“Positive. Whipped my head a bit, but I’ve had worse.”
“You sure it was Shawn Braswell?”
He grimaced. “I didn’t see the driver. I could tell there was one male in the car, but that was it. Why else would he take off?”
“Because he had stolen plates?”
“Why worry that the person behind you in a pickup would know anything about stolen plates unless you recognize the truck as the personal vehicle of someone in law enforcement?”
Ava frowned. “You think he knows what you drive?”
“I think he knows a lot of things.”
Ava turned to look at the house, her stomach tightening. “Mason . . . how does he know where you live?” she asked softly.
He said nothing.
Nora spoke up. “You think you’ve been followed?”
Fury burned in Ava’s gut.
“That seems the most logical conclusion,” said Mason.
Ava massaged the back of her neck, wanting to release its ache, which had hounded her all day. “We need to see if the cameras caught anything.”
“I can do that on my phone.”
Voices turned their attention. The two officers had stepped out of the home and were talking on the front porch. Ava was pleased that one had put a leash on Bingo and brought him out. She, Nora, and Mason crossed the street and met the officers as they came down the porch stairs.
“The house is clear,” said the female officer. “We walked the yard too.” She scratched Bingo’s ears. “This guy wanted to come. I hope you don’t mind that I brought him out.”
“Not at all,” said Ava, taking the leash. She squatted down and gave the dog a hug. “As long as he’s safe, I don’t care about the rest of the house.”
“I care,” said Mason. “We’ve got half our savings wrapped up in that money pit.”
“The kitchen looks great,” said the other officer. “My wife wants to do something similar in our house.”
“Expect it to take thirty percent longer than estimated and cost twenty percent more,” said Mason. “Nothing unusual inside?”
“No, all the doors were locked, as Agent McLane told us they should be. Windows intact and locked.”
Bingo pulled on the leash, straining to go up the porch stairs.
“Sit,” said Mason, who continued to speak with the officers.
Bingo sat, his dark gaze going from Mason to Ava and back. He gave a long whine.
Ava cocked her head as she studied the dog, and Mason stopped midsentence to look at Bingo. “What’s-a-matter, boy?” he asked.
The dog whined again and pulled on the leash—while still sitting.
Ava looked to Mason, who lifted one shoulder. She loosened the leash. “Come on, Bingo,” she said, taking a step toward the stairs. The dog bounded up in two leaps and stopped at an Adirondack chair near the door, making snorting sounds as he sniffed at it.
A small paper Starbucks bag was on the arm of the chair. “No,” Ava told Bingo as she grabbed the bag a split second before he did. She glanced in the bag, expecting to find the remains of a scone or muffin.
It was a human finger.
“Ewww!” She stared, and then she held out the bag with two fingers, bile rising in the back of her throat.
“Mason, I think Bingo found Reuben’s missing finger.”
Minutes later the finger was in an evidence bag, and the three of them crowded around Mason’s laptop to watch the camera coverage.
“There he is,” Mason said under his breath. A man in shorts, cap, and T-shirt strolled to their front porch, took the stairs two at a time, pretended to knock, and casually left the Starbucks bag on the chair.
His face was hidden by his hat, but Ava knew that stride and physique. “That is the same guy who left the backpack in the dumpster. He knew exactly where our camera was. Look how he turns his face away at the right moment. The blond hair in the other video must have been a wig.”
“Why didn’t he use the same disguise here? Or maybe a different one?” asked Nora. “He appears to have short dark hair. That’s what Shawn Braswell has, correct?”
“Don’t know if it’s currently short, but it is dark,” said Ava. “Nothing here proves that it’s not Shawn Braswell.”
“Especially since he was driving a silver Mustang,” said Mason. “I’ll check with the neighbors tomorrow and see if anyone got his face on camera. Too bad it was so dark.”
“I’m more disturbed that he knows where you live, Mason,” said Nora.
The detective’s face was blank, but Ava knew exactly what she was thinking.
Does he know where I live too?
“Please be careful, Nora,” she said.
“I’m always careful, but this is unnerving. My condo building has good security.”
“Watch when you park,” added Mason.
“I don’t like how personal this feels,” said Ava.
“It was personal to start with,” he said. “You knew the original victim.”
“Not that well,” she argued. Reuben Braswell had been low on her list of useful people. “But now Shawn has brought Reuben’s finger specifically to our house, wanting to make a point. What is that point?”
The three of them were silent.
“I don’t know,” Mason said slowly. “Dr. Trask told me a middle finger was missing, so maybe it’s a big fuck-you to us. But if I was Shawn, I’d be as far away from this town as possible.”
Ava agreed. Why was Shawn Braswell still in town?
The next morning Mason strode down the office hallway to the detectives’ area. He’d slept like crap. This frustrating case zigged every time he expected it to zag.
Someone was at my home.
Had he led danger to his own doorstep?
Last night he and Ava had lain awake for several hours, pretending to sleep. She’d finally drifted off, her breaths deepening and slowing. Mason had stayed awake for another hour, his thoughts wildly veering down every tangent in his case.
He set his hat on an extra chair near his desk. For the first time in days, he didn’t feel ill when he looked at Ray’s empty space. His partner was on the mend, and Jill hoped to have him out of the hospital by tomorrow. It gave Mason peace—a very small sliver of peace. He’d have more when he found the person who had pulled the trigger.
He logged in to his computer and looked up as Nora entered the big room. Last night they’d made plans to meet this morning to thoroughly review the case evidence. They needed to find Shawn Braswell’s current location.
“Good morning,” she said. Her eyes lacked their usual intensity, and she seemed pale.
Someone else didn’t sleep well.
She sat heavily in Ray’s chair. Her own desk was on a different floor due to the crowded office conditions. “With all the turmoil yesterday, I forgot to tell you that Kaden Schroeder’s father never showed up at his home.”
Mason went still. “And when you called him?”
“Line disconnected.” Her gaze was flat.
“The same number I’d used with him yesterday?”
“Yep. I double- and triple-checked.”
A dozen possibilities engulfed him. “What . . .” He couldn’t sort his thoughts.
“I know. Believe me, I’ve been trying to figure out why he would vanish.” She rubbed her eyes. “Did Tony disconnect his line, or did something happen to him?”
“If something happened to him, a call would still go to voice mail,” said Mason.
“True. It’s most likely he purposefully did it.”
“Was he even in Bend?”
“Who knows? And I can’t find any record that shows Tony Schroeder has a brother.”
“Shit.” Mason turned to his computer. “Tony sounded genuinely crushed when I told him about Kaden’s death yesterday. Was it an act?”
“We don’t know that you actually spoke with his father,” Nora said dryly.
“What if someone also killed Kaden’s father?” murmured Mason as he tapped on his keyboard. “What if Kaden and his father were targeted?”
“Before or after your phone call?”
Mason grimaced in frustration. The questions were coming too fast.
“Just covering all the possibilities.”
“I know.” He focused on his screen, where he’d pulled up Tony Schroeder’s driver’s license. “Age forty-three, six-one, one-eighty-five. He has short, dark hair in this photo.”
Nora raised her brows. “Who else fits that description?”
“Shawn Braswell.” Mason stared at the photo, trying to mentally match the jawline to the only part of the man’s face visible in the church videos and the one from his home last night. Did we jump to the conclusion that Shawn Braswell was the man in those videos?
“Was Kaden misleading me about the Mustang?”
“Shawn Braswell owns a silver Mustang. There’s no doubt about that.”
“What does Tony Schroeder drive?”
“A six-year-old Ford F-350. Kaden’s Toyota pickup is in his father’s name too.”
“I already put out a BOLO for the Ford.”