“What do you mean?” asked Bolton.
“There’s a room at the far end that I assumed was for supplies, but it’s packed full of . . . stuff. It looks like a miniature village in there. There’s another workbench like in the house with some knives and other sharp tools.”
“Morrigan said her mom has a craft room in the barn,” said Mercy.
The deputy nodded. “It’s definitely a craft room. My wife would live in there if she had one like it.”
“I’ll take a look,” said Bolton, moving toward the barn with the deputy.
“I need to leave,” Natasha said to Mercy. “I’ll get to your victim tomorrow morning. I have a full schedule today.”
See? Even Natasha thinks I should be involved. Mercy said her good-bye to the medical examiner and then exchanged a look with Truman. They simultaneously headed to the barn.
“Not your case,” Truman said under his breath.
“Tough beans. Until I know Morrigan is safe, I’m keeping my nose in. What is taking the CPS agent so long?”
“Other kids who need her, six inches of snow, the long drive.”
She side-eyed him. “I didn’t mean literally.”
His grin warmed her to her cold toes. “Where do you think her mother is?” he asked.
“Good question.” Her shoulders sagged. “Can you imagine coming home to learn your mother has been murdered?” The second the words left her mouth, she wanted to take them back. Truman had found his uncle’s murdered body.
“In a way, I can.”
“Oh, Truman. I wasn’t thinking.” She took his hand as they walked, squeezing tightly. Jefferson Biggs had been more than an uncle to Truman; he’d been a surrogate father. His death was part of the FBI’s domestic terrorism case that had brought Mercy back to Eagle’s Nest after fifteen years away.
“It’s all right.” He didn’t look at her, his jaw tight. “I miss him sometimes. He would have loved this hidden property in the middle of the woods.”
“Yes, he would.” Jefferson had subscribed to Mercy’s bone-deep philosophy about being prepared for disaster. Any disaster.
Mercy stepped through the open door of the barn and breathed deep. Hay, grain, dirt floors, warm animals. The scents triggered warm memories of her youth. Morrigan was in a pen with three pygmy goats, holding one on her lap, scratching its horn nubs as it rubbed its head on her coat. The goat was in ecstasy.
Nothing heals a broken heart like an animal.
“They’re down there.” Morrigan pointed at the far end of the barn. “I’m not allowed in that room.”
“How come?” asked Truman.
“I might break something.” She looked down and rubbed under the goat’s chin. “But sometimes I go in and look. I’m very careful not to touch,” she confessed in a softer voice. “Mom doesn’t want me getting sick either.”
“Why would you get sick?” Mercy asked.
The girl frowned as she considered the question. “Some of the stuff in there is bad. Like in the knife room. But I would never touch or taste anything. I know better.”
Mercy turned to Truman. What the hell? she asked with her gaze.
They approached the room, Mercy feeling curiosity along with a strong sense of caution. “Detective Bolton?”
“Yeah?” he said from around the corner.
Exasperation rang in his tone. No doubt he’d thought she’d leave after his directive.
“Don’t touch anything,” she said as she stepped through the entrance. “Morrigan said she’s been warned she could get sick from . . .” She and Truman stopped and gaped.
Mercy hadn’t believed anything could surprise her more than the knife room. If the knife room was from a horror movie, this room was from a hobbit fantasy world.
The small work space was wider than the tight knife closet in the house, but it had a similar workbench, and shelves lined all sides of the room. Most were packed with tiny houses and buildings. Bolton and the deputy stood in the center, hands on their hips, scanning the fairy world.
“Do elves live in here?” Truman asked as he stared.
“Haven’t seen any yet,” answered Bolton. “But what in here could make someone sick?”
“Maybe it’s in those.” Mercy pointed. A dozen large glass jars of powders and dried herbs sat on a shelf below a metal strip holding two dozen knives, awls, and other carving tools. A wooden box with small satin drawstring bags sat under the shelf on the workbench. Next to the box was a stack of tiny cards, each one covered with elaborate cursive handwriting. Mercy peered at one. “Burn one tablespoon of the physic at midnight for five nights in a row,” she read aloud. “Any left over after five nights must be buried two feet deep.” A satin ribbon was threaded through a small hole in the corner of the card. Easy to fasten to a small satin bag. Spells?
“What the hell?” Bolton said. “These might be poisonous, but she’s giving them to people?”
“I suspect she’s selling them,” said Mercy. She stepped back and studied the shelves behind her, stunned and delighted by the sight. The wall was full of eight-inch-high houses made out of hollow logs, with decorative windows and doors, sitting on beds of dried moss. She spotted one tiny building that appeared to be a miniature greenhouse made of small glass panels. Carefully carved flowers blossomed inside. Some of the buildings had straw roofs; others had roofs carved to look like mushroom caps. A lower shelf held tiny homes covered in seashells sitting on beds of sand.
“These are amazing,” she whispered. “Can you imagine the work that went into each one?”
“She must sell the homes online,” Truman stated. “You think she sells spells there too?” he asked, pointing at the satin bags and handwritten cards.
Mercy nodded, but didn’t take her gaze from the rows of fairy homes. Two had been made out of old china teapots. The child in her wanted to open their tiny wood doors and peek inside. Christmas-themed homes filled one corner of the room. Reds and greens and snow decorated the houses hollowed out of logs. She grinned at one log that stood upright, a grumpy face carved into the bark. Someone had seen the potential in the pattern of the bark and brought it to life. A cranky wood nymph.
Bolton moved one of the note cards with his pen to look at another. “For two weeks, rub salve into bottoms of feet and immediately put on socks,” he read. “What kind of garbage is she selling?”
“Hopes and dreams,” answered Mercy. “Desperate people will try anything. But these homes are incredibly detailed . . . and very well done. I’d pay money for one if I was into that sort of thing.”
She noticed a face peek around the corner of the entrance. “It’s okay, Morrigan. We’re just looking.”
The girl moved to stand in the doorway. “My mom isn’t going to like this.” Her worried glance bounced among the four of them as she nervously flexed her fingers.
“I think she’ll understand that we’re looking for any clues to who hurt your grandmother.” Mercy set one hand on her shoulder. “And I think we’re done in here.” She raised a brow in question to Bolton, who nodded.
“I’ll get a tech to check the blades,” he said.
Morrigan still looked upset.
“Can you introduce me to your goats?” Mercy asked. “We had pygmy goats when I was a kid. They’re the best.”
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