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A Morelville Mystery Thriller
To Tracy and Kathy, my biggest fans
Jug Run Press, USA
Copyright © 2016
All rights reserved: No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed or given away in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without prior written consent of the author or the publisher except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages for review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are actual places used in an entirely fictitious manner and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Chapter 1 – Lady with a Baby
Chapter 2 – The Whole Story?
Chapter 3 – Plans?
Chapter 4 - Assistance
Chapter 5 - Gone
Chapter 6 - Shunned
Chapter 7 - Goner
Chapter 8 - Torn
Chapter 9 – Kin
Chapter 10 – Nap Time
Chapter 11 - Canvass
Chapter 12 – Stunned
Chapter 13 – Amiss
Chapter 14 – Witness
Chapter 15 – A Fight
Chapter 16 – A Find
Chapter 17 - Victorian
Chapter 18 - Sketch
Chapter 19 - Conniving
Chapter 20 – Nabbed
Chapter 21 – Snooping
Chapter 22 – Co-inky-dink
Chapter 23 – Bereaved?
Chapter 24 - Dilemma
Chapter 25 – More Questions
Chapter 26 - Confession
Chapter 27 – A Word with Mama
Chapter 28 – A Slight Deception
Chapter 29 – A Sighting
Chapter 30 – Now What?
Chapter 31 – Baby?
Chapter 32 – Young International
Chapter 33 – Loose Ends
About the Author
Check Anne Out on her blog, on Facebook or on Twitter:
Well After Midnight, Sunday, February 15th
Some time, well after midnight, Boo started barking from somewhere else in the house. I sat up and tried to look around in the darkness. At my movement, Dana woke up too.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, her voice rasping from sleep.
“I left Boo outside the door when we came to bed. She’s kicking up a fuss in the kitchen, it sounds like.”
I got out of bed and, thinking there might be someone or something outside that had her riled, I quickly threw on sweats and a t-shirt.
It wasn’t until I got half way to the kitchen, and Boo, our Boston Terrier, charged to meet up with me, that I heard a knock on the door. As I drew closer, I heard a female voice say, “I don’t think they’re here.” Then it was quiet.
Boo was right at my feet as I reached for the deadbolt. Just as I clicked it backwards, a wail cracked through the stillness of the night beyond the door. A baby began to cry.
I yanked the door open but looked over my shoulder rather than outside when I heard a noise beyond the entry arch into the kitchen. Dana had gotten up too and was shuffling toward me.
Turning back, I realized it was Hannah Yoder on our doorstep with her girlfriend Jamie right behind her. In my shock to see them there at such a late hour, I thought nothing about letting them in until Dana asked who it was.
“Hannah and Jamie,” I said and, as I looked past them, “and another woman with a baby.”
“Let them in Mel; it’s cold.”
I opened the screen and stepped aside, motioning for them to enter.
“Hannah, what’s wrong?” Dana asked her.
“I’m so sorry for waking you but we didn’t know where else to go and I knew Mel would know what to do.”
“What’s going on?” I asked her.
“This is Katie; a friend of ours.” Hannah nodded toward the third young woman. “She’s in trouble and her and her baby have no place else that’s safe to go.”
We finally got Katie and her infant son bedded down in the guest room upstairs sometime after 2:00 AM. Since we only had one guest room set up, and I wouldn’t let Hannah and Jamie drive all the way back to Zanesville so late on such a bitter cold night, we got them settled in the family room – the room Dana called my cave.
Now, we lay huddled together in our own bed, whispering since our downstairs bedroom was situated so close to my evening retreat and the two young women.
“What a crazy week it’s been, huh?”
I felt Dana shake her head slightly from where it was nestled against my shoulder. “You aren’t kidding. What’s next?”
Even though she was speaking softly, I could hear the frustration in her tone. I dipped my head down and kissed her forehead. She looked up at me then and, at such close range, though it was dark, I could see her slight smile.
“What are we going to do about Katie and her son, babe?” We knew precious little about them other than that it didn’t seem to be safe for them to stay in Zanesville. Explanations didn’t come spilling out of any of the girls at such a late hour.
“We’ll just have to sit down and talk with all three of them in the morning about what’s going on and go from there. I mean, until we know her story, I don’t know what else we can do.”
“True.” I tried to stifle a yawn but I failed miserably.
Dana bused my lips and then rolled over to assume the spooning position by tucking herself against me. Once she was settled she told me, “We should get some sleep...looks like tomorrows’ going to be another long day.”
That was the last thing I remembered from that night.
Sunday morning, February 15th
Hannah was in the kitchen whipping up a breakfast feast when I dragged myself out of bed at the late, late hour of 7:00 AM. Katie was sitting at the table with her infant child, whose name I now realized I didn’t even know, giving him a bottle.
“Jamie’s in the bathroom,” Hannah told me. “If you need in there I can tell her to hurry.”
“No, no. She’s fine. Dana and I have a bathroom in our room. I guess you’ve never really seen the whole house, have you?”
She shook her head no as she flipped a pancake. Boo sat at her feet, staring up at the stove; her attention never wavering. “I’ve been all over your parents’ farm house and this seems to be laid out the same but they don’t have a bathroom in their room.”
“This is the same floorplan but the previous owners remolded it; lucky us.”
Catching Boo’s attention, I asked her, “Outside?” and pointed toward the door. She looked away from me, right back at the stove.
Hannah laughed. “I let her out before I started all of this. It’s still really cold; she didn’t waste any time.”
Moving over to the table, I smiled down at the baby and took a seat adjacent to Katie. “I forgot to ask last night; what’s his name?”
She smiled, “Jef.”
“Just Jeff? Not short for Jeffery or Jefferson?”
“It’s spelled J-e-f. It’s a Dutch name that means ‘God Raises’.”
“Oh.” I’d thought I detected a bit of the Amish accent in her English but, given that she didn’t say much the night before and that she’d been dressed much as Hannah and Jamie were, I couldn’t be sure.
“That’s pretty; I mean in a handsome sort of way,” Dana said as she wandered into the kitchen. Boo hazarded a look in her direction but that was all. The possibility of dropped people food took precedence over even acknowledging her mama.
Dana stepped over to the stove and inspected Hannah’s work. As she stole a piece of bacon from under a tinfoil tent, she told our young friend, “I can see that every minute you’ve spent in culinary school has been well worth it.”
“This?” Hannah waved a spatula over the cooktop, “I’ve been making this stuff all my life, just about.”
Katie spoke up, “Girls in the Order learn young; as soon as they can reach the stove.”
Hannah chuckled again like she had over Boo but continued to watch the griddle. “Coffee’s ready and everything else will be just a couple more minutes.”
“You didn’t have to do all of this, you know,” Dana told her, “but I’m so glad you did. Mel’s Sunday morning cooking is okay, but...” She trailed off.
“Hey! I’m a good cook.” Everyone laughed at my indignant tone. “I am!” I favored them all with a little head waggle. “Besides, I haven’t heard any complaints out of you.” I waved a finger toward my wife but my tone was lighter. I figured she was teasing me.
“You’re good at barbecuing and grilling. Breakfast, not so much.”
Okay, so maybe she’s not teasing, I thought. “You can just starve on Sunday mornings from now on, then.”
“I’m a big girl; I can fend for myself.” She patted the tiny little pooch of her belly then she grinned at me. I couldn’t help but smile back. Even with her leg bothering her in the cold snap we were currently experiencing, she managed to work in at least a long dog walk with Boo every day if not a full blown workout. She’d worked hard to get back to full health after she was shot and she was working hard to stay in shape. Other than a slight limp, especially when it was cold, you wouldn’t know she’d ever been hurt.
She moved over and took a seat at the other end of the table and beamed at Katie with Jef. “He’s a good baby, isn’t he?”
The young woman simply nodded.
“Does he cry at all? I mean, I didn’t hear him cry last night or this morning.”
“Yes, he cries but he does well with his sleep at night.”
As we sat eating, Jef slept contentedly in the car carrier by his mother’s chair. I didn’t want to push her, but she didn’t appear on our doorstep in the dead of night for no reason and the sooner we broached the subject, the sooner we could figure out a plan.
“Hannah, delish!” Dana cooed and then wiped her mouth with her napkin.
I caught myself grinning at her again and not wanting to break the spell of happy contentment just yet. I needn’t have worried though. Hannah put down her fork and addressed all of us.
“We should talk about what’s going to happen to Katie.” She looked at the younger girl and then back and forth between me and Dana.
“Okay.” I played it like it hadn’t been weighing on my mind. “Katie, why don’t you start at the beginning...er, how you and Jef came to be with Hannah and Jamie here in the first place?”
The girl looked down at her plate. Her shoulders shook. Hannah, who was seated across the table from her, next to Jamie, started to rise but Dana put out a hand to stay her. Dropping that, from her position at the opposite end of the table from me, she reached to her right and put her other hand on Katie’s shoulder.
“It’s all right,” she said to her. “You’re safe here; Jef is safe here. We’re going to do the best we can to help you but we have to know what we’re up against, is all.”
Jef made a little sound from his carrier as he slept drawing his mother’s attention to him for a moment. When she looked at him, her shoulders stopped their tell-tale shake and she straightened up a bit in her chair and glanced around at the lot of us.
I felt only concern for them both and that’s what showed on Dana’s face too. Hannah gave the girl a smile that I read as encouragement. Jamie’s face, meanwhile, was unreadable. She had stopped eating but she was only present and nothing more. I let it go, for now.
“How old are you Katie?” I asked her.
Internally, I bristled but, outwardly, I tried to steel my features. “And, you’re Amish?”
“I was. I left the Order four months ago.”
“Why?” Dana asked.
“Because...because I was shunned.”
Dana shot me a look and held out an open palm.
Realizing she was confused about what that meant, Hannah jumped in. “She was excommunicated from the church which means she’s not allowed to go to worship and no one is allowed to socialize with her, including her own family.”
Dana winced. “That seems very harsh. Is it...was it because of...your pregnancy?”
Katie’s face colored and again she dipped her head.
“Do you want me to tell them?” Hannah asked her.
Instead of replying, she leaned forward, picked up her juice and took a small sip and then replaced it carefully. “I was raped,” she said softly. “That’s how I got pregnant. I wasn’t even courting anyone.”
“No one believed her about the rape,” Hannah added.
Nodding, she told us, “That’s why I was shunned. The elders believe I lied.”
As a cop, I was ready to boil over but I needed her to keep talking so, with the mildest tone I could muster, I prodded her, “Can you tell me who raped you?”
She shook her head no and wouldn’t look at me. Instead, training her eyes on Hannah, she continued, “I saw...when I was there, the man every day and that’s why I left the order. It was just too much, after...after my baby started to show.”
My heart went out to her. “You can’t go back there.” It was a statement, not a question. I caught Dana’s eye and she nodded her agreement.
“And she can’t stay with us anymore,” Jamie said, speaking up for the first time. “It’s...it’s...” She looked to Hannah for help.
“She stayed with her aunt for a few weeks,” she supplied while Jamie nodded. “She had left the Order a few years ago.”
“Yes, she did,” Katie said. “She’s all alone though and she struggles to afford everything that she needs for herself. She tried to help me but she has a very small apartment and not enough money to feed all of us. I can work but...I couldn’t get a job. No one would hire me.”
Pregnant, no job skills, probably only went to school through the 8th grade, I thought to myself. No surprise there.
“I didn’t know anyone else living among the English except for Hannah. We...we knew each other back when we were in school. My aunt helped me find her when I’d been with her a couple of weeks.”
“When we first got together,” Hannah said, “I saw that she needed more help than her aunt could give her. We went and got her stuff and took her to our house,” Hannah finished and looked to her left at Jamie. Jamie just nodded slightly.
“I started staying with them in the fall but their house is very small, only two bedrooms and they share it with two others.”
“We have two roommates already,” Jamie repeated. “One of them is in college and they both work. We tried to make room but, he needs a lot of stuff,” she waved a hand toward Jef in his carrier, “and sometimes Hannah and Bec need quiet time to study.”
Hannah nudged Jamie with an elbow. “My ‘studying’ is cooking. I don’t need quiet time for that.”
“Bec does for her stuff though,” Jamie said. “She’s studying to be a physical therapist,” she told the rest of us.
Sensing their tension, I tried to take a different tack, “I can certainly see that you’re in a very difficult situation but you’ve come to the right place. We can figure something out for the short term and make a plan for long term.”
I hazarded a look at my wife and was relieved to find her nodding in agreement.
“We feel bad asking you two for help,” Hannah said, “but we didn’t know where else to go.”
“Hey, you did the right thing. It’s my job to help in situations like this.”
Dana quickly interjected, “And, you’re both our friends.” She looked at Katie, “And now we have a new friend.”
The young woman smiled but it quickly faded. “I’m scared.”
“I know,” I said. “That’s normal. We’ll figure it all out.”
“Yes, but there’s more. The reason we left last night and came here then instead of waiting was because I don’t feel safe there anymore. I think that now that Jef has been born, his father may be following me to try and take him.”
Dana had started to eat again but now, fork poised mid-air, she paused. “Why do you think he’s following you? Have you seen him?”
“Strange things have been happening since just before I gave birth. I...I feel like I’m being watched all of the time and even followed sometimes.”
“Since you’ve had Jef though, you’ve hardly gone out at all,” Jamie said.
“That’s true. There really hasn’t been any need and it’s too cold for Jef a lot of the time anyway. He’s only a week old. They’ve all been so good about running out to get me whatever Jef needs. I know the stuff’s expensive though...I don’t have any way to repay them.”
“You’re not getting WIC?” I asked her. I got blank stares from all three of the younger women at the table, answering my question.
“What’s that?” Hannah was the first to ask.
“It’s a nutrition program for mothers and babies.”
“No,” Katie said.
“We’ll talk about that later, then. What brought you here last night?”
“We went out for Valentine’s Day,” Hannah said as she indicated herself and Jamie. “Bec and Patrice were out too. While we were gone, Katie thought someone tried to break in.”
“I thought I heard someone at the back door. I got really scared. I locked me and Jef in their room and hid in their closet.” She waved a hand toward the couple across from her.
“Why didn’t you call the police?”
“I don’t have a phone.”
“We all took ours with us,” Hannah said. “Fortunately, me and Jamie got home about five minutes later. When she told us what happened, I wanted to call the police then but she wouldn’t let us.”
Katie hung her head and mumbled, “I felt silly.”
“It’s always better to be safe than sorry,” I told her.
“That’s what I said,” Hannah said. “We talked for a long time about what to do and we convinced her to call the police. We were about to do that when our roommates came home and wanted to know why we were all still up.”
“Bec got pissed off,” Jamie said.
Dana asked her, “About the break-in attempt?”
“No,” Hannah said, “She said that not only did Katie need to talk to the police, she wasn’t safe at our house and was jeopardizing all of us. That’s when I decided we should bring her here.”
“Wow; again, that’s harsh,” Dana said.
“Just let us get a look at this baby.”
I stepped aside and let my mother Faye Crane and Dana’s mama, Chloe in. They were both in boots and heavy overcoats with dresses on underneath all of that. The chill outside hadn’t daunted them from hustling to our house after church when they heard there was a newborn in residence.
“Word travels fast,” I said, shaking my head.
“About babies, of course it does dear,” Chloe told me.
“How did you find out?” I asked as I led them into the family room where Katie was snuggled down with Jef.
“Dana texted her father and asked him if he’d mind if he ended up having to stay a little past lunch tomorrow. Said she was taking someone over to the WIC office and she wasn’t sure how long it would take. She was going to take a four-hour shift tomorrow afternoon for him.”
“Oh how absolutely darling! Isn’t he the most precious thing!” My own mother wasn’t paying any mind to my conversation with Chloe. She only had eyes for Jef.
Chloe looked toward the mother and child but, since my mom was already introducing herself and reaching for the little guy, she continued; “Anyway, when we ran into Hannah and her girlfriend – Jamie is it? – at the gas station and when they said they’d brought a ‘couple of friends’ down here to stay with you for a while, we put two and two together. Can’t fool us!”
“No, we certainly can’t.” I had to laugh at that. Nothing got past Chloe Rossi.
Dana, who’d been upstairs clearing out a closet so Katie could use it, wandered in. “I thought I heard you Mama. And Faye, nice to see you.”
“You could have just called and said you had a baby over here,” Chloe said, one hand on her hip while she waggled a finger at her daughter with the other.
“Oh Mama, I’m just teasing. Isn’t he adorable?”
“That he is.”
“Katie, have you actually been introduced to these two whirlwinds or did they just bum rush you?”
Chloe swatted at her daughter’s shoulder while Katie sat looking puzzled.
“The one that’s already introduced herself to you and who’s hogging Jef,” I told Katie, is my mother Faye Crane. You can call her Faye or grandma...she doesn’t care. Mom confirmed that with a nod.
“This is Dana’s mother, Chloe Rossi,” I continued and pointed at Chloe who was peeling off her coat and preparing to take over baby holding.
“Everyone just calls me Mama, dear.”
Sunday Evening, February 15th
While I showered, Dana leaned against the bathroom sink. It was the first chance we’d had to talk alone all day.
“I’m afraid,” I said, “that Katie’s baby was fathered by a family member.”
“Unfortunately, there are known incest problems inside the Amish community around here. They’re such a pacifist, peace loving Order to the outside world but, inside, a lot of their young women are sexually abused.”
“Do you think that’s why she’s unwilling to name the father and why she’s so scared?”
“It’s the only thing that really makes sense. Think about it; Why or why else would the father be after her, trying to take Jef? If this was really about shunning and he went back into that community with that baby, with or without her, he’d be shunned too.” I tossed my head around in the spray, trying to get the shampoo out. Dana was quiet. “Are you still out there?”
“Yeah, just thinking. She doesn’t have anywhere else to go Mel. She’s like Hannah when she first left that life. She has no education, few skills and no money and, she’s just so naive.” She echoed my previous thoughts. “We can’t just send her off anywhere. It’s rough out there for anyone but for her...”
“We didn’t get to discuss it,” I interrupted. “How do you feel about them being here, possibly long term?” I worked in conditioner and waited, holding my breath.
“We have the room.”
After blowing the air out, I said, “That’s not what I asked.”
“Mel, I’m not going to turn her out on the street.”
“But you’d rather they went somewhere else?”
“No; not at all. This is the best thing for them. It was a parade of the entire family over here today. Everyone’s excited and wants to help. Hell, I think Beth thinks she gained a sister and a baby brother. No question, she’ll get all the help she needs here.”
“You just sound so unsure...”
“Okay...honestly? Having a teenager around, I have no issue with but having a baby around scares me, personally, to death. I’ve never been around babies. Nate and I put our careers first and then...well, I’m with you now so there’s that. And, we lived in Chicago when Nicco and Jenny had Shannon back in Pittsburgh. I saw her twice before she was out of diapers.”
“Did you want kids; I mean, when you were with Nate?”
“Yeah...I...we talked about it but it was first things first with us. He was in law school and then trying to get his career started and I was on the road a lot with Young doing consulting and such. The timing just wasn’t right.” She waved a hand dismissively. “I’ll adjust. I mean, we’ll figure it out. What about you though? I mean...I don’t know...do you, er, did you ever want kids?”
“It’s been different for me babe. Beth and Cole have always been right here and J.D. was never around. Kris and I and my folks raised them. Before you, my whole world revolved around those two kids.” I grimaced to myself. “You see that a lot of it still does.”
“I get that but now that gives me another thing to worry about. How do you think they’ll handle it with Katie here for what could be months or years even and a baby that everyone fawns over? I mean, Katie’s barely older than them.”
“Beth will be just fine. My concern is with Cole falling for Katie. She’s adorable and as naïve as he is. Now though, He’s 16 and he’s starting to take a lot of interest in girls.”
“Huh,” Dana said. “I hadn’t thought of that. There’s the potential for a mess there.” We both laughed a little uneasily.
I turned off the water, slid the curtain aside and reached out for my towel. Dana, who would normally try to take advantage of my dripping wet, slightly vulnerable state to mess with me, was staring past me, lost in thought. “Penny for them,” I asked her.
“It is what it is babe. I’ll talk to Katie and Hannah tomorrow but especially Hannah and find out what she did to get set up to finish high school and we’ll get Katie going on that. She’ll need to do at least that much to have any hope of ever making a life for herself and Jef. And, maybe for now, she can help out in the store or on the farm or something.”
I nodded. “We have plenty of time to talk about all of that and work it all out.”
I tried to slide into bed and snuggle Dana the same way I always do but I couldn’t get situated. My sweats were binding me in the crease where my pelvis met my thigh. I flopped around a bit as I tried to rearrange the pants. Dana just laughed.
“Stop; it’s not funny. I’m not used to wearing clothes to bed anymore.”
“You don’t have to, you know?”
“It just wouldn’t feel right. I didn’t sleep nude when I lived with Kris and the kids either. You never knew when one or the other of them would be up in the night.”
“So, you’re going to dress like a mummy every night for as long as they’re here?”
“I don’t know. I suppose so or, at least until it warms up.”
“What about...you know?” Dana’s cheeks colored just a little bit.
“What about it?”
“Seriously what?” I was teasing her.
“We’re not going to have sex for as long as we have house guests?”
“Probably not for a while. You can go without it for a few months or so. It will do you good...builds character,” I teased.
“Character my ass,” she snarled back at me. “I’m not going months, or even weeks, for that matter.”
“You know, if you could be quiet during sex, it wouldn’t be a problem.”
“I’m not loud.”
I guffawed at that.
“Yes you are. You moan and moan and, quite frankly, sometimes you’re a screamer.”
“Oh, I am not!”
“I can be really quiet.” She lowered her voice to tell me that but I wasn’t buying it.
“No you can’t.”
“Yes I can and I’ll prove it.”
“Let’s go hot shot. Give me all you got. You won’t get a peep out of me.”
“Is the big bad Sheriff lady afraid of little old me?”
“Don’t even try it. You’re not going to con me into it.”
Dana knows just what buttons to push. She knows I usually can’t back down from a challenge but I vowed to myself that I was going to stand my ground on this one.
She had other ideas. She reached over her head, flipped a pillow to stand vertically and then slid her body up into more of a sitting up position than she had been in letting the sheet that had been covering her bare breasts fall away. They were creamy white and her nipples were hard and perky already.
“You play dirty.” I moved to raise the sheet. She grabbed my hand and stopped me.
“Can’t take it, baby?”
My lips felt dry. I licked them and tried to look away. She let go of my hand and raised the hand that had held it to my face.
Turning me back to look at her she whispered, “I want you now.”
“Babe,” I pleaded, “they can’t possibly even be asleep yet.”
“They’ll never hear us. That’s a promise.”
We made love and she managed to stay pretty quiet, but the bite marks on my shoulder were going to be hard to explain if anyone ever saw them.
Monday morning, February 16th
Mel was out the door before 6:00 AM. Now, it was me, Katie and Jef rushing to get moving too so we could be at the WIC office in Zanesville when it opened at 8:00.
Katie fed Jef and was dressing him and I’d showered and was getting dressed myself when the phone rang. I debated not grabbing it but when I saw that it was my old boss Russ Young, I went ahead and picked it up.
“Russ? You’re up and at it awful early.” If he was at home or in his office in Chicago, I thought, it was just after 6:00 AM there. “Is something wrong?”
“No, no. Sorry about this but I’m trying to get a jump on a few things before my flight to the West Coast for a consult. Are you up for a background check assignment in the Columbus area? It came up late Friday afternoon and I don’t have anyone in Ohio who can jump on it right away. I know it’s a bit of a drive for you but I thought I’d run it by you.”
“Columbus isn’t too bad Russ...an hour or so. What do you have?”
“A guy, Roman Bakula, Russian it looks like, here on an H1B visa for IT. His petition with his current employer is expiring and I guess he wants to move on. A Columbus hospital wants to pick him up and renew him for the remaining three years he can be here but, in the job, he would have electronic access to thousands of medical records and all of the associated personal data. They have his history before he entered the country nearly three years ago and his current employer has told them he has an exemplary work record with them but that’s all they’ve got.”
To my surprise, I heard the kitchen door open and Hannah call out. I poked my head out of my room and gave her a wave then pointed at my phone.