Page 36

Wells arrived and laid a photocopy of the note on the table in front of Lilian. Robin set the pastry plate on the table. “Coffee is brewing,” she stated, her gaze on the note.

“This was found at about eleven this morning on her elementary school playground,” Wells started.

“What?” Callahan asked. “That area has been covered a hundred times.”

Wells nodded. “Correct. Covered yesterday. Once it was determined Henley wasn’t on school grounds, and once we saw the video that showed she never even made it on the bus, everyone’s attention was focused elsewhere. The school was considered clear.”

“So someone left it last night,” said Robin.

“Or this morning,” added Wells. “We haven’t had any eyes on the area since yesterday.”

Ava stared at the note. “Is that crayon? Seriously? Someone wrote it in crayon?” Red print covered the page. It was too neat for a child to have written, but someone had deliberately chosen a child’s writing instrument.

“It’s not Henley’s writing,” Lilian stated. The blonde woman looked thinner to Ava. How had she lost weight in one day? She felt a bit guilty that she hadn’t spent any one-on-one time with Henley’s mother since their ride back from her apartment yesterday. She’d been focused on Jake and had let Lilian’s needs slide because she’d been quiet.

“It’s not a child’s writing according to our handwriting experts,” Wells said. “A full analysis is in process, but that was one thing we wanted clarified right away. We had to determine if this was worth following up.”

Lilian’s gaze flew up. “Of course it’s worth following up! It’s a goddamned ransom note! I’d hope the FBI would take something like that seriously!”

Sitting beside her, Lucas took her hand and rubbed it. “They’re taking it seriously. If it’d appeared to have been written by a ten-year-old, they would have handled it differently is all he meant.” He nodded at Wells, encouraging him to go on. Ava eyed Robin, wondering if she’d react to her husband holding his ex-wife’s hand. Robin had watched the action and then ignored it. Either she was extremely secure in her marriage or skilled at hiding her feelings.

“It was found on one of the play structures, folded up inside a plastic bag so that Henley’s name showed through the bag.” Wells flipped the note over, showing Henley Fairbanks printed in one-inch letters. “A mother found it. She took her two children to the school to play on the equipment this morning and discovered the plastic bag. Henley’s name caught her attention immediately, and she opened it, thinking it’d been left behind by Henley. After reading it, she called 911.”

“Why in the hell did she open it?” Lucas asked. “Why didn’t she call the police first?”

Wells shrugged. “She didn’t think it was anything. She was pretty upset when she realized she might have compromised some evidence. She said she hadn’t wanted to call the police simply because she found Henley’s name written in crayon on something.”

Ava nodded. As much as she hated that the woman had opened the note, she understood her reasoning. “It was left to be found,” she said. “I doubt she ruined any evidence. Whoever left it knew it’d be analyzed by the FBI, so they’d have taken steps to eliminate anything that could give them away.”

“No cameras on the area?” Callahan asked.

“None,” answered Wells.

“So what happens now? Will you do as the note asks?” Lucas’s voice trembled. “I don’t have that kind of money. Just because I own a business doesn’t mean I have a ton of money sitting around. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do.”

If you wish Henley returned, leave two million dollars in a black backpack at the west side river walk in downtown Portland at 7 P.M. Saturday night. Place the backpack behind the second bench from the south end in front of the seafood restaurant. The child will be left somewhere safely Sunday morning before 8 A.M.

“Don’t worry about money,” Wells stated. “No one expects you to come up with two million dollars. That’s not what we’re focused on. We’re trying to figure out if this is a legitimate ransom note or someone taking advantage of the situation.”

“It’s not logical to ask for that kind of sum on a weekend,” said Ava. “Or expect us to wait until the next day for the child to be returned. And why did they wait so long to leave a note? This lacks credibility to me.”

“But we can’t just let it slide by!” exclaimed Robin. “What if they hurt her because we didn’t act?”

“We have negotiators here,” Wells reassured her. “And there is a negotiation specialist among the CARD team that we flew in.”

“But there’s no one to negotiate with. It’s a note! There’s no phone number or person to talk to. It’s simply ‘do this!’” Robin argued.

Ava sympathized. The note writer hadn’t left an avenue for communication, so the parents felt they needed to follow the directions of the note. Would it evolve into a hostage negotiation? She’d done the FBI’s specialized training for hostage negotiation and participated in three incidents while in LA. There was no bigger stress than realizing that your voice on the phone and the words you chose were the only things keeping a hostage alive.

She knew the negotiator from the CARD team; he’d been her instructor. There was no one better at talking down an angry person who wanted to strike out.