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Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray

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Chapter 23

“In the middle of the night, when I can't sleep, I make up things. I try to imagine what would have happened if I had never discovered Perry Borntrager's body. There's a part of me that feels like my whole life would be different if I'd never been there that rainy day.”

A
BBY
A
NDERSON

D
aed, we have to tell Sheriff Kramer,” Jacob said.

“You can't, son. If you tell him what I did, he could arrest me. And right now, the lawyer feels certain nothing will happen to you. They can't prove you did anything wrong.”

“What you did . . .”

“I did it for you, Jacob. I did it because I love you.”

“Daed, I love you, too. But we have to tell Sheriff Kramer the truth. You can't keep this hidden.”

His father stood up. His legs were shaking and his eyes were wide. It was obvious to Jacob that his father had never imagined that he wouldn't be thanked for what he did. “Jacob, are you going against me?”

“If telling the truth is going against you, then yes I am.”

“Jacob, I forbid you to tell them. I will never forgive you if you betray this family.”

“But the police think I did it. I could go to prison.”

“Perry took lots of drugs, too, Jacob. Everyone knows that. I imagine no one will ever figure out how he really died. And because of that? You won't be charged.”

Jacob looked at the kitchen door. For a moment, he was tempted to run out of the room, and keep running until the memories of all that happened had faded.

Then he remembered that he had his cell phone stuffed into his jacket pocket. “Telling lies won't help anyone, Daed. I'm going to call Sheriff Kramer.”

His father's hand whipped out and gripped his arm hard.
“Nee.”

“I have to.”

“You don't know what you're saying.”

“Aaron, stop,” Jacob's mother ordered from the doorway. Looking like a shadow of her former self, she was holding the doorframe like it was the greatest support. “I've been standing out here while you and Jacob have been talking. I heard every word.”

His father leaned back against his chair. “Then you understand what I am saying, don't you, Gloria?”

“Not at all.” Turning to Jacob, she said, “Do you know how to get a hold of Sheriff Kramer?”

“I have his card.”

“Then you'd best go ahead and call.”

Struggling to his feet, his father's expression turned dark. “Gloria, you can't let Jacob call! We can keep this hidden if none of us says a word.”

“Oh, Aaron, you don't know what you're saying. I truly don't think you do.” Shaking her head sorrowfully, she added, “We have no choice but to tell the police.”

“That's where you're wrong. There's always a choice.”

“Perhaps for you, Aaron. For me? There is no choice. There's only one thing to do.”

“Gloria, I beg of you . . . don't let him do this.”

A glazed look of despair washed over her face. “Jacob, go call.”

About to turn, he looked at his parents warily. “Mamm, will you be all right?”

“I'll be just fine. Go now. Waiting won't make things easier.”

He left then, left the two of them staring at each other across a kitchen table where there'd always been three of them.

Picking up his jacket, he pulled his cell phone and Mose's business card from the pocket, and finally began to dial.

“Crittenden County Sheriff,” a chipper voice answered. Jacob recognized the woman who had been sitting in the reception desk when he'd been brought in for questioning.

Clearing his throat, he said, “This is Jacob Schrock. I need to speak with Sheriff Kramer, if I may.”

“I'll put you right through,” she said.

His pulse raced.

“Jacob?” Mose said from the other side of the line. “What can I do for you?”

“Sheriff Kramer, I'm afraid I have something to tell you.” Taking a deep breath, he pushed through the pain and began.

L
uke looked up when Mose motioned for him to pick up the extension. Carefully, Luke picked it up and then closed his eyes briefly when he recognized the voice and understood what Jacob was saying.

Aaron Schrock had watched Perry Borntrager die, then had deliberately hidden his body.

As Mose carefully asked more questions, Luke wrote notes. Finally, it all made sense. He knew right then and there that they finally had the full, complete story. Just as he could sense when something was not right, he also had learned to recognize the signs of hearing the truth.

After promising to be at their house in a few minutes, Mose hung up. “So it was Aaron Schrock. All along.” His voice was flat.

Luke ached for Mose, and for everyone involved. This was going to rock this community. “I think the fact it was Aaron kind of makes sense,” he said as they grabbed their jackets and walked to Mose's cruiser.

“Unfortunately, it does,” Mose agreed. “It makes sense, but it breaks my heart. I always liked Aaron.”

Luke had, too. “I guess this proves a man will do almost anything to protect his son.”


Almost
anything,” Mose corrected. “That word makes all the difference, I think. Most men would offer their own lives for their children. But they'd draw the line at committing murder.” Slapping his hand on his steering wheel, Mose bellowed, “What a fool.” When he turned to Luke, his gaze was pain-filled. “Why didn't Aaron come to me right away? I could have tried to help him. Now we'll be lucky if he's not charged with murder in the first degree.”

“Who knows why he didn't come to you. ”

After backing out, Mose drove carefully across town and to the store. Jacob stood waiting for them in the parking lot, standing alone and looking dejected. As if the whole weight of the world was resting on his shoulders.

When Luke got close, he patted the young man's shoulders. “Who's with your father, Jacob?”

“My
mamm
. She told me to stay out here to wait for you.”

“You doing okay?” Mose asked.

Jacob shook his head. “Not really. I never would have thought my
daed
could do this. I keep thinking I'm going to wake up from a nightmare.”

Luke glanced Mose's way. The young man needed a helping hand. He really looked to be on the verge of collapsing.

Mose nodded at Luke before wrapping an arm around Jacob's shoulders. “Jacob, why don't you sit down here and let Luke and me go in without you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. I promise, there's nothing more you need to hear. We'll take care of things now.”

“I should warn you, my father is pretty upset.”

“It's okay, son. Your dad did the right thing by confessing to you,” Luke soothed. “And you did the right thing by calling Sheriff Kramer. But just because you did something right doesn't mean it was easy. Stay out here, Jacob. No son wants to see his father like this.”

Luke was thankful that Jacob sat down. Then, with Mose by his side, they walked the narrow path along the side of the store to the living quarters of the Schrocks.

Mose knocked once. After a moment, Gloria Schrock answered it. “Sheriff Kramer, Detective Reynolds, I am mighty glad you are here.”

Mose held out a hand and clasped Mrs. Schrock's. “We got here as soon as we could. Where's Aaron, Gloria?”

“He's sitting at the kitchen table.”

Mose walked in, and Luke followed. When they got to the table, Aaron Schrock looked up at them with blank eyes. “I suppose you are going to arrest me?”

Mose pulled out a pair of handcuffs. “I'm afraid I have no choice, Aaron.”

Luke knew that was true. Even if Aaron couldn't have saved Perry, he didn't even try. And hiding a body was a criminal offense.

As Mose clipped the handcuffs around Aaron's wrists, he recited the Miranda oath. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney . . .”

As Mose Mirandized Aaron, Luke watched tears silently fall down Gloria Schrock's cheeks.

“I don't know what to say or do,” she murmured.

“You don't have to do anything,” Luke reassured her. “Jacob is outside, ma'am. I'll send him inside when we leave.” He stood quietly by her side while Mose gripped Aaron's elbow, pulled him to his feet, then escorted him outside.

With Aaron's bigger-than-life personality gone, the kitchen seemed darker and smaller.

“What's next?” Gloria asked after she gingerly took a seat.

“You'll need to call back that lawyer,” he replied, doing his best to keep his voice even and without too much emotion. “I'm afraid your husband is going to need his services.”

She shook her head. “No, Detective Reynolds. I mean, what happens to me now? My family is broken up. My husband is in jail. And my son? My son might never recover from this.”

Luke had arrested dozens of people, some in the most horrifying of situations. He'd thought he'd seen it all.

But not once had anyone asked how to put their lives back together.

After a moment of thought, he replied. “You go on the best you can. You wake up, get through a day, and then you try to sleep.”

“And then?”

“And then you do it again the next day.” He paused, then said, “It's going to be tough, but I have a feeling Jacob will recover.”

Looking more determined, Gloria nodded. “I think he will. He's a strong boy.”

“Yes, he is. He did the right thing, calling Mose. And you did the right thing when you encouraged him to make the call.” Luke paused, then continued. “Though it had to have been painful, there's something to be said for doing the right thing.”

Looking up at him, tears welling in her light blue eyes, she nodded, “I do believe that's so. A person can't live a lifetime covering up lies. They'll eat up a person's heart and soul. My poor Aaron . . .” Her face crumbled. “Jacob will get through this. But right this minute? I don't know how I'll survive.”

Her pain broke his heart, but he couldn't deny that she had some very dark times ahead of her. “I am sorry, Mrs. Schrock.”

When Luke finally headed out to the cruiser, he found Jacob standing near the entrance of the store. His arms were crossed over his white shirt and he was staring at the car.

It was running, standing idle while Mose waited for Luke to join them.

Luke cleared his throat. “I'm heading out, Jacob. Mose or I will call you later.”

Jacob looked at him like he hardly remembered who Luke was. “My father is handcuffed in the back of Sheriff Kramer's car,” he said, his voice hoarse with emotion. “I can hardly believe it.”

Luke knew there was nothing to say and no way to ease the boy's pain. “Go inside and take care of your mother. She needs you.”

Jacob's lips parted, as if he was going to protest the directive. But in the end, he simply turned away and started into the house.

All of a sudden, Luke felt older than his twenty-nine years. Without a word, he opened the cruiser's passenger-side door and got in. Neither man looked his way, each seemed to wrapped up in his own thoughts.

That suited Luke just fine. He buckled up and stared straight ahead as Mose backed out of the driveway, then drove slowly back to the sheriff's office.

After eight very hard weeks, the case was closed.

Ironically, however, there was no sense of accomplishment. Only the greatest feeling of loss.

Chapter 24

“No one ever said doing the right thing was easy. But if everyone involved had done the right thing from the beginning? . . . my life would have been a great deal easier. It's true.”

M
OSE
K
RAMER

T
wo hours had passed since Sheriff Kramer had broken the news about Aaron Schrock. Once he left, Deborah's father had been even more full of venom and anger, her mother subdued and depressed.

“This is why you should never see Jacob again, Deborah,” her mother said from her spot on the worn couch in their living room.

From her own chair by the fireplace, Deborah didn't agree. “Jacob isn't the one we should be upset with.”

“It was his father who caused our pain.”

“But Jacob is innocent.”

Standing up, her father glared at her. “Deborah, you heard what Sheriff Kramer said. Jacob fought with Perry. If he had never fought with Perry in the first place, his father would have never followed him out to the field and tried to clean up Jacob's mess.”

Deborah raised a brow. “And if Frannie had never walked out to meet Perry, and if the two of them hadn't argued, if she hadn't been crying . . . then she would have never run into Jacob. And he would have never gone out to the field,” she finished. “Do you want me to stay away from Frannie, too?”

Her father looked taken aback. “I don't know.”

“What about Lydia?” Deborah said as she got to her feet. “If she had never broken up with Perry, then Perry would never have had a reason to meet Frannie out in that field. Perhaps
Lydia Plank
is the problem, Daed. You want me to stay away from her, too?”

He looked chagrined. “Now you are pulling at straws.”


Nee,
Daed,” she countered. “You are refusing to accept the truth. Jacob and Perry were both fighting. Together. The fight was as much Perry's fault as Jacob's.”

“Jacob went out there to do Perry harm.”

“Jacob went out there to try to talk some sense into Perry,” she countered, her temper rising. “Just like you tried to do, over and over and over. Just like Mamm did years ago. Just like I tried to do, time and again. But he didn't listen, Daed. And then we all gave up on him.” Her voice hoarse with pent-up emotion, she said, “Perry never listened and we gave up trying.”

“Perry was a good boy . . .”

“Perry was a good boy for a while, but he was also impulsive and willful and stubborn. Yes, he had many good qualities, but he had many bad qualities, too. Just as we all do.”

Lowering her voice, she continued. “Daed, I can't condone Mr. Schrock's actions. And I am upset that my brother is gone. I loved him. But you need to finally stop looking for excuses for Perry's misdeeds. And you need to stop blaming everyone else for his faults. He had a great many faults, Daed. I'm sorry, but he wasn't perfect. He wasn't perfect and he never, ever tried to be.”

For a moment, Deborah was sure she'd broken through her father's grief and stubbornness. She was sure he was going to turn to her and apologize.

To say she was right about a lot of things.

But instead, he shook his head. “I don't want to talk about this anymore. We won't mention it again.” With sure steps, he crossed the room and sat in the rocking chair by the window. “Now, you will go help your mother with supper.”

Wearily, her mother stood up; whether she was going to the kitchen or to her bedroom, Deborah had no idea.

But Deborah had had enough. “Do you actually think I'm going to go cook a meal now?” she asked incredulously. “What is wrong with you? I'm going to go see Jacob.”

“You will not.”

“Daed, I'm not going to do this any longer. I'm not going to stay here, trying to pretend I'm content when everything is so wrong. I'm not going to continue to live my life circling, hoping and waiting that somehow everything will suddenly get better.”

“But, daughter, where is your loyalty?”

“Where is your loyalty to me? All my life you've asked me to overlook Perry's problems and his transgressions. You've asked me to ignore my pain in order to try to save face. I won't do it anymore. No longer.”

“But your mother . . .” They both looked to the couch where her mother had been sitting. It was empty now. Deborah's mother had gotten up and left the room without either she or her father realizing it.

“I can't take care of Mamm without taking care of myself too, father. And right now, that means I've got to go see Jacob. I have to.”

She walked out the door before she was tempted to say anything more. Before she reminded her father that while Jacob's father might have killed Perry, her brother had stolen from others, had lied to many, and had even sold drugs to people in the community.

She'd hated living in shame because of what her brother had done. She certainly wasn't going to make Jacob live that way.

Outside, the clouds had come, blanketing the fading sun. The waning sunlight barely slid through the foliage as she walked down the worn path to the Schrocks' home.

When she got to there, the windows were dark. She stood at the door, hesitating. Was it okay to knock? She wasn't sure.

But then she noticed a dim light shining from the corner of the front porch of the store. Curious, she walked up the narrow walkway to investigate.

She found Jacob sitting alone on one of the rocking chairs on the front porch. He started when she came around the corner. “Deborah? Is that you?”


Jah.
I came the back way.”

“Alone? The sun just set. Deb, you need to take care. That's no place to walk in the dark.”

In the dim shadows, she let herself smile. It was so like him to put his concerns about her safety over his worries. “I was careful,” she said as she walked up the front steps and onto the porch.

He stood up. “So . . . is everything okay? Do you need something?”

Even with all that was going on, Jacob was still worried about her. “I'm all right.” Studying his face, she saw lines of worry etched around his mouth and eyes. In the span of two days, he looked like he'd aged ten years. “Actually, I came to see how you are.”

He looked down at his feet. “I . . . ah. Have you heard from Mose?”

“Yes. He stopped by the house a few hours ago. I know about your father, Jacob. I'm sorry. I wanted to come to see how you are doing.” When he still looked at her blankly, she added, “I can't imagine what you must be feeling.”

“You aren't blaming me?”

“I'm sad that your father felt he had no choice but to do what he did . . . but I don't blame you, Jacob.” She truly didn't, she realized with a bit of surprise.

Unlike her father's bitterness, her heart went out to Jacob and his parents. She knew what it was like to be disappointed and hurt by a family member's actions. She knew what it was like to feel completely hopeless and helpless. The Schrocks needed her prayers, not her anger.

Jacob's brown eyes skimmed her own, seeming to search for something more than he believed was possible. After a moment, he sighed. “I can't tell you how happy I am to hear that. To be honest, I've been sitting here, thinking about my father and Perry.” He shrugged. “Thinking about everything. I've even been thinking about how awful I've been to you at times. Deborah, I'm sorry. I've had a lot I needed to learn about myself.”

“Let's stop saying we're sorry to each other. It isn't necessary.”

A new awareness flickered in his gaze. “Would you like to sit here with me?”

“I'd rather sit with you than anywhere else.”

He chuckled, the noise sounding like a burst of joy in the still evening air. “You are a constant surprise, Deborah. Just a few weeks ago, I would never have imagined you could be so tough. And until you just showed up, I never thought I'd ever laugh again.”

“Then it's time you believed in yourself and the future, don't you think?” she asked lightly as she sat down in the chair next to him.

“Maybe so.”

They rocked in the ancient chairs side by side, the darkness of the evening surrounding them. With only the quiet glow of the lantern illuminating the area, it was impossible to see the parking lot or even the winding road beyond.

It felt like they were the only two people in Crittenden County.

“Do you sit out here a lot at night?” Deborah asked.

“Hardly ever.”

“If I lived here I probably would come out here every chance I got.”

“My
mamm
used to say that. When I was little, I remember my parents coming out here fairly often. But now the evenings seemed to be taken over by bills and plans and invoices.”

“That's what happens, I suppose. We all get too busy to enjoy what is in front of our noses.”

“Deborah, to be honest, I don't know if I've ever taken the time to be thankful for my blessings.”

“I doubt you are the first man to not take the time to give thanks for what he had. It's human nature to always be searching and hoping, I think.”

“I don't know what to do, Deborah. My mother's inside crying. And my
daed
? I feel bad for him, but I'm ashamed of his actions, too. I'm struggling with what he did . . . and how he almost let me get charged with Perry's murder. Now I've got the store to manage and a future to try to work out.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “It's a lot, you know?”

She wasn't about to start giving him advice. His problems and worries were big and not lightly solved. “One day you'll know what to do,” she said finally.

“That's it?” his tone was incredulous. “That's your advice?”

“You don't need my advice. You only need my support.” Privately, she knew she could offer him her love, too. But maybe that wasn't in the cards for them. Maybe God had different plans.

She was just about to attempt to say something about giving himself time to grieve and heal when they heard a chattering of voices from the parking lot. “I wonder who that is?”

“No telling.” His hands clenched on his rocking chair's arms, but she noticed he was taking care not to show any more emotion.

“Is it okay if we join you? Or is this a private party?”

With a laugh, Deborah got to her feet and raced down the steps as Walker, Lydia, Frannie, and Beth came into view. In the background were Micah Overholt and Kevin Yoder. “Look at all of you! Why on earth did you decide to come to the store this evening?”

Frannie gave her a quick hug. “I'd like to say we spend most evenings wandering around in the dark, but that would be a lie,” she said with a laugh. “We came out here to see you, Jacob,” she said as she bounded up the steps.

“I can't believe you all are here,” he said.

His voice was wooden-sounding. Deborah knew he was desperately trying not to expect too much. She didn't blame him, either. It was a difficult thing, getting used to friendship and support.

“Only you would be surprised to see us, Jacob,” Walker said. “Of course we were going to find you this evening. You need us more than ever.”

Deborah walked back up the stairs and took a chance. Coming to his side, she grabbed his elbow. “They're reaching out to you, Jacob,” she whispered. “Now it's your turn to reach right back.”

After sharing a meaningful look with her, he smiled. “I do need you,” he finally said.

Their friends bounded up the stairs, Beth and Micah holding baskets. “I hope you need what we brought, too,” Beth said. “Food!”

“And Cokes,” Micah said with a grin.

“I can't believe you all. It's one of the worst nights of my life, and you all are throwing a party.”

“That's because you've got it all wrong, Jacob,” Frannie said. “It might have been one of the worst days of your life, but that doesn't mean you have to suffer through it all alone. We're here for you. No matter what.”

“I . . .” he cleared his throat. “I mean . . .”

“Nah . . .” Walker slapped him on the shoulder. “Now, don't get all mushy, Jacob. We don't want a speech. Just tell us that it's time to eat.”

He grinned. “It's time to eat.”

“Thank goodness,” Beth said. “I'm starving.”

The laughter that floated around them felt like a healing cloak. A reminder that even on the darkness of evenings, the light of hope can still be found.

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