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  1. This is an experiment. I want to see if I can write a short story. (Try no to laugh -- me, brief? -- well, miracles do happen!) When I wrote Willamina's original tale, she reached out of the screen, seized me by the shirt collar, jerked me up short and glared those pale eyes into mine and hissed, "WRITE!" -- and of course the only correct reply to a lady is to lift the skypiece and say "Yes, ma'am!" I honestly don't know where these sawed off tales will be -- past, present or future -- good Lord, you have ridden patiently with me clear to the Red Planet, we have trotted across the deck of a carrier as a pale eyed Kentucky fiddler took off in a Super Stallion and did things with that flying truck that should only be tried in a fighter jet, and we've gone well back to the past, clear back to not long after the American Revolution. So -- fair warning -- we'll likely be wandering some. When the noon freight hit me this morning, it was of course in Firelands, but it was in the hospital lobby, and there were a couple boys there named Emil and Gottleib, sons of Sheriff Linn Keller: ten years old they are, and ... well, I'll let you look 'em over yourself. Here they are. THE SHERIFF'S TWINS The punch caught Linn's right cheekbone coming in and it shook the man to his boot heels. Something bright detonated in the lean-waisted, pale-eyed Sheriff's field of vision and his left arm spun up to block the follow up punch he knew was coming, he bent a little and drove a haymaker just under the other guy's wish bone, an uppercut delivered with all the muscle that throwing hay bales, scraping barns and other affairs of bein' Sheriff had given him, and he punched his good right fist into the man's guts hard enough to bring him off the ground feeling like that upward bound ballistic missile started just above the belly button and came to final rest a half inch beneath his Adam's apple. A stainless-steel bedpan spun past the Sheriff's left ear like an insane, gleaming Frisbee and the pale eyed lawman turned, left arm up and hand bladed, he drew his left knee back to his belt buckle and drove a kick into an advancing belly and doubled the would-be attacker, knocking him back against the receptionist's desk hard enough to crack it loose from its bolted down foundations. Dr. John Greenlees shoved through the double doors with an immaculate white coat unbuttoned and flowing open in the wind of his passing, wearing a shirt and tie and a professionally irritated expression: the man was a gifted surgeon and he was not going to risk his hands in a punch, but he had a handful of laser sighted .44 revolver, and when this quiet man roared "ENOUGH!" and nobody paid him the least bit of attention, he hauled back the hammer and turned loose 240 grains of handloaded lead slug that knocked a spall out of the cement beam overhead half the size of a man's fist and brought everything to a fast stop. The glass double doors hauled open and half a dozen lawmen swarmed in, looking around, two in the lead with shotguns cocked, locked and ready to rock, and the Sheriff straightened, glared at them with hard and pale eyes, and put the back of his hand gingerly to his swelling right cheek bone. "What took you so long?" Linn muttered. "Doc, you okay?" Emil Keller – one of the Sheriff's twins – looked at his brother Gottleib. When the fight started in the waiting area out front, just inside the big glass doors and around the receptionist's desk, the Sheriff swung around in front of his boys and said "Boys, get in back," and they turned and ran through the heavy wooden double doors, shoving through them in pious defiance of the "NO ADMITTANCE" in red letters across their equator. There was the general sound of a full-blown, shouting riot, a uniformed policeman came out of an exam room and ran to the sound of battle, and the twin ten-year-old boys ran into the room he'd just run out of. Gottleib stopped and looked at the man lying on the treatment table. Emil looked at Gottleib and then at the patient. The man's eyes were wide and wild, he was shivering, he was sweating, he was looking around as if seeing something darting about the room, something that terrified him. His manacled wrists were secured to a belly chain, he was belted down, it was evident he was confined and probably under arrest, but the officer assigned to watch him was gone, and now it was just two scared little boys and what was probably a dangerous, if not violent, prisoner. "Don't let it near me," he hissed between clenched teeth, shaking, struggling: "DON'T LET IT TOUCH ME!" Emil went up beside the man, reached up, gripped one of the man's hands: "My name's Emil," he said, "you're safe here," and the man's head snapped around and he looked at the serious-faced little boy and gave a scream of sheer terror. "It's all right," Emil said with all the firmness and confidence he could manufacture – he'd heard his pale-eyed Pa say those same words, and in the same way – "you are safe here and I will not let you come to harm." The man whimpered, looked around, clearly terrified. "They'll hurt you," he gasped. "They'll hurt you!" "They'll not dare," Emil said with all the confidence as if he held a loaded shotgun himself: he gave the man's hand a reassuring squeeze. "You're cold. Let me get you a blanket." Gottleib looked around the room. The boys knew hospitals sometimes had warmed blankets – Emil broke an arm falling out of the hay loft once, and they put a warmed blanket on him and he remembered how good it felt – Gottleib was in the room when this happened, and he looked around, pointed. "There." The two boys – identical in flannel shirt, blue jeans, polished boots and wide, basket-stamped belts – scampered over to the blanket warmer, opened it, carefully brought out a warmed, fragrant blanket. They ran over to the prisoner and carefully, quickly, unfolded the blanket over him, ran back, got another. "They can't hurt you now," Emil said, drawing on a childhood memory of hiding from nightmares by huddling under a blanket: "you're safe now," and the prisoner relaxed visibly, blinking. Neither boy really knew what to say and so they said nothing: one stood on the man's left, the other on his right: youthful hands gripped his shoulders reassuringly, and when the officer finally came back in, he looked, surprised, at the quiet prisoner, at the two boys, and asked with honest surprise, "What are you two doing in here?" The janitor squinted at the crater in the cement beam. "Yeah, I can patch that," he said confidently. "Gimme a day and you'll never know it was there." Dr. John Greenlees looked at the Sheriff, frowned. "You'd better let me look at that." The Sheriff nodded. "Yeah," he grunted, dabbed at his nose, frowned at the drop of blood that came away when he brushed an experimental knuckle across the front of his beak. They went in back and into the first treatment room, the room with the officer, the prisoner, and two boys. The local paper had the expected article, describing how a fight broke out in the hospital's lobby, how the Sheriff, who was there to interview what turned out to be a poisoning victim, became the first lawman on scene; there was mention of the number of casualties, of the Sheriff's broken cheekbone, of the charges filed: there was a smaller, separate article on how a college student from out of town ended up in police custody after erratic behavior, and how it was finally determined he'd been slipped some drug cocktail that brought out every paranoid fear he'd known, causing him to be violent and combative, and how this was treated, with no charges against him, and the investigation turned over to the police in the jurisdiction where the chemical assault took place. The newspaper had no mention of two little boys who helped break the man's paranoia. Linn patiently endured his wife's attentions as she fussed over his face: it was bruised, it was going to be spectacularly colored, Doc tended the cracked bone as best as could be done, gave his good professional advice, and turned the Sheriff loose: as he and his boys left for the office and paperwork, and then home, they passed the janitor up on a ladder plastering the bullet crater full: it would be ready to paint in a few hours, and Linn knew the man took pride in his work, and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference in twenty-four hours. Emil and Gottleib waited patiently as their tall, pale-eyed Pa conferred with the police chief and a variety of officers, they stayed to one side and silent as lawmen came and went, as the prosecutor discussed what had transpired, and finally, when the Sheriff stood and stretched, he looked over at his sons and winked and said "Fellas, let me tell you a secret." The twins came to their feet and with one voice said "Yes, sir?" "Cheek bones heal better with ice cream." "Yes, sir!" came the eager, juvenile-grin reply, and the three of them walked down to the chrome-and-glass drugstore with all the mirrors and polished metalwork, and sat down at a table with a chocolate sundae in front of each of them. They waited until the Sheriff picked up his spoon, and hesitated when he hesitated. "Boys," he said seriously, "your Mama would not be happy with us spoilin' our supper." "No, sir," the boys said, looking sorrowfully at the bounty before them. "There is a solution." Hopeful eyes raised to their solemn-faced Pa. "Since this is for medicinal purposes only," he continued, as solemn as the old judge, "we just don't tell her!" Three pale-eyed Kellers in well polished boots and blue jeans, snatched up their spoons and happily consumed their chilly treats. After they'd eaten, the Sheriff listened carefully to his boys' testimony. It was not so much an interrogation as it was an interested father looking at a situation through the eyes of his sons. He listened to their description of how they went into the back hall, and how they thought that general knock down drag out brawl might spill through the doors they'd just pushed through, and so they ducked into a room the policeman just came out of – they knew it wouldn't be locked, so they could get in – they described the appearance of the man on the ER gurney, and they gave a clear verbal picture of the terror on his face, how he was looking around at something and telling them how "IT" was going to get him, and how Emil tried to reassure him with touch – something he'd learned from his Pa, though he didn't say as much – and how he'd realized the fellow was cold. Emil and Gottleib described remembering the warmed blankets and finding the blanket warmer, and how they covered him with one and then another, because Emil remembered how fast his first warmed blanket cooled off, and how this was a comfort to the man. Linn listened patiently, carefully, to what his sons told him, and then he leaned across the small, cleared, glass-topped drugstore table, and took their hands in his. "Fellas," he said quietly, looking into one son's eyes, and then the other, "you have done a good thing. You brought comfort to one who needed comforted." He squeezed their hands just a little and smiled, remembering at time when his own pale-eyed Mama told him the same thing, under rather different circumstances, but knowing it would be meaningful nonetheless: "You did a very good thing an I am pretty damned proud of you both!" It is a powerful thing when a father praises his sons, and Linn knew it was a lesson his sons would remember, and God willing, it would be a thing they would do with their own sons. In the fullness of time, it was, but that's another tale altogether.
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