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Immediately ahead were three narrow concrete steps that led up to a single door with a half window.

He couldn’t guess what was on the other side of the older house’s door. A utility room? A family room? He stopped, his back to the siding as he contemplated the best way to avoid being seen from the door’s window. While he thought, the door opened a few inches and he froze, holding his breath.

“Don’t go out!” a child said from inside.

The door slammed shut and little-girl voices argued.

The girls. Veronica hid them in a playroom.

Mason holstered his weapon and removed his badge. Will they trust me?

He had to try. He crept toward the door and tapped softly on it, holding his badge up to the window first, keeping his face out of sight. The arguing voices went silent.

“I’m a policeman,” he said quietly, his mouth close to the door. “I know there’s a bad man in your house, and I’ve come to get you out. I talked to your mom on the phone.”

The lock on the door clicked into place.

Smart girls, but that’s not helping at the moment.

“Two days ago I was talking to your dad in the front yard when you came home. I had a white cowboy hat in my hand.” He crossed his fingers, hoping the hat was enough to trigger a memory. “I’m going to show you my face now, okay?”

Keeping his badge still at the window, he raised his head and looked through the glass. The playroom was small, and the girls were huddled together behind a play kitchen, watching the window. The oldest scowled at him. He guessed she was about eight, the other around six.

Faint yelling sounded from inside the home.

The younger slapped her hands over her ears.

“You can trust me.” Exactly what every predator says to a child. “Do you remember me?”

The oldest nodded, her eyes still wary.

“Good. Let’s get you to a safe place. Is there a friend’s house close by you can go to?”

The older said something to her little sister, who shook her head. The first girl pointed at Mason and said something else to the younger girl, who shot him a cautious glance.

It appeared he’d convinced one.

Come on.

The bigger girl stood, pulled the younger out from behind the kitchen, and moved toward the door.

Thank God.

The lock clicked, and Mason backed away, giving them space. The oldest stepped out, suspicion in her gaze. “How do I know you’re a policeman? Badges can be fake.”

“You’re right.”

“You’re not wearing a uniform.”

“I’m a detective. We don’t wear uniforms.” He was running out of ideas to persuade her. “I talked on the phone with your mom a few minutes ago. She said she’d told you to lock the door in the playroom.”

The younger girl pushed her way past the older and faced him. “What’s happening? Is he going to hurt Mommy?” Her eyes were terrified.

Mason held his hand out to her. “I hope not. I’m going to stop him, but first I need you two in a safe place. Let’s go.” He held his breath.

The youngest took his hand and came down the steps. The older hesitated.

“I need you to show me the house of a neighbor you know,” he said to the older girl.

Indecision flickered, but she closed the door and came down, though she didn’t take his other hand. She grabbed her sister’s.

“Let’s go,” said Mason, relief flooding his veins. The girls led him to a gate that blended perfectly into the picket fence, and the three of them quietly sneaked out to the road. “Which house?” he asked.

“Madeline lives there.” The older girl pointed across the street and two houses down. A sedan was in the driveway.

The three of them jogged toward the home. I need to get back to Jayne. “When you get inside, tell them the police are at your house but to stay away, okay? Have Madeline’s mom call 911 again. But do not go back to your house.” He gave his best authoritative-father look. “I’ll come get you when it’s safe. Okay?”

The girls nodded, and he watched impatiently from the road until they rang the doorbell and the door opened. A woman smiled at the girls but glanced up as she realized Mason was in the street. He held up his badge for her to see, pointed at the girls, and ran back to the house, hoping the mother would clue in quickly.

Now to get Jayne and Veronica to safety.


Ava ended the 911 call as she sped toward Mosier.

The operator already knew that Reuben Braswell was in his sister’s home and that several units from the sheriff’s department were on the scene. Ava had tried Mason’s number, but it had eventually dumped her into voice mail.

Is his phone on silent? Is he unable to answer?

Praying it was the first, she took the Mosier exit. As she crossed over the highway, she spotted more county patrol units not far behind her.

It’d been ten minutes since she’d talked to Mason. A lot could happen in ten minutes.

She turned onto Veronica Lloyd’s street. A hundred yards in, it was blocked by Wasco County patrol cars.

Good. Where’s Mason?

Ava parked and got out, scanning for him. She put on her ballistic vest, her hands stinking of bleach from the Clorox wipes she’d used to clean off Tony Schroeder’s blood.

Mason’s vehicle was inside the blocked-off zone. He was nowhere to be seen.

She checked her phone. Nothing from him. “Shit.” She approached the deputies standing behind their cars, recognizing a deputy and a sergeant who had responded to the Braswell incident an hour ago. “Have you seen Detective Callahan?”

The men looked at one another.

“OSP detective. Cowboy boots.” She pointed. “That’s his car.”

“We haven’t seen anyone else,” said the sergeant, frowning. “What’s he doing here?”

“The homeowner called him. Reuben Braswell is her brother. Detective Callahan was investigating him in Portland.”

“We understand Braswell is inside with an injured hostage from the shooting in The Dalles,” the sergeant replied.

“I believe so. Who’s your hostage negotiator?”

“She’s on her way. Same with SWAT. We’re trying to get Braswell on a phone to start talking.”

Ava sent a text to Mason asking where he was.

A shot cracked. Ava and the deputies dropped to the ground behind the cars.

Her heartbeat pounding in her head, Ava held her breath, waiting for another shot.

“That was fired in the air to get your attention,” Reuben yelled from the house. “I want safe passage out of here, or next time I will shoot both of these women!”

Jayne’s okay?

“How far out is your negotiator?” she asked the sergeant as they continued to crouch behind the cars.

“Too far.”

Ava considered her options. “I’ve done negotiating in situations like this. I’ve had a lot of training on it, but I’m not one officially.” Will Reuben respond negatively to me? She suspected he could be a loose cannon. Clearly he was angry, and currently he was surrounded by the very people he hated and claimed only existed to control people like him.

She decided it was worth the chance. He’d always had a strong interest in talking to her.

“You think you can reason with him?”

“I can listen to what he has to say. That’s a start.”

Getting hostages to safety is always the priority in negotiations. The fact that Jayne is one won’t make a difference in how I handle this.

The sergeant asked a deputy to get a bullhorn out of his car.

He handed it to Ava. She took a deep breath and stood. No one could be seen in the house. “Reuben,” she started, “is Jayne okay? I know she’s been injured.”

There was a long pause. Will he answer?

“Special Agent McLane,” he yelled. “I thought that was you back at the cabin.”

“You know him?” asked the sergeant.

“I thought I did,” said Ava.

“Are you the right person to be doing this?”

“Yes,” Ava said firmly. She knew more about Reuben than anyone else there.

“Yes, that was me,” she said through the bullhorn. “Is Jayne all right?”

Reuben didn’t answer.

“Who else is in the house with you?” Ava asked.

“My sister.”

The sergeant touched her shoulder. “911 is reporting that his sister’s children are at a neighbor’s. I’ll send a deputy to check on them.”

Ava nodded and lifted the bullhorn to her mouth. “What can we do to end things safely for Jayne and your sister?”

“Move the fuck back!”

“We can do that for you, Reuben, but I’d like you to do something for me. Jayne needs medical attention. It will look good for you if you release her so we can get her to a hospital.”

“You say that as if a judge will hear about it,” he yelled. “I have no intention of ever being brought before a fucking judge.”

“Shit,” muttered the sergeant. “He’s got a death wish.”

“Can you move everyone back a hundred feet or so?” Ava asked. “It’ll make him feel he has some control over what is happening. Also, it will be better if he decides to shoot.”