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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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  1. Charlie MacNeil 10-27-13 "Mister Stoakes, are you quite finished with this witness?" Judge Hostettler asked. "I am, Your Honor," Stoakes replied. "Very well, you may step down, Marshal," the Judge ordered. Charlie rose from his seat, reclaimed custody of the Greener from the bailiff and stepped back to stand against the wall near Brentwood, the shotgun held broken open and hanging from his forearm as he slouched against the whitewashed boards. "Mister Stoakes, you may call your next witness." "With pleasure, Your Honor. I call Mister Cecil Wallace to the stand," Stoakes replied smugly. He stood confidently scanning the crowded room for sixty very long seconds before someone in the crowd called, "I think Cecil just left on the mornin' stage ta Denver, him an' a whole passel of others!" A momentary flash of anger could be seen on the attorney's urbane features before he got himself under control once more. "Your Honor, my witness does not seem to be available. May I call another?" The Judge nodded his consent and Stoakes called another name. Over the course of the next five minutes, his confidence dwindling rapidly, the attorney called a long list of names, none of whose owners seemed to be present in the room and most of whom were not present anywhere within the town's environs, having left town by whatever means were available over the course of the past two days. As each name was called, and as each man failed to present himself for testimony, Stoakes demeanor became more and more desperate. "Your Honor, I seem to have run short of witnesses," Stoakes at last said in a much subdued and diffident tone. "I shall take the witness stand on my own behalf, and end this farcical mutation of justice once and for all!" He strode forward and seated himself. Brentwood swore him in and he began to speak in his own defense. History has not recorded the words Stoakes fairly spouted, flourished and embellished on his own behalf as he strode to and fro before the Judge's bench. History does record that the catcalls and laughter swelled with each listing of injustice done to his person and deeds of aid and succor for others reputedly done by him, none of which seemed to have been noticed by his fellow citizens. After some forty five minutes of dissertation, Stoakes began to wind up his testimony. "And further, Your Honor, the claim of falsification of documents and fraud is completely and totally without merit. Those documents deeding me all rights to the gold claims of Sheriff Linn Keller are true documents and will stand up in any court of law!" Stoakes strode forward, his confidence restored, and seated himself with a flourish in the witness chair and gazed expectantly at the Judge. Judge Hostettler stared wordlessly back at the attorney for several moments before speaking. "That was quite an inspired speech, Mister Stoakes," Hostettler began. "Too bad it's total poppycock." Stoakes sucked in a breath and opened his mouth to speak, but the Judge held up a restraining hand. "Don't bother to object, Mister Stoakes. It will do you no good whatsoever. And regarding your allegation as to the veracity of the gold claim documents, this is one court of law in which they will not stand as true documents." He picked up a thin sheaf of paper from the table in front of him. "I have known Sheriff Linn Keller for quite a long time, Mister Stoakes, and there is no way on God's green earth that he signed these documents. They are obvious forgeries, and you are an obvious blackguard who deserves nothing less that the worst possible punishment that I can mete out!" His voice rose. "Regarding the charge of assaulting an officer of the law, that one stands on its own merit. Marshal MacNeil's reputation for honesty precedes him..." "Yeah, he's pretty good at breakin' arms, too!" an anonymous jokester called from the back of the room, obviously referring to the plaster that burdened the attorney's right forearm. Ignoring the interruption, Hostettler went on, "...whose testimony I would take as gospel truth any time. Consequently, I have decided on your punishment." Stoakes stared at him, as stunned as if someone had walked up and handed him a live rattlesnake. "Get ready, 'cause that hothead is gonna jump the judge when he hears what Hostettler's got to say," Charlie whispered to Brentwood. Marshal and bailiff stepped quietly forward, Charlie leaning the Greener against a chair near the wall before moving up behind Stoakes. "But, but, Your Honor!" Stoakes sputtered, leaning forward. "Silence, Mister Stoakes!" Hostettler thundered. Stoakes wilted back into his chair. "I hereby sentence you to ten years in the Territorial Prison in Canon City, Colorado on each charge, to be served consecutively." He struck the table with the gavel. "This court is adjourned!" "No!" Stoakes suddenly screamed. He launched himself from his seat, his clawed fingers aimed for the Judge's throat. Hostettler stared at him calmly as the former attorney suddenly became entangled in the chair's legs, assisted by Charlie and the bailiff, and struck the floor with a resounding THUMP! that drove the air from his lungs. Before he could gather the wits scattered by the impact the two officers were on him, pinning him to the boards to yank his wrists behind him and clamp the manacles on him. They unceremoniously hoisted him to his feet, where he sagged between the two men until Charlie leaned over and hissed in his ear, "Stand up or I'll stand you up!" Stoakes forced himself upright, head hanging in despair. All that he'd worked so hard for, all his ill-gotten gains, were gone in an instant. He was sure that he would never come out of the prison alive.
  2. Linn Keller 10-25-13 I don't know who or how but I got spirited onto the train. At least they had a bunk set up for me in the stable car. I could lay down there and nobody could see me. I don't know which of the nurses rode with me and it don't matter. I was feverin' up again and weak as a kitten and Charlie could see it even when I was not about to: there are none so blind as will not see, and I was bound and determined not to see just how whipped I was. Thank God Charlie was there to belt me over the gourd with plain words. Much as I wanted the world to see the Sheriff was alive and well and on the job, it would have been far the worse for the world to see the Sheriff collapse in the street. I lay there and shivered like a wet dog. "Mommy?" "Yes, sweets?" Angela frowned at the yellow yarn that comprised her rag doll's hair. She had multiple of the fine ceramic dolls -- they still worn the French exemplar dresses her Aunt Bonnie scaled up and sold -- and even though Angela was getting to be a Big Girl, she still liked the rag doll her Mommy made her ... mostly because ... well, it was her Mommy that made it, and she made it especially for her little girl. "Mommy ... " Angela looked up at Esther, not quite sure whether she should say what was on her mind, but realizing she'd already pushed her sled over the lip of the snowbank and was ready to go whistling downhill. "I miss Daddy." Three simple words, spoken in the voice of a sad little girl, words Esther knew well; she'd spoken them herself, both as a wee child, and many times in the years of her growing-up; even yet, she missed the warmth, the strength of her Papa. "I know, Sweets," Esther said sympathetically. "I miss him too." "Mommy?" "Yes, Sweets?" "When is Daddy coming home?" "He's on his way home," Esther said, blinking as if she realized something surprising. "This very moment. He is coming home." Esther smiled at her daughter. "He's on the train. Would you like to go meet him?" "Yaay," Angela cheered, bouncing up on her toes and clapping her little pink hands, her face all rosy and pink-cheeked and smiling. "The Judge," I whispered. A cool, damp cloth wiped slowly across my forehead, sizzled as it traveled down one cheek, then the other. "The Judge has the papers. He's got the forgery. The evidence." "I know," the nurse soothed, her voice coming from a distance. I could see a set of telegraph wires running into the stock car and trees growing inside with cannon set between them. "Charlie," I whispered. "He's fine," the gentle voice said, and I closed my eyes and drifted in a hot sea, an invisible sun baking me as I floated on transparent wavelets. "Your fever will break soon enough," I heard, but I paid no attention. I was watching apples walk up the tree branches and down the trunks and line up in neat ranks behind the cannon. I could see them clearly through closed eyelids.
  3. Charlie MacNeil 10-25-13 "Hear ye, hear ye, this courtroom is now in session, the Honorable Judge Donald Hostettler presiding. All of you stand up and be quiet," the honest officer from the jail, in his role as court bailiff, called over the buzz of conversation in the room. There wasn't actually a courtroom in Cripple Creek, so the one decent hotel's dining room had been dragooned into service. The tables had been stacked against one wall except for one which the Judge had chosen as his "bench", the chairs arranged in rows. A trial was considered quality entertainment in any Western town, but this one was especially attractive considering who the guest of honor was planned to be. The officer, whose name was Leland Brentwood, looked disgustedly across the still chattering crowd, picked up the heavy cast-iron skillet and the steel spoon he had already sited on the Judge's bench, stepped up on the "witness chair" and began to beat the skillet with the spoon quite enthusiastically. In a matter of moments he had the undivided attention of everyone in the room. "All you boys get on your feet! This courtroom is now in session!" Chairs scraped and boots thumped as those sitting rose to their feet. "That's better! Now all of you shut up!" As Brentwood stepped down from his perch Judge Hostettler entered the room, trying mightily to hide the grin that threatened to burst through his solemn facade. He sat behind the "bench" and picked up his gavel. He rapped the gavel on the tabletop twice, said, "You may be seated" and waited while the crowd settled into their seats. He nodded to Brentwood, who stepped forward to pick up a sheet of paper from the tabletop. "Firelands County versus Milton Stoakes! The charges are: Assault on an officer of the law with intent to commit homicide Forging of mining claim documents and fraud and Resisting arrest." He returned the sheet of paper to its place on the table and stepped back to fold his hands behind his back. "Step forward, Mister Stoakes!" the Judge ordered. Stoakes pushed himself from his seat in the front row with his uninjured hand and strode arrogantly forward. Even from his cell he'd managed to get his suit cleaned and pressed and he knew he looked good. This was not his first time in a courtroom, though he'd never before been involved in a trial as the defendant. Hostettler pointed toward the witness chair. "Sit down, Mister Stoakes." When the lawyer was seated, the Judge went on, "You have heard the charges, Mister Stoakes. How do you plead?" "I plead not guilty on all charges, Your Honor," Stoakes answered confidently. His confidence stemmed from the fact that he paid out a considerable sum in gold each month for cooperation from the denizens of Cripple Creek's less savory environs, so he was sure he'd have plenty of "witnesses" to his innocence. What he didn't know was that the majority of his paid witnesses had left town already, and all but one or two of those still in town were sitting at the station waiting for the next stagecoach to anywhere. And that remaining one or two were maintaining the lowest possible profile. "And I will be acting as my own attorney." "Are you sure about that plea, Mister Stoakes?" the Judge asked. "These are very serious charges." "I'm positive, Your Honor," Stoakes replied. "Well, in that case, please return to your seat, Mister Stoakes." When the attorney had resumed his original seat, Hostettler, acting as prosecutor as well as judge, called, "I call Charlie MacNeil to the stand." He smiled slightly as he saw the confident smirk on Stoakes' face falter for a moment. Charlie strode from the back of the room, spurs jingling, Greener in hand, crossed bandoleers of gleaming brass on his chest. He tipped his hat back to hang by the stampede string and sat down. He handed the Greener to Brentwood, who grasped the shotgun with is left hand as he stepped forward with a Bible in his right. Unseen by the crowd, he grinned at Charlie. "Place your right hand on the Bible," he ordered. When Charlie had done so, he went on, "Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" "I do," Charlie answered. Brentwood returned to his place behind the witness chair, laid the Bible on a nearby table, and stood with the shotgun at port arms across his chest. "Please tell the court what happened in the office of Milton Stoakes on the morning in question," the Judge ordered. "With pleasure, Your Honor," Charlie replied. He launched into a concise description of the events in the attorney's office, mincing no words while wasting none. The crowd sat silent except for an occasional cough as the Marshal told his story. Stoakes didn't speak through the entire narrative, which painted him in quite an unfavorable light. When Charlie had finished speaking, Stoakes rose to his feet and strode forward. "Mister MacNeil..." "Marshal," Charlie interrupted. "Excuse me, Marshal MacNeil," Stoakes said with a smirk. "What exactly is your authority in Cripple Creek?" "I'm a United States Marshal, Mister Stoakes," Charlie replied. "I have blanket authority over this part of country." "Really." It was a statement, not a question. "Blanket authority? How is that possible?" "It's possible because my boss says it is," Charlie replied with a cold lift of his lips. Someone out in the crowd snickered. "And what exactly did this faceless "boss" tell you?" Stoakes sneered. "His words were, verbatim, 'Get that place cleaned up, and don't be gentle about it. I don't care how you do it, just do it. And make an impression that won't be forgotten for a while.'" Chuckles and outright laughter erupted from the crowd now. The Judge rapped his gavel on the table. "Quiet, or I'll have this room cleared!" he ordered. The room went quiet. Nobody in his right mind wanted to miss what they were sure would be coming next.
  4. Linn Keller 10-25-13 I did some hard thinkin' once the prisoners were shuffled off to court. Charlie is right. Dead ... dead, I will do nobody any good. I closed my eyes and took a long breath, flinched: my chest still hurt when I tensed up or breathed in too deep. I oughta go heal up. Leave now ... show 'em you hurt the Sheriff, he'll run and hide ... I glared at the voice whispering between my ears. This was not my first poor idea. God knows I've messed up plenty of times. Did I mess up here? Yes ... no. No, I did what I had to do. They tried to bush whack me and damn near did. Was it not for that nice friendly horse trough to jump behind, I'd likely be occupyin' that fine fancy coffin I put in the root cellar against the day I'd need it. Warn't nobody to back my play. I was the only one to take care of me so I did and I come out on top, least wise until that other pair of bush whackers across the street laid into me. Now Cripple Creek was a mining town and like most boom towns it grew fast and it grew cheap and likely once the gold played out the place would be tore apart and lumber carried off to build another boom town, unless the place burnt down, of course ... but I'd looked over assays and reports and engineers' letters and I didn't figure the gold would run out in my lifetime. It wasn't easy to get, bound up in hard rock like it was, but I figured it would be steady, so I invested ... a wise move, as time proved. With that thievin' lawyer in front of the Judge, I thought, this'll show the world you can't slicker your way into my gold ... I proved you can't bush whack me out of the way so you can slicker the records ... A buggy drew near, stopped in front of me. "Sheriff?" the Chief of Police said deferentially. I looked up, casual-like. "Sheriff, the Judge asked me to give you a note." I nodded. I steeled myself for putting weight on my tore up leg and somehow managed to take two steps without a limp or collapsing. How, I don't rightly know, that leg wasn't worth a whole lot in that moment and Charlie was right, I needed to concentrate on healin' up, but I needed to see what His Honor had to say. I broke the seal, unfolded the foolscap, read. "Will there be a reply, sir?" the Chief asked, and I could tell the man felt like he was walking on egg shells. Apparently Charlie and company managed to put the fear into more than the criminal element. "My compliments to the Judge," I said, slipping His Honor's note into my coat pocket, "and my thanks." "Very good, sir," the Chief said, touching his cap-brim, then he clucked to the gelding and flipped the reins. I made my way around the jail house and got back to the doc's office by the back alley, taking my time, just sauntering along, rifle across my arm, looking around like nothing in the world troubled me, least until I got back into the doc's office, where I shut the door behind me, took two steps and leaned against the wall for several minutes, my eyes shut tight, shivering a little and sweat popping out on my forehead. Macneil was more right than he knew. I felt Doc's hands, firm on my upper arms. "I give up," I whispered. "Take me home."
  5. Linn Keller 10-24-13 The Sheriff's weight was casually on his good leg, the crescent butt plate of his engraved '73 rifle resting on his muscled thigh. He regarded the street with slow, methodical sweeps of his pale blue eyes, not looking over at the lean, weathered lawman leaned up against the sun warmed boards beside him. "You know what's wrong with what you just said, Charlie?" the Sheriff asked slowly. Macneil waited, knowing this was a rhetorical question, and that the questioner would supply his own answer. "Nothing," Linn continued. "Not one damn thing." Macneil waited, knowing he'd spoken his piece, now it was his friend and Brother's turn. "What you saw when you first laid eyes on me standin' here ... what you saw was pride." Macneil nodded slowly. "I wasn't about to let anyone see me hobblin' on a cripple stick, nor ridin' out in a buggy." "Buggy your sorry backside," Macneil rumbled. "I lined up an Army ambulance." "I will unscrew your head and shove it down a field gun." "Pack a lunch and bring some help." "You are a hard headed obstinate contrary -- "Flattery," Charlie interrupted, "will get you everywhere." "Yeah." Jacob leaned against the far corner of the building, far enough away to be discreet, elaborately ignoring the pair at the other corner. "I wanted to show 'em I was still alive and capable." "Like I said," Charlie murmured. "Yeah." Linn coughed, spat. "You're right and I admit it. Happy?" Charlie turned his head, glared at his old friend. "Yeah," he growled. "You're alive and I intend to keep you that way." Jacob sauntered casually toward the pair, stopping and leaning back against the building beside Charlie. The Sheriff sighed, resignation in the wordless exhalation. "I," he said finally, "am a damned fool." "No," Charlie said. "You actually give a good damn." "Jacob." "Yes, sir?" "You payin' attention?" "Yes, sir." "Good. First off, never be afraid to learn from someone else's mistakes." "Yes, sir." "Second, remember that Charlie was not the least bit bashful to call a spade a damned shovel." "Yes, sir." "Only a friend would boot my backside like that." Jacob hesitated, considering the two lawmen, both looking impassively out across the street. "Yes, sir," he finally said.
  6. Charlie MacNeil 10-24-13 Charlie and Jacob deposited their cargo in one of the less crowded cells in the jail. As Jacob swung shut the iron lattice of the door with a clang and snapped the lock, Charlie stepped outside and leaned on the wall alongside his friend. With a smile that was purely for the benefit of the watchers across the street and in a tone that totally belied his slouched and seemingly relaxed posture he growled, "What in hell do you think you're doin'?" Jacob, choosing to exercise discretion as opposed to valor, had wisely chosen to remain inside the building. He was pretty certain that the conversation that was coming would be something he wanted no part of. "My job," the Sheriff answered flatly, his words accompanied by a smile of his own that came nowhere near his eyes. "Your job is to get yourself healed up, you damn fool," Charlie replied. His tone softened. "I know, you're impatient to get on with the job. But you can't do the job unless you're completely healed. Why do you think we sent Sarah home?" "I'm not Sarah." "No, you're not. You're her father, who has to give her away to that there fireman in a few weeks time. You're also Esther's husband and Angela's papa, and as far as I'm concerned all those things totally outweigh any responsibility you might think you have to this damn county. There ain't a one of these ne'er-do-wells," he indicated the town in general with a tilt of his chin, "worth your life, nor are they worth leaving your family without husband and father just so you can put one more of them in the hoosegow." "What about the women and children of this town? Their my responsibility too, aren't they?" "Yep, they are. And because of what you did before you decided to do your lone rider act, and because of your lone rider act the day they ambushed your lanky carcass, and because of what that kid of yours that's been helping me since you've been laid up has done, the streets are safe for 'em again." "So I'm supposed to just lay by and let you, Fannie and Jacob do my job, is that it? How's that going to look to the people of Firelands County?" "Is that pride I here talkin'? I hope not!" Charlie snapped. "I'll tell you what it's gonna look like! It's gonna look like the wrath of the law came down on 'em when they chose to ignore it! It's gonna look like if you mess with the Sheriff, you mess with more than the Sheriff. You put the fear into 'em; we just made sure that they didn't forget that fear. Between the ones you killed the day they bushwhacked you and the ones we've thumped and tucked away since then, the outlaws and cutthroats have pretty much tucked their tails and run! This town is as safe as it's gonna get!" He took a deep breath, then went on more calmly. "You know as well as I do that there's always gonna be criminals. You can't put 'em all away single-handed. Now that things have pretty much settled down, it's time to start building a law enforcement presence that can take over when we all leave. And if you're dead it's gonna be damn hard for you to train anybody, don'tcha think?"
  7. Linn Keller 10-24-13 "Look-a-thar!" "What?" "Yonder, by the jail." "What, him?" "Yes, him, you damned fool! That's Pale Eyes himself!" "What! Old Pale Eyes? What's he still doin' in town?" "Didn't you hear? Where you been, y'idjut? Attair bunch set up an ambush an' damn neart kilt him! Hell, I thought he was dead, leastways til he come a-rarin' up off the ground all bloody sided an' run that-there shortgun 'a' his right up attair doc's snout!" "Hee! Hee! That's a good'un! Right up his snout!" "Ya, he's got a honker on him big enough t' take a gunbarrel! Ya shoulda seen it! He come a-rippin' int' attair barricade the set up --" "Sho! What now? A barricade? An' he come at it?" "At it hell! He come a-screamin' out from behind attair horse trough with a Gatling under his arm!" One man squinted at the other and said skeptically, "Gatling. Now howinell'd he crank it, hey? You ain't pullin' my leg now are ye?" The party of the first part glared at the party of the second part and said with an air of wounded dignity, "He had the crank on the bottom!" "Ya, I thought them back shooters acrost th' street got him!" "They did!" -- a hesitation -- "good Lord it ain't decently daylight yet an' they're a-draggin' another'n torst th' lockup!" "Good Lord" -- a shiver -- "I'd not wanta be in there!" "Nah!" The pair considered the rude shack thrown up around the infamous "Iron Box" used to confine the criminal; they watched that long, tall, pale eyed Sheriff, slouched against the front of the building, casually greet the pair half-carrying, half-dragging the latest criminal resident. "Damn!" the first observer breathed. "Look at him! Ain't nothin' wrong with him! Just a-standin' there like he'd never had s'much as a hiccup!" "You know somethin', Jake?" "Wuzzat?" "I'm jist awful glad I ain't no card sharper!" "Yew ain't smart enough t' sharp no cards!"
  8. Charlie MacNeil 10-23-13 "And you really oughta prop something under the doorknob when you tuck it in for the night," he added, eyes twinkling, "seeing as how this gent," he tapped the unconscious would-be assassin on the back of the head with the pick handle, "fully intended to do you harm." He bent and retrieved the double-barreled Remington from the unconscious fellow's limp hands. "Oh, and breakfast is ready." He turned and stepped back out into the hall, closing the door behind himself. Jacob stared at the portal for a moment, then quickly dressed and stamped his feet into his boots. He knelt and rolled the man's limp carcass over onto its back, just in case it might be somebody he recognized from a "Wanted" flyer or some such. Nope, nobody he remembered seeing before. He took a tight grip on a handful of grubby shirt collar, stood, opened the door and started toward the stairs, dragging his erstwhile assailant behind him, taking no care to prevent further bruises and abrasions to the man's epidermis as he made his way down the stairs following the smell of country ham and boiled Arbuckle's that drifted toward him. As Jacob reached the dining room doorway, his "companion" began to stir and grumble. "What the hell do you think yer..." he began to growl just before his cranium made sudden violent contact with the doorframe that put him out like the proverbial light once more. Charlie appeared, a cup of coffee in one hand and several rawhide "pigging strings" in the other. "Here ya go," he grinned as he held out the strings. In short order the man was hog-tied, gagged with his own dirty neckerchief and rolled into a closet, "out of sight and out of mind", as it were, and Jacob was tucked into a rasher of ham, fried taters and over-easy eggs, the food accompanied by copious amounts of coffee, biscuits and bee spit. Another day of law enforcement in Cripple Creek was beginning...
  9. Linn Keller 10-22-13 The Sheriff was never known for his patience. He was never known for stupidity, either. As much as he wished to be on the street and cracking skulls as necessary, he contented himself with sitting back, taking life easy and being thoroughly, absolutely, utterly, bored. As a matter of fact he sat back, content, for about a day and a half. Nurse Susan came in to find a damp, buck naked Sheriff, shaving in front of the mirror, not at all troubled by the fact that a woman just walked in on him as he scraped whiskers off his face. Nurse Susan's eyes bulged, her mouth opened and closed slowly, and her face turned a remarkable shade of red. "Breathe," the Sheriff said, smiling under his fluffy white lather-beard. "I, um," Nurse Susan said uncertainly, then stumbled as another nurse, shocked, fell into her from behind. "I shall want my clothes," the Sheriff said, unperturbed, and took another careful stroke under his chin. "He what?" Dr. Greenlees sputtered, spilling coffee onto the tablecloth. "Yes, Doctor, he is on his feet, he's shaving, he was -- he was --" "Naked?" the Sheriff prompted, grinning as he stepped into the good physicianer's breakfast-chamber. "Don't bother knocking," Dr. Greenlees muttered, setting his coffee down and shoving back from the table. "Just what do you think you're doing?" "I think," the Sheriff said, still with a broad, I'm-getting-away-with-something smirk on his face, "that I am standing here in my long handles and hat and enough appetite to eat a bull calf, all but hooves, horns and tail." He looked at Nurse Susan with an ornery expression, reached down and snatched up two slices of bacon. "I'll need a pound of this fried up, a dozen eggs fried and a loaf of bread." He bit into the bacon, chewed, closed his eyes and tilted his head back, relishing the taste; when he swallowed, he opened his mouth for another bite, thought better of it. "I'll need a pot of coffee as well, if you please." Dr. Greenlees stood, slowly, frowning as he habitually did; it was not a mark of displeasure, it was simply the expression into which his face most naturally fell. Nurse Susan looked from the physician's serious expression to the Sheriff's blissful visage, and back. Dr. Greenlees leaned the Sheriff's head back with a cool hand on his forehead. Drawing down the lawman's lower lid with a gentle thumb, he assessed the color, pursed his lips, released the eyelid. "Doctor?" Nurse Susan asked uncertainly. "He'll live," Dr. Greenlees said shortly. "Tell the maid we'll need a dozen eggs fried, tell her to fry up a pound of bacon and we'll need a loaf of fresh sourdough. You want butter with that, Sheriff?" The Sheriff bit down on the last of the bacon slice. "Don't forget the coffee," he mumbled. Jacob woke instantly, completely, his hand closing about the handle of his revolver. His thumb was tense on the hammer, his finger held back the trigger: he brought the hammer back fully, slowly, then released the trigger and let the muzzle direct itself toward the door. The knob turned slowly, carefully; he saw the door begin to move. Jacob's mouth was dry as he flipped the covers back with the gunbarrel, extended his arm: he slid out of the bed, crabwise, on the side toward the door. I shouldn't have trusted the lock, he thought bitterly. I should have propped with a chair or something! He slid closer to the wall, came up on the balls of his feet, crouched low, breathing through his mouth. There was a sharp, sudden woody note from without, the distinct sound of hand tooled hickory meeting a skull at a respectable velocity, muffled only slightly by the intervening formed felt of the luckless wearer's hat. The door flew open and a body collapsed into the room, the double barrel shotgun preceding it; Jacob saw the pale blur of the pick-handle's follow-through as gun and gunman both hit the floor at about the same moment. Charlie leaned in the doorway with an innocent expression on his face. "Rise and shine," he deadpanned, "there's work to do!"
  10. Linn Keller 10-22-13 Sarah sat on the rock ledge, staring thoughtfully into the distance, cross legged and unmoving. Below her, Snowflake grazed contentedly, cropping mountain grasses and shivering her hide occasionally in the lengthening sunlight. It would get chilly and fairly soon; the air was already cool, and Sarah knew that as soon as the sun stepped off the rim of the world and dove into starry darkness, it would get cold, fast. She'd done some thinking. She could not understand, at least at first, why she saw her several selves -- at differing points in time -- always fighting a desperate battle, always defeated, yet always returning. She was not certain whether these were memories of past lives, whether these were fevered imaginings of an active imagination ... Is there something I must learn that I keep ignoring? Her thoughts were confused until a moment's clarity, like water suddenly dropping its sediment and becoming crystal: What if I am showing someone else, in each lifetime, something they must learn? Sarah blinked. I've been just as constant in this lifetime as I was in the others. Just not as ... dead. She smiled, a tight, lopsided smile with one side of her mouth, then she snorted and shook her head. It's getting chilly. Time to go home. She stood and her belly reminded her that it hadn't eaten in far too long ... an hour, maybe, and at that thought, Sarah did laugh, then she began her careful climb down to the little meadow. As she picked up the saddle blanket and gave it a brisk snap, she wondered idly who in this lifetime she might have taught a lesson. Several someones, she thought. Maybe I can just be me from now on. Snowflake came pacing happily over, nuzzling at her, bumming a treat. "You're spoiled," she whispered, stroking the big black Frisian's velvety nose.
  11. Linn Keller 10-20-13 "Sir,you should have known better," Jacob said softly. The Sheriff glared at his firstborn. Jacob ignored the glare -- not an easy thing; he loved his father, he respected his father, he answered to his father both as son and as chief deputy, but he knew he was right and his father was ... too impatient for his own good. "Sir," Jacob continued, "you have a job to do --" "Dammit, don't you think I know that!" the Sheriff snapped, throwing his words as he slung his head: he got his good leg under him, rested his weight for a moment before gripping the table leg with one hand and raising to a crouch, more out of sheer hard headed contrariness than by any physical ability. His leg hurt like homemade hell, his chest and belly thumped like a tooth ache, his son was giving him hell and in his last try to walk, his leg collapsed and he hit the floor with all the grace of a slaugherhouse beef. He wallowed both elbows up onto the table, breathing through clenched teeth, then worked to a stiff arm somewhat upright posture and took a long, apparaising look at Jacob. Finally the Old Man nodded a little. "You're right, Jacob," he said. "I'm a fool and a damned fool but damned if I'll be a liar. You, are, right." "Yes, sir," Jacob said mildly. "You don't have to agree." "As you say, sir." The Sheriff sighed, looked at the pick handle Jacob parked against the wall when he came through the door. "How is it going out there?" Jacob's eyes were quiet. "It's ... interesting ... working with Charlie," he said slowly. "The man gets results." The Sheriff saw amusement in his son's eyes as he added, "I can see why Sarah said the man is fast. Fast ain't the word for it!" "He's alone?" "No, sir. He's weeded out the cops. One man can't be bribed, or at least nobody found his price yet. I don't doubt they'll try. He's running the jail." The Sheriff nodded. "What else?" "One of the cops Charlie had with him ... was dirty." The Sheriff's lips peeled back in a silent snarl. "Charlie went in to run that crooked lawyer Stoakes --" The Sheriff's eyes changed, his head turned two degrees more toward Jacob, and Jacob knew he'd just smacked a nerve with a ball peen hammer. "Sir?" "Stoakes?" the Sheriff coughed. "Yes, sir." The Sheriff's right hand tightened, trembling: the man raised it, slowly, opened his hand, glared at it as if it had just betrayed him. He looked past his splay-fingered palm at his son. "Stoakes," he said, pausing to breathe before continuing. "Stoakes. He's the one ... he tried ... he hired the bush whack ... the street barricade so they could kill me." The man sagged, his head dropping; Jacob, alarmed, powered across the room, caught his father before the man's knees failed altogether. Jacob's eyes widened with alarm. "You're burning up," he whispered. "Stoakes," the Sheriff wheezed. "Forged papers. Tried to take my gold claim. Judge ... the Judge caught him and stopped ... the Judge ..." Jacob dipped his knees, picked his father up: for all that Jacob was lean and muscled, strong and toned, his father was a solid weight in his arms. "Good God," he gritted between clenched teeth, "I don't wanta bust a gut!" "Stoakes," the Sheriff groaned. "Behind it all. Find him. Find ..." Jacob dropped his Pa the last half-foot back onto the bed. He laid a callused hand on his Pa's forehead. "I'll take care of it," he said in a low voice. Jacob considered how much more to tell his impatient, short-breathing father, or whether to tell him anything. "Fannie is doing good work too," he added, hoping it would be a comfort to the fevered lawman. "Miz Fannie," the Sheriff corrected, half-lidded eyes fever-bright. "Yes, sir." "And you?" Somehow Linn managed to raise a little off the pillow, then fell back, mouth open, his breaths loud in the quiet room. "I stopped in to say howdy. Otherwise I'm out with them." "I heard about Charlie's rules." The Sheriff's voice was faint. "Rest now, sir. That's your job right now. Rest and heal." He's done better than I could, truth be told." The Sheriff's eyes opened wide, then closed slowly. Jacob chewed on his bottom lip, turned as the door opened and Nurse Susan and another nurse came in, one with a steaming washpan and the other with several cloths. "He's got the experience, sir." "I know." The Sheriff's whisper was almost inaudible. "He's done this before." "Yes, sir." "How's... Fannie?" "The Red Tornado?" Jacob laughed, his face splitting into a broad and very genuine grin. "God help us, sir, I don't ever want to get on the wrong side of that woman!" The Sheriff managed a slow nod. "What... about... you?" Jacob stepped over to a table and proceeded to unload better than a half dozen hideouts of various kinds: an Apache pistol, a Reid knuckleduster, two pepperboxes, knives and a lead filled sap. "That's just one saloon," he said. The Sheriff nodded. "If you're not going to fall again," Jacob said, "I'd best go get back to work." "Go," the Sheriff whispered. "Yes, sir," Jacob nodded, turning his head to look vacantly at the ceiling. "Jacob?" Jacob stopped, turned back at the whispered summons. "Yes, sir?" "You're doing good work, Jacob. I am proud of you." Jacob smiled a little, nodding. "Thank you, sir. That means something."
  12. Charlie MacNeil 10-20-13 "Hello, boys!" Fannie called gaily as she pushed her way through the batwing doors of the Gold Bucket Saloon. The Gold Bucket was a favorite of the miners as well as those who were in the town for the express purpose of relieving, by hook or crook, the miners of what few dollars they might have in their pockets at any given time. Faro, poker, roulette, any conceivable means of lining the dealers' and croupiers' pockets with ill-gotten gains could be found in the Gold Bucket. Not to mention the long plank bar that was lined four deep with miners off-shift or preparing to go on-shift. But despite the noise in the room Fannie's entrance was heard and seen by most. Fannie saw no need to carry a pick handle. Hammering things into oblivion with a stick of wood just wasn't her forte`, as it were. She preferred to make a more dramatic impression. Hence the hip-braced Greener in her right hand... "It appears to me," Fannie drawled, honey-sweet, into the silence that had gradually followed her entrance, "that y'all," she turned her frosty emerald gaze on the many dealers, etc. in the room, "aren't doin' right by these hard-workin' fellas." She swept her left hand in an arc that took in the crowded bar as well as the tables. "So I'm here to lay down the law." "What law? We don' need to stinkin' law 'round here! We make our own law here, little girl!" a raucous voice called from somewhere back in the crowd of gamblers. "Come on out heah wheah ah kin see whom Ah'm talkin' to, sweetie!" Fannie said, exaggerating her drawl. The murmuring crowd slowly parted as a big man resplendent in a velvet-fronted cutaway coat, silk four-in-hand and ruffled linen shirt strode confidently forward. "Ain't you a pretty one," he smirked. "What're you doin' with that big ol' gun, little girl? You'd best put it down 'fore you hurt somebody." He grinned around at the crowd, wanting to make sure he had their attention. Fannie minced forward until she stood a few short feet in front of the man. She looked up. "You shuah ah a big 'un, ain'cha," she simpered. "Ah lahk takin' down the big'uns." In a flash of motion she whipped the Greener across her body, grasped the forearm with her left hand and slammed the steel buttplate of the double gun into the big man's crotch with her right. With a gassy scream of agony he doubled over, holding his injured real estate with both hands, crumpling to the floor where he lay gasping for breath. The entire crowd of miners flinched in sympathy, but no one came forward to help as Fannie lowered the muzzles of the Greener to the bridge of the big gambler's nose. His eyes flicked from the gaping double maws to the frosty green eyes behind them. "You were right, mister," Fannie said softly, drawl totally gone. "Somebody did get hurt. Now," her voice rose and she looked around the room, "any of you fine citizens who has a marked deck in his hand or his pocket, or his foot on the pedal underneath the roulette wheel, or anything else that isn't totally honest, had best step out the back door and find a way out of town. I'm not as generous as my husband; he's been giving thirty minutes. You've got five. Starting now. And somebody drag this," she nodded toward the man on the floor, "to the jail. Don't worry about being gentle, just get him there." She lifted the muzzles of the shotgun toward the ceiling as four men came forward to pick up the big man and carry/drag him toward the exit. Men, and a few women, began to drift, slowly at first, then faster and faster, toward the back door of the room, until all three faro tables, both roulette wheels and numerous poker tables stood abandoned by their previous overseers. The miners and cowboys who had been at the wheels and tables when their operators abandoned ship hurried to divide up the funds in front of them, arguing over who should get what until a piercing whistle shrilled through the smoky air. All eyes turned to Fannie once again. "Divide the cash evenly, gentlemen," Fannie ordered into the silence. "If you want to fight over it, take it out of town, like the rules say. But whatever you do, do it quick, because the tables and the wheels won't be here much longer." "What are going to do to my saloon?" the greasy-haired bartender wanted to know. "I'm going to make sure nobody else makes a dishonest living off of any of this stuff," Fannie replied. "Gentlemen, clear out!" She stuffed her ears with wads of oddly shaped beeswax she drew from her vest pocket, strode toward the first roulette wheel, drawing back the hammers on the Greener. Tucking the buttplate into her shoulder, she leveled the muzzles at the base of the wheel and pulled both triggers. In a spectacular shower of paint, wood, smoke and thunder, she made sure the wheel never spun again. When she had done the same to the other wheel, the three faro tables and several poker tables, she strode through the gaping crowd to the bar. Pulling her ear plugs she gave the bartender a wide smile. "You were saying?"
  13. Charlie MacNeil 10-19-13 Crack heads, indeed! So far, a pair of recently off-shift miners who had initiated a physical disagreement over some minor point at the bar of the Buckhorn had been administered hickory anesthetic and piled in separate cells in the jail to recover at their leisure. One cardsharp who thought he was slicker with a marked deck and a bottom deal than he was and who had argued his eviction from the town a trifle more vehemently than he could back up had been stripped of hideout pepperbox and three aces up his tailored linen left sleeve. In addition, the man had found himself tossed unceremoniously, somewhat the worse for wear, on the westbound stage. Three half-dressed "ladies of the evening" who had incorrectly deduced that the Marshal "wouldn't dare lay hands on a woman" had found themselves sitting on the same stage as the gambler, each with a small valise "stuffed" with a change of underwear and a five dollar gold piece as a stake and each wearing a horse blanket poncho scrounged from the depths of the nearby livery stable, courtesy of Fannie, who had no qualms whatsoever about laying hands on anyone as necessary. And the clock in the Empire Hotel lobby had yet to chime the one o'clock hour... Charlie strolled into the office of Milton Stoakes, Attorney at Law, pick handle dangling from his left hand, followed by his shadow. Stoakes stiffened in his seat for a moment, his gaze shifting from Charlie to the officer accompanying him and back before slumping back against the cushions. "What can I do for you, Marshal?" Stoakes asked, an ingratiating smile reminiscent of that of a stray dog looking for a handout pasted on his face. "You can saddle your horse and get out of town," Charlie replied. "What?" Stoakes squawked. "You heard me, friend. I didn't stutter in the least. You've got thirty minutes to pack what you can stuff in one bag and get out. You're done in Cripple Creek. And if you don't have a horse, you'd best buy one, 'cause it's a long walk to Denver or anywhere else. And don't even think about going toward Firelands." Stoakes glared at Weldon, the officer accompanying Charlie. "Are you going to just stand there and let him do this to me?" he demanded. "What do I, er, uh..." "What do you what, Stoakes?" Charlie asked with a smile of pure malice. "Pay him for?" From the corner of his eye, he saw the policeman flinch and his own, as yet unused, pick handle start to rise. A handful of seconds later the policeman suddenly found himself curled in a ball on the polished wood floor, struggling to make his paralyzed diaphragm move enough to draw in even a cupful of life-giving air. Somehow, before he could even think of evading the blow, the Marshal had managed to drive the head of the length of hardened hickory into the officer's belly hard enough that it seemed to have scraped his backbone. Casually Charlie lifted the man's pistol from the holster and relieved him of both pick handle and doublegun. "Stoakes, you saw the rules. You've been making folks hereabouts pay to keep their businesses from being wrecked by your thugs. The rules didn't specifically mention that sort of thing, but they should have. So I'm serving notice: the protection racket ceases right here, right now. Pick up your friend there on the floor and leave. If I see either of you an hour from now, I won't be nearly as gentle as I was this time." Stoakes stared malevolently at the Marshal. "You can't do this!" he raged. "I just did," Charlie replied calmly. "You'd best hurry. You're runnin' out of time rapidly." Stoakes' hand snaked under his jacket as he surged to his feet. "You'll pay for this! No man treats me like that!" he snarled as a short-barreled Colt appeared, hammer eared back. The pick handle in Charlie's hand lashed out, knocking the muzzle of the pistol out of line as smoke and thunder filled the room, the slug smacking into the wall to the attorney's right. Before he could recover and draw back the hammer a second time, Charlie was around the desk, hickory persuader locked in both hands. The butt of the stick of hardened wood lanced into the attorney's belly, slamming him back into his chair. The head of the length of wood crashed down on his wrist, smashing bone and dropping the pistol to floor. Hickory and jaw bone met with a thud, and Milton Stoakes world went dark. He awoke some hours later in a jail cell with a splint on his right wrist, a raging headache, and an "Assault on a law officer with intent to kill" charge hanging over his aching head.
  14. Linn Keller 10-19-13 "You look terrible," Esther murmured, placing gentle fingertips under Sarah's chin and lifting her face a little. "You look huge," Sarah replied tiredly. Esther laughed. As much as she wished to hug Sarah to her, the great belly prevented any such close association, and would for another month and more: Esther smiled gently and said, "There is a question in your eyes." Sarah closed her eyes, nodded, her shoulders sagging. "Aunt Esther, I am so tired." "Come, sit down. I wish to hear what you have to say." The ladies eased themselves into comfortably padded chairs. "I'm ... not afraid to sleep, Aunt Esther," Sarah began uncertainly, "but when I do ... I see things." Esther looked up at Sarah, green eyes deep, mysterious, listening with more than her ears. "Aunt Esther, you are a Wise Woman," Sarah said, and it was evident that she was not calling her Aunt Esther, a woman who was wise ... no, she spoke the ancient title, and Esther nodded as she accepted it as her due. "Tell me what you see," she replied gently. "Aunt Esther ... Papa was hurt ..." Esther nodded. "I was ... caring for him." Again the silent, understanding nod. Sarah's downcast eyes saw the maid's skirt, the toes of her shoes as she brought a tray; her felt soled shoes were silent, her presence betrayed only by the gurgle of tea tumbling into translucent, delicate tea-china. "I wore myself out, Aunt Esther, and I was ashamed." Esther tilted her head a little, interested. "I was so worn out I fell asleep in a chair and fell out and hurt my ribs again --" "That's what I felt," Esther murmured. "I knew something happened but I knew you were still safe." Sarah's eyes were big as she looked up suddenly, her mouth open. Esther laughed. "Please don't hang me for being a witch," she said gently. "I dreamed that too." "I was hanged?" "We both were." "That," Esther said quietly, picking up her her teacup and taking a moment to savor its fragrance, "is because we were. Side by side, from the same beam. Do you remember our children?" Sarah felt a lurch underfoot, as if the floor suddenly took a strong list to starboard, then righted. "I do ... they held them and made them watch." Esther nodded. "Now about the girl on the shield." Sarah's teacup clattered momentarily against her saucer; she picked it up, took a sip to conceal her surprise. "She stood fast even though there was no hope of victory." Sarah nodded. "The girl in plate mail astride the destrier, leading a charge into hopeless odds, but charging anyway." Sarah nodded, remembering the thrill of the massive stallion beneath her, the wind through the visor of her helm, the shock of impact as couched lance drove through her opponent's thinner armor at a joint. "And the many you saw in the very recent past." Sarah nodded again, her tea forgotten. "Each of these tell the same story." Sarah looked down at her tea, carefully set it aside, laced her fingers tightly together to keep her hands from shaking. "In each of these you proved your constancy, you proved your bravery and your dedication and you proved that, no matter the outcome, you do what is needed. You do what is right." Esther handed her own teacup and saucer to the returned maid and looked with gentle affection at her tense, white-knuckled niece. "Dearest Sarah," she said gently, "you are telling yourself that you didn't run out. When you took the enemy commander's sword through your heart, you could fight no more, you weren't able. When you dismounted from your charger and waded into the oncoming ranks with a hand-ax and a mace, you fell only after your very life was taken from you. Even those selves you saw who have not yet been, those selves dressed so oddly" -- Esther smiled knowingly, looking over her own spectacles as if sharing a womanly secret -- "even they, though they have yet to be, will face their duties and will face their tests. "We are put here in this schoolyard we call the Earth," Esther continued, laying a hand on her belly and grimacing for a moment, "we are put here to learn certain lessons. Which lessons, we're never quite sure. Sometimes we finish our lesson and move on to the next, sometimes a schoolmate pushes us out of the schoolroom too early and we have to try again through no fault of our own." Esther took a long breath, considered. "Or it could just be an interesting series of dreams, dreams where part of your mind is telling you that you really didn't run away, and all those ... vignettes ... are a vivid imagination, nothing more." "But, Aunt Esther," Sarah said slowly, "if that's ... just ... imagination ... how did you know what I'd dreamed ... without me telling you?" "You said it yourself," Esther smiled, drawing her knowledge about her like a cloak: "I am a Wise Woman." The Sheriff was a patient man. The Sheriff was a longsuffering man. The Sheriff was a man who tolerated much. Except when it came to his own long, tall carcass. Nurse Susan came in to find the man leaning heavily on the counter, straight razor in hand, his face lathered: he was also the color of wheat paste, buck naked and shaking like a dried weed stem in a stiff breeze. Nurse Susan advanced her throttle and steered a course across the room, seizing the man's trembling hand: she guided it down, then carefully extracted the honed, stropped cut-throat from his grip. "Let's set back down on the bed, now, shall we?" she said soothingly, in the voice reserved for sick children and old men: "we don't want to fall and hurt ourselves --" "What's this we stuff?" the Sheriff snapped, twisting out of her grip and falling against the counter: he seized the edge, his knees collapsing, kneecaps banging painfully into its varnished cedar front: Nurse Susan heard the man's teeth snap together as he bit back an oath. Nurse Susan was veteran at such matters; she seized the naked man about the waist, ran her thigh in under his backside such that her own knee almost hit the cabinet doors, and allowed him to collapse back on her own leg. In this position, the bones of her lower leg were vertical columns, easily holding his weight; all Nurse Susan had to do was keep balance, his and hers alike, her lower leg bones carried all the weight: it was an old nurse's trick to keep her from destroying her back in a vain attempt at preventing a patient's fall. Hurrying feet approached them, willing hands assisted, the jaw-locked Sheriff was helped back to his bed: a towel was produced, wiping the generous layer of shaving soap from his face. "Don't," he groaned, secretly grateful that he was once again horizontal; they cranked the bed up, piled pillows behind him and floated another blanket over his shivering carcass. Nurse Susan assessed him quickly with professional hands, then stopped and ran her palm across his stubbled cheek. "You," she said gently, "do need a shave." "The Pope is catholic," the Sheriff snapped. "Tell me something I don't know!" "Your daughter is pregnant," Nurse Susan said with a straight face. "WHAT!" The Sheriff's eyes snapped wide open and looked the size of Morgan dollars and his jaw hung down to about collar bone height. Nurse Susan placed her fingertips under the Sheriff's mandible and hoisted the swinging jaw bone back into place. "She's not really," she said, "but I'll bet you didn't expect that!" There was a knock at the door and the barber came in, a short, swarthy Italian with a mustache nearly as wide as his cheek bones: he muttered his way up to the bedside, dropped his satchel on the table and threw his arms wide. "Shereef!" he shouted, startling white teeth flashing from beneath a Mediterranean-black handlebar: "I see you again!" He bent a little, frowning, pushed his bottom lip up into his top lip and nodded. "You need-a good shave," he said. "I feex-a you right up." He opened his valise, pulled out a towel, hustled importantly over to the stove, filling the room with conversation and the impression that he was, if not wise, at least pouring forth what-all he knew, however much or however little that might be. "I feex-a you right up, my frien'," he declared, wringing out the towel: he brought the steaming soaker over, carefully wrapped the Sheriff's face in the hot, damp towel, then enthusiastically began stropping the Sheriff's straight razor. "That frien' Macneil," the barber declared, happily honing the straight razor's edge on one side of the strop, then the other, "he crack heads! He say-a da no more crooked games! He say-a no more girls on-a da street! You know, da fancy girls!" He paused to shake the straight razor at the Sheriff, politely ignoring the fact that the supine lawman had a face full of towel and could see nothing. "I not-a haveta pay-a da protection!" he declared happily. "I like-a dat Macneil!"
  15. There are some very fast 87 shooters out there. I ain't one of 'em. I tried for two years to make a Coyote Cap 87 run fast and finally gave it up and went back to my Nate Kiowa Jones Cimmaron hammer double. Part of my problem is that I've got arthritis in both wrists, which limits my loading options just a skosh. And as others have said here, the trainwreck potential is a good bit greater, in my opinion, with the 87 than it is with the hammered double... IMHO. YMMV!
  16. Charlie MacNeil 10-18-13 The exodus from Cripple Creek following the posting of Charlie's rules hadn't quite rivaled that of the Israelites fleeing Egypt ahead of the soldiers of Pharaoh's army, but it had been impressive. Horses, mules, shank's mare, a much-repaired mud wagon, even a satin-trimmed barouche pulled by matched pacing bays had served to transport the denizens of the mining town's less-savory environs to somewhere, anywhere, more free-wheeling. But those were the easy ones. Charlie knew that what was left would be much more difficult to subdue. And the grandfather clock that held court in the lobby of the Empire Hotel had just struck noon. It was time... Charlie was fairly certain that the first hours, maybe even the first day, would be relatively peaceful while the pot simmered, so to speak. Boilover could come any time, but he, Fannie and Jacob were as ready as they were going to be. He turned to the remaining members of the Cripple Creek police department. Each man had a shotgun, a bandoleer of buckshot and a pick handle. All looked at Charlie and his companions with a great deal of reluctance. None were cowards, but all had seen the Sheriff shot down in the ambush and all had been bruised, battered and laughed at at one time or another since donning their uniforms. And all but one had received an envelope under their doors that morning. The last had made it abundantly clear that he would take no bribes and show no favoritism. "It's time, boys," Charlie drawled. "One of you go with each of us. You," he pointed at the fourth man, the one who refused to be bribed, "you're our reserve. I want you at the jail, ready to lock up whoever gets dragged in. And if you hear me scream for help," he chuckled, "you come a-running. Let's get this circus on the road, folks." He strode toward the door and stepped out on the boardwalk. It was 12:02 PM...
  17. Linn Keller 10-18-13 They bore her body on a shield, carrying her body at shoulder height, her bow and empty quiver in her dead hands. They built a pyre and placed her body with respect and with dignity at its apex, and as the fire was lighted, the warriors in ranks raised their weapons in salute this, the bravest of their opponents. She'd stood shoulder to shoulder with her Sister-Archers, unmoving as a thousand armored warriors marched across the Grecian plain. She stood, waiting, the tip of her recurved, laminated bow resting on the sole of her sandal between the great and second toes of her right foot. When the marching invaders halted and sent their emissary to demand the Maiden-Archers' surrender, the chief priestess went forward to meet him. She waited, watching the Priestess move forward to meet the emissary, her quiver of thirty arrows on her hip, her white robe with gold-and-green trim waving slowly in the sea breeze. The sun was hot on her tanned skin, warm on her coiled braids, and she stood fast with her Maiden-Sisters, knowing they were taking the last breaths of their lives. Their warriors, nearly all the men of their city-state, marched out that morning to meet the enemy, and were defeated; none were left to stop the invaders, none were left to stand and say, "Thus far, and no farther." None but the Maidens. Now they stood, two ranks of ten each, spaced arm's-span apart, waiting. The enemy emissary raised his sword in salute; the priestess bowed; they turned, returned to their troops. The Priestess stood before her Maidens, looked from one end of the row to the other, then back, before raising her arms and her voice. "Maidens!" she called. "We are called upon to surrender. "Yield, and we are promised safety. "Resist, and we are promised our death. "How say you all?" As one, the Maidens raised their bows, nocked an arrow, turned to blade their slim, athletic bodies toward the enemy. The priestess stooped, picked up her own bow, slung her quiver over one shoulder, settled it centered in front: she, too, turned to blade the enemy and nocked an arrow. The Maidens watched as the enemy formed ranks, shields locked, lances level: one thousand men, side by side, shields interlocked, polished bronze spearpoints level and aimed. The enemy commander paced out in front of his men, drew his sword, turned and brought it down, leveling it at the waiting, white-robed Maiden-Archers. The Maidens waited. None could but admire the precision with which the soldiers marched; they were blooded veterans, they were perfectly synchronized, they were the most intimidating sight any of the Maidens had ever seen in their entire lives. The Priestess raised her bow. The Maidens raised theirs. "Maidens," the Priestess called, "mark your targets!" The Maidens stood, unmoving, patient, as the front rank passed the marker stones. They were now in range. The Priestess drew, anchored: she had the honor of First Blood. The Maidens drew, anchored; each counted, quickly, each knew she would have to kill ten of the first rank, then ten in the second and ten in the third. If they were lucky. Chances were very good the enemy would be upon them before their quivers were empty. She saw the Priestess loose, saw the arrow arc out and strike the enemy commander through the eye-space of his bronze, crested helmet. The Maidens released. She reached down, plucked forth an arrow, nocked, drew, released; pluck, nock, draw, release: the Maidens were well practiced, she most of all. The Maidens fell into a steady rhythm, their arrows streaking through the late-morning sunlight, each arrow striking home, each one sending an enemy to the Elysian Fields. Her shoulder began to tire; the steady rhythm of the Maidens fell out of their beginning, precision synchronization, but the precision of their arrow-flights was unfailing. Men fell, but were replaced; their numbers were too great to be stopped with less than two dozen archers, and when Maiden-fingers grasped their last arrows, they lay down their bows and pulled long-bladed daggers, dropping into a fighting crouch. The lead rank began a crouching run, charging the Maidens. She twisted and ducked, slipping between two bronze lance-heads, running up the length of the shaft and seizing the top edge of the shield, leaping and thrusting her blade in and under the bronze helmet. The Maidens ran in close and each Maiden drew blood, but these were girls against hard-muscled warriors; they fell quickly, until she was the only one left. Teeth bared, pale-blue eyes blazing, she refused to fall: she bled from a half-dozen wounds, until at last she was in the center of a circle of shields, turning, snarling like the cornered beast she'd become. The shields parted and one man stepped into the circle. The Maiden faced him, blade up, her off hand stiff, fingers slightly curved, ready to block or grapple as necessary. The soldier wore the purple of high command; he removed his helmet, handed it without looking to one of the surrounding shieldmen, before he drew his own sword. He said something, but she shook her head: she did not speak their language. She felt herself weakening, but she refused to lower her dagger: instead, she took her bearing from the distant mountains, dipped her knees and made a long slash at the ground, drawing a line in the dirt. She stood on one side, raised her long blade in salute, then crouched into her fighting-stance. Her message was clear. Thus far, and no farther. The commander looked long at her, then raised his own blade in salute. She died, the last of the Maidens, on a sun-washed plain in ancient Greece: she died with a yard of sharpened bronze through her young heart, but for the rest of his life, their commander would carry a long scar on his cheek ... and the haunting memory of those blazing, pale-blue eyes as she snarled defiance with her last breath. The nurse watched Sarah, whimpering in her sleep: she did not rest, she was tormented as she twitched beneath the quilt, until finally she doubled over and groaned in obvious pain, her eyes snapped open and she gasped, hands clutching her high belly as if grabbing something ... as if she'd just been speared. Sarah blinked, shook her head, looked around: she leaned back in the chair, panting. "Nightmare," she gasped. "Of course," the nurse murmured.
  18. Linn Keller 10-18-13 Cripple Creek's previous physician was little more than a quack. When the man grabbed an armful of stagecoach and left -- didn't even hang up the CLOSED sign on his door -- Dr. Bennett, the dentist, stepped in to do what little he could. Frontier medicine could vary between very good and state of the art, or very bad and utter quackery. Bennett fell a little on the low side of mid-scale. To his credit he did try, and he knew enough to cause the least amount of harm; his dental practice suffered, but his rudimentary skills kept enough people patched well enough to keep a doc's office open. When Dr. Greenlees came over from Firelands, word spread that they finally had a competent sawbones in town -- most of the folk who were able would take the steam train to Firelands for their doctorin', for that reason. Consequently when Daciana swept up to the office doors, she was not surprised to see people in the waiting room. She was, however, surprised that nobody stood without the outer door with a street howitzer across their elbow and a scowl on their face. She frowned, opened the door, pushed her way in: she looked around, coolly assessing the waiting room's contents, and when the door opened on the opposite wall, Daciana made for it, chin up, basket on her forearm, as if she had every right to walk right past everyone there. Whether it was her audacity or some residual chivalry -- most of the men there did rise when she came through the door, and those who still wore hats, removed them -- none challenged her passage, though some were obviously rather ill and one was dripping blood from a rag-wrapped hand. Daciana turned to regard the surprised nurse. "I looking for Sheriff," she said, patting the basket. "Supplies." The nurse looked across the room; Daciana's eyes followed quickly and she smiled a little as she saw Nurse Susan making for her like a tugboat across a choppy bay. Daciana was shown into the Sheriff's chamber, a chair and a small table made available to her: she unpacked the basket, asked for a stove to heat her cargo, then turned to the pale, sleeping lawman. Daciana's hands were light, quick; she assessed pulses, tested reflexes, squeezed the man's hand, heard the change in his breathing. "I know," she whispered. "If you didt not know I vass a voman you vould put me t'rough ze vall." "Ja," he whispered. "Undt you are" -- she stroked his cheek bone with the back of a bent finger -- "open mit ze eyes, ja, danke" -- she pulled down his lower lid and frowned, released it and caressed his cheek. "I zend for ze barber, no?" "No." Daciana drew up one side of the blanket, her eyes busy. The Sheriff watched her through slits. "Everything still there?" His whisper was hoarse. "Zo far," Daciana replied: his blink reflex was intact, she tapped a nerve junction on his forearm, saw his thumb twitch. She turned, tilted her head a little, regarded him steadily, then reached up and placed her palm on his forehead. The Sheriff closed his eyes, remembering how his Mama did that when he was a little boy and not feeling well. The illusion shattered when Daciana rapped him experimentally on the skull with her knuckles. "Ja," she sighed. "Like rock." "Thanks," he grunted. Daciana reached down, pressed his hand between hers. "I feex zirkus pervormers," she said, her accent more pronounced: "big stronk men break, I feex. You I feex." The Sheriff's eyes drifted closed. "Not sleep yet," Daciana scolded gently. "Virst ve talk." What the Sheriff muttered did not bear repeating in polite company; Daciana, understanding how cranky men can get when they're unwell, let the scatalogical comment pass. She seized a chair, spun it up beside his bed, smoothed her skirts, sat and seized his hand again. "I tell you thinks Zara can't. Esther can't. I zay tinks need zaid, hokay?" "Why not," the Sheriff muttered. "Virst off, you hardt headedt undt contrary. Zekond, you try feex vorld undt vorldt don't want vixed." The Sheriff gave a patient sigh. "You damned goot Sheriff. You too damned goot. You tryink to zee goot in effryvun else. You zet azide your broblem to feex poleece here." Daciana's eyes were sympathetic. "You not realize zey crooked like politicians. Take money." "I know they do," the Sheriff said faintly. "Wanted to change that. Takes time." "You no got time!" Daciana snapped. "You here findt who tryink take minerals claim. You komm, make drouble, dey go. Dey gone now. Zarah voot haff been goot to vindt out who vass, zen she tell Charlie. "Zarah like vasser, get in cracks in rock. Charlie like big hammer, bust rock. Now Charlie busting heads. De Jutch --" -- Daciana stopped, frowned, her hand describing a circle around her limp wrist and she made an exasperated sound as she tried to remember the name -- "oooooh! Ze jutch -- Horsefeathers!" Daciana's upraised finger thrust triumphantly into the air and the Sheriff gave her a surprised look, then he began to smile a little, and he chuckled, then flinched. "Hostetler," he wheezed. "Judge Donald Hostetler." "Zat vat I zay!" Daciana snapped. "He know who vass, he zend papers. "Charlie undt Chacob, zey zdraighten dinks oudt!" Daciana leaned over the Sheriff, her luminous eyes boring into his. "You zuppozt haff more dan just you vhen you goes after badt guys!" "Wasn't time," the Sheriff husked. "Got ambushed. Pinned me ... behind ... horse trough ... nearly got it ... from behind." "I know," Daciana said, a little less harshly. "You zhot zat vun und you run like whole Hussar regiment." "Worked," the Sheriff coughed. "NO!" Daciana snapped, seizing the Sheriff's jaw, forcing him to look at her. "NO! YOU UNDERZDANDT YOU CHUST VUN MAN! VUN MAN!" Her voice echoed for a shivering moment in the quiet of the little room; Nurse Susan opened the door, her surprised eyes taking in the sight. "Is everything all right?" she asked, and Daciana threw her hands in the air: she spoke rapidly, fluently in her native Romanian, turning to shake her finger at the Sheriff, turning away and taking a step toward the stove: she turned back, shaking both bladed hands in the air, her head back, addressing the ceiling in a tone of voice that should have scorched the paint on the tin tiles overhead; she thrust a flat hand, palm up, at the Sheriff, her voice elevating, then she spun on her heel, shoved her nose in the air and stomped over to the stove. She snatched the lid off a kettle, stirred its fragrant contents viciously, then turned to Nurse Susan. "Feed him this," she said slowly, precisely, her English utterly cold and absolutely without accent: "one cup of this soup, then have him drink two cups of water, then more soup and more water. At least one cup every hour. We must build up his blood. Tomorrow start him on diced meat, boiled and soft. Very little biscuit. He is still the color of a bed sheet and good red meat is the best way to build the blood." Daciana turned back to the Sheriff, frowning: she went back to his bedside, pressed his face hard between her hands. "You lissen me, damn you. You vill haff grant zons. Zey vill needs zair Grampa. Zdop beink zo damned hardt headedt!" Daciana cracked the Sheriff on top of the skull with her knuckles whirled and stormed out the door. The Sheriff heard her swearing in one of her fluencies as she passed through the waiting room; her diatribe cut off with the slam of the front door. Nurse Susan stared, big-eyed, at the closed door, then she looked back at the Sheriff. "I wish," he said hoarsely, "she would just say what's on her mind."
  19. Charlie MacNeil 10-17-13 The Regulator clock on the wall ticked off the minutes. Ten minutes after the hurried departure of Douglas and the mayor, two men who identified themselves as Horace Chase and Bart Stevens had knocked diffidently on the door frame and been admitted into the mayor's office with the admonition to "Find a chair, sit your butts down and be quiet." The two men had followed their orders to the letter, though Stevens had inquired, at one point, as to what had taken place in the empty outer office to wreck both a chair and a small table. He got a cold stare in reply that silenced him and his companion for the duration. At twenty two minutes, Luther Johnson arrived, followed at twenty six minutes by Zeno Yearly. Both men, cautioned by whispered words of caution from the earlier arrivals, found seats and kept their mouths shut, though their inquiring glances flitted back and forth between the silent figure behind the desk, the Greener on the desktop, and their fellow city councilmen. Charlie kept his features neutral; behind his cold hazel glare, he was asking himself why Zeno Yearly, who he had known and arrested for extortion and fraud some fifteen years before as Ronald Talbot, happened to be on the city council of a gold mine boomtown. At twenty seven minutes on the dot, Hizzoner and President of Council Douglas appeared, followed themselves by Jacob Keller, who closed the office door and eased his lanky frame back against the wall beside the door where he could keep an eye on all and sundry. The mayor and Douglas found seats as Charlie sat forward in his chair, cleared his throat and began to speak. "I now call this meeting of the Cripple Creek city council to order, US Marshal Charlie MacNeil presiding. I believe we'll dispense with such niceties as minutes of past meetings and that sort of thing, and get right down to business. You men have been remiss in your duties." He paused, waiting for responses from the council members. When nothing was forthcoming, he went on, his tone glacial, his gaze the same, voice rumbling like boulders beneath a torrential spring runoff. "Down yonder lies a better man than any of you will ever be, and you stood by and let him get shot down like a dog!" he grated. "Sheriff Keller tried to be nice to you all, by training your police department and running a few ne'er-do-well's out of town. Sheriff Keller's a diplomatic sort in his way," Jacob snorted and Charlie's lips curved up a fraction for just the tiniest bit of a second, "but I'm not. I'm not nice, and I don't do subtle. So here's what's gonna happen." He raised his left hand, and began to tick off points. His right hand rested on the wrist of the Greener's stock, his thumb draped over the hammers. "One: guns are allowed in town, but they'd best be displayed where I can see 'em. If anyone's carrying a hideout, he or she had best get rid of it before I find out about it, 'cause otherwise I'll take it away from 'em and stick it some place where the sun don't shine. And I will find out about it, and when I'm done with 'em, I will run 'em out of town in the clothes they're standing there in. And that goes for the lot you as well. "Two: if you're gonna start a fight, of whatever sort, do it outside of town. Guns, knives, fists, whatever, take it out yonder. And I do mean out. Any man, or woman for that matter, who starts a fight in one of the town's businesses or even on the street is gonna find that I'll finish it, on the spot, and I don't give a tinker's damn who started it. Everybody involved is gonna end up with a hickory-induced headache. Or shot. Their choice. "Three: if you're running a game of any sort, whether it be poker, faro, whatever, it better be honest. Otherwise I will run you out of town. And I will know, trust me. "Four: I have no objection to prostitution. I realize that it is a fact of life in a mining camp where the male population outnumbers the female population ten to one. However, those ladies practicing that means of making a living will not display their wares on the street in any way, shape or form. No hanging off of balconies half-dressed, that sort of thing. "Gentlemen, I expect to see all of your policemen armed. No more of this sissified, big city, 'policemen can't be seen to be armed' garbage. I want people to know that if they don't behave, the wrath of the law is gonna descend on 'em like an avalanche. And you boys are gonna pick up the tab. Every officer will be issued a pistol, a shotgun, three hundred rounds of pistol ammunition and a hundred shotgun shells, and they will practice their marksmanship daily. When their ammo allotment runs out, they will be issued more, at the city's expense. All officers will travel in pairs. Any officer seen to take any kind of bribe or other graft will be fired on the spot and sent packing. "You gentlemen," he looked at the councilors and the mayor, "will have those four simple rules posted all over town for all to read by daylight tomorrow morning. I don't care how you do it, but you will get it done. Period. Anyone who feels that he or she can't abide by my rules will have until noon tomorrow to get out of town, by whatever means possible. At 12:01 I will begin enforcement of those rules, and I will brook no nonsense on anyone's part. "I assure you, there will be those who think that they are beyond following my rules. Consequently, people are going to get hurt. But when I am finished with this town, there will be law, and there will be order, and it will be safe for women and children to walk down the street. I will now entertain questions." He was greeted by stunned silence broken only by the scrape of a shoe sole on waxed pine flooring as each man in Charlie's audience pondered the Marshal's words.
  20. Charlie MacNeil 10-17-13 Hizzoner the mayor and his erstwhile antagonist President of Council Donald Douglas sat late in Hizzoner's office, contemplating the latest turn of events in their town involving Sheriff Keller. "That Marshal MacNeil rode in tonight," Hizzoner said into the clouds of Havana blue swirling about the soot-stained oil lamps lighting his office. The room had been silent for quite some time as each of the occupants had vainly attempted to impose order on his scattered thoughts. "Aye," President of Council agreed. "I'm surprised we've not heard from him yet regarding our current state of affairs in town," Hizzoner added. "I take it you're referring to Sheriff Keller's maniacal one man assault on those men in our street?" Douglas queried. "Aye," Hizzoner agreed. "'Tis none of the Marshal's affair!" Douglas snarled, as fuzzed-up as a tomcat suddenly finding itself the star attraction at a dog convention. Not that Hizzoner or anyone else in city government knew it, but some of the men the Sheriff had killed had been on his payroll. "If we're to be a city of any substance, we've a need to take care of such things ourselves!" "That doesn't seem to have worked out particularly well up to this point, has it?" Hizzoner replied tiredly. Their ruminations were suddenly interrupted by a strangled squawk of indignation and the crash of splintering furniture followed by a tinkling that the two men quickly identified as the jingle of spur rowels on wood. The office door swung slowly and silently open on well-oiled hinges and the Marshal in question appeared in the opening, Greener braced on his hip. "See here, you can't just..." Hizzoner began. "Looks like I just did," Charlie replied, smiling a smile that never reached his cold hazel eyes. Douglas grasped the arms of his chair and leaned forward in preparation for leaving said chair. "Don't even think about it, Douglas!" Charlie snapped. He took one long step into the room. "Yeah, I know who you are, and you'll keep your butt in that chair until I tell you to get out of it." Dismissing Douglas from his attention, Charlie turned toward Hizzoner. "How long will it take you to get the city council together?" he asked bluntly. "Tonight?" "That's right. Tonight. The sooner the better. We've things to discuss." "But the council is scattered all over town!" Hizzoner protested. "It'll take hours to find them all!" "You've got thirty minutes, and I know for a fact that there's only four of 'em besides Douglas here," Charlie drawled. "So you'd best get somebody after it. I'll wait here. In your chair." "My chair? My chair? How dare you?" Hizzoner sputtered. "You now have twenty nine minutes, mister," Charlie replied. Reluctantly, Hizzoner rolled his recently acquired, custom ordered leather banker's chair back from his desk and pushed himself to his feet. "Rudy! Come in here!" he called toward the outer office as he made his way from behind his desk. "If that's the name of that prissy fella out yonder, he's indisposed at the moment," Charlie told him as he took Hizzoner's place in the chair and laid the Greener across the gleaming expanse of hand-rubbed walnut that made up the desk top, taking no pains whatsoever to keep good weapons-grade steel from scarring the wood. "You'll have to do it yourself, you and Douglas. And Mayor?" "Yes?" "You now have twenty eight minutes."
  21. Linn Keller 10-17-13 "Tea," the nurse said, offering the bone-china to Sarah, on a matching saucer: "a very ancient and civilized drink." Sarah took the offering, sipped, sipped again. She leaned her head back against the velvet upholstery and closed her eyes. I could slip out the back, she thought. Fannie saw me go in the front. I could go out -- Sarah was exhausted after a night's rest, if you could call it rest; her legs lacked energy even to tense up in a vain attempt at standing. She opened her eyes, took a longer drink of tea. "Do I know you?" she asked the nurse. The nurse gave her a professional smile, the smile of a stranger: "I was hired by Dr. Flint. He sent over a group of us. I'm detailed to your care until you are safely home, then I will join the others in Cripple Creek." Sarah's right ear twitched a little. She was so used to her Papa's Appalachian accent, how he called it "Cripple Crick," and she herself adopted that pronunciation; this auslander pronounced it with the long E, and it grated on her ear. The nurse tilted her head a little, frowning slightly as she studied the young woman's face. "You look tired," she murmured. "Would you like to lie down?" Sarah's bones cried out for rest -- her night was tormented by nightmares, she fought monsters in her sleep until sunup barely lightened the eastern sky -- but she shook her head, drained the last of the tea. The nurse was still studying Sarah's face. "I am seeing a ... scar line?" -- she sketched a diagonal line across her own face. Sarah smiled tiredly. "A cabbie slashed me with his whip," Sarah said. "So I shot him." The nurse's eyes widened and her mouth formed a surprised little O as she made a surprised little noise. "Don't worry," Sarah said faintly. "You're safe unless you're rich enough for them to kidnap ..." Sarah's eyes slid shut and her wrist relaxed and the nurse reached for the cup and saucer, catching them before they tumbled off Sarah's lap. She unfolded a blanket, draped it carefully over the sleeping Sarah, tucked it in behind her shoulders and under her chin, and settled herself in to watch the exhausted soul in the mousy-grey schoolteacher's dress. The private car swayed a little, the wheels setting up a hypnotic, rhythmic click-hiss as The Lady Esther drew them further from the turmoil of the mining town and back to the familiarity, the safety of Firelands. "Bear Killer!" Polly called. Something huge, dark and curly furred peeked around the corner of the house. Polly planted the knuckles of her left hand on her hip, shook her Mommy-finger at the great canine. "You know we're going to get Sarah," she admonished. "Now you get over here!" The Bear Killer yawned, scratched at a non-existent itch, then shook himself with a great flapping of ears and trotted after the carriage. Children are children, no matter their origin. The family was dressed oddly, but then most folks dressed a little oddly if you consider it: these, however, wore the attire of their native Caucasus, and spoke one of the Russian tongues: for the most part, their young were big-eyed and silent, staying close to their parents, but when the train coasted to an easy stop at Firelands, one, then another of the youngest looked out the window, their eyes huge. The conductor held out the red flag to let the engineer know the train could not move yet -- the conductor knew what it was to have children, and he knew how utterly spontaneous a child could be -- and when three little Russian children in their baggy pants and boots charged across the platform toward two hundred pounds of Caucasian Ovcharka -- a dog that stood as tall at the shoulder as Polly's nose -- well, the conductor held up the red flag, Bill the engineer stayed his hand on the steam-valve, and The Bear Killer, faced with a concerted charge from three strangers, did what he did best. He turned side-on to protect Polly and Opal from the impact, and then he did his best to wash the ears off the newcomers' heads. Inside the passenger car, near the back where they'd been since beginning their long journey, the parents exchanged a look and the father said something to the mother in a language the conductor didn't recognize. She looked up at him and smiled. In heavily accented English she translated, "My husband says perhaps this land is not so uncivilized after all!" Outside, on the platform, The Bear Killer did what he did best. He swung his great brushy tail and ow-wow-wow'd with pleasure, and three Russian children hugged him and clung to him and remembered their own great shepherding dog, back in the Caucasus, and for a moment, this strange place wasn't so strange.
  22. Linn Keller 10-16-13 Her gown was white, draped over one shoulder; her hair, brought up and held with a golden band, lay in curls in the Mediterranean sun. She carried a recurved bow, wore a quiver of arrows at her waist. She turned and looked at Sarah. Wait, she said. Your time is not yet. Wait. Sarah responded with a snarl. I need to stay. I need to take care of my Papa. He's in good hands, another voice cautioned, and Sarah turned to see a woman that looked much like her, a young woman in plate armor and standing with a lance in her hand, and a banner near its lanceolate point. I don't care, Sarah snapped. He needs me. He needs help -- He needs warriors, a woman in a shockingly short skirt said; her eyes were pale, hard, and she held a rifle in both hands -- a strange rifle with a very slender barrel and something square sticking out its bottom. Yes, Sarah agreed. He does. And I am. You're not healed. I don't care! she screamed, and suddenly she was falling, falling -- Sarah hit the floor on her injured side. A sunball of absolute agony detonated in her chest and her teeth clicked loudly together and her jaw slammed shut to bite back the cry that tried to shove its way out of her throat. Her eyes were squinted shut, tears squeezing out, and she gasped and rolled over on her back. "Straighten your legs out, honey," a familiar voice said, a voice that spoke as if she expected to be obeyed. "Straighten 'em out, honey. You need to breathe." Sarah's breath hissed between her teeth as she straightened her legs. "Breathe in, now, honey. Nice, deep breaths." "Owww," Sarah said in a tiny little voice, then she started to cry -- a young woman, a strong young woman, stretched too far, a tired soul of whom too much had been asked. "I'm sorry," she sobbed, covering her face with her hand, "I'm sorry ... Papa ... I have to take care of my Papa ..." Her voice dissolved in tears. Fannie saw her chance. Maybe it wasn't fair but it was necessary. "We've got help for your Papa," Fannie said gently. "We brought reinforcements. He'll have round the clock nurses. He'll be taken care of. "Now we need to take care of you." Sarah was crying too hard to reply. Fannie waited the several minutes it took Sarah's tempest to rain itself out. She knew it would be useless to speak prematurely. DR. GEORGE FLINT FIRELANDS HOSPITAL RECRUIT FOUR NURSES IMMEDIATE DUTY THIS STATION GREENLEES Fannie waited at the depot the next morning. Sarah stood, staring sightlessly across the railroad tracks, silent; she was pale, almost unmoving; in spite of her stillness, Fannie could almost feel the turmoil in the younger woman's slender frame. "I feel like I'm running out," Sarah finally whispered. Fannie turned her head, looked at her with surprisingly gentle eyes. "I said that, once," she admitted. Sarah turned, her eyes wide, surprised. "You?" Fannie nodded. "I was young once," she said, then laughed: "I was your age, as a matter of fact." Sarah blinked, listening closely. "It seemed like the whole damned Union army was swarming through, one way, then after the battle, they swarmed the other, and we were right in the middle of it all." Her eyes grew distant as she remembered, her voice hardening a little. "Wounded men ... men we helped as best we could ... and then the field hospitals arrived and were set up, and there were doctors and orderlies, and when we saw ... there were doctors, and surgeons, I ran." Sarah blinked in surprise. Fannie smiled. "Oh, yes. I ran like the scared little girl I felt like. I ran from the horror and I ran from the blood and I didn't stop running until I was most of the way across the plantation, and then I stopped and stripped off all the bloody stuff I wore and scrubbed myself with creek sand and tried to get the smell of blood off me. "I remember hearing a voice as I turned to run, and I was surprised that it was my own voice ... I said "I feel like I'm running out," and then I took off like a scared deer." Sarah's eyes were fixed on the deep emerald pools Fannie's eyes had become. "I wasn't running out on anyone," she said, her voice a little firmer. "I didn't run away. I left because there were better hands than mine to do the work. I'd done my best and wore myself out and I was so tired ... so exhausted" -- It was Fannie's turn to stare into the distance across the tracks from the depot platform. "I did not last anywhere near as long as you did, Sarah. "If I was still healing -- as you are -- I could not have stayed half as long as I did." Fannie lay a gentle hand on Sarah's cheek, smiled gently as Sarah blinked uncertainly. "We need you healed up and whole," Fannie whispered. "There's only one of you has ever been made. All of Creation, all of Eternity, in all of Infinity, only one Sarah." Fannie tilted her head and her eyes smiled. "And I kind of like a universe with you in it." Fannie raised her head a little as The Lady Esther's whistle challenged the station. "Now let's get you headed for home, shall we?" Fannie found herself obliged to take a half-step back as Sarah flung herself into the older woman's arms: she felt Sarah nod her understanding. Fannie saw Sarah into the private car, and she saw the four crisp-uniformed nurses debark from the private car, and she smiled tightly. Sarah is taken care of, she thought. We have plenty of help for Linn's care. Now it's time to take care of business. Fannie's eyes burned with a deep green fire as she took a long breath. I didn't have to cold cock Sarah,, she thought with a tight smile. Didn't even have to hogtie her. That was an awful lot easier than I expected.
  23. Charlie MacNeil 10-16-13 "Jacob!" Charlie barked, albeit in a low tone. He'd been more than happy to see the younger man and his hard-headed sis. "Sir!" "Council of war, outer room!" His voice softened further as he glanced over toward his wife. "Darlin', we need to send Sarah home. I know it won't be easy, but you're in charge of coming up with a way to talk her into it." He stepped into the aforementioned room, his footsteps lighter than should be possible for a man of his size and burdened with the quantity of hardware he carried. Jacob followed, his footsteps equally as light on the puncheon floor of the office. Charlie and Jacob took seats in Doctor Bennett's outer office, both men perched on the edge of the fragile appearing chairs. "I see your old man's been his usual subtle self," Charlie began, lips quirking upward in a cold grin as Jacob noted the sarcasm underlying the words and reluctantly nodded his agreement with that statement. "I told my lovely bride earlier that the velvet glove technique doesn't appear to be working like it has other places. I've never been much for velvet or subtlety, myself." "What do you propose to do, sir?" Jacob asked. "You're the third person who's asked me that tonight. So here's my plan: I'm gonna call a city council meeting, and I'm gonna lay down the law. My law. Anybody who objects, man, woman or child, is welcome to leave town via the next available means of transportation at their earliest possible convenience. Those who stay will abide by my law or face my consequences. I'm not gonna be subtle about it, and I sure as hell ain't gonna be nice about it. I won't be doing any training, except as live fire exercises." He smiled coldly again. "I'm still working out the details in my little pea brain. You're welcome to come along to the council meeting if you want. But first I need some dinner. My belly's beginning to complain that it thinks my throat's been cut." He pushed himself carefully to his feet, hearing the chair creak behind him. Jacob followed suit. "Do I need to remove my badge, sir?" the younger man wanted to know. "Nope. This is all gonna be legal as can be. I'll see to that. I take it you're in?" "As a wise man once said, 'Yep'", Jacob answered with a cold grin of his own. "I don't want to miss a minute of the fireworks. Especially the ones that are gonna go up when you try to send my sister home. That I'd pay money to see."
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