Authors: Warren C Easley
Not Dead Enough
A Cal Claxton Oregon Mystery
Warren C. Easley
Poisoned Pen Press
Copyright Â© 2016 by Warren C. Easley
First E-book Edition 2016
ISBN: 9781464206160 ebook
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
The historical characters and events portrayed in this book are inventions of the author or used fictitiously.
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
For Dick and Bettie
Marge Easley and Kate Easley, my first line of defense, kept me on track during this project in more ways than I can count. My editor, Barbara Peters, worked her usual magic, which resulted in a stronger, better focused manuscript, and the crew at Poisoned Pen Press followed through with their usual cheerful competence. I'm lucky to be part of a highly talented and perceptive critique group. Thanks once again to Lisa Alber, Kate Scott, LeeAnn McLennan, Janice Maxson, Debby Dodds, and Alison Jaekel. You guys rock!
Finally, to people everywhere who are fighting for clean water, free-flowing rivers, and fish-friendly habitat, I say, keep up the good fight!
Columbia River Gorge
March 10, 1957
Nelson Queah told himself he would not watch, but there he stood, his eyes drawn to the rising river like some fool gawking at a car wreck. He watched, transfixed, as the water rose, taking the small, rocky islands first, then the south bank of the river where his village had stood, and finally the falls. He would never again stand in the spray and deafening roar of the falls, waiting to take the next salmon like his father and his grandfather and his people stretching back to the beginning of their collective memory.
He glanced at his watch when it was over. Four hours had elapsed. Less than the blink of an eye for a river that had flowed unfettered since the Ice Age torrents, yet gradualâlike watching a loved one die a slow death. But it was more than that. Snuffed like a candle in the east winds of the Gorge, the light burning in Nelson Queah's heart went out that day, and he could feel his soul begin to wither around the edges.
The silence. The awful silence.
Had Nelson been in the bowels of The Dalles Dam that morning, he would have heard the “gates down” command. He would have seen twenty-two white menâeach selected for the honor by the Army Corps of Engineersâpress the buttons that simultaneously closed twenty-two massive steel and concrete floodgates. He would have experienced the exact moment when millions of gallons of water roiled in mad confusion before reversing course and surging upriver through the Long Narrows to the mighty falls at Celilo, sacred fishing grounds of his people for ten thousand years.
Nearly all the villagers, some thirty families, along with members of other tribes who had fishing rights at the site, stood on the river bank with Nelson. Some wept openly and others sang funeral dirges in the Sahaptin and Kiksht languages to the rhythmic thrum of rawhide drums. Behind them and across the Columbia River on the Washington side, thousands of curious onlookers lined the highways. A new lakeânamed Celilo for the falls it buriedâhad formed behind the dam. The name is another insult, Nelson told himself. It would be a constant reminder of what his people, the Wasco, and all the tribes who fished the falls, had lost.
When the river was nothing but a flat expanse of slack, rain-pocked water, Nelson turned to leave. He vowed that he would never allow himself to look at a photograph of what had been. Instead, he willed an image of the place into his mindâ weathered basalt cliffs on the horizon, the placid sweep of water before the violent funneling down, which sent the entire volume of the river hurtling over a narrow lip of jagged rocks. Below the falls, wooden scaffolds jutted precariously above the rapids amidst a web of cables that carried fishermen across in hand-pulled chairs. He pictured his family's scaffold. There was his father, straining at the long-handled net dipped deep in the boil. At his feet, Nelson saw himself as a young boy, spreading sand to reduce the slickness under his father's feet.
This is what he would remember.
Nelson made his way slowly toward the village, which had been unceremoniously relocated by the Corps of Engineers across the railroad tracks and the highway to a piece of rocky, uneven ground with no power, water, or sewage services. Only a handful of families had chosen to remain there. The rest were scattered around the area, most going eighty miles south to the Warm Springs Reservation.
When he reached the highway, a voice called to him, “Hey, Queah, what happened to your waterfall? I don't see it.”
Nelson spun around to face two men leaning on the side of a black Cadillac gaudy with chrome. The speaker was Cecil Ferguson. He stood on the left, a large, well-muscled man with a scarred and pitted face, flaming red hair and light blue, almost colorless eyes. The other man was a big Yakama Indian named Sherman Watlamet. He laughed like the gutless ass-kisser Nelson knew he was.
“Go to hell, Ferguson,” he spat back at them, not bothering to even acknowledge Watlamet's presence.
The two men pushed themselves away from the Cadillac in unison. Ferguson said, “Well, maybe now their women won't smell of fish all the time.” Ferguson erupted in laughter at his comment. Watlamet smiled uncertainly, and then when Ferguson poked him in the ribs with his elbow, joined in.
The sight of Sherman Watlamet laughing with the white man sickened Nelson, and blood rose in his neck. He closed half the ground between them and stopped, expecting them to do the same. But to his surprise, Ferguson nodded in the direction of the Cadillac, and they both turned on their heels. Apparently this would be settled another day.
But Nelson couldn't resist a parting shot. “You shame your own people, Sherman. You're lower than a goat's tit.” Then he turned and crossed the highway without looking back.
He entered the Army surplus house he'd been given. It reminded him of the barracks at Quantico, where he had done his basic training during the war. He let the dog out, took a can of beer from the icebox and sat down. He was still seething with anger. Deep down he was disappointed Ferguson hadn't followed him across the highway, although he knew that if that had happened, one of them would probably be dead now.
Nelson dropped in a chair, held the cold beer can against his cheek and let out a long breath. Thoughts of war came to him. Despite the trail of broken treaties, the racial slights, the failed BIA policies, he joined up and hit the beaches of Sicily with the 5th Marine Division. But Sicily was a walk in the park compared to Anzio. He could still feel the grenade fragment in his leg when the weather turned, and flashbacks of the slaughter of his reconnaissance troop were never far behind. He had taken out a machine gun nest single-handedly that day, and for that his commanders gave him a Silver Star.
But fighting to stop the dam was not like fighting the Germans. It was no fight for a warrior. Nothing but endless hearings and testimony, lies and deceit. Treaty talk. All of it. His people knew about treaty talk. He had stood shoulder to shoulder with his brothers and even some white fishermen who understood what the dam would do to the migrating salmon populations. But the Corps of Engineers and the white politicians were clever. They fought with numbers and words and promises. The dam would bring cheap power and prosperity to the cities along the Columbia, the salmon would be protected, and the tribes would be fairly compensated. How could he make his people understand what was being taken? No. This had been no fight for a warrior.
He sipped at his beer but didn't begin to relax until he thought of his girls. His ten-year-old daughter, Rebecca, was visiting her cousins at Warm Springs, where his beloved wife, Tilda, was recuperating in the TB ward of the hospital. He missed them both, especially at this moment, although he was thankful they had missed the flooding of the falls and the ugliness afterward.
Because of Tilda's quarantine, he'd resolved to write her at least once a week, and it was Sunday, the day he had set aside for the task. What would he say to her, today of all days? How could he hide the deadness he felt in his heart, the humiliation?
Nelson drained his beer, sighed deeply, and got up to fetch pen and paper. Tilda must not hear your sorrow. Lie if you have to, he told himself.
March 10, 1957
I hope you are feeling much better, my dear. You have been in my thoughts constantly. I am driving down to Warm Springs tomorrow to pick up Rebecca. I am sure she is having fun with her cousins. She will probably not want to come home with me. I will drop this note at the hospital. Perhaps they'll allow a brief visit tomorrow. I long to see your face!
We had a feast in the longhouse last night in honor of the falls. Everyone was there except Chief Thompson, who is still ill. Many people asked about you. Oliver Tam told us all the story of how the salmon were first released in the river to be shared by all people. Do you remember the story? Two old women were hoarding them behind an earthen dam. Coyote disguised himself as an infant and tricked them into going to pick huckleberries for him. While they were busy, Coyote destroyed the dam and released the salmon. We all howled and screamed at this!
There is a silence in the village now, Tilda, but there is no cause for despair. The salmon will find new ways to their spawning grounds. Our people will still fish, and perhaps Coyote still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
Your loving husband,
Nelson started to set the letter aside then below his signature he addedâ
P.S. I am waiting for the young man I told you about last week, Timothy Wiiks. He has promised to bring the evidence he found about money being stolen at the dam. I saw the man he is accusing today on the river, but there was no trouble. I told the newspaperman about the stealing. He is anxious to meet with Timothy and me tomorrow. I think this is the right thing to do.
Nelson awoke in the chair later that night, the finished letter resting in his lap. He tore it from the pad and laid it on the kitchen table. He had let the dog back in, and it was now standing at the door growling. He looked at his watch. It was nine-twenty. Hoping it was the young man, Timothy, he went to the door and nudged the dog away with his knee. If it was a deer instead, he didn't want the dog off chasing it at this hour.
He opened the door and stepped outside. It had stopped raining, there was no moon, and it was deathly quiet. He had only gotten a few steps down the path when he heard a boot scuff behind him. The blow that followed was decisive, buckling his knees and driving a shard of bone deep into his brain.