A Merciful Secret(3)

By: Kendra Elliot


“Grandma.”

“Her real name.”

The girl thought hard. “Olivia.”

“Olivia,” Mercy said. “What happened to you? Who did this?” Olivia continued to stare, her lips still forming the foreign words. It doesn’t sound like Italian. Or any language I’ve ever heard before. The chanting stopped, and the woman’s breathing grew hoarse. She coughed, a deep hacking sound, and blood flew from her lips. Mercy pressed harder and directed Morrigan to apply pressure with another towel on the bleeding abdomen.

She obeyed. “Is she going to die?” she whispered through tears.

Mercy couldn’t lie. “I don’t know. It’s bad.”

Olivia coughed, and more blood flew. She shakily raised her blood-covered hand to touch Mercy’s cheek. “Thank you.” The first words Mercy recognized.

Her hand was warm and wet, and her fingers slid down the side of Mercy’s face as she held eye contact. The terror in Olivia’s gaze had evaporated, replaced with contentment.

She’s leaving.

“No! I won’t let you go, Olivia!” Mercy shook the woman’s shoulder. “Talk to her, Morrigan. Make her listen to you.” The girl started to plead with her grandmother, who turned tired eyes in her direction.

Panic simmered under Mercy’s skin. She couldn’t call for an ambulance. Her only choices were to carry the woman to her Tahoe, stay here and continue trying to stop the bleeding, or get the vehicle and risk the long drive back to the house before taking her to the hospital. Mercy weighed each option. I’ve got to get the Tahoe. She got to her feet. “I’m going to get my truck.”

Olivia’s hand shot out, grabbing her wrist. “Stay.”

Mercy froze. And then slowly sank back to her knees, taking the bleeding hand again and holding the dying woman’s gaze. She doesn’t want to be alone. An inner calm flowed from the woman’s hand to Mercy’s and quieted her nerves.

I will do this for her.

Olivia looked from Mercy to Morrigan and then closed her eyes. Mercy watched her chest rise four more times before it stopped.

Numb, she held the woman’s hand and listened to Morrigan wail.





TWO

“Sorry about taking your clothes, Special Agent Kilpatrick,” a Deschutes County deputy muttered as Mercy dropped her coat, sweater, and jeans into his paper bag after changing in Morrigan’s bedroom.

“No problem. I always have another set of clothing with me.” Once she’d gotten a look at her bloody sweater, she’d known the investigators would want everything she wore, but before she’d changed, the crime scene tech had photographed her in the stained outfit.

Mercy had stood and stared straight ahead as the young man circled her, snapping photos. He’d moved closer to photograph her face, and she fought down the guilt that crawled up the back of her throat over her inability to save Olivia. Awkwardly he asked permission to cut a chunk of her hair. Mercy nodded and watched as strands of her long black hair, thick with congealed blood, fell into his waiting envelope. Then he’d taken out a swab, dampened it, and touched it to her face. Olivia’s blood was crusted on her cheek. The drying blood had pulled Mercy’s skin, and she’d briefly scratched it before comprehending what it was. It was still under her fingernails, even after the tech had scraped them.

I did everything I could.

A shiver shot through her muscles, making her entire body spasm as she watched the deputy seal the bag. He gave her a quick glance, sympathy in his eyes.

She’d seen death up close before. Even clung to her brother’s hand as he’d passed.

But this was different. Olivia’s need for human touch, her need for someone to stay and not let her slip into death alone, had ripped open Mercy’s heart.

The moment would stay with her forever.

She had sat with Olivia for a few minutes after she’d passed, and then Mercy had pulled Morrigan onto her lap and simply held her until she stopped crying and drifted off to sleep. She put a thick coat on the girl, carried her through the snow back to her Tahoe, and then drove until she found a cell signal. Exhausted, Morrigan had dozed in the back seat, her head bobbing on her chest. Mercy reported the death and tried to drive back to the house. She’d had to wake up Morrigan for directions. Morrigan had been right. The twisting side road to the little house took forever.

Now Deschutes County detective Evan Bolton waited for Mercy in the living room of Olivia’s home. The detective was young, probably younger than Mercy, but his eyes were old and cynical, as if they’d seen every horror in the world. When he’d arrived at the crack of dawn, he’d silently listened to Mercy’s brief story and asked minimal questions, but she’d had a gut feeling that he missed very little. Sympathy flashed in his brown eyes as she approached.

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