With an investigator’s eye, Ava studied the man who was going to be her housemate for as long as it took to bring Henley home. She’d noticed in their brief meeting that his eyes rarely reflected surprise, something she’d seen in FBI agents who’d spent years on the job. The job sucked something out of a person, and often it was the part of a person that experienced shock.
In the right person, it was replaced with confidence and logical thinking. In the wrong person, it could be replaced with addiction and burnout. It took a truly evil event to shock even her these days. She crossed her fingers that this case would not turn out that way.
In her brief meeting with Mason Callahan, she’d seen the right things and heard the right things from the people who knew him. But she knew better than to make snap decisions about a person. She’d reserve judgment for later. She’d interviewed too many pathological liars and pretenders. She’d even grown up with one.
Her personal cell buzzed in her pocket. She pulled it out.
Speak of the devil.
She let her sister’s call go to voice mail. If it was urgent, Jayne would send a text, knowing Ava was slow to listen to personal voice mails.
Ava and Jayne had wildly different interpretations of “urgent.”
No one seemed to have noticed her besides Callahan. She walked slowly past the boards, eyeing the operation in its infancy. Sanford, the agent Ben Duncan had put in charge of setting up the center, was in his element. He was deep in discussion with two special agents and a Clackamas County deputy, writing furiously in a notepad and pointing at two banks of unused computers. Ava wrinkled her nose as the scent of salami reached it. To one side was the cornerstone of any operation: food. Three coffee urns, two deli meat-and-cheese trays, and four huge packs of bottled water sat on a long table with several pink boxes of donuts.
Her stomach churned. She couldn’t eat processed food. The lining of her stomach didn’t allow for it. She swore her brain also functioned better when she ate simpler. Her weakness was pizza, and she paid the price for two days when she indulged.
She approached Special Agent Sanford and his group. He glanced up and nodded at her. “Hey, Ava.” Her spine relaxed a degree. He’d forgiven her for taking his interviewing position in the home. He probably thought she’d caught a shit assignment of staying with the family while he would be in the center of the action.
Her chin lifted a notch. Sanford could never do her current assignment.
“You need to get some decent food in here, Sanford,” she said. “Or you’re going to have a team with severe headaches. Get some fresh fruit and salads. Ask the deli to bring in some protein that hasn’t been processed and loaded with salt and chemicals.”
His eyes narrowed briefly. She knew he didn’t order the food, but she felt like getting under his skin a bit. And if she had been assigned to the command center, she’d want a healthier selection. One of the agents chimed in. “Good point. I’m trying to eat Paleo these days. Keeps the brain focused.” He caught a glare from Sanford.
Ava bit back a smile and kept walking. She found herself drawn to the computer bank where Callahan and the Clackamas County deputy were in deep discussion about the report on the monitor, a city map with a few highlighted spots. She moved closer and her stomach clenched. Sex offenders.
She stopped and stared at their screen, her focus zooming in on the Fairbankses’ location. Two dots appeared on homes in the same neighborhood. She exhaled. No doubt those were the first homes where Ben Duncan had ordered agents to knock on doors. Callahan looked up and met her gaze.
“Both offenders were home when Clackamas County knocked earlier today,” he said. “They even agreed to a search. Nothing turned up. They’ve expanded the search and even sent special agents back to these two homes for a second visit already.”
“Good.” Ava memorized the location of both homes. She’d drive by on her way back to the Fairbanks house. Daily. She’d jog or drive by daily. Real slow.
“We’re lucky this didn’t happen in another part of Portland. In some neighborhoods, you’d see a dozen dots in a single block,” he added.
She noticed Callahan’s expression was carefully blank. No doubt he’d had his share of sex offender cases. Two agents strode into the command center and made a beeline for the grouping of computers next to Ava and Callahan. Tension radiated from the two men, and every head in the center turned to look as if they’d been expected. Uneasiness spread through the room. Ava scanned the curious faces watching the agents and decided to step away to give them some space. Already, other agents were moving toward the other men.
“Would you like a cup of coffee, Detective Callahan?” she offered. Now was as good a time as any to get some insight on the rest of the family. The blended Fairbanks family couldn’t be as cheery as they projected, right? If she was going to spend time with them, she wanted every bit of information she could get. The investigation would look at the family first. Possibly, she’d see something in the house that wouldn’t come across in a formal interview. She liked the parents; she hoped none of them were involved. But until the FBI cleared them . . .
Callahan held her gaze for two seconds. “I’ll pass on the coffee, but I’ll take a bottled water and maybe a donut.”
She smiled and jerked her head at the table of preservatives. Callahan excused himself from the deputy, who simply nodded, not looking away from his screen of dots.
Mason followed Special Agent McLane in the direction of the food. He was starving. He hated to raid their food since he wasn’t part of the official team, but he figured they wouldn’t miss one donut. Besides, the pastries turned into rocks if they weren’t eaten right away. Hopefully they had a maple donut topped with bacon from Voodoo Donuts. That would be as good as a real meal; it had protein.