Now it was a crime scene.
“Are they coming to get us?” Misty gasped. The blond girl was extremely pale and wheezed as she talked. Ava smoothed the hair out of the teen’s face and tried to smile.
“They will. As soon as they can.”
Ava knew they had to wait. The police’s first priority would be to stop the shooter before he caused more harm. Medical assistance came second. The city of Cedar Edge had a small police department, so Ava knew they’d request a mutual aid assist from the Washington County Sheriff’s Department.
“Is there just one shooter?” Misty asked.
“I don’t know. I only saw one.”
That would be one of the police’s main questions. As much as she’d wanted to stay on the line with the 911 operator, Ava knew she had no additional information to give. She had to leave the line open for other witnesses who might have important information for the police.
She strained to hear footsteps. Instead she heard shots and more screams.
Misty shuddered, but didn’t cry. Ava gripped her hand and they both scooted a half inch closer to the kiosk. Her mind constantly ran through escape options. But she saw no option . . . unless she left Misty behind.
She couldn’t do it.
What will Mason say?
Her fingers trembled slightly as she tapped out a text to him.
AT RIVERTOWN MALL. ACTIVE SHOOTER. I’M OK. CAN’T TALK.
There’s a text no cop wants to receive.
She switched her phone to silent and dug Misty’s phone out of her purse and turned off the sound.
“What’s going to happen?” The teen’s voice shook. “What’s taking them so long?”
“The police will be entering soon.” Ava spoke in a slow, low voice, trying to calm the girl. “They’ll probably be in small groups and have shields and helmets. The first teams are to find the shooter and stop him. The second wave of police will get us out.”
The teen lifted her head and touched the blood on her leg with a shaking hand. “Is it bad?”
“The bleeding has nearly stopped,” Ava reassured her. “I know that strap is uncomfortable, but it has to stay there.”
“It was spurting,” Misty whispered. “I know that’s a bad sign.” Blue eyes pleaded with Ava for reassurance.
“It means it hit an artery, but we’ve got it under control.”
“What if he finds us?” she whispered. “He’s going to kill us.” Fresh tears leaked down the side of her face.
“I won’t let that happen.”
Running footsteps came closer.
Ava held her breath. Misty heard the steps and bit her lower lip, her hand squeezing Ava’s in a death grip. The steps stopped, and the teen closed her eyes.
The steps started again, jogging, the pounding of heavy boots, not the flip-flops that everyone wore in August. Ava knew it wasn’t the police; there would have been multiple pairs of feet.
Something moved far down the branch off the main aisle to her left, and she spotted a gray-haired man step cautiously out of one of the storefronts. He saw her and Misty and moved in their direction. Ava waved him back into the safety of his store.
Get in and lock the door!
Active shooter protocol for public places: lock doors, hide inside, wait for police.
The man stuck close to the walls of the mall as if he could blend in with the paint. He froze, looking beyond Ava’s hiding spot, and abruptly raised his arms in front of his face.
He collapsed in a volley of shots, blood splattering the wall behind him. Unaware of the gray-haired man’s presence, Misty cried out at the sounds while Ava stared in horror at his still form on the concrete next to a planter of petunias.
The shooter is close behind us.
Boots sounded and shifted direction behind her. He moved into Ava’s line of sight, his back toward her as he paced past the wounded man, his rifle trained before him. Ava put her finger to her lips, holding Misty’s teary gaze. The teen was flat on her back, unable to see the shooter or his victim. The shooter ignored the wounded man, and Ava watched his rifle track to the right and left as he moved down the short aisle.
Don’t turn around.
It was a dead-end branch of the mall with bathrooms and a few silent storefronts. He stopped and moved his arm, making Ava believe he was checking his watch again.
Is he counting minutes?
Her heart did a double beat as the thought of explosives entered her brain. Is he expecting something to go off? The shooter shook the handles of the doors of the last two storefronts and then turned around.
Ava met his gaze.
He was too far away for Ava to see his eye color, but she had an impression of deep-set dark eyes.
It’s just the mask.
He raised his rifle in her direction, paused, and looked at his watch. He looked at Ava again and then spun around, jogging toward the men’s bathroom. He yanked open the door and disappeared.
Ava exhaled noisily, her limbs limp, wanting to lie down beside Misty. Why didn’t he shoot?
Shouts and shots sounded from the bathroom.
A man carrying a boy raced out of the restroom. He sprinted in Ava’s direction, slowing as he spotted the bloody man on the ground. The father turned the boy’s face from the still man as they raced past. His steps slowed near the sunglasses kiosk as he spotted Ava and Misty. “Do you need help?”
Ava took in the size of the large child. The man couldn’t carry him and help her get Misty out. “Get your son out of here. Tell the police where we’re at.”