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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Lady Leigh 9-12-07

 

Bonnie, Sarah, Duzy, Tilly, Esther and Linn came walking out of the back room as Caleb entered the main room. "Mr. Rosenthal. Mr. Rosenthal!" Billy yelled. Caleb paused for the young lad to reach him, "A telegram for you sir." Caleb deposited a coin into Billy's hand and preceeded to read.

Son stop Angus did mention nephew by name you mentioned stop Scotland family unpredictable stop Said man in your midst? stop

Bonnie stepped to Caleb's side and laid a hand on Calebs forearm, "A problem? Not something wrong with your family is there?" Bonnie inquired. Caleb handed the telegram to Bonnie amd let her read it, "Do you believe this to be the same Liam McKenna, Caleb?" Bonnie asked.

"No way of knowing ... we'll have to wait and see. We'll proceed as we have discussed," He moved a fallen curl from her forehead with his index finger, "What happened while I was gone?" God how he loved this woman.

Sarah overheard the question as she skipped up to the couple, "Sheriff Keller promised something to Auntie Esther and gave her a diamond!"

"Is that so?"

"Yep ... Mama? Do you always have to give a present if you make a promise?"

Chuckling, Bonnie answered, "Only some promises require a gift like that, Sweets ..." Slightly embarrased by the topic, Bonnie looked at Caleb, "Perhaps we should walk over to the happy couple?"

Meanwhile, Liam McKenna was beginning to get restless. He wanted to get to Firelands and implement his plan. Train ride or not, the trip was long and for a man on a dirty mission, the train was not fast enough.

He was walking back from the dining car, thinking about the devilish deeds ahead of him. "Well," he thought, "they have no idea I am coming, so the element of surprise is in my favor!"

Liam was already making foolish mistakes.

He was expected.

He had Havana cigars waiting for him in Firelands, and people knew about them.

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Linn Keller 9-12-07

 

I nodded, smiling grimly at Bigfoot's report. It was a good one, in that their numbers were reduced by eight ... there was the chance they would have more desert, but there was a better chance they would decide to attack rather than sit victim for another "Indian attack."
I looked over at Charlie, who'd come in when he saw Bigfoot beckon from the front door.
"Reckon we'd best get a bit to eat," I said casually.
"Reckon we'd ought."
I slung a warbag over my shoulder and dumped it full of shotgun shells. I like my rifle but I like a shotgun better for close up work, and with heavy shot, there was no street equalizer like my twelve bore.
"Why don't you fort up here," Charlie suggested. "Good cover, they can't blast you out of here with a keg of powder, you've got good fields of fire and plenty of firepower."
I opened the Greener, pulled the hulls out, wiped them on my pants leg and dunked them back in the chambers. "My town, Charlie," I said simply.
He grinned. He understood.
"What say we visit the ladies."
Rose o' the Morning was patient at the hitch rail when I came out. Charlie and Bigfoot went on over to Daisy's for supper and I trotted down to the Irish horse house.
I knocked before going in. Didn't want to inherit a mouth full of knuckles by just walking in unannounced.
The engine gleamed in the lamp light. I don't think those fellows ever quit polishing it. The entire apparatus gleamed, as did the wagon, the wheels; they had buffed the harness, curried the horses, polished their hooves, and from the look of things, had started over.
"Have you eaten, fellows?" I asked without preamble.
"We have, thank ye, sir," Sean boomed, "but by the good Saint Florian, we could use a beer!"
"You may well earn your beer before sunup," I said. "We've put a dent in their numbers this night, and it's kind of like kicking a hornet's nest: they will be inclined to come into town tonight."
There was general laughter and back-slapping. "Sheriff," Sean exclaimed with apparent delight, "we've no' been in a guid Donnybrook since leavin' Porkopolis! Let 'em come in, we'll gi' 'em a guid Irish welcome!"
My face was serious as was my voice. "Understand me," I said quietly, "these are hired outlaws who will kill all they see and burn what's left. They see this nice shiny rig they'll shoot it full of holes just because it's there, and your lovely red shirts will stand out and scream "Shoot me!"
"They'll no' dare harm Sons o' the Sod!" Sean declared with utter conviction. "We'll no' stand for such an outrage!"
"Should the attack come, you stand fast until called for," I warned them. "Your job is to put out fire, not fight outlaws. That's my job!"
Sean put his great arm around my shoulders, squeezed them companionably and chuckled, "Sheriff, would ye deny us our pleasure? We've no had a guid riot since leavin' civilization!"
I patted his flat belly. "You'll get your share. Just stand fast until sent for. I can't afford to lose a single one of you, and I sure as hell can't afford to lose this fine steam wagon!"

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Linn Keller 9-12-07

 

Sean and his fellows looked to their needs.
They added corn cobs to a bucket and soaked them with coal oil, in case they needed a fast, hot fire in their boiler.
They replaced the bituminous coal with anthracite: hard coal burns hotter, cleaner, and if they were called on this night to fight the devil, they'd have a good head of steam to fight it with.
Lastly they opened a crate and passed out Henry rifles, and loaded them, stowing them on discreet holders built into the apparatus. Each man loved a good fight, but none were so stupid as to go into a fight unprepared.

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Linn Keller 9-12-07

 

Liam McKenna swung the riding crop smartly against his palm, remembering the smart crack it made when briskly applied, and the welts it could produce if smartly swung.
He'd used it often, for the mutual pleasure of himself and Clara, and he'd used it on unwilling partners for his own pleasure.
Pain could be a powerful persuader, he thought.
Perhaps he could persuade dear cousin Bonnie to sign over her mineral rights without the need to take her clear across the continent to the asylum.
There should be convenient river crossings where a body could be dropped, deep canyons that would conceal his crime until decomposition rendered identification impossible.
He smiled.
The private car had been fitted with a few strong steel rings. Two of them, in the ceiling, he'd told the workmen, would be for his exercise bar. He wanted to hang from the exercise bar without fear of their pulling out. The workmen had added reinforcements and assured him that ten men could hang from them with complete confidence. He paid them well for this modification and had them put in a few more, ostensibly for the same reason. He did not explain why two were in a closet.
He implied to the other workmen that the steel-walled closet with the jail type door, and an ordinary looking wooden door to cover this, was at the order of an express company, for secure transport of materials they dare not entrust to the box car. His explanation was accepted as readily as his money.
Cousin Bonnie, how I long to meet you, he thought. Dear, sweet, long-lost relative, let me ... entertain you.
The train drove on through the night, shoving aside river-mists and darkness.

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Linn Keller 9-12-07

 

Emmett Daine was a simple man, with no vices to speak of, and a few loves.
One love was of drawing.
He'd borrowed a sheet of paper and was idly sketching, a pictoral diary of sorts, and Duzy looked at his work and smiled with appreciation. She cocked her head and watched, fascinated, as he coaxed two mounted men from the pencil and onto the paper.
Duzy frowned, looked again.
"Emmett? Could you draw me another of those, please?"

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Linn Keller 9-12-07

 

Daisy's cooking, as usual, was excellent.
Don't think I tasted one single bite.
"Sheriff," Daisy finally said, "if you don't quit thinking so hard, your hair's going to catch fire!"
I looked up at her and smiled. "I'm sorry, Daisy. Reckon I've got a lot on my mind."
Daisy pulled out a chair and sat down. "That the fellows that tried to take Duzy?"
"That's them."
Daisy frowned and studied them.
"Seen 'em before?"
"No," she said slowly, "I would remember something like those two, and they don't look familiar at all."
"Emmet said he'd draw me another couple of dodgers. I'll have them taken here and there, see if we can get a handle on who these two used to be."
"How's the coffee?"
I smiled. "This might sound silly, but ... would you have any vanilla?"
Daisy's eyes twinkled as she reached in her apron pocket. "Thought you'd never ask." She pulled out a small bottle, dribbled a few drops in my coffee.
I stirred it, sipped it and sighed.
"Like that, Sheriff?"
I gave her a sad look. "It would be better with the Reverend Sopris sitting across from me."
"I know." She propped her elbow on the table and her chin on her wrist. "Will he be coming back?"
"Reckon he will. Hope so, anyway."
"Like some pie? Got some fresh."
I smiled. "Daisy, I'm full as a tick. Was I to have pie I'd likely bust."
Daisy giggled. "Sounds messy." She lowered her lashes. "You're a romantic, you know that, Sheriff."
"How's that?" I sipped my coffee. Good stuff.
"The way you called us all in there to give Esther that ring." Daisy sighed. "Must have cost a lot."
"Whatever it cost, she's worth ten times that."
Daisy looked through the wall at something distant, something past. "Sean used to be like that."
"A man doesn't often change, especially when it's something important to him."
"I hope you're right." She rubbed her forehead. "He's different. The same, but different."
"He had a hard way of it, from what I hear."
She looked at me with the saddest expression. "I thought he was dead."
I nodded, unsure of what to say.
Esther came out of the back room with a long box. I stood at her approach. She set the box on the table. Wooden, of light construction, it was closed with a single red ribbon.
"Open it," she smiled.
Curious, I walked around the table, squeezed her hand gently.
I pulled a the free end of the ribbon bow. It untied easily.
I opened the lid.
Inside was a rifle, in a carved leather saddle scabbard, and two revolvers in a carved leather rig.
I stood there for a long time. This was more money than an average cowhand would make in maybe three months' time.
"Well?" Esther said. "Try the belt. Let's see if it fits!"
I unbuckled my black leather belt, wrapped it around the Navy Colt's slim holster, and laid it on the table. The two-gun rig hugged my belt line like it was custom made, and I said as much. Daisy giggled.
"It was custom made," she said, blushing like a schoolgirl blurting a secret at recess. "Esther had that made specially to fit you!"
"She chose well," I murmured, working the rig a bit until it felt just right.
I examined each of the new Colts.
They fit my hands like I'd been born to them.
I picked up the scabbard, withdrew the rifle.
Brand new, model of 1873, I thought, opening the action.
The side plate was engraved.
"Linn Keller, Sheriff, Firelands," it said, and under it, "To my beloved husband Linn, from your devoted wife, Esther."
Esther's eyes were shining when I looked up.
"I was going to give you these the night you proposed," she said quietly, "but you may have need of them a little earlier."
I took Esther in my arms. She was warm, solid, and she felt right.
I bent down and kissed her, once, gently.
Fiddler Daine started to play, a waltz, and Esther and I waltzed, there in Daisy's.
For a time, for a pleasant short time, all was well with the world.

I loaded both revolvers, and the rifle. I'm not sure quite why but I put my Navy Colt on top of the piano and honestly forgot about it.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

WJ was not a superstitious man, but neither was he foolish enough to ignore the warning of a friend.
He'd dreamed of his captain, back on the Confederate ironclad, chiding him for the LeMat he wore.
After their first battle, when the Union gunboat came alongside and grappled, and fighting was at closer range than either had anticipated, his Captain suddenly developed a respect for WJ's taste in sidearms.
He dreamed of his Captain, his friend.
In his dream the Captain strode across the deck, between the glass front counters, and between the bolts of cloth. He turned and strode back, and said "Stand by to repel boarders, if you please, sir," and the dream ended, and WJ woke up.
He rose and went to a trunk at the foot of his bed. Inside, with military neatness, he kept some clothes, and some other items, and one of these was a canvas belt and holster and his LeMat revolver.
He took these to his work bench and carefully loaded all nine chambers and the 20-gauge center barrel.
From the rack over his bed he removed the shortened Lee-Enfield he'd used on board the same ironclad. Biting off the end of a paper cartridge, he poured the charge down the barrel, rammed the Minie ball home, brought the big hammer back to half cock and capped it.
He parked the rifle beside the front door, with a full cartridge-box hanging from a convenient nail.
Stand by to repel boarders, he thought.
Maybe I'd better get dressed.
The Captain wouldn't like it if I repelled a boarding party in my nightshirt.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

"If we stay here, those Indians can come back and pick us off!"
"We can handle Indians!" Haggerty scoffed. "We just need to keep our eyes open!"
"I don't see why we have to sleep on the ground here and eat cold beans when we could take over that d-d town and sleep in a real bed!"
"We're supposed to kill everyone and burn it down, remember?"
"Well why don't we kill most everyone, keep a couple of the women, eat our fill, and after a few days THEN burn it?"
"All right, that's enough!" Art Parlan roared. "We're movin' out tonight!"
"Think that's wise?" the well-dressed stranger asked mildly.
"As a matter of fact I do!" Parlan exclaimed. "You got any objection?"
Parlan's blood ran cold as the stranger tipped his hat brim back. His eyes shone pure ice, and his smile was not that of a sane man.
"I could kill you, Parlan," he said quietly. "I could take you right now."
Parlan knew the value of keeping the respect of his men. He also knew he was facing his own death.
He swallowed.
"I say we ride in tonight, catch 'em asleep and let the Indians finish whoever runs off!"
There were muttered affirmations.
The well-dressed stranger shrugged. "If you're so all-fired ready to get yourself killed, go right ahead. I'll come in and burn what's left."
"You'll ride with us!" Parlan declared.
"Oh, I'll ride with you," the stranger hissed, "because I have to make sure none of you so much as strike a Lucifer." He looked around, swinging his insane glare across them like a bull's-eye lantern. "I have my torches oiled and ready. As you please, gentlemen."
"All right, you heard the man," Jack Malone bawled. "Saddle up and stand ready!"
Whiskey bottles passed quickly from hand to hand, red liquor pouring down anxious throats, empty bottles casually tossed onto the fire.
"Say, Art!" One of Art Parlan's twelve hailed his boss.
"Yeah!"
"What if they get off a telegram? I don't fancy having the US Cavalry coming up behind me of a sudden!"
"We'll be gone long before help can arrive!" Art bragged. "The place will be smoking ashes, or cold ashes, before anybody knows we were there!" He paused. "Go ahead and cut the wires."
The man touched a finger to his hat brim and galloped away from town, intending to loop back well up the railroad tracks, out of sight and sound of the town. He would cut the wires, guaranteeing the telegraph's silence.

Several miles away, an operator was relaying a message from the City of New York. He re-read the bulletin carefully, then sent it a little more slowly than usual, striving for accuracy. This sounded important and he wanted no mistake.

Lightning's son sat up straight as the sounder began to chatter. He recognized the operator's fist and began to copy the message.

TO SHERIFF, FIRELANDS, COLORADO TERRITORY, FROM NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT. WANTED: LI --
Silence.
He tried the key.
He stepped out the door. "Pa? Wire's down." He handed his father the unfinished message.
Lightning took a deep breath. "Get this to the Sheriff. Tell him the wire's down, then get back here!"
"Yes, sir!"
Lightning went inside and opened the cupboard.
He took out the long barrel shotgun he favored, and a Sharps carbine, and a gray kepi he'd worn when he was much younger.
"Not my town, Uncle Billy," he muttered. "Not here, not now, not never again!"

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Mr. Box 9-13-07

 

"Trouble brewin', Sheriff?"

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

I folded the telegraph flimsy and stuffed in my vest pocket.
"I believe it is," I said mildly, feeling an old familiar tension in my legs and my gut. "Son, run and find Sergeant Mick and have him stand to."
"Yes, sir!" Lightning's boy said briskly and was at a dead run by the time he got from my table to the front door.
I stood. "Daisy, where are the ladies?"
"They just went over to Bonnie's."
"All of 'em?"
"Yes, why?"
"It's started." I took a moment to collect my thoughts. "Mr. Box, I would be obliged to you if you'd help Emmett here defend this fort. Daisy, you and the ladies head for the sheriff's office, tell Charlie to fort up." I strode out the door.
Rose o' the Mornin' was dancing at the hitch rail and I pulled her reins free. She ruckled deep in her chest as I stepped into the saddle. We galloped the short distance to the church.
I beat on the door, hard. "Parson! It's started!"
Reverend Belden jerked the door open. "Thought it might," he said, clapping his hat on his head. "Send Jacob up here, we'll give 'em a warm reception!"
I wheeled Rose and made a flying dismount in front of the horse house. I beat on the door. "Sean! Saddle up! She's started!"
The door opened and Sean filled the doorway, hooking his galluses over his shoulders, a broad grin under his black handlebar mustache. "You hear that, lads! Fire the boiler! All hands on deck!"
I was back in the saddle and we were for the Sheriff's office at a gallop. Charlie opened the door for me. "Jacob inside?"
Jacob came to the door, coat unbuttoned and hat askew but his rifle in hand. "Ready, sir!" he declared.
I kicked my left foot free of the stirrup, extended my hand. "Up!"
Jacob stepped into the stirrup, seized my arm and I hauled him up behind me.
Rose took the extra weight as a personal challenge, and surged under us as we galloped back to the church. Shorty came out the alley at an awkward run, Spencer carbine in hand.
Jacob slid to the ground and was running when he hit. The Parson had the door open for him and we were off again. I made a running dismount, threw the reins at Shorty. "Keep her saddled, I may need her!" I barked.
Shorty took her down the alley, toward the livery.
I stroked a round in the chamber.
"Hey Sheriff!" Charlie yelled from the doorway. He held up my saber. "Want this?"
Just then the lead riders came into town and my rifle came to shoulder and I yelled, "HERE I STAND! COME AND GET ME!"

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

The firemen responded with the smoothness of much practice.
A bucket of oil soaked corn cobs got slung in the boiler, on top of the banked coals, and ignited almost immediately. Two shovels of anthracite and two shovels of soft coal followed, while the troika was being harnessed. The horses danced, anticipating the one thing they loved more than anything in the world, and that was a wild gallop ahead of the gleaming, screaming steam engine.
The doors were swung open and the engine pulled out, the ladder trailer was wheeled into position and hitched.
"Ready, lads?" Mick roared, swinging the whip in a big arc and snapping it a yard over the lead mare's head. "YAAH! ST. FLORIAN AND IRELAND!"

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

Rose o' the Mornin' was normally a placid and docile creature.
Rose o' the Mornin' would normally let herself be led without difficulty.
Rose o' the Mornin' jerked free of Shorty's gentle hand and spun, sprinting back to the street.
I caught her at a run, making a flying mount I hadn't done since I was many years younger. My feet found the stirrups.
We charged.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

"SENORITA!" The knocking was swift, insistent.
Firecracker Mel was out of bed and into her skirt. "Momento!" She was into her blouse and vest in a moment. She slept in her stockings and thrust into her boots.
"Vamonos!" she barked, rifle in hand, and the three clattered down the back stairs.
Two riders had come around the hotel and were trying to make it to the livery. They shot, and missed.
Mel spun, fired twice. She didn't miss.
They ran for the livery. It was but a moment's work to saddle and bridle their impatient mounts. Rey del Sol was prancing and baring his teeth.
"Ssshhh," Mel soothed him. "Good boy. You'll get your fight. Just be patient."
The three, in their bright Mexican outfits, rifles in hand, wheeled as one and galloped for the church at the end of the street.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

The outlaws had ridden into town three and four abreast, intending to split off into four groups, hitting one building at a time after initially shooting them up.
They did not expect a screaming lunatic on a chestnut mare to charge them, spitting fire from a Winchester and driving through their ranks at speed.
They did not expect six insane Irishmen and a steam whistle with three white horses to come bearing down on them with a bullwhip, a bell and a black-mustached giant driving, laughing and swearing great Gaelic oaths.
They did not expect three flamboyant Mexicans galloping up on either side of this smoking, shining wagon, each pouring lead into their ranks.
They did not expect to see two shotguns speaking eternity from the doorway of the Jewel.
And they did not expect death to come driving down on them from the rooftops.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

Esther and Bonnie were gathering Sarah and getting ready to run diagonally across the street to the Sheriff's office, when the Sheriff yelled defiance from the far end of the street and kicked into a gallop. They looked the other way and saw the street was suddenly filled with several ranks of raiders, coming in at a gallop.
Emmett Daine drew up his long barreled shotgun and drove two carefully spaced rounds into the lead riders and slung his arm out as if to shelter the ladies. They pulled back into the doorway of the Jewel. Mr. Box stepped out and seconded his esteemed colleague from Kentucky.
Shots splintered the porch post and the siding behind them. Duzy ducked and pulled Bonnie back.
Bonnie snatched up Sarah and headed for the back of the Jewel. She held Sarah in one arm and seized the end of a piano with the other, swinging it out and putting Sarah behind it. "You stay right there," she said, and was gone.
Mama?" Sarah protested, but stayed, because she was a good girl. She held up Dolly. "Will you stay with me, Dolly? I'm scared."
Dolly said she would stay and Sarah hugged her.
Dawg came trotting in and nosed Sarah's elbow. Sarah put an arm around his neck. "Hello, Dawg. Will you stay with me?"
Dawg woofed and plopped his great square bottom down beside her.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

The Daine brothers were on the rooftops and shooting down on the riders, and I did not care.
I knew Jacob and the parson were in the bell tower picking their targets, and I did not care.
I had just ridden through the raiders and this murderous mass of lead visiting itself upon their mortality, and I did not care.
I brought Rose o' the Mornin' around and came driving back at the raiders' rear and saw a great blue cloud where someone had just fired a shotgun toward us from the doorway of the Jewel, and I did not care.
I thrust the empty rifle back into its scabbard and drew my Colts. Dropping the reins, I wished to go here, and Rose went there.
And we went in fighting.
I made every round count, especially when after my third shot they realized they were taking fire from behind, and turned to face me. Their numbers were being thinned rapidly. I heard a bugle, and a rumble, and knew the freight wagons were closing behind me.
I aimed my left hand Colt, fired.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

WJ opened both his front doors and waited, Enfield in hand. He did not have long to wait.
One of the raiders, quite against orders, lit a torch and paused in front of his store, apparently intending to take advantage of the open door. He dismounted, came up the two steps.
The Enfield spoke, and the raider advanced no more.
There was a flurry of gunfire into the open doorway.
WJ wasn't there.
Two shots crumbled his front window and another torch appeared. Someone had shot from across the street, probably from the second floor of the hotel, he couldn't tell. Wasn't from the rooftop, but at the moment he was busy and felt disinclined to study on the matter.
WJ stepped out the doorway, LeMat in hand. The range was short, the targets big, and he was cold, cold as the night he stood on the deck of the sinking ironclad and picked off the Yankee boarders one by one by one as they advanced up the deck, until there was only one left, and he used the shotgun barrel of his LeMat to stop him.
He fired the LeMat once, twice, thrice ... at his sixth shot someone yelled, "He's empty! Get him!"
He shot the speaker.
"He's empty now!" One fellow raised his pistol.
WJ shot first.
"He's got to be empty now!"
WJ wasn't.
He'd fired nine shots.
A big ugly fellow with a scar under his right eye rode up and took deliberate aim at the old man in the stained Confederate cap.
WJ cocked the LeMat.
He'd fired nine times.
The revolver was empty.
"You're mine, you old fool," the fellow with the scar declared.
WJ reached up and flipped the nose on the LeMat's hammer, and pulled the trigger.
His opponent took the full charge from the 20 gauge barrel, probably to his regret, though he didn't seem inclined to further comment.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

Daisy retrieved the Greener from behind the bar and dumped a box of shells into her apron pocket. There were hasty foot steps in the back. She came around the end of the bar, saw a stranger, fired.
The stranger went back out the door he'd come in.
Daisy broke open the gun, daintily extracted the fired round, dropped in a fresh one and cocked the hammer. Both were at full stand and she paced toward the back door. If she were a cat, her hair would be bristled; as it was, when the raider looked in and saw a figure in a skirt he said "A woman!" and came at her, as if to seize her.
She changed his mind for him.
Daisy advanced to the back doorway, stepped over the carcass, and started clearing raiders out of their saddles.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

Emmett Maxwell spun out of the doorway, picked his target, fired one barrel, selected another, fired again, spun back in. He broke the gun, cleared the empty hulls, reloaded.
He was down to his last two shells.
Esther saw him pat his pocket in alarm.
"My last two!" he exclaimed, spun, and fired again.
There was the crack of a whip, a steam whistle, the steam engine drove through what was left of the panicking raiders. They tried to pull back and found their way blocked with freight wagons, and were warmly received by Cavalry troops and Sharps carbines. A few tried to escape to the other end of the street and found Firecracker Mel and her two companions waiting for them, with lead and with laughter. Those that tried to raid, and then to hide, at the livery, found Shorty's temper as short as his aim was certain.
Jacob and the Parson were not idle.
As the numbers thinned they were able to pick their shots.
Jacob fired, deliberately, as if his rifle were a single shot, making every round count. His skinny body was jolted by the recoil of the man sized round but his aim was steady and utterly without flinch. The Parson noted this with approval, with part of his mind, while the rest of him concentrated on smoking another outlaw out of the saddle before he could fire another round at the Sheriff.

Charlie, in the Sheriff's office, was making good use of the loopholes in the heavy shutters. Made of white oak, they were proof against pistol rounds, but not against the heavier rifle bullets; the raiders were mostly using their pistols, and so only spattered or splintered the oaken shutters.
Charlie preferred the Sharps. It tended to settle matters in an unmistakable manner. He dropped the breech block, thumbed in another brass panatela, closed the lever and eared back the big hammer.
The steam engine flashed by, just as he was about to squeeze off, and he swore; slamming the shutters open, he swung and fired as one raider paused in front of the alley.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

Bonnie saw the Sheriff's Navy on top of the piano.
She seized it, drew it free, ran to Sarah.
"Sarah, are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Mama. Can I play the piano?"
"I'll play it for you," Bonnie said, and released the mechanism that ran the player piano.
It was a surreal moment.
The gleaming steam engine had just screamed by, shining, with its crew of laughing, swearing Irish firemen; there was the scream of horses, gunfire, shouts and cries of men in battle, dust and smoke and utter chaos; and within the Silver Jewel, the floor was clean and the tables neatly arranged, tablecloths were smooth and in place, brass was polished and woodwork gleamed; the piano was playing, lamps were lit, and a little girl clutching her dolly petted the great, black bear of a dog.

Daisy had gone out the back door, chasing after an outlaw; unseen, another jumped from the saddle and ran in the back door.

Sarah tugged at Bonnie's skirt, pointed. "Mama, who's that?"
Bonnie turned and saw the outlaw.
The outlaw, pistol in hand, saw her and grinned wickedly.
Bonnie raised her hand from the folds of her skirt and drove a .36 ball through the man's stained teeth.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

A rider urged his horse onto the boardwalk, galloped down on Duzy.
Duzy jumped from the boardwalk into the street.
The outlaw wheeled in pursuit.
Duzy picked up a fallen pistol and fanned three quick shots.
One was all she needed.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

It was over.
The sun was just coming up, and it was over.
There was one outlaw left, of all that had ridden in.
There at the last we'd gone from building to building, flushing out those that tried to hide. A few attempted to scale the barbed wire.
They planned to show us no mercy.
Neither did we.
Only one man was left.
I walked Rose o' the Mornin' up to him.
He held an empty rifle, which he dropped.
"So it's just you and me," he said.
"Just you and me."
"I suppose you want to surrender."
"You feel like surrender?"
He laughed. "Nope."
"Didn't think so."
"You gonna kill me?"
"Yep."
"I could kill you."
"Don't reckon so."
"Step off that horse and let's find out."
I smiled. "Blades or guns?"
There was genuine surprise on his face. "What?"
"Blades or guns?"
"Blades," he chuckled wickedly.
"Sounds good. One thing, though."
"What's that?"
"On horseback."
He threw his head back and laughed. "I can do that!"
"Go catch your horse." I looked around, took a good lungful of air. "NOBODY SHOOTS! THIS IS BETWEEN HIM AND ME!"
I nudged Rose up to the Sheriff's Office.
Charlie opened the door.
"I'll take that saber now," I said.

We started at the far end of the street, at the freight wagons. The Daine boys, the good citizens, the soldiers, all watched.
We walked toward one another. "You ready?"
"Reckon so."
"By the way," I said, "my people were Viking, and when a chieftain dies, his deeds are sung and his enemies recounted. When I finally die of old age, I would know the name of the man I have killed this day."
He shook his head. "Damn if you ain't somethin'," he said. "I would know yours, stranger."
"Name's Linn Keller."
"Art Parlan." We reached across and shook hands. "Say, you weren't that Chauncey deputy that fired that Landers fella?"
"I'm the one, why?"
He threw his head back and laughed. He had bad teeth, I noticed. "That girl he was with?"
"Yeah?"
"She was my sister!"
I laughed with him. "Small world, ain't it?"
"Sure is!" We each took a breath. "You know I'm gonna kill ya, don't you?"
I smiled. "You can try."
We turned and walked our horses to the ends of the street.
The air smelled of dust and blood.
He still wore his Colts, as did I.
He was going to use them, and I knew it.
He hadn't seen my saber.
I'd noticed he was a right handed man, so when he drew his left handed knife with his reins in his teeth, I knew he was going for a right hand gun.
Rose o' the Mornin' knew this was a fight, and she laid her ears back and taken the bit in her teeth.
Parlan reached out with the big bladed knife and put spurs to his horse.
I drew the saber and bared my teeth.
Rose o' the Mornin' charged.
We galloped flat out toward one another, and death rode with us.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

"Oh, God," Esther whispered behind cupped hands.
Bonnie pressed close to her from one side, Duzy from the other, the other two from behind.
Sarah watched solemnly, clutching her Mama's skirt with one hand, Dolly with the other.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

Art Parlan's segundo had gone down in the first volley and was sheltered from attention and from trampling hooves by the carcass of his and another horse. He managed to work loose and laid there, between the two dead equines, and gathered his thoughts.
He had his rifle. It hadn't been lost.
He waited.
Finally things got quiet. He lay still, as if dead.
Finally, a voice he recognized: Art Parlan, shouting a challenge. He was near enough to make out what he was saying.
Art rode past him, slowly.
Malone looked up, made a kissing sound, winked.
Parlan grinned. They had done something similar in the past.
Malone got ready to roll over and shoot.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

Esther looked up the street as Parlan began his run.
"Oh, no you don't!" she hissed, and twisted free of the ladies' hands. She dove for the hitch rail and caught it with both hands; swinging her feet up, she vaulted it neatly, landed on her feet and scooped up a Winchester.
Malone leveled his rifle.
Esther stroked the lever, brought hers to shoulder, fired.
Malone jerked, fired.
Esther fired again, walking up on Malone. She kept walking and kept firing, until the rifle was empty, then she took the rifle by its muzzle and with a harsh sound, swung it against the dead man's head, hard.
She dropped what was left of the rifle.
"Nobody shoot at my husband!" she declared loudly.
The morning sun shining through her hair looked like an auburn halo.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

We galloped toward one another, each of us on the right side of the street. Parlan's knife was held out in his left hand.
I saw his right shoulder drop.
Rose swung to the left and I brought up the saber.
There was gunfire from behind Parlan as he raised his Colt.
I swung.
I felt the hot gust from his gunmuzzle just before I felt the Damascus blade bite.
Parlan's head hit the ground and rolled.
We galloped on past, came about.
Rose o' the Mornin' reared, pawing the air, ears flattened against her head.
Art Parlan, outlaw, leader of his band, sat for a long moment in the saddle before falling and joining his head on the ground.
I saw Esther, walking toward me.
I dismounted and wiped my blade on Parlan's shirt and ran it back into its scabbard. I hung the scabbard from the saddle horn, ground-reined Rose and walked toward Esther.
She walked a little faster and so did I.
The morning sun was behind her and she looked like an angel coming toward me.
I grabbed her and hugged her into me and spun her around and around and around.

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Lady Leigh 9-13-07

 

"Did ya get him, Mac or was it W.J?"

"I recon it don't matter, Bill, the scoundral's on the ground. Ain't nobody goin to mess with our pickle barrel, that's fer damn sure!"
*
*
*
Caleb running toward Bonnie and Sarah, and Sarah broke free from her Mama's hand and ran straight into Calebs arms, where he picked her up and continued on to Bonnie. When he reached her, he flung an arm around her sandwiching Sarah in between, "Caleb! You're Ok!"

"Thanks to Bill or Mac, I am! Don't know which one is which, but if it hadn't been for them, I probably wouldn't be standing here."

He proceeded to tell Bonnie how he had just stepped out the back door with the Cimmeron rifle the Sheriff had given him. Caleb aimed the rifle at a roughly clad man who was headed in his dierection. Caleb had not noticed the other who was approaching in the opposite direction. Caleb fired on the one he saw, when a split second later another shot rang out, and Caleb spun around to see the two elderly checker playing duo shuffling off toward the Merchantile.

"Bonnie! The store is fine, though I haven't looked to see if there are any broken windows ... I ran here as soon as I could ...."

Bonnie looked into Calebs eyes, and those of her daughter's, "What truly does a business matter as long as those I love are Ok!" Bonnie released her eyes from Caleb's and glanced at the others who held special places in her heart.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

Jacob walked out of the church, rifle under his arm, and up the street, squinting against the sun.
The firemen had finished checking the buildings, declaring them free from fire. One of them held a half-dozen torches, apparently discarded just before the outlaws started down the main street. They'd been lighted, and appeared to have burned out on the bare dirt road.
Jacob stepped aside to let the three-horse hitch and the steam wagon with its ladder trailer thread its way back down the street towards the horse house. The Irishmen seemed uncharacteristically subdued. He saw a dent in the shining shoulder of the upright boiler, apparently where a bullet had creased it.
He looked back to the bell tower, remembering.
He and the Parson had stood in the darkness, talking quietly. He'd looked toward the quiet graveyard, automatically found Miriam's grave.
The Parson's hand was warm on his shoulder as he talked.
He told the Parson about Miriam, coming around the wagon while he was delivering her Mama of her baby. Miriam, asking him to describe what would be Ruby's Room. Miriam's delight as she asked Jacob to take her to one of the pianos.
Jacob was silent for a time, remembering how she played that night.
The Parson finally spoke. "Son," he said, "we know many people in this lifetime. Some we know and love, and some we miss terribly." He too was silent for a long moment.
"That we grieve, tell us we have loved," he said softly, "and when we grieve hard, we know we have loved deeply."
Jacob nodded, looking out at the graveyard.

He looked at the growing cluster of people in front of the Silver Jewel, and at Charlie, leaning against the door post of the sheriff's office, at the two old fellows picking up their checker board and setting it again atop the pickle barrel.
He walked up the street a little ways, hunting.
He found one of the men he'd shot.
He stood there a long time, looking at the still form.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

I mounted Rose o' the Morning, scanning the roof tops. I waved to one of the Kentuckians.
"Anyone hurt up there?"
"Nah, Sheriff, we're good here!"
WJ waved from the doorway, still wearing his Confederate kepi. He saluted. I returned his salute.
Emmett and Mr. Box I'd seen at the front door of the Jewel.
I rode down the alley, around back of the Jewel, behind the hotel. Shorty was busy forking out the stalls as if it were a normal day. Normal, if you ignored the dead outlaws on the ground.
Daisy was sitting on the back steps, shotgun across her lap, staring into the distance. I knew that hollow look. I dismounted and set down beside her.
She was quiet for a while.
"They came after us," she said.
I nodded. "They did."
"And I killed them."
"You did what you had to do."
"Why did they come after us?" she whispered hoarsely. "Why couldn't they just leave us alone?"
My eyes tracked the far horizon. "If I knew that, Daisy, I could stop all the evil in the world."
"It's the gold, isn't it?" She turned and looked at me.
I nodded.
She laughed. "I've seen boom towns, Sheriff. I've seen what happens when men get gold fever. I don't want to see that, Sheriff. I don't want to see that here."
"Don't particularly want to see it myself."
"Can we stop it?"
I took off my hat, scratched my head. "Don't think we can."
"Will it come to that, then?"
"Hope not."
"Me too!" She took a deep breath, let it out. "You're a good man, Sheriff."
I nodded. "I try to be, Daisy. I do try."
She smacked me on the knee. "How about some breakfast?"
I almost felt guilty when I realized breakfast sounded pretty good.
"Let me make sure everyone's all right." I stood, with an effort, of a sudden very, very tired.
I mounted Rose and we continued our rounds.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

We loaded the dead onto the freight wagons.
Emmett sketched each of them as we loaded them on.
We stripped the dead of all but their clothes. The gold, of which there was a surprising amount, I divided between those who'd been damaged in the raid. Once the dust settled and the sun came up they'd been able to cause a surprising amount, nothing that couldn't be fixed, but window glass costs money as does lumber.
At least they hadn't fired the town.
That had been my biggest fear.

The troopers labored, out on the prairie, to dig a trench, decently deep, six foot wide, and long enough to accommodate the bodies. Damned if I was going to clutter up our good graveyard with the likes of them. We had to plant them somewhere, either that or let them rot, and the stink would carry a long ways over this flat ground, especially with a gentle evening breeze.
Mick and I labored shoulder-to-shoulder with them, swearing at the tough prairie sod and at the scoundrels whose misdeeds cost us so much in sweat and blisters. Well, sweat, at least; most of us were callused enough on our hands we didn't blister, and all of us wore gloves.
We finally finished the detail. The moon was on the increase so we had too much dirt for the hole; we mounded it up, satisfied it would settle as the bodies rotted down.
Made a surprisingly large pile. Always does when you dig a hole on the waxing of the moon.
Parson Belden had turned a spade right along with us, and spoke over the mounded grave as we stood with hats in hand and heads bowed, out of respect for He who was being addressed.
None of us had any respect for the ones we'd just planted.
Digger's expression was positively mournful as he totted up the cost he would have gotten if we bought coffins for each of the dead, plus headstones, plus transportation in his fancy hearse or at least a wagon with himself at the reins. You'd think we were burying his pocketbook at the bottom of the hole. He'd lost a window, and two coffins ended up with a couple holes apiece in them, so I gave him his share of the gelt and he seemed a little less distressed.

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Linn Keller 9-13-07

 

I asked Charlie if he'd seen Bigfoot. He was about the only one I hadn't at least seen that morning.
"He went out to the outlaw camp to make sure nobody was left. Said he'd be back shortly."
"Did he do all right? I was too busy to notice."
Charlie grinned, and I knew that grin.
Bigfoot had done all right by himself.

Emmett came to me with a sheaf of papers. He'd sketched all the dead, near to forty of them, but he said he wasn't done, and asked if he could use my desk, as his hand was kind of tired.
I got up out of my chair. "Help yourself. Like some coffee?"
"I'd like that, Sheriff, thank'ee kindly." He eased his long, tall, skinny self down in my chair, wiggled a bit and frowned. "Ain't this cheer kind of hard on the back, Sheriff?"
Charlie laughed and I laughed with him. "Emmett, you are a smarter man than I!"
Emmett looked puzzled, then grinned, figuring it was an inside joke, and commenced to coax more magic out of his pencil.
I poured him some coffee, set it on the desk, but he was already lost in his work.
Jacob came in, set his rifle in the rack like he owned the place.
"Parson tells me you did well last night," I said quietly.
"Yes, sir." He dropped his eyes. "Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, were you scared last night?"
I blinked. Of all the questions he could come up with, that wasn't one I expected.
"Reckon I was, some. I was too busy to notice."
He looked up. "I never seen the like, when you rode through the bunch of 'em like that! They got confused and pressed back against the sides of the street when the steam wagon came through 'em!" I could see his eyes remembering the night. "I was afraid to fire, sir. I didn't want to hit the steam wagon nor yourself, and it was dark enough I couldn't tell for sure where you were most of the time."
"You were wise to be sure of your target. Most men aren't that careful. Speaks well of you, son," Charlie spoke up in his deep and reassuring voice.
"Once I saw where you were -- where you weren't!" -- he looked up and grinned -- "then I knew where to shoot." His grin faded. "When I couldn't see you, sir, I was afraid you'd ..." he swallowed hard and contined ..."I was afraid you'd been shot ag'in."
"Well, my shirt was, does that count?"
Jacob's eyes grew wide and he sat down.
"I'm fine, Jacob, they didn't draw blood this time."
"I tried to keep you safe, sir," he said hoarsely.
"And you did an excellent job!" I declared stoutly. "You kept me and most of the rest of us from harm, including yourself! Think of what it would have been if they'd fired the church. The bell tower would have turned into a chimney and you would not be sitting here!"
Jacob shifted in his seat. "Yes, sir."
"Jacob, how did the Parson do?"
Jacob grinned broadly. "He did fine, sir! He was careful and he did not miss!" He paused. "He talked to me about Miriam. Said that when we grieve, it means we have loved, and when we grieve hard, it means we have loved deeply."
That hit me where I lived, for I have grieved hard, but I never thought of it in those terms.
"Reckon I oughta listen to the Parson more often," I said quietly.

Emmett straightened up, left three or four sheets of paper on the desk and downed the now-cool coffee. Wordlessly, he winked at me, and headed out the door.
I looked at the sheets he'd left.
"Jacob? Charlie? Take a look at these," I said.
Each sheet had more than one sketch.
One sheet had Bonnie dragging the end of a piano with one hand, scooting a little girl behind it with the other hand; Bonnie with a little girl hanging onto her skirt, one hand on the little girl, holding her close to her while extending what was obviously a Navy revolver toward a shadowed, indistinct figure in a doorway; Duzy, from behind, in a crouch and fanning a revolver, and in front of her, a rider falling from the saddle.
The second sheet had a view down a double barrel gun, with a yelling rider centered on its bead; beside the double gun, another, and Mr. Box's face in profile, aiming his own double. It had Daisy coming around the end of the bar, skirt swinging with the force of her turn, Greener in her right hand, the other holding up the front of her skirt.
I grinned at the sketch at the bottom of the page.
Sarah, squatting behind the protection of the piano, one hand around Dawg's neck, the other holding her Dolly.
I picked up the third sheet.
He'd drawn Esther, leaping over a hitch rail like a schoolgirl vaulting in a gymnasium; Esther, snatching up a rifle from the ground; Esther, walking forward,with her rifle in mid-cycle, lever down, a casing in the air, and in front of her, from behind a dead horse, a man, falling backward, rifle discharging harmlessly into the air.
I picked up the last sheet.
Rose o' the Morning was in full gallop, coming straight at me, in perfect detail; he'd drawn me in mid-swing, the Damascus sword just coming level, and Art Parlan's Colt firing.
I shivered.
Charlie looked them over. "Nice work," he murmured.
Jacob agreed.
The smell of bacon crept in on the breeze and my stomach reminded me it had been a long night, and it was empty.
We went and had breakfast.

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Mr. Box 9-13-07

 

There was such a comotion going on all of a sudden outside. I figured this was the trouble they were expecting. I charged out of my room with my old double and a pocket full of shells. I didn't have too many, but there were plenty available when I got downstairs. There were plenty of targets. I think some of them were hit by more than one shot at a time.

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Mr. Box 9-14-07

 

There wasn't much planning after that. It was just reacting to the situation. In the dark, your target popped up rather quickly. There wasn't much time to determine friend or foe other than the manner that they were coming at you! There were a lot of stray shots tearing thru things. As far as protecting the ladies of the house, they were so fired up you couldn't hold them back! It's a good thing! There were a couple that almost slipped in on us! I don't know how many I took down.
After the smoke cleared and it started getting light the carnage began to become obvious. It was going to take a lot more than Nelly and the buckboard to clear the street. That's when I ran to check on Nelly. She was restless, but OK. Shorty was already busy straightening up. I went out in front and was able to catch four loose horses and tie them to the hitching rail. I told Shorty and he said, "I guess they are yours."

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Duzy Wales 9-15-07

 

Everyone pitched in to clean up the carnage, as well as the preparation for the attack, the sand bags had to be removed and soon Firelands was looking good again. The new buildings were cleaned, windows replaced, and the ladies were excited about the upcoming grand opening of their businesses.

Duzy walked downstairs to check on the long mirror behind the bar for damage, and saw Mr. Box in the foyer. “I still need that barkeep, Mr. Box, think you would like to give it a try? You would have a room upstairs in which to live, honest pay, and after watching you during the attack, I think you more than capable of keeping “The Silver Jewel” a place decent folk will feel safe.” Mr. Box looked as if he may be considering the position, running his hand across his jaw, but didn’t answer right then.

After Duzy had made sure everyone was alright and accounted for, she walked upstairs to her “special” room and started writing everything she could remember of the attack. She hoped to get with Emmett, and put a story together, along with his vivid drawings to record that day in history. It had been like nothing she had ever seen before and hoped to never see again!

"Think about it, Mr. Box, and let me know if you please, Duzy said as she walked out of the building to see if the telegraph lines were back up and if any mail had arrived. She needed to know if any of the invited guests were arriving for the entertainment on opening night, or if the news of the attack had kept everyone away. In that case, she and the ladies would need to put their heads together to see what they could do!

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Mr. Box 9-15-07

 

"Well, Miss Duzy, I don't have any plans and I've got five horses to feed. Let me think about it. You'd have to show me what I need to do." I bid Miss Duzy good day and went over to see if Shorty had room to put up the extra horses.

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