She smelled like the icy air from their earlier search.
“I don’t understand,” he said to the caller as he stared into Ava’s blue eyes. His pulse slowed down as he inhaled her calm. “You need to let Jake go. You haven’t done anything to him yet. It’s not too late.” He purposefully didn’t mention Josie’s death.
“Oh, it’s much too late,” the man whispered. “It’s been too late for decades. I just couldn’t see it until recently.”
The hair on Mason’s arms stood up. Decades? Who?
“Tell me where I can find Jake. You didn’t hurt Henley; you need to do the same with Jake.”
“No, no, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
The depressed tone set off alarms in Mason’s brain. Ava dug her fingers into his shoulder as she listened.
A man’s voice on a scratchy speaker announced something in the background of the call. Mason couldn’t make out the words. A radio station?
“It’s time, Mason,” he said slowly. “It’s time to bring everything back into balance. I’ll meet you in the freezer aisle.”
The phone call clicked off, and Mason’s vision tunneled.
He knew where to find Jake.
“Dear Lord,” he said.
“Get back!” Kent screamed at the woman in the freezer aisle.
“You don’t want to hurt him,” she said, stepping closer. “He’s just a boy!”
He tightened his arm around Jake’s neck, his hand clasping the knife close to his ear. The boy was tall, and Kent liked that Jake’s body blocked most of his own. With the boy’s hands still tied, there was little chance of him fighting back.
“Don’t make me shoot you!” he shouted, holding a gun in his other hand. The woman kept moving closer. The rest of the shoppers had scattered when he’d fired the first shot into the ceiling to clear out the grocery store. This one seemed to think her age made her safe. She looked to be in her late sixties. Her shoes were sensible, and her hair was pulled back in a long gray braid. She’d been in the freezer aisle when he’d fired the first shot and hadn’t even jumped. She’d slowly turned around and stared at him as the other shoppers screamed and ran, drowning out the peaceful Christmas music that had filled the store moments before.
Was she stoned? Who doesn’t flinch at a gunshot?
She smiled at him as if she could disarm him with her kindness. “He’s a good boy. You don’t want to make any mistakes that will haunt you forever.”
He pointed the gun at her and silently swore as he saw his hand shake. “Get the fuck away.”
She took another step, her hands out as if he were about to hand her a baby. “Give me the boy. You can just leave. No one will stop you.”
“Lady, if you don’t back away, I will shoot you.”
She shook her head at him. “You don’t want to harm anyone.”
Anger exploded in his brain.
His hand steadied and he fired. Her shoulder jerked, and she collapsed to her knees, clasping one hand over her shoulder. Shock filled her face, and her mouth opened in a large O, but she didn’t make any noise.
Screams came from the far end of the aisle. In his peripheral vision, he saw people running past the aisle entrance at the back of the store. Jake’s body shook, sending reverberations through his back and into Kent’s chest.
A female spoke over the loudspeaker. “Everyone needs to get out of the store. Now!”
“You shot me.” The woman blinked in shock.
“I warned you,” he shouted at her. Damn her. Why had she forced his hand?
She scooted back until she was leaning against a freezer door. Blood slowly seeped between her fingers over her gunshot. “Why did you do it?” she asked.
“Because I told you to back off and you didn’t!” His gun hand shook again. “Why didn’t you listen?”
He glanced toward both ends of the aisle. A face peered around the corner at him from the front, but the back of the store seemed empty. He’d spent hours in this grocery store and had spotted all the cameras. One by the pharmacy, one near the alcohol, a few near the check stands, and one at each front door. The freezer aisle didn’t have any camera angles and was only visible to someone standing at either end of the aisle or from the top of the freezer case. But he could feel people watching him.
His skin crawled.
This was it.
After today, all would be right in the world. He’d see Wyatt again and leave the world back in balance.
“Sir, I can see you’re upset. What do you need?” A female voice spoke again over the loudspeaker in the store. Kent turned his head and saw a female employee peering at him from behind a check stand. Her body was well hidden, her head barely showing, and she lifted a tentative hand when he looked her way.
She had a lot more brains than the woman on the freezer-aisle floor.
“Tell the police I’m waiting for Mason Callahan of the Oregon State Police! I want to see his face in here,” he shouted at her. Jake jolted at his father’s name.
“Dad?” he whispered.
“Mason Callahan?” she repeated over the speaker.
Kent nodded at her.
“I’ll pass that on. Will you let the woman get medical attention?”
Kent glanced at the older woman on the floor. “She has to leave on her own power.”
The injured woman looked at Jake and back to Kent. “Let the boy help me out.”