Mercy had seen their stores; this compound wasn’t anywhere near prepared. Uncertainty swamped her. “But what about Chad—and Jason? How will they get back if the roads are bad?”
Am I stuck here? Possibly for the rest of the winter?
The ATF needed to know what she’d overheard.
Pete was already walking away. “We’ll figure out something,” he said without concern. He stopped at another table, greeted the men, and joined their conversation.
At least Noah is getting treatment.
“Eden, want to come with me?” Mercy asked the teen. The girl nodded, looking encouraged, and took care of her tray without asking where Mercy was going. “That was good news about Noah,” Mercy added. “He’ll quickly get better in the hospital.”
“I’m so relieved.”
Outdoors, Mercy pulled on her gloves, eyeing the snow. Finding the satellite phone was completely out of the question. Frustration made her want to hit something. She was powerless.
Will innocent people die as a result of their plan?
Eden adjusted her hat and then tucked her hands under the armpits of her thick coat.
“Do you have gloves?” Mercy asked as she pulled up her hood.
“Then our first stop is to requisition some gloves for you.”
Eden made a face. “I doubt they have any left.” They took the broken path through the snow toward the supply depot, their boots crunching in the white fluff.
“I probably should hide while you ask for gloves,” Mercy admitted, not wanting Beckett to deny Eden something simply because Mercy was there.
“Beckett’s a dick.”
One side of Mercy’s mouth rose in a half smile. “You noticed that, did you?”
“Hard to miss. Where did you want to walk after that?” Eden’s cheeks were pink from the cold, and Mercy’s heart did a double beat at the sight. Kaylie’s cheeks flushed the same way.
A craving to see her niece stole her breath. She desperately missed the teenager and wondered if that was why she was so focused on Eden.
“Nowhere,” Mercy said once her lungs returned to normal. “I wanted to roam around a bit. Enjoy the sight of the snow. Maybe go up to the clearing, where the new building is.”
They passed several people heading to breakfast. Nods were exchanged, but no one spoke directly to the two of them. Mercy wondered if that was normal behavior, or if she’d been identified as a troublemaker already.
She didn’t care what they thought. She should care, since Chad had told her not to make waves, but she couldn’t sit by and let shit hit the fan.
“I saw you the first day I was here.” Mercy put the other residents out of her mind and concentrated on Eden. “Vera was giving me a tour, and you were hiding in the women’s cabin. I didn’t say anything to Vera. I figured if you were hiding, there was a good reason.”
Eden’s cheeks grew pinker.
“No one was supposed to be in the cabin,” Eden admitted. “You and Vera surprised me. Cindy was dead asleep before you came in. I never worry about waking her.”
“What were you doing?”
The teen kicked at the snow. “Just looking around.”
Mercy said nothing.
“Vera often has candy,” Eden said after a long silent moment. “No one is supposed to have it in camp, but somehow she gets it.” The girl frowned. “I don’t take it all—just some. I think it’s funny that she can’t report that someone is stealing from her—”
“Because she’ll have to admit she has contraband,” Mercy finished with a grin. “I get it.”
“I share it with the other kids,” Eden quickly added. “They know not to get caught with it, or else there will be no more in the future.”
“How quickly we learn to deceive,” Mercy murmured. “Do you snoop through everyone’s stuff?”
Eden looked away. “There is seriously nothing else to do here. I usually don’t steal—unless it’s something they’re not supposed to have anyway. I’ve never taken more than some candy and beer.”
“No alcohol is allowed either?” Mercy hadn’t heard that rule.
“Right. But the men hide it here and there outside around the camp. I take it just to mess with them.”
Mercy grinned. “I’m liking you more and more.” Her mind shifted into another gear, wondering about Pete’s plan for tomorrow. “Eden, have you ever found something . . .” Mercy searched for a way to say weapons without using the word. “Found something that alarmed you?”
“Oh, I stay out of the men’s cabins.”
Mercy snorted. “Not like that. Maybe something dangerous that the younger kids shouldn’t play with.”
Eden put a hand on Mercy’s arm to stop her. Her blue eyes were amused. “What on earth are you trying to say? I’m not ten. Just ask.”
Mercy knew she’d broken a rule of speaking to teens. Don’t bullshit; they recognize it.
“Have you ever found weapons where you knew there shouldn’t be any?” she blurted.
Eden’s eyes searched hers. “The patrols carry guns. They keep them in the armory.”
“Not like that. A cache of hidden weapons. Ones not being used.”
Two lines formed between Eden’s eyebrows. “I don’t understand.”
Mercy formulated a reasonable lie. “Chad mentioned that someone had said they’d seen a lot of weapons, but he thinks they were lying. I’d hate for the other kids to find something like that.” She fixed an earnest expression on her face.
Eden still looked confused. “No. No one would leave out something like that.”
“But they might have them.”
Annoyance crossed her face. “You want to know if Pete has a bunch of weapons. Just say it.”
She was caught, but she couldn’t stop now.
Mercy sighed. “It makes me sound nosy and suspicious.”
“But what if the guy who told Chad wasn’t lying? Wouldn’t you want to know what was going on? This is supposed to be a safe place.”
“This is a fucked-up place,” Eden spit out. “Who lets Noah nearly die because of made-up principles?”
“I completely agree with you,” Mercy said quietly.
“Then why are you here?” Eden asked, her gaze earnest. “I’m here because my dad made me come—and now he might be unable to come back if the weather doesn’t let up!” Moisture started in her eyes.
Mercy pulled the teen in for a hug. “I’m sorry your family isn’t here.”
“I don’t want to be here!” Eden said, her face pressed into Mercy’s coat. “I hate it here. I don’t know why anyone would choose to come to this stupid camp.”
Temptation to tell the truth hovered like a storm cloud around Mercy. It was a need to comfort the girl and also unload her own burden of secrets to someone, anyone.
She rubbed Eden’s back and analyzed her situation. Again.
Chad was gone for a few days or possibly much longer. She hadn’t made friends who might take her into their confidence and disclose where weapons might be or more about Pete’s plan. All she’d accomplished was to rile up the commander and some of his associates.
And save Noah’s life.
There was nothing for her to do but sit tight and keep her ears open.
Eden pulled back and wiped her eyes. “I need gloves.”
“Yes, you do. And I won’t hide from Beckett.” Mercy lifted her chin. “If I can convince Pete to send Noah to the doctor, I can convince Beckett to part with some gloves.” They continued on to the supply depot.
Someone had shoveled a small clearing in front of the depot’s door. Fresh footprints indicated people had been there recently. Mercy knocked, and Beckett promptly opened the door. His eyes narrowed, and his mouth turned down.
“Eden needs gloves,” Mercy stated, keeping her tone pleasant.
His gaze went to the teen and softened slightly. “Give me a minute. Everybody wants gloves today. Not much left,” he said gruffly. He disappeared into the small building, and Mercy immediately followed, with Eden close behind. Last time he’d shut the door in Mercy’s face. Maybe she was moving up in the world.
The interior reminded her of someone’s overstuffed garage. Crammed shelves lined the walls, and more shelving units full of cardboard boxes filled every available space. Contents were listed on the boxes in childish letters. Sheets, flashlights, boots. Cracked plastic laundry baskets held clothes, and worn denim and chambray showed through the sides. A half dozen of the baskets were labeled as men’s clothing. Only one was labeled as women’s. Mercy looked for a children’s basket and didn’t see one. Nothing was new. Everything was secondhand.
Beckett grabbed a small box off a top shelf. Gloves and hats.
Mercy studied the rest of the supply depot as Beckett and Eden considered the leftover gloves. Eden had found one she was happy with, but it didn’t have a mate.
A corduroy coat tossed on the top of one of the men’s clothing baskets caught her eye.
It looked like Chad’s coat.
Her gaze locked on a red plaid shirt in the next bin, and her pulse stuttered.
That was definitely Chad’s shirt.
He’d been wearing it when he left with Jason yesterday. Beckett and Eden’s glove discussion faded away as Mercy’s vision tunneled on the shirt, and Vera’s words rang in her head. We reuse everything until it falls apart and is beyond repair.
They’d taken his clothes.
They’d known he wasn’t coming back.