“The second time one of them was a child.”
“Oh no!” Ava froze.
“A homeless man had the child in front of him as a hostage and was slicing his throat open.”
Mason nodded in the dark. “It was awful. I fired at the man at the same time the child jumped. The bullet hit both of them. If the boy hadn’t moved . . .”
“Oh, Mason. How horrible.” Tears dripped down her face.
“The boy would have died if I hadn’t fired. It was a no-win situation,” he said flatly.
Ava scooted closer, seeking his heat and offering her own as solace. She kissed his forehead, trailing her lips down the side of his face to his mouth. “You did the right thing.”
“I know,” he whispered. “But it doesn’t make it any easier.”
Wanting to heal his emotional wounds, she gave him the comfort of her body.
From a dead sleep, Ava grabbed her buzzing phone and answered without opening her eyes. “McLane,” she said without an ounce of sleep in her voice.
“Ava, can you leave your sister? We could use you,” came ASAC Ben Duncan’s voice.
Ava opened her eyes and looked at Mason’s digital clock on the bedside table—3 A.M. Mason sat up and swung his legs out of bed. She instantly missed his heat. He sat silently, his back to her, listening.
“Yes, no problem. What’s happened?”
“We’ve found some bloody children’s clothing at the Woodburn rest stop on I-5.”
Ava knew that rest stop. Partially wooded, partially grassy. At least a few acres in size. Along a mostly isolated stretch of freeway. “You’re searching the area?”
“Yes, we’ve got a big crew going over every inch.”
“What clothing did you find?”
“A pink Justice zip-up sweatshirt. Rhinestone hearts. Size ten. There’s blood inside the hood. Not a lot.”
Ava’s heart sank. Henley’s sweatshirt.
Mason followed Ava through the crowded parking lot. The freeway rest stop had been closed to the public and now overflowed with police cars and FBI sedans.
A woman’s dog had discovered Henley’s jacket at the rest stop. The traveler from southern Oregon had taken her dog to the far border of the grassy area, stretching her legs and letting her dog roam, when the dog had returned with the pink coat.
The woman reported pulling it out of her dog’s mouth and feeling bad that a child had lost her coat, but hadn’t thought much of it until she’d noticed the dried blood. The entire state knew that Henley had vanished. She’d quickly Googled some news articles until she found one describing Henley’s clothing and then immediately called 911.
Mason felt sick to his stomach. The rest stop could indicate that the kidnapper had immediately jumped on the freeway and headed out of town with Henley. All those man-hours spent combing the neighborhoods and areas near where she’d vanished could have been for nothing.
After Ava’s phone call, she’d jumped out of bed, kissed him, and disappeared into his shower for five minutes. Mason had used his guest shower and been dressed by the time she stepped out.
“I’ll drive since your car is still downtown,” he’d said.
On the way down, she’d told him no one had informed the family yet. He’d argued a case for at least calling Lucas, but Ava had overruled him. The FBI wanted to wait until morning before calling the family. Mason saw their point, but that didn’t mean he agreed with it. If Jake had been missing, he’d want to know the second any huge leads came up.
The family was sleeping. Hopefully. And Ava had a point about waiting to see if anything else turned up at this scene before notifying them.
They signed in at the scene log and headed toward a small group of agents. Mason could see Ben Duncan and Sanford in the group. The rest stop was crawling with police and FBI. The trash had already been pulled and transferred to a location where lucky forensic investigators would examine every scrap of garbage that travelers had left behind. Diapers, chip bags, pee bottles. Good stuff. Huge portable lights illuminated the woods and grassy areas.
The group of five agents opened as Mason and Ava approached, welcoming them in.
“Anything new?” Ava immediately asked.
Sanford shook his head. “We’re still looking. The blood is human. We’ve found that out so far. Next test is to compare it to what we have on file for Henley Fairbanks.”
“How long ago was it found?” Mason asked.
“About 10 P.M.” Sanford turned to point toward the line of fir trees at the far edge of the stop. “A dog found it right over there. The dog’s owner was talking to one of us within thirty minutes. One of the first agents on the scene took the sweatshirt directly to a lab.”
“At nearly midnight on a Sunday?” asked Mason.
“We do what needs to be done,” answered Sanford simply.
Standing at a freeway rest stop at four in the morning fell under what needed to be done when a child was missing. No one looked sleepy. Everyone was wide-awake and on high alert. It comforted Mason to see the response. In a way, he was fortunate. Henley’s parents had to wait for him or an agent to update them on the investigation. Mason, however, got to see it hands-on. He’d go crazy if he were sitting at home wondering if anyone was searching for his child.
“If this is fake, heads are going to roll,” stated Ava. “Robin mentioned that those pink jackets like Henley wore are still in the stores. If someone bloodied one and dumped it as a prank, I’m not going to forgive this time.”