Zeta walked to the Bright Angel Lodge and her cabin. She was sweaty, and covered with reddish-brown trail dust, so she quickly got out of her clothes, kicked off her hiking boots and hit the shower. As the force of the warm water beat on her head and ran over her body, she flashed back to the instant she kicked Benton. “His hands made a quick attempt to grab my leg. If he’d succeeded in getting a hand on my boot, I’d be riding with him in my body bag,” she mentally recalled. Benton did have fast reflexes, but this was so unexpected that his quick attempt to get a hold of Zeta, instantly turned into futilely clawing the thin canyon air.
Detective Clark Menser was already in his unmarked car on Highway 180 on his way to Grand Canyon Village. Deaths of hikers are always treated as a possible accidental death, homicide, or suicide. Grand Canyon leads the national parks in suicides with several every year. There have even been some copycat suicides that drove their cars off a Grand Canyon cliff, inspired by the 1991 Thelma and Louise movie. The movie was actually filmed in Moab, Utah at Dead Horse Point State Park.
Coconino County Sheriff’s Office detectives only get involved in hiker deaths if Grand Canyon park law enforcement thinks there is any possible reason to call them into the case. The ranger at Phantom Ranch reported by phone that, “Mrs. Barrington just seemed a little different, quite a bit less upset and torn up than a spouse usually is. It could be nothing at all, but maybe you should do an interview with her Detective Menser.”
After her shower, Zeta made the dreaded phone call. “Hello Mr. Barrington, it’s Zeta.”
“Oh hi my dear, how’s everything going at the Grand Canyon, quite a big ditch isn’t it, He joked. “We’ve been there three times, just loved it.”
“I’ve got terrible news.”
“Oh no, are, ah, are you ok, is Benton ok?”
“Benton’s not with us anymore,” Zeta sobbed.
“What, what do you mean, don’t tell me...no,”
“He fell in the canyon. Benton is dead,” her voice cracking and faltering with each strained word.
“Oh dear god, that can’t be!”
“I’m so, so sorry, he slipped and fell over a high cliff on a switchback, hiking back up the trail, and fell a long way down.”
“This can’t be true, is this some sick joke, who is this calling me?” he yelled over the phone in denial.
“It’s really me, Zeta, the one you danced the Electric Slide with at our wedding.”
“Oh Holy Mary and Jesus, I can’t believe this is happening. Where is he now?”
“At the morgue in Flagstaff. Then he’ll be flown back to San Diego after the autopsy.”
“Why an autopsy?”
“That’s how the park law enforcement service handles these kinds of deaths in working with the Coconino Sheriff’s Office.”
“I’m feeling very sick Zeta. I must tell Benton’s mother. This is a nightmare, it’s just pure hell, pure damn hell.”
“I know, I know.”
“Now how did he fall again?”
“I was taking his picture, and he stepped back, lost his balance, and fell.”
“How are you holding up Zeta?” he asked
“Not so good, but I think I’ll be ok.”
After the conversation, Mr. Barrington went out by the pool where his wife was enjoying Margaritas chatting happily with two lady friends. He asked her to please come inside the house for a second. When she looked at his ashen face, she knew something was horribly wrong.
“What is it?”
“I think it’s best we go inside love.”
“Tell me! You tell me now!” she demanded, bolting from her poolside lounger and standing directly in front of him. Her friends were aghast having never seen her conduct herself so fiercely.
“Benton fell into the Grand Canyon. We’ve lost him,” he sobbed.
Mrs. Benton let out a guttural howl and slumped back down on her lounger. Her friends tried to console her while the perfect Southern California afternoon decayed into hellishness. The Barrington’s raison d’être and hope for grandchildren vanished as instantly as lightning can strike a Florida golfer.
It was almost time for dinner when Detective Menser knocked on her cabin door. He introduced himself and said he needed to ask Zeta some routine questions about the accident. Zeta let him in, and they sat down in the cabin living room chairs.
Menser looked at his notes, “I’m very sorry for your loss today Mrs. Barrington, this must be a terrible shock to you.”
“Yes, it is. Thank you, Detective Menser.”
“So this incident happened when you were taking pictures?”
“Yes, in the Devil’s Corkscrew area.”
“We’re you and your husband having any problems getting along, any couple disagreement that morning?”
“No, we were getting along just fine.”
“The reason I ask about that is the park ranger indicated he thought he heard you and your husband arguing outside the lodge the night before. Said you told your husband you can’t stand it.”
“Oh, that. My husband snores if he doesn’t wear a custom made device in his mouth at night to prevent the snoring. He forgot it, and I knew I wouldn’t sleep a wink with his snoring. I did get a little upset and told him I couldn’t stand it. So we went to the drug store and got me some ears plugs for the night. Fortunately, they did the trick.”
“Well, it would sure be nice if all domestic disputes were resolved so easily,” Menser said looking pleased.
“What did your husband do?′
“He was an attorney. We live in San Diego.”
“Ever hike the canyon before?”
“No, our first time?”
“Just one more thing. The ranger said first you told him your husband slipped off the cliff. Then later you said he stepped back, lost his balance, and fell off the cliff.”
“Well, he stepped back, slipped, lost his balance, and fell off the cliff.”
“I imagine when a person is in a state of shock they can’t be expected to remember such words precisely. We just like to know how these things happen, whether accidentally or deliberately.”
“He didn’t intentionally step off into the canyon, and I didn’t push him if that’s what you’re implying,” Zeta responded becoming agitated.
“Oh, I’m not accusing you, Zeta, may I call you Zeta?”
“Well, I suppose so, yes.
“It’s just that there is a history of people forgetting where they’re standing when they’re having their photo taken. Maybe they’re so busy trying to place themselves in the right spot for the picture and smiling, that they are unaware how close they are to the edge.”
“That could be Mr. Menser,” she responded coolly.
“Well, I’ll be going now. I won’t trouble you anymore this evening. Thank you so much for your time and assistance, once again I offer you my sincere condolences,” Menser said as he rose and headed for the door.
“Oh, by the way when I talked to the coroner an hour ago by phone, he told me Benton had a substantial bruise on his upper stomach. Any idea how that happened?”
“During the fall, I assume.”
“I don’t think so. The rescue unit member I spoke with said he had a clear fall to the rock below. He told me your husband landed on his back.”
“Come to think of it, he did try to run on a wide section of the trail coming down. It was near the bottom, and he was acting silly and fell, maybe it happened then?”
Lying wasn’t a skill Zeta possessed until she married Benton. During the marriage, she discovered her facility for prevarication, out of necessity for survival.
“Well, now that could explain that, couldn’t it Zeta?” Menser said rhetorically. “I’ll call if I have any further questions. Oh, did your husband engage in any other silly or what could be called reckless activity elsewhere during the hike?”
“Not much really, just a couple times trying to scare me by getting too close to the edge. He did upset a rather feisty elderly lady during the early part of the hike down past first tunnel. She saw him hamming it up close to the edge and gave him a stern chewing-out.”
“Oh, do you happen to know where the lady is staying?”
“No, I don’t. Haven’t seen her since.”
“Well, here take another one of my cards, have her call me if you happen to see her.”
“Ok, I will detective.”
Zeta laid down on the cabin bed, turned the flat screen TV on without the sound and tried to release the accumulated stress from her very busy day. She thought back on how she’d come to be this creature, functioning in basic animal survival mode. Just starting to unwind a bit she suddenly realized she hadn’t called her parents. They’d struggled to get back to living after Briana’s death, and had recovered about as much as any bereaved parent could.
The Conners loved Benton, thought he was the most wonderful son-in-law humanly possible, and that was part of the problem. Once again she braced herself for another heartbreaking phone call. The news hit her parents far more than she expected. They were devastated. Zeta found herself, the widow, trying to comfort her mother who sounded as if she was going to need some tranquilizers. Her Dad felt like he’d lost a son.
“I’ll be back to San Diego as soon as I can. I just want to be alone and quiet right now. I’ll be home in a couple of days. I love you Mom,” Zeta concluded the phone call.
It all began slow and insidiously, like a relentless glacier carving its way in the shadow of snowcapped mountains down a wide Alaskan Yukon valley. As subtle as fatal cancer coming to life deep in the pancreas. She realized the man she dated was not the man she married. His deceptive persona had successfully camouflaged the genuine demonic self-lurking inside his body, waiting to possess Zeta.
At first, he began talking, boasting, about his lucrative law practice raking in millions defending drug cartel criminals and corporations that made billions and avoided taxes while skirting consumer protection laws. Benton even got involved in paying off members of Congress to get favorable legislation passed. He boasted, “I’m the new Johnny Cochran,” when he got a wealthy client off on a murder charge. Cochran was now deceased and other local attorneys would see Benton and say, “Hi Johnny.” After a drink or two socializing with attorney friends he’d chant, “If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit,” and roar a laugh.
At first, Zeta would question him with “Benton, is that ethical, legal?” “Ethical, legal?” Benton would fire back feeling insulted. “You need to understand it’s the outcome, the results, the ruling, the final judgment of the court that counts.” He would pound his fist on the granite kitchen counter accenting each noun. “I’m not teaching an ethics section of some college philosophy class. I work in the real world! Get it, the real world!” Zeta sadly realized her loser, player, sponger, creep, and stalker detector she’d jokingly bragged about to Carol, had a major design flaw. It was effective for identifying common jerks but unable to detect the charming, intelligent, handsome, and most dangerous of psychopaths.
Her friends and family worshiped Benton. She tried to ease into the subject several times but saw this was nothing Carol would actually listen to, let alone believe. Her parents were still suffering from Briana’s death when Benton’s psychopath Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde morphed into full bloom.
Zeta remembered the time she slipped up and said, “But Benton, is that the right thing to do, is that moral?” Before the sound of her words faded, she knew she’d fucked up badly. Benton smacked her with his open hand across the side of her head. She saw flashing stars and fell against the bedroom wall, slumping to the floor.
He was a brilliant attorney and a cruel, sadistic monster. Thoughts flashed through her mind about how to get out of the marriage and free from him. He knelt down on one knee, looked her dead in the eyes, and squeezing the back of her neck in his large hand he got right in her face warning, “Don’t you ever tell me what to do again and if you ever try to leave me, if you ever, ever try to leave me, you will disappear off the face of this earth and never be found! You are the best. I love you Zeta. If I can’t have you, no one will. Do you realize how many women disappear, permanently, every year in this country? Think about it Zeta, you’re my wife. You’ll do what I say, and I’ve had enough of that career student, astronomy hobby of yours. This is your last semester. It’s time we give my parents a grandson, and you become a dedicated wife and mother.”
It was quite a convincing monolog Benton delivered. He had plenty of experience in courtrooms refining his summation and closing statement technique. Zeta knew she would never hear the deadly diatribe again. She could stay a captive or, or what? “I just want to die. I wish I’d been an underachiever. So this is what being top of the class comes to?” she painfully uttered within the chamber of her broken heart.
After the Kauai honeymoon the marriage just steadily turned into a living purgatory. Two months ago she came to the conclusion the only way out for her, was if Benton was dead. Benton was devious enough never to leave a mark on her, sometimes using gloves, sitting on her chest until she almost asphyxiated, or twisting her arm until her tendons burned with pain. He had many ways to abuse and punish her for anything if he thought she wronged or crossed him.
She regretted ever telling Carol how incredible sex had been in Kauai. Now she was embarrassed to tell her how Benton demanded sadomasochistic sex. Anal intercourse was also a big turn on for him and a big pain for Zeta. Sure, Zeta could go to the police, try to hide in an abused women’s shelter, but he’d find her. She knew the moment a woman gets a restraining order against her husband or boyfriend, the risk of being murdered spikes like the stock market when interest rates crash. If anyone could pull off the perfect murder with no witness, no crime scene, no weapon, no motive, no body, it was Benton Barrington III. He knew professional mob guys who would do it just as a personal quid pro quo.
The idea of having a child with Benton was abhorrent. When the Clearblue test she brought home and urinated on indicated she was pregnant back in April before the canyon trip, she immediately got an abortion. With Benson as the father, the genetic risk of bringing another sociopath into the world wasn’t something she even wanted to consider. Before Benton, she did not believe in abortion. She also didn’t believe in murder. She felt totally isolated, trapped and hopeless, afraid for her life, except when she imagined a Benton-less world. Zeta concluded that mixing her DNA with Benton would be an unforgivable sin.