A Merciful Secret(7)

By: Kendra Elliot



Mercy looked at the old, yellowing clock on the wall. “Just after three.”

“I’ll still take some readings to confirm.” She lifted a large thermometer out of her bag.

I’m out of here.

Mercy pushed past Bolton, then strode down the hallway and out the door. Outside she spotted Morrigan talking animatedly to a deputy, waving her arms as she spoke, clearly excited as she gestured to the woods. Mercy watched. Kids are resilient. She took in the rest of the property. A small pen with a chicken coop was to her left and a good-size barn to her right. The barn looked newer than the house. Its wood was freshly painted and its door hardware gleamed in the growing sunlight. The clearing surrounding the home was covered with footprints. The snow had been well trampled by the occupants of the house. There was little hope of finding the tracks of a killer near the home. They’d have to search deeper into the woods. Unless he came by car.

“You good?” Bolton asked, stopping beside her.

“Yes.” She didn’t look at him, choosing to keep her gaze on Morrigan.

“I’d like to talk to the girl now if you’re up to it.”

“Her name is Morrigan,” Mercy said sharply. “And yes, I’m up to it.”





THREE

Truman Daly checked his phone for the twentieth time as he strode toward the police station.

Mercy still hadn’t replied to his good-morning text.

It was their routine. After the nights they didn’t spend together, they texted each other in the morning. She should have been up by now. He knew she had planned to spend a few hours in the evening at her cabin, and that those visits often went past midnight, but she never overslept.

A subtle uneasiness stirred in his belly.

He kicked a clump of dirty packed snow off the sidewalk and pulled open his department’s door, a small sense of pride shooting through him at the sight of his name below the Eagle’s Nest Police Department logo. Police Chief Truman Daly. He loved his job and considered it an honor to help the people of his tiny town. He’d given big-city police departments a try; it wasn’t for him. He enjoyed the closeness of the community and had learned nearly every resident’s name over the last year.

“Morning, boss,” Lucas said, his big bulk squeezed behind his desk. “Nothing urgent yet this morning.”

“Thanks, Lucas.” Truman eyed the bright-red reindeer on his office manager’s sweater as he took off his cowboy hat. “You know Christmas has been over for a month, right?”

The nineteen-year-old man glanced down. “I like this sweater. It’s fucking cold, so I wore it. Makes more people smile now than when I wore it in December.”

“Good point. Who’s here?”

“Royce went out to a car accident, and Ben should be in any minute.”

The uneasiness in his belly grew. “Any injuries in the car accident?”

“Nah, a fender bender and then one slid into a ditch. Both men are fine.”

His tension loosened. Not her. Mercy had been in a horrible car accident last November, and her silence this morning was deafening to him.

He headed down the hall to his office, texting Mercy’s niece Kaylie as he walked.

Tell Mercy to check her phone.

The response was immediate.

She’s not here.

Where is she?

His phone buzzed in his hand as Kaylie called.

“She wasn’t here when I got up this morning,” the teenager told him.

“What time did she leave last night?”

“Around seven. Right after we ate. She said she’d be back after midnight.”

“Did she come home and then leave early this morning?” Truman’s uneasiness blossomed.

“I don’t think so. There’s no coffee in the pot. She always makes coffee.”

She does.

Kaylie didn’t sound concerned. “She probably slept at the cabin. She does that sometimes. I assume you tried to call her?”

“I texted.”

“Cell service out there is spotty. Drives me crazy,” she said with teenage disgust.

“Tell her to call me if you hear from her.”

“Will do.”

Truman stared at his unanswered texts. I have to go out there.

Mercy’s cabin was her lifeline. Her center. Her balance. An upbringing in a family of preppers had left her with a soul-deep need to always be prepared in case of TEOTWAWKI. The end of the world as we know it. Truman understood the logic behind having a supply of water and rations in case of an emergency, but Mercy took it to a whole other level. She could live at her cabin indefinitely if the world drastically changed. Truman admired her dedication and didn’t say a word when she spent hours chopping wood in the middle of the night or combed antique stores searching for old tools to replace electric or gas-powered ones.

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