Probably a friend of Kaden’s.
He knocked on the door, waited twenty seconds, and then pushed the doorbell as he wondered if Kaden was gaming with headphones on. Mason’s son Jake never heard his phone when his were on and he was deep in a game.
Impatient, he pressed the bell again.
He took two steps to the side to glance in the window just in case Kaden was gaming within sight, and he found himself peeking into a casual living room. No screen or gamer was visible. Mason looked back at the red truck, noticing the PCC parking pass hanging from the rearview mirror. The vehicle was definitely Kaden’s.
Mason pulled out a business card and wrote a note on the back for Kaden to call him. He shoved it into the crack of the door, and it opened two inches. He bumped the door as he snatched the falling business card, and it opened farther.
Should I yell for him?
Feeling like an intruder, he’d started to pull it closed when he caught a whiff of a familiar scent.
Dread crawled up his spine, and he shoved open the door. “Kaden?”
He heard something. It sounded like a TV program in a back room.
He drew his weapon but didn’t step inside the home as he yelled for the young man again. The odor was stronger now, and heat wafted out of the house. It was warmer inside than out, no doubt from the hot morning sun on the large front windows.
Call for backup and wait.
What if he needs immediate medical attention?
Mason placed a call, asking for local backup at the address, and then entered the house, clearing each room as he worked his way through the stifling home. The TV noise grew louder, and Mason continued to call Kaden’s name, warning him that he was in the house. Like Gillian’s, the home was identical to the Braswell home. He worked his way down the hall. Yelling sounded from the TV program.
The last door was open a few inches, and the TV noise grew louder as he moved closer. Mason shoved it open and his heart sank.
Kaden sat in a low gamer’s chair, the warriors in his game shouting from the huge monitor in front of him.
He’d been shot in the head.
“It’s got to be related,” Nora said in a low voice to Mason as they watched the medical examiner look over Kaden’s body. The young man was still in his gaming chair.
“Right across the street from another murder? I have no doubt,” said Mason.
“But why?” murmured Nora.
“Number-one question on my list. Well—right after ‘Who did it?’”
“Has to be the same person.”
“Odds are likely.”
“The father was gone overnight?” she asked.
“I assume so. Kaden said he was out of town when I talked to him yesterday.” Mason didn’t want to discover that the father had murdered his son. “I can’t find a phone number for him.”
Eliminate family as suspects first.
“You talked to the neighbors?” she asked.
“I sent two uniforms to knock on doors, but I talked with Gillian Wood,” Mason said. “She couldn’t help me contact the father. I told her to pack a bag and find a hotel or stay with family. It might not be safe here for her. She’s the only other person on this street who was involved with Reuben Braswell in some way—as far as we know.”
“We don’t know that Kaden was involved with Reuben,” Nora pointed out.
“No, but I did interview him, and he’s the one who told me about the silver Mustang.”
“Think he was holding back on you?”
Mason eyed the dead man as Dr. Gianna Trask bent the victim’s arm, checking for rigor. It barely moved. “I suspect so. There’s a good chance he knew more than he let on.” He raised his voice. “What’s the verdict, Doc?”
“Gunshot wound to the head,” Dr. Trask said dryly. Nora made a small choking sound.
“But when?” asked Mason.
“Give me another minute.” She raised a brow at Mason. “I’m not magic.”
Mason struggled to wait. Patience wasn’t his strong point.
“Detectives?” A tech looked into the gaming room. “I found something in a bedroom I’d like you to see.”
Mason tensed, the tech’s statement reminding him of how the courthouse bombing notes had been found.
He and Nora followed the tech into the bedroom across the hall. Mason had determined earlier that it was Kaden’s room. It had an odor that reminded him of his son’s dirty socks and sweaty shorts. The smell of a teen boy’s room. An unzipped long, green duffel bag was on the floor next to the bed.
Several rifles were visible inside.
Mason blew out a breath and squatted next to the bag, opening it wider with the tip of his pen. He leaned over and sniffed several times. None of them had been fired recently.
“Five long guns,” the tech said. “The bag was under the bed. Seemed an odd place to store them.”
“Agreed.” Someone who owned this many guns should have a gun safe or at least a rack. Not keep them dumped in a duffel bag and shoved under a bed.
“No ammo,” said the tech. “At least not that I’ve found. Might be somewhere else.”
Mason stared at the weapons for a long moment, a question growing in the back of his mind.
Are they from the ATF robbery, like the gun that Ava found?
“Do me a favor,” Mason asked. “Send in the serial numbers before you do anything else, and have the results sent to me. Tell them I want to know if these are registered to Kaden . . . or his father.” He stood and stretched his back.
This case is taking more turns than I can count.
“Where’s Kaden’s cell phone?” Nora asked.
“I saw it next to the monitor in the other room,” said Mason.
Nora raised a brow. “I think we need to contact this boy’s father ASAP. Especially after finding those.” She pointed at the duffel.
“Agreed,” Mason said. The two of them went back to the gaming room. Kaden’s cell phone was still where Mason had seen it.
Dr. Trask looked up as they entered. “Based on his body temperature and the temperature in the room, I’d say he died between nine p.m. last night and two a.m. this morning.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Mason looked at the game controller in Kaden’s lap. “I wonder if there is a way to discover what time he stopped using the controller. That would help.”
“I bet the RCFL would love to answer that,” said Nora, referring to the FBI’s computer forensics lab in Portland.
Mason nabbed a pair of gloves and a plastic baggie from the medical examiner’s kit. He put on the gloves and carefully bagged the phone. Picking up Kaden’s right hand, he pressed the thumb against the phone’s TOUCH ID button through the plastic. Nothing happened.
“I hate it when you guys do that,” said Dr. Trask as she watched. “I get the why . . . but it still disturbs me.”
It bothered Mason a bit too.
“He has another thumb,” said Nora.
The thumb of the left hand worked. Mason scrolled through the contacts to “Dad” and read the number to Nora, who dialed. She paused before connecting the call. “I think you should talk to him. You spoke with Kaden, not me.”
His stomach tightening, Mason set Kaden’s phone back where he had found it. The call would be a delicate situation. He had to inform a father of his son’s death and ask about the weapons in the duffel in the same conversation. The gaming room suddenly grew airless and hot.
“I’m going out back to call,” he said.
“Want me to come?” asked Nora.
“I do. I don’t know how this is going to go.”
Outside, Mason could breathe easier, and he immediately spotted fresh lumber in one section of the backyard’s fence.
He helped my dad repair our fence.
Kaden’s words rang in his mind. His father, Tony, had known Reuben Braswell well enough to ask him for help.
Mason cleared his head and mentally prepared himself, staring at the phone number Nora had tapped into the phone. A heavy weight settled on his heart.
How do I tell a father that his son has been murdered?
He touched the screen.
After three rings he heard a cautious “Hello?”
“This is Mason Callahan with the Oregon State Police. Is this Tony Schroeder?”
He purposefully left off his title, not wanting to alarm Tony beyond the normal worry that occurs when one is receiving a call from the police. People heard Detective and automatically thought the worst.
Although this case was the worst.
“Dammit. What did Kaden do? Is he all right?”
“Is this Tony?”
“Yes, I’m his father. Has he been arrested?”
“Are you in town, Mr. Schroeder?”
Tony paused. “No. I’m in Bend. I’m visiting my brother.”
“Is your brother with you now?”
“Oh my God,” Tony whispered hoarsely. “What happened?”
Mason took the plunge. “I’m very sorry, Mr. Schroeder, but Kaden died last night.”
“Mr. Schroeder?” Concern rocked through Mason.
A questioning voice sounded in the background of the call. Tony finally spoke, his mouth away from the receiver, his voice flat. “It’s the police. Something happened to Kaden,” he told whoever was with him. The voice grew louder with concern.