A Merciful Truth
Page 24

 Kendra Elliot

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Cade’s current project would sleep ten men. Four bunkhouses were already built, and he’d heard there were plans for ten more. He wondered if he could get construction work for some of his friends. But why did McDonald need to build so many bunkhouses? There wasn’t that much to do on the ranch. One guy handled the small herd of cattle and the few pigs. Cade didn’t see work that justified housing so many men.
But a lot of men lived on the isolated ranch. As far as Cade could tell, they primarily talked a lot. The construction crew was currently five guys, including him and Chip, and all five of them went back to their own homes at night. But he’d seen a dozen unfamiliar pickups come and go during the weeks he’d been here, men intent on meeting with McDonald in his small old farmhouse.
They were out-of-towners. Idaho, Montana, and Nevada plates. A few Oregon plates. Men who ignored him for the most part. Occasionally McDonald would bring a few men to take a tour of the bunkhouses and mess hall. They’d meet with the men who lived in the bunkhouses and go off on foot tours of the ranch’s woods. Perhaps McDonald plans to start logging? Sometimes they’d stand around and nod approvingly as McDonald pointed out the sites for the next few bunkhouses. Cade would stand out of the way and watch as the men examined his work. It didn’t bother him; he knew his work was solid.
All the men were salt-of-the-earth types. Heavy boots, Wrangler jeans, cowboy hats or caps, and serious faces. They didn’t smile. They scratched their beards or scowled, their heavy eyebrows creating a solid line across weathered foreheads.
Were they looking for jobs?
Cade didn’t understand their presence. Maybe they were investors in McDonald’s plan for his ranch. But judging by the age of the pickups and the stress in their faces, they didn’t feel like the type of men with thousands to spare. So Cade nodded respectfully and kept his ears peeled. He’d already made the mistake of asking Chip what plans McDonald had for the new buildings. That question had drawn spit aimed at his boots and a sneer, along with, “None of your business. You’re getting paid, right?”
“Then shut up and do your work. Consider yourself lucky to have work.”
Cade took his advice. Mouth shut. Ears open.
He slid open the heavy door to the shed and headed toward the shelves where he knew nails were stored. He grabbed a few boxes and turned toward the door but stopped as an odd odor reached his nose. Sort of sweet, but unfamiliar. In the poor light he squinted at the back of the shed, noticing a stack of wooden boxes he’d never seen before. Someone had tossed a weathered canvas blanket over them, but the far ends of the boxes weren’t covered, showing dovetailed corners. He lifted a corner of the blanket and read the side of one. DuPont Explosives.
He dropped the blanket and spun around, striding out of the shed.
When he was a child, he’d seen similar boxes in his grandfather’s old barn, and his father had ordered him to stay away from them. So of course, he’d looked inside the first moment he could. Old, fading paper-wrapped sticks. Specks of a drying sticky clear substance that oozed from under the paper.
It’d been disappointing and thrilling at the same time.
As far as he knew, dynamite wasn’t around anymore. The boxes in McDonald’s shed looked nearly as ancient as the boxes in his grandfather’s barn. Decades ago it’d been normal to use on a ranch. In fact, he remembered his grandfather saying he’d been able to buy dynamite at the feed store. Cade was certain those days were long gone. But no doubt it was still found in forgotten corners of old-timers’ barns.
He walked across the gravel to the slow-growing mess hall, the boxes of nails in his hands, his brain spinning, wondering where the dynamite had come from. He’d been in the shed last week and was positive nothing had been in that corner. Tires sounded on the gravel, and he watched a newer Chevy stop near the house. It was clean and shiny, unlike most of the visitors’ trucks. The man got out, glanced in Cade’s direction, and then disappeared into the home without knocking.
Cade blinked, his stride slowing.
Was that Kaylie’s uncle Owen?
He took another look at the truck, spotting the local high school bumper sticker, and remembered Kaylie had cousins who attended the school.
Thinking hard, he remembered he’d seen the truck on the property another time or two, but hadn’t seen the driver. He’d met Kaylie’s uncle a few times in town. His father knew him from way back, although Cade had never mentioned that to Kaylie. It was expected that most people knew one another around Eagle’s Nest. It was the norm, not the exception.
Cade silently delivered the nails to Chip, who accepted them with a smirk. “Hey, give Mitch a hand for a minute. He needs someone to hold those boards.”
Across the room Mitch glanced back with surprise on his face, clearly balancing a board with no problem. Cade said nothing but went over and braced the far end for the man, giving him an I-just-do-what-I’m-told look. Mitch nodded and said nothing as he hammered the board into place.
Cade handed him the next one and braced the end.
“Thanks, Cade,” Mitch muttered. “You can head back to the bunkhouse now.”
Ignoring Chip, who was futzing around with some electrical work, Cade walked as quietly as possible out the door, hoping to escape Chip’s notice. Cade got more work done when he was out of Chip’s sight. Chip had an overwhelming need to order him around, assign him useless tasks, and keep him from finishing the work he was supposed to do.
Outside the mess hall, he nearly bumped into Tom McDonald and Owen Kilpatrick. He nodded at both men, making brief eye contact, and hurried toward the growing bunkhouse.
The flash of recognition in Owen Kilpatrick’s gaze stayed with him.
Mercy parked in front of the tiny Craftsman home in an old Portland suburb, admiring the perfect landscaping. Joshua Pence’s daughter, Debby, had agreed to meet her and Truman. Ava McLane, one of Mercy’s colleagues from the Portland FBI office, had already informed the woman in person that her father had died. Mercy had talked to Special Agent McLane after the visit and learned that Debby hadn’t spoken to her father in six months. The daughter had been crushed over his death—especially the manner of his death. Mercy had specifically asked Ava to deliver the notification, knowing her friend would handle it with sensitivity and tact.
Mercy and Truman had decided to make a trip over the Cascade mountain range to talk to their victim’s daughter in person. She glanced at the time on her dashboard, hoping it wouldn’t be too late by the time she and Truman made the long trek home.
“Nice house,” Truman commented. “But I don’t want to live with this sort of traffic anymore. It’s not even a weekday and it’s crazy.”
“Amen.” Mercy had been surprised at her own impatience at the traffic on the interstate. She’d driven in it for years, wasting hours bumper-to-bumper as the vehicles crawled toward their destinations. But tonight she hadn’t been able to sit still as the traffic slowly crawled north. “If one more person had pulled in front of me, I would have rammed their bumper.”
“I think it’s also because Thanksgiving is this coming Thursday. Seems like that always increases the traffic.”
She didn’t say anything. It was the first time he’d mentioned the holiday since their discussion the other day. She’d agreed to have him cook dinner, but a very tiny part of her held out hope that she’d receive an invitation from her parents.
Probably not if Owen had any say in the matter.
The heavy wooden door had a lovely fall wreath that looked straight from a Pinterest project, or else from one of the most expensive florists in the city. Mercy wanted to snap a picture to show Kaylie. She had no doubt the teen could recreate the wreath in a matter of hours.
The door opened, and a petite female with chic, short hair and heavy black eyeliner greeted them. Mercy was about to ask if her mother was home when she realized this was Debby Pence. Mercy knew she was thirty, but she looked as if she should be slinging caffeine in a drive-through coffee hut that blasted rock music. The type where you had to yell to place your order. Ava had told her Debby was a successful lawyer in a big firm downtown.