“Hear any shots recently?” Truman asked.

“I always hear shots. But it could be coming from the McCloud or Hackett places. Hard to tell the direction sometimes.”

Mercy studied the older man. Would he kill Ned Fahey to get his hundred yards of property back? He seemed honest enough, but she was reserving judgment.

“Did you order a new pair of glasses?” asked Truman. “I don’t want you shooting someone who doesn’t deserve it.”

“Yep. Went into Bend last week. They should be ready tomorrow.”

“Good,” said Mercy. She frowned. “Do you have a ride to the eye doctor?”

“What for?” Leighton looked confused.

“Can you see well enough to drive?”

“I’ve been driving that road to Bend for fifty years. I could do it with my eyes shut.”

Mercy decided this wasn’t her problem. “I don’t suppose you have any ideas about who would hurt Ned Fahey? I assume you know about Jefferson Biggs and Enoch Finch. We’re looking for a common denominator in all three deaths.”

Leighton scratched one ear. “Ned was always pissing people off. He liked to wave his ax around a little too much. I called him Injun Ned one time and I thought he was going to take my scalp for it.”

Mercy bit the inside of her cheek.

“But he was pretty harmless. Kept to himself. He talked about being prepared for the end of the world all the time. I can only handle so much of that, you know. It was like a religion to him. He claimed he could last for months without relying on a grocery store or the county service for his heat.” Sorrow crossed his face. “I guess all that work was for nothin’ now.”

“Did you know how many guns he had?” asked Mercy.

Leighton gave her an odd look. “What’s it matter? A man has a right to own all the guns he wants. Never saw the point of owning more than five or so . . . I mean, you can only fire one at a time.” Concentration narrowed his brows. “I think I’ve probably seen him with three different guns over the years. He preferred his ax.”

That statement didn’t match what Mercy suspected Ned owned. But the ax description was consistent.

She and Truman thanked Leighton for his time, and she handed him the wet towel. “Thank you for the towel.”

“I’m sorry I scared you into the mud.” He apologized with a small, gentlemanly bow.

Outside she asked Truman his opinion.

The chief walked another ten feet before replying, clearly organizing his thoughts. “I don’t know if we learned anything from him or not. The change in property lines because of the creek is interesting, but I don’t think it’s a motive for murder.”

“I agree.” Mercy waited for a moment, but he appeared to be done talking. “Is there really a town fund for personal emergencies?”

Truman winced. “Not really. But I’ll do what I can to keep him in his home. That’s how it starts, you know.”

“How what starts?”

“A lot of the antigovernment attitudes. It’s like a line of dominoes. Usually the first domino is tipped over by having their home foreclosed on. Something personal happened . . . either they got ill and racked up huge medical bills or they lost their job and couldn’t find another. They have to choose whether to feed their kids or pay the mortgage. Guess which is going to come first?”

Mercy knew he was right. She’d seen it happen over and over.

“Suddenly the home that’s been in their family for decades is ripped out from under them and their credit rating is destroyed. They need a place to live. They need a job and they need their pride restored. It’s a lot easier to stop the dominoes before they start tipping. If all Leighton needs is a bit of cash to tide him over, then we’ll make it happen.”

“Maybe he’s a gambler.” Mercy played the devil’s advocate. “Maybe he spends all his money on porn.”

“You can find every kind of porn for free on the Internet these days,” Truman replied dryly. “A guy who pays for it isn’t very bright, but I know what you’re saying. I’ll sit down and talk with Leighton to get an idea of how deep he’s in debt and why there’s a problem. Ina Smythe used to be the one who handled the logistics of our ‘private fund.’ I took it over because I didn’t think people wanted to talk to nineteen-year-old Lucas about their problems.”

“That’s very kind of you.” Mercy had always been partially terrified of Mrs. Smythe, but she suspected her teenage perspective of the woman as a tyrant hadn’t been very accurate. She wondered what else she’d been wrong about.

Truman shrugged. “People are willing to tell me stuff.”

Her opinion of the police chief was slowly coming together. He had a strong sense of honor about his residents. He was a listener. He wore his authority well and didn’t seem to need to feed his ego. All positive things in Mercy’s book. “Eddie is going to the Enoch Finch scene after he picks up the rental,” Mercy said. “Can we go back to your uncle’s home now? I’d like to see it in the daylight.”

The chief looked at his watch. “It’s time for lunch. You take time for lunch, don’t you?” He looked sideways at her.

Mercy knew the most convenient places to eat would be smack in the center of Eagle’s Nest. “I have something in my bag to tide me over. If you want to stop and grab something, I can meet you at the house.”


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