arrest and conviction crossed off my bucket list. At first, I shooed away this idea of kidnapping Haley like I would a pesky housefly, until I recognized it as a butterfly gracing my vision.

    Marcus Powers, my fiancé, likes the idea of kidnapping Haley and her old high school sweetheart, his son, Steve, and putting them into danger so they’ll get back together again. He says I owe it to those two kids for what I did to them however many years ago. You see, I’m not the only one who frets about Haley and Steve’s unfinished romantic business, about the what-might-have-beens, the regrets; about wedding bells not rung, rice not thrown, romantic walks on the beach not taken; about a family never established, and rambunctious grandkids – his and mine – never born.

    Marcus and I think alike. We see the world as a series of mishaps waiting to be set right, a place of brokenness waiting for people like us who’ve been blessed with the right kind of glue to help put it all back together again. And Steve and Haley need an awful lot of glue.

    It’s full steam ahead, then, I said to Marcus, but I’m going to need your help.

    I’ll be with you every step of the way, he said, and he’s been true to his word.

    Timing is everything, and this is the ideal time for a kidnapping. Haley, my daughter, has gotten herself into a legal mess with Steve, her old high school flame. But Marcus and I have resolved the matter nicely because Frazier Cosmetics just signed a very lucrative security contract with Steve’s business, Powers Security. Steve Powers, Marcus’s son, will not be suing Haley in court for what she did to him. Thank God for that.

    It was some homeless guy we caught on camera doing his business on the cars in a parking garage, and we just deepfaked Steve’s face onto the Garage Bomber’s body, Haley told me. I mean, I asked Charles Ray to do one deepfake and put it on Facebook. But what does he do? He ends up putting ten other videos of the Garage Bomber – wearing Steve’s face – relieving himself on several police cars and a Mercedes, too. I never intended for it to go that far.

    I try arriving at some definition for the word far, ruminating over how, in my daughter’s world, not far could be anything remotely close to deepfaking her old high school boyfriend’s face onto the body of a man committing a single crime, but far being deepfaking his face onto the same man committing multiple crimes in other parking garages. No doubt, for Haley, for example, putting an ad on Craig’s List stating that Steve wanted someone to remove his landscaping while he was gone on a business trip was not far. Nor did she have a problem hiring a prostitute to arrive at Steve’s office and tell the secretary, and everyone else in the office, that Steve’s tab needed some attention before their next throw.

    And I’m sure Haley hates the pranks Steve pulls on her, things Steve would tell you are perfectly harmless, too. I smile as I watch those two go at it. After twelve years, Haley and Steve still have a love they believe worth fighting for.

    I always get a thrill walking through the office of my husband’s business, which he started so many years ago and left to Haley and me when he died; and it makes me proud knowing it is stronger and more profitable these last three years. The line of cosmetics we design, manufacture, and sell are topnotch, better than before, thanks to Haley’s drive and creative management abilities.

    Our company, Frazier Cosmetics, is Haley’s life. I cringe when I hear her say those very words, especially when she jokes about having no real social life because, in her own words, she eats, drinks, and breathes this place. But I see all too clearly that my baby’s got it backwards: her job is devouring her like a famished T-Rex from Jurassic Park. I tell her she works harder than her father did when he started the company and what it took to get him to slow down. I’ll have to admit that, when Harry, thinking he was on his way to an important business meeting in New York, touched down in Tahiti to find me waiting on the tarmac wearing a one-ounce bikini and holding two Margueritas, he got the picture.

    But Haley’s blind. She has yet to see herself in a real mirror and grasp what her life really looks like. That she’s traded away the family she’s always wanted for an inanimate, money-making machine that’s using her blood like oil.

    I’m about to change all that.

    And that gives you a not-so-pretty picture of where Haley is: she’s passing through the alimentary canal of a dinosaur, chewed up and broken, heading for the business end of the beast. It’s going to be up to me to pry that monster’s jaws open, reach in, and pull her out before her life comes out the other end looking like a pile of you-know-what.

    A woman wearing expired perfume and too much makeup stops me in the office. She bubbles as she tells me how she loves the new Dance With Me line of products, and how she thinks Haley favors me, except that I’m not wearing too much makeup for someone my age. I take her words as a compliment – always expect the best in people – and smile and hold my breath. But I won’t ask her if she’s moonlighting as a waitress at the International House of Pancake Makeup, either. I’m Laura Frazier. Everybody here knows me, and I know them. So, I smile and whisper to her that she has a very pretty face, which she does, and I tell her she would be much more attractive with less product on her face because guys these days actually like seeing what they’re getting. I recommend a few products from the Dance With Me line – a soft, woodsy eye shadow because this woman’s an autumn, a complimentary foundation, an appropriate highlighter, yada, yada, yada. She’s all smiles when I tell her she’s much too young and beautiful to hide behind so much makeup; that, when she gets my age, she might need a bit more, but not much. She takes a deep breath, sticks her two girls out, and thanks me. She hurries away with a bounce in her step.

    It pays to be honest, something that’s hard to do with Haley at the moment. Why? Because she hides behind makeup, too. And it’s work shoveling through it.

    Then, holy cow, just as I’m about to reach for the knob on Haley’s office, the door to the conference room swings open and slams against the wall with enough force to shake the entire floor.

    Haley storms into the hall, sees me, and stops.

    Dazzline Clark, Haley’s personal assistant – and handler – is on her in a second, taking her arm gently. It’s not a biggie, Haley. We’ve got this. They’ll make the deadline or –

    Or we’ll all be... dead! Haley says through clenched teeth. If we don’t get that shipment out by the end of the week, we’ll lose our position in that market!

    Yep. I’m not a minute too soon to see the first stage of my plan up and running. Thanks to Dazzline, who’s in on this, I managed to make it look like the entire Dance With Me order for Puerto Rico got held up because of paperwork.

    I miss my laid-back little girl, a girl who never seemed to be in a rush about anything until I blackmailed Steve Powers, her grade school friend and high school sweetheart, to leave town and my daughter’s life. I’m pierced afresh by the thought, a hot familiar blade plunging through my heart. Even Marcus, Steve’s father and my wonderful fiancé, tells me I did what every principal of a prestigious college prep school should have done. Of course, he’s thankful I didn’t file charges against his son, which would have embarassed Ft. Lauderdale’s rich and famous club, not to mention Plantation College Preparatory School. But, at the time, the idea of my daughter dating a guy who had a knack for hacking into school computers and fixing students’ grades, all because their wealthy parents wanted their lazy, spoiled, good-for-nothing kids attending great colleges – well, I did what any concerned parent would have done: I gave Steve a choice. I told him to disappear or go to jail. Before he left, I handed him a letter purporting to be from Haley. After that, Steve would have no reason to look back.

    Wow. I can feel the darkness all over again. But all I can do now is brush it away with all of my doubts and get to work raising the curtains.

    Some of Haley’s peeps are on the way out of the conference room, huddled up in pairs and trios, shaking their heads, talking business. I can hear Jack Ingram, head of research and development, booming at someone in the conference room while someone else gives it right back to him. So far, everyone believes there’s a problem in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

    Yes, I’m really that good.

    My eyes are resting on Haley, and I’m content to wait for this phase of my little game to play out. She’s truly beautiful – tall, but not overly so if you take off the stilettos, she has wavy brown hair and, oh my, those eyes. I’ve seen men at the office so transfixed by those cool, greenish-blue peacocks that they’d been struck mute – which is probably why they never resign from the company, in spite of the hectic pace forced on them by the boss.

    But there’s something else I pick up about my daughter, too, something about the way she’s looking at Dazzline. She’s not looking at her, she’s looking past her.

    Straight at me.

    I know that look, and it breaks my heart even more. I manage an I’m sorry, Sweetie smile, remembering Haley as the small child who, after a long weekend at Disneyworld, simply wanted to go home and climb into her own bed with her teddy bear, and her Beany Baby snake and Parrot.

    It doesn’t take me long before I feel myself tuning up for a good cry. I’m bad like that, you know, with eyes that well up easily when I see pain and suffering. But it kills me seeing her turn into what I saved her father from becoming. I reeled Harry back in when he was her age, and it was one hell of a fight, too. But, so far, everything is working out: Haley’s taken the bait, and she’s going to be fine. I’m sure of it.

    I want to see you, Sweetie, my eyes and posture say.

    Dazzline, the girl I hired to be Haley’s personal assistant, knows why I’m here. She’s in on the kidnapping which, by the way, carries a price tag of several hundred thousand dollars. She’s wrapping up the conversation with Haley but gets brushed aside by Peter Downs, the tall, lanky marketing director who can’t figure out why millions of dollars’ worth of product is still sitting in a warehouse in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, which it isn’t, actually, and why the local distributor refuses to let it out the door, which he has. That little mishap in the paperwork, by the way, cost me fifty thousand dollars.

    Haley’s getting herself in a wad – and then she purses her lips and shakes her head, the precursor of a really good tongue-lashing that everyone in the office will be privy to. She doesn’t go through with it, thank God, and that’s a rare moment for her. Instead, she closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and lets it out, like she’s doing anger Lamaze before giving birth to Satan’s child – then she interlaces her fingers and puts them under her chin. She tells Peter Downs she’s not angry with him or the marketing team. But that’s a lie, something I underscore with raised eyebrows when she glances my way. She knows I know she’s lying.

    Well, your mom’s here, so you let me handle this, Dazzline says, pushing Peter Downs aside. I’ve got this. Just let me have this for once, Haley, okay?

    Goodness gracious. Dazzline knows Haley’s the worst kind of micromanager. She knows Haley isn’t going to let anything slip past her without an invasive anal exam. Haley, angrier by the second, waves Dazzline away and, in the same motion, waves me toward her examination room – I mean, her office.

    And then Peter Downs, not easily brushed aside by a personal assistant, throws a little gas on the fire, the fire being my daughter. He looks at Dazzline, then back at Haley, and says, I’m sorry. But are you going to let this nanny of yours try to unravel this mess? I mean, that’s a huge step up for her, right? From coffee girl to marketing genius?

    I shake my head.

    Haley morphs into a cold, steel hand grenade.

    And Peter’s just pulled the pin.

    Haley’s eyes lock onto Peter’s, and she flashes him a smile that contains every word in the book for men who overstep their bounds for the last time. Okay, Peter. And where did you get this idea that Miss Clark is my nanny whose sole job is to serve coffee? You can just consider yourself –

    The janitor for the day, I say, before Haley can fire an exceptionally fine marketing director whose only weakness is saying what’s on his mind, a very necessary trait for a man in his position. Besides, this little product distribution mirage in Puerto Rico is really my doing.

    I look at Peter Downs, the man Harry hired twenty-three years ago, and tell him to start with the bottom floor restrooms and work his way up. He knows the drill. Every executive at Frazier’s Cosmetics gets to clean the restrooms at least once in their lives, something Harry believed was good for the soul. Somewhere along the way, though, Peter Downs had been denied the joy of that particular job. Maybe that was because he was Harry’s best friend.

    That’s over. Peter rolls his eyes and walks away. Dazzline offers me a knowing wink and a smile, and she’s off to put some finishing touches on the little crime she and I, and a few others, have put into gear. The marketing team members are heading to their offices, the crowd is thinning out.

    So, I put my arm in Haley’s and lead her to her office like I led her to her room when she was small.

    Haley’s got a bit of smile on her face, probably because she’s glad I was standing in the hall watching over her. Her color looks good, and her brown hair, perfectly highlighted, curls around her face, framing it like the beautiful princess she is.

    Haley may be the CEO of our company, and famous, but she never comes off as the rich mogul people expect her to be. Even Peter Downs once told me Haley was the kind of girl who could slap you, but you’d still love her. He can say that because he knows there’s a whole lot more to Haley than just an overworked business woman. And to think Haley nearly fired him.

    I walk Haley into her office and offer her one of the two matching leather chairs facing the desk, the one nearest the Kentia palm she loves so much. I grab the other chair and turn it to face hers and sit down.

    Haley pauses, then she sits, putting her face in her hands. How did you know I was going to send Peter to do the restrooms?

    I thought you were going to fire him.

    Haley looks up and smiles, but it’s not a real smile. She knows I know that she’s miserable, loving her dad’s company; hating it at the same time, wishing she’d been a nurse. For every light, there is darkness, is what her dad always told her. For every fortune made, there are hearts unmade.

    I reach out and take her hand. My thirty-year-old girl is wonderful and talented and beautiful beyond imagining. She never planned being alone at this age, and I know I’m to blame for it. God knows how many nights I’ve cried for what I did to her and Steve, and how many prayers I’ve uttered in secret asking God to show me a way through this whole terrible mess. Last year, when Marcus, Steve’s dad, and I started seeing each other, something Haley and Steve know nothing about, I decided to get into gear and get these two kids making out again on the front porch swing.

    Or, better, in the backseat of the Buick.

    Haley looks at me and nods. This whole goof up with the new contract in Puerto Rico is all my fault. I should have –

    Like hell it is, I say, and that makes her do a double take. I never use bad language, never. But I need to make an impression. The new contract is perfect, Sweetie. I’ve seen it.

    You know our cosmetics haven’t made it into the stores in Puerto Rico – and we’re nearing crunch time for the new product launch.

    Actually, our products are doing just fine. The only thing I can think of is corruption. Not a lie by any stretch of the imagination, not when it comes to Puerto Rico. You can smell the swamp when the plane lands on the runway – or when you read the travel brochures.

    I’m sorry, Mom. What did you say?

    Oh, you know, we probably didn’t grease enough palms down there in San Juan. We’re supposed to do that, you know, technically. Our export lines are priced to cover those... eventualities. Only we don’t ever really bribe anyone. Our exporter usually handles those issues – which we know nothing about. Not really.


    I kiss her hand and pat it gently. Everything’s going to be fine, I say. And – surprise, surprise! – I’m setting you up with Raul Calderon. You remember him, right? From school? He’s the guy to fix this.

    Who? Raul Calderon? The kid who used to swear in Spanish all the time?

    Raul, bless his heart, has little to do with any of this. He just fabricated some paperwork and paid off a few officials to give this little charade of mine some legs. He’s in the Department of Commerce – richer than a bowl full of Nutella and just as tacky and sweet, really. Never mind that he moonlights as an exotic dancer in Old San Juan.

    Haley laughs. She always does when she sees a light at the end of a tunnel. When do I call him?

    I sit for an overlong moment, looking into her eyes, trying to guess what she’s going to say and how she’s going to react when I tell her the next bit of news. I’m bursting with excitement as I watch my brilliant plan unfolding. Of course, I can’t force her into taking the next step, but here it goes.


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