Authors: Robin Mahle
A Kate Reid Novel
By Robin Mahle
Published by HARP House Publishing
July, 2016 (1
Copyright ©2016 by Robin Mahle
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, by any means, including mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover design: LLPix Photography,
Laura Wright LaRoche
Editor: Hercules Editing and Consulting Services
he flight attendant
waited until the crosscheck was complete before opening the door of the craft. One by one, passengers were freed from the confines of the flying tin can that packed them in with increasing density. Among them was Special Agent Nick Scarborough and, as he deplaned, the steamy air proved stifling from the moment he stepped onto the gangway. Virginia was in the midst of an early summer heat wave and Nick had spent the past week in Maine. The dramatic change in temperature was a jolt to his system.
An amendment to his original itinerary had come by way of a phone call from an old friend and now he found himself arriving days earlier than intended and standing in the middle of Ronald Reagan Airport, ready to drive to the heart of Fairfax County. It was a call he’d wished he had never received, and as he made his way through the terminal and toward the parking garage, Nick recalled their last meeting. It had been at a bar, toasting Nick’s recent appointment to SSA status.
Has it been that long?
An old buddy from Nick’s early days at the Bureau, Jake Talbot, summoned him because his son had been missing for the past twenty-four hours. They’d kept in touch over the years from their first meeting while Jake worked in data analysis, though he’d since moved on to the private sector. However, he knew his friend had risen in the ranks of the FBI and was desperate for his guidance. The twelve-year-old boy hadn’t returned home after baseball practice only half a mile away. Jake and his wife, Rachel, had been working late, leaving their eldest son in charge, who called his parents after being unable to reach his brother, Colton. When both parents arrived home, the boy was still missing.
The frantic call reached Nick’s ears late yesterday afternoon while still attending the conference in Bangor on new forensics techniques. He left early and was now on his way to the Talbot home.
The air conditioner in his SUV was cranked to full blast and was beginning to cool the sweltering car. Nick’s suit jacket, which he was still wearing, seemed counterintuitive and he quickly shed the coat, tossing it onto the passenger seat.
Fairfax County Police were already on the case, but Jake called upon his friend, knowing where Nick’s expertise lay and praying he might offer assistance to the local authorities.
By mid-morning, Nick reached the Talbot home; a newly constructed two-story in the suburbs recently acquired by the two-income family. He was not the first to arrive, however, and he spotted the unmarked car that undoubtedly belonged to the detective assigned to the case. The last thing he wanted to do was to step on anyone’s toes, so he would sit back and listen until he could offer something useful.
Nick locked up the car and made his way to the front door. His arrival had been noticed and Jake now stood on the front porch. The man had sallow cheeks and dark circles under his eyes; it wasn’t a stretch to assume he’d had little to no sleep since this horrific new reality surfaced. The two were relatively close in age and it startled Nick to see his friend looking so much older than he. It had been a few years since they’d seen each other, but given Nick’s choice of career, he should have been the one appearing more aged by comparison. However, Nick didn’t have any children and perhaps that made all the difference.
“Jake, buddy.” Nick offered his hand on approach and pulled the man into an embrace. After a brief pat on the back, he stepped away. “Any news?”
Jake shook his head. “Come in. Rachel’s anxious to see you.” He led the way inside where his wife sat at the kitchen table across from a woman he could only assume was the detective. “Rachel, Nick’s here.” His hoarse voice barely carried across the room.
Rachel had been a stunner from what Nick could recall, but right now, she appeared lost, saddened, and heartbroken, and it was difficult to see any beauty beyond that. “Rachel, it’s good to see you.” He bowed down to kiss her check.
“You too, Nick. You’re looking well.”
Any response on his part would be trivial and so he merely shrugged his shoulders. He turned his attention to the woman next to her. “And you must be the detective assigned to the investigation?”
“Detective Andrea Mason, Major Crimes Unit.”
Her firm grip left the impression that this was her jurisdiction, in case he was mistaken. In fact, it wasn’t his intention to be anything more than a sounding board for his friend. “Special Agent Nick Scarborough. BAU, Washington Field Office. I’m just here as a family friend, Detective Mason, so please—continue.” He took a seat at the end of the table.
“Can I get you anything, Nick?” Jake asked.
“Water would be great, thank you.”
“As I was saying, Mrs. Talbot, we’d like to continue enlisting the help of volunteers for the search party in hopes of broadening our area.”
“Here you go.” Jake placed a glass of water on the table and walked toward his wife to sit next to her. “How many do we have so far?” he asked the detective.
“Thirty. Along with fifteen of our officers, we’ll be able to cover a large area from the baseball field, south toward the Walmart, and north toward the gas station. I figure about half a mile wide. It’ll take two shifts, but we can cover that area by tomorrow morning. Officer Newsome is on site now, organizing the search.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” Rachel looked to Jake. “We need to get out there.”
“Okay.” Detective Mason rose from the table. “Agent Scarborough, will you be joining us?”
Nick waited for Jake’s confirmation. “Of course.”
» » »
The search had begun to unfold and several volunteers were making headway. “I can’t thank you enough for coming out here with us, Nick. I know you must have your hands full.” Jake moved a large stick back and forth in front of him, taking caution with each step through the overgrown lots behind the baseball field.
“Nothing else needs my attention more than this right now.” He was silent for a moment, recognizing a scene he’d witnessed many times before. “So, when did you last hear from Colton?”
“Right after school, before he started practice. He sent me a text message just letting me know where he was.”
“He sent me the same text,” Rachel began. The three had each been separated by ten feet and so she had to raise her voice over the sound of others walking alongside them. “We were both still at work. It was about three o’clock.”
“And you said Scott tried to reach him around five when he should’ve already made it home?”
“Yes,” Jake began. “He was already home from school and knew what time Colton finished up. He called me around 5:30, when I was on my way home, to let me know Colton hadn’t made it back and wasn’t answering his cell. That’s when I tried him. It just went to voicemail.”
“Straight to voicemail, like it had been turned off,” Rachel added.
Jake acknowledged his wife and continued. “I got home shortly after six. The three of us jumped in my car and we drove around looking for him. We called his friends. No one had seen him since practice.”
“We searched for about three hours before deciding to call the police,” Rachel said. “I guess we thought he was just out messing around or something and lost track of time. But it was well past dark and he knew better.”
The blistering sun was making its way higher in the blue sky right along with the heat. Nick considered the story as they moved carefully through the brush, wiping the sweat from his brow. He wished they hadn’t waited so long to make the initial call to police. The first hours were critical in any missing persons case, although he understood why they assumed the boy was probably elsewhere with friends. Parents don’t believe their kid will be the one to go missing until it happens. “Where’s Scott now?” Nick asked.
“He’s with Rachel’s parents. I didn’t think it was a good idea to have him out here. I mean, Christ, he’s only fifteen. He doesn’t need to see…” Jake trailed off after noticing Rachel’s eyes redden again.
Several feet ahead and to the west, they heard someone shouting.
“Over here! Over here!” the man said.
“Oh God!” Rachel sprinted in the direction of the cries.
“Oh hell.” Jake followed a few steps behind her.
Nick feared the worst as he made his way toward the growing crowd huddled around something they’d found. He spotted Detective Mason just feet in front of him. “Do we know what’s going on up there?”
“One of my officers radioed me. Said someone found a cell phone.”
He felt relief wash over him because at least it wasn’t the boy’s body. Although this find wasn’t much better. It would only confirm the theory that he had been abducted.
“Is that his phone?” Rachel clung to Jake as they neared the item.
Detective Mason raced to catch up to them. “Just hang on a second. Don’t touch anything.” She pushed through the crowd and spotted a cell phone. It was face up, but the screen was broken.
“That’s his phone.” Rachel stepped closer. “That’s his phone.” She covered her mouth and tears streamed down her face. “Oh God.” She turned away and screamed toward the open grounds. “Colton! Colton!”
Jake pulled her close. “Rachel, honey. Calm down, baby. We don’t know anything yet.”
“We need to bag this,” Detective Mason said to one of her officers. “You’re sure it’s Colton’s?” she asked the parents, who were still huddled together.
“Yes,” Jake said. “His screen wasn’t broken, but it has the same blue cover.”
“We’ll get this to Forensics ASAP.” Turning to the crowd, she continued, “Let’s keep at it, people. We’re burning daylight.”
» » »
Kate’s cell phone flashed and began to buzz on her nightstand. She turned to answer it, noting that it was one o’clock in the morning. The call was from Nick. She glanced at Mike, who was lying next to her, sound asleep, and raised up, quietly padding into the living room.
“Nick? What’s going on? Where are you?” Kate tried to keep her voice down so as not to wake Mike, but she hadn’t heard from him since yesterday when he landed and had begun to worry.
“I’m still in Springfield. We found a cell phone and the parents confirmed it was their son’s, but I need to be here for a few days. Just until we can get a handle on what’s going on.”
“Does Dwight know?”
“Yes. I called him just before you. I asked him to let Campbell know what happened. I don’t think it’ll be a problem, unless anything comes up.”
“Dwight and I will have it covered until you return. I’m still assisting him with the Ackerman case.”
“What’s left to do there? I thought the federal prosecutor had everything he needed.”
“I guess there are a few loose ends, but we should have it wrapped up by week’s end. Don’t worry about us. You just take care of what you got going on right now.” Kate heard footsteps and, from the shadowed hall, Mike emerged. She smiled.
“What’s up?” he whispered.
Kate put her hand over the speaker. “It’s Nick. I’ll just be a minute.”
Mike nodded and made his way into the kitchen, grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge.
“Who’s that?” Nick asked.
“Oh, sorry. That’s just Mike. Listen, let us know if you need anything at all. If we can help, you know we will.”
“I know. I’d better let you get back to bed. I’ll touch base again soon. Goodnight, Kate.” Nick ended the call and leaned against the large oak that encompassed much of the back yard of the Talbot home. Gazing at the vivid stars that rested against a black sky, he worried for this family and what it would do to them if they lost their boy. It was a circumstance he’d faced many times, but this was different; these people were his friends.
Nick had gone outside, unable to sleep after the long day and imagined Jake and Rachel were probably staring at their bedroom ceiling right about now. He pressed Kate’s contact information again just to look at her picture. Her face was comforting. Months had passed since Georgia was transferred from the WFO and while he’d come to terms with the end of that relationship, he had yet to come to terms with his newly acknowledged feelings for Kate. She knew nothing of them and would never know as far as Nick was concerned. Her relationship with Deputy Mike Burgess had blossomed and they seemed to spend all of their spare time together now. Nick believed it was only a matter of time before Burgess pulled up roots and moved in with her.
So, as far as Kate knew, Nick was still her closest friend, probably best friend, only ahead of Dwight by a marginal amount. He would not ruin the happiness she seemed to have finally grasped, even at the expense of his own.
“You couldn’t sleep either?” Jake meandered onto the deck outside into the still-warm night air. With a cigarette between his lips, he flicked the lighter and its tiny flame underscored his dispirited expression.
Nick pushed off the tree and began walking in his direction until he perched himself onto the edge of the deck. “Na. So you’re smoking again, huh?”
Jake examined the vice he’d once relied upon, watching a thin trail of white smoke waft above him. “I guess so.”