“Holy shit!” Pat said as Ava’s jaw fell open.
The man dropped the lid, got in his car, and drove away.
Mason drove in silence as Nora studied the file.
He’d offered to turn on music, but Nora said she couldn’t read and process while listening at the same time. He respected that. It was a beautiful day for a drive through the Columbia River Gorge. Blue skies, blue water, green trees, tall cliffs, and the occasional waterfall.
“What’s the deal with the parents’ deaths?” she asked as he took the Mosier exit off the highway.
“What do you mean?”
“You saw they died one day apart, right?”
He started. “No, I didn’t. I saw they died about five years ago, but I guess I didn’t notice the dates.”
“Maybe a car wreck where one survived a day longer than the other,” Nora speculated. “Where did they live?”
“Redmond . . . or was it Madras?” The Central Oregon towns weren’t that far apart, but Mason was annoyed that he wasn’t positive about the answer.
“Go easy on yourself,” Nora said.
He glanced over. She was watching him closely.
“You’ve been through a lot in the last two days.”
“We all have,” he stated.
She said nothing else but gave him the same silent look that Ava did when she thought he was being unreasonable. “No evidence reports from the crime scene team yet?”
“I saw some in my email. I need to print them out and add them to the book. Haven’t had time to read them yet.”
“What’s Veronica’s husband’s name?” Nora asked. “If he works for the school district, he might be home since it’s summer.”
Mason took a right turn and parked in front of a two-story older home in a quiet neighborhood.
“Cute,” Nora commented. “Looks straight out of a Hallmark TV movie.”
Mason agreed. The white home actually had a white picket fence around the spacious yard and a huge tree with a swing. Kids? He spotted two bikes propped up against a post in the carport. They were pink.
He hadn’t come across anything that indicated the Lloyds had kids, but it made sense for the midforties couple. He hoped the children would be out of hearing distance during their talk.
Mason stepped out of the car, and Nora tucked the binder into her large bag. He was about to tell her to leave it in the vehicle—several graphic murder scene photos were inside—when he realized they’d both be in hot water if it was stolen. Best to not take chances.
He scanned for a dog, opened the low gate, and followed her up the brick-lined walkway. The lawn was pristine. Green and freshly trimmed. Rosebushes full of blooms. The attention to detail continued on the home. Crisp paint and cheerful pots of flowers next to the front door. Mason knocked. “Might be best if you started the interview,” he told Nora.
She raised a brow at him and nodded.
Footsteps sounded, and Veronica opened the door. He recognized her immediately from her driver’s-license picture. Her eyes were just as kind as in her photo but now had a question in them.
Mason and Nora held out their identification. “Good afternoon,” Nora said. “I’m Detective Nora Hawes and this is Detective Mason Callahan. We’re from the Oregon State Police.”
Veronica tensed. “What happened?”
“Can we come in?” Nora asked. “Or if you prefer, we could sit over there.” She gestured at a wicker love seat and two chairs on the wide porch.
“Is it Reuben?” Veronica whispered, her eyes wide.
Nora paused. “It is. Your brother died yesterday.”
Veronica placed a hand on the doorjamb, her gaze moving between Nora and Mason. “Please come in,” she said in a steady voice.
“Are your children home?” Mason asked.
“No. They’re at a friend’s.”
Veronica shot him an alarmed look.
I didn’t mean to scare her.
“We can speak more freely that way,” Nora said, smoothly covering Mason’s gaffe.
They followed Veronica into her home and directly to a formal living room on the right. Veronica sat on one end of a sofa and Nora joined her. Mason chose an uncomfortable-looking chair across from them and sat. The wooden back was nearly perpendicular to the seat.
He felt as if he were sitting in school.
A gray tabby wandered in and studied Nora and Mason with interested blue eyes. Then it chose Nora’s shoes to investigate and rubbed its head against them.
“What happened to Reuben? You’re detectives who have driven all the way out here to inform me in person, so I assume it’s bad,” Veronica said. She grabbed a box of tissues from an end table and held it on her lap after pressing one tissue against her eyes.
“I’m really sorry to tell you, but your brother was murdered,” Nora said in the gentlest voice possible.
Veronica’s head shot up, and she clenched the tissue in her hand. “Who? Who did it?”
“We’re trying to find that out. Our investigation is just getting started.”
“Was anyone else hurt?” Veronica asked.
Mason found the question odd. “No,” he said. “Why do you ask?”
Veronica peeled a strip off her tissue, her eyes downcast. “That’s good. I just didn’t want anyone else . . .” She trailed off.
“Veronica,” Nora began, “should we be worried about someone else?”
“How did it happen?” Veronica asked, tearing another strip, ignoring Nora’s question.
“Someone assaulted him,” said Nora.
Veronica blew out an audible breath, and her hands shook. “My parents died a few years ago,” she said. “Police also came to my front door that day. I’m having a bit of déjà vu.”
“You lived in Reno at the time of your parents’ deaths?” Mason asked, knowing the answer.
Speculative eyes turned on him. “I did. We moved here a year ago . . . but I assume you already knew that.”
“We did,” he admitted, holding her gaze. “We need as much information as possible to figure out who harmed your brother.”
“He died yesterday?” Veronica’s brows came together. “Wasn’t there an attack on the police in Portland yesterday?”
“Yes,” Mason said as his curiosity rose. “Why would you bring up that shooting?”
“Was his death part of it?” she asked faintly, her gaze going from Mason to Nora.
“He wasn’t killed near the courthouse,” Nora said. “The attack was in his home earlier yesterday morning.”
Veronica relaxed a degree and slowly nodded. “I see.”
Mason wasn’t satisfied. “Ms. Lloyd, why did you immediately mention the shooting? What would a police incident have to do with your brother’s death?”
Her eyes widened. “I don’t know . . . I just watched it again on the news a half hour ago. When you said my brother was murdered, my brain sort of went there.”
She’s lying. Mason decided to back off for the moment.
“Ms. Lloyd,” said Nora, “do you know of anyone who would want to harm your brother?”
“I don’t really keep in touch with Reuben.”
That wasn’t an answer.
“You haven’t talked since you moved to Oregon?” Nora asked.
“A bit. We text here and there. He’s not someone I invite for Thanksgiving.”
Nora frowned. “Why is that?”
Veronica returned to shredding her tissue. “Differences. He’s older than me. We’ve never been close.”
“What about Shawn?” Mason asked. “You closer to him?”
A guarded gaze turned his way. “Not really. None of us really talk to each other. Well . . . both of my brothers talk a bit to me, but not to each other. They don’t get along. Haven’t in a long time.”
You don’t say . . .
“It’s hard when family members don’t get along,” Nora said. “What about when your parents died? Did that bring you all together?”
“No. I was the only one who went to their funerals.”
Caution emanated from Veronica. She sat stiffly, rarely holding their eye contact as she had at the beginning of the interview.
“Can you tell me what happened to your parents?” Mason asked.
“What does that have to do with Reuben’s death?”
Defensive. “Probably nothing. We’re trying to get a complete picture of his background.”
The tabby jumped on the couch beside Veronica and pushed against her arm. She scratched its head. “I’m sure you can find the police report on my parents’ deaths,” she said quietly.
Mason’s ears pricked up. “Police report?”
Veronica’s chin came up. “My father shot my mother and then himself,” she said bluntly.
Nora leaned closer to Veronica. “How awful for you.”
Veronica’s gaze was flat as she met Nora’s. “My father was a horrible man. All the way to the end. I swear he did that to my mother to guarantee his children’s lives would always be miserable.”