Mercy held his gaze. “Possibly.”
Truman held his breath, wondering if she was about to tell the full story of the attacks. “You said Rose heard someone outside the house that night, right? And the two of you managed to scare him off?”
She looked at him. Indecision in her eyes. Would she tell the truth or use the old story she’d told her parents?
“Yes,” she said.
“Shoulda told the police back then,” Rhodes muttered. “Maybe we could have caught who murdered those girls.”
“Wasn’t any of our business,” Karl Kilpatrick snapped at Rhodes. “I didn’t need the police poking around in my home when nothing happened.”
“I bet you want our help now,” Rhodes shot back.
Karl leaped to his feet, sending his chair screeching across the kitchen.
Jeff slammed his hands on the table. “Knock it off! Arguing about what someone didn’t do fifteen years ago isn’t helping. Sit down!” He pointed at Karl. The man glared back but took his seat.
“We’ll find your daughter,” Jeff said in a calm voice to Karl.
Mercy’s father slumped in his chair.
Mercy stared at her father for a few seconds and walked out of the room. Truman followed her out the front door to where she leaned on the rail of the front porch. “It’s warm in there,” she said.
Truman agreed. “Where’s Levi?” he asked.
“He went home. He wanted to be there when Kaylie left for school. I think he’ll come back after that.” She turned her head toward him, a question in her eyes. “How did you know Levi was hiding something?”
“You told him you needed to hear what he had to say when he woke me up this morning. Why?”
Truman sat on the rail next to her. “I watched everyone last night. Pearl. Your dad. Levi. He couldn’t hold still. Which isn’t cause for alarm, but something in his eyes every time he looked at your mother seemed off. He looked crushed . . . but in a guilty sort of way. I chalked it up to the stress of the situation. But when I saw him as he woke you this morning, that was the face of a man with a burden to share.”
“So you didn’t know what he’d done.”
“No. I just knew it could be ugly.”
“I have a hard time believing Craig Rafferty is a killer,” Mercy said. “I’ve known him most my life. He’s friends with my brothers.”
“I don’t know if Levi would call him a friend. Their relationship is based on mutual fear of each other.” What if I hadn’t saved Craig that day at the river? Would those girls have died? Would any of this be happening?
He looked at Mercy beside him. Would I have met her?
He would have. At some point their paths would have crossed—somehow. He knew it as firmly as he’d realized his life had changed the day he gave two FBI agents a tour of his uncle’s home.
Sometimes you meet a person you’re destined to have in your life forever.
She might not know it yet, but he did.
In the middle of murders and mourning one good thing had appeared.
Did you send her to me, Uncle Jefferson?
He’d been angry and depressed since his uncle’s death, but looking back, he saw how it’d turned around when she arrived in town. Every day he woke up and looked forward to seeing her again.
Does she feel the same?
“I can’t just stand around here,” Mercy said, pushing herself off the rail. She started to stride across the porch, as she had paced the night before. “I need to do something.”
“Garrison won’t let you be involved.”
“Then he won’t care if we go for a drive. We can at least look for Craig’s truck. Maybe he went back to the cave at Owlie Lake.”
“The one picked apart by evidence teams?”
She stopped and looked at him, her hands on her hips. “Get me out of here, Truman.”
An hour later Mercy stared out her window, unable to get something Truman had said yesterday out of her mind. They’d driven down every street in Eagle’s Nest, stopped for coffee, and argued over which highway to search next. Truman had won, and they drove, checking every passing truck to see if it was Craig’s Chevy.
“Whose death did you cause?” she kept her voice low, her face to the window, but she saw his reflection stiffen.
“Another cop. I hesitated when I should have acted. And then I made the wrong choice when I did act. A woman—maybe two—died because I hesitated.”
He haltingly told a story of a burning car that made her want to cry.
“I think you made the right decision in a very stressful moment. The fire extinguisher might have put out the fire.”
He didn’t say anything.
“I’m sure you’ve relived it with dozens of different scenarios.”
“Knowing that my lack of action led to someone’s death put me out of commission for a while. I believed I was done with law enforcement. I’d entered the field wanting to help people and I’d done the opposite—”
“Let me get this out.” He kept his eyes on the road. “This job in Eagle’s Nest opened a door that I believed had been slammed firmly shut. Now I pray every day that I make the right decision if that type of situation ever arises again.”
“I’m sorry, Truman,” she whispered. Survivor’s guilt. Doubting his decisions. She understood.
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