He and Ava had sat down with Lucas, Lilian, and Robin and asked them if they wished to participate in the press conference. Lilian had immediately flinched and drawn back. “I don’t want to go on camera,” she’d begged. Lucas and Robin had looked curious and asked why the sudden change in plans. Mason had already agreed to handle all media appearances. Why was he suggesting something else now?
Ava had gently explained the FBI’s reasoning of putting a face on Henley’s family. Robin blanched at the description of Henley as an “object,” and Lilian immediately burst into tears.
“So this could help? This could be a little trick to help protect her?” Lucas asked.
Ava had taken a big breath. “It might. It might not. Your family pictures have already made the rounds. The media has shown plenty of happy photos that demonstrate Henley was part of a loving family. But this might add a degree of realness that the photos do not.”
The three adults had looked at one another, scanning for reactions and searching for a common ground. Lucas finally spoke. “I’ll talk. I’ll say something.” Robin and Lilian had nodded, relief on their faces.
“I’ll prepare a more formal statement,” Mason told him. “I think seeing a united front from the three of you is a good idea. My first instinct was to protect all of you and keep you totally out of the public eye, but maybe I overreacted. It doesn’t hurt for the public to see that you guys really exist and are hurting, but I don’t want Jake up there.” He paused, eyeing Robin, who nodded in agreement.
Now Mason stared at the blank notepad in front of him. Why had he offered to be the spokesman? He hated speaking to reporters. He usually passed on that duty to the public information officer at work. It was his own dread of interacting with the media that’d made him want to protect the family from the experience. Now they were all going to be part of it.
Thirty minutes to go.
Crap. His mind spun, trying to form a coherent minispeech.
He was failing.
Ava crossed his line of vision as she paced in the backyard. She was on her phone, gesturing as she spoke. Her hand moved abruptly and sharply in a cutting motion in front of her. He couldn’t see her face, but the angle of her head was stiff.
She was not pleased with the person on the other end of the line.
Personal? Work? Argument with Sanford? Something wrong with the press conference?
She ended the call and rubbed a temple, shaking her head, her breath showing in the chilly air. His gut told him it was personal. She’d made a similar motion that morning after an email as he’d walked into the kitchen. Her sister. She looked at her phone screen and tapped it, then lifted the phone to her ear for another call.
Ray had said he’d ask around about Ava McLane. Mason tapped his perfectly sharpened pencil on his notepad and wondered what he’d found out. He hadn’t heard from Ray since the crack of dawn, and he hesitated to call his partner. What was being said behind his back at the office? Why hadn’t Ray called or texted him since that morning? Paranoia swept through him. Was Ray busy or giving Mason space to deal with Henley’s family?
Or was Ray being questioned about Mason’s actions in the days leading up to Josie’s murder? Had he been ordered to not talk to Mason?
No wonder he couldn’t get anything on paper. He stared at the blank yellow pad. Just thank the public for their concern. Say the family—
Ava swept in from outdoors, bringing a rush of icy air. Mason jumped in his seat, his focus shot again. He started to glare at her but froze at the expression on her face. Her eyes were bright, and she clutched her phone to her chest. His pulse skyrocketed. In the split second before he spoke, Mason’s brain shot to two opposite assumptions.
Henley is dead.
Henley is alive.
“They’ve found a ransom note.”
28 HOURS MISSING
Ava sat motionless at the dining-room table, her mind spinning through the possibilities a ransom note could indicate. Yesterday when she’d sat in the exact same spot, meeting the Fairbanks for the first time, she’d known next to nothing about these people. Now they almost felt like family. She lived and breathed for the safety of their daughter. And she’d fight to keep their son from beating himself up with guilt.
How had her perspective changed so fast?
Henley had been a girl in a photo; now she was the daughter of friends. She’d known this would happen. Ava couldn’t work a case like this without getting emotionally caught up in it. Yes, it was painful, but it also made her more effective.
Robin clanked dishes in the kitchen, preparing coffee and putting together a plate of her midnight pastries as they waited for Wells to arrive. Ava admired the woman. She’d channeled her grief into keeping busy. The bathroom floors had received a scrubbing like Ava suspected they’d never experienced, and then Robin had moved on to the windows. The woman was levelheaded and practical, and knew how to calm and comfort her husband. Ava wondered if Callahan saw what he’d lost when they divorced.
Wells had called her, passing on the ransom news within twenty minutes of finding the note. He’d been brief with details, offering to stop by and talk with the family. “Don’t get them too excited about this, Ava. Let’s find out what we’ve got here. Don’t let them jump to conclusions.”
Translation: It could be fake. Don’t assume Henley is alive.
She’d blurted the news to Callahan, who’d immediately assembled the three parents.