“That’s it.”

The little house. The barn and corrals. Mercy looked at the home with fresh eyes, acknowledging some of the smart decisions at the property. The area was well cleared of brush and trees, leaving a good margin between the home and forest in case of fire. She spotted a pump house she hadn’t noticed before and a group of fruit trees close to the forest. Goats bleated from the barn. She knew the county sheriff had fed the animals but wondered how long that would continue. Farm animals took consistent maintenance.

There were no animals at Mercy’s hideaway. She hadn’t bought any because her job could keep her from visiting for several weeks. She had plans for pens and some animal sheds, and her long-term plans included goats and chickens. No pigs. She’d debated buying cows but couldn’t see herself handling the slaughter. Goats made milk and chickens made protein and she could manage them on her own.

Will I be alone?

She knew Truman had spotted her home sale flyers a few nights earlier. He hadn’t asked any questions, and she didn’t know how she felt about that.

Common sense said she needed a bigger place. Emotions said she should include Truman in the decision making. But it’s my house. I have to make my own path. I can’t make decisions based on hopes for our relationship.

She put the dilemma out of her thoughts, refocusing on their visit.

“Peaceful out here,” commented Ava. “I guess this works for people who want to be left alone.”

Exactly.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to tell if Salome has been here,” said Eddie. “Look at all these tire treads.”

“I need to see the scene anyway,” said Ava. “This is definitely different than the site of the judge’s murder. He lived in a house that overlooked the city. Damn thing sits on stilts on the steep slopes along the west side of Portland. Stunning views, but I wouldn’t be able to sleep, terrified the house would slide down the hill or collapse in an earthquake.”

Mercy knew the exact area Ava described. She’d peered up as she drove along the city’s freeways, wondering who dared to live in such precarious settings. The prices had to be in the millions of dollars.

A sharp contrast to the tired home before them.

They exited the vehicle and tramped through the packed snow to the house. Mercy remembered dashing after Morrigan across a yard of untouched snow. Now hundreds of footprints marred the scene.

“We’re good to go in,” Ava said, removing the crime tape crossing the door.

The smell of blood was still strong. Mercy touched her nose, wanting to cover it with her hand. Instead she focused on the details of the home that she’d been too rattled to notice that night. Photos of Morrigan hung in the living room. She stepped closer, a smile hovering at her lips at the sight of the happy child. Beside Morrigan’s pictures was a woven wall hanging of three feminine figures, simple silhouettes showing three generations of females. Small, medium, and large. Scanning the home, Mercy noticed two similar sculptures of a trio of feminine shapes.

Ava noticed the same. “Cute. Three generations of women who live in the same house.”

Eddie cleared his throat. “The feminine trio is a revered symbol in Wicca.”

Mercy and Ava both looked at him. Wicca?

He shrugged his shoulders. “Am I the only one who did the reading? With the constant stories of these women being witches, I did some digging into the subject. Based on the interviews I’ve looked over and what I read in the evidence reports, I suspect they are into Wicca, not witchcraft.”

Ava’s gaze narrowed on him. “What’s the difference?”

Olivia’s death chants whispered in Mercy’s ears.

“Depends who you ask. The lines between the two are blurry. I read a lot of different opinions, but what I primarily gathered is that Wicca is a spiritual practice and focuses on an individual relationship with the divine. There’s a lot of emphasis on the feminine.” He glanced around the house. “Wiccans are big fans of nature. They bring it into their homes and seek harmony with it.” He pointed at several collections of greenery and candles that Mercy had written off as leftover Christmas decor. “Those are pretty fresh and there’s no holiday theme to the candles. It looks like something with a permanent place in the home.”

Mercy silently agreed. “The crafts in the barn also have strong nature elements.”

“So what’s it mean for us?” Ava asked, stepping closer to look at the candles. “There’s a history of visitors seeking magical help, right? Could we be dealing with an angry customer who didn’t get their desired results?”

“A lot of Wiccans don’t cast spells. It’s more about appreciating the gifts of nature.”

“There are spells attached to bags of herbs out in the barn,” Mercy pointed out.

“I suspect they were simply taking advantage of people’s misconceptions. If someone asked if I could help them find love and offered me cash, I’d make something up.” He indicated a worn spot in the rug. “Especially if I needed money.”

“What exactly is the feminine trio thing?” Ava asked.

Eddie rubbed his chin. “I don’t quite remember. Something about a moon goddess who is made up of a crone, a mother, and a maiden.”

Olivia, Salome, and Morrigan. “How much reading did you do?” Mercy was duly impressed.

“Not much. Trust me, I’m no expert.”

“How does it all tie to a judge in Portland?” muttered Ava. She wandered down the hall and halted as she looked through a doorway, her shoulders suddenly tense.

Mercy felt the knot in her gut tighten. I know what’s in there. Ava looked over her shoulder at Mercy, her eyes gentle. “Can you talk me through this?”

Nodding, she joined Ava and tucked her emotions behind a brick wall and recited what she remembered. The blanket that had covered Olivia was gone. So were the pillows. A square of fabric had been cut out of the chair, and a large section of the rug was missing. Black fingerprint dust splotched every surface. Hanging on the wall was another feminine trio silhouette. Mercy looked at it with new understanding and then noticed that candles sat on several surfaces. She wondered if they were for worship, not light.

The three of them stood in silence as Mercy gazed at the blood-soaked chair. I hope your pain is gone, Olivia.

After a few respectful moments, Ava asked to see the room of knives. Mercy led the way.

“Are knives common in Wicca, Eddie?” Mercy asked as she watched Ava’s eyes widen at the huge array of blades.

“I remember some mention of knives, but I don’t think it is a huge element.” He leaned close to study an elaborate handle. “This is an insane collection. The photos didn’t do it justice.”

Ava’s sharp gaze traveled over the shelves of glass jars, her lips pressed in a tight line. “Nothing came back as poisonous so far, but they haven’t checked all the samples. I understand Morrigan was the one who mentioned poison on the blades?”

“That’s correct,” Mercy said.

“I’d like to know where the murder weapon ended up,” Ava said. “And determine if the same blade was used on the judge.”

“Have the medical examiners given an opinion on that?” Mercy asked.

Regret crossed Ava’s face. “All they can say is that it’s inconclusive . . . but that doesn’t rule it out.” She exhaled. “Show me the barn.”

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