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Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103

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Everything posted by Linn Keller, SASS 27332, BOLD 103

  1. 624. "HOW DO I PUT THIS IN A REPORT?" Sheriff Marnie Keller smiled, just a little. She picked up their infant child, freshly fed and changed, warm and powdered and wrapped after a bath, blinking and drowsy and chewing on his pink little fist: she smiled at the computer's camera and said "No, Daddy, I'm still on Mars where I belong. Why ever would you ask?" Fourteen minutes later, Sheriff Linn Keller turned impatiently, sat down hard, frowned at the screen, glared at the image of his daughter and her infant son: his hard-clasped hands pressed against his lips and he felt the color drain from his face, leaving the flesh taut over his cheekbones as he realized that something just happened, and he didn't have a handle on quite what. "You look like Storm Cloud Number Nine," Shelly said as she came dragging through the front door: she was dark under the eyes, her shoulders sagged, her hair drooped: Joseph took one look at his Mama, pulled out a kitchen chair and strode around the table, seized a mug, poured steaming-hot coffee, set it down in front of his exhausted mother. "Bless you, Joseph," she sighed as he set the genuine antiquie custom heirloom plastic jug of milk down beside it: Shelly dribbled a little into her coffee, sipped, sipped again, and then mother and son looked at the frowning Sheriff, silent, unnmoving, trouble furrowing his brow. No lawman wants to handle a hostage situation. Drugs make it worse; when the hostage taker is screaming and violent, when the hostage taker is armed, almost running from one window to another, seizing the phone and screaming threats to anyone who dared come near, even a seasoned negotiator will realize this might not be a situation that can be salvaged. A little girl clung to her Mama, trembling; the young son carefully pressed his white handkerchief against his Mama's lacerated, bruised, puffy cheekbone: a terrified mother swallowed her fear and forced herself to calm, for her children's sake, thinking quickly, eyes busy, desperate to keep her babies alive. Linn reached up and pressed a key; his computer's camera lit up, and his image -- and his serious voice -- addressed electronics and families alike. "I WANT TEN MILLION DOLLARS! YOU HEAR ME, TEN MILLION IN SMALL BILLS!" "Easy," Sharon soothed, "I can't understand you when you're shouting!" "AND A HELICOPTER! I WANT A HELCOPTER AND NO LICENSE PLATES!" "Okay, a copter with no plates, gotcha. I'm just the dispatcher but I'll tell --" "YOU GET 'EM OR THEY'RE DEAD! Y'HEAR ME? DEAD!" -- and the line went dead. "We listened to the caller. He wouldn't pick up when we called him, and the only calls out he made were to my office. Sharon offered to let him speak to me and then he'd go off on some wild tangent, something about not having license plates on the helicopter. I don't know what that was about, he was on something. We finally hacked into the only camera he hadn't found in the house." Linn frowned, chewed his bottom lip: he twisted his mustache, one side, then the other: Marnie waited, watching closely, for it was rare for her to ever see her rock of a pale eyed Papa so obviously troubled. "It's easier to show you what we saw," he said, tapped a few keys. "I'm splicing in what we picked up from their camera, with sound. Here it is." A pale eyed woman, all in black, put her black-gloved fingertip to her lips: she looked at the hostages, motioned for them to stay low, stay still: her knee high cavalry boots were silent on the carpeted floor, she took a pace closer, another. She hooked two fingers over both triggers of her double barrel shotgun, rolled the hammers back to full stand, released the triggers: one step, another, and she thrust the double gun forward. Mother and children clapped their hands over their ears, squinted -- Thunder detonated in the living room -- A cement filled ram hit the front door, shattering it at the lock, armed men swarmed in, gunmuzzles first, looking alien and terrifying in riot helmets and gas masks -- A moment's slow-motion, showing the hostage taker suddenly bent as if kicked in the back, just before the spray of blood and what used to be center mass tissues blasting out of what used to be a breastbone, followed by the rolling cloud of blue sulfur smoke -- A pale eyed woman, all in black, turned and glared at the only working camera in the house: as she broke open the double gun, right before the front door exploded inward, Marnie felt cold fingers walk down her spine at the sound of a voice remarkably like her own: "Payment in full," she heard. "Two ounces of lead." "Marnie, I have no idea what happened here." Sheriff Linn Keller frowned, looked a little to the side. "Actually I know exactly what happened, and damned if I know how I'm going to put this in a report." He reached for something a little to his side, picked it up, held it in both hands, staring at it as if it were something foreign. "When the entry team came hellin' through the door, they stopped when they saw the perp was dead and the hostages alive and safe. They were lookin' around and this fell from somewhere, fell straight down and landed on the carcass." Linn held up a fresh-cut rose, turned it slowly. "Now how," he said, "do I put this in a report?"
  2. Oh dear God, not you too! (shakes head) (chuckles) Wellington water plant, just south of us ... multiple 1 inch copper lines needed to get diagonally across the plant, so the engineers designed in a beautiful pattern of parallel lines running along the ceiling, but to achieve the direction needed, they had probably eight 90-degree turns to make a beautiful, symmetrical zigzag ... it looked really nice, it was beautifully done, it had so much friction loss the chemical feeders were starved for supply and output ... the chief operator had to have a Dutch uncle talk with the engineers ... I think he ended up re-plumbing it himself, eliminating all but two elbows and these were 45s ... Our wastewater plant suffered badly from Engineer-itis over the years as well, I could soapbox at length on our heat exchangers and the boiler heating system for two sad examples ... suffice it to say the city bought on low bid and got exactly what they paid for! Eek!
  3. My baby sis took a page from your playbook! She said to take a Tupperware container I don't love anymore, put the ant stuff in it, then drill holes in the lower corners, snap the lid on -- put the holed Tupperware at the ant trail -- they'll go inside, avail themselves of death and destruction and pack it off -- but Arf the Wonder Mutt can't get to it! I shall take your advice and hers!
  4. I've long admired the British penchant for gentlemanly insult!
  5. 623. FOOT ADZ Jacob Keller set the file on the stump, closed one eye and considered the log before him. He tilted his head, regarded it with both eyes, frowned, then straddled the log and carefully, precisely, began to cut a flat the length of the log. His cuts were precise, even; his tool looked like an ungainly, heavy hoe, perhaps like an ax with its bit turned sideways: the handle was curved a little, and smooth from much use; a discerning eye might even tell that some metal had been removed, over its lifetime, from regular filing or stoning to keep its edge sharp. Joseph came running up, stopped two arm's lengths from his Pa's working-tool: the lad solemnly regarded his Pa's labors, then he pointed to the sharp edged shaper and demanded -- the way an impatient schoolboy will, in that high and urgent voice -- "What's dat?" Jacob smiled a little, stopped cutting: he set the adz, head-down, on the flat he'd just cut and said, "Joseph, that-there is a food adge." "Foot adj?" Joseph echoed. Jacob laughed, stepped his left leg over the log, hunkered, picked up a stick. "Here," he said, scratching letters in the dirt -- A D Z -- "it's spelled Adz, but your Grampa always called it a foot adge and so does the whole darn Maxwell clan, so that's what I called it too." "Well howcome it's not spelled how it's said?" Jacob looked up at his son, at the urgent, puzzled expression on his son's face: he reached around the lad's waist, drew him in close, brought his knee up under the little boy's backside. "Joseph," he said, "there's lots of words that are not spelled like they sound. That's why you're goin' to school, so you'll know what they are." Joseph looked solemnly at his Pa, at the woodworking tool, at the letters precisely graved into the dirt: he looked back and said seriously, "Pa, Miz Sarah wouldn't like that." "Wouldn't like what?" "It's spelled 'Adzzzzz," Joseph replied, drawing the unfamiliar syllable out, frowning as he did -- "but it's not said how ..." Joseph looked up: a pair of pale, amused, and very feminine eyes looked down at his from an incredible height, and Jacob turned too, laughing quietly as he realized yet again just how impossibly quiet Sarah's unshod Frisian mare could be. "Oh, a food adj!" she declared, delight in her voice. "Do you know, my Mama found one and thought it was a garden hoe. She said it was terribly heavy and asked the hired man to trade it for a lighter one!" Jacob rose, squinted at his pale-eyed half-sister, smiling at him from waaaay up in her saddle. "Little Sis," he declared, caressing Snowflake's nuzzling muzzle, "them clouds overhead are positively noisy compared to this-yere horse-critter!" "Jacob Keller," Sarah scolded gently, smiling as she did, "your son imitates every syllable you speak, and if you insist on being an ungrammatical clod, I shall have to turn you over my knee and fan your little biscuits!" Joseph looked, wide-eyed, from father to aunt and back, his young imagination picturing his long tall Pa bent over Miz Sarah's skirted lap: Sarah turned her head slightly to look very directly at the child and whispered, "Joseph, I'm kidding!" Joseph nodded, feeling as if he'd just been made privy to some great secret known only to adults. He couldn't make head nor tail of whatever that secret might be, but that's certainly what it felt like. "Jacob, did you know you've been elevated to sainthood?" Sarah asked, tilting her head the way a woman will, and Jacob frowned a little, puzzled, and shook his head. "Yesterday you helped a poor fellow up on Spencer's Ridge notch logs for his cabin." Jacob blinked, nodded. "I understand the poor man was ready to give up and stack all that timber up and burn it. Men have talents, but his talents do not include notching logs. He said you made it look so damned easy he felt like the north end of a south bound horse, but he was most pleased to have your help." "They were easy logs to notch," Jacob admitted. "I figured to go up and cut flats on 'em so they would fit better." He rested a hand on the adz. "I wanted to cut on a log here to make sure I still knew how!" This was not the first time young Joseph stayed carefully silent, listening with more than his ears, watching closely what his Pa did: boys learn more by observation than by didactic instruction, and Sarah had already remarked on young Joseph's imitation of his father's speech patterns: in his short life, Joseph would put to use nearly every lesson his Pa ever taught him, intentionally, or without realizing it, but if we were to list those lessons, the tale would be long indeed, and as this was about the time Annette came out the front door, put two fingers to her lips and cut loose with a most unladylike whistle and declared loudly that dinner was on the table, they could come and get it or the dogs would eat well, why, this might be a good place to finish up for today. I rather like the mental image of Sarah's smile at Annette's whistle, at the thought of Jacob snatching his son under the arms and swinging him up behind Sarah (a stretch it was -- Jacob was counted a tall man, but Snowflake was inarguably a tall horse!) -- and Sarah walked her mare toward the house while Jacob set the adz back in its shed, wiped its head with an oily rag, then headed for the wash-up to get the dirt off his hands before he went inside to eat... smiling as he did, for a father delights to remember the happy laugh of his child, as the child is hoisted a-horseback in Pa's strong, safe hands.
  6. ... you mean this isn't one of those engineering fails we see on Farce Bork?
  7. Sounds like the combination I am looking for, many thanks!
  8. Deployed a dozen and the enemy's ranks are seriously depleted!
  9. 622. TESTED Jacob Keller crossed his palms on his saddle horn, pushed down: he took the weight off his spine the way he'd seen his pale eyed Pa do any number of times, and for the very first time, he felt a bright burst of very relieving pain. Surprise must've crossed his face: the man riding toward him sneered and asked, "Wassamatter, Depitty? Saddle sores?" Jacob did not recall seeing this rider before, but he knew the type: drifter, troublemaker, the kind that would bully anyone he could: he felt his face tighten a little, reached well deep into himself, gripped his rising temper, hard: unlike most young men, he well knew what a runaway temper could do, and he knew his temper was too easily provoked. Jacob made no reply. "You look wet behint the ears, Depitty." The sneering voice rolled off Jacob like water off an oilskin: he knew the man was trying to provoke him. "Why, yore Mama's milk is wet on your lips!" Jacob's pale eyes shifted to the right -- he lifted his chin slightly, looked back -- Suspicious, the stranger back-reined his gelding, hard, turned, looking for the Deputy's partner, looking for the ambush -- just in time to inherit the full-on collision of a fast-moving Appaloosa stallion. Jacob was out of the saddle, but unlike his opponent, his descent was controlled, planned: he landed on the stranger, stomping one wrist into the rocky ground, hard: his other boot came up, came down, hard, and he felt his boot heel bust two ribs. Jacob jumped off, took two steps: the stranger was tough, as most men were, out West: Jacob moved in fast, swung his fighting blade in a fast, shining arc: he'd turned it backwards, caught the stranger's wrist with the back edge of Black Smith's handmade blade: he swung the blade hard enough to paralyze the hand and maybe break the bone, he wasn't sure -- but he wasn't done. Jacob knew that if you decided to beat a man, the only way to do it was to beat him so badly the other guy would cross the street rather than come anywhere close, ever again: Jacob's knee drew up, his boot drove out, two more ribs broke: Jacob felt for his belt, behind his off holster, eased the blade back into its sheepskin lined sheath. The stranger doubled over, his arm clamped over his broken ribs, the other across his belly: Jacob's right hand splayed, the web of his hand driving into the stranger's Adam's apple, his right leg swinging behind the man's knees: he hit hard, hard enough to paralyze the voice box and bear him over backwards: the stranger hit the ground, hard, barely able to breathe, making the high pitched squeal of a man desperately trying to pull air in through a shocked-shut larynx. He was several minutes before his vision cleared, before he could try to roll over. He didn't make it. Jacob waited until the face-grimaced stranger started to set up, then stomped him once, hard, in the guts. He waited until the stranger was able to breathe again, then he reached down, seized him by the front of his coat, twisted: he hauled the gasping, agonized stranger off the ground, left handed, hauled him up to eye level. "Mister," he said quietly, his voice calm, "I did not get mad at you. Please remember that. Not once did I lose my temper. Keep that in mind before you run your mouth ever again, and if I see you with a weapon, any time, any where, I will kill you where you stand." He eased the stranger down, until his boots just touched the ground, released. "If your hands still work enough to hold your reins, ride east a couple hours and you'll come to Firelands. Got a good doc there. Get yourself repaired and get a meal under your belt and get the hell out of my county." Jacob looked at the rifle's butt sticking out of the stranger's scabbard, and he smiled, ever so slightly. "I'll let Doc fix you up and I'll allow you a good meal. After that, remember what I said. Can you get in the saddle?" Sheriff Linn Keller leaned against the post holding up the overhang in front of the Sheriff's office. Deputy Jacob Keller leaned against the opposite side of the same post. Both men were tall, both men were lean, both men wore black suits and black Stetsons, both men had pale, quiet eyes and impassive, carefully neutral expressions. Neither spoke for a little more than a half hour. "Train comin' soon." "Yes, sir." "Reckon I'll go see who's comin' to town." "Yes, sir." "I understand you run into a stranger a few days ago." "No, sir. My horse did." The Sheriff's expression never changed. "He must've made your horse mad." "Reckon so, sir." "What happened?" "Well, sir, my horse is awful hard to aggravate," Jacob deadpanned. "I've got to get along good with my stallion, and if I didn't take his part, why, he might get unhappy with me." "It don't pay to get your stallion unhappy," Linn agreed quietly. "If he's goin' to tell a grown horse he's wet behint the ears when it's not rained for two weeks, an' then he says a grown horse still has Mama's milk wet on his lips, why, he'd no manners a'tall and he'd ought to be taught the error of his way." Linn nodded slowly. "You realize," he said thoughtfully, "if 'twas just two men disagreein' like that, he might have a complaint." "Yes, sir." "He took it upon himself to try the Law." "He did, sir." "Had you not put a hard nasty stop to it, he'd have kept pushin'. Likely he'd have pushed you until you had to kill him." "Yes, sir." "Had you not stopped him, he'd have tried the next lawman down the line an the next one until someone finally up and killed him." "Likely so, sir." "Men like that understand one thing, Jacob, and one thing only." "Yes, sir?" "Every lawman is tried. Every new lawman will be tried several times until it's clear what he is or what he ain't. Unless a lawman speaks the language the sinner understands, he'll keep sinnin'." "Yes, sir." "I'd say you were tried, Jacob, and you were not found wanting."
  10. Those rascally little sugar ants. Sweet ants I've heard 'em called. What I call them does not bear repeating in polite company.
  11. The enemy has descended upon me and war is declared! First -- a solitary scout, scuttling across the basement Maytag. Next day -- another lone scout, on the stainless steel of the kitchen sink. On the third day -- they attacked in company strength, setting up regular routes of march: I responded with those flat plastic Terro bait stations, and some strategically-placed blobs of exterminator grade stuff that comes in syringes with stern warnings about use (barricaded hound dog out of the kitchen for the duration, no wish for him to get curious and taste test dabs of destruction!) The Antskis' numbers are markedly reduced today -- no more than a half dozen, all solitary -- and now have added to my arsenal, Oil of Peppermint, with which to mix a spray solution, which I am told is repellent and indeed lethal to the scuttling scoundrels: borax and diatomaceous earth are in like wise recommended. I was going to raise a cutlass, sound General Quarters and declare in a great voice to repel boarders, but alas I have not a naval cut-toe, and besides ... I look silly enough the way it is, without adding to it!
  12. Alpo, thank you for that good laugh! -- I studied and puzzled your first photo and it took me entirely too long to realize ... No, that is not some pistola from an alien dimension, deposited through the magic of malfunctioning physics ... ... it's one stacked on top of the other ... Shook my head and laughed again at how slow I was on the uptake!
  13. I am not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but methinks Brother Pat doth speak with the voice of experience, and mine ear is inclined that-a-way! (written while wearing my very best stuffed shirt expression!)
  14. 621. GO AROUND, COME AROUND Chief of Police Will Keller lifted his chin. Retired Sheriff Willamina Keller raised an eyebrow. Will tilted his head to the right, turned: Willamina reached down, lifted her skirts a little, followed her twin brother into the chrome-and-polished-mirrors drugstore and malt shop. There were a few tourists, looking out of place as they always do -- which struck the soda jerk as somewhat amusing: here was their Chief of Police, looking like the uniformed constabulary have for the past half century or so, even to the extent of wearing a revolver instead of one of the plastic, dishwasher-safe self loading pistols that were de rigeur worldwide: Willmina, on the other hand, looked very much like a fashionable lady from the late 1880s: a properly fitted, rather ornate gown, a matching parasol, furled, carried with all the ease and grace of a majorette's baton: she swept regally past her twin brother as he held the door for her, and she led the way to their favorite table, against the opposite wall, where neither had a back to the door, where both could use accidentally strategic mirrors to view any approaches. Willamina leaned her parasol against the wall, cornering it between table and chair rail, regarded her counterpart with amusement. "You," Will began, "will not believe this." Willamina batted her eyes innocently, leaned forward, planted her elbows on the tabletop and bridged her fingers delicately together: she lowered her chin until it just touched the backs of her gloved fingers, and she gave Will the full benefit of her very best, pale eyed, Innocent Expression. "You recall Old Man Mactavish?" "I do," she said softly. "His wife died a year ago, sepsis after a fall. Two children, a girl one year behind Marnie, one boy, just starting grade school." "He's the one." "What happened, Will? I haven't seen that look on your face since you won the VFW turkey shoot two years ago." Will looked up as the soda jerk came over to take their order: he ordered for both of them, Willamina smiling quietly as cell phones turned their way -- not an unusual occurrence when she wore a McKenna gown, and went about in the public's eye: her image, she'd been told, had been transmitted worldwide, she'd received correspondence asking about her attire from multiple countries, most recently from the ladies of a cowboy fast-draw group in Japan. "Mactavish flagged me down this morning." Willamina nodded, leaned back as a cup and saucer was placed carefully in front of her: she smelled freshly brewed oolong, with the citrus smell of burgamo promising a flavorful, warming drink that chill morning. Will leaned back as his steaming mug of coffee was set in front of him, with a little bowl of individual creamers: he tore two of them open, dumped them in his coffee with an utter lack of ceremony, all while talking. "Mactavish said he needed to say thank you but how do you thank a dead man." Willamina's teacup stopped its slow rise from the saucer: she lowered the teacup, placed it very precisely on its saucer, gave her twin brother her absolutely undivided attention. "Willa, did his daughter attend one of the Ladies' Tea Society meetings?" "Several. I helped sew her gown." "You read from one of the Journals." "I've read from the Journals nearly every meeting." "Do you recall mentioning Jacob's son falling through a rotted out wood deck over a hand dug well?" Willamina's eyes changed -- her expression did not -- Will noticed the change, knew he'd hit pay dirt. "I do recall," she said slowly. "Fill me in." Will took a long breath, picked up his coffee, took a slow sip, considered, took another. "Mactavish said his daughter was telling him about ... what you'd read." "Go on." "Him and his boy went out ... they've got a couple old buildings they've pretty much let fall in." "I know the place." "They've got an old well." Willamina turned her head ever so slightly, her expression serious. "An old well." "His boy ran for the well." Willamina's eyebrow raised. "Mactavish said he remembered what his little girl said about Jacob's boy jumping on the rotty old boards and falling through." Willamina's eyes lightened in color: no trace of blue remained, and Will saw the color starting to stand out on her cheek bones as the rest of her face started to blanch. He raised a forestalling palm. "Mactavish said he jumped forward and caught his boy under the arms -- the boy jumped up to land on those boards -- he caught his boy, swung him off to the side." "And?" "He raised one leg and stomped on that well cover." Willamina took a long breath, waited. "He said that whole damned cover just fell apart." Willamina shivered a little, nodded. "He said if Jacob hadn't written that down, or Old Pale Eyes, or whoever did, that his boy might have drowned, and he wanted to say thank you." Will's eyes smiled as he reached across the table, gripped her gloved hands. "Thought you'd like to know." Willamina nodded, looked down at her steaming amber, forgotten during the narrative: she blinked, picked it up, two handed, took a careful sip, found it very much to her liking. Somehow Will was not surprised when he saw Willamina -- still in her fine gown and the matching hat -- driving her restored carriage up Graveyard Hill. She's going to Old Pale Eyes' grave to thank for writing that down, he thought. Wonder what he'd think of his words, bearing fruit this many years after. Something fell through his field of vision: the human eye is geared to catch movement, and he followed this something with his eyes, and then he bent down and picked up this something that dropped right in front of him. Chief of Police Will Keller picked up a fresh-cut rose, red and healthy and in full bloom: he blinked, surprised, sniffed it and smiled, looked up: no windows were open, no one hung grinning over the cornice of a building. He turned, looked toward the old cemetery, nodded, threaded the rose through a shirt button. "I reckon," he said aloud, "I just got my answer."
  15. 620. TWO MEN AND A DRINK There was a knock at the door. Irritated, Dr. John Greenlees Sr. looked up. One hand held a pen, poised over one of the perpetual, detailed, prying, unnecessary, bureaucratic forms that was the bane of his life: this was one of the few his staff was unable to fill out -- they could have, truth be told, but under law, it had to be under his hand and his alone, and so he held a pen instead of the scalpel he'd prefer to be holding. The Sheriff stepped in, looked behind, closed the door carefully: he came up to the desk, reached into a coat pocket, withdrew two shot glasses, set them on the desk. He withdrew a silver flask from an inner pocket. Doc removed his forehead from where it had been leaning heavily on his support hand; his support elbow came off the desk, he lay the pen across the form, he straightened. Linn poured something water clear and Doc suspected it was not only potent, but also less than 30 days old: two glasses poured he, and Doc watched as the flask was fast up and slid back into its inner pocket. Linn set a glass in front of his old friend, picked up the other: he raised the glass silently to Doc. Doc picked up his own, returned the silent salute. They drank. As Doc suspected, the libation lived up to the appelation he'd heard Linn use before: this was indeed Liquid Sledgehammer, for it went down like Mama's milk and like to blowed the socks off his feet: he closed his eyes savored the aftertaste of ... apples? ... and something he couldn't quite identify, some fruit or another, somewhere behind that sheet of heat that stripped his tongue of anything but taste buds. Linn sat, regarded the blinking physician with a quietly amused expression, something Doc rarely saw on that pale-eyed, professionally-impassive face. Linn spoke first: "Good for what ails ye." Dr. John Greenlees took a careful breath, took another, raised an eyebrow, cleared his throat. "Now that my tonsils are sterilized," he said slowly, "to what do I owe the pleasure of a moment's respite from these infernal forms?" "Bottom polishing bureaucrats plague you, too," Linn replied, smiling ever so slightly: "Doc, I came to say thank you." Dr. John Greenlees raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" "It's your son." Now Doc frowned: he lowered his head a fraction, leaned forward ever so slightly, long surgeon's fingers laid over one another on the forgotten form. "My son." Linn nodded. "Doc, this might take some explainin', but you're to credit and I wanted you to know." Dr. John Greenlees picked up the sheets in front of him, set them aside: he capped his pen, opened his desk drawer, dropped it in, closed the drawer: placing both hands flat on the green desk blotter, he looked very directly at the Sheriff and said, "Speak." Linn laughed a little. "Woof!" Doc raised imploring hands to the ceiling: "Two million comedians out of work and he's got to come along!" Linn grinned, then sobered. Doc," Linn said, "you know Marnie lived through hell itself back East." "I remember your telling me she'd seen her mother beaten and ... hurt," Doc replied carefully. "She saw worse than that, and she hid when her Mama ran and abandoned her. She saw the murderers swarm through the apartment and tear it apart and she heard them calling her name and then saying to one another how they were going to kill her." Dr. John Greenlees nodded slowly: in addition to physician and surgeon, he had, of necessity, been a counselor for those who'd had a shattering, a truly traumatic experience: he knew what it was to listen to fearful whispers from somone revisited by the awful memories of an early psychic devastation. "She has what professionals would call trust issues." "I would imagine she does," Doc replied carefully. "She trusted your son today." Doc's left eyebrow raised to an impressive height. "Oh?" Linn leaned back, steepled his fingers, considered the stamped-tin ceiling, remembered how difficult it had been to find original ceiling tin: he blinked, looked down, considered. "A man wants to keep his family safe," he said slowly, "but that's kind of like I read about sentry duty ... if you have a skilled infiltrator, a sentry safeguards only as much ground as his boot soles cover." Doc nodded; he'd read that same quote: "Robert Louis Stevenson?" he guessed. "Sounds right," Linn shrugged. "I honestly forget. I can't be there every moment, Doc, and I've known men to commit suicide after something terrible happened to their wife or daughters when they were away." Doc nodded, slowly, eyes closed. "Young John," Linn began, and Doc opened his eyes. Linn leaned forward, elbows on his knees: Doc saw his bottom jaw slide out, saw the mandibular muscles, suddenly distinct: Linn looked away, looked back. "Doc, your son is a gentleman. He had the chance to be improper with Marnie, and he didn't." Doc's eyebrow had only just settled back down to level: it twitched up again, then sagged. Linn stood. "Doc, thank you. There's only one place he could have learned to be decent and honorable." Linn stood, tapped the flask in his inner pocket, and Doc rose as well. "Thank you is only words. A snort of Old Crud Cutter says it better." The two men shook hands; Doc watched as Linn left, watched the door close quietly behind him. Dr. John Greenlees rested his fingertips delicately on the green desk blotter: he blinked a few times, spoke into the silence filling his office. He looked down at the framed photograph on his desk, a shot taken of father and son not many years before: both of them were grinning, each of them in chest high waders, each with a fly rod. He looked up at the empty chair in front of his desk, his voice quiet and thoughtful. "Well I'll be damned."
  16. 619. A GHOST STORY Marnie's little brother Joseph was restless. Willamina knew the signs; she was, after all, his grandmother, and he was much like his father had been, at his young age. Willamina tilted her head a little, considered the growing boy with the frank interest of someone who knew him well: "Joseph," she said, "what do you know of magic?" Joseph's eyes widened and he was suddenly still, focused on his pretty, pale eyed Gammaw. "Not much," he admitted. "Do you know how magic works?" Willamina asked, sitting down cross legged on the front porch: Joseph shook his head, sat with her. Willamina looked at Marnie, who blinked and hazarded a guess: "Isn't that where you dress like an old gypsy woman and hide in a silk tent with a crystal ball?" Willamina raised a finger, nodded: "You're setting the stage," she said. "That's part of it, but the biggest part is belief. Just like Voodoo in the Caribbean, it's driven by belief." "Gammaw, you gonna dress like an old Gypsy lady?" Joseph asked innocently, and Willamina laughed a little, then raised her head. "Excuse me," she said, rising: she walked quickly to the barn's side door, disappeared. "Marnie, does Gammaw have a crazy old lady costume?" Marnie wasn't sure whether to frown, scold or laugh; she settled on simply shaking her head. Joseph and Marnie both raised their heads: the wind picked up and they smelled rain, there was a telltale pure-white flicker and then they heard thunder, distant, but distinct, and just as lightning seared across the suddenly-cloudy heavens and thunder crackled in its wake, they heard hurried footsteps and a pale-eyed figure in an electric-blue gown and a matching little hat, with white gloves and a parasol in hand, came skipping around the corner and into the barn. Less than two seconds later, rain, at first the fat, cold drops that precede a good soaking toad strangler, then a steady rain, loud on the barn's split-shake roof. "I'm glad we're in here," Marnie said, and "Gammaw, I thought you were gonna be a crazy old gypsy lady!" "Oh, my, no," their pale eyed arrival laughed: "now what's this about a ghost story?" "You were gonna tell us a ghost story, Gammaw!" "Gammaw?" she smiled, raising an eyebrow. "Well, I've been called worse. Now how do you suppose magic works?" She leaned forward and looked intently into the lad's pale eyes and whispered, "Belief!" "Huh?" She leaned back, nodded, planted the furled parasol's tip between her immaculate, high-button shoes. "Let's say ... oh, I know! Have you ever heard of the wompyr?" She pronounced it "vompire," after the German fashion, and Joseph and Marnie looked at one another. "Vampire?" "You've heard if it!" Two children nodded, started to make a reply, "Now how do you suppose they do all those spooky things?" Brother and sister looked at one another and shrugged: "Magic?" "Right-o," came the cheerful reply, with a wave of a gloved hand: "and magic runs on belief, and because you had an entire continent of poor superstitious folk believing in them, they became real!" Marnie and Jacob looked at one another uncertainly. "Now what do you suppose happened when an Eastern European vampire from the shadowed mountains stepped through a time-portal and arrived here?" A young bride wiped out the cast iron frying pan. She thought she felt the air move, perhaps she felt a cold breath of air: surprised, she looked up, into the black-glass mirror of the window over her kitchen sink. Nothing. She was a new mother; her child was in the next room, fed, changed, warm, asleep: she saw nothing in the window's reflection, but something, something was not right. Her hand tightened on the cast iron handle. She turned, Penetrating red eyes, a hungry smile, fangs ... she had the flash image of a man half a hand taller than she, and very well dressed: those eyes, those hypnotic eyes reached out and caressed her soul, tried to draw her in as he'd drawn in who knows how many hundreds of European girls, over the centuries of his bloody life ... Trouble was, he wasn't in Europe. He wasn't dealing with a victim who had a lifetime of indoctrination of obedience to the Crown. He was dealing with an American. He was dealing with a suddenly-enraged young American wife with a good grip on a cast iron frying pan, and as red lips pulled back from shining white canines, the hard swung skillet caught him full in the face with all the strength this enraged young mother could generate. The vampire's belief was that he was more than her match; his belief had always been supplemented, fueled, reinforced with the belief of an entire society that believed in him, believed in his power, his invincibility. Suddenly -- thrust into a land without this belief, a land and a population that instead believed in the power of a well swung frying pan -- his hypnotic ability to immobilize a simple peasant girl was no more, replaced by the bone busting agony of a face full of cast iron and anger. She hit him and she hit him hard: she twisted her slim young body and put every ounce of power into her swing -- she felt the ringing impact -- she let go of the frying pan, powered off to the side and jumped like she did when she was on the girls' basketball team, launched from the floor, arm stretched desperately -- Her fingers seized the blued barrels of the shotgun her husband hung over the kitchen door -- She twisted as she came down, brought the stubby barrels around, shoved viciously at the safety -- The intruder, snarling, raised his head, his handsome features ruined, hatred and death in blood-red eyes -- She brought the double gun up, an armed and angry mother in a community, a society of American wives and mothers, a young woman who'd seen what a charge of buckshot did to a block of ice, an antifreeze jug of water -- The front bead came up, shining gold in the muted glare of the kitchen's ceiling fixture -- She remembered what the shot swarm did to the antifreeze jug -- Her finger slapped the front trigger -- My baby my baby my baby, she thought, then take this, damn you -- The tan rubber recoil pad shoved hard into her shoulder, and she never felt it. "She killed the vampire?" Joseph breathed, and his well-dressed, pale-eyed storyteller nodded, smiling. "I thought it had to be a wooden stake!" "That's what everyone believed, back in the vampire's native land, but when he stepped through an opening into America, more people believed in frying pans and buckshot than believed in wooden stakes." "When was this?" Marnie asked, wavering between skeptical and fascinated. "That was while your Gammaw was still with the Village of Chauncey Marshal's Office." Joseph blinked -- as if he'd only just realized -- "You're not Gammaw --" The pretty, pale eyed woman stood, smoothed her skirt, smiled. "Of course not. You wanted a ghost story. Or what that ... a ghost's story?" She laughed, she spun, spread her arms, her skirt flaring: Joseph and Marnie looked to the open side door, saw their Gammaw step inside -- They looked back -- She's gone, Joseph thought, disappointment pulling at his belly. "Sorry about that," Willamina said. "I had to change out of my wet clothes and then I got a phone call. So -- how about the Chauncey Vampire?" "Heard it," her grandchildren chorused, and then they all stopped, surprised, sniffed the rain-damp air. Marnie spoke first, puzzled. "Roses?"
  17. 618. AN UNCLE'S APPROVAL Chief of Police Will Keller eased his spotless, gleaming, freshly waxed Crown Vic onto the packed gravel of their pistol range. He shut off the engine, climbed out, settled the muffs on his ears, turned the switch until he could hear normally: he walked up toward the line, where a single shooter, a young woman in a ballistic vest and flannel shirt, jeans and red cowboy boots, was holding a strip of cardboard in front of her face. Will's curiosity was spurred by a control in the hand that held the cardboard, by the odd way she held the cardboard -- with her elbow chicken winged out -- and then he looked downrange. He saw multiple target turners, at different distances, and he saw something he didn't expect. He saw a tennis ball launcher. The cardboard wobbled a little as Marnie hit the thumb switch. Will's eyes widened a little as the tennis ball hit Marnie in the vest -- hard -- she dropped cardboard and thumb switch, she stepped quickly to the side as the targets turned -- Three targets turned. Will Keller watched a pretty girl -- girl hell! he thought viciously, for in that moment, he saw her as everything from the scared waif she'd been when her dying mother first brought her out, everything from terrified little girl to a big-eyed child, clinging to her Daddy's uniform trouser leg as she tried to hide behind him, everything from a laughing little girl in grade school to a laughing girl riding her Daddy's stallion like they were one magical creature, soaring over mere fences with a great set of invisible wings, everything from a gorgeous young woman in a prom dress dancing with the smooth assurance he'd see in his pale eyed twin sis ... And he saw the green-as-spring-grass deputy, staggering back against the wall just as he came through the doors with a double handful of shotgun, a deputy who slid to the floor, landed on her bottom and reloaded, numbly, out of nothing short of sheer muscle memory: Will went up to The Bear Killer, SLAMMED a hard hand down on the black Mastiff's neck and roared, "OFF!" -- and it wasn't until autopsy that he'd learned that it was Marnie's single shot, and not The Bear Killer's defending attack, that killed the holdup artist that tried to kill Marnie. He saw all these things in the bright sliver of a shattered second, between the tennis ball launcher's cough and the targets' turning, and Marnie's drop-the-cardboard-and-fire. Will's pale eyes were impassive as he saw how fluid, how expert, Marnie's address was: she'd been hit center chest by that tennis ball -- apparently her signal to engage -- she'd thrust to the side while drawing, she engaged two of the three targets. The third was a no-shoot, an unarmed civilian with a shocked expression, apparently an enlarged photograph. Will watched while Marnie reloaded; she went ahead, studied her targets, pasted them: she turned, walked back to her pale eyed Uncle. "Hello, handsome," she smiled, patting his chest and smiling a little: "like my little setup?" "It's ... not what I expected," he admitted. "Getting shot was like being punched. Hard, or maybe being hit by a medium baseball pitch," she said frankly. "We shot at the same moment. I broke the shot just before his arrived." She ran her arms around her Uncle, laid the side of her head against his chest, and he put his arms around her the way an uncle will when he knows a girl needs strong and protective arms around her. "I didn't tell Daddy," she admitted, "but when I realized I'd been shot, it ... it just went all through me and I got ... I'm sorry, Uncle Will, just knowing I'd been shot and I lost all strength and I went down!" "I've known that to happen," he soothed, tightening his arms around her: "I've known it to happen more times than one." Will's voice was deep, quiet, reassuring. His eyes were not: they were the haunted eyes of a man who walked into the twin concussions of a Mexican standoff, to the sight of a badge packer sliding to the floor with a face the color of a wax candle. "So tell me what you've done here," he murmured, and Marnie smiled to hear his voice, deep, resonant, indistinct in that great manly chest of his. She looked up, smiled: he looked down and laughed, for her expression in that moment was the little girl he remembered. "Come on," she said, pulling free and seizing his hand, the way she did when she was a laughing little child, grabbing his hand to show him a treasure, a new foal, a shiny rock: this time she showed him lines she'd traced on the ground with flour: "If I stand here, the ball shoots down this line. That's why I'm wearing my vest. I wait until I've been hit and then I shoot the turners, and there is always at least one no-shoot target." Uncle Will nodded. "I hold the switch -- so -- with cardboard in front of my eyes -- so -- and when I hit the thumb switch, there's a random delay like on a shot timer, only instead of BEEP, I get hit!" "And when you get hit, that's your start signal." Marnie nodded. "I've also arranged with the local Community College to use their Academy's shoot house. It's got video simulators and I'm the only one that uses the laser revolver." "Not many of us use wheel guns anymore." "I can hit more reliably with Mr. Smith," Marnie said, her voice suddenly serious, "and hits count." "Sure as hell counted there in the bank," Uncle Will agreed. "I wanted to make sure I could return effective fire and make shoot-no-shoot decisions after being hit. I ran it with baseballs in the launcher and that felt more like being shot." "That looks like brand new armor." "It is." Marnie sat down on a handy bench, her Uncle Will easing his arthritic old bones down beside her. "Daddy said he's sending mine back to the factory. Something about all the luck was blown out of it and they have to reinject it with good fortune, and in the meantime here's a replacement." "Kind of like a brain bucket," Will chuckled. "One motor sickle wreck and you replace the helmet!" Marnie nodded. "My old Smith working out for you?" "Like a charm," Marnie said. "I got its twin a few weeks ago. Mr. Smith is impounded until all the courtroom activity is finished and in the meantime I still have one." She eased the subject under discussion out of her holster, held it out: Will saw she'd had some engraving done, and he grinned in approval. "Same engraving on Mr. Smith?" he asked. "Identical." Will studied the hand chased vine work around the muzzle, the vine winding its way from breech toward the muzzle, stopping a third of the way down polished, blued steel. "Now that's some gorgeous work," he murmured. "I had roses engraved. Kind of a family thing, y'know? -- and here -- take a look at this." Will turned the revolver, tilting it one way, tilting it the other. "On both sides, engraved and inlaid with gold," Marnie said quietly. "The Thunder Bird." "You put this on Mr. Smith also?" Will asked, and Marnie looked at him, bright-eyed, and nodded. Will drew his own sidearm, handed it to her. Marnie holstered her blued-steel, gold-inlaid revolver, took her Uncle's studied its port side, then its starboard. "You, too," she smiled, handed it back. "Yep," Will agreed. "Joseph Keller went to war with the Thunder Bird on his Colts. I figured if I have to go to war, I'll do the same thing!" Marnie leaned against her Uncle, laid her hand, light and gentle, on his. "I'm glad you're here," she said quietly. Uncle Will slipped his hand from beneath hers, ran his arm around her shoulders, pulled her into him. "Me too, Princess," he rumbled, his voice deep and powerful, like a giant's pronouncement from a deep stone-laid well. "Me too."
  18. The State Mental Hospital in Athens had a sizable Civil Defense shelter underneath its massive structure. Sadly, it was decommissioned, supplies were discarded or donated to the local medical community. The local hospital wanted nothing to do with the white-enamel-and-red-trim bedpans and urinals, so they gave them to the emergency squads. We used the pretty white bedpans for flowerpots in our station's front window, and the white-enamel urinals were cold water pitchers in the station's fridge.
  19. Yep. 19 and 63, I was in third grade, we all walked to the Corning cistern on top of the ridge and brought our picnic lunches: Mom made enough peanut butter bacon and jelly sandwiches for the class and nobody liked 'em. Peasants. I ate well indeed that day!
  20. Darlin', please be safe! The Yankee north is soggy and wet this time of year and I'm honestly feelin' guilty about that!
  21. A wiser man than I observed, "You pays-a you money and takes-a you choice." So it is here. Each has a reasoned and reasonable argument. Each is valid. And as often happens with posts here and elsewhere, I learn by reading. To one and all, my thanks!
  22. 617. JOHNNY WENT A-COURTIN' Dr. John Greenlees stepped off the train, looked around. His trip had been as he expected: uncomfortable, noisy, smelly, dirty: he wished for nothing more than a bath, a clean suit, a meal of something other than tough beef and half-cooked beans. He was a man alone in the world, a man with a large carpet bag and a worn, leather, physician's bag, the clothes that he wore, and memories that laid thick about his soul like a cloak made of sheet lead. Dr. John Greenlees considered the several souls he saw: rough miners profaning their way onto, of off of, the platform; he was surprised to see few he would call cowboys -- somehow, back East, he'd imagined everyone west of that wet divider of Civilization from the Great Howling Wilderness to be engaged in rustling cattle, holding up banks or hunting bank robbers -- his hard and skeptical gaze told him these were honest working folk, most of them lean, callused, weathered, and just plain ... people. He turned and nearly ran into something wearing a black suit and a curled, iron-grey mustache. A hand shot out like a striking viper, gripped his elbow: "Steady, man," a familiar voice murmured, then the broad, black hat-brim raised as the wearer's head tilted back, as a pair of pale eyes appeared, not a foot from his own. All thoughts of reserve, all intent of propriety, fell to the depot platform with his carpet bag and his physician's satchel. Two men seized each other in a sudden, absolutely crushing embrace: two men wordlessly greeted each other with all the strength gained from surviving a common hell: two men rejoiced in silence, each wordlessly thanking the Eternal that at least one other living soul had survived That Damned War, and the years that followed. "Damn you, Doc," Sheriff Linn Keller whispered into the physician's dust-and-soot-fouled coat's shoulder, "you're like salt pork, ain't nothin' can kill you!" "You long tall pale eyed hell raiser," Doctor John Greenlees grated into the soap-and-sunshine-smelling shoulder of his old and dear friend, "you're just too mean to die!" The two descended the wide set of warped wooden steps at the end of the platform: "I'd like to've gotten Eastern locust," the Sheriff admitted, "but the best we could do was white oak. Had it shipped green and still played hell drillin' for pegs." Linn's eyes were busy as they stepped down to dirt: Dr. Greenlees recognized the hypervigilance of a war veteran who'd seen considerable action, but held his counsel. "This way." They started down the alley. Something hit Doc's arm from behind: startled, it loosened his grip on his physician's bag, something impacted the back of his hand, his brown-leather satchel was stripped from his grip: Doc felt his companion vibrate momentarily, then: "JACOB!" A skinny boy came around the corner with a double handful of shotgun: Doc Greenlees recalled seeing Linn's arm coming up, he heard his companion's shout, saw a tall, lean boy in a Derby hat and a black suit, spin the shotgun and drive the checkered-walnut butt into the fleeing thief's forehead, stopping him as if he'd just run into a hickory timber. The pair walked up on the expressionless lad, standing with the weight of his young body on the unconscious thief's wrist, the shotgun cocked and pointed at the thief's face. "Well done, Jacob," Linn said quietly. The boy raised his head, looked at Linn -- Doc saw something in the lad's pale eyes, but it didn't register for some time, because the boy had the same ice-pale eyes as the ex-Cavalry officer at his side: it was more than evident here was the issue of this old veteran warrior's loins. "Give him some water," Linn said: Jacob raised the twin gunmuzzles, eased the hammers to half cock, one at a time, handed off the shotgun to his father: Doc Greenlees watched without comment as this stripling seized the cold-cocked thief by the front of his coat and his belt, heaved him off the ground, hauled him a few feet to the water barrel and dumped him in headfirst. Almost immediately there was a thrashing, a kicking: Jacob stepped back, turned to his father. "Shall I let him drink for a week or so, sir?" he asked, his face absolutely without expression, and this caused an imp to dip a broad paintbrush in very cold water and wipe it down Doc's spine. He'd seen that same face before. He'd seen it on Linn's face, during and after a particularly desperate, very bloody battle. "Let's haul him out." One took one leg, one took the other: the thief was brought out of the rain barrel, carried upside down, knuckles dragging in the dirt behind: it wasn't until they were crossing the boardwalk into the Sheriff's office that the prisoner rallied enough to protest: Doc waited outside, considering that he'd been surprised neither by the stripling's strength, his choice of punishment, his absolutely unemotional demeanor: he'd seen these things in the man he knew as Captain Keller, years before, when they both wore Union blue. Father and son emerged, just as a shining carriage pulled up: a woman and a little girl, both of them looking worn, thin, hard-used, for all that they were both well dressed, and the carriage, of the very best quality. Doc's brows drew together ever so slightly and he took another look at the woman: he stepped forward. "You are in pain," he said, "may I be of service?" Bonnie Lynne McKenna's face betrayed a swift, fluid flow of feelings: surprise, then a hard-eyed suspicion, at least until Doc felt Linn's step on the boardwalk underfoot: "Bonnie McKenna, may I introduce the only man I really trusted in all of that damned War. This is Dr. John Greenlees, physician and surgeon, he kept me alive and he's damned good at what he does." The little girl's expression was almost fearful: something small, round and black stirred on her lap, a pair of bright-black eyes turned to regard him, and something at what must have been the furry ball's backside began vibrating happily. At least the pup likes me, Doc thought sadly. "Have you offices already, Doctor?" Bonnie asked, shifting uncomfortably: Linn stepped up, laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. "He has," Linn said firmly. "He is beginning his practice upstairs in the Silver Jewel. I've just had the entire second floor ripped out and rebuilt. Esther's office is only just installed." "Sarah," Bonnie said quietly, "I'll need you to stay with your Aunt Esther in her new office." "Can't I watch?" Sarah asked in a pleading voice. "No," Bonnie almost whispered, gently stroking the tip of Sarah's nose with her gloved finger, and Sarah giggled: the black ball of happiness on her lap reached up and licked her chin, obviously not wanting to be left out. "C'mon, Doc. Let's get you settled in. We'll discuss matters as they come up. How's your appetite?" "I could eat a horse," Doc admitted. Linn, Bonnie and Sarah looked at one another, Jacob grinned: he knew what was coming, and watched silently for Doc's reaction as Sheriff, mother, and daughter, all looked at one another with wide-eyed innocence and declared, "Moooooo!" John Greenlees sat on the edge of the old ranch house's front porch. A pretty girl sat beside him. The evening was cool, but not yet chilly: they sat side by side, their hips just touching, at least until Marnie scooted a little closer. John laid his forearm down on his thigh, palm up: Marnie recognized the invitation, laid her hand gently on his. Both of them felt a little shiver at this expression of trust, of this first shared intimacy: small though it was, they recognized it for what it was. Silence grew long between them, until John took a long breath and said softly, "Marnie, I'm scared." Marnie Keller turned her head, looked with honest surprise at her boyfriend. She pulled her hand loose, turned: her arm went around his shoulders, her other hand grasped his, still palm-up on his leg: she leaned her head into his, and he turned his head to meet hers, a little surprised to see they were so close that both her eyes merged into one pale orb. "John," she whispered, "I watched you crawl into a wrecked car and use the clip of a ballpoint pen to clamp off an arterial bleed. I've seen you face up to a half-drunk troublemaker and hold his attention until my brother could come up behind him and bring him to the deck. You've been pressed into service in ER when it absolutely hit the fan and you were a second set of your father's hands." She hugged her arm tighter around his shoulders. "Now what's this baloney about you being scared?" John bit his bottom lip, his face reddening: Marnie drew back a little, removed her encircling arm, brushed the hair back from his hot, incarnidined ear. "Marnie, I have feelings for you," he whispered hoarsely, harrumphed: he looked into the distance, frowned, looked down at the ground ahead of their dangling feet, looked back at her, his expression serioius. "Marnie, you are the dearest thing I know. I look into your eyes and I see gentleness and I see trust and I don't ever want to screw that up!" Marnie ran her hand around the back of John's head, pulled his face into hers, kissed him, suddenly, soundly, and felt him shiver as this new sensation roared through his soul, firing a desire he never knew existed: he'd heard his father refer to the moment when the automatic pilot lights up and takes over, and he realized ... he was experiencing that moment. "John." Marnie's voice was a whisper. "You have never been improper. You are decent and honorable enough I am satisfied that won't happen. If it does, I'll stop us because I'll be honest" -- her fingers traced the curve of his ear, then gentle around the back of his neck -- "I can feel quite improper myself." John nodded, swallowed. Marnie turned his hand over, patted the back of his hand, gave him a wise and knowing look. "John, there've been many in my family who've borne out of wedlock. I don't intend to. Neither do I intend to trick you into marriage. If it's meant to be, it'll happen and I will rejoice. If it's not meant to happen, it won't." John looked long into those pale eyes, those unbelievably deep eyes, eyes he could swim in -- He blinked, shook his head. "I have it planned," he said slowly. "I will be going to med school. I will establish a practice, after I gain the experience, and I will have you as my wife -- but not until I'm able to provide for you." "Aren't you afraid some rich scoundrel will come along and snatch me up?" Marnie asked coyly. John Greenlees shook his head. "I've seen people try to snatch you, Marnie. I've seen you put them on the ground, and them in a great deal of pain. Right now you have the reputation of an Ice Queen, beautiful and so cold as to be absolutely unapproachable." "It prevents complications," she admitted. "What about me?" "You," she said, lowering her head a little and looking at him through long blond lashes, "are the dearest complication I've ever known." John lowered his forehead until it touched hers. "Is this where I'm supposed to kiss you?" Marnie lifted her face a little, closed her eyes and whispered, "Yes." Dr. John Greenlees set up his practice over the Silver Jewel. He saw a steady clientele; his work was first-rate, though like any physician, he could not cure everyone, couldn't repair all the injuries, but he did his best: he could have gone on to Cripple Creek, could have set up as one more physician in an established mining town: something told him he would be better off in Firelands, and so when the Sheriff offered to invest certain silver mining holdings in a hospital, Dr. John Greenlees decided he'd found a place he could stay, especially after he met Susan. Susan came clear up to the middle of Doc's breastbone: as lean as Doc was, Susan was equally stout: Susan was also a veteran nurse, and a good one, apple cheeks, a merry disposition and an absolute lack of fear: he'd seen her go up against a loud and threatening drunk, bump her belly into his, shove her finger in his face and give him an absolute, red-faced, look-over-her-spectacles what-for; he'd seen her seize a man's bleeding forerarm on the street, clamping down hard to stanch life's blood from fleeing through a laceration from broken glass: he'd seen her soothe a colicky baby, calm a panicked child, backhand a hysterical woman, she'd seen her scolding that pale-eyed Sheriff! She stood beside Doc, all starched and pristine-white and gleaming round spectacles, her cheeks pink with delight as they watched the Italian stonemasons placing quartz ashlars on a good stone foundation: her hand found his and she bounced a little on the balls of her feet: Doc looked at her in surprise, saw the absolute delight on her face. He turned to her, took both her hands. "Nurse Susan." "Yes, Doctor." "There is a matter I would discuss with you." "Yes, Doctor." "When our hospital is built, I will have need of additional staff." "Yes, Doctor." "Dr. George Flint is entering my practice. He is well recommended and is a graduate of the Harvard School of Medicine." "Yes, Doctor." "He is also a full-blooded Navajo." "Yes he is, Doctor." Dr. Greenlees frowned a little. "You know him?" "I've worked with him, Doctor. We worked together back East, at a coal mine explosion, and at a trestle collapse." She blinked, smiled gently. "You've made a good choice. He's very good at what he does." "Good," Doc nodded, then cleared his throat. "I will have need of additional staff. Hospitals tend to grow. We will need more nurses, we'll need orderlies, janitors --" Nurse Susan lifted her chin a little, effectively cutting him off. "And what else is on your mind, Doctor?" Dr. John Greenlees blinked, surprised, as he realized Nurse Susan had divined the true purpose of his speech. "I should have gotten a ring already," he muttered. "All things in their good time." Dr. John Greenlees went to one knee, still holding both Nurse Susan's hands. "You've worked with me for six months," he said. "I can't imagine not having you beside me. Susan, will you marry me?" Nurse Susan blinked, cupped her hand over her mouth, gave a little squeak: she laid her hand on Doc's shoulder as she shook her head and spoke true words from her very heart: "John, John ... what took you so long?"
  23. You know how fellas will buy their wife a fly rod for their birthday. Dear old Dad got Mama a Land-Rover (one of the boxy African safari cars, not the luxury mobile they've become today) We were fascinated, delighted and utterly enamored to find out its history, how the Brits allowed as you could use it as a tractor all week and drive to market on Saturday. It was set up for a PTO out the big hole in that stout back bumper. Mama thought it was cute, she loved driving it, bought an English driving cap to wear when she did. She never let us take it "Wading" (British for running it through the crick) nor were we allowed to go hell-a-tearin' through the woods with it. She gave us The Look when we asked about trying the PTO on Granddad's hay baler. Looking at the OP for the Ford power take off system, I reckon there's not much new under the sun!
  24. 616. BREAKFAST The Bear Killer was well known in the community. The Bear Killer wore an identifying vest when on duty: black it was, Kevlar and bulky, with the six point star on either side: he rode in the passenger front, most times, except for the time Linn found a lost little kid, and The Bear Killer rode in the back seat with the exhausted lad: a man carries images in his heart, and the sight of a tired little boy, seat belted in, with a great, black, curly furred canine's head across the boy's lap, and the sleeping lad's hand resting on The Bear Killer's shoulders, is a picture he cherished for the rest of his life, and kicked himself for not capturing the rear view mirror's image with his cell phone. The Bear Killer merited his own biography in the form of a slim volume, written by Linn's pale eyed Mama: there were no long-ago photographs of the famous canine, so she had to make do: Linn posed in his severe black suit, with a '73 rifle in hand and a serious expression on his face, standing with his Appaloosa stallion in a place little changed since the days when Old Pale Eyes strode the land with a lawman's boots: beside and a little in front of him, The Bear Killer, looking off into the distance as if watching something: this illustration sufficed for her description of the original mountain Mastiff, and her own granddaughter, in a pinafore and with a great ribbon bow atop her head, substituted for the legendary Sarah Lynne McKenna in another photo. Both illustrating photographs were reproduced in sepia tones in her book: here, The Bear Killer was in a copper tub, presumably filled with water, though it was hard to tell -- the tub was full to overflowing with soap-suds, The Bear Killer was sitting in the tub looking very pleased with himself, and the laughing stand-in for a youthful Sarah McKenna was busy piling a sparkling, shimmering crown of said suds atop The Bear Killer's head -- after which was a photo of the little girl toweling the sinner's-heart-black Bear Killer, and finally tying a red ribbon about his blunt, stout neck, while the dog sat patiently, eyes slitted, looking absolutely contented, very wise, and very patient. There were other, more modern illustrations, as well: one had a uniformed deputy astride a flat-out-galloping Appaloosa, ears laid back and nose thrust straight out ahead, and beside, the black streak of a charging Mastiff, looking like the black arrow of doom streaking along beside the feminine harbinger of Justice itself: the photo was breathtaking, with Marnie and her Daddy's stallion silhouetted against an absolutely incendiary sunset, a carefully timed row of strobes illuminating what would have been featureless silhouettes. There were accounts of The Bear Killer's adventures, back in the mid-1800s, including how he earned his name, how he grew and naturally fell into the duties he and his descendants had shared in the years following: a modern-day newspaper photograph was included, with appropriate citation to Bruce Jones, who got the shot, as The Bear Killer hauled a child out of the river, carrying the lad by the back of his waistband: another, more fearsome picture, The Bear Killer was captured by a lucky snap of the shutter in mid-leap, a shot taken with a cell phone during a bank robbery, a shot that captured The Bear Killer going to war: the light was just right, the detail was exquisite: The Bear Killer's ears were laid back, fangs bared, mouth open, and if you look closely at the picture, The Bear Killer's eyes are red in the photograph: not just red, but bright-burning like Hell's coals: this momentary sliver of time, reprinted on one page, mentioned Deputy Marnie Keller's having been shot in the vest during the robbery -- how she and the holdup fired at the same moment, just before a black-furred freight train slammed into him, how the holdup tried unsuccessfully to scream with his throat crushed in a war-dog's jaws, at least until his heart realized it was shattered from the general effect of a full-house .357. Willamina published the book, and it enjoyed a brisk sale locally, for The Bear Killer was well known in the community. There were other stories of earlier Bear Killers, of course: there would have to be, with the photos she'd staged. One story she included, involved breakfast. Before he was the full-grown Mountain Mastiff, The Bear Killer was ... Twain Dawg, so named by the pretty little girl who adored the fuzzy ball of canine happiness. The maid looked down at the clumsy little ball of black fur and big button-bright eyes. Hopefully shining eyes looked back at the maid: Twain Dawg raised a paw, a little pink tongue slid out, and the maid frowned -- or tried to -- and then bent to offer the cute little fellow a strip of roast that she was preparing for the noon meal. Sarah Lynne McKenna tried to be a proper young lady, tried to behave with the decorum taught by her very proper Mama, but Sarah was a little girl, and little girls get excited, and she wasn't supposed to run in the house, but she did: she pattered downstairs in her shiny black slippers, scampered the length of the hall, ran into the kitchen: little Twain Dawg looked up at her, grunted a few times, started casting about with his nose to the floor. "Oh no you don't," Sarah admonished, seizing the back door's shining, faceted knob: she twisted, pulled, and she and Twain Dawg ran out on the back porch and down the steps -- or, rather, Sarah ran down the steps, Twain Dawg made it halfway on his own four feet and then rolled the rest of the way -- he hit the ground, wallowed to his feet, turned, bristling: he snarled and yapped, once, at the offending stairs, then remembered why he was there. Twain Dawg ran several feet and stopped and tended the necessaries that come upon a pup of his young vintage, this soon after eating. Sarah's skirts were short enough to allow her to run after the galloping puppy; she was, after all, still a young girl, and so she wore the short skirts of youth: Twain Dawg, a gift from Charlie Macneil to a heartbroken little girl when he and his Dawg left for the Big City, was Sarah's near constant companion. They ran around the house -- clear around the house, Sarah giggling a little, Twain Dawg galumphed awkwardly up the back stairs and back up on the back porch, Sarah close behind -- they came back into the kitchen to an aromatic cloud of fresh baked bread and bacon. "We'll ha'e breakfast very soon," the maid murmured as Sarah -- her cheeks pink with exertion, breathing heavily but happily -- leaned back against the just-closed door: Sarah was a pretty girl, and her complexion showed the good effects of clean living. Sarah heard her Mama coming down the stairs, and she knew she would be descending with all the dignity of royalty -- her Mama was like that -- Sarah controlled her breathing, looked back at the maid. "G'wan," the maid whispered, "I'll ha'e breakfast to ye in a moment" -- and of course, once breakfast arrived at the table, after thanks were returned, Twain Dawg sat and watched Sarah with bright-black eyes, happily bolting down scraps of bread rubbed in bacon grease or egg yolk, or pieces of bacon, surreptitously slipped from her plate and offered to the delighted pup. Bonnie, of course, knew what was going on; Bonnie smiled a little, pretended not to notice: Bonnie had been a little girl herself, and she knew the delightfully childish feeling of thinking she was getting away with feeding a favorite dog at the table. Sheriff Linn Keller was fixing breakfast. He had a stack off pancakes on the table, steaming-hot, he had the butter and syrup set out, and a jar of honey; he'd diced thin-sliced ham, fried it to almost-crispy, added eggs, chopped walnuts, diced green peppers, spices, stirred: he was frying in butter, he flipped the frying mass once, added shredded cheese, smiled a little as he heard young feet pattering down the stairs. "Did you worsh worsh and brush?" he asked: Joseph ran up beside him, displayed still-damp hands, turned his face one way, then the other, pulled back his lips to show shining white teeth: Marnie left such juvenile demonstrations to her sibling, and instead went directly to her place, gulped down her orange juice, salivated at the pancakes. Linn looked down at The Bear Killer, who licked his chops in anticipation. Linn held up a thick pinch of diced ham. The Bear Killer raised one paw. Linn lowered the treat. The Bear Killer took it carefully, delicately, closed his eyes with pleasure as he chewed. "You know I don't allow you to eat in the kitchen," Linn admonished quietly as he handed down another thick pinch. The Bear Killer took it: those who know dogs, know the look of delight when they are bestowed this particular favor, and in this unguarded moment, he had it. Linn shut off the heat, cut the filled skillet's payload into fourths: he came around the table, dispensed his favorite creation: Shelly came downstairs, her scuffy slippers whispering on the stair treads: "Mmm, that smells good!" Linn looked up as he slid her quadrant out of the big cast iron skillet and onto her plate. "Help yourself, Sweet Pea," he grinned, "and if we run out I can make more!" Shelly looked over at the stove and laughed. "At least you don't make the mess my father does!" Linn set the frying pan on a cold burner, drew his chair out: The Bear Killer sat beside him, looked up at him, clearly hopeful. They bowed their heads, thanks were given: Linn looked up and said "Why don't we blow a Cavalry bugle right about now?" and Marnie's eyes lit up: "Maybe not," he added hastily. Shelly's look was enough; Linn knew she did not have to say a word, her expression said "Don't you dare!" as plainly as the spoken word. The Bear Killer waited, knowing there would be offerings, and he was right: he took the bite of Linn's specialty eggs, moved on to the next chair, where he got another bite: on to the next, and Joseph slipped and dropped his -- which did not deter The Bear Killer in the least -- and lastly, The Bear Killer stopped beside Shelly, who tried to give him a stern look -- and, as The Bear Killer raised a paw to say please, her attempt failed entirely and she, too, thrust a bite of ham and eggs between his polished ivory teeth. Somewhere through the meal, once eggs were consumed and pancakes occupied the plates, Shelly looked gratefully across the table at her husband. "Thank you," she said softly. "I needed my rest." Linn grinned. "After the day you had yesterday," he said frankly, "there's no way in two hells I was going to roll you out of the bunk and say 'Woman! Rattle them pots and pans!'" He looked at Marnie and winked. "Why, your Mama would have taken attair fryin' pan an' drove me through the floor like a fence post, an' she'd have me beat the dent out of the fryin' pan and fix the floor to boot!" "You spoil me, you know that," Shelly murmured. "You're worth spoilin', Sweet Pea." Marnie did not miss their tones of voice, nor did she miss the look each gave the other, and doubtless she filed this away in her own Book of Useful Knowledge: done right, a father will show his daughter what kind of a husband to look for, by being that kind of a husband: years later, Shelly would draw young Dr. John Greenlees aside and tell him in a quiet voice that her husband set a very high standard for Marnie to search for, and that he, John, had well more than surpassed that standard: it meant the world to her new son in law to be told this, but that day had not yet come. No, today, The Bear Killer was busy accepting offerings from friendly hands as he slowly orbited the breakfast table.
  25. Michigan Slim speaks truly about concussion protocols. Your experience is a powerful one, your son's actions are most commendable: when the young show themselves to be strong, show themselves to keep a level head when it just hit the fan, you know with no doubt a'tall you did well in raising him! Standing up on my Prayer Bones for your continued healing, and with words of thanks for your son!
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