Long Lost
written by Linda Castillo and narrated by Kathleen McInerney

 

The Portage County Sheriff’s Department is located in a newish brick building adjacent to a small airport. With the exception of a couple of county vehicles, an old Volkswagen Jetta, and a sheriff’s department SUV, the parking lot is nearly empty.

Tomasetti parks in the nearest visitor spot. “Looks like a slow afternoon for local law enforcement.”

“Might bode well for us,” I say.

We take the sidewalk to the double set of glass doors and go inside. A middle-aged woman with a head full of curly black hair slides open a Plexiglas window and greets us with a wide smile. “Hi, folks. How can I help you?”

We cross to the window and Tomasetti shows her his ID. “This is actually an unofficial visit,” he tells her. “We’re looking into the disappearance of Angela Blaine.”

“Wow, that’s a blast from the past. I haven’t heard that name in a while.” She looks at me and arches a brow as if to say ‘and you?’

I show her my ID. “Agent Tomasetti and I worked on some missing persons cases last summer over in Stark County.”

“That rings a bell. You talking about the Mast case?”

I nod. “You heard about it?”

“Best story we’ve had around here since … well, since Angela Blaine disappeared.”

“We were wondering if we could take a look at the case file,” Tomasetti says.

“I can’t give you the file, but you might still be in luck. Jake Cornelius is with the detective division and he’s still here. Let me buzz him for you.”

The detective doesn’t make us wait. White haired and barely over five feet in height, Jake Cornelius looks more like somebody’s grandfather than a detective. But despite his genteel appearance, he’s got a cop’s eyes, direct and probing and just a little too straightforward.

Introductions are made and we exchange handshakes.

“Come on into my office and we’ll have us a conversation about Angela.”

We follow the detective to a decent-size office with a single window that looks out over the parking lot. He slides behind a desk adorned with a dozen or so photographs of children. He notices me admiring the photos and grins. “Grandkids. Twelve of them.”

“You have a beautiful family.”

“Thank you.” He looks at Tomasetti. “Now that your partner here has got me properly buttered up, why don’t you tell me what you want and I’ll see if I can lend a hand.”

We get a good chuckle out of that and then Tomasetti gets to the point of our visit. “We were wondering if we could take a look at the Angela Blaine file.”

He takes the request in stride, as if it’s not unusual for two out-of-town cops to ask to see a twenty-two-year-old file. “You folks just curious, or what?”

“We closed the Mast case last summer and thought we might take a look to see if we can help,” Tomasetti tells him.

“Without stepping on anyone’s jurisdictional toes,” I add.

“I thought your names sounded familiar.” He folds his hands atop the desk blotter and looks at us a little more closely. “Damn crazy case, wasn’t it?”

“Nobody expected it to turn out the way it did,” I tell him.

“Well, I hate to disappoint you, but the Blaine file is in archive at an off-site facility. I suspect you’re not going to want to wait until Monday to take a look.” He glances at his watch. “I’m happy to tell you whatever you want to know as long as it doesn’t take more than ten minutes. Granddaughter has a piano recital in half an hour and I don’t want to miss it.”

Tomasetti scoots closer to the desk. “What’s your take on the case?”

The detective grimaces. “I think that girl’s long dead.”

“What do you think happened to her?” I ask.

“I think that son of a bitch Tuck Miles did it.” He studies me for a moment. “I couldn’t prove it. Mainly because I could never poke any holes in that alibi of his. One of the most frustrating cases I’ve ever worked.”

“Is it possible his boss lied?” I ask. “Covered for him?”

“It wasn’t just his boss. It was the whole damn crew. Six men vouched for him.”

“Could he have hired someone?” Tomasetti asks.

“I considered that, but I don’t think so. Tuck was a real hothead when he was young. Couldn’t keep a handle on that temper of his. If he killed her, it was a crime-of-passion kind of thing. Besides, he’s always been kind of a lone wolf. No friends. Nobody trusted him enough to do something like that for him.”

“If he was at work and six men vouched for him, why is it you think he did it?” I ask.

The detective’s eyes slide from Tomasetti to me. “I always thought he slipped out when no one was looking and got back before anyone noticed. If you look at the logistics of it, the machine shop is twelve minutes from that bed-and-breakfast where her bloody clothes were found. I drove the route myself and timed it. I think Tuck left, drove to the bed-and-breakfast, lured her to the river, stabbed her to death, and returned to work before anyone noticed he was gone. At the end of his shift, he went back, picked up the body, and disposed of it.”

“You guys check him for blood residue?” Tomasetti asks.

“He was clean.” The detective shakes his head. “By the time those clothes were found, he could have showered twenty times over and tossed his clothes in the next county.”

“What do you think he did with the body?” I ask.

Cornelius sighs. “The river was our focus for the first couple of days. We had dogs out there and even brought in a diver from Cleveland to check some of the deep pools. It had been a rainy spring and the water was high and swift.” He pauses. “I think that’s where we fucked up.” Catching himself, he glances at me. “Sorry.”

I smile. “How so?”

“Tuck didn’t dump her in the river. I think he hid it somewhere nearby and while we were screwing around with divers and dogs, he picked up the body and buried it somewhere. That’s why we never found her. Dumb shit outsmarted us.”

I can tell by the way he says those words that the case has haunted him all these years. That, as a cop, the disappearance of Angela Blaine might have been the biggest failure of his career.

“Miles was abusive to her?” I ask.

Cornelison nods. “We interviewed a lot of people. Every one of them said they believed he hit her a few times.”

“Why did she stay with him?” The question comes from Tomasetti.

“I wish I could answer that.” He shakes his head. “Angela Blaine was a pretty, smart girl with a lot of potential. I don’t know why she stayed with him.”

“Maybe she was afraid to leave him,” I say.

“Maybe.” The detective shrugs. “She was from a poor family. Single mom. They didn’t have much. From what I hear, she didn’t get much guidance from her mother. Maybe she thought Tuck was her ticket out.”

As cops, all of us have seen those kinds of scenarios before. Even so, it doesn’t make them any easier to accept.

“Did Angela have any close friends?” I ask. “Someone she might’ve confided in?”

“She had a lot of friends,” the detective replies. “Everyone seemed to like her. We talked to all of them and, unfortunately, not a one could offer anything we didn’t already know.”

“Do you mind if we follow up with a couple of her friends?” I ask, ignoring the dark look from Tomasetti.

“Her best friend was Patty Lou Crosby. Name’s Lengacher now. Nice little gal who lives down on Sawmill Road with her husband and kids.”

Most cops would have forgotten the names of witnesses involved with a case that’s two decades old. That Cornelius remembers tells me this was no ordinary case and he carries the memory of it like a photo in his pocket.

The detective plucks a sticky pad from a small canister on his desk and scribbles an address. “Lengacher farm is the one with the big white silo just past the covered bridge. Not too far from the old railroad trestle.”

We rise and the three of us shake hands again.

“Thank you for your time, Detective Cornelius,” I say.

We leave him sitting at his desk, looking down at the leather blotter, a troubled look on his face.

* * *

By the time we’re back on the road, dusk has fallen. The air is thick with humidity and filled with the promise of rain. Above the treetops to the west, black clouds spit spears of lightning at the ground.

I should be thinking about the evening ahead, spending the night wrapped in the arms of the man I love. Instead, I can’t stop thinking about Angela Blaine and a mystery that’s as tumultuous and dark as the storm bearing down on us.

“What do you say we pick up a bottle of wine and head back to the room?” Tomasetti says as he pulls onto the highway.

“That sounds suspiciously like an attempt at seduction.” I smile at him. “I’m not complaining.”

He gives me a sideways look. “Or maybe I’m trying to distract you from what you really want to do.”

“You’re not starting to think there’s a downside to getting involved with a cop, are you?”

“Not a chance.” He shrugs. “Besides, you’re not the only cop getting sucked into this. Wouldn’t take too long to swing by the Lengacher place. Ask a few questions and we’ll still have the entire evening ahead.”

“Tomasetti?”

He looks away from his driving.

“Patty Lou Lengacher will still be there in the morning,” I tell him. “Let’s call it a night.”

* * *

We’ve just turned into the narrow gravel lane of the bed-and-breakfast when the sky opens up.

Tomasetti stops a few yards from the front door. “Go ahead,” he tells me. “I’ll grab everything and meet you inside.”

Pulling my jacket over my head, I slide out and splash through the downpour. I reach the front door, yank it open. I’m surprised to find the reception area dark and silent. I glance at my watch to see it’s only seven-thirty P.M. Too early to close the front desk, I think, and a ripple of unease moves through me. I reach beneath my jacket and touch the .22 mini Magnum I carry when I’m off duty. I may be on vacation, but I’ve seen too much violence in the course of my career to ever get caught unprepared.

“Mr. and Mrs. Hilty?” I call out.

I reach for the light switch and flip it up, but nothing happens. Shaking the rain from my jacket, I cross the reception area to the counter where we checked in. I stand there for a moment, listening, but it’s difficult to hear because of the rain pounding against the roof. Outside, thunder rumbles like the growl of some prowling beast.

I call out again. “Hello? Is anyone there?”

To my right is a small sitting area. I can just make out a rocking chair silhouetted against the window. The outline of a lamp and a table. I start toward the double French doors, my boots seeming unduly loud against the hardwood planks.

The door behind me bursts open. Gasping, I spin. The silhouette of a man, shiny and wet, steps inside.

“You’re not thinking about shooting me, are you?”

“Jesus, Tomasetti, you scared the crap out of me.”

“Someone’s a little jumpy tonight.” I hear him flip the light switch. “Storm took out the electricity.”

“I can see why you’re a detective.”

I hear him chuckle. “Kind of early to close up shop.” He taps the flashlight against his hand and a dim light flickers on. “Even if they are Amish.”

“Mennonite.”

“That, too.”

I glance at the dim yellow beam and shake my head. “Looks like your batteries are just about cooked.”

“Just changed them.”

A crack of thunder makes both of us jump and then we grin at each other, not sure if we’re amused or embarrassed or both.

“Mr. Tomasetti? Chief Burkholder?”

We spin simultaneously at the sound of the voice. Harley thrusts a lantern at us, his eyes looking huge and owlish in the dim light. “Sorry about the electricity. I was just checking the fuse box off the back porch. Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine,” I hear myself say just a little too quickly.

“Did you replace the fuse?” Tomasetti asks.

“I did, but that’s not the problem,” Harley tells us. “Sometimes it’s the transformer down the road.”

“This happen often?”

“During storms. Electric company is usually pretty quick about getting us up and running.”

“Harley?”

I turn to see Fannie coming down the hall, a small lantern in her hand. “Oh, hi, Kate.” She nods at Tomasetti. “John. We didn’t hear you come in.” She goes to the counter, sets down the lantern and picks up a platter mounded with some type of pastry. “I baked some homemade apple turnovers earlier. Would you like to sit for a spell and chat? Or you’re welcome to take a few back to your room if you’d rather retire. They’re just about cool.”

I smile at her. “Thanks, but we just had dinner.”

Fannie nods. “In that case let me make some tea.”

A few minutes later we’re sitting at the dining room table next to a blazing hearth. Outside the window, lightning flickers and rain lashes the glass. Beyond, the treetops sway in the gale. Fannie proceeds to pour tea into four cups.

“How was your dinner?” she asks.

“Prime rib was to die for,” I reply.

“Good service, too,” Harley adds. “You meet Sandy?”

The couple seems to lean just a little bit closer at the mention of our waitress.

Tomasetti eyes them suspiciously. “She gave us an earful about Angela Blaine.”

“And Tucker Miles,” I add.

Fannie glances down, folds her hands on the tabletop in front of her. “So what do you think?”

“About the case,” Harley clarifies.

Tomasetti catches my eye, a ghost of a smile crossing his features. “We talked to Detective Cornelius.”

Harley shoots his wife an I-told-you-so look. “Always liked Jake.”

“We also talked to Tucker Miles,” I add.

They look taken aback by the news, then Harley clears his throat. “You two don’t mess around, do you?”

“Do you think he did it?” Fannie asks us, her eyes alight with curiosity.

I should be annoyed that they’re trying to manipulate our interest in this cold case. But this couple is so sweet, so sincere in their motives, I’m not. “Look, Mr. and Mrs. Hilty, Tomasetti and I have worked a lot of cases. I know Tucker Miles isn’t exactly what you’d call an upstanding citizen, but neither of us believes he murdered Angela.”

“Detective Cornelius thinks he did it,” Fannie says quietly.

“He could be right.” Tomasetti shrugs. “Police work isn’t an exact science. I just don’t like Tucker as a suspect.”

“Six men put him at the shop where he worked that night.” I struggle to find the words that will explain the other, not-so-straightforward reasons why Tucker isn’t at the top of our suspect list.

Tomasetti saves me the trouble. “After talking to him, I just don’t feel he’s smart enough to have pulled it off without getting caught.”

“He’s definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” Harley agrees.

The couple looks deflated, as if they’d been expecting us to cuff Tucker Miles and take him to the courthouse for an expeditious hanging.

“Someone killed that poor girl,” Fannie says. “If it wasn’t Tucker Miles, then who?”

No one knows how to answer that, and for the span of a full minute the only sound comes from the rain pelting the window and the growl of thunder in the distance.

“What can you tell us about Angela’s friends?” I ask.

“From what I hear, she had lots of friends,” Harley says, sipping his tea.

“She and her mama were poor,” Fannie adds. “She didn’t have all the nice clothes and things. No one cared because she was pretty, inside and out. Everyone seemed to like her, especially the boys.”

“There were all kinds of rumors flying around about her back then,” Harley says with a grimace. “You know how small towns are.”

I’m the proverbial expert on small towns and gossip, but I don’t mention it. I don’t tell them that most of what they heard is probably bullshit.

“Tell us about the rumors,” Tomasetti says.

“Nice as she was, Angela hung out with some wild girls,” Harley begins.

“Do you remember their names?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “Just a bunch of party girls. Police questioned them after Angela went missing. No one knew anything.”

“She liked to go to the bar,” Fannie whispers. “Liked to dance. And she liked her whiskey.” She lowers her voice so that we have to lean closer to hear the rest. “Not to speak ill of the dead, but I hear she liked her men, too.”

A bitter aftertaste materializes at the base of my throat. I remember some of those same things being said about me, a mix of truths and fallacies that painted a not-so-flattering picture—and still rankle to this day.

“How do you two know all these things?” Tomasetti asks, truly baffled.

“Gossip mostly,” Harley replies. “Some of it came out after she went missing. People remembering things.”

“Things that may or may not be true,” I put in.

Harley looks away from us, but not before I see a shadow of guilt in his eyes. “Stories do have a way of taking on a life of their own the more they’re told.”

“That’s true,” Fannie admits. “We don’t know these things to be true. No one who said them intended to be hurtful, including us. Everyone wanted to give the police all the information they needed to figure out what happened.”

Thunder crashes loud enough to shake the windows, as if to remind us we’re speaking of the dead and the things we’re saying aren’t kind.

“Were there any other males interested in Angela?” Tomasetti asks.

“Despite all the gossip, I never saw her with anyone besides Tucker Miles,” Fannie answers.

“What about a best friend?” I ask. “A girlfriend. Was there someone she might have confided in?”

“She probably hung out most with the Crosby girl,” Fannie says. “Angela and Patty Lou were friendly during high school.”

“The police talked to her?” I ask.

“Lots of times,” Harley replies.

“Detective Cornelius mentioned her,” Tomasetti says.

“She’s married with children now,” Fannie volunteers. “Name is Lengacher.”

I recognize the name as a common Amish name. “She’s Amish?”

“Lord, no.” Fannie huffs. “Husband was, but he left the fold years ago. Drives a truck for a bread company now. They live out on Sawmill Road down by that old railroad trestle.”

Finishing the last of his tea, Tomasetti rises. I do the same and push back from the table. “Fannie, thank you for the tea,” I tell her.

The Mennonite woman beams. “My pleasure.”

Harley hands us his lantern. “Electricity might be out awhile. You’re probably going to need this.”

“There are candles and matches in the night table if you need them,” Fannie adds.

Thanking them, Tomasetti and I take the stairs to our room.

“I think I’m glad I didn’t grow up in a small town,” Tomasetti says as he pushes open the door.

I laugh as I remove my jacket. “I suspect you would have given your contemporaries a lot of fuel for the fire.”

“They were pretty tough on Angela Blaine.” He sets the lantern on the night table and crosses to me. Putting his arms around my waist, he pulls me against him. “You know that in the eyes of a few we’re going to burn in hell if we move in together.”

It takes me a moment to digest that. “Are you asking me to move in with you, Tomasetti?”

“I’m thinking about it.”

“You have a place in mind?”

“I’m working on it.”

I look into his eyes, trying to discern if he’s serious or teasing or somewhere in between, but I can’t tell. “You’ll give me a heads-up when you come up with something?”

“You’ll be the first to know.” He lowers his mouth to mine and for several minutes I’m lost in the sensation of him against me and the sweet promise of the night ahead. All of my reservations about becoming more deeply involved with him dissolve, replaced by the knowledge that we’ve created something precious and rare. Something to be nurtured and cherished, not feared or run away from.

I turn my head slightly and break the kiss. “Tomasetti, I want you to know … I’m glad we’re here.”

Lowering his mouth to mine, he walks me backward toward the bed. I collapse onto the quilt and he comes down on top of me. He pulls slightly back and looks down at me. “You make me happy, Kate,” he whispers.

“Even when I’m being annoying?”

“Especially when you’re being annoying.” He kisses the tip of my nose. “I never thought I’d be happy again.”

“I’m glad,” I say. “You make me happy, too.”

“I know it hasn’t been easy,” he tells me. “I mean, for either of us. It’s not easy to put yourself out there when life has kicked you.”

“I trust you,” I whisper.

When he kisses me, the rest of the world ceases to exist. The storm fades and in the small span of time that follows, we’re the only two people in the world and the only thing that matters is the moment between us and the night ahead.

* * *

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