A Merciful Truth
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Disappointment filled her. Here I was patting myself on the back for my excellent adulting skills and she’s been sneaking out at night.
The joke was on her.
She quietly left the room and numbly padded into the kitchen. Her mind spinning, she watched the coffee drip into the pot. Do I confront her? Do I try to catch her? Do I ignore it? Maybe she should call Pearl for advice.
But she does still have all her fingers and toes. I call that a win.
It must be a boy.
Visions of Kaylie and some farm boy stealing kisses made her smile.
What if it’s an older man? A predator?
Panic flared and faded. I’ll talk to her. Her niece wasn’t dumb. She had excellent grades and a lot of common sense. The right thing to do would be to sit her down and ask what was going on. And then make her clean up the dirt in the kitchen.
Impatient, Mercy pulled out the pot and poured the small amount of potent brew into her cup. She added some heavy cream and stirred, turning the black coffee a lovely mocha shade.
She’d formulate her questions for Kaylie in the shower.
Truman was pleased to see that one of his other officers, Royce Gibson, had beaten him to Ben’s scene. His men were like a small family. They cared about one another, and when one of them struggled, the others pitched in to ease the way. Royce was in his midtwenties, with a young baby at home. He was earnest, direct, and easygoing. He was also one of the most gullible men Truman had ever met, which made him a popular target for pranks and practical jokes by his coworkers. As Truman walked up, he could still make out the faint black Sharpie streak on Royce’s face that Lucas, the office manager, had somehow tricked him into putting on himself three days ago.
Truman hadn’t asked for the details.
Ben looked pretty good. For someone who’d been shot at and had discovered a murder victim, his chin was up and his posture was relaxed. Truman slapped him on the back and handed him a protein bar from the stash in his Tahoe. The older cop gratefully took it, immediately ripping off the wrapper and taking a big bite. “Always eat when it’s available,” he said between chews. “There might not be time later.”
Royce nodded as if it was the best advice he’d heard in years.
The Deschutes County evidence team had arrived, and Truman watched them carefully photograph and mark evidence. They’d brought portable diesel light towers to the scene, which Truman eyed with envy. His budget didn’t have room for such luxuries. He snorted, realizing he’d just referred to light as a luxury. But it was true. Eagle’s Nest didn’t have crime scene techs either. It had him and his tackle box from the back of his Tahoe. Gloves, tape, envelopes, containers, tweezers. A little bit of everything. He was thankful the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office or the Oregon State Police were more than willing to give him a hand when things got too technical.
“Nice job getting the fire under control,” Truman told Ben.
“Hadn’t really taken off,” said the humble older officer. “Anyone would have done the same. I was in the right place at the right time. Don’t know why they even had the fire department come. They could have just sent the fire marshal.”
Truman scanned the people at the scene, not seeing Bill Trek. “He here?”
“Has the medical examiner arrived yet?” Truman asked.
Ben shook his head. “Nope. The body is over there behind the trough.” He jerked his head toward the rusting metal tub.
“What are your thoughts?” Truman asked the older cop. Ben had given him a quick rundown on the phone, but now that the events had had time to percolate, he hoped the cop had more insight.
Ben squinted and carefully chewed the protein bar as he thought. “Whoever shot at me was damn good. They found a single casing way the hell out there.” Ben pointed at a portable light far in the distance. “He nearly got me . . . I hope they can find him.”
“It’s still early,” Truman said. “But it’s dark.”
The older cop grimaced. “Damned dark. I couldn’t do anything, the light was so bad. And I walked around with my flashlight on like an idiot, advertising exactly where I was.”
“You’re lucky he missed his shot.”
“I’m certain that the bike motor came from the direction where we found the casing. I assume he’s the one who shot at me. I guess someone else could have been on foot and taken a shot, but they haven’t found evidence of another person besides our dead guy. County’s trying to follow the dirt bike tracks, but the ground’s awfully hard. And of course the lack of light isn’t helping.”
“They’ll have better luck when the sun comes up,” Royce added.
“Has anyone recognized the body yet?” Truman asked.
“No,” answered Ben. “I took another gander at him a while ago. He looks slightly familiar, but I can’t place him.” He took another bite of the bar. “I can’t remember everyone I met over the years.”
“I don’t expect you to.” Truman looked to Royce. “Did you look?”
“Don’t know him. We checked for ID and there’s nothing in his pockets. Hopefully his fingerprints will tell us who he is.”
“Guess I’ll give it a shot.” Truman doubted he could recognize the man. He had been in Eagle’s Nest for only eight months. He’d worked hard to know the people, but if Ben and Royce didn’t recognize the guy, there was little chance Truman would.
He strode over to the corpse.
A female evidence tech smiled at him and politely but firmly pointed at a spot of ground. “Please stand over there.” Truman stepped carefully and watched for a few moments as she continued to photograph the corpse. He squatted and made his own visual assessment. He agreed with Ben’s estimate of the man’s being in his sixties. He had to be nearly 350 pounds. His graying beard was at least three inches past his chin, and his hair was plastered across his forehead and looked as if it had needed a cut and wash several weeks ago. His eyes were open and growing opaque. Truman took a long look at the deep cut in his neck and tucked away any thoughts about the terror that must have run through the man’s head as he realized what was happening to him.
Who’d you piss off?
The victim wore heavy work boots and jeans with dirt stains on the knees. His coat had seen better days, but it was thick and heavy to combat the cold. Truman spotted his faded John Deere cap a few feet away.
He didn’t know the man.
“Good morning, Chief.” Dr. Natasha Lockhart had arrived. Her tiny form was overwhelmed by her thick red coat and scarf. He noticed she wore beige scrubs tucked into her fleece-lined snow boots.
“Not the greatest morning, Dr. Lockhart.” He’d met the ME a few times. She was smart, quick, and competent.
“I’m pretty certain I’ve asked you to call me Natasha,” she said as she pulled on her gloves.
“Natasha.” She had. Every time.
He watched her do a rapid physical exam of the victim and talk in low tones to the evidence tech with the camera. Her hands moved quickly over the body. The evidence tech helped her roll the man to his side, and she scanned his back. “Your man found him just after four this morning?” she asked Truman.
“Yes. He said he was still bleeding at the time.”
“Nothing he could have done.”
“He knows.” Truman eyed the neck wound. No one could survive that.
“I saw Mercy a few weeks ago,” Natasha said conversationally. “I wasn’t surprised to hear she’d moved to the area permanently.”
“You weren’t?” Most people were shocked Mercy had left the big city.
Natasha gave him an appraising look, and he felt like a cut of beef in the butcher’s case. “Nope. Didn’t surprise me one bit.”
She winked at him and his face heated.
He and Mercy had tried to keep their relationship quiet. Sort of. His men knew they were together, and most of her coworkers knew she was involved with him, but since her initial case in Central Oregon, their jobs hadn’t crossed again until now.