“You get a free place to stay in exchange for being sort of a watchman?” Ava asked.
“They pay me too. Not a lot. Doesn’t really matter. I’m saving a ton on rent.”
“Where do you go to school?” Zander asked.
“Reed. I’m off for the summer, but I work at a deli over on Division.” He gave a satisfied nod. “I get free food there.”
Ava was familiar with Reed College in Portland. It was a very small liberal arts school.
“You’ve got it worked out, don’t you?” Zander asked. “Free rent, free food, and you get paid by two jobs.”
Pat grinned. “Yep.”
“You know how to access the camera footage?” Ava asked.
“I’m the one who told them they needed it and then did the installation.” He turned and gestured for them to follow. “They needed to catch up with the twenty-first century.”
“Have the cameras been helpful?” Ava asked.
“Eh. I guess. There haven’t been any other break-ins, but I had put up signs saying we had surveillance in place. The only time I’ve had to review some footage was when Joe Pender backed into Samuel Owens’s new truck. I thought they were going to start hitting each other. Both claimed it was the other person’s fault, but once they saw the footage, Joe admitted he hadn’t checked before backing up,” Pat said with satisfaction.
“Handy,” said Zander.
“Yeah, but now they don’t speak to each other anymore. It’s pretty awkward to watch them avoid each other on Sunday mornings.”
Ava and Zander followed Pat down a long hallway. He stopped at a door and pulled a thick ring of keys out of his pocket, easily picking the right one for the lock. He flipped a light switch and led them into a small office. Ava blinked as she spotted a dusty typewriter on top of a small filing cabinet and hoped the dust meant it’d been retired. Pat dropped into a chair and accessed a desktop computer. He hummed as he clicked the mouse and tapped the keys.
“What time do you want to check?” he asked.
“Let’s start at ten a.m.,” Zander suggested, picking a time two hours before Todd had seen the man and white sedan behind the 7-Eleven. Pat nodded and continued to hum. The screen was split into quadrants, showing four camera views in color.
“You’ve got four cameras?” Ava said, slightly embarrassed that they’d missed two—not that they’d looked very hard.
“Yep. Takes four to cover everything.”
Ava noted in disappointment that none of them showed the street. They covered a large part of the parking lot, all sides of the church, and all the doors.
Pat found the requested time and started the videos simultaneously, quickly speeding them up. Ava stepped closer and watched as an older couple holding hands jerkily speed-walked through the parking lot, rapidly moving from one camera’s feed to another. Two people on bicycles whipped through at high speeds. A truck used the parking lot to turn around.
“Hello,” Zander said under his breath as a white sedan seemed to recklessly veer into the parking lot. “Slow it down. Super slow if possible,” he told Pat.
The time stamp read 12:10. Right after Todd said the white car had left his store.
“His plate is legible,” she said, watching the sedan slowly drive through the lot. There were two parking lot entrances. One on the street Ava and Zander had come from and another on the cross street of the church’s corner lot. The sedan had entered from the same location as Zander. The car showed up on three cameras as it slowly drove through the L-shaped lot and then went out of sight. Ava held her breath, hoping it would come back. After a few seconds, she asked Pat to return to the view of the license plate.
“Let it keep going a little longer first,” Zander said, glancing at her. “But speed it up again.”
“Got it,” said Pat. “That what you wanted to find? That white car?”
“Possibly,” Ava said, unwilling to share much.
Moments later the car was back, and Pat immediately slowed it down. “He’s looking for cameras. I’m sure that’s what he was doing the first time he drove through too,” Pat stated, and he tapped one of the views. “This camera is completely hidden. He’s going to think nothing is there.”
“I didn’t see it,” said Zander. “I only saw the one near the rear door.”
“Yep. I deliberately placed that one and the front camera in plain view. Hid the other two. Wanted anyone scoping it out to think our coverage wasn’t as good as it appeared.”
Sure enough, the white sedan parked in view of the hidden camera.
“Nice!” Pat held up a hand and then gave himself a high five.
“Can you zoom in?” Ava asked.
The other views disappeared, and the white sedan filled the screen. It had backed into a spot under trees near a dumpster. Ava spotted the Chevrolet logo on the front of the four-door vehicle but couldn’t make out the figure behind the wheel.
Come on. Get out.
Her wish was granted seconds later as the driver’s door opened. Dark pants. Long-sleeve shirt. Hat. Backpack. Excitement rose in her chest. “That’s him,” she whispered to Zander.
Pat froze the video. “That’s your shooter?” he asked. “He parked at my church?”
“We don’t know that,” Ava said quickly. “This guy caused a disturbance at the 7-Eleven before the shooting, and we wanted to see where he went next.”
“The dumpster blocks him from the other street,” Pat pointed out. “There’re no windows facing him from the back of the church, so he thinks no one will notice him there. People park in the lot sometimes, but I ignore them unless it looks like they’re sleeping in their car or doing something illegal. I don’t mind if someone parks here for a few hours.”
“An officer said no one was here when he came by yesterday evening,” Zander said.
“I was at the deli. Heard about the shooting while I was working.”
“There aren’t any other cars in the lot,” Ava mentioned.
“I bike.” He put the video in motion at normal speed. The driver walked a few feet from his car and studied the back of the church building and then glanced back at the car near the dumpster.
Ava watched, her entire focus on the man. Todd was right. He moved like a younger person, and through his shirt, she could see the definition in his arms and chest. He takes care of himself.
But was this their man?
He turned and she leaned closer, studying the backpack, hoping to see something that indicated he had a weapon inside.
As if he’d be that sloppy.
“He’s still uncertain about his decision to park there,” Zander said.
“Got the license?” Ava asked without looking away from the screen.
“Already sent it off.”
The dark figure hefted his backpack into a better position on his back and took off at a jog toward the parking lot entrance. The entrance closest to the 7-Eleven.
“He’s going in the right direction,” Ava whispered. Her heart pounded in her chest.
Don’t jump to conclusions.
They all watched the man leave the view of the cameras. “Speed it up again,” Zander requested.
No one else entered the parking lot. Ava held her breath as she watched the time on the video get closer to 1:00 p.m. At 1:20 he entered the view of one of the cameras, and Pat slowed it down.
“He changed,” Ava said. He was now wearing a white short-sleeve shirt and dark shorts. The hat was still in place over the blond hair.
“The shirt was probably under the other one. Same with the shorts,” Zander said.
“Nah, I think those are those rip-off pants things,” said Pat. “You know . . . you unzip them around your thighs. Good for hiking when it warms up.”
“Either way, he deliberately changed.” Her voice was high. This has to be him. “There’s no other reason for him to change.”
“Sure there is,” Pat argued. “He was jogging, remember? Maybe he was trying to work up a sweat and then stripped down a bit when it got too hot. Maybe there are weights in the backpack. He could be training for something intense.”
The man in the video wiped sweat off his forehead as he stopped at his car. He lifted one foot onto the bumper and leaned in, stretching out his back leg.
As an athlete would.
They continued to watch as he did the same with the other leg. The energy in the office dissipated. “He’s just a cranky athlete? Is that why he got pissed at the 7-Eleven?” Zander asked, straightening his back. He’d been bending closer and closer to the screen.
“I’d be cranky if I had to run in this heat,” offered Pat.
“Keep the video going,” said Ava. She pressed her lips together.
The man on-screen took off his backpack and set it on the hood of his car and did a few bouncing jumps in place as if working kinks out of his calves.
He’s not in any hurry to get away. Disappointment filled her.
“We’ll keep looking,” Zander said. “This is only our first stop.”
The man opened his car door and grabbed his backpack off the hood. He took three steps to the dumpster, lifted the lid, and hurled the backpack inside.