It felt odd. As if he had a poorly kept secret.
Natasha stood and stretched her back. “Not much I can do here. I’ll try to get to him today.”
“I have a pretty good idea of how he died,” said Truman. “What I want to know is who he is.”
“I’ll print him immediately and send them to you so you can get that ball rolling.”
Truman knew running fingerprints wasn’t the magic people saw on TV. Sometimes law enforcement got lucky with the first huge database they searched, but with no idea of where the victim had come from, they might have to search a few others. Assuming the man had been printed in the past.
But Truman believed violence beget violence, and judging by this man’s manner of death, he’d associated with violence before.
“Hey, Mercy! Welcome back!”
Mercy’s attitude improved at the sound of Lucas’s heartfelt welcome as she stepped inside the Eagle’s Nest police station. She’d grown fond of Truman’s police department manager. The giant young man had a gift for organization and telling people what to do. “Thanks, Lucas. Is your boss here?”
His grin widened. “He’s in the back. He’s moving a bit slow this morning. I did make him change his clothes once I got a whiff of him. He’s been wearing the same thing since that big fire.”
So much for Truman following her advice.
She’d checked in at her own office first thing and then driven to the scene where Ben Cooley had been shot at. The body had been taken to the morgue by the time she arrived, but a small crime scene crew and the fire marshal were still present. She’d asked Bill Trek if this fire had any similarities to the fire at which the deputies had been shot. His answer hadn’t been helpful. According to his nose, they’d used the same accelerant as in that fire, but that’s where the similarities ended. This one was simply too small and had been put out too early to be compared with the other.
But someone had shot a weapon at both fires.
Mercy was relieved that Cooley hadn’t been hurt and was determined to find the shooters. A resident had called Truman to say a fire had been started on his property last week and he’d gotten a look at the culprits before chasing them off and putting out the fire himself. She and Truman had agreed to meet him at the Eagle’s Nest station.
Lucas scowled at the clock. “Your witness hasn’t shown up yet. Clyde Jenkins said he’d be in by now. I’ll give him another ten minutes and then call him. He’s not known for being prompt.”
“What do you know about him?” She didn’t recognize the name from when she’d lived in Eagle’s Nest years before.
Lucas brushed his hair out of his eyes and tapped the keyboard on his desk. “He was charged once for disturbing the peace. I remember when that happened. He’d fired his gun in the air to get rid of some religious people who knocked on his door. Said he’d told them to leave and they were too slow to get off his property. They filed charges and somehow he ended up only pleading guilty to the disturbing-the-peace charge. I imagine the original charge was something worse. He’s sixty-five and lives alone on three acres east of town. Comes to town and hangs around with the old-timers at the feed store or the John Deere dealership. Seems pleasant enough.”
Lucas stood up from his desk and walked over to the printer. He moved awkwardly, and Mercy gaped at the giant boot over a cast on his foot. “Is that broken? What did you do?”
“It’s nothing, but yes, it’s broken.”
“How did it happen?” Mercy asked again. The young man seemed flustered and wouldn’t meet her gaze as he handed her a sheet of paper from the printer.
“Fooling around. It was stupid.”
Truman chose that moment to step in the office and greet her. An overwhelming need to touch him and greet him with a kiss filled her, but she stayed still. They’d agreed to keep it professional around both their coworkers. She tried to transmit her affection through her gaze. The smile in his eyes told her it’d been received.
“Jeez. Get a room or something,” Lucas ordered. “I swear the temperature just rose ten degrees in here.”
“Send Clyde back when he gets here,” Truman said as he led her to his office.
“What happened to Lucas’s foot?” Mercy asked as she took one of the wooden chairs across from his desk.
Truman relaxed into his big office chair and leaned so far back she expected it to tip over. “He didn’t tell you?”
“He seemed too embarrassed to tell me.”
“I had to get the story out of Royce. I guess Lucas and some buddies built a bike ramp and were trying to launch themselves over someone’s shed. Lucas didn’t make it.”
“How’s the shed?” asked Mercy, thinking of the muscular bulk of the former high school football player.
“Not a total loss.”
“Isn’t that the sort of stunt kids do in middle school?”
“Yep. No wonder he didn’t want to tell anyone. I often forget he’s only nineteen.”
Someone paused in the doorway, drawing their attention.
Mercy assumed the older man clutching a cowboy hat was Clyde Jenkins. Truman made introductions, and Clyde shook her hand as if it were made of glass. He had the eye bags and lined face of Tommy Lee Jones, but that was where the similarities ended. He was taller than Truman and incredibly skinny, with a yellow cast to his skin that made her wonder about his health. His smile was warm, and he flashed perfect movie star teeth.
“Pleased to meet you. I didn’t realize the FBI would be here.” Caution filled Clyde’s tone.
“We’re taking an interest in all the recent arson cases in light of the deputies’ murders,” Mercy told him.
His face fell and the impossibly deep lines around his mouth grew deeper. “I knew Ralph Long well enough to say howdy. I can’t believe he’s dead.”
“It’s a horrible situation that’s shaken everyone.” Mercy gestured at the chair adjacent to hers, and they all took their seats. “Tell me what happened at your place.”
“When I heard about Ralph, I knew I needed to come forward.” Clyde stared at the hat in his hands. “I heard there’d been some problems with small fires around town, but . . . I didn’t think mine was worth mentioning. My neighbor told me two men were killed the other day, so I figured I should at least let someone know what I saw.”
He shifted in his seat and crossed and uncrossed an ankle over his knee. Mercy frowned. “Wouldn’t most people report an arson started on their property?”
Clyde fingered the brim of his hat. “I didn’t want any trouble.”
Mercy exchanged a glance with Truman. “How can reporting a fire cause you trouble?” she asked.
The witness set his hat on his knee and gave Truman a pleading look.
Truman twisted his lips. “Did you scare them off with a little gunfire?”
“Am I going to be arrested again?”
Mercy understood, remembering Lucas’s story about how Clyde had scared religious folks off his property. “No, Clyde. I don’t think that’s going to be a concern. Obviously the people you fired at last week never filed a report. We’re simply interested in what you saw.”
He exhaled and slumped back in his chair. “That’s a relief. It took me two years to pay off that fine last time.” His demeanor perked up. “This was Wednesday of last week. I spotted two people—possibly three—dashing through my orchard. I stepped out of the house and I could hear them laughing as they ran. I didn’t think much of it . . . I’m not far from the highway, and people have been known to park along it and cut through my orchard to the creek. Doesn’t matter how many No Trespassing signs I put up. But then a few minutes later I saw a light coming from the area of my burn pile. I’d been waiting for some wet weather before lighting it myself. It was just plain stupid to light anything last week.”
“I agree,” said Truman.
Clyde nodded vehemently. “It’s been dry for weeks. Anyway, I was all pissed as hell and maybe my temper got the best of me, so I let off one warning shot. Since the fire was where I usually burn, everything I needed to put it out was handy, and it was doused in a few minutes.”
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