“Anything missing?” asked Eddie. “Is there anyone who would even know what’s missing?”
“As far as I know, Toby Cox was the only person to step foot in this house in the last ten years. We can ask him, but I’ll warn you he’s not the most observant type.” Rhodes cleared his throat, a sheepish look on his face. “I can’t take it too seriously, but I’ll tell you Toby was terrified and rambling that the cave man had killed Ned.”
“What?” asked Eddie. “A caveman? Like prehistoric?”
Mercy simply stared at the sheriff. Communities had their rumors and legends, but this was one she’d never heard of.
“No, I gathered from my talk with Toby that it was more like a mountain man. But like I said, he gets confused easily. The boy’s not all there. I can’t give it any weight.”
“Did he see this cave man?” Mercy asked.
“No. My impression was that Ned had told Toby the story to scare the crap out of him. Seemed to work.”
“But we do have one interesting thing,” said the sheriff. “Someone broke into a storage unit outside. Follow me.”
Mercy sucked in deep breaths of fresh air as she followed the sheriff down the porch stairs. He led them through the junk-lined funnel and fifty feet down the dirt road before veering off on a path. She smugly noted her toes were dry in her cheery rain boots. She’d warned Eddie to dress appropriately, but he’d brushed it off. This wasn’t rain on concrete sidewalks in downtown Portland; this was a rainstorm in the Cascades. Mud, heavy brush, wandering streams, and more mud. She glanced back and saw Eddie wipe the rain off his forehead, and he gave a wry smile with a pointed look at his mud-caked shoes.
They ducked under a yellow ribbon of police tape that surrounded a small shed. “The crime scene techs have already processed the scene,” Sheriff Rhodes advised. “But try to watch where you step.”
Mercy studied the mess of crisscrossing boot prints and didn’t see a clear place to step. The sheriff simply walked through, so she followed. The shed was about fifteen by twenty feet and hidden by tall rhododendrons. From the outside it looked as if a strong wind would flatten the tiny outbuilding, but inside Mercy noticed the walls had been heavily reinforced and the room was lined with sandbags along the dirt floor.
“Chain on the door was cut. I should say all three chains on the door were cut,” the sheriff corrected himself. He gestured toward a big hole in the ground near the back wall of the shed. The lid to an ancient deep freezer opened out of the hole.
Mercy peered into the buried freezer. Empty. She sniffed the air, catching the minty odor of a weapon lubricant she knew some gun enthusiasts swore by, and a hint of gunpowder smell. Ned had hidden an arsenal in the ground.
“Weapons,” she stated flatly. Fahey had had three guns registered in his name. He wouldn’t have worked this hard to hide three guns. He could have easily stored a few dozen in the huge freezer. Mercy wondered how Ned had controlled the humidity for the guns. As far as weapons storage went, this wasn’t ideal.
“There was one of those little cordless humidifiers in there,” Rhodes stated as if he’d read her mind. “But someone had to know where to dig to find the freezer.” He gestured at the piles of fresh dirt. “I wonder how well camouflaged the freezer was. This isn’t a place I’d come looking for weapons.”
“Anyone know how many weapons he actually had?” Mercy asked.
The sheriff shrugged and looked into the freezer. “Lots is my guess.”
“You said there were three chains locking the door?” Eddie asked. “To me that screams, ‘I’ve got something valuable in here.’” He pointed at a narrow steel rod on the dirt floor. “If I broke through three sets of locks and chains and found an empty shed, I’d start plunging that into the ground until I hit something.”
Sure enough, there were narrow holes in scattered places across the floor of the shed.
“He’s a prepper,” Mercy stated. “It’s expected he’d have a stash of guns somewhere.”
“They didn’t have to murder him in his bed to steal his guns,” Rhodes pointed out.
“They?” asked Mercy, her ears perking up.
The sheriff raised his hands defensively. “No proof. Just going by the amount of work I see here and the number of footprints found in front of this shed. The techs are running a comparison on Fahey’s and Toby Cox’s boots to see what’s left. They’ll let us know how many people were here.”
“Can’t rule out Cox,” Eddie pointed out.
Sheriff Rhodes nodded, but Mercy saw the regret in his eyes. She suspected he liked this Toby Cox who wasn’t “right in the head.”
Mercy mentally placed Toby Cox at the top of her list to interview.
“I want to see the other two murder sites,” Mercy told Eddie as she drove toward Eagle’s Nest.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him nod as he focused on a file in his lap.
“They’re both on the other side of Eagle’s Nest,” he replied. “I’ll pull up the location of the first.”
The two agents had driven directly to Ned Fahey’s hideaway from Portland after Mercy’s office exchanged several phone calls with Bend’s supervisory senior resident agent (SSRA). The other two murders had taken place closer to the city of Eagle’s Nest, but the locations were still a good half hour from the Bend office. The Bend office needed help, Mercy’s supervisor had explained as she told the two of them about their temporary assignment. It had only five agents, a few support staff, and no domestic terrorism agents.
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