Did he want to tell me something at the last meeting, but I walked out?
Like a plan for a bombing in June.
“Shit.” She was getting ahead of herself. What she needed to know was exactly how her name was connected to today’s bomb threat. She forwarded all her Reuben Braswell notes to Ben and wondered if it was possible that the early stages of bombing plans had started in January.
She fought the urge to call Mason, certain he must know that she had been informed her name was connected. Instead, she ran a search on her computer for police activity at the courthouse and found a news channel’s live helicopter footage of the evacuation. Squad cars lined the blocks near the courthouse.
The courthouse was a big brick historical building separated from the Willamette River by a four-lane highway in a tiny, slightly isolated sector of Oregon City. The small area was only two blocks deep and five blocks wide along the base of a steep cliff that divided it from the rest of the city. A strip of wine bars, little independent shops, and small restaurants filled the narrow space between the Willamette River and the cliffs.
An intermittent stream of people filed out of the building and the surrounding businesses. Uniformed officers guided them out of the area. From the helicopter’s feed, Ava picked up the worry and stress of the civilians. The perimeter strengthened as more officers and vehicles joined. The highway traffic was stopped in both directions. In a few more minutes, no one would be within blocks of the courthouse.
Is Mason down there?
He had a murder investigation to handle, but it wouldn’t surprise her if he’d sped to the heart of the action after finding the bomb plans. Again, she stopped herself from calling him. Now was not the time for an interruption.
The reporter in the news helicopter talked over the drone of the chopper. Ava tuned him out as he described what she was already seeing. The helicopter flew in circles around the scene, and it seemed close because of the powerful cameras. No doubt it was much farther away, but she couldn’t help but worry for the chopper if a powerful bomb went off.
Most bomb threats are fake. No doubt this one will be too.
She scanned the law enforcement on the ground, searching for an indication that a bomb squad had arrived. The courthouse was huge. It’d take forever to search.
There would be no answers soon. She turned away from the screen, knowing it was time to focus on the stack of cases on her desk. She didn’t have time for procrastination.
Quiet cracks sounded from the live video, and the reporter gasped. “Were those gunshots?” he shouted in a high voice. “Get us back! Get further out!”
Ava spun back to her screen, her heart in her throat.
The courthouse disappeared from her screen as the helicopter took a sharp turn, leaving her with a dizzying sweep of the Willamette River.
Dammit, Mason, where are you?
Mason parked a block and a half away from the courthouse and took a deep breath.
“What a mess,” said Ray.
He was right. People streamed past Mason’s vehicle, heading away from the building. Officers were directing the masses and tightening their perimeter. He didn’t see a mobile command unit yet, but judging by the large group of law enforcement at the far end of the lot, that was the location of the current core of command.
Tension gripped him. He’d been on edge ever since finding the bomb threat, but now the reality was right in front of him. The police had an entire building to search. The plans didn’t say where the bomb had been planted, but the killer had a copy of the courthouse’s layout.
It could be anywhere.
They got out of the vehicle and headed around to its rear to get ballistic vests.
“A bomb scare again?” said one woman to another as they passed by, looks of annoyance on their faces. “How are we to get any work done for the courts?”
Seriously? That’s the attitude?
Mason glanced around. Most of the exiting employees looked bored. Nervous shoppers with their bags and kids in tow hustled out of the area much faster than the office workers. Pieces of conversations reached his ears.
“Anyone seen Diane? She was on a break somewhere.”
“. . . the child murder case going on. Someone must have got nervous.”
“My car is parked all the way at the other end.”
“. . . right in the middle of a transcript.”
“Pain in the ass.”
Ray caught his eye and shook his head. He grabbed two vests out of the vehicle and handed one to Mason.
A mother with a toddler on her hip stopped next to Ray. “Where are we supposed to go?” she asked him in a frazzled voice. Ray pointed the way as he spoke to her.
Mason strapped on his vest and eyed the large three-story building down the street. No one had come out in the last few seconds. Maybe everyone was out by—
Ray grunted and two shots cracked through the air.
Mason ducked and spun around to see Ray collapse against the woman with the toddler, knocking her aside, his vest on the ground beside him.
He’s been shot.
“Ray!” Mason lunged at his partner and shouted at the woman with the toddler. “Get down!”
She dived to the ground near the side of the SUV, clutching the child to her chest.
Someone punched Mason in the back, and he fell hard to his hands and knees, unable to breathe, the wind knocked out of his lungs. Pain radiated from his spine, and he closed his eyes against the agony, straining to draw in a breath.
He dry heaved, feeling the contents of his stomach shift, and he finally caught his breath.
His brain came back online, and he knew his vest had stopped the bullet. Sucking in deep breaths and shoving the pain out of his mind, he looked to Ray, sprawled on the ground. Deathly still.
No. Not Ray.
Screams and running feet sounded around him, but Mason ignored them, every ounce of his focus on his partner, who was bleeding from his side and thigh. Ray’s eyes were open, looking at nothing, making Mason lose his breath again.
Two more shots. More screams.
Get to cover.
Ignoring the radiating pain in his back, he grabbed Ray’s shoulders and dragged him to the side where the woman huddled against his vehicle with her child. She held the toddler’s face against her shoulder, hiding the sight of Mason’s bleeding partner. “Is he dead?” she choked out.
“No!” I won’t let him be.
On his knees in the gravel, Mason pressed his shaking fingers against Ray’s neck. An eternity passed before he found a pulse, making him weak with relief. “Hang in there,” he ordered. Ray continued to stare blankly into the distance.
Mason ripped open Ray’s blood-soaked shirt where the bullet had entered. Blood oozed from a hole near his armpit. Not spurting. He rolled Ray onto his side to look at his back, and a low moan came from his partner. A good sound to Mason’s ears.
No exit wound in Ray’s back. Shit. The bullet was still inside.
Must have hit a rib and changed direction.
“You will not die on me, asshole.”
Ray coughed, and his eyes locked with Mason’s.
Relief and panic simultaneously swamped him.
“Jesus Christ, Ray.”
Three rapid shots sounded. Mason ducked lower and scanned his surroundings, knowing they needed to get out.
Where is the shooter?
The open area had immediately cleared of people after the first shots. Most had darted inside nearby stores or were crouched by the other vehicles in the lot.
“I need a medic!” Mason shouted. “Officer down! Officer down!” His shout was taken up by other officers. Calling 911 would be redundant.
They’ll get here ASAP.
Mason turned his attention to Ray’s thigh. Unable to rip the pants, he pulled out his Leatherman tool, and his hands shook as he fumbled to pry open a blade.
“Here.” The woman with the toddler pressed a cloth diaper against Ray’s bleeding chest.
Ray’s moan of pain reverberated in Mason’s every bone, and he dropped the tool. “Dammit.”
He finally levered out the blade and slit open Ray’s khakis.
Most bullet entry holes in flesh were surprisingly simple in appearance, not the gaping mass of destruction one expected. The exit wound was often a different story.
“What the—” The wound on Ray’s thigh was nearly two inches in diameter and flowed freely with blood but didn’t pulsate. It missed the artery. Slightly relieved, Mason rolled him again to look at the back of his leg and saw a small opening.
“How in the hell did you get shot in the front and the back?”
“He spun toward me after the first shot, trying to protect us,” the woman said. The diaper she held against Ray’s chest was fully soaked with blood. “He was shot in the front first.” Tears streamed down her face, but her voice and hands were steady. Her son sat on the ground, his back against a wheel, a blank look on his face. He was silent as his wide blue eyes met Mason’s.
He’s scared speechless.
“Got another diaper?” Mason asked.
She jerked her head toward the open diaper bag. “Yes. And there’s a blanket too.”
More shots sounded.
Mason dug both out of the bag as more shouts of “Officer down!” came from different directions. It’s not just Ray.