The Blessed Bones
The bindings on her arms and legs cut into her skin and prevented
her from rolling over. Tied as she was to the bed's metal railings,
she had no choice but to lie flat, but to do so made the small of
her back ache and the muscles in her sides complain. Periodically,
the pains came, rippling through her. Hard. When they did, she
prayed they would end. They left her spent and covered in sweat.
How long had she lain like this, helpless and frightened? She
thought hours, but it felt like days. Why had this happened to
her? Looking back, she'd made mistakes, but at the time…
It had started when she'd trusted the boy. That one night with
him had set everything in motion, the turn of events that led to
the evening she'd made a tragic decision. I never should have left
with the stranger, she thought, not for the first time. I should have
The drug coursed through her, again sending her body into
throbbing spasms, each moment feeling like an eternity. When
blessed relief finally came, the agony left her weak and delirious,
struggling to focus. In a haze, her memory drifted back to the last
time she'd seen her father, that afternoon at the bus depot.
As they stood at the counter, she'd protested: "But I don't want
to go. Why do I have to?"
"Be quiet," her father had whispered. "I'll talk to you when
I'm done here."
"Why are you doing this?" she'd asked, her voice timid. "Can't
"No. You can't." A lean, sallow man, he had a mop of brown
hair that fell crooked over his forehead. Quickly, he'd returned his
attention to the old man behind the counter. "I need a one-way
ticket to Denver."
"That'll be sixty-two dollars," the clerk had said.
Petite, small for her age, the teenager's most striking feature
was her eyes, a remarkable shade of violet. Her long prairie dress
hung limply on her slender body with the exception of around her
belly, where a careful observer might have noticed a round bulge.
Nervous, her hands were shaking and her stomach had roiled
with a bad case of indigestion. At least she'd stopped throwing
up. For weeks, she hadn't been able to figure out what was wrong
with her. Although frightened, she'd kept her worry to herself,
telling no one. Then her father had cornered her, telling her he'd
heard about her and the boy from someone who'd seen them
together—unchaperoned in the woods. A few hours later, he'd
told her that she was taking a trip.
After he purchased the bus ticket, her father shuffled to the
side to get out of the way of the others in line. The girl tracked
behind, asking, "Aren't you going with me?"
"No, of course not. Why would I do that?"
Her pulse drummed in her ears. "But I don't know anyone in
Denver. What will I do there?"
Furrowing his brow, her father shook his head. "I explained
this to you."
"Do my mothers know what you're doing?"
She'd asked that question before, and he hadn't answered. He
didn't again. Instead, he glared at her. "You know what you did.
"But I—" Tears began to flow, and the stomachache she'd been
fighting crawled up her throat, making her feel as if she would
gag. "What am I supposed to do?"
At that, her father pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket
and handed it to her. "Here, look. There's a shelter in Denver for
girls like you, ones who have strayed."
She gulped back sour phlegm. "Father, I—"
"This is not a discussion. This is my wish. Remember what the
prophet teaches: A father is to be obeyed."
At that, she wiped her nose with her dress sleeve, but her tears
flowed so hard and fast she gave up trying to stop them. "I'll obey
you, Father. I promise. Let me come home, and I'll be a good
girl. You'll see."
It sent a knife of pain through her when he muttered, "You
can never come home. Never."
"You made a grave mistake, one that would disgrace our family
if others knew. Your mothers and I would become the subject of
gossip and ridicule."
Her father stared down at her and she recognized the same
look he'd had on his face a year earlier when she'd watched him
slaughter a pig for Sunday dinner. The girl had raised it from a
piglet, poured her love into it, sleeping on a mound of hay beside
it when it was sick. She'd pleaded with her father to spare it, but
he'd raised the rifle to the pig's head and pulled the trigger. She'd
heard the boom and saw the blood and brain tissue spatter across
"Your bus leaves for Denver in two hours," her father said,
with as little emotion as if he'd been dropping her off at school.
She began to object, when he hissed, "Do you think I don't have
eyes? That I cannot see what has happened to you?"
"In Denver, hire a taxi to take you to the shelter. Ask the people
there for help." Her father had a slight smirk on his face, one she
interpreted as contempt for what she'd become. "Tell them that
you are with child."
"Father, please," she pleaded, but ignoring the pain in his young
daughter's cry, he turned and walked away. The girl waited, hoping
he'd return, but eventually shuffled over to a gray plastic chair
near the front, one where she could hear the speaker announcing
departures. She leaned back in the chair. Eventually, she nodded off.
When she awoke, a man was sitting beside her, in jeans and
a black sportscoat. He had the newspaper open. She assessed the
clock on the wall, then looked at her ticket. She'd missed her bus.
Panicked, unsure what to do, she couldn't stop the tears from
again streaming down her cheeks. The man with the newspaper
glanced over at her.
"Are you okay?"
Her parents had told her to never talk to strangers, but they
weren't there, and she needed someone to confide in. "My father
bought me a ticket to Denver. I missed my bus."
"Ah. That is bad luck," the man said. "Why Denver?"
She pulled out the sheet of paper with the name and address
of the youth shelter printed on it and showed it to him.
"Why is your father sending you there?"
"I-I was bad, and now I'm having a baby."
The man nodded, as if he understood. "You don't have to go
all the way to Denver. I know of a place that's closer, one where
they help girls in trouble."
The girl thought about that. The bus was gone, and she didn't
know when another would come. The ticket counter had closed
for the night, and outside the sky had turned black. She thought
of her mothers, her brothers and sisters. Her stomach empty and
bitter, she considered how the house smelled with dinner and
pictured her mothers clucking in the kitchen as they cleared the
plates. She wondered if they'd be upset. If they would miss her.
The man watched her, but when she remained silent, he stood,
as if ready to leave. "Good luck."
The girl's gaze traveled across the nearly deserted bus station.
Once he left, she'd be alone, except for a scruffy man in a stained
raincoat who sat in the corner mumbling to himself. She looked
up at the man, wondering what she should do.
Choking back the little voice in her head that whispered not
to, she asked, "Mister, would the people at that place you know
about, the shelter that's closer, help me?"
The girl had second thoughts when the man smiled at her.
Something about the way his lips curled up ever so slightly at the
corners made her shiver. "Yes, I'm sure they would," he said. She
saw a spark of excitement in his eyes when he asked, "Do you
want me to take you there?"
Later, tied to the bed, in the fog of a dream, the girl shook her
head and muttered: "No! No! Don't go with him. No!"
That realization came only in hindsight and far too late to
The day had slipped away. I'd been holed up in the musty room
at the back of the station since early morning, seated at a long,
library-style table. Above me the yellowed ceiling tiles were stained
a sickly brown from a long-forgotten leak. Over the years, water
had dripped and eaten away a patch of varnish, leaving a jagged
scar on the tabletop's dark wood. Despite the roof's repair, the
space felt dank, and it smelled of the aging paperwork it held.
Kept under lock and key, the cell-like room had walls lined with
metal cabinets. Inside were files, many of which went back decades.
After long hours cloistered in this forgotten slice of the Alber police
station, I'd come to call it "the Tombs."
On top of the battered table, I'd positioned a dozen stacks of
files categorized by types of crimes, all cold cases.
Maybe that wasn't the right way to describe them.
A cold case suggested that these were crimes that had been
investigated but remained unsolved. In truth, the matters chronicled
in these reports had never been pursued. They were deposited there
like corpses buried in unmarked graves. The file cabinets were akin
to caskets, never intended to be reopened, their contents destined
to molder away.
To comprehend why these cases were abandoned, one had to
appreciate the strange milieu of my hometown. Founded more than
a hundred years ago in a high valley tucked into the mountains,
Alber, Utah, was the home of Elijah's People, a fundamentalist
Mormon sect that practiced polygamy. An insular society, our
religion ruled our world. As true believers, we adhered to the
strict edicts of our prophets, most recently an octogenarian named
Emil Barstow. In town it had always been an open secret that
rather than fairly enforcing laws, Alber's police department did
the bidding of Barstow and others in the faith's hierarchy. Those
in good standing with the prophet could count on not being held
accountable for their actions. The police ignored injustices, the
suffering of innocent men, women and—all too often—children,
at the behest of the men in power.
In the past few years, Alber had changed. Since his conviction
for marrying off underage girls to older men, our illustrious prophet
resided in a federal prison cell. Foreclosures had lured outsiders in
search of bargains, and the wall of secrecy that isolated the town
from the secular world had begun to crumble.
Sadly, those changes came too late for nearly all the cases
chronicled in the reports on the table before me.
In law enforcement, we are bound by strict rules. Among the
most important are statutes of limitations, the finite periods after
crimes are committed in which they are eligible for prosecution.
In Utah, those statutes limited the prosecutions of nearly all
crimes—with only a few exceptions, like murder—to four years.
So although the files held accounts of not only run-of-the-mill
robberies and vandalism but domestic violence, child abuse, and
assaults, if they occurred one day more than four years ago, I
couldn't do a thing about them.
That had made my examination of the files maddening. While
my heart broke for the victims, my hands were tied.
The unfairness was hard for me to stomach. Especially in this
case, the one I held in my hand.
The manila folder had a name written in blue ink on the tab:
Danny Benson. I couldn't place Danny, but I knew his family. I
may have only taken over as chief of police nine months earlier,
but I'd spent the first twenty-four years of my life in Alber. Danny's
dad, Clyde, ran a service station on the highway outside town.
A big, beefy, roughhouse-looking guy in his fifties, Clyde always
had someone's old clunker up on the lift and habitually wore
smears of black grease on his uniforms. These days, when I'd had
no time for lunch, I popped in and filled my Suburban with gas,
then grabbed a Baby Ruth or a Mars Bar out of a bin Clyde kept
stocked next to the register.
Not being able to place Danny bothered me.
It was true that with more than four thousand residents, I
couldn't know everyone in town, but I thought I should have
heard of Danny at some point. I'd not only been born and raised
in Alber; I'd taught elementary school here for four years.
Despite my deep roots, my return had been a hard transition.
Alber wasn't the kind of town that welcomed outsiders with
open arms, and most of the locals saw me as infinitely worse than
a mere interloper. Although I'd grown up as one of Elijah's People,
I was an apostate who'd abandoned their beloved beliefs. In the
eyes of the faithful, that made me a traitor. I was so mistrusted,
so unwanted, that last fall there'd been a series of protests on the
streets surrounding the police station. Although the demonstrations
eventually ended, the bad feelings never waned. I had a stack of
anonymous notes in my desk that warned me against staying. All
through the winter they'd arrived, one or two a month. In the
beginning they'd been slipped through a crack in the station's
front door. Once we installed a surveillance camera, the letters
arrived via the mail. All were in pink envelopes and scented with
vanilla, marked personal and addressed to me: Chief of Police
Clara Jefferies. Whoever she was, the writer didn't mince her words.
LEAVE NOW BEFORE THINGS GET BAD FOR YOU.
Whether or not the majority of townsfolk wanted me around,
I'd decided to stay. Maybe part of it was pride. All I knew was that
when I left Alber—if I left—it would be on my terms. I had no
intention of allowing anyone to chase me out, not like last time.
And for however long I remained, I would do my best.
That meant I would do what I could for the forgotten victims
whose complaints had been buried in the Tombs.
All the folder before me contained was Danny Benson's picture
and the one-page report that accompanied it. Nothing else. The
photo was of an impish-looking four-year-old with a bowl cut
the color of tarnished brass and eyes that pinched in close at the
corners above his nose. At least, one of them did. The other eye
was nearly swollen shut, black, blue, and had to be painful.
The sixteen-year-old statement was signed by one of Danny's
older sisters, Lynlee. At the time, she was twelve. "Dad doesn't
hit the rest of us but he goes after Danny," the girl had told the