“I have no idea what I did to deserve his praise. All I did was meet with him a few times and try to stay patient.” She thought for a moment. “I gave him some resources for a friend of his who was in a domestic violence situation. That wasn’t a big deal. He could have found them on the internet.”
“He went on to describe in minute detail his plans to plant a bomb at the courthouse. It would be right after lunch when everyone had returned. He wanted the courthouse full.”
“Wow. Are you sure this was Reuben’s handwriting?” She couldn’t see a killer in the man she’d met at Starbucks.
“It matched the cramped style on the Post-it notes stuck to the maps on the walls and the checkbook carbons found in a desk drawer.”
“Okay.” Her mind spun, searching for different possibilities that could explain how the angry ranter and her informant were the same person. “Either he has some sort of mental illness or he’s an excellent actor.”
“He indicated he wasn’t alone in his thinking. A like-minded group was mentioned. His tone changed when he wrote about them . . . it felt respectful and admiring.”
“He told me he was friends with people in antigovernment factions. It was one of the reasons I continued to meet with him. Many groups stir up hate toward law enforcement. Too many.”
“But if Reuben was killed before he could carry out his plans, then who else knew about them? And did they decide to shoot when they saw us rally to the courthouse?” He met Ava’s gaze. “Or did they plan it before?”
“You’re saying the plans were left for you to find.”
“Discovering Reuben’s murdered body was to bring law enforcement into his home, where the bombing plans would be found?” Ava felt the theory was a stretch. A big stretch. “That means someone had to report the death in time for police to respond, the plans to be found, and the courthouse to be evacuated—all before the stated time of the bomb detonation. That’s a lot of wobbly domino pieces to line up.”
“Reuben had a thing going on with a female neighbor,” said Mason.
“Sounded like it was purely physical. She was the one who called the police about the blood in the house.”
“Was she expecting to meet Reuben at a certain time today?”
Mason winced. “I didn’t ask.”
“To make the dominoes in your theory fall in line, someone had to know when she was coming.”
He held the cool beer bottle against his forehead. “This is making my brain ache.”
“Mine too. I heard no bomb was found in the courthouse. They used explosives dogs to search the building and surrounding area.”
“I think we both knew they wouldn’t find anything.”
Silence settled between them. The deadly massacre had struck too close to home. To consider that it’d been carefully orchestrated to take innocent lives hurt her heart.
Why is there so much anger?
“Who will head up the shooting investigation?” she asked.
“Well, the Clackamas County sheriff was running the evacuation and bomb scare, but he has to expect the FBI will assist him in the investigation at some point.”
“For a bomb at a county courthouse, you bet.”
“But now with the primary focus turning to the shooting, I see the FBI taking the lead in the investigation and the sheriff’s department supporting. And OSP will want in since Ray was . . . involved.”
He pressed his lips together, his eyes fierce. She knew he wanted to be involved with Ray’s case, but he was too close to the victim. OSP would assign it to a different detective.
And Mason would look over their shoulder the entire time.
“The Braswell murder is mine. No one’s taking that away from me,” he stated.
“Of course not.” He looked exhausted, barely able to hold his head up. She wasn’t about to point out that there was a strong chance his murder investigation would fall under the umbrella of the shooting investigation, and then Mason would be removed from the Braswell case.
He had to know but was stubbornly ignoring the logic.
“We’re both worn out,” she said. “This is a discussion for alert and peppy people who’ve had a good night’s sleep.”
“Peppy? No one would ever call me peppy,” he grumbled.
He had a point.
“I think it’s bedtime, Peppy,” she said, struggling to keep a straight face at the disgusted look he gave her.
“Don’t,” he ordered.
“Not a good nickname?”
“Hell no. But I agree on bed,” he added softly. He dropped his gaze, and she felt his thoughts turn to Ray. He was hurting, and it was more than his back.
She took the beer bottle from his hand and set it with her wineglass on the end table. Moving to his lap, she took his face in her hands and lightly pressed her lips against his cheek. She moved her kiss to his forehead and then his other cheek. All soft touches, offering comfort and understanding. He closed his eyes and leaned his face against hers, tightening his arms around her.
“I’m tired.” The weight in his voice broke her heart.
“That makes two of us.” She stood and pulled him to his feet. “Tomorrow will be better.”
“Will it?” he whispered, gathering her against him.
She leaned into him and said nothing, knowing the question was rhetorical.
Tomorrow could be worse than today.
What if Ray doesn’t make it through the night?
Mason didn’t know how long he’d slept, but it couldn’t have been longer than three hours. He’d woken a dozen different times. Sometimes from the pain in his back, sometimes from thinking about Ray.
He’d checked his phone each time, expecting a text about changes in Ray’s condition.
There had been none. He’d lie back down, relieved. No news was good news. But then he’d wonder if Jill had forgotten her promise to notify him. He refused to text her during the night to ask, hoping she was getting some sleep at the hospital.
Jill’s text had arrived as he drove to the medical examiner’s office.
No change overnight
Ray’s condition wasn’t headed in the wrong direction. Mason took that as a positive.
Inside the building he was directed to one of the autopsy suites. Two autopsies were going on, but Mason immediately knew which was his. Dr. Gianna Trask stood on a small stool near her stainless-steel table as she leaned over Reuben Braswell. Her assistant made notes as Dr. Trask spoke quietly, the doctor’s words recorded by a dangling overhead microphone.
Mason slipped on a gown, booties, and a face shield from the shelves near the door. If his eyes were shut, he’d know where he was by the smell alone. The constantly running air-filtering system did the best it could, but the autopsy suites always smelled like iron from blood, strong detergents, and refrigerated meat that was starting to go bad. Depending on the case, sometimes the odors were worse. Advanced decomposition and burned flesh were the two that Mason hated the most.
The room was chilly, and a popular song from the nineties played in the background. Mason couldn’t remember the band’s name, but he could picture them clearly in his head. A group of English guys with morose faces.
Working on the other autopsy, at the far end of the room, were Dr. Seth Rutledge and two gowned assistants. The doctor raised a hand to acknowledge Mason, who did the same as he went to join Dr. Trask.
Reuben’s body was stark white under the bright lights. Mason dragged his gaze away from the stubby, brutalized hands, remembering the fingers scattered on the bathroom floor. The head was worse.
“Good morning, Mason.” Lines appeared at the corners of Gianna’s eyes as she smiled. He couldn’t see the rest of her face behind her mask and face shield. The small woman was swamped in her personal protective equipment, and she had an organ in her hands that Mason couldn’t identify. She set it on a scale, and the assistant made a notation on his clipboard.
Mason hated being late, but his restless night’s sleep had caused him to accidentally turn off his alarm instead of hitting SNOOZE. Ava had had to shake him awake.
“Sorry about being late.”
“Don’t worry about it. I can catch you up to speed.” She straightened and arched her back. A pained look crossed her face. “Ouch. I’ve been in one position for too long.”
Mason’s gaze locked on the small bulge under her gown. “You’re pregnant,” he blurted. “Ah . . . I mean—Um.” His face heated. What if she’s not pregnant?
Dr. Trask met his stare but didn’t say anything.
Shit. She’s going to tell Ava I fucked up.
“Gianna,” her tall male assistant muttered, shaking his head. “Be nice.”
Her eyes crinkled, and she gave a muffled laugh behind her mask. “Yes, I’m pregnant. But jeez, Mason, you should be more careful.”
“Surprised me, is all.” He tried to calm his pounding heart.
How did I not notice her pregnancy at the crime scene yesterday?
Some detective he was—his job was to notice things that other people didn’t. The one bright spot was that Ray hadn’t noticed either.