“No, no ghosts anywhere,” answered Eddie.

“Ned told me he’s seen several ghosts on his property. He said they’re ghosts of people who were probably murdered in his house.”

Mercy hoped Ned was pleased that he’d scared the crap out of Toby. First the cave man story and now ghosts.

“I’ve looked for them but never seen one,” Toby continued. “Ned said they usually came out at night.”

“I don’t think you need to worry about ghosts,” Eddie told him.

“My parents said Ned’s too mean to go to heaven, so he’s probably a ghost now and will haunt his farm forever.”

Mercy lost any desire to meet Toby’s parents. “I don’t think that’s true. If I was a ghost, I’d leave this cold rain and find somewhere sunny. Ghosts can travel wherever they want, right? I wouldn’t stay here.”

Toby tilted his head as he looked at her, weighing her words.

“We’ve been in there twice and haven’t seen anything,” added Eddie.

“Have you ever used the bathroom in Ned’s house?” Mercy asked, dropping the ghost topic.

“Sometimes. But if we were working outside, Ned would tell me to not waste water and to use a tree.”

Eddie coughed.

“Was the mirror in the bathroom broken?” Mercy asked, ignoring the images being generated in her brain. “Right now it has cracks covering all of it.”

Toby thought hard. “I haven’t been in there in a while.”

“Surely you’d remember. It looks like a huge cobweb on the mirror.”

“I don’t remember anything like that,” he finally said.

The sense of elation Mercy had hoped for fluttered away. Toby wasn’t positive; the mirror could have been previously broken.

I’m paranoid. I’m looking for connections that don’t exist.

“Thanks, Toby. You’ve been a big help.” She raised an eyebrow at Eddie, who nodded to indicate he was finished too. They turned around and started their trek back to their vehicles. Toby didn’t say anything. Mercy looked back after twenty steps and he still stood in the woods, watching them leave.

Is he lonely?

“That wasn’t conclusive,” stated Eddie. “But we can look into the cases from when you were a teen. It’s worth following up.”

“It’s not necessary,” said Mercy. “We have other things to do.”

“I’m surprised you remembered those deaths from that long ago.”

The women’s faces were clear in Mercy’s mind. “Not many people are murdered around here. It was a huge shock. And my sister Pearl’s best friend was a victim.”

“That’s horrible.”

“With that connection, I probably remember better than most people.”

“I bet your sister remembers too. I don’t think we should ignore the old cases.”

Mercy deliberately stepped in a puddle, testing the waterproofing of her boots. Eddie was right. She would have to talk to Pearl at some point. The thought sent her anxiety skyrocketing. Why? She’s my sister. What’s she going to do? Refuse to see me?

Maybe.

“You’re right. The local police records are probably the best place to start,” she admitted. “We also need to check in with Darby. She was going to search online to see if anyone is selling the missing weapons.”

“It’s going to be hard to search if she doesn’t know what weapons to look for,” said Eddie. “Why do I feel as if the weapons were stolen without any intention to sell?”

“They’re the most expensive items in the homes,” Mercy countered. “Easy money.”

“I think they wanted them for themselves.” He scowled. “Darby would be the one to ask about any militia activity, right? Maybe there’s been some chatter about people getting together for something.”

“Like occupying a wildlife refuge?”

Eddie snorted. “Something bigger. More deadly. We’ve got a lot of missing weapons. Who’s collecting them?”

“And what for?” whispered Mercy. To an outsider Eagle’s Nest would look like a wide spot along the highway. Quiet and harmless, a good place to escape the bustle of the city. Maybe a place to retire or raise children to know about the land. Not the center of homegrown terrorist activity.

“Did the local police department handle the murders last time?” Eddie asked. “Or did county?”

“I don’t know,” said Mercy. “I can remember the police chief questioning Pearl about her friend, but I don’t know if the case expanded beyond the city.”

“Good thing Chief Daly likes us.”

Mercy didn’t say anything.

“I’m glad he suggested that bed-and-breakfast in town. I stopped by there earlier and it smells like a bakery.” Eddie’s tone perked up. “That beats our current shithole’s odor of Pine-Sol and old smoke.”

“It’s not so bad.”

“You and I have very different expectations of hotels.”

“It serves its purpose.”

“Yeah, but it could serve it with fresh coffee, a big-ass shower, and updated decor.”

Mercy shrugged. “I just need a bed and a solid locked door.”

“Live a little, would ya? The Bureau has paid a lot more for accommodations in the past. We’re not burning their money by having standards. One more night and then we can move.”

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