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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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  1. Linn Keller 1-24-13 Mr. Llewellyn," Sarah murmured, "you're sweating." Mr. Llewellyn was experiencing a curious phenomenon men observe when something they've wanted, for a very long time, is finally tickling their fingertips. His mouth was dry, his hearing acute; the colors in Sarah's dress, her cheeks, her -- God help me, he thought, those eyes! -- he dare not look at her lips, for fear that he may feel ... improper ... "Look at me, Mr. Llewellyn," Sarah murmured, stopping: they were in the middle of the street, out in the middle of everyone-can-see-us, and Sarah took both the Welsh Irishman's hands and turned so she was facing him squarely. "Look at me." He did. "Are you a horseman, Mr. Llewellyn?" The fireman blinked, surprised. "I, why, no, not -- I don't ride -- our horses --" he looked toward the firehouse and Sarah knew his memory was seeing the matched mares that drew their steam machine. "Mr. Llewellyn," Sarah said, her mouth curling slightly in a smile, the smile of someone remembering a thing she liked, "there is no feeling like riding a spirited horse. When a horse leaps a tall fence or across a yawning chasm and you are saddled on that horse, there is nothing closer to flight on this earth." Sarah's eyes shone and Llewellyn knew he was seeing -- hearing -- a thing that she truly loved. "Unless I can get my saddle on an eagle the size of a draft horse, or perhaps a Chinese mine-dragon, that feels like true flight ... and it is one of the most exciting things I have ever known." Llewellyn saw a mischief, a merriment in her eyes and he had the same feeling he did as when a floor sagged beneath his feet in a fire structure and he knew the floor was about to collapse out from under him, for he was falling and falling hard and right into those gorgeous blue eyes, those shining eyes that made his chest feel tight and made his belly feel like it was soaring in a limitless sky just like that great scaly dragon she dreamed of riding. "Mr. Llewellyn, I have known great adventure. I have ridden the stallion of adventure and I have skated the thin ice of danger. I know what it is to die and I know what it is to live." Sarah laid a hand on the Irishman's bib front, and he could not help but look at her lips and feel her breath and he wanted to hold her to him and taste those lips and feel her warm and solid against him -- "Mr. Llewellyn, if you marry me it will be interesting." "Aye," he breathed. "Be very sure it's what you want," Sarah warned, and Llewellyn's arm slipped around the small of her back, holding her gently to him. "The Chinese have an ancient curse," Sarah whispered. " 'May you live in interesting times.' " Her eyes studied his face, studied him closely. "Interesting is not always what one expects." "There you are!" Jacob's shout broke their spell and Sarah turned to see her brother running toward them. "You're just in time! Get in here!" His hands were heavy, demanding, on each of their shoulders and he steered them toward the little whitewashed church. "The parson is inside and he's got his book all warmed up and you're just what we need!" Llewellyn's arm was still around Sarah as they were hustled into the Firelands church and up the aisle. Another couple stood there, before the Parson, and the Parson's wife sat at the piano, smiling. "We need a pair of witnesses," Jacob explained, "and you're just the ticket! I'd like you to meet friends of mine. Sarah, you may remember --" Sarah nodded, smiling. "I remember," she said. "And this is --" "Yes, I knew her sister." "They're getting married." Llewellyn saw that same mischief in Sarah's expression. "How long have you two known one another?" Sarah asked, and the couple looked at one another and laughed. "She walked into the line shack about two hours ago," was the reply, "and I knew when I saw her ..." "Two hours," the bride-to-be nodded in agreement. Llewellyn and Sarah looked at one another and shared an unspoken observation: They will say we were precipitous, that we were in too much a hurry. At least we knew each other more than two hours! The Parson opened his worn, familiar book. "Young man, you stand here on the right, just so. Face your bride. And remember to look at one another. You're -- no, look at her. She's better looking than me. Young lady, look at your husband, you're marrying him, not me." The couple laughed a little, dissipating the nervous tension that naturally builds at such moment. "Now." The Parson smiled a bit, for weddings were perhaps the favorite of the sky pilot's many duties in the community. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here for the happiest purpose for which family and friends can assemble, and that is to join two good friends in holy matrimony." Sarah looked up at Llewellyn, then she closed her eyes and leaned her head against him. He hugged his arm around her shoulders and lay his cheek -- the uninjured one -- down on top of her head.
  2. Linn Keller 1-23-13 "No one has ever said such a thing to me before, Mister Llewellyn," she said softly. "Thank you." Sarah's fingertips lingered on the man's cheek and she saw -- as if she were watching a performance from a box seat in the theater -- that her hand was trembling. She frowned a little. Her hand could throw a knife accurately and drive the sharpened steel through the ace of spades at eight paces. She could split a card edge wise at twenty feet, shooting with that same hand. That hand had caressed a frightened child's hair, wiped a skinned schoolboy's knee clean of dirt and blood, plucked a splinter, sewn and embroidered and disassembled a rifle for detail cleaning, and that hand saddled horses and washed little sisters' faces and tied ribbon bows, and that hand never, ever trembled. Never. Sarah swallowed, willing her hand to steady, and felt the tremors spread and spread fast, and beneath her skirt she felt her knees start to shiver. Part of her wanted to snatch at her skirts and run crying like a foolish girl. Part of her wanted to run up the stairs of her house and slam the bedroom door behind her and fling herself face down on her bed, sobbing. Part of her wanted to slap herself for being so utterly weak. "Mister Llewellyn," she whispered, for she did not trust her voice, then she hesitated and cleared her throat and whispered again, "Mister Llewellyn," and swallowed. Llewellyn felt her sway a little: alarmed, he ran his arm around her, and Sarah seized his free arm, her grip strong, tight: steadied, she bit her bottom lip, looked at the ground and then back up into the Welshman's eyes. "Mr. Llewellyn," she said, taking a deep breath, "I believe we need to speak to my father, and to my parents." Llewellyn grimaced, for Sarah's grip on his arm was right over a bruise, earned in his recent contest in the middle of the firehouse floor with that Cincinnati upstart Porter, but his grimace was for more than pain. He was kicking himself for the ring he kept under his pillow, on his bunk, back in the bunkroom, was still under his pillow and not in his pocket. In that moment he would have given a good percentage of his eternal soul to be able to go to one knee before her, and slip that ring on her hand, right there on the depot platform, in front of God Almighty and the whole damned Irish Brigade, who was staring at them and grinning and nodding, clapping one another on the shoulder and starting to shout as they always did. The Brigade turned and headed for the Silver Jewel. Llewellyn and Sarah turned the other way and descended the steps.
  3. Charlie MacNeil 1-22-13 "You are worth more than all of them!" Llewellyn jerked his chin toward the train, instantly regretting such an impetuous gesture but taking in not just the Cincinnati contingent but all the passengers making their way aboard the various cars. "Never, ever, count yourself down, no matter the company ye find yoursel' in!" Sarah's eyes widened, their deep blue warming beneath the heat of the man's gaze. Careful all his life to keep his temper under the tightest of reins, this was a side of Llewellyn that few outside of his fire-fighting brethren had ever seen, and then only when doing battle with their greatest enemy. Even now, he kept the flames banked as he carefully chose his words. He drew her aside so that he could speak his heart in private. "I've some'at to say to ye, Miss Sarah. This may not be the proper place, but it feels in me heart like the proper time. Ye're young, and ye're beautiful, Miss Sarah, one of the Lord's most beautiful flowers," he said after a moment. "Yet ye've iron to ye, tempered to steel, steel whose edge slashes through a man's armor to his very heart. Still, there's a softness to ye, ye've a heart big enough to heal the wounds in the very soul of that selfsame man. Miss Sarah, I've seen ye do battle with the weapons that kill, and I've seen ye do battle with the weapons of healing these past weeks. But never, at any time, have I seen ye do anything but what was right!" "Them out there," his gesture encompassed not only the town of Firelands but the very world about them as they stood in the shadows of the station platform, "they dinna understand who and what ye are. Nor, I believe, do you yersel'. Ye think ye know it here," he gently touched a fingertip to her forehead, "but ye won't let yersel' believe it in yer heart." He smiled, white teeth gleaming, a smile that spread to his hazel eyes, drawing her in as she listened not so much with her ears as with a heart that yearned to believe in the words this man who she was sure now loved her deeply struggled to impart. "Ye've a heart for service, for the undoing of injustice, ye've a heart that any man would give his very soul to capture, as ye've captured mine. I dinna pretend to know what's come before, and I'm not after carin', but I pledge this day everything I have, everything I am, to make what comes after the best of what you deserve, if it's within me power!" he said fiercely. His tone softened. "The world may see ye as a young girl, but ye're a woman, Miss Sarah, a woman to walk beside a man, not behind him, a woman to be his partner, as I..." He paused there, uncertain now, his earnest gaze searching her face. Sarah smiled and reached up to touch his cheek once more. "No one has ever said such a thing to me before, Mister Llewellyn," she said softly. "Thank you."
  4. Linn Keller 1-21-13 Up the mountain and away from town, in the cold, dry air where disease withered from lack of human contact, the Daine family remained healthy and proof against the maladies that affected those poor souls who lived close to one another. The general store's one-armed proprietor, too, remained unaffected by the contagion; as its grip on the area waned, business did not pick back up, for business never slacked off: he carried goods that people needed, and their need did not diminish for fear of illness. The disease ran a harsh but brief course, its casualty count surprisingly low: two dead they knew of, no children left deaf or blind, no expectant mothers waiting to see if their young were affected before birth. Schoolchildren returned to the tidy, well-built schoolhouse; Miz Cooper and Miss Sarah resumed their teaching duties, Bonnie's maid healed up, and even the Irish Brigade came back to full health, though even they would admit it took them a bit to get back to full strength. Llewellyn saw the Cincinnati contingent to the depot; he flinched as Sarah came up the stairs at the opposite end, and he took pains to keep his left side to her. Porter kept his right side to her as well. Neither man spoke to the other; neither looked at the other: they'd had enough of one another in the middle of the firehouse floor, and it was not until the train pulled out and Sarah walked up to Llewellyn, and put gentle fingertips under his chin and turned his head, that she took in the full, glorious color of his cheek bone, his split lip, how he closed his jaw carefully after speaking. Sarah lay a warm, gentle palm on the uninjured side of his face. "Was that for me?" she whispered, thrusting her chin toward the colorful mess decorating his face, and he whispered, "Aye," without opening his aching mandible. Sarah closed her eyes for a long moment, then she looked at Llewellyn, looked long at the man. "I'm not worth it," she whispered, her expression troubled. Sarah froze as she saw something in his eyes she'd never seen before. His hand thrust out and seized Sarah by the elbow. "Don't," he hissed. "Don't you ever say that again!" Sarah turned to face the man squarely and she took a half step toward him, coming within three fingers of nose-to-nose with the bruised Welshman. Sarah stared into his eyes and stared into his soul and Sarah saw something she'd never, ever seen in the man before. Sarah saw anger.
  5. Linn Keller 1-20-13 "St. Christopher," Daisy muttered, lips thin and tight as she thrust another dishtowel in tepid water, "ye'd better ge' down here an' do some WORK!" She pulled the dishtowel out, seized it, squashed it, wrung it, taking her temper out on the inanimate: she gave it a snap, flinging water-drops an impressive distance, and laid the tepid, wet cloth on her little boy's chest. Sean Michael lay flaccid on his bed, unmoving, eyes fever-bright; his cheks were red -- unnaturally red -- and Daisy could feel heat radiating from his young body. He was well speckled by the black measles, fevered to the point of not knowing her, but too weak to fight any longer. "Ye'll no' misbehave, Finn McCool," Daisy snapped, seizing another dishtowel and laying it, tepid and wrung-out, above the first; she'd been layering tepid towels on the lad's hot hide for some time, bringing the fever to surface, letting water soak up the heat: she knew if she used cold water, a cold bath, cold towels, it would constrict the surface capillaries and prevent heat from coming to surface -- though she was not certain of the exact mechanism, she knew from her grandam that tepid towels worked and cold ones did not. Another towel, and the first came off and went into the tepid water again, to surrender its heat and be replaced on the lad's chest. Brother William, too, used the tepid water treatment on several of the orphans; he worked, like the others, on short sleep, but this was nothing new: monks were routinely out of bed at prescribed intervals through the night for prayers, and he usually joined the tonsured brethren for their devotions. Now, though, his prayers were uttered with the children, holding their hand or kneeling beside their bed, or as with the black-eyed lad watching him as he lay another towel, as he worked. Only one child had died, he thought. I should be grateful -- He looked over at the empty bed and remembered a laughing little boy. Only last week the lad was running foot races with his companions. Brother William paused as a small hand rested on his own. "It is all right, padre," the lad whispered. "He is in Heaven. He runs El Camino de Oro now." "The golden streets," Brother William whispered, his eyes old and tired. "I would give all the gold in all of Mexico to have him alive and well again!" The lad slipped an arm under his pillow and pulled out his Rosary. "Aqui," he whispered. "Oro." Brother William smiled tiredly and closed the lad's hand about the Rosary. The Sheriff's tread was almost silent as he carried Sarah up three flights of stairs. Bonnie turned down the covers and the Sheriff laid her gently on the sheet: Bonnie undid her shoes and the Sheriff, suddenly uncomfortable, turned away. Bonnie reached quickly for his arm. "Tuck her in," she whispered. "I'm not going to chill her by undressing her." The Sheriff hesitated a long moment, looking into those dark and lovely eyes that captured his heart the first time he saw them: he nodded, and Bonnie drew back as Linn turned and took the bed covers and drew them carefully up over Sarah's still form. He pulled the covers up around her chin, then he leaned down and paused a long moment before kissing her once, carefully, on the cheek, before drawing back. Levi nodded with approval from the doorway. He and the Sheriff returned to his office; the Sheriff picked up the brandy, downed it, set the snifter back down on the side table. "Levi," he said finally, "I just tucked my little girl into bed." He took a long breath, looked at the ceiling, thumbs hooked behind his gunbelt. "That Easterner -- Porter -- came to me and asked if he might pursue Sarah's hand, for he intended to pursue marriage." The Sheriff glared at Levi. "Who does he think he is, come into town, take one look at a girl and decide to marry her?" "Isn't that the way it usually is?" Levi turned to the stove, opened the door, added another couple chunks to its fiery belly. "I knew, when I first saw Bonnie." The Sheriff rubbed his forehead. That's what I thought, too, a voice whispered in his head. He looked up as Levi rested a hand on the lawman's shoulder. "I feel the same way," Levi said quietly. "You paid to have the man come and work while the Brigade heals up." The Sheriff nodded. "He's a stranger, an auslander, an interloper." Levi's eyes narrowed. "Who does he think he is?" "Yeah," the Sheriff nodded. "He came to you." "He did." "He asked who her father was." "Obviously." "He has the decency to come to you and look you in the eye and offer his hand." "He ... did that," the Sheriff agreed, speaking slowly. "If he were a scoundrel he would woo her hand without your knowledge, without your permission." The Sheriff's glare would melt rock. "He didn't know you are her father too." "He's a stranger." The Sheriff's good right hand fisted, tight, trembling, then relaxed. He took a long moment to get a good grip on his feelings. "Levi," he said finally, "what's wrong with me?" Levi considered the question, then poured himself another brandy, walked over and dumped a good splash and a half in the Sheriff's snifter. "Wrong?" he asked. "Something is very right." The Sheriff took a contemplative sip. "No," he said finally. "No, something is not very right. "She is my little girl and I'm not ready for her to be grown up and have men asking for her hand in marriage." Levi nodded, raising his snifter and laughing. "What's so funny?" the Sheriff snapped. Levi laughed again, leaning his head back and obviously enjoying the moment. "Well?" the Sheriff demanded. "Do you realize," Levi chuckled, wiping his eyes, "Linn, do you realize you have joined the ranks of fathers clear back to the days of Adam?" "Adam, hell," the Sheriff muttered. "No damned Easterner is going to marry my little girl!" Levi chuckled again. "You'd think he wanted Angela's hand in marriage, the way you're carrying on!" Sean staggered into the lad's bedroom, carrying a steaming cup of tea. "How's the lad?" he whispered, for the hour was late, the other children were long abed; even the maid had been dismissed to her rest -- "for God's sake, woman, I need ye healthy, now go get some rest!" Daisy told her -- and so only Sean and Daisy remained awake at this unholy hour. "How's the lad?" Sean whispered again, and Daisy turned, dark under the eyes and obviously fatigued: she dropped the dishtowel into the nearly empty pan and reached for the tea. "Bless you, Sean," she whispered, raising the cup to her lips and taking a careful sip of the steaming, fragrant brew. "He's sleepin'?" "Aye, th' fever broke an' he sweated like a politician under audit." "He'll be a'right, then?" "Oh, aye," she said dismissively. "Ye canna' kill an Irishman." Sean sighed tiredly. "Ye can if ye feed him the Sheriff's coffee!" Daisy took another sip of tea. "The Sheriff ne'er made this," she said. "Thank ye, Sean."
  6. Linn Keller 1-20-13 Levi's expression was serious. The Sheriff was pacing like a caged tiger; he'd shed coat and hat and looked as comfortable as a long tail cat in a rocking chair convention: he declined cigar but accepted brandy, and he held the snifter untasted as he marched the length of Levi's office, one hand fisted at the small of his back, executed a crisp military about-face, marched back. Levi eased into his favorite chair, clipped the end off a cigar, dropping the little twist neatly into a polished, empty spitoon. "Levi," the Sheriff said at length, his glare scalding the rug before his boot toes, "do you just sit and let me expound." The Sheriff raised his head and Levi was afraid the ferocity of the man's gaze might melt the window pane he was regarding. The man's jaw was thrust forth, his back was straight, his carriage erect as a man half his age: Levi could not help but compare the thicker waisted Easterner of like age, with this lean Western man, with this man at home on horseback, this man of action, this man of decision ... and now, now, apparently, this man was ready to bite the horn off an anvil and spit ten penny nails. The Sheriff shook his head, looking down at the rug again, and turned slowly, almost as if suddenly tired. "It's not supposed to happen already," he muttered. "Not yet, not now, not ..." Sarah turned her buggy over to the hired man with a smile and a quiet thank-you: she picked up her schoolteacher's carpet bag, lifted her white skirt and walked tiredly up the clean-swept flagstones, grateful she wasn't wading through snow for a little bit at least, and climbed the steps to her front porch with a measured and obviously fatigued tread. Sarah had pushed herself all week, teaching school through the day, taking care of her family's domestic needs, hauling laundry, riding a circuit to the majority of her absent students' homes, stopping at the firehouse and elsewhere as she was needed: she coordinated with Dr. Greenlees and Nurse Susan: twice she found herself recruited on an emergency basis to assist with a surgery or a procedure, and three miners from Cripple went back to work with memories of a pretty young nurse with gentle hands and a brisk manner who put them instantly at ease while the good Doctor was setting bones or sewing up the injuries not uncommon to the hard rock mining profession. Sarah opened the front door and swayed a little. She had gotten too little sleep for too long; she was walking like an automaton -- an automaton with grit in the mechanism, perhaps, for her step was almost unsteady and she very nearly swayed as she moved. She closed the door slowly, carefully, behind her, and looked to her left, into the empty parlor: to her right, the stairway, and the stairs looked like a Matterhorn, tall and forbidding, and her fatigued legs cried in protest at the thought of climbing the three flights to her bedroom. Sarah closed her eyes and leaned back against the closed door; she heard voices, automatically locating the source and identifying the speaker -- Levi ... and the Sheriff ... and in Levi's office. Sarah's ear twitched and she leaned forward, standing, and took a few steps toward the closed door. The Sheriff turned, surprised, as the door opened. Sarah, grey-faced, looked at the Sheriff, then at Levi. "I heard my name," she said without preamble: closing the door behind her, she walked slowly over to the Sheriff: she took his arm, walked over to the settee, lowered herself into it: the Sheriff, puzzled, looked at Levi, then at Sarah, and sat with her. Sarah leaned against the Sheriff, allowing herself to relax for the first time in far too long. "I'm so tired," she whispered. "Hold me, Papa. Hold me ..." The Sheriff's arms went around his daughter and he gave Levi an alarmed look. Levi raised his eyebrows, then rose and relieved the Sheriff of his brandy snifter: setting it on a nearby side-table, he whispered, "I would suggest you hold her, unless you wish to carry her upstairs to her bed." The Sheriff frowned, chewed on his bottom lip, leaning his cheek against the top of Sarah's head. He closed his eyes and Levi saw the man's arms tighten a little around her. "This is fine," he whispered, and Sarah surrendered the last of her consciousness to the feeling of being held, warm, loved and protected.
  7. Linn Keller 1-19-13 It was seldom that the Sheriff came into the Silver Jewel in an ill temper. The Silver Jewel was a refuge and a haven, a place of tranquility and calm, except for those times when it wasn't. When the Sheriff hauled open the ornate, heavy, frosted-glass-paned door, he would not have cared if the place was calm as milk or in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out, good old fashioned tavern brawl: he stepped inside, stepped to the side to get his back to the wall, sweeping a cold-eyed glare across the interior of the saloon. Tilly was noting something down in her ledger; the Sheriff saw Mr. Baxter's elbow appear and disappear as the man polished his mahogany bar: men were drinking, talking, laughing, playing cards; smoke hung in stratified layers. The Sheriff's pace was slow, his boot heels uncharacteristically loud. A rattlesnake will shake its segmented tail to warn that its temper is up and it will strike if provoked; a skunk will raise its tail, a dog will bristle and bare its fangs: the Sheriff, normally a man with an absolutely silent footfall, walked hard, walked slow, and at his approach the Jewel fell silent, a cold breeze blowing across every man's heart: death was in the wind, and the cold-eyed Sheriff was its author. Men drew back as the Sheriff stopped and waited for Mr. Baxter's good pleasure. Mr. Baxter came over with his usual ready grin, his mustache immaculately curled: "What can I get for you, Sheriff?" he asked heartily in the thickening silence. "I, need, a drink," the Sheriff said slowly. "Comin' right up." Mr. Baxter assessed the Sheriff's appearance: the man was not carrying a rifle, therefore he did not want the big drink: he poured three fingers in a fat glass and the Sheriff slid a coin across the bar: he picked up the glass, knocked it back in four swallows, set the glass carefully, silently, back down on the bar. "Thank you," he said, his voice deep, quiet, strong in the hush: he turned, and men faded back from his path, and he walked slowly, his boot heels loud, to the front door, and out. Men looked at one another and the usual buzz started up again: Mr. Baxter's quick ear separated conversation from piano music and he felt his stomach tighten a little, for one man was betting the Sheriff was headed out to take a man dead or alive, another was wagering on cause of death -- fists, feet or blades -- a third declared he would take bets on how many times the Sheriff would shoot, or be shot. The Sheriff caressed the nose of his Outlaw-horse, hesitating before mounting: he stood with the sun warm on his back, the air cold in his nose, his breath steaming before him, his shadow sleeting through the hanging breath-clouds. He pulled Outlaw's reins free of the hitch rail, thrust his foot into the smooth, featureless, black doghouse stirrup, swung aboard and found the other stirrup. The Sheriff's cold eyed glare swung methodically as Outlaw turned and stepped into an easy trot, down the street, past schoolhouse and church and firehouse and on out of town. He had to see Levi Rosenthal. They had to work out a problem, and only they two could handle the situation. Two horses rode up toward the line shack. A rider turned, said something quietly to the other; the second rider halted, faded into a little stand of scrub and waited. Jacob rode on up to the shack, eyes busy. Smoke from the stovepipe he expected; three horses in the little corral, also expected; snow, trampled where men usually walked, to and from the outhouse and the well, also expected. Jacob put two fingers to his lips, whistled. "Frederick!" he challenged. "You got anythin' edible in there?" "No!" came the muffled shout from within. "I ain't got nothin'!" Jacob grinned and rode on up to the hitch post, ground reined his stallion. "You better be decent, I'm a-comin' in!" Jacob hollered, his grin visible in his voice, and from within, "I'm buck naked, damn you!" and Jacob opened the door. Frederick held up a steaming coffee pot, and he was not naked. "Got a fresh batch, Jacob. Better'n your Pa makes." "If you boiled up cow dung it would be better than what Pa makes," Jacob laughed. "I'd take a warmin' shot." Frederick poured two steaming mugs. It was almost warm in the shack; Frederick was a thrifty man, and fired the stove only as much as was absolutely necessary: he was a good gauge of the weather as well, and if it was not going to be terribly cold, he did not fire terribly much, but if he fired up the stove and banked in plenty of wood, you could guarantee it was going to get cold. "Cold" is a relative term: it was cold, it was snowy, it wasn't below zero but it wasn't far from it ... for the high country, not bad at all. "Bad" was forty below and a stiff wind, "bad" was cold enough for trees to twist and freeze and bust with the sound of a cannon shot. Jacob had known such bad weather, and so had Frederick. Jacob set two cloth sacks on the table; there was a clank from one and Jacob said "You owe me." "How much?" Frederick asked, lifting the lid from a cut glass sugar bowl and carefully philtering in a long pinch of browninsh crystals into his coffee. "Buy me a beer when you're 99," Jacob grinned, untying each of the sacks. "Canned goods, keep 'em from freezin'. Coffee, flour, jerky beef" -- he pulled out a flat wooden box, then another, the two were stacked flat in the bottom of one sack -- he pulled out a long, stout bladed knife, prized off the flat lid -- and Frederick sat heavily in a chair, his eyes widening. "Annette said a man hadn't oughta be alone," Jacob grinned, "but she couldn't figure how to get a good lookin' woman in one of them sacks, so she allowed as you ought to have a couple of pies." Frederick's jaw dropped and he stopped short of drooling down his shirt front as he regarded the two woman-cooked pies. Jacob pulled out a chair, set down, felt his tin cup with the backs of his fingers. It was still not much short of boilin' so he left it set and steam on the table for a bit. No need to scald the hair off my tongue, he thought. "Frederick," Jacob said softly, "it was not your fault." Frederick's expression was half-past haunted and a quarter til guilty. "Frederick, you had no way of knowin' that boulder was broke off that rock shelf." "Twas my cabin," Frederick said slowly, his eyes distant. "Twas my don'. I picked the spot and I built it and I picked her up and carried her across the threshold. I laid her down in that bed and I went back out to fetch in the luggage and ..." Jacob nodded, remembering the scene: a boulder nearly big as the cabin fell fifty feet, rolled, mashed a well built, solid built cabin into kindling and ruin, and it took a team of miners with drills and powder to bust up that rock enough to get Frederick's young wife's body out from under it. "Twas my fault, Jacob," Frederick said finally. Jacob nodded. "How long you gonna punish yourself?" "This ain't punishment," Frederick said at length. "What is it?" Frederick looked up at Jacob, his hands cupped around his own tin cup, almost touching it, holding in its warmth. "I ain't killin' no one else," he said quietly. "I killed the only decent soul I ever knew, Jacob. She's dead on account of me and I got to answer for that." Jacob nodded again. "Would it help," Jacob said finally, "if I was to stake you naked over her grave and horse whip you?" "I got worse than that a-waitin' on me." The door opened and a woman was silhouetted in its framing: she stood for a long moment, and Frederick, eyes widening, stood, his chair falling backward and hitting the floor like an exclamation point to what the man was seeing. The woman came in and closed the door behind her; she turned, made fast the latch, then turned and looked squarely at Frederick. "No," he whispered, shaking his head, "no ... no, it ain't ..." Jacob stood, stepped to the side. The woman looked at Frederick, eyes bright: she looked at Jacob, then back at Frederick. "My name," she said, her voice low and musical, flavored with the Irish accents he remembered so well, "is Deborgille. Sadb was my sister. "You made her a happy woman, Frederick, and she blessed your name the night before your wedding." The woman drew a folded paper from a coat pocket. "She wrote me that night and she told me again how much of a gentleman you were, and how kind, and how gentle, but how strong and ..." -- Deborgille looked at Frederick -- "and she said how much of a man you were, in the finest sense of the word." She took a step toward Frederick, another: she moved slowly, as if toward a frightened child. "You brought happiness to my sister." She blinked, long lashes sweeping the air, her eyes bright, shining, illuminated from the window across the table from her: her complexion was clear, healthy, her hair shining, her lips red and rich: Jacob stayed back, unmoving, watching, hoping this would work, hoping his plan would prove fruitful -- "I killed her," Frederick whispered. Deborgille laid a gentle hand on Frederick's forearm. "You would never kill that which you loved," she whispered. Frederick raised a trembling hand, laid it gentle on the back of Deborgille's: he swallowed, looked at the table, blinked again. "I ... don't have much," he said finally, "but I have plates. Please, join us, we have pie." "I know," Deborgille smiled. "I baked them." Frederick looked at Jacob and then at Deborgille, realizing suddenly he'd been had, he was the victim of a well played conspiracy, and he looked again at Deborgille, really looked at her, and he saw his beloved's face again, and remembered she had indeed spoken of a sister back East ... a sister whom she loved, a sister for whom she was worried, for their parents were gone now and no one to care for her, and he promised his wife on the wagon ride to their cabin, with her in her bridal gown and veil beside him, that he would see her sister brought out to live with them, and now here stood her sister, and he remembered the promise. Frederick swallowed, took a long breath, then moved his hand from Deborrgille's to grasp the point of her elbow. "I don't believe we have been properly introduced," he said formally, looking deep into the woman's eyes. "Jacob," he said, "I would like you to meet my fiancee." Jacob nodded slowly, smiling a little. Frederick bent over, picked up his chair, set it aside: he drew out a chair for Deborgille. Only then did he sit. Jacob waited, as did Deborgille; steam curled in graceful plumes from the coffee, now forgotten on the rough tabletop. Frederick's eyes were big, distant; he blinked, looked at Deborgille, then at Jacob. "My God," he whispered, "my fiancee? I ... you don't know ... a thing about me." "I know all I need to," Deborgille said. "My sister was an excellent judge of character. Jacob here" -- she gestured toward the silent, unmoving deputy -- "I don't know him but I know his father, and I know his father to be a man of honor and of honesty. The apple falls not far from the tree and I believe the son can be trusted." "Oh, aye," Frederick agreed, his voice faint. "And what I don't know about you from my sister, I know from this man." She gestured toward Jacob, he bent-finger, palm-up wave so much like his own dear wife's ... he felt a moment's dizziness, closed his eyes, opened them again. "I know all I need to know about you, Frederick. It is you who does not know me." Frederick looked at Jacob. "Jacob," he said, "what can you tell me about this woman?" "She's your fiancee, not mine," Jacob said, his expression innocent, then he chuckled: "Frederick, my father has her so far up on a pedestal it's a wonder she doesn't have nosebleed. She comes from a good family, she's known want and hunger, she's known cold and privation, she's known hard times and bad times and she's needing a good man for a husband." "And you think I'm a good man." "No," Jacob said firmly, his voice hardening: "No, Frederick, I do NOT think you are a good man." Jacob's hands closed into fists and he pressed them down on the table top, rising slowly. "I," he said, his voice sharpening like steel on stone, "think you are a DAMNED good man, and don't you ever forget that!" Frederick blinked. Of all the things his friend could say, Frederick did not expect such a fierce pronouncement. "Now," Jacob said. "There's no rock above this shack but it's pretty far up on a ridge and the wind just whips through these cracks. There's two bunks and I've slept in better." They heard a voice outside, then the hail "Hello the shack!" and Jacob said "How many plates you got?" "Why?" "Your relief just arrived," Jacob grinned. "and when he sees that pie he'll want some. You two are coming back to Firelands and the Parson is ready to hitch the pair of you. I even bought a brand new broom at the Mercantile so you two can jump over it together." Frederick looked at Deborgille: hesitantly, almost fearfully, he reached for her hand. Deborgille reached for his and squeezed. "A woman is proud to marry an honorable man," Deborgille said, and Frederick swallowed hard, for she sounded so much like her dead sister: "I will be proud to be your wife." "A man hopes to marry a good woman," Frederick said, his throat dry. "I married the only good woman I ever knew, and when she was killed I gave up." He looked over at Jacob. "Thank you for not giving up on me." The door opened and a skinny fellow, bulked up with a fur cap and heavy coat, came in, slammed the door shut and shivered. "Now Ah be sawed off and damned!" he declared. "Pie and coffee both!"
  8. Linn Keller 1-18-13 The Sheriff hammered his fist on Digger's office door. "DIGGER!" he shouted."DAMN YOUR SOUTHERN FRIED SOUL, GET YOUR BUTT OUT HERE AND BRING THE REST OF YOU WITH IT!" Digger's assistant came around the corner, rubbing his eyes, for the hour was early. "Sheriff?" he mumbled. "Who died? How many?" "Nobody, yet," the Sheriff snapped. "I haven't seen your boss for a few days." He hammered on the door with the heel of his hand. "DIGGER! ROLL OUT!" "He's not there." The Sheriff dropped his hand, glared at the assistant. "WHERE IN TWO HELLS IS HE?" The Sheriff's voice was loud, demanding. "DOESN'T THE MAN KNOW THERE'S A WAR ON?" "A war? How many? Dear Lord, I don't know if we have --" "Oh shut up!" the Sheriff snapped. "Is he on his way back?" "Yes, sir, he should be back any time." The Sheriff turned, his jaw thrust out, took a menacing step toward the assistant. "You," he said, thrusting his finger at the man, "have done nothing wrong and I apologize. I am short on sleep and short on temper and I had no business takin' out my bile on you." The assistant nodded, once, slowly, not really sure what to make of a man of authority who would actually apologize for speaking loudly and harshly to a lackey. "Nothing's gone wrong, we don't have a train wreck or anything." The Sheriff rubbed his forehead. "I need a drink," he mumbled. The assistant, now thoroughly confused, waited for the Sheriff to come to some decision; apparently the man did, for he turned abruptly and strode out the front door.
  9. Linn Keller 1-16-13 Bonnie declared holiday at the dress-works. Her staff of seamstresses, more than half yet unmarried, were women who'd known a hard life before coming there; they'd survived much, including the various diseases that seared through towns and villages and cities alike, and all but two had the measles already: one, for whatever reason, seemed unable to contract the disease, and the other discovered to her distress the first scattering of spots the morning of the day Bonnie declared no work for a week. Only two of the women were married, only one had family, and none in her family were diseased: consequently, they earnestly petitioned Bonnie to change her mind, as none wished to do without wage and employment, and so the dress-works continued production. Bonnie found herself depending more and more on her fourteen year old daughter, and so far, Sarah was more than up for the task. Sarah had taken to wearing the white dresses she'd had the staff make up for her, and with their maid flat on her back, Sarah began patronizing the local Chinese laundry: the laundresses were old, Oriental, loud, never still, and remarkably healthy: of a morning, Sarah would tend the sick in their household, haul the day's laundry to her buggy, wash herself thoroughly to her elbows, and her face and neck, then change dresses: she drove to town, the laundry staff removed the cloth laundry sacks from her buggy and traded her for clean, dried, neatly folded attire, tied into neat bundles and placed carefully back into the laundry sacks (which were also clean, freshly laundered and if need be, repaired); these went back into the buggy, and Sarah went on to teach school that day. The number of students was diminished, but there were enough to warrant classes: Sarah drove to the absent students' houses, checking on her young charges, keeping them up on their lessons, helping out as she could with a meal or lending a hand as needed before moving on to the next: at each household she would beg a pan of heated water, she would wash outside, change into a clean dress outside, then go in and take lessons or groceries or both and then she drove to the next and did it all over again. She generally returned to the Chinese laundry that evening, tired, with maybe one clean dress left, and she would wash up at the laundry and change into the last clean dress before going home. That night as she set their supper on the table and prepared a tray to take upstairs to the maid -- for she was hit hard by the disease, it often hit adults like the noon freight -- she heard Bonnie mention to Levi in passing that the Irish Brigade was in crowded quarters, that the new Cincinnati firemen were arrrived and their beloved Brigade was down to a man with the measles. That evening after supper, Sarah harnessed up the mare again and drove back into town; she had two kettles of stew and several loaves of bread in the buggy, and as she drove toward the fine brick firehouse, she had a worried look on her face as well. Robert Porter went to the door. Robert was one of the Cincinnati firemen brought in by the Sheriff's generosity; though a competent fireman, he knew there were critical items he needed to know, and so it was with curiosity and a little apprehension that he opened the door. A slender young woman in a white dress stood there, holding a kettle by the bail; she had a basket on one arm and a worried look about her. "I brought supper," she said without preamble, "the other kettle is in the buggy and I've only two hands," and stepped inside like she owned the place. Porter blinked and stepped back: this woman came in with an air of expectancy, as if she expected her words to be obeyed: it was the same attitude of an officer, of command rank that knew it was the authority and knew its words were law. When faced with a ranking officer giving orders, a soldier -- or a fireman -- will say "Yes, sir," and follow the orders. Porter went out to the buggy and brought in the second stew-kettle. Sarah swept into the kitchen, set the stew down on the stove, where it could warm back up from the buggy ride out: she turned, put the basket on the table, unfolded the checkered cloth and turned again, bringing out a large serving platter, a cutting board and a serrated knife: another quick move and she had the butter from the cold-safe, and soon had bread sliced, stacked and ready: Porter set his kettle beside Sarah's and watched, mouth open, as Sarah never stopped moving: with grace, with a cold efficiency, with a studied economy of motion and yet a woman's -- no, a dancer's grace -- she set the table, one place for each of the Brigade plus each of the replacements. Finally she snatched up a particular pan hung in a particular place, wooden spoon in the other, and beat briskly on the kettle, making an unholy racket that echoed in the quiet firehouse: "Come and get it, damn you, before I throw this slop to the pigs!" She hung the kettle back on its hook and carried the long handled wooden spoon like a scepter as she swept around the end of the table and approached Porter. "How many effectives have we?" she asked briskly. Porter was not used to civilians -- especially women -- inquiring into the business of a firehouse, and so blinked and frowned and tried to come up with an answer that would thank her for supper but would dismiss her from what was obviously none of her business. A familiar voice said "Four effective, an' the rest of us are no' too good." Sarah turned. To her credit she did not rush up and embrace the man, but her worry was plain on her face. "Mr. Llewellyn," she said quietly, "report." "It's no' good, darlin'," Llewellyn said in a quiet, serious voice. "We're a measly bunch" -- he tried to laugh, coughed instead -- "I'm weak as a kitten but yon stew smells good!" "I made it especially for you," Sarah said softly, placing the wooden spoon on the table and advancing hesitantly and finally stopping ... her hands were anxiously clasped in her apron, then she cast convention aside and took the fireman by the upper arm, placed her other hand on his chest. "You're warm," she murmured. "You should be in bed." "And how would I come an' eat supper if I were abed?" he asked with that wry grin she was beginning to appreciate. "The others?" she asked, her eyes big and lovely. "I'll fetch 'em. As good as tha' smells, they'd drag themselves to th' table on bloody stumps rather'n miss this meal." "Sean?" "He's worse'n th' rest of us put together. Daisy's takin' care o' him." Sarah nodded. "Fetch in the rest of the Brigade. I'll be right back." Porter and Llewellyn followed her with their eyes. Just before Llewellyn went to fetch his fellows, Porter observed, "She's a looker. She yours?" "Aye," the Welsh Irishman nodded. "She's t' be m' wife." "Does she know it yet?" The Welshman swayed a little, put out a hand to steady himself. "I've no' asked her father yet." Porter remembered a Cincinnati lass and smiled his understanding. "Don't wait too long," he advised. Sarah returned with two bottles of medicinal alcohol, to find the table filled with firemen: she went from one to another, calling each by name, feeling foreheads, cheeks and necks, pouring each a good tilt of Old Soul Saver -- "good for what ails ye," she joked, to the general chuckle of the combined Brigade -- and as they dug in with a good appetite, Sarah realized with some surprise she hadn't eaten that day. One of the new Cincinnati men made coffee, and its fragrance competed with the smell of good stew and fresh, still-warm bread, and even the men whose stomachs were not inclined to food due to their illness, found themselves able to eat, and eat they did. There was enough stew left after each man had his fill and his refills, for Sarah to have a plate as well, and a little bread: she ate with them, feeling guilty for not bringing any pie, and made a mental note to check with Daisy's kitchen to see how it fared. Hopefully there would be pie. She looked down the table at Llewellyn and bit her lip, dropping her head, for she knew he did so love pie.
  10. Linn Keller 1-16-13 Bonnie's maid swayed and leaned against the table. She was chilling now, shivering hard: she gripped the heavy wood tabletop, taking a few moments to steady herself. Sarah came through the doorway and did not hesitate: she grabbed Mary's wrist, brought her arm up over her head and around her shoulders. "Walk with me," she said quietly, and the maid did, leaning on Sarah's slender frame. Sarah got her upstairs and into her night flannels and then into bed: Sarah scampered downstairs and soon returned with hot tea, then back down to take over preparing the evening meal. Sarah looked at the twins and the twins looked back and Sarah thought, Denver would not have helped. Not as fast as the measles arrived. Sarah thought of the opera tickets in her roll top desk and smiled humorlessly. I'll get to hear that opera someday, she thought, then slipped the apron over her head and tied the strings around her waist, knotting it in the middle of her back. Right now I have work to do. The Silver Jewel was its usual warm, well lit, smoky, noisy, welcoming haven: men believed somehow the measles would be repelled, perhaps by cigar smoke, perhaps because they were taking sufficient alcohol into their systems to render them proof against any ailment: in any case, cards snapped against tablecloths, dice rattled and clattered and the roulette wheel snarled as it spun: coins clinked, there were shouts of triumph, groans of defeat, and over it all, the cheerful, bouncy rhythms of the piano, and on the stage, Dolly, high-kicking and snapping her generous hemlines and under-ruffles in time to the music. The Sheriff accepted a mug of beer, fortified with a double shot of Kentucky Drain Opener -- "to ward off the epizootic," Mr. Baxter winked, and the Sheriff winked solemnly in return and slid a coin across the bar. "I hear tell you've replaced the Irish Brigade," Mr. Baxter said, leaning over the bar to address the slender lawman with the iron-grey mustache. The Sheriff drank deep, feeling warm fires start to warm his belly before he came up for air. "Not quite," he sighed, wiping foam off his neatly trimmed lip broom. "I hired a few more in case we needed them." "Do we need them?" Mr. Baxter asked, puzzled. The Sheriff thought of his recent visit to the brick firehouse. "Yes," he said, his eyes haunted. "We do." The Bear Killer looked over the edge of the copper tub, then up at Sarah. "Well," she said, "you might as well. Everyone else has." The Bear Killer gave a happy "whuff" and hobby-horsed over the lip of the tub, into the still-warm bathwater, and Sarah sighed and began to scrub the blocky canine. An hour later, The Bear Killer, clean, sweet smelling, with a red ribbon tied around his neck, lay happily between the twins, and the twins were sound asleep, each with a chubby pink arm laid over on The Bear Killer's curly fur. Sarah looked in on the three, approaching close enough to assess each little girl's breathing, before looking long at their arms thrown over onto The Bear Killer. Sarah stared for a long minute at the speckles just beginning to show on her sisters' arms. Esther rocked her own twins as the two growing babies nursed: she leaned her head back against the padded back of the rocking chair, relaxing a little: her shawl was drawn over the twins, keeping them, and her, warm: she was a mother, holding her babies, keeping them warm, fed, safe. Esther smiled, her eyes still closed. The Sheriff looked at his wife: he leaned against the door frame for a very long time, then walked very quietly to his chair and eased slowly down into it. He was content to watch his wife rocking gently, holding their babies.
  11. Linn Keller 1-15-13 "Brother Plant," says I, "we need to order another four Irishmen." "Whatever for?" says he. "Sean has measles. He's flat on his back, Daisy is at her wit's end, every one of her young is all speckled out and if I'm any judge, the rest of the Irish Brigade is either infected or will be. I don't know how many already had measles but I'm planning for the worst." "And the worst is ...?" "That every man Jack of 'em will be down." The Mayor leaned back in his chair, ran his fingers through rich, full, honey-colored hair: he was not a vain man at all, but he realized that a man of his vintage with a full thatch on the roof was not that common a sight. "What's your plan?" he said at length, looking directly at the Sheriff, weathered skin wrinkling at the corners of his eyes. The Sheriff reached into his coat, withdrew a thick envelope, tossed it on the Mayor's desk. "There is three month's wages for four men. I propose to contact Cincinnati. Sean gave me the contact information some time ago against just such an occurrence. I know who to wire and what to say. I'll ask for four firemen who've had measles, I'll tell them which steam engine we have, I'll tell them we need four men for at least one and up to four months, wages paid at end of term." Mayor Plant nodded slowly. "If you're telling them up to four months but there's three month's wages there ...?" he said slowly, letting the question dangle. "I'm betting we need them no more than one month. I could be wrong. I can't spend the town's money -- I don't have that kind of authority, that's your department -- but I bankrolled the Brigade to start with and if I come up with a bright idea I'd better be able to pull it off. "Besides" -- he grinned that quick grin George remembered from years before -- "this will make you look good. The Mayor Who Was Ready. You won't have to dip into the treasury, you already have everything in place, all you need do is say "Send the telegram, Sheriff," and it's done." George Plant was never one to over-think a problem: he would put due thought into it, but not excessive thought: his gut told him "Do It" and he did. Mayor Plant reached across his desk, picked up the envelope, hefted it in his hand. He looked up and nodded. "Send the telegram, Sheriff." Sarah was addressing a half dozen parents, there in the rear of the school, in front of one of the gas heaters: she knew there would be questions and she was ready to answer them as best she could. The question that surprised Emma Cooper, and for which she had no answer, was a ranch wife who said she thought the measles already came through once, why should they worry about a second occurrence? Once caught, weren't they all immune? Sarah answered for Emma and explained that there was more than one variety of measles; what they saw before was the old fashioned black measles: this was another type, lighter in color, faster to develop: she did not have a name for this new variety, but she was certain it was different, and about half the people who'd survived the earlier black measles were coming down with its less pigmented counterpart. The schoolhouse was less populated than usual that day. The Sheriff thanked Lightning for his kindness and turned to look down the street. He could not see it for the intervening buildings but he knew the firehouse was yonder and not far, and he needed to find out the Brigade's condition. Annette looked at herself in the full length mirror. Naked, she turned slowly, critically examining herself: she turned her back to the mirror, held up a hand mirror to see her backside, and nodded, whispering a quiet thanks that she was not infected. Her hand rested on her growing belly and she shivered a little, not entirely because she was without clothing. In another town, in another saloon, three men hunched over their drinks, plotting where they might commit acts of lawlessness. They decided quickly not to head west, or south: west, because Firelands lay in that direction, a place staffed with pale eyed lawmen and mountain witches both; nor south, to Rabbitville, for the plague was descended upon that New Mexico town, and though the three were without respect for the law, all three had respect for their lives, and none wished to come to an untimely end, either at the hands of the law, nor speckled by disease.
  12. Linn Keller 1-13-13 Bill squinted as a gust of snow blew into the locomotive's cab. The snow had mostly stopped, but The Lady Esther drove through a drift and blew a pile of snow into dust-fine fog, which of course came right back into the engineer's face. Bill laughed, wiped his eyes: the fireman squinted at the water gauge, turned a valve just a little, wiping his dirty forehead on a soiled bandanna. Bill reached up without looking, wrapped his hand around the weighted whistle-pull, hauled down on the valve: The Lady Esther screamed a steam-powered warning and Bill yelled "Ya damned idjut, get outta the way!" The bull elk turned at the whistle, shook its head. "Oh good Christ, no," Bill gasped, then yelled "DAMN YOU, DON'T YOU DARE!" The elk, of course, did not listen: it took the approaching intruder with the shrill voice as a competitor, as a rival: lowering its rack, it charged, intending to drive this interloper off its feet and down the side of the mountain. Bill flinched at the sound of the impact, turning his face away from the window until they were well clear of the collision. The fireman picked up his scarred, sharp-edged shovel. "I reckon he come out in second place," he yelled, grinning. Bill smacked the fireman briskly with his hickory-stripe cap. "Iasvs Christvs," the Sheriff swore, "you've gained weight!" "I've not," Sean gasped, leaning heavily on his old friend. "The hell you haven't!" "Hold him up, Sheriff, I need ta dry 'im off bafore he chills!" "Stook up th' fahr, Daisymedear, I'll be a'right," Sean chattered. Daisy rubbed him down roughly and utterly without mercy. "Ye great Irish oaf, shut yer gob an' get ye t' bed!" "Lead the way, Sean," the Sheriff grunted, and the two men leaned forward into a tottering walk. "And mind ye turn down th' kivvers bafore ya git inta bed, ya great Irishman!" Daisy scolded. Her oldest son came up beside her, his eyes big. "And you!" Daisy seized the lad by his arm. "Off wi' yer shirt, now, an' let's have a look at ye!" Jacob pulled up Joseph's nightshirt and examined his belly and his back. Little Joseph rubbed his eyes, sleepy, barely awake. Jacob ducked his head, pressed his wide-open mouth against Little Joseph's belly, and blew, making a great bluckering noise and sending his little boy into happy, sudden laughter. Jacob picked up his son, bounced him a couple times on his forearm. "Come on, fella," Jacob grinned, "let's go eat us some breakfast!" Sarah's eyes were big and solemn as she looked at her little sisters. "I can't stop it, Mama," she said softly. "If I go to school I'll bring it back and if I don't go, it'll show up anyway." "I know." Sarah shivered a little. "Darling, you haven't touched your breakfast." "I can't stop it," Sarah whispered. "Mama ... I can't ..." Bonnie reached over, grasped Sarah's hand. "Tell me." Sarah's eyes were dark, liquid, beautiful: she closed her eyes, opened them slowly. "Mama," she whispered, "if it were a man ... a physical enemy ... if it were something I could lay my hands on" -- she pulled her hand out from under her mother's, raising both her hands into shaking claws -- she closed her eyes again and hung her head. "Mama, I can't even see this enemy. I can't stop it." "Then think like your father." Sarah looked curiously at her Mama. "When your enemy cannot be stopped, when the enemy is making an advance, what are your choices?" "Dig in," Sarah said slowly, "or retreat." She looked at the twins. "Denver?" "No, dear." Bonnie looked at the twins and Sarah saw something hard in her Mama's eyes, a fierceness she hadn't seen for some time. "We can't run and we can't stop it at distance. "We'll have to fight this one on our own ground." The Sheriff accepted the coffee cup full of red liquor: he waited until Sean rolled up on one elbow in bed to receive his, then he touched ceramic gently to ceramic. Sean looked at his old friend, hesitated. "Out wi' it, man," he muttered. "What's troublin' ye?" The Sheriff nodded. "I'd better say this before we drink." "Do na' delay me, man," Sean chattered, "for I've a chill an' this'll warm me insides." The Sheriff looked at the big Irishman with hard and pale eyes. "Don't you dare get any worse," the Sheriff said, his voice tight. "I've only got one of you." The men raised their mugs and drank, and neither stopped for air until the entire payload was down. The Sheriff lowered his mug, took Sean's empty. "Rest easy," he said quietly, and Sean nodded, teeth chattering, and rolled up on his side. The Sheriff turned and faced the solemn eyes of Sean's boys. He handed the mugs to Daisy and went slowly to one knee, opened his arms. Sean's boys stepped up and the Sheriff wrapped as many of them in his embrace that he could. "What's wrong wi' Da?" one of the youngest asked. "He's got the crud," the Sheriff said solemnly. "The crud?" "Yep." The Sheriff nodded solemnly. "It hits men hard." "Why?" "Darned if I know." The Sheriff nodded wisely. "I had it myself." "You did?" "Oh, ya." He looked the young Irishman in the eye, just as solemn as the old judge, and continued, "My skin turned green and when I opened my mouth, butterflies flew out." One lad laughed, another said "Naaahhh," a third said "Really?" and Daisy put her knuckles on her hips and scolded, "Sheriff, ye'll go t' hell f'r lyin'!" "What, who, me?" the Sheriff asked, trying to look innocent and almost succeeding.
  13. Linn Keller 1-13-13 "Oh dear," Daisy whispered, staring at her husband's broad, muscled, shining-wet back, a Celtic-pale back that rippled with strength when the man moved. The man was hunched over in the tub, hands gripping the edges with a desperate strength as he worked his big feet under him and then stood with obvious effort. Daisy seized a big fluffy towel and threw it the length of his back, took another and slapped it against his chest: Sean caught it and Daisy caught Sean and the two of them swayed dangerously, until the Irishman's balance improved. Daisy looked at Sean's pale, flat belly, her own stomach contracting within her. Sean's physique put the lie to the phrase "fish belly white," for his own abdomen was utterly pale -- so much so that the fine veining under the skin stood out like delicate tracery mapwork: the phrase "blue blood" came from this phenomenon, where the skin was so fair, the blood vessels were visible as this bluish lacework under the skin: here, though, Sean had not only the blue roadmaps beneath his furry belly ... he had scattered red spots, blots, dots ... Sean wobbled again and Daisy stepped into the bathtub, ignoring the water, seizing her husband around his towels, knowing bare wet skin would be slippery and a towel back and front would help her grip. "Don't ye dare fall, ye damned Irishman," she muttered, and Sean ran an arm around his wife as the world rolled suddenly to port and down by the head: he closed his eyes and swallowed his gorge as the deck suddenly raised until the bowsprit was pointed thirty degrees above the horizon, and he squatted suddenly, seizing the edge of the tub and groaning. Daisy didn't attempt to hold his weight, knowing she would wreck her back if she did: Sean's arm came out and she knew his descent was controlled, if marginally, and she pulled her leg out of the tub just as Sean lost his footing and both legs shot straight forward and up the inclined end of the copper vessel. The floor boomed and shivered underfoot and the big Irishman grunted through clenched teeth as water sloshed over the sides of the tub. "Ye don't move now," Daisy scolded, "just lay still an' I'll get yer bed ready." "I've got t' go t' th' firehouse," Sean muttered, jaw muscles bulging. "Ye're goin' nowhere, Finn MacCool," Daisy snapped. "Ye've the measles an' ye're stayin' i' bed where y' belong!" It was near enough to dawn when Sarah and Bonnie got up for the day. A bath, clean clothes, brushing each other's hair: feminine routine was a comfort to them both; Sarah put up her Mama's hair, and her Mama put up her daughter's hair, and they each dressed the other: an observer could easily mistake them for blood relatives, for their mannerisms, movements, phrases, speech patterns, expressions -- and yes, their hair and their attire -- were very much alike. Each held it a secret from the other, but each of them was pleased to see this mutual resemblance. Dr. Greenlees washed his hands with his usual meticulous thoroughness. "Now let's just have a look at you, shall we?" he said to the tall boy shivering under his covers. "Out of bed, young man, and off with your nightshirt." "C-c-cold," the young man complained, shivering. "I know," Dr. Greenlees said, not unsympathetically, "but we have to be sure." The lad's feet his the hook rug and he sat up, hesitating on the side of the bed: he stood, then lifted the nightshirt. Dr. Greenlees saw what he needed to see before the hemline rose past the lad's waist, but he turned him and said "Hold there" as the lad's mother watched intently. "See here" -- Dr. Greenlees indicated the red speckle field saturating the lad's back and backside -- "your instincts were exactly right." He pulled the material loose from the lad's grip and dropped the flannel nightshirt back down. "Back in the bunk, son." The lad shivered his way back under the covers. Dr. Greenlees opened his black bag, took out two small paper envelopes. "He's already fevered," Dr. Greenlees said, "and that's not entirely bad. We don't want the fever to get too high. It can cause fits and we don't want that. If his eyes go glassy and he doesn't know who you are, prime him with this, in tea." He handed her the two envelopes. "It is a febrifuge, it will bring down the fever but use no more than half a thimble full to a teapot." He smiled -- a wry, knowing smile -- and admitted, "Now that's worse than the bitters so you'll want to throw some honey in the tea and maybe even a shot of whiskey to cut the bitter. It will knock the fever like an Irishman driving rail spikes and he'll sweat and he'll be weak as a kitten. Soup is good, broth is good with plenty of water. He shouldn't develop the heaves unless something else hits him while he's weak." Dr. Greenlees turned to the apprehensive young fellow who lay clutching the quilts high around his neck. He sat gently on the edge of the bed, laid a hand on one of the boy's hands. "This is more a nuisance than anything else," he said quietly. "I don't want you looking at anything bright until you're cured. Don't look at sun on the snow. Once the measles are gone, once you don't have freckles anymore" -- he grinned wryly, for the lad was naturally freckled -- "well, once the measles are gone, you will be okay to look at whatever you want." Dr. Greenlees looked over at the mother and winked. "Once you're recovered, I recommend pretty girls for looking at." "He does that already," the mother said in a disapproving tone, and Dr. Greenlees laughed, his slim-fingered hand tightening on the boy's knuckles. "Do I got any speck-les?" Polly asked. Opal shrugged her shoulders. "I dunno." "Do you got any speck-les?" Opal shrugged again. "I'm hungwy. Let's go have bweakfast." "Okay!" "Dear," Esther asked in a worried voice, "have you ever had measles?" The Sheriff laughed, setting down his coffee mug. "Dear heart, I've had mumps, measles, chicken pox, the Galloping Crud and terminal ugliness," he replied, smiling. "Everything but the small pox and the putrid quinsy." He looked at his bride. "And you, my dear?" "The same." Esther was worried; she tried to hide her worry behind her teacup, took a delicate sip, but her eyes wandered to Angela, who was watching her Daddy with big and solemn eyes. "I had measles," she volunteered. "I was very, very young." Her words were carefully framed and measured and it was evident she was trying hard to be a Big Girl, probably to fit her new role as Big Sister. "Good." The Sheriff nodded to his daughter. "Now to keep the twins healthy." Esther smiled a little. "They're fine so far. I haven't had them out of the house, though." "We'll keep them in for a while. Having them in church was a bit of a risk but that can't be helped." "Babies are often healthier than adults," Esther murmured. The Sheriff nodded: it was a fact, and on some level he was curious, for he didn't like to know what without knowing why -- but a man learns to accept that sometimes why is never answered, at least not this side of the Valley, and after ... well, afterward it might not matter. "I know the newspaper said the measles were hitting Rabbitville." Esther leaned back and thanked the maid as a plate of bacon and eggs settled in front of her. "I have not heard of any cases nearby." "Thank God for that," Esther sighed, picking up her fork. The eggs were spiced just right, and Esther delighted in how their made fixed fried eggs. They reminded her of the way her old Nana fixed eggs, when Esther was Angela's size, and her world was bounded by the plantation's borders. Sarah stood patiently while the newest fashions were finish-tailored for her lean-waisted frame; there were several dresses to be made ready for the next fashion show, and there was that restless something within her that looked forward to a return to Denver. Sarah smiled a secret little smile, remembering the theater tickets with which her brother had gifted her: the German count referred to her as a Valkyrie; her research was limited due to a lack of material, but Uncle Charlie's comments, the context of the remarks, all led Sarah to believe she wished to know more. An opera about these legendary daughters of Odin would doubtless be entertaining, and hopefully to some slight degree, factual or educational. Besides, she was a young woman, and what young woman doesn't enjoy getting dressed up for the theater, where people went to see, and to be seen? Jacob had little Joseph around the waist, Little Joseph, barefoot, walked across the kitchen ceiling, held safely in place by the strong and encompassing hands of dear old Da. Father and son laughed, and Annette smiled, for the laughter of a father and a son, heard together, is a good thing. Daisy's knuckles rapped a fearful tattoo on the door. A moment later Esther was inviting her in, but Daisy drew back, drawing her shawl across her face as if to ward off the plague, or perhaps to contain it. "It's the measles," she blurted, "an' I havena' the strength t' get Sean out o' th' tub."
  14. Linn Keller 1-12-13 Sarah barely felt the quilt being gently laid over top of her. Bonnie looked at her daughter, blinking slowly, then she eased down into a chair, hands clasped and clamped in her skirt between her knees. She sat and remembered Sarah as a tiny, underfed waif, big-eyed, sad-eyed, but with a quick smile and a loving little nature. Bonnie remembered Sarah, diving for a hiding place when violence erupted as it often did in the sordid upstairs of the Jewel, where the working girls were kept; she remembered how Sarah would peep out from around a corner or behind a bed, then she would wet a cloth and press it gently to Bonnie's newly blackened eye, or she would gently brush Tillie's hair, tears glimmering down her pale cheeks as she offered the only comfort a little child was able. Bonnie looked at Sarah, sprawled across her bed, right arm thrown out; Bonnie saw the scarring on Sarah's forearm, where the stolen, runaway buggy had run over it with Sarah thrown from the carriage after fighting with the thief, and Bonnie swallowed a lump as she remembered hearing the Sheriff's scream of utter grief as he picked up her limp form, absolutely convinced that she was dead. Bonnie reached out and brushed Sarah's hair, gently, stroking it with the backs of her fingers, feeling Sarah's breath warm and moist, and she remembered the stories of that terrible fire in Denver, she remembered being told of Sarah bringing in murderers, of Sarah riding like an avenging spirit after those who sought to rip the fabric of law and decency from their Western society, and Bonnie looked at this tired, sleeping, exhausted girl who'd come into her room and fallen across her bed and passed out without benefit of undressing or crawling under her covers. Bonnie dropped her head and bit her bottom lip as she remembered that one horrible night when those men wanted to murder her and everyone in Firelands, and burn it to the ground, how outlaws of her own blood wanted to seize the mineral rights and were quite willing to murder the entire town to do it, after being unable to simply abduct and murder Bonnie. She remembered how Sarah clutched her hand and didn't want to let go, when Bonnie muscled two pianos back-to-back and put Sarah between them, back against the wall, with Dawg guarding her: she remembered looking cautiously out from between the pianos, with the sound of galloping horses and men's shouts and gunfire out on the main street, the heavy cough of Mr. Baxter's double gun from the front door as he stepped out to meet the threat with buckshot and a serious expression: she remembered turning and seeing the reaver, the murderer who slipped in the back door, and how he leered and said something about what he was going to do to her and her little girl. Bonnie looked at Sarah through tear-blurred eyes and remembered how she stood, the only guardian between certain death and her little girl, and how she raised the revolver she'd been given, the Sheriff's Navy Colt, and how she coldly, precisely, sent the intruder to hell. Bonnie lifted her head, took a long, silent breath through her open mouth, blinking rapidly. She looked down at Sarah. She looks so young, Bonnie thought. She looks like a young girl ... just very, very tired. Bonnie squeezed Sarah's hand, very gently. Sarah twitched, her hand seeking her Mama's: Sarah grasped Bonnie's hand and Bonnie squeezed her daughter's hand in reply, holding tight as Sarah, still asleep, groaned, a tired, exhausted, hopeless sound: she started breathing, quickly, then her eyes opened: pale, unfocused, she saw something not entirely in the here-and-now. Bonnie leaned forward, laid her other hand on Sarah's and whispered, "It's all right, dear," and Sarah convulsed, coming off the bed like a scalded cat, snapping into a ball: she focused on her Mama, her face going white: she rolled up on her backside, seized her Mama in a desperate embrace, eyes wide, face pale, shivering: "Mama," she whispered. "Mama!" "There, now," Bonnie soothed, rubbing Sarah's back, "sshhh, it's all right, I'm here, shhh, it's all right." Sarah was several minutes slowing her breathing, several minutes of trembling like a frightened rabbit in its burrow. "It was only a dream," she whispered, clutching her Mama like a drowning man clutches a life-ring: "I was so scared, Mama! I was so scared!" Bonnie held her daughter, doing what mothers the world over knew, and have known: the best thing they can do when their child has such a nightmare, is just to hold her, let her know she is safe, something that only a mother can do.
  15. My wife likes Judge Judy and all of the other TV judge shows. Fortunately for me she watches them at her mom's house on her lunch break (when she takes one) instead of here... Copper City Bourbon if you please...
  16. I had completely forgotten about that. It explains a lot!
  17. Linn Keller 1-11-13 Sarah was young and strong, but fatigue will take its toll on the young as well as the rest of us. She'd been up a day and a night and a day again with her twin sisters, watching over them, at bathtime she inspected their backs and their bellies closely for the red speckles that would herald the arrival of measles ... and she was pleased to find nothing of the sort. Her sisters were feeling better, but Sarah insisted they remain in their flannel nightgowns and caps: the girls were playing quietly in the front parlor, Sarah made sure the stove was stoked and the ashes shaken down, and she carried out a scuttle of ashes and brought in wood, though the hired help was usually tasked with this: Sarah was restless, and Sarah was tired, and Sarah's eyes were heavy as she watched Polly and Opal happily chattering with their dolls and with each other. Sarah sat on the sofa with a lap board and her papers and her whittled pencils, intending fully to write more stories for her book: she nodded a little, then shook her head and picked up a pencil. The rider's silk gown floated gossamer-light on the wind of her passing, she wrote, and the upright lance braced in her right stirrup trailed a scarlet pennant, blood-red in the evening sun. The pale-eyed Mountain Ghost -- Bonnie came in a half hour later: she smiled a little at Sarah's presence on the couch, and the quiet voices of the twins busy with their dolls: Bonnie blinked, tilted her head and took a step into the parlor. The twins looked up and smiled and Bonnie put a quick finger to her lips: the twins surged to their feet and charged across the room, delight on their faces, and Bonnie squatted to embrace her little girls. She looked up at Sarah and realized Sarah's head was bowed, her eyes shut; fatigue showed on her features, a pencil hung loose in her hand: curious, Bonnie released the twins, turned a little to read what Sarah had written, followed the lead streak where her last word trailed into a graphite line falling off the edge of the page. She's fallen asleep writing, Bonnie thought, poor thing ... she's been up with the twins so I wouldn't have to be! I'll ask her about the Kolascinski children later. The maid appeared in the doorway, surveyed the scene and smiled: the affection of mother for daughter was evident in Bonnie's expression. Polly looked at the maid, then at her Mama: she walked around the end of the sofa, tugged gently at Bonnie's sleeve, inclined her curly little head toward the doorway. "May I serve dinner?" the maid whispered. Bonnie smiled, walked quietly over to the maid. "Yes, Mary," she whispered back, "and thank you." Later that evening, Bonnie went out to the bunkhouse and tapped delicately at the door. Sam opened the door, smiling: her hair hung loose, which surprised Bonnie: Sam normally kept her coarse auburn hair in braids, and wrapped around her neck. "Come on in," she invited, and Bonnie did, handing Sam two loaves of still-warm bread wrapped in a thick towel. "Sam," Bonnie asked, and Sam heard a little worry in her employer's voice, "did Sarah ride out yesterday evening, when the snow was bad?" Clark blinked, looked over at Clark: Clark shook his head, slowly, and Sam followed suit. "No ma'am. Her horses were with ours and we had 'em in the lee of the barn under the shed roof where they were out of the wind. We checked on 'em a few times through the night and they were right with ours, and happy to be there!" Bonnie's eyes widened and Sam didn't see fear so much as puzzlement. "Is something wrong?" she asked, her hand warm on Bonnie's elbow. Bonnie sank into a chair, leaned her elbow on the table and her forehead into her hand. "I don't know what happened," she said slowly. "I ... just ... don't ... know." Jacob rapped on the telegraph office door, opened it and stuck his head in. "Permission to come aboard!" he called, and Lightning grinned at him from the swivel chair. "Salute the ensign and the officer of the day!" he laughed, rising: he offered his hand to his trusted friend and the two shook the way they always did. "Lightning, might I borrow your wife?" Lightning's face broadened into a grin and he sat back down, laughing, as Jacob's face turned red. "That didn't come out right," he muttered, which made Lightning laugh all the harder. "I mean -- the last time Sarah and I were sparring she threw me over her shoulder and I landed flat on my back, knocked the wind outta me, she did it so easy --" Lightning's eyes twinkled and he laughed harder, throwing his head back at the mental image of diminutive, ladylike Sarah, tossing long tall and rangy Jacob like she was throwing a rag doll. "It wasn't like that!" Jacob protested; if it were possible, his face would have turned more red, and Lightning was laughing hard enough he started to slide out of his chair, scooting forward on the cushion until he'd overridden the center of gravity and the chair kind of slid out from under him and Lightning ended up sitting on the floor, wiping his eyes and howling his mirth to the rafters overhead. "It wasn't that funny!" Jacob shouted, trying to be angry, but he was laughing as well, and finally the two gave up and let laughter run its course: they both ended up snorting, wiping their eyes and blowing their noses, Lightning got his chair back on its caster wheels and picked up the pillow, then he looked at Jacob and got to laughing again. Jacob spread his arms and shook his head, looking beseechingly at the beams above him: "How long, O Lord," he intoned in the manner of a Revival preacher, "how long must I walk around with one hoof between my teeth?" "Out," Lightning said, waving his hand at the door. "Out! Out and come in again! We'll start over!" Jacob did go out; matter of fact he was gone about five minutes and on his return he had a bottle with him and he knocked on the door, opened it and said "Lightning, take a touch with me, I want to borrow your wife!" "Oh now you want to get me drunk first!" "This ain't workin'," Jacob muttered. "Sit," Lightning chuckled. "I've got a tin cup here someplace." They had one cup between the two of them, but after a good short of Old Stump Blower, they tried again. This time Jacob was able to address his request without the interference of a boot in the yap: Lightning agreed that Jacob would benefit from his wife's instruction, and Jacob secured permission to call when both Lightning and Daciana were home that evening. Sarah was heavy-eyed through supper, and ate with little appetite, which concerned her mother: Bonnie bustled around the table, put a hand against Sarah's forehead, then laid the backs of her finger gently against Sarah's right cheek. "Well, you're not fevered," she said. "I'm just tired, Mama, that's all." Bonnie squatted beside her daughter, took Sarah's face in her hands, looked at her with big, concerned eyes. "Sarah," she said very quietly, "were you out in the blizzard?" Sarah blinked. "Mama?" Bonnie sighed, shook her head. "Mama, I was up with the twins. You know that." "Yes, I know," Bonnie said, her own voice tired: "but Inge Kolascinski ... her children ..." Sarah's expression was suddenly concerned, her fatigue forgotten. "Mama, what happened? Are they all right?" "Yes. Yes, they're fine." Bonnie took Sarah's hands in her own. "They were lost in the blizzard but ... they made it home." "Good." Exhaustion descended over Sarah's face like a drawn blind. "You're tired," Bonnie whispered. "Why don't you go to bed?" Sarah nodded. Bonnie watched as Sarah climbed the stairs, looking for all the world like she was well beyond exhaustion, and unable to more than lift one foot ahead of the other: she wondered if Sarah would have a miraculous recovery once behind the privacy of her bedroom door. A half hour later Bonnie slipped stocking-foot up the stairs, turned Sarah's bedroom doorknob slowly, carefully, eased the door open, peeked in. Sarah was laying face down crosswise of the bed, fully clothed, sound asleep.
  18. Linn Keller 1-10-13 Jacob forked hay over the fence for the horses. Jacob was a lean young man, a man made of whalebone and rawhide, a man who gloried in the green strength of youth: he wasn't quite as stout as Shorty, who could likely walk up to, pick up and walk off with a donkey engine if he so chose, but Jacob was not puny by any long stretch of the imagination. He'd been working for some time that morning: the barn was to his liking now, the horses had dry straw underfoot, the muck-out was done, Jacob was warmed up and feeling good, in part the satisfaction of a responsible man tending for those things for which he was responsible. Little Joseph was tasked with gathering and fetching in wood for the stove. He'd bundled up kindling, split and stacked and ready to take in; he strutted importantly to the front door and Annette opened the door for him: Joseph fairly marched to the kitchen, trailing snow and good intentions, dumped the kindling in an absolutely unkempt pile, then quickly stacked it end-on in the kindling box the way he was used to seeing it: straightening, he scampered for the front door and charged out into the snow again. Annette smiled, sweeping the dropped snow, quickly, before it melted any further. Jacob worked with the new mare daily, interacting with her as often as he could: his gut told him she was a good horse, and intelligent, but she still had the habit of biting if a body wasn't watching. This, he knew, wasn't entirely bad: one of his Pa's horses -- that big stallion, I think -- was bad about biting anyone but his father, and it kept the horse from being stolen a time or two. Jacob was not privy to everything his Pa did, but Jacob was a man quick to listen, and to hear tales told about the pale-eyed old lawman with the iron-grey mustache (was a man inclined to believe such tales), why, that pale eyed old Sheriff sent his big golden stallion off on his own to fetch in bad guys and sure enough that big Palomino did just that, carrying them into town with a good bite of the seat of the bad guy's pants, and the miscreant hollering and thrashing arms and legs as he was borne in equine triumph to the hands of justice. Jacob figured such tales were so much second hand horse feed. A man brought in by a horse, carried by the seat of his pants, would be too ashamed to draw attention by hollering and thrashing. He looked out the barn's double doors to see Joseph, staggering for the front door, a big pile of stove wood in his arms. Jacob nodded, making a mental note to brag the boy up. Too often a father will accept that his boy does something well, or on his own, something that's needful -- but a boy needs to know the Grand Old Man notices, and approves, and appreciates: brag him up and he'll feel so good he'll bust his butt to do better next time just because it feels good to be praised. Jacob looked at the hay on the other side of the fence and nodded, stacked his hay fork where he usually kept it: he blew a breath-plume, puffing it out like a little kid, and grinned. Boys keep the old man young, he remembered hearing some time ago, and thinking of his efforts at keeping up with Joseph, why, at this rate he never would grow old! Little Joseph kicked the snow off his boots before coming in again: his Mama stood in the doorway with a broom and nodded approval, for she'd just swept the front steps and the big stone slab porch clean. Annette shaded her hand and looked toward the barn, squinting: there was still a good amount of overcast, but the sun punched through, briefly, bright and sparkling on new snow. Jacob slid the doors shut and latched them, then stomped through the path he'd broken, heading back toward the house. He could smell coffee. The Sheriff finished brooming the board walk clear in front of the Sheriff's office: he had a flat bottom shovel he used to scrape packed snow off the warped boards, compacted ovals where people walked before he got it cleared. The Sheriff was a tidy man and didn't stop his labors until the roofed section of board walk was clean and to his satisfaction, as were the steps on either end. He'd debated whether to clear the path between his end steps and where they took up again this side of Digger's, and decided against it: he knocked snow off the shovel, the stamped metal Ames ringing in the cold air, then he went inside and stacked his working-tools in the corner. The Sheriff cozied up to the pot belly stove: he closed his eyes with pleasure, soaking up warmies, opening his coat and sighing at the almost sensual pleasure of radiant heat on the fronts of his thighs: he stood for several long moments, then hung his coat up behind the stove, shaking it once on general principles, reached for his coffee cup and poured himself some steaming Arbuckle's: he'd set it a-boil before he went outside to clear snow and he was so looking forward to a good warmin' shot. The milk was still good so he dumped in a good shot and a half or so, waited a few moments before carrying it over to his desk: his office chair was parked beside the stove to thaw out and he dollied the wheeled seat over to his desk, smiling a little, for he never did like to park his backside on a stone cold chair. He set the coffee cup down, situated the chair, set his butt down and reached for the coffee. A moment later he swallowed, grimaced. "Yuck!" he shouted, "Who made this stuff?" He got up and went to the front door, tossed the cup's contents into the street, then he went back inside and returned, blue granite pot in hand, swirled it and tossed its steaming contents after the first batch. "Dammit to hell anyway," he muttered, "I gotta find me a better cook!" He rinsed out the coffee pot, set it empty, lid up, on the shelf, and stomped over to the Silver Jewel, determined to have some decent coffee one way or another.
  19. I'm not gonna ask how that is possible...
  20. I just got mine cut in February. I'm good for a while. I think I'll just let it grow until my lovely bride complains then I'll see about having her trim it off of my ears. What is left is pretty curly so it shouldn't really be an issue for a while...
  21. Linn Keller 1-9-13 The three Kolascinski children labored through the snow, the oldest in the lead: the oldest child is ever the trail breaker for those that follow, and here it was literally true: he labored manfully through snow that was knee deep and in some places more so. Snow was coming down heavier now; they were out of Firelands and near the railroad tracks, he knew: once they hit the tracks they would have easier walking. If they could find the tracks. Light and wind, blowing snow and fatigue, all took a toll on their sense of direction: they could not even see the heavy granite wall that was the mountain on their left: snow was coming down heavier, thicker, the wind was letting up a little but not much -- and then gusting, kicking up clouds and swirls and driving damp fingers of cold through their coats. The three stopped, huddled; their big brother squatted, opened his coat and the other two bundled inside with him, grateful as much for this comfort as for the warmth. "Are we lost?" the youngest whispered, and the big brother felt her shivering, and he squeezed her tighter and whispered back, "Nah. I know right where we are." "I don't." His younger brother pushed away, looked around, thrust out a pointing finger. "I think we should go there." "No." The reply was firm, clipped. "We go the way we were." "But where are we?" The three looked around, eyes burning in the darkening whiteness. We need to find someplace dry, the big brother thought. "What's that?" The three froze, heads up, ears straining. They'd heard something -- just what, they weren't sure, but a sound might mean a house, a house would mean shelter -- They heard it again, looked at one another, eyes big and hopeful. Faintly, on the wind, a familiar, sharp cadence -- cl-clang, cl-clang, cl-clang -- "Miss Sarah!" three voices breathed: as one, they surged to their feet, hope renewing their strength: they pushed into the wind, pushed toward that familiar sound, the schoolbell, the one sound they knew meant safety -- They labored for some long minutes, stopped. "I see something!" A shadow, big, dark: they turned hopefully toward it -- The snow thinned and a horse, impossibly big, impossibly black, and on it, a white figure, a figure made of snow and of mist, white and shining hair streaming in the wind, and in her hand, a blazing silver lance, barring their way. They stopped, shrank back from this sudden, threatening figure, and the wind quit, and for a moment so did the snow. The big brother's heart stopped as he saw the chasm not three feet in front of them, the abyss they all knew ran to one side of town, a ravine steep and dangerous and inescapable. The big brother looked up -- Gone. His little sister's hand tighted on one of his; his little brother's hand squeezed his other hand, hard. Behind them, now -- they turned -- Cl-clang, cl-clang, cl-clang. They turned their backs on the canyon and almost ran toward the schoolbell's brass song. Panicked now, fear lending speed to their feet, all three tripped at the same time, landing face first in deep snow, rolling and sitting up and coughing -- They blinked and looked at one another and laughed, then the black horse was upon them again and the silver lance seared fire and shot a bright bolt of quicksilver at them and they rolled, falling: the big brother's hand came down hard on something smooth, hard, unyielding -- Rail, he thought. We found the railroad. The ghostly figure on the red-eyed horses swung the lance and they fell back again, away from the searing cold fire sizzling and snapping from its tip, then the big brother looked to his left and grabbed his younger two and pulled back fast. The Lady Esther came through the falling snow, moving silent, ghostlike herself: he saw her arc light appear, then brighten, and then she was there, breathing easy, coasting on a down grade, absolutely silent. The black mountain of a horse and its rider clad in mist-silk stood unmoving in the middle of the tracks. The big brother grabbed his siblings and rolled over, shielding them from seeing what would be carnage as their savior was rammed and run over by several tons of steam engine and steel wheels. They lay in the snow, breathing hard, shivering: it was not possible for their ghostly savior to have escaped sure and certain death, there would be blood and meat all over hell and breakfast -- They struggled up, watched the retreating lights disappear almost the moment they were past, and they took slow, tentative, trembling steps toward the tracks. They looked, searched, turned, looked again, looked at one another. "Nothing," the younger brother said, eyes wide and scared. "Come on," the big brother said. "I know where we are. We're almost home. This way." The next day Inge Kolascinski rapped briskly on Bonnie's office door. Bonnie looked up from the manual she was studying, plucked the pince-nez from her face and rose, smiling. She opened the door and Inge seized Bonnie's forearms. Bonnie felt the woman's tremor. "Thank you," Inge whispered, her voice hoarse: "Your Sarah kept my children safe." "You're welcome," Bonnie said, blinking, puzzled: "What did she do this time?" "You ... didn't know?" Bonnie shook her head slowly. "The snow yesterday ... they got lost on the way home, it was blizzard and ... and your Sarah came out in the snow." Bonnie poured tea for them both, hesitated, then added a generous shot of something water clear to one of the teacups and offered it to Inge. It was evident she could use a little nerve tonic. Inge took a sip, then a swallow and another: she held the delicate china in both hands, leaned against the closed office door and closed her eyes. "My oldest ... he kept them together but he got turned around in the blizzard," Inge said haltingly. "They nearly went over the ravine. "Your Sarah" -- Inge looked sharply at Bonnie -- "your Sarah stopped them from the ravine and when they found the railroad tracks she pushed them out of the way for the train was silent in the snow and when they were going the wrong direction she found them with her schoolbell." Bonnie's eyes were big and worried: she poured some water clear in her own tea. "Sarah," she said hesitantly, "was up all night with the twins. They were fevered and she tended them from the moment she came home from teaching school." She looked at Inge and both women turned a little pale. "Sarah came home and never left the house."
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