“Ain’t that the truth. I need to get back at it. You might as well stick around. We’ve asked OSP for investigative assistance. We’re stretched too thin, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you got a call from your boss within the hour.”
“I’m not leaving until Ava comes out.”
“I’m sure she’s fine. She knows how to look out for herself.” Shaver hustled back to work as Mason scanned the groups of shoppers being methodically escorted out by the Cedar Edge police and divided into small groups to give their information and statements. If Ava was a witness, she’d have a debriefing. But when? There were hundreds of eyewitnesses to interview.
What if the female agent isn’t Ava?
Anxiety started to crawl under his skin again.
His phone rang. Ray Lusco. “Callahan.”
“Hear about the shooter at Rivertown Mall?” his partner asked.
“Yep. I’m standing outside the staging area.”
“Good. Because Washington County has reached out for investigative support and Schefte assigned it to us,” said his partner. “What are you doing there?”
“Got a text from Ava. She was inside when it started.”
“Holy shit! She okay?”
“I don’t know. I’m waiting to hear from her. She’s not answering my calls, but I was just told a female agent who’s sticking with an injured victim has been relaying intel.”
Ray was silent for a full five seconds. “Seriously? Think that’s her?”
“Who else could it be?”
Ray ended the call, promising to be there in half an hour. Mason rubbed his neck, knowing they had a long day ahead of them. He checked in with the staging coordinator and headed toward the biggest hub of cops, knowing he’d find the incident commander. Now he had an official assignment to be on the inside, but every cell in his body wanted to dash through the mall and find her instead of interviewing witnesses.
Ava McLane had radically changed his life since they’d met eight months ago. In that time he’d realized he was the luckiest bastard in the world.
Now she was trapped with a shooter, and his world was spiraling out of control.
Looking in the direction of the parking garage, Ava saw two groups of police steadily moving in her direction. Two teams of four, wearing helmets and carrying shields, progressed simultaneously along the edges of the mall’s main aisle. The front man carried his rifle up and forward; the three men directly in line behind him kept theirs down. The men looked in all directions, scanning for anything. Up, from side to side, in the windows. The last man in each group constantly checked their six o’clock.
The contact teams.
Their goal was to find and stop the shooter. Medical assistance would be in the second wave of teams.
“The police are here,” she whispered to the girl. “They’ll move past us to corner the shooter. The next round of police behind them will get us out.”
The girl nodded, her eyes closed.
Hang on, Misty.
Ava figured the perimeter of the mall was nearly established. No one was getting in or out without being spotted by the police officers forming the perimeter. The steadily advancing teams ordered people inside the stores to stay put.
The teams edged closer to Ava and Misty. Ava raised her hands and identified herself. “I watched the shooter enter the men’s room at the end of this branch of the mall. I heard shots. A man who left after the shots said there’re more people in there. He carried an AR-15, is dressed head to toe in black, and is wearing a mask. I don’t know what other weapons he could have.”
One of the team leaders nodded as he eyed Misty. “Medical will be in soon. Sit tight.” Determination and anger covered their faces; they had an objective. They’d looked at Misty with sympathy, but Ava understood their primary mission was to stop the shooter before he hurt more people. The two teams turned into the dead-end artery of the mall and continued their thorough progression. One team paused at the shot man lying on the right side of the aisle. A member rapidly checked for a pulse as a team member covered him. The man shook his head and they moved on.
Ava blew out a breath, her fears confirmed. The man hadn’t moved since being shot.
The team leader spoke into his shoulder-mic, but Ava couldn’t make out his words. They passed the last storefront and stopped, sticking tight to the walls of the aisle. Their weapons trained on the door to the men’s room thirty feet away.
“This is the Cedar Edge Police Department,” the leader shouted toward the restrooms. “Put down your weapon and exit backwards out of the bathrooms with your hands above your head.”
Shots sounded inside the restroom and an older man stumbled out the door with his hands raised. The teams shouted for him to stop and get down. Ava recognized the man from her yoga class. He froze and slowly lowered himself to the ground in the awkward way Ava had noticed in class. Arthritis had claimed many of his joints.
“He’s still in there!” he yelled to the teams.
He was rapidly frisked by two of the team members as others covered them and the rest kept their attention on the bathrooms.
“Are there any other people in there?” Ava heard a team member ask.
“Yes. At least one other guy! Maybe more!”
The older man was deemed unarmed. The leader asked him questions about the layout of the bathroom and then instructed him to leave the area but to keep his hands on top of his head as he moved toward the perimeter. He stopped as he reached Ava and Misty, recognition in his eyes. “Do you need a hand?”