Page 25

Hopefully Nora and Veronica are finished, because I certainly am.


Ava and Zander jogged out of the church, Pat right on their heels. They stopped at Zander’s SUV to grab gloves and evidence bags out of the back.

“Please tell me the garbage hasn’t been picked up since the shooting,” Ava said to Pat as they dug through the large kit.

“Nope. Tomorrow is garbage day.”

“Ready?” Zander said to Ava as she pulled on her second glove. His eyes were bright.

“Absolutely.” They strode over to the dumpster, and Zander told Pat not to walk where they’d seen their suspect move between his car and the huge bin. The dumpster was much taller than it had seemed on the video. The top was even with her forehead. Zander threw open one side of the lid and met Ava’s gaze as a foul odor filled the air.

“Who’s going in?” he asked.

“I’ll leave that honor to you.” The smell turned her stomach.

He grinned, braced his foot on a small ledge on the dumpster’s side, and easily clambered up to the edge. “I see the backpack. There’s not much garbage in here.”

“Slow week,” said Pat. “No meetings or gatherings were scheduled.”

Zander awkwardly shot a few one-handed photos of the inside of the dumpster and then dropped inside, out of sight. He cursed.

“What is it?” asked Ava.

“Don’t know what I landed on, but it was big and it squished. Luckily it was inside a garbage bag. Hey, Ava, can you take some more photos as I grab this?”

“Sure.” She eyed the narrow ledge that Zander had stood on and tentatively tested it with her foot, glad she’d worn flats.

“I’ll balance you,” offered Pat.

“Thanks.” Otherwise she would have had to hang over the edge on her belly to take photos. She hopped up and Pat grabbed her waist, holding her firmly in place. She took a deep breath and snapped some photos as Zander picked up the black backpack.

“Definitely something heavy in here,” Zander said. He palpated the pack. “A few hard and narrow items.”

“Where do you want to open it?” asked Ava.

“Not in here. Let’s get a cloth spread out and open it over that. We’ll just look. If it’s what we think it is, we’ll call a team in to process it.”

Ava hopped down and grabbed the pack as Zander held it over the edge. It weighed about ten pounds, and something inside clunked as she handled it, metal on metal. She squeezed it in a few places, feeling long pieces. A takedown rifle? Zander nimbly climbed out of the dumpster and landed beside her.

“Let’s open it in the back of my vehicle.”

Adrenaline rushed through Ava as they returned to the SUV. Zander lifted the rear hatch, pulled a thin cloth out of his evidence kit, and spread it out on the floor of the cargo area. Ava set down the pack and pulled out her phone to snap photos. “Go for it.”

Zander unzipped the pack and peered inside. “Hello there, Mr. Ruger.” He spread open the main compartment for Ava to see.

She didn’t have the weapons knowledge that Zander had, but she knew an AR-15-style rifle when she saw one. Even in pieces. “I’ll get an evidence team out here,” she said, placing a call to her ASAC. “Need to inform the sheriff too.”

“I’ll check my email to see if they got back to me about the license plate.” Zander continued to peer in the backpack, opening it as wide as he could. “SR-556. It’s the Cadillac of takedown rifles.”

“Takedown?” Pat asked.

“Means you can break it down. I’ve handled one of these before and can break it down into three pieces in about ten seconds.” He jiggled the pack, trying to see into the bottom. “Three magazines.”

Ava’s skin went cold, her phone to her ear, waiting for Ben to answer her call. Zander hadn’t said how much ammunition each magazine held, but she guessed it to be thirty rounds. The shooter could have done a lot more damage at the courthouse than he had. She met Zander’s flat gaze, reading he’d had the same thought.

“Jesus Christ,” he muttered. He gently laid the pack back down and checked his email. “Shit. The license plate on our white car leads to a Toyota pickup.”

“Stolen plates,” Ava said, stating the obvious.

“Now what will you do?” asked Pat, his face full of curiosity.

“Start with the serial number on the rifle and whatever evidence the team can lift from this site.” She decided to get Pat out of their hair. “Pat, can you get me a copy of the video we watched? Send it to my email.” She handed him a business card.

Ben finally answered her call.

“We found a weapon,” she told him, unable to control the glee in her voice. “And we’ve got him on video, and we have a witness who talked to him face-to-face. I need an evidence team.”

Stunned silence greeted her words.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Ben finally said. “Nice work.”

Finally, one thing had gone right in her shitty day.

Ava leaned into Mason, appreciating the comfort of his arm around her shoulders. It’d been a long day of ups and downs. They sat on a bench in the park at the end of their street, with Bingo at Mason’s side, the dog’s head on his thigh. It was nearly 11:00 p.m., but neither of them wanted to go to bed, both still running on adrenaline from the last thirty-six hours. Instead, they’d taken a walk.

A few streetlights added a little light to the park, but where they sat it was almost pitch-dark. During the day a perfect view of Mount Hood was visible from the bench. Tonight there was only darkness, the air still warm from the day’s high temperatures. The park’s grass had been mowed recently, and the fresh scent added to the peace of the evening.


The day had been full of turmoil. Right now they were avoiding it, pretending all was right in their lives. Jayne was fine. Ray was fine. No one had died at the courthouse.

Mason exhaled and shifted on the bench.

“Stop thinking,” Ava ordered.

“I can’t.”

“Clear your head.”

“I know you can do that mind-clearing meditation crap, but it’s never worked for me. Too much going on in my brain. Gotta stay on top of everything.”

Ava didn’t tell him her thoughts also intruded when she attempted to seek quiet for a few minutes. She’d learned to step back and watch thoughts flow by, letting her mind rest, but it was a constant struggle to keep them at bay when she was supposed to be relaxing and refocusing.

Sometimes the struggle to let go was more tiring than the constant bombardment of the million things she tried to keep track of.

“Then pet Bingo,” she said. “That might work better.”

“I haven’t stopped.” He scratched the dog’s head with renewed vigor. “How did the evidence collection go at the church?”

Ava had hoped to keep work away for a few hours. But she also wanted to talk about it. Mason was the best sounding board she had.

“One of them chewed out Zander for climbing into the dumpster.”

Mason snorted. “Seriously? How else was he to get the backpack?”

“This tech said they should have been called first.” Ava saw the point but also knew she’d have felt guilty if the evidence team had come out for a false lead.

“Ridiculous.” Mason tugged on one of Bingo’s ears. “You watched the suspect lift the lid and drop in the backpack. You knew exactly where to avoid what he’d touched.”

“I know.”

“Tell me about the weapon.”

Ava described the Ruger. One of the techs had removed each piece from the backpack, and Zander had explained how they went together.

“The ammunition in the magazines is the same that was found at the courthouse,” she said softly. The courthouse scene had plenty of ammunition evidence. Further tests would check to see if the rounds and shells found at the scene actually came from the Ruger. Ava had no doubts they did.

“The church video went to our team,” she continued. “They’ll try to get an image of his face.” She’d reviewed the video again. The man’s hat had shadowed his face the entire time. She didn’t know how it was possible to get a good image, but she’d been surprised by their work before.

“Did anyone check with the owner of the vehicle whose plates were stolen?” Mason asked.

“Turns out the plates came from two different vehicles. When we looked at the video again, we realized the fuzzy view of the rear plate didn’t match the clear front one. Both plates came from Medford.”

Mason was silent, mulling over the information. Ava had been surprised too. The city of Medford was nearly three hundred miles away. Someone had planned well ahead. “How much do you want to bet the car will turn out to be a rental?” he asked.

“I won’t take that bet because I suspect you’re right. Four-door nondescript sedan. Every rental agency uses them.” She thought for a moment. “Any leads on Reuben’s truck? Or the silver Mustang?”

“No. I’ve got BOLOs out for both vehicles. It bothers me that Reuben’s truck is missing. How did our killer get to Reuben’s house?”