She opened the thin plywood doors of the cabinet next to the one that housed the gun safe.

“Diesel,” said Truman.

Mercy nodded, mentally estimating the gallons. Jefferson Biggs had laid in a good store.

“I didn’t see any gasoline,” he commented.

“Diesel is safer to store and has a longer storage life than gasoline.”

She peeked in a few more cabinets on the other side of the structure. Canning supplies, glass jars full of fruit and vegetables, and canned goods crammed the shelves. She lightly touched a laminated chart on the inside of the door that kept track of his rotation system.

“I’ve never heard of canned butter,” Truman remarked. “That can’t taste good.”

“It tastes like normal butter.”

He pointed at a large stack of huge pink salt licks. “My uncle didn’t have any cows and there’s enough salt here for a city. Who needs that much salt?”

“I suspect he planned to use them to attract game at some point in the future,” Mercy said. “It beats hunting. Have the game come to you.”

She found several stacks of empty food-grade buckets and more buckets with tight-fitting lids filled with baking supplies. Fishing supplies, medical supplies, tools, every type of battery made. The wealth astounded her.

“I can’t believe they only took the guns. Why was all this left behind?” she mumbled.

“It’d be a pain in the butt to move,” said Truman.

“But this is years of preparation. Good preparation. It’s like gold.”

“To some people.”

She looked at him. “If the electrical grid crashes, you’ll be glad you have this.”

He didn’t say anything.

“Did you know your uncle was a prepper?”

“Of course. I spent a lot of time during the summers helping him out. One of the other sheds is packed full of wood I’ve chopped over the years.” He gave the loaded cabinets a sour look. “Doesn’t mean I subscribe to the lifestyle.”

“It’s more than a lifestyle,” Mercy said. “It’s a life philosophy. Removing yourself from being dependent on others. Self-reliance.”

“No one can completely survive on their own. We need other people.”

“Eventually. But if you had to hide out for a month, could you?”

“Sure.”

“Can you be ready in ten minutes?”

“No. I’d need to get my stuff together.”

“How will you pack food for a month?”

“I’d go to one of the outdoor stores. Load up on those freeze-dried meals.”

“In that store you’ll be fighting ninety-nine percent of the population, who had the same bright idea.” She glanced back at the rows and rows of canned food. “The one thing that surprises me is how exposed this storage is. Anyone could take an ax to that chain on the door and steal his supplies. Usually preppers hide their stores in fear of being swarmed when an emergency happens. Did the rest of the town know your uncle did this?”

“I imagine so. Although he didn’t talk about it much.”

“Maybe he was relying on the look of the barn to keep people from raiding. I was surprised when you opened the door.”

Truman took a hard look at her. “You were raised in this life philosophy, weren’t you? I’ve heard the Kilpatricks believe in being prepared.”

“Everyone believes in it, but not everyone acts on it. Or knows how to.” She looked around. “Your uncle did a good job.”

“It doesn’t explain how or why his guns were taken.”

Mercy realized she’d lost focus on her examination of the property. They were looking for evidence of who’d killed his uncle. The well-stocked larder and supplies had distracted her. “Let me know if you need help figuring out what to do with all of this.”

Truman scanned the cabinets. “I imagine there’re plenty of people in town who could use some of the food.”

She wanted to stop him from handing it out willy-nilly. “Everyone has needs. Give it to someone who will appreciate it for what it is.”

He gave her an odd look. “It’s food. Basics.”

“It could be the difference between life and death.”

“Does Special Agent Peterson know you’re a hoarder?”

Mercy froze. He’s just pushing my buttons. “Your uncle wasn’t a hoarder. He was smart. I admire someone who thinks ahead.”

“I do too. But not if it rules every aspect of their life.” He tipped his head toward the door. “Want to see the rest?”

She nodded and followed him out the door.

Truman blew out a breath as they walked to the next little shed.

Jefferson Biggs had been slightly nuts. Truman had dreaded showing Mercy the shrine to his uncle’s obsession, but she’d admired it. Instead of shock and surprise, she’d had the same look that his uncle got on his face when he looked at his supplies. Reverence. Pride. He’d always given Truman the impression he was silently counting and calculating as he eyed his handiwork.

Mercy had looked exactly the same.

How does a former prepper from Central Oregon end up working for the federal government as an FBI agent?

The dichotomy between her past and present intrigued him. He studied her from the corner of his eye. She had the town polish of his suburbanite sister, and he wondered if she’d deliberately worked to leave her rural roots behind or if it’d happened naturally over time. So far she’d moved and spoken like someone very comfortable with ranch life, but he suspected she was just as at ease in a modern-art museum.

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