Authors: Edward A. Stabler
Tags: #chilkoot pass, #klondike, #skagway, #alaska, #yukon river, #cabin john, #potomac river, #dyea, #gold rush, #yukon trail, #colt, #heroin, #knife, #placer mining
Edward A. Stabler
Copyright 2013 Edward A. Stabler. All Rights
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment
only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people.
If you would like to share this book with another person, please
purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading
this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your
use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase
your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this
BURYING ZIMMERMAN is a work of fiction and its
characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any
resemblance of these characters to actual persons living or dead is
unintended and coincidental.
For Bob and Mary,
and for the Yukon gold-seekers who shared their
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1874 – 1902
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain.
God is His own interpreter
And He will make it plain.
April 29, 1924
Even in twilight my brother's gravestone
looks much older now, like it almost belongs among St. Gabriel's
rotting stones. When I kneel before it the flask in my coat pocket
nudges my ankle like a faithful dog. Without thinking I pull it
out. It's a trusted friend and will come with me tonight. I'm
barely acquainted with the pistol in my other pocket, but it's
coming too. We're going to meet Henry Zimmerman, who hasn't seen me
in twenty-two years and thinks I'm someone else. He'll finally have
to explain why he and Drew left without me that night. And why he
turned his back on my brother, leaving him alone with a killer in
I stand and untwist the cap for a slug,
wincing at the irony as I read the epitaph and the alcohol burns my
mouth. I still can't interpret Drew's death, but my own trinity has
been made plain enough. Whiskey, fire, and fear have locked arms
around me and repelled everything good: my studies at the ruins of
the Pecos pueblo; my ability to sleep through the night; the steady
hand I depend on to sketch.
And now my wife. At some level I must have
known my dissolution would drive Clara away. But I couldn't
acknowledge that she'd take my eight-year-old daughter with her.
Six weeks ago Winnie pushed my shoulder until I stirred,
black-headed and fully clothed, and opened my eyes into sunlight
stabbing through a window in the adobe wall. I squinted and tried
to remember what day of the week it was.
"Papa, aren't you coming? The car is
I brushed back Winnie's hair, but my mouth
was too dry and my brain too withered to speak. Instead I looked
over her shoulder to the open doorway, where Clara stood with their
bags packed, shaking her head.
"No," she whispered. "Owen, no."
I pocket the flask and reach for the Colt.
With six bullets in the magazine, it feels balanced in my hand, the
checkered rosewood grip a bit warmer than the night. I extend my
arm to sight a silhouette along the barrel and imagine that it's
not just a swamp-oak flanking the graveyard. It's Gig Garrett
standing in the woods near Cabin John Creek, on the night in 1902
that he and Drew shot each other before Garrett's cabin went up in
flames. My index finger flexes until the safety catches. It doesn't
matter – I'm twenty-two years late.
What's left of Garrett's corpse lies in the
Methodist graveyard, less than two miles northeast on Falls Road.
And right now Zimmerman is even closer, waiting for me northwest at
Sandy Landing, in an abandoned scow that was disgorged from the
canal by last month's Potomac flood.
The world turned sinister for me on that
night in 1902, but for Drew things unraveled eight years earlier,
when Jessie Delaney was found face down in the creek below the
aqueduct bridge at Widewater. The coroner concluded she drowned
after falling from the bridge. There'd been no witnesses, although
a locket that belonged to Jessie was found near her body, its cord
broken as if it had been torn from her neck. Drew was convinced Gig
Garrett threw her from the bridge, but Garrett disappeared before
he could be questioned. By 1899 we heard he was getting rich in the
Henry Zimmerman's misadventures with Gig
Garrett began earlier still. Garrett was a thirteen-year-old
guttersnipe plucked from the docks by Zimmerman's boat-captain
father, and the two boys grew up together on the canal. Henry took
his lumps along the way. By the time he came back from the Yukon,
Henry agreed with Drew that Garrett was responsible for Jessie's
death. At least that's what he told Drew, and that's what Drew told
So when Gig Garrett quietly returned to
Maryland in 1902 and built a cabin near the mouth of Cabin John
Creek, Henry and Drew decided they should escort him to the
sheriff's office to be fingerprinted. That's what they were going
to do on that September night, and even though I was only
seventeen, I was going with them. Drew and Henry had revolvers and
I had cuffs. There would be three sets of eyes and hands trained on
Garrett, in case he decided to resist.
Until they went ahead without me, making it
two against one.
And then Henry walked away, for reasons I've
tried years to fathom, leaving Drew alone with Garrett. I'm
convinced that if either one of us had been there, Gig Garrett
would be in jail and Drew would be alive today. Instead his bones
are decaying beneath my feet, and Henry Zimmerman will have to
explain that tonight.
I have been mulling my own complicity in
Drew's death for years, because I'm the reason Zimmerman, Garrett,
and Jessie Delaney entered our lives. They were canal kids, and
though Drew and my sisters and I also grew up along the Potomac, we
lived in Cabin John (though back then we called it Seven Locks),
while those three came from ninety miles upriver at Williamsport.
Henry and Gig had been boathands for Henry's father Captain Oliver
Zimmerman, and Jessie had spent a few seasons on the canal with her
parents. All three of them could navigate to Georgetown with their
eyes closed, which is why they would occasionally hop a train or
drift downstream on the towpath, when their boating days were over
but they couldn't find work in Williamsport.