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Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103

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Everything posted by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103

  1. The little girl had a bashful, little-girl's voice, but she had the expression of a curious child, and when her coffee-colored hand shot into the air, Sheriff Marnie Keller pointed to her and said "Yes, Deborah!" Deborah came to her feet like a cork popping out of deep water: "Shewiff," she said, and Marnie's heart smiled to hear it, for her own little girl's voice sounded much the same, "could you tell us again about The Lady Esther?" Sheriff Marnie Keller looked down, chewed on her bottom lip, looked up: she raised her left hand, palm up, and the teacher placed a remote in her palm. "I think," she said, "that can be arranged." Gracie Maxwell looked at the steam locomotive, breathing like a great, powerful beast, hissing and steaming and shining in the sun. Gracie Maxwell was more than a child but not yet a woman, but she was Maxwell of the Clan Maxwell, and she knew she was meant for more than the mountains. She just didn't know quite what, not just yet. Her longing, her yearning, her restlessness, more than her arm, lifted her bow as she tucked her curly back fiddle under her chin. The engineer leaned out the starboard side of The Lady Esther's cab, grinning: he knew Gracie's talent, and he knew she was going to sing to his engine, and he knew she was in for a treat. Gracie drew a train whistle from her fiddle strings, and the engineer's hand rose to the polished brass whistle pull, then hesitated, not even closing his hand. Let her sing, he thought. My Lady sings to me every day. The classroom shifted, twisted: schoolchildren giggled, squealed, grabbed at the floor: they were no longer in a classroom, they were suddenly in the Colorado mountains: they stood, leaped to their feet, turned, expressions of delight on their young faces: they were not strangers to the holographic projections, but their lives were lived within the confines of wall-sealed caverns, or rectangular, plastic, mechanically-produced rooms, of airlocks and atmosphere doors and no windows. It was a delight to find themselves suddenly in the open air, with mountains in the distance, snow shining on their granite peaks, and in front of them, big and solid and gleaming, steaming and breathing like a great and powerful beast, a Baldwin steam locomotive, her brightwork polished and bright, a spray of roses painted on the side of her cab and tied with a red ribbon, and beneath this, in gilt, black-shadowed letters, the familiar legend, The Lady Esther. They felt the heat radiating from her, they saw sparks fall from the firebox, they jumped and squealed as the engineer grinned out his port side window at them and reached for the polished brass whistle pull: they held their ears and jumped up and down and squealed again as he gave the burnished whistle a quick pull, shooting a finger of steam into the chill air, shivering their very souls with the strength of her brass-throated voice. The engineer knew his Lady as intimately as he knew his own wife: he knew her voice, her moods, he knew how she moved, and as he leaned out the window and listened, he heard his beloved Lady singing through the curly backed fiddle played by the skinny, awkward mountain girl who was too shy to put two words together in front of a stranger. He heard his Lady's whistle scream against granite cliffs, he heard her drivers thrusting powerfully against cast iron wheels, he heard her breathe and bark and labor against a grade, he heard her skipping on her tiptoes as she ran along a flat, momentum carrying her and her cars across the level under a neutral throttle. The entire class fit into the steam locomotive's cab -- not in reality, but certainly in perception: every schoolchild smelled the fire, felt heat from the boiler, saw water in the sight glass bob up and down: they stepped to the side as the fireman opened the fire door, as he turned, thrust his flat bottom shovel into the coal behind them, in the open-front tender, as he turned and very precisely, very deliberately, placed his shovelful -- each child listened carefully as he explained, shutting the door as carefully as if it was his grandmother's parlor door -- that he placed his coal left-front, right-front, left-rear, right-rear, dead center -- and how he was constantly looking for cold spots, lumps, clinkers: he reached past the observing child (again, to each child, it's as if they were the only one in the cab), opened his seat and showed a slab of meat, shining with grease. "Bacon," he explained. "A big slab of bacon. If we neat a really hot fire, really fast, I toss that into the firebox and Katy bar the door!" The engineer reached up, tugged the whistle-pull twice, opened the sanders, leaned his weight against the Johnson bar. They felt The Lady Esther come to life under their feet. She was alive, and she was starting to move. The engineer considered for several long moments, then he swung down out of his cab, approached the skinny, shy, awkward mountain girl. He took off his hickory stripe cap and said "Would you like to hear what she sounds like from inside?" Gracie's eyes widened, her breath caught: she'd wanted this for a very long time, but she'd honestly been too scared to ask. She managed a hesitant nod. "Come on in, then." Each child felt as if he, or she, was the only other one in the cab with engineer and fireman: one young face, every young face, stuck out the side of the cab, saw big cast iron drivers thrashing, saw ties starting to blur as she picked up speed: they each felt her alive under their hands, under their feet, they felt the wind in their face, saw smoke blasting out of the diamond stack, heard the rhythm that only a steam locomotive can set. Gracie Maxwell's head lifted and she smiled a little, for her quarters were near the classroom, and in spite of the dampening fields, she could feel the familiar rhythm of a steam locomotive on an easy run. She stood, placed delicate fingertips against the plastic wall, smiled a secret smile, then she turned and opened her fiddle case and withdrew her curlyback fiddle. Gracie Maxwell, one of the best helo pilots that ever drove a Super Stallion into salt spray off a carrier deck, tucked her fiddle under her chin. Memory, more than her arm, lifted her bow to the strings. Gracie Maxwell did not need a holoprojector to step into the cab of The Lady Esther, and as her fiddle sang a steam whistle's echo off sheer granite cliffs, she felt a Colorado locomotive, alive and powerful, waking up and moving under her feet.
  2. (admiring whistle) At my best, and in my salad days, I could never, EVER have done this well!!
  3. ... for medicinal purposes only ... Saddle holsters have long been popular, looks like this is an example of the type!
  4. Howdy Santee, love the telegraph vid! Might mention that with modern Morse Code, it's a series of tones -- a long tone for a dash (or dah), short tone for a dot (dit) ... In period, in the Old West, it was a series of clicks. One click for a dot, two clicks close together for a dash. There's a ham radio term -- "lid" -- for a suboptimal operator, and this dates back to the Old West telegraph. You'll remember the oval Prince Albert tobacco tins... if an empty tin is lodged behind the telegraph sounder, it acts as an amplifier; add sand to the can, to an optimal level (this changes the pitch) and helps the increasingly hard of hearing operator continue to earn a wage. The tin's lid was left thrown back -- from this, the term "lid" ... it became a term of contempt, indicating a less than optimal telegraph operator, kind of like calling a kid with glasses "Four Eyes." As Paul Harvey used to say, "For what it's worth."
  5. Wisely Quoth the Subdeacon: To this I say ...
  6. Ruger Number 1 Carbine in .45-70. Bear loads. Safe in the rifle, pressure was OK, but I was warned that one shot off each shoulder was all I wanted. My response -- at least my UNSPOKEN response, you know how young men are -- "Old man, you're getting soft, I'm young, I'm tough, I can take it!" Guess what. One shot off each shoulder was absolutely all I wanted!
  7. Charlie, let me tell you about a Marlin 39A ... I've mentioned Bob Beymer now and again, he appeared as someone in the pale eyed Sheriff's life in the various Firelands adventures, and he was my best friend. He had a 39A that was every bit as accurate as the one you describe. Bob went to Ohio State, and as a gun man and a professional gunsmith, he naturally gravitated to their rifle team. Bob looked like what he was -- a Guernsey County dirt farmer -- words were spoken, bets were made, and he returned after a weekend home with a rifle case behind the seat of his burgundy shortbed truck. The OSU rifle team shot Savage-Anschutz rifles with Eley practice ammunition. The bets were stated, hands solemnly shaken, and Brother Beymer loaded up with CCI Mini Mags, and outshot the OSU rifle team with a Marlin golden 39A. They bought the beer.
  8. My hand on your shoulder, my friend. You've been blessed with a wonderful mother in law, and you were able to communicate this to her. Well done. I too will be standing up on my Prayer Bones for your mother in law, for yourself, and your family.
  9. 70. HOW DO I GET MYSELF INTO THESE THINGS? I set my backside on the hard, varnished bench in the police station lobby. I had business and the fellow behind the desk was about as friendly as a sun warmed hornet. I presented myself and asked for a particular detective, I told him I was there on business and he flipped a thumb toward a bench and snarled, "Have a seat," and so I did. I've dealt with men like that before -- small minded men with a small amount of authority, mad at the world and ready and very, very willing to stomp what little authority they have, all over anyone they possibly can. Now I've r'ared up and put such small minded folk in their place, but I did not really feel like cloudin' up and rainin' all over him, so I set myself down and waited, my Stetson on my lap, my coat unbuttoned and draped to hide the hardware. If this fellow behind the desk was of a mind to disregard my telling him I was a brother lawman, he'd likely object to my Colts as well, so no sense in upsettin' the poor fellow. A young woman came in, distress on her face and stress in her carriage: she glided uncertainly over to the desk and was received in just as warm and kind a manner as I myself was: she came over, I was still on my feet, and I motioned to the bench, waiting until she was seated before returning my backside to the worn, slick-varnished wood. The young woman wrung her hands, thrust her interlaced fingers together, yanked them apart, her hands made fists, snapped open: she wiped at the corners of her eyes with her gloved fingers, and I could see her hands held a tremor: perhaps, thought I, she is keeping them moving to hide their shaking. Hiding it from me? I thought. Or hiding it from herself? She was clearly uncomfortable: she looked over at me, just a glance, and asked quickly, "Are you here to be arrested?" -- and then she looked distressed and "I'm sorry, that wasn't proper" fell from her near-bloodless lips. "No ma'am," I said gently. "I'm here to see a detective." "So am I," she said huskily, as if her throat was suddenly tight: she dropped her forehead into her forked thumb-and-forefinger, shook her head a little, raised her head and took a sudden breath, like a swimmer coming up for air. "I suppose you will think me a weak and silly woman," she whispered, and I considered my reply carefully. "Ma'am," said I, "I've known many women in my lifetime, and've known women being silly, and you most certainly are not. As far as weak" -- I had to smile a little -- "my baby sister beats up on me with regularity." I was hoping to throw enough of a surprise at her to startle her into a smile. If I can do that, it generally yanks a troubled soul out of the hard grip of their distress, at least for a moment, and it worked: she looked at me with surprise, probably wondering what kind of an Amazon my baby sister was, to beat up on a grown man of six feet and well broad across the shoulders. "You're here to see a detective," I prompted. "It must be a serious matter." She nodded, swallowed. "My fiancee has disappeared," she said softly, "and so has my jewelry." I nodded. "That is a serious matter." "I thought he loved me." She swallowed. "I thought ..." She fumbled for a kerchief, pulled a lacy, powder blue hankie from her sleeve, pressed it to her eyes, one, then the other. "I take it your father was military." She nodded, then looked up, surprised. "Your kerchief," I smiled. "Only the child of a military man habitually carries a kerchief in her sleeve." A door opened, a step approached: I rose, stuck out my hand. "Mr. Blake," I greeted the grinning detective. "This young woman is in need of your help." "Jacob Keller," Blake boomed, "you should have told me you were here!" I looked pointedly at the suddenly-uncomfortable satrap behind the counter, and Blake and I exchanged a knowing look: I would not want to be the desk-sergeant in the next half hour. "Ma'am," said I, turning a little, "your case is urgent and worthy of immediate attention. Mr. Blake, I commend this young woman to your care, and with your permission, I'll return later to discuss my own business." "Of course," Blake said, his face suddenly serious. "Madam, I am very much at your service." The young woman placed a gloved hand on my forearm. "I do beg your pardon," she said, almost sadly: "I don't normally burden a complete stranger with my little problems!" I turned back my lapel to show the six point star. "Ma'am," said I, "my father is Sheriff, and he taught me early that when a woman speaks, a man should listen. Men and women both have confided matters that I will carry to my grave." I reached down and laid a gentle hand on her fingers. "I do hope you find your fiancee." I looked at Blake and added, "Peacefully, or otherwise." I winked at my old friend, gave a half-bow to the lady, the way I'd seen my pale eyed father do any number of times, I turned and left; I was most of the way down the stairs when I heard a feminine wail of distress, and so I waited, and sure enough, she and Blake came down the stairs: he had his arm firmly around her, and she was less walking beside him, as being numbly steered: we hailed a cab for her, and Blake rode home with her, and I found out later the man was killed by a fellow thief, but in sight of a plainclothes officer, who killed the killer: the woman's jewelry was all recovered, I was told, and I reported this to my father, over a good meal. Pa listened patiently to my recounting of my little adventure. It was of interest to him, for the man who was killed, absconding with his fiancee's jewels, was a man for whom I'd been searching, a man who'd swindled in our county: his career of preying upon the vulnerable was ended, and this was something the Sheriff had need to know -- if nothing else, so we would waste neither time, effort nor thought upon said skulking scoundrel. Silence followed my report, and his declaration that I'd done good work, square work, such as he had orders to receive, and I smiled to hear the words, for they were ancient and familiar: after we'd done full justice to pie, and coffee afterwards, I happened to wonder aloud, which brought a sympathetic chuckle from the Grand Old Man: "How do I get myself into these things?"
  10. 69. AND THERE ARE CHILDREN Sheriff Linn Keller, Firelands County, Colorado, leaned against the post holding the roof over the board walk in front of the Sheriff's office. Coffee rippled and steamed in the tin cup he held; his gaze was across the street -- a little to the right, the Silver Jewel, and a faint trickle of piano music as the doors opened, then shut: his gaze drifted down hill, past the Municipal Building and then the schoolhouse, and an observer might have seen his eyes tighten a little at the corners at the sight of children, outside, at play. There was just such a watcher, a physician, leaning against the same boardwalk post as the Sheriff: where the lawman's shoulder occupied the eastern exposure, the healer's shoulder resided against its western face: he, too, held a steaming tin cup of coffee, and he turn his own gaze from his old and pale eyed friend's visage, to the laughing, shouting, squealing children at their energetic play. Sheriff Marnie Keller, Second Martian District -- renamed by its inhabitants, Firelands, ostensibly for the nearby and very extinct volcano, but actually because they considered themselves pioneers -- smiled as she too held a steaming mug of something hot and black, something they called coffee, unless they were inclined to use uncomplimentary or even profane adjectives with which to malign the vile brew. The Sheriff watched the surprisingly tall children at play: Mars' lighter gravity allowed a greater height at a younger age, and all were markedly taller than their Earther norm. Marnie leaned against the recycled-plastic, 3-D-printed door frame: it was identical to every other doorframe in the Colony, and every door would interchange with every other door, and every last one of them rubbed high up in the same spot, and every one of them had been either soaped or oiled to keep it from an annoying chatter. She felt more than heard a familiar warmth behind her: she knew hands would descend upon her shoulders, and they did, and Dr. John Greenlees Jr. began to rub, and then knead, the pale eyed Sheriff's shoulders. "Mmmm," she purred, "I'll give you a week to stop that!" "Vile stuff," Sheriff Linn Keller complained, tossing the contents of his tin cup into the dirt street: never one to buck a winning hand, Dr. John Greenlees toss the contents of his own cup into the dirt. Each man turned, set his empty on a shelf on the outside wall of the Sheriff's office. Sheriff Marnie Keller dumped the contents of her recycled-plastic, 3-D-printed mug into the nearest recyclo, dropped the cup in after it, frowned a little as she did. Dr. John Greenlees Jr, her husband, very carefully did not laugh at his wife's expression. He knew why she looked disappointed. She'd told him the recyclos should make some kind of a sound when they digested something -- a blurp, a grint, a hiccup even -- but liquid, solid, metal, plastic, whatever went in, was accepted in a shocking, absolute silence, and for some reason, he knew, that spooked his pale-eyed wife. Sheriff Marnie Keller smiled as the younger children charged her; she squatted to receive their charge, dispensing hugs quickly, vigorously, laughing as she did: she wanted to make sure their children regarded the Law as a real person, as someone they knew, hopefully someone they liked and didn't want to disappoint: she sat, cross legged, and the children plopped to the floor, cross legged as well, fanned out in front of her, bright-eyed at the prospect of having the Sheriff tell them a story. Sheriff Linn Keller reached in a coat pocket and almost smiled. Dr. Greenlees smiled, just a little. "Marbles?" "Yep." "You're going to lose again." "Nope." Linn looked at his old and dear friend, mischief in his pale eyes. "They're going to win." "And they'll win all your marbles." "Not all of 'em." He withdrew his hand from the pocket. "I'm not due over there until noon. How about some decent coffee?" "Thought you'd never ask." It took stern address to the Earthside bureaucracy to get their recyclos reprogrammed to where they would make decent coffee. Earthside promised action, Earthside pledged, placated, promised, stalled and delayed ... as usual. It was, as a matter of fact, a young radiographer who figured out how to bypass the safeties and change a few critical parameters in the program: his first try resulted in the recyclo swallowing its own guts -- which, he admitted later, scared the blue Hell out of him, because it was theoretically possible to program one to swallow itself and keep swallowing, which could theoretically cause a black hole, which was the entire reason the tamper proof safeties were built in. The radiographer's second try was far more successful that his first: he was able to manufacture another recyclo to replace the one he'd inadvertently destroyed (something that was theoretically not possible, but like he'd told the Sheriff, he wasn't interested in the impossible) -- and then he made the very first decent mug of coffee that was ever brewed on Mars. Sheriff Linn Keller rubbed his chin as he studied the finger-drawn circle. "Knuckle down!" came the youthful challenge, and the Sheriff nodded thoughtfully, reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a prized, polished-agate shooter, held it up between thumb and forefinger. "This one," he said, "feels lucky." He tossed it up in the air, caught it, cocked it behind a bent thumb, set his knuckles down in the dirt. A flick of the weather tanned thumb, the sharp click of glass colliding with glass. Sheriff Marnie Keller raised her eyebrows and looked around. "What story would you like to hear?" she asked innocently. The doorway she'd occupied earlier was crowded with three or four more souls, all watching, for their children were the pride of the entire colony: each child might have two parents, but they had many, many aunts and uncles, and every last one of them took a fierce joy in beholding "Their Martians" growing and learning, and they especially delighted in the Sheriff sitting among them, telling them a story, or reading from their own, locally printed books -- real books, not glowing screens. "Snowflake!" a dozen young throats cried, and Sheriff Willamina Keller nodded. "Snowflake it is!" she declared, then brought her hands up to just shy of shoulder high, opened her fingers quickly, dramatically. Sheriff Linn Keller knew he was watched by more than just his young competitors, and he did not care. He was enjoying himself, shooting marbles with schoolboys like he was a schoolboy again himself. He did not intentionally throw the game; no, he was outmatched when he started, and he knew it, but it pleased him to compete against these schoolboys, knowing full well they would very likely beat him: they shouted, they laughed, and the Sheriff relaxed, and smiled with them. Sheriff Marnie Keller said, "Snowflake was big and Snowflake was black and shining, and Snowflake had what kind of feet?" "Fuzzy feet!" the children shouted in chorus. "Right you are!" the Sheriff declared, emphasizing her words with a poke of her finger. "And what magic did Snowflake have?" "Snowflake could fly!" they shouted, and a mountain fiddler punched her husband in the shoulder: Marnie's ear drew a little, pulling back as if tugged by an invisible thumb-and-forefinger, knowing the fist belonged to a dear friend and distant relative of hers, knowing the shoulder she'd just slugged belonged to her husband, a blond haired, blue eyed Teutonic fighter pilot recruited for this Mars project, a man with a rearing black mare embossed into his flight suit. A mare with fuzzy feet. Sheriff Linn Keller sauntered into the Silver Jewel, his coat pocket considerably lighter than when he'd begun. Mr. Baxter looked up from his perpetual burnishing of his beloved bar, raised an eyebrow. "Well? How'd it go?" he challenged, and the Sheriff laughed and propped a playground-dusted boot up on the polished brass foot rail. "Well," he said thoughtfully, "they skinned me out of most of my marbles, but I can't say I lost today!" Mr. Baxter nodded knowingly, remembering when his own son was young, remembering when he taught his son to whistle and to whittle and how to catch fish in a swift stream. "No," the Sheriff repeated thoughtfully, accepting the beer Mr. Baxter slid across the mahogany to him, "I can't say I lost a'tall."
  11. 68. "NICE SET OF POWDER HORNS ON THAT BEEF!" Jacob Keller leaned against the rail fence, watching his newly purchased Texas longhorn bull. Jacob's son Joseph stood beside his Pa, watching between the whitewashed rails. The bull apparently did not have a very favorable opinion of Jacob. Jacob, on the other hand, maintained a healthy respect for the longhorn. He'd heard his own pale eyed father describe arena contests, out in California, a longhorn bull and a grizzly bear, and it was a toss-up as to which would come out the winner: most often, they both lost, though one generally lost more slowly than the other. Jacob, on the other hand, was a curious man -- curious enough to purchase a genuine longhorn bull and have it freighted to his Colorado ranch, to see if he could raise a hardier variety of beef. Longhorns were wild, longhorns were feral, longhorns were survivors; longhorns coped with Texas winters, and Jacob reasoned that if a beef could survive the blue northers that plagued the Texas plains, it could very likely handle a Colorado winter, and so he determined to find out. Once, and only once, did Jacob try going into the pasture with the bull, and the bull rammed the fence post Jacob half-vaulted, half-climbed to get away from the oncoming beef and its two yards of sharp, pointed powder horns: the bull backed away from good cedar, solid and well-set, shook his head a little -- which was almost comical, given a six foot spread of horn, it was more like he wagged his head -- and then trotted away. Jacob spoke to his son and he and young Joseph walked back toward the house -- or at least Jacob walked back toward the house, and it wasn't until he kicked the dust off his boots and stepped up onto the neatly fitted, newly painted porch boards, that he realized ... Joseph wasn't with him. Jacob turned, puzzled, about the time his front door opened, and Annette smiled a little, then looked beyond her husband. Jacob's heart fell to about boot top level when he saw his wife's eyes widen. He turned, starting into a sprint before he even saw what was happening. Sarah Lynne McKenna smiled at the Easterner. He was a polite enough sort, a reporter by trade, traveling to San Francisco on some business or another: he'd stopped at the Silver Jewel for a drink, stayed for a meal, and found himself in a most pleasant conversation with a remarkably pretty, pale eyed young woman in a fashionable gown -- something he certainly did not expect, not here in the mountains, not in this great desert between the islands of known civilization! The attention of an attractive, younger woman is a pleasant thing for any man: the attention of an attractive, younger woman who paid very close attention to one's words, without fawning or offering unladylike attention, is likewise a pleasing thing, and so this Easterner found himself describe his work, how he established a "beat" with the local big-city departments, how he gained the confidence of key officers, of detectives, of attorneys and judges and men of influence, all to get his stories, all to keep his readers informed (and the newspaper selling well!) He looked around the comfortable, masculine interior of the tin-ceilinged saloon, looked at the little stage, with its heavy red velvet curtains drawn back and tied with tassel-ended, braided gold cords: he turned to the mahogany bar and the neatly-mustachioed man polishing its gleaming surface, and looked at the elk antlers above, an impressively magnificent spread of fighting hardware. "That is not the first set," the young woman explained in a pleasantly modulated voice: "that was taken by my brother Jacob, and the first set hangs over his mantel." "I see," the reporter said. "There is another set of antlers," the young woman continued, thumb under her chin, gloved finger tapping her cheekbone thoughtfully: "I doubt if you've looked at the locomotive, but there is a set of elk antlers mounted just under the headlamp." The reporter blinked, turned his head a little, frowning as he did: he looked back, surprised. "Why ... yes I did," he admitted. "I remember reading The Lady Esther on the side of the cab, in gold leaf, and ... I remember seeing the spray of roses, tied with a ribbon, and then I looked more closely at the train and saw the roses on each car." "You see more than most men," the pretty young woman said, lowering her long lashes and thanking the serving-girl who placed the tea in front of her. "There was ... yes, there was a set of antlers on the engine." "The engineer was told not to blow his whistle if a bull elk was on the tracks." "Not to ... but why not?" the reporter asked, honestly surprised. "With the approach of the locomotive, the bull would move ... but the whistle was ..." She smiled quietly, looking down at her tea again. "Have you ever heard an elk bugling, sir?" "No," he admitted. "No, I ... I never have." "Would you like to?" Joseph laughed as he reached through the planks, little pink fingers stretching out toward the bull. The bull, curious, sniffed at the little wiggling fingers; the longhorn watched, ears swinging, as a little boy happily scaled the fence, reached over, then half-jumped, half-fell. Jacob's heart contracted palpably, almost painfully, in his chest, he leaned forward into a run, his hand reaching for the walnut handle of his left hand Colt. Of all things to discover, the reporter was very definitely not expecting to find himself astride a placid old mare, following a pretty young woman in an attractively-tailored riding dress and astride an absolutely huge, utterly black mare with a ribbon-tied mane and feather-furred feet: they climbed a twisting path, ascending steadily, climbing a ridge, climbing a long slope, finally climbing to a meadow. The woman drew up; the reporter's mare stopped, head hanging patiently, and the great black mare knelt, allowing the young woman to dismount easily. The reporter swung awkwardly down, hopped a little on one foot as he twisted his townie shoe out of the stirrup: he didn't know what to do with the reins, but the mare didn't seem to be going anywhere, so he just dropped the reins. The young woman turned, put a gloved finger to her lips, picked up her skirts, skipped ahead. The reporter scrambled to follow, until the woman stopped, raised her palm parallel to the ground, motioned him down. They squatted, duck walked for several yards, then to his surprise the fashionably dressed young woman proned out, worked her way forward on elbows and belly. She looked back, smiled a little, withdrew a gutta-percha tube from somewhere around her waist. He'd never heard an elk bugle, he'd never seen nor heard an elk call used before, and he had certainly never seen a bull elk in the wild, and when he slithered up beside the pretty young woman who was busy coaxing choppy, whistling, throat-pulsing noises from the tube, her absolutely positively did not expect to see Wapiti charge out of the brush on the opposite side of the mile-wide field, neck bulging and head swinging, looking for a rival, an answering choppy, whistling, throat-pulsing challenge shivering the air as he did. The reporter felt every last hair on the back of his neck stand straight up. Sarah Lynne McKenna looked over at the townie, this stranger, frozen and mouth-open astonished as he watched the lowering sun shoot its long, red rays through the steam from the bull elk's open mouth. She reached over, laid a hand on his, returned her elk call to its hidden pocket in her midsection: they lay and watched as the sun touched the high peaks beyond, and as the prancing, circling, bugling elk strutted and challenged and finally turned and stalked away, the two rose and dusted themselves off. They rode back in silence, at least until they were within sight of Firelands again. "I spoke of the train whistle," Sarah said without preamble as she rode beside the reporter. He looked over at her, curious. "If you blow the steam whistle, the elk thinks it's a challenge and he'll charge the locomotive." "I see." They rode for a little distance, and finally the reporter asked, "I take it ... in the collision ... it was not the engine that came out in second place?" Sarah smiled. "No, sir," she agreed. "It was not the engine." Sheriff Linn Keller put a booted foot up on the bottom rail, considered the Texas longhorn pacing across Jacob's pasture. "Last week," Jacob explained, "Joseph decided he wanted to pet the bull." The pale eyed Sheriff looked at his son, raised an eyebrow. "Next thing I knew, he'd climbed the fence and he was inside with that Texas man killer." The Sheriff nodded slowly, looked back out the pasture at the laughing little boy happily astride the wild longhorn's neck. "He'll let Joseph do anything with him. He'll climb all over him, walk under him, he'll pick up a hoof like he's checking for horseshoes and Old Bull lets him." The Sheriff nodded slowly, watched as little Joseph laughed and pointed toward his Grampa and his Pa, watched as the big bull came pacing over toward them. Joseph laughed, slid off the bull's shoulder, landed flat footed, patted the bull happily and chirped, "Bye, Boocaffie!" and the bull lowered his nose, snuffed loudly at the giggling little boy's belly. "Boocaffie?" Linn asked, and Joseph laughed quietly. "He's too young to frame his words aright," he explained. "He's trying to say bull calf." "Ah." The Sheriff reached through the fence, rubbed the longhorn's nose thoughtfully. "Nice set of powder horns," was his only other comment.
  12. Coyote is a prominent character in Native American folklore: known also as Trickster, the Coyote has been compared to the Norse Loki. I am no expert on comparative religions, I am just a poor dumb hillbilly, but the snows of many winters have stained my beard white, and ancient memories stir at times. Other times, the memories are not quite so antediluvian. A Farcebook correspondent wrote of losing an old and dear friend, and I wrote back a reply, for he'd said if anyone wished to know more about his boon companion it would take face time, three fingers of good bourbon, and some salt water tears, and I thought of just such a soul I'd known. I've mentioned Brother Beymer time and again: he was living proof that not all brothers are born of the same womb, and it would be perilously easy to side track onto any of a bloody ton of memories of the man. Let me instead remain with the Cowboy Genre. Coyote is native to this continent, and was a fixture in Cowboy lore and legend, and the song of the yodel dog was a familiar one to the period we know as "The American West." The kickoff for this specific memory was another Farcebook post, where someone posted wolfsong on the High Church Coyote page (where they take their fun very seriously) ... and those two posts resulted in the following. I believe, in light of our common interest in the romance and history of the West, it's an entirely appropriate memory. I've never been privileged to hear wolves in song.Coyotes are populating Ohio, and have for years; two decades ago and more, my friend, a fire chief, accidentally stepped on the siren button as he stretched his long legs in his pickup truck: as the Federal 28 coffee grinder siren wound down, we could hear Yodel Dogs singing in reply, one to the north, clearly; we got out of his truck and heard answering song from the rise to the south of his farmhouse: a moment, and answering voices from both the East and the West joined the chorus.Fire chief and assistant fire chief, two scarred veterans of the emergency services, standing in the darkness, silent for the several minutes it took this feral chorus to sing itself down ... two men, grinning like little boys at a new discovery, two musicians who delighted in hearing the wild song of these feral artists.
  13. I got a good sized batch of Ringer's light .38s. I'll be trying this very combination. Soon as I run out of the other stuff!
  14. 67. THE ROTTEN STRAWBERRY Bonnie Lynne McKenna looked at her daughter with fear and with alarm. Sarah's face had surpassed red: it was passing beyond dark scarlet and was verging on a shade of purple, and where Bonnie's eyes were wide with alarm, Sarah's eyes were narrowing, with tears starting at the corners: where Bonnie's hands went to her high stomach, the way a woman will when she sees one of her own in distress -- Sarah's hands were shaking as with a palsy. Sarah looked at her Mama, then seized the woman's sleeve, half-stumbled, half-fell through the door and into the private back room where private dinners were held, where business deals were made, where the Ladies' Tea Society met -- Sarah fell back against the door, bent over, arms crossed over her belly, shaking with the ague, and most frightening of all ... she was absolutely, utterly, silent. Bonnie went to her knees, took her daughter's wet face between glove hands: "Sarah, sweets," she whispered, for she had no voice above a whisper, "what's wrong?" Sarah looked up at her Mama, her teeth tight against her bottom lip, and then she pitched forward, collapsing to her own knees, clutching Bonnie with the desperation of a drowning man and a life-ring, and Bonnie felt the convulsions shaking the pretty young woman apart from the inside. It took a stern self discipline but Sarah managed to release her Mama, to rock back on her heels, to look up and take a breath and place her palms on her thighs, and then she began to laugh -- she laughed, she snorted, she giggled, she gave up, seized a good handful of her skirt and balled it up against her face and surrendered all pretense of dignity, and howled her uncontrolled mirth and merriment as she rolled up into a fetal ball and fell over on her side, utterly, absolutely, completely consumed with utterly hysterical and completely uncontrolled, laughter. Sheriff Linn Keller's pale eyes were half-lidded and sleepy-looking as he cracked the wax seal, unfolded the missive, read: he smiled a little as he did; he re-read the note, and smiled a little more, and on his third reading of the regular, flowing script, he nodded, and Jacob raised one eyebrow to see it. "I know that look, sir," he said. "Something has pleased you." "Yes something has," Linn said firmly, his normal reserve gone, here in the privacy of their little log fortress: "a man I served with in the War is coming to visit" -- he turned, looked at the Regulator clock on the wall overhead -- "as a matter of fact, he should be just arriving by train." "Shall we met him at the depot, sir?" Jacob asked, rising, and the Sheriff rose as well: two men settled their Stetsons in place and the pale eyed old lawman considered for a long moment. "No, Jacob," he said, "he wrote that he would meet us at the Silver Jewel." "Yes, sir." "Interesting fellow," the Sheriff said thoughtfully as the two men mounted, walked their horses across the street, dismounted. "He was the nicest sort you'd ever want to meet, until the fight started, then Katy bar the door he became an absolute madman!" Jacob considered this, remembering moments when his own father, in the heat of combat, certainly appeared less than sane and rational. "Is he insane, sir?" Jacob asked bluntly. His father laughed, rested his hand companionably on his tall, lean son's shoulder. "Hardly, Jacob!" he declared happily. "As a matter of fact he's a preacher now!" The echoing whistle of The Lady Esther announced her approach to the depot, and both men looked toward the sound: father and son turned, strode boldly up the steps to the board walk, and into the welcoming confines of their favorite saloon. The Silver Jewel was both meeting-house, watering-hole, restaurant, hotel, and landmark, not necessarily in that order: if it was to be known, it could be found out here; if it was to be sold, a buyer could be found here; if someone was to be met, why, this was the logical meeting-place, and Sheriff and Chief Deputy loafed comfortable against Mr. Baxter's burnished bar as Bonnie and Sarah swept in, all femininity and beauty and mischief, not necessarily in that order, either. Both men greeted the ladies with a grave courtesy that was their trademark, and Bonnie would not have been surprised if they'd moved as one, to sweep up a feminine hand and kiss ladylike knuckles: they'd done as much before, and sure enough, they did so again, and not half a minute later, with pleasantries barely begun between them, the door opened and a pleasant-looking man came in, hesitated at the hotel desk, and asked a question of Tillie, watching with a smile at the unfolding tableau: she nodded to the Sheriff and his son, and Bonnie and Sarah took their leave of the men, and it was not long after that Sarah had an attack of the vapors, and was obliged to drag her astonished and alarmed Mama into the back room to keep from making a spectacle of herself. The men were seated and happily conversing, on one side of the closed door, and on the other side, mother and daughter, muffling their shared merriment, for they'd remained long enough for the Sheriff and the new arrival to declare their delight in seeing one another again. Sarah wiped her eyes, her face darkening again at the memory. "But Mama, it's what he said," she giggled, dabbing at her nose with a dainty, lace-trimmed kerchief: she looked at Bonnie, chewed her knuckle for a moment to try and gain a little decorum, then gave it up for a bad job. "Mama, it was when that man greeted the Sheriff and said, 'Captain, this is the first time I've ever seen you in clothes!" Bonnie's eyes widened with alarm, until she remembered the Sheriff' service during the War, and deduced that the visitor must have been a fellow soldier, and neither had seen the other in aught but uniform. Like anything else, putting it in so many words makes it suddenly different, and Sarah repeated, "It's the first time I've seen you in clothes!" and she rolled over on her side again, making the approximate noises of a chicken laying a paving-brick, and Bonnie McKenna made a mental note to use the line on the Sheriff at some opportune time in the future, just to watch his ears turn scarlet.
  15. I one time bought a .44 Bulldog because I found 48 rounds of once fired brass at the local range, and the empty cartridge box from which they came, so there is precedence for buying the pistol because you have rounds. The .357 Sig is a bottle neck cartridge and I've had no trouble reloading it. It does reduce magazine capacity by a couple rounds, it is louder and snappier, it is flatter shooting. The round is not terribly popular and is not as easy to come across as it used to be. I understand it found a great following with law enforcement out West, I forget the department, but they swore by the round. I've long been of the philosophy, "When in doubt, grab it!" (Wish I had the money to follow the philosophy!)
  16. Preacher Keller got stiffly off Ophelia and sagged a little as he watched the prisoner being walked into the calabozo. Ophelia stuck her neck out and gave that God-awful screaming whinny of hers as Copper ran up, grinning, and shoved a peppermint stick in her general direction: she took it delicately, carefully, crunched happily on the confection, long ears swinging the way they did when she was particularly pleased. The Preacher picked up little Kitty, held her with his off arm, ran his other arm around his wife, drew her close, lowered his face into her hair, smelling soap and sunshine and her delicate scent-water: he felt a squirm, looked down at a little red face, screwing up and getting ready to cloud up and rain all over them. He was too tired to laugh. They turned and walked across the street, and to the stable: he and Copper got Ophelia unsaddled and rubbed down, brushed and bribed, grained and watered: his bright-eyed son watched as his father turned toward the parsonage, stopped, leaned heavily against the door frame of their stable. He looked down at his son and grinned. "I don't reckon I'll have much trouble sleeping tonight," he said, then: "Copper, what happened while I was gone?" "Sir, I smacked a man in the face with Mama's frying pan and I don't think she was too happy I used it but she didn't scold me and he didn't set the church on fire and Kitty snores and I missed you!" -- all in one breath -- and so saying, he ran and grabbed his Pa, and his Pa went down on his prayer bones and wrapped his arms around his son, for some things are best said without words. The Preacher stood, still holding his boy, and the two of them walked with a weary tread up the steps and onto the porch, and into the tidy, well-kept kitchen. In the years that followed, the church was rebuilt, expanded: the orphanage, already beside the Church, was eventually grafted onto the Parsonage, and the Preacher as an old man would laugh and declare that he had at least twenty sons and as many daughters, for he was less Headmaster than he was father, and his laughing wife Anna Mae was mother to them all: they knew more children of their own, and when in the fullness of time the Lord took them into His Heavenly house, they departed this earth from the jumping-off point of their own back porch, where the two of them were found sitting in their double rocking chair, still holding hands. Copper became a sailor and then ship's-captain, and established a ship's chandlery, supplying sailing ships and then the modern new steamships, and became a prosperous businessman. Kitty grew into a beautiful young womanhood, married a businessman who failed and went broke twice, but came back three times, and she and her husband eventually returned to Stone Creek, where their son became Preacher, and married a pale eyed girl from up Colorado way, a girl related to the pale eyed Civil War cavalry Captain they'd heard of through family legend. Of the many orphans that came to them, they may have come as heartbroken, frightened children, but when they went their own way, they went as family: the Preacher and his wife saw to it they were educated, and he taught the boys his love of wood, and the shaping of it, and the many skills that come with carpentry: ciphering, calculation, planning, the many skills necessary in life, applied through the lessons given with the help of Saul Van Hoose's chisels and saws, levels and plumb-line. Many years later, another Preacher Keller -- a tall, lean descendant of the original sky pilot -- sat in a rocking chair and read his ancestor's accounts of life on the frontier, and he stopped and laughed as he read the final entry into the man's journal. "My days grow short, but my life has been full," he read aloud: "I am blessed in all ways, and I still can't ride a horse!" His wife's hands rested gently on his shoulders. "It's good to hear you laugh," she said in her gentle voice, and he closed the book and placed it on the ancient roll top desk, reached up and patted his wife's hand, chuckling. "From everything I hear," he nodded, "I get it honest."
  17. Ophelia found me. Apparently she forgave me for that last skirmish. I was down on one knee, waiting, wishing I could expand my spirit well beyond my body as a man once described ... I tried to recall who it was and all I could recall was it was up Colorado way, and I didn't know why that really mattered, only if I could blow a big soap bubble of spirit, why, I could feel every living creature it touched, and then I'd know where all of our people were. And all the people we were after. My understanding was that Alice Slye was with Zeb Gardner, that he believed he'd sent out his most trusted lieutenants to raise an army, and they two were alone now, in the old works. I'd never been there and I didn't know if they were under the cliff down on ground level, if they were part way up, if they were fairly high up... but when I saw the cliffs I knew I was close, and so I stopped, and Ophelia came sidling up beside me, and I was glad for her company. She was the color of her surroundings and I'd pulled my lapels together and fast them at the neck, covering my white shirt -- though it was less than white, and a bath would feel really good, but all that could wait. I'd been a soldier on campaign and I knew I could endure dirt and smell and even greybacks if they attacked the way they attacked our troops. I'd heard it said, and I'd said it myself, I'd as leave face men in grey than those damned little greybacks, crawling on a man's hide and hiding in the seams of his clothes. I watched Ophelia. She had better ears than me and she was relaxed, and when she stuck her head out, her ears were up and she looked pleased, and White Eagle slipped through the brush like it wasn't there and stopped before me. "I see you, Preacher," he said formally, and I rose and replied, "I see you, White Eagle." Normally we would have pitched our voices quiet indeed, but we both spoke as if there were no enemies within ten miles, and I didn't take that odd at all. "The dwelling has been defiled," White Eagle said quietly, "and I must cleanse it." "Dwelling," I echoed. "You mean where they're holed up." White Eagle smiled a little: as best as I can explain it, he shifted his weight. That's all I saw him do, shift his weight just a little. He went from wearing dirt colored homespun and buckskin, to wearing a bright blue shirt and a red sash, a red head band, knee high moccasins with silver conchos down the sides, he had a squash blossom necklace around his neck, and I think he regarded me with a little amusement as I did my best not to react. "'There is more in Heaven and earth, Horatio,'" he quoted, and I raised an eyebrow and nodded. "I learned long ago," I said slowly, "that there is much that I do not know." White Eagle squatted, quickly, drew a mouse nest and charred cloth from the little pouch I didn't see in his hand until he ducked down: he held it up, closed his eyes, breathed on it, and it began to smolder. He opened his eyes and waved a hand and the smoke rose, then formed ... almost a waist-thick snake, and it circled around me, quickly, and then was gone. "They will not see you now," White Eagle said. "Bring your rifle, Preacher, you will not be comfortable without it." Something told me the man knew what he was talking about, so when he turned and walked through the brush, I followed, and so did Ophelia. Alice Slye considered the Derringer in her reticule. She would have to be behind him, she would have to shove the blunt little two-holer against the back of his skull to have even a hope of that anemic little rimfire .44 punching through to anything vital. She'd shot a man in the breastbone, once, and watched as he took a knife and dug into his own carcass, flipped the bullet out of the bony plate, and laughed. Of course he'd been quite drunk when he did, she'd been obliged to cold cock him with a heavy glass decanter to put him down, and after that if she shot a man she shot him in the guts, low down, but she knew better than to try that with Zeb. Zeb was insane, and Zeb would kill her if she tried. No, her only chance -- other than shooting him through the eye socket as he slept -- would be the base of the skull. She looked out over the sheer drop, shuddered. They'd come in at ground level -- there, off to the left -- but ahead, and to her right, the ground fell away, a sheer drop of some hundred yards or more. She'd ventured out as far as she could before Zeb summoned her back -- it was evident he was watchful -- insane or not, he was controlling, and she was the only one he had left to control. White Eagle blew on the tinder again, laid a sage smudge against it: he began to sing, quietly, rhythmically, in a language I did not understand. We'd walked into the enemy's camp as bold as brass and as unseen as a summer's breeze. Zeb Gardner sat on a chunk, eyes wide, staring, rocking a little, and Alice was looking around, then she slipped her hand in her reticule the way a woman will when she's searching for something to bring her comfort. She started to walk toward Zeb, started to walk behind him, and Zeb turned and glared at her, and his expression was suspicious. White Eagle laid the tinder pile in a small circle of stones, where fires ancient and long cold had blackened the earth: he laid sticks on it, three to the east, three to the west, three to the north and three to the south, and then he reached into his shirt and withdrew a length of ribbon, the kind a woman might wear in her hair. He held it up, ran his fingers down its short length, fed it into the fire, fanned the flames, still singing softly. Alice Slye frowned a little, turning, nostrils flaring. What do I smell, she thought. Not smoke. Something ... Her eyes widened with surprise, and a little alarm. Perfume? But I'm the only woman here -- The smoke twisted, grew, became solid, and a woman I thought dead and buried stood and tilted her head a little as she looked at Alice. I've seen ghosts and I dreamed of a great-grandfather who sat up in his coffin -- I was but a wee child and dreamed I was in the parlor, and I heard my voice say 'Poor Grampa' and the lid opened, and the man sat up and looked at me and said in a surprised voice, "What? What did you say?" That's how I felt right now. I'd spoken the words over her box, I'd laid the flower when I said the words, and here she was, smiling gently at Alice. She looked up at me and winked and then she looked at Alice again. Alice shuddered and dropped her reticule, backed away, eyes big as tea saucers as she moaned, "No ... no ... no, no, I saw you killed, you're dead, you're DEAD, you're DEAAAAAAA ---" Her voice became a diminishing scream as she backed over the rim of the drop-off. I looked at Gardner. He was standing and he was staring and he pointed and his Adam's apple was working and he fumbled under his coat and grabbed the handle of his revolver and pulled three times before it came free, and he raised it, shaking so much he appeared palsied. "No, no, you ain't, you ain't comin' for me," he stammered, raised the pistol: it took him a couple tries to cock it. He raised it and he was shaking so badly the muzzle wobbled dangerously and I raised my Winchester, my thumb hauling back the hammer as I did, and another rifle spoke before I could reach for my trigger. Zeb Gardner, madman, murderer of women and reaver of towns, thief, fraud and killer, died with a lawman's bullet through his right earlobe and out his left ear.
  18. I wasted no time wishing for a set of field glasses. A man can wish his life away, waste an immense amount of time imagining he had what he hasn't. We knew we were cose -- the cliffs were in sight -- we couldn't see the dwellings yet, but they had to be really close. We were using cover now as we approached. There were few hand signals used. We knew where we were going, we knew what we intended to do: half our force to one side, half to another. My warmaking used to consist of marching across an open field in a body of ranked soldiers. My warmaking changed since then. I knew what it was to close with an enemy and to fight with a desperate ferocity, I knew what it was to shoot a man close-up, to drive a bayonet through a man's middle, I knew what it was to slash with a bayonet and to use a rifle as a double ended club. I knew what it was to lose the rifle and fall back on my knife and to seize up an ax from a woodpile and surrender my soul to the utter insanity of becoming a killing machine. I felt that seductive pull, that wish to run screaming into the teeth of the enemy, and the sane and rational part of my mind became very cold and very hard and seized upon that singing monster in my soul and stuffed it down in a iron kettle, and screwed the lid down tight. This was not the time for hot blood. This was the time for cold resolve. I did not know how many we would face; we would be storming a reinforced position, and in a face-on attack, a ten-to-one numeric superiority is the minimum needed. No, this would not be a head-on attack against entrenched troops. This would be a surgical operation, this would mean sneak in and shoot them without warning. Would this be murder? part of my mind asked, and then I thought of Anna Mae, and I thought of her gut shot and screaming, and I thought of Copper, and his clean, trimmed fingernails as he gripped Saul's level, I thought of my baby son's perfect little fingers, and I thought of the murderers who wished to kill all of them. No. This would be no murder. Scripture gives men authority over other men, and we were that authority. This would be no murder. This would be justice.
  19. "The carbolic was the worst part." Anna Mae grimaced sympathetically, nodded. "You'll look like you were in a barfight for a few days," she said confidentially, leaning a little closer as she said it, even though they were the only two in her tidy, painfully-neat kitchen. "I know." The pretty young bank teller raised a tentative hand to her swollen cheek and made a funny little hiccup noise, as if unsure whether to giggle or whine: she satisfied herself with a tentative little frown and a flinch as she touched her bruising cheekbone. "Doc Okie warned me it would be tender and swollen," she said, then looked at Anna Mae. "I didn't stop to think I'd have a black eye!" Anna Mae stopped herself from replying that "You should see the other guy!" -- it was because she'd just killed two men that the troubled teller sought the refuge of the Church, and ended up in Anna Mae's kitchen. "I didn't ... I ... they came in and took a shot at me and I remembered Papa taught me that if ever someone tried to hurt me I was to hurt them harder and I remembered the shotgun under the counter --" her words came in a rush, one piled almost on top of the next -- "all I could see was him trying to ... he was going to ..." "I know," Anna Mae whispered, laying a hand on the other's knuckles: "he was there to kill and to rob and so was the other man. You stopped them from killing you." "I know that," she whispered back, her lip quivering a little. "But ... thou shalt not kill." Anna Mae shook her head. "No. No, Parson taught me the correct translation is 'Thou shalt not do murder.' He came to do murder. You did not!"
  20. I never did have much of a poker face. Neither did these fellows. "Howdy," said I, and they drew up and my gut told me they were trouble: they looked guilty, they looked nervous, they looked around like they expected to be jumped, and I am not sure who fired first, them or me. Ophelia was not at all happy with having a shortgun fired so close to her long ears, and I can't blame her. There was no time to explain the necessity of my action and no opportunity to beg her pardon. As a matter of fact, she slung her head around, hard, dropped her head and threw her hinder in the air and I count that a good thing. Unless I guessed wrong, there was lead passing through where I'd been just a moment before. Now the Lord looks out after fools and children and I must've qualified under one or t'other, or maybe it was all that experience with being thrown from horses so many times, but I whipped around top-over-bottom and hit the ground on my feet, I crouched deep and came up with both revolvers in hand and I fired again, right-left, I dove hard right, rolled, came up and there was a heavier concussion from just into the brush and someone was showing them the error of their way and I lined up blued steel on a man's back and the lifted the sights a bit and drove a .44 round through the back of his head. Four there were when this started and only one left and he was fighting his horse, for his mount was as happy with him as Ophelia had been with me, and he was doing a right fine job of trying to stay in saddle leather as his horse was putting on just an admirable effort to shuck him out of it, and I came up slowly out of my crouch and watched in admiration. Was that horse to try and sling me out of the saddle, I'd have been gone on first jump, but this fellow was sticking like a burr on a hound dog. I thrust my right hand Smith back in its slender holster and tripped the lever on my left hand shortgun, I broke it far enough to drop the empties and then palmed the unfired rounds so they dropped back into the chambers when the ejector star tripped and fell back down: I dropped in fresh rounds, holstered, and did the same with my right hand revolver. That is, until I realized he was close to getting his horse under control, so I fired a round where it would spall up dirt and rock splinters and stung his horse and away he went again, and darn if he didn't almost get that gelding under control ag'in and I fired another round and away he went again, at least until a familiar voice shouted, "Preacher, kill hm or turn him loose but quit playin' with him!" and then two men came out of the brush and that horse just froze, spraddle-legged, shivering. "You'd best drop it," Doc declared. "You've got two guns ahead and one behind and there's only one of you left." I looked around and strode over to one of the prone bodies: I stomped hard on a wrist and the owner's teeth clicked together, but he released his grip on the revolver he'd managed to drag out and cock. I picked it up, eased the hammer down, stuck it in the back of my belt under my coat, dropped my knee into his kidneys and I dropped neither easily nor gently. I rolled him over and stepped back, ready for him to try something, but all he did was curl up a little, grimacing, blood seeping out of the hole I'd put through his middle. "You're dying," I said. "I'm a preacher. Any last requests?" "You ain't no preacher," he hissed, hugging his bloodied belly. "Name's Keller," I said conversationally. "I'm from Stone Creek." "Stone Creek?" He coughed, spat. "Dammit, that's where we were headed!" "Good thing you didn't get there." I squatted. "The women skinned the last half dozen alive. Hung 'em up by their ankles and peeled the skin free and took their time. It took one of 'em two days to quit screamin'." I smiled. "You got off lucky." "I'm gut shot, damn you!" he groaned. "Yes, you are," I agreed, nodding. "Do you heartily repent of all your sins, spoken and unspoken, known and unknown, confessing yourself a sinner at the verge of death?" He rolled back on his back, his knees drawn up, teeth clenched: he rolled back, willing himself not to cry out, and finally hissed "Yesss" from between tobacco-yellowed teeth. "Do you accept the divinity of Jesus Christ and accept Him as your Lord and Savior?" He nodded. "I am but a man, and I can not forgive sins, but God, Who sees all things and hears all words, has heard your confession and will have mercy on your soul." He opened his eyes, glared at me. "I oughta kill you." "Four of you tried it. Two are dead and you're dying. That other fella doesn't look too good either." "John?" he gasped, coughed. "John?" Another breath, a cough, a dribble of blood, and he surrendered his soul to the Almighty from whence it came. I looked up. Doc was asking that last fellow some questions and he was not being terribly gentle about it. I saw he needed no help so I went through the pockets of the dead, remembering what it was to dog-rob bodies after a battle, harvesting watches, ammunition, rations, canteens. My search came up with a tidy sum. They must've been paid well, thought I, and then Doc came over and he did not look happy at all. "Preacher," he said, "they were sent to burn Stone Creek to the ground." I nodded, hefted a poke of ill gotten gold. "I am not surprised." "They were sent to do other things as well." "How many were sent?" "These four. They were to recruit more." "How long ago did they leave their camp?" Doc's grin was less a smile than a death's-head baring of the teeth. "Long enough ago they wouldn't have heard our fracas here." "Good."
  21. The teller threw down her shotgun, hard. She felt like someone hit her in the face with a railroad spike, she could hear nothing, blue smoke filled the air, her shoulder hurt like it had been mule kicked and she was scared and she was mad and she was jumping up and down with both fists beating the empty air, bounding like an enraged jackrabbit, screaming at the absolute top of her adrenaline-powered lungs, "DAMMIT! DAMMIT!DAMMIT!DAMMIT!" She bent, snatched up the double gun, hit the loading lever: it fell open and she yanked her teller's drawer open, hard, viciously, scattering what had been neat ranks of gold coin and precise piles of paper bills: she took a little running hop and stomped on a shotgun shell, snatched it up, shoved it into the gun's breech, cutting her thumb with the vicious vigor of her reload: she grabbed the other, shoved it into the gun, she snapped the gun shut and snarled and charged the closed door, hit it with her shoulder, slammed the lock apart, brought the gun up, her voice still, but every nerve in her pretty young body screaming as loudly in the silence as her voice had in the shocked gunsmoke, a moment before. Two men lay dead on the floor. One didn't have much left by way of his face. The other was gasping out what little was left of his life, a ragged tunnel blasted through his high left chest just south of his collar bone: the last thing he saw, before his corroded soul parted company with his bloodied carcass, was a pretty young teller with her glasses perched atop her carefully-arranged hair, but with the face of an enraged murderess. She lowered the gun from her shoulder, unfired: she raised a hand to her cheek, touched it, flinched: frowning now, worried instead of enraged, she went back behind the teller's cage, through the door with the shattered lock, she went to the little mirror hanging on the wall and turned her face to the left, then to the right. Carefully, switching the shotgun to her off hand, she reached up and gripped a matchstick-sized shiver of wrought iron, pulled it out, wincing. Her ears were ringing far too loudly to her her little whining "Owww" as she did. She picked the double gun up again, looked around at her drawer's scattered contents, she looked at the bars in front of her teller's station, and when the bank's manager gripped her by the upper arms and turned her to face him squarely, her face puckered up like a sorrowful child's and she began to cry: blubbering, sniveling bloody snot, she pointed a tremblng finger at the bars and wailed, "I shot the bars apart!" Anna Mae picked up the kindling chunk and smacked the church bell, hard, four times: her summons was unnecessary, everyone was on a hair trigger, and when they heard the heavy, muffled concussions from the general direction of the bank, and then a woman screaming, a cavalry bugle would have been no more effective in bringing the respondent troops. "You're quiet." I nodded. We rode for several more minutes. "What's eatin' you, Preacher?" I felt my bottom jaw slide out and I searched for an honest answer, then I felt my mouth twist up in a wry smile. "There's a young soldier inside of me," I said, "with the patience of a two year old on Christmas eve." "Hmp." It was more a grunt than aught else. "You hide it well." "Plenty of practice," I said: "had I a bushel basket of double eagles, I'd hire the Witch of Endor to spirit me into their stronghold so I could get this all over with!" More than one ear was listening, and more than one head nodded in agreement, and I suppose there were more impatient young men than just myself inside the bodies of my fellow riders.
  22. Ham radio Hurricane Watch Net. is scheduled to start 5 PM this date. I'll be listening to these firsthand reports, watching on-line reports and pressing the patellae into the pile on your behalf, and on behalf of all that are affected! Free advice omitted as you're better set to know what's needed, looking forward to your After Action Report (and sincerely hoping it starts out "Well, that was a big nothing!") Link to the Hurricane Watch Net!
  23. Kitty very carefully placed a cup of steaming tea between her Mommy's elbows. Her Mommy was sitting at the kitchen table with her elbows on the table top and her head between her hands and her Mommy was staring at the table top with big scared eyes and her Mommy was shivering like she was really, really cold. Kitty marched purposefully over to the white-ceramic teapot and very carefully picked it up by its fancy handle and very precisely poured another cup of tea, her tongue sticking out a little as she concentrated, and then she placed the teapot down on its pad and picked up cup and saucer and looked before she turned. Sarah Jane accepted the offering with a quiet "Thank you," and the little girl's smile was bright and sudden and she turned and skipped out of the room 'cause she wanted to make sure her brother was okay. "I'm sorry," Anna Mae whispered. Uno Mas hurt and your -- terrible --" Anna Mae's voice, a whisper though it was, shivered, and she looked up, all defenses gone, all walls shattered and fallen. "I could never have been strong like you." Sarah Jane blinked, honestly surprised. She hadn't felt strong. She'd felt scared -- terrified -- she'd felt all those men who'd made her helpless, those many uncaring brutes flattening her, overpowering her -- She remembered the voice, a strong and powerful voice, spoken just for her -- You are a warrior, born of warriors. Sarah Jane remembered feeling the terror and the helplessness and her hands still raised the rifle and her cheek still pressed down onto the walnut comb and she remembered the fighting rage that ignited inside her and she remembered thinking of the tiny young life she carried in her belly, and she remembered how the rifle spoke with her voice, as if her throat channeled itself down the spiral rifled bore, driving her reply from her soul, out the rifle's muzzle. Sarah Jane lifted her tea, took a sip, considered. "Anna Mae," she whispered, "I was scared." She looked up, lowered the teacup. "I've never seen a man shot right beside me like that. I didn't know what to do but I still did it. That's what we do, Anna Mae. Part of us knows what to do and we do it." "I couldn't touch him," Anna Mae said in a very small voice, her eyes lowering to the table top again. "I couldn't touch him. I was so afraid he was dead and it was my fault just like --" Sarah Jane's hand slapped flat on the tabletop, sudden, harsh, loud, commanding. "STOP THAT RIGHT NOW," she said, her voice tight -- not loud, but with a definite note of command: surprised, Anna Mae blinked, hiccuped: she put her fingers to her lips in surprise, then both women giggled like little girls at a tea party. "Anna Mae, how many times has your son fallen from a bell tower and just laid there?" Anna Mae opened her mouth, considered, closed it, blinked. "Never." Sarah Jane nodded. "Me neither, but I was on the docks and saw a boy pulled out of the water. A sailor seized him from his rescuer and threw him down on the dock, he slapped his palm on the boy's chest to check for a heartbeat and then he turned him over -- like I did Copper -- he stood a-straddle of him and ran his arms around the boy's belly and picked him up and lowered him just like I did Copper." Anna Mae listened, eyes wide, silent, but listening very closely. "The docks ..." Sarah Jane bit her bottom lip and her fingertips turned her teacup around on its saucer, slowly, meditatively. "When the sailor picked the boy up like that, he threw up about five gallons of seawater, and that's what the sailor wanted him to do. He said it was getting the water out of his lungs. A doctor told me later the boy swallowed the water in a desperate effort to keep it out of his lungs, that drowning men do that." Anna Mae filed this away in her mental book of useful knowledge, knowing the affinity boys have for the forbidden, like bodies of water or even rain barrels. "You must've been terrified when Uno was hurt." "Beyond belief," Sarah Jane affirmed, taking a final drink of tea. "And yet you were able to come over here and... saved Copper ... " She bit her bottom lip, blinked against the sting in her eyes, looked up again. "Thank you." Both women stood and embraced, and neither was surprised that both were still trembling.
  24. I felt awkward and out of place, but my soul was in desperate need of ... what? Comfort? I was yet a young man in Union blue, far from home and I felt like a fiddle string, tuned up and worn on, and I longed for quiet and I longed for ... Peace? What is peace? I wished for that safe haven, the ... I wished for ... Home. Home, when I was a lad. Home, where I knew my place, where my father was the ashlar upon which the universe itself was built. Home, where a hurt would be soothed away by my Mama's hands, where my nightmares were kept at bay by the sound of her quietly humming to herself as she darned Pa's socks by the fire, home, where an empty stomach was filled at the table where we bowed our heads and gave thanks to the Almighty for our provender. Perhaps that's why I'd turned my steps toward the seminary. I sat in the back, wishing to be invisible; the robed priest in the front of the room looked back at me with a quiet smile, but continued his lesson: not five minutes later, to my disappointment, he released his young charges -- schoolboys, the lot of 'em -- and he came back and sat down beside me. We sat in a companionable silence for a time, and finally I cleared my throat uncertainly and hazarded, "Your boys ... they're so young." He nodded. "Everyone else has gone off to war," he said sadly. "None wished to be known a coward, and so they all marched off to offer their living souls on the altar of the Republic." I grimaced. I'd been taken in by a slick talking recruiter who promised our cause was just, our purpose, grand, our sacrifice, most necessary. I'd had serious cause to doubt all those things. "You've been hurt." I blinked, nodded, my flat hand going unconsciously to the terrible scar under my blue tunic. "Bayonet," I said. "Ah." He nodded, stuck out a leg, lifted the hem of his light-brown robe, exposing a twisted, ugly scar that ran most of the length of his lower leg. "Mine, as well." I whistled. "How long ago?" "I was their age," he sighed, lowering the robe. "Europe is forever squabbling, and I was ..." He chuckled, and that surprised me. "Boys can be told don't go here, and they'll go, and they are told don't do that, and they do it, and my mother told me not to go near the soldiers approaching town, and of course I went." I frowned, nodded. "There was a skirmish and I was enveloped and I remember a soldier -- he was tall, he was bloodied and dirty, from a distance his uniform looked colorful and grand but up close he was unwashed and filthy and his eyes ..." He stopped, closed his own eyes, his hands clenched slowly, then opened. "He didn't see a boy before him. "I backed up and turned to run and I fell, and he ..." He swallowed, looked to the front of the room. "He was shot as he slashed at me with that bayonet, and he fell on top of me, and it wasn't for an hour that someone pulled him off me and discovered he'd pinned my leg to the ground. "They carried me to their battlefield surgeon, who washed my wound out as delicately as a hostler shoveling horse-muck out of a stall." I think I expected to hear bitterness in the man's voice, but there was almost ... amusement. Or perhaps it was understanding. "He wrapped it and told me to go home and partake of my Mama's milk again, babies had no place on the battlefield, and I hobbled out of the surgeon's charnel-house and two soldiers helped carry me home." He took a long breath, nodded, the way a man will when he is remembering a very old memory. "I usually teach young men turning to the cloth, but those fine young men are now wearing cloth of a different color." "Yes, sir." "Now I teach young men ... boys, too young to follow the flag." He tilted his head a little, looking at me speculatively. "Where are you from, my son?" "A long way from here," I rumbled, stood. "Forgive me, sir. I've taken up too much of your time." He rose -- a little awkwardly, as if that old war wound still troubled him -- he raised a finger, then motioned for me to follow. We went to the front of the classroom and he withdrew a little pouch, opened it, reached in, withdrew a string of green-glass beads with a crucifix and a couple little medals strung on it. "This was given me by my grandmother," he said softly, caressing the smooth, shining orbs. "I have no sons" -- he chuckled again, gave me a red-faced look, and added "My apologies. I tend to state the absurd" -- he returned the Rosary to its pocket-worn pouch, handed it to me. "I want you to have this." I took it. "I thank you, sir, but I'm not Catholic." "From one wounded soul to another," he said quietly, reaching up and gripping my shoulder. "You came here for comfort, and that has given me comfort, and I give my Grandmother's comfort and blessing to you." I remembered something my Pa said once, when somebody unexpectedly gave him an item, I forget what it was, but the man said "Like the old preacher said, all donations cheerfully accepted." I nodded. "Thank you, sir." "Can I do anything else for you, my son?" "Yes, sir," I said. "If you could pray for me." We both went to our knees, and we talked to God about it. Anna Mae didn't talk to God so much as she screamed at Him. "OH GOD NO!" -- Sarah Jane's head came up and she powered toward the door into the hallway, the short hall that connected the Parsonage to the Church. She looked wildly about the inside of the Church, looked back, her eyes went wide, her hands to her mouth -- Copper lay on his back, unmoving, eyes wide, and Sarah Jane heard Anna Mae scrambling down from the bell tower, and Sarah Jane remembered hearing Anna Mae tell Copper, "Stay with your sister, Copper. I am going up to keep watch, but I don't want you climbing up there, it's far too dangerous!" Part of Sarah Jane's mind remembered her Mama telling her about her brothers, how she could tell them not to do this, and they'd sure enough do it, or not to go there and they would just bust their backsides to go there, and Sarah Jane saw Anna Mae jump the last few steps as she came down the inside of the bell tower, landing ungracefully on splayed fingers and the balls of her feet, and she collapsed, slowly, pale, shocked, she looked beseechingly up at Sarah Jane, her mouth working, afraid to touch him -- Sarah Jane knelt beside the unmoving lad, her hands moving of their own volition: she laid a hand on his chest, felt, frowned: she laid the backs of her fingers against his nose and barely-open mouth, then she turned him over, seizing him by shoulder and hip, rolling him suddenly, viciously, and pushed Anna Mae out of the way: she straddled the boy, ran her hands under his belly, picked him a foot and more off the floor, lowered him down: she raised him again, lowered him: thrice more did she pick up on his belly and lower him down flat, and on the fourth try they heard a faint, "Ow," and Anna Mae's hands went to her mouth and Sarah Jane rolled him over again, straightened his arms, his legs, caressed his face, pushed her face down close to his. "Say that again," she whispered, and they saw his belly working, and he got a little more air into his shocked-still lungs and said a little less faintly, "Ow." There was a sudden hard hammering at the church door: "OPEN UP IN THERE! OPEN UP, I SAY! MRS. PREACHER ARE YOU HURT?" They heard the patter of little flat-soled shoes and they saw the interior of the church brighten as the doors swung open and they heard Kitty's little-girl voice say, "Hello," and then men's heels, hurried, urgent. It was Sarah Jane's turn to prime Anna Mae with hot tea. "He only had the wind knocked out of him," she soothed. "Nothing's broken. He didn't fall that far, and he landed flat on his back." "I should have been there --" "You were there," Sarah Jane said firmly. "You were where you were supposed to be, where we needed you. He's a boy. Boys do things and get hurt. He'll do worse, unless I miss my guess." She patted Anna Mae's hand. "Now finish your tea, dearie, and take your place in the bell tower. Uno was hurt keeping us safe, and we ladies are not going to countenance anything of the kind happening again!"
  25. I lowered my head and bit my bottom lip. I was tired of this pursuit. I wanted to get it over. Reavers came against my town, reavers spilled the blood of my people, and Sheriff's admonition or not, I was firmly of the mind that the Lord's vengeance was mine to dispense. I took a long breath and dismissed the thought. What I wanted was unimportant. If I cast the law aside, so might my fellows, and we would then be the lawless, and if good men abandon the good, where then is the land? I raised my head, patted Ophelia's neck, swung down to join the council of war. I wished for a well drawn map, the kind I'd helped put together back during that damned War. My pale eyed Captain had a gift for mapmaking, but he was clear the hell and gone up Colorado way, and ... stopped, blinked, surprised. Even my thoughts are those of the man I used to be. Listen to yourself. That is the coarse and colloquial language you left behind when you took up the cloth. A hand squeezed my shoulder and I looked over at Doc's concerned expression. "Preacher," he said, "you all right?" I looked away, considered, looked back. "I find my temper is less ... tolerant ... than it was when we began." I did not expect Doc's reply. I saw his eyebrows raise a little, his eyes widen slightly, as did his mouth; he began to chuckle, he pounded me happily on the shoulder and he nodded, finally grinning as he declared, "If this is wearin' on a Preacher's spirit, I don't feel quite so badly about my own ill temper!" "Were you ready to drive each of 'em into the ground like a fence post?" I asked, and the others, taking a moment's respite from their serious discussion around a dirt-drawn map, looked at us with amusement. "Fence post hell," Doc chuckled, thumping my shoulder happily, "I was ready to skin 'em alive." He looked at me and added, "With a spoon!" That was enough to break the tension. There was quiet laughter as we returned to the dirt drawn map. We held our council of war, we listened to men who knew this terrain and this territory, we planned our intercept course. There was water nearby; we watered our mounts, pulled our saddles, rubbed down patient, strong backs, checked hooves and legs and I bribed Ophelia with a half stick of peppermint: I turned and said "Doc, a word, if I may." Ophelia laid her jaw over my shoulder and I rubbed her long snout absently. "If Malachai himself came to kill Calico, he's about run out of soldiers," I speculated. "Chances are he'll have no one else to do his dirty work and he'll be intent on escape and recovery." Doc gave me a skeptical look and I grinned. "I hold no illusions," I admitted. "He is 'subtil as a serpent' and I doubt me not he has cash reserves to throw into his endeavor." Doc grunted, raised an eyebrow. Part of me considered that Doc was apparently well educated, he certainly spoke as a man of intelligence, but sometimes -- like now -- a grunt, a skeptical look, the slight rise of an eyebrow, spoke as well as an hour's oration. "He can't raise troops nor can he spend that cash until he returns to it and in the meantime it's just the two of them." Doc nodded slowly, considering. "Rye is the law where we're headed. Could he but get word ahead and get a screen of lawmen set up to --" I stopped, frowned, looked away. "I'm sorry. We don't have the resources of a wartime army." Doc looked thoughtful, then turned to Rye, lifted his chin. "Rye, now that we know where they appear to be headed, the Preacher here has an idea." Calamity looked around the inside of her dress shop, sank slowly into a chair. So much she'd planned, had fallen apart. All she wanted was a simple life, she wished to work in fabrics, she wished ... I wish I could get some rest. Calamity leaned her elbows on the work table, her face in her hands, she look a long breath, blew out out through puffed cheeks and pursed lips. She stopped, puzzled, raised her head. "Excuse me?" she said, then wondered why she'd said it, for nobody had spoken -- "Things always change," came a voice, and it was a woman's voice, an old woman's voice, barely heard. Calamity blinked. "Hello, who is there?" she asked, more puzzled than fearful: she did not feel a threat in the unexpected visitor, just ... curiosity. Those doors were locked, she thought, how'd somebody get in? --then rose. An old woman glided out of the shadows, a woman in the style of thirty years before, a woman with age engraved deeply in her withered hands and her aged but kindly face. "You fear for what could happen," she said in almost a grandmotherly voice. "You should think just as hard on the good that could come." "They came to kill Anna Mae," Calamity exclaimed, "and to burn the church --" The old woman's quiet, knowing smile was enough to bring Calamity to a stop. "It is nearly ended," she said, "and your men will hold their sons the way proud men will, and" -- she looked up, and Calamity saw amusement in the deep-set old eyes, "the Preacher's leg will be wet." Calamity's mouth opened and she blinked, absolutely unsure what this might mean, and the old woman turned and took a step, back into the shadow, and was gone. Anna Mae looked up, her hand going to the shotgun parked nearby: she took a quick peek out the window, parked the double gun, opened the door. "Why Calamity, you look as if you've seen a ghost!" Calamity stepped uncertainly into the tidy kitchen, looked from Sarah Jane to Anna Mae, opened her mouth, closed it. "There is tea," Sarah Jane offered helpfully, and Calamity nodded, and Sarah Jane rose and steered the obviously uncertain woman into a chair. Anna Mae set the steaming-full, delicate-bone-china cup and saucer in front of Calamity: their pallid, uncertain guest picked up the cup, closed her eyes, took a long breath, savoring the smell of fresh, hot oolong, then opened her eyes and looked uncertainly from one feminine benefactor to another. "What did your old mountain witch look like?"
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