Quite unlike the stereotypical day for a funeral. Carl squinted against the bright sunlight coming from the eastern side of the graveyard. A few colorful leaves drifted around the hole in the ground, indicating that fall was close behind.
It looked like the whole town of Shelley had showed up. Probably had, actually. Carl swallowed and worked hard to keep his face straight.
Kristin glanced at him and took his hand. She was one of the only people wearing a black dress. Didn’t Mormons wear black to funerals? Apparently not.
The pastor, or whoever, finished up his words, closing his Bible. Then he led them in a prayer. Carl tuned the words out. He didn’t want to hear. The tears still stung his eyes as he watched them lower the white casket into the ground. He knew that a young, beautiful girl lay in there, cut off before her time was done. How unfair.
Beside him Kristin wiped her eyes. Mrs. Nichols gathered her younger children around her and sobbed, her lower lip shaking as the tears rolled down her plump cheeks.
A line formed to pay their respects to the Nichols. Carl waited his turn. He had news from his trip to Canada. He hoped it would be some sort of condolence.
Kristin touched his arm. “I’ll wait at the car.”
He nodded, not looking at her. “Okay.”
The line dwindled down. He put on his best business face and approached the Nichols. He hesitated just shy of them.
Mr. Nichols saw him first. “Detective Hamilton.” He reached out and clasped Carl’s arm, then pulled him closer. “Thank you for coming.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Nichols said, her blue eyes shining like sapphires.
He sighed. “I’m sorry we couldn’t find her before this happened.” He hoped they knew how much he meant it. He took it personally every time they lost someone. Especially a youth.
Mr. Nichols inclined his head. “So are we.”
Carl followed them to the car. “I’ll be leaving for Canada in the afternoon.”
“Flying this time?” Mr. Nichols asked.
“Yes. The flier we found in Alberta had a Montreal phone number. Too far to drive.”
Mrs. Nichol’s eyes flicked ahead. Carl followed her gaze to see Mr. and Mrs. Murphy getting into their blue Toyota Camry. “Do you think the other girls are still alive?”
“If they are, we’ll find them. We know they were at the time the flier was printed, which was less than a week ago. Obviously they’d escaped. At this point they could be running, or someone may have turned them in. Hopefully Montreal will have some answers for me.”
Mr. Nichols began herding the children into the car. Mrs. Nichols stopped and looked at him, a sad smile on her face. “We can’t thank you enough, Detective. I hope you will stop by sometime.”
He gave a short laughed, feeling a little uncomfortable. “Don’t put yourself out, Mrs. Nichols. I know you have a lot of things to deal with right now.”
“She was a good girl. I know she's with Jesus.” Her nostrils widened and tears filled her eyes again.
Carl didn’t say anything. He wasn’t going to dispute her faith. Especially if it gave her peace.
“Don’t you believe in God, Detective?”
Carl looked up at the sky. God? “It’s not that I don’t believe in God, Mrs. Nichols. I believe in Him. But He doesn’t bother with my life and I don’t bother with His.”
She stared at him a good moment, her blue eyes intent on his. “Have you ever gone to church?”
He focused on her. “I was raised in the Baptist church, Ma’m,” he said, his Alabama accent slipping out at the mention of his upbringing. “But I haven’t stepped foot inside in years.”
She glanced at the van behind her. Mr. Nichols sat in the driver’s seat, waiting. “Well, I happen to know the pastor to a Baptist church on Main Street. I’m sure he’d love for you to visit.” She heaved a sigh. “Anyway, it was good talking to you, Detective. Don’t be a stranger. Please let us know what you find.”
Carl nodded. “Will do.”
He watched them drive away and stood a long time in the graveyard.