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Maplecreek, Ohio September 6, 2002
For someone who'll never shoot again," Kat Lindley muttered as she strode up the walk of the only new building this little town had evidently seen for years, "whatcha gonna do?"
Kat really wanted this interview to go well, even though it was for what her buddies in the CPD would call a "rubber gun job"desk work. She could feel the cool morning breeze in the ache of her reconstructed hip and wrist as well as on her sweaty palms. Imagine, metal screws holding together bones in a woman her age. At least now she could sympathize with Morelli's early arthritis.
But Kat was relieved she'd never have to work the city streets again. The reality of little John Seyjack's murder at the hands of his berserk father and then Seyjack Senior's death during the ensuing SWAT team response had shaken her to her core, even though she had been unconscious during all that.
She wasn't sure she could face the unknowns of being a cop again. She'd been through hell this past year, almost bleeding to death, then a lengthy hospital stay, hip and wrist surgery, and walking on crutches, then a cane. Rehab had been grueling to regain her ADL's, activities of daily living, which did not include ever shooting a gun again. That was a necessity for an active duty cop, so her dream career was as fractured as her bones.
Kat had been through counseling, too, though she hardly needed a shrink to realize she blamed herself for causing the child's death. She knew it had ripped open her wound of festering guilt from losing her little brother years ago. But she still felt she was to blame for taking Jay away from their first foster home. The result was their separation when placed in their second homes. Jay had died of a burst appendix because his foster family believed in prayer more than in doctors. If she hadn't rebelled in the first foster home, however rough it was, they would have been together. She'd have gotten him help when he became sick. No psychiatrist could really help her, because she could never make up for it, never forgive herself for the deaths of Jay and John.
Two months ago, Kat had pulled herself out of her depression and had taken training to become a police dispatcher, though she'd probably die of boredom doing it. And it would be a real downer not to be on the streets anymore. Since she had no ties in Columbus beyond a few friends on the force, and she had less in common with them every day, she'd chosen a clean break with her past.
Last month she had moved here to northeast Ohio, which she'd always thought of as peaceful Amish country. She'd rented an upstairs apartment from a widow in the town of Pleasant, near Maplecreek, the county seat. At first she spent her time hitting the antique sales she'd always loved, carefully bargaining for pieces she could use or resell. But her nest egg had dwindled, so she'd applied for the job of the Roscoe County Sheriff's Police and Emergency Vehicle Dispatcher. If she didn't get it, she'd surely find something else to tide her over until she could get an antiques resale business going. That was her new goal in life.
"Katherine Anne Lindley, go get 'em," she whispered as she went in the double doors of the new civic center, which served as police station, volunteer fire department and mayor's office.
The current day dispatcher, a pregnant young woman who explained she was also filling in for the receptionist, who was at a dentist's appointment, greeted her warmly and took her right in to meet Sheriff Ray Martin in his large, glass-walled office.
"Katherine, real glad to meet you," he said, shaking her hand. He indicated a maple colonial chair and held it for her as if seating her at a table. The chair's padded cushion was covered in quilted calico with a ruffle.
"It's a real pleasure," he added as he sat in his own chair across his cluttered desk. The handsome wood console behind him held the expected fax machine, PC screen and keyboard, but also ceramic planters full of sprawling ivy and a slew of what must be his kids' photos.
"Please, call me Kat. I haven't been Katherine for years," she told him, returning his bright smile. The man and his office fit the area. Maplecreek's large farms, mostly Amish-owned, the gift shops, bed-and-breakfasts, "Dutch" restaurants, and small commercial ventures made a real stew-pot of past and present. The town could have been straight out of a Currier and Ives print, but for the continual onslaught of tourists who came to gawk, eat and buy, just as Kat often had.
Sheriff Martin was about fifty, five foot eleven, a sturdy-looking man with military-cut, silvering hair and the hint of an incipient potbelly, though he wore his crisp-looking brown and tan uniform well. His hazel eyes were alert and interested as he led her through initial small talk. Their conversation showed Kat he loved his job and his jurisdiction. His youngest son, Markthe sheriff showed her a picture of himself with a plump, smiling wife and three kidswas currently quarterbacking the consolidated high school team, and they had a big game tonight. It was homecoming, so they were going to have fireworks at halftime.
Maplecreek was the place he had grown up in and returned to after military service, Ray Martin told her, putting her even more at ease by almost letting her interview him. He rocked slightly in his swivel chair as they chatted. She felt she could trust him, though she'd learned the hard way that she stunk at quick character assessments.
"Before we discuss the specific duties of this job," Sheriff Martin went on, "I just want us to be clear about your move here. It's a long-term thing, that right?"
"Yes, I've pulled up stakes in Columbus. And I don't want you to have any questions about all I've been through lately. After an incident went" Her voice snagged and she took a deep breath. "After it went very bad last year, I was shot. I was investigated by Internal Affairs for the way I handled a situation. But I was cleared. Actually, the man who shot me had not only abused his son but robbed several banks in the Columbus suburbs."
He nodded. "Gotta admit I read all about you online, Kat. Besides the IA guys clearing you, I see you got a string of awards, American Legion of Valor, all that. Listen, I understand about needing life changes and that it can be tough to readjust. For years, Roscoe County had one sheriff. Like a king around here, Sheriff Barnes wasdid things his own way, so folks come to expect business as usual from me. But we got us this new civic center, new leadership, new ways of doing things. This area's growing and changing, with even some residential developments creeping in. It looks real idyllic and peaceful here'bouts, but it's full of folks who don't always see eye-to-eye, which you'll learn soon enough working in this office."
"If you're offering me the job, Sheriff, I'm ready to accept."
"Good," he said, getting up to shake her hand again, as if that sealed it. "Tell you what. How about I let you meet the office staff and spend an hour or so with the day dispatcher today, 'cause she can explain what she does better'n me. If it's fine by you, you can start on Monday. I'm real shorthanded, and it'll be good to have a dispatcher who knows the ropes about enforcement, too, know what I mean?"
If she didn't know, Kat figured, in a town this tiny and an area this rural, she would soon.
"Eli," Luke Brand told his nine-year-old son in the low German dialect the Amish always used among themselves. "I told you to cut green branches for roasting those sausages."
"But Daad," the boy protested with a gap-toothed grin as he thrust his dried, burning stick over the flames among those of the older kids, "it gets done fast this way, and I like it crusty. The sticks I cut for Sarah and Melly were green, ja, see? For the marshmallows later I'll get me a new one."
Luke just shook his head. Little Eli always liked to turn his marshmallows into flaming torches, too. This Friday night bonfire, which drew so many of the Amish young people, was at the back lot line of the Brand farm this week, so Luke had volunteered to oversee it. Since he was a widower, the teenagers during their running-around period seemed to accept his watchful eye easier than they did that of someone with a fussing woman in tow. And the courting couples didn't mind if he brought his two kids and his brother Dan's nine-year-old daughter Melanie along. To keep out of their way as best he could, he took his sizzling sausage, thrust it into a bun smothered with onions, mustard and homemade cucumber dill pickles and went off to eat it near the edge of the cornfield where the boys had left their courting buggies.
It was a beautiful, moonlit autumn night, and Luke was glad to be doing something to keep from feeling lonely. In the five years since he'd been widowed, the nights were the hardest to get through. His family and friends had tried to pair him with some of the younger girls, since most Amish women his age were wed, but things just hadn't clicked for him, although he wasn't mourning Anna anymore.
He sighed and his shoulders slumped before he got hold of himself and remembered to stay grateful for his many blessings. The coming autumn was his favorite time of year, with warm, sunny days, cool nights, and the trees turning rich reds and golds. The vast cornfields that surrounded the farm would be ready for harvest soon, for the growing season was late this year. He could feel the first hints of crisp air clear down in his lungs when he inhaled.
But he admitted to himself that he'd like to share all that, take a walk in the woods with someone special. At least at night he was usually exhausted enough to sleep long and hard from all the work around the farm and his windmill shop.
Out here, away from big-city lights, as his brother Dan always said, the stars stood out like scattered diamonds, not that Luke, even at age thirty-two, had seen either scattered diamonds or big-city lights. Unlike Dan and others who took off for a taste of worldly life among the English in their rumspringa years, Luke had stayed home. He'd been happy here in Roscoe County, sure of what he wanted.
The only unexpected thing he'd ever done was start a shop, where he and a small staff made decorative windmills, as well as full-size functional ones. The church elders had held a meeting to decide about the propriety of the decorative windmills"just for pretty," as his wife had said. That very month, Luke had won his argument but lost his Anna in childbirth complications when she bore Sarah. Despite the fact she'd done all the prenatal visits with her doctor, her blood pressure had shot up and she'd developed eclampsia.
Luke looked at his five-year-old, blond daughter, giggling with Melanie, both of them wide-eyed over the way the courting couples held hands, stole smootchs, or whispered together. Sarah wore her black bonnet over her kapp, but Melanie, free spirit that she was, wore a Cleveland Indians baseball cap backward over her curly auburn hair. Covering her head around her father's people was some concession, Luke supposed, to her half-Amish roots, for his brother Dan had left the faith ten years ago to wed a worldly woman.
Luke heard a strange hum, a dissonant, distant sound. Even over the kids' happy voices as someone started a song, it caught his attention, like the buzzing of a wasp. Not an airplane, he assured himself, glancing skyward and walking farther from the circle of firelight. Surely not a car on the road, for the lanes to the Brand acreage, which he farmed with his brother Moses, were far enough away that the wide cornfields would mute the noise.
But the strange sound kept coming closer.
Pricking up their ears, the horses hitched to the courting buggies sidestepped and whinnied. Some sort of small motor, Luke decided, as he walked farther away from the kids to gaze down the twelve-foot-wide lane they'd left unplanted between two cornfields so they could get the combine and wagons in. Yes, he saw a single, small light coming at him down the lane, bumping through the ruts.
He shook his head. A motorbike. No doubt one of the Amish kids had rented it. Cars, motorcycles, drinking, smoking, movies, rock music and dances, even drugs on occasionsome Amish teens tried everything before they finally committed to the church and things Amish. But he didn't need some kid full of beer turning the corner and hitting those around the fire.
Luke stepped into the middle of the lane and waved his arms, crisscrossing them slowly before his face. Like his brothers, he was tall for an Amish man, nearly six feet, but he was wearing all black and the rider evidently didn't see him.
Then he realized the biker saw him but wasn't going to stop. He wore a dark visor, like on a space helmet or one worn by some football players on TV Luke had watched in English homes or shops. And gloveshe wore gloves.
At the last minute, Luke leaped out of the way. As the motorbike made the turn, the rider, in jeans and black leather jacket, dragged his booted foot to keep from taking a spill, then accelerated again.
Luke lunged after the bike, around the corner of the cornfield, screaming at the kids, "Look out! Look out!"
Nine-year-old Eli Brand spent a lot of his time watching his dad. He lost his mother when he was four, and he was scared he'd lose his dad, too. He watched him real careful, every time he could, especially when Dad climbed those high windmills.
Now the motorbikethe one his dad was yelling aboutcame real fast around the corner of the field.
"Look out! Look out!" Eli repeated his father's shout.
Despite being absorbed in their singing, by now the older kids had seen the bike and stood gaping at it. Eli was grateful the driver steered easily around them. But he threw something into the bonfire, right past Eli's heada package that exploded with noise and flames. Shrieking rockets and a blaze of color blasted sideways and skyward.
Horses shied, reared and dragged their buggies, bumping into cornstalks or each other. Kids dove for cover, running, screaming, scattering into the rows of tall corn or toward the nearby ravine.