They were in the middle of a massacre. And his best friend might not make it out.
He handed another diaper to the woman, and she tossed the first aside. It made an audible splat. Mason tucked a fuzzy blue blanket around Ray’s torso. It was way too small, but he had to do something. Ray’s teeth chattered.
Keep him from going into shock.
A clock started to tick in his head. Time was running out.
Mason shoved another diaper against Ray’s leg and shouted for help.
Ice encased his lungs as a thought hit him.
There’s no bomb.
His heartbeat pounded in his head.
It was a ploy to draw out cops.
Mason couldn’t take the mass of people filling the hospital waiting room. Feeling claustrophobic and overwhelmed, he slipped out of the room and escaped down the hall to an alcove with a window. He leaned his forehead against the glass, barely registering the manicured grounds several stories below.
He has to live.
Ray had been unconscious by the time they flew him to Oregon Health & Science University Hospital. He was currently in surgery, and Mason had no updates.
Ray was lucky. Three officers had died, and four others were in critical condition.
No one had found the shooter. Shooters?
Mason wouldn’t rest until the shooter had been found. He’d sworn to Ray as he bled in the parking lot that he’d get the person responsible. Ray hadn’t answered but had tightened his grip on Mason’s hand.
I’ve never been so scared in my life.
The shooting had stopped as abruptly as it started. Sirens had wailed for the next twenty minutes as officers combed the area for the shooter. Mason—and nearly everyone else—believed that the shots had come from the top of the cliff. A thick group of trees lined the cliff for almost three blocks. Perfect cover.
Nearly every officer from the local precincts had been down below, helping with the evacuation and perimeter for the bomb threat. Sitting ducks. Waiting to be picked off.
The theory had raced through the media, but the police’s public information officers wouldn’t speculate—not on camera.
Mason had seen his thoughts reflected in every officer’s eyes.
They wanted to kill us.
Rapid footsteps echoed down the hall.
He knew her sound. Spinning around, he saw her reach for the door handle of the waiting room.
“Ava,” he choked out, unable to say anything but her name.
She locked eyes with him. Even from fifty feet away he felt her concern and fear. She darted toward him and was in his arms. He pressed his lips against her forehead and inhaled, her familiar scent as calming as the smell of the ocean. He closed his eyes and felt his tension fade.
“Is he okay? Will he be okay?” she asked, her voice cracking. “What have you heard?”
“He’s in surgery. I’ve heard nothing.”
“How can this be happening?” Ava pressed against him, her hands sliding up his back.
His entire body flinched as he gasped.
She jerked back, her eyes wide. “What happened?”
“Sore back,” he forced out. “Strained it somehow.”
“Bullshit.” She stepped behind him and lifted his shirt. “What the hell . . .” She spun him around to face her, her eyes searching his face. “My God. Your vest stopped a bullet,” she whispered. “Your back looks like someone hit it with a sledgehammer.”
“I’d worn the vest for ten seconds. That damn bastard Ray was helping someone instead of putting his on.” He sniffed, his eyes watering again.
Ava ran quivering hands up and down his arms and then across his chest. “You’re all right?” Her voice shook. “No one told me you’d been . . .”
“I haven’t mentioned it.”
“Mason! You might have broken ribs.”
“Others needed help first. Ribs can wait. They really don’t do anything for them anyway.”
“I feel fine.”
She stared him down, a smoldering fire in her eyes. “You will tell me if you feel dizzy or sick or if anything is wrong. Anything. And a doctor is going to look you over before we leave here today.”
He felt both dizzy and sick. But he knew it wasn’t from the gunshot.
“Is Jill here yet?” she asked.
Mason winced. He’d called Ray’s wife on the way to the hospital. “She’s in Boise. I suspect she’s already on a plane.” He took a deep breath. “Calling her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, Ava. Every spouse fears that call.”
“I know all too well.”
When Jill had answered, Mason had heard the fear in her voice. It wasn’t a good thing when your husband’s partner called out of the blue. “Ray’s okay.” Mason had opened with a small lie. “But he’s been shot and is on his way to OHSU.”
“What happened?” she’d calmly asked, but he knew she was petrified.
He’d told her about the bomb threat and Ray’s wounds. And the ballistic vest in his hand.
“Who does that? Who targets cops?” she’d whispered. “Don’t answer that . . . I know exactly the type. They’ve haunted my dreams for years.” Her breathing grew uneven.
“Where are Kirstin and Ben?” he’d asked. Ray’s two teens were like his own children.
“They’re at my sister’s. I’ll call her right now. I don’t want the kids to find out until I can be there with them.”
“Instant information,” Mason had said. “They’ll know something happened, whether it’s from social media or a friend texting them about the shooting. At least no names will be released until later.”
“I’ve got to try. I’ll be on the first flight back.” She’d paused. “Mason?”
“Stay with him, okay? I know your initial instinct is to go hunting for the shooter, but someone needs to be there when he comes out of surgery. I can’t think of anyone better than you. As long as one of us is with him, he’ll make it.” Her voice had risen.
But we aren’t with him right now.
“I understand,” he’d told her and floored the gas pedal, determined not to let down her or Ray.
As he stood in the hall with Ava, déjà vu hit him, and he took hold of her hands. They were like ice. “We were in a hospital like this a few months ago.”
Ava gave a stiff nod.
He touched her cheek, unable to speak. She doesn’t want to think about it either.
Ava had been the one in surgery for a bullet wound, with Mason stuck waiting. He’d driven like a maniac to get from Portland to the coast, where she’d been shot while on a case. He’d been out of his head because he’d been powerless to help her. His sympathy for Jill increased tenfold.
“Still here,” Ava whispered, raising her hand to cover his against her face, her smile warm.
She’s so important to me. I don’t know what I’d do if . . .
“Not going anywhere,” she said. “And I won’t let you either.”
A cold shudder racked his shoulders, sending pain down his bruised back. He was hyperaware of how close he’d come to being on the surgeon’s table today. Or dead.
None of them could control fate.
Ava opened the door between the garage and their home as Mason parked his car beside hers. Exhaustion made her feet heavy, her limbs slow.
The two of them had stayed at the hospital for five hours. Ray’s wife, Jill, had finally arrived, along with their two teenagers. Her daughter’s face was pale and her eyes red and swollen. Her son looked the same. Ava’s heart broke for the three of them.
And for Mason. He vacillated between looking lost and looking furious.
Ava wondered what he’d do when the shooter was found.
Her brain had wandered, as she thought of movies and books where the cop killer ends up dead in his cell. She had no doubt Mason would strangle the man with his bare hands if given the chance.
Ray has to live.
Grim surgeons had pronounced Ray’s surgery a success but were guarded on his prognosis. They’d insisted on talking to Jill alone, but she’d pulled both Mason and Ava along with her.
“The next twenty-four hours are crucial. We’re keeping him sedated, so all his energy goes toward his healing.”
Jill had looked stricken. “Sedated for how long? I can’t talk to him?”
Ava’s throat had tightened. She’s afraid he’ll die before she can speak with him.
Mason had scowled at the doctors but hadn’t spoken. One of them had glanced his way and done a double take at his stern expression.
“You can talk to him,” the doctor had told Jill. “Someone will take you back in a few minutes. I’m sure he can hear you.”
“But he can’t answer me,” she’d whispered, her knuckles white as she clenched her hands together.
“No, ma’am. Not yet. I’m sorry.”
The doctors had also allowed Ava and Mason a minute with Ray. Seeing the unconscious big man with tubes and equipment surrounding him had rocked her to the core. Ray Lusco was one of the kindest men she knew, and that kindness had placed him in harm’s way.
This isn’t fair.