Among the Wicked by Linda Castillo is the 8th book in the Kate Burkholder Series (Available July 12, 2016).
Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is called upon by the sheriff's department in rural, upstate New York to assist on a developing situation that involves a reclusive Amish settlement and the death of a young girl. Unable to penetrate the wall of silence between the Amish and “English” communities, the sheriff asks Kate to travel to New York, pose as an Amish woman, and infiltrate the community.
Kate's long time love interest, State Agent John Tomasetti, is dead set against her taking on such an unorthodox assignment, knowing she'll have limited communication – and even less in the way of backup. But Kate can't turn her back, especially when the rumor mill boils with disturbing accounts of children in danger. She travels to New York where she's briefed and assumes her new identity as a lone widow seeking a new life.
Kate infiltrates the community and goes deep under cover. In the coming days, she unearths a world built on secrets, a series of shocking crimes, and herself, alone… trapped in a fight for her life.
Dusk arrives early and without fanfare in northeastern Ohio in late January. It’s not yet five P.M. and already the woods on the north side of Hogpath Road are alive with shadows. I’m behind the wheel of my city-issue Explorer, listening to the nearly nonexistent activity on my police radio, uncharacteristically anxious for my shift to end. In the field to my left, the falling snow has transformed the cut cornstalks to an army of miniature skeletal snowmen. It’s the first snow of what has been a mild season so far, but with a low-pressure system barreling down from Canada, the situation is about to change. By morning, my small police department and I will undoubtedly be dealing with a slew of accidents, hopefully none too serious.
My name is Kate Burkholder and I’m the chief of police of Painters Mill, Ohio, a township of just over 5,300 souls, half of whom are Amish, including my own family. I left the fold when I was eighteen, not an easy feat when all I’d ever known was the plain life. After a disastrous first year on my own in nearby Columbus, I earned my GED and landed an unlikely part-time job: answering phones at a police substation. I spent my evenings at the local community college, eventually earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice. A year later, I graduated from the police academy and became a patrol officer. Over the next six years, I worked my way up to homicide detective and became the youngest female to make the cut.
When my mamm passed away a couple years later, I returned to Painters Mill, my past, and my estranged Amish family. The police chief had recently retired and the town council and mayor—citing my law enforcement experience and my knowledge of the Amish culture—asked me to fill the position. They’d been looking for a candidate who could bridge a cultural gap that directly affected the local economy. My roots had been calling to me for quite some time, and after weeks of soul-searching, I accepted the position and never looked back.
Most of the Amish have forgiven me the transgressions of my youth. I may be an Englischer now, but when I smile or wave, most return the gesture. A few of the Old Order and Swartzentruber families still won’t speak to me. When I greet them—even in my first language of Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch—they turn away or pretend they didn’t notice. I don’t take it personally. I like to call that part of my repatriation a work in progress.
My own family wasn’t much different at first. Early on, my sister and brother would barely speak to me. In keeping with the Anabaptist tenet of excluding the wicked from the group, they’d effectively excommunicated me. We’re still not as close as we once were; chances are we’ll never again find the special bond we shared as children. But we’ve made headway. My siblings invite me into their homes and take meals with me. It’s a trend I hope will continue.
I’m anticipating the evening ahead—a quiet dinner at the farm where I live with my lover, John Tomasetti. He’s also in law enforcement—an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. I love him, and I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual. Like any couple, we’ve encountered a few bumps along the way, mostly because of our pasts—both of which are slightly checkered. But he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and when I think of the future, it makes me happy to know he’s part of it.
I’m doing fifty, headlights on, wipers making a valiant attempt to keep the snow at bay. I’ve just crested the hill at the intersection of County Road 13 when the buggy materializes out of nowhere. I cut the wheel hard to the left and stomp the brake. The Explorer fishtails, but I steer into the skid. For an instant, I think I’m going to plow into the back of the buggy. Then the tires catch asphalt and my vehicle comes to an abrupt halt on the gravel shoulder on the opposite side of the road.
I sit there for a moment, gripping the wheel, waiting for the adrenaline to subside. Several thoughts strike my brain at once. I didn’t see the buggy until I was nearly upon it. The accident would have been my fault. Everyone on board probably would have been injured—or worse.
Through the passenger side window, I see the horse come to a stop. Flipping on my overhead emergency lights, I back up so that I’m behind the buggy to protect it from oncoming traffic. I grab my Maglite from the seat pocket and get out, noticing immediately that there’s no lantern or reflective signage anywhere on the buggy.
The driver exits as I approach. I keep my beam low to avoid blinding him as I take his measure. Male. Six feet tall. Mid-thirties. Black jacket. Black, flat-brimmed hat. Matching steel-wool beard that hangs to his belly. His clothes, along with the fact that the buggy is without a windshield, tell me he’s Swartzentruber. I’ve seen him around town, but I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t know his name.
“Guder Ohvet,” I begin. Good evening.
He blinks, surprised that I speak Pennsylvania Dutch, and responds in kind.
Leaning forward slightly, I shine my beam into the buggy. A thirtyish Amish woman, also clad in black, and six children ranging in age from infant to preteen are huddled in the rear, their legs covered with two knitted afghans. The woman is holding a baby. Dismay swirls in my gut when I’m reminded how this could have turned out.
“And Wie bischt du heit?” I ask the woman. How are you today?
She averts her gaze.
“Miah bin zimmlich gut,” comes the man’s voice from the front. We are good.
When dealing with the Amish in an official capacity, particularly the Old Order or Swartzentruber, I always make an effort to put them at ease before getting down to police business. Smiling at the woman, I lean back and address the man. “Sis kald heit.” It’s cold today.
“What’s your name, sir?”
“Do you have an ID card, Mr. Shetler?”
He shakes his head. “We are Swartzentruber,” he tells me, as if that explains everything.
To me, it does. The Amish don’t drive; if they need to travel a long distance, they hire a driver. Most do not have driver’s licenses, but apply for DMV-issued ID cards. Not so with the Swartzentruber, whose belief system prevents them from having their photographs taken.
“Mr. Shetler, I came over that hill and didn’t see your buggy.” I motion toward the vehicle in question. “I couldn’t help but notice you don’t have a lantern or reflective signage.”
“Ornamentation,” he mutters in Pennsylvania Dutch.
“I nearly struck your buggy.” I nod toward his wife and children. “Someone could have been seriously injured.”
“I trust in God, not some Englischer symbol.”
“Ich fashtay.” I understand. “But it’s the law, Mr. Shetler.”
“God will take care of us.”
“Or maybe He’d prefer you put a slow-moving vehicle sign on your buggy so you and your family live long, happy lives.”
For an instant he’s not sure how to respond. Then he barks out a laugh. “Sell is nix as baeffzes.” That is nothing but trifling talk.
“The Revised Ohio Code requires reflective signage on all slow-moving vehicles.” I lower my voice. “I was there the night Paul Borntrager and his children were killed, Mr. Shetler. It was a terrible thing to behold. I don’t want that to happen to you or your family.”
I can tell by the Amish man’s expression that my words are falling on deaf ears. His mind is made up, and he won’t change it for me or anyone else. I’m trying to decide whether to cite him when my phone vibrates against my hip. I glance down to see Tomasetti’s number on the display.
Opting to call him back, I return my attention to Shetler. “Next time I see you on the road without the proper signage,” I tell him, “I will cite you. You will pay a fine. Do you understand?”
“I believe we are finished here.” Turning away, he climbs back into the buggy.
I stand on the shoulder, listening to the jingle of the horse’s harness and the clip-clop of shod hooves as he guides the buggy back onto the asphalt and drives away.
Snow falls softly on my shoulders. The cut cornstalks whisper at me to let it go. “Jackass,” I mutter.
I’m sliding behind the wheel when my radio cracks. “Chief?” comes the voice of my second-shift dispatcher.
I pick up my mike. “What’s up, Jodie?”
“You’ve got visitors here at the station.”
“Visitors?” For an instant I envision my sister or brother sitting in the reception area, feeling out of place while they wait for me to show. “Who is it?”
“Agent Tomasetti, some suit from BCI, and an agent from New York.”
My memory pings. Tomasetti had mentioned a few days ago that the deputy superintendent wanted to talk to me about an investigation. But the meeting hadn’t yet been scheduled and he didn’t have any details. Odd that they would drop by after hours on a snowy afternoon without giving me a heads-up. Even more unusual that one of the men is from New York.
“Any idea what they want?” I ask.
“I don’t know, but they look kind of serious, Chief.” She lowers her voice to a whisper. “Like there might be something big going on.”
“Tell them I’ll be there in ten minutes.” Perplexed, trying not to be aggravated, I put the Explorer in gear and start toward the station, hoping Elam Shetler and his family make it home safely.
* * *
I arrive at the station to find Tomasetti’s Tahoe and an unmarked brown Crown Vic with New York plates parked next to my reserved spot. There’s already a dusting of snow on the vehicles. I park and hightail it inside. When I enter reception, I find my second-shift dispatcher, Jodie, sitting at her desk, eyes closed, drumming her palms against her desktop to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”
Usually, her workaday antics are a source of entertainment for all of us. Since we have official visitors this afternoon, I’m not quite as amused. I’m midway to her desk when she opens her eyes. She starts at the sight of me, then quickly turns off the radio. “Hey, Chief.”
I pluck messages from my slot. “Any idea where our visitors are?”
“Agent Tomasetti’s showing them the jail in the base—”
“Right here, Chief,” comes Tomasetti’s voice from the hall.
He’s still clad in the charcoal suit and lavender tie he put on at seven this morning. He’s wearing his professional face, no smile for me, and I know this isn’t a happenstance visit. The two men coming down the hall behind him aren’t here for a tour of my single-cell basement jail.
“Hi … Agent Tomasetti.” It’s a ridiculously formal greeting considering we’ve been living together for over a year.
“Hi.” Two strides and he extends his hand. “Sorry for the last-minute notice.”
“No problem. I was on my way here anyway.”
“Heavy weather in store for New York tomorrow,” he explains. “Investigator Betancourt wants to drive back tonight, before the roads get too bad.”
“Long drive.” I turn my attention to the two men coming up beside Tomasetti. I don’t recognize either of them, but I can tell by their demeanors that they’re law enforcement. Overly direct gazes. Suits off the rack. Taking my measure with a little too much intensity. Grim expressions that relay nothing in terms of emotion or mood. That cop attitude I know so well. I catch a glimpse of a leather shoulder holster peeking out from beneath the taller man’s jacket.
Tomasetti makes introductions. “This is Deputy Superintendent Lawrence Bates with BCI.” He motions to a tall, lanky man with an angular face and skin that’s deeply lined, probably from years on the golf course. Blue eyes behind square-rimmed glasses. Hairline just beginning to recede. The slight odor of cigarettes he tried to mask with chewing gum and cologne.
I extend my hand. “Nice to meet you, Deputy Superintendent Bates.”
He brushes off the formal title with a grin that belies an otherwise serious demeanor. “Larry, please.” He has a firm grip. Dry palm. Quick release. “I patently deny whatever Tomasetti has told you about me.”
I return the grin. “I hope so.”
Tomasetti motions to the other man. I guess him to be about the same age as Bates. Conservatively dressed in a gray suit, white shirt, red tie, he looks more like a fed than a statie. He’s not much taller than me, but he’s built like a bulldog and has a face to match. Dark, heavy-lidded eyes just starting to go bloodshot. Five o’clock shadow. He’s got long day written all over him.
“This is Frank Betancourt, senior investigator with the BCI division of the New York State Police.”
I detect calluses on his hand when we shake, telling me he spends a good bit of his time at the gym lifting weights. His eyes are direct, and when I look at him, he holds my gaze.
“You’re a long way from home,” I tell him.
“That’s not such a bad thing this time of year.” His smile is an afterthought, his jowls dropping quickly back into a frown.
A pause ensues. An awkward moment when no one says anything. And I realize that with the niceties out of the way, they’re anxious to get down to business.
Bates rubs his hands together. “Can we have a few minutes of your time, Chief Burkholder? We’ve got a developing situation in upstate New York we’d like to discuss with you.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Tomasetti scowl.
“We can talk in my office.” I motion toward the door and lead the way inside. “Anyone want coffee?”
All three men decline, telling me they’re seasoned enough to know that police stations and decent coffee is an oxymoron. Tomasetti and Bates settle into the visitor chairs adjacent to my desk. Betancourt chooses to stand and claims his place near the door.
I remove my coat, hang it on the rack next to the window, and slide into my chair. “It’s not often that we have visitors from BCI or the New York State Police,” I begin.
“Tomasetti tells me you used to be Amish,” Bates says.
“I was. I was born here in Painters Mill to Amish parents, but I left when I was eighteen.”
“You speak German?”
“Yes, I’m fluent in Pennsylvania Dutch.” For the first time, a tinge of annoyance nips at me. I feel as if I’m being held in suspense; they want something but they’re being coy about tipping me off because they suspect I may refuse. I wish they’d stop beating around the bush and get to the point. “What exactly can I do for you?”
Bates looks at me over the tops of his glasses. “A couple months ago, the sheriff up in St. Lawrence County—Jim Walker—contacted the state police for help with a developing situation inside an Amish community.” He motions to Betancourt. “Frank was assigned the case and had been working with Jim. Two weeks ago, Jim suffered a heart attack. He’s on leave and everything was sort of put on a back burner. Things heated back up three days ago when an Amish girl was found frozen to death in the woods a few miles from her home.
“This Amish settlement straddles two counties, St. Lawrence and Franklin, so we contacted the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department and brought in Sheriff Dan Suggs. It didn’t take them long to realize neither agency had the resources to see this thing through.”
The state police usually have a pretty decent budget and resources galore with which to assist small-town law enforcement. In this case, however, the police lab and databases are not the kinds of investigative tools the sheriff needs. And for the first time I know what they want from me.
“We’re familiar with some of the cases you’ve worked here in Painters Mill, Chief Burkholder,” Bates tells me. “You’ve done some impressive police work.” He slants a nod at Tomasetti. “I talked to John about your particular skill set, and I thought you might be able to assist with this case.”
Bates motions to Betancourt. “Since Tomasetti and I are pretty much window dressing, I’ll turn it over to Frank.”
Betancourt comes to life. “On January twenty-first, a couple of hunters found the body of fifteen-year-old Rachel Esh in the woods a few miles from where she lived.”
His style differs greatly from Bates’s, who seems more politician than cop, preferring to ease into a conversation with a joke and small talk. Not so with the senior investigator. While Bates is laid-back, Betancourt is intense and jumps into the discussion feetfirst. I get the impression he’s not shy about ruffling feathers, either.
“What was the cause of death?” I ask.
“The autopsy showed she died of hypothermia due to exposure. There was a snowstorm. For some reason she was out in it and froze to death. ME ran a tox, which showed she had traces of OxyContin in her bloodstream at the time of her death.”
“Odd for an Amish girl that age to have drugs in her system,” I say. “Does the sheriff suspect foul play?”
“She got the drugs somewhere.” Betancourt leans closer. “But even more perplexing is the fact that she’d recently been pregnant.”
“Recently pregnant?” I look from man to man. “What do you mean?”
“During the autopsy, the ME found evidence that she’d recently lost a baby. Some fetal material had been left behind.”
“Miscarriage?” I ask.
“ME thinks she had an abortion.”
“Is parental consent required in New York?” I say.
Betancourt shakes his head. “Nope.”
“Is there a boyfriend?” Tomasetti asks. “Anyone talk to him?”
“We talked to a lot of people, including her parents, and no one knows who she’d been seeing. We couldn’t come up with a single name,” Betancourt growls. “No one had ever seen her with a guy. She never talked about him. The family she was living with claimed she didn’t have a boyfriend.”
“So she wasn’t living with her family?” I ask.
Betancourt shakes his head. “Evidently, she had some problems with her parents. She moved in with another family, who are also Amish. Basically, no one seemed to know shit about what might’ve been going on in this girl’s life.”
“Or else they’re not talking.” I think about that for a moment. “Had she been reported missing?”
Betancourt shakes his head. “The family she was living with figured she’d run away, gone back to live with her parents. Apparently, she’d done it before. No one checked.”
“Sometimes the Amish prefer to take care of their own problems,” I tell him. “If they can avoid involving outsiders—including law enforcement—they will, for better or for worse.”
“This time it was for worse,” Bates mutters.
“Interestingly,” Betancourt says, “this girl wasn’t dressed in Amish clothes.”
“That may or may not be relevant.” He gives me a puzzled look so I expand. “At fifteen, she may have been starting Rumspringa, which is a teenage ritual, so to speak, in which Amish youths don’t have to follow the rules in the years leading up to their baptism. The adults pretty much look the other way.” I consider this before continuing. “What was she doing in the woods in that kind of weather?”
“No one knows if she was there of her own accord or if someone took her there and dumped her,” Betancourt replies.
“Sheriff Suggs tells us the Amish up there aren’t very forthcoming,” Bates says. “He’s not getting much in terms of cooperation.”
“How did the ME rule on manner of death?” Tomasetti asks.
“Undetermined,” Bates replies.
Betancourt nods. “That didn’t sit well with Jim. Frankly, doesn’t sit well with me, either. I mean, we have a dead fifteen-year-old kid who’d ingested OxyContin. Gotten herself pregnant. Had an abortion. Froze to death in the woods. And no one will tell us shit.”
“What’s the age of consent in New York?” I ask.
“Seventeen,” Betancourt says. “There’s a Romeo and Juliet law, but if the guy who got her pregnant is more than four years older than our girl, we got him on statutory rape.”
“Do the parents know about the abortion?” I ask.
“Didn’t even know she was pregnant.”
Tomasetti shrugs. “You check with local clinics? Area doctors?”
Betancourt and Bates exchange a look. “ME thinks maybe the abortion wasn’t done at a clinic.”
“Home abortion?” I ask.
“Probably,” Bates replies. “No sign of infection or anything like that, but—and I’m speaking in layman’s terms here—I guess there was some internal damage. Not life-threatening, but present nonetheless.” Sighing, he motions toward his counterpart. “So we got all of this and then the sheriff gets a visit from a neighbor.”
All eyes fall on Betancourt. Expression intense, he leans closer. “A few days after the girl was found, a neighbor, who’d heard about the girl’s death, called Jim Walker at home and informed him that a few weeks before her death, Rachel told her there were ‘bad goings-on’ out at that Amish settlement.”
“What kind of goings-on?” I ask.
“According to the neighbor, the girl clammed up, wouldn’t get into details. But she thought the girl might’ve been referring to some kind of abuse and afraid to talk about it. Apparently, there are a lot of rumors flying around.”
Tomasetti shifts in his chair. “What kind of rumors?”
“The kind that’ll put a chill in your fucking spine.” Betancourt tugs a smartphone from the inside pocket of his jacket. “Sheriff Suggs knows a lot more about the situation than I do. You mind if I put him on speaker?” He doesn’t wait for anyone to respond and scrolls through his phone. “Dan wanted to drive down here with me but couldn’t get away. I got him standing by.”
“Sure.” I slide a couple of files aside to make room for his phone. He sets it on my desktop.
The sheriff answers on the fourth ring with a stern “Yeah.”
“You’re on speaker, Dan. I’m here in Painters Mill, Ohio, and I got Chief Kate Burkholder with me.” A quick nod at me and he identifies Tomasetti and Bates. “I briefed them on the situation up there in Roaring Springs. We’re wondering if you can give us the particulars.”
“All I got is rumors mostly.” A scraping sound as the sheriff shifts the phone. “Let me give you guys some background first to help fill in some of the blanks and put all this into perspective. About twelve years ago, several Amish families moved from Geauga County, Ohio to a rural area outside Roaring Springs.”
“Geauga County isn’t far from Painters Mill,” I tell him.
“We’re located in upstate New York, by the way, about twenty miles from the Canadian border, not far from Malone.” He sighs. “Anyway, over the years, these Amish families established a solid settlement and integrated into the community. They were good citizens, good neighbors, and their presence here was, frankly, good for the town. Some of the local merchants started doing business with the Amish, selling everything from eggs to quilts to furniture. Folks started coming into Roaring Springs from miles around to buy things. Tourists started showing up. Everything changed three years ago when the bishop passed away and the congregation nominated an Amish preacher by the name of Eli Schrock.”
“Name’s not familiar,” I tell him.
“Rumor has it that Schrock—and a few of his followers—felt the previous bishop had been too lenient with the rules, so Schrock tightened the screws. I’ve heard he’s big into the separation thing. Most of the Amish stopped coming into town, stopped selling their trinkets, and basically stayed away.” He huffs a short laugh. “Mayor didn’t like it much; he was banking on Roaring Springs being the next Lancaster County. Of course, the Amish weren’t breaking any laws and they’re certainly entitled to stay separate if that’s what they want.
“Once Schrock took over, the Amish community just kind of faded away. We saw their buggies and hay wagons around on occasion, but they were quiet and law enforcement never had a problem with them. No neighbor disputes or anything like that. Honestly, no one paid much attention to them until this dead girl showed up.”
“Where was the girl living?” I ask.
Papers rattle on the other end. “With Abe and Mary Gingerich.”
“What’s your take on them?”
“Talked to them at length after the girl was found. They’re decent. Religious. Quiet. They were pretty broken up about the girl, but I got the impression they don’t care much for us non-Amishers.”
“Do you have a sense of what might be going on, Sheriff Suggs?” I ask.
“I’ve been sheriff of Franklin County for more than sixteen years. I know this county like the back of my hand. But honestly, Chief, I don’t know shit about what goes on up there in that Amish settlement.” He sighs heavily. “Look, I don’t judge people because of how they dress or what they believe. I sure don’t have anything against the Amish. But it’s sort of common knowledge around here that some of those people are odd.”
“Anything specific?” Tomasetti asks.
“Last summer, there was this Amish kid, ten or so years old, came into town with his mom. The cashier at the grocery noticed he had bruises all over his legs. She called us, claiming they looked like whip marks. One of my deputies drove out there. No one would talk to him—not a soul stepped forward. So we involved Child Protective Services. They investigated but were unable to locate the boy or the family.
“In addition to that, we’ve had a couple of phone calls in the last year. Anonymous. One female claimed people were being held against their will. We were able to trace both calls to the Amish pay phone a mile or so down the road from the settlement. I went out there myself, but as was the case with the boy, no one would talk to me and I was never able to locate the woman who’d made the call or anyone who would substantiate her allegations.”
Betancourt makes a sound of disapproval. “Tell them about Schrock.”
“Eli Schrock is the bishop out there. He’s a charismatic guy. Smart. Well spoken. Devout. Respected by the community. Followers are loyal. I mean these people are devoted to him.” He pauses. “All that said, there are rumors flying around that some of his followers are scared of him and afraid to speak out. That he’s been known to punish people who don’t follow the rules.”
“What kind of punishments?” Tomasetti inquires.
“Allegedly, he locked one guy in a chicken coop. Held him there for two or three days without food. I heard secondhand that a young man took a few lashes from a buggy whip. One of my deputies says he was told of at least one family that fled in the middle of the night, leaving everything they couldn’t carry behind, lest they be stopped by Schrock or one of his followers.”
“Any charges filed?” Tomasetti asks.
“Again, no one will talk to us. No one will come forward,” Suggs tells him. “Not a damn soul. I spent some time out there after the Esh girl was found. Had a couple of deputies with me, and we couldn’t get anyone to answer a single question.”
“What’s the settlement like?” I ask.
“Eight hundred acres of farmland and forest. River cuts through, so there are some ravines, too. It’s pretty isolated. Rugged in places. Pretty as hell in summer. Schrock bought it at a rock-bottom price when he first arrived twelve years ago. Moved into the old farmhouse. Lived quietly up until the previous bishop passed away.”
“How many people live there?” Bates asks.
“I’d say there are a dozen or so families. The Amish built some nice homes. No electricity, of course. They built barns, too. Got some cattle and horses. A few hogs. They farm the land. Corn and wheat. Hay. Had a couple trailer homes brought in, too. Most of the families have their own land. Only way I know all this is property tax records. Solid information is tough to come by because the community’s interaction with the rest of the town is pretty much nonexistent.”
Betancourt looks from Tomasetti to Bates, his eyes finally landing on me. “Sheriff’s department is worried about the kids out there.”
“Especially after this girl showed up dead,” Suggs says.
“How many kids?” I ask.
“There are at least forty children under the age of eighteen living inside the settlement. After the Esh girl was found, we sent two social workers from Child Protective Services out there. There’s no indication of abuse, neglect, or maltreatment. But frankly, I don’t think CPS got the whole story.”
Tomasetti eyes Betancourt; his expression isn’t friendly. “What do you want with Chief Burkholder?”
Betancourt stares back, unmoved. Tension clamps bony fingers around the back of my neck.
“I think those kids are at risk,” the investigator says. “I think Schrock is abusing his followers. I think people are afraid to come forward, and if we don’t get someone in there to figure out what the hell’s going on, someone else is going to show up dead, or just disappear and no one will be the wiser. Someone in law enforcement needs to get in there and get to the bottom of things.”
“Undercover?” Tomasetti asks.
“That would be ideal,” Suggs tells him. “Problem is, we have no one who meets that particular criteria.”
“You need someone who understands the culture, has some insights into the religion; someone who knows the language,” Bates adds.
“So whoever goes in,” I say slowly, “would need to pose as an Amish person and become part of the community.”
“Exactly,” Suggs replies.
A beat of silence ensues.
“You mean me,” I say.
“I know it sounds kind of extreme…” Betancourt begins.
Tomasetti cuts him off. “Not to mention dangerous. Especially if Schrock is unstable or fanatical or both.”
Betancourt takes the comment in stride. “We would create an identity for you. Set up some form of communication. And of course, we’d pay for travel, housing … whatever supplies and clothing you’d need.”
“The county will pay your salary while you’re there,” Suggs adds. “You’ll be officially deputized and work on a contract basis with Franklin County.”
“You’ve got the background and the experience, Chief Burkholder.” Bates offers a full-fledged smile. “Besides, you’re the only cop we could find in the country who’s fluent in Pennsylvania Dutch.”
Copyright © 2016 Linda Castillo.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
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.