Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray
with Bonus Material
The Secrets of Crittenden County
Shelley Shepard Gray
To Cindy. Thank you for believing in me.
I will call to you whenever I’m in trouble, and you will answer me.
It’s better to make new mistakes than to repeat old ones.
“Perry was the sort to say one thing and do the exact opposite. But surely most boys are like that?”
espite her reservations, Abby Anderson cut through the Millers’ land. Crooked Creek was rising, which meant the low-lying areas were at risk for flooding. But the Amish family’s property was right in between the high school and her house, and crossing the Millers’ fields instead of going around saved a lot of time. Besides, it wasn’t like she had much of a choice. If she wanted to hang out with Jessica and Emily, she needed to get over her fear of trespassing.
“Hurry, Abby! If we don’t get to the thicket of trees fast, someone from school is going to see us,” Jessica called over her shoulder.
Abby bit her tongue so she wouldn’t blurt out that they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Especially not so they could sit around and smoke. With every step, she felt worse about her decision.
But she couldn’t change her mind now.
Right as they got near the thicket, a light rain started falling, soaking her sweatshirt and making her hair frizz. Well, of course it was raining. Did it ever
rain in March in Kentucky?
They tromped on. Deeper into the woods, closer to the swollen creek—following Jessica, who was heading toward what looked like a pile of logs and rocks. Abby tried not to look as nervous as she felt. But with every step, she half expected to hear Mr. Miller yell at them in Pennsylvania Dutch.
Everyone knew he didn’t like people trespassing on his property.
“Hey, you think we should maybe turn around?”
“No.” Jessica said as she pulled out her pack of cigarettes and popped one in between her lips. “Your problem, Abby, is that you need to learn to relax.”
As she approached the pile of rubble, Abby knew relaxing wasn’t her problem. Her problem was that she was trying too hard to fit in, to make friends with girls she had nothing in common with.
“Come on, Abby. Sit down,” Emily said as she perched on one of the biggest rocks, her feet balancing on a nearby pile of wood. After lighting up, she leaned back on her elbows. “This is the perfect hiding spot. I bet a lot of kids have hung out here, doing stuff they shouldn’t.” She waggled her brows. “I bet even
Jessica tossed a stub down before lighting up another Marlboro. “Well, I don’t know what they’d be doing. Singing Amish songs?”
Emily giggled. “That’s what they do, right? Sing when they date?”
Abby rolled her eyes as her two girlfriends started singing off key. She knew “singings” were when Amish teenagers got together on Sunday nights. Sure, they sang—but they goofed off, too. And just hung out.
But she knew her girlfriends could care less about that.
What she really wished was that they’d stop singing so no one would hear them. Or that they’d want to stop smoking and get out of the rain.
Or that she was brave enough to just go home.
She sighed as Emily passed over the Marlboros and lighter. Nervously, she took a cigarette and lit it. But after two experimental puffs, Abby started to feel sick. She didn’t want to smoke, and she didn’t want to get in trouble.
“Look, I’m just going to go home. If my parents find out that I didn’t come straight home from school, I’m going to get grounded again.”
But instead of waving her off, Jessica gave her a look, then grabbed Abby’s backpack. “Nope,” she said coldly. “You’ve got to stay here.”
“Jess, I’ve got to go.”
“Come on. Hand it over.”
“How about you come get it?” Jessica said with a grin.
Tired of the game, Abby reached out. But as soon as she did, Jessica turned and threw the backpack behind her. Hard.
Abby watched as it sailed through the air and disappeared into the brush about twenty feet away. “Jess, c’mon. I can’t believe you threw it in the dirt.”
“It’s no big deal. Just get it and go home.”
Too upset to speak, Abby stomped over to where she saw the bag land. As the rain fell, she swiped the wet hair from her eyes and started searching through the brush.
But she didn’t see her backpack anywhere.
Bending down, she pulled some brush away, uncovering a gaping hole. Great. That was so her luck. Only
backpack would get tossed down some ditch on the Millers’ land.
She got on her hands and knees to see how deep the hole went and whether her bag was at the bottom. Leaning over, she spotted the orange knapsack . . . on top of a crumpled body.
When she screamed, the other girls came running.
And then the three of them just stood there. Staring at her orange backpack and a dead Amish guy in a hole.
Under a pile of brush. In the middle of the Millers’ farm.
Where they never should have been in the first place.
eputy Sheriff Mose Kramer wearily pulled off of Turkey Knob Road and made a left onto Fords Ferry. He’d already surveyed most of the surrounding area around where Perry Borntrager’s body had been discovered but wasn’t any closer to understanding what had happened to the guy.
It looked like someone had bashed him on the head with a brick or rock and tossed him down the abandoned well. Later, the medical examiner confirmed that Perry had died from an injury to the head, and that his body had been in that hole for quite a while before Abby Anderson discovered him.
Perhaps two months.
That was all he knew thus far. Very little evidence had been found near and around the body. To make matters worse, the rain didn’t seem to have any interest in stopping, which had made the creek swell. Well, guess that’s what you get with springtime in Kentucky.
In addition, after months of speculation that the boy had jumped the fence and was living in the city, his friends and neighbors had suddenly become closemouthed. No one was talking, not even the Millers, on whose property the body had been found.
His truck slid a little on a patch of gravel and he rode the brake, slowing the truck just in time to see a wild turkey pecking at the ground to his right. There was no one around, an abandoned trailer beside the road, and no cars behind him, so he stopped completely and, for a spell, watched the turkey through the constant drizzle of rain.
The turkey’s appearance, so out of place yet hopelessly familiar, felt like his own in the county. He’d grown up Amish off of Highway 91, and had lived barefoot for most of his life, until he was fourteen. He’d gone to school, helped at his parents’ farm—but had always wanted to be someone different.
Now he was. He’d gone to the University of Cincinnati, studied criminal justice, and graduated with a degree and his certification. Got a job in Clermont County, then saw the posting for the sheriff’s department in Crittenden County. On a whim, he applied for the job. When he was called out to interview, he’d been delighted.
Getting offered the job felt right.
But he soon learned there were complications in becoming the sheriff in the county you grew up in. He knew too many people. Knew too many stories. Was too entrenched with the rhythms of life around the town of Marion. It was obvious they were counting on that, too. People were keeping secrets. Maybe they felt guilty. They’d all assumed the worst when Perry first disappeared, jumping to the conclusion that’d he’d given up their way of life.
All Mose knew was he needed help. The sheriff’s office was short-handed—and, besides, none of his staff had had to deal with this kind of investigation before.
As he turned back to the road and started the drive back to Marion, Mose knew it was time to pick up the phone and give an old buddy a call. Luke Reynolds had just made detective in the Cincinnati Police Department. As luck would
have it, he was also on leave, recovering from a gunshot wound.
If Mose played his cards right, he was going to get Luke to come help him out. For free.
Two Days Later
“Lydia?” her mother called out softly. “Lydia, won’t you please join us for breakfast?”
Caught in the middle of pinning the front of her dress, she spat out the remaining pins she’d been holding between her lips so she could speak. “I’ll be down soon, Mamm.”
“When will that be? It’s already after six, daughter.”
Reality set in. Six in the morning might as well have been noon at their house. Since they owned a thriving farm and greenhouse nursery, each one of them got up before dawn in order to tend to the many chores that awaited.
Lydia had done just that for as long as she could remember. It was her way of life, and it was all that mattered.
Well, until she’d heard that Perry’s body had been found in an abandoned well.
Now it felt like nothing mattered at all.
Just as she was neatly tying her black apron over her violet dress, her little sister, Becky, knocked on the door. “Lydia, you want eggs and sausages?”
“I do,” she said as she opened the door. “Tell Mamm I’ll be right there. All I need to do now is put on my
Becky looked doubtful. “And then you’ll finally come downstairs?”
“Yep.” When Becky turned away, Lydia carefully picked up her pressed
and pinned it over her hair. Now she was ready for the day. Even if she didn’t feel that way inside. Blinking hard, Lydia tried her best to calm herself before descending the stairs. If she cried anymore, she was going to get sick.
But knowing Perry was dead was still such a shock. He’d been her first boyfriend. He’d given her her very first kiss. And though she’d broken things off with him in November, she still felt like part of her heart was missing.
Her family stilled as she entered the kitchen. All five of them were sitting around the large oak table like they always had. But their worried expressions were new.
Though she hadn’t thought it was possible, she felt even more ill at ease. “I’m sorry I’m late.”
“Will you be fit to work today?” her father asked.
The plants and the work always came first. “
. As soon as I eat, I’ll head out to the greenhouse. I can put in a full day’s work, for sure.”
A long moment passed as both her parents studied her closely.
her father said finally. “That is
Lydia supposed it
good that she was getting back to her normal routine. But she knew that inside, she felt anything but normal.
wo hours later, she was on her hands and knees under one of the long tables in the greenhouse, her arms elbow deep in potting soil. As the rich, dark dirt surrounded her skin, she breathed deeply. This was familiar. The dirt and the plants and the earthy smell were what she knew.
“Excuse me? Are you Lydia Plank?” an
asked from the doorway.
“I am.” Carefully, she pulled her hands out of the bin and shook off the remaining dirt that stuck between her fingers. “But we’re not open yet. We don’t open until nine.”
His expression set, the dark-haired man stepped inside with a bit of a limp. He looked at her carefully. “I’m not here for plants. I came to speak to you, if I may.”
Foreboding churned in her belly as she slowly got to her feet. “Yes?”
“My name is Luke Reynolds, Lydia. I’m a detective from Cincinnati.”
“From Ohio?” Brushing off the last crumbs of dirt from her apron, she straightened. “What do you want with me?”
“I’m a friend of one of the county’s deputies,” he said.
She shook her head. “I’m afraid I don’t know too many of the English.”
“His name is Mose Kramer.” He smiled slightly. “Ring a bell now? He grew up off of 91.” Before she could comment, he continued: “Mose and I are old friends, and given that you don’t have too many suspicious deaths around here, he asked me to help out with the investigation. I’m on leave at my job due to this bum leg.” Because she still must have looked confused, he added bluntly. “I’m here to look into Perry Borntrager’s death.”
Her mouth went dry. “I . . . I don’t understand.”
’s mouth tightened, as if it was paining him to speak. “The county coroner determined Perry Borntrager’s death wasn’t accidental.”
“You’re saying he’s been murdered?”
“Yeah,” he said with a nod, his eyes grave. “Perry died when he was hit on the back of his head with a rock.”
She felt herself struggling to breathe. “I canna talk now.”
“I’m sorry if I shocked you but we need to continue.”
Her heart was racing. This was a true nightmare. As tears pricked her eyes, she found herself begging. “Please? May I, I mean, may we do this tomorrow?”
“I’m sorry, but no.” He pulled out a pad of paper. “Lydia, since the two of you used to date, I’m hoping you can answer some questions.”
“I don’t know if I can.” Looking around, she searched for her parents. Or her brother, or even customers. But instead of finding support, she found she was alone.
The man stepped forward, his cheeks already turning red from the warm, humid air of the greenhouse. “Is there somewhere outside where we can talk?” He smiled slightly as he waved a hand in front of his face. “Some place where it’s a little cooler? It shouldn’t take too long.”
Her hands began to tremble as she nodded. “We can go to our bench by the oak, if that’s all right?”
“Sure. You lead the way.”
Her heart sinking, Lydia led the man outside, wondering how much he knew . . . and how much she could keep secret.
hough he was only three years older than his sister Abby, Walker Anderson felt like he was double that. Ever since his little sister had been found with two other girls screaming and crying in the middle of the Millers’ land, she’d been in a daze.
There didn’t seem to be anything he could say to her that would make her feel better.
But still, he had to try. “You really should go to school today. It will be easier in the long run.”
“Walker, all anyone’s going to do is ask me about Perry. Plus, I’m a senior, it’s not like anything matters now, anyway.” Eyes almost identical to his own sparkled with pain. “I wish I was you. I wish I was in college instead of high school.”