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The Sheriff's Grandson

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75. "THAT'S MAMA?"

Sometimes a grandfather just sits back and listens, and grins.

It wouldn't be hard to imagine the lean old lawman, tilted back in a chair, listening to the exchange between father and son, as the father wanders gently through his own past, turning pages and looking at pictures, and a curious son looking as well.

Richard paused at a a newspaper article, the picture cut carefully from the newsprint and placed precisely in the book, protected under plastic and sealed away from salty and corrosive fingers and skin oil.

Jacob frowned a little at the photograph, and Richard felt his son's curiosity fairly prickling from the lad's hide.

"Pa," he asked, planting a young, pink finger on the photograph, "who's that?"

Richard looked at the photograph.

It was a woman with a bob haircut and a nurse's cap, in a white nurse's uniform dress, white stockings and crepe-soled shoes, but it wasn't the usual picture of a Nightingale.

This nurse had a little girl in her arm, and the child's terror was evident in the third of her face that wasn't pressed desperately against the nurse's front.

The nurse's eyes were very hard and very pale, and she had a little girl in one arm, and her other arm was extended, with a revolver quite obviously at full cock, and everything about her body language bespoke determination and an absolute, utter lack of any compromise at all.

"That is one of the first cases I worked," Richard said, rubbing Jacob's back gently with his big hand.

"What kind of a case, Pa?"

"It was a kidnapping."

Jacob turned and gave his father a concerned look.

"We knew a man's child was going to be ... that someone was going to try to take her, and we had someone on the inside and they couldn't get word to us until the bag was on."

"What bag?" Jacob asked, looking at the photograph again, confused at the lack of a burlap sack.

"The bag," Richard explained, "was the operation. The caper. The kidnappers were on the way and we were behind the curve."

"Uh-oh," Jacob said quietly.

"Uh-oh is right," Richard nodded. "Sometimes the newspapers have better sources than we do, and someone did. A reporter got this shot just before she did."

"Ummm ..." Jacob sounded uncertain. "Didn't you get ... weren't you there?"

Richard laughed and hugged his son.

"Jacob," he said, "a man never, ever forgets the day he met his wife." He thumped the plastic covered photograph with a blunt fingertip. "That, my fine young man, is your mother. She grabbed the family revolver and said that no child of hers was going to be taken, and we got there just in time to see the bad guy fall backwards through a big French window."

"Wow," Jacob whispered.

"Your mother shot the man who was going to kidnap that little girl."

"Did she get in trouble?" Jacob asked innocently, his eyes big.

"Oh, no. No, very definitely ... well, yes, she did. The local hospital just hired her and they decided they didn't want a gunfighter on staff, so they let her go as soon as this hit the paper. That's when your mother threw nursing aside and came back out here."

"I thought she married you!" Jacob protested.

"She did. Years later. We ... I looked her up ... and she turned me down."

Jacob was too busy processing everything to ask any questions, except the one overriding puzzle that displaced everything else in his young mind.

Jacob looked long at this dramatic photograph, this pretty young woman, this nurse, this fierce and motherly guardian, frozen forever a tenth of a second before she sent a kidnapper to hell on a single pistol ball.

Of all the questions he could have asked, Richard probably could not have anticipated this one.

"She's a nurse," Jacob said gently, as if he had difficulty getting used to the idea, then: "That's Mama?"


Well distant from the father and son sitting together at the kitchen table, a modern woman was looking over an old cemetery.

The cemetery was historic and held the remains of the known and the unknown, prince and pauper alike; the woman was a taphophile, a student of tombstone symbology, a curious soul who forged her links with the past with the assistance of these gardens of stone.

Beth was a city woman, and Beth knew the old cemetery would be an unwise location after sunset, but she had a few hours yet; with digital camera and GPS connection, with the help of her smartphone and half-remembered directions, she'd corroborated the final rest of several of Cincinnati's early citizens.

Beth avoided discussing the existence of ghosts, or spirits, or the departed: if pressed, she might reluctantly admit their possibility, but she neither feared, nor did she ever expect to encounter, anything of the sort.

She had encountered lovers, vandals, truants, fellow taphophiles; she did see, and avoid, what appeared to be some kind of a ceremony -- she wasn't sure what it was, just that it involved people in hooded robes, half of them with long knives, the other half with what looked like laurel wreaths: none of these things were evident today, though -- she'd looked the cemetery over carefully before stepping through the black-painted, wrought-iron gate.

She wasn't sure, quite, what she would find.

She'd encountered two prominent names she'd been looking for, and made note of them in her phone, tapping briskly at the screen to enter her personal shorthand; she turned, startled, for a woman stood not ten feet from her, a woman all in black, attired in the fashion of a century and more ago.

Full Victorian mourning, she thought automatically, admiring the woman's authenticity: she stopped, openly staring, and frowned a little.

Is that a McKenna gown? she thought, then, No ... it couldn't be!

The woman turned, lifted her veil, smiled a little.

"You look like you're searching," she called.

Beth paced slowly over to her. "Yes," she admitted. "Are you?"

"I've found him," the woman said, and Beth heard sadness in her voice.

She looked at the stone: it was old, old and solid, rectangular: on its left,she recognized a firefighter's insignia, with CFD beneath.

"Daffyd Llewellyn," Beth read aloud, frowning, then looked at the woman in Victorian mourning.


"His father was Daffyd Llewellyn, a fireman in Firelands, Colorado. He was in line for the chief's helmet and was killed saving a child from a boardinghouse fire."

Beth blinked, her mind busy.

"You seem to have his ancestry research," she offered.

"This man," the woman in black said quietly, nodding to the stone -- "note the Chef's scramble on the left -- he earned his white helmet and served for many years. He, too, was killed, and like his father, someone lived because of him."

She looked at Beth, her eyes pale, but almost blue, and very sad.

"He ran away from home," she whispered, swallowing hard, her bottom lip just starting to tremble, and she took a moment, pressing her black, lace-edged kerchief to her nose and her lips, the damp cloth crushed in her black-gloved grip: "he'd argued with his mother and he jumped the train with a load of mares bound for the Fire Department here ... and he ..."
She pressed the crushed cloth against one closed eye, then the other.

"I'm sorry," she whispered hoarsely.

Beth laid a gentle hand on the woman's arm. "The past often seems so very real," she said, thinking that perhaps this was a re-enactor, someone who wished most sincerely that she could make the past come alive again.

The woman in black nodded. "I wish I could see him again," she whispered. "I wish I could say I'm sorry."

"Why ... what have you to be sorry about?" Beth asked, surprised.

Beth's blood ran cold as an absolutely huge dog stepped from around the woman ... a dog whose back was elbow tall ... a dog with curly black fur that shone like healthy silk, a dog who leaned gently against her and looked up, as if distressed at her sorrow.

Sarah rubbed the big dog's head affectionately. "Bear Killer," she sighed, "you always know when I'm feeling sad."

She looked at Beth.

"My name is Sarah McKenna Llewellyn," she said. "I am the widow of Daffyd Llwewllyn, and this Chief Daffyd Llewellyn is my son, who I saw last after we argued and he and I shouted harsh words and never saw one another again." She smiled. "I am buried in Firelands, Colorado, but I wanted to see ..."

She looked at the tomb stone and Beth saw a tear streak wetly down her cheek.

"I wish I could tell him I'm sorry," she whispered, and then she and the immense black dog were ... gone.

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Mrs. Parson fussed over the Sheriff like a fussy hen, brushing a fleck of something nonexistent off his shoulder and then gripping his biceps and shaking her head and muttering that he was too skinny, he wasn't eating well, and he'd better set down at her table before he quit throwin' what little shadow he had left, and of course Parson Belden grinned and allowed as the Sheriff had ought to listen to Mrs. Parson, as once her mind is made up there was no changin' it, and the Sheriff nodded and allowed as since Mrs. Parson was younger, smarter and better lookin' than him, why, he'd best do just that, and so he hung his hat on a peg and parked his long tall carcass in one of Mrs. Parson's high backed, hard wood (and surprisingly comfortable) kitchen chairs.

Mrs. Parson had an almost magical way of bringing an amazing amount of good eatin' off that big Monarch wood stove of hers, and today was not an exception: she knew the Sheriff's fondness of sour dough bread, still plenty warm, and she set out a plate of butter -- she had some kind of a fancy little mold and made it into cute little fleur-de-lis shapes, and the Sheriff allowed as he felt right guilty, settin' them cute little fleurs on his hot bread just to soften it and ruin it, and she flipped the dish towel off her shoulder and whipped it like she was giving him a limp-wristed "g'wan-get-outta-here" gesture, and the Sheriff's eyes darkened a little with pleasure when she did.

Parson Belden knew the man well enough to know he was thinking of his Esther when he saw this, for he knew Esther would sometimes flip her dish towel at him in that same manner.

Linn grinned and reached into his lap as a warm furry weight landed lightly on his thighs.

"Hello, cat," he murmured, and Mrs. Parson's cat gave kind of a shivery meow and stretched up to sniff at his beard, pitty-paws planted on the lawman's chest, absolutely fearless in this feline demand for attention.

Linn set down his slice of bread and gave both hands to the demanding cat's pleasure: the hard-faced man's expression was surprisingly gentle, as were his skilled fingers, and the cat closed its eyes and turned its head a little, its drumming purr declaring to the world at large that here was a two-legs that properly venerated this regal descendant of Egyptian godhood.

It took a few minutes for the cat to get full of this undivided attention; she signaled her satiation by sniffing at the Sheriff's vest buttons, then jumping down and washing her paws and her face, quite obviously very pleased with herself, and not at all troubled that she'd interrupted whatever conversation had been interrupted even before it began.

Mrs. Parson came along with a plate of what the Sheriff knew was meat, fragrant and spiced and tender enough to cut with the dull side of a spoon, she already had his plate loaded with green beans that smelled heavenly (he knew she'd chopped up onions and bacon in it, and he knew she kept a table garden to raise her own spices, and used them liberally) and he knew the gravy filling the minor lake formed from mashed down mashed taters was good enough to drink by itself.

He looked up at the smiling, apple-cheeked preacher's wife and said "Mrs. Parson, you're goin' to make me fat, you know that," and she caressed his cheek with the backs of her fingers -- she was actually a few years younger than he, but her expression was grandmotherly -- "You could stand some meat on your bones. Now clean your plate, there is pie."

Linn looked over at the Parson as Mrs. Parson turned and bustled back to her crowded stove.

"Parson, it would hurt my conscience to start eatin' without you've got a plate full too --"

The Parson was grinning already; Mrs. Parson was a step ahead of the Sheriff: she dipped her knees a little as she set a plate in front of her husband.

"You'll be needing coffee," she said briskly: "Sheriff, thank you so very much for that last sack of coffee!"

The Sheriff grinned like a bashful schoolboy, his ears turning a little red.

He himself could not make edible coffee, as the Parson called it one time: matter of fact, the Sheriff generally rotted the bottom out of a good granite coffee pot in a very few months, and so left it to others to brew the stuff, preferring to gift the Parson's wife with several pounds for each two or three big crock mugs of the stuff he himself drank at their table.

The two men ate with a good appetite.

The Parson, the Sheriff knew, was a man who wasn't afraid of hard work.

He'd peeled out of his coat and vest, pulled on a pair of leather gloves and helped lay brick for the new firehouse, he'd mixed mud and carried a hod, he'd labored as just one of the men, laughing at their coarse jokes, politely ignoring the profanities and oaths that were as common to the hardworking crew as the air they breathed: the corner stone was laid, over there in the northeast corner, with due ceremony by their Masonic lodge; this was the day after, when the foundations were chalklined and true, and the construction began in earnest.

The Sheriff knew the Parson also cut his own wood, and swung an ax with strength and skill, sharpening the bit often; he lent a hand about the community, and he delighted in working with those tall, lean Kentucky moonshiners from up on the mountain, those gifted carpenters whose skills erected many of the buildings in the area.

The Sheriff considered all this as he and the Parson ate.

He himself would work hard enough to burn off this good meal, and he knew the Parson would as well: for all Mrs. Parson's stated intent to fatten him up, Linn doubted whether it would happen ... though, he reflected, it was nice of her to try.

It wasn't until after a good berry pie and more coffee that the two men go to talking.

"Parson," the Sheriff finally said, "I have need to bend your ear."

Parson Belden took a noisy slurp of his coffee, swallowed.

"So bend it." He gave his old friend an amused look, thanked his wife as she refilled his mug, waited until the Sheriff's sizable mug was refilled again.

"Parson, I been thinkin' about my temper."

Parson Belden nodded a little.

"You recall as how a man's ... how if ..."
The Sheriff frowned a little.

"Murder violates Scripture."

The Parson waited while the Sheriff laid his thoughts' foundation with his words.

"If a man wishes murder in his heart, this also violates Scripture."

The Parson nodded again.

"Now Parson, I've got me a temper."

The Parson managed a carefully neutral expression.

It was admittedly difficult.

The man was remembering moments he'd observes, such minor events as the Sheriff taking a loudmouth by the shirt front and slamming him against the nearest clap board building, or kicking a man in the belly, seizing him by collar and belt and dunking him head first into the nearest horse trough.

"You recall me tellin' you about that man that come in my office and allowed as he was a-gonna go kill my boy, because deputy or not he'd wronged him, and I come at him with my hand on his throat and I drove my fightin' knife in his belly like a sewin' machine." The Sheriff's voice was quiet, his expression relaxed, as if he were recounting how he watched a bug cross a fence rail. "I give it to him up to Green River and when I was done I was wrist deep inside him and my steel plumb through his black heart."

The Parson nodded, blinking slowly, like the drowsy cat sitting switchy-tail beside the Sheriff's chair.

"Parson, I'll take quite a bit if a man is a-threatenin' me, but I don't have no slack a-tall when it comes to someone a-threaten my family."

"So far I do not see anything wrong," the Parson said, almost formally.

The Sheriff frowned at the rippling surface of his coffee mug. "No, I done right, of that I doubt not."

"What troubles you, then?"

"Parson ... when I come acrost the room and I taken that fella by the throat, I knew I was a-gonna kill him."

His eyes were pale but his expression was vulnerable as he looked at his old friend.

"I knew I was gonna rip the life out of his miserable carcass and I was a-gonna throw it all bloody and wet before the Throne and I was goin' to utterly destroy that magnificent Temple of a human body" -- his voice was tight and he leaned across the table a little -- "and Parson, I was angered."

He leaned back, his eyes hard now, and he half-whispered, half-hissed, "I was angered, Parson. I was filled with murder and with rage and you know what?"

His eyes narrowed a little.

"I liked it, Parson. I liked it because I knowed I was right, and I knowed it was all right to be just as full of anger and just as full of murder and of a sudden I realized what I felt was power and I liked that."

He took a long breath, blinked.

"I liked it too well, I'm a-thinkin'."

The Parson considered this, ordering his thoughts, waiting to see if the Sheriff would follow this with another observation.

Mrs. Parson laid a hand on the Sheriff's shoulder, set a little dish beside his empty plate: "Try the jam, Sheriff. I think you'll like it."

The Sheriff leaned back and looked up at the woman, reaching across his chest to lay his big callused hand gently on her fingers.

"Mrs. Parson," he said innocently, "I love you from the bottom of my heart." He looked over at the Parson and winked, then back up to Mrs. Parson's knowing expression. "I got two other girls in the top."

"And their names are Sarah and Angela," Mrs. Parson laughed. "Try the jam."

The Sheriff sighed, shook his head, looked back over at the Parson: he sawed off another slab of sourdough, spread butter and jam.

"Sheriff," the Parson said, timing his comment for the moment the lean lawman's mouth was full and he could not reply, "a tree is known by its fruits, and a man by his deeds."

He held up a finger; the Sheriff chewed, appreciating the flavors, content to let the Parson pontificate.

"Your fruits are consistently good, and your deeds are consistently lawful. You have done violence, yes, but sometimes violence is necessary."

The Sheriff nodded.

"You pulled off that black lake of rage for the strength to stop that man from murdering your son. I see nothing wrong there. That you question your own temper tells me you are not likely to let it take the bit from you and run off."

The Sheriff nodded again, swallowed, took a long drink of coffee.

"Yes you have moments of temper. I don't know a man worthy of the name who doesn't. King David went to war and slew men with sword and spear. Sampson seized a lion and killed it bare hand. Moses slammed the Tablets against the mountainside in a moment of rage. Strong men have strong tempers, Sheriff, and you are a strong man."

The Sheriff saw something in the sky pilot's eyes ... approval, perhaps, or maybe amusement, he wasn't sure which.

"I am sure you are a good man, Sheriff. We're all checkered with good and bad but you choose the good."

Parson Belden smiled a little.

"The man who questions his own temper is not the man who lets it slip."

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Beth opened her eyes and blinked.

Her bedsheets smelled of sunshine and clean air, the way they did when she was a little girl vacationing at her grandmother's house.

The ceiling was utterly unfamiliar.

She looked around.

The wallpaper was subdued but surprisingly colorful; the ceiling was painted, and as she looked around, she was struck by the room's simplicity, but also its cleanliness, its ... its tidiness.

She pushed the sheet and the blanket down, she looked down, she frowned.

"Yep, you're still dressed," a man's voice said, and she started a little to hear it.

It was full daylight; she could see blue sky and white clouds out the high, curtained windows, and she thought she heard ...

... horses? ...

She blinked, confused, looked under the covers again to confirm that -- yes -- yes, she was fully ...

She wiggled her toes, and well down the bed, the coverlet wiggled in response.

"Your shoes are beside the bed," the man said again, and Beth turned a little, curling up and drawing the covers tight to her bosom.

"Don't worry," the lean old man with the iron-grey mustache said reassuringly, or as reassuringly as a man's voice can sound. "You got all fainty downstairs so I wrapped you up in a blanket and packed you up here and put you to bed."

Beth sat up, raised a hand to the side of her head, puzzled.

I don't have a hangover, I'm not dizzy, I don't feel drugged, what happened --

She raised her head, her eyes going to the door.


"How did I get here?" she asked tentatively, trying to establish her bearings, her mind spinning for lack of any real reference.

"I told you," the man with pale eyes said patiently. "You got fainty downstairs so I packed you up here."

Beth closed her eyes, shook her head, then she remembered ... she remembered ...

Linn watched as she pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead, then looked at him again.

"I was invited," she said as the memory returned.

The Old Sheriff nodded slowly. "Yep. Sarah invited you."


"Sarah Lynne McKenna. My daughter, or one of 'em."

"You are ... your name is McKenna?"

"Nope." He rose. "Name's Keller. Sheriff. Firelands County, Colorado. Sarah was raised by Bonnie McKenna. Friend of mine. I didn't find out she was my woods colt until her fourteenth birthday."

"Wait, wait, I'm confused." Beth threw back her covers, swung her legs over the side of the bed; the Old Sheriff averted his eyes. "She ... Sarah ... she had pale eyes and she ... said her name was Sarah Lynne ... Llewellyn?"

"She married a friend of mine," Linn confirmed, his jaw hardening. "Good man. I miss him."

"He was killed?"

"He saved a family. He went back after a baby. Got the child out but he died when the floor collapsed."

Beth saw a hard man's reserve, a stoic wall that hid what must have been a painful story behind.

"She ... I was researching names in a Cincinnati graveyard."

"You saw her there."

"We spoke," Beth affirmed innocently, her eyes almost pleading as she sought to make some sense of all this.

"Sarah and her boy disagreed," the Old Sheriff said softly. "They'll do that when a boy is realizin' he's become near to a man. They had words and he run off. He come back to ..."

The Old Sheriff stopped, his pale eyes hard, glaring at the painfully-clean, smooth-varnished plank floor.

"He come out to make amends and by then she'd left. She said she'd never see him again and it was all her fault so she took her broken heart and went somewhere else, just like I did, only he come out too late." Beth heard genuine regret in the soft spoken man's voice.

"He ... became fire chief?" Beth offered.

"He did." Linn's voice was flat. "His Pa was to be the next Chief of our Irish Brigade. They were all pretty damned proud when they found out he'd earned the white hat back in Porkopolis."


"Where they-all come from. Where I bought their fire engine from. Cincinnati."

"Oh." Beth blinked, mentally sorting through this unexpected stack of histories. She found her shoes, thrust bare feet into the backless clogs. "I'd better go --"

"You ain't goin' nowhere," Linn said quietly, and Beth's legs lost their strength as something cold clamped around her belly.

I don't know how I got here, she thought, I don't know where I am, I'm being kept against my will, he's probably going to --

"You go downstairs dressed like that," Linn continued, his voice deep and very certain, "and you will not be well received. We've got some painted ladies, what few there are, and even them that gives horizontal refreshment don't dress like you are." He raised a hand to a nearby chair. "I brought you some clothes. Bonnie's girls will be up to get you dressed."

"You're not going to --" Beth stammered, and the Sheriff turned, faced her squarely, pinned her in place solely with the pale eyed power of his cold, hard glare.

"Lady," he said, his voice hard, harsh, "I ain't undressed a woman since before my wife died and I ain't a-gonna start with you."

He opened his coat, withdrew an envelope from an inside pocket, handed it to her.

"I reckon you want to read this again."

Beth took the envelope automatically, her mouth hanging open, and watched as the tall, lean lawman paced silently out of the room and drew the door quietly shut behind him.

Beth's fingers shook a little as she lifted the envelope's flap.

It was sealed with red wax, a wax seal impressed with a rose: she remembered finding it, apparently thrust through her mail-slot, and she remembered breaking the seal, curious as to who would drop an envelope addressed solely with her name, and in such utterly gorgeous handwriting.

It was a note, with a ticket, an invitation, a reference to finding out more about the late Chief Daffyd Llewellyn, and his roots back in Firelands, Colorado.

She looked up from the note.

She'd flown out, she'd taken a taxi -- also paid for --

She'd followed the instructions given her by the taxi driver, an undistinguished man with a greasy cap and a neatly trimmed mustache, a man who said less than a dozen words all the way from the airport to the destination some hours away.

Beth remembered him carrying her bags to the front desk, just inside the ornate, frosted-glass-design double doors, and she remembered looking up at the beautifully-painted sign and smiling a little at the name.

The Silver Jewel Saloon, she read, and she blinked, for Western saloons were supposed to be grey and brown and dirty and warped and ready to fall apart, and this was neatly painted -- brightly painted! -- and the door's brass handles and hinges were burnished to a high shine.

Beth went inside, referred to the note again, looked back through the dining area.

The saloon must be just this front part, she remembered thinking, looking back through the tables, trying to imagine this as an Old West saloon.

A woman sat at the back table, a woman in a tailored suit dress, a woman drinking coffee and regarding her as if inspecting a specimen on a cork board.

Beth remembered walking back to the woman, walking to her as if compelled, and the woman rose to meet her.

Beth looked her full in the face and she recognized the face and the eyes and she gasped, "You were in Cincinnati two weeks ago!" and the woman smiled a little and said "I've never been to Cincinnati in my life."

Beth looked down at a color print laying on the opened file folder, a print of a woman in mourning, a woman with ice-pale eyes and a face identical to the one she saw standing before her.

"When was this taken?" she asked, eyes wide, hoping most sincerely that it was a modern photograph, taken in sepia tones and photoshopped, a photo that showed a woman in mourning black with the same eyes and the same face that she'd seen in the Cincinnati graveyard, the woman with the same face and the same eyes that stood before her --

"That was taken in the latter 1880s," Sheriff Willamina Keller replied, and the strength ran out of Beth's soul and a man's strong arms caught her as the room started to spin and she remembered his voice, deep, strong, reassuring --

"Bear up now," she remembered hearing, and she was floating, part of her mind realizing she was being carried in a man's strong arms, and she remembered hearing his puzzled, "Now what am I gonna do with her?"

Beth looked up as a delicate knuckle rapped at her door, watched the door open, marveled as two young ladies came in, each bearing cloth-wrapped, string-tied packages.

"Mama said we should help you dress," the older one said -- she would be maybe fourteen, Beth judged, the other girl only slightly shorter, but with a decidedly Oriental cast to her features: one had dark blue eyes and light-brown, almost honey hair, curled and ribboned, the other with absolutely black eyes and the characteristic epicanthic fold and straight, jet-black hair -- "and she told us not to ask you any questions."

"She said to answer your questions," the other offered helpfully, and to Beth's surprise, her diction was crisp, precise, identical to her very Caucasian twin.

Maybe I expected her to sound like Charlie Chan? Beth thought, then pushed the thought from her.

"There's a carpet bag," the girl continued, "for your clothes, but you'd better wear what we wear."

"Why?" Beth asked -- almost demanded -- she was starting to get her mental legs under her.

"My name is Polly, and this is Opal. Come to the window."

Beth walked woodenly to the window, the pane overlooking the street.

Polly stood beside her, smelling of lilacs and soap. "Take a look."

"What am I supposed to seeeeeeee ...." Beth's voice trailed off as she realized she was not seeing any kind of a modern town.

Opal shoved a chair in under her as her knees failed her again.


The Sheriff rose as Opal and Polly and their guest came downstairs and across the floor to the Sheriff's table, the same table Beth met another Sheriff.

A woman identical (except for the dress) to the one who stood beside the lean old lawman.

"Introductions are in order," the Old Sheriff said courteously. "I believe you've already met Polly and Opal."

The girls almost giggled; to their credit, they did not, but they did smile and color a little.

"Yes, I ... we did," Beth said hesitantly.

"And you met my daughter Sarah."

Sarah thrust out a lace-gloved hand. "We did," she said firmly, "back in Cincinnati. Two weeks ago."

"Yes," Beth said uncertainly.

"Please. Be seated. Daisy's girl is bringing us something."

Beth looked slowly around, looked up at the stamped-tin ceiling, looked out at mountains and sky and clouds and brightly-painted false fronts on the buildings.

"I need a drink," she groaned.

A presence at her elbow and she looked up: the Old Sheriff was murmuring to a girl in an apron, a girl with laughing eyes and a flawless complexion, and it took Beth a moment to realize he'd ordered pie for everyone, coffee for himself and -- his eyes went to his pale-faced visitor -- "High wine for the lady."

"Mais oui," the girl murmured, turned with a swing of her hips and a flare of her skirt, and bare moments later Bonnie's daughters had sarsparillas, Sarah had tea, the Sheriff had his coffee, and Beth stared at the unexpectedly delicate, long stemmed wineglass set before her.

The Sheriff added a bit of milk to his coffee from a small, sweating glazed-ceramic pitcher, leaned back and smiled as a slice of pie descended quickly, accurately, with a practiced flair that told Beth the girl could probably dispense dishes like a gambler deals cards across a green-felt poker table.

She took a sip of wine, blinked, took another sip.

"Whoa, that's good," she declared quietly, and the Sheriff turned his attention to his pie,stabbing the sharp tines of his fork through the flaky, browned crust.

"I don't know how she does it," he muttered.

"What's that?" Sarah asked, slicing hers delicately with the side of her fork.

"Esther never ever made a flaky crust," the Sheriff said, right before he shoveled the first bite of pie in under his sculpted, iron-grey handlebar. "She made wonderful pies but I don't ever recall she made a flaky crust."

"You can't work the dough too much," Polly offered, and Opal kicked her under the table,managing to look innocent, as only a sister can do in such moments.

"I understand you don't believe in ghosts, " the Sheriff said bluntly.

Beth swallowed, coughed, took another sip of wine, coughed again.

"No," she gasped, blinking at the sting in her eyes -- swallow, don't inhale, she chided herself -- and she placed her fork very precisely on her plate, beside the pie.

"That's right," she said, attempting to lay a foundation for belief, something she could build some sense on.

The Old Sheriff nodded and Sarah asked, "Do you believe in science?"

Beth looked surprised, then she nodded. "Yes. Yes, all my training is in the sciences."

"Your ... science ... has it improved transportation over the 1880s?"

"Oh, yes," Beth said enthusiastically. "We have cars and airplanes and --"

Sarah raised a finger, effectively stopping what promised to be a gushing discourse.

"If we took someone from the 1880s to your time, would they have some trouble making sense of it all?"

Beth blinked quickly. "Why, yes. Yes, I suppose they would."

"And if we took someone from your year," Sarah continued, "and used your ... science ... to sling them back through the calendar to, say, the late 1880s, would you have some trouble understanding what just happened?"

"Is that what happened?" Beth asked hopefully.

Time travel, she thought. A time vortex. I fell through a wormhole. A mad scientist, a government experiment, I was collateral damage, an accident --

Not an accident, the invitation --

They know about it --

-- about me --

"What were you looking for?" the Sheriff asked.

"I ... was ... looking for dead people," Beth replied uncertainly.

The Sheriff laughed quietly. "Dead people."

"No. Their tombstones. I was researching."

"So you came here to research."

"I don't know how I got here."

"I do."


"You have questions. I have answers. Let's see what we can do to help you."

Beth picked up her wineglass, drained the contents.

"Keep that up and I'll have to pack you upstairs again."

"That's good," Beth gasped. "What wine is it?"

"High wine. That's what voyageurs called pure waters the drank from their canoe paddles as they explored Canada. Here it's half and half moon likker and homemade wine." He grinned. "Goes down like Mama's milk and blows the socks right off your feet."

Beth gave him a funny look and realized whatever that stuff was, it was potent and it was fast.

"You'd best eat some more. It'll help."


The Sheriff ended up carrying Beth out to the buggy.

He was a tall man, and an unusually strong man, and so he was able to swing Beth's legs up and into the foot well and park her on the tuck and roll upholstery.

He went around t'other side, climbed in, took Beth under the arms and brought her over beside him, and Sarah climbed easily into the passenger side, effectively sandwiching the unsteady woman between them.

Polly and Opal happily piled in the back, climbing in with the giggling abandon of two little girls, utterly abandoning the ladylike mien the affected when coming into town under ordinary circumstances.

The Sheriff took Beth on a slow, leisurely tour of Firelands and its significant landmarks, explaining its history, its progress; he was intentionally wasting time while the effects of Beth's over-potent wine wore off.

When he was satisfied as to her sobriety -- aided by Sarah, priming her with good cold well water -- they made a necessary stop where Sarah introduced her to the sanitary facilities of the day, complete with a current (and much-thumbed) Sears and Sawbuck catalog -- they continued back into town, to a tall, narrow brick building with broad, double doors, and a man door beside.

"This," the Sheriff explained, "is the finest firehouse this side of Denver."

He set the brake and tied the mare off to a hitch rail in front of the building, off to the side, completely away from the broad wooden valves hung on ornate, hand forged hinges.

"Let's go inside and we'll tell you about my friend, Daffyd Llewellyn."

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Linn very gentlemanly opened the door for Beth.

Beth was still getting used to the idea of cloth to her shoetops and beyond; she had to remember to pick up her skirt to step over the low threshold, but she managed, and the lean old lawman followed her into the shadowed interior.

To their left, the mares drowsed, heads down, the station cat (or one of them, at least) sunned itself in a window, bonelessly spread out over the sill as if it were butter on warm bread. It smelled of horse and stable and slightly of coal, of man-sweat and rubber coats and leather boots.

Part of her mind was thinking it should be surprised that she was acclimatizing so easily to another reality.

The rest of her mind was doing its level best to engrave every sight, every sound, every sensation, onto her memory, for she did not want to lose a moment of this!

For perhaps the ten thousandth time she regretted that the only modern items that traveled with her were the clothes she wore; she lacked purse, wallet, cell phone -- no phone, horrors! -- but she knew she would manage.


A tall red-headed Irishman with a curled black handlebar stepped around the corner, blinked with surprise, his jaw hardening as he beheld the Sheriff coming toward him.

"SEAN!" the Sheriff roared, "I OUGHTA KNOCK YOU INTO THE MIDDLE OF NEXT WEEK!" -- startled, Beth looked over at the heretofore-soft-spoken lawman, alarmed to see his jaw muscles bulge and his callused hand tighten into a fist.

"YEAH?" Sean challenged back, just as loudly. "WEDNESDAY OR THURSDAY?"

The two men bristled up to one another, each one trying to look meaner than the other, at least until they both started to laugh, and shook hands like the old friends they were.

"Sean, this is Beth Murray," the Sheriff introduced, "and Beth, this is Sean Fitzgerald, who is single handedly raising his own tribe of wild Irishmen at home. As a matter of fact, Daisy had twins, didn't she?" -- he looked at Sean, grinning -- "I must admire the man who is so potent of loins that he sires his young in litters!"

"Aye, and don't ye be sayin' tha' to Daisymedear," Sean growled, the red-cheeked merriment in his face giving the lie to his words -- "she called me many a fine name when she was birthin' th' pair, she did for a fact! Now out wi' it, man, are ye come t' ask m' blessin' f'r this lovely young child's hand" -- he scooped up Beth's hand and kissed her knuckles -- "seein' as I've known her f'r s' very long mesel'!"

Beth blushed furiously, the Sheriff laughed, and Daisy came steamboating around the corner, shaking her wooden spoon at her husband.

"Is that the way of it, then? Th' Sheriff's getttin' married an' ye're tryin' t' take her away from him! Ye great Irish scoundrel, I'd ought t' lay about yer head an' shoulders wi' a fryin' pan --"

"Daisymedear," Sean said, affection in his voice and mischief in his expression, and he seized his wife under the arms and hauled her off the floor and spun her around in a great circle, his big booming laugh echoing off the brick walls -- "There's only one woman in me heart, lass, an' you're it!" -- and so saying, he brought her down to eye level and planted a big one on her, preventing any further conversation.

In truth, Daisy returned the favor, and with enthusiasm, and the Sheriff quietly observed to the shocked and staring Beth that this was likely the reason Sean had an entire Irish Brigade he was raisin', he and Daisy, and the pair discreetly and elaborately paid no attention to man and wife as they came up for air and Daisy whacked Sean soundly across the chest with her wooden spoon.

"Awa' wi' ye now!" she scolded, "an' leave an honest woman to her labors!" -- she h'isted her nose in the air, snatched up her skirts and marched across the apparatus floor, wooden spoon upright before her like the Queen with her scepter, and just as she reached the door she turned and gave Sean an absolutely smoldering look -- "Later, my love," she said, and her lips absolutely caressed the air as she framed the words, and Beth was certain the big red-headed Irish fire chief was going to melt in his high leather boots.

It took a bit for conversation to restart and get steered in the direction the Sheriff intended, but he persisted, and Sean proceeded to regale Beth with tales of that Welsh Irishman, Daffyd Llewellyn, and how he could spit on a fire an' put it out, an' how he could raise their steam engine off the ground with but one hand while the German Irishman pulled the wheels and greased the axle bearings, how his voice could charm birds from their perches and mice from their cheese, and how he was the handsomest bridegroom Firelands saw, at least until they saw Sean and Daisy when they were married, of course! -- so solemn was his expression, so outrageous were his lies, that the three of them laughed well and often, until finally Sean looked at his old friend and said, "Now why is she so interested in puir Daffyd, an' him dead an' gone all these years?"

Beth froze.

She didn't know quite how she'd ended up in the past, whether this was a spiritual journey, or she'd happened on a time vortex, whether aliens were using futuristic technology and laughing uproariously at her discomfiture, or whether she was suffering a brain bleed and this was self entertainment as she lay dying somewhere: she looked at the Sheriff, who looked at her, and then at the fire chief.

"Sean," the Sheriff said, and his voice was suddenly serious, "you know Daisy has the Second Sight."

"Aye, that she does."

"You know that my mother had the Second Sight and I have enough of it to scare me."

"Aye, I know ye ha'e it, an' it's only women that're supposed t' stop blood an' blow fire an' divine omens."

"We are trying to track where the blood runs. Sarah married Daffyd and had a child --"

"Aye, he's a Cincinnati fireman an' a fine one, by all accounts. I sent word that he was t' come out here, he had a place wi' us, but he ne'er replied."

"Nor will he. His place is there. We're trying to track where the Sight-blood runs. How did it come down to my mother and to myself, we know it passed through me to Sarah, young Daffyd so far has shown no trace of it. We'll try to find out if any girl-children he sires have it, but right now we're looking at everyone who's had a familial association with our line."

"Ah." Sean nodded his understanding. "So it's Daffyd Llewellyn, th' man, ye'd wish t' know."

Beth nodded.


Sheriff Willamina Keller inquired at the hotel desk, the broad mahogany right in front of the Silver Jewel's fancy double doors and beside the broad stairs ascending, whether her guest Beth Murray had come downstairs yet.

"No, Sheriff, I'm sorry, she hasn't. Shall I call her?"

"No. No, likely she's sleeping in. High altitude will do that to lowlanders, you know."

The clerk laughed. "Yes, ma'am, I do know! I had a boyfriend --"

Her eyes widened,her face reddened, and she mumbled "Never mind," and busied herself with the papers on her desk.

"If she rolls out of the bunk, send her over."

"Yes ma'am, I'll do that."


When they two left the firehouse, a horse and carriage waited, with Sarah at the reins.

"Well?" she asked, looking like a bossy older sister who knew a secret. "Did you find out about Daffyd?"

Beth was not thinking about Daffyd Llewellyn, the elder or the younger: she in fact was thinking nothing at all about the firemen.

She was remembering the feel of that big Irishman's hand gripping hers and raising his knuckles to her lips, how his black handlebar just brushed the fine hairs on the backs of her fingers, she remembered the tasty thrill of another man's lips on the backs of her knuckles.

She was almost surprised to realize ... she liked it.

A lot.

Part of her mind wished most sincerely that this delightful custom would return.

The rest of her considered that this obsolete mannerism was properly done.

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They drew up in front of the Silver Jewel Saloon.

Beth waited for the Sheriff to dismount and come around to her side of the carriage: she allowed him to take her around the waist and swing her down, and her belly rejoiced at the feeling of being momentarily in a strong man's grip, knowing she was perfectly safe, that she was at no risk at all.

She landed easily on the balls of her feet, and her hands naturally gripped his.

"Thank you," she whispered, her eyes shining.

"You don't get much of that back home, do ye?" Linn grinned, white teeth flashing momentarily under his iron-grey handlebar.

"No." She dropped her eyes. "Not at all."

"Come inside," Sarah said, taking her arm. "The Ladies' Tea Society meets today."

Beth lifted her skirts, walked up the steps to the board walk, Sarah at her side: she felt more than heard the Sheriff climb back into the carriage; she turned and watched him turn the buggy in the middle of the street, head back down the way they'd come, the dapple mare's coat shining with good health.

"I'd like to stay," she almost whispered, watching the lean lawman in the immaculate black suit drive leisurely down the packed-dirt thoroughfare.


Willamina wore a reproduction Worth gown of her own making; she casually brought the hammer of her Navy Colt to half cock, checked the nipples, eased the hammer back down on the pin between and slid the slim, octagon-barrel pistol into its holster, hidden in a fold in her skirt.

"Beth!" she exclaimed, smiling. "Do come in, we're just getting started!"

Beth looked around, blinked.

The Silver Jewel didn't look the same.

It looked ... like it did when she first arrived.


The ladies were for the most part in modern attire, though all were well dressed, the majority in hats of one variety of another, and Beth felt suddenly quite conspicuous.

"You look fine," Sarah stage-whispered, giving her a little push, and the two well-dressed women joined Sheriff Willamina at the front of the room.

Beth felt a little dazed, recruited as she was -- Willamina was presenting on the fine points of the Worth gown, and how the McKenna designs improved on the Worth: if anything was needed to guarantee the menfolk didn't get underfoot, it was a ladylike discussion of the finer points of fashion well more than a century before, and she introduced Beth as "her assistant and co-conspirator," and proceeded to point out some particular details of the lovely couture her volunteer agreed to model.

"I didn't volunteer," she whispered to Sarah, to which Sarah whispered back, "Just follow along," and Beth did, never really figuring out how she could be in the late 1880s one moment, cross a saloon's threshold and be back in her own century, but still wearing --

For an unsteadied moment she considered this all might be a dream, and her attire of a century ago would suddenly disappear, revealing her shocking undress; as quickly as the idea arrived, it departed, as she realized -- if it was going to happen, it would have already.

The Sheriff continued her presentation, completely at ease with her subject, demonstrating how easily women's styles could be adapted for concealing one of Colonel Colt's equalizers, then calling another matron forward -- Crystal, she called her -- and showed how a more modern style could be adapted just as easily.

Beth felt like a reluctant participant in a kindergarten show-and-tell: part embarrassed, part panicked, and altogether wishing she were somewhere else.

About a year and a half later (or so it felt), the Ladies' Tea Society adjourned for its usual, less formal section, where the women exchanged ideas, gossip, information, asked questions, and partook of tea (and other libations, of course!) with dainty little finger sandwiches that were more a suggestion of a sandwich than an actual item of nutrition.

Beth found herself addressed as if an old friend, thanks to her obvious association with the Sheriff; the ladies were delighted she'd come clear out from the Ohio country to follow her research, and they were even happier to find her research led her to their very own Irish Brigade: thanks to the Old Sheriff's journals, published and distributed by his great-great-great-granddaughter, the ladies were well acquainted with the original Brigade, and had in this more modern age begun to apply the term to their current crop of firefighters, though only the modern-day Chief Fitzgerald wore an Irishman's name.

When they adjourned and the three ladies exited the ornately frosted, brass trimmed, wood framed doors, Beth blinked again with confusion, for she'd just come out of her own century and again saw the same carriage she'd just ridden in, in the 1880s ... with the same mare ... and the same lean old lawman with pale eyes and the iron-grey mustache.

She looked around and saw it was the same, but different ... it was ... modern day.

All but the horse and carriage and the patiently waiting Sheriff.

"You're coming out for supper," Willamina explained, as the three ladies in period gowns descended the stairs and allowed themselves to be helped into the gleaming, polished, pinstriped four-wheeler: Polly and Opal were nowhere to be found, but Sarah claimed the back seat as her own, Willamina beside her, allowing Beth the shotgun position.

Beth turned to Willamina as the Sheriff clucked up the mare after a pickup truck passed, the driver waving as he always did.

"I didn't expect this," she admitted.

"Didn't expect what?" Willamina asked, a smile hiding behind her eyes.

"I thought ... I watched TV westerns ..."


"It always looked so ... dirty and dull." She closed her eyes for a long moment, remembering Firelands as she'd been allowed to see it. "I didn't expect ..."

"Fresh paint?" Willamina asked.

"That," Beth agreed, nodding, looking forward as the mare leaned into a comfortable trot. "And ..."

Sarah waited, looked at Willamina with a knowing expression.

"You were expecting gunfights in the streets, robbers, the bank getting knocked over, a barfight, someone riding hell-for-leather into town yelling 'Marshal, Marshal!'"

"Yes," Beth nodded, her voice troubled. "Yes, that, exactly."

Sarah and Willamina both laughed, and the Sheriff smiled to hear it.

"That," Willamina explained, "is so much Hollywood invention. Yes, banks were robbed, but not often. The frontier was populated by hard men. They'd seasoned in the Civil War, they were buffalo hunters, Indian fighters, men who came out here and allowed as they were going to stay, and they made it stick. Hard men with the bark on, or so the saying goes.

"I think it was Wyoming, or maybe Idaho -- I don't remember which -- a small time crook came out from Chicago to hold up the bank.

"He ended up with the entire town turned out against him. Bear in mind everyone and their uncle had at the very least a good rifle and knew how to use it. So the idea of shooting into the air as the robbers ride in screaming, thinking the townspeople will hide and quiver in fear?"

Willamina snorted.

"Didn't happen."

"You recall WJ Garrison," Linn tossed over his shoulder. "He and his wife both put lead into the reavers --"

He stopped, swore.

"I'm sorry. You weren't born yet."

Willamina reached up and patted him on the back. "It's good of you to include me."

"Where are we going by the way?" Beth asked, and Linn and Willamina said with one voice, "We're going to my house."

They were both right.

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"These," Willamina said, after supper was eaten, dishes stacked in the sink, and everyone retired to the living room, "are how I found out about this good looking fellow in the first place."

"These" were the journals she indicated: they were neatly ranked in a glass front case, these original Journals, hand written by the Old Sheriff with a dip quill, generally on the same roll top desk that sat patiently against the wall, an ancient but quite serviceable armless office chair turned and awaiting an occupant.

"This is the one they found first." Willamina's fingers caressed the cover and she smiled a little at the memory. "There were artifacts harvested from the original, log Sheriff's office --"

Linn snorted, laughed, his normally ice-pale darkened to a distinct blue with amusement: "Artifacts?" he chuckled. "Hell, I called 'em desk and pot belly stove!"

Willamina gave him a patient look, and Beth thought it was almost the expression of a patient mother as her precocious child interrupted an adult's conversation.

"His shotgun" -- Willamina picked up a double hammer gun and handed it to Beth -- "and his revolvers, which I still wear. I had new holsters and gunbelt made -- the old ones were beyond dry rotted --"

She looked at her multi-great grandfather, whose expression resembled a man who'd bitten into a bitter persimmon: it was a reminder that he was only a visitor to these climes, and that the holsters he'd had made, the gunrig that fit him so well and served him for years, was succumbed to the entropy that attacks all organic matter.

"At least you found good lookin' holsters," he muttered, and Willamiana laughed, taking the double gun back: Beth hadn't really known what to do with it, and was relieved when Willamina retrieved it from her tentative grip.

"And then there's his rifle. Granddad, you want to tell her about that one?"

She handed the engraved '73 rifle to the lean old lawman, and a subtle change occurred when he gripped it: it's said that when a man holds a tool meant for his hands, that his spirit flows into it: the Ninja believe that when a warrior acquires a sword that is truly, uniquely his, that his spirit fills the weapon and it becomes a part of his very soul: the veteran swordsman need not look to know precisely where edge and tip are in three-dimensional space, and when applied by this master bladesman, it has not the appearance of curved steel, but of a sinuous, shining, living length of stone-sharpened death.

So it was when the Old Sheriff gripped his '73 rifle again.

His jaw worked a little and he swallowed, then he spoke, and his voice was gentle with remembering.

"Esther," he said, "was my wife. She knew before I did that we were going to be man and wife, and she was ... "

He bit his bottom lip and Beth saw a lifetime of memories in the man's eyes.

"She was wise."

His voice was a hoarse whisper, the voice of a man who truly missed what had been.

"I give her a railroad for a wedding gift. I give her the Z&W and she run that railroad better than it had ever been. She ... turned a fine profit and every man workin' for her would do anythin' at all for her, she was just that way." He held the rifle in both hands, staring at the engraving on the side plate.

"This is a One of One Thousand," he said, "she ordered this one up special and of course these are engraved, but -- here, take a look."

He turned the rifle, flipped it over so the side plate was horizontal and easy to read.

Beth blinked, squinted, shoved her reading glasses on her face, frowned a little until the engraving came into good focus.

"To my beloved husband, Sheriff Linn Keller," she read aloud, "from your loving wife Esther."

Linn nodded, handed the rifle back to Willamina.

"That rifle has spoken with authority," he said, "and more than once with these." He reached into a vest pocket and withdrew two loaded rounds, held them out.

Beth took one between thumb and forefinger, frowning a little at the bullet.

"Gold?" she asked, puzzled.

"Gold," Linn confirmed. "Only those who number in the Society of the Rose carry these. They are ..."

"They're like 007," Willamina explained. "License to kill."

"I don't understand," Beth blinked, handing back the gold-bulleted round.

"You'll need these," Linn said quietly, handing them to Willamina: she dropped them in her own vest pocket, accepted the rifle.

"Sometimes," Linn explained, "there needs to be a killin' and we can't afford to wait for a courtroom. It is a solemn and ... it's not a light burden to carry." He fixed the modern woman with his very old, very pale eyes. "But we do it because it has to be done."

Beth's eyes shifted to the pale-eyed woman holding the old, worn, browned, octagon-barrel Winchester.

"Yep," Willamina nodded. "I have, and with this rifle." She smiled. "Is that more like what you expected, here in the West?"

Beth blinked,hesitated, and finally said "Yes. Yes, that's ... I didn't expect it to be so clean."

"Or so peaceful?"


Willamina and Linn looked at one another and laughed: the pale-eyed woman in the McKenna gown lifted a gunbelt off its peg, slung it about her waist quickly, easily, cinched and buckled it with the ease of long practice: she withdrew one revolver, then the other, flipped open their loading gates and brought the hammers back to half cock, cycled the cylinders, then eased the hammer noses down on the empty chambers.

She took a step toward Beth, hands saucily on her hips: "With these on my belt," she said, "are you going to give me any trouble?"
"Um, no," Beth stammered.

"Neither is anyone else, and that's why the West wasn't wild." Willamina looked at her honored ancestor, smiled a little. "Everyone went their way armed, without exception. There is a hidden cubby in the one room schoolhouse that contained a rifle very much like this. Catholic churches had hooks on the back of the altar and the priest commonly kept a double barrel shotgun hanging there. If a schoolmarm or a sky pilot can get to a persuader fast and easy, if men went their way with a good sixgun in easy reach and women had one hidden on their person, not to mention" -- she did something with her fingers, and a shining, short-bladed dagger appeared as if by magic -- "sharp and pointy things" -- she handed it to the Old Sheriff, who frowned at the edge, shaved a few hairs off the back of his arm, puffed his breath across the honed steel, sending shaved arm hairs into the air, handed it back -- "with everyone able to say "Leave me the hell alone" and back it up ..."

She shrugged.

"Even the most feared, coldest professional killers were men of immaculate manners. Most people were more than routinely polite, because everyone knew the consequence of a hasty word." She smiled. "Not that it didn't happen. There were intemperate folk, but it was nothing like Hollywood paints it."

"You might not realize it," Linn added quietly, "but before that damned war, men didn't shoot one another."

Beth blinked.

"I ... I'm sorry, what?"

"Come again?"
"That war ... which one was ...?"
"That Damned War. Lincoln's War. The War of Northern Aggression. The War for States' Rights. There are as many names for it as there are people layin' their tongue to it and most of 'em want to turn it to their advantage so they'll name it for their opinion."

"You said men didn't shoot one another?" Beth asked, puzzled. "I don't ... understand."

Linn laughed.

"Nobody shot ... well, women could shoot men, because women are the weaker vessel, but men didn't shoot men because it was cowardly and dishonorable. They could beat one another to death, they could use a club or a rock or cut one another to bloody ribbons, but it wasn't until we slaughtered one another in that damned War that men realized they really could shoot one another."

"What ... was it really like?" Beth asked, suddenly afraid she may never be able to ask such authority again.

Linn looked at Willamina, a hard look, and her return expression was equally hard.

"You were there," Beth blundered ahead. "You were in that War. I only read about it. I ... don't ... they taught us, yes, but they weren't there, and ... and what was it really like out here, and ..."

Her expression was pleading.

"I really want to know," she whispered.

Linn turned to her, his expression fierce, and Willamina stepped in close.

Each seized the other's hand, placed their other hand against Beth's head.

"Be sure you want to know," Linn whispered as something cold and electric seized Beth's soul. "Be damned sure you want to know!"

Beth felt the world twist out from underfoot --

Her hand was tight, hard crushing tight around the wire-wrapped handle as she swung the saber.

Something like a handful of bumblebees rumbled past, something burned her ribs, tugged at her uniform blouse, a savage joy seizing her heart and roaring like liquid fire through her veins -- a delicious, savage joy, that which only the warrior feels: she swung the saber and felt its edge cut through flesh and into bone and her arm was jerked and it was free and her chestnut mare twisted and screamed and she locked her legs around its barrel as the mare whipped around and lashed out with her hind hooves and she heard men scream and tasted blood and copper and smelled sulfur and she heard a screaming, a triumphant scream as she whipped the saber up and slashed down again and men in blue raised single shot muskets and drove yellow fingers of flame at something she could not see --

She was running, running now with a rifle in hand, she soared over a log and ducked under a branch heavy with ripe peaches, she twisted and drove the butt plate into a man's face and her soul rejoiced and she spun the musket and cut down with the bayonet and roared as she charged the oncoming infantry --

Beth gasped as Linn and Willamina removed their hands from her face and seized her under the arms.

"Here, have a set," Linn said, his voice quiet, reassuring, his grip strong; she felt his arm go around behind her and she let herself be guided into an upholstered chair of some kind.

The hands pressed against her head again and she was falling, falling through space and time, she screamed in terror --

Her feet landed flat on packed, cold dirt and something shiny and fiery galloped and roared and screamed past her, and part of her mind recognized it was a steam powered fire engine, drawn at a wide open gallop by a three-horse hitch, shouting, swearing Irishmen with Henry rifles firing from alongside the boiler as the stubby stack belched fire and smoke --

She dropped to all fours beside a tall boy, a boy with a bloodied shoulder, choking and coughing blood, and she saw the bloody hole under his collar bone, and she felt her hand grip her sharp, stubby knife, and her other hand seized a woman by the hand and wrapped it around the knife: she stared as her hand guided the woman's knife-grip down, pressed it hard against the blood-pumping wound, and she heard her voice, her lips framing the words, she felt the shout pushing the words through her tight throat --

"And I saw Jacob Keller lying in the ditch in Jacob Keller's blood and I said to Jacob Keller, Live, yea, I said to Jacob Keller, live!"

Beth felt something pulse through her, a bolt of something that started in the earth beneath her feet, something that roared like that fire engine up through her legs and through the lens of her diaphragm and fired through her arm and the woman's hand and through the healing knife, through the necessary steel, and into the wound --

And the bleeding stopped, a voice whispered, and she realized it was the Old Sheriff's, his mustache tickling her ear as he puffed the sibiliants so gently into her ear.

Beth was crying, tears streaking her cheeks, and she felt the hands again, and she was a little girl, she was in a wagon with a great monster of a dog, a black giant with shining, curly fur, and a stranger was slashing the reins against the mare's rump, screaming and swearing the horse into a panicked gallop, and she smacked this stranger and yelled "You bad man, you leave my horsie alone!" -- and he seized her and threw her over the side, and Beth fell and hit the ground and something hit her arm and a sunball of pain detonated in her forearm and the world hazed out as the wagon galloped into the distance: there were shots, shouts, something cold and wet nosed her cheek, her neck, and she was floating again, strong arms under her, and a voice -- a man's voice, full of pain, a man's wordless scream of grief and of agony and the man laid his face against her dress-front and half-groaned, half-growled, and he threw his head back and she felt his lungs expand as he took in a great breath and screamed to the heavy clouds overhead, "DON'T LET THIS ONE DIE TOO!" -- and then he sank to his knees, a broken man, his face buried in her young bosom as he sorrowed the grief of losing his little girl years before, as he sorrowed the death of this innocent child whose still form he held.

Beth reached up with her good arm and whispered in a pained voice, "Don't cry," and the hands drew away from her head and she was in the Sheriff's living room again.

This time another pale-eyed woman touched her, held her between her hands, and Sarah whispered, "Come with me," and Beth was standing at the top of the waterfall.

She raised her arms to the heavens, raised up on her toes, head tilted back and eyes closed, reveling in her nakedness, feeling the air on her young flesh: she lowered her arms, then with a quick dip and a thrust, she leaped from the rocky height, brought her fists together directly above her head and she hit the cold water like a knife, cutting almost soundlessly through its cold surface: she stroked, kicked, twisted, made for the surface, rejoicing in the strength of her young body.

She clutched the man around the waist -- how did I get on his horse, I was swimming, she thought, then she felt her arm reach behind her and grip the lead-filled blackjack: she lifted his hat and belted him over the head just as hard as she could swing the leather jack, and she felt him shiver as his lights went out.

Another blink of the eyes and she was astride an impossibly huge horse -- it felt like she was a-straddle of a kitchen table, the gleaming black mare was so broad -- then the hands came away from her head and she blinked and it took a moment for her to make sense of it all.

The Old Sheriff took both her hands in both his.

"I've shown you as much as I dare," he said quietly. "Willamina could show you as much from her time in the .. from her war." He frowned a little, then smiled.

"Men aren't supposed to be able to stop blood with the Word," he said, "and women aren't supposed to feel the Berserkergang."

He looked at Willamina and another look passed between the two. "We ... can."

"I don't understand," Beth whispered, gripping his hands back.

"You will. You'll study and you'll research and you'll track the past like a Macneil and you'll find your ancestors."

He slipped his hands from hers, then took her right hand and brought her knuckles to his lips.

"I'll not see you again, I'm sorry to say. It's been a pleasure making your acquaintance."
"You're--" Beth started, then bit off the question.

Linn gave Willamina a warm look, smiling just a little.

"No. No, I made a promise a long time ago." He laid his hand against Beth's head again.

Beth was laying on her back in a shell crater, looking up at stars ... at stars and smoke and she heard gunfire and the stutter of automatic weapons, and she raised the pistol in her hand.

The slide was locked back.


She threw the Beretta aside and seized the stacked leather handle of her Ka-Bar, and she blessed the time she took to hone it until her segundo could shave with it, and generally did, and she screamed at the dirty terr just coming to the lip of the crater, the enemy with an AK and a lustful expression, she looked at her death and she screamed "COME AND GET ME!" and gathered herself for one desperate charge --

There was a deep BOOM, BOOM, and something hit the terr in the gut and folded him up and shoved him back --

A smoke ring wobbled overhead, drifting toward the dead man,and she snapped her head back, saw a tall, lean waisted lawman with an iron grey moustache casually break open his double barrel shotgun, pluck out the hulls and drop them, and dunk in two fresh rounds.

He looked down at her, his eyes pale and hard, the stars just starting to shine through the brim of his Stetson, and as he closed the shotgun -- she distinctly heard it close -- his voice was loud and harsh as he declared, "NOBODY SHOOTS MY LITTLE GIRL!"


Beth stared up at the ceiling.

She lay on her back, under sheets and blankets that smelled of fresh air and sunshine, and her mind spun as she remembered the evening, and she smiled a little as she remembered the Old Sheriff's words.

He'd made a promise,and he'd kept his promise, and his promise apparently didn't have an expiration date, for somehow he'd come back from 1885 and showed up on the rim of a shell crater in Afghanistan, to save a woman more than a hundred years younger than he.

She didn't understand it all, but she didn't have to, and before she finally relaxed and admitted to herself that she preferred the sound of horses outside to the sound of cars, she wished most sincerely she were a little girl with a big strong protective grandfather like the one she'd met that night.


Back at the Sheriff's house, Willamina turned with her hands on her hips and fixed her Very Great Granddad with cold and pale eyes.

"Now what's this about being the weaker vessel?"

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Jacob looked at the floor.

Willamina looked at Jacob, laid her hand gently between his shoulder blades.

"Tell me what happened," she said softly, and his bottom jaw thrust out and his bottom lip pushed out.

He was trying hard to be rough and tough and not to show what he felt but it didn't work.

He ended up looking as lost as he felt.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

"Tell me what happened," Willamina repeated, using the identical pitch, volume, cadencing of her words, a trick she'd learned early and well as an interrogator: it worked as well with a hurt little boy as it did with a reluctant criminal's partner.

"I wanted to see that longhorn again," he mumbled.

Willamina waited patiently.

"I went over and I clumb the fence and I snuck up on him."

"Go on." Her hand was warm, reassuring; few things are quite as comforting to a little boy's uncertainty as a Mama's touch.

"He didn't much like me."

Willamina considered her son's torn jeans, his skinned knee and palms, the scuff and dirt on one cheek bone and the dirt on his shoulders where he'd hit and rolled, and she reconstructed the landing that would have produced these results.

"You went over the fence," she prompted.

"Yeah," Jacob said in a discouraged voice.

"What happened then?"

"I snuck up on him."

"How close?"

"Real close." He looked sidewise up at his Mama and she saw just the hint of a smile, as if he were remembering a moment's achievement.

"You got real close."

"Yes ma'am."

"What happened then?"

Jacob looked absolutely guilty.

"He didn't do nothin'."


"No ma'am. He looked at me an' laid his head back down and went back t' sleep."

Willamina puzzled at this. "Where was he?"

"Inna shade."

"So he was taking a nap and he looked at you and went back to sleep."

"What happened then?"

Jacob's grin was quick, a flash of youthful memory, and Willamina had this awful feeling he was going to admit to something rather foolish, something only an adventurous little boy might try.

"Mama, I ..."

He looked away, his dirty face reddening.

"I went around and I grabbed his horns."

Willamina stifled her motherly impulse to scream "YOU WHAT???" -- which was no mean feat, given her knowledge of how fast a Texas longhorn can move, and how much power is generated at the fast-moving tip of those long powder horns bolted onto that head, and how powerful the neck muscles that operated that head.

Her voice was smooth, controlled as she primed him with, "You grabbed his horns."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Both of them?"

"No ma'am. I grabbed --" He stopped, looked into memory, reached to his left, his right, then looked at one palm, then another, held up his right hand.

"This one. I was facing him. Left horn, Mama. I grabbed his left horn."

"Far out or close in?"

"Close in, Mama."

"What happened then?"

Jacob grimaced, rubbed his cheekbone with the back of his hand. "He didn't like me much."

"No?" Willamina's voice was almost amused.

"No ma'am. He got up real quick."

"He got up and what did you do?"

"I hung on, Mama."

"How tall is he?"

"Real tall, Mama!" Jacob exclaimed, his eyes suddenly big: "I was swingin' when he stood up!"


Jacob dropped his head, his bottom lip protruding again. "He thowed me over that fence, Mama!"

"Come here."

Jacob got up and his Mama hauled him onto her lap, and the hurt little boy was grateful for it, for he'd been punished enough already for his actions, and he was needful of maternal arms to speak without words, to soothe his youthful hurts which were more prominent on his young soul than on his skinned-up hide.

Willamina closed her eyes and laid her cheek over on top of her little boy's head and rocked him just a little, remembering what she'd read the day before, read in some of the material she'd accumulated over the years, an account written by another Jacob's wife, written by a woman named Annette, who had a little boy of her own ...

Joseph and the bull calf have long been great friends, Willamina read, grateful the paper of a century before was made of rag instead of wood pulp, for pulp paper would long ago have browned and crumbled: he rides it like a slow and clumsy horse, but he found out he should not trifle with the bull and his herd.

Willamina read the neat script, interpreting the words onto the stage of her imagination, seeing a little boy of her own son's vintage, ignoring the signs that the bull has interest in a fresh heifer, ending up seizing the bull's horn and being tossed casually over the whitewashed board fence, to land all a-tumble in the dirt, and then to admit his error as his Mama washed dirt and blood from his chin and his knees and the skinned-up palms of both hands.

Joseph was still a little boy, Willamina thought.

He hadn't left for the War yet, and then she felt a dark resentment surge within her and she whispered savagely, "Damn that War!"


Jacob protested not at all when his Mama suggested he shower, and he carefully but thoroughly scrubbed his own skinned places, grimacing at the sting but determined to get the dirt out all by himself, and when his Mama examined his wounds afterward, she pronounced his efforts thorough, and she gave him an understanding look when he squirmed as she poured peroxide on the skinned places.

"You're not the only one to take the bull by the horns," Willamina said, then regretted her words, for she was about to tell Jacob about the bull that charged her: she'd not gone into the Corps yet, she was still living with her Uncle Pete on the old Macneil ranch, where her twin brother William lived now: she remembered when the bull whirled and charged, and she knew there was no way in two hells she could make the fence before the bull got her, and how Uncle Pete's eyes widened like saucers and she turned and charged the bull.

She'd seen illustrations of Phoenician athletes on an ancient vase, athletes who charged the sacred bulls, and seized their horns, and vaulted over their backs.

Willamina knew she could either freeze, and be killed, or she could flee, and be killed, or she could take the only chance open to her.

Willamina Keller, not yet eighteen years of age, charged from dead stop to a wide open spring, hands open, bladed, slashing the air as she charged the bull.

She timed her desperate grab, seeing the bull lower its head, she reached and jumped and the bull threw its head and she soared through the air, tucking and -- according to Uncle Pete -- turning two perfect, flawless somersaults, landing on her feet, coming up in a run, heading for the big green Oliver tractor sitting there at idle where she'd stepped off it not two minutes earlier to go check on what was left of a half-eaten newborn calf.

Willamina throttled up, spun the Oliver and charged the bull, who decided he didn't want anything to do with this big green exhaust-cackling monster: Willamina made her way over to the gate, and Uncle Pete swung it open for her, pulling it shut and dropping the chain loop over the fence post to hold it in place.

Willamina waited for Uncle Pete to climb up on the rear hitch, one hand on the back of her worn, rubber-suspension seat, then the pair made their way wordlessly back to the barn.

Willamina eased the big green tractor into its place in the old barn, ducking as she always did to avoid the sagging beam that had been threatening to collapse for most of a century, or so she'd been told, and she turned the ignition switch, listened to the engine stutter and quit, and felt Uncle Pete release the back of her seat.

Willamina climbed down, or rather jumped, as she always did, and Uncle Pete was standing there with a funny look on his face.

Willamina did not hesitate.

She seized her Uncle Pete in an absolutely crushing hug and he hugged her back, and he felt her shivering, and she pressed the side of her face into his flannel shirt and whispered, "I was scared," and she felt him nod as he replied, "So was I, darlin'. So was I."


Willamina waited until Jacob was abed, curled up on his side in his own bunk, quilt to his chin and sound asleep.

She stared at her son for a very long time, chewing on her knuckle, remembering the feel of her Uncle Pete's bull's chitinous powder horns in her own hands, remembered the impact and how she threw herself up and over, converting the energy of collision into spinning flight, and she felt her eyes sting a little.

"I was scared, Uncle Pete," she whispered into her knuckles.

She didn't mean for her little boy to hear her, but he did.

Jacob's eyes opened and he looked at his Mama.

"I was scared too, Mama," he admitted.

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Willamina couldn't sleep.

She drew her knees up and hugged herself around the shin bones, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her white flannel night gown.

She'd come down and sought solace, as she often did, in the words of her lean ancestor with the iron-grey mustache, and she hit a rough section, to use one of his phrases.

She sniffed, wiped her eyes again, and thought she probably looked silly, all pulled up into a ball like a sorrowing little girl perched on the ancient wooden office chair, but she had need to be a little girl and admit that yes, the grief the old man felt was very real, and she felt it too.

She lowered her face into the bend of her elbow and groaned softly, then she bit her bottom lip and uncurled and threw her head back: a deep breath, blown out with puffed cheeks and pursed lips, and she returned to the good rag paper.

A final wipe at her eyes and another quick blink and she re-read the fell words.


Better than twelve hundred miles away, a woman walked through the old cemetery's gate.

She wore a McKenna gown and wore a matching hat, she carried a smartphone and a GPS, and she walked with a sure step, as if guided: she moved quickly, easily through the garden of stone, through the moon-glowing monuments, and stopped where she'd stood not a month earlier.

She looked at the Chief's insignia sand blasted into good granite, and she remembered where she'd been, and she smiled a little: closing her eyes, she heard horses and felt the carriage under her, she felt the embrace of that lean old lawman and she remembered the pale eyes of that remarkable woman, and she opened her eyes and bent a little, laid her lace-gloved hand on the stone.

"Daffyd," Beth whispered, "your Mama missed you terribly. She loved you to the day of her death, and her one regret was that her last words to you were harsh."

Beth smiled in the moonlight and added, "She said you two were so much alike, full of pride and stiff-backed and neither one willing to admit you were wrong."

She straightened, frowning a little at the neatly ranked words incised in granite, considering that a marble slab and a handful of words was hardly a fitting monument for a lifetime's work, and she added, quietly, "Rest easy, Chief. Your watch is over now."

She started to turn and something like a breeze caressed her cheek, and she heard a light scratch-sound, and a whispered "Thank you."

She looked at the stone again, blinked, tilted her head a little, then reached down and picked up a rose that hadn't been there a moment before.

Closing her eyes, she brought it to her nose, inhaled its fragrance, and smiled a little.

She opened her eyes, half-expecting a fireman with a white Bell cap and pale eyes to be standing there, but she was alone, a solitary figure in a garden of stone.

Beth whispered "Thank you too" to the empty graveyard, and turned, and left.


I dreamed of Jacob as he'd been.

He was always a fine grandson.

I dreamed of him as the round bottom infant Jacob handed to me, my son Jacob with a grin you could wrap twice around a church it was so broad as he handed me his firstborn son.

I remembered the laughing little boy Josedph been, riding that bull calf around the field.

I remembered how he frowned a little when I taught him how to sharpen a knife on good Berea sand stone.

I recall the first time he stropped up a razor and tried his hand at shaving.

I recall when I run that gun belt around his lean middle and had him cinch it up, and we stood out in the corral and I throwed a number 2 tin can up in the air and Joseph nailed it at the high point just like I'd showed him.

Sarah taught him the knife and I taught him the short gun and when that brand new model of 1897 shotgun come out, why, I learned how to run that machine and I taught him that one too.

I have seen war and I have seen men die and I held fine young men as they choked out their life with blood and with tears and I remember the smell of blood on their breath and how they cried for their Mama in their last moments, and I never want my boys to see that.

I seen it and I don't never want to see that again, but what I like don't count for much.

Joseph come to me one day and there was a change about him and I recall my belly shrunk to see it and he allowed as they was a-fightin' over in Europe and we'd best go stop it there so it wouldn't git over here.

I looked at him and I saw the grandson I'd always known and I saw the boy I wanted him to stay forever but I could see he was a-growin' into manhood and I knowed he was set on doin' this so I set myself down and I let him talk.

I could not fault his reason or his logic.

I could help him get ready.

I taught my grandson how to kill.

We set up planks with a square painted on 'em and set staggered, and I had him start at one end of the corral and run toward them, shootin' as he ran.

He was just pretty damned good with that shot gun.

He was always a fine shot with the rifle and I had every confidence he could handle whatever rifle he'd end up with.

I ordered me a pair of Colt revolvers of my specification and I ordered them with scrimshaw on the ivory handles: an arc-and-compasses on one, and the square-and-compasses on the other, with FIRELANDS LODGE 584 F&AM beneath each.

He was too young to go into the Lodge yet but he'd already spoke of becoming a Mason and I figured that would be a mark of confidence that he would return and be one of us again.

I remembered all this as I lay in my bed.

I'd woke with an awful feeling.

I'd woke feelin' like someone run a yard of steel through my gut, I woke choking and retching and smelling blood and gunpowder and I woke fighting -- I throwed my pillow across the room and broke the globe on the lamp, right glad it warn't lit -- I come out of bed sick and I barely made it to the out house before I lost the contents of stomach and bowels both.

It was better'n two weeks before I knowed what really happened.

Daciana knew something.

I could tell the way she looked at me the next day she knowed something but she warn't tellin' and I didn't ask, her and Esther both had the Second Sight and I figured there was bad news a-comin' and I was right.

Willamina leaned back, forefinger pressed tight across her upper lip.

She knew what it was to hold a dying comrade, she knew the cries as a young man sobbed for his mother with his last breaths, she knew the smell of blood and spilled guts and she knew that ungodly sorrow that comes when one of your own is killed and not a damned thing you can do to stop it.

She took a moment, then read again.


Jacob come to the house and he was pale and his face was drawed tight and he moved like he was numb.

He come to the door like his boots was lead and he was a string puppet and he looked up at me and he couldn't talk.

I gripped his shoulders and looked at him and I never saw my son look so sick in all his life and he lifted up his hand and there was a paper in it.

I looked at the paper and my mouth went dry.

"Joseph?" I asked, and my voice was tight and raspy, and Jacob nodded.

I am counted a hard man but I am not ashamed to admit I held my son and my tears run down his shoulder and we two, father and son, grieved together without shame.

It was onto two months later that a letter arrived, addressed in German, with an Imperial crest in one corner: someone wrote in pencil, "To the Worshipful Master of Firelands Lodge 584, Colorado, United States."

I had to find Daciana and she read it to me.

It was written by a man Joseph saved.

A German officer.

He wrote of how this one man, this American cowboy, fought like an entire company: how he stalked like an Indian, struck like a Berserker, spared the life of a wounded enemy and did his best to get him, him the German officer who wrote the account, back to his own lines for medical help, how he succeeded, but at the cost of his own life.

He said he lived, because this man of honor, this brother Mason, this American cowboy, refused to let him die.

Daciana seemed to know something else but she didn't tell me what it was, whether it was something she read or maybe suspected, but she whispered something and her hand went to her mouth and she looked up at me.

The word she whispered was "Walkure."


"Valkyrie," Willamina whispered. "Die Walkure are the Valkyrie."

"That's right," Sarah's voice said.

Willamina didn't look up.

"His copper plated revolvers ..."

"The ones in the museum. Yes, he used them."

"This account ... he saved an enemy officer's life?"


"That should be in the museum as well."

"You'll need this." A sheet of heavy rag paper laid itself over the Old Sheriff's handwritten journal.

The sheet was written in German, with an Imperial watermark and a heavy wax seal in the bottom right corner.

"The officer's letter to the Firelands Masonic Lodge. I'm sure you can have it translated."

"And you got this from ...?"

"When the Lodge secretary died, some papers ended up in a trunk. The trunk was shoved into an attic. The house was torn down, the trunk carted off and eventually just thrown away."

Willamina turned, looked at Sarah, who shrugged.

"If I happened to harvest something out of it before it got buried in the dump, who's complaining?"

She handed Willamina a sheaf of papers.

"This is the actual testimony of the officer. Have it translated and add it to the exhibit. There's a map in there and multiple sketches -- fighting positions, location of artillery, of the German companies, of the American company, the route they took, the final battle, location of the field hospital." Sarah's eyes were steady, her hand warm and reassuring on Willamina's shoulder. "They were less than five hundred yards from the German field hospital when he died."

"What happened to him?" Willamina whispered, her throat dry.

"Him the German, or Him Joseph?"


Sarah smiled.

"I understand he rode off into the sunset."

The Bear Killer raised his head, looked toward the window, his great plumed brush of a tail happily swept the floor and his ears raised: he stood, and Willamina thought he was standing because of Sarah's nocturnal appearance.

Had Willamina looked out the window, she might have seen a lean young man in a doughboy's uniform and campaign hat, a pale-eyed American cowboy with a brace of copper plated Colts at his belt, mounted on an Appaloosa stallion: had she looked more closely, she might have discerned the Masonic square-and-compasses on the near set of ivory grips: but she would have to have looked quickly, for the young man looked through the window and smiled, then he turned, and the Appaloosa stallion spread a set of shocking-white wings, and the pair disappeared into the night.

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