Mason held very still, studying Veronica, hearing truth in her tone. She was bitter—understandably—and her words implied a dreadful childhood. Had her brothers suffered the same? “I’m sorry,” he said, knowing how inadequate the words were for the tragedy in her life.
“What city did this happen in?” Nora asked, beating Mason to the question. He was greatly interested in the police report.
“They died a day apart?” Mason asked.
“Yes. He held on for a day at the hospital.” Hate flashed in her eyes, and Mason felt scorched.
The anger clashed with the kind gaze he’d seen when they first met. She was raised around hate. She’s bound to have some deep inside. It’s inevitable.
His phone buzzed and he glanced at the screen. The call was from a Nevada area code. Shawn Braswell?
“I need to take this. Excuse me for a minute.” He moved outside and down the stairs of the porch before answering.
“Detective Callahan. Sergeant Davies. I took your request for a knock on Shawn Braswell.”
Disappointment filled him that the call wasn’t from Shawn. “Yep. Not home?”
“No. My officer questioned a few neighbors, and according to them, Braswell hasn’t been around for at least a week. His parking spot has been empty.”
Curiosity flared. “What’s he drive?”
Mason heard computer keys. “Silver Ford Mustang. Two years old.”
“I believe he’s been up here in Portland,” Mason said. “That car was recently seen at his brother’s house.”
“The deceased brother?”
“Well, shit. Don’t know if that’s good news or bad for you.” The sergeant cleared his throat. “We all heard about the ambush yesterday. Didn’t realize that was in your area when I spoke to you before.”
Mason didn’t say anything.
“We’ll be sending officers for the funerals.”
“Thank you.” Mason meant it. It was what police did when tragedy struck. It was impossible to describe what the show of outside support meant to stricken departments.
“Found the asshole yet?”
“Working on it.”
“Let me know if you need anything else.”
Mason ended the call and stood silently in the perfect front yard. Reuben Braswell was dead, and according to his neighbor across the street, Shawn Braswell’s car had been seen in his driveway.
Unless it was someone else’s silver Mustang.
Mason doubted it. He didn’t believe in coincidences.
He’d just learned from Veronica that the brothers did not get along.
But was there enough bad blood for murder?
Did that mean that Shawn had also been the shooter yesterday?
It was a large leap in logic. A personal death by bludgeoning and a mass murder by rifle. Two very different scenarios.
It didn’t sit right with his gut. Something was wrong. Too many pieces of the puzzle were missing.
A muscular man in a tank top and shorts stepped out of Veronica’s front door. He approached Mason and held out his hand. “Alan Lloyd. I just heard about Reuben.”
Mason shook his hand, taking his measure. Alan’s gaze was direct and open, and he didn’t sound surprised.
Veronica had immediately asked if we were there about Reuben.
They’d expected Reuben to come to a bad end.
“What were your first thoughts when you found out, Mr. Lloyd?” Mason skipped the small talk.
“Not too surprised. Reuben was a reckless, angry hothead, and Veronica knew this. She loved her brother, but we all knew he walked an edge.”
Alan thrust his hands in his shorts pockets. “I understand you know about Veronica’s father.”
“I know he murdered his wife,” Mason stated.
“Never saw such an angry man,” Alan admitted. “And the sons have the same anger. They believe the world is against them. Veronica told me that their father beat on the boys regularly—she claims he never touched her.” Alan shook his head. “Don’t know if I fully believe that, but I’m just happy that Veronica turned out normal since she grew up with a father like that.”
“That’s good. Do you know anything about his death?”
“Her father was about to lose his property when he died,” Alan continued in a low voice. “It was a heavy blow for the proud man.”
“Didn’t pay his taxes.” Alan shrugged. “I’d told him it would catch up with him, but he blew me off. Said the land was his and the government had no right to tax it. He’d bought it fair and square.”
“That’s not how it works.”
“You and I know that. Her father was pretty impressionable, you know? He tried to tell me that the government was ripping us off by collecting property taxes. When I asked why he believed this, he just gave me a lot of mixed-up mumbo jumbo that I think he found on the internet. He was easily influenced—especially if someone said what he wanted to hear, like it was illegal for the government to collect taxes.”
“Reuben paid his property taxes,” Mason said.
“He did. Bitched to high heaven about it but understood he’d lose his home if he didn’t.”
“What else did Reuben bitch about?” Mason asked evenly.
Alan’s lips turned up on one side. “Sounds like you already have an idea.” His gaze dropped to the badge on Mason’s belt.
“Would it surprise you if I said Reuben was somehow involved in the massacre in Oregon City yesterday?”
Alan’s eyes flared and he took a long moment to answer. “Yes. And no.” He stared at the ground. “Don’t see him as a killer. But . . . I’ve heard him talk. Talk doesn’t mean action,” he added quickly. He looked back at Mason. “Should I have said something?”
“Did you know something?” If this guy knew about the courthouse . . .
Alan thought for a long moment. “No. Nothing. We haven’t heard from him since last February or so—at least I haven’t. Reuben was always complaining about something related to the government, but I never saw a hint that he’d take action.” He gave Mason a questioning glance. “What did Reuben do? Your partner told me he died yesterday morning. Wasn’t the shooting in the afternoon?”
“It was,” Mason said. “But it appears he had prior knowledge that it was going to happen.”
“I’m really sorry about that. I had no idea.” He gave Mason a sharp look. “And I doubt Veronica did either. Her brother barely spoke to her.”
“That’s what I understand.” Mason paused. “Your wife mentioned that Reuben didn’t get along with Shawn.” He purposefully left the statement wide open for Alan to continue as he wished.
“That’s putting it mildly. I haven’t seen them in the same room for ten years. And that’s a good thing. Those two used to beat the crap out of each other in the past. Veronica said that they’ve always been like that.” He paused. “She told me Reuben was always the instigator. She thinks he funneled his anger at his father toward Shawn.”
But Shawn’s car was at Reuben’s house?
“You heard from Shawn recently?”
The man thought for a moment and then shook his head. “Hear from him less than Reuben. Especially since we left Reno.”
“Why did you leave?”
“Would Shawn come up here to visit Reuben?”
Alan snorted. “Hell no.”
Mason considered telling him about the silver Mustang in Reuben’s driveway, but something made him hold back. “Know anyone who might want to hurt Reuben?”
“Like I said, we barely heard from him. I have no idea who he hangs around with or might piss off.”
“Daddy!” Racing footsteps sounded on the sidewalk. Both men turned to see two young dark-haired girls sprinting toward the gate. A woman holding another girl’s hand wasn’t far behind. She waved at Alan.
“No more talking,” Alan said in an aside to Mason as he stepped forward to intercept the girls as they burst through the gate. They flung themselves at him as he crouched down, arms wide open.
Mason watched as the excited girls both talked to their father at once, happiness shining in their faces and voices. Alan dropped kisses on both their heads.
These girls aren’t being raised around hate.
The parents were putting an end to the cycle.
His stomach clenched as Reuben’s abused corpse flashed in his memory. The chatter of the innocent girls clashed with the violence their uncle had experienced. The bloodshed was barely removed from their everyday lives.
The woman had entered the yard and was now chatting with Alan, casting a few curious glances Mason’s way. He stayed back from the happy reunion. He didn’t want the death hovering around him near the girls.
He quietly went up the porch stairs, intending to get Nora and leave. They’d brought bad news to the charming white home, and he had an overwhelming desire to get out before the kids entered it.