Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray
“Although I never knew Perry, I can't help but feel sorry for him. It's never easy to change a person's perception of you. Sometimes it stays with you forever.”
itting at his desk in the back of Mose's dusty office, Luke Reynolds read over his notes, and then read them over again. Everything on the assorted sheets pointed to one person. And though he didn't like the direction the facts had taken, they had to be right. If there was one thing he'd learned after a decade in law enforcement, it was that facts didn't lie.
Leaning forward, he braced his elbows on the imitation wood of the ancient metal desk. Flipping back a few pages in his notebook, he reread the interviews he'd conducted with Lydia Plank and Walker Anderson. With Perry's parents and sister.
With Frannie and the Millers, and Abby Anderson and her girlfriends. Yep, he had to be on the right track. But what was going to be the best way to prove it?
Mose rapped his knuckles on the desk as he entered the office. “When are you going to start helping me out with the rest of the work around here? Every time I go out on a call, I leave you here hunched over your notebook like an old miser.”
Luke sat up, the muscles in his back sending shock waves of distress as he did so. “An old miser, Mose?”
“You know what I mean. You're hunched over when I leave, and still in the same position when I get back.”
After slowly getting to his feet, Luke stretched. “I'll start answering more calls when my boss hires me on for real.”
Looking troubled, Mose scratched his head. “You know these things take time. Got to get the funding approved, ya know.”
“I'm teasing you. I went and talked to the department over in Paducah. I think there might be a spot for me on their force.”
“Is that what you want?”
“It's close enough to what I want.” What he wanted at the moment was to hang out at Frannie's inn and relax. But since their wedding was going to be put on hold until Frannie's father got used to the idea, Luke made do with working as many hours as he could.
Plus, until the right person was tried and convicted for Perry Borntrager's death, his work wasn't done. “Paducah is a whole lot smaller than Cincinnati, but they've got their share of city problems. Because that's what I'm used to, I think it will be a good fit. Plus, it's only thirty miles away.”
“I can see how you might feel more at home in a city environment.”
Now that the subject of his future employment was settled, Luke motioned to Mose's chair. “Have a seat and look at these notes, would you? I've drawn some conclusions, but I need your brain. Tell me what you think, would you?”
Mose settled into his own chair, and after taking time to clean his reading glasses with a bandanna he retrieved from his pocket, he slipped them on and picked up the report. As he flipped back and forth through the notes, his posture changed.
“Jacob Schrock, huh? I know we agreed on this, but it still breaks my heart. I wish everything didn't point to him.”
“It's got to be him. Right?”
“I've known Jacob a long time, Luke. He's seemed to be a caring, likable sort. I wouldn't have thought that young man was capable of killing another person.”
“I think we are all capable, given the right circumstances.”
“And you think he was motivated enough? Your reasons don't seem quite strong enough for Jacob to commit murder.”
Luke sighed. He'd been thinking the same thing. He knew Jacob had been angry with Perry for lying to his father, and for stealing from the family business. He also knew that Jacob had been very upset that Perry had still been hanging around the store after he'd been fired.
Jacob seemed to distrust Perry enough to publicly shun him. But there was a big difference between not liking someone and wanting them dead.
“That's why I need to go talk with him some more.” Leaning forward, he showed Mose the notes he'd made while conducting his interviews. “I want to go visit with Deborah Borntrager, too.”
“I agree with you there. Both of them left soon after Perry's body was discovered. Their trips seemed a little too coincidental to me.”
Luke sighed in relief. Talking over the case was restoring his confidence. “I'm going to go talk with her tonight.”
“Sounds good. Listen, when you go visiting to the Schrocks, I think I should go with you. Aaron Schrock is a good man, but he has a tendency to guard Jacob like a mother bear.”
“I was hoping you'd offer to come with me. I have no problem interrogating suspects, but everything's changed now .Â .Â .”
“Because of your relationship with Frannie,” Mose said.
“Yeah.” Feeling a little sheepish, he said, “Mose, I can't believe I was so full of myself when I first got here. I really thought you needed my help because you were inexperienced.”
“It is true we don't get a lot of murders around hereâ”
“But that wasn't it, was it? It's because these people here, they grow on you, don't they? You don't want to expect the worst of them.”
Mose shrugged. “I needed you here and you came, Luke. That's all that matters to me. When do you want to visit tomorrow?”
“In the morning?” he suggested. “We might have a better chance of talking to him for a while in private before the store gets too busy.”
“He's an adult, Luke. We can bring him here without his parents' permission.”
Mose was right. But Luke also had a lot of experience with scared kids in interrogation rooms. Sometimes the change in environment rattled them so much, getting a confession was near impossible. “I hear what you're saying, but I don't want to push hard. Not yet, anyway.”
Mose scanned the report again, then for a moment seemed to scan Luke with the same intensity. “I'll trust your judgment,” he said. “So, before you go find Deborah, want to go get something to eat?”
“Maybe. Where are thinking?”
Mose smiled slyly. “Mary King's?”
“Done,” he said, getting to his feet. Now that he was settling into the rhythm of the county, he was realizing two things. First, never to push hard when pushing gently would achieve the same results.
And two? Never pass up a chance to eat at Mary's.
'm really glad you came with me, Lydia,” Walker said as he pulled into the parking lot of the community college he'd been attending. “I wanted you to see the campus.”
Lydia looked at the gray office building with a wave of apprehension. She'd thought they were only stopping by the campus so he could get some forms from a secretary.
But did he have another reason for taking her here?
“It looks like a nice place,” she said as they crossed the parking lot. “It's big.”
He laughed. “It's not that big. You should see some of the other college campuses in the state. UK out in Lexington is huge.”
“The University of Kentucky.” Flushing, he said, “All my life I wanted to go there. I even used to want to play ball for them. But it wasn't meant to be.”
“Why wasn't it meant to be?” she asked as he held the door open for her and they walked into the air-conditioned building. “I thought you liked this school.”
“Oh, I do. But that didn't stop me from wishing I had gotten a scholarship to a big school like that.” With a shrug he said, “None of it matters, anyway. I wasn't a good enough baseball player to get a scholarship and my parents couldn't afford to help me get there any other way.”
Lydia sensed there was more he wasn't sharing, but she had no idea how to encourage him to tell her more. And, of course, hearing about all his ties to the outside world made her feel insignificant and awkward.
She liked their life in Crittenden County. She liked how they were friends with most everyone, Amish or English. She felt more of an equal there. Here, she felt conspicuous in her dress and
And the crowds of people her age sitting in tables around them, listening to music on their headphones, chatting on cell phones, and working on their laptop computers felt overwhelming as well. Silently, she followed him down the hall and then up a flight of stairs.
When they came to an office door, Walker steeled himself before turning the knob and walking in. Lydia followed.
A lady who didn't look to be much older than them looked up from what she was working on at her desk. “Yes?”
“My name's Walker Anderson. I have some paperwork to pick up?”
She paused and smiled at Walker. “I remember you,” she said lightly. “You came in, looking for information about some correspondence courses.”
“We set aside some information in a packet. Hold on and I'll go get it.”
When she got up, Lydia looked at Walker suspiciously. He was standing tall right next to her, but he seemed distant. Removed. “What is she talking about, Walker?”
“Huh? Oh, I'll tell you in a minute.”
Lydia held on to her patience as the woman gave Walker the packet. They talked about credit hours and prerequisites, and then Walker wrote down the woman's phone number and email address.
But the moment they were back in the hall, she turned to him. “Walker, what is going on?”
He guided her to an empty portion of the hall. “I've been thinking about taking some classes online next semester. On the computer.”
“Okay .Â .Â .”
He took a deep breath. “And I thought you might want to do that, too.”
She almost laughed. “Walker, I can't go to college. You know I never even went to high school.”
“That's what's so great about what Alison found. You can get your GED online, Lydia. You can take classes with me back at home.”
“I can't be taking classes, Walker. I'm working almost every day at the nursery.”
“Yeah, but you don't want to do that forever, do you? I mean, now that we're together, we need to plan ahead, right?”
Lydia felt like smacking her palm on the side of her head. My, but it had certainly taken her long enough to figure out what Walker had been getting at. The whole time she'd been waiting and hoping for Walker to turn away from all he knew and become Amish, he'd been doing some planning of his own.
“We do need to plan,” she agreed slowly. “But I'm afraid it's not going to be as easy as I'd hoped. Or you hoped either, Walker.”
She could almost see the spark fade from his eyes. “You don't want to go to school, Lydia? Not at all?”
“I'm sorry, Walker. But I don't.”
He held his silence as they walked down the stairs, down the hall, and back out of the building. Only when they were getting into his truck did he speak again.
“Lydia, I love you, I do. But I don't know how we're going to manage to mesh our lives together. When we start talking about our wishes for the future, and start talking about plans for the rest of our lives .Â .Â . nothing seems to go together.”
“I understand.” She said nothing more because there was nothing left to say. Though their futures were at cross-purposes, they were in agreement on this: If one of them didn't change, they didn't have a future.
No, that wasn't true. They'd have a future.
It just wouldn't be together.
“Perry discovered that if you stood in the middle of the trail, and crouched down just a little bit .Â .Â . he could see right into our windows. I never asked him how he found out. I suppose I didn't want to know.”
fter supper, Jacob knew he couldn't sit for another minute in his father's company. Lately, his father had been hovering over him so protectively that Jacob was beginning to feel like a firefly in a jar.
He needed a break from the constant vigilance, and he needed it soon, or he was afraid he would say something he would regret. He'd been taught to always respect his parents and never argue with their directives. However, he was on the verge of breaking his silence.
Entering the living room, where his father was contentedly whittling in front of the fireplace, he announced, “I'm going out for a while, Daed.”
With a start, his father got to his feet. “Going out? Where are you going? It's late, you know.”
“It's eight o'clock, Daed. Not so late.”
“But it's dark outâ”
It had finally happened. His patience had snapped. “Father, of course it is dark. And furthermoreâ”
With a wary look his way, his mother jumped into the conversation. “Aaron, enough! My goodness, what's gotten into you lately? Jacob is twenty years old, not eight.”
To Jacob's relief, his father looked more than a little shamefaced. “I know that.”
“Then why are you watching his every move? I tell ya, Aaron, sometimes I truly worry about you.” Waving her hand, she motioned to Jacob. “We'll see you later, son.”
But his father stood up. “Hold on, Jacob. Are you taking the buggy? Because if you are, you should remember to get a lantern and be careful.”
Reminding himself that his dad was only spooked by Perry's death, Jacob struggled to hold on to the very last bit of his patience. “I'm not taking the buggy. I'm only going for a walk. I'll be back in a while.”
“Walking? Where to?”
“Daed, stop.” He ground his teeth, working to control the bark in his voice.
“It's a father's job to look out for his child.”
“I agree. Except I am not a child.” Looking over his father's head, he met his mother's gaze and sent her a silent, plaintive plea for more help.
She shook her head in dismay. “Aaron, stop this. You are borrowing trouble, and we both know it.”
With a shooing motion, she waved Jacob out. “Go on, son. You worked hard today, and you did a fine job with the chores here, too. Go enjoy yourself for a few hours.”
The lines around her eyes softened. “Yes, of course. Now off you go.”
He grabbed his coat and hat before his father could come up with another reason for him to stay under his watch.
Once outside, he walked down the gravel driveway, enjoying the way the rocks crunched under his feet. The lantern shining in the family room window guided him to the side of the house. He continued to walk until the darkness enveloped him.
Thick clouds had formed overhead, effectively creating a shield over the earth. It was so dark he could barely see his hands, never mind any trees and shrubs surrounding him.
He was glad for the small flashlight he'd put in his pocket the other night. One never knew who or what you could come across in the dead of the night.
The narrow pinpoint of light was all he needed. He continued to walk, enjoying the crisp night air and the pungent scent of new foliage. Most of all, he reveled in the feeling of freedom. He was so relieved to be away from his father's constant monitoring.
Walking aimlessly, he clambered over some rocks, and entered a field that had lay fallow for the past two years. Only then did he truly relax, and wonder what he was going to do with himself for the next few hours.
He hadn't thought of who he'd wanted to see or hang out with beyond the overwhelming desire to be free of his father's eye.
Then one thing led to another, and before he knew it, he was following the faint path toward Perry's house.
When they were still in school, Jacob had run down this path to pick up Perry so they could walk to school together.
Of course, Perry had never been ready, and Jacob had never wanted to leave him. And Deborah? Deborah had been at Perry's mercy. Her mother would never let her go to school without the two of them. So they'd had many a morning where they'd arrived at school late .Â .Â . and he remembered those mornings like it was yesterday.
“Come on, Perry. Why aren't you ever ready on time?”
Perry laughed low. “There's no reason. It's just school.”
Jacob felt his temper flare. Over and over Perry was making all three of them late. Not wanting to use himself as the reason, Perry used Deborah instead. “I'm surprised your sister doesn't go on ahead.”
“Mamm and Daed won't let her.”
“But doesn't she get sick of waiting for you? And sick of losing her recess because we're late?”
Perry paused and looked back at Deborah, who was once again following them both. “You mad at me?” he asked. The words weren't unkind but his tone was.
After a pause, Deborah shook her head.
“See?” Perry said with a laugh. “She's fine.”
That was the exact moment Jacob had realized that Perry was a bully. He'd enjoyed exerting power over his parents and his sister. Even his friends. And why shouldn't he?
Yet again, Jacob hadn't said a thing. He had let Perry do whatever he wanted.
Little by little, instead of being bullied, Jacob began to be a lot more like Perry. He liked feeling powerful instead of victimized. Before long, both he and Perry had considered it a badge of honor being known as troublemakers. Growing up under his father's thumb, Jacob had often looked for ways to act up a bit. Perhaps Perry had felt the same way?
Only now did Jacob think about how unfair and selfish he and Perry had been to Deborah.
Why had he never thought about how hard it had been on her, to always be in her brother's shadow? And how he'd always just accepted that she would be there? To his embarrassment, he had never felt the slightest bit of guilt about ignoring her.
He sure had never apologized to her about how he'd acted. Even after all this time, he'd never said he was sorry.
His face flamed even though the night air was cool.
Then the trail widened and the brush cleared. And in front of him lay the Borntragers' home.
As he expected, it was mostly dark, though he did see a faint glow in an upstairs bedroom. Deborah's most likely.
He stopped and looked up at it. Staring at the glow shining through her window shade. What was she doing? Reading by the light of that kerosene lantern?
Just sitting and remembering? It seemed that was all he did these days. Still staring blankly at the window, he noticed the shade twitch. With a start, he realized if she looked out, she'd most likely see his shadow standing underneath her homeâlooking at her window like some kind of Peeping Tom. Now that would be embarrassing, indeed!
acob Schrock was wandering around in her yard. Deborah peered through the tiny crack between the shade and the window and wondered why he'd shown up.
A sudden, fierce anger emanated through her. First he had to go out of his way to make sure she was miserable at the store. Then he gave her an awkward, stilted, most likely very insincere apology. Now he was standing in her yard, below her window.
Could he never leave her alone?
Quickly, she turned off the lamp, grabbed her cloak and black bonnet, and put on both while she went downstairs. For a moment, she thought about telling her parents that she was going out, but decided against it.
Her mother had made an appearance for supper, but after eating only a few bites, had gone back to bed. Her father was closed up in his study, most likely reading a new book checked out from the library. Or staring at the blank walls, pretending he could go back in time.
Either way, neither of them would care one way or the other what she did.
Slipping on her boots, Deborah let her anger and frustration with their whole situation fall by the wayside and tromped outside.
Jacob Schrock had really gone too far today.
As she slipped down the porch steps, she wondered if he'd left, but then she saw his shadow. It looked like he was waiting for her. When she got closer, he stepped out into the clearing, letting the dim glow of a half-full moon illuminate him.
“Hey,” he said.
Deborah's steps faltered. “Hello, Jacob. Care to tell me why you're lurking outside my house?”
He visibly winced, and she felt a twinge of remorse. But she had weeks of hurt to make up for. And she was terribly tired of turning the other cheek.
“I don't know why I'm here. I had to get out of my houseâand next thing I knew, I was walking on this old path.”
“The path you used to take to come get us for school.”
Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he tilted his head to one side. “I was just remembering how Perry always made us late.” After a pause, he added, “You always ended up getting punished, too. Did you ever tell your parents that it was never your fault?”
There in the yard, in the dark, where memories seemed to surface more clearly than they did in the daylight, she shook her head. That had all been a long time ago. However, the pain still felt fresh. “I think you know the answer to that,” she said.
“Perry would've only gotten back at you if you'd told.”
She opened her mouth to agree, but with a start, stopped herself. Would Perry have gotten back at her? Really?
Or was she just remembering the Perry who'd been so cruel his last few months alive? “Perhaps.” She shrugged. “It doesn't matter now. Not really.”
“I never apologized to you. I should have.”
“For what?” She shook her head. “Jacob, it was not your fault that Perry was never ready and that my parents wouldn't let me go to school without him.”
He stepped forward. “Then whose fault was it? If you don't want to blame Perry or me .Â .Â . who do you blame for all those recesses you missed?”
Back when they were younger, Deborah would've given money for him to accept at least part of the blame. But now?
Now it was pointless to dwell on the past. “It was no one's fault,” she said quietly. “It was just how it was.” She shrugged. “Besides, it was long ago. And I survived. We all did,
Slowly, he nodded. “I guess we did. So, tonight, I saw a light on in your room. What were you doing?”
For a moment, she thought about making up a story. Pretending that she'd been doing something valuable with her time. “Not much. Reading.” Actually, she'd been peeking through the crack in the shade out the window. And thinking about Perry.
“Will your parents miss you if you go on a walk?”
No, they wouldn't miss her at all. The only thing they seemed to want to keep them company was their depression. And Perry, of course.
“Want to walk? Not far,” he said quickly. “Just somewhere close.”
“How about we go to the old schoolhouse?”
“It will be just like old times. Almost.”
Deborah said nothing. Because they knew nothing was like it used to beâand it was more than not having Perry with them. It also had to do with the fact that before, she'd been the boys' afterthought. She'd tagged along after them while Perry and Jacob had walked side-by-side.
Laughing about jokes she didn't understand.
With only his tiny flashlight leading the way, they kept their pace slow. It was dark and the path hadn't been used for years. Rocks and vines and broken branches littered what little they could see of it. Most of it was covered with thick brush.
“I don't know whether to be surprised this trail is so overgrown, or to be surprised it's in existence at all,” Jacob mused.
“I'm leaning toward being surprised it's here. How many years has it been?” Deborah asked. “I certainly haven't gone to the schoolhouse in a long time. Not since our eighth-grade graduation.”
Jacob chuckled. “Me, neither.”
When it narrowed, Jacob reached out and grasped her elbow, holding her steady when she stumbled on a tree root. The sudden brush of their bodies against each other felt like so much more than it was.
“Sorry,” he blurted, when he seemed to realize that he was still holding her arm. He dropped his hand.
I, uh, was glad you steadied me. It would be awful if I twisted my ankle out here.”
“You're a little thing, though. I bet I could carry you home without a problem.”
If he'd been anyone else, she would have teased him. Or claimed that while she was petite, she certainly wasn't all that small. Much too big to be picked up like a child.
At last, the glow of the white clapboard schoolhouse loomed in front of them. The white wood, combined with the reflectors that someone had nailed to a few trees in front of it, made it feel like they had stepped into the light.
Jacob turned off his flashlight.
As they got closer, Deborah noticed that an abandoned bike lay on its side next to the school's front door. “Look at that,” she said.
“Wonder whose it is?” Jacob asked. “It's still in good condition.”
“I've always wondered how a bike gets left here. I figure if a person needs to take it to get to school, he needs it to get home, too. Plus, if I had forgotten it, my
would have made me turn right back around and get it.”
“Mine, too.” They shared a smile, then their smiles turned to wariness as they heard the rumble of a car's engine approaching. “Guess we're not the only people out tonight, huh?” he asked.