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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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Everything posted by Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

  1. Linn Keller 7-9-11 Jacob slouched in the doorway of the Sheriff's office, smiling a little as those first fat drops began assaulting the overhanging roof above the board walk in front of the little log fortress. "I always did like the smell," Jackson Cooper said quietly, handing Jacob a hot blue-granite cup of steaming, fragrant coffee. Jacob nodded. "Always smells good, beginnin' a rain," he agreed. "Thank you." The two sipped coffee in companionable silence. It had been rather warm earlier, and the oncoming storm cooled the air fast: Jacob was grateful for the hot drink, and for the wearing of his coat: it was his usual attire, unless it was considerably warmer, in which case he might strip clear down to his vest, but no further, as any less would be immodest. "Good coffee," he murmured. Jackson Cooper's eyes showed his amusement. "It's not your Pa's batch," he said, and somehow managed to sound absolutely innocent. "For which," Jacob added, attempting an equally innocent expression and almost succeeding, "we are profoundly grateful!" Lightning hit somewhere near, sounding like a howitzer: Jacob flinched, wiped the coffee-dribble off his chin and looking around. "That warn't good," he said, looking around, then stepped to the edge of the roof's sheltering protection, looked down the alley. "See anything?" Jackson Cooper asked, turning to look out his end of the roofed porch. "Nope." The two returned to their slouching-posts on either side of the doorway. A stray dog scuttled under the boardwalk in front of the Jewel, sheltering from the wet: there was a screech, a yowl, and the dog streaked out from under the boardwalk and scrambled down the alley towards the livery. "Reckon he found the cat." "Reckon so." Both blue-granite cups raised in slow synchronization; both lawmen drank.
  2. Linn Keller 7-8-11 I knew when my beautiful bride spoke quietly in her native Carolinian, that someone was in more than deep trouble. I knew by the casual expertise with which she controlled the man, with that sharpened blade under his chin, he was about a half inch from meeting his Maker and likely being booted out of the meeting immediately after. I also knew things were getting very, very bad. It was getting dark and getting dark fast and every hair on my arms stood straight up and I smelled ozone. That livery horse was really antsy and my black horse wanted to come around and crowd up behind me the way he would when he was afeared and I got to looking around. The ribbon tails on Esther's top hat were starting to float. I looked at that black horse's mane and his mane was starting to float out and the tail started to fur out on Angela's little red mare and I knew we were in for hell visiting itself on the earth in really short order. I have seen cowpunchers in such a situation throw away everything metallic on them -- rifles, pistols, watches and knives, even their spurs -- in a vain attempt at avoiding a lightning strike. Generally it didn't work. When that horse thief took out and showed me a clean set of heels my concern was for my wife and my daughter. I drew in a great lungful of air and time slowed the way it does sometimes. I saw Angela's arm slow, slow, like she was throwing a ball, and I heard her high, cheerful voice. I saw Esther look at me, her eyes big, knowing something was very wrong and about to get much worse. I saw the running man about fifty yards away, just before the fiery finger of judgement hit him squarely and his sinful carcass was sterilized from the inside out by more heat than a furnace can generate. "TO THE BARN!" I bellowed. "MOUNT UP AND RIDE! RUN!" "angeLAA!" Esther called, her voice like a trumpet, pure, clear and penetrating: Angela was frozen, arm extended, probably blind for a moment, and a mercy that was. I don't want to think my little girl saw a man blown apart by a direct lightning strike. I was in the saddle and reaching for the black horse's bridle: it took some effort to get the Appaloosa and the black horse facing the same direction and I lost my grip and in that moment I thought, The hell with you, and Angela shot me a look -- I reached over and smacked Esther's mare, hard, and screamed "GIT!" The mare, startled, shot away from my stinging swat. The Appaloosa started to crow-hop and I drove my fist hard down between its ears, brought its head around by main strength. "ANGELA! WITH ME!" I roared, and Angela did not have to be told twice. She spun her red mare and the little red mare allowed as it did not like being where it was, and I remember how Angela's hat-tails, like Esther's, were starting to float. I slashed viciously with the tails of my reins, probably raising a welt on the Appaloosa's hinder: she reared her head up and followed Esther and Angela. I need not have worried about the black horse. Horses are herd animals and this one saw its herd heading that-a-way, and the black horse had no wish to be left behind. Lightning hit somewhere near, I don't have any notion where: there were flashes like magnesium flash-powder, turning everything a blue-white, the sound of cannon and cannon again and the rain turned loose like Heaven kicked over a monstrous barrel the size of a young ocean. The three of us fought for the barn and glad I was the doors were open, for we crowded inside, out of the driving rain, and I threw my reins to Esther and fell out of the wet-slick saddle. How I kept my feet I'll never know. I hauled the doors shut and got them fast and stood there, leaning against the closed doors, feeling them heave and groan as wind pulled and sobbed at the heavy wood portals: finally I stood upright again, and mechanically began unsaddling the appaloosa and the black horse, and leading them to stalls for grain and for a gunny sacking. Esther sat there, erect, regal, unmoving: I could tell she was considering what had just happened, and she was probably doing her best to be calm, to be strong, for Angela. Angela, on the other hand, made a little whining, whimpering sound and sniffed a little. I fished around and came up with a mostly dry hankie: walking over to our little girl I handed it to her and said "Here, honey, blow your nose," and she did, making a remarkably loud honk in the shadowed barn. I reached up and took her about the waist and she came out of the saddle to me, and I held her as she made the little sounds of distress a little girl-child will when she is afeared. I soothed her and patted her back and shhh'd her, making the reassuring Daddy-noises that Daddies make when their little girl is distressed, and I looked up at Esther. Esther was still sitting erect in the saddle, her fencing blade corrrectly vertical, in front of her right shoulder, and leaned back against her shoulder, and I blinked, remembering. Though our ride for the barn was with the desperation of survival, Esther rode like a Lady, and she rode correctly, and her blade was upright against her shoulder in just that same manner. Esther fixed me with a green-eyed glare and spoke quietly. "Don't you dare call me Lightning Rod," she said, and Angela squirmed and wailed: "Mommy, I lost my haaat!"
  3. Linn Keller 7-8-11 "Billy wears girls' shoes, Billy wears girls' shoes," Tommy sing-songed, dancing just out of reach. Billy lunged at him, clutching at Tommy's overall straps. "You take that back!" Tommy dodged but Billy got a handful of denim and pulled, hard. The two boys collided, rolled in the dirt, each of them cheerfully pounding the other: both scrambled to their feet, fists cocked, mustering the fiercest faces they could manage: Billy peeled his lips back in a snarl, Tommy narrowed his eyes: each regarded the other's visage ... and laughed. "C'mon, I know where Pa hid some skyrockets!" Billy shouted, slapping Tommy's shoulder, and the two sprinted across the alley and down behind the row of weather-boarded houses, and into a barn. The sky was darkening, clouds lowering: the boys had watched as a stranger spurred the Sheriff's black gelding down the street, followed not long after by the Sheriff on an Appaloosa: the two had watched this marvel, listened hopefully for the sound of gunshots; when nothing transpired, they looked at one another, Tommy insulted Billy, and the fight was on. Now the two -- long time friends, or at least as long as they'd known one another, which was about a month, a long time in a young boy's life -- they came to the shed behind Billy's house. "Ssshhh," Billy cautioned, finger to turned-out lips, and the two crept quietly into the shed. Billy tilted a keg up on its edge, rolled it over to another; stepping way up on the first, then onto the second, taller barrel, he reached up on a shelf and handed Tommy down two brightly-papered skyrockets with long, red wood tail shafts. "We gonna set 'em off here?" Tommy asked eagerly. "You got a Lucifer?" Billy reached up and pulled a glass jar off the shelf. "I got lucifers," he said: "let's set 'em off down the street so Ma don't catch us!" "Okay!" Tommy whispered, suddenly realizing the need for stealth. Two young heads poked out the doorway, one looking east, the other west; the two turned, regarded one another, then both sprinted down the alleyway again, for an empty shed they both knew of, a shed where they conducted scienterrific speermints, like mixing kerosene with dirt to make a flammable mud, or seeing who could recite the longest list of swear words without taking a breath -- important stuff like that. Rain was just starting to form up and fall in fat, cold drops as the two ducked into the shelter of the shed: the roof was imperfect, and the two had to twist and turn once inside the open-backed structure to find a place where the faulty roof actually kept them somewhat dry. "Whattawe gonna set it on to set it off?" Billy asked, suddenly concerned. Tommy looked around, saw two boards that had been nailed together in a V shape: he looked outside, saw a handy rain barrel. "There!" he exclaimed in low voice, thrusting an eager finger at the launch cradle: he seized the convenient construction, leaned it against the rain barrel without, flinching at the onslaught of chilly precipitation that drove into his shoulders and down his back: scuttling back into the shelter of the leaky shed, he shook like a dog shivering water from his pelt and squinted at the lead-colored sky. "How we gonna light the fuse in the rain?" Billy complained. "Here," Tommy said. "You strike the Lucifer and hold it." Tommy fumbled in the jar, came out with a fat headed, strike anywhere match. He looked around, found a convenient stone, scratched the tip across the rock: it sizzled and spit, tossing pieces of burning phosphorus, and Tommy thrust the fuse of the first skyrocket into the miniature conflagration. The fuse caught and began to sizzle and spark. Tommy dashed out, leaned the lighted skyrocket into the V and scampered back. The two boys hugged one another, staring breathlessly at the sizzling fuse, watching the orange flame surround itself with a minor constellation of orange sparks as it climbed hungrily up the hand-twisted Chinese fuse, and disappeared into the rocket body: there was an eternity of silence, then with a sudden, loud, high-pitched swish! the rocket thrust a blue cloud against the earth and launched itself into the heavens, trailing smoke and sparks and two little boys' eyes! Rain clouds generally carry a static charge; thick, tall clouds carry a heavy static charge; there had been mutters of thunder, flashes of cloud-to-cloud lightning, to which neither boy paid the least bit of attention: now, though, the static buildup was strong enough to coalesce and follow an ionized trail, a trail left by a climbing skyrocket, and about the time the rocket spent the last of its life in a glorious, shining waterfall of star-burning beauty, a bolt of lightning seized its smoke trail and seared its way to the earth below. Billy and Tommy were knocked back, back into the shed with the force of the concussion: the jar of Lucifers ignited, flaring briefly, brightly, before dying in an oxygen-deprived gasp of sulfur smoke; two little boys lay motionless on the dirt floor, barely breathing. The remaining skyrocket, forgotten, had fallen under a board, rolled; now the rain without ran an exploring, wet finger, seeking its lowest elevation; the skyrocket lay in a little depression, and very soon was soaked and useless. It was just as well. Tommy and Billy swore off skyrockets that day, and true to their vow, never set match to such a firework again (though both were fond of cannon crackers) ... but the two, though unrelated, found themselves marked by their common experience. When both regained full use of their senses, each found that about half the hair of his head was seared and missing: Billy had lost the hair on the right side of his head, and Tommy had lost the right side: when their hair grew back, it grew back in shock-white. From that day forward they were known as the Blaze Brothers, and in time, most believed they were blood brothers, and marked by a common ancestral trait of white hair on one side of the head. The Appaloosa was a good mare and she was running well, and the Sheriff rode right on past his spread: when he saw his wife riding hard after their little girl, and his black horse just falling over, the Sheriff's lips peeled back in a silent snarl and he urged the mare to greater speed. Esther did not remember her dismount, nor drawing her fencing blade from its scabbard: she did remember feeling her nostrils flare, her lips press together in a thin line, as she walked up on the cursing outlaw, struggling vainly to get his leg out from under the dead weight of his stolen mount. Esther took two quick steps and brought her foot down hard on his wrist as he realized her approach, and made a futile grab for his pistol: she snapped the blade up under his chin, turned it so its razored edge was against the softness of his throat. "Tell me, suh," she said in the soft Suth'n accent of her native Carolina, "did y'all shave this mawnin?" He jerked his left hand back and under, as if to push himself up, or perhaps access a left hand weapon: Esther drew the blade a few tenths of an inch, just enough to break the skin, and lifted her chin slightly. "Do not move, suh," she said, her voice soft, velvety: "You ah ridin' mah husband's hawss." "I won it fair and square," the horse thief squeaked, "it's mine, I tell you --" The Sheriff rode up, circled the outlaw, looked the scene over with a lawman's eye. "I see you have reduced the criminal to posession," the Sheriff nodded, turning his lapel over to display the six pointed star. "Horse thief, stealing the Sheriff's horse, assault on the Sheriff's wife and daughter ..." He let the implication dangle in the air like a hangman's noose dangles from a tree limb. "And you rode my black horse plumb to death," the Sheriff continued, his voice soft, quiet. "I don't take kindly to that." "Oh, my, God," the outlaw whispered in a strangled voice, realizing the man addressing him had those legendary, pale eyes. "You!" He looked across the still form of the black gelding, at Angela, solemn on her own golden mare. "You did it!" he hissed accusingly. "You killed the horse, you witch!" Esther pressed the flat of the blade against the underside of his stubbled chin. "Have a care, suh," she said in a velvety-smooth voice: "you ah addressing mah daughtah." The Sheriff sighed. "It's people like you who make more work for me," he said conversationally. "Now why don't you come along quiet-like and we'll get you bedded down in the jail nice and comfortable, and you can talk it over with His Honor the Judge tomorrow mornin'." The Sheriff looked at his big-eyed little girl. "Angela," he said, "bring this dead horse back to life." "Okay, Daddy," Angela said with a bright smile: she flowed down out of the saddle, bent over the dead horsie and whispered in its ear, patting its neck, its nose. The black horse grunted, blinked: with an effort, he made his feet, levered himself off the ground. Angela petted his velvety nose. "That's a good horsie," she said, nodding her head emphatically, and quickly put a hand up to steady her fine silk riding hat. The outlaw regarded this witchery with wide eyes: Esther withdrew her blade, casually drew the blade through a lace-trimmed kerchief to remove the trace of blood at its tip. Panic seized the outlaw. Too many days on the dodge, too long running from the law, too many sleepless nights and stressed-out days of knowing every man's hand was against him, that he had to escape the consequence of his sins, he had to run, run far and run fast, took their toll: in a mad moment of bad judgement, the outlaw scrambled to his feet and took off running, panicked, a condition that would in later years be recognized by the term "Blind Flight." Angela drew back her hand, thrust it as if throwing something at the fleeing man's shoulder blades: "Bad man! Dead!" she shouted. A bolt of lightning seared from the heavens, striking the outlaw and rending soul from flesh in one blinding detonation. The biggest piece of him the Sheriff found, once the rain quit, was the man's boots, with his feet still in them.
  4. Linn Keller 7-7-11 Shorty, like most Western men, was a man of pride. Shorty took pains to do his work well: he took pains to take pride in what he did: whether it was ensuring a horse shoe fit the horse's hoof exactly, or rasping a hoof down to exactly the right degree, whether ensuring a bridle were repaired to new quality or a saddle-girth was restored to its original strength and construction, Shorty took a fierce, an unwavering, an absolutely hard headed pride in doing what he did, right. This was so much a habit with him that when Shorty slept, Shorty slept well, soundly, and deeply. His slumber, as a matter of fact, was not in the least bit troubled by the arrival of two strangers -- two men on foot, both burdened by saddle and saddlebags, trail dust and sweat -- two men obviously foot-sore and fatigued, two men whose goal was to acquire fresh horses and continue their journey. They had not come into town by the regular route, and so missed the fancy new sign bearing the town's name, the Mayor's name (he'd had a new sign erected for the sole purpose of adding his own name in gilt-trimmed letters) and the date the Mayor fancied the town was established: in short, neither knew where they were, only that they had finally found horses, and the hostler was asleep, and they saw an opportunity to continue their hurried flight. One of the stable cats, as was her habit, responded to the invasion of their peaceable kingdom by seeking the comfort of Shorty's reassuring lap: Shorty, still asleep, reached up and caressed the tiger stripe, snoring softly as he did. "You reckon we kin git away with this?" the one hissed into the other's ear. The other fellow nodded, looking outside: seeing no one, he looked down the row of stalls, assessing the horseflesh, sorting quickly through them. He settled on a black gelding, a fine looking mount with a gleaming, jet coat, a healthy animal the color of freshly-mined bituminous: whispering, he eased into the stall with the animal, soothing it with touch and with voice, at least until he came to the brand. "Rusty!" he hissed, and his blood chilled significantly in his veins. Rusty was just coming into the livery, giving Shorty a long, careful lookin'-over: his head came up and he cat-footed back to his partner. "Look-a here!" Dirty fingers parted the hair, unnecessarily, for the brand was big enough to see easily -- a brand they both knew. They looked at one another, looked at the horse. Rusty swallowed. "Joey, you reckon he's still alive?" "Nah," Joey husked. "Attair white-eyed Sheriff kilt him some time ago." Fearful glances round about. "You don't reckon this is ..." Joey shivered. The black gelding shivered its pelt, dislodging a fly; Joey waved the fly from around his face, looked over the side of the stall toward the open door. Angela fidgeted a little like all little girls do as her Mommy fixed her hair. Esther had made a top hat with long ribbon tails, just like hers, and affixed it atop Angela's head: a touch here, a pin there, a fluff to the trailing tails, and she nodded in satisfaction. Angela blinked. "But Mommy," she said, "do I hafta wear all this to go wide?" Esther gave her darling daughter a loving Mommy-look. "Angela, dear," she said, "when we ride, we are representing our entire family. We are showing the world who we are, and what we are. Now, what are we?" "We are lay-dees of qual-la-tee," Angela said carefully, enunciating each syllable with the tinest of nods -- normally she would have given emphatic nods that would have set her finger curls to swinging, but today her hair was swept up, and she wore a fine hat like her Mommy, and she had yet to see herself in the mirror. Esther smiled and caressed Angela's glowing pink cheek. "That's right, sweets," she smiled. "Now let's take a look at ourselves, shall we?" She took Angela's hand and led her before the Great Mirror -- a mirror as tall as her Daddy, wide enough so her Mommy could see all of herself when she wore her best gowns -- a mirror that had been given special freighting from back East -- and Angela, steered by her Mommy's hands on her shoulders, stood in front of the mirror and looked. Esther's eyes smiled as her little girl's eyes grew big and round, and her little girl's mouth formed a deighted O of surprise. Angela saw two fine women, one young and beautiful, and one older and just as beautiful: two Ladies in matching riding-dresses and top hats, and Angela's hands went to her high stomach and she squeaked, "Mommy! Is that us?" and Esther laughed and looked down at her little girl and said "Yes, sweets, that is us!" Angela reached up to touch the riding-hat, but hesitated, and finally lowered her hand without touching the gleaming black silk topper. "But Mommy," she said in a tiny voice, "what if it falls off?" Esther laughed. "Oh, Sweets," she said, her voice like water tinkling over a mountain falls, "we won't be riding that fast!" "But I like to wide fast!" Angela protested, crossing her arms and pouting her bottom lip out: she frowned at her reflection in the mirror, and Esther saw the realization in her daughter's eyes: she blinked, surprised, drew in her lip-pout, uncrossed her arms and assued a more ladylike stance. Angela turned and looked up at her Mommy. "That didn't look good, did it?" Esther shook her head, smiling gently. "This looks better." "Yes, Sweets, it does." "Okay. Let's wide." The black horse had been reluctant at first: they slipped out the back of the livery and through the gate: they saddled their horses while standing in the open gateway, then mounted and left the gate open, walking their mounts across the meadow behind the livery, waiting a little distance before increasing their pace, not wanting to startle the dozing proprietor with the sound of galloping hooves. "Why'd ye say t' leave that gate open, Rusty?" "They'll be s' busy roundin' up them-there horses they'll not think t' look fer us." The hired man had set up the jumping rails again, like he had every day for the past two weeks. Rosebud was a quick learner; Angela was, too, and the two had quickly formed that magical bond that surpassed "a horse" and "a rider" ... the two had become one magical creature, and as Esther watched Angela and Rosebud flow over the barricades, one after another, she realized they they were truly one magical creature, and they rode the wind itself. Angela was fearless: she laughed with delight as Rosebud cleared the two-foot, the three-foot bars: she had told Angela to approach the three foot bars cautiously, and not to attempt a four foot jump at all. Angela, obediently, turned Rosebud, and came trotting back to her Mommy. "Mommy, I like it!" she declared. "It tickles my tubby when I go ober da bars!" "Oh-ver," Esther corrected her gently. "And it tickles your tum-mie. We must pronounce our words properly, my dear." "Tummm-mie," Angela said seriously, drawing out the "mmm" sound, then "oh-vvver." "Very good." Esther nodded, looked across the lot, where the rail fence was being dismounted for repair. It had one bar up, about two feet off the ground. "Mommy?" Angela said, surprised, turning her Rosebud and thrusting out an urgently-pointing arm. "Whyzadat man gotta Daddy's Black-horse?" Esther felt something cold run through her legs. "I don't know, sweets," she said slowly, "but -- Angela!" Angela whirled Rosebud, shot toward the gap in the rail fence. "Angela Keller, you come back her this ins -- oh, dear!" Rosebud shot through the gap in the fence like a golden arrow and Angela's voice trailed behind her: "You bad man! You get back here with Daddy's horsie!" Esther regretted sliding her fencing-scabbard under her leg instead of her double gun, but it was all she had. Esther's Wales-green eyes hardened and she turned her own blooded Kentucky mount. "YAAH!" she yelled, and Kentucky blood seared in her gelding's veins: he thrust against the earth and Esther, too, sailed through the gap in the rail fence, and went pounding across the high meadow after her daughter. Rusty drove his fist into his own thigh, swearing: his newly-stolen mount had taken a mis-step, had lamed, and Joey was leaving him in the dust. Rusty looked back at the town. If I leave my saddle and bridle here, he thought, I can take the horse back and claim he was a-wander ... yeah, I'll do that, he thought: then, considering the sore and blistered condition of his own feet, he thought, Hell, I'll ride it back far as I can. Looking across the shockingly-clear air at the back side of Firelands, he reconsidered, for he was in plain view of the livery, if at a distance. Hurriedly, he dismounted, removed saddle and blanket, dropped the bridle beside the saddle and dropped a loop around the horse's neck. Slowly, painfully, the pair hobbled back toward Firelands. The Sheriff knocked on the livery's door frame. "Shorty!" he called urgently. "Shorty, yer horses are out!" Shorty snorted. "Ag'in?" he muttered. "That red mare prob'ly pulled the latch ag'in." Mumbling, he got up, set the tiger cat on his just vacated seat, and limped over to the feed bin. "Weather comin'," he complained. "M'leg pains me these days." The Sheriff nodded. His own aches agreed with Shorty's. The Sheriff looked down the row of stalls. "Well hell," he muttered, "my black must've wandered off with the rest of 'em." The Mexican sun burns hot in the blood, whether the blood is searing through a well-dressed young caballero courting a pretty seniorita, or whether the blood is igniting in the heart of a golden mare with racing ancestors a thousand generations old: the lightweight little daughter of Kentucky, bent over her mare's neck, yelled encouragement, and the pursuing mother whispered to her own blooded mount. Three horses, in a line, running desperately across the Colorado landscape. The Sheriff looked up as the stranger limped into the livery's yard. The Sheriff had whistled, once, long and sweet; Shorty had rattled his feed bucket; every last horse had returned, quickly and willingly. All but the Sheriff's black horse. The stranger said something to Shorty about finding the horse out wandering, and then the stranger looked over at the Sheriff, and the stranger saw the Sheriff's eyes, cold eyes, ice-pale eyes, and the stranger lost about half the color in his face. "It warn't my idea," he stammered, "Joey made me take 'im!" "Where's Joey now?" the Sheriff asked quietly, pinning the man with his eyes like a professor would pin a butterfly to a cork board. "He took attair black horse an' headed west --" Shorty and the Sheriff looked at one another. "Take the Appaloosa," Shorty thrust his chin at a nearby mare. "She'll do!" Moments later, the Sheriff, his saddle on the rented livery horse, galloped out of the livery yard and turned west, toward his own spread. Surprised, Joey slowed up a little. A little girl was racing hard behind him, yelling. Joey laughed a little. He had expected pursuit, but not by a pretty little child, all dressed up like this. "You bad man!" the child yelled, "You get back here with my Daddy's horsie!" "Horsie?" he chuckled. "Missy, this is my horsie." "That's my Daddy's horsie and he'll put you in jail!" Angela yelled angrily. "He'll have to catch me," Joey shouted, angry now, and spurred the black horse. "BLACK HORSE! DEAD!" Angela shouted, throwing her hand at the black-horse like a she-witch casting a spell. The black horse, hearing angry and raised voices and feeling spurs dig cruelly into its hide, did what the black horse always did in such moments. The black horse coasted to a stop, wobbled, groaned and fell over in a dead faint.
  5. Linn Keller 7-5-11 The Sheriff was a hard man. The Sheriff was a blooded warrior, uncompromising in his values and beliefs. The Sheriff was scarred by war, both physically and spiritually, and yet he was a good and decent man, or as best he could manage, given all that had happened in his young life. His name was terror to the criminal and bane to the lawless; his fist was driven by the righteous lightning of the law, his hands were callused and strong and able to cause lethal damage by themselves, in addition to being well acquainted with fighting tools of many kinds, manufactured and improvised. The Sheriff's pale eyes were known to blaze with cold fire, and the last image a number of evil-doers had carried with them to their infernal reward was the sight of those cold, ice-pale eyes burning into their soul. The Sheriff's war-trained hands drew the blanket gently up around his little girl's chin, and brushed a curl of hair from his little girl's forehead: he bent over and kissed that smooth, flawless forehead, and Angela giggled at the brush of his muts-tash. Angela blinked, yawned: she wiggled a little, like a puppy wiggles with pleasure when it's warm and safe, and she murmured "Daddy?" "Yes, Princess?" he whispered. "Daddy, can we set off some sky-wockets sometime?" The Sheriff smiled, a gentle Daddy-smile. He remembered the expression of fascination, of delight, of discovery on his little girl's face as they watched the skyrockets and Roman candles: Angela had laughed and clapped her hands, shouting "Do it again! Do it again!" -- and the Sheriff had as much fun watching his little girl as he had watching the "bombs bursting in air." Angela had surprised him, too. He was used to thinking of her as Daddy's little girl -- emphasis on "little." Angela was not only growing in size, she was growing in skill, and her rides with Esther had been more instructive than he'd realized. Rosebud had reared several more times, each time ridden back down by a laughing, shouting Angela: Rosebud had never done more than rear, but by the third time the Sheriff's heart was no longer in his throat and he was no longer making fruitless grabs for the little mare's bridle. This may have had something to do with his awkward and unplanned descent to terra firma on the second try, during which he concluded that Terra Firma was quite a bit more Firma than he really liked. The Sheriff waited for Angela's truly prodigous yawn to finish before he replied. "Yes, Princess," he whispered. "We'll get you some sky rockets." Another bedroom, another girl, another set of memories: Sarah cradled her aching, recently-freed arm as she lay in her own bed, looking out at the same stars that shone through Angela's bedroom window. She, too, had turned an admiring face skyward, watching streaks of red and yellow, explosions and starbursts, drifting clouds of smoke: she had seen Angela's excellent horsemanship, and wished most sincerely for her own spirited racer. I must be getting older, she thought, as she realized she was learning patience: still, with patience, there was impatience, and she smiled as she realized she was still young, for impatience is the realm of the young. Sarah sat with her Mama, fine ladies in fine gowns, laughing and clapping at the fiery show above: Sarah's clapping was gentle, and more for show than for effect: not only would the sound of her palms' collision have been inaudible in the confusion, the impact of her hands striking together was painful to her newly healed forearm, and so her applause was gentle, visible, and almost completely soundless. She had worked her left hand on the piano keyboard until her arm ached, then she slipped into the kitchen, to the cupboard where certain compounds were kept; she poured herself half a water glass of an amber liquid, she'd drunk it, and she'd snatched up a convenient towel to muffle the sound of her coughing: wiping her eyes, she grimaced, then downed the rest of the drink with a grim determination: fortified with a good load of Kentucky, she waited just under a half hour, then returned to her practice, the pain-killing properties of distilled grain making her labor marginally less uncomfortable. Sarah lay still, her eyes wandering from the window to the ceiling of her room, and she rubbed her arm absently. She did not like the effect the alcohol had on her and she'd drunk a goodly amount of water before retiring, knowing it would mean her rising through the night, but not caring: she had heard her Uncle Linn discuss how to avoid the unpleasantness that followed too much drink, and she meant to avoid it, even if she was uncertain how much drink was too much drink. Sarah made a mental note to discuss her arm with Dr. Flint.
  6. Linn Keller 7-4-11 "Billy," Emma Cooper said in her schoolteacher's voice, "are you ready?" "Yes, Miz Cooper," Billy said eagerly, bouncing a little: he was wearing knee pants and white stockings, a borrowed pair of shoes with big ornate buckles of some kind held in place with a strip of black cloth, stitched under the instep: they were really girl's shoes, but he hadn't told anyone, because he was portraying one of the Founding Fathers. He shrugged a little in the big, old-fashioned jacket and reached up to touch the hat with the brim pinned up to form a tri-cornered hat. At least I didn't have to wear a wig, he thought, remembering the pictures of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and how they wore white wigs for their formal portraits. "Mary, you have your flag?" "Yes, Miz Cooper," Mary said, grinning: she'd just that morning lost a second tooth, and her grin was most un-matronly: though she wore a fair representation of the famous Betsy Ross's dress, and a mob cap, she looked like just what she was -- a giggly little girl, bashful but ready to do her part for the Fourth of July presentation. Sarah bared her teeth and grimaced as she brushed her hair, left-handed. Her hair had a wave to it, and it was a little heavier than her Mama's silky-fine hair, and harder to brush, but brush it she did. Left handed. She willed her hand to grasp the hairbrush and she willed herself to draw the brush through her hair and she willed her healing arm not to ache, and managed to achieve two out of three. Sarah was shaking a little by the time she was done. It was the Fourth of July and she was going into town with her Mama, for there would be a parade, and speeches, and fireworks, and she was going to wear a fine gown, as befitted a young lady of quality. Afterward, of course, she had an appointment with a certain race horse, for it had been far too long since she'd had a saddle under her: she intended to put the engraved Colt revolving pistol to good use, for it had been too long since she'd shot pistol left-handed, and that evening, she intended to seat herself before their fine grand piano, and re-acquaint her left hand with the ivory keyboard. Three of the schoolboys stood stiffly at attention, their non-existent chests thrust out, each clutching a flint rifle longer than themselves -- they were representing Revolutionary War soldiers -- and others of the schoolchildren were involved in the rolling tableau, set up on the flat bed wagon. The parade was forming up just past the fire house: the Mayor, in a fine carriage, decorated with red, white and blue bunting, with his wife and their two children; the Sheriff reluctantly agreed to ride in the parade, and not until little Angela begged and pleaded that she be allowed to ride beside her Daddy: Esther had thought to keep Angela with her, and indeed had matching mother-and-daughter dresses ready, but instead she'd remembered a day from her own early childhood, when she too had begged to ride beside her Papa during a fox hunt, and how by some miracle this boon had been granted, and so she'd found herself in a formal morning-coat and top hat, coursing along beside her dear Papa: how that cool, slightly foggy Carolina morning, with hounds and horns and shouting men, she had made that magic connection with her mare, and how she'd flowed over fences and across meadows, around obstructions and between trees, keeping easily abreast of her father, who was a known horseman: and so Angela, too, was attired with a formal morning-coat, and a little top hat, and Esther dusted a little rouge on her cheeks, and limned her lips with just a touch of color, for it was the Fourth of July, after all! The marching band lacked in size, admittedly, but made up for it in enthusiasm: it was well that the parade route was rather abbreviated, for by the time they made the end of the parade route -- the far end of the street -- every man Jack of them was ready to restore his spent strength (and wind) by partaking of the fine fermented elixr dispensed in heavy glass mugs by the good Mr. Baxter. The parade proceeded through town, led by the Marching Band and the Mayor: it stopped before the fine stone City Hall, young Billy recited the Preamble to the Constitution in fine shape, hesitating only once: he closed his eyes, swallowed, whispered to himself until he found his place, then picked up where he'd left off. Pick someone in the back of the crowd, Emma Cooper had told him, and pitch your voice so he can hear you -- and so Billy pitched his voice so Maude, standing in front of her Mercantile, could hear him, and it worked: the little boy with the anxious expression and the tricornered hat spoke clearly, slowly and audibly, and when he finished and gave an emphatic nod to indicate he'd finished, and was satisfied with himself, turned a remarkable shade of red at the whistles and enthusiastic hand-clapping the townsfolk gave him. Not to be outdone, His Honor the Mayor held forth at length, speaking in fine and sonorous words, talking much and saying but little: the applause at the end of his lengthy presentation was more appreciation that he was done, than approbation at the quality of his delivery: nevertheless, His Honor smiled, and beamed, and lifted his hat to the assembled, before turning to shake hands with the members of Council who sat behind him, trying not to doze. Angela had ridden stirrup to stirrup with her Daddy, carefully upright, carefully erect, trying her very best to Look Like a Young Lady: Esther had managed to slip into town herself, preferring not to have the Z&W represented in the parade -- "Everyone knows we're here," she said, blushing a little, "and besides, who'd want to look at me?" -- and so she'd ridden in on her mare, and stood with Mr. Baxter and Tillie, with Bonnie and Sarah, in front of the Jewel's just-washed windows, and watched in amazement as her little girl looked so very grown-up, riding beside her Daddy on their matching golden mares. For a moment, for just a moment, Esther's eyes stung with the happy memory of a Carolina morning when she, too, rode with her own Papa, and in that morning, had been happier than she'd ever been in her entire young life. The Sheriff lifted his hat to his ladies -- Esther, his beautiful bride, Tillie and Bonnie, and Sarah -- and Angela tossed propriety to the wind with a flashing smile and a little girl's "Hi, Mommy!" and an enthusiastic wave. Someone set off a stick of firecrackers and Angela's Rosebud danced and reared, and Angela laughed, sticking to the saddle like her Mama had glued her backside to the leather: Rose o' the Mornin' had shied, then responded to the Sheriff's hand and knee: he'd spun Rose-horse and missed a grab at Rosebud's bridle: Angela brought Rosebud back down and Esther saw the bright-eyed laugh as Angela's high, happy voice carried over the crowd: "That was fun, Daddy! Do it again!"
  7. Linn Keller 7-3-11 Esther dipped the tips of three fingers into the powdered limestone and resumed her careful burnishing of the fencing blade. She had long been a student of swordsmanship -- her father tried to discourage her, due in no small part to her giving his brother a Heidelberg dueling scar when he chose to insult her skill -- but between being a typical hard headed Wales woman, and partly because she was Daddy's little girl, Esther got her way, and ended up being taught and schooled and practiced under some of the best bladesmen in the antebellum South ... and a few from the Continent as well. One of the most intriguing was a Japanese swordsman, an immaculately polite fellow who gave his name simply as Ronin: his blades were unique in their craftsmanship and had belonged to his father, and to his father, and to his father before him: Ronin was obviously completely at home with them, and when conversation turned to sharpened steel, Esther asked if he would demonstrate his fighting-style. Ronin was not demonstrative, he was not a braggart; he obviously trod carefully, as a stranger in a strange land, but he was made welcome under the Sheriff's roof, and for his week's stay, it would be difficult to say who learned more from the other. Esther's fighting-style was familiar to Ronin, for he too had schooled with European masters of the art: Ronin's approach to bladesmanship was entirely foreign to Esther, and she realized very quickly that, should there be a one on one contest between Solingen steel and watered Japanese katana, that she would surely come out in second place. After watching the ease with which his blade parted a silk kerchief tossed into the air, Esther had a new respect for this soft-spoken gentleman with the odd accent. Every time he handled his blades, he would carefully rub them down with two fingers dipped into a little bag of powdered limestone: Esther had adopted the habit, and in the dry Colorado air, found she had no need of oil for her fencing schlagers to keep them bright and free of corrosion. Ronin had gone his way some months ago, but she had retained his habit of polishing her blades every time she handled them. Angela, for her part, was exploring the length and breadth of her property, and the properties beyond: she had shown up unexpectedly at Charlie and Fannie's, laughing and apple-cheeked, and had jumped out of the saddle into her Aunt Fannie's arms: Fannie had laughed and spun her around and set her down, inquiring what in the world was she doing so far away from home, and Angela said (with an utterly innocent expression), "Wozie-bud's nose came out an' the west of her fowwowed!" -- which got a grin and a chuckle out of Charlie, and a slice of pie as well: for all that Angela had an adventurer's heart, she had the body of a little girl, and after a strenuous morning and a meal, she was nodding in her chair: Charlie had moved as if to pick her up, but was stopped by a green-eyed glare from his red-headed bride, and she slipped her lean, strong arms around Angela and parked her on a convenient bunk. Dawg laid down beside the bunk, and with that strange and unexplained affinity children have for Dawgs, Angela, still sound asleep, rolled over and dangled her arm, and wiggled her fingers into Dawg's gleaming black coat, and Dawg groaned happily, dropped his great, blunt-muzzled head on his paws, yawned a most prodigous yawn, and began snoring most contentedly.
  8. Linn Keller 7-2-11 "Now, Soapy," he said, peering closely at my face, "you wouldn't be pullin' a man's leg, now, would ye?" It's never failed to amaze me, just how fast the mind can run. I considered that an event I figured happened in an isolated location, an event I had not talked about, wasn't known and likely would not be. I had no particular wish to hide it, but neither had I gone out of my way to conceal it. His Honor the Judge and I would discuss it formally and officially at the hearing in the afternoon. I'd figured to say for the record that yes, the bush whacker tried to kill me, and yes I kilt him first, and let it go at that: if pressed I would say yes, I kilt him with a knife, and I figured to let it go at that. Word had got out, though, and I had just been braced with the question: "Soapy, did you really cut a man's head off ag'in?" I looked the man square in the eye and opened my mouth to make reply when Jacob spoke from behind him. "No," he said, "he's not." The hanger-on turned, then started: he fell back into me, hands up about eye level, with an exclamation of surprise. Jacob was holding a man's head by its hair in one hand, a gunny sack in the other. I caught him under the arms and took a step or two back to keep us both from hitting the ground: matter of fact I stuck my knee under his backside and lowered myself just enough so he was a-settin' on my knee and my lower leg bones carried his weight, all I had to do was steady him and not hold him up a'tall. 'Twas a trick I'd learned working with the wounded, back during the War. Esther used a similar position when thrusting with her fencing blade -- she called it a "lunge" -- I don't know about them things, she's better than I am at it. Anyway. Jacob put that-there head back in the burlap, casually, as if he were putting an old sock or an apple in a bag. "I buried the rest," he said off-handedly. "Couldn't fit it in the gunny sack so I just planted it." I nodded. "Thank you, Jacob." "You know him, sir?" "Fetch him out ag'in, Jacob, let's have a good look at him." "No, no, no, don't you go doin' that!" my interrogator stammered, scrambling to get his feet under him: he wobbled a little, thrust a palm hard against the weathered, grey clap board beside him to steady himself. "I know'im, you don't need t' go fetchin' him out ag'in!" Jacob raised one eyebrow, opening the mouth of the bag. "Who is he?" "Name's Spender. Nat or Nate I think. Favors a Spencer from ambush, he kilt three men I know of." "Nat Spender," Jacob said thoughtfully. "I think there's a dodger for that name." "Find out," I said. "Yes, sir." Jacob stepped past us and into the office, swinging the burlap and its grim burden as casually as if he were swinging a bag of rocks. I turned to the perennial loafer, now looking a little sick and easing himself down onto a convenient, if dusty, bench. "What was your question ag'in?" I asked gently, sitting down beside him. "Daggone, Soapy," he said huskily. "you did cut his head off!" I shrugged. "Seemed reasonable at the time." "Hell, man, don't that bother you none?" "Why should it?" I spat noisily, sending the shining missile out into the dusty street. "He tried to kill me. I returned the favor." I looked at him and smiled grimly. "With interest." The man looked long at me and shivered, looked away. "Remind me never t' git on yer bad side," he muttered. I thumped him cheerfully on the shoulder with the palm of my hand. "Now, don't you worry about that none," I said with a grin. "I'm gittin' too old to pick you up left handed ag'in!" "That's what I'm afraid of," he muttered, giving me a sidelong glance and hunching over, elbows on his knees. Jacob's boot heels were loud as he approached, his pace measured, unhurried. "Found it, sir," he said, handing me a curled broadside. "Reward, too." "Well I'd be damned," I murmured, scanning the handbill. "Reckon I'll wire Wichita and let 'em know they won't have to worry about this feller ever ag'in." I turned to the man beside me. "You're sure that's him?" "Hell yes I'm sure!" he declared. "I was with him when he allowed as there was more money in bush whackin' than in honest punchin' an' I told him to go to hell I was goin' to Cripple, so he shot me an' rode off!" "Kind of impolite, warn't it?" I asked dryly. He glared at me. "Just b'tween the two of us, Soapy," he muttered, "I'm glad ye kilt him. He'll not be shootin' at me was he to come through here!" I nodded. "Well, I can always use some reward money," I said offhandedly. "Reckon we'll take the head to court this afternoon, and this-here wanted dodger. His Honor does like exhibits presented in his cases. Says it makes the case more certain." A shiver, a nervous hand rubbed stubbled chin: "Oh I reckon you certain'd him, all right!" Young Fred Jerome grinned self-consciously. He had the entire classroom's attention: it was unusual to have a visitor, especially a visitor with Stuff that Did Stuff, and he'd been a little uncertain how to proceed, until he remembered what he and Lightning had discussed. He'd enlisted eager and willing young hands to string wire from the front of the schoolroom to the back; he'd set up the wet cell batteries, cautioning the curious children not to bump or jostle them -- and to show why, he drew up some of the acid in an eye dropper and put three drops on a sheet of paper. It hissed and curled and smoked and young Mr. Jerome said, "You don't want to get this on you!" and his demonstration was met with solemn, wide-eyed nods. Emma Cooper stood back, smiling quietly: she'd used the Daine boys' rebuild of the depot building to teach mathematics and geometry, and make an enjoyable day-out for the children; they'd seen how to make practical application of their lessons that day, and still spoke of it. Now young Mr. Jerome was discussing the use of the telegraph, and had his portable set with him. "How many of you know someone who was in the War?" Fred asked, and nearly every hand went up. "Did you know one of these sets -- exactly like this one, as a matter of fact" -- he held up his sending key in one hand, the receiving sounder in the other -- "was used in the War?" Responses ranged from "Oooo," to "Really?" to "Yes!" and "No!" -- Mr. Jerome smiled and threaded wire into connections, screwed them down; he knew showmanship was part of a good performance, so he brushed two wires together, momentarily, eliciting an evil snarl and the brief arc of a short circuit: satisfied, he nodded, screwed his final connections together, then said "I'll need a hand with this" -- instantly a young forest of arms were thrust into the air, and Fred Jerome, telegrapher with the Z&W Railroad, selected a dark-eyed little boy who hadn't said a single word since he'd got there. The lad's grin, though, was broad as a Texas township as he leaped to his feet and fairly ran to the front of the room. "Now if you could carry this for me" -- Fred Jerome held out the sounder, mounted in a box, with a broad base for stability -- "we'll mount that in back." The lad nodded, solemn and big-eyed, biting both lips between his teeth as he strutted along beside Mr. Jerome. Emma Cooper was well experienced at stifling laughter, for children were often amusing: this time she was glad for the practice, for Mr. Jerome was nattily dressed: his elastic-sided shoes buffed to a high shine, trousers neatly fitted, his shirt pressed and immaculate, and his tie carefully knotted: he wore a cap similar to a firefighter's Bell cap, but instead of the Maltese cross on the front, or the ax-ladder-and-megaphone scramble insignia, he had a brass plate that said "Z&WRR". Emma's amusement came from the contrast of the natty young telegrapher with the habitually unkempt lad: the child's hair was perpetually dissheveled, his clothes were ever wrinkled; she knew his mother tried to make him presentable, every morning, but somehow he managed to get dirty, rumpled and awry before he was halfway to the schoolhouse. Lightning set an empty bench on top of another empty bench, then picked the lad up under the arms and said "Set it there, on top," and the lad did, placing it as carefully as if he was setting his Grandma's best tea cup on a fine table cloth. "Now reach me those wires if you would, please. Yes, thank you. Now" -- he hoisted the lad again -- "slip this wire through this hole, here -- just like that, hold it with one hand and screw this knob down -- just so! And the other one ... good!" He turned and lowered the boy and together they returned to the front of the room. Young Mr. Jerome (as he was called; he was a man in his own right, but Lightning had been elderly, and a fixture in the community; his son, Lightning's Boy, was called simply Lightning, but as Mr. Jerome was of a simlar age to the son of Lightning, he was "young Mr. Jerome" save to his face) shook the lad's hand and thanked him solemnly for his good work: then turning, he made another choice, drafting from the Unorganized Militia, as it were, and an awkward, skinny girl came at his behest: he slid a contact into place, then said "I will need everyone to be very quiet while we try this," and he turned to the girl. "Can you tell me your name?" he asked gently, bending a little, hands on his knees. She put her finger to the corner of her mouth and swung back and forth a little, her face turning a pleasant pink: she looked bashfully at Emma Cooper, standing nearby with her hands folded in front of her: Emma nodded, and the little girl turned and said almost inaudibly, "Cawla." "Now that is a lovely name," Mr. Jerome said. "Do you know how to spell your name?" She shook her head, pigtails swinging. "I will bet," young Mr. Jerome said with a wink, "that we can figure it out." He turned to the chalkboard, picked up a lump of chalk. "Now how" -- he turned to the class -- "how would we spell this young lady's name?" A confused chorus of voices replied. Mr. Jerome turned to the board, looked back at the class. "Slow down, now, let's do this right. Give me one letter at a time." "C" the class sang in unison. Mr. Jerome's chalk clacked and tapped on the scrubbed-clean slate. "A". Tap, t'tap. "R" they sang again. Tap, t'tap, tap. "L!" Necks craned, puzzled looks were exchanged. Emma Cooper smiled at the open curiosity her entire class showed, and she knew this meant they were learning, absorbing. "A!" Tap, t'tap. "Now," Mr. Jerome said, placing the lump of chalk in its wooden trough and dusting his hands together, "it is generally written like this" -- he picked up the chalk again -- "an "A" is written as a dot -- tap -- and a dash -- scrape -- but we can't send like that." He smiled. "Who can tell me why or why not?" Again, puzzled looks: one little boy raised his hand and offered, "Magic?" Mr. Jerome laughed. "No, but almost. Be very quiet now, and listen." Mr. Jerome sat and took the button between thumb and middle finger, his index finger on top: slowly, precisely, he sent t-tap, tap, t-tap, tap. The sounder in the back of the room was loud, precise: the children turned, watched. "Oooh," a voice came from the back. "Sparks!" Mr. Jerome laughed. "You're right!" he said. "Sparks, or little lightnings. That's why a telegrapher is called Lightning!" Most of the faces in the room brightened, making the instant association with the man they knew by that name. "We write it like this" -- the chalk was loud on the board as he marked _._. -- but we have to send this" -- .. . .. . then he turned to his key and, pointing to the board, sent it again. Comprehension, delight, surprise. Each child had to hear their name chatter out of the sounder, each child had to try the key: Emma Cooper knew the traditional lessons would not be learned that day, but she could not have been happier, for the children were learning something new, and she knew that instilling a love of learning was as valuable as the learning itself. If school was interesting, they would continue to attend, and they would continue to learn.
  9. Linn Keller 7-1-11 Sarah trembled a little as Nurse Susan carefully, gently bathed her newly-exposed arm. "It stinks," Sarah complained, wrinkling her nose. Nurse Susan laughed her quiet little laugh, gently massaging the dirty-looking flesh with the warm, soapy sponge. "No, it doesn't, ducks," she murmured. "It does smell but you'd smell too if you hadn't had a bath in a while." She worked steadily, carefully, divesting the arm of dried sweat and dead skin and the dirt that inevitably works in between a plaster cast and the underlying limb: at length, satisfied, she nodded and lifted Sarah's hand gently. Sarah lifted her arm in response and Nurse Susan swung her arm out and over a towel and patted it dry. "It itches," Sarah said, frowning, and Nurse Susan's bright, understanding eyes regarded her through spotless round spectacles. "Then scratch it," she offered. "Here, rub it with the towel." Sarah snatched up the dangling end of the terry cloth and massaged her arm, closing her eyes and groaning in near-sensual pleasure. Her arm had itched abominably in that heavy, imprisoning cast, to the point that Sarah had taken broom straws and worked them in between arm and cast, using the stiff probe to scratch her annoying, maddening itchies. Sarah bent her elbow, slowly, carefully, straightened it: she turned her hand over, grimaced, turned it back over, wiggling her fingers, opening and closing her hand. She bent her arm and looked down at the puckered scars where the wolf's jaws had seized her forelimb. "You're lucky you have a hand," Nurse Susan observed, folding the towel and draping it over her arm; she picked up the basin of warm, soapy water and turned to remove it. Sarah lifted her arm, extended it at arm's length, grinning, raising and lowering it slowly. "It feels so light!" she laughed. Dr. Greenlees opened the door and his eyes tightened a little at the corners, they way they did when he was pleased: he stepped aside and called quietly, "Dr. Flint?" Dr. George Flint stepped up beside his colleague, drying his hands: the two physicians stood in the doorway, watching Sarah bend and extend, turn and lift, and neither man missed the look of utter, absolute delight on her apple-cheeked face.
  10. Linn Keller 6-28-11 I laid the pen down and rubbed my face. I felt dirty. I felt like I did coming out of battle ... sweaty, filthy, sooty ... Stained. I sighed. Much as I would have liked to just go home and soak in that copper tub and wash today off me, it would have to wait, and I was right. The door opened, squeaking a very little, the way it always did. I intentionally never oiled that top hinge. I dislike being surprised and if I heard that squeak, I knew the door was opening, even if I was clear in the back. "Come on in, Jacob," I said before I could see him. Jacob stepped around the door and I could tell his expression was troubled. It always was when I spoke to him before I had sight of him. My mother, rest her soul, had the Second Sight, and I have just enough of it to aggravate me ... and scare me sometimes. I got up, gestured to a chair. "Have a set," I invited, and walked over to the water bucket. I drank deep, an entire dipper full, another, heedless of the good cold well water that dribbled down my front. I held up the dipper and Jacob held up his hand, shaking his head. I nodded and hung the dipper back on the square cut nail. "Speak your mind," I said as neutrally as I could. Jacob looked at me a long time, his eyes veiled, and I could almost hear the gears turning behind them. "Sir," he finally said, "the prisoner said some things ...." I nodded. "Sir, I know he is insane, but ..." "But you want to know what happened." Jacob blinked, slow, careful. "Yes, sir." "You're afraid your old man is insane, too." Jacob's eyes hardened. "And you're wondering if you can take me." Jacob unfolded a sheet of paper, folded it again, tossed it onto my desk. "The prisoner's confession, sir." I looked at the paper, looked at Jacob. "Is it entered into the log book?" "No, sir." "Is it an official proceeding of this office?" "Yes, sir." "And did you come by it in the course of your duty?" "I did, sir." "It goes in the book." "Not yet, sir." I almost heard cards being dealt, almost felt as if this was a game of poker being played between two well-matched card sharpers. "Go on." "Sir, the prisoner --" Jacob reached for the paper, unfolded it, re-read a few lines -- "the prisoner said you came screaming at them like Lucifer himself." "At them?" I asked, emphasizing the plural. "Yes, sir. He said them, but he did not say who his accomplice was." "Did he describe what I looked like?" Jacob's face reddened. "Well, sir, I don't think you have leathery red skin nor horns." I smiled a little. "But he did say you cut a man's head of and slung it around in a circle screaming." "He said that?" "Yes, sir." "What else did he say?" Jacob read further down the sheet. "Do you want to know the part about a legion of devils galloping after you, or his being thrown in a vat of boiling bacon grease?" "I don't think that will hold up in court." Jacob looked at me and his eyes were pale, hard. "Sir, tell me what happened." His eyes were as cold as his voice. Part of me was instantly on the defensive and angry. No father likes being questioned by his son. Part of me was pleased. Jacob was not afraid to face up to the most powerful authority he knew. I leaned back, looked at the wall above him, then pointed to my hat. "See that?" Jacob looked at the hat. "Yes, sir." "What do you see?" Jacob frowned. "Your hat's been sliced, sir." I took it off its peg, sailed it across the room to him. "Look closer." Jacob gfrowned as he examined the slice. "It's dark along the edge," he murmured. "Dark like ..." "Like lead?" My smile was humorless. "Catch." I snatched up the Spencer rifle sitting beside me, tossed it: Jacob caught it easily, dropped the lever, checked the breech. "She's been neglected," he said, "for some time by the look of her." He sniffed the breech. "Fired recently, too." He looked at the rifle, at the hat. "This?" "Yep." "So the gambler --" "Had a partner." "And the partner ...?" He's using an open ended question, I thought. Proper. Just the way a lawman ought when he's fishing. "If you take the road to Charlie's and then the north and east forks, you'll come to a boulder where the trail bends," I said, my hands describing terrain and travel. Jacob nodded. "I know the place." "Behind that boulder you will find a man with no head." Jacob's eyes hardened. "Sir," he said carefully, "how did it happen?" I leaned forward, my forearms on the desk top, my manner no longer friendly, cheerful or affable in the least. "You want to know what happened?" I asked, and my voice would have frozen water. Jacob nodded. "Jacob, frankly I am scared." Jacob blinked. Of all the things I could have said, I don't think he expected that. "Sir?" "Look at all that's happened," I said urgently, my hand extended, palm up, fingers curled. "A cat damn neart kills Charlie. I couldn't stop it. I took the hide off the cat and ended up kicking it and screaming at it and it didn't do a damn bit of good. Charlie was already hurt and I couldn't fix that neither!" My upturned hand clawed shut and I continued. "I seen men hurt nowhere near so bad as he was and they went belly up and died. I seen men scratched up die of infection and gangrene, die screaming in pain and nothin' helped until they screamed themselves to death!" My voice was intense, a hiss in the log-walled office. "I don't make friends easy, Jacob, and it looked for all the world like I was gonna lose the best friend I ever HAD!" My fist slammed into the desk top. Jacob opened his mouth to say something and I stabbed a finger at him. He closed his mouth, the words unsaid. "Do you know what makes life worth livin', Jacob?" Jacob turned his head slightly, recognizing this as a rhetorical question ... but he never took his eyes off me. "Seein' the sun come up. Coffee in the morning, my arm around Esther's waist. Angela's laugh, your voice, Jacob bouncing on my leg and pulling my mustache."" My words were fast, intense. I continued. "Charlie set down beside me and each of us tryin' to out-lie the other and both of us succeedin'. Rose-horse under me and watchin' your Apple horse lay his ears back and stick his nose into the wind and you and him streak across a meadow, laughin'! "Do you know what I saw when he took that shot at me, Jacob?" Jacob shook his head. "I went out to Charlie's. He's healin' up by the way, he'll be his ornery self here directly and Dr. Flint says he'll not got the least trace of infection." Jacob nodded slowly. "I was comin' back and I looked at that boulder, how it sits there and the path curves around behind with woods behint that and I considered that's a fine place for a bushwhacker. "Then I seen two hats where hats hadn't oughta be." Jacob's eyes narrowed and I could see his eyes change. "I brought Rose-horse around and that rifle there shot my hat" -- I gestured savagely, stabbing my extended thumb up beside my head to indicate the bullet's path -- "and he wanted to take all that away from me! "Worse than that" -- I drew my hand down, crushed it into a savage fist in front of me -- "he wanted to take a husband from Esther, a father from you and Angela, a grandfather from Joseph!" I paused, took a long breath, then added in a voice low and menacing: "I won't have that, Jacob. I have things to teach Joseph. I have yet to teach him how to whistle, how to whittle, how to catch grasshoppers!" Jacob's eyes smiled, just a little, and so did mine I reckon. I leaned forward, my voice intense. "When he took that shot at me, Jacob, I wasn't one man on a horse. "I was a line of Union blue and we were advancing for a charge. "Jacob, you are no stranger to death but you don't know it as I!" My voice trembled and my stomach turned over. "I have walked on ground that squished up red around my boot soles as my weight came on it. "I have looked at dead eyes, staring at something not in this world. "I have stood among a forest of frozen hands, upraised from dead men's arms, clutching and clawed as if to snatch my soul and take it with them. "I have smelled blood hot and fresh and I have drunk water from a stream that ran the color of sassafrass tea, and I have held young soldiers -- hell, boys! -- wounded, torn to hell, guts hanging out as they shivered and cried and coughed up blood." My nostrils were flared, my eyes wide and staring, my breath shallow, quick. "When he took that shot at me I heard men scream and shells burst, I was in line and we were in a charge toward enemy entrenchments. "My hat was shot off me in just such a charge, Jacob, and I dove off my horse as she sailed over their breastworks and I killed a man with my knife." I shivered, closed my eyes: my fisted hands were pressed hard against the desk top and it took a long moment for me to get a measure of control over my roiling memories. "I have seen too much, Jacob. "I saw my own men slaughtered, as much by stupidity of command as much as enemy lead, and I was sick of it. "I killed that man today, ten times over, and I cut off his head and I ran around in a circle screaming, just like I did back in the War, and I ran down the enemy's trench, holding that blood dripping head like a magic charm, and the enemy fled before me. "They captured prisoners for a year after and more, prisoners who told of an insane Yankee colonel who cut men's heads off and beat men to death with it, a lunatick driving the terrified enemy before him." I smiled thinly. "I didn't beat anybody and I didn't chase all that many men with the head." "No, sir." I took a long, shivering breath. "Jacob, when that man tried to kill me, I killed him." "Yes, sir." "Whatever the prisoner said was the ravings of a madman." "Yes, sir." Jacob stood. "Sir?" "Yes, Jacob?" "Sir, you frighten me." "Jacob," I said honestly, "sometimes I frighten me too."
  11. Linn Keller 6-28-11 The cost was exhorbitant, but it was necessary. The man was wrapped in a full length strait jacket. They carried him into the express car like he was luggage, packing him by the heavy, doubled canvas handles, they slung him from an improvised rope harness to keep him from beating his head on the floor, and they slid the door shut and locked it. The man was bound for the asylum in Denver. Dr. John Greenlees was just about to set foot into the car with the man when Jacob took his arm. Dr. Greenlees turned and looked at the young deputy's hard, pale eyes. "Doc," he said quietly, "it would be a kindness to kill him." "I can't do that," Dr. Greenlees said, "and it's too late for you to." Jacob nodded, released the physician's arm. All I wanted was a bath, a meal and bed, the Sheriff wrote, ignoring blood on the back of his hand and the aches and pains of his day's exertions. I reckon that was too much to ask for today. I ended up killing one man and driving another screaming insane. The Sheriff leaned back, set his steel nib pen down exactly parallel to the edge of his journal, and stared at the opposite wall. He smelled blood. "Is that him?" the gambler asked. The other man -- Nate Spender, he'd said his name was, though the gambler knew his name was something McFann -- raised the Spencer rifle to shoulder. The gambler looked ahead, where the trail was straight; it bent a little behind the boulder, giving McFann a straight-on shot at the older man headed their way at an easy trot. "Yeah," he said, and the gambler heard the Spencer's hammer drop into the full cock notch. "That's him." The gambler intended to take over the Silver Jewel. He'd scouted it, he'd played cards there, he'd seen it could be made more profitable by returning the facility to the brothel and den of vice it had been many years before. Its current cleanly state and reputation for fair dealing and intolerance of a crooked game would stand him well in fleecing the unwary. First, though, he had to get rid of the owner. He had to get rid of that pale eyed Sheriff. Dr. John Greenlees dampened the cloth with chloroform: even though the man was confined and suspended, he still fought the physician: Dr. Greenlees was thin and rangy and possessed a surprising strength, and he managed to hold the cloth over the man's nose and mouth long enough to induce unconsciousness. "There," he said. "There's more where that came from." He replaced the cloth in a tight-lidded tin box he kept for that purpose. "It's a wonder you can still make a sound," he murmured, "as long as you've been screaming." The man had been wearing an expensive suit, and had an impressive amount of cash, a fine engraved watch and two Smith & Wesson pistols ... along with three sets of loaded dice, two decks of marked cards and a pair of blue spectacles. "Gambler," Jacob had grunted, "and a crooked gambler at that." His father had brought the man in, both of them soaking wet, the gambler with a marked face: he'd managed to earn his Pa's ire, and had come out on the short end of the old man's temper. Jacob received the prisoner and after he'd stripped him down -- a good thing, as he had several items that prisoners shouldn't have -- he'd locked the groggy man up. Until he started screaming and thrashing around in his cell. Jacob was honestly afraid the prisoner was going to beat his own head in against the stone wall. It had taken him, Jackson Cooper and two stout yeomen besides to get the prisoner pinned down and in irons, and it had taken a boy sent running for Dr. Greenlees to chloroform him into a less strenuous state. The steel nib was loud on good rag paper, there in the silence of the Sheriff's office, and thoughts flowed onto paper in gleaming lines and loops of India ink. They must have figured to way lay me, the Sheriff wrote. I was looking around and looked ahead, where the trail bent to the south, and thought to myself that boulder would make a fine ambuscade, when I saw something that shouldn't be there. My Rose-horse was fast and she turns like a cuttin' horse but she was near not fast enough. The rifle ball cut a slice off the brim of my Stetson and it sounded like a Bromindaningan bee, and pulled at my hat like someone tugged at the brim with thumb and forefinger. The Sheriff looked up at his Stetson, hanging on its usual peg, and frowned. He'd liked that hat, too. The Spencer was loud in the forested stillness. The Sheriff spun sideways. The gambler's fists started to close in disappointment and an exclamation of dismay began forming in his throat. He's going to run, he thought, maybe McFann can back shoot him on the straightaway -- The Sheriff whipped his golden mare around and began to run, all right. Straight for the boulder. McFann yanked the lever down on the Spencer. No, no, no, he thought, it ain't possible, it can't, it can't, I had him, I had him -- He single fed the rifle, for he'd not taken the time to get the magazine fixed -- he shoved the cartridge into the breech block, yanked the lever shut, fumbled for the hammer -- Something hit his shoulder like a sledge hammer and he realized it was a horse's hoof and the sky was dark and that was a mare's belly above him and something seized him around the neck and he went over backwards and there was a flash and a gleam and steel drew a shining arc in a shaft of sunlight just before he felt its metallic tooth bite deep into his side and it bit again and again and again -- The gambler watched the Sheriff roll off the near side of his mare as she began her leap. His arc was lower than hers and his left elbow caught McFann around the neck, yanking his head back, and both of them went over backwards. The gambler froze, horrified, as the Sheriff rolled, McFann's neck in an obdurate vice, and a long, shining blade drove into the man's side and ribs and belly like a sewing machine. The Sheriff's face was a mask of death. His face was dead white, the shade of a corpse, his eyes were a blazing ice-white-blue and the gambler felt his own heart shrivel and grow cold, looking onto those death's-head eyes, and he watched, paralyzed, as the Sheriff got his feet under himself and stood, McFann still by the neck, fisted knife still driving with mighty blows into the now crimsoned shirt. The Sheriff released McFann, drove his boot heel into the man's back: McFann fell forward, hit the boulder face first. The Spencer fell to the side as nerveless fingers lost their strength. The Sheriff's teeth were bared, like the skull's teeth on a Jolly Roger, and he seized McFann by the hair of the head and yanked his head back and into his own belly, and he coldly, precisely, cut the man's throat two thirds of its circumference. The gambler heard the blade on bone as the bush whacker's soul was sent to Hell on a foot of Damascus steel. The Sheriff yanked the head back, hard, and the vertebrae made a horrible sound as the lawman's boot stomped on the back of the neck: another quick pass with the knife and the flesh of the back of the neck parted. The lawman screamed -- his head back, mouth open, eyes wide and wild, the head swinging from his hand by the hair of the head, blood gleaming in gory droplets in the shafts of forested sunlight -- and he spun a circle, screaming, the sound of a soul in agony, the sound of a man beyond torment, knife in one hand and gory trophy in the other. Then he stopped. He saw the gambler. He tossed the head casually to the side and smiled. It was not a kind smile. The gambler's paralysis was broken at the same time his bladder began to empty. He snatched for his horse's reins, leaped into the saddle and spurred his stolen mount, hard. The gambler did not know where the trail ran, only that it led away, and at that moment he wanted away, as far as he could get from this screaming madman with a blade -- Rose-horse was standing as she always did when ground reined, the Sheriff wrote. I was aboard and she was off like a cannonball, and we cleared a fallen tree and were hard after the accomplice. Rose was gaining and I knew I would have him in but a moment's time, so I kicked out of my stirrups and crossed my palms on the saddlehorn, I jumped a little and got my feet under me, on the saddle, and prepared to jump. The trail took a sudden bend. I knew it. He did not. Nor, apparently, did his horse. They two went off the lip of the cliff as I jumped. I seized the man in mid air and his horse screamed and thrashed under us. We fell for an eternity, we fell forever: it was not all that far to the river below and I knew the pool to be deep and we hit it together, hard, and I had a death-grip around him: he was going nowhere except with me. Dr. Greenlees arranged a convenient few bales of hay and spread a clean saddle blanket: he intended to have a meal and a drink, and after making sure his patient was peacefully asleep, he too would catch a nap. Denver was a little distance yet, and he was tired. The gambler whipped his horse with the desperation of a man who knows the Devil himself is after him, and the Inferno close behind: the nag was fast but not fast enough, and while the gambler was looking behind, the nag screamed and rolled over and they were falling, falling -- Something slammed into him and the Devil had him and he felt the hot breath of the Fiend on his neck and adamantine claws seized about him and he was trapped, he was trapped, and below him the Hell-Mouth groaned open, splitting boulders and sod and he could see dancing, laughing imps with pitchforks stirring great pots of boiling, glowing buffalo fat, just waiting to begin his eternal, unending immolation -- The gambler's mind snapped, somewhere over that Colorado river, and the cold mountain water was as boiling lead to his skin: he flailed in agony, screaming in despair, until two massive, muscled imps walked up and began clubbing him in the face with mauls made of human heads -- All I wanted was to come home and have a meal and a bath and bed under my own roof, the Sheriff wrote.
  12. Linn Keller 6-26-11 Lawman's habit, I reckon. I just set my horse and waited. It had been a long day, it had been a hard day but Charlie needed some work done and I done a good part of it. Miz Fannie, bless her, had fed us and fussed at us and Charlie had managed to give her a look that would melt steel so I reckon he was healin' up good. A man tends to feel randy when he's feelin' good, or at least better, and it was an unguarded moment; I let on like I didn't see, for it's something a decent man doesn't let someone else see. I saw Miz Fannie's face darken with pleasure and pretended not to see that either. She bribed me into stayin' a bit longer by settin' a pie out on the table, and when she saw me to the door she thanked me in low voice, for she said Charlie had been fussin' and worryin' over work not done, and it did him good to have the company. I rode away from their place but once I was dropped over the first rise I turned and circled back, where I could watch the place. No particular reason, really. I set there until it was onto dark, watching, listening. My belly was full and I was content so it was no particular reason that ran my hand into the left hand saddle bag. I come out with a couple of Esther's hush puppy balls, wrapped in what used to be a clean rag, and I grinned. The Bear Killer -- or my Denver Bup either one -- would be tickled to have 'em, and sure enough I heard a little oh-I-want-it sort of a whine and looked over to my left. Dawg was getting on in his years but he still moved silent: whether he'd paced me, or whether he'd drifted out to where I was, I did not rightly know, and it did not matter. I held the pair up and said "Unchum?" and Dawg sat up and chopped his jaws once, his stub tail declaring his enthusiasm, so I tossed him one of the two. He caught it neatly, chomping it twice before swallowing, and looked at me with big, sad, puppy dog eyes. I tossed him the second one, grinning. Dawg was one critter I never, ever wanted to get on the wrong side of. I've seen what he can do. I've seen what he has done. Right now, though, he reminded me of nothing more than a happy puppy. Matter of fact I swung down and extended my hand and Dawg r'ared up and put his fore paws on my shoulder, and give my face a good washing. I rubbed his ears and patted his ribs and told him he was a good boy, at least I told him once he'd decided 'twas my ears that needed his laundering attention. It's kind of hard to say something when a Dawg's enthusiastic tongue is busy on your face. Finally Dawg went back down to all fours and groaned with pleasure as I rubbed his ears and his back. I reckon he'd have given me a week to stop that. Finally I straightened and rubbed my own back, for bending over for that extended time was getting less than comfortable. "Go take care of Charlie," I whispered, and Dawg gave my hand a final shove with his cold, wet nose, and set off for the ranch house at a trot. I climbed back in the saddle and headed for my own hacienda. The night air was cool and smelled good, the moon wasn't yet up and the stars blazed in a silver riot overhead. I ached and I was tired but by golly now I felt good.
  13. Linn Keller 6-24-11 Bonnie could taste it. Her daughter was not just troubled, her daughter was boiling. Bonnie looked over at the hired girl, who was just placing the meal on the table: Sam and Clark had joined them for supper, at Bonnie's request, and the relaxed meal she'd hoped for just might not happen as peacefully as she would like. Sarah did well enough one-handed, at least until she dropped the ladle of noodles: Sarah froze, her right hand clenchling slowly into a trembling fist, and she closed her eyes, obviously exercising great personal restraint: the minor mess was quickly contained, and Sarah opened her eyes to find a fresh, steaming ladleful of noodles had been carefully, precisely placed in the crater of mashed potatoes in the center of her plate. Bonnie could see that it took every bit of her daughter's reserve to keep from picking up the plate and sending it through the nearest window. Sarah's hand was trembling a little as she ate: she ate slowly, carefully, and very neatly, as befitted a young lady: she sipped hot tea, she accepted without comment the maid's quiet, efficient slicing up of the good and tender beef on her plate ... without comment, that is, if you didn't look at her eyes. Bonnie wondered at her daughter's eyes. They didn't just smolder: they were at once like coals in a fire, and cold ... cold, and ... Bonnie blinked, hiding her sudden concern in a quick sip of honey-sweetened oolong. Sarah's eyes lightened just a bit, she thought. How ...? Bonnie knew of only one bloodline that had a characteristic lightening of the eyes when angered. She studied Sarah's features as if seeing her for the first time. The Lady Esther coasted into Firelands station, her exhaust absolutely clean, without the least trace of smoke: her engineer, like all of his breed, prided himself on coming into station with a clean stack: it was a firing offense in most rail lines to smoke into station, though in cold weather, the engine's hot breath raised great, beautiful, pure-white clouds of condensation. Esther Keller took a long breath and stood: she stepped over to the ornately-framed mirror, gave herself a full-length appraisal, nodded approval: she tucked the long, slender case under her arm, smiled and thanked the porter as the door was drawn open for her: the brightly-painted, tastefully-pinstriped steps were swung into place and the owner of the Z&W Railroad descended gracefully, then climbed the four steps onto the depot platform. Yards distant, the ore train screamed a steam-powered greeting as it thundered past, bearing ore from the mine for the refinery not far distant: the mine had opened a second drift, on the far side of the slope, and was mining in two directions at once: ore from the far side went directly into the mill, ore from the more productive near side was still railroaded, and still profitable for both the Z&W and the mine. Esther's luxury car was coupled with two passenger cars and several more, loaded with heavy timbers, equipment and men: humanity and shouts poured from the cars, team-hitched wagons were loaded, native guides navigated the little distance intervening. Esther didn't really say much about the board meeting, other than to speak admiringly of the speed and efficiency of the men taking care of the sink hole: the still-hot coals had ignited the second house that had fallen into the hole, and the conflagration was allowed to burn itself out: Esther had spent the night in Cripple and had come back with men and supplies, and teams worked both underground and above to heal the rift in the earth. Esther, as it turns out, did not have to chastise the mine's engineers, foremen, surveyors or managers: they had each done a fine job themselves, and indeed had fully expected to be verbally flayed, summarily fired, and blackballed for any employment this side of the Shining Mountains: instead, Esther had quietly told them that harm had been done, and the mine would restore and make right. The mine shaft was cribbed up with timber honeycomb, as should have been done to begin with: the vein they pursued was profitable, and so it was reasonble to spend money on timber and manpower to crib and block and support the shaft: the overhead was decked solid, and because the terrain there was dry, there was little fear of rot, and so good chestnut was close-laid and then overlaid with fitted stone and finally a coating of cement. The work took three days, but when it was finished, the hole was no more, and further subsidence was prevented. Parson Belden spoke the words and the box was lowered into the hole; the family laid hands on the box, a final goodbye, and the old mother's husk was returned to the earth from whence it came. Sam hesitated, after supper had been eaten and the dishes cleared; she'd gone over the figures with Bonnie, as she did every week, and Bonnie's eyes blazed with anger as they did every week, for the cattle were profitable, and her late husband -- whose name she had forbidden to be spoken in her presence -- had long siphoned off the profits for his own purposes, while declaring the cattle not worthy of Bonnie's concern. Sam turned to Sarah and tilted her head a little. Her voice was a little hoarse, as it always was, but gentle, and she asked, "Ragdoll, how's your arm?" Sarah's lips were pressed together and she shrugged her shoulders. "I'm tired of this cast," she said quietly, her voice thick with emotion: "I'm tired of not riding, I'm tired of not being out, I'm tired of not playing the piano" -- her pique disappeared instantly as she shot a quick grin at Sam's understanding expression -- "I never thought I would miss that!" "Yeah," Sam nodded. Sarah rubbed the cast through the sling. "It's heavy and it rubs my neck raw, my shoulder aches with carrying it and I can't pick up a saddle and you saw me at the supper table and I can't even wash my hair without --" Sarah's fist trembled with the strength of her distress and her eyes stung. "What's wrong with me?" she whispered fiercely. "Why do I feel like this?" Bonnie's eyes were soft, luminous, her expression gentle and understanding. Her little girl was experiencing feelings, new and strong and almost overpowering, feelings foreign to her. Sam looked up and Bonnie nodded, once, and Sam nodded once in return. She took Sarah's shoulders and spoke frankly and directly. "You're healing, Ragdoll. I never healed fast enough to satisfy me. Was it me I would have put a teacup through the parlor window there at the supper table." Sarah blinked, surprised: "You?" Sam nodded. "I've got quite a temper." Sarah looked away. She knew what it was to have her temper seize the bit between its teeth and run out from under her. Sam patted her shoulder, squeezed: "I'm gonna go get some rest. You heal up." Sarah nodded, frowning, then stiffened as her Mama's hands rested lightly on her from behind. "Mama?" Sarah asked tentatively, reaching up with her good hand and resting it on Bonnie's. "Yes, sweets?" "Mama, is it time for that talk you told me about?" Sarah felt Bonnie take a long, deep breath. "Yes, Sweets. I believe it is."
  14. Linn Keller 6-21-11 It had been a while since I'd done much honest work. "Honest" in this case means work like I used to do when I was young. I wiped my sleeve across my fore head and then wiped off the sweat band before settin' the Stetson back on my thinning scalp. I'd no real idea what to say when Miz Fannie gave me that warm, knowing look ... sometimes I think she can read a man's thoughts, but that might be just my imagination ... but she gestured to the chair beside where Charlie was taking his ill-at-ease. Charlie, y'see, is a man who's used to doing: it chafed him to know he had horses to tend, fences to mend, chores to do: it galled him that his beautiful bride was handling most of them and he was in a state of enforced idleness. I don't think the man wanted to admit just how bad that-there cat had tore him up. I set there and we talked a little and I felt more and more ill at ease, for I was healthy and he was healin' and finally I asked him what needed done. Since that time I was a-sweatin' with the doin' of it. Now Charlie protested and he allowed as he'd get to it, and I turned and allowed as his job right now was to just lean back and heal up and he snarled at me and allowed as I was a long tall drink of water he could pound into the ground like a fence post and I shot right back that he was right and he'd have his chance but by God! he would not do it til he was healed because I didn't make friends that easy and I was sawed off and damned if I was gonna lose another one and the two of us glared at one another until we both cracked and started laughin' at the same moment. Matter of fact as I straightened and rubbed the small of my back with a gloved hand I thought back to that moment, earlier in the day, and wondered if our stern expressions were still laying shattered on his floor, and whether they might be glued back together to make a fright mask or something. I shook my head and looked Charlie's back field over and allowed as I must be full of second hand bull feed, to think of somethin' like that, and one of his Appaloosa mares come over and nudged my middle, bummin' for a bit of chawin' tobacker. I shaved off some molasses twist and give to her. Sarah's eyes narrowed and she heard Fannie's voice in her ear, a memory-whisper. When in doubt, the voice said, follow your gut. Sarah did. Now it wasn neither usual nor ordinary for a schoolgirl to be inside a saloon: such places were traditionally men's establishments, and men came to a saloon, even a fine, well-appointed one like the Silver Jewel, so they could be men, and joke and swear and spit tobacker juice (hopefully into the gleaming, polished goboons strategically positioned), and it was generally held that women were a hinderance to good conversation. Sarah considered this and decided her proper course of action was to ignore this common wisdom. The young trooper's face looked about three foot long and he stared morosely at the rim of his half filled beer mug. He'd had several shots of the Daine boys' distillate, enough to loosen up his sentiments: some men when they're likkered up will become boisterous, some become romantic; this young man, according to the mood of the moment, was distinctly somber. Sarah drew out a chair and seated herself beside him, near enough to touch, far enough not to touch accidentally. He looked over at her and his expression brightened a little, then saddened, and he said, "You look a little like my sister." "Tell me about her," Sarah prompted, propping her good elbow on the table and her chin on her knuckles. The trooper sighed. "She used to pick on me," he said softly. "Sisters will do that," Sarah agreed. "I don't think she likes me much." He frowned, then his brow relaxed and he looked off into the distance. "She probably doesn't like me a'tall." "Why not?" Sarah's voice was carefully neutral: a child might ask the question in a curious, bright chirp; a woman, in a seductive tone; Sarah's voice was carefully chosen to be as ... well, the least childish, but the least womanish, as she could manage. He snorted. "Look at me," he said. "I'm a horse trooper. I eat dust, I live in the saddle or in a fort, I'm sun burnt and rained on and bug bit, I've got calluses on my butt and wrinkles in my face--" "You're not paid near half what you're worth," Sarah added, "and you're doing a job no man would hire on for unless he were paid five times as much for half the labor." Sarah reached over and squeezed his forearm through the Cavalry-blue sleeve. "You are keeping us safe -- not just here, but your sister as well. Where is she?" He blinked. "Illinois," he said, surprise in his voice. "You are keeping her safe too." Sarah patted his hand. "Don't doubt the good that you do, trooper. Your sister thinks pretty highly of you." "And how do you know?" he asked, half-cynically, half-hopefully. "Because I'm a sister to a man who lives in the saddle, and gets sun burnt, and does work that no honest workin' man would do unless he was paid five times as much." Sarah's eyes were big, bright and without guile, then she smiled, and her smile was like turning up a lamp's wick in a dark room. "Besides," she said, rising, "have I ever lied to you?" Surprised, the blond young trooper couldn't think of a reply, and so he just stared as Sarah crossed the room and disappeared down the hallway. He felt as much as heard the scrape of a chair pulled out beside him, and Mick's hand clapped hard on his shoulder. "Now then, lad," Mick chuckled, "is it flirtin' wi' the ladies we are, eh?" The trooper looked over at the weathered Irish sergeant and swallowed, and his expression was uncharacteristically tender. "Sergeant," he said, "do angels look like little sisters?"
  15. Mr. Box 6-20-11 The Calvary troops began drifting quietly back into the bar. As the doors began swinging open I started filling beer mugs and sliding them down the bar. They were pretty solemn. They'd start digging in their pockets and I'd tell them, "Your money's no good here, Men!" After a while the Irish Fire Brigade showed up. I set them up, too. They just mingled in amongst the troops already at the bar. Normally there would be a lot of rowdy goings on among them but not tonight. One of the soldiers pushed his mug forward for a refill along with a coin. I pushed the coin back to him and he said, "But I've already had a free one, Sir." I said, "I ain't takin' a penny for this whole keg! We appreciate you men helping out in a situation." "Well, can we drink a toast to you then, Sir." "I'd be honored to have a toast with you men, if you'll quit calling me Sir!" Mugs were hoisted and moods were lifted.
  16. Linn Keller 6-20-11 Esther Keller settled her hat on her head, gave it a touch here and a little twist there: satisfied, she employed pins of impressive length to secure it to her elaborately-styled, Wales-red hair: satisfied, she gave her reflection a quiet smile and a brisk, buisinesslike and carefully brief nod before turning. Angela was watching her Mommy with big eyes: "Mommy," she asked, "where are you going?" Esther bent and kissed her daughter, stroking her healthy-pink cheek and caressing a long curl: "I'm going to go pick a fight, sweets. Now you be a good girl and do like your Daddy tells you." "Okay, Mommy," Angela said with her dazzling smile: a quick hug and her Mommy straightened and smiled at the hired girl, who stood there with a satchel and a long case in hand. They three walked out to the carriage: Esther Keller, though a woman of means, a woman of influence, a businesswoman of known acumen and success, was also a woman of independent spirit: most women would not consider handling the reins, but Esther would have it no other way, and so she had no driver. Angela bounced a little on her toes, waving as Esther flipped the reins and clucked up the mare: "Bye, Mommy!" she called, her voice sweet on the late-spring air, and Esther waved a gloved hand as she pulled away. Fiddler Daine handed the third sheet to the Sheriff. "Reckon that'll do?" he asked, Kentucky plain in his voice: it had been some years now since he and his brethren had emigrated from Kentucky, but their language had not changed -- not accent, cadencing, dialect or regional flavor. The Sheriff smiled, both at the drawing and at the voice, for he had come to admire and respect the people of Kentucky in his time as a cavalry colonel, back during the War, even if the natives had nothing but contempt for the interloping Yankees. He delighted even more in listening to his little Angela, who had also come from the mountainous region of Kentucky: when she was in the company of any of the Daine boys, she sounded just like them, and it tickled the grey-mustachioed old lawman to hear his little girl change in an instant to the slower, gentler phenomes of an older, more genteel society. Just like Esther, he thought, and smiled: though he was not aware of any blood relation between Angela's antecedents and Esther's ancestry, they both had the same gift: they could speak in any accent, any dialect, easily and unconsciously, and the Sheriff had long ago come to associate this gift with a skill at languages. Matter of fact, he knew Angela was fairly fluent in French, as was his beautiful bride, thanks to their hired girl and a couple others with whom Esther held regular converse. The Sheriff smiled quietly, remembering moments when the ladies would speak quickly, quietly, something in French, then look over at him with a guilty expression: each time it happened, he pretended not to have heard them. Now, though, now he looked carefully at each of the drawings. Fiddler Daine had perfectly captured the images of the moment. He had conveyed, accurately and to scale, the damage done by the sink hole, this collapse into a mine shaft dug too shallow under the town. "Now what y'all gonna do with these, Shurf?" Fiddler Daine asked in his signature slow drawl, a twinkle in his hazel eyes, for he half suspected the answer. "I'm a-gonna address them-there gold mine fellers," the Sheriff replied with a quick grin. "They were careless when they dug under town here and I intend they should make this right, and they should either quit diggin' out from underfoot or shore up good and proper when they dig." Fiddler Daine nodded. "You headin' out t'day, then." "Nope." The Sheriff placed a clean sheet of paper between each drawing, with a sheet atop and beneath: the bundle went into a dispatch-case, and the dispatch-case went over his off shoulder. "I'm sending a deputy." Fiddler Daine nodded. "You figger Jacob kin handle this'un?" He squinted a little, following the Sheriff as the man stepped into the saddle, swinging his long leg over his black Outlaw-horse's hinder. "Jacob?" The Sheriff's grin was broad and genuine. "No, I need someone who can fight and fight dirty." "Well hell, you ain't got but the one deputy," Fiddler Daine protested. The Sheriff crossed his palms on the saddle horn, eased his weight onto his hands until something in his back popped and he gave a satisfied sigh. "Well, almost," he admitted, "but I kin draft from the Unorganized Militia as need be." "Yeah?" Fiddler Daine shaded his eyes with a thin, parchment-skinned hand. "Just who you gonna draft there, Mr. Sheriff Sir?" The Sheriff looked down the short street, to where Esther was passing by on the main street: she turned her carriage, drove slowly up to her husband, her eyes widening at the damage she saw. What little of the burnt out house that hadn't fallen in, had been pushed into the hole; debris pretty well filled it, the splintered ruin of the second house plainly evident. The family was picking through it as best they could, with the help of a half dozen townsfolk, all in leather gloves and anxious expression; what little could be salvaged was being carefully placed beside. Sheriff Keller looked steadily at Fiddler Daine, and Fiddler Daine saw something in the man's eyes that no one had seen for some time. He saw a man who wasn't afraid to pick his best fighter, and send the best fighter into battle. "I'm sending someone who can do the job," he said quietly with a half-smile, and Fiddler Daine was suddenly glad that set of pale eyes had seen fit never to regard him as an adversary. "I am sending my wife." Esther settled herself into the private car she kept reserved and ready at the roundhouse for state occasions. When the owner of the Z&W was traveling on her own railroad, she traveled first class: her palate sparkled at the taste of sunshine, captured by grapes and fermented by masters of the art; she swirled the wine slowly in her long-stemmed glass, watching terrain pass by the windows. Esther contemplated the meeting she'd called with the mine's board of directors. Her attendance was not unusual, but her calling a meeting, was: though she held a controlling interest -- indeed, she held most of the shares of the mine -- she preferred to let her Board run it, and this had never been a problem in the past. Esther blinked and for a moment a look of disappointment crossed her face. She'd intended to ask her husband about Charlie.
  17. Linn Keller 6-19-11 She lay a gentle hand on the galvanized lid of the coffin: head bowed, she stood for a long moment, then her shoulders began to shake and her husband put his hands on her shoulders: the woman turned, clutched her husband with the desperation of a woman who was drowning in an ocean of sorrow, and was clinging to the only thing that was keeping her afloat. Her children clutched her skirts, or their Pa's trousers. The Brigade stood solemn, silent: this woman had lost her mother, and there is no one like Ma: she had been an anchor, a rock, a listening ear, she had been the hands that had wiped an infant's bottom, wiped a child's tears, wiped a skinned knee, swatted a misbehaving child's backside and combed a little boy's hair, she had been a smile and a hug and a song or a story at bedtime: she had been so very much, and now she was gone, gone, with only a grey-speckled galvanized box to look at. Finally the husband drew the wife aside and four troopers replaced the Brigade: the box was taken to Digger's, and Sean remained to speak with the family, while the Irish Brigade surveyed the hole that had taken the fired structure and another house besides. Jackson Cooper drifted through the assembled with all the rumble and bother of a passing cumulus cloud. He was a big man and strong but he had a gift of stealth, and stealth he practiced now: he inclined his ear to Sean and the family, as did Jacob, and within the hour both families was in new quarters in the new boarding house: word passed quickly, very quickly, in a community as small and intimate as Firelands: there was the inevitable internal and community politics, there were always gossips, spiteful comments, back biting -- there always are, no matter it city, village, town or settlement -- but like most small communities there was also a sense of that community, of belonging, in a way much like a large family, or perhaps like that complex and yet very simple mindset of the children of such a large family: We may fight among ourselves, we may hiss and spit and snarl and claw at one another like wet cats, but let an outsider lay a hand on any of us and we are united against the outsider. And so it was here. Mothers' eyes measured the children and made a mental inventory of their own stores and goods. Men considered the extra pair of shoes they had and looked at the father, barefoot, with no more clothing to his name that what he wore in that moment. The boarding house was busy receiving visitors that day, and before darkness followed the glorious sunset, they who had no clothes, had more than they'd had in their lives; they with no roof overhead, had one; they who had lost their beds, had clean, comfortable bunks that smelled of sunshine and clean air. Firelands was not perfect by any means, but its heart was whispered by Inge as she gave both mothers a quick hug, there beside two red-lacquered wicker baskets on the common table: "We take care of our own."
  18. Linn Keller 6-17-11 Jacob drew up in front of the Sheriff's office. Jackson Cooper could see the young man's eyes tighten a little the way they did before he grinned that broad, easy grin of his. Jacob swung light out of the saddle, barely touched the earth, it seemed: his move spoke of great physical strength and no excess weight to his carcass. Jackson Cooper, now, Jackson Cooper was a strong man, but he was built tall and strong: it had been said he was built like a freight locomotive, and he'd won some contests in impromptu betting matches, where someone was sure they could out-lift the man. Generally they were into their cups when they challenged, and Jackson Cooper never was: other than a sociable beer now and again, the man didn't drink, unless it was to toast an important event. Jackson Cooper had watched, considering the activity he'd seen: the Jewel poured forth its contents of humanity in a confusion of shouts, arm-waving gestures, running legs; he'd heard the Brigade launch from their fine brick firehouse, he'd heard shouts and confusion and the crunching roar of a burning house falling in on itself. He'd smelled the wood smoke and saw the column of misery that spoke of a conflagration, and finally he sighed, for he saw the galvanized box fetched out of Digger's, and he knew what that meant. Jacob draped his stallion's reins over the hitch rail, stepped lightly up onto the board walk, nodded toward the smoke not terribly far away. "I saw it," Jackson Cooper said, and Jacob heard the reluctance in the man's voice. "Be right with yu'," Jacob said quietly, and thrust open the heavy wood door to the Sheriff's office. It smelled of old coffee and wood smoke, and his father's chair was empty. Jacob unfolded the death certificates and the warrants and laid them on his father's desk, then returned to the boardwalk, drawing the door firmly to behind him. "They brought out the tin box," Jackson Cooper said, his voice heavy, and Jacob nodded. "We headin' down?" he asked, knowing full well what they would find. "Yeah."
  19. Linn Keller 6-15-11 Two troopers and two firemen hoisted the galvanized box. The lead trooper called, "Route march, HU!" and the four paced off, carefully out of step, as they would if carrying a wounded comrade on a stretcher. The crowd parted for them; men removed their covers, held them respectfully over their hearts, bellies of belt buckles: the precise elevation was unimportant, the fact that they uncovered, was. "Lads," Sean called quietly, stepping into the smoking, steaming, blackened remnants of a burnt-out, fallen-in shell of a house, "see i' there's anythin' --" Sean felt the ground shiver underfoot. "BACK!" he yelled, "BACK, DAMN YE! GE' BACK, YE ALL!" -- and Sean himself scrambled backwards, awkwardly, tripping over an alligator-charred beam. The earth groaned, quietly, and fell in, swallowing at first the center, then the edges of the house. Sean rolled over, elbowing his way rapidly away from the expanding crater: he launched himself up from prone to scramble and then to his feet, running a few paces before turning. "CLEAR TH' HOUSE! GE' EVER'ONE OUT! RUN, DAMN YE, RUN!" Neither the Brigade nor the troopers had to be told a second time. The crater was expanding steadily, collapsing under the corner of a second house: there was no ceremony, the door was rammed by two stout shoulders and burst inwards, and rapid footsteps and stentorian shouts were heard from within: there was a scream, a shout, the sound of broken crockery; a meaty smack, a shout, and a body flew out of a window. A half-dressed man turned, shook his head, made to run back inside, at least until a red-shirted Irishman tackled him. The Welsh Irishman and a fair-haired trooper ran out the back door, each with two children, one under each arm, followed closely by a shreiking housewife, flour to her elbows and rolling pin in hand, laying her tongue to some very unpleasant terms in a language most there did not understand: not until an Irish-strong hand seized her wrist and an Irish-red arm confined her waist and picked her, kicking and screaming, off the ground, not until they turned her around and she saw her house splinter and groan and fall slowly into the growing hole, did she shiver to a stop. The rock-maple rolling pin fell from nerveless fingers and a wavering moan came from somewhere deep in her throat. The children were set down: the youngest, a little girl with big blue eyes, stood there with one finger uncertainly at the corner of her mouth: she clutched the hand of a rag doll as she looked around, first at the trooper that carried her out, then at her Mama, then up at the Irishman. "GE' YE BACK, ALL O' YE! WHO KNOWS HOW MUCH MORE SHE'LL COLLAPSE! BACK NOW, BACK I SAY!" Sean bellowed, shooing the curious away from the dusty hole. The last of the house fell into the hole with a woody splintering sound and the occasional, incongrous crystal tinkle of broken glass. Silence claimed the scene and lay as heavy as the settling dust. One of the little boys, who stood frozen beside the Irishman that hauled him out of the house, looked defiantly at his mother, his bottom jaw thrust out. "I DIDN'T DO IT, MA!" he shouted. "I DIDN'T DO IT!" Every member of the Irish Brigade, and every last cavalryman there, did the very same thing. They looked at one another, and looked at the lad, and they started to laugh until they had to wipe tears from the corners of their eyes.
  20. Linn Keller 6-14-11 Inge had intended to come into town for supplies. Supplies suddenly took a back seat, as it were, for she saw a need that required filling. Her young son was pressed into service: he struggled to carry the wicker basket, but carry it he did, because this is something a Big Boy Did, and This was Very Important, and People Needed His Help. Matter of fact, though he staggered at the burden, he managed to strut just a little. Inge had drawn up before the Jewel, presented herself before the burnished mahogany and most earnestly petitioned Mr. Baxter for assistance in the matter: a family was burned out, she said, there was little she could do but she would not see them hungry, could he possibly arrange two baskets packed for them? Daisy came muttering up the hall, swinging her towel and scowling, for she'd broken a favorite mixing crock that morning and she took it for an omen -- Inge looked over at thunder on the Irishwoman's brow, and steeled herself, for she'd come into town to speak to Daisy as well. Daisy looked up at Inge, and like a thunderstorm, her ill temper blew away and was replaced by sunshine: the two women embraced, both of them talking, communicating in that magical way women have, discussing home, hearth, husbands, children and clothing in a simultaneous, happy, breathless chatter: when finally they two came up for air, Daisy spoke first: "Ye'll need wha' I ha'e, come wi' me," and plucking at Inge's sleeve, led the way quickly to her sanctum, the kitchen: it had been expanded, two girls were already at labor, Daisy's presence was neither necessary nor expected, but was most welcome, for it was pie-making time and her skills at the art had earned the Jewel a very well deserved reputation for that particular delicacy. Daisy picked up a long stick apparently made from a sapling, cut so the fork was at the far end: she reached up on a shelf, hooked the handle of a red-lacquered, woven-wicker basket, and brought it down: its twin was next, followed by clean towels laid in for a lining, and soon Daisy had both wickers loaded with wrapped goods, suitable to nourish a family: two filled baskets guaranteed three meals, perhaps four. Inge stood there biting her lip and watched mutely as this miracle was assembled, and finally, eyes stinging, she blurted, "But I just came to thank you!" and Daisy stopped, hands on her hips: she swung abruptly around the far end of the big, flour-dusted table and plucked open a cupboard door. Inge could not help herself. When she saw the Rosary Daisy kept hanging on a peg inside the door, she could not stop her tears, for she remembered the kindness of that self same wrapped gift, and a note, in her own time of fire loss. Daisy's hands were firm on her shoulders. "Now, now, what's this?" she asked quietly. "Ye're doin' a foin thing here, let's no' dampen yer goods wi' watter!" -- and so saying, gently, like a mother, she pressed a folded dish towel to Inge's cheeks. "Come now. I ha'e wha' ye need, an' pie f'r th' lad." Daisy had set her down and they had tea, but Inge did not dawdle, for she was anxious to get back and do what good she could. She stopped and tried to pay Mr. Baxter, who gave her a look somewhere between innocence, puzzlement and conspiracy, and said with an utter lack of guile that he didn't know a thing about any bill. Inge was silent as she and her little son loaded the baskets in their wagon. "Mama?" her son asked as Inge took him under the arms and swung him aboard. "You're getting big," Inge grunted, then patted his leg: "Mama, what?" "Mama, where will they stay now?" Inge's hand tightened a little on the lad's knee and she bit her lip again. "I don't know," she admitted. "I can't fix that, but I can see that they have somethin' t' eat."
  21. Linn Keller 6-12-11 Dr. Flint's face was impassive as I drew up beside him. "He's still alive, I take it." Dr. Flint nodded, once, face solemn. "I don't reckon he's runnin' foot races nor chasin' women." Dr. George Flint, M.D., in his fine tailored suit, seated in his light physician's surrey drawn by a gleaming black mare, regarded me with unreadable obsidian eyes. "Sheriff," he said at length, "I have lain awake for three nights trying to come up with a suitable smart remark for my reply." Dr. George Flint removed his narrow-brimmed hat, pretended to inspect the sweatband minutely. "I regret to inform that I am not able to come up with a properly irreverent riposte." Now one thing Dr. George Flint did well -- very well, at that -- was dry, dry humor. The man's face was solemn as the old judge, and only the bright expression in his eyes betrayed the seriousness of his tone. I'd be willin' to bet he could play a hell of a good game of poker. "He will heal, and he will be his old self," Dr. Flint said at length, "but I remain puzzled." I frowned a little, tilted my head: "How's that?" "His wounds." Dr. Flint resettled the hat on his head. "I have seldom seen lacerations more precisely approximated, nor so expertly sutured." He looked directly at me, the look of a man who wants a straight answer. "I don't believe he had professional medical care for this event." I was silent for a long moment. I looked down at his carriage wheels, followed the rock-dinged steel rim, then looked to the horizon. I found no answers in either place. "Dr. Flint," I said at length, "do you remember the Angel of Navarre?" Dr. Flint blinked and for once in his life his face showed honest surprise. He reached down and hauled back hard on the surrey's brake. It was apparent he wanted to hear more. "I remember Navarre," he said, his voice carefully neutral. "Do you remember what happened?" "Other than the tornado, the explosion and the children, no, I don't remember much." Dr. Flint removed his hat, lifted the hair above and behind his left ear. His black hair hid a scar, an ugly, twisted scar that spoke of an injury that healed before it could be properly cleaned and sewn up. "The explosion?" "A piece of boiler iron as big as my hand. Had it hit me edge-on, it would have taken my head off at the ear lobes." I bent forward in the saddle, memories making me half sick. "You should have come to the infirmary tent." Dr. Flint smoothed his hair back into place, resettled the townie hat on his straight black haired head. He looked straight ahead, his jaw tight. "I was just a damned Indian," he said. "The infirmary was for the good people." I was leaned forward, my right arm across the saddle horn: my right hand closed into a fist and I felt a deep, abiding anger. I remembered Navarre. I remembered the tornado that came through, the schoolchildren caught out in the open: the only two plate glass windows in town had been sucked out by the wind and crystal knives sleeted into a dozen children. A woman shoved the door of the saloon open against the storm's fury and began dragging children out of the street and into the lee of the saloon -- boards were ripping loose, pieces of wooden shingles were flying -- and as quick as the twister hit, it was gone. A cavalry unit was on the train, or had been: they'd abandoned ship, as it were, and crouched in the lee of the stone oil building beside the depot: the twister ripped the wooden passenger cars apart, leaving only the iron chassis and most of the flooring and about half the seats: the supply car was more heavily constructed and was in one piece. The young Lieutenant in charge rallied his men and they emptied their supply car and set up the biggest tent they had. They had a complete field surgeon's setup but no surgeon. The woman who was tending the children took charge. I remember she had a temper to match her fiery red hair. I knew only that she was new in town, a saloon girl by appearance, just another feathered doxy: I'd seen her, I was town Marshal, I paid little attention to her. Until now. I remember she was all legs and high-button shoes, an ornate corset with red feathers and lace ... until she began ordering the Lieutenant, two sergeants and the troopers around like her personal servants, until she honestly decked a rancher who objected to being told to carry one end of a stretcher -- and when she began laying out surgical implements with a professional's skill, I began to take notice. I approached her to ask if I could be of assistance and she thrust a bucket into my belly, hard, with a terse "Fill this!" I filled the bucket, filled it with good cold fresh pumped well water, and fetched it back. The woman's lips were pressed together and she was obviously steeling herself against the cries and the screams of the wounded: she'd already gone among them, assessing the severity of their injuries; she'd kicked a man's legs out from under him when she told him not to yank out an impaling length of glass from a child's leg, and when he came up with a cocked fist she came up with a cocked pistol. I stood behind her with my own Colt out and leveled at the man. "Do as the lady says," I said quietly, and he did. Matter of fact once she pulled a pistol on the man, everyone decided to do as she said. A good thing, too. Nobody knew her name. She'd given two or three names since coming into town, which wasn't unusual for a traveling showgirl; she sang like an angel, danced like a leaf on a breeze; she had a laugh that would melt the heart of a stone statue, and now she was blood to her elbows: she stopped and washed her hands often, and her instruments were immaculate -- she designated three troopers as her personal orderlies, and their sole duty was to scrub instruments, rinse instruments and boil the instruments, then lay them out on a clean towel to dry. Near as anyone could tell, every child but one that she tended, lived to tell the tale, and for years after they spoke of the Angel of Navarre: whether she was a surgeon, a physician, a Healer or midwife or angel on earth, no one knew, and in that moment nobody cared: when nearby a terrible explosion shredded the tent with shrapnel, killing the only child that did not survive her ministrations, she never even flinched from stitching a little boy's belly: a chunk of whistling iron screamed through her hair, and not until a half hour later did she realize a trickle of blood had painted a scarlet stripe just ahead of her right ear. We labored together all day and into the night, tending casualties from the twister and the locomotive explosion; they were brought to us, and I and the troopers worked at her direction. A relief train came in, and with it, a team of surgeons and nurses, and we were most pleased to let them take over. The saloon girl gave a succinct, concise report on each patient, touching them in turn, speaking in the foreign language doctors use when speaking professionally to a colleague: she went swiftly from one to another to another, her newly arrived colleagues nodding understanding: when finally she was done, she washed her hands one final time, stopped and turned to the troopers and gave each one a quick hug and a breathy "Thank you" -- then she came over to me and seized me by the upper arm and hauled me around behind the tent. She produced a badge and spoke a name, and that was the first time I knew who she was. It was also the last time I saw her, until after I became Sheriff here in Firelands. Dr. Flint was silent for a good long while, and finally he nodded. "Our own Miz Fannie," he said slowly, "is the Angel of Navarre." I nodded. Dr. Flint was quiet for another long minute, then he smiled. "Charlie will be glad to see you," he said in a voice doctors reserve for professional advice. "Maybe you can persuade him to take life easy long enough to heal." I laughed. "As well tell the tide not to come in!" I took a long breath. "Maybe I'll let the Angel take care of it." Dr. Flint eased the brake off. "You do that, Sheriff," he said, touching his hat brim and flipping the reins. Dr. Flint headed back into town, and I went out to see Charlie.
  22. Charlie MacNeil 6-9-11 "Well, it appears that you'll survive," Doctor Flint commented drily as he deposited the various instruments he'd used back in his battered black leather bag. "Though I must say, it does amaze me what some men will do to get out of working!" White teeth gleamed against bronzed skin as the doctor grinned down at his patient. "How long ago did this happen?" "Ten or twelve days, I reckon," Charlie answered. "I really don't remember for sure. I slept through a bunch of it." The doctor shook his head wryly. "And why does it not surprise me that you just recently decided to have me out?" Charlie grinned, as much a grimace of pain as an expression of humor. "Fannie sews a dang fine stitch..." "That she does," the doctor agreed, "but that doesn't explain why you waited so long." "Didn't wanna be a bother. It's a long trip out here from town, and Fannie and the sheriff got the leaks stopped up, so I just figured it could wait. Everything's alright, ain't it?" he finished just a trifle anxiously. Doctor Flint snorted in disbelief as he raised his eyes toward the invisible firmament overhead. "'Got the leaks stopped up' he says." He brought his gaze back to the cloth-wrapped figure beneath the quilts. "The Good Lord definitely looks out for fools, drunks and children, I do believe, and you do indeed appear to qualify on at least one of those counts. Yes, you're going to be fine. I see no sign of infection." "As a general rule I don't drink all that much, but I guess two out of three ain't bad. When can I ride?" "Surely you jest!" "Nope. When can I get on a horse? I've got critters that need tending." "You've nearly had your entire digestive tract surgically removed from your body without benefit of anesthetic! You'll be lucky if you're able to get on a horse before the summer's out!" Just then the bedroom door swung open silently on well-oiled hinges. "I heard that!" Fannie declared from the doorway, her hands planted firmly on her hips. "And you'd better make sure you listen to this man, mister!" "Yes, Ma'am," Charlie answered meekly, flicking a quick wink in the doctor's direction.
  23. Linn Keller 6-9-11 "Mama?" Inge shivered as she saw the smoke, a column of misfortune soaring upward from town, declaring disaster small or maybe large. "I see it," she murmured. Inge had her youngest boy with her: the older children were at home tending the never ending chores; this was the first time she herself had been able to get to Town in ... well, in far too long, at least that's what she told herself: she'd gotten herself and her youngest cleaned up and presentable and dressed for the occasion, for she had no wish to appear poor. One did not go to Town looking less than genteel, if it were at all possible. Inge held no illusions: she would never be one of the monied, fashionable ladies of Firelands, but neither would she be drab, or common. Inge's youngest son shivered a little and Inge transferred reins from her right hand to her left, freeing a motherly wing to drape protectively over her shivering chick. "Mother was in her rocking chair, beside the stove," the woman said woodenly, eyes wide and unseeing as she described the glimpse she had into the heart of the fire, just before she snatched her picture from the wall and screamed for her husband, screamed at her own child to take up the family Bible from its place of honor. "She was gone. Her eyes were wide open and she was dead as she sat there with the door of the stove open, and a burning stick in her hand." Sean was on one knee before the woman, both his hands gently sandwiching hers: he nodded, slowly, and said very quietly, very gently, "Go on." "We ran. The fire was already up the walls, the curtains were gone, she must have pulled a burning pitch from the firebox and dropped it into the kindling --" The woman's face screwed up and she turned, burying her face in her husband's shoulder. Sean released her hands, rose; he squeezed the husband's free shoulder quickly, gently, and murmured "Take care of her" in an Irish-accented whisper: he rose, turned, looked at the hot ruin that was once the protective shell of their dreams, their new start in life. He walked around its periphery, oblivious to heat, to water-spray, to the sound of the Irish Brigade's shouts and their labors; he was reconstructing in his mind where the stove would have been, where the front door and the inner walls had been, where he might look for the remains of a woman, dead in her chair beside the stove -- Sean stopped, thrust his jaw out, then carefully, almost delicately, picked his way into the wet, steaming, hot, stinking, black-scorched mess. The Brigade paused, knowing their Chieftain's expression: he was looking for something, and they had a suspicion what he was looking for. "Chafe!" the Welsh Irishman called, "wha' will ye?" Sean looked up, pointed to a trooper. "You, lad!" he called. "Sir!" The trooper nodded briskly, jog-trotting alongside the scorched, cindered ruin until he was as close to Sean as he could manage without going into the fired mess itself. "I'll need ye t' go t' Digger's. Y'know th' funeral parlor up yonder?" "Aye, sir!" The suntanned trooper nodded briskly, one time. "Tell him I need th' galvanized box. He'll know wha' I need, an' help him ge' i' down here." "Aye, sir!" The trooper snapped a salute, turned and sprinted a few steps, pausing to thrust a finger at two of his fellows: "Muldoon! Davis! With me!" The three fell in abreast, running in step, the assembled gawkers drawing aside before the trio who were obviously on a mission. Sarah had been inconvenienced when the commotion cleared the Jewel: she came down the hall, paused beside the Irish sergeant, who came upright and half-bowed, a genial smile on his ruddy face and a half-full beer mug in his hand. It was obvious he and Mr. Baxter had been in conversation, and Sarah's expression was troubled, for she had no wish to interrupt men's talk, but it was apparent the discussion had come to its natural end. Sarah looked around, noting the abandoned mugs and plates, tilted her head a little to the side like a curious girl will, looked at Mick with questioning eyes. Mick chuckled. "Lass," he shook his head ruefully, "you can wheedle a man's heart wi' those eyes! Ye are but a girl but by St. Christopher, I can see th' woman ye are becomin'!" Sarah turned, nodded to an empty table. "But where did they go?" she asked in a wondering tone. "Ah, now, Parker came a-runnin' in an' shouted 'Fire!' an' they took out t' see th' spectacle." Mick shook his head and took a slow, appreciative drink, swallowing leisurely and savoring taste, flavor, coolness and texture as the wonderful elixir made its beneficent voyage to his inner soul. "Oh, dear," Sarah murmured, unconsciously cradling her plastered, broken arm with the other one, easing the sling's pressure on her neck. "Now, then, m'dear," Mick frowned, tempering the frown with the ghost of a smile and extending relaxed fingers toward Sarah's slung forearm, "how'd this happen, eh? Did that oaf of a Sheriff spook yer horse an' cause yer broken arm? I'll thrash th' man that caused ye hurt!" Mick knotted up a fist and shook it menacingly, scowling so fiercely that Sarah couldn't help herself: she laughed, patting Mick's waving knuckles, and Mick felt his heart melt at this delightful child's smile and the sound of her happiness. "I killed a wolf," she said honestly, her expression suddenly open, vulnerable, as if offering him a secret, a part of her she seldom showed another, and Mick blinked and leaned back a little. "Ye ... shot a wolf?" He shook his head slightly, trying to settle the notion between his ears. Sarah shook her own head in response. "No, there wasn't time. He rushed me from the grass and I put up my arm -- so --" Sarah swung her plastered arm and sling out from her, free arm reaching -- "and I trapped his head as he seized my arm, I grabbed his withers with my legs -- so" -- her move was somewhat obscured by her skirt, but Mick saw plainly how she was demonstrating -- "I pulled hard and snapped back, and up --" Mick shuddered, turned and set his beer mug down: he turned back and laid both hands on her shoulders. "Lass, there's only one man alive I ever heard of that tried that an' lived," he said in a near-whisper: his voice was thick, husky, and his hands squeezed Sarah's shoulders more firmly than he realized: "he bears th' scars t' this day from't, an' he swore me t' secrecy, f'r th' world would call him liar and damned liar if he e'er described the doin' of it!" Sarah's eyes were big and solemn. "Uncle Charlie's arm still aches with the weather," she said. "Uncle Charlie!" Mick shook his head, and the backs of his fingers caressed her apple cheek gently, as a father would a daughter: "I was wi' th' mon when he kilt a wolf in th' self same manner." Sarah's surprise was plain to see, and Mick knew it was honest an unaffected. "If that rapscallion Macneil is teachin' a lovely child like yersel' such things," he shivered, "why ... m'dear, ye are a beautiful girl, ye b'long in a fine parlor, playin' piano an' embroderin' an' learnin' t' be a fine lady, not gallivantin' about th' world killin' wolves barehand!" Sarah hugged Mick, quickly, her good arm going around him: she pulled him tight, pressing the side of her head against his breast-buttons, feeling his solid, muscled frame beneath blue wool and smelling the good man-smell of leather and horse sweat and Indian tobacco. Mick, for his part, knew what it was to have a daughter, and Mick did what a father did in such moments. Mick wrapped his arms around Sarah, gently, holding her in a father's strong, protective embrace. "There, now, lass," he whispered, rocking her slightly the way a father does, feeling Sarah shiver a little, the way a scared girl-child will when she remembers a terrible event that she'd kept at arm's length until it would stay away no longer: "there, now, let it go, yer Mick's no' gonna let ye come t' harm." Mick laid his cheek gently atop Sarah's head, smelling lilac-water and bath salts, and he closed his eyes and remembered his own daughter, his own dear child, the day he gave her to a fine young man in front of God and everyone: he'd walked down the aisle on wooden legs, this grizzled, hardened veteran of war and horror and death and conflict, walking down the aisle of the parish church in a state of shock: he'd looked at the beautiful young woman on his arm and remembered the child she'd been, seeing in that one moment everything from a bloody, squalling infant to a laughing little girl to a coltish, awkward, long-legged schoolgirl, to, now, a bride-to-be, and he remembered at the end of the aisle, he'd taken her in his arms just as he had Sarah now, and he'd laid his head down on top of hers, and he felt her shiver a little, and her hair smelled of lilac-water and bath salts ... Mick sighed, released his enveloping embrace, and Sarah drew back a little, wiping her eyes quickly, embarrassed at the damp that leaked from her eyes. Mick's finger tips were gentle, under her chin, and he tilted her face up a little. "Ye're sure that rascal of a Sheriff didn't cause this, now?" Sean said very softly, tapping the cast with the tips of his fingers. "I'm sure," Sarah whispered back, not trusting her voice. "I'll throttle th' man tha' harms ye, ye know that." "I know." Sarah nodded, patted Mick's breast with the flat of her hand. "Thank you." A shadow passed outside: from its height, she knew it had to be Jackson Cooper, for few men matched his height or his breadth. "Excuse me," Sarah said, her smile flashing sunlight into Mick's heart, and she skipped toward the front door. Mick and Mr. Baxter heard her call "Marshal?" -- the the doors shut and cut off anything else that may have been said. Mr. Baxter had already refilled Mick's heavy glass mug. "Ah, there's a lovely child," Mick sighed, shaking his head. Mr. Baxter nodded, slowly, thoughtfully. "She is," he agreed. "She is indeed."
  24. Mr. Box 6-8-11 "Yeah, it keeps me busy but folks like it, Mick." I responded. "Good of your men to pitch in with the fire brigade." "Them boys been itchin' fer sumpin' to do. Glad we were here to help." Mick said. "We'll make it worth their while." I told him. "Hope You're not in a hurry to hit the trail." "Don't worry about us. That fort's been getting mighty crowded lately." Mick nodded.
  25. Linn Keller 6-8-11 Sean swore steadily, quietly, stalking around the burning structure. It had been one of the newer houses, but built in a hurry: what caused the fire, he didn't know and didn't particularly care: when the Brigade was summoned, the fire had a running start, and as they made the turn down the cross street they saw the gout of fireflies as the roof caved in. All they could do was douse the adjacent fires, prevent it from spreading: the original structure was lost, and they knew it. The family was huddled on an adjacent porch, the father and two boys barefoot: one boy clutched what must have been the family Bible, the mother held a framed photograph. Sean groaned, as did every man in the Brigade, at a familiar stench, but every man steeled himself to the task at hand: jaws clenched, they lanced water from brass nozzles into the conflagration as if thrusting steel into a great dragon's heart. The Brigade staunched the fire's spread, viciously attacking the adjacent blazes, then wetting down the exposed structures surrounding, before turning their wrath to the devil's breath that steadily diminished what was once two stories of wood frame home. Satisfied that the Brigade was efficiently handling the extinguishment, Sean strode over to the refugees shivering on the porch, the pike pole in his great, hard-knuckled grip as dainty as a walking-stick, or perhaps a scepter. "Did everyone get out?" he asked, his voice gentle for such a large and hard-muscled man: the husband's expression showed surprise, as he surfaced from his shocked stupor, and the wife's was engraved with grief. Sean's heart sank at the long silence that followed. He'd hoped the smell was that of a cat or a side of beef. One of the troopers strode briskly up the hallway, having gone out back to dispose of a good volume of second hand beer. Excited, he hailed his fellows: "Hey, there's a fire back yonder!" and instantly there was a general stampede for the door, for the cavalrymen had seen little action here of late and this promised to be entertainment of a sort. One young fellow came scampering back in, picked up his beer and drained it, seized a chicken leg and a sandwich off another trooper's now-abandoned plate, and ran back out, after his fellows. Mick regarded the young raider sadly, shaking his head. "He'll be an officer, mark m' word," he said in a dolorous tone. "Now, then, Mr. Baxter, I see ye've installed some fine carvin' i' the front o' yer bar here, an' yon mirror wi' th' frosted pattern etched in't looks very nice." He leaned against the mahogany, working a kink out of his back until a dull *pop* and a contented sigh pronounced his effort successful. "I take't ye ha'e t' dust ever' day, bein' right on th' street an' all?"
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