I was trembling again, but with terror instead of rage.
“No. Please. Tell me you have her.”
Hot tears ran down my cheeks. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I preferred to think Michael had taken her, because, no matter how angry it made me feel, at least I knew, instinctively, he wouldn’t hurt her. Also, knowing he had her meant there was the possibility I could get her back. Not knowing who had taken her was just too horrible to consider.
“I don’t have her,” he repeated softly.
His expression was grim, and I could feel a slight trembling in the hands which still clutched my shoulders. He took a deep steadying breath.
“Sit down. Tell me exactly what happened.”
He gently pushed me into a chair and knelt down so he could look directly into my eyes. I told him about the phone call, about someone telling the supervisor she was my sister and taking Melissa away. In my muddled state, I wasn’t able to think of anything else to say. Michael walked away from me toward his desk.
I thought about what could have happened to Melissa. Every day children disappeared. Some of them were never found, others were found dead and mutilated. Still others were kidnapped and used by sick, perverted scum either for their own twisted pleasure or to be sold for use in the sex trade.
Suddenly, my ears buzzed and the room twisted and turned drunkenly. I could hear Michael’s warbled voice in the background, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I heard him curse, I heard something fall on his desk, and then hands came down on my shoulders and shoved my head between my legs.
“Breathe deeply, Rebecca. I’ve called the police. They’ll be here soon.”
I took several deep breaths until my head cleared and I was able to sit up.
“What am I going to do? She’s gone. Who could do this? She’s only a baby.”
“We have to think straight. You need to remember everything you can, even if it doesn’t seem important.”
His soothing voice took on a gruff tone.
“We will find her, Rebecca. If it’s the last thing I ever do, I’ll find her.”
After what seemed like hours, but which was probably only a few minutes, the police arrived. Even through the haze of unreality in my mind, I could read the dynamics and knew that, the man in charge, Detective Sean O’Grady, was a friend of Michael’s. They shook hands and clapped shoulders, and spent a few seconds talking one-on-one, occasionally glancing at me. This type of behavior would normally have bothered me, but I couldn’t think of anything but Melissa.
The police detective came over and sat facing me, introducing himself. He fit the stereotypical image of the big, burly Irish cop, but his expression was kind and his voice gentle.
“Miss Andrews, we have to know all the details of what happened today. Exactly as you remember. Where was your daughter last seen?”
“Melissa isn’t my daughter,” I automatically corrected. “I’m her legal guardian, and she was last seen at school. The teacher called me to say Melissa had forgotten her schoolbag when my sister picked her up after classes…but… I don’t have a sister and there was no one else that would have picked her up.”
My voice cracked and I felt fresh tears running down my face.
“I understand this is difficult for you, but we’re going to have to ask you a lot of questions if we want to find Melissa,” he said gently. “What school does she go to?”
He nodded at his fellow officer, who immediately pulled out a cell phone, presumably to send someone over to the school for questioning.
He asked me about our usual routines after school; if there was anyone else who had ever picked up Melissa before; about what I knew about the supervision policy at the school; what Melissa had been wearing; and finally about how I came to be Melissa’s guardian.
“Her mother died a couple of months ago.”
I swallowed hard, trying to prevent the tears from flowing again. Sylvia had placed Melissa in my safekeeping, placed her trust in me, and now, I had lost my best friend’s most precious gift. I felt my heart break into a thousand pieces.
“What about her father?”
Numbly, I looked up at Michael, surprised he hadn’t already shared this information. He returned my look, and then turned to Sean.
“I’m her father.”
The experienced police officer didn’t blink an eye, simply nodding and making further notes in his pad.
“Who would do something like this? Why?” I cried desperately.
“There are many reasons for abductions, Miss Andrews. Most of the time, it’s an estranged parent or other relative. I doubt that is the case now, although we can’t rule out anything at the moment.” He hesitated. “I think we have to strongly consider a ransom attempt in this instance.”
“Ransom?” I cried. “How could that be? I have nothing.”
“Maybe not, but I do,” Michael answered stiffly.