Last week? Removed in planning for yesterday?
“No video of it being stolen?”
“Nah. We checked it out. You can’t see anyone. They stuck close to the building out of view. The camera shakes and jerks for a few minutes; then it goes black.” He dropped his cigarette and ground it out with his shoe. “Can’t really be worth much.”
“What happened with the angry guy?” Zander asked. “You must have got a good look at him.”
“He backed out of the spot, spun his tires, and left. Of course I got a good look at him. I said I talked to him.” He gave Zander a suspicious side-eye, as if worried the agent was missing a few marbles.
“What did he look like?” Ava asked, amused at the clerk’s misunderstanding. “Was he carrying anything? What was he wearing?”
“Oh . . . black baseball cap, sunglasses. Dark pants. Long-sleeved black T-shirt. Pretty good-sized dude—”
“Taller than you?” asked Zander.
Todd thought for a moment. “Hard to say. Moved like a young guy and had the attitude of a young guy, but his face was weathered—that might be from working outside. Anywhere between thirty and fifty, I’d guess. If I’d seen his eyes, I’d have a better idea.”
“Ah . . . tennis shoes?” Todd looked uncertain. “Wasn’t looking at his feet.”
“Sort of a dirty blond. Had it pulled back in a ponytail that stuck out under the cap.” Todd wrinkled his nose. “Had a backpack on one shoulder.”
Ava perked up. Black shirt and pants on one of the hottest days of the year and a backpack that could carry a weapon.
“What was the vehicle?”
“Dunno.” Todd shrugged. “White. Four-door little boring sedan that looks like every other car. I guess not very old because the paint was shiny. I only remember that much because I thought it was funny that he burned rubber on a lame car like that.”
“Which way did he go?”
The opposite direction of the shooter’s location.
They asked a few more questions, trying to prod Todd’s memory, but he had no other useful details. Ava gave him her card. She and Zander silently walked around the store to the front parking lot. “What do you think?” she finally asked as they reached his vehicle.
“We’ve got a description. We’ll see if it matches up with any other possible leads. Maybe he’s on camera somewhere else. We can check in the direction he went.”
He didn’t sound very confident.
“Why park behind a 7-Eleven? That’s a good way to get towed.”
“I don’t know how a tow truck could get into that tight space,” Zander said quietly. “It’d be nearly impossible, so not too bad of a choice if he knew there was no working camera.” He lifted both hands. “It could happen. The guy shot into a crowd of cops. He’s a risk taker.”
Ava couldn’t argue with that.
Just as she was about to get into Zander’s vehicle, she checked her phone. It’d vibrated three times while they talked with the 7-Eleven clerk, but she’d ignored it.
The three texts from Mason made her gasp.
Ray’s in surgery. Took a bad turn. Headed there.
“What happened?” Zander asked sharply.
She’d frozen with her hand on the door handle, staring at her phone. “It’s Ray. Something happened and they took him to surgery.” Her heartbeat pounded in her ears.
“Do we need to head that way?”
Indecision flittered around her head. What do I do?
“I don’t know.” She fired off a text to Mason asking what happened.
For the second time that day she was pulled in two different directions. Stricken, she looked at Zander, unable to make a decision. Work or family?
He read her face. “Get in. I’ll run you back to the office, and you can drive from there. I’ll handle our assignment for now.”
Relief flooded her. “Are you sure?”
“I can tell you wouldn’t be an effective investigator at the moment.”
“That’s true. My focus is completely shattered.”
They both climbed in the vehicle, and Ava gripped her phone, willing Mason to text her back.
Her phone was agonizingly silent.
Hold on, Ray.
This will destroy Mason.
“This isn’t happening today,” she whispered. “I can’t have two people taken away in one day.” With a sharp pang in her heart, she suddenly felt David’s death very keenly; she’d lost the what-could-be. While he lived, there had always been a chance that she’d lower her walls and they’d get to know each other in a deeper way. Now she could lower them all she wanted and it no longer mattered.
“I’ll never know,” she mumbled, staring straight ahead.
“You’re right,” Zander said. “You’ll never know what might have happened with David in your life.”
Zander is too perceptive.
“But do you know what?”
“What?” she asked flatly.
“You’ve got two half siblings with nice families waiting to get to know you. The potential for something great between all of you still exists.” He turned and caught her gaze. “Don’t turn your back on it.”
She hated it when he was right.
What do I have to lose?
Mason called back as Ava was getting into her car at the FBI office to drive to the hospital. Her heart jumped at his name on her screen.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Ray’s all right. There were some really bad moments for a while, but he’s breathing normally now.”
Ava exhaled and leaned back in her seat, drained. “How’s Jill?”
“A wreck. Just like the rest of us. But relieved.”
“Do you need me up there?” she asked.
“No, I’m going to leave in a few minutes now that he’s out of danger again.” Mason sounded as if he hadn’t slept in two days.
The shooting was barely twenty-four hours ago.
“Ava . . .”
“We lost another one. A deputy,” he whispered.
Her eyes smarted. “That’s five deaths now.”
“I know. Could’ve been six.”
Silence stretched between them.
Ray will be fine. He’s going to make it.
Ava kept the thoughts to herself. Mason was never comforted by the usual words of encouragement. They were empty to him, meaningless. She felt the same.
“There’s a service tomorrow,” he finally said.
“We’ll be there, of course.” The police funeral they’d attended last fall suddenly felt as if it had occurred yesterday.
Mason didn’t reply. His supervisor had been murdered in October, and Ava knew he was suffering through unpleasant memories. She wished she were standing beside him.
“What are you doing?” he asked, his voice flat.
He wants a distraction. “Zander and I were assigned to follow up on some interviews in Oregon City.” She wished she had nonshooting news to share. She still hadn’t told him about David’s death on the coast—there’d been no time.
“Mason, I hate to bring this up now, but you should know.” With hesitant words she shared what she knew about David’s shooting.
“Ava . . . I’m so sorry.” Concern flooded his tone. “Are you going over there?”
“No. I’m needed here. The sheriff seems to have it under control.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
He was asking about her joining her . . . family. “I know,” she said quietly. Like Zander, Mason knew all her insecurities about the Dresslers. “I’m staying here. For now.”
“What a fucked-up couple of days,” he muttered.
“There’s something else. I forgot to tell you last night because . . . well, because,” Ava said awkwardly. She told him the story of how Brady Shurr had shown up, and Zander’s discovery that Jayne had used a fake passport in Ava’s name to get into the country.
“Are you okay?” he asked sharply.
He’d been the buffer between Jayne’s rehab journey and Ava for quite some time. “Is it wrong that I’m almost relieved to hear she’s up to her old tricks?”
“Makes sense. We’ve both been waiting for her relationship with Shurr to blow up somehow. This is the Jayne we understand.”
“I don’t think understand is the right word. Expect is more accurate.” She grimaced. “There’s one more thing.”
Mason cursed long and loud at her story about the wedding-venue cancellation.
“Zander has a point that we can’t assume it was Jayne. It could have been someone getting back at you or at Cheryl’s business.”
“We both know that’s not true. Jayne enters the country and that happens? It’s not a coincidence.”
Ava caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. Zander was waiting at his SUV two rows over, watching her talk on the phone. Good. He didn’t leave after dropping me off.
“I’m going back to work. Zander is waiting,” she told Mason as she held up one finger to Zander. “I think I’ve covered everything.”