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An unsolved murder, more than 40 years in the past, leads to the discovery of a new victim and the return of an old stalker.After a blow to the head, Owen Lafferty lied dying, alone in a cabin, far out in the woods and far from home. He was found by Dana Rossi-Crane as she happened along, chasing around the threads of a 1972 unsolved murder involving her mother-in-law, Faye and Owen and his family. Dana’s efforts were, unfortunately, too little, too late to save Owen.With the two murders 40 some years apart, looking like they’re related, a cast of suspects now in their sixties and seventies and very set in their ways and a wife who won’t stay out of her cases, Sheriff Mel Crane already has her hands full. A new Deputy District Attorney coming in and horning in on her investigation and the return of her old stalker, don’t help matters.Can Mel solve either case? Can she convince the new Deputy DA that she’s not hiding evidence to protect her family? Is Sally’s reason for showing back up in Mel’s life legitimate or a ruse to get close to her again? Will Dana butt out? Stay tuned!This book is great together with Books 1-9 of The Morelville Mysteries but it can also be read as a stand-alone mystery.
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The Morelville Mysteries – Book 10
To Aunt Sherry
Jug Run Press, USA
Copyright © 2018
All rights reserved: No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed or given away in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without prior written consent of the author or the publisher except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages for review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are actual places used in an entirely fictitious manner and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Chapter 1 - It Was Murder
Chapter 2 - Widowed
Chapter 3 - Horace Bailey
Chapter 4 - Another Suspect Comes Out of the Woods
Chapter 5 - Real Estate
Chapter 6 - DDA in the House
Chapter 7 - Enter Sally
Chapter 8 - A New Target
Chapter 9 - Suspect Sally
Chapter 10 - Tennessee
Chapter 11 - Dana’s Duty
Chapter 12 - Played
Chapter 13 - Sullied Sally
Chapter 14 - Head Full of Steam
Chapter 15 - Your Father’s Oldsmobile?
Chapter 16 - The Shady Rest
Chapter 17 - Lucid
Chapter 18 - The Best Laid Plans
Chapter 19 - Deja Vu
Chapter 20 - Found
Chapter 21 - Where is She?
Chapter 22 - To the Rescue!
Chapter 23 - Truth...Maybe
Chapter 24 - Horace
Chapter 25 - Corrections
Chapter 26 - Arraignment
Chapter 27 - Eunice Lafferty
Chapter 28 - Sheila Ford
About the Author
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Also Written by the Author
District Attorney’s Office
Wednesday Morning, November 11th
“I JUST GOT OFF THE phone with Lucas Kreskie, Andrea. Owen Lafferty’s death just moved from suspicious to homicide. He’s confirming that blunt force trauma Lafferty suffered to the head was the cause of the hemorrhaging that resulted in the man’s death. Sheriff Crane suspected the trauma but her crew didn’t find a murder weapon on the scene.”
The Deputy DA winced. She picked a file up off the top of the pile on the right side of her desk, opened it, then looked back at her boss who still stood in the frame of her door. “Are you telling me I’ve got my first big case?”
“You’ve got it. Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
“I’ll do everything I can to support you,” Devon Willis said, “but, remember, I’ve got my hands pretty full right now too.”
Andrea dipped her head in acknowledgment.
“I suggest you get with Crane, get up to speed with everything her department has so far.”
“ANDREA ANDERSON, SHERIFF. The Coroner ruled Owen Lafferty’s death a homicide. I’ve been assigned the case.” She offered a handshake across Mel’s desk.
“I’m sorry,” Mel said as she looked up at the other woman with narrowed eyes. “You are?”
“Andrea Anderson...the uh, the Deputy District Attorney.”
“Didn’t know we had one.” Mel offered her hand and shook Anderson’s briefly.
“I just started a couple of weeks ago. Devon needed help. He says you’re keeping him pretty busy.”
“So, he can just appoint help for himself?” Mel waved the hand the DDA let go of at the one visitor’s chair she allowed in her office.
Andrea moved toward it as she answered, “No. Not exactly. There was a process to get the funding and such...so he tells me.” She sat down, perching on the edge of the chair.
Mel made a mental note to ask Willis about the ‘process’ his DDA referred to. She’d had to fight with the county hard just to replace a detective with someone more junior and who was paid less than the disgraced detective she was replacing. “Looks like you have a case file started, there. What do you need from me?”
“It’s s pretty skimpy file, Sheriff.”
“You may as well call me Mel.”
The younger woman nodded. “There’s your notes in here from the crime scene, of course. A witness statement from a Dana Rossi-Crane; any relation?”
Mel nodded. “My wife.”
“She found Owen Lafferty who, incidentally, is my Uncle.”
“I see.” The DDA dropped her head and studied the old, tiled floor.
“Is there a problem?”
Andrea looked up. “Not for me but maybe for you.”
“Oh...I don’t know!” Her tone changed. “That seems all a little strange and...and convenient...coincidental, even? Don’t you think maybe you ought to distance yourself from the case?”
“That’s all it was, Ms. Anderson, a bunch of coincidences; I assure you. An odd set of coincidences that can only happen in Morelville.”
“Why in Morelville?”
“It’s just one of those places where everybody knows everybody, and everybody is always in everybody else’s business. No matter what happens down there, someone I’m related to in some way is usually involved.”
Andrea wrinkled her nose.
Mel shrugged. “I’ve lived in that area my whole life. I’m used to it. As for Dana, she writes. She was working on a story. She was at that cabin that day to interview the owner of it, Chuck Knox. He wasn’t there when she got there but she found Owen, barely alive. And, for the record, she had no idea who she found.”
“So, Knox; he’s a suspect?” She paged through her file, scanning it quickly.
“Now that it’s been ruled a homicide, yeah. He’ll have to be.” She pointed at the file the DDA had just been skimming. “Did you find a statement from him in there? There should be one.”
“There is. It’s pretty vague. He says he wasn’t at the cabin most of the day. Claims he was hunting.”
“That’s what he told me when he brought himself in here the other evening.”
“Where’s he at right now?”
“At home, I imagine.”
“Not in the lock up?” Andrea looked surprised.
Mel shook her head. “Look, I suspected foul play as soon as I saw Owen lying there but I didn’t have any reason to hold Knox. The man came in to make his statement voluntarily.”
“What if he runs...disappears?”
“He won’t. I know where to find him, but I don’t think he’s our man anyway.”
“Got any idea who is, then?”
“Horace Bailey. He’s already in the lockup for...for an old murder he’s admitted to. We’re just waiting on a sentencing hearing for that.” Mel thought she better not tell the new DDA that it was Dana who had gotten him to confess. She’d deal with the fallout from that, if and when it ever came out.
“You think the two murders are related?”
“I’m sure they are.”
“What evidence do you have?”
“Nothing physical, though I suspect the cane Bailey uses to get around with may have been the murder weapon in this case. I’ll have to talk to the coroner about that and then get a warrant to search his property for it.”
“That’s it? What have you heard?”
“Not much. Horace claims he wasn’t there at all. Says he was at medical appointments all day. I have to get that information out of him and follow up on it now that Owen has passed. Knox claims to not know anything at all. Says he was out hunting all day and had no idea Owen was at his cabin or anyone else.”
“You believe that?”
“No, but I had no probable cause to hold him either. It’s already been 48 hours.”
“I want to interview this Horace Bailey character, for starters.”
Mel raised an eyebrow. “Now?”
“No. Do your due diligence first. Get your warrant for the search and run down his alibi today then get him up to interview from the lockup tomorrow.”
“Yes ma’am!” Mel said, with more than a hint of sarcasm.
“Look, Sheriff...Mel. I’m not here to tell you how to do your job. I’m sure you know what needs to be done...who you need to talk to. I just...it just needs to happen yesterday. I can’t sit on this one for long.”
“Guess I better get started then,” Mel said.
Owen Lafferty Family Residence
“I’M SORRY FOR YOUR loss, Aunt Gladys.”
“I appreciate that.” She swiped at the tears falling from her eyes. “This is all so...so...I don’t even know what to say.”
Well, what I’m here to talk with you about, I’m sorry to say, is probably not what you want to hear.” When her aunt just stared at her, Mel asked, “Can we sit for a minute?”
“Oh, sorry. Sure. This way.” She walked slowly, leading the way into the family dining room and indicated Mel should take the seat at the head of the table.
Assuming that was where her great uncle had always sat, she went around to the far side and took the seat opposite the one her Aunt Gladys was taking.
“You have a lovely home,” Mel said.
Gladys nodded. “Thanks. It’s a shame you’ve never been here before now. Our families...Owen...it was just so awkward, what 30 some years ago - maybe 40 - and then it always seemed to late to try and make it right...make amends.”
Mel just nodded. She wanted to talk with Owen’s widow about the family rift but that could wait. “Aunt Gladys, I’m actually here to tell you that the Coroner did an autopsy. He ruled Uncle Owen’s death a homicide.”
Her eyes grew wide. “Like...like murder?”
Mel nodded. “That’s why I’m here.”
“Who would want to kill Owen?”
“That,” Mel said as gently as she could, “was what I’m hoping you can help me with.”
“Did Uncle Owen tell you where he was going on Monday?”
“I assumed he went to work until I got the call to go to the hospital.”
Mel was slightly taken aback. “He was still working?”
“He was, what? Well into his seventies, right? I mean, he didn’t look it but..”
Gladys gave her a half smile. “Seventy-six, but he always said the work kept him young. He was a teacher and he loved it. These last several years, he taught students in the gifted program. He did a lot of the honors and advanced placement English classes too, at Dresden and at a few other high schools. He traveled around, school to school.”
“I had no idea.” Mel shook her head, her shock evident on her face. “How long?”
“This was his 30th year. He was thinking about retiring after this school year...he would have maxed out his State Teacher’s Retirement Plan pension.”
“He wasn’t sure?”
She shook her head. “We have one more grandchild that’s still in high school. He’s a sophomore. Owen thought he might stay around until he graduated.”
Mel’s mind whirled. What she was hearing was so contradictory to the impression her mother had always given her of Owen and his family. She masked her emotions and tried to get back on track. “So, you knew nothing about him going to Chuck Knox’s cabin on Monday, then?”
She shook her head no again. “I didn’t think he spent any time in Morelville at all, ever, these days. Why, I hadn’t heard Chuck’s name mentioned in years, until this happened. It was a real bolt from the past.” The older woman shuddered visibly.
Mel made a mental note of her obvious discomfort at the mention of Knox. “Was there something between them in the past that might have kept them from speaking for such a long time?”
“It’s...it’s so hard for me to know. When we moved away from there, he didn’t want to talk about anyone or anything there, especially after that Thanksgiving. No one. Not even his brother. If I even mentioned the names Drew or Chuck or, heaven forbid, Eunice, he’d storm off in a huff. After a while, I gave up trying to get him to go and visit his brother or even to talk about anyone there.”
“But you went there for Thanksgiving?”
“Owen actually wanted to go. He helped bankroll the well. Said he wanted to make sure everyone involved was doing their part.” She shook her head. “He never got involved in any of the oil stuff again either...there or anywhere else.”
“Did Owen happen to mention speaking with anyone from back in Morelville in the past week or so, to anyone besides Chuck?”
She shrugged one slim shoulder. “This is all such a shock to begin with. Who else would there be?”
“Well, say, Horace Bailey?”
She sat back hard in her chair. “Wow, there’s another name from out of the blue.”
“I know. But, I have reason to believe one or the other of those two men may have gotten in touch with him. Can you think of anything?”
No.” She shook her head slowly. “I don’t know of either calling him or calling on him but I don’t know for sure.”
“Did he use a cell phone? He, uh, he didn’t have one on him when he was found.”
“He has...had one, yes,” Gladys said. “He didn’t care for it; didn’t use it much. Reception is so spotty around here. He really only carried it when he knew he’d be traveling between schools for the day...just in case.”
“Do you think I could take a look at it?”
“Look at it? You can probably have it. The boys wouldn’t want it. Not even the grandkids.” She got up and went to a drawer in an old sideboard. She pulled it open and rummaged around in it for just a moment. “I tossed it in here. I didn’t really give it a thought.” She pulled an old flip phone out.
Seeing it, Mel grimaced. Any hopes she had of pulling something useful off of it were all but lost.
Gladys picked up on her expression. “Owen didn’t have a lot of use for it, like I said. He...he didn’t stay in touch with anyone - family or otherwise - back there in Morelville very well; not after that man was killed. Neither of us did...but you probably know all about that.”
Mel took the plunge. “Why is that? You must have some idea. Why the rift from that day that’s kept him...all of you, here in the county but completely apart from the rest of the family? There’s never been any evidence to say who killed Mathis.” Until now, anyway, Mel thought.
“Pardon me, you’re Faye’s girl, right?”
“Yes,” Mel bobbed her head. “And, I have a sister. My Uncle Brian has two sons and a daughter. Have you ever met any of them?”
The older woman looked away and didn’t answer for several long seconds. She broke her silence by taking in a gulp of air before she spoke. “Your grandmother...Eunice and I, we had been real close. Closer even than your granddad and Owen were. That was all back in the day, you understand? Real close. Owen moved us away from there several months before that well came in. He took a job up this way and it came with a house. We tried to stay involved down there for a time, because of the well drilling and all. Of course, when all of that happened, that kind of changed everything in his mind. He didn’t want anything to do with anyone down there.”
“And he never said why?”
She looked away from Mel’s gaze and didn’t speak.
Mel tried another approach. “Did you get to at least speak with Eunice much at all after that?”
Gladys turned her head back to look at Mel and shook it. “No. Something...something happened to her that very day. She...” Her lip trembled as she spoke. “She broke down. She had problems after that...maybe even before that. I tried to call her a few times...when Owen was out.” Her look was sheepish. “Once, Drew answered. He told me he had her put away for a time, ‘til she got her head back on right, he said.”
“When’s the last time you saw her or heard from her?”
The older woman raised her chin to the ceiling, thinking. Her eyes brimmed with tears when she looked back across the table and said, “At Drew’s funeral. At the viewing, I mean. We passed through rather quickly just to pay our respects. I told Owen; it’s your brother...”
“Did you speak to her then?”
“No. She...she just looked so alone and lost. The kids...your mama and your uncle, they were grown by then and starting families of their own. You were probably a toddler. I don’t think you were actually there that day but...it was all so fast...”
“Do you think Owen ever saw Eunice after that?”
Gladys started to shake her head but stopped herself. “He...he had a student...oh, it’s probably been 15 years or more now, that tried to commit suicide by taking a bunch of pills. He left a note. He said in it that ‘Mr. Lafferty is the only one that even cares about me.’ That just tore at Owen’s heart. He went to see the boy at the place where they’d sent him once they got his stomach right. He...he told me he couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw Eunice there, passing along a hallway as an aide led him to the boy.”
“Did he try and speak to her?”
“He said she looked like she was spaced out on drugs, was how he put it.”
Mel pursed her lips and nodded. “She’s at Shady Pines these days; not far from here. It’s pretty much the same sometimes but now I think it’s more dementia or maybe even Alzheimer's than the drugs they used to give to psych patients. I don’t know...medical stuff was never my strong suit.”
“Does she...does she get to have visitors?”
Mel tilted her head and looked at Gladys as she answered, “Yes, during certain hours but, in all honesty, some days she knows you, most days she doesn’t. My mom goes to see her a lot but she’s really the only one that does now and it’s getting harder and harder for her. She asked softly then, remembering Gladys had said she and Eunice were close, once upon a time, “Are you thinking about trying to see her?”
Gladys drew in a deep breath and let it out in a huff before she spoke. “I don’t know. Maybe I should, maybe I shouldn’t. I’ve always wanted to, sort of try and talk to her about some things and maybe clear the air. Get her side.”
“About her affair?”
The other woman sat back hard in her chair. “You know about that?”
Mel dipped her head in acknowledgment.
“I started suspecting she was having an affair because of things she would say or do. Actually, one time, she even asked me to...to sort of cover for her. I wouldn’t do it. I would have thought that would have made her mad, but she just breezed on along like it was nothing.”
“Do you know who she was seeing?”
“I...I was never sure. Eventually, I tried to...how do my grandchildren say it? Call her out on it? I think that’s it.”
“When was that?”
Gladys thought about that for a bit. “I’d have to say it was close to that Thanksgiving, maybe a week or two before that when I was back down there in the village and I stopped in to see her. Oh, she tried to deny it but she knew I knew better. Still, she wouldn’t admit anything directly. All she would say though was that she’d gotten in a little over her head with someone and she was planning to break it off. She said things were finally going good for her and her and Drew and she didn’t want to mess that up.” She half rolled her eyes. “Pardon me for saying this but what I really think is, what she didn’t want to mess up was the fact that a well had come in and they finally had a little money to burn.”
Late Thursday morning, November 12th
Muskingum County Sheriff’s Department
MEL MET ANDREA ANDERSON outside of the interview room.
Anderson got right to the point. “What did you come up with yesterday?”
“Not much,” Mel admitted. “A little background from the victim’s wife, is all.”
“The appointments? The murder weapon? What about those?”
“No dice on information about the appointments. He lawyered up...wouldn’t talk to me. His lawyer is in there with him now. I’m sure he’s thinking about cutting some sort of deal.”
Anderson tossed her head sideways. “We’ll just see about that.”
Horace sat at the interview table in his orange jail jumpsuit. He rested his handcuffed hands on the table top and hung his head.
Mel and the DDA walked into the room, one right after the other.
Horace’s attorney Calvin Holmes, rose and nodded at Mel. “Sheriff.” He pointed at the cuffs the still seated prisoner wore. “Can those come off?”
“Sure. Sure,” Mel said as stepped around the table then dug in her pocket for her keys. While the DDA introduced herself to Holmes, Mel took the restraints off and laced them through her gun belt. Horace rubbed his wrists but said nothing.
Mel’s heart melted a little. She’d known the man all her life. She found it hard to believe he’d killed Tanner Mathis all those years ago but, despite the conventional wisdom, she knew people changed. Sometimes for the worst but occasionally for the better. Maybe that had been the wakeup call he needed in the seventies to get his life together but now it was all coming back to bite him.
Holmes didn’t want to waste any time. Looking at Anderson, he said, “We want a deal. We’ll plead guilty to manslaughter for the death of Tanner Mathis. My client is 79, nearly 80. The docket is packed. Waiting for a sentencing hearing is just going to waste the taxpayer’s money and it will end up landing him in the penitentiary where he most assuredly does not belong at his advanced age and state of health.”
“No deal,” Andrea said, as soon as he stopped for a breath. “We’ve got probable cause to believe your client is responsible for the death of Owen Lafferty.”
Horace’s head shot up and he glared at Mel. “I told you before, I wasn’t there where he...where he was found. I had appointments all that day; medical appointments!”
“Then give me the details so I can follow up, Mr. Bailey,” Mel said.
He looked at his attorney.
Andrea cleared her throat. “You should know that a search warrant will be executed on your client’s home today.”
Before Holmes could respond, Bailey slapped his hands down on the table and shouted, “What for?”
The tremor in her voice belied her calm exterior as the DDA told him and his counsel, “We’re looking for the murder weapon, which we believe to be Mr. Bailey’s walking cane. When we find it, it will be tested.”
“I. Told. You. I. Wasn’t. There.” Horace looked back and forth between Andrea and Mel. Turning to his attorney he asked, “Can’t you do something?”
His counsel gave him a long look but said nothing.
“The appointments, Mr. Bailey?” Mel pressed.
“I was with my...what the hell do they call it these days? My primary care doc in Zanesville, Doc Sipes, in the morning, first thing.”
Mel scribbled the name down. “About what time would that be?”
“Say around 8:00. Always try to make my appointments early, before he gets backed up and I end up sitting there past my appointment time...well past it. I hate that.”
Mel caught herself nodding along.
“Fat lot of good it did me this time though!”
“Why’s that?” Mel asked.
“Oh, he felt like my blood pressure was too high and he wasn’t liking some labs he got back, or so he says, anyway. He wanted me to have some more tests done. It’s all a racket to get more money out of Medicare is all, if you ask me.”
“So he sent you over to Genesis?” Andrea asked.
“Hell no! That’s the thing of it. Made me go see some specialist in Newark who said he could work me in that morning. I went straight up there and ended up cooling my heels for a couple of hours before they took me back, then I waited some more.”
“What was that doctor’s name?” Mel asked.
Horace spread his hands. “Some Indian fellow. Praheet, maybe? That sounds right. Hell, I can’t rightly recall! You’d have to ask Doc Sipes.”
Mel stepped out of the interview room and called down to the squad bay for one of her detectives to come upstairs. Janet Mason appeared a couple of minutes later.
“Me and the new Deputy DA have Horace Bailey in interview over Lafferty’s death,” Mel told her. “He’s claiming he has an alibi.” She handed Janet her piece of notepaper and pointed at it. “Says he saw this doctor at 8:00 AM on Monday in Zanesville and that guy sent him to a specialist in Newark. He’s fuzzy on the name. This is his best guess.” Mel pointed at the second name on the paper. “Get on the phone to the doctors, see what you can find out without a warrant, but to start working on that too. They probably won’t give you much.”
“Okay. Anything else?”
“Yeah. Before you go chasing appointments down, get a warrant over to the justice center ASAP for a search of his residence. He uses a walking cane most of the time, but he came in without it. That’s probably our murder weapon.”
“On it, Sheriff.”
“IT DIDN’T GO TOO BAD, Sheriff,” Janet told her boss a couple of hours later. “I’ve gone ahead and sent both warrants over to justice for signature, but I was able to confirm Bailey’s appointments without one and that he showed up for both.”
Mel raised her eyebrows. “I’m surprised.”
“Actually, the guy here in Zanesville was my mother’s family doctor for several years...before the cancer diagnosis.” She paused and sucked in a breath, steadying herself. “I took a quick ride over there. He remembered me. He wouldn’t tell me anything in a medical sense, but he did tell me that Bailey was there for his appointment, that he sent him to Newark to see a specialist and that it’s evident Bailey did go up there because they do have test results back from that day.”
“Any idea of the time line?”
Janet nodded. “His first appointment was at eight AM. They sent him on his way around 8:30 AM. The time stamp on the labs is 11:03 AM. I didn’t get to see the labs, but I trust what they told me.”
Mel shook her head. “Plenty of time.”
“He had plenty of time, even as slow as he drives, to leave Zanesville and get back to Morelville for whatever meeting was going on there before Dana happened along around 2:30 or so that afternoon and found Lafferty barely clinging to life.”
We’ve got him, Mel thought.
“He’s in interview, Sheriff,” Deputy Gates said, as he walked into Mel’s office. “Sorry it took so long.” He set an evidence bag down on her desk, in front of her.
Mel opened it and took a peek inside. She squinted in at what she saw and then looked up at Gates. “A trail cam?”
“Yup. We found him at his house...sort of. He was coming through the woods, up to the main house, on a quad, when we got there. Once we filled him in, he insisted we go over to that cabin where Lafferty was found, before we brought him in here. He made Davidson climb a tree about 100 yards down a trail, back behind the cabin, for that thing.”
“He must think it’s important. We’ll see about that.”
Gates turned and walked out of her office.
Mel closed the bag and picked it up as she got up. She started to leave with the bag and then thought better of it. “Gates, hang on,” she called after him.
As he turned, she held the bag out and walked toward him with it. “I’m not going to take this into interview with me. Go ahead and check it into evidence and tell Mason it’s there but tell her not to draw it until she hears from me.”
He accepted the bag.
Before she let go of it, she asked, “Do you hunt, Gates?”
“Not anymore, Sheriff. Not since my dad passed on. I used to hunt with him.”
“Ever use trail cams?”
He shook his head. “Dad was all about the hunt. We didn’t bait deer either.”
She released her grip on the bag. “Something tells me Knox only wanted this one collected because it gives him an alibi. That’s a good-sized chunk of property he has and that he hunts out there. Where there’s one, there’s usually several.”
CHUCK KNOX WATCHED Mel and her detective, Shane Harding, as they entered the room but stayed silent.
Shane busied himself taking a seat across the table from the other man and opening a notebook while Mel un-cuffed yet another person she’d known most of her life, before he could even ask.
Knox played it cool, not rubbing his wrists or acting like having the restraints off was a relief of any sort.
“They read you your rights?” Mel asked him, finally speaking, as she took a seat next to Harding.
“Yes,” Chuck said, nodding. “You didn’t need to bring me back in here. You already know everything I know. I told you the day they found your uncle, I was out hunting all day.”
“You’re right; you did.”
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