“The service was good,” Mason said. His throat thickened, and he looked Ray in the eye. “I was thankful your picture wasn’t on that stage.”
“That would have sucked.”
“That’s putting it mildly.” Mason looked at his hands, which were holding the side rail of Ray’s bed. His fingers were white from gripping too hard. “I still feel nauseated when I think of it.”
“It’s past. It’s over. I’m fine. I’ll have a few new scars to show off,” Ray joked.
Mason glanced away, struck by the memory of those bleeding injuries. “I’d rather not see them.”
“I know,” Ray said. “But I plan to use them as a reminder to not take every day for granted.”
The men sat silently for a long moment. It was a comfortable silence. Mason didn’t feel pressured to fill it with talk as he considered Ray’s statement.
He needed to have the same attitude. Life had given him a second chance at happiness with Ava. He wouldn’t take a day of it for granted.
“I heard the missing finger turned up at your place,” Ray said, breaking the silence.
“Who told you all this?”
“I promised not to tell. Is it true?”
“There was definitely a finger, and I assume it’s Reuben Braswell’s missing middle digit. I hate to think that there’re other people lacking fingers just to intimidate me.”
“But why intimidate you?” Ray asked. “Why are you a target? Maybe it’s Ava.”
“True,” Mason said. “Ava knew Reuben, but I’m the one looking for his killer—who most likely left the finger.”
“There are a lot more people besides you working this case,” Ray pointed out. “But to me the finger at your home feels very personal. Are you sure you’ve never encountered Shawn Braswell in the past?”
“He’s never been in trouble. He doesn’t have a record.”
“What about in your personal life?”
Mason shook his head. “I’m old. You think I remember every person I’ve met?”
“Just because you’re older than me doesn’t mean you’re old. You could kick the butt of any officer I know.”
“Maybe not through brute strength, but you’re fast and sharp and conniving.”
“Thank you, I think? Still doesn’t mean I can remember if I’ve met Shawn Braswell. Maybe I cut him off on the way to the Starbucks drive-through. Maybe he’s the type to hold a grudge.”
Ray thought for a moment. “We can’t assume Shawn was driving. Sure, it’s a car like his, but with stolen plates, we can’t say it was his for certain.”
Mason noticed Ray’s use of the word we but didn’t correct him. “It’d be a big coincidence that I was following someone else’s Mustang, but I won’t rule it out.”
“What about the missing dad . . . What’s his name?”
“Could he have killed Reuben?”
“You’re still considering that he killed his son, Kaden, right?”
“Yes. Gillian Wood says she saw a silver car in front of the Schroeder home the evening before Kaden was killed. We have no way of knowing who was there. Shawn Braswell seems most likely.” Mason paused. “But Tony Schroeder has a record. Lot of little stuff.”
“Could he have targeted you last night? Have you encountered him before?”
“Not that I’m aware of. He lived in the Central Oregon area for a long time, so I doubt it.”
“You know what else has been bothering me?”
“The gunshot wound in your leg?”
Ray ignored him. “How did someone know we’d respond to the courthouse that day? What if the crime scene tech hadn’t looked through those papers? How did the shooter know there’d be a large law enforcement response?”
“This question bothers everyone,” Mason told him.
“Let me see the photos you took of the papers we found at Braswell’s. The one that mentions the courthouse.”
“You need to rest.”
“I’ve been resting for days. My brain is starting to atrophy. Did you get a lab report on the papers?”
“Yes. Handwriting appears to all be from the same person. Blood on the papers matched the victim.”
“Show me the pictures.”
“Damn, you’re pushy.” Mason pulled out his phone and scrolled through the pictures. He found what he was looking for and handed the phone to Ray, who peered closely at the screen.
“What else did the report say?”
Mason thought. “Nothing jumped out at me. They didn’t find any prints. Some of the smears indicated the killer was wearing gloves when he handled the documents. The blood was smeared over the ink, meaning they’d been written before our killer got blood on them.”
“Over the ink,” Ray mumbled as he looked at the photos. “What is the significance of that?”
“I don’t see one,” said Mason. “Reuben wrote it at some point, and then the killer smudged it with Reuben’s blood that day. I imagine he was looking for Reuben’s plans for the courthouse.”
“He found them,” Ray said.
“My question is, if they were originally working together to carry out the courthouse shooting, why kill your partner and then carry out the shooting?” Mason felt a spurt of energy. He’d missed brainstorming with Ray. The two of them always fed off each other’s ideas, coming up with angles they would have missed on their own.
“Maybe they had a disagreement about it.”
“That’s quite the disagreement.”
Ray enlarged a photo on Mason’s phone. “Look at this.”
Mason looked. It was the page with the sentences about the planned bombing at the courthouse. “What about it? Bloody paper. Same handwriting.”
“You said the blood was over the ink, meaning it’d been written before the murder.”
“Seems logical. I don’t see any holes in that theory.”
“But the part about the courthouse isn’t smudged with blood. In fact, the first sentence about the courthouse skips down to the second line to avoid writing over a blood smear. Same with the other sentences about the bombing.”
Mason stared. Ray was right. The writer had purposefully written around the blood as if it’d been already present when he wrote. None of the sentences about the courthouse and the time of the bombing had blood smeared over them. He quickly scanned the rest of the pages. The sentences filled the lines, with no odd spacing, as in the courthouse sentences.
“I think they were written after Gillian banged on the back door. The killer knew his time was suddenly short and the house would be crawling with police in minutes.”
“But the killer didn’t write this document. Reuben did. The handwriting matches other documents in the room.”
“Look how shaky the letters are in the sentences about the detonation time of the bomb,” Ray pointed out. “I don’t know who analyzed the handwriting, but I could see this as someone trying to copy the rest of the writing.”
“Maybe they didn’t analyze each sentence. Maybe they looked at a sentence in every paragraph. This is on the last page, so they could have studied some of the above handwriting,” Mason said as he mentally picked apart Ray’s theory from every angle. “You’re saying Reuben wrote the document, but the killer added the part about the courthouse.”
“It would answer our question about how the killer knew there would be a law enforcement presence at the courthouse that day,” said Ray. “He’d left the folder in plain sight. Closed, but readily available. The blood on the outside of the folder would call our attention to it.”
“So say the killer hears Gillian making a racket, knows his time is up, so he takes off his gloves and adds the courthouse sentence to Reuben’s rambling diatribe.”
Ray nodded. “That means when he originally handled the document, his gloved hands were already bloody.”
“But he came back to it . . . guaranteeing we’d react in full force to a bomb at the courthouse.” Mason frowned. “Just how much time did he have to spare after Gillian banged on the back door?”
“Enough time to pull off his gloves, write the sentence, and get out.”
“And somehow get out without Gillian seeing him when she came around to the front door.”
“He could have gone out the back.”
“The sliding glass door was locked from the inside.”
“Right. And all the windows were closed and locked. The air-conditioning was running.”
“He had to go out the front door.”
“Do we need to talk to Gillian about her timeline again?” Ray asked.
“I’ll call her,” said Mason. “You’re going to stay here, eat green Jell-O, and prove to them that you can go home today.”
“Agent Kilpatrick.” Mercy’s voice was crisp in Ava’s ear.
“Mercy, it’s Ava.”
“Hey! Nice to hear from you. I’m looking forward to your wedding.”