A Merciful Secret(13)

By: Kendra Elliot

The deputy nodded. “It’s definitely a craft room. My wife would live in there if she had one like it.”

“I’ll take a look,” said Bolton, moving toward the barn with the deputy.

“I need to leave,” Natasha said to Mercy. “I’ll get to your victim tomorrow morning. I have a full schedule today.”

See? Even Natasha thinks I should be involved. Mercy said her good-bye to the medical examiner and then exchanged a look with Truman. They simultaneously headed to the barn.

“Not your case,” Truman said under his breath.

“Tough beans. Until I know Morrigan is safe, I’m keeping my nose in. What is taking the CPS agent so long?”

“Other kids who need her, six inches of snow, the long drive.”

She side-eyed him. “I didn’t mean literally.”

His grin warmed her to her cold toes. “Where do you think her mother is?” he asked.

“Good question.” Her shoulders sagged. “Can you imagine coming home to learn your mother has been murdered?” The second the words left her mouth, she wanted to take them back. Truman had found his uncle’s murdered body.

“In a way, I can.”

“Oh, Truman. I wasn’t thinking.” She took his hand as they walked, squeezing tightly. Jefferson Biggs had been more than an uncle to Truman; he’d been a surrogate father. His death was part of the FBI’s domestic terrorism case that had brought Mercy back to Eagle’s Nest after fifteen years away.

“It’s all right.” He didn’t look at her, his jaw tight. “I miss him sometimes. He would have loved this hidden property in the middle of the woods.”

“Yes, he would.” Jefferson had subscribed to Mercy’s bone-deep philosophy about being prepared for disaster. Any disaster.

Mercy stepped through the open door of the barn and breathed deep. Hay, grain, dirt floors, warm animals. The scents triggered warm memories of her youth. Morrigan was in a pen with three pygmy goats, holding one on her lap, scratching its horn nubs as it rubbed its head on her coat. The goat was in ecstasy.

Nothing heals a broken heart like an animal.

“They’re down there.” Morrigan pointed at the far end of the barn. “I’m not allowed in that room.”

“How come?” asked Truman.

“I might break something.” She looked down and rubbed under the goat’s chin. “But sometimes I go in and look. I’m very careful not to touch,” she confessed in a softer voice. “Mom doesn’t want me getting sick either.”

“Why would you get sick?” Mercy asked.

The girl frowned as she considered the question. “Some of the stuff in there is bad. Like in the knife room. But I would never touch or taste anything. I know better.”

Mercy turned to Truman. What the hell? she asked with her gaze.

He shrugged.

They approached the room, Mercy feeling curiosity along with a strong sense of caution. “Detective Bolton?”

“Yeah?” he said from around the corner.

Exasperation rang in his tone. No doubt he’d thought she’d leave after his directive.

“Don’t touch anything,” she said as she stepped through the entrance. “Morrigan said she’s been warned she could get sick from . . .” She and Truman stopped and gaped.

Mercy hadn’t believed anything could surprise her more than the knife room. If the knife room was from a horror movie, this room was from a hobbit fantasy world.

The small work space was wider than the tight knife closet in the house, but it had a similar workbench, and shelves lined all sides of the room. Most were packed with tiny houses and buildings. Bolton and the deputy stood in the center, hands on their hips, scanning the fairy world.

“Do elves live in here?” Truman asked as he stared.

“Haven’t seen any yet,” answered Bolton. “But what in here could make someone sick?”

“Maybe it’s in those.” Mercy pointed. A dozen large glass jars of powders and dried herbs sat on a shelf below a metal strip holding two dozen knives, awls, and other carving tools. A wooden box with small satin drawstring bags sat under the shelf on the workbench. Next to the box was a stack of tiny cards, each one covered with elaborate cursive handwriting. Mercy peered at one. “Burn one tablespoon of the physic at midnight for five nights in a row,” she read aloud. “Any left over after five nights must be buried two feet deep.” A satin ribbon was threaded through a small hole in the corner of the card. Easy to fasten to a small satin bag. Spells?