“What did you do after the first shots?”
“Pulled up my shorts,” he answered promptly. “The boy started crying and the father said something like ‘Jesus Christ!’ The shooter yelled at them to get out, and I heard the door open and close again. That’s when he kicked at my stall door and shouted for me to come out.”
Mason nodded, encouraging the man to continue. He’d let Walter get everything out and then they’d go back through and pick the story apart, looking for things he’d forgotten to mention. Immediate interviews with the eyewitnesses were vital. Witnesses couldn’t go home and rest and come back. Stories change. Memories change. People overthink and wonder if they imagined certain aspects and revise their memories to be more logical or to be what they think the police want to hear.
“Sliding that latch on the stall door was one of the damned hardest things I’ve ever done. I didn’t know what was waiting on the other side. I only knew it’d terrified the boy and his father. But he’d let them go. And I hoped I’d get to do the same.”
“What’s the first thing you saw when you opened the door? Did it open in or out?” Mason already knew the answer but wanted to judge Walter’s memory.
“In. I opened it a bit, keeping my body behind the door. The first thing I saw was the barrel of a rifle and a masked man pointing it at my face. He ordered me to come out.”
“What was he wearing?”
Walter frowned. “You said he shot himself in the bathroom after I left. I’m pretty sure you guys know what he was wearing better than I remember.”
The witness’s eyes closed and his forehead crinkled. “Black athletic pants. A lightweight jacket out of the same type of material. Black ski mask. I remember thinking he looked straight out of a movie. Why do people feel they have to dress the part of the bad guy?” He opened his eyes. They were a very pale blue set in tired, bloodshot whites. His eyelashes were nearly nonexistent and the corners of his eyes were reddened, as if he’d been reading for several hours.
Walter’s chest expanded as he took a deep breath. “He told me to put up my hands and come out.”
“Could you see any facial features? Was he taller than you?”
“Everybody’s taller than me these days. I swear I’ve shrunk three inches in the last ten years.”
Mason straightened his hunched shoulders.
“Eyes were dark. I want to say brown, but I can’t say I actually saw the color. Could have been the mask making them seem dark.”
“What’d you do next?”
“He told me to go face the wall. The one at the far end of the stalls. It put the urinals on my right.” Walter wiped at his brow. “I thought he was going to shoot me in the back. I don’t know how long I stood there. Felt like forever.”
“What was he doing?”
“I heard him walk back to the other area of the bathroom and yell at someone else to get on the floor and not move. I could hear him going back and forth, keeping an eye on me and checking on whoever else was back there.”
“Did you hear other voices?”
“At first. I couldn’t make out the words. He told them to shut up and that stopped any talking.”
“You didn’t talk to him?”
“No. I looked over my shoulder at one point, and he immediately had the gun aimed my way and shouted at me to turn around. I didn’t look again.”
“How did you get out?”
Walter snorted. “He let me go. He said, ‘Guess what, old man, it’s your lucky day.’ I held still. I didn’t know if that meant he was going to shoot me or release me. Then he screamed at me to get the fuck out of the bathroom. I glanced back at him. He had the gun at his side and was pointing at the door. ‘Get out! Get out!’ he screamed. I couldn’t move. He yelled again, and I took a few steps, not believing he was letting me go, but he nodded and shouted some more. I’d taken two steps when he started shooting into the ceiling. I stopped but he waved the rifle at me to keep going. I decided to go.” He held Mason’s gaze. “At that point I figured I was dead if I ran or dead if I stayed. I decided to die trying.”
“That took guts.”
“No, I was scared out of my mind. The only guts involved were the ones I nearly threw up. When I came out of the bathroom the first thing I saw was more guns pointed at me. They told me to get on the ground, but I was terrified the guy in the bathroom was going to follow me out and shoot me in the back. What drove me to the ground was the thought that I needed to be out of the police’s way so they could shoot him.” Another deep breath. “They searched me and told me to head toward the parking garage and keep my hands on my head.” He turned his head and nodded at Ava at the next table. “I saw Ava. She was hiding with Misty from our yoga class. I wanted to help them get out, but Misty had been shot in the leg and couldn’t walk. Did she make it?”
“She’s at the hospital. I think she’s going to be fine.” Ava had called for an update and been told Misty was on her way to surgery, but the doctors were optimistic.
“Good. Misty’s a sharp kid. Hope the experience doesn’t mess her up too bad.” He looked at Ava again. “She’s cool as a cucumber. Barely seemed rattled back there.”
Mason looked over and recognized the signs of exhaustion on Ava. She hid it pretty well. But he knew the slight downturn to her mouth and curve to her back meant she was wearing down. Months of living together had taught him her tells. They were all small. She knew how to hide her feelings, but most people didn’t have his fascination with every aspect of her face and habits. He could watch her forever at home. Whether she was doing laundry, gardening, or cooking. He paid attention. Her focus on Shaver was still sharp; she’d never let the sergeant see how tired she was. But to Mason she was waving a white flag.