Nestled in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country, Painters Mill reveals its bucolic splendor in soft layers that fall upon the senses in small, breathtaking increments. It’s a rural community teeming with hundred-year-old barns, shimmering cornfields, rolling pastures and lowland ponds alive with the jug-o-rum bellow of bullfrogs. I think of the years I spent in the city, estranged not only from my Amish roots but the pastoral beauty of my homeland, and I’m reminded of yet another reason why I came back.
My name is Kate Burkholder and I’m the chief of police of this pretty town with a population of just over five thousand, a third of which are Amish. Dusk is ushering in the darker shadows of nightfall. I’m in my Explorer idling through the covered bridge spanning Painters Creek when my police radio cracks to life. “Chief, I just took a 911 for a 10-14.”
I pick up my mike. “What kind of suspicious activity?”
“Duffy McGriff says someone’s kicking in the front door of the Paw Prints Vet Clinic.”
“Tell him to stay in his vehicle and lock the doors.” I reach the mouth of the bridge and, glancing in my rearview mirror, I make a U-turn on the gravel turnaround. “I’m 10-76.”
It takes me three minutes to reach the clinic on the edge of town. My strobe lights flash red and blue against the building’s façade as I pull into the parking lot. I spot Duffy’s vintage AMC Javelin a few yards away. He’s a pleasant fellow of about forty who owns an insurance agency down the street from the police station.
I’m getting out of my vehicle when one of my off-duty officers, T.J. Banks, pulls in behind me. “That was quick,” I tell him.
“I was on my way to the grocery and heard the call on the radio,” he says. “Need a hand?”
“Never leave home without it.”
I motion toward the clinic. “Check the front door while I talk to Duffy.”
“Sure thing, Chief.”
I start toward Duffy. “You okay? What happened?”
“I was on my way home from my car club meeting—and I pulled into the parking lot here to turn around because I forgot ice cream for the kids, and I saw some dude kicking in the door.”
“Did you get a look at him?”
“Too dark to see much. Looked kind of scrawny, I guess.”
That could describe half the men living in Painters Mill, but I appreciate the information nonetheless. “Any idea which way he went?”
“He ran into those woods.” He points toward the wooded area south of the lot. “If he was breaking in, you’d think he’d at least go around back where no one would see him.”
“Probably after drugs,” I mutter. “Those kinds of people aren’t known for their keen intelligence.”
I don’t know for a fact that Doc Williams stores drugs at the clinic, but the possibility makes it an attractive target for someone looking to get high or score some quick cash.
“You mind if I take off?” Duffy asks. “I’d like to get that ice cream before the carry-out closes.”
“I’ll call you if I need anything else.” I extend my hand and we shake. “Thanks for calling us.”
“Any time, Chief.”
I check the front door and then go around to the back to find T.J. standing on the porch, the beam of his flashlight trained on the door. He looks up when I approach and shakes his head. “Looks like he tried the back door first and couldn’t get in, so he went around to the front.”
Kneeling, I look at the trim near the knob where deep gouges mar the wood. “Looks like he took a screwdriver to it.”
“If Duffy hadn’t pulled up when he did, he would have gained entry.”
“Pretty determined guy.” The hairs on my arms prickle as I scan the wooded area behind the building. “Lots of places to hide.”
“Too bad we don’t have a K-9 unit.”
“Let’s split up and have a look,” I tell him. “Keep your radio handy.”
Giving me a mock salute, T.J. starts toward the tree line to my left.
I go right. I’ve only gone a few yards when I’m startled by movement in the trees. At first I think it’s a deer, then I discern a human silhouette and the pale oval of a face peering out at me.
“Police Department!” I call out. “Do not move!”
I didn’t expect compliance, but I’m disappointed nonetheless when my suspect spins and disappears into the shadows.
I launch myself into a dead run, hitting my lapel mike. “Ten eighty! Suspect heading south! In pursuit!”
Then I’m in the woods, crashing through brush, running full out. My suspect is ten yards ahead, weaving through the trees like a black phantom. My arms pump in perfect time with the pound of my boots against the ground. “Police!” I shout. “Stop! Now!”
Abruptly, the woods open to a field. My quarry stops as if surprised by the sudden lack of cover and turns to look at me. In the dim light of the street lamp beyond, I get my first good look. Surprise rattles through me at the sight of a gray dress, sneakers and a gauzy white kapp. My suspect, I realize, is not only female, but Amish.
As she takes off across the field, all I can think is that she runs like damn cheetah . . .
You can read more about Kate in The Dead Will Tell, the sixth book in the “Kate Burkholder” mystery series, published by Minotaur. The first book in the series is Sworn To Silence. Books are available at retail and online booksellers.
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Meet the author
Linda Castillo is the New York Times bestselling author of the Kate Burkholder novels, including Sworn to Silence, which was recently was adapted into a Lifetime Original Movie titled “An Amish Murder” starring Neve Campbell as Kate Burkholder. Castillo is the recipient of numerous industry awards including the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence, the Holt Medallion and a nomination for the RITA. In addition to writing, Castillo’s other passion is horses. She lives in Texas with her husband and is currently at work on her next novel.
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