Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray
“What did you do?”
Remembering how he'd pushed by his father, only saying he was going to find out what happened, he said, “I went to go find Perry. I went to finally tell Perry what I thought of him, and about everything that he'd been putting us through.”
Luke leaned forward slightly. “Are you sure you didn't go to the Millers' farm to kill Perry?”
Jacob felt his mouth go slack.
“This is important, Jacob,” Mose warned.
“I didn't! Oh my gosh, no.” Jacob shook his head for emphasis. “It was nothing like that. I looked for him so I could tell him to stop bothering Frannie. And Lydia. All of us.” Even though the truth hurt to tell, he continued. “I was such a jerk. I was sure someone had to tell him the truth, so I thought it should be me.”
“And did you find him?” Luke prompted.
“I did. I found him standing by the well, staring off into the woods.” Remembering Perry's posture, the way his expression was so sad, Jacob lowered his voice. “Perry looked as bad as I'd ever seen him. And .Â .Â . and it was obvious that he wasn't himself.”
Mose's voice hardened. “Stop glossing over things, Jacob. What do you mean when you said Perry wasn't himself?”
It hurt to say the worst. It felt like the worst sort of betrayal. But Jacob forced himself to give the details Mose seemed to need. “Okay, it was obvious he was on drugs. His eyes were glazed, his attention was scattered, and he was really keyed up. Nervous. When he saw me he got angry.”
“What did you do?”
Suddenly, it was very easy to recount what had happened. It still felt so real to him. As if it had only happened a few days ago, not months. “I did what I set out to do. I told Perry that he should leave the girls alone. I told him that we were all tired of the way he was ruining himself, and trying to ruin our lives along with him. I told him that he was being selfish again, only thinking about himself.”
Mose nodded. “And how did Perry react to that?”
“About how you'd think,” he said, unable to ignore the smile in his voice. It wasn't funny, of course, but the question hit him in a funny way. To anyone who had been around Perry his last few weeks, they would have known how he would have reacted to Jacob's accusations. “Perry freaked out and said I should mind my own business.” Remembering the hurtful things they'd said to each otherâthings that could never be taken backâJacob struggled for control. “We argued.”
“And then?” Mose asked.
“After that, after I told him that he'd never be good enough for Lydia, that he wasn't fit to even be in the same room with Frannie .Â .Â . he hit me.”
Luke exchanged a glance with Mose. “Where did he hit you?”
Remembering, Jacob pressed his fingers to his chin. “On my jaw.” The force of Perry's fist had made him see stars, and had spurred his anger. Swallowing, he confessed the rest of it. “So I pushed him back. Hard.”
“And then what happened?”
“And then we started fighting.” Everything became a blur, the way his fist had felt against Perry's body, the pain that had shot through his shoulder when Perry had pulled him hard. The sweat that had run down his back and brow. “We ended up half wrestling on the ground .Â .Â . and then Perry fell backward and hit his head.”
Luke held up a hand. “Wait a minute. Perry hit his head on one of the rocks?”
“Yeah.” Remembering it as clearly as if it was happening right in front of him, Jacob said, “He fell back, and then .Â .Â . his head hit one of the rocks that lined the old well.”
“And he started bleeding.” Jacob looked at Detective Reynolds curiously. He would have thought it was obvious.
“I mean, was he dead?” Mose asked impatiently. “Is that how Perry died, Jacob?”
Jacob jumped to his feet. “
Perry was bleeding, and we were both banged up and bruised. But he wasn't dead.”
“Was he passed out? Was he conscious?”
“He was awake.” Remembering exactly how Perry was sitting, Jacob said, “Actually, Perry was more than that. He was yelling at me.”
Luke looked incredulous. “I find that hard to believe.”
“Well, that's how it was. Perry sat there against the rocks and yelled at me something fierce.”
Mose lifted up his glasses. “What did he say, Jacob?”
“He called me a coward, called me worse than that. He called me names, said how I'd only become a weakling, still waiting for my father to tell me what to do.”
“What about you? How badly were you hurt?”
Jacob held up a hand. “My hands were bruised and cut. My jaw was swollen. And my shirt was torn. I had a couple of cuts on my arms. But nothing too bad.”
“Then?” Mose asked.
Jacob swallowed and confessed the last of it. “And then I ran back home.”
The other men exchanged glances again. “Wait a minute. You left him on the ground?”
“Of course. I didn't know what else to do. I mean, it weren't like I could have made him leave or he would have let me help him walk home. Sheriff Kramer, you know how big Perry wasâhe outweighed me by at least thirty pounds.”
“You didn't shove him in the well?”
“No! I don't know how he got in there.”
“You sound so sure of yourself.”
“That's because I am sure of myself. I don't know what happened to Perry after I left, but I can promise you this. The last time I saw Perry Borntrager, he was lying in the Millers' field bleeding and cursing at me.”
Taking a deep breath, Jacob added, “I know what I did was wrong. I know I should have gotten him help. I should have called for an ambulance or something. And I know you're probably going to arrest me. But I swear to you, I left him lying there on the ground. He was alive and yelling at me. I never put him in a well. If you believe anything I've said, please believe that.”
“Do you ever wish you could go back and relive a certain day of your life? You know, do things differently? I asked Perry about that once, asked him what day he'd do over. He said he had too many days to choose from. Me? I only know of one.”
uke turned to Mose. His friend looked stunned, whether by the story or by the confession, he didn't know. As for himself, he was pretty shaken up. Rarely had he ever gotten as emotionally connected as he had with everyone involved with this investigation.
And while he felt a true sense of accomplishment for finally rooting out the person who'd ended Perry's life, he felt very sad for Jacob. The boy was obviously lying, and after he went to trial, it was a very good possibility that Jacob would spend the rest of his life behind bars.
It was a terrible place for any man of course. But for an Amish man, who was used to a peaceful life, used to the structures and rules set by his community? It was very near a death sentence.
But of course, they had no evidence that said Jacob had actually killed him. All they had was some evidence that they fought. It was enough to question Jacob, but not enough to charge him with murder, or even manslaughter. They needed to look again at the evidence, even Perry's toxicology reports. He needed to pin down just how much meth Perry had been on.
And how much it took to kill a man.
Only by keeping his emotions firmly in check was he able to continue. “Jacob, we're going to take you into the sheriff's office for more questioning.”
Jacob's expression crumbled. “You're not going to arrest me?”
Mose said grimly. “I'm not arresting you, but you are a person of interest, and your story does bring up enough questions that I want to talk to you some more. Given that, I think it would be best to do this someplace other than your bedroom.”
Once again Luke was ashamed of the way he'd come to Crittenden County, fully expecting to advise Mose and get out of there fast. He'd been hopelessly naÃ¯ve.
It was painful to investigate someone he knew. Luke was desperate for some emotional distance. Every time he looked at Jacob, he remembered Frannie's recent warning about how they were a close-knit bunch, and how there was never anywhere to run if things got bad.
Though by sending him to Lexington, Jacob's father had certainly tried.
“Do I have to go? I mean, do I have a choice about whether or not I go with you?” Jacob asked.
The skin around Mose's mouth was tight. “You do. But I would advise you to come along with me.”
Jacob's face turned white. “I didn't kill Perry, Sheriff Kramer. I swear I'm telling you the truth.”
Mose only crossed the room and opened the door.
Luke sensed the pure dejection in the young man's attitude, and the heartbreak in Mose's heart. They'd both secretly hoped that Jacob was somehow going to lead them to a faceless stranger. Looking at Mose, he asked, “Do you want to read him his rights?”
“Not just yet. I'll do that when we get to the office,” Mose said, vaguely referring to an interrogation room. Turning to Jacob, he motioned him with a hand. “Let's go.”
“Wait a minute. Mose, can I call someone on my cell phone before I leave?”
Still looking at Jacob, Luke asked, “Who are you going to call?”
“You sure you want to do that?” Mose asked.
“Yeah. I don't want her to find out about this from someone else.” Flushing, he said, “May I talk to her? You can even dial the number if you want. I won't be long, and you can stand here and listen.”
In Cincinnati, Luke would've laughed at such a request. But here, where he knew so many of the people involved, he could see Jacob's point of view. But he also figured there was no harm in it. And who knows? Maybe they'd even learn something new.
Picking up the cell phone, he scanned the numbers, found Deborah's listing, and handed it to Jacob. “Go ahead.”
“Thanks.” Slowly he punched the send button then placed the phone to his ear. After a ring or two, she answered.
“Deborah? This is Jacob.” He paused. Almost smiled. “
your phone does seem to work good. Ah, listen. I'm in .Â .Â . I'm in trouble. Detective Reynolds and Sheriff Kramer are with me. They're going to take me to the sheriff's office. They're questioning me about Perry's murder.”
Luke exchanged a glance with Mose as they listened. That boy had a lot of nerve, he would give him that.
“No, no! I didn't kill your brother, Deborah. We fought and I knocked him down. .Â .Â . When I left him, he was lying on the ground, bleeding.” He closed his eyes as Deborah said something into his ear. Then he sighed. “I .Â .Â . I just wanted you to hear that from me.”
I don't know who put him in the well. I have no idea. I promise! Listen, Deborah. I know you won't believe me, but I'm sorry. I know I should have told you all this weeks ago.” Glancing at Luke, Jacob said, “I should have told a lot of people about the fight a long time ago. I .Â .Â . I just wanted you to know. No matter what happens, I wanted you to know that I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt Perry, and I really never meant to hurt you.”
After another moment, Jacob clicked off the phone and handed it to Mose. “Thanks.”
“I have to say, I wouldn't have expected you to be calling Deborah right at this moment.”
“She's come to mean a lot to me. She's been having such a hard time, feeling so alone, I know that I should have told her what I did.”
“And now you did.”
“Well, I can understand that.” Gripping Jacob's arm, Mose opened the door. “Are you ready to face your parents?”
The three of them exited Jacob's room, Luke leading the way, Jacob second, then Mose bringing up the rear. As they walked down the stairs, Mr. and Mrs. Schrock appeared in the foyer.
“What are you doing with Jacob?” Mr. Schrock asked.
Luke took it upon himself to tell the news so Mose wouldn't have to.
“We're taking him down to the station for questioning, Mr. Schrock.”
Mr. Schrock's whole expression fell. His wife looked on the verge of fainting.
“Questioning for what?”
“It's about Perry's death of course, Aaron,” Mose said. “All of us know that.”
But you can't take him. He didn't kill Perry!”
Alarms went off in Luke's head. He could understand a father's belief in his son, but he seemed so certain it sounded suspicious. Glancing Mose's way, Luke noticed a tightening of his shoulders. He was picking up on the same thing.
Obviously they were going to be talking about this soon. Tamping down his curiosity, Luke did his best to keep things low-key. “Now's not the time to discuss this, sir.”
“But it must be if you're going to take my son away.”
“We're just going to talk to him some more,” Mose said.
“When will you let him come home?” Gloria asked.
“Not for a few hours at least. I'll send someone over to let you know what's going on.”
Mr. Schrock glared. “I'm going to call a lawyer.”
Mose stood stoically next to Jacob, who looked like he was trying to stay on his feet. “Aaron, if that's what you want to do, I think you should,” Mose said.
His expression still looking stunned, Mr. Schrock rushed forward, reaching for his son. “Oh, Jacob. I'm so sorry.” Jacob shied away from his touch.
Mose stepped forward and tried to regain control of the situation. “Aaron, there ain't nothing to be said now,” he said as he put both of his palms on Jacob's father's shoulders.
“But I need to speak with him quickly. Tell him not to worryâ”
Sensing the same warning bells, Luke turned to Mose.
And like the professional he was, Mose easily diffused the situation. “Now .Â .Â . that ain't going to happen,” Mose said firmly. “We're going to visit with Jacob.”
“But Jacob is my boy. You shouldn't be talking to him without me.”
Luke was on the verge of reminding Aaron Schrock that Jacob was an adult when Jacob spoke. “Don't make this any worse than it is, Daed. Please don't.”
“But, this is such a terrible thing. I hate that it's happening to ya.”
“I know, and I'm sorry.” His voice cracking, Jacob turned to his mother. “I'm mighty sorry, Mamm.”
“Can I hug him, Mose?” she asked.
“Of course, Gloria. Don't forget, we're just bringing him in for questioning. Nothing else.”
She nodded. “I understand.”
Luke took hold of Jacob's elbow and took him to Mose's cruiser. The short drive to the sheriff's department was done in silence.
Once they were there, Luke and Mose walked Jacob into the interrogation room in the back. The receptionist watched them walk by and handed a few papers to Mose.
Through it all, Jacob had been stoic. He'd spoken only when spoken to, and seemed to search for the right words then.
In his gut, Luke felt that Jacob was telling the truth. The story Jacob told rang true. The young man wasn't acting like a killer, and he honestly seemed bewildered about how Perry's body had gotten into the well.
He looked relieved when Mose gave Jacob a soda, then left him in peace for a few moments.
As for himself, Luke felt queasy. Luke took a seat next to Mose's desk and tried to make sense of what had just happened. Something didn't feel right, and he wasn't sure why.
He'd been certain Jacob had met Perry that night. And Jacob had admitted as much. So what didn't fit?
He was still stewing on that when Mose came back and sat down behind his desk with a grunt.
Then Mose looked at him and frowned. “Something was fishy about Aaron. He said more than one thing that got my gander up.”
“I felt the same way.” It was a relief to admit his worries.
Sitting on the edge of his chair, Mose fussed with a couple of his metal paperclips, pulling them apart and twisting the metal. “So help me, Luke .Â .Â . I don't think the boy killed Perry.”
Luke liked Jacob, but he forced himself to concentrate on the story he'd told them. “They fought. Perry fell and hit his head.”
That much is true. I can believe that.”
“If you believe that .Â .Â . what doesn't sound right to you?”
“Jacob doing anything else.” Scratching his head, Mose rose and started pacing. “I think that fight happened, Luke. It makes sense. Perry was volatile, and Jacob had more than his share of hurts. He's got a temper, too.”
“Okay. Let's say Jacob did go out to the Millers' and that he fought with Perry. So what if he didn't kill him immediately? Perry probably bled out and died.”
“Then we could charge Jacob for criminal negligence, or involuntary manslaughter.” Mose pointed a finger Luke's direction. “But even if he was bleedin' out and dying on the ground, he wasn't crawling into wells, Luke.”
“And if Jacob had pulled Perry into the well, he would have gotten Perry's blood all over him. Someone would have seen that.”
“Which means he would have either had to go back home with blood on him, or he took off his shirt and hid it.”
“I don't think he did that. Someone would have noticed Jacob walking without a shirt on. And we would have heard about it by now,” Mose stated.
Luke threw his pencil on the table. “Okay. Let's say you're right. Let's say Jacob and Perry fought, Jacob hit Perry, and Perry fell and lay bleeding. Jacob gets scared, so he leaves. Who shows up and finishes the job?”
“That's the million-dollar question, ain't it?” Mose asked. “Who hated Perry enough to stuff him in a well?”
“Or maybe the question is this,” Luke said slowly. “Who cared about Jacob enough to hide Perry? Or hates Jacob enough to let him take the blame.”
Grimacing, Mose closed his eyes. “It's moments like this, Luke, when I wished I would have listened to my father and farmed.”
“At times like this, I wish you would've, too,” Luke said with a grin. “Then I wouldn't have gotten roped into this case.”