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Authors: Vannetta Chapman

A Perfect Square

BOOK: A Perfect Square
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a Perfect
Square

a Shipshewana Amish Mystery

Vannetta Chapman

To my father-in-law, George Robert Chapman

Chapter 1

Shipshewana, Indiana
Late October

“L
ESS THAN TWO WEEKS UNTIL THE WEDDING.”
Deborah Yoder glanced once at Esther, then focused again on the dirt lane, her horse Cinnamon, and guiding the buggy down the rutted path.

On both sides of them, fields of fall corn rose, golden and plump, ready for harvest. They shaded the lane so that the midmorning sun broke through in a slatted fashion, as if it were winking at them.

Joshua and Leah spoke in hushed tones from the backseat, caught up in some game that children play. It never failed to amaze Deborah how they managed to find amusement in the smallest things. Yesterday it had been twisting stalks of corn shucks into absurd figures.

When Esther didn’t comment, Deborah looked at her friend again. Esther’s hands clutched the casserole bowl firmly, but she managed a radiant smile.


Ya
. Less than two weeks. One part of me wishes it were tomorrow. That I could wake up and we would be living our life together, as man and wife.”

“And the other part?”

“The other part agrees with Tobias. There’s still much to do before he moves into my home. We’re not ready, and as much as
I’d like to wish the days away, I know it’s all a part of the season and something I won’t want to forget. Less than two weeks. I should be grateful for each day, as Tobias reminds me.”

Deborah smiled as she began circling the small pond at the far end of Tobias and his cousin Reuben’s place — actually it was their
grossdaddi
’s place, but they’d been farming it for the last several years. “Tobias has become quite industrious since he asked you to marry him. He’s always been a hard worker, but in the last few months it’s as if he’s a man on a mission. He wants everything to be perfect.”

“I know. He’s working even more hours at the feed store, and he still needs to help with the harvest.” Esther’s hands worried over the top of the casserole dish. “That’s why I wanted to bring them dinner. I’m not sure they eat well with Reuben’s cooking.”

Deborah laughed out loud, causing both children to pop up and hang over the front seat. “I’ve no doubt they’ll be glad you made the chicken and potatoes. They don’t strike me as
wunderbaar
cooks. Reuben burned the
kaffi
the last few times I stopped by. I wouldn’t fuss over them too much though. I think the women in their family bring them dinners fairly often.”

“I spoke with Tobias’ mother Saturday when I saw her in town. No one was coming by tonight so — “ Esther reached out and clutched Deborah’s arm. “Could you stop the buggy? Just for a moment?”

Following her friend’s gaze, Deborah immediately spied the tall bunches of wildflowers growing on the pond’s southwestern side.

Black-eyed Susans swayed among autumn goldenrods, dipping and rising beside the blue water of the small pond in the late October morning. Nearly buried in switchgrass that was close to three-feet tall, Deborah was surprised they were able to see the cluster of wildflowers at all. If they hadn’t been riding in the buggy, they would have missed the beautiful sight, which looked to Deborah like colors from a patchwork quilt.

Esther’s fingers tightened their grasp on her arm. “Can we stop?”

“We don’t have to be at Daisy’s Quilt Shop for another hour. Let’s pick a few.”

“Callie will love them,” Esther agreed.

“And when they’re dried, you can keep the seeds for your garden.” Deborah pulled the buggy to the side, noticing that Cinnamon was acting a bit nervous, tossing her head and dancing to the right of the road. “Whoa, girl.”

“Will she be okay?” Esther asked, even as she pulled small quilting scissors out of her sewing bag.

“I’m sure. I’ll stay here. You go and gather the flowers.”

“Later I’ll regret using sewing scissors for gardening.”

“Callie will have cleaning solution, and you’ll only snip a few. You use those for thread, not cloth. It will be fine.”

“I want to go,
Mamm
.” Leah’s sweet little face peeped forward from the backseat toward her mother, Esther. She had recently turned three and had come out of her shell quite a bit over the last few months — perhaps because her mother was no longer so sad. Perhaps because her mother was
in lieb.

Deborah’s little Joshua wasn’t far behind her.

“Josh go,” he said, struggling to crawl out of the buggy.

Deborah studied her son. He’d recently turned eighteen months old, and some days she worried that he’d be the last baby she’d ever hold in her arms. “You? I thought you’d stay with me and Cinnamon.”

“Josh go,” he repeated stubbornly. He continued to reach past her, knocking the wool cap loose from his head in his attempt to climb out of the buggy and follow Leah. He was at the stage where he imitated Leah or Mary or his twin brothers every chance he got.

With a sigh, Deborah set him on the ground and tugged once on his cap before he darted away. Joshua smiled up at her, cap askew, pointed at the mare, and declared, “Ceemon.”

The horse shook her head again, rattling the harness.

“I’ll look after Cinnamon,” Deborah said as she followed them around the buggy and stood with her hand on the mare. “You two go with Esther, but stay close to her and come back as soon as she says. We’re going to see Miss Callie this morning.”

Esther allowed each child to clasp one of her hands as they walked toward the flowers by the water’s edge.

Deborah kept one eye on them as they wound their way through the tall grass, but another part of her mind was focusing on the mare. She ran one hand down her neck, whispering and stroking, attempting to calm her. Still, Cinnamon shook her harness and tried to pull away. Deborah ran a hand down the length of the mare’s leg, wondering if perhaps she had something lodged in one of her hooves. She’d seemed fine trotting down the lane.

“Easy, girl. What’s wrong?” Patting the mare’s neck, Deborah found that the horse was actually trembling. Sweat slicked her coat though the morning was cool.

Deborah’s own heart rate kicked up a notch as she responded to the mare’s anxiety.

Maybe she had missed something. Perhaps there was a snake nearby or an animal carcass in the weeds. Deborah was scanning the surrounding area looking for the cause of Cinnamon’s anxiety when she noticed where the dry grass was stamped down to the north. It looked as if someone had traveled the opposite direction of Esther and the children, though still heading toward the water, sometime earlier. The path that had been beaten down was wider than footsteps — smaller than a buggy.

Like something had been dragged.

The path extended well past the area where Deborah had stopped with the buggy …

She glanced back to where Esther still stooped among the flowers and the children played.

Yes, the path led to the opposite end of the pond. Deborah was
surprised she hadn’t noticed it earlier, but she’d been focused on the flowers. It was hard to imagine that Tobias and Reuben had taken the time to come out here, unless they’d been fishing. But Tobias had been so busy working double shifts at the feed store and on the farm, which had left Reuben pulling extra weight in the fields.

She focused again on the scene, tried to find the piece she was missing.

Esther and the children stood beside the water, snipping flower stems.

A slight breeze stirred the water.

Geese crossed the blue autumn sky, heading north, their cry piercing the morning, then fading, leaving it quiet but not peaceful.

Cinnamon tossed her head one more time, nearly pulling the harness out of Deborah’s hand, when the morning’s silence was broken by Esther’s scream.

Callie Harper clomped down the stairs from her apartment to her quilt shop, tugging at her long, plain, dark green dress with one hand and readjusting the tie to her apron with the other. Oh, how Rick would laugh to see her now. There were a lot of things her husband would be amused to know about her new life. There wasn’t a day since he’d died that she didn’t miss him, didn’t wish he could share things with her. This though … oh, he would laugh about the dress.

She wanted to reach up and scratch under the
kapp
on her head, but it had taken so long to corral her shoulder-length dark hair underneath the white bonnet, she didn’t want to displace any of it.

When she turned the corner into the shop’s main room, her yellow Labrador, Max, let out a whine and placed his head on his paws.

Lydia, the seventeen-year-old girl who worked for her full time now and was currently helping her stock, dissolved into a torrent of giggles.

“Why are you laughing?” Callie spun in a circle. “Don’t I look exactly like you?”

“No.” Lydia collapsed onto the stool behind the counter. “You do not look like me at all.”

“But I pinned the dress right.”


Ya.

“And I put the apron on correctly, though I don’t know how you manage to tie it in the back just so. I had the hardest time with that.”

“The tie is fine.”

“It’s the
kapp
, isn’t it? My hair isn’t long like yours, but it still didn’t want to stay in.” She moved to a mirror that ran along the top of a fabric display. As she suspected, her dark hair had begun to escape from various corners of the white
kapp.
She looked nothing like the neat Amish women who were her friends.

She looked like what she was: an imposter.

“I don’t think the
kapp
or the clothing is the problem.” Lydia propped her chin on her hand and studied her employer. “It’s not our clothes that make us Amish. It’s obvious you’re only pretending — an
Englischer
in plain clothing.”

“Fix me.” Callie’s hands flapped at her side. “I have to sneak into Mrs. Knepp’s store. To do that, I need to look plain.”

“Why?”

“Because.”

“I like how you normally dress. Why can’t you look
Englisch
?”

“She’s suspicious of all
Englischers.

“Mrs. Knepp is suspicious of everyone — Amish or
Englisch
.” Lydia hopped off the stool and joined Callie in front of the narrow mirror.

“You look a bit like her. Mrs. Knepp is exactly your size, only much older.”

“She’s ancient and her eyesight is poor. If I wear this, maybe she won’t recognize me.” Callie squinted her eyes at the mirror. “No doubt she does a better job taming her hair.”

Carefully pulling the hairpins away one by one, Lydia removed the
kapp
, freeing her boss’s dark curls.

“Now I look like a prairie girl,” Callie said.


Ya
. You should change before a delivery happens by. And we wouldn’t want Trent McCallister to happen in and snap a picture of you in this dress, then splash it across the front page of the
Shipshewana Gazette
.”

Both girls turned to look at the framed photo of Callie, Deborah, and Max. The words “Burglar Apprehended” were printed in large letters under their names. Max padded over and pushed his head between their legs, as if he understood what they were staring at.

“Those were the days, right boy?” Callie reached down and rubbed the Labrador between his ears, pausing to adjust his orange-colored bandana. She might as well change back into her clothes. She preferred to match Max’s wardrobe to hers — though she knew it was silly. Alongside her green dress, his orange bandana looked like something out of her fall window display. They didn’t clash exactly, but it wasn’t the look she aimed for when she picked out their wardrobe. She had a nice brown jumper that would be perfect. “I’m not worried about Trent. I’m worried about Mrs. Knepp. She hates me, and I don’t know why.”

“You can’t please everyone. That’s what my
grossmammi
says.”

“We’re losing customers because of her.” Callie walked to the counter and straightened the stack of flyers announcing her weekly sales. “I don’t mind competition, but this is growing nasty. We could work with each other instead of against each other. Her store is different than mine. We could be referring customers to each other if she weren’t so stubborn.”

“You said last month’s profit was better than ever. The best since you reopened the store five months ago.”

“True, but — “

The door to the shop burst open and Trent McCallister nearly fell through it. Wearing jeans and a long-sleeved Harley T-shirt, with a souped-up Nikon digital camera slung around his neck, he looked as if he belonged on the cover of a magazine rather than in Shipshewana, Indiana. Shoulder-length sandy hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and wire-rimmed glasses completed his West Coast look.

His eyes widened at Callie’s outfit, but he didn’t comment on it. “I’m headed out to Tobias’ place. A call came in ten minutes ago over the police scanner.”

“Tobias?” Callie moved forward. When she did, Max moved with her, on alert, as if he’d been called to hunt.

“Is Tobias all right?” Lydia asked.

“I don’t know, but …”

“Is there anything we can do?” Callie began fumbling with the tie on the back of her apron.

“Callie.” Trent stepped closer and put his hand on her arm, waiting until she was still and looking directly at him. “Deborah and Esther are there.”

“They’re at Tobias’?” Callie reached for something to sit on, nearly stumbling. “But they’re all right.”

“I don’t know.”

“They have to be. Tell me there’s nothing wrong with Deborah or the children.” Her hand covered her mouth, as if to stop the words that were tumbling out. “Esther and Leah, they’re fine — “

“I’m not sure. Callie …” Again his hazel eyes sought hers. “All I know is that someone called in a fatality.”

BOOK: A Perfect Square
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