Mercy’s shoulders rose and lowered with her deep breaths under Truman’s hands as she stared at her brother across the room.
“Who else has lied to me?” she quietly asked.
The next morning Truman stared at an email on his department computer. He’d read it five times in the last few hours.
Would things have been different if I’d received this yesterday?
He didn’t think so.
He picked up the yellowing fingerprints record he’d spent an hour searching for in his department’s ancient storage. Even to his untrained eye, the prints clearly matched the scan of current prints that Deputy Chad Wheeler had sent from Idaho.
Tom McDonald used to be Aaron Belmonte. Mercy’s youngest uncle reportedly killed in the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980. His body had never been recovered, as was the case for many of the victims.
But now Aaron was truly dead. He’d never recovered from last night’s heart attack.
The email was from the reserve officer whom Deputy Wheeler had asked to dig into Tom McDonald’s background. There’d been no record of Tom McDonald’s death in the past, but the officer had found an empty time slot between 1975 and 1980 where he’d vanished. No tax returns, no driver’s license renewal, no legal paperwork anywhere. He was a loner, and no one had asked about his absence.
Then in 1980 he’d been issued a new license.
The officer couldn’t find a copy of a license photo from earlier than 1980, but every photo after that was of the bearded Tom McDonald that Truman now knew was Mercy’s uncle Aaron.
Digging deeper, the officer had found that in 1974, the real Tom McDonald had shared an address with Silas Campbell. The same Silas Campbell who’d had a falling-out with the new Tom McDonald last year. Truman figured Silas had helped Aaron take over Tom McDonald’s identity in 1980 after the eruption.
Probably because Silas knew the original owner of the name was dead.
Truman was almost certain Silas had had a hand in the first Tom McDonald’s disappearance. The Idaho militiaman had a ruthless reputation. A very clean reputation—he knew how to walk the legal line—but a ruthless one.
The old fingerprint card he held was from Aaron Belmonte’s arrest in 1978. It’d never been digitized. No Idaho police department had called and requested a copy, so Aaron’s prints had sat in a box for decades. Aaron Belmonte had a decent list of arrests in Eagle’s Nest and in Deschutes County—DUI, speeding, theft. Nothing worth faking his death over. But investigating further, Truman suspected becoming a person of interest in the fire at the county courthouse in April of 1980 had made Aaron’s palms sweat.
Someone had to have told Aaron’s family he’d been camping near Mount St. Helens. Aaron hadn’t had a crystal ball to predict the eruption and tell people he’d gone camping ahead of time. He needed to spread the camping story after the mountain blew. Something he couldn’t do on his own.
Who was his accomplice?
No doubt it had been one of his four brothers. Happy to help get him off the federal government’s radar for the courthouse fire.
Truman twisted his lips and gave Aaron a few props for the disappearing idea. Although he did remember others had tried to fake their deaths on 9/11, either to collect money or to escape from something in their lives. Disgusting.
The inability to see Aaron pay for his recent crimes gnawed at Truman’s gut. But at least several of Aaron’s men had been charged. The two men who’d talked about their assault on Rose and dragged Cade into the woods would be prosecuted, along with the half dozen men who’d formed the roadblock and fired on officers. Truman didn’t know if there would be other arrests; for the most part, the rest of the men hadn’t done anything but exhibit bad judgment by choosing to follow Tom McDonald.
Mercy would be arriving at the station at any minute. He’d already shared the email and his comparison of the fingerprints with her, and next they’d drive to her parents’ home to break the news to her mother that the brother she’d believed was dead had just died again.
Or had her mother known he was alive?
Mercy was numb.
When she wasn’t pissed as hell.
As Truman parked in front of her parents’ home, she alternated between the two emotions. Her uncle was dead; she should be grieving. But she’d believed he’d died before she was born, and the man she’d briefly known as Tom McDonald she hadn’t liked. At all.
That’s when the anger started to flare.
Who’d known her uncle was alive?
She was ready for some answers.
Owen had no explanations. She’d talked with him for an hour between police interviews, and he’d told her he’d thought it odd that Tom McDonald trusted him so rapidly, but swore he’d never dreamed the man was related to them. Like her, Owen was shell shocked over the revelation. He’d led the police to Jack Howell’s body and told his story a half dozen times to different investigators. She didn’t think he would be charged with Jack’s death.
He’d apologized to Mercy. Their talk had been full of tears from both of them. He’d admitted he’d been full of rage after Levi’s death and searching for someone to blame. She’d been an easy target. Seeing Owen break down as they gripped each other’s hands, and hearing him admit he knew it wasn’t her fault that Levi had died, started to heal the crack in her heart. A crack she’d feared would never be repaired.
Truman told her how Owen had kept him from rushing into a nest of McDonald men when she’d been grabbed at the farmhouse. And that Owen had gone into the mess hall with the intent to get her away from Tom McDonald.
She’d left her conversation with Owen feeling as if she was on the road to getting her brother back.
Kaylie was at the hospital with Cade. The teen had panicked over the condition of her boyfriend’s injuries and refused to leave him. He had two broken ribs and was waiting to see a specialist about his eye. Some vision had already been restored, and the ER doctor was cautiously optimistic that it would fully heal. Two of Cade’s friends were being charged with arson. Landon had shared names of accomplices, including a girl, explaining the female laughter that Clyde Jenkins had heard on his property.
Cade had stated he was ready for some new friends.
In private, Kaylie had told Mercy that she felt foolish for having doubted Cade’s commitment. Mercy had given her a firm but gentle lecture on giving people the benefit of the doubt and not allowing her anxiety to screw with her emotions. Mercy had felt like an imposter as she gave her niece relationship advice.
It was easier to give advice than to apply it to her own life.
Now it was time to face her parents. They knew Mercy and Truman were coming. Mercy had called and told her mother about Aaron’s new identity and asked if she’d known the truth.
The shock over the phone had sounded real.
But Mercy wasn’t taking anything for granted. She needed to look her mother in the eye and ask again.
Her footsteps were heavy on her parents’ stairs. Truman took her arm and gently pulled her to a stop, turning her to face him.
“Hey. No matter what we find out, nothing has changed.”
“I agree,” she said. “But it sure rattled me and everyone else. How could Aaron do that to his family?”
“You don’t know what type of person he was,” Truman stated. “I doubt your mother’s happy memories of her brother reflect the man we dealt with. Someone who fakes their death and abandons their family has a lot going on in their head that we can never understand.”
Deborah Kilpatrick opened the door before they could knock. Her mother looked as if she’d been awake for three days. Her eyes were red and swollen, and her skin was dull. She opened her arms to Mercy and Mercy stepped into them. “I’m so sorry, Mom.”
Her mother squeezed her tighter.
Rose came to the door and joined the embrace. Mercy ran her hand over Rose’s soft hair and felt Rose’s flat stomach press against her side. Her pregnancy still didn’t show. The gash on her cheek was healing rapidly, but the bruise around it had turned a horrendous purple.
A wave of love for Rose crashed through her, and she fought back the tears.
Lord, I’m an emotional wreck.
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