“But did you last week?”
“Yeah, I remember now. I slaughtered everyone.” The confidence was back.
“How late do you bowl? Do you do anything after?”
“We’re done by eleven. Then I went home.” He looked expectantly from Mercy to Truman.
“Anyone at home with you?”
“My mom,” he admitted. A frown crossed his face. “Why are you asking about that night? Nothing happened that—” His face cleared and his eyes widened. “That was the night they found that guy with his neck slashed!” He sat up straight in his seat. “I didn’t have nothing to do with that! Just because someone started a fire doesn’t mean it was me!”
Truman’s hands were sweating.
Mercy had neatly questioned Landon Hecht, jumping from topic to topic, feeding his ego, and keeping him talking.
But everything about the young man had changed once he realized they were looking at him for the fire where Joshua Pence had been murdered.
Truman discreetly wiped his palms on his jeans. That wasn’t the reaction I’d hoped for.
He was a pretty good judge of character and was certain that Landon Hecht was lazy, full of himself, a liar, and an idiot. But he wasn’t lying about the Pence fire.
“You just told me you started the fire in the dumpster, the vehicle, and tonight’s fire,” Mercy stated calmly. “But you weren’t at the fire last Wednesday? That seems odd.”
“I wasn’t there!” Landon half stood, his hands on the table, terror in his voice. “Sure, I might have had something to do with some other fires, but I didn’t kill no one!”
Mercy was silent.
“Sit down,” Truman ordered. “We heard you.”
“Did you know Joshua Pence?” Mercy asked.
Truman heard the subtle change in her tone; she believed Landon’s claim.
Are we following the wrong lead?
“No. Never heard of him until they said on the news he was the one murdered that night.” Landon wiped the moisture on his upper lip. He’d gone from being a cool customer to squirming and sweating in less than fifteen seconds. His gaze shot from Mercy to Truman and back again.
“And I didn’t set the fire the night the two deputies were shot! I didn’t kill no one!”
“But you’re now our local fire starter,” Mercy said. “You’ve just admitted setting several of them. And you’re a crack shot with the rifle. I assume you heard the deputies were shot from quite a distance?”
“It wasn’t me!” Landon looked ready to vomit.
Truman grabbed the trash can in the corner and set it next to Landon’s chair. The young man glanced gratefully at it, and his Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed hard. Truman could smell his body odor.
“Then where were you when the two deputies were murdered?” Mercy asked, emphasizing the last word.
“I don’t know.” Landon’s gaze bounced around the room. “But I wasn’t there. Give me a minute to remember.” His breathing had sped up, and he continually wiped his temples and upper lip.
A small twinge of sympathy touched Truman’s chest. A very small twinge. He’s still a menace. He didn’t believe Landon was a murderer, but he was guilty of breaking a number of laws and needing a kick in the ass. He wished he could see the expression on Mercy’s face, because it was making Landon squirm like a restless toddler.
“Do you want to tell us again who was with you the night you lit Clyde Jenkins’s burn pile?” Truman asked. He’d seen Mercy’s shoulders tense and Landon’s gaze turn conniving as he claimed Kaylie was there.
Landon looked away. “Jason and me. And some girl Jason was trying to impress. I don’t remember her name. Jason can tell you.”
“Why’d you claim other people were there?” Truman asked.
A childish and sour look crossed his face, but Landon was silent.
“You think Cade and Kaylie called me that night at the gravel pit, don’t you? You’re trying to get some innocent people in trouble.” Truman fumed.
Landon looked anywhere but at Truman.
“Neighbors reported shooting at the pit,” Truman said. “No one else. Let’s try to keep your answers to the truth, okay? Especially tonight.”
Mercy stood up. “I’m going to have a word with Eddie.” She shoved in her chair, and Truman followed her out of the room.
“Let him stew for a little while,” she said, arching her back. “I needed some fresh air. He was starting to stink.”
“I noticed that,” said Truman. “I couldn’t believe he tried to get Kaylie in trouble.”
“He had me going for a few minutes,” Mercy admitted. “Thank you for clearing that up. I assume he doesn’t know she’s my niece?”
“I don’t think so. He just knows that I was shocked to find her at the gravel pit that night.”
“Yeah, he’s got some problems, but I don’t think he pulled the trigger that night the deputies died,” Truman admitted.
Mercy slumped against the wall. “I think you’re right. He was willing to admit to setting a few fires, but he panicked once he figured out where my line of questioning was going. Could he be involved somehow? I have a hard time believing we suddenly have two people setting fires. Maybe he didn’t kill anyone, but was involved in the fire part?”
“I think he would have given up any names he knew. He was quick to throw Kaylie and Cade under the bus for nothing. I can see him instantly ratting out anyone he suspected was involved in the murders.”
“True. Maybe some time alone will help him come up with a name.”
One of the county detectives came down the hall, a cup of vending machine coffee in his hand. “Those girls aren’t going to be of much help,” he told Mercy and Truman. “They never met the two men until a few hours ago. They claim they went with the guys because they had beer and bikes. I guess that’s the adult equivalent of offering candy to little kids.”
“Only for some people,” Mercy countered.
“Well, it was enough for these two,” said the detective as he took a sip of the coffee. “They thought it was funny when Landon lit the crumbling building on fire, and said they didn’t talk to them about any other fires the two men might have started. Do you want to talk to them?”
“That’s the same story they told me earlier,” said Truman, looking to Mercy. “They were pretty embarrassed to be picked up. I don’t need to talk to them again, do you?”
“Not tonight,” agreed Mercy.
The detective nodded, muttered something about paperwork and lack of sleep, and then continued down the hall.
Eddie stepped out of the next interview room, annoyance on his face.
“How’d it go?” Mercy asked him.
“According to Jason, Landon likes his lighter a little too much.”
“We gathered the same,” said Truman. “Did Jason say which fires Landon had set?”
Eddie glanced at his notes. “The car on Robinson Street. A dumpster. The Parker family shed. Clyde Jenkins’s burn pile, and he claims tonight was all on Landon too.”
“Nice going,” Mercy said. “Landon wouldn’t outright admit to the Parkers’, but he seemed to enjoy telling us about the rest.”
“Jason claims he wasn’t present the night of the deputies’ deaths or the Pence murder.”
“He thinks Landon was there?” Truman asked.
Mercy straightened. “Did he ask Landon about it?”
“No. He said when he heard about both fires, he instantly knew it had to be Landon but didn’t dare talk to him about it.”
“Seriously? But he still hung around with the guy?” Truman was disgusted.
“That’s what I asked him,” said Eddie. “He said he was waiting for Landon to bring it up so Jason could tell the police he’d confessed.”
“Bullshit,” stated Mercy. Truman agreed.
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