Sanford nodded. “She thinks so. She said she had to help the kids with the playground slide a few times.”
Jake struggled with a faint memory. “A sailor?” he asked.
Sanford nodded. “She didn’t say he was a sailor. She said his coat and hat made her think of one.”
Jake’s mind sped backward. He scratched the top of his head.
“What is it, Jake?” Sanford’s sharp gaze was on him.
Jake scratched again. “I don’t know. That sounds familiar . . .” Where had he seen someone like that?
“You’ve seen a man wearing that type of coat or hat? Was it in the grocery store the other day?”
He shook his head. That wasn’t it. “I can’t remember. Maybe I’m thinking of something I saw on TV.” The four adults watched him, and his mind went blank. “I don’t know. I could be mistaken.”
“You’ve only been home a few days,” Sanford said in a calm voice. “You said you’d only been to the store and your friend McKenzie’s house, right? Did you see someone like that at the airport?”
Jake looked at the ceiling and then the chandelier. Then his mom. He couldn’t place the memory. “Not the airport,” he mumbled. “And the man you have on video wasn’t dressed like that.”
“Exactly. He had a black coat and cap, but not like what the woman at the park described.”
Everything clicked into place, the image suddenly clear in his head.
A rush of excitement flowed through him and he leaned toward Sanford. “I’ve got it. It was a few weeks before I came home. I was walking toward the dorm when a car pulled up beside me, and a man offered me a ride.”
Sanford’s pen scratched his paper. “What’d he look like?”
“Exactly like you said. The knit hat and . . . peacoat?” Jake looked at Lilian, who nodded.
“Do you remember the kind of vehicle?” Sanford asked.
Jake searched his memory. It’d been dark, late at night. “Sedan. Four door. Not fancy. I don’t remember the make, but it wasn’t anything flashy. I notice nice cars, and I would have remembered if it’d been a Beemer or something.”
“Beat up? New?”
“Neither?” Jake rubbed at his chin. The car was a blur in his mind. He really hadn’t paid it any attention.
“What day was it?”
Jake took a deep breath. “I’m thinking . . . I was coming back from . . .” His brain raced. What had he been doing? Josh had been with him at first . . .
“Pizza. We’d gone out to pizza on a Monday night. Josh and I. He stayed later because another group of guys came in, but I had an early class the next morning, so I left.”
“You walked home alone? In the dark?” his mom asked.
Jake shrugged. “It’s safe. Everyone does it there. It’s not that far.” He looked away from the fear in his mom’s eyes. Would she have asked the question if Henley hadn’t been taken?
Everything was different now.
“What did he say?” Sanford grabbed his attention.
Jake thought. “He pulled alongside the curb, the car still running, rolled down the power window, and asked if I needed a lift.”
“Did that seem odd to you since you weren’t that far from your dorm?” Sanford asked.
Jake nodded. “A bit. Most people walking that stretch are headed to the dorms. They don’t need a lift for that short of a distance. I don’t know why he thought I might be going farther. I told him no thanks and that I was almost home.”
“He said something like, ‘Oh, do you live in the dorms?’ And I told him I did.”
Lucas shook his head as Robin gasped.
“I guess I shouldn’t be saying that sort of thing to people I don’t know. I see that now,” Jake said. Shit. How stupid was he?
“Things look different now,” stated Sanford, and Lilian nodded. “Did he say more?”
“Something like, ‘Have a good night’ and drove off,” said Jake.
“Do you remember looking at the plate? Was it North Carolina or maybe out of state?”
“I don’t remember looking,” said Jake. He had a mental image of taillights in his head but didn’t see the plate between them. “It creeped me out a bit. I just wanted to get back to my dorm room. I started jogging home after he left. Felt like a dork for running.”
Sanford nodded and made some more notes. “You said a Monday. How far back? Not this past Monday, right?”
“No, it’s been a few weeks.”
“More than a month?” Sanford asked.
“Noooo . . . I don’t think it’s been that long. Maybe three weeks? Two sounds too short.”
“Were you watching TV or sports at the pizza place? Do you remember if there was a game on?”
“No TV in there. That would have been a good way to figure it out, though.”
“How about tests or school projects? Were you eating out because you’d finished—”
“That’s it!” Jake leaned forward. “We’d both turned in a history paper that day. That had sucked big time. It was due on the fifth.” He smiled as he sat back in his chair, memories of the pizza night clear in his head.
“Good job,” Sanford said. “Any chance the man was in the pizza parlor before you left?”
Jake slowly shook his head. “I don’t know. It was packed, and I wasn’t looking at the people. You’d think an older guy would stand out, though. Most people in there are college kids.” Jake froze. “Holy cow. Do you think that guy tried to get me in the car to kidnap me? On the other side of the United States? That can’t be right!” Shock rocked through him. Had he been the kidnapper’s target?