Home > A Merciful Silence (Mercy Kilpatrick #4)(3)

A Merciful Silence (Mercy Kilpatrick #4)(3)
Author: Kendra Elliot

“Any work getting done on your cabin?” Jeff asked Mercy conversationally as he shoved in his chair.

Mercy swallowed hard. Her boss hadn’t known she owned a cabin in the Cascade foothills until it recently burned to the ground, destroyed by her friend’s brother during his hunt for a woman he believed had ruined his life. The woman had survived; Mercy’s cabin had not. A decade of Mercy’s prepping and hard work had gone up in flames as her cabin burned. It’d been the source of her sanity, a place she could run to if the world started to crumble.

A safe house. Prepared with years of food and fuel and a solid defense.

Mercy had grown up looking over her shoulder for the end of the world. Her parents had ingrained in her to take nothing for granted and taught her the skills to feed and protect herself in a crisis.

Jeff thought she had a mountain getaway. A place to escape for a weekend of skiing. He didn’t realize she had created a fortress with enough stores to last at least five years. She didn’t correct Jeff’s thinking; she didn’t correct anyone’s assumptions.

Her secret was hers. If the United States’ food sources or power grid collapsed, she couldn’t save everyone. For the sake of her own survival, only Truman and her family knew her secret.

“All the burned rubbish has been hauled away,” she told him. “The area has been cleared and prepped to start building again. But they can’t get started for another month or two.”

Against her instincts, she’d hired a builder. She’d wanted to tackle the project herself, keeping her secret hidden from the world, but Truman had put his foot down, logically pointing out that it could take her a year to simply build the frame. She relented and hired a builder to do the basic structure; she would do the customizations herself.

Along with Truman.

Luckily her barn of supplies hadn’t been touched, but she still felt naked and exposed without her cabin. She’d rapidly outfitted the barn with a sleeping area, but it was rough. No running water or heat. But it settled her anxiety.

A bit.

She wouldn’t relax again until she had her hideaway.

Who am I fooling? I never relaxed to begin with.

There was always something to improve or prepare. Together she and Truman had gone over the cabin plans. It would be bigger than her previous A-frame . . . but not too much. A bigger house took more fuel to heat. The home would have a true second story, not just a loft. Truman had suggested a safe room, believing it would appeal to Mercy’s protective nature. She’d violently disagreed, imagining being trapped in a box as her home burned around her, unable to fight and defend herself. They’d compromised on a hidden closet big enough to hide in if immediately needed. The same type that had protected her niece in the barn when the killer had come hunting.

“The builder promises to have it done by the end of summer,” she added. “Then I’ll finish the interior myself.”

“Perfect. Just in time for skiing. Will your leg be ready to hit the slopes?” Jeff asked with concern.

The same man who had burned her cabin had shot her in the right thigh. The residual pain from the injury still woke her up at night, along with nightmares of how defenseless she’d been as he’d aimed his gun at her head. In her dreams she died, but in reality he’d been shot a split second before by his brother.

Mercy had no intention of skiing. “I don’t know. It hasn’t healed as quickly as the doctor expected.”

“It hasn’t even been two months. You had a huge hole in your leg. Give it time.”

“I’m trying to be patient.” Mercy smiled, feeling like a liar. She couldn’t run, she couldn’t walk very far, and she could barely do the stairs to her home. The first week she’d overworked her leg and received a stern lecture from her doctor and Truman along with more nights of agonizing pain. It’d been a tough lesson to learn, so now she tried to listen to her body instead of pretending a bullet couldn’t slow her down.

“You’ll have to throw a housewarming when your cabin is done.”

“We’ll see. It will be pretty bare bones. Just the basics, you know,” she hedged. The idea of people congregating in her hideaway created an itch deep inside her skull.

Rule one of a secret hideaway: keep the location a secret.

“But I’ll figure out something,” she added noncommittally.

“Great. Let me know what you find out from the odontologist about the skulls.”

“Will do.” She exhaled a sigh of relief as her boss left the room.

I hate lying to people I trust.

FOUR

The El Camino flew by Police Chief Truman Daly, leaving the rumble of a powerful engine in its wake.

Truman immediately had two thoughts.

I haven’t seen an El Camino in decades.

What kind of license plate was that?

He dropped his scone into his Tahoe’s cup holder and hit his lights and siren as he pulled onto the two-lane highway. The speeder had to be driving at least twenty miles an hour over the speed limit. Truman hadn’t recorded his speed, but his gut told him the license plate would be all he needed to pull over the El Camino.

He pressed the accelerator and picked up his radio to let Lucas know what was going on.

“Try to wrap it up quickly,” his office manager told him. “My mom dropped off pulled pork here at the station. It’s not going to last.”

“Did she use the Dr Pepper sauce?”

“Yep. Royce and Samuel are already digging in.”

“Save me some,” Truman ordered. “Because I have a hunch this might take a while.”

“You need county?” Lucas’s voice sharpened. The twenty-year-old man would make a good cop, but he was happiest maintaining the organization of the tiny Eagle’s Nest Police Department and telling everyone what to do.

“That’s a good idea. Or state. Whichever is closest. The license plate looked homemade.”

“Gotcha,” Lucas replied in a knowing tone. “I’ll make the calls.”

Truman pushed the Tahoe up to eighty-five and gained on the white El Camino. The driver was enjoying the gentle curves of the highway, cutting from one lane to another to straighten his course. This particular highway wove between flat ranch lands dotted with sagebrush and lava rocks. No other traffic was present. Normal for this stretch of remote road.

Everything around the tiny city of Eagle’s Nest was remote. The Central Oregon town was thirty minutes from Bend and several hours from Portland, the biggest city in the state. Distance wasn’t the only thing that separated Eagle’s Nest from population-dense Portland. They were separated by the Cascade Range, whose peaks averaged around ten thousand feet. The big city sat at the north end of the fertile Willamette Valley, while Truman’s small town perched on the high desert. Politics in the valley were generally blue; in Eagle’s Nest they were firmly red. And Portland’s median household income was double that of Eagle’s Nest. They were two different worlds.

Truman wouldn’t trade his city for anything. It was God’s country. Sun, rivers, mountains, lakes. Forests to the west and fields to the east. And he laughed at the rush-hour traffic that made the locals moan. He’d lived in San Jose—he didn’t mind Eagle’s Nest’s two-minute wait at 5:00 p.m. to turn onto the highway.

The El Camino started to slow. Truman held his breath as he drew closer, squinting at the license plate.

No state DMV authorized that plate.

It was white with blue lettering and had a flag on one side. The vehicle pulled over, and Truman stopped behind it. There was no point entering the small numbers along the bottom of the plate into his computer. The license plate read US CONSTITUTIONAL LICENSE PLATE in big letters above the numbers.

He sighed. Over the radio Lucas announced that a Deschutes County deputy was minutes away.

Might as well get this over with.

Truman put on his cowboy hat, stepped out of his truck, and sniffed the air, noting a damp odor; the rain was coming back. He slowly approached the El Camino. It wasn’t in bad shape for a vehicle that had to be at least thirty years old. The paint was shinier than Truman’s dusty SUV’s, and he saw only one dent on the driver’s side. There appeared to be a single person inside, and the bed of the vehicle was loaded with plastic tubs and fresh-cut lumber. The driver made eye contact in the rearview mirror, and Truman saw he was young, maybe in his twenties or thirties.

Truman stopped a few feet behind the driver’s door, getting a good view of the front seat through the rear window. No apparent weapons. Yet.

A traffic stop in Arkansas nearly a decade earlier flashed in Truman’s brain. It hadn’t been his stop, but not a single cop in the United States would ever forget it.

It’d been in the news for months.

The homemade license plate had brought the memory front and center.

Maybe I should wait for county.

His hand hovered over the butt of his gun.

“Did I do something criminal, sir?” The voice from the car was calm and polite.

Truman tensed at the man’s emphasis on the word criminal. “License and registration, please.” He took a step closer. Now he could see the man’s lap and both hands. No weapon.

“Did I do something criminal, sir?” he repeated. “You cannot stop me unless you suspect me of a criminal act.”

Moving closer, Truman decided the driver was in his midtwenties. “What’s your name?” he asked the driver.

“I don’t have to identify myself,” he stated, piercing blue eyes meeting Truman’s. “That’s my right. I know my rights.”

“You have an illegal license plate on your car, and you were exceeding the speed limit.”

“I don’t care what your highway traffic act says. I have no contracts under that act. I’ve canceled them all so you can’t enforce them on me.”

I don’t have the energy for this today. “Let me guess. You’re a free man and have a God-given right to travel freely.”

   
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