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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. Linn Keller 11-15-11 Daisy just came out of the kitchen with a towel over her arm and a tray in both hands when I cautiously opened the back door to thge Jewel. I'd learned to open it careful-like when I didn't, one time ... I ended up on the wrong side of Daisy's temper and she swatted me several times with her brush broom, and she warn't gentle a'tall about it neither, and when I grabbed it in both hands and stripped it out of her grip, why, that just made her madder and she seized it and stripped it out of my grip and proceeded to wallop me some more, at least until Sean came laughing down the hallway and seized his wife under the arms, picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. Daisy dropped the broom and proceeded to screech and hammer the Irishman's back and beltline with her red-knuckled fists, kicking and swearing a blue streak -- I think it was swearing -- hell, with the voice she was usin' and Gaelic to boot she could have been recitin' a recipe for cabbage soup and it would have stripped the hide off a Missouri mule for the hearin' of it -- anyway I cleaned up the mess and parked her broom where she usually kept it and made a point of never, ever opening the back door careless-like again! Daisy looked at me over the tray: cups and saucers, tea-cakes and sandwiches, a steaming, graceful porcelain tea-pot, and a snapping set of Irish-green eyes glaring at me -- well, I'd opened the door just far enough to poke my head in, and that without my hat, and I said "Safe to come in?" "I've both hands full," Daisy said tartly, "or I'd fetch out me broom again!" -- and threw her head like a spirited horse -- and I grinned and said "Oh Daisy darlin', please don't do that, Sean ain't here to rescue me!" Daisy tried hard not to crack the mask of disapproval she wore, and she come close to succeeding: finally she snorted and started up the back stairs to the second floor. "Men!" she muttered. "An' you especially, you woman usin' scoundrel! Why, ye should be ashamed o' yersel'! Yer puir wife is wi' child an' ye're makin' her work! Like as not she'll be hangin' wet bed sheets i' th' blowin' snow wi' her knuckles cracked an' bleedin' fra' cleanin' yer shirts on th' wash board, an' ye'll sit inside wi' yer brandy an' cigars an' dream up more ways t' punish th' lass!" She continued her muttering ascent, me treading carefully behind her, hat in hand and ready to toss the Stetson if she took a mis-step and went over backwards. It had never happened, least not to her, but I'd caught women before who'd stepped on their skirt and went over backward somehow. Daisy's spine was stiff with disapproval as she made the level and marched down the hallway, punishing the rug with the hard little heels she wore: it was a rare day when Daisy herself was in the kitchen ... her presence, and her wearing those little heels told me she was there on a visit and not to work ... but Daisy was Daisy, and when she got there she whipped on an apron and fixed tea and lady-cakes and the like, for despite her status as owner of the kitchen and mistress of her little realm, with cooks and serving-girls under her, she still made it clear that she could do the work herself if need be. Especially when she wanted to visit with her friend, Esther. Daisy turned, glaring at me: was I made of wood, her gaze would have seared smoking scorch-lines in my grain: as it was, her voice was almost as withering: "Well, ye great strong man, ye'll ha'e t' knock th' door, I canna' wi' ma hands full! Men! Hmph!" -- and as I rat-tatted with my knuckles, then turned the knob and pushed the door open, Daisy sailed in with all the authority of a war-ship under full sail, with a toss of her Irish-red mane and her shoulders absolutely T-square perfect.
  2. Linn Keller 11-14-11 My thoughts were rather less than Christian in nature. I don't believe in beatin' a horse nor do I believe in over powering them. I'd rather convince them they want to follow my orders. It wasn't working. Santos and Eduardo had talked me into letting them breed my Rose-horse and the Sun-Witch both. No fault of theirs, I reckon, but both ended up dead: these things happen, I know, and they paid me good money for the pair of 'em, and sent me a bright-copper mare, bright as a new penny. She looked good, she had really good lines and she had a really nasty disposition. Now a man is a fool and ten kinds of a fool if he thinks he can beat a horse, one on one. A horse is faster, stronger, taller, has a longer reach, bigger teeth and a stronger bite. Me? I had a temper and a hard head. I finally got that copper mare into the barn and shut the door and I got her to where she'd let me curry her down. I got her mane brushed out and her tail brushed out and I fooled with her fetlocks and examined her hooves carefully. She didn't bite me more'n two or three times. The fourth time I come around and fetched her an open hand slap across the nose and yelled NO! just as loud as I could, then I went back to working on her like nothing had happened. She sniffed at me a little -- I reckon she could smell the mad on me -- but she didn't offer to bite no more. She was saddle broke and her back was in really good shape and I looked at her carefully before I chose which saddle to use on her. Some horses are broader around the barrel, some have a pointy back bone, some are like tryin' to straddle the dining room table, and a saddle really ought to fit the horse. Turns out that fancy Mexican saddle fit her best, and she didn't offer any surprise at the sight of it, so I figured Santos or Eduardo, whichever one had saddle broke her, used a similar looking saddle. That was good. Anything to make life easier. I had enough things go wrong in my time, I didn't need a contrary horse. I didn't want to mount up inside the barn. Was she of a mind to launch me most of the way to the moon, the rafters overhead would likely interfere, and that didn't strike me as a fine way to start the morning, so I led her outside. Angela was already mounted up on her Rosebud, wearing a riding skirt and a cute little hat set sideways on her head and tied with a big ribbon bow under her chin, and she had a grin on her face big as a Texas ranch. "Oooh!" Angela gasped, her eyes big, as the morning sun hit that copper colored mare and looked to set her hide right afire. I bribed that big copper mare with a small, sweet apple and stroked her neck, murmuring to her, then I set my foot in the stirrup and swung aboard. She froze. I mean she just locked up everything like a statue, her head up, her ears up, and I figured this ain't good. Of a sudden, and I don't think there was the sliver of a heart beat between the two, she went from dead stop to wide open, she threw herself out horizontal, stretched way out the way a runnin' horse will, and shot herself like a cannon ball out of the bronze throat of a field gun, launched straight for the furthest fence and didn't stop nor offer to turn. In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought, and my hat lifted off my head and fell back on its storm strap: she'll either try and turn or she'll try and stop and we'll both come to ruin, or she'll jump -- You recall I said she launced from a standing dead-still to a flat-out gallop like a cannonball? That warn't nothin'! She hit the ground hard with I ain't sure if it was fore hooves or rear hooves but she fired herself off the ground like that field gun was elevated at a steep angle and we sailed over that fence like it was a wrinkle in your tablecloth. I don't recall as I ever jumped quite so high on the back of any horse in all my born days! My stomach parted company with me about mid-jump, I reckon, least that's how it felt, and that copper colored mare should have sprouted wings, she was in the air that long: when she come down she was still a-runnin' and she landed easy, I had no trouble a'tall keepin' my seat, and the two of us took out for yonder and she was determined to take the least time gettin' there possible! Angela watched her Daddy swarm into the saddle in one smooth move. Angela, eyes big, sized up the shining copper mare: she'd already fallen in love with her color, for she looked like molten copper, burning-hot from the mold: Angela had blinked, and in the middle of that quick little eye-bat, her Daddy had gone from standing still to a full-out gallop! The maid looked out the window in time to hear a little girl's voice call, "Wait for me!" and gallop after her departing Daddy. The maid crushed a double handful of apron to her mouth, eyes the size of saucers: "Dear Lord and Saint Christopher!" she breathed as Angela and her Rosebud arrowed for the distant fence: Mary felt cold fingers walking down her spine as the Sheriff launched over the fence, and kept on going, and then little Angela, wee Angela, beautiful child that she was followed. Distantly, far away, the maid heard the little girl's full-throated and delighted, "Wheee!" The maid's hand fumbled blindly for the back of a chair she knew was nearby. She fanned herself, heart in her throat, as she lowered, trembling, into the chair. "GO, YOU SAUCY MEXICAN WENCH!" I screamed, my heels locked in her ribs, my body laid down along her neck, and she laid her ears back and grunted something evil deep in her chest and surged ahead, making her former effort seem the tired plodding of a spavined dray-horse. We turned in a great circle, headed back toward the barn, and I saw Angela coming toward us, her little Rose-horse pounding purposefully in our direction, golden-yellow tail twisting in her own slip stream: I knew Rosebud was well used to the high altitude, and had all the ancestral endurance of Rey del Sol's entire line. I also knew the horse I rode was different, and I liked it. A lot! A coyote flushed out not far ahead of us and the copper mare swung to follow and I let her. I have no use for the yodel dogs, not after what they did to our calves last spring, and though I did not have my Winchester with me, I am never without my Colts. "Get us close!" I shouted. I might as well have saved my breath. That copper mare came up beside that yodel dog and speared it with a forehoof without breaking stride. She came around -- a tight turn, heeled over, fighting to keep her footing, sounding like she wanted to personally rip the throat out of something twice her size and she didn't care how big it was -- and I saw that 'yote rolling, yelping in the dust. "GET 'IM GET 'IM GET 'IM!" I screamed, dropping the knotted reins over the saddle horn and pulling my hammer tabs free. The copper mare swung around and picked up speed and hit that coyote with about ten hooves on her next pass. Don't ask me how. She come around again, like a battleship heeling over and coming in for another cannonade at an enemy craft, and that 'yote was twitching some in the dust. I sat up in the saddle and she slowed, then cantered up to the bloodied creature. She grunted, shook her head, stood there blowing a little. I realized I was a little damp: I wiped my face and forehead on my shirt sleeve, arched my back and felt the shirt sweat-stuck to my back. I patted her neck and called her a good girl, and the copper mare shook hear head and blew again and seemed insufferably pleased with herself. Angela was laboring steadily toward us at a good pace, but she was still rather distant, so I gave the copper mare my knees and we set an easy canter toward my little girl. The maid squinted through the eyepiece of the gleaming brass telescope the Sheriff kept hanging under the gun rack. She steadied the far end of the telescoping brass tube on the top of the window's lower pane: she watched as Angela galloped across the high meadow toward her Daddy, and how her Daddy reined up and she saw the man throw his head back and laugh as his little girl threw her arms wide, and even at that distance, there was no mistaking the joy on the child's face. Mary's knees were still shaking a little, but she lowered the telescope, collapsed it and returned it to its place on the gun rack, then paused to rest her forehead in her hand. Only then did she realize she was gripping St. Christopher's medal in her palm. She stroked it with a forefinger. "Thank you," she whispered, and slipped it back into her apron pocket. "Daddy?" "Yes, Princess?" "Whatsayagonnado nameada horsie?" Angela asked, looking over at her Daddy with big and innocent eyes. The Sheriff laughed again, a good Daddy-laugh that felt good in Angela's belly, and he stroked the copper mare's neck. "Ridin' her is like ridin' a ball out of a field gun," he said thoughtfully. "I believe I'll call her Cannonball."
  3. Linn Keller 11-13-11 The Sheriff set the brake and jumped out of the carriage just as the conductor was calling "Board! All aboooard!" for the last time. Sarah saw her Mama, looking anxiously out the back door of the private car: the Sheriff grinned, lifted his hat and strode around the back of the buggy, and then Sarah gave a little shriek as the Sheriff seized her trim waist and brought her out of the buggy in one swift move. She touched down, her hands tight on the Sheriff's upper arms: her expression was bright, delighted: before the grey-mustached old lawman could straighten, Sarah came up on her toes and kissed his cheek, then with one hand on her hat, scampered for the passenger car. The porter, grinning, lifted his cap and offered his free hand: Sarah took it and climbed the step-stool, then the steps, stopping at the top, hanging onto the hand rail and waving gaily back at her Uncle Linn. The old lawman was grinning like a damned fool, his hat upraised in salute to two beautiful women. Neither truly knew just how much of the old lawman's heart they carried with them.
  4. Linn Keller 11-12-11 The service was brief, and there were but two mourners when the old woman was interred. The Sheriff extended his hand, sifted dirt into the hole, onto the box; Sarah saw his lips move, but could not hear what he said. She took her Uncle's arm and together they left the graveyard. Sarah sat straight and silent beside the old lawman as they drove back to the Sheriff's office. When the Sheriff drew his mare to a stop and set the brake, he didn't move for some time: Sarah was content to sit beside her Uncle, and await his good pleasure. The Sheriff gazed down the empty street for some time. Finally he said, "Thank you, Sarah," and Sarah heard something in his voice ... something deeper than his words. Sarah turned her head and regarded Linn's profile. There was a deep sorrow in his light blue eyes; the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes seemed deeper, somehow, and she saw his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed. He reached over and took Sarah's gloved hand in his, squeezed it gently, released. " 'A friend doubles joy and cuts grief in half,' " he quoted. Sarah squeezed his hand in return. The Sheriff looked at Sarah, a quiet half-smile on his face. "Besides," he said, "what older man doesn't want to be seen in public with a beautiful, younger woman?" Sarah giggled, her face coloring furiously beneath her fashionable new hat: the Sheriff dismounted, came around the carriage and offered Sarah his hand. Sarah stood and stepped out onto the carriage-block like the Queen herself descending from the throne. The Sheriff tilted his head a little, regarding his favorite niece with the expression of a man who was seeing someone for the first time: finally, he nodded, offered his arm. They went into the Sheriff's office and the Sheriff drew her out a chair. Sarah sat, the very image of ladylike propriety. Linn sat on the corner of his desk, one leg swinging a little. "You look like you're going to Denver," he observed. Sarah smiled. "We are," she said quietly. "Mama has some new dresses to show the buyers." "Is this one of them?" "Oh, no," Sarah smiled. "I would never risk wearing a new one until we'd shown it!" The Sheriff took a long breath, nodded. "Thank you for coming out this morning." Sarah's eyes were steady as she regarded the slender man with the iron grey mustache. "I heard that she died, and you were taking care of arrangements." He nodded. "Uncle Linn, I have an idea." The Sheriff tilted his pelvis to the side, frowning: he stood, went around the desk and put the heels of his hands on the edge of the desk, bent his knees: as his weight came on his straight arms, Sarah heard a muffled *pop!* and the Sheriff groaned with relief. He looked up and grinned at Sarah. "My apologies," he said, "but that hurt so good." Sarah's expression was distressed. "That sounded painful, Uncle Linn!" "Mileage," the old man deadpanned, turning his swivel chair a little and sitting down. "You have an idea?" Sarah raised her chin. "Uncle Linn, Ragdoll ..." Sarah's expressions were mobile, fluid: she went from hopeful to thoughtful to annoyed and back -- "Ragdoll is a legend." The Sheriff nodded. "I didn't realize I was famous." The Sheriff nodded, gravely, his eyes veiled. "The Baron heard of the Ragdoll in Germany. Germany is in Europe. Europe knows about the Ragdoll and that reporter wanted to feature the Legend of the Ragdoll in his newspaper --" Sarah frowned. "Uncle Linn, I don't want to go down in history as the Ragdoll." "Then don't." Sarah's expression was equal amounts puzzled and surprised. "Excuse me?" "By what name did the Baron make his address?" "His" -- Sarah stopped and thought. "He addressed me as Miss Rosenthal." The Sheriff nodded. "Precisely." Sarah blinked. "Sarah, the military uses a layered principle of defense." The Sheriff steepled his fingers, tilting back a little in the chair. "The first layer of defense is always knowledge." "I ... don't understand." The Sheriff smiled quietly. "If Sarah Rosenthal is the Ragdoll," the Sheriff explained, "who is Sarah McKenna?" Sarah blinked. "Having another name can come in handy," the Sheriff continued. "Especially if you don't want the world to know something. That won't work around here -- everyone knows you -- but let's say the Baron spoke with his nephew and let it slip that your name is Rosenthal. That reporter fella might already know that." Sarah nodded slowly, her expression troubled. "Neither would know the name McKenna. Were you on business elsewhere, let's say in Denver, your name is McKenna and nobody would equate that with the Legend of the Ragdoll." Sarah's eyes brightened. "Whenever Mama is showing her dresses, she introduces us both as McKenna," Sarah said quickly. "Ever since Papa died she hasn't used his name." "Do you want to divest yourself of the name?" the Sheriff asked carefully. "No," Sarah said quickly. "No. I am known here as Sarah Rosenthal, and I shall continue to be known as Sarah Rosenthal." The Sheriff saw her eyes change. "Elsewhere ... Sarah McKenna, someone entirely different ..." The Sheriff nodded. Sarah rose and so did her uncle. The Sheriff walked slowly across the floor to his niece, rested his hands on her shoulders. "My dear," he said, his voice catching, and he had to swallow hard to continue. "My dear, I must say something." Sarah's eyes were large, luminous; she knew the matter was important, and she was listening carefully as the slender lawman with the iron grey mustache cleared his throat. "That something," he continued, "is thank you." Sarah blinked, and the Sheriff was struck by her expression ... an expression of utter innocence. "You have taught an old man that it is all right to live." Sarah tiled her head a little, curiosity replacing innocence. "My little girl died on her second birthday," the Sheriff explained. "I never saw her first day of school, her first boyfriend, the first time she came bringing home a squirrel or a skunk or discovered fish in the water. I never got to teach her to whistle or turn rocks over to see what lived under them. "I never got to see her grow and I never got to walk down the church aisle with a beautiful young woman on my arm and wonder how did this happen so fast." The man's voice was quiet, but filled the little log fortress that was the Sheriff's office. "You," he said, "have let me see so much. "I have watched you grow, Sarah. "I have seen you as a little girl, and as a growing girl, and now here you are looking like a beautiful young woman." He swallowed hard, wiped his hand across his closed eye. Sarah saw the gleaming smear of moisture across his cheek. "Looking like, hell," he muttered, taking a deep breath, looking up at the ceiling behind her, the looking down at her. "Sarah, you are a fine young woman. You are beautiful, you are intelligent, you are everything I could ever have wanted to see in my little girl." He squeezed her shoulders, closed his eyes, opened them. "Sarah, dear heart, I am very proud of you." Sarah bit her bottom lip. The Sheriff offered a bandanna and Sarah pressed it delicately to one eye, then the other. "Now let's get you to the depot," the Sheriff smiled. "Your Mama would likely drive me into the ground like a fence post if I made you miss your Denver trip."
  5. Linn Keller 11-11-11 Angela swung her legs out of bed and pattered rapidly across her bedroom floor. She scampered quickly and almost noiselssly on pink bare feet, down the stairs and through the parlor, into the kitchen: she frowned, turned, went back through the house to the front door and carefully, quietly, climbed up on a handy chair. She stretched waaaaay up and worked her Daddy's hat off its peg and dropped it on her head. It came down past her eyebrows. Angela stifled a giggle and climbed carefully down off the chair and made for the back door with the urgent pace of a little girl with a mission. She opened the back door and was three steps out onto the back porch before the chill of frosty-cold boards penetrated her feet. Angela whined a little but moved all the more quickly, down the steps and down the path to the back house, clutching her Daddy's hat with both hands, holding it high enough so she could see, at least until she came to the door of the back house. Angela swung the door open, snatched up her flannel nightie's skirt and disappeared into the weathered little building. She did not bother closing the door. A little sound of distress came from within, probably due to the frosty-cold nature of the smooth board seat. Outside, under bright and gleaming stars and a gloriously full moon, the landscape was just starting to frost, ice-diamonds like ground diamond dust condensing on every surface. Angela accepted the beauty as the norm, as she did the discomfort of the moment: it was, it could not be changed, she accepted it as part of her world: part of her was beginning to question the wisdom of being a Good Little Girl, for she knew cleaning out chamber pots was not a pleasant task, and she wished to spare that task, but after the necessities were finished and she ran back down the path, the cold ache in her once-warm feet was almost enough to persuade her that being a Good Little Girl wasn't all that great an idea. Angela stopped and climbed the back steps up to the porch, carefully, deliberately: she balanced her Daddy's big hat on her head with one hand, swinging the other arm with each step, her little pink tongue just protruding the corner of her mouth as she concentrated: upon gaining the porch, she nearly ran the few steps to the back door, pushed it open. I normally slept in my long handles. I'm not sure why I woke, but wake I did, and decided I could use some water: I slid out of bed, carefully, for Esther was a light sleeper, and I did not wish to wake her: besides, she carried our son -- Our son! I couldn't help it, I grinned broad as a Texas township at the thought. I worked my feet into fur lined moccasins and cat footed my way down stairs. I knew the water bucket was filled and waiting, the tin dipper hung beside it on its nail. There was a draft in the kitchen. I stopped, rubbed my eyes, blinked. I must not be awake yet, I thought, then I realized the back door was open about two fingers. Now that's odd. The door opened and I saw little pink fingers wrap around its edge. I grinned again as a big hat with a little girl under it, appeared. I knelt down and Angela give me the biggest grin and ran into my open arms. I think that's one of the best late-night kitchen hugs I've ever had.
  6. Linn Keller 11-10-11 Dr. John Greenlees plied the gleaming needle forceps, drawing gently on the suture. He preferred this suture, as it was stronger than most material used at the time, even the horse tail hairs favored by many: he drew the suture taut, spun the thread about the slick, blunt nose, cleverly knotting the strand: another dozen passes of the needle, and the repair was complete. Dr. George Flint studied his colleague's work impassively. They worked under the bright-white light of the focused acetylene flame; the reflector was polished daily, the carbide generator was generously sized, as neither man wished to run out of light halfway through a complex surgical procedure: this promised to be but a minor surgical resection, and indeed they were nearing the end of their effort. Dr. Greenlees drew the needle through one final time, knotted: drawing it taut, he said quietly, "Cut," and Dr. George Flint reached in with a pair of shining, short-bladed scissors, and neatly nipped the suture, very near the knot. "I believe," Dr. Greenlees said quietly, "the operation is a success." Dr. George Flint's eyes gleamed with amusement as his colleague picked up his coat, examining the newly reattached button, secured with the very latest in surgical precision. "I believe," he said in an equally quiet voice, "you are correct." Mr. Baxter stood in the very center of the Jewel's main room, surveying his burnished bar with an appraising eye. There was room enough -- but only just -- for Sarah's trophy above the grand mirror behind the bar. He nodded. "Quite a trophy," he murmured, knuckles on his hips. "That young lady still surprises me, and I have known her for years!" He rubbed his chin meditatively. "I wonder ..." He considered the area immediately above the bar: there was a header that might make a better hang for the antlers: it would be more visible to everyone there ... the ceiling was higher, too, and would allow ... yes, that might be the better, he thought. Above the bar. Perfect! Maude sat at her roll top desk, the small tintype open in her hands. It was metal cased and hinged and showed a young man with a serious expression, seated and solemn, gripping a LeMat revolver in one hand and a knuckled Bowie in the other: behind him, the fouled anchor insignia of the Confederate navy. It was a picture like many, one taken before the sailor had gone to war, and given his sweetheart, his mother, his wife: it was originally sent to WJ's mother, and she gave it to Maude, and now Maude looked at it, stroked the glass covering the tintype with trembling fingers. "Your sailor awaits his first mate in the Valley," the old woman had said, and Maude remembered how WJ would laugh and waltz a few steps with her, every night after they swept out the store and locked the door, before they went upstairs to their quarters -- she remembered how he would pause, and his voice would change, and he would whisper, "I love you, First Mate," and with the memory her throat swelled and her eyes stung and she bit her bottom lip with the remembering of it. Maude carefully, precisely placed the tintype back on top of her roll top desk, open, so she could see it when she was working, then she drew a kerchief from her sleeve and pressed it to her eyes. Daisy slept through the night for the first time in a very long time. The hired girl had arranged for a wet-nurse at night, and Gracie was content: whether because of the Bear Killer's attentions or in spite of them, Gracie seemed content with being fed and dry and rocked on occasion. Sean, for his part, was content to steal the covers and snore like a saw mill in full production, which earned him the sharp end of Daisy's elbow and the sudden sensation of cold as she snatched the quilt back. Sarah slept dreamlessly, her face relaxed, only an occasional finger-twitch betraying the adventures of the somnambulant mind: Bonnie crept into her daughter's room, knit slippers soundless in the nighttime, and sat on the bedside chair: the twins were asleep, as they always were, both rolled up on their side, looking like a pair of Botticelli angels in the moonlight. Sarah ... Sarah was relaxed, and she looked young, so young, her skin pure, porcelain, flawless: Bonnie thought of the silent conflicts that plague most girls, repressed surges of anger or confusion or nameless emotion ... surges Sarah had seized and ridden like a bucking-horse. Bonnie pushed away the memories of Sarah, screaming in the doorway as she fired the disguised .44 again and again and again into the murderer; she pushed aside the memories of Sarah, attacking the bank robber, punching her fist and the blunt nose of the double barrel Derringer into the robber's guts: no, for the moment, Sarah was her lovely daughter, and for that moment, Sarah was as pure as the porcelain skin of her moonlit face. Bonnie's lips soundlessly traced a prayer, then she rose, silent in knit slippers, and she passed through the doorway, drawing the door almost closed behind her. Sarah's eyes snapped open as Bonnie stood and turned, and watched her mother's retreating form: she knew Bonnie would take one last look, and so closed her eyes, and waited for a few seconds before opening them again. Sarah's eyes, there in the diffused moonlight, were pale. Very pale. "I love you, Mother," she whispered into the moonlit silence, before closing her eyes and submerging herself again in the dark lake of slumber, her right hand beneath the pillow, wrapped around the grip of her bulldog .44.
  7. Linn Keller 11-9-11 Jacob set down across from me, near to Esther's head: he spoke quietly, for Esther was still resting with her eyes closed. He raised a finger. "First off, sir," he said, "they all drank the same tea from the same pot. "They all said they never saw her eat anything a'tall. "Nobody saw her add anything to her tea." I nodded. "Sir, I believe we can rule out poisoning." "I agree," I nodded. "Go on." Jacob raised a second finger. "I spoke with each of the ladies individually." I felt my eyes tighten at the corners, precursor to an understanding smile. "I don't reckon that was the easiest thing to do." "No, sir, it wasn't, but I managed." His grin was rueful and his ears turned a little red. "Again, sir, they all said pretty much the same thing: they were surprised the fortune teller looked like an old woman with the previous generation's taste in style, and then that gypsy woman came in and raised a screaming fit when she found someone had been fortune tellin' before her." I nodded again, remembering the ill temper the gypsy woman displayed. "They said the old woman spoke to each of them." I looked squarely at my son, listening carefully. "She told each of them something that only they would know, something that rattled each of them to their heels." I nodded again. "She told Daisy she needn't fear her great Irishman falling back into a fire, for his death would be peaceful, in his own bed and under his own roof. "She told Bonnie that the tribe of Levi was her destiny, and a good man's heart was hers if only she had sense enough to pick it up from the dust where she'd tossed it. "She looked at Sarah and said she carried a strong man's heart, and a great-great-granddaughter would bless her name, and pale eyes would look upon her gravestone and whisper thanks." Jacob blinked, hesitated. "She said they would be a woman's eyes, pale eyes, like winter ice. "She told Maude that her Navy man waited in the Valley for his first mate, and she cried when she heard it. I recall you said WJ Garrisson was with the Confederate navy, and Maude told me his pet name for her was his first mate, and nobody else ever knew that." I nodded and smiled, remembering that fine old man with the generous heart. "Then she looked at Mother." I looked at Jacob again and I don't reckon my expression was as kindly nor as gentle as it had been a moment before. "She said her union was fertile and she carried your son, he would be a fine young man: that there were more children to come, that your home would be filled with laughter and with life, and in her last breath she would hear the cry of her daughter, cut free of the womb." I gathered Esther's hand in mine again and felt my bottom jaw run out the way it did when I didn't much like something. I looked at my wife and wanted to pick her up, to hold her, to squeeze her to me and keep her from leaving this earth -- "Shame be wid' ye!" I heard in my mind's ear, the shouted words loud in my memory: once before I'd gone soft, when Esther's life was despaired of, and Daisy, that wise Irishwoman, had drawn back her good right hand and belted me across the face, hard, and spoken words to me no man would ever dare: I swallowed and nodded. "The old woman," Jacob said quietly, relaxing his counting fingers. "Who is she?" I looked down at Esther as her hand tightened in mine. She opened her eyes, looked around, puzzled. "Lay still," I said gently. "You've had a bit of a shock." Esther blinked, drew her hand across her eyes, then sat up, swung her legs over the edge of the cot. "Would you like something to drink?" I asked. "Water," she whispered. "I am so very thirsty." Jacob was on his feet in an instant, and brought her a dipper of water: I'd pumped it not long before and it was still good and cold. Esther drank deep, gratefully, and dabbed delicately at the trickle that ran down her chin. She looked at me, troubled. "What have you seen?" I asked. Esther's hands were in mine, and Esther's hands tightened on mine, and she said, "I have seen my end," and she was on her feet. I stood, reached for my hat. Jacob stood back, the water dipper in his hand, and Esther swept for the door. I followed. Esther pulled the door open, hesitated, then took a deep breath, raised her chin and stepped forthrightly out onto the boardwalk. Jacob and I followed. Esther marched up the boardwalk, down the three steps and across the alley, up the three steps and to the front door of Digger's funeral parlor. Digger was in the process of expanding his emporium: he'd moved his display boxes into the front, a wall was half tore down, the smell of sawdust filled the air. Esther turned slowly, considering the fine, burnished wood that surrounded her: the coffins were of varying sizes and a few different styles, and her eyes fell on the finest one in the house. She stepped toward it, laid a hand on the lid. "This one," she said. It was the one we'd put the old mountain witch's body in. I was on the other side of the coffin from her. "My dear," I began, and Esther's eyes snapped as she looked up at me. "I have only a certain time on this good earth," she said tartly. "Your coffin is stored away against the time it should be needed. I shall do the same." She seized the lid and lifted it. "My dear, wait," I said, but it was too late. Esther slammed the lid shut, her eyes big as tea saucers. "This one is occupied," I said, coming around the end of the coffin and taking my beautiful bride gently in my arms. Esther drew her arm back and punched me right in the gut. Hard.
  8. Linn Keller 11-9-11 I set there and held Esther's hand for some time, listening to her breathe, considering the shape of her face and remembering things, the way a man will in a quiet moment. I was all set to do just that, and had contented myself with my peaceful lot, when "peaceful" gathered itself and jumped out the nearest window. If you can imagine a door driven open before a Texas twister, and that twister spinning into the room, you'll have a pretty good notion of my new guest's arrival: a stout woman, gaudily dressed, with a bright head-scarf and face paint, a sash about her middle that could have been spread out and used as a whaling-ship's mainsail, pierced coins dangling from her earlobes and from a waist-belt: I had the instant impression of a Gypsy fortune-teller, especially when she turned toward me and I could see she held a crystal ball in one hand, and had what looked like a tambourine under her arm. She thrust a finger at me and began screeching in some language I did not understand; her words could not be understood but it was plain she was happy as a Bantam hen doused with a bucket of water. I stood. She finished her harangue with a dramatic toss of her head, her arm up-thrust, clawed fingers crooked toward the ceiling: if her anger were not so evident, her posture would have been laughable. "You might wanta run that past me at half speed," I drawled. The woman's eyes flared, her teeth gleamed as she drew her lips back: she shook an admonishing finger at me, speaking in a different language that I thought I almost recognized: it sounded almost Mexican, or native Spanish, but not quite and I couldn't pick out but maybe one out of ten words and that was not at all certain. I held up a forestalling palm. "I have not your gift of languages, my Lady," I said in a deep and reassuring voice: "have mercy on an old lawman and speak English, if you please." She turned her head and spat. "Peasant!" she hissed. I raised one eyebrow. So far I'd kept my eyes pretty well closed. I'd found it handy to cultivate a sleepy expression. This woman with the bright head scarf and the crystal ball took two steps forward, thrust her trembling, nail-painted finger at Esther, and said something -- I don't know what, but it was not kind, and that made me mad. I am a quiet man and not given to anger, for I do not like things that happen when I get angry, but I felt the fires light deep in my boiler and I pushed my hat brim up with one finger and give her the benefit of my pale eyes. "That's far enough," I said in a voice that would cut a slice out of gold bearing quartz. The woman froze. She drew her hand back to her bosom, sketching a quick finger-gesture I figured was a ward against the Evil Eye, for many peoples are superstitious about pale eyes: I saw a Chinaman one time run a woman out of his noodle parlor because she had yellow eyes -- he almost got himself hanged for his actions, for the poor girl was almost blind and was well liked -- he kept screaming that she was a demon and he would cut her heart out, at least until one fellow put the muzzle of his Colt against the Chinaman's forehead and cranked that hammer back to full stand and invited him to say so much as one more word. "Now I suggest you start from the beginning," I said slowly. "I am the Sheriff and I want to hear what you have to say." It took a bit to get her to speak her piece, but speak she did, and when she was done I gave her two dollars and she went away satisfied. I considered what she'd told me: I took off my hat and scratched my head, then I hung my hat up and set back down beside Esther. Let's wait and see what Jacob finds out, I thought, then: I wonder if the Jewel has any back strap fixed up from Sarah's elk. I grinned humorlessly. Trust me to think of my stomach at a time like this. I set myself down again, and took Esther's hand in mine, and listened to her breathe.
  9. And your point is? I'm not trying to be snarky, just curious...
  10. I'm headed south on Monday on a consulting trip to the cement plant at Oro Grande, Ca. I'll be staying at a Hilton Garden Inn in Victorville from Monday afternoon through Wednesday evening and thought I'd see if any of the fine folks who lurk hereabouts live in that vicinity and would like to get together one evening or another for some vittles and/or possibly libations. Never been there before, so I'm interested in what might be about concerning dining opportunities. If you might be interested in such paltry entertainment give me a holler, won't ya?
  11. Linn Keller 11-8-11 Jacob was not a'tall happy that Esther went all fainty on us. I wasn't terribly happy about it myself but neither was I terribly worried. Women tend to faint sometimes, whether from news, knowledge or somethin' going on. I had Jacob open up the folding canvas cot and spread a fresh sheet on it, and we laid her out on it with her feet up a little, and a rolled up blanket under her knees as well: I'd been propped feet-up years ago and I recall waking up and my knees was giving me billy Hell for it. I was not about to do that to Esther. I knelt beside her and laid the backs of my fingers against her cheek, then I drew her bottom eye lid down a little to check its color. Both her cheek and the inside of her eye lid were of a good color. "We'll wait'll she wakes up," I said, and looked over at Jacob. He was fairly vibrating with a young man's screaming NEED TO DO SOMETHING!!! -- I was young once myself, and remembered what that felt like. "Jacob," I said quietly, "something happened here and I need to know what it was. The ladies were having their tea today, that'll be a good place to start. I need to know where Esther was, what she did, who she spoke with, what was said. I need to know what she ate, what she drank, and who else ate and drank the same stuff." "Poison, sir?" Jacob asked, his voice tight. "We need to rule out what it wasn't so we can figure out what it was," I said. "Yes, sir!" Jacob replied in clipped tones and he turned and long-legged it for the door. I laid Esther's near forearm across her belly and felt her breathing. Her breath was warm and regular against the back of my fingers. I felt her temple and the pulse was there, strong and regular, a trick I'd learned ... where? -- I know Doc talked about it, surprised I knew about it ... if a body has a pulse in their temple, they've got a good amount of blood in 'em yet ... I'd seen Doc check the temple pulse in patients where he needed to size them up quick-like. I realized I was chewing on my bottom lip and some of my whiskers in the process. I stood up and reached for a nearby chair, spinning it into place beside Esther. Jacob would be gone for a bit, I reasoned, and what I had over on my desk could damn well wait. My place was with my wife. Jacob turned as a gaudy, gypsy-looking woman stormed out of the Jewel, crystal ball in one hand and tambourine in the other: if ever a woman had thunder knit upon her brow, she did, and Jacob marveled at how someone so broad across the beam could navigate the stairs so quickly. He went on upstairs to where he knew the ladies usually had their tea, and paused at the door. There was the confused gabble of feminine conversation; Jacob hesitated, analyzing what he was hearing, and though he could not make out words, he recognized voices -- Bonnie, Sarah, Daisy, Maude, another he didn't recognize -- but he could clearly recognize there was confusion, and stress. He knocked -- rat-tat, hitting the wood hard enough with his knuckles that he would be heard over their conversation -- and opened the door. Half a dozen feminine faces turned toward him; half a dozen women converged upon him, and he found himself the center of six females, all trying to convey some urgent message, all six with a hand on his shoulder, his arm, his wrist; blinking, he raised his hands, shaking his head a little -- "Ladies," he said, then louder, "Ladies, please!" Finally Jacob drew a deep breath and bellowed "SHADDUP!!" Six women looked at him with the expression of someone who'd just been slapped across the face by their best friend. "Ladies, forgive me," Jacob said in a cultured and gentlemanly voice, "but I can't hear you all at once." He raised his forearm. "Daisy, would you come with me, please, and the rest of you stay here." Jacob opened the door for Daisy, went out into the hall and closed the door behind. "What happened?" he asked, his eyes distinctly pale. Daisy touched her hair, gathering her thoughts, her eyes tracking back and forth. "We were discussin' th' town an' Parson Belden's wife is an aunt now, y'know, an' his son is comin' t' visit, an' Little Sean --" Daisy shook her head. "We had a fortuneteller come in." Jacob nodded. "I wasn't expectin' ..." Daisy's voice trailed off. "Go on," Jacob said quietly. "She was an old woman," Daisy said slowly, her eyes distant, remembering, "a wise woman ... she knew things, Jacob ... she knew about ma losin' th' baby, an' wha' Little Sean said this mornin', an' she p'inted a' Bonnie an' told her a man o' th' tribe o' Levi was near, an' she shouldna' waste a good man's heart ..." Jacob nodded. "She spoke t' Sarah an' Maude, an' then she p'inted t' yer Ma an' said" -- Daisy's face flamed and she put her hands to her cheeks. "Sweet Mother o' God, I shouldna' be tellin' ye this!" "Tell me anyway, Daisy," Jacob said quietly, and she heard the father's voice coming out of the son's throat. "She said their union was fertile, an' 'twas a son she carried," Daisy whispered. Jacob nodded. "Esther stood an' th' old woman said somethin' about water an' hearin' a child cryin' i' th' water, an' Esther ran out th' door." "Did she have anything to eat while you were in there?" "No ... no, she didna'. We had some tea, all o' us." "From the same pot?" "Aye." "Did she use cream, sugar, lemon?" Daisy shook her head slowly, eyes unfocused, remembring. "No." "Is there anything else?" Daisy looked to the end of the hall, the head of the stairs, and she giggled. "I thought the Wise Woman was th' fortuneteller," and hid her smile behind an embarrassed palm: "but no' a minute after Esther ran out th' door, her Gypsy fortuneteller came in wi' her crystal ball an' her painted lips, an' she wasna' happy t' find out we'd a'ready had our fortunes told!"
  12. Linn Keller 11-7-11 I told Digger I would stand good for the woman's funeral. I found a letter in her reticule and reckoned it to be her name on the envelope, and I looked the letter over and decided that was her, all right. It don't to to have UNKNOWN on a tomb stone, or KNOWN BUT TO GOD. I'd buried too many who slept forever under that description and it never set right with me. Digger allowed as he would plant her the next day and I told him there was an extra plot beside my family plots I'd bought and staked off, and to plant her there, and give me the bill. I took the old woman's letter and went back to the office and set down, heavy-like, in my chair. The drawer was considerably heavier when I pulled it out this time, for I had to draft a death notice to the sender of the old woman's letter. I folded up an envelope and used a steel ruler and a broad tip pen to edge it in black, then I edged the sheet of paper in black in the same wise, about a quarter inch border all around. I dipped the steel nib in good India ink and began: From Linn Keller, Sheriff, Firelands County, Colorado: I have the unhappy duty to inform of the death of -- I stopped, and looked up, and wiped fiercely at my cheek with my shirt sleeve, for my eyes started leaking. I never knew that old woman, but only one night when she patched me up and we talked long after moonset, and here today, when she walked in and died ... Maybe I'm the only one she has to mourn her, I thought, and continued, writing her name with a particular care. She is interred in our cemetery here in town, beside my family plot, and she has a stone: her passing was without pain. I regret I have no other information, save only it was my honor to see her honorably interred. My prayers are with you and your family. Your most humble and obdt svt, L. Keller I set the letter aside to allow the ink to air dry. If it air dried it was a distinctly darker shade, easier to read in poor light, than if it were blotted and thus lighter: I wrote in a large, distinct and easily read hand, as spectacles were not terribly common and sometimes folks had poor eye sight. There was a step, a knock and the door swung open: Jacob came grinning through the door as I folded the letter and worked it carefully into the envelope. "I brought that plug horse," he said, "and Joseph walked up to that rockin' chair and stood beside it, holding onto the upright and he'd look at it and look at me as if to ask where Gwampa got off to!" I addressed the envelope, slowly, carefully, and set it aside too. I would seal it and take it and Macfarland's letter up to Maude's for the next stage to pick up. Jacob looked at the envelopes and nodded. "I hear tell we're supposed to get a post office, sir." I nodded, clearing my throat and rubbing my eyes. "I heard something about that too." There was a step on the boardwalk and Jacob turned as the door opened. Esther came through the door with a funny look on her face. I knew something was a-brewin'. She stopped and drew herself upright, folding her hands before her with her customary dignity. "My dear," she said in a calm and clear voice, "I am with child." Her eyes rolled up in her head and her knees buckled.
  13. Linn Keller 11-7-11 I leaned my elbows on the desk and studied the correspondence before me. My presence was required in Denver, testimony in a case I'd helped on; that would be in a little under a month. I set it to my right. Another was a note from Marshal Macfarland, barely legible. I cocked my head a little and frowned and finally shut one eye, then the other, in the vain hope that I could somehow divine what he was trying to communicate. It looked like he'd used a railroad spike for a pen. A dull rail road spike, at that. It took me a while but I finally figured out he was sending an invitation for some kind of a festival -- I could not make out what kind -- but the word FOOD was legible enough. I grinned and hauled open the top right hand drawer and fetched out a sheet of paper and a pen: another dip into the sliding wood box and I came up with a bottle of ink, and I scratched out a reply -- Harry -- If there's food I'll be there. My spectacles are worn out from looking through them so much and could not make out time nor place. Try it again. Linn I let it air dry rather than roll blotting paper on it: while it dried I tended some other correspondence, scratched my head with the dull end of my pen and wrote the Denver court date on the calendar. Should just be a there-and-back, I thought. Hope it doesn't take more than a day or so. I have no love for the city. Firelands was plenty big for me and I was most comfortable in the saddle and away from people ... I grinned at the thought, because that wasn't entirely true. It had been in my younger years. Now that I had a good amount of silver in the mustache, why, it was right nice to know I had a good tight roof to sleep under, a warm woman to roll up against under a clean smellin' quilt, knowin' my next meal was probably going to be on my own table, hot and woman-cooked. I folded my reply to good old Law-and-Order Harry Macfarland and wax sealed it, then folded me up an envelope and sealed that too. Harry had one time accused me of using more sealin' wax than any man alive so I took pains to seal both the folded letter and the envelope and sometimes just for meanness I would put a wax seal stamp right beside my signature. I chuckled and placed the letter precisely along the edge of the desk so I would not walk off without it. I brushed my mustache with a thoughtful finger and considered the thought I'd started. Yes, I was getting older. Yes, my own bunk felt pretty darn good these days. I thought back to the times I'd slept on bare ground, back during the War, and grateful for it ... my mind wandered around those far off days, two decades agone, back when I was young and skinny, instead of just skinny. For some odd reason I remembered that old mountain witch, the one who'd patched up a cut I'd got, then seized my hands and rasped "You have hot hands, a Healer's hands," and she taught me that night how to stop blood with the Word. I'd heard of such things but my Ma (rest her skinny little soul!) told me it could only be passed on to a woman, that a man could never hold the knowing of it. I looked at the far wall, remembering Jacob, lung shot and bleeding and gasping for air and nearly fell out of the bell tower when him and the Parson were making a good account of themselves, and a lucky shot hit my son: I took Duzy's hand and pressed it to Jacob's wound and taught her the words, and she said them, and Jacob stopped bleedin'. The old mountain witch said something else that day, as it went into evening. "You will see me again," she rasped in an old woman's voice, "you will see me at the end of my days," and she turned and walked off, and I heard she went through the battle field the next day, walking between the massed riflemen drawn up in ranks and felling each other like wheat before the scythe: she walked unharmed through lead-swarms so thick it cut down a corn field and left only stubble, and 'twas said she healed the wounded with a touch and a word. I shook my head. "Like as not she's dead," I said aloud, and there was a step without, a woman's step on the board walk, and the door swung open. The old mountain witch walked in like she owned the place. I reckon my chin hung down about belt buckle level and I stood, slowly, winching my jaw bone back into place. The old woman was still old but I would raise my right hand and swear she had not aged one day since I saw her last, two decades agone and more. Her hand pressed my rib cage where the cut had been and she nodded. "You healed well," she said in that same about-to-stop-breathing voice I'd never forgot. She looked up at me and gathered my hands in hers. "You have hot hands, a Healer's hands," she said, "and they will carry through your blood. "Your children and your children's children and their children beyond will have your hands." She let go of my hands and laid a bony, palsied hand on my breast. "Your heart will be their heart, and they will be called Warrior, even when men fight in iron boxes with steel rain." She took my face between her hands, and her hands were hot, hot like mine, not cold like a skinny old woman's. "Your eyes will disappear until a woman's soul spills men's blood, woman and man delivered of the same dam, and she will sit this chair and carry this rifle" -- she thrust a finger at my '73 rifle, parked in the rack -- "and her hands will know these" -- she slapped my revolvers, hard -- "and she will see with your eyes." I stood froze and I am not the least little bit ashamed to admit I was starting to shake just a little. I have a fine shake anyway, my hands normally have a fine tremor, until I start fine work like writing or working on something I've just taken apart, then my hands are dead level steady: now, though ... now I was starting to shake, all over, as the truth of the old mountain witch's words soaked into my soul. "It is my time," she whispered, and patted my shirt front again, and then she leaned against me. I put my arms around her and she murmured, "You have been a fine son, a man to be proud of." I swallowed. Those had been my Mama's last words to me, before she breathed her last, and me holding her hand when she did. I felt the old woman sag a little more and I bent and picked her up. She was limp and still and I knew she was gone.
  14. Linn Keller 11-6-11 "We'd best ride in quiet, Outlaw," I said softly as we approached the barn. "Like as not I'll have to cat foot in and hope Esther doesn't swing a fryin' pan at me for bein' a burglar!" Outlaw offered no comment. I got him unsaddled and curried down and he bummed another shavin' of tobacker off my molasses twist before I rubbed his nose and called him a bum, and went on inside the house. I need not have worried. Esther was sitting at the kitchen table with two fresh poured mugs of coffee. My surprise must have been pretty plain. She smiled and rose as I came into the room. "I knew you were coming," she said, then she filled my arms, and I closed my eyes and laid my cheek over in her hair and give a long sigh, for it felt just a-mighty good to get under my own roof again. We set down and et good fresh bread and fresh churned butter -- I know it was fresh, for it was still in a lump and not sliced off and pressed into molds like Esther liked to do, or have done now that she was a woman of means -- it amazed me that she could hire someone to tend the domestic duties, and indeed did, but still fixed supper for me and baked for me, and never, ever let me forget she was my wife, and proud of it. We set there and drank coffee and ate in the late hush of the dim-lit kitchen, and Esther told me about Angela, and about Bonnie's girls, and then she described Little Sean strutting across the firehouse floor holding his Pa's leather fire helmet overhead at arm's length, and I laughed at her description, for I could just see that grinning, red-cheeked little fellow doing that very thing. Esther gave me a knowing look. "You've been to see little Joseph," she said, warming her fingers around that steaming mug of coffee. The stove cracked quietly and I heard the cascading sigh of ashes falling as a firewood burnt in two, in that cast iron fire box. "Oh, don't worry," she said mischeviously. "I can smell the baby on you." I nodded. I doubted me not Esther could smell a baby. Women are mysterious and wonderful creatures, marvelously complex and capable, and if she said she could smell the baby on me, why, I was not about to say her nay! I nodded, and described getting the lad to the outhouse, and tucked in, and Esther's eyes were distant, dreamy. "Do you still want a little boy?" she asked, and I froze, for there was a depth to her words. I looked squarely at my wife, then leaned back and looked pointedly at her belly. Esther laughed and squeezed my hand. "No, silly, I'm not," and she paused to smell the rising vapors from her coffee: "though that could change." I leaned back in my chair. It was no light thing to become a father again ... most men are content to be grandfathers at my age, or even great-grandfathers ... well, maybe not that, not yet, I'm not that old ... "We can talk about it tomorrow," Esther said reassuringly. "We have time." I nodded. "Finish your bread, dearest. You've had a long day, and the ladies' tea meets again tomorrow." "Didn't the just meet yesterday or today?" I mumbled through a good mouthful of coffee-wet bread crust. "We're having a fortune teller as our guest."
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