“Yes and yes,” Truman said. “I was—”

The door flung open again and Lucas stepped in with a cardboard coffee tray and three covered cups. “Here you go, boss.”

Reading the sides of the cups, Truman handed one to a surprised Mercy and took one for himself. “Thank you, Lucas.”

“Thanks.” Mercy took a sip and raised her eyebrows as her eyes widened.

“Is that right?” Truman asked. He’d sent Lucas to get her an Americano with heavy cream. Caffeine was a cure-all for him, and he’d taken a chance it’d help her too.

“It is. I was expecting black coffee.”

“That’s in my cup.”

“Thank you.” Her cheeks pinked as she lowered her gaze and took another sip.

Score.

Little things. His mom and sister had always appreciated the little things. His dad had taught him how to listen for them, and it’d never let him down.

Just what am I trying to achieve?

He didn’t want to admit his answer.

Mercy studied the profile of the police chief as he drove toward Bend.

It’s just a cup of coffee.

But how many times has Eddie bought me coffee? He always grabs me a regular black cup of coffee.

It means nothing.

It meant he was observant. A fact she was already aware of, and a trait that made her nervous. Around Truman Daly she consistently felt slightly exposed, as if he could see she was simply a small-town girl pretending to be an FBI agent. In four days he’d learned more about her than anyone she’d worked with in the last five years.

She didn’t like it.

Or do I?

The intensity of his focus on her after her brother’s call had unnerved her. She’d expected him to say she’d lied about the conversation. And she probably would have confessed the truth. Her protective shield had been painfully thin at that moment, and her secrets had felt like soda in a shaken bottle. Ready to explode when someone twisted the cap.

Truman appeared to be a good cap twister.

He made light conversation as they drove to Bend, relaying his phone call with Ben Cooley. Mercy listened and tried to remember the old cop from her years in town. She couldn’t do it. She also couldn’t put a face to his daughter, Teresa Cooley, whom Pearl had talked about.

“Did you ask him if his daughter had a problem with Jennifer Sanders?” Mercy asked.

“I didn’t. I’ll bring it up next time in person.”

“It could have sounded accusatory on the phone.”

“I thought so.” He glanced over at her, his eyes hidden in the dark. “The caffeine help? You looked ready for sleep after our find at the lookout today.”

“I was. Bed had crossed my mind at one point.”

“Not sleeping well?”

“I stay up later than I should.” Her nighttime activities were taking a toll. She should cut back.

“That’s easy enough to fix.”

“You’d think so,” agreed Mercy. “I should be more disciplined.”

Even though it was dark, she felt the disbelief in his look. “I have a hard time believing you’re not disciplined, Special Agent Kilpatrick.”

“What do you know about Jennifer Sanders’s parents?” She changed the subject.

“Nothing. I know they’re in their sixties and agreed to meet with us.”

“Should be interesting. Fifteen years since their daughter was murdered and no results.”

“I hope we can find some answers for them,” Truman said quietly. “Parents shouldn’t have to suffer like that.”

Mercy agreed.

John and Arleen Sanders appeared to be in their eighties, not sixties.

Mercy’s heart cracked at the permanent pain in Arleen’s eyes. Jennifer had been their only child.

“I used to call the police department every few months to find out if anything new had been discovered,” said Arleen. “I finally stopped. I would be depressed for days after each call.” John patted her limp hand.

Now you’re permanently depressed.

The couple lived in a small condo in a retirement village. Mercy had spotted the wing for advanced care across the greenway between the buildings. She believed the constant visual reminder of a possible difficult future would be depressing. She suspected it was supposed to be comforting to see you wouldn’t move far if you could no longer live alone. No one believed in planning ahead more than Mercy, but seeing that wing every day wouldn’t work for her.

I’d rather have a heart attack while chopping wood.

Arleen was dreadfully thin and frail. Her hair was like a wispy dandelion going to seed. John appeared sturdier, but the tissues around his eyes were red, and age spots dotted his bare scalp. The hope in his gaze as he’d answered the door had driven a spike through Mercy’s chest.

She wished she had good news for them.

Arleen had stared curiously at her as they made introductions. “You’re one of the Kilpatrick girls.”

“Yes.”

“Pearl was good friends with our Jennifer. You look a lot like your mother did at your age.”

“Pearl still speaks highly of Jennifer,” Mercy answered, uncertain how to address the comment about her mother.

Truman took charge of the interview and Mercy was grateful. He was tactful and caring and sounded dedicated to helping the couple. Both parents hung on his every word. He was sincere, impressing Mercy. He wasn’t a slick salesman. Truman was exactly what he’d told her he wanted to be: a guy in a position to help people.

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