A Reason to Believe
A plate of Christmas cookies sat on the polished black marble counter. It was a large white platter populated with yellow stars, Christmas trees with M&M'S for ornaments, and snowflakes thick with white frosting and sparkling with sugary glitter. And angels. Little girl angels with widespread wings and pink robes and curling blond ringlets. They looked like cheerful little cherubim, with their pink cheeks and little red smiles.
Matt Bennett supposed Christmas cookies were an appropriate thing to find on a kitchen counter in the hours before dawn on Christmas. During his own childhood, cookies and milk for Santa had played an important role in the Christmas Eve rituals. But the purpose for his presence made those bright-eyed angels seem faintly macabre.
The call had come in at one-fifty, waking him from the first sound sleep he'd had in days. As his captain filled in the details with typical efficiency, Matt's mood had grown more and more sour. God, he hated cases involving kids. They were the worst. It seemed particularly cruel such a thing should happen on Christmas Eve.
The facts were already in evidence, but it didn't make the investigation any more palatable. Abigail Marie Reynolds, age six, was missing from her parents' home. When they'd put her to bed around nine, she'd been fine. Excited for Christmas morning, she'd taken a while to settle but she'd been sleeping peacefully by eleven when her father peeked in on his way to bed. When her mother got up at one and saw her daughter's door ajar and a light on, she checked the room only to find the pink princess linens and blankets on the floor. The child was nowhere to be found.
Frantic, she woke her husband, and they made an exhaustive search of the house. When it became apparent the little girl was gone, they called the police. At one time, there would have been a twenty-four-hour wait, just to make sure the child hadn't wandered off on her own. Amber alerts had changed all of that. Detectives now knew the first hours were crucial in the recovery of a missing child, and they swung into action immediately. Of course, it didn't hurt that the father of this particular missing girl was also a high-profile defense attorney. The list of suspects among his clients was no doubt a mile long.
Matt leaned against the counter in the large kitchen as his captain and another officer interviewed the parents. They were seated at a gleaming dining room table, the light from the chandelier above unforgiving. The father looked ragged and shell-shocked, and his wife was tearfully repeating her story, twisting a white handkerchief in her hands. On the sideboard behind them, prominently displayed, were several photographs of an angelic little girl with a full head of curling blond hair and a dimpled smile.
Captain Branson questioned them respectfully, but Matt knew what his captain was thinking. In many missing child cases, the parents were involved somehow and almost always were considered the first suspects, at least until sufficient evidence removed them from suspicion. Matt hated it but had been around long enough to know it was more often than not true. Taking in the father's slouched posture and the mother's white-knuckled hands, Matt pitied them. He'd be hard pressed to believe the shattered, frightened people had anything to do with the disappearance of their only child, but he tended to be more compassionate than Branson. Matt admired him as a detective even while not liking him much as a person.
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Title: A Reason to Believe
Author: Diana Copland