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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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  1. Linn Keller 4-6-09 Esther drew up their carriage at the Z&W's shops. A year ago it didn't exist: now it stood, solid, blocky, shouldering against the mountain behind it, with the fan of tracks coming out of its three yawning doors. Two men met the ladies; Esther smiled as she was courteously helped down to the cut-granite, dismount-stone placed for that purpose when the structure and ground were built. Michelle, big-eyed and uncertain, thanked the other man courteously, then turned and retrieved the blanket-padded basket containing young Joseph. Esther set a brisk pace up the gravel walkway, talking animatedly with the foreman. "I'm remembering the good work that was done building the trestles," she said. "The foundation was bolted into bedrock as I remember." "Yes, ma'am," the foreman nodded. "I was on the crew that set the foundation. She's solid." "What of flood?" Esther asked. "We've had quite a bit of melt-water. I'm worried about trees washing downstream, boulders washing out and tumbling down hill." "Now never you mind about that," the foreman said dismissively, and Esther seized him by the sleeve, turning him sharply about to face her. "Don't you ever 'never you mind' me, young man!" she snapped. "Those are my people on those rails, those are my people in that engine, those are my people depending on me to keep those rails safe, and I will NOT be told 'never you mind!' Do I make myself clear?" The foreman, taken aback, blinked, pinned by the blaze in those emerald-green eyes. He had seen the owner's charm and courtesy before; he had never seen this side of her, and this man with both shirt sleeves clear full of bulging arm muscle, this man whose tongue could flay the hide off a bull, this man who had personally ram rodded a rough and fractous crew in the building of rail lines, realized he was up against something he really didn't want to cross. "Yes, ma'am," he said hesitantly. Esther took his arm again, resuming their walk as if nothing had happened. "I will want to survey every trestle, every crossing, every place there may be erosion or undermining of the roadbed." She was silent for a few paces. Inside the shop, a shout, a crash of metal, laughter; the rhythmic chant of a smith's hammer at labor, men's voices. A colorful inspection car came chuffing out of the nearest portal. It looked like a passenger car, only shorter; an upright boiler was visible amidships. Dynamo and arc light bulged on the smooth, glass-widowed front. Brass gleamed, lacquer shone, and the trademark rose-and-ribbon overlaid the gilt Z&W RR on the green-painted panel under the engineer's seat. "She's ready, Miz Esther," the foreman said, nodding to the car: "as you requested, Johnson, and we've got Charlie to fire." Esther smiled her famous smile, and in spite of the earlier lightning-stroke of temper, the foreman couldn't help but melt in the sunshine of her charm. "Thank you, you've been very kind," Esther said, tilting her chin up to address the engineer. "Mr. Johnson? I presume you've checked the line?" "Yes, ma'am," Johnson replied, hanging out the window, palms on the sill. "No rail traffic for another hour. Plenty of time." Esther stepped up on the crate that had been placed at the bottom step; lifting her skirt with one hand, she stepped easily aboard, then took the basket with her infant son while Michelle followed, a little less gracefully. The ladies settled into upholstered seats. "Where to, Miz Esther?" Charles grinned. "I want to look at the trestles, Mr. Johnson," Esther replied. "The most efficient route, if you please, mindful of the scheduled." "Yes, ma'am," he said, touching the brim of his hickory-striped cap, his eyes almost disappearing as he smiled. The fireman opened the cast-iron door, added a shovel of coal to the left, a shovel to the right, closed the door; the pop-off valve hissed. Mr. Johnson eased the inspection car forward. The switch was thrown and they rolled easily onto the main line, and east.
  2. Linn Keller 4-4-09 The Irish Brigade divided their forces. The Irish Welshman and the German Welshman, shovels over their shoulders, trooped down to the creek just below their whitewashed clapboard church and pulled the heavy wood cover off the hand dug well near to the creek. The well had been dug, not as a source of drinking water, but rather as a source of water for fire flow: from here they could reach the edge of Shorty's livery, they could hit the back of the Jewel, they had the church and the school and across the street covered, and with a bit more hose -- which had just arrived the previous day -- they could cover the depot. The German Welshman and the Irish Welshman probed the well with their shovels, satisfying themselves it had neither sanded in nor silted in; it had been dug deeper than a man's height, dug into a sand layer, then laid up with stone. It was dependable for wet weather, but in the driest seasons so far, as it was below creek level, it always held water, and recharged at a good rate. They dragged the heavy cover back over the well and continued on behind Shorty's. His well was likewise deep, broad enough for a grown man to stand in it and spread his arms and just touch the walls with his finger tips and a good eight feet deep. It had required a horrendous amount of dirt being removed but it allowed a good reservoir. It did not recharge nearly as fast -- they'd pumped it down intentionally to check its recharge rate, information vital for a prolonged pumping -- though it recharged slowly, it held about fifteen hundred gallons. "We'll have to be sparing of the water, lads," Sean had muttered, shaking his head. "Only fifteen hundred gallons." The Irish Brigade knew how fast their fine, shining engine could throw that much water, but the Brigade knew how to get the most use out of every gallon. Wells, cisterns, even horse troughs were examined, tested, plumbed; by the time the two were done, they were mud to their knees and their shirts were soaked to the shoulders, but they were able to report to their Chieftain the state of firefighting water supply in Firelands was still good. The New York Irishman, meanwhile, was swearing quietly, fitting Shorty's latest gift to the Brigade on the end of their hard suction line: a forged steel cage, cleverly welded onto a short pipe nipple: it threaded on, tightly, but this meant it would not fall off, nor work loose. The New York Irishman smiled humorlessly as he began shearing hardware cloth at a measured width. He was wrapping the mesh around this handmade intake screen. Stones could break the valves in their engine, and a broken valve could mean the end of fire fighting, loss of a structure, or loss of most of the town. The New York Irishman was fiercely protective of his beloved engine. Sean regarded the screened intake. It was a clumsy looking thing -- some foot and a half long, the full diameter of the hard suction -- but he offered no comment. They both knew this would mean a foot and a half of water in whatever they were drawing from, would be unavailable -- but they both knew none would be available if they sucked in a stone that immobilized their engine. The New York Irishman picked up some copper screening and carefully wrapped one layer over the hardware cloth. He wired it firmly in place, looking up at his stern-visaged Cheiftain. "This'll stop all but sand," he said. Sean nodded and laid a massive hand on the man's shoulder. "Good lad," he nodded.
  3. Linn Keller 4-2-09 Maude's quick ear heard it first. Faintly, in the lull in conversation that always happens in any gathering, a momentary ... well, not silence, but a coincidental, near-silence, one of those moments when odd sounds from without, penetrate easily within. She cocked her head a little and couldn't help but smile. She remembered WJ, and how he would stand tall and straight at harvest time, scythe in one hand, stone in the other, whistling a little as he always did as he plied the stick of shaped stone against the curve of the blade: she remembered the musical tzing, tzang, tzing, tzang, as he stroked first one side of the blade, then the other, back, forth, always stroking the stone away from him, with the ease and skill of a butcher sharpening with a steel: Maude marveled, watching him, that he didn't slice off a finger or two simply with the sharpening of this harvester's implement: then, satisfied, the stone would be dropped in a convenient overall pocket, WJ would turn the long handled tool around so it was blade-down and workwise again, and he would begin cutting grain, or cutting weeds, rhythmic, paced, spaced strokes of the shining blade, taking a half-step with each swing: he never hurried, he never tried taking too big a cut, and he stopped often to sharpen. To his old age he had the trim waist of an eighteen year old, thanks mostly to his regular use of this particular tool. Maude blinked. Conversation had re-started, as it always did, and the sound was lost. She smiled again, blinking into the depths of the shimmering vanilla coffee in her cup. The sound was lost, but her memories of WJ certainly were not.
  4. Linn Keller 4-1-09 Abraham Lincoln is said to have spent quite a bit of time in the telegraph room of the White House during the War, lending his ear to the incoming messages clattering over the wires: Esther Keller, in like wise, lent a careful ear to the sounder, clattering on Lightning's desk, bouncing little Joseph gently as she pictured the terrain between Firelands and the mine. She had not just the passenger line to consider, but the twice-daily ore train: longer, heavier, it put more strain on rails and trestles than the more lightly loaded passenger train. Esther had known floods, back East, but these were slower inundations. From what she was hearing over the wire, snowmelt was causing trouble over at the mines. Mud slide, she'd heard, one slide washed out a tipple, which fell on a half-dozen houses: no one was hurt, though a fire did break out from a crushed cook stove. If it can wash out a tipple, she thought, it can wash out a trestle, or sluice a thick fan of mud and rock over the rails, or wash a tree's roots free and drop the living timber in front of a locomotive. There were several miles of track -- her track! -- between the mines and the mill. Most of all, she feared for the safety of her railroaders. Esther pursed her lips, considering, then came to a decision. "Have the roundhouse get steam up in my inspection car," she said briskly. "Yes, ma'am," Lightning said, reaching for the key. "I should be there in a half hour, that should be enough to get a working head of steam. I'll want Johnson." "Yes, ma'am!" Esther turned to Michelle. "Are you game for a little railroading?" Michelle swallowed. She hadn't known quite what being a maid to a fine family meant, but the very last thing she expected was being part of running a railroad!
  5. Charlie MacNeil 4-1-09 Under normal circumstances, Fire Creek was a placid rill tinkling down from the hills above the mine to slip merrily across the wide plain between mine and town and wend its way through the town to exit beyond the little clapboard church. Its course through Firelands was a favorite place for small boys with long willow switches to bring the occasional trout wriggling into the open air. This morning the character of the creek was beginning to change... It began as a trickle of muddy water that meandered from beneath the snow fields high in a deep-drifted canyon uninhabited by man or beast. First one, then another, small, liquid finger reached out, tasting the soil that had not frozen before the snow came and covered it with a deep, insulating blanket. At first, the small tendrils disappeared into the loamy dirt, absorbed by Nature's sponge, but as the volume of the life-giving fluid increased, the sponge began to be saturated, giving free rein for the slowly expanding rivulets to make their way further downhill, braiding together into a single flow... The sun had risen high enough to reach the first of its warm rays into the canyon, accelerating the growth of the flow that had begun with the warm south wind and that carried more and more soil into the rocky trough at the bottom of the defile. The soupy consistency of the mixture thinned rapidly, oozing between boulders and pebbles, gaining volume from the surrounding drifts, and speed as it traveled toward the flatlands below... The winter just past had been unusual for Firelands. As a general rule, the town's inhabitants could expect a large number of small, relatively dry snowfalls throughout the winter; this year, the snowfalls had held an unusually high volume of moisture. That moisture, locked in deep-piled drifts, was about to be released, set free by the warm Chinook winds and the sudden raw warmth of the sun's golden rays...
  6. Linn Keller 4-1-09 Parson Belden leaned his palms on the rail of their little side porch. The parsonage smelled of frying bacon and fresh baked bread; his wife, as she always did, fixed him a wonderful breakfast, and this day he would have need of it. She had come out on the porch with him, her shawl around her shoulders, smiling at the ground peeping up through the disappearing snow. Mrs. Belden tilted her head back and took a slow, deep breath. "It's waking up," she said. "Hm?" "The land. We'll have fiddle head ferns down in the run, and the roses should start to green up soon." Parson Belden twisted his back slowly to the left, to the right. He was not particularly tall; like Shorty, he was as a matter of fact kind of blocky -- the build of a man who'd done honest work all his life, and still did when necessary. He'd never seen fit to get out of the habit of working for a living and could often be seen helping with plowing or harvest, forking hay or ricking fire wood. Mrs. Belden laid a gentle hand on her husband's shoulder. "You're remembering the fire, aren't you?" The Parson, uncharacteristically taciturn, grunted. Mrs. Belden's hand squeezed gently, the move of someone who understood completely, and for whom words were not needed. They had been married long, and long enough that they could say more with a touch or a squeeze or even a look, than most can with several minutes' oratory. "I'd best go have a look around," the Parson said. "Your old boots are just inside the door." Parson Belden turned and took his wife by the elbows, frowning memory dissolving in a twinkle of merriment. He kissed his wife and said "You, Mrs. Belden, are a fine looking woman." "And you, Mr. Belden, have work to do." Parson Belden went inside. It was time to change out of his Parson's clothes and get into his work duds. The thaw had done unkind things to the snow cover. It warmed thirty degrees overnight and schoolboys waved their coats overhead, charging through the muddy street, unheeding of the ruin they were making of shoes and pants-legs, at least until Mrs. Cooper met them at the schoolhouse door with a very motherly expression. Jacob knew well the need for action over speculation: he'd harnessed the gray to their wagon, loaded both his scythes and both his shovels, and like the Parson, eschewed his usual attire for common work clothes. Annette puzzled over these preparations. She watched as Jacob walked around their house, making a circle two hundred yards across, frowning here, squinting there, nodding to himself, pointing at something significant in his vision; she had no way of knowing he was regarding the water-flow as it ran down the cliff-face behind the house, and she could not hear the silent thanks he offered to the Almighty that he'd heeded advice and built his house of stone, with a slate roof. Daisy sent her Sean out the door with a belly full of her good cooking and a sound kiss, one that fired the heart of the great Irishman and promised more than just a kiss upon his return. Little Sean ran up to his Papa and seized him about the booted leg, laughing, and Sean seized up the lad, raising him to the ceiling before bringing him down for a bearlike embrace. Maude looked over her merchandise, neatly ranked on several shelves, mentally reviewed orders placed and received, and nodded with satisfaction. It was morning, a fine morning, warm with a promise that winter's back had been broke, and spring had arrived. Maude knew better than to believe a promise false as any lover's. Bill and Mac came clumping up the board walk and were met at the door by the proprietress. She seized each by an elbow. "I'm tired of my own cooking," she announced. "Let's go have breakfast!" Bill looked at Mac, and Mac looked at Bill, and they both looked at Maude. Maude looked at one, then the other, her expression completely, mischievously, innocent. Bill spoke first. "Like the old preacher said," he grinned, "all donations cheerfully accepted!" Maude locked the door behind her and they three picked their least muddy path across the street, scraped their feet on the edge of the step, wiped off on the cocoa-nut mat beside the door, and jingled the door-bell as it opened.
  7. Charlie MacNeil 3-30-09 The mercury had dropped into the bulb at the bottom of the glass tube as if it had decided to surrender to the whims of Nature and go into hibernation like one of the great Rocky Mountain bears. The children of Firelands slept warm and snug under hand-stitched quilts, softly smiling in their slumbers, safe and secure in their beds. Sean lay awake long after Daisy and little Sean had fallen asleep, bothered by the taste of the wind that whispered across the blanket of snow. Before coming to Firelands, he had seen his share of blizzards that buried the countryside under great masses of water-laden white. He had also seen what damage a sudden thaw could do when that water was suddenly released from its frozen prison. As he drifted off to sleep his last thought was, " 'tis a blessin' that the wind's from the north." The running horse adorning the wrought-iron weathervane atop Shorty's livery stable was pointed steadily to the south, indicating a north wind, as Mister Baxter blew out the last of the lamps in the Silver Jewel and went to his bed. Shorty himself slept soundly in his small room at the front of the livery; one moment asleep, the next awake. He lay for a moment, blinking at the ceiling in confusion, at a loss as to what had brought him to the surface of the dark sea of dreamland. The next moment he heard it: the rhythmic squeak of a pivot lacking lubrication as the weathervane tacked back and forth in the restless wind. With a high-pitched, drawn-out squall the arrow beneath the iron stable mascot spun one hundred eighty degrees as a gust came directly from the south. After a few gradually quieter squeaks and squeals, the vane settled in and went silent. Shorty threw back the warm blankets, shivering as his bare feet contacted the braided rug by his bed. He shoved his feet into worn leather slippers, reached for the box of matches on the bedside table and struck one alight. He held the flame to the wick of a fat tallow candle stuck in its own wax on a chipped saucer. Golden light formed a globe in the darkness of the small room. Wearing only his patched long-handles Shorty stepped out into the stable proper, listening intently. It took several long minutes, but then a small sound came to his ears: the sound of dripping meltwater. Already the air of the stable, normally warmer than that outside, had increased in temperature. Lord help us! the livery man thought. The Chinook's comin'!
  8. Linn Keller 3-30-09 "Come inside, Sean," Daisy said softly, her hand gentle on his flannel shirted back. Sean stood on the back porch of their little home, legs planted wide, his muscled arms folded: frowning, he glared out across the field behind their home, for all the world like a ship's-captain glaring a challenge at an approaching storm front. "I don't like it," he muttered, shaking his head. "I don't like it a'tall." Daisy came up beside her husband, one hand on his shoulder, leaning her flannel robed form into him. He put an arm around her and drew her close. "Daisy me dear," Sean said, and his voice softened, though his frown scarcely did, "do yu' fell the thaw in th' air?" Daisy nodded. "Mm-hmm. And do you smell it, Sean? It smells of springtime!" "Nah," Sean spat. "It's trouble, I tell ye. Trouble, t' thaw this early." He turned and gathered his wife into both his arms. "First, now, let's be gettin' you inside where it's warm." Sean opened the door for his sleepy wife and followed her in, but as he started to draw the door shut behind, he turned and looked out at the snowfield, bright in the moonlight. "I dona' like it," he muttered, and latched the door shut.
  9. Linn Keller 3-29-09 Annette's cheeks were pink, her hand was delicately in front of her mouth, her shoulders rolled forward just a bit, and she and Esther locked eyes, both women ready to bust out laughing, but neither quite willing to do so. Poor Jacob, on the other hand, made no secret of his feelings. Esther was offering the wrapped, wiggling bundle of baby boy: Jacob, fingers spread wide under it, had an expression of unadulterated fear as he protested in a cracked voice, "But I might break it!" "Nonsense!" Esther said briskly, in her warm, don't-worry-I-am-the-mother voice. She tucked young Joseph back against her and took one, then the other of Jacob's forearms, rearranging them: she eased Joseph's weight into his brother's grasp, unwrapped one of Joseph's pink, kicking legs and wrapped Jacob's hand around the thigh: "There, hold this, head in your elbow. Yes. Just like that." Jacob's breath, trapped behind his teeth, eased out cautiously, hesitantly; his eyes were locked onto the little face that yawned and smiled at him. Jacob's other hand came up, wrapping around the infant's shoulder, and he looked up at the shining emerald of his mother's eyes. Jacob looked around, spotted a convenient rocking chair, eased his wiry frame down into the welcoming chair, and began rocking slowly, gently. "What do I do now?" he said, his voice tight, and Annette, who had seen her husband in many states and in many situations, realized this is the closest to honest, I-don't-know-what-to-do PANIC she'd ever seen in the man! "Now," Esther said with a schoolteacher's nod, "you do just as you are doing. You get acquainted." She folded her hands in front of her. "Jacob, this is your brother Joseph." Jacob looked into his tiny little brother's face. "Joseph, this is your big brother Jacob. He has much to teach you." Jacob looked up, surprised, then began to grin. Esther could read the thought in his eyes: Yes, ma'am, I surely do! Joseph, blinking sleepily, cuddled a little into the strong arms that held him and managed to work one little arm out of the blanket wrap. Jacob chuckled a little as the tiny pink hand began exploring the lapel of his coat. He raised the child a little and nibbled the tiny, tiny fingers, and Jacob smiled with toothless gums and squealed in delight.
  10. Charlie MacNeil 3-26-09 The modest dwelling's front door crashed open and the thunder of boot heels was loud on the polished hardwood floor of the entry hall. "Fannie darlin', pack your duds, we're goin' to visit the new baby!" Charlie called, his voice ringing through the house's finely furnished interior. "I'm already packed," Fannie told him from the entry to the parlor. "I knew you'd figure out some way to go back there on official business!" He slipped an arm around her shoulders and planted a kiss on her cheek. "And how, pray tell, do you know this is official business?" "Because I know you!" she declared as her own arm went 'round his waist. "As usual, you've read what little mind I have left after dealin' with all the bureaucratic nonsense I put up with every day," he told her. "I'm gonna pick up the gent that had the bank money, along with said dinero, and bring 'em both back here to Denver. I figured we might as well go see the Sheriff's new offspring while we were at it." He pecked her on the cheek once more before he turned to head for their bedchamber. "Gotta get some clothes packed." "Already done," Fannie informed him dryly. "I told you, I knew we'd be going back there. When do we leave?" "First thing in the morning." "Good. Then we've got time for a bath," she told him with a wicked glint in her shining emerald eyes.
  11. Linn Keller 3-25-09 Sarah's eyes snapped open. All was quiet in the Rosenthal household. Sarah knew her Mama slept in the next room with the twins, and they in their bed, wrapped and cuddled and peaceful as they always were. Twain Dawg, however, was not so tranquil. Sarah rolled over, slipping one flannel sleeved arm out from under the covers, and reached down toward the growling dog. It's not that her arm was too short, really, it's that the bed was made for an adult, and she wasn't near that size: matter of fact, she was nearer eight than nine, despite the Sheriff's confusion on the matter. Sarah tossed back the warmth of her quilts and sucked in a quick breath as her warm soles missed the rug and hit the chilly floor. She was instantly wide awake. Her quick young ears picked up what Twain Dawg had heard: the chickens outside were unhappy. Sarah reached down and laid a hand on Dawg's bristling ruff. "C'mon," she whispered, and Twain Dawg stood, rumbling deep in his chest, a note Sarah had never heard, but because she'd grown so close to the canine, little he did caused her to fear. They slipped downstairs -- Twain Dawg pulled quickly away from her grasping hand, flowed down the stairway like water down a falls, and snarled quietly at the closed back door. Sarah looked upstairs. Her Papa was not yet home, and she did not want to disturb her Mama, but something was into the chickens and she saw it as her place to take care of the situation. She was a big girl, after all. Sarah went to the corner and picked up the shotgun her Mama kept behind a conveniently concealing apron. It was heavier than she'd expected, but she'd seen her Papa use it, and figured she could too. "Sshhh," she admonished Twain Dawg, and Twain Dawg shh'd, sheathing his fangs and lowering his head a bit. Had Sarah had light to see, she would have seen a very different Twain Dawg than she was used to: but it was dark, and her attention was on the door's latch. She drew the latch back, turned the knob, pulled the door open. Twain Dawg was past her, charging into the darkness. Sarah threw the door wide, grasped the double gun in both hands, ran out onto the back porch. There was a terrible sound of snarling and growling and Sarah turned and ran down the stairs. The moon was out and mostly full: the ground sparkled bright with frost, and against this light and glittering background, Sarah saw Twain Dawg in a tangled malestrom of fur and fang with something vaguely doglike, very fast, and made of snarl and gleaming ivory. Sarah looked down at the double gun's action, rested its muzzle on the ground -- it was too long and heavy to hold up -- she shoved back the left-hand hammer with the heel of her left hand, then the right hammer -- she grasped it by its fore end, tucked the comb of the stock under her armpit, raised the muzzle. A second shadowy form slipped behind the fighting pair, seized a hen and started to slink into the darkness. "Sarah!" Bonnie's alarmed voice called from the porch. "You put my chicken down!" Sarah yelled, mad clear through, pointed the muzzle of the double gun at the fleeing chicken thief, and yanked the front trigger. For a moment, just a moment, the world froze, and Bonnie would forever remember the scene as if it were engraved on a Daguerreotype plate: Twain Dawg, jaws wide and fangs gleaming, moonlight reflecting silver from his eye, a tenth of a second from his opponent's throat: Sarah, ghostly in her flannel nightie, three feet of flame squirting into the dark, a young warrior screaming defiance at a skulker and a thief; and a great cloud of dust, for Sarah's shot went mostly low and kicked up an impressive volume of frozen dirt. The effect of her shot was instantaneous. Twain Dawg's snarl was muffled as he clamped down hard on the coyote's throat. Despite the concussion, Bonnie heard the grisly crunch of cartilage, then the pained scream of a wounded animal. The hazy cloud rolled out ahead of Sarah and she stepped back, absorbing the recoil, raised the muzzle again and triggered the second barrel. This one was not low. The chicken flapped away, shedding feathers and indignation; later inspection showed the worst of the chicken's injuries were to its dignity, and in fact the next day it proceeded to lay its usual egg, with the loud-voiced opinion that it had just birthed an entire universe and all of Creation should bow before its scaled feet in homage to this wondrous miracle. At the moment, Bonnie's knuckles, clamped on the porch rail and white with the effort, welded her in place, but only for a moment: she swarmed down the stairs and to Sarah, squatted beside her and laid her arm across Sarah's back, her hand on her far shoulder. Twain Dawg snarled quietly as the 'yote kicked its last, and the second coyote, the one Sarah crippled with her first, skipped shot, and cut mostly in two with her second, thrashed and gasped and snapped its jaws until it, too, surrendered its essence to the Eternal. There was the clatter of hooves and Caleb came around back, driving their buggy through the yard, a thing he never did: he drew the mare to a halt and regarded the scene before him, realizing that whatever happened, it was over, and apparently not unwell. Bonnie stood, surprise still on her face, but Sarah was not in the least at a loss for words. "Papa! Twain Dawg killed a coyote and so did I!" Caleb could not help it. He stepped out of the buggy and took his ladies in his arms and laughed.
  12. Charlie MacNeil 3-24-09 Charlie read Jackson Cooper's telegram. Here's my chance! he thought to himself. "Ozzie!" he bellowed. "What?" Assistant Marshal Ozzie Smithers' voice echoed through the building. "I'm goin' to Firelands! Wanna go?" "Can't! Too much to do!" Charlie drew in a breath to answer, but before he could give voice to his reply his new secretary, Alexandra Macone, popped her head through the open door. The last young lady had been unable to adapt to Charlie's sometimes rough ways. This one had no such problem. "Must you two beller at each other like a couple of buffalo bulls?" the buxom brunette asked in a tart tone. "Is it too much to ask that one of you go to the other's office?" "What's the matter, too loud for you?" Charlie asked, his tone amused. "I do believe you're scaring the beer wagon horses out in the street!" the young woman, who preferred to be called Alex, declared. "It amuses me," Charlie told her with a grin. "Then you are easily amused, Marshal," Alex told him dryly as she returned to her desk. "I reckon you're right," Charlie said under his breath. "On both counts." He pushed his chair back and headed for Ozzie's office. He stepped inside. "Got a telegram from Firelands." he said curtly. "They want to know if we're ready for them to send back the money and the man. I think I'll go get 'em both." "Here's an idea," Ozzie answered. "Pack up Miss Fannie, and the both of you go see that new baby you told me about. Since you'll be going on business, we can bill the train tickets to the home office." "Mine, anyway. Good plan," Charlie said. He raised his voice. "Alex!" She stubbornly refused to answer, and Charlie gave Ozzie a grin. "I reckon I'll have to go out there. See ya." He went out into the hall and made his way to Alex's desk to ask her to arrange train tickets for himself and Fannie to Firelands.
  13. Linn Keller 3-24-09 The meeting took place in the Sheriff's study. Jackson Cooper, Sean and the Irish Brigade, Mr. Baxter, the Reverend Belden, Lightning -- in fact, most of the men-folk from Firelands proper managed to squeeze in; the study was generous in size, but the Sheriff began to regret not having had their assembly at the Jewel instead. Brandy was poured and tasted, cigars passed around, and the assembled found a place of comfort, whether standing, lounging, seated: Sean settled his trim backside on the hearth, warming his kidneys at the fire, the Welsh Irishman parked on the other side of the broad, flat stone; Jackson Cooper shifted his weight from one foot to the other, tugging at his collar and looking like he wished he were elsewhere. Earlier in the evening he'd fussed and growled as Emma clucked and smiled, for it wasn't often she got to see her fine figure of a man in his suit; she tied his tie in the same neat knot Esther had taught her, to Jackson Cooper's muttered protestations; he variously opined that a necktie was next thing to a noose, and that its inventor should be strangled with the prototype, and it buried with said individual: finally Emma stood back, pleased, admiring, and Jackson Cooper's ears turned a remarkable shade of red, for in spite of his objections, he lived for his diminutive wife's approval. "Gentlemen," the Sheriff said, "thank you all for coming." He too wore his suit, as did most of those present. The Irish Brigade wore their usual red bib front shirts, but their boots were polished to a high shine, their mustaches were waxed into fine handlebars: even Mr. Baxter had taken pains to dress for the occasion. The Sheriff looked around, met every eye. "It isn't often a man gets to participate in his town's government to such an intimate degree. You have all indicated your respect for this effort by your very appearance, and by the decorum of your behavior." There was a high-pitched giggle and the patter of bare feet, running: the door was half open to the Sheriff's study, and every head turned, and some leaned a little to look at the source of the disturbance: the Sheriff turned, cigar in one hand, brandy in the other, just as a naked little girl, dripping wet and shrieking with delight, went pattering by the open door, followed a half-pace behind by a distressed maid, bent over double, towel extended in an attempt to catch the fleeing fugitive. The Sheriff cleared his throat. "As I was saying, we are meeting with a proper dignity and decorum --" Another giggle and Angela went streaking past the doorway again, laughing, wearing nothing more than the delighted expression of a happy child. "Gentlemen, if you will excuse me," the Sheriff said, handing his refreshments to his deputy and stepping out the door. There was a roar, a snarl, another shriek and a positive waterfall of giggles, and the Sheriff came back in the room with a laughing little girl wrapped up in a towel half as big as Firelands County. "As I was saying," he continued, Melissa creeping fearfully into the hazy room behind him, "we meet with due decorum in recognition of the solemnity of our purpose." He kissed Angela on the forehead and said "Isn't that right, precious?" Angela giggled and the Sheriff handed her off to Michelle, who backed from the room, drawing the double doors shut behind her. The Sheriff recovered his brandy and his cigar, laughing quietly; chuckles rippled through the room. "Well, so much for solemn dignity," he said ruefully, and got a good laugh. "Okay. Now that we're here, let's talk about town. It has been suggested that we put together a formal government: Mayor, Council, treasurer, utilities, the stuff of a real municipality." There was a shuffling of feet, a murmur. This had been discussed for some time. "Esther has hired an architect to draw up plans for a city hall. We have contracted with the quarry to supply the same quartz block as our hospital, we are arranging masons from the quarry to actually construct the edifice." "That will go where the newspaper office was?" Mr. Baxter asked. "It will. The property adjacent has been purchased for that purpose." "Who holds title to that property?" The Sheriff smiled, blew out a fragrant cloud of Cuban. "I do." "If ye don't mind me askin'," Sean asked with a lift of his chin, "who will own yon property once the buildin' is up?" "Firelands," the Sheriff said without hesitation. "Once she's built, I'll quit-claim it to Firelands in perpetuity. Mr. Moulton has the paper work drawn up for that transfer." "And your askin' price?" Sean inquired suspiciously. The Sheriff swirled his brandy. "The price has been paid," he said quietly. "And how much would that be, if ye don't mind me askin'?" Sean pressed. The Sheriff took a long drink of his brandy, emptied the balloon, set the empty snifter on a sideboard and parked his cigar. He looked at the floor, thrust out his bottom lip and took a long breath, and then looked up at the big Irishman. "Sean, I am a man who knows the value of a dollar. When I was young I farmed, grubbed stumps and rocks, swung a scythe and plowed up roots and sweated as only a farmer can. In the years since I have known joy and sorrow, gain and loss, enemies and friends. "My price?" He smiled grimly. "Sean, my price is this: "A woman who loves me. "A daughter who laughs when I hold her. "A son who is the world to me. "Friends without whom I would be nothing. "A home worth of the name." The Sheriff paused, looking around again, slowly, his gaze touching every eye, one by one by one. "That is my price, Sean. The bill is marked 'Paid in Full.'" The room was silent for several long moments. "And what o' the others?" "Others?" "Sheriff" -- Sean stood, his brandy behind him on the hearth -- "you've bought the town a fine steam engine at your own expense. Ye hired us an' pay our wage every month, a' your expense. You had our firehouse built a' your expense. The Silver Jewel is yours. Wha' o 'the other?" The Sheriff smiled. "Sean, once the town is up and running, the fire department will be paid from the city treasury. We will have utilities -- gas and running water -- in fact we've just signed for the pipes to carry gas, and gas is drilled in not far from here. It will be heating your new firehouse and it's already fired the first batches of bricks. "I plan to turn the new city building and its property over to Firelands, and the fire department, engine, building and all." "Jus' like that." "Just like that." Sean scratched his Irish-red hair. "Ye'll no' be sellin' 'em?" The Sheriff shook his head. "No." Sean turned his head a little, looking almost sidelong at the Sheriff, trying to find the catch, the trick, the joker in the deck. "Ye could sell 'em t' th' town, y'know." "I know." "Ye stand t' make a good profit." The Sheriff nodded. "Ye're just givin' 'em away." A nod again. "Why?" The Sheriff considered for a long moment. Silence hung over the room as each ear waited for his reply. There was a tap at the door: Jacob opened the panel, stepped in. "My apologies, gentlemen," he said formally, sounding remarkably like his father. The Sheriff held up a forestalling hand. "Don't close it just yet," he said quietly. In the hush they heard the la-laa, la-laa of a newborn's cries, and the Sheriff grinned, then nodded to his firstborn. Jacob drew the door shut. "That," the Sheriff said, "is one reason why." He turned to his son, laid a hand on the tall young man's shoulder, turned to face the assembled. "this is another." After the meeting had concluded, the Sheriff had reason to appreciate Mr. Baxter's efforts in obtaining a goodly stock of fine brandy, and Maude's diligence in ordering in more cigars. The meeting had lasted long into the night, required most of the brandy and all but two of the cigars -- but by the time they were done, they had formed up the back bone of Firelands municipal government-to- be.
  14. Linn Keller 3-22-09 Jackson Cooper paced back the short hall that led to the cells. He stood in front of the cell. The prisoner looked at this mountain of a man and decided perhaps it would behoove him to quit raising a fuss. The prisoner shrank back a little bit as Jackson Cooper just stood there, silent, unmoving, and finally produced a key, and unlocked the door. "What's this?" the mine foreman asked. "Time to go see the Judge," Jackson Cooper said quietly. The mine foreman considered for a moment -- for only a moment -- driving hard fists into this big deputy's middle, but something told him this wasn't the man to try it with. He'd thought he could take that old gray lawman over in the Jewel, and another old gray lawman came out of nowhere and knocked the liver and lights loose from him, not to mention a couple teeth ... his gut told him this fellow could likely put him head first through the cut stone wall and not have to exert himself to do it. His Honor the Judge had taken a dim view of those who would raise fists or other implements against the law, and sentenced the foreman to a month in the hoosegow, or a one hundred dollar fine: the foreman had come off winners from his most recent poker game and decided to part with the coin instead of languish in lockup and lose his job -- which he just might have lost anyway, having been away from his duties for a few days. Jackson Cooper saw him back onto the train bound for the mines, and returned to the Sheriff's office, where he picked up a pen, dipped it carefully in India ink, and scribed a few lines. Marshal -- Sheriff & Esther have a son, all well. Advise whether to continue holding prisoner or return to Denver. Ready to return bank proceeds on your go-ahead. Jackson Cooper, Deputy, Firelands. Jackson Cooper smiled and leaned back in the Sheriff's chair, considering whether to include a personal greeting, then decided against it. He'd wait until Charlie returned to Firelands and he'd buy him a beer.
  15. Linn Keller 3-20-09 Michelle had done wonders. She had both stoves fired and she'd gotten Angela dressed and her hair brushed out, she'd laid out my suit and the meal was near to ready for dishing up by the time Bonnie and Esther drew up in front of the house. Twain Dawg had arrived well before, pawing briskly at the front door and loudly asking to come in: Sarah opened the door for him and I heard her bossy older-sister voice scolding the pup -- in my mind's eye I could see her, just a sprout of a girl, shaking her Mommy-finger at a canine that was rapidly coming to an impressive full growth. I finished knotting my tie. It took three tries to get the nice square Windsor knot Esther liked so well, and I think it was more by accident than design that I got it done, but I got 'er and snugged it up. Good smells were drifting upstairs and my belly started calling me unkind names. I walked downstairs and to the front door, and Esther smiled up at me, cradling new life to her bosom, and I strode out into the snow to welcome my wife and our new son to home. I'm sure I struck a fine and dignified figure as I slipped in the snow and landed flat on my face, sliding about a foot under the buggy. I came up on all fours, shaking my head and blowing snow out of my snot-box, raising up and banging my head on the under side of the carriage. I backed out from under, to the giggling of two little girls on the porch, amused by the sight of my hinder coming widdershins out from under the buggy. I stood, slapping snow off my lapels and my front, shaking my coat to dislodge the snow cakes compressed between coat and vest. I looked up at Bonnie. She was coloring nicely, trying hard not to laugh. Esther, on the other hand, was on her feet, one hand on the back of the seat and one hand cradling little Joseph. I tried hard not to show it, but my abused ribs were choosing that moment to give me Billy Hell, and half-healed bruises from breast bone level down to about hip level were starting to add their voices to the symphony of agony, so I tried to strike a dignified pose, puffing little balls of snow from my mustache as if it were the most natural thing in the world. That was the last straw. Bonnie started to laugh. I looked at her with what I was sure was an expression of wounded dignity; it was time for the ridiculous, I thought, and struck an exaggerated pose, as if I were a monarch about to make some grand pronouncement, one hand on my hip, the other in the air, waving a finger like I was making an important point in a fine oratory. Bonnie was in hysterics by this time, Esther was joining her, the little girls on the porch had given up all pretense of decorum. I harrumphed, shook my suit coat again, smoothed my thinning hair. Esther sat back down on the upholstered seat. laughing into her lace-trimmed kerchief. Somewhere within the wraps and shawls and blankets and whatever else she'd wrapped little Joseph in, there came the intermittent protest of a young baby, the la-laa, la-laa of the newborn. I walked around the back of the buggy and offered Esther my hand, and she descended with less than her usual Queenly grace. She's probably stove up and sore more than I am, I thought. Esther halted a moment, biting her bottom lip, confirming my suspicion. I offered my arm. Esther took my arm and, together, we walked around the front of the buggy and up the swept-clean steps, and into our home.
  16. Linn Keller 3-19-09 Bonnie clucked and flipped the reins, and the Sheriff's mare eased into her collar, drawing the fine carriage easily up the street. Esther's cheeks were pink, her eyes shining; new life cuddled against her, under the cloak, smelling of soap and baby powder like new babies often do. The ladies chatted quietly; little Joseph, lulled by Mama's voice and the moving carriage, slept, restless but relaxed. Twain Dawg was galloping into town, running for the sheer joy of running. The snow was packed the length of the street, hiding what would become mud once thaw came, but for today it was packed down and clean. Twain Dawg ran with his tongue out the right side of his mouth, grinning, ears flapping like small wings as his great head rose and fell. As he breasted the firehouse, the German Irishman raised his hand and hailed a greeting, and Parson Belden smiled as the massive canine charged past, claws and paws noisy on the hard packed snow cover. Twain Dawg galloped past the mare, circling back, coming abreast, trotting contentedly on the left side of the carriage, panting. Twain Dawg knew Sarah was somewhere to be found. Unless he found something else interesting to get into. A stray cat glared at him from the mouth of an alley, hissed. Twain Dawg looked over at it and laughed, eyes sparkling with high good humor, as the cat arched its back, furred out its tail and snarled its best imitation of a teakettle mated with an ill-tempered porcupine. Twain Dawg chose not to investigate this phenomenon, for the wind caught his nose, and on the wind he found young Sarah. Turning, galloping again, he pounded down the alleyway between the Jewel and what was to become City Hall, and across the back field, bee-lined for the Sheriff's house.
  17. Linn Keller 3-18-09 Bless you, Bonnie, I thought, smiling. I watched as Michelle bathed little Angela, getting her clean while getting acquainted. I was outside the room, but had left the door open about an inch, enough to look in. Oh, I've bathed little ones before, mostly very little ones, and Angela a time or three, but I didn't really feel right what with Esther not back yet. Besides, I thought, Esther will be busy with young Joseph, and Michelle will be a great help for her! I marvelled at how Esther could command her household with the same clockwork-and-timetable efficiency as she ran her railroad, even to the last weeks of her pregnancy, but to be real honest, there toward the last I insisted it be more like she runs the railroad and I was the railroad. Nobody in town knew it and Esther, bless her heart, never told anyone, but I'd taken care of the household when I wasn't taking care of the town. On the other hand I think it was known. Maude gave me a knowing look when I was in the general store, and Bonnie looked at me in a way ... well, an approving way. I looked toward the front door; there was a carriage pulling up out front. I eased the door shut, latched it quietly. I looked out the window and smiled. "Caleb!" I greeted my caller, shaking his hand. Sarah was with him, smiling like she always did. "Uncle Linn!" she exclaimed, holding her arms up, and I noticed with some surprise that I didn't have to bend over so far to hug her. "What are you feedin' this child?" I asked Caleb. "She's grown since I saw her last!" "I know," Caleb sighed. "Bonnie has taken to adding panels to her skirt, I think. Or curtain fringe." "Oh, Papa!" Sarah exclaimed, coloring. "She does not!" "Well heavens, come in in," I said. "I think Michelle has coffee hot." "We brought Angela a present," Sarah blurted, excited, bouncing a little. "She'll like that," I nodded, closing the door, "but she's in the tub right now." There was a sharp, raspy YAP! and I turned quickly. I don't know whose face was more surprised: mine, Sarah's, or the furry little visage that peeked out from her arms. "Why, hello, fella," I said, reaching slowly down and letting the shiny-black nose sniff at the back of my fingers. "Where did you come from?" "Twain Dawg," Caleb and Sarah said together. I laughed. The new arrival was busy washing my fingers, wiggling with happiness; Sarah was barely able to hold him. "Go ahead and set him down," I said. "He might as well get used to the place." The pup scrabbled a little on the polished floor and immediately began to cast around, his nose to the floor, searching. "'Scuse me," I said, scooping him up and opening the door. We made it down the steps, the pup's feet hit the ground, he turned around once or twice and emptied a bladder that must have been three times as big as he was. Satisfied, he dug with his hind feet and hobby-horsed over to me. I ruffled his ears, grinning, and the pup grinned back at me and yapped again. This time he fell over backwards, surprised at the sound he'd just made. Caleb and I laughed together. Sarah's hands were over her mouth and she was bouncing again. We went back inside and we could hear Angela coming out of the tub. It was a few more moments before she came paddling out, barefoot, her flannel nightie dragging the floor, wet hair wrapped up in a towel half as big as she was. If she grows as fast as Sarah, I thought, we won't have to worry about that nightie dragging much longer! Angela laughed and came running toward me, her arms wide for a hug, like she always did, and then she saw the pup. The brown-furred pup with the black muzzle, tan belly and tan paws cocked his head and regarded Angela curiously, the hide wrinkling up between his ears. Angela cocked her head in much the same manner and giggled, her little pink hands covering her mouth. "We brought you a pup!" Sarah declared. "Bup," Angela said with an emphatic nod. The pup ran its pink tongue out and laughed. "No, not bup," Sarah corrected. "Pup!" "Bup!" Angela repeated, nodding again, absolutely positive she was right. I squatted down and stroked the little ball of wiggle and fur. "Angela, would you like to name your pup?" I asked, and Angela laughed, showing those lovely, even white teeth, and said, "Bup!"
  18. Linn Keller 3-18-09 Twain Dawg had inherited a great deal from his sire. His muzzle was not as blunt -- he had not the raw crushing power of the older Dawg's jaws -- but he was equally broad of chest, blunt of legs, and muscled. Twain Dawg had inherited the absolutely, positively, unmarred and unmarked coat of utterly BLACK fur -- the black of a sinner's conscience, or of midnight's secret heart. Twain Dawg had inherited every bit of Dawg's protective nature. Twain Dawg had inherited many other attributes, from his dam as well as his sire, and as time and nature take their course, Twain Dawg matured as Dawgs will, and Sarah wondered at the appearance of a lighter spot on Twain Dawg's gleaming nose. Closer inspection proved this an injury of some sort: linear, lighter colored than the surrounding fur. Sara frowned when she saw it but wisely did not touch it, for even though healing and nearly healed, it was a bit tender. Sarah forgot this puzzling discovery until her Papa came up from the stable and sat beside her on the porch swing. Sarah loved the swing. Whenever the weather was fit, whenever she could escape chores and the thousand things that demand a young girl's time, it was her favorite place: here she read, here she did her lessons, here she sewed, here she dreamed. Caleb sat beside her, his arm going around her shoulders, and she leaned into him. "Sarah," Caleb said, "do you remember when Twain Dawg was a pup?" Sarah giggled, looking at the panting Twain Dawg. He was lying on the porch decking with his forepaws dangling down onto the front step, surveying his kingdom like an indolent monarch on a velvet sofa. "He was little," Sarah nodded. "Was he this little?" Caleb asked, drawing a bundle of brown fur out from under his coat. Sarah's eyes were suddenly big and her mouth was round with delight. "Oh, Papa!" she exclaimed, then looked accusingly at Twain Dawg. "Twain Dawg, what have you been doing?" she demanded in her best bossy-big-sister voice. Caleb laughed as the furball wiggled and grunted in his grip. "He's only just weaned," he said. "Do you think Angela will like him?" Disappointment creased Sarah's forehead. "But Papa, I want him!" she whined. Caleb inclined his head in a fatherly way. "Sarah, you have Twain Dawg. Do you remember how happy you were when Charlie gave him to you?" Sarah smiled again, remembering. "Do you think Angela will like him?" she asked, reaching out a tentative finger to stroke the pup's soft, straight fur. She giggled as its quick pink tongue taste-tested her exploring digit. "Let's find out, shall we? I have Jelly harnessed up." "Okay!" Sarah bounced off the porch swing, excited. "I'll get my wrap!" Twain Dawg yawned, blinking sleepily, paying no attention at all to the chickens scratching in the yard.
  19. Linn Keller 3-17-09 I lay in the darkness, the weight of a little girl warm against my side, the weight of a near to full grown Dawg at my feet, and I smiled. Angela's breath was easy against the side of my neck and her little arm was flung over my chest. My arm was under her and I had her cuddled into me. Twain Dawg snored. I thought back to earlier in the evening, in the Jewel, when Jacob and I stood shoulder to shoulder, leaning back against Mr. Baxter's bar, after the Irish Brigade had bade their goodbyes with much back-pounding and many good wishes. Jacob's beer mug, like mine, was only about half emptied. I never knew him to tie on a good healthy drunk and truth be told I'd only done it once in my young life, on factory made whiskey that ... well, I didn't have a morning after. I'd had a day after. That was a very long time ago, not long after I swore into the Union army, but I was young and foolish. Jacob and I stood there a long time, one foot set up on the polished brass foot rail, one elbow back behind, resting on the mahogany bar top. "Sir?" Jacob asked. "Yes, Jacob?" "Sir, do you remember the first time you took me fishing?" I smiled. "I remember." "Do you remember" -- he swirled his beer -- "do you remember tearing bark off that rotted log, showing me how to find grubs?" I remembered. I remembered the earthy, sharp stink of rotted bark, the crumbled texture, the white, curling grubs as they fell free. I nodded. "Sir?" "Yes, Jacob?" "Sir, do you remember the bear?" I took a long breath. "Yes, Jacob. I remember." Jacob's beer slowed to a stop, turning slowly in his heavy glass mug, forgotten. "Sir, you put out an arm and said 'Jacob, get behind me,' and your voice was not excited at all." I nodded. It was sunny out that morning, the sun was at our backs and pleasant soaking through our clothes. It smelled good in the high country, birds sang riot around us, the horses grazed contentedly, at least until the wind shifted. Rose o' the Mornin' scented the bear first and spooked. I hadn't hobbled her -- she'd always been steady and reliable -- I'd just ground reined her so she could graze, and graze she did, at least until she caught a whiff of Mrs. Ephriam. When Rose o' the Mornin' bolted, so did Jacob's Appaloosa, and with them my rifle. I'd looked up and saw the grizzly the moment she saw us. My left hand Colt was in hand as my right arm swept Jacob behind me. "Stay behind me, Jacob," I said quietly. "Stay with me." "Yes, sir," he'd said, his voice tight, and we stood our ground. The sow grizzly stood. I'm told a grizz has poor eye sight. A very good nose, but poor eyes, and she reminded me of an aging schoolmarm who'd forgotten her spectacles. A schoolmarm with claws like chisels and a steam powered jaw. I felt as much as heard Jacob's Army Colt whisper out of its sheath. "Jacob," I said, "if she has cubs she is likely to charge." "Yes, sir." "Stay behind me. We are going to walk backwards, slow. I need you to turn around and watch behind us. Tell me if you see a cub." "Yes, sir." I began walking backwards, slow, easy, my eyes locked on the sow grizzly. I needed Jacob's eyes behind us. If a cub had circled around and we were between the sow and her young it would guarantee a charge. If the cubs were behind her, we might have a chance. Jacob stayed with me. He reached back and grabbed the back of my belt, moving with me: we stepped together, slowly, and the sow grizzly watched, curious. She came down on all fours and took a few tentative steps toward us. I put two fingers to my lips and whistled, a high, pure note, liquid on the chilly mountain air. Rose o' the Mornin' disliked bears but she had been trained by the best. At my whistle her head came up and she came to us at a gallop. "Jacob," I said, "when Rose gets in reach, you mount up and get some distance." "Sir, she'll charge," Jacob protested. I knew he was right. Running from a bear will almost always trigger their charge reflex. A grizzly can outrun a good saddlehorse in the sprint. The best I could hope to do with a revolver would be slow her down, make her mad enough at me to let Jacob get away. I bared my teeth. If that was the cards dealt me this hand, why, I would play them. I heard Rose pounding across the high meadow toward us. The sow turned her head, made kind of a groaning woof. There was the sound of quarreling cubs behind her and two shining-red grizzly cubs tumbled into view, wrestling, squealing. The sow grunted and swatted at them, rumbling something deep in her chest. I heard a rifle cycle into battery and knew Jacob had made it into the saddle. "Sir?" he said. Something touched my arm. "Sir?" I blinked, once more in the Jewel. "Sir, do you remember telling me to get some distance?" I took a long breath, blinked again. "I remember." Jacob turned to face me, no longer slouching against the bar. He set his mug on the bar and faced me formally. "Sir, you were ready to stop her with your very life." I nodded, turned to look at him. Jacob's face was serious. "Sir, you didn't know I was your son." I felt a smile widen my face, slowly, slowly, the smile of a man with some deeper knowledge. "Jacob, you were my son in every sense of the word." It was Jacob's turn to blink. Now, lying in the dark, warm in my own bed, I still felt Jacob's hand in mine. He had no words for his thanks, or the depths of his realization. He'd reached out his hand, and I'd taken it.
  20. Linn Keller 3-17-09 Sean and the Irish Brigade, glowing with happiness and prolonged celebration, staggering just a bit and smelling distinctly of cigar smoke and beer, trooped happily through the snow back to their tall narrow horse-house, not feeling a bit of cold despite the late-winter chill. Sean was shaking his head and muttering and finally voiced his complaint aloud: "The Sheriff will no' make a guid Irishman if he'll no' let go an' get guid an' drunk!" The German Irishman looked at his chieftain, closing one eye so he would be addressing but one of the mustachioed Seans, considering that he himself was not far from the need to hold onto one blade of grass to keep from falling off the face of the earth. The German Irishman looked about and began to laugh. "Now what's featherin' yer funny bone?" the New York Irishman challenged. The German Irishman swung an arm expansively. The Welsh Irishman ducked, but barely in time, the meaty arm whistling through the air where his head had been but a moment before. "Have a look, boyos," he shouted. "Not a bit of grass to be seen!" "He's right!" the Welsh Irishman declared, coming cautiously back to his full height. "Though what a man would want wi' grass in the dead o' winter is beyond me!" The German Irishman belched, then leaned confidentially toward his cohort and said in a conspirator's tone, "It's so I don't end up among the stars, y'know!" and fell over some nonexistent obstruction, landing face first in the snow, arms thrown wide like a swimmer. Sean seized the man's left arm and the Welsh Irishman took the man's right, and together they hauled him out of the snow and carried him the rest of the way down the street, his boot-toes dragging twin furrows in the punished snowfall; they sang loudly, cheerfully and absolutely off key, some sad ballad about a lass with shining eyes whose lover went to sea and never returned. The German Irishman gave a good rippling belch and passed out.
  21. Linn Keller 3-15-09 "NOW WHAT'S THIS I HEAR ABOUT DRINKS ON THE HOUSE?" Sean boomed, the entire Irish Brigade grinning and stomping in behind him. Mr. Baxter's neat row of just-filled mugs were reduced quickly as the Irish Brigade filed past: as noisy and boisterous as their entry, their passage was quite civilized, as each man wanted to spill no beer, and intended fully to collect on the excellent Havanas being freely distributed. Sean lit up first, puffing grand huge clouds into the already hazed atmosphere, pounding the Sheriff happily on the back. "Linn, ma lad," he said in that grand big voice of his, "is it a boy or a girl?" The Sheriff bit through his cigar with the first assault on his shoulder blades, spat out the stub and decided against trying his beer, for fear the heavy glass might chip his rearmost tooth by virtue of knocking the others out of the way first. Gasping for breath, he choked, "It's a boy," rolling his tongue in protest at the bitter flakes of Cuban tobacco burning into his taste buds. "DO YE HEAR THAT LADS!" Sean announced in stentorian tones. "THE SHERIFF IS CHOKED UP O'ER HIS GOOD FORTUNE! A DRINK IN THE MAN'S HONOR!" Every mug, stein and shot glass was hoisted, drained. Mr. Baxter made swift work of refilling all he could, as quickly as he could; the Cuban puffed fragrant clouds about his head as he labored. Not all the ladies had gone to the hospital; those few who were still in the Jewel, attracted by the happy commotion, found themselves seized, passed from hand to hand, Fiddler Daine struck up a lively air, and the ladies made the acquaintance of a surprising number of men in a very short time. Sean and the Sheriff made their way to the end of the bar, though they were obliged to speak rather loudly just to be heard. Jacob found himself with his arm around a lass's waist, her hand in his, and, laughing, they were cutting a fine couple in the middle of the floor, the crowd drawn back to give them room to work. "Sheriff," Sean shouted, bending a bit at the waist toward the lawman, "ha'e ye chosen a name?" The Sheriff nodded, picking a final fleck of tobacco from his lip and sipping cautiously at his beer. "We're down to three: Simon, Peter and Joseph." "And ha'e ye a favorite?" Sean leaned an elbow back against the bar and regarded the older man with happy amusement. "Peter was the Rock on which the Church is built," the Sheriff replied, his eyes troubled, "but I don't want Jacob to think I wish to build an empire on a younger brother. Jacob is my firstborn and has that birthright." Sean nodded solemnly, turning to place his empty mug on the bar and carefully pick up a brimming stein in its place. "Simon was a great, hard-muscled fisherman, but that one ... " The Sheriff shook his head. "I don't think that one's my favorite." "Then let it be Joseph!" Sean declared with an emphatic nod. "Joseph was the carpenter father of his Son, the Christ. Joseph of Arimathea is my favorite saint!" The Sheriff grinned at the big Irishman. "I thought it would be St. Florian!" "St. Florian is my working saint," Sean corrected. "St. Florian tends my welfare when I walk about in the Devil's parlor, but St. Joseph looks about my daily welfare an' that o' ma family." The Sheriff nodded. "Ma Daisy has a bit o' somethin' for the child." The Sheriff grinned, nodded. He had no idea what that might be, but that Sean and Daisy thought enough of them to have a special gift for the child, meant much to the man. "Sean," the Sheriff said, "you've helped me decide, and I thank you." "And what does your dear Esther think o' the name?" Sean asked wisely. "Perhaps ye'd best slip out yon back door an' consult the dear woman, else the lad will ha'e more names than a man can carry!" Meanwhile, at the hospital, Bonnie asked Esther her son's name. Esther smiled tiredly, looking down at the sleeping boy-child cuddled against her bosom. "His name," she said confidently, "is Joseph."
  22. Charlie MacNeil 3-15-09 When the handwriting on the flimsy paper was finally deciphered, Charlie's first thought was, Josiah needs to work on his penmanship. The second was, Now that's fine news! I wish I was there to toast the child! Instead, he was stuck in an office trying to untangle the interwoven trails that all had their terminus in the death of the young policeman. The first of the culprits to get their comeuppance had been the chief of the Denver police department, whose minor role had been to delay the investigation. Unfortunately for Carl Thornton, his demotion to patrolman had led to an assignment on Larimer Street, where he had fallen victim to the notorious "Soap Gang". His badly beaten corpse was found in a trash bin in an alley. Few tears were shed in Denver for the man. The cover-up ran deep. Finding Thornton's notes, which he had cached with a "friend" in case his machinations were discovered by another law enforcement entity, had been a godsend for Charlie and Malone, the Irish police sergeant he was working with. Together the pair had managed to break through the code that obscured the notes, leading them to still more of the participants in the plot to rob the Denver City Bank. It was turning out that the money was merely window dressing for the true robbery: mortgage deeds for some of Denver's choicest real estate. The plan, as the two lawmen were discovering, was to hold the city's middle class hostage. How this was to be accomplished they still didn't exactly know, but they would find out. Meanwhile, there was a new Keller come into the world, and that was cause for celebration! The Regulator clock in the front office chimed the hour of four; Charlie reached for his hat as he called to his secretary, "If anyone wants me, I'm unavailable until morning!" He was sliding his arms into his coat as the door closed behind him, stifling the inevitable protests. Charlie's secretary shook her head ruefully. "He's gone again, eh?" Ozzie asked behind her. "Yes, he got a telegram that apparently contained good news, and off he went!" "Well," Ozzie replied jovially, "What's the sense in being the boss if you can't go celebrate once in a while?" He left the reception area whistling cheerfully.
  23. Mr. Box 3-15-09 The door swung open wide at the Silver Jewel as Sheriff Keller and Jacob came in with cigar box in hand. The entry alone had announcement written all over it! I had a couple of beers drawn by the time they got to the bar. Linn took a pull on his and turned to the waiting crowd, "IT'S A BOY! DRINKS FOR EVERYONE!" Everyone cheered and cigars began lighting up all over the place. Heck, I got one myself! If the women folk hadn't all been down at the hospital with Esther and the newborn I swear they would have opened the doors and windows to clear the smoke in spite of the temperature!
  24. Linn Keller 3-15-09 Jacob craned his neck, trying vainly to see as much as he could when his father came out the door. "Sir?" he said breathlessly. The Sheriff laid a hand on his son's shoulder, a quiet smile on his face. "Sir," Jacob said, concern in his voice. "Mother -- why is she shivering so hard?" The Sheriff put his other hand on his son's other shoulder. "It's normal, Jacob," he said. "Doc said when a woman sheds her placenta she sometimes shivers and freezes. It'll pass. It's uncomfortable but it's normal in a few, a very few cases." Jacob hesitated, biting his bottom lip. I do that, the Sheriff realized, and his stomach lurched a little, and realized that this wasn't the first time Jacob had shown some of his own behaviors. The Sheriff raised a hand, for nearly every eye in the house had turned his way -- everyone but Little Sean, who was curled up on the floor with his head on Twain Dawg's shoulder, and Angela, who was curled up beside him with her head on Little Sean, and both sound asleep -- Profound silence reigned, the low chatter of women's voices ceasing as if cut off with a knife -- "Esther is fine," he announced, "the delivery was without difficulty --" "Spoken like a man!" Daisy challenged, her smile taking the sting out of her words. "If ye've e'er birthed a child ye'd no' say that!" Bonnie colored and giggled and tried to hide her laugh behind a gloved hand and a lacy kerchief, and failed entirely in her effort. The Sheriff nodded. "I reckon you're right," he agreed, flexing his hand and feeling Esther's grip still smarting on his forearm. "The child?" Bonnie offered hopefully, and Sarah bounced a little on her toes and asked loudly, "Uncle Linn, am I an aunt or an uncle?" and this got almost everyone to laugh. The Sheriff swallowed hard and looked at his firstborn son. "Jacob," he announced, his voice pitched so all could hear, "you have much to teach to your little brother!" Jacob was a few years from his twentieth birthday. By Western standards, he was a man grown; he did a man's work every day and had for some long time now. He was a blooded warrior, a deputy sheriff, a husband; he was a man of substance. He was now a big brother. He let out a wordless laugh and seized his father in a crushing embrace, and his father wrapped his arms around him and he squeezed too, and the Sheriff felt a couple ribs pop with the strength of his son's embrace. Doc had to press them back into place later, but we're not talking about that, for he had yet to pass out that box of Cuban see-gars he'd ordered discreetly from Maude. The spell snapped on that moment; all decorum was lost, and the ladies pressed around them, all talking at once, demanding to know about the child, and how long, and how much does he weigh, is there any hair and what color and what color are the eyes, and does he look like you, and how is Esther, is the child eating, does Esther have milk enough for the child, and it felt like a young eternity before the door opened behind the men, and the ladies swept into the room in a colorful, chattering waterfall: Esther was sitting up in bed, in a fresh, embroidered and lace-trimmed gown, her hair was fixed and she was looking very much the tidy, fastidious, organized woman they've long known and loved. The Sheriff admitted later he had now idea how she did this in the very few minutes since she'd lay sweating, exhausted and shivering. Woman's magic, he'd written in his journal. "Jacob," he said, "there are cigars to pass out. We've had our time with your mother. Let's give the ladies their turn." So saying, the two tall lawmen, father and son, went out and mounted up and pointed their horses' noses up the street, toward the Jewel.
  25. Linn Keller 3-15-09 I leaned down and kissed my wife's forehead. "I love you," I murmured. Esther looked up at me, shaking a little, drawing the sheet up to her chin, covering the cuddling little boy-child feeding at her bosom. "I'm cold," she whispered, and I saw her teeth were chattering. "Doctor," I said quietly, a note of urgency in my voice. Nurse Susan bumped me aside with a hip-thrust I'm sure was never taught in any school of nursing -- but it was nonetheless effective -- she'd just drawn a warmed blanket the length of the bed, covering Esther with warmed insulation, and tucked it in clear up around her chin: the doctor had done whatever it was he was doing, down at the other end -- I was content to stay right where I was, and let him do his work -- besides, Esther's grip prevented my going anywhere, at least until our wiggling little naked boy-baby landed on her breast. I don't think I could have gotten her hands off the child if I'd had to. Esther squealed a little and had the damndest smile on her face -- I'll never figure women out! -- crying out of both eyes and laughing at the same time. Well, hell. If I'd just birthed a locomotive I'd probably do the same. I bent down and pulled up the sheet, peeking at this little miracle. Esther reached up and caressed my cheek. I reckon it was my turn to grin like an idiot. Dr. Greenlees stood, stretching, twisting his back one way, then the other: he went over to the basin of fresh, warmed water and washed his hands, dried them, and came to my end of the delivery table. He laid a hand on my shoulder. I looked at him. He jerked his head a little. I squeezed Esther's shoulders and winked as she looked up at me, then I went with Doc. We were out of earshot of the delivery table, and Nurse Susan was sharing womanly chatter with Esther, and they were both looking at the new little baby and making the noises women always make when they are regarding a little baby. I couldn't help it. I was grinning like a possum eatin' on a dead horse. Doc opened a cupboard and withdrew two glasses. Dr. Flint had retired from the room; had he been there, he would have joined us for a drink, I knew, but he would have discreetly filled his glass with water: the man did not drink, though he did use alcohol medicinally, topically, for a disinfectant and as an ingredient in nostrums and suspensions. Doc pressed the short, broad glass in my hand. "Drink," he said in his usual long-winded and many-worded fashion. I drank. He did too. He took the glasses, put them on a tray, closed the cupboard. Doc laid a hand on my shoulder, regarded me with quiet, serious eyes. "Sheriff," he said gently, "I count ten fingers and ten toes, two eyes and one head, everything is exactly where it should be and in the right number." I nodded, the sting of alcohol good on my tongue. "There is something you should know." The smile fell from my face and shattered on the floor. "This child does not look a thing like you." I turned my head just a few degrees: I am listeing, the gesture said, and I raised a hand, palm up: Say on! Doc's eyes were dancing with restrained mirth, and I knew the man was pulling my leg with both hands. "I looked at that little child and I looked at you, and I'm sorry to say he doesn't look a thing like you." He paused, and a smile threatened to hijack the corners of his eyes. "He's got no mustache a'tall!"
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