“It’s only been two days.” Ava gave an encouraging smile. “There can’t be that much to remember, right? Don’t college kids sleep twenty hours a day anyway?”
“Yes,” Robin said under her breath. “I’ve hardly seen him since he’s been home.”
A heavy door behind Ava opened, and she turned to see Lucas Fairbanks step inside from the garage. Behind him like a silent shadow was the tall, slender form of Special Agent Zander Wells. Lucas looked like he’d been up for thirty-six hours. He had the same puffy eyes as Robin and the sad hunch to his shoulders that Ava was starting to associate with this traumatized family.
Robin stepped into his arms, and Lucas buried his face in her hair, closing his eyes.
“Anything?” Ava heard Robin whisper to him. Lucas shook his head. Robin’s back trembled as fresh sobs filled the kitchen.
Ava met Wells’s gaze. He gave a slight shake of his head.
Nothing earth shattering from the father’s interview.
She watched Jake out of the corner of her eye. He’d turned as his stepfather came into the kitchen and silently watched Lucas embrace his mother. Jake looked like a boy who’d lost his new puppy.
Ava looked from Lucas to the teenager. How was the relationship between the two? Callahan had spoken highly of Fairbanks but hadn’t expanded on his son’s perspective of his stepfather.
Lilian rushed in from the other room with Callahan right on her heels. She slid to a stop as she saw Lucas and Robin’s embrace.
“Henley?” Her voice slid up an octave.
“No news,” Wells answered.
Lilian closed her eyes, and Callahan put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Ava stared at the mother and swallowed hard. Behind the panic on Lilian’s face, and for the briefest second, she’d exposed her heart.
Lilian was still in love with her ex-husband.
How many layers are there to this family?
“Just because he can’t tell you that Henley’s turned up doesn’t mean there’s no news,” said Callahan. “McLane and I got some good insight into some of the work that’s being done.”
The three parents gave him hopeful looks.
“That command center is turning into a hive of worker bees,” Callahan stated. “They’ve already pinpointed and talked to the sex offenders in the area. We reviewed video from the bus and verified with our own eyes that Henley wasn’t on there. McLane found out the video from Lilian’s apartment building shows no sign that Henley went to her place. They already had a preliminary profile drawn up by one of the experts at Quantico who flew in to brief us today.”
One after the other, he held each parent’s gaze. “We’re making progress. We’re going to chip away at every lead until we find her.”
A few hours later, Mason sat in the big family room and stared at the gas fireplace. It was nearly 10 P.M. The mothers had each settled into the couch with a book, but Mason had noticed that Lilian rarely turned the pages, her eyes frequently focusing on the fire instead of her novel. No one spoke of going to bed. The guest room Mason was staying in had been attacked by Hello Kitty. It would be fine for sleeping but not for thinking or pacing. The only chair in the bedroom came up to his knees, and he felt bad every time he stepped on the huge kitty-face area rug.
So he shared the depressed family room. The TV stayed off. Mason didn’t want to see any news reports and figured the family felt the same. Jake had stepped into the room and stared at everyone like he was lost. Mason quirked an eyebrow at him, but he’d gone back to his room and turned on his Xbox. If games kept Jake’s mind off his sister, Mason was all for them.
Where was Mason’s distraction? His mind kept spinning with what ifs.
After Lucas had arrived, Ava brought in a bag from her car. Robin gave her a grateful look and directed her to the purple butterfly room across from Mason’s.
Currently Ava was having a long discussion with Special Agent Wells in the backyard. Mason had a good feeling about Zander Wells. The quiet agent seemed competent and focused, his sharp eyes missing nothing. The two agents came in through the French doors at the back patio, a rush of icy air blowing in with them.
Was Henley outside somewhere? Was she cold?
Lilian flinched as the cold air hit her, and Mason knew she was having the same thoughts.
He put an image of the freezing child out of his brain.
He moved to intercept the agents as Ava moved with Wells toward the front entrance. The two stopped, regarding Mason with wary eyes.
“Is there something else I can update the family with?” Mason asked.
The two exchanged a look.
“Our focus has shifted to the neighborhood as you know,” Wells said. “We’ve had teams of agents knocking on doors and searching the green spaces. Three of the homes have turned over their home security cameras, but none of the recordings show Henley this morning.” He took a deep breath. “I just heard that they found her lunchbox an hour ago.”
“Where?” asked Mason.
“It was actually up in a tree a few houses down from the bus stop.”
She’d been so close. “She almost made it,” Mason stated. “But up in a tree? How?”
“It was pretty well hidden between the dense fir branches and a good eight feet off the ground, which explains why no one spotted it for a while.” Wells made a face, acknowledging the bureau’s frustration with missing the clue and the several hours of lag time. “My guess is someone threw it. I don’t think it could have been planted after we searched that area. We’ve had people in the neighborhood nonstop.”