A Merciful Truth
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Mercy shook her hand, feeling like a giant next to the small woman. Energy radiated from her, although her eyes were sad and slightly red. Debby gave Truman an admiring glance as he introduced himself, and Mercy was surprised by the possessiveness that flared in her chest. She quickly smothered it.
They stepped into the living room just to the right of the entry. Immaculate period built-ins, dark wooden crown molding, and wainscoting glowed in the soft light.
“This is beautiful,” said Mercy, admiring the light fixtures. They looked straight out of the first half of the twentieth century, but she suspected they were recreations from one of the hip lighting stores where your firstborn was a required down payment for a chandelier.
“Thank you. I’ve restored most of the home myself over the past two years. It’s a hobby of mine,” Debby said with a touch of pride.
“Don’t you work in one of those law offices that require sixty-hour workweeks?” Truman asked.
“I do. But that still leaves a hundred and eight hours in a week. I like to stay busy.”
Mercy chuckled, liking the woman immediately. She hated idle time too.
“Some people occasionally sleep,” said Truman.
“Yes, they do.” Debby didn’t claim she was one of them. She gestured for them to sit on the couch. After offering something to drink, which they refused, she sank into a chair with a sigh. “I feel like I haven’t sat down since this morning.”
“Thank you for meeting with us on a weekend,” said Mercy.
“It’s not often I get two visits from the FBI in one day. Never, actually.”
“We’re very sorry for your loss,” Truman said in that calming voice of his that made Mercy want to crawl in his lap and take a nap. From the sudden expression on Debby’s face, she’d felt the same desire.
“Thank you. Like I told the agent earlier today, I hadn’t seen my father in a long time. The last time was five years ago, when I was in Reno for a conference. I drove out to see him then.” Curiosity filled her features. “I understand he was murdered, but why is the FBI taking an interest?”
“It’s a bit of a long story,” Mercy said. She immediately held up her hand at the look of distrust from Debby. “But I promise to tell you all I can. But first can you tell us more about your father? Do you know why he was in Central Oregon?”
“I have no idea. I was shocked that he was so close and hadn’t called me. We don’t call each other anymore.” She looked down at her clenched hands in her lap. “He’s so awkward to talk with on the phone. He never has anything to say and I have to come up with question after question to keep the conversation going. He did start emailing quite a while ago, and that replaced phone calls. Texting replaced email about two years ago, and that was a relief. It’s so much easier. But one way or another, I’m shocked he didn’t tell me he was so close.”
“We haven’t found out where he was staying or how long he’s been here. Do you know if he’s always avoided credit cards?”
Debby threw back her head as she laughed. “Lord, yes. He hates the plastic ‘devil cards.’ I honestly don’t know how he’s managed to get by all these years without one. It seems like you can’t do anything without securing it with a card these days.”
“It is hard,” Mercy agreed. “What about his work? He appears to not have any work history for six years.”
“That sounds about right. He hurt his back at the lumber mill back then. When I saw him five years ago, he was happy about not having to do the physical labor anymore. He said he was getting disability.” She sat up straighter, looking them firmly in the eye. “As he should. He really was messed up. He gained nearly fifty pounds after the accident because he could barely get around. He wasn’t looking for a handout.”
“Of course not,” Mercy said. “Was he able to get by living on his own if he was hurt?”
“That was my concern too. But everything looked good when I was there. He had helpful neighbors.”
“Your parents divorced when you were young, correct?” Truman asked.
“Yes. And my mother died two years ago.” She pressed her lips together. “I was an only child. Now both my parents are gone,” she whispered. Her chin was still up and her gaze solid, but Mercy saw faint cracks in her facade.
“Did you know his home in Nevada had been foreclosed on?” she asked gently.
Debby’s jaw dropped open. “He told me he sold it.”
“Where would he have been living?” Truman asked.
“I don’t know.” Shock sharpened her voice. “He never said he needed a place to live. I guess he could have rented a small place.” She looked from Mercy to Truman. “I take it you couldn’t find any rental records?”
“No. But it could have been off the books or a casual situation.”
“But was he living in Oregon?” Debby asked. “How long ago did he leave Nevada?”
“We were hoping you could shine some light on that.” Mercy paused, looking for a delicate way to phrase her next question. “Would you say your father preferred to be . . . independent? Maybe complain a bit that laws interfered in people’s lives too much?”
Understanding crossed Debby’s face. “You’re asking if he was part of some weird group who thinks the government needs to mind its own business.” Amusement twitched in her lips.
“Something like that.”
“Let’s just say my father was rather shocked when I went to law school.”
“Was he angry?” Truman asked.
Debby looked thoughtful as she considered the question. “He’s always been angry,” she said quietly. “His parents’ home was foreclosed on a long time ago. He’s been bitter about that for as long as I can remember. He’s always preached that people need to be left alone to live their lives instead of being taxed every time they turn around.”
“What about his view of law enforcement?” Mercy swallowed hard, not sure she wanted to hear Debby’s answer.
“He’s always hated cops,” Debby replied. “Cops and the military. I remember that from when I was young. I never knew the reason why.”
Mercy saw Truman tighten his jaw. I hope those fires weren’t aimed at hurting law enforcement.
“Now tell me why the FBI is involved.” Debby’s tone and demeanor shifted into lawyer mode.
“Eagle’s Nest had a rash of small fires that I was investigating,” Truman said. “But then two deputies were murdered when they responded to a larger fire. Then someone shot at one of my officers at the fire where we discovered your father’s murder. The FBI was brought in to investigate the deaths of the deputies. They’re including your father’s death in their investigation.”
“Is your officer okay?” Debby asked.
“Yes. They missed. Thank you.” Truman nodded at her.
“You’re wondering if my father was involved in starting the fires. And the murders.”
Mercy and Truman were silent, watching the young woman. Debby looked away and shuddered slightly. “That’s horrible. I’m sorry for the other deaths, but I honestly can’t see my father being involved.” She met Mercy’s gaze. “He was a harmless big teddy bear. He was kind and gentle and couldn’t hurt a fly. It just wasn’t in him. Sure, he talked hard words about police, but I don’t think he would actually act on it.”
“I know he had two weapons registered at the time of his death,” Mercy said. “Did he own more?”
Debby shrugged. “You’re asking the wrong person. I don’t know what he had. My dad loved to shoot and even won some awards. He was an amazing shot with a rifle.” She turned her gaze to Truman. “But he would never kill anyone.”
Silence stretched among the three of them.
“You can’t think of any acquaintances he had in the Bend area?” Mercy asked, feeling the need to end the silence.
The woman stared at the floor to her right, pressing her lips together. “I just don’t know. I really didn’t pay much attention when he talked about people I wasn’t familiar with.” She blinked hard and turned back to Mercy. “I don’t know who his friends have been over the last decade. Does that make me a rotten daughter?” she whispered.