Mule tree The quiet back roads in the Amish country of Lancaster County have become a killing ground. Dozens of cops are hunting for the shooter and Sam’s troopers are now part of the story within a story within a story.

From my recently released crime/detective novel, GROUND EFFECT:

The roads in farm country on a rainy morning before daylight were empty. And the narrow ribbons with Amish farms and an occasional “English” house glistened black from the rain. Several small streams crested their banks and in a few places, gravel washed out onto the road. Steven rounded a curve and his headlights played out over a pasture. A single tree spread out its leaf filled limbs and beneath it stood a tall brown mule, sheltered from the hardest of the rain, standing still with one foot cocked up slightly. The big mule pulled the Amishman’s machinery through the fields teamed with others but tonight the mule was all by itself.

Steven drove past and found a drive to pull in and turn around. He backed out onto the road and stopped, watching for any traffic. No lights in either direction. He pulled forward and stopped, easing just off the road but avoiding the flooded ditch. He reached behind the seat and pulled the cloth case out and slid the Remington free of it. He fed a single round into the chamber and slid the bolt forward.

One of the features of the expensive scope was its low light sensitivity. Steven rolled his window down and felt the rain hit his ace and arms. The rifle came out of the window and Steven looked over the top of it out into the darkened field. It was blackness and he could barely sense where the tree had been. He waited with the truck lights off until his eyes adjusted.

It took several minutes, then Steven put his eye to the scope and scanned a bit before the grainy image of the tree appeared. The mule was still there but only a shape with no features. Steven slipped the safety off and leaned his shoulder into the stock. The crosshairs steadied up on the dark shape under the tree and Steven began to add pressure to the trigger.

Jacob Yoder bent his head forward using the brim of his straw hat to block the worst of the rain from his eyes and nose. He shivered as he walked along the dark road but was beginning to warm as his distance from home increased. The summer had been good for him and his family. He found work milking and doing chores for another Amish dairy farmer. His younger brothers had grown and were now doing more of the work helping their father on their own farm. Jacob was now able to earn and trade his labor for the buggy he needed. The young Amish girl he had been serious about was to be his wife in the fall. A share of his father’s farm would be his after he was married but the buggy was costing a summer’s work.

Each morning he rose and walked to the other farm a little over three miles away. But he was young and strong; valuable to the aging farmer with no sons of his own. The old buggy sat in the old Amishman’s calf barn and Jacob allowed himself to imagine it painted and shined with his bride next to him…

Jacob stopped suddenly at the crack of the gunshot ahead in the darkness. He knew what it was, there was no doubt. What he did not know was what he was to do. Then he saw the tail lights of a truck light up the wet road ahead of him. The truck accelerated away but Jacob was just too far to see the license plate. He watched the lights until they rounded a curve in the road and vanished. Jacob was stunned for a moment and then the fear hit his stomach. The outside world made it difficult to avoid entanglements that caused problems for the Amish. His feet began to move. There were cows to be milked and fed and a barn to muck out. But he knew. He knew what the truck was. He knew because until a year ago, he’d owned one just like it.

As he came to where the shot had been fired he stopped and tried to see what the shooter had been aiming at. He passed this pasture twice a day and remembered the tree that stood alone here. Even in the dark his young eyes could just make out the tree. He jumped across the ditch and slipped through the fence. The higher grass in the pasture soaked his shoes but he crossed to the tree and found the dark shape beneath it.

The mule was dead and rolled onto its side. Jacob could not see the bullet hole or the blood but he knew it was there. And he knew that this was not the only animal that had been shot around here. Now the children too.

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