Mason had gripped Ray’s hand and leaned close, speaking rapidly next to his ear. Ava couldn’t make out the words, but judging by Mason’s fierce expression, they were Dammit, get well and I will find the motherfucker.
The look on Mason’s face had haunted her the whole drive home. All the faces had. Jill’s, her children’s, and Ray’s.
Ava set her bag on a chair in the kitchen and reveled in the silence of her home after the nonstop voices and equipment in the hospital.
“Bingo?” she called. Usually the dog was right at the door to the garage when one of them arrived. Even if he’d been in the backyard, he’d dart through his doggy door the moment he heard a familiar car engine. “Bingo?” she said louder, listening for the clack of his nails on the wood floors.
A bark led her to the backyard door. He sat patiently on the deck, his dark eyes pleading.
His doggy door was locked.
“Crap!” Ava unlocked it and he darted through. “I’m so sorry, boy. I can’t believe I did that to you.” Bingo stopped at his food bowl and gobbled two big bites before bounding to the garage door to greet Mason.
“What’s wrong?” he asked Ava as he crouched to scratch the dog’s head and rub his ears.
“I locked him out somehow. He must be starving.”
“It won’t hurt him to be late to a meal.”
“I know, but still. I feel horrible.” The lock on the doggy door was a necessity. The first month they’d been in the home, they’d left it unlocked at night, allowing the dog access to the backyard if needed. It’d worked well until a raccoon decided to enter in the middle of the night.
Bingo’s barking had brought Mason pounding down the stairs to find a raccoon in the kitchen sink, calmly watching their dog flip out over the furry intruder.
Ava had shut Bingo in a bathroom, opened the back door, and then laughed uncontrollably as they tried to herd the raccoon out the door, chasing it from room to room. From then on, the door had been locked at night.
She pulled a bottle of rosé out of the wine fridge. Usually a red was her go-to, but during the hot summer she craved white or rosé. As she removed the cork, she kept an eye on Mason; he looked exhausted as he rubbed and petted the dog. Bingo soon had enough love from Mason and went back to his food bowl, attacking it with gusto.
She didn’t like missing meals either. Grabbing two glasses, she started to pour.
“Beer for me,” Mason said, opening the fridge and removing an IPA.
Ava blinked. Usually Mason preferred a milder beer. Either he was too tired to notice what he had grabbed, or he needed the bitterness of the ale to cut through the pain of the day. She didn’t say anything, curious to see his reaction at the first sip. They kept the IPAs on hand for Ray.
Her heart contracted as she imagined the brown bottle in the big man’s hand.
Bingo lifted his head from his bowl and stared at Mason. Surprising Ava, the dog walked away from a half-filled bowl to sit at Mason’s feet. Not begging. Simply sitting.
Mason patted his head and then trailed Ava into the warm air outside, Bingo on his heels.
Mason and his son, Jake, had built an elegant roof over most of their large deck. It had a ceiling fan, electric heaters, and a gorgeous stone fireplace with a TV mounted above the gas unit. With comfy outdoor furniture, it had become their favorite room in the house—or not in the house. Ava couldn’t wait to use it when it snowed.
Mason sat on the sofa, gingerly leaned back against the cushion, and tapped the place beside him.
As if I’d sit anywhere else.
She sat and leaned into his side, her body touching him from shoulder to knee. He took her hand and held it in his lap. They should have changed out of work clothes into something cooler, but neither had the energy.
Bingo sat as close to Mason’s left foot as he could and rested his chin on Mason’s knee, his dark eyes fixed on his master.
Bingo knows he’s hurting.
Ava blinked hard.
Mason’s phone pinged with a text. “Jake,” he said, opening the message.
Ava knew what his son wanted. Jake sent Mason the same question every time there were local law enforcement deaths or violence. She watched the screen.
I heard the news are you ok
That was all his teenage son needed to put his mind at ease. No further questions. No explanations needed. Mason put the phone on the end table with a sigh. “I should have thought to text Jake.”
“You had other things on your mind.”
“A shitty day,” Mason muttered, calmly drinking his beer and staring at the blank television. She watched him swallow, slightly disappointed in his lack of reaction to the bitter beer.
“Definitely. But could have turned out much, much worse.”
I won’t think about that possibility anymore.
She’d dragged him to the emergency room before they left the hospital and made a doctor check his back. The doctor had flinched when he saw the blossoming bruise. An X-ray had shown no concerns, and he’d offered a prescription for painkillers, which Mason turned down. “Let me know if you change your mind. You’re going to be in pain for a few days.”
Ava swore she saw Mason silently mouth, “Good.”
But he was her stubborn cowboy.
“Tell me what you found this morning,” she said after a few peaceful moments of silence. Neither had mentioned the fact that her name had been in the same document as the bomb threat. She’d felt the question float between them a few times at the hospital, but all their energy had been centered on Ray. Neither wanted to delve into the oddity.
He sighed and took a long draw on his bottle. “Reuben Braswell, age fifty-two. Found dead in his bathtub by a patrol officer after a neighbor reported seeing blood on his kitchen floor.”
“I’ll come back to that. It’s not that relevant.” He frowned, his forehead wrinkling. “I think.”
Ava mentally shelved her question.
“Braswell had been bludgeoned in the head in the kitchen and then dragged to the bathroom, where he was hit again in the face and mouth.” He lifted the beer to his mouth and brought it back down without drinking. “Someone removed eight fingers while he was in the tub.”
Ava sipped her wine, no longer tasting it, picturing the tall man. The abuse was bad, but she’d seen worse. Much worse.
“One finger might be missing. I’ll ask Dr. Trask in the morning if she found the eighth.”
“Gianna was there?” Ava liked the petite forensic pathologist.
“Yes. I didn’t get a chance to talk to her much because one of the crime technicians found the bomb plans.”
“With my name in the same document.”
He nodded and squeezed her hand. “Did Braswell ever mention a bomb threat?”
Mason nodded again. “I didn’t think so.”
“I did walk out on our last meeting. He had given me nothing and was being inappropriate.”
“Inappropriate how?” he asked, turning to look at her, his dark gaze sharp.
“Your knuckles are dragging.” She raised a brow at him. “He made comments about me getting married. It was none of his business.” Mason didn’t need to know he’d grabbed her arm; she’d handled it.
“Hope you made that clear to him.”
“Of course I did, and then I left. That’s the only time I can think of when he might have wanted to tell me something but didn’t get the chance.”
“We thought the threat was real.” A shudder ran through him, vibrating into her skin. “Did we jump to conclusions too fast?”
Ava slid to the edge of her seat and turned to face him. “Don’t you dare take any blame for what happened today. Not a single percentage of it. The only person to blame is the one who pulled the trigger.”
“Might have been more than one shooter.”
“Not important at the moment.” She waved away his concern with the hand holding her wineglass. “What exactly did you find in Reuben’s home?”
He scratched his chin. “Detailed layout of the courthouse. Then there was the handwritten diatribe.” He took a sip of beer. “I’ve seen and heard a lot of shit directed at law enforcement, but this was brutal.” He slowly shook his head. “You could feel the anger coming off the page. This guy hated cops and anyone to do with them.”
Ava tilted her head. “He was paranoid and a conspiracy-theory believer. He always thought he was being watched—believed I had other agents planted in the room when we met.” She frowned, thinking hard. “He might have told me he thought he was being watched at home? I’m not sure.” She blew out a frustrated breath, wishing she remembered more. “He had weird ideas, but for the most part he seemed harmless to me.”
“Those are the ones that surprise you.”
“That’s been true several times.”
“Anyway, your name was in the lengthy diatribe. For as angry as he was with law enforcement, he said you were different. That you were one of the good guys.”
Ava didn’t know what to say.
“Said you were a one-of-a-kind cop. You looked out for the common man and your fellow law enforcement members.”