Gone Missing (Kate Burkholder 4)

 

I have been lucky enough to tour with several of the books in the Kate Burkholder series and I must say it has been one of the highlights of my career.

I’d like to dedicate this book to the booksellers, librarians, reviewers, readers, and bloggers who have attended my events, bought the books, written reviews, blogged about the books, and written me to share your thoughts.

I very much appreciate each and every one of you.

 
CONTENTS
 

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

EPILOGUE

 
PROLOGUE
 

Becca had always known her life would end in tragedy. As a child, she couldn’t speak to her certainty of her fate or explain how she could foresee such a thing. She believed in providence, and it came as no surprise when she realized she would also die young.

When she was seven years old, she asked her
mamm
about death. Her mother told her that when people die, they go to live with God. The answer pleased Becca immensely. It gave her great comfort, knowing what she did about her destiny. After that day, not once did she fear the closeness or inevitability of her mortality.

Now, eight years later, as she stood on the frozen shore of Mohawk Lake and stared across the vast expanse of ice, her mother’s words calmed the fear that had been building inside her for days. Dusk had fallen, and the lake was a monochrome world in which sky and horizon blended to a gray smear, one barely discernible from the other. A dozen or more ice-fishing shanties dotted the lake’s surface. Yellow light glowed in one of the windows. But the others were dark, telling her the
Englischer
fishermen had gone home for the day.

The wind scored Becca’s skin through the covering of her wool coat as she stepped onto the ice. Blowing snow whispered across the jagged plane and stung her face like sand. The hem of her dress was frozen and stiff and scraped against her bare calves. She’d been walking for quite some time and could no longer feel her hands or feet. But those petty discomforts didn’t matter. Soon she’d be home, and she didn’t have much farther to go.

Becca loved this lake. Summer or winter—it didn’t matter. When she was a little girl, her
datt
bought her and her brother ice skates and they’d spent many a winter afternoon playing hockey. By spring, she could skate faster than any of her Amish friends, even faster than her older brother. He hadn’t liked being shown up by a girl. But her
datt
would laugh and clap his hands and tell her she could fly. His praise, such a rarity, always made her feel special. Like she mattered and her achievements, regardless of how small, were important.

The lake became her special place, her hideaway from the rest of the world, away from her troubles. It was the place where she learned to dream. No one could catch her when she was on the ice. No one could touch her. No one could hurt her.

Only he had.

When Becca was nine years old, her brother found her sitting on the stump, lacing her skates. He’d knocked her down and ground her face into the snow, and then he took her right there on the frozen bank. And from that day forward, Becca knew she was doomed.

Later, when her
mamm
asked about the cut on her cheek, Becca told her what her brother had done. It wasn’t the first time and, as always,
Mamm
blamed Becca.
You should have fought harder. You should have prayed more. You should be more forgiving.
She ended the conversation by asking Becca to confess her sins to the bishop.

The memory brought tears to Becca’s eyes. How could her brother’s actions be her fault? Had she somehow tempted him? Was there something wrong with her? Was God punishing her for being unable to forgive? Or was this simply her lot in life?

Snow crunched beneath her shoes as she made her way across the ice. Becca was nearly to the center of the lake when she stumbled over a fissure and went to her hands and knees. The cold bit into her skin with the intensity of a thousand blades. She knew it was stupid, but she began to cry. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She wasn’t supposed to be scared, and she hadn’t expected to feel so alone.

A little voice reminded her it wasn’t too late to turn back. Her warm bed in her little attic bedroom waited for her at home.
Mamm
and
Datt
didn’t have to know she’d ventured out. But Becca knew there were other things waiting for her at home. Bad things that had been happening to her since she was three years old, when her brother had slipped his hand into her panties and told her not to cry.

Becca knew what she was about to do was a sin. But she also knew God would forgive her. She knew He would welcome her to heaven with open arms and love her unconditionally for all of eternity. How could that be wrong?

Rising, she looked around to get her bearings. Behind her, the trees near the shore were barely visible. Farther out, the silhouette of an ice-fishing shanty shimmered like a mirage in the fading light. Brushing snow from her coat, she started toward the structure. Constructed of wood with a single window and tin chimney, the shanty reminded her of a tall, skinny doghouse. She knew sometimes English fishermen spent the night on the lake. But there was no telltale glow of lantern light. No ribbon of smoke rising from the chimney. This one was vacant. It would do.

Becca slogged through a deep drift and stumbled toward the front of the shanty. A padlock hung from the hasp, but it wasn’t engaged. Shaking with cold, she shoved open the door. The interior was dark and hushed. The air smelled of kerosene and fish. Out of the wind, it was so quiet that she could hear the ice creaking beneath her feet.

Her breaths puffing out in clouds of white vapor, she pulled out the candle and matches she’d brought from home and lit the wick. The light revealed a small interior with plywood walls and a shelf covered with fish blood and a smattering of silver scales. A lantern sat on the shelf. A coil of rope hung on the wall.

Becca crossed to the shelf and set the candle next to the lantern. Turning, she surveyed the floor. Someone had covered the fishing hole with a square of plywood. Bending, she dragged the wood aside. The hole was about fourteen inches in diameter and crusted over with new ice.

She looked around for something with which to break it, but there wasn’t much in the way of tools. A broken concrete block. A plastic box of fishhooks. Empty beer cans. Then she spotted the hand auger in the corner. Kneeling, she picked it up and used it to break the thin crust.

When the hole was open, Becca crossed to the bench, lifted the rope from its hook, and uncoiled it. It was about twelve feet long and frayed on both ends. Her hands shook as she tied one end of it around her waist. She didn’t let herself think as she secured the other end to the concrete block.

Kneeling next to the hole in the ice, Becca bowed her head and silently recited the Lord’s Prayer. She asked God to take care of her
mamm
and
datt
. She asked Him to ease their grief in the coming days. She asked Him to forgive her brother for what he’d done to her most of her life. Finally, she asked God to forgive her for the sin she was about to commit. She closed her eyes and prayed harder than she’d ever prayed in her life, hoping it was enough.

When she was finished, Becca rose, picked up the rope, and lowered the concrete block into the hole, watching it disappear into the black depths. She thought of the journey before her and her chest swelled—not with fear, but with the utter certainty that soon all would be right.

Standing at the edge of the hole, she closed her eyes, stepped forward, and plunged into the water.

 
CHAPTER 1
 

My
mamm
once told me that some places are too beautiful for anything bad to happen. When I was a kid, I believed those words with all of my young heart. I lived my life in a state of ignorant bliss, oblivious to the evils that lurked like frothy-mouthed predators outside the imaginary gates of our small Amish community. The English world with its mysterious and forbidden charms seemed like a million miles away from our perfect little corner of the earth. I had no way of knowing that some predators come from within and beauty has absolutely nothing to do with the crimes men commit.

Ohio’s Amish country is a mosaic of quaint farms, rolling hills dissected by razor-straight rows of corn, lush hardwood forests, and pastures so green that you’d swear you had stepped into a Bill Coleman photograph. This morning, with the sun punching through the final vestiges of fog and the dew sparkling like quicksilver on the tall grass of a hay field, I think of my
mamm’s
words and I understand how she could believe them.

But I’m a cop now and not easily swayed by appearances, no matter how convincing the facade. My name is Kate Burkholder and I’ve been the police chief of Painters Mill for about three years now. I was born here to Amish parents in a one-hundred-year-old farmhouse set on sixty acres of northeastern Ohio’s rich, glaciated soil. I grew up Plain—no electricity, no motorized vehicles. Up until the age of fourteen, I was a typical Amish girl—innocent, God-loving, content in the way most Amish children are. My future, my very destiny, had been preordained by my gender and the religion bestowed upon me by my parents. All of that changed on a postcard-perfect summer day much like this one when fate introduced me to the dark side of human nature. I learned at a formative age that even on perfect, sunny days, bad things happen.

I try not to let my view of the world affect the way I do my job. Most of the time, I succeed. Sometimes I feel all that cynicism pressing in, coloring my perceptions, perhaps unfairly. But far too often, my general distrust of mankind serves me well.

I’m idling down Hogpath Road in my city-issue Explorer with my window down and a to-go cup of coffee between my knees. I’ve just come off the graveyard shift, having covered for one of my officers while he visited his folks in Michigan. I’m tired, but it’s a good tired. The kind that comes with the end of an uneventful shift. No speeders. No domestic disputes. No loose livestock wreaking havoc on the highway. When you’ve been a cop for any length of time, you learn to appreciate the small things.

I’m thinking about a hot shower and eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, when my radio crackles. “Chief? You there?”

I reach for the mike. “What’s up, Mona?”

Mona Kurtz is my third-shift dispatcher. She’s been part of my small police department from day one, and despite her Lady Gaga-esque wardrobe and decidedly uncoplike manner, she’s a good fit. A night owl by nature, she keeps things interesting when the shift is slow—which is usually the case—but when the situation calls for it, she’s all business and a true benefit to the department.

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