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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  • First Published:
    Jun 2013, 320 pages
    Jul 2014, 320 pages

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"He was conscious a minute ago," I tell the paramedic.

"We'll take good care of him, Chief."

Rising, I take a step back to get out of the way.

He kneels at the child's side. "I need a backboard over here!" he shouts over his shoulder.

Close on his heels, a young firefighter snaps open a reflective thermal blanket and goes around to the other side of the boy. A third paramedic trots through the ditch with a bright yellow backboard in tow.

I leave them to their work and hit my lapel mike. "Jodie, can you ten seventy-nine?" Notify coroner.

"Roger that."

I glance over my shoulder to the place where I left Paul Borntrager. A firefighter kneels at his side, assessing him. I can't see the Amish man's face, but he's not moving.

Firefighters and paramedics swarm the area, treating the injured and looking for more victims. Any cop that has ever worked patrol knows that passengers who don't utilize safety belts—which is always the case with a buggy—can be ejected a long distance, especially if speed is a factor. When I was a rookie in Columbus, I worked an accident in which a semi truck went off the road and flipped end over end down a one-hundred-foot ravine. The driver, who'd been belted in, was seriously injured, but survived. His wife, who hadn't been wearing her safety belt, was ejected over two hundred feet. The officers on scene—me included—didn't find her for nearly twenty minutes. Afterward, the coroner told me that if we'd gotten to her sooner, she might have survived. Nobody ever talked about that accident again. But it stayed with me, and I never forgot the lesson it taught.

Wondering if Mattie was a passenger, I establish a mental grid of the scene. Starting at the point of impact, I walk the area, looking for casualties, working my way outward in all directions. I don't find any more victims.

When I'm finished, I drift back to where I left Paul, expecting to find him being loaded onto a litter. I'm shocked to see a blue tarp draped over his body, rain tapping against it, and I realize he's died.

I know better than to let this get to me. I haven't talked to Paul or Mattie in years. But I feel something ugly and unwieldy building inside me. Anger at the driver responsible. Grief because Paul is dead and Mattie must be told. The pain of knowing I'll probably be the one to do it.

"Oh, Mattie," I whisper.

A lifetime ago, we were inseparable—more like sisters than friends. We shared first crushes, first "singings," and our first heartbreaks. Mattie was there for me during the summer of my fourteenth year when an Amish man named Daniel Lapp introduced me to violence. My life was irrevocably changed that day, but our friendship remained a constant. When I turned eighteen and made the decision to leave the Plain Life, Mattie was one of the few who supported me, even though she knew it would mean the end of our friendship.

We lost touch after I left Painters Mill. Our lives took different paths and never crossed again. I went on to complete my education and become a police officer. Mattie joined the church, married Paul, and started a family. For years, we've been little more than acquaintances, rarely sharing anything more than a wave on the street. But I never forgot those formative years, when summer lasted forever, the future held infinite promise—and we still believed in dreams.

Dreams that, for one of us, ended tonight.

I walk to Andy Welbaum's truck. It's an older Dodge with patches of rust on the hood. A crease on the rear quarter panel. Starting with the front bumper, I circle the vehicle, checking for damage. But there's nothing there. Only then do I realize this truck wasn't involved in the accident.

I find Andy leaning against the front bumper of a nearby Holmes County ambulance. Someone has given him a slicker. He's no longer crying, but he's shaking beneath the yellow vinyl.

Copyright© 2013 by Linda Castillo

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