Blood exploded out of Misty’s thigh and splattered across Ava’s legs.
A fraction of a second later, Ava heard the shots.
She yanked Misty down to the concrete floor of the mall, assisted by the teenager’s near collapse. Her screams didn’t block the blasts of more rifle fire. Ava scanned for the shooter as people sprinted past the two women huddled on the ground. Terrified people made eye contact, but no one stopped.
“I’ve been shot?” the teen gasped. “Am I going to die?”
Blood pulsed out of the girl’s thigh.
Artery. Tourniquet. NOW.
She grabbed Misty’s tiny purse with the long narrow strap. She unhooked the strap, tightly wrapped it around Misty’s upper thigh, and knotted it. The blood slowed to an inconsistent ooze.
She slid an arm under the girl’s shoulders. “Can you get up?” Misty shifted her leg and screamed as tears covered her face.
The crowd of morning walkers and shoppers at the open-air mall had vanished, and Ava didn’t see anyone with a gun. The closest two stores hadn’t opened yet for the day, but Ava scooted away from Misty and tried the doors anyway. Still locked. She looked for a store that was open. No luck.
Can I get Misty back to the yoga studio?
“Ava?” A smear of blood across Misty’s cheek stood out against her pale skin, and she suddenly seemed much younger than her eighteen years. “Don’t leave me!”
Bending over, Ava dashed back to the teen. “I won’t. But we’ve got to find cover.”
“Why are they shooting?” The girl grabbed Ava’s wrist, determined not to let her leave.
“I don’t know. But we can’t stay here in the wide-open aisle.” Her gaze stopped on a closed sunglasses kiosk twenty feet away in the intersection of two of the wide mall walkways. It wasn’t great cover, but she had no choice. “I’m gonna drag you a little ways, okay?”
Misty nodded and pressed her lips together. Ava squatted behind her head and lifted the girl’s shoulders. She was heavy. Ava slowly scooted backward, biting her cheek as the girl cried out in pain and her leg was jostled along the sidewalk.
Two more shots. Closer.
Ava got Misty as close to the kiosk as possible. They weren’t hidden. Anyone walking past would see them, but at least there was something between them and the gun. Ava pulled her cell out of her bag and called 911, her heart pounding in her ears.
“Come on!” She pressed her cell against her ear. They’re not picking up immediately because they’re deluged with calls from this mall.
“Nine-one-one. What is the nature of your emergency?”
“This is Special Agent Ava McLane of the Portland FBI office. I’m in the Rivertown Mall at the Sunglasses Hut. There is an active shooter in the mall, and I have a woman who’s been shot and needs medical assistance ASAP.”
“Yes, Special Agent. We’re getting calls. Please find a place to hide until the police arrive and we’ll get medical to you at the first opportunity. Have you seen the shooter?”
“No, but people are running away from the mall’s center toward the—oh, shit!”
Ava caught her breath as a man ran by, clasping his bleeding hand to his chest. “An injured person just ran toward the garage. The shooter is not in the garage. All of the people I’ve seen are running toward it.”
She peered around the corner of the kiosk and saw the shooter.
“I see him,” she said into the phone tucked against her shoulder. “He’s wearing all black with a full mask that covers his hair and face. He’s tall, probably over six feet, and lean. He’s carrying a rifle and jogging past Sur La Table, moving in the direction of the garage.”
His head moved in a rhythm, scanning from the right to left. Even without the rifle and mask he would have stood out in his black outfit on the hot August morning. Three women dashed out of one of the intersecting corridors and immediately reversed direction at the sight of the shooter.
He couldn’t be more than thirty yards from the sunglasses kiosk. Ava watched him stop, plant his feet, and aim his rifle at the backs of the running women. Ava started to rise out of her hiding space, sweat swelling under her arms, knowing she was powerless. “I can’t stop him,” she breathed to the operator. Her weapon was locked in the trunk of her car. She hadn’t known she’d have a use for it after yoga.
“Get down,” Misty hissed. “What are you doing?”
The shooter lowered his gun, gazing after the group of women, and then glanced at his watch. He walked over to the kitchen goods store and yanked on the door. Locked.
“Please find a safe location and wait, Special Agent,” the operator stated. “Police are on the scene, and I’ve relayed your information. I’m going to end this call if you are okay with that. We’re being overloaded with calls.”
Ava agreed as the shooter turned down another artery of the mall and vanished.
She slid back down behind the kiosk. She’d been walking through the mall and chatting with Misty, one of the younger women in her morning yoga class. They had just left the small exercise studio in the suburban high-end outdoor mall. The mall was the type with manicured flower planters lining the walkways, honor system umbrellas in stands outside every shop, and live weekend music. The blazing-hot August morning had early walkers roaming the aisles with iced coffees, pretending that fall, cold temperatures, and rain weren’t a month away.
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.