Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray
“Most folks don't know this, but Perry was afraid of the dark.”
“It is better to look ahead than to look back and regret.”
eborah Borntrager gazed at the Amish saying that her grandmother had neatly stitched as a sampler years and years ago and tried to embrace the notion.
But, as always, the pithy statement seemed far too corny to say and far too difficult to adopt. She'd always thought the simple saying was a little too “simple.” Especially since, lately, all she was doing was looking back with regrets.
But was that the reason her mother had hung the sampler on Deborah's bedroom wall when she was a little girl? Looking backward instead of forward had long been her flaw.
After neatly securing her dark brown hair, pinning her
on her head
then placing her black bonnet, she walked past Perry's old room and paused for a moment in his doorway.
Her gaze swept past his unmade bed, the dust gathered on his bureau, the cobwebs in the corners of the room. The police hadn't been in his room since the day he disappeared, yet her mother had steadfastly refused to change a thing.
Not even when his lifeless body had been found at the bottom of a well.
It wasn't the way of the Amish to dwell on death, but for her family, it was hard to let Perry go. Often, Deborah heard her mother enter his room late at night, but she never sat on the bed or touched anything. Instead, she'd just stand in the room and cry.
Deborah wrapped her arms around herself, felt her grief drape her like a cloak. Swallowing hard, she backed out of the doorway and continued down the narrow hallway, past the washroom and the closed door of her parents' room, and trotted down the stairs, her shoes clicking softly on the wooden steps.
Once again, her father had left the house early for the fields, leaving the kitchen to her mother.
And once again, her mother hadn't gotten out of bed.
In the weeks since Abby Anderson had found Perry's body at the bottom of a well, her mother's health had steadily declined. She'd become weak and listless, and even tonics didn't seem to help much.
Deborah supposed she couldn't blame her mother. No woman wanted to outlive her son. And no woman ever wanted to hear that her child had been murdered.
Instead of making coffee and breakfast for her mother like she usually did, Deborah fastened her cloak and left the house as quickly as possible. She was going to find a job today.
She had to. No longer could she spend her days at home, worrying about her parents, mourning her brother, and wishing she could redo the past.
Yes, getting a job would be such a blessing in many ways. She could earn some money, have more independence, and finally have more in common with her girlfriends. Lydia Plank worked at her parents' greenhouse, Beth babysat and had a day-care service for
And Frannie Eicher? Frannie owned her own bed and breakfast!
Yes, her friends seemed to know exactly what they were doing in their lives. And each of them had experienced a bit of romance lately as well.
Lydia and Walker Anderson had begun courting. Frannie and Luke Reynolds, the city detective investigating Perry's death, were now seeing each other, too. And while Beth didn't have a sweetheart, she'd confided to Deborah that she'd developed a little crush on one of the men who'd stayed at the inn while Frannie was in the hospital a few weeks ago.
All of her friends had felt that first tingling sense of interest from a man. She, on the other hand, had only gotten a good taste of disdain.
Pushing her doubts away, Deborah walked quickly through the woods and popped out near Stanton Park. It was a busy place today. Several mothers and their children were out, enjoying the sunny, warm morning. When one waved to her, Deborah waved back, then continued on to the first place she had in mind: an antique dealer.
Walking inside a garage, the home of Esther's Antiques, she greeted the owner. “I'm looking for a job, Esther. Do you need some help?”
The older lady, dressed as usual in a thick black dress and apron, shook her head. “I'm sorry, Deborah, but I don't.”
As usual, the store was overcrowded, smelling musty and damp. She ran a finger along an old oak dresser. “Are you sure? I could dust and clean for you.”
Esther frowned at the dirt on Deborah's fingertip, but still shook her head. “Everything could use a good cleanin', that is true. But I can't afford the help. Business has been slow. I am sorry.”
Her heart sinking, Deborah nodded. “That's okay.” After saying her goodbyes, she moved on to another shopâthis one a woodworking store about a half mile away.
But the owner didn't need help, either. And neither did the folks at the Amish bakery, or at three of the nurseries in town.
By noon, she felt her spirits sink as her only other option for employment loomed up the hill and in the distance just like a circling hawk or some other bird of prey: Schrock's Variety Store.
What was she going to do?
Unbidden, the earnest words written on the sampler surfaced.
Don't look back, look forward
But did she dare?
Of all the times to take Amish wisdom to heart!
As she continued to walk, it seemed as if her feet were functioning on their own. No matter how much her mind and heart tried to beckon her body in a different direction, her feet just kept walking down the sidewalk.
Right to the Schrock's door.
She didn't want to go in. And she really didn't want to see Jacob Schrock again.
“Deborah? You're ruining my traffic flow, child,” Mr. Schrock's loud voice rumbled through the thin door. “Walk in or move to the side.”
She opened the door and stepped inside.
Mr. Schrock had on reading glasses and his face was screwed up as he stared at an invoice sheet. “Do you need help? If so, be quick about it; I've got too much to do today for lollygaggers.”
His terse tone made her shoulders tighten. She swallowed hard, gathered up all her courage, and said, “I, uh, came to see if you needed some help.”
His head popped up as his eyes narrowed over the tops of his wire frames. “With what?”
“In the store,” she said, stating the obvious. Self-consciously, she pulled her shoulders back and lifted her chin. The last thing she wanted him to see was that she was a nervous wreck. “I am looking for a job.”
“Are you, now?” Slowly, he folded up the invoice he'd been studying and gave her his full attention. She felt his gaze look her over .Â .Â . just like she, too, was full of numbers that didn't quite match up.
She squirmed under his gaze. This had been a mistake. “Do you need any help?” she asked quickly. Ready to get the embarrassment over with. “If not, it's all right.”
“Why is it all right? Do you need a job or don't you?”
Oh, why had she come here? Why would they hire her after what Perry'd done? Almost everyone in Crittenden County looked at her differently now. She was sure they felt differently about her, too.
“I do,” she finally answered.
She stood still while he walked around the counter and inspected her again. “Hmph,” he said.
She stepped backward. What was she thinking, coming into the store, asking for a job in such a weak way. If only she could just disappearÂ .Â .Â .
“How do you feel about kittens?” he asked.
Stunned, she mumbled, “Kittens?”
With a bit of amusement in his eyes, he added, “You know .Â .Â . baby cats?”
She felt her cheeks flush at his gentle teasing. “I like them fine.”
Why on earth was he talking about kittens
“Do cats or kittens make you sneeze? You wouldn't believe how many folks seem to be allergic to the little monsters.”
I am not allergic to cats, Mr. Schrock.”
He smiled. “Then you have got yourself a job. I haven't had a female helper here in ages. You might be a nice change of pace. Especially if you're real fond of cats.”
Deborah almost pointed out that she'd never said she was fond of cats. She'd only admitted that they didn't make her sneeze. But she held her tongue.
“You can add numbers and such, yes?” he asked.
Mr. Schrock thrust out the invoice sheet he'd been studying when she'd come inside. “
Here's your first job, Deborah Borntrager. Match the invoice numbers to the items I just unpacked in this box. Check them off one by one. Understand?”
It sounded simple enough. “I understand.”
. Now, I'm going to find you more things to do.” And with that, he wandered down the center aisle, opened the door that led into the storage area and office, and closed it behind him.
Leaving her essentially in charge of the front of the shop.
Well, this wasn't how she'd thought she'd spend her first day at work, she mused. But she supposed it made sense. Mr. Schrock had never been a man to do things in a predictable way.
Thinking it was time to do what he asked, she shrugged out of her cape and hung it on a peg near the shop's front door. As she headed back to the counter, she took a good look around, noticing everything seemed as it always didâpacked with neatly organized merchandise on one side and filled to the brim with freshly baked goods on the other. In the back was a small dairy case filled with milk and cheese.
Picking up a pencil, she leaned on the counter, figured out what she was supposed to be counting, then picked up some boxes of muffin mixes and started looking for the item numbers. After locating the first set of numbers, she relaxed a bit.
This was certainly an easy enough task. And it did, indeed, feel mighty good to be out of the house. To be doing something productive instead of worrying about her mother.
Yes, coming to Schrock's Variety certainly had been the right decision. She checked off the numbers and scanned the invoice for the next set of numbers.
“Out of all the places in Crittenden County, you decided to get a job here? Really?”
She turned to the voice and pretended the words didn't make her heart break. Jacob stood in the doorway to the back storage room. Deborah turned back to her task. “I didn't think my being here would upset you, Jacob.” But of course that was a lie. She'd known he wouldn't want her in the store. After all, he hated her. Hated her whole family.
As a moment passed, Jacob's eyes narrowed. Then, his expression turned blank. “You being here doesn't upset me. I've learned to never think about you at all.”
“If that were true, why are you so angry?”
“I'm not angry. I just don't care to see you.”
“Jacob!” his father said sternly as he walked in from the back of the store to join them. “You apologize now.”
“I will not. I'm done pretending to be okay with things that aren't.” Folding his arms across his chest, Jacob looked down at her from his almost six-foot height. “Deborah shouldn't be here, and you shouldn't have hired her, Daed. You owed me that at the very least.”
“This ain't your concern, Jacob.”
Surprise and true hurt filled Jacob's gaze before he turned on his heel and stormed out.
Watching the interplay and feeling frozen by the strength of Jacob's anger, Deborah desperately tried to regain her composure. “Mr. Schrock, do you want me to leave?”
“Of course not, child,” he said. But his expression was wary and his shoulders were half slumped, revealing just how much his son's anger had taken a toll on him. “Look, you go back to those invoices now. And try not to worry. Jacob will come around. He's just .Â .Â . ah, having a bad day.”
There was a whole lot more going on than a bad day, but Deborah wanted the job. She needed it as much as Perry had needed his independence .Â .Â . and his drugs.
So because of that, she smiled wanly as Mr. Schrock walked back to the storage room.
When she was alone, Deborah looked at the door that Jacob had stormed through and felt a fresh wave of sadness. So much had changed over the last year.
Once, Jacob had been one of her brother's best friends. Once they'd all been friends. Once, she'd had a childish crush on Jacob.
Now none of that was true.
“Perry and I have the same hazel eyes. That's where our similarities ended, I'm afraid.”
uke, you've been working with Mose all morning. Surely you need a break for supper?” Frannie asked as she walked into Mose's cramped office. In her arms was a basket filled with a variety of containers and what looked to be a plate, napkin, and silverware.
With a smile, he looked at his girlfriend and couldn't believe how lucky he was. Since arriving in Crittenden County, he'd not only strengthened his relationship with Mose Kramer, but he'd fallen in love, too.
God really was good. Ever since he'd gotten shot and put on leave from the Cincinnati Police Department, his life had changed in innumerable ways.
First his old buddy Mose had asked if he'd help him with a murder investigation in southwestern Kentucky. Then, little by little, he'd begun to feel at ease in the mostly Amish county. Finally, he'd met Frannie and felt a spark between them that was unlike anything he'd experienced.
If fate hadn't stepped in, Luke knew he'd still be limping around Cincinnati, Ohio, counting the days until he could work twelve-hour shifts.
And trying to figure out his life. He'd still be struggling with balancing his work, his free timeâand wondering if he'd ever find a partner in life, someone he could trust completely.
Getting to his feet, he took the basket from her hands and set it on his desk. “Frannie, what did you make? It smells so good.”
“Just bean-and-ham soup. And cornbread, seven-layer salad, and blond brownies.”
She was such a good cook, Luke felt like the luckiest guy on earth. “Only all of that, hmm?” he teased. “In that case, I think I might be persuaded to take a break. If you stay here and eat with me.”
As he hoped, she blushed prettily. “I would enjoy that, but I'm afraid I cannot get away that long. I've guests coming in this afternoon. I need to get back and wait for them.”
“Do you know who they are?” Whenever he thought about the men who'd come to her inn, armed and dangerous, he felt sick. “Do you want me to go to the inn and wait with you?”
Her eyebrows rose. “I most certainly do not. I'll be fine.”
“But you'll call me as soon as they arrive?”
She wrinkled her nose, illustrating yet again what she thought about the cell phone he insisted she keep on hand in case of emergencies. “I don't think I'll be in any danger, Luke. My guests are a group of ten ladies.”
His concern flip-flopped from concern for her safety to his mental health. “Ten? You only have four guest rooms.”
“They are sharing rooms. And bringing some kind of blow-up mattress! They are having a âgirls' weekend'.”
Already, he could imagine what Frannie's inn would be like, filled to capacity with that many chatty women. “How long do they plan to stay there?”
“Until Sunday, of course.” She chuckled. “Oh, Luke. You should see your face! You looked scared!”
Ten women out for a weekend's worth of good times sounded noisy. And he'd likely get no time alone with Frannie if she was going to be bustling around, tending to their needs.
But he didn't want to upset her, of course. She looked so happy and proud. More than once she'd relayed to him how much she wanted the inn to be a success. “Congratulations. Having the inn filled to overflowing is a true accomplishment.”
My bank account is going to be mighty pleased with their checks, for sure.” Stepping closer, she said, “I know you're working hard, but don't forget to eat. The soup is hot, and I made sure to give you plenty of brownies to share with Mose.”
“You're too good to me, Frannie.”
Smiling brightly, she met his gaze for a moment, then ducked her head and left.
He watched her walk briskly down the sidewalk in front of the sheriff's office, located in a trailer next to a bank building. Frannie's bright blue dress and apron fluttered with her stride, and the black bonnet strings covering her prim white
floated around her neck and shoulders.
How had he ever imagined that she was bossy? She was simply confident. And a hard worker.
But there was a softer side to her, too. Underneath her chatty exterior was a vulnerable woman who needed someone to believe in her.
“Mooning again?” Mose said from the doorway.
“A little,” Luke allowed. “I can't help itâI'm in love.”
Mose rolled his eyes as he approached and picked up the basket. “At least you're not about to go hungry.”
“She made enough for two. Want some?”
“Of course! But first, I think we need to talk about our case. Do you really think you have enough to close it?”
Pushing aside Frannie's basket, Luke studied his latest typed set of notes. “I had hoped we had enough evidence, but I don't think the D.A. will accept the case as it is without a confession. We've got to dig deeper, Mose.”
Mose rocked back on his heels. “Is it time to bring him in? No lawyer can fault us for bringing a suspect here for questioning.”
Luke considered the idea, but ultimately dismissed it. “It's your call, but I don't think we're ready to press yet. I'd like to do another round of interviews with a couple of people. I need to speak with Deborah Borntrager, and maybe the Millers again. They're not going to like it, but it can't be helped.”
“I want this case sealed up tighter than an icebox in July, Luke. We can wait another few days to make sure we have everything we need.” Turning away, Mose stared out the front window. “I tell you, when we first found Perry, I didn't think anything worse could tear this community apart. But I'm afraid the news of who killed him might do more damage.”
Luke had to agree. It was one thing when a loved member of a community was found murdered.
It was a whole different story when one of their own was discovered to be a murderer.