Authors: Linda Castillo
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural
“Sell is nix as baeffzes.”
That’s nothing but trifling talk.
At the sound of my brother’s voice, I glance toward the house to see him and my brother-in-law, William, standing on the porch. Both men are wearing dark trousers with white shirts, suspenders and straw summer hats. Jacob’s beard reaches midway to his waist and is shot with more gray than brown. William’s beard is red and sparse. Both men’s eyes flick from me to Tomasetti and then back to me, as if waiting for some explanation for his presence. It doesn’t elude me that neither man offers to help with the food.
“Katie.” Jacob nods at me as he takes the steps from the porch.
“Wie geth’s alleweil?”
How goes it now?
“This is John Tomasetti,” I blurt to no one in particular.
Next to me, Tomasetti strides forward and extends his hand to my brother. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Jacob,” he says easily.
While the Amish excel at letting you know you are an outsider—which is usually done for some redemptive purpose, not cruelty—they can also be kind and welcoming and warm. I’m pleased to see all of those things in my brother’s eyes when he takes Tomasetti’s hand. “It’s good to meet you, too, John Tomasetti.”
“Kate’s told me a lot about you,” Tomasetti says.
William chuckles as he extends his hand.
“Es waarken maulvoll gat.”
There’s nothing good about that.
A giggle escapes Sarah. “Welcome, John. I hope you’re hungry.”
I make eye contact with Tomasetti. He winks, and some of the tension between my shoulder blades unravels.
Neither woman offers her hand for a shake. Instead they exchange nods when I make the introductions.
When the silence goes on for a beat too long, I turn my attention to my sister. “Can I help with something?”
“Setz der disch.”
Set the table. Sarah glances at Tomasetti and motions toward the picnic table.
“Sitz dich anna un bleib e weil.”
Sit yourself there and stay awhile. “There’s lemonade, and I’m about to bring out some iced tea.”
Tomasetti strolls to the table and looks appreciatively at the banquet spread out before him. “You sure you trust me with all this food?”
“There’s more than enough for everyone,” Irene says.
William pats his belly. “Even me?”
A gust of wind snaps the tablecloths, and Jacob glances toward the western horizon. “If we’re going to beat the storm, we’d best eat soon.”
Irene shivers at the sight of the lightning and dark clouds.
“Wann der Hund dich off der buckle legt, gebt’s rene.”
When the dog lies on his back, there will be rain.
While Tomasetti and the Amish men pour lemonade and talk about the storms forecast for later, I follow the women into the kitchen. I’d been nervous about accepting today’s invitation from my brother because I didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea how they would respond to me and Tomasetti or the fact that we’re living together with no plans to get married. To my relief, no one has mentioned any of those things, and another knot of tension loosens.
The kitchen is hot despite the breeze whipping in through the window above the sink. Sarah and I spend a few minutes gathering paper plates, plastic utensils, and sampling the potato salad, while Irene pulls a dozen or so steaming ears of corn from the Dutch oven atop the stove and stacks them on a platter. We make small talk, and I’m taken aback at how quickly the rhythm of Amish life returns to me. I ask about my niece and nephews, and I learn the kids walked to the pasture to show my little niece, who’s just over a year old now, the pond, and I can’t help but remember when that same pond was a fixture in my own life. I’d learned to swim in that pond, never minding the mud or the moss or the smell of fish that always seemed to permeate the water. Back then, I was an Olympian swimmer; I had no concept of swimming pools or chlorine or diving boards. I’d been content to swim in water the color of tea, sun myself on the dilapidated dock, treat myself to mud baths, and dream about all the things I was going to do with my life.
Brandishing a pitcher of iced tea and a basket of hot rolls, I follow the two women outside to the picnic tables. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that Jacob has pulled out his pipe to smoke, a habit that’s frowned upon by some of the more conservative Amish. But then that’s Jacob for you. He’s also one of the few to use a motorized tractor instead of draft horses. In keeping with the
he only uses steel wheels sans rubber tires. A few of the elders complain, but so far no one has done anything about it.
Within minutes we’re sitting at a picnic table, a feast of fried chicken and vegetables from the garden spread out on the blue-and-white-checked tablecloth. At the table next to us, my niece and nephews load fried chicken and green beans onto their plates. I glance over at Tomasetti and he grins at me, giving me an I-told-you-everything-would-be-fine look, and in that moment I’m content.
“Wann der Disch voll is, well mir bede.”
If the tables are full, let us pray. Jacob gives the signal for the before-meal prayer. Heads are bowed. Next to us, the children’s table goes silent. And Jacob’s voice rings out.
“O Herr Gott, himmlischer Vater, Segne uns und Diese Diene Gaben, die wir von Deiner milden Gute Zu uns nehmen warden, Speise und tranke auch unsere Seelen zum ewigen Leben, und mach uns theilhaftig Deines himmllischen Tisches durch Jesus Christum. Amen.”
O Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these thy gifts, which we shall accept from thy tender goodness. Give us food and drink also for our souls unto life eternal, and make us partakers of thy heavenly table through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Upon finishing, he looks around, and as if by unspoken agreement, everyone begins reaching for platters and filling their plates.
“The kids have grown so much since I saw them last,” I say as I spoon green beans onto my plate.
“It seems like yesterday that Little Hannah was a newborn,” my sister says with a sigh. “They grow up so fast.”
Jacob slathers homemade butter onto an ear of corn. “Elam drove the tractor last week.”
Sarah rolls her eyes. “And almost drove it into the creek!”
“Like father like son,” William mutters.
Irene pours a second glass of tea. “Katie, do you and John have any plans for children?”
I can tell by the way the pitcher pauses mid-pour that she realizes instantly her faux pas. Her eyes flick to mine. I see a silent apology, then she quickly looks away and sets the pitcher on the table. “There’s tea if anyone’s thirsty.”
“Maybe they should get married first,” Jacob says.
“I love weddings.” Sarah shakes pepper onto an ear of corn.
“Any plans for one, Katie?” Jacob asks.
In the interminable silence that follows, the tension builds, as if it were a living thing, growing and filling up space. I’m not sure how to respond. The one thing I do know is that no matter what I say, I’ll be judged harshly for it.
“Let’s just say we’re a work in progress.” I smile, but it feels dishonest on my lips because I know now that this Pandora’s box has been opened, it’s fair game.
“Work?” Jacob slathers apple butter onto a roll. “I don’t think getting married is too much work.”
“For a man, anyway,” Irene says.
“A man’ll work harder to stay out of the house.” William doesn’t look up from his plate. “If he’s smart.”
“I think Kate’s placing the emphasis on the ‘in progress’ part.” Tomasetti grins at Irene. “Pass the corn, please.”
“In the eyes of the Lord, the two of you are living in sin,” Jacob says.
I turn my attention to my brother. “In the eyes of some of the
He nods, but his expression is earnest. “I don’t understand why two people would want to live like that.”
Embarrassment and, for an instant, the familiar old shame creeps up on me, but I don’t let it take hold. “Jacob, this isn’t the time or place to discuss this.”
“Are you afraid God will hear?” he asks. “Are you afraid He will disapprove?”
Tomasetti helps himself to an ear of corn, sets down his fork, and turns his attention to my brother. “If you have something on your mind, Jacob, I think you should just put it out there.”
“Marriage is a sacred thing.” He holds Tomasetti’s gaze, thoughtful. “I don’t understand why you choose to live the way you do. If a man and woman choose to live together, they should be married.”
All eyes fall on Tomasetti. He meets their stares head-on and holds them, unflinching and unapologetic. “With all due respect, that’s between Kate and me. That’s the best answer I can give you, and I hope you and the rest of the family will respect it.”
My brother looks away in deference. But I know that while he’ll tolerate our point of view for now, he’ll never agree with it—or give his blessing. “All right then.”
I look around the table. Everyone is staring down at their plates, concentrating a little too intently on their food. Across from me, Irene scoots her husband’s plate closer to him. “Maybe you should eat your food instead of partaking in idle talk like an old woman.”
Sarah coughs into her hand but doesn’t quite cover her laugh. “There’s date pudding for dessert.”
“That’s my favorite.” Irene smiles at her sister-in-law. “Right after snitz pie.”
“I haven’t had snitz pie since Big Joe Beiler married Edna Miller,” William says through a mouthful of chicken.
I barely hear the exchange over the low thrum of my temper. Don’t get me wrong; I love my brother and sister. Growing up, they were my best friends and, sometimes, my partners in crime. There were many things I loved about being Amish: being part of a tight-knit community. Growing up with the knowledge that I was loved not only by my family, but by my brethren. But this afternoon I’m reminded of two things I detested: narrow-mindedness and intolerance.
As if reading my mind, Tomasetti sets his hand on my arm and squeezes. “Let it go,” he says quietly.
I’m relieved when my cell phone vibrates against my hip. “I’ve got to take this,” I say, pulling out my phone and getting to my feet.
I walk a few yards away from the picnic tables and answer with my usual: “Burkholder.”
“Sorry to bother you on your afternoon off, Chief. Just wondering if you’ve been following the weather.”
It’s Rupert Maddox, but everyone calls him “Glock” because he has a peculiar fondness for his sidearm. A war vet with two tours in Afghanistan under his belt, he’s my most solid officer and the first African American to grace the Painters Mill PD.
“Actually, I’m not,” I say. “What’s up?”
“Weather service just issued a tornado warning for Knox and Richland Counties,” he tells me. “We got some serious shit on the way. It just touched down north of Fredericktown.”
Thoughts of my family evaporate, and I press the phone more tightly against my ear. “Casualties?” I ask. “Damage?”
“SHP says it’s a war zone,” he says, referring to the state highway patrol. “There’s a tornado on the ground and headed this way, moving fast. Fifteen minutes and we’re going to be under the gun.”
“Call the mayor. Tell him to get the sirens going.”
But I know that while the tornado sirens are an effective warning for people living in town and will give them time to get into their basements or storm shelters, Holmes County is mostly rural. The majority of people live too far away to hear the sirens. To make matters worse, the Amish don’t have TVs or radios and have no way of knowing there’s a dangerous storm on the way.
“Call dispatch and tell Lois I want everyone on standby. If things look dicey at the station, she needs to take cover down in the jail.”
“Glock, do you and LaShonda have a basement?”
“Got it covered, Chief. I’ve got a weather radio down there. And a Wii for the kids.”
“Good.” I look over at the picnic table to see Tomasetti standing, his head cocked, looking at me intently. “Look, I’m at my brother’s farm, and we’re about nine miles east of town. Can you give me a hand and help me get the word out?”
“I’ll take the west side and go door to door. Sheriff’s got some deputies out, too.”
“Thanks. Do me a favor and stay safe, will you?”
and stride back to the table. “There’s a tornado on the ground west of here and heading this way.”
“I thought it looked bad,” Irene says, getting to her feet.
Jacob rises. “How close?”
“You’ve got fifteen minutes to get the animals turned out and everyone in the basement.”
William leaves the table and starts toward the buggy where his horse is hitched. “I’m going to turn my gelding out, too.”
“I’ll help.” Jacob starts after him. “Probably ought to put the buggy in the barn.”
Tomasetti leans close. “Saved by the tornado,” he mutters, but he’s already reaching for his smartphone to check radar.
Sarah has snatched up several serving dishes, still mounded with food, and stacked them haphazardly in her arms. Looking harried, Irene herds my niece and nephews toward the back porch. I know there’s a door off the kitchen that will take them to the stairs. The basement is a damp, dark room, but it’s their best protection against debris if the storm passes over or near the house.
I address Sarah: “Leave the food. You’ve only got a few minutes. Gather up the kids and get everyone in the basement.”
I turn my attention to William and Jacob twenty yards away, already working in tandem to unhitch the horse. “Ten minutes!” I call out to them.
Jacob waves to let me know they’re cognizant of the urgency of the situation.
In the few minutes since I received the call, the wind has kicked up. The sky to the west roils with black clouds tinged with an odd shade of green. The tablecloth whips up. A bag of chips flies off. Holding my niece, my sister goes after it, but I call out and stop her.
“Leave it! Take Hannah inside and get into the basement. Now.” I glance toward the barn to see Jacob and William leading the horse toward the gate. “I’ve got to go.”
Surprising me, Sarah trots over, steps close, and presses her cheek against mine. “Be careful, sister.”