She’d never touched a gun before she entered Quantico. The academy had taught her to shoot. Some agents never became comfortable with their weapon, but since the first day she’d touched hers, she’d known it was a skill she wanted. So she’d worked her ass off until her instructors were impressed.
Now she used it for stress relief. After the anxiety of waiting all day for last night’s ransom drop, she needed to blow off some steam. She was surprised she’d managed to sleep. She’d been wired enough to consider a run at two in the morning. The utter disappointment of the ransom drop had shaken the whole team. The late briefing last night had been overcast with anger. The agents were angry at the young man and the time and effort they’d put into the situation, only to have it go nowhere.
They felt like they’d been hurled back to square one.
She drove to the church, parked, and went in for the morning briefing. The blown-up ransom note was still on the whiteboard. No one had taken it down. Ava scowled at the note, a symbol of someone who had jerked the FBI around and pulled vital resources from the real investigation. Maybe the note should stay up; it would remind everyone to take every lead seriously and not get distracted. No one knew which tiny lead would find Henley.
But today was another day. Henley had been missing two full days, and it was time to find her and bring her home. Renewal and fresh determination swept through Ava.
She stood in the back of the small conference room, listening to ASAC Ben Duncan and Special Agent Sanford discuss the digital recording of the Portland Airport’s luggage pickup area. Sanford touched his laptop, and a grainy video appeared on the big screen at the front of the room. “Here’s what we got from the airport security cameras. If you watch this man, you’ll see him grab a black wheeled suitcase.” A yellow circle appeared in the video, highlighting a man in a baseball cap. He stood close to the baggage carousel, carefully watching each bag, occasionally checking the tag on a black bag. Every few seconds he scanned the growing crowd. He finally grabbed a suitcase after taking a hard look at the tag. He immediately extended the handle and headed out of the frame, the bag rolling behind him. A second video clip appeared, showing the man walking across the traffic lanes outside of baggage claim, heading for the parking garage directly on the other side. Ava squinted at the figure. Light baseball cap, simple black jacket, jeans, dark shoes. Was his hair gray or blond?
The video vanished. She waited for the next clip.
“That’s all we’ve got so far,” Sanford stated.
“What?” Ava was shocked. “What about inside the parking garage? Every inch of that place must have cameras.”
“We’ve gone through every angle twice. We can’t pick him up after that shot of him walking across to the garage.”
“What about at the pay station?” Another agent asked from the group. He was familiar, but Ava didn’t know his name. There were probably forty agents and local police squeezed into the small conference room.
“We’ve reviewed all the images from the pay station up to an hour after the incident. We haven’t spotted him. I’ve still got agents combing through video from the garage and pay station. We’re going through everything a third time and expanding the time frame.”
“How do you know that was Jake Callahan’s bag?” asked a local cop. “That guy looked at three other bags before grabbing one.”
“We don’t for certain,” started Duncan. A groan went up from the room. “Hang on a minute.” Duncan gestured in a “settle down” motion. “I’m not done. What we do have is Jake’s agreement that this looks like his bag, and another video of this guy coming in the doors from outside to grab a bag. He didn’t come from upstairs, where the passengers disembark, and no one else on that flight reported their bag missing.”
“Can we see that clip?” asked the local cop.
Sanford fiddled with his laptop on the table at the front of the room, and Ava watched their man with the cap stroll through the automatic spinning door from outside and take a position at the carousel.
“He knew exactly which carousel to go to and what time to stroll in,” said Sanford. “We put him at about six foot one and two hundred pounds. We tried to get a better shot of his face, but the cap is too low and the cameras are positioned too high.”
“His hair is gray, his shoes are black Nikes, and he’s wearing jeans.”
“No brand name on the jeans?” someone muttered, and laughter scattered through the group.
“Age?” asked Ava.
Duncan met her gaze and shook his head. “The hair suggests forty and up, but that’s not very precise.”
“He moves like he’s older,” she said. She scowled, not knowing why she thought that. There was nothing she could put her finger on to explain it.
Duncan nodded. “I agree. There’s a bit of a stiffness to his stride that suggests age. But it could easily be a past injury that slows his walk.”
“And the way he pulled the suitcase off the carousel makes him look older,” offered a Clackamas County deputy. “He pulled with his whole body, not just using his arm strength like a younger guy would, you know?” Several of the other agents nodded in agreement. Sanford ran the clip again, and Ava saw what the cop meant. The man didn’t simply lift the bag off the carousel, he lunged with it, using his body to lift and pull its weight.
“Also, there’s no video of him before he entered the luggage area, and nothing on the parking garage tapes,” stated Sanford.