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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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Everything posted by Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

  1. I don’t care who ya are, that there’s funny!
  2. Linn Keller 12-12-10 Sarah was standing in shortened stirrups, knees bent, leaning out over her late Papa's race horse's neck, the brim of her hat turned up in front and the wind of her passing cold on her cheeks. Sarah had never overworked the chestnut: she knew the thin air was hard on horses from back East or from the low lands beyond, and she'd patiently increased the big mount's capabilities, until today when to their mutual delight, they galloped together across the high meadow, not so much a horse and rider as one magical creature, riding the wind itself. Sarah wore the canvas britches that caused her Uncle such dismay, and found them to her liking: "For all things there is a season," Parson Belden had said in a sermon one time, and Sarah seized upon that as justification: it was her season to ride as she loved to ride, and somehow she could not be as free with her skills when wearing the skirts of a lady. Even the divided skirts of a riding dress. Sarah and the chestnut drew up on a knoll, looked out over Firelands: it was maybe two miles distant, yet clearly seen in the crystal air: the chestnut was restless, anxious to run more, but Sarah patted the mare's neck and spoke to her and told her she was a good girl, we were going to walk for a little bit. The mare was not content walking and they compromised on a slow trot, back toward town. This lasted maybe fifteen minutes. The Sheriff looked up at the sound of approaching hoofbeats: he could tell from the sound the horse was galloping, but galloping easy, not being pushed, and not fatigued. He patted his own mare's neck and she thrust her nose against his ribs, begging for attention, and he chuckled and petted her velvety nose. "You bum," he said affectionately, and she lipped a few shavings of plug tobacco from his hand. "Uncle Linn!" The joyful shout carried well in the chill air. The Sheriff turned as Sarah drew up, throwing the mare's reins over her head and vaulting out of the saddle: she ran two steps and threw herself at the Sheriff, laughing, and the two embraced, though in fairness the Sheriff was obliged to take a step back and turn half-around to keep the pair of them from going over the hitch rail. The Sheriff could not help but laugh, and he felt Sarah, solid and so very alive in his arms, and she drew back a little to look at her Uncle. Her eyes were bright, shining, her teeth white and even: her complexion was flushed, wind-kissed and healthy, and wisps of hair peeped out from under the hat where she'd piled and hidden it. Sarah pulled off her hat and shook her head, her hair falling down her back: she replaced the Stetson, tightened the storm strap. "Uncle Linn, she's a jumper!" she exclaimed, throwing an arm at the chestnut. The Sheriff nodded. "I'd heard you cleared the fence back at your place," he said, approval in his voice and a smile drawing up his face. "You should have seen us!" Sarah said in a rush, obviously excited at the memory: "We came up on that gully wash behind the Michael cabin, the one that burnt down two years ago, and I forgot it was there and she just gathered herself and we flew over!" She described a diver's thrust with her arms, as if leaping off a tall rock into the waters below, and her voice lifted a little as she enunciated "flew" ... he saw her pupils dilate a little with the memory, and he knew the feeling she had in her belly as she remembered, for he knew what it was to run a good horse, and to jump a good horse. He understood what it was to be young, but he was not young anymore: with age comes many things, and his was a protective nature. "Sarah," he said softly, and she felt his fingertips under her chin. Sarah turned her face up to her uncle. Mein Gott, she's becoming a beauty! he thought, and wondered for a moment whether he should take to sleeping in a rocking chair on Bonnie's front porch with a double gun across his lap, just to keep marriageable men at bay! -- but just as quickly, the thought was gone, and he realized he was just a greying old granddad with a great affection for this young and lively niece before him. Sarah blinked at his touch, suddenly uncertain, at least until she heard her Uncle's voice. "Dear heart," he said, "be careful when you jump." He brushed the curve of her glowing cheek with the back of his finger. "Sarah, in all of creation, in all of eternity, there is only one of you." Sarah nodded, eyes big, listening. "You are unique and you are special and you cannot be replaced." The Sheriff smiled sadly. "But then I'm just an old softy, eh?" Sarah blinked and hugged her old softy uncle again, and he hugged her back and laughed a little. "You're still out at Charlie and Fannie's?" She nodded: he felt her head move, still pressed against his front. "They'll teach you right, dear heart." Sarah nodded again, the rasping of her sandwiched hair loud in her ear. "Sarah." The Sheriff's arms loosened, and he held her shoulders lightly, carefully, drawing her away from him a little so he could look into her eyes again. "Yes, Uncle Linn?" The greying old lawman blinked a couple times and swallowed hard. "I am very proud of you, Sarah," he said, and Sarah heard something funny in his voice. It was her turn to swallow hard. Tears stung her eyes and she didn't know why and it made her angry: she dashed them viciously from her with hard thrusts of her knuckles. More replaced them, hotter, wetter, and she felt her face start to screw up the way it did when ... when ... Sarah realized she was about to cry. "I wish you'd been my Papa!" she said brokenly, and the Sheriff knew a dam had just broken, and he did the best thing an uncle could do in that moment. He held his girl and let her muffle her grief in his shirt front. Sarah had held in all the conflict and all the resentment, all the loss and all the fear, everything that she'd kept hid from the first time her Papa came staggering home drunk and smelling of cheap perfume and conquest, from the first time he'd cursed her and thrown a glass at her, the first time he'd backhanded her and then fell over, too drunk to stand: she'd held in all the confusion and loss and misery from knowing her Mama was hurt, and her Papa, bad though he was, killed: her Mama refused to grieve, and so Sarah refused as well, but she did not realize strong feelings, bottled up, will ferment and eventually will break free, for good or for not. Sarah did not know these things, at least not with her conscious, thinking mind. She did know that as long as Uncle Linn held her, she was safe, safe as if she were in a loving Papa's arms. Sarah, a strong young woman, needed to be a young girl again, a young girl who could cry out her fear and her grief and cry for the Papa that used to be. Uncle Linn knew what it was to be blindsided by the rogue wave of unresolved grief. A loving uncle held his sorrowing niece on a sunny street, held her while she cried herself out.
  3. Linn Keller 12-11-10 Brown bit happily into another warm light roll. "You don't get these over'n Cripple," he mumbled through a mouthful. "No, reckon not," Tom Landers agreed, the corners of his eyes crinkling along old and well-established wrinkle lines. "Phmp," Brown grunted as he gulped some coffee and washed down his current mouthful while buttering what was left of the roll. "Yer manners are as delicate as ever," Tom observed dryly. Brown laughed, the easy laugh of someone more than familiar with his dinner partner. "Never did tell me what you're doin' out this-a-way." "Me?" Brown chewed the last of the sweet roll and picked up his fork, happily regarding the taters and gravy steaming fragrantly in front of him. He scooped up some taters, sloshed it through the gravy and leaned forward a little, shoveling the tinesful of cargo into his mouth, savoring the taste as he swallowed, slowly, slowly. Brown looked left, looked right, then leaned toward Tom, speaking in low voice, as if divulging a State secret. "I'm lookin' for a wife," he confided with a wink and a nod. "A wife," Tom repeated skeptically. "Yep." Brown nodded rapidly. "I got me a notion to marry me some nice lookin' widda-woman." "Mmm-hmm," Tom said quietly, leaning back and crossing his arms skeptically. "I thought they was one over t'other side o' Cripple," Brown said in a disappointed tone. "I'd heard she was a widda anyhow but 'tain't the case." He frowned sadly. "Right shame, too. She plays fiddle real nice." "Fiddle?" Tom Landers' ears twitched. "Oh, ya." Brown sliced off a chunk of beef and chewed happily. Once he had enough room to talk he continued. "She's crippled up or so I heered, layin' in bed healin' up an' all. I reckon she gets tired of just bein' in that-there room. Fell of a horse or somethin' an' broke her leg pretty bad or so I been told. They daggone near t' sawed it off when they saw how bad 'twas. Turns out she ain't no widda woman but ever' aft'noon, set yer watch by't, she'll have someone throw open attair winda an' she'll play violin." Brown's eyes grew distant, softer with the memory. "Tom, you would not believe it less'n you seen it. Miners -- hard rock miners, hard knuckle brawlers, men that would ruther get drunk an' fight than annythin' ... why, they'll gather under attair winda, all silent-like, an' they'll stand there an' listen to that poor woman play." Tom Landers nodded, silent. Brown blinked, looking at the memory, fork forgotten in his hand. "It's somethin'," he said softly. "She always ends up playin' Shenandoah. Ever' time." He blinked and returned to the here and now. "And y'know somethin'?" He leaned over toward Tom again. "Them-there hard men generally has to wipe their eyes, 'specially when she plays Shenandoah. Hard men, Tom! Hard men, water runnin' outta their eyes for t' listen to it!" Brown stabbed his beef, sliced off a chunk with vicious thrusts of the knife. "I would never," he mumbled around a fresh mouthful, "I'd never ha' believed it had I not stood there with 'em an' listened." Tom Landers nodded. "Well, if she ain't a widda, where d'ye figure to find one?" Bonnie had come into the Jewel through the back door so she could stop and talk with Daisy: she knew the woman had suffered a loss here of late and had no chance, with her own difficulties, to express her sentiments: the two spoke briefly, Bonnie laughing quietly as Daisy described the antics of her men. Bonnie made it into the Jewel proper just in time to hear a stranger at a table state that he had his hat set on "that Widow Rosenthal," and she stopped for a moment. Tom Landers looked at her and winked, and she winked back, then proceeded to a table not far away. Tea and a light lunch arrived momentarily, and as Bonnie ate delicately and sipped daintily, she listened as this stranger built castles in the air, allowing as he intended to just plainly charm his way into the new widow's heart and sweep her off her feet. "Now," the man said to Tom, "I ain't seen no women aroun' here in widow's weeds. Where do you rekcon I might find this Rosenthal widow?" Bonnie smiled into her teacup, then on impulse stood. "Perhaps I might be of assistance," she said pleasantly. Brown stood abruptly; Tom Landers rose a bit more slowly. "You're asking about the ..." Bonnie paused. "About the Widow Rosenthal." "Yes, ma'am," the stranger said eagerly, thrusting out his hand. "Name's Brown!" "Bonnie McKenna," she replied, taking his hand. "Where might I find this poor soul?" he asked, his expression so sincere and so open that Bonnie had difficulty keeping as much of a poker face as she could. "Mr. Brown," she began, and she felt her ears redden: "Mr. Brown, you know these widows. Mr. Rosenthal was taken back to Chicago to be interred with his family, and it's very likely that she rode beside the coffin, grieving every foot of the way." Brown affected a dolorous expression and nodded knowingly. "Yes, ma'am, that's likely so," he agreed. "Then there would be visitation, services, interrment ... she might be staying with family back East," Bonnie added with an absolutely big-eyed and innocent expression. "Of course, for the first year, a decent woman wouldn't be seeing any ..." She hesitated. "You understand. for the first year of mourning." "Oh, yes ma'am, yes ma'am," Brown agreed, his expression changing to that of a man disappointed. He looked down at the table, then back up. "So she ain't here?" Bonnie turned, looking toward the bar and the front door, and saw Daisy leaning against the corner, arms folded, a knowing smile on her lips: Bonnie turned and looked right, then back to Mr. Brown. "No, Mr. Brown, I'm sorry, I don't see any women in mourning here." Mr. Brown sighed, looking like a deflating balloon. "Well darn," he said quietly, then rallied. "Ma'am, I do thank you." "Where will you go now, Mr. Brown?" Bonnie asked, and Tom Landers listened carefully, for a man who might be reluctant to speak to another man, will often spill his guts for an attractive woman. "Oh, reckon I'll head back down Kansas way," Brown said. "I used to push cattle down yonder." He chuckled. "On t'other hand, might go back to Alabama. Got a brother down there an' he says winter ain't near so bad there." Bonnie dropped a curtsy and turned: she had to get away from the table, get away from Brown, get out of the public eye: Daisy took her upper arm and thrust a dishtowel in the woman's hands. "You're a wicked, wicked woman," Daisy whispered as she hustled Bonnie down the hallway. Bonnie crushed the towel quickly into a ball and pressed it against her mouth, desperate to stifle the giggles that were shouldering their way past her wards. The two women went out the back door and fell into one another's arms, laughing. "Ye're a wicked woman," Daisy repeated, her hands on Bonnie's shoulders, "but I'm proud o' ye!" and the two were off again. As a matter of fact it was several long minutes before they got themselves under some semblance of a decorous demeanor.
  4. Linn Keller 12-10-10 About half way through his beer, he set the bottom of the mug on his right thigh. The lad working on his boots was setting up a regular rhythm. It felt kind of good. It was warm within, and his belly was happy to get something in it, and in spite of not having eaten yet, he began to relax. When a man's fist is upright and he relaxes, it rotates inward, and his did. His was also wrapped around the handle of that beer mug. Tom Landers saw the man's eyes drift shut and his head tilted forward very slightly, then he saw the mug begin to rotate. The fellow woke when he felt the mug twitch in his hand. He opened his eyes. Tom Landers was leaned over the lad and had the mug in his grip, keeping it from dumping its remaining contents right in the fellow's lap. They looked at one another for a long moment. "Hello, Tom," the fellow said agreeably, the ghost of a smile in his eyes. "Hello, Brown," Tom said. "What brings you here?"
  5. Linn Keller 12-9-10 Bonnie drew her hem delicately upward and stepped carefully as she walked into the barn. She knew what she was looking for and quickly found it. She had thought about this for quite some time, and she had examined herself closely, scrutinizing her soul as she would a bolt of cloth before undertaking an important commission. Her eyes fell on the stump that served as a small workbench, anvil and pounding block, and above it, hung from two pegs, the maul. She reached up and plucked the maul from its woody home. Bonnie hefted it, nodding; she turned, swinging her skirt behind her to get the stump between her and the door. She'd left the double doors open to admit as much light as possible, for she wished to see what she was doing. Bonnie placed the maul on the stump, then lay a small, cloth wrapped bundle beside the maul. On impulse she unwrapped it. Her jaw muscles tightened and her lips pressed together as she saw the monogram in the corner of the handkerchief: CR, it read, embroidered in a fine, looping script: Bonnie had sewn those very initials in her husband's kerchief, as a matter of fact, the night before she learned about that ... that tart, that trollop with whom he'd been consorting. She opened the spotless white kerchief fully, exposing the ornate glass bottle. It had been a gift, given her the morning after her husband's death: a lacrymatory, a testament to the glass-blower's art; even the rubber-lined stopper was beautiful, and gleamed in the indirect light. A widow would catch the tears of her mourning in the lacrymatory, and one year later, would pour them out on the grave of the loved one, to signify the year of mourning had ended. Bonnie picked the bottle up, turned it slowly. It gleamed as she turned it, rainbows sparkling in the twisting prism that spiraled around its length. The bottle was empty. Bonnie had thought long and hard after her encounter in the Mercantile. She considered her motive in refusing to wear widow's weeds. Her chin came up and hard eyes shone with defiance. "I will not mourn that man," she hissed, and lay the tear-bottle in the center of the kerchief. Bonnie folded the kerchief, carefully, precisely, the last fold turned back to exposed the embroidered initials. She picked up the square-headed maul. It had been made from Osage orange root: the twisted, tortured grain was so convoluted that when it cracked and split from drying out, and from pounding, it would not fall apart: this was not yet dried nor pounded, and was like swinging a small block of iron. Bonnie looked at the initials on the kerchief, raised the maul overhead. Her knees bent a little with the effort of her swing: she fully intended to drive the maul at least halfway through the stump. All the grief, all the loss, all the anger, all the betrayal, all the fury, all was focused in this woman's two-handed swing. The sound of the tear-bottle's crushing was lost with the slam of wood maul into smoothed stump. One mighty blow was all she needed; one mighty blow destroyed any grief she may have had. The kerchief was soiled now, stained with dirt from the maul, and from the stump, and the cloth was lacerated from the impact and from the crushed glass it held. Bonnie picked it up and carried it outside, holding it between thumb and forefinger, at arm's length, as if it were diseased, or unclean. She carried it into the house. She used her apron as insulation and opened the door of the stove. She tossed the refuse within, and closed the door.
  6. Linn Keller 12-9-10 Mr. Baxter was a pretty fair judge of character, as was Tom Landers: both studied the stranger as he sauntered into the saloon. Tom Landers did his best to look inconspicuous, leaning against the bar, a mug beside him and the dregs of a beer foamed in the bottom: he looked almost drowsy, a most deceptive appearance to be sure, and though not fooled, the stranger held his counsel. Mr. Baxter buffed the gleaming mahogany with industrious strokes of his ever present bar towel. "What'll it be, stranger?" he asked, perpetual good humor showing in his eyes, and the stranger's expression showed a similar good nature. "Beer," he said quietly, "and a bite. What's good?" Mr. Baxter chuckled. "That's the trouble, friend," he said, patting his middle affectionately -- none could say it was protuberant, portly or paunched, for though he took care of the Silver Jewel's thirsty customers, he was no stranger to honest labor, and odd moments had found him tending other duties out and about. With a hand rubbing his middle he said "If it comes out of Daisy's kitchen it's good!" and the stranger nodded, accepting the beer: "That's good enough for me," he said. Taking a long, savoring drink of beer, he swallowed slowly, feeling the cellar-cooled beverage sparkle all the way down, until it sloshed contentedly around the bottom of his belly, somewhere ten foot or so below his boot soles or so it felt. "Reckon I'll have the special, then," he said, and looked at the high chair with the foot rests. "You got a boy that does boots?" Mr. Baxter chuckled. "We've had that young fellow for some time now." He resumed his polishing, looking off to the right, toward the Jewel's desk. "I believe he's in school right now --" As if magicked from a rubbed lamp, a grinning lad appeared, wood box in his left hand and a brush in his right. "I thought you had school today," Mr. Baxter said, frowning a little, and got a big boyish grin in return. "I seen a stranger come up the street," he said in his little-boy's voice, "and thought he might like a bath and if he wanted a bath he'd want his boots blacked an' maybe he'd want a new suit an' Maude just might have his size an' he'll want a meal an' while he's waitin' I can make a nickle!" he said, all in a rush, and the stranger and Mr. Baxter exchanged a look. "Well now," Mr. Baxter said, and the stranger chuckled. "Do you reckon the kitchen could hold off that meal until this young fellow and I transact business?" the stranger asked. "Oh, I'll see what I can do," Mr. Baxter drawled in a fair imitation of a peevish old man, and both laughed. He gestured with his bar towel. "There's a shelf on yun side of that chair for your beer." "Obliged." He took another sip, sauntered over to the chair. "Y'know, son," he said as he settled himself in the chair and set his hooves on the cast iron foot plates, "it's been a while since I had a good polish on these boots." "Oh, don't worry, mister," the lad grinned. "I'll do ye a good job!" The stranger leaned back and he felt tension, an old and long standing tension, start to unwind from around his belly. Something told him he was safe here. He hadn't felt this in a very long time.
  7. Linn Keller 12-8-10 Mrs. Trout's description of the event was accompanied by a high and screeching voice, grand gestures, a kerchief that trailed her flying hand: the Sheriff considered it a good thing that the firehouse cur had been returned to his own bailiwick, for the woman's voice would surelyl have brought the poor dog to its haunches with muzzle in the air, howling. After another minute of listening to the old woman's histrionics, the Sheriff felt rather like throwing his head back and howling himself. "Mrs. Trout," he said mildly, to which the woman paid absolutely no attention. "And that deputy!" She stopped for breath, shaking her head and setting the wattle under her chin a-wobbling -- "that deputy as much as threatened to hit me! He is a public servant! A public servant!" One bony, crooked finger described a corkscrew toward the ceiling. "I will not stand for this, I won't! I want you to do something!" "Now why is it," the Sheriff said quietly into her huffing lull, "that you expect me to read your mind, Mrs. Trout?" The old spinster's eyes widened, then narrowed and she opened her mouth to reply: the Sheriff was across the room and had her by the elbow with one hand, reached for the door with the other. "Mrs. Trout, leave this matter to me," he said reassuringly, and opened the door. Mrs. Trout found herself on the boardwalk, wondering quite how she got there, for she had gathered a good lungful of air to blast the Sheriff with another lengthy diatribe of spiteful invective: blinking, she shrugged her shawl more tightly across her shoulders and glared up the street, toward the Mercantile. "Hmph!" she sniffed, hoisting her nose and turning her back: she marched with resolute step down the boardwalk, but with her nose in the air she failed to note that she had come to the end of the walk, and rather than descending the steps in some semblance of order, she ended up in a rather undignified posture in the alleyway instead. A boot appeared in front of her face. At one time it had been a new and well-tended boot, and indeed there were traces of polished leather left on it: time, dust, abrasion and weather had taken their toll, leaving only the substantial structure for the most part, and only those traces of a fine finish. The owner of the boot squatted down and brushed the old woman's hair gently aside. "Ma'am," the boot's owner said, and his voice was not entirely unpleasant, "may I help you up?"
  8. Linn Keller 12-7-10 Maude saw Jacob coming down the street, and smiled to herself. There is something about a handsome young man sitting tall in the saddle, riding a fine stallion, with the morning sun glowing as it touched him: Apple-horse fairly shone, and Jacob's cheeks were bright red. The cold, she presumed. Mrs. Trout muttered darkly as she stacked several cans of fruit on the counter: she was not gentle, and Maude wondered which can would shatter the thick glass top. None did, but it seemed not for want of trying. "Your prices are too high," the peevish old woman complained, then shook a can of tomatoes at Maude with a scowl. "And another thing," she said loudly, "that Rosenthal woman should be ashamed of herself!" Maude's eyes flicked to the front door. Bonnie Rosenthal -- or, rather, Bonnie McKenna -- had just come in the door. She froze when she heard Mrs. Trout's declaration, then she turned and closed the door behind her quietly, carefully. Maude tasted copper and knew that something unpleasant was about to transpire. Maude looked at Mrs. Trout, who was still shaking the can at her, almost in her face, and Maude decided that whatever Mrs. Trout was about to inherit, was of her own making, and the old bat could very well reap the harvest she was so enthusiastically sowing. "Now one day of mourning! Not one!" Mrs. Trout snapped. "Why, a decent woman would not show her face in public for a month, and then only in black! And that daughter of hers! Murderess!" She shuddered. "Why she wasn't hanged with those other murderers is beyond me!" "Mrs. Trout!" Bonnie snapped, her voice icy, cold: the chill vapors nearly formed a mist-cloud at her lips, and her eyes were hard as polished agate. Mrs. Trout froze in mid-scowl, then turned and opened her mouth as if to say something hypocritcally sweet, as was the old gossip's habit in such moments. She never had the chance. Bonnie Rosenthal was a genteel woman. Bonnie Rosenthal was a woman of gentle upbringing and cultured demeanor. Bonnie Rosenthal also had her good right hand drawn back just past her left shoulder, and uncoiled a backhand slap that staggered the gossip to her high button heels. Cans clattered to the floor and Mrs. Trout, gossip and troublemaker, put a trembling hand to her wounded cheek. She looked at Bonnie with eyes like boiled eggs, then her eyes narrowed and her lip curled as she prepared to hiss some verbal venom. She never had a chance at this either. Bonnie was not a fencer; she was, however, a dancer, and rather a good one: the movement of her arm was fluid, continuous; the backhand came around into a forehand, and Mrs. Trout's other cheek received the benefit of Bonnie's palm, swung almost as hard as she could. Bonnie was not done. Bonnie was also not herself. There is that about a woman that will respond with anger when wronged, but there is a fierce and abiding anger about a mother whose daughter has just been wronged. Bonnie McKenna seized Mrs. Trout about the throat and lifted her to her tip-toes, drawing her closer and looking down her nose at the old woman's bulging eyes and reddening face. "Hear me, witch," she hissed, and Maude had never in all her years in Firelands heard Bonnie speak to anyone in any but a pleasant and ladylike tone -- "I parade not my grief for your entertainment." Her fingers bent and she pressed them, clawlike, into the old woman's windpipe. "As for my daughter," she continued, lowering her head and bringing her nose an inch from Mrs. Trout's beak, "if you ever lay your tongue to her name I shall finish ripping your throat from its poisoned roots." She relaxed her grip, as the woman's complexion was becoming somewhat enpurpled. The bell on the door dingled merrily as Jacob thrust it open. Bonnie released Mrs. Trout and the old woman fell back, gasping noisily, one hand seizing the corner of the counter, the other to her wounded wind: she blinked the tears from her eyes, then seeing Jacob, raised a palsied hand: "Deputy," she rasped, "arrest her! Arrest her! She tried to murder me!" Bonnie lifted her chin, contempt in her expression and in her voice. "If I intended to murder you," she said icily, "you would never be found." "There, there!" the crone screeched, eyes bulging, backing away from Bonnie as if from a leper. "She said it, she said it! She's going to murder meee!" Jacob looked at Bonnie and raised one eyebrow. Bonnie raised her chin, defiance shining in her eyes. "A word, if I may?" he asked gently, and approached Bonnie: he offered an arm, and Bonnie lay her gloved hand gently on his: they went out the door together. Maude and Mrs. Trout watched through the wavy glass as the two spoke. Jacob raised a hand, one finger extended, and came back inside. Mrs. Trout pointed an accusing finger at the door, shaking with indigination. "Aren't you taking her to jail?" she screeched. Jacob's pace was slow, measured, his eyes pale. "Mrs. Trout," he said quietly, "I do not hit old women, but if I did, I would knock your nasty face through that wall." His hands closed, opened. "I am going to give you some free advice. "Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth if you want to live a long and happy life. If you say one more word -- one more word!" -- his voice dropped to a whisper and he towered over her, mesmerizing her like a snake hypnotizes a bird just before crushing it -- "I will visit myself upon you, and I will make you suffer." He stood over her, trembling a little with anger. "And remember, Bonnie and I are blood, her daughter is my cousin and the Sheriff's niece." Mrs. Trout's mouth opened and closed a few times. "Mrs. Trout, you are overwrought. Let me walk you home." Jacob reached for her arm and Mrs. Trout blinked. The spell broken, she bolted for the door, screaming. The door banged open, swung a little, its bell dinging merrily, as the disagreeable old bat ran down the street at the top of her lungs, arms waving, mouth wide. Bonnie stepped back inside, closed the door gently. "Good morning, Miz McKenna," Jacob greeted her formally, hat in hand. "And you are looking lovely this fine morning!" Maude decorously wadded up a big handful of apron and held it against her face, the better to muffle her laughter. She'd never liked that old witch and it was worth paying the price of admission to see the old bat get her comeuppance!
  9. Linn Keller 12-5-10 Jacob, like his father, was a robust and full-blooded man: he fairly strutted as he made his way to the barn, he whistled through the morning's chores, smiled quietly as he saddled his stallion: he tied Apple-horse to the hitch in front of the house, and went back inside for a little. Annette was feeding young Joseph. The lad was weaned from the breast, to Annette's considerable relief: Jacob had thought her efforts premature until the lad had tested a newly erupted incisor on his Pa's finger, and Jacob offered no further thought on the subject, for he imagined that strong bite on a particularly tender and sensitive part of his wife's anatomy, and the thought brought a distressed expression to his lean face. Now, though, his expression was anything but distressed: Annette, too, had a look of pleased contentment on her own visage, and rose as her husband re-entered the house. Jacob, lean and strong, took his wife in his arms: his desire was plain, but not demanding: had Annette demurred, he would have understood, for a young son took much of a mother's time, and she was not yet done feeding the lad. Annette's hands caressed Jacob's back and the back of his head, and she tilted her head back, her breath coming a little more quickly. Jacob's eyes burned, as did his soul: he was a man much in love with his wife, and she with him, and his passion was declared wordlessly, but very plainly, and when he made his statement, both were somewhat short of breath, and a little flushed. Annette's eyes promised much; her complexion was flushed, her lips parted slightly: she licked her bottom lip, slowly, then turned, carefully and methodically fed young Joseph the last few teaspoons of his breakfast. Jacob noticed his wife's normally steady hand was shaking a little. "Now let's get you undressed," she murmured to Joseph as she picked up their drowsy little boy, to which Jacob replied, "Here, in the kitchen?" Annette turned quickly, eyes smoldering. "Mr. Keller, if you keep that up, I will undress you here in the kitchen, and that is a promise!" It was rare that Jacob allowed his feelings to overtake him, but he allowed them free rein that morning, and when the sun was a bit higher, and he finally rode into Firelands, it was with the feeling that he could whip the world, mount it on a fine gold ring and give it to his wife as a bauble to wear on her lovely, slender hand.
  10. Linn Keller 12-4-10 The Sheriff's eyes snapped open. It was yet full dark. His eyes narrowed as he puzzled at the meaning of the dream. He'd dreamed he was a very young man, back in Ohio, back at an old and dear friend's home place: he and the man had grown up neighbors and they were more brothers than friends: his bosom chum had died while still a young man, died of the sugar they said, blind and not in his right mind, but in the dream, in the dream, in the dream ... It wasn't uncommon for him to wake with an idea fully formed, or with the solution for a problem that he'd been studying on, whether motive for a crime, method for a crime's execution, the right argument to present in court ... but this was different. His dear friend was alive again in the dream, alive and talking and young and strong and healthy, the way he used to be ... only he lived in a bedsheet hung on the line, like he was projected there from one of those magic lantern things. They talked a while and the Sheriff was directed to look up, look up at the sky, and it was like looking at the water's surface. Like looking at its surface from underneath. A tree that never existed, now stood beside the farmhouse, the solid old homestead built by the ancestral Hugh Beymer, who'd sailed the blue Atlantic with his worldly goods and kinfolk: the highest branches, the tiny delicate topmost twigs penetrated the sky and disappeared. He turned and his friend was gone, only an empty bedsheet waving in the summer's breeze, and he saw a number of mausoleums in the back yard ... he walked among them, peering between the locked bars, and the dead glared at him from their oval, walnut-framed portraits, glass-covered and sealed behind confining steel. The Sheriff lay still, unmoving, listening to his wife's regular breathing: his hand was loose, relaxed, and hers was as well, but they lay within one another's grip, warm, reassuring. The Regulator clock downstairs was loud in the nighttime silence. It was nearly an hour before the Sheriff gave up puzzling the dream, and relaxed, allowing his thoughts to immerse once again in the dark ocean of slumber.
  11. Linn Keller 12-3-10 The Regulator clock was loud in the nighttime stillness. Angela had long since begged a bedtime story and as usual I had got less than a half dozen quietly voiced sentences before she was sound asleep. I know she was asleep because she rolled up on her side, the way she always did, and I pulled the covers up around her and she never moved. If she'd been awake she would have giggled. I'll swear, once that child's head hits the pillow, set your watch, a minute and a half and she's so sound asleep you could fire a cannon outside and she'd not stir! Esther tells me I sleep like that. I didn't think so until the time I had to spend a night over in Carbon, and I didn't figure I slept a bit until I went to throw the covers off and roll out of that lumpy back breaker bed, and found the plaster ceiling had fell in on me during the night. I went back downstairs and had a good long drink of water, and then set to scribing in my journal. Night time was the best time for me to write. I am better able to order my thoughts, to marshal them in neat ranks so they flow well from the split tip nib of my favorite pen. I took a thoughtful sip of brandy, worked it around my mouth, feeling it sear my gums the way it always did: I dipped the nib in good India ink and began writing again, the pen noisy and scratchy on good rag paper. I was halfway to town when I realized I just might have messed up. Bruja stopped and swung her ears back when I set straight up in the saddle and uttered a sound of distress: I lifted the reins and said "Yup, girl," and she stepped out again, and I thought long and hard all the rest of the way. Sarah has been out at Charlie and Fannie's, I thought. How much you want to bet they are already planning on teaching her to shoot? I kicked myself and cussed myself for seven kinds of a short sighted scoundrel. Charlie is more brother than friend and the absolute last thing in this world I wanted to do was step on his toes and here I might have done just that. I figured to go out and make my apologies to the man, but I had too much on the hook to do it that day. Next day bright and early I went out and seen them out back. They two of them were laughing and Sarah had that ivory handled revolver in a second hand gunrig around her slender middle, and I must have stared a little, for she was wearing canvas britches and I'm used to seeing her looking like a lady. She didn't see me stare and I'm glad for it. The military allows a man to be out of uniform if he is attired for the activity in which he is engaged, which is how one of the general officers avoided a court martial when he got caught running buck naked down a hallway chasing a giggling floozie one night. Matter of fact it was the only time I ever recall a court-martial falling apart in undignified laughter, and the consensus was that if the man had brass enough to stand before the board and say with a straight face that he was indeed properly attired for that particular activity, why, they had no choice but to return him to command! I leaned back and smiled a little. I didn't think much about the War these days, but every now and again something funny from the past would slip through cracks in the wall I'd built, and this was one of them. I took a long, deep breath, had another sip of brandy, dipped my pen again and wiped the excess on the inside of the ink bottle. "Charlie?" I called, and he wasn't surprised at my hail. I think that man could hear a flea sneeze at a hundred yards. Charlie turned and gave me a wise look and I figured well hell, stand for your chewin' out, you've earned it, but no such thing. "That is lovely engravin' work," he said as I dismounted. "Charlie, I --" I began, and Charlie raised a finger. "We've about emptied that box of .22s," he said. "The girls had to try out Sarah's new birthday present." I nodded, fumbling with the straps on my off saddlebag. "I got two cartons right here." I hefted a thousand rounds of rimfire, one carton in each hand. Charlie's eyes smiled. "I don't believe we'll shoot that many today," he drawled. "No," I agreed. Sarah and Charlie shared a look and my heart sank a little lower. He's been teaching her already, I thought, and now I'm hornin' in -- "Charlie," I said, "I believe I owe you an apology --" Charlie's eyes were quiet. He was hiding something. I've seen that look when he set at a poker table and run a bluff on a river boat gambler. He had two pair -- deuces and treyes -- the gambler's hand bettered his considerable, but Charlie's veiled silence so unnerved the professional that the gambler folded, defeated. I cleared my throat and tried to start over and Charlie said, "Sarah, show your Uncle Linn what you can do." He stepped toward the row of tin cans hung from string off the fence rail and set a number two size can about twenty feet out. Sarah waited until Charlie was back beside her. "I'll need some more rounds," she said, and Charlie grinned -- he's up to something, I thought -- and he dumped the rest of the pasteboard box into Sarah's upturned palm. She poured them into her vest pocket and nodded. Sarah made the slickest, smoothest draw I have seen in a very long time. She had that ivory handled Colt in a two hand grip and slip hammered five rounds into that tin can fast and slick and I just stood there with my teeth in my mouth. Sarah punched out the empties, reloaded, holstered. She did it again. This time the can fell over. Those little lead slugs howled into the empty distance beyond. Sarah unbuckled that second hand gun rig and thrust it at her Uncle Charlie. "'Scuse me," she said in a little-girl voice, and threw me an impish glance: she scampered off back toward the shed and Charlie turned, slowly, and I stood there opening and closing my mouth and blinking like a man who'd just seen a fish sprout legs and walk down the main street reciting Shakespeare. I pointed at the tin can, then toward the shed, then back to the can. "She -- you -- it --" I stammered, nonplussed. Charlie's eyes tightened a little at the corners and the bare ghost of a smile pulled at the rest of his face. Right about then I turned. Hoofbeats, fast and coming towards us: it was Sarah's favorite saddle horse at a dead-out gallop and Sarah wasn't on it -- but -- I blinked hard, and my chin sagged some more. Sarah was hanging on the side of the horse, one heel hooked over the saddle and her hand tangled up in its mane, she was screaming like an Apache, riding like a Mexican and she had one eye and an arm hung out from under that mare's neck -- at a dead out gallop! -- and hammered five fast shots at the tin cans hanging from the fence rail. That warn't no .22 she was shooting, neither. By this time my chin had descended to about the level of my belt buckle. I reckon my eyes was the size of tea saucers as I looked over at Charlie. The man could not contain himself any longer. He started to laugh. So did I. Sarah had sailed right on by and I reckon she made a wide swing to burn off that speed and by the time she got back I had taken a two hand grip on my hanging jaw bone and levered it back up into position. Charlie was pointing at me and laughing: his face was red and there was wet at the corners of his eyes and I took a staggering step toward him, for I too was starting to chuckle: I clapped a hand on his shoulder and bent over a little, my off hand on my left knee and I begun to guffaw and chortle and if he hadn't been there to lean on some I would have fell over I was laughing so hard. The two of us kind of coasted to a stop and I wiped my eyes and blew my beak and looked over at where one of them strings was still swinging from the fence rail and I pointed at it and started to laugh again and we were both off. It probably sounded like a couple of damned fools but I did not care. Charlie had got me and got me good, the joke was on me and by God! it felt good to laugh! Sarah rode up, smiling uncertainly, and I looked at her and looked at Charlie and I pointed at that carton of .22s and started to laugh again and this time I kind of folded up double and leaned both palms on my knees and Charlie pounded me happily on the back exclaiming, "Breathe, old hoss! Breathe now, you're turning funny colors!" and we were both off again! It has been a very, very long time since I laughed that well and that long. I straightened finally, blew my snot box again and managed to find a dry corner of the wild rag to mop the moisture from my eyes, and I looked at that number two tin can laying there with them little bitty holes in it and I looked at Sarah and motioned her over. Sarah dismounted and came over very tentatively. In those days people didn't smile much and portraits generally showed severe expressions: a smile was seen as a sign of weakness, and Sarah had likely not seen that much mirth and merriment from two strong men in her life. I ran one arm around Sarah's shoulders and the other around Charlie's and said, "You two are standing in the presence of the damndest fool God ever poured into boot leather!" I leaned back, shifted in my seat: my tail bone had been broke some years before and ached with a change in the weather and it was aching now, but as I capped the ink bottle and wiped the pen clean, as I watched gleaming-wet ink dry on the journal's page, I grinned, and I chuckled a little, for Charlie and I have shared many things over the years, and I believe that was the longest and the best laugh we have ever had together.
  12. I don't have caller ID on the home land line, so I just don't answer when the phone rings. I figure that is it's important, whoever it is will leave a message. And my lovely bride knows that I screen calls that way so she just starts telling me to pick up the phone... If someone calls my cell phone and the number's not in my contacts list, same deal: I let it go to voicemail and if it's important they'll leave a message...
  13. The Virtue Flat Shootist Society, Baker City, Oregon will be holding our first match of 2019 tomorrow, April 13th. Check in 8:30ish, shoot 9ish. If yer in the vicinity come on out and see us!
  14. Charlie MacNeil 12-2-10 When she was certain that the Sheriff had indeed departed for home, Sarah turned to Fannie. "It really is pretty, but..." "But you are going to go shooting with that gentleman, and I do mean gentleman, and you are going to enjoy it!" Fannie told her firmly. "I'm not sure that a gun is a proper gift for a young lady," Bonnie put in uncertainly. "It is for this young lady," Fannie answered. "And coming from Linn, it is most heartfelt. If he didn't think it was necessary, he would not have gone to the trouble that he has obviously gone to." She traced the lettering on the barrel lightly with one finger. Sarah looked at her anxiously. "But we need to tell Uncle Linn that I can already shoot!" she exclaimed. "Yes, he needs to know," Fannie agreed. "But we need to do it gently, so that we don't embarrass him too much," she went on. "He's only trying to help. And besides, it'll be fun, and it will be good practice. A .22 is much cheaper to shoot as well. Did he include any cartridges in that box?" A moment's search revealed a small pasteboard box nestled alongside the revolver. "Yes, he did," Sarah said. "Can we shoot it?" Fannie looked at Bonnie. "What do you say? Shall we go try out her birthday present?"
  15. Linn Keller 12-2-10 Ladies did not rise for a man, men rose when a lady entered the room: Bonnie and Fannie remained seated as the Sheriff removed his cover and turned a schoolboy shade of red. He acted like a man with a suddenly dry throat, and Bonnie smiled: he harrumphed a little and looked uncomfortable and Miz Fannie raised the delicate china teacup to hide her own look of amusement, and finally the Sheriff turned to Sarah and said, "I don't believe we've been introduced. I'm looking for Sarah Rosenthal. She's some younger than you." The Sheriff's words were voiced in a gentle and gentlemanly tone, and his expression so solemn, that Bonnie giggled, Fannie snorted into her tea and Sarah swatted playfully at the Sheriff's arm. "Uncle Linn!" she scolded, putting her fists on her waist, "it's me and you know it!" The Sheriff took a great breath and let it out slowly, nodding. "I know," he said finally, and his voice was suddenly tired, and old, that of a man realizing that time was sailing on past at a shocking velocity. "Sarah, I brought you a Happy Birthday present." He handed her the cloth wrapped wooden box and Sarah hefted it, smiling, then looked up at the grey-mustachioed old lawman with the bright, light-blue eyes. "Oh, Uncle Linn," she groaned, taking the box: quickly, she came up on her toes, kissing her uncle on his cheek: then, spinning, she set the box on the table and worked it open, quickly, anxiously. The Sheriff looked over top of her at Bonnie and winked, then looked at Miz Fannie. Miz Fannie had managed to miss getting tea on her gown: she was discreetly placing the damp napkin on the table and settling the teacup silently back on its fragile saucer. "Oh, Uncle Linn! It's pretty!" Sarah exclaimed, removing the Colt revolver with delicate fingers. Her fingertips and her shining eyes explored the factory scrollwork engraved on either side of the muzzle and curling back for about an inch; she saw her name, engraved on the top of the barrel, Sarah, in delicate script: she held the revolver, muzzle-up, carefully maintaining muzzle discipline, and showed her Mama the ivory grips with the script S on the uncheckered diamond shaped panel in the very middle of the pure-white grips. "I thought it wise to teach you to shoot pistol," the Sheriff said in a gentle, fatherly voice, "and so I had that one specially made. I thought to start you out with a .22 and we'll work our way up from there." Miz Fannie made kind of a strangled sound and she snatched the napkin up and managed to hide her expression behind it. "Why, it's lovely," Bonnie said uncertainly, unsure whether this was a proper gift for a young lady, but not about to burst what was obviously a delighted young lady's moment. The Sheriff was watching Bonnie's expression, and so missed the look between Sarah and Fannie: the older woman removed the napkin to expose pursed lips, flicked a finger up to them, and Sarah gave the barest of nods: Fannie counseled silence, and Sarah acknowledged her counsel. Sarah nestled the pistol back into its box, then spun and seized her uncle about the neck: he ran his arms around his beloved niece and picked her up off the floor. "Oh, Uncle Linn, thank you! It's pretty!" Sarah gushed. The Sheriff leaned his head back a little and looked into his twelve year old niece's eyes. He'd never seen them quite so bright, quite so big, quite so ... ... quite so lovely! he realized. He bent a little, til her feet touched the floor again, and released his celebratory bear hug: he placed gentle hands on her dress's poofy shoulders, and Sarah saw a deep sadness in his pale eyes. "You're tall," he said quietly, nodding once. Sarah blinked a few times, quick-like, uncertain as to what she'd done wrong. The Sheriff brushed a curl of her hair with the back of one careful finger. "You're not a little girl anymore," the Sheriff said in almost a whisper, more to himself than to her. "You are a fine young woman," he said, "and I am very proud of you." Sarah felt suddenly uncertain, but she recovered almost instantly: "Can we offer you some tea, Uncle Linn? There are lemon cakes --" The Sheriff held up a forestalling palm. "I thank you, ladies, but I must be for my own hacienda." His smile was definitely that of a sad old man. "If I don't get home soon, Esther will send the dog out after me and we'll never get home." The Sheriff turned awkwardly, a smile and a nod for Bonnie and Fannie individually; then he walked quietly to the front door, settling his skypiece in place as he crossed the departing threshold.
  16. Linn Keller 12-2-10 I come to the Rosenthal ranch not long after, for there was a pass I knew of that cut some miles off my ride and I was kind of anxious to give Sarah that little revolving pistol. The arch over their road looked different and once I got closer I saw it had been replaced. It used to say ROSENTHAL in wrought iron work, regular square characters, functional and masculine and forged under a blacksmith's hammer. Now it said "McKenna" and the letters were more rounded ... gentler, I thought. They were definitely more pleasing to the eye. I remembered some special delivery from Cripple and I recalled it was from the blacksmith Shorty had briefly employed, before the man moved on and set up shop in the mining town. I patted the Witch-horse's neck. "How much," I said, "how much you want to bet she had Black Smith make that?" I'd had Smith forge me out a fine boot knife. It wasn't Damascus steel but it was well worked and a good alloy, it held a decent edge and I'd sent back to Ohio for some Berea sandstones. I've sharpened knives on about anything -- one time I sprinkled sand on a board and kind of murdered a rough edge on a soft steel blade -- but Berea sandstone was the best I'd ever found. Some fellow in Amherst was selling them and I bought a dozen and give them out for gifts one year and probably twice that number of folks asked for some, so I passed this fellow's address on to Maude, and the only sharpening stones she stocked were genuine Berea sandstones. She did a steady business, for the Berea stones' reputation sold them without need for dummers, dodgers or advertising. I shook my head. I get side tracked easy. The Witch-horse eased forward, kind of coasting along, and we rode toward what used to be the Rosenthal ranch house. I washed up out back before going to the front door. I knew I could have just walked in the back door and been welcome, but a man likes to observe certain proprieties and it would not have been mannerly just to walk into Bonnie's kitchen. I've known men who did such things, and one or two met a fast moving frying pan heading the opposite direction. I am not that fine a looking a man, but I don't really care to inherit the bottom of an eighteen inch cast iron flat on my beak. Superstitious, I reckon you could say. I think it's bad luck to get hit with a fryin' pan. I was halfway up the steps when the front door flew open. BANG and that fancy glass door knob drove into the siding and Sarah came charging across the porch yelling "Uncle Linn!" and near to knocked me over backwards: I found my arms full of laughing, chattering Sarah, but a Sarah that surprised me. I'd hugged her before, but before she was ... well, she was more of a little girl. Now she was solid and her arms were stronger and ... well, it was like trying to hold an armful of cats, she had me by the hand and was dragging me up onto the porch before I'd got my wits properly about me, and I found myself in the parlor with Sarah towing me like a tugboat hauling a barge and me thinking my hat got knocked crooked but Sarah's birthday present was under my other arm. This was not going the way I'd planned. A man likes to be decent when he goes into someone else's house and Bonnie being a widow woman and all, the least I could do would be to go in with my hat in my hand and greet her in a respectful voice. Here, though, here Sarah, apple-cheeked and laughing and looking ... I looked at Bonnie and looked at Sarah, and Miz Fannie was seated as regal as the Queen herself, hands folded delicately in her lap, and I remember thinking how amazing that woman was: she could be absolutely the lady in one moment, proper, demure, feminine, graceful, all the things a woman should be ... and in the next, she could be a snarling, spitting, fire slinging war-demon with blazing eyes and fangs, dealing out death like a poker player deals cards. I looked at Bonnie and I looked at Sarah. Sarah let go of my hand and I finally was able to reach up and retrieve my galley-west skypiece. I cleared my throat a little nervously and asked, "May I come in?"
  17. Linn Keller 12-1-10 Macfarland and I went over his wanted dodgers and sipped some surprisingly good whiskey he had in a cupboard hid behind a picture of his dead wife. Some fellows hang a picture of the President or a dance hall girl. Harry, he was hit hard enough when Nellie passed away he had a formal portrait taken of her laying dead in the coffin and he had it framed up and hung in his office right behind his desk. This was not that unusual in this time. Sometimes folks only had one portrait taken and that was at a death. Maybe that's why I wasn't that enthusiastic about Esther's suggestion that we have a portrait taken of the two of us alive and well. Hell, we got the Daine sketch, I thought. It's good as a portrait. Maybe better. On the other hand, maybe Harry kind of liked having his wife watching over him like that, I dunno. He hinged the portrait so it swung out and exposed a cupboard built into the wall, and he pulled out a heavy glass bottle of something amber with a fancy label. Warn't bad, neither. Matter of fact after a couple of those I kind of floated out his door and poured myself into the saddle. Not that it was potent or anything but I'm glad I was wearin' my boots, for it went down smooth as Mama's milk and threatened to blow the socks right off my feet. I made a few stops on my roundabout back to Firelands: I liked to visit the outlying ranches, just a sociable howdy, nothing official; a man picks up a surprising amount of information sometimes that-a-way, and I ended up helping sew up a cut, I lent a hand slaughtering a beef, helped referee a foot race between rival cousins and helped measure and cut planks for a new shed. Normally it would have been the rancher's wife sewing up the cut, but 'twas her leg that was cut -- I think she missed a chunk with the swing of her ax, and the splittin' stump she was using was higher than what she was used to -- she bit down hard on a stick when I washed out the cut with lye soap and good cold spring water, but I told her that was the best way to guarantee it would not infect, and then I squeezed it gently to bleed it and wash out anything that shouldn't be in there. I'd washed my hands very thoroughly before handling the wound. I'd seen docs in the War that never did wash their hands and I'd seen too many men die of infection, and until our own physicians, the Doctors Greenlees and Flint, came to town, why, having a doc deliver a baby was a death sentence for a woman: Doc Greenlees believed most firmly that dirty hands were the main cause of infection, whether in surgery or in everyday practice, and he and Dr. Flint were both most scrupulous in their handwashing. They been educated better'n me. I figured to listen to them, at least on that one count. I even stripped the horse hair between thumb and fore finger in that soapy water, and trickled a little alcohol on it and let it hang dry before I started stitching. Doc does a better job than me and he's got them fancy curved needles to sew folks up with and I did the best I could with what I had. It wasn't a bad job but I reckon she'd be glad she wore stockings and a long skirt, for a woman prizes her good looks and that was a nasty cut. I turned down a meal but took some bread and back strap with thanks, and headed myself back toward Firelands. I had a couple packages in my saddle bags. I wanted to present Sarah with that .22 revolving pistol and maybe get her started on how to shoot a short gun. "We're timin' this just right," I told the Witch-horse. "Today is Sarah's twelfth birthday."
  18. Linn Keller 11-29-10 I rode over to Carbon Hill that morning, after Hound Dog and I had us a good set beside that fire. Felt good to set there and hang my arm down and have Hound Dog under my fingers. I have no idea what the Irish Brigade call their cur but I reckon you could call him about anything and he'd come to you. Especially if you had something edible. I returned the pup to the fire house and headed on out to Carbon, and once I got there, good old Law and Order Harry Macfarland was leaned up against the front wall of his office like he always was. I don't recall seeing that man anywhere else anytime I've gone over there. Well, no, that ain't right. We went over to their hash house and et a time or three but that's the only time I saw the man when he wasn't doing his best to prop up the front of that building. Harry was quiet and unassuming and if you was to paint his portrait you'd use a lot of tan and grey and buff ... he wasn't nothing special to look at, you were as likely to forget his face as remember it, but he kept things quiet in Carbon. Not that there was ever any excitement in his town. Why, it would take a quart of whiskey and two Irishmen just to raise hell! I draped the Witch-horse's reins over the rail and swung down, grimacing for a moment as my weight came on my hind hooves. "Rheumatiz?" Harry grated. "Mileage," I muttered. Harry nodded wisely: the man had the wisest, most sage nod of anyone I'd ever met: sometimes I though he was dumb as a sled track, but ol' Harry was always really pretty sharp, even if he cultivated a hick appearance. We went over to the hash house like we always did and set down to the Blue Plate Special. I don't know why they called it that, the plates were white and there was nothing special about beans and corn bread, other than I was a hungry man and they were edible. The beans and cornbread were edible. The plate was not edible and neither was it blue. Coffee wasn't bad, but coffee made by anyone but me was coffee better than mine. Harry watched me pour some cream into my coffee -- good fresh cream, its diminutive ceramic pitcher sweating, for it was nicely chilled in their spring house out back -- and drawled, "Gettin' soft in yer old age, ain't yet?" "Harry," I said, "I tried to think of a good smart remark to make for just such a question all the ride out here, and y'know, my mind just went blank." Harry squinted at my grey hairs. "You ain't supposed to imitate my bad examples," he said finally, and we both laughed. One of his girls from upstairs come downstairs. She was pretty, at one time, but like the town itself she looked worn and tired, but she still had her hair all jacked up and a ribbon in it. She came over and began rubbing my shoulders. Harry looked up at her and grunted, "Y'know, he'll likely give you a week to stop that." I set down a fork full of beans and said "Purrrrr," and the girl laughed. "You're all tense, Sheriff," she said teasingly. "Why don't I help you relax?" I reached up and patted her hand and said "Darlin', was you to help me relax, my wife would drive me into the ground like a fence post, and once she was done my little girl would grab me around the neck, yank me out and sling me over the nearest roof top, after which they would start gettin' mean with me!" She threw her head back and laughed quietly, skilled fingers moving to the back of my neck. Truth be told I was tense, but then I usually was, but what she was doing felt pretty good so I just set there a while. "Ellie," Harry finally said, "why don't you scoot off upstairs and get yourself presentable. Likely you'll have customers today and you want to look good." "Why, Harry," Ellie said, trailing her fingers across the back of my neck as she swung her hips and swayed over to the Carbon lawman, "don't you like my fine new petticoat?" Harry swatted her one on the fanny and grinned, "It might have been new two years ago," and she swatted at him with a limp wrist, giving an utterly false sound of dismay. "Why Harry, shame on you!" "Go on, now, we got business to discuss," Harry dismissed with a tilt of the head, and Ellie gave me a saucy look and a blown kiss before she skipped across the tobacco-stained, sawdust-sprinkled floor. I could not help but compare how unclean the place looked compared to the Jewel. "Heard you had some trouble your way," Harry muttered, his voice lower. "Trouble?" I said mildly, picking up my coffee cup. "What trouble?" Harry glared. "Rusty Smith, for one. He allowed to brace me an' I ordered a fine new coffin for the occasion." He took a noisy slurp of his own lukewarm brew. "And it warn't fer him!" "Rusty Smith?" I frowned. "Don't recall his comin' --" "That fella you out skinned behint the jail!" Harry snapped. "You oughta listen to the owlhoot, you long tall Army reject! That feller what tried you that night beside the jail was Rusty Smith an' Ansel was with him! He seen it!" I blinked. "That was Smith?" "Ansel said Smith had you dead to rights an' you nailed him before he cleared leather." I nodded, remembering. "Hell, I didn't know that was Rusty Smith!" "It ain't good fer a man to get a reputation like that," Harry muttered. "Was we in Kansas or south, why, you'd have to beat 'em away with a stick fer wantin' to try ye!" "Nah." I finished my beans and picked up my corn bread left handed. "Dime novels, Harry. Somethin' some damned Yankee wrote in New York." Harry glared at me. "You just watch yer behint," he snarled. "I don't make friends that easy and I cain't afford to lose none." He cleared his throat uncomfortably and snapped, "An' I hate funerals!" "Why Harry!" I gave him my best Innocent Look. "I didn't know you cared!" He glowered at me beneath salt-and-pepper eyebrows and I looked at him with the look of a piefaced schoolboy and finally neither of us could stand it any longer and we both laughed. "Hell, come on over an' take a look at some wanted dodgers. Might be you seen these fellas."
  19. Linn Keller 11-29-10 I leaned over and tried to spit the bad taste out of my mouth. It didn't work. Digger clucked to the mare and the dead wagon began rattling out of the draw below the graveyard. I'd taken down the ropes and the only evidence that we used the hangin' tree was a little smooth scuffed place where each line had gone over, and a couple wet spots on the ground directly below. Now I was headed back for my little log office to note in the journal that the court's order had been carried out, so sworn to and attested, witness my hand this fine and lovely day. My breath followed me in a little cloud, for the mare was walking and not in any particular hurry. We halted and I looked our town over, slowly, not looking for anything in particular, just looking. The steam whistle in the distance counter pointed the laboring chant of the ore train in the distance, and the first passenger run of the day had already departed, promising safe travels for those on board and profits for Esther's ledger-books. I crossed my hands on the pommel and leaned my weight on my arms, easing my back: something went pop a little north of my gunbelt and it hurt good. My Witch-horse's ears swung back at me, swung ahead again. I lifted her reins and she eased into a smooth trot. Well, it wasn't exactly a trot, I don't know what it's rightly called other than smooth and easy. She was one of the nicest gaited horses I'd ever rode. Maybe some coffee, I thought, and thought of the blue granite pot set beside the stove back at the office: the thought of making coffee and then trying to drink the stuff was not particularly appealing. I thought of the interior of the Jewel, warm and welcoming, of Mr. Baxter's quiet smile, Daisy's admonishing finger (and her wooden spoon!) and I didn't feel particularly sociable. I wasn't really sure what I wanted other than maybe a good cold drink. I figured to be in the saddle that day so I draped Bruja's reins over the rail and went into my office. I must not have latched the door. I went back past the now-empty cells and pumped me some water and drank long and deep. "Adam's Ale," I sighed afterward. "None better." I hung the stamped tin dipper on the nail beside the red-enamel-and-polished-brass pump and went back out into the office. The Irish Brigade's cur dog was setting in the middle of the floor, looking at me with those beady-bright eyes, its tail burnishing the already-polished floor. "Why, hello, fella," I said, and the cur dog blinked and increased the polishing rate. I went over and set down and the cur dog came over and jumped up in my lap and gave me a good face washing. My hat, forgotten, fell to the floor: I rubbed that cur dog and laughed as he did his level best to remove a year's worth of trail dust from behind my ears. We ended up with that cur dog laying on the floor beside the stove and my chair rolled over beside him, and the two of us just set there and soaked up some heat for a while. I might not have felt terribly sociable after the hangin' but that-there cur dog was good company that morning.
  20. Charlie MacNeil 11-28-10 Fannie and Sarah met at the top of the stairs. "How do I look, Aunt Fannie?" the girl wanted to know. She turned slowly so that Fannie could critique her attire. "Like a lady," Fannie told her. "Your Mama will be quite pleased, I think." she held out her hand. "Shall we?" When the pair floated into the dining room, skirts swirling in the breezing of their passing, the table was set with tea service and snacks. Bonnie stood near the sideboard, hands clasped at her waist. When Fannie and Sarah appeared her hands flew to her mouth. "Sarah, you look so, so..." "Grown up?" Fannie asked. "So beautiful," Bonnie finished. She stepped forward to take Sarah's hands in hers. "You've grown into quite a lady! I guess I've been so involved with all that's gone on lately that I failed to see it!" "Not a monster?" Sarah asked softly. She looked into her mother's eyes, which were nearly at the same level with hers. Bonnie avoided answering by turning toward the table. "Come, let's sit and have some tea. And I'm sure that you two must be hungry after your long ride." She pulled out a chair and slipped gracefully into it, gesturing toward other chairs. "Please, sit." The maid appeared and poured the delicate porcelain cups full of the steaming, fragrant brew. Her back to Bonnie, the young woman lifted her chin ever so slightly toward Sarah then winked at Fannie before resuming her formal demeanor. Fannie hid her answering smile behind her hand. The maid left the room and Sarah cleared her throat. "Mama? Are you going to answer my question?" she asked diffidently. "Yes, dear, I am, but you must be patient for a moment while I arrange my thoughts," Bonnie answered, not looking at Sarah. She sipped tea, followed by a small bite of lemon tart. When she could speak again, she let her gaze come to rest on her daughter's face. "My dear, dear Sarah, you know where I came from, and you've seen what I've been able to become. You know your own roots as well." Sarah nodded. "When I saw you kill that man in the Silver Jewel in what appeared to be such a casual manner," she raised a hand to stop Sarah from the protest she had been about to begin, "I was deeply frightened. Frightened that all I had taught you, all that I tried to help you to be, would be for naught. I was so afraid that you had become some sort of cold-blooded killer that I couldn't even let you explain, and I should have known better. I was so caught up in the moment that I couldn't listen. You had done the right thing, but I was afraid that it was for the wrong reasons. "There is steel in you, my love, tempered with silk," she continued. A fleeting expression, more grimace than smile, crossed Bonnie's lips. "After speaking with Sheriff Keller, whose life you saved by your actions, I know now that I was wrong about you, and I ask you to forgive me. Please." Her eyes glistened with unshed tears as she finished speaking and sat looking at her daughter, her posture stiff and straight as an oak beam. "Oh, Mama!" Sarah wailed, the stoic facade that she had tried to maintain as Bonnie spoke suddenly crumpling. She leapt from her chair and ran to her mother to bury her face in Bonnie's shoulder as sobs wracked her slender frame. Bonnie wrapped her in a tight embrace, pulling Sarah onto her lap, tears cascading down her own cheeks. She stroked the girl's hair as she whispered over and over, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Fannie quietly pushed back her chair and started to rise. "Please, stay," Bonnie said softly, her words barely audible. "You mean so much to Sarah." Fannie settled back into her seat then lifted her cup to her lips. Her own eyes were damp as she sipped.
  21. Charlie MacNeil 11-28-10 BANG! Crystal doorknob met oaken wainscoting with a thunder that startled her and sloshed tea from the newly filled cup onto the saucer and thence onto white damask. The peal of delighted laughter that preceded her daughter's arrival at the dining table brought Bonnie to her feet, a broad smile lighting her previously darkened countenance. Spur-heeled boots beat a tattoo on puncheon flooring, then Sarah was in her arms as both tried to talk at once. "Oh, Mama, I'm so sorry you had to be afraid..." "My darling daughter, you could never..." "But Mama..." "HOLD IT!" Fannie's drill-sergeant bark stilled the chatter instantly. Bonnie and Sarah turned to look at her, arms around each other, eyes wide with amazement at the volume of the command from the normally soft-spoken woman. Smiling, Fannie went on in a softer tone that carried well to every ear, even that of the serving girl listening approvingly from the pantry. "You ladies have a lot to talk about, but this is not the time. Sarah," she ordered, "you take yourself up to your room, and change into something more appropriate for tea while I do the same." She lifted the bundle she carried. "Bonnie, if you don't mind, I would like to borrow, so to speak, a room with a mirror so that I can change into something different." She indicated her own britches, boots and chaps. "These are fine for rough country, but are hardly proper for polite society." She looked pointedly at Sarah, who hadn't moved. "Git, girl!" "Yes, ma'am!" Sarah went from her mother's embrace to thumping up the stairs in just slightly longer than the breadth of a heartbeat. Bonnie looked gratefully at her friend. "Thank you for bringing her back," she said simply. "I wasn't sure..." "She's still your little girl, in spite of the fact that she's had to grow up quite a bit recently," Fannie interrupted gently. "Now if I could change?" "Of course!" Bonnie exclaimed. "Please, use my room. I'll bring you some water so you can wash up." "Thanks." Fannie knew the layout of the house well, and carried her bundle to Bonnie's bedroom, where she began to lay out the dress and associated underthings that she'd brought for just this reason. A discreet knock on the door brought a steaming pitcher of water, a soft towel and a cake of delightfully scented soap.
  22. Linn Keller 11-28-10 The hired girl flitted through the house like a ghost in an abandoned castle. She noticed that Bonnie had paid particular attention to fixing her hair that morning. The maid knew this was something she did when she was troubled. The hired girl noticed how Bonnie had spent the day at the dress-works, supervising the House of McKenna, reviewing yet again the latest fashion dolls shipped express from Paris; she approved fabrics, inspected the work, frowned at this, exclaimed in delight at that: she was known as a demanding but extremely fair employer, and the seamstresses in her employ knew and respected this. Bonnie knew there were tailors, and in fact she'd employed two for a time, until they moved on to Cripple Creek and opened their own businesses: her ladies knew they could move on as well, and with experience in the House of McKenna, could very likely make a success of their own enterprise: most, however, had known privation and loss, and preferred to stay with a sure thing. Now Bonnie sat at her breakfast table, picking listlessly at cold eggs; she had but little appetite, and sipped at her lukewarm tea, eyes distant and troubled. Her daughter had been much on her mind. She had done her best to raise this orphaned child in an atmosphere of gentility, she had striven to make her girl into a lady worthy of the name: she had done her best to set a mother's example for her child to follow, even to the extreme of not beating in her cheating scoundrel of a husband's head with a single tree. Bonnie's eyes narrowed and she very carefully, very precisely, very firmly, placed the delicate china teacup back on its saucer. No, she thought. Not a singletree. In her mind's eye she selected a heavier, iron-banded timber, hefted it, swung it experimentally. A doubletree would serve him better! Bonnie swept that entire distasteful memory from her conscious thought and returned to Sarah. She had a half-dozen gowns she would love to show in Denver, and Sarah would be the ideal model for them: she was slender, she was tall, the drape and fit would be perfect to display her latest creations, patterned after the latest arrivals from Paris: ladies of the frontier were still ladies, and though their everyday attire was attractive, it was rather plain: every woman wished to be beautiful, and the House of McKenna had a well established reputation for fulfilling this wish. Bonnie passed a lightly trembling hand across her closed eyes, leaned her forehead against the back of her hand. The maid spirited her abandoned breakfast plate from the table, silent, not wanting to disturb her obviously troubled mistress: she skilfully plucked the cup of cold tea from the saucer and floated them across the room and onto the counter. Bonnie reached down just as the newly filled teacup arrived: her fingers closed delicately around the smooth white handle and she raised the teacup to her lips, took an appreciative sip of the hot, fragrant liquid. The maid smiled and slipped from the room. Her mistress never realized the teacup had been removed and replaced. She might not realize for several moments the previous sip was cold and this was nice and warm. The maid smiled, for she'd done her job. Now, thought Bonnie, now if only the front door were to slam open and Sarah would run in laughing, the way she's always done –
  23. Linn Keller 11-27-10 "That was a very nice photograph Jackson Cooper had taken." The mare's hooves were loud on the cold ground: leather squeaked, trace-chains jingled, steel-rimmed buggy wheels clattered a little even at our slow gait. I nodded. "Um-hm." "It didn't do justice to their disparity -- Linn Keller, are you listening to me?" "No ma'am." Esther swatted me with her folded fan. I looked at her as innocently as I possibly could which wasn't easy, I wanted to bust out laughing, and somehow I managed a soft, level voice: "What was the question again?" "I said --" Esther snapped, then she, too, tried to suppress her mirth, and we both laughed. Esther leaned on me, the side of her head laid over on my shoulder, one hand on my breast and the other pressing my back: she sighed a little, then rose back to an erect, sitting position. "We should have a photograph taken," she said. "We've got the Daine sketch," I protested. "It's a good one too!" "I know. I had it framed." "Good. Didn't know what happened to it." "It's hanging in our parlor!" "Oh." SWAT! -- the fan again -- sounding far more vicious than it really was. The mare's ears pricked up as she heard our Beagle dog bay a greeting. I looked ahead and Angela was jumping up and down on the porch, waving, and the Beagle dog was safely down in the yard, looking at us with a pleased expression and doing his level best to beat the ground bare with his tail. "Even though Jackson Cooper is seated in the photograph, he is such a giant, and Emma is such a tiny thing," Esther continued. I grunted a quiet "Uh-huh," for my mind was not paying much attention: sunrise would see a double hanging and I did not particularly look forward to that. Necessary, yes; just, yes; due process, of course. It did not make it any less distasteful. I was also worried about Sarah. Bonnie was still out at her place, probably supervising her dress works, but Sarah had been nowhere in sight. Sarah was characteristically as hard to nail down as a gust of wind, and just as likely to turn up anywhere: we hadn't seen her and didn't know where she was, but bad news travels fast: if anything were amiss we would find out soon enough. I was surprised to find Angela had already had her bath, and Esther and I were rather entertained by the hired girl's account of finding her asleep, covered with straw and innocence and a saddle blanket, she and Little Sean rolled toward one another with Denver Bup between them and their arms laid over the dog and just touching one another. Later that night Angela insisted on parking herself on my lap, which made it less than convenient to enter into my journal, especially when I realized our little girl was sound asleep and leaning her head into that little hollow just inside my right shoulder: I capped the ink-bottle, placed the steel-nib pen in an inch of spirits in a little glass I kept there for that purpose, and I just sat there for a good long while, rocking her a little bit, until finally I stood up and carried her upstairs. When Angela slept, she slept hard: I could have tossed her around and carried her draped over my forearm like a dish towel and she would never have roused: still, I held her carefully, with both arms, and eased up the stairs, silently counting the treads until I knew I was at the top. I laid her down and drew the covers up, around her chin, and as she always did, she rolled over on her left side, away from me. I leaned down and kissed her cheek, once, gently, careful to make no noise: then I turned and saw Esther smiling at me from the doorway. She was modest in floor length flannel, brushing out her long, red hair preparatory to braiding it for the night. I cat footed out of Angela's room, grateful for the hook rugs to aid my stealthy departure. Esther tilted her head back and I tasted her lips. They tasted so good I tasted them again, rather more thoroughly this time. Esther took my hand and drew me out of Angela's room, and I pulled the door carefully, precisely shut behind me. Esther laid a hand gentle on my cheek. Not long after, as we lay under fresh smelling sheets and a thick comforter, Esther whispered that I was a romantic old fool, and I reckoned her right. Before I closed my eyes I could see the stars, clear and bright, and thought to myself that it would be a lovely, clear day tomorrow. Sunrise, I thought, ought to be absolutely gorgeous! Not terribly far off, another set of eyes regarded the stars through another such window. Sarah had wakened from a nightmare, but a nightmare like she had never had. Her nights had not infrequently been tormented by a little girl's memories. It was not for nothing that Sarah knew every last hiding place in the Jewel, knew every passage between rooms, spaces within walls where a terrified child could hide. Sarah had bitten her hand bloody to keep from screaming as she watched women beaten by customers, or savaged by customers, doing terrible things to the women who had befriended her. In her nightmares she ran, ran through floors that turned to glue, as misshapen brutes bellowed and reached for her from behind, always from behind: concealing walls melted, revealing her huddled, trembling form, and monsters that barely looked like men reached for her with hard hands and slavering fangs, and she screamed and screamed and screamed, waking up shivering, wide-eyed, her throat locked shut, for she had to be silent, be silent, lest they find her -- Tonight, though, it was different. Tonight she turned toward three monsters who kicked in a poorly-hung door and shambled toward her, dirty-knuckled hands reaching for her. Sarah picked up a sword as long as she was. The sword hummed a little in her hands and she felt her soul run into the gleaming blade. Sarah was light, light, a feather on a breeze, a gust-borne leaf: the monsters lumbered, Sarah danced, spinning a silver butterfly about her, joyfully spinning death about her like a spiderweb of steel. Teeth bared, she rushed, silent, and lay about with her silver cutting-web: the three fell, dismembered, but dry: she kicked their woody chunks aside and went hunting. Sarah strode boldly through this ghostly Jewel, this dirty and ill-kept Jewel she remembered from her childhood: now it was her turn to kick in doors, her turn to bring terror, her turn at last to bring fear to those that had tortured her soul for years long and long again. The monsters were at her back no more. She sought them out and she looked them in the face and the blade in her hands sang as she murdered her nightmares. Sarah came to the last room in the Jewel. Bonnie was there, but a Bonnie much younger, a Bonnie with a black eye and a bleeding lip, a Bonnie who could still reach for her little girl. Sarah turned left, turned right. She saw herself in the dusty, cracked mirror, and knew this was a dream-thing she saw, this could not be her. The Sarah she saw was taller, older, with much shorter hair and pale eyes, ice-colored eyes, eyes the color of a glacier's heart ... Safe, she thought, and leaned the sword against the wall. She looked at the Bonnie-that-was: wounded, bleeding, she was still reaching for a little girl who needed her Mama. She's not afraid of me, Sarah thought, and she leaned forward, and started to run. Sarah ran as hard as she could into her Mama's arms, relief and joy singing in her heart. She's not afraid of me!
  24. Linn Keller 11-26-10 Jacob walked Parson Belden back to the cells and waited, eyes veiled. "You want to go in, Parson?" he asked. "I would not recommend it." Parson Belden looked at the pair. Of the two, Jacob figured only one posed much of a threat -- but these men were under sentence of death. They had absolutely nothing to lose from trying to escape. They had positively nothing to lose by taking the sky pilot hostage. "We'll be all right," Parson Belden said in his gentle voice, his patient good nature showing in his quietly smiling eyes. "I'll be out in the office. Need me, holler." Jacob unlocked the cell door, let the Parson in with the man with the swollen, discolored face. The man was fevered and suffering: a fractured sinus almost always infected and it looked like this one surely was. The Parson spent some little time with the man, and in due time called for Jacob: the young deputy let the Parson out of one cell, and into the other. Jacob's gut told him this man might be trouble. "Parson," he said quietly, "do you want me to stand close?" "No, no," Parson Belden said with the jovial good nature of the frontier preacher. "We'll be just fine." Jacob held his counsel, locked the door after the Parson, and returned to the office. He was most of the way through entering the Parson's presence into the official journal when he heard the meaty smack of fist on face, two more, then the sound of a body hitting the bars. Jacob's moves were unhurried, smooth: whatever was happeneing, had already happened, and locked in the cell, the Parson would be unable to escape. Jacob picked up the double gun, dropped in two brass hulls and eared back both hammers before going back between the cells. Parson Belden was standing, shaking his good right hand and frowning. The outlaw was on the floor, just coming up on all fours, shaking his head and running the back of his hand across a bloodied cheek bone. "Just stay down, son," Parson Belden advised the man. "Humility becomes the sinner." The man powered off the floor, tried to take the Parson in the belt buckle with his shoulder, and ended up with a face full of the man's boot sole. Parson Belden leaned back and grabbed one of the cell door's bars to steady himself and put all the power of his right leg into the kick. The outlaw ended up on his back with a good percentage of his nose re-contoured, blood and tears running freely down his visage. "Parson," Jacob drawled, "do you reckon this sinner has mended his ways?" The outlaw rolled over on his side and groaned. Parson Belden turned and motioned for Jacob to unlock the door. Just as Jacob was securing the barred portal, the outlaw rasped, "Hey," and raised his head. Squinting at the stout-built parson, he wheezed, "You ain't with that same agency as the pretty girl, now, are you?"
  25. Linn Keller 11-25-10 His Honor the Judge was as courtly with Esther as he had been snappish with me. If he hadn't been courtly with her, she probably would have drove him through the floor boards like a fence post. No, likely not. I was still stinging from the man's words. Shortcoming of mine, I reckon. Charlie one time told me I have a most marvelous gift of turning invisible. I did so now, kind of faded back against the front wall. The fancy double doors were to my left and the main room of the Jewel, to my right: the stair case ahead, Tilly's battleship of a desk ahead and a little to the right, and then Mr. Baxter's fine mahogany-topped bar. My backside just touched the wall behind me and I drifted a little ahead, just enough so I would not bang my elbow on the plaster if I had to draw. His Honor made gentle obesciance to my beautiful bride and we continued on to the bar. It was rare that His Honor bellied up to the bar, but today he did, and Mr. Baxter drew him a beer. I knew that the Judge would take his midday meal with us, there in the Jewel, and afterward there would be cigars and brandy. The gambling-tables were busy, as they nearly always were, and a good-looking gal with a low cut top and a short skirt ran the roulette wheel: she had men two and three deep and I would wager a week's wage they were there for her and not for the wheel. Didn't matter to me. This meant profit and the house always profits in any game of chance. I had no idea who she was, but she was a looker, young and pretty and built like a Greek goddess. I must be getting old. I looked to my wife, there on my arm, and the affection I felt for my beautiful bride was far greater than any rush of lust a doxy might provide. His Honor was happily sampling his suds and Esther was quietly informing that she'd made a hasty evacuation of her office but she and her goods were returned, and she mentioned that she and Shorty had stood ready to evacuate the livery, for a fire would be more than catastrophic to that valuable business. In a country where horsepower was provided by the original four hooved source, the man who makes a living tending said saviours of sustenance, caring for those Trojans of travel and wonders of work, why, it behooves the wise man (and the wise community!) to take care of such a fellow. Esther did add that Shorty acknowledged the return of his ten-bore, and she repeated his surprised comment as to how good it looked once it was all cleaned up. She delicately omitted his exact words, but I know Shorty, and his thanks would not have been as politely worded as were Esther's accounting words. When I was a lad I borrowed a man's bronze bullet mold for a flint rifle and he told my Pa later that when I returned it, the mold was in better shape than when it had been loaned me. I never forgot that kind word, directed at a mere lad, and it set me on a lifetime of borrowing but sledom, but when I did, on its return, whatever I borrowed was at the very least in as good a shape and generally better. I think this was the second time -- when Shorty said that double gun looked so good cleaned up -- his was the second such remark, but a man feels pretty good when someone says that. The dining room was well populated today: Daisy's kitchen was busy, her girls moved in a steady stream taking orders, fetching out food, and across the street I could see the stage coach just arriving: there were tables enough for its contents and the stage line allowed longer for the stop here in Firelands, to the delight of its passengers. The Jewel had a reputation of good food at a fair price and stage passengers historically had little time to set and eat: here, though, they could set down and eat an unhurried meal, the team could rest, Shorty would be checking hooves and harness and the stage driver and his shotgun would be down and walking around, getting a little respite from the wear on their backsides. I one time offered to have a replacement seat ready for them when they arrived. Fitz was driving and I told him, "I'll have a whole seat made for you. Next you stop, we'll un-bolt that and bolt on one with the same padded upholstery that I have in mine" -- I pointed to our carriage, across the street in front of the Jewel -- but the old German spat and swore and allowed as if he'd do that, why, someone else would take his coach and he'd be stuck with another one with just as bad a seat as he was riding on today. He did, however, accept the loan of a pillow, which lasted for about three miles: he found it too slippery, he kept sliding back and forth on the seat and he finally threw it to the side of the trail, where I think it was one of the Kolascinski tribe found it and took it home and they used it ever since. I don't know how but the girls had managed to keep my table open, and His Honor and Esther and I drifted back through the crowd, to the "Lawman's Corner" as I'd heard it called: I parked my rifle and hung my hat and we set down, His Honor handing his empty beer mug to the girl that took our order. Esther, bless her, had tea, for that was a ladylike drink, and suitable to be seen in public. His Honor had brandy, and I had coffee: vanilla soothed my nostrils as I took a long, appreciative sniff before dribbling in some cream. A long, tall, skinny figure came sojourning back through the crowd with a wooden tool box in one hand and a flint rifle near long as he was, in the other: he stopped and leaned the rifle against the wall, frowning thoughtfully at the hole murdered in around the gas pipe. I left him to his work. The Daine brothers were master carpenters and I figured he could tend that detail without my assistance. Right about then the girl set a loaf of bread and a platter of cheese on the table in front of us, and when I smelled that hot, steaming bread, my stomach reminded me of just how long it had wanted to be fed. Conversation had been polite up to that point, but at this point, conversation was politely suspended. Bread and cheese did not last long between the three of us, but it held us until beef and beans and good mashed taters and gravy arrived. Apparently His Honor had the same appetite as did I myself.
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