She smiled at his description, and the air of tension around the chief thinned.

“I suspect he’s sitting in heaven all proud that he fought until the end but still pissed that they got the best of him,” Truman added.

“He sounds like a real character,” said Mercy.

“You’ll find this county is packed with characters. I’ve never experienced such a diverse crowd of people in such a small population.”

“Let’s look at the kitchen,” suggested Eddie. The three of them walked single file back down the narrow hall to the kitchen at the rear of the home.

Mercy spotted dishes in the sink and some blood spattered on the floor and lower cupboards. “He pulled the knife out of that block on the counter?”

“Yes.”

She circled the room carefully. “No bullet holes out here?”

“No,” said Truman. “They’re all in the bathroom area.”

“Forced entry?” she asked.

“No signs.”

“Is the blood in here your uncle’s or more mystery blood?” asked Eddie.

“Both.”

“So someone in the kitchen made your uncle start swinging the knife around? That must have been quite the conversation,” said Mercy.

“I imagine it was pretty heated, considering the way it ended,” Truman said dryly. He didn’t look offended, and Mercy was pleased the chief didn’t mind a little banter in the face of a raw situation. Humor was an easy coping tool, and cops used it regularly. There was no disrespect, just investigators trying to protect their hearts from horrible sights left by the underbelly of humanity.

“Why is the FBI suddenly interested in my uncle’s murder?” Truman asked in a low voice. “It’s the missing weapons, isn’t it? I know Ned Fahey lived in an armed fortress out in West Bumfuck. Are his weapons gone too?”

Eddie met Mercy’s gaze and gave a brief shrug with one shoulder.

“Ned Fahey has a history of antigovernment actions,” said Mercy. “That and the combination of a lot of missing weapons got the attention of our domestic terrorism department.”

“Ned wasn’t a terrorist,” stated Truman, anger growing in his gaze. “He was an opinionated old man whose knees gave him debilitating pain every time the weather changed. He wasn’t the type to blow up federal buildings.”

“How long have you been in Eagle’s Nest?” asked Mercy quietly.

“Six months.” Truman raised his chin. “But I spent three high school summers right here in this house. I know how this community functions.”

Mercy’s heart stopped for a brief second. If he’d recognized her, he hadn’t said so. She had no recollection of Jefferson Biggs’s nephew visiting during the summers. Truman Daly appeared to be a few years older than she . . . probably the age of one of her siblings, so no doubt she would have been beneath his notice.

“As a summer visitor, you’d still be an outsider,” she stated. “The town would welcome you, but you wouldn’t be privy to their secrets. You’d only see what they wanted you to see.”

His brown gaze narrowed on hers. “You think so?” His tone implied she had no idea what she was talking about.

She shrugged. “I grew up in a small town. I know the mentality. It takes a couple of decades and lots of family roots to be allowed into the inner circles.”

An odd look flashed across his face, telling her she’d struck a nerve, and she suspected the six-month-old police chief had encountered plenty of barriers to the acceptance he wanted from the town.

“They’ll trust you eventually,” she added encouragingly. “It simply takes time.”

“Give me a big city any day,” chimed in Eddie. “If you keep your eyes on the sidewalk then everyone gets along just fine.”

Truman didn’t reply, and Mercy knew she’d exposed a truth he’d been trying to deny. The police chief had a lot going for him, she admitted. He was direct, had a trustworthy face, and wore his cowboy hat like he’d been born to it. All three were positives in Eagle’s Nest. She didn’t see a wedding ring, so no doubt he’d shot to the top of the town’s available bachelor list. His short, dark hair and brown gaze made him easy on the eyes. Local girls were always looking for a good-looking guy with a solid job.

“Basically, large amounts of weapons have been missing from all three recent deaths.” Eddie brought them back to Truman’s original question.

“You think one person is stockpiling?” the chief asked.

“We don’t know,” said Mercy. “We’re here to find out why. Were these men murdered for their weapons? Or did someone get lucky three times in a row?”

“I’d think it’d take more than missing weapons for the FBI to send extra agents,” commented Truman. “Surely the agents out of Bend could have handled this. What aren’t you telling me? It’s aliens, isn’t it? You’re the real Mulder and Scully.”

Mercy wished it were the first time she’d heard the joke.

“Trust that we want to get to the bottom of your uncle’s death as much as you do,” said Eddie in a firm voice.

Truman gave him a look that could have melted steel.

“Since you know someone was stabbed or sliced by your uncle’s knife, I assume no one was spotted with a fresh injury in the days after Jefferson’s murder?” Mercy asked, distracting the police chief before he ripped Eddie’s glasses from his face for patronizing him.

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