“A Special Agent McLane. I didn’t catch the first name, but Robin and Lilian seemed very comfortable with her, so that’s good if she’s gonna be around twenty-four seven. Seems sharp and levelheaded. Ever heard of her?”
“No. Want me to ask?”
“Yes. See what her reputation is. I’d like to know who’s living in the same house with my kid.”
“How’s Jake holding up?”
“Shitty. He’s pretty attached to Henley. Makes me feel like an ass that I barely even know who the girl is.”
“Of course he’s attached. She’s his little sister. Doesn’t matter that they’re not blood. I’m sure they spent a lot of time together.”
“He’s upset that Christmas is next week.”
“They’ll find her before that.”
Silence stretched out between them. Both men knew there were no guarantees that Henley would be home before Christmas. As the hours slipped by, her chances of coming home grew thinner. Ray looked at the dog on the rug. A soft, doggy snore was audible.
“You should keep the dog,” Ray said. “Looks like he’s chosen you anyway. They say it’s healthy to have a pet around. It’s good to have something to take care of, you know?”
“Yeah? Well, who’s gonna watch him while I’m gone?” Mason looked expectantly at Ray.
Ray backed up a step. “I can’t take him home with me. Jill’s allergic.”
Mason sighed and looked at the dog. “I’ll put something on the porch for him to sleep in and move his bowls out there. My neighbor can dump some food in it. We’ll see if he sticks around.”
The dog raised his head, looked at Mason, and thumped his tail.
“Looks like you have a new family member,” stated Ray. “About time.”
8 HOURS MISSING
Ava showed her ID to the Clackamas County deputy standing watch at the church entrance. She was pleased that he looked hard at her picture and her face before letting her in. “Follow the hallway to your right. You’ll find the room by all the voices,” he told her.
She stepped inside the building and was greeted by the sight of four-dozen poinsettias in different shades of red. It was one of those megachurches that felt almost like a huge school instead of a house of worship. It definitely didn’t feel like the ornate Catholic church she’d attended as a child. She hadn’t set foot in a church in twenty years except to attend weddings, and a bit of guilt flowed through her. It almost felt wrong that the command post had been set up in a house of God, but maybe it would bring some divine guidance to their search.
She turned to the right and followed the hum of voices. Outside, the parking lot was full of police vehicles from local and federal agencies. This case wasn’t going to suffer from a lack of manpower. Her stomach twisted a bit in excitement. The thrill of the hunt. The FBI at full throttle was a beautiful sight.
And she got to sit in the house with the family and hold their hands.
Part of her was flattered that Ben had chosen her to stand in for the FBI’s pregnant victim specialist, but another part ached to pound the pavement with the rest of the team. She’d dropped Lilian off at the Fairbanks house, checked in to see if anyone needed anything, and told them she’d be back in an hour. She wanted to see the command center and remind the other agents that she was still part of the case. In the Fairbanks home, she’d be out of sight and out of mind. She didn’t want the agency to overlook any contribution they knew she could bring.
The hum of voices grew louder, and she stopped at the door to a giant multipurpose room. Long tables and folding chairs filled the room. Computer monitors dotted the tables every few feet along with miles of dangling computer cords. Agents were seated in front of half of the computers while techs continued to wire the rest of the monitors and equipment. One wall of the room had three huge whiteboards. On one of them, someone had started the timeline. The timeline board was a key element of their investigation. Every incident was noted with its time. Stepping closer she could read “left home for the bus” and the timing of the school’s first, second, and third parent notifications among the dozen markers.
Blown-up pictures of Henley and her family were posted with tags stating each person’s name and age. Ava mentally called it the player board, since it identified each person involved in the case. She noticed that photos of teachers from Henley’s school and the bus driver had been added beside the family photos.
Maps of the city and neighborhood were posted next to the photos. Red and green pins with flags indicated something that Ava wasn’t privy to. Yet. She scanned further and studied the start of the lead-management chart. It documented the leads spilling in from the public and to whom they were assigned for follow-up. It had over a hundred and fifty entries already.
She turned back to the room. Someone had created paper signs indicating the area of interest assigned to each group of computers: school, neighbors, media, and police. Ava knew that was just the beginning.
A plainclothes policeman leaning over the shoulder of one of the Clackamas County deputies at the police table turned toward her, and she recognized Robin Fairbanks’s ex-husband, the Oregon State Police detective, Mason Callahan. Shrewd brown eyes met hers, and he nodded in recognition. She noticed he had a cowboy hat in one hand and wondered if he would have tipped his hat at her if it’d been on his head. Few people could get away with dressing like that in the suburbs of Portland, but this man made it work. Something about him was extremely old-fashioned, but in a good way. It wasn’t the cowboy boots and hat. It was the man himself. He put out a no nonsense aura, and she got the feeling that he wouldn’t be afraid to use his fists or boots in a physical fight. He studied the world around him with a calm look, as if he had seen it all and could size up a situation in a matter of seconds.