“It is. The house is on city power, but it has a few backup systems in case that fails,” answered Truman.

“Good.” Her hood bobbed in a nod. “Were you one of the first responders? Did you see the scene before it was investigated?”

“I found him,” Truman said shortly. “I let myself in when he didn’t show up for coffee.”

Kilpatrick faced him, curiosity in her features. “You had a key?”

He wanted to squirm under her green-eyed scrutiny. “He’s my uncle.”

Sympathy flooded her gaze. “I’m very sorry. How horrible for you. Do you have other family in town?”

Truman felt the invisible walls rise around his heart. They’d been activated numerous times since Uncle Jefferson’s death. “No, we were the only two who lived in Oregon.”

“You didn’t step down from the investigation?” Peterson asked.

“This isn’t the big city. I don’t have access to a stable of investigators. Besides, I wanted to oversee every step, so I knew it was done right.”

Kilpatrick silently studied him for a long second. He held her gaze. She could reprimand him all she wanted; this was his town, and he had the final say.

“Let’s take a look,” she said. “Lead the way and give us a running commentary on what you found.”

Truman gave a stiff nod and led the two outsiders toward the house.

“You don’t have any suspects?” Peterson asked as they avoided several lake-size puddles in the dim light.

“None. I lifted dozens of prints. Ninety-nine percent were my uncle’s or mine. No hits on the others.”

“But his arsenal was emptied,” Kilpatrick stated.

“Yes. Every last weapon.” Last week Truman had discovered that his uncle had registered only two guns in his name. He’d known his uncle owned at least thirty different weapons.

He paused at the door and pulled the keys out of his coat pocket. His copies of his uncle’s keys were on an ancient Pabst Blue Ribbon key chain that Truman had envied during his teen years. He flipped through the keys, slipped one in the lock, and glanced over his shoulder at the agents. “Ready?”

FOUR

Sheriff Rhodes’s words flashed through Mercy’s mind.

He’d called Ned Fahey’s murder site a tea party compared to the Biggs scene.

What are we walking into?

“Nothing’s changed since the day I found him,” warned Truman.

Mercy nodded at the police chief. “We’re ready.” Truman paused a second longer and then shoved open the door, leading the way in.

“Booties?” Eddie asked before stepping over the threshold. He and Mercy had put on vinyl gloves as they walked through the yard.

“We vacuumed up every lick of evidence from the floor. Essentially the scene has been released, but I appreciate your gloves.” He flicked a light switch, and two lamps lit up in the small living room.

“Essentially it’s been released?” Mercy asked.

Pain flashed in the chief’s eyes whenever he mentioned his uncle. “Jefferson left everything to me. It’s my house now, and I’m not going to clean it up until I figure out who did this.”

Mercy imagined the old house gathering dust and cobwebs growing over the crime scene. How long will he wait?

Clearly the nephew was still grieving.

Maybe we should ask for someone else to show us the scene.

But one look at the determined jaw of the chief as he scanned the interior of the home told her he was their best source of information about Jefferson Biggs. She had to move past any concern about his feelings.

The house had a strong scent of a tobacco pipe. A smell Mercy remembered from her childhood. Her grandmother had hated the “stinky pipe” and would send her grandfather outside to smoke, but the odor had always clung to his clothes.

The small living room had one old sofa, two chairs, no TV, and several faded prints of elk on the walls. The dark-brown carpet was heavily matted, and in front of a well-used easy chair the carpet was worn down nearly to the mesh backing. There was no sign of a woman’s touch.

If the victim left everything to his nephew, does that mean he had no children?

She needed to review the Biggs file.

“He was found back here.” Truman turned down a narrow hallway. She and Eddie followed.

A dark, reddish-brown smear zigzagged along one wall and ended in a distinct handprint. Ragged bullet holes surrounded a door frame halfway down the hall. The door was also peppered with holes. Truman pushed it open with one finger and stepped back as he gestured them toward the dark room.

Mercy moved forward and blindly felt around the corner for a light switch in the black space. It was a small bathroom, and the floor was covered with thick, swirling patterns of dried blood. Bullet holes covered the back wall. A few more holes peppered the old linoleum.

It was brutal.

“He took refuge in the bathroom?” Eddie asked behind her.

“Yep. After confronting someone in his kitchen. The blood trail starts out there. I found one of his kitchen knives on the bathroom floor beside him. He was shot eleven times.” The chief’s voice was a monotone. “Someone else’s blood was on the knife, so I know he delivered at least one injury.”

Mercy looked back at him. “Your uncle was a fighter.”

“Absolutely. He didn’t take shit from anyone. I suspect he was very offended that someone was trying to kill him and struck back out of sheer pissed-offedness instead of out of defense.”

***

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