“And the phone number?”
“Of course it was.” Gillian Wood’s voice rang in Mason’s head as he recalled her statement that Reuben Braswell had been a burner-phone fan. “Doesn’t anyone trust anymore?”
“Trust big companies with personal information? No.”
“You saw all these priors for Tony Schroeder?” Mason scanned his screen. Tony had been arrested a number of times for breaking into vehicles and homes. Two DUIs. An assault. Possession of a stolen weapon.
“I did,” said Nora. “They’re all in Central Oregon counties. He hasn’t been in trouble since he moved to this side of the Cascades. But that means we have prints on file for him.”
“Which we can compare to any prints found at the Braswell murder.”
“Tony and Reuben were neighbors. If Tony’s prints show up in Reuben’s home, it could mean nothing.”
“Depends where the prints are found.” Mason eyed Tony Schroeder’s possession-of-a-stolen-weapon charge. It was three years old. “Your thoughts on the weapons charge?”
“Said he bought it from a friend . . . who conveniently moved to Mexico.”
Of course. “On the phone Tony said he didn’t know anything about the weapons in Kaden’s room.”
Nora held up her hands and shrugged. “Who knows what he lied about on that call.”
“Or maybe he lied about nothing.”
“And someone else didn’t want him talking with us.”
“Did the medical examiner say when they’d get to Kaden?” Mason wanted all the answers. Now.
“Sometime this morning,” said Nora.
“We need to go back to the Schroeder home. I want to look it over again now that we know his father has vanished.”
“What started as only the murder of Reuben Braswell grows in scope every day.”
“Every hour, it feels like,” said Mason. “First the courthouse murders and then Kaden’s and now the question of what happened to his father.” He consulted his little notepad. “Did we hear if there were any large transactions in Kaden’s bank accounts?”
“No cash withdrawals of more than sixty dollars in the last six months.”
“The ATF robbery was only a couple months ago.” Mason tried to think of other ways Kaden could have purchased the weapons. “Maybe he traded something for them. He would have paid way more than sixty dollars for those five guns.”
“Maybe they weren’t his weapons,” Nora said quietly.
“Maybe they were Reuben’s . . . Maybe he stole them from Reuben . . . Could he have gone in the house after Reuben was killed and taken the weapons?”
“I don’t think the window between Reuben’s death and the arrival of the local police was long enough. There’s a good chance Gillian scared off the killer when she banged on the back door.”
“That’s right.” An icy thought occurred to him. “Would Tony kill his own son?” he asked quietly.
Nora was silent for a long moment. “We’ve seen it happen.”
An image of Jake roughhousing with Bingo popped in his head. I could never . . .
“Where do you want to start?” Nora asked.
“I think we need to go back to the beginning. Reuben Braswell’s home.” Mason had a sinking feeling he’d missed something very important. “Then cross the street to the Schroeders’. Tell the lab to compare Tony Schroeder’s prints to ones found in Reuben’s home.”
Nora nodded as she tapped out an email on her phone. “How’s Ava holding up?”
“She’s getting by. We’ll definitely be ready for a couple weeks in Italy after the wedding.”
“I’m still jealous.” Nora had seen their plans to visit Florence, Capri, and Positano. “I’m sorry about the death of her father.”
“It was a shock. A confusing event for her to process.” Mason knew Ava still hadn’t forgiven herself for not getting to know her father better.
“Ready to go?”
Mason stood and put on his hat.
Ava sighed as she eyed the unknown caller message on her screen. She never ignored the anonymous calls but always wanted to. She set her coffee cup in the kitchen sink and answered.
She caught her breath. “Jayne?” She’s alive. “Where in the hell are you?”
“I don’t know.” Her sister sobbed as the connection cut in and out.
Every cell in Ava’s body focused on the call. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s so awful! I didn’t mean for this to happen,” her sister wailed.
Ava pressed her cell tight to her ear as if that would improve the phone call’s poor quality. “Where are you?” she repeated. “Are you safe?”
How many times have I promised myself to not get caught up in her problems?
“I don’t know,” Jayne moaned between sobs. “He wouldn’t let me see when we drove here, and now I don’t know what to do!”
“Who? Who’s with you?”
“Quiet!” Jayne whispered loudly. Rustling sounded, as if Jayne was placing the phone under something.
Anger tightened Ava’s grip on her cell. It was so typical. Jayne would call with a horrible emergency, begging for Ava’s help, and then it would turn out to be nothing.
I don’t need this right now.
“He’s back,” Jayne whispered between wet gasps. “I need to go.”
“Who is back?” If she doesn’t give me a clear answer, I am done.
“You’ve got to help me, Ava.” Jayne was barely audible. “He killed David.”
Ava couldn’t breathe.
Did she say . . .
“He’ll kill me next if I don’t do what he says.”
Jayne didn’t answer, and Ava looked at her screen. The call had ended.
Icy shock raced through her.
He’ll kill Jayne?
Jayne knows who murdered David?
Her hands shook as she called Zander. She needed to see Jayne’s motel video again.
It has to be the man in the video.
Ava watched as Zander slowed down the video when the man came into view at the motel. They sat at her kitchen table, intently focused on Zander’s laptop. He’d arrived fifteen minutes after she’d called, deep concern on his face.
Their original morning plan had been to return to the church where the weapon had been found and talk to Pat Arthur again, but Jayne’s call had delayed that.
“We need to send this to the Clatsop County sheriff,” Zander said, his gaze glued to the screen. “Maybe they’ll recognize this guy.”
“From his back?”
“Worth a try.”
“They’ve gotten nowhere on my father’s murder,” Ava said. “The lead detective has emailed me status updates, and from the looks of things, they’re being thorough, but nothing is panning out.”
“Maybe the video will help.”
Ava stared at the screen. It gave a clear shot of Jayne’s pregnancy bulge. “She didn’t say anything about being pregnant when she called.”
“Sounds like she didn’t have time.”
“Maybe it is fake, and this guy is in on it . . . Maybe she does it to play up sympathy at the front desk to get away with paying in cash.”
“You have a point.” Zander ran the video again. “Any luck on finding where she called from?”
“The team is working on it. The reception was bad, so I have the feeling she’s somewhere remote.”
“Maybe she’s still at the coast if this is the guy that killed David?”
Ava froze, her mind grasping at something just out of reach. Jayne at the coast. “I want to see the security footage from the bakery that the sheriff told us about. The one where a man hit a woman on the morning that David was shot.”
Zander picked up his phone. “I’ll call. And I’ll tell him about this footage.”
Exhaling, Ava sat back in her chair and rubbed her eyes. The bakery clerk had said the woman had been punched and then walked away with the man’s arm around her shoulders.
Would Jayne put up with that?
She would if she believed he would kill her.
Jayne had genuinely sounded scared on the call.
But how many times has she lied to me before?
Ava had stopped counting decades ago. Jayne cared about one person: herself. She’d do and say anything if she believed she could benefit, no matter whom it hurt. Ava rose out of her chair, unable to meet Zander’s questioning gaze, and headed for her formal dining room, needing space. The room was beautiful. Wide plank floors, white wainscoting, and a pale-teal paint—almost white. Tall windows let in tons of light.
Ava stopped in front of Jayne’s painting and studied it as if it would give a clue to Jayne’s location. The coastline watercolor was bleak and desolate, but Ava couldn’t look away. The first time she’d seen it, she’d been immediately pulled in by its depth and color.
She saw pieces of Jayne in the painting. And herself.