“You did the right thing, Toby,” reassured Mercy.
“I found him dead,” he whispered. “He had a hole in his head.”
“Then what did you do?” asked Eddie.
“I ran home and told my parents. They called the sheriff.” He ducked his head. “Ned told me the cave man would try to get him.”
Mercy remembered the rumor Sheriff Rhodes had been embarrassed to bring up. “Did you ever see this cave man?”
“Did Ned say he’d ever seen him?”
Toby scrunched up his face as he thought. “No. Because I asked what he looked like and Ned said he didn’t know. But he thought he was really big and really mean.”
“Why did Ned think the cave man would be interested in him?” Eddie asked.
“That’s what the cave man does,” answered Toby. “He steals other people’s hard work and then kills them. He’s lazy,” he said emphatically.
Laziness would be the ultimate sin to a prepper like Ned.
“Did you ever see a lot of guns in Ned’s house?” Mercy asked.
“No.” Toby paused. “But there were a lot of them out in the shed.”
“The one that you take the path to. You can’t see it from the house. The guns are buried in the ground.”
“Did you ever count them?” Mercy asked.
“No, but one time Ned said he had twenty-five. That was a long time ago. He might have sold some since then.”
“When was the last time you saw them buried in the ground?” asked Eddie.
Toby ran a hand through his short, straw-colored hair as he thought hard. “Last summer,” he finally answered. “I remember it was hot.”
Mercy had a thought. “Did Ned have stuff buried anywhere else?”
“Not that I know about. Well, his septic tank is buried in the ground. But that’s how everyone’s is.”
“Did you see any strangers visit Ned?” Mercy asked carefully, wondering if the question was too broad. She’d realized they needed to be very direct in their queries.
Toby shrugged. “People have to drive by our place to get to Ned’s. Sometimes I don’t recognize the vehicles that go by.”
“Toby’s parents’ house sits a good ways back from the road,” Truman clarified. “I assume you couldn’t see every car that drives by?”
“That’s right. I’d have to be watching outside. From inside the house, I can only hear them.”
“Did you hear anyone go by on the weekend?” Mercy asked.
She waited a few moments and then finally asked, “Did you see the vehicles, Toby?”
Mercy silently sighed and changed her line of questioning. “Did anyone visit Ned when you were helping him with wood chopping last Wednesday?”
His forehead wrinkled in concentration. “No. Not that Wednesday.”
“He had a visitor on a different Wednesday?”
“Yes. A few Wednesdays ago. He yelled at someone who’d stopped their truck on the road in front of his house. He told them to ‘fucking get lost.’”
“They didn’t get out of the vehicle?” Eddie asked.
“No, they took off when he waved the ax and moved closer to their truck.” Toby grinned. “It was funny. He was mad.”
Mercy raised a brow at Truman, who lifted one shoulder.
“I don’t know anything about it,” Truman said. “Could have been tourists or even a bill collector.” He leaned forward and rested his arms on his desk. “Hey, Toby, who did Ned dislike? Who’d he complain about all the time?”
“Leighton Underwood,” Toby said promptly. “And Uncle Sam.”
Mercy assumed he meant the Uncle Sam who was her boss, but she wrote it in her notebook beside Underwood’s name in case Ned had an actual uncle named Sam.
“Who’s Underwood?” she asked Truman.
“I suspect their property lines butt up against each other. I know Leighton lives out in the same general area, but he doesn’t come to town as much as Ned did. Someone else could tell you if there was bad blood between the two of them.”
“Toby, did Ned have anything else on his property that he was real proud of besides his guns?” Mercy asked.
“He was real proud of his food. He always said he had enough stored away to outlast the commies. He liked his garden too. We spent lots of hours working in his garden and building a tall fence to keep out the critters.”
“Those are important,” agreed Mercy. “If you were to go back inside Ned’s house, do you think you would notice if anything was missing?”
Toby sat up straight in his chair. “I don’t want to go back there! He was dead! Don’t make me go back in that house!” His fingers blanched as he clenched his hands. “I don’t want to see his ghost!”
Truman came out from behind his desk and put one hand on Toby’s shoulder in a tight grip. “No one’s going to make you go back.” He looked Mercy square in the eye, daring her to challenge him.
Mercy wasn’t interested in forcing Toby, knowing it would be counterproductive. But she believed he had a good memory and that with the right questions, they could hear more insight into Ned Fahey.
“You know Ned’s not there anymore, right, Toby?” she asked. “They took his body away.”
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