Authors: Michael Wallace
By Michael Wallace
When a brutal murder shocks the polygamist enclave of Blister Creek, Utah, church elders call in Jacob Christianson, a medical student and the favored son of a church elder. Jacob must solve the murder while protecting his young sister Eliza from marriage to one of three old men jostling for power within the church hierarchy.
©2011 - Michael Wallace, all rights reserved
Cover Art by
Glendon Haddix at www.streetlightgraphics.com
Includes bonus material at the end: author bio, discussion questions, an excerpt from Mighty and Strong, the sequel to The Righteous. Also available, book #3, The Wicked, and Trial by Fury, a Righteous novella.
Amanda Kimball drugged her three-year-old daughter before putting her to bed. She dissolved half an Ambien tablet into a cup of warm milk and sat her daughter at the table to drink it.
Sophie Marie wrinkled her face after the first sip. “I’m not thirsty, and anyway it tastes funny.”
“Just drink it,” Amanda urged.
Other children passed in and out of the kitchen, completing the nighttime ritual of getting drinks, saying goodnight for the third time, complaining about their siblings, and using a hundred other tricks to delay bedtime. Twenty unwilling children made bedtime a trial in the Kimball house. It took half a dozen women working together to get all the diapers changed, teeth brushed, and squabbles settled. Normally Amanda would have lent a hand, helping her sister wives with their children.
But not tonight. Tonight Amanda could think only of her own daughter.
Within a few minutes Sophie Marie grew blinky and began to yawn. Her eyes had already closed by the time Amanda carried her upstairs to bed.
A terrible feeling had settled in Amanda’s stomach by the time she tucked the girl in bed. “Go to sleep, my child,” she whispered. “Tomorrow will be very different for us.”
Amanda joined the sister wives in shutting down for the night. Elder Kimball had returned from Salt Lake with two of his older sons that evening, but they had already retired to the men’s wing of the house. That left the wives in charge of nightly prayers and scripture study.
But Amanda could not focus on the Book of Mormon tonight. She couldn’t help but look from face to bowed face within the circle. Which of these women could she trust? Any of them? Fernie? Fernie was not only her sister wife, but her cousin. Amanda had other friends among the wives of Elder Kimball, but over the past weeks she had begun to question all of them. Charity was the first wife; how could she not know? Clara Sue was the youngest and prettiest. Delores, Elder Kimball’s favorite. Maybe all of them knew. Maybe even Fernie.
Amanda had taken the cell phone call that afternoon. “Amanda Christianson Kimball,” the man said with the voice of an executioner. “Having violated thine covenants, thou hast been sealed unto death. Prepare thyself to stand at the Judgment Bar.”
The man had hung up. There had been no argument. No mercy offered. She had been sealed unto death. Only the manner of that death remained in doubt.
How had they known? Had they watched her? Had they followed her?
She started in her chair, realized that the other women were staring. She stared back, open-mouthed. Were her thoughts so transparent? Did everyone know even now all she had done, all she planned to do? A bead of sweat crawled down the small of her back.
“It’s your turn to read,” said Charity, frowning at the open book in Amanda’s lap.
“Oh.” Amanda dropped her eyes to the page, but had no idea which verse they were on. She scanned the page furiously, trying to recall the last words spoken.
“It’s the next page,” Fernie whispered. “Verse seventeen.”
Charity’s frown deepened, her lips thin. She said nothing, but would doubtless have
to say to Elder Kimball when he next visited her room.
Upstairs, Amanda sat at her desk and pulled a sheet of paper from the drawer. She had to believe that Fernie was still true to her.
She thought for a moment, then began to write.
If you read this, then I’m already dead. My blood has atoned for my sins.
Dear God, why am I so alone? I don’t know where to turn. I will tell the prophet, but maybe he already knows. That is what they say. You are my cousin, my sister wife, and my friend. And you are a good woman. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe someday we’ll laugh about this together. But if you discover this letter in your dresser and something has happened to me, you will know why I died and by whose hand.
First, go to my room and get the manila envelope under my mattress. It will help you understand the rest of this letter.
What do I say next? How do I explain this?
She put pen back to paper three times, but always lifted it again, her mind a blank. Finally, she gave up. She folded the half-completed note and tucked it into her Book of Mormon. Perhaps it was better this way. Better not to draw Fernie into this mire. Maybe this stupor of thought was Heavenly Father’s way of stopping Amanda from making a grave mistake.
Yes, that was it. That was surely it.
Amanda went to bed fully dressed. She lay in bed with her eyes open as the house settled in for the night. Little voices hushed, then women went to bed one by one. Creaks diminished, then ceased. Soon, all that remained was the occasional cough. Amanda listened to Sophie Marie’s soft, slow breaths as she tried to calm her own racing heart.
When she could wait no more, Amanda slipped out of bed. She reached between the mattress and pulled out a manila envelope. She opened it to make sure she had the right one, and not the second envelope that she’d meant Fernie to find. Inside was her evidence, together with a wad of bills stolen from her husband.
Her plan was to leave town headed west until she reached the highway. From there, hitchhike to Cedar City and then catch a bus to Salt Lake City, or south toward Las Vegas.
But she had one stop to make before she left town. She had to see the prophet. Amanda gathered Sophie Marie. The girl did not stir, but lay in her mother’s arms, leaden and limp. Only her deep and regular breathing betrayed life. She would make no noise as they fled.
The floorboards in the hallway groaned underfoot. Amanda tried at first to take slower steps, but this only prolonged the anxious moments, so at last she clenched her jaw and hurried down the stairs, which creaked a warning to anyone who might be listening.
She let out her breath when she reached the living room and saw that it was empty. She made her way straight for the front door. In a moment, she was outside, down the driveway and into the street.
The pavement radiated heat underfoot, while the desert air cooled rapidly. A breeze came from the Ghost Cliffs to the north, bringing with it the smell of sand and sage. Houses, each a multi-winged compound designed to hold several wives and their children, stood like dark and silent sentinels along the street. There were no cars on the road and only the rare streetlight to puncture the darkness. Outside the cone of lights, the stars glittered overhead.
She’d spent a year at Harmony, Alberta, as a child, but had lived the rest of her life here in Blister Creek. She knew every inch of the surrounding hills, had hiked the burned sandstone of the Ghost Cliffs and the red rock of Witch’s Warts. She loved the blue skies that stretched from horizon to horizon. The smell of the desert was home. The cottonwood trees along the creek, the pockets of green sprinkled across the red landscape, even the scorpions and rattlesnakes that came in from the desert at night spoke to her of home.
She might never see it again. Out of the community, she would be excommunicated, her name stricken from the names of the Saints. Her only hope lay in the envelope tucked under her arm. That the prophet would come to her rescue.
Sophie Marie grew heavier in Amanda’s arms as she slipped from shadow to shadow on her way west. The prophet’s home lay on the western edge of Blister Creek. Beyond that, ten miles of desert to walk with a sleeping child in arm before she reached the highway.
When Amanda reached the prophet’s home, she looked down at Sophie Marie and knew she couldn’t take the girl inside. If she was wrong, if the prophet knew what these men were doing and had sanctioned it, as impossible as that was to believe, then he might take the girl. Better to leave her daughter here, sleeping, to be snatched up when she fled. She lay the girl on the grass. Sophie Marie sighed, but did not wake.
A light burned in the front room and she walked up to the house and looked in through the window. The prophet sat by himself at a small work table with slivers of colored glass spread in front of him like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Brother Joseph, now eighty years old, had retired from his work on the ranch, but kept busy making stained glass windows. Almost every home in Blister Creek had a window made by the prophet. A stained glass window of the Nauvoo temple—burned by a mob in the days of Joseph Smith—hung in the Kimball house. Other houses held sunbursts, desert sunrises, and scenes from the Book of Mormon.
Brother Joseph looked like any other man as she saw him now, and not a prophet of God. He worked intently as he took advantage of the quiet after his wives and children had retired to bed.
She had felt the man’s hands on her head and his gentle voice as he had given her a prophet’s blessing. And she knew in her heart that he couldn’t be caught up in these conspiracies. He could rebuke the men who would kill her. The papers she carried in the manila envelope would convince him. She turned to glance at her daughter before going inside.
Sophie Marie was gone.
There was nothing where she had lain, only an indentation in the grass. It was as if a wild animal had carried her away without a sound. Heart pounding, she ran to the spot and looked into the darkness, wild with fear.
“Missing something, Amanda?”
She whirled and saw three men standing in the darkness just beyond the light coming from the window of the house. Shadows masked their faces. One of them held her daughter, still asleep, in his arms.
“Give her back.” Her voice was brittle in her ears.
“Certainly,” the first said. “She is yours, after all. A gift from the Lord.”
“A gift you seem to scorn,” the second man said.
The man holding her daughter said nothing.
“What do you want? Please, I’ll do anything. Just give me back my daughter.”
The first man said, “The envelope in your hands. Give it to me.”
She held out her hand, shaking. He took it, then dropped it at her feet. “Don’t worry. Your daughter will be safe.”
She took a step backward, but this took her farther from the house. The man took a step in unison, keeping her close.
she implored herself.
Scream, for the love of your daughter. Scream!
But terror had taken her and she couldn’t move. And then his hands moved with the speed of a striking snake. They closed around her neck. She flailed with her hands, but the second man closed in. He wrenched her arms behind her back. She tried to hurl herself to the ground, to wrestle herself free, but the two men held her upright.
The hands tightened until she couldn’t breathe, though she opened her mouth and gulped for air like a fish thrown up on the riverbank. Lights began to pop in her head. The hands released. She drew a single, ragged breath, before her attacker tightened his grip again. They didn’t want her to die. Not yet.
The second man released her arms. She flailed at the man choking her, but the strength had left her limbs and her efforts amounted to nothing. He took a pair of pliers from his pocket. He reached the pliers into her gaping mouth and seized her tongue. Her daughter slept peacefully in the third man’s arms.
she begged silently.
Not like this.
“Amanda Christianson Kimball,” the man with the pliers said. “In the name of the Savior, Jesus Christ, we do exercise righteous judgment upon thee. Let the blood of the wicked be spilled to justify the souls of the righteous.”
The pliers bit into her tongue. Pain and fear. And then an excruciating tearing in her mouth. She screamed. The tongue held. Blood streamed from her mouth. The man with the pliers grunted while the other two held her limbs and head. He jerked back and forth, ripping her tongue out by its roots.
Through the pain, Amanda darted a glance toward the home of her would-be rescuer
. Look out the window,
she pleaded to the prophet. With all her will, she silently begged
. For the love of God, look.
Inside, the prophet of the Church of the Anointing set down his soldering iron and lifted the stained glass to the light. The man and his work shimmered as seen through her watering eyes. The window was a white dove with an olive branch in its mouth.
Brother Joseph did not look toward the window nor see into the darkness outside.