“Sounds like it was personal to the commenter.”
“That’s what caught my attention too. But then his rants turned to killing cops. He proposed to take away the government’s human weapons, so the government would be powerless to keep us down.”
Mason’s hand tightened on his coffee cup. “Seriously?”
“Yep. He caught a lot of flak from other commenters, which didn’t seem to bother him. He could argue with the best of them, but he also had plenty of supporters. I got the impression he frequented other message boards where this law enforcement conspiracy to keep the average man down was commonplace. I looked but couldn’t find another one that he participated in. He probably had a different username.”
“Who was this guy?”
“After some deep digging, I found the email for this poster belonged to Reuben Braswell.”
Mason’s coffee turned to acid in his stomach.
“Think one of his like-minded associates could be involved in his murder?” asked Brody.
“That doesn’t make sense. If they had the same ideologies, why kill him?”
“Maybe he had a change of heart . . . Maybe the shooting was part of a big plan and he wanted to back out. That could have made one of his associates very angry.” Brody looked evenly at Mason. “What at the Braswell scene alerted you to the bombing threat at the courthouse?”
I can’t go there.
“Considering your number of sources, I’m surprised you haven’t figured that out.”
“I’ve heard rumors. Nothing substantiated. I know an alarm was raised while you and Ray were inside the home, and then you were out of the house within minutes.”
“Everybody responded to the threat. City, county, state, federal . . .”
“But no one else was investigating the murder of a cop-hating conspirator and then rushed into a massacre.”
I hate it when he does that.
Brody had a knack for solving puzzles when he didn’t have all the pieces. Mason took a long drink of his coffee, searching for how to respond.
The reporter leaned back in his chair and nodded. “Thought so. You’re really bad at hiding your thoughts. What was it? Something on his computer? A diary?” Brody crossed his arms as he considered. “His computer wouldn’t be searched until it went to a lab—unless something was immediately visible on the screen. Braswell didn’t strike me as a diary-keeping type of guy.” He looked expectantly at Mason.
“You know I can’t tell you anything.”
“How is Ava involved in this?”
Brody snorted. “You should see the shock on your face.” He grew sober, his eyes concerned. “She’s not in any danger, right?”
Mason hadn’t even considered that since her name was in Braswell’s diatribe, Ava might be a target. “Christ.”
If Braswell singled out Ava as a good cop, does that make her a target for Braswell’s killer?
“What on earth did you find in that house?” Brody leaned forward, his stare probing.
“Give me the websites and username you linked to Reuben Braswell.”
“I emailed them to you before we sat down.”
“Someone was furious with Braswell,” Brody continued. “Who and why?”
“When I learn that, I’ll know who killed him.”
And possibly shot Ray.
“She shouldn’t be here,” the Clackamas County detective said to Zander. The young county detective had marched over the minute he learned Ava was in the task force room for the briefing.
“I’m right in front of you,” Ava said in a calm voice to the detective. “Vent your complaints in my direction.” She saw a muscle twitch in Zander’s cheek.
He’s trying not to laugh.
She didn’t find the situation funny. Due to her name being in the Braswell notes, she had been prepared for pushback against her presence on the case. “If you don’t want to discuss it with me, then you can call the Portland FBI ASAC. He assigned me to this case in spite of my name showing up for no good reason in that man’s house because he knows I’m the best for the job.” She knew her boss would back her up.
“There’s got to be a hundred agents in that office,” the detective said. “Your ASAC can send someone else.”
“Then you call him. But we’ve already had this discussion, and he won’t care about your concerns. He cares about finding out who murdered four police officers.” Ava held the detective’s gaze.
She sent up her hundredth silent prayer for Ray.
After a long moment, the detective turned away. “Find a seat,” he tossed over his shoulder.
Ava let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “Ass,” she muttered.
“He’s doing his job,” Zander pointed out as they took two seats in the front row. “If he hadn’t protested, it wouldn’t have looked right. He had no intention to send you packing.”
“You don’t think so?” Ava studied the detective with a skeptical eye and a new sense of respect as he huddled with two men in deputy uniforms.
“Nope. And he only addressed me to see how you’d react. I think you passed his test.”
He did back down rather easily.
“He’s so young.” She was miffed she’d misread the detective’s tactics. She glanced around the room, recognizing police uniforms from a half dozen agencies, big and small. Several people were also in plain clothes. More detectives, she assumed. She was one of six women of about twenty-five people. A tall blonde in a pantsuit caught her eye, and Ava waved her over. She liked Nora Hawes, who was in Mason’s department. Ava had considered recruiting the detective for the FBI a number of times, but Nora seemed to relish the assortment of cases in OSP’s Major Crimes division.
Nora sat in the row behind her, and her lips turned up on one side. “I saw you put that detective in his place.”
“He was just doing what was necessary,” Ava replied, ignoring the twitch in Zander’s cheek again.
“I ran into Mason this morning at the medical examiner’s office. He looked exhausted. You two holding up okay?”
“As well as can be expected,” said Ava. “This case is very personal.”
“It is for a lot of us,” answered Nora. “Ray is one of the good ones.” She sat back in her chair as the Clackamas County sheriff stepped behind the table at the front of the room. Everyone else immediately found a seat.
Ava watched the sheriff shuffle through some papers and wished Mason were also on the inside of this investigation. He had left an odd message on her phone earlier, essentially telling her to watch her back. It made no sense.
Is he worried there will be another shooting?
Ava briefly closed her eyes. So many unanswered questions.
There were five rows of chairs facing the front, and computer stations filled one side of the room. A few techs moved from computer to computer, checking wires and moving plugs. Four uniformed officers sat at a table answering phones, taking tips from the public. She’d heard the tips were coming in as fast as the officers could answer the phones. More were arriving via email and on social media. Sorting through the information would take most of their hours. Task forces weren’t glamorous; they meant long, dull hours spent wading through minutiae.
The walls of the room had a dozen whiteboards and bulletin boards. Currently only one bulletin board was in use, but Ava knew they would all be full in days. Photos were pinned to the first bulletin board, showing shots of the streets around the courthouse. Two of them had uniformed bodies lying in the street.
She looked away, her stomach tight. If Ray hadn’t been holding a ballistic vest, would he still have been targeted? The other victims had been in uniform. The crack of the shots she’d heard while watching the news video had echoed in her mind all night. Mason said Ray had been one of the first people shot. Had she heard one of the shots that hit him?
“Okay, folks, let’s get started.” The sheriff addressed the room and proceeded to introduce himself and a few other commanders from various agencies. As she listened, Ava appreciated his leadership skills. The sheriff didn’t waste words and made everyone feel like they were a part of a team. Not every commander could do that.
He tapped on a laptop, and a PowerPoint display popped up on the screen behind him. “Here’s what we’ve got so far. Twenty-two .300 AAC Blackout casings were found in this area at the top of the cliffs.” He used a red laser pointer to indicate an area under the trees in the huge photo.
“Heavy rounds,” Zander muttered under his breath.
“No other locations?” asked someone in the audience.
“Not that we’ve found.” The sheriff cleared his throat. “Based on interviews from people at the scene, it’s looking like one shooter, but we haven’t ruled out the possibility of two or more. We’re still reviewing all the camera footage we recovered in the surrounding area. A 7-Eleven turned over quite a bit of footage, and three churches in the area did the same. Data from traffic cameras has been pulled, and interviews with people at the scene are still in process.”