Mercy Kilpatrick wondered whom she’d ticked off at the Portland FBI office.
She stepped out of the car and walked past the two Deschutes County Sheriff SUVs to study the property around the lonely home in the wooded east-side foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Rain plunked on Mercy’s hood, and her breath hung in the air. She tucked the ends of her long, dark curls inside her coat, noting the large amount of debris in the home’s yard. What would appear to be a series of overgrown hedges and casual piles of junk to anyone else, she immediately identified as a carefully planned funneling system.
“What a mess,” said Special Agent Eddie Peterson, who’d been temporarily assigned with her. “Looks like a hoarder lives here.”
“Not a mess.” She gestured at the thorny hedge and a huge rusted pile of scrap metal. “What direction do those items make you want to go?”
“Not that way,” stated Eddie.
“Exactly. The owner deliberately piled all his crap to guide visitors to that open area in front of the house, stopping them from wandering around to the sides and back. Now look up.” She pointed at a boarded-up window on the second story with a narrow opening cut into its center. “His junk positions strangers right where he can see them.” Eddie nodded, surprise crossing his face.
Ned Fahey’s home had been hard to find. The dirt-and-gravel roads weren’t labeled, and they’d had to follow precise, mileage-based directions given to them by the county sheriff to find the house hidden deep in the forest. Mercy noted the fireproof metal roof and the sandbags stacked six feet high against the front of the house. The tired-looking cabin was far from any neighbors but close to a natural spring.
“What’s with the sandbags?” Eddie muttered. “We’re at an elevation of four thousand feet.”
“Mass. Mass stops bullets and slows the bad guys. And sandbags are cheap.”
“So he was nuts.”
“He was prepared.”
She’d smelled a light odor of decay in the yard, and as she climbed the porch steps to the house, it slapped her full in the face. He’s been dead several days. A stone-faced Deschutes County deputy held out a log for her and Eddie to sign. Mercy eyed the deputy’s simple wedding ring. His spouse would not be happy when he arrived home with corpse scent clinging to his clothes.
Next to her, Eddie breathed heavily through his mouth. “Don’t puke,” she ordered under her breath as she slipped disposable booties over her rubber rain boots.
He shook his head, but his expression was doubtful. She liked Eddie. He was a sharp agent with a positive attitude, but he was a young city boy and stood out here in the boonies with his hipster haircut and nerdy glasses. His expensive leather shoes with the heavy treads would never be the same after the mud in Ned Fahey’s yard.
But they looked good.
Used to look good.
Inside the house, she stopped to examine the front door. It was steel. The door had four hinges and three dead bolts; the additional bolts were positioned near the top and bottom of the door.
Fahey had built an excellent defense. He’d done everything right, but someone had managed to break through his barriers.
That shouldn’t have happened.
Mercy heard voices upstairs and followed. Two crime scene techs directed her and Eddie down the hall to a bedroom at the back of the house. An increasing buzzing sound made Mercy’s stomach turn over; it was a sound she’d heard about but never experienced for herself. Eddie swore under his breath as they turned into Fahey’s bedroom, and the medical examiner glanced up from her inspection of a bloated body on the bed.
Mercy had been right about the source of the noise. The room vibrated with the low roar of flies that had discovered the corpse’s orifices. She avoided looking closely at the distended belly that strained the buttons of its clothing. The face was the worst. Unrecognizable behind the black screen of flies.
The medical examiner nodded at the agents as Mercy introduced herself and Eddie. Mercy guessed the medical examiner wasn’t much older than she. She was tiny and trim, making Mercy feel abnormally tall.
Dr. Natasha Lockhart introduced herself, peeled off her gloves, and laid them on the body. “I understand he was known to the FBI,” she said, lifting a brow.
“He’s on the no-fly list,” Mercy said. The list was one of a few the FBI used for its terrorism persons to watch. Ned Fahey had been on it for several years. The corpse on the bed had a history of brushes with the federal government. Sovereign citizens and right-wing militia types were his preferred company. From the reports Mercy had read on the long drive from Portland, she gathered that Fahey had talked the talk but had been unable to walk the walk. He’d been arrested several times for minor destruction of federal property, but someone else had always been the ringleader. Fahey’s criminal charges had seemed to slide off him as if he were coated in Teflon.
“Well, someone decided they no longer needed Mr. Fahey around,” said Dr. Lockhart. “He must have been a sound sleeper to not hear our killer enter his house and place a weapon against his forehead.”
“Against?” Mercy asked.
“Yep. Even under all the flies, I can see the tattooing of the gunpowder in the skin around the entry hole. One nice hole in and one out. Through and through. Lots of power behind the round for it to go through that cleanly.” Dr. Lockhart grinned at Eddie, who swayed slightly as he stood by Mercy. “The flies brush away easily enough. For a moment.”