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Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103

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Everything posted by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103

  1. SCRUB OUT SOME SALTS A pale eyed girl, a growing girl somewhere between the ages of twelve, tapped a combination into the keypad, turned a key in the lock, drew open the door and slipped inside. She turned on the balls of her feet -- almost a dancer's move -- she drew the door shut, turned the lock, turned and looked into the shadowed depths of the Firelands Museum. This would have been Sarah Llewellyn's parlor, she thought: I know it was opened up to make it big and open for exhibits ... Her thoughts drifted off as she slipped across the floor, silent in well polished cowboy boots. She'd had her Daddy teach her how to polish her boots -- "you told Jacob and Joseph how important it is to take care of your leather goods," she'd said quietly, and she'd taken one boot while her Daddy took the other, and together they cleaned the leather and warmed the leather and they applied the polish, she watched carefully as her Daddy made a fine spit shine look easy: hers was almost as good. With practice, hers became equally as good as her Daddy's. Her boots gleamed as she glided across the floor and up the stairs, her breath was quick in her throat as she unlocked The Office, as she went inside, as she closed and locked the door behind her. For a moment she imagined the museum as suddenly populated with ghosts, stirring in shadows, curious about this nighttime intruder, coming to the closed office door and listening, perhaps waiting for her to open the door. Angela Keller opened the door with the key she wore around her neck, the key given her by her pale eyed older sister that day when she stepped through a glowing oval, and departed through the glowing oval: Angela closed her eyes, leaned her head back, raised both hands at arm's length, palms up. "I call upon the shadow-line, "I call upon my blood and time, "Answer now these quests of mine." Angela opened one eye, half-fearful, half-hopeful, then opened her other eye. Nothing. Her shoulders sagged, her arms lowered until her hands were at her sides. Nothing. Disappointed, she turned. The pale-eyed daughter of the pale-eyed Sheriff stopped, surprised, her eyes sudden-wide: her head was tilted a little to the side, then she did something that surprised her. She giggled. "That's not how we thought you would react," a pale eyed woman said, smiling: she stood before Angela, wearing a gown and a funny cap and a shawl like women from the American Revolution. Angela looked at the musket the woman held, upright at her side, almost as if she were holding a walking stick. "Brown Bess, the Long Land pattern," she said aloud. "That's right," another voice said, and Angela looked to her right, at an archer-maiden with a Grecian band holding her curly auburn hair back, a maiden with a draped garment that left her right shoulder bare -- apparently so she could draw the recurved bow in her left hand. "Ancient Greece?" Angela hazarded. "Two for two," another voice agreed: Angela turned, frowned, planted her knuckles on her belt. "Sara McKenna or Gammaw?" A second appeared beside the first, both identical in coiffure, in gown, in posture and smile: Angela knew one was her Gammaw, but much younger than she remembered her, the other had to be, had to be, Sarah Lynne McKenna! "You have a question," the many chorused. "More than one." Feminine laughter, gentle and light: "Ask as many as you want, there are many of us!" "How come Jacob didn't kill that man today?" Jacob Keller dropped the rifle's muzzle, took a quick sight, slapped the trigger. The ancient Garand spoke once, loud and echoing in the mountain air: the military issue, full metal jacket bullet drove through the trailbike's finned cylinder, busting the castings and bringing the exhaust-screaming,high-RPM bike to sudden and deathly silence. Angela's mare, exhausted from being chased, turned, flanks heaving: Angela stood cold-eyed, her own rifle in hand: she'd been chased by mountain bikers, hell raisers trying to herd her into a cul-de-sac: she was a pretty young girl and alone, there were several of them, or had been: Angela rode for high country, she'd almost made her escape, and when she found herself with rock on three sides and approaching bikes before her, she threw up a leg and dropped out of the saddle, she slid the rifle out of its scabbard and cycled the lever, determined to drop every one of them that came at her. When the lead bike stopped and the Garand's roar echoed through the mountains, the pursuers hesitated: when another bike inherited a fast moving payload through its transmission, the other three turned and fled. "We are given many decisions in this lifetime," her Gammaw said -- now she wore her usual blue suit dress instead of the gown like Sarah McKenna wore -- "and you made the right decision." Angela frowned a little, turned her head as if to bring a good ear to bear, and every one of the -- ghosts? memories? ladies? -- every one of them laughed a little, for they remembered their men doing that very same thing. "You were ready to stop them from doing terrible things to you," the Greek archer-maiden smiled: the smile was warm, and Angela could almost feel the Mediterranean sun's warmth smiling from her bronzed, healthy skin. "Yes," Angela said, nodding. "Yes, I was." "But your question is about Jacob." "Yes." "Every generation, and everyone in that generation, is tested," the pale eyed woman of the Revolution replied, her fingers working a little as she gripped the musket barrel. "Each of us, male and female, is tested to determine our suitability." "For what?" "For the Final Battle." Angela was quiet for several long moments. "How," she said finally, "does being chased by bikers compare to Har-Megiddo?" Angela saw approving looks exchanged between the pale eyed ancestresses. "Yours was your first test, and you did well. You did not panic, you evaded as best you could, but when you saw your mare was flagging, you made your stand where they would have to come at you one at a time, and from only one direction." Angela blinked. "Yes. Yes, I did." She frowned. "But what about Jacob?" "He's been tested many times. He chose to stop the threat by killing machines instead of men." "Oh." "This was a test of his judgement. By taking the unhorsed into custody, he was able to interrogate and get the names of the other criminals. They will be brought before the Bar, and you will be a witness." Angela nodded. "Good," she said firmly. "How many of them were there?" "Four," Angela said without hesitation. "You had a rifle." She nodded. "How many shots had you?" "I had ten rounds of full-house .357," she said firmly, her jaw taking a less than ladylike set: in her lifetime, she'd never been subjected to the brutality others of her line had survived, but she knew about some of them, and she was determined that those thing would never, ever! be done to her! Every one of the Ladies' heads nodded, one, firmly, every throat uttered the same pronouncement, all in unison: "Good!" "Was your question about Jacob?" Sarah asked, folding her hands in a very feminine, very ladylike manner in her apron. "Mostly." "Have you any more for us?" "No." Angela blinked: she was suddenly alone -- the several pale eyed women simply disappeared -- not with a clap of collapsing air, not in a flash, no whoosh, whizz or puff of smoke, and suddenly she felt so very, very alone. "Thank you," she whispered into the suddenly empty air. Jacob Keller swung down from his stallion, the Garand slung from his shoulder. He walked over to his Gammaw's grave, knelt, planted the rifle's butt hard on the sod, laid a hand on the polished quartz stone. "Gammaw," he said softly, "I don't know if you're the reason I took Uncle Pete's Garand today, but if you are, thank you. It worked well." He lifted his eyes, looked around and behind to his right, then around and behind to his left: he looked directly at his Apple-horse: satisfied all was well, he took a long breath, continued. "We got a full confession from the ones we brought in, and the others are either apprehended or have warrants out for their arrest. Pa said he was pleased with my performance and very pleased with my interrogation." He took another breath, blew it out through pursed lips, trying to discharge memory-stress with it, and not quite succeeding. "They all admitted they intended some very bad things for Marnie. When she saw them and fled, they bayed after her like a wolfpack. Angela was ready to drop 'em and I stopped that too." He stared long at the laser engraved, oval portrait on Sheriff Willamina Keller's tombstone: his Gammaw, formally posed, with her six point star on the lapel of her suit dress's coat: he hung his head, swallowed, bit his bottom lip: here, and only here, did he allow himself to truly feel the loss of his Gammaw's death. "I miss you," he whispered, then he raised his head and grinned. "I kept my baby sis safe," he said softly. Jacob rose, turned: he slung the Garand, paced back to his stallion, stopped. Apple-horse's eyes were closed, his ears laid back, the way he did when someone was giving him particularly welcome caresses: Jacob first saw this when his Gammaw met Apple-horse for the first time, and he felt that sorrow again, and then he saw the rose, laid across Apple's mane, just ahead of the saddle. Jacob picked it up, slid it through the button hole of his shirt pocket: he lifted it, sniffed it, turned, looked at the tombstone. "Thank you, Gammaw," he whispered, then he thrust a burnished boot into the doghouse stirrup. "C'mon, fella," he said softly. "I've got to scrub some salts out of this good old bore."
  2. Just downloaded it onto the Kindle. Many thanks for the recommend, looking forward to this!
  3. KAR 98 Angela Keller was a beautiful child of the mountains. Angela Keller wore her hair in braids, like her big sister Marnie (who she adored!), but Angela Keller dressed like a pretty little girl ('cause that's what her Mommy liked!) and Angela Keller rejoiced in her big strong Daddy, especially when he picked her up and swung her around, and she threw her head back and scattered happy, little-girl-sized giggles all over the floor, and anyone in earshot could not help but smile to hear it. Angela Keller was quick, bright, intelligent, curious -- all fine traits for a child -- but she was also quick to listen, and she was inclined to turn invisible so she could hear stuff. Where her sister Marnie wore denim skirts and red cowboy boots, Angela wore pleated skirts and saddle shoes, 'cause that's what Marnie wore sometimes an' that's what her Gammaw said she wore when she was a girl an' Angela didn't 'member her Gammaw much but Marnie looked just like her. Angela followed her Daddy out to the barn. He was busy with Daddy stuff, and while he was happily hammering something on an anvil, Marnie wandered back in the back of the barn, looking around with the innocent eyes of a child, giggling at dust-motes floating through beams of light, stooping quickly to caress a barn cat (she was the only one who could touch this particular cat, nobody else could even get close!), tilting her head and frowning as a stray beam of light drove through one of the only gaps in the siding, shining a slowly moving slit of bright light on a stick of some kind. Angela tilted her head, frowned. Something was carefully burned into the wood. Angela blinked, frowned, bent closer: she traced the words with soundless lips: "KAR 98." Pretty little Angela Keller drew her head back, surprised, 'cause it looked more like a hoe handle than it did a car and maybe it was one of those foreign cars 'cause they spelled things funny in other countries or maybe it was a car part? Her Daddy would know. Angela reached out, drew her hand back: she skipped back to where her Daddy was happily profaning whatever he was working on, she slipped in close to his knees and reached under the workbench and grabbed a pair of gloves, skipped back to where she found that hoe handle with the funny foreign car woodburned into it. Angela thrust her hands into the oversized gloves, seized the hoe handle, shook it and wiggled it and got the bottom end out and pulled it the rest of the way free, and she rapped it against a post to knock off its thick layer of dust (which is why she went for gloves!) and she carried it back to her Daddy, skipping as she did, a happy little girl with bouncing pigtails and a bright smile and a dust-filthy hoe handle held like a prize before her. Linn stepped back from the anvil, held up the part he'd been working on. It was rare for him to let his anger out, but he knew sometimes a man had to let the badger loose: he was Sheriff, and he managed stresses of many kinds, and so when this particular part defied him for the last time, he beat it mercilessly, picked up the mashed and distorted remains of what used to be a defiant mechanical device, he took careful aim at the scrap pile, he threw it into the pile, just as hard and as viciously as he possibly could. It hit the pile with a satisfying clatter. Sheriff Linn Keller peeled off his gloves, took a long breath, blew it out, set his hammer handle-up on the anvil and muttered, "That felt good!" He turned as Angela came skipping up to him. "Daddy, what kind of a car is this?" she asked, pale eyes blinking and innocent. Most men have a weakness, and this long, tall, pale eyed Sheriff was looking at one of his biggest weaknesses, and that was his little daughter Angela. Linn went down on one knee and accepted the proffered pole. Angela pointed with a too-big-glove's finger and said "That must be a foreign car, Daddy. They spell funny, y'know." Her solemn expression and her single, emphatic nod tickled the Old Man's fancy, and he laughed, he looked at what looked like a dust-filthied hoe handle and he turned it over so he could read the lettering right-side-up. Linn blinked and Angela saw surprise in her Daddy's expression. "Angela," he said, his voice suddenly serious, "I know what this is." Angela didn't say much as she rode into town with her Daddy. She sat, very proper and very ladylike, seat belted into the front passenger seat, looking around, saying nothing: young eyes rested on the unmarked button on his Jeep console, the one that she knew to press if she had to release the shotgun in its rack, she looked at the heavy grey microphone with the red plastic push button and she knew what to say if she had to use it, she looked at her Daddy, strong and confident behind the wheel, and when they came to a particular bend in the road, her Daddy said quietly, "Roll down your window, Princess," and she did, and she saw the smile hiding behind her Daddy's eyes when he added, "Push the button." Angela pushed the button marked EJECT and laughed with delight as her Daddy's Oogah-horn klaxon'd a raucous note, which rolled across the narrow valley and echoed back at her. Some years before, Linn reached over and bumped the button wired to his newly installed Oogah-horn, and Angela was just a baby, but she'd laughed with absolute delight, her one newly emerged tooth shining as she did, and ever since, when it was just the two of them and they came through this one place where they got the bestest echo, her Daddy had her roll down her Pneumonia Hole and hit the Oogah Horn button. Angela strutted along beside her Daddy when they went in the parts store, and she looked around with solemn wonder as her Daddy and his buddy behind the counter (her Daddy knew everybody!) talked flanges and broken bolts, and Easy-Outs, as he talked about a broken distributor shaft and other Daddy-words, and after he'd bought something in a cardboard box, they went back out to the Jeep and they didn't go home. Her Daddy took her to the Museum, and Angela liked the Museum,'cause they had Stuff there. Her Daddy took her there one time and she'd stopped in the middle of the big room with all the displays, and he'd looked at her with a grin and said "What's in here, Angela?" and she'd happily declared, "Wow! Lotsa stuff!" and her Daddy laughed and picked her up and swung her around, and staff and visitors alike delighted in the sound of a happy child and the sight of a delighted father. Angela and her Daddy went into The Office, and her Daddy consulted a computer, and her Daddy went to one of the books (there were lotsa books in here!) and he paged quickly through one, then another, then he sat down and planted his elbow on the green desk blotter and laid his finger across his muts-tash and frowned as he read, and that meant he'd found what he was looking for. "Angela," he said quietly, and she came up to her Daddy, and he picked her up and set her on his lap. Angela liked sitting on her Daddy's lap, he was warm and he was strong and he was gentle when she was on his lap. "I found what I was looking for." Angela looked at the printed page, looked back up at her Daddy, blinking. Linn rose, his arm under his little girl's backside, carrying her and the book back to the shelf: he slid the book carefully back into its assigned space, headed for the front door, walking fast. People moved out of his way. When a man is moving with purpose, his pace is deliberate, and when a father carries his little girl and he is moving at a quick and deliberate pace, there is generally a very good reason. Angela watched as her Daddy wiped the dirt off the car-stick-thing, wiped it again and examined it: he nodded, looked at Angela and smiled a little. "We've solved the mystery," he said. "Well done, detective, you found the final clue!" Angela looked at her Daddy with big and innocent eyes -- she'd found that was an excellent way to get more out of her Daddy, whether it was information, ice cream or attention. Linn walked over to the gun case, unlocked it. He ran his hand slowly left, then right, then left again: he removed a rifle, lifted his chin. Angela came over, gripped the rifle, its butt against the floor: she kept the barrel carefully vertical, watched as her Daddy set the funny car-stick beside it. The end of the stick, and the rifle's muzzle, were the same distance from the floor. "This," her Daddy explained, "is a German Mauser." Angela nodded. She knew what a Mauser rifle was. Her Daddy and her brother Joseph had a great liking for the Mauser action. "This" -- Linn tapped the stick against the floor, gently, bringing out a woody note -- "well, I'll show you what it's used for." He set the Mauser back in the gun case, closed the glass front door, locked it, hung the key back on its shadowed hook. He stood, opened a box atop the gun case, brought out a knife: he carried it funny, he had its handle in his hand but the blade up along his forearm. "Let's go outside, I'll show you something." The front door opened as they approached and Joseph came in, red-cheeked and grinning: he'd left his muck boots in the stable, his boots were in his hand. "The man of the hour," Linn grinned. "Report." "Stalls are mucked out, sir, fresh straw down." "Well done," Linn said quietly, approval shining from his pale eyes. "Need your help." A shadow of disappointment crossed Joseph's young face, then he looked curiously at the hoe handle his little sis held, and the disappointment was replaced with curiosity. "Get your boots on. We're in for a Scienterrific Spearmint." Joseph grinned, delighted: he knew when his Pa cheerfully butchered the King's H'inglish, this generally meant something interesting was about to transpire. Linn leaned the plank against the barn, set the end of the hoe handle against the plank, motioned Joseph closer. He set the other end of the hoe handle against Joseph's belt buckle. "Hold this with your left hand," he said quietly, "and take this." Linn placed the throwing knife in Joseph's hand. "Hold this by the handle," he said, "stick the knife in that board." Joseph drew back, threw: the lanceolate blade drove straight and true into smooth, stained, secondhand pine, harvested from who knows what. "Good." Linn pulled it loose, handed it back. "Again." Thunk. "Once more." The pale eyed son of the pale eyed Sheriff drew his arm back, drove forward: the ancient, hand forged Smith knife drove into the punished pine plank, the three penetrations all touching. "Good." Linn took the hoe handle, tucked it under his arm like a swagger stick. "Let's go inside." The three trooped back inside the house. Linn unlocked the gun case again, stood the stick up beside the Mauser again. "This stick," he said, "was cut to this length for a reason." He reached into the gun case, withdrew a bayonet, attached it to the rifle's muzzle with a twist and a click. "You know there was a Joseph Keller you were named after." "Yes, sir." "You know he died in the First War." "Yes, sir." "Do you remember how he died?" "He died screaming and covered in someone else's blood," Joseph grinned. Linn nodded. "He had a bayonet in the guts and he was a rifle's length from the German that killed him. He threw a knife and kilt the b'ar that kilt him." Joseph nodded, his smile fading. "What you found, Angela, is the stick that Sarah Lynne McKenna used to train her Joseph in knife throwing." Angela blinked, frowning. "But Daddy ... how did she know he'd need to know how?" Linn sat down cross legged, laid the stick down, held the Mauser rifle upright. Linn Keller caressed his little girl's cheek with the back of a bent forefinger, looked very seriously at his little girl. "Angela," he said softly, "women of the Keller line often have a way of knowing things. Your Gammaw did, your sister does, Sarah McKenna did." Angela looked at Joseph, suddenly uncertain: she gripped his hand, shrunk up against her brother: "Daddy, does that mean I'm gonna know stuff too?" Linn nodded solemnly. "Likely you will, Princess." Angela considered this, then Linn saw mischief slip into his daughter's expression: he turned, parked the Mauser back in the gun case, set the stick in with it, closed the door and fast it up. "Daddy," Angela said, looking at her brother with anticipation, "does this mean we can have ice cream?" Linn laughed and hugged his little girl to him with one arm, his growing son with the other: he looked from one to the other. "Joseph," he said, his voice serious and his expression anything but, "I think your sister just read my mind!" Father, son and daughter adjourned to the kitchen adjacent, where the three of them very happily set about absolutely spoiling their dinner.
  4. AS THE SUN GRIPPED THE FAR HORIZON Willamina was used to rolling out of the bunk before sunrise: she'd done it for so many years, she saw no sense in stopping now, her weekend off, or not. She'd gotten up and slugged down warmed-over coffee, she'd belted on comfortably roomy jeans and thrust sock feet into worn, comfortable boots, she'd slung a rifle muzzle down from her off shoulder and looked around before emerging from her front door. Years behind the badge taught her caution. She looked around, her breath steaming in the cold air, pale eyes busy: The Bear Killer flowed out of the house behind her, a ponderous mountain of fur that looked clumsy and slow ... most deceptively so, Willamina thought, reaching down to caress the muscled shoulder. A large canine head leaned companionably against her thigh, muttered something deep in his broad chest, and the two descended the two steps to the cold gravel in front of the old house that could tell so very many stories. Heads, human and canine, turned toward the whitewashed fence. Willamina gripped her slung-muzzle-down rifle's forearm, her eyes narrowed a little at the corners, and she leaned forward. Sheriff Willamina Keller began to run, and The Bear Killer ran with her. To the East, the sun was just reaching up to grip the rim of the world, fiery knuckles just visible, ready to chin itself over the tall granite peaks. Deputy Linn Keller looked up at the same horizon, as did his partner. Linn grew up in the law enforcement community, both literally and figuratively: he was in grade school when he began training with the deputies, with the officers of Fireland's Police Department: in his younger years, before his sisters were big enough, he was a favorite of their hand-to-hand instructors, as they theorized if they could teach a boy how to take down a grown man, they could teach female officers, with their slighter build and lesser stature: it was a fine theory, and it may actually have worked, at least to a degree: Willamina personally supervised the female training, and brought in accomplished instructors (female instructors!) on her personal theory that men and women speak different languages, and that women learn better from women. However correct, or however mistaken each instructor was, it was absolutely indisputable that both the ladies of law enforcement, and the Sheriff's pale eyed son, were all ... ... effective. Linn was not considering any of this at the moment. He sat with a brother officer on the sagging back steps of his fellow's rental, considering frost, fog and sunrise: each man wore a heavy coat, each had his fingers wrapped around a nearly-cold mug, and each had been talking in quiet voices throughout the night. No, that's not quite right. Linn did most of the listening, his troubled badge packing brother-in-arms did most of the talking, and they'd set on those selfsame back steps, on a folded saddle blanket Linn thought to bring along, for the biggest part of those hours of darkness. Jeanette looked out her back door, saw two heads. "Frank?" She opened the door a hand's-breadth, cold air washed in over her bare feet. "Frank?" Two men stood, turned, smiled. "Just leavin', Jeannette," Linn said in that gentle voice of his, and Jeannette looked at her husband with concerned eyes. She saw the two men shake hands, watched as Linn handed Frank his now-empty mug, as he stopped and gave her husband a serious, direct look, and gripped his shoulder, and then he turned and was gone. Willamina ran for the joy of running, and her horses ran with her. Willamina's lungs were mountain-raised, her blood was thick and rich and a more efficient oxygen transport than the poor souls who lived in the heavier air down below: Willamina's pace was easy and deceptively swift: her course was a little more than a mile, a mare on either side of her, their colts pacing by their flanks, her whole herd joining her: this had been her routine every morning for the last twenty years, and she did not see any reason not to continue, at least until the chest pains started again. Willamina slowed, her mares with her: The Bear Killer came up beside her, whined as Willamina ran an arm quickly over her mare's shoulder, breathing deeply, deliberately, refusing to give in to the frightened impulse to hyperventilate to ease her crushing pain. "Not yet," she whispered fiercely. "Damn you, not yet!" Linn watched his mother rub her mare's jaw, whisper to her. It did not escape the lean waisted deputy's pale eyes that the other mares were watching closely and they were standing very still, and The Bear Killer was standing just as still, watching her just as closely, and that great plume of a tail was not swinging. Willamina felt his eyes on her: she turned, lifted her chin, squared her shoulders, and set her course directly toward her son. Linn lowered his head a little as he opened his arms, as he hugged her into him. "How's my favorite Mama?" he asked quietly, and she laughed and hugged him back. "What, you've got a selection now?" she riposted. "Or are you tellin' your old decrepit Maw you've got a harem of cute little twenty-year-olds?" "Just a pair of 'em, Mama," Linn grinned, then he looked left, looked right, lowered his head a little and murmured quietly, "I'm gonna trade 'em back, though. Ah'm not wired for two-twenty!" "You and your father," Willamina sighed, shaking her head. "What are you doing out and about on your day off?" "Uh-oh," Willamina grunted as she studied her son's face. "I know that look. Come on, I'll make coffee!" Willamina was almost successful in slipping a nitro under her tongue unseen. Almost. Linn sat and sampled a couple cookies that somehow survived the previous day's passage of Willamina's Warriors, those perpetually hungry football players who ran a regular route for physical conditioning -- a route the Sheriff shared with them, running with them in boots and fatigues and rifle and pack, teaching them delightfully obscene running songs, and providing them with water and cookies at the halfway point of their run. The coffeepot began chuckling wetly to itself and the smell of brewing coffee filled the kitchen with the odor of welcome and comfort. Shortly mother and son sat across the table from one another, steaming mugs in front of them, each contemplating the shimmering, fragrant depths of their respective mug, until Willamina smiled and raised hers. "Out with it," she said from behind glazed ceramic. "You've not slept." "No, ma'am, I haven't." Linn took a cautious sip, took another, sloshed the cookie crumbs down his throat to prevent their falling back unbidden: "I got a call." Willamina's eyebrow raised and her pale eyes were unblinking, steady, fixed on his own. "Frank ... you recall Frank had a bad one." Willamina nodded, slowly, sipping a little after her second nod. "The phone rang at oh too early in the morning," Linn said quietly. "Frank said 'Can you come over? I need to talk,' and I said 'Enroute,' and I've been there ever since." Willamina blinked to show she was listening; Linn knew she was listening very closely. "He blamed himself for not talkin' that kid out of killin' himself." Another slow sip of coffee, a slow swallow: Linn's eyes were distant as he remembered. "He didn't need me to tell him it wasn't his fault," Linn said slowly as he processed the preceding evening. "He needed a friend to listen to what he had to say." "You've always been good at that," Willamina murmured. Linn nodded. "I learned that from you, Mama," he said softly. "You taught me to listen to 'em, because they need to say it -- whether it's an interrogation, a field interview, a friend distressed. I watched you do it and you talked about it with Pa and I listened." "At least I did that much right," Willamina murmured. "You did a lot more than that right, Mama." "Sounds like you have too." Linn lowered his mug. "Yes I have, Mama. When it's a difficult situation -- if they need a negotiator or if it's something sensitive or stressful, I'm the one they holler for." "Because you're good at what you do." Linn nodded, and Willamina saw a memory rear up behind his eyes like a wave towering over a tropical beach. "We set on his back steps. He talked and I listened, and we set there shoulder to shoulder until the sun reached up and gripped the far horizon to chin itself into the new dawn." Linn's phone chimed, vibrated in his pocket: he frowned, pulled it out, thumbed the screen, read the message, read it again. Willamina watched as her son's eyebrow raised, then he set the phone down flat, turned it so she could read the screen, slid it across the table to her. Willamina picked up the phone, read it, read it again, and her own eyebrow raised. "Looks like you did all right," she said approvingly, and Linn nodded, his face a little more pale than it had been. On the screen, stark black letters against the silvery background: Thank you, my friend. If you hadn't been there, I would have eaten a .38.
  5. A MAIDEN'S TEARS Three vehicles crested the hill under the cast iron arch. Three vehicles proceeded down the main road into the cemetery, the one that went past the oldest graves. Three vehicles stopped. Just over a dozen pretty young women dismounted, formed a circle two deep around a particular grave. Most of them wore cheerleader's uniforms. All of them wore solemn expressions. One stood directly behind the tombstone, the stone with a laser engraved, six point star that said, simply, SHERIFF, beside an oval portrait of a woman with pale eyes. Two of this pale eyed woman's granddaughters were among the encircled. A single voice, raised in question: "What weapons have we?" In chorus, the answer, at just short of a shout: "I AM THE WEAPON!" One of the cheerleaders stepped forward. She still had a hospital band around one wrist, the inside of her forearms bore the marks of bruising and multiple IVs: a new scar was healing, at the bottom rear of her right jaw, a scar that she was making no attempt at disguising with cosmetics or bandaging either one. "I was in the back seat," she said, "and so was my sister. "I don't know what they intended to do to us ... not exactly, but the more they talked, the more I realized it was bad." She took a long breath. This was the first she'd really spoken of what happened to her: not even the Sheriff had her statement. That would come later. Right now, the Valkyries assembled with one of their own, at the grave of their founder and their instructor and their greatest cheerleader, the one that taught their hearts what their minds had long known: that when it hit the fan, they had the best chance of keeping themselves safe, in those first critical moments, and when she taught them that, she taught them how to do it. "They zip tied our hands in front of us," she said hesitantly, "and they put duct tape over our mouths, just like in the movies." Solemn eyes regarded the speaker; the speaker stared at the tombstone, at the lifelike portrait of the woman they'd followed, the woman they'd loved, the woman who'd taken them all in as if each and every one of them was one of her own. "I drove my hands against his head and I had just enough reach to get my fingers in his eyes." Young women -- pretty young women -- looked no less pretty as their jaws hardened to hear the words of one of their sisterhood. "He was driving and he wasn't going to take us where they said they would and he wasn't going to do the things he and his buddy talked about." She closed her eyes, shivered, opened her eyes, raised clawed hands, looked at them, seeing the moment again in her memory. "I tore his eyeballs out and I did it fast and he screamed and clawed at my hands, he let go of the steering wheel and I knew he was blinded so I let go and fell back." She raised her head, threw her head back like a swimmer coming out of too deep a dive, took a great gasping breath. "I swung my leg up and I kicked his buddy in the side of the jaw when he came around to grab at me and that's when we crashed." She dropped her head: it was harder for her to breathe, remembering the moment when the world tumbled around her and she was shaken around the inside of the car like a beetle shaken in a tin can. "I got my sister out a broken window. She was hurt and I was hurt and I didn't know if they were hurt or not and I didn't care." Sheriff Linn Keller looked at the evidence photographs. He sorted slowly through them, his eyes pale, hard: he looked at two close-up photographs of girls' hands, zip tied together in front, of their faces, duct tape still in place, of the fresh laceration on one girl's jaw, bleeding like a stuck pig. He set the photographs aside, picked up the coroner's report. "We wouldn't be alive today if the Sheriff hadn't taught us," she said, her voice a little more steady. "We would not breathe air if she hadn't shown us ... if she hadn't shown ME -- that I AM THE WEAPON, and IN A FIGHT THERE ARE NO RULES!" She lifted her head and looked around. "When's the next practice?" "Tomorrow," came the anonymous reply. She nodded, stepped forward, knelt in front of the gravestone, laid her hands on cold quartz, looked at the portrait. "Thank you," she whispered, and a maiden's tears fell to the cold, snow-dusted sod. She stood, a fresh-cut rose in her hand, dewdrops on its scarlet petals not yet frozen, despite the winter's cold. Linn tossed the coroner's report on the pile, rubbed his eyes: he pulled a notebook out of his uniform blouse pocket, consulted it, smiled a little. "Angela has Valkyries tomorrow," he said softly, looked up as a shadow moved across the frosted glass opposite. There was a light tap at his door. Sheriff Linn Keller rose as a young woman in a cheerleader's uniform slipped in, closed the door behind her. Linn noticed she had a blossoming rosebud pinned to her top. Just like Mama wore as a cheerleader, he thought, motioning his visitor to a chair. She remained standing, folded her hands in front of her. "Sheriff," she said, lifting her chin a little, "I'm here to give my statement." She closed her eyes, took a long breath, wet her lips. In a soft voice she added, "I think I'm ready to talk about it now."
  6. THROWN BY AN ANGEL A pretty young woman sat behind a large desk in the back office of the county library. Officially it was the "Willamina Room," named after a generous benefactor of years before; in common usage, it was simply "the back office," and it was frequently populated by those who wished to pursue a greater knowledge of their ancestry. Not surprisingly, some of the most frequent occupants, had pale eyes. A young woman with pale eyes worked magic on the computer's keyboard, looking from one screen to the other, tracking down an elusive ancestress: her carriage was very erect, her feet flat on the floor, a pair of frameless half-glasses halfway down her nose, her hair up in an elaborate hairstyle more at home in the 1880s than in this streamlined and modern era. Angela Keller looked up and smiled as an uncomfortable schoolboy presented himself before the battleship of a dark-stained desk. "Can I help you?" Angela smiled, removing her half-glasses and giving him the full benefit of her startling, pale-blue eyes. He shifted his weight from one foot to another, fidgeted, clearly uncomfortable, then he looked up at her in an abrupt moment of decision and blurted, "I'm looking for an angel." Angela blinked, tilted her head a little. "The real thing, a reference, or a picture?" "A ... I saw an angel when I was ..." Angela waited patiently, nodded once to encourage him. He turned away. "You wouldn't understand," he mumbled. "You were seven years old and in a car wreck," Angela said quietly, and he turned as if stung. "How'd you know?" Angela rose. "I think I have that picture." Stiff fingers drove hard into the twin starter buttons. Two starters rammed their bendix into the geared flywheel, the big Diesel rolled over, coughed, clattered, snarled, then settled into a rattling, breathy rumble: Fireland Fire Department's Pump One was awake, a great, shining, red-painted cat stretching and flexing its claws, snarling and gathering its strength to charge into battle with a hated enemy. Armored nobility in contoured helmets and fireproof coats, in silvered bunker pants and steel-soled fireboots, fast up their armor and thrust hard and practiced hands into gauntlets: they seated themselves, mounted cavalry aboard a swift and deadly destrier. The overhead door clattered open, flooding the bay with cold air and sunlight, a Kenworth fire truck rolled out onto the apron and hesitated, snarling, spitting red-and-white warnings like a great, feral cat, warning all in sight that she was ready for a fight. A little girl in a handmade dress and shiny black slippers watched from inside the firehouse: just as the air brakes released, she streaked out from under the closing bay door, running as hard as she could, she leaped, she seized the dangling strap, she turned and flattened herself against the back of the pumper, a little girl with pale blue eyes, riding the tailboard and thrilling to the feeling of raw power singing up through her feet. The pretty young woman in the old-fashioned gown glided from behind the big wood desk, came around, stopped: she folded her hands very properly in her apron, tilted her head a little and gave her uncomfortable young visitor a warm, approving look. "You're Benjamin." He nodded, swallowed. "You're looking for a picture of the angel you saw." He nodded again. "I know the angel, and we have her picture." Angela stood with her feet apart and a little forward, pushing herself hard against the vertical wall of gold-trimmed, gilt-lettered, shining-enamel-red steel wall behind her. One hand held the strap men used to hold when it was still legal for firemen to ride the tailboard; the other held the shining, chromed side rail men seized when they ran for the back of the truck. She held very still, trying to be invisible, for she knew she wasn't supposed to be doing this. Besides, her Mommy was very proper about these things, and she wouldn't approve of her twelve year old daughter riding the tailboard of a pumper, screaming through the cold air, enroute a car wreck. "Tell me what happened that day," Angela said gently, seating herself beside the twelve year old boy, at a table where she'd placed the three books. He looked at her, uncomfortable. "You wouldn't believe me," he mumbled, dropping his head: "nobody believes me when I tell 'em." Angela paused, considered, laid a gentle hand flat on his near shoulder blade. "You saw an angel," she said, "and the angel held your hand and told you it wasn't your time." He nodded. "What did your Mommy tell you about that day?" She opened one of the books, paged through it, stopped. He drove a stiff finger down on the page, his eyes wide with -- delight, alarm? -- he looked up at Angela. "I think you would like a copy of this." His finger was pressed hard enough into the image to blanch his nailbed from healthy pink to bleached-white: he raised his hand, nodded. The pretty young woman with pale blue eyes smiled. "That," she said, "is Angela Keller. She lived in the 1880s. Was that the dress she wore?" He shook his head. "No," he said quietly. Angela turned the page. "Is that her?" She ran her arm around her sixth-grade guest to keep him from falling over: she held him against her side until he quit shivering, until he had strength enough to sit upright on his own, until he looked at her and whispered, "That's her. That's the angel I saw." Angela looked at her own picture, taken the same day she'd been dressed like an earlier Angela Keller: it was between the two near-identical pictures of a little girl in an old-fashioned dress and high-button shoes, and she wore a handmade dress and shiny black slippers. "What did she do?" "She held my hand and she told me I would be all right, then she picked me up and threw me." Angela Keller waited until the pumper stopped, until the choo-choo brakes sneezed: she jumped down, turned, ran -- Angela ran with her hands open and bladed, the way Marnie ran -- Angela was bent forward at the waist and moving like a streak, pale eyes locked on the steaming wreck of a car. She skiddded to a stop as men shouted, as heavy boots pounded across frozen ground toward her. Shelly would later be told that Angela grabbed the door and dove through the broken-out window, but that's not what the Irish Brigade saw. The saw Angela flow through the side of the car, like a ghost flows through a solid wall. "She took my hand and pulled and I came out of my body," he said slowly, his eyes distant as memory shaped in his throat and flowed from his tongue. "We stood back and watched as the firemen tore the car apart and got Mom out and they got me out." "Do you remember what they were saying about your Mom?" "I know they were ... worried ..." The mother was laid with practiced care on the ambulance cot. Gloved hands gripped aluminum framing, men routemarched quickly to the back of the squad. Shelly thrust up inside, helped guide the cot into the hooks, her father drove the heel of his hand into the cot release to open it. The cot swung into spring loaded steel jaws, locked in place, and the Captain vaulted into the back. Father and daughter, both experienced medics, ran their secondary survey, speaking quietly in the abbreviated terms of veteran medical professionals: the squad started out, slowly, carefully, until they had all four wheels on pavement, then a stained fireboot came down hard on the throttle and Firelands Squad One laid her ears back and ran. Shelly's first stick got a good blood return; her father plugged in the air-bled tubing, ran the saline solution wide open for a few seconds, then slowed it to a quick drip as his daughter secured the IV site. Shelly plugged the stethoscope into her ears, listened: lungs, left and right, high and low, then she turned the stethoscope from diaphragm to bell. She bared the woman's abdomen, pressed the bell against her maternal belly, hand flat over the stethoscope, pressing firmly in hopes of hearing fetal heart tones. "We watched as they got me out of the car," he said quietly. He looked up at the pretty young woman, her arm still around him. "She held my hand and she told me it would be all right but I didn't believe her." "Why didn't you believe?" Angela asked quietly. They made an incongrous pair. A twelve year old boy, in the pajama pants and clogs fashionable back East; a beautiful young woman in an old-fashioned gown; real books, instead of an electronic reader, or a computer screen. "They brought me out of the car and said I was dead and they laid me on the cot and I looked at the angel and I told her I didn't want to die." "What happened then?" He smiled a little, he almost -- almost! -- laughed. "I remember her hand was warm," he said softly, "and she looked at me and she had reeeal blue eyes. Like her." He thrust his chin at the picture, frowned. "But she had real light eyes, too --" He looked up at the pretty young woman, who smiled: she scooted a little away from him, took her arm from around his back, took his hand in hers, and her hand was warm and very real. "Hello, Benjamin," she said softly. "My name is Angela." Angela seized her young companion by the shirt collar and his belt. She hauled him overhead, ran through the wreck of a car like it wasn't there, she ran up to the cot as they were about to draw the sheet over the still little form's face. Angela keller SLAMMED a surprised little boy back into his body. A dead child's eyes snapped open and he gasped, suddenly: men froze, staring: a hand reached for his throat, fingers extended to check the carotid pulse -- "Ow," he quavered. Hard hands seized the cot, ran for the back of the rescue truck, which served as their second-out ambulance, and soon it, too, was running for the hospital with a heavy application of Diesel therapy. Angela turned the page of the book, looked at Jimmy, smiled. "This," she said softly, "is Angela Keller. She lived here in the 1880s, and she was the daughter of the pale eyed Sheriff. "This is me, the day my Mommy dressed me up like this Angela. "And this" -- she touched another portrait, beside the first: an identical little girl, in an identical dress, with an identical ribbon and big fancy bow on top of her head: the first and third girls were dressed absolutely identically, each held a rag doll locked in the bend of their elbow, each bore the same solemn expression. All three portraits were colorized. The only difference between the first portrait and the third -- thanks to Bruce Jones, who collected antique photographic equipment, who'd taken the picture of the modern day Angela Keller with the same camera used to take the earlier Angela's portrait -- the only difference was that the older photograph's subject had bright-blue, Kentucky-blue eyes, and both the modern-day little girl's portraits, had eyes of glacier's ice. Angela's hand was warm as it held Jimmy's hand, as she handed him a print of the page in the book: she turned, picked up an envelope big enough to hold it, helped Jimmy slip the freshly printed photograph into heavy manila paper. Jimmy stood, regarded the pretty young woman uncertainly. "Are you an angel?" he asked hesitantly. Angela knelt, took the envelope and placed it on the table beside them: she gripped both his hands, looked very directly into his eyes. "Yes, I am," she whispered. "My name is Angela, and that means that yes, I am an angel." The little boy's mother, and Benjamin's little brother, came through the door just as her son seized a kneeling woman in a desperate hug. She wondered for years afterward at her son's words, spoken quietly as the woman rose, as she handed him an envelope he held as if it were something precious. Jimmy looked at the pretty woman and said, "Thank you for throwing me!" "Where'd she go?" The remaining firemen looked around, searching for the stowaway little girl who'd ridden to scene on the tailboard. It wasn't until they returned to station that they found Angela Keller, curled up on the couch in the day room, her rag doll locked in the bend of her elbow, sound asleep.
  7. RIGHT ON TIME! A timid knuckle tapped gently on the doorframe, a timid voice called, "Sheriff?" Retired Sheriff Willamina Keller looked up, smiled: she was in the back office, the researcher's room, in the county library: the shelves were not lined with material for check-out, but rather with reference material, dedicated almost exclusively to either Firelands County, family genaeology, or history of the region: there were sections dedicated to railroading in the region, mining and timbering and businesses: they were carefully catalogued, a separate card catalogue -- outdated, yes, but still worthwhile -- and of course the now-common computers. In the center of the room, behind a broad desk, a pale eyed woman in a tailored blue suit dress. Willamina looked up at the hesitant alarm at her door: she smiled as the librarian came in, a coffee in each hand. Willamina had yet to brew the first pot; this arrival was particularly welcome. The timid, mousy little librarian came around behind Willamina's broad battleship of a desk, handed the retired Sheriff a steaming paper cup of fragrant coffee: two souls communed in silence, enjoying a moment of coffee flavored companionship. It was a quiet morning; nobody else was in-house, elsewise the librarian would never have left her command post, overlooking the entire floor, and to be honest, Willamina welcomed the company. She'd just unraveled a tangled knot of bloodline, thanks to persistence and the chance discovery of two newspaper articles from well more than a century ago. Strong hands gripped the strongbox, hoist it onto a cart: other of the bank's assets were stacked atop it, obscuring the label, hiding its intended destination. The bank, like many of its kind, went belly up during the Great Depression: like many banks, its assets were inventoried, calculated, distributed according to the honesty, or dishonesty, of the bank's managers, or boards, or directors. Another bank received the goods from the first bank. Furniture was auctioned, assets divided, and the strongbox ended up in another vault, behind a wall of files, records, materials, deeds and claims deemed worthy off salvage, and there it slept. Having been initially delivered to the wrong bank for storage, having been set aside and forgotten, having been moved yet again, the strongbox finally surfaced when the new bank was built, when the deeds and papers and records were inventoried. "Here, what's this?" "It's locked, whatever it is." "What's it say?" Pause. "This ... was supposed to be delivered ... to another bank ..." "Is there a date on it?" The strongbox was pulled out, two men grimaced to pick it up, set it on a stout table, nearest one of the strong wooden legs. "Turn on that light, there, thank you." "What does it say?" An envelope, gummed and somehow still attached to the flat lid of the old-fashioned strongbox, was carefully slit, the folded paper within extracted. A man read it, read it again, looked up. "Get the manager." Willamina ran pale eyes over the shelves of books, caressing them with her mind as she had with her fingers: she could almost recite their order on the shelves, for she'd arranged them herself, and referred to them often. "When the strongbox was delivered," Willamina said softly, "I remembered a key on a peg, and the words scratched into the wood above it." She smiled, hands cupped around coffee's welcome warmth. "Someone used a nail to scratch the word "STRONGBOX" above the peg. It was in a shadowed corner and God only knows how it stayed there all these years. "The strongbox was delivered in an armored car, more out of ... oh, probably a sense of propriety than anything else. The guards wheeled it in here on a two wheel cart, for it was heavy! -- I signed for it, and one of them pointed out the note in the envelope, still gummed to the lid of the strongbox. "I waited until they left before studying the old box. I still have it, by the way. It's upstairs, in what used to be Linn's bedroom." The librarian blinked, nodded. Willamina smiled, leaned back, sighed. "Old Pale Eyes loaded that strongbox with gold double eagles and a couple of journals, some documents ... that's how I was able to reestablish the Z&W Railroad. He included deeds that showed original ownership and in-perpetuity rights-of-way, which I've since purchased from the landowners, so there's no longer any right-of-way worries." The librarian nodded, listening carefully. "There were some really rare double eagles ... Coronets, I think they were called. Philadelphia mint." She leaned toward the librarian, continued in a quiet and confidential voice: "I made a bloody fortune off those Philadelphia mint coins!" She leaned back, sighed. "Firelands needed some help when I took over as Sheriff. Old Pale Eyes hit gold and he bought a fire engine and the services of a handful of Cincinnati firemen to run it -- the origins of our Irish Brigade today." The librarian listened silently, nodding a little: she was leaned forward in her chair, hanging on Willamina's every word. "Old Pale Eyes addressed it to the Firelands County Sheriff's Office, with instructions that the contents be given to his family, fifty years hence. Trouble was, between banks going under with the Great Depression, the strongbox going to the wrong bank for storage, after going who knows where, it finally made it back here a hundred fifty years after it left." "Genaeology, local history, cash infusion ... and this." Willamina laid a hand on the desktop: she withdrew it to reveal a Remington double derringer. "That was in there as well. Old Pale Eyes carried that to the day he died. It had been a gift from Charlie Macneil. I've carried it every day myself, and I'll carry it to my own deathday." "Oh, my," the librarian murmured. Willamina laid a hand on the little two-shot pistol, slipped it back into its hidden holster. I wish I could thank Macneil, she thought. His kindness safeguarded Old Pale Eyes and it kept me from harm more times than one! Willamina smiled, looked at her handwritten notes, at data on two glowing computer screens. "That's how I started into genaeology," she said thoughtfully, "and that's how I kept the Irish Brigade in business, and that's how I proved ownership of the Silver Jewel." She swirled her coffee, drank the last of her All-Night eye-opener. "It might have been a hundred and fifty years late getting here, but y'know, it got here right on time!"
  8. FATHER AND SON "Hit." Jacob rapped the stem of the saw set with the big ball peen hammer. Linn moved the saw two teeth. "Hit." Jacob rapped the stem again, the sound sharp in the quiet of the workshop. Hammer, saw set, vise and workbench were all older than either of them. Linn couldn't help but think that his Uncle Pete had his Mama on the hammer in a similar exercise, back when his Mama was young. She'd left her drunk of a mother and come west on the bus, she'd come marching up the driveway like she owned the place: she set her suitcase down on the front porch, walked right up to her Uncle Pete and said "Uncle Pete, I'm your nice Willamina, and I need your help." Uncle Pete and Aunt Mary took her in like she was their own daughter. Linn smiled a little as he moved the saw two more teeth: "Hit." If he recalled his Mama saying rightly, the years she spent here, with Uncle Pete and Aunt Mary, were the happiest of her life, at least until she became a wife and a mother. Pete and Mary were long dead, but Pete's work around the ranch still bore fruit: the fence posts he'd set, he set with the phase of the moon, and they were solid as if set in concrete: trees he planted with the signs, were healthy and bore fruit, even this many years after. Linn moved the saw two teeth. "Hit." The ball peen rapped the stem again, rose. Jacob saw his Pa's smile and he knew his Pa was remembering, the way he did when he used Pete's tools. There were folks who said his Pa was a hard man, and when need be, he surely was; on some matters, Jacob's pale eyed Pa could be as inflexible as seasoned white oak, but the son knew the father had a soft streak, and when it came to family, why, the man could occasionally be an old softy. It was something Jacob took pains never, ever to exploit. "Hit." The ball peen rapped the stem. Linn withdrew the crosscut, turned it: he'd set every other tooth, now he turned the blade around and set the first of the un-set teeth into position. "Hit." The ball peen rapped the stem. "Sir?" "Yes, Jacob?" "Will there be a dance tonight?" "Hit." The ball peen rapped the stem. "Yes, Jacob, there will. Hit." Whap. "Something on your mind?" "No, sir." "Hit." Whap. Linn moved the saw two teeth, looked at his son, raised an eyebrow. "Hit." Whap. Jacob frowned, considered, then: "Yes, sir, there is." "Hit." Whap. "What's on your mind?" The saw moved two teeth. Whap. "Sir, do you remember Marnie wanted to Irish dance?" "Hit." Whap. "I recall she did." "Sir, you recall she quit." "I recall she quit, yes. Hit." Whap. "Sir, do you recall why she quit?" "Hit." Whap. "No, Jacob, I'm sorry, I don't know." Linn frowned, withdrew the saw from the saw set, sighted down the row of teeth: half were set one way, half were set the other: he nodded, picked up the file, sat down on a recycled school bus seat. Jacob opened the vise, removed the ancient saw set, replaced it in the wooden dynamite cap box that Uncle Pete used for its storage, replaced it under the bench where it had lived for better than half a century that he knew of. Jacob turned the propane heater so it radiated more directly onto the school bus seat, then he turned and sat beside his pale eyed father, who was carefully, delicately touching the saw with the file. Linn nodded his satisfaction, reached over and laid the saw on the work bench. "Something's on your mind, Jacob." "Yes, sir, there is." Jacob frowned, considered that he wasn't usually so reticent: he pushed through his hesitancy. "Sir, I'm kind of sweet on a girl." Linn examined the file as if it was suddenly the most interesting thing he'd seen in years. "Is she cute?" he asked carefully. Jacob's ears were already red; they steadily incarnidined, until they were an absolutely flaming scarlet. "Yes, sir, she is." "Good," Linn nodded. "She'll be at the dance tonight." Again Linn's slow, thoughtful nod. "Sir, she started that Irish dancing when she was about three." "She's how old now?" "My age, sir." "What's her name?" Jacob wet his lips nervously. "Susie Merckle." Linn leaned his head back, contemplated the straw sticking from between boards overhead. "Manfred's little girl." "Yes, sir." "Irish dance." "Yes, sir." "Does this have anything to do with Marnie quittin'?" "It does, sir." Jacob looked toward the door, lowered his voice slightly. "Sir, I'd not hurt Mama's feelin's for the world." Linn nodded again, thoughtfully, like he'd done before. "Wise," he agreed. "Sir, Marnie found out Mama was expectin' her to dance in a recital and she didn't want to perform in front of folks." "I see." "She danced fine in front of strangers," Jacob continued. "As I recall, she won a couple ribbons she never told Mama about." "Go on." "Susie will be Irish dancing tonight." "Is she any good?" Jacob's grin was quick, a sudden delight, half bashful and half boyish, shone from his face, then he took a breath and assumed his usual impassive expression. "Yes, sir. She's good." Linn nodded, considered his son carefully. "You're sweet on her." "Yes, sir." Linn took a long breath, clapped his hands together, then looked down at them: he reached over, laid the file on the work bench, looked at his son, laughed kind of self-consciously. "I think I'm supposed to give you some real good free advice about now," he said, "but damned if my mind didn't just go blank!" Jacob considered the glowing red face of the propane heater, grateful for its warmth. He looked at his Pa as Linn's hand rested, warm and firm on his shoulder. "I recall when I was first sweet on your Ma," he said, his voice soft, his eyes distant as he remembered. "Yes, sir?" "She said I hypnotized her with my pale eyes, and she said she just plainly melted in her moccasins when I brought her hand up and kissed her knuckles." Linn's hand tightened, very slightly, as his eyes scanned across the clean-swept concrete floor, seeing something that existed in his memory: he shook his head, laughed a little, and continued. "Jacob, I honestly couldn't think of word one to say, so I kissed her hand and I felt like an absolute dunce standin' there lookin' at her, and then the music started and I took her around the waist and we went a-steppin'." Jacob grinned, nodded. Linn's voice was soft with memory, and he had a gentle smile Jacob saw rarely, and only when his Pa was talking about his Ma. "You get what you pay for, Jacob, and free advice is generally worth what you paid for it." "Yes, sir." "Was I to give you some, I'd say if you can't think of what to say, kiss her knuckles and run your arm around her when the music starts." "I'll remember that, sir."
  9. A BIG WHOPPER LIE! Angela Keller swallowed hard, squeezed her eyes closed, took a deep breath. She was halfway up the water tower ladder. Usually there was a cagey gatey thing across the steps that went up to the ladder part but they were open and Angela looked way up and she realized she could get up there quicker than anyone could stop her and so she ran up the steps and through the open gates and past the padlock with the pinched ends that meant bolt cutter and she remembered the bolt cutter on the ground where it'd been dropped and drove end-on into the dirt and fell over and Daddy never treated his tools like that and she was glad she didn't treat someone's tools like that and Angela gripped the painted steel sides of the ladder and set one shiny slippered foot above the other and climbed. Angela grimly considered the green painted rungs, the green painted steel sides of the welded-on ladder, she moved steadily upward -- it was a stretch, the rungs were sized to accommodate a grown man and she wasn't nearly that big, but she stretched and she labored and she got to the catwalk and she climbed up and set one foot, then the other, on green-painted diamond plate steel. Angela placed her left hand flat on the side of the water tower, gripped the railing with the other hand: she closed her eyes again, took a long breath, blew it out: she set her jaw, opened her eyes and walked slowly, carefully, until she could see the girl standing against the railing. "Hi," Angela said, and the girl jumped, startled: she looked at Angela, her eyes wide, her mouth falling open. "What are you doing here?" she blurted. Angela shrugged. "I dunno," she said, sounding very much like a little girl. As a matter of fact, she looked very much like a little girl. Angela's Mommy delighted in dressing her daughter like a girl. Unlike her sister Marnie, Angela loved it when her Mommy dressed her up all pretty, and today she wore a blue-and-white checkered dress and little white anklets and shiny patent slippers, and she had a blue headband in her hair, and she looked very much like a pretty little girl from a Sears & Sawbuck or Monkey Wards catalog, circa late-1950s to early 1960s. "You don't know why you're up here?" "Nope," Angela replied, tilting her head, regarding the girl with interest. "What you doin' up here?" The girl looked over the railing, her face reflecting confusion, fear. "I'm going to jump," she said quietly. "Won't that hurt?" Angela asked innocently, and pale eyes, watching through a good high grade set of binoculars, saw the jumper's head snap suddenly around to regard her pretty young visitor with honest surprise. I don't know what you said, he thought, but keep sayin' it, darlin'! Jacob Keller looked at the ladder, looked at his Pa. Linn lowered his binoculars, nodded. Jacob took two long steps toward the stairs, ran up them on the balls of his feet, leaped onto the ladder: lean young muscles and a jaw-set determination and he swarmed up the ladder considerably faster than his little sister had gone up it. Jacob got about to the halfway point when a stray thought sailed in from left field and brought a moment's smile to the corners of his eyes. If I don't get Little Sis down from there, he thought, Mama is gonna clobber me! Linn watched as Angela got a little closer, as she talked, probably in that soft little voice of hers: if she's speaking softly, that girl will have to concentrate to hear her. If she's not that serious about jumping she'll listen more than thinking about jumping. He raised his talkie. "Firelands Chief One, Firelands actual." "Chief One, go." "Don't run your sirens, come in quiet, no lights." "Chief One to all responding units. No lights and no sirens, acknowledge by the numbers!" Linn listened as pumper, rescue and squad all three gave a roger to the Chief's command. Will stepped up beside Linn. "How we lookin'?" Linn glanced down, his eyes tightening at the corners, the way they did when he approved of what he saw. "Good of you to come in behind and park under the tower. She'll not see you from there." "Saw that's what you did, so I did too." He squinted, unwrapped the strap from around his own binoculars. "Is that Angela up there?" "Yep." "Good God, man, what ever did you send her up there for?" Linn raised his binoculars again. "Wasn't my idea." "My Mama made me this dress." Angela plucked delicately at the hem, held her skirt out to the sides. "Mama likes to dress me like a Barbie doll." The girl looked at Angela, sniffed, wiped at her nose with a soggy paper hankie. "I don't think Barbie ever wore a dress like that." "Oh." Angela frowned. "Say, how come you're clear up here?" The girl leaned back against the side of the elevated obloid, slid down, stuck her legs straight out, until her feet stuck over the edge of the steel catwalk. "I'm going to jump," she said faintly. "Why?" Angela asked innocently. "You wouldn't understand." "Try me!" Angela challenged. "IT'S BECAUSE I'M PREGNANT AND NOBODY WILL UNDERSTAND AND I DON'T HAVE ANYWHERE TO GO AND I'M JUST GOING TO END IT!" Angela blinked, then asked in a sad little voice, "Won't your Mama be sad?" "My Mama said if I got pregnant she was going to throw me out!" "It must be nice to have a Mama," Angela said in a sad-little-girl's voice: she leaned back against the side of the obloid, slid down like the girl had, stuck her little legs straight out. "My Mama's dead." "How'd she die?" Angela's native intelligence -- young though it was -- heard a moment's sympathy, a curiosity. Whether it was lucky accident, whether it was because she'd grown up with a Sheriff for a father and a working paramedic for a mother, whether because her parents' peer group and their frank discussions were her peer group, or whether it was just lucky chance, Angela sensed a gap into which she could interject some leverage. "Mama got beat up bad an' they did bad things to her an' we come back out here an' she was dyin' ub pan-kwee-at-tick cancer," Angela said, and she sounded very much like a sad little girl when she did: she lowered her head, her bottom lip pooched out and she said softly, "I miss my Mommy." She looked at the girl, blinked. "My Mommy hid me so I wouldn't be killed like they wanted to kill her. If I fell off a tower an' got killdid my Mommy would be vewwy sad." Linn raised his talkie. "Firelands six, actual." Jacob stopped his climb, reached up, keyed his shoulder mike. "Six, actual, go." "Hold there, we have movement coming toward you." "Roger that." Will raised his own binoculars, watched as two figures approached the ladder: one small, one larger. "You bedder go down first 'cause I'm scareda heights." The girl blinked, surprised, went down on her knees, hugged Angela. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "And you came all the way up here for me?" Angela nodded, solemnly, regarding the teen-ager with big, sincere eyes. The girl turned, started to back down the ladder without looking. Jacob came down a step. The girl was watching Angela as she backed, as her sneakered foot searched for the rung: she found it, came over a little more, found the next one. She doesn't know I'm here, Jacob thought. I'm close enough for insurance but far enough she won't see me. Angela turned around, reached waaay down with her little foot, keeping the girl's eyes on her. "Just a little more, sweetie, down, there!" Angela came down a little more, gripped the sides of the ladder and not the rungs: her Daddy told her he never grabbed the rungs 'cause they always got dirty and greasy and he held the sides where it was clean and that's what Angela did. One rung at a time, three people came down the ladder, all stepping at the same time, Jacob and the girl hesitating until the one above them had a foot on the next rung down. Below them, the Irish Brigade watched: grown men held their breath, at least until another step-down, breathe, then held their breath again. Jacob got to the bottom. He stepped back, looked to his left as a woman with her hands cupped over her mouth stepped up. A mother seized her daughter -- a maternal voice squeaked "I was so scared!" -- Jacob reached up, took his little sis under the arms, picked her up and swung her into her own Mama's arms. It took some time to debrief, but the full story was finally figured out: Angela looked up at a shaking, pale mother and said, "You gonna throw her out now?" and Linn raised a cautioning eyebrow as Shelly looked at him and started to move toward her little girl: she gave her husband a questioning look and Linn shook his head, very slightly. It wasn't until they'd cleared the scene, not until the Sheriff went back to the firehouse with the Irish Brigade, not until they all sat down at the firehouse table, that Shelly asked their daughter what in the world ever possessed her to climb that tower. "I did worse than that," Angela declared. "I lied to her." "So ... you climbed the water tower and you lied to her," Linn echoed. Angela nodded vigorously. "An' I told a big whopper of a lie an' it worked!" she declared in a happy, satisfied voice, and Linn laughed, ignoring his wife's glare. "Daddy, I didn't want her to jump an' nobody was there yet an' I knew I could get to her first an' if I lied to her just right she wouldn't jump an' it would make a mess an' her Mommy would be very sad an' I don't like messes," Angela said all in a rush, and Linn looked at Shelly and laughed again. "Darlin'," he said, "you saved two lives today, and I count that a good thing!" "Yeah, and you scared me out of a couple of my lives!" Shelly protested. "Young lady, I don't want you climbing towers anymore!" Angela dropped her head and ran her bottom lip way out and said in a contrite little-girl voice, "I sowwy, Mommy." Linn leaned down, his elbows on his knees: "Angela, what kind of a whopper did you tell her?" Angela looked proudly at her Daddy, all trace of the contrite child gone: "Daddy I told her about Marnie's Mama an' how Marnie was vewwy sad an' I made her think it was my Mama an' I lied to her an' it worked!" Jacob grabbed a sweet roll out of the big dish in the middle of the table, tore it in two, dunked a corner in his coffee. "The Supreme Court ruled that the police are under no obligation to tell a suspect the truth," he observed quietly. "Sir, if she's going to do that, might be we need to deputize her!" Shelly's cold glare was not enough to stifle Jacob's broad and boyish grin: he looked at Angela and winked, and Angela giggled and winked back.
  10. Still standing up on my Prayer Bones for both of you! Thank you for the most encouraging update!
  11. Yes, I am maligning the young, and I am allowed to do that. Matter of fact I've been doing that freely and wholeheartedly for the past two days. Y'see, between my ears, I'm still eighteen years old. As I write this, the rest of my carcass thinks that eighteen year old part of me is an utter, absolute, unmitigated, IDIOT!!! Here's what happened. We had snow. My wife was scheduled for a doc's appointment first thing the next morning. Snow was coming down fine and fast, the kind that builds up. I took up the snow pusher shovel, peeled the driveway down to the bare. Twice. When Sailor-dog's 3 AM bladder alarm went off, I rolled out of the bunk and let him out. In fairness, his alarm and mine go off about the same time. I am grateful I can blame the dog for getting up at such an unholy hour. An hour later I still couldn't get back to sleep so I got my glad rags on and cleared the driveway. Again. Then I looked over at the widow woman's drive next door. She's in her 90s and likely she'd have family coming in as they usually did, so I took my shovel and the rest of my ambition and started on hers. Got it down to the bare. Among the various body parts uttering their profound maledictions at my ambition, my back spoke the loudest: I ignored my several physical complaints and finished the job, then I went back over to my own hacienda and peeled the half inch accumulation from my own concrete before I parked the shovel, went inside and took a nice hot shower. Between my ears I'm still eighteen. The rest of me thinks I'm an idiot!!!
  12. I WAS COUNTING ON THAT Jacob seized a saddle blanket, snapped it once, floated it down on a hay bale: he grabbed a second, flipped chaff, hair and anything else with a quick, vicious move: Marnie regarded him with calm eyes as the sudded *POP* startled the barn cat and threw debris into the still air. "Sit," Jacob said, less an invitation than a command. Marnie planted her knuckles on her hips and thrust her jaw out, the very image of contrariness: "Woof," was her quiet-voiced rejoinder. Brother and sister glared at one another in the barn's hush, until they both broke their statue-like contariness and planted their backsides on the bales. "Out with it, Sis," Jacob said quietly. "What's workin' on you?" "I had a talk with Uncle Will." "Go on." "I need a confidential ear, and I spoke in confidence." "Uncle Will is a good choice," Jacob affirmed. "I needed to talk about Daddy." Jacob nodded, frowning a little. "Uncle Will went to Daddy after I talked to him." "You confided in Uncle Will." "I did." She lifted her chin rebelliously, inviting him to dare -- dare! -- to criticize her move. "And he betrayed that confidence." "No." Jacob's eyebrow raised and Marnie laughed to see it: she laid a hand on her brother's shoulder and leaned her head toward him conspiratorially, then she rose a little, pulled the edge of her saddle blanket over until it overlapped his, sat down so she was leaning against him, her arm around his shoulders. Jacob ran his arm around her as she laid her head over on his shoulder. "Jacob," she said quietly, "I confided in Uncle Will because I knew he would take what I said and go to Daddy with it." She lifted her head and he felt her breath, gently puffing warm and soft against his ear. "I was counting on Uncle Will doing just that!" Chief of Police Will Keller looked up at the summoning knock on his office door. "In!" he growled, and the faceted-glass doorknob turned, the door pushed open. A steaming paper cup of coffee set itself down on the paper he was working on, the All-Night's logo on the overlaying don't-burn-your-fingers insulating sleeve telling him of its origin: the fragrant steam told him it was Suth'n Pecan, his favorite flavor, and the hand that set it down told him it was his favorite niece. Will had more than one niece, and whichever one he was talking with at the moment, was his favorite. He looked up and opened his mouth to say something, and Marnie thrust a chocolate chip cookie between his teeth. Will blinked, bit, chewed, caught the cookie before it could fall and scatter chocolate-chip crumbs all over his desk blotter: he considered the relative importance of his paperwork, weighed this against the prospect of a chocolate-chip kaffesklatsch with a favorite niece, and decided the latter was more to his liking than the former. Will took a tilt of his favorite coffee flavor, cooled enough to be drinkable, sluiced the miscellaneous dry crumbs down his throat, set the cup down. "Something's bothering you," he said sternly. "The only time you bribe me is when you need my ear." Marnie spread her hands and in a nasal and truly terrible Bronx accent declared, "Does ya knows me or what!" -- which brought a quiet smile to her uncle's carefully-impassive face. "Out with it," he said, taking another bite of cookie and chewing happily. "It's Daddy." "Mm-hmm," Will acknowledged, opting for more cookie: Marnie leaned forward and set a white-paper sack on his desk and Will raised an eyebrow. "Must be important," he mumbled, swallowing, "if you're going to bribe me with a whole sack full!" "At least you're not as full of it as a sack full of politicians." "No, that would be your Daddy." He regarded the sack full of chocolate chip treasure and sighed. "I suppose this is cheaper than bribing a politician." Marnie spread her hands again, opened her mouth, closed it: "You've heard that line before." "What about your Daddy, sweetheart?" Will asked gently: he'd never had girl children, but he'd buried a son, and he was a man known to have a soft spot for stray kids and lost dogs When his niece came in bearing edibles and confessing to a problem, she knew he would happily give her his undivided. She was right. "Uncle Will, Daddy set me up." "Set you up?" Marnie nodded, looking off to the side, her bottom jaw sliding out: she leaned forward, suddenly, turned her palm up: "Uncle Will, do you realize how much trouble he's just caused me?" "I don't have the least idea, darlin'." "I decided I would allow myself to think about dating." To his credit, Will refrained from blurting "Already?" -- an older man perpetually thinks of the female young of his tribe, as younger than they were: memory will do that, he knew, and he had to discipline himself to realize that Marnie was coming into early womanhood, like it or not. "Uncle Will, Daddy treats Mama like a queen!" "Yes, he does," Will said approvingly. "We've never heard them disagree in front of us. Not once. Ever." Will nodded, slowly: he'd made that same observation himself. "Daddy never once yelled at her, he's never corrected her, he's never demeaned her or run her down, he's treated her like absolute gold!" "A man ought," Will agreed. "I did." Marnie dropped her chin on her fist, frowned. "Uncle Will," she began again, paused, shook her head, tried again. "I've been told children learn more by observation and imitation than by didactic instruction." "I've heard that," Will said neutrally. "Daddy has set an example I don't think I can find." "I don't follow." Marnie chewed on her bottom lip, rubbed her nose like a little girl, looked at her Uncle: he was struck by how much she looked like his pale eyed sister, in her younger years. "He's set me the example of what to look for in a husband." "I would certainly hope so." "He's taught Jacob and the boys how to be men. He's been a man and he's been noble and honorable and strong and upright and he's shown them how a man ought to treat a woman." Marnie shook her head again. "No. No, that's not right." She looked very directly at Will again. "He didn't show them how to treat a woman, Uncle Will. He's shown Jacob and the boys how to treat a wife." Marnie shook her finger at her Uncle Will. "Let me tell you something else he did!" Will leaned forward, interested: he rested his forearms on his desk blotter, all thought of coffee or cookies forgotten. "Uncle Will, I've watched that man since forever. He treats every female as a Lady! until she proves herself otherwise, but --" she shook her head again -- "Uncle Will, I've never seen anyone but Daddy and Jacob do that. When he treats them like a Lady, they behave like a Lady. It doesn't matter how much of a slattern she might be, it doesn't matter who it is or how disagreeable she usually is --" Will nodded slowly. "I've ... noticed that." Marnie's expression was pleading. "Uncle Will, he's shown me what to look for in a husband." Will nodded again, slowly, carefully. "I know I deserve the best, but where in the world will I ever find someone that measures up to Daddy's example?" Will smiled, just a little -- Marnie shook her finger at her Uncle again -- "Don't you dare laugh, Uncle Will," she cautioned, which of course guaranteed that he did -- quietly, with a palm held up to forestall any protest. He leaned back, considered, realized he still had coffee left: he took a pull, took another, set the comfortably warm cup back down on the blotter. "You do deserve the best," he agreed. "I'd like to think the universe is not so miserly as to make only one man with those qualities." "That pale eyed troublemaker," Marnie muttered, rising. "He's set the bar so high I'll be an old maid before I find Mr. Right!" Chief of Police Will Keller rose, came around his desk, took Marnie in his arms: Marnie ran her arms around her Uncle, squeezed. He felt her sigh, felt her nod, her head pressed against his shirt front. "I suppose I just needed a sympathetic ear," she murmured, then looked up. "Thank you, Uncle Will." Will bent down a little, kissed the top of her head. "Darlin'," he rumbled quietly, "anytime you need my ear, just let me know!" "Is that why you and Pa went for a walk after breakfast?" Marnie nodded, looked at her brother, and Jacob was honestly surprised to see a tear running down her cheek. "Jacob, I really didn't mean to make Daddy's eyes leak. He thanked me for letting him know that he'd done at least one thing right in his wild and misspent lifetime!"
  13. NE Ohio here and every time I think I'll be able to finally see some interesting celestial phenomenon, clouds move in. Granddad saw Halley's Comet, I eagerly awaited its return, and it was a grand fizzle. Hale-Bopp looked like a fuzzy star. Now it looks like seeing the Green Two-Tailed Wonder (now it has a leading tail), is not going to happen ... overcast predicted as far ahead as I can see. My luck is never dazzlingly good, nor spectacularly bad. It just kind of consistently poor!
  14. Standing up on my Prayer Bones for your honored self and your bride as well!
  15. THE PRICE OF MY FOOLISHNESS "Joseph." "Sir." Fred Jerome looked over his half-glasses, papers almost forgotten in his hands: he'd been looking over the graded tests before handing them back. He paced over to the pale eyed student standing beside his desk, chin up, shoulders back -- not a soldier at attention, just a strong young man, on his feet. "Joseph, you don't have to stand when I address you," Mr. Jerome said in a fatherly voice. Joseph gave his teacher a tired look. "It shows due respect, sir." It was a ritual they went through every single day: Mr. Jerome knew that Joseph had taken his share of raffing for his action, but it was flattering to think that one student, at least, chose to show respect in such a way. Mr. Jerome looked closely at his young charge's face. "You look tired," he said in a surprised voice, and Joseph's grin was quick and contagious. "I am, sir," he admitted. "I'm wore plumb out." Mr. Jerome -- though he taught the English classes -- was not inclined to correct Joseph's grammar: rather, he said quietly, "What happened?" "It snowed last night, sir," Joseph said, "and on my way in, I saw an old man shoveling his driveway. I had plenty of time, so I stopped and pulled his other shovel out of his open garage and the two of us double-teamed half a foot of partly cloudy from his driveway." "I see." "Then he straightened and walked over to the next drive and started on that one. "I know the Widow Balm lives there, so I went over with him, and we tore into that one." Jerome blinked, frowned a little. "I know the driveway," he said thoughtfully. "It's wide and it's long." "And on a grade, too, sir." "That's why you're worn out?" "It is, sir. I was tired enough when we finished the old man's drive, but when he tore into the next one" -- Joseph grinned again -- "I wasn't going to let an old retired man out-work me, and Old Whiskers wasn't going to let a young whipper snapper out-work him. We cut the driveway into sections -- he said a squad is easier to defeat than a company, a company is easier to defeat than a regiment -- we cleared each section in its turn, and ... well, I reckon he'll be sore in the morning." "And you?" Joseph grinned with half his face. "Likely I will be too, sir." He straightened a little more. "I pay the price of my foolishness." Fred laid a hand on Joseph's shoulder, nodded. "Proud of you, son," he whispered. Joseph winked. "Thank you, sir." Fred walked back to his desk, turned. "Old Whiskers?" Joseph laughed quietly. "Yes, sir, but I'm afraid to consider what he might've been calling me!"
  16. SAUSAGE GRAVY AND BISCUITS The youngest Keller looked at her Daddy with big innocent and happily anticipatory eyes. She was holding an inverted sauce pan in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other. Linn dusted flour on the frying, crumbled sausage, stirred it to coat it well, he looked at his daughter and smiled. "Are the biscuits done yet, honey?" the long tall Sheriff asked gently, and Opal swung her head around to the left and to the right and around to the left again, her braids swinging, then she swayed and giggled with the childish dizzies before finally leaning against the cupboard door to keep from falling over. "I used to do that," Linn said softly, remembering a moment in his Mama's kitchen when he'd done the very thing, swinging his head back and forth until he was dizzy ... probably at the same very tender age as his little girl. Opal giggled and staggered back toward the table, trying (with no luck) to see the timer. "I don't hear-it the whis-tle," she said. "Biscuits aren't weady." She frowned, then repeated herself: "Rrready," she said, with a single emphatic nod of her head: satisfied, she looked at her Daddy with a big broad little-girl smile. Linn winked at his little girl, added milk to the frying pan, stirred: Opal winked back, or tried to. Instead of casually dropping one eyelid, she squinted up one side of her face and the other eye squinted shut out of sympathy. "Well now, that's not bad," Linn said gently. "Two for the price of one!" He turned off the heat, kept stirring: when the gravy thickened to his liking, he set the pan on a back burner, just as the oven's timer went off. "Now where'd I put my catcher's mitt?" he muttered, and Opal shook her wooden spoon at her Daddy and scolded, "Daddy, you're supposed to use an ubbin mitt!" "I'll have to," Linn muttered. "Can't find my baseball glove." "Dad-deee!" Linn thrust a hand into an oven mitt, opened the door; Opal stepped back as heat radiated out, as her Daddy reached in, pulled out a cookie sheet of biscuits. He set them on top of the stove, bridging the left hand burners, closed the white-enamel oven door. "That felt good," she said, and Linn nodded, grinning. "Darlin' are you holdin' that sauce pan for some particular reason?" Opal looked at the sauce pan, blinked, as if she'd forgotten it was in her grip: she looked at her Daddy with an absolutely delighted grin and asked, "Now, Daddy?" Linn nodded toward the stairs. "Now." Opal squeaked happily, skipped over to the stairs, stopped and looked up the staircase, then beat the saucepan enthusiastically with the wooden spoon: "COMMINGETTIT OR DADDY'S GONNA FEEDIT TO DA BEAR KILLERS!" Feet young and younger, male and female, came charging down the stairs, complete with two sets of furry paws: youthful humanity charged down the stairs, all but Joseph, who slung a leg over the bannister and slid down, catching himself expertly with near-prehensile feet on the end post, youthful muscles flexing to stop his rapid descent down the polished, varnished bannister that had so far seen uncounted rides by pale eyed young. Their Mama was working tonight, their pale eyed Pa had the day off as well, and at the prospect of sausage gravy and biscuits, none thought to protest. Their Pa wasn't as good a cook as their Mama, but at this one dish, he excelled. Heads were bowed, their Pa spoke to his plate -- Linn looked down at the shining-clean ceramic and said "Hello, plate!" and every one of the Keller young chorused, "You can't do that!" -- Linn looked up, blinked innocently and said "I can't?" -- only then were thanks properly returned, serving bowls passed around: biscuits were thumb-split and laid open, plates passed back and forth, and as Linn received the steaming bowl of buttered peas, he sang -- to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" -- I eeeat my peeas with honey, I've done it all of my life! It does make my peeeas taste funny, But it sure makes them stick to my knife! Little boys grinned, little girls rolled their eyes, all but Opal, who seized the squeeze bottle of honey and drizzled a quick back-and-forth over her round greenies. If it was good enough for her Daddy, she reasoned, it was good enough for her.
  17. Q: "My kids don't like fish, what should I do?" A: "Trade them for cats. Cats love fish."
  18. IT WASN'T THE I CHING "No," Sheriff Willamina Keller said, leaning back a little in her chair: she was seated behind her desk, maintaining a formal separation from the curious Easterner. "No?" "I understand carjacking is a popular sport back East." Her smile was humorless. "It's not as common out here." "Why do you suppose that is?" "Because I have a granddaughter," Willamina replied. "Because you'll still see trucks with a gunrack in the rear window. Because you'll get killed if you try that kind of thing in my county." "I'm sorry ... you don't have carjackings because you have a granddaughter?" Sheriff Willamina Keller smiled, just a little. "Would you like to see the video?" Marnie Keller hit the ground flat footed. Her right hand reached up, seized the Winchester rifle, stripped it out of its carved-leather scabbard. Her mare turned and followed Marnie across the street. Marnie held the rifle at high port, gaining speed as she ran out of the alley: a quick left-right, she raised the rifle, reversed it, crush-gripping it at wrist and fore-end, and drove it hard into a screaming man's kidneys. "You can't hear it on this video," Willamina said quietly, "but this individual -- he's not from around here -- attacked one of her residents just as she got into her car. He's screaming at the driver and beating her with his fists. She's fighting back, and here" -- she paused the video -- "is my granddaughter." Marnie's rifle butt drove hard into the man's kidneys: she seized the back of his belt, pulled, skipped back a step, drove the rifle's butt into the back of his head, then kicked him behind the knee. "Now at this point," Sheriff Willamina Keller said quietly, "you'll see this trained police horse assisting in immobilization of the guilty party." A steelshod hoof planted itself in the middle of the supine attacker's chest, pinning him most effectively before his pain-hazed vision cleared: a boot stepped hard on his wrist and the muzzle of a rifle swung down to take a good close-up look at his face. "Hold very still," a pretty young girl said, "or I'll blow your brains all over the pavement and they'll give me a medal for doing it." Her smile was as cold and as glacial as her pale eyes as she added conversationally, "I've done it before." "I don't know what he'd taken," the Sheriff said, "but he was not inclined to follow instructions. Our Chief of Police was on scene and had the Devil's own time getting this fellow in irons once my granddaughter had her mare lift her hoof. As a matter of fact, my granddaughter was obliged to -- there -- you can see it on video." The Eastern reporter watched as a pretty, obviously young woman, drove the butt of her rifle into the back of the attacker's head. "After that, he was pretty well compliant." "He looks dead." "She cold cocked him." "How ... old is she?" "Fourteen." "Fourteen? My God, what's she doing with a gun?" "The Chief of Police gave it to her." "And this ... you're saying this is why you don't have carjackings?" The Sheriff sighed. "There's a college experiment," she said patiently. "Rats in a cage. In a big cage, the rats are cordial and cooperative. Crowd them in a small cage and they become hostile, they show the same social deviance we see in your cities back East. Out here we're not crowded. When an Eastern rat comes out here and tries to prey on one of us" -- she thrust a chin at the video monitor -- "we take care of it. That fellow was sentenced to prison. How do you think he'll fare in general population, when the drugs wear off and he's told he was bested by a skinny little schoolgirl?" "Schoolgirl?" Willamina's nonplussed visitor blurted. "What do they teach out here?" "You've heard of the I Ching?" Willamina smiled. "The I Ching? Yes, of course I've heard of it!" "We don't use that." She rose, indicating the interview was ended. We use the "I Cheat."
  19. SIDE JOB Two police officers looked up, startled. A smiling woman with an elaborate hairdo, a woman in a corset and face paint, hung out the broken window, waving, smiling: "Boys! Oh, boys!" The two looked at one another, looked at the unmoving pile on the sidewalk. "Could you be a dear and lock this wife beating scoundrel up for us, please?" The Denver cop tilted the cap back on his head and planted his knuckles on his belt, his nightstick dangling from its thong: "Now why would we want t' do that!" he demanded. "Because I said so," the woman smiled -- both with her face, and with her voice -- "and because I outrank the both of you!" "Outrank?" the younger one muttered, at least until the other groaned, strode up to the gasping, lung-shocked man on the sidewalk. "Is yer legs broke then?" he demanded, seizing the recent departure from the second floor of a house of ill repute by the scruff of the neck and hauling him to his feet. "Up wi' ye, then!" They were less than half a block toward the station-house when a black figure slipped out of the alley before them, a figure known to them both: it appeared to be an active boy or a slight man, all in black, with the broad brimmed hat hiding any facial features: black gloved fingers turned over a black lapel to reveal a familiar, bronze shield. "Faith," the older officer breathed, then: "Wha' are ye doin' i' a place like that?" The Black Agent paced silently up to the pair, trademark cut-down double-barrel shotgun swinging casually from one gloved hand: "Side job," came the reply, and the younger of the two was surprised that it was a woman's voice. Then she lifted her head, pushed her hat brim up with the blunt muzzles of her hand held howitzer, looked very directly, very frankly, at the younger of the two Denver street cops. It was a woman's face, and a pretty one, but with a horrible scar running from the corner of one eye, diagonally across the face and down the neck. That was his secondary memory of the moment. What shocked him was the sight of her eyes. Dead pale, glacial in nature, both their hue and their effect on his very blood. "I'll be at station," she said with a smile, and both men shivered a little to see the smile, for there was no humor in it at all. Willamina was very familiar with the section Marnie was reading. "She took a side job in a whorehouse?" "There were regular customers who liked to beat the girls," Willamina explained, "and the madam ran a high class joint. A hellraising customer might be inclined to go fists with a bouncer, but when a woman got the best of him, fast, hard and nasty, it tended to take the fight out of 'em in a hurry." "Especially when she threw them through the window," Sarah murmured. "The Judge was particularly fond of the Madam," Willamina smiled. "The fine went to replace that window." "Window glass was expensive back then." "Very expensive." "Did she describe exactly how she attacked?" "Not in that account. She'd written elsewhere that she used those sharp little heels to climb a man's frame, though it was difficult to get a good climb with her ankles turned in enough to dig." "I'll keep my boots," Marnie muttered. "I liked my cheerleading shoes," Willamina said quietly, and Marnie looked at her, raised one eyebrow. "I sorted through six pair of saddle shoes at the shoe store before I found a pair with a softer sole." "High traction?" "They were all good, but I wanted the best in the house. A football player was less than a gentleman with me, so I climbed him like a lineman gaffs his way up an electric pole. He told me later it felt like I'd ripped all the hair out of his legs." "He was speaking to you afterward?" "In court. I filed criminal charges and subpoenaed two coaches and most of the football team. There's something about being formally served with a subpoena, in class, that takes any reluctance to testify right out of 'em." "You don't play fair, do you, Gammaw?" Willamina laughed. "I never did," she admitted. "Got me where I am today!" "Once you climbed his frame," Marnie persisted, "how did you attack?" "I cupped my hands and clapped his ears as hard as I could. He passed out from the pain and blew out an eardrum." She lowered her head and smiled confidentially at her pale eyed granddaughter. "My daddy taught me at a tender age, 'When in doubt, cheat.' I've never forgotten that and it's never let me down!"
  20. bgavin has said it more clearly, more accurately and more understandably than I possibly could -- and me an old veteran nurse.
  21. SORRY ABOUT THIS, SHERIFF Jacob Keller's fist was white-knuckle tight. It was also wound up in a good handful of a man's shirt front. Jacob Keller's eyes were dead white, his face was parchment pale, and the higher he one-hand pressed this Jack Doe off the ground, the more it looked like his skin was tightening over his cheek bones, until -- by the time he had the man at full arm's length overhead, his elbow locked and trembling just a little, his expression was that of a fleshless mummy intent on reaching into a man's chest and ripping the corroded soul from his living carcass. "Let me know," Jacob said quietly, "when you get tired." Another hell raiser moved -- he must've thought Jacob's attention would be entirely on the luckless soul he was pressing overhead -- Jacob's hand was faster than the punch, and the incoming knuckles drove into the muzzle of a black pistol's muzzle: the fist's owner made a strangled sound, dropped his punching hand, gripped his wrist with the other, backed up a staggering step, his own face losing a good percentage of its color. Jacob turned quickly, translated the vertical velocity of the weight he suddenly released, into horizontal momentum, and bounced the offender off the brick front of the building: Jacob's lips were pulled back a little from his lips, he still had a good wound-up fist full of shirt front, and he wasn't letting go: he turned, drove the luckless hell-raiser toward the horse trough, stepped back as water and what used to be a thin sheet of ice, erupted, and the sinner was baptized in very cold water. Jacob Keller glared at the others who thought it would be great fun to try and bully a stranger. He holstered his pistol, looked slowly around, breathing slowly, deeply, giving the general impression of a contained explosion that was ready to blast them all flat. "Now," Jacob said, his voice quiet, "would anyone else like to try something?" He turned and ducked an incoming fist, drove a punch from the shoulder, ramming his work-hardened fist into the attacker's belly, with full intent to drive his fist clear through the man's guts and bust a hole in his spine out the back. He was not successful in punching a hole through the oncoming abdomen, but he was extremely successful in knocking every bit of wind out of the lungs immediately above the punch. Jacob spun, seized a club coming in, ripped it out of the attacker's hands with a practiced move, drove its end into the third man's ribs, took a two-hand grip and hooked the end behind the man's knee, yanked hard. One man struggled out of the freezing horse trough, a second was on his knees, bent over, forehead almost on the boardwalk; the third was flat on his back, in too much pain to more than groan, and Jacob spun the club like a majorette's baton. His snarl was very nearly inaudible, and this made him all the more frightening. He stopped the spin, used the club as a pointer. "You two," he said, "pick up your wet buddy, get him on his feet. You" -- he pointed at a rat-faced individual trying to hide behind another -- "get him up. I'll take this one. You are all under arrest. Resist or run and you die." On the one hand, Jacob knew that lethal force must meet certain narrow parameters, and shooting a fleeing individual in the back was quite improper. He knew that. He also knew that he'd just reduced three by violent means and the other three by psychological means, and he knew that his sudden violence to pacify a situation, meant he just might be violent enough to kill them if they tried anything at all. Sheriff Willamina Keller turned as the heavy glass double doors opened. She, the dispatcher and two deputies, stared as a clutch of cowed-looking prisoners half-dragged, half-carried two of their own: one was soaking wet and shivering violently, the other with arms crossed over his ribs, an obviously crippled hand carefully held in mid-air. Behind them, a pale eyed deputy, carrying another by the back of the prisoner's belt. The Sheriff turned, raised an eyebrow. "Sorry about this, Sheriff," Linn said mildly. "Didn't have enough cuffs for everyone so I just brought 'em in."
  22. HE TURNED KINDA PALE Jacob Keller frowned a little as he carefully whittled another shaving off the box elder stem. He turned it, examining it seriously, knowing a little boy's impatient eyes were upon him. Jacob nodded, fitted the stem carefully into the baked-clay bowl of the hastily-harvested pipe. A new clay bowl came in every poke of pipe tobacco, ready to be fitted with a stem; when used, they were simply tossed in the stove, where both dottle and stem would burn up, and generally when the ashes were shaken down, the pipe would crush. Generally, but not always. Jacob winked at the lad -- he'd carefully scraped out the scorched bowl, delicately tapped out any fragments, washed it out, then he'd taken a tin can someone cut down halfway for some unknown reason, shaved in a little soap and some water, stirred this and swirled this, and finally bent the can to form a spout. He poured the pipe bowl half full of soapy water, handed it carefully to the grinning lad. "Blow through that stem," he said quietly, "and you'll get a good swarm of bubbles" -- and the delighted lad ran down the street, tin can in one hand, the freshly whittled pipestem between young white teeth, and the unheeded beard of soapy foam dripping off the bowl and staining his shirt front. Jacob looked at the knife he held, slid it back into its hidden sheath. Part of his mind was not surprised at all that his hands were dead steady, whittling the box elder to fit the baked clay pipe bowl. The rest of his mind was surprised the first part of his mind even considered it an issue. A wise man once said, "All the knowledge in the world is contained in books." Jacob considered that wise men gained the knowledge they could, for it might save his life someday. He'd read the day before, something written by ... oh, hell, he forgot who ... but it amounted to, "It profiteth not to touch a gunfighter's back, lest ye name be carved on ye Tomb Stone." Jacob's eyes tightened a little at the corners as he considered the phrase -- it was all the expresssion of amusement he allowed himself, for he was in Cripple, on Sheriff's business, when something stiff shoved into his back. Jacob reacted: one arm up as he whipped around, sidestepping: his draw and fire were so fast as to be but a blur, and the extended arm with the stiff finger that pressed just between Jacob's spine and his shoulder blade, was smacked aside: had it been a gunbarrel, its shot would have blasted through the space where Jacob had been -- -- and the thick volume the man carried against his belly, stopped a .44 caliber freight train from tearing through his guts and right on outside. Jacob discussed the matter with the presiding judge and the Chief of Police: both men were of the West, and well acquainted with its harsh rules, and the ruthless winnowing-out of foolish souls who did stupid things: when the stranger stammered out his account, and admitted reaching forward and pushing impatiently at a man's back with a stiff finger, wishing this laggard to surrender the right-of-way, both Judge and Chief agreed that said stranger was a fool, and a damned fool, that only Heaven's mercies bade him carry an unusually thick tome in front of his bulging belly, and that if he only had to pay for a book as the price for his utter and unmmitigated stupidity, he got off cheap, for he'd just touched the back of one of the fastest and deadliest gunfighters in the American West. Jacob sat on the Deacon's bench, in front of the Sheriff's office, and recalled how the stranger in the checkerboard print suit -- a drummer, no doubt -- turned quite pale at the Judge's pronouncement. Pale eyes squinted a little as he looked up the street, diagonally across at the Silver Jewel, diagonally to the left at their little whitewashed schoolhouse, and beside it, their church. A man the Sheriff knew looked at the pale eyed old lawman. They'd known one another for years now, though one walked the side of the Law, and the other kind of wandered across the fence some, but neither man went out of his way to cause the other grief, and so they remained friends, and between friends there is often frank conversation, and the question was put in very frank language: "Who would you say is the fastest and most accurate with a sixgun?" Linn's eyes tightened a little at the corners. The two of them had a pact, forged long ago: no matter the question, they'd give the honest answer, even if it wasn't what the other wanted to hear. Mr. Baxter, behind the bar, was elaborately ignorning the pair: he polished his way away from them, until he was at the far end, before Linn answered. "I can outdraw and outshoot any man in this county," Linn said quietly, "including you." His friend offered no protest at this; he'd seen Linn in a gunfight years ago, and from all he'd heard, that pale eyed old lawman with the iron grey mustache hadn't slowed down one little bit. "I can out-draw any man in the county, and my son can out-draw me." Two old friends raised their beer mugs to each other and drank. Jacob flipped wood shavings off the boardwalk with the side of his boot sole. "Me, the fastest and deadliest gunfighter," Jacob said softly, the corners of his mouth twisting upward, just a little, then he snorted. "They ain't never seen my Pa gunfight!"
  23. Turning the Jump Starter up to max voltage! My old police partner had that done. Worked fine, cured his A-fib first try.
  24. THOSE REMARKABLE, PALE EYED WOMEN! I looked at the framed portrait and smiled. Bruce Jones was an old and trusted friend, he was editor, reporter, photographer, broom pusher and 50% of the staff of the Firelands Gazette. He was also an ace photographer. Bruce looked at me and shifted his weight impatiently: "Well?" he finally blurted. "Bruce," said I, "this is exactly what I'd hoped you'd capture!" Bruce's chest puffed out and the man absolutely preened. He'd taken the exact photograph of Marnie, riding my stallion: he'd taken it at sunset, with her silhouetted against the skyline, against the blazing clouds of a gorgeous mountain sunset: he'd shot the picture at a slight upward angle, he had strobes set on electric-eye switches, they'd thrown just enough light to bring out Apple-horse's colors, enough to catch him mid-stride, mane flowing, he'd caught Marnie's hat a-bounce behind her, floating on its storm strap, and best of all, he'd caught the look on Marnie's face -- that look of sheer, unadulterated joy that comes from running a responsive horse, a horse that loves to run! The picture I held was of Angela, on that same fire breathing stallion -- Angela, with the face of an angel and the soul of a skydiving, rapids-running, stallion-running, risk-taking daughter of her pioneering blood -- Angela, our little girl, perfectly at home in a flowing gown and heels, or in cowboy boots and a saddle -- Angela, who'd given me that angelic smile with a dusting of flour on her cheeks as she iced a freshly-baked cake, the same smile she had with sweat beading her forehead and leather gloves on hands wrapped firmly around a manure rake, with eyes wide and knuckles blanched as we skidded my Jeep around a corner at too great a speed so she'd know how to come out of a skid. My Angela, my little girl, a child no more. I turned to the nearby wall, held Bruce's newly framed image up beside another he'd taken. The two were so much alike, it would be easy to mistake the new one for the older one, save that he'd refined his lighting while preserving the blazing bands of sunset behind. That evening, I took Angela and that portrait and we went, just the two of us, to the Firelands museum. "There's a room I want to show you," I said, "it's not open to the public and your Gammaw was the only one with a key." Angela looked curiously at me, the way she did when she was a little girl. "Marnie had the key, until she left for Mars." Angela frowned a little, looked forward again. It wasn't uncommon for the older teachers in school to call her "Marnie" -- she'd gotten used to it from day one, and answered to it, at least in class ... I'd had to go have a talk with a new teacher who insisted that "Marnie" was a nickname, and she insisted on proper names, and when the new teacher found that both the principal and the superintendent were in agreement with this long tall lawman addressing the matter in a quiet but absolutely inflexible manner, she stopped insisting, and instead addressed Marnie as "Miss Keller" -- but that's a rabbit trail I wasn't willing to wander down today. We went inside, we went upstairs: I unlocked the door and we stepped inside. Marnie looked around, silent, marveling. "By rights," I said, "it should be one of the pale eyed Keller women investing you with this." A shadow moved, behind the white NASA issue spacesuit, and Angela's breath caught: her eyes went wide, she gave a little squeak and Little Sis ran and seized her Big Sis in a crushing hug. "Ladies," I said, "I will give this over to you" -- I handed Marnie the key, smiled, stepped back. Marnie placed a white-gloved fingertip on Angela's rich, red lips: "I haven't much time," she said quietly, "so listen!" Angela nodded, her face suddenly serious. Marnie steered her over to a gown in a tall glass case. "This was worn by Sarah Lynne McKenna," she said, "and here is her portrait wearing the gown." Marnie's upturned palm and delicately curved fingers indicated the topmost framed image. "This one," she continued, "is your Gammaw. Notice she has the correct hair." Angela nodded, staring at the second framed portrait. "This one," Marnie said, "is me." "You're all identical," Angela whispered. "Notice this frame is empty," Marnie smiled. "Guess who goes there." Angela's jaw hung open. "Me?" Marnie nodded, took her sister's shoulders, turned: she picked up a very old hand mirror, held it up. "Look at us," she whispered, her cheek against her sister's cheek. "We could be twins." Angela nodded. "Now here." Marnie set down the mirror, stepped to another vertical stack of portraits. "This is Sarah McKenna on her Snowflake-horse. This is your Gammaw, same clothing, same pose, same kind of horse, only your Gammaw couldn't find a jet-black Frisian and had to make do with a brown Frisian." Angela nodded. "This one is me. I could only come up with a white Frisian." She smiled, thrust her chin at the empty frame beneath the first three. "You'll have to come up with your own fuzzy foot horsie." Angela looked to the right. This one had Sarah Lynne McKenna on a shining-gold stallion, but standing still -- an impatient pose, as if wishing the photographer would put the silly little cap on his silly little lens so she could get on with a good run. The portrait beneath was a side-by-side: Willamina Keller, in an identical outfit, on her shining-copper Cannonball mare, the first portrait taken with horse and rider standing, stiff, almost formal in their pose: beside it, the same woman on the same mare, but leaning forward in the saddle, the mare leaned out and with her ears laid back, her nose punched forward, driving a hole in the wind itself. Beneath this, side by side, two young women, silhouetted against an absolutely blazing sunset: the photographer managed to use clever flash technology to illuminate each, otherwise she would have been a black silhouette. Marnie, riding on the left; Angela, on the right: in each photograph, the pale eyed young Keller woman's face shone with the utter, matchless joy! of riding a responsive and capable mount, and in each of these last two images, the Appaloosa stallion's frozen image was that of a horse who loved more than anything, to run! Marnie looked at her pale eyed Daddy, then at her awe-struck little sister. "Is it time?" Linn asked in a gentle voice. Marnie nodded. Linn turned, opened the door, stepped outside. As he crossed the threshold, he looked back. The key Marnie held was on a lanyard. She placed the lanyard around Angela's neck, tucked the key into her sister's bodice. "Gammaw gave me this key, in this room," she said quietly, "and she told me what we Keller women must know." Marnie looked at her Daddy, nodded once. Linn nodded in return, stepped back, drew the door firmly shut, giving those remarkable, pale eyed women, the privacy necessary to hand down the hereditary secrets that only women of their line knew.
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