Chapter One

          Kappy King took one look at her front door and promptly marched back   down the porch steps to her buggy. She didn’t even bother to take the new bolt of sheer white organdy into the house. She tossed it onto the seat next to her and climbed in. Thankfully, she hadn’t unhooked the mare when she arrived back at the house. Heaven only knew why. Maybe the Good Lord was directing her footsteps and He knew she would be needing the carriage sooner than she thought.

Sooner, indeed. This needed to be taken care of and fast. There was only one person she knew in the valley who would have the audacity to paint her front door blue without permission and that person was her across-the-road neighbor Jimmy Peachey.

She clicked the horse into motion and took a deep breath to calm her raging emotions.

Audacity wasn’t the right word. Clueless innocence, misguided helpfulness, unwanted good intentions. All these described Jimmy and more.

He was as sweet as pie, stubborn as a mule, and cute as a button on a shirt. He was wily in his own way, despite the fact that he had Down Syndrome. Kappy didn’t know much about the ailment, only that it made Jimmy look a little different from other folks and act a little slower as well. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t smart. He was too smart by far, but in ways different from everyone around him.

And it had started off to be such a nice day, too.

The Peacheys weren’t her closest neighbors, but they only lived less than a quarter of a mile from Kappy. Normally, she would have marched over there on foot, but since she had just returned from the bulk goods store and her horse was still hitched to her buggy, this way was much faster.

The tall stalks of corn rustled as she drove across the main road to the driveway on the other side. Mountains framed both edges of the valley as the clouds created shadows across the green. Blue Sky was one of five boroughs nestled between Stone Mountain and Jacks Mountain. The entire area was around thirty miles long, but only four miles wide. And most all of that was farmland: wheat, corn, and more. She supposed if she had walked it wouldn’t have taken any time at all to get to Jimmy and Ruth’s, but this way was much more acceptable. Even if she was coming to find out exactly why Jimmy had felt the need to add color to her door.

She shook her head. She knew why he had done it. She just didn’t know why he had done it.

It was a common misconception that a blue-painted door in the valley meant a girl of marriage age and availability lived there. She supposed since she and Hiram Lapp had called off the wedding she was technically available, but she had already settled herself to being an old maid. Everyone in the valley thought she was odd anyway. Why not add old maid to the list?

The Peachey house seemed strangely quiet as she pulled up the drive. Cornstalks surrounded them on each side, land that belonged to Ruth and had been leased since the year Amos Peachey had passed. Ruth was nothing if not a shrewd businesswoman. But necessity had made her that way.

How long had it been now since Amos had died? Twenty years? Kappy couldn’t remember.  A long time ago, at any rate. Her family had been alive then and Ruth’s daughter, Edith, had still been in the valley. Maybe fifteen. Jah, closer to fifteen, since Jimmy hadn’t yet started school.

Kappy pulled her horse to a stop and set the brake on the buggy. She could hear the dogs barking from the barn as if on the hunt for something sinister. She shook her head at herself and got out of the buggy. She really needed to quit reading those detective novels. But they were just so interesting. She had never been anyplace but Kishacoquillas Valley, Pennsylvania. And she would probably never go anyplace else. But she could live a little through books. As long as the bishop never found out. She was certain Samuel Miller would not approve of a pipe-smoking Englishman who solved mysteries with the help of his good friend Watson.

Once again, Kappy was overcome with the sense of quietness. No, that wasn’t right. It was more of a stillness, an expectancy, as if the farm were holding its breath, waiting for something else to happen.

She shook the thought away. That was ridiculous. Something else couldn’t happen because the first something hadn’t even happened yet. But as soon as she found Jimmy it would. And once she left he would know with great certainty that she did not need nor did she want her door painted blue.

“Silly tradition,” she muttered as she stalked up the porch steps. Whoever came up with such a notion should be hauled before the church. Maybe even hauled into jail. It was just plain silly. Yet now that her door had been painted, she could only hope that not many people saw it or she would be the laughingstock of the community before church on Sunday.

Not that it would be the first time.

She ignored the quiet that didn’t really exist, and the noise of thirty or so barking dogs, and knocked on the front door. She shifted from foot to foot waiting on someone, most likely Ruth, to come to the door.

She knocked again, uncomfortable just walking in as most of her neighbors were prone to do. No one walked into her house uninvited and she couldn’t see doing the same. If that made her an odd duck, then so be it.

No answer. Surely, someone knew she was there. How could they not with the dogs barking like crazy? Unless no one was home.

Kappy took a step back and eyed the door thoughtfully, as if the little bit of distance would provide some answers.

The paint on her door had still been tacky to the touch when she had pulled up to her house, which meant it hadn’t been long since Jimmy had left. But how long? And had Ruth allowed him to cross the street by himself? She didn’t think so.

The noise of the dogs grew louder, as if they had found another reason to bark. What was going on over there? She had been over to the Peacheys’ plenty of times, and never had she heard the dogs acting like this. With one last look at the door—the nice, plain, white door—she skipped down the porch steps and around the back of the house.

Like her house, the Peachey place was a two-story white structure with a large barn off to one side. An open hay barn sat a little farther back, but now it held the yellow-topped buggy that belonged to Ruth Peachey. But that would mean . . .

Ruth was somewhere in the house or the barn. And since there was no answer at the house . . .

Kappy started across the side yard to the barn, a red jewel shining in the sun.

She stopped for a moment, thinking she’d heard something, then she shrugged it off and continued across the yard.

The barks grew louder with each step she took, and for a moment Kappy wondered if Ruth had gotten some new stock, dogs that weren’t familiar with the noises of the valley.

It wasn’t like they were friends or anything, she and Ruth. Just friendly- enough neighbors. Truth was, Kappy wasn’t friends with many people in Blue Sky, but was that any fault of hers? Not in the least. She couldn’t help what people thought of her. She couldn’t control if someone believed she was a bit on the peculiar side. The Good Lord knew what was in her heart and that was all that mattered. Wasn’t it?

Kappy resisted the urge to cover her ears as she stepped into the barn. The barks were almost deafening. Yet amid the woofs and howls, she thought she heard another noise, this one distinctively human. “Ruth?” she called.

Not a reserved person, she surprised herself by easing cautiously forward. “Ruth?”

Still no answer.

Light filtered through from the other side of the barn. The door was open, but Ruth’s horse was nowhere to be seen, most likely put out to pasture for the afternoon.

“Hush!” she hollered toward the large pen containing Ruth Peachey’s prized beagle pups. They were so loud she could barely hear herself think! The dogs quieted for a moment, then started back up again.

Kappy shook her head, then rounded the corner that led to the pasture. She stopped short.

Jimmy Peachey stood there, his feet nearly buried in the hay. Tears ran down his reddened cheeks. He twisted his hands in his straw hat, crushing it as he sobbed.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he chanted as he rocked back and forth.

His mother lay prone at his feet.

Kappy rushed forward. Jimmy didn’t move, didn’t stop chanting, as she knelt beside the woman. Ruth’s storm-gray eyes stared unblinkingly at the rafters overhead.

The dogs continued to bark, blocking out all thoughts. Kappy moved by instinct, holding a hand under Ruth’s nose to see if she was still breathing. No warm breath brushed her fingertips, and she saw no rise and fall of Ruth’s chest. No movement of any kind.

Just the dogs barking and Jimmy chanting and rocking back and forth. Back and forth.

Kappy checked the woman’s breathing once more, unwilling to accept her first answer. But there was no breath. And that could only mean one thing.

Ruth Peachey was dead.

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