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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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Posts posted by Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

  1. Linn Keller 11-10-13

     

    Sarah dismounted from the carriage carefully, almost uncertainly: her strength was returning and she too was healing, but she'd overextended herself far more than she'd realized.
    She paused, gripping the polished, gleaming side of the dashboard, one foot on the mounting-block and one in the carriage: a most unladylike pose, but she needed to take a moment and master herself.
    She brought her other leg down, breathed slowly through her nose, eyes tight shut, before she stepped off the mounting block and back to the back seat.
    She reached in, picked up a slim package.
    It was addressed to her Aunt Esther.
    Esther received her in the parlor, her smile gentle and welcoming: Sarah kissed her carefully, almost afraid to touch the older woman's belly, and Esther laughed, tilting her head a little and looking at Sarah with obvious affection.
    "My dear," she murmured, "you will make a beautiful bride!"
    Sarah blinked, uncertain; Esther did not give her time to say anything.
    "Open the package," she said, gripping the back of the chair: "I dare not sit down, for we have business. Open it."
    Sarah drew a sharp-bladed knife from her sleeve -- Esther smiled to see it -- it was one of the fighting-knives she'd given Sarah some time ago -- and slit the wrapping.
    A long, slender wooden box emerged, as broad as a man's hand but only three fingers thick: curious, Sarah clipped the inner strings, lifted the fitted lid.
    "Oh, they did," Esther breathed, clasping her hands before her in a a quick gesture of approval.
    Sarah blinked and studied what had been her Aunt Esther's ebony sword-cane.
    Now, instead of a gold ball on the end of a black shaft, it had the gold ball -- that was still there, a sphere as big across as the open mouth of a shot glass -- the ebony cane-shaft was there as well, but the space in between was longer.
    It was now a wire-wrapped handle, with a crossguard.
    Sarah recognized it instantly as a sword-handle.
    "Bring it closer," Esther said quietly, and Sarah held the box over to her.
    Esther gripped the wrapped-wire handle, smiling as she lifted the sword-cane from the box and its padding cloth: she gave a quick little twist, drew a yard of steel from its wooden sheath, lay the ebony cane-body on her chair and backed up two steps.
    Esther smiled as she hefted the blade, then lowered her arm: she turned, brought the blade overhead, backed another step, and Sarah backed up as well: she did so love to see her Aunt Esther exercising with a blade, for there was a beauty to the woman when she danced with steel.
    Esther ran through a quick series of moves, weaving a silver web about her with the grace of long practice, an expertise that comes of hard work and very good tutors.
    She nodded again and spun the blade quickly in hand, whipping it about in a fast arc, and Sarah blinked as she realized Esther was holding the handle out to her.
    Sarah froze, shocked.
    Sarah knew Esther had the Sight.
    Sarah knew the Sight was passed from mother to daughter, and Sarah knew this was done by handing the daughter a blade or a scissors, and was traditionally done when the mother was on her deathbed.
    Sarah's eyes were wide and she hesitated, swallowing; Esther's emerald eyes were deep, almost sad as she regarded Sarah's hesitancy.
    "Take it," she whispered.
    Sarah reached for the handle.
    Her hand closed about the flesh-warm handle and she closed her eyes, her head falling back, an expression of almost lustful pleasure on her face.
    They held, unmoving, for a long moment.
    Sarah felt Esther's heart beating, slow, powerful strokes, she felt new life, restless in her belly, she saw through Esther's eyes, and she saw Esther's knowledge, shivering as it became hers --
    Sarah's eyes snapped open, her breath catching in her throat.
    Esther raised her free hand, a finger to her lips, and Sarah swallowed her exclamation, her protest.
    "Come with me," Esther said. "Sheathe the sword, it is a gift for your father. Leave it on his desk. I have something for you."

    "Parson," Daffyd said uncertainly, his round uniform cap in hand, "I'm no' a Catholic, though th' lads want me t' convert."
    Parson Belden nodded, a go-ahead-I'm-listening move, and Daffyd continued.
    "I know we asked you t' do th' service an' that's no' changed."
    Parson Belden nodded again.
    Daffyd shuffled his cap round in his hands, frowning a little.
    "I don't know why I came," he muttered.
    Parson Belden raised an eyebrow.
    "I think," he said, "Mrs. Parson has that answer."
    As if summoned by an inaudible bell, the Parson's wife came bustling into the room, bearing a tray with coffee and pie.
    "I think," she said in a motherly voice, "you've never been married before, and you wish we could just get it over with."
    Daffyd laughed, reddening.
    "Aye, ma'am, sure an' you're right!"

    The Sheriff glared at the saddle.
    The saddle did not seem impressed by the man's steady frown.
    His black Outlaw-horse waited patiently for the slender lawman's good pleasure.
    There was little difficulty getting the saddle blanket in place.
    It took three tries to get the saddle atop the blanket.
    The Sheriff stepped back, almost fell back after the girth was to his satisfaction; he waited for his leg to quit trembling.
    He finally took a long breath and muttered, "Oh, hell," and thrust his left boot into the doghouse stirrup.
    He groaned as he tried vainly to make his right leg work well enough to get it over his gelding's rump: he finally reached back, grabbing the leg and yanking it savagely over the top.
    You will work, he thought, peacefully or otherwise, and worked his burnished boot into the stirrup.
    Outlaw seemed to walk with an exaggerated care as he carried the Sheriff out into the fenced lot.

    Sarah gasped as Esther held out the jade oval.
    It was on a choker necklace; the fit was perfect; white-jade gleamed at the hollow of her throat.
    Esther smiled as Sarah spun and embraced her quickly, spontaneously, the quick, impulsive move of a delighted child: Esther took her by the shoulders, turned her and released the catch.
    "You must do this," she instructed, "and promise me you will."
    Sarah, puzzled, held out her hand as Esther extended the jade.
    "You must wear this on your wedding day, but you may not put it on. Your father must put it on you. Promise me this."
    "I promise."
    "Good." Esther wobbled; Sarah, eyes widening with alarm now, guided Esther into a chair.
    "I'm all right," Esther whispered, "just tired."
    Sarah waited a moment before easing herself down on the side of the bed adjacent.
    "Jade," Esther explained, "is ancient --" she grimaced, then looked up at Sarah, her expression unreadable.
    "When you give jade you give part of yourself."

  2. Linn Keller 11-9-13

     

    Daffyd Llewellyn lay on his bunk and stared at the ceiling.
    The German Irishman looked over and murmured, "Don't fall in."
    Daffyd blinked, then rolled up on his left side and grinned.
    "I know that grin," the German chuckled. "If I didn't know better I'd think you were sweet on a lass!"
    "Aye, listen t' th' funny man," Daffyd chuckled.
    "So wha' happened? Ye went, ye danced, ye didn't touch a drop, ye didn't disappear wi' th' lass ... wha' did ye?"
    Daffyd's gaze was distant and he had a soft smile about his face.
    "I danced wi' my wife," he said softly, then focused on his fellow fireman's face. "She'll be m' wife soon enough."
    "I know."
    Daffyd rolled back on his back, laid his forearm across his brows.
    "I remember how she smells," he murmured.
    "How does she dance?"
    "She doesn't." Daffyd's smile was dreamlike as he relaxed. "I danced, an' she ... floated ... in m' arms."
    "Get some rest," the German Irishman grinned as he laid back and worked his head into his pillow. "Ye've had a grand night."
    "Aye."

    "Daddy?"
    The Sheriff looked up, smiling a little; he held his infant son across his lap.
    "Daddy, do you like him better than me?"
    The Sheriff laughed: he picked up his son, laid the sleeping lad up against his chest, extended an arm.
    Angela didn't have to be asked a second time.
    She climbed up on her Daddy's lap and cuddled into as much of his chest as was still available.
    Esther smiled to see her husband snoozing with children cuddled up in his arms.
    She lay a hand on her belly, looked down at her expanse and whispered, "Soon, my dear."
    The child within stirred and Esther rubbed her belly.
    "Soon."

    Sean lay unmoving on his bunk.
    Sweat gleamed on rippling arms and his furrowed forehead, and his breathing quickened a little as his jaw-muscles bulged.
    He was wading through a burning room, shouting: heat seared his ears, the promise of immolation whispering from incinerating wood, promising death as it consumed all it could.
    Sean cupped gloved hands around his mouth, breathed in through his nose, then shouted again, calling, his voice hoarse, unrecognizable.
    The floor sagged underfoot and Sean thrust into a leaping sprint, he leaped free of the sudden cavity, seized a doorway and barely kept from falling in as heat and a glorious shower of red sparks swirled around him --
    There --
    The next room --
    A beam, collapsed, and under it, a booted leg --
    Sean roared into the room and bent and seized the beam and felt the heat through his wet leather gloves and he ground his teeth together and lifted and he felt the beam start to move and he felt his voice stripping his throat raw and the floor groaned and fell away and the trapped fireman fell into the inferno below --
    "SEAN!"
    Daffyd shook the fire chief's shoulder, shouting his name.
    "SEAN!"
    Sean came upright, gasping like a swimmer powering out of deep water, shaking his head and gripping the side of his bunk, desperately, knuckles white: he blinked, coughed, panting, looked up at Daffyd's concerned expression.
    "Sean!" Daffyd said, quieter now, his hand on the Chieftain's shoulder, and Sean clapped his hand on Daffyd's, nodding: he closed his eyes as the cobwebs of the nightmare tore free and disappeared into the ether.
    "I need some water," Sean muttered, throwing back his sweat-damp blankets and staggering to his feet and over to the fire pole.
    Daffyd watched his chief slide down the burnished, waxed brass pole.

  3. Linn Keller 11-8-13

     

    "Papa?"
    I jumped a little inside.
    I was sagged down and settin' on a rock, my head hung down and my fists doubled up, and when Sarah spoke nice and soft I like to shout out of my hide but I didn't show it.
    My breathin' was not good but I breathed through my nose and I durst not make reply, for I get short tempered and snappish when I'm hurtin' and I'd deliberately over done it that morning, deliberately set myself a-hurt ... like as not to punish myself.
    It took me a moment to realize Sarah's approach didn't sound right either.
    I stood, grabbed a granite outcrop to steady myself and turned to look.
    Sarah was not looking too good her own self.
    Something told me my little girl needed her Papa so I turned some more and held out my arm and she walked a little unsteadily over to me and she run her arms around me -- very carefully -- and she leaned into my front and I felt her shivering like a scared little rabbit trying to hide out in plain sight, hunkered down in the grass.
    I held my little girl and leaned back against a sharp spur of rock and figured I would just stand there and pain be damned and in due time Sarah would tell me what was on her mind.
    Meanwhile I'd just stand there and keep punishing myself.
    Finally Sarah lifted her head from where she'd laid her left ear against my breast and she whispered, "I'm scared, Papa," and I patted her back and murmured, "Let's find us a set, Princess, and we'll figure it out."
    We turned and it was but two steps back to my settin' rock, but Sarah sized me up proper in that short trip.
    "Your leg," she said uncertainly.
    "It ain't what it was," I admitted, and Sarah's eyes widened in alarm.
    In an era when men did not admit a disability, when even a smile was seen as a sign of weakness, to admit that a leg wasn't what it was ... well, it didn't make her feel none too comfortable.
    "What brings you out here in the B&W?" I asked, keeping my voice steady as I could.
    Sarah's mouth quirked a little at the corners and her brows puzzled together a little bit, then she started to smile just a little.
    "B&W?" she asked hesitantly.
    "Bushes and weeds," I explained. "A fine society lady like yourself could live your life on fine carpeting with servants at every hand and never leave the house." I shifted, trying to find a position that was somewhat less comfortable; it was a losing battle so I set back down and sighed out my breath.
    "I ... Papa, I went to the dance last night."
    "Good." I looked up, looked to the horizon, my eyes busy, then I looked over at her.
    "A lovely lass like yourself should dance."
    "Papa ... I ..."
    Sarah's eyes dropped and she bit her lip and I saw confusion in her face.
    I laid my hand gently on hers -- ladylike, she'd meant to place hers in her lap, but she ended up with one hand seized around the other, clutched together on her thighs.
    "I'm right here," I murmured.
    "Papa," she quivered, then she considered and took a long breath.
    "Papa ... I ..."
    Sarah's face turned very, very red.
    "Papa, I ... danced with Daffyd ... Mr. Llwewellyn, and I ..."
    Sarah took a few quick breaths and dropped her eyes as if ashamed.
    "Papa ... I ... liked it."
    She looked up at me, almost a challenge now.
    "Papa, I ... really ... liked it."
    I nodded, slowly, knowing this was dangerous territory; a young woman's heart is easily bruised -- God forgive me, I've bruised young hearts myself, and felt like a heel for decades after -- and I wished to tread cautiously.
    "Papa, Mr. Llwewellyn ... Daffyd ... was the ..."
    Sarah took another few breaths, raised her chin defiantly.
    "He was the perfect gentleman," she said decisively. "He said nothing out of line, he did not put his hands anywhere improper and he made no comments that were not those of a perfectly honorable nature."
    Sarah shivered, hard, as if chilled.
    "Papa ... I wanted him."
    I reached up and brushed the hair back from her cheek.
    "Sarah," I whispered, "how did it feel?"
    "It felt good," she whispered back. "God help me, it felt good!"
    "Did you like the way you felt?"
    Sarah nodded, biting her bottom lip.
    "When did you feel this?"
    "When he held me, Papa. When we danced. When I was pressed against him ... Papa, he's solid, he's strong, he dances well ..."
    She looked at me, eyes glitter-bright, her bottom lip quivering.
    "Papa ... I have never ... not since ... I didn't think I could ever ..."
    I waited, knowing Sarah was sorting out something she'd kept shoved well out of arm's reach for a long time now.
    She pulled a kerchief from her sleeve, pressed it to one eye, then the other.
    "Papa ... can I still marry ... he thinks I'm ..."
    She looked at me, misery running over her face like a muddy flood.
    "Papa ... I am used goods." Her bottom lip quivered again and she started to cry, sobbing into her kerchief. "He thinks I'm pure."
    I reached up, rubbed her back with my flat-open hand.
    "You know what happened to me, Papa! I'm not ... I'm used ... oh, Papa, what am I going to do?"
    Sarah gave up every pretense at propriety or decorum and she slung the mantle of young womanhood from her shoulders and threw it into the sandy dirt underfoot, and she revealed something she showed very few people.
    She leaned into me and she was a scared, uncertain, crying little girl, a little girl who needed her Papa, a little girl who didn't know what to do.
    I held her and soothed her and let her cry herself out ... not because I have any great insight into the female soul, but because I honestly didn't know what else to do, and because it gave me time to think of something enlightening, educational, uplifting and maybe mildly amusing to say.
    My mind went whistling out my left ear and headed for California and there I set with both arms full of crying child and an aching heart of my own.
    I don't recall exactly what I did tell her that day, I think it was something to the effect that when I tapped her between her breasts with my four stiff fingers, I told her there was a heart inside, and it was pure, because it was promised in love to only one man, and that was Daffyd Llewellyn.
    I told her the body was the shell, the carriage we drive, the saddle we occupy here on this earth, that things can happen to the carcass but we inside -- again, I pressed my finger tips to her bosom, a steady pressure, not the poke-poke-poke of an angry admonition, but the careful, Daddy-touch in a teaching moment -- and it was in the heart that we are pure or we are not.
    I caressed her cheek and looked her square in the eye and I told her she was pure as an angel, that she was innocent as driven snow, that she was chosen of her own free will to do good in this world, and that evil tried hard but had not left its taint upon her soul.
    That set her to crying harder and I held her for a while longer, and me feeling like a genuine scoundrel for having hurt my little girl all that much more, and a year and a day after (or so it felt), Sarah slowed down and come up for air and I dried her eyes and blotted her cheeks and soothed her with quiet Daddy-words, and Sarah smiled and whispered, "What would I do without you?" and I smiled gently and said, "Make an apple pie?" and she blinked and laughed and dropped her head on my shoulder and I realized maybe I hadn't made a hash of it after all.
    "Dear Papa," Sarah said, her voice thin, "whatever shall I do?"
    She took a long breath.
    I waited for her to arrange her thoughts again.
    "Papa ..."
    I squeezed her a little.
    "Papa ... I know I am supposed to be a woman now ... I ... know that."
    She swallowed, raised her damp kerchief to her face, wiped viciously at another stray tear.
    "Papa, I'm going to be married this month."
    "I know."
    "Papa ..." Sarah shivered in a long breath, blew it out, puffing her cheeks as she considered.
    "Papa," she said softly, "can I still be your little girl?" She looked at me and I thought she was going to start crying again.
    I lay my hand warm and gentle against her flawless cheek, I considered her beauty, the depth of her eyes, and I don't think it was until that moment, when it was just the two of us together, there in the back pasture, with sky blue above her and mountains round about, that I realized just how much I loved this beautiful creature, this child of mine I never knew until her childhood was gone.
    "Sarah," I said softly, "I will tell you a secret. It is known to Papas the world over but it is seldom spoken, for it is a Truth of Great Power."
    Sarah swallowed and nodded me to go ahead.
    "It doesn't matter how old a little girl becomes," I continued, "it does not matter that she marries, that she becomes a mother, even a grandmother.
    "You will always, always be Daddy's little girl. That, Sarah, will never, ever change."
    Sarah closed her eyes and the tears started again and she whispered "Thank you," and I could not help but wonder what I'd done wrong this time.
    It took me a while to realize I'd done it exactly right.

  4. Linn Keller 11-7-13

     

    I swung up on top of Outlaw and waited.
    I felt kind of like a man who'd just touched match to a short fuse on a stick of powder.
    Now when I say I swung up on Outlaw ... I'm leavin' quite a bit out.
    I started by settin' my good hoof in the stirrup, or at least tryin' to.
    That didn't work so good.
    My right leg give out and I hit the ground flat on my back and it knocked the wind out of me.
    There I lay on the barn floor, my eyes squinted against the pain, my left foot still in the stirrup and that black pup lookin' at me from behind a hay bale, all bristled up and snarlin' at me.
    Outlaw never moved.
    I waited til I got some air back in me, then I twisted my foot around some and got it out of the stirrup and got my elbows tucked under me and rolled over on my belly.
    I lay there, my teeth set hard ag'in one another and finally I come up on all fours.
    That brought me nose-to with that curly black pup all a-snarl.
    I was hurt and I was short tempered so I reached up and grabbed the pup by the back of the neck and I snarled right back at him, I shook him hard and I was loud and I was mean and when I let go he kind of dropped back a little and looked at me surprised, then he crawled up toward me and reached up and licked my underjaw.
    I rubbed his fur and called him a good boy and felt ashamed of my self.
    On the one hand I knew I'd just established myself as Top Dawg, but on t'other it hurt my feelin's that I got vigorous with him.
    Finally I give up on beatin' on myself and got both hands on the deck and took a long breath, I rocked back a little and pushed up on all fours and stood up.
    It took me a while to try and get my left foot back into the stirrup.
    My left leg didn't want to hold my weight and I didn't like that much.
    Finally I give up and sit down and that curly black pup set there and cocked his head and looked at me and I reached out my hand and wiggled my fingers.
    He came closer, sniffed my hand and licked my fingers, and I rubbed his ears.
    Outlaw came over and snuffed at me.
    Horses will do that but Outlaw snuffed me like a dog that knows something isn't right.
    I grabbed the edge of the stall and hauled myself up on my good leg.
    My lips peeled back and I growled again.
    I was getting mad and I was getting mad clear through.
    I hobbled over to Outlaw and I took hold of the saddle horn and got my left boot in the doghouse and thrust hard and hauled myself up until I was laid across the saddle.
    My breath caught and I gasped with pain and I reached back with my right hand and grabbed my pants leg and pulled.
    I dragged my leg over and dropped my butt into the seat and gasped, gritting my teeth and squeezing my eyes tight shut against the pain and the frustration.
    I've always been a strong man and I've always been an able man and I've been hurt in the past but I always healed fast.
    I was sawed off and damned if I was letting this most recent stop me.
    Outlaw walked nice and easy and we got outside and I spoke to him and he stepped out in a nice easy trot.
    Damned good thing too.
    I couldn't grip Outlaw's barrel like I usually can.
    I spent the morning in the saddle and once I got home I spent more time walking ... no, that's not right either ... hobbling.
    I made sure I was in the back pasture.
    I didn't want anyone to see me not walking well.

  5. Charlie MacNeil 11-7-13

     

    "Well, we survived all that, and didn't lose too many of 'em," Charlie commented over pie and coffee. He, Fannie and Jacob were seated at the least disgusting table in the least objectionable restaurant in Cripple Creek, taking stock of the crash course in law enforcement skills they'd dumped on the recruits over the course of the past several days. Fannie snorted a most unladylike snort, whether of amusement or derision it was hard to tell.

    "We ended up with six officers who should do a good job," she added. "But we may need to do something about the ones we washed out."

    "I take it you mean Weller?" Jacob asked.

    "I do mean Weller," she replied. "I'm thinking he's going to be trouble for us."

    "The way his temper flares, he may not last long enough to be trouble for anybody but himself," Jacob mused. "That gent is a gunfight looking for a place to happen. I just hope none of our new officers is the one he takes on."

    "Me too," Charlie agreed. "Want me to have a talk with him?" He chuckled. "He might listen to me without me sticking a pistol in his face."

    "It might be worth a try if it settles him down," Jacob said after a moment. He swallowed some coffee, made a face. "Dang, that's almost as bad as the coffee the Sheriff makes at home!" he declared. He pushed his chair back. "I'm off to do some mentoring. The sooner we can get these fellas out on their own, the sooner I can get back home to my wife and family," he commented drily. "See you fine folks after bit."

    Charlie and Fannie watched the young deputy stroll from the restaurant, moving with the deceptive grace of a hunting cougar. Fannie turned to her husband. "Do you really think you can convince Weller to behave himself?"

    "I don't know, but I aim to find out," Charlie replied. "If need be, I'll read him from the book." He smiled coldly. "Then I'll give him thirty minutes to clear out."

    "That simple, eh?" Fannie queried.

    "That simple," Charlie answered.

    "And if he won't go?"

    "He'll go. I'll see to it."

    Fannie laughed and leaned over to kiss him full on the lips, unconcerned with what the other patrons of the beanery might think. "You might just get it done at that, Sugar," she drawled sweetly. "You might just get it done. Just remember, be nice."

    "Oh, I'll be nice, alright," he replied. "Right up until I'm not."

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Rack Weller stamped angrily down the main street of Cripple Creek, his bootheels thudding on dirt, wood and stone, unheeding of who he might bump into or otherwise inconvenience. He had been the first to be told that he was unsuitable to enforce the law in the town, and it grated on his rather substantial ego. Hiring that damn farm boy instead of a man who had proved himself in battle in the war! How could they? He'd show them!

    Charlie stepped outside the beanery and slouched against the wall near the doorway, watching Weller's lean form draw nearer. As the ex-recruit stepped up on the short length of battered lumber that did duty as the building's front porch, Charlie pushed away from the wall. "Mister Weller? Can we talk a minute?" he asked in a neutral tone.

    Weller came to a halt, a short distance away, his heated glare burning into Charlie. "What do you want, MacNeil?" he growled. "I've got things to do."

    "Care for a cup of coffee?" Charlie answered mildly, his posture deceptively relaxed.

    "No, I don't want coffee!" Weller snapped. "Just say what you've got to say, and leave me to my business!"

    Charlie's posture changed, his features going cold and still. "If that's what you want, then you've got it, mister!" he snapped. "You've been growling and grumbling all over town about me and mine ever since you washed out of the police department, but you haven't had the guts to come to me to complain!" Weller bristled at Charlie's words and started to speak. Charlie didn't give him a chance.

    "You just keep your mouth shut, Weller, until I'm finished." He fixed the man with an arctic glare. "You think you're pretty hot stuff, but you ain't nothin' but a little man with a big ego, and it's gonna get you killed if you ain't careful. I'm telling you here and now to stand down." His voice deepened, rumbling from deep inside like boulders under a spring flood. "I don't care in the least whether or not you get yourself shot dead. What I do care about is the men we've trained, and I care about the innocent bystanders who'll get hurt if you start something you can't finish. So stand down, or leave town!"

    "I suppose I've got thirty minutes to decide, huh?" Weller sneered, his temper raging. He took a stiff-legged step back from Charlie, not realizing that he was still too close for his own good; his right hand hovered over the walnut grips of his holstered pistol.

    "Wrong!" Charlie grated. His work-hardened right fist snapped up and forward to bury itself in Weller's gut just above his belt buckle. Air whooshed out of the man's lungs in an agonized squawk as he folded forward, arms coming up to wrap around his suddenly paralyzed diaphragm. He totally forgot his pistol in his attempt to draw even the tiniest bit of air into his empty lungs.

    Charlie's left hand snatched the pistol from the holster as his right hand caught a handful of greasy hair at the back of Weller's head and yanked the ex-recruit's face down to meet Charlie's rapidly rising knee. Weller's beakish snout exploded in a welter of blood as bone shattered under the onslaught. Weller hit the porch floor with a boneless thud, out cold. Charlie looked down. "Time's up." He shucked the cartridges from the man's pistol, tossed them in a nearby water trough, dropped the cylinder from the pistol into his hand and threw it behind him then dropped the empty gun on the porch floor.

    Not feeling especially merciful, but at the same time not wanting the man to expire from his injuries, Charlie knelt and rolled him on his side and tilted his head back. Weller gasped through his open mouth as he began to breathe again, though still unconscious. Charlie looked around at the small crowd of miners and townsfolk who had gathered. He pointed at a boy of perhaps ten who stood gaping. "You!" The boy lifted his startled eyes to Charlie's face.

    "Who, me?"

    "Yes, you. Run down the street and get the doc. And be quick about it!"

    "Yes sir!" the boy answered then turned and raced off down the street. Fannie stepped out of the beanery.

    "Real tactful there, Sugar," she drawled.

    Charlie looked up at her. "Hey, what can I say? He brought it on himself!"

    "Uh huh," she replied drily. She turned to the crowd. "Show's over, folks. Go on about your business," she ordered. No one moved for a moment. Fannie drew in a breath as Charlie smiled, knowing what was coming. "MOVE! NOW!" The small gathering scattered like quail in the face of the daunting voice that roared from such a slim frame. In a moment she, her husband and her husband's victim were the only occupants of the beanery's porch.

  6. Linn Keller 11-5-13

     

    "Mommy?"
    "Hm?" Esther paused, looked over her square lenses spectacles at her daughter.
    "What'cha wrrriting?"
    Angela blinked and tried hard to look innocent: she knew she was interrupting her Mommy, she knew children were supposed to be seen and not heard, but she was a curious and impulsive child, and for better or not, Esther indulged her.
    "I," Esther explained patiently, "am working with Bonnie."
    Angela looked surprised, then looked around and looked back at her Mommy.
    Esther laughed. "No, sweets, she isn't here right now."
    "Oh."
    "We talked earlier. You see, there will be many people here for Sarah's wedding."
    "Yaaay," Angela cheered quietly, clapping her hands together and bouncing a little on her toes.
    "And all these people must be fed."
    Angela suddenly looked solemn.
    "We are determining how much we must prepare."
    "Oh." Angela blinked, considering. "Lots of people?"
    Esther nodded.
    "Lots and lots of people?"
    Esther nodded again.
    "Will Sergeant Mick be there?"
    Esther laughed, remembering the big Irishman's laugh, his sparkling eyes, his great laugh and how badly -- if enthusiastically -- the cavalryman danced.
    "Yes, sweets, he will, and so will the Texas Rangers."
    Angela's eyes grew big and round.
    "Will Nelson Bell be there?" she asked hopefully.
    "He is planning to, sweets."
    "Will Nellie Bell be there?"
    Esther paused, wet her lips, then said gently, "Angela, I'm sorry. Nellie Bell passed away last year."
    "Oh." Angela looked stricken. "What about Christmas Bell?"
    Esther laughed gently.
    Nellie Bell had come to visit and Esther took one look at her and said, "Nellie, you're pregnant!" --before Nellie knew herself.
    Esther told the astonished Nellie Bell she would be delivered on Christmas Day of a fine, healthy baby girl with pink cheeks and a singer's lungs and her father's laughing good temper, and she'd been proven right: fever took Nellie less than a year later.
    "I don't think Christmas Bell will be coming."
    "Oh."
    Angela frowned, looked at the floor, then looked up, smiled broadly and with a bright "'Bye!" she scampered out the door and into her Daddy's study.
    "What'cha doin', Daddy?" she exclaimed, charging up to him and giving him a big, Angela-sized hug, which was considerable bigger than her owing to the enthusiasm of its delivery.
    Her Daddy laid down his pen and turned and returned the Angela-sized hug with a Daddy-sized hug and a muts-tash tickle as he pretended to chew on her neck.
    Angela giggled and her Daddy set her down and brushed her cheek with the back of his bent finger, and Angela meant her Daddy was feeling kind of soft and cuddly inside.
    Angela liked it when her Daddy was soft and cuddly.
    He gave good hugs when she needed them.
    "I," he whispered, "am sending away for a surprise, shhhhh," and he put his finger to his lips and looked around melodramatically.
    Angela looked around too, then she looked back and whispered, "Bonnie isn't here."
    Her Daddy laughed and took her head in both hands and kissed her forehead.
    "I know, Princess," he whispered, then picked her up and set her on his lap.
    Angela loved it when her Daddy set her on his lap.
    It made her feel ver-ry, very-ry special.
    "Look here," he said quietly, thumping his fingertip on a sheet of paper. "Read this."
    Angela turned awkwardly; her Daddy slid his chair back and turned, then slid in again, so Angela would not have to read over her own shoulder.
    Angela puzzled over the regular, ornate script, frowning with concentration.
    Linn could see her lips tracing the words and she stopped and looked at him, puzzled.
    "Yellow?" she said, then hiccuped.
    "What else do you see?" Linn whispered, rubbing her back and patting it gently.
    Angela looked at the paper again, pulled her head back a little, confused.
    "But Daddy," she protested, "wozes -- rrroses -- are rrred!"
    The Sheriff laughed and hugged his little girl again and whispered in her clean-scrubbed, pink ear, his muts-tash tickling her as he puffed his secret through her curls.
    "I found," he whispered, "and this is a secret" -- he drew back from her, put a finger to his lips, and Angela put a finger most solemnly to her own lips -- Linn winked and pulled her close again.
    "I found some yellow roses!"
    Angela pulled back, her eyes big, and Linn nodded, putting his finger to his lips and winking.
    "There is a secret meaning to yellow roses," Linn murmured, his arm around his little girl's waist: "it means friendship."
    Angela frowned.
    "These," he said, thumping the paper with a fingertip, "are for your mother."
    Angela's confusion was evident on her young face.
    "But Daddy," she protested, "she's ... Mommy!"
    Linn laughed.
    "I will give you a secret, Princess, and I need you to remember this for many years to come."
    "But I'm just a little girl!" Angela protested sadly.
    Linn laughed, kissed Angela's fingers.
    "You're in school now," he said softly, "and you'll be interested in boys, and in time you will very likely meet a fine young man and get married."
    Angela's expression brightened, then she grew serious.
    "I need to grow up first, Daddy," she admonished.
    Linn laughed and Angela laughed with him, for she loved it when her big strong Daddy laughed: his eyes laughed first, then his face, then she felt his laugh shine like warm sunlight out of his belly and she always felt good when she heard her Daddy laugh from his belly.
    "I," Linn said, his voice Daddy-soft, but Angela caught the deeper tones that meant he was saying something important, "I married by best friend. That" -- he poked her gently in the belly and Angela giggled -- "is why we are man and wife and why we love each other and that's why we have you!"
    Angela blinked and was suddenly very serious.
    "Daddy," she said, "Mommy is going to have a baby."
    Linn tried to look innocent.
    "I, um, know that," he said hesitantly.
    "Daddy, what does Dana mean?"
    Linn reached up and brushed the hair back from her forehead, and Angela saw a deep sadness in his light blue eyes.
    "Dana," he said slowly, then he cleared his throat and continued, "Dana means Precious Pearl."
    "Oh."
    Angela considered this, then said, "Why don't you name her Precious Pearl?"
    Linn laughed quietly and hugged Angela again.
    "Do you know what Angela means?" he whispered.
    Angela shook her head.
    "It means 'Angel.' You" -- he brushed her nose with the delicate tip of his forefinger -- "you, my dear, are my personal angel!"
    Angela looked surprised, then confused.
    "Daddy," she protested, "I don't have wings!"
    "Yes you do," he whispered. "You have wings."
    Angela reached up, over her head, pink fingers reaching down toward her shoulder blades: she shook her head emphatically.
    Linn kissed her forehead again, then lowered his head to look his little girl squarely in her lovely, shining eyes.
    "Do you remember when you rode Outlaw?" he whispered.
    Angela nodded.
    "Remember when you took him over the high fence?"
    Angela's eyes went suddenly big and the Sheriff saw the memory in his little girl's eyes, he saw the magic of that moment when horse and rider become one magical creature, riding the wind itself.
    "Horses," he said, "have wings we can't see, and they let us use theirs until we get our own."
    "Sawwah told me about horsies with wings," Angela said excitedly, the little girl in her shining through in her excitement. "She said his name is Peg-legs and he was greasy!" Angela frowned, wrinkling her nose.
    "I think," the Sheriff corrected gently, "you mean Pegasus, and he lived in Greece."

  7. Linn Keller 11-5-13

     

    It took time and it took patience.
    Time I had and patience I had, not so much because I liked being patient, but because patience was required to get the job done.
    You can't muck out a stall with three strokes and you can't fell a tree with three swings of an ax, you can't buck up a stack of firewood with two or three strokes of the bucksaw, and I knew I could not gentle down this fierce little fellow with the curly black coat and the brown angel eyes over his own shining black orbs.
    The Bear Killer came around and I had meat enough to gift him as well, and the little snarling creature -- "little" is a relative term, he was the size of my old Beagle dog I used to have -- but compared to The Bear Killer, who would have no trouble standing flat footed and drinking out of my kitchen sink, well, the pup was a little fellow.
    To be real honest, beside The Bear Killer, I felt kind of puny my own self!
    That little pup watched really close as I rubbed The Bear Killer's ears, and The Bear Killer laid himself down and set his jaw gentle-like across my lap and groaned with pleasure as my hands worked into his fur.
    I reckon it was most of an hour later -- I'd parked my backside on the sunny side of the barn, my coat I'd picked up and casually dropped on some straw, and that black pup managed to slink in under it and peek out and damned if I know how he got out there unseen, but he did -- well, the three of us set there soakin' up some sun and every now and again I looked down and saw that shiny black nose and those bright, unblinking eyes just a-fast upon me.
    It felt good, with The Bear Killer warm across my lap (his jaw anyway, if he'd set the rest of him on me my poor old leg would have give up and broke off) and the sun warm on me and there's a comfort a man draws from caressin' a hound dog, and I reckon I must have relaxed more than I realized.
    My left hand had fell down a-dangle, I realized later, for something cold and wet brushed against it and then there was the exploring lick of a tongue.
    That pup snarled some when I opened my hand and ran my fingers real light down his neck fur, but he didn't offer to snap nor pull away.
    I stroked the pup again, eliciting another fierce snarl, but he scooted a little closer so I could reach him better.
    Now I reckon it was quite a sight, me a-sittin' there ag'in my barn, half asleep, with a dog big enough to ride chin-draped across my lap and looking drowsy, and a little bitty version on my left, fangs bared and snarling fit to tear a man's hand off up to his shoulder every time I rubbed his curly black fur, but making no move a'tall to draw away.
    Finally The Bear Killer gave a great sneezing sigh and drew back, sat up and yawned, his jaws wide enough to catch a beer keg and swallow it whole, and that curly black pup sat up and laid his chin on my leg and I opened one eye and looked down at him.
    Slow, gentle, easy, I rubbed him around the ears and across behind his head.
    Black lips rippled back to show sharp, white teeth, his lips quivered with canine obscenities, he snarled threats that would put fear in the heart of a graven statue, but he seemed otherwise happy at my attentions.
    The Bear Killer got up and sauntered around me, shoving his nose against the curly pup, rolling it over and giving a good face-washing, and the pup reached up and licked The Bear Killer's jaw, and I knew these two knew one another, and the pup wisely accepted what was probably his sire as the top dog.
    The Bear Killer then leaned over and gave me a good washing along the jaw.
    He drew back and that pup looked up at me with his head cocked a little, for all the world as if he were considerin', then he jumped up with his paws on my hip and licked me under the jaw as well -- a quick, hesitant lick, and my arm went around his shoulders and rubbed him a little.
    I looked down at him and those wild ivories were a hand's-breadth from my face and I knew he could do me quite a bit of damage at this distance and not a thing I could do to stop it, but he didn't.
    He let me rub his fur and he looked at The Bear Killer for all the world like he was looking for approval.

    "Daddy?"
    "Yes, Princess?"
    "Daddy, aren't you going to the dance tonight?"
    I looked up at Angela, then rose from my chair.
    I took her hand, ran my arm behind her, drew her tight and hoist, and though my side called me very unpleasant names I stepped back, and around, to the side and fore, I turned, following the steps I knew so well: turn again, and I set her down, and eased down to my knees, taking both her little hands in both of mine.
    "Why," I whispered, leaning my head forward until my nose just touched hers, and Angela leaned her forehead into mine, until each of us saw one big eye and we both laughed.
    "Why," I said again, "should I go into town when I can dance with two of the loveliest ladies in all of Colorado, right here in my own parlor?"
    It took an effort but I got back to my feet, and I saw the concern in Esther's eyes as I did, for she could likely see the pain in my own.
    My knuckles were white as I gripped the back of a chair to steady myself, then I paced over to my bride and picked up her hand and kissed her knuckles.
    "Angela," I said quietly, "I want you to remember this."
    Angela looked at us and tilted her head curiously, blinking.
    "When you find you are sweet on a man," I said, "If he does not kiss your hand and treat you like an absolute queen, walk away and have nothing more to do with him."
    "Yes, Daddy," Angela said in an obedient-little-girl tone of voice, then she considered a moment, frowning.
    "Daddy?"
    "Hm?"
    "Mommy already told me that," she declared with a huff, planting her knuckles on her waist and tilting her head to the side, still with a frown.
    I laughed, patted Esther's hand in mine, and felt Esther's hand tighten a little in my own.
    "Your mother is not only younger, smarter and better looking than me," I said, "she is also left handed, which means that she's a truly talented individual."
    "I know that," Angela said with an emphatic nod of her head, setting her curls a-bob, and I laughed.
    "Well now," I declared, turning and taking two steps toward my little girl, "maybe that's because you are younger, smarter and better looking than me too!"
    I raised Angela's knuckles to my lip and kissed them.
    "May I have this dance?"

  8. Linn Keller 11-4-13

     

    I labored out to the barn and set there for a while.
    The black shadow that inhabited my left-behind coat glared at me from the shadows.
    I waited, patient, knowing the meat I held would be an inducement.
    I was right.
    Males of all kind, whether two legged or four legged, think with two things.
    One is their stomach.
    This fellow eventually came close enough to allow me to swing him a strap of meat, good and fresh and raw.
    He grabbed it and glared at me and growled and I glared right back at him and I growled back.
    I let him have it and I set there as he chewed on it and held it between his paws.
    He was in arm's reach of me.
    That meant a degree of trust.
    I did not push things, I did not try and take it from him.
    I knew that sleeping in my coat, smelling my scent, getting used to the idea that my scent meant comfort, would associate me with good things in his life.
    Angela was safely in the house which suited me.
    Angela did not know a stranger, whether horse, man or dog, and I did not want her premature approach to cause ... unpleasantness.
    This was the Bear Killer's get.
    I wanted this little fellow to take a likin' to me.

    Daffyd Llewellyn stood in front of his fellows and swallowed hard.
    He regarded the white helmet with the two upright speaking trumpets on the front shield, and he looked at Sean, and then he set the pressed, formed leather hardhat on his head.
    The Brigade responded with a roar of approval: they broke ranks and crowded close about him, pounding his back, shaking his hand, slapping their hands in rough good-fellowship on the white Assistant Chief's helmet, uttering obscene threats and their general approbation of his having been promoted to the Second in Command.

    Sarah listened carefully to the womanly advice of the inner circle of the Ladies' Tea Society, her pale eyes going from one to another as each spoke in turn, each imparting her advice on married life, each hoping her words would make the union of man and wife a bit less odious, somewhat less confining.

    Mick, the big Irish sergeant of cavalry, saluted the Lieutenant in charge of the fort: his old and dear friend the Sheriff was known to the LT and Mick was given permission to take a detachment to the planned wedding of the Sheriff's daughter, that mystifiying creature they'd heard described as a combination of Joan of Arc and Lillith herself, somewhere between the Shee and Bouadicca: neither man was sure of anything much, save that it was a wedding, it was an excuse to get cleaned up and show the flag, and Sean had a thirst for the good beer at the Silver Jewel, and it would be good to see his old friend the Sheriff again.

  9. Linn Keller 11-3-13

     

    I ate slowly, savoring every bite.
    Esther ate delicately, for all that she ate well; she was looking motherly ... she'd picked up some weight and her face was fuller, her skin was healthy, glowing, she was ...
    She was beautiful.
    No two ways about it.
    Esther, my beautiful bride, was looking more beautiful than she's ever been.
    "Mrs. Keller," I said gently, "if it would not scandalize the community, I would take you to the dance tonight."
    Esther gave me a long look through lowered lashes and I felt myself fall into those eyes, those emerald lakes, and if it's possible for an old married man to fall in love all over again, I did there at our dinner table.
    Head over tincup, damned fool in love, all over again.

    Daffyd Llewellyn frowned at his boot.
    He brushed carefully at the curve of the squared toe, nodded; he set the gleaming boot down beside its equally immaculate partner and slipped the horsehair boot brush back into the wooden box cluttered with tins of polish and buffing rags.
    He stood, restless, picked up the stiff-bristled clothes brush and picked up the sleeve of his good suit.
    He considered, then squinted at the suit's shoulders, its collar, and finally sighed and shook his head.
    He'd brushed his suit three times now, his boots were brushed, buffed, polished and perfect.
    He tossed the brush on his bunk and paced over to the textbook-sized mirror, examined his chin.
    He was barbered, he was shaved, he was clean and sweet-smellin', he was ...
    He was nervous as a whore in church.
    Daffyd Llewellyn considered, glaring at the far wall, then closed his eyes and took a long breath.
    He'd been out to their house, making the final inspections; the construction was finished, and a good tight job it was: the house was sound, it was of stone, and laid up and mortared into a unified whole: the ashlars were set on bedrock and mortared in place, the drainage was good, the walls plumb and corners square and floors all level; the roof was snow-pitched, precisely laid slate, the windows were in place and puttied in -- more windows than were usually seen, they were expensive (shockingly so!) but worth it, for his bride did so love seeing her mountains! -- most of the furniture was arrived and set in place, and he'd lingered in their bedroom, imagining what it would be to carry his bride to their marriage bed.
    He stood, his ears reddening, then shook his head.
    Such thoughts were not becoming to a man -- she was not his wife yet, he had no business thinking of --
    Daffyd opened his eyes, threw his head back, took a great gasping breath.
    "Lad?"
    Sean's deep rumble snapped the spell and Daffyd opened his eyes, once more in the Brigade's second story bunk room.
    Daffyd blinked, shook his head slowly.
    "Just ... thinking," Daffyd mumbled.
    "Aye," Sean nodded, laying a warm, strong hand on his right-hand-man's shoulder.
    "Lad," he said, almost uncertain, "I wanted t' save this f'r yer weddin' but ye'll be occupied."
    Daffyd looked up at his tall, muscled Chieftain, curiosity quirking his eyebrows.
    Sean put both hands on Daffyd's shoulders and looked him square in the eye.
    "Lad," he said, "I am but a man an' I can fall same as any."
    Daffyd frowned a little, turning his head slightly, his eyes locked on the Irishman's piercing blue orbs.
    "I want ye as m' assistant chief."
    Daffyd felt the color drain from his face and he leaned back against the wall, his jaw dropping slack.
    Sean grinned and pounded his new deputy happily on the shoulders.
    "Aye, lad!" he boomed. "An' I've summat for ye! C'mon down!"
    He turned and took two quick steps to the shining brass firepole, seized it: the pole shivered with the massive Irishman's impact and Daffyd leaped after him.
    Sean hit the pad, stepped lightly aside.
    The Brigade was drawn up in a neat rank, and at the far end, the German Irishman held something covered with a white linen napkin.
    "Lad," Sean said, pacing slowly down the line of red-shirted Irishmen, "to a man we decided this. None of us will follow a man we don't trust."
    The German Irishman took one step forward, executed a perfect left-face, reached up with his free hand and grasped the napkin.
    He whipped it free, revealing a brand new, white fire helmet, with two vertical speaking-trumpets carved into the leather shield on its front.
    "Well don't just stand there, lad," Sean boomed, grinning as broad as two Texas townships, "try th' damned thing on an' see i' i' fits!"

    Angela was my daughter.
    She was not the get of my loins but she was my daughter anyway, and looking at her, dozing in her chair, I knew this was a fact.
    I'm like an old b'ar myself.
    I get my belly full and I get set down and relaxed and I fall asleep.
    I worked my way over behind her chair and carefully, slowly, gripped the back of her chair and slid her back, slow, easy, gentle.
    I had to.
    It hurt even though I moved slow.
    I didn't care.
    I bent down and slid my arms around her and under her and I tucked my butt and hoist and stood up straight.
    My side and my leg called me all kind of unkind names and I felt the cold sweat pop out on my head and I bit my bottom lip but by God! I picked up my little girl and I packed her into the parlor.
    Be honest I hadn't the steam in my boiler to pack her upstairs to her bunk so I headed for the next best thing.
    Angela was sound asleep and she was relaxed and comfortable when I laid her down on the parlor sofa, and she hummed a little when I settled the blanket down over her.
    Esther was across the room looking at me with those big lovely eyes of hers and I looked back at her and grinned.
    I know she thought I over did it and matter of fact my side and my leg agreed with her.
    I labored across the floor and kissed Esther and held her for several long moments, until she whispered, "My dear, forgive me, but I must sit down."
    I helped her into her upholstered chair.
    She sat down slowly, carefully, one hand on her belly, blowing her breath out slow through pursed lips.
    I leaned on the arm of her chair and whispered, "My dear, is all well?"
    Esther looked up at me and smiled, nodding.
    I raised an eyebrow.
    "I know that look, Mr. Keller," Esther murmured. "It's only false labor. It happens."
    "You're sure ...?" I murmured.
    Esther smiled again, nodded, leaned her head back against the chair back and closing her eyes.
    "Oh, yes," she said drowsily. "A woman knows."
    I waited several minutes before I went on out the front door.
    It was a lovely noontime; I made my slow way across to the barn and went on inside, curious to see if The Bear Killer's get was still there.
    I went inside and looked around, saw my coat still piled up on the floor.
    I eased myself down on a hay bale and waited for my eyes to get used to the lesser light.
    "You still here, fella?" I called softly.
    I saw the shadowed mass of the coat move and something black flowed out of it and snarled.
    I smiled a little.
    "Stick around," I said. "I've even got your name picked out."

  10. Charlie MacNeil 11-2-13

     

    Once Weller got over the case of overeager ego that had nearly gotten him killed, the ex-soldier proved that he could, indeed, shoot. The same could not be said of the majority of his fellow recruits. However, by the end of the day all and sundry were able to hit a hand-sized target at twenty feet five shots out of five. But the hardest lesson was yet to come and would only come with experience: learning to shoot was relatively simple; learning when not to shoot was something that lectures could never teach.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    "Shotgun time, boys," Fannie drawled sweetly, breath drifting white on the cold morning air. She held a Greener hip-braced in her right hand, muzzles pointed skyward. The belt cinched around her slim waist held an even dozen brass-cased buckshot loads snugly but not so snugly as to preclude easy grab and load. "When you patrol, you patrol in pairs. Do not, and I repeat, do not patrol by yourself." One of the men raised his hand. "Yes?"

    "Ma'am, won't we look like we're scared if we go in pairs?"

    "Are you?" Fannie asked in reply.

    "Well, uh, I guess not," the recruit replied.

    "You guess not, or you're not?" Fannie asked. "Make up your mind."

    "I'm not really scared," he answered. "A little nervous, maybe."

    "Then you're a damn fool!" Fannie declared sharply. A few chuckles could be heard from the ranks, chuckles that cut off sharply under Fannie's laser-sharp glare. "You men seem to think that going out in the streets and enforcing the law is going to be a walk in the park, that your fancy uniform and your shiny badge is going to make people respect you. Nothing could be further from the truth, boys. And boys includes you, Rack Weller." She pinned Weller with her emerald stare. The ex-soldier stared at the ground and shuffled his feet.

    "Respect has to be earned, and it's going to be earned in blood, bruises and powder smoke. And some of the blood is going to be yours. By going in pairs, you make sure that less of the blood is yours." The group was silent now.

    Abruptly changing the subject, she went on. "How many of you have seen what a charge of buckshot from a gun like this one," she moved the shotgun enough to draw the group's attention, "can do to a human body?" No one moved; they hardly breathed. "Buckshot is an ugly thing," she went on. "It's messy and it's bloody. And it should only be used as a last resort, or when you're outnumbered and up close and personal."

    Another hand went up. "Ma'am? There's only two rounds in a Greener. What if there's more than one man comin' ag'in ya?" Four large pumpkins could be seen perched on posts behind Fannie; she spun, the Greener coming to her shoulder as she eared the hammers back. The care-hardened buttplate hit her shoulder, the doublegun belched flame and white smoke, and two of the pumpkins were blasted clear of their resting places to shatter on the hard soil. In a series of movements the men could hardly credit Fannie broke open the gun, shucked the smoking, empty hulls, and eared back the hammers with her right thumb as her left hand grabbed a pair of shiny brass shells from the belt around her waist. She dunked the loaded rounds into the chambers, slammed the gun closed, brought it to her shoulder and fired, smashing the two remaining pumpkins. She cleared the double and turned to face her gaping observers. The entire sequence had taken less than ten seconds.

    "Does that answer your question, Mister Gill?"

    "Yes, Ma'am, I believe it does," Gill replied, his tone humble. His eyes were wide as he stared at her.

    "Good. Anybody else? No? Then let's get started."

  11. Linn Keller 11-2-13

     

    felt Angela's head move -- slightly, quickly -- and she said, "Daddy, the doggie!"
    Right about then I heard a growl and it wasn't friendly.
    Young, my ear told me, not full grown but that means fast.
    My back was to the depths of the barn and I knew if the dog came at us we were in trouble.
    A man with a knife can cover thirty feet and deliver a lethal stroke before most men can draw, target and fire.
    Jacob and I practiced that a number of times.
    We hung a shingle on a frame and hung it off a pulley, ran a clothes line from a fence post to another fence post and drew it fiddle string tight, hung the pulley on that clothes line ... we tied a long leash to the pulley and we'd stand well off to the side and take off a-walkin' toward the far fence post, drawing that shingle toward whichever of us was ready to shoot.
    It's honestly scary to see how fast that shingle -- moving toward you at a walking pace -- approaches.
    When you're in the fight and it's happening something happens to your mind and you handle the danger as it approaches but when you're in practice like this you realize -- you consciously realize -- just how fast a walking pace can be.
    Then we try it at a running pace.
    Damn few men can make the draw and hit.
    Jacob can, and he makes it look easy.
    Charlie can, and he makes it look like "What the hell just happened?" fast.
    Me ... I can do it too.
    I also knew inside that barn the distance was considerable shorter than thirty feet and a dog moves a hell of a lot faster than a man on the attack.
    "Angela," I said quietly, "go to the house and bring me two chunks of meat wide as your hand and long as mine. Do it now."
    I set her down and turned, crouching a little, scanning into the barn, trying to find the source of our mutual distress.
    I heard Angela's running pace and tensed, knowing all predators have a pursuit instinct, and when I saw movement, I drew.
    I'd spent quite a bit of time with my Colt tore down.
    I'd carefully stoned and polished and delicately stroked the bearing surfaces until the innards were slick as jewels, I oiled it with a wire dipped in good oil, the pistol came alive as my hand wrapped around the plow handle and my spirit flowed into it and I felt the machined steel cylinder roll and lock into place and the hammer triple clicked to full cock.
    Dark moved in the dark, a shadow within shadow: whatever it was, I realized, it was black as a sinner's heart.
    I hesitated.
    "Why hello there," I said quietly, but my gun muzzle never wavered: my other hand was already gripped around my knife's handle ... if it was close in, I like a knife, and I knew how much damage I could do with this honed slicer.
    "Come on out," I said quietly, gentling my voice. "I think I know you, fella."
    One step, two steps, three: it was that curly black wolf cub, The Bear Killer's get unless I missed my guess.
    I eased the hammer down, slid the engraved Colt back into leather.
    Squatting now, I extended my hand.
    "You know me, fella," I said quietly, little above a whisper: the knife nosed itself back down into my left boot top sheath. "Come on out now."
    Angela came bouncing into the barn, bringing light, life and noise with her: "Daddy, I got the meat, wheredayawannit -- Doggie!" she exclaimed.
    The little -- well, it wasn't that little: it was the size of our beagle dog wed used to have ... bristled up, it was that big. If it'd been shaved off bald it would've been some smaller.
    I wasn't terribly worried about shaving the critter.
    I was worried about Angela.
    She took a couple quick steps forward and flopped a strip of meat out toward that little bear killer pup.
    "Come on, doggie,"she wheedled. "Come on, doggie. I got some meat for you."
    "Set it down," I said quietly. "Set it down and back up to me."
    Angela very carefully wagged the meat, blew gently on it, knowing it would carry the scent of raw elk to the curly black intruder.
    I peeled out of my coat, piled it up at the base of a pile of straw and laid the second broad strip of meat right in front of it, then tented the coat over to of it.
    I motioned Angela out behind me and I backed out, facing the curly black pup.
    It wasn't until we were clear out that the pup crept forward, stretched its neck out and bit the end of that first strip and drug it back into the dark.
    I could see white teeth and the two light tan angel eyes over top his black, shining eyes.
    I turned and something big, black and furry reared up in front of me: two big black furry legs dropped massive black paws on my shoulders and The Bear Killer gave me a happy face washing, and I near to passed out from the pain in my side.
    I went down to hands and knees and gasped in pain, and The Bear Killer cold nosed the angle of my jaw and whined.

  12. Linn Keller 11-1-13

     

    I keep a bottle of Old Crud Cutter out in the barn.
    Matter of fact I went out to the barn and fetched that bottle out of where I keep it, and I held it in my hand and I leaned against the wall and stared at that bottle.
    I get cranky when I'm a-hurtin' and I hurt and no two ways around it.
    I'm damned if I'll use that bitter tastin' poppy juice Doc give me.
    I could take a good long drink.
    The Daine boys' grain sprouts, fermented and distilled and bottled up for my good pleasure, would ease my pain.
    I stared at that bottle for a long time before setting it back untasted.
    I closed my eyes and took a long breath, a careful breath.
    Hell of a note, I thought, when too deep a breath might bust a man's lung.
    I looked out the open door and considered.
    It was a little chilly in the barn and I knew it was sunny outside, warm in the sun if I could get out of the wind ... but I wanted to do some thinkin' and that meant I wanted to be alone.
    I closed my eyes and went back to Cripple, went back to that day on the street when I found out that crooked lawyer hired a bunch to grass me.
    They figured they could buffalo me into runnin' if they set up a barricade and made me think they had a whole durn regiment just a-waitin' to fill me full of air holes.
    Matter of fact if two of 'em hadn't got too anxious and fired before they were ready and give me time to dive behind that horse trough, why, they might have succeeded in their ambuscade.
    I leaned my shoulder against the inside of the barn and remembered turning my head, looking back along my hip as I lay there, just as a fellow came out from the alley and looked right at me and brought his gun barrel down toward me.
    He was sure enough lookin' at me, I thought, and nowhere else.
    He surely was not a-lookin' over top of me toward that ambushing row of trash, tables and barrels they'd started settin' up.
    I nodded, standing there in my barn, my eyes still closed as I went over it again.
    I recalled how mad I got.
    I recalled looking deep down into Esther's emerald eyes, looking into the depths of two bottomless wells, wells of life, wells of light, and I recalled how she felt, warm and solid and all woman when I held her against me.
    I recalled Angela, laughing and scattering giggles all around us as I snatched her up and held her overhead and spun us around.
    I recalled sitting at my own table with my own family under my own roof and how good coffee tasted and how that fresh pie smelled and I remembered looking across the table at Esther and seeing her quiet smile as she looked at me with so much going on behind those quiet eyes, and I got mad.
    I got good and rip roarin' mad clear through.
    One man, one crooked scoundrel, set these bushwhack artists to their task, and they did not care that Angela smiled like sunrise itself, nor that Esther smelled of soap and lavender water, they did not care that coffee was good and so was the feel of my office chair when I set down to write in my journal.
    They did not care.
    And now I lay behind a horse trough with bullets smacking into its front and a dead man bleeding on the board walk behind me and I replaced the fired round in my right hand Colt, I taken up my engraved '73 rifle and eared back the hammer, and I stopped for a moment and read the engraving on the side plate.
    To my husband, I read, and that was enough.
    I grabbed the side of that horse trough and vaulted over it.
    It was time to go to war.

    I opened my eyes and took a long breath, blew it out slow.
    I recall how I was surprised to see my breath, for it was a little chillier than I realized but inside the barn, in the shady interior, I could see it plain.
    I did right, I thought.
    Damn near got killed but I did what I had to do.
    I thought about Charlie and Jacob and felt an old guilt.
    I'd started what I couldn't finish and now Charlie and Jacob had to clean up my mess.
    Part of me realized that wasn't entirely the fact of the matter.
    The rest of me wanted to pick up and anvil and throw it through the nearest wall.
    I turned instead and Angela came bouncing in through the open door, and climbed up on a hay bale so she was some taller, and I felt my face relax.
    Angela's face was flushed, her hair wasn't as neat as it was earlier, but she had this big delighted grin on her face and she threw her arms wide, and I realized the Lord looks out after fools and children, and this fool needed to be told -- through a little girl's delighted hug -- that all was still well, and this child, through her Daddy's embrace, needed to share the joy she felt at a good ride on a beautiful day.
    I hugged my little girl and realized I was where I was supposed to be, and doing what I was supposed to be doing, and it felt good.

  13. Charlie MacNeil 10-31-13

     

    "I think that went pretty well," Charlie commented over elk steak, beans and bread the evening after the stick training session.

    "Went pretty well? You're kidding, right?" Jacob asked incredulously.

    "Why, Jacob, what ever do you mean?" Charlie "answered" with a disingenuous grin.

    "I mean we ended up with a broken arm and six broken fingers out of ten men!" Jacob declared.

    "So we still have eight effectives for your pistol class tomorrow. The broken fingers were all on their left hands, except for that one feller. He wasn't so lucky. So I think it went pretty well. Definitely coulda been a whole lot worse."

    Jacob snorted. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. Well, night all. It's gonna be an interesting day tomorrow." He swabbed the last of his supper from his plate with a thick slice of bread, chewed and swallowed it in three bites, stood and strode out of the room.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    The remaining eight healthy recruits, accompanied by the two men whose injuries precluded handling anything related to a firearms, filed out of the ramshackle jailhouse. Jacob strode ahead, turned the corner into the alley that ran alongside the jail and stepped out onto a makeshift shooting range he had set up at the foot of the juniper-covered ridge that flanked the town. A wooden case of .44-40, grudgingly provided by the mayor and the town council, sat beside another similar box filled with brass-cased buckshot loads for the mule-ear doubleguns the men carried broken open and draped over their arms. Jacob reached the firing line and turned to face the group as they spread out to either side.

    "You men can lay the shotguns on that table," Jacob told them, pointing to a long makeshift table put together from sawhorses and planks that stood beyond the end of the line of targets. When the shotguns were all on the table, he addressed the group.

    "How many of you men were in the war?" Jacob asked. Only one man, somewhat older than the rest and several years older than Jacob, raised a hand. Jacob looked directly at him. "What's your name, mister?"

    "Rack Weller," the recruit answered, stepping forward with his thumbs hooked in his belt.

    "So can you shoot, Rack Weller?"

    Weller grinned. "Yep."

    "How well can you shoot, Rack Weller?"

    "Damn well, Mister Deputy!" Weller declared with a cocky grin.

    "We'll see about that, Rack Weller," Jacob replied with a cold smile. "Back in line, mister." He waited, but Weller didn't move. "What are you waiting for, Weller?" Jacob barked. "I gave you an order!"

    "I don't need to take orders from no boy!" Weller snapped.

    "Excuse me?"

    "I said..." Weller began.

    "I heard you," Jacob interrupted. "I just couldn't believe you said it. But since you did, you can leave." He turned to address the remaining recruits. "Can any of the rest of you..." Weller stood stock-still, anger etched on his rapidly reddening features. Jacob paused to favor him with a cold stare. "You're still here?"

    "Damn right I'm still here!" Weller growled. "An' I'm stayin' here until you..."

    "Until I what?" Jacob interrupted him a second time, stepping forward. "If you won't take orders, you've got no business here. So get out. And leave the pistol. It's city property."

    "Damn you!" Weller snarled as his right hand snaked toward the walnut grips of the Colt on his hip. He suddenly froze in mid-draw as something hard and cold pushed his chin skyward. None of the group, least of all Weller, had even realized that Jacob had moved.

    "You were saying?" Jacob said in a conversational tone as Weller swallowed loudly, Adam's apple bobbing, bumping against the ejector rod of the pistol in Jacob's right hand, its muzzle tilting Weller's face upward. With his left hand, Jacob lifted the pistol from the older man's holster, slipped it behind his own belt then unbuckled the other's belt and let it drop to the ground. Lowering the hammer on his Navy Colt Jacob stepped back and holstered the pistol.

    "You were saying?" Jacob repeated.

    "Nothin'," Weller answered in a sullen tone as he lifted a hand to the underside of his chin.

    "Then I'm going to give you a choice, Rack Weller," Jacob told him. "You can take orders, or you can get out of town. You have thirty seconds to decide. Starting now."

    "But I got property in Cripple!" Weller protested.

    "That's not my problem, Weller," Jacob answered. "And you now have twenty seconds to decide. What's it gonna be?"

    "I reckon I'll stay," Weller muttered.

    "What's that? I can't hear you!"

    "I said, I reckon I'll stay!" Weller answered, much louder now.

    "Then pick up your belt and get back in line," Jacob ordered.

    "What about that pistol?" Weller pointed to the Colt in Jacob's belt.

    "You'll get that back when I think you've earned it," the younger man replied. "Back in line. You're holding up progress."

  14. Linn Keller 10-31-13

     

    Esther, like most late term women, was restless.
    The child within her was not happy when Esther lay on her back, or on her side; the child was not content when Esther walked, or stood, or sat; Esther finally found that if she sat with her feet up on a very high stool, her knees bent, that not only did it ease her lower back, it also seemed to bring a little relief to the restlessness beneath her heart, this living soul who chafed against the confinement of a maternal womb.
    "Soon," Esther whispered, her hand on her belly. "Soon, my dear."
    She leaned her head back against the back of the high, upholstered chair, looked out the window.
    It was beautiful out, as it usually was this time of year; Esther did love the mountains so, just as she'd loved the mountains as a girl at home, but here ... here, the mountains were yet young, raw, harsh, sharp edged, not like the weathered, rounded, aged Appalachians.
    Esther smiled, remembering.

    Angela lifted Outlaw's reins and leaned forward in the saddle, her breath catching in her young throat as the black gelding surged beneath her: Rosebud was fast, Rosebud was quick, but Outlaw, like Cannonball, was taller, longer legged, and frankly more experienced at responding to a rider's demands, and Outlawl leaned into a long-legged gallop ... a gallop that took Angela faster than she'd ever gone before in all her young life!
    A rider will respond in one of two ways when she finds herself astride an express train with four hooves and a mane: either with fear and shrinking, or with a silent, glorious shout as her soul swells and spills all over the horse and flares out into a set of etereal wings, to catch the air and ride the wind itself!
    Outlaw was a horse who loved to run, and Outlaw ran often and for the sheer joy of running, and Angela locked her legs tight against the gleaming black barrel and willed herself to an even greater speed and Outlaw-horse bore straight for the head tall painted board fence and Angela screamed for absolute joy as the earth fell away from beneath their hooves and for a moment, for an eternal, unending, glorious moment, Angela was one with the birds and angels, Angela was a creature of the air and of the sky and Angela knew the magic of the ancients, of those glorious few who rode creatures of the air, who pushed hard with great feathered strokes and soared over the earth where lesser beings plodded ...
    Outlaw touched down light and easy and galloped on across the field, and two sets of eyes followed her; one pale blue, in a grinning face, and the other pair, emerald-green, smiling gently as she recalled what it was to be a young girl astride a fine horse on a sweet-smelling fall morning in the mountains.

    Sarah glared at the knotted rope.
    She wore her underthings and stockings, she wore rubber soled athletic shoes, she wore a pair of thin leather gloves, and she wore an expression so fierce the rope almost quailed away from her.
    Sarah seized the rope a little above head height, jumping a little to grab it; she clenched her teeth, then found a matching knot with her feet.
    Daciana knew better than to caution Sarah to a less strenuous effort.
    Sarah wheezed a little, pulling herself up: she deliberately threw her feet apart, took a quick breath, and with a growling snarl, suddenly began climbing, hand over hand, fast, charging as hard as she could, straight up.
    She ran out of air and energy about the same moment, when she reached the top, but somehow, somehow she kept a hard two hand grip, grabbed a knot with her feet again, pushed slowly another foot, and slapped the beam overhead as if slapping somebody who offended her.
    Daciana laughed, clapping her hands: "Goot," she called, "sar goot! Now downkommen mit you, ja?"

    The Sheriff's effort was less spectacular to view, but no less an effort was required for his own performance.
    He got his weight on his good leg, his aching, throbbing leg swung wide as a brace, the rest of his weight on the cripple stick he held in front of his belt buckle: with a sustained grunt, he stood, paused for a long moment with his weight on three legs, then slowly, deliberately, he walked to the edge of the porch, leaned heavily on the porch post and grinned as Angela cantered back across the high pasture, laughing and waving.
    "Daddy!" she shouted, her voice high and excited on the morning air, "Daddy, did you see? Did you see us? Did you see Outlaw jump? Daddy, that was fun!"
    The Sheriff tossed his cane in the air, caught it at midpoint and pumped it overhead, signaling approval, and Angela galloped the Outlaw easily the rest of the way, slowing her as they approached and stopping her in front of the broad, roofed porch.
    Angela's hair glowed in the sunlight, her apple cheeks bright and healthy, her smile absolutely lovely, and for a moment the Sheriff saw a good hint of the beauty his little girl would become.
    "Have Justin bait him a little corn," the Sheriff said, nodding: he stepped down with his bad leg -- one step, two steps, a third and the ground: he leaned heavily on the cane, twisting a little as he walked.
    He reached up and laid a big, strong, warm Daddy-hand on his little girl's soft, cool, daughter's-hand and grinned.
    "You," he said quietly, in the voice of a proud Papa, "ride the Outlaw very well, and I am proud of you!"
    Angela laughed, throwing her head back a little, and the Sheriff would remember for a very long time that moment, when her glowing hair and laughing face were silhouetted against a flawlessly autumn- blue Colorado sky.

  15. Linn Keller 10-29-13

     

    Word passed, and quickly, about the Sheriff being back shot in Cripple.
    Rumors were thick, of course.
    He'd been killed.
    He killed ten men with a dull knife, skinned them with a soup spoon and picked up a stage coach and flung it into a riotin' crowd, and Old Nick hisself come a-boilin' up out of a hole in the ground only to get his nose flattend, his pitch fork broke and his tail wrapped around a cannon ball and the cannon fired back down that smokin' hole in the ground.
    There were other rumors, of course, that were so farfetched as to be not believable.
    There were even one or two that allowed as when Death rode in on a pale horse he took one look at that-there Sheriff kicking backsides up between shoulder blades that he whipped that-there white horse around and galloped out of town in one all fired hurry.
    And as usual, as the Sheriff was the subject of these rumors and speculations, he himself knew nothing at all about them.
    Sarah, on the other hand, heard them from her students, and from the ladies about town, and did nothing at all to dispel them: she knew the value of a reputation, and she knew she enjoyed a reputation for honesty, and so she played on what she was hearing, and shortly the Sheriff was painted as a rip snortin', two fisted, fire breathin' harvester of teeth, a steam powered engine of such ferocity that if he were turned loose on a mountain he would reduce it to gravel with his bare fists, or pound a tunnel through its middle with only an occasional kick thrown in to alleviate boredom.
    Jackson Cooper had little trouble maintaining order in the Sheriff's absence; little happened out in the county, Firelands was for the most part smart enough not to cross the big Marshal (beside whom the Sheriff looked almost diminutive) and besides ... everybody knew that once he was healed up and back to his usual self, why, the man had a good memory and would likely track down any miscreants who raised hell during his convalescense ... and nobody wanted to earn the man's ire.
    He had, after all, held that cannon barehand above that hole in the ground right before he fired Old Cloven Hoof back to Hell, hadn't he?
    Folk passing through might be forgiven if they had the mental image of a man tall as the church steeple and big around as the church, striding across his desmense with seven league boots and speaking with the voice of a steam horn.
    This giant of destruction, this fearsome figure of justice and order, by the afternoon of his second day home, managed to make it down to his own front porch, where he was content to set in a rocking chair with his healing leg propped up on a little stool, and watch his Cannonball horse pacing along the fence, impatient for a good run.
    "Daddy?" Angela asked, regarding her Papa with big and innocent eyes.
    The Sheriff looked at her, smiling a little.
    "Daddy, can I rideada Cannonball horsie, pleeeeease?" she wheedled.
    The Sheriff smiled, raised his big Daddy-hand to caress his little girl's smooth cheek.
    "Princess," he said gently, "Cannonball is carrying a foal. How would you like to ride my Outlaw-horse instead?"
    The Sheriff raised his chin.
    At his summons, the hired man ambled over to the porch.
    "Justin," the Sheriff asked, "would you be kind enough to shorten up the stirrups on my saddle, and saddle my Outlaw horse for Angela?"
    "Really?" Angela breathed.
    The Sheriff winked, crooked his finger at his little girl.
    "Angela," he murmured confidentially, winking at Justin, "do you think you can handle the Outlaw?"
    Angela nodded solemnly.
    "Okay."
    Angela leaped delightedly into her Daddy, seizing him around the neck, shoving her young belly into his healing side; her sudden impact rocked the man, causing him considerable pain, but somehow the joy of a happy little girl made it worth it.

  16. Charlie MacNeil 10-28-13

     

    Cripple Creek had been relatively quiet for several days. Charlie had put the word out that he was looking for recruits for the police department, and ten men had applied. They were miners, farmboys, and a townie or two, all "between the ages of twenty and thirty, in good health, of stout constitution and not afraid of work". Now it was time to do some training and see if any of them would make what Charlie thought of as good law officers. Today was stick training. He and Jacob had made believers out of more than one hothead in the past week using nothing but a pick handle.

    "Any idiot can use a shotgun, and any idiot can swing a stick and whack somebody on the noggin," Charlie told the recruits. "That is, unless that somebody has a stick or something of his own and blocks it. You!" he pointed at a young man half again his size. "Stand up, pardner, grab one of those pick handles, and whack me upside the head with it."

    "But, Marshal, I, uh..." the young man began.

    "Just do it!" Charlie ordered. He stood apparently relaxed, a pick handle of his own lightly clasped in both hands at waist level, his hands shoulder width apart. I hope you ain't bit off more than you can chew, old man, ran through his mind as the big ol' kid picked up a stick, raised it to shoulder height in his right hand and stepped forward.

    With the step, the length of seasoned hickory came down in an arc whose speed should have set up a whistle in the air. At the last second Charlie swung his own pick handle up, catching the descending stick with a crash of wood striking wood, sweeping it aside and pushing it and its owner to Charlie's left. As the two handles separated Charlie swept to his right, using his momentum to punch the end of the stick in his hand under the younger man's suddenly outstretched arms and into his gut. As the recruit folded like a dirty shirt over his aching belly Charlie stepped back, released the stick with his left hand and belted him across the back of his left knee just hard enough to fold the knee and drop the comparative youngster to the ground.

    "Now that he's down, I could've done him some serious damage if I'd'a been of a mind to," Charlie told the rest of the recruits over the groaning carcass of his recent attacker. "You'll all be able to do that," he tapped the young man on the shoulder with the stick, "when we finish with you. One thing to remember: never, if you have a choice, use a stick for a club. Always, unless you don't have a choice, use is to thrust. Aim for the biggest piece of your opponent, and punch it into him like you're tryin' to cram his belly button out past his backbone." He chuckled. "The only exception to that rule is if you have a clean shot at his crotch. Then swing that stick like you're tryin' to drive his cojones out through the top of his head. If that don't put him down, then it's time to run like hell 'cause you're outnumbered. Any questions?"

  17. Linn Keller 10-27-13

     

    Angela rapped her Papa's skull experimentally with her curious, young and surprisingly sharp, knuckles.
    Linn flinched and grunted, then opened his eyes, blinking to clear the sticky from them: he reached up, rubbed his eyes, squinted at Angela, who stood expectantly beside her Daddy's bunk.
    Esther sat patiently in a chair on the other side, hiding her amusement in her crocheting.
    Linn wasn't sure what to make of the sudden rat-tat on his gourd; Angela saved him the trouble of formulating a question as she said brightly, "Mommy said you have a very hard head. I wanted to find out."
    The Sheriff smiled a little, then he smiled a little more, and he very carefully, cautiously, allowed himself a chuckle: he pressed his upper arm down against his knitting ribs and laughed again.
    "What did you find out, Princess?" he asked, stopping to harrumph his throat clear of a gob of sticky unpleasantness.
    Angela blinked almost sadly at her supine Daddy.
    "Mommy's right."
    Angela backed up a small step, curtsied, then skipped down and around the foot of the bed and out the door, singing "Camptown Ladies sing this song, doo-dah, doo-dah," and clattering happily down the stairs.
    "How long," Linn hazarded, coughed, winced, cleared his throat and opened his mouth to try again.
    "Three days," Esther said quietly: it wasn't until Linn squinted again and studied his wife's face that he realized how tired she looked.
    "How much sleep didn't you get?" he asked slowly.
    Esther's slience was its own answer.
    "How did I get here?" he hazarded.
    Esther lowered her crocheting into her lap and bit her bottom lip.
    "Six stout yeomen carried you in at shoulder height," a familar voice snapped.
    Sarah stepped around the foot of the bed, looking severe in her schoolmarm's dress and spectacles: "and poor Aunt Esther slept not one wink since you got home."
    The Sheriff's eyes narrowed.
    "Six men, at shoulder height ..."
    Sarah's eyes were pale and she glared at her Papa.
    "I should be angry with you," she said finally, "and I probably should say words that would cut a stone statue and bring blood from carved marble."
    "So say it," the Sheriff replied, his voice hardening.
    "No."
    Sarah stood, very proper, very severe, very forbidding, or as nearly so as she could manage.
    "No, I won't. I am guilty of the same as you, only I did not fever as severely. Do you know why I said six stout yeomen, and shoulder height?"
    "It's how a coffin is carried."
    "Yes." Sarah considered, then sat on the side of her Papa's bed. "It actually took two men and a military litter to pack you upstairs."
    "What about the six?"
    "Their names were on a list, and Parson Belden was prepared to task them with their solemn duty."
    "I was that close, then."
    Sarah pulled the cover aside far enough to expose her Papa's hand: she seized his big, callused hand in her small, soft hand, lifted it, pulled the covers back into place and squeezed his hand with both hers.
    "I am going to ask something of you," Sarah said, her voice a little lower.
    "Ask, then."
    "I want you to live for a while longer."
    "Oh?"
    "In case you'd forgotten, I am due to be married in less than a month."
    "And I promised to walk you down the aisle. Charlie already reminded me."
    "I'm reminding you again." Sarah pursed her lips, tilted her head, considered the man.
    "You knew you wouldn't die, didn't you?"
    Linn shrugged, flinched, immediately regretting the move.
    "You know the future can be changed."
    "So now you're an expert?"
    "Let's just say I have ... an insight."
    The Sheriff raised an eyebrow.
    Sarah released her right hand from her two-hand grip, leaned forward a little, laid her hand on his shoulder, still holding his hand with her other.
    "I'll make you a deal."
    "I'm listening."
    "You don't die and I won't either."
    "Don't hold me to something I can't keep."
    "I can't either."
    "I'm confused."
    "No, you're needed. Here. On this earth. We've got people depending on you. We've got people who enjoy your company. You've got work to do yet. You've done much good but much remains.
    "Think you're up for the challenge?"
    "What work?" Linn grunted, sinking back into the pillow. "Haven't I done enough?"
    "Nope." Sarah stood. "Not yet."
    The Sheriff looked over at Esther, who was patiently working her crochet hook.
    "Dearest?" he asked gently. "What say you?"
    Esther lowered her crocheting again and regarded her husband with loving and patient eyes.
    "Who am I to argue with a schoolteacher?" she asked innocently.

  18. Charlie MacNeil 10-27-13

     

    "Mister Stoakes, are you quite finished with this witness?" Judge Hostettler asked.

    "I am, Your Honor," Stoakes replied.

    "Very well, you may step down, Marshal," the Judge ordered. Charlie rose from his seat, reclaimed custody of the Greener from the bailiff and stepped back to stand against the wall near Brentwood, the shotgun held broken open and hanging from his forearm as he slouched against the whitewashed boards.

    "Mister Stoakes, you may call your next witness."

    "With pleasure, Your Honor. I call Mister Cecil Wallace to the stand," Stoakes replied smugly.

    He stood confidently scanning the crowded room for sixty very long seconds before someone in the crowd called, "I think Cecil just left on the mornin' stage ta Denver, him an' a whole passel of others!" A momentary flash of anger could be seen on the attorney's urbane features before he got himself under control once more.

    "Your Honor, my witness does not seem to be available. May I call another?" The Judge nodded his consent and Stoakes called another name. Over the course of the next five minutes, his confidence dwindling rapidly, the attorney called a long list of names, none of whose owners seemed to be present in the room and most of whom were not present anywhere within the town's environs, having left town by whatever means were available over the course of the past two days. As each name was called, and as each man failed to present himself for testimony, Stoakes demeanor became more and more desperate.

    "Your Honor, I seem to have run short of witnesses," Stoakes at last said in a much subdued and diffident tone. "I shall take the witness stand on my own behalf, and end this farcical mutation of justice once and for all!" He strode forward and seated himself. Brentwood swore him in and he began to speak in his own defense.

    History has not recorded the words Stoakes fairly spouted, flourished and embellished on his own behalf as he strode to and fro before the Judge's bench. History does record that the catcalls and laughter swelled with each listing of injustice done to his person and deeds of aid and succor for others reputedly done by him, none of which seemed to have been noticed by his fellow citizens. After some forty five minutes of dissertation, Stoakes began to wind up his testimony.

    "And further, Your Honor, the claim of falsification of documents and fraud is completely and totally without merit. Those documents deeding me all rights to the gold claims of Sheriff Linn Keller are true documents and will stand up in any court of law!" Stoakes strode forward, his confidence restored, and seated himself with a flourish in the witness chair and gazed expectantly at the Judge.

    Judge Hostettler stared wordlessly back at the attorney for several moments before speaking. "That was quite an inspired speech, Mister Stoakes," Hostettler began. "Too bad it's total poppycock." Stoakes sucked in a breath and opened his mouth to speak, but the Judge held up a restraining hand. "Don't bother to object, Mister Stoakes. It will do you no good whatsoever. And regarding your allegation as to the veracity of the gold claim documents, this is one court of law in which they will not stand as true documents." He picked up a thin sheaf of paper from the table in front of him.

    "I have known Sheriff Linn Keller for quite a long time, Mister Stoakes, and there is no way on God's green earth that he signed these documents. They are obvious forgeries, and you are an obvious blackguard who deserves nothing less that the worst possible punishment that I can mete out!" His voice rose.

    "Regarding the charge of assaulting an officer of the law, that one stands on its own merit. Marshal MacNeil's reputation for honesty precedes him..."

    "Yeah, he's pretty good at breakin' arms, too!" an anonymous jokester called from the back of the room, obviously referring to the plaster that burdened the attorney's right forearm.

    Ignoring the interruption, Hostettler went on, "...whose testimony I would take as gospel truth any time. Consequently, I have decided on your punishment." Stoakes stared at him, as stunned as if someone had walked up and handed him a live rattlesnake.

    "Get ready, 'cause that hothead is gonna jump the judge when he hears what Hostettler's got to say," Charlie whispered to Brentwood. Marshal and bailiff stepped quietly forward, Charlie leaning the Greener against a chair near the wall before moving up behind Stoakes.

    "But, but, Your Honor!" Stoakes sputtered, leaning forward.

    "Silence, Mister Stoakes!" Hostettler thundered. Stoakes wilted back into his chair. "I hereby sentence you to ten years in the Territorial Prison in Canon City, Colorado on each charge, to be served consecutively." He struck the table with the gavel. "This court is adjourned!"

    "No!" Stoakes suddenly screamed. He launched himself from his seat, his clawed fingers aimed for the Judge's throat. Hostettler stared at him calmly as the former attorney suddenly became entangled in the chair's legs, assisted by Charlie and the bailiff, and struck the floor with a resounding THUMP! that drove the air from his lungs. Before he could gather the wits scattered by the impact the two officers were on him, pinning him to the boards to yank his wrists behind him and clamp the manacles on him.

    They unceremoniously hoisted him to his feet, where he sagged between the two men until Charlie leaned over and hissed in his ear, "Stand up or I'll stand you up!" Stoakes forced himself upright, head hanging in despair. All that he'd worked so hard for, all his ill-gotten gains, were gone in an instant. He was sure that he would never come out of the prison alive.

  19. Linn Keller 10-25-13

     

    I don't know who or how but I got spirited onto the train.
    At least they had a bunk set up for me in the stable car.
    I could lay down there and nobody could see me.
    I don't know which of the nurses rode with me and it don't matter.
    I was feverin' up again and weak as a kitten and Charlie could see it even when I was not about to: there are none so blind as will not see, and I was bound and determined not to see just how whipped I was.
    Thank God Charlie was there to belt me over the gourd with plain words.
    Much as I wanted the world to see the Sheriff was alive and well and on the job, it would have been far the worse for the world to see the Sheriff collapse in the street.
    I lay there and shivered like a wet dog.

    "Mommy?"
    "Yes, sweets?"
    Angela frowned at the yellow yarn that comprised her rag doll's hair.
    She had multiple of the fine ceramic dolls -- they still worn the French exemplar dresses her Aunt Bonnie scaled up and sold -- and even though Angela was getting to be a Big Girl, she still liked the rag doll her Mommy made her ... mostly because ... well, it was her Mommy that made it, and she made it especially for her little girl.
    "Mommy ... " Angela looked up at Esther, not quite sure whether she should say what was on her mind, but realizing she'd already pushed her sled over the lip of the snowbank and was ready to go whistling downhill.
    "I miss Daddy."
    Three simple words, spoken in the voice of a sad little girl, words Esther knew well; she'd spoken them herself, both as a wee child, and many times in the years of her growing-up; even yet, she missed the warmth, the strength of her Papa.
    "I know, Sweets," Esther said sympathetically. "I miss him too."
    "Mommy?"
    "Yes, Sweets?"
    "When is Daddy coming home?"
    "He's on his way home," Esther said, blinking as if she realized something surprising. "This very moment. He is coming home."
    Esther smiled at her daughter.
    "He's on the train. Would you like to go meet him?"
    "Yaay," Angela cheered, bouncing up on her toes and clapping her little pink hands, her face all rosy and pink-cheeked and smiling.

    "The Judge," I whispered.
    A cool, damp cloth wiped slowly across my forehead, sizzled as it traveled down one cheek, then the other.
    "The Judge has the papers. He's got the forgery. The evidence."
    "I know," the nurse soothed, her voice coming from a distance.
    I could see a set of telegraph wires running into the stock car and trees growing inside with cannon set between them.
    "Charlie," I whispered.
    "He's fine," the gentle voice said, and I closed my eyes and drifted in a hot sea, an invisible sun baking me as I floated on transparent wavelets.
    "Your fever will break soon enough," I heard, but I paid no attention.
    I was watching apples walk up the tree branches and down the trunks and line up in neat ranks behind the cannon.
    I could see them clearly through closed eyelids.

  20. Charlie MacNeil 10-25-13

     

    "Hear ye, hear ye, this courtroom is now in session, the Honorable Judge Donald Hostettler presiding. All of you stand up and be quiet," the honest officer from the jail, in his role as court bailiff, called over the buzz of conversation in the room. There wasn't actually a courtroom in Cripple Creek, so the one decent hotel's dining room had been dragooned into service. The tables had been stacked against one wall except for one which the Judge had chosen as his "bench", the chairs arranged in rows. A trial was considered quality entertainment in any Western town, but this one was especially attractive considering who the guest of honor was planned to be.

    The officer, whose name was Leland Brentwood, looked disgustedly across the still chattering crowd, picked up the heavy cast-iron skillet and the steel spoon he had already sited on the Judge's bench, stepped up on the "witness chair" and began to beat the skillet with the spoon quite enthusiastically. In a matter of moments he had the undivided attention of everyone in the room.

    "All you boys get on your feet! This courtroom is now in session!" Chairs scraped and boots thumped as those sitting rose to their feet. "That's better! Now all of you shut up!" As Brentwood stepped down from his perch Judge Hostettler entered the room, trying mightily to hide the grin that threatened to burst through his solemn facade. He sat behind the "bench" and picked up his gavel. He rapped the gavel on the tabletop twice, said, "You may be seated" and waited while the crowd settled into their seats. He nodded to Brentwood, who stepped forward to pick up a sheet of paper from the tabletop.

    "Firelands County versus Milton Stoakes! The charges are:
    Assault on an officer of the law with intent to commit homicide
    Forging of mining claim documents and fraud
    and Resisting arrest."

    He returned the sheet of paper to its place on the table and stepped back to fold his hands behind his back.

    "Step forward, Mister Stoakes!" the Judge ordered. Stoakes pushed himself from his seat in the front row with his uninjured hand and strode arrogantly forward. Even from his cell he'd managed to get his suit cleaned and pressed and he knew he looked good. This was not his first time in a courtroom, though he'd never before been involved in a trial as the defendant. Hostettler pointed toward the witness chair. "Sit down, Mister Stoakes." When the lawyer was seated, the Judge went on, "You have heard the charges, Mister Stoakes. How do you plead?"

    "I plead not guilty on all charges, Your Honor," Stoakes answered confidently. His confidence stemmed from the fact that he paid out a considerable sum in gold each month for cooperation from the denizens of Cripple Creek's less savory environs, so he was sure he'd have plenty of "witnesses" to his innocence. What he didn't know was that the majority of his paid witnesses had left town already, and all but one or two of those still in town were sitting at the station waiting for the next stagecoach to anywhere. And that remaining one or two were maintaining the lowest possible profile. "And I will be acting as my own attorney."

    "Are you sure about that plea, Mister Stoakes?" the Judge asked. "These are very serious charges."

    "I'm positive, Your Honor," Stoakes replied.

    "Well, in that case, please return to your seat, Mister Stoakes." When the attorney had resumed his original seat, Hostettler, acting as prosecutor as well as judge, called, "I call Charlie MacNeil to the stand." He smiled slightly as he saw the confident smirk on Stoakes' face falter for a moment. Charlie strode from the back of the room, spurs jingling, Greener in hand, crossed bandoleers of gleaming brass on his chest. He tipped his hat back to hang by the stampede string and sat down. He handed the Greener to Brentwood, who grasped the shotgun with is left hand as he stepped forward with a Bible in his right. Unseen by the crowd, he grinned at Charlie.

    "Place your right hand on the Bible," he ordered. When Charlie had done so, he went on, "Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

    "I do," Charlie answered. Brentwood returned to his place behind the witness chair, laid the Bible on a nearby table, and stood with the shotgun at port arms across his chest.

    "Please tell the court what happened in the office of Milton Stoakes on the morning in question," the Judge ordered.

    "With pleasure, Your Honor," Charlie replied. He launched into a concise description of the events in the attorney's office, mincing no words while wasting none. The crowd sat silent except for an occasional cough as the Marshal told his story. Stoakes didn't speak through the entire narrative, which painted him in quite an unfavorable light. When Charlie had finished speaking, Stoakes rose to his feet and strode forward.

    "Mister MacNeil..."

    "Marshal," Charlie interrupted.

    "Excuse me, Marshal MacNeil," Stoakes said with a smirk. "What exactly is your authority in Cripple Creek?"

    "I'm a United States Marshal, Mister Stoakes," Charlie replied. "I have blanket authority over this part of country."

    "Really." It was a statement, not a question. "Blanket authority? How is that possible?"

    "It's possible because my boss says it is," Charlie replied with a cold lift of his lips. Someone out in the crowd snickered.

    "And what exactly did this faceless "boss" tell you?" Stoakes sneered.

    "His words were, verbatim, 'Get that place cleaned up, and don't be gentle about it. I don't care how you do it, just do it. And make an impression that won't be forgotten for a while.'" Chuckles and outright laughter erupted from the crowd now. The Judge rapped his gavel on the table.

    "Quiet, or I'll have this room cleared!" he ordered. The room went quiet. Nobody in his right mind wanted to miss what they were sure would be coming next.

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