A Merciful Truth
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“How’s he doing?” Bill asked her in a low voice. “What he went through would send most men to their doctors begging for drugs to make their memories go away.”
“I suspect that’s crossed his mind,” Mercy admitted. “He’s been through a similar type of hell before. It nearly drove him out of law enforcement, but he seems well prepared to deal with the emotional aftermath this time. Sadly, it’s because he had to learn how the first time.”
“No one would blame him for stepping back.”
“That’s not who he is.”
“I can see that.” Bill met her gaze. “But he can still crash. He’s not Captain America.”
Truman often wore a Captain America T-shirt, and Mercy thought it suited him. “Actually, that’s a perfect description of him. Captain America has a mushy sentimental core; he’s very human. And yes, he can fall apart.” She glanced over at Truman. He stood motionless, and she knew he battled invisible demons. Her instincts told her to go to him, but she stood still. Truman would ask when he needed help.
She simply had to be available.
Mercy wrapped her hands around her hot coffee cup at the Bend FBI office but didn’t drink. She was coffeed out. Darby noticed and asked if she wanted some juice. Mercy turned down the intelligence analyst’s offer. She was tired of eating and drinking on the run. It was all she’d done at Quantico for the previous two weeks, and she hadn’t found time to grocery shop since she’d been back. Her body was rebelling against the unusual diet.
I need a week of eating nothing but organic veggies and beef from happy, grass-fed cows.
She’d never dreamed she’d be that consumer, the one who questioned the source of the chicken breast on her plate, but after she left home at eighteen, she’d noticed that food tasted different. She’d grown up on meat slaughtered by her father and vegetables grown by her family or by friends. After a few months of processed food, her body had revolted, and she’d learned to seek out local sources.
She’d embarrassed Truman a time or two in restaurants with her questions, and he’d quickly figured out the best places for her to eat, where he didn’t have to cower behind his menu as she grilled the staff about sourcing.
She thought of the cinnamon roll she’d grabbed at the gas station that morning. So sometimes I’m a hypocrite.
Eddie plopped into the seat next to her. His hair didn’t look as perfect as usual, and it appeared he’d run his hands through it a few dozen times in the last hour. Dark circles hung below his eyes.
“How’s it going?” she asked.
“Crappy. I’ve spent the last two days talking with the families of Ralph Long and Damon Sanderson.”
“Ahhh.” Sympathy washed over her. She’d seen the pictures of Damon’s darling baby, and her heartstrings had nearly snapped in half. “Do they have support?”
“Tons of family are hovering around,” said Eddie. “I don’t know if that’s always a good thing. I think Damon’s wife needs some alone time.”
“Not really. I’m looking into a bar fight that Long broke up two nights before he was shot. One of the guys threatened him at that time. Long included it in his report, but I haven’t been able to locate the person. No arrests were made.”
“That’s a stretch,” said Mercy. “Any drunk asshole is going to mouth off at whoever is ruining their fun.”
“That’s what I’m expecting to find. I’m meeting with the bartender and bar owner this evening to see what they remember, and I’m hoping for some camera views.”
“Anything jump out about Sanderson?”
“Nope. According to the half dozen people I’ve talked to, he was a complete angel and impossible to despise.”
“Of course that’s what they say. Makes me suspicious. No one’s that perfect.”
“That’s my reaction too. I’m still digging.”
Their supervisor strode into the meeting and shrugged out of his sport coat, hanging it on his seat back before he sat down. “Where are we?” he asked in greeting. “Mercy, have you heard from the medical examiner? Any news on the autopsies?”
“She found nothing unusual. Both men died within moments from their gunshot wounds.”
“When are the funerals?” asked Darby.
“Tomorrow,” replied Eddie. “The families have decided to hold a joint service.”
“That’s unusual,” observed Jeff.
“It is, but all members of both families are firmly on board with it.”
“I like it,” said Mercy. She truly did. It spoke of a unity that resonated within the Central Oregon community, in contrast to the horror of the shootings.
“It’s come up several times that the shooter must have some serious skills to make the shots he did,” continued Jeff. “Eddie, I want you to contact the ranges in the area. Find out who can shoot like that.”
Eddie nodded and made a note on the pad in front of him.
“Keep in mind plenty of people practice on their own property,” added Mercy. “Some never step foot in a shooting range.”
“What about wanting to show off their skills to their buddies?” asked Darby. “Should we publicly ask if anyone knows someone with those skills? Or are we looking at a level of military training? We have to consider that he may have learned these skills on our tax dollars.”
Mercy sighed. She’d wondered the same thing. Please don’t let it be a former soldier.
Eddie made more notes. “I don’t think we should advertise that we’re looking for someone with a particular set of skills,” he said in his best Liam Neeson imitation.
“Agreed,” said Jeff. “Later, possibly. For now, let’s keep our inquiries quiet.”
Darby shuffled through the stack of papers before her and focused on one. “Reports and complaints about militia activity seem to be on a bit of an uptick,” she said quietly. “I don’t know if it’s relevant here.”
The room was quiet as everyone weighed her words.
“There’s always chatter about militia activity,” Jeff finally said. “I don’t think a week goes by that something doesn’t cross my desk in that regard. Is arson a method they use?”
“Not typically,” said Darby. “Most of what I’ve seen are complaints about open carry and some target practice.” She pulled out a piece of paper and stared at it.
“Sounds like business as usual,” Mercy said. She’d grown up seeing weapons everywhere. Gun racks in pickup rear windows. Rifles slung across backs or propped behind neighbors’ doors. Pistols on hips. But it was much rarer now.
“The most unusual thing I’ve come across is a rumor of a plan to blow up a bridge,” added Darby.
“Holy crap,” said Eddie. “That made my skin crawl. How reliable is that rumor?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been trying to trace back the source, but it seems to be a lot of . . . ‘so-and-so said.’”
“Assign it to Lefebvre,” Jeff instructed. “Give him what you’ve found so far and that I want a report sometime tomorrow. That deserves a closer look whether it’s related to this case or not.”
Mercy fully agreed. Public safety was their first priority.
“We know a rifle was used in the deputies’ shooting,” continued Jeff. “We have the casings and the bullets. It appears the weapon hasn’t been used in a crime before, but if we can find the weapon, then our lab can see if the striations match.”
“Did they find the bullet that was fired at Ben Cooley?” Mercy asked.
“Not yet. County found the casing, but the actual bullet hasn’t turned up. The sheriff theorizes it ricocheted off rock and headed in a different direction. They’re combing the area with metal detectors, but it’s packed with rock and dense shrubbery.”