“Because of the victims’ histories, the large number of missing weapons from all three murders could point to someone preparing for a domestic terrorism event.”

Her boss’s words rang in her head. Several dozen guns were missing from the first two murder sites, and Ned Fahey had buried a large illegal stash on his property.

An event. A calm way of saying a group might be gearing up to overtake a federal building. Or worse.

The rain clouds had blown off as they left Ned Fahey’s home, and now blue sky peeked through as they departed the denser forest, headed for lower altitudes. As they pulled away from the foothills, Mercy spotted the white mountain peaks of the Cascades in her rearview mirror, thrilled she could see several at a time. She’d taken the sight for granted as a kid. In Portland she saw primarily one peak; on a clear day she might see one or two more. But in this part of Central Oregon, where the skies were often blue, multiple peaks gleamed.

The air felt cleaner too.

She headed down a straight stretch of highway, tall pines towering along both sides of the road.

“Hey. The trees changed color,” Eddie said as he stared out the window.

“They changed back where we crested the Cascade Range. Those are ponderosa pines and they’re a paler green than the firs you’re used to on our side of the Cascades. The trunks are redder too.”

“What are the silvery, scrubby-looking bushes everywhere?”

“Sagebrush.”

“The forest feels different over here,” Eddie remarked. “There’s still giant green trees everywhere, but the underbrush isn’t dense at all like on the west side. Tons of rocks here too.”

“The pines will thin out soon. And you’ll see acres of ranchland and lava rocks and brush depending on where you go.”

Mercy noticed her knuckles were white as she gripped the steering wheel. She drove without thinking, instinctively heading toward the town where she’d spent the first eighteen years of her life.

“Turn at the next left,” Eddie instructed.

I know.

“I grew up in Eagle’s Nest.”

Eddie’s head jerked up, and she felt his stare bore into the side of her head. She kept her eyes on the road.

“I don’t believe that you remembered that particular fact two seconds ago,” Eddie stated. “Why didn’t you say something? Does the boss know?”

“She knows. I left home when I was eighteen and haven’t been back. Family stuff, you know.”

He shifted in his seat to face her. “I hear a good story percolating, Special Agent Kilpatrick. Spill it.”

“No story.” She refused to look at him.

“Bullshit. You haven’t been home since you were eighteen? Did they beat you? Do they belong to a cult?”

She gave a short laugh. “Neither.” Not exactly.

“Then what? You’ve talked to them, right? E-mails? Texts? Leaving home means you simply didn’t return to the town, right?” He looked out the windshield at the trees. “I haven’t seen anything out here to make me want to drive the four hours.”

Mercy pressed her lips together, wishing she’d not started the conversation. “There’s been no contact at all. Nothing.”

“What? Do you have siblings?”

“Four.”

“Four? And you’ve never called or e-mailed any of them?”

She shook her head, unable to speak.

“What’s wrong with your family? My mom would fry me if she didn’t hear from me at least once a month.”

“They’re different.” Understatement. “Can we not discuss this right now?”

“You brought it up.”

“I know I did, and I’ll tell you about it later.” Maybe. She took the final turn into Eagle’s Nest and drove down the two-lane road she knew would take them through the center of town.

She slowed to the posted twenty-five miles per hour. The lofty name Eagle’s Nest implied that the town sat on a hill, grandly overlooking a valley. It lied. Eagle’s Nest sat on the flat. The town’s elevation was three thousand feet, but so was that of the hundreds of acres surrounding it. She drove past the schools, craning her neck to get a good look. According to the rusting signs, the older building still housed the high school, while the larger “new” building still held K–8. The “new” building had been constructed in the seventies, before she was born. Behind the old building she saw the lights for the football field and stands. New red bleachers stood on one side of the field.

September. Should be a football game this weekend.

“Did you go to school there?” Eddie asked.

“Yes.”

The road took a sharp turn. On her left the sawmill was still closed. Its roof sagged more than she remembered, and weathered plywood covered all the windows. The familiar sign was gone. The mill had been abandoned when she was quite young, but it’d always had a big sign with a message board out front. In her teens the town had used the tall message board to post event dates in mismatched letters, but for a long time before that it’d simply proclaimed: We’ll be back.

All that was left now was a jagged, broken metal post, and Mercy felt a small pin stab her heart. It’d been everyone’s habit to check the board to keep a finger on the pulse of the community. Senior citizen birthdays. Fairs. Bake sales.

Now they probably post on the city’s Facebook page.

Everyone in the community had sworn the lumber mill would reopen. She’d heard it over and over. At one time the city had kept the mill’s property free of dumped garbage and replaced the windows broken by stupid kids. “Someone will buy it. We simply need the right business to come along.”

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