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FOR THE LOVE OF JUSTICE
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Sunday, September 10. Justice emerged from under the dark ceiling of spruce and hemlock boughs, where a fine mist and dim light filtered. The thunder from unstoppable water meeting stone that would not be defied assaulted her ears. She expected the sound, because it had been giving warning for some time. Slipping as she climbed the last hundred feet of the muddy path to the small rock ledge halfway up the precipice, she caught herself on her hands. One knee came to the ground as well, covering it with mud. She tried to brush the muck from her black jeans, but only smeared a larger stain. Shrugging her shoulders, she wiped her knee and hands on a tuft of soggy grass and continued the climb.
Reaching the wet, slippery ledge, she edged over to a spot where she could look down into the falls. Unprepared for the spray, she turned her head away and grimaced, this woman from the Southwest once again muttering oaths at the presumptuous Northwest Coast wetness. Here it thought it could just go wherever it wanted. Justice blinked the dratted stuff out of her eyes, and then stood back to take in the sight.
Yeah, well, it hadn’t changed all that much. Keating’s Falls still flung themselves endlessly over that precipice, only stopping to freeze in mid-leap around the middle of December, and then breaking open once again somewhere around the first of April. Even in the depth of winter, they muttered at their heart, discontent to lie still, even at the coldest time of year. Funny how perspective changed one’s point of view. Here in
Justice stood in the spray for a while, deciding to just enjoy the thunder. She was wet anyway, so she might as well get wetter. She closed her eyes, and thought she could feel vibrations through the rocks at her feet. These falls had a nice, intimate feel, with the way they sat back inside their chasm so that any human who dared to approach their base could only look up into the spray or out the gully to a blank green wall across the narrow river valley.
She opened her eyes to see a man emerge abruptly from the mad torrent of water. His tall, broad-shouldered form stood silhouetted against the white foam. Startled out of her reverie, Justice yelped and stepped back, slipping on the wet stones, and falling backward as she tried desperately to keep her feet beneath her. They refused to find purchase in the mixed mud and loose gravel. Flinging out her arms, she desperately grabbed a handful of the stranger’s coat just as his strong hand clasped her upper left arm. A moment later his other arm encircled her waist, and without apparent effort, he set her one her feet again.
She clung to him for a moment, steadying herself. When she faced her savior, she yelped again.
“Who are you?” she demanded. “If you say you’re Rip Travers, I swear I’ll scream bloody murder and shoot you where you stand. I simply won’t have you haunting me.”
“If I’m old Rip, and I’m dead, it would be easy for me to haunt you, especially if you killed me – wouldn’t it?” A half-smile teased at his mouth.
“Don’t do that!” Justice yelped again.
“What!” he demanded.
“Smile that way. It makes you look even more like him. I can’t stand it.” A tear came to her eye, and she dashed it away, suddenly embarrassed.
He started to smile, but stopped, his eyes softening, becoming even harder to bear. Justice had to look away. She suddenly realized that he still held her, and that she still held his coat sleeves in her hands. She let go abruptly and backed away. He likewise released her.
“Who are you?” she demanded again.
“First, you’re welcome,” he replied, smoothly, nodding his head ever so slightly, as if she had indeed thanked him for saving her a dump in the mud.
“Thank you,” she amended, sheepishly, remembering her manners. “It’s just that you look like someone I didn’t expect. You startled me,” she admitted, candidly.
“You mean Rip Travers. I know I look like him. I had no idea that anyone I would meet up here would see the resemblance,” he remarked, a bit acerbically. “Not on a Sunday morning, anyway. Are you a tour group leader?”
Justice shook her head. “Ah, so you know there is a resemblance on which to remark?”
“Dad said I had the Travers look, and that I favored his Grandpa – and my Great Grandpa Rip.”
“As in Rip Travers … hmmmm.” Justice sounded dubious.
“Well, Dad never really met him, so he couldn’t swear to it. Rip died before Dad was born. But Dad had lots of pictures.”
Justice just stared at him in wonder. She could have sworn she’d met the old marshal in the flesh.
He cleared his throat and decided to start over. “Name’s Peter Travers. Nice to have saved you. Guess I’ll be on my way.” He turned around and started down the path.
“No, no, no, no, no, no,” Justice burst out. “You do not introduce yourself as the great grandson of the man I’ve spent eight years researching all the way from
She slipped and slid, actually sort of skied around him to stop his downward progress, and then succeeded in doing so in the shadow of a towering spruce. She hoped she would not have to embarrass herself again by grabbing his coat sleeve.
“I’m sorry. I’m totally inexcusable. Please let me start over again,” she gushed as she dashed around him, only brushing his elbow with her left hand. He acknowledged the contact with a quick flick of his eyes to her hands, and then slowly smiled again.
Justice looked down at her wet, muddy hands, and then wiped them on the driest part of her jeans. She held out a mostly clean right hand. “I’m sorry. I’m a total mess. We Southwesterners don’t translate well to the
He clasped her hand. His was warm and dry. He’d sensibly kept it in his coat pocket, out of the rain and mud.
Justice hurried on before she could get flustered. “I’m a historian who’s been chasing Rip Travers for some time now. Just didn’t expect to find him at Keating’s Falls. When I saw you, I thought maybe his ghost had come to bully me or pull me off to heaven. The way he’s been haunting me, I doubted he simply wanted to talk to me.”
Peter smiled and nodded again, in the same gesture Justice had thought would come from Rip. In an earlier century, he would have touched the broad brim of the Western hat he wore, to acknowledge meeting a lady. This nod was a mere twist of the head, a lifting and lowering of the jaw, something that might once have been a tip of the hat, now done all with the eyes and the jaw. Yes, certainly manners had changed, but how little their meanings had.
“I apologize for my impertinence in threatening to shoot you, and my ingratitude when you kept me from getting soaked with mud. I’m an unmitigated wretch.” Justice assumed a contrite air.
“Lordy, woman, you are as wordy as a thirty-dollar lawyer.”
“As a historian, if I got paid as much as a lawyer, I’d use even longer words more often,” Justice volunteered, readily enough. “As it is, no one likes to pay an historian to write long words. In fact, they rather like them somewhat shorter, so even though I know ‘em, I can’t use ‘em.” She sighed, wistfully. “Kind of a waste of an education, it seems to me.”
Peter chuckled. “Yeah. I know what you mean.”
Justice glanced in his direction, but he didn’t elaborate. The path dipped into a hollow full of thick, knurled tree roots thrust up from among rough cobbles. Footing became so precarious that all conversation ceased until the two by-passed the hazard and entered Glacier Creek’s Gold Rush Cemetery.
“I suppose this is why you came to Keating’s Falls,” Justice remarked. “Or rather, you went on to the falls after stopping here first.”
“Actually, the falls were my destination, but I always make a pilgrimage here to the cemetery as well,” Peter admitted. “The falls purge my soul of the bitterness that runs in the veins of every Travers, after we perform a little ritual in the cemetery first. Like a Native American sweat bath, the falls draw the petty meanness from my being.”
Justice glanced at him with a question on her face. He caught it and found it attractive.
“There,” he pointed to the largest, most elaborate monument in the quiet cemetery. “That is a towering memorial to a misplaced hero. We Traverses performa a symbolic act of disdain toward that stone pinnacle whenever one of us comes to town.”
Justice smiled her question. He shook his head. Not yet.
“Daniel Keating, the man so gloriously memorialized here, was actually an assassin hired by the Glacier Creek and Wysor Route Railroad to rid Glacier Creek of a two-bit con man named Rex McDonald. Keating didn’t have the smarts to come up with a way to do it quietly in the dead of night, when no one would know what was going on. So he roused the entire town with dubious accusations of nefarious dealings – accusations and dealings that very well may have been true, or similar enough to the truth that it hardly mattered – then pulled together a vigilante group of over a hundred citizens, and went Rex-hunting. To his dying day, only three weeks later, Keating regretted his tactic. Walking around Glacier Creek in the dead of night in the summer of 1898, leading a bunch of drunken men with loaded pistols and rifles – well, someone’s bound to get hurt. Keating counted on it being Rex.”
“I know the story,” Justice volunteered. “I’m a historian, remember.”
“Ah, but do you know the real story?” He touched her elbow and directed her up the hill, along the well-worn path toward an isolated wooden grave marker.
“I think I do. After all, I know more than a little about Rip Travers,” she reminded him. “And anyone who knows Rip, knows the real story about Rex.”
The two of them stopped in front of what was purported to be Rex’s grave marker. Both knew it probably wasn’t. They knew that the con man’s bones must have long ago washed down into the gully, or been dug up by curiosity-seekers or over-romantic, misplaced hero-worshipers. Not even Rex’s ghost haunted this cemetery any more. There was nothing for it to cling to.
“All right then, what really happened?” Peter dared her as they turned towards the exit to the cemetery.
“Well, according to Glacier Creek’s self-appointed historians, Sean O’Reilly, Mabel Lancaster, and Theo Osgood, Keating’s aim was only a little better than Rex’s, so Rex died instantly and Keating took twelve days to expire. The entire town mourned their savior – Dan Keating – the man who saved them from the depredations of the evil emperor who had ruled the town with an iron fist since its lawless beginnings.”
“Truth you say?”
“No, that’s what Sean, Mabel, and Theo told everyone, and what everyone still believes today. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Keating did die twelve days later. But Rex never really did rule Glacier Creek. He was only a minor irritant who managed to bribe the overworked federal officials in the area, the same way he bribed the preachers into thinking he was a charitable sort. As you say, when the GC&WR decided to move into the territory, they knew they had to clear out some of the trouble-makers, so they hired Keating – a man not all that well liked by everyone in the community, by the way – to run him out of town. Keating got over-zealous, and threw himself into the part a bit over much. I’m sure he was as surprised as Rex when that gun went off.”
“That’s true. He was particularly surprised to see Rex keel over because he didn’t even aim at McDonald,” Peter interjected.
A big, slow smile lit up Justice’s face. Rip smiled back with admiration in his eyes. “I knew it! I knew it all along!” she exclaimed. “There was a second shot! And it came from Rip Travers’s gun. This is something every Travers knows, I suppose?”
Peter smiled. “None of us can prove it. Grandpa Rip wouldn’t do more than hint at it himself. But we all suspect who really killed Rex.”
Justice peered up under his hat. He seemed to be avoiding her eyes. “What if I told you there might be a way to prove it?”
The big, brown eyes swung down to hers and bored in. “How?”
“We’d have to find Rex’s body.”
Peter gazed back into the lonely gully drainage. “What chance do you really think we have of doing that?”
Justice shrugged. “I’ve got some archeologist friends. We could ask one of them.”
“Why find just the body? Don’t we need Rip’s gun, too?”
Justice grinned at him. “We’ve got Rip’s gun. It’s down in the national park service’s vault. In fact, that’s why I’m here in Glacier Creek – to verify that it’s Rip’s revolver.”
Peter stopped in the middle of the trail, his face immobile. Justice couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Had he, a descendent, been notified? If not, had it been her place to tell him.
Keen interest lit the intense blue eyes under Travers’ bushy eyebrows, and a big grin broke out from under the huge mustache above his upper lip. “Do you mean that someone has actually found Rip’s gun? And that if we can locate the bullets that were found in Rex’s body and match them with that gun, we can prove, once and for all, whether there was a second gun, and who fired it?” Peter asked, eagerly pressing her to go on. Placing a hand on her waist, he guided her on towards the parking lot
“You’re the lawyer,” Justice pointed out. “You know we can legally do that only if one, the gun was really Rip’s. And, two, if the bullet really came from that gun. And, three, if we know with certainty that he was really holding that gun on the night of July 8, 1898.”
Peter grinned. “I know a man by the name of Randolph Johnson, the grandson of Helene Moore. Mean anything to you?”
Justice chuckled. “Helene Moore was two years old on the night Rex was killed. It was her daddy, Isaiah Moore, M. D., who examined the body of the unfortunate Mr. Rex McDonald. May I presume Randolph Johnson has a souvenir from that night?”
Justice impulsively grabbed the tall man and gave him a big hug. “Oh, you are my savior, Mr. Travers. You have just renewed all my faith in the power of spirits and the joy of historical discovery. We don’t need Rex’s body. If we can match the bullet Dr. Moore pulled from Rex’s wound with the gun that the park curator just bought off of Ebay – the one purported to be Daniel Keating’s, but which I just proved really belonged to Rip Travers by the way – then I can retire from this wretched government job. Do you know that you’ve just helped me make a name for myself in historical forensics?”