Authors: Linda Castillo
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural
“A minute,” I say. “Maybe two. At first she was crying and then…”
Thirty compressions, and he sets his hand beneath the infant’s neck, pinches her nostrils. Sealing a tiny rescue mask over the infant’s mouth, he gives two short breaths.
The second firefighter reaches us, a stretcher in one hand, an AED kit—a defibrillator—in the other. He drops to his knees beside the first responder, opens the kit, removes the pads. “I need her dry,” he says, yanking a paper sheet from the kit.
Quickly, he dries the child. The other paramedic tugs off the infant’s onesie. I see a tiny torso. Blue-tinged skin. Unmoving arms and legs. Vaguely, I’m aware of the woman screaming from somewhere nearby. Of sirens and the incessant blare of the tornado warning system. There are a hundred other things I should be doing; there’s a gas leak and downed power lines and undoubtedly more casualties. But I can’t move. I can’t look away from that baby and the two men working to save her life.
The second paramedic removes two electrode pads from the kit, placing one on the infant’s chest, the other on the baby’s back, sealing them tightly against the skin. All the while a mechanical voice from the AED intones instructions. “Analyzing rhythm. Stand clear. Shock advised.”
Tomasetti’s voice reaches me as if through a fog. I feel his hand on my arm. I want to say something. Let him know I’m okay. I can handle this. I want to reassure the mother, take her hand and tell her the child is going to be all right. But I don’t know if any of that is true. Despite our efforts, I don’t know if the baby is going to make it.
Vaguely, I’m aware of my phone vibrating against my hip. Tomasetti pulling me away from the paramedics. “Let them work,” he tells me.
Finally, I look at him. Even in the midst of all this chaos, I realize, his worry is for me. Illogical anger burgeons in my chest. I want to rail, tell him this isn’t about me. My small world and petty emotions and discomforts don’t matter. The only thing that matters is a tiny heart that’s stopped and a young life that must not be lost.
Around us several more responders arrive. Men in pickup trucks who are volunteers for the fire department. I hear shouting. Voices filled with urgency and stress. Orders being given. A second ambulance pulls up, and two more paramedics disembark. Twenty yards away, a large truck with the electric company logo emblazoned on the door pulls up to a downed telephone pole where a transformer crackles and pops. In the midst of it all, I can still feel the echo of warmth where the tiny body was pressed against me.
I turn my attention to Tomasetti, blink at him, pull myself back.
“I just heard from Glock,” he tells me. “The Maple Crest Subdivision got hit, too.”
In the back of my mind a little voice demands to know,
Isn’t this enough?
“Casualties?” I ask, instead.
“He didn’t know. Plenty of damage, though.”
“Shit.” My phone has been vibrating nonstop. I yank it out and snap my name.
It’s Chuck “Skid” Skidmore, one of my other officers. He’s usually the cocky one, the one who always seems to find some smidgen of inappropriate humor in just about any situation, no matter how dire. Alarm rings hard in his voice. “I got power lines on top of a vehicle out here on Hogpath Road. A woman with a bunch of kids inside.”
“You call the power company?”
“They’re on the way.”
“Keep them in the vehicle, Skid. Tell them to roll up the windows. Don’t get too close.”
I end the call and look down at my phone to see I have six messages and a dozen texts. I reach for calm, force my emotions back. Two of the calls are from dispatch, so I press the speed dial for Lois. “You okay?” I begin.
“I’m good.” But she’s breathless and sounds stressed. “Power’s out everywhere. Pickles started that generator, so we got radio and phones and both are going nuts.” She takes a deep breath, blows it out slowly. “You heard about Maple Crest?”
“I’m heading that way now,” I tell her. “Any word on casualties?”
“I checked with Pomerene a few minutes ago. They have two critical. One fatality. More coming in and lots of minor injuries.” A hysterical laugh bubbles up from her. “I just took a ten-fifty-four a half a mile south of town.”
The code 10-54 is for loose livestock on the road, a call I always take seriously due to the likelihood of a motor vehicle accident. “Dispatch Pickles.”
“I’m ten-seventy-six Maple Crest.”
I end the call and take a deep breath. I look at Tomasetti. Behind him I see the ambulance with the baby inside pull onto the road, sirens blaring. I don’t let myself think about the tiny newborn I’d held in my arms just minutes ago. The one whose warmth I can still discern. The one who, of all of us, is an innocent and deserves to live.
I long for my police radio, as Tomasetti and I head east toward the Maple Crest subdivision. Drizzle floats down from a granite sky, smudging the trees and fields into a gothic, impressionist-style painting. The storm that brought the tornado is already past and heading northeast toward Geauga County, where new tornado warnings have been posted.
I’ve pulled up the weather radar on Tomasetti’s phone. The storm track shows the twister plowed a path from southwest to northeast. Most of the affected area was rural, but I know there are farmhouses and barns at risk. As the storm approached Painters Mill, it veered north and gobbled up half of the mobile home park. It then lifted briefly and touched down a second time on top of the subdivision. The homes are sturdier there—brick and stucco, mostly—and while I anticipate plenty of damage, I don’t think it will be as bad as Willow Bend.
We’ve just turned onto Dogleg Road, when I spot a lone figure ahead, walking toward us on the gravel shoulder.
“What the hell?” Tomasetti pulls over several yards from the man.
He’s wearing trousers and a long-sleeve shirt with one of the sleeves torn off at the shoulder. His clothes are soaked and muddy. As he draws closer I notice the suspenders hanging at his sides. No hat. No jacket. One boot on his left foot; the other is bare. The only indication that he’s Amish is the long beard. Though I’m certain he sees the Tahoe, he doesn’t stop walking. He doesn’t acknowledge us. It’s as if he doesn’t even see us.
“Looks like he’s in shock,” Tomasetti says.
“I’m going to make sure he’s all right.” I’ve got the door open before we’ve come to a complete stop. Then I’m out of the truck. Rain soft and cold on my face. I can hear the ducks in the pond on the other side of a falling-down fence. The tinkle of the drizzle against the water’s surface.
I keep my eyes on the man ahead. But I’m aware of Tomasetti sliding from the truck. The slam of his door as he leaves it to follow me.
“Sir?” I call out. “I’m a police officer. Are you all right?”
The man stops and looks at me as if seeing me for the first time. His face is streaked with mud. The missing shirtsleeve reveals the pasty flesh of an arm that’s covered with mud and specks of vegetation. His shirt is shredded, pasted to his body by rain and mud. He’s visibly shivering. His beard is clotted with vegetation, flecks of dead grass, and mud.
His eyes peer at me from a pale face smeared with mud.
“Ich sayya Gott,”
he whispers. I saw God.
“Are you injured?” I stop a couple of feet away. “Are you hurt? Do you need help?”
He shakes his head.
“Ich bin zimmlich gut.”
I’m pretty good.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
Tomasetti comes up beside me. “What are you doing out here all by yourself without a buggy?”
He looks at Tomasetti, then motions in the direction he was walking. “I was delivering straw to Big Joe Beiler’s place. That old mare of his is about to foal.”
I look past him, but there’s no sign of a wagon. Or a horse. “Where’s your wagon?”
“Wind caught it just right. Turned it over. The straw got dumped.”
“Is there anyone else with you?” I ask.
“Your horse okay?”
“Sellah gaul is goot.”
The horse is good. “Spooked. She ran home, like they always do, and left me to walk.” He grins. “Just like a female.”
“I think you should get yourself checked out at the hospital, Mr. Miller,” I tell him. “Maybe you hit your head when the wagon overturned. I’m happy to take you.”
The Amish man thinks about that a moment. “My head is fine. But I’d like to check on my family and make sure they’re all right.”
I touch his arm gently to get him started toward the Tahoe; all the while I look for signs of injury or confusion. “Where’s your farm, Mr. Miller?”
“A mile or so down the road.”
“The worst of the storm missed your house,” I tell him. “I think you’ll find your family just fine.”
“I guess it wasn’t my day to be called to heaven,” he says.
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t give him a choice about a trip to the ER; I’d take him directly to the hospital despite his objections. Today, however, with Pomerene Hospital undoubtedly flooded with casualties, I decide to comply with his wishes and take him home. I open the door of the Tahoe and he climbs inside.
* * *
by the time Tomasetti and I pull into the driveway of my old house in Painters Mill. We’ve spent twelve hours responding to calls, assisting the injured, searching for the missing, assessing damage, and reporting downed power lines and gas leaks to the proper authorities. The last four hours were spent at the Willow Bend Mobile Home Park, helping firefighters with their search-and-rescue efforts. Casualty information has begun to trickle in from the ER departments of Pomerene Hospital as well as Wooster Community Hospital. So far the two hospitals have reported twenty-six injured, with eighteen hospitalized in serious or critical condition. There have been two confirmed fatalities so far: Sixty-two-year-old Earl Harbinger’s vehicle was flipped by the tornado. He died at the scene. And thirty-seven-year-old mother of two, Juanita Davis, was found dead in her trailer at Willow Bend. She was DOA. All but one of the missing have been accounted for. Twelve-year-old Billy Ray Benson was caught in a flash flood, sucked into a culvert, and washed into Painters Creek. Over thirty volunteers—many of whom had their own homes damaged or destroyed—joined Holmes County Search and Rescue. Because of rough terrain, flooded conditions, and darkness, HCSAR called off the search until first light. I can’t imagine what the boy’s parents are going through tonight.
The damage is shocking, but in light of the loss of life and serious injury, it’s easier to keep in perspective. Homes and businesses can be rebuilt. A life lost is gone forever. The east side of Painters Mill—mainly the Willow Bend Mobile Home Park—was devastated. In the Maple Crest subdivision, nine homes were damaged. Two were leveled, reduced to piles of brick and wood and the broken pieces of people’s lives.
Tomasetti and I are beyond exhaustion. Facing another grueling day that will begin in a few hours, we thought the smart thing to do was to stay here in town and grab showers and a couple hours of sleep.
I unlock the door, and we step into a living room that’s quiet and cool and smells of a house that’s been shut up for a long time. I put the house on the market a couple of weeks ago. I’ve had several showings but no offers. There’s no food, and in the seven months I’ve lived at the farm with Tomasetti, I’ve moved most of my personal belongings and some of my furniture. But my bed is still here, and I keep some old linens in the hall closet. Since I’ve never had the electricity shut off, we have light and hot water for showers.
I’m standing in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen. I glance over at Tomasetti, and for the first time I realize I’ve tracked mud across the living room.
“Shoes.” He motions toward my feet, and I notice he had the forethought to leave his at the door.
“Oh.” I try to laugh, but it’s a strained, tight sound. Mud on the rug is the last thing on my mind.
Clumps of it fall from my boots as I cross back to the door and kneel to remove them. “I feel like I need to be out there, doing something.” I have one shoe on, one off, and I shrug. “Anything.”
“I know you do,” he says.
“There are people who don’t have a place to sleep. They don’t have dry clothes. They have nothing to eat or drink.”
He frowns at me. “You’re not going to do anyone much good if you don’t get some sleep.”
I toe off my remaining boot. “You know, Tomasetti, I really hate it when you make more sense than I do.”
“So sue me.” Giving me a reassuring smile, he walks into the kitchen.
As I peel off socks that are wet and brown with mud, I find myself thinking of the infant girl we rescued from the overturned mobile home earlier this afternoon. I’ve thought of her a dozen times throughout the day but never made the time to call and check on her condition.
I hear Tomasetti moving around the kitchen. Water running. Cabinets opening and closing. Pulling out my phone, I go to the sofa and sit, punch in the number of Pomerene Hospital from memory. I’m put on hold several times before I finally reach the ER. In most cases, hospital personnel will not release patient information to non–family members. But because the circumstances are far from ordinary and I’m a public official with a need for statistics, I’m hoping someone will talk to me, at least in general terms.
“Hi, Chief Burkholder. This is Cat Morrow. How can I help you?”
I’ve met Cat on several occasions over the years. I don’t know her well, but we’ve exchanged pleasantries. “An infant girl and her mother were brought in earlier this afternoon,” I tell her. “The baby’s name is Lucy. Last name Kester. I’m wondering if you can tell me how they’re doing.”
“As you can imagine, it’s been a madhouse all day. Let me check.” I hear the click of computer keys on the other end. “Here we go: Paula Kester and her child, Lucy Kester. Looks like mama is fine. Going to be released in the morning.” More computer keys clicking. “And Lucy Kester. Four-month-old female.” A pause, then, “Hmmm. Chief, I’m sorry, but the baby passed away two hours ago.…”