Truman noted the familiar use of her first name. “Did you know her, Ben?” Augustus’s claim that Olivia had “known” many men ricocheted in Truman’s head, and acid filled his stomach.
Ben Cooley? The man who just celebrated fifty years of marriage? Tell me it isn’t so.
“I didn’t know her, but my older brother did.”
Truman exhaled. “Explain.”
Ben relayed a story that echoed Augustus McGee’s.
How many similar stories will the investigation uncover?
Truman was ready to hear something positive about the women who lived in the woods. “Why are you telling me this, Ben? That doesn’t shine any light on who might have killed her.”
Ben squirmed and twisted his gloves. “I know. But if the daughter is anything like the mother, there might be a lot of men with an ax to grind. I’m just theorizing.”
“Sounds more like vicious gossip.” Curves, soft flesh, welcoming eyes. “Let’s keep a lid on the chatter in town. Let people know it’s wrong to spread rumors and stories. It’s no help to the investigators. If someone can come forward with some facts, that’d be helpful.”
“Hard to keep tongues from waggin’.”
“Do your best,” Truman ordered. “Refer anyone with facts to Detective Bolton at county or to the FBI.”
Ben’s head jerked up. “The FBI? Why the FBI?”
Truman bit his tongue, silently cursing at himself. The similarity between the judge and Olivia Sabin’s deaths was not public knowledge. Yet.
The older officer raised his brows as he spotted Truman’s discomfort. “Ah. Can’t say?”
“Said too much already.”
“Mum’s the word.”
“Thank you, Ben.”
Lucas’s face appeared above Ben. The six-foot-four former high school football star dwarfed the older officer. “You’ve got a visitor, boss.” Lucas scowled. “He’s a reporter from The Oregonian. Won’t tell me what he wants to talk to you about, so I told him you could only spare a minute.”
“We done, Ben?” Truman asked.
“Yep.” The officer squeezed past Lucas’s bulk in the narrow hallway.
“You willing to see him?” his office manager asked.
“Why not?” Truman was ready for a distraction from witches and rumors.
“Hey!” Lucas hollered down the hall. “Reporter guy. Come on back.”
A tall man about Truman’s age appeared and did an awkward passing hallway dance with Lucas. Truman knew Lucas was being difficult on purpose. The visitor was nearly as tall as Lucas and also moved with the confidence of an athlete, but he resembled a nimble quarterback rather than an offensive lineman. Truman stood and held out his hand, and they exchanged names. Michael Brody’s grip was strong, his gaze direct, and the watch on his wrist the same as that of Truman’s brother-in-law, the Microsoft executive. Translation: way out of Truman’s price range.
He can afford that on a reporter’s salary?
“What can I do for you?” Truman asked as he took a seat and gestured for the reporter to do the same.
Brody perched on the end of his seat, his torso leaning toward Truman. “I’m investigating the story of Judge Malcolm Lake’s death.”
Truman kept his expression even.
Brody studied Truman’s face. “I see you’ve already heard of the connection between Lake and Olivia Sabin.”
Again Truman showed no response. “I’m not sure what that has to do with me. I didn’t know either one of them.”
“But you were at Olivia Sabin’s home yesterday morning. Why would you respond to a death that was out of your jurisdiction? And you were there pretty early . . . too early for news of her murder to have gotten out.”
“Who told you that?”
“Does it matter? And the FBI was there even earlier. How did they know her death would be connected to a federal investigation?”
“They didn’t—” Truman clamped his lips shut.
The intensity of the reporter’s stare lightened a degree. “So they didn’t suspect the deaths were connected. Then why was Agent Kilpatrick on the scene so soon?”
“I don’t think I’m the person to answer your questions.” Truman started to rise to dismiss the nosy asshole.
Brody held up his hands. “I’ll back off. When I get on the scent of something big, I pry wherever I can.”
Truman settled back in his seat, never taking his gaze from the reporter. “I don’t like your career choice.”
The reporter laughed, flashing perfect teeth. “I hear that a lot. But I give a voice to people who might never be heard. I think of it as helping out the little guy . . . sorta like what you do in your position.”
Truman’s annoyance multiplied. “Now—”
“My story last year on prescription drug abuse led to the arrest of more than twenty dealers. And two drug recovery programs stepped up to offer free help to the three mothers I featured whose lives had been turned inside out by their addiction. Results like that is why I do my job.”
Truman was silent.
“I already approached Agent Kilpatrick. She shut me down.”
“But as I looked at who else was at the scene and I dug deeper, I found you to be another anomaly.” Brody tilted his head, and his green stare seemed to penetrate Truman’s brain, probing and assessing. “The more I dug into you, the more I wanted to meet you face-to-face. The officer who nearly died trying to rescue a woman from a car explosion two years ago.”
Instant nausea triggered sweat at Truman’s temples.
“And had every reason to never return to the big-city police force, and then he turns up in this remote town. Possibly licking his wounds? Looking for a slower pace?” The gaze softened slightly. “Couldn’t leave the job completely, could you?”
Truman couldn’t speak. The asshole was baiting him.
“I don’t know if Agent Kilpatrick has ever mentioned Ava McLane to you, but I’ve heard Ava talk about Mercy and a police chief who caught her eye. And then she packed up and moved.”
He knows about Mercy and me? Confusion swamped him. The reporter had nimbly danced, faked, and jabbed Truman in the chest when he wasn’t looking—multiple times. As much as it pissed him off, a small part of Truman reluctantly admired the reporter’s interview skills.
“What do you want, Brody?”
The reporter was silent for a moment. “I never know when I’ll need to rely on good people. You’re staring daggers at me right now, but you’ve kept your cool. No name-calling, no blaming others, no slime. I might be able to help you one day. And vice versa.”
Is he trying to convince me to make a deal with the devil?
“My soul isn’t for sale,” Truman drawled.
Brody’s smile filled his face. “I expected no less.” He rubbed his hands together. “Now. Someone needs to follow up on the anonymous visitor to Judge Lake’s office. This person came in one of the days before his death. I know there’s video—”
“Wait. Why are you telling me this? And how the fuck do you know that?”
“You’ll soon learn that asking for my source is a question I never answer. And I’m telling you because I try to spread myself around. I can’t push every leak through the same person.”