“Fuck yes, it matters!” His brain spun out of control again.

“She gave me five minutes to call you and get back to her.”

“Who?”

“The FBI agent.”

“I know she’s an FBI agent. What’s her name?” He held his breath, knowing what Jack would say.

“Uh . . . Kilpatrick. Mercy Kilpatrick.”

Tom pulled the phone away from his ear as he cursed. Owen’s sister again. Was I wrong to bring him in? “Don’t call her back.”

“What am I supposed to do? She said she could get a warrant for the information.” Jack sounded miserable.

“Let her. If she wants to waste her time, that’s fine with me.”

“She’ll find out eventually.”

“Your job is to avoid her until then.”

“I don’t understand why you insist on remaining anonymous. Eventually your name will be the one on the property deed.”

“You haven’t written my name down anywhere, right? You agreed no one would be able to find my name in your paperwork.”

“All our dealings have been oral. I haven’t even sent you anything by email, because I respect what you want.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that. Of course, I don’t have an email address. You know the government reads all that stuff, right?”

“I’ve got nothing to hide,” said Jack. “The government is welcome to read all my boring contracts if they want.”

“I think we need another meeting,” Tom said. “I got a look at a property nearby that I’d like to get your opinion on.”

“What’s the address? I’ll pull up all the info before we meet.”

“Nah, just come out. I’ll tell you about it when you get here.”

Jack agreed, but Tom heard the reluctance in his voice. With commissions dangling in front of him, Tom knew Jack would jump through any hoop Tom asked him to.

Tom ended the call and tossed the coffee out of his cup. It’d cooled to an undrinkable temperature. He looked up at the hills surrounding his property, feeling as if a net were slowly tightening around him. The morning had been so promising, and now it had turned to garbage.

Kilpatrick. When he’d heard that Al and Deke had run her off the road, he’d laughed his head off and slapped them on the back. He’d hoped she’d scale back some of her nosy questions. It hadn’t worked. Was it time for bigger measures?

Who reported the dynamite?

How did the FBI find out about the offer for the Brass property?

The old woman had told them, of course.

If only Joshua hadn’t interfered. How am I going to handle this new twist? Could he admit he was the buyer? It wasn’t illegal to offer to buy land, but it was instinctive for him to stay under the radar. So what if he was interested in buying her land? Would they think he’d set the fire to scare her off?

He wasn’t that stupid.

Some people were, but not he. He knew how to stay out of the limelight. Hell, he knew how to completely stay off everyone’s radar. He’d been doing it all his life. No one was better at staying in the shadows than he was.

He’d known when he cut ties with Silas Campbell that he’d have to step forward more, but he hadn’t expected this. Maybe he needed to tone things down until the FBI stopped asking questions. What it was interested in had nothing to do with him.

Not really.

Could Owen Kilpatrick be the source of his problems? The thought made his heart hurt a bit. When he’d first encountered Owen, Tom’s initial instinct had been to hide. But instead he’d looked Owen in the eye and shaken his hand. Owen’s eyes had reflected Tom’s own, and Tom had known instantly he could trust the type of man Owen was. Owen’s father, Karl, was a straight shooter, and Owen had the same blood.

So did the FBI agent. But she was a woman. It wasn’t the same as looking a man in the eye and knowing him.

There were men on his property with less character than Owen Kilpatrick. Character meant a lot to him, but sometimes it took time to be exposed. What seemed perfect and shiny on the outside could house a rotting center . . . or a weak center. Sometimes it was that weakness that kept a man from fulfilling his potential.

But who would call about the dynamite?

And why?

To stop Tom from using it. Someone didn’t like his plans and was too chickenshit to tell him to his face.

Maybe someone was afraid of becoming the next Joshua Pence.

Do I need to make another example?

Jack Howell would come in handy.

TWENTY-TWO

Truman had nearly arrived back at his department when his phone rang. It was the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office reporting that it had found an abandoned red pickup with some minor front-end damage.

“Who’s the owner?” asked Truman.

“The tags are long expired,” said the deputy. “But it’s registered to a Joshua Pence in Nevada.”

“Crap.” The theory about Joshua’s truck having been used to run Mercy off the road appeared to be accurate.

“Have you towed it yet?”

“Nope. We’re waiting for the tow truck.”

“Give me your location.”

Truman took the next turn and floored his accelerator, wanting to get to the scene before the truck was moved.

Nearly twenty minutes later he pulled up behind a county cruiser on a little-used side road and spotted the tail end of a truck in the brush off the side of the road. No tow truck in sight.

“Did you touch anything?” he asked the deputy.

“I opened the door and looked through the contents of the glove box. Once I radioed it in and heard about the BOLO for the vehicle, I backed off.”

Little effort had been made to hide the vehicle. They’d picked a quiet road, but the vehicle was still visible from the street. Truman wondered if an empty gas tank had led to the poor hiding spot. “See any keys?”

“Nope. It was unlocked and one of the windows left down.”

Truman walked around the vehicle. It’d had a hard life. The bed of the truck was well dented and had a few holes. The tires should have been replaced ten thousand miles ago, and a headlight was missing. He crouched down to look at the missing headlight. The truck had minor damage around the missing headlight, and he could see scrapes of black paint in the dents.

Mercy’s Tahoe.

Slipping on gloves, he opened the driver’s door and did a quick visual inspection. There were holes worn in the fabric bench seat on the driver’s side, and the floor was littered with fast-food wrappers, Big Gulp cups, and soda cans. Truman opened the ashtray; it was full.

DNA.

Probably DNA on the straws in the cups too.

Not that we’d use DNA to figure out who abandoned a truck.

The mess could be from Pence, but if Truman had a suspect for who had run Mercy off the road and he wanted to handle the expense, he could test to see if it matched.

I’d rather get someone to confess.

No doubt he could intimidate a suspect with the fact that they’d left their DNA all over the inside of the truck. Cheaper too.

He backed away from the vehicle and looked at the towering pines in the area, trying to get a mental picture of where he was. “Do you know how far we are from Tom McDonald’s place?” he asked the deputy.

“Who?”

“Never mind.” Truman strode back to his vehicle and pulled up his location on a map on his phone. He zoomed out, getting a bigger picture of the area. McDonald’s ranch was less than ten miles away. He stared at the screen for a few seconds and knew he needed to pay a visit.

Once Mercy had admitted the McDonald crew might have run her off the road, Truman had done as much digging on Tom McDonald as he could. She’d said what she’d uncovered on McDonald was clean. Truman had found the same.

It was too clean. Given that he was associated with the Idaho militia leader Silas Campbell, Truman felt there should have been a few skirmishes on McDonald’s record. Truman had never had a real conversation with Tom, but he’d seen the man around Eagle’s Nest a few times. He’d pulled up what information the state had on Tom McDonald before heading to the ranch, and let the information percolate in his brain on the drive. Something about McDonald niggled at his brain, but Truman couldn’t see any issues.

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