After her husband is murdered, Detective Elizabeth Harris turns in her NYPD badge and moves back home, hoping that a quiet life in remote Pennsylvania Dutch country will help her overcome the dark memories of her ten years in New York. But when a beautiful, scantily clad “English” girl is found dead in the barn of a prominent Amish family, Elizabeth knows that she’s uncovered an evil that could shake the community to its core.
Elizabeth’s boss is convinced this was the work of an “English,” as outsiders are called in Lancaster County. But Elizabeth isn’t so sure. All she’s missing is an actual lead—until another body is found: this time, a missing Amish girl. Now Elizabeth must track down a killer with deep ties to a community that always protects its own—no matter how deadly the cost…
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
CHAPTER 1: The Dead Girl
CHAPTER 2: Fistful of Seeds
CHAPTER 3: Bread and Milk
CHAPTER 4: The Naming
CHAPTER 5: A Lesson in Husbandry
CHAPTER 6: What She Hid
CHAPTER 7: The Girl in the River
CHAPTER 8: Pot of Gold
CHAPTER 9: Broken Fences
CHAPTER 10: Pulling Up Roots
CHAPTER 11: Germination
CHAPTER 12: In Custody
CHAPTER 13: Wheat from Chaff
CHAPTER 14: The Bloody Bower
CHAPTER 15: Drowning
CHAPTER 16: Snake in the Grass
Special Excerpt from In the Land of Milk and Honey
The Dead Girl
“It’s . . . sensitive,” Grady had said on the phone, his voice tight.
Now I understood why. My car crawled down a rural road thick with new snow. It was still dark and way too damn early on a Wednesday morning. The address he’d given me was on Grimlace Lane. Turned out the place was an Amish farm in the middle of a whole lot of other Amish farms in the borough of Paradise, Pennsylvania.
Sensitive like a broken tooth. Murders didn’t happen here, not here. The last dregs of sleep and yet another nightmare in which I’d been holding my husband’s cold, dead hand in the rain evaporated under a surge of adrenaline. Oh yes, I was wide-awake now.
I spotted cars—Grady’s and two black-and-whites—in the driveway of a farm and pulled in. The CSI team and the coroner had not yet arrived. I didn’t live far from the murder site and I was glad for the head start and the quiet.
Even before I parked, my mind started generating theories and scenarios. Dead girl, Grady had said. If it’d been natural causes or an accident, like falling down the stairs, he wouldn’t have called me in. It had to be murder or at least a suspicious death. A father disciplining his daughter a little too hard? Doddering Grandma dipping into the rat poison rather than the flour?
I got out and stood quietly in the frigid air to get a sense of place. The interior of the barn glowed in the dark of a winter morning. I took in the classic white shape of a two-story bank barn, the snowy fields behind, and the glow of lanterns coming from the huge, barely open barn door. . . . It looked like one of those quaint paintings you see hanging in the local tourist shops, something with a title like Winter Dawn. I’d only moved back to Pennsylvania eight months ago after spending ten years in Manhattan. I still felt a pang at the quiet beauty of it.
Until I opened the door and stepped inside.
It wasn’t what I expected. It was like some bizarre and horrific game of mixed-up pictures. The warmth of the rough barn wood was lit by a half dozen oil lanterns. Add in the scattered straw, two Jersey cows, and twice as many horses, all watching the proceedings with bland interest from various stalls, and it felt like a cozy step back in time. That vibe did not compute with the dead girl on the floor. She was most definitely not Amish, which was the first surprise. She was young and beautiful, like something out of a ’50s pulp magazine. She had long, honey-blonde hair and a face that still had the blush of life thanks to the heavy makeup she wore. She had on a candy-pink sweater that molded over taut breasts and a short gray wool skirt that was pushed up to her hips. She still wore pink underwear, though it looked roughly twisted. Her nails were the same shade as her sweater. Her bare feet, thighs, and hands were blue-white with death, and her neck too, at the line below her jaw where the makeup stopped.
The whole scene felt unreal, like some pretentious performance art, the kind in those Soho galleries Terry had dragged me to. But then, death always looked unreal.
“Coat? Shoes?” I asked, already taking inventory. Maybe knee-high boots, I thought, reconstructing it in my mind. And thick tights to go with that wool skirt. I’d been a teenage girl living in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I knew what it meant to care more about looks than the weather. But even at the height of my girlish vanity, I wouldn’t have gone bare-legged in January.
“They’re not here. We looked.” Grady’s voice was tense. I finally spared him a glance. His face was drawn in a way I’d never seen before, like he was digesting a meal of ground glass.
In that instant, I saw the media attention this could get, the politics of it. I remembered that Amish school shooting a few years back. I hadn’t lived here then, but I’d seen the press. Who hadn’t?
“You sure you want me on this?” I asked him quietly.
“You’re the most experienced homicide detective I’ve got,” Grady said. “I need you, Harris. And I need this wrapped up quickly.”
“Yeah.” I wasn’t agreeing that it could be. My gut said this wasn’t going to be an open-and-shut case, but I agreed it would be nice. “Who found her? Do we know who she is?”
“Jacob Miller, eleven years old. He’s the son of the Amish farmer who lives here. Poor kid. Came out to milk the cows this morning and found her just like that. The family says they’ve got no idea who she is or how she got here.”
“How many people live on the property?”
“Amos Miller, his wife, and their six children. The oldest, a boy, is fifteen. The youngest is three.”
More vehicles pulled up outside. The forensics team, no doubt. I was gratified that Grady had called me in first. It was good to see the scene before it turned into a lab.
“Can you hold them outside for five minutes?” I asked Grady.
He nodded and went out.
I pulled on some latex gloves, then looked at the body, bending down to get as close to it as I could without touching it. The left side of her head, toward the back, was matted with blood and had the look of a compromised skull. The death blow? I tried to imagine what had happened. The killer—he or she—had probably come up behind the victim, struck her with something heavy. The autopsy would tell us more. I didn’t think it had happened here. There were no signs of a disturbance or the blood you’d expect from a head wound. I carefully pulled up her leg a bit and looked at the underside of her thigh. Very minor lividity. She hadn’t been in this position long. And I noticed something else—her clothes were wet. I rubbed a bit of her wool skirt and sweater between my fingers to be sure—and came away with dampness on the latex. She wasn’t soaked now, and her skin was dry, so she’d been here long enough to dry out, but she’d been very wet at some point. I could see now that her hair wasn’t just styled in a casual damp-dry curl, it had been recently wet, probably postmortem along with her clothes.
I straightened, frowning. It was odd. We’d had two inches of snow the previous afternoon, but it was too cold for rain. If the body had been left outside in the snow, would it have gotten this wet? Maybe the ME could tell me.
Since I was sure she hadn’t been killed in the barn, I checked the floor for drag marks. The floor was of wooden planks kept so clean that there was no straw or dirt in which drag marks would show, but there were traces of wet prints. Then again, the boy who’d found the body had been in the barn and so had Grady and the uniforms, and me too. I carefully examined the girl’s bare feet. There was no broken skin, no sign her feet had been dragged through the snow or across rough boards.
The killer was strong, then. He’d carried her in here and laid her down. Which meant he’d arranged her like this—pulled up her skirt, splayed her thighs. He’d wanted it to look sexual. Why?
The doors opened. Grady and the forensics team stood in the doorway.
“Blacklight this whole area,” I requested. “And this floor—see if you can get any prints or traffic patterns off it. Don’t let anyone in until that’s done. I’m going to check outside.” I looked at Grady. “The coroner?”
“Should be here any minute.”
“Good. Make sure she’s tested for any signs of penetration, consensual or otherwise.”
Grady barked orders. The crime-scene technicians pulled on blue coveralls and booties just outside the door. This was only the sixth homicide needing real investigation I’d been on since moving back to Lancaster. I was still impressed that the department had decent tools and protocol, even though I knew that was just big-city arrogance talking.
I left them to it and went out to find my killer’s tracks in the snow.
This winter had been harsh. In fact, it was shaping up to be the worst in decades. We’d had a white Christmas and then it never really left. The fresh two inches we’d gotten the day before had covered up an older foot or two of dirty snow and ice. Thanks to a low in the twenties, the fresh snow had a dry, powdery surface that showed no signs of melting. It still wasn’t fun to walk on, due to the underlying grunge. It said a lot about the killer if he’d carried her body over any distance.
There was a neatly shoveled path from the house to the barn. The snow in the central open area in the driveway had been stomped down. But it didn’t take me long to spot a deep set of prints heading off across an open field that was otherwise pristine. The line of prints came and went. They showed a sole like that of a work boot and they were large. They came from, and returned to, a distant copse of trees. I bent over to examine one of the prints close to the barn. It had definitely been made since the last snowfall.
A few minutes later, I got my first look at Amos Miller, the Amish farmer who owned the property. Grady called him out and showed him the tracks. Miller looked to be in his mid-forties with dark brown hair and a long, unkempt beard. His face was round and solemn. I said nothing for now, just observed.
They say the first forty-eight hours are critical on a homicide case, and that’s true, but, frankly, a lot of murders can be solved in the first eight. Sometimes it’s obvious—the boyfriend standing there with a guilty look and blood under his nails rambling about a “masked robber.” Sometimes the neighbors can tell you they heard a knock-down, drag-out fight. And sometimes . . . there are tracks in the snow.
“Nah. I didn’t make them prints and ain’t no reason for my boys to be out there,” Amos told Grady. He said “there” as dah, his German accent as broad as his face. “But lemme ask ’em just to be sure.”
He started to stomp away. I called after him. “Bring the boys out here, please.”
Amos Miller shot me a confused look, like he hadn’t expected me to be giving orders. I arched an eyebrow at him—Well?—and he nodded once. I was used to dealing with men who didn’t take a female cop very seriously. And I wanted to see the boys—wanted to see their faces as they looked at those tracks.
My first impression of Amos Miller? He looked worried. Then again, he was an Amish farmer with two boys in their teens. A beautiful young English girl—the Amish called everyone who was not Amish “English”—was dead and spread-eagled in his barn. I’d be worried too.
He came back with three boys. The youngest was small and still a child. That was probably Jacob, the eleven-year-old who’d found the body. His face was blank, like he was in shock. The next oldest looked to be around thirteen, just starting puberty. He was thin with a rather awkward nose and oversized hands he still hadn’t grown into. His father introduced him as Ham. The oldest, Wayne, had to be the fifteen-year-old that Grady mentioned, the oldest child. All three were decent-looking boys in that wholesome, bowl-cut way of Amish youth. The older two looked excited but not guilty. I suppose it was quite an event, having a dead body found on your farm. I wondered if the older boys had gone into the barn to get a good long look at the girl since their little brother’s discovery. Knowing how large families worked, I couldn’t imagine they hadn’t.
Each of the boys glanced at the tracks in the snow and shook his head. “Nah,” the oldest added for good measure. “Ain’t from me.”
“Any of you recognize that print?” I asked. “Does it look like boots you’ve seen before?”
They all craned forward to look. Amos stroked his beard. “Just look like boots, maybe. You can check all ours if you like. We’ve nothin’ to hide.”
I lifted my chin at Grady. We’d definitely want the crime team to inventory every pair of shoes and boots in the house.
“Would you all mind stepping over here for me, please?” I led them over to the other side of the ice-and-gravel drive, where there was some untouched snow. “Youngest to oldest, one at a time.”
The youngest stepped forward into the snow with both feet, then back. The others mimicked his actions obediently, including Amos Miller.
“Thank you. That’s all for now. We’ll want to speak to you a bit later, so please stay home.”
They went back inside and Grady and I compared the tracks. All three of the boys had smaller feet than the tracks in the snow. Amos’s prints were large enough but didn’t have the same sole pattern. Besides, I was sure Grady wasn’t missing the fact that the prints came and went from the trees, since the prints heading that direction overlaid the ones approaching the barn.
“I think Ronks Road is over there beyond those woods.” Grady sounded hopeful as he pointed across the field. “Can it be that easy?”
Grady cocked an eyebrow at me.
“You’ll jinx it. Never say the word ‘easy.’ That’s inviting Murphy, his six ex-wives, and their lawyers.”
Grady smirked. “Well, if the killer dumped her here, he had to come from somewhere.”
I hummed. I knew what Grady was thinking. I was thinking it too. A car full of rowdy youths, or maybe just a guy and his hot date, out joyriding in the country. A girl ends up dead and someone gets the bright idea to dump her on an Amish farm. They drive out here, park, cross a snowy cornfield, and leave her in a random barn.
It sounded like a stupid teenage prank, only it was murder and possibly an attempt to frame someone else. That was a lot of prison years of serious. A story like that—it would make the press happy and Grady fucking ecstatic, especially if we could nab the guy who wore those boots by tonight.
“Get a photographer and a recorder and let’s go,” I said, feeling only a moment’s silent regret over my good black leather boots. I should have worn my wellies.
It wasn’t that easy.
The tracks crossed the field and went into the trees. They continued about ten feet before they ended—at a creek. It hadn’t been visible from the barn, but there was running water here, a good twelve feet across. The land dipped down to it, as if carved out over time. The snow grew muddy and trampled at the creek bank. The boot prints entered the water. They didn’t reemerge on the opposite side.
“Cattle use this creek?” I asked Grady, looking at the mess of mud and snow and hoofprints along the bank.
Grady sighed. “Hell. It’s not legal, but a lot of the farmers do it, especially the Amish. It’s hard to explain to a man whose family has farmed the same land for generations why politicians in Baltimore don’t want his animals to have access to the free and plentiful water on his own land.”
I really didn’t give a toss about the pollution of Chesapeake Bay at the moment. But our possible killer’s footprints, so clean in the snow, had vanished into a churned-up creek bed that had been literally ridden herd over. I walked up and down the bank as carefully as I could, trying not to step anywhere there might be evidence. There was chicken wire strung up across the creek to the north, and a matching wire wall glinted to the south. Presumably, this kept the farm’s animals from escaping the property.
The freaky thing was, there were no signs of tracks on the other side of the creek anywhere between those two makeshift fences. I rubbed my forehead, a sense of frustration starting in my stomach.
“Damn it!” Grady cursed, apparently reaching the same conclusion.
“How far is the road?” I asked.
As if to answer my question, an SUV lumbered past, visible through the trees on the far side. There was a road maybe thirty feet beyond the other side of the creek.
In a righteous world, the boot prints would have climbed out the opposite bank and led right to that road. In a righteous world, there’d be tire tracks off the side of the road over there, tire tracks we could attempt to trace.
No one had to tell me it wasn’t a righteous world.
I looked at the creek again, then went back to look at the boot prints. The prints with the toes facing the creek definitely overlaid the prints with the toes facing away. Unless the killer had walked backward in both directions—one way carrying a dead body—he hadn’t come from the farm.
Grady stood there shaking his head. I decided, Screw it, and shucked my boots and rolled up my pant legs. At least this suit was a trendy wash-and-wear and didn’t require dry cleaning.
“You don’t have to do that.” Grady sounded uneasy.
I ignored him. If there was one thing I knew for sure about being a woman on the police force, it was that you didn’t turn up your nose at getting physical or messy. You didn’t wait for some guy to do it. If you wanted respect, you had to be willing to jump into the shit headfirst.
But, goddamn, this sucked. I waded into the ice water masquerading as a creek and followed the bank to the chicken-wire obstruction.
“Anything?” Grady called to me as I ran my hand along the chicken wire and stepped deeper into the creek.
When I reached the middle, the frigid water was streaming painfully around my upper thighs.
“Damn,” I muttered as I felt along the fence.
A few inches below the surface of the water the wire ended. To be sure, I sent one leg forward on a foray. It swept through nothing but water. No wonder our Jane Doe had gotten wet. The killer had pushed her under these barriers and then likely followed by ducking under himself.
“Bastard walked through the creek,” I said, my voice shaking with cold and not a little disgust. “He came in and out under one of these fences, but he had to leave the water somewhere. We need to search the banks upstream and down from here. We’ll find his tracks.”
I sounded confident. And I did believe what I was saying. We were talking about a man, after all, not a superhuman, not a ghost.
I was wrong.
Fistful of Seeds
I sat at my desk and stared at the situation board I’d set up right behind me. The mug in my hands was warm, but its heat ended where porcelain met skin. Nothing could penetrate the chill I lived with. It was psychological, or so my therapist had said, the one they made me see after what went down in New York. That didn’t make it any damn less unpleasant.
Always so cold, deep down inside. Moving back here to a simpler life was supposed to change that.
The property survey map in front of me had been marked up with permanent pens and Post-it notes. It’d been only twenty-five hours since I’d pulled up to that barn yesterday in the predawn hours to get my first look at Jane Doe. By now I knew this case wasn’t going to be one of the quick ones.
The teams had crawled all over the countryside yesterday. Grady even called in reinforcements from Harrisburg. We’d carefully gone up and down that creek bed for several miles in either direction. The killer’s tracks never emerged from it.
Which led me to one inescapable conclusion, and I’d marked it on the map.
As for our Jane Doe, we hadn’t found her coat and shoes. The coroner was almost certain her death was caused by asphyxiation. The autopsy would reveal more. The time of death was a bit of a surprise—between ten the previous morning and four in the afternoon, depending on how long she’d been in the cold water. And we knew she’d been moved to the barn most likely between midnight and two A.M., giving her clothes and hair a chance to mostly dry before Jacob found her at five.
It was still dark outside, but there were rousing sounds of life in the sparkling new facility that was the Lancaster City Bureau of Police. I saw Grady in my peripheral vision. Like me, he’d gone home after midnight and was back before dawn. He wheeled over a roller chair and planted himself next to me, a mug of joe in his hands. He yawned hugely, making no attempt to cover it up. I smiled to myself. I appreciated the fact that Grady treated me like one of the guys. And I liked his wife, Sharon. The wife of the last partner I’d had in New York had hated me at first glance and was always going into jealous rants on the phone when we had to work late. But Sharon was a petite, redheaded spitfire whose passion was the LGBT youth center in Lancaster. She and Grady had three boys and they were solid. They’d had me over for dinner a few times. Sharon didn’t find me a threat.
Detective Lieutenant Mike Grady wasn’t my type anyway, even if I’d been into home wrecking—which I wasn’t—even if I’d had any interest in sex at all since Terry died—which I didn’t. Grady ran the Violent Crimes Department for the Lancaster City Bureau of Police. He was in his late thirties and, like many Pennsylvania men, he was big—six foot two and at least two hundred fifty pounds. He’d probably played football or wrestled in high school. He had short, curly brown hair, beefy hands and shoulders, and a reddish complexion. A lot of years behind the desk and serious home cooking had given him a belly and bulky heft all over. Grady was a nice guy. Then again, most people who lived here were.
I was from here originally too, but my “nice” had been hammered down by ten years of being a police officer for the NYPD. I had to be tough because a) I was a woman and b) I had a tall but somewhat fragile build and a pretty face to overcome. Everyone thought I was crazy when I decided to join the police academy. I’d never been a natural jock. But I liked that—liked the fact that it was something that really challenged me, that I was going against type. I loved being sweaty and tough. I’d worked my ass off, trained hard then—and still did. No perp was going to take advantage of me, and no fellow police officer either. I wore my dark hair pulled back in a bun and little makeup to work. That didn’t keep men from being, well, male, but most of them knew better than to treat me like a dumping ground for their hormones. At least they did after the first time they tried it.
“No matches in missing persons,” Grady said by way of greeting. “Today I’m sending Hernandez and Smith out to talk to all the high school principals in the area, show them her picture. And we’ll send out a missing persons bulletin to all the Mid-Atlantic precincts. If we don’t get an ID on her today, I’ll have to do a press alert.”
I hummed. I knew a press alert was the last thing we needed. I was surprised the story had been kept quiet so far. We’d been lucky that the area where the farm was located was well off the beaten track.
“I want to interview everyone at those farms today,” I said, nodding at the map.
Grady sighed. He was silent for a good while as we both regarded the layout. “Talk to me, Harris,” he said in a tone that acknowledged that he wouldn’t like what I had to say. “What are you thinking?”
I stood up and drew my finger down six lines I’d drawn with a brown pencil. Each one ran from the creek—which we’d since learned was called Rockvale Creek—to the farms. The lines were on the Millers’ property and five of their neighbors’.
“The killer used one of these animal trails to get in and out of the creek. Had to. We didn’t find his prints leaving the creek because they were trod over at some point after he left her body at the Millers’, covered up by hoofprints.”
I looked at Grady. He was frowning, but he didn’t say anything.
“We saw dairy cows out in a couple of these fields yesterday.” I tapped two Post-it notes I’d put up with cow stick figures. My attempt at high art. “So for sure he could have used either of these trails. As for the others, all these farms have at least a horse or two for the buggies. We’ll have to interview the farmers to know if their animals were out between midnight and when we were looking, I’d say as late as ten A.M. yesterday.”
“He could have kept to the creek. Could’ve walked miles,” Grady countered.
“Even in the water, it wouldn’t have been easy to manage a dead body, and it was damned freezing. Plus, we looked up and down both banks of the creek and didn’t find fresh prints coming out of it for at least a mile. And there aren’t any more animal tracks along it for a good ways either.” I tapped the paper. “He used one of these trails, Grady. Which means he knows this place. He knew where those trails were and when the animals moved. He came from one of these farms.”
It was the first time I’d said it out loud, but I’d started thinking it yesterday afternoon. I knew Grady didn’t want to hear it. Then again, I didn’t want a lot of the shit that had happened to me. Life sucked that way.
Grady rubbed at his jaw. He looked around as if worried about being overheard. But most of the detectives didn’t get in until after seven. He still lowered his voice.
“Okay, I agree that he knows the area. That doesn’t mean he’s Amish. He could be someone who works with the Amish—a driver, someone who picks up dairy or produce. Hell, a mailman. Or a customer.”
He grabbed my Post-it pad and began scribbling. He tore off the top page and slapped it over one of the properties marked Fisher. “Eggs and dairy,” he said, repeating what he’d written on the note. He scribbled another one and put it on the map. “Chicken coops.” Another. “Baked goods.” Another. “Mules.” He waved his hand. “All these farmers sell goods directly off their farms, which means they have customers driving in and out all the time. Any of those customers could have thought, Gee whiz, where should I dump this body? How ’bout where I buy my eggs? No one would ever guess because I’m such a clever bastard.”
“Just because you stop in someone’s driveway to buy eggs doesn’t mean you can see the creek or the animal trails leading to it. The creek’s in a gully.”
“Maybe they wandered around a bit one fine spring day. Maybe their dog took off across a field and they chased it. Maybe they chatted with the farmer and he mentioned it. Could have been months ago, even years, and only now they had a reason to use that information. Hell, it could have been a fisherman or hunter who wandered up and down that creek in his youth. These farms have had cows and horses living there for a hundred years, which means those trails have been there forever.”
He had a point. Maybe I was getting ahead of myself. “Right. We should get started on customer lists, and lists of anyone who visits these farms regularly. But . . . I’m gonna say this, Grady, at least once.”
I waited until he looked at me.
“I’m not ruling out anything, not yet. These farmers and their families have to be considered suspects, at least until we can cross them off officially.”
I made it sound logical, but it was more than that to me. It was a gut feeling, a feeling that said the killer knew this area like he knew his own skin.
Grady’s frown deepened. “Look, Harris, I hired you because you’ve got the best homicide training from one of the biggest cities in the world. So I’m glad I have you available for something like this. But you’re not from around here, so you don’t know the Amish.”
I huffed. “I was born and raised in Quarryville. You know that.”
“Yeah, but you probably had about as much dealings with them in high school as I did, which is to say the occasional ogle at a horse and buggy. I’ve been an officer of the law in Lancaster County for fifteen years and I know their culture. There’s never been a murder among the Amish—ever. And I especially can’t imagine one involving a beautiful young English girl in the middle of the night. Why would she even be out there with them? These people don’t associate with girls like her. Somebody she knew killed her and dumped her out there, someone with a car. We need to find that person.”
I bristled instinctively. Jane Doe was young and perhaps a little too made-up, but that didn’t make her a “like her” in my mind. I was defensive of my vic, which was foolish and sentimental, but it was a sentimentality I’d been prone to ever since I became a cop. It helped me stay motivated when things got tough, so I didn’t fight it. But I didn’t have to voice it and make myself look like a sap either.
“I don’t disagree. It’s probably an ex-boyfriend or a stepdad, someone she knew well. I’m just saying we need to look at all possibilities with a clear eye, not go into it with a list of won’ts and couldn’t-bes, because that’s the surest way to screw yourself over.” I folded my arms over my chest, prepared to be stubborn. They’d brought me in to do a job, and I was going to do it.
Grady visibly relaxed. “I’m not asking you to ignore them. Just—we have to be circumspect. Know what that word means, Harris?”
Now he was just yanking my chain. I laughed. “Circumspect? Kind of a personal question, isn’t it? Are you asking me if I’m Jewish? I don’t even have the equipment for that, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Grady rolled his eyes. “That’s just gross. I’ll take that for a no. Which is why you and me are partners on this case.”
I thought for a moment that Grady was still pulling my leg. There were a whopping eight investigators in the Violent Crimes Unit, including Grady himself. I wasn’t surprised to be partnered up for a case this serious, but I had no idea Grady still took cases himself in addition to overseeing the lot of us.
“This could get ugly,” Grady said quietly. “I need your expertise, Harris, because it has to be solved fast. But I need to be in it myself. I know the area. I know the people and the . . . delicacies, for lack of a better word. I already discussed it with the chief. He thinks it’s a good idea.”
I couldn’t help thinking they wanted a man involved, maybe because the Amish would take a man more seriously. But the goal was to solve the case. I wasn’t going to argue with what would work.
“Are you going to want to lead the interviews?” I asked in a neutral voice.
“Nah. Like I said, you’ve got a lot more recent homicide experience than me. Besides, I want to see you in action.” He smirked.
“Okay,” I said slowly. “If you watch me very, very carefully, you might learn something.”
Grady snorted. “Like how to wipe my ass and text at the same time the way you New Yorkers do? Lookin’ forward to it. Hell, let’s go get started on those interviews. The Amish are early risers.”
It was mid-afternoon when Grady pulled into Ezra Beiler’s farm. On my iPad were interviews with every member over the age of ten in the Miller family, the King family, the Lapps, and both sets of Fishers. Aaron Fisher’s family and Levi Fisher’s family both lived on Grimlace Lane, and it turned out Aaron and Levi were cousins. The audio interviews were on my iPad as well as photos. The Amish dislike having their photos taken, but I’d insisted to Grady and he’d backed me up. With so many Samuels and Miriams, I had to have the photos to keep them all straight. The organization geek in me was already planning out my situation board in my head.
Of all the people we’d interviewed, no one admitted to recognizing the dead girl from our photo of her face, and if any of them were lying, the natural wall of their reticence around strangers hid it well. In a sense, everyone had an alibi, and in another sense, they didn’t. At the time the body was moved, between midnight and two A.M., everyone was in bed. Wives claimed husbands never stirred all night, and husbands said the same about their wives. Most of the children in these large families slept two or more to a room, and siblings swore no one had gotten up and left for more than a bathroom run last night.
There’s no more annoying alibi than “He was sleeping beside me all night.” Wives will tell you they are such light sleepers they wake at the drop of a pin, and husbands aren’t about to contradict that and admit that their wives could sleep through a brass band in the bedroom, because that would break their own alibi. Siblings are unlikely to rat on their own flesh and blood out of fear of retaliation, if not loyalty.
We’d asked each family to make a list of anyone who visited their farm on a regular basis and we had a long list of names to check already.
Our last stop was Ezra Beiler. I knew nothing about Beiler except that he owned the farm at 467 Grimlace Lane and that his twenty-five-acre farm was one of the ones with an animal trail to the creek. As we pulled in I saw a sign: Beiler’s Molly Mules. A number of the long-faced creatures were grazing in the fenced pasture along the road. They were big, magnificent animals, light tan in color with tightly groomed manes and squarish heads. They didn’t look anything like donkeys, which is what I would have guessed. They looked more like very homely Clydesdales. I was staring at them as Grady stopped the car and flipped open his notepad.
“Ezra Beiler. Widower. No children. Maybe this one will be quick.”
He sounded relieved. I couldn’t blame him. Birth control was not the Amish way, and we’d interviewed enough people already today to make my voice hoarse and my mind spacey with the weight of all those blank stares. I was looking forward to a hot meal and getting back to the station to put my thoughts in order.
As we got out, I took stock of the property. The farmhouse was a bit small, an old clapboard two-story, the top of which had strongly sloped eaves. I imagined there were only one or two rooms upstairs, the kind where you had to duck your head. But though rough, the house was freshly painted white and had a porch with welcoming tan rockers. In front of the house on the driveway’s left was the winter shell of a kitchen garden. What looked like grapevines and possibly berry canes stretched bare branches along a trio of thick wires. It was neat and clean and probably quite a sight in the summer.
The barn was directly opposite the house on the gravel drive. Everything else appeared to be fenced-in pasture. In the distance I could see the line of trees that marked the creek.
Grady and I looked at the house and the barn for a moment. It was silent, so silent that I could hear the crunch of the mules’ hooves as they walked through the snow and the creak of the trees in the wind. Damn, it was cold. I desperately needed some coffee.
Grady nodded his head at me. “Check the barn. I’ll try the house. After this, we’re going to get some damn lunch.”
I had no argument. I headed for the barn.
The barn was at least a few hundred years old but well kept. There was a big door on a slider and a smaller, human-sized door with a small cement step in front of it. It had a black latch rather than a knob. I opened it.
I’m not sure why, but something compelled me to move quietly. I stepped inside the barn, which was considerably warmer than outside, and closed the door behind me. I turned around—and stared.
An Amish man had his back to me as he stood against a horse stall. One arm was on a post that he leaned against in a posture of despair. His head was laid on his raised arm, his face turned down. His other hand stroked the jaw of a mule that was inside the stall. Its champagne-colored head nuzzled the man’s shoulder playfully. It managed to knock off his hat, revealing a head of long, shining blond hair streaked with the natural light and dark undertones of someone who spends hours in the sun.
I suddenly couldn’t get enough air. The scene was so private and sad. And . . . something else I couldn’t get a handle on. The word “raw” didn’t fit, or “powerful,” though it was both of those things. It was honest in a way that dug little stinging prickles into my numb heart, made the hurried rush of my life stop and be still. The man was frankly beautiful. He wore the common black pants of the Amish. Made of some kind of polyester-like fabric, they stretched and clung to his narrow hips and long legs. His shoulders were broad in a plain white shirt crossed with black suspenders. He had one leg cocked at the knee to rest against the half wall of the wooden stall. I hadn’t even seen his face yet, and I felt like I’d been kicked in the head. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see his face. In fact, I was pretty sure I should turn around and leave.
The spell was broken, and my hopes for escape dashed, when the mule noticed at me and made a blowing noise. The man whirled.
For a second, he seemed embarrassed that I’d caught him in a private moment. But quickly his face fell into a hard stoic expression—or lack thereof.
“What d’ya want?” he asked bluntly. He ran a hand through his hair, noticed his hat on the ground, and did a graceful swoop to pick it up. With it on he looked even more Amish. His complexion was very fair, almost that of a redhead. He had freckles despite the fading tan of summer, and his eyelashes were a light reddish-blond. It was hard to tell the color of his eyes, because after that first glance, he wouldn’t look directly at me and I felt uneasy looking directly at him because, yes, he was even more attractive from the front.
“I’m, um, looking for Ezra Beiler. He around?” My voice sounded softer than my usual bite. I cleared my throat and glowered a bit to make up for it.
“I’m Ezra Beiler.” He walked over to me, stopping a good few feet away, and put his hands on his hips in a way that felt defiant.
“Is . . . do you have a father, Ezra Beiler, who lives here?” I was confused. According to Grady, Ezra Beiler was a widower. This man looked to be in his twenties and he was clean-shaven. Amish men grew a beard once they married.
“I have a father, sure. His name’s not Ezra and he don’t live here. I own this farm. What is it you need?”
“Oh. Right. Sorry. I . . . I’m Detective Harris with the Lancaster police.” Christ. I wasn’t the type to get tongue-tied over a good-looking man, especially since Terry’s death. But there was something about Ezra Beiler that was throwing me sideways. I resolutely stuck out a hand for a shake and then regretted it. Police detectives didn’t shake hands with persons of interest. Keeping a distance helped create just that extra ounce of authority. But it was too late to pull it back now.
Beiler looked at my hand for a second, then took it. His was rough and warm. So warm. My own hand felt like an icicle in his.
Greenish-brown. His eyes were brown flecked with green, like a summer field.
The door behind me opened, causing me to pull back my hand too quick. God, E, get a grip.
Grady came in. “I see you found him.”
“Yes, this is, uh, Ezra Beiler. Mr. Beiler, this is Detective Grady.”
Ezra nodded but didn’t offer a greeting or his hand.
I put the stiff back in my spine. “Does anyone else live here, Mr. Beiler?”
“Ja. My sister Martha.”
Ezra shook his head, his face unreadable. The warmth of the barn was starting to sink in and all of a sudden I felt exhausted.
“I see. Perhaps you heard about what happened down the road?”
“I heard. You know they say the only thing that travels fast with the Amish is news.” Ezra studied my face and his eyes softened. “Would youse like to come in the house and have some coffee? We can talk better at the table.”
I glanced at Grady. He looked as relieved as I felt.
“I’d love a cup of coffee, thank you,” Grady said.
Inside, the house was plain but cozy. There was a round pine table in the kitchen, and we sat there while Ezra made coffee in a regular coffeepot. A lamp on the kitchen counter shone bright in the late afternoon gloom. I knew by now that many of the Amish homes in this area had power—either through gas-powered generators or windmills or solar panels. Power itself wasn’t against their creed, apparently, just being hooked up to the grid. It was reliance on an outside agency they wanted to avoid.
“Is your sister Martha, here? We’d like to speak to her too,” I asked, trying to avoid looking at Ezra’s strong, work-toughened hands as he arranged coffee cups and spoons on the table.
“Ja. I’ll call her out.”
He vanished from the kitchen momentarily and returned with a very large and plain-faced Amish woman. She had Ezra’s blond hair and fair, freckled skin, but she was a big girl—at least five eight and well over two hundred pounds. The bold features on her round face, and the way her hair was pulled back tightly under a white cap, did nothing to soften her. She regarded us with wary interest.
“Martha, this is Detective Harris and Detective Grady, here to ask you and me some questions. Why doncha put some cake out?”