Long Lost
written by Linda Castillo and narrated by Kathleen McInerney

 

The next morning dawns cold and rainy. Tomasetti and I had talked about packing a picnic lunch and hiking the trails along the river, but by the time we’re showered and dressed, the rain is coming down in sheets.

“So much for a hike in the woods,” Tomasetti says as we descend the stairs and enter the dining room.

At the table, he pulls my chair out for me and we help ourselves to a carafe of dark-roast coffee.

“Good morning!” Fannie enters from the kitchen with a tray of pastries, toast, and fruit. “I hope you two are hungry.”

“Starved.” Rubbing his hands together, Tomasetti scoots his chair closer to the table.

Fannie sets the tray in front of us. “Sorry about the weather. It’s kind of unpredictable this time of year. Crazy weatherman is forecasting snow later!”

“I’m sure we’ll find some way to fill our day.” Tomasetti’s voice is bone-dry as he helps himself to some blackberries.

I pour orange juice into a glass. “Fannie, where did you say Patty Lou Lengacher lives?”

“A couple miles down the road. Left on Sawmill Road. Their place is next to that old railroad trestle.” She pauses. “I hope Harley and I weren’t too pushy with all this talk of Angela Blaine. It’s just that with her disappearing here at our bed-and-breakfast, we feel a little … responsible.”

Harley emerges from the reception area and walks up behind his wife and sets his hand on her shoulder. “Now, Fannie, we had no part in what happened to that poor girl. You just put all that guilt out of your head, you hear?”

“I know that.” She reaches up and pats his hand. “It’s just that … I never stopped wondering.”

Across from me, I see Tomasetti frown.

For the first time I understand how profoundly the disappearance of Angela Blaine has affected them. I nudge Tomasetti beneath the table with my foot. “Maybe by the time we talk to Ms. Lengacher, the weather will improve and we’ll have time to take that hike.”

Fannie brings her hands together. “Well, I made quiche this morning. I’ll put the leftovers in a picnic basket for you. There are some pretty places down by the river if you’d like to go down there for lunch.”

Half an hour later, Tomasetti and I are back in the Tahoe. We reach Sawmill Roadand he makes a right at the railroad trestle. From there, we take the gravel lane that dissects a cut cornfield. Outside, the rain has dwindled to drizzle, but the air is damp and cold.

A quarter mile in, he motions toward a white SUV parked near the house. “Looks like someone’s home.”

The lane curves left and then opens to a circular drive with the house on my right and a massive white barn to my left. A gooseneck horse trailer is parked adjacent to the barn. He stops next to the SUV and cuts the engine.

“You know this is probably a dead end,” I tell him as I open the door.

“Since when did you become such an optimist?”

I get out of the Tahoe and slam the door. “At least we’ll be able to finish this with the knowledge—”

My words are cut short when a massive Great Dane gallops toward me and slides to a stop at my feet. Tongue lolling, he looks up at me as if debating whether to jump on top of me or lick me to death.

I raise my hands to prevent a friendly mauling when I hear a lilting female voice. “Biscuit! You big lug. Quit that!”

I glance toward the barn to see a woman wearing a red barn coat and rubber muck boots tromping toward us. “Sorry about that,” she says by way of greeting. “He’s a little overzealous.”

I pet the dog and my hand comes away wet. “He’s cute.”

“Wish he would have stopped growing fifty pounds ago.” Grinning, the woman reaches us and puts her hands on her hips. “You folks lost?”

I guess her to be in her early forties. She’s plump with a pretty face and a good highlight job on shoulder-length hair. I extend my hand. “I’m Kate Burkholder, the chief of police over in Painters Mill.”

Tomasetti introduces himself and they shake hands. “You Patty Lou Lengacher?” he asks.

Her expression goes from cheerful to wary, as if she’s expecting something unpleasant. “Is everything okay?” she asks.

“Everything’s fine,” I reassure her.

“We’re actually not here in an official capacity,” Tomasetti clarifies.

“We’re looking into the disappearance of Angela Blaine,” I tell her.

“Oh.” An almost imperceptible quiver goes through her body. Across from me, I sense Tomasetti watching her, and I feel my own antennae go on alert.

“We understand you were friends,” he begins.

“We were friendly,” she admits. “I mean, a lifetime ago. My gosh, I barely remember those days.”

“We heard you were her best friend.” I say the words quietly, holding her gaze.

“Barely knew her.” Her eyes flick from Tomasetti to me. “I’m not trying to be rude, but I really need to get back to work.”

Tomasetti isn’t deterred. “Do you have any theories on what might have happened to her?”

“Everyone knows Tuck Miles did it.” A note of hostility edges into her voice and she looks away to brush flecks of hay from her coat. “I don’t know why you people can’t just leave it alone, for God’s sake.”

“Ms. Lengacher, we just want to—”

The sound of a horse’s shod hooves against gravel cuts my words short. Tomasetti and I turn to see a single-horse Amish milk wagon coming up the lane. It’s the kind of rig dairy farmers use to deliver milk to local families. Unpasteurized milk more than likely, I think, which has been in the news lately due to an array of inflexible FDA regulations. Several Amish farms have been the target of raids. Farmers have had hefty fines levied against them.

“Well, Amos always did have a knack for bad timing.” Shaking her head, Lengacher looks from Tomasetti to me, her expression resigned. “So what are you going to do? Arrest me for buying fresh milk for my kids now?”

“We don’t care about the milk,” I tell her.

“I heard that before.” Turning away from us, muttering beneath her breath, she starts toward the buggy, the dog bounding at her heels.

Tomasetti shoots me a puzzled look. “What’s the deal with the milk?”

I explain to him that it’s against the law to sell unpasteurized milk and the FDA has deemed the Amish fair game.

“There’s some bad PR for you,” he says.

We stroll toward the wagon, keeping a respectful distance, and watch the Amish man carry an antique-looking milk can to the back porch and set it next to the door. When he returns to the wagon, Patty Lou Lengacher hands the man some bills. “Danke,” she says.

The Amish man glances at me and Tomasetti and then makes eye contact with Lengacher as he climbs into the buggy. “Tell them you’re going to use the milk to make cheese,” he tells her in Pennsylvania Dutch. “They can’t fine you if you’re going to use it for cheese making.”

“We don’t care about the milk,” I call out to him in Pennsylvania Dutch. “That’s not why we’re here.”

If the situation wasn’t so serious, I might have laughed at the shock on their faces. The last thing they were expecting was for me to speak to them in their own dialect.

The Amish man backs up the horse and then starts down the lane. When he’s out of sight, Lengacher approaches us. “Well, that got my attention.” She tilts her head, giving me a close once-over. “How is it you know Pennsylvania Dutch?”

“I used to be Amish,” I tell her.

Her eyes widen and she looks at me as if seeing me for the first time and in a completely different light. “My husband is former Amish,” she tells me. “He left when we got married. I mean, with my being an Englischer and all … they put him under the bann. Even after all this time he still misses his family.”

“I underst—”

“Mom!”

I glance toward the barn to see two teenage girls astride horses. One of the girls wears riding tights and boots. The second girl is wearing a black coat over an Amish dress, her sneakered feet in the stirrups of a western saddle.

“You girls get back in the barn!” A thread of alarm I don’t understand laces Lengacher’s voice. “I’ll be there in a minute!”

“We’re just going to ride down the road!” Ignoring the woman’s command, the two girls walk their horses over to us, steel shoes crunching over gravel.

The animals’ coats have been groomed to a high sheen. I can smell the coat conditioner and hoof polish from where I stand. Manes and tails are braided, the strands interspersed with colorful ribbon. I find myself smiling because as a young girl I spent many an afternoon primping our old buggy horse, much to my datt’s chagrin.

The English girl is a pretty blonde with blue eyes and chubby cheeks she hasn’t yet grown out of. I look at the Amish girl and experience an unexpected flash of recognition. I feel as if I’ve met her at some point, but I know that’s impossible. When I glance at Tomasetti, I’m surprised to see that same recognition on his face.

Lengacher thrusts her hand toward the lane as if to hurry the girls along. “Go ahead, but don’t go far. I’ve got to take Ada home in twenty minutes. Now go on and watch for cars.”

Laughing and talking, the girls nudge their mounts into a trot and head toward the road. We watch them disappear down the lane.

“Give a girl the opportunity to show off her horse, and she’ll never disappoint you,” I say.

Up until this point, Tomasetti has been silent, listening, watching intently. “Do you and your husband have many Amish friends?” he asks.

Lengacher looks at him as if he’d voiced a prying question that shouldn’t have been asked, then shakes her head. Around us, the tempo of the rain increases; we’re getting wet, but none of us seem to notice. All the while I feel something building in my chest. Some startling realization that changes everything I thought I knew about this case.

After a moment, Tomasetti shakes his head. “I’ll be damned.”

“That Amish girl—” I begin, but Lengacher cuts me off.

“I think you should leave,” she snaps. “Both of you. Right now.”

Neither of us moves. We don’t look away. All we can do is stand there and try to absorb what none of us can deny.

“She’s the spitting image of Angela Blaine,” Tomasetti says after a moment.

Raising her hands, Lengacher backs away from us, an animal trapped and willing to fight to protect its young. “Please. Leave. Right now, or I’m going to call the police.”

I finally find my voice. “After all this time, why did Angela let everyone believe—”

“Don’t say it. Don’t even think it.” She shoves a shaking finger at me. Tears fill her eyes, but they don’t spill. “Just leave it alone,” she says in a strangled voice.

Tomasetti never takes his eyes from Lengacher. “If Angela Blaine is alive, we need to know about it.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking,” she snaps.

“We know exactly what we’re asking,” he counters.

“I swore…” Lengacher’s voice breaks. Anger, at herself—or at us—I can’t tell, flashes in her eyes. “Tuck Miles is crazy and violent. If he finds out … My God, he’ll go after the kids. I don’t even want to think about what he’ll do to—” She smothers the words by placing her hand over her mouth. “Ada looks more like her every day. I was afraid this would happen.”

“Tuck won’t find out,” Tomasetti says firmly.

“For God’s sake! One word and everyone in the county will know.” She chokes out a sound that’s part sob, part frustration. “She’s going to hate me.”

“You’ve protected her for twenty-two years,” I tell her.

“It was supposed to be forever!” The woman wipes frantically at her eyes.

“Mrs. Lengacher,” I say, “you can trust us.”

“Why would I trust you?” She spits the words as if they’re laced with poison.

“Because we care,” I say firmly.

“Forgive me if I don’t believe you.” She says the words with bitter resignation, then puts her face in her hands and bursts into tears.

Before realizing I’m going to move, I step forward and set my hand on her shoulder. I wait until she looks at me before I speak. “Mrs. Lengacher, we understand that sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone.”

“We’re not going to tell anyone,” Tomasetti says.

“Not even Angela,” I tell her. “Your secret is safe. You have our word.”

She blinks at me through her tears. “Why would you do that for me?”

“We’re not doing it for you,” Tomasetti says. “We’re doing it for Angela.”

* * *

By the time we roll into Cadiz, Ohio, half an hour later, the rain has transformed into snow. It’s a pretty town with a quaint downtown area and a massive courthouse, made all the prettier by the big, fat flakes floating down from the sky.

“She faked her death to get away from Tucker Miles,” I say.

“Wouldn’t be the first time a woman went to extreme measures to escape an abusive relationship,” Tomasetti replies.

Following the directions Lengacher gave us, he makes a left at the traffic light. A mile down the road, we pass a large hand-painted sign that reads: FRESH EGGS FOR SALE. “Here we go.” He pulls into a long, narrow lane banked on both sides by a white rail fence.

It’s a typical Amish farm. The front of the house is shrouded by treesfirs and maples, the boughs of which are snow covered. We climb a hill and then the redbrick house looms into view.

Tomasetti parks in a gravel area between the house and a huge white barn where two buggies are parked just inside the sliding door. I get out and for a moment, I’m taken aback by the beauty of the place. The architecture of the old house and barn. The falling snow. The sight of a dozen cattle grazing in the pasture beyond.

The slamming of a screen door draws my attention. I glance toward the house to see an Amish woman step onto the porch and look our way. Behind her, two little girls stand at the door, peering out at us. Working a shawl over her shoulders, the woman starts toward us. “Are you here for eggs?” she calls out.

Tomasetti and I watch her approach. “Jesus,” he says beneath his breath. “It’s her.”

I experience an odd moment of something akin to awe when I realize I’m looking at Angela Blaine. She’s in her early forties now, and pretty in the way mature women are. She’s got the same huge brown eyes, freckles on her nose, a full mouth that smiles easily. And a mole on the left side of her chin.

“I’m afraid we made a wrong turn,” I tell her.

“Happens all the time out here,” she says easily.

“Good place to get lost,” Tomasetti says.

She hesitates an instant and then nods. “That it is. Where you folks trying to get to?”

“Back to the highway,” he tells her.

She motions toward the lane from whence we came. “Just make a left at the end of the lane and go right on Abbottsville Road. Highway’s four miles down. Can’t miss it.”

“Got it,” he says.

“Mom?” comes a male voice. “Everything okay?”

I glance toward the barn to see a lanky young Amish man approach, an egg basket in his right hand, his gaze settling first on me and then on Tomasetti. He’s wearing gray trousers and a black barn coat with a dark, flat-brimmed hat.

“Everything’s fine,” the woman says easily.

The young man is in his early twenties, and I can’t take my eyes off him. Neither can Tomasetti. Maybe because he’s the spitting image of a younger—and much less damaged—Tucker Miles.

No wonder Angela didn’t want to be found.

As if realizing we’re staring, the woman reaches out and gives the young man’s arm a squeeze. “This is my oldest, Mark. Everyone calls him Bean.”

The man ducks his head as if embarrassed by his mother’s open affection, then raises the basket. “You folks need eggs?” he asks. “They’re fresh and we got plenty.”

I glance over at Tomasetti. “We could take a dozen back to the bed-and-breakfast.”

“A dozen it is, then.” He pulls out his wallet and looks at Angela Blaine. “How much do we owe you?”

“Three dollars ought to keep us in chicken scratch a few more days.”

He hands her a five and tells her to keep the change.

“We got milk, too,” the young man tells us. “It’s fresh.”

“We don’t advertise,” the woman says quickly, “since the government started citing the Amish.”

“We don’t need any milk.” I offer a smile. “But your secret’s safe with us.”

The Amish woman tilts her head and gives me a closer look, her eyes narrowing slightly. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“I think we have everything we need now,” Tomasetti replies and we start toward the Tahoe.

Tomasetti and I don’t speak again until we’re on the highway, heading back to the bed-and-breakfast. I break the silence with, “I wish there was some way we could let Harley and Fannie know Angela Blaine is alive and well.”

He shrugs. “I think this is one of those times when the lost are better off staying lost.”

“And Harley can continue to enjoy his ghost story.”

“Case closed?” he asks.

I smile at him. “Definitely.”

Glancing away from the road, he sets his hand over mine. “I guess that means you and I can get back to our vacation.”

“Tomasetti, that’s the best idea I’ve heard all day.”

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