Please be all right.
Zander caught his breath when he finally spotted the flashing lights of two fire trucks, an ambulance, and three county patrol cars clustered together.
Mason had called two more times, demanding details, and furious that Zander had been on the wrong road. Zander relayed the sheriff’s update, and told Mason he’d call him when he saw Ava.
With his heart in his throat, he pulled onto the shoulder and jumped out into the rain. Emily’s Honda had gone down the embankment on the wrong side of the road and stopped against two firs. A deputy recognized Zander and waved him down to the accident.
He couldn’t breathe.
The passenger door of the green Honda was open, the front seat empty, the door’s window nearly gone. Rescue and law enforcement were working on the driver’s side. As he drew closer, he saw the driver’s door was open and the workers were strapping Emily onto a board to carry her up the slope. Blood covered the left side of her face and hair.
But she was talking.
Relief swamped him and his knees went weak.
He searched for Ava and panic blossomed. He grabbed the closest deputy. “Where’s the passenger?”
“On her way to the hospital.”
“Columbia Memorial in Astoria.”
“What’s her condition?”
“Not sure. I wasn’t here when she left.”
Zander let him go and joined the rescuers to help lift Emily’s board from the ground. A deputy awkwardly held an umbrella over her head, keeping most of the rain away.
“Hey,” he said as he caught her gaze.
“Zander.” Her hand reached for him but couldn’t touch him because of the board’s straps. “Ava was shot.” Tears mixed with the blood on her face. “I don’t know how bad it is. She was unconscious.”
A brick formed in Zander’s gut, and he took her hand.
How will I tell Mason?
“Anyone know about the passenger?” He directed his question to the others carrying Emily’s board.
“Gunshot to her shoulder and neck. Possible head injury. She was stable when they left.”
A neck wound could be fatal.
“What happened?” he asked Emily, who had his hand in a death grip. Holding the board with his other hand, he helped the others start up the slope.
“Someone shot at us. I thought he was a jogger on the shoulder. I swerved and hit the brakes, but we went off the road.” She closed her eyes, her voice cracking. “I shouldn’t have yanked on the wheel. This wouldn’t have happened.”
“It sounds like Ava would have still been hit, and you might have been in a position to be shot at again.”
Her eyes had opened, but she didn’t believe him. “I screwed up.”
“Stop it,” he ordered. “Someone shot at your car. Even I would have done the same thing.”
The others holding her board muttered in agreement.
“Can you describe the shooter?” asked Zander.
“Not really. It was raining. He wore dark clothing. I’d wondered why he wasn’t wearing something brighter to be seen alongside the road.”
“I assume you didn’t see the weapon.”
“It was a handgun, not a rifle.”
“Are you hurt anywhere else?” Zander asked, scanning the rest of her. She had blood on her shirt and jeans, but it appeared to have dripped from her head wound. He brushed at a faint spray of reddish-brown dots on her right cheek. It was dry.
Mist from Ava’s injury?
Bile rose in his throat.
“I think I’m okay.”
“We’ll let the hospital decide that,” he said firmly.
“I really don’t need to go—”
Feeling numb, he watched as they loaded her in the ambulance and closed the doors. Emily didn’t look too bad, but would Ava be okay?
His phone rang, but he ignored it. He’d call Mason from his vehicle on his way to the hospital.
That call would suck.
Zander sat in a chair in Emily’s emergency-room bay, waiting for her to return. After cleaning up the cut on Emily’s head and checking her thoroughly, the impossibly young-looking ER doctor had sent her off for an MRI. That had been almost an hour ago. Ava had gone directly to surgery, and there had been no updates on her condition.
Right now, no news was good news about Ava.
His phone call with Mason on the way to the hospital had gone as expected. The Portland police detective had been irate and worried over Ava’s condition and frustrated that he wasn’t at her side. Zander easily imagined how fast the detective was driving and hoped he wouldn’t get in an accident.
Zander’s phone rang. “This is Wells.”
“Agent Wells, this is Tim Jordon at RCFL.”
Zander’s interest was piqued. He’d sent Sean Fitch’s laptop to the Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory in Portland. “Is this about the Fitch case?” Zander had been a software engineer for ten years before he joined the FBI. He’d spent some time in cybercrimes because of his background, but his skills were nothing compared to what the techs at the lab could do.
“It is,” said Tim. “I started on it yesterday, and I’m not done, but my boss said you wanted an update as early as possible.”
“Were you able to get into his email?”
“That’s where I started. He had two accounts. One for the school district and one personal. I’ve gone through both.”
“Anything threatening? Any indication he was arguing with someone?”
“Not that I’ve come across. Even the purged emails don’t point to any problems. His search history is primarily historical research websites.”
“That makes sense since he was a history teacher.”
“There’s a lot of well-organized documents on here. He seems to be rather anal about classifying his files and folders. I see a lot of classroom-related stuff, mostly American history, but he’s got loads of other files on old records that I don’t think were for school. They appear to be for a history book he’s writing. He has a few chapters and an outline in here.”
Zander wasn’t surprised.
“The rest of his online searches don’t raise any flags for me. Amazon, Home Depot—maybe they mean something to you.”
“Can you get me a list of his browser history and what he’s purchased online in the last three months?”
“Does he have a calendar?”
“Yeah. Want that too?”
“You got it.” Tim paused. “Lotta photos of him and his wife. Wedding stuff too. Looks like they were real happy. Pictures of him with teenage football players—I can tell they liked their coach. What happened to this couple is horrible.”
The tech’s personal observation caught Zander off guard.
“Computer forensics can be pretty dry,” Tim said hastily, as if he realized he’d stepped over a line. “I try to stay detached, but sometimes it’s next to impossible . . . This is one of those cases.”
“I get it. I can see that with these deaths,” said Zander. The investigation had made the couple come alive for him as well. He believed the small emotional connection was a good thing—more motivation to catch the assholes who had killed them.
“I hope you find who did this.”
“I’ll email you that stuff within the hour.”
Zander ended the call.
He couldn’t analyze the information from Sean’s laptop until he received the reports, so he refocused on the shooting that had caused Emily’s car accident. His mind was a jumble of questions and scenarios.
Emily’s description of the shooter’s actions indicated he’d deliberately shot at them. But who had been his target? Emily or Ava?
If Emily had been his target, was it the same person who had shot Nate Copeland?
If Ava had been the target, was it someone trying to interfere in the investigation? Or could it be someone from a previous investigation of hers?
Or neither? It could have been random.
The fact that the women had been in Emily’s car gave more weight to the theory that Emily was the target.
But how could the shooter have known the women would be on that road?
Their destination had been decided moments before they left. Had they been followed? After which a second person had informed the shooter of their direction?
The road is a locals’ route.
Their shooter was most likely local.
If Emily had been the target, what did the shooter believe she knew or had seen? Something at the Fitch murder site?
Zander ran a hand over his head. It was all speculation; he needed facts.
What if Ava doesn’t make it?
The intrusive thought pushed him over an edge. He jumped to his feet and frantically paced, both hands in his hair as ugly memories broke loose.
He hated hospitals. His wife, Faith, had spent her last weeks in a hospital, growing sicker and more unrecognizable as the cancer rapidly spread through her body. She’d felt ill for a few months but had blamed it on her pregnancy. When she was finally diagnosed, the cancer was stage four. She refused to abort their twelve-week-old daughter, Fiona, and then refused any cancer treatments that could affect the baby, convinced she could make it through the pregnancy on willpower alone. Every doctor told Zander she wouldn’t make it.