Had he finally gone home?
The dog had to have several sleeping places. Perhaps he’d chosen one of those last night. It might be warmer than the spot Mason made for him. But his porch had to be a good spot for the dog to sleep. It was partially enclosed and always at least ten degrees warmer than the surrounding cool air.
Mason straightened and scanned the neighborhood. The morning was quiet and still. No dog. But what about the food? Why was there so much left? The dog always attacked the food when Mason filled his bowl. What if he was sick?
He kicked himself for not taking the dog directly to the vet. Then he would know if there was a chip under its fur and whether or not it was healthy. He’d put off the task.
You didn’t want to know if he belonged to someone else.
Fuck that. He wasn’t a dog person. He didn’t have time to take care of one. They needed walks and shit. He was too busy with work.
Mason pushed his hat back with one finger. He and the dog had established a frail pattern of food and company. Now the animal had broken the pattern, and Mason was acting like a pansy. Dogs were tough. It would be back when it felt like it.
He sighed and shoved his key in his front door. He hadn’t even stepped inside his house when he first arrived. He’d gone straight to the neighbor’s when he spotted the full food bowl. He closed the door and didn’t look at the blanket on the floor. He moved to the window beside the door to check once more in case someone had appeared to eat his doggy breakfast.
A spot of white under the dog-food dish caught his eye. Mason hadn’t seen it from his position on the porch a minute ago. He stepped back outside, lifted the food bowl, and read the piece of paper under the bowl.
I don’t leave ransom notes.
His heart tried to pound out of his chest.
He’s been at my house. Henley’s kidnapper. He knows where I live.
A sour taste gathered at the back of his throat, and a flood of thoughts crashed through his brain.
He’s reaching out. He wants to be heard, and he just slipped up.
Mistake number one.
We’ll catch you, you bastard.
Fury narrowed his vision. He read the note again, snapped a picture with his phone, and carefully picked it up by one corner to check the back. Blank. He laid it back in the exact position he’d found it and called Ava.
“I think he took the dog,” Mason stated to the small group of agents. He shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels.
Ava had shown up within fifteen minutes of his call. She’d taken his address and called Wells, who said he’d stop by with a forensics team. Mason hadn’t expected Ava to show up; he’d called her because it was the quickest way to get his message up the chain of command. When her vehicle stopped in front of his house, something inside him calmed. It wasn’t that she signaled the arrival of the FBI, it was simply her presence. She had a rational way of treating people and problems that made them feel better. Anxiety had percolated under Mason’s skin as he waited for the team of agents, but it vanished as she stepped out of her vehicle and frowned, causing two lines to form between her eyebrows. “Anything else missing?” she’d asked.
“I haven’t looked,” Mason answered. “I was waiting for you guys before I snooped inside.”
She moved up the stairs to the porch and looked at the dog bowl and kennel. “What kind of dog do you have?”
“A black kind. It must have a half-dozen breeds in its genes. It’s not really my dog. It sorta started hanging around a couple of weeks ago, and I started feeding it.”
Ava looked at him and smiled. “No collar?”
He shook his head. “And no, I haven’t taken it to the vet to be scanned for a chip.”
She continued to smile at him, her blue eyes sparkling.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing. You seem like a dog type of guy. I’m surprised you didn’t already have one.”
A dog type of guy? Is that good?
“I haven’t had a dog since I was a kid. Did the command center briefing go okay this morning?” Mason changed the subject.
“Yes, you saw the airport footage already, right?”
“Yes, I saw it when they showed it to Jake to ask if he thought it was his bag.”
“They haven’t been able to trace the guy outside of baggage claim. And they’ve checked out that ex-boyfriend of Lilian’s who has the sexual-offender record. He doesn’t have an alibi, but he let agents search his home, and his interviews went well. They’ve given him a lower priority. The big question is why someone who’d kidnap Henley would also take Jake’s bag.”
“That’s been bothering me, too,” Mason admitted. “It makes me want to believe Jake’s bag was simply stolen by some scum.”
“But now you’ve had something taken,” Ava pointed out. “And at the briefing I brought up that you’d had a CI murdered the night before Henley disappeared.”
Mason stared at her, pieces of a puzzle clicking together in his mind, and he didn’t like it. He was not connected to Henley’s kidnapper. “It’s just his way of letting us know he wouldn’t do a ransom. It was convenient.”
“You’re not looking at the big picture. One of the things we talked about was if anything unusual had happened to any other family members. I’d call this and your CI’s murder unusual,” Ava said. “He’s possibly taken Jake’s bag and now your dog. You’re connected here somehow.”