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“That was a lot to catch up on. David . . . Jayne . . . the wedding.”

“I know. Too much has happened in a short period of time. We both need a breather. Hopefully there will be good news about Ray soon.”

“I’m ready for some good news,” Mason admitted. “It’s all been shit.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too. Keep an eye out for Jayne. And anything else odd.”

She straightened, remembering the message he’d left on her voice mail. “What was with that message earlier? You essentially told me to watch my back. Why?”

“Brody told me he thinks Reuben Braswell wasn’t alone in his anger against law enforcement. Even though Braswell said you were one of the good ones, someone else might not feel that way.”

“Michael is involved now? Is he writing a story?” Ava grew very still. Michael Brody had excellent instincts. She’d learned to pay attention when the reporter had something to say.

“He was working on something else when he stumbled across Braswell. He sent me some links I haven’t looked at yet, but Braswell may have been active in organizations that want us gone.”

“By ‘us,’ you mean law enforcement. Not you and me specifically.”


Mason’s answer was a split second too slow for her comfort. “You heard something about me,” she said flatly.

“I didn’t, honestly. I just want you to be aware.”

“I will. I always am.”

“I know,” he said reluctantly. “But I had to say something.”

“And I love you for it.” She’d dated men who’d tried to micromanage her work life. Mason didn’t, and she knew he battled protective urges about her and her job. She did the same with him. But with jobs like theirs, all they could do was trust.

And they both did.

Mason sat at his desk, keenly aware of Ray’s empty space across from him. The entire room was quiet, most of the detectives out of the office. The silence was eerie.

He made himself focus; he had work to do.

Brody had forwarded his user ID and password so Mason could snoop and observe on the websites the reporter had mentioned. A few minutes later Mason knew that everything Brody had said was supported by what he saw on the message boards.

The hate was overwhelming.

“Fucking pricks,” he muttered. He’d wanted a shower within the first minute of visiting one site.

Every profession had its bad apples, but the law enforcement ones were thrust into the media spotlight. The website Mason was currently viewing appeared to be encouraging attacks against these bad apples. But there were cops with good reputations listed too. He was alarmed to find law enforcement officers’ home addresses and phone numbers, and even pictures of their kids. The comments were brutal.

put them in prison

funded by the deep state

take away their families

Ice formed at the base of his spine. The comments were designed to incite violence. No doubt most of the commenters rarely left the chairs in front of their computer screens, but it just took one to absorb the hate as fuel and act upon it. He scrolled rapidly, searching and skimming for names or pictures of people he knew.

Or himself. And Ava.

The website was an amateur mess. No search function. Just a long, long list of discussion topics.

There was no way he could scroll through every discussion; it would take hours.

He took several deep breaths. There was nothing he could do even if he did find a familiar name. He and Ava already lived their lives with the utmost caution. They had to for their own peace of mind and safety. Getting worked up over this site was pointless.

In the email, Michael had listed the topics where he’d discovered Reuben’s comments. Mason cringed at the one titled “FBI: the well-dressed weapon of the deep state.”

Do they believe there are real men in black?

He snorted. Ava was always struggling to find clothing she liked that was acceptable according to the dress code. She would be the first to say it was difficult for female agents to be well dressed. She was especially grumpy when it came to shoes.

To Mason, shoes were simply something that covered feet. He preferred his cowboy boots, which brought him a fair bit of harassment from the other detectives, but he couldn’t care less. He was comfortable. Ray was a sharp dresser. Even when he wore a simple golf shirt, Ray looked as if he’d stepped out of a sports magazine.

Not now.

Refocusing on the website, he clicked on the FBI topic and scanned for Reuben’s user ID: LOCKEMUP.


Brody’s was BUGLEFAN. Mason pondered the name, assuming Brody would use satire to go over the heads of the other posters. His best guess was that it was a reference to the Daily Bugle, the newspaper from Spider-Man. Made sense for a reporter.

Or maybe he really liked the processed crunchy corn snack.

Mason found Reuben’s comments. Unlike some of the other commenters’, they were spelled correctly and had punctuation. Mason didn’t understand why punctuation and grammar were frowned upon these days. Remembering that Reuben had been of the same generation as he, Mason figured he’d felt the same . . . or simply hadn’t noticed the change.

The comments supported what Brody had told him. Reuben believed the purpose of law enforcement—especially federal law enforcement—was to keep the working man down and under control.

Mason pushed back from his desk, fury rushing through him. Ray had put his life on the line to help get people out of the courthouse area. Ray loved people—all people. “Everyone has a story to tell,” he’d said to Mason once. “If you ask the right questions, it will open your eyes to the struggles and joys of lives outside your own. It’s fascinating.”

The big man had a helper’s heart. Giving and empathetic.

Why did it have to be Ray?

Mason logged out of the website. He’d seen enough. His stomach couldn’t take any more.

But who’d carried out Reuben’s plans after he’d been murdered? Who was his accomplice? Or accomplices? Had the person who killed him also shot law enforcement at the courthouse?

Or were the murders unrelated?

Mason doubted that but couldn’t rule it out.

Flipping through his notes, he turned his attention to Reuben’s family. Ray had written that supposedly they were estranged, but perhaps they’d have some insight into who would murder the man.

He verified that Reuben’s parents were both deceased, and that Reuben hadn’t ever married. Remembering that he’d wondered about children, Mason checked the state’s records for child-support orders but didn’t find any.

Doesn’t mean no kids.

At fifty-two, Reuben could easily have a child in his or her early thirties. As far as Mason could tell, Reuben had only lived in Oregon. But there could be a child in another state.

Something to keep in mind.

Reuben’s brother was two years older than he: Shawn Braswell of Reno, Nevada. Mason started digging. He found a current Nevada driver’s license and pulled up the photo. Shawn wore a tight beard and glared at the camera. Mason eyed his height and weight, relieved to see he wasn’t huge. Simply from his stare, Shawn Braswell wasn’t someone Mason would want to have angry with him. The photo resembled an irate mug shot.

Is he really like that, or was he just an ass for the camera?

He recalled the photo of the two happy boys and the pony on the wall in Reuben’s home.

What happened to estrange the brothers?

Mason’s brother lived in Eastern Oregon. They talked once or twice a year, which was normal for them but maybe not for other families. He had no doubt that if he needed help and called, his brother would drop everything to respond.

He searched for Shawn’s employment records but found nothing recent. Shawn had worked for several construction companies over a ten-year span. He had to be working somewhere, and Mason wondered if he was being paid under the table. His criminal history was clean; Mason couldn’t even find a speeding ticket.

No phone number was associated with his name, and Shawn’s last known address appeared to be in an apartment complex. Mason studied the building on Google Maps. Looked decent. He made a quick phone call to the Reno police, asking them to do a door knock to let Shawn know about his brother’s death and to pass on Mason’s contact information.

He felt bad about using outsiders to inform family of deaths, but he didn’t have the time or budget to go to Reno. He turned his attention to Reuben’s sister.

Veronica Lloyd was six years younger, married, and lived in Mosier, Oregon. A tiny town along the Columbia River, an hour east of Portland.

Well. What do you know?

Ray’s initial notes had said she was in Nevada.

Her Oregon driver’s-license picture showed a dark-haired woman with a timid smile and kind eyes, but he could see a faint resemblance to Shawn and Reuben.

A little research revealed she and her husband had bought a home in Mosier less than a year ago. They’d lived in Reno before that.

A Google search told him Mosier had fewer than five hundred residents. Mason didn’t think he could live in a town that small. No anonymity. Everyone would know everything about their neighbors, and he was fond of his privacy.

Veronica didn’t have an employment history, but her husband worked for the Hood River County School District. Previously he’d worked for the Washoe County School District in Reno.