Bucolic Painters Mill is plunged into darkness in this new short mystery, from the New York Times bestselling author of Among the Wicked, featuring Chief of Police Kate Burkholder.
It’s Friday the 13th in Painters Mill and rumors of an Amish “rager”—a huge outdoor party rife with underage drinking—puts Chief of Police Kate Burkholder and her small department on edge. To make matters worse, Painters Mill is in the midst of a county-wide power outage. At the height of the rager, a teenage Amish girl is attacked with a hammer and left for dead. Kate is called to the scene—an abandoned farm teeming with loud music and rowdy behavior—to find the girl unconscious and bleeding from a head wound. With the girl in a coma and an unknown attacker on the loose, Kate must discover who would want to hurt her, and why, before it’s too late.
About the Author
Linda Castillo is the New York Times bestselling author of the Kate Burkholder novels, including Sworn to Silence which 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 a nomination by the International Thriller Writers for Best Hardcover, the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence, 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.
Read an Excerpt
Only the Lucky
By Linda Castillo
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Linda Castillo
All rights reserved.
Alma Fisher held up the mirror and smiled at her reflection. She'd bought the lipstick and mirror two days ago at the Walmartin Millersburg. Since both are forbidden by the Ordnung, she'd tucked them under her mattress where her mamm wouldn't find them. She especially loved the lipstick — it was shiny and pink and, according to her best friend, Irene, made her look like she was from New York City. Gazing into the mirror now, she had to agree.
Of course the lipstick wasn't the most important thing about the party tonight. She and Irene were going together, and later Alma was going to rendezvous with her beau, Aden Keim. Mamm and datt didn't approve of his car — or its radio — but then Aden was on rumspringa. As long as he didn't bring the vehicle onto their property, he was allowed to pick her up. Usually, she just met him at the end of the lane. He would have picked her up tonight, but he had to work late.
Alma didn't care about any of that. She was in love and all she cared about was spending time with Aden. He was twenty years old — two years older than she — and he was the most handsome boy she'd ever laid eyes on. He was a hard worker. Not only did he help his datt on their farm, but he worked for a construction company in Millersburg and trained buggy horses on the side. Best of all, he was devoted to the church and planning to become baptized next year. Even her parents liked him — less the car, anyway.
The thought of him made her sigh. Every Amish girl in their church district had her eye on Aden Keim. Alma almost couldn't believe he'd chosen her. He'd been courting her since the fall. He was smart and funny — and he was the only boy who'd ever made her heart pound. Two weeks ago after a singing at the Borntrager farm, they'd shared their first kiss and it had been a zinger. Alma hadn't told anyone yet, but she was going to marry him.
She'd been hearing about tonight's party for weeks now. All the Amish teenagers were talking about it. Irene had a cell phone her parents didn't know about, and the news was all over social media; everyone would be there. The Amish boys on rumspringa with vehicles were carpooling and driving in from as far away as Geauga County. Rumor had it there would be plenty of Englischers there, too. It was going to be the best party ever.
She turned at the sound of Irene's voice, nearly dropping the mirror and lipstick. "I'm almost ready!"
"Enough primping." Irene's eyes widened. "That lipstick looks good on you."
Alma couldn't help it; she grinned. "Makes me look like I'm from New York City."
"An actress from LA."
Both girls fell into laugher.
"Come on." Crossing to her, Irene reached for her hand. "I want to be gone before mamm and dattget back. It's going to be dark soon and we have a mile to walk."
Alma didn't mind walking. If anything, it might help settle her nerves. She was so excited she could barely stand it.
Hand in hand, the girls went through the back door and started down the lane.
* * *
It's dusk in Painters Mill, Ohio. The freshly plowed fields are as black and rich as dark chocolate. The dozen or so redbud trees lining the fence in front of the Stutz farm are in full stunning bloom. Their lavender-pink flowers make for a spectacularbackdrop against the massive bank barn as I drive past in my city-issued Explorer.
My name is Kate Burkholder and I'm the police chief of this pretty little town, which is located in the heart of Ohio's Amish country. Friday evening is usually one of the busier times for my small department, but the police radio has been unusually silent. In the last six hours I've made two traffic stops and issued one speeding citation to the sixteen-year-old driver I clocked doing eighty down Hogpath Road. I talked to the boy's father afterward. Unfortunately, Doug Humerick thinks Doug Jr. is just "feeling his oats" and "acting like any red-blooded teenage male." Humerick wasn't there the night seventeen-year-old Jimmy Stettler wrapped his Mustang around a telephone pole, killing himself and his fourteen-year-old sister in the process.
I've just passed through the Tuscarawas covered bridge when my second-shift dispatcher hails. "Chief? You ten eight?"
She's asking if I'm in service. Smiling, I pick up the mike. "Last time I checked," I tell her. "What do you need?"
"Aaron Yoder is here to see you."
Yoder is a local Amish farmer who raises sheep and goats and does a little horse trading on the side. "Any idea what he wants?"
"Not sure, Chief." Jodie lowers her voice. "Said something about idle hands and the devil, so I thought I'd let you get to the bottom of it."
"I'll be right there," I tell her and hang a U-turn.
* * *
I arrive at the police station to find an Amish buggy parked in my reserved spot. Sighing, I pull up beside it, shut down the engine, and head inside. I find Jodie manning her post, speaking into the mouthpiece of her headset. She's a pretty blonde, not yet out of her twenties, with zero interest in police work. But she's good on the phones and fast on her feet when things get hectic.
Aaron Yoder is sitting on the sofa against the wall looking uncomfortable and out of place. I went to school with Aaron, back when I was Amish. He's a year or so older than me, more than a little eccentric, and is married with a boatload of kids. The Amish, ever fond of nicknames, call him Crazy Red. Aaron has bright red hair cut into the typical Amish "bowl" and an equally red beard that reaches nearly to the waistband of his trousers.
My second shift officer, Chuck "Skid" Skidmore, is sitting in his cubicle, fingers pecking at the keyboard of his antiquated desktop.
"Mr. Yoder," I begin. "Guder nammidaag." Good afternoon. "Was cann ich du fadich?" What can I do for you?
"There are bad goings-on out at the Davenport place," he tells me. "People coming and going. Buggies and motorized vehicles. Un shtoahris."
"What kinds of stories?" I ask.
"There's all kinds of talk. Some say the devil will be there. Schnell geiste." Schnell geiste is an Amish term for "quick spirit" a phenomenon associated with unexplained drafts that scatter papers and slam doors. "Lightning will strike them all."
I'm not sure what to make of any of it. Before I can ask him to clarify, his eyes slide left and right and he lowers his voice. "Something bad is going to happen."
"Something like what?"
He shakes his head. "I don't know. But the young people are talking in quiet voices. Planning things. Out at the old spukhaus." Haunted house. "Sis at gottlos zammelaaf." It's an ungodly gathering.
"When is this event supposed to happen?" I ask.
Yoder looks at me as if I'm dense for not already knowing this. "Tonight. Mitt-nacht." Midnight.
My eyes slide to the clock on the wall behind the reception desk. It's nearly 8:00 p.m.
The Amish man stands. "Sis en veesht ding." It's a wicked thing.
"Thank you for coming in, Mr. Yoder." Rising, I extend my hand for a shake. "I'll head out to the Davenport farm and check it out."
He looks down at my hand, but makes no move to shake it. "Beware the schnell geiste, Kate Burkholder." Giving me a final look, he turns away and walks out.
Around me, the station has gone silent. Jodie is standing at the dispatch station, her mouth open. Having overheard, Skid emerges from his cubicle. An experienced cop, he's no stranger to the occasional odd encounter, but his expression is nonplussed.
"I guess that explains why they call him Crazy Red," Skid says.
"It is Friday the thirteenth," Jodie puts in.
When I frown at her, she quickly adds, "Not that I believe in all that superstitious crap. I'm just saying."
I turn my attention to Skid. "Have you heard any rumblings about something going on out at the old Davenport farm?"
"Not a thing," he says.
Skid and I look at Jodie.
She clears her throat. "I heard there's going to be a rager out there."
Skid and I exchange looks. "A rager?" I ask.
"You know, one of those wild Amish parties," she tells us.
"Where did you hear about it?" I ask.
"Social media, mostly."
"Did it cross your mind that it might be a good idea to let someone here at the PD know about it?" I ask.
Her eyes flick from me to Skid and back to me. "I didn't think it was important. I mean, I thought everyone knew about it. Besides, it's just going to be a bunch of people listening to music and drinking. Right?"
"What could possibly go wrong?" Skid mutters.
Feeling ... old, I smile at my young dispatcher. "Old man Davenport passed away a few years back. Find out who owns that land now and get me their contact info, will you?"
"You got it," she says.
I glance at Skid. "You game for a trip out there?"
He grins. "Hopefully that damn black cat I saw lurking outside the front door is gone."
I roll my eyes. "Oh brother."
But I'm not sure if he's kidding.
* * *
The Davenport farm is located a couple miles south of Painters Mill on a little-used stretch of asphalt that deadends where the Apple Creek Bridge washed out during a flood a decade ago. I think the property is still owned by the Davenport family, but no one has lived there since the old man died. His children are scattered all over the United States, and none of them have any interest in farming. The place has been left to the years and the elements.
I stop the Explorer at the mouth of what had once been a gravel lane. The gravel has long since been pulverized to dirt and overtaken by weeds as high as a man's waist. But the once-tall undergrowth has been crushed by the recent passage of a vehicle.
"Someone's been here," I say as I make the turn.
"A lot of someones," Skid returns.
There's just enough light for me to see that the front pasture is heavily treed; the house and barns are set back a ways. Neither is visible from the road. I make the turn and we bounce over ruts and softball-size rocks. Past a tumbling-down fence. We've only gone a few yards when Skid spots the hand-painted sign.
No underage drinking.
"Why do I have the feeling no one's going to pay attention to that sign?" I say.
"Because neither of us would have paid attention to it when we were teenagers," he replies.
The lane curves right and the old homestead looms into view. The farmhouse is a two-story frame structure with white paint that's gone gray and a rusty steel roof with several missing shingles. The back door hangs at a precarious angle. Every visible window has at least one broken pane. A large bank barn looks out over the fields at the rear of the property. The siding is the color of old bone. The big sliding door is gone and someone has stacked the wood into a pile that looks suspiciously like a future bonfire.
In the open area between the house and barn, someone has cut the grass. A huge meat smoker throws puffs of baby-back-ribs-scented smoke into the air. A travel trailer is parked a few yards from the smoker. An Amish man in his early twenties stands on the steel steps, a can of beer in hand, smoking a cigarette, watching us.
"Must be our host," Skid says.
I park a few yards from the trailer and keep my eyes on the young man as I get out. He comes down the steps and meets us midway between my vehicle and the trailer. "Help you?" he asks.
I identify myself and show him my badge. "What's your name?" "Wayne Miller."
"You have an ID on you, Wayne?"
"How old are you?"
"Uh huh." I look around, noticing the generator parked at the end of the trailer, a cooler the size of a Volkswagen, and the string of lights still coiled and laying on the ground. "I understand there's going to be a party out here," I say amicably.
"Don't know nothing about no party," he mumbles.
I nod, look around, and motion toward the smoker. "Ribs smell good."
He glances at the smoker and actually sniffs the air. "Just smoking some meat for me and my friends."
"How many friends?"
"You have permission to be here?" I ask.
I give him a hard, lingering frown, and he looks away. "If I call the owner, he's not going to tell me you're trespassing, is he?"
I turn and start toward the Explorer. Behind me, I hear Skid say, "Have a nice evening," and it makes me smile.
"That kid is up to no good," Skid says as he slides in.
"Judging from the size of that smoker and the cooler, he's got a lot of friends."
"Not to mention that generator and all those coiled lights."
I'm reaching for the radio to see if Jodie was able to obtain contact information for the owner when a code barks out at me. "Chief, I've got a ten fifty PI out on the west end of town." Ten fifty PI is the ten code for a traffic accident with property damage.
I pick up the mike. "Injuries?"
"That's affirm. Ambulance is en route. Sheriff's department, too."
"I'm on my way —"
"Chief, about that property damage ... eighteen-wheeler took out a power pole and some kind of transmission line. We don't have any power here at the station. Looks like the whole town is in the dark."
A quiver of unease goes through me. "You know where the generator is?"
"Think you can start it?"
"Mona showed me." But there's uncertainty in her voice.
"Let me know if you have any problems, Jodie. Skid and I are on our way to the accident."
"Did you happen to get contact info for any of the Davenports?"
"Computer is down, but I'll get on it as soon as I get that generator going."
I rack the mike and glance over at Skid. "This has absolutely nothing to do with this being Friday the thirteenth."
He raises his hands. "I didn't say it."
"You were thinking it," I tell him, and jam the Explorer into gear.
* * *
We arrive at the accident scene just as the ambulance pulls away. The area is an ocean of emergency lights. Two Holmes County sheriff's department cruisers, a fire truck from the Painters Mill volunteer fire department, and a state highway patrol vehicle. An eighteen-wheeler lies on its side, smoke swirling in the beam of a single headlight, yellow blinkers pounding through the semidarkness like a visual metronome. Beyond, atangle of aluminum and steel from the electrical transmission tower lies across County Road 14, blocking both lanes.
"Looks like a damn war scene," Skid mutters.
I get a sinking sensation in my gut. "That's the tower for the main line that runs into Painters Mill."
Flipping on my emergency lights, I get out of the Explorer. The odors of burning rubber, diesel fuel, and scorched foliage offend my olfactory nerves. I'm midway to the fallen big rig when I spot Holmes County Sheriff Mike Rasmussen striding toward me.
"Kate." He reaches me and sticks out his hand. "Glad you're here."
"How's the driver?" I ask.
"Pretty banged up, but the paramedic says he's going to be okay."
"I talked to the driver briefly. Says he fell asleep and took that curve too fast." He whistles. "Must have been doing sixty when he plowed into that tower."
"That's for sure." Tipping his hat back, he scratches the top of his head. "You guys without power in Painters Mill?"
I nod. "Dispatcher is firing up the generator now."
The sheriff grimaces. "Power company trucks should be here soon, but it doesn't look good." He motions toward the downed tower. "That transmission line went directly to the Buckeye Creek substation down near Clark. Lineman says it could be morning before power is restored."
Now it's my turn to grimace. "Mike, while we're on the subject of bad news, I may have situation brewing out at the old Davenport place."
His eyes narrow on mine. "What kind of situation?"
"I'm still working on getting in touch with the owner, but I think some of the young Amish are planning a big party out there. I suspect we're going to have some problems with juveniles and alcohol."
"Bad combination," he says. "Any idea how many?"
"The young man I talked to wasn't very forthcoming, but it looks like it's going to be a big gathering." I don't have to remind him of the disastrous Amish party last summer when the sheriff's department made over seventy arrests. "You throw two hundred teenagers and an unlimited supply of alcohol together without supervision and things can get out of control pretty quickly."
"Just what we need."
"Hey, it's Friday the thirteenth, right?"
When Skid and I are back in the Explorer, I make a U-turn and head back toward Painters Mill. Amish country is incredibly dark at night; there are no porch lights or streetlights. As we crest the rise overlooking Painters Mill, I can't help but notice the entire valley is black.
* * *
Painters Mill isn't exactly a bustling metropolis, but on most Friday evenings half a dozen businesses stay open past dark. The new upscale coffee shop on the corner. Two of the Amish tourist shops. The funky little thrift store. And, of course, LaDonna's Diner. Tonight, as I idle down Main Street, the town is as dark and deserted as some post-apocalyptic movie scene. I pull up to the police station, trying not to notice when a black cat skulks past the entrance and darts into an alley.
Skid makes eye contact with me.
"Don't say it," I tell him, but we both grin.
Pulling my Maglite from its nest, I head inside. The reception area is deserted. Jodie has lighted two candles along with a battery-powered lantern we keep on hand for this kind of scenario. My dispatcher is nowhere in sight.
Excerpted from Only the Lucky by Linda Castillo. Copyright © 2017 Linda Castillo. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
About the Author,
Also by Linda Castillo,