I didn’t make it very far in the race from my house to the car before a broad chest intercepted me. I started in surprise when I found my way blocked by a uniformed police officer. As I yelped and jumped backwards, he seemed to realize he had frightened me and was immediately contrite.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Andrews. I didn’t mean to scare you, but I have my orders to make sure you remain safely in your house.”
“Orders? From whom?”
“Detective O’Grady, Miss.”
“He never told me I was supposed to be locked up in my house,” I snapped.
“The intention isn’t to lock you up, it’s to keep you safe.”
The officer smiled at me, obviously hoping to calm me down and smooth my ruffled feathers. He was young and probably didn’t have a lot of seniority with the force, thus the reason for his babysitting assignment. I knew he was just doing his job and following orders, but I had no intention of being railroaded by either him or Sean O’Grady.
I glanced at his badge and continued in my best imitation of a calm voice.
“Look, Officer Hicks, I really appreciate you looking out for me, but I can’t stay in my house. I have to go down to Mr. Walters’ office immediately. I can assure you I’ll be perfectly safe there.”
“I’m afraid I can’t allow that, Miss.”
“I’m afraid you have no choice but to allow it.”
I made a move toward my car only to find my arm gently but firmly grasped to stop my progress. My patience neared an end and I spun quickly around to face him. This time it was his turn to take a small step back in surprise.
“Look, I’m telling you I’m going to Mr. Walters’ office and there isn’t you or anyone else who’s going to stop me.”
“I’m sorry, but I have orders that you’re to remain in your house and no one is allowed to enter or leave without the express permission of Detective O’Grady, and I can assure you, Miss, I do not disobey orders under any circumstances.”
I pasted what I hoped was a pleading expression on my face before answering him.
“I’m sure you don’t Glen, but you have to understand I’m going crazy here. I have to know what’s going on and I’ve been cut out of the loop. I know Detective O’Grady would understand. He seemed like a very compassionate person to me, as do you. I can’t stay here and wait for someone to call me. I’ll lose my mind. So, short of putting me in handcuffs and physically attaching me to the house, I’m leaving.”
He looked at me with a speculative expression for a moment as if considering my suggestion. I thought maybe I had gone too far, but, on the contrary, I seemed to have brought him around to my side.
“Alright, Miss Andrews, I’ll call Detective O’Grady and see what he has to say about that. Just give me a minute.”
Without relinquishing my arm, he managed to pull a cell phone out of his pocket and, with the help of speed dial, he was speaking to his superior within a few moments. He explained the situation convincingly, mentioning how determined I seemed to be, and was able to gain permission for me to leave. However, it was conditional on my being escorted to the office by Officer Hicks in a squad car. I thought it was a reasonable concession, and I agreed with a nod and a smile of thanks to the young officer, which he shyly acknowledged.
From then on, we didn’t waste any time. We were in the car and on our way within moments, quickly making our way downtown. The traffic was light and we arrived in record time. The nice policeman, being his dutiful self, delivered me almost literally into the hands of Detective O’Grady in the reception area of Michael Walters’ office.
“Miss Andrews,” began Sean O’Grady, after thanking and dismissing the officer, “you certainly managed to work your way around him, didn’t you? I expressly chose Glen because of his conscientiousness, but I forgot to take into account your capacity to charm.”
“Not at all. He was just able to see the logic of the situation. Charm had nothing to do with it.”
The sound of a deep, cynical voice coming from the doorway of the office interrupted our conversation.
“I’m sure she’s right, Sean. I find it hard to believe Miss Andrews would be able to charm anyone. As a matter of fact, that is one characteristic I have yet to witness as far as Miss Andrews is concerned.”
We both turned toward the source of the comment, and I saw Michael Walters leaning up against the doorjamb in a seemingly casual pose. He had removed his suit jacket and tie. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone to reveal a tanned throat and dark chest hair. The hair on his head was tousled as if he had been running his hands through it. There were lines of strain around his lips and eyes. My sharp retort died a peaceful death on my lips, but nevertheless I sent him a quelling look and turned my back to him to face the burly detective. His gaze was fixed on the face of the man in the doorway with an expression of puzzlement, but he shrugged and directed his gaze to me.
“Maybe it is just as well that you’re here. Although I’m assuming Mike is the target in this case, you may be able to give us some input.”
“Have you heard anything yet?”
This surprised me.
“But shouldn’t we have heard? Why is it taking so long? It’s been hours since she was taken.”
“That’s not terribly unusual. They could be waiting so they can purposely have us on edge; more on edge than we already are.”
He hesitated for a moment and then continued.
“We also have to consider that ransom may not be the purpose here. We don’t know who is behind this as yet.”
I didn’t have any response, many thoughts rushing through my head.
“Come, I’ll introduce you to the team.”
He took me by the elbow and turned me toward the office, bringing me face to face with Michael who had straightened but was still standing in the doorway. We made eye contact and exchanged a blistering look before he stepped aside to let us pass through.
I walked into a much different room from the one I remembered. It had been turned into a high-tech centre. Some tables had been set up and were holding two computers and a printer. There was also another contraption with a set of headphones attached. The headphones weren’t being worn at the moment, but there were three other people in the room who could conceivably use them at some point. As I entered, those three sets of eyes turned in my direction and Sean O’Grady introduced me to the two police technicians who had set up the phone line tap and tracing equipment and to the third officer, Allan Sutherland. He was described as the expert in cases of kidnapping and hostage negotiation. I shook his hand and anxiously asked him the same questions I had asked of the other detective a few minutes earlier.
“Mr. Sutherland, why haven’t we heard anything yet?”
“We don’t always hear from the kidnappers immediately. Sometimes they like to drag it out in order to be sure we’re desperate enough to do anything they may demand.” It was basically the same answer I had received from Detective O’Grady.
“Surely there’s something we could do to speed things up. Couldn’t we make some sort of appeal through the media?”
I looked pleadingly from one policeman to the other.
Alan Sutherland chose to answer.
“At this point, that wouldn’t be a good idea. These people are not always looking for media attention and sometimes instead of helping us; it can push them into doing something rash. I know it’s difficult, but we have to be patient.”
“How can you tell me to be patient? There’s a helpless little girl out there somewhere. She’s scared. She could be hurt or…or…” I couldn’t continue, my voice wouldn’t allow it.
Sean stepped in and tried to stem the flow of tears before they began.
“I know it seems like we’re sitting around waiting, but I have men out there following whatever leads we have. The composite of the man who was following you is circulating. All the witnesses from the school are being questioned and re-questioned. We’re doing as much as we can to find Melissa. You have to believe that.”
I nodded silently, still not trusting my voice to speak. I glanced over at Michael to find him looking out the window, his face grim and brooding.