Read Murder in Plain Sight Online

Authors: Marta Perry

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Murder in Plain Sight

BOOK: Murder in Plain Sight
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Praise for
MARTA PERRY


Leah’s Choice,
by Marta Perry, is a knowing and careful look into Amish culture and faith. A truly enjoyable reading experience.”

—Angela Hunt,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Let Darkness Come


Leah’s Choice
takes us into the heart of Amish country and the Pennsylvania Dutch and shows us the struggles of the Amish community as the outside world continues to clash with the Plain ways. This is a story of grace and servitude as well as a story of difficult choices and heartbreaking realities. It touched my heart. I think the world of Amish fiction has found a new champion.”

—Lenora Worth, author of
Code of Honor

“Marta Perry delivers a strong story of tension, fear and trepidation.
Season of Secrets
(4.5 stars) is an excellent mystery that’s certain to keep you in constant suspense. While love is a powerful entity in this story, danger is never too far behind.”


RT Book Reviews,
Top Pick

“In this beautifully told tale, Marta Perry writes with the gentle cadence and rich detail of someone who understands the Amish well.
Leah’s Choice
kept me reading long into the night.”

—Linda Goodnight, author of
Finding Her Way Home

Coming soon from
MARTA PERRY
and HQN Books

VANISH IN PLAIN SIGHT

Marisa Angelo’s mother deserted her to return to her Amish family…or did she? The secret to her disappearance lies in the pastoral Amish settlements of Lancaster County. But the more Marisa searches, the closer danger creeps.
Someone will kill to keep that secret buried forever.

MARTA PERRY
MURDER IN PLAIN SIGHT

This story is dedicated to William and Carolyn Baillie, with thanks for your support. And, as always, to Brian, with much love.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I’d like to express my gratitude to all of those whose expertise, patience and generosity helped me in the writing of this book: to Erik Wesner, whose Amish America blog is enormously helpful; to Donald Kraybill and John Hostetler, whose books are the definitive works on Amish life; to my daughter-in-law, Karen Johnson, for legal advice; and to my family, for giving me a rich heritage on which to draw.

Dear Reader,

Thank you for choosing to read the first book in my new Amish suspense series set in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, which I know and love. I enjoy writing about the unique traditions of my native Pennsylvania, especially since I’m able to draw on my own Pennsylvania Dutch background.

The difficulties the Plain People face in dealing with the outside world’s legal institutions aren’t readily understood by our litigious society. It would be hard to find more law-abiding people than the Amish, but they do not easily turn to the law when things go wrong, perhaps because of their history of persecution by the law in Europe. They fled to Pennsylvania to escape that, forming communities that rarely have anything to do with the legal system. They don’t sue each other and are reluctant to seek legal help even when accused. It’s something that I’ve seen close-up from time to time in my area, and that experience, when outsiders had to step in to form a defense, has inspired this story.

I hope you’ll let me know how you feel about my book, and I’d love to send you a signed bookmark or my brochure of Pennsylvania Dutch recipes. You can write to me at HQN Books, 233 Broadway, Suite 1001, New York, NY 10279, email me at [email protected], or visit me on the web at www.martaperry.com.

Blessings,

Marta

The course of the righteous is like morning light, growing brighter until it is broad day; but the ways of the wicked are like darkness at night, and they do not know what has been their downfall.


Proverbs
4:18–19

PROLOGUE

Amish Youth Arrested in Murder

S
PRINGVILLE,
PA—
The body of a local woman was discovered early Sunday morning in a remote barn in rural Lancaster County. The woman, whom police say had apparently been beaten to death, has been identified as Cherry Wilson, 24, of Springville. Police have detained a young man who was found at the scene. Thomas Esch, 19, of Spring Township, son of a local Amish family, is being questioned in connection with the death. Police declined to say what the motive might have been in the grisly crime.

In what appears to be a related incident, an unidentified older woman was warned away from the suspect by police. She apparently attempted to interfere when the suspect was being taken into police headquarters. No further information about this incident was released by the police spokesperson.

CHAPTER ONE

A
SUMMONS TO THE OFFICE
of Dwight Henderson, senior partner in the Philadelphia law firm of Henderson, Dawes and Henderson, seldom resulted in good news for a junior associate, but Jessica Langdon didn’t intend to let her apprehension show. Assuming her most professional expression, she straightened her suit jacket with icy fingers then tapped lightly and opened the door.

“You wanted to see me, Mr. Henderson?”

Henderson frowned across the expanse of a massive mahogany desk, balancing a gold fountain pen between his forefingers. He let the engraved pen drop to the desktop and nodded to the chair across from him.

The penalty box. That was how she’d thought of that seat recently. She sat, smoothing her skirt down over her knees.

Center City’s skyline, seen through a wide window, made an impressive backdrop, not that Henderson needed any help to impress. Over sixty,
he had a heavily lined face that no expensive facial treatments could make resemble anything but a bulldog’s, a shining bald dome that reflected the light from the window, and a pair of remote, piercing dark eyes. Whatever his appearance said, he was a highly successful attorney whose clients could afford, and got, the best.

Jessica waited out the frowning silence that had such a demoralizing effect on reluctant witnesses on the few occasions when Henderson Senior deigned to appear in court himself. Henderson had summoned her. It was for him to speak first.

“Your time here has not been particularly successful, has it, Ms. Langdon?”

That didn’t seem to require an answer. Her heart sank. This was it, then. Termination. She tried not to think of her father’s reaction. A superior-court judge tended to expect better of his only child.

“After the business with the Clements boy…”

The Clements boy, as Henderson called him, was the sixteen-year-old scion of one of the firm’s wealthiest clients, currently embarked on an escalating pattern of vandalism and violence. Her comment that perhaps he should for once have to face the consequences of his actions had not been well received.

“…to say nothing of your failure in the Altmiller matter…”

She had to bite her tongue at that. Dwight Henderson Junior had dropped the ball in that situation, but it had been made abundantly clear that her duty was to accept the blame and say nothing. Dwight Henderson’s son could not possibly have mishandled a case. Junior associates fell on their swords.

“…only my respect for your father has allowed…”

Her father, Theodore Belmont Langdon, superior-court judge and law-school crony of Dwight Senior. His influence had secured this position for her, but it was apparently not enough to ensure that she stayed.

Henderson cleared his throat. “However, a case has come up which you’ve been requested to handle.” He shoved a file folder across the desk.

She was so astonished that his words took a moment to sink in. She picked up the folder by its edges. Some response seemed called for. “Yes, sir?”

“You’ll have to drive to Lancaster County immediately to deal with the matter. The Morgan family has decided to fund the defense for this unfortunate young man. Take your lead from them as to how to
handle the case. It shouldn’t involve anything more complicated than negotiating a plea bargain.”

“May I ask—”

“That’s all, Ms. Langdon. Satisfy the Morgan family, and perhaps…”

He let that trail off, but she got the message.
Perhaps we won’t be letting you go.

She’d like a little more information, but his peremptory gesture sent her to the door. She escaped, clutching the file to her chest. She’d have to trust that its contents could salvage the remnants of her career.

 

F
ACE IT—SHE WAS LOST.
Jessica glared at the GPS system that was supposed to get her wherever she needed to go. It worked fine in Philadelphia, or out on the interstate. But once she’d gotten entangled in a network of narrow roads that wound past neat farms and through patches of woods, the system seemed to get as lost as she was. At the moment, it was blinking, its automated voice informing her that it was recalculating the route. Unfortunately, it had been doing so for the past ten minutes.

She slowed the car, pulling off onto the graveled verge, and reached for a map. Since she didn’t know where she was, it seemed unlikely that the
map would help her much. The last road sign she’d seen had marked an even narrower road than this one, called Creek Road. No Creek Road appeared on the map. It was undoubtedly one of the many thin, unnamed lines that wound through Lancaster County, presumably connecting the apparently endless patchwork of dairy farms.

Propping the map against the steering wheel, she tried to find the spot at which she’d gotten off the main road. Following her prospective employer’s directions so far had resulted in nothing but trouble. She could only hope that wasn’t a portent of things to come.

A noise behind her brought her head up. If she could flag down a car and ask for directions—

But it wasn’t a car. A gray-and-black buggy came into view over the gentle rise of the road behind her, seeming to fit into the pastoral surroundings far better than her year-old hatchback. The horse’s hooves clopped rhythmically on the blacktop, slowing as the animal approached.

The faintest apprehension brushed her nape, and she shook it away. She was surely far safer here than on some of the city’s streets, strange though the equipage looked to her.

The buggy came to a halt next to her. She had
to open her window and crane her neck to look up at the person who leaned down toward her.

The young woman’s face was framed by a black bonnet, oddly anachronistic. Her long-sleeved, dark green dress had a matching apron. Jessica had to remind herself that she’d been driving through Center City Philadelphia only a couple of hours ago. Beyond the woman, the man who held the buggy lines had the sort of haircut achieved by cutting around a bowl on the head, topped by a straw hat. Well, maybe their dress wasn’t that much stranger than that of the Goth couple she’d spotted yesterday, the woman wearing a studded leather dog collar around her neck.

“You are lost, ja?” The woman gave her a tentative smile. “Can we help?”

Her English was accented, almost singsong in quality, but understandable enough.

“Yes, thank you.” Did she sound relieved or desperate? “I’m not sure where I am. I’m trying to find an address off Dale Road near Springville.”

“Ach, you are not so very far wrong at all.” Her face broke into a smile. “I am Anna Mast, and this is my brother, Aaron. We are chust coming home from delivering eggs in Springville.”

“It’s not far, then?” Surely it couldn’t be, if these
two had come from there in a buggy. “Can you give me directions?”

The brother leaned over, squishing his sister against the side of the seat. “Directions depend on how far along the road you are going already. Who are you going to see?”

Her ear must be adjusting to the dialect, because she could understand him even though his English was more heavily accented than his sister’s. She hesitated. Normally she wouldn’t give out information like that to a stranger, but these were not normal circumstances. If she didn’t want to spend what was left of the afternoon wandering these lanes, she’d better not alienate the only help that was offered.

“I have an appointment with Mrs. Geneva Morgan. Her address—”

“Ach, everyone knows the Morgans.” His face split in a grin, blue eyes crinkling. “Anyone would help a friend of Mrs. Morgan.”

His sister was nodding agreement. Evidently Mrs. Morgan was well-known in the area.

“You chust go down the road past the Stoltzfus farm—”

“She won’t know which is the Stoltzfus farm,” his sister said, elbowing him. “Go about a mile
and you’ll see a big red barn on the left-hand side of the road. Turn right there—it’s the first paved road you come to. Follow that for about five miles, and it will take you to Dale Road. Then go left, and you’ll see the Morgans’ mailbox only a little piece down the road.”

“Right at the first paved road, go five miles, left on Dale Road,” she repeated.

“Ja, that’s it.” Anna beamed down at her.

“Thank you so much. I really appreciate your help.”

“It makes no trouble.” Aaron gestured her to go ahead of them, sitting back on the seat again.

“Well…goodbye.” It seemed an oddly abrupt way of ending a conversation, but what did she know about Amish ways?

She pulled back onto the road, lifting her hand in a wave, and watched the buggy recede in her rearview mirror. She’d just met her first Amish people. She could only hope that the boy she was supposed to defend was as cooperative as that pair.

 

L
AST CHANCE
.
T
HE WORDS
echoed in the back of Jessica’s mind as she got out of the car, squared her shoulders and headed for the door of a sprawling
Pennsylvania farmhouse. The drive into the pastoral reaches of Lancaster County had taken longer than she’d expected even before she’d gotten lost, and she’d delayed leaving the city in an attempt to obtain a few more facts.

A futile attempt, as it turned out. The file had contained little to prepare her. It contained only the baldest listing of the defendant and the name and address of the woman who’d retained her. The Philadelphia paper hadn’t had much more.

She raised her hand to knock, but the door jerked open before her fist reached it. The introductory speech she’d so carefully prepared during the long drive vanished from her mind. The person who stood there could not be the woman who’d sent for her.

Tall, male, glowering. Definitely not someone named Geneva. The khakis and open-necked shirt said casual, but the square jaw and the fierce glint in the man’s golden-brown eyes said, “Keep out.” As if to reinforce the message, he braced one hand against the door frame, effectively stopping her from entering.

She’d faced worse in the courtroom, she reminded herself. “Good afternoon. I’m Jessica
Langdon. I have an appointment with Geneva Morgan.”

He gave a short nod. “Blake Morgan. Geneva is my mother.”

Still he didn’t move, and his gaze was as frosty as if she’d just crawled out from a crack in the stone wall that surrounded the nearby flower bed overflowing with tulips and roses.

“Is Mrs. Morgan in?” She kept her tone polite but put a sliver of ice in it.

“Not at the moment.” Level brows drew together forbiddingly. “I’m sorry to tell you this after you’ve driven out from Philadelphia, but the family has decided we don’t require your services.”

The words hit her like a slap in the face. Was that a polite way of saying they didn’t think her competent? Mrs. Morgan wouldn’t have hired her in the first place if she thought that.

“There must be some misunderstanding. I spoke briefly to Mrs. Morgan just before I left the city, and I gave her my cell-phone number. Surely she would have called if she didn’t want me to come.”

He didn’t move. Didn’t speak.

“Do you mind if we discuss this someplace other than the porch?”

He took a step back, with an air of giving ground reluctantly. “I suppose you can come in.”

But not for long, his body language said.

Jessica stepped into a center hallway, cool and shady after the June sunshine outside. Yellow roses spilled from a milk-glass pitcher on a marble-topped table, and a bentwood coatrack was topped with a wide-brimmed straw hat. Morgan gestured toward an archway to the right, and she walked through it.

In the moment before she faced the man again she had a quick impression of Oriental carpets against wide-planked wooden floors and ivory curtains pulled back from many-paned windows. The furniture was a mix of periods, comfortable and well-used but holding its beauty.

She faced Morgan, tilting her chin. He must top six feet, and his height gave him an unfair advantage. That, and the fact that he was on his home turf. Still, she was the professional, called in when things went wrong.

“Mrs. Morgan retained me to defend a client named Thomas Esch on a charge of murder. She asked me to come immediately, which I did. If you have decided on another attorney—” She let the thought hang. He owed her an explanation, and he must know it.

“It’s not a question of that,” he said quickly. “Not at all. We’ve simply decided that it’s wrong for us to be involved in the case. Naturally we expect to be billed for your time and trouble. Now if you’ll excuse me…”

It was an invitation to go. She didn’t take it. Blake Morgan had that air of command down to an art. He was the type you had to stand up to at the start or always be steamrolled, not that she expected to have enough of a relationship with him to care.

When she didn’t move, a glint of anger showed in his face. “I’ll have to ask you to leave now, Ms. Langdon.”

Fight back? Or roll quietly away and say goodbye to what was left of her career? Not much of a choice.

“I was retained by Geneva Morgan. If she no longer requires my services, I’ll have to hear it from her.”

His jaw hardened until it resembled one of the rocks in the stone fireplace that dominated one wall of the living room. “Thomas Esch is accused of a brutal murder. I don’t want my mother involved, even in the background, in such a thing.”

“Are you saying you speak for her?”

“Yes.” He bit off the word.

“Do you have a power of attorney to do so?”

His teeth seemed to grind together, and he leaned toward her. She’d scored, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear what he’d say next.

Quick, light footsteps crossed the hall behind them. “Trey, my dear, there you are. You must have gotten the message wrong, dear, and that’s so unlike you.”

Jessica watched, fascinated, as the woman trotted across to Blake and patted his cheek. She had to reach up, very far up. If this was his mother, he clearly didn’t take after her.

“You must write things down,” the woman scolded gently, as if he were about six.

She spun, swooping toward Jessica and holding out both hands. Bright green eyes sparkled, and the full sleeves of the filmy tunic she wore fluttered. Silvery curls bouncing, she moved with the quick light step of a girl, although she had to be in her sixties.

BOOK: Murder in Plain Sight
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