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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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  • SASS #
    48580

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    http://www.sisleycreekpress.com
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  • Gender
    Male
  • Location
    Express Ranch, Oregon Territory
  • Interests
    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. I didn't trip over my spurs when I crashed and burned at Regional last summer. I am, apparently, just clumsy! And wait'll you see the new one that Pinto Annie is doing for me! You'll be changin' yer mind about wearin' a kilt! And now, with my apologies, back to your regularly scheduled thread...
  2. Linn Keller 6-18-12 The Bear Killer licked his chops and trotted the length of Mr. Baxter's fine mahogany bar, stopping once to regard his very distorted image in a spherical brass ball decorating the gleaming, scratched but carefully polished foot rail: snuffing at the metallic knob, he blinked, then looked away as the huge nose reflected in its shining convexity disappeared in a breath-haze of condensation. An anonymous hand opened the door for him; the Bear Killer tik-tik-tikked quietly out onto the board walk, looking around, blinking. His belly was full, he was relaxed, it was time to find a skilled set of fingers to scratch his back. The Sheriff cantered the length of the street, eyes busy. As expected, Jacob's stallion was tethered in front of the Sheriff's office. The Sheriff drew up, dismounted; a quick turn of reins over the hitch rail, one loose wrap as was his custom, and he stopped to caress Cannonball. "Stay, girl," he whispered. Cannonball snuffed at the front of his coat. "You bum," the Sheriff muttered, pulling out a plug of molasses twist tobacco and a small knife. Jacob's stallion, interested, looked over toward the treat being whittled off for his rail-mate and begged a taste. The Sheriff shaved off a little for his horse, and for Jacob's, muttering "Kills worms" before putting away the implements of bribery and stepping up on the board walk. The buyers filed into the little auditorium, the buzz of conversation ebbing and flowing as it always does at such times: there was word of an "enhanced presentation," rumor of "something special" -- the McKenna Dress Works always put on an attractive and interesting show, and the prospect of "something special" was enough to bring the usual buyers, some from as far away as Frisco and Kansas City, but also a clutch of new buyers. There were also those in the audience with no interest in purchase: some were there strictly at the prospect of entertainment ... but there were also those whose interest was neither in fashion, commerce nor pleasure. As a result, the audience was three times its usual size. Daciana peeked out a gap in the curtains, smiling, feeling the familiar, delicious anticipation she always experienced before a performance. The models settled the feathered, glittery half-masks on their faces. "Showtime!" Daciana called happily, pointing to the organist. The happy sounds of the familiar circus tune began, promising thrills, chills, entertainment and amazement. Sarah glided down the stairs and down the street. She knew she was being followed. Smiling, she turned down an alley and into a door she knew would be unlocked; she peeked through a crack in the boards, waited until her follower was past, then slipped out again. Bonnie frowned as she examined the files. The boss watched the slender woman as she scanned the drawer of documents. "Is something wrong?" he growled, taking another drag on his stogie. "Your former secretary," Bonnie said tartly, "should be horse whipped." "Oh?" Bonnie shoved the heavy drawer shut, glaring at the boss. "Nothing is alphabetized, nothing is organized, it's as if everything was just stuffed in place! The top drawers are crowded, the bottom drawer is empty, the rest are jumbled ... it'll take me a week just to get things in some semblance of order!" The office door opened and two men came in. Bonnie swung the boss's inner door shut and smiled as she faced the newcomers. "Can I help you gentlemen?" Sarah shucked out of her mousy-grey schoolmarm's dress and underthings, stripped down for action: she was into her black shirt and britches, black boots and vest; for this operation she needed to be as slender as possible, and so did not wrap the familiar, comforting weight of the double gun rig around her hips. She did not, however, intend to walk into the Devil's parlor empty handed. She opened a hard leather case and smiled, and the smile was not at all pleasant. The curtains parted briskly as three ladies in fine McKenna gowns turned, as if a living carousel: they were joined by their right hands, holding the steel pole, walking around it as if around a Maypole: each wore a glittering, feathered half-mask, each walked in step to the brisk music; on cue, they released, did a full turn and stopped, their skirts swinging with the momentum of their abrupt stop. One stepped forward with a welcoming smile. In a delightful Irish accent, chin and hands lifted, she declared in a fine Irish voice, "Welcome to the House McKenna Fashion Show!" -- and to the fanfare of organ music, the flanking models turned, whirled: one seized a hanging bar and was hoist into the air, the other glided with a dancer's grace to the side and out of sight. "We bring you today the very latest fashions from Paris, the best of the McKenna Dress Works, and a Declaration of Freedom and Comfort!" Finger up-thrust in emphasis, the half-masked conductress struck a dramatic pose as Daciana, circus tights momentarily glimpsed under her flowing, fashionable gown, swung into view on the trapeze, spinning once in mid-air and catching the second trapeze bar. "We doubt if you ladies will be performing on the high wire," Daisy declared, clasping her hands together, "but isn't it nice to know that your fashionable dresses aren't trying to pinch your waist in two and turn you into a womanly statue?" There was a sympathetic chuckle from the audience, for women of the era knew the discomfort of tight-waisted fashions, and how it restricted free movement. Daciana was disappeared from view; another model, in a McKenna gown, did a series of slow cartwheels across the stage behind the gowned and masked Daisy, her momentum keeping the skirt modestly over her legs. The Bear Killer leaned a head the size of a bushel basket against the Sheriff's thigh. The Sheriff rubbed the big canine's ears, eliciting an obscene rumble from the blocky, muscled, black-furred animal. "You bum," the Sheriff murmured, "I oughta thump you." The Bear Killer growled, snarling loose lips back to reveal even, gleaming teeth. The Sheriff cocked a fist. "I oughta knock you into the middle of next week!" he challenged. "Wednesday or Thursday?" Jacob asked mildly from behind the Sheriff's desk. Lawman and canine ignored the quiet-voiced deputy. The Bear Killer bristled and backed up a few steps, stiff-legged, fur standing up in a distinct ridge down the length of his back bone, promising a horrible and bloody death should the man even try. "I oughta run my arm down your neck and grab your tail and yank you inside out!" the Sheriff almost shouted, his voice loud and sharp-edged. The Bear Killer stiffened, his tail stopping its ponderous pendulum, eyes wild and ears back. Jacob, relaxed, slouched in his father's chair, boots up on the desk, grinning as he took in the show. The Bear Killer and the Sheriff launched at one another. Of the several men in the audience, all but two were well dressed; these two were known to the rest, and ignored, for they were hirelings, laborers; they sat in the back, leaned back in their chairs, grateful for the day's work. About half the men there removed their covers and slipped a dark red band around their hat-band; their hats were carefully placed in their laps: otherwise lawful and lawless looked alike, carefully barbered, trimmed, tonsured, with mustaches curled or trimmed or clipped. Daciana, in another gown, juggled three bright, India-rubber balls as the circus mistress extolled the virtues of the sculpted waist, the gathering of material at the bodice; Daciana smiled a little, her attention on her performance: as Daisy turned, raising a hand to emphasize a point, Daciana tossed the balls, one at a time, to an unseen assistant off-state: flaming torches spun through the air, which Daciana caught and began juggling with ease: it was a simple trick, juggling sticks instead of round balls, but it was showy, especially with the flames involved: Daisy, the masked and costumed circus-mistress, turned, threw up her hands and shrieked, at which point two clowns ran out with bright-red fire helmets, floor-length fire coats, big red noses and huge red clown shoes: they ran out, ran into one another, stopped on each side of Daisy, pointing here, pointing there: Daisy slammed a fist down on each of their bright red helmets and stepped back, at which point the clowns sprayed each other with seltzer water. Daciana caught, collected and handed off the torches, gave a bowing curtsy, withdrew to the audience's appreciative laughter and applause: the clowns, sputtering and dashing water from grease painted faces, retreated in the opposite direction as a tired looking clown with a knee length beard advanced mournfully with a mop over his shoulder to clean up the mess. There were more men backstage, discreetly lurking in shadowed corners, or between curtain-folds, rough men with hard muscles and hard eyes, men with red hat bands, men who knew their services would be needed. Other men, not knowing of these good folk, waited until the fashion show was nearly over before migrating toward the backstage. When all was done, when the circus mistress gave a grand flourish and thanked one and all for their kind attention, when the applause died down and people stood and laughed and talked of what they'd seen, the black suited men in the audience worked their way toward the stage door. The buyers, as was custom, were brought into a spacious, adjacent room, where the House McKenna receptionist stood, smiling, greeting most of the buyers by name, asking how their husband, their daughter, their fine son gone to that Eastern university, were doing: tea and finger-sandwiches were ready, waiting, and the dressmakers were waiting to answer questions, when the first gunshot was heard. "How do we know which one she is?" "We don't. Take 'em both." "You two," one said, "take her" -- chin-thrust at the half-masked circus mistress. Hard eyes glittered in the shadows; hard hands hung, relaxed, waiting. "I'll take this one." He took a long step toward Daciana. Daciana, in a McKenna gown, smiled and tilted her head as the man approached: he saw a slender, diminutive figure, certain it was that troublemaking minx of a schoolmarm: he made a quick move as if to grab her, and found his own sleeves seized instead: Daciana fell back, thrust her flat-soled circus slippers into his belt buckle and thrust with well-developed legs: he landed flat on his back, stunned with surprise as much as the impact: almost immediately a set of man's knees drove into his exposed gut, knocking the wind and any but the smallest sound out of him. At the men's club, the dancer smiled at the reflection in the mirror. It was the last day she would ever work there. The McKenna gown hung ready, her few belongings were packed; she'd never felt so ... she'd never felt as much a lady, as when that little schoolteacher put her in a gown and made her look the part. It was not until she looked the part and felt the part that she realized she could be a lady, and she would be a lady, and with the help of a dear friend in the Cripple Creek gold fields, she was to be introduced to their society, where she fully intended to snag a rich husband and live the rest of her life in respectability. She picked up the crape half-veil, tied it in place above her eyebrows; it covered her to her upper lip. She stood, turned slowly in front of the three-panel mirror. Today she would dance the flamenco again, and it would be her final act. The fight was brief, intense: one, and only one, shot was fired: a tall man in a black suit with a red-banded hat stepped into the reception area: "Just a firecracker, folks, misfired from the clowns earlier," and it was enough to reassure the good people that indeed it had not been a gunshot: commerce and conversation resumed, and the House McKenna continued taking orders and selling on-hand stock, folding the dresses carefully into trunks brought for that purpose. Backstage it was different. Daciana was in the thick of it, teeth bared, a lead sap grasped with desperate strength in her hand: she knew enough not to belt the men with the red hat-bands, but she did not hesitate to vent her vigor on those without. Dolly, for her part, had her arms up and almost crossed in front of her bosom: her style was somewhat different: she'd backed into a corner at two men's approach: in a quick move, a dancer's move, she twisted, kicked one in the jaw: continuing to spin, her other foot caught his fellow behind the knee, bringing him abruptly down, in time to see something large and heavy whistling through the air, the moment before his universe burst into a bright starfield, and then went dark. The fight was short, vicious, brutal, utterly without mercy. Daisy picked up a cast iron frying pan and belted an attacker squarely in the face, hard enough the pan rang like a dull bell. A slight built figure in black, a figure with pale eyes, came into the battlefield as the last casualties were brought low. "Touch me wi' yer filthy hands, will ye," Daisy muttered, turning and sidestepping the second fellow: he tried to stop, tripped over the first one, and Daisy helped him down with a stout blow to the back of the head. The slender, black-clad figure's teeth were bared, her braids wrapped around her neck: her eyes met Daisy's, and Daisy shivered, for the touch of those eyes was like a trickle of cold water poured down her back. Sarah looked around, still, silent, the tools of her trade gripped hard in her hands: men in red hat bands seized the designated trunk, opened it. Sarah stepped in, squatted, then removed her broad brimmed hat and put it down inside the trunk with her. She looked up at Levi, her eyes the color of winter ice. "Let's do it," she said with a fierceness that should never be heard from a throat so young and pretty. Bonnie thrust open the boss's inner door without knocking, a bound book in hand. He looked up, annoyed, removed the cigar from his teeth to rebuke her for the sudden and unannounced appearance. "Your calendar for tomorrow is full," she said in clipped tones. "You stand to make a great deal of money from two clients." She glared at him, daring him to disapprove. He raised an eyebrow, nodded once. "You will meet the Mayor for breakfast at nine. The mayor never eats at breakfast, have a good meal beforehand, the man prefers brandy but frowns on anyone else who drinks in his presence. Order coffee or water, I recommend the coffee, the water there is not fit to drink." She turned the page. "At eleven you will meet with President of Council, who will discuss the tariffs the city wants to charge for freight hauling within city limits. The man is a hard bargain but he has a mistress. Ask him how Christina's belly is doing." The boss nodded approvingly. "You will meet with the Chief of Police at noon and he will expect his payoff at that time. Have it in a cloth bundle." She handed him a linen napkin, folded under the bound book. "This is a napkin from the restaurant where you will meet him. Use this. "At two you will go to meet with the Weird Sisters and discuss their security needs." "How do you know about the Weird Sisters?" Bonnie glared at the man. "You stand to make a great deal of money from them," she said in clipped tones. "I stand to make a living wage but only as long as you make money. When you make money, I get money." The boss grunted. Not many people knew he referred to the madams of the red-light district as the Weird Sisters; they regularly paid him shakedown money and in turn he kept them safe -- an arrangement he needed to firm up with his meeting with the police chief earlier in the day. "Go on." "You will have Sanders with you to meet with the Sisters. You will be paying the Mayor in the usual manner, the meeting is a formality but the man has himself confused with someone important and he fancies such meetings are necessary, even though his money comes from anonymous sources. "You will not need to pay the President of Council as long as you mention the mistress's belly. She is with child and his wife suspects, so you will have leverage there. "The Sisters will, of course, be paying you, and you will not want to be carrying payoff in case the Powers that Be want to get righteous and have you arrested for bribery or other illegal activities. Sanders is disposable, you are not." She snapped the book shut. "Afterwards you will be ... interviewing ... two new girls at the gentleman's club. Here is a copy of your itinerary." She handed him a neatly-written sheet. "Please be prompt. You are, after all, running a business." The boss regarded the sheet she handed him. "Tell me, Secretary," he said slowly, "do you disapprove of my business?" Bonnie stopped: she turned, faced the man, holding the closed book against her belly, her arms crossed over it. "We all make our living according to our gifts," she said quietly. "Mine is organization. Yours are ... effective." The Bear Killer's paws were on the Sheriff's shoulders and the great, black-furred killer was happily washing the lawman's face. The Sheriff was laughing, his hands on the Bear Killer's ribs, and Jacob, grinning, rejoiced at the sound of his father's laughter. "You told them what?" "That I would be going to the gentleman's club and I implied I'd be dancing." Sarah looked up from the trunk: Levi's hand was on the lid, he was squatting beside it, looking up with this troubling new information. "Franklin, Michaelson," Levi snapped. "Get over there. Find them and bring them in." "Yes, sir." "When we take them I want to take them all!" "Yes, sir!"
  3. Charlie MacNeil 6-17-12 He slipped the long-barreled Remington from the holster. As silently as possible he loaded the sixth chamber, muffling the clicks of the hammer and cylinder against his uninjured side. Experimentally, knowing that he was much more accurate right-handed than left, he squeezed the checkered walnut grips in a white-knuckled right fist, waiting for the surge of pain he was sure would come. When it didn't, or at least not to the extent he expected, Charlie smiled grimly to himself, no hint of mirth in the cold curve of his lips, and settled back down to wait, tugging his hat brim low over his face... Sand grated on boot leather. Charlie slowed his breathing and forced himself to assume the totally boneless posture of an unconscious, dying man. The Remington was nestled, out of sight, alongside his right leg; the sounds had come from beyond his left shoulder. He waited, barely breathing, for what he was sure was coming.... Light footsteps stopped near his left shoulder. "Ain't you dead yet, mister?" The words were pitched high, almost like... a woman's voice? No matter. Nowhere was it written that only the male of the species could set an ambush. He waited... The yawning maw of the rifle muzzle entered his peripheral vision; the front sight hooked against his hat brim, tugging. The hat tilted back; his slitted eyes saw a blurred figure above him as the slanted rays of sunlight lanced across his exposed skin. The figure's right foot eased forward, came down between his left arm and his hip. In one desperate lunge he hooked his elbow behind the ankle and yanked up and across. The figure slammed to earth alongside him, half across his legs; the rifle flew from its grasp to come to earth out of reach. The barrel of the Remington slammed down on a skull padded with brown hair twisted into a pair of long loose braids and the woman who had shot him slumped into a loose heap, blood welling from her split scalp. Charlie struggled to a sitting position. His head was pounding out a syncopated rhythm accompanied by his broken ribs as he tried to catch his breath. After a few long, agonizing moments he shoved his attacker off his lap then painfully drew several coiled strands of rawhide pigging string from his shirt pocket. He used those to tie the woman's hands behind her back, then her ankles as close to her hands as possible before rolling her on her side to look at her face. It wasn't a face he recognized. "No, I ain't dead yet," he whispered...
  4. Charlie MacNeil 6-17-12 The keening of cicadas was loud in the still air, the singing of the insects forming a curiously on-key counterpoint to the normal ringing in his ears that was a fact of life for the ex-Marshal. Charlie lay still, willing himself to blend into the landscape; his wash-softened and -faded canvas britches and muslin shirt, his scuffed boots and sweat-stained hat, all contributed their bit to making him as invisible as it was possible for a man his size to be. He was a long, half day's ride north of the ranch, and even further from any potential help, as Fannie had ridden out to the south that same morning on business of her own. He quieted his breathing as best he could, straining to hear over the sounds he carried with him always... The slow grind of a leather boot sole on fine-grained granite sand... The whisk and scrape of dried, dead buckbrush stems on cloth and leather... The soft swish and rattle of the previous year's rye grass stems... The stink of unwashed clothing and flesh, tobacco and sweat, the heavy miasma of rotgut snakehead whiskey... The gentle, four click steel-on-steel chorus of a Colt's revolver's hammer notches as the hammer was drawn back and the cylinder turned, lining up his potential death warrant with the barrel of the gun...
  5. Linn Keller 6-17-12 The class was assembled and seated and the Professor stood to begin the day's classes. Sarah stood at the same time. "Professor," she said, "I shall be excusing myself from class today." Surprised, the man closed his mouth before uttering the first syllable: he turned, blinked at the young woman with the severe expression. "It seems my mother has volunteered freely of my time," Sarah explained in a chilly voice. "She has made free use of my services as a model for her line of ladies' wear over the years, and she continues to hold the opinion that my time is hers, to spend as she sees fit." Disapproval radiated from the mousy grey schoolteacher like waves of cold from a winter frost. "Frankly I find haute coutre stifling, fashion an unnecessary gilding of the lily, and I loathe being paraded on stage for the buyers to stare at" -- she closed her mouth, pressed thin lips together in disapproval -- "but I owe her that filial duty. With your permission, sir." The Professor blinked, considered for a moment: he glanced at Froggy Schlingermann, looked away just as quickly. "Of course," he said quietly. "Thank you, sir," Sarah said, dipping her knees and gripping her carpet bag: lifting it from beside her chair, she looked over the class and sighed. "Frankly I would prefer to remain here." She looked sharply at the Professor, her direct glare almost a challenge. "I shall lunch away from the ladies, though," she added, dipping a hand into the carpet bag: withdrawing a half-veil, she held it almost playfully across he forehead, draping her face in black crape down to her upper lip: shed drummed out a quick staccato with her hard little heels and added, "You have no idea how I loathe those fashion shows!" The sound of her heels descending the stairs barely began to fade when Mr. Schlingermann excused himself. The boss received his subordinate's report with a triumphant expression. The secretary heard the man slap his desk in emphasis. "We will take her there!" he declared. "You will lunch there as well." "Boss," Bonnie heard Schlingermann reply, "she's one hell of a fighter. You have no idea what she can do with a knife and she can shoot soup beans tossed in the air, we saw her do it." "If you can't capture a mere girl, then," the Boss said, contempt dripping onto his desk top, "are you man enough to kill her, at least?" There was a long silence. Bonnie pressed her hand against her belly, feeling the hard outline of the Navy Colt, carried horizontally under the shelf of her bodice, instantly accessible to her right hand. "Sure, boss," Schlingermann said. "Be careful with that!" a man shouted. "That cost more than you did!" "Who in the hell wants a calliope at a fashion show?" one of the men grumbled as they muscled the heavy machine onto the stage. "Over there, a little to the right. Compressor goes over here and leave room enough for some poor sod to turn the crank to run the thing!" "I thought they were selling dresses, not running a circus!" The foreman sighed. "They pays us and we does the work, Max. Now the three of you get that compressor. It's not that big but it's awkward. You there!" -- he shouted, pointing to the crew bringing in lengths of pipe and stout wood uprights. "Use this diagram. That's going to be a circus trapeze and no I don't know what in the hell they're doing with it!"
  6. Linn Keller 6-16-12 It was morning. The Sheriff saddled his Cannonball mare. His jaw was tight, he was frowning, and he was working in absolute silence. His gut told him something was wrong, something was very, very wrong ... and he was an old enough lawman to know it was probably not what he thought it was. He fetched his '73 rifle out of its scabbard, eared the hammer back to full cock and eased the bolt open enough to see brass, then closed the action and carefully lowered back down to half cock: he thrust the engraved rifle back into its scabbard, drew his left revolver, then his right, and added a sixth round, setting the hammer nose down between the rims. I don't know what's wrong, he thought. I do know who to talk to. He seized the brim of his Stetson and fairly tore it off his head, slapped it hard against his leg and glared at the hay-dusted rafters overhead. It was morning. Levi spoke quietly to hard-eyed men in black suits and Derby hats, men with trimmed or curled mustaches and barbered hair, shined shoes and brushed garments ... men he knew, men he trusted, men who knew their business. The men listened to his quiet syllables, then dispersed, their tread silent on the hotel carpet. It was morning. Janitors finished mopping the stage, dusting the ledges, making the generous stage ready for the fashion show. Trunks were carried in, unpacked, dresses shaken out and hung up, accessories placed on tables, arranged by color or material, arranged for the most convenient pick-up, for costume changes were as much a part of the fashion show as they were a circus performance or a stage play. It was morning. The young woman with round lensed spectacles and a mousy-grey schoolteacher's dress plucked the folded paper from the gap in the stairway bannister, unfolded it, read it once, twice. "Levi," she called, "could you come here, please?" It was morning. The boss was in his office, giving orders for the day. "Mr. Schlingermann," the boss said quietly. "Yes, sir." "You sit close to her." "Yes, sir." "Mr. Schlingermann, I need to know if she leaves for lunch. I need to know where she goes. If she tells you she's going someplace, you are to let me know by the usual messenger." "Yes, sir." The boss paused, looked around, his eyes going to the closed door of his inner office. "I'm expecting some important deliveries today," he said. "Very likely they'll be here before noon. I don't want anyone to interfere with they arrive." "What kind of deliveries, boss?" "Trunks," he replied. "Two trunks." "I'll tell the boys to let the trunks pass." The boss allowed himself a small smile. Froggy Schlingermann knew the boss and knew this meant he'd been looking forward to something for a very long time. Froggy also knew this usually meant ill for someone. Froggy blinked, slowly, considering that he was grateful the boss's attention was apparently not going to be focused on him. It was morning. Two men in expensive suits watched from a few feet back in the mouth of an alley as the mousy-grey schoolteacher with the round-lenses spectacles marched purposefully down the sidewalk. "There she is, right on time." "Set your watch by her, you can." "What did you expect? She is a schoolteacher!" "What does she want with detective school?" "Oh, hell, you know women. She wants to look at a schoolboy and know if he's the one dipped a little girl's pigtails in the ink well!" Chuckles and nods; they waited until the slender young woman entered the building before raising their hats and passing them across at belt buckle height, signaling the watcher at the end of the block that all was well. It was morning, and the new employee, the secretary recommended by the boss's right hand man, was arriving. The new secretary rapped on the boss's door, opened it, stepped inside and regarded the well-dressed man with a surprisingly direct gaze. "You wanted to see me, sir," she said without preamble. The boss, surprised, took the cigar from between his teeth: "Who the hell are you?" "Your secretary, sir." "Oh. Oh, yes, yes. Of course." He looked sharply at her. "Tell me about yourself." The woman raised her chin. "My name is Marnie Cullisson, I am widowed and I have a crippled daughter. I am an experienced secretary and frankly from what I was told, you need my services." "Just what ... services ... do you provide?" the boss asked, his voice oily. The woman glared at him. "You are a businessman," she said in clipped tones, "with a clientele in several states. You are an importer of goods and a wholesaler. In short, sir, you are very good at what you do." The woman paused. "I am very good at what I do, and what I do not do is anything like you're suggesting!" "I see." The boss shrugged. "Well, keep the place clean and bring me coffee --" "If you want a servant," the woman interrupted coldly, "hire a servant. I am a secretary. I will make your life much easier and with an improvement in this disorganization I anticipate your profits should increase." Her eyes were hard and angry. "If you want a janitor, hire one." The boss stood, thrust out his hand. "Very well, Mrs. Secretary," he said. "You're hired." Bonnie McKenna felt like she was shaking hands with the Devil himself. Bonnie McKenna allowed herself a tight little smile. "Lord," the Sheriff said, his voice quiet in the barn's morning hush, "I don't know what's wrong. Likely it's Sarah and what-all is going to happen in Denver. "If that's the case, Lord, she's got Levi and Levi has an army." He frowned, pressed his lips together. "Lord, if it ain't Sarah, tell me what it is but You better speak plainly because I'm kind of dense these days." He clapped his Stetson on his balding head. "Come on, Cannonball," the Sheriff said, leading the copper mare out into the morning sunlight. Thrusting a boot into the dog house stirrup, he bounced once and swung easily into the saddle. Cannonball turned as he laid the rein lightly against her neck, and he made a complete circle, surveying all that could be seen. "God, I love mornings," he murmured, taking a long, deep breath. "Smells good this morning." He leaned down a little, patted Cannonball's neck. "Y'know, dear heart," he said, "I reckon I'd oughta go talk to Charlie. He can make sense of things better than me most days."
  7. Charlie MacNeil 6-15-12 The roan gelding was dead. Charlie was belly-down in a nest of head-sized rocks and prairie bunchgrass, mentally taking body part inventory, listening outwardly for any sign of the adversary, listening inwardly for signs of distress. He was sure there had been more than one rifle... There was a feeling of cold, deep bone-chilling cold, that alternated with lightning bolts of painful heat, radiating from the ribs along his right side. He cautiously took a breath, feeling the grate of bone on bone, cold sweat beading on his forehead. He pressed the flat of his palm gently against his side; a wave of nausea coursed through him as he drew his hand away covered with sticky redness... Somewhere, out yonder beyond the meager cover of his hideout, someone had tried to kill him, and damn near gotten the job done. The thud of the heavy bullet into the roan's chest had come long before the sound of the shot; the bullet that would have killed him had he not flinched away from the sound of the roan's demise came from much closer, and, he was sure, from a different direction, immediately on the heels of the first. Therefore there were two shooters, and obviously neither was interested in the horse. Whoever was out there had to be after Charlie personally, and he was sure that whoever it was would be coming to make sure that the job was finished...
  8. Linn Keller 6-15-12 The Bear Killer leaped easily into the back of the wagon after the trunks were loaded, tail swinging slowly as he vacuumed the several items of baggage: the twins giggled from the porch as the massive canine examined the cargo, then laid down among the trunks as if he belonged there. The Bear Killer opened his mouth and laughed at the twins and watched the two-story McKenna house recede as they clattered and bounced toward town. "Something doesn't set right," the boss muttered, then glared at his right hand man. "Where's Schlingermann?" "Froggy? Sobering up, knowing him." "Make sure he's damn good and sober. I want to know when that skinny little schoolteacher gets to class. Whatever she says, I want to know it." "Schlingermann sits about eight feet from her. He'll hear her every word." The boss grunted, not convinced. "The Professor ... there's something wrong with that man." The boss shook his head slowly. "I don't think he's entirely sane." His right hand man raised his eyebrows, considering the boss's words, then relaxed. "If he's not entirely sane, who knows what he'll do with those women?" "I know you want the women, Boss, but what about their holdings?" "I want those too. More." The boss opened the ledger, his predecessor's ledger, ran his finger down the assets Rosenthal claimed as collateral against his gambling debts. "For all I know, old man Rosenthal was lying through his teeth just to get money. On the other hand ..." He looked at his segundo. "If their holdings don't exist or never did, I could just sell the pair of them. Mother and daughter. Sell them to a San Francisco whorehouse." "You could rent them out instead," the segundo suggested. "Just think, boss, it would be the ideal business deal: you sell it, and you still got it!" The boss pointed at the man, closed one eye approvingly. "I like the way you think." He leaned back, laced his fingers over his slightly-paunchy belly. "I need to know if she goes anywhere at all," he muttered. "Sure, boss." Sarah braided her hair for bed as she always did, seated in front of a mirror, not looking into it: her eyes were pale, far away, and of all the ladies present, none missed the .44 bulldog revolver between the hair brush and the hand mirror. Sarah finished with her hair, then opened a small satchel and took out a cleaning rag, two whet stones and a small bottle of oil. She always did enjoy sharpening her knives. The whisper of steel on Berea sandstone was always relaxing to her. The Bear Killer slept at Sarah's feet, content. When Sarah was done, she wiped the blade on the cleaning rag, blotted the stones; she held her arm up so the fine hair was visible against the darker wall beyond, and carefully drew the knife's edge across her arm. Sarah shaved a small, bald patch on her forearm. Her smile was relaxed and genuine; she was pleased to have a shaving edge with medium and fine stones only. Another few minutes with the leather strop and the knife had the edge of a straight razor. The Sheriff lay on his back, staring at his bedroom ceiling. Esther was relaxed and warm beside him; as usual, she fell asleep holding his hand. Usually he fell asleep holding hers as well. The bedcovers were cool and comfortable when he slid between cotton sheets: they were becoming hot, unbearably so, and he started to reach for the cover when his bedroom door opened. A pair of bright little eyes looked at him: Angela rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand and she padded silently across the floor, coming to a stop on her Daddy's deer skin rug, wiggling her bare toes into the stiff hairs. The Sheriff slipped his hand from Esther's, drew back the covers and sat up: he stroked his little girl's cheek gently with the backs of his fingers and leaned close, until his muts-tash tickled her ear. "Can't sleep?" he whispered, his breath warm and soft in her ear. Angela shook her head, leaning against her Daddy. The Sheriff stood slowly, carefully, picking up his little girl and laying her against his chest: she reached around his neck, her ever present rag doll hanging by one leg, and laid her head over his shoulder: the Sheriff walked slowly toward the door, opened it carefully, then cat footed silently down the stairs. Esther's eyes closed slowly, and she smiled at the sight of Daddy and his drowsy daughter, retreating silently so as not to disturb her. Sean, too, rose from his bunk: irritated, he pulled on socks and thrust into brogans and walked quietly to the equipment bay. Sean pulled on a pair of padded gloves and glared at the heavy bag, hanging from its chain from a convenient ceiling beam. I would ne'er stay here when 'twas ma daughter i' danger, he thought, glaring at the bag. The sound of hard fists smacking into the bag was loud in the nighttime firehouse. The dirty-faced boy leaned casually against the building, nearly completely hidden in shadow. He'd faded a little more into the dark triangle as the beat cop came by, swinging his billy on its lanyard; he sneered as the cop went by, near enough to reach out and smack, but he was busy watching the building across the street and so offered neither insult nor surprise to the passing flatfoot. He waited until the light went out in the upper story window, then watched the front door, saw both men emerge. He waited until they were well gone before looking cautiously around, then he too drifted down the alley and out of sight. He wrote carefully, slowly, printing block letters, folded the paper and shoved it into a pocket: he sauntered down the sidewalk as if he belonged there, and less than ten minutes later, shoved the paper -- and his account of the conversation he'd overheard, listening just outside that second floor office window, squatting on the strap-iron fire escape -- into the gap between the bannister and the upright, there on the stairway running up the side of the finest hotel in Denver. The hotel where his benefactor, the schoolmarm who called herself Angel of Death, lived.
  9. Linn Keller 6-15-12 A knowledgeable observer at Denver's depot might have felt a certain disquietude, had they seen The Lady Esther arrive and discharge its Firelands contingent. Of course, the observer would have to know what, and who, they were looking at. Especially who. In reality, the passengers looked like the typical well dressed folk coming into the City; the trunks, offloaded, looked like trunks; luggage, looked like luggage. There was really nothing to visually indicate that an efficient, organized strike team just arrived. Levi had been busy the night before; messages were sent, messengers traveled swiftly, hand delivering missives: good men and true responded, or not, according to their lights, and trusted associates waited with quiet expression, brushed suits and curled mustaches, sipping coffee or an early beer as they awaited the author of their summons: men young and not so young, men who knew what it was to enforce the Law, some with legal authority, some with the authority God imbued in every heart: quiet eyes assessed everyone coming through the door, and more than one pair of eyes tightened into a smile as Levi Rosenthal came into the restaurant, sweeping the assembled with his characteristic slow, encompassing look. Sarah changed into her severe, mousy-grey schoolmarm dress before disembarking the train. It was important that any watchers be able to report that she had indeed returned. Sarah was quiet on the way back to Denver, considering what she'd learned, what she and the Sheriff and Levi had learned, from the prisoner she'd slugged and captured on the way home. She remembered her ... no, not stepfather ... that gambling no-good Mama married! she thought viciously, and good riddance to him! -- she remembered the moment she became the Ragdoll, and how what little of her childhood she'd regained, was shattered like the rag doll's head, how what innocence she'd managed to recover flew from her like white doves released at a funeral as she screamed obscenities at the man who'd come with intent to brutalize and murder her Mama and do worse to her, screamed at the man until he ended up on the floor full of Army Colt pistol balls, and how she'd bent over the porch rail afterward, sick with more than the knowledge that she'd just sent a deserving soul to Hell in front of her Mama -- she'd just been divested of any chance at childhood she might ever have -- Sarah stopped, leaned unsteadily against a railing: her Mama cupped her elbow with one hand, ran her other arm around Sarah's shoulders, held her for a long moment. Sarah swallowed, hard. "Mama," she whispered, her mouth suddenly dry, "I don't want you hurt." Bonnie felt the Navy colt press into her as she held her daughter. "I won't be," she said firmly. You need respectability, the Professor told him: you need a secretary. I don't need a secretary, the boss protested. You need a secretary, the Professor persisted. You need someone to organize the office, keep track of your paper work, you need someone to write your letters and receive your correspondence, to screen your visitors and announce guests, you need a secretary to make your office look legitimate and prosperous. After all -- and the man's smile was almost lustful, lascivious -- it's all about appearances, isn't it? And so the Boss agreed, and the outer office was cleaned out: filing-cabinets were moved in, as was a sizable, solid desk; chairs were installed, pictures hung and plants in big pots of straw-covered dirt placed in corners. The boss smiled and nodded and looked at the Professor. Tell me about this secretary, he said, and the Professor smiled. She knows nothing about you or what you do, he explained. She believes you are a businessman, secretive about your work, and she is content with this: she's a widow woman with a grown daughter and she knows the value of not asking questions. The boss nodded. Respectability, he said slowly. The Professor nodded. And so the boss consented, and all was made ready for the addition of a secretary to his little empire. Sarah hugged the street rats fiercely: they were happy for the hug, but made a show of reluctance, for people were watching from the carriage. Sarah received their report, listening first to the group as a whole, then individually, looking into their eyes as she held their shoulders, giving each her personal, complete attention: Bonnie stared openly as her daughter became someone else entirely, someone quite different, interacting easily and naturally with these unwashed street Arabs, these juvenile alley rats with disreputable garments and shifty, sneaky eyes: Sarah strode purposefully back to the carriage, began handing out the wrapped packages she'd prepared in the Jewel, one package to each of the lads: another set of quiet-voiced instructions and the dirty-faced squad dispersed, almost at a run, and in half a minute none were to be seen. Sarah stood, hands folded, looking slowly about, the sunlight flashing from her window-glass spectacles: satisfied, she gave a single nod, looking very much the schoolteacher, very much the individual who'd planned and executed a carefully thought out little operation. Bonnie, Sarah, trunks and stout yeomen assaulted the broad, carpeted stairs leading up from the lobby: the pomaded young man bowed and smiled, the doorman held the broad portals wide and the red-headed hotel detective leaned back against a wall and turned invisible, which he did with surprising skill. House McKenna was arriving. The hotel detective was not the only one to note their arrival. He was, however, the only one to note the figure that slipped out the door afterward. The Sheriff squared off against Sean, his hands taped and gloved: Sean stood, relaxed, bare to the waist, sculpted of seasoned white oak and rawhide, waiting with the grace of a panther sunning himself. The Sheriff's face was tense and his skin was beaded with sweat: he raised his gloves again, shifted his weight. Sean saw the man's left shoulder drop and raised a glove. The Sheriff's glove hit Sean's intercepting mitt and he never saw the return blow that tagged the side of his head. The lawman slung his hands down as if throwing water off them, stepped back and swore, once, loudly. Sean stepped up and rested his gloves on the Sheriff's shoulders. "Enough," he said, then, "Lad," and raised his chin. At his summons, two of the Brigade stepped up and unlaced the gloves from the two old friends' hands. Sean took the Sheriff firmly by the shoulders, steered him into the back door of the Jewel, past Daisy's kitchen and its wonderful smells, and to the bar. Mr. Baxter took one look at the sweat-gleaming Sheriff and the composed Irishman and drew two beers. The two men hoist their heavy glass mugs to each other, then drank, deep, gratefully of the amber brew. When the came up for air, most of each mug had gone down the swaller pipe of its holder. Mr. Baxter filled the mugs and the two sauntered back to the Lawman's Corner. Nobody paid the least attention that neither wore any but an annoyed expression above the beltline. The rest of the Brigade quietly waited at the bar as Mr. Baxter drew a steady row of froth-headed, heavy-glass mugs; the Welsh Irishman, as he always did, explored the free lunch, but when Daisy's girl came out with a heaping plate of sandwiches, he happily left the cold sausage and salt meat alone in favor of one of the Jewel's productions. The Sheriff glared at something well beyond Sean's left bicep, something only he could see. "Lad," Sean said quietly, "wha' troubles ye?" "Nothing," the Sheriff snapped, taking a vicious and noisy slurp of beer. Sean heard the man's lower teeth click on the heavy glass. The Irishman leaned back and smiled as the plate of sandwiches settled on the table between them: he smiled and winked at Daisy's girl and the lass smiled back, turned with a flare of skirts and walked away, knowing full well that more than one set of Irish eyes was making a full and happy assessment of her ... assets. She smiled. She liked it when her assets were assessed, and her walk showed it. "Sheriff," Sean rumbled quietly, "ye are as poor a liar as ye are a boxer this mornin'. Now out wi' it, man, wha' has yer soul stirred up?" The Sheriff glared at the Irishman. "Sean, you see that girl that just brought this plate?" "Aye." "She's young enough ... she could be my daughter." The Irishman's eyes were amused. "Sheriff," he said with the air of a man sharing a naughty confidence, "are ye tellin' me yer loins were fertile as a younger man?" The Sheriff raised a hand, shaking his head. "No, not her. Yes her. Oh hell!" He snatched up a sandwich, bit viciously at bread and meat, chewed as if masticating an enemy's living heart. Sean picked up a sandwich, eyed it carefully, took a slow bite, savoring sourdough and back strap and the seasonings his beautiful bride taught her cooks to use. The Sheriff swallowed, took another slurp of beer; he dashed the foam from his handlebar and set the beer down. "Sean, I can ride the wind itself. I can part a gnat's hair with a pistol ball at fifty feet, one handed, in a stiff crosswind after dark. I can ought fight any man in the county -- except you this morning -- my word is law and I have the best looking woman in the territory!" "Ye're still a terrible liar," Sean grinned. "Ma Daisy is th' best lookin' bride!" The Sheriff grinned suddenly, raised his mug, and clinked glass with the Irish Chieftain. "Aye, ye're right," he agreed, "she is!" -- then, serious again -- "Sean, ye know Sarah is of my get." Sean nodded, slowly, quietly. "You know she's in Denver going to school." "Aye, I do that," Sean said. "Finishing school I thought it was, t' polish her int' a proper young lady, an' ye send her t' detective school?" He leaned across the table, his forearm across the table in front of him. "Sheriff, is that any respectable trade f'r th' lass?" The Sheriff looked his old friend in the eye. "Sean, you know she's lived through hell a time or three." "I r'member when ye thought she was dead, when th' buggy run over her," Sean murmured. "I thought ye were gon' t' die o' a broken heart yersel'." "I didn't know she was mine yet," the Sheriff said bleakly. "I had no idea she ..." Sean waited patiently. "Sean, you remember me telling you about Bonnie's first ... no, not her first husband." "That thievin' Rosenthal tha' was killed f'r gamblin' debts." "The same." "Aye, I r'member." "The new boss decided he'd take over the debt." Sean's eyes and his face both darkened. "And?" "And Sarah went back to Denver, she and Bonnie both." "What?" The Sheriff raised a hand. "I didn't go." "I see that," Sean said, leaning back in surprise. "Wha' in th' name o' the good St. Florian are ye don' here, man?" The Sheriff's expression was that of a man who'd just bitten into something distasteful. "It's not in my jurisdiction," he said, his lip curling: "I can't just ride into another bailiwick and take over." Sean's head lowered and he glared at the lawman from under red, shaggy eyebrows. "Levi is planning a trap." "Wi' Sarah as bait." The Sheriff nodded. "God help us, man, an' ye're still here?" "Aye." "An' tha's why ye're cranky an' out o' sorts." "Aye." Sean took in a long breath, blew it out, along with a few bread crumbs. "An' wha' has tha' t' diu wi' th' lass who brought us these?" Sean's blunt finger thumped the edge of the serving platter, just before he picked up another sandwich. "Sarah is my daughter," the Sheriff said bleakly, "and I'm not there to keep her safe."
  10. Linn Keller 6-14-12 The dress-works was quieter than normal: more intense, more focused, as three models, not one, were fitted with the newest McKenna gowns. Accessories were quickly assembled for each gown, carefully coordinated: gowns were marked, folded, packed: the models were coached, instructed on how to stand, turn, walk; how to pluck up the skirt, hold out the material; they were instructed in how to wave a gracefully-bent wrist to indicate bodice or waist, skirt or collar, and the gowns were tried by the models to ensure they allowed for the necessary freedom of movement that may be needed. Professor Hunt was exercising a freedom of his own. The Professor was a city man. He preferred the city, where he could satisfy his appetites easily. All of his appetites. He preferred the easier life found in the metropolis: though he had cultivated crops as a young man, slaughtered beeves, pigs and chickens, he preferred to purchase his comestibles rather than raise them: he knew where to purchase anything that suited him, and right now, what suited him was female. He approached two slatterns of his acquaintance, and propositioned them with gentle voice and polite syllables. The Professor was known to them; after a brief bargaining, they came to an agreement, and were soon at a warehouse of the Professor's choosing. The boss was not far behind. The Professor had his arm around the ladies, speaking quietly to them; they expressed distaste and reluctance, but money talks, and money is the reason they trolled their wares as they did: the Professor picked up the razor strop, smiled wickedly and whispered, "Remember, I like it when you scream." The Boss glared at his right hand man. "Boss," the man protested, eyes busy, "you don't want to do this." He spotted an urchin in knee pants and a cloth cap: the lad looked up, winked, then went back to his study of the local ant population. The man continued looking around, less tense now. "I want to see what this man does," the Boss said quietly. "Boss, you don't want to go there. What if he's raided? Can you imagine the headlines? I don't care if he ruins himself -- the women are nothing -- but you? Boss, you can't afford to get your name in the paper!" "This won't take long," the boss growled. The well-dressed man stepped out of the enclosed carriage, walked up toward the warehouse: he opened the door as a woman's scream shivered the still air within. A man's laughter followed ... made all the more horrible by the pain in the scream, and the genuine love of what he was doing, evident in the man's voice. There was another savage whirr as the razor strop rumbled through the air, then the sound of smooth, heavy leather searing across naked flesh. Another scream, sobs, inarticulate words. The boss froze, his eyes widening, and his right hand man saw the color drain from the man's face. "Now, my dear," the Professor declared, "I don't want you to think I'm ignoring you. After all, you must be uncomfortable, stretched up like that. Let me give you something to think about besides the pain in your arms!" "No," a voice begged, "no, please, no, I'll --" The boss swallowed, suddenly uncomfortable, as the razor strop whistled audibly through the air, then lashed across the vulnerable, unprotected flesh. The boss turned, grabbed his right hand man by the coat sleeve. "Let's get out of here," he whispered hoarsely, and moments later the sound of a departing carriage could be heard. The Professor put a finger to his lips; the women held their hands over their mouths: the Professor tossed the razor strop across a convenient hay-bale and ignored the swinging side of meat hanging from a hook. He opened the door, looked cautiously out; the carriage was gone. As the Professor counted out the ladies' fees, one stood hip shot and said, "You know, Professor, this is the easiest gelt I've made all week!" "Yeah," the other agreed. "You need us to scream again sometime, maybe?" The Professor laughed, kissed one, then the other: his eyes were merry, his voice gentle as he said, "Ladies, you have indeed earned your pay this night, and I thank you most sincerely for helping me in this little deception!" "If it'll get him behind bars," the worn-looking woman thrust her chin at the door, "I'd be willing to let you use that thing on me, for real!" The Professor laid a gentle hand on her cheek, his eyes almost sad. "Never, my dear," he whispered. "Never."
  11. Linn Keller 6-14-12 Bonnie seized Levi's face between her hands and kissed him soundly. Her nose was an inch from his and she whispered, "Go have your council of war. Make your manly plans and Sarah and I will prepare for the show." Levi hugged his wife, held her with a fierceness she hadn't felt before: there was something ... different ... in the way he embraced her: it wasn't the passion of a man whose fires burned bright for his wife's love, it wasn't the possessiveness of a small man. Sarah waited silently until the men withdrew. Mother and daughter, side by side, waited as the maid closed the door behind the retreating men; they both faced the door, relaxed, collected, as the maid curtsied and glided past them and toward the kitchen. "Oh, Mary," Bonnie called quietly, "might we have some tea, please, and would there be any sandwiches?" "Yes, ma'am," came the quiet reply. Bonnie still faced the front door, as if looking through it at her husband. "Sarah," she said, "have you spoken with them?" "Daciana is willing," Sarah said, equally quiet. "She said I was the first one in town who didn't treat her like a whore. Dolly said the same thing. She's willing, too." "Do they understand the risks?" "Yes." "And they are still willing." Sarah's eyes were ice-pale. "They are looking forward to it." "Sheriff," Levi said, not entirely at home in the saddle, "if we were for the mountains and a fast, mobile enemy, I would trust your recruiting judgement. Trust mine now. I know just the men to operate in the city." The Sheriff nodded. Unlike Levi, he was completely at home in the saddle; it wasn't that he moved with the horse, it's more than he became one with his horse, in that curious magic that occurs when one's mount and rider are very well matched, physically and temperamentally. "You know the terrain and you know the enemy better than I. You've trusted me, Levi, in this matter I trust you." "It gets ... sticky, Sheriff," Levi said slowly. "How's that?" The Sheriff could tell there was something behind Levi's reluctant syllables. "Sheriff, if the Denver police showed up suddenly in Firelands and laid hard hands on some locals, kicked in doors and cracked heads, no notice to you and without your permission or assistance, you'd be unhappy about it. This is your county and they have no jurisdiction here." The Sheriff was silent for a long moment. "Go on." "If you go in and we don't have the Denver police blessing on your presence, it could be ... they could be unhappy." The Sheriff nodded. "Are you saying I should not go?" It was Levi's turn to consider for a few moments before replying. "I won't tell you that, Sheriff. This is family and I won't say thee nay." "Good." They rode on a few minutes more. "Now tell me about this boss and the way he operates." The Professor accepted the second bundle of bills, thrust them into an inside coat pocket. "You will want to take them both at the same time," he said briskly, as if presenting a lecture. "They have a fashion show scheduled. I know the place and I know the floor plan. Mother and daughter, both on stage, neither expecting anything but buyers and sales and handling of their fine and lovely gowns. They can be taken most effectively immediately after the show, when buyers have mostly gone but a few are yet behind. It's not unusual for them to bring men with them to carry trunks or provide escort." The boss nodded, his dark eyes gimlet-sharp. "There are a number of trunks there. I propose mother and daughter be discreetly ... immobilized ... and muffled ... then secured tightly and rather uncomfortably before being placed in separate trunks." The Professor's smile was cynical. "Perhaps even use the buyers' hired help to carry the trunks and their ... cargo ... to your designated carriage, or wagon. Further transport through the City could be after you've ..." The Professor's smile was wicked, and he leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers. "Come, now, Professor," the boss said, plucking a shred of tobacco from the tip of his tongue: "I know that smile. Out with it, man, you have a delightfully unpleasant imagination." "When it comes time to interrogate them, when it comes time to persuade them," the Professor said, "we let each see the other being placed in a coffin, the lid screwed down, loaded in a hearse. "We imply to each the other will be treated very badly and finally buried alive, or perhaps you wish to stretch each by the wrists on a whipping post and give both of them a taste of leather, enough to raise welts and bring blood ... then tell each, whisper it so neither can hear what the other is told ... cooperate, and I won't have to hurt the other one, give me what I want and I will let her go, then whip them some more to show them what happens without their complete cooperation. "They are, after all, merely women," the Professor said smugly. "Women are weak and timid creatures and their spirits are easily broken." The boss frowned. "Professor, you may entertain yourself yourself however you please. I am not interested in diversions. I wish to keep them both, yes. I wish to lock them both away, yes. I wish to look upon them and know that I own them, yes, and I will own all that they have. That will require legal documents, signatures, filings. "Let me propose this." The boss leaned forward, pushing his forearms into the edge of the desk, cigar in hand curling blue ribbons into the still air. "Let me get what I want, and I will allow you to use them. You may play with them as you please, as long as you don't damage their faces or kill them. I will keep them, I will own them, but you may ... use ... them as you wish. What would that be worth to you?" The Professor smiled wickedly. "That would be worth ... a great deal of cooperation." "I will depend on you to make it happen." "It will happen." The Professor stood, extended his hand. "It's always a pleasure to draw screams from a young woman's throat. Properly applied, the whip on her skin is like a bow on violin strings." The boss shivered, and the Professor felt the shiver in the man's handshake. "My God, man," he whispered, "how do you live with yourself?"
  12. Linn Keller 6-13-12 “How long have you known?” “Long enough.” “Does Mama know?” “No.” “Do you think you can keep it from her?” The Sheriff looked over at Levi. “That’s not for me to decide.” Levi realized he was being asked to make a decision for which he’d given no forethought and no planning. Levi preferred to plan; Levi preferred to think ahead, to consider a course of action before taking a course of action: he was not geared to swift response, in most cases, as was the Sheriff … and his own stepdaughter. Levi considered for a long moment. “I don’t want her in the dark,” he said. “I’ll tell her.” “She’ll want to run,” Sarah said quietly. “No, I don’t think so.” Sarah looked at the Sheriff and mouthed the words, “She’ll run,” and the Sheriff gave a slow nod: to Levi, it looked like he was agreeing with the ex-agent; to Sarah, it was evident the Sheriff agreed with her assessment. “Should you send her away?” the Sheriff asked quietly. “Don’t let her choose to run, but suggest a safe place for her.” “Safe?” Levi asked. “Against that gang?” The Sheriff nodded slowly, his eyes half-lidded. “Where? Hell?” The Sheriff’s smile was thin. “I could suggest the Border country,” he said slowly, “but there’s someplace better.” “Better?” The Sheriff nodded. “My place.” Levi raised an eyebrow, rested his mustache on the edge of his forefinger, his elbows on his knees: he nodded, slowly, then looked up at the Sheriff. “Let’s.” The Sheriff nodded. Sarah began cleaning her nails on a slender bladed knife. Levi glanced over at her, surprised. Where did that come from? he wondered, then, Never mind, I don’t want to know. The Professor quietly assessed the inside of the Boss’s sanctum. He’d already considered the window behind the immaculately barbered man, made a mental note to see how it opened, how it was latched: if it was the same as the other windows in the building, it had a simple latch that could be defeated with a steel ruler, a schoolchild’s implement, thrust between the lower pane and the upper and moved to one side or the other … an absurdly simple thing, he thought, and refrained from a smile. There was a safe behind a painting, another behind the curtain to the left, both of them the old-fashioned variety … the Professor was willing to bet he could defeat them both in ten minutes’ time. Not just yet, though. Not yet. Things … matters … had to play out, and he intended that it should play out to his personal advantage. He wasn’t getting any younger, after all; he’d learned what was important in life, and some of it was on the Boss’s desk in front of him, wrapped with a rectangular strip of paper, printed with the dollar amount of its cargo. More of the same would make his old age less uncomfortable, he knew, and here was an opportunity to make more of that lovely folding stuff. Esther shifted her weight in her office chair and propped her feet on the little stool under her desk. It helped ease her back. I don’t remember my back hurting so with my last baby, she thought, laying a maternal hand on her belly. I'm not so far along ... my belly isn't that big ... I shouldn't ache ... I think perhaps I could use some tea. Esther reached for the bell-pull and smiled. It would be lovely to have some company, she thought, wishing her dear friend Bonnie would magically appear coming through her office door. Bonnie nodded one time. "I rather suspected this would happen," she said quietly, then turned to her roll top desk. She opened the desk, reached into a pigeon hole, withdrew a Navy Colt. Sarah recognized the worn, familiar revolver. It used to belong to her Papa, the Sheriff. Bonnie slid it into a concealed slit in her dress, her eyes hard, snapping: her face was set and Sarah saw the lines carved down from either side of her nose, and Sarah knew her Mama meant business. "I won't be unready again," she said, lifting her chin and glaring at her husband. "Let them come. We will receive them." She looked at Sarah with flinty eyes. "We have a fashion show in Denver. It is known where we will stay and that we will be together. We will be in the den of iniquity and the heart of their evil empire. They will have no better opportunity to take us both." Bonnie's face was pale and pinched, but her eyes were those of a hunting falcon. "Levi," she said, "I want a screen of bodyguards around us. I want men who know how to turn invisible, men who can kill quickly and without conscience." She looked at Sarah again. "I may be old," she said, "but I can learn a little something from my daughter." Sarah had held back since crossing the threshold of her own home, but she held back no longer. Tall and skinny, rangy and sinewy as a thirteen year old is, dressed all in black, Sarah, in britches and boots and pigtails unwinding from around her throat, took three long steps and seized her Mama in a fierce embrace.
  13. Linn Keller 6-11-12 The man wore an expensive suit and smoked an expensive cigar. His surroundings were simple but tasteful; there were few decorations, for he spent little time there. It was more the office of a man who detested the office. At the moment he was leaning forward in his comfortable, high-backed chair, glaring at his visitor. "What do you mean, she got away?" Professor Joseph Hunt glared back at the man. "Just that." "She got away." The man's eyes narrowed. "You obviously can't handle an assignment." "You obviously can't provide competent help." The man's fist came down hard on his gleaming desk top, causing ink-well and pen-set to jump. "I sent the best men I had!" "Then you have poor men," Professor Hunt said quietly, his glare clearly showing the contempt he held for the crime boss. "I want her." He puffed on his cigar, blew out a liquid stream of smoke. "I want her, and I want her mother." "You thought you could take them a couple of years ago," the Professor said, eyes bright under shaggy eyebrows. "Your best men you sent. One got greedy and a little girl killed him." The professor paused for emphasis. "A little girl. A child. She was ten years old." "Don't remind me," the well-dressed man muttered, taking the cigar between two fingers as if it were suddenly distasteful. "The rest of your men ... well, they were just as incompetent, if you'll remember." "I SAID DON'T REMIND ME!" His shout was loud in the room, his face suddenly red, then dark red. Professor Hunt's glare never wavered. "How, then, do you wish to proceed?" "The same as I always did," the boss muttered. "I want everything they have. I don't care what it takes. I want their gold, their land, their cattle, their business, their holdings. I don't care if it's half-interest in a monopoly on schoolboy's marble games, I want it!" "That's all you want?" "NO!" His voice rose again to a shout. "You want the women." "Woman," the boss corrected. "The mother is a woman. The girl is ... she's just a girl!" He waved his hand as if brushing aside an irritation. "Don't underestimate the child," the Professor said smoothly. "Don't tell me my business," the boss said, his voice dangerously quiet. The Professor was a good judge of character: he knew better than to push the man any further. "How much to deliver them both into your hands?" "I thought you liked the girl." "Business," the Professor said, "is for profit. Feelings just get in the way." The boss opened a drawer, took out a bundled stack of bills, tossed them across the desk. The Professor reached up, fanned the bills with his thumb, making a quick tally. "Judas worked for forty pieces of silver," he said. "My fee is a bit more."
  14. Linn Keller 6-11-12 "No, sir," the brakeman said. "I didn't have to use my brakeman's club a'tall. Someone already creased his crown for me. Besides" -- he grinned -- "he was tied up like a pig for slaughter an' he wasn't goin' anywhere so I just let him lay there." The Sheriff nodded. "Someone bent his Derby, y'say." The Sheriff looked at Sarah. Sarah pulled the Sheriff's lead sap out of her sleeve and handed it to him. "Thank you for the loan," she said innocently. The Sheriff accepted the braided leather slung shot and chuckled, shaking his head. "What kind of a world is this," he said, shaking his head, "when a man's daughter wants a war club for a birthday present?" "I have fine gowns," Sarah said, tilting her head a little, "and if I want diamonds, Mama has fine ear-bobs I can borrow any time." She looked at her tall, slender father with the iron-grey mustache. "Besides, I can actually use one of those." The Sheriff sighed. "Can't argue that," he agreed, then looked at the stiff and unhappy soul trussed on the back porch of the private car. Jackson Cooper appeared from somewhere: the man had the uncanny ability to appear, or seem to; in reality, like most big men, he could move with an eerie silence, and often did. "You need that package hauled to the calaboose?" he rumbled, his voice grinding through several rock strata before coming to surface. "Yes, please," Sarah and the Sheriff chorused. Jackson Cooper stepped easily up onto the private car's platform, looked at the knot holding the bound ankles to the rail: reaching in with thumb and forefinger, he drew delicately at something, and the bound ankles fell away. Jackson Cooper reached down, rolled the fellow over, frowning, then picked him up by his belt. The prisoner groaned, clenching his jaw and grimacing in obvious pain. Jackson Cooper picked up the crushed billycock with his free hand, turned it over, examined it closely. "You're kind of hard on your hat," he said conversationally, then casually stepped off the private car's rear deck and carried the prisoner to the jail as easily as he might carry a luggage by the handle. The Sheriff reached up and knocked on the express car's door: a coded series of knocks, to which the door opened, and a little blond-haired tornado launched out of the open door into the lawman's arms with a swirl of blond hair and calico dress and a delighted "Daddeee!" The Sheriff was obliged to take a step backwards under the impact of the flying little girl: his arms were firm and strong around her and he threw his head back and laughed, and Sarah's heart sketched the sight: her Papa, with his head thrown back and a look of utter delight on his face, and for a moment she imagined herself as that little girl, full of joy at being held by her Papa, and all right with the world. "Did she skin you at poker?" Sarah called up to the conductor, who was on one knee in the doorway, his expression momentarily soft and wondering, the look of one father who knew what it was to have children. The conductor looked at Sarah and smiled a little. "She slept curled up on my lap most of the trip," he said. "It's been a long time since I held my little girl like that." "Didn't she get married here last year?" "Yeah, she's clear the hell and gone down to Texas, her and that rancher. Last I heard she was expecting ... matter of fact she's due any time." Sarah nodded. Angela pulled her Daddy's pearl-grey Stetson off his head and plopped it on her own curls: giggling, she turned and waved at the conductor with a little girl's high-voiced "Thank you!" and then turned back to her Daddy. "Daddy, Sawwah gottada bad guy," she said in an excited staccato, "annada I helpedit!" The Sheriff laughed, looked at Sarah, and his look was not one of a lawman for a contemporary, it was a father for his daughter. "Sarah," he said, "I believe I am proud of my girls this morning," and he ran his arm around Sarah's shoulders and pulled her in against him. For just a moment, Sarah felt like a little girl, safe in her Daddy's embrace. "Let's go see about breakfast for you, young lady," the Sheriff said, patting Angela's bottom affectionately, the way a Daddy does when holding his little girl: Angela nodded and said "I'm hungwy!" "Once we get you situated, Sarah and I have to go interrogate a prisoner." Angela picked up the oversized skypiece with both hands, holding it at arm's length above her head. "You gonna dwill holes inniz head?" she asked, big-eyed. Sarah laughed. "No, good heavens no!" she exclaimed. "Interrogate means we ask him lots of questions!" "Oh." The hat plopped back down on Angela's head and she giggled. Black-suited Sheriff and black-coated Agent, father and daughter, walked away from the depot building and up the board walk, their boots loud on the warped, dusty boards.
  15. Linn Keller 6-10-12 Sarah slid the door open on the freight car. It was not a stable car; her father’s black gelding was tied to a crossmember instead of being confined to a stall. Hay was thrown underfoot, and Sarah spent a few minutes shoveling second hand horse feed out into the passing darkness: she led the gelding a few feet away, raked the wet hay out the door as well, then picked up her father’s saddle. The gelding stood patiently for saddle blanket and saddle, bridle and bit; Sarah swung aboard and the gelding shifted his weight a little, not really accustomed to a rider in addition to the moving deck of the slowing railcar. Sarah patted his neck. “Easy, boy,” she soothed, “easy, now.” The gelding’s ears flicked back, forward: Sarah leaned forward and offered a small, sweet apple, and the gelding turned his head, snuffing loudly: she felt the warmth of his breath, the cool wetness of his nose, and the rubbery lips as he plucked the bribe from her palm. Sarah wiped her hand on her britches, pulled on the other black glove: she turned up her collar, tugged the broad brim hat further down on her head. Sarah knew not only the timetable by heart, but every turn, every grade, every watering stop, and she knew the watering stop was approaching, and soon: she knew the ground rose a little, and the gelding was used to exiting the side door of a railcar onto that very spot, with her father in the saddle. Sarah was considerably lighter than her long, tall father, and she had every confidence the gelding would make the jump easily from railcar to terra firma. He did. Sarah thrilled at the feel of a horse in flight, her stomach taking wings for a glorious moment, then she turned the gelding and watched as the train hissed to a stop so the engine could take on water. She walked her father’s mount to the front of the private car. The figure on the private car’s platform groaned. Sarah watched, silent and unmoving. The man’s hat was to his side – apparently he’d tried moving, earlier – Sarah watched in the near-dark as the figure struggled a little, weakly, then relaxed. He turned his face toward her. “Help me,” he groaned. Sarah neither moved nor replied. “You gotta help me,” the figure gasped, trying unsuccessfully to pull free: he convulsed once, shaking his legs, hard, trying to dislodge them from the steel railing. “If you fall off,” Sarah said conversationally, “you’ll be run over. Nobody comes this way except for the train, and they have orders not to stop for debris on the tracks.” “What – what are you going to do?” “How’s your head?” “Hurts.” The man’s voice was weak. Sarah’s was cold and unsympathetic. “Good.” She turned the gelding, stopped, considered for a moment, then turned back. “By the way, that was my little sister in that bed.” “Sister?” “She’s also the Sheriff’s little girl. She’s six years old. I don’t think he’ll take kindly to the thought that a strange man forced his way into his little girl’s bedroom in the dark of night.” The man’s groan was that of a soul upon learning it was about to be condemned for all eternity. “I’ll stay with you until the train gets underway again. The next stop will be Firelands. By then you’ll be ready for a nice, uncomfortable bunk in the town jail.” True to her word, Sarah waited until The Lady Esther whistled at the night and began pulling toward the final grade that separated them from Firelands. The hoofbeats of her father’s gelding were loud on the trail as Sarah took the left fork. She would be in town well before the train. Long enough to arrange a welcoming committee for the unwanted guest. The Sheriff opened his front door. Sarah stood without hat in her left hand, her eyes very pale. "You need some breakfast," the Sheriff said, "and so do I. In." Sarah's movements were tightly controlled, her gait that of a panther: she moved as if oiled, smooth, silent, deadly. Esther rose as Sarah entered the kitchen. "Good morning, Sarah," she smiled, her green eyes welcoming: Sarah's gait never wavered: she walked up to her ... aunt, stepmother ... it didn't matter ... she had need of maternal arms, and Esther found herself embraced by strong young arms that held her for a long moment. The maid glided soundlessly into the kitchen and laid another plate and silverware; a coffee cup placed beside the plate, and she withdrew as silently as she'd arrived. The Sheriff drew her chair out. Sarah peeled out of her coat, hung it on a peg by the back door, stopped and looked at the Sheriff. "You were right," she said simply, then sat and allowed her father to slide her ahead a little. The Sheriff presented Esther's chair; she, too, sat, making the simple move of sitting down a graceful and feminine act. The Sheriff walked around the table, seated himself carefully, looked directly at Sarah. "One or two?" he asked. "Two," she replied, looking up as the maid approached with a piled platter: she leaned back as fried eggs and bacon landed on her porcelain, but she did not touch them until the others were served as well. "Report." "One is tied to the front porch of your private car," she said, looking over at Esther. "The other ..." The Sheriff saw the smile hiding behind her eyes. Esther's expression was innocent as she said "After all, dear, she is your daughter!" The Sheriff laughed. "Yes, ma'am, she is that!" he chuckled. "Now just where did you leave the other fellow?" "Chasing his tail in Denver," Sarah said quietly. "Good." The Sheriff bit savagely into a rasher of crisp bacon, picked up his fork. "Now what did you do to him?" "Nothing much," she shrugged, slicing into the fried egg. The maid used the slightest amount of garlic on the eggs, a little pepper ... something Sarah could not quite place ... she didn't know what it was, but as she forked the first bite, she didn't care. Fresh sliced bread in a basket joined the table, and pressed butter, fresh from the mold, cool and beaded with moisture: Sarah worked steadily on bacon and eggs as she considered her answer. "I went to the big Catholic church on the south end of the city," she said, "and that dancer Levi complained about went with me. We're close to the same size, we were both in gowns and looking like ladies about town." "You went to church." "Catholic church," she corrected. "Think confessional booths." "Ah." The Sheriff's eyes crinkled at the corners. "We went into separate booths and the first man ran up from his seat halfway down the pews. "When he stopped just past the booth, I leaned out and pinned a note to his coat." The Sheriff raised an eyebrow, took a drink of coffee. "I'd drawn a knife on the note and under it the words 'Remember, and live.'" The Sheriff snorted, spraying coffee back into his cup and blowing it out on his face: he lowered the cup, snatched up the napkin, wiped his face and coughed violently, trying hard not to drown on hot Arbuckle's. "You what?" he gasped. Sarah nodded. "I told you," Esther murmured, taking a bite of fragrant, still-warm bread. The Sheriff harrumphed, coughed into his napkin, leaned back as the maid replaced his coffee cup and saucer and filled the new mug. Clearing his throat, the Sheriff looked approvingly at his daughter. "You know what you've done," he said quietly, the ghost of a smile pulling at his mouth. "Yes, sir, I do." "Good." The Sheriff looked at his eggs, just before the maid whisked them away and replaced plate and all: fresh, hot eggs and gleaming-hot bacon raised fragrant vapors to his appreciative nose, and his plate with its baptism of coffee was removed. "Tell me about the second man." "He tried to get into the car, just as you said he would." The Sheriff nodded. "Angela?" Sarah's look was ... well, sly. "Perfection." "I trust her vocal range proved satisfactory," Esther said quietly, a hint of disapproval in her voice. Sarah's smile was predatory, wolflike. "Yes." The Sheriff stood. "I'll get my coat. Finish up, Sarah, we have a train to meet." It was the Sheriff's turn to smile, and his smile was as predatory as his daughter's.
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