Read Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery) Online

Authors: Laura Bradford

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Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery) (9 page)

BOOK: Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery)
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Esther shook her head at Claire, laughing as she did. “You mean Hochstetler?”

Claire rewound her thoughts to the night of the fire and did her best to recall the name her aunt had mentioned. “Yes, I think that’s right. It
sounds
right.”

“I don’t really remember her as Miriam Hochstetler at all. I was a baby when she was still with her mamm and dat. But I know her well as Miriam Stoltzfus.”

She felt her mouth gape and worked to recover it quickly.
“Stoltzfus?”

“Yah. She is married to Jeremiah.”

“Stoltzfus?” she repeated. “As in the owner of the barn that burned to the ground the other night?”

“Yah. But the new barn has been raised.”

Wrapping her left hand around the edge of the table, she stared, unseeingly, at the basket of bread and the accompanying slab of butter, Esther’s response barely registering before the next rhetorical question made its way past her lips. “And Stoltzfus is also the owner of the land where Sadie’s body was found?”

“The current owner, yes. But the land was first owned by Sadie’s dat. He sold it to Jeremiah when it became too much for him to farm.” Esther returned to the oven and, this time, transferred the roasted chicken to the now-empty counter. “I spoke of this the other day, at the shop.”

But I hadn’t read Elizabeth’s journal then . . .

She shook off the troubling thought and did her best to lighten her tone. “That’s right, you did. So what is she like? This Miriam?”

Esther poked at the chicken a few times before deeming it done. “Miriam is quiet. I believe that is because she has five boys. Mamm said it happened before that, after her Rumspringa.”

“She wasn’t quiet as a young girl?”

“I only know what Mamm said.”

Intrigued, Claire made a mental note to speak with Jakob’s sister, Martha, before moving on to the next name she remembered from Elizabeth’s journal. “How about a Leroy?”

With careful hands, Esther carved the roast, each slice making its way onto a waiting plate. “Leroy is married to Bishop Hershberger’s oldest daughter. They, too, have five children, but Eva is to have her sixth soon.”

The front door swung open, admitting Eli into the house, his purposeful footsteps prompting Esther to cut faster. He made short work of the front room and joined them in the kitchen. “Are you speaking of Beiler?”

Esther turned and smiled at her husband, the love she had for the man intensifying her normal glow. “Yah.”

“I would imagine it must have been hard to court the bishop’s daughter,” Claire mused. “Do you know if it was?”

Eli shrugged and took his place at the end of the table, smiling up at his wife as she placed the plate of meat in front of his spot and then returned to the stove for the covered pot. “I cannot say. But there would be no room for angry outbursts like I once had.”

Esther returned to the table again, the now-uncovered pot revealing homemade mashed potatoes. “You were not ready to marry then, Eli.”

“I was, I just did not stop to think how my anger could hurt you. But I have learned from my mistakes.”

“How about Michael?” Claire asked as she accepted the potatoes from Esther and spooned a small helping onto her plate. “Do you happen to know someone with the first name of Michael?”

“I know of no Michael,” Eli replied before bowing his head in time with his wife. “It is time to pray.”

Chapter 8

T
here was something therapeutic about waiting for dough to rise and then punching it back down to its original size. It had a way of relieving stress while simultaneously making you feel as if you were accomplishing something—two things she was in dire need of that morning as she kept one eye on Diane’s recipe card and the other on the clock above the sink.

“The table is all set. The guests will be down in about thirty minutes,” Diane said as she breezed into the kitchen from the dining room. “How are those donuts coming along?”

“I’m getting ready to roll and cut the dough now. Then, they need about twenty minutes to rise one more time before I drop them into the deep fryer.” She pointed at the white mixing bowl to her right, the spoon she’d used for mixing still inside. “The maple glaze is all ready to go the second they come out of the fryer.”

“Perfect. I was telling the Finnegans about Amish donuts when they checked in yesterday and I thought it would be a nice surprise to serve some with breakfast this morning.” Diane opened the refrigerator and pulled out a dozen eggs and a carton of milk in preparation for the scrambled eggs on the morning menu. “We missed you last night. Did you have fun?”

She couldn’t help but smile at the hopeful tone Diane didn’t even try to hide. “I did. Very much. But I wasn’t with Jakob . . . in case you were wondering.”

Diane crossed to the stove and the waiting skillet. “I wasn’t.”

Securing a knife from the utility drawer beneath the center island’s countertop, Claire began a silent count to ten, her aunt’s anticipated next question coming before she even got to three. “So who were you with?”

If it were any other adult, she may have found the inquiry nosy, but, considering it was Diane, she simply laughed. “You really are very transparent, you know that?”

Diane’s hand stopped just short of cracking an egg against the side of the skillet. “Transparent? Me?”

Claire cut the dough into slices and set them back on the floured board to rise one last time. “Don’t think I haven’t seen how dog-eared that bridal magazine is in the parlor. Because I have . . .”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, dear.”

“Oh . . . okay. I suppose Wendy Finnegan has been looking at it and reminiscing about her marriage to Todd, right?”

“Maybe.”

When she had a dozen slices lined up on the board, she covered it with a dishcloth and noted the time on the clock. “Diane, we’re just trying to figure out what this is right now. See if we’re meant to date or remain friends.”

Diane cracked a few more eggs and then adjusted the temperature on the burner. “That’s the problem with young people today. They spend too much time thinking and analyzing. Just live. Date. See what happens.”

She bit back the urge to say Peter’s name, the mere memory of her ex-husband and their failed marriage a springboard for a bad day. Instead, she changed the subject and hoped it would stick. “I had dinner with Esther and Eli last night.”

Diane bit. “Oh? How are they?”

“They’re—” She stopped, inhaled, and searched for something to say that would finish her statement without divulging news of the couple’s impending new addition. Jakob needed to be the next to know.

“They’re enjoying the house and, Diane, you should see what they’ve done with the place. Harley would be pleased, I’m sure.”

“Was Benjamin there?”

The question brought her up short as did the wooden tone in which it was posed. “No. He wasn’t. Not that that would have been a bad thing. We’re friends, Diane. Nothing more.”

Diane glanced over her shoulder at Claire, the worry in her eyes impossible to miss. “I want to believe that, Claire, I really do. But I know that he stopped by Thursday evening and that he spent time with you on the porch.”

She grabbed hold of the bowl and began to stir the glaze mixture, her thoughts quickly traveling back to the porch and the reason for Ben’s visit as she did. “He came because he was upset. He wanted to know if he was reading into her words.”

“Her words?” Diane parroted just before she added a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper to the bubbling mixture in the skillet.

“The last few weeks of Elizabeth’s life, she kept a journal. It was Ben’s idea. He’d hoped it would be a way for her to work through whatever was bothering her.”

“Go on . . .”

“He thought she was second-guessing their marriage. She insisted she wasn’t. But she wouldn’t tell him what was wrong. He figured it had something to do with Sadie, so he gave Elizabeth the notebook. When she died, he put it in her hope chest and didn’t read it until the other day, when he went into the chest after Jakob mentioned a bracelet found alongside Sadie’s remains.”

Pushing aside the glaze bowl once again, Claire lifted the dishcloth from the board and inspected the puffy dough. “I think these are just about ready for the deep fryer.”

Diane pointed a spatula at Claire. “Don’t stop. Keep talking.”

She slipped off the cushioned stool and carried the floured board and dough slices over to the deep fryer and the waiting fat. “Unfortunately, it looks as if Elizabeth knew Sadie was dead.”

The gasp from the other side of the kitchen wasn’t much different from the one she herself had made when she got to the page in Elizabeth’s journal that brought that fact home. “Trust me, I know. I feel so bad for Ben right now. This has to be eating him up inside.”

A glance in the direction of the stove showed that Diane was wrapped up in the tale Claire was weaving. “Diane . . . the eggs?”

Diane shook her head and turned back to the skillet, her attention still riveted on their conversation. “What did she write?”

One by one, she dropped the dough slices into the fryer and hovered above them at the ready. “She talked about knowing and not telling anyone. She talked about a few of her Rumspringa friends and how they seem to have forgotten . . . but she couldn’t.”

“Forgotten Sadie?”

“Forgotten her death, we believe.” When the slices were a golden color, she plucked them from the fryer and placed them on a rack. “Last night, at Esther’s, I was able to figure out who two of the people Elizabeth mentioned are. But there was one I couldn’t figure out.”

“Who is that?” Diane retrieved a large serving bowl from the cabinet to the left of the sink and set it beside the stove in preparation for the eggs. “Maybe I can help.”

Returning to the island, Claire retrieved the bowl of maple glaze and gave it another quick stir. When it was the right consistency, she carried it back to the waiting donuts and began the process of dipping each one. “She mentioned Miriam—”

“Miriam Hochstetler, now Stoltzfus.”

Claire nodded. “And Leroy Beiler.”

“Eva Hershberger’s husband.”

“And a Michael . . .”

“O’Neil,” Diane supplied without so much as a hint of hesitation.

She looked up from the second to last donut and studied her aunt. “Why does that name sound familiar?”

“Because we were talking about him the other night. When Jakob was here. He’s running for mayor of Heavenly.”

“You mean the one that’s the son of the former mayor?”


Ryan
O’Neil,” Diane said with a quick but firm nod. “Yes, he’s the one. He—”

“Wait. Didn’t Jakob say something that night about this Mike guy being part of Elizabeth’s Rumspringa crew on account of Miriam Hochstetler?”

Diane nodded again then scooped the eggs into the bowl. “Yes, because he was.”

“How did the son of an English mayor get involved with an Amish teenage girl?”

Yanking a nearby drawer open, Diane fished out a dishcloth and draped it over the bowl to keep the eggs warm. When she was done, she retrieved a basket from the corner hutch and brought it over to Claire for the freshly glazed donuts. “Michael was a bit of a troublemaker. Some folks in town chalked it up to his being the mayor’s son and knowing he could get away with things—which he did, often. Some folks chalked it up to a desperate plea to get his father’s attention—which was always on other things. But, regardless of the reason, he was drawn to trouble and
creating
trouble. Befriending a sweet Amish girl and her friends and then leading them astray was just another way to accomplish that goal.”

“And this guy actually has a chance to be mayor?” She set the basket back on the island and grabbed a pot holder from a nearby drawer. “Does he even have a shot?”

“A very good one, from what I can see.” Diane lifted the bowl of eggs with one hand and the basket of donuts with the other and headed for the kitchen door. Claire followed behind with the piping-hot casserole dish. “Mike’s father was ousted from his mayoral seat eight years ago by Don Smith. Don is running again, but he’s getting tired. Couple that with the fact that Mike is willing to address road problems and other little bothersome issues we’ve had in this town in a way that won’t affect people’s wallets, and, well, that speaks to people.”

Diane set the bowls on the serving table and waited for Claire to do the same with the casserole. Footsteps on the stairs let them know they were right on time. “But can he handle the job?”

“I think he can. He’s grown into a fine young man in spite of being pushed around by his father. He’s engaged now, I believe, and wanting to raise his own family here one day. His troublemaking days are over.” Diane smoothed her hands down the sides of her waist-tied apron and smiled at the first pair of guests who entered the dining room from the front hallway. “Good morning, Wendy. Good morning, Tom. How did you sleep?”

What the Finnegans said in response, Claire didn’t hear, her thoughts ricocheting in different directions even as she, too, managed a greeting for the next two couples. Once everyone was settled at the table with full plates and mugs, she returned to the kitchen with Diane, her eyes automatically shifting to the clock.

BOOK: Suspendered Sentence (An Amish Mystery)
4.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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