A Merciful Fate Page 2

He and Bolton silently stood next to the pile of bones. Some connective tissues were still attached, and Truman spotted little gnaw marks here and there. “All the tiny hand bones are gone,” Truman pointed out. “Vermin, probably.” He didn’t want to touch the old Nikes; they weren’t empty.

“Damned scavengers.”

“The skull doesn’t look feminine,” Truman stated.

Bolton waited, looking at him expectantly.

“See those big ridges above the eye sockets? And how the forehead slopes back? I think that means it was a man. Mercy and I have talked about the differences before.”

“Sounds more like a Neanderthal.”

Truman snorted. “Maybe he was.”

Someone had believed the man should die. One of the eye sockets had been destroyed—probably the bullet entrance—and there was a large hole in the back of the skull. Truman imagined that was the exit wound, but he could be wrong. Had the man been shot in the face or from the back?

The medical examiner would know how to tell.

The bullet hole in the wall gave Truman the creeps. It was at his eye level, and he could see directly through it.

“Hey, Truman, are you about done?” Ollie asked, standing just outside the door. He’d refused to enter the shack when they’d returned. “Something bad happened in there,” he’d repeated several times to Truman. “I saw enough.”

“Give me a few more minutes.” Technically the murder case was Bolton’s since it’d happened outside the Eagle’s Nest city limits. But Truman had a vested interest. It had been found by Ollie, Truman’s . . . What is Ollie to me? A ward? A friend? Truman shook his head. He’d asked himself the question a dozen times over the last two months since Ollie had saved his life in the woods. What do you call the person who saved you from dying multiple times? To him there was no word to describe the bond he felt with the teenage orphan.

Anyway, Ollie had found the remains; therefore, Truman was interested.

No weapons were in the shack. No personal items. And clearly a lot of time had gone by since the death, because most of the bones were bare and the fabrics had nearly disintegrated. Possibly decades had passed.

“Look here,” said Bolton.

Truman turned at Bolton’s sharp tone. He had lifted part of a sleeping bag with a stick in his gloved hand. The rotted fabric fell into tiny pieces, but the filling stayed intact. Truman spotted what had caught Bolton’s eye. There were several small, flat bags under the sleeping bag’s remains. They looked heavy duty, made out of a vinyl that hadn’t decomposed.

Bolton slid one out with his foot. It wasn’t much bigger than his shoe and had one zippered side.

Truman could make out the faded logo. A big number one.

Below the logo it read FIRST INTERSTATE BANK.

Bank money . . . or money on its way to a bank.

Curiosity got the better of Bolton and he unzipped it. “Empty.” He checked the others. “All empty.”

Truman glanced back at the remains in the corner. “We may have found the motive.”

“And I might have to hand over this case.” Bolton sighed. “If this is related to a bank robbery, it belongs to the FBI.”


FBI special agent Mercy Kilpatrick hid her excitement as she headed toward the meeting room. She’d never landed a notorious case before.

A nearly thirty-year-old armored car robbery. A murdered driver. Multiple missing suspects. And now a dead body who might be one of those suspects.


In the Portland FBI office this case would have gone to the violent crimes department, but here in Bend’s tiny office, everyone did a little of everything. She’d studied all the photos that Deschutes County had sent over from the cabin. A few minutes of investigating had pointed her toward the most likely source of the money bags. The more she dug, the bigger the situation got, and the more questions she had. Adrenaline buzzed in her veins.

But first she needed to update her coworkers.

“Someone looks excited,” said Special Agent Eddie Peterson as she entered the meeting room. He’d followed her lead by moving to the small Bend office from Portland. The young urban agent had discovered a love for the outdoors.

“I thought I was hiding it,” Mercy confessed as she set her notes on the table.

“You are. But your eyes give you away.”

“Did Jeff tell you to meet him here?”

“Yep. I suspect he wants me to give you a hand.”

Mercy should have figured that. If this case was what she believed it was, more than one agent would be needed to work it.

Their boss, Jeff Garrison, entered with Darby Cowan and Melissa. Jeff was Mercy’s age, tall, and the most competent supervisor she’d ever had. Darby was an amazing data analyst and always dressed in practical clothing that suggested she was minutes away from taking a fifteen-mile hike. Mercy suspected the older woman worked only to support her outdoor pursuits of camping, skiing, and kayaking. The office manager, Melissa, was a little younger, cheerful and chatty, and wore a smile every single day. Everyone took a seat and looked at Mercy expectantly.

“You’ve all heard that empty money bags were found with remains in a shack about an hour out of town,” she started.

Everyone nodded.

“From my preliminary investigating, I believe those bags are from the armored car robbery near Portland’s downtown First Interstate Bank nearly thirty years ago.”

Jeff already knew this fact, but Melissa and Eddie leaned forward in their seats.

“The Gamble-Helmet Heist?” Eddie stumbled over the words. “That was one of the biggest robberies in the Pacific Northwest. Everyone has theories about what happened to the thieves and money. It’s second only to the D. B. Cooper case.”

“Cooper was the guy who hijacked a passenger jet and then jumped out with a bunch of money and was never seen again, right?” asked Darby. “I know about that one, but why haven’t I heard of this Gamble-Helmet case?”

“I remember when the Gamble-Helmet group robbed the armored car,” said Melissa. “I was just a kid, but it was all over the news for weeks. Wasn’t one of the drivers murdered?”

“Yes,” answered Mercy. “Five men robbed the truck, and the one who shot the driver was caught. Shane Gamble. He’s currently in the Two Rivers prison in Umatilla. The other four men vanished along with the money. Nearly two million dollars.”

“My brothers used to search in the woods for the Gamble-Helmet money when we went hiking,” Melissa added. “They were convinced it’d been buried somewhere in the forest.”

“The escape vehicle was last seen headed east along I-84 toward the gorge. We were lucky that Gamble was caught at the scene and gave the names of the other men; otherwise we might have never found out who did it. These are the only pictures from the robbery.” Mercy turned her laptop around for everyone to see.

“They’re all wearing freaking motorcycle helmets,” muttered Eddie.

“Hence the Gamble-Helmet name for the heist,” said Darby as she made notes. “Why wear helmets? Wouldn’t the limited vision and hearing put them at a disadvantage? There has to be an easier way to hide an identity.”

“The armored truck had stopped for a scheduled pickup, and the thieves immediately moved in, catching the first man off guard as he opened his door and dousing the driver with pepper spray,” said Mercy. “Presumably the helmets were to protect them from the pepper spray—it travels.”

“I don’t know if that’s brilliant or stupidly risky,” said Darby.

“The whole operation was risky,” said Mercy. “Four men swarmed into the truck, shoved what they could in their own bags, and ran to a waiting car with a driver. The first guard drew his weapon as Shane Gamble exited the truck, but Gamble fired first. The guard’s return shot brought Gamble down, the escape vehicle left without him, and he was caught at the scene.” Mercy took a deep breath. “The guard died before the police arrived. Gamble healed, went to trial, and was convicted.”

“And the other four drove off into the sunset with a lot of cash,” finished Jeff. “Like Eddie said, this robbery is almost as big of a legend as D. B. Cooper’s airplane jump. That means lots of media interest.”

Everyone groaned.

“All media calls go to me,” stated Jeff, looking at Melissa. “No one needs to know which agents are working the case or how it’s proceeding.”

Melissa nodded. “My phone is going to ring nonstop. Since the day it occurred, everyone has speculated on what happened to the other four thieves.”

“I suspect the body in the woods will turn out to be one of them. With Gamble in prison, that leaves three more to find,” Eddie stated.

“And money. A lot of money to find,” added Mercy.

“Two million doesn’t go very far when divided between three or four people,” argued Eddie. “It’s got to be long gone. It’s been nearly thirty years.”

“Maybe only one of them ended up with the money, and there could be more bodies,” suggested Mercy. “I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m waiting on final confirmation that these are some of the missing bags from the robbery, and if so, I plan to interview Shane Gamble first thing tomorrow morning.”

“The Two Rivers Correctional Institution is over two hundred miles away,” said Jeff.

“I figure it’ll take me three and a half hours—maybe less.”

“No speeding tickets on company vehicles.”

“Of course not.”

“Eddie will be working with you,” said Jeff. “Divide up the load and stay away from the media. We’ll keep Deschutes County in the loop about the body since it’s their jurisdiction. Have you been in touch with the original lead FBI agent on the robbery case?”

“Art Juergen,” answered Mercy. “He retired last year, and they’re getting me his current contact information. He’s a good guy. I worked with him for a few years. A lot of agents worked the case thirty years ago, but Portland’s ASAC says Juergen knew it inside and out. He’d told the ASAC that he regretted not solving it before he retired.”    

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