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Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103

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Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103 last won the day on October 27 2016

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About Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103

  • Birthday 03/31/1956

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    Firelands Peacemakers

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  • Location
    Lorain County, Ohio
  • Interests
    History, calligraphy, any game that burns powder
    BOLD 103, Center Township Combat Pistol League
    Skywarn, ham radio, and no idea what I want to do when I grow up!

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  1. 473. A BROTHER'S UNDERSTANDING Jacob took his sister's gloved hand, placed it on his arm. "Walk with me." Sarah's chin came up and Jacob could feel the air cool several degrees. The pair walked down the boardwalk, feeling the sun's welcome warmth soaking through their garments: their breath steamed in the high mountain air, their boot heels were loud on warped, dusty planks. "Little Sis," Jacob said quietly, "Pa is not sleeping well." Sarah's eyebrow raised a little. Normally she would have risen to his "Little Sis," but she heard a deeper concern in his voice -- not in his words, but in his throat, a tonal quality her musician's ear picked up on instantly. "That damned War," Jacob said quietly, "ruined many a good man. Eyes, limbs, scars, things a man can see. Look at a man on a crutch and he's got one good leg and the other trouser leg folded up and pinned to his belt. You can see that. Pa --" He took a long breath -- not a steady breath, kind of a shivering inhalation, and from this alone Sarah could tell the depth of his upset. "Mama said he was nightmarin' again last night." Sarah blinked, her pace slowing to match his slowing cadence: she looked at her brother's face, marveling yet again at how much he looked like his pale eyed father. "What about you?" Jacob's jaw came out a little, set: she saw muscles bulge, and then he stopped, and turned his head to look very directly at Sarah. "I could ask you the same question." Sarah reached up, laid gentle fingers along her brother's cheekbone. "I slept well last night, Jacob." "So did I." "Liar." "I slept like a rock. The windows shivered I snored so loud. Annette said sleepin' with me is better than a warm brick." "You have your father's hands," Sarah admitted. "A mountain witch told him he has hot hands, a Healer's hands." Jacob's hand floated up of its own accord, rested briefly just under his collar bone. "He stopped blood with the Word," he said softly, "elsewise I'd not be here." "I've seen the scar." He looked sharply at her. "I never intended that you should." "You were out of your head with fever," she smiled. "You didn't have much say in the matter." Jacob bit his bottom lip, nodded. "How do we help Papa?" Jacob stopped, looked ahead, well into the distance, not seeing street, buildings, horses nor mountains beyond. "I don't know," he admitted. "I'd ought to be able to help -- somehow -- but damned if I know how!" Sarah nodded, leaned against him, her head resting against his shoulder. Jacob's arm ran protectively around her, drew her close. "You realize the old gossips are going to tell Annette you were disporting most improperly with another woman." "I know." She heard the smile in his voice, felt his chest shiver with a suppressed chuckle. "Remember when Cousin Millie came around, I had her on my arm, she was so tickled to be in a genuine Wild West town she came up on her tiptoes to kiss me on the cheek?" Sarah laughed. "I remember. Annette had fun with that one." Jacob smiled at the memory, nodded. "Do you control your dreams, Jacob?" He looked at her with honest surprise. Sarah reached out, seized the burnished brass handle, hauled open the freshly-painted door of the Silver Jewel, steered Jacob within. Tillie looked up from behind the hotel counter, smiled: Jacob lifted his Stetson, took her extended hand, kissed her knuckles in a most gentlemanly manner. "My dear," he said with mock gravity, "I do appreciate your assistance!" Tillie gave him a wide-eyed look of absolute innocence: she looked at Sarah and saw a shared secret, so she lowered her head a little, regarded Jacob, knowing he was going to whip one on her. "Sarah and I were without, and I am assured the old biddies will tell Annette I'm consorting with other women!" "Oh, you wanted to add an older woman to your harem," Tillie teased. "Jacob, I'm old enough to be your mother!" "All the better," he declared happily. "It's obvious that I gather women of quality!" Tillie laughed, sat back down. "Jacob Keller," she sighed, shaking her head, "you are as full of it as your father!" Jacob placed a dramatic hand on his breast, fingers spread: "I come by it honest!" Sarah hauled him hard by his upper arm and Jacob mock-stumbled after her: "Hot tea," she called to the grinning Mr. Baxter, "and coffee for Jacob!" "What's wrong, Depitty?" a voice called. "Can't handle your women?" Jacob stopped and laughed, patting Sarah's hand, still firmly about his upper arm. "Handle her?" Jacob replied, white teeth gleaming beneath his curled, waxed handlebar: "Fella, I one time roped a Texas twister and rode it in the County Fair, won first place in the horse race with it! I saddled and rode a circus elephant, I've rode bull buffalo across the thunderin' prairie and my little boy rides a Texas longhorn! I can rope, ride, hogtie and brand anythin' that draws breath but I'll tell you honest" -- he looked down at his pale-eyed sister and laughed -- "I don't think there's any way on God's green earth I could EVER tame my baby sis here!" "Baby sis?" Sarah riposted, planting her knuckles on her belt in mock indignation. "Who you callin' little sis, little brother?" The two made their way back to the back, sat in the Lawman's Corner -- Jacob's back to one wall, Sarah's against the other, the corner between them -- hot tea and coffee arrived, and fresh apple pie with it, which gained the hash slinger a wink: "Jacob Keller, I know you well!" Sarah sipped her tea delicately, a proper young lady in a fine gown; Jacob addressed the pie -- Sarah considered that she'd have to describe his consumption as joyful, no other word really fit -- and after his plate was cleared, Jacob took a noisy slurp of coffee and considered his dainty, feminine sister. "You called me a liar." "You are a window, Jacob," Sarah said patiently. "I can see through you like window glass." "Hmp." Jacob frowned. "Your Mama can, too. So can mine." "Face it, Jacob," Sarah said quietly, "you'll never best women." "I yield to the more capable," Jacob replied, just as quietly. "Tell me about your nightmares." Jacob was never one to sidestep a difficulty, even one this deep and personal: he nodded, put his head down like a bull and plowed right into it. "Mostly I'm not able to change something. Or can't fix something." Sarah nodded carefully. "And our father's nightmares? What are they?" "I don't know," Jacob admitted. "Mama one time said he'll be shiverin' in bed beside her, he'll be soakin' with sweat. She'll hear his breathin' change and he'll groan some and she'll roll over and lay her hand flat on his breast. "His hand will rip out from under the covers for all the world like a rattlesnake, he'll press his down flat on top of hers and she'll feel him relax, and his hand will quit pressin' and go back under the covers and if there's light enough, she'll see his face go from lined and tense to relaxed, and that'll be it for the night." "I see." "If they go to sleep with Mama rolled up on her side ag'in him, he never does have nightmares." Sarah nodded slowly. "Is that what yours are like?" Jacob shook his head. "I'll wake up and try to lay real still so I don't trouble Annette." He hesitated. "Sometimes it works." Sarah nodded; she'd discussed the matter with her sister in law before, but never said as much to her brother. "Do you suppose it would help to get him to talk about it?" Jacob smiled sadly, shook his head. "The man's as close as bark on a tree when it comes to things like that. He'll brag his wife up to high heaven, but he'll not let slip any secrets about her. He'll tell outrageous lies about himself but he won't let slip any secrets. He's just as close when it comes to those nightmares." "You've tried." "I've tried." Sarah hissed her breath in between her teeth, frowned. "You can't fix him, Little Sis. He don't want fixed. He holds that hate close, holds it like somethin' precious." "I know what that's like." "I give mine up a long time ago." Sarah looked at him, her eyes veiled. "I've walked the red sands of hell, Jacob. I'm not sure I could if I wanted." "You asked about Pa's nightmares. I don't reckon I can do anything to help the man." "If I can't help him, can I help you?" "You said you steered your dreams." "I command my dreams, yes. It is my kingdom and in it, I am supreme, and nightmares are something I seize and control. I have taken monsters by the scruff of the neck and the seat of the pants and heaved them out the bat wing doors into the street." "I'll have to try that." They rose, Sarah taking his arm again. A stranger stepped in their path, leered at Sarah. "A good lookin' woman in a saloon," he sneered. "You gonna dance for us, honey?" Sarah turned, placed her gloved hand on Jacob's chest: "Let me," she whispered, then turned with a smile. "I am not dressed for the occasion," she smiled, "nor am I so inclined. Now if you will step aside --" Jacob saw the surprise on the man's face as something hard punched into his belly. "because if you do not step aside, sirrah, I shall blow a hole through you the size of a freight wagon." Jacob stepped back, drew his coat aside to reveal his engraved Colt's handle. "Was I you, friend," he said conversationally, "I'd listen to the lady." Tom Landers took two long steps, flipped the man's Derby hat free and belted him hard with a shot-filled slung shot. Sarah twisted, hooked her heel against the front of his ankle as she seized his arm and introduced his face to the floor at a good velocity. "Mr. Landers," she said as she returned her bulldog .44 to its hidden holster, "thank you. I detest loud noises, and my Bulldog pistol is quite noisy."
  2. "Purple" ... yes, that describes much of Melissa's skin surface! Face planting on the laminate does no one any good -- and with heparin IV, she bears the subdermal war stories of every arterial blood gas, of every IV stick, of every blood draw! She's being weaned down on her oxygen: 2 litres per minute via cannula, on straight room air she's 89-90% and she got scared when levels went down to 87 and put the cannula back in. The nurse and I think it's because the pulse ox was dislodged slightly from her finger. Melissa wants to come home. I want her to continue breathing on her own. We'll wait and see what the physicians say.
  3. 472. DOUBLE EAGLE "I hear you need a piano player." The barkeep looked up, surprised. A saloon is a man's establishment. Paintings of ladies in various states of undress hung on the walls, smoke and laughter hung in the air, beer and whiskey and obscene jokes flavored the atmosphere. The saloon was where men came to relax, to let off steam, to laugh and curse and numb themselves against life's difficulties. Women here were a commodity, women were things, objects; the tarts, trollops and unlaced corsets were for men's entertainment, for their lascivious leers, for their obscene jests. When a woman of obvious quality puts a high-button shod foot up on the polished rail, leans a fashionably-sleeved elbow on the bar top and raises an eyebrow -- "I hear you need a piano player" -- well, it wasn't quite what the barkeep expected. "I wasn't expecting ... you," he said slowly. "I know." She gripped her skirt, swung, steered expertly around a fellow who placed himself accidentally on purpose in her path; she sashayed over to the ivory 88. seated herself with the grace of a queen settling into her throne, raised gloved hands, hesitated. She turned, looked at the barkeep. "I'll need a beer," she called, and the sound of a woman's voice -- raised so she could be heard -- commanded the attention of what very few in the saloon hadn't noticed her already. The barkeep came over, placed the beer carefully atop the piano, looking at her as if she were either insane, on fire or a bale of compressed trouble: wisely, he offered no comment, and the "Arkansas Traveler" followed him back to his station behind the bar. The woman played well, and conservatively: the piano player in a saloon gauges the crowd, plays to the mood: she wove a pleasant, relaxed background to conversation, to cards, to sandwiches and salt peanuts. No one approached the fashionably dressed woman sitting composed, drawing quiet magic from the slightly out of tune piano -- nobody, that is, until a nervous young man in suspenders and sleeve garters came over, lifted his Derby hat and said, "Ma'am, I believe you're in my seat." The woman smiled, lifted her hands from the yellowed keys: the sudden absence of background music left a hole in the smoke-fouled atmosphere. The woman rose, the young man sat: his style was not as smooth, not as expert, but it was more what was expected in a saloon: the woman laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, pointed to the beer --"There's one that hasn't been drunk yet, it's yours" -- and turned with a smile. She tilted her head, regarded the man who was regarding her. "You look like a gambling man," she said with a knowing smile: a deck of cards appeared in her gloved hands, and she began working the deck without looking at it: "I'll bet I can relieve you of some coin." A lift of her eyebrows and a smile took the sting of challenge from her words, and the two settled into chairs on either side of a round green-topped table. Cards were quickly dealt: one for you, one for me, ten cards in total, the deck placed in the center of the table. She placed a gold double eagle on the green felt. "I will bet you," she said, "if you cut, the show card will be higher than a deuce." "Not much of a bet." She laid a second double eagle beside the first. He looked at her coolly, smiled just a little, dropped a matching sum to the tabletop, cut. Deuce of diamonds. "Yours," she smiled, placing another double eagle on the felt. "Your choice of dealt cards," she said, "we turn over at the same moment, high card wins." He placed a double eagle with hers. They each touched a card, each looked at the other. Her trey beat his deuce. Two more double eagles on the felt: another card turned over. "Yours." Back and forth they went, the man winning more than he lost: when finally the deck was depleted, the woman smiled. "I recognize the better player," she said, rising and extending her hand. "It's good to play an honest opponent." He gripped her hand carefully, not entirely certain what her game was: he was ahead by two double eagles; they each replaced their winnings in their respective pokes, and the woman turned, raised a summoning hand. "Barkeep," she called, "drinks on the house, I'm buying, one to a customer!" She swung around the table, gripped the man's sleeve, rose on her tiptoes, whispered in his ear. His expression was suddenly serious and he looked at her, startled: she released his sleeve with a smile, paced over to the bar, paid the slick-haired barkeep with the stained white apron, and smiled again as she sashayed out the door into the clean air outside. The woman was gathering the reins to her carriage when the man ran up to her. "Ma'am," he said, "how did you know that?" "I have known false accusations myself," Sarah Lynne McKenna said, her face suddenly serious: she lifted her palm, displayed her bronze shield: "The Black Agent is only interested in the guilty, not in a man innocent of the crime of which he has been accused." "The Black Agent," he whispered, and turned white to his lips. "You did not murder and you robbed no bank. The criminal is caught and confessed. You will find a wire waiting for you at your boarding-house. You have been exonerated, the accusations are no more, and the courts have no further interest in you. Besides" -- she smiled a little, that gentle smile she wore while plying the pasteboards -- "a couple double eagles will make your travels less uncomfortable." He watched as she drove down the Denver street, then he blinked, looked around, legged it for his boarding house. Either a wire awaited him, or an arrest, but either way, it was over. He could quit running now.
  4. Darlin', I took a look at your update. I read ... 1) Lymphoma 2) HIGHLY TREATABLE 3) YOU'LL LIVE!!! Ordinarily I would have cut loose with a war whoop that would've brought poor Sailor-dog out of a sound sleep, but I'm too tired, so I figured to send you a hug over this-yere laptop thing, only when I bent over to wrap my arms around the monitor ... 1) I knocked over my coffee cup 2) Threw my back out and 3) Stirred up enough dust to throw a sneezin' fit! I reckon this means I'll have to stand up on my knees for you some more and call that good!
  5. 471. COLLECTION Sheriff Linn Keller had been leaned back in his chair. Sheriff Linn Keller had been relaxing with his boots up on the corner of the desk. Sheriff Linn Keller had his hat over his face and was making the approximate sounds of a buzz saw at working speed, biting into good straight grain pine. Sheriff Linn Keller came out of his chair like he'd been clap boarded across his backside, he scrambled for his hat, swatted at the chair, ended up on the floor, rolling over on all fours and looking very much like he was recalling a former life as a scared graveyard feline. He came up on his hind legs, snatched up the dropped Stetson, swung it up onto his iron-grey thatch and frowned, wondering what in two hells he'd just half-heard, and now that his head was up and his heels down, he heard it again. Someone was outside and someone was not happy at all and it sounded like a fight. Sheriff Linn Keller sighed and said something a man wouldn't say in polite company and started for the door when something hit one of the posts outside hard enough to rattle dirt loose from between the ceiling boards, and then he heard a familiar feminine snarl and he knew what at least part of the party was. Sarah. Sarah Lynne McKenna, daughter of a local society matron, child of wealth and privilege, a beautiful young woman with ice-pale eyes and a winning smile, a woman who knew the wiles needed to slip into a man's heart and make herself perfectly at home, a woman who carried the bronze shield of an Agent of the Court. Sarah Lynne McKenna, recruited by His Honor the Judge Donald Hostetler, intended to be a detective in the classic sense of the word -- one who detects, a fact finder, someone who could gather information, and who better than a pretty young woman? Men will make fools of themselves for the blush of a pretty face, men will brag and talk and divulge to a woman where they would be cool and circumspect in the company of other men, and this was what His Honor the Judge intended when he recruited the lovely Miss Sarah to the task. The Sheriff knew this. He also knew something hit his door and hit it hard, and a female voice on the other side of the door was expressing her low-voiced displeasure, and the Sheriff knew this was a very bad thing. He opened the door, stepped back, hands up and bladed, ready to grapple or strike. A man with a bloodied face fairly flew across the threshold and went face first into the puncheon floor, and something in what used to be a fashionable dress flew through the air and landed atop the prone prisoner, fists rising and falling in a rapid, obviously angry cadence. The Sheriff reached down, seized a double handful of dress material and hauled Sarah to her feet: "Whoa, now," he cautioned, and Sarah turned, charging the pale eyed lawman. Sheriff Linn Keller was a tall man, and he had a tall man's arms, and he thrust out his left arm and put the palm of his hand on Sarah's forehead and held her at arm's length as she sizzled and snarled and swung at him, repeatedly, while the onlookers outside peered cautiously through the open door, marveling at the sight of Old Pale Eyes holding a wildcat at arm's length. Finally Sarah slowed down, bent at the waist and backed up, raised her hands to her hair and stood, brushing her wayward locks back out of the way: a long breath and she was composed, her eyes were cool, and in a perfectly calm voice she said "Hello, Papa." "Hello, Sarah," the Sheriff said, amusement in his eyes and gentleness in his voice. "And what have we here?" "Here we have the man who tried to murder the stage coach driver." "Ah, him." "I have recovered most of the take, it's out in the wagon." "And you are satisfied this is the man." "He's been bragging about it for the past two days." "And what was that thump and thunder that brought me out of my chair like a scalded cat?" "Oh, that," Sarah said with a dismissive wave of the wrist: "He decided he really didn't want to be my prisoner, so when he leaped from the wagon, I jumped with him and got him by the collar and the belt, and I bounced him off the side of the building." She blinked innocently and added, "I'm afraid I may have knocked some chinking loose." The Sheriff looked down at the groaning man, squatted. "Fella," he said, gripping the prisoner's shoulder, "I'm going to take you back to a nice, quiet cell and I'll get those irons off you, and then I reckon we ought to have us a palaver." The reply was neither well thought out, nor was it polite, for all that it was indeed most heartfelt: it involved mostly the ancestry of the Sheriff, women in general, this woman in particular, courts, stage coach drivers and two or three miscellaneous other titles, combined with infernal destinations and allusions to actions that were not only physically not possible, but were rather unpleasant to contemplate. The Sheriff grabbed the prisoner by the back of his coat, hoisted him easily off the floor. "I reckon he might be kind of dusty," he said casually. "Excuse me, my dear." Sheriff and prisoner walked out the door -- or rather, the Sheriff walked, the prisoner kind of came along for the ride, until Sarah heard a splash outside, heard the approximate sound of a bull buffalo being drowned, heard men's laughter: another splash, another snort, and the Sheriff and the prisoner came dripping back into the Sheriff's office, both of them far less than dry. "I reckon he missed his Saturday night bath," the Sheriff said dryly. "Darlin', if you could kindly open that jail cell for me." The Sheriff followed Miss Sarah down the row of cells, to the last one in the row: he planted the prisoner, face down, on the cot, sat on him -- the Sheriff's backside, and the prisoner's backside, were two of the only dry areas to be had -- he unscrewed the Tower cuffs, removed them, handed them to Miss Sarah, who accepted them with a prim "Thank you," and then the Sheriff rose, motioning Sarah out. They both backed out, watching the prisoner as they did; as the man did not seem inclined to rise from his hard pallet, the Sheriff closed the door quietly, turned and fired the cast iron stove at the end of the cell row, waited until it was drafting well, then nodded to Sarah. They returned to the main part of the office. "Now how," the Sheriff said, "did you come by this one?" "I was looking for the holdup who shot the stage driver. He wasn't hard to find, men like to brag, especially when they've had a few and an attractive young woman shines up to him." "So you gulled him into talking." "No. I got into a catfight with the trollop he was bragging to." "I see. That's why your gown is ...?" "That's exactly why." "And she ...?" "I got a double handful of her bodice and ripped down. She covered herself with her hands, let out a screech and ran for the back, and a half-dozen men insisted on buying me drinks, and I ended up in this fellow's confidence." "Until ...?" Sarah smiled, reached into her own bodice, pulled out a heavy leather slapper. "Until I banged him over the head twice, hard, and got him in irons. He didn't like the confinement and I didn't like him, and a good time was had by all." Linn frowned, placed gentle fingers under Sarah's chin, lifted it, turned her head a little to catch the light across her cheekbone. "You're going to have a shiner come morning," he said, his tone that of a disapproving father. "I'm going to have more than that, Papa." She grimaced, twisted a little. "Once he realized I wasn't going to go upstairs with him for some ..." (she cleared her throat delicately) "refreshment" -- again, with fingertips to the base of her thoat and an innocent expression, a feminine "ahem" and a quick flutter of the long, curled eyelashes -- "well, he insisted, and the fight was on." "And you won." "I won." "How in hell's name did you win a fight with a grown man who wanted you for breakfast?" Sarah laughed, laid gentle fingertips on her Papa's chest. "Why, we women have our secrets!" She curled her finger at him, gripped his shoulders, drew him down until her cheek lay against his, and whispered, "I cheated!" The Sheriff gripped his daughter's arms firmly, gave her a warm, approving look. "That's my girl!"
  6. Second update added after first update. Encouragement continues but I remain paranoid, I know too much about the condition.
  7. 470. LOST Sarah Lynne McKenna leaned back, bringing her shining black Snowflake-horse to a stop. Young eyes are sharp eyes, and her pale-blue eyes scanned the terrain before her. Sarah was not a man-tracker: her brother Jacob was, and he was tracking a mile from her, trying to find a survivor, someone injured, someone wandering, confused. Sarah was not a tracker, but she did know something of the human mind: she knew an injured animal, a lost child, or a confused elder, would generally track uphill, as it is easier to keep one's balance going uphill: she also looked at those areas where the walking might be easier. She sat for several minutes, not moving; she had a good vantage, and from here, with her eyes, she searched. Jacob frowned a little, reading the slight disturbance in a patch of bare dirt, the bruising of a foot's passing on low vegetation: he smiled a little as he eased his Apple-horse ahead. Like his pale eyed sister, he was kitted out for a stay in the mountains: like his sister, he had no wish to forego his nice warm bed, but like his sister, he had known want and cold and the pinch of an empty belly, and could he but find this injured soul, he could offer a sheltered campsite, a meal, a night's rest before setting out for home. Sarah Lynne Hake spun slowly in limitless space. Her beloved Snowflake-ship was gone, blown to hell, and a wonder that she hadn't been hit by shrapnel when it blew. She'd ejected, and ejected at speed, and she knew she was still traveling the same relative velocity as Snowflake when the undetected micrometeoroid sizzled through hull, armor and reactor. She'd ejected, and she had no idea whether she was still entirely sane, because she'd seen something before she blew the canopy and yanked the red handle, something that triggered whatever fighter pilot's instinct she'd inherited from her Luftwaffe father. There'd been no time to send a mayday and her suit lacked commo, now that she was no longer part of the ship, now that her ejection seat was gone. Sarah drifted, alone, utterly and absolutely lost. She blinked, frowned, considered her situation. "I'm hungry," she said, and then giggled. Of all things to worry about, her hunger was probably the least important. Sheriff Linn Keller spread the hand drawn map out on his desk. "Here," he said, "is where the wagon was found. Here" -- his hovering finger moved a little -- "we found a bloodied bonnet and her shawl. Tracks went in this direction and then were lost. We have a mantracker here, a party here, here and here." He looked up. "I don't want to send anyone else out. If we have tracks to follow, I don't want them destroyed by well meaning feet. We'll stage your group -- Hank --" A rancher's chin lifted a fraction. "Your men, here. Set up camp, build a fire. Jacob knows you'll be coming. Pete, your crew, here, a mile away. That should bracket the search area. Questions?" He looked around, pale eyes studying ranchers, cowboys, miners. "The Silver Jewel is packing provisions for first meal and second, and we'll have resupply in six hours to your locations." He straightened. "Move out." Hans Hake rubbed his face, too a deep breath, blew it out. "No call, no mayday?" "We got the automatic signal she'd ejected, and then nothing. Gone." Gracie gripped her husband's shoulders. "How many have we out looking?" "Five Valkyries. We're projecting course and speed to establish the search pattern." "Why would she eject?" Gracie whispered, and Hans reached up, laid a hand on his wife's fingers. "Sir?" Hans looked up, his face impassive. "Sir, we have a robot interceptor fueled and ready. It's the drone ship, sir, it has twenty search drones on board." "Did you get telemetry worked out?" "We did, sir. We can box-grid and scan --" Hans nodded. "Launch." Sarah eased her Snowflake-horse around the trail, listening, watching. She thought she'd seen something out of place; she searched the brush, and more by accident than design, she glanced down, looked again. Snowflake halted and Sarah swung down, went to one knee, bent closer, studying something shining. A button. She smiled, picked it up: it was a shell button, something from a woman's garment, and there was no dirt on it. "Freshly fallen," she whispered, looking around. "How long," Gracie asked, then hesitated. "Can she breathe? Her suit has one hour's oxygen. If she's still in her ejection seat, four hours." "So five hours," Gracie murmured, staring at the box projection, the cubic miles of space being searched. "Sir?" Hans lifted his chin; the adjutant stepped into the circle of lighted panels. "We've located what's left of her ship, sir." "Report." "We can account for less than ten per cent of the aft section, sir. It looks like a reactor burst." Hans' jaw slid out and he nodded, slowly: if the reactor burst, it would have vaporized most of the ship with the release of hell itself, normally contained in unearthly alloys: there were enough safeties this should never, ever happen, but if it were hit -- "Continue the search. We know she ejected. The ejection seat should be out there." "Yes, sir." Sarah saw a depression, tilted her head, studied it, realized it was a footprint -- a heel, where the ankle rolled, digging in one side more deeply -- She looked ahead, then touched her Snowflake-horse behind the foreleg. The huge black Frisian knelt, allowing Sarah to board. Jacob turned uphill, as he'd expected. Here, a scrape, the dirt darker where it was freshly exposed; there, a branch pulled down, caught under another, where a hand gripped it to pull the traveler uphill. Apple-horse climbed the grade easily, Jacob leaning to his right, studying the ground, looking ahead. There. Hair, caught -- Blood under -- Getting close. He looked to his right. Sarah was riding, slowly, studying the ground; she was a quarter mile from him. "Valkyrie Five, Valkyrie One." "Go ahead, Francine." "I found her seat." There was a long pause. "Base, Valkyrie One." "Go, One." "There was no pinger from the seat but I have it on scope, moving in now." "Roger, One, vectoring medical." "Sir, should I recall the robot ship?" "Negative. Deploy as planned." "Deploying search drones in thirty seconds." "Base, One, have target in sight." Silence grew in the control room and Gracie's fingers tightened a little on her husband's muscled shoulders. They heard Francine's long intake of breath and their collective stomachs fell ten miles. "Base, the seat is empty. Something took off the bottom half, it looks melted." "Continue searching." "Roger that." Gracie's hands rose, she clasped her fingers, pressed her lips into them, shivering a little. "No seat," she whispered. "How much oxygen does her suit have?" Hans looked at the elapsed-time display. "Fifty minutes." He pressed a toggle. "Sheriff, could you come to the control room, please, and bring the Chaplain." Assuming I get back alive, Sarah thought, what am I going to tell them? I punched out of a perfectly good Interceptor just for grinskis and gigglers and then the ship blew up under me? What am I, psychotic? -- I mean psychic? She stopped herself from taking a deep breath. Even her breathing had to be rationed, to stretch her oxygen supply as far as possible. She checked her wrist panel: so far she was not losing any to leaks - for small favors, O Lord, I give thanks, she thought, then: For the favor if rescue, O Lord, do I now pray. Hank looked around at what used to be a clearing. His men were used to handling whatever came along. He still had a chuck wagon; Cookie was already fixing a meal, the tent was being set up, they had their picket line set, watches assigned, and now came the hard part. Hank was like any man: he was patient when he had to be, and he had to be patient now. His daughter went out with the wagon, the horse came back in harness and towing the front axle, and the wagon was found over a drop-off. The wagon, but not his daughter. Hank was patient when he had to be, and right now he did not want to be patient at all, but he knew his best chances were to let that pale eyed bloodhound find his little girl. Hank's hands closed into fists, then opened: he blinked, considered the ground at his feet, frowned. She hadn't been a little girl for some years now, but a man's daughter is always Daddy's Little Girl, if only in her Daddy's beating heart. Something pressed the side of her head: she felt cool fingers, motherly fingers, she knew something wet was wiping the sticky from her head, or trying to. "Ow," she complained, grimacing, then opened her eyes. Someone with pale eyes was bent over her, someone with a beautiful face and a fashionable little hat; another face, another pair of pale eyes, and then a horse's head, solemnly contemplating the scene from above the first two. "Hi, I'm Sarah," the young woman murmured. "What's your name?" "Ow." "Hello, Ow, but if I were you I'd kick your folks for naming you that!" If I say anything at all, the suit recorder will pick it up. Better I say nothing. They'll think I was killed, or hurt so bad I didn't know anything. Sarah closed her eyes, as much to stop the stars from moving as to collect her thoughts. She went through the sequence in her mind. She'd pushed another meteor into decaying orbit so the miners could catch it and feed it into the furnaces: it would be assayed, she would be credited with anything special -- rare earth elements, gold, platinum, diamonds. Most of the time it was either rock or iron, but sometimes there were traces of other elements. She was hoping to find one made mostly of gold. There was no proximity alarm, just the appearance of a pale eyed woman in a fashionable gown astride a huge black horse, lit up like she was riding in sunlight -- Sarah could hear her shouting, "GET OUT BEFORE YOU'RE KILLED!" and she reacted. She grabbed the handle, pulled once, pulled a second time. First pull blew the canopy and she slammed her helmet back against its rest, pulled a second time. Sarah grunted with pain as she was kicked out of the cockpit by the explosive charge; she rotated just enough to see her beloved Snowflake, then she screwed her eyes shut as the ship vaporized. It surprised her that the flash, the explosion, were both ... silent. Sarah looked at her wrist panel. Ten minutes left. She closed her eyes again. Hank's head came up, as did several others, as the whistle shrilled in the distance. Men looked at one another. More wood went on the fire; Cookie dumped another bucket of water into the kettle. He knew women, and he knew the boss's daughter would likely want a bath, and he'd have hot water ready. Sarah felt something tug at her, then she slammed facefirst into something very solid. She tried to push away, relaxed. One of the Valkyries came in close, engaged the field effect, enclosed Sarah in a force-bubble, holding her hard against the Interceptor. The stars weren't rotating around her now, and she felt the ship turn and pick up speed. Hank was on his feet as the pale eyed deputy carried his little girl into the encampment. He recalled the mare, skittish, walling her eyes and throwing her head as they tried to catch her, catch the trailing reins, as they regarded the front axle, broken free and still attached to the horse, the rest of the wagon missing. He watched silently as the good looking young woman with the deputy ladled water over his daughter's bloodied hair, as she soaped and scrubbed and rinsed, as she wiped and then delicately, carefully, with a sharp little needle and genuine silk thread she had Hank boil in a tin cup for her, sew up the gash on his daughter's scalp. "It'll be hidden by her hair," she told Hank, "and likely she'll have a headache for a day or three. I don't find anything else broke or tore up." Hank nodded, numb, staring at his little girl's pale face. Her eyelids fluttered open and she raised a hand. "Daddy?" she asked uncertainly, and Hank bent over and ran his arms around his little girl as everybody else elaborately pretended not to watch. Valkyrie One eased into her cradle, her reactor still live, the space suited figure stuck to the side of the ship. A maintenance platform was run up to the ship, raised; strong hands gripped the unmoving figure. The Valkyrie watched through her canopy's lower edge, waited until another Valkyrie raised both arms, then made a throat-slash. Valkyrie One shut down her reactor and Sarah fell about an inch, then strong hands had her. The maintenance platform rolled back, lowered. Hans and Gracie disciplined themselves severely to keep from running out into the bay. Sarah looked at her parents, then twisted her helmet, lifted it off her short-haired head, tucked it correctly under her off arm. Hans looked pointedly at her wrist panel. "Cutting it a little close, are we?" "What's this 'we' stuff?" Sarah countered, grinning: protocol be damned, Sarah Hake seized her parents in a sudden, two-arm hug, and everyone elaborately pretended not to watch as Sarah whispered, "Daddy, I was so scared!" "I know," he whispered back, manly arms tightening around his wife and his little girl. "I knew you'd get me back, Daddy, but I was still scared!" Sarah looked over her Daddy's shoulder, pulled free. "Be right back." Sarah strode over to where the Sheriff and the Chaplain were standing. "We need to talk," she said to the Sheriff, her voice urgent, then she turned to the Chaplain. "Brother Chaplain," she said formally, "thanks are in order!"
  8. UPDATE AS OF TUESDAY 19TH See first entry, it's nailed on as an addendum.
  9. Subdeacon, thank you for a badly needed chuckle! Chili Pepper Kid, yours is a badly needed encouragement: as a medical professional I've known too many, my grandfather included, who did not survive ONE pulmonary embolus ... let alone the one big and constellation of smaller emboli that plague my bride! Deacon KC, thank you for your firsthand testimony as well: we've addressed a variety of matters together, and yours is the voice of experience that has been of support and comfort to me more times than one! Doc Ward, thank you and I'll take you up on that. Looking at these several responses ... reading them is like feeling the grip of a friend's hand on my shoulder. Right about now that feels pretty good. Talked to her this morning, she was just finishing up an ultrasound chest, and she said they would ultrasound her legs to try and find the source of the clots. I'm headed up with her charged phone and a charger cord as soon as I pull on my boots. Please forgive a brief hiatus in Short Stories. I fear I am rather distracted. Linn
  10. I've done many things in my young life, most of them overlapping, running simultaneously: Appalachian Ohio has not the tax base to pay for all the social services that are taken for granted here in the Glaciated Yankee Flat Lands, and the responsible citizen must wear several hats. I did. One in which I delighted, was the blue shirt of a working medic. Okay, a blue shirt isn't a hat, but you get the idea. I did my level best to deliver the highest quality of care for every last one of my patients. Cast your bread upon the waters, we read in Scripture, and in the vulgar, "What goes around comes around." It came around last night. My wife is being admitted into ICU with multiple pulmonary emboli. She hit the floor at 3 AM, and when the squad arrived to transport to ER, I am most pleased to report those fine young men exhibit every bit of care, compassion and understanding -- and excellent medical care -- that I did my best to give. Thanks to current restrictions, she'll be allowed one visitor a day, family is far flung and not likely to struggle this far north: I'll keep them updated. If the Prayer Posse would be so kind, I would be very much obliged for a bent knee on my bride's behalf. End of this month will be a quarter of a century as a married couple, and we're still just as happy as if we had good sense. I hope to arrive at that delightful anniversary, still holding hands. UPDATE AS OF TUESDAY 19th -- They ran a cath on her lung, kind of like a heart cath only they made a left at Albequiquie (to quote a certain cartoon rabbit), went into the pulmonary circulation and removed the clots. One lung's circulation was completely blocked. Melissa described her relief as immediate. Did not find out until today -- while I sat in ICU, holding her hand and listening -- they nearly lost her enroute. Good people, well trained, and my bride yet lives. Pards, turn to your beloved, give 'em a hug, tell them they're loved. I learned the hard way, you might not get another chance. I will have that chance again, by the grace of God alone, a lesson I do not intend to ignore! UPDATE II: Tuesday afternoon I am so tired I am shaking. I also benefit from the sound advice of those who have trod this path -- both as patient, and as spouse: my thanks for wise counsel! Melissa is being weaned down on her oxygen: with two lungs working now instead of one, her sats are good, if they can get her down to room air with acceptable sats, they'll freight her to a med-surg floor and out of the Unit. She has a spectacular collection of bruises from where she passed out and hit the floor at home, which is when this adventure started, and the anticoagulants aren't helping the general appearance of having been hit by a truck (face plant on the laminate does no one any good, nor the points of both elbows, nor both kneecaps, ouch!) After the ICU nurses came in to find I'd already given Melissa her bed bath, changed linens and tended the necessaries I felt safe in handling, they told me to report to the main desk and they'd put me to work. We also traded nurse jokes and they were greatly amused when I told them that, as nurses "back when", we had to carve the ear tips for our stethoscopes out of horn or bone, the bell was flint with animal skin stretched tight across, and we used hollow reeds for the tubing. No word of installing a Greenfield filter to catch any more -- there are known clots in both lower calves, she remains on anticoagulant -- she Face Timed her father this morning, and her sister early this afternoon. I'm sorry. I'm so tired I fell asleep on that last line, had to edit out a long line of kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk's. Time for a nap.
  11. 469. TAPHOPHILIA Marnie Keller walked her Goldie-horse along the packed gravel road in the old section of their town's cemetery. She liked the old section: it had a feel of ... well, of belonging. She looked at the ancent, double stone, the one with a six point star carved in the far upper left corner, and a rose, beautifully executed, in the upper right: the name KELLER in the middle, with Old Pale Eyes on the left, and his wife Esther, on the right. Marnie crossed her palms on the saddlehorn, eased the weight off her young backside, contemplating the stone. Her Daddy told her he'd considered having Old Pale Eyes' portrait laser engraved in the stone, but that would mean having a section of it polished smooth; such work would be difficult with the stone in place, and he was not willing to pull the stone like pulling an ancient molar from their settled earth: no, Linn and Esther Keller's stone would bear their names, their dates, his six point star and her trademark rose, and that would suffice, and all who knew them, would know the significance of the sparse decoration. Marnie's eyes drifted to the side, to a stone with a kneeling lamb, the insignia of an infant child: her eyes wandered, wider, picking out a hand holding a rose, signifying a beloved daughter; a hand pointing up, to indicate the soul had risen to Paradise, a hand pointing down, to indicate God's grace descending to earth. Marnie walked her Goldie-horse a little further, studying the garden of stone. There was a column, carved to look like it was broken off, with an open book resting on the broken surface. Her Daddy told her this meant a life was cut short, before its time. Marnie knew about the roses that appeared, suddenly, with no human hand to place them, roses that arrived to signify to the watcher that there was about to be a birth, or a death: she knew that when the German legate arrived with Sarah Lynne McKenna's bones, what bones they could find in the charred collapse of the old Schloss after its forensic examination, there was a rose atop each of the Keller tombstones: Sarah's bones were interred with due ceremony, and before the assembled could depart, a rose appeared on her stone as well -- though none could tell from whence it came, nor whose hand placed it there. Marnie turned her Goldie-horse and walked back to the ancestral double stone. She considered the hand carved rose, thinking to herself that if it were painted, it would look most lifelike, very real: she herself had hand drawn roses, she'd painted roses, she had touched up the roses on the side of The Lady Esther and every piece of rolling stock the Z&W operated. She'd also proven herself a steady hand at pin striping cars, and made easy pocket money at it, going so far as to re-create the sleeve decoration from a Civil War officer's coat on the side of the hood of her Grampa Crane's Jeep: she'd studied the pattern, she had the correct width and number of lines, and there were those who studied such matters that instantly recognized the rank, though these souls were far fewer than those who simply admired good work, well done. Marnie dismounted, ground-reined Goldie, walked over to Sarah's grave, squatted. She studied the portrait her Gammaw had laser engraved in the shining, polished surface, the image of a pleasant young woman looking warmly at the viewer, and Marnie smiled again at the thought that her Very Great Aunt Sarah could have been the twin, or the clone, of her pale eyed Gammaw. "I wish I'd known you," she whispered, her hand resting gently on top of the carved-quartz marker, and she smiled again, just a little, because she was certain she was not alone. If she'd turned quickly, she might have seen a beautiful young woman in an 1880s gown standing just behind her, and maybe, just maybe, the fore quarters of a great black horse, its hind quarters barely suggested in a ghostly mist. We'll never know, as Marnie rose slowly, dusted her hands together, turned to her Goldie-horse, extended a hand. Goldie came head-bobbing over to her. Marnie shoved her red cowboy boot in the doghouse stirrup, shoved hard against the ground, hauled herself up into saddle leather, gave a final sweep of the graveyard with her pale eyes. "I wish I'd known so many of you," she said softly, and after a moment, added, "Not a one of you are forgotten." She turned her Goldie-horse, hesitated, frowned. Something brushed the back of her right thigh. She turned and saw her saddlebag was unbuckled. That's odd, she thought. I fast that back up after I took my schoolbooks out. Marnie lifted the saddlebag's carved flap, pulled it wide open, looked within, and grinned with delight. She ran her hand into the saddlebag and came out with a fragrant, fresh-cut rose, morning's dew shining on its rich scarlet petals: she closed her eyes, inhaled deeply, then opened her eyes and looked down the row of stones, so many of which bore her family's name. "Thank you," she whispered: she thrust the stem through her shirt pocket's buttonhole, turned her Goldie-horse with her knees, and pointed her golden nose back toward home.
  12. 468. A GENTLEMAN Bonnie McKenna looked up from her desk at the tap on her door. Sondra Mae opened the door, letter in hand: "Have you seen this?" Bonnie blinked, extended her hand: she received the missive, read it, read it again, her hand coming to her mouth as she took in the order. She looked up at Sondra, delighted eyes shining behind her round-lensed close-work spectacles. "And to think people were asking if we'd still be in business a month from now!" Sondra teased. "Call a meeting," Bonnie said. "Call it now!" Tara smiled, turned, marched out to the middle of the McKenna Dress Works floor: she looked around at the ladies, she heard the several treadle Singers chuckling through material, she heard the muffled syllables of seamstresses communicating with a half-dozen straightpins between their lips, and everything came to a quick, coasting stop at the sudden, shrill, piercing whistle that reverberated in the brick building. Surprised eyes turned to the woman with two bent fingers to her lips: Sondra seized a three-legged stool, stepped up on it, clapped her hands twice and raised her arms, palms out, claiming the attention of the entirety of the House of McKanna Dress Works. "Now hear this!" she called loudly as Bonnie glided toward her: "Attention to the Center Deck!" She lowered a hand dramatically to the Dress Works' owner, chief operator and namesake. "Bonnie McKenna, the floor is yours!" "So are the sewing machines," a voice called from a far corner, and Bonnie laughed, for it was an old joke. Bonnie held up the letter. "We have an order," she declared, her voice carrying well in the hushed interior: "they must think we're a New York sweatshop, but we'll fill this. It'll be all hands on deck, but I can promise a bonus when we're done!" Delighted expressions, a patter of applause, the ladies converged on Bonnie, everyone talking at once: the ladies summoned one of the boys from outside, then two more, and fleet-footed messengers ran into town, seeking those seamstresses who weren't in attendance this particular day. "What about Sarah?" someone asked Bonnie. "She's in Denver," Bonnie explained, and a shade of worry colored her voice: "her sister had a terrible toothache through the night, and Sarah knew a dentist who could be persuaded to leave his nice, warm bed!" Sarah Lynne McKenna had indeed taken the night train to Denver. Truth be told, the Z&W would have dispatched a special for this mission, simply because Sarah and her family were that well connected. She'd hired a hack and they'd clattered through the sleeping city, Sarah's sister clinging in misery to the reassuring security of her big sis. The hack's driver was less than entirely sober, and when Sarah realized they weren't anywhere near the dentist's office -- she knew the way well herself -- she persuaded the cabbie to scoot over, and Sarah took the reins, a pretty young woman with a quick laugh and a charming line of wit, who absolutely snowed the cabbie into submitting his horse and carriage to her control, and enjoyed the doing of it. They eventually reached the dentist's office: Sarah asked the cabbie to wait, and was not at all surprised, once they were admitted into the antiseptic-smelling office, to hear the cab clatter off. Drink, and not two young ladies in distress, were obviously the cabbie's priority. Getting her little sister some relief, was most definitely Sarah's. Sarah was well acquainted with what would, in later years, be called "General Trauma Medicine," but dentistry was a specialty in which she was admittedly quite ignorant. Still, she assisted the dentist as best she could, and when he explained the procedure to Sarah and her sister, they were agreed that perhaps ether would be a good choice. Sarah placed the cotton ether mask over her little sister's nose and mouth, and told her to close her eyes, and breathe deeply, as she carefully, delicately trickled the noisome anesthetic from its conical screw-top can. The troublesome tooth was removed with little difficulty; the dentist pointed out to an attentive Sarah, the blackened, infected root, he cleaned out the shivering Polly's excavation, packed it, instructed Sarah on after care: she listened carefully, nodding her understanding, and after paying the dentist in cash money -- with a little over, as he had been kind enough to tend this detail when most good folk are sound asleep -- Sarah steadied her wobbly little sister and they departed by the front door. Polly was quite unsteady, and Sarah ended up scooping her up, just as a private carriage came down the road at a spanking trot: it was a fine brougham, obviously expensive, and Sarah looked up as a voice commanded the driver to stop: the door fairly flew open, a well dressed young man in a shining top hat and evening-coat almost fell from the carriage, but he advanced down the sidewalk toward Sarah. "My Lady," he said, sweeping off the shining topper, "how may I be of service?" Sarah, for her few years, was pretty good at sizing people up -- especially men -- she barely hesitated before replying. "My sister Polly had ether, and a tooth removed," she explained, "and we are for the hotel: we must needs remain in the City, in case she should require further attention." "May I?" he asked gently, dipping his knees: Sarah surrendered her sister to this stranger, followed him to his carriage: the driver lifted his cover and bowed slightly as he helped his passengers in, then closed the door and resumed his station in the driver's box. The next morning, after Sarah tended morning's ablutions, after she saw to Polly's morning preparations -- ether is not a gentle anesthetic, and its morning-after effects were not particularly pleasant -- they went downstairs, and found a well dressed young man in a flawless morning-coat, a young man who bowed formally at the two young ladies' approach. "I must beg your pardon," he said, "but I don't believe we were introduced last night." "Sarah Lynne McKenna," Sarah replied, offering her hand, her wrist properly bent: he raised her knuckles to his lips, looked at Sarah's sister. "My sister, Polly, and I fear she remains unwell after her ether." The young man bowed to Polly, turned back to Sarah. "Reginald Simpson," he said. "Reginald Simpson of the silver mining Simpsons?" Sarah asked with a smile. "The same," he admitted, delighted that she recognized the name. "We are for the dentist's office for a follow-up visit." "My brougham is without, my Lady, and it would be my honor if I might offer the services thereof." Sarah Lynne McKenna looked at Polly, who looked distinctly green. Sarah took a step closer to Mr. Reginald Simpson and said in a confidential voice, "Sir, it is an indelicate admission, but I fear we must needs borrow a waste can, as I fear my sister's stomach may yet rebel." Mr. Reginald Simpson nodded gravely, turned to the stuffy soul behind the desk: a moment later, two ladies, a top-hatted gentleman and a trash can were bowed out the ornate front doors, helped into the shining, polished brougham, and to the relief of all concerned, after Sarah and her sister were seen to the Z&W's Denver terminus, the waste can was returned to the front desk of the hotel, none the worse for its absence. Marnie Keller was a curious and active nine-year-old: when her little brother wallowed under the ancient Singer sewing machine, looked up and frowned at its underside, Marnie tilted her head and then went to her knees beside him. "Marnie," Jacob said, "whatzat say?" Marnie rolled over onto her back, worked her head in beside his, frowned, then smiled -- a sudden, bright, delighted smile. Shelly looked in on the two just as Marnie sat, her face shining with the delight of new discovery. "Mommy," Marnie declared happily, "you 'member Daddy read us about Sarah and the McKenna dress works an' he said about the McKenna gowns the Ladies' Tea Society make and wear and he said they used Singer treadle machines like this one?" Shelly laughed, for Marnie's words were excited, rushed, run together, and Shelly remembered what it was to be so excited her own words fell over one another in her haste to utter them. Shelly held up a hand. "Slow down now," she smiled. "One thing at a time. McKenna Dress Works, Sarah McKenna. Yes, I remember." Marnie thrust to her feet, patted the Singer's work table happily. "This one says McKenna Dress Works underneath and it says 'Sarah Was Here!" right under it!"
  13. 467. I WASN'T THERE It was rare that Retired Sheriff Willamina Keller allowed herself to hate. Willamina was no stranger to strong emotion. She'd loved deeply, she'd loved fiercely, she'd grieved hard, she'd known black hatred and she'd bridled it, contained it, she'd disciplined herself very strictly. She knew well indeed how damaging passion could be... "passion" as it is correctly defined: as an uncontrolled, strong emotion. She'd seen how much harm passion could cause. She'd known how much harm she'd caused when she allowed passion to overtake reason. She'd gone to great and severe lengths to discipline herself, to contain herself, to control herself, to keep her passion within due bounds. Today she didn't let the passion seize the bit in its teeth. She stripped the bridle and threw it aside and allowed her passion its head. Retired Sheriff Willamina Keller, widow, mother, grandmother, badge packer and historian, raised her fists as her eyes paled visibly, as hate ran through her soul like a branching black river, firing her to fast and violent action. It was rare that Sheriff Linn Keller allowed himself to hate. Like his mother, he'd been tried as metal in the forge; like his mother, he'd loved, lost, erred, recovered, he'd seen raw passion's power acted out in others, and he'd come perilously close to precipitous stupidity himself, nearly carried away by passion's raging current. Like his mother, he was ready to detonate all the black energy of unbridled passion. His shoulders rolled forward just a little, his knees bent slightly, his weight came up on the balls of his feet. Sheriff Linn Keller's hands closed into fists and his eyes turned cold and white, and a chill seemed to roll off the lean waisted lawman as he allowed sheer, unadulterated rage to seize his soul. Jacob Keller was nine years old. Jacob did not have his Pa's ice-pale eyes; his were between honey-gold and his mother's harvest brown -- he was sprouting at a shocking velocity, and Linn was grateful the lad preferred boots, because no sooner was he fitted with new jeans than -- in less than a week -- they were high-waters, and the fancy stitched cowboy boots his fast-growing son favored were like a coat of paint on an old car. They covered a multitude of sins. Jacob stepped forward and seized the heavy bag just as his father drove into it. Jacob Keller was knocked backwards, landing flat on his back on the straw covered barn floor. Retired Sheriff Willamina Keller felt her soul burn. She blasted her fists into the heavy bag in her barn, she spun and drove a boot heel into the bag, she opened her hands and delivered killing-strength chops, elbow strikes, she seized the bag and head-butted it: in that moment, she honestly, with every fiber of her living shell, hated that heavy bag -- and everything she projected onto it, and what Willamina projected onto that heavy bag, was the image of a dead criminal, and two that yet lived. Another half-dozen punches, another grab; she drove her knee into the bag, then her elbow, forward, back: there was a dull thnngg overhead as the chain link finally wore through the hook screwed into the beam overhead, and the bag, swinging outward, fell flat to the floor in surrender. Willamina stepped back, breathing deeply: she glared at the fallen foe, her mouth open: she bent over, palms on her knees, willing herself to calm. "Damn you," she hissed, straightening, gloved hands fisting again: she took another couple of quick breaths, then shook her head. "Damn you for what you did to my granddaughter," she whispered hoarsely, "and damn me for not being there to keep you from it!" Linn backed up, lowered his head a little, launched into another series of slower, more powerful punches. Jacob planted his shoulder into the bag, stopping the bag from swinging. He listened to his father grunt with each strike, and then he felt a chill of fear as his father stepped in close, driving his knee into the bag, stepping back to kick it more powerfully -- Jacob was ready for it this time, he didn't fall but came close -- but what scared him was what his pale eyed Pa said as he tore into the bag, hitting it harder than he'd felt his father hit before. "Damn you," he grunted, each word punctuated by a hard-fisted strike. "Damn-you-for-hurting-my-little-girl!" Linn leaned back -- "Step back," he warned, and Jacob released the bag, drew back, quickly. Linn spun, drove his weight through his boot heel, hitting with all the strength of his good right leg. Jacob's eyes widened as the hook in the beam overhead pulled free and the bag fell away, landed on its side. Jacob's eyes widened with admiration as fine little dusty splinters, torn free from the beam, floated down through the stll air. "Damn me," Linn whispered hoarsely, bent over, palms on his knees. "Damn me for not being there to stop it!" Marnie stood in the circular barn, the old structure built under the mountain's overhang, not far from the middle of town. She, too, glared with pale eyes at a hanging bag, a bag swinging from the effects of her attacks. John Greenlees, Jr., watched from the low platform where the musicians stood and sat for their square dances. He waited patiently, watching Marnie beating the stuffing out of the bag: she sweated, she panted, she snarled, and she finally spun, driving her red cowboy boot's heel viciously into the reinforced bag. She turned toward John, raised her leg and slammed her boot into it one last time as it swung back toward her, declaring loudly in the shadowed silence -- SLAM -- "AND CHANGE!" Marnie bent over, palms on her knees, breathing heavily. Young John Greenlees rose, stepped off the platform. Marnie turned toward him, raised her right hand to her mouth, bit the velcro tab, tore it free: she worked her hand out of the padded glove, stripped the other tab open, slapped the red boxing gloves in under her left armpit. "Like to try it?" she offered. "No," John said quietly. "I can't afford to." Marnie raised her arms, dropped the gloves, took John's hands in hers. "You're going to be a surgeon," she said -- a statement, not a question. "Yes." "You can't afford to damage a surgeon's hands." John nodded solemnly. "I can't afford to hurt my hands either. Not if I'm a gunfighter." Marnie looked at John's hands, tilting her head a little. "You have pretty hands." "So do you." Marnie held out her hand, frowned at her knuckles. "Do I have good veins?" John took her hand, then pretended to bite at her hand: he said "Rowf!" and Marnie jerked her hand back with a yelp and a laugh. "Isn't that what adults tell us?" John smiled gently. "They want to eat us up?" " 'You will find my flesh very salty,' Marnie quoted, 'and it will not pass your gorge before it will vomit back out!' " John laughed. "I remember the quote, but I forget where I read it!" "It was an explorer. I think he was captured and the Indians threatened to eat him." John nodded. "That's the one." John looked down at Marnie's hand. "I think I could start an IV on you." "Mom said she could too." John looked past Marnie, to the still-swinging bag. "I'm sorry I wasn't there." "It's okay," Marnie shrugged. "When it hits the fan, I'm the only one I can depend on." John nodded solemnly. "I'm thirsty. Feel like a cherry phosphate?"
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