The door was opened by a lanky teenage boy in long athletic shorts and a tank top. His hair poked out in all directions, and he clutched a game controller in one hand.
Mason introduced himself. “Your parents around?”
“I live with my dad, and he’s out of town.” The teen studied the business card Mason had given him. “This about Reuben?”
“Is school out already?” Mason’s son, Jake, had always been in school halfway through June.
“I’m at PCC. No class today. What happened to Reuben? I mean, I know he’s dead, but how did it happen?”
“How old are you?” Just because he attended the community college didn’t mean he was over eighteen. Mason wasn’t about to talk to a minor without his parent present.
The teen scowled. “Twenty-two.”
Mason didn’t believe him. “You got ID?”
“Am I under arrest? You can’t just come here and ask me to show ID for no reason.”
“You want to talk about Reuben? I want to know you’re over eighteen.”
He instantly vanished and was back moments later with a driver’s license. Kaden Schroeder was twenty-two. “I heard it was pretty nasty,” Kaden said as Mason studied the license, at first wondering if it was a fake so Kaden could buy alcohol, but it looked legit.
Mason handed back the license. “Who told you that?”
Kaden shrugged. “Dunno.”
The shrug and answer reminded Mason of Jake. So did the game controller and messy hair.
When I was twenty-two, I had my own apartment and a full-time job.
“What are you studying?”
“Why does it matter?”
“It doesn’t. Just curious what you’re working toward in your life.”
The young man squinted at him. “Uh-huh. I think we’re done.” He started to close the door.
“You got any security cameras that cover the street?”
The door swung back open, interest bright in Kaden’s eyes. “Nah. You got a suspect?”
“How well did you know Reuben Braswell?” Mason ignored Kaden’s question.
Another shrug. “Not that well. He helped my dad repair our fence. Seemed cool. Big Twilight Zone fan. Found out we liked a lot of the same episodes.”
“The original series?”
“Of course. All the reboots suck.”
“The two of you talked about a TV show. What else?”
“Did you help your dad repair the fence?”
“What does that matter?”
That means no. “Have you seen anyone over there or on your street recently?”
“You mean like someone new? There was a Mustang in his driveway a couple times over the last week or so. Didn’t see it before that.”
Mason made a note on his pad. “Color?”
“Silver. Sweet car.”
“You don’t think it was Reuben’s?”
“Nah, seen him driving his truck the other day. The Mustang wasn’t around.”
Mason froze, his pen hovering over his pad.
Where is Reuben’s truck?
He scribbled a note to get the make and the plates of the truck to put out a BOLO. The killer could have driven off with the truck . . . but then how had the killer arrived at the home?
It wasn’t confirmed that a single shooter had done the courthouse shooting.
He needed the Braswell report from the crime scene team to see if their findings indicated more than one person had committed the murder.
“Who’d you see driving the Mustang?”
“Didn’t see no one. Just saw it in the driveway.”
“Overnight? Just during the day? Short or long periods?”
The young man wiped his nose with the back of his hand as he thought. “Not sure. I know it was there when I got home around two a.m. last Saturday. Don’t know if it stayed all night. It was never there consistently. Figured it might be a new girlfriend.”
Mason mulled that over. “You know Gillian who lives next door to him?”
“Yeah.” Kaden looked away. “Know her a little. She’s okay.”
The expression on his face reminded Mason of Gillian’s expression when she’d first lied about her relationship with Reuben. Mason lowered his notepad and took a hard look at Kaden. “You got something going on with her?”
Shock flashed in Kaden’s eyes. “Hell no. I mean . . . I wouldn’t mind . . . but hell no.” He twisted the game controller with both hands.
Mason believed him. “Did you ever see her at Reuben’s?”
The shock flared again. “Are you saying she’s a suspect? That she killed him? Holy shit.”
Mason held up both hands. “Slow down! I’m not saying that at all.”
“Then why the fuck are you asking about her? She’s really nice. She wouldn’t do something like that.” Concern filled his tone, but doubt flickered in his gaze.
“Let me ask again. You ever see them talking to one another? And I’m not asking because I think she killed him.” But she’s not off my list. Gillian was thin. She’d have to have caught Reuben by surprise with a powerful swing of the mallet to overpower him.
I need to interview her again.
Mason recalled Ray’s easy manner with the woman and clamped his teeth together.
Don’t think of Ray now.
“I can’t think of a time when I saw them,” Kaden was saying. “They’re next-door neighbors, so I’m sure they talked.”
Mason’s phone vibrated with a text, and he checked the screen. It was from Jill.
Call me asap
Dread swamped him. “I gotta make a call. Thanks for your help.” The words tripped out of his mouth. “Call-me-if-you-think-of-something-else.” He pointed at the business card in Kaden’s hand, turned away, and speed-walked across the street to his SUV.
I need to sit down. It could be bad. Shit, Ray.
He sat in his vehicle, and his fingers shook as he hit the screen to call.
“Mason?” Jill answered.
“What happened?” Every muscle in his body tensed.
“Ray was struggling to breathe. It set off alarms.” Her voice quivered. “They’re taking him back to surgery.”
“Oh, Mason. He was still sedated. I haven’t even spoken with him yet, and now . . .”
Mason closed his eyes. “I’m sure they’ll take care of it.”
“No one’s telling me anything. The kids . . . Can you . . .” Soft sobs came across the phone.
“I’m on my way.”
Ava had moved to the passenger’s seat of Zander’s SUV, her half sister Kacey still on the phone sobbing and babbling about her father’s death.
This isn’t happening.
“Slow down,” Ava repeated as a gush of garbled words spilled from Kacey’s mouth again. “Take a few deep breaths. Is anyone with you?”
“Yes.” Kacey noisily sucked in air. “Kevin and his wife. My husband flew back to San Diego yesterday for work.”
“Kids there too?”
“Yes. They don’t know yet.” Kacey’s voice cracked. “How do I tell them their grandfather is dead? Kevin’s kids are way too young to understand.”
Ava thought that was a blessing but didn’t say it out loud. Her half brother’s toddlers were adorable, and Kacey’s two kids were eight and ten. They were going to take the news hard.
“What did the police tell you?” Ava asked. “How did they know where to find you?”
“We’ve been here for two weeks,” Kacey said. “We’ve met everyone, and you know how Dad is. He’s everyone’s friend within seconds of meeting. The couple that found him recognized him immediately.” She took a shuddering breath.
“How did he die, Kacey?” Ava asked gently.
“H-h-he was shot . . . in the head,” she whispered.
Ava sagged into her seat.
Why this man? Why this kind man?
“I’m so sorry, Kacey.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“Just keep your family close. You don’t need to do anything. The police will guide you. Was it the Seaside police?”
“Yes. But the detective was from Clatsop County.”
Ava had known the small city’s police department would ask county or state for assistance in the murder. Seaside police were more accustomed to handling drunk tourists and speeding teenagers.
“I know the Clatsop County sheriff,” Ava said. “I worked with him on a case over there a few months ago. I’ll call him and get an update.” She paused. “Do you need me there?” she asked tentatively. Ava knew it wasn’t practical; she had just been assigned to one of the most important task forces in recent history.
But it was her family.
“No,” said Kacey. “You’ll just sit around with the rest of us waiting for information. You must have a ton of work.”
Guilt swamped Ava. She’d only known Kacey for nine months, but the woman had already learned that Ava’s work would always come first. Ava had used the excuse several times when David or Kacey had invited her to San Diego.
Is my work more important than this?