A Merciful Truth
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“Did he ever talk about moving to Oregon?” Truman asked.
“I guess he might have said something.” Debby’s face cleared and she straightened. “When I came here for my job four years ago, he’d said he’d never leave Nevada. But about a year ago”—she rubbed at her chin as she concentrated—“I think it was around Halloween. He mentioned that someone he knew was moving to Oregon and joked that he was now considering it. At least I assumed at the time he was joking.” Her dark-brown gaze flicked between Mercy and Truman. “That was about the time he lost his house, wasn’t it?”
The daughter’s shoulders slumped. “I should have listened better. Maybe he was trying to ask for help with a place to live.” She pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes. “Dammit. I think I laughed it off. Told him I knew he’d never leave Nevada. I wish I could remember who he said was moving here, but I honestly can’t remember the names of any of the people he used to talk about. I can’t even tell you the name of the nice neighbors who lived next door so long ago.”
“Since we haven’t figured out where he lived yet, we don’t have any of his belongings outside of the clothes he was wearing,” Mercy said. “Surely someone will come forward when his identity is publicly released tomorrow, and we’ll learn more. We wanted to speak with you before it happened.”
“Someone must know where he’s spent the last year.” Debby’s eyes were hopeful. “I’ll tell you right now you are welcome to go through any of his things to figure out who killed those deputies.” She paused and continued in a thoughtful voice. “My father is dead, and there’s nothing in his past I need to protect.”
“Thank you.” Mercy caught Truman’s gaze and lifted a brow. Anything else?
He shook his head. He stood and handed Debby his card, stating the usual request that she contact them if she remembered anything else. Mercy did the same, and they said their good-byes.
The air outside was nippy and Mercy pulled her collar up around her neck as they walked down Debby’s driveway. “I can feel it’s about to rain.”
“The air is definitely damper over here,” agreed Truman. “What do you think about her description of her father as a teddy bear?”
“I think she’s a grieving young woman who lost her father.”
“She’s sharp,” said Truman. “I think she would have known if he had it in himself to kill someone.”
“I don’t think anyone can truly know what another person is capable of. Doesn’t matter if you are the daughter, son, or wife. People see only what you want them to see.” She looked away as Truman glanced over at her. “She admitted he’s a good shot. Whoever shot those deputies had true skills.”
“On our side of the mountains, there are plenty of people with those skills.”
“True,” Mercy admitted. Our side of the mountains. She wanted to go back to their side. In a matter of short months, Portland had ceased to be her home. Maybe it never had been. Had she simply been biding her time when she lived here? Nothing in town made her want to stay.
Well, almost nothing.
“Have you ever had olive oil ice cream?” she asked, suddenly swamped by a craving.
He recoiled. “What the hell? That sounds disgusting.”
“Do you trust me?” She paused at her side of the vehicle, looking at Truman over the hood.
“Not right this moment.” He looked pained.
“It’ll change the way you look at ice cream. I promise. We need to make one stop before we head home.”
He took a deep breath. “This better be good.”
Truman tried to focus on his email at his desktop. He yawned several times, even though he’d gotten a good six hours of sleep.
Last night Mercy had been right. The olive oil ice cream was unique. He didn’t have an overwhelming urge to rush back to Portland and get some more, but it’d been an eye-opening experience. He wished he’d had the courage to try the flavor made with bone marrow and smoked cherries instead of settling for the sea salt and caramel, which had sounded safe.
He’d watched Mercy indulge in her odd ice cream and had enjoyed the blissful look on her face. She was weird about food. Selective and particular in a way he’d only read about online or seen in movies. But when it came to ice cream, all her rules went out the window. He’d never seen her pass up the dessert.
Someone tapped at his door and pushed it open. Mercy’s sister Pearl stepped in. “You got a moment?” she asked.
Surprised, he stood and gestured at the chair in front of his desk. “Absolutely, Pearl. What can I do for you?”
She wore her apron from the Coffee Café and had her hair pulled back in a long ponytail. It was nearly 8:00 a.m., and he was shocked she wasn’t behind the counter during what had to be a busy time. She didn’t sit and he continued to stand.
“Some of the customers told me the man that was found at that fire had been identified.” She tipped her head to one side as she spoke to him, her hands buried in her apron’s deep pockets. “I pulled up the article from the paper on my phone this morning. It said the FBI is trying to track his whereabouts for the last few months. Is that right?”
“That’s true. We don’t have a current address for him. Do you know him?”
“I don’t know him, but I recognized his picture. I didn’t know his name was Joshua Pence until I read it. He’s been in the shop recently. Maybe a half dozen times over the last month or two.”
“So he was definitely living around here.”
“I don’t know that for certain,” Pearl clarified. “He could have lived an hour or two away and his route to work brought him through town.”
“Good point.” Truman watched her. She fussed with her pockets and had a hard time looking him in the eye. “I take it you don’t recall discussing where he lived with him.”
“I don’t remember him as being a talker. But his size stood out to me, which is why I recognized him.”
Truman waited. Pearl wouldn’t have left her coffee shop to tell him she simply remembered a customer.
“He came in with Tom McDonald a few times.”
There it is.
Truman didn’t know McDonald except to nod at him in the street. His ranch was far out of town, and the police had never responded out there for any incidents. Truman liked that in a resident, but he also liked getting to know his people. McDonald hadn’t made himself available to get to know. He kept to himself.
“McDonald’s a big guy too,” Truman commented.
“That’s why I remembered him. Together they made quite the pair.”
“So McDonald is the guy to talk to,” Truman said. “Hopefully he can shine a little more light on Pence’s history.”
“I need to get back to work. That was all I had to tell you. I wasn’t certain it’d be helpful.”
“It was definitely helpful.”
Pearl turned to leave, and Truman came around his desk. “Hang on, Pearl.” She stopped and looked at him with a deer-in-headlights gaze. “That newspaper article said the FBI was looking for any information on Joshua Pence, right?”
“How come you didn’t contact Mercy?”
Her gaze darted from side to side. “I figured you would know what to do with the information. And it was easy to dash over here.”
“You could have called her just as easily,” he said gently, knowing he was on fragile ground. Pearl looked ready to dash out the door.
“This was easier,” she admitted.
“I understand.” Although Pearl’s efforts to avoid her sister hurt a mushy spot in his heart.
She tilted her head again. “Do you?”
“I think you try to walk a tightrope between your sister and the rest of your family.” He lightly touched her arm. “You feel like you’re in the middle. Trying to keep the peace, not piss off either side. But still keep a tenuous contact.”