Reckless Whispe(3)

By: Barbara Freethy

Stepping into the entry, her practiced eye swept the interior, noting quick details. The home was nicely decorated with paintings on the walls, sleek hardwood floors and furniture that looked comfortable and remarkably clean, considering there were apparently three children living in the house. Hayley had a younger brother who was six and a sister who was four.

The children seemed confused and out of sorts, the little girl crying, as she and her brother were taken into the kitchen by their grandparents. Other assorted family members and close family friends made themselves scarce as she sat down with Hayley's parents, Mark and Lindsay Jansen, in the living room.

She knew quite a bit about the Jansens already. They were an attractive, fit couple, in their early forties. They had met in college and married shortly thereafter, celebrating their twentieth wedding anniversary three weeks earlier. Mark was the chief financial officer for Buckner Investments. Lindsay was a former teacher, now a stay-at-home mom.

Hayley was their oldest child. She had been adopted after the Jansens experienced eight years of infertility and two years on adoption waiting lists. To their shock and amazement, when Hayley was four years old, they'd conceived their son Connor, and two years later, their daughter Morgan.

Hayley's adoption had been closed, and while the Jansens knew nothing about the biological parents, a local judge had unsealed the records shortly after Hayley's disappearance. The biological mother, Samantha Harkness, had been a sixteen-year-old teenager living in Hammond, Illinois, a poverty and crime-ridden suburb of Chicago. She'd died of an overdose, six months after Hayley's birth. The biological father was unknown. While the police couldn't completely rule out the possibility that someone from the bio family was involved, it didn’t seem likely, especially not with the white rose connection.

Mark took Lindsay's hand as they settled on the couch. He had the look of a runner, long, lean, and thin. He wore gray slacks and a light-blue, button-down shirt. Lindsay had on black yoga pants and a form-fitting zip-up jacket. Neither looked like they had slept. They were pale, with shadows under their eyes and desperation written across the lines of their faces.

"What can we tell you to help us get our daughter back?" Mark asked quickly. "The other FBI agent said you're some kind of expert?"

"I've investigated similar cases. I know you've already told your story several times, and I promise this won't take long, but I need you to tell me again when you realized Hayley was missing."

"All right. Whatever it takes to bring my baby home." He drew in a breath. "Hayley was supposed to perform a ballet number at the fall concert last night," he said, his voice thick with pain. "When the curtain came up for her group, she wasn't on stage." He swallowed hard. "We went into the back to find out what was wrong. We thought she had gotten stage fright. She can be shy at times. The teacher said she'd seen her go into the bathroom with Grace before their group performed."

"But Hayley wasn't there," Lindsay continued. "I went into the restroom, and there was no one inside. I looked all around for her. You can't imagine the terror that ran through my mind. It was her school, a safe place. Everyone backstage knew her." Her voice broke as a tear ran down her face.

"The back door to the stage was open," Mark said, when his wife faltered in the story. "We ran into the staff parking lot. Hayley wasn't there, but one of the other kids said she saw Hayley leave with someone. That's when the police were called."

"That child would be Grace Roberts?"

"Yes. She's a year younger than Hayley, but they have been taking ballet together for the last two years, and they've become good friends," Lindsay put in. "Grace said she thought Hayley had just gotten scared and decided not to perform." Lindsay took an anguished breath. "You have to find my daughter, Agent Adams. She must be so scared. I can't imagine what she's thinking." More tears ran down Lindsay's face, and Mark pulled his wife into a tight embrace.

"Please," he said, heartbreak in his voice, as he looked back at her. "Find her. She's our baby girl. I've already told the detective I'll take a polygraph. I'll do whatever needs to be done, as will Lindsay and anyone else in the family. I know the father is always the first suspect. Do what you have to do to cross me off the suspect list, so we can figure out who took her."

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