“I knew from all that blood that something bad had happened. Reuben had told me that if something ever happened to him, I needed to get away.”
“Get away where? How come?”
“I don’t know. It was something he said one night . . . He was rambling on about safety. I didn’t ask any questions. Most of the time I didn’t understand what he was talking about.”
“But you remembered that warning?”
“Yes. I didn’t stay home very long that morning. I was freaked out and paced around, terrified of what could have happened. I wanted to call 911, but I was too nervous.”
“But you finally did.”
“I realized I should at least try the front door. If he was hurt, maybe I could help. I got up the nerve to go back and try the door. I rang the bell and then called 911.”
Mason enlarged a picture of the loose fingers in the bathroom and then moved to Reuben’s battered face.
How much of that abuse was he conscious for?
“How long would you estimate you were at home?”
“I know I finished a cigarette. It calmed me down.”
Five minutes? Plenty of time for the killer to get out.
“I wish you would have told us that the first time.”
“I was really nervous talking to you. I might have forgotten.”
Mason doubted that. More likely she had been afraid she’d be in trouble.
He enlarged a photo of the Second Amendment and flag tattoo that filled most of Reuben’s lower arm and remembered that Gillian had said he wouldn’t tell her what his tattoos meant to him.
The meaning was obvious to Mason.
Mason quickly clicked over to the medical examiner’s report and opened the file of photos. He scanned each one, not seeing a second tattoo.
“Gillian, you told me you asked Reuben about his tattoos. What kind of tattoos did he have?”
“He had a lion’s head on his shoulder and some sort of tribal tattoo that went around both his upper arms. You know . . . sorta geometric and badass looking.”
In Mason’s photos, Reuben’s shoulders were clear.
His fingers grew icy. “No flag tattoo?”
“No. Not that I remember.”
There’s no way she forgot a tattoo that covers half of his arm.
“Thanks for answering my questions, I need to get back to work.” His sentences ran together, his mind sprinting far ahead as he ended the call.
“The murdered man isn’t Reuben Braswell,” he stated out loud.
Holy shit. We fucked up.
He leaned back and stared at the ceiling as he mentally retraced their steps to identifying the body. Reuben didn’t have any fingerprints on file.
The victim’s face was severely damaged.
The victim’s stats matched the license.
The victim’s hair and eye color matched. Height and weight seemed about right.
Reuben’s wallet had been in the bloody jeans. In his own home.
A forensic dental exam hadn’t been done yet. The ME needed films from Reuben’s dentist to compare.
I should have asked Gillian to visually identify him.
We made assumptions.
Mason dug his hands into his hair and pulled. This isn’t happening. “Who the fuck was left in that bathtub?”
Tony Schroeder is missing.
“I talked to Schroeder on the phone,” he muttered. “No, I talked to someone who answered his phone. Dammit!”
He abruptly sat up and tapped on his keyboard as he searched for Tony Schroeder’s driver’s license. He stared at the man’s photo, comparing it to the battered face in the tub.
He couldn’t rule it out. Hair, eyes, height, weight. All within reason.
Where can I see if he has this flag tattoo?
His arrest records might mention a tattoo as an identifying mark, but it’d been years since Tony had been arrested. The tattoo could be new since then.
Mason grinned. The social media site had given him tons of information in past cases. He crossed his fingers in the hope that Tony had an account. Mason opened the site and immediately found him.
Tony hadn’t bothered with privacy settings. Everything was visible to the public. Mason scrolled through photos until he found one of Tony and another man in swim trunks. They stood on a dock, a blue lake behind them, beers in their hands.
The photo was two years old. Again, the tattoo could be recent.
“Shit. Shit. Shit.”
The other man in the photo had to be a brother or close relative of Tony’s. They had the same posture, grin, and face shape.
A light went on in his head.
Could the dead man be Shawn Braswell?
Nora had already checked Shawn’s Facebook page to see if he’d done any recent check-ins or posts that would give a clue to his whereabouts. She had mentioned to Mason that the last post she could see was a year old and that he’d implemented privacy settings, severely limiting what was visible to the public.
Mason found Shawn’s page. The only posts he could see were public ones Shawn had shared from other pages. Primarily from gun enthusiasts and Ford Mustang fans.
No immediate photos showed his lower arms, so Mason opened up the photos page with the past profile pictures that were public and immediately zeroed in on one. Shawn sat in a lounge chair on a beach. Sunglasses, a tan, and a huge cooler. His lower right arm was covered with a flag tattoo.
Mason enlarged the photo, his heart pounding in his chest.
Shawn Braswell was dead. They’d been hunting for a dead man.
Where is Reuben?
He grabbed the phone to call Nora.
Ava barely noticed the scenery as she drove through the gorge. The Columbia River had carved it out and created some of the most stunning sights in Oregon. Mile after mile of lush landscapes and a blue river that reflected the sky. The highway threaded along the south side of the river, giving her views of Washington State across the water.
Her mind was preoccupied with Jayne. Twists and turns and questions and fear.
She almost craved the silence she’d experienced before Jayne had reappeared.
Almost. That silence was its own type of hell.
A phone call from Mason showed on her screen, and she jumped on the distraction. Earlier she’d texted him an update and her destination.
“You’re not there yet, right?” Mason asked.
“No. Another fifteen minutes or so.”
“You’re not going to believe what I found out.”
Her jaw hung open for the next sixty seconds as Mason told her about Shawn Braswell’s tattoo.
“Reuben’s alive,” she stated. A twist of fear started in her stomach. “The courthouse shooting makes more sense now. According to the manifesto you found in his home, that shooting completely fits.” The video coverage from the church popped in her mind. That was him. “Mason, now I can see it was him throwing the rifle in the dumpster. His stride and bearing are completely familiar.”
“We still don’t know if he was working alone.”
She hesitated, remembering how Zander had reacted to what she was about to tell Mason. “I told you about Reuben’s flirting, but I played it down. When he saw my engagement ring, I swear he was shocked. He tried to insinuate that I was marrying the wrong man and he was the right one for me.”
“You’re telling me this now?”
“I thought he was dead. I didn’t think it mattered.”
“Ava . . . this means he was most likely the one who left the finger at our home, not Shawn. That wasn’t a message to me—it was meant to intimidate you.”
Her vision tunneled, the road ahead the only thing in her sight. “I thought he was dead,” she repeated. “I had no idea . . .”
“None of us did,” Mason said. “I’m furious with myself that I assumed the dead man was Reuben Braswell. I know better than that.”
“I didn’t question it. None of us did,” Ava said. “This means he might have killed David? And Kaden? Oh my God—he’s with Jayne.” He’d only been on the motel and bakery videos for a few seconds, but Ava was suddenly positive she recognized him, as she had with the church video.
Or is my mind forcing the connection?
She couldn’t make assumptions. There’d already been a huge one in this case.
“Would he hurt Jayne?” Mason asked.
The punch to Jayne’s face played over and over in her mind. “I don’t know.”
“Why would he be with her? Is it to get at you somehow?”
She gripped the steering wheel, telling herself to focus on her driving. Her brain was trying to speed in a dozen different directions. “I can’t guess at his motivation.”
Reuben was a dangerous man. She’d felt it from the first time she’d met him, but she’d been confident it wouldn’t be directed her way. She was a federal officer; he knew better than to mess with her.
Was I wrong?
He’d been upset at the end of the last meeting.
Did I trigger all this? The shootings . . . David’s murder.
“What?” asked Mason.
“Nothing. Talking to myself.”
“Are you all right?”
“Yes. Nothing has changed but the possible identity of who we’re looking for. What does it matter if it was one brother or the other?” she lied.