It is a typical Monday morning. At 7:30 a.m. sharp, the weekday routine begins in the Michaels’ home. The family members all get dressed and arrive in the kitchen by 7:30.
Like every morning, Chris Michaels, 44, puts two pieces of bread in the toaster. Normally, he would pour a glass of orange juice for his daughter, Audrey, 8, but since it is January, and one of the few cold days a year in New Orleans, he pours her a cup of hot cocoa. After that, he makes a pot of coffee and pours two cups: one for his wife, Michelle, 40, and the other for himself.
Audrey prepares her mother’s specialty coffee – half milk, half coffee, and lots of sugar. It is a New Orleans style known as Café Au Lait. After that, she runs into the living room with her lunch box and her cup of hot cocoa. She gathers her schoolbooks and searches for her mother’s keys and cell phone, which are often misplaced.
Michelle makes it to the kitchen in time to spread the margarine on the toast. While the family is rushing through breakfast, Chris suddenly realizes he is running late for his usual Monday morning meeting. He takes a sip of coffee, and then leaves about 7:40, but not before giving his girls hugs and kisses.
Audrey goes back to look for her mom’s keys and cell phone but with no success. If she is to be on time for school they must leave no later than 7:50. Today, they are running late.
Any other day Chris would work in his home office, but Monday mornings he regularly meets with his client, Patrika’s Purses. On his way to his 8:00 breakfast meeting Patrika calls to cancel the meeting. At 7:59 Chris is back home, but he has encountered something peculiar on his way.
Chris sees what appears to be Michelle’s van on a road that does not lead to Audrey’s school. In fact, Audrey’s school is in the opposite direction. This small bizarre turn in the routine of her day initially concerns Chris, but he finds it more comforting to assume that Michelle is picking up a schoolmate of Audrey’s. One thing is certain: Audrey is going to be late for school.
Upon reaching home he finds that his wife forgot to set the house alarm – something else that rarely happens.
Chris is uneasy, but tries not to become alarmed. He picks up his cup of coffee, now gone cold, and puts it in the microwave to heat it up, but never retrieves it. His workday begins as an advertising and marketing consultant for his company, Michaels Partners, a business he established eight years ago.
The bad news is yet to come.
At 9:00 Chris gets a call from school, asking him why Audrey is missing from class. He phones the hospital and learns that Michelle has not reached work for her 8:30 shift. Now he’s worried. An accident?
Chris calls Michelle’s cell phone and then tries Audrey’s, but neither his wife nor his daughter answers. Panicking now, he calls them repeatedly and becomes so frustrated that he begins pacing back and forth in his home like a caged tiger.
He runs outside to see if the van is parked anywhere nearby. This time when he calls his wife’s phone, he hears it ringing. His heart beating frantically, he finally locates it near the bushes. He then calls Audrey’s phone in the hope of finding it, too, which he does several feet away from Michelle’s. Both phones are so far from the front door and from where the van is normally parked it almost seems as though somebody threw the phones there. But who threw them and why?
Chris examines the phones, tapping on their screens to stumble on any clues that might help him find his family. He sees a text message on Audrey’s phone. It says something that shakes him to the bone. He reads it over and over before calling the police. The enigmatic text reads: “I’m baaack.”