Has he been living in Eagle’s Nest all this time and managed to avoid me?

Or has he just now come back?

Her fingers caught on the edge of the peeling wallpaper and she yanked in frustration, appreciating the sound of the tear. No nails.

A board creaked, and she froze.

He’s back.

The sound came from below, as if she was on a second level in the home. Or it could have come from a basement.

Do I yell? Let him know I’m conscious? Is it better to be silent? Her indecision sent sweat dripping down the center of her back. What if it’s not him?

Another creak came from below.

“Help me.” She coughed, surprised by her weak voice and the rawness of her throat. He nearly choked me. “Help me!” The second time she sounded like a sick kitten.

Steps sounded. Fast steps.

“Help me!” she squawked, her mouth pressed against the door frame. “Noooo!” she screeched as the steps grew fainter. Someone was running away.

She slid down the wall to the floor.

Maybe he’s going to get help.

He’ll call the police. Mercy must know by now that I’m missing.

Please hurry.

THIRTY-FOUR

Later that evening Truman stepped out on the front porch of the Kilpatrick home and sucked in a deep breath. The tension in the house made him crave a shot of hard alcohol. Or five. Mercy’s siblings had arrived over the afternoon. All in various stages of grief and panic over Rose’s abduction. Truman had offered comfort when needed, but mostly he’d stood back and observed the interactions between Mercy and her family.

Firmly on the pro-Mercy team were Levi and her mother. Against Mercy were Owen and her father. Pearl floated between the two camps, and Truman understood. She didn’t want to pick a side; she wanted to keep everyone happy.

A peacemaker.

Two Bend FBI agents, along with Eddie, were working with Deschutes County on the investigation. Mercy had been firmly set aside from the investigation because of her relation to the victim, and she resented it. She alternated between looking ready to wilt and looking ready to plant her foot in someone’s ass. Truman knew she understood, but he’d worried she’d throw the potato salad at Sheriff Ward Rhodes after he patted her shoulder.

Food was everywhere.

Royce was posted out front of the Kilpatrick home to keep the parade of well-intentioned neighbors at a distance. Every ten minutes he brought a casserole or dessert to the front door. Pearl would take the offering and add it to the food already on the kitchen table. She paced between her parents and the kitchen, refilling drinks, getting more spoons, and making countless pots of coffee.

It was a vigil, waiting for the phone to ring.

The FBI agents questioned Deborah and Karl Kilpatrick for well over an hour. Then they talked to Mercy and brought in David Aguirre to question him about Rose’s trip to the Bevins ranch. Truman had watched Mercy carefully, waiting to see if she’d tell about her attack fifteen years ago. She’d stayed quiet. He noticed how Levi had casually leaned against the wall, listening to Mercy’s interview, his gaze sharply on her face.

He’s wondering too.

Guilt flooded Truman. Mercy’s story floated through his head for the hundredth time. He still couldn’t see a benefit to sharing her story: A second person at an attack fifteen years ago. The witness who heard his voice is missing.

What could police do with that information?

Truman couldn’t see any leads. But if something suddenly came up so that the information was pertinent, he was going to twist Mercy’s arm until she told.

What if we could get a lead from the body Levi hid?

Who knew how many months that could take? And a fifteen-year-old corpse wouldn’t point to where Rose Kilpatrick was right now.

Or would it?

Indecision made his stomach hurt. But he was following Mercy’s lead on this one. She would know if her story could help the investigation. Judging by the strain on her face, she’d thought about nothing else. When he couldn’t watch anymore, he’d gone outside.

Royce came up the porch steps with a basket. The odor of fresh cinnamon rolls reached Truman’s nose.

“Take a break,” he told Royce. “Get something to eat. I’ll watch out front.”

“I’m stuffed,” Royce muttered. “Seems wrong to be eating at this time.”

“Then go for a walk.”

The officer nodded and took the newest offering inside. Truman walked out to Royce’s vehicle, which blocked the Kilpatricks’ drive, and leaned against the driver’s door, watching down the lane. The sun had set a few minutes ago, but the sky was still light. He stared up at the darkening sky and asked again for Rose to be released.

Headlights came up the Kilpatricks’ drive. Truman straightened as the car pulled closer and parked. He recognized the young woman at the wheel but couldn’t remember her name. One of the back windows rolled down, and he spotted two young boys in car seats. The mom stepped out of the vehicle, a covered dish in her hand.

“Evening, Rachel,” Truman said as her name miraculously popped into his head.

“Any word, Chief?” she asked as she handed him the warm dish.

“No.”

She glanced back at her boys. “Both my kids are in her preschool class. They absolutely love Miss Rose.”

“Do they know?” Truman asked quietly. How do you explain this to a four-year-old?

Rachel shook her head, tears filling her eyes. “I can’t tell them, and I really don’t know how I’ll handle it . . . if . . .”

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