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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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  • SASS #
  • SASS Affiliated Club
    Firelands Peacemakers

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  • Gender
  • 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. TWO MENS' GIFTS "I knew you were coming." The man was tall, tanned, his face weathered, as was his bald head. A few of the Brethren shaved their scalps into the monastic tonsure. The Abbott had no need; his hairline began to recede in his nineteenth year, and was only just slowing its retreat, now that he had nought but a band around the back of his head and over his ears. His visitor was silent; his tread had not been heard, not from the moment he'd dismounted. The Abbott turned, smiled a little, advanced and thrust out his hand. The pale eyed Sheriff gripped it: the two men held their grip a moment longer than was required, as each one looked deep into the other's soul. "Have a seat," the Abbott said, gesturing: he and the Sheriff sat. Watered wine was brought, decanted from a locally fired clay pitcher, into cut-glass tumblers -- a gift, the Sheriff knew, from the grateful wife of a successful businessman, after the White Sisters tended their family when the plague of measles swept through. The Abbott waited: he wore his patience the way he wore a cloak; just as silence cascaded from the Sheriff, patience rolled off the Abbott, for both men had seen much of the world, and much of what they'd seen, both together, and in their separate lives, were things they wished they'd never experienced. A light meal was brought in and laid before the pair. They ate in silence; a discreet watcher slipped in, silent on bare feet, refilled their tumblers, withdrew discreetly. "You had a bad one." Linn looked up, considered, then nodded, once. "I understand you were in the middle of the situation." "Turned out that way." Linn's voice was quiet, almost reluctant. "You knew them." "Most of 'em." "You could have stood back and let Digger handle the dead." Linn set his tumbler on the table, turned it slowly with just the tips of his thumb and fingers. "No," he finally said. "No, I knew 'em. 'Twas best they had someone they knew ... warn't much family left to ... tend 'em." "How many men could have done that, Linn?" Linn raised his eyes but made no other move. "How many other men would have taken one look and wet themselves and then run in panic just to see it?" Linn's expression was bleak, memories looking out through his pale eyes like ghosts crowding behind the window of an abandoned building. "You remember ..." The Abbott stopped, considered: he picked up a slice of sourdough, buttered it, then folded it and broke it in two, handed half to the Sheriff. The Abbott pinched two fingers into the salt cellar and sprinkled a little salt on his half: it was a newly acquired salt, evaporated from ocean water, and traded for by his quartermaster. Linn took the bread and hesitated, waited until the Abbott garnished his half, then both men raised theirs and took a bite. "Damn that War," Linn finally said. The Abbott nodded. "I have, many times," he agreed. Linn's expression was haunted; the Abbott had seen this before -- good men, strong men who'd lived their lives after the War, but when they wore a particular look, when they stared through the wall at something a thousand miles away, it generally meant a memory had arisen and enveloped their soul, almost like an invisible fog surrounding the sufferer. Linn looked at the Abbott. "I reckon you're right," he finally said. "Oh?" The Abbott's reply was carefully neutral. "No normal man could have done what I did." The Abbott nodded slowly, eyes half-lidded. It did not surprise the Sheriff in the least little bit that his boon companion from back during that damned War knew exactly what had happened, what Linn had done, the hell this pale eyed old campaigner had seen yet again. Word of misfortune and sorrow travels fast, and the Abbott took pains to have information brought to him. Linn suspected that was another result of the Abbott's having survived that damned War. "I thought I'd buried it," Linn said softly, his fingertips restless on the smooth wood tabletop. "I thought all those hard memories were long ... not forgotten, but ... I'd thought there was enough years' worth of dirt and leaf-litter fell on 'em to bury 'em." "And then they came rip-roarin' out of their six foot deep grave and all the rocks you'd piled on top to keep 'em buried." "That," Linn agreed quietly, "is exactly what happened." The Abbott nodded slowly, took a sip of his cool wine. "You were needed," the Abbott said finally. "Reckon so." "How many family was left to tend the needfuls?" "Just one ... just one girl, and her not half Sarah's age." The Abbott shook his head. "Dear God," he whispered. "Has she any family elsewhere?" Linn nodded. "Back East. Sent 'em a telegram. Sean and Daisy took her in, Daisy said she needed another woman t' keep all those wild Irishmen in line!" The Abbott chuckled, shook his head. "Sean is an impressive man," he said softly, "but Daisy is more than his match!" The Sheriff chuckled, nodded: the Abbott did not miss the smile that escaped the man's careful reserve. "I seem to remember hearing about her scattering strong men before her, and her armed with a wooden spoon!" Linn laughed this time, a good honest laugh: the black cloud hovering over him was shattered by now, and gone: "You should have seen it," Linn affirmed, "men that weren't afraid of the Devil himself, scatterin' like leaves before the williwaw!" "Heaven keep me safe from a woman's temper," the Abbott intoned in a gentle voice: Abbott and Sheriff both raised their glasses in hearty agreement, drank. "You went back into the Church after the War," Linn said thoughtfully. "Atonement?" "Healing," came the reply: "I went back to my New Orleans seminary, then I went West and found I was still needed." He looked at the Sheriff. "You were needed too," he said, "and you still are." "Yes," Linn agreed, "but at what cost?" " 'Who heals the healer', eh?" "Yeah," Linn said, his voice suddenly husky. "Everything ... set aside everything from that damned War and I've still ... waded through ... more grief ..." "You've handled grief and loss that would last ten men their lifetimes," the Abbott agreed firmly. "You have done that. No other man could have. You were tempered like a spring in the forge of war. Evil that War was, evil those days were and terrible were those bloody days and nights, but they prepared you for all that came after!" The Abbott leaned forward, looked very directly, very intently at his pale-eyed guest. "You're still needed, Linn. You've done more good than you realize." Linn smiled with half his mouth, reached up, tapped the middle of his own forehead. "I know that here" -- tap, tap -- "but it's harder to realize it here" -- his fingers lowered to his breastbone, tapped twice more. The Abbott rose, and Linn rose with him. "Forgive me," Abbott William said, "I have services." Two old veterans of more hell than living men should know, clasped hands again: one rode away on an Appaloosa stallion, returning to where he was needed, and another man, tall, bald, helped the White Sisters tend the sufferers in their small infirmary: he would lead the faithful in prayer and in song, he would direct the operation of the Rabbitville monastery, but he never forgot that every soul that came through the gates was a guest, and he never failed to greet each one with a gentle courtesy. Two men were needed, and two men served, according to their gifts.
  2. FAST! Aye! And not in the least little bit inconvenienced by snow of that depth!
  3. CHEVROLET: Can't Hardly Even Vroom Round Our Little Easy Track GMC: Great Mountain Climber. Or Garage Mechanic's Companion.
  4. HE DID NOT EVEN MOVE The interdimensional iris was a genuine marvel of Confederate technology. Among its many attributes was the fact that it was absolutely silent. When Ambassador Marnie Keller stepped through the iris into her Daddy's study, she made all the noise of a falling leaf, at least until she took a long and serious look at her father. His face was drawn, lined: his eyes were closed, he was leaned back in his easy chair, but he looked ... ... he looked tired, worn out, he looked the way she herself had felt when she was utterly crushed with the grief of her children's deaths. Marnie stood silent, then turned toward the kitchen. Her step was silent -- even in her hard-heeled boots, her tread was utterly soundless -- she leaned a little, peeked into the kitchen. Shelly looked up, startled, as Marnie raised a gloved hand, waved. The two skipped across the floor, embraced: Shelly whispered, quickly, her eyes shining with delight. "I'm so glad to see you!" -- and Marnie whispered back, "Is Daddy all right?" Shelly blinked, looked away, and Marnie knew her Daddy was not all right. "Mama," she whispered, "what happened?" Shelly hesitated, turned, went over to the stove, turned the fire on under the ancient, lightly dented teakettle: it was the same one Marnie saw ever since she was a little girl, very likely it had been Aunt Mary's, back when she and Uncle Pete lived here. Shelly opened a cupboard door with an exaggerated care, brought out two mugs: another minute and tea was steeping, and two Keller women sat at the kitchen table, leaned over their fragrant, steaming mugs, and talked in whispers. "We had a bad one today," Shelly explained. "I'm soaking the blood out of my uniform. Linn picked up another two pounds of salt on his way home." "His too?" Shelly nodded. "Was Daddy hurt?" "Not physically." Marnie felt her sense of safety drop down a mineshaft and disappear into the darkness below: her Daddy was the strongest man she knew, and if he'd had a bad day, if it was a bloody one, and he and her Mama both were in the middle of it, together ... Marnie looked at her Mama, looked away. "Are you okay?" Marnie whispered. "I have to be," Shelly shrugged. "We'll have a critical incident debrief after supper." Marnie closed her eyes, rested her forehead in the V of thumb-and-fingers. Shelly looked at the clock, looked at Marnie. "I think we'll just get something at the Silver Jewel and walk down to the firehouse for the debrief." "I'd better go, then." Marnie rose, and her mother rose with her. Marnie turned as if to go back through her Daddy's study, then turned quickly, seized her mother, hugged her fiercely: Shelly felt her daughter shivering a little, and somehow she knew Marnie was remembering some of her own hell. She's probably remembering losing both her children. Marnie released her Mama, nodded, blinking: she turned, walked quickly into her Daddy's study. Linn hadn't moved. Marnie smelled the man's soap-and-water smell, his deodorant, she remembered how she so loved sitting in her Daddy's lap, safe and protected as she leaned into his chest, smelling that same soap-and-water man-smell. She blinked the sting from her eyes, bent, kissed her Daddy's forehead, up near his hairline, then she turned and rushed through the iris, which collapsed and disappeared as soundlessly as a great, elliptical, very black cat's eye, closing. A lean waisted lawman with a mustache gone to iron grey lay in his easy chair, stress and grief graven on his face, even when he rested. Perhaps somewhere, deep inside, he recognized the touch of a daughter's love, pressed against his forehead, but so exhausted, so spent was the man, that even with this gentle, most welcome touch, he did not even move.
  5. When that pale eyed Sheriff Willamina grips the octagonal, cast iron dumbbells and uses them as handles when she's doing push-ups -- when she's driving herself, utterly without mercy, sweat dripping from her face, a thousand ghosts riding her shoulder blades and tearing at her soul -- This is the music she has beating at her from truly massive speakers on either side of her living room.
  6. I LIKE THINGS THAT WORK It used to be a winning poker hand. In less than one-half of one heartbeat, it was a fluttering spray of pasteboards -- that is, it was one of several such sprays. Colorful, light-catching, just like the glitter of coin launched into the air when an anonymous boot kicked the underside of the table and those nearest the sledgehammer concussion took pains to lose altitude in a hurry. A pale eyed deputy Sheriff, less than a week in town, tracked down a man who swore no man could track him; he'd braced him in the town he'd bragged no lawman would ever dare enter, and he'd just outdrawn the man who'd let it be known that no man alive could out-draw or out-shoot him. Later, after the inquest, the circuit riding judge asked the quiet, lean-faced lawman with the thousand-mile stare, "Deputy, why are you still carrying that old Colt? Surely you can afford one of those new cartridge revolvers!" Deputy Sheriff Linn Keller, the day before he became Sheriff of Firelands, looked the circuit riding Judge in the eye and said quietly, "Your Honor, that revolver was given me by a man who knew I would need a faithful friend who could argue loudly and persuasively on my behalf. It's never let me down, not even once." The Judge saw just a hint of humor in those pale eyes as the lawman continued, "I like things that work!" A pale eyed Marine was laagered in with her troops in mountains uncomfortably close to the Soviet Union: matter of fact, she'd found Soviet troops occupied this same bunker, years before. Her M4 carbine was detail stripped on the solid little table before her: she reassembled it, her fingers sure, swift, exact: she knew where dirt hid, where carbon built up, she knew which parts to look at closely, she knew what to change out and when. Nobody ever remembered her rifle failing to function, no one ever remembered her M4 out of action from a misfeed, from a jam, from a failure to eject. Nobody offered comment when they saw her tear her rifle down, but no one missed how precise she was when she did, and no one failed to notice that when this pale eyed Marine brought fire upon the enemy, the enemy came out in second place. The closest anyone ever came to comment was when her CO came in to find her carefully, precisely, exactly, lubricating and reassembling her rifle: he watched in silence, waited until her rifle was reassembled before lifting his eyes from her hands and looking at her eyes. Willamina's eyes were pale as she said in a quiet voice, "I like things that work." Three men moved at the same time, and so did a pretty young Ambassador in a long-skirted dress and a fashionably matching little hat. The men moved against the guard that surrounded the Ambassador, confident that surprise, strength, weighted leather saps -- and the energy-dissipation suits they wore -- would be sufficient to disable the guard and abduct this pretty slip of a high-value hostage. They moved, reaching for a guard's arm with one hand, raising their slungshot with the other. Ambassador Marnie Keller skipstepped to the side, fired a percussion, blackpowder, .36 caliber, Navy Colt: its twin, in her other hand, coughed: two men fell, the third, stunned by two quick concussions, looked at her just in time to see a pale eye, steady over the muzzle of her octagon barrel revolver. It was the last thing he ever saw. During the debrief that followed, Ambassador Marnie Keller helped strip the carcasses, showed the inquest the wire-mesh suits, the capacitors, the energy scavengers that would have soaked up all the energies of hand-held stunners her planet-assigned bodyguards carried. "They were ready for the defensive tools your troops were issued," Marnie said quietly. "They intended to cosh my guard, seize me and hold me for ransom and" -- she looked around, her pale eyes hardening as she did -- "and do terrible things to me to entice you to accede to their demands." She casually reloaded one revolver, then the other -- she slipped nitrated paper cartridges into the fired cylinders, turned the ram to seat the flat-nosed, conical bullets down on the powder: she capped the fired nipples, rested the nose of the color case hardened hammer on the little peg between the nipples: a quick move, a magician's gesture, the pistols were hidden again, and none there were sure quite how she'd done it, or where they'd gone. The Ambassador asked Marnie later why she hadn't worn her usual .357, if she'd known there would be an attack. Marnie smiled at him, demure, utterly charming, absolutely feminine as she said in a quiet voice, "I like the effect of fire squirting from the barrel. They'll never forget seeing that. "I like that blackpowder concussion, I like the smell of sulfur afterwards." Her smile was less feminine now as she added, "It lets 'em know their destination if they cross me." She folded her hands very properly in her lap and continued, "Besides, I like things that work!"
  7. DID YE TALK T’ GOD ABOUT IT? Sheriff Linn Keller removed his Stetson as he addressed their hired girl. He apologized in a most gentlemanly manner for causing her more work, and asked if she could possibly tend his suit, for he’d managed to get it rather dirty: from anyone else, it would have been a demand, an order, but from the pale eyed Sheriff, it was couched as a request, and she’d discovered that when he parsed it as a request, it was just that. This was relieving to their hired girl, for tending the household was no light task, and so far as she was able, she liked to plan her work ahead. Linn retreated with a careful tread up the stairs – in his sock feet, his boots were scuffed and dirty, very unlike their gleaming appearance he usually affected: only his hat escaped whatever misadventure that made him look … used. Linn came down the stairs, as silent as when he’d ascended: he’d come into the house still damp from washing up, and consultation with a mirror assured him that yes, he’d managed to get rid of the accumulated dirt: he looked around, remembering his young sons, alive and healthy (and clean!), and he gripped the back of a kitchen chair, then sat, slowly, bent over, elbows on his knees, and sank his face into his palms, shivering a little. The maid came bustling into the room, picked up his folded coat, shirt, vest and trousers, then froze, looking at the man: she placed the folded garments on another chair, slipped out of the room, came back with a cut-glass tumbler with three fingers’ worth of distilled California sunshine. “Ye look done in,” she whispered, a gentle hand on his back: Linn lifted his face from his hands, took the glass, drank. He handed the maid back the empty glass, nodded: another moment, and he was on his feet. “I’ve got t’ polish m’ boots,” he muttered, and the maid shrank back a little. Michael Moulton was the town’s attorney, and their land office agent: he’d lifted a chin to the Sheriff, crossed the street at a long-legged stride, spoken to the pale eyed lawman from whom silence cascaded like a cold downdraft from a snowy mountain. Linn looked at his old friend, concerned. “The Parsons boys?” Moulton nodded, a single, measured lowering of his head, a lift, eyes veiled as he did. “Those boys don’t have two shekels to rub together.” “So I gathered.” “And they were askin’ about filin’ a claim?” Again the single, measured nod. “Did they say what they were minin’?” “Not after I started talking how much filing a claim would run, then I spoke of the expense of hauling ore, the cost of freight …” “Hm.” Linn squinted into the distance. “Might ought I’d ride up there and take a look.” “Chances are it was just wishful thinking, Sheriff.” “Might be,” Linn agreed, “but if they hit even a trace of color, we could have a gold rush or silver or hell anything nowadays, mines are playin’ out left and right and men are desperate for one last vein.” The two men withdrew into the Sheriff’s office, and the Sheriff opened one of several wide, shallow drawers on a purpose built cabinet he’d had made some years back. He considered the contents of one drawer, riffled through the big sheets of paper, brought one out, laid it on his desk. Mr. Moulton turned to get his bearings, studying the hand drawn map – twin to the one he’d used that day, to locate the position of the Parsons boys’ inquiry – the Sheriff frowned a little, thumped the spot with a fingertip. “There’s nothing there,” he said finally, “no silver, no zinc, no lead, sure as hell no gold … why d’ they want to stake that?” “Salt it, maybe, sell it and make money?” “They don’t own the ground, they can’t sell it.” “Sell the claim, then.” “That,” Linn grunted. “Most likely that.” He shook his head. “Hell, if they’re goin’ to do that, they’ll bring a gold rush down on us and we’ll never recover!” Mr. Moulton had seen gold rushes and what they did to a town, and he agreed silently with the Sheriff’s sentiments. “I’ll head up there and see what they’ve got.” Half an hour later, the Sheriff’s stallion stamped restlessly as the pale eyed old lawman surveyed the scene. He frowned, leaned forward, squinted, willing himself to see more clearly – What’s that sticking out of that hole? Legs? One of the Parsons boys ran up to the hole, grabbed a leg, pulled: it was excavated into a sidehill, it looked like a collapse – The stallion surged powerfully forward, heading for the small scale but potentially deadly tunnel collapse at a mane-streaming, tail-floating, ears-laid-back, gallop. The maid looked at Linn, her expression serious. “Ye drank that like watter,” she observed. Linn looked at the tumbler, looked into its vacant depth, handed it to her. “Yep. Hole in it.” “Sheriff,” the maid said carefully, “be ye well?” Linn looked at her with a troubled expression, something she’d never seen before. “I was thinking of my sons,” he said, his voice most uncharacteristically faint. Linn seized the broke-handled shovel, attacked the cave-in like a personal enemy. He knew it would be bootless to seize the protruding leg and pull: too much of the boy’s body was trapped under the roof fall: he moved dirt fast, not in a panic but without any lethargy whatsoever, carefully avoiding trying to shovel such things as arms or other body parts. He seized the boy’s waist, hoisted, pulled: a shift, and he reset his feet, hauled up, pulled again: the dirt reluctantly released its grip, and the Sheriff brought the limp, unmoving figure from death’s grip, rolled him over. He’s not breathing. Linn looked around, frantic. How to get him to breathe! What did they use on the waterfront? Bent him over a barrel and rolled him back and forth … Linn remembered the near-drowning, how the dockworker was laid over a barrel, gripped by the ankles, rolled back and forth, how he’d heaved up a hogshead of saltwater and started coughing. I’ve got no barrel. He stood a-straddle of the boy, bent over, ran an arm under the lad’s belly, hoisted, then let him down: hoisted again, let him down again. The other boy’s pleas were distant, barely heard: the Sheriff felt helpless in the face of his tragedy, he felt uncertain. Lift again, hold, hold, hold, and lower. He felt movement: he lowered the lad again, rolled him up on his side, looked at the frightened brother, white-faced and kneeling, watching, shocked, wide-eyed, helpless. Linn reached down, rubbed the lad’s belly. He gasped, weakly. Linn rubbed again, harder. A longer gasp. Once more, he thought, and this time the boy coughed. Linn’s voice was quiet in the kitchen. “When he started breathin’ again,” he said, “so did I.” He took a long breath, stood. “Reckon I’ll get my boots taken care of,” he said quietly. “Got ‘em kind of dirty.” The maid rose with him, her hands clasped and anxious in her apron. “Did they find anythin’ where they dug?” she asked. Linn shook his head. “They found dirt, that was about all. Nothing they could claim.” “So we’ve no worry about a Glory Hole bringin’ scoundrels an’ loafers fra’ all o’er t’ plague our puir town.” “No.” Linn grinned. “I’ve seen a gold rush, Mary. No wish to see one here.” Mary withdrew a step to allow the man to pass, then: “Sheriff?” Linn stopped, turned. “Did ye talk t’ God about it?” Linn nodded, his expression haunted. “Yes, Mary,” he said quietly. “Yes, I did.”
  8. Had a neighbor who was a WWII Pacific Theater nurse. She said she wore a .45 automatic as regularly as her trousers.
  9. AMBASSADORIAL PRIVILEGE Women are marvelous, fascinating creatures of mystery, given to actions, statements, decisions that puzzle their male counterparts, that confuse their male counterparts, that utterly confound their male counterparts: just when a man thinks he might be close to figuring out women as a whole, or a woman in particular, these creatures of grace and beauty do something to turn that conclusion, that hubric supposition, on its absolute head. One thing the Ambassador knew, however, was that when his Martian counterpart, Sheriff Emeritus Marnie Keller, began to growl, it meant things were going to be quite unpleasant for someone, and generally in very short order. The Ambassador came into the Earth-and-a-quarter, as it was called, and immediately felt heavier: the gravity here was 1.25 Earth-normal, and it was where Marnie practiced. The Ambassador was no weak soul, by any means: he, too, maintained his physical strength, his stamina; he, too practiced various of the Arts Martial, but he could only stare in admiration as Marnie jumped, seized a bar, chinned herself ten times with apparent ease: she dropped, crouched, reached left, reached right, gripped what he knew were cast iron dumbbells that – in Earth-normal gravity – weighed twenty pounds each: the weights at the end of the stippled, cast-iron bars were hexagonal, and Marnie used them as push-up handles, driving herself mercilessly against the increased gravity. He knew she’d been running – she ran as her grandmother ran, with a full ruck, with a rifle over her shoulder, boots laced and fatigue trousers bloused – but unlike her grandmother, her labors were without the driving rhythms from towering speakers with a good bass response. The speakers were there; at times, Marnie did time her exertions to the beat of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” as played on a madman’s cello, she practiced with a three-foot riot baton to the screaming urgency of Celtic war-pipes: at least, she had done these things in the past. Today she drove herself in silence. The Ambassador watched as she mercilessly pushed herself through half-a-hundred pushups: her legs came up under her, she released the dumbbells, she ran for a fighting-golem. The golem came to life at her approach. It didn’t move fast enough. Marnie’s attack was at running speed: she swung up, drove both bootheels into its middle, knocked it down, hard: she continued her attack, staying just out of reach of the quick-grabbing hands, kicking the golem, dropping back, jumping, twisting. The Ambassador took another step forward. The golem stopped, stood, went inert: Marnie crouched, her eyes pale, splayed fingertips on the floor. For the very first time since he’d met her, the Ambassador felt a trickle of fear as the Marnie he seldom saw, looked very directly at him. Her eyes were fighting-white, her face was the color of parchment, and the skin was stretched tight over her cheekbones: her bloodless lips were peeled back, he saw the muscle definition in her bare, sweat-sheened arms, and he realized that perhaps he should have used the annunciator rather than just walking in unannounced. Marnie dropped her head, rose; she lifted her head and smiled: her face was pleasant, her expression gentle, the color was back in her cheeks and her eyes held that faint shade of cornflower blue that meant she was pleased to see someone: she toweled her sweaty face briskly, then her damp, wet-shining arms. “You should have called ahead,” she announced cheerfully, “I’d have had a nice cold beer waiting on you!” The Ambassador looked at Jacob’s wife, then at Jacob. “You’ve chosen well,” he said softly, and Jacob looked from his wife back to the Ambassador. His smile was quiet, reserved: he nodded, then he stopped, looked at the Ambassador again, and laughed. He leaned forward a little and said quietly, “Just between you and me and the fence post yonder, I’m not sure but what she’s the one that made that choice!” The Ambassador sighed, nodded: “I know my wife did,” he admitted. “I didn’t have the sense God gave a rock.” The Ambassador’s expression softened a little. “I’m glad she did.” “Me too,” Jacob admitted: both men rose as Ruth approached their table, bearing a great tray of comestibles: she placed the tray, gave it a final, approving look. Jacob and the Ambassador, and Jacob’s wife, dined well that afternoon: an original cut of backstrap from a particularly healthy specimen had been scanned into the replicator, along with choice examples of the various other dishes they favored: Ruth adapted quickly to new technology, probably because she’d been raised a daughter of privilege, with servants and cooks to tend such mundane tasks: she was able to select dishes from the computerized menu and have them appear, hot, fragrant, spiced to their preference: the kitchen’s demands on her were minimal. Conversation was pleasant, they discussed horses and hydroponics, power generation and musical performances: the Ambassador expressed his admiration for Jacob’s skill with an artist’s pencil and his sister’s as well, and Jacob laughed and told the Ambassador about the time Marnie wore a business suit and stood behind their bank’s counter when a wanted man came in and tried to swindle his way into a safety deposit box: how, when Marnie was sworn in, after the criminal was apprehended and it came to court, she wore the same suit, she identified the defendant, and she identified the portrait grade sketch she’d made immediately after the foiled felon’s frustrated flight, and how the defendant exclaimed “Howinell’d I know she was a damned sketch artist!” – to the absolute distress of his defense attorney. “You know, your sister is quite a remarkable woman,” the Ambassador chuckled. “She thinks rather highly of you as well.” The Ambassador looked thoughtful, looked at Jacob, turning a sweet roll between his fingers. “I am ever so grateful she separates her professional from her personal,” he said softly. “Was I not happily married … I might … ask her father’s permission to pursue her hand.” Jacob nodded thoughtfully; he and his wife exchanged a look. The Sheriff’s line chimed: Jacob said “Excuse me,” slid his chair back, strode for his desk across the room: he bent, pressed a button, looked at the monitor. “Sheriff Keller.” “Sir, there’s a fight, second level, hangar deck –” The anxious individual turned, looked to his left: Jacob saw the man’s mouth fall open: the caller winched his jaw back into engagement as he turned and looked into the camera again. “Fight’s over,” he said, and Jacob heard a familiar voice a little further away call, “Prisoner inbound, have Doc on standby!” “You heard the lady,” Jacob said. “Give her whatever help she needs.” Jacob lifted his head. “Sorry to interrupt, folks, but I’ve got to take care of this.” He slung his gunbelt around his middle, cinched it snug, clapped his uniform Stetson on his head, looked at his guest and announced happily, “Dressed!” Ever since he was a wee child, as long as he had his hat and his boots, he was dressed, and his Mama had a blackmail picture somewhere of little Jacob wearing only those two items, standing in profile at the bathroom sink, grinning through a mouthful of toothpaste foam, eyes shining and toothbrush in hand. Jacob strode for the door, intercepted his sister and one of the maintenance men, half-dragging, half-carrying a groaning prisoner with two black eyes a good start on a bloody nose. “Assault on a law enforcement officer,” Marnie said crisply, “simple assault, on a civilian, assault with a deadly weapon, public intox, aggravated stupidity and mopery with intent to creep.” Marnie’s smile was grim. “You know, the usual.” Jacob nodded, went through the prisoner’s pockets, patted him down quickly, expertly, with the ease of long practice. “All right, fella,” he said, “let’s get you to see the Doc. Looks like you run your face into someone’s fist.” Jacob looked at his sister. “You okay?” She shook her head and he saw she was holding her hand carefully, the way she did if she was injured and didn’t want to show it. “Someone else assaulted?” “Got their statement already. That’s the simple. He pulled a club on me for the weapon specification.” “You didn’t just kill him? Armed assault on a law enforcement officer is a death penalty offense.” Marnie shrugged. “Ambassadorial privilege.”
  10. LOCAL GHOST Mothers are observant creatures. The mother of a sick child is perhaps hyper-aware, hyper-observant. One such mother saw the other nurses look at one another as a nurse in the classic dress and winged cap came into the ward. She'd heard whispers about this one, this nurse, this darling of the new medical director: she thought she was better than everyone, wearing something from years before, when nurses nowadays wore the more efficient scrubs and clogs -- why, this one even wore a blue cape, something not seen since, oh God, when? -- World War II? The old-fashioned nurse stopped at the first sink, washed her hands quickly, efficiently: she turned, eyes swinging over the ward, as if searching for something. The mother had just finished helping bathe her child, she'd drawn the covers carefully up around a young chin, she'd caressed a young face, looked into unresponsive eyes. Terminal, they'd said. Inoperable, they'd said. She knew the spine was involved, she knew the cancer was spread, in spite of chemo wafers packed into the void where the glioma was removed from the living brain, in spite of blasting the invading tendrils with radiation ... in spite of cutting, burning and poisoning, the cancer was taking her child, and nothing she could do to stop it. The nurse flowed across the floor, her cape lifting a little as she did: she tilted her head, looked with unblinking pale eyes at the child's face, the bald head. She lowered the near siderail, bent, ran a hand under the child's pelvis, one under the neck, closed her eyes. "What are you doing?" the mother asked. The nurse lifted just a little, then pulled, as if stretching the diseased, brittle, crumbling spine. "What are you doing?" the mother asked again, louder, then grabbed the nurse's arms. She let go, suddenly -- hot! she thought, looked at her hands, expecting them to be red, blistered. She looked at the nurse, shocked, uncertain whether to shout for help, unsure just what to do -- The nurse straightened, bent over the child's bald head, caressed the shining, hairless scalp with both hands, and the mother was struck by how pale, how unblinking her eyes were -- how ... ... how unnatural. The nurse held the small head in both hands, laid her thumbs over the closed eyes, moved them up to the hairless brow ridge, then she released the child's head, straightened. She turned, walked back to the sink, washed her hands, left the ward. The other nurses hung back, silent, not moving. The mother looked at them, looked at the closing door. "What," she asked, "just happened?" The unit supervisor came over, bent, looked closely at the unmoving child's face. She looked at the mother. "When did his eyebrows start growing back?" The mother looked at her child, froze. She reached down, hesitantly caressed ... Eyebrows? And eyelashes -- She pushed away from the bed, ran across the ward, yanked open the door, looked wildly down the hall, looked the other way -- Gone -- She ran, stopped, looked one way, then the other, down the night-empty corridors -- She ran back -- The unit supervisor was taking her child's vitals: she looked up, smiled as the mother approached the bed. "Who was that nurse that was just in here?" The supervisor looked at her, puzzled. "What nurse?" "The one ... you know, in the old-fashioned uniform --" The supervisor shook her head slowly. "But ... she came in and came over ... I saw her, she ... I grabbed her arms, she was hot --" The supervisor and the other nurses looked at one another, shook their heads. Angela dropped heavily into the Mars-issue, spun-plastic chair, leaned back, sighed contentedly. Dr. Greenlees smiled a little. "I take it you were successful." "Oh, yes," she said. "The field kept me invisible. All anyone but the mother saw was the door open and shut. I even managed to conceal my handwashing." Dr. Greenlees nodded. "And the child?" "I implanted the nanobots at the distal and proxmial spine both," she said, "and I couldn't resist a little ... theater." Dr. Greenlees raised an eyebrow. "I knew there were a few nanos on my invisogloves, so I ran my thumbs across the patient's brow ridge." "Did it work?" "I didn't stay long enough to find out," Angela admitted. "The iris opened as I approached and disappeared just as fast. Nobody saw me in the hallway and no cameras in that section." "Was it the ghost of Nurse Susan?" "Who?" "Puffy mob cap, long dress, watch on her bodice --" "No, no, it looked like nurses in my grandmother's era. Winged cap, stockings, dress, a blue cape." "Mmm. No, I've heard of the ghost of the original Dr. Greenlees' wife being seen ... no, I don't know of any ghosts like that." The unit supervisor frowned, considered, looked at the door. "You might ask the Sheriff. He knows about our local haunts."
  11. Twice. My first successful purchase was apparently sheer, unadulterated luck, the other item I bid on was apparently so old and uninteresting that nobody else wanted it. I've tried since then and too many people have an automatic One-Upmanship installed: anybody makes a bid, their 'bot automatically put in a bid for five dollars more than I just did. Second time that happened, and I found out how it worked, I said to hell with it and have never gone back.
  12. HARD KNUCKLES AND HOT LEAD Marnie's arm swung outward as her Daddy's black gelding turned a little sideways, the way he always did when she cast a lariat. Sheriff Linn Keller's eyes were hard and unforgiving, his pace determined, one hand on his holstered sidearm, the other hand up, as if to grab, or to support his gun hand, or to swat aside a pesky fly if need be. The object of their attention was buzzed up on something -- just what, they didn't know, and didn't particularly care -- they'd gotten the call and they'd converged, and they'd distracted a druggie from whatever it was he intended to do to a snatched child in the parking lot. Linn started to lean forward, the way he did just before launching himself into someone. Jacob ran up, shotgun in a two-hand grip, brought the pump gun back, his body twisted, ready to uncoil like a living spring. Marnie's loop hesitated, then dropped, snapped shut: braided leather snapped taut, two turns around the saddlehorn guaranteeing her mount's quick-stepping retreat would bring the wide-eyed, knife-swinging druggie off his feet. It appeared to the onlookers as if they'd practiced this move many times -- they had to, didn't they? -- it looked so rehearsed, so perfect: the Sheriff kept the druggie's attention, one pale eyed deputy whipped a lasso around him and yanked him off his feet, the other unwound a shotgun butt into the screaming, thrashing felon's belly, knocking all the wind and most of the fight out of him. It was common knowledge that when that long tall Sheriff grabbed someone, they weren't getting away: a set of irons snarled around the felon's wrists, the felon was freed of la reata and stuffed in the waiting cruiser, and a pale eyed deputy slung his shotgun casually over his off shoulder, muzzle down as was his habit, as his pale eyed sister casually coiled her lariat and hung it off her saddlehorn. Several there had their phones out, capturing the takedown: lucky enough, those same folk also caught video of this individual stabbing car doors, throwing shopping carts and seizing a child and threatening to cut her throat if he wasn't given a million dollars and a helicopter: the arrival of a hard, uncompromising Sheriff, the Sheriff opening the back door of his cruiser, then turning, pointing to the criminal and advancing at a determined pace, was enough to penetrate the drug's influence, enough to hold the criminal's attention. Someone later asked the mounted deputy why they didn't just shoot the guy with the knife: she had a rifle in her scabbard, and was known to be an expert shot; the Sheriff carried a carbine in his cruiser, and could have used it to good effect -- a deer slug fed into Jacob's shotgun could have had the same surgically precise effect, as close as he was. Marnie dismounted, opened her saddlebag, pulled out the weekly newspaper. It showed her brother at an accident scene, doing CPR on a bloodied victim. "He didn't make it," she said, "and Jacob knew he probably would not make it, but he tried anyway. Do you know why?" The bystander shook his head, puzzled. "Jacob knows what it is to have an empty chair at Thanksgiving," she said. "He knew if he did nothing, that guy was dead. If he did his best, he'd be giving him the only chance he'd have. That's what we did here." She gestured to where the takedown had just occurred. "That is someone's son, someone's brother, someone's uncle or maybe a lost husband. We just gave him the only chance he'll have to straighten out." The questioner looked away, frowned a little, looked back, nodded. "We gave him a chance. Sometimes we don't have that choice, but today we did." In years past, when men who rode the Owlhoot Trail changed their names like they changed coats, a pale eyed old lawman with an iron grey mustache brought someone in rather than kill him out of hand. Questions were asked, among those riders of the Owlhoot, whether Old Pale Eyes was gettin' soft. The general consensus that he wasn't softenin' up any a'tall, he was still the same hard man he'd always been, but maybe there was more to the man than just hard knuckles and hot lead. Somehow that quote made it into the local newspaper. Better than a century later, the editor of the local paper remembered that ancient quote, and actually found it, and it featured into the weekly's front page article on the dramatic takedown, when a local child was seized by a drug-crazed, knife-wielding stranger, when a lariat and a shotgun were used, when the local law was a-horseback: the question might be asked, Bruce Jones wrote, as to whether their pale eyed enforcers of the Law were gone soft: surely there was justification enough for deadly force, none would have objected at the use of hot lead to prevent the criminal use, the threatened use, of cold steel. Editor, reporter, photographer and chief broom pusher Bruce Jones ended his article with the answer to his own question, an answer spoken by an outlaw, long and long ago: "Maybe there's more to them than hard knuckles and hot lead."
  13. While I might admire a woman's hair if it looks nice, I regard it like the frame of a picture ... if the central figure isn't worth looking at, neither is the frame. My wife's hair styles are "That looks nice, dear," before she gets it cut, and "That looks nice, dear," afterward. I have all the fashion sense of a paving brick.
  14. I'm looking at the scrollwork surrounding the central image. Scrollwork of this kind is under-appreciated. If it's symmetrical and without flaw, the eye passes over it in favor of an anatomic study of the animals in the central oval, but if the artist has done a flawless job, the scrollwork is often looked-at-but-not-seen. This is truly gorgeous work -- all of it -- including the surrounding scrolling and stippling!
  15. AGAIN Sheriff Willamina Keller began the ancestry research. Her granddaughters continued her work with the same zeal as Willamina herself began it, and they searched in the same manner as she: it was their unfailing custom to do their research in the back offices of the Firelands Museum, which was a minor library as well as a research facility; they searched using every last tool available to them, thanks to the widespread use of computers and the universal availability of newspaper accounts, death records and other useful tools of Swimming Upriver in Time. Another custom they followed, was to do their research, while dressed for the part. Sheriff Willamina came to Firelands, originally, to fill an unexpired term; she was re-elected multiple times, and finally retired, shortly before her death. She came into the office knowing that – in spite of her credentials as a Marine, in spite of her experience as a nurse, in spite of her excellent education – she was a woman, in a man’s world. She didn’t try to change that. Instead of wearing the standard Colorado State Sheriff’s Association uniform, she wore a tailored business suit and heels. She was not tall by any stretch of the imagination – every last deputy she had was taller than she – but she had a Presence, perhaps augmented by the very first night she arrived, when on her way to Firelands from the airport, she instructed her deputy to respond to the barfight called in over the radio, she kicked the door open, she drove a charge of buckshot through the ceiling and shocked the barfight into a sudden standstill, then she waded through staring, bloodied combatants to the root cause of the knuckle-and-skull conflagration – two women in a screaming, hair-pulling catfight – she introduced one’s face to the wall and pulled a .45 automatic from under her tailored blue suit coat, and invited her, quietly, to drop the broken bottle, before I drop you. Sheriff Willamina, as she was universally known, did not try to be one of the guys. She never appeared anywhere officially, unless she wore her trademark suit dress and heels; she treated her people like the professionals she expected them to be, and she expected more of them – she expressed more confidence in them – than they had in themselves. It worked. She did not come in as a controlling martinet. She came in as an efficient administrator who knew how to get more out of someone than they thought they could do. An administrator who also picked up uncooperative criminals and threw them across the room, an administrator who pinned a loudmouthed troublemaker by the throat against a wall at a public meeting and invited him to so much as twitch so she could punch his guts clear up into his tonsils, an administrator who changed into boots and blue jeans and led a horseback posse in search of two little boys who’d wandered off right before a snowstorm hit, and when the winds stilled and the snow stopped, she stepped out of a sheltering cleft in the rocks, raised a Sheriff’s band talkie to her lips with one hand, and fired a flare gun with the other to guide a relief column to where she and the boys and a good saddlehorse holed up overnight, with brush and snow making a snug roof overhead, with lightweight silver blankets to keep them warm, rations from her saddlebags to feed the three of them, with a trickle of clean water running through their little shelter providing the basis for hot tea with honey (let that cool, it’s hot!) and rock walls close on either side to reflect their fire’s heat back onto them. Willamina’s granddaughters were their own souls: one was her twin in appearance and in temperament, the other less so, but the granddaughters happily searched and researched their ancestry with their focused, efficient, pale eyed Gammaw. In the years since Willamina’s passing, the granddaughters continued her research, at least until Marnie was shot off into the cold darkness of interstellar space, and Angela worked alone – but in memory of her dear Gammaw, Angela, too, wore the same style of suit dress as her pale eyed ancestress, and so it was that her Daddy came into the Museum just to say hello, and found his darlin’ little girl with her forehead on the heel of her hand and a frown on her face. Angela looked up, straightened. “Trouble?” Linn asked in his deep, reassuring Daddy-voice. Angela made a face like she’d just bit into a sour pickle. “Reality,” she finally said, “sucks.” Linn nodded, eased his long tall frame into a chair. “Yep,” he agreed. “Fill me in.” “A cousin. Anderson, the name. Third cousin, two removes –” She gave her pale eyed Daddy a distressed look: for all that she was dressed like a professional woman, an administrator, in that moment she looked almost like an unhappy little girl – “Daddy, I wanted all of our ancestors to be noble and upright and honorable and clean, cheerful, thrifty and reverent.” “You found on that’s not.” “I found a cop killer.” Linn raised an eyebrow. “Anderson the name, out of Whitley County." She paused, read, fingertips tracing lightly across handwritten notes. "It was” – she re-read her notes, turned a page back on the legal pad she still favored, lifted another page – “1932. Height of the Depression.” “What happened?” “It was a… Methodist tent revival,” she said. “He was there being rowdy and heckling and the constable grabbed him and threw him out. “The next night the constable deputized … some …” She frowned, frustrated, lifted a page, shook her head. “I can’t find how many he deputized, but when Anderson came back to heckle some more, the Constable grabbed one arm and a newly deputized grabbed the other. Someone -- I think another heckler -- grabbed the deputy, Anderson pulled a gun and killed the constable, someone – maybe two someones, there are conflicting reports – gut shot Anderson twice. He lived a few days.” Angela turned her distressed, bright-blue eyes back to her Daddy, drawing from the confidence she saw in his posture, the warmth she saw in his expression. “Daddy, the constable was a cousin, too!” Linn nodded, looked down, and Angela saw his bottom jaw slide out. “We can’t pick our family, Angela,” he said finally, “and sometimes family isn’t … quite … what we want.” Linn chose his words carefully. “I know, Daddy,” Angela said, and now she even sounded like the little girl she’d been, the delightful, blue-eyed child Linn remembered so fondly, the happy little gigglebox that lit up her Daddy’s soul like a hundred watt bulb, now grown, or nearly so, grown enough to look womanly, but with all the true beauty of the young – Linn blinked, broke the spell: fathers sometimes think that way, and at times, he definitely did. “Angela,” Linn said, his voice still reassuring, gentle, “have you found where the constable is buried?” “I think so, Daddy.” Linn held up a forestalling hand as Angela began to riffle quickly through her papers; his darlin’ daughter froze, looked very directly at her Daddy, fingers buried in the several sheets she was turning. “If you find it,” Linn said gently, “note it down separately for me. I’d like to make that a visitation one of these days.” Father and daughter both stood: Angela swung around the desk, quickly, her skirt swinging as she turned, skipped up to her Daddy: she seized this hard-muscled, lean-waisted icon of strength and security, she pressed the side of her face into his chest, she squeezed him tight, tight, the way a happy little girl will, and Linn’s arms were strong and reassuring and gentle around his little girl, this delightful child he used to swing high in the air so she could scatter happy giggles all over the floor. Angela looked up, chewed on her bottom lip for a moment. “Daddy?” “Hm?” “Daddy, if I’m growing up too fast …” She swallowed. “Daddy, if you want, I can wear pigtails and pinafores instead of …” Linn took his daughter under the arms, hoisted her up, rubbed his nose against hers, lightly, carefully, leaned his head forward until their foreheads just touched, until her eyes merged into one Arizona-blue orb. “I see you,” he whispered, and Angela giggled, for this was something he’d done with her since her earliest memories of the man. He lowered her a little, kissed her forehead, then carefully lowered her a very little more, until her heels just touched the polished tile floor. “Darlin’,” he almost whispered, “you dress however you choose. You’ve been a little girl in pigtails and pinafores, and I cherish those memories and we have the pictures, but you’re not a little girl anymore.” “I don’t want to distress you, Daddy.” “By growing up too fast?” Linn chuckled, sat, pulled Angela onto his lap: she wiggled a little, making sure her bony backside wouldn’t dig into the man’s thighs. “Darlin’, every little girl grows up too fast. It’s a fact of life, and Daddies all have to learn it. If Daddies had their way, they’d put their little girl on a high shelf and put a glass bell jar over ‘em like they were a precious doll or something.” Angela took her Daddy’s hand between both of his, looked deep into his pale, just-barely-light-blue eyes. “Daddies might want that, darlin’, but people in hell want ice water, and that doesn’t work out either.” Angela twisted, hugged her Daddy again, and Linn sat with this maturing young woman, his near-to-grown-up little girl, in his arms and on his lap, each one holding the other, and for a long, happy moment, he was happy to be just a Daddy, and Angela was happy to let maturing womanhood fall away so she could be his little girl again.
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