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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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About Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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  • Birthday 07/18/1957

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    Express Ranch, Oregon Territory
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    Hunting, shooting, and writing novels. Co-honcho of the Virtue Flat Shootist Society, Baker City, Oregon. I also shoot with my good pards at the Oregon Trail Regulators, La Grande, OR.

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  1. Getting old is your reward for surviving all of the stupid stuff you did when you were younger! Even if it does hurt, at least you're still here to enjoy God's creation! 62, 63 in a few months, and no prescription meds yet... Knock on wood...
  2. Hey y'all, just FYI, today's posts in the Firelands thread will be the last ones for a while 'cause I'm headed for Winter Range the day after tomorrow. I'll post more when I get back some time in March... See ya around, folks!
  3. Linn Keller 11-24-12 "She prays in her sleep," he whispered to his brother. "You should see her, hermano! She has no face, only a pool of light, as if moonlight from under deep water! Dios Mio, is there any doubt? She will cure our hermanita! You will see!" Young bones are blessed with the ability to sleep on surfaces that would nearly cripple an adult: Sister Mercurius rose as the train began to slow, stowed the blanket, opened the side of the stock car door. Snowflake, true to her training, waited until the Sister's whistle, then followed: she got both black horses on board, settled in, grained; she traveled light, carrying only what was necessary, only that which was vital to the mission, and that was herself, and that was the Smith spear, and that was her saddlebags, and two saddled horses. Sister Mercurius knew the ground near the little town where they would be stopping, and she knew she could make good her escape: she waited until the train was at the right speed, which was slow, and where the ground was right, which was higher than the tracks but lower than the car, and she gave Shadowfoot her knees and called "Snowflake!" -- and two black horses shot out of the side of the stock car and hit the ground at a run, and were soon out of sight. Sister Mercurius knew the mission was nearby, and she knew how to get there, quickly and unobserved: the mission was no stranger to travelers, for it was a haven of safety, it was a hostel to folk seeking shelter in a strange land, but little could have prepared the barefoot boy in ragged knee pants for the sight of a little nun, carrying a big spear, leading a full sized gelding and followed by a truly huge, utterly black, mountain of a horse! -- and the nun! -- why is her face hidden? -- could she be a leper, cast from the world into this desert land? The veiled Sister pressed a coin into the boy's palm and whispered in flawless Mexican -- Mexican, not Spanish, for they were rapidly bifurcating into two separate languages -- "My son, my horses must see grain but not too much, only as much as you can hold in two hands. Rub them down, brush them out, and wait for me, I will need them again at sunrise tomorrow, and this one" -- she reached up and patted Shadowfoot's neck -- "this one I will need today." The boy whispered his understanding and stammered his thanks: the nun's hands were gentle as she caressed his head, and a vague, thumping discomfort in his jaw eased, and disappeared, and was gone, as she passed her hand over his straight, black hair. The nun straightened, looked toward the sanctuary. The Padre looked up from his breakfast. The man was tired; he'd been most of the night at the Rancho Vega y Vega, head bowed over his simple wooden Rosary, which he wrapped carefully around the hand of the sufferer: he sat with her, listening to her, excusing himself discreetly several times while the poor woman was tended, for she continued to hemorrhage, and he offered no dispute to the local medico, who gave her a draught to help her sleep: both the Padre and the doctor were old friends, and each appreciated the other's gifts, and each had bent the other's ear over a friendly glass of wine, when each needed the succor of a friend's counsel, or of his shoulder. The Padre knew his old friend the medico was at the end of his skill, the limit of his ability: this woman's aliment could not be cured with his skills, with his science, and he'd turned to the Padre, as had the family. One of the villagers spoke to the Padre -- drew him aside, whispered urgent words -- had they not heard of the relic, the spear of St. Mercurius, at the Rabbitville monastery? Was it not reputed to heal those who touched it in faith? The Council met around the great dark table and considered the priest's carefully penned missive. It begged them to send a representative with the Spear of St. Mercurius, that this woman be healed: it begged this favor, as the woman was dying, and all the skills of medical science were for naught, and the Spear was he last hope. Brother William's heart sank as he read the date and then the urgency of the man's words. "My brothers," he said sadly, "we may be too late already." "We must try." "Who will bear the Spear?" Brother William raised his head. "I know the perfect messenger." Sister Mercurius knelt and kissed the priest's hand, as if kissing a ring of office: the kindly old priest blessed the humble little nun and bade her rise, and speak her heart. "Padre, I would see she who bleeds at the Rancho Vega y Vega," she whispered. "I am La Pequenita sin Cara, the Little One With No Face, and I --" "You come from the monastery," the Padre exclaimed, hope illuminating his face: "you brought the Spear!" Sister Mercurius looked up at the man's face, marveling at how it shone with conviction. "We prayed the monastery would release the Spear of St. Mercurius, that it may heal our sister! Come, yes, come, let us --" "Padre," Sister Mercurius whispered, for her voice never rose above a strained whisper, "the Spear is not yet arrived. Yet let me see her, that she know her healing is at hand." The dark-haired Mexican boy stretched as far as he could reach, grooming the big, black mare with the long, silky mane. He was in mid-stroke when he realized the pounding in his jaw was gone. He remembered the faceless nun's gentle touch, and how the pain crept away on little kitten-feet, and his black eyes went big and round as the full realization hit him. The curry-comb clattered to the floor and there was the whisper of callused young soles as the little boy streaked toward the mission house. Sister Mercurius walked with the padre, listening carefully to the man's description of the woman's suffering: though not a trained physician, he was not at all unintelligent, and managed to convey a clear picture of the patient's condition. She listened silently; she walked with hands clasped before her, the green-glass Rosary in her grip. The Padre slowed, stopped; he bent a little, grasped his knee through his worn, black habit, and she could see the man's lips move. The Sister turned, looked into the distance, then turned back. She laid her hand on his -- quickly, suddenly, strongly -- and whispered, "The Spear. It comes," and the Padre felt a surge of warmth through his hand, and his arthritic old knee ached no more. "Come," she whispered. "We have work." "Brother William," he said, "we can appreciate your wish to help this woman, but we cannot begin using our Relic for healing -- we would be forever petitioned with --" Brother William's face darkened and his fist drove down against the glass-smooth table top. "IS THAT NOT WHAT WE DO?" he roared, uncaring that voices simply were not raised, here in this sanctum, especially when fired with anger. "OF WHAT USE IS A RELIC UNLESS WE BENEFIT THE FAITHFUL? IF ALMIGHTY GOD HAS GIVEN US A TOOL, THEN WE USE THAT TOOL!" -- and his fist slammed again into the table top. "Leave us," the faceless nun whispered, then pointed: "You, stay." The old nurse looked around, uncertain, then sat on the little stool beside the sick-bed. The men looked around, then at the Padre, who made little shooing motions: they turned, muttering, and filed out the door. The black-cowled Sister did not have to look to know the Padre shot her an uncertain look. Sarah slipped a hand under the woman's palm, grasped it, pressed it between her own hands: the Sister's hands were warm, almost hot, and the woman's eyes closed most of the way as she hissed out her breath. "Gracias, Sister," she sighed, "el dolor -- the pain -- it is less now." "I am La Hermanita Sin Cara," Sarah whispered. "None may see my face, for this is my vow: but none know my name, save only myself and El Senor Dios." Sarah laid her hand on the woman's belly. Her head snapped back into the pillow and she gave a sharp gasp -- the old nurse, alarmed, half-rose -- then the Sister released the woman's hand, brought both hands up to the woman's face. "Look at me," she whispered, pulling the woman's eyelids down with her thumbs. The tissue was pale. Sarah caressed the woman's forehead, as a mother might a sick child, then she thrust an accusing finger at the nurse. "Prepare meat," she whispered, her voice hoarse: "backstrap, tender, boiled in broth. She has not eaten?" The old nurse, trembling, shook her head. "She eats now. Meat, and a little bread, and a small glass of wine." The men were conversing in low tones, the way men will do when standing deathwatch outside the room of someone who is but hours from their demise: the sickroom door burst open and the old nurse, wide-eyed, shoved her way through them, her lips pressed together. None dared enter, but Miguel looked in, and he saw his sister smiling, and she and the little faceless nun were holding hands, their heads close together, talking. It was not until the Little Faceless One fed the sufferer broth, and small bits of meat, finely diced, not until she and the nurse bathed the woman and changed the bedsheets and combed out her hair, not until she was sleeping, sleeping easily, relaxed, her hands still, not twitching with pain -- not until the sun was falling below the horizon that the Little Faceless One emerged. The door opened; the little nun looked from one man to another, and even though none could see through the white crape veil, no man there could look her in the face. She walked up to Miguel and took his hand, then reached for Santos' brown, callused hand as well: she drew them to the middle of the room, reached up and placed a hand on each of their shoulders. "She sleeps," she whispered, fatigue betrayed by the hoarseness of her strained sibilants: "the Spear" -- and her knees buckled: her head fell forward, and only her grip on their shoulders -- and their sudden arms around her waist -- kept her from pitching face first to the floor. She panted a little, then whispered, "Help me stand." Carefully, slowly, they drew her upright. "The spear," she husked. "At morning light, at sunrise, out of the east." She raised a trembling hand, pointed toward the open front door. "The messenger, all in white, riding a horse of midnight black." She swayed a little. "I need a sword. Favor de un espada! Ahorita!" The little nun seemed at the very limit of her strength: she leaned against the door casing as Santos ran to his father's room, retrieved his father's prized Toledo blade, brought it: he knelt before the little nun, offered it to her, handle first, across his forearm. The faceless little nun grasped the wire-wrapped handle: she gathered strength from somewhere and stood, running delicate fingertips along the blade's spine: she held steel horizontally, raised it overhead, then down to belt level, and finally snapped it up before her in salute. "Your father's blade?" she whispered. "Si." "It is well. Come." Sister Mercurius opened the sickroom door. She placed Toledo steel's tip on the floor, at the bottom of the door frame: steadily, precisely, she scribed a line down beside the bed, around the bed, back along the other side of the bed and to the door again. Snapping the blade to her shoulder, she executed a crisp military about-face: pacing off on the left, she spun the blade -- once, twice, twice again -- each time her left foot hit the floor, Toledo steel spun a silver circle beside her. The diminutive nun wove a silver spiderweb over the bed, the blade singing as it cut the sinews of the air itself: her moves were swift, powerful, the blade becoming a living thing in her grasp: she spun the circles horizontally, then at the foot of the bed, vertically: at the doorway she stopped, raised the blade again horizontally, overhead, one hand wrapped about the grip, the other supporting the tip, and finally whispered, "We weave the circle round about, good within, all else without," and bending, placed the blade across the threshold: she placed a hand on the old nurse's bosom: "You alone may enter and leave. "The Spear will arrive with the morning sun, borne by a messenger in white. "Let none enter until the Messenger has gone."
  4. Linn Keller 11-24-12 The train had one passenger car, one stock car, one express car, a caboose. Neither Santos nor Miguel saw the diminutive nun. Each checked his watch; each checked his watch against the station clock; they asked the ticket agent if La Hermanita had boarded, and they were told, yes, she is aboard; they returned to the passenger car, settling into their seats as the conductor called "Board! All aboard!" Restless, the brothers looked about: Santos, impatient, sprang to his feet, prowled the length of the car, paced back: he handed the conductor his ticket with ill grace, feeling the weight of failure heavy upon his shoulders. Miguel, too, chafed at the thought of having allowed the last, absolutely the only, chance for his sister's survival fall from his grasp: after a few minutes, he thrust roughly against his brother and muttered his way out onto the platform at the rear of the car. Miguel was fond of black, twisted, noxious cigarros guaranteed to kill flies, mosquitoes and ticks if lit in a closed room; he proceeded to foul the air with quick, impatient puffs, finally snatching the half-smoked hand-rolled from his clenched teeth and throwing it to the tracks below. He spat. "Why," he whispered to the stars overhead, "why have You been so cruel? How have I have been so evil a man as to do this to me?" -- he shook his head, leaning heavily on the iron railing. He stood there for several minutes, feet braced apart, swaying a little, then his head came up: something, something just at the edge of his hearing ... Cantando? Singing ... did he hear singing? He cocked his head, listening, straining to hear ... Miguel's eyes widened and his heart stopped for a moment, then surged, hard and fast against his breastbone, and he gasped, his sun-dark and scarred knuckles blanching as he gripped the railing. He looked at the little platform at the door of the stock car. To think was to act. He unhitched the chain, stepped through; a long stride and he was holding the forged handholds on the door frame, pressing his ear to the door. He leaned back a little, grasped the latch, then slowly, carefully, opened the door and stepped into the stock car. It smelled of hay and of horses, it smelled of grain and wood smoke; a solitary lantern dimly illuminated the interior. The little black nun knelt in the center of the car, hands folded in front of her, Rosary gleaming in bright emerald droplets: her face was invisible, hidden behind the modesty of her gauze face-vail, but her face was turned upward, up to Heaven, and her voice -- por Dios, her voice! -- pure, high and sweet, such a voice as could come only from an angel -- Miguel, sunburned and knife-scarred, hard-muscled and callused, stubble-cheeked and tired, a veteran of conflict and pain and loss, a man quick to laugh and to share a joke and a drink -- Miguel, who made a journey, a desperate attempt at finding life for his dying sister -- Miguel, heir to the Vega y Vega rancho and all its fortune -- Miguel, who knew what it was to feel the thrust of steel in the gut and live, and to seize a man by the throat and drive his own espada into the other man's evil black heart -- Miguel Vasquez Vega y Vega, father, husband and ranchero, knelt in the straw and chaff and wept unashamedly as the little nun sang the Ave, her voice filling the car with light and with beauty and with the promise of life, of life! Miguel saw his dear madre's face before him again, felt her hands gentle on his cheeks, her arms around him as she too sang, and he felt a step behind him, and a hand on his shoulder. He reached up and laid a callused hand on his brother's fingers as the little nun's voice soared like la poloma over them both. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Maria, gratia plena, she sang, and two hard men knelt on the stock car floor, heads bowed, tears running freely and without shame down their faces, and when her voice was done, when her head, too, bowed, the brothers Vega y Vega crossed themselves and rose, silently, and went back to the passenger car. Once through the night, Miguel came back and looked in on the little nun. She slept on a blanket, on the bare floor, her face still veiled, the green-glass Rosary still in her grasp.
  5. Linn Keller 11-23-12 Sarah leaned forward, whispering to her black gelding, begging him for more speed, more speed, more speed. Sarah felt words and universes tilt on their axes, she felt the very firmament wobble underfoot: she nearly lay alongside her horse's neck, half sick, knowing something terrible was coming, something utterly horrible, something only she could do -- "There!" Santos shouted, his Mexican stallion whipping around, grunting: "There she is!" "Por Dios, she flies!" his brother exclaimed. "Vamonos, hermanito!" The brothers Vega y Vega dug spurs into their horses' flanks, yelling, and pounded into the gathering dark. Sarah swung down into a draw, rode for a little distance, pulled hard up in a side draw and backed Shadowfoot in beside a rock. The two Mexicans rode right on by, seeming only three feet tall but twelve feet long: Sarah waited until their hoofbeats receded, then turned Shadowfoot back out of the gully and toward the dress-works. She did not have much time now, she knew: the ground was open and they would surely see her. She jumped Shadowfoot over the board fence, whistling for Snowflake: she barely had time to get the saddle on the big Frisian before she saw the Mexicans, casting a broad arc, and knew that she was but moments from being seen. Sarah rubbed Snowflake's nose, fed her a small, sweet apple, praying the big black mare's training would hold. "Stay," she whispered, making a flat-palm-down gesture. "Stay, girl." Sarah turned, climbed back into Shadowfoot's saddle, turned: the black gelding thrust hard ahead, straight for the fence, and Sarah and the gelding sailed over it and pounded over to the dress-works. Sarah could let them see her, but she could not let them know who she was. For the moment, she had a plan. "There!" "A donde?" "Por alli!" The brothers Vega y Vega slashed their horses viciously across the hinder with their reins, demanding speed, speed and more speed. Sarah rode Shadowfoot around behind the dress-works, dropped the reins over the saddle horn: she ran around the front of the building, waited until the pursuers could see her, then went in the front door. Once inside she ran, ran for the material bin: pawing through scraps, she seized a square of gauze: it was almost the right size, and would do: folding an edge over, she went from one sewing machine to another until she found one with white thread. Quickly, desperately, she folded and sewed a seam: turn, fold, sew another: the third, and just done, and she heard boots on the porch. Only moments remained. Sarah threw back her cowl, tucked the gauze up and under, drew the cowl and veil back: tucking in its edges, she turned and looked in a mirror. Her face was almost completely indistinguishable through the gauze. Sarah ran the few steps to the back door, hesitated, then ran upstairs: something told her she would have need of another prop. When in doubt, girl, Charlie told her once, follow your gut. Sarah did. She scampered back down the steep, narrow stairs, turned quickly, ran out the back door, around the building. Santos swept the sombrero from his thick, black hair: looking around the darkened dress-works, he called, "Sister? Sister Mercurius? Favor, hermana, donde esta Usted?" "She is gone," his brother breathed. "No," he groaned, sinking to his knees: "no, no, no! El Senor Dios would not run us here and -- so close -- no!" Something hit the porch boards hard, outside, just behind them. Both men jumped, turned. "Santa Maria," they breathed, then snatched for the doorknob: they rushed out on the porch, hats held before them. A veiled nun stood on the porch, a spear in hand: she stood, still, unmoving, waiting. The men panted a bit, getting their wind back, waiting for their hammering hearts to slow, for much -- everything! -- weighed on this boon, on this favor. "Sister Mercurius," they said, each man sinking to his right knee. The black robed nun might as well have been carved of ebony. "Our sister -- Lucita, she who we love -- she bleeds, Sister Mercurius, and los medicos cannot help her." Santos swallowed hard. "They tell us if she bleeds another three days she will die." Both men bowed their heads. "It is said you can cure with a touch, with the Spear of St. Mercurius you can heal. Bring it, Sister, we will give you our fortune --" The nun drove the steel-shod butt of her spear against the boards, cutting off the pleading words. She walked slowly forward, the spear thumping loudly every time her right foot came down. She stopped, near enough to touch. "I can do nothing," she whispered: "only He Who Creates can cure." "Then you will help?" Miguel blurted. The nun bowed slowly, then straightened. "You came by train?" Again, the whisper. "Si." "Meet me at the depot in two hours. We leave tonight. Two hours, not a minute earlier." Santos reached over and squeezed his brother's shoulder. The nun laid a gentle hand on Miguel's shoulder as well. "Rise," she whispered. "Do not kneel before me. I am nothing." The men rose, blinking, looking at the nun, at one another, and with a serious degree of awe at The Spear. "You should eat," the nun whispered. "Su madre would not want you to travel on an empty belly. Now go. Meet me in two hours. No earlier." "Gracias, Sister Mercurius," the brothers chorused: they were soon a-gallop for the Silver Jewel, each man rejoicing in his heart, for had she not the Spear itself, the Spear that only came out of its locked casket once a year, and then only with due ceremony? Sarah waited until they were departed before running back inside. She came out with a set of full saddlebags. She planned on traveling light, and hopefully, fast. At the last minute she stopped, then went into her mother's office. Bonnie was reading to the twins when she heard the sound of horses, departing in a hurry: curious, she rose, then went to the front door and looked around. She saw a light on in the dress-works. Curious, for she was sure she'd turned out all the lamps, she gathered up her cloak and started across the way, toward the big brick building. Once inside, she smelled a recently-snuffed lamp; she reached for the chimney of the lamp on her desk, drew back her hand: the chimney was hot. Concerned now, Bonnie reached for another lamp, a little distance away: it was cool; she struck match to its wick, turned it down, carried it over to her desk. She recognized Sarah's handwriting. Frowning a little, she picked up the note. Mother -- Please tell Charlie and Jacob I will handle the problem. Please tell them I need not stir from my seat to do it. Please don't worry about me, I shall be gone not more than three days. Sarah "Oh, dear," Bonnie murmured.
  6. Linn Keller 11-23-12 Sarah fired the smokehouse and closed the door, pressing wet clay into the gaps: she wanted to hold the smoke, the low heat, and not let it escape anywhere but the planned vent high up. Meat, good winter's meat, filled the stone smoker: more was in their larder and their new kitchen, their brand-new kitchen, their shining new unused kitchen, was now busy, humming and chattering and clattering with activity: meat was being canned, and canning anything is hot and labor-intensive work: but when Charlie fetched in good eatin' meat, that mysterious, indefinable network of womanly communication kind of lit up, and willing hands descended on the new and spacious kitchen in the brand-new, tall, brick house, and Sarah was given in charge of smoking such cuts of meat as would be useful through the winter. Sarah looked at the small metal doors on the back of the smoke house and smiled: through one she could add fuel or chips as needed, through the other, ashes could be drawn, and there was even a narrow, flat-bottom shovel on a hook beside, for just that purpose. Sarah frowned and made a mental note to fetch out a pail or a coal-scuttle to hold the ashes. No sense in starting a grass fire with hot ash and embers, she thought, shivering, then she shivered again and realized she was cold. Jacob managed not to flinch too hard at Charlie's voice. "Mind if I ask you somethin'?" Jacob drawled, turning with quiet eyes to regard the grinning fellow. "Ask," Charlie replied, his eyes smiling and the rest of his face almost expressionless. "How in Sam's holler can you sneak up on a body like that? I didn't know you were within three counties until you spoke!" Charlie's grin kind of flowed down over his weathered face. "Practice." Jacob nodded. The two men leaned against the front of the Sheriff's office: the evening sun did little to warm them, and finally Jacob said "I need your advice. Let's go in where it's warmer." The two withdrew into the Sheriff's office. Jacob shook down ashes and fed a couple more chunks, which told Charlie he figured to be here a while: a man would leave a good bed of ashes to bank a fire for the night, and he'd just gotten rid of the ash bed. Jacob opened his father's desk drawer, withdrew the bottle and two glasses. Charlie raised a palm, shook his head. Jacob replaced the glassware and its potent cargo, then swung a leg up and set himself on the corner of the Sheriff's desk, frowning. "Sarah's plan," he said without preamble. Charlie slouched against the wall, eyes busy, nodding a little. "She tell you about it?" Charlie nodded slowly. "A little." "Time was ... she'd be gone by now and we wouldn't hear a thing until the explosion r'ared a dust cloud over the horizon." Charlie nodded. "She's changed." Charlie nodded again, holding his own counsel: he did not know how much or how little Jacob knew, and this was a matter he figured Sarah should reveal. There was a light but brisk knock at the door. Charlie looked up, surprised: the board walk without was hollow beneath and even a light step was generally audible. Jacob stood, relaxed; he nodded, and Charlie reached over, drew the latch and hauled the heavy door open. A diminutive little nun in cowl and black habit glided in, head bowed: her hands were hidden in her sleeves, and did not the men know that humans are installed with two legs, they might have thought her on wheels, so smoothly did she move. Charlie swung the door to and slid the latch home; the little nun turned a little to face both men, then withdrew her hands, raised her arms and raised her head. "Sister Mercurius, at your service," Sarah said with the expression of a mischievous little girl. "Now." She tilted her head and looked at Jacob. "I believe there was some question about a plan. I shall need both your wise counsel." Sarah glided over behind the Sheriff's desk, drew open the big middle drawer and withdrew a thin sheaf of paper, and a pencil. "Here," she said, writing quickly, "is what I have planned." Charlie kind of faded away from the wall, thumbs hooked in his belt; his step was absolutely silent on the board floor, and Jacob turned, curious, leaning the heels of his hands on the edge of the desk. "The problem," Sarah said, "is that recent reporter. "Was that his spur of the moment, was he sent on assignment, was he even a reporter?" She reached into a sleeve, pulled out a newspaper. "I made certain inquiries and he is a reporter for this paper." She tapped it with the pencil, then returned to the sheet she was working on. "I have not found whether he was assigned, or merely curious. "Either way I must stop him." Jacob's hand rested lightly on Sarah's shoulder. "You must stop him?" he asked quietly. Sarah straightened, her eyes pale. "Yes. And I know just how." "Let's hear it, girl," Charlie growled, his eyes hard as he looked at this puzzling, confounding soul whose reason consistently defied logic and yet worked very, very well. "You are right," Sarah said, her return gaze just as direct but nowhere near as hard. "Killing him would raise more questions. I need to discredit him. He will be alive to complain about it -- but he will be alive." "Go on." Sarah looked gratefully at Jacob, then continued. Drawing open the Sheriff's drawer, she withdrew the bottle, set it on the desk. "What do you see?" Charlie and Jacob looked at one another. "Medicinal. Warm-up. Pain killer. Warsh out a cut," Jacob suggested. Sarah's finger tapped the cork. "This, gentlemen," she smiled, "is opportunity." She opened another drawer, drew out a triangular bottle half the height of the clear whiskey bottle. "Laudanum," she said. Jacob frowned, tilted his head a little, curious. "I travel as Sister Mercurius. Nobody knows me. I become someone else back east." She tapped the newspaper with a curved forefinger. "Again, nobody will know me. I turn invisible." She looked sharply at Charlie. "You taught me that." Charlie's eyes were half-slitted, unreadable. "I get into his newspaper office and offer him a choice: drink, or die. "He likes his drink and will choose not to die." She tapped the laudanum bottle. "This, in the bottle in his drawer, and he will drink deep and pass out. "I rifle his files, extract anything to do with the Ragdoll, I rappel out his window and just before I leave, I heave a whiskey-bottle through the glass of his office door. "I slip out his window and free the line so it disappears before anyone appears. Even if I must abandon the line in place, he will be blamed for its presence. They will find him smelling of drink, passed out, and think he himself put the bottle through the window. He is discredited, possibly fired. I return in disguise. Happily ever after." Jacob nods, looks at the paper: Sarah has sketched out train schedules, listed addresses, estimated travel times and expenses, calculated the number and type of luggage-trunks that will be needed, and while talking, wrote the routing of each item. Jacob raised an eyebrow. Few minds can operate on multiple trains of thought simultaneously, let alone talk one and write another. He looked up at Charlie. "Woman's magic, boy," Charlie muttered, shaking his head. "It's a gift. Don't try to understand it, just accept it." Charlie grinned, the corners of his eyes crinkling as if sharing a secret knowledge. "I've seen your Mama do that, and I've seen my Fannie do that." He looked long at Sarah. "You are growin' up." Sarah nodded, her eyes distant, then she sat down -- or kind of sagged, and a good thing the chair was there to catch her. Sarah rested her elbows on the desk, her face in her palms. There was a shout, the jingle of harness; hard boot heels on the boardwalk outside. Sarah jumped out of the chair, drew back against the wall: Charlie and Jacob moved, Charlie between the desk and the door, Jacob over by the gun rack: he pulled down a double twelve, knowing it to be loaded, eared back the hammers. A hard fist hammered on the door and a loud, accented voice shouted "Abre la puerta!" Another voice, a little higher: Estupido! Favor de abre la puerta!" Charlie looked at Jacob, winked: Jacob eased the hammers down on the shotgun as Charlie stomped over to the door and bellowed "Quien es?" -- and yanked the latch back. "We are two men with a thirst!" Santos roared, throwing his arms wide and seizing the spare ex-Marshal in a great embrace: "Por Dios, you are built like a mesquite and twice as ugly! And you! You need a meal and a drink and a good woman!" Santos seized Jacob, laughing, and Jacob tossed the shotgun to Charlie: Miguel came in, grinning, and shook Charlie's hand, nodding approval at the double gun in his other mitt: "It is wise to be careful, eh? There is no telling what disreputable scoundrels will --" The brothers Vega y Vega both saw Sarah at the same moment. Whipping off their sombreros, they crossed themselves: "Forgive us, Sister," they blurted in unison, and Sarah turned, head in a humble inclination, and blessed them both with the Sign of the Cross: slipping her hands in her sleeves, she glided first to Miguel, then to Santos: she wordlessly handed each a brown scapular, then silently exited the door, and was gone. Santos, wide-eyed, pointed to the door, his mouth open: Miguel looked from Jacob to Charlie, then to the brown scapular in his hand. Neither Charlie nor Jacob missed the man's tremor. Miguel spoke first. "We hoped to find she who is called Sister Mercurius," he said carefully. "Our sister -- she is not well -- we hoped --" "She is bleeding and the doctors cannot help." Jacob and Charlie looked at one another, then at their Mexican guests. Santos staggered back a step. "Dios Mio!" he whispered, "El Senor Dios has blessed us this night!" -- his voice rose to a triumphant shout -- and the brothers Vega y Vega scrambled out the door: "Sister!" the shouted. "Sister Mercurius, adyudame, favor de ayudame!" Charlie and Jacob looked at one another again. Finally Jacob took the single sheet upon which Sarah had written, returned the blank sheets and pencil to the drawer, put away the laudanum, picked up the bottle and looked thoughtfully at the heavy glass vessel. "I don't reckon," he said slowly, "Sarah will be going East any time soon." "No," Charlie agreed. "I reckon not." "Sister Mercurius?" Jacob puzzled, opening the top right hand drawer, looking at the two glasses within. "I believe," Charlie drawled, "I just might have that drink now." "I believe," Jacob replied, "I will join you." Water clear gurgled into heavy glass and the two men clinked and drank. Jacob sat on the desk again and Charlie eased himself down into an armless chair. "Clothes make the man," Jacob said meditatively. "What do you reckon this makes Sarah?" Charlie's eyes smiled as he set the glass down on the corner of the desk. "Busy, I reckon," he chuckled. "She'll be going, if I'm any judge." "But not East." "Not East."
  7. Charlie MacNeil 11-22-12 "I have to act," she whispered, then nodded. There. I made a decision. I will act. Sarah sighed, shook her head. I feel better for deciding that much, at least ... but now ... what action do I ... "What act, indeed?" she asked herself out loud. She looked back toward the dress-works, then looked at the house, almost complete now, then back to the dress-works. She would wait until work was done for the day before she brought her half-finished outfits from their hiding place and completed her idea. Shirt and britches, a nun's habit ... and she had to see Daciana again. I think I know what to do, she thought, and I won't have to kill him to do it. I know where the laudanum is, and that will be just the thing. Sarah's smile was thin. I think I know just how to do it. "My thoughts exactly, girl." Charlie's soft drawl startled Sarah from her reverie. "What exactly do ya think ya're gonna do ta that gent?" She whirled to face the ex-Marshal where he sat the saddled roan. Beyond the dress works the two packhorses stood patiently waiting. "How do you do that?" Sarah squawked, her voice trembling. "Do what?" he asked, his voice level, his features neutral. "Sneak up on me like that? In a wide open pasture no less? And how do you know what I'm thinking so much of the time?" "You were so engrossed in your own thoughts that I could've come in here with a brass marching band and you wouldn't have noticed, girl," he told her coolly. "I thought me and Fannie taught you better than that." "But I... but you... how do you know so much?" Sarah blurted out, the words tangling with her tongue as they rushed out into the chill air on the fog of her breath. "I've been there and done that, girl," he replied. "I've been you." He stepped down from the saddle. "Come here." She hesitated, unsure of where this was going. His voice crackled with command. "Now! Come!" Seeming to act on their own volition, her feet carried her forward to where Charlie could catch her hands in his. Her eyes were downcast. "Look at me, girl," he ordered. She brought her gaze up to meet his. "Look deep," he told her. "What do you see?" "I see... things. Things that happened, things that hurt you, things that..." "Scared me?" he asked softly. She nodded, her eyes locked on his. "You're scared now, aren't you?" he went on. She nodded again. "You don't know what to do next, right?" She blinked her assent, unable to nod. "Welcome to the real world, girl," he said with a soft chuckle. With a shuddering sigh she broke the connection between old eyes and young. "What do you mean?" she whispered. "I mean we all get scared, we're all uncertain, most of us don't usually know what to do," he answered. "Welcome to the real world," he repeated. "But you, and Aunt Fannie, and Uncle Papa, and even Jacob, you always seem to know what to do, you're never scared, you're always so, so, well, brave!" she exclaimed. "Bull feathers!" Charlie retorted. "Don't you believe it, girl. We're all just real dang good at coverin' our hineys 'cause we've been around for so long," he went on with a flickering smile. "When you've had as much crap thrown at ya as we have over the years, even Jacob, ya get real good at takin' it with a straight face. King Solomon said that there ain't nothin' new under the sun, and when it comes ta the kinda stuff that happens ta lawdogs, he was right. We've seen it before. But it don't mean we ain't scared. We're just real good at coverin' it up." He dropped her hands. "Does that make any sense?" "Actually, it does," she answered, surprise writ large on her comely features. "Good. Now back to my original question: what are you planning to do that fella?" Her gaze paled. "I'm going to make sure he doesn't come back, and that he doesn't let anyone else come here, either," she replied in a tone cold enough to freeze a fast-running stream. "Gonna kill him?" "No." "Good, 'cause that would only cause more people to ask questions. Got something real devious in mind?" "Yes." "Good. Just make sure you stop short of long-term hospitalization, okay?" "I'll do my best." "Good. Now come with me and help me unpack them horses. Seein' as how you cut your huntin' short, I did it for you. Your family's winter meat is in those manties, so lets us get at it and get it in the cold cellar 'fore it gets too warm." "Thank you for everything, Uncle Charlie. I needed that." "My pleasure, girl. Now lets get busy." He picked up the roan's reins and led the gelding toward the patiently waiting packhorses.
  8. Linn Keller 11-22-12 I must plan carefully, Sarah thought. Another few days and Emma will ... Sarah's eyes raised to the horizon, restless: the flesh between her shoulder blades tightened a little, as if anticipating a shot from concealment, or a knife, perhaps. One hand rested on Snowflake's warm neck; The Bear Killer sat against her foot, leaning a little on her leg, pink tongue run out, panting a little, looking deceptively sleepy. Another few days and Emma will still be weak and moving slow and careful. Snowflake lowered her head to graze again, and Sarah turned, walking slowly, not with any particular destination in mind. It was much simpler before I knew I was going to live, she thought. It was easier before I knew I will pass my father's bloodline to my child, and my child in turn to my grandchild. Sarah stopped, looked into the distance. Who can I ask? Charlie? He said I was growing up. Sarah shivered, as if someone just stepped on her grave. I've seen what happens to people who grow up. Sarah's eyes narrowed. Things happened to me ... long before I was grown ... terrible things, but they are past now, they are behind me. I'm still here. Growing up will not change that. Grown up, I will be better able to kill anyone who tries to do that to me again. Sarah stopped, wondering at herself. Am I so quick to kill? Is it that easy for me? Sarah turned and walked back along her previous footprints. I need to stop the danger that faces me. Or I could do nothing, and evil can come upon me unawares. It can do that anyway. I can stop this evil. Sarah's eyes changed, grew a little more pale, a little more cold. I could kill the reporter. Just as quickly, she dismissed the idea. No ... but the reporter must be stopped. Forbid a thing and you make that thing alluring; prohibit it and a man will bust his ever lovin' gut to get it or do it or have it. He is forbidden to return, he is discouraged from looking into the Ragdoll ever again. I can't take the chance of ignoring him. He just might decide there's something worth writing about if so many people oppose him. Sarah groaned and turned back to Snowflake, clutching the black Frisian's long, silky mane in both hands. What is stopping me? I am stopping me. What is my greatest enemy? Indecision. I ... can't ... stand ... not ... deciding!! Decide to do nothing, or decide to act. Sarah drew her face away from the Frisian's silky fur. "I have to act," she whispered, then nodded. There. I made a decision. I will act. Sarah sighed, shook her head. I feel better for deciding that much, at least ... but now ... what action do I ... "What act, indeed?" she asked herself out loud. She looked back toward the dress-works, then looked at the house, almost complete now, then back to the dress-works. She would wait until work was done for the day before she brought her half-finished outfits from their hiding place and completed her idea. Shirt and britches, a nun's habit ... and she had to see Daciana again. I think I know what to do, she thought, and I won't have to kill him to do it. I know where the laudanum is, and that will be just the thing. Sarah's smile was thin. I think I know just how to do it.
  9. Linn Keller 11-22-12 The Sheriff lay awake that night, staring at the ceiling, the taste of ashes on his tongue. His gut told him there was trouble and he didn't like trouble. He tried to put trouble to bed and leave it there, he tried to convince the world the Ragdoll was dead, he tried to make the world believe Firelands was a fine place to behave yourself and a very bad place to misbehave. He lay very still, staring -- glaring -- at the ceiling. Esther was up with the twins: they were restless and so was she, and when she finally came to bed, she rolled up on her side, soft, warm and all woman, and laid a hand on her husband's chest. He reached up and laid his callused palm on hers and sighed. "Mrs. Keller," he whispered, "you are still a fine lookin' woman." "Mr. Keller," she whispered back, "you are still a fine lookin' man." They lay in silence for a time, until finally Esther whispered, "You're thinking too loudly for me to sleep." The Sheriff blinked in the darkness and Esther felt his breathing change, then the quick stifling of something: his belly contracted and she heard his throat shut, and then he allowed himself a quiet, almost inaudible chuckle. "Now out with it, mister," Esther whispered, throwing a leg over his thighs: "you'll not sleep if you don't get it off your chest." The Sheriff was not the only one staring at the nighttime ceiling. Sarah considered and debated, thought and meditated, then she threw back her covers and fished about with bare feet for her slippers. She crept down the open wooden stairs into the dress-works. Sarah knew where the material was kept: she'd set a bolt aside, in a particular place, in case she would need it. She struck light to a candle and, like a ghost, drifted through the necessary areas of the dress-works: she found the bolt, pulled it out a couple feet, then assembled a few other components at one of the sewing stations. Finally she put the candle on a candle-stand, struck two Aladdin lights into life, placed them widely spaced so she would have the fewest shadows, pinched out the candle, and quietly unrolled the bolt onto a cutting-table. Shining silver shears parted the black linen easily, chattering quietly through the tight-woven material. Jacob looked at his son: the lad was sound asleep, rolled up on his side, one arm out-thrust, the other in close to his chest: Jacob shivered a little, remembering his nightmare. He'd been a little boy again, scared, hurt, chased by terrible monsters through boulders and thickets that populate a little boy's imagination: anonymous branches horsewhipped out, searing across his back, bringing blood, hot, wet, then cold, trickling down his back, down his legs -- He'd wakened, wide-eyed, gasping, looking about the darkened bedroom: he fell back against his pillow, quivering, telling himself it was only a dream, only a dream, only a dream, and not for the first time, he whispered his thanks that the dream was real, not real, not real. He got up, shaking, shaking hard now: he could barely stand, his nightshirt was soaked, he put out a hand against the door casing, willing his breathing to slow. Jacob wiped a sleeve across his wet-sweating face. It was airless in the bedroom, he was stifling, suffocating: he opened the door, slipped out, closed it silently behind him. He went outside, the ground cold under his bare feet, looking around in the washed-out moonlight: he walked over to the wood pile, grasped the hatchet, pulled it free. He turned and drew the hatchet back over his shoulder, let fly with the assurance of long practice: the broad blade gleamed and flashed in the silver light, the hatchet turned over once, stuck. Jacob stared after the hatchet for a long time. Steam rose from his back, from his shoulders, and was any there to look, old whip scars could be seen through his soaky-wet night shirt's back. Finally he went back inside, wiped his feet on the hook rug, hesitated. He went into the kitchen, dippered up some good cold water and took a long drink, ignoring the stream that ran down the corner of his mouth and off his chin. Wiping his face again with his sleeve, he turned and walked over and into little Joseph's room. There was enough light for him to see his boy's face, relaxed, innocent, flawless, like a fine marble statue: he watched as the covers rose, slowly, then fell, slowly, with the lad's nocturnal respirations. Jacob thought of Sarah, earlier that day, and he thought of his little boy. Jacob's eyes were pale, hard. Jacob took family very seriously. He considered the nightmare that clawed him from a sound sleep: he examined it, coldly, looking at it with the suspicious and skeptical eyes of a lawman. Is this a warning? he wondered, then he looked down at his little boy, remembering how flawless, how smooth, how perfect, the flesh of his son's back was, and his hands tightened into fists again. Jacob's breath came more quickly now and he began to tremble with fury, with rage, at the thought that anyone may seek to harm his son, his wife, his sister ... or anyone else he loved, for that matter. In that moment, a black hatred filled his young heart, and he wished to sink his teeth in the throat of an enemy. A ghost floated across the meadow, a ghost flanked by a shadow the color of night, a ghost that stopped to caress another great, black shadow. Sarah rubbed Snowflake's nose, crystal tears dripping off her cheeks. "I'm scared," she whispered. "Snowflake, I'm scared!" Sarah staggered back as better than a hundred pounds of canine reared up and set his forepaws on her shoulders: she reached up and rubbed his bristling ruff and the Bear Killer licked her face, then dropped down to all fours, the fur ridging up down his spine and across his shoulders. Sarah heard his growl start well down below the root of his tail and gain power as it echoed up his great barrel-ribbed chest, and finally the Bear Killer, lips peeled back, fangs glowing in the wan moonlight, dropped his bottom on the frost-crunching ground, shoved his blunt muzzle toward the stars and voiced an ancient challenge, a hell-bay that portended blood, that sang of death, that warned the gates of Hell that bloodied bodies were about to stack up at its black portal. Sarah threw her head back and she saw the dull red glow from across the black river, she saw the ten thousand eyes glowing in rock-bound darkness, she heard leathery scales on stone, claws hissing along adamantine pathways, waiting for her to condemn her own soul, waiting for her return, not as an innocent child, twisted from hurt, but rather a developed, adult soul, a soul that chose the hell-path, a soul that could be tortured and tormented and agonized to depths unimaginable by a mere child. Sarah laid a hand on The Bear Killer's ears. "Shhh," she soothed, and The Bear Killer leaned against her, still growling. "Miz Emma!" a young voice exclaimed, and immediately the entire student body abandoned benches and studies and ran to the windows. Fingers, noses and anxious expressions all pressed against window-glass, and Sarah smiled, folding her hands, knowing how fruitless it would be to call the children back: instead, she swept down the center aisle, grasped the door and hauled it open, stepping back. Jackson Cooper reached up and carefully, gently wrapped his big hands around his bride's chest under her arms: he picked her up, swung her down out of the carriage, easing her to the ground as if she were the most delicate bone china. Sarah was like a rock in the middle of a stream: the children poured out around Sarah and down the three steps in a happy, laughing, chattering cascade, and Emma Cooper found herself surrounded by bouncing, bright-faced, big-eyed humanity. Emma, smiling, looked up at Sarah, and read her lips, for speech was impossible in this happy confusion: "Welcome home!"
  10. Linn Keller 11-21-12 Sarah clapped her hands, twice, the sound of her action loud in the schoolroom. "Children," she said in the proper tone of voice, sounding as much like Miz Emma as she could, "I believe all is well now. I would like to go outside and be sure of this. Close the door behind me." She looked at the Blaze Boys. "Priest's hole," she said, then to another, slightly older lad, "and Brother Oliver." "Yes, ma'am," several young voices chorused: Sarah made a palms-up gesture - wait -- and the children, shifting uncertainly, still stood at the front of the room. Sarah sidled to a window, peeked quickly, then again: she pointed to the Blaze Boys and nodded, once, then stepped quickly, silently, to the door, twisted the knob, pulled. Charlie's upraised knuckles hovered in space as the door opened just before he could knock. Sarah smiled a little at the sight of three grim faced lawmen at her door. "Children," she called, turning her head, "all is well. You may return to your seats now." "Yes, Miss Sarah," the schoolroom sang, and children shuffled, slipped and paced back to their benches, settling, sliding or plopping into their assigned places. "I will be just without," Sarah said, "speaking with the Sheriff." "Yes, Miss Sarah." Sarah stepped outside, drawing the door shut behind her. While the door was open, she was collected, she was dignified, she was calm: the moment the latch clicked shut behind her, she threw herself into her Uncle Charlie, seizing the man with shivering arms, clutching at him like she might clutch a floating barrel after being shipwrecked on a broad and stormy ocean. "There, now," Charlie soothed, his hands spread wide across her back, his voice gentle, "there, now, darlin', shhh, it's all right, you're fine, you're safe." It did not help Sarah's nerves any that the Sheriff and Jacob were turned away from her, facing any danger that might seek to approach while she provided the men a distraction. It took most of a minute before Sarah collected herself. Finally, drawing her head back, she looked at her Uncle Charlie. Charlie saw something he hadn't expected. He saw surprise, and a little fear. Good, he thought. She should know what fear tastes like. She may be learnin', after all. Sarah cleared her throat, laid a hand on Charlie's chest, tried to say something: she cleared her throat again, took a long breath and started over. Looking over at the Sheriff, she said, "You were right." Then, looking at Charlie -- looking up at the weathered, lined old ex-lawman's hard-eyed expression -- "You were right, Uncle Charlie." "Well now, darlin', that's nice," Charlie said slowly, "now just what did this slow moving old man do?" "Slow moving my aunt's billy goat," Sarah muttered, almost managing an affectionate glare. "Uncle Charlie, you told me I can't go head-first against everything I butt up against." She looked over at the Sheriff. "And you told me the military uses a layered principle of security." She looked back at Charlie. "You tried so hard to remind me that I am ..." Sarah hesitated, hung her head. "That I'm a girl." She leaned her forehead against the Marshal's chest. "I had all those children to keep safe," she whispered. "I could have taken him on but what about them?" Charlie waited. "He wanted the Ragdoll but he didn't know who Ragdoll was, so I knew the first layer was intact -- "the first layer of defense is always knowledge," she quoted. "Papa, I used your trick with the glasses." The Sheriff turned, his eyes pale; he nodded shallowly. "Were you able to ...?" "Yes," the Sheriff said quietly, turning a little: he was side-on to Sarah now, his back to the schoolhouse, still restless. "When the boy came over and demanded your glasses back I was able to convince him you are nearly blind and going that way fast." "I told him you have a bad leg and can't walk fifty yards without crying with pain, that you have to be lifted into and out of a carriage," Jacob added. "I see." "You didn't try killing him," Charlie said. Sarah shook her head. "He wasn't trying to kill me. I know if he'd printed that I was the Ragdoll, my life would be in danger, stopping him was important ... what happened out here?" "Let's just say he won't be back," Charlie said slowly, an edge to his voice, and it was Sarah's turn to look closely at the man. "He is ... mostly alive, then?" "Does she know you or what?" the Sheriff grinned. "Speak for yourself, mister," Charlie snarled, and Sarah saw the amusement in the man's eyes: only old and dear friends could growl and bristle like rival dogs and yet know each was pulling the other's leg without mercy. "I seem to recall your usin' that log wall on him like a meat tenderizer." "I didn't have time," the Sheriff said with an air of wounded dignity, "to ship in a steam roller!" Sarah's grip was tight on the hard-muscled ex-marshal's upper arm and she rested her hand on his chest again. "Uncle Charlie," she whispered, "a year ago I would have torn into the man and no second thought. This way was better. You taught me that." She patted her hand on his chest, leaned her forehead against him again. "Maybe I'm not so stupid after all." "No one ever said you were stupid," Charlie whispered back, stroking her hair like he was comforting a scared little girl. "Maybe you're just growin' up." He felt Sarah stiffen and she pulled away from him, shoving him back almost to arm's length. Sarah's eyes were pale and Charlie saw it again, only stronger. Charlie saw fear.
  11. Rifles do fine. Shotguns do okay. Not great, but okay. Which is why I want to come up with a better way to hold them in.
  12. I think that would be the next logical step. With the pins cleaned it sounds like there's enough gunk in the bores to be an issue.
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