Hailey was the first person to make Nell feel better about who Maddie had been. At least she’d known how to pick friends.
* * *
NOT WANTING TOO much advance buzz, and especially not wanting to give his boss any warning, Colin had taken a businesslike approach when he set up the press conference. Cold case closed, he’d said, although that wasn’t quite true, of course. He wouldn’t be closing the file on Maddie Dubeau’s abduction until he was satisfied he knew who had struck her in the head, dragged her off the bike and dumped her in the trunk of a car with the intention of ultimately raping her, ransoming her or burying her. Maybe and burying her.
Colin stood behind the table, watching the dozen or so people either sit down or position themselves with cameras. He had Nell and her parents stashed away until he summoned them. Basic theatrical technique. Scanning the faces looking at him, he tried to remember how many of these reporters were old-timers and would recognize Maddie immediately. Three or four, he thought. Ahh—Bystrom was hustling in at the back, looking pissed. Colin had been happy that morning to find the chief was taking the second “personal day” in a row. All the same, Colin had left a voice mail and sent an email to cover his ass. Apparently the rumor had wafted to whatever ski hill Bystrom had been on that morning. At the moment, the city’s police chief was shaking his head at some reporters who’d rushed to cut him off. He wouldn’t be denying any knowledge, not Bystrom. Hell, no. He’d want to convince them he knew all and was only being mysterious.
Even though Duane had to be itching to see Maddie, Colin hadn’t expected him here. Duane wouldn’t want to expose his emotions to the press.
Colin remained standing. He didn’t need the microphone set on the table. His voice carried.
“Thank you for coming,” he said, pausing only until he had complete silence. “As I believe you’re all aware, I’m Captain McAllister, Investigation and Support Services. Some of you may remember the name Maddie—Madeline—Dubeau.”
Not hard to see the stir of interest.
“For those of you who don’t remember—” He recapped the basic facts. “This was one of the most disturbing crimes ever committed in a town we like to consider safe. Any law enforcement officer will tell you he or she most hates crimes involving children. Maddie Dubeau was only fifteen at the time of her disappearance. She was a sophomore in high school and excited because she had just gotten a driver’s permit.” He paused. “We have found Maddie Dubeau.”
“Is the body found in the park the Dubeau girl’s?” called a reporter, whose voice rose above other shouted questions.
In answer, Colin opened the door behind the curved row of seats for council members and nodded at the three people waiting. “We’re ready for you.”
Nell swallowed visibly. Her eyes flashed to his for reassurance, and he smiled, not knowing if that was what she needed but hoping it helped.
She looked good today. Really good. She’d worn drapey black pants and a T-shirt in a silky, rust-colored knit beneath a cropped black blazer. For the first time, he had a good idea of the size and shape of her breasts and was almost sorry, because he wouldn’t be able to get that new knowledge out of his head. Gold studs in her ears, her hair bundled in some careless way on the back of her head. Having it pulled back emphasized the catlike triangle of her face and the sharpness of her cheekbones. Subtly applied makeup enhanced those extraordinary eyes. He’d felt pride and more—throat-closing more—when he saw her. He wondered if her parents had felt similarly, but saw immediately that they’d assumed their public faces. Oh, yeah, they would gush about the joy and relief at having their beloved daughter home again. He felt sure there’d be no mention of the fact that neither could be bothered to hug her yet.
The stir became something a lot more when the reporters set eyes on the Dubeau family. Even a dozen—no, fifteen—people could make a hell of a lot of noise when they got excited. Camera shutters clicked and the questions kept coming. Colin waited until Nell sat right beside him, her parents beyond her.
Then he held up a hand for silence. “Ms. Dubeau has a short statement. After she has given it, she and her parents will take a few questions. Please wait until she is done to ask them.”
He touched her shoulder when he would have liked to squeeze it. Allowed his hand to drop to his side when he wanted to maintain contact. He knew how scared she was, but her head stayed high.
“Thank you, Captain McAllister.” She surveyed the room, meeting eyes. “I mean that in more than one way. It is the captain who found me and encouraged me to come home to Angel Butte.”