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On the surface, Chief Dove Carnahan is a true trailblazer who would do anything to protect the rural Pennsylvanian countryside where she has lived all fifty of her years. Traditional and proud of her blue-collar sensibilities, Dove is loved by her community. But beneath her badge lies a dark and self-destructive streak, fed by a secret she has kept since she was sixteen. When a girl is beaten to death, her body tossed down a fiery sinkhole in an abandoned coal town, Dove is faced with solving the worst crime of her law enforcement career. She identifies the girl as a daughter of the Truly family, a notoriously irascible dynasty of rednecks and petty criminals.

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During her investigation, the man convicted of killing Dove's mother years earlier is released from prison. Still proclaiming his innocence, he approaches Dove with a startling accusation and a chilling threat that forces her to face the parallels between her own family's trauma and that of the Trulys. He stops in front of me and looks me up and down with a face set in stone and a pair of mirrored sunglasses hiding his eyes.

We start walking toward the site.

Casey James Prestwood And The Burning Angels

Nolan motions at the two crime scene techs that arrived with him. They head toward the body in their duty uniforms of cargo pants and polo shirts with the state police badge embroidered over their hearts carrying their cameras and evidence kits. I motion at Colby Singer and Brock Blonski, the two officers on the scene with me. After initially examining the body and waiting as they stumbled away and threw up, I sent them off to look for bloodstains, footprints, or any other kind of evidence. Blonski and Singer are rookies to police work and life in general. I hired them about a year ago. Blonski was first on the scene at a traffic fatality a few months ago.

I save my disgust for the true misogynists. The hole turned out to be three hundred feet deep and the temperature inside it turned out to be almost twice that number. The only other building left standing was the white clapboard church. I worked that case hard while everyone around me considered it a waste of time. I discovered the thieves were professional antique scavengers working out of New York, but I was never able to come close to an arrest or track down the property.

Here those windows were miraculous bursts of color and faith in the midst of bleakness. I feel personally violated every time I think about it. I step gingerly over the scorched ground, fully aware of the dangers beneath my feet, while Nolan stomps heavily behind me, daring it to give way. Where the fire burns hottest, more than a dozen smoldering gashes have opened up. Dead trees have broken loose from the weakened soil and fallen over. Their exposed roots remind me of the tangled legs of dried-out spiders that Neely and I used to find in our attic.

In one of these fiery holes in the ground, someone has stuffed a dead girl.

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Nolan and I stare down at her. The top portion of her body has been badly burned. Most of her hair is gone, and the damage to her skull is obvious. I highly doubt she survived those blows. Hopefully they were inflicted before she was lit on fire.

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You can find it at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Maybe someone tried to put out the fire with the blanket. My officers and I stand by while he continues to stare intently at the dead girl from behind the black depths of his glasses. Even eerier than the landscape is the absence of any noise. No one is mowing a yard or playing a radio or wielding a power tool. If we try to pull her out, she might come apart. Nolan finally stands back up. I weigh the least. I take off my jacket and slip a rope under my arms while the men hold the other end.

I cling to this knowledge in an effort to maintain some dignity as I descend into a muddy hole to retrieve a corpse. I try not to think about the girl or to look at her until I absolutely have to. The hole is hot and steamy, and I also try not to think about the earth around me falling away, exposing the leaping flames of hell a mile beneath my dangling feet.

I wedge myself against one side and reach out to grab the body around its midsection. The sight of her young bare legs sticking out from a pair of cutoff shorts makes my throat tighten. Miraculously one of her flip-flops is still on one of her feet. Her toenails are painted neon pink, and an anklet made of sparkly hearts glimmers in the black dirt. I gently pull her toward me, ignoring the sound, smell, and feel of seared flesh and bones, and try to imagine the girl she once was before her heart stopped beating and her soul fled.

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Did she like school? Did she have a lot of friends? What did she want to be when she grew up? Did she ever get to do it in a pickup truck? None of us speak once we have her laid out on the ground. We stand around her in a protective circle and silently share our individual grief.

Tears are acceptable in even the most hardened police officers in situations like this.