Ava recalled his pain-ridden movements. “No, but thanks. Her bleeding has nearly stopped. Someone will be here soon.” She shooed him away. “We’ll be okay.” He reluctantly moved on, limping.
“That was kind,” Misty murmured sleepily.
Ava shook her. “Stay awake!” Her blood pounded in her ears. She checked the ligature around Misty’s thigh and pulled it tighter, making the teen sob. Red and swollen flesh bulged above the purse strap. Ava caught her breath at the sight of the large dark puddle beneath the leg.
When did that get so big?
“This is the Cedar Edge police! Please send out the rest of—”
A single shot interrupted his request.
A man in a cap dashed out of the bathroom a moment later. “He’s down! He shot himself!”
The team put him through the same on-the-ground search routine as the previous man. “Is there anyone else in there?” someone asked.
“No.” The man hesitated. “Unless someone is in the stalls—I don’t know.”
They sent him on his way with the same orders to keep his hands on his head.
Ava saw his face was wet with tears as he approached the two of them.
“He shot himself?” she asked.
He wiped at his face and studied Misty. “Yes. Do you need help?”
Is it over? Cautious relief swept over Ava. “No. Unless you’re a doctor.”
He shook his head, regret in his eyes. “I can help you carry her out.”
Her immediate impulse was to accept his help. They could probably get Misty upright between them. She glanced at Misty’s leg, hoping her latest tightening of the strap had stopped the bleeding. “If the shooter is down, the medical teams should be here soon. Hopefully with a board of some sort. I’m afraid we’ll make the bleeding start up again if we try to move her.”
She regretfully waved him on, tired of passing up the offers of help. Where’s the REAL help?
She leaned back against the kiosk, keeping her fingertips on Misty’s pulse, calmed by its steady rhythm, and kept an eye on the teams, knowing they wouldn’t rush the bathroom. The hostage had said the shooter was down, but even injured, someone could still pull a trigger as the police entered. A team leader made two more announcements, asking the shooter to exit the bathrooms. Time ticked by, and she started to worry that she’d made the wrong decision about turning down the last man’s help. She checked the bleeding for the umpteenth time; it still appeared in control. The leaders had updated the police outside the perimeter through their walkie-talkies but Ava hadn’t been able to hear the words. They put their heads together for a discussion. Ava imagined the options they were considering for entering the bathroom. Flash-bang? Canine unit? Tear gas? She put her money on the tear gas. She saw the men occasionally glance her way and knew they’d requested help for Misty.
But how many others are injured in different parts of the mall?
Looking down the main artery of the mall, she saw a team with a stretcher cautiously headed in her direction. Relief swept through her.
Thank you, Lord.
“They’re coming for you now, Misty.”
“Good,” muttered the teen. “Leg fucking hurts.”
The leader announced they were launching tear gas into the bathroom, gave a final command to exit, and waited.
He gave a signal and three of the team smoothly opened the door, covered each other, tossed the canister, and moved away from the door as if they’d practiced it a hundred times. They probably had.
The bathroom was silent.
“Hey, ladies, how’s it going?” A four-member team in protective gear knelt next to Misty. With economy of movement, they assessed her condition and moved her onto the stretcher. An impossibly young-looking EMT with red hair studied the blood spray and messy trail where Ava had dragged the girl. “You got her out of sight?” he asked. She nodded, suddenly exhausted. “Her blood loss isn’t as bad as it looks,” he reassured Ava. “You probably saved her life by putting the tourniquet on her leg.”
Shouts sounded near the bathroom, and Ava turned in time to see the teams rush in. Shouts of Clear, clear, clear reached her ears.
One officer stepped back outside and hollered at the medical team. “We’re gonna need medical!”
“He can wait,” muttered the red-haired medic.
Mason watched as Ava was escorted out of the danger zone and toward the staging area. She’d finally texted him fifteen minutes earlier, stating that she was fine and the shooter was down.
Recent reports had the shooter dead with his own bullet in his brain.
The staging area had settled into an organized arena of police, EMS, and fire departments working as a team to address the needs of the exiting shoppers. Five ambulances had left with victims. Two still breathing, three not.
Her gaze instantly found him, as if she heard his thoughts across the crowd.
Relief flowed out of him again. He’d known she was safe, but tension had woven its ugly fingers through his spine as he waited. She said something to the officer escorting her, who eyed Mason and then replied. The officer pointed to the coffee shop, and Ava gave an answering nod. Mason had watched some victims being led to the coffee shop to be interviewed.
She pushed through the crowd of uniforms.
She’s all right.
A smile curled her lips as she drew closer, and for the hundredth time he was struck dumb by how lucky he was to go home to her every night.