“He’s a coward,” said Mercy. “Kaylie told me the guys follow Landon around, and she thinks it’s because they’re afraid to stand up to him.”

“They’re afraid of him?” Truman asked. “What do they think he’s capable of?”

“I pressed Jason on that,” said Eddie. “I asked if Landon had ever threatened him, and he wouldn’t give me a clear answer. What I gathered is that Landon is a mean drunk and says threatening crap that keeps people on their toes around him.”

“Half the people I know are like that when drunk,” said Truman.

“I hear you, but Jason seemed really uncomfortable when I tried to get a clear answer out of him. What was Landon like?”

Mercy said, “Terrified and vehemently vocal that he didn’t kill anyone or set those two fires.” She paused. “I believed him.”

“I did too,” added Truman. “But I’m having second thoughts on hearing what Jason had to say.”

Frustration filled Mercy’s face. “Me too. It could have been fear of being found out that we saw, not fear of being accused of murder.”

“We got the warrant signed for the weapons where Landon lives, at his mom’s house,” Eddie said. “We’ll serve it in the morning. Hopefully that will give us some concrete answers.”

“It needs to include a search of the target range Landon uses at the house,” Mercy added. “If we don’t find the weapon we’re looking for, we might find evidence that it’s been fired at his range.”

“Beat you to it. I had it written up to include anything weapon-related.”

She high-fived him. “First thing in the morning?”

“Yes,” said Eddie, who looked to Truman. “You’ll be there?”

“You couldn’t keep me away.”

TWENTY

Early the next morning Mercy watched the evidence techs remove the weapons from Landon’s house. Every registered weapon had been accounted for, and Mercy had half expected they’d find a few illegal weapons, but they did not. Landon’s mother leaned against a wall and smoked as her steely eyes watched every move. She’d known the officers were coming but had still given them a mouthful of grief when they arrived.

Mercy saw her resemblance to Landon. His mom was incredibly skinny and looked as if she subsisted on cigarettes and dry toast. She worked at the grocery store in Bend, and it took Mercy a moment before she realized she’d rung up Mercy’s groceries several times. His mother wasn’t a service-with-a-smile checker, but she was fast and efficient and never had to look up the produce codes, which was more important to Mercy than a fake smile.

No recognition had shone in her eyes as she met Mercy that morning.

She’ll remember me after this morning. I’ll have to go through someone else’s checkout line.

“Come look at this,” Eddie said to Mercy. After ignoring an angry stare from Landon’s mother, she followed him out the back of the house. They walked for several minutes, heading to the far end of the property. Mercy looked up at the gentle hills that bordered the Hecht property. The sun was just peeking over the rise, and she watched her breath float away. The sky was clear, but it was going to stay cold all day.

“How many acres do they have?” Mercy asked.

“About ten.”

“Have you found any other outbuildings?”

“Just the big one beside the house. It’s got a couple of dirt bikes, quads, and an old truck that hasn’t run in over a decade.”

“Get copies of the tread patterns from the bikes?”

“All of them.”

“Ms. Hecht didn’t protest?”

“I know how to turn on the charm. She would have handed over her brand-new iPhone if I’d asked.”

Glancing sideways at Eddie and taking in the handsome profile and nice build, Mercy agreed. He was excellent at schmoozing.

“Maybe you could freelance as a gigolo,” she said dryly.

“We prefer to be called escorts.”

Mercy spotted Truman far ahead, bending over next to a tech and a few Deschutes County deputies. They wore gloves and were picking up shells and tossing them in a bucket. As Mercy drew closer she saw the bucket was nearly full and the ground was still littered with shells. “Jeez. If he’d spent sixty seconds after each practice to clean up after himself, it wouldn’t look like this.”

“Did you see his bedroom? I doubt the phrase cleaning up is in his vocabulary,” said Eddie.

She had seen it and was thankful that the techs were responsible for finding the weapons. She would have needed to shower before returning to work.

They reached the others, and Truman handed her a pair of gloves. “Hope your back feels strong this morning.”

Mercy eyed the group as they bent and squatted to get the shells. “If I say no, can I just watch?”

“No.”

“I’m going to show her the targets,” said Eddie. “Then we’ll help.” He pulled Mercy past the working group and toward another tech who was far downfield, meticulously digging bullets out of wooden targets.

“What about the targets?” she asked.

“Whoever has been shooting here is damn good, and there aren’t any shells closer to the targets. They’re all back there.” He gestured back at Truman and the group.

Mercy looked ahead and then back. Landon’s three-hundred-yard claim looked accurate to her. “So Landon wasn’t exaggerating about his skills last night.”

“Assuming he’s the shooter.”

“With this many shells, it has to be him or his mother. No one else lives here, right?”

“Nope. And I already asked Mom if anyone else uses their range. She said Landon occasionally has friends over, but it’s usually just him.”

“He needs a different hobby.”

“Or a job,” added Eddie.

Mercy’s phone rang and she answered as they continued their trek. “Kilpatrick.”

“Agent Mercy?” said a female voice.

“Yes.”

“This is Tilda Brass.”

“Good morning, Tilda. I hope everything is all right?” Mercy stopped walking and gestured for Eddie to continue ahead. He raised a brow at her but kept walking.

“I found that phone number I told you about. I don’t know how the piece of paper ended up in this drawer, but if I hadn’t been looking for my candy thermometer, I wouldn’t have found it for another month. I need to make some divinity for Thanksgiving. I’ll make a few more batches when Christmas gets closer.”

“What’s the number, Tilda?” Mercy wasn’t a fan of divinity. Too sweet. But she respected the skill it took to get the candy to set just right.

The woman read off the number, and Mercy punched it into the notes on her phone. “Is there a name?”

“Jack Howell. Is it okay if I call him to let him know I’m reconsidering his offer?”

“Can you wait twenty-four hours? I’ll mention you’re still interested.”

“I hope hearing that the FBI is poking around doesn’t make him change his mind,” she fretted. “I’m ready to move on.”

“Has anything else happened?” Mercy asked sharply.

“No. Nothing has. It just feels like this house is telling me to leave.” She cleared her throat. “I hear voices sometimes . . . not as if someone is actually in the house—they’re more like echoes of old conversations. And I swear one of my old dogs still wanders around. Last night I could feel him sleeping on my bed like he used to, but when I looked nothing was there.”

Mercy didn’t know what to say.

“I know. You’re thinking that I’m an old woman who shouldn’t be living alone.”

“No—”

“Well, I am old. And I should set myself up in a safe place while I’m still able to make my own decisions.” Her voice fell. “Although I do like thinking that my good Charlie is sticking close. He was always a protective dog.”

“I suspect he is,” agreed Mercy. “He’s watching over you. He’ll probably be happy if you’re living where there are more people around.” She believed the spirit of a beloved pet would hang around a vulnerable owner. Tilda ended the call, and Mercy did a quick Google search on Jack Howell as she jogged to catch up with Eddie.

***

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