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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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Posts posted by Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

  1. 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."

  2. 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."

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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."

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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?"

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Linn Keller 10-25-13

     

    I did some hard thinkin' once the prisoners were shuffled off to court.
    Charlie is right.
    Dead ... dead, I will do nobody any good
    .
    I closed my eyes and took a long breath, flinched: my chest still hurt when I tensed up or breathed in too deep.
    I oughta go heal up.
    Leave now ... show 'em you hurt the Sheriff, he'll run and hide
    ...
    I glared at the voice whispering between my ears.
    This was not my first poor idea.
    God knows I've messed up plenty of times.
    Did I mess up here?
    Yes ... no.
    No, I did what I had to do.
    They tried to bush whack me and damn near did.
    Was it not for that nice friendly horse trough to jump behind, I'd likely be occupyin' that fine fancy coffin I put in the root cellar against the day I'd need it.
    Warn't nobody to back my play.
    I was the only one to take care of me so I did and I come out on top, least wise until that other pair of bush whackers across the street laid into me.

    Now Cripple Creek was a mining town and like most boom towns it grew fast and it grew cheap and likely once the gold played out the place would be tore apart and lumber carried off to build another boom town, unless the place burnt down, of course ... but I'd looked over assays and reports and engineers' letters and I didn't figure the gold would run out in my lifetime.
    It wasn't easy to get, bound up in hard rock like it was, but I figured it would be steady, so I invested ... a wise move, as time proved.
    With that thievin' lawyer in front of the Judge, I thought, this'll show the world you can't slicker your way into my gold ... I proved you can't bush whack me out of the way so you can slicker the records ...
    A buggy drew near, stopped in front of me.
    "Sheriff?" the Chief of Police said deferentially.
    I looked up, casual-like.
    "Sheriff, the Judge asked me to give you a note."
    I nodded.
    I steeled myself for putting weight on my tore up leg and somehow managed to take two steps without a limp or collapsing.
    How, I don't rightly know, that leg wasn't worth a whole lot in that moment and Charlie was right, I needed to concentrate on healin' up, but I needed to see what His Honor had to say.
    I broke the seal, unfolded the foolscap, read.
    "Will there be a reply, sir?" the Chief asked, and I could tell the man felt like he was walking on egg shells.
    Apparently Charlie and company managed to put the fear into more than the criminal element.
    "My compliments to the Judge," I said, slipping His Honor's note into my coat pocket, "and my thanks."
    "Very good, sir," the Chief said, touching his cap-brim, then he clucked to the gelding and flipped the reins.
    I made my way around the jail house and got back to the doc's office by the back alley, taking my time, just sauntering along, rifle across my arm, looking around like nothing in the world troubled me, least until I got back into the doc's office, where I shut the door behind me, took two steps and leaned against the wall for several minutes, my eyes shut tight, shivering a little and sweat popping out on my forehead.
    Macneil was more right than he knew.
    I felt Doc's hands, firm on my upper arms.
    "I give up," I whispered. "Take me home."

  14. Linn Keller 10-24-13

     

    The Sheriff's weight was casually on his good leg, the crescent butt plate of his engraved '73 rifle resting on his muscled thigh.
    He regarded the street with slow, methodical sweeps of his pale blue eyes, not looking over at the lean, weathered lawman leaned up against the sun warmed boards beside him.
    "You know what's wrong with what you just said, Charlie?" the Sheriff asked slowly.
    Macneil waited, knowing this was a rhetorical question, and that the questioner would supply his own answer.
    "Nothing," Linn continued. "Not one damn thing."
    Macneil waited, knowing he'd spoken his piece, now it was his friend and Brother's turn.
    "What you saw when you first laid eyes on me standin' here ... what you saw was pride."
    Macneil nodded slowly.
    "I wasn't about to let anyone see me hobblin' on a cripple stick, nor ridin' out in a buggy."
    "Buggy your sorry backside," Macneil rumbled. "I lined up an Army ambulance."
    "I will unscrew your head and shove it down a field gun."
    "Pack a lunch and bring some help."
    "You are a hard headed obstinate contrary --
    "Flattery," Charlie interrupted, "will get you everywhere."
    "Yeah."
    Jacob leaned against the far corner of the building, far enough away to be discreet, elaborately ignoring the pair at the other corner.
    "I wanted to show 'em I was still alive and capable."
    "Like I said," Charlie murmured.
    "Yeah." Linn coughed, spat. "You're right and I admit it. Happy?"
    Charlie turned his head, glared at his old friend.
    "Yeah," he growled. "You're alive and I intend to keep you that way."
    Jacob sauntered casually toward the pair, stopping and leaning back against the building beside Charlie.
    The Sheriff sighed, resignation in the wordless exhalation.
    "I," he said finally, "am a damned fool."
    "No," Charlie said. "You actually give a good damn."
    "Jacob."
    "Yes, sir?"
    "You payin' attention?"
    "Yes, sir."
    "Good. First off, never be afraid to learn from someone else's mistakes."
    "Yes, sir."
    "Second, remember that Charlie was not the least bit bashful to call a spade a damned shovel."
    "Yes, sir."
    "Only a friend would boot my backside like that."
    Jacob hesitated, considering the two lawmen, both looking impassively out across the street.
    "Yes, sir," he finally said.

  15. Charlie MacNeil 10-24-13

     

    Charlie and Jacob deposited their cargo in one of the less crowded cells in the jail. As Jacob swung shut the iron lattice of the door with a clang and snapped the lock, Charlie stepped outside and leaned on the wall alongside his friend. With a smile that was purely for the benefit of the watchers across the street and in a tone that totally belied his slouched and seemingly relaxed posture he growled, "What in hell do you think you're doin'?" Jacob, choosing to exercise discretion as opposed to valor, had wisely chosen to remain inside the building. He was pretty certain that the conversation that was coming would be something he wanted no part of.

    "My job," the Sheriff answered flatly, his words accompanied by a smile of his own that came nowhere near his eyes.

    "Your job is to get yourself healed up, you damn fool," Charlie replied. His tone softened. "I know, you're impatient to get on with the job. But you can't do the job unless you're completely healed. Why do you think we sent Sarah home?"

    "I'm not Sarah."

    "No, you're not. You're her father, who has to give her away to that there fireman in a few weeks time. You're also Esther's husband and Angela's papa, and as far as I'm concerned all those things totally outweigh any responsibility you might think you have to this damn county. There ain't a one of these ne'er-do-wells," he indicated the town in general with a tilt of his chin, "worth your life, nor are they worth leaving your family without husband and father just so you can put one more of them in the hoosegow."

    "What about the women and children of this town? Their my responsibility too, aren't they?"

    "Yep, they are. And because of what you did before you decided to do your lone rider act, and because of your lone rider act the day they ambushed your lanky carcass, and because of what that kid of yours that's been helping me since you've been laid up has done, the streets are safe for 'em again."

    "So I'm supposed to just lay by and let you, Fannie and Jacob do my job, is that it? How's that going to look to the people of Firelands County?"

    "Is that pride I here talkin'? I hope not!" Charlie snapped. "I'll tell you what it's gonna look like! It's gonna look like the wrath of the law came down on 'em when they chose to ignore it! It's gonna look like if you mess with the Sheriff, you mess with more than the Sheriff. You put the fear into 'em; we just made sure that they didn't forget that fear. Between the ones you killed the day they bushwhacked you and the ones we've thumped and tucked away since then, the outlaws and cutthroats have pretty much tucked their tails and run! This town is as safe as it's gonna get!" He took a deep breath, then went on more calmly. "You know as well as I do that there's always gonna be criminals. You can't put 'em all away single-handed. Now that things have pretty much settled down, it's time to start building a law enforcement presence that can take over when we all leave. And if you're dead it's gonna be damn hard for you to train anybody, don'tcha think?"

  16. Linn Keller 10-24-13

     

    "Look-a-thar!"
    "What?"
    "Yonder, by the jail."
    "What, him?"
    "Yes, him, you damned fool! That's Pale Eyes himself!"
    "What! Old Pale Eyes? What's he still doin' in town?"
    "Didn't you hear? Where you been, y'idjut? Attair bunch set up an ambush an' damn neart kilt him! Hell, I thought he was dead, leastways til he come a-rarin' up off the ground all bloody sided an' run that-there shortgun 'a' his right up attair doc's snout!"
    "Hee! Hee! That's a good'un! Right up his snout!"
    "Ya, he's got a honker on him big enough t' take a gunbarrel! Ya shoulda seen it! He come a-rippin' int' attair barricade the set up --"
    "Sho! What now? A barricade? An' he come at it?"
    "At it hell! He come a-screamin' out from behind attair horse trough with a Gatling under his arm!"
    One man squinted at the other and said skeptically, "Gatling. Now howinell'd he crank it, hey? You ain't pullin' my leg now are ye?"
    The party of the first part glared at the party of the second part and said with an air of wounded dignity, "He had the crank on the bottom!"
    "Ya, I thought them back shooters acrost th' street got him!"
    "They did!" -- a hesitation -- "good Lord it ain't decently daylight yet an' they're a-draggin' another'n torst th' lockup!"
    "Good Lord" -- a shiver -- "I'd not wanta be in there!"
    "Nah!"
    The pair considered the rude shack thrown up around the infamous "Iron Box" used to confine the criminal; they watched that long, tall, pale eyed Sheriff, slouched against the front of the building, casually greet the pair half-carrying, half-dragging the latest criminal resident.
    "Damn!" the first observer breathed. "Look at him! Ain't nothin' wrong with him! Just a-standin' there like he'd never had s'much as a hiccup!"
    "You know somethin', Jake?"
    "Wuzzat?"
    "I'm jist awful glad I ain't no card sharper!"
    "Yew ain't smart enough t' sharp no cards!"

  17. Charlie MacNeil 10-23-13

     

    "And you really oughta prop something under the doorknob when you tuck it in for the night," he added, eyes twinkling, "seeing as how this gent," he tapped the unconscious would-be assassin on the back of the head with the pick handle, "fully intended to do you harm." He bent and retrieved the double-barreled Remington from the unconscious fellow's limp hands. "Oh, and breakfast is ready." He turned and stepped back out into the hall, closing the door behind himself.

    Jacob stared at the portal for a moment, then quickly dressed and stamped his feet into his boots. He knelt and rolled the man's limp carcass over onto its back, just in case it might be somebody he recognized from a "Wanted" flyer or some such. Nope, nobody he remembered seeing before. He took a tight grip on a handful of grubby shirt collar, stood, opened the door and started toward the stairs, dragging his erstwhile assailant behind him, taking no care to prevent further bruises and abrasions to the man's epidermis as he made his way down the stairs following the smell of country ham and boiled Arbuckle's that drifted toward him.

    As Jacob reached the dining room doorway, his "companion" began to stir and grumble. "What the hell do you think yer..." he began to growl just before his cranium made sudden violent contact with the doorframe that put him out like the proverbial light once more. Charlie appeared, a cup of coffee in one hand and several rawhide "pigging strings" in the other.

    "Here ya go," he grinned as he held out the strings. In short order the man was hog-tied, gagged with his own dirty neckerchief and rolled into a closet, "out of sight and out of mind", as it were, and Jacob was tucked into a rasher of ham, fried taters and over-easy eggs, the food accompanied by copious amounts of coffee, biscuits and bee spit. Another day of law enforcement in Cripple Creek was beginning...

  18. Linn Keller 10-22-13

     

    The Sheriff was never known for his patience.
    He was never known for stupidity, either.
    As much as he wished to be on the street and cracking skulls as necessary, he contented himself with sitting back, taking life easy and being thoroughly, absolutely, utterly, bored.
    As a matter of fact he sat back, content, for about a day and a half.
    Nurse Susan came in to find a damp, buck naked Sheriff, shaving in front of the mirror, not at all troubled by the fact that a woman just walked in on him as he scraped whiskers off his face.
    Nurse Susan's eyes bulged, her mouth opened and closed slowly, and her face turned a remarkable shade of red.
    "Breathe," the Sheriff said, smiling under his fluffy white lather-beard.
    "I, um," Nurse Susan said uncertainly, then stumbled as another nurse, shocked, fell into her from behind.
    "I shall want my clothes," the Sheriff said, unperturbed, and took another careful stroke under his chin.

    "He what?" Dr. Greenlees sputtered, spilling coffee onto the tablecloth.
    "Yes, Doctor, he is on his feet, he's shaving, he was -- he was --"
    "Naked?" the Sheriff prompted, grinning as he stepped into the good physicianer's breakfast-chamber.
    "Don't bother knocking," Dr. Greenlees muttered, setting his coffee down and shoving back from the table. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
    "I think," the Sheriff said, still with a broad, I'm-getting-away-with-something smirk on his face, "that I am standing here in my long handles and hat and enough appetite to eat a bull calf, all but hooves, horns and tail." He looked at Nurse Susan with an ornery expression, reached down and snatched up two slices of bacon. "I'll need a pound of this fried up, a dozen eggs fried and a loaf of bread." He bit into the bacon, chewed, closed his eyes and tilted his head back, relishing the taste; when he swallowed, he opened his mouth for another bite, thought better of it.
    "I'll need a pot of coffee as well, if you please."
    Dr. Greenlees stood, slowly, frowning as he habitually did; it was not a mark of displeasure, it was simply the expression into which his face most naturally fell.
    Nurse Susan looked from the physician's serious expression to the Sheriff's blissful visage, and back.
    Dr. Greenlees leaned the Sheriff's head back with a cool hand on his forehead.
    Drawing down the lawman's lower lid with a gentle thumb, he assessed the color, pursed his lips, released the eyelid.
    "Doctor?" Nurse Susan asked uncertainly.
    "He'll live," Dr. Greenlees said shortly. "Tell the maid we'll need a dozen eggs fried, tell her to fry up a pound of bacon and we'll need a loaf of fresh sourdough. You want butter with that, Sheriff?"
    The Sheriff bit down on the last of the bacon slice. "Don't forget the coffee," he mumbled.

    Jacob woke instantly, completely, his hand closing about the handle of his revolver.
    His thumb was tense on the hammer, his finger held back the trigger: he brought the hammer back fully, slowly, then released the trigger and let the muzzle direct itself toward the door.
    The knob turned slowly, carefully; he saw the door begin to move.
    Jacob's mouth was dry as he flipped the covers back with the gunbarrel, extended his arm: he slid out of the bed, crabwise, on the side toward the door.
    I shouldn't have trusted the lock, he thought bitterly.
    I should have propped with a chair or something!
    He slid closer to the wall, came up on the balls of his feet, crouched low, breathing through his mouth.
    There was a sharp, sudden woody note from without, the distinct sound of hand tooled hickory meeting a skull at a respectable velocity, muffled only slightly by the intervening formed felt of the luckless wearer's hat.
    The door flew open and a body collapsed into the room, the double barrel shotgun preceding it; Jacob saw the pale blur of the pick-handle's follow-through as gun and gunman both hit the floor at about the same moment.
    Charlie leaned in the doorway with an innocent expression on his face.
    "Rise and shine," he deadpanned, "there's work to do!"

  19. Linn Keller 10-22-13

     

    Sarah sat on the rock ledge, staring thoughtfully into the distance, cross legged and unmoving.
    Below her, Snowflake grazed contentedly, cropping mountain grasses and shivering her hide occasionally in the lengthening sunlight.
    It would get chilly and fairly soon; the air was already cool, and Sarah knew that as soon as the sun stepped off the rim of the world and dove into starry darkness, it would get cold, fast.
    She'd done some thinking.
    She could not understand, at least at first, why she saw her several selves -- at differing points in time -- always fighting a desperate battle, always defeated, yet always returning.
    She was not certain whether these were memories of past lives, whether these were fevered imaginings of an active imagination ...
    Is there something I must learn that I keep ignoring?
    Her thoughts were confused until a moment's clarity, like water suddenly dropping its sediment and becoming crystal:
    What if I am showing someone else, in each lifetime, something they must learn?
    Sarah blinked.
    I've been just as constant in this lifetime as I was in the others.
    Just not as ... dead.

    She smiled, a tight, lopsided smile with one side of her mouth, then she snorted and shook her head.
    It's getting chilly.
    Time to go home.

    She stood and her belly reminded her that it hadn't eaten in far too long ... an hour, maybe, and at that thought, Sarah did laugh, then she began her careful climb down to the little meadow.
    As she picked up the saddle blanket and gave it a brisk snap, she wondered idly who in this lifetime she might have taught a lesson.
    Several someones, she thought.
    Maybe I can just be me from now on.
    Snowflake came pacing happily over, nuzzling at her, bumming a treat.
    "You're spoiled," she whispered, stroking the big black Frisian's velvety nose.

  20. Linn Keller 10-20-13

     

    "Sir,you should have known better," Jacob said softly.
    The Sheriff glared at his firstborn.
    Jacob ignored the glare -- not an easy thing; he loved his father, he respected his father, he answered to his father both as son and as chief deputy, but he knew he was right and his father was ... too impatient for his own good.
    "Sir," Jacob continued, "you have a job to do --"
    "Dammit, don't you think I know that!" the Sheriff snapped, throwing his words as he slung his head: he got his good leg under him, rested his weight for a moment before gripping the table leg with one hand and raising to a crouch, more out of sheer hard headed contrariness than by any physical ability.
    His leg hurt like homemade hell, his chest and belly thumped like a tooth ache, his son was giving him hell and in his last try to walk, his leg collapsed and he hit the floor with all the grace of a slaugherhouse beef.
    He wallowed both elbows up onto the table, breathing through clenched teeth, then worked to a stiff arm somewhat upright posture and took a long, apparaising look at Jacob.
    Finally the Old Man nodded a little.
    "You're right, Jacob," he said. "I'm a fool and a damned fool but damned if I'll be a liar. You, are, right."
    "Yes, sir," Jacob said mildly.
    "You don't have to agree."
    "As you say, sir."
    The Sheriff sighed, looked at the pick handle Jacob parked against the wall when he came through the door.
    "How is it going out there?"
    Jacob's eyes were quiet.
    "It's ... interesting ... working with Charlie," he said slowly. "The man gets results." The Sheriff saw amusement in his son's eyes as he added, "I can see why Sarah said the man is fast. Fast ain't the word for it!"
    "He's alone?"
    "No, sir. He's weeded out the cops. One man can't be bribed, or at least nobody found his price yet. I don't doubt they'll try. He's running the jail."
    The Sheriff nodded. "What else?"
    "One of the cops Charlie had with him ... was dirty."
    The Sheriff's lips peeled back in a silent snarl.
    "Charlie went in to run that crooked lawyer Stoakes --"
    The Sheriff's eyes changed, his head turned two degrees more toward Jacob, and Jacob knew he'd just smacked a nerve with a ball peen hammer.
    "Sir?"
    "Stoakes?" the Sheriff coughed.
    "Yes, sir."
    The Sheriff's right hand tightened, trembling: the man raised it, slowly, opened his hand, glared at it as if it had just betrayed him.
    He looked past his splay-fingered palm at his son.
    "Stoakes," he said, pausing to breathe before continuing. "Stoakes. He's the one ... he tried ... he hired the bush whack ... the street barricade so they could kill me."
    The man sagged, his head dropping; Jacob, alarmed, powered across the room, caught his father before the man's knees failed altogether.
    Jacob's eyes widened with alarm.
    "You're burning up," he whispered.
    "Stoakes," the Sheriff wheezed. "Forged papers. Tried to take my gold claim. Judge ... the Judge caught him and stopped ... the Judge ..."
    Jacob dipped his knees, picked his father up: for all that Jacob was lean and muscled, strong and toned, his father was a solid weight in his arms.
    "Good God," he gritted between clenched teeth, "I don't wanta bust a gut!"
    "Stoakes," the Sheriff groaned. "Behind it all. Find him. Find ..."
    Jacob dropped his Pa the last half-foot back onto the bed.
    He laid a callused hand on his Pa's forehead.
    "I'll take care of it," he said in a low voice.
    Jacob considered how much more to tell his impatient, short-breathing father, or whether to tell him anything.
    "Fannie is doing good work too," he added, hoping it would be a comfort to the fevered lawman.
    "Miz Fannie," the Sheriff corrected, half-lidded eyes fever-bright.
    "Yes, sir."
    "And you?"
    Somehow Linn managed to raise a little off the pillow, then fell back, mouth open, his breaths loud in the quiet room.
    "I stopped in to say howdy. Otherwise I'm out with them."
    "I heard about Charlie's rules." The Sheriff's voice was faint.
    "Rest now, sir. That's your job right now. Rest and heal."
    He's done better than I could, truth be told." The Sheriff's eyes opened wide, then closed slowly.
    Jacob chewed on his bottom lip, turned as the door opened and Nurse Susan and another nurse came in, one with a steaming washpan and the other with several cloths.
    "He's got the experience, sir."
    "I know." The Sheriff's whisper was almost inaudible. "He's done this before."
    "Yes, sir."
    "How's... Fannie?"
    "The Red Tornado?" Jacob laughed, his face splitting into a broad and very genuine grin. "God help us, sir, I don't ever want to get on the wrong side of that woman!"
    The Sheriff managed a slow nod.
    "What... about... you?"
    Jacob stepped over to a table and proceeded to unload better than a half dozen hideouts of various kinds: an Apache pistol, a Reid knuckleduster, two pepperboxes, knives and a lead filled sap.
    "That's just one saloon," he said.
    The Sheriff nodded.
    "If you're not going to fall again," Jacob said, "I'd best go get back to work."
    "Go," the Sheriff whispered.
    "Yes, sir," Jacob nodded, turning his head to look vacantly at the ceiling.
    "Jacob?"
    Jacob stopped, turned back at the whispered summons.
    "Yes, sir?"
    "You're doing good work, Jacob. I am proud of you."
    Jacob smiled a little, nodding.
    "Thank you, sir. That means something."

  21. Charlie MacNeil 10-20-13

     

    "Hello, boys!" Fannie called gaily as she pushed her way through the batwing doors of the Gold Bucket Saloon. The Gold Bucket was a favorite of the miners as well as those who were in the town for the express purpose of relieving, by hook or crook, the miners of what few dollars they might have in their pockets at any given time. Faro, poker, roulette, any conceivable means of lining the dealers' and croupiers' pockets with ill-gotten gains could be found in the Gold Bucket. Not to mention the long plank bar that was lined four deep with miners off-shift or preparing to go on-shift. But despite the noise in the room Fannie's entrance was heard and seen by most.

    Fannie saw no need to carry a pick handle. Hammering things into oblivion with a stick of wood just wasn't her forte`, as it were. She preferred to make a more dramatic impression. Hence the hip-braced Greener in her right hand...

    "It appears to me," Fannie drawled, honey-sweet, into the silence that had gradually followed her entrance, "that y'all," she turned her frosty emerald gaze on the many dealers, etc. in the room, "aren't doin' right by these hard-workin' fellas." She swept her left hand in an arc that took in the crowded bar as well as the tables. "So I'm here to lay down the law."

    "What law? We don' need to stinkin' law 'round here! We make our own law here, little girl!" a raucous voice called from somewhere back in the crowd of gamblers.

    "Come on out heah wheah ah kin see whom Ah'm talkin' to, sweetie!" Fannie said, exaggerating her drawl. The murmuring crowd slowly parted as a big man resplendent in a velvet-fronted cutaway coat, silk four-in-hand and ruffled linen shirt strode confidently forward.

    "Ain't you a pretty one," he smirked. "What're you doin' with that big ol' gun, little girl? You'd best put it down 'fore you hurt somebody." He grinned around at the crowd, wanting to make sure he had their attention.

    Fannie minced forward until she stood a few short feet in front of the man. She looked up. "You shuah ah a big 'un, ain'cha," she simpered. "Ah lahk takin' down the big'uns." In a flash of motion she whipped the Greener across her body, grasped the forearm with her left hand and slammed the steel buttplate of the double gun into the big man's crotch with her right. With a gassy scream of agony he doubled over, holding his injured real estate with both hands, crumpling to the floor where he lay gasping for breath. The entire crowd of miners flinched in sympathy, but no one came forward to help as Fannie lowered the muzzles of the Greener to the bridge of the big gambler's nose. His eyes flicked from the gaping double maws to the frosty green eyes behind them.

    "You were right, mister," Fannie said softly, drawl totally gone. "Somebody did get hurt. Now," her voice rose and she looked around the room, "any of you fine citizens who has a marked deck in his hand or his pocket, or his foot on the pedal underneath the roulette wheel, or anything else that isn't totally honest, had best step out the back door and find a way out of town. I'm not as generous as my husband; he's been giving thirty minutes. You've got five. Starting now. And somebody drag this," she nodded toward the man on the floor, "to the jail. Don't worry about being gentle, just get him there." She lifted the muzzles of the shotgun toward the ceiling as four men came forward to pick up the big man and carry/drag him toward the exit.

    Men, and a few women, began to drift, slowly at first, then faster and faster, toward the back door of the room, until all three faro tables, both roulette wheels and numerous poker tables stood abandoned by their previous overseers. The miners and cowboys who had been at the wheels and tables when their operators abandoned ship hurried to divide up the funds in front of them, arguing over who should get what until a piercing whistle shrilled through the smoky air. All eyes turned to Fannie once again.

    "Divide the cash evenly, gentlemen," Fannie ordered into the silence. "If you want to fight over it, take it out of town, like the rules say. But whatever you do, do it quick, because the tables and the wheels won't be here much longer."

    "What are going to do to my saloon?" the greasy-haired bartender wanted to know.

    "I'm going to make sure nobody else makes a dishonest living off of any of this stuff," Fannie replied. "Gentlemen, clear out!" She stuffed her ears with wads of oddly shaped beeswax she drew from her vest pocket, strode toward the first roulette wheel, drawing back the hammers on the Greener. Tucking the buttplate into her shoulder, she leveled the muzzles at the base of the wheel and pulled both triggers. In a spectacular shower of paint, wood, smoke and thunder, she made sure the wheel never spun again. When she had done the same to the other wheel, the three faro tables and several poker tables, she strode through the gaping crowd to the bar. Pulling her ear plugs she gave the bartender a wide smile.

    "You were saying?"

  22. Charlie MacNeil 10-19-13

     

    Crack heads, indeed! So far, a pair of recently off-shift miners who had initiated a physical disagreement over some minor point at the bar of the Buckhorn had been administered hickory anesthetic and piled in separate cells in the jail to recover at their leisure.

    One cardsharp who thought he was slicker with a marked deck and a bottom deal than he was and who had argued his eviction from the town a trifle more vehemently than he could back up had been stripped of hideout pepperbox and three aces up his tailored linen left sleeve. In addition, the man had found himself tossed unceremoniously, somewhat the worse for wear, on the westbound stage.

    Three half-dressed "ladies of the evening" who had incorrectly deduced that the Marshal "wouldn't dare lay hands on a woman" had found themselves sitting on the same stage as the gambler, each with a small valise "stuffed" with a change of underwear and a five dollar gold piece as a stake and each wearing a horse blanket poncho scrounged from the depths of the nearby livery stable, courtesy of Fannie, who had no qualms whatsoever about laying hands on anyone as necessary. And the clock in the Empire Hotel lobby had yet to chime the one o'clock hour...

    Charlie strolled into the office of Milton Stoakes, Attorney at Law, pick handle dangling from his left hand, followed by his shadow. Stoakes stiffened in his seat for a moment, his gaze shifting from Charlie to the officer accompanying him and back before slumping back against the cushions. "What can I do for you, Marshal?" Stoakes asked, an ingratiating smile reminiscent of that of a stray dog looking for a handout pasted on his face.

    "You can saddle your horse and get out of town," Charlie replied.

    "What?" Stoakes squawked.

    "You heard me, friend. I didn't stutter in the least. You've got thirty minutes to pack what you can stuff in one bag and get out. You're done in Cripple Creek. And if you don't have a horse, you'd best buy one, 'cause it's a long walk to Denver or anywhere else. And don't even think about going toward Firelands."

    Stoakes glared at Weldon, the officer accompanying Charlie. "Are you going to just stand there and let him do this to me?" he demanded. "What do I, er, uh..."

    "What do you what, Stoakes?" Charlie asked with a smile of pure malice. "Pay him for?" From the corner of his eye, he saw the policeman flinch and his own, as yet unused, pick handle start to rise. A handful of seconds later the policeman suddenly found himself curled in a ball on the polished wood floor, struggling to make his paralyzed diaphragm move enough to draw in even a cupful of life-giving air. Somehow, before he could even think of evading the blow, the Marshal had managed to drive the head of the length of hardened hickory into the officer's belly hard enough that it seemed to have scraped his backbone. Casually Charlie lifted the man's pistol from the holster and relieved him of both pick handle and doublegun.

    "Stoakes, you saw the rules. You've been making folks hereabouts pay to keep their businesses from being wrecked by your thugs. The rules didn't specifically mention that sort of thing, but they should have. So I'm serving notice: the protection racket ceases right here, right now. Pick up your friend there on the floor and leave. If I see either of you an hour from now, I won't be nearly as gentle as I was this time."

    Stoakes stared malevolently at the Marshal. "You can't do this!" he raged.

    "I just did," Charlie replied calmly. "You'd best hurry. You're runnin' out of time rapidly."

    Stoakes' hand snaked under his jacket as he surged to his feet. "You'll pay for this! No man treats me like that!" he snarled as a short-barreled Colt appeared, hammer eared back. The pick handle in Charlie's hand lashed out, knocking the muzzle of the pistol out of line as smoke and thunder filled the room, the slug smacking into the wall to the attorney's right. Before he could recover and draw back the hammer a second time, Charlie was around the desk, hickory persuader locked in both hands.

    The butt of the stick of hardened wood lanced into the attorney's belly, slamming him back into his chair. The head of the length of wood crashed down on his wrist, smashing bone and dropping the pistol to floor. Hickory and jaw bone met with a thud, and Milton Stoakes world went dark. He awoke some hours later in a jail cell with a splint on his right wrist, a raging headache, and an "Assault on a law officer with intent to kill" charge hanging over his aching head.

  23. Linn Keller 10-19-13

     

    "You look terrible," Esther murmured, placing gentle fingertips under Sarah's chin and lifting her face a little.
    "You look huge," Sarah replied tiredly.
    Esther laughed.
    As much as she wished to hug Sarah to her, the great belly prevented any such close association, and would for another month and more: Esther smiled gently and said, "There is a question in your eyes."
    Sarah closed her eyes, nodded, her shoulders sagging.
    "Aunt Esther, I am so tired."
    "Come, sit down. I wish to hear what you have to say."
    The ladies eased themselves into comfortably padded chairs.
    "I'm ... not afraid to sleep, Aunt Esther," Sarah began uncertainly, "but when I do ... I see things."
    Esther looked up at Sarah, green eyes deep, mysterious, listening with more than her ears.
    "Aunt Esther, you are a Wise Woman," Sarah said, and it was evident that she was not calling her Aunt Esther, a woman who was wise ... no, she spoke the ancient title, and Esther nodded as she accepted it as her due.
    "Tell me what you see," she replied gently.
    "Aunt Esther ... Papa was hurt ..."
    Esther nodded.
    "I was ... caring for him."
    Again the silent, understanding nod.
    Sarah's downcast eyes saw the maid's skirt, the toes of her shoes as she brought a tray; her felt soled shoes were silent, her presence betrayed only by the gurgle of tea tumbling into translucent, delicate tea-china.
    "I wore myself out, Aunt Esther, and I was ashamed."
    Esther tilted her head a little, interested.
    "I was so worn out I fell asleep in a chair and fell out and hurt my ribs again --"
    "That's what I felt," Esther murmured. "I knew something happened but I knew you were still safe."
    Sarah's eyes were big as she looked up suddenly, her mouth open.
    Esther laughed. "Please don't hang me for being a witch," she said gently.
    "I dreamed that too."
    "I was hanged?"
    "We both were."
    "That," Esther said quietly, picking up her her teacup and taking a moment to savor its fragrance, "is because we were. Side by side, from the same beam. Do you remember our children?"
    Sarah felt a lurch underfoot, as if the floor suddenly took a strong list to starboard, then righted.
    "I do ... they held them and made them watch."
    Esther nodded.
    "Now about the girl on the shield."
    Sarah's teacup clattered momentarily against her saucer; she picked it up, took a sip to conceal her surprise.
    "She stood fast even though there was no hope of victory."
    Sarah nodded.
    "The girl in plate mail astride the destrier, leading a charge into hopeless odds, but charging anyway."
    Sarah nodded, remembering the thrill of the massive stallion beneath her, the wind through the visor of her helm, the shock of impact as couched lance drove through her opponent's thinner armor at a joint.
    "And the many you saw in the very recent past."
    Sarah nodded again, her tea forgotten.
    "Each of these tell the same story."
    Sarah looked down at her tea, carefully set it aside, laced her fingers tightly together to keep her hands from shaking.
    "In each of these you proved your constancy, you proved your bravery and your dedication and you proved that, no matter the outcome, you do what is needed. You do what is right."
    Esther handed her own teacup and saucer to the returned maid and looked with gentle affection at her tense, white-knuckled niece.
    "Dearest Sarah," she said gently, "you are telling yourself that you didn't run out. When you took the enemy commander's sword through your heart, you could fight no more, you weren't able. When you dismounted from your charger and waded into the oncoming ranks with a hand-ax and a mace, you fell only after your very life was taken from you. Even those selves you saw who have not yet been, those selves dressed so oddly" -- Esther smiled knowingly, looking over her own spectacles as if sharing a womanly secret -- "even they, though they have yet to be, will face their duties and will face their tests.
    "We are put here in this schoolyard we call the Earth," Esther continued, laying a hand on her belly and grimacing for a moment, "we are put here to learn certain lessons. Which lessons, we're never quite sure. Sometimes we finish our lesson and move on to the next, sometimes a schoolmate pushes us out of the schoolroom too early and we have to try again through no fault of our own."
    Esther took a long breath, considered.
    "Or it could just be an interesting series of dreams, dreams where part of your mind is telling you that you really didn't run away, and all those ... vignettes ... are a vivid imagination, nothing more."
    "But, Aunt Esther," Sarah said slowly, "if that's ... just ... imagination ... how did you know what I'd dreamed ... without me telling you?"
    "You said it yourself," Esther smiled, drawing her knowledge about her like a cloak: "I am a Wise Woman."

    The Sheriff was a patient man.
    The Sheriff was a longsuffering man.
    The Sheriff was a man who tolerated much.
    Except when it came to his own long, tall carcass.
    Nurse Susan came in to find the man leaning heavily on the counter, straight razor in hand, his face lathered: he was also the color of wheat paste, buck naked and shaking like a dried weed stem in a stiff breeze.
    Nurse Susan advanced her throttle and steered a course across the room, seizing the man's trembling hand: she guided it down, then carefully extracted the honed, stropped cut-throat from his grip.
    "Let's set back down on the bed, now, shall we?" she said soothingly, in the voice reserved for sick children and old men: "we don't want to fall and hurt ourselves --"
    "What's this we stuff?" the Sheriff snapped, twisting out of her grip and falling against the counter: he seized the edge, his knees collapsing, kneecaps banging painfully into its varnished cedar front: Nurse Susan heard the man's teeth snap together as he bit back an oath.
    Nurse Susan was veteran at such matters; she seized the naked man about the waist, ran her thigh in under his backside such that her own knee almost hit the cabinet doors, and allowed him to collapse back on her own leg.
    In this position, the bones of her lower leg were vertical columns, easily holding his weight; all Nurse Susan had to do was keep balance, his and hers alike, her lower leg bones carried all the weight: it was an old nurse's trick to keep her from destroying her back in a vain attempt at preventing a patient's fall.
    Hurrying feet approached them, willing hands assisted, the jaw-locked Sheriff was helped back to his bed: a towel was produced, wiping the generous layer of shaving soap from his face.
    "Don't," he groaned, secretly grateful that he was once again horizontal; they cranked the bed up, piled pillows behind him and floated another blanket over his shivering carcass.
    Nurse Susan assessed him quickly with professional hands, then stopped and ran her palm across his stubbled cheek.
    "You," she said gently, "do need a shave."
    "The Pope is catholic," the Sheriff snapped. "Tell me something I don't know!"
    "Your daughter is pregnant," Nurse Susan said with a straight face.
    "WHAT!" The Sheriff's eyes snapped wide open and looked the size of Morgan dollars and his jaw hung down to about collar bone height.
    Nurse Susan placed her fingertips under the Sheriff's mandible and hoisted the swinging jaw bone back into place.
    "She's not really," she said, "but I'll bet you didn't expect that!"
    There was a knock at the door and the barber came in, a short, swarthy Italian with a mustache nearly as wide as his cheek bones: he muttered his way up to the bedside, dropped his satchel on the table and threw his arms wide.
    "Shereef!" he shouted, startling white teeth flashing from beneath a Mediterranean-black handlebar: "I see you again!" He bent a little, frowning, pushed his bottom lip up into his top lip and nodded.
    "You need-a good shave," he said. "I feex-a you right up."
    He opened his valise, pulled out a towel, hustled importantly over to the stove, filling the room with conversation and the impression that he was, if not wise, at least pouring forth what-all he knew, however much or however little that might be.
    "I feex-a you right up, my frien'," he declared, wringing out the towel: he brought the steaming soaker over, carefully wrapped the Sheriff's face in the hot, damp towel, then enthusiastically began stropping the Sheriff's straight razor.
    "That frien' Macneil," the barber declared, happily honing the straight razor's edge on one side of the strop, then the other, "he crack heads! He say-a da no more crooked games! He say-a no more girls on-a da street! You know, da fancy girls!" He paused to shake the straight razor at the Sheriff, politely ignoring the fact that the supine lawman had a face full of towel and could see nothing.
    "I not-a haveta pay-a da protection!" he declared happily. "I like-a dat Macneil!"

  24. Charlie MacNeil 10-18-13

     

    The exodus from Cripple Creek following the posting of Charlie's rules hadn't quite rivaled that of the Israelites fleeing Egypt ahead of the soldiers of Pharaoh's army, but it had been impressive. Horses, mules, shank's mare, a much-repaired mud wagon, even a satin-trimmed barouche pulled by matched pacing bays had served to transport the denizens of the mining town's less-savory environs to somewhere, anywhere, more free-wheeling. But those were the easy ones. Charlie knew that what was left would be much more difficult to subdue. And the grandfather clock that held court in the lobby of the Empire Hotel had just struck noon. It was time...

    Charlie was fairly certain that the first hours, maybe even the first day, would be relatively peaceful while the pot simmered, so to speak. Boilover could come any time, but he, Fannie and Jacob were as ready as they were going to be. He turned to the remaining members of the Cripple Creek police department. Each man had a shotgun, a bandoleer of buckshot and a pick handle. All looked at Charlie and his companions with a great deal of reluctance. None were cowards, but all had seen the Sheriff shot down in the ambush and all had been bruised, battered and laughed at at one time or another since donning their uniforms. And all but one had received an envelope under their doors that morning. The last had made it abundantly clear that he would take no bribes and show no favoritism.

    "It's time, boys," Charlie drawled. "One of you go with each of us. You," he pointed at the fourth man, the one who refused to be bribed, "you're our reserve. I want you at the jail, ready to lock up whoever gets dragged in. And if you hear me scream for help," he chuckled, "you come a-running. Let's get this circus on the road, folks." He strode toward the door and stepped out on the boardwalk. It was 12:02 PM...

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