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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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Everything posted by Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

  1. If you could get me some pics that would be great. Thanks!
  2. Thanks for offering, Mack, but I don't think so at the moment. It sounds like a nice rifle but I really don't want to go past 20" if I can keep from it. Whatever I get will be a backup for my current main match rifle, which is 20".
  3. No thanks. I shoot Classic Cowboy so a Marlin wouldn’t do me a whole lot of good. But thanks for asking!
  4. Howdy, y'all. Like the title says, I have a pair of New Model Vaqueros to trade. They were bought new in 2017 and are stainless steel with 5 1/2" barrels, chambered in .357/.38. They are four numbers apart, if that makes a difference to you. I used them for one season and went back to my .45's. They have Sure Hit sights, Wolff hammer and trigger springs and Super Blackhawk hammers installed. Factory rosewood grips. Grips and metal are unscathed. They will come with the factory boxes and factory cable locks but only one factory manual since I haven't a clue what I did with the other one. I am not currently interested in selling them unless I can't make a satisfactory trade, and I will trade them as a set only. I have these pistols valued at $1300 and would like to trade for a tuned 73 of equal or similar value in .45 Colt. I would prefer to have 20" or less barrel length. I think we've pretty much all seen a Vaquero before, but if you need to see pics please let me know and I will e-mail them.
  5. Mr. Box 9-29-11 Mr. Baxter kept a watchful eye on the occupants of the flatcar as they rode the rails to ensure that everyone was OK and nobody was at risk of falling off. Sheriff Keller was looking a little pasty. Dr. Flint was kneeling by beside the injured boy. Daciana was expressing her appreciation to the cow ponies. The cowboys were a little shaken, and the other boy looked like he could unwind any moment. Mr. Baxter was just glad to be heading back to the barn! The engineer was trying to make the ride as smooth as possible at the brisk pace he had set. The depot was beginning to show in the distance. "Looks like you could use a drink", Mr Baxter said as the boy began to bawl. Everyone onboard agreed whole heartedly! "C'mon over to the Silver Jewel when things settle down."
  6. Linn Keller 9-29-11 Daciana had the boy in her arms. That's an over-simplification. Daciana wrapped her arms around the lad as he came upright, helped hoist him to a semi-standing posture: her hand was wrapped around the tag end of her own line, locking it in place around her: she put her left foot flat against the cliff face, her right was sideways, parallel with the narrow ledge, and she rolled the boy across her thigh. As the lines tensioned and they rose another few inches, Daciana got her other foot flat on the vertical wall: she walked straight up the side of the cliff, with the boy across her. She dropped her leg, hooked it under his good leg, brought it up: he was now straddling her thigh, leaning into her torso: she had one arm around him, strong, reassuring: he had both arms around her, and Daciana knew a grown man with a pry bar and two sticks of dynamite would have had a difficult time separating the boy's desperate clutch from her. She whispered to him, whispered in Romanian, in Spanish, in Italian: she remembered the first time she froze, on the high platform, looking out at limitless space ahead of her, at her hands on the trapeze bar, and she remembered her mother's whisper, the warmth of her breath as her gentle syllables puffed into Daciana's ear. Daciana took another step. "You are safe, liebchkein," she said again, lapsing into German: "you are safe now, no harm will come to you." She felt the boy's breath, hot on her shoulder, and how fast he was breathing. The Sheriff had a hand on each cowboy's shoulder and was walking backwards with them. He'd estimated the distance the horses would have to walk to bring the pair up the cliff face, and with a hand on each of the men, he was ensuring both lines were drawn at the same rate, the same distance, at the exact same time. "Ho," he said softly. "Mr. Baxter, if you please." The barkeep had divested himself of his apron: it was his only concession to events of the moment: he and the Sheriff knelt at the rim, and Mr. Baxter felt a moment's dizziness as he regarded just how far down it was to the bottom of the curved canyon below. "Three feet," the Sheriff called, with a go-there gesture. The cowhands took a slow step back, another, their cow-ponies keeping patient pace with their masters. "Another foot." Daciana's hair, then her head, crested the brink, and the little boy clinging to her. "Another foot!" the Sheriff called, and he and Mr. Baxter each took a knee, side-on to the edge: the Sheriff ahead, Mr. Baxter behind him, gripping the lawman's shoulders. Daciana walked another two steps, her feet held to the cliff face by line tension alone, and she called, "Back two feet!" One of the cow-ponies, startled, lurched ahead. Daciana bent her knees, let the sudden tension pull her upright: she stood, stepped quickly onto level ground, but the horse stopped a step farther than she anticipated: she fell into the Sheriff, twisting a little to try and spare the injured boy the collision: lad, lass, lawman and barkeep fell backwards onto the grass. Mr. Baxter grunted as the weight came atop him. The Sheriff made a strangled noise as an anonymous knee drove into a particularly vulnerable area of the male anatomy. The little boy cried out as his own injured knee hit the ground. Daciana's teeth clicked together as the boy hit her fresh burn. Dr. John Greenlees washed his hands methodically, thoroughly, his lips pursed a little. Sean goggled at the medico, incredulous that the man seemed so uncaring. His ear twitched and his eyes looked to the staircase at the front of the house, then up to the ceiling, willing them to see through lath and plaster and flooring, willing them to see his wife, bearing their child in blood and in pain -- Dr. Greenlees dried his hands. "How's the pie?" he asked quietly, and Little Sean -- who was blueberries from nose to chin -- laughed with delight. "Doctor," Sean blurted, "how can ye talk o' pie when ma Daisy's --" Dr. Greenlees raised one slender, admonishing finger. "Her water has yet to break," he said. "Once it breaks --" He looked upstairs, smiled. "Right about now. If you will excuse me." Sean looked down at his own untouched pie. Little Sean picked up the pie crust and began happily munching, scattering flaky crumbs for several feet as he always did. Sean heard the doctor's tread on the staircase, the measured pace, the hesitation as he came to the landing. Sean waited. He heard quiet conversation from the top of the stairs, then his wife's agonies again, and if it were possible, a muted scream of relief. "The water's broken!" the maid called down stairs, and Sean felt his belly fall several stories. Esther, Bonnie and the girls drew up and dismounted: the ladies stepped out onto the cut-quartz stepping-stone, as proper ladies did; Angela swung over the side of the buggy, dropped, laughed as she hit the ground, knees flexing to take up the shock of landing. Sarah hesitated, then followed her Mama's dismount. I must set the example for the twins, she thought. The twins regarded her with bright and happy eyes, extended their arms: Sarah took one, then the other, picked them up and swung them down: there was a giggle, a "Whee!" and the two were on the ground, dutifully following the ladies into the house. Sean rose, brushing pie crumbs from his shirt front. His expression was somewhere between hopeful and distressed. Esther swept into the kitchen, took the big Irishman's hands, then laid a gloved hand on his cheek: "Dear Sean," she said, sympathy in her eyes and understanding in her voice, "how are you bearing up?" Sean's mouth opened, then closed: he blinked and cleared his throat, looked toward the staircase: "Never mind me," he said huskily, "it's Daisy!" Esther's hands were warm on his: "We'll take care of her, don't worry," she whispered, then: "Sarah? Could you take a look at Little Sean, please? And try not to get blueberries on your apron, dear." Dr. George Flint slowly, carefully rolled a slender green leaf between his palms, once, then gently added it to the tin cup of barely-boiling water. He bruised a second leaf, added it as well, then rose. Quickly, professionally, he assessed the boy's knee, his ankle: he tilted his head, drew Daciana's bloodied shoulder strap over her shoulder, drew the linen down until he could see the length of her burn. "Come," he said, the single word carrying more weight, more power than Daciana had heard from any man in her life: Dr. Flint picked up the boy, carried him over beside the little fire. Daciana rose and followed. Dr. Flint dipped quickly into the hot water, plucked a leaf free, let it uncoil: he waved it once, then made a single finger-gesture. Daciana exposed her burned flesh. Dr. Flint laid the leaf longwise with the burn. Daciana shivered a little. She hadn't realized just how badly it hurt, until the leaf took the pain away. "The other," he said quietly. Daciana drew cloth free of each burn, carefully, delicately: the Sheriff, the cowpokes, and Mr. Baxter all looked elsewhere, respecting her modesty as best as could be done. "YE'VE THE COLDEST HANDS THIS SIDE OF AN UNDERTAKER!" Daisy screamed. The maid soothed her soul with words, her face with a damp cloth, and Daisy slapped her hand away. "DON'T YE TOUCH ME, DAMN YE!" she raged. "THAT'S HOW THIS ALL STARTED, A MAN TOUCHED ME AN' MA MODESTY MELTED LIKE ICE OFF THE ROOF!" Sean could stand it no longer: helpless, frustrated, he'd watched Sarah flatter, wheedle and connive Little Sean into accepting a face-washing, and a second slice of pie, and she and the little girls divided up the rest of the pie. "I don't belong here," Sean thought, and then he heard his wife's raised voice upstairs. He'd set his boot on the first step when his head snapped up, then his nostrils flared and he began taking the steps two at a time, at a dead run. The contraction eased off and Daisy whimpered, crying a little. Bonnie wiped her own eyes with an embroidered kerchief, and Esther quickly ran the back of her glove across the corner of her eye as Daisy's voice -- almost the voice of a hurt little girl -- "Why does it hurt so much? It never hurt like this -- no, it hurts, make it stop, make it --" Daisy seized her maid with her right hand, Esther with her left, fixed Bonnie with a glare that would ignite timberline granite: she took a long, shuddering breath, gathered her soul and gave one long, sustained, agonized scream, putting her entire life, her being, her strength, into this one effort: "SSSSEEEEEAAAAANNNNNNN!" The inspection car blew a finger of steam toward the high Colorado sky, and they began their way back to Firelands: the boy's leg was splinted, he lay on a blanket and was wrapped with another: his companion sat, hugging his knees, watching his younger chum with big, guilty eyes. Daciana stood, modest and proper in a married woman's gown, petting the cow-pony's nose and whispering to it, whispering secrets only she knew. The Sheriff stood, legs apart, swaying a little with the flatcar's movements: he held the saddle horn with one hand, and he was bent forward a little, and still looked half sick. Dr. Flint offered him something in a small bottle, and the Sheriff shook his head. Mr. Baxter laid a hand on the lawman's shoulder, watching the water-carved canyon disappear behind a screen of lodgepole pines. "You know," he said, "it's kind of boring around here. Do you supposed we ought to stir up some excitement?" The Sheriff looked at the man and managed a half-smile. "Nah," he said. "I like it quiet and boring."
  7. Linn Keller 9-28-11 Daciana set her teeth against the pain. The mountaineering she'd done had been in proper mountaineering clothing: lederhosen and wool, padded where the rope went around her, over her: now, in cotton undergarments, very little separated her skin from the burning friction of flat-braided leather. She walked easily down the cliff face, willing herself not to think on the agony she was searing into her shoulder, her waist, her thigh, with every long step down. Tears streaked her pale cheeks and she locked her throat against the sounds of anguish that were tearing at her vocal cords, trying to get out. Daisy arched her back, setting her teeth against the familiar pain: fists clenched, she too stifled her own agonies: at one point, she came off the bed, supporting herself on bent, trembling limbs, held aloft by the backs of her heels, her clenched fists, the back of her head: as the contraction eased, she collapsed, gasping. Her maid whispered the reassuring things women always whisper when one of their own is travailing in labor; her hands were gentle as she blotted perspiration from Daisy's forehead. Daisy snatched the damp cloth from the maid with a snarl: she wiped quickly, viciously at her face, her arms. "It's got t' be a boy," she muttered. "A girl wouldna' hurt like this. It's got t' be another boy" -- she turned suddenly-frightened eyes to the maid -- "Oh God, not twins!" "Whassa twin?" a little voice called from the doorway, and the maid rose quickly, shooing the youngest Irishman away from the bedroom: she took the lad downstairs, thinking quickly, wondering how to safely distract him while she tended to her mistress. There was the jingle of harness from without, the brisk sound of a trotter approaching the house. "That'l be the doctor," the maid nodded, as if she'd planned it: there was the sound of bootsoles, a running pace, a great Irish-red voice bellowing, "DAISY!" and the maid swept up the youngest of Sean's get and whirled him into his startled father's chest. "Here," she said, "keep him from breakin' an anvil wi' a glass hammer or settin' th' barn afire wi' rubbin' twa sticks t'gether! No get yersel' in th' kitchen an' ha'e some pie for the wee lad, he's starvin' t' death, no thanks t' the likes o' you!" With that stout declaration, the maid hoisted her nose in the air, swept her skirts aside as if from something unclean, and marched upstairs. Sean stood staring after the hired help, then looked down at his wiggling, arm-waving son with the expression of a man who was absolutely, positively, unutterably lost and confused. Dr. John Greenlees laid a hand on the man's shoulder. "Sean," he said, "I believe your lad would like that pie now." "Pie!" the struggling redhead shouted, pointing toward the kitchen. Dr. Greenlees patted Sean's shoulder. "Go on ahead. I'll tend matters upstairs." Sean looked at the physician, then at the staircase, with the expression of a man facing the gallows, then he turned slowly and started toward the kitchen. This strong and fierce leader of the Irish Brigade, this muscled son of the Old Sod with a blacksmith's shoulders and scarred knuckles from many a Cincinnati street brawl, this fierce fighter of the Devil's own breath, tottered like an old man toward the kitchen. He stopped and turned and Dr. Greenlees saw the color drain from the man's face as Daisy screamed, a long, throat-ripping Irish scream, torn from a woman in the agony of birthing new life into the world. Dr. Greenlees nodded, once. "Go," he said, and continued his measured tread upstairs. Daciana found her footing, what little there was: the boy was lying on his right side, stretched out along the narrow ledge: there was room enough to wedge her left foot in between his belly and the cliff, and room enough for half her shoe sole on the rim of the ledge. She dare not trust her full weight to the very edge, and so kept tension on the rope, holding the friction-heat into her rope burns. "Toss me the rope!" she called, and the loop sailed out from the edge above, fell in an easy arc: she caught it, bent at the waist. "Can you hear me?" she said gently, stroking the lad's cheek with the back of her fingers. The boy jerked, eyes wide and afraid, at least until he focused on a gentle, feminine face, a pair of concerned eyes, and the surrounding blue sky glowing through her hair. I'm dead, he thought. "Are you an angel?" he asked, and started to roll over on his back. "Don't move," Daciana cautioned, pulling the lariat tight: her weight was still held by the plaited leather: she brought the loop around, worked it under his shoulders, around his upper arms. "Raise your left arm," she said. "Slide it through -- just like that! Now the other arm." The boy worked one arm, then the other, through the loop. "Now we are going to go up," she said. She tilted her head back. "Raise the boy three feet and stop!" she shouted. She felt tension on her own line and saw two heads: the Sheriff and one of the cowhands were working a folded saddle blanket under her rappelling line. The boy was hoist up. To his credit, he did little but gasp. Daciana knew the loop was cutting into him and she knew how much it hurt -- she knew how much she was hurting! -- but she caressed his cheek with a gentle palm. "Did you injure in your fall?" she asked, her voice soothing, motherly. The boy swallowed, nodded. "Where are you hurt?" "My knee," he admitted. "My ankle." He leaned his head a little to the left and looked curiously at her. "Hey, where are your wings?" She flicked the lariat, smiled as it twanged: "These are our wings," she said, "now let's try them!" She threw her head back. "Bring us up, together!"
  8. Linn Keller 9-28-11 "Now shouldn't ye be seein' th' doctor?" The maid's voice was light, bantering, her Irish accents prominent, for in a household where the master was Irish, the wife was Irish and the maid was Irish, the accent tended to turn in on itself, and everyone sounded just that more of their common heritage. Daisy pursed her lips, brushed back a curl of hair with the back of her wrist. "I'm foine," she said curtly, giving a pair of Little Sean's trousers a vicious snap and folding them as if she were folding a personal enemy preparatory to booting the same into the Devil's lap. "Ye know, the more children ye ha'e, the quicker they come," the maid offered helpfully. Daisy glared at the woman, then laughed: "Aye," she admitted, stacking clean laundry in the wicker basket and hoisting it: "they do, that --" The moment she tried hoisting the basket, the pain gripped her again, harder this time, and the basket came back down with a thump. Daisy's knuckles blanched as she gripped the smooth, round, wooden handles. Closing her eyes, she willed herself to calm, swallowed hard, then she put a hand to the small of her back and straightened with obvious difficulty. "Ye're right," she whispered hoarsely. "It's time." The maid moved with a brisk step: "Lads!" she called, clapping her hands twice: Little Sean and his wee brother were outside playing, and at the summons -- it had long ago been decided that a double handclap meant Get here NOW or I'll switch you from here to next week! -- they dropped the sticks with which they had been drawing in the dirt, and scampered, barefoot and laughing, for the house. "Lads, we ha'e urgent work," the main said quickly. "We need ye t' stand ri' here an' don't move, I'll get th' buggy." "Is it Ma?" Little Sean asked, big-eyed, as Daisy swayed to the doorway, leaned against the door frame. "Sean, get yer father," Daisy said quietly. Little Sean's eyes widened and he turned, going from dead stop to sprint in the span of a heartbeat: his little brother looked after him, then back up to his Ma and the maid. "Inside wi' ye, now," the maid called, waving her hand in a come-hither gesture: "an' you, let's get ye back inside, we can't ha'e th' wee bairn arrivin' on th' porch, now can we?" The two cowhands held the cheek straps of their cow ponies: neither they nor their mounts had ever ridden a flatcar before, but as long as a firm hand was on the halter, the horses ere content to stand fast. The inspection car made surprisingly good time: they had the high ball, passenger traffic had been halted for the duration of the emergency, the ore train was on the other track, and the Sheriff had every reason to believe they would get to their destination without incident. One of the cowhands was obliged to blindfold his horse when they came to the edge of the trestle: the other horse muttered a little and nearly stepped on boot leather with restlessness. The Sheriff made a quick assessment of the ledge, the cliff face, the ground above: he handed the glasses to Daciana. Daciana had trouble finding the lad; frowning, she lowered the glasses, studied the scene as they crossed the gorge: she felt no discomfort at crossing so high above the eroded canyon -- hadn't her mother had her on the trapeze as soon as she could walk? -- and she made a good mental assessment of the nature of her task. "Saddle up," the Sheriff said, raising his chin, and the three men swung into saddle leather. The Sheriff leaned down to extend Daciana his hand. She swung up behind him, her grip like a vise around his wrist. The flatcar was barely stopped when the three jumped their mounts to the flat, grassy ground. The Sheriff saw the panicked schoolboy running toward them. He halted and called, "Is he hurt?" The lad coasted to a stop, agony on his face and he shook his head, bending over, heels of his hands on his knee caps, and threw up. The Sheriff unslung his canteen. "Here," he commanded, his voice hard. The boy took a mouthful, swished it around, spit it out: he took a short drink, took another. "Now are YOU hurt?" The lad gasped. "No," he choked, coughed, and handed the canteen back. "Thank you, sir." The Sheriff nodded. "Head for the railcar, we'll be back shortly." "Yes, sir." The three rode on. Twice they stopped, and the Sheriff leaned cautiously over the edge, getting his bearings: finally he spotted the lad, laying on his side, facing the cliff. They worked their way directly above him. Four heads hung over the edge of the cliff. The Sheriff looked to his left, his right. "Your lariat reach that far?" "That far and more." "Good. How much more?" "I'll find out." He pushed easily off the ground, rolled to the balls of his feet, took one step and had the lariat in hand. He came back to the edge of the cliff, shook the loop, then sailed it out into the void, allowing it to drop across the schoolboy's beltline. "Oh heavens, Sheriff, I got all kind of line there!" "Good." The schoolboy opened his eyes, looked up. They saw how pale his face was, how big his eyes were. "Hold still now," the Sheriff called. "We'll come get you. DON'T MOVE!" The lad nodded, for he was already decided that, come hell, high water or horseflies, he absolutely, positively was not going to move at all! Daciana stood, brushing the chaff and dust off the front of her gown. Casually, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, she reached up to the back of her neck, and unfastened her gown: she turned to one of the cowboys and said, "Undress me." The man's mouth fell open and he looked like she'd just handed him a carp. Daciana turned and hit him, flat-handed, in the middle of the chest. "You-a da beeg-a man like-a da brag about-a da women," she snapped in a heavily-accented staccato: "You put-a da ex-peer-e-ence to work, hokay?" -- and whirled: "Unbutton-a da dress!" The cowhand shot a helpless look at the Sheriff and the other 'hand. The Sheriff's eyes were darker now, half-lidded, and the color was in his ears and his cheeks: he was a hard man, he was a fierce and competent man, but he was also a gentleman, and he was trying very, very hard not to laugh at the cowhand's discomfiture. Daciana rolled her eyes impatiently: "Pasa, pasa," she whispered, and finally the dress was free to the waist: a shimmy, a shrug and she was out of the gown; petticoats followed, cotton and linen cascaded to the ground and Daciana, in frillies and corset and high-button shoes, stomped over to the nearest horse and snatched the plaited-leather reata from the saddlehorn. Her fingers had eyes: she found the honda, dropped the line to the ground, flipped the loop over the saddlehorn and gave it a twitch to snug it: with a graceful dip of her knees, she dropped down, snatched up the line and walked to the edge of the cliff. "You," she pointed to the other man, "when-a I call, you throw-a me da loop, hey? Now gimme da gloves" -- snatching the leather gloves from the surprised man's waistband, she thrust her hands into protective leather: wrapping the line around and across her, leaned back and rappelled neatly down the face of the cliff. "How'd she do that?" the one cowpoke gasped. "Hold that horse absolutely still," the Sheriff cautioned: "do NOT let it take one step toward that edge. You" -- he pointed to the red-faced cowhand who was staring at the pile of vacated textiles -- "saddle up and get ready to toss her the loop. I'll set the blanket and when she says, you'll back your pony and h'ist the two of 'em up." The engineer and his fireman watched through the glass of the inspection car. They weren't sure quite what was going on. They'd both seen their share of ladies in various states of undress, but they'd never seen a wee slip of a girl push a grown man around, strip off her clothes and then swing over the edge of a cliff on a rope! "Lean on me, now, dearie. Just two more steps, now, two more steps, you can do that." Daisy's knees were weak and the maid was holding most of her weight. The staircase might as well have been the Matterhorn for height and she had no idea just how she'd managed to ascend such an altitude: if it had not been for the constant, reassuring, encouraging voice of her Irish maid, she knew, she could never have gotten to the top. "Now there," the maid said briskly, the tone of voice a schoolmarm would use with a prized pupil who had just solved a geometrical theorum for the first time. "Ye've done it, an' well done!" "The bed," Daisy gasped. "The baby is close now!" "I know, dearie." The maid practically dragged Daisy across the little distance to her bed, lowered her gently, then began divesting her mistress of her clothes while she was still somewhat upright: she knew the task would be all the more difficult once she were laying down. Daisy groaned, pulled out of her sleeves, helped as best she could: sweat was starting to bead on her forehead and she clenched her teeth together. "Sean," she groaned. "Now raise your bottom," the maid said briskly, "I want s'more under ye f'r when th' water breaks --" "Well now, looka there," the loafer murmured to nobody in earshot. He slouched comfortably against the front of the Jewel, a mug of beer in one hand, the other hand's thumb hooked in his waistband, marveling at the lad pelting across the street toward the fine brick firehouse well down the street. The boy's words carried on the sunlit, morning air: "Paaa!" he yelled, his voice jiggling a little as his heels hit the ground at a running pace. "Paaaa!" The lad disappeared into the firehouse, door swinging open behind him, closing slowly. "One," the loafer counted, taking a sip of his beer: swallowing, he continued, "Three, four ..." The door fairly exploded open again and Sean, the broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted Chieftain of the Irish Brigade, charged across the street, young son in his arms: he thundered across the thoroughfare with the general air of a man who could knock a freight train off the tracks if need be: he steered a course to the polished stone hospital, set back from the street, and the loafer sighed and took a long, measured swallow of beer. "My, my," he murmured to a nonexistent audience. "Boy falls over a cliff, everybody and their uncle goes just hell-a-tearin' to see, and who's left to keep a poor fellow like me from dyin' of thirst?" He drank again, downing the rest of the mug's contents, sighed happily. Across the street, Digger came packing a child sized coffin up the alley and into the front door. He stopped and raised his black-silk top hat at the loafer. "You have to be ready for these things," he called with a cheerful morbidity, and the loafer raised his empty mug in salute, then turned and went back into the Silver Jewel. The smiling girl behind the bar had a refill ready for him. The loafer slid a coin toward her and considered that perhaps things weren't quite so dire for a thirsty man like himself.
  9. Linn Keller 9-27-11 "Sheriff!" The Sheriff turned, took two long strides toward the ticket window. "Your engine is on its way!" The Sheriff nodded, once. He stopped, eyes drifting toward hard mountains, clear and sharp in the distance. He knew the territory, he knew the gorge; if memory served, he recalled the shelf -- deep in places, shallow in others -- through a trick of nature, the near rim was timbered, the far rim was grassy ... A good lariat should reach, he thought, turning to the two cowpokes who were keeping station just out of arm's reach. "How good is your lariat?" he asked them. "Mine'll do." The other nodded. The Sheriff nodded, his eyes pale: he knew they understood the unspoken part of his question: were their lariats sufficient for a rescue, for hauling the weight of a man and a boy both? He knew that if he'd specifically questioned the condition of each lariat, they would have taken offense, for he would have been questioning their honesty and their integrity by the interrogative: instead, he trusted both their judgment and their honor. "How good's your saddle blanket?" He saw the wrinkles tighten a little at the corners of their eyes. They hadn't expected the question, but they knew its reason: a folded saddle blanket would prevent the plaited line from chafing and being damaged on the rocky canyon lip. He appraised each, assessing their height, their weight: he looked across the platform, his bottom jaw thrusting slowly out. He wanted someone strong, very strong but light weight, to go down and get a loop around the casualty: he did not know how badly the boy was hurt -- if at all -- it was entirely possible the boy might panic and fight a rescuer, or over-balance and fall to the boulder-washed bottom. He needed someone slight, strong and determined. He smelled her a moment before she lay a gentle hand on his forearm. "Sheriff," Daciana said, her voice accented, urgent: "Sheriff, I want to help." The Sheriff turned abruptly, his eyes cold, hard, appraising. He looked at Daciana's shoulders, considered her diminutive height: he did not have to seize her and hoist her to know she weighed as little as her slight build indicated. "I need someone strong," he said quietly. Daciana seized the front of his coat and his belt buckle: her lips pressed together and she hoisted the Sheriff off his feet, rolled him up into her, horizontally, and held him at collar bone height for a the space of five breaths before setting him down again. "Basta?" she asked, a dangerous light in her eyes, and the Sheriff nodded, approval in his own. "Basta."
  10. Mr. Box 9-26-11 The doors burst open and everyone in the Silver Jewel stopped everything! It was silent, other than the rasping of the sheriff's chair legs across the floor as he came to his feet. Just as quickly as the doors had burst open, they were gone and the room was silent. Quietly people began to inquire amongst themselves as to what had just transpired. Most just shaking their heads when asked if they knew. A couple of the more curious ones started drifting towards the doors, half afraid to take the handles, in case it burst open again! When they stuck their heads out, all they could see was the few people in the street running toward the depot. Then it was time to make a decision. Follow the excitement, or have another beer...
  11. Linn Keller 9-26-11 Word rippled out from the telegraph at the roundhouse. The only spare engine was in a state of partial disassembly. The only available transport was the owner's inspection car. There were two men who knew the inspection car's operation and properties more than intimately: they had helped build it, and several like it; they had installed a larger boiler in this one, larger pistons, fitted extra water tanks hidden about the spotless, gleaming, painted body, the better to feed the engine's thirst: they fired the boiler, carelessly tossing in a quart of coal oil to get things going in a hurry, and shouted profanely for anthracite, for the good Eastern hard coal, for the coal that burned hotter than Satan's temper. The owner wanted transportation, and wanted it five minutes ago. They waited until the steam-gauge wound around to working pressure and the pop-off valve hissed angrily, blasting its pure white plume toward the roundhouse rafters. They backed the inspection car out into the bright sunlight, switched it to another track, hooked onto a flatcar: the fireman swung out on the car's front platform and stretched up on his tip-toes, thrusting two white flags into their sockets. White flags marked a special run, and gave them priority. The engineer leaned against the throttle lever, pulled delicately at the whistle lanyard, and the inspection car blew a single, high, pure note into the blue sky above as it hissed and chuffed quickly toward the main line. An urgent ringing of the bell -- Dr. Flint looked up from the thigh he was suturing -- a man had taken the ill temper of a bull and almost beat it to the high board fence surrounding the corral -- he'd lost but little blood,; he'd taken some bruising and an ugly looking tear, but the greatest damage was to his pride, for he'd been bragging to his fellows how gentle the bull was, and how he could do anything with it. Morning Star flowed toward the door, smoothly, gracefully: Dr. Flint's patient stoically endured the physician's ministrations and had offered neither groan nor whimper at the cleansing of the wound, nor had he cried out at the physician's generous use of the carbolic; he'd accepted the long drink of distilled anesthetic gratefully, for the sweat-beads were popped out on his forehead, and now that the work was almost done, he took a moment from containing his own agonies to admire the Doctor's wife as she moved toward the door. Had he not been able to see the soles of her shoes as she walked, he might have thought she traveled on wheels, such was the grace and the glide of her gait. Nurse Susan knocked and opened the door cautiously: once, and only once, had she vigorously thrust it open, and caught Dr. Greenlees right in his aquiline nose: he joked later that it felt like she'd flattened his "Eagle Beak," as he ruefully explained its swollen and discolored appearance to the Sheriff the next day. "Dr. Flint?" she called. Dr. George Flint looked up, then back down as he drew the edges of the wound together and ran the suture-needle through its margins. "Dr. Flint, a boy has fallen over a cliff." Dr. Flint spun the knot, drew it snug; he repeated his efforts, until the man's thigh was reassembled to his satisfaction. He lay a few leaves over the stitched repair work, then wrapped it with a cloth bandage: his hands were quick, deft, dexterous: Morning Star brought the man's trousers over, and Morning Star saw the change in his eyes when he saw the big ugly tear in the material had also been sewed up. He looked at her and nodded his thanks. Morning Star's expression never changed; she picked up Dr. Flint's black leather satchel, set it on the table, then went to the cupboard and began sorting through what he might need for his current call-out. Dr. Flint had been almost as talkative as Dr. Greenlees: he uttered his first words since the man hobbled in, profanely detailing the cause of the wound. "Four bits," he said quietly, and the rancher did not hesitate to dig around in his pocket-book for the coin. Dr. Flint frowned at the well stocked interior of his physician's black bag: he took a long moment to review the inventory of his cupboard, then nodded once. Morning Star flowed over to the coat rack, withdrew her husband's tailored suit coat and his immaculate Derby: Dr. Flint turned, thrust his arms back and into the sleeves, and Morning Star twitched the coat up over his shoulders: he turned, and she handed him his hat, reached up and straightened his necktie. She looked into the man's eyes, lowered her head a fraction of a degree. Onyx eyes and obsidian eyes, each black and unreadable, and yet the messages was clear: Go, and be careful. I will return, my dear.
  12. Linn Keller 9-25-11 Fred looked up as hard heels approached on the depot platform. He expected anxious faces to appear in the telegraph office window. He did not expect his office door to thrust open and the grim-faced Sheriff surge in, followed closely by two solemn-faced cowhands. "I need a special," the lawman snapped, "I need it to go just the other side of Kemper Gorge Trestle and come back no more than a half hour later." Fred Jerome leaned back in his wooden telegrapher's chair, considering. Like most railroads of the era, the Z&W ran on a timetable, but the singing wire could override the schedule if need be, and not infrequently did. He made a fast mental review of the passenger schedule and nodded. The Sheriff turned. "STARR!" he barked, and the cowhands parted to let the man past, looking at one another, then at Fred Jerome, before they followed the Sheriff out onto the platform. Word travels fast, especially at a hub of commerce, industry, culture and especially information: the Silver Jewel was the place to go if you wanted to know what was going on anywhere in the territory, and Daciana and Lightning listened to what was said by the urgent voices. Mr. Baxter kept filled mugs crossing the counter and empties coming back, and his helper industriously washed the used mugs, dunked them in the tub of scalding water, then stacked them upside down on the ventilated rack to dry: they were generally still warm when Mr. Baxter snatched them up, one at a time, and began polishing them, sometimes very briefly, for with disaster, there was an increased clientele. Mr. Baxter was not without compassion, but he was practical: he knew that he, himself, could do little to help whatever the situation was, especially since it involved an active little boy, a cliff face, a perilous rescue; no, his place was behind the bar, to keep the community's thirst slaked, for rescue -- and talking about rescue -- was dry work. Besides, he shrugged, business meant profit, and profit is why a man worked in the first place. Mr. Baxter flipped the bar towel over his off shoulder and took two beer mugs by their handles, picking them up one-handed, filled them quickly, expertly: skimming the head off with a flat-bladed knife he kept for that purpose, he set the mugs on the bar and swept the coin off into his other palm. The unnamed school boy ran with desperation, with panic: he knew the only crossing over the gorge was the trestle, and he knew the trestle was more than a mile away, and he knew that his companion's peril was his fault -- his fault! -- and he allowed his panic to seize complete control of his young body, adding speed to his flying feet, his thrusting legs: his arms pumped smoothly as he ran, and though he was too far now to actually hear his fallen chum, his words were as devil's pitchforks pricking him repeatedly: I trusted you! I trusted you!
  13. Linn Keller 9-24-11 The tonsured monk in Cistercian-white robe solemnly regarded his blackrobed counterpart, and both were just as solemnly regarded by the black-suited parson. Mr. Bill, Mr. Mac, Parson Belden and Brother William were seated around the checker playing barrel, on the board walk in front of the Mercantile: the four were deep in discussion, and doubtless those who saw, believed the subject would have to be a matter of faith, of religion, of belief. In point of fact, men do define themselves by their work, and the subject under discussion was one which all four men believed in deeply and passionately: their meeting was not planned, but rather came about through happy accident, the four converging on the Mercantile in the same moment: black-suited Parson and black-robed priest, Cistercian-white monastic and white-shirted civilian, all regarded the round tin box Brother William slid to the middle of the checkerboard. "Bretheren," he said quietly, "here it is." All four leaned forward as Brother William carefully, delicately, worked the metal lid off the squatty little round can. "These," he said, dipping thumb and forefinger into its interior and withdrawing a gleaming prize, "are the very finest fish hooks in the entire world." The others gave a collective, whispered "ahhh" of admiration. Two hooky schoolboys hesitated at the edge of the drop-off. "I told ya," the one said accusingly. "I told ya it didn't shortcut here!" "Yeah, ya sissy," the other sneered, to which the other shouted "You take that back!" and the two rolled on the grass, pounding at one another, until they rolled too close to the edge. Starr twitched the reins and murmured "Ho," and his cow-pony ho'd. Starr didn't know the country hereabouts as well as he would like, and he'd managed to head the wrong way: he didn't realize a deep, curving gorge separated him from where he wanted to go, at least until the world fell away from his cutting horse's hooves. Starr looked up just as two scuffling schoolboys, fists enthusiastically if inefficiently slugging at one another, rolled over one time too many, and one gave a little cry of alarm as he rolled over the edge and fell. Starr's eyes widened and his Adam's apple bobbled as he swallowed hard. "No," he whispered: he wanted to look left, look right, searching vainly for a way across: the gorge was deep, it took a bend here and though trees arched overhead on his side, and the gorge was narrow, there was no way around to the other side without making an hour's hard ride. He wanted to look wildly about for some way across but he could not take his eyes from the terrible sight across the gorge. He watched helplessly as one boy flailed over the edge, all arms and legs, landing awkwardly on a ledge and clutching at something, but stopping. Starr looked to the bottom of the gorge and shuddered. I can't help, he realized, but I can get help! Starr spun his cow-pony and spurred hard back for Firelands. The two were best friends and great rivals: they knew this pretty girl was married, but each was determined to out-shine the other: he spun his lariat casually into a vertical loop, stepped through it, stepped back: not to be outdone, his partner spun a loop horizontally overhead, let it spin down over him, stepped out and back in, out and back in. Daciana laughed: she knew talent when she saw it, and were she still with the circus, she would have tried recruiting one or both these talented cowboys: as it was, she tilted her head and asked, "How far can you cast one of these?" The two looked at one another. Daciana recognized the look. Each would out-throw the other, and repeatedly, given the chance. Daciana's quick ear heard the urgent tattoo of a hard-driven horse: the two cowpokes stopped, gathered their lariats, looking toward the approaching gallop: even the quartet at the checkers-barrel stopped their important and deep discussion and looked up, divining the source of the alarm. Starr was out of the saddle and running before his haunch-crouched horse was stopped: he thrust his head into the Sheriff's office, withdrew it, looked around with desperation, then sprinted diagonally across the street toward the Silver Jewel. The pair hung their lariats carefully over their saddle horns and, curious, followed Starr into the Jewel. Daciana's curiosity overcame her natural reticence. Brother William twisted the lid carefully back onto the little tin box, and the four stood. This promised to be somewhat more interesting than a discussion of fishing-hooks. "Sam!" the schoolboy yelled, leaning over the edge of the dropoff. Sam looked up. "Sam!" Sam climbed to his feet, one hand clutching a rock lip: he dare not look down, nor behind him: part of him was looking for a way up, part of him wanted to cling to the sheer, stony face like he would cling to his Mama. "I trusted you!" Sam yelled, his voice less accusing than desperate. The Sheriff was on his feet in an instant: he knew urgency when he saw it, and even without the first word, Starr fairly prickled with distress, and his hurried pace foretold serious tidings. A few succinct words were sufficient to bring the Sheriff and Lightning out onto the street. The Sheriff's black gelding was tethered in front: the tall lawman was in the saddle: he took a moment to review the location in his mind, then he fixed the two competing cowpokes with gimlet-sharp eyes. "You two!" The Sheriff's voice carried the crack of command. "With me!" Daciana hesitated, her hands tight and urgent on Lightning's forearm. "I want to help," she whispered, and Lightning looked into his wife's troubled eyes.
  14. Linn Keller 9-24-11 The Sheriff was holding court. It had been said, and truly so, that not all the official business of town was conducted in the town's offices: not all municipal affairs were conducted within the fine stone municipal building, not all business dealings were dealt in the business offices, and not all the Sheriff's doings were done in the little log fortress that was home to his official, formal office. No, it was not uncommon at all for mayor and council, Sheriff and Marshal, peer, potentate and powers that be, to congregate in the Silver Jewel. For one thing, the Silver Jewel could keep dry throats slaked, stumbling tongues lubricated, and a general liquid cameraderie flowing through the business at hand: for another, should business run long, it was but a simple matter to have a meal brought to the table: the surroundings were pleasant, the ladies were attractive, if somewhat distracting (let's face it, a dance hall girl leaning down to deal a hand of poker was easier on the eyes than the bearded, cigar-chomping Councilman across the table) ... yes, if there was an alternate seat of government, it was the Silver Jewel. The Silver Jewel profited from this arrangement. Gambling was one of the greatest sporting past-times of the era, and the Silver Jewel offered poker, chuck-a-luck, roulette and a variety of other games of chance; on occasion, an election or an official decision might be decided with the turn of a card, the throw of dice, the toss of a coin. Today the Sheriff was holding court. He had long ago discovered the value of making himself accessable. He garnered a surprising amount of information by being affable, cheerful and available: whether business was official or casual, legal or friendly, people tended to be more relaxed and less uncomfortable in the warm and welcoming interior of the Silver Jewel, than in the stark and Spartan interior of the Sheriff's office. Today the Sheriff regarded young Lightning with approval. The young man was now a husband. The Sheriff had long been of the opinion that it was a mark of responsibility that a man was a husband: it showed the wisdom of his choice, in his selection of a wife; it showed the degree and manner to which the husband was willing to unselfishly and lovingly provide for his bride. The Sheriff was also smart enough to realize that sometimes it's the wife that selected the husband -- as indeed had been the case with himself and Esther -- a matter to which he objected none at all. Now, though, he nodded to the slender young telegrapher, who regarded his slab of berry pie without seeing it at all. "I didn't hardly know her, Sheriff," he said softly. The Sheriff nodded, once: Go on, the gesture said. Lightning swallowed. "She's beautiful, Sheriff." Lightning spoke in the wondering tones of a man who has seen a treasure of unmatched worth. "I first saw her in that fairy princess riding outfit, and --" Lightning's face positively flamed as he thought of when next he saw his beautiful bride, and the fact that she wore no more than flowers in her hair and a shy smile: though he had come to the Sheriff as to his own father, and for the same reason, both propriety and bashfulness said more with the color in his cheeks and the scarlet scorching his ears, than his hesitant tongue ever could have. "I understand," the Sheriff said softly in a voice he'd reserved for such talks with his own son. "Go on." Lightning looked up and swallowed. "Sheriff, when I got home, she ..." Lightning looked down at the table, then back up to the older man with the sweeping grey mustache and kindly, light-blue eyes. "Sheriff, I didn't hardly know her. "She'd gone out to the McKenna Dress Works and got herself ..." Lightning's eyes wandered across the room and stared at something a couple miles on the other side of the opposite wall. "Sheriff, her hair was fixed up and she was in a fine gown, and ..." His mouth closed, opened again, closed. "Sheriff, I married a beautiful woman." The Sheriff leaned forward, laid a callused hand on Lightning's knuckles: Lightning flinched, for the man's hand was hot, the way it always was. "You have found something reserved for a fortunate few men," the Sheriff said in a deep, quiet, father's-counsel voice. "You have realized just what a treasure your wife really is. "Remember that moment, my friend, cherish it and keep it in your heart. "She is a good woman. "Know you this." His hand tightened slightly and Lightning looked at the man, looked him square in his rich, blue eyes, devoid of their characteristic frost: he saw warmth, good humor, and ... well, he saw something he'd not seen since before his own father died, he saw into the depths of a man he admired and respected. "Know you this," the Sheriff repeated. "She went to the trouble to go out to Bonnie's, and have gowns made ... for you." Lightning blinked. "She did this for you. "She went to this trouble, for you. "She got her hair fixed and she bought a proper wife's wardrobe so she could make you proud of her." The Sheriff's hand was heavy on Lightning's, the intensity of his words conveyed through the scalding heat of his palm: Lightning had heard the Sheriff had hot hands, a Healer's hands, but not until this moment did he realize the truth of what he'd been told. "Your job is to let her know that you are proud of her -- you must recognize the effort she went to -- and you must never, ever let her forget that she is the brightest star in your universe." The Sheriff's words were low, intense, as if he conveyed something of great urgency. "I heard an old-timer say once that a woman's heart is like a camp fire: you must tend it constantly, lest it go out." The Sheriff's smile was a little crooked, and there was a sadness in his eyes as he leaned back, and Lightning's hand was cold as the Sheriff withdrew his own. "Women are deep and women are mysterious, and to be real honest I don't have 'em figured out." He smiled a little more, then leaned forward and winked conspiratorially: "To be real honest, I hope I never do!" Lightning nodded. "You got a good sharp pocket knife on ye?" Lightning blinked, fumbled at his vest pocket. The Sheriff held up a forestalling hand. "Fetch yourself down to the church building. There's a good crop of roses along side. Cut her three roses: one full in bloom, one just starting to bloom and one bud, then fetch them to her straightaway." He blinked slowly, sleepily, like a cat sunning itself in a wondow sill. "Fetch her flowers or pretties for no reason a'tall, but never, ever let her forget she is the most precious thing you know!" Lightning nodded, thrusting his bottom jaw out, then looked at his plate. "I forgot clear about that pie," he said wonderingly. The Sheriff threw his head back and laughed, and it was a good sound to hear. "You forgot nothing," he said heartily, leaning forward and thumping Lightning good naturedly on his near shoulder: "you just now remembered it! Matter of fact pie sounds good to me too!" And so saying, he waved at Daisy's girl across the room.
  15. Linn Keller 9-20-11 Dulcinea regarded herself in the full length mirror. She turned side-on, then square-on, then side-on again. Her husband of less than a week was at work, she knew, and she was still trying to get used to having so much room! The house they now had was ... well, she could have parked her circus van inside the living room; the parlor was bigger than her van's interior; then there was kitchen, pantry, bedrooms, the entire upstairs, a cellar, a storeroom built into the mountainside behind the house ... The question she asked the slender figure in the mirror would translate to, "Are you up for this?" -- but of course she thought in her native Romanian, except when she thought in Arabic, German, Spanish, French or the dozen other languages of which she had major or minor command. At the moment, though, she considered the cavernous nature of her immense manse, and decided that she would do nothing with it, for the moment, at least. She had business elsewhere. Dulcinea knew she was "bucking a stacked deck," as the Sheriff's tall, slender son had warned her: she was probably going to be regarded by certain waspish female sorts as a hussy, a tramp, because she was a (gasp!) performer ... and Dulcinea knew all too well the prejudice people often held toward circus folk. She knew if she were to be a proper wife, she would have to establish herself, and that meant appearances, and she knew where to start. Dulcinea and Lightning had approached the Daine boys and they had built an extension on the house, off the back porch -- they'd enclosed the back porch, then built back to the barn, so they could get to their stable without going outdoors -- and Dulcinea was most pleased to see the stable had been Daine-built as well, and as tight and as well made as the house itself. It would have to be. Her beloved Buttercup lived in this stable. Dulcinea spent as much time with her Buttercup as she had with the other circus performers, and it hurt her conscience to think of Buttercup, all alone in the barn or in the corral, while she herself was in the fine, two-story clapboard house; she took pains to spend time with her trick pony, grooming her, buffing her hooves, cleaning the stall (just like when she lived in the stock van, Buttercup did not empty herself just anywhere, she let fly in a particular and designated place ...and it was convenient to have ditched out of one corner of the barn to let the effluvium proceed downhill, so much as possible -- the rest could be removed easily by wheelbarrow) -- But now, now Dulcinea brushed her pony's mane and forelock, murmuring to her in multiple languages, all uttered in the gentle syllables she was wont to use; Buttercup shivered her back in anticipation and was soon saddled. Dulcinea did not bother with the pretense of a bridle. It was not necessary, it was strictly decoration, and the saddle was gaudy enough. Dulcinea withdrew the latch, swung the double door open, and Buttercup stepped daintily into the high Colorado sunlight. Dulcinea closed and fastened the door behind, then looked at her beloved trick pony and smiled, a wicked, knowing smile. Only a distant schoolboy playing hooky saw as Dulcinea stretched both arms overhead, then snatched up her skirt about her waist, took three running steps, slapped her hands on her pony's rump and vaulted into the saddle. Buttercup began moving before Dulcinea's weight was full in the saddle, and Dulcinea threw back her head and laughed, her feet finding the stirrups, and the pair of them cantered down the short street to the main thoroughfare, where they turned left and paced past the firehouse. Dulcinea leaned a little in the saddle, her weight shifting forward, and Buttercup did something she was seldom able to do in the circus. She began an easy gallop. Dulcinea had only the vaguest notion of where the House of McKenna dress works was located, but she knew it was out this road and not hard to find, and she was determined to consult with this woman McKenna, this woman of whom Maude at the general store had spoken so highly.
  16. Linn Keller 9-19-11 "Mama, I must see Shorty," Sarah said abruptly. Bonnie hesitated, then released the fine carriage's brake. "Of course," she said, puzzled; she clucked to the mare and brought the buggy about, and down the alley between the fine stone Municipal Building and the Silver Jewel's freshly painted clapboard wall. Shorty's livery was not far at all from the back door of the Jewel. Sarah had walked it many times, but it was convenient to drive the short distance, as they were on their way home, and it was but a brief detour. Sarah jumped out of the buggy, wobbling it on its springs, and Bonnie stifled a smile -- she remembered what it was to be young, and energetic, with flexible bones and limitless energy, and part of her wished to dismount in exactly that same manner. Of course, Sarah, in boyish denim instead of feminine skirts, could do so with less risk of indiscreetly exposing an ankle, Bonnie realized with a sigh ... Bonnie did not approve of her daughter exposing her shape in britches, but this was a new age, and Sarah was of the new generation. As long as she does not make it a habit, Bonnie thought. Sarah pressed coin into the gimp-legged liveryman's palm: "You're sure the dun is all right?" Her question was not anxious; it was the honest concern of someone who'd lost track of another's property. Shorty patted her hand gently, his callused palms and strong, stubby, stained fingers surprisingly gently on the girl's knuckles: "Fine an' dandy, Sarah, an' this is twice what we agreed on." Sarah dropped her eyes and turned red: biting her bottom lip, she thought for a moment, then looked almost shyly at the kindly expression on the older man's weather wrinkled face. "I'm sorry," she said abruptly. "I wasn't paying attention and she got away from me. I'm glad she came home." "How fur off were you when she dumped you off?" Sarah laughed quietly. "I felt her wind up like you'd wind up a clock and I remembered Uncle Linn telling me that sometimes it's better to jump ship than to have it turn over on top of you, so I jumped." Shorty's expression went from fatherly to concerned: his head swung ponderously to the left, and his eyes ran frankly down Sarah's left side, then he swung off to the right and gave her a top to bottom looking-over again. "Ye didn't get hurt, now, did y'?" Sarah laid a hand on his shoulder. "No, no,?" she whispered, shaking her head. "I'm just fine." "Good." He nodded. "But this is still way too much." Shorty held out his hand with the gold bright in his palm. Sarah folded the man's fingers over the payment. "I missed your birthday last year," she said quietly, quoting her cousin Jacob -- she didn't remember when he used the phrase, but she remembered hearing it -- "take that for your birthday present." Shorty sighed, shaking his head, and dropped the gelt in his vest pocket. "Ain't no arguin' with a woman," he muttered. "Now g'wan, git outta here so I c'n git some work done!" Sarah turned to leave. "Sarah?" Sarah turned, a gently half-smile on her face. "I had a daughter oncet, y'know." Sarah blinked, turned to face Shorty squarely. "Was you m'daughter I'd be jist pretty damned proud of you." Sarah's smile would have lit up a midnight ballroom. "That didn't take long," Bonnie observed as Sarah settled herself into the tuck and roll upholstered seat. "I wanted to pay Shorty for using that horse." Bonnie nodded approval. "It's wise to pay one's bills on time," she agreed, sounding like a mother, or like a schoolteacher, and Sarah laughed. Bonnie flipped the reins and the mare picked up into a trot: they traveled down the street, past the whitewashed church and the fine Irish firehouse, and waved at the red-shirted Brigade as they went past. They were out of town and not yet in sight of the McKenna ranch when Sarah asked, "Mama?" "Yes, sweets?" Sarah hesitated. I love it when she calls me that, she thought, and pulled off her hat: she dropped it into the back of the buggy and leaned her head over against her Mama's shoulder. "Mama, could I ask you a favor?" "And what's that?" Bonnie's tone was light and bantering; the air was clean, and smelled of approaching fall; the sun was warm and Bonnie had a general feeling that all was as it should be. "Mama, if I don't appreciate you the way I should..." Sarah sat up straight, looked at her Mama's profile, admiring the woman's clear skin, her regal bearing -- "Mama, if I ever, ever fail to appreciate you the way that I should, would you please take the biggest frying pan we have in both hands, and smack me a good one with it?" Bonnie laughed, giving her daugter a surprised look. "Why, Sarah!" she exclaimed, and they both laughed.
  17. Linn Keller 9-18-11 “And then what happened?” Jacob shifted in his seat, looked over at the accused. “I picked up Mr. Baxter’s bung starter and belted your defendant a good one across the head.” There was a ripple of laughter in the courtroom. The Honorable Judge Hostetler did not reach for his gavel. He did not have to. His quiet look was sufficient to stifle further chuckles. “Isn’t that a bit … excessive? After all, my client was but expressing an opinion.” “No, sir, he was not,” Jacob said mildly, eyes sleepy, half-lidded. “Excuse me? Free speech is a Constitutional guarantee.” “Up to a point it is, yes, sir,” Jacob said, “but when free speech expresses as a threat, I cannot let that go.” “Threat?” the defense attorney sneered. “My client uttered a threat?” “He did, sir. Would you like a list of corroborating witnesses?” Jacob’s expression had not changed; he still had that sleepy expression … the sleepy expression of a cat, curled and lazing in the sun, waiting for a particular, foolish mouse to venture closer. “Witnesses,” the defense attorney said sarcastically. “Of course you can produce witnesses.” Jacob made no reply. “Move to dismiss, Your Honor,” the defense attorney said theatrically, throwing a hand in the air as if tossing a handful of playing cards. “On what grounds?” Judge Hostetler rumbled. “I don’t believe you’re finished, Counselor.” “Your Honor, it is more than evident that this –“ he waved a limp wrist at Jacob – “this schoolyard bully was simply proving his manhood by picking a fight with my client! His reckless actions put my client’s life in danger! Your Honor, I move to charge this deputy with armed and aggravated assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm!” “Counselor,” Judge Hostetler said levelly, “your stupidity does you no credit here. You might flim-flam and bamboozle a gullible city audience, but we pride ourselves on being able to tell new oats from used oats, and you, sir,” he pointed with the handle of his gavel, “are dispensing second hand oats in my courtroom. Unless you wish me to find a summary judgment against your client, I suggest you desist and do your job.” The attorney was plainly displeased; he was not used to being called down in court – especially in front of a bunch of back country hicks – but he knew better than to cross a Judge in his own courtroom. “Deputy,” he said, contempt in his voice, “just what was the threat that prompted you to attempt to take my client’s life?” Jacob was out of the witness stand and across the floor in two long strides: he had the attorney by the chin, bent backwards, his head twisted and the honed edge of his knife against the attorney’s neck. “Hold very still,” Jacob whispered, “or I will give you a very, very close shave.” The courtroom was absolutely, utterly still, save only for two flies buzzing about in a window. “If I want to take a life,” Jacob said, not raising his voice yet clearly audible to every ear, “I can do so quickly and easily.” He held the attorney, bent backwards like a drawn bow, hard hand clenched on the lawyer’s chin, holding a painful strain on the man’s cervical spine. He released the lawyer, shoving him upright: the knife disappeared, almost a sleight-of-hand move. “If I had attempted to take your client’s life,” Jacob said quietly, “your client would be six foot under right now.” Jacob walked back to the witness stand, seated himself. “Your Honor,” the attorney gasped, and Jacob stood, thrusting out an accusing finger. “You’ve spoken enough,” Jacob declared, his voice powerful and authoritative in the hushed courtroom. “I’ll tell you one more time what happened, and maybe now you’ll listen to me. Otherwise I’ll have to help your hearing.” Jacob’s eyes were icy, pale, like his father’s. His good right hand descended slowly to his belt. “Your client was drunk, loud and trying to pick a fight. He finally grabbed one of Daisy’s girls and tried to hit her when she slapped him. I came in about that time and he called me a wet behind the ears kid. Call me anything but late for supper, that did not trouble me, but when he allowed as he was going to take my belt off me and whip my backside with it and then he come towards me a-reachin’, I figured it was time to show him he could not walk hard heeled in my town.” Jacob looked slowly around the courtroom, meeting every eye. “You come after a lawman, you’re askin’ to have your name carved on a marble slab. “I could have killed your client on the spot and been justified. “I did not. “I chose to educate him and maybe he would learn something and live. “I knew I had to get his attention and the quickest and easiest way was to belt him over the head with something solid. “When your client woke up in jail he sang mighty small. I’d say he learned something. “Now if you want to run your mouth any more, you want to insult me, go right ahead.” Jacob’s voice was quieter now. “Call me anything you like. It’s a free country and yes, the Constitution does guarantee free speech. But I guarantee you this mister” – Jacob’s head turned slightly, ever so slightly, his eyes the color of a glacier’s wintry heart – “if you allow as you are going to commit any unlawful act I will be on you like ink on paper, and I can guarantee you will come out in second place – both in that moment, and in any subsequent courtroom proceeding. Do I make myself absolutely clear?” “Your Honor!” the attorney shouted, protesting: “I did not come from the State Capital to be insulted and threatened by rubes and hicks!” “Counselor,” Judge Hostetler said tiredly, “your client is being judged by a jury of his peers. If you wish to call the jury a bunch of rubes and hicks, you can guarantee that you have poisoned the very body that could exonerate your client.” From the jury-box a lone voice: “He called us a bunch of whats?” There was a quick conference, then the jury foreman stood. “Your Honor, we have arrived at a verdict,” he said crisply. “We unanimously and with one voice declare our verdict to be guilty.” “So noted!” Judge Hostetler swung his gavel briskly against the cherry-wood striking block. “Your Honor!” the attorney wailed. “You must find the jury in contempt! There has been no deliberation –“ Judge Hostetler’s glare was hard as the cherry block on his table. “You,” he said, and it was the Judge’s time to drip contempt with his voice, “do not tell me what to do in my courtroom!” Sarah waited outside the courthouse for her Mama to emerge. Bonnie smiled and waved when she saw her daughter, standing patiently beside the buggy: Sarah looked tired, but her smile was brilliant as she embraced her Mama. “I was worried when you didn’t come home by suppertime,” Bonnie said, brushing a wisp of hair from Sarah’s face, “but then I realized you were out at Charlie and Fannie’s.” Bonnie’s eyes brightened and she raised a finger. “I have something for you,” she said. “I met the nicest woman this morning. I don’t know her name, she was gone before I could ask, but she said to give you this, and you would understand.” Sarah’s expression was puzzled as her Mama ran a gloved hand into her reticule, fished around a bit, then came up with a small, cloth wrapped object. Sarah unwrapped it, surprised to see her hands were shaking. “Oh, how beautiful!” Bonnie exclaimed. “Blue cameos are so lovely! Here, let me – why, Sarah, you’re pale as a ghost!”
  18. Linn Keller 9-17-11 Sings-At-Dawn knelt beside the blue disk, leaned over it: he braced his off hand on the far side and thrust his arm down, into the rippling azure. Dr. George Flint chanted quietly as the tall, slender shadows walked across the cliff face, ceremonial staff clearly and sharply silhouetted in the silhouette's left hands hand and ears of corn, equally distinct, in their right. Sings-At-Dawn ran his arm shoulder-deep, fingers splayed: he felt fingers brush his, and he grasped a wrist, and the hand grasped his. Sings-At-Dawn’s teeth clicked together and he pulled, hard, then stood. Sarah emerged from the blue portal like a swimmer coming up from a long, deep dive: Sings-At-Dawn fell back, and Sarah fell on top of him, and the pair landed unceremoniously on the sand-covered rock. Sarah rolled over, scrambled to her feet, looking back at the portal. “Mama?” she called. “Mama!” The cliff-shadows stopped, and a new shadow appeared between them, the shape of a woman: her arms raised, and a set of wings spread, and then the shadows were gone. Something soft and silent flew over the little fire – an owl, snowy and ghostlike in the darkness, its wingtips just brushing Sarah’s shoulder – and atop the cliff, Sarah saw the white wolf, watching her. Sings-At-Dawn looked at her, eyes gentle and concerned. “Sarah?” he asked quietly. “You okay?” Sarah sniffed and fumbled for her bandana. Sings-at-Dawn hooked a gentle forefinger under the magazine tube of Sarah’s rifle, swung it up and frowned at the muzzle. He looked over at Dr. Flint. The two placed a hand on either side of the gunbarrel and spoke a word, and black ichor sizzled and disappeared, leaving clean, brown octagon barrel behind: they lowered their hands to the crescent butt plate and spoke a word, and there was another searing sizzle. Sarah wiped her eyes and laid delicate fingers in the hollow of her throat. The Sheriff looked over at his niece and saw disappointment, saw her shoulders sag, as if she’d just lost something precious.
  19. Linn Keller 9-16-11 “Who the hell are you?” the man challenged, fist cocked. Sarah brought the rifle to shoulder. “I’M SARAH,” she said coldly, and drove a 40-caliber bullet through the man’s chest. He blinked at the report. Sarah cranked the rifle’s lever. “What’s wrong, Papa?” Sarah shouted into the ringing blue cloud. “Don’t like being hit?” She fired again, her second bullet striking an inch from the first, splintering the cabin wall behind him. Her Papa looked down at his undamaged chest, looked up at Sarah, faded out of existence… gone. She looked down at her Mama, gasping weakly, her face gone a fatal slate-grey. “No,” she groaned, as the Sarah-that-was staggered from her little bed, one hand across her belly, tears running down her young cheeks. “Mama?” the little-Sarah quavered, and Sarah remembered the moment, when she too staggered across the floor, holding her belly, hurt, but knowing her Mama was hurt as well – Her childhood home disappeared, and she was in Bonnie’s room. Bonnie and Duzy were talking, Bonnie in a stained and torn slip, and Duzy in her fine dress and hat. Sarah looked toward the bed and knew the Sarah-that-was, the Sarah-she’d-been, was hiding under there, hurt, crying: no one had killed her Papa, her Mama was dead, and she was alone, alone … Reality twisted and Sarah clutched Jacob’s rifle to her. She was somewhere, somewhere – downstairs? – and her Papa was loud and threatening Duzy. He cocked a fist. Sarah raised her rifle, remembering how he’d beaten her Mama. She felt the smooth-walnut gunstock against her cheek and took a quick sight on the back of her Papa’s head – There was the sharp crack of a Derringer and Duzy stepped quickly back, the little two-pipe reticule gun in her gloved grip, and Sarah's Papa staggered back, making a funny choking sound. She watched him slide to the floor and die. Sarah stepped up to the man, looked at Duzy. Her Papa’s spirit peeled out of his body and stood, confused, then looked at Sarah. “Who the hell are you?” he shouted, and Sarah stepped in and smacked him across the jaw with the steel crescent butt plate, then driving it straight-on into his face. This time there was the satisfyingly solid contact of a real body. Sarah hit him hard both times and the man fell back with a cry of pain, his hands going to his face. “I’M SARAH,” she screamed, her face contorting with anger. “Sarah?” he mumbled, spit a broken tooth into his palm. He charged Sarah. Sarah spun, twisted, lithe as a willow switch, kicking him behind the knee as he went past, drove the steel crescent into his kidneys on the way by. The man hit the floor, face down, a groan of pain ripping from his throat. Sarah turned and looked at her Papa’s dead body, impossibly still, unmoving; she saw Duzy, one hand to her lips, shocked. “Duzy?” Sarah quavered. Duzy did not seem to hear her. Sarah turned. She walked over to her dead Papa’s shade, lying on the floor as if he were still alive, and squatted beside him. “What’s the matter, Papa?” she asked. “Don’t like being beaten?” “I’ll kill you,” he gasped, pushing up off the floor. Sarah drew her knife, casually cut his ear off: as he clapped a hand to his ear, she sliced the back of his hand, quickly, savagely, cutting it to the bone. “You forgot something,” Sarah hissed, cutting his upper arm again, longways with the bone. He tried to roll away. Sarah wiped the blade quickly on his vest, one side, then the other, and stood. “Little girls grow up, Papa,” she said coldly. “I’m Sarah. I’m your little girl.” Something behind Sarah raised the hairs on her neck and her arms, and she turned, tossing the knife and bringing the rifle up. Sarah had never seen a demon before but when she looked at this black silhouette with bat’s wings and cloven hooves, she realized this must be what one looks like. “You want him?” she asked, unafraid. The creature hissed. Something touched her arm from behind and she spun, striking fast and hard. The octagon rifle barrel made solid contact with something bony and Sarah drove the bloody crescent butt plate into the second demon’s face. Stepping into the second dark creature, she drove the barrel like a bayonet into its belly, then yanked the rifle straight back and drove the butt plate into the belly of the first demon. Both creatures screamed, a high, whistling screech, and bent over, holding their middles. Sarah stepped back. “If you want him,” she said coldly, “take him!” Her Papa’s shade sat up, eyes wide, clutching his injured hand. “No,” he gasped. Sarah squatted quickly, snatched up her knife, thrust it into the horizontal sheath at the back of her belt. "Noooo," Sarah's Papa whimpered, his word squeezing out of his fear-tightened throat. “Yes,” a woman’s voice said, and Sarah looked up. Her Mama stood there, young and beautiful, the way Sarah remembered her: her hair was light-auburn, glowing with health, rich with color, shining and clean: her dress was in the same shades of blue she loved, her apron pure, spotless white. Pure, Sarah thought, realizing that was a perfect descriptor for her Mama's appearance. “You must go with them, Walter,” she said, her voice calm and pleasantly modulated. “You have earned your passage.” “No, no, no,” Walter whined. “No, not that, no, don’t take me, don’t –“ He looked frantically from one demon-shadow to the other, desperate, looking around for an escape, whimpering: his voice rose to a wail as the shades seized him, his voice rising to a scream as their black claws dug into his shadow-flesh. “NOOOOOOOO!” Darkness swallowed demons and damned and wailing voice alike, and Sarah took a long, steadying breath as her Papa's agonized voice faded, and was gone. The hallway was lighter now. Sarah turned, lowering her rifle’s muzzle, holding it by the wrist, letting the barrel swing down and point to the dirty floor underfoot. Sarah’s Mama tilted her head a little to the side, her hands folded in front of her the way Sarah remembered, the way Sarah loved. “Mama?” Sarah said, her voice quavering a little. “Sarah,” her Mama said in the warm and welcoming voice Sarah remembered, and opened her arms. “Oh, Mama,” Sarah gasped, running into her Mama’s arms, and her Mama was solid and real and warm and she smelled like Sarah remembered, and Sarah wrapped her arms around the woman that had been taken from her so young, taken too early – “Let me look at you,” her Mama said in an approving voice, drawing Sarah back to arm’s length and appraising her the way mothers do. She raised a gentle hand and brushed the backs of her fingers across Sarah’s cheek, catching the drop of moisture as it spilled over her penthouse lid. “You look so much like my own mother,” her Mama whispered, and Sarah could contain herself no longer. “Oh, Mama,” she cried, and her Mama held her, and rocked her a little, the way she used to when Sarah was a little girl, and scared of the storm or a nightmare or a sound in the night. Sarah did not know how long the two of them held each other, and she did not care: she had her Mama again, and she did not want to let her go. Her Mama drew her back again, back to arm’s length, and smiled, a knowing, sad Mama-smile. “You are so lovely,” she whispered. “I hoped you would be.” “Mama, I missed you,” Sarah choked. “I know, dear, and I have missed you for so very long.” Sarah fumbled for a bandanna, blew her nose in a loud, un-ladylike honk: given the circumstances, this was most understandable. “Mama, can you come back with me?” Sarah asked, her voice thick, and her Mama shook her head slowly. “I can’t,” she said. “I have to go on to the Light.” “But Mama,” Sarah choked, tears welling up and spilling over again, “I don’t want you to go!” Sarah’s breath caught in her throat and she hiccupped and tried again, anguish in her face and in her voice. “Mama, I want to be a little girl again. I want to grow up like I was supposed to! I want to be your Sarah!” Her Mama reached up under her hair at the back of her neck, drew out a necklace: quickly, urgently, she put it around Sarah’s neck, fastened it: she turned the light-and-dark-blue cameo so it faced out, laid it carefully in the little hollow between Sarah’s collar bones. “This was your grandmother’s,” she whispered, biting her lip: Sarah could see her Mama was fighting tears, and she knew her time was very near: her smile was gentle, a Mama's proud and loving smile, but a little sad. "You are growing up as you are supposed to, Sarah. Your life is important and so is that of your children, and their children, and children after them." Her hands, her Mama-hands, were warm and soft against Sarah's quivering cheeks. I am so very proud of you!” She looked up, and Sarah looked up as well. A blue circle was opening above them. “Sarah, you are growing as you are supposed to,” she whispered urgently, her hands light and gentle on Sarah’s shoulders. “You are my little girl and I am so very proud of you, and you are Bonnie’s little girl as well, and you mean so very much to so many people!” Her Mama bit her bottom lip, then kissed Sarah’s cheek. They held each other for a very long moment. It was lighter around them both now, and Sarah could smell springtime, the scent of a thousand green growing things. “Time to go,” her Mama whispered, and took Sarah’s left hand, drawing it high overhead. “Reach up, dear,” she whispered. “Reach up!”
  20. Linn Keller 9-15-11 Sarah hesitated, then thumbed the hammer down to half cock. No. She waited until they went in the back door, then she rose, cat-footed her way along the back of the Jewel, head on a swivel. She heard Shorty’s voice cheerfully profaning a pig eared hook nosed refugee from a glue factory and knew he was behind his livery, in the training lot. Good, she thought. He can’t see me. That man doesn’t miss seeing a thing! She leaned her back against the dusty clap boards, felt their edges dig into her shoulder blades and took a long, steadying breath. Her legs were shaking. She stopped them with a massive effort of sheer will, but her stomach was tight and turning over. Sarah waited a full minute before slipping in the back door, closing it behind her. She burned with hatred for the man who would smack a little child up the stairs, then beat and brutalize the woman who became her mother – I could kill him, she thought, and hear heart beat faster. I really could. Sarah’s lips were pulled back, exposing even, white teeth: her eyes were pale now, pale and huge, and she was trembling a little. In the kitchen – just to her right – she knew it was Daisy at the stove, Daisy muttering in Gaelic, stirring something bubbling and fragrant, and for a moment Sarah was distracted by the realization that she was hungry … then she looked upstairs, where her young self and her brutal Papa had just ascended. Sarah remembered that hard, callused hand belting the back of her head hard enough to click her teeth together. Sarah remembered worse things, far worse things. I CAN kill him! To think was to act. Sarah flowed up the stairs, low, climbing silently on two feet and one hand, rifle gripped at balance point in her right: she was a hunting animal now, a predator, intent on taking down prey, dangerous prey. She came to the top of the stairs, thrust the rifle out, took a quick sight on the middle of her Papa’s back. A figure came out of Bonnie’s room, a woman in a fine dress and hat. Sarah’s finger snapped off the trigger and she brought her head up, eyes wide. Duzy? Reality twisted and blurred around her and she was kneeling beside a bed. Sarah turned quickly, swinging the rifle’s muzzle around, but no one else was in the tidy little cabin. She looked around, eyes wide. Home … I’m home! Sarah stood, listened: she saw her little bed across the room, the one she occupied when she was a little girl taking three steps to the yard. She smelled her Mama, she smelled the quilt, the way it always smelled … clean, sun-dried, like the outdoor air – Another lurch, and something – someone – landed heavily on the bed. It was her Mama, bleeding. Her Papa stood, fists doubled, then he came after her and landed on top of her: punching his wife in the ribs, hard, he grunted with each blow. Sarah’s Mama was beyond pain. Her nose was laid over against her cheek and her eyes were swollen and discolored and Sarah heard ribs crack. Sarah looked across the room. Her little bed had been neatly and tidily made but a moment ago. Now it was … destroyed. A small leg hung over the edge. Sarah remembered what her Papa had done to her, after he’d beaten her with the razor strop. Sarah’s thumb brought Jacob’s rifle to full cock and she stood. Her Papa raised his head and looked at her, surprised. “Hello, Papa,” Sarah said in a voice that would freeze water.
  21. Linn Keller 9-14-11 The Sheriff unsaddled his gelding, spread the saddle blanket out flat on the sandy rock bench: methodically, unhurriedly, he divested himself of his white man’s clothing, exposing a number of scars to Dr. Flint’s practiced eye. The doctor knew the history behind most of them. Most of them. The Sheriff was soon in breechclout and moccasins, a simple belt, knife on one side, hatchet on the other: he reached in his saddlebag and pulled out two clay pots with skin covers: dipping two fingers in one, he striped his cheeks, his chest, a brilliant vermilion; two fingers of the other hand, a dip into the second pot, and he striped again, twin lines of black. Dr. Flint’s eyes were impassive as he watched the tall lawman’s preparations. The Sheriff began singing softly, a melody Dr. Flint almost recognized, words he very nearly understood: the Sheriff sang in Cherokee, a song of power, a song more ancient than men’s memory, a song given at the dawn of creation. He circled the fire, sunwise, three times, stopping three times at the same point to philter a pinch of fragrant herbs on the flame. The fire surged, red, green, blue. Dr. Flint made a series of passes over the flames with his hands, and the flames responded, growing with each gesture: Sings-At-Dawn, as the Sheriff had been known as a young man, matched the Navajo’s moves, and the flame grew again, until it twisted and snarled as tall as a man’s head, but as slender as a lean man’s waist. Sings-At-Dawn sat, gracefully, across the fire from his counterpart: cross legged, erect, his lean face shadowed and sculpted by the living flame’s dynamic light, he sat, unmoving, waiting, looking off into the dark. On the cliff’s rough face, to the side of the pair, tall shadows walked. Sarah gasped as she passed through the disk, gasped as if she’d just jumped in a deep, cold mountain lake: then she stood, flat-footed, knees bent, turning, rifle in both hands, nostrils flared. She was standing on the board walk in front of the Silver Jewel. Her eyes narrowed and she turned, moving to get the wall to her back: it was Firelands, and it was the familiar main street, but it was different, it was … Primitive, a voice whispered, and she almost smiled. The Jewel – the Silver Jewel, behind her – was unpainted, the windows were dirty, the curtains within were soiled and sun-bleached: there were no gas lights to be seen, the Mercantile looked by contrast quite new and tidy, and the board walk ended not far beyond the Silver Jewel. There was no stone edifice of a municipal building, just a weathered, clapboard structure with a cracked window facing the broad alley: she looked the other way and there was no library building. Sarah took a few quick steps to her left, spun, rifle at the ready, cleared the alleyway: she faded into its shadow, her back hard against the building, looked up at windows bare of curtain or care, dirty and flyspecked. A woman looked out one window. Sarah blinked, looked again. “Mama?” she whispered. Sarah swallowed hard, looked around again, her stomach tightening: her quick ear picked up the sound of an approaching wagon. Why does that sound so familiar? she thought, and then the wagon passed the mouth of the alley, and Sarah’s stomach fell about ten feet. Sarah saw her Papa driving the wagon, and beside him, a little girl in a torn and dirty dress, hair in need of a brushing, hands dirty … Sarah saw herself as she was, the day after her Papa beat her Mama to death. Sarah looked up at the window. The woman was gone. Sarah knew the woman was Bonnie McKenna – her Mama – not her birth-mother, but the woman who had adopted her – Sarah dizzied for a moment, the memories of being a scared, hurt, neglected little girl surging over her like waves in the ocean: she took a shivering breath, wiped the back of her hand hard across her eyes, shook her head. The only kindness she'd known in the dark days after her Mama's murder had been from the working girls, upstairs, in the Silver Jewel. They'd bathed her and they'd patched her dresses or sewn her new ones, they'd fed her and brushed her hair and sang little songs to her, and for moments, brief moments, she knew happiness, at least until she heard noises from the other rooms, and the girls hesitated and looked fearfully to the thin walls, knowing what was happening, and helpless to stop it. Sarah heard the wagon turn down the alley the way it always did, and stop where it always did, behind the Silver Jewel, and she knew her Papa would slap the back of his little girl’s head, hard enough she would taste copper, and tell her roughly to get the hell out of the wagon. Sarah drifted back through the alley, weight on the balls of her feet, breathing through her mouth, breathing silently. Sarah’s memory, perhaps prompted by the proximity of her younger self, remembered her Mama … she remembered the gentleness of her Mama’s hands, how warm and safe she felt in her Mama’s lap … and how her Papa had taken this away from her. Sarah made it to the corner of the alley, removed her hat, leaned down and peeked around the corner. She saw her younger self, silent tears streaking her dirty face, following her Papa to the Jewel’s back door. Sarah knew she would be hit again when she went inside, generally slapped on the bottom multiple times going upstairs the way he always did, hitting her hard enough to bring her worn, flat-soled shoes off the stair tread: she would generally fall against the stairs a few times from the strength of his blows, banging shins and forearms and sometimes spraining a wrist. Sarah brought her rifle to shoulder, the front bead bright on her Papa’s chest. You black hearted monster, she thought, you’re going to go upstairs and hit Bonnie again, and her finger found the smoothness of the trigger.
  22. Linn Keller 9-12-11 The solution was almost tea colored and smelled of clover and of springtime. Sarah put it to her lips and drank. Dr. Flint accepted the wooden bowl and nodded to the Sheriff. Linn stood behind Sarah, loose and relaxed: his part would come soon enough, he knew, but in the meantime they wanted to make sure the decoction would have its desired effect. Sarah swallowed again, clearing her throat delicately, uncertain as to what she should be feeling, but knowing what she'd just drunk would have a significance of some kind. Dr. Flint squatted on the cliff side of the little fire, carefully smoothing the sand: he had a level area about a yard square or roughly so, and Sarah tilted her head curiously, watching the man dip his hand in a pouch, then trickle something ... colored sand, she realized ...in a circle. The Navajo surgeon's hands, though blunt and strong, were dextrous, skilled: Sarah watched intently as the circle became an azure disk, looking like a pool of cloudless sky suspended a fraction of an inch above the sand. The Sheriff's hand was warm on her right elbow, his left on her hip just above belt line, and a good thing. The ground was slowly, inexorably describing a distinct list to starboard. Dr. Flint's hand journeyed between the blue circle and the bag, hovering over the flawless sky-color, fingers in controlled motion. Come and see, the voice-whisper bade her, and she took a step, took another. Sarah bent a little, hands on her knees, and set her boots shoulder width apart, gazing into the sky-disk. What do you see? Sarah smiled. "I see Mama," she whispered slowly, seeing a laughing woman picking up a laughing little girl-baby. She remembered her mother's hands, her mother's laugh, she remembered how her Mama smelled, she remembered her Mama's hands and how warm and cuddled she felt -- The scene sizzled with red and Sarah's head drew back. She felt ... no, she tasted fear ... fear that saturated her young soul, and she fell, fell from her mother's hands. An angry voice, a rough voice: the meaty sound of knuckles on flesh and her mother's eye started to purple and swell almost immediately. The sound of tearing cloth -- Sarah started to cry -- "Not in front of the baby," her Mama's voice begged, and then the sounds of a woman in anguish, in pain, and Sarah's vision hazed a little -- You are seeing the past. The voice restored her to reason. You are seeing what was. Sarah's vision cleared. Her Mama was older, drawn, her hair shot with silver though not yet halfway to her mid twenties: she looked like an unpainted shed in the middle of the prairie, bleached and dried by sun and wind until little remained of the beautiful, vital young woman she had once been. Sarah saw herself as a young girl, big-eyed, quiet, afraid to move or speak around her Papa, lest she incite the man to rage. He had beaten her too, and worse. Sarah's body shivered as if from a chill, then as from the ague: she saw the brutality visited upon an innocent young girl, horror that should never be known to even a grown woman, and how her Mama tried to stop the man, and was beaten for her efforts, beaten and beaten and beaten again. You are seeing what was, the voice whispered, and Sarah felt all the fear, all the loss, all the hurt, all the hopeless despair of a victimized child -- Something in Sarah roared to life, and Dr. George Flint looked in alarm at the young woman, backing away from the shimmering blue circle, her eyes gone from wide and alarmed to ablaze. "No," he whispered, horrified, and the Sheriff backed up a step as Sarah bent and snatched up Jacob's rifle. Sarah jumped into the shimmering blue circle feet first, disappearing as if she'd jumped into deep water: the blue disk wobbled, then smoothed, looking as calm as it had been.
  23. Linn Keller 9-11-11 Fred Jerome looked at the sounder as if it had just grown great flappping ears and shook a trout at him. There was no mistaking the message. A slow grin claimed his face, broad and genuine. He'd automatically written down the message as it came in, and he re-read his precise print: MARRIED X RETURNING X MORE LATER X It was signed with the single letter L: L for Lightning, his father's signature, which he inherited when the fine man became a silent key. Fred Jerome chuckled and rubbed his hands together, then grasped the brass key's button delicately between thumb and middle finger, index finger on top of the round black gutta-percha disk: FB OM was his reply: Fine Business, Old Man: Lightning would know the pride and approval behind the words. Fred leaned back in his chair and laughed aloud, then he looked over at the cot against the back wall. "I get you all to myself now," he chuckled. The cot made no reply. Lightning, and Mrs. Lightning, stood in the Cripple Creek telegraph office: Lightning's hand was about wore out from being wrung by so many happy folk, his back was sore from the pounding approval of many palms, and his daintly bride blushed furiously at all the attention -- but few missed the glances she gave her husband, nor the way Lightning held her: carefully, delicately, as if she were fine porcelain. "You and the Missus headed back now, are you?" Franklin asked, peering through his round-lensed spectacles, then dropping his head so he could look over them and actually see something. Lightning looked at his beautiful bride and then at Franklin. "We've some business to tend first," he said briskly. Franklin pulled out his watch, consulted the black hands thereon: "You know the railroad runs right on time, don't you?" Lightning nodded, looked at his bride. "We won't be late," she said breathlessly. Franklin nodded wisely: he was within a year of Lightning's father's age, and he regarded the two with a mixture of pride, and surprise, and wistfulness, for he remembered what it was to be a young man and newly wed. "Mommy?" Angela asked. "Howcomeforwhy we innada police station?" Esther smiled and touched her wide-eyed little girl's curled hair, drawing a stray lock back into place. "I have to give a statement," she said. "I have to tell them exactly what happened, so they will know what to tell Judge Hostetler." Angela's smile was quick and genuine. "I likeada Judge Hots-tetler," she declared with an emphatic nod. Esther laughed, rested her gloved hand lightly on her little girl's shoulder. "Mrs. Keller?" a uniformed officer asked. "We're ready for you, ma'am." Daciana's eyes were wide as gold coins jingled into her cupped hands. "We've sold the circus," the roustabout said quietly. "The boss did us all dirty and he's gonna get his. We wanted you to have your rightful share." "But, but, but," Daciana stuttered, looking from the muscled and mustachioed man to the composed and hypnotic Snake Lady. "You will want your wagon," she hissed quietly, "and itsss contentsss." Daciana thought quickly. "If we're selling the circus," she said, "sell the wagon too. Someone will need a home and it was always a happy home." "Itsss contentssss?" Daciana smiled, that bright, flashing smile that brought joy to laborer and performer and audience member alike. "We lived simply and with little," she said. "There's little room in a circus van for things. I can have it empty in five minutes." In reality, it took twenty-five. "Mommy?" "Yes, sweets?" "Did Mitster Lightning really get married?" "Yes, sweets, he did." "Oh." They walked a little further, Esther's heels loud on the neglected boardwalk, Angela's flat-soled shoes almost soundless. "Mommy?" "Yes, sweets?" "I like Mildew." "Mildred," Esther smiled. "Or Zanzibar." "Mildew," Angela said firmly with an emphatic nod. They walked on for another few minutes. "Mommy?" "Yes, sweets?" "Whatsadat whodat why dey puttin' stuff innada your wailcar?" -- then she recognized the tall, spare figure, mostly because of the turban and baggy silks, and exclaimed, "Mommy! Itsada Mitster Lightning!" Dr. George Flint added another few twigs to the fire. Darkness was approaching. He looked up at the smooth cliff face behind and nodded. He was almost ready.
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