“You were once a police officer,” he said. “You were pretty good. I checked. Agent Wilson, for one, thinks very highly of you. Seems you were helpful on a couple of difficult cases. Unofficially helpful.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I didn’t say anything.

“Have you ever been involved in a kidnapping for ransom before?” Honsa asked.

“Not from the inside.”

“What we have here”—he waved toward the dining room—“is a crisis negotiation team. We’re here to aid in the investigation.”

“I don’t see much investigating being done.”

Honsa regarded me for a moment over the brim of his coffee mug. “You’re not supposed to,” he said. “We always try to maintain separation from the family. If this were a bigger house, we’d take over a room and operate from there. Instead, we’re operating off-site.”


“You’ve been a cop. Do you want the family to hear our conversations? Do you want them to hear our brainstorming or case discussions? Do you want them to hear remarks that could be misinterpreted as disagreements or inexperience or, worse, as indifference?”

“Sorry,” I said.

“We’re not hiding anything, you know that. We’ll keep the family informed about everything that’s happening. We’ll answer every question.”


Honsa refreshed his mug with the coffeepot.

“That’s only part of the job,” he said. “Investigating. The other part is to work closely with the family of the victim. We establish what we call a NOC, a negotiation operations center. That’s in the dining room. We support the family members throughout the ordeal, aid them in negotiating with the suspects, rehearse what they should say, what they shouldn’t say, help them respond to threats and demands. We want to immerse ourselves into the family so we can assess family members.”

“Assess family members?”

“Part of that is being able to glean information regarding the victim, regarding Victoria.” Honsa pointed a finger at me. “You know the girl.”

“All her life,” I said. “It seems like all of my life, too.”

“Tell me about her. Is she brave?”

“She’ll take the last shot with the game on the line while playing basketball. Beyond that I don’t know. Until now no one has asked her to be brave.”

“It might help if we had an idea of how she’s holding up.”

“Wherever she is, she’s afraid. She wants her mother. She wants her father.”

“I appreciate that. Tell me how she would do locked in a dark closet. If they put tape over her eyes and mouth and chained her to a radiator.”

“As best she can.”

Honsa took a deep breath and closed his eyes. For a moment the reassuring smile disappeared, and he said, “I hate this. Lord God, I hate this. A little girl.” He opened his eyes. “It could be worse. Much worse. Kidnapping for ransom is traumatic as all hell, but it’s not—it’s not what it could be. It’s survivable. The child, the parents, they’ll survive. Things won’t be the same. They’ll go through a period of transition. Who knows? They may even grow stronger. I’ve seen it before. But it’s like beating cancer. In the back of your mind there’s always the fear. Always. It doesn’t go away. Still, they should be all right.”

“If we get the girl back,” I said.

“There is no ‘if,’ ” Honsa said.

Good man, I thought but didn’t say.

Honsa poured himself more coffee.

“The family members of a kidnap victim can easily be overwhelmed by it all,” he said. “Mrs. Dunston—she’s sad, angry, confused, distraught—she’s showing every negative emotion you can name.”

“Do you blame her?”

“Not even a little bit.”

“She’ll be all right.”

“You think so?”

“When it’s time for her to step up, she’ll step up.”

“You’re sure?”


“Are you and Mrs. Dunston close?”


“How close?”

“If Shelby and Bobby should ever have a falling-out, I’d probably take her side.”

Honsa raised an eyebrow at that. I didn’t know what he was thinking, and I didn’t ask.

“What about Lieutenant Dunston?” he said.

“What about him?”

“Some family members—they feel that they need to do something. Lieutenant Dunston is like that. He’s acting like a cop. He wants to solve the case. That makes me nervous.”


“He’s wound so damn tight he could do anything. I have no idea how he’s going to behave when we start negotiating with the kidnappers. He could go off.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“I am worried about it. I wish he would break down, release some of that tension, that anguish.”

“Afterward, maybe. When it’s all over. For now he’ll do what he has to do. He won’t make mistakes. He won’t screw up.”

“Is that a promise?”

“Yes, although when it’s over and Victoria is safe and the kidnappers are in custody, you don’t want him anywhere near the suspects.”

“Or you, either.”

“Goes without saying.”

It occurred to me then that Agent Honsa was assessing me as he had the others. I wondered what he thought, but I didn’t ask.