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Rafe Ramsey at the Riverside

In my novel, State of Grace, Rafe Ramsey is the kingpin in an operation smuggling alcohol across the Canadian border during Prohibition. He plays a secondary role in the story, but a pivotal one. I wrote this piece to delve into Ramsey’s character and discovered just how he would function in that role.

If you’ve read the book, you’ll learn more about the elusive Rafe Ramsey, and if you haven’t, I hope it piques your curiosity to do so.

Ramsey stood on the bank of the river, a half-mile or so from Riverview. From this vantage point there was no grand house, no outbuildings, no garage for his Lincoln or his Morris Minor. There was nothing but the swiftly flowing river and trees, more trees than could be counted. Along the bank cottonwoods hung low over the water, further up the hillside maples, birch, and oak grew thick, their branches intertwined, and above them, the pine and fir and tamarack. It was quiet here, too. Not the hushed quiet of his big house, but the quiet of rustling leaves and chickadees, rippling water, the sound of his own breathing.

He crunched along the bank, shuffling through dried leaves, stepping over roots and rocks. He came to this place to think. To think and to remember, to try and figure out how the hell he wound up in this remote part of the country, so far from everything familiar, everyone he loved. He'd rigged up a kind of bench out of a fallen tree and a big stone and here he sat down. The wood was damp and cold. He could feel the same damp rising from the river, and was grateful for his thick wool sweater and oiled jacket. One thing about these country folk: they knew how to dress. Seemed like he'd been born in a suit, rarely saw his father in anything else, he had a closet full of them himself, but liked the chance to slip into these rustic wools and leathers, leaving his old self behind, like a snake shedding its skin.

Times like this, Ramsey hardly knew who he was any more. His whole early life he'd been groomed to join the firm, another Ramsey in a long list of Ramseys going back generations. The old Boston family of Josiah Ramsey who'd been a solicitor back in Dublin as had his father before him. From the beginning, Ramsey'd hated lawyering. Hated the interminable briefs, the minutia of forms and contracts and applications. Mostly he'd hated the law itself. The idea that a clever fellow's job was to outwit the law, poke holes in its codes and statues, skirt the intent and adhere to the letter.

Course, it was this that finally was his downfall. He was too damn good at his job. He got clients out of supposedly binding contracts with one hand tied behind his back. He could protect some smug millionaire from the legitimate claims of an employee; sending the poor bugger home to his wife and brood of kids with blackened lungs or mangled limbs, then collect his fee and celebrate with a glass of Champagne. It wasn't far from that kind of technically legal machinations to the trouble that had got him disbarred and disowned by his family.

It had been a small thing, really, a negligible amount of money that he could have easily paid the young woman's husband, but he’ been too cocky for that. Why should he pay up when he could produce a bit of fake evidence, pay a guy to make a statement, and get rid of the fellow and his wife, once and for all? How was he to know his father would get wind of it, do a full investigation, find the touched-up documents and pressure his rat to rat on him? What kind of father does that to his son? The honest kind, the kind he was raised to be, but somehow wasn't.

They'd managed to cover the whole thing up, but his father had made sure he was not only out of the firm, but out of the profession as well. For good. There was such a thing as too much integrity, wasn't there, when your own father tosses you out on your ear, pays you to make yourself scarce, and sets your wife and child against you? No divorce, of course. The Ramseys were Catholic going way back. So he was still married to a woman who didn't speak to him and had a daughter whose life he was locked out of.

He remembered the scene at the Cotillion that night at the Ritz. He hadn't been invited, of course, had just shown up dressed to the nines in his tux, a gift for his daughter tucked in the inside breast pocket. As soon as he entered the ballroom, though, he knew he'd made a mistake. Everyone from his old set had been there, either their daughters were coming out or their sons where acting as escorts and every one of them cut him. Most refused even to look at him. A few shook his hand and turned away.

He'd known enough not to approach his wife's table, but he watched her from across the room. She looked stunning, he'd say that much for her. And his daughter had her mother's looks, the same fair skin and blue eyes, the same strawberry blond hair. She had his height, though, and his ruthlessness. In the receiving line, she'd looked right through him and when he'd held out the blue velvet box, she'd pushed it away, turned to the next person in line, and smiled a smile so sweet he’d almost wept.

Ramsey pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose. The days were getting short and it was almost twilight. The sun had dropped behind the mountain and with it the temperature. He should go in, but he didn't move. If he'd never gone to that blasted Cotillion, he'd have been better off. For one thing, he wouldn't have been so undone by Montel's daughter. When she showed up at his office asking where her father was, he should never have let her in. It wasn't that she reminded him of Gwen, it was more the way she stuck up for her father, wanted him back warts and all. Lucky bastard.

He'd realized then how much he missed his old life, his family and friends, the sense of belonging. He had no idea how to go about getting that life back, no way to be anything to his wife and child but a monthly annuity. That's probably why he'd called Blake into the office when the girl left, some crazy impulse to redeem himself. Somehow he wanted to do this girl a good turn, wanted to give her and her father a second chance.


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