“Make no assumptions.”
He was right.
Eddie’s phone rang. “How come Truman calls me more than you these days?” he asked before taking the call.
Mercy watched with interest as he answered.
“Mercy’s here too,” Eddie said into the phone. “Can I put you on speaker?” He touched the screen of his phone and moved closer to her desk, holding out the phone so she could hear.
“Hey, darling.” Truman’s voice was warm, sending good shivers up her spine. He’d stayed the night with her and left before the sun came up. She’d woken in an empty bed, the scent of him on the pillow next to her.
“I thought this was a business call,” drawled Eddie, giving Mercy a meaningful look.
“It is.” Truman switched to his all-business voice. “David Aguirre reported a break-in at the church last night.”
“Was anything stolen?” asked Mercy.
“He doesn’t think so. He’s still looking. Frankly, I don’t think there’s much worth stealing in there.”
“Then how did he know there was a break-in?”
“Broken window. Open door.”
“Why are you telling us this, Truman?” Eddie asked.
“Because a neighbor reported that they saw a dark-green vehicle at the church around two a.m. And they swear it was driven by a woman with long, dark hair. The description reminded me of Salome Sabin.”
Eddie and Mercy stared at each other. Why would Salome break into a church?
“Did you know Salome took off overnight?” Eddie asked.
Truman’s curse was loud. “Did she take Morrigan?”
“Yes,” Mercy said. “But why would she stop at the church? That sounds like a big risk to take. Did you tell David that the driver might be Salome?”
“No, I kept that to myself. I called Eddie so he could include it in her interview this morning, but I guess that won’t be happening.”
“This makes no sense,” complained Eddie. “Why the church?”
“Oh . . .” Truman started to speak and then stopped.
“What is it?” Mercy asked.
“I talked with David Aguirre yesterday. I was looking for some information on . . . witchcraft.” Embarrassment filled his tone. “David told me Olivia Sabin came to see him several years ago.”
Amused by Truman’s interest in an unusual element of the case, Mercy leaned across her desk, wanting to be closer to the phone. “And?”
“Olivia was worried about Salome. She didn’t like the way her daughter was behaving.”
Ava strode into Mercy’s office. “What’s this about Salome?” She’d adopted the Bend office’s casual dress code, wearing jeans, a thick sweater, and boots.
Although Eddie had described Ava as furious, she projected a perfect image of calm control. Eddie brought Ava up to speed on Truman’s phone call.
Her eyes turned thoughtful as she weighed the new information. “I think it’s time I see the Sabins’ home. I had Deschutes County go check on the house once I found out Salome had split, but no one was there. They’ve watched the home part of the time, but they couldn’t keep someone there nonstop. She might have stopped in before she left.” She studied Mercy. “I want you to come with us. Walk Eddie and me through what happened out there the night of the murder.”
“No problem,” Mercy replied as she swallowed hard, visions of Olivia’s death rushing her thoughts.
Am I ready to return to the place where I watched a woman die?
Mercy drove her Tahoe with Ava in the seat next to her and Eddie in the back. The sun had risen in the southeast against a brilliant blue sky, and Ava couldn’t pull her gaze from the landscape, raving several times about the snow-covered trees and pristine white fields. Unease sat low in Mercy’s stomach, twisting and turning. As they drew closer to the turnoff to the Sabins’ home, she felt as if she’d been called to the principal’s office.
She abruptly realized her anxiety wasn’t from returning to the crime scene. It was from the fact that they were close to her own cabin. Eddie and Ava both knew she owned a cabin, but they didn’t know what she did there. They didn’t know she could live there indefinitely if the nation’s power, water, and food supplies vanished. They didn’t know she spent all her free time stocking supplies and expanding her resources.
Only Kaylie and Truman knew her secret.
Why am I still hiding it?
It wasn’t odd for people in Central Oregon to be prepared. It’d been a bigger deal when she lived in Portland and drove over nearly every weekend to work at her cabin. Back in Portland people rarely had enough groceries to get through a week. Power outages made them huddle in their cold homes, waiting out the temporary inconvenience, confident in the utilities to eventually restore life to normal. Portlanders wouldn’t understand.
If I talked about it, people out here would comprehend.
But discussing her plans went against everything she’d been taught.
Telling people that she was prepared for the end of the world would send them scrambling to her place in case of an emergency. Growing up, she’d been taught to be tight-lipped with her friends, never to discuss her family’s wealth of stores and equipment. Even though her family were known as preppers around Eagle’s Nest, no one knew the extent of their preparations. This was where a hard-to-find location and a solid defense were important. The driveway to her parents’ home was easy to miss; that was on purpose. Weapons skills were taught at an early age to protect their supplies. A plan was always in place.
“We’re sitting in a palace,” her father had said. “But few people know exactly where. You can be certain that when the world goes to hell, they’ll come looking for us. We need to be ready to defend our home. We take care of our own.”
A selfish philosophy.
But a little voice inside her head agreed. She couldn’t feed and protect everyone.
Her father had a small circle of people who subscribed to his beliefs, ready to have one another’s back in time of need. Each person brought a valuable skill to the exclusive community. Midwifery, livestock health, plumbing, electronics, medicine. He didn’t have room or patience for useless people.
Mercy’s knuckles grew white as she gripped the steering wheel. We’re just going to the Sabins’. No one knew where her cabin was.
She spotted the area where she’d nearly hit Morrigan. Her tire tracks were still on the snowy shoulder. She stopped the SUV and pointed. “That’s where Morrigan ran out in the road.” She squinted, peering into the dense forest. “I see our footprints heading toward the home. Without following those, I couldn’t find it on my own.”
Ava and Eddie studied the road and forest. “How far is the house from here?” Ava asked.
“A few minutes straight through the forest or ten minutes by road.”
“Take the road.”
Mercy drove on. That night she’d been headed in the opposite direction, coming from her cabin. Discomfort weighed heavily on Mercy as she continued to drive in the direction of her secret. Even though she watched carefully, she almost missed the turnoff to the Sabin home.
“Wow. I thought you were accidentally driving off the road,” said Ava. “I never would have spotted that turn.”
They spent the next several minutes bouncing along the rutted tracks. She crossed her fingers she wouldn’t meet any other vehicles on the narrow road, because there was little room to pass. The knot of anxiety in her stomach loosened as she drew closer to the Sabin home.
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