Mercy hadn’t informed them that she was from Eagle’s Nest and didn’t need an education, but she wondered if Jeff knew her background. Regardless, she wanted to hear Darby’s description of the groups.

“All three victims are well-known preppers,” Darby stated. “There’s a lot of different types of preppers out there, but basically these people believe in being ready for a natural disaster or a man-caused disaster that creates either a temporary or permanent change in their lives.

“You’ve seen the shows on TV. Some of these people are slightly nutty, but a lot of them are good, hard-working folks who plan ahead. They focus on food supply, protection, personal health, and finding an ideal location to live. Generally we don’t have any problems with this group. They keep to themselves, usually pay their taxes, and don’t call attention to their way of life. They like to keep it quiet. They don’t want others to know their homes are fully supplied, because they might be overrun when aliens destroy the major cities.”

Eddie snorted.

“They’re well stocked with weapons, but generally nonviolent,” Darby added.

Mercy said nothing, her gaze on her printout.

“Next we have the sovereign citizens.” Darby sighed. “Even with all my research, I don’t understand the logic of these guys. Just understand that they have a totally different interpretation of our laws and the Constitution. They don’t believe they are US citizens, they don’t think they’re subject to our taxes, and they believe they can’t be tried for a lot of crimes. They often call themselves freemen. Some officials think they’re dangerous, but mainly they like to file a lot of paperwork to tie up our judicial system. They’re great at turning a forty-dollar traffic ticket into two file boxes of paperwork and possibly a couple of nights in jail in contempt of court because they’re driving the judge nuts. Generally nonviolent.”

“Were any of the victims associated with this group?” Eddie asked.

“Not directly, but Ned Fahey has some distant family members that identify with the group.” Darby glanced at her sheet. “Militants are next. There’s a large variety of splinter groups that fall under that heading. Philosophies range from minor anti–federal government to gung ho, start-my-own-country crazy. I can’t summarize this group very well; they’re too diverse in their beliefs and actions. Each one varies in their complaints and level of violence.” Darby sat back in her chair. “Those are the CliffsNotes to our area. You’ll also encounter a lot of ranchers, Native Americans, and aging hippies.”

“No Crips or Bloods or Mafia?” Eddie joked.

“No.” A small smile crossed Darby’s face.

“What about normal people?” he asked.

“Lots,” replied Jeff. “The Bend area is packed with families and retirees who’ve moved here for the beauty and outdoor lifestyle. They love the diverse seasons and clean air. Out in Eagle’s Nest it’s more rural, more isolated, and the people who live there tend to have deep roots. New people don’t usually move in; it’s economically depressed and there’s little industry to draw workers.” His kind brown gaze met Mercy’s. “But you already knew that.”

Darby perked up, and looked from Mercy to Jeff. “What? Did I miss something?” Her perceptive gaze settled on Mercy.

“I grew up in Eagle’s Nest. But I haven’t been back in fifteen years.”

Darby’s eyebrows rose. “No kidding. How was my population recap?”

“Excellent. Sounds like not much has changed,” Mercy said.

“It hasn’t,” said Jeff. “Bend has had huge population growth over the last thirty years, but Eagle’s Nest has stayed stable.”

Mercy leaned forward. “You’ve studied the locals, Darby. Who would attack preppers?”

Darby folded her printout three times, deliberately creasing the edges as she considered Mercy’s question. Mercy knew several intelligence analysts who could condense ten thousand facts into a concise summary with brilliant insight. Darby struck her as that sort of data nut.

“I don’t know,” replied Darby. “The silence after each killing is startling. Usually there is someone who talks when crimes like these happen. The guy who shows off his new gun to his friends . . . the guy who brags that so-and-so won’t cause them problems anymore. Something.”

“You believe it’s all the same killer?” Mercy asked.

Jeff twisted his lips. “We’ve got no hard evidence to tie the cases together. As of this morning, we know three different weapons were used—all different calibers. None of the fingerprints or footprints found at the scenes are the same . . . but who knows if the killer even left fingerprints. The common thread is the missing weapons and that the victims were known preppers.”

“Is it possible you’ve missed a victim?”

Darby shook her head. “Our murder rate out here is very low. There’re no other unsolved murders this year.”

“We just put the pieces together yesterday,” said Jeff. “We were aware of two men who’d been killed in Deschutes County, but neither the sheriff nor the police chief had asked for any help. And I understand why: they each believed they had an isolated murder case. The missing weapons from the first murder, Enoch Finch, weren’t brought up until later.”

“I noticed that,” said Mercy. “What happened?”


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