Lurking in the shadows, capturing that crucial piece of evidence with his own camera was second nature to Dan. Sitting in front of the media, their lenses capturing his image for the world to see, was something with which he felt far less comfortable.
Are there worse headlines for me than ‘P.I Loses His Own Daughter, Pleads for Information’?
He fidgeted with his fingers. There was more at stake here than his embryonic professional reputation. Staring at the wall of cameras in front of him, he waited for the public-facing police officer to finish his introduction. The spotlight belonged to glamorous movie stars and musicians. It did not belong to second-rate investigators like him. He didn’t want to be portrayed as a pathetic, pleading parent, but he could think of no more successful way to gather data about their daughter or her abductor.
He was unsure of their effect on the real world. Would people feel driven to respond with information? He suspected that the real-world responses of most involved turning to fellow viewers with phrases such as ‘Those poor parents’ or ‘How could they let that happen?’ passing their lips, emphasised by a slow shake of their heads.
Dan’s first thought, when witnessing such press conferences, was that the darling daughter of the pleading parents was most likely already lying lifeless in a ditch somewhere. He hoped above all else that the same thing wouldn’t be true here, now.
The Sergeant introduced a photo-fit of the kidnapper, an amalgamation of the accounts given by former victims and letting agents. “This man is a practised abuser and killer of children, specifically females aged between eleven and sixteen.” He said with all of the emotion one might convey whilst reading an instruction manual or a page of a phonebook.
He listed the previous locations and the names of the girls that had never returned home. “This man is still out there, driving around on UK roads with a fourteen year old girl, shown in the photograph in your press packs.” There was some rustling of papers from the crowd as he cleared his throat. “The parents of the girl, named Abigail Castle, are here with us today.”
He turned to face Dan. Every camera and face in the room turned to look at him. The murmuring died down as everyone watched on in silence. That seemed to be his cue.
Staring at several large lenses as if they were the barrels of multiple guns, Dan held up the photograph of Abigail that everyone had in their hands or on their laps. The image had been cropped to show only her head and shoulders, but he knew the photograph well. It was taken a month or so earlier at her brother’s birthday party. She was wearing a simple pink t-shirt and light blue jeans. She was wearing a cheesy smile, deliberately posing for the camera. It showed the happier side of her teenage temperament.
“This is our beloved Abigail. She is only fourteen. She was snatched by the kidnapper whose face you’ve just seen. This occurred on Friday after school.” Dan gulped down air, fearful of an onset of acid reflux, and then he continued. “Shortly afterwards I received a DVD in which I was informed that the kidnapper planned to give her an innocence test, and that he would then release her if a ransom was paid. We have not received any contact since that time.”
There were clicks of cameras and murmurs from the press. Questions would be asked later, but it was still Dan’s time to speak. He cleared his throat and continued.
“I would like to say a few words to the man who has our daughter. I am aware of your possible ransom demands. I have noticed that things seem to have changed. Please contact us or the police so you can tell us how we can get our daughter home safely. Abigail is a beautiful, sweet, innocent girl who will only want to experience the normal life of a teenage girl over the coming years. Please allow her to do so.”
Dan looked over at Jennifer. Your turn. She was already fighting back tears as she spoke. “Abigail, if you can hear this message, I want you to know that you are not to blame for this. We know you didn’t want any of this.” Her voice broke. Her emotions were pouring out for the media to see, to use.
After dabbing her eyes with a tissue, she continued, “We hope you’re well, and if there is a chance to relay a message to us safely, please do it. We need to know you’re okay. If you need to, please just wait patiently until we can make sure you’re safe with us at home. We love you, and we want you to know that our family is in pieces without you here with us.”
Her words had been carefully chosen and rehearsed. They needed to be. She couldn’t dare to speak straight from the heart when there was a gaping hole there. In any case, it was impossible for a loving mother to say more. She was already wiping away tears, some of which had run down her face and fallen to the table in front of her.
Dan put an arm around his wife to console her to the sound of camera clicks, being bathed in the flickering white light from a multitude of camera flashes. He could feel the gaze of the nation’s media on them, callously taking advantage of a good photo opportunity and story. However he felt about the media, at this moment they were to be his allies, his scouts for vital information. They were to spread the word of their missing daughter. He needed them to help in bringing her home.
Within the next couple of minutes the lights would be out and the highlights of this conference would replay on news programmes for the next few hours. By tomorrow this will be a part of news archives. Dead news.
After the window of the next few hours, the chances of further press coverage, positive information from the public or any sightings of the man and their daughter would be greatly reduced.
As the Sergeant concluded, Dan was no longer listening. Do these things actually work? Do they ever result in the return of a wayward child?
The next few hours would help to answer his questions.