“Congratulations to you and Chris,” Mason said. “What does Violet think?” he asked about Gianna’s teen daughter.
“That’s great.” He wondered if Ava knew about the pregnancy and hadn’t told him. His jaw tightened. They’d discussed having kids. It was still up in the air. Both hesitant to talk about it.
Mason had already done the family path. Jake was in college, and he couldn’t imagine becoming a father again at fifty. Or even later. But being twelve years younger than he, Ava felt different. Sometimes. She hadn’t said anything in months.
Focus on the case.
“What do you have on Mr. Braswell?” he asked.
“I never had a chance to tell you yesterday that I had estimated his death to be between midnight and four a.m.”
He’d forgotten to ask about the time of death.
Dr. Trask tipped her head, studying him. “You were very busy and preoccupied yesterday. And I assume most of the night. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
She has a point.
“Manner of death is blunt force trauma to the skull. I can’t tell you specifically which blow . . . there are too many.”
He stole a glance at the head. One side of Reuben’s skull was sunk in, and his right cheekbone and eye socket were indistinguishable. The blood coating his face had been washed off, exposing ripped and split skin and what was left of his teeth and lower jaw.
Reuben Braswell looked like a horror-movie extra.
“External exam revealed numerous abrasions and bruising all over his body. Eight fingers had been removed. But I only have seven.” She gestured at a shallow silver bowl.
A bowl of horror-movie props.
“Where in the hell is the eighth finger?” Mason muttered.
“A keepsake?” suggested Dr. Trask.
“Probably.” What will he do with it? “What else have you found?”
The doctor gently prodded a spot on the sunken skull. It sank farther, and Mason looked away, bile burning his esophagus. “I don’t think I’ll be able to reassemble this skull. I’ll give it my best shot.”
Mason studied the destroyed face. Reuben’s would not be an open-casket funeral. “I don’t think you need to attempt to make it look better.”
“He’s somebody’s son.”
“His parents are dead. He never married . . . I haven’t checked to see if there might be some kids. He has a brother and sister, but they live in Nevada. I’ll try to contact them today.”
“Mason?” He turned and found a tall woman covered in protective gear. She’d been at the other autopsy table. He recognized her eyes.
“Nora . . . why are—” Mason cut off his words. The OSP detective could only be here for one reason. He looked past her to the male body on the other table. “Is that one of the . . .” He couldn’t finish.
“Deputy Tims. From the courthouse yesterday.”
One of the murdered officers.
A subtle dizziness came over him, and the other body blurred in his vision.
That could have been Ray on that table. Still might be.
“I hadn’t heard you were assigned to the shooting,” Mason said lamely.
“Last night. I’ll be working with the task force that the Clackamas County sheriff put together.”
He took a deep breath and his vision cleared. He and Detective Hawes both worked out of the Portland office. She hadn’t been there long, but she’d impressed Mason with her thoroughness and work ethic. She would have been his choice to find Ray’s shooter.
Concern shone in her eyes as she studied him. “Ray’s going to be fine. And we’ll get the guy—or guys—who did this.”
“I have no doubt you’ll find the shooter.”
“You heard there are four deaths now?” Nora asked, sadness in her eyes.
Shock rocked Mason, and he shook his head, unable to speak.
It’s a never-ending nightmare.
“The injured Oregon City officer didn’t make it,” she said.
His face flashed in Mason’s mind. “Young.”
How many more police will die?
“Twenty-five. Married with a two-month-old son.”
Anger swept through him, and Mason bit his tongue. There was nothing that could be said to fix what had happened.
“Mason?” Dr. Trask asked. “I’d like you to look at this.”
“I’ll let you go,” Nora said. “We both have a lot to do.”
He watched the detective return to Dr. Rutledge’s autopsy and sent up a fervent prayer that there’d be no more deaths.
Ava rubbed the smeared mascara below her right eye. She’d glanced in the mirror by her front door as she was leaving for work and had done a double take. “How on earth did I do that?” She’d put on her makeup a half hour ago, before Mason left for the medical examiner’s office. “He would’ve told me if he’d seen it,” she mumbled. “I think.”
Sometimes men didn’t notice that type of thing.
Her phone rang, and she smiled as the name of the winery they’d reserved for the wedding showed on her screen. She was in love with the place. It was a Tuscan-style building that sat on top of a hill out in Yamhill County. The views were spectacular, but it wasn’t pretentious. It was small and homey and welcoming. Their wedding wouldn’t be large, maybe forty people.
“This is Ava.”
“It’s Erin. I’m so glad I reached you.”
Ava would have recognized the young woman’s British accent anywhere. She’d spent many hours chatting with the winery’s manager. Discussions about wedding plans had led to discussions about wine and then discussions about Italy. Erin had spent two years there and had advised Ava on her honeymoon plans.
“Hi, Erin, what’s up?”
“Is everything okay? When my assistant told me you canceled your date, I had to call you. I was really worried.”
Ava’s hands turned to ice. “What?”
“You canceled your reservation. Monica said you called ten minutes ago.”
Panic shot up her spine. “No! I didn’t call! Oh my God, Erin. You didn’t give my date away, did you?”
“No, of course not! I wanted to hear it from you personally.” She lowered her voice. “I did wonder if something went wrong between you and Mason. It does happen.”
“Who—who would . . . ?” Ava’s shoulders fell. Jayne.
Her sister was back in the States, and it appeared she was up to her old games.
“I’m so sorry to scare you like that. Who on earth would do such a thing? Do you or Mason have an angry ex who would call?”
“No exes.” Ava pressed two fingers above her right eyebrow, a headache blossoming. “I think someone was playing a joke.”
“Well, it’s a shitty joke.” Erin’s accent thickened. “I’ll leave it to you to dole out the tongue-lashing. What a horrible thing to do. What if Monica had gone ahead and filled the date?”
“Then you would have kicked them out because you know that is my date—our date,” she corrected.
“You bet your arse I would.”
Ava ended the call a minute later.
Do I tell Mason?
She wouldn’t do it now. He had enough on his plate. And she still hadn’t told him about Brady Shurr’s visit and Jayne’s disappearance. It felt as if she had learned about Jayne much longer ago than yesterday. But yesterday had turned into a lengthy nightmare.
No wonder she’d forgotten to bring up Jayne.
She sent a text to Cheryl, her next-door neighbor and wedding planner, asking if she was home.
Yep. What do you need?
Can I come over for a minute?
The door is open
Her anger starting to boil, Ava gave Bingo a head rub and then marched over to Cheryl’s house. The door was literally open, and Ava walked right in.
Cheryl’s home always gave Ava the feeling that she’d walked into an eclectic art studio. Bright colors popped everywhere, and it worked perfectly, creating a lush and opulent atmosphere. If Ava had tried to decorate with colors like that, the result would resemble a toddler’s playroom.
Ava never dreamed she’d use a wedding planner. How hard could it be to make some reservations and choices? Now she was thankful she’d allowed her neighbor to talk her into using her services. Ava didn’t have time to think about details; she was too busy with work. Hiring someone to think for her had been one of her best decisions ever.
She found Cheryl in the kitchen, pouring something over a glass of ice. The odor of fresh espresso hit Ava and she sighed.
“This one is yours.” Cheryl shoved the drink into Ava’s hand.
“I can’t. I have to drive to work.”
The tall blonde rolled her eyes. “There’s no alcohol in it.”
“That’s a first.” Ava took a sip. A perfect iced vanilla latte. “This is fantastic. Thank you.”
Popping a pod into an espresso machine, Cheryl met her gaze. “That’s better. You looked like you wanted to kill someone when you first walked in.” She hit a button, and the tiny machine made a huge noise and espresso immediately streamed into a cup.