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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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    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. Linn Keller 2-22-13 Sarah snatched up her wrap and fairly flew out the schoolhouse door, laughing. Emma smiled to hear it. She has been long indeed since I heard her thus, Emma thought, walking over to the gas heater and reaching down to turn off the valve. Emma straightened quickly, her eyes widening as a clatter and a yell, a whistle and the snap of a blacksnake whip rushed through the still-open door: she looked out the window to see the Irish Brigade and their steam-wagon galloping up the street, Sean standing in the driver's box, swinging the whip overhead, smoke rolling out the blunt, polished mouth of the steam-machine, and the Brigade holding onto railings and riding the trailing ladder-wagon, and at the foot of the stairs, Sarah, waving like a schoolgirl, kerchief fluttering in her hand: she was bouncing on her toes at the sight of their brave firemen, charging ahead to battle the Devil's own breath! Emma felt a giggle begin to bubble up from deep in her memory and she remembered what it was to be young and giddy, and to be able to let herself feel giddy at such a sight... what a wonderful freedom that had been! The Brigade felt their bellies tighten at the sight of smoke surging skyward: like boxers tucking their elbows, they prepared themselves mentally for the fight ahead of them, peering, craning, straining to see the involved structure so they would have an idea how to fight this old enemy that ever presented a new face. Sean hauled hard on the brake as he profaned the mares to a stop; the engineer flipped open the firebox door and threw in three quick scuts of coal, straightened to tap the steam-gauge, checked the water level. Running feet hit the ground, Irishmen shedding from the machine like rats from a sinking ship: muscled arms and strong backs hauled the rigid suction line from brackets on the ladder wagon, a callused pair of hands spun the strainer on the end, two Irishmen charged the stone-walled well and thrust the hard-line down into the subterranean reservoir, swearing terrible oaths at their sloth and slovenly brethren who followed with another length, and a third, enough to span the distance between the well and the steam machine's suction. Hard hands spun the final connection and brazen throats screamed at the engineer: the engineer spun open the valve, then eased open the steam-valve: the pop-off hissed like an angry snake, squirting a pure white plume of steam into the chilly air and the engine began to shiver a little as it always did as it pulled prime into the pump, then the hoses began to swell and Sean swore, "St. Florian, St. Christopher and Aunt Penny's billy goat, LET'S GET IT!" and the Brigade seized hoses and brass nozzles and drove streams of water into the structure's windows, aiming straight-stream lances into the conflagration, shattering the stream against ceiling, then walls, breaking the water into finer particles which then turned to steam in the intense heat, smothering the fire. "NOW FOR IT, LADS!" and Sean hit the door with his shoulder, shattering its lock: heat drove them back, until they brought a hose-line to the doorway and fought the heat, foot by reluctant foot, back into the house: men in black-rubber-coated fire coats squinted against heat and steam and hot splatter, coughing as they breathed the hot, high-carbon atmosphere, eyes stinging and burning until their watering eyes ran black snot out their nose and down their chins, affording welcome relief from the searing, smoky air. The Welsh Irishman half-waddled, then proned out and crawled, skinning ahead of the hose team, running his rescue search: turning right, always turning right, searching under beds, finding a closed closet door, hauling it open and searching within, reaching with long and practiced arms instead of looking: heat and smoke banked down to knee high, then ankle high, and he had to turn his face sideways to breathe what little air was near the floor, and always, always he had to remember where the door way, in spite of his several turns: they practiced this, hooding one another with a pillowcase back in the firehouse, or crawling about Sean's house, where they searched for Sean's children, who were hidden under beds and in closets -- as children commonly did, trying to hide from a fire. The Welshman felt something soft, something that wasn't blanket or doll -- he squeezed -- The cat yowled and swatted at him and he jerked his hand back as the cat streaked out from under the bed, screeching and spitting, and shot out the front door, between the German Irishman's legs and disappearing across the street, looking three feet long and three inches high as cats will when running from a fire. "Bloody hell!" the Welsh Irishman swore, then reached under again and found a leg. A small leg, a child's leg, and he grabbed and he pulled, hard. He heard a frightened whimper. "WHO ELSE IS IN HERE?" he shouted. The child coughed and tried to say something but could not. "God and Saint Christopher," the Welsh Irishman breathed, then rolled over, unsnapping his fire coat: he thrust the child inside, took several quick breaths, coughed, took a few more and gathered himself like a sprinter. Yelling, he surged to his feet and ran for the door. If all of Firelands turned out, the population would not be enough to interfere with the Brigade's work: turn out they did, for generally in the high country, a wood structure dried out quick and burned quicker once alight: to see a fire fought was a unique experience, for theirs was one of the few towns that had its own fire brigade, let alone a fine steam engine! They heard a roar from within, an answering bellow from Sean, then the Welsh Irishman charged out the front door, hugging something: he ran into Sean, ran into him hard, knocking the big Irishman off his feet: they ended up in a pile on the ground and the Welsh Irishman rolled away, throwing his coat open, and in the crowd a woman screamed a name and ran for the frightened little girl in the pink paisley dress that rolled out of the Welsh Irishman's fire coat, crying. The Welsh Irishman came up on all fours, coughing; he spat, swore and scrambled to his feet, tugged at filthy gloves, slung them off his hands and snapped his coat shut again: snatching up the gloves, he squared with raised fists, as if going after a boxing opponent, and charged back into the burning house. Sarah watched, hands clasped against her high belly, breathless with the bravery and the heroism of their beloved Brigade, and of the man who just brought a little child from the living breath of Hell itself ... the man who proposed to her, the man who would be her husband. Sarah breathed a little quickly and felt a little fainty, and part of her realized she was allowing -- she was permitting -- she was finally letting herself feel ... feel like she imagined she should feel. Sarah watched the mother and the child: she plucked the kerchief from her sleeve and pressed it against one eye, then the other, and then she turned and ran, ran as hard as she could away from the scene of bravery and heroism, ran from the sight of strong men doing what strong men did, ran from the sight of her husband-to-be. Sarah ran crying, ran for the firehouse. Sarah ran into the tall, narrow brick structure, sniveling, then stopped to wipe her closed eyes and blow her nose with a rather unladylike HONNK that echoed in the empty equipment bay. Sarah stopped and leaned against a wall, remembering the sight of Mr. Llewellyn, charging out of the doorway, a black figure silhouetted by flame, a man running at the top of his lungs, alarming all without that he'd found a living soul, that he was getting an innocent from harm's way, and Sarah felt light headed, giddy, as if her belly was soaring over the highest mountain peak. It took her several long moments to calm down. Later that night, after overhaul, after the structure was searched and explored and every trace of hidden fire discovered and killed, the Brigade returned to their firehouse and scrubbed hoses, washed and polished their beloved steam masheen, took on water and coal and loaded fresh, dry hose from the drying-tower, folding it in precise accordion fashion with the nozzle attached and secured in its spring-steel clip ... after coats were scrubbed down, boots cleaned and ranked in the heat to dry and the dry pair brought out, after feet and faces were washed, clothes changed, clean dry socks and clean dry boots and clean dry clothes put on, after they were made ready for the next response, only then did they sit down for supper. Only then did the Irish Brigade sit down to the meal Sarah had ready for them, at places set with tableware Sarah laid out, drinking fresh coffee Sarah brewed for them, and when they were finished with their meal, Sarah brought out four pies and proceeded to cut and serve good fresh still-warm-from-the-oven, dried-fruit pies, crusts golden and flaky, and even those with the fullest bellies found they could not even think of declining dessert. Later that night, as Sarah admitted to her mother (as her cheeks pinked to the saying of it) that she'd gotten the pies from the Jewel, as there was no time to fix supper and pie both, the German Irishman and the English Irishman were strictly enjoining the Welsh Irishman that he should waste no time at all in marrying the lovely Miss McKenna. "Man, if she can cook this well wi' no advance warning," the English Irishman declared, "she'll make a fine firehouse wife!" The rest of the Brigade, recognizing a good leg pulling when they saw it, shouted their encouragement, to the Welsh Irishman's red-faced but good-natured embarrassment: Sean stood, laughing, raised big, work-reddened hands for silence. "Lad," he said, his voice big and gentle, "answer me this." The Welsh Irishman nodded. "Ye ha'e seen her mither." "Aye, I have." "An' ye ha'e eaten her mither's cookin'." "Aye, I have." "An' ye still wish t' marry th' lass." "Aye, I do." Sean nodded. "Lad, when ye sit doon across fra' her mither an' take a good look a' her, ye'll see wha' yer lass will look like in twenty years. "When ye eat the mither's cookin' ye will know wha' yer lass cooks like, f'r they learn fra' their mither. "Now' -- he looked around, grinning -- "ye ha'e eaten her cookin', wha' she made on short notice an' not knowin' what we had on hand." The Welsh Irishman raised an eyebrow; the rest of the Brigade nodded, or leaned back and rubbed contentedly-full bellies. "Do ye still figure ye're makin' a guid choice?" "You're damned right," the Welsh Irishman said quietly, and there was certainty in his voice.
  2. Linn Keller 2-22-13 I am a fish. Sarah stood in the doorway to the schoolhouse, looking out at the rapidly retreating children. She stood and watched, eyes busy, a thoughtful and almost distant look about her face. Emma Cooper was at the front of the schoolroom, tidying what little was needed; she and Sarah were both quite neat, and their example carried over a little to the students. Sometimes. Sarah stood in the open door, then blinked and dropped her eyes. I am a fish. What was it that man from Chicago told me? ... He was a petty hood and he was in jail and awaiting transport back East, and we conversed through the bars. Oh, yes. "Being a big fish in a small pond is dangerous. "Being a small fish in a big pond can be very profitable." Profit ... I have no wish ... ... yes I do ... profit is necessary ... Sarah drew the doors closed, turned slowly, walked thoughtfully up the center aisle. I am not really a big fish in our small pond ... but I am ... a very noticeable fish. She brought clasped hands up to her mouth, looked up at Emma Cooper, her eyes bright behind her round-lensed schoolmarm spectacles, and Emma saw a smile in that look. The older woman smiled. "Thinking of your beau?" she asked quietly, and Sarah shook her head, smiling into her hands. "No," she murmured, "but perhaps I should." Sarah sat slowly on one of the student benches, her eyes drifting toward the window. A closed mouth gathers no hooks. "You are taking a very big step," Emma Cooper said, straightening a small pyramid of books on the corner of her desk and walking over to Sarah: smoothing her skirt under her, she sat beside the pretty younger woman with the severe hairdo. "I know," Sarah whispered. "It was ... a little difficult when Jackson Cooper and I married," Emma said quietly, and Sarah looked at Emma, surprised. "Oh, yes," Emma nodded. "I was ... a maiden lady and a woman of my years usually does not marry." "But you did." Emma laughed. "Oh, yes, dearie ... and I am so very glad I did!" She gave Sarah a warm look. "Even if he does snore and hog the covers!" The two women laughed. Emma took Sarah's hands. "When I met Jackson Cooper, I met my best friend." Her hands tightened on Sarah's to emphasize her words. "I married my best friend and that is the very best thing I have ever done in my entire life!" Enjoy your life, girl, she heard, as if a whisper, and the voice was Charlie's. Sarah smiled and hugged Emma, quickly, impulsively. "Thank you," she whispered, then she jumped up and ran, laughing, for the schoolhouse door.
  3. Linn Keller 2-21-13 The three of us rode the steam train to Denver. The three of us rode it back. I don't recall as we passed more than a half dozen words on the way to. On the way from we weren't nearly as anxious. Sarah did a fine job of testifying at the inquest. She scrubbed off the ointment and made herself look school-marm-ish as she could. Mr. Llewellyn wore his good suit. Sarah said she'd smeared ointment in it when he held her but I could not see the least sign of a stain so I reckon one of the ladies worked her laundress's magic on it. Sarah was sworn in and she seated herself, holding a kerchief to one side of her face like it hurt. "Miss McKenna," the presiding judge said, "could you please tell the court what happened on the night in question." Sarah nodded, her eyes on the floor. She looked considerably less comfortable than when she seated herself. "My fiancee and I," she began, "brought my little sister on the train. My sister -- Polly -- had a tooth ache and I wished to gain her relief as soon as could possibly be done." She closed her eyes, took a composing breath. "When we ... I looked around from the depot platform and espied a cab. "I gave the cabbie the address and we boarded and were immediately enroute. "It was several minutes before I looked out the window. "It was full dark, of course, but I did not recognize the area. "I addressed the cabman in a loud voice and demanded to know where he was taking us." Sarah lowered her kerchief. The whip-strike stood out, angry and red, the length of her face. There was a murmur from the assembled, a collective intake of breath. "The cabbie slashed down with his whip and cut me here, as you see." She turned her head to give everyone the full benefit of the angry red stripe, even the Judge on his elevated platform: I looked around, reading the audience, and saw shock, anger and sympathy for the slight-built, pale-skinned young schoolmarm on the witness stand. "I drew my Bulldog pistol and put a shot through the man's hat, intentionally missing the crown of his head, and I ordered him to throw away the whip and stop the cab. "He did not. "He whipped up the mare. "I knew on that moment he wished to bring us to a dark and nefarious end and so I acted to keep myself, my fiancee and my little sister, alive." Sarah's eyes were bright and glittering; her hands were in her lap, the kerchief clutched in her hand. "I fired three shots into the man's rib cage, beneath his right shoulder blade. "We assumed the reins and brought the cab about as another robber ran out to seize the mare's bridle. "I recognized the area from previous discussions with the Denver Detective's Bureau, and knew this was the place where a notorious murderer was in the habit of bringing fares, where they would be murdered, robbed, their bodies dumped in a ditch or an open grave. "I fired a shot into the ground and so dissuaded the second robber from any further action, save only his hasty retreat." Sarah's chin was lifted; her words were calmly, slowly, clearly spoken, that she may be heard to the furthest row: I nodded a little, for it is no easy task to speak thus when one's freedom rides on how the court will view one's actions. "We steered our course for the nearest police-station, where we enlisted the assistance of the duty Sergeant and the detective whose testimony I believe follows my own. "With their invaluable assistance -- for by this time I was quite lost" -- her smile was faint, and I saw sympathy in the looks she was given -- "we gained the dentist's office. The man was good enough to see my sister on the moment and she was relieved of the offending tooth." "And can the detective corroborate the dentist's activity?" the Judge asked. "The detective remained without," Sarah replied. "I do, however, have the tooth, and should the Court so desire, I can not only produce the dentist, I can produce my little sister, and my fiancee sits not twenty feet from me." The court was soon satisfied with her testimony; Mr. Llewellyn was sworn, deposed, and dismissed, immediately following the detective; the Judge and the coroner both examined the tooth, and I smiled later when Sarah told me the Judge's words: "Yes, that's a tooth, all right," before the coroner identified it as a baby tooth, and pointed out the cavity which no doubt caused its former owner considerable discomfort. I spoke with the detective, afterward, and thanked the man for his kindness: he looked directly at the arc-and-compasses stick pin in the middle of my necktie, and I considered the cane-and-two-spheres pin on his lapel, and then we exchanged a grip, and a nod: Sarah saw this exchange, but offered no comment. Sarah restored the ointment to her face before we left the courthouse; she'd brought a veiled hat, and wore the veil down for the trip home. I suspected her keeping the kerchief pressed to her face was to keep the wound-line warm and make it stand out; her reveal of the injury, at the right moment in her testimony, was a bit of theater ... one which worked well for her. We ate before boarding the train for the trip home, and I found Llewellyn to be an interesting fellow, with more about him than his profession, which pleased me: we were on our way home before dark. I did notice Sarah was considering something carefully; there was thoughtfulness in her eyes, consideration in her brow, and in an unguarded moment I saw her profiled lips, through the hat's veil, trace the words, "... can't save the world ..." and I could see her eyes were busy, which told me she was thinking hard on something. I was minded to inquire, but decided against it.
  4. Linn Keller 2-21-13 I opened the schoolhouse door and stepped inside. It was warm, it smelled of chalk and paper and ink, it smelled of soap and children and boot polish the way a schoolhouse always does. My hat was in my hand, I stood relaxed; several of the young turned as I entered, and I grinned and winked at them, and they grinned back and returned to their studies. I knew my presence would prove a disruption and I wished to minimize the trouble my presence would cause. Sarah was bent over, speaking quietly with a lad; I could see little hand-motions as she worked with him on his individual, hand-held slate; I saw the tilt of her head, the patient smile, the flash of satisfaction as she realized her student just grasped what she was teaching him. I have known such moments and they are good memories. Sarah straightened, still looking down at the student: he tilted his face up and I saw the look of satisfaction and I knew Sarah just got a big dose of that one rewarding moment teachers live for. She caressed his unkempt hair, then slid out of that row of benches and paced back the center aisle to me, her heels brisk and businesslike in the studious hush. More little faces turned toward us. Sarah looked up at me, looking every bit the efficient schoolmarm; Emma Cooper gave me a concerned look and I smiled and winked at her, and she nodded, satisfied, and went back to the lesson she was presenting to a small clutch of older students in the front of the room. "I saw your expression," I said quietly. "You were at the window." "I was looking for you," she admitted. I looked at the broad stripe of greenish ointment running diagonally down her face. "How's the whip?" Sarah gave me a frightened look; she took my arm, pulled me into a corner. "Last night," she whispered, her eyes big. "You were the Hellwalker again." She nodded. "They tried to get you." "Not last night. Earlier. They ... " Sarah looked away, bit her bottom lip, then she looked back and I could see the old Sarah and the anger in her eyes. "They tried to trick me." "They always do." "I can't ... Papa, I can't ..." "You can't save the world," I completed. "Sometimes you can't even save the one closest to you." She looked up at me and she was Sarah-the-girl again, biting her bottom lip, a little pale now, nodding agreement. "You," I whispered, laying my palm carefully on the uninjured side of her face, "do the very best you can but you are finding it's not good enough." Sarah nodded again and I saw tears starting to pool up. I plucked a kerchief from my sleeve -- a habit from my days in the Cavalry -- and she crushed it gratefully in her hand, pressing the balled up linen against one eye, then the other, using my bulk to shield her action from young eyes. "How do you do it?" Sarah whispered. "When that cannon blew up and you blamed yourself for the Lieutenant's death ... how do you let that go?" "Experience, I reckon," I said tiredly. "Or maybe I just got tired of hurtin' and I quit carin' for a while." "I don't want to do that." "I don't think you could. If you did you wouldn't be Sarah." Sarah leaned her face tiredly into my hand. "They still want me." "Hell?" She nodded. "They always will, dear heart. Hell rejoices at the soul of an innocent. That's why you were brutalized as a young child. That's why terrible things are done in wartime and behind closed doors. Hell gets a-hold of someone's heart and makes them black inside and they do evil to the innocent and that's like trickling honey into a grizzly bear's mouth." Sarah's eyes snapped up to mine and they were a shade more pale. "Your soul is still innocent, Sarah. You have never chosen to surrender to evil. You know the taste of passion" -- I held up a finger, like a teacher making a point -- "what is the definition of passion?" "Any uncontrolled strong emotion," she replied without hesitation. "Correct. There is no feeling like having your blood up and knowing you are right. That's where so many lawmen and soldiers both go wrong. They get turned loose with the supreme authority of the land and at first they are operating in the Right, and they know it, and they get drunk on it. "Getting drunk is a very good feeling at first but it turns dark fast. "Drunk on power is even worse. It gets dark and they try using more power, more authority, to try and capture that early feeling of glory and it does not work but they find something else. "They find they can lord it over everyone simply with authority and they decide they like that feelin' and from there on it's down hill. "You" -- I bent my head a little and burned my glare into her wide-open eyes -- "you have always been strong enough to pull away from that pa'tick'lar fahr!" Sarah nodded. "Now I recall you were spanking yourself for not keeping Polly safe." Sarah nodded. "And you swatted your own backside for not keeping your fiancee safe." She nodded again. "But you told me that Llewellyn kept Polly safe while you took care of the situation." Again her double nod. "You have learned the secret of successful administration, which is delegation." Sarah frowned a little, a puzzling frown, and she tilted her head a little. I knew she was listening, she was digesting this, she was absorbing it. "You have two very talented hands but only two. There is only one of you. You cannot be in all places at all times. You did what you saw as the right thing for you to do in that moment." Again her nod, slower this time. "Hell will always want you, Sarah. They tasted your innocence and they want it back. Hell hates to lose but they've lost. They will do their level best to swindle you and trick you and lie to you and they'll try your spirit time and time and time again because they want to stain it and scorch it and make you as black-evil inside as they are." I leaned down and kissed her forehead. "But you know what?" "What?" she whispered. "They will not succeed." Sarah rolled her lips in, uncertainty in her eyes. "You have been there. You've seen the place from the inside. You lived for years listening to their whispers and they couldn't turn you then. You've had plenty of chances to go evil here and you haven't." I gripped her shoulders and gave her a fatherly look. "If they could turn you they would have had you take a hotel room instead of coming home late like you did, and likely they would have lit your fire and you would have shared a bed with Llewellyn and ..." Sarah's eyes were wide and shocked, her cheeks flamed red and her hand went to her mouth, then her eyes grew a little distant and the color drained out of her face like red ink out of an eyedropper. My hands gripped her shoulders more tightly and I held her against the wall. Her knees almost buckled and I knew I hit on something she'd just almost done. "Walk with me," I whispered, running an arm around her, under her off arm, and I steered her toward the door. Once we were out on the steps and the door shut I picked her up and carried her down the steps and around the side of the building, away from the windows. I didn't want her students to see her as anything but the strong and capable Miss Sarah they'd known. We sat down on a bench and I held my little girl as she gained her composure. Sarah covered her face with her hands and she shivered. "I almost did," she admitted. "I almost ... oh God ... what was I thinking ..." "You were thinking of the best way to keep your people safe," I said roughly. "You were thinking of what was best for Polly. You were thinking of your people!" "Papa ..." Sarah dropped her hands in her lap and she looked at me with darker eyes, frightened eyes. "Papa, if I ... Papa, I kissed him, but ..." "But you have done nothing else." She shook her head. "And why have you done nothing else?" Sarah saw through the question, saw it as much deeper than the mere words. Her eyes followed some invisible trail on the ground, tracking a drunken field mouse or some-such, then she looked up at me and swallowed. "Papa, you spoke of strong feelings." I nodded. "And how they are ... intoxicating." I nodded again. "Papa, I feel like ... like a stove with a fire laid ... but no one has touched match to the fire." I nodded, slowly, taking her left hand in both of mine. "And if ... when ... a match ... if the fire ..." Sarah's breath was coming faster, more shallowly, and she looked up at me and I saw that light in her eyes, that moment of realization. "Papa, if I light that fire it will never go out and I will want to stoke it again and again --" My hands squeezed hers gently; once again I nodded. "I must ... the first fire ... it's like that first drink ... that first kiss, that first real kiss," Sarah said quickly, her words almost tumbling over one another in their haste to keep ahead of her thoughts: "that first fire is special and will be ... Papa, it has to be with ..." I nodded, smiling a little. Sarah yanked her hand from mine, threw her arms around my neck and I thought she was going to squeeze me til I passed out, so I hugged her back. Sometimes a Papa gets to feel really, really good, and that was one of those moments. "Thank you, Papa," Sarah whispered, and we held one another for a long time, sitting there on that bench right out in front of God and everybody. She finally let go and so did I and I asked her again about that whip-welt and she said, "It's almost healed, Papa. You can barely see it now." We both turned out heads at the sound of running feet, approaching us from just down the street. It was the boy from the telegraph office, waiving a flimsy. Sarah and I looked at one another. "Denver," Sarah groaned.
  5. If you don't mind a novel by somebody who was there, Common Valor by Curtis Rich, otherwise known as Captain George Baylor, is pretty dang good.
  6. I am indeed well, and hope that your are as well. Really busy at the moment.
  7. Charlie MacNeil 2-20-13 Night. Velvet darkness spread across hill and dale, pierced only by silver starfall blazing from across countless millennia and miles. Wolf song on the night wind, faint, plaintive, demanding, swelling in volume then retreating, imploring, communicating, sending a message of hope and despair, of need. Most of all, need. Need not of body but of soul and psyche. Deep, heartfelt need... Charlie stirred, his dreams troubled, seeing once again, for the first time in months, the hellish orange light, the glittering black sand, feeling the crush of weathered stone beneath leather boot soles. Feeling worn sharkskin rasping against the calloused skin of palm and finger, the swirl of blood red wool, hearing the muted jingle of woven chain across his shoulders, the weight of iron-bound wood on his left arm. Foolishly, after the last epic battle for his niece's soul, he had thought, nay, hoped and prayed, to never return to this place. He stood solidly, waiting, chagrined at the naivete that he thought he'd purged from his being these many years ago. Determined now to stand firm and fight as he had stood so often in the past... "You shall not have her!" he challenged, the words coming from his lips with the sound of iron-shod chariot wheels grinding on stone. "She is ours!" The collective hiss from many misshapen tongues swirled on the fitful, probing breeze, falling on the ear from everywhere and nowhere. "We do not ever surrender! Never!" "Then you shall all taste steel and death!" His defiant war cry echoed from stone and sand, silencing even the questing wind as the warrior stepped back beneath overhanging stone, placing his back against the solid weight, glittering blade and dark-stained shield rising, leather-booted feet planted solidly. "Come if you dare!" Sarah sat bolt-upright in her bed, gasping, pale eyes wide, defiant words ringing in her ears. "Uncle Charlie! Wait! I'm coming!" She reached for the quilts to throw them off and scramble into black breeches and shirt. She stopped, the realization that such material trappings would be of no use blazing across her consciousness as the mournful wail of wolf song blossomed in the darkness. She lay back down, closing her eyes and focusing her mind on the dream of moments before... In a blaze of blinding white the girl appeared at the warrior's side, cross-guarded boar spear in hand. The light radiating from her weapon sent black, misshapen forms scampering away in agony, hideous voices screaming their anger and frustration. "YOU!" she pointed the glowing blade of the spear at the retreating forms, tame lightning flickering from tip to guard. "SHALL!" Her pale eyes blazed with a fire of their own, the red weal on her cheek flaming. "NOT!" Fire made a halo around her hair. "HAVE ME!" Her voice thundered out, scattering the last, the strongest, of the black shapes to the winds. The blazing white light dimmed, flickered, ceased. The girl wrapped her hands around the shaft of the spear, her shoulders sagging. The warrior sheathed his blade, lowered his iron-bossed shield to the sand and stepped forward to lay his calloused palms on the girl's shoulders. The boar spear dropped from Sarah's suddenly nerveless hand as she turned to press her face against the warrior's chest. "Oh, Uncle Charlie, I listened but I didn't hear," she sobbed. "I nearly let them," her gesture encompassing all that had been surrounding the pair just moments before, "turn me again. I let doubt come in." "You ain't perfect, girl," Charlie replied softly. "None of us are. There's only been one perfect being in the history of this planet, and it weren't neither one of us. You can't anticipate everything. If you did, there'd be no more wonder, no more surprises, no more of the gifts that come to us suddenly and bring so much joy." He stopped for a moment to lift her chin, his hazel eyes locked on her blue orbs. "AND YOU CAN'T SAVE EVERYONE!" he growled suddenly. His voice softened again. "Some things have to be left in the hands of the Lord, girl. And you ain't Him. So get on with your life, and stop trying to fix everything that's wrong. Go on and be a girl, and a woman. Enjoy the time you have with your man and mourn him when he's gone. But don't try to reshape the world, 'cause it can't be done. The best we can do is to get all the joy, love and laughter we can in the time that we have. And never doubt yourself. You are incapable of doing anything but what is right for you." He held her at arms length. Now go, girl, and live! Live your life to the fullest. Make the most of the years ahead. Go!" Sarah stared at him in wonder. "How did you know?" she whispered. Charlie grinned at her, the insolent twist on his lips that she loved so much. "A big puppy dog told me. Now git!" She got. Charlie opened his eyes, stared up at the ceiling for a moment listening to his wife's gentle breathing beside him, then smiled before mouthing the words, "Thank you, Lord," and closing his eyes again.
  8. Linn Keller 2-20-13 The Sheriff closed the door on his cast iron stove. Straightening, he rubbed his fist against the small of his back: he frowned a little and there were vague crunching sounds as he twisted. He turned and took a step toward the door; reached, and had it open a foot when he saw a figure through the widening crack. Sarah hesitated, her upraised knuckles in mid-air, then looked at her father with uncertain eyes. "How did you know I was about to knock?" she asked, and the Sheriff heard a trace of a surprised little girl in her voice. Linn grinned. "I'm psychotic," he said. "I mean psychic. Come on in, it's cold out." "You and Jackson Cooper," she muttered. The Sheriff closed the door behind her, then turned; Sarah's hood was still up. He reached up, threw the hood back, regarded her frankly, frowning a little. "I know a mountain witch --" he began. "Everyone knows a witch," Sarah muttered, "and no I don't wish to resurrect the man so we can kill him again!" "Just thought I'd offer." Sarah gave him a long, frank look. "Papa, I messed up." The Sheriff took his daughter's hands in his own. "My dear, turn around." "What?" The Sheriff released one hand, took her shoulder gently, turned her: she felt his hands caress her shoulder blades through the cloak, then he turned her back. "Just as I thought." Sarah raised an eyebrow. "No angel wings." Sarah frowned, turned her head a little, curious. "Have a set, dear heart, my back is troublin' me today." The Sheriff grabbed a chair, spun it around, close to the stove and facing the cast iron device: he brought his own chair over, wheeled it up beside Sarah's. "Now Sarah," he said, his voice gentle but his eyes mischievous, "my Mama worked hard to beat some manners into m -- hak! Kaff! I mean!" -- he harrumphed into the back of his hand -- "my Mama taught me to be a gentleman, and a gentleman does not sit until the lady is seated." Sarah's expression softened and she caressed the skinny lawman with the iron-grey mustache and sparkling eyes, running her fingertips down his cheek: "Oh, Papa," she said, and he heard the little girl in her voice again, "you're going to make me laugh!" and she leaned against him and hugged him, and he wrapped strong and fatherly arms around her and laid his cheek down on the top of her head. "Now have yourself a set," he said. "I haven't seen you in, oh, it must be a day or so already! How time does fly!" Sarah allowed herself a smile: whether it was his gentle voice or the stove's heat, she felt her personal angst melt and trickle away like snow-melt before a fire. "Now tell your poor old Paw what happened," the Sheriff said in a slow, drawling voice, and Sarah laughed again. The Sheriff looked closely at her face as she laughed, gauging the symmetry of her features, assessing skin tension on either side of the discoloring line of ointment and the dark stripe beneath. She wasn't cut, he thought. Not with a knife anyway. Maybe it's just a welt. I hope it does not scar, but good God! -- that's right across her eye! She could have been blinded on that side! Sarah took a long breath and shifted in her seat, straightening her spine, her hands properly folded in her lap: she began a recitation, as if giving testimony in court, uttering facts and describing events. The Sheriff listened without interruption, leaning forward a little: Sarah knew it was partly out of interest -- he leaned forward when he was interested -- but she also knew his lower back gave him jimmy Cain when he sat too long, and he often bent forward in just such a way to take the bend, and the ache, out of his lower spine. She spoke steadily, quietly; part of her carefully clove feeling and emotion from her words, the rest of her trembled as those sliced-off parts of her experience piled up and she looked at them again, almost as if her body were a great, hollow shell, she was sitting behind her eyes, and before the words passed her lips, another of her selves took a cleaver and slabbed the offending parts off and let them fall, away and hidden in the cavernous expanse below. "I feared our lives were in danger," Sarah said, "so I put three shots through his ribs." She leaned forward, reached around her Papa, pressed hard fingers against the approximate area. "About here. "I swarmed up through the Handsom hatch and took the reins. "A fellow thug tried to seize the mare's bridle but I changed his mind as well." "Where did you nail that one?" the Sheriff asked -- the first he'd spoken since she began her recitation. Sarah's face turned pink and she lowered her eyes. "I missed," she admitted. "Did it work?" the Sheriff asked. "Yes." "Then you did not miss, even if it hit the ground and howled off into the darkness." "Yes, sir." "What followed?" Sarah resumed her narrative; the Sheriff listened closely, nodding occasionally, steepling his fingers together. "We got home well after midnight. Mama was awake and waiting. "Polly was as yet asleep. "We got her abed and retired to the kitchen and had tea, and Mama helped me apply Daciana's herbal to my face." Sarah turned her head a little, displaying her wound to her Papa. "I went back this morning and got another pot of ungent." "Good," the Sheriff nodded. "I gave testimony that night, a sworn statement. I do not know if I will be called for the inquest or not." The Sheriff leaned back, rubbed his face, then twisted his mustache, stroking it out and curling it up again. "My dear," he said quietly, neutrally, "do you know what you have done?' Sarah's walls went up; in the space of a heartbeat she went from a vulnerable girl, laying her memory before her Papa, to a hardened warrior who may have to fight her way to freedom. She felt her heart harden; she was suddenly aware of the several smells: a trace of burnt apple-wood in the air, the smell of the ungent striping her face, of her Papa's mustache-wax and of his shaving-soap; she smelled his boots, recently polished, and she knew if she picked up on these several smells her other senses were keened in the same manner. The Sheriff stood, slowly, walked around back of his chair: he leaned his hands against the back of his chair and lowered his head a little, looking directly at his daughter. "You," he said quietly, his voice filling the room with his authority, "did what you had to do to keep your little sister alive, and to keep your intended alive, and to keep yourself alive." The Sheriff stepped around his chair and took one step toward Sarah, held out his hand. Sarah automatically took his hand and rose. "My dear," the Sheriff said, "you amaze me and you make me so very proud. "You have been handed so many surprises, you have been given so many bombs with a sputtering fuse, and somehow you manage to pluck the fuse or dunk it in a horse trough just in time." The Sheriff shook his head. "I wonder if Mr. Llewellyn knows just how much of a prize he is getting." Sarah ran thumb and forefinger under her collar and tugged at a fine gold chain: she brought a ring into view, held it up: the Sheriff's eyes widened and he ran three fingers behind the ring, holding it out a little: he tilted his head and raised one eyebrow. He brushed at her hair as if to move a wisp from her forehead and she heard sadness in his voice as he said, "I am so very sorry I was not there to see him put this on your finger." Sarah took the Sheriff's hand in both of her own. "You had work to do, Papa. You taught me that. You were Fulfilling your Responsibility." She squeezed his hand, brought it to her lips, kissed his scarred knuckles. "Papa, when I turned fourteen, you promised to walk me down the aisle. "You will get to see him put a ring on my hand." The Sheriff nodded, caressing Sarah's uninjured cheek with the backs of his fingers. "How did this happen so fast?" he murmured. "You were so little then ... I wanted to pick you up and hold you." Sarah hugged her Papa again. "I wish I had been your little girl then," she whispered. "I wish you'd married Mama that day and I wish I had been your little girl." "I could put you in pinafores and make you play with rag dolls and bounce you on my knee if you like," he said teasingly. "Dear Papa!" Sarah laughed, and hugged him all the tighter.
  9. Linn Keller 2-19-13 Sarah considered that Emma Cooper was teaching again, and had been for some days now. She stared at her face in the mirror. Another two days of ointment, she thought, and all will be well. Still ... Emma should know that I am not coming. Sarah dressed quickly, as she always did; her cloak hung from its peg, its generous hood thrown back as she kept it: this morning, though, she drew the hood up, threw it well forward so it hid her face as much as possible. She drew up in front of Jackson and Emma Cooper's house and set the brake on her carriage: skipping up to the back door, she raised her knuckles to knock, then lowered her hand as Jackson Cooper pulled open the door. "Dear heavens," he boomed, "what brings you out here, Sunshine?" Sarah could not raise her eyes higher than his boot tops. "I ... won't be at school today," Sarah said hesitantly, and the Marshal knew from her voice that something was very wrong. "Sarah?" he asked, going to one knee. "Sarah, what's wrong? How can I help?" Sarah closed her eyes, bit her bottom lip: Jackson Cooper could see her bite her lip, and he saw her chin quiver a little, and he held the door wider and said gently, "Please, come on in. It's cold out." Sarah nodded, gathered the front of her skirt and stepped up, and into the back porch. "Why, Sarah!" Emma Cooper exclaimed, sounding for all the world like a pleased grandmother. "How nice that you're here!" Emma looked up at Jackson Cooper's worried expression. "Sarah?" she asked. "Sarah, is ... all well?" Sarah threw her hood back, exposing the angry red line across her face. Jackson Cooper saw Emma's eyes widen in shock: he swung in front of Sarah, looked at her face, and Sarah saw his face harden and the color darken in his cheeks. "Who did this to you?" he asked quietly, his big hands closing, and Sarah knew the man was on the moment more than willing to seize the offending scoundrel and twist his miserable body in two for starters. "I killed him already," she said. "I wanted you to know I won't be in school today ... and this is why." Jackson Cooper went down to one knee again; his big hands were surprisingly gentle as he took her shoulders, turned her to face him. "Sarah," he said, his voice grinding to the surface through a mile-deep hole full of boulders, "is there anything I should know?" Sarah raised a hand and trailed gentle fingers along the man's scarred, clean-shaven cheek, and Jackson Cooper considered that he'd never seen such a sad expression on a girl's face in many long years. "I killed him already," she whispered, "but Polly and Mr. Llewellyn could have been killed." Her expression was bleak as she looked up at Emma Cooper. "I should have seen it," she squeaked. "I should have known. I'm sorry." Sarah hesitated, raised a hand to her face. "Please don't ... say ... I don't want them to see ..." Sarah turned and ran out the back door. Jackson Cooper stood as the back door swung shut; they heard Sarah's carriage rattle down the hard-frozen driveway. Jackson Cooper took Emma Cooper in big, muscled arms, holding her carefully, as if afraid she might break. "Dear God," he murmured, "what happened to that poor girl?" Daciana's response was less gentle. "Cachorra!" she swore, turned her head and spat: she spun, selected a particular curve-bladed knife, tested the edge and nodded: "Cachorra! I cut off!" "It's too late," Sarah said, her voice hollow: "I killed him already." "Good!" Daciana snapped: she drew her arm back, threw the knife: Sarah hadn't noticed the block of wood on the far wall until Daciana's thrown knife drove point-first into it. Daciana looked at Sarah's face and she picked up two more knives, threw them after the first; all three knives quivered in the throwing-block. "Face up. I look." Daciana placed firm fingers under Sarah's chin, pulled her face up: she frowned at the red line, turned Sarah's head to assess the degree of welting, then ran gentle fingers across it at intervals, muttering something Sarah did not understand ... at least not the words ... it was the first time she remembered seeing Daciana genuinely angry. Daciana shook a finger, her mouth opening, then closing: she frowned, found the words she wanted: "Not move you!" she declared; whirling, she almost ran out of the room, coming back in the space of three heartbeats with a small milk-glass jar similar to the one Sarah used the night before. "I used what you gave me," Sarah murmured as Daciana precisely, carefully, drew a line of ointment down Sarah's facial wheal. "Ja, gut," Daciana replied through clenched teeth: she viciously twisted the lid back on the jar, placed it in Sarah's palm, turned again: she disappeared into the kitchen and Sarah heard porcelain being rearranged. "Inkommen mit du!" Daciana snapped, and Sarah, recognizing a summons when she heard one, rose and walked reluctantly into the kitchen. Daciana was sorting through several jars, all of which held something vegetable and dried: she put a double pinch of one into a teacup, a pinch of a second on top of that, added hot water and slid the jars back out of the way. "Sittenzie," she commanded, and Sarah smoothed her skirts and sat. Daciana pulled a chair up very near Sarah and sat, their knees almost touching: Daciana took both Sarah's hands and looked into her eyes with a fierceness that betrayed her feelings. "Who did zis?" she hissed. "I killed him already." "I NOT CARE! I KNOW WITCH! I RAISE HIM AND KILL HIM AGAIN!" Daciana shouted, her face coloring: her hands were tight on Sarah's -- surprisingly so -- and Daciana leaned toward her friend and said, "If you killed, Sarah, who I haff for friendt? Who? You all I got! You no make-a da fun of da way I talk, I ride, I dress! You no make-a da fun of-a da poor circus girl!" It was Sarah's hands that tightened now: her eyes shaded a bit more pale and she said slowly, "Who ... dares ... say this?" Daciana nodded. "I wanta see that. I wanta you mad. You special, you know dat. You see what no one else sees. You ..." Daciana's hand spun as she sought the words she wanted. "Gift. You have-a da gift. You Papa, da Sheriff, he can blow fire, you know?" Sarah blinked, shook her head. "He knows-a things. He knows-a what no man should know. Nobody but-a da women can blow-a da fire anna stop-a da blood wit-a da Word." Sarah shook her head. "I ... don't ... what?" "He blow-a da fire!" Daciana replied angrily. "You burn-a you hand, it hurt. He take-a da hand, he blow-a da hand, he say-a something you can't hear an' da fire it's-a gone!" Sarah turned her head and Daciana knew from her expression this was new information. "Only da woman can say-a da Word an'-a stop'a da blood. Only woman!" Daciana raised a forefinger for emphasis. "He not-a da woman but he can stop-a da blood wit' da Word. "You his blood. You have-a da gift I'm-a think." Sarah shook her head. "I ... I don't ... no, it never --" "You haff more, much more, an' you children they will haff it too!" Daciana jumped up, ran around the table -- the long way around, as if to burn off nervous energy -- and stirred the steeping tea. She balanced cup and saucer carefully, brought it around to Sarah, added a gleaming teaspoon of honey, stirred. "You drink. It heal from inside, I heal from out." Sarah drank the tea. It was good; it tasted -- smelled -- vaguely of clover blossoms. She drank the entire cup. Daciana took her cup, placed it upside down on the saucer, lifted the cup, examined the soggy dregs left on the saucer. She nodded. "I see three children," she murmured. "I see happiness." She looked up at Sarah. "I see a man dead and you grief and you never remarry." "When?" Sarah asked, her eyes pale. "A fire." Her eyes were far away, seeing something not of the here-and-now. "Inside a house. Something fall." "When?" "Years ... many years." Sarah closed her eyes, nodded. "He gave me a ring," Sarah said quietly, drawing the fine gold chain of a necklace from inside her collar. Daciana leaned forward to look at the ring, studied the stone. She looked at Sarah. "I dreamed you wear a crown," she said, tapping the faceted stone with a fingernail. "This ... " She smiled a little. "You wear crown." Sarah nodded, felt the hard lump of the ointment-jar. "Thank you," she whispered, then stood, drawing her hood forward. "I must go." "Sarah," Daciana said as Sarah turned. Daciana drew gentle fingertips down Sarah's unmarked cheek. "You good friend, Sarah," she said softly. "T'ank you." She smiled a little and added, "I know witch. You want I raise chacorra so we keel again? I cut off!" Sarah paced slowly across the apparatus floor. The smell of bacon and eggs, pancakes and coffee enriched the air. The Welsh Irishman came forward at Sean's summons. "Mr. Llewellyn," Sarah said, curtsying: "Miss McKenna," the Welsh Irishman replied with a half-bow. "Mr. Llewellyn, thank you for last night," Sarah said: she was not near enough the kitchen to be clearly seen, and she kept her hood up and her head bowed. "'Twas my honor," he replied gravely. "Mr. Llewellyn, I fear my ointment has stained your suit. I believe we can get the stain out, if I may." Llewellyn brought the suit to the apparatus floor; Sarah stood where she'd been, unmoving, like a draped marble statue in a Medieval cathedral. Sarah reached for the suit, draped it over her forearm, then seized the Welshman's hand. "Promise me something," she whispered. Llewellyn leaned his head down a little, stepping close, his hand cupping her elbow. "Promise me if you're in a burning house, you'll get out before something falls on you!" "If I can," he replied, puzzled. "I am holding you to that, Mr. Llewellyn," Sarah said quietly. "I have no wish to become a young widow!'
  10. Linn Keller 2-19-13 Sarah sat down at the kitchen table with her mother and her fiancee. Sarah wrapped her hands gratefully around the teacup, closing her eyes, feeling its warmth, smelling its fragrant vapors. "We took the train to Denver," Sarah said, "and arrived on time. "I kept Polly primed with pain killer. "I carefully instructed her," she said, opening her eyes and taking a long breath, "I instructed her to spit out after every ... dose." She took another long breath. "Polly slept most of the way. "We hired a cab when we arrived and I gave the driver the address. "I didn't realize for several minutes we weren't going to the dentist's office. "I stuck my head out the window and demanded to know where in Sam's hill he was taking us." Sarah turned to her mother, her eyes big, her finger tracing the diagonal wheal across her face. "He did this to me. "I shot the hat off his head and told him to throw away the whip and he didn't, so I shot him three times and went up through the Handsom hatch and took the reins. "I don't know where he took us, only that there were people who tried to stop us." Bonnie's eyes were big, serious; she listened carefully to her daughter's words. "I steered us back and found a police station." Bonnie looked at the Welsh Irishman. "He kept Polly safe, Mother," Sarah said. "He shielded her with his body. Had the cab been thrown on its side, or had there been return gunfire, Polly would have been safe." Her smile was faint, as was her voice. "He had the harder task, Mother ... he couldn't move, and he knew it, and he stayed with her anyway." Bonnie stood; automatically, the Welsh Irishman came to his feet. Bonnie walked over to the fireman, took both his hands in hers. "Thank you," she whispered, and the Welsh Irishman was not the first man to suddenly feel as if he was willing to lay his beating heart at her feet. They each sat again. Sarah unscrewed the lid from a small porcelain jar, hooked her finger into it: Bonnie smelled something vaguely herbal as Sarah tilted her head back and slowly, carefully, traced the herbal down the welt-line crossing her face. "The detective ... you remember him, Mother, he was the one who gave you flowers -- said the man I killed was a known murderer who used a Handsom cab to take his victims to that unsavory part of town and kill them, rob their bodies, dump their carcasses in open graves or a ditch. "He'd apparently murdered a cabman and took his cab just before the train pulled into station." "If I'd only known," Llewellyn whispered, shaking his head. "You could not have known. I certainly didn't." Llewellyn heard bitterness in Sarah's words. "I should have. I should have seen it. I let my guard down. I was so worried about Polly I trusted." She spat the word as if it were an epithet, her eyes gone pale again: she closed her eyes, took a long breath, opened them again. "Do I have all the welt covered?" she asked her mother, and Bonnie reached for the little porcelain jaw. "No, dear, but almost. Here, let me." Sarah closed her eyes and shivered a little as Bonnie carefully traced a thick layer of the herbal over Sarah's wounded face. "There. That should do it." "Thank you, Mother." Sarah carefully replaced the lid on the jar. "Daciana gave me this. She swears by it. This should not even scar." "Bless her for that," Bonnie murmured. "The detective whistled up a police-carriage for us and drove us to the dentist." Sarah laid a small cloth-wrapped item on the table, unrolled it: it was the offending tooth, complete with the little dark spot that marked its cavity. Bonnie made a little sound of disgust and Sarah rolled it back up. "It came out completely. The root is intact. He packed her jaw with ... whatever it is" -- Sarah closed her eyes, thrust the wrapped tooth back into a pocket, then picked up her tea and took a long drink. "I had to make report at the police-station, of course." "Of course," Bonnie murmured. "Afterward we ... came home." Sarah leaned her head on her knuckles, then laid her head on folded arms on the kitchen table. Her voice was muffled by folded arms. "Why didn't I see it?" she hissed, then raised her head. "Mr. Llewellyn," she said, "you see me as I am. I failed. I did not consider a possibility and you and my sister nearly died because of it." "We live because you reacted to it," he countered. Sarah shook his head. "I should have --" "Should have what?" Llewellyn interrupted. "Pulled out a crystal ball? Scattered chicken entrails? Miss McKenna, have you ever fought fire?" "Have I --" Sarah blinked, surprised. "N-no." "A fire cannot be predicted," Llewellyn said, his voice low, urgent. "It can eat the floor out from underfoot wi'out lookin' like i'. It can load up a room wi' smoke an' detonate like a firebomb when a winda breaks an' i' takes a big suck 'a' air. I ha'e said th' same thing you are sayin' -- word f'r word, "I should ha'e seen it, I should ha'e known it" -- he stood, fingertips on the table top, his face lined with hard memories, memories raised like ghosts from a rocky grave by his words -- "but Miss McKenna, I couldna'! I had no' a crystal ball neither an' th' only thing I could do was react!" Llewellyn strode around Bonnie's chair, resting his hand momentarily on the woman's shoulder, and he knelt beside Sarah, pulled her hand from the tabletop, wrapped it in his. "Sarah, my dear, ye did th' best ye could wi' wha' ye had. I did my part an' you did yours an' we live t' tell th' tale." His hands were tight on hers. "We live, Sarah. We live. Because of you." His voice was reduced to a hiss, a whisper: urgency made his words plain, fervor made them audible. Sarah turned her head to look at him, tears brimming her eyelids, her bottom lip trembling: she leaned into the Welsh Irishman and each embraced the other. Bonnie caught a glimpse, just a glimpse of her daughter's face, twisted, tortured with the knowledge of what could have happened, just before Sarah buried her face in the Welsh Irishman's suit to muffle the sound of her grief.
  11. Linn Keller 2-18-13 Polly drowsed beside Sarah, leaning against the warm reassurance of her big sister. On occasion she would stir, and whimper a little, and Sarah would prime her with another sip of liquid lightning, enough to put the pain to sleep for a while. Polly was absorbing alcohol directly through her oral mucosa; she did not have to swallow it, to get a good load in her system ... to the point that, when they arrived in Denver shortly before midnight, Polly had to be carried. Llewellyn wrapped the child in her cloak and picked her up, carried her easily: Sarah led the way, hailed a cab -- though the hour was late, a hack could still be had -- she spoke an address, and the driver nodded. Sarah frowned as the cab lurched a little; her attention was on her little sister, but something in the back of her mind made her restless, discontented. When she looked out the window she blinked: the driver was not going where she'd directed. Sarah surged to her feet, thrust head and shoulders out the window. "HEY UP THERE!" she shouted. "WHERE IN THE HELL ARE YOU GOING?" The driver's whip sizzled through the air, seared across Sarah's face. Sarah thrust a hand under her cloak, came up with a revolver: her eyes were ice-pale and she fired one shot, punching a hole through the driver's plug hat. "YOU THIEVING STREET APACHE, THROW THAT WHIP AWAY BEFORE I KILL YOU!" The driver did not throw the whip: he swung it hard against his nag's backside. Sarah fired, three times, driving a trio of .44 caliber slugs through the driver's ribs: his criminal career ended with a bad case of lead poisoning. Sarah pulled back in, holstered her pistol with a savage thrust, and fumbled at the ceiling: finding the latch, she snarled, twisted and pushed: the hatch flew open and she seized the edges of the hatch, kicking hard against the floor. The Welsh Irishman had Polly cradled in his arms, twisted away from the thunderous concussions: he turned in time to see Sarah's feet sail upward, heard her scramble atop the cab, felt the panicked nag slow: Sarah stood up in the driver's seat, bringing the mare about, swinging her back along their former path. A figure ran out from an alley, clawing at the mare, and Sarah drew the bulldog .44 again: a single shot sent the dacoit scampering and bleating back into the darkness, and Sarah gave the mare her head, intent on leaving whatever cesspit of crime and depravity this scoundrel of a driver was intent on taking them. She was lost -- utterly, completely lost -- and drove in as much of a straight line as she could, whispering as she went: "Dear God, I got me into this, kindly get me out of it!" -- and she thought of her little sister, unconscious in her fiancee's arms, feeling the terrible weight of consequence pressing on her young shoulders. She saw lights ahead -- twin round lights -- and she whispered, "Thank You!" Sarah drew the mare to a stop in front of the police-station; the lights she saw were round, milk-glass spheres with POLICE painted on the front. Sarah put two fingers to her lips and whistled, loud, shrill, commanding: a window opened and a policeman thrust head and shoulders out: "What's that, what's that now?" "GET YOUR BLUE COATED BUTT DOWN HERE AND BRING THE REST OF YOU WITH IT!" Sarah shouted, her voice rough. "THIS THIEVING SPALPEEN JUST TRIED TO KILL US!" Seconds later two men came running out of the station house: one was in the typical blue uniform and flat cap, the other in a suit, half-buttoned, his shirt tail showing from under his coat tail. He stopped, surprised, one hand holding his brown Homburg against his neatly combed hair. "By the Lord Harry! Agent Rosenthal!" he exclaimed. "What happened?" "I'm taking my sister to the doctor and the driver here decided to take us to the graveyard instead!" Sarah snapped. "I'm quite sure he's dead but you might want to check!" "Mitchell! Harris! On the double!" the detective bawled: blue-coated men were soon climbing the cab, hauling the driver's exanimate clay to the ground. "Detective, I need your help," Sarah said -- her voice was frank, matter-of-fact, the voice of an agent on a case. "Yes, Miss -- I mean Agent!" "I'm lost. I need a native guide." "Then I am your man!" "Mind the seat, it's all bloody." "Spencer! A towel! Two towels, good God, it's like a slaughterhouse here!" The detective curled his lip. "We'll take a carriage. Mitchell! A carriage!" "Aye, sir!" came the shouted reply; running feet faded, and less than a minute later, a black brougham drawn by a magnificent black mare came rattling up. The detective reached up to help Sarah down; he opened the door, nodded to the Welshman holding the little girl. The detective did not miss the fact that Sarah's cloak and the child's were identical, save for their size. "This way, sir," the detective said crisply. "Mind your step, now." The detective held Polly while the Welsh Irishman climbed into the brougham; handing the child up, he looked at Sarah, who primed her sister with another sip of something from a silver flask. "One more, sweets, one more is all we need," Sarah murmured. The detective climbed into the driver's seat, picked up the reins. "Whither away, Captain?" One of the uniformed men ran up with a red lantern, hung it on the off dash-board, marking the carriage as having the right-of-way: the detective flipped the reins, whistled, and the mare was soon at a spanking trot down the nearly-deserted city street. "Sarah was so much the lady," Annette said, brushing out her thick, wavy hair: she wore her flannel nightgown and a smile, and Jacob nodded, looking out the window. "I know," he said quietly, his voice muffled a little, his breath fogging the window glass. "She was beautiful, and genteel, and you're right ... a lady." Sarah's eyes were pale and hard, her lips drawn back in a snarl: she knocked the Welsh Irishman's hand away as he reached for her. The whip-weal stood out, red and angry, diagonally across her face. "You're hurt," Llewellyn said quietly. Sarah's head tilted down slightly, ever so slightly, as if to watch the driver's black soul descend toward the Inferno, and the Welshman saw the set of her white teeth, clenched against more pain than just her lashed face. You must be patient, Bonnie told him after their Sunday dinner, when he sought her counsel, and Llewellyn knew he was seeing a part of his intended, that he'd never suspected existed. The detective spoke to the mare, drew her to a halt: they were in front of an office, with a light on upstairs: Sarah thrust open the door, leaped from the carriage, stomped up the sidewalk and seized the bell-pull: she hauled twice, then hammered on the door with the butt of her pistol, three hard blows. Only then did she think to reload. The detective held the door as Llewellyn stepped out of the carriage: both men were careful not to block the red lantern's glow: they saw a light moving within, hesitate behind the door: they saw the door open a little. Sarah was inserting fresh rounds into her Bulldog. "I need your help," she said, and raised her face, and the dentist raised his lantern, his eyes widening as he saw the angry, red and nearly bloody slash across the pretty young woman's face. "Dear God!" he exclaimed, "what happened?" "It's my sister," Sarah said. "I believe she has enough anesthetic. She has a bad tooth." The dentist looked more closely, his mouth opening in amazement. "Dear Lord," he whispered. "It's you!" "You said if I ever needed your help I should ask," Sarah replied. "I'm asking." The detective waited outside, with his mare: chances of a police carriage being stolen were quite slim, but he did not wish to take the chance. The consequences ... the chaffing he would receive, the kidding for a number of years about being the only detective whose carriage was stolen ... well, it was something he'd rather not live with, and so he loafed outside while the dentist took care of matters inside. "Do you suppose Sarah will do well as ... a lady of leisure?" Annette hazarded. Jacob laughed. "She'll be as comfortable as a witch at a Puritan picnic," Jacob said gloomily, then laughed: like his father, he could keep a straight face only so long. "Oh, I reckon she'll get used to a life of leisure and boredom." Sarah tilted Polly's head back, drawing the purple headed hatpin from her hair: the dentist arranged the light to shine into the little girl's mouth, and Sarah reached in, hesitating, then gently tapped the offending tooth. Polly flinched, grunted; she was still almost flaccid. "I don't know what you gave her," the dentist murmured, "but it should be ... let me see ..." He opened a drawer, touched an extractor, frowned, picked up a smaller one. "This one," he said, nodding. "Agent Rosenthal, please hold her head." He reached into the little girl's mouth. Llewellyn watched with horrified fascination; he turned his head, but he could not turn his ears away: Polly did not scream, but the sound of her protest seized the Welsh Irishman's stomach, and he turned cold and shivered a little. The dentist examined the tooth, turning it a little and nodding his satisfaction. "It's all here," he said. "No broken root." He busied himself packing the wound; the Welsh Irishman's nose wrinkled at the familiar smell -- he'd had teeth pulled, without benefit of being quite drunk at the time -- but when he turned back, Sarah was wiping her sister's face and mouth. "How much do I owe you?" Sarah asked. The dentist shook his head. "A promise is a promise," he said. "I told you if you ever needed help, to let me know." Sarah laid a double eagle on the side table: it was more than overpayment -- it was way more than overpayment -- but she gave the dentist a long look and nodded, once. "That works both ways," she said softly. "This is my little sister." "Salt water rinse four times daily and after meals. Liquids only for twenty-four hours, very soft foods for five days. If the socket infects, bring her back." He looked at the double eagle. "You saved my life that night," he said quietly. Sarah raised an eyebrow, smiled a little. "I'm glad I did," she said frankly. "We've only got one of you." The detective looked up as Sarah and the Welsh Irishman came back down the walkway. Polly lay motionless in the Welsh Irishman's arms. "I suppose I shall have to write out a report," Sarah said. The detective smiled a little and lifted his Homburg. "I believe," he said, "it would be appreciated." Sarah looked at the Welsh Irishman. "It's going to be a long night." The Sergeant and the detective watched the brougham depart, and with it, Agent Rosenthal, an unknown man in a good suit and a sleeping little girl. "Good God," the Sergeant breathed. "Did you see the welt across her face? It's a wonder it didn't put her eye out!" "It's a wonder they're alive to tell the tale," the detective murmured. "I knew that murdering scoundrel was back in town but I didn't know he was going to kill a cabman to pick up where he'd left off." "Good riddance, say I! We've lost enough good folk to that murdering scoundrel!" The two men looked around, peering into the nighttime darkness, then shivered and withdrew into the police station. Bonnie was yet awake when the carriage drew up in front of the house. It was late -- far later than Sarah had estimated -- but when Bonnie saw the trace of blood at the corner of Polly's mouth, and how her little face was swollen on the one side, and when she saw Sarah's drawn, pale face and hard, pale eyes, and when she saw the red welt laid across her daughter's face -- "Sarah," Bonnie said quietly, her voice hard, "who did this to you?" "Don't worry, Mother," Sarah said, her voice tired. "Mr. Llewellyn kept Polly safe." Bonnie seized Sarah's upper arm. "Sarah," she whispered hoarsely. Sarah stopped, cold eyes boring into her Mama's, then she smiled, the humorless smile of a corpse, her lips drawn back to expose her teeth in a rictus more than a smile. "I killed him, Mother," Sarah said. "It's what I do."
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