Read an Excerpt of AFTER THE STORM
Copyright © 2015 by Linda Castillo
I was eight years old when I learned there
were consequences for associating with the English.
Consequences that were invariably negative and imposed by
well-meaning Amish parents bent on upholding the rules set
forth by our Anabaptist forefathers nearly three hundred
years ago. In my case, this particular life lesson
transpired at the horse auction near Millersburg and
involved a twelve-year-old English boy and the Appaloosa
gelding he was trying to sell. Add me to the mix, and it was
a dangerous concoction that ended with me taking a fall and
my father's realization that I saw the concept of rules in a
completely different light-and I possessed an inherent
inability to follow them.
I never forgot the lesson I
learned that day or how much it hurt my eight-year-old
heart, which, even at that tender age, was already raging
against the unfairness of the Ordnung and all of those who
would judge me for my transgressions. But the lessons of my
formative years didn't keep me from breaking the same rules
time and time again, defying even the most fundamental of
Amish tenets. By the time I entered my teens, just about
everyone had realized I couldn't conform and, worse, that I
didn't fit in, both of which are required of a member of the
Now, at the age of thirty-three, I
can't quite reconcile myself to the fact that I'm still
trying to please those who will never approve and failing as
miserably as I did when I was an inept and insecure
sitting in the passenger seat of John Tomasetti's Tahoe, not
sure if I'm impressed by his perceptivity or annoyed because
my state of mind is so apparent. We've been living together
at his farm for seven months now, and while we've had some
tumultuous moments, I have to admit it's been the happiest
and most satisfying time of my life.
former detective with the Cleveland Division of Police, is
an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Like me, he has a troubled past and more than his share of
secrets, some I suspect I'm not yet privy to. But we have an
unspoken agreement that we won't let our pasts dictate our
happiness or how we live our lives. Honestly, he's the best
thing that's ever happened to me, and I like to think the
sentiment runs both ways.
"What makes you think I'm
worried?" I tell him, putting forth a little attitude.
"I'm fidgeting because I'm
nervous," I say. "There's a difference."
at me, scowling, but his eyes are appreciative as he runs
them over me. "You look nice."
I hide my smile by
looking out the window. "If you're trying to make me feel
better, it's working."
Good humor plays at the corner
of his mouth. "It's not like you to change clothes four
"Hard to dress for an Amish dinner."
"Especially when you used to be Amish, apparently."
"Maybe I should have made an excuse." I glance out the
window at the horizon. "Weatherman said it's going to rain."
"It's not like you to chicken out."
"Kate, he invited you. He wants you
there." He reaches over, sets his hand on my thigh just
above my knee, and squeezes. I wonder if he has any idea how
reassuring the gesture is. "Be yourself and let the chips
I don't point out that being myself is exactly
the thing that got me excommunicated from my Amish brethren
in the first place.
He makes the turn into the long
gravel lane of my brother Jacob's farm. The place originally
belonged to my parents but was handed down to him, the
eldest male child, when they passed away. I mentally brace
as the small apple orchard on my right comes into view. The
memories aren't far behind, and I find myself looking down
the rows of trees, almost expecting to see the three Amish
kids sent to pick apples for pies. Jacob, Sarah, and I had
been inseparable back then, and instead of picking apples,
we ended up playing hide-and-seek until it was too dark to
see. As was usually the case, I was the instigator. Kate,
the druvvel-machah. The "troublemaker." Or so my datt said.
The one and only time I confessed to influencing my
siblings, he punished me by taking away my favorite chore:
bottle-feeding the three-week-old orphan goat I'd named
Sammy. I'd cajoled and argued and begged. I was rewarded by
being sent to bed with no supper and a stomachache from
eating too many green apples.
The house is plain and
white with a big front porch and tall windows that seem to
glare at me as we veer right. The maple tree I helped my
datt plant when I was twelve is mature and shades the hostas
that grow alongside the house. In the side yard, I catch
sight of two picnic tables with mismatched tablecloths
flapping in the breeze.
I take in the old chicken
house ahead and the big barn to my left, and it strikes me
how much of my past is rooted in this place. And how much of
it is gone forever. When you're Amish, there are no photos.
There are no corny albums or school pictures or embarrassing
videos. My parents have long since passed, which means
everything that happened here, both good and bad, exists
only in my memory and the memories of my siblings. Maybe
that's why I can't stay away. No matter how many times my
brother hurts me, I always come back, like a puppy that's
been kicked but knows no other place to be, no other
I want to share this part of my past with
Tomasetti. I want him to stand in the shade of the maple
tree while I tell him about the day Datt and I planted it.
How proud I'd been when the buds came that first spring. I
want to walk the fields with him and show him where the
fallen log was that I took our old plow horse over when I
was thirteen years old. I want to show him the pond where I
caught my first bass. The same pond that saw Jacob and I
duke it out over a hockey game. He might have been older and
bigger, but he didn't fight dirty; not when it came to me,
anyway. I, on the other hand, was born with the killer
instinct he lacked, and he was usually the one who walked
away with a black eye or busted lip. He never ratted on me,
but I'll never forget the way he looked at me all those
times when he lied to our parents to protect me and was then
punished for it. And I never said a word.
parks in the gravel area behind the house and shuts down the
engine. The buggy that belongs to my sister, Sarah, and my
brother-in-law, William, is parked outside the barn. As I
get out of the Tahoe, I see my sister-in-law, Irene, come
through the back door with a bread basket in one hand, a
plastic pitcher in the other.
She spots me and
smiles. "Nau is awwer bsil zert, Katie Burkholder!" Now it's
I greet her in Pennsylvania Dutch. "Guder
nammidaag." Good afternoon.
"Mir hen Englischer bsuch
ghadde!" she calls out. We have non-Amish visitors!
The screen door slams. I glance toward the house to see my
sister, Sarah, coming down the porch steps juggling a
platter of fried chicken and a heaping bowl of green beans.
She wears a blue dress with an apron, a kapp with the ties
hanging down her back, and nondescript black sneakers. "Hi,
Katie!" she says with a little too much enthusiasm. "The men
are inside. Sie scheie sich vun haddi arewat." They shrink
from hard work.
Irene sets the pitcher and basket on
the picnic table, then spreads her hands at the small of her
back and stretches. She's wearing clothes much like my
sister's. A blue dress that's slightly darker. Apron and
kapp. A pair of battered sneakers. "Alle daag rumhersitze
mach tem faul," she says, referring to the men. Sitting all
day makes one lazy.
"Sell is nix as baeffzes." That's
nothing but trifling talk.
At the sound of my
brother's voice, I glance toward the house to see him and my
brother-in-law, William, standing on the porch. Both men are
wearing dark trousers with white shirts, suspenders and
straw summer hats. Jacob's beard reaches midway to his waist
and is shot with more gray than brown. William's beard is
red and sparse. Both men's eyes flick from me to Tomasetti
and then back to me, as if waiting for some explanation for
his presence. It doesn't elude me that neither man offers to
help with the food.
"Katie." Jacob nods at me as he
takes the steps from the porch. "Wie geth's alleweil?" How
goes it now?
"This is John Tomasetti," I blurt to no
one in particular.
Next to me, Tomasetti strides
forward and extends his hand to my brother. "It's a pleasure
to finally meet you, Jacob," he says easily.
the Amish excel at letting you know you are an
outsider-which is usually done for some redemptive purpose,
not cruelty-they can also be kind and welcoming and warm.
I'm pleased to see all of those things in my brother's eyes
when he takes Tomasetti's hand. "It's good to meet you, too,
"Kate's told me a lot about you,"
William chuckles as he extends his
hand. "Es waarken maulvoll gat." There's nothing good about
A giggle escapes Sarah. "Welcome, John. I hope
I make eye contact
with Tomasetti. He winks, and some of the tension between my
shoulder blades unravels.
Neither woman offers her
hand for a shake. Instead they exchange nods when I make the
When the silence goes on for a beat
too long, I turn my attention to my sister. "Can I help with
"Setz der disch." Set the table. Sarah
glances at Tomasetti and motions toward the picnic table.
"Sitz dich anna un bleib e weil." Sit yourself there and
stay awhile. "There's lemonade, and I'm about to bring out
some iced tea."
Tomasetti strolls to the table and
looks appreciatively at the banquet spread out before him.
"You sure you trust me with all this food?"
"There's more than enough for everyone,"
William pats his belly. "Even me?"
A gust of wind snaps the tablecloths, and Jacob glances
toward the western horizon. "If we're going to beat the
storm, we'd best eat soon."
Irene shivers at the
sight of the lightning and dark clouds. "Wann der Hund dich
off der buckle legt, gebt's rene." When the dog lies on his
back, there will be rain.
While Tomasetti and the
Amish men pour lemonade and talk about the storms forecast
for later, I follow the women into the kitchen. I'd been
nervous about accepting today's invitation from my brother
because I didn't know what to expect. I had no idea how they
would respond to me and Tomasetti or the fact that we're
living together with no plans to get married. To my relief,
no one has mentioned any of those things, and another knot
of tension loosens.
The kitchen is hot despite the
breeze whipping in through the window above the sink. Sarah
and I spend a few minutes gathering paper plates, plastic
utensils, and sampling the potato salad, while Irene pulls a
dozen or so steaming ears of corn from the Dutch oven atop
the stove and stacks them on a platter. We make small talk,
and I'm taken aback at how quickly the rhythm of Amish life
returns to me. I ask about my niece and nephews, and I learn
the kids walked to the pasture to show my little niece,
who's just over a year old now, the pond, and I can't help
but remember when that same pond was a fixture in my own
life. I'd learned to swim in that pond, never minding the
mud or the moss or the smell of fish that always seemed to
permeate the water. Back then, I was an Olympian swimmer; I
had no concept of swimming pools or chlorine or diving
boards. I'd been content to swim in water the color of tea,
sun myself on the dilapidated dock, treat myself to mud
baths, and dream about all the things I was going to do with
Brandishing a pitcher of iced tea and a
basket of hot rolls, I follow the two women outside to the
picnic tables. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that Jacob
has pulled out his pipe to smoke, a habit that's frowned
upon by some of the more conservative Amish. But then that's
Jacob for you. He's also one of the few to use a motorized
tractor instead of draft horses. In keeping with the
Ordnung, he only uses steel wheels sans rubber tires. A few
of the elders complain, but so far no one has done anything
Within minutes we're sitting at a picnic
table, a feast of fried chicken and vegetables from the
garden spread out on the blue-and-white-checked tablecloth.
At the table next to us, my niece and nephews load fried
chicken and green beans onto their plates. I glance over at
Tomasetti and he grins at me, giving me an
I-told-you-everything-would-be-fine look, and in that moment
"Wann der Disch voll is, well mir bede."
If the tables are full, let us pray. Jacob gives the signal
for the before-meal prayer. Heads are bowed. Next to us, the
children's table goes silent. And Jacob's voice rings out.
"O Herr Gott, himmlischer Vater, Segne uns und Diese Diene
Gaben, die wir von Deiner milden Gute Zu uns nehmen warden,
Speise und tranke auch unsere Seelen zum ewigen Leben, und
mach uns theilhaftig Deines himmllischen Tisches durch Jesus
O Lord God, heavenly Father, bless
us and these thy gifts, which we shall accept from thy
tender goodness. Give us food and drink also for our souls
unto life eternal, and make us partakers of thy heavenly
table through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Upon finishing, he
looks around, and as if by unspoken agreement, everyone
begins reaching for platters and filling their plates.
"The kids have grown so much since I saw them last," I
say as I spoon green beans onto my plate.
like yesterday that Little Hannah was a newborn," my sister
says with a sigh. "They grow up so fast."
slathers homemade butter onto an ear of corn. "Elam drove
the tractor last week."
Sarah rolls her eyes. "And
almost drove it into the creek!"
"Like father like
son," William mutters.
Irene pours a second glass of
tea. "Katie, do you and John have any plans for children?"
I can tell by the way the pitcher pauses mid-pour that
she realizes instantly her faux pas. Her eyes flick to mine.
I see a silent apology, then she quickly looks away and sets
the pitcher on the table. "There's tea if anyone's thirsty."
"Maybe they should get married first," Jacob says.
"I love weddings." Sarah shakes pepper onto an ear of
"Any plans for one, Katie?" Jacob asks.
In the interminable silence that follows, the tension
builds, as if it were a living thing, growing and filling up
space. I'm not sure how to respond. The one thing I do know
is that no matter what I say, I'll be judged harshly for it.
"Let's just say we're a work in progress." I smile, but
it feels dishonest on my lips because I know now that this
Pandora's box has been opened, it's fair game.
"Work?" Jacob slathers apple butter onto a roll. "I don't
think getting married is too much work."
"For a man,
anyway," Irene says.
"A man'll work harder to stay
out of the house." William doesn't look up from his plate.
"If he's smart."
"I think Kate's placing the emphasis
on the 'in progress' part." Tomasetti grins at Irene. "Pass
the corn, please."
"In the eyes of the Lord, the two
of you are living in sin," Jacob says.
I turn my
attention to my brother. "In the eyes of some of the Amisch,
He nods, but his expression is
earnest. "I don't understand why two people would want to
live like that."
Embarrassment and, for an instant,
the familiar old shame creeps up on me, but I don't let it
take hold. "Jacob, this isn't the time or place to discuss
"Are you afraid God will hear?" he asks. "Are
you afraid He will disapprove?"
himself to an ear of corn, sets down his fork, and turns his
attention to my brother. "If you have something on your
mind, Jacob, I think you should just put it out there."
"Marriage is a sacred thing." He holds Tomasetti's gaze,
thoughtful. "I don't understand why you choose to live the
way you do. If a man and woman choose to live together, they
should be married."
All eyes fall on Tomasetti. He
meets their stares head-on and holds them, unflinching and
unapologetic. "With all due respect, that's between Kate and
me. That's the best answer I can give you, and I hope you
and the rest of the family will respect it."
brother looks away in deference. But I know that while he'll
tolerate our point of view for now, he'll never agree with
it-or give his blessing. "All right then."
around the table. Everyone is staring down at their plates,
concentrating a little too intently on their food. Across
from me, Irene scoots her husband's plate closer to him.
"Maybe you should eat your food instead of partaking in idle
talk like an old woman."
Sarah coughs into her hand
but doesn't quite cover her laugh. "There's date pudding for
"That's my favorite." Irene smiles at her
sister-in-law. "Right after snitz pie."
had snitz pie since Big Joe Beiler married Edna Miller,"
William says through a mouthful of chicken.
hear the exchange over the low thrum of my temper. Don't get
me wrong; I love my brother and sister. Growing up, they
were my best friends and, sometimes, my partners in crime.
There were many things I loved about being Amish: being part
of a tight-knit community. Growing up with the knowledge
that I was loved not only by my family, but by my brethren.
But this afternoon I'm reminded of two things I detested:
narrow-mindedness and intolerance.
As if reading my
mind, Tomasetti sets his hand on my arm and squeezes. "Let
it go," he says quietly.
I'm relieved when my cell
phone vibrates against my hip. "I've got to take this," I
say, pulling out my phone and getting to my feet.
walk a few yards away from the picnic tables and answer with
my usual: "Burkholder."
"Sorry to bother you on your
afternoon off, Chief. Just wondering if you've been
following the weather."
It's Rupert Maddox, but
everyone calls him "Glock" because he has a peculiar
fondness for his sidearm. A war vet with two tours in
Afghanistan under his belt, he's my most solid officer and
the first African American to grace the Painters Mill PD.
"Actually, I'm not," I say. "What's up?"
service just issued a tornado warning for Knox and Richland
Counties," he tells me. "We got some serious shit on the
way. It just touched down north of Fredericktown."
Thoughts of my family evaporate, and I press the phone more
tightly against my ear. "Casualties?" I ask. "Damage?"
"SHP says it's a war zone," he says, referring to the
state highway patrol. "There's a tornado on the ground and
headed this way, moving fast. Fifteen minutes and we're
going to be under the gun."
"Call the mayor. Tell him
to get the sirens going."
know that while the tornado sirens are an effective warning
for people living in town and will give them time to get
into their basements or storm shelters, Holmes County is
mostly rural. The majority of people live too far away to
hear the sirens. To make matters worse, the Amish don't have
TVs or radios and have no way of knowing there's a dangerous
storm on the way.
"Call dispatch and tell Lois I want
everyone on standby. If things look dicey at the station,
she needs to take cover down in the jail."
"Glock, do you and LaShonda have a basement?"
"Got it covered, Chief. I've got a weather radio down there.
And a Wii for the kids."
"Good." I look over at the
picnic table to see Tomasetti standing, his head cocked,
looking at me intently. "Look, I'm at my brother's farm, and
we're about nine miles east of town. Can you give me a hand
and help me get the word out?"
"I'll take the west
side and go door to door. Sheriff's got some deputies out,
"Thanks. Do me a favor and stay safe, will
I hit END and stride back to
the table. "There's a tornado on the ground west of here and
heading this way."
"I thought it looked bad," Irene
says, getting to her feet.
Jacob rises. "How close?"
"You've got fifteen minutes to get the animals turned
out and everyone in the basement."
William leaves the
table and starts toward the buggy where his horse is
hitched. "I'm going to turn my gelding out, too."
"I'll help." Jacob starts after him. "Probably ought to put
the buggy in the barn."
Tomasetti leans close. "Saved
by the tornado," he mutters, but he's already reaching for
his smartphone to check radar.
Sarah has snatched up
several serving dishes, still mounded with food, and stacked
them haphazardly in her arms. Looking harried, Irene herds
my niece and nephews toward the back porch. I know there's a
door off the kitchen that will take them to the stairs. The
basement is a damp, dark room, but it's their best
protection against debris if the storm passes over or near
I address Sarah: "Leave the food. You've
only got a few minutes. Gather up the kids and get everyone
in the basement."
I turn my attention to William and
Jacob twenty yards away, already working in tandem to
unhitch the horse. "Ten minutes!" I call out to them.
Jacob waves to let me know they're cognizant of the
urgency of the situation.
In the few minutes since I
received the call, the wind has kicked up. The sky to the
west roils with black clouds tinged with an odd shade of
green. The tablecloth whips up. A bag of chips flies off.
Holding my niece, my sister goes after it, but I call out
and stop her.
"Leave it! Take Hannah inside and get
into the basement. Now." I glance toward the barn to see
Jacob and William leading the horse toward the gate. "I've
got to go."
Surprising me, Sarah trots over, steps
close, and presses her cheek against mine. "Be careful,
I give her my best smile. "You, too."
I glance to my right to see that
Tomasetti is already in the Tahoe. Window down, he's turned
the vehicle around and is waiting for me. "We've got to go!"
I dash to the SUV, yank open the door, and climb inside.
"Where is it?" I ask without preamble.
The tires spew
gravel as he starts down the lane. "It just leveled Spring
"Shit. Shit. That means it's heading
"Toward Layland. Then Clark."
then Painters Mill." I snatch up my phone and speed-dial
Glock. "Where are you?"
"I just hit the Stutz place."
"It's headed this way."
"Screaming like banshees."
I think for a
moment, aware that the engine is groaning, Tomasetti pushing
the speedometer to seventy. The wind buffets the vehicle and
yanks at the power lines overhead. "I wanted to get down to
the mobile home park on the southeast side of town."
"Too far away, Chief. Gotta let it go."
Frustrated, I look out the window to see that the trees
alongside the road are getting pounded by wind, leaves being
torn from branches. It's not raining, but visibility is down
due to dust. "I'm going to hit a couple of farms out this
way then head to the station."
"See you there."
Outside the vehicle, the wind goes suddenly calm. The
leaves of the maple trees shimmer silver against the black
sky. Small debris litters the road. Gravel and leaves and
small branches with the leaves still attached. Humidity
hangs in the air like a wet blanket. I don't have my police
radio with me, but Tomasetti has his tuned to the channel
used by the Holmes County Sheriff's Department.
don't like the looks of this," he says.
I point to a
narrow gravel lane shrouded by trees. "Turn here."
hits the brakes and makes the turn-too fast-down the gravel
lane and around the curve to the rear. I'm out of the
vehicle before it comes to a complete stop. The first thing
I notice are three Amish children playing with a big
lumbering puppy in the side yard. The barn door is open, and
I see the silhouette of Jonas Miller inside. I run toward
the barn while Tomasetti turns the Tahoe around.
Miller!" I'm breathless when I step into the doorway of the
The Amish man drops the pitchfork he'd been
using and runs out to meet me. "Was der schinner is letz?"
What in the world is wrong?
"There's a tornado on the
way," I tell him in Pennsylvania Dutch. "Get your family
into the basement. Nau." Now.
overhead, so close both of us duck. The wind has picked up
again, groaning as it whips around the eaves. Fat drops of
rain splat against the gravel and the side of the barn.
"Danki." He brings his hands together and calls out to
the playing children. "Shtoahm! Die Zeit fer in haus is
nau!" Storm! Time to go to the house now!
I run to
the Tahoe, wrench open the door. "There's another farm next
"No time," he says. "We have to get to the
"Tomasetti, half the people in this town
don't know there's a tornado on the way."
going to be any help to them if we're dead."
tires spin and grab, and then we're barreling down the lane.
Too fast. Tires scrambling for traction in loose gravel. The
trees on either side of us undulate like underwater plants
caught in a white-water rapid. I glance to the west. A
swirling black wall cloud lowers from the sky like a giant
anvil about to crush everything in its path.
time we reach the end of the lane, the first hailstones
smack hard against the windshield and bounce off the hood.
Tomasetti hauls the wheel left. The Tahoe fishtails when he
hits the accelerator, and then we're flying down the road at
double the speed limit.
I see his phone lying in the
console and snatch it up. The tiny screen blinks on. He's
pulled up the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric
Administration Web site with a live radar image of Painters
Mill and vicinity. I see the flashing red of TORNADO WARNING
at the bottom of the page and the magenta-colored mass of
the storm moving across the map.
I set down the phone
and look around. "It's right on top of us."
us. Close, though."
I swivel, look through the back
window, and I almost can't believe my eyes. Rain slams down
from a black sky, close but not yet upon us. It's chasing
us, I think. Beyond, I can just make out the outline of a
darker cloud on the ground, impossibly wide, and a quiver of
fear moves through me. I look at Tomasetti. "Our place
okay?" I ask.
"I think so."
thing's going to get that mobile home park."
"Probably." Looking tense, he frowns at me. "No time, Kate."
I want to argue. Tell him that if we hurry, we can make
it. I can use the bullhorn. It'll only take a few minutes.
But I know he's right. We're out of time.
rap my fist against the dash. "Damn it!"
We enter the
corporation limits of Painters Mill doing sixty. Outside the
vehicle, the emergency sirens blare, a sound that invariably
raises the hairs on the back of my neck. The town has a
hushed feel, as if it's holding its breath in anticipation
of violence. Paper, trash, and leaves skitter along the
sidewalk and street, like small animals running for cover.
Some of the shopkeepers along Main Street took the time to
close the awnings to protect their windows. Judging from the
size of the wall cloud, I don't think it will help.
The sky opens as we fly past the city building. Through the
curtain of rain, I spot Councilman Stubblefield dashing up
the steps two at a time, wrenching open the door. Then the
deluge of rain blinds us. The wipers are already cranked on
high, but they're useless. It's as if we've driven into a
bottomless body of water and we're on our way to the murky
"There's Lois's Caddy."
I can barely
make out the silhouette of her Cadillac parked in its usual
spot. "Police radio is probably going nuts."
skids to a stop beside the Caddy. "Hopefully she's in the
basement by now." Tomasetti jams the vehicle into Park,
yanks out the key, and throws open the door.
the rain streaming down the windshield, I see a large
plastic trash can tumble down the sidewalk. I shove open my
door. The wind jerks it from my grip. Wind and rain slash my
face with a ferocity that takes my breath. Grabbing the
door, I slam it shut and sprint toward the station. The wind
howls, harmonizing weirdly with the scream of the sirens.
Hailstones hammer down hard enough to bruise skin. Tomasetti
reaches the door first and ushers me inside.
soaked to the skin, but I don't feel the cold or wet. Lois
stands at the dispatch station, headset askew, her
expression frazzled. "Chief! All hell's breaking loose!"
"You okay?" I ask.
"Scared shitless. Never seen
it like this."
On the desktop in front of her, the
radio hisses and barks with activity. The switchboard rings
incessantly. On the shelf behind her, a weather radio
broadcasts the latest warning from the National Weather
"You got radar up anywhere?" Tomasetti asks
as he strides to the dispatch station.
to the computer monitor on her desk. "Been watching it for
fifteen minutes now, and I swear it's the scariest damn
storm I've ever seen."
She indicates two Maglites on her desktop. "Batteries, too."
I come up behind Tomasetti to look at the screen, and I
almost can't believe my eyes. A wide swath of magenta with
the telltale "hook echo," indicating rotation, hovers west
of Painters Mill, moving ever closer with every blip of the
"It's almost on top of us," I say.
"Worst of it's to the south," he counters.
of 911 calls coming in from that trailer park down there."
Lois thumbs a button on the switchboard, takes another call.
"Yes, ma'am. We know. There's a tornado on the ground. You
need to take cover immediately in a storm shelter or your
basement." She pauses. "Then get into your bathtub and cover
yourself with sofa cushions, a mattress, or blankets."
Pause. "Take your son with you. I know it's scary. Get in
the tub. Right now." More incoming calls beep, but she shows
I can't stop thinking about that
mobile home park. A lot of young families live out there. A
lot of children. There are no basements. No storm shelters.
No place to go.
A few years ago, I volunteered to
help with the cleanup of Perrysburg, Ohio, which is about
two hours northwest of Painters Mill, after an F2 tornado
ripped through the township. There were no fatalities, but
many serious injuries occurred, mostly to individuals who
tried riding out the storm inside their mobile homes.
"Stay away from the windows," Lois instructs the caller.
"Put the older kids in the closet. Cover them with the
mattress. Take the baby and get in the tub. Take care."
Tomasetti looks away from the computer monitor. "Any way
to forward 911 calls to the basement?"
"I can forward
the switchboard to the extension down there." Lois's fingers
fly over the buttons. "Done."
"We need to take
cover." Tomasetti snaps his fingers at Lois. "Headset off.
Now." When she doesn't comply fast enough, he eases it from
her head and motions toward the hallway. "Let's-"
front window implodes. Glass flies inward. Lois yelps.
Something large gets tangled in the blinds. The wind roars
like a jet engine. Water soaks the floor instantly.
"Let's go!" Tomasetti shouts, grabbing the weather radio.
Lois scrambles from her chair and dashes to the hall.
I'm a few feet behind her with Tomasetti to my right. Around
us the building shudders and creaks. Behind me I hear more
glass breaking. The blinds flap wildly. We're almost to the
basement door, when we're plunged into darkness. For an
instant I'm blind, the meager light from outside unable to
penetrate the shadows of the hall. Tomasetti flicks on a
flashlight, shoves the other one into my hand. I turn it on,
yank open the door. We descend the stairs, our feet muffled
against the carpet.
The basement is a dank, dark room
equipped with a single jail cell, a duty desk, and a couple
of antiquated file cabinets. I shine my light on the desk,
and Lois goes directly to the phone and snatches it up.
"Dead," she tells us.
I grapple for my cell and call
Sheriff Mike Rasmussen on his personal number. He answers on
the first ring.
"You guys okay up there?" I begin.
"Went to the south of us," he says. "You?"
sure yet. We're in the basement. I think we're going to take
a direct hit."
"You have access to radar?"
"There's going to be damage, Kate. That damn
thing's half a mile wide and chewing up everything in its
I tell him about the mobile home park. "I
couldn't get to them, Mike. If that park takes a direct hit,
there are going to be casualties."
Wooster are on standby," he tells me, referring to the two
nearest hospitals. "Electric and gas companies are gearing
up for power outages and gas leaks." He sighs. "Soon as
we're in the clear, I'll have my guys head down to that
"Thanks, Mike. We should be in the
clear here in a few minutes."
"Call if you need
I end the call and look at Tomasetti. He's
standing a few feet away, dividing his attention between me
and his smartphone, watching the radar.
Above us, the
ceiling rattles and groans. My ears pop, and I hear the
ungodly roar of a train careening down rickety tracks. In
the beam of my flashlight, dust motes fly, shaken loose by
the vibration from above, and in the back of my mind I find
myself hoping the building holds.
away from his phone and makes eye contact with me. I can
tell by his expression the news isn't good. "National
Weather Service thinks it may have been an F3 that touched
down to the west earlier."
I recall the level of
damage I'd seen in Perrysburg after that F2, and the knot of
worry in my chest draws tight.
He crosses to me, his
expression grim. "Do you have an emergency preparedness
plan?" he asks.
"Of course we do." Realizing I'm
snapping at him when he's just trying to help, I take a deep
breath. "I should have thought of that." I step away from
him, work my phone from my pocket. "I'll call the mayor."
Auggie answers on the first ring. "Kate. Thank God.
Where are you?"
"At the station."
"Except for the damn maple
tree in my kitchen, we're just peachy."
his wife live in a nice neighborhood of historic homes and
mature trees on the north side of town. "Auggie, is there
much damage? Did the tornado get your neighborhood?"
"Aside from that tree, I don't think so. But the wind was
"Look, I think we need to activate
the emergency contingency plan."
The mayor goes
silent for a moment, as if trying to remember what it is.
The truth of the matter is, since its inception two years
ago, we've never had to use it.
"You've got a copy of
the plan, right?" I ask.
"Uh, yes. Here in my file, I
think." But he doesn't sound too sure of that, and I don't
think he knows what to do.
I have a copy of it here
at the station, but Mayor Auggie is the official
coordinator. "You probably need to notify the Red Cross
first," I tell him. "I suspect we're going to have
casualties. Gas leaks. Power outages. We're going to have
citizens in need of food and water and shelter."
"Our designated shelter is the VFW hall," I
tell him. "You might give Rusty a call and have him get
things ready. I think they've got some cots and blankets and
bottled water over at the Lutheran Church."
Sure. I'll call him."
"Look, I've got to get out
there. I'll call my officers and get everyone out helping.
Phones are down at the station. If you need something, I've
got my cell."
I disconnect and look at Tomasetti. "I
don't have time to drive back to the farm for my Explorer,
so I'm going to have to commandeer your vehicle." I'm only
He's already got his keys in hand.
"You've got a driver, too, if you want it."
"I do." I
look at Lois. "Call everyone in the department. Make sure
they're okay. Then I want every officer on duty. Pickles and
Mona, too. Unless they're dealing with their own emergency.
First priority is the injured, most critical first. We're
setting up a temporary shelter at the VFW."
"Call one of the guys-T.J. or Skid-and get them to fire
up that generator for you so we have power here at the
station. It might be a while before we get our power back,
and I'd like to get the phones up and running."
I take the stairs two at a time to the top.
Tomasetti and Lois bring up the rear. Then I'm through the
door, and as I tread down the hall, I feel the cool, damp
air coming through the broken window. Outside, the tornado
sirens wail their eerie song. Though it's late afternoon,
it's nearly as dark as night, so I turn on the Maglite.
I reach the reception area and look around. My heart
sinks as I take in the damage. The blinds flap in the wind
coming in through the window. Rain sweeps in with every
gust. Water glistens on the floor. An aluminum trash-can lid
is lodged between the blinds and the sill. Shards of glass,
chunks of wood, and other small debris-leaves and twigs and
trash-litter the floor. There's paper everywhere.
"Looks like we dodged the bullet here," comes Tomasetti's
voice from behind me.
"Computer and radio are dry."
It's the only positive comment I can come up with.
"Oh my God." Lois looks a little shell-shocked as she walks
over to her desk. "Want me to call that glass guy up in
Millersburg about that window?"
Usually we require
three estimates on any work done for the township. Since
time-and security-are at issue here, I reply with, "Get him
down here within the hour. If he can't replace the glass
today, I want it secured some other way. Lois, if you smell
any gas or smoke, get out and call the gas company and then
"Okeydoke." She rounds the reception desk
and gets behind the phone console, which is eerily silent.
"I'm going to go down to the trailer park to see if
anyone's hurt," I tell her. "Call me if you need anything."
Outside the window, the rain pours down, slapping
against the concrete like a thousand angry fists.