“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “Stupid.”
“Trust me. You aren’t the only one having that experience right now.”
She looked up. Sweat beaded his temples. It was hot. But not that hot. She wrapped her arms around his waist. Ignoring himself to help me.
The man was a rock.
“Thank you,” she said.
Mason could barely keep his eyes open as he turned onto his street. He’d left the memorial service before Ava, who was still talking with Emily, and she had promised she’d leave for home soon. He was waiting for a car to pass so he could turn into his driveway when taillights farther down his street caught his attention. The car had just pulled away from the curb, and its distinctive taillight shapes jolted him awake.
Three vertical rectangles on each side.
He’d grown up envying the people who drove the cars with the characteristic red pattern.
He immediately pressed the accelerator, passing his home.
It’s nothing. A coincidence. There are probably dozens in the area.
He swore at himself as he unsuccessfully tried to recall part of Shawn Braswell’s license plate. He dialed Nora.
“What’s wrong?” she asked sharply in lieu of hello.
“Nothing. I need the plate number for Braswell’s Mustang.”
“You’ve got one?”
“I’m following one that was parked on my street.”
“It’s a light color. I can’t tell exactly in the dark.”
“Hang on a second while I check.”
The car took a left, and Mason continued to follow. He pulled closer for a few seconds, squinting at the plate. He rattled off the number to Nora and put more distance between the two vehicles.
“That doesn’t match,” she said.
Disappointment filled him. I knew it. “Wait,” he said. “There were stolen plates on the vehicle Ava saw. Run the plate I just gave you.”
“Hang on again.”
The Mustang turned again. He’s heading toward the freeway. The freeway entrance was still two turns away, but Mason felt it in his gut.
“That plate belongs to a Prius.” Controlled excitement filled Nora’s voice.
“It’s definitely not a Prius.”
Mason gave her the car’s location and direction and asked her to call it in as he stayed on the line with her. He could make the call, but he wanted his complete focus on keeping track of the vehicle. The Mustang stopped at a red light, and Mason idled behind him, unable to see the driver.
He wished he weren’t driving his big truck. It had a powerful engine but lacked agility. Mason leaned to the left, trying to see the driver in the Mustang’s side-view mirror. It was too dark. The light turned green, and the Mustang’s tires spun as the car shot away.
Mason floored the gas pedal and the truck’s tires squealed. His pulse pounded in his head.
“What happened?” Nora asked.
“I think I’ve been made. He’s still heading east but now going at least twice the speed limit.” Mason was thankful the city streets were relatively deserted at the late hour, but that also meant the driver might be more reckless.
The driver turned sharply at the next right, his back end sliding far into the oncoming lane. Mason relayed the turn to Nora. “He’s going to kill someone if he’s not careful.” Mason slowed down his big truck to take the same turn, his hands tight on the steering wheel. The taillights of the Mustang were much farther ahead than he’d expected. The lights vanished, but he still saw the silver car from the streetlights.
Mason accelerated again, his big engine roaring. “He turned off his lights. Where the fuck is patrol?”
“They’ve been notified . . . They’re running a skeleton crew tonight because of the memorial service.”
“He must have known we’d go to the service,” Mason muttered. Why was he on my street? A chill went up his spine. “Dammit! Call Ava. Tell her not to enter the house. Get a couple officers over there to clear it first.”
Did he get inside our house? Their security system was top-notch. Mason should have received phone notifications if someone had entered. But he knew nothing was infallible.
“Shawn Braswell must have killed his brother,” he told Nora. “That’s the only explanation. Why else would he have stolen plates and be on my street?”
“And take off when he spotted you.”
Mason was pushing seventy in a business area, and he wasn’t getting any closer to the Mustang. “He’s got to be headed toward the freeway.”
“You should have a patrol vehicle joining you at any moment.”
Mason checked his rearview mirror. Nothing. “Did you reach Ava?”
“I left her a voice mail. I’ll send her a text too.”
The Mustang’s brake lights flashed, and the car took a hard left into a lot full of warehouses.
“He’s cutting through the Robinson distribution complex.”
Nora relayed the message to the dispatcher.
Mason slowed and took the turn, a back tire slamming against the curb, making his truck violently jerk. He ignored it. His need to stay on the Mustang was stronger than his need to take care of his vehicle.
The huge warehouse complex was well lit, and the Mustang shot straight ahead between two warehouses lined with dozens of loading dock doors. Mason followed, glad the businesses appeared to be shut down for the day. The Mustang’s tires screeched as it turned at the end of the long warehouse and disappeared. Mason held his breath as he approached the turn, hating to have the vehicle out of sight.
He took the turn and didn’t see the car. “Where’d he go?” Ahead of him was a road with a dozen warehouses lining each side. The car could have turned at any of them. He rolled down his window and listened.
The throaty roar of the Mustang’s engine sounded from far away. But where?
Mason kept going forward, craning his neck to look right and left between the warehouses as he passed. Some of the warehouse alleys were lit, some not. I’m going too slow. At the far end of the warehouses on the right he faintly saw a tall concrete wall that separated the property from the freeway.
He glanced down a dark alley just as brake lights flashed at the far end and turned to drive parallel to the concrete wall. He yanked his wheel to the right and floored it down the alley, his truck rocking as he shot through sloped areas with drains. “He’s on the south side of the complex!”
“Got it,” said Nora.
Approaching the end, Mason decelerated to take the left turn and sped up as he came out of it. Up ahead the Mustang flashed in and out of sight as it sped through dark and lit areas.
Mason took a deep breath, his vision locked on the car. The Mustang was nearing the end of the complex. He was nearly past the warehouses on his left, and the concrete wall on his right stopped just beyond the last building. The Mustang turned left past the last warehouse, vanishing again.
“This is getting old,” Mason stated. He took the same turn.
The back end of his truck seemed to float, and he tried to steer out of the slide.
The truck continued to slide, and the right back end dropped. A horrific scraping sound vibrated through his seat and steering wheel before the truck slammed to a stop. Mason’s head whipped forward, his body held in place by his seat belt.
His back end was in a deep ditch. Frustrated, he punched the accelerator and rubber burned. The vehicle lurched but stayed in the ditch. He slammed his hands on the steering wheel.
Far ahead, the signature taillights flashed as the Mustang turned out of the complex.
“Mason?” asked Nora. “What was that?”
“That was me going into a ditch. He’s headed west on the road in front of the complex.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. My truck isn’t.”
Nora spoke into the other line, informing the dispatcher of the Mustang’s direction and that Mason was in a ditch. “I’m getting you a tow truck,” she told him. “I’ll run you home.”
“You don’t need to do that. I can call Ava.” He climbed out of the truck.
“She’s waiting for officers outside the house. I can be there in fifteen minutes.”
Mason scrutinized his truck, its back end several feet into the ditch.
Ava will give me a hard time for months about this.
He sighed and reluctantly agreed with Nora.
It was nearly midnight as Ava leaned against her car’s door, waiting for the officers to finish clearing her house as Bingo barked nonstop from the backyard. The two officers had adamantly insisted she wait out front. She’d argued and then let them have their way. Clearly Bingo was fine, and that was all she truly cared about.
Mason had called, updating her on what exactly he had seen on their street and then admitting he’d put his truck in a ditch.
She’d wanted to tease him, but his frustrated tone made her hold back.
Headlights shone as a vehicle turned on her street, and a moment later she recognized Nora and Mason. Nora parked behind her at the curb, and Mason opened his door. Ava met him halfway, wrapping her arms around him. “You’re sure you’re okay?”