“Towels,” she said. “I guess no one wants to run out of towels. Ugh. They stink.” She closed the lid. Distaste crossed her face.
Truman understood why her reaction to Anders Beebe’s prepping was completely different from her reaction to his uncle’s. His uncle had been neat and organized and clean. This house was a fire hazard of piles and emitted a bad, sour smell. As if damp things hadn’t dried out in a few years. His uncle’s home was a palace compared to this.
“Where’s the bathroom?” Mercy asked.
Truman had been waiting for her to ask. He was surprised it hadn’t been the first thing she’d asked when she arrived, and suspected she’d simply been biding her time. He pointed across the hall, and she and Eddie crossed out of the room. That familiar lemon scent reached Truman as the agents passed him. A spot of sunshine in the gloomy home.
No way is that Agent Peterson’s scent.
The two agents stared at the broken bathroom mirror for several seconds. “Are there any more?” Mercy asked, her green gaze meeting his.
“That’s the only bathroom. I haven’t found any other small mirrors.”
“This is different too,” Eddie added. “It’s barely cracked. The other mirrors were destroyed.”
Mercy stared at the mirror. “Is it because he was interrupted? Or his heart wasn’t in it? What if it’s been cracked for decades?”
“Could someone else have done it?” Truman finally asked what he’d been thinking since he first walked the scene. “Do we have a copycat? Nothing is quite what we expected.”
Mercy and Eddie exchanged a glance. Both gave small shrugs. They appeared as stumped as he was.
“We’ll treat it as being connected,” said Eddie. “But we can’t rule out that any of these crimes were done by more than one person.”
“Is the sister still here?” Mercy asked.
“I think so. One of the county deputies was walking the property outside with her, looking for anything missing or odd.” He led the agents out of the house and paused on the front porch, looking for Jane Beebe.
“What a bunch of junk,” Eddie said, looking over the sea of vehicles. “I understand liking to tinker with cars and even collecting cars, but this is hoarding. Just like inside. These cars are a bunch of crap. Probably a half-dozen environmental laws are being broken too.”
Truman silently agreed. Most of the vehicles were covered in rust. Windshields and wheels missing.
“Another man’s treasure,” said Mercy.
“He’s lucky he doesn’t have close neighbors and that the vehicles aren’t visible from the road,” Eddie added. “I don’t envy the people who have to clean this up.”
“Maybe they’ll find a trunk full of gold,” suggested Mercy.
“Good luck,” said her partner.
“That’s Jane,” said Truman, spotting the woman and a deputy as they came through a gate to the back of the property. The woman was tall and slender, and she moved with an effortless confidence even though the knees of her jeans were dark with blood. She spotted the group watching her and moved their way.
“What have you found out?” Her voice was as confident as her posture. Her gaze swept over the FBI agents.
Truman made introductions.
“I’m very sorry for your loss,” Mercy said as she shook the older woman’s hand. “I understand you don’t come out to the property that often?”
Truman couldn’t help but compare the two women as they stood face-to-face on the porch. Both were tall, with stubborn chins and a very direct manner. Jane seemed to recognize a kindred soul in Agent Kilpatrick and directed her words to her.
“That’s correct. Anders was getting up there in years and took decent care of himself. I don’t think he ate or bathed as often as he should, but he didn’t like me coming around and nagging him . . . as he put it. So I kept my visits to a minimum. He wasn’t a very social old coot.”
Truman agreed. His encounters with Anders Beebe had been full of suspicion on the old man’s part. He’d spent most of his time with the police chief arguing random bits of law in a way that made Truman’s head hurt.
“Was Anders having problems with anyone? Had he argued with a neighbor?” Eddie asked.
Jane stared at him. “A neighbor? Isn’t this clearly the work of the same murderer as those other three preppers in the last few weeks? Why are you asking about neighbors when you should be looking for who killed those other men?”
Truman hid a grin. Jane wasn’t a pushover.
Eddie backpedaled. “We’re doing that. But we always ask in case this isn’t what it appears to be at first glance. If you told me a neighbor had come over with a rifle and threatened Anders yesterday, we’d follow that lead first, no matter how similar it was to the other crimes.” His smile looked forced.
“No fights that I’ve heard of.” Jane sniffed. “Anders would need to leave the house to make enemies. He didn’t leave very often. He liked being alone.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” added Mercy. “Did you notice anything missing from the property during your walk with the deputy?”
Jane sighed. “I noticed that my brother was letting things rot to shit.”
Mercy smiled at the woman’s language. “That doesn’t sound like someone who strives to be prepared.”
“He was a damned prepper. No need to use soft language around me.” Jane gestured at the acre of cars. “He was also a hoarder and believed in every conspiracy theory under the sun. A glorious trifecta. Thank the Lord he wasn’t on social media. It would have filled his mind with a million other theories. He was convinced his cancer came from his smallpox vaccination because the government worried the country was getting too crowded and that was a good way to thin it out.”
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