He didn’t know.

“Mercy,” he said firmly. “That’s far enough.”

“Coming.”

Relief rocked through him.

It took a lifetime for her to back out of the tunnel. Once her boots were within his reach, he grabbed one firmly. He didn’t pull, but he kept a solid hand on the leather because it calmed his gut. Her calves were covered in fine rock and dust. She awkwardly backed out the rest of the way, her dark ponytail covered with the same debris.

Truman backed up to where he could stand, his heart racing. I’m not letting her do that again.

She twisted around to a sitting position, and triumphantly slid a rifle out of the tunnel. Her eyes gleamed in her dirty face. “There’s got to be fifty weapons in there. All stashed in big garbage bags.”

TWENTY-FIVE

Mercy’s feet had started to ache an hour ago.

Truman, Eddie, several evidence technicians, and SSRA Jeff Garrison and Intelligence Analyst Darby Cowan from the Bend FBI office had converged on the hill behind Owlie Lake, and they’d all been standing around for too many hours. Amazingly, Mercy had been able to call the Bend office from the beautiful, remote location. Jeff Garrison’s excitement over the weapons cache had made her day. She wished she could have been present to see him tell Darby. The FBI analyst’s eyes had glowed as she watched the weapons being removed from the narrow tunnel in the mountain.

More data to mine.

Mercy knew Darby had been up to her neck in weapons research as she tried to make progress on the missing weapons from the prepper murders. According to a quick conversation Mercy had with Jeff, Darby had been supremely frustrated. “She’s been consulting with the ATF, and they’re keeping a close eye on these cases, but they haven’t uncovered any new leads either.” Jeff gave Mercy an admiring smile. “This is the biggest lead yet.”

“Truman’s the one who suggested we investigate the area,” Mercy pointed out.

“But he didn’t know where to look, right?”

“You’re lucky I remembered an old make-out spot.”

Jeff’s brows rose. “Is that what it was? You came here often?”

She snorted. “More like I followed my brothers. They were the ones who got in trouble.”

“I can’t believe you crawled in there.”

Mercy would have done it again. Small spaces didn’t bother her, and she didn’t understand why some people reacted so strongly to them. If you can get in, you can get out, right?

The first two evidence technicians on the scene had refused to enter the tunnel. One woman had dissolved in tears after she gave it a halfhearted attempt. Mercy had offered to retrieve the rest of the weapons, but Jeff Garrison had refused. He wanted an experienced team to process the scene and the removal. They’d waited another hour for a tech who claimed he wasn’t claustrophobic. When the tech finally huffed and puffed his way up the path, Mercy had wondered if the large man would fit in the tunnel, but he’d scooted in with ease.

Mercy didn’t know how evidence could be handled correctly in the tunnel. It was full of rock and dust, and even though the weapons were bagged, they were covered with debris. Whoever had chosen this place to hide them wasn’t a weapons lover. The guns would have slowly become useless.

Her father would have been furious at the improper storage.

Even Mercy was annoyed by it.

Truman joined her and Jeff. He’d been talking with Darby and Eddie, and Mercy had overheard Darby recommend hiking trails and a kayaking site. She’d seen Truman make some notes on his phone as Darby talked. Eddie had appeared politely interested, but Mercy didn’t think his interests extended to kayaking. A big yacht on a smooth lake, maybe.

Getting out on the water sounded good to Mercy. She hadn’t kayaked in years. A smooth bit of river. The damp scent of waterlogged moss. Towering pines. The sound of water over the rocks. Nothing between her and nature but a paddle and the kayak.

Yes, I could do that.

Would Truman be interested?

She yanked her meandering thoughts back to the present. Murder. Guns. Focus.

Truman was looking at her with a puzzled gaze. She glanced at Jeff, who was giving her the same look. “What?” she asked.

“Jeff asked you if you’re sure the cave had deepened since you were last here,” Truman said.

“Absolutely. Before, it could barely keep a few people dry from the rain. Now it’s much bigger.”

“Are you sure it’s the same one?” Jeff asked.

“I checked the area,” said Mercy. “I couldn’t find another.”

“She walked right to this one,” added Truman. “I had no doubt she knew where she was going.”

“We need to figure out when it was deepened,” said Jeff. “Was it done deliberately to hide the weapons? Or did someone stumble on it by chance?”

“The tunnel part felt natural to me,” said Mercy. “Someone got lucky finding that as a hidden storage space. Did anyone check with the Forest Service to ask if they were aware of any blasting in the area?” She knew it was a long shot. It could have happened anytime in the last fifteen years.

“I had Darby call. They have no records of anything like that.”

“Could be as simple as a couple of high school kids fooling around with explosives they’d found,” said Truman. “What about reported injuries from explosives?”

“I could ask Levi,” said Mercy. “He would probably remember if something like that had happened. Word travels fast when someone nearly blows their hand off.”

***

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