“I followed up on that. No one went to the emergency room, and I put out the word that I was looking for someone who’d been cut.”

Mercy had manned the front desk of the tiny Eagle’s Nest hospital one summer in high school. It had seven beds, and the accounts receivable were handwritten ledgers in a single file cabinet. She’d known who in town paid five dollars a month on a thousand-dollar hospital bill. It’d been a lot of people.

“I wouldn’t go to the emergency room for an injury I received while killing someone,” commented Eddie.

“I also followed up with the vets. But most people around here have basic medical skills. If you get hurt, oftentimes professional help is far away.”

Mercy nodded. When she was ten, she’d watched her mother stitch up a deep gash in her father’s leg. He’d gripped a bottle of alcohol and held a thick piece of leather in his teeth, occasionally pulling out the leather to take a deep draw on the bottle. He didn’t want to pay a doctor when his wife could stitch him up just fine. Her mother had been highly regarded as a midwife and self-taught medic.

“Who do you think did this?” She closely watched the chief’s face.

The air in the kitchen shifted slightly, and Eddie looked expectantly at the police chief. Mercy wondered if they’d get a straight answer out of the nephew. It was in his best interest to tell them all he knew or suspected, but outsiders weren’t trusted in Eagle’s Nest. Yes, Truman Daly was an outsider, but the FBI might as well have it printed in yellow across the backs of their dark jackets.

Truman’s jaw shifted slightly to one side, and Mercy could almost see the waves of frustration roll off his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he admitted quietly. “Believe me, I’ve been up nights trying to figure it out. I’ve gone through every piece of paper in this home and checked all his banking records. I can’t figure it out. I hate to say it, but I think he simply got into an argument with a friend and it blew up. I think the shooter cleaned out his weapons cache simply because of the value of the guns.”

Mercy wanted to believe him. The small edge of desperation in his tone told her he was truly at a loss. And his eyes were honest. She’d interviewed a lot of liars in her six years at the FBI. Some fooled her; some didn’t.

For now, she’d accept that he’d told them everything.

“Are the weapons traceable?” Eddie asked.

Truman winced. “Only two were registered.”

The clock over the stove showed it was nearly eight o’clock. She and Eddie still needed to check in to their hotel. “I’d like to come back tomorrow when it’s daylight and see the rest of the property,” she told the chief. “We also need to visit the other scene.”

“Just call the department and leave a message. I’ll meet you here,” Truman offered. His energy had dimmed and resignation dipped his shoulders. The house felt quieter than when they’d first entered.

“Thank you.” The tour and its guide had made the case personal. Mercy was now determined to solve Jefferson Biggs’s murder for the nephew as much as for the victim.

FIVE

“Here ya go, Chief.”

With a wink and a smile, Diane set a beer in front of him and darted off to help another patron before Truman could thank her. He wrapped his fingers around the cold glass and held it below his nose for a few seconds. The stress of the tour of his uncle’s home melted away at the smell of hops and citrus. The bar was a dive, but it was the only bar in Eagle’s Nest. The wood floor needed serious help and all the tables were uneven, but the service was five star and the burgers beat anything he’d ever eaten in San Jose. After the Deere dealership, it was the main hangout for the men of the town. Opinions were freely expressed with few consequences. There was an occasional brief fistfight, but Truman had yet to lock someone up for fighting at the bar.

It was a good place.

A slap on his back made his beer slosh over his hand, and Mike Bevins slid onto the stool next to him, sporting a wide grin.

“Asshole.” Truman grabbed a napkin to wipe off his hand.

“Sorry, didn’t see the beer.” Mike pushed up on the brim of his Oregon Ducks cap.

“Yes, you did.”

Mike caught Diane’s attention, pointed at Truman’s beer, and held up one finger. She nodded and whipped a glass under the right tap.

Mike had been one of the guys he’d bummed around with during the three high school summers he’d spent in Eagle’s Nest. Each summer they’d pick up the friendship as if Truman had never left town. When Truman had accepted the police chief job, Mike had been one of the first to congratulate him and treat him as if he were one of the locals. Their friendship had always been easy and sincere, and he’d smoothed Truman’s move to the small town. He was always ready to introduce Truman to a new face or offer his support during the city council meetings.

Truman liked having Mike at his back.

“How’s work?” he asked Mike.

“Same shit, different day.” Mike nodded his thanks at Diane for his beer. “The old man is pressuring me again.”

Truman knew Mike’s father wanted him to take more responsibility at the big Bevins ranch. The ranch was a huge machine that used a dozen hands to keep moving. He also knew Mike wanted to get the hell out of Dodge. He had a dream of living in Portland and teaching survival classes to middle-class suburbanites who had money to burn. There was nothing Mike loved better than disappearing into the wilderness for two weeks, living out of his backpack. Truman had thought it was cool when they were eighteen, but now he preferred the comfort of his bed, a hot shower, and fresh coffee.

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