Inner turmoil flashed on his face. He hesitated.
“Go,” Ava ordered. “Don’t risk your boy. Are there more people in the bathroom?”
“Yes,” he panted.
“Tell the police. Now!”
He ran, his hand over the boy’s head in a protective gesture.
Ava pulled out her phone to dial 911 again and froze as she saw three missed calls from Mason.
Later. She hit the three digits.
The wait to get an operator felt like forever. She relayed the shooter’s location and that more people were still in the restroom. The operator questioned her safety, asking if she could move to a better location. Ava studied the girl beside her.
She couldn’t move Misty. And she wasn’t leaving her behind.
She ended the call.
“Are they coming?” Misty whispered. Her eyes didn’t seem to focus.
“Soon,” Ava promised. “Very soon.”
“Back off!” the Washington County deputy barked at Mason from behind the yellow tape. “This area is for staging only.”
“My wife’s in there!” Mason Callahan shot back, flashing his Oregon State Police badge. Ava wasn’t his wife, but she was the closest damned thing he had to one.
“Everyone knows someone in there! Let us focus on getting them out!”
Mason turned away. He knew he was wasting his and the deputy’s time. He needed to speak to someone with more authority. He scanned the growing crowd of law enforcement and firefighters inside the staging area in the north parking lot of the mall. All responding law enforcement were to report to staging to be logged and assigned a role. He knew Cedar Edge’s small police force had responded first, sent in contact teams to locate the shooter, and cordoned off the mall. Then Washington County had swooped in with reinforcements and its tactical negotiations team. More teams would be sent in to help the injured and sweep every square inch of the mall, reporting back to the incident commander. Shoppers were being methodically evacuated store by store and the injured were being triaged. Mason had heard that three people had died from gunshots inside the mall.
No one could tell him the sex of the victims.
Ava hadn’t answered her phone.
Hot anxiety washed over him, making him dizzy in the sun’s heat. Déjà vu. He’d been in this same helpless position last spring when Ava had vanished, grabbed by a serial killer on a crazed mission. He bit his lip, welcoming the distracting pain.
Who can get me some answers?
The Oregon State Police patrol units in the area had responded and were assisting with rescue and recovery. The mall’s perimeter swarmed with a mix of different uniforms. He took off his cowboy hat and fanned his face. As a Major Crimes detective for OSP, he didn’t wear a uniform, and he was thankful he’d put on a cool short-sleeved shirt with his jeans that morning. The cops in the navy blue uniforms were sweating like marathon runners in the direct sun.
Mason spotted a familiar face and jogged to intercept Sergeant Shawn Shaver, head of Washington County’s Violent Crimes Unit, as he headed toward the staging area.
“Hey, Callahan,” Shaver acknowledged him, his hand over the speaker on his cell phone. “Hang on.” He wrapped up his call. “Holy shit. What a nightmare.” The tall man had a bushy mustache and sounded like the actor Sam Elliott. Once he’d had a few beers, he’d voice Dodge Ram truck commercials to whoever would listen.
“What’s going on, Shaver?” Mason tried to keep the panic out of his voice.
Shaver glanced around and leaned close, lowering his tone. “So far we’re getting reports of a single shooter. And the last report had him in a restroom in a dead end of the mall.”
“Any word on the sex of the victims?” He held his breath.
Brown eyes scrutinized him. “Someone in there?”
“Ava’s in there. She’s not returning my texts or calls.”
“Ah.” Shaver’s brows lowered. “I heard one of the victims was a woman. The other two were men. Don’t know ages or descriptions. And there could be more victims that we haven’t come across yet. Sorry, I don’t know more.”
Mason wanted to vomit. He glanced at his cell phone screen again. Nothing. Dammit, Ava, where are you?
“Wait, Ava’s FBI, right?”
“Some of the intel coming through 911 is from a female witness inside who identified herself as an FBI agent.”
Relief and anger swept through him. Why didn’t she get out?
“The agent is with a wounded woman and won’t leave. How much you want to bet that’s Ava?”
Oxygen flowed into Mason’s lungs. His knees vibrated oddly, and he wondered if he should sit down. He bent over and rested his hands on his thighs as a large chunk of his stress evaporated. “Why am I not surprised? God damn,” he muttered, breathing deep through his nose. He was close to losing his breakfast.
“I heard about her close call last spring. She’s got guts,” said Shaver.
“Damn right she does. But I don’t know if I have enough.”
Shaver’s mustache twitched. “Love’s a bitch, isn’t she? And she’s definitely got your pair in her grip.”
“You try dating someone in our line of work.”
“Hell no. I like to sleep at night. My wife works in a nice safe office from eight to five.”
Mason glanced at the mall in front of them. “No such thing as a safe place anymore.”