Mason prayed this was the final one.
He’d listened and watched closely as they’d walked the path of the shooter. The mall was silent except for the swarm of evidence technicians and police. A different atmosphere from the never-ending sirens, tears, and screams of that morning. Mason wanted immediate access to a murder scene to do his job efficiently. The best time was before the techs arrived, when nothing had been disturbed, no crime scene tape, no black dust, no evidence bags.
He always felt a subtle vibration in his bones as he walked murder scenes. As if a million microscopic voices were shouting at him, trying to lead his feet and eyes to the answers. Is it from the souls of the departed? He didn’t know. He didn’t subscribe to the woo-woo beliefs of ghosts or the supernatural. He trusted his eyes. And his gut. And he used his brain to search for answers—not for spirits.
He liked the silence of a scene that allowed his mind to process and wander through the puzzle of what the hell had happened. Everything frozen in time, waiting for him to follow the subtle clues and answer the million questions.
In a mall like this, 90 percent of the crime should be visible on video.
“Cameras in the restrooms?” he asked North.
The sheriff shook his head. “Can you imagine the outcry if people found out there were cameras in public restrooms? No mall will go for that, but the doorway is covered from that one.” He pointed up at the opposite roof line. Mason had to stare for a few seconds before he spotted the discreet camera.
“Not a lot of room inside the bathroom. You three first.” North pointed at Mason, Ray, and Zander. The rest of the group stood to the side as the investigators slipped on booties and gloves.
“Make it fast, ladies,” one of the county investigators quipped. Mason ignored him.
Inside, a crime scene photographer spoke to the medical examiner, who was pulling off his gloves, clearly finished with his examination of the body. Dr. Seth Rutledge looked up as they entered, his face brightening as he spotted Mason and Ray. “Evening, detectives.” The men had met over several corpses, but Mason preferred to meet the good-natured ME over a beer. Sadly, the corpses had outnumbered the beers.
“Hey, Doc.” Ray lifted a hand in greeting. “Whatcha got?”
Mason took in the body. It was as Ava and Walter Borrego had described. Black from head to toe. Black Nike tennis shoes, black baggy athletic pants, black athletic jacket, mask. Tall. Not heavy. Someone had pulled up the mask to expose his face but left it covering most of his hair and what was left of his head. The face seemed young. Clean-shaven. Dark eyelashes and hair. Someone had closed the eyelids, but Mason wanted to see the eye color. Low murmurs told Mason that more people were in the rear of the restroom.
“Gunshot to the mouth.”
“With his rifle?” Zander asked.
“Yep. It’s not that hard when you’ve got long arms.” The medical examiner pointed at the sinks. “I think he balanced the butt of the gun on one of the sinks, shoved it in his mouth, and fired. See how he fell backward?”
Mason nodded. The shooter’s feet pointed at the sink and his head was nearly at one of the stall doors. A fine dark mist and small chunks of . . . something . . . covered the stall door. And the ceiling. Beneath the head, blood had pooled. The center of the pool still gleamed wetly, but the edges had thinned and dried.
“God damn it,” Mason muttered. Beside him Ray nodded, spotting the dried smeared footprints in the blood on the floor that’d made Mason swear. “We’ve got the contact team’s boots for comparisons, right? And the medical guys’?”
“Yes,” said North.
“The back of his head has a big chunk of skull missing,” said Dr. Rutledge. “The size I would expect for this caliber and how close the weapon was.”
Mason carefully stepped as close as he dared and squatted to get a better look at the suspect’s clothing. The jacket was zipped as high as it could go. Its Nike logo on the breast matched the one on the hip of the pants. He pointed at the logos and glanced back at Ray. “Looks like he supports local businesses,” he said, referring to the Nike’s world campus a half hour away. “And likes to color-coordinate.”
“Even you can match black with black,” Ray gibed.
Mason made a mental note to find out if the Nike athletic wear was from a newer line. Had the shooter recently shopped for a new outfit for his last day on earth? He stood, ignoring the quiet popping in his spine as it straightened. “Who pulled up the mask?” he asked the ME.
Dr. Rutledge frowned as he studied the corpse. “I was told the contact team. They checked his vitals and breathing.”
“Young,” commented Zander.
The cheeks, chin, and jawline of the shooter were angular, that look that younger men have when they burn more calories than they eat. Their energy levels keep them lean until they discover the joy of nightly beers, steaks, and burgers.
“I’ll guess early twenties,” said the ME.
“Eye color?” Mason asked.
“Blue,” answered Dr. Rutledge.
Suddenly tired of the gore in front of him, Mason scanned the rest of the bathroom, recalling Walter Borrego’s description. He turned around and walked past the row of stalls to the back portion of the restroom. The layout mirrored the area he’d just left. Stalls, urinals, sinks. Two evidence techs were huddled over a sink as one swabbed something and the other snapped a picture. Mason didn’t want to know what sort of bacteria grew in a public bathroom. Granted, the Rivertown Mall’s restrooms were pretty darn sparkling compared to other public restrooms. They’d been constructed with marble and high-end finishes. Glancing around, Mason figured the janitor made very regular stops to keep the rooms as pristine as possible. He stepped closer. “Find something?”