At least Tony is not alone.
“Mr. Schroeder?” Mason asked again. “I’m really sorry to tell you this way.”
“What happened?” Tony asked in a broken tone. His voice fractured Mason’s heart.
“I’m unhappy to tell you this, but Kaden died from a bullet wound . . . and it occurred in your home.”
“Oh God!” Tony started to cry. “Someone shot him?”
“I’m so sorry.” The words were fruitless, but he didn’t know what else to say. He looked to Nora. She was watching and listening closely, biting her lip, uncertainty in her gaze. She gave him an encouraging nod.
“Mr. Schroeder. I hate to ask questions at this time, but we want to figure out who did this.”
Tony sucked in air between wet, ragged sobs.
“Do you know who might want to harm your son?”
“No! No, I don’t know! He’s just an innocent kid who never hurt anyone!”
Questions were being asked in the background of the call. Mason couldn’t make out the words, but it was clear the other person was upset and confused.
“He says someone shot Kaden,” Tony said away from the phone. “Yes, he’s dead.” His voice cracked.
“We’re doing everything we can to find who is responsible,” Mason said, unsure if Tony was even listening to him. “But I wanted to ask you about the weapons we found in his bedroom.”
There was a long pause. “What?”
“Kaden had a duffel bag with five long guns under his bed.”
“Jesus Christ.” Tony sounded shocked. “You’re talking about rifles?”
“Yes. Three AR-15s. Two shotguns.”
“He was shot with one of those?” Tony could barely speak.
“No. We haven’t found the weapon he was killed with. It sounds like you were unaware of the guns under his bed?”
“This is the first I’ve heard about it. Where would he get those?”
“Do you know when you’ll be back in town, Mr. Schroeder?”
“I’m leaving now.” A voice in the background protested and then insisted on driving Tony to Portland.
Mason was relieved. He didn’t want the man making the three-hour trip from Central Oregon on his own.
“I’ll be there in a few hours,” Tony told Mason, his voice flat.
Mason gave him his contact information and ended the call with promises to connect when Tony arrived.
He exhaled and ran a hand across his forehead. “Could have been worse,” he told Nora.
“He didn’t have any information?” Nora asked.
“No. Maybe once he has more time to think, he’ll have something useful, but right now he’s a wreck.”
“You did good, Mason,” she told him, an earnest look in her eye. “You handled it really well.”
“Every parent’s worst nightmare,” Mason said, looking back at the house, unable to hold her gaze.
What if I got that call about Jake?
It was too close. Jake was a good kid. Stayed out of trouble for the most part. But sometimes made poor decisions, like any young adult.
Did Kaden make a poor decision?
“Detective Callahan?” The tech who’d found the guns stood at the back door of the home. “The agent I spoke to at the ATF said to check your email.”
“They traced them already?” he asked in shock.
“I knew exactly who to call to push it up the ladder,” the tech said matter-of-factly. “We all know this is an important case. Everyone is making it a priority.”
“They’re all important cases,” Nora said under her breath.
Mason opened his in-box, pleased to see that the first one was from the resident agent in charge at the Portland ATF office. He scanned her email.
All five weapons found in Kaden’s room had gone missing during the ATF robbery—and she was sending an agent to the Schroeder home immediately.
“They’re all from the robbery,” he told Nora.
She tipped her head, her eyes thoughtful. “What in the hell does that imply?”
“I’m trying to process it too.”
She touched the first finger on one hand, counting. “Did our shooter get his gun from Kaden or the other way around?”
Mason pulled out his notebook and wrote a note. Check Kaden’s financials for cash withdrawals/deposits. Check for Kaden’s fingerprints in Reuben’s home and vice versa.
She touched the second finger. “Did the same person kill Reuben and Kaden?”
Mason considered. “One murder was physically brutal and mutilating, and the other was a single gunshot.”
“They’re on the same street and were killed within days of each other,” Nora pointed out. “Even if the killers were two different people, I think we were correct earlier when we decided the deaths are related.”
“What’s Kaden’s tie to Reuben is the third big question,” said Mason. “Was Kaden involved in the courthouse shooting? Or supposed to be involved? Maybe he didn’t do his part and was punished for it.”
Too many questions to count.
Nora thought it over. “The most likely scenario is that he knew something he shouldn’t about Reuben’s murder, so the killer came back for him.”
“If it’s the same killer.”
“My brain hurts.”
“What if they just happened to buy their weapons from the same guy?” Mason said, going back to the guns.
“And Kaden just happened to have weapons from the same robbery and just happens to live across the street from the man our courthouse shooter murdered?” she asked skeptically.
“You’re making the assumption the courthouse shooter murdered Reuben Braswell,” Mason said. “I keep doing the same thing. It’s not a given.”
“Dammit! You’re right.” Nora turned away and paced in a small circle. “I can’t do this on my fingers. We need to go back to the task force headquarters.”
“And fill three whiteboards with our questions,” added Mason, ignoring the fact that he wasn’t officially part of the task force. He read the ATF email again, trying to recall what he’d heard about the weapons robbery in Nevada. “I feel like we’re missing something . . . a very big piece to our puzzle.”
“We’re missing a lot of pieces,” Nora stated as her phone rang. “Hawes,” she answered. “Yes, sir.” She frantically gestured for Mason’s notebook and pencil. “Any damage, sir?” He handed them over, and she immediately wrote something down.
Mason tried to read what she’d scribbled. All he could make out was airport. And he wasn’t positive that was the right word.
Years of deciphering Ray’s chicken scratches punched him in the chest.
“Where is it being processed?” Nora asked. “Okay. Thank you, sir. I’ll update you on Kaden Schroeder’s murder when we return soon.” She listened for a long moment, saying yes and no occasionally before ending the call.
“The sheriff,” she told Mason. “Reuben Braswell’s truck was found in the airport parking lot.”
“Of course it was,” said Mason. “When are people going to come up with a more original place to dump a vehicle? Did they get the driver on video when he entered? Or on the shuttle?”
“They’re still looking.”
“Now I want to find a silver Mustang.”
“The sheriff says they’re checking the lots at the airport for the Mustang. They were looking for both.”
“You can go back to the task force. Kaden’s father won’t be here for several hours,” said Mason. “The scene investigators still have a lot to do, but I know they’re done with the body. It will be transported as soon as Dr. Trask is done.”
“You’re coming with me.”
“I’m not part of the task force,” he reminded her.
“That’s ridiculous,” Nora stated. “I’ll have a word with the sheriff. You know more about this case than almost anyone.”
“I’m only handling the Reuben Braswell part—and now Kaden Schroeder.”
“I’m getting you on the task force. I’ll get our boss’s approval. Leave it to me. Let’s go.”
Mason had no doubts she could do it. She was right. Him working parallel to the courthouse investigation didn’t make sense.
She started toward the house, determination in her step. “What’s the latest on Ray?”
“No problems. Jill called me this morning.” Mason checked the time as they passed through the house. “She said Ray wants to see me. I was going to head up there after I talked with Gillian.” He grimaced. “Got a little sidetracked.” He nodded at a crime scene tech working the front door.
“Yes, they aren’t keeping him sedated anymore.”
“A good sign.”
“Very.” Out in front of the house, he glanced across the road to Gillian’s home. A vehicle still sat in her driveway. “I told her to leave.”
“Maybe she’s still packing.”
Why hasn’t she left?
Dread overwhelmed him, and he strode toward Gillian’s house. Nora caught up to him, walking rapidly, scanning his face. “I’m sure she’s fine,” Nora told him.