“This is Mercy Kilpatrick, Gabriel. We go back a long way.”
Why didn’t he identify me as an agent?
“Nice to meet you,” Gabriel held out a hand and Mercy shook it, echoing his statement. “You drove out here in these conditions?”
“It wasn’t too bad,” she said. “How long are you visiting Christian?”
“I haven’t decided. With the passes closed, there’s no point in trying to get home to Portland.”
Mercy fished a business card out of the pocket of her coat. Handing it to him, she said, “I’m with the Bend FBI office.”
His fingers automatically took her card but he stiffened; surprise filled his face but was quickly replaced with irritation. “No comment.”
“I’m not the press,” Mercy pointed out. “I’m here because your father was murdered. It’s standard operating procedure to interview family. You’ve been avoiding us.”
“Call my lawyer.” He shot an annoyed look at Christian and turned to leave.
“Gabriel,” Christian snapped. “What the hell is keeping you from helping the police?”
His brother stopped under the glorious rugged rock arch that separated the kitchen from a back hallway. “I know how the standard operating procedure works. Every family member is regarded as a suspect until they’re cleared. I don’t need to be treated that way.”
“Then clear yourself! You’re prolonging the inevitable. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“How about you answer only the questions you’re comfortable with?” Mercy suggested, desperate not to let the older brother slip away. “We’re trying to get a picture of your father’s last days.”
Gabriel stood silent, his gaze darting between her and Christian.
“She doesn’t bite,” Christian added.
“I’ll give you twenty minutes,” stated Gabriel, looking at his watch for emphasis.
“Are you going somewhere?” Mercy couldn’t contain the retort.
“Make that fifteen minutes.”
“Let’s sit down,” Christian suggested and pulled out a bar stool at the island for Mercy.
She sat and pulled out a small notebook. Gabriel slowly took a seat, giving her his attention.
My, won’t this be fun.
Truman opened the door to Eagle’s Nest’s tiny library, noting someone had already cleared snow from the steps and several yards of walkway and then spread salt. The smell of old books, dust, and a touch of mildew reached his nose. Fluorescent lighting, ancient tables with hard chairs, and shelves and shelves of books greeted him. He was definitely in a library.
“Ruth?” He spoke loudly. “It’s Truman.” No one answered.
He moved to the tall counter where the librarian processed checkouts. The counter was the sole piece of luxury in the bare-bones library. It had originally been a welcome desk in a fancy hotel that had been torn down in the 1950s. After being found in someone’s garage four decades earlier, it’d been transferred to the library, where it’d stood like a silent sentry ever since. It was solid oak and elaborately decorated with hand-carved nature scenes that must have taken master craftsmen months to create. It easily weighed a thousand pounds.
Ruth Schultz appeared from a doorway behind the counter. “Truman! Good to see you. Ina gives me reports on you as if you were a favored grandson.”
If Truman were to look up librarian in a dictionary, there would be a picture of Ruth Schultz. She looked as if a Hollywood studio had outfitted her to play a cranky librarian. Gray hair in a bun. Reading glasses on a chain around her neck. Cardigan, slacks, dull shoes. But she was one of the kindest women he’d ever met. Constantly in motion, full of chatty conversation, and a fountain of knowledge on any random subject.
“I’m surprised you’re open today,” Truman said after her hug. “Two-thirds of the businesses are closed on account of the snow.”
Ruth dismissed the idea with a wave of her hand. “Of course I’m open. The city pays me to be available, so I’m going to be here. A little snow won’t stop me.”
“Did you clear the steps?”
“First thing when I got here. We get a lot of older patrons. I can’t have someone slipping and breaking a hip.” Her pale-blue eyes twinkled. “It’d be hard to get them to the hospital today.”
“Next time call the station. I’ll send Lucas or Royce to take care of your snow.”
“Now aren’t you polite.” She nodded in approval and leaned forward to whisper, “How about sending Ben Cooley? I haven’t chatted with him in forever.”
Truman knew why she hadn’t seen his senior officer. Ben was terrified of Ruth. Even though he’d been married over fifty years, Ruth still flirted with him as if they were teenagers. He froze and clammed up every time he saw her. A silent Ben Cooley was a wonder to behold.
“I hear you had a problem.” Truman knew it was time to change the subject.
“Absolutely. After I did the steps this morning, I went to shovel off the concrete slab at the back door and discovered the lock was broken. The door was closed, but anyone could open it.”
“I immediately checked my little cash box. It doesn’t hold much. Just enough to make change when someone pays their overdue fees. It hadn’t been touched.” She frowned. “There isn’t much of value in here to steal. Why steal a book when you can just borrow it? Seems like a lot of work to break into a library when you could stroll right in.”
“I know. Your budget,” he admitted. “But I had to ask. Did this happen last night? Or at least sometime after you closed up yesterday?”
“I wasn’t open yesterday. We’re on a reduced schedule and only open three and a half days a week now. Tax cuts, you know,” she said with disdain. “But I know the door was locked when I left the evening before last. It’s part of my closing routine to check it.”
Truman took a slow look around the library. Ruth was right. He didn’t see anything to motivate someone to break open the door. His brain wouldn’t let him ignore the fact that two nights earlier someone had broken into the church. Someone who possibly drove a car similar to Salome Sabin’s. Did she break in here too?
He was jumping to conclusions.
“What about rare books?” he asked.
“I sent them to the county library. They have the facilities to take proper care of them.”
“I wonder if someone was looking for a place to get out of the cold.”
“That was my thought too once I didn’t see anything missing.” She paused. “But there was one unusual thing I noticed . . . but possibly I didn’t take care of it before closing.”
“Two microfiche rolls left out near our machine.” A frown flitted across her face. “I swear I checked that table before we closed.”
“Microfiche? People still use that?” Truman remembered the old system from his high school library. A dated technique of preserving newspapers and magazines on film.
Ruth sniffed. “We don’t have the money to transfer the film records to a digital system. I won’t replace something that isn’t broken.”
“Where is it?”
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