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Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103

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Everything posted by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103

  1. 645. I MUST BE GETTIN' OLD Sheriff Linn Keller never moved. He didn't have to. The two ranch hands shifted uncomfortably, unable to meet the Sheriff's pale eyed glare. "It's the truth," one of the pair mumbled, which told the Sheriff it was anything but. "You two," he said quietly, "thought it would be funny to turn my big stallion in Shorty's lot with that little bitty trick pony." "Hell, they're the same color," one mumbled, looking away, wishing he were anywhere else. "And you said that cute little trick rider tried witchin' you." "Yeah, Sheriff, she said somethin' an' I couldn't move an' she set three coins around ma boot heel an' I was afraid she's goin' t' magic me or somethin' --" "And you couldn't move." "Naw, Sheriff, ya gotta believe me, she's --" The Sheriff's good left hand shot out like a striking viper, as did his right: he seized both young men by their shirt fronts, what little could be seized above their tight buttoned vests: the pale eyed lawman's hands tightened, twisted, and two troublemaking rowdies found themselves a foot off the ground or better, drawn in close to those eyes, those God help us pale eyes that burned freezing holes in a man's soul -- "Was that stallion to mount that little bitty mare it'd hurt her," the Sheriff said quietly -- he didn't raise his voice, he didn't have to, but he was not happy and they knew it, for his voice came from about twenty feet underground and sounded like it was grindin' boulders together to get up out of a deep resonant well to do it -- "an' was that big stallion to sire on that tiny little trick pony, carryin' the foal would bust her open from the inside." "We didn't mean no harm, honest," one whined, and "We was just funnin'," the other, at least until the Sheriff hoist them up, pressed them to arm's length overhead: he hauled them up to full extension, locked his elbows, and it was honestly a toss-up whether his cold-eyed glare held them there, or main strength in those lean and rangy arms. The pair was honestly afraid he was going to bang their heads together -- he'd done that, they'd seen him do it -- or whether he was going to drown one, then the other, in a horse trough, they'd seen him do that -- or hell, he might beat 'em like rag dolls against the nearest fence post, they'd heard of him doin' that -- but the Sheriff just held them, and finally he spoke. "You two," he said, "have over stayed your welcome. You do not set foot in my town, ever again, or I'll let her witch you both to death. Last time she did, them coins she set around a man's boot heel turned into a shackle an' a chain and he got drug down through the mountain into Hell itself and he's still screamin', I can hear him on a quiet night." The Sheriff lowered them until they were eye level with him, their toes barely clearing the dirt, still off the ground. "Or maybe she won't witch you. Maybe she'll bend you over a fence rail and switch you both and I'll let her. Now get the hell out of my town." He never raised his voice. He didn't commit any acts of violence or deadly persuasion upon them. He did terrify them to the core of their living souls. Two ranch hands galloped away from Firelands, and for the rest of their lives, neither set foot in town again. Sarah Lynne McKenna's legs were straight out in front of her: her toes were pointed, she wore tights and black slippers, and she was halfway up a twenty foot rope. Back straight, legs straight, toes pointed, jaw locked, she looked up, her expression grim, determined: she climbed steadily, using only the strength of her arms, her shoulders: she gained the rafters, slapped the chafff-dusty beam, then descended the rope, deliberately, careful not to slip -- she knew if she did, it would burn the flesh from her palms: she'd helped treat men with rope burned hands before, and she knew from their profane testimonies that the condition was beyond painful. Sarah stopped exactly her own height from the ground. Her fingers ached, her forearms burned, her shoulders were calling her unkind names, her belly was sore from maintaining her extended legs' horizontal alignment, but she'd done it, she'd done it! -- she lowered her legs, touched the big round barn's sawdust covered floor, stood. Daciana laughed with delight, clapping her hands: she hugged Sarah, quickly, impulsively, kissed her on both cheeks: the trick rider's eyes were shining with pride and she was bouncing on her toes like an excited little girl: the two had their hands on each other's shoulders, and they both began jumping up and down, laughing. Ever since Sarah saw Daciana climb her thick hemp exercise-rope and slap the rafter overhead, Sarah determined to do the same: Daciana wore a circus leotard and Sarah saw how the trick rider's muscles were taut, flat, developed, but not bulged like men's muscles get: no, Daciana still looked feminine, she still looked diminutive and dainty, but she also had an unmistakable confidence and a smooth, athletic coordination Sarah wished to present. Daciana saw that Sarah had much of it already. Daciana came to Firelands two years before, a trick rider in a traveling circus that imploded thanks to the outrages of its greedy, crooked and obscene manager: the strong man and one of the clowns honestly beat the man to death, which he more than deserved, and the body was disposed of in the darkness -- Daciana departed with them, and there were rumors of witch-magic in getting rid of the corpse -- as none had been paid in some time, they tore apart the manager's van, found the monies he'd withheld, split the funds fairly: most left with the circus train and moved on, determined to join with another they'd heard of, adding their animals and their skills to an established troupe: Daciana rode down the main street of Firelands in her gaudiest leotard, disporting herself most impressively on the shining, silver-mounted trick rider's saddle: she did handstands, somersaults, she posed, the poised, she pirouetted, all while her diminutive Buttercup-horse galloped steadily, smoothly, beneath her, down the main street and back: she usually did this to advertise the circus was in town, but today, today she celebrated being away from the monster that killed her parents and wished to despoil her. Daciana chose to stay in this frontier town, this mountain village, not knowing exactly why, only that she must, and it was not until a fine carriage came up the street, with a beautiful and well dressed woman driving, not until the young woman beside her stood, and lifted her chin, and opened her eyes wide, did Daciana know why she had to remain. The young woman -- as fashionably dressed as her Mama -- had the same eyes as Daciana's grandmere. The two met in front of the Mercantile: Daciana dismounted by virtue of rolling off Buttercup's backside like a living rubber ball, landing as gracefully as any circus acrobat and striking a dramatic pose: Sarah Lynne McKenna clapped her gloved hands with delight, leaped from the boardwalk to the street below: the two extended their hands and Sarah said "My name is Sarah Lynne McKenna, and you are a magnificent rider!" -- to which Daciana replied, "I am -- call me Daciana, my name is long and hard to pronounce," and the two giggled like schoolgirls. Sheriff Linn Keller leaned against a post holding up the roof over the boardwalk in front of the Sheriff's office. Jacob Keller leaned against the other side: both wore black suits and polished boots, black Stetsons and carefully neutral expressions. "Y'see that trick rider that come through yesterday?" "I did, sir." "Pretty little pony she's ridin'." "It is, sir." "Pretty girl." "If you say so, sir." Silence for a time, then: "Jacob, do you recall seein' that fella come through here wearin' spectacles?" "Drummer, sir, two weeks ago." "That's the one." "I recall him, sir." "He had an eye for the ladies." "Yes, sir?" "Oh, ya." The Sheriff's expression was solemn, but his eyes were tightening at the corners, the way they did when he was ready to pull someone's leg. "He told me that was his second pair of spectacles that year. Said he got so busy watchin' the girls in San Frisco, why, he wore a pair plumb out from lookin' through 'em so much." "I reckon a man could, sir." Neither set of pale eyed faces betrayed the quiet, shared amusement they both felt, but both pair of pale eyes tightened some at the corners. "Sir?" "Yes, Jacob?" "Sir, I recall that pair of trouble makers turned your stallion into Shorty's corral with that little trick pony." "Yes, Jacob, they did." "Heard tell you had a talk with 'em." The Sheriff nodded slowly, replied slowly. "Yes, Jacob, that's so." "I believe, sir," Jacob said just as slowly, "you were ... effective." Sheriff Linn Keller smiled, ever so slightly, and shook his head. "Time was, Jacob, I'd have banged their heads together and dunked 'em both in the nearest horse trough." "Yes, sir?" The Sheriff took a long breath, sighed it out. "I told 'em I was disappointed in them both and invited them to leave and to not return." "That was all, sir?" "Yes, Jacob. That was all." Silence again, for nearly a full minute, then the Sheriff shook his head. "All I did was talk to 'em. I must be gettin' old."
  2. 644. A GOOD CHRISTIAN MAN "Uncle Will?" Chief Will Keller looked up, smiled a little with half his face: Marnie knew this meant he was relaxed, contented, doing something her enjoyed, and in the company of someone he enjoyed. Will was hunched over a little. He wore heavy leather welding gloves and a face hood, he wore old jeans and a flannel shirt and stained, worn brogans, and he carefully placed the six hole bullet mold against the spout of his bottom pour furnace and lifted the handle. Uncle Will's moves were practiced, economical: Marnie quietly fed ingots into the pot, stirred and fluxed and skimmed as she always did when helping her Uncle Will mold bullets; the ventilation was good, there was adequate light -- they worked in a little shed out back, with fiberglass courrugated roofing that let in plenty of light, but diffused it pleasantly, if it's possible to have pleasant lighting in a ratty old backyard shed -- and Marnie waited until a good moment to speak her uncle's name. Uncle Will cut off the hardened sprue, peeled it free and lowered the long scrap piece into the pot: he turned, lowered the bullet mold close to the five gallon bucket nearly full of water, dropped the hot bullets into their coldwater bath, where they fell to the folded towel at the bottom: he turned, closed the mold, slid the cutoff plate back into battery and started the cycle again. "What is it, darlin'?" he asked, his voice hollow and funny sounding behind the clear plastic face shield. "Uncle Will, how come you carry a revolver?" "Instead of a fifty shot Wonderware?" Will grunted, dispensing lead and a wry grin: Marnie laughed silently, for her Uncle was given to rotten humor, and this backhanded reference to her Gammaw's choice of sidearms always tickled her. "Marnie, I'm old," Will said, his hands busy: "I am an obsolete old geezer --" another half-dozen shining-silver bullets sizzeled into their tempering bath -- "and I like what works." The mold tapped against the spout, gloved fingers lifted the handle: "I can hit with my revolver, and when I hit, I hit hard." Marnie nodded thoughtfully. "Can't deny that," she agreed quietly. "Do you recall our forensic analysis of the FBI's Miami shootout?" Will's attention was on his work, otherwise he would have seen a look of intense interest cross his niece's face: Marnie did indeed recall that study, held at the local police academy: it was the last time her Grampa Rich taught, right before he went home and died in his sleep: Uncle Rich had been FBI, and he'd retired, and he never really talked much about what he did, which Uncle Will said meant he'd done quite a bit and he didn't like to talk about it -- or was not allowed to, which was a distinct possibility. "I remember that seminar," she said, leaning forward, elbows on her knees: she'd like to have been sitting a little closer, the better to hear her soft-spoken Uncle, but she'd foolishly worn a skirt, and once -- once only -- she'd seen a lead explosion when her Uncle was casting: he'd not noticed an ingot had condensed water on it from sitting outside, an ingot that gathered morning dew, an ingot that caused a sudden silver-spray of searing-hot lead. She'd been far enough back she hadn't gotten splattered, but Uncle Will's balding dome bore a thumbnail sized scar to this day from the moment: Marnie had no wish for her boot tops to act like funnels in the event of another unexpected eruption. "One agent carried a 9mm self loader," Will said. "He carried the same brand and type ammunition I carried and I had full faith and confidence in it." Another cascade of shining-silver bullets hissed into the water bath. "The agent made what should have been a killin' shot. The round went through the bad guy's arm and into his chest and it would have been a good shot" -- he stopped, looked very directly at Marnie -- "but it stopped one half inch short of what would have been a killin' shot." He shook his head, slid the mold back under the furnace. "One half inch." "So you carry a six shot revolver." "I carry what works." He looked into the pot, frowned. "Good thing I've been scrounging, a six gang mold eats a lot of lead!" "So does a Minnie-ball mold," Marnie agreed, reaching up to add two more ingots: she'd cast them herself, pouring molten, fluxed, skimmed lead into the candle-smoked, concave bottoms of a row of inverted beer cans. "How are you set for lead, Uncle Will?" "I was lucky enough to scrounge some wheel weights," he grunted. "Lead wheel weights or those awful zinc things?" Will chuckled, leaned back, cut the sprue and added it back into the pot. "Good Christian wheelweights," he declared stoutly, and Marnie laughed again. "You sound like Fitz!" -- she smiled, she clapped her hands silently together, and Will chuckled, looked at her with one peaked eyebrow emphasizing his expression. "Where do you think I stole it?" Later, once his back had enough of sitting hunched over (and he had a gratifying supply of bullets molded up) -- after he and Marnie gathered their shining harvest and spread them carefully to dry on another thick, folded towel, careful not to beat them together, letting the sun evaporate their bathwater -- Will and Marnie went into the house and washed their hands: Will changed out of his dedicated duds and took a quick shower (he wanted to be presentable for his niece, who always managed to look tidy -- he was of the opinion the girl could crawl down a manhole, through a mile long culvert and come out looking like she'd just stepped out of a band box!) -- he emerged in a fresh shirt and clean jeans, polished boots and a delighted expression, for he walked right into a fragrant cloud of Coffee and Cinnamon Rolls, and he was reminded yet again why Marnie was an especially welcome guest under his roof. Will shook his head: "Dammit Marnie," he complained, "it's a shame you're young, I'm old and we're related! You'd make a man the very best wife!" Marnie skipped around the table, came up on her toes and kissed her Uncle quickly on the cheek, patted his chest and gave him those big lovely eyes of hers and said softly, "Uncle Will, that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me!" They sat down and Will frowned at his plate. Marnie waited, knowing full well what his next words would be. Uncle Will said, clearly and distinctly, head bowed and hands in his lap: "Hello, plate!" Marnie smiled: it was an old joke between them, for Uncle Will once made reference to a man who spoke to his plate before he'd eat, and ever since -- at least when it was just the two of them -- he'd say "Hello, plate!" and then he and Marnie would share a look and a laugh, and they'd eat. Will picked up his coffee, took a slurp: it was black, hot and stout, just the way he liked it, and he sighed with honest pleasure. "Good?" Marnie asked, biting down on a hot, fragrant cinnamon roll. Will grunted again, swallowed. "Good Christian coffee!" he declared, and Marnie nodded, trying hard to laugh, as she considered it bad luck to choke to death on half chewed cinnamon roll.
  3. Our Station Chief was used to seeing me in a blue medic's uniform. We ran into one another at the local restaurant. Neither of us wore uniform. Chief remarked, "I'm not used to seeing you in clothes!"
  4. I think it was Denmark (I think it was Denmark!) (one of those Scandinavian countries anyway) that found wind mills could only supply about 17 percent of their needs. Sadly, I don't recall the source for this statistic. Considering their toll on avians, I'm not in favor of the rotating blade pattern: can't help but think there are other designs with less of a negative impact, both aesthetically and in terms of dead raptors! On the other hand I'm just a poor dumb hillbilly, so what do I know!
  5. I was going to gasp, wheeze and choke, not necessarily in that order, until I considered ... it'll likely continue to rise here ...
  6. Looks like thick stock ... wonder how fast it was spinning, and what it came off of!
  7. Dearly love the sound of a steam engine under load!
  8. 643. THE SHERIFF FOLDS Sheriff Marnie Keller smiled as she watched a rerun of a news broadcast. The rerun was from several years before; she saw herself in the background, in her cheerleader's uniform, she saw her Gammaw, laughing, her head tilted a little the way she did when she was about to pull one off, and she saw the reporter from one of the Denver stations, switching from a hand held microphone to a body mic. Willamina opened the blue plastic box and nodded her approval. "Colt Woodsman, bull barrel," she smiled. "I like your taste!" She picked up a magazine, pressed the button against the edge of the table and pushed the follower down: shining brass rounds whispered down the stamped steel, stacking neatly: Willamina ran a solvent patch, a dry patch through the bore: "Probably not necessary, but in my day the bore was oiled or maybe even greased." She placed the stainless steel Colt .22 back in its case, nodded to Marnie, who skipped forward with a deck of cards. Marnie stapled two of them to the target back, clipped five to the top of the rack, edge-on, ran back -- to the warm, masculine physician cuddled up against his wife, watching the rerun, it seemed his Marnie, cheerleader and high school girl, did not so much run, as she flowed: but then, he thought as his arm tightened around his wife's waist, he was kind of partial to her, and Marnie laid her warm hand over her husband's long, cool fingers. They watched the screen as Sheriff Willamina ran the magazine into the stainless Colt's handle, ran her hand over the slide, cycled it and smiled: "Let's see where she's looking." Sheriff Willamina Keller extended her arm in the traditional, one-handed, tea-drinking stance. Five measured, precisely spaced shots: she nodded, shifted her feet, moving a little to her right, no more than a couple of inches. "Watch this," Marnie murmured, and Dr. John Greenlees, physician and surgeon, felt his wife's silent giggle. Willamina fired five more times, the same cadence; the shoulder-mounted camera was behind her, following her as she moved: on replay, each edge-on card shivered, and then slowly -- slowly -- each card bent, and folded over. They walked up to the target frame; the camera panned thre edge-on cards, folded over, hanging barely by a few fibers: it zoomed in on one as the Sheriff's finger came into frame, as her voice narrated: "These cards are a little bent. If I'd been shooting a bigger bullet, they would have each cut in two, but as it is, they cut along the belly and -- see here, this little web? The bullet wasn't wide enough to cut them clear in two, but it cut them mostly in two, and..." As she spoke, the nearly transected card surrendered to the inevitable and slowly, slowly, bent and doubled over. The camera zoomed out as Willamina turned and smiled, tapping the wooden target frame with a bent foreknuckle. "I guess you could say," she smiled, "the Sheriff folds."
  9. I'd mentioned Station 03 that was haunted by the Marshal's ghost... well, here's an un-ghost story ... We had another paramedic station I worked -- 02, Coolville. By accident, the bunkroom was built out over the grave of a Revolutionary War soldier. Quietest, most peaceful bunkroom in the system. You couldn't raise Hell in that bunkroom with two Irishmen and a quart of whiskey!
  10. Southeast Ohio EMS, Glouster Station 03, in the old train depot, right on the town square. My partner was the widow of the Trimble town marshal who was killed when a fleeing felon rammed him. Ted had time enough to bail out of his vehicle, draw and fire one shot from his Victory model. The starburst detonated right in front of the driver's face: had Ted a revolver with a healthy payload he'd have "kilt the b'ar that kilt him." That was two years before I became a medic there. It wasn't uncommon for locals to come to station for medical care, so when we heard the screen door open, we'd look -- Door's shut -- -- we'd hear the inside door open, then close, and we'd hear measured footfalls come down the hallway into the living room. Halfway down the hall was the bunk room and in front of the bunk room, a squeaky board; when the footsteps got to the board we'd hear it groan as if a man's weight stepped on it, then passed on. The footsteps came as far as our living room; a pause, then they retreated at the same deliberate, measured pace, cre-e-eak, and we'd hear the doors open, and shut, while we watched them ... ... we heard them, but they didn't move ... Trimble Marshal Ted Holcomb was coming in as he usually did, to make sure his wife and her crew were okay. One night I was standing in the hall, on that squeaky board, and Ted's shade passed through me. I never felt such a profound cold in my life, and as he did, the board sagged a little under my polished Wellington boot. The other time was after Granddad Beymer died. My best friend's father and grandfather died within five days of one another. The old man would wait up if any of the family was out after dark, he'd set on his homemade deacon's bench with his hands folded over his cane, his broke brim hat pulled down and his pendulous bottom lip run out and he'd set there until his family was safely home. I was pallbearer for that fine man. About a week after we buried them both, we -- my best friend, his mother and I -- went over to Adamsville to my buddy's college dorm mates' farm and we had a good old fashioned Welsh sing. My best friend had perfect pitch and it was a delightful evening. We came home, I said my goodbyes, got in my rusty old Dodge and pulled out and as I always did, took a final look back across their yard. As Bob and Eleanor were going up the sidewalk to the back door, Granddad was settin' on his deacon's bench, bottom lip run out, hands over his cane and his broke brim hat pulled down low as he always wore it. I felt such a comfort -- "Granddad always waits for his family," thought I, then -- GRANDDAD??? I looked back, and the Deacon's bench was empty. Mama had the Second Sight. When she was a little girl, she looked in the black glass mirror of her nighttime bedroom window and saw -- as if she saw it in the noonday sun -- a neighbor's car come down the ridge road, take a sudden hard turn off the road and straight down the ridge face. She saw their car ram a white oak and catch fire and she felt husband and wife within burn to death. Mama was a scared little girl, she ran downstairs crying for the comfort of her Mama's arms, and her Mama took a belt and whipped her back up the steps, scolding her for lying. Next day Mama was in the kitchen and her Mama was fixing a meal, when there come a knock on the door. It was a neighbor who told Grandma about the car breaking a tie rod, running down the ridge face, ramming an oak and killing two people they both knew. Mama stood there, silent, regarding her Mama with big brown eyes. Grandma turned and hissed at her, "Witch!" Over the years she tried to beat the Sight out of my Mama. She did not succeed.
  11. 642. IN THE DISTANCE, SORROW If the Law was a mercator, a dividing line, then Lawmen rode on one side, and the Outlaw rode the other. Like any line, it can be crossed: there were good men who went bad, there were bad men who became good, or at least less bad; there were those who crossed one way, then the other, as convenience dictated, and so it was that a particular bounty hunter, riding on the side of the Law, encountered a former partner in crime, who was riding on the other side of the line. The two knew one another; the two came to trust one another, having shared certain ... adventures ... that are perhaps best chronicled elsewhere. This pair rode together for a day, for two days; as such men will, they rode in watchful silence, speaking in quiet tones only when they drew up, only when they rested their mounts, only when they made camp for the night: such men are prone to an economy of speech, for lonely men in a lonely country come to love the loneliness, and besides, when a man is speaking, he is learning nothing -- and he is hearing nothing -- and a man who rides across the dividing line between the Law and the Lawless does not hear, and learn, is a man who can be amushed. Conversation turned, as it always did, to places they'd been, to things they'd seen: water holes, natural tanks here there and yonder, for water was life, especially further south where the land was dry; higher up, in the mountain country, water was more plentiful, but the knowledge of which streams were sweetwater and which held the dreaded Beaver Fever was essential information: no one wished to be debilitated by the miserable and crippling effects of bad water. Talk turned to gambling-houses and drinking-houses and lawmen, to gamblers and women and horses, and the name that came up, here in the high mountains, was Old Pale Eyes. One man knew him, one did not: the stranger to this high territory had heard tales, of course, and he listened when these tales were told, for information can mean a man's survival. It was no surprise, therefore, when the stranger to these parts -- Roger, his name was -- when Roger asked the bounty hunter about a Sheriff he'd heard about, that Old Pale Eyes the other mentioned in passing. "Tell me," Roger said quietly, hunkering by the small, smokeless fire, tin cup of strong coffee wrapped in his long, dirty fingers like it was something precious -- "tell me, does that pale eyed lawman talk polite?" The bounty hunter blinked, surprised, and then smiled, just a little. "Yes," he said. "Yes he does." "All the time?" "Mostly," the bounty hunter nodded, "unless you get him irritated." Coffee, hot, not quite scalding; the tin cup was unpleasantly warm against the lip, but the noisy slurp was satisfying: a swallow, a frown. "Damn." The bounty hunter's eyebrows raised. "Damn?" His counterpart scowled over the rim of his steaming cup. "Them polite ones is the ones that'll get you kilt." "How's that?" The stranger leaned his head back a little, frowning at the darkening sky. "I heard one of them river boat gamblers talkin' about that." He frowned into the depths of his mug. "He allowed as the deadliest men he knew had the most immaculate manners." He looked up, smiled a little as he did. "Immaculate. Now ain't that just the fancy language." "Yeah," the bounty hunter agreed. "I'm thinkin' the man's right." "So that pale eyed lawman is a polite sort." "Oh ya, he's polite an' he's good natured until he ain't, an' then Katie bar the door he's just plainly hell itself. He don't hesitate and he's fast, he's got the fastest hands ever did I see an' I don't just mean fast with a gun. I seen him step into a man an' take him by the throat an' have him fetched up off the floor an' pinned to the wall faster'n most men can sneeze an' good Lord his face got real pale an' tight stretched and 'twas fearful to watch!" His voice lowered to a hoarse whisper as he spoke and his eyes were haunted with the memory. "I was standin' beside him when he did and I honestly did not see that hand of his move." "Right hand or left hand?" "Left." "So he's a left handed man." The bounty hunter snorted. "Think that and die," he said uncomfortably. "He's good left as right and just as fast right as left. I seen him drink beer with his left hand and with his right hand, I seen him reach down to catch a runnin' boy left handed an' I never seen him sign his name so I don't know what hand he writes with, an' in a fight, hell, flip a coin to see which hand he'll slap you with." "Slap?" His head came up, his voice betrayed a discovery. "Slap. He does not punch. Hits harder'n a mule's hoof but he don't punch with his knuckles." "Howinthehell's he hit them?" The bounty hunter shrugged. "Damfino," he admitted. "He does an' he's fast an' he hits hard, but he likes to grab an' grapple an' he'd ruther fetch a man off his feet and slam him ag'in a wall and hold him there til the other fellow realizes he ain't goin' nowhere an' they come to some kind of an understandin'." "Hmp." "Unless he fetches out that knife of his." "KNIFE?" "You ain't heard? That man's pure pizen with a blade. I seen him cut a man hell west and crooked, so close in neither one could draw a gun an' damn if he didn't have that other fella sliced up to doll rags before he run that skinny sticker elbow deep up into his guts!" "Naw, now, yo're pullin' my leg!" "Well, maybe not clear up to his elbow by by God! when he pulled that knife out 'twas blood up over the hilt and well up his hand!" "He likes gittin' in close." "He does. Seems like he doesn't give a good damn whether he's kilt or not." "Is the man married?" "Oh hell yeah. That wife of his is a looker, too!" The bounty hunter winked. "Sharp woman, that, a lady clear through, but she's just as deadly as he is. She likes swords." "SWORDS!" The stranger's jaw sagged a little and he leaned back on his boot heels, nearly dropping back onto his backside. "Ya, her an' that son of his -- the boy's tall as the old man and just as fast --" "There's two of 'em?" the stranger asked faintly. "Oh ya. Both of 'em is just as fast as t'other. His boy is man high and tough as twisted rawhide an' he's polite but he's reeeeeal quiet." The stranger looked away, shivered: the bounty hunter fancied his compadre just lost some color from his face. "That boy," he said cautiously. "That boy o' his, he likes his Ma's swords?" "Yep. They'll square off with blades in th' corral near by an' they'll jist plainly whip a web around one another swingin' them blades. I don't see how each one ain't cut t'other all up but neither of 'em comes out with a mark. I'd not want to face either of 'em with one them damned swords!" "I don't think," the stranger whispered, "I'd be too healthy thereabouts." "Hell, try Carbon Hill, it ain't too close an' their town Marshal died here not too long ago." "Lead pizen?" "Nah, the gallopin' crud of some kind, I dunno. Doc said he'd been sick for some long time an' nobody knowed it." "They got a new marshal?" "Yeah, but he ain't no great shakes. Nothin' like Old Pale Eyes nor his boy." "I heard Cripple ain't too bad." "Lots of gold miners. Payday ain't bad, a man can make a decent livin' at cyards. You still got them blue spectacles?" "I got 'em." "You might make a poke full on payday. I have." The bounty hunter swirled the last skift of coffee, slung it and the grounds off to the side. "That bedroll is callin' my name," he sighed. "Yeah. Mine too." They scattered the little fire, careful to kill it absolutely dead: both knew well the consequences of uncontrolled fire, and neither wished to cause one. Two men stretched out under the stars, their horses drowsing nearby, and bright-hard stars seared holes in the heavens above them as a lonesome coyote sorrowed in the distance.
  12. 641. NEVER DOES Sheriff Linn Keller looked over at his son. Jacob rode silently, as he usually did; his pale eyes were busy: occasionally he would stop, turn his stallion, study their back trail, just like his Pa: they took turns, ensuring both would know what their return path would look like, and to make sure they weren't being followed. At the moment they were riding along a brushy hillside, following a path well older than either of them, very likely a path that existed when the first white man set foot on the Eastern Seaboard. Linn considered his son, regarded his pale eyed progeny's height, realizing with a father's surprise (as all fathers do at one time or another) that his boy was getting to be man size tall. It did not surprise Linn at all that his son assumed a man's role and did a man's work, in spite of his few years; Jacob came to him seasoned, tough, mature beyond his years, as if he'd been born a man grown, just in a young body. Like his father, Jacob wore a black suit and a necktie; like his father, Jacob wore a pair of engraved Colt's revolvers under his unbuttoned coat; like his father, Jacob had a variety of other implements of ungentle persuasion elsewhere about his long tall carcass, and like his silent, watchful father, Jacob was just pretty damned good with each and every one of them. Two days before, when riding fence on their back pasure, they'd dismounted, and they'd gotten to throwing knives: they would walk the fenceline, and when in throwing distance of the next fence post, they took turns in drawing back and throwing at the upcoming cedar upright. Neither one of them missed. Not once. Twice, though, each of them misjudged the distance, and the knife slammed into the post side-on -- fortunately, the blade was vertically aligned, and so the knife fell point-down: each time, it stuck, point-deep in the hard dirt, and stood, and each time Linn quietly observed, "That stuck, that counts," to which Jacob expressed a quick flash of a grin, gone as fast as it appeared. They were nearing home now, having ridden together on some business, and as usual, nothing went according to plan. They'd run across a bounty hunter of their acquaintance, and spent probably an hour discussing matters; the man the bounty hunter pursued, the Sheriff had hanged not a week before, to the wolfer's disappointment: he'd shaken his head and laughed a little and allowed as that was his general fortune -- "My luck is never spectacularly good nor dismally bad," he'd said ruefully, "it just runs kind of consistently poor!" -- the bounty hunter promised to stop in and say howdy once he reached Firelands, but given this change in fortune, he said, he'd swing south and see if he couldn't find another of the outlaws he was after. Linn sent him on his way with what he had, two sandwiches wrapped in a cloth, and some bacon; Jacob's face was impassive as the lawman gifted a man he'd known in better times, with the only meal he had: this was typical of the Grand Old Man, and Jacob knew his father somehow divined the bounty hunter hadn't eaten in better than two days, but was too proud to say so. Jacob's Mama might be a Wise Woman, and a woman who could tell things just by lookin' at someone, but his pale eyed Pa had a knowin' way about him, without realizing it -- and giving this man the contents of his warbag, why, Jacob knew his Pa would tell him later the man hadn't eaten and he'd tell him how long it had been, and then he'd get a funny look on his face and he'd quit talkin', and Jacob knew this was because only then would his Pa realize -- There's no way he could have known that. Jacob had seen it often enough he didn't question it; every time he'd seen it happen, he'd not remarked on it, and so it was that father and son resumed their ride back to Firelands. It was a half hour before either spoke. "Sir?" "Yes, Jacob?" "Sir, Lightning was tellin' me there is some fancy kind of a machine that will relay telegraph information without a man havin' to listen to the traffic and write it down and then re-send it." "Yes, Jacob, I reckon there is." "He said they are working on a machine that will let a man read words once the telegraph comes off a paper tape." Linn considered for a moment. "I've heard of such." "Sir, suppose every lawman's office had one. He could contact any other lawman's office and tell 'em to watch out for this fella or that lost child." Linn considered this; their horses shifted, head-bobbing, pacing steadily, unhurriedly in the late morning sun. "Could come in handy," Linn agreed. Silence grew between them again. Another half hour passed, then: "Sir?" "Yes, Jacob?" "Sir, was I more foolish, I might think once we get rid of all the outlaws, we can relax and have no more work to do." Jacob knew his Pa taken a long breath at that, for he'd heard his Pa express the idea, wishfully, in the past. "Seems like we've run down and brought in quite a few of 'em." "We have." "Every lawman has locked up a considerable numbe of 'em." "Yep." "It don't seem like their numbers go down any." "Nope," Linn agreed. "Sir, do you reckon it'll ever ease up, that we'll get to the point that lawmen won't be needed?" Linn leaned his head back, studied the sky. Jacob looked over at his father's face and was surprised to see a deep sadness, something he usually kept well hidden. "Never does end, Jacob," he finally said, bringing his eyes down to the trail ahead of them. "Never does."
  13. ... several good folk here retired well before me ... ... which proves yet again they're smarter and generally better looking than me!
  14. Yes sir, you are correct, I'll Sharpie a Shorty on the sides of my hardhat and cut me a Short Timer's Stick once I hit one month out! I won't heave the last stub to the tarmac as I climb into the Freedom Bird, but I'll give it a brisk toss when I climb into my Jeep for the last time! Yippee!
  15. 640. EXCITEMENT Sarah Lynne McKenna waited until her huge black Snowflake-mare folded her legs, bellied down on the grassy slope, before dismounting: the Frisian was truly a huge horse, bigger than most men cared to ride, and to be honest, riding her shining black mare was like straddling the dining room table -- but Sarah had a sudden, intense love for this remarkable mount, and her feelings were very much reciprocated: she had no need of reins nor bit, and the Frisian followed Sarah like a devoted dog. Sarah walked toward the small gravestone, stopped, considered: beside it was a broader stone, her Papa's stone, and his wife Esther: there were several plots beside, reserved for family, she knew, and her eye traveled down the row to the last surveyed plot. That, she knew, would be hers -- but not for a very long time. She did not know quite how she knew, only that she did: she accepted this preternatural knowledge as she accepted that the Sheriff's wife Esther was a Wise Woman, and knew things that she couldn't possibly know. Sarah had been beside her Mama as the ladies were quilting tea, when Esther soared to her feet, her head back, agony on her features and a strangled scream barely able to escape her throat, and she fell unconcious and dead pale: Sarah glanced at the big Regulator clock and silently noted the time, and found later in the day, this was the exact moment her Uncle Papa, the pale eyed Sheriff, was thrown from a horse and broke two ribs. Sarah's eyes shifted left, toward the packed-stone roadway that ran under the tall cast-iron arch. Hoofbeats. Sarah stood, waiting, a pretty young woman with her hands very properly folded in her apron, as a young man on an Appaloosa stallion came over the rise, trotting briskly toward her: the lad was bare headed, he wore a flannel shirt but no vest, and he looked at her with an expression of recognition and of delight. "Marneee!" he exclaimed, fairly leaping from the saddle: he ran to her, slowed, stopped: his expression went from delight to confusion: "Marnie?" he asked, suddenly uncertain. Sarah tilted her head a little, smiled: "I'm sorry," she said, "I don't believe we've been introduced." She extended a gloved hand. "Sarah Lynne McKenna, and this is Snowflake." "I know Snowflake, that's Gammaw's mare -- but -- you -- Marnie --" Sarah laughed a little. "Slow down," she smiled, "and let's know who you are, and who is this Marnie you apparently love so well!" "Marnie's my big sis. She's Sheriff in Firelands on Mars an' my name is Joseph an' that's Pa's Apple-horse --" "Stop, stop, stop, you're making me dizzy," Sarah said patiently, raising a gloved palm. "Now what's this about Firelands-on-Mars, and what might your last name be?" Joseph stopped, puffed out his chest proudly and declared, "Keller, Joseph L., son of Linn and Shelly Keller and Marnie is Sheriff of the Second Martian Colony that called themselves Firelands 'cause there's an extinct volcano behind 'em an' Marnie found some di'monts an' she's ..." Joseph wound down and looked at Sarah with a confused expression. "An' Marnie looks exactly like you!" He turned suddenly: "Hey, where's all the tombstones?" "All ... the tombstones?" It was Sarah's turn to be confused. "Yeah, here's s'pos'ta be Jacob an' his wife an' their sons an' Old Pale Eyes -- hey, where's his picture, an' Miz Esther's" -- he thrust a bladed hand at the double stone -- he turned, ran down the row, ran clear to the end -- "This whole row is fam'ly, Sarah's here an' her stone's gone too!" Sarah turned thrust her boot into the near stirrup: Snowflake levered herself upright and they walked to the end of the row. "Could you repeat that part," Sarah said carefully, "about this last missing tombstone?" "That's one of my really great gammaws Sarah Lynne McKenna, she was killed in Germany an' Jacob's boy Joseph was kilt in the First World War an' Sarah taught him how to throw knives an' Gammaw an' Marnie look exactly alike an' they both look like --" Joseph stopped, looked up at the pale eyed young woman on the tall black Frisian mare. They spoke together, their voices unintentionally harmonizing as their lips framed the syllables at the same moment. "Sarah. Lynne. McKenna." Joseph frowned, reached up, scratched his head -- Sarah could not help but laugh, for her half-brother Jacob did exactly the same thing -- he frowned up at her, puzzled, then stepped forward, gripped her ankle, looked up, confused. "I thought ghosts weren't solid!" "Oh, so I'm a ghost, am I?" Sarah laughed. "Maybe I'm real and you're a ghost from the future!" Joseph slapped himself across the chest. "Nope," he declared. "I'm solid too." "I see." Each regarded the other for another moment; the young have a marvelous way of accepting the absurd, and Joseph shrugged. "Joseph," Sarah said, "why did you come here today?" "I wanned to tell Gammaw an' Old Pale Eyes Mama's gonna have twins!" he replied excitedly, looking up at her with that contagious little-boy grin of his. "Twins!" Sarah's face shone with delight. "That's wonderful! How does she know?" "She's big" -- Joseph held his hands out, as if encompassing a great belly -- "an' she found a rose in the crib with two ribbons on it, a blue and a pink!" "I see." Joseph looked around, suddenly uncomfortable. "Maybe I oughta get back home." Sarah nodded; Snowflake turned as Joseph curled his lip and whistled, as his Pa's Apple-horse came pacing up to them, shortened stirrups swinging. "Is that your saddle?" Sarah asked. "Yeah," Joseph grinned, looking around: he ran the few steps to a convenient mounting-block, jumped up on it: Apple-horse sidled up to him and he got a well polished boot in the doghouse stirrup. "Pa had it made for me. He said once I get longer legged, why, he'll unbuckle these stirrups an' buckle on a longer set he has ready an' waitin'!" Sarah turned her Snowflake-mare a little more; the mare sidestepped up against the stallion, who laid his ears back and shook his head. Sarah stuck out her hand. "Joseph Keller," she said, "for a ghost, you're pretty solid!" Joseph shook her black-gloved hand. "Sarah McKenna," he grinned, "I never met a ghost before!" Sarah laughed. "Don't be surprised if you see me again, and when you see your sister ... I'll leave it up to you whether you tell her about me or not." Sheriff Marnie Keller smiled at the youthful voice of her little brother -- good Lord, he's getting tall! she thought -- and she blinked as the time-delayed image of young Joseph Keller looked at his camera with wide and excited eyes. "Marnie, I saw Sarah McKenna!" he blurted by way of greeting: "she rode Gammaw's big black Snowflake-horse and she looks just like you! I went up to the graveyard to tell Gammaw an' Old Pale Eyes that Mom is havin' twins an' it's a boy and a girl an' I grabbed her ankle and she was solid an' ghosts ain't supposed to be solid an' she said maybe I was a ghost from the future an' I was pretty solid too" -- his words were all run together, the excited voice of a delighted little boy. Dr. John Greenlees listened from across the room: he'd been reading to their son, the boy on his lap, the doctor leaned back in his easy chair, and Marnie looked up at her husband and her son, the former almost asleep, the latter sound asleep, his head laid against his Pa's chest. "Marnie, you look like Gammaw an' Sarah looks like you, if you have a little girl will she look like you too?" It took just over fifteen minutes for Marnie to make her reply, for her message to streak through space, twist through relay buoys, to arrive at the family's computer: husband, wife and son saw Marnie look a little to the side and smile, the quiet and knowing smile of a contented wife, then she looked back at the camera and said "Joseph, if I do have another little girl, she will very likely look exactly like me." Joseph leaned back, satisfied: he looked to his right, at his Mama, looked to his left, at his Pa. He nodded, once, firmly, as if something important were decided, and Linn laughed silently as their son pronounced judgement: "Good!"
  16. 639. A HISTORY A silent figure in a white skinsuit stepped from the shimmering oval that appeared like a magic mirror in the nighttime bedroom. It had been Marnie's room, longer ago than she realized, and it was mostly the same -- except for the crib replacing the bed, except for her dresser being replaced with what she recognized as a changing table with drawers beneath. Marnie smiled behind her lowered face shield, looked around. There. My gunrack. Marnie raised something that looked like an old fashioned Brownie box camera, pointed it at the gunrack: a red laser dot drifted high left, stopped; high right, stopped: low right, stopped: low left, stopped: she panned the box from left to right, looked at the little panel on top, smiled, nodded. She raised an arm toward the crib, opened her hand, dropped what she'd brought: she turned, walked back into the shimmering oval, disappeared: a moment later, the interdimensional portal shrank to a dime sized point, hesitated, then -- with a tiny little sound, like a kitchen matchstick breaking -- it was gone. One, and only one, member of the household realized she was anywhere near: a huge, curly furred, very black dog muttered, lowered his head back down to his paws, and went back to sleep. The Ambassador looked up, then rose as a familiar figure came in the room. "Sheriff." "Mister Ambassador." "I take it this is not a social call." "Actually it is." "I see." The Ambassador smiled a little. "Can I offer you something?" "You can offer me a plate of brownies and some coffee, thank you, or you can offer me a good cold beer, I'm not really fussy." Marnie smiled, just a little, set the scanner back down on his desk. "I came to say thank you." The Ambassador nodded. "I take it you were successful?" "Thanks to you, yes, I was." "Were you detected?" "Not to my knowledge." "We like to use the Portals rather than a shuttle. We've found stealth is often our ally." "Ask and it shall be given unto you," Marnie sang -- the Ambassador recognized a Sunday school song he'd sung as a child -- "Sneak, and Ye Shall Find!" They laughed together. "I really shouldn't go perverting Sunday school like that," Marnie admitted, "but yes, stealth is my friend!" "What exactly did you recover?" Marnie was quiet for a long moment, then she sat, suddenly, as if very tired. "Mister Ambassador," she said, and he heard the fatigue in her voice, "I have a history, and so do my recoveries." The Ambassador's expression was serious as he touched the key on the intercom. "Murray, could you bring in a plate of fresh baked brownies, please, and coffee for two." "Right away, sir," the intercom replied. "Now, Sheriff," the Ambassador said as he sat, "you said this was a social call, but you are still in uniform." Marnie nodded, looked toward the doorway as a uniformed adjutant wheeled a cart into the room: he placed the tray of brownies on the corner of the Ambassador's desk, where host and guest alike could reach it; he poured coffee for two -- Murray brought sizable mugs for the task, for the Sheriff took her coffee very seriously -- added a drizzle of milk to each, handed each a mug handle-first, and withdrew, the cart silent on inflated rubber wheels. Marnie bit into the brownie, tasted chocolate chips and walnuts, and something she couldn't quite identify. "Vanilla," the Ambassador replied to her unspoken question. "My own recipe." Marnie nodded, took a sip of coffee, swallowed. "My compliments to the chef!" "Thank you." "You've asked me twice what makes me so sociable when I'm wearing my work clothes." Marnie smiled a little. "When I was still a girl at home -- I think I was just sixteen -- some scoundrel tried to murder my Uncle Will." The Ambassador's attention was very much on his guest: he leaned forward, forearms pressed into the edge of his desk, the half eaten brownie forgotten in his grip. "Premature report said Uncle Will was killed. He wasn't but it's God's grace alone that kept him this side of the Divide. "The perp was fleeing and I knew the territory, and I loaded a golden bullet round in my Winchester rifle, and I killed him." "I'm sorry ... a golden bullet?" Marnie chewed the last of the first brownie, nodded, took an indelicate, noisy slurp of her coffee, wiped her chin with her hand, pushed the tray back far enough to set her mug on his desk. She leaned forward, planted her elbows on her knees, rubbed her palms slowly together, regarded the Ambassador with pale, unblinking eyes. "You have known battle." It was a statement, not a question, and the Ambassador nodded. "Sometimes killin' is the only answer, and sometimes that killin' has to be done outside of normal channels." The Ambassador thought it a good moment to be silent, to listen, to neither agree, nor to disagree. "You are familiar with the Star Court." The Ambassador nodded slowly. "A British custom, I believe." "It's more ancient than that, and it exists today." She fished thumb and forefinger into a slit in her skinsuit, tossed a coin across the desk. "Recognize this?" The Ambassador slapped his hand down on the coin to prevent its escape: it was big as a silver dollar, made of pure gold: on one side, a beautifully stamped rose, in full bloom; on the reverse, the Christian cross superimposed with the Seal of Solomon. He slid it back across the slick, polished desk top, nodded. "I seem to have some ... familiarity ... with that," he admitted. "I am inducted into the Society of the Rose," Marnie said. "The insignia of a Rose killing is a golden bullet. My uncle had been killed, or so I'd been told and so did I believe, and I was not going to let the Law screw up and let that murderer live." Her voice was quiet, her words flat, unemotional. She brought a bottleneck rifle round out of another slitpocket, slid it across to the Ambassador. The bullet was solid gold. "It's alloyed," Marnie said, "otherwise it would strip worse than pure lead, but yes, that is one of the golden bullets." "I see." He turned it between thumb and forefinger, then slid it back. "I stood in the middle of the road, with my Daddy's stallion behind me, and I waited. "I raised the Winchester rifle my Uncle Will had given me and I fired once." The Ambassador waited. "I barely jumped out of the way, I saddled up and I rode up to where the cruisers were coming to a hard stop. The murderer lost it and rolled. I walked up to the steaming, smoking car and everyone pulled back as I did, I laid that Winchester rifle on the mashed-in roof of the car and drew my skinning knife." Marnie's hand sketched a grip and a draw, as if from a sleeve sheath, and a Damascus blade appeared in her white-gloved hand, the blade reflecting dully as she turned and considered its pattern, her voice soft, thoughtful. "I used this knife to slit the back of the dead man's scalp, and I got the bullet. I bent over and sloshed the gore off it in the roadside ditch, I wiped off the blade and put it back" -- the blade disappeared -- "and that night I was inducted into the Society of the Rose." She smiled, just a little. "Of course, my Daddy had to deputize me first, because you can't belong to the Society unless you're a badge packer." "I see." "That's why" -- Marnie leaned forward, patted the boxy scanner like it was a puppy -- "this little dingus came in handy, and that's why I came to say thank you." "You brought the bullet back?" "Oh, my, no," she laughed. "It's laid up in the Archives of the Society. No, I scanned the rifle I used that night. The original still hangs on my bedroom wall back on Earth, but the one that's made from the scan, hangs in my office, behind my chair." The Ambassador nodded. "If you like," he smiled, "we can switch the two. You can have the actual original, and the copy will be indistinguishable. No one on Earth will know." Marnie leaned forward again, picked up another brownie: her eyes were mischevious as she regarded him through long, curled eyelashes. "I just might take you up on that." She bit into the brownie. "We do have a history, that rifle and I." Next morning, a very pregnant Shelly labored up the stairs, stopped at their top, one hand on the railing, the other on her maternal belly. "Soon," she whispered, caressing her belly bulge. "Soon." She looked around, uncertain as to why she'd come up; she looked around, then looked in the crib. Shelly picked up a rolled paper, half again bigger than a sheet of typing paper, unrolled it: one hand went to her mouth and the paper rolled up again, and Shelly waddled over to the changing table, spread the paper out, held it, delight in her eyes. It was one of Marnie's colored pencil drawings -- she knew her style -- in the center, Marnie, in her denim skirt and red boots, with a Winchester rifle held at the balance point in front of her: beside her, young John Greenlees, and beside him, grinning up at his parents, their little boy: behind them, a mountain, foreboding, dark, an old volcano, dead and cold and bleak, and at its base, a sandy, desert-like expanse. Shelly stood for a long time, looking at the drawing, and she finally released it and let it roll up: she turned to the crib, saw a rose, two ribbons around its stem. Shelly's hand went to the base of her throat, then to her belly. "No," she whispered, then she giggled: she picked up the rose and carefully, slowly, went down the broad, stoutly built staircase. She looked around, wondering where to put the ribbon-tied rose to take its picture, to send the photo to her husband: she turned and looked toward the door as she heard her husband's boots kick the stone step twice, as he always did, two kicks to knock off any loose dirt before he came on up onto the painted porch. Linn opened the door and saw his wife smiling at him, saw the ribbon tied rose she held. Linn took his wife carefully in an embrace, held her for several long moments, and finally let her go: he looked at the ribbons and looked at his wife. When did you find out it was twins? he thought, wouldn't we have known before now" --and then she laid a hand on her belly, her expression changing from delight to surprise. "I think," she said slowly, "I had better sit down!"
  17. My Baby Sis sent me a clipping from a Columbus newspaper. Looked it up, and a couple years later, the opportunity presented to jump in headfirst with both feet.
  18. There is much thoughtful comment here. There is genuine wisdom here. My wife delights in the Widow's Mite reference. She looked at me and said to tell the good Subdeacon that her hand is a-wavin' in the air on that one!
  19. I was in college. My buddy and his girlfriend invited me to go with them one Sunday morning. I thought they were going to breakfast. It was church. I was in a flannel shirt and wrinkled jeans (my boots were well polished, at least I had that going for me!) and when we wheeled into the Church lot instead of Perkins' Pancake House, I was ... much ... less than comfortable. I was welcomed as if I were family. After that I went regularly. In a shirt and tie.
  20. 638. A COMMON THREAD Joseph Keller raised the revolver, eared back the hammer: he felt the triple-click of the ancient mechanism rolling into battery, felt it to the core of his young soul, he felt a grin blossom within him, a grin that did not make it to his face: his expression was solemn as he extended his arm, as he put the front sight right where he wanted it, as the front sight settled into place in the hogwaller rear notch. The revolver's report was mild, its recoil gentle: his pale eyed Pa was starting him right, starting him with mild loads, highly accurate loads: the single action raised a little in recoil, not much, and the ancient, rusted, dump-scrounged coffee can jumped up and back and tumbled slowly as it fell. Joseph lowered the revolver. He was young and not used to holding a revolver out at arm's length. Behind him, his pale eyed Pa stood, silent, watched as his boy drew the revolver in close to his body, then thrust it out in front of him, fired again. The can spun this time, twice, rocked: a third bullet, slipped just under, and the can flew in the air. Linn grinned a little, just a little, as his son put the fourth and fifth rounds very accurately, very precisely, barely under the battered old tin can, flipping it into the air each time. Sheriff Linn Keller stepped up beside his young son, laid an approving hand on his shoulder: the father looked down, the son looked up, and the expression of delight was plain to see on faces old, and young. Young Linn Keller raised the brand-new revolver. His Mama bought it for him -- for him! -- she was trusting him, and he was not going to let her down! Linn was no stranger to reloading; his Uncle Will and his Mama both reloaded, and they both included him in what they did, and Linn was careful and exacting in his process: he and his Mama would sit together in their basement, the wood stove a welcome presence of a winter's evening: homework done, supper dishes put away, his Pa busy upstairs with reports or a conference on his computer, and Linn would carefully, precisely, reload, his Mama watching, silent, attentive, but not interfering. Linn knew his Mama was getting him the blued steel revolver. They'd talked about it at length, they'd discussed gunleather and bullet profiles, effective velocities and recoil management: Linn was raised from earliest childhood in an atmosphere of safe gunhandling, lessons which he took to heart, lessons that served him well for a lifetime, but now -- now, in his beardless youth -- he cherished those evenings he spent in his basement, with his Mama, reloading. Linn rolled the revolver up in his grip, just enough to get his young thumb over the hammer spur: he felt more than heard the mechanism chuckle to itself as the machined-steel cylinder rolled around, as the stop engaged, as the sights aligned for the very first time on an ancient coffee can scrounged from the dump. Linn was not a stranger to shooting -- his Mama saw to that -- neither report nor recoil surprised him -- what did surprise him was how the can seemed to LEAP from the fence post when the full wadcutter bullet hit it. Linn had run more rounds than he could count through the Victory model Smith, but this was the same kind of revolver that his legendary Very Great Granddad carried, the same kind of revolver his honored ancestor Jacob Keller carried, and so before Willamina formally presented it to her son, she'd had it engraved, and the engraving gold inlaid: the top strap had a vine, and leaves, and a rose-gold inlaid rose: on either side of the frame, a Thunder Bird, just like Jacob's son Joseph, just like the ones on Joseph's revolvers in the Firelands Museum. Linn lowered the muzzle and drove another butter-soft wadcutter into the tin can: the effect was instantaneous and gratifying: the can spun, rolled over, rocked a little. Linn remembered shooting cans with his Victory Model, and he remembered slipping a bullet under it to jump it into the air, and this time the can leaped from the hard ground like it was scared: Willamina stood behind her son, her eyes narrowed a little at the corners, they way they did when she didn't want to show too much approval too soon: the can jumped, twice more, and then Linn brought the revolver in close, flipped the loading gate open and the muzzle up, and punched out the empties. Sheriff Willamina Keller took a small step forward, laid an approving hand on her son's shoulder. Linn reloaded, silently chanting "Load one, skip one, load four, cock" -- he lowered the hammer on the empty chamber -- he holstered the new revolver in the new, floral carved, background dyed gunleather -- Willamina felt the question in her tall, skinny son, waited for it to surface. Linn pulled off his shooting muffs, as did the Sheriff. "Mama?" "Hm?" "Mama, you recall we were reading about the Great Cloud of Believers that surround us?" Willamina nodded: when it was possible, they read as a family, and Scripture was a common subject of their evening study. "I recall." "Mama, would you reckon that Great Cloud of Believers includes Old Pale Eyes?" Linn felt his Mama's hand on his shoudler again, her gentle squeeze. "I don't doubt it," she said gently. Linn turned, regarded the ancient dump: he turned again, looked at his Mama: he was twelve now, and tall as his Mama: she saw his bottom jaw slide out a little, saw the same frown she saw on her husband's face when he was considering a problem. "Mama, would Old Pale Eyes have shot here?" Willamina smiled a little, ran her arm around Linn's shoulder. "I think he and his sons all shot here," she smiled. "How do you like that revolver?" His grin was quick, genuine. "I like it fine, Mama." "Good. Let's set up some more cans."
  21. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Along with the rest of Creation!
  22. 637.SACRELIGE! Jacob Keller stood on his back porch and looked out the screen door. It smelled cool, it smelled clean, the way it does with an early summer rain: his mind parted company from his pale eyed carcass, and while one hand held a heavy ceramic mug of steaming-hot coffee, and his right hand rose to absently curl his handlebar mustache, his mind soared over fences and sailed invisibly across pastures and wandered like a happy child among the horses, looking around as he considered the terrain and how the graze would benefit from this sprinkling drink. He turned, his mind returning effortlessly as he felt his wife behind him. Shelly stood there wearing equal parts of drowsiness and a flannel nightgown: she, too, held a big mug of coffee. "Please tell me you're not passin' a kidney stone too," Jacob rumbled. Shelly leaned against her husband's solid, reassuring warmth, one arm around him: "How bad?" "It's not stuck. I'm not colicky. Fluid challenge and I'll be fine." Shelly sighed, shook her head. "They got the murderer." He felt Shelly stiffen a little, felt her draw back and look up at him. Jacob's eyes were distant, still staring out the screen: Shelly felt the microscopic mist of breeze borne rain, shattered and sieved as it hit the screened windows. Shelly and her father hung back a little. The car was beyond destroyed. Whoever burned it out well knew how to do the job. Amateurs will often burn a car in three stages: they'll throw up the hood and gasoline the engine, and discover it burnt off wiring and did little more: the second try generally burns out the interior; on the third try, if they're determined, they'll immolate the entire vehicle, involving all four tires, the trunk, and its full length. Whoever did this, involved the entire vehicle, first time. One of the firemen turned, raised his arm: Shelly and her father ran for the scene, orange box and oxygen kit in hand, looking for a man down -- "Wanted to show you two something," Fitz said, pointed through the hole where the front window used to be. A charred lump was melted into the front seat. "That," Fitz said, "used to be the driver." Shelly stood there and stared: whatever this was, bore no resemblance to a human form, unless she employed a high percentage of imagination: firemen drew back as she walked forward, slowly, as if treading on fresh eggs: they saw her rock slowly to her left, studying the deceased; she rocked to the right, the same as a falcon will move its head left and then right to triangulate the exact distance to its prey. Shelly stepped back, turned quickly at the sound of someone trying hard not to be sick: she saw a fireman bent over, dry-heaving, wet and cinder-black gloves on his bunker pants' knees. Fitz slammed a hard hand on the man's shoulder, his face stern. "That's not you in there, boy," he roared. "Work to do, be at it!" Shelly swallowed, blinked, sighed a long breath: she saw her breath chase her coffee's vapors in the chill, damp air. Jacob's arm was around her shoulders, holdling her close. "They got the murderer," Jacob said quietly. "He was murdered?" "Head shot. Dead before he was burned." Shelly shivered. "Where'd they catch him?" "Two counties over. Pitted him out, rolled, broke his neck. Murder weapon was in his pocket, gas cans in his trunk, quarter of a million cash and some drugs." "Jacob?" "Hm?" "Why didn't the smell bother me?" "You didn't get a good snoot full like you did last time." Shelly took a careful sip, took another. "Mmm. Good coffee." "Ground it with a dash of cinnamon. Can't use too much cinnamon, it plugs the filter and overruns the basket." Jacob felt his wife's slow inhale, her slow exhale. "This really sucks," she whispered. "I know." "I can't eat anything rare. I see ... I've seen ..." "I know. I can't either." She felt her lean waisted husband chuckle quietly. "Good thing I'm from Texas!" Shelly looked curiously up at Jacob. "What?" Jacob laughed, bent, kissed his wife on the forehead. "Texans like their meat well done, or so I'm told. I do too." "After that last run," Shelly sighed, "I can't eat it too well done either!" "You becomin' a vegetarian?" Jacob grinned down at his wife. Shelly switched her coffee into her other hand, slapped Jacob in the gut. "Sacrelige!"
  23. 636. "SHE'S MY DAUGHTER!" Chief of Police Will Keller sat alone in the saloon car. The air still smelled of tobacco smoke -- cigars, pipes and cigarettes all added their own flavors to the mix -- there was the smell of beer and of bourbon, the cleaning crew started at the far corner where Will sat, and by now they'd pretty well finished setting the car to rights. It was used by the local Historical Society for an annual fundraiser, Gambler's Night: it was played for Monopoly money, participants paid a fee and for that fee got all the wine and cheese -- or beer -- that they wanted; they gambled outrageous sums, cheated badly and laughed when they got caught, there was a live band in one end. The far end, the one furthest from the Chief. He sat alone; he sat with coffee cooling in front of him; he glared at the space where the band had been. it was small and it was enthusiastic and its performers joined in the night's fantasy -- he surmised they chose to fancy themselves as rock stars -- Will's eyes narrowed as he remembered, and as the cleaning crew finished, as the last of the windows was opened and the fans positioned, as the car began its overnight airing-out (that would likely last a week), Will finished his coffee and rose. Willamina looked up as her twin brother came into the Silver Jewel. She was in conversation with an uncomfortable looking pair of young men; Will bellied up to the bar, raised a finger, planted a burnished brogan on the foot rail and studied the mirror. The two young men rose and departed; Willamina rose as well, stretched, looked around, smiled: she sashayed up to the bar, hips and skirt swinging: she laid a hand on Will's arm, turned around to lean backwards against the mahogany. "Buy a lady a drink?" she smiled, and Will tried his best to glare at her. Willamina's laugh shattered any pretense at a hard eyed expression. "Come on and sit down, Little Brother," Willamina said quietly. "I'm not dressed for this." Will fixed her with a skeptical eye. "You look fine to me, Little Sis." Willamina laughed: she took a step forward, turned -- a dancer's pirouette, her skirt flaring, swinging as she stopped suddenly and planted her knuckles on her belt. "I should be wearing a saloon girl outfit," she complained. "It's hard to flirt in a saloon unless I look the part! Besides" -- she lowered her head, regarded her twin brother through long, curled lashes -- "I'm dying to know why Nancy just promoted you to Saint Frances of Assisi!" "I'm no saint, and don't call me a sissy," Will rumbled: they paced back to the Lawman's Corner, Willamina slid in, Will beside her -- in the corner, each had their back to the wall, and both had a good view of any of the goings-on in the Saloon. "Nancy," Will grunted. "Yes, Nancy. Poor thing, she has such esteem issues. You're her hero, you know." "Issss -yews," Will sneered. "Willa, I never thought you'd buy into that stuff!" Willamina crossed her arms on the table before her, raised an eyebrow. "I remember what it was to be a girl, Will," she said quietly. "I remember how ... oh, never mind." Will grunted again. Willamina looked up, raised her chin: Will followed her gaze. "Uh-oh." Willamina's eyebrow raised. The subject under discussion was at the bar: she and Mr. Baxter leaned toward one another; he nodded, still polishing the gleaming beer mug, and Nancy turned: she thanked the barkeep, came back to the Lawman's Corner. Will rose, eight-point cap in hand: he nodded gravely. "Miz Nancy." "Thank you," Nancy blurted. "I'm glad someone -- it's good that -- I just --" She kind of ground to a halt, uncertainty overrunning what had seemed like a good idea. "'Twas nothin'," Will said in that deep, quiet, reassuring voice of his: Willamina wasn't sure whose ears were redder -- her brother's, as he regarded this high-school girl, or the girl in as flattering a dress as she'd been able to arrange, one that wouldn't show off what she saw as her excessive weight. Nancy closed her eyes, frowned, looked at Will again, gripped his forearm quickly, impulsively. "No one ever stood up for me before," she said, her words falling over each other as she opened her mouth and they sort of rolled out in a tangled bunch: she let go and almost ran for the door, leaving Will looking at his twin sis with the expression of a man who honestly didn't know what the hell just happened. The hash slinger brought a tray, with coffee and sandwiches: it was late, but she knew Will and Willamina both lived on coffee, and she knew each could dispose of most of a pot, go home and sleep like a rock -- and then complain the next day about how the second hand byproduct kept waking them up through the night. "So what did happen?" Willamina mumbled through a bite of onion-piled Reuben sandwich. "Nancy asked me to take a note to the fellow playin' guitar, so I did." "And?" "He read it and he looked like he'd just swallowed the coal miner's canary, and then he looked at her and sneered,'That cow?'" Willamina saw a quiet, dark and most sincere anger ignite in her twin brother's pale eyes: his fingers barely twitched, but Willamina knew her brother, and knew that meant he wished his hands were around the offender's neck. "I looked at him and said 'She's my daughter.'" Willamina's eyebrow rose: she nodded approvingly. "Good for you!" "I set the rest of the night in the back corner, just glarin' at him," Will rumbled, his brow knitting together as he remembered: "and I don't reckon they'll be back." "If he's that much a heel, he doesn't need to return. Thank you for letting me know. We'll not ask them to play for anything else." Willamina took another bite of her crispy-toasted bread, chewed: Will would not have been surprised if she'd taken a noisy slurp of coffee, but her sip was delicate, almost feminine -- if it's possible to drink coffee in a ladylike manner, she's got it down pat, he thought. "How did Nancy find out what you did?" "Damned if I know," Will admitted, shrugged, took a good chunk out of his sandwich. "You know how women are, they find things out!" "Well, you've been promoted to sainthood," Willamina smiled. "Just thought you'd like to know."
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