When a tornado tears through Painters Mill and unearths human remains, Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is tasked with the responsibility of identifying the bones and notifying the family. When evidence emerges that the death was no accident, Kate soon finds herself plunged into a thirty-year-old case that takes her deep into the Amish community to which she once belonged.
“Remarkable. . . hidden family secretsand unlikely murderers turn the serene landscape into fertile ground for this chilling tale.”Publishers Weekly
Meanwhile, turmoil strikes close to home as Kate’s budding relationship with state agent John Tomasetti reaches the breaking point. Can they weather the storm that threatens to tear them apart? Under siege from an unknown assailantand her own personal demonsKate digs deep into the case only to discover proof of an unimaginable atrocity, a plethora of family secrets and the lengths to which people will go to protect their own.
“castillo skillfully weaves the attitudes and habits of the Amish…[a] clear, dramatic portrait.”BOokpage
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After the Storm
By Linda Castillo
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Linda Castillo
All rights reserved.
I was eight years old when I learned there were consequences for associating with the English. Consequences that were invariably negative and imposed by well-meaning Amish parents bent on upholding the rules set forth by our Anabaptist forefathers nearly three hundred years ago. In my case, this particular life lesson transpired at the horse auction near Millersburg and involved a twelve-year-old English boy and the Appaloosa gelding he was trying to sell. Add me to the mix, and it was a dangerous concoction that ended with me taking a fall and my father's realization that I saw the concept of rules in a completely different light — and I possessed an inherent inability to follow them.
I never forgot the lesson I learned that day or how much it hurt my eight-year-old heart, which, even at that tender age, was already raging against the unfairness of the Ordnung and all of those who would judge me for my transgressions. But the lessons of my formative years didn't keep me from breaking the same rules time and time again, defying even the most fundamental of Amish tenets. By the time I entered my teens, just about everyone had realized I couldn't conform and, worse, that I didn't fit in, both of which are required of a member of the Amish community.
Now, at the age of thirty-three, I can't quite reconcile myself to the fact that I'm still trying to please those who will never approve and failing as miserably as I did when I was an inept and insecure fifteen-year-old girl.
I'm sitting in the passenger seat of John Tomasetti's Tahoe, not sure if I'm impressed by his perceptivity or annoyed because my state of mind is so apparent. We've been living together at his farm for seven months now, and while we've had some tumultuous moments, I have to admit it's been the happiest and most satisfying time of my life.
Tomasetti, a former detective with the Cleveland Division of Police, is an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Like me, he has a troubled past and more than his share of secrets, some I suspect I'm not yet privy to. But we have an unspoken agreement that we won't let our pasts dictate our happiness or how we live our lives. Honestly, he's the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I like to think the sentiment runs both ways.
"What makes you think I'm worried?" I tell him, putting forth a little attitude.
"I'm fidgeting because I'm nervous," I say. "There's a difference."
He glances at me, scowling, but his eyes are appreciative as he runs them over me. "You look nice."
I hide my smile by looking out the window. "If you're trying to make me feel better, it's working."
Good humor plays at the corner of his mouth. "It's not like you to change clothes four times."
"Hard to dress for an Amish dinner."
"Especially when you used to be Amish, apparently."
"Maybe I should have made an excuse." I glance out the window at the horizon. "Weatherman said it's going to rain."
"It's not like you to chicken out."
"Unless it's my brother."
"Kate, he invited you. He wants you there." He reaches over, sets his hand on my thigh just above my knee, and squeezes. I wonder if he has any idea how reassuring the gesture is. "Be yourself and let the chips fall."
I don't point out that being myself is exactly the thing that got me excommunicated from my Amish brethren in the first place.
He makes the turn into the long gravel lane of my brother Jacob's farm. The place originally belonged to my parents but was handed down to him, the eldest male child, when they passed away. I mentally brace as the small apple orchard on my right comes into view. The memories aren't far behind, and I find myself looking down the rows of trees, almost expecting to see the three Amish kids sent to pick apples for pies. Jacob, Sarah, and I had been inseparable back then, and instead of picking apples, we ended up playing hide-and-seek until it was too dark to see. As was usually the case, I was the instigator. Kate, the druvvel-machah. The "troublemaker." Or so my datt said. The one and only time I confessed to influencing my siblings, he punished me by taking away my favorite chore: bottle-feeding the three-week-old orphan goat I'd named Sammy. I'd cajoled and argued and begged. I was rewarded by being sent to bed with no supper and a stomachache from eating too many green apples.
The house is plain and white with a big front porch and tall windows that seem to glare at me as we veer right. The maple tree I helped my datt plant when I was twelve is mature and shades the hostas that grow alongside the house. In the side yard, I catch sight of two picnic tables with mismatched tablecloths flapping in the breeze.
I take in the old chicken house ahead and the big barn to my left, and it strikes me how much of my past is rooted in this place. And how much of it is gone forever. When you're Amish, there are no photos. There are no corny albums or school pictures or embarrassing videos. My parents have long since passed, which means everything that happened here, both good and bad, exists only in my memory and the memories of my siblings. Maybe that's why I can't stay away. No matter how many times my brother hurts me, I always come back, like a puppy that's been kicked but knows no other place to be, no other comfort.
I want to share this part of my past with Tomasetti. I want him to stand in the shade of the maple tree while I tell him about the day Datt and I planted it. How proud I'd been when the buds came that first spring. I want to walk the fields with him and show him where the fallen log was that I took our old plow horse over when I was thirteen years old. I want to show him the pond where I caught my first bass. The same pond that saw Jacob and I duke it out over a hockey game. He might have been older and bigger, but he didn't fight dirty; not when it came to me, anyway. I, on the other hand, was born with the killer instinct he lacked, and he was usually the one who walked away with a black eye or busted lip. He never ratted on me, but I'll never forget the way he looked at me all those times when he lied to our parents to protect me and was then punished for it. And I never said a word.
Tomasetti parks in the gravel area behind the house and shuts down the engine. The buggy that belongs to my sister, Sarah, and my brother-in-law, William, is parked outside the barn. As I get out of the Tahoe, I see my sister-in-law, Irene, come through the back door with a bread basket in one hand, a plastic pitcher in the other.
She spots me and smiles. "Nau is awwer bsil zert, Katie Burkholder!" Now it's about time!
I greet her in Pennsylvania Dutch. "Guder nammidaag." Good afternoon.
"Mir hen Englischer bsuch ghadde!" she calls out. We have non-Amish visitors!
The screen door slams. I glance toward the house to see my sister, Sarah, coming down the porch steps juggling a platter of fried chicken and a heaping bowl of green beans. She wears a blue dress with an apron, a kapp with the ties hanging down her back, and nondescript black sneakers. "Hi, Katie!" she says with a little too much enthusiasm. "The men are inside. Sie scheie sich vun haddi arewat." They shrink from hard work.
Irene sets the pitcher and basket on the picnic table, then spreads her hands at the small of her back and stretches. She's wearing clothes much like my sister's. A blue dress that's slightly darker. Apron and kapp. A pair of battered sneakers. "Alle daag rumhersitze mach tem faul," she says, referring to the men. Sitting all day makes one lazy.
"Sell is nix as baeffzes." That's nothing but trifling talk.
At the sound of my brother's voice, I glance toward the house to see him and my brother-in-law, William, standing on the porch. Both men are wearing dark trousers with white shirts, suspenders and straw summer hats. Jacob's beard reaches midway to his waist and is shot with more gray than brown. William's beard is red and sparse. Both men's eyes flick from me to Tomasetti and then back to me, as if waiting for some explanation for his presence. It doesn't elude me that neither man offers to help with the food.
"Katie." Jacob nods at me as he takes the steps from the porch. "Wie geth's alleweil?" How goes it now?
"This is John Tomasetti," I blurt to no one in particular.
Next to me, Tomasetti strides forward and extends his hand to my brother. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Jacob," he says easily.
While the Amish excel at letting you know you are an outsider — which is usually done for some redemptive purpose, not cruelty — they can also be kind and welcoming and warm. I'm pleased to see all of those things in my brother's eyes when he takes Tomasetti's hand. "It's good to meet you, too, John Tomasetti."
"Kate's told me a lot about you," Tomasetti says.
William chuckles as he extends his hand. "Es waarken maulvoll gat." There's nothing good about that.
A giggle escapes Sarah. "Welcome, John. I hope you're hungry."
I make eye contact with Tomasetti. He winks, and some of the tension between my shoulder blades unravels.
Neither woman offers her hand for a shake. Instead they exchange nods when I make the introductions.
When the silence goes on for a beat too long, I turn my attention to my sister. "Can I help with something?"
"Setz der disch." Set the table. Sarah glances at Tomasetti and motions toward the picnic table. "Sitz dich anna un bleib e weil." Sit yourself there and stay awhile. "There's lemonade, and I'm about to bring out some iced tea."
Tomasetti strolls to the table and looks appreciatively at the banquet spread out before him. "You sure you trust me with all this food?"
"There's more than enough for everyone," Irene says.
William pats his belly. "Even me?"
A gust of wind snaps the tablecloths, and Jacob glances toward the western horizon. "If we're going to beat the storm, we'd best eat soon."
Irene shivers at the sight of the lightning and dark clouds. "Wann der Hund dich off der buckle legt, gebt's rene." When the dog lies on his back, there will be rain.
While Tomasetti and the Amish men pour lemonade and talk about the storms forecast for later, I follow the women into the kitchen. I'd been nervous about accepting today's invitation from my brother because I didn't know what to expect. I had no idea how they would respond to me and Tomasetti or the fact that we're living together with no plans to get married. To my relief, no one has mentioned any of those things, and another knot of tension loosens.
The kitchen is hot despite the breeze whipping in through the window above the sink. Sarah and I spend a few minutes gathering paper plates, plastic utensils, and sampling the potato salad, while Irene pulls a dozen or so steaming ears of corn from the Dutch oven atop the stove and stacks them on a platter. We make small talk, and I'm taken aback at how quickly the rhythm of Amish life returns to me. I ask about my niece and nephews, and I learn the kids walked to the pasture to show my little niece, who's just over a year old now, the pond, and I can't help but remember when that same pond was a fixture in my own life. I'd learned to swim in that pond, never minding the mud or the moss or the smell of fish that always seemed to permeate the water. Back then, I was an Olympian swimmer; I had no concept of swimming pools or chlorine or diving boards. I'd been content to swim in water the color of tea, sun myself on the dilapidated dock, treat myself to mud baths, and dream about all the things I was going to do with my life.
Brandishing a pitcher of iced tea and a basket of hot rolls, I follow the two women outside to the picnic tables. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that Jacob has pulled out his pipe to smoke, a habit that's frowned upon by some of the more conservative Amish. But then that's Jacob for you. He's also one of the few to use a motorized tractor instead of draft horses. In keeping with the Ordnung, he only uses steel wheels sans rubber tires. A few of the elders complain, but so far no one has done anything about it.
Within minutes we're sitting at a picnic table, a feast of fried chicken and vegetables from the garden spread out on the blue-and-white-checked tablecloth. At the table next to us, my niece and nephews load fried chicken and green beans onto their plates. I glance over at Tomasetti and he grins at me, giving me an I-told-you-everything-would-be-fine look, and in that moment I'm content.
"Wann der Disch voll is, well mir bede." If the tables are full, let us pray. Jacob gives the signal for the before-meal prayer. Heads are bowed. Next to us, the children's table goes silent. And Jacob's voice rings out. "O Herr Gott, himmlischer Vater, Segne uns und Diese Diene Gaben, die wir von Deiner milden Gute Zu uns nehmen warden, Speise und tranke auch unsere Seelen zum ewigen Leben, und mach uns theilhaftig Deines himmllischen Tisches durch Jesus Christum. Amen."
O Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these thy gifts, which we shall accept from thy tender goodness. Give us food and drink also for our souls unto life eternal, and make us partakers of thy heavenly table through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Upon finishing, he looks around, and as if by unspoken agreement, everyone begins reaching for platters and filling their plates.
"The kids have grown so much since I saw them last," I say as I spoon green beans onto my plate.
"It seems like yesterday that Little Hannah was a newborn," my sister says with a sigh. "They grow up so fast."
Jacob slathers homemade butter onto an ear of corn. "Elam drove the tractor last week."
Sarah rolls her eyes. "And almost drove it into the creek!"
"Like father like son," William mutters.
Irene pours a second glass of tea. "Katie, do you and John have any plans for children?"
I can tell by the way the pitcher pauses mid-pour that she realizes instantly her faux pas. Her eyes flick to mine. I see a silent apology, then she quickly looks away and sets the pitcher on the table. "There's tea if anyone's thirsty."
"Maybe they should get married first," Jacob says.
"I love weddings." Sarah shakes pepper onto an ear of corn.
"Any plans for one, Katie?" Jacob asks.
In the interminable silence that follows, the tension builds, as if it were a living thing, growing and filling up space. I'm not sure how to respond. The one thing I do know is that no matter what I say, I'll be judged harshly for it.
"Let's just say we're a work in progress." I smile, but it feels dishonest on my lips because I know now that this Pandora's box has been opened, it's fair game.
"Work?" Jacob slathers apple butter onto a roll. "I don't think getting married is too much work."
"For a man, anyway," Irene says.
"A man'll work harder to stay out of the house." William doesn't look up from his plate. "If he's smart."
"I think Kate's placing the emphasis on the 'in progress' part." Tomasetti grins at Irene. "Pass the corn, please."
"In the eyes of the Lord, the two of you are living in sin," Jacob says.
I turn my attention to my brother. "In the eyes of some of the Amisch, too, evidently."
He nods, but his expression is earnest. "I don't understand why two people would want to live like that."
Embarrassment and, for an instant, the familiar old shame creeps up on me, but I don't let it take hold. "Jacob, this isn't the time or place to discuss this."
"Are you afraid God will hear?" he asks. "Are you afraid He will disapprove?"
Tomasetti helps himself to an ear of corn, sets down his fork, and turns his attention to my brother. "If you have something on your mind, Jacob, I think you should just put it out there."
"Marriage is a sacred thing." He holds Tomasetti's gaze, thoughtful. "I don't understand why you choose to live the way you do. If a man and woman choose to live together, they should be married."
All eyes fall on Tomasetti. He meets their stares head-on and holds them, unflinching and unapologetic. "With all due respect, that's between Kate and me. That's the best answer I can give you, and I hope you and the rest of the family will respect it."
My brother looks away in deference. But I know that while he'll tolerate our point of view for now, he'll never agree with it — or give his blessing. "All right then."
Excerpted from After the Storm by Linda Castillo. Copyright © 2015 Linda Castillo. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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