The Monday after Ryan Merritt's death was hot and muggy. It was like the aftermath of any other natural disaster. The end of Cochise County's spree killer brought with it a flurry of funerals.
Early that morning, Clyde Philips was laid to rest in the Pomerene Cemetery after a moving service conducted by Belle's pastor at the First Pentecostal Church of Pomerene. And up the road at the Triple C, after a service in the Benson L.D.S. church, Jake Hosfield was laid to rest in the family plot. Alton had wanted to bury Ryan Merritt-a boy the tabloids were already labeling the "Cascabel Kid"-in the family plot as well, but his wife wouldn't hear of it. After a brief but heated battle Alton had acceded to her wishes.
When the younger boy's service was over, Alton took off alone on what had once been Jake's ATV. He rode it all the way to the edge of the river, stopping only when he was sure he was safely out of Sonja's sight. Then he spent a heartbroken half hour scattering the ashes of his other son, his firstborn. As he scattered the ashes, he also turned loose his lifelong dream of one day handing over his hard-held family spread to one or both of his sons. A lesser man might have taken his own life that afternoon, but that wasn't Alton Hosfield's way. When he finished what had to be done by the river, he went back to the house and his wife and tried to go on.
A few miles away, across Pomerene Road at Rattlesnake Crossing Ranch, Daniel Berridge and his sister, Crow Woman, conducted a private ceremony for Katrina Berridge, burying her in a grave the two of them had spent the night digging by hand. A photographer for People magazine tried to crash the ceremony, only to be driven off by what he later called "a shovel-wielding maniac in a black squaw dress and moccasins."
After a short service at a funeral home in Tucson, Ashley Brittany's remains were shipped back to her home in southern California for final burial. Ruben and Alicia Ramos heard an aging priest celebrate their son's burial mass at a small parish church in Benson.
The last of the funerals that day, the one scheduled for three o'clock in the afternoon at Bisbee's Canyon United Methodist Church, had nothing at all to do with the Cascabel Kid and everything to do with Joanna Brady. She sat by the pulpit, nervously aware that she was sitting in Marianne's accustomed spot. Eventually, looking out at the sea of familiar faces and listening to the soothing notes of the organist's prelude, she began to feel a little better.
Esther's casket was tiny and white. Dwarfed by banks of flowers, it was covered by a blanket of white roses interspersed with sprigs of greenery and baby's breath. While Joanna watched, a rainbow of midafternoon sunlight splashed in through the stained-glass window and transformed the delicate white petals into a kaleidoscope of breathtaking colors jewel tones of red and green, blue and gold.
Moments before the three o'clock starling time, the last few people began filing into the front pew, the one that had been reserved with bands of black satin.
Jeff and Marianne were there with their other daughter, Ruth. As usual, Ruth was being a two-year-old handful. It took the concerted efforts of both Angie Kellogg and Dennis Hacker to keep her corralled in the pew. Seeing Angie there in the front row, Joanna couldn't help wondering how many times in her life the woman had actually set foot inside a church. But then, she was there for the same reason Joanna Brady was-because Marianne Maculyea and Jeff Daniels were her friends.
Beyond Dennis Hacker, at the far end of the pew, sat Butch Dixon. Beside Butch, huddled under the protective wing of his arm, sat Jennifer Ann Brady.
At last the organist stopped playing. In the hushed and expectant silence of the room, with no other sound but the distant rumble of the air-conditioning unit, Joanna knew it was time for her to stand and speak. She had expected her knees to knock, her hands to shake, and her voice to quiver, but none of that happened. She was doing this for Marianne. She was doing this because a friend had asked it of her as a favor. And that, Joanna realized, taking hold of the pulpit with both hands, was what made doing it possible. When Joanna Brady conducted Esther Maculyea-Daniels' funeral that afternoon, she did so with a poise and confidence that surprised her almost more than it surprised her mother.
"The first hymn today isn't listed by number in your program," she said. "I didn't think that was necessary, because it's one we all know by heart."
Down in the front pew, Butch Dixon shook his head and tapped his ear. Seeing that, Joanna knew she needed to readjust the volume. Clearing her throat, she spoke more clearly, more firmly into the microphone. "This particular song was one of Esther's favorites. It's the one her parents sang to her when she was restless and unable to sleep. Please join me in singing 'Jesus Loves Me.' "
Joanna had stayed up half the night on Sunday, writing and rewriting the service, searching her heart, hoping to hit on just the right combination of hope and comfort. Now, as Jeff Daniels and Marianne Maculyea rose from their seats and joined hands to sing, Joanna allowed herself to believe that she had achieved her goal.
Enough time had elapsed since Andy's funeral that she could no longer remember any of the specifics of that service. What she was left with was the sense that whatever words Marianne Maculyea had spoken that day, whatever songs had been sung or Scriptures read, they had all been exactly right. And maybe, she hoped, that would be true here as well. Perhaps, once the pain had lessened some, Jeff and Marianne would feel that way about this service. Maybe, in the long run, what was said or sung wouldn't matter nearly as much as that beautiful rainbow splash of stained-glass color reflecting off the snow-white petals of the roses.
The voices of the congregation rose in unison, finishing the first verse of the childhood hymn and marching inexorably into the second:
Jesus loves me. He will stay
Close beside me all the way.
If I love Him when I die,
He will take me home on high.
Up to then, Marianne had been singing right along with everyone else, but at that point her voice faltered. She stopped singing and turned into Jeff’s arms, burying her head against his chest. That moment of parental inattention was all the restless Ruth needed. Determined to escape the confines of the pew, she slipped away from her parents, dodging past Angie Kellogg and Dennis Hacker as well. The escape-bent child might have made it all the way to the side aisle if Jenny hadn't reached out, caught her, and dragged her back.
Wrestling the wriggly child into her own small lap, Jenny whispered something into Ruth's ear. Joanna more than half expected the toddler to let loose with a shriek of objection. Instead, nodding at whatever magic words Jenny must have uttered, Ruth snuggled close to Jenny's chest. With a contented sigh, she stuck one chubby thumb into her mouth and closed both her eyes. Instead of only one child sheltered under Butch Dixon's protective arm, now there were two.
The whole small drama played itself out in less time than it took the congregation to reach the end of the chorus. Watching it, Joanna was struck by her daughter's quick-thinking action and also by her kindness. Without any adult prodding, Jenny had seen Ruth making a run for it and had done what needed doing. There was an unflinching responsibility and a resourcefulness in Jenny's action that struck a responsive chord in Joanna's heart-something Joanna Brady recognized in herself.
Through the years, looking in wonder at her fair-haired, blue-eyed daughter, Joanna had thought of her as Andy's child. Jenny was, after all, a mirror image of her father. But seeing Jenny then, with Ruth nodding off in her lap, Joanna realized that Jennifer Ann Brady was a chip off more than one old block. She was her mother's daughter as well.
Joanna's eyes flooded with unwelcome tears-tears that were as much joy as they were sorrow. At the same time her heart was overflowing with sadness for Jeff and Marianne and Ruth, at the saint' time her whole body ached with hurt for their awful and wrenching loss, Joanna nonetheless felt a certain motherly pride. Looking down on Jenny, she could see into the future enough to know that her daughter was growing up to be a kind, loving, and caring person. Like her mother, she would someday be known as someone who was true to her friends and could be counted on for help in a time of crisis.
The song ended. The last note lingered in the hushed sanctuary as Sheriff Joanna Brady moved once more to the pulpit. There, resting on the polished dark wood, lay Marianne Maculyea's worn Bible. The book was open to the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. Taking a deep breath, Joanna steadied her voice and spoke.
"The Scripture today comes from the old Testament, the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter Three, Verses One to Eight. 'To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven'."
The words were familiar to her. Joanna had heard them time and again over the years, and yet this time when she read them aloud in that hushed, listening church, it seemed as though the words were intended for her alone. They were speaking about the triumphs and tragedies of her own life: “… a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance…"
For the first time she understood, to the very depths of her being, that without surviving terrible sadness, she might well have been blind to the astounding miracle of joy. The one made the other possible.
Finished with the Scripture reading, Joanna sat down while choir director Abby Noland stepped forward to sing a solo rendition of "Amazing Grace." Sitting at the front of the church, Joanna found her eyes drawn to Jenny-to Jenny and the now sleeping Ruth. Rather than smiling, Joanna reached up, and tugged at her ear. With that simple gesture, a silent signal passed between mother and daughter. Like the signal television actress Carol Burnett had often sent to her grandmother, Joanna sent an unspoken "I love you" to Jenny.
Jenny sat with her chin resting on Ruth's tousled hair. Over the sleeping toddler, Jenny beamed back at her mother and tugged at her own ear in reply.
Yes, Joanna Brady thought, smiling an almost invisible smile. Definitely a chip off the same block.