“We have a plan,” said Deborah soothingly. “No one is going to change it. We’ve surrounded ourselves with good people who will stand by us. He’s simply jealous. He’s trying to force people to do his will and doesn’t understand that doesn’t command respect. He sees you getting respect and it eats at him.”

Her father said nothing.

“Come back to bed.”

The kitchen was silent and Mercy heard a click as the bulb was turned off. The dark swallowed up the house. She crawled on her hands and knees back to her room and felt her way to her bed.

“Are they okay?” Rose whispered in the pitch black. A faint snore came from the bunk above Mercy. Pearl could sleep through anything.

“Yes. Dad thinks Joziah Bevins shot Daisy.” Mercy stared into the dark and imagined she was Rose. No sight. Ever. Rose didn’t seem to mind it so much, but Mercy thanked God every day that he’d not chosen her to be the blind Kilpatrick sister. She wouldn’t have been as accepting as Rose.

“Mom will calm him down.”

“She did.”

“Poor Daisy,” whispered Rose. “She was good about coming when I called her. She’d always hold still for me.”

All the animals on the ranch held still for Rose. Mercy swore they were more considerate around her sister, as if they knew Rose couldn’t see where they set their big hooves. Mercy had several favorite cows, and Daisy had been one of them. She felt a hot tear roll from the corner of her eye to her pillow. She hadn’t cried when her father told her that Daisy was dead. But now, here in the dark, she felt safe expressing her sorrow for the sweet soul.

“She’ll have to be replaced,” said Mercy, swallowing hard. “She was important.”

“Two of the cows will calve in a few months,” said Rose. “We’re good.”

Mercy let the conversation drift away, her brain weighing the loss of the cow to the ranch. Milk, breeder, meat if needed. But cattle also required food, shelter, and health care. It was a fine balance to have the right amount of cows so that their benefit outweighed the cost. Her father had it down to a science for the size of his family. Everything had a value. Heirloom vegetable seeds: high value. A treadle sewing machine: high value. A compact disc player: low value.

Not even as a Christmas present.

Mercy understood. But it didn’t mean she liked it.

“I’d like to start with the outbuildings,” said Mercy.

She and Truman had arrived at his uncle’s home. In the harsh light of the day, it looked sadder than the night before. As if it’d finally accepted that its occupant would never return. She followed Truman across the grassy area in front of the home to the drive that led behind the house. She noted how all the downspouts led to large plastic water barrels. The water wouldn’t be good for drinking, but it would work for washing clothes or flushing toilets. Their boots crunched on the gravel. “What do you plan to do with the property?” Mercy asked, needing to fill the silence. Truman hadn’t said much since they’d arrived. Tension was hovering around him again.

Mercy liked him better without the dark cloud.

“I haven’t decided. There’s still some legal paperwork to be handled. Luckily the mortgage was paid off long ago. Now I just have to pay the property taxes on it.”

“It should sell for a decent price,” Mercy said. “How many acres?”

“Eleven. I can’t think about selling yet.”

Mercy wondered if the November property tax bill would speed up his decision.

Truman undid the heavy lock and pulled away the chain that bound the two doors to the small barn. The warped and faded wood made the structure look as if it was a month away from collapse. He grabbed the handle of one door and hauled on it with all his weight. The door groaned as it slid open. Mercy wondered how strong his uncle had been to regularly open that door. She stepped inside, letting her eyes adjust to the dim light. Truman flicked a switch.

“Oh!”

The outside of the dilapidated barn was misleading. Inside was a clean concrete floor and pristine paint on the insulated walls. The temperature inside was almost comfortable. “He kept his weapons in here?”

“Yes.”

Truman led the way to the back of the barn and opened a wood cabinet to expose a huge gun safe. Its heavy metal door was ajar. Truman opened the door all the way to show Mercy it was empty.

“You know the combination?” she asked.

“I don’t. That’s why it’s still open. I’ll have to get an expert out here if I want it to be usable again.”

“It was found open?”

“Yes.”

“So someone was close enough to your uncle to know the combination.”

“Or he opened it for someone.”

Mercy thought on that. “I didn’t know your uncle, but he sounds like that type that wouldn’t do that. Who do you think he’d open it for?”

“No one that I can think of. He trusted no one. Except for maybe Ina Smythe. But she wouldn’t be interested in his weapons.” Truman paused. “She doesn’t get around very well anymore. I can’t see her making the short walk from the house to the barn.”

Mercy studied the rest of the interior. Simple custom cabinets and deep bins lined the walls. “Mind if I look around?”

Truman waved a hand. “Look all you want. I can’t tell if anything else is missing. Everything looks stuffed full to me.”

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