“I don’t think so. There’s no coffee in the pot. She always makes coffee.”
Kaylie didn’t sound concerned. “She probably slept at the cabin. She does that sometimes. I assume you tried to call her?”
“Cell service out there is spotty. Drives me crazy,” she said with teenage disgust.
“Tell her to call me if you hear from her.”
Truman stared at his unanswered texts. I have to go out there.
Mercy’s cabin was her lifeline. Her center. Her balance. An upbringing in a family of preppers had left her with a soul-deep need to always be prepared in case of TEOTWAWKI. The end of the world as we know it. Truman understood the logic behind having a supply of water and rations in case of an emergency, but Mercy took it to a whole other level. She could live at her cabin indefinitely if the world drastically changed. Truman admired her dedication and didn’t say a word when she spent hours chopping wood in the middle of the night or combed antique stores searching for old tools to replace electric or gas-powered ones.
She could have sliced an artery with her ax.
“Shit.” He turned around, crammed his hat back on, and marched out to the reception area. “Lucas? I’m heading out. Call me if you need me.”
“Hey, wait. This just came in. Elsie Jenkins can’t get off her property because the highway snowplow left a huge pile at the end of her drive.”
Truman pictured her rural farmhouse. “We only got six inches.”
“Yeah, she said somehow the plows left all the snow to kingdom come blocking her drive. Her words, not mine.”
“She’s been stuck there for three days?”
“She waited to see if it’d melt down. But now she’s low on Scotch and Triscuits. Again, her words.”
Her old farm was in the general direction of Mercy’s cabin. “I’m on it. Tell her I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
“Got a good snow shovel?” Lucas asked.
On his drive to Elsie’s, Truman called the highway department and informed them their plows had trapped a senior citizen on her property. He threw in that she was running low on prescriptions. A small exaggeration.
The young woman on the other end of the call promised to send a plow over as soon as possible. Truman knew that could be hours from now and mentally prepared to do some shoveling. At least the sun was shining.
Thirty minutes later he was cursing the sun, which had compacted the fluffy snow into a dense, heavy sludge pile. Over and over he thrust the snow shovel into the giant pile. He’d hoped the shoveling would get Mercy off his brain, but it did the opposite. His mind wandered, and he hoped she was all right.
And he remembered the assortment of flyers on her kitchen counter two nights earlier. She’d been changing in the bedroom as he casually picked one up. And his heart had stopped. They were flyers for homes for sale. He’d quickly scanned the half dozen different papers. She hasn’t said a word to me. He’d known her apartment was temporary, but he’d always assumed that at some point she’d move in with him . . . or that they’d look for a place together. In his future plans, Mercy was living with him.
Apparently she didn’t share that vision.
He gave his shovel an extra-hard thrust, pushing the snow and his thoughts aside. Elsie was right about the crazy amount of snow. Truman directed his cursing to the unknown highway department driver who hadn’t noticed her long driveway. His back had started to twinge when he finally heard the rumble of the plow.
He backed out of the way and watched as the plow effortlessly cleared what would have taken him three hours. The driver gave him a thumbs-up and went on his way. Truman eyed the results and spent another two minutes clearing the small berm left behind.
He climbed in his SUV and called Lucas. “Call Elsie and tell her she’s all clear.”
“Wow. You shoveled that fast. Was it small?”
“It was huge, but I used a really good shovel.”
“Any other calls?” Truman asked hopefully. If Mercy couldn’t reach him for some reason, he knew she’d leave a message with Lucas.
“None. All quiet. Ben went on a doughnut run.”
“Save me the apple fritter.” He ended the call, started his vehicle, and headed to Mercy’s cabin.
Forty minutes later he spotted a Deschutes County SUV parked along the main road a few miles before the turn to Mercy’s property.
“Oh shit.” He scanned for Mercy’s Tahoe, wondering if she’d run off the road.
He pulled alongside the county vehicle and lowered his window.
“Morning, Chief. You’re a long way from home,” said the deputy waiting in the vehicle.
The deputy looked faintly familiar. “Everything okay?” Truman’s insides clenched in a knot.
“A suspicious death.” The deputy jerked his head at the woods. “I’m on guard duty.”
Nausea rose into Truman’s throat as he spotted a narrow road that wound through the tall pines. He’d never noticed it before. No signs or markers indicated the turnoff.
“Who’s the victim?” he asked through clenched teeth as sweat broke out under his arms.
“Senior citizen. Female. Scene is in her home back there.”
Instant relief left a throbbing ache in Truman’s head.
“Pretty crazy situation. No phone service or vehicles present,” continued the deputy. “Her ten-year-old granddaughter flagged down a passing vehicle in the middle of the night.”
“Let me guess. An FBI agent was driving that vehicle.”
Surprise filled the deputy’s face. “You already heard?”
“Lucky guess.” Truman blew out a huge breath. “Is the agent still here?”
“Yeah, she is.”
Mercy sat next to Morrigan on the bench, the child’s tiny hand clenching hers.
In the morning light, Mercy saw the girl was much thinner than her first impression. She didn’t look malnourished, she looked wiry. Childish energy radiated from her, and she frequently squirmed on the hard seat. Detective Bolton had suggested they conduct the interview indoors, but Mercy had argued for the fresh air. And distance from Morrigan’s grandmother’s body. Now they were outside, the detective sitting across from them on a low stool he’d found in the house. He introduced himself and explained who Mercy was.
Morrigan drew back slightly and studied Mercy from head to toe. “You’re a government agent?”
There was a touch of scorn in her voice, and Mercy wondered what antigovernment stories Morrigan had grown up with. They weren’t uncommon out here.
“I’m an investigator for the United States,” she simplified. “Just as Detective Bolton works for the people who live in Deschutes County, I work for all the people who live in the United States. Including your grandmother and you.” She smiled, hoping to set the girl’s suspicious mind at ease.
A small crease appeared between her brows, and after a moment her shoulders sank in acceptance. “I guess it’s okay if I talk to you. You tried to help my grandmother.” She blinked rapidly.
“I did. I wish I could have saved her.” Who told her not to talk to government agents?
“There was a lot of blood,” Morrigan said slowly. “I don’t think anyone could have helped her.”
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