Excerpt from Her Last Breath by Linda Castillo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Her Last Breath

A Kate Burkholder Novel

By Linda Castillo

Her Last Breath
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2013,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2014,
    320 pages.

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He looks at me when I approach. He's about forty years old and balding, with circles the size of plums beneath hound dog eyes. "That kid going to be okay?" he asks.

"I don't know." The words come out sounding bitchy, and I take a moment to rein in my emotions. "What happened?"

"I was coming home from work like I always do. Slowed down to turn onto the county road and saw all that busted-up wood and stuff scattered all over the place. I got out to see what happened…" Shaking his head, he looks down at his feet. "Chief Burkholder, I swear to God I ain't never seen anything like that before in my life. All them kids. Damn." He looks like he's going to start crying again. "Poor family."

"So your vehicle wasn't involved in the accident?"

"No ma'am. It had already happened when I got here."

"Did you witness it?"

"No." He looks at me, grimaces. "I think it musta just happened though. I swear to God the dust was still flying when I pulled up."

"Did you see any other vehicles?"

"No." He says the word with some heat. "I suspect that sumbitch hightailed it."

"What happened next?"

"I called nine one one. Then I went over to see if I could help any of them. I was a medic in the Army way back, you know." He falls silent, looks down at the ground. "There was nothing I could do."

I nod, struggling to keep a handle on my outrage. I'm pissed because someone killed three people—two of whom were children—injured a third, and left the scene without bothering to render aid or even call for help.

I let out a sigh. "I'm sorry I snapped at you."

"I don't blame you. I don't see how you cops deal with stuff like this day in and day out. I hope you find the bastard that done it."

"I'm going to need a statement from you. Can you hang around for a little while longer?"

"You bet. I'll stay as long as you need me."

I turn away from him and start toward the road to see a Holmes County sheriff's department cruiser glide onto the shoulder, lights flashing. An ambulance pulls away, transporting the only survivor to the hospital. Later, the coroner's office will deal with the dead.

I step over a chunk of wood from the buggy. The black paint contrasts sharply against the pale yellow of the naked wood beneath. A few feet away, I see a little girl's shoe. Farther, a tattered afghan. Eyeglasses.

This is now a crime scene. Though the investigation will likely fall under the jurisdiction of the Holmes County Sheriff's office, I'm going to do my utmost to stay involved. Rasmussen won't have a problem with it. Not only will my Amish background be a plus, but his department, like mine, works on a skeleton crew, and he'll appreciate all the help he can get.

Now that the injured boy has been transported, any evidence left behind will need to be preserved and documented. We'll need to bring in a generator and work lights. If the sheriff's department doesn't have a deputy trained in accident reconstruction, we'll request one from the State Highway Patrol.

I think of Mattie Borntrager, at home, waiting for her husband and children, and I realize I'll need to notify her as soon as possible.

I'm on my way to speak with the paramedics for an update on the condition of the injured boy when someone calls out my name. I turn to see my officer, Rupert "Glock" Maddox, approaching me at a jog. "I got here as quick as I could," he says. "What happened?"

I tell him what little I know. "The driver skipped."

"Shit." He looks at the ambulance. "Any survivors?"

"One," I tell him. "A little boy. Eight or nine years old."

"He gonna make it?"

"I don't know."

His eyes meet mine and a silent communication passes between us, a mutual agreement we arrive upon without uttering a word. When you're a cop in a small town, you become protective of the citizens you've been sworn to serve and protect, especially the innocent, the kids. When something like this happens, you take it personally. I've known Glock long enough to know that sentiment runs deep in him, too.

Copyright© 2013 by Linda Castillo

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