Read Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery) Online

Authors: Laura Bradford

Tags: #FBS, #Amish, #Mystery, #read2015

Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery) (21 page)

BOOK: Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery)
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“I
did
try. He did not have time.”

Her heart ached for the girl whose shoulders hitched with each sob. “I imagine your mother’s passing has been hard on both of you,” she mused softly. “I’m sure you both miss her terribly.”

“Dat does not speak of Mamm often, but I know he thinks of her as I do,” Annie said between sniffs. “I miss her, Claire. But I miss Dat, too. He has not passed but he is busy—too busy for me.”

Claire reached out, pushed a wisp of hair off Annie’s forehead and back inside her kapp. “I know the days are busy for the Amish, but isn’t the time before bed about being together as a family?”

“Yah. But when there is something wrong, when someone has a problem that must be discussed, they come to the bishop, like I told you. Last night was such a night. I wanted to tell him about my job, about the things that I do here, and about you. But when I started to tell, the knocking started.

“First, it was that policeman.”

“Policeman?”

“Yah. The one that was Esther’s uncle.”

“You mean the one that
is
Esther’s uncle?” Claire corrected, firmly.

“Yah.”

“His name is Jakob and he is a detective with the Heavenly Police Department. He’s investigating the discovery of Sadie Lehman’s body on the Stoltzfus property last week. He
has
to talk to your father in order to find the truth about what happened. It’s his job.”

Annie recoiled as if she’d been slapped, prompting Claire to temper the rest of her statement with some much-needed understanding. “Don’t get me wrong, I would imagine having to share your parent—particularly your only parent—with other people all the time has to be hard. But maybe if you can find a way to tell him how you’re feeling, he will realize you have needs every bit as important as the people in his district.”

“I see Dat. I see him troubled by things others do. I do not want to trouble him. I just want to talk to him. I want him to smile at me, to nod his head when I speak of my new job and the customers I have met.”

“I get that. But I know Jakob didn’t stay all night because he was back at his home by seven o’clock.” She heard the slight catch to her voice and knew it was a reflection of the disappointment she still harbored at the way she’d single-handedly derailed her first movie date with Jakob. Pushing aside the avalanche of self-recrimination that was sure to start next, she forced herself back to the topic at hand. “Did you try to talk to him after Jakob left?”

“The next knock came before Jakob left.”

“And who was that?” she asked.

Annie’s face contorted in disgust. “It was who it always is—The Pest.”

She felt awful laughing in the face of Annie’s obvious angst, but there wasn’t much she could do. The girl’s facial expression, theatrical tone change, and chosen nickname for her father’s second visitor was nothing if not entertaining. “The Pest?” she repeated.

“Yah,” Annie said, firmly. “He is a pest. I do not think a night goes by when he does not knock on our door. If there is a fire, he is the one to tell. If there is a new baby, he is the one to tell. If someone is to be shunned, he is the one to tell.”

“The English have folks like that, too, Annie. Only we call them busybodies.”

“Mamm used to say it started when Leroy and Eva were courting. Back then, he came with only good news. After the wedding, he would bring bad news, too.”

“Wait. I don’t understand what this person has to do with your sister and her husband.”

“The Pest is Leroy’s dat.”

“Okay . . .”

“Leroy courted my sister. Leroy’s dat courted my dat.”

“And when they got married?” Claire prompted, intrigued.

“He is at my house each night as if he is my family. As if he is my dat’s”—Annie’s brow scrunched—“oh, I cannot think of the word right now . . .”

“Assistant?”

“Yah!” Annie jumped down off her stool and smoothed her hand down the front of her aproned mint green dress. “Last night he came to tell Dat Eva’s baby would be here soon. She is my sister and Dat’s daughter. Of course we know the baby will be here soon.”

“Sounds like your nickname for Mr. Beiler fits.”

Annie wrung her hands together and then wandered over to the register, the slump of her shoulders and the absentminded way she began to trace the number on each button a clear indication her sudden swell of irritation was taking a backseat to sadness once again. “I want people to see him as my dat. Not someone . . .
special
.”

“Have you ever talked to your sister about this? Since she, too, grew up a bishop’s daughter?”

“Dat did not become bishop until Eva was baptized. After that, she was courted by Leroy. Mamm was alive, too.”

Claire nodded. “So then your sister had lots of people to talk to in her life, yes?”

“Yah.” Annie turned from the register and sighed. “For me, there is no Mamm, anymore. I am not courting . . . yet. Eva is busy with her own family. I only have Dat and Dat’s many knocks.”

Claire held her hand out and waited for Annie to take it. “I know this is only your third day here, but you have
me
now, too. I’m happy to listen whenever you want.”

The bell over the door jingled loudly and prevented Annie from putting any words to the resurgence of tears she valiantly tried to blink away. Instead, she offered a smile constructed from trembling lips that vanished from her face the moment she looked past Claire.

Confused, Claire turned toward the door, the five foot eight Amish man standing just beneath the string of bells, unfamiliar. “Good morning. Welcome to Heavenly Treasures. How can I help—”

Annie stepped around Claire, clearly fidgeting as she did. “Mr. Beiler,” Annie croaked. “Is—is everything . . . okay?”

“It is time.”

“Why did my dat not come?”

“I told him I would collect you and bring you.”

“I will get my things.” Annie glanced at Claire over her shoulder with large, unreadable eyes. “Claire, I must go. My sister is to have her sixth child and I must help. Mr. Beiler will take me in his buggy.”

Claire nodded politely at the man, then brought her lips within whisper distance of Annie’s ears. “I take it that’s The Pest?”

Annie nodded.

“Are you okay going with him?”

A momentary hesitation was followed by another, slower nod as Annie returned to the counter and the lunch pail housed on the other side. “Eva needs me. I must go.”

“Okay, kiddo. Take as long as you need and just come back when you’re ready, okay?”

Annie set the pail on top of the stool and came around the counter to accept Claire’s waiting hug. “I hope you do not give this job to another person. I will work hard when I come back.”

Claire stepped back, tapped a finger to Annie’s nose, and offered what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “Don’t you worry, Annie, this job is yours.”

And then Annie was gone, her ankle-high lace-up boots barely making a sound as she followed Leroy Beiler’s father out the door. Claire moved closer to the front window and watched as Annie climbed onto the seat of the waiting buggy.

“Claire?”

Startled, she spun around to find Ben and Eli’s sister, Ruth, standing in the back of the shop with a plated brownie in her hand.

“I did not mean to frighten you, Claire. I just wanted to bring you this brownie before more customers come.”

Claire tried to quiet the answering rumble of her stomach with her hand but it was too late. Ruth had heard the ruckus from across the room.

“Perhaps I should have brought a sandwich, too?” Ruth added.

“No, I brought something to . . .” Her reply fizzled away as she glanced toward the counter and the simple metal pail sitting atop the stool. “Oh no . . .” She trotted over to the stool, grabbed the lunch pail, and ran back to the front window, only to find Annie and The Pest gone.

“Is something wrong?”

She looked down at the pail and then over her shoulder at Ruth. “It’s not a big deal, I guess. But Annie Hershberger just left to help her sister with the arrival of baby number six and she forgot her lunch.”

“I could bring it to her when I close. Or, perhaps, Eli could bring it to her after his noon visit.”

She considered both options and subsequently discarded each one. “Thank you, Ruth, but I think I will bring it out to Annie, myself. That way I can say hi and make sure she’s doing okay.”

Chapter 21

C
laire lowered her window halfway and reveled in the promise of spring and its not-so-gentle response to Sunday’s late-season snowfall. All around her, snow was continuing to melt—on the cobblestoned street that was Lighted Way, on the gravel road that linked the popular thoroughfare with the Amish side of town, and on the two-inch-high stalks that marched like soldiers across the fields to her left and to her right.

She knew, from her first spring in Heavenly, that the yellowish-brownish stalks would soon turn a vibrant green as the wheat, rye, and barley crops began to really grow. Come June, soybeans, oats, and tobacco would be planted in neighboring fields to ensure maturity in time for the harvest season.

Sometimes, when she drove along these roads, she couldn’t help but feel as if the pages of her calendar had drifted backward a hundred years to a simpler time when life was governed by people rather than technology. It was as if the world was passing the Amish by in so many ways, yet they didn’t care.

For them, an open-top wagon or a gray-topped buggy was all the transportation they desired.

For them, an inexpensive bolt of durable fabric and a sewing machine were all they needed to clothe their families.

For them, communication with friends and family came not through social media and cell phones but, rather, with face-to-face visits.

For them, mates weren’t found with the help of Internet dating sites. No, they were found across the room at church, or during a Sunday afternoon hymn sing or volleyball game.

For them, helping a neighbor through tragedy meant rolling up one’s sleeves and doing whatever it took to get someone back on their feet.

She turned the wheel with the subtle curve of the road, her thoughts mentally ticking off the family name of each farm that she passed—King, Lapp, Stoltzfus, Lehman . . .

Lehman. Sadie Lehman.

Ever since Jakob had placed odds on the discovered remains being those of Sadie Lehman, Claire found herself trying to put faces to the young woman’s parents—Zebediah and Waneta. She vaguely remembered their names from Esther’s wedding to Eli, but which couple they’d been out of the nearly two hundred and fifty people she’d been introduced to that day, was the true question.

Yet, somewhere in her not-so-good-with-names-and-faces memory, snatches of one woman’s face kept resurfacing each night as Claire laid her head down to sleep. The woman she recalled had been nice—friendly, even. But her eyes had stood out to Claire for their hollowness—as if whatever joy could be mustered to create a smile, burned out before it could ever reach her eyes.

She tried to imagine the other people she’d met that day, tried to see if anyone else jumped out as a possibility, but she always came back to the same woman.

And it made sense.

Claire didn’t need to be a mother to be able to imagine the torment one would feel if their child simply up and disappeared without a single word. It was an experience she prayed she’d never have to know, and hoped no one would ever have to face again.

But even worse than having that child run off, would be learning that they’d never really run off at all. That the whole time you were thinking one thing, your child’s body was buried within sight of your kitchen window. Suddenly, any hope you might have had for a reunion was gone, ripped from your world along with the good-bye you never got to say.

It was too much to even try to fathom. Too painful to try to put herself in Waneta Lehman’s shoes. All she could do was hope for truth and justice for Sadie and her family . . .

She passed her favorite turnoff in all of Heavenly and continued on even as her thoughts opted to take the turn, climb the hill, cross the covered bridge, and settle on a particular rock with its breathtaking view of Heavenly’s Amish country below and its promise of a brilliant star-filled sky above.

At the next dirt-and-gravel driveway, she continued ticking off land in the order Ruth had schooled her—Hochstetler, another Lapp, Hershberger, heavily wooded area, and, finally, Beiler. If she kept going, she knew she’d pass the large wooded area that separated the Beilers from the first of three farms owned by a Miller on the remaining stretch of Amish road.

Ben’s parents and sister . . .

Ben, himself . . .

And, eventually, Eli and Esther . . .

Other farmers were sprinkled around between them, but those farms belonged to families she didn’t know, with names she hoped to learn in the years to come.

She veered onto the shoulder to allow a rare car to pass and then turned up the lane that would lead to Leroy and Eva Beiler’s farmhouse. To her right stood a large barn open to the mild day. She could just make out a horse in one stall and a pair of barn cats meandering out of another.

BOOK: Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery)
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