“I know you’ve been up a long time, but I want to hear the details again while they’re still fresh in your mind.”
She understood. “No one has reached Morrigan’s mother?”
“Not yet. The phone number she gave us goes straight to a full voice-mail box.”
“Did Morrigan say where she is?”
“She told us she went to town. When I asked how long ago she left, she said she didn’t know. It could be a week or a day.”
Mercy frowned. “When is child services getting here?” she asked.
The detective scowled. “We’re working on it.”
“Then I have plenty of time to talk, because I’m not going anywhere until Morrigan is taken care of. How long until the ME arrives?”
He raised both brows. “Within the hour. I thought I would be the one asking questions.”
“Where do you want to do this?” Mercy glanced around at the crowded living area. Now that some daylight was coming in the windows, she saw the room was very clean, but the furniture upholstery was patched and the scattered rugs were worn down to the backing in several areas. The cabinets in the kitchen were missing several doors, but the dishes were in perfect even stacks on the shelves.
“Let’s step outside,” he suggested.
The two of them moved out of the cramped house, and Mercy sucked in a deep breath of icy air. Looking up, she saw the snow-frosted pines against a clear blue sky. It must be less than twenty degrees. Three days earlier the area had been hit with a snowstorm that had rapidly dumped six inches of white fluff. Since then every day had been gloriously clear but bone-chillingly cold. Typical for a Central Oregon winter.
She loved it.
Pulling her gloves out of the pockets of her heavy jacket, she led the detective to a small wooden bench and brushed off the snow. She wore thermal pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and snow boots from her vehicle’s ever-ready stash. She sat, thankful for her thick pants, and he followed suit, removing a small recorder from his pocket along with a tiny notebook. The detective’s blue coat nearly matched the sky. An oddly cheery note in the somber morning. Mercy was in black from head to toe, her usual attire.
“You said you’d been driving back to town from your cabin,” Detective Bolton began. “Where exactly is it?”
Mercy gave him her address. “I’d driven about ten minutes before I saw Morrigan. So not too far.”
“Do you often drive around at three in the morning?”
He held his pencil over his pad, looking at her expectantly. “Why?”
“I don’t sleep much. Coming out here relaxes me.”
“You live in Bend,” he stated. “It must take you a long time to get here.”
“It can. Depends on the road conditions.” She wasn’t in the mood to volunteer additional information about her nighttime habits.
“How long have you been with the Bend FBI office?”
“I started last fall. Before that I was at the Portland office for several years.”
“And you’ve never seen Morrigan or Olivia before today?”
“That’s correct. It’s easy to blend into the forest out here. A person could be fifty feet away and you’d never know.”
“That must be why you own a place here.”
Mercy tensed, watching him, but she saw only idle curiosity in his eyes. “I like my privacy. It’s nice to get out of the city.”
He nodded. “Can you tell me again what happened after Morrigan stopped your vehicle?”
She knew she would tell the exact same story multiple times. A woman had been murdered, and she was a key witness. Mercy briefly closed her eyes and recited what she remembered.
Detective Bolton listened and made notes. “You couldn’t make out any words or names in her chanting?”
“I couldn’t. I’ve thought back over it several times, and I can’t even guess the language. Morrigan said they were spells, and that she couldn’t understand them.”
The detective looked up from his pad, surprise in his eyes. “That’s a new one. I want to talk to Morrigan, but I don’t want to question her without a relative or CPS present.” He looked at his watch. “CPS couldn’t tell me when someone would get here, and I hate to let much time pass. She’s young. Her story might change.” Frustration crossed the detective’s face.
“I can sit in,” said Mercy. “I believe she trusts me, and considering the gravity of the situation, I think I qualify as an acceptable advocate.”
The detective gave her a measuring look, weighing his options.
“Detective?” A deputy stood in the open door to the house. “I think you should take a look at this.”
Detective Bolton immediately stood, shoved his notepad and recorder in his pocket, and strode to the house.
As they moved down the narrow hallway, Detective Bolton glanced over his shoulder at Mercy. She met his gaze head-on.
I know this is your investigation. But I’m coming anyway.
The deputy led them to an open door near the back of the house and then stepped aside. “We didn’t know this room was here until a minute ago. The door was made to blend in with the hallway’s wood paneling. I noticed a slight gap at the bottom where the paneling didn’t quite line up with the carpet and gave the wall a push. I’ve never found a secret room before.” Excitement danced in his eyes.
“Nice job.” Bolton slapped him on the shoulder.
“It’s tight in there,” the deputy warned them. Bolton stepped through the doorway and halted. Mercy looked over his shoulder, thankful for her above-average height, and caught her breath. The windowless room had a rough wood counter on one side, with open shelves filling the wall above. On the opposite wall were knives. Hundreds of them. Their blades stuck to a dozen magnetic strips that went the length of the room.
“Someone is a collector,” muttered Bolton.
Mercy silently agreed, her gaze scanning knife after knife. “This is incredible.” Knives the size of her pinkie, knives as long as her arm, military-grade knives, knives that looked forged by hand, elaborate carved handles of wood, metal, and ivory, etched blades and curved blades. She looked for blank spots in the collection, wondering if the murder weapon had been removed from the wall. As far as she could tell, all were present. Would anyone know if one was missing?
“No murder weapon has been found yet, right?” she asked.
“No,” said the deputy.
There was barely enough room between the counter and knife wall for two people to stand, but she and Bolton crowded into the space.
“Check out the jars,” suggested the deputy.
Dozens of glass jars of all sizes filled the open shelves in perfect rows. Looking closer, Mercy saw powders, dried leaves, and rather crispy-looking dried bugs. She wrinkled her nose and leaned closer, spying a jar full of tiny translucent scorpions. None of the mismatched bottles were labeled. Mercy could recognize most fresh herbs, but the dried ones were difficult to her unpracticed eye. She couldn’t guess the names of the powders. Rough yellow grains, fine white dust, chunky brown crumbs, fine gray grit. Jar after jar after jar.
This was no ordinary spice cabinet.
The counter was spotless and extremely neat. A canister held a variety of kitchen utensils, and she noticed four different mortar-and-pestle sets along with two perfectly folded piles of clean rags. Precise stacks of glass bowls and small glasses. Mercy remembered the neatness of the open cabinets in the kitchen. Was Olivia the organizer or Morrigan’s mom?
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