Linda Castillo's bestselling series has been called "gripping" [People] and "impossible to put down" [Bookpage] and the "teeth chattering suspense" [USA Today] continues with GONE MISSING―a deeply chilling novel about a rite of passage gone horribly wrong.
Rumspringa is the time when Amish teens are allowed to experience life without the rules. It's an exciting time of personal discovery and growth before committing to the church. But when a young teen disappears without a trace, the carefree fun comes to an abrupt and sinister end, and fear spreads through the community like a contagion.
A missing child is a nightmare to all parents, and never more so than in the Amish community, where family ties run deep. When the search for the presumed runaway turns up a dead body, the case quickly becomes a murder investigation. And chief of Police Kate Burkholder knows that in order to solve this case she will have to call upon everything she has to give not only as a cop, but as a woman whose own Amish roots run deep.
Kate and state agent, John Tomasetti, delve into the lives of the missing teen and discover links to cold cases that may go back years. But will Kate piece together all the parts of this sinister puzzle in time to save the missing teen and the Amish community from a devastating fate? Or will she find herself locked in a fight to the death with a merciless killer?
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New York Times bestselling author Linda Castillo lives in Texas with her husband and is currently at work on her next book in this series, also set in Amish Country and featuring Chief of Police Kate Burkholder.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
GONE MISSING. (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.
“I just took a nine one one for some kind of disturbance,” she tells me.
“What’s the twenty?”
Images of drunk and disorderly teenagers flash in my mind’s eye and I groan inwardly. The Tuscarawas Bridge is a favorite hangout for some of the local youths to “chill.” As of late, some of that so-called chilling has deteriorated to other unsavory activities, like underage drinking, fighting, and drug use—and I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A week ago, one of my officers busted the mayor’s seventeen-year-old son with an ounce of weed and a meth pipe. The mayor hasn’t spoken to me since. But I know the conversation is coming. Probably in the form of a request I won’t be able to grant.
I glance at the clock on my dash and restrain a sigh. Eight A.M. “They’re starting early.”
“Or staying late.”
“Who called it in?”
“Randy Trask was on his way to work and said there was some kind of ruckus.”
Muttering beneath my breath, I swing right, hang a U-turn in the middle of the road, and hit the accelerator. “Is Trask still there?”
“He left, Chief. Had to get to work.”
I sigh. “I’m ten-seventy-six.”
The Tuscarawas covered bridge is a Painters Mill icon and of substantial historical significance. It was built in 1868, fell to ruin during the Depression, and was refurbished at the expense of the taxpayers and a donation from the Painters Mill Historical Society in 1981. Constructed of wood and painted barn red, it spans 125 feet across Painters Creek. The bridge is a tourist attraction and has been the topic of many a town council meeting, mainly due to the fact that a few local graffiti artistes have declared it fair game—and my department has yet to catch a single one. It’s located on a little-used asphalt road that cuts through bottomland that’s prone to flooding in the spring. The surrounding woods are dense with century-old hardwood trees and a summer’s growth of underbrush—the perfect locale for a multitude of illicit activities.
It takes me five minutes to reach the bridge. I slow as I approach its yawning red mouth. To my right, I can just make out a footpath cut into the forest, and I know there have been plenty of people hoofing it down to the creek bank to fish or swim or whatever the hell it is they do there.
A jacked-up Chevy Nova with wide tires and a spoiler at the rear is parked on the gravel turnout, its oxidized paint glinting dully in the morning sun. Next to it, an ancient Bonneville with a patchwork of Bondo on the front quarter panel squats on the shoulder like some armored dinosaur. The driver’s side door is open and the coarse echo of techno-rock booms out so loudly, my windows vibrate. I see two more cars parked on the other side of the bridge. I peer ahead and see, cloaked in the shadows of the covered bridge, the silhouettes of a couple of dozen young people grouped into a tight circle.
I pulse my siren a couple of times to get their attention. Some look my way. Others are so embroiled in whatever’s going on, they don’t even notice. Or maybe they don’t care.
I park behind the Nova, shut down the engine, and hail Mona. “I’m ten-twenty-three.”
“What’s going on out there, Chief?”
“I’d lay odds on a fight.” I’ve just opened my door, when a scream echoes from within the bridge. “Shit,” I mutter. “Is Glock there yet?”
“Just walked in.”
“Get him out here, will you?”
Racking the mike, I slip out of the car and hit the ground running. Several of the teens look up and scatter as I approach, and I catch a glimpse of two people on the ground, locked in battle. The agitated crowd throbs around them, shouting, egging them on, as if they’ve bet their life savings on some bloody dogfight.
“Police!” I shout, my boots crisp against the wood planks. “Back off ! Break it up! Right now!”
Faces turn my way. Some are familiar; most are not. I see flashes of surprise in young eyes alight with something a little too close to bloodlust. Cruelty in its most primal form. Pack mentality, I realize, and that disturbs me almost as much as the fight.
I thrust myself into the crowd, using my forearms to move people aside. “Step away! Now!”
A teenage boy with slumped shoulders and a raw-looking outbreak of acne on his cheeks glances at me and takes a step back. Another boy is so caught up in the fight, he doesn’t notice my approach and repeatedly jabs the air with his fist, chanting, “Beat that bitch!” A black-haired girl wearing a purple halter top that’s far too small for her bustline lands a kick at one of the fighters. “Break her face, you fuckin’ ho!”
I elbow past two boys not much bigger than I am, and I get my first unobstructed look at the epicenter of the chaos. Two teenage girls are going at it with the no-holds-barred frenzy of veteran barroom brawlers. Hands grapple with clothes and hair. Nails slash at faces. I hear animalistic grunts, the sound of ripping fabric, and the wet-meat slap of fists connecting with flesh.
“Get off me, bitch!”
I bend, slam my hands down on the shoulders of the girl on top. “Police,” I say. “Stop fighting.”
She’s a big-boned girl and outweighs me by about twenty pounds. Moving her is like trying to peel a starving lion off a fresh kill. When she doesn’t acquiesce, I dig my fingers into her collarbone, put some muscle into it, and haul her back. “Stop resisting!”
“Get off me!” Blinded by rage, the girl tries to shake off my hands. “I’m going to kill this bitch!”
“Not on my watch.” I put my body weight into the effort and yank her back hard. Her shirt tears beneath my hands. She reels backward and lands on her butt at my feet. She tries to get her legs under her, but I press her down.
“Calm down.” I give her a shake to let her know I’m serious.
Ignoring me, she crab-walks forward and lashes out at the other girl with her foot, trying to get in a final kick. I wrap my hands around her bicep and drag her back several feet. “That’s enough! Now cut it out.”
“She started it!” she screams.
Concerned that I’m going to lose control of the situation before backup ar...
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