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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 8-31-13

 

"OW!!!"
The Sheriff jerked his hand from inside his coat, glaring incredulously at his bloody finger.
Keeping one arm snug against his belly, he dismounted, went to his knees: The Bear Killer snuffed at his wounded digit, cleaned it with a few careful applications of pink, cool tongue, then shoved his big nose into the Sheriff's coat, sniffing loudly.
There was a tiny, cub-sized snarl from within, and The Bear Killer thrust his head further in, shoved hard, withdrew the cub: his jaws were clamped on the scruff of its neck and he shook it, growling, then set the cub down and released it, glaring at it.
The cub drew back its teeth and snarled at its sire.
The Bear Killer seized it again, a driving strike faster than a rattlesnake, or so it looked to the Sheriff, kneeling in half an arm's length of the two: The Bear Killer gave the cub another good shaking, snarling fiercely, then set the cub down.
The cub wobbled a little, then whined and reached up and licked the underside of The Bear Killer's jaw.
The Bear Killer allowed the respect, then gave the decidedly chastened-looking cub a good bath.

Daffyd saw Sarah and Daciana come out of the church, walk slowly down the steps: they conferred for a moment, then Sarah began walking slowly across the street.
She stopped to catch her breath before stepping under the shadowed overhang of the barber shop and up the board walk.
Daffyd was yet half a hundred yards distant when he saw a man come out of the barbershop and begin to follow Sarah.
Daciana had already turned her carriage and taken it down an alley, back toward the livery; Daffyd was too far away to do anything as the man reached for Sarah's arm.

The one-armed proprietor watched with admiration and respect.
His wife stacking cans of fruit.
She'd made two neat pyramids so far, withdrawing the cans from their wooden shipping crate, placing them in precise, diminishing and ascending rows: one peach, one blackberry, and room for a third, yet to be brought from the back room.
There was a steady demand for canned goods, despite the families' self-reliant agriculture: miners had neither land nor time to cultivate their own comestibles, and the Jewel used more than could be locally provided, and Jesse knew the sales value of an attractive display, and so she persuaded her husband to let her take advantage of an empty display table.
He watched her as she arranged the cans, her eyes half-shut, as if a little drowsy.
Earlier in the day she'd held off stacking cans as she heard a child's pained complaint: it was mail day and children often wheedled a penny candy from those lucky enough to get mail, and sure enough, one had, a little boy who almost immediately cried out in pain when he bit on a peppermint stick.
Jesse dusted her hands on his apron and turned toward him, calling him over.
She heard his approach, opened her hands, and he came to her, trusting as children are: she asked gently what hurt, and he said his tooth hurt, and she heard his voice distort as he ran a finger in his mouth, pulling his cheek aside to indicate the particular point of pain.
Jesse felt his cheek, detected a swelling, felt the heat -- a subtle change, one a normally sighted person would never pick up on.
She brushed the hair back from his forehead -- she didn't need eyes to know little boys forever have hair in their eyes -- and she said quietly, "I think I can help, but it will work only for a short time."
She rose, turned to her left: beside the counter, on the right hand side of the gap where she and her husband went behind the counter, was shelving from floor to ceiling: she raised a hand, counted up, then felt the bottles, counted from left to right, took one.
"Now," she said, "come with me," and with one hand on the boy's shoulder, she walked confidently to the open front door.
"Outside, to the edge of the walk," she said, and uncorked the bottle, gave it a sniff.
"I want you," she said, dispensing about a double teaspoonful into the hollow glass stopper, "to take this in your mouth and then let it lay on that tooth. Do not swallow it, don't swish it around, just let it lay on that tooth until I tell you to spit it out, do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," the lad replied in the reluctant voice of a lad who knew the unpleasant taste of castor oil, and regarded all medicines as awful tasting and a form of torture.
She handed him the cap and he tilted it up, swished it around the suddenly-painful tooth, let the fiery liquid pool around it.
His gum started to go a little numb and the pain crept away.
The woman waited patiently, counting slowly to thirty, then she said, "Now spit into the street."
He did, ejecting the liquid with vigor and enthusiasm.
"Yuck," he declared.
She nodded. "Dr. Brickle's Bitters are worse," she murmured, "but this isn't quite as bad." She reached for the stopper, knowing he would automatically guide it into her questing hand.
She stoppered the bottle, handed it to him.
"Take this," she said, "and about every two hours, use it as you just did, unless your tooth hurts again. That will hold until you can see a dentist."
"Thank you, ma'am," he said, and she heard the quick scuff of bare feet as he scampered down the board walk and down the street.
She turned and went inside, extending her elbow a little to brush the edge of the door, guaranteeing she was where her feet told her she should be.

Sarah turned at the hard hand on her arm.
"Well, now," an oily voice said, "ain't you sweet."
Sarah raised her chin an inch. "I do not believe," she said coldly, "we have been properly introduced."
Daffyd strode a few long-legged paces, then began running, his Welsh blood heating quickly at the sight of another man taking liberties with his wife-to-be.
"Properly introduced," the neatly barbered stranger sneered. "Now aren't you just the uppity wench. Nicely dressed but on the shady side of the street."
"You will unhand me, sirrah," Sarah said quietly, her eyes turning pale and her voice absolutely cold.
His hand was tight, painfully tight, and he jerked her toward him. "I'll tame you," he snarled, just as a Welsh hand seized his shoulder and yanked.
Sarah stomped hard on the stranger's polished townie shoe, aiming to drive her heel clear through his high arch; this double assault loosened his grip and Sarah fell back a step as Daffyd Llewellyn, fireman and veteran of bare knuckle Cincinnati brawls, shoved the man out into the dirt street and stepped off the boardwalk after him.
Daffyd spit on his palms, dry-washed his hands and brought up two sets of knuckles.
The stranger rolled and came up with a Derringer in his hand.
Daffyd's fist flashed out, spreading the stranger's nose over an impressive acreage: his other hand seized the Derringer, twisted.
The little rimfire hideout spat loudly, the hollow based bullet driving less than a third of its length into the seasoned, dry porch post holding up the shading roof.
Sarah's hand was inside her gown's pocket, her grip tight around the handle of her bulldog pistol: at this distance, she knew, she could put five shots through the heart of the Ace of Spades, and hand done so on a number of occasions, the most recent, the day before she left on her last assignment.
Now she watched as her fiancee stripped the shining pistol from the man's fist, then drove a left into his wind.
The pistol dropped to the ground and Daffyd dedicated both hands to the work before him, and Sarah could but admire the speed and efficiency with which he honestly beat the stuffing out of this stranger.
Part of her stood aside, thinking absently that -- heretofore -- she would have taken a savage joy in tearing down this man's meathouse, all by herself.
Part of her considered her damaged lungs, and the fact that she'd stressed them enough by singing, and taken a risk by walking the little distance she had: the rest of her watched, big-eyed, her hands moving slowly to her high stomach, where she stared, fascinated, as her big strong man defended the honor of his wife in a manner universally understood and absolutely incapable of misunderstanding.
Sarah considered this moment several times over the next few months, and each time she felt a delicious sense of feminine delight, for this was the first time she'd realized that men were willing to fight over her.

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Linn Keller 9-1-13

 

Jackson Cooper tilted his hat back and said, "Well, now!"
He brought his hand down and hooked his thumb behind his belt buckle about the time a fellow went backwards off the board walk in front of the barber shop.
He frowned when the fellow pulled a small pistol; he took a long stride when the little pistol spat at the red-shirted fireman, and he stretched his pace as the fireman launched off the boardwalk and proceeded to give the impertinent fellow a good old-fashioned Irish beating.
The barbershop poured out onto the boardwalk, one fellow bearded in white lather with the apron around his neck; the barber beside him, shaving cup in one hand and foamy brush in the other, both of them yelling encouragement: two other men, businessmen by the look of them, stood at the edge of the boardwalk, enthusiastically punching the air and gesturing vigorously.
Jackson Cooper's good right fist doubled up tight as he made a steady three knots downstream.
Like most fights, this one did not last terribly long, which did not surprise the big town marshal.
In his experience, it was prime folly to pick a fight with an Irishman, for the Irish are a race bred to excellence, whether in engineering, bricklaying, song, dance, drinking, humor or fighting.
The worst beating Jackson Cooper ever had in his life came from one of the Irish, and if he cared to stop and remember it, he would still see clearly the face of the incensed Irish lass who'd mistaken him for somebody else, and did her level best to punch him back to the Emerald Isle for the misdeeds of whoever she'd thought he was.
If he stopped to consider the memory, he would've remembered how embarrassed -- how crushed -- the poor girl was afterward, especially when he took her hand gently in both his and said softly, "Whoever this fellow was must've deserved it," just before he passed out, for among other things she'd broken his nose with a skinny fist and bounced a frying pan off his head.
Twice.
Now, though, he admired the swiftness, the ferocity, the cold, scientific efficiency with which this Irishman put fists, elbows and knees into the man in the now-dirty suit.
Jackson Cooper's peripheral picked up color and movement to his left.
For a big man he moved very quickly, which in the past was the saving of his life: part of his mind commented analytically that a man focused on a threat, or on a fight, often develops tunnel vision, and can be easily ambushed from the side: another facet of thought remembered how he'd picked up on just such an ambuscade, and avoided an untimely death by his own quick, accurate return fire.
Now, though, with his hand suddenly around the grip of his Remington, he took a quick side-step, found and locked onto the movement, and powered into three long, fast strides, just in time to catch Sarah as she slumped against the building and began to collapse.

Sarah came to with a ring of anxious faces all around her.
She was lying on something padded, she felt coolness on her neck and her wrists, and a strong, tingling aftertaste on her lips: a small glass was being withdrawn from her lips, someone's hand was around the back of her neck and she swallowed.
"She ran into a tree branch," a voice said. "It nearly killed her."
"A tree branch? Did she hit her head?"
"Good God, no! She ran end-on, it drove into her chest like a spear --"
"A spear! It's a wonder it didn't kill her!"
"It nearly did. I heard she died."
"Well, she's alive now. Here, stand aside, there's tonic!"
A glass touched her lips, liquid authority was poured carefully into her mouth.
Whatever she swallowed was potent and strong-smelling, familiar in a way.
"Bay rum," the barber said, his hand warm and comforting and cupping her nape. "I take a touch myself."
Sarah blinked and coughed delicately, her left hand coming up and pressing flat against her chest wound: she looked at the ceiling, her mouth open a little, breathing carefully, took an experimental, deeper breath, blinked, wet her lips.
"What happened?" she squeaked.
Daffyd blew across cracked knuckles, shook his hand, frowning: through the open door, Sarah saw Jackson Cooper pick a fellow up by the back of his belt, pick him up like a piece of luggage: he looked into the open door, squinted a little to see into the darker interior, then lifted his hat and smiled before going up the street with the dangling passenger hanging from his good left hand.
"Yon scoundrel," Daffyd began, and every man there eagerly and simultaneously made reply, and eager and confusing babble of masculine voices: that stranger, that fight promoter from back East, not a gentleman, said he saw a likely doxy, a shady lady, he bragged he was going to pleasure himself in some Western meat -- beggin' your pardon, Miss Sarah, his words, not mine -- he was at the door before we could stop him -- Llewellyn here shot across like a streak -- you should have seen him -- yanked off his feet -- punched harder than I've seen --
"Daffyd?"
Sarah's face was distressed and she spoke barely above a whisper.
The men went silent, looked at one another and Sarah repeated, "Daffyd?"
Daffyd appeared at the foot of the barber chair where Sarah lay.
Sarah appeared almost ready to cry. "Daffyd, are you hurt?"
"Nah," he said, hiding his skinned and aching knuckles behind him. "He ne'er laid a glove on me."
"Fast and deadly he was!" the barber declared. "I saw him pick the man up and throw him --"
Every man began talking again, each giving his account of the fight, with due exaggeration -- for they were telling a Lady Born of the chivalrous defense mounted by her intended, and every man there was firmly of the opinion that a woman should believe she was married to c-- or about to be married to -- a Galahad who only incidentally left his shining armor at the blacksmith's to be polished, and didn't have it with him when the Black Knight came calling.
"-- and then the Marshal carried you in here," the barber said, "and Daffyd at your side --"
"Here, make way, men, let him through."
Daffyd nodded his thanks as the men fell back, allowing him to approach the side of the barber chair: he took Sarah's hand in his, anxious eyes gauging the pallor of Sarah's face.
"How's your breathin'?" he asked gently as the world fell away, and they were alone, for the moment, alone in each other's eyes.
Sarah blinked, her lips still parted a little.
She nodded, took a slightly deeper breath, then another, nodded again.
"I feel so foolish," she admitted, coloring a bit, and looked around.
"Thank you, gentlemen," she said, and every man's face colored in response ... as every man there puffed out his chest a little, and stood just a bit taller,for what man worthy of the name doesn't wish to come to the aid of a lovely lady in distress?
"I think," Sarah said tentatively, "that I should home now ..."
Her voice trailed off and her hand tightened on Daffyd's.
"Daffyd," she whispered, "take me home."

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Linn Keller 9-1-13

 

That little black pup didn't much like town, but it liked less being left alone, and so it bristled up and trotted after The Bear Killer.
It hid under the back steps and snarled unhappily while The Bear Killer went inside, and the pup stayed there until The Bear Killer came out, licking his chops and looking very satisfied with himself.
I reckon the little fellow smelled biscuits and gravy on his sire and allowed as he'd made a bad choice, as he licked The Bear Killer around the chin as if his sire were less than tidy as he made a meal within.
I stood back and watched, smiling a little as the pup looked at the door The Bear Killer came out of, and then stretched his neck, sniffing the air.
I chuckled a little and reckoned the little fellow would learn about biscuits and gravy soon enough.
I swung back up in the saddle and walked around the corner and down the alley, and saw Jackson Cooper packing some fellow toward the jail.
I wondered what happened this time.
Jackson Cooper turned at my hail, he waited patiently while I dismounted and got the door open for him, we got the fellow settled in a cell and the key turned in the lock before Jackson Cooper told me what he knew.
When he told me 'twas Daffyd Llewellyn pounded this fellow's nose flat, along with other miscellaneous damage, I knew the matter was serious, for Daffyd was a patient and even tempered sort, and not given to fisticuffs, even if provoked.
Turns out Jackson Cooper was hedging his bets.
It wasn't until after this fellow we'd locked up, woke up, that I found out what really happened.
Once I found out, I wasn't terribly happy.
From the stiff and sore way he warn't moving, he warn't none too happy neither.

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Linn Keller 9-3-13

 

The pup looked out from under the back steps of the Silver Jewel.
It was getting dark, it was getting quiet and a little cool, and the pup was getting worried.
He'd never been without the warmth and comfort of his littermates and he missed the maternal scent of his dam, even if he'd weaned already.
His great, midnight sire was gone, trotted off in some mysterious direction, and the pup turned into a furry black ball, unmoving in the shadow, hidden from the common eye.
He tried to sleep, but sleep would not come, and at one point he whimpered a little, then snarled, then whimpered again.
Finally he got up, stretched, looked out from under the steps: he scented the wind, put his nose to the ground and began trailing.

The Sheriff heard a scratching at his door.
Puzzled, he looked up: he rose, taking pistol in hand, and cat footed for the front door.
There it was again, a scratching, three ... three rakes with ... fingernails?
The Sheriff opened the door cautiously, expecting to see a prone figure, injured or ill, and instead saw a fuzzy black and very miniature version of The Bear Killer looking at him rather hopefully.
The Sheriff squatted slowly, speaking softly to the pup, reaching out with the back of his hand: the pup snuffed his hand, then licked the finger he'd bitten earlier that day and looked up at the Sheriff with a querelous little sound.
"Come on, fella," the Sheriff said, rising and stepping back, and the pup followed him in.
The Sheriff closed the door, fastened it: he led the way down the hall toward the kitchen, the pup's claws tik-tik-tikking along behind him: he turned, smiling a little, watching the pup's nose puzzling along the floor.
The Sheriff struck a Lucifer on the kitchen stovetop, lit a lamp.
"Let's see what we can scare up, eh?" he said, and the pup backed away from him a little, at least until the scent of something edible reached out and grabbed his shining black nose.
He took meat and he took meat-sop bread both from the Sheriff's hand, he ate from a plate, his tail swinging happily as he ate: the Sheriff made a sandwich -- there was fresh sourdough, which Esther frowned on as "poor folks bread" but he personally liked, and it was fresh: one sandwich this late was all he wanted, and the pup ate until he too was sated.
The Sheriff slowly, gently reached out and caressed the pup, murmuring to it, getting it used to being touched, handled: he picked the warm furball up, held him in his lap, at least until the pup started to get restless, then the Sheriff set him on the floor and said "Out, let's go out side, out," and opened the back door: he led the way, the pup followed, and the Sheriff went out into the side yard.
His timing was perfect.
The pup was grunting now, anxious, casting about urgently with nose to the ground: of a sudden he stopped and humped up and tended the business that follows every little pup's meal, and an impressive business it was for such a small fellow.
The Sheriff bragged him up and fooled with him and called him a good boy and the pup wiggled with pleasure, black eyes shining and tongue panting in and out.
"I reckon it's bed time for us both," the Sheriff said. "Let's get you situated, hey?"

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Linn Keller 9-3-13

 

There was little mystery in that day as to birthing and babies, at least in rural and Western societies; back East, fact was often veiled in innuendo or in myth, but where people spoke plainly, lessons of everyday were equally plainly stated.
Little Joseph, for instance, had little trouble grasping the concept of a calf at its mother's teat, and his little brother at his mother's breast: the parallel was immediate and understandable, and though the glimpse was once and once only, and totally by accident, he understood its principle, and so asked no questions when Annette modestly fed his little brother, discreetly in a shawl or otherwise concealed.
Angela was somewhat less discreet in her understanding of the world.
She was curious, one fine day, as to why her Mommy's belly was so big, and why did it move when she laid a curious, splay-fingered hand on it, and Esther explained carefully that she carried a little baby inside her, and Angela equated this with Cannonball, who was in like wise, great with foal.
As a matter of fact, the Sheriff, trying to be helpful, made that specific reference.
Angela put her hands on her hips and frowned.
"Dad-dee!" she exclaimed. "Mommy is having a baby, not a foal!"
"Well, I can't argue with that," the Sheriff grinned, nodding.
"Mommy," Angela said, turning to Esther, "how did the baby get in there?"
Esther's eyes widened and she looked uncertainly at her husband, and her husband turned a remarkable shade of red.
"Do you remember," he said slowly, "when the stallion covered Cannonball?"
Angela nodded, then it was her eyes that widened with a realization and she looked accusingly at her Daddy.
"Daddy," she said, shaking her little finger at him, "did you stallion Mommy?"
Esther and Linn looked at one another, utterly nonplussed, until Esther cleared her throat delicately and said, "Dear ... you did make the comparison."

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Linn Keller 9-4-13

 

Esther's gown was carefully chosen, cunningly styled, or perhaps engineered would be the better word: flowing material and careful construction almost disguised the fact that she was in a family way.
She was, after all, three months from term; she was healthy, she was strong, she was ...
She was looking in a mirror, carefully arranging hair and hat, muttering to herself.
"I am tired," she nearly whispered, "of sitting around being delicate."
She turned her head slightly, turned a curl of hair under, smiled thinly.
She'd scheduled an inspection of the roundhouse and she very much looked forward to the outing.
Angela was wearing a little girl's short-skirted dress of matching material and a matching hat -- even her ever-present rag doll had a matching dress -- and Esther noticed that Angela was unusually ... quiet.
In fact it wasn't until Esther drew her carriage to a halt at the depot, and she and Angela climbed the steps into the brightly-painted inspection car with the three stem-crossed roses painted fore and aft, that Angela offered any comment.
"Mommy," she said with a serious expression, "I'm still mad at Daddy."

Jacob was bathing with his usual discretion and delicacy and so was little Joseph.
Jacob hauled a few buckets of hot water outside, diluted them with spring water until they were still just a little too warm -- he knew they'd cool by the time he got to them -- and one at a time, he used them to wet himself and his son, then they lathered well and Jacob hoisted the first bucket overhead, rinsing off the suds, before doing the same for Joseph.
A few judicious applications of the washcloth to areas little boys have trouble getting clean -- the pinky edge of the hand, behind the ears, the back of the neck -- and the job was done, all but shaving, and Jacob had no intent of applying the honed blade to his cheek, for he'd shaved the day before and saw no need to go to excess on the matter.
Towels and moccasins, a little labor in the cooling of evening's air and the two were headed back inside, where clean duds and supper awaited.
The potatoes were lumpy, the meat a little over done, the gravy was thin and had floaters of flour, and the bread was heavy and not well raised, but none at the table complained; Jacob's hand was turned to supper that night, and this meal was actually an improvement over the previous night's effort.
Joseph was rather less indiscreet than his cousin Angela when he observed sotto voce to his Ma, "I like your cookin' better but I ain't tellin' Pa!" and she smiled and brushed the hair out of his eyes by way of agreement.
Even Jacob appreciated the improvement of the atmosphere without the smell of burnt biscuits to spoil the appetite.
All three looked up at the sound of hooves outside; Jacob rose and went to the door, arriving just before the summoning knock, and returned grinning to the kitchen with his own father, who bore a round basket they recognized.
"Pies!" Joseph exclaimed with delight, and after supper, once Jacob and his Pa rolled up their sleeves and scrubbed supper's dishes and the pots and pans clean, little Joseph tugged hopefully at his Grampa's vest tail.
When the Sheriff went to one knee, regarding his grandson with bright and amused eyes, Little Joseph cupped his hands around his grandsire's tanned ear and whispered "Can you bring us supper tomorrow? Pa's not too good at it," and the Sheriff cupped his hand around Joseph's pink ear and whispered, "You bet I can," to which Little Joseph cupped his hands again and replied, "Good!" in a breathy rush.
The Sheriff winked at Joseph and Joseph laughed, and the Sheriff picked up his grandson as Jacob led the way into the parlor.
It was his custom of an evening to read aloud from the Bible, and little Joseph's favorite place was on his Pa's lap when he read anything, even the Sears and Sawbuck Catalog, as he called it, and he wasn't going to miss his favorite seat tonight.
Unless, of course, he ended up on his Grampa's lap instead, which he did.
Annette smiled as the lad's head rested back against Grampa's belly five minutes after Jacob began speaking about a time to plant and a time to reap, and it wasn't until Grampa packed the lad off to bed and got him tucked in, that he came back out and was properly introduced to his newest grandson.
As Linn held the little fellow and marveled at how small and how perfect he was, Jacob wished most powerfully that he was gifted in the painting of portraits, for the delight in his father's face was what he would surely paint for his master's piece.

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Linn Keller 9-6-13

 

Court was the next day, bright and early, and as usual, as many of the townsfolk attended: it was theater, it was entertainment, it was the visible Hand of Justice and Civilization, showing the world that they were not part of a howling wilderness, ruled by the law of might alone, as was often alleged in Eastern newspapers and penny dreadfuls and paperback books.
The Sheriff discreetly opened the carefully repaired door about an inch, so when a black booted foot kicked it open, it didn't shatter lock and door frame again: the Bailiff had just finished his ceremonial "All persons with business to come before this honorable Court, draw near and attend, the Honorable Judge Donald Hostetler presiding! God Save this Honorable Court!" -- BANG! and the door slammed open.
A figure in black stood in the doorway, a figure in a broad-brimmed, low-drawn hat, a long black coat and black cavalry boots, a figure that stood, hands fisted in black-leather gloves, arms stiff at the sides: the figure paced across the threshold and into the silent courtroom, the low, broad boot heels loud and heavy on the spotless boards.
The short, slight built figure carried itself with authority and with a tightly controlled power, the energies of the tiger itself, and none doubted that this dark and mysterious figure could not just explode, but positively detonate, given the right circumstances.
The figure steered a straight course for the right hand side of the Judge's table, between the witness stand and the dignified, spade-bearded jurist: stopping, one black-gloved hand raised, one stiff finger pushed the hat back from a pale face with a red whip-scar blazing across otherwise flawless, procelain cheeks.
"Your Honor," Agent Lynne Rosenthal said hoarsely, "I understand I owe you an apology."
She took one step closer to the desk, took the Judge's wrist in one hand, opened his hand with the other, turned it over, examined it closely, nodded.
She looked at the desk, ran a forefinger over the knife-scar in the shining, waxed wood.
"I understand," she continued, pausing to catch a breath, "that I nearly speared your hand to the desk top."
His Honor looked his Agent fearlessly in the eye. "Yes," he said, his voice hard, "you very nearly did."
"I was in the wrong, Your Honor," Agent Rosenthal said. "My apologies, sir, and I stand ready to bear the penalty of my actions."
His Honor nodded thoughtfully, considering.
"Agent Rosenthal," he said, "I sentence you to be shot for your crime, I sentence you to having to gunfight your way through four assassins and I sentence you to making your way down two flights of stairs and a hard ride to safety. I further sentence you to a collapsed lung, a stay in hospital and several doses of truly terrible tasting medicine.
"If, however, these have been fulfilled, then you are reinstated in the eyes of the law, and are strictly enjoined to continue healing, for in spite of ..."
The Judge's eyes were bright, almost mischevious, as he looked steadily at his black-clad Agent's face -- "in spite of the developments you described, we are convinced of your usefulness to this Court."
"Thank you, Your Honor."
"Please take a seat, Agent Rosenthal."
"Yes, Your Honor."
The Judge looked to the bailiff, who was watching Sarah suspiciously as she made her way with an absolutely silent tread, back across the courtroom, to seat herself beside the Sheriff.
"Are you up for this?" he whispered.
She took several moments to catch her breath. "I have to be," she whispered back.
"Let us have the first case, Bailiff."
"Victor Matston," the Bailiff read, "accused of assault and propositioning."
"Bring forth the accused."
Matston stood, jerking his arm from the Sheriff's grip: the Sheriff was on his left and he didn't notice the diminutive, black-garbed Agent slip behind him: not until a pencil was thrust between his middle and ring fingers of his free hand, his hand cranked painfully back, his fingers crushed together and his arm cranked quickly and viciously up behind his back did he realize anyone was there.
The Agent took a fast step up onto the chair recently vacated by the defendant in order to get as complete a leverage as she wanted -- which elicited a loud and pained "OWWW!" which positively echoed in the courtroom.
The Sheriff stepped in front of Matston, seized him by the throat, squeezed and lifted his head.
"Do you behave yourself," he asked mildly, his voice disarmingly gentle, "or do we tear your throat out and stuff your ripped-free arm down it?"
His Honor's gavel rapped once. "Order in the court," he called.
"Which will it be, Matston? Will you behave?"
Matston nodded and the aching, viselike claw of the Sheriff's grip relaxed a little.
Agent Rosenthal released the man's arm and stepped down, a quick, long-legged move that got her just out of arm's reach.
Nobody missed the fact that her coat was loose and she would have no trouble reaching under it for tools of un-gentle persuasion if need be.
Matston was escorted to the witness stand, where the Sheriff left him to be oathed and seated, before the Sheriff returned to his own seat and eased himself down beside the hatted Agent.
Nobody commented on Agent Rosenthal's continued wearing of her broad brimmed, black cover: men removed their cover when entering a fixture, but women commonly wore a head covering, and so it was not offending to the Court for Agent Rosenthal to continue wearing a hat.
"Be seated."
Matston turned and sat.
The Bailiff read the formal charges, during which Matston shifted restlessly, impatiently: he obviously considered such matters beneath him, and of a petty nature, but having been seriously chastened in his stay here, he was, perhaps, learning the wisdom of not stating his impatience.
"The charges are assault, assault with a deadly weapon, carrying a weapon with intent to harm, firing shots in town and propositioning.
How plead you?"
"To which one?"
His Honor looked at the defendant. "Do you wish to plead to each charge separately?"
"I was attacked!" Matston shouted. "Some guy grabbed me and started to beat me, I thought he was going to kill me! I had to keep myself alive!"
His Honor raised a patient hand. "Let's slow down here," he said mildly. "Could you tell the court, from the beginning, what happened?"
"Where's that shady lady?" Matston replied belligerently. "She started it!"
"Your Honor, if I may?" Agent Rosenthal said, rising.
"Agent Rosenthal?"
"With the Court's permission, I will stand in her stead. I investigated the case, sir, and have the offended party's statement."
"Why is the offended party not here?" His Honor asked, his voice neutral.
"Sir, my sister is taken to her bed with the lung-fever. You may have heard she had the misfortune to have run into the projecting end of a tree branch while out riding."
A murmur rippled through the courtroom; there had been talk, yes, but this was the first corroboration from any official source -- and it injected a serious volume of doubt in the minds of those who'd assumed that Agent Rosenthal and their beloved schoolmarm, Miss Sarah, were the same person.
"Yes, I heard that," the Judge said, nodding. He considered a moment, then nodded again. "I'll allow it."
"Mister Matston," Agent Rosenthal said, pacing across the room, "what were you saying about my sister, the schoolteacher?"
Matston looked around the courtroom, clearly shaken: he knew the schoolmarm in a Western community was generally a chaste and beloved creature, often a maiden lady of some years, and inviolate in the eyes of her people. -- still, he was a fight promoter, and he was himself a fighter, and he knew the value of a good offense.
Matston decided to become offensive.
"I saw a dolled-up broad on the shady side of the street, trolling her wares," he snarled. "What was I supposed to think? I'm a stranger here, I don't know who's what --"
"So you just assumed," Agent Rosenthal interrupted.
"If she was a decent woman, she wouldn't be on the shady side of the street!" Matston shouted.
"Mr. Matston," Agent Rosenthal replied patiently, "my sister Sarah recently survived a broken branch crushing through her high ribs -- here" -- she brought a black-gloved thumb up, indicating her own collarbone area. "It collapsed her lung and she has been quite weak. The day you saw her was the first day she's been out of the house. She was not supposed to be out of bed, but she was restless.
"I don't know how she found strength enough to walk across the street but she did. Her intent was to stop and rest on most of the several benches between the barber shop and the Sheriff's office.
"Of course you changed that when you seized her arm and made your filthy proposition."
"Look, I didn't know, she was on the shady --"
"She didn't have strength enough to climb the steps to the board walk on the other side!" Agent Rosenthal interrupted, the red slash across her face prominent now, her eyes growing pale. "She was doing the best she could on one lung and hard-headedness!"
"One lung?" one of the spectators exclaimed.
Agent Rosenthal whirled, faced the anonymous voice, her coat flaring open a little.
"Yes. One lung. She's lucky to have that, both her lungs collapsed and it was all the good Doctors could to to re-inflate them. One lung collapsed in her sleep and she was trying to re-inflate it herself with that little walk."
The Judge tapped his gavel delicately. "Order," he said, "order. Mr. Matson, you took our schoolteacher's arm and propositioned her. What was her reply?"
"She didn't say nothin'," Matson growled.
"Her reply," Agent Rosenthal contradicted, "was to say, 'Unhand me, sirrah,' to which the defendant tried to twist her arm and stated his intent to teach her some manners." The Agent's eyes were as cold as her voice. "His language was most ... objectionable."
"Mr. Matson, is that correct?"
Matson sighed, shook his head. "I suppose. I don't remember what I said."
"What happened then?"
Matson's head came up. "Then some fella jumped me! I never saw him before and I never did anything to him, he grabbed me and threw me out in the street, I thought he was gonna kill me --"
"Are you referring to the schoolteacher's fiancee?" Agent Rosenthal's voice sliced across Matson's words like an iced blade.
"His fiancee," she continued, walking slowly toward the man. "Her betrothed. The man she will marry. The man who saw a stranger lay unwanted hands on his wife!"
"Is this true, Mr. Matson?" the Judge asked coldly.
"I DIDN'T KNOW!" Matson bellowed.
"I see," Agent Rosenthal said coldly, turning and walking slowly away.
"It would appear," the Judge said thoughtfully, "that you came where you weren't wanted, you committed acts you shouldn't have, and you received what was coming to you. Would you say that is a fair statement, Mr. Matson?"
Matson glared at the Judge, then looked away.
"Yes, Your Honor," he said sourly.
"Do you confess to having fired shots in town?"
"Yeah."
The Judge leaned back in his chair, considered.
"Mr. Matson, what is your business in town?"
"I'm a fight promoter. I was sizing up business."
"And have you enough interest to warrant a prize fight here?"
Matson's mouth twisted wryly. "No," he admitted. "Over Cripple way, maybe, but not here."
"Then, Mr. Matson," the Judge sentenced, "the Sheriff will return you to the place whence you came, invest you with your belongings and see you on the train with a one-way ticket to Cripple. You are fined the cost of your room, board, meals and the train ticket, and I enjoin you from accosting women on the street. It can be a most unprofitable avocation." The gavel descended sharply on the tabletop. "Next case!"

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Linn Keller 9-7-13

 

Sarah slipped out the back door of the municipal building.
Her black Agent's attire was hidden within, in a satchel, locked in a cabinet: it would be retrieved later.
She opened the back door soundlessly, slipped out the rear portal, closed the door behind her and walked slowly down the steps and into the alley.
She stopped and closed her eyes, willing herself to calm.
Her chest hurt abominably, her healing rib was calling her unkind names, and her strength was about gone.
She reached out a hand, intending to find the stone side of the building, and encountered a warm, masculine palm instead.
She opened her eyes just in time to see the front of a firefighting Irishman's shirt coming at her face at a startling velocity.
Sean chuckled at Daffyd's expression: part alarm, part surprise, part delight: he stood in the alley with his dearest love limp in his arms.
"Well don't just stand there, lad," Sean said quietly, "we'll take her in the back door here an' set her down at a table in th' back room, an' she'll wake an' we'll pretend nothin' happened!"
Sean held the door open and Daffyd carried Sarah in the back door of the Jewel, and Sean opened the concealed door beside the back stairway that led into the more private of the two back rooms.
Daffyd carried Sarah to a chair, swung her a little to get her properly oriented, eased her down into the padded seat and carefully worked his arm from under her thighs.
"I'll get the case," Sean whispered, his hand light on Daffyd's shoulder: a moment later the man was gone, and Daffyd was alone with his intended.
Sarah's lips parted and her breathing speeded up a little.
Daffyd placed gentle hands on her cheeks and whispered, "Sarah me dear?"
Sarah opened her eyes, blinked, wet her lips.
Daffyd could not help himself.
He wet his lips in response, then kissed Sarah, once, delicately.
Sarah's eyes closed again and she whispered, "Don't stop."
Daffyd's arms went around her and he kissed her again, still carefully: he felt the ancient hunger within him, he wanted to devour her with his kiss, he wanted to claim and to take her with his mouth, crushing her to him with manly arms, but he held himself in check.
Sarah opened her eyes again and whispered, "Is this what it's like?"
"Is what like?" Daffyd whispered back.
"Waking up with you."
Daffyd eased himself down on both knees: he was looking up at her now, now that he was sure she was awake enough not to fall off the chair: he held her hand with his left, his right was on her shoulder: "No, dearest, it's not," he whispered, shaking his head. "I'll no' ha'e ma wife sleepin' in a chair when there's a perfectly good bed t' be had!"
Sarah laughed quietly, grimaced, raised her free hand to what she would refer to in years to come as her "old war wound."
"I think," she rasped, then cleared her throat and tried again.
"I think, Mr. Llewellyn," she said carefully, for her chest still hurt, "that I am going to enjoy being Mrs. Llewellyn."
"Aye, lass," he nodded, grinning. "I intend that y'should."

Matson needed no encouragement to return to the Sheriff's office.
He was surprised the Judge did not strip him of every last centavo and set him adrift, afoot, a stranger in a strange land: the fine was more than fair, he knew, and he was damned lucky he didn't spend a stretch longer in their Crossbar Hotel.
That his nose was healing was inconsequential; he'd had worse, in his brief time in the prizefighting ring, and the nose was actually going to heal better than before it'd been re-broken, thanks to that cold-handed doctor that came in and told him to hold still before working his magic on the broken beak.
The Sheriff accompanied him to the depot, saw to the ticket; the conductor was calling for boarding and the Sheriff shook the fight promoter's hand.
"You should have good profit in Cripple," the Sheriff said. "The gold in a mining town is what someone else brings in. Picks, shovels, eggs, entertainment -- that's the real gold, Mr. Matson, and they'll pay you plenty for what you can sell them."
Matson nodded his thanks, regarding the Sheriff with an odd look, for though he was no stranger to lawmen, he wasn't used to being treated decently ... especially after he found out the woman he'd handled was the Sheriff's daughter.

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Linn Keller 9-8-13

 

Sarah settled herself gracefully at the breakfast table.
The twins, as usual, moved in unison -- Sarah suspected they planned it ahead of time -- each reached for a glass, or a fork, with the same hand, and at the same moment; each wore an identical dress to the other, the ribbon in their hair was the same, though Opal's hair was straight, jet black and gleaming, while Polly's was a dark honey and curly: Opal's complexion spoke of her Oriental ancestry, complete to the epicanthic fold at the corners of her eyes, a feature of which Polly was mildly jealous, and Polly's skin was not only fair, it was Celtic fair, and Sarah smiled to see Polly's belly was blue-veined with the fine, tracery map of those the Spanish called "Blue Bloods," for only those with skin so fair as to show that network of veining, were considered fit material for the nobility.
Sarah was certain Polly would never be a ruling Lady of a great Spanish house, but she was satisfied she was her mother's daughter, and would achieve great things ... peacefully, or otherwise.
Bonnie's misgivings were evident as she looked at her daughter across a platter of eggs and toast. She held her tongue, though, waiting until Sarah began to eat -- Bonnie wanted to make sure she did eat something, for she was still healing from grievous injury, and good nutrition and good rest were essential for healing -- Bonnie's expression was quietly concerned as she said gently, "Sarah, dear, are you sure you're ready for church?"
Sarah smiled up at her mother, swallowed: "Yes, Mother," she said quietly.
Bonnie was neither a physician, a nurse, nor medically trained, but she had a mother's eye and she was no stranger to injury: she considered her daughter's general appearance, then nodded, and began her delicate foray into the morning's fried eggs.
The twins raised their glasses, sipped in unison, placed their glasses on the table.
Sarah shot them a warning look, and the twins pressed their lips quickly together, stifling the belch they'd planned: they both looked at Sarah with surprise, a how-did-she-know expression, then Sarah winked and the twins giggled, and Bonnie looked up, realizing she'd just missed something.

The Sheriff knotted his necktie, not thinking of anything in particular, at least until he heard Angela's stiff rustle beside him.
His eyes tightened a little at the corners, his smile peeking through his impassive expression: she'd come in absolutely silent, and he was satisfied she'd intentionally rustled her petticoats so he would know she was there.
"Have you eaten, Princess?" he asked, reaching for his coat on the nearby hook: it flared a little as he put it on, shrugging his shoulders a little to settle it in place.
Angela shook her head, her curls swinging.
The Sheriff frowned, squatted: he crooked his finger at her and at her approach, put gentle backs of his fingers against her belly, tilted her head as if listening.
"Mmm," he said, pursing his lips and nodding.
Angela suppressed a giggle.
"I hear your belly," Linn said, raising one eyebrow and looking at his little girl with mock seriousness.
Angela raised both eyebrows and batted her eyes at him.
"I'ts saying 'Rowrowrowr,'" Linn said with a straight face, "and that's belly talk for we need to feed you!"
Angela nodded solemnly, but her eyes were bright with understanding.
She was her Daddy's girl.

"Pa?"
"Yes, Joseph?"
"Pa, what if bad men rob the bank today?"
"We'll stop 'em."
The wind was gentle and in their faces, a little cool, for fall was headed their way: trees were just beginning to color up, and Joseph heard elks bugle for the past couple days, and knew this meant his Pa would be taking to the field with rifle in hand.
"Pa?"
"Yes, Joseph?"
"Pa, what if the bad men come into church first?"
"Then we'll read to 'em from the Book."
Joseph frowned and considered this.
"Ma?"
Joseph looked up at Annette, who was cradling the wrapped bundle of second-born.
"Yes, Joseph?"
"Ma, was I ever one of those?" Joseph thrust a stiff forefinger at his little brother.
"Yes, Joseph," she laughed. "Yes, you were."
Joseph wrinkled his nose. "Oh."
The gelding paced easily down the little grade, Jacob easing on the brake to help the horse hold the load.
"Pa?"
"Yes, Joseph?"
"Pa, you mind that picture book you showed me last night?"
"The one with the Pilgrims?"
"Yes, sir."
"I mind."
"Pa, they stacked their rifles outside before they went in church."
Jacob considered this.
"Pa, why'd they do that?"
Jacob smiled a little.
"Joseph, the fellow who drew that picture didn't know what he was drawing."
Joseph looked curiously up at his Pa.
"The Pilgrims didn't carry those brass barrel, bell mouth flint locks they showed in that picture."
"No, sir."
"They carried match locks."
Joseph knew match locks; his Pa was well schooled in weaponscraft and knowledge naturally passes from father to son, especially when the son is perpetually underfoot and listening.
"If they'd taken those match locks into the church, they would have the slow match smoldering and smoking up the place, plus they'd have to put a gun rack across the whole back of the church, for every last man there was in church -- everybody went, every day, nobody stayed home -- they were kind of crowded up so they left the long guns outside."
Joseph considered this.
"Pa?"
"Yes, Joseph?"
"Pa, we have a gunrack inside our church."
"Yes we do, Joseph."
Jacob eased off the brake and the gelding leaned into an easy trot, for they were on the flat now, and would soon cross the rail road tracks and on out to the main road.
"I'm glad we don't have matchlocks," Joseph said after a bit, then looked up at his Pa. "They stink."
Jacob nodded solemnly.
"I'm glad the church gunrack is inside, Pa."
"As am I, Joseph."
"Your rifle won't get dusty nor rained on inside."
Jacob nodded.
"Yep."

Jesse knotted her one-armed husband's necktie with ease.
"How," he murmured as she drew it up, wiggled it a little to settle it into place and tugged at his collar, then nodded, "how do you make that look so easy?"
Jesse smiled, caressed her husband's cheek.
"Practice," she laughed. "My late husband could not knot his necktie if he had to." Her fingers trailed down his shoulder, slipped under his suspenders on either side, ran over and back to make sure any twist was out of them; she stepped behind him, looked with her fingers at the shirt to make sure it wasn't wrinkled under the galluses, then reached to her right and picked up his vest.
"You," she said, "are a fine looking man, sir."
He slipped his arm through the hole, raised his chin as she buttoned him up.
"And you, my dear," he said softly, "are the most beautiful woman in the world."

Sarah sat on the parlor chair and tended the last minute adjustments that were always necessary when getting her little sisters presentable.
She sat very straight, grateful that they were taller now, for if she bent over it was harder to breathe, and she was very conscious of her breathing.
Her lung collapsed again in the night and she'd been obliged to throw her arms wide and then overhead and take several deep breaths to get it re-inflated.
Doctor Greenlees said this might happen, and it had, and it worried her; she'd heard of an Army sergeant, shot with a .45 in a barfight, whose lung would collapse nightly and he'd step out of his tent and take several deep breaths to get it re-inflated.
Sarah had no wish to imitate the old Sergeant's example.
"Sawwah?" Polly asked, her eyes big and liquid and lovely, and Sarah blinked and looked into her little sister's deep and lovely eyes.
"Sawwah, I was afwaid you would die."
Opal nodded solemnly, her black eyes big and shining.
"It wasn't my time," Sarah whispered, leaning her head against her sister's forehead as if sharing a secret: she reached for Opal, drew her close.
"'For all things there is a season, a time and a purpose for everything under the heavens,'" she quoted. "It wasn't my time. When my works is done, then I will be allowed to go to my Heavenly Home." She smiled, kissed her sisters on the cheek, one, then the other. "Until then, we're here, and it's time to go to church."
The twins scampered for the front door.
Sarah stood, breathing carefully, then raised her chin, stepped to the mirror, settled her hat on her head and nodded to the lovely young woman in the oval gilt frame.

"Mr. Llewellyn."
Daffyd Llewellyn drew himself up tall, raised his chin: Sarah's hand was on his arm and he stood proudly beside her. "Mrs. Rosenthal."
"Mr. Llewellyn, you are a gentleman, and I am most pleased that you will be coming a member of our family."
"As am I meself, ma'am." He gave a proper half-bow.
Sarah's hand was a little heavier on his arm than usual, and she was beginning to lean on him a little.
"Mother," Sarah said, "I think I should go within."
"With your permission, ma'am," Daffyd Llewellyn said gallantly to Bonnie and Levi, which translated to "Please excuse us, we're leaving," and they paced slowly, with a deliberate dignity, up the scrubbed-clean steps and through the parting humanity and into the sanctuary's echoing emptiness.
They weren't the first ones seated, but they were of the less than a half dozen who'd done so: Sunday church was a social event and it was common to come well early, to shake hands and talk, to catch up on the distant neighbors' well-being and events, and socialize in a country where people were spread out and the land but lightly populated.
Sarah leaned her head back a little, breathing through her mouth, eyes closed.
"Sarah?" Daffyd whispered.
Sarah patted his arm with her free hand and nodded. "It's all right," she whispered back. "I'm fine."
Daffyd regarded her with a worried look.
"If I'm to be your husband," he replied, "ye must no' lie to me."
Sarah looked at him and smiled. "But my dear," she blinked, "isn't that what I'm supposed to do? I am a woman, you know."
Daffyd sighed. "Ye are a woman, t' be sure, and glad I am for it, but I want ye around for the rest of me life, don't ye know." He looked at her with mock seriousness. "Wha' was i' th' Sheriff said? If ye die I'll ne'er speak to ye again?"
Sarah caressed Daffyd's cheek with gloved fingers, her own eyes suddenly as serious as his own.
"I'll not die on you, Daffyd," she whispered fiercely. "I'll not die on you!"
"Promise?"
Sarah looked at Daffyd's ancestress's diamond, which she wore as an engagement ring, and she looked back on all she'd seen and all she'd done, and she looked up at her betrothed.
"Yes," she nodded. "I promise."

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Linn Keller 9-9-13

 

In an era where a smile was regarded a sign of weakness and displays of affection between man and wife were frowned on in public, several couples held hands in church; convention of back East was tried in the fires of a harder life in the West, the unnecessary and frivolous generally got skimmed off as dross and discarded: several couples held hands in church, generally from affection, occasionally from possessiveness, and in Sarah and Daffyd's case, because -- a little -- from fear.
Sarah stood, and sat, and stood again, at the appropriate times; she breathed through her nose, she paid attention to the announcements, the message, the requests; she joined in the collective prayer, she sang less powerfully than was her wont, and after the plate was passed, normally she sang the Doxology.
Sarah received the Parson's nod, and stood, gathering herself.
She lifted her chin and began to sing and almost right away felt a tingling in her fingers, a weakness in her legs: her pure A faltered and she clutched the front of the pew in front of her as her head became suddenly too hard to hold up.
Another voice came in, pitched perfectly with hers, catching the note, saving the word, continuting Old Hundred so precisely it was as if Sarah had but stumbled in one note: Sarah blinked, lifted her head, willed the haze from her vision.
Daciana stood beside her piano -- beside it, not in front of it -- on the side away from the congregation, mostly hidden from them by the spray of flowers and a stack of hymnals carelessly piled atop the upright -- Daciana stood with her hands clasped against her high stomach, the way she did when she sang, and Sarah nodded, closing her mouth against the air hunger she felt, settling slowly back into her seat as the final note faded.
Daciana remained behind her piano for a moment, then reappeared, straightening as if she'd picked up something; her deception complete, she settled back onto her piano bench, hands folded in her lap, waiting patiently because she knew she would have to rise for the prayer to follow.
Daffyd held Sarah's suddenly cooler hand; he looked at her nails, assessed their color, wished powerfully for better light, for he could not tell if her nails were merely shadowed, or less pink than they should be: he looked over at her and saw her mouth was open a little, and her breathing was quicker than it should be.
She felt his gaze and looked over at him.
"Don't let me fall over," she whispered through stiff lips, and he nodded and squeezed her hand both to show that he'd heard, and understood.
Sarah and Daffyd remained seated while the church emptied, and the Parson was still at the door when the two of them finally came down the aisle, the very last ones to leave.
Daciana was waiting with Lightning at the foot of the steps.
Sarah was walking slowly, leaning more heavily on Daffyd's arm than she wanted, but not able to manage without: he stopped and she gathered herself and took a breath, and felt a hand on her free arm.
She looked up at Parson Belden's concerned eyes.
"I'm sorry, Parson," she whispered hoarsely. "I ... gave out."
The Parson looked at her, his expression stern over non-existent glasses.
"You gave all you had," he said quietly. "You nearly passed out on us but you did not quit. You went just as far as you could. You gave us your widow's mite."
It wasn't until Sarah was seated for Sunday dinner that the Parson's kind words came back to her and she understood what he'd said, and she had to excuse herself, for she did not want womanly tears to spoil dinner with Daciana and Lightning and her intended.
Daciana gave Lightning a look and slipped out behind Sarah, taking her by the shoulders and pinning her against the wall, out of sight of the men.
Daciana assessed Sarah with quick and knowing eyes, snatching up her hand and looking closely at her nails, then dropping the cool hand, tugging at the side of Sarah's lips, pulling down the lower eyelid.
Finally she placed a hand under Sarah's arm, flat against her ribs.
"Inbreathen," she said quietly, and Sarah did, and flinched.
"Out now ... undt in, deeply, fast."
Sarah exhaled through pursed lips, then opened her mouth, took a fast, gasping breath, deep, deep, held it with her diaphragm, her throat still open.
"Undt oudt, slow."
Daciana nodded.
"Vunce more, inbreathen, deeper." The terminal "r" flipped off her tongue like an acrobat off a springboard.
Sarah threw her head back, mouth open, took in a great breath.
"Undt breathe normal now."
Daciana put two fingers against Sarah's ribs, thumped them with two fingers of the other hand. "Puttenzie hand on der vall, zo."
Daciana tapped Sarah's ribs in several places, head tilted, listening.
"Hokay. Der lunk ist invlated now. You zdill zink goot." Daciana's bright eyes burned into Sarah's as she took her dear friend by the shoulders.
"Schoolteachen you can do, ja?"
Sarah blinked, considered, then nodded.
"Ja," she replied.
"I vorry aboudt you, Zarah. You only Zarah I got!"
"There will be more," Sarah whispered, her head clearing as oxygen roared into her bloodstream.
"Not in zis lifetime," Daciana grunted.
Sarah took another long breath, nodded. "That's better," she whispered.
"How you zink mit one lunk I dunno," Daciana muttered, shaking her head. "You hardt headedt contrary, like der Sheriff. Knew better I did not, I zay you vere --"
Daciana peered at Sarah, as if suddenly realizing something that's been in front of her all along.
"You ... hiss daughter," she said, stating a fact, not asking a question.
Sarah nodded.
"Mein Gott," Daciana whispered. "Zat vhy he look at you like he does! I thought him old letch! I ready to keel heem!"
Sarah laughed a little. "Please don't," she wheezed.
"Komm. Dinner ve must eat. You need goot red meat. Komm."
The two women returned to Sunday dinner with their men, in the little private room in the back of the Jewel.

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Linn Keller 9-10-13

 

"Sarah needs some good red meat," Angela declared with an emphatic nod.
The Sheriff looked down at her, amused.
Angela was getting big, she was learning the womanly skills of sewing and cooking, and apparently she'd already learned the feminine art of speaking her mind when she felt there was something important to be said.
The Sheriff looked at his green-eyed bride and saw something in her eyes, and he knew Angela was probably echoing something Esther mentioned.
He looked back over the gelding's ears and nodded.
"Angela," he said, "I have profited at times from listening to those who were younger, smarter and better looking than me." He looked down at her and she saw his light-blue eyes twinkle, that Daddy-twinkle that told her she was still Daddy's girl. "What do you reckon we ought to do about it?"
"Feed her?" Angela suggested hopefully.
"I reckon she feeds regularly," the Sheriff murmured.
"Dad-dee!" Angela protested, thrusting her knuckles into her hips and her elbows out: "Sarah isn't an old mare with a feed bag!"
The mental image of Sarah in a fine McKenna gown, with a dusty feed bag on her face, was enough to bring laughter to the man's heart, and it bubbled freely out his lips, and even Esther smiled a little.
"Mrs. Keller?" the Sheriff said gently.
"Yes, Mr. Keller?"
"Mrs. Keller, do you reckon we could host Sarah one of these nights?"
"Yes, Mr. Keller, I believe we could."
The Sheriff nodded and Angela bounced a little on her seat, clapping her hands and giving a quiet, little-girl "Yaaay!"

Angela's tongue stuck out the side of her mouth as she concentrated.
She very carefully drew her letters, strung them together into words: her Daddy's presence was warm and reassuring, and even though she knew she was a Big Girl Now, it still felt good to sit on Daddy's lap when she wrote the invitation, using Daddy's pen and Daddy's ink and Daddy's paper, writing on Daddy's desk.
"That's right, dear heart," the Sheriff nodded. "We'll blot this dry now --"
"Let me, Daddy!"
Angela very carefully settled the blotting-paper on wet ink, then ran the glazed-ceramic rocker over it, waited a moment, then snapped the blotting paper free.
"There!" she announced triumphantly.
"Well done," the Sheriff murmured, hugging his darlin' daughter, and Angela giggled, putting her hands on his, wrapped around and overlapped on her belly.
The Sheriff bent and kissed the top of her head.
"Now let's fold it and seal it."
"Can I press the seal, Daddy?"
"Of course, darlin'."

Sarah received the envelope and smiled a little.
The handwriting was familiar: her father's, she knew, and she read it again, slowly, savoring the precise, flowing penmanship:
Miss Sarah McKenna
The favour of a reply is requested

Sarah smiled, broke the seal, withdrew the folded, sealed quarter-sheet within.
Bonnie watched as Sarah read it, then re-read it, smiling.
She looked up at her Mama.
"I have been invited to supper tonight," she said, her eyes shining.
"Mr. Llewellyn?" Bonnie asked, walking over to her daughter, tilting her head a little to look at the invitation.
Sarah showed her the front of the envelope, with its careful, artistic hand, then opened the creased sheet to display letters that wobbled, leaned and threatened to clatter into one another:
Sarah, it read,
Mama said you need some good read meat.
Come have supper with us.
Angela

Bonnie laughed quietly, rested her hands on Sarah's shoulders.
"I think it would be a fine idea, dear," she whispered.

Little Joseph held the hide as his Pa worked it free.
Jacob liked to use his knife as little as possible; holes in the hide were not a good idea if a man needed the entire piece, and he had plans for this particular cowhide.
It was cool enough to slaughter this barren beef and he and Joseph systematically disassembled the creature into its component parts.
They, too, were going to have good red meat for supper, and Little Joseph grinned as his Pa coached him on how to slice free the back strap.
Little Joseph liked back strap, just like his Grampa.

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Linn Keller 9-10-13

 

Sarah wet her lips uncertainly and looked at the well dressed young man waiting at her front door.
"Daffyd," she said hesitantly, "might I beg a favor of you?"
"Indeed ye may, m'dear," he said without hesitating: he looked past Sarah, to Bonnie, and nodded. "Wi' your permission, ma'am?"
"Mr. Llewellyn," Bonnie smiled. "Do come in. We have ..."
Bonnie looked at Sarah and nodded for her to continue.
Sarah looked from her Mama to her betrothed.
"Might I ... that is, I received ... oh, this is awkward," she said, blinking rapidly, raising her hands and pressing them to her cheeks: she breathed quickly, leaned back against the wall.
Daffyd's hands were firm and warm on her upper arms; she blinked rapidly and tried to smile.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I don't know what's come over me."
Bonnie thought I think I know, but offered no word of comment.
"Daffyd ... I am invited to the Sheriff's for supper ... it wouldn't ... I need ..."
She looked at Daffyd, her expression hopeful.
"What wouldn't be proper?" a familar voice declared from outside, and the Sheriff stepped to the door, grinning.
"I don't know, sir," Daffyd admitted.
Sarah swallowed, raised her chin; Daffyd released her arms, offered his own.
Saran very properly placed a hand on his sleeve and turned to her Papa.
"I thank you for your kind invitation," she said in a very cultured voice.
"I was about to ask Mr. Llewellyn for his assistance in traveling to your gracious board."
"And you were afraid it would be improper for him to show up for supper," the Sheriff grinned. "Bonnie, do I recall hearing you state your approval of this young man?"
It was Bonnie's turn to raise her chin and speak in a most cultured voice.
"Yes, Sheriff," she replied. "You did."
"And I myself approve of this young man."
The Sheriff looked at Sarah, then at Daffyd, and his smile spread over his face like sunrise over a morning horizon.
"Sarah, I reckon you'll be keeping company with this fine young man for years to come. I welcome him under my roof, anytime, as I do you already."
Sarah opened her mouth to speak, then closed it and nodded.
"Mama," she said, "might I borrow --"
Bonnie draped the shawl over Sarah's shoulders.
"How did you know?" Sarah asked softly.
"I'm a mother," Bonnie replied. "Mothers know."
Sarah looked at the Sheriff.
"How did you get here so quitely?" she asked. "I heard nothing."
"I'm a lawman," the Sheriff replied, his eyes merry: "we do things like that."

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Linn Keller 9-11-13

 

Lightning looked closely at the glass spout of his barometer.
"Glass ist down, I tink," Daciana smiled as she kneaded a big pile of bread dough. She'd sprinkled flour on the gleaming, glass-smooth tabletop and used it for her working surface: Lightning loved watching her turn flour and water and yeast and what-all went into the dough, and with dextrous hands and sprinkles of flour and probably some Woman's Magic, she formed first bread dough -- smooth and round, flour-dusted and rising under clean white towels -- and then golden, fragrant, steaming, butter-gleaming loaves.
A house smells so much better when fresh bread is baking.
Fred Jerome, he knew, was married: he lived a bit further from town, in a particularly quiet area, and his wife had no problem arranging her schedule to coincide with his -- no mean accomplishment, that, for Fred worked the night turn.
In bad weather or in time of need, Lightning or Fred either one might sleep in the office with their telegraph, ready to receive, send or relay messages as necessary; they generally stayed over in winter, and twice when a disaster required their close attention, they both stayed in the depot, taking two hour shifts on the key, their wives bringing their meals and a change of clothes as necessary.
Lightning smiled in part because he knew the woman Fred married, and she was nowhere near as good a cook as Daciana.

Jacob rolled a head of wheat between his palms, frowned a little, tasted a couple of the grains, offered his palm to Joseph.
Joseph plucked a few grains and tried them, frowning thoughtfully as he did.
"Not quite ripe," Jacob murmured. "Another two days, I would judge."
"Yes, sir," Joseph nodded. "I would judge."
Jacob laughed and looked down at his son.
"Your judgment," he grinned, "is sound."
"Yes, sir," Joseph grinned back, puffing out his chest a little and strutting in place.
They walked to the edge of the field, looked at the hayfield adjacent.
"Joseph," Jacob said, "you look like a man with a question."
"Yes, sir," Joseph nodded, sorting through the weeds available and finally pulling one: he pulled slowly, drew the pale stem from the sheath, chewed thoughtfully on the weed stem.
Joseph remembered doing something similar, the first summer he lived with his Pa, and nodded to himself.
"Pa, I dunno how to treat the baby."
"How's that?"
"Pa ... I dunno what to say to him."
"Hm." Jacob pulled a weed, for there were times when chewing on a weed stem with your son was the right thing to do, and this was sizing up to be one of those times.
"I reckon you'd ought to treat him like an old friend."
"Yes, sir."
Jacob told himself it was his own fault, later, when the pair returned to the fine stone house and Joseph walked up to the crib and looked at his little brother.
He looked at his Ma and he looked at his Pa and he looked at his little brother and said, "Hey, fella, you want a beer?"

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Linn Keller 9-13-13

 

"Daffyd, have you suffered the Curse of the Long Winded Blessing?" the Sheriff asked as the maid began bringing out steaming platters of meat, great bowls of fluffy whipped potatoes, fragrant rolls that reminded Daffyd it had been at least an hour since he'd eaten.
"Aye, that I have, Sheriff," Daffyd replied, closing his eyes momentarily to savor the good rich meat smells that drifted straight toward him.
"I try not to spread such curses, especially when I'm hungry." The Sheriff's grin was genuine, then they bowed their heads, and the maid backed up one step and bowed hers as well.
The man's words were sincere, heartfelt, and mercifully brief: after the "Amen" spoken in unison, the Sheriff looked up, his eyes merry, and quipped, "Right about now we need someone to blow a battered bugle to signal the attack!"
Daffyd chuckled; that is about right, he thought, remembering the vigor with which the Brigade generally assaulted their meals.
"Daddy?" Angela asked as the Sheriff speared a slab of back strap and deposited it on Esther's plate.
"Yes, Princess?"
The Sheriff reached out a hand and received Sarah's plate: another good slice went on her porcelain, followed by a great gob of mashed taters, pressed down with a quick, twisting thrust of the ladle's bottom, to make a gravy well.
"You said Sawwah needed some good red meat."
The Sheriff poured Sarah's miniature mountain crater full of fragrant, steaming-hot gravy and handed it to her.
"Yes, Princess, I did. Esther, your plate, my dear?"
Esther handed her plate over and the Sheriff proceeded to load it as well.
"Daddeee ... Sawwah's meat is bwown, not rrred."
"I can see you are practicing your R's," Sarah said in a proper schoolteacher's voice. "You are improving, Angela."
Angela beamed and wiggled like a petted puppy.
"Daddy?"
The Sheriff handed Esther's plate back, accepted Angela's: he speared an Angela-sized chunk of meat, pretended to examine it closely, nodded as he put it on her plate: "By golly now, Angela, you are right. It is brown."
"Then why is it called rrred meat?"
Sarah noticed Angela picked up her fork left handed.
I never knew she was left handed, Sarah thought. This may be a problem when she learns writing. -- then Sarah remembered Angela already had some skill at writing, and the note Angela wrote her was without the telltale smears of a learning lefty with wet ink.
"Now there's a question," the Sheriff said, and Sarah's ear twitched to hear it: she knew the man was going to pull his little girl's leg, and she was right.
"If you really want red meat, Angela, I suppose you could paint it."
"Dad-dee!" Angela exclaimed, dropping her fork onto her plate and planting her little pink knuckles on her hips.
Sarah noticed the frown on Angela's flawless forehead.
The Sheriff put down knife and serving fork and turned a little, then he frowned and put his scarred, browned knuckles on his own hips.
Angela ran her bottom jaw out.
The Sheriff did likewise.
Angela's bottom lip began to pooch out.
The Sheriff ran his out to a ridiculous degree.
Angela raised a fist and shook it at her Daddy.
The Sheriff raised a fist and shook it at Angela.
"Children," Esther said patiently.
"Aaawww, Maaawww," the Sheriff and Angela said together as they returned to respectability, and Sarah ducked her head to try and hide her smile.
Angela looked sidelong at her Daddy and the Sheriff looked sidelong at his daughter.
"You watch it, fella," Angela said quietly.
Sarah swallowed quickly, hoping not to spray food across the table as a laugh seized her diaphragm.
"Why should I watch it, fella?" the Sheriff countered, mischief in his expression and delight on his face, and Angela replied, "'Cause I'm wuff and tuff an' hawd to bwuff!"
"I think Angela has been listening to Joesph," Sarah observed, blotting her lips with a linen napkin, more to hide her expression than to remove any clinging stain.
Esther sighed patiently and turned a little, looking at Sarah.
"As you can see," she said in a voice that spoke of a long-suffering spirit, "I live in a household full of children."
The meal continued; Daffyd watched and listened, and the Sheriff marked this favorably in the mental account-book he kept, for he knew the value of silence and circumspection, and Daffyd exhibited both.
"When I was come of age," he said quietly, with an almost hidden smile, "my father admonished me the Scripture that says when I was a child, I spake as a child, I thought as a child, I acted as a child, but when I became a man, I put these childish things from me." He dipped a slice of meat into his gravy, chewed thoughtfully, continued.
"I was first born and a firstborn is raised first and foremost to obey.
"The Grand Old Man had a contempt for all things military but he had a military mindset. In his mind, his order was just that -- it was to be obeyed immediately if not sooner and without question.
"When he quoted me that Scripture ... well, I obeyed, immediately and without question.
"I thrust childhood and its taint from me and suddenly life was nowhere near as much fun.
"I took it back up and never set it down again." He grinned. "Matter of fact Esther came out the back door and wondered what we were doing belly down in the grass."
Angela had a mouthful of food but this did not prevent her from looking up and nodding.
"Esther inquired if all was well, and came over to us.
"We were watching ants."
Angela swallowed, took a sip, set her glass down and added, "Daddy was teaching me about the Ant and the Grasshopper."
"He was?" Sarah prompted. "And what was its lesson?"
"The ants invited the grasshopper over to their house so they could cook him and eat him," Angela said solemnly, nodding once as if reciting a known fact.
Sarah shot an amused glance at her Papa, who was trying hard to look innocent.
"Really?" she managed to ask, and Angela nodded and said "They had a cook fire going and everything."
The maid glided in with slices of pie on fresh plates and Sarah groaned, "Oh, I can't ... " until she smelled the dessert, then she willingly surrendered her empty plate and corrected, "Oh, yes I can!"

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Linn Keller 9-14-13

 

Brandy splashed and curled in delicate glass, fragrant with its distilled memory of sun and wine from whence it came.
Sarah waited until all had their glass and the Sheriff hoisted his and grinned, "Family!"
They drank.
"Grab a set," the Sheriff said, "and I will try not to fall asleep." He looked at the freshly shaken and stoked stove "I'm like an old b'ar. When I get my belly full and I get warm and relaxed, I fall asleep."
Sarah sipped again at the brandy, tilting her head back and savoring the fumes that flowed like a chemical rainbow over her soft palate.
"Sarah, how's your chest?" the Sheriff asked, and Sarah opened her eyes, surprised.
"My, ah --" she raised her free hand, lay delicate fingers on her collar bone.
The Sheriff looked squarely at her.
"You have a lovely chest, my dear. I have to realize that you are a woman grown. It distresses me greatly to think of you as you were when I packed you into the horse pistol with blood on your lips and sounding like you were ready to breathe your last."
Sarah dropped her eyes and nodded. "It is not what I planned, Papa. Of that I assure you."
The Sheriff set his glass aside, rose, strode across the room: Sarah rose to meet him, and the Sheriff wrapped his arms carefully around Sarah, holding her the way a Papa holds his little girl when his heart is more full than his words can express.
"I feel safe," Sarah whispered.
"You should feel safe," the Sheriff whispered back.
He released his little girl, stepped back, returned to his seat.
"There is something on your mind," he said, a statement of fact and not a tacit question.
"Yes, Papa."
Sarah did not sit.
She swirled her brandy, considering its brownish amber depths, took a small sip, handed her glass to Daffyd.
She put her fingertips together, raised them to her lips, considering, then began.

"Charon!"
The blind boatman smiled a little.
It had been long and long again since he'd heard the voice.
Black water flowed, silent, oily, under his boat; mummified hands turned the steering-oar slightly and the boat steered in toward the near shore.
A figure stood on the red-limned shore, a figure alike, yet very unlike, the one he'd known.
Charon did not need eyes to know what she looked like.
Sarah stood beside the Styx, wearing the crisp white blouse and light blue skirt he remembered, and the white boater hat, but they were clean, and not torn, and she was tall, so tall ... and a woman now, not a hurt little girl ...
The mummified face with its eyelids sewn shut rose a little; skeletal hands, dried flesh like dessicated gloves drawn over dried bones, raised and drew the dusty hood back, revealing a mummy's skull.
"Have you come to pay the boatman?" Charon asked, his voice rich, full, belying the dessicated state of his leathery throat.
Sarah waited until the boat was drawn hard against the shoreline before stepping up on the rock from whence many had boarded, and none returned.
She extended a hand.
Charon extended his own, his dried palm upturned and his fingers opening to accept the offering.
Sarah placed a coin in his palm.
"It is not your time," Charon said, leathery lips barely moving.
"No, it is not," Sarah agreed. "But when I arrive I may not have my purse with me."
Charon felt the laughter bubbling within her, like a spring bubbling cold and pure from a mountain ledge, and for a moment he remembered the joy of being alive.
"Charon, you comforted me when I was a frightened child," Sarah continued.
"Yesssss." The sound was that of belly-scales on desert rock.
"Charon, I went back to the land of the living and I forgot what I knew here."
Charon was silent, still; his boat might as well have been carved of obsidian, growing from a subsurface stratum: he himself stood frozen, listening.
"I forgot how unimportant the world and all things in it really are."
The blind boatman never moved.
"I grew to believe that life is all there was, and when I nearly lost mine, I nearly lost myself."
"Ahhh." Dried teeth parted slightly; Sarah imagined she saw a little dust as Charon sighed out his breath.
"Charon, I had to come back here to remind myself that life is but part of our existence."
Charon's head inclined slightly.
"I have to go back now." Sarah's hands closed, warm and alive, so alive, around his bony claw, and he felt life again, he felt sunshine and wind on his face, he felt what it was to be a strong young man laughing in the mountains, he smelled the mountain flowers and tasted the wind and knelt at a stream and drank the cool water --
Charon stood, silent, unmoving, for perhaps an hour after Sarah stepped back and faded, faded and was gone, stood in his Deathboat, remembering what it was to be alive, remembering the feeling of joyful life wrapped around his hands, before he turned slightly, and grasped the steering oar, and guided his midnight shell back into the silent, smooth current.
The coin disappeared into a fold in his robe.


"Papa, do you remember your favorite Ecclesiastes?" Sarah asked.
The Sheriff nodded.
"You're right," she said. "All that happens is part of a plan."
Sarah looked at Daffyd and he saw something in her eyes, a knowing -- his Grandam was a Wise Woman and she'd had that same knowing, and he shivered -- and Sarah looked at Esther.
Esther's eyes were closed and her hands were on her belly, and a little smile on her face.
"Papa, do you remember St. Paul, and the thorn in his flesh?"
The Sheriff nodded, looked at Daffyd; he too was familiar with the scriptural reference.
"I don't believe the Almighty causes us misfortune," Sarah said slowly, arranging her thoughts, as if putting words to something she'd known for some time without really realizing it: "but I don't think He hesitates at all to use them for teaching purposes."
"That would be," the Sheriff said slowly, "reasonable."
"I have a thorn in the flesh," Sarah said. "I am reminded most powerfully of my mortality and how fragile is this shell I occupy."
The Sheriff's eyes were on her and it was evident he was listening very closely to what she was saying.
"That lesson is on many levels and I could expound at length on its significance," Sarah continued, frowning a little, her hands moving steadily as she spoke -- she is her father's daughter, Esther thought, for her husband could not talk without his hands either -- and Sarah paused, biting her bottom lip.
"I am a child," she blurted abruptly, "I want ..."
She laughed. "I want patience and I want it an hour ago!"
The Sheriff raised one eyebrow, reached for his brandy.
"You're not supposed to imitate my bad examples," he said gently.
Daffyd nodded agreement, smiling a little, for the statement struck a familiar chord in himself as well.
"I want this lung to heal so I can be myself again," Sarah said, then stopped and blinked as a realization hit her.
"Am I taught the value of patience here, or taught to slow down, or ...?"
"It could be," the Sheriff said gently.
Sarah steepled her fingers again, tapped her conjoined fingertips against her nose as she turned, paced a couple steps, turned back, blinking.
"Papa, I ... went to the mountains ... I had to do some thinking," she said slowly.
The Sheriff nodded, once, his eyes quiet, bright beneath half-lids.
"I went to a place ... a significant place," Sarah said, "and I went ... somewhere ... I'd been ..."
"You spoke of it before," the Sheriff said. "Undermountain, I think you called it once."
"I didn't want to tell you I'd been to hell."
"You weren't," the Sheriff said, his voice hardening a little. "Believe me, where you were ... wasn't."
Sarah felt truth walk down her spine with icy fingers and she knew the man was speaking of something he knew for fact.
"You went to the mountains," the Sheriff prompted.
She nodded.
"Did you go in?"
She nodded again.
"And you are returned once more."
"Yes, Papa."
"Good." He relaxed back into his chair, straightened one leg, then the other; his right knee went SN-NAP! and Esther jumped a little.
The Sheriff laughed. "I was in Lodge the other night and my knee snapped like that. An old timer sittin' beside me looked at me and said he was hard of hearing and HE heard that!"
Daffyd chuckled and Sarah smiled a little.
"Sarah," the Sheriff said, "I prefer a world with you in it. I prefer a world with you healthy and strong and active."
He looked directly at her.
"I'll take you as you are, however that may be."
Sarah swallowed, nodded.
"Now let's talk about that lung." The Sheriff gestured toward her with his glass. "Daciana said singing was good for the lung. Doc Greenlees has an idea and I think you should talk to him about it."
"It's a little late," Sarah said uncertainly.
"How's your breathin' right now?"
Sarah blinked, took an experimental breath, another deeper breath.
"At the moment ... it's fine."
The Sheriff nodded.
"Good. School starts fairly soon and we want you ready to run and chase after students, we want you able to pick up a freight wagon or a draft horse if need be. You might have to rip a tree out by the roots, y'never know."
Sarah looked at her Papa, doing her best to look innocent, and batted her long lashes over light-blue eyes.
"Rip out a tree?" she echoed.
He shrugged. "You never know when it'll come in handy."

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Linn Keller 9-15-13

 

Jesse cuddled against the warm reassurance of her husband, swimming slowly to slumber's dark surface with the feeling that something was not right.
Her unseeing eyes snapped open as she realized her nose was burning and something was very, very wrong!
Full realization seared through Jesse and she almost convulsed with horror; her grasping hand dug into her husband's shoulder and she shook him, hard, desperately.
The one-armed proprietor woke, sneezed, sat upright, shaking his head, his eyes burning, then he swore, once, viciously.
Jesse threw the entangling bedcovers off and rolled off her side of the bed, landing on fingertips and toes, trembling with the dread realization that her worst nightmare was coming to pass: she was blind, and her home was afire.
She took a few quick breaths of the cooler air near the floor, then stood as her husband powered around the end of the bed: "Jesse!" he coughed, "let's get out of here!"
She felt his hand around her wrist and came to her feet; they crossed the room barefoot, she felt him haul the door powerfully open: heat and smoke met them and they pushed out into the hallway, coughing.
Jesse pulled a handful of flannel up, breathing through it; it helped a little, but not much.
"This way!"
She felt herself pulled along the little hallway; her husband stopped, his hand released hers and she put her hand on his back, reassuring herself of where he was. Her eyes burned, her nose stung, she was shaking as if fevered; the blind often have an acute hearing, and Jesse's augmented ability heard flame whispering hungrily as tortured wood snapped and popped under its devouring teeth.
The one-armed proprietor flinched as he grasped the doorknob: releasing it, he fell back a step.
"This way!"
They retreated a few steps and he stumbled, coughing; they turned and went up a steep, narrow staircase.
"No," Jesse moaned: she knew heat rose and fire followed, but her husband's grip was iron and they ascended, he shouldered into what they called the Rose Room, now used for storage; he released her wrist long enough to open the door, they stumbled over the casement and he slammed the door behind them.
The air was a little cooler here, a little clearer, but smoke was making its way here as well and they knew they could not stay.

Esther was restless and could not sleep.
She carefully, quietly, withdrew a cup and saucer from the cupboard, measured out shredded tea into the metal acorn, screwed on the end: carefully, slowly, she lowered it into the hot water, draping its bead chain over the lip of the teacup.
She carried the steeping tea to the kitchen table and smiled a little as she felt new life move within her; she rubbed her belly and whispered, "It's all right, Dana. Go back to sleep," and lowered herself into a kitchen chair, her eyes going automatically to the window.
A moment later Esther was on her feet, her heart hammering; the chair fell over backwards, hit the floor with a loud, sharp note, and Esther was running down the hallway, reaching for the ornate bannister post at the bottom of the stairs.
Less than two minutes later the Sheriff, fully dressed, saddle and blanket in hand, whistled sharply for his Outlaw-horse.
As he saddled his gelding with sure and practiced hands, his eyes lifted again to that dread glow in town that meant but one thing, and that one thing was very, very bad.

To a man the Irish Brigade came out of their bunks like a bunch of scalded cats.
Sean's bellow was unnecessary; when an unseen hand assaulted the hanging metal gong with a long wagon-bolt, hammering in a panicked cadence, every man Jack of 'em came to full wakefulness in the space of half a heartbeat.
They slept in their long handles and socks; they shoved feet into boots, hauled up galluses and with them, their drawers; they sprinted, not entirely awake, for the firepole, slid down to the equipment bay and seized helmets and coats.
The mares danced and whinned, anxious to run, and practiced Irish hands seized the lines that held their harness supended and ready and lowered it to the horses' backs: they were fast-up in a trice and strong hands had the mares by their bridles and led them a little forward, then turned and backed them the way they'd done, they'd trained, they'd practiced, a thousand, two thousand, ten thousand times.
Irish hands stroked head-tossing necks and whispered to them, soothing them, calming them, as the great double doors were unlatched and pushed viciously open: a splash of gasoline into the warm boiler and fire shot out its blunt stack, igniting the coal they kept ready, and the German Irishman, their designated engineer, knew he'd have steam in well less than five minutes, thanks to the gas fired water heater the Brigade enjoyed as part of their steam heating system in the fine brick firehouse.
Black-coated Irishmen swarmed aboard machine and ladder wagon and Sean stood in the driver's box and swung his blacksnake whip: "St. Florian, St. Christopher and GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY, IT'S HELL WE'RE GOIN' TO!" and the mares surged hard against their collars, and the Irish Brigade came out of their firehouse and turned up the street, a half dozen men and a steam machine ready to go head-to-head with the breath of Satan himself.

Mr. Baxter woke to the sound of running feet; someone hammered on his door, yelling.
"FIRE! FIRE IN THE MERCANTILE! GOD HELP US, MAN, FIRE!" -- then the sound of running feet, and Mr. Baxter threw his covers to the foot of the bed and sat up, shaking his head: he reached for his socks, thinking fast.
He would have to post a fire watch on the roof, he knew, he would have to fire up the kitchen -- Daisy's girl, the one that took over most of its operations, slept near the kitchen, she was very likely awake already -- men would be thirsty, he would need to open the bar --
Mr. Baxter threw his shirt over his head, shrugged it into place and reached for his drawers.

"There is a door onto the roof," he said.
Jesse knew the door; she'd found it, opened it in her exploration of the Mercantile; she knew there was a little platform just outside the door, and she knew there was a small shed out on the roof which her husband used to store some excess goods, but beyond that she was unfamiliar with the world outside this outside portal.
"How do we get down?" she asked, tension tightening her voice, and her husband pulled her out into the cool night air.
"It's through the roof," he said matter-of-factly, and she knew he was speaking about the fire.
"What do we now?" Jesse asked, her hand on her husband's shoulder.
"Wait here."
He disappeared from under her hand and she heard him dragging something, a plank maybe -- it sounded woody -- there was a grunt, he disappeared again, dragged another.
"Dearest, hold this," he said, and she took a step toward him, puzzled.
"Stop there. Squat down."
Jesse did.
"Hold this" -- his hand was on hers -- "just so while I nail this."
Jesse felt two boards -- two-by-fours, she thought -- and a plank on top of them: she held the two-by-fours and grasped them tightly as her husband retreated, bare feet thumping softly on the roof as he ran: he came back, she heard the jingle of a handful of dropped nails, the soft sound of a nail touching wood.
Her husband swore once, powerfully.
"I can't nail one handed," he said bitterly.
"I can," Jesse said. "Be eyes for me."
She released the two-by-fours -- they stayed up on their edges -- Jesse felt her husband's hand, took the nail, set it in place.
"Is this over the board?" she asked.
"It is."
Jesse grasped the hammer, touched its smooth face to her wrist, ran it down her thumb to the nail: carefully, precisely, she tapped it a few times, driving it deep enough to set in place.
"Here," she said, handing the hammer to her husband and returning her grip to the edge-on 2x4s, and she felt him drive the nail home with powerful blows from the hammer she'd just surrendered.
"Now the next," he said, and Jesse set that nail as well: left side, then right side, they went down the length of the plank, driving nails to secure the flat plank to the edge-on 2x4s beneath.
They turned it over, nailed another plank in place: the hammer was tossed aside and the one-armed storekeeper seized the end, dragged it to the edge of the roof.
"I need to get this to the other roof," he wheezed as smoke eddied over them.
They heard the Brigade galloping up the street, he saw fire's harsh light reflected off their gleaming, burnished steam engine, heard Sean's shouted orders.
There was a whistle.
He looked up.
A black-coated figure stood on the roof opposite, lariat in hand.
Plaited leather whirled about her head in the night air; the figure's wrist rolled easily and cast the widening loop across the little gulf.
The proprietor caught it, looked up.
"Make fast on your gangplank!" the figure called.
"Lift this," he gasped, picking up the reinforced gangplank: he picked it up and Jesse ran her arms under it, surprised at how heavy it was.
He ran the loop back as far as he could, looked up.
"Bring it to the edge now!"
They heard shouted voices as the Brigade scattered: this team running a hard-suction line into the cistern, another team dragging and coupling hose, while another unhitched the mares and drew them a little away, where they would await Shorty's attentions for the duration.
Heat washed over Jesse and she whimpered a little, shivering in fear: ever since losing her eyesight she'd been deathly afraid of fire.
She heard the scrape of wood, she laid a hand on her husband's back and felt his strength, felt flat muscles tense and surge as he worked the long walkplank across the gulf.
He looked at the black figure in the long coat and broad black hat, heard her grunt a little as she hauled in the line, hauled like a mariner with the line coming out the bottom of her fists: hand over hand and onto the lip of her roof, and she pulled the lariat free, threw it aside, planted the plank on the roof and squatted, holding it firm in both hands: "GET OVER HERE!" she shouted.
"I can't," he gasped.
Jesse rose, clutching her husband' shoulder.
"What is it?" she coughed.
"I made us a gangplank," he said, shivering, "but I'm ... I'm scared of heights."
Jesse laughed.
"We're getting off this roof together," she said calmly, raising her hand and caressing his stubbled cheek: "remember, I can't see how high we are!" -- she guided him back a little, then felt with her bare foot, found the edge of the board, explored it.
It was plenty wide.
She pictured a rug, a narrow rug running down the middle of the hall.
It was more than wide enough.
She stepped up on the plank.
"Put your hands on my hips, dear," she said calmly. "And close your eyes. You are walking on a braided rug, a colorful rug running down a hallway. It's flat on the floor. See the rug in your mind, and stay with me."
Jesse stepped confidently onto the plank.

Hoses surged, stiffened, swelled with water pressure: brass nozzles spat streams of water through windows, against ceilings, the stream shattering against lath and plaster, dashing against ceiling, then wall, breaking into finer droplets and flashing into suffocating steam: the Brigade attacked the fire like a personal enemy, attacked it with all the viciousness of men who were avenging themselves for the murder of a close friend -- in a way they were, for they'd all known a fellow fireman who'd perished in a fire, and every fire they fought was out of revenge and out of hatred for this implacable enemy that, given the chance, would eat the world itself.
Mr. Baxter, fully dressed now, opened the bar, knowing men would be thirsty, whether working or watching; Daisy's girl knew men at work, either laboring or watching, would be hungry, especially at this early hour, and she also knew the smell of cooking would lure men's stomachs, which was good for business.
The hanger-on was recruited as the Jewel's rooftop firewatch: he had a soaky-wet mop and two buckets of water, and though he watched the drama across the street, he still watched the roof he guarded, for sparks and embers rose with flame's hot breath and came down to spread wherever they may.

Agent Lynne Rosenthal held the plank still as Jesse approached, sure-footed and confident: Agent Rosenthal's voice guided the blind woman as much as her toes, Agent Rosenthal's voice reassured the fearful proprietor, who closed his own eyes and imagined himself walking a board laid on flat ground: his hands were tight on his wife's belt line and he moved with her, moved faster than he thought possible, given the circumstances.
"Jesse, you are six feet from me, six feet from the end," the slight-built Agent called, standing now: the combined weight of the pair held the gangplank firmly in place, there was no need to hold it: "come forward, you are doing fine, four feet, three, I am holding out my arm for you, come forward, you're at the edge, step down now, down one step, here."
Jesse's hand closed on the Agent's arm and she smiled, stepped down onto the adjacent roof.
Her husband followed her, his eyes big, and Agent Rosenthal clapped a hand on his shoulder.
"Bravest damned thing I ever saw," she declared roughly. "Drinks are on me." She pounded him on the back. "You kept your head and you built your escape. I've never seen a man think that well on his feet. Give yourself a medal, man, you just saved your wife's life!"
Jesse turned to her husband, shivering, grabbed him and squeezed, hard.
He felt her shivering and shivering hard.
"I was so scared," she whispered. "So scared!"
He put his arm around his bride and held her as she pushed her face into his chest to muffle her terrified sobs.
He looked up and said "Thank you" to the empty air.
The slight-built figure in the long black coat was gone.

Sarah, in her mousy-grey schoolmarm's dress and her hair pulled up in a severe walnut on top of her head, carried a tray of coffee and sandwiches diagonally across the street.
The one-armed proprietor and his blind wife were just emerging from the adjacent building, blankets around their shoulders, a fireman with them.
"Here," Sarah said in her proper schoolmarm's voice, "this yellow one is yours," and the one-armed proprietor reached for the coffee mug with a trembling hand.
He took a big noisy slurp, another, looked at Sarah, surprised.
"Jesse, would you like some coffee? I have plenty." Jesse could hear the smile in Sarah's voice, so very different from the harsh, commanding tone of the figure on the rooftop.
Jesse raised her hand cautiously and Sarah lowered the tray a little, then to the side, guiding the coffee cup toward her questing fingers. "Are you the one ...?"
"I just came out of the Jewel with coffee and sandwiches. Was my sister around her someplace? She dresses in all black. Depressing." Jesse heard Sarah's disapproving tsk-tsk.
"Do you like the coffee? I thought you could use a little something extra."
The proprietor downed the last of his mug, grateful for the alcoholic wallop it packed. "It's good," he gasped.
"Oh, look," Sarah said, backing up a step. "They're bringing out your safe."

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Linn Keller 9-16-13

 

Jacob rode into town about midmorning.
That's all the farther he got, was into town.
He drew up partway down the street and just set there, an expression of dismay and a slack jaw betraying his distress.
About half the Mercantile was gone, burnt out, smoking; the Brigade worked with shovels, mostly, worked on overhaul, as they called it: they'd brought in tarps to cover what could be salvaged and shoveled out the rest in smoking, steaming piles of black ruin.
As usual, the town came together; as usual, what needed done, was done: Mr. Moulton, the town's attorney, owned the adjacent building -- the one to which the one-armed proprietor and his blind wife made their escape -- it stood empty for most of two years and was opened for their use: Jacob knew only that part of his town -- his town! -- was hurt, and he hurt for it.
He saw Sarah heading for the Mercantile with a tray of empty coffee cups.
He lifted the reins and walked his Apple-horse to intercept the mousey-grey schoolteacher just before she reached the Jewel.
Sarah looked at her brother with tired eyes and offered no protest as he swung down and relieved her of her burden.
"I have to get more sandwiches," Sarah murmured, and Jacob countered with, "You need to set down," and Sarah wobbled a little.
Jacob debated momentarily whether to drop the tray and grab his sister; she saved him the dilemma by seizing a porch post with one hand and leaning hard against it, her head dropping: she took a few breaths, then raised her head and looked at Jacob with fatigued eyes, nodded.
Angela came out with an Angela-sized tray, bearing two mugs of steaming, black coffee and two sandwiches: she strutted across the boardwalk, looked at Jacob and said, "I'm helping!" and carefully descended the three steps to the packed dirt street.
Jacob followed the little girl with her almost-too-big apron with his eyes and laughed a little.
"She's been doing that most of the night," Sarah murmured. "She's made as many trips as have I."
"Most of the night?"
Sarah swallowed, nodded, and Jacob set the tray on the board walk, reached for his sister.
Sarah leaned into him, sagging heavily as he ran his hands under her arms.
"Get me inside," she said tightly. "Don't let Daffyd see me like this."
"Can you walk?"
Sarah nodded, straightened: Jacob looked at the tray, decided he'd get it next trip out and guided Sarah up the steps.
Angela, bright-eyed, went up to the German Irishman -- he was the easiest one to get to -- and he smiled and said, " Danke, Liebchen, mein schtummick ist smiling" -- Angela's return smile was brilliant, made more so as the sun's first, long, red rays shot down the street and painted her cheeks a healthy pink -- and Angela turned to seek out another of the Brigade who might want a moment's respite, a bite of good beef and the fortification of stout coffee.
The hanger-on had long since departed the rooftop; a few embers, a mercifully few, drifted his way, and were immediately extinguished; Digger mounted his own effort, scuttling anxiously about on his roof, wringing his hands and fretting at the sight of the nearby business, afire.
Digger knew how fast a fire could spread; he knew only one building separated his emporium from the conflagration, he knew how quickly he could be disposessed, and so he carried buckets of water to the rooftop, and he paced, and wrung his hands, and worried.

The ladies of Firelands were soon rallied, and turned out; Sarah was relieved of her duties, fresh troops organized: Jesse was drawn into one room, the one-armed proprietor into another, and ladies with scissors and measuring tapes and needles and threat clucked and gosspied and cut and sewed: Mrs. Parson was among them, having brought two of her ever-present pies, which were quickly quartered and distributed among the hard-working troops without: she reserved two more for her Distaff Brigade.
"We lost everything," the one-armed proprietor groaned as he was being measured for a shirt, and his blind wife hugged him from behind and leanded her head against his shoulder.
"No we didn't," she said. "No we didn't."
"We don't even have clothes to wear!"
"That's being taken care of."
"We've not stove too cook on nor plate to eat from."
"That's being taken care of, too." She hugged him a little tighter.
A woman he knew by sight (but whose name escaped him entirely) smiled a little and withdrew, having gotten the measurements she needed; she turned to a table, reached for a marking crayon and began laying out careful marks on cloth before picking up her gleaming scissors.
The naked were clothed, the hungry were fed.
Firelands was taking care of its own.

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Linn Keller 9-16-13

 

Sarah sat very straight.
She was afraid if she did not sit very, very straight, she would fall over.
She'd been up the biggest part of the night, working steadily, shuttling food and hot coffee to the Brigade and what was now, if not a small army, at least a good sized brigade drafted and volunteered from the Unorganized Militia, save for the brief, intense time when she disappeared, and only a few saw what happened well above the narrow alley, when a figure in black spun a lariat and helped haul a gangplank across the gulf.
Now ... now she was tired, she ached, her chest hurt, and she leaned her chair back a little against the wall, leaned her head back and closed her eyes and let the stress and the tension trickle away.
The Jewel was usually less than quiet in the best of times; a man's establishment, it was characterized by profound and salty language, coarse jokes, loud and boisterous laughter, the tinny rink-a-tink of the piano; cigars, cigarettes and pipes polluted and fouled the atmosphere ... but this morning, with the tired schoolmarm set back against the wall, newcomers were shushed at the door, their attention directed to the fatigued form in the chair: to a man they smiled a little, for every man Jack of the whole durn bunch saw how hard and how steadily and how nonstop she'd been working that night, keeping good people fueled through the chill hours of darkness, until the Brigade commenced their overhaul and the situation wound down.
It was not until the Brigade itself, the red-shirted Irishmen, went back to their fine brick firehouse, gave their beloved Ahrens "Steam Masheen" a bath and groomed down the mares and baited them with well-earned grain, not until hose was scrubbed and hung in the drying tower, not until tired and sweaty and sooty bodies were scrubbed clean and fresh clothes assumed ... not until the station was ready for the next response, did the Brigade turn its attention to a meal, and by unspoken agreement, they routemarched their way to the Silver Jewel.
The entire Brigade was shushed at the door; they looked at one another, and at the still figure in the chair, and they walked with a surprising stealth for a muscled bunch of fighting Irishmen: they surrounded Sarah, then the Welsh Irishman knelt beside her, took her hands in his.
Sarah opened her eyes, blinked, smiled a little.
"Thank you, lass," Daffyd said softly. "You took care of us."
"You're worth it," Sarah whispered, her eyelids closing again.
The Welsh Irishman slid his arms under her knees and behind her shoulder blades, stood, rolling her into him.
"I thought I saw her Mama earlier," he said, looking at Sean.
The broad-shouldered, red-headed Irish chieftain nodded. "Aye, lad, y'did," he agreed. "She's across th' street, makin' new clothes f'r th' folks yonder."
"Do you reckon they have a bed in there yet?"
"Theirs is soaked an' soggy an' no' fit t' use," the German Irishman muttered. "I don't know if there's another --"
"Mits-ter," a little boy's voice piped, and the German Irishman felt a tug on his belt.
He looked down to see a sincere-looking little boy regarding him with a look of absolute hero worship.
The German Irishman turned a little and went down on one knee. "Well, now," he said, "what have we here?"
His grin beneath the black, precisely-curled mustache was infectious, and the boy's grin was quick and genuine in return.
"Mits-ter," he said, "they got a couple beds in the back where he keeps extra stuff."
"Back ... where, now, lad?"
"Over there," the lad beamed, pointing with a sudden thrust of his arm.
The German Irishman looked around.
"English," he said, "wi' me," then turned to the boy.
"Lead the way, lad!"
He paused halfway across the floor, turned to address Sean.
"Sit yerself down an' wait. She'll no' object, I'm thinkin'. I'll send English for ye when we've the bunk set up an' ready!"

Sarah dimly remembered being held, remembered strong arms around her, remembered feeling warm and safe and cuddled.
She remembered being laid down in a bed and rolling up on her left side, and she remembered her Mama's scent and the caress of her Mama's fingers on her cheek, and the feeling of a sun-dried quilt being drawn up to her ear.

"Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, is she always like that?"
The Sheriff looked over at his son, tall and relaxed in the saddle, comfortable in shirt sleeves and vest.
"Aren't you cold?"
"No, sir, not a bit."
The Sheriff nodded, his breath steaming in the morning air.
"You're asking about Sarah."
"Yes, sir."
"Is she always like ... perpetual motion?"
"Not ... exactly, sir ... but she just doesn't stop until she's ready to fall over."
The Sheriff laughed a little.
"I'm afraid," he said, "she gets that from me."
Jacob nodded.
"How about Angela?"
Linn grinned, then chuckled.
"She did us proud," he said. "Packed trays and kept up with Sarah like a trooper. Single handed she kept spirits up and men did not get short tempered like they will with hard dirty work."
Jacob nodded. "Yes, sir."
Jacob and his father regarded the burnt out shell.
"Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, do you reckon they'll rebuild?"
The Sheriff nodded slowly.
"Yes," he said. "Yes, I do."

"Sean?"
"Aye?"
"Sean, d'ye reckon we'd oughta wait for the Welshman?"
Sean laughed, a good hearty Irish laugh, loud in the continued hush in the Jewel: the spell was broken, the damsel removed, the men's establishment was itself once more, and Sean pounded the clean tablecloth with the flat of a big Irish hand.
"One hog waits on another!" he declared, pounding the table again. "Breakfast!" His happy bellow was echoed by his bright-eyed grin.
"Now where's that servin' wench? We've hungry men here!"

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Linn Keller 9-18-13

 

The Mercantile had investors, and the investors included the proprietor and his wife, and a few others: after they were met, over breakfast and with concerned looks, a formal business meeting was held in the Jewel's back room for the purpose of putting the Mercantile back to rights.
They had a pretty good idea on how much stock was still usable from the original store (precious little), how much could be sold at a reduced price due to fire damage (not much) and what it would take to re-stock a new store (nearly everything).
For a miracle, the ammunition was not damaged; it was still crated and the crates were filthy and wet, but the contents were not marred; powder was in the rearmost room, in the magazine against the back wall, and likewise was safe: otherwise there would have been a big kaboom and very likely a great deal of splintered wood and other parts blown for an impressive distance.
The powder magazine was the Sheriff's idea, and he'd stood the expense for its installation and freight bill: his caution paid off and the profit from this investment included every one of the Irish Brigade remaining alive and unharmed -- everything else that didn't happen was gravy.
The several investors mutually agreed that they were more than satisfied with the way the Mercantile was run and managed, none made so bold as to tell the man who ran it, how to run it: Mr. Baxter and the Sheriff, Mr. Moulton and Digger, Levi Rosenthal and Beatrice Dean, the banker, all sat around the pushed-together tables; the Sheriff had Sean's vote, as the big Irishman was busy with the Brigade, back at the fire scene, trying to reconstruct how it started and then how it progressed.
Such information is gold to a fireman; the more each man learned about past fires, the better he'd be prepared to fight the next one.
Lists were drawn up: the ledgers, wet but still legible, were cleaned off as best they could, accounts calculated, new ledgers were prepared courtesy Mr. Moulton, who had a stack of new ledgers in his closet.
Sean eventually appeared, frowning and smelling of smoke and smolder; he sat heavily and accepted a mug of coffee from Daisy's girl, taking a noisy sip and coughing before setting down the steaming ceramic and glaring at the assembled.
"I canna' tell how it started," he said without preamble, "only that 'twas in one corner an' it ate out th' interior. 'Tis nothin' but a shell an' needin' tore down. There isna' much o' th' structure worth savin' an' no' much inventory but we saved what we could." He set a swollen, scorched tin can on the table.
"I think this was a can o' peaches. I wouldna eat it."
He sighed, rubbed his face.
"I think i' may've started wi' a stove but I couldna' say for sure. I looked a' th' setup many times an' it looked good. There's no gas laid to th' store so it couldna' be a gas fire. It coulda been a half dozen things started it but I canna say for sure. I'm listin' th' cause as undetermined."
The Sheriff nodded thoughtfully. "Thank you, Sean. Of your equipment, what will need replaced as a result of this fire?"
"One length o' hose, Sheriff. We couldna find a nozzle afterward but i' turned up, they always do."
"One section of hose." The Sheriff smiled a little. "Cheap enough. Order it, Sean, we'll have it for you shortly."
Sean nodded. "Thank ye, Sheriff."
The Sheriff stood. "I think that about takes care of it," he said. "Beatrice, anything to add from a banker's standpoint?"
"The bank will stand good for any loans necessary, you know that," she said, looking at the proprietor and his wife. "You are a wonderful asset to the community -- both as a whole, and the business community."
"The McKenna Dress Works will back your financial needs as well," Levi said quietly. "If you need loan collateral let us know."
"Good," the Sheriff said, working his back a little and frowning, then he sat again. "Now let's talk about a rebuild. Do we want the same size building, do we want it laid out the same, do we want more rooms, or bigger rooms, are two floors enough, if there are any changes you want made, now's the time to make them." He dipped his pen in good black ink, wiped it against the bottle's glass throat.
The committee listened carefully to the man who actually ran the place before debating what changes to make to the building -- debate was brief and ended in the consensus that they would take the recommendation of the one-armed proprietor for the rebuild.
The meeting took until after the noon meal; they emerged from the Jewel to find most of the building's scorched shell was already down and being hauled off for either salvage or scrap, and the lean figures of the Daine clan were looking the site over, making their plans for rebuilding the Mercantile.

Sarah sagged at her desk.
She'd finally gotten out of bed, tended what was necessary, then seated herself at her desk and began to write a note she'd been composing.
Uncle Charlie, she began, and her shoulders drooped; fatigue still claimed her, and she continued writing until too fatigued to continue.
When she finally gave up and returned to her bed, aching and exhausted, the entirety of her note read:
Uncle Charlie,
You were right.

 

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Linn Keller 9-19-13

 

The curly black wolf pup whimpered in his sleep.
He was curled up in a ball in a sheltered pocket of brush, out of the wind and with rock to his back, under a high overhang.
He woke, button-bright eyes snapping open: he held utterly still and not until he was satisfied that nothing moved in his visual field, he slowly, cautiously raised his head, scanning, scenting, listening.
His belly reminded him it had been too long since he ate.

The Sheriff got up from his swivel chair and crossed the room.
Outside, he heard the normal sounds of Firelands commerce: hooves, wagons, men's voices, boot heels on the board walk.
The summons that rose him from his seat was the scratch of canine claws on the door.
He opened the door to reveal something huge, black, curly and pink-tongued, a creature with fighting fangs that could slash a man just by looking at them, eyes black as a sinner's heart that could still redden with killing rage, jaws fit to bite the horn off an anvil and legs stout enough to power the beast after a running horse and overtake it in three leaps: the great, mountain-raised Dawg was tall enough it would have to crouch a little to walk under a table, and its head was the size of a bushel basket.
The Sheriff smiled as The Bear Killer sniffed his belt buckle and his hands, gave the lawman's palms a happy washing and groaned with pleasure as the Sheriff rubbed his ears.

One may lay bleeding on the sawdust, doubled up and clutching his belly; two more were desperately addressing one another -- one with a broken bottle, the other with a knife.
One of the shady ladies stood back, her painted face pale under the powder, clutching a slashed arm and bleeding a steady stream onto the floor.
The barkeep raised a double gun and bellowed something.
Men scattered, all but the two in the middle of the floor.
Cripple Creek's city marshal shoved through the bat wings, his own shotgun in hand, just as the barkeep cut loose on one, then the other of the pair.
Two more men lay bleeding on the sawdust.

The Sheriff smiled at the Daisy's Girl that brought his coffee.
He looked around the Silver Jewel, appreciating its cleanliness, its order; he was a man who'd seen enough excitement to last ten men their lifetimes, and Firelands tended to be a peacable enough place, which suited the old Sheriff with the iron-grey mustache, just fine.
Trouble, he reflected, was not a frequent visitor, and for this he was profoundly grateful.
All this changed when the boy came panting into the Jewel, looked around, saw the Sheriff.
The Sheriff saw the yellow slip in the boy's hand.
He sighed, took a long drink of coffee, and rose.
When Lightning sent a messenger with a telegram, the news was seldom good.

The Bear Killer accepted the belly rub, kicking his hind feet happily and groaning with pleasure.
Biscuits and gravy remained his delight, and a belly rub afterward was always a plus, especially here in the happy kitchen where the Silver Jewel earned its reputation as a good place to eat.
Daisy's girl laughed and tilted her head, then rose and washed her hands noisly in a pan of warm water she kept for the purpose.
"Be off wid ye noo," she laughed again. "I've hungry men t' cook for."
The Bear Killer rolled over, gave her a mournful look, then trotted out into the hallway, his nails tik-a-tikking loudly as he set out for the front door.

Angela turned and looked back at the schoolboy's excited shout.
"That's The Bear Killer," she said with an emphatic, single nod of her curly head.
"He's big," the little boy said, his own eyes wide and admiring.
"He kills bears," Angela said confidently.
"What kind of bears?"
"Big bears," Angela said, throwing her hands wide.
Sarah smiled and picked up her skirts, walked carefully down the clean, whitewashed steps, smiled as The Bear Killer turned his head, woofed a greeting and came trotting over to her.
It was the first day of school in Firelands.

Cripple Creek's mayor puffed worriedly on his cigar.
"Three killings in one day!" he muttered. "Three! You'd think this was New York or something!"
"Yes, sir," his aide replied automatically, the younger man's hair slicked down and immaculately oiled.
"You say the Marshal sent for the Sheriff?"
"Yes, sir."
"Good man, good man," the Mayor mumbled around his soggy stogie. "He knows who to go to for help. He does a good job, a good job ..."
The Mayor's voice trailed off.
"Three in one day! God help us!"

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Linn Keller 9-19-13

 

"I'm surprised this didn't happen sooner," the Sheriff said aloud as he read the telegram.
"Trouble, Sheriff?" Daisy's girl asked saucily, her eyes bright with the merry mischief a girl can devise in less than half a moment.
"Yep," the Sheriff replied shortly. He counted coin into her hand and frowned.
"You know that man you're seeing is a philandering no-good," he warned.
The Daisy's girl's eyes widened and her hand came up for a slap.
The Sheriff blocked it with the edge of his hand, his pale eyes glaring hard into hers.
"He'll break your heart and walk off and leave you," he said quietly. "He's done it before."
The lawman did not wait for her response before he turned and slipped past her.
The Sheriff's eyes were busy as he left the Jewel, an old tension building in his gut.
I've had it too good for too long, he thought.
Time for the old war horse to harness up again.
His smile tugged at half his mouth; sardonic it was and he snorted at his own thoughts.
Mining town, booze and vice, gold in plenty and killing's nice, , singsonged in the back of his head like naughty children singing a forbidden ditty in an empty schoolhouse.
The Sheriff pushed open the ornate door, looking out before emerging; he slid out, a quick sidestep, his coat unbuttoned, a wall to his back -- and then he stopped, blinked, realizing what he was doing again.
The old reflexes, he realized, were still there.

Jacob approached at his father's wave.
"Jacob," the Sheriff said, "hold down the fort. I'm going to Cripple to kick some backsides."
"I just polished my boots, sir," Jacob drawled. "They're right fine for kicking backsides."
The Sheriff grinned in reply. "Mine are, too, Jacob."
Jacob looked levelly at his father.
"Sir," he said, "take a lesson from Sarah. I don't want to see you a-layin' weak and bloody."
Then don't look, the Sheriff almost said aloud, but clamped his jaw down on unspoken intemperance. He nodded instead.
"Sir, you need, you holler."
"I will that," the Sheriff agreed.
Across the street, Sarah swung the schoolbell up, sunlight gleaming off its polished surface.
The Sheriff saw it was the bell with the bent handle.
A good omen, he thought, then lifted his black Outlaw-horse's reins.

The conductor paused beside the quiet lawman.
"Sheriff, someone left a paper," he said, excitement in his voice: the Sheriff looked up at the uniformed ticket-taker, raised an eyebrow.
"Right here, Sheriff" -- he pointed at the black-lettered masthead with a trembling, neatly manicured forefinger -- "right here, look! Death in the street, no man is safe! Murder in the saloons ... why, the Angel of Death is harvesting souls by the bushel!"
The Sheriff glanced at the screaming headlines, written to sell paper and not to convey any degree of fact. He considered the man's words, thought it over again, and only then spoke.
"Some people," he said, "will do anything to get their name in the paper."
He leaned back in the seat and eased his hat down a little.
At the head of the train, The Lady Esther whistled to the mountains, and the Sheriff heard the answering echo.

The Mayor, the President of Council, the Superintendent of Utilities, the Chief of Police, two reporters and a baggage-handler were gathered on the depot platform, every one of them arguing their point and shouting to be heard.
The only man not present was the Fire Chief, who was not a subject of their discussion, and the town Marshal, who was.
"I don't care how well recommended he's been," the Council president yelled, "he can't do his job and I want him FIRED!"
"He's a good man!" the Mayor protested, equally loudly, throwing his hands dramatically wide, at which point the Council President shoved him in the chest and knocked him back against the baggage handler, who stumbled a little but kept both himself and Hizzoner from an undignified sprawl.
The Mayor got his footing, stomped up to the Council President and shoved his finger in the man's face.
"I'LL HAVE YOU KNOW I REPOSE FULL FAITH AND CONFIDENCE OUCH!!" the man shrieked, forgetting one rule of street arguing: never shake your finger within range of an opponent's dentures: as the party of the second part had a good enamel grip on the tender digit of the party of the first part, they remained in an inseparably close proximity, the party of the first part adding a falsetto indignation to the scene -- so much so that the party of the second part laughed and released his bite on the Mayor's pointer.
The Mayor jumped up and down a couple times -- "OW! OW! OW! YOU'LL PAY FOR THIS, YOU SHORT EARED CLAIM JUMPER! I'LL WHIP YOU WITHIN AN INCH OF YOUR --"
The Mayor forgot another cardinal rule of brawling, and that considers the wisdom, or lack of wisdom, of informing one's opponent of one's intentions.
As the Council President was now forewarned that the Mayor intended to engage, at the very least, in the gentlemanly art of fisticuffs, the Council President, ever a practical man, seized the Mayor by the collar and the belt and deposited him headfirst into the nearest rain barrel.
Not to be miserly in his attentions, he grabbed the Mayor's belt and dashed him up and down in the barrel several times, finally hauling him out and slinging him into the baggage handler's arms.
The baggage handler caught the Mayor, leaned him against a stack of trunks and portmanteaus, seized up a singletree and swung a good roundhouse blow into the President of Council's belly as the man stood there laughing, and followed this with a spinning strike to the back of the man's punching fist: blows three, four and five involved the Council President's shin, knee and the back of his head, and said fighter was laid out upon the boards of the train platform, where he lay as The Lady Esther huffed pleasantly into station, her stack blowing pure white in the chilly atmosphere.
"Yep," the Cripple Creek telegrapher nodded, checking his watch. "Right on time."

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Linn Keller 9-20-13

 

The Sheriff solemnly regarded the dripping-wet Mayor with his soggy sash: shaking the man's hand, he said "Nice hat" -- and the Mayor's hand started up to touch his topper, which was the only dry thing on him.
The Mayor's pomaded toady stood nearby, doing his best to stay invisible; he disliked confrontation, preferring to be a yes-man and avoiding such direct conflicts as he'd just witnesses: the Sheriff looked directly at him, nodded, then moved to the next dignitary, speaking personally, quietly: the line ended with the proned-out form of the unmoving President of Council and the red-faced baggage handler.
The Sheriff squatted, examined the cut on the back of the councilman's head, rolled him over and lifted an eyelid.
Looking up at the Mayor, he deadpanned, "Is there an ordinance against sleeping in public?"
The Mayor's smile was tight. "No, no," he said, "but I think he ran his head into a club or something."
The Sheriff nodded. "Some fellas do that," he agreed, then stood.
"Gentlemen, I need some information. Let me get settled into quarters and we will meet to discuss the situation. Where is the Marshal?"
There were gunshots not far away, shouts, a woman's scream, another shot.
They all looked at the Sheriff, and the Sheriff nodded.
"If you could secure my luggage," the slender lawman said, "I might wait to settle into quarters." He turned and strode for the stock car, disappeared into the slid-open door; the Mayor shivered -- body heat steamed moisture from his clothes and he was trying hard not to succumb to the tremors his chilled muscles demanded -- the Sheriff rode out of the stock car on a pure-black gelding, ducking to clear the doorway, then straightened.
He drew his rifle from its scabbard. "I will speak with you in a bit," he said, then turned Outlaw and gave him his knees.
"God help whoever is causing trouble," the newly-named Chief of Police muttered.
"I think it may be too late for them," the Mayor said, his teeth chattering a little as he spoke.

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Linn Keller 9-20-13

 

The Marshal collapsed as the .44 slug went through the back of his head and exited at the hairline in front. His shotgun fell from nerveless fingers, hitting the floor a moment before he did; for a miracle it did not go off.
The barkeep swung the muzzles of his empty shotgun, more in response to the unexpected gunshot than anything else; a bullet clipped his ear and he dropped, shoving the lever hard with his thumb: he clawed the empties free of the chamber, snatched two fresh rounds from a pasteboard box under the bar and managed to wallow them into the chambers.
By the time he rose with a reloaded and cocked double gun, nearly every head in the bar was turned, watching the swinging batwings where someone just ran out.
There was another gunshot from outside, then two more; a shout, the sound of a galloping horse, a man's voice swearing enthusiastically.
One of the patrons sidled toward the door, looked cautiously outside.
"Well, he's dead," he remarked.
"Who's dead?" the barkeep demanded.
A tall figure shoved through the batwings, dragging a limp form by the back of his vest.
A tall man with an iron grey mustache, a '73 rifle tilted up against his shoulder, the other hand fisted in brown duck: pale eyes glared around the saloon's silent, shadowed interior.
He looked at the still figure on the floor, then brought the form he held up so the head fell back and the face could be seen.
"WHO IN THE HELL IS THIS," he shouted.
Several people looked around at one another, uncertainty in their eyes.
One of the fancy girls spoke up.
"He's the one that back-shot him," she said, thrusting a chin at the sprawled face-down figure bleeding on the floor.
"Turn him over," the Sheriff said tightly.
Nobody moved.
"I SAID TURN HIM OVER!"
Two men jumped, leaned down, turned the dead man face-up.
The Sheriff's face hardened.
"You kilt his killer," someone said.
The Sheriff looked for a long moment at the dead Marshal.
The man had been a friend, a younger man the Sheriff recommended for the job, a man with a pretty young wife and a child on the way.
The Sheriff's lips peeled back from his teeth and a snarling roar began deep in his belly: he turned, power surging through his arm and he threw the dead man out the bat wings.
He glared around the saloon with eyes the shade of a glacier's soul.
"MY NAME IS KELLER," he bellowed. "I AM THE SHERIFF.
"LET IT BE KNOWN!"
He turned slowly, aiming his glare like a gun turret: "LET IT BE KNOWN THAT IF ANYONE, ANYONE AT ALL!" -- the veins in his neck stood out with his fury -- "RAISES A WEAPON IN PUBLIC, I WILL CONSIDER THIS AN ATTACK ON ME!"
He looked at the other two carcasses: he walked slowly over to them and men fell away from him at his approach.
"YOU!" a voice shouted from behind him and the Sheriff turned, crouching, his rifle snapping down from shoulder to hand, coming level to face the threat.
Something hit him like a fist and he grunted, twisted a little, then the '73 came to shoulder and the lawman fired one shot.
His attacker's head snapped back as the rest of his carcass fell bonelessly, unmoving when he hit the floor.
The Sheriff jacked the rifle's lever, kicking out the smoking hull and feeding in a fresh round.
Death hung on the silent air, hovering in the slowly swirling gunsmoke.
The Sheriff's voice was quiet now, more menacing for its gentleness.
"Will there be anyone else?"
Nobody spoke; nobody moved.
"Store's open," the Sheriff said. "Speak up. Now's your chance."
"Pale Eyes," someone gasped. "My God, it's Pale Eyes Keller!"
Another looked down at the most recent corpse.
"You damned fool," he said. "You never had a chance."
The Sheriff lowered his rifle's hammer to half cock: he glared at the barkeep.
"A glass of your best," he snapped. "And pass me that mirror."
The barkeep looked back at the mirror -- unlike the Jewel, this one was small, it was all he could afford, it was about a foot square.
"Sometime this year," the Sheriff said, and the barkeep snatched it up and turned, placing it carefully, face-up, on the scarred and slightly warped bar.
"The glass of your best."
"Y-y-yes, sir," he stammered.
The Sheriff laid the rifle on the bartop, unbuttoned his coat and laid it down as well: fingers danced down his vest, the vest fell open and he peeled out of it, grimacing.
His shirt was red with blood.
He shrugged out of his shirt, laid it on top of the vest, snatched up the mirror, then squatted a little and pulled the slim, long-bladed knife from his boot top.
He held the mirror in one hand, slid the tip of his blade into the red, bleeding, puckered wound: the handle of the knife described a slow, large circle.
The bullet flipped out, hit the floor with a loud clatter.
He picked up the glass of whiskey, bent at the waist, placed the mouth of the glass against his bleeding wound, stood up straight.
Sweat popped out across his forehead.
He stood thus for half a minute before bending again at the waist, set the bloody whiskey on the bar, then pressed his folded kerchief against the wound.
He looked around again, then tilted up the glass and drank it down.

The Sheriff's next stop was a bookshop.
He reached into an inside pocket of his coat and withdrew a compact Testament.
"I would like another of these," he said, "one with a good visible print and about this size."
The storekeep stared at the pocket Bible the Sheriff placed on his counter.
It was cratered with what was very obviously a bullet hole.
The balding bookseller's eyes widened as he looked over his spectacles at the quiet lawman with the iron-grey mustache, then he saw the bullet hole in the lawman's coat.
"I have some in stock," he said, swallowing hard.

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Linn Keller 9-21-13

 

The Mayor looked up as his door opened and the tall, slender lawman stepped in.
I wondered what the fuss was about, he thought as his pomaded dandy of an assistant fluttered behind the Sheriff, protesting that he couldn't just walk into the Mayor's office unannounced, just before the Sheriff turned, put his hand on the protesting fussbudget's face and pushed hard before turning and closing the door.
"Mr. Mayor," he said, "your Marshal is dead."
The Mayor's face paled and the pen he held clattered to the desk top.
"I understand you have a Chief of Police."
The Mayor nodded, his mouth dry.
"You may wish to call him in here."
The Mayor leaned abruptly back in his chair.
"I liked that young man," he said, his throat tight. "He ... did his job."
"I know," the Sheriff said, laying his rifle down crosswise on the Mayor's desk. "Right now we need a strong law enforcement presence, we need the hard hand of authority. Right now I'm it. I have an entire county to take care of, I can't be stuck here. We've got to get your own law on its feet and working. Now tell me about that chief of police."
There was a brisk rat-tat on the Mayor's door, the knob turned and the pomaded toady simpered, "President of Council to see you, sir," and the scowling Douglas stalked into the room.
The Sheriff rose, turning to face the man, their mutual dislike instant and plain to see.
"Donald Douglas, this is Sheriff Keller," the Mayor said evenly.
"I know who this murderer is," Douglas sneered, right before the Sheriff's fist drove into the man's cheek bone.
Douglas's head snapped back and a hard set of knuckles cut into his gut and drove upward, shoving every bit of wind out of his lungs and raising him an inch off the floor: the Sheriff seized the man by the coat, spun him around and slammed him hard into the wall, grabbed him again, picked him up and threw him down to the floor.
Douglas landed face first on the tight-fitted boards, marveling for a fraction of a moment at the phenomenon of a minor galaxy of stars, penetrating the floor in three glorious, shining dimensions.
The Sheriff gave him a few moments, then seized him by the shoulder, rolled him over and Douglas felt the tip of something sharp prick into his skin directly under his tongue, under his lower jaw.
"Understand me," the Sheriff said quietly. "I don't lie about you, and you don't lie about me. All that was just to get your attention. I am going to ask you questions and you are going to answer them, otherwise I will cut your head off and stake it on an alder pole in the middle of town for everyone to see. Blink for yes. Die for no."
Shocked, Douglas lay frozen, then he blinked -- once, hard, squinting his eyes shut, then opening them.
The Sheriff's face was tight, pale, his eyes cold, glimmering like polished stone; there was neither kindness nor forgiveness in the man's face.
"First, you don't talk unless I yank your chain. Second, you do exactly as I say. You have no choice in the matter."
The sharp, steely tip disappeared, and Douglas swallowed, fear plain in his face.
The Sheriff picked him up by the coat front, one handed, lifted him clear off the floor.
He looked past the Mayor's desk, then looked back at Douglas.
"Douglas," he said, "I don't like you. You are a bully and you are a coward. I will not hesitate to throw you out that second story window and last I looked, you don't have angel wings sticking out your back so you won't fly very well.
"Now tell me about your chief of police. I need to know where he's worked and how much experience he has. Your Marshal has been murdered, his killer came after me and it was the last mistake he ever made. As far as murder, I have never murdered anyone. Everyone I've killed, needed killin'. If you ever call me that again I will grab your ears and unscrew your head and stuff it down a field piece and shoot it into the ocean from here."
He carried Douglas to a straight backed chair and dropped him.
Douglas fell to the chair, lost his balance and went over sideways: he scrambled to all fours, then into the chair.
The Sheriff looked at the Mayor.
The rotund man's shining dome was beaded with sweat; he wiped it with a quick swipe of a kerchief, stuffed it back in his coat pocket, his eyes the size of boiled eggs.
"I'll tell you the same as I told the Mayor, and right now you two have to work together."
Douglas opened his mouth to protest, thought better of it, closed his mouth as the Sheriff's glare focused on him again.
"I don't give a good Billy-be-damned about your politics and who wants what office and how much influence you think you have. None of that matters. You have a town to safeguard and that means the law must be respected. It must be fair, it must be even handed, but when need be it has to be swift and utterly without mercy.
"Now tell me about your Chief of Police, and that title implies you have a police department. I need a complete report -- strength, training, experience on every last man you've got. What are your investigative capabilities, what is your jail like and where located, how is your force armed and trained."
the Council Presdent took a moment to get his wind back; chastened, he decided bluster was an unproductive approach.
The Mayor spoke first.
"I'll ring for my assistant," he said, "and we'll get the Chief of Police here for your interview."
"Interview," the Sheriff said, his eyes pale.
He unbuttoned his coat, pulled back coat and vest to show his bloody shirt and the hole in it.
"By the way, I killed the man that tried to kill me." He stopped squarely in front of Douglas, letting the man get a good look at the brown-stained linen.
"Any questions, Mister Council President?"
Don Douglas looked at the Sheriff, his mouth opening: he blinked, closed his mouth and shook his head.

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Linn Keller 9-21-13

 

Half a dozen uniformed policemen followed the Sheriff.
He strode down the board walk, his '73 rifle tight in his left hand, swinging easily at his side: he turned, shoved into the Bon Ton saloon.
The squad of blue-clad cops hesitated, looking at one another: one of them reached for the still-swinging batwing doors when the green-painted wood swung open, smacking his palm, and the first body sailed through the flapping wood shutters.
"Ho!" the first officer exclaimed, stumbling back, then looked up as a second flyer fell into him: the two landed on the street, the officer automatically seizing the flier and coming up on top, fist cocked.
He needn't have bothered; the man was out cold, and the meaty smack of knuckles into flesh preceded the next flying departure.
There was a gunshot, then another: a chair crashed through the big front window, two men dove out, scrambling to their feet and running headlong through the startled policemen, and showed them a clean set of heels as they sprinted down the street.
The Sheriff came stomping out the batwings, dragging a fellow by the pants leg.
"WELL DON'T JUST STAND THERE," he shouted, "DRAG THESE MEN OFF TO JAIL AND GET BACK HERE!"
Shaking his head, the Sheriff muttered, "Can't get good help anymore," and stomped down the boardwalk, heading for the Bluebonnet.
One of the cops shoved his round cap back on his head and whistled.
"God help us," he whistled.

The Sheriff glared around the interior of the bar, then laid his Winchester on the bar top.
He looked toward the door, put two fingers to his lips and whistled.
"Barkeep," he called, "step up here."
The barkeep walked toward the Sheriff like he was walking up on a can of nitroglycerin.
The Sheriff pulled a coin from his vest pocket.
"Here's for the drink," he said, "and thank you kindly."
Two men responded to the lawman's whistle by shuffling into the bar, carrying something about three feet high and four long, wrapped and framed for transport: the Sheriff indicated they should set it on a table, edge-on, and open it.
They very carefully pried the frame apart, then unwrapped a brand new mirror.
"The one you've got," the Sheriff said, "is kind of puny." He nodded to the area behind the bar. "Right there might be good. Take that for your birthday present, I missed your birthday last year."
At his gesture, the two men carried the mirror behind the bar and leaned it carefully against the back wall.
The Sheriff turned, picked up his rifle and walked slowly toward the batwing doors, stopped and looked at a squirming, grimacing individual with a handful of cards and a small stack of chips in front of him.
"Mister," the Sheriff said, "there's a wanted dodger out on you. I didn't see you sittin' there, and I reckon the climate is healthier on west of here. I won't be lookin' that-a-way."
He resumed his slow pace toward the door, stepped out onto the board walk, as the poker player cashed in his chips and headed for the back door.
Two police officers approached him.
"You fellas ready?" the Sheriff asked.
"Yes, sir."
"Good." He nodded to the saloon across the street. "Red's place is next."

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Linn Keller 9-22-13

 

The platform stood in the town circle and was draped with bunting, as if for a great dignitary's visit: the Cripple Creek Memorial Fireman's Marching Band and Benevolent Society wet their throats with beer and sweated in wool uniforms, having just marched the length of the main street, their ranks somewhat adversely affected by piles of horse manure, ruts, mud puddles and two dead dogs; their playing was for the most part quite good, most of them having been bandsmen in the military.
Much of Cripple Creek was gathering, humanity cheek to jowl with one another: men in fine suits and silk hats, miners in rough coats and muddy boots, women in what the Sheriff recognized as McKenna gowns and fine hats, and slatterns in somewhat less discreet garb: all were gathered at the behest of the local newspaper, handbills tacked up amongst wated posters and word of mouth.
The local paper was miffed, at first, because this Sheriff was moving too fast for the print to keep up: he came into town just as the Mayor was attacked and nearly drowned and the Council President bludgeoned, at which point, having secured that scene, he walked across the street in time to witness the Marshal's murder, to personally run his pistol's barrel down the throat of the murderer and blow his heart out from the inside, after which he personally visited every saloon, killed at least one man and at least two, destroyed windows, broke chairs, threw bodies about like a Kansas twister and was himself shot, his life being saved only by a pocket Testament given him by his wife when they were but newly wed... which did not stop him from carving out the slug with a butcher knife and drinking half a bottle of whiskey by virtue of pouring it into the bullet hole.
Now, at high twelve, the Mayor was to introduce this cyclone of death, formally announce the widely known fact of the Marshal's murder, and then step aside so the man known as Pale Eyes could speak.
The clock's hands advanced steadily toward the zenith; at four minutes til, the bandleader raised his arms, his white baton quivered momentarily, and in a misguided and ill-informed moment of information, the band saluted the Sheriff's military service as a Cavalry officer by playing the anthem of his nation ...
The band struck up a rousing, bouncy "Dixie," played it twice, and the appreciative crowd clapped and bounced a little in time to the music, all but the ones that scowled and shook their heads.
The Mayor looked down; the bandleader brought the tune to a halt at the end of its second go-round and the Mayor took off his hat, waving it slowly at arm's length, to the cheers, whistles and shouts of the rowdy crowd.
"My friends! My friends!" the Mayor shouted, waving his hat, to which a wag yelled, "Where?" -- and in the laughter that followed, the Mayor grinned and leaned on the bunting-wrapped railing.
"You all know me," the Mayor shouted, raising his voice and pitching it to the furthest row, "and you know I can waste at least an hour making an introduction!"
"Oh God, spare me!" the wag shouted in reply, to the general amusement of the crowd assembled.
"I shall spare you my usual oratory," the Mayor followed in a stentorian voice, and was obliged to stop, and nod, and wave, for the applause that followed lasted almost five minutes -- applause in the context of a Western mining town, which included whistles, cheers, yells, hats tossed into the air and other general and rowdy signs and symptoms of approval.
The Mayor was finally obliged to wave down the noise; as the crowd diminished its volume, the Mayor, with a grand gesture, shouted, "I give you Sheriff Linn Keller!"
The band struck up a lively tune again and the Sheriff stepped forward, lifted his hat and held it well overhead, turning left, turning right, receiving the adulation generally given a Presidential candidate at election time: he waited patiently for the racket to subside before looking at the bandleader and nodding, and the band tapered its peppy march, faded it out.
"You already know your Marshal is dead," the Sheriff began. "He was murdered and I killed his murderer."
The Sheriff was hit with a wall of cheers and whistles: a mining town was a rough town, and a rough town has an appreciation for justice done swiftly and surely.
"As a result," the Sheriff continued, his voice carrying clearly on the high mountain air, "you now have a police department."
There were general boos and some catcalls, hands raised in sharp, vicious go-away gestures.
"Your Marshal was well liked and he leaves behind a young window an an unborn child," the Sheriff continued. "A fund for her relief has been set up at the Seventh Street Bank in his name. Please feel free to contribute to the relief of this worthy distressed widow and their orphan."
Elbows pressed into ribs here and there in the crowd; dignitaries on stage looked at one another and nodded, for they recognized the phrase.
"I am not here to take over."
The Sheriff paused to let that sink in.
"I am Sheriff of the entire county. You now have a police department instead of a Marshal's office. Cripple Creek is growing up. You have two opera houses, you have more saloons than I can count, you have schools and churches and you have a paved street."
"You ain't been on that street, have ye?" a voice called, and general chuckles followed.
"I was," the Sheriff nodded, "and you're right. You've got part of a paved street."
Whistles, applause; the Sheriff raised his hand, and with it his hat, used it to wave down the crowd's exhuberance.
"Cripple Creek is still a mining town. You work hard." He looked directly at the crowd, meeting eyes near and far. "You work harder than you're paid for, what you do is not truly appreciated, but you still do it and at the end of the day you want a good cold beer and some food and you have the right" -- he paused again, then said a little louder, "You have the RIGHT! -- to spend your pay the way you damn well please!"
A wave of approbation roared against the sides of the circular platform.
"The killin'," the Sheriff said, "stops now. Settle your differences with words. Ain't much that's worth a man's life and a knife or a gun is not a good way to make your point." The crowd was silent now, listening closely.
"What does a fight get you? Hurt knuckles and hurt faces. That's all.
"You've got a judge in town now and he's a fair man. I know him. He won't show favoritism. I know, I've stood in his court and he's chewed me a new one just as fast as he's chewed anyone."
His rueful grin and frank admission garnered a rippling laugh, for everyone there knew what it was to overstep themselves and get called on it.
"I could waste your time with a long winded speech but I've said about all that's needed. You have law in this town. Let it settle your disputes."
He looked down at his hand, flexed his fingers, made a fist, opened his hand.
"Believe me when I tell you this.
"If you bust your knuckles on a man's face enough times, you'll cripple your hand with arthritis and you'll end up with a lumpy claw instead of a good right hand, and you'll play hell trying to slap your wife on the bottom or pick up a beer glass." His grin, his expression, was exactly what was needed: a bit of bawdiness, words that any man could understand.
"Now behave yourselves. I'm gettin' too old to ride in here and kick a town back into shape!"
The Sheriff raised his hat at arm's length and the band struck up "Dixie" once more; he stepped back, nodding, smiling, then turned and shook the Mayor's hand, the Council President's hand, and that of the Chief of Police and the Chief of their Fire Department: he returned to the railing, waved again to the crowd as they whistled and cheered and shouted their approval of his presentation.
The Sheriff picked up his '73 rifle and walked down the steps in the back of the platform, a nervous man with a pad and a pencil tagging after him: they stopped at the foot of the stairs, their heads together, the newspaper editor scribbling quickly as they spoke.
The next day, in the paper, heads nodded as they read the printed account of the speech, but the part most often pointed to by scarred and dirty fingers, or indicated with the tag end of a steel pen, or referred to in cultured tones, was a paragraph in which the selection of "Dixie" was mentioned.
"Then the Sheriff threw back his head with a great laugh, his teeth flashing in the sunlight: he clapped a merry hand on this writer's shoulder and admitted that although he'd ridden for the Union, and indeed had been a cavalry officer with the famous Ohio regiment, he was not offended at the band's choice of the Southern anthem.
"I am a great admirer of the Southern general, John Hunt Morgan," he confided, leaning closer that I may hear his words over the crowd's racket: "the General made an absolute monkey of me more times than one, and as I chased a handful of smoke through Kentucky and Tennessee, I came to admire the man who knew his craft far better than I. To this day the late General has my admiration and my respect."
The barkeep read the printed column, shared it with a number of patrons; he was seen to hook his thumb over his shoulder, for behind him hung a new mirror, a fine three foot by four foot pane of heavy glass, the envy of most of the drinking establishments in town, and though the newly formed Police Department's representatives circulated through on a semi-regular basis, none offered the least comment at the crudely lettered sign on the plank above the mirror:
"IF YOU SHOOT THE SHERIFF'S MIRROR I WILL SHOOT YOU!"

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Linn Keller 9-23-13

 

The Sheriff walked into the Police Chief's office, laid his '73 rifle across the man's desk and pulled up a chair.
The Chief, surprised, looked up as the tall lawman with the iron grey mustache lowered himself into the chair, closed his eyes and let his head drop back.
"Come in, Sheriff," the Chief said carefully, "and have a seat."
"Kindly of ye," the Sheriff replied, slumping forward and resting his forearms on his knees.
The Chief's left eyebrow raised a bit.
It was the first time he'd ever seen Pale Eyes betray the least sign of fatigue.
"Chief," the Sheriff said without looking up, "I just came back from the widow's house."
The Chief blinked, thinking hard, then his stomach fell about a foot as he realized the Sheriff was referring to the late Marshal's widow.
The Sheriff took a long breath, blew it out, his cheeks puffing out as he pursed his lips.
"Chief, did you know that nobody cared enough to tell her she was a widow? She heard it from street gossip and then saw a newspaper and that's how she found out her husband was never coming home."
The Chief looked away, almost ashamed: the Police Department was so new he hadn't had a decent conversation with the Marshal, let alone set up any inter-agency protocols.
"I arranged for her to go to her sister's for a while." The Sheriff raised his head slowly, as if it were immensely heavy; fatigue drew at the corners of his eyes, pulled his shoulders down like a tired old man's.
"Thank you," the Chief said slowly. "That was decent of you."
"I speak of it," the Sheriff said, straightening his back slowly, "because you need a set of written protocols in place, and your command staff need to at least know that they exist."
"Ah ... what are protocols?"
The Sheriff looked piercingly at the man.
"Chief, you are the officer in charge. You are the one man to whom the others look when things happen. You are top man on the totem pole, you are answerable for all that your people do or do not, say or say not. One of them messes up and it's you that has to answer for it." The Sheriff twisted his lower back a little, frowned, squared his shoulders.
"You need a protocol -- a written procedure -- that tells what your department does in the event of a line-of-duty death. You need to designate a departmental chaplain and a command rank officer, the pair to go notify next of kin. A chaplain is good for morale and should be one of the local clergy with authorization to enter a police scene when need be. The sky pilots are good at handling people who've just had a death in the family or someone who's been badly hurt and may not survive -- whether officer or suspect or member of the public."
The Chief leaned his elbows on his desk, listening carefully.
"You'll need a standard operating procedure for investigating crimes. How much experience do you have as the Chief of Police?"
"This is my first," he admitted.
The Sheriff looked long at the man.
"Not what you expected, is it?"
"No, it's not," he admitted.
"You were appointed by Council President."
The Chief nodded.
"I thought as much. Politics." The Sheriff nearly spat the word; he sneered as if it left a bad taste in his mouth.
"Clearly against policy and ordinance if I recall arightly, but I think that will be overlooked as the Marshal is dead.
"Like it or not, Chief, you're it now. You are the one man resonsible for keeping this raggedy mining town peaceful." He blinked slowly, sleepily, like a cat warm before a fireplace. "I do not envy you the job, sir."
"Thank you," the Chief murmured, "I think."
"Let's talk about your men," the Sheriff said. "You don't have many."
"I have but four."
"Four will do," the Sheriff nodded, "if they can be depended on. What is their experience?"
"Two were policemen back East, one was a range detective and one .. .shows promise."
"I see."
Silence settled like layers of dust over the two men, until the Chief squirmed uncomfortably.
"Sheriff," he blurted, "can I offer you something ...?"
"Coffee, if you have it."
The Chief reaced back, tugged at a tasseled bell-pull; a moment later, a young woman with an anxious expression opened the door.
"Jenny, could you bring the Sheriff and I some coffee, please?"
"Coffee?" she squeaked. "Coffee ... I'll have to go and ... yes, yes, I can do that --"
"Jenny," the Sheriff said gently, rising, "I need your help."
Jenny looked like she wanted either to run or hide under the file cabinet.
"Please tell me you take shorthand."
Jenny's eyes widened a little more and she nodded.
"And you have experience -- office experience, recordkeeping, filing and keeping a set of books?"
Jenny nodded numbly.
"You've been doing these things how long?"
"Fi -- fi-- five years," she stammered.
The Sheriff looked at the Chief.
"How much are you paying her?" he demanded.
"I, um, that is, I think --"
"Double it," the Sheriff snapped. "Effective now, and get her an assistant to fetch coffee and keep her pencils sharpened. You just found the axle around which an efficient department revolves. This young woman here will make your life immensely easier."
The Sheriff turned to the wide-eyed young woman and smiled a little.
"Miss Jenny, could you fetch your pad and pencil, please, I need to dictate policy and procedure. This will become part of departmental policy and needs to be filed as such with access to command rank officers."
"Y - y - yes, sir," Jenny nodded. "Right away."
The Sheriff turned back to the Chief, seated himself again.
"Treat her like gold," the Sheriff said quietly. "She is now your right hand."
Jenny popped back in. "Do you still want coffee, gentlemen?" she asked anxiously.
"Some other time," the Sheriff smiled, and Jenny nodded, withdrew again.
The Sheriff turned. "Chief," he said, "your men are for the most part ... green. If you like I can bring training to them. I guarantee they'll need it."
"Training?" the Chief said, blinking. "And the cost ...?"
The Sheriff gave the Chief of Police a long look.
"Chief," he said, "I had to visit a brother officer's widow today. I don't particularly like to do that and I don't reckon you would find it terribly pleasant yourself. I'll train your men so you don't have to go talk to a young widow and bring her news that she genuinely does not want to hear."

Sarah walked across the street, stopping to let a freight wagon clatter and rumble past, waving at the grinning driver; a tall Texan on a paint pony followed the freight wagon, at least until he saw the pretty young schoolmarm.
The paint pony stopped and the Texan whipped off his hat, grinning broadly: "Miss Sarah, how in two hells beggin' your pretty pardon ma'am have you been?"
Sarah laughed and walked up to the weathered cowpoke with the left hand holster, reaching out to stroke his paint's shoulder.
"Mister Mactavish, you handsome devil," she declared, tilting her head back and shaking her mane, "why don't you have those lovely ladies just a-drippin' off you like they were the last time I saw you?"
Mactavish threw back his head and laughed quietly. "Miss Sarah," he said sincerely, which meant he was lying through his teeth and he knew that they both knew it, "they just could not hold a hand dipped waxberry candle to you!"
"And just what do you know about waxberries, Mr. Mactavish?" Sarah said twisting a little like a mischevious girl, flaring her skirt a bit, and Mactavish grinned even more broadly.
"Why, Miss Sarah, we used to toss 'em in hot water to float off the wax, then we'd skim off the wax and make candles out of 'em! Skinny things they were, too, it takes a bloody ton of berries to wax a candle!"
Sarah laughed again, then grimaced, her hand going to her collar bone.
"Miss Sarah?" Mactavish asked, concerned.
"It's nothing," Sarah lied. "I have to go see my brother."
"Your brother?" Mactavish exclaimed. "Is he still as thin and plug ugly as he always was?"
"No," Jacob barked. "I'm worse!"
Mactavish turned, leaned down a little and thrust his hand toward the deputy.
"How in two hells are ye, Jacob!"
"Fine as frog hair, Mactavish," Jacob laughed, taking the gloved hand, "and why ain't they stretched yer neck yet?"
"'Cause I ain't done nothin' worth stretchin' it!" Mactavish crowed.
Jacob looked at Sarah and she noticed the flimsy in his hand.
"Sarah," he said, "you've been drafted."
"Oh?" Sarah's eyebrow arched and she put her hands on her hips. "Says who?"
"Ain't she cute when she does that?" Mactavish said quietly to Jacob. "Why, you'd think she was a-gittin' married or somethin'!"
"Something like that," Jacob nodded, extending the telegram under the paint's neck to his sister's reaching hand.
Sarah read the flimsy, nodded.
"I'll tend the detail," she said, "how many have you already?"
"Three in the drawer."
"I'll see what the Mercantile has."
"Has what?" Mactavish demanded.
"Spur trigger pistols," Sarah replied, shading her eyes as she looked up at the Texan with the bright, piercing eyes.
"Oh, hell, I got a pair I'll just give you," he said. "That'll make five, how many you want?"
"Five should do," Jacob murmured.
"They aint' much," Mactavish muttered, digging in his off saddlebag, "they're stamped Robin Hood and I only give five dollars for the pair. Rim fire .32s they are but they go bang."
He handed them to Jacob. "They go their teeth in," he cautioned.
"Be worthless if they didn't," Jacob said wryly.
"Where are you bound?" Sarah asked, tilting her head a little to the side as she rubbed her collar bone.
"Cripple Creek," he declared solidly with a swing of his hand. "My baby sis married their town Marshal and I been threatenin' to go see the two of 'em and by golly now I'm a-gonna do that!"
Jacob and Sarah exchanged a look.
"Now I dont' like that," Mactavish said slowly. "I do not like that one little bit. You two know somethin'. Out with it, I say!"
"Mactavish, my friend," Jacob said slowly, "tie off your nag and let's have a cold one. I reckon you could use a good square meal."
Mactavish looked suspiciously at the long tall deputy before nodding and slapping his lean midsection.
"Yeah, sounds good," he agreed. "Was I turned sideways I'd not even throw a decent shadder."

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Linn Keller 9-24-13

 

I woke up in the same position I'd fallen asleep.
I don't reckon I moved a'tall once I laid down.
The bed was comfortable, clean, the sheets smelled good, the way they do when they're dried out in sun and wind, the pillows were just right, and I was not at all comfortable.
It'd been a good while since I slept without Esther and I missed her.
I reckon that's why I woke restless.
I set up and rubbed my face and took a long breath, looked over at the clock and nodded.
I don't usually take me a bath of a morning but I felt like I needed one.
I just couldn't get the Marshal's widow out of my mind.
My suit and hat were freshly brushed and my boots polished -- the advantage of staying at the best hotel in town -- I shaved and dressed and knotted my tie, shrugged into my coat and took another look at my boots.
Vanity, vanity, all is vanity, a voice said in the back of my mind, and I laughed at myself; if I have one vanity, it's my boots: I keep them polished up when possible,and Jacob learned that from me.
I turned away from the mirror, settled the gunbelt around my middle, checked both revolvers, then checked both hideouts and put them away as well.
I'd just finished when I recognized the brisk rat-tat at the door.
I opened it with a grin and was met with two pair of pale blue eyes.
"Have you eaten?" I greeted them, then followed immediately with "Never mind, I'm hungry, let's have breakfast," and Jacob and Sarah both laughed.
I shoved out my hand and gripped my son's and raised Sarah's knuckles to my lips, then I shut the door behind me and we went on down the hall and down stairs, and heads turned to behold two tall men with a lovely young lady between them, and I don't blame them for looking, for what man does not wish to be seen with a beauty on his arm?
We set down at a corner table, a round one pulled out a little so the three of us could all have our backs to a wall; the waiter knew to bring coffee without asking, and flashed a quick smile when I commented, "The cavalry runs on coffee, and so do I!"
He took our orders and departed, and I leaned back; I had my back to the angle of the corner, where I could look left and look right and wonder for a moment how in the hell did these two grow so fast and so well ... then I brought my chair's legs down with a thump and got right to the point.
"First of all," I said, "thank you both for coming on short notice." I looked at Sarah. "Did I cause you difficulties, with school just starting?"
"My Papa asked my help," she said quietly.
I nodded and looked at Jacob.
"Jackson Cooper has the town," he said, "and they'll telegraph if we're needed."
I nodded.
"Good enough." I considered. "The pistols?"
"We have them, sir," Jacob replied, "spur triggers all."
"Good." I nodded. "I don't want the trainees to lose any fingers."
Two sets of pale blue eyes were steady on my own, with Jacob's expression and Sarah's betraying their curiosity.
"Cripple now has a police department," I explained. "Unfortunately they have precious little experience. They have some but not enough and I want to teach them some things that will keep them alive."
"Take-aways," Jacob said, and Sarah nodded her understanding.
"Correct. We'll start with pistols and move on to knives and belt buckle fighting distance."
"Papa," Sarah said gently, "I can't ... do much, you know."
"You can do enough," the Sheriff said flatly. "We put one of them up against you and he finds the pistol stripped out of his hand and aimed at him ... by a mere girl" -- "then we can have Jacob step in and take care of flying mares and other strenuous activities."
Sarah nodded, looked at Jacob, who looked back, concerned.
"Little Sis," he said, "I don't want you hurt."
The Sheriff saw Sarah's eyes change and she said tightly, "Who are you calling little, Little Brother?"
The Sheriff leaned back, grinning, as Sarah raised a hand, opened and closed clawlike fingers, leering at Jacob: he twisted in his chair, teeth clenched: "No," he groaned, "not the remote tickle!"
"Yesss," Sarah hissed, raising her other hand, making tickle-motions and Jacob's face turned scarlet as he writhed in obvious torment.
Sarah's face calmed, she placed her hands in her lap and looked around, perfectly innocent, as if nothing had happened: she looked at her Papa, her chin raised a little, and she explained, "The Dreaded Remote Tickle works every time!"

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Linn Keller 9-25-13

 

Jacob and I rose at the same time.
Sarah remained demurely seated, though her eyes were anything but demure.
A man and a woman approached us.
I knew the woman.
Her eyes were a little puffy and I reckon she'd been crying again.
The man was not well dressed; he was followed by the maitre d', who was obviously displeased, and two burly looking hotel detectives flanking him one pace behind.
At my glare they stopped; the maitre d' opened his mouth about the time Jacob stepped toward him, flared his coat tails back and set his jaw.
The three stopped.
I could tell the hotel detectives were ready for a fight and one man with a gunbelt wasn't going to back them down.
Sarah stood, a double gun in her hands -- a double gun with the barrels cut down to about a foot and a half, the stock abbreviated to a pistol grip.
She held it level, pointed toward the nearest bull.
He froze, grunted; his partner stopped as well as the maitre d' continued one pace, out of harm's way.
"I suggest," Sarah said in a pleasantly modulated voice, "that you two find business elsewhere."
The crisp double click of two hammers coming to full cock seemed terribly loud in that moment.
Jacob turned his lapel over to display his badge.
"A coffin," Jacob said, "or jail." He smiled humorlessly. "Unless you do as the lady says."
I'll say this for the pair.
They didn't panic easy.
One reached up and readjusted his cigar; the other held very, very still, then they both turned and walked casually away, their hands very carefully at their sides.
Sarah eased the hammers down to half cock; the gun disappeared into the mystery of her skirt's pleats and she settled herself onto the velvet cushions of a throne that only incidentally looked like one of the upholstered chairs in the hotel's dining room.
The maitre d' swallowed hard, then raised his chin and spoke.
"Gentlemen," he said crisply, with a trace of a French accent, "are not allowed in the dining room without a necktie."

Angela raised her hand, her splayed fingers making a flesh colored star at the end of her upthrust arm.
"Yes, Angela?" Emma Cooper smiled.
Angela stood. "Miz Cooper, where'd Sarrrah go?"
Emma Cooper smiled and nodded approvingly.
"Say her name again, Angela," Emma said, "so we can all hear how it is correctly pronounced."
Angela took a breath, nodded her head emphatically as she said "Sarrrrrah."
"Miss Sarah," one of the Blaze boys hissed from behind her.
Angela turned, planted her knuckles on her hips and said "Oo-kaaaay," then she turned, took another deep breath, nodded her head again and declared, "Miss Sarrrrrah!"
Emma Cooper raised a finger and took a step away from her desk.
"Class," she said, "please notice the correct use of the letter "R" in the name Sarah."
The schoolmarm stepped to the board; with a stroke and a flourish, she chalked a capital R on the heavy slate board.
"It is too easy to mispronounce the letter R," Emma Cooper declared, dusting her hands briskly together, "but Angela has the right of it. Well done."
Angela smiled with delight, her dimples popping out at her beloved teacher's approval, and she sat, then she popped up like a cork out of water and exclaimed, "But where is she?"

"Naomi is coming home with me," Mactavish said without fanfare. "She has nothing here now. We've family back home in the Big Bend." He thrust his hand out to the Sheriff.
"You were the only one decent enough to come and see my sister."
The Sheriff's hand gripped the Texan's: callus met callus, grip embraced grip, and two men regarded one another eye to eye. "You're the only one I'll say come and see us."
The Sheriff nodded solemnly and they released their handclasp.
"Except for you, you long tall drink of ugly," Mactavish said to Jacob, and the Sheriff's son could see the ornery look in the man's eyes.
"Don't stand too close," Jacob said, "or ugly might rub off."
"You think?" Texas countered, a grin threatening to overtake his visage.
"I hear it's contagious," Jacob said, straight faced.
Naomi hadn't looked up since the two of them came to the table; now Naomi looked, slowly, up to the Sheriff, then over to Jacob, then over to Sarah.
She nodded, looked back to the Sheriff.
"A man," she said, a quiver in her voice, "should have family about him." She swallowed, pressed a wadded kerchief to her nose. "He -- we -- wanted ... we so wanted ..."
Her hands strayed down to her belly, to the new life she held.
Sarah stood and stepped in front of the Texan: she laid a gentle hand against Naomi's cheek and whispered, "You carry a son, and he will honor the memory of a brave and manly father. Your son will be a man of laughter and a man of strength, and he has blue eyes." She looked at Mactavish. "Just like your brother."
Naomi closed her eyes and nodded, leaned her forehead against Sarah's.
"Thank you," she whispered, then lifted her head and looked at the Sheriff.
"Thank you, Sheriff," she said. "My husband thought well of you, and you gave him his start." She shivered in a breath. "He loved what he did --"
Her voice caught; she pressed her kerchief to her nose and mouth again and screwed her eyes shut, and the tall Texan murmured to his grieving sister and guided her away from the table, and toward the door.
Sarah looked at her father.
The tall lawman still stood, watching them cross the room; he looked at Sarah and murmured, "There, but for the grace of God ..."
He reached down, picked up his coffee cup, drained it, set it down.
"I've lost my appetite," he said. "You?"
Sarah shook her head, Jacob said "Same."
"Let's go save some cops' lives."

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Linn Keller 9-26-13

 

"If I may have your attention, gentlemen," Sarah called, picking up a pointer and rapping the blackboard sharply.
Four uniformed policemen and their Chief squirmed in their seats, looked at the pretty young schoolmarm in her grey schoolmarm's dress.
"My name is Miss Sarah, and the reason I look like a schoolteacher is because that's what I am." She smiled through her round-lensed spectacles, pushed them delicately back up her nose. "My associates and I are going to teach you to be sneaky, nasty, brutal and effective, not necessarily in that order."
She had their undivided attention; such a pretty young thing speaking in such a manner is guaranteed to get a man's attention, simply because what she was saying, just plainly did not go with how sweet and innocent she looked.
"I will be honest with you, gentlemen," she continued, "and that's a bad habit I inherited from my father -- ask me a question and I'll give you the honest answer, especially if it's not the one you want to hear." She put her hands together in front of her and smiled sweetly. "And to be perfectly honest, you are all handsome gentlemen, and I would like to think you are happily married to sweet and loving wives, and you want to go home alive at the end of your work day."
She placed the pointer in the chalk trough, pointed at one of the men.
"You, sir, are a volunteer, step up here, please."
The officer looked uncertainly at his fellows, then stood -- looking awkward and reluctant as any schoolboy -- and walked forward to the pretty young schoolteacher as she opened a wooden box on the table beside her.
"Please take this," she said, handing him a spur trigger .32 revolver.
He took the pistol a little uncertainly, as if he wasn't quite sure how he should grip it.
"How much shooting have you done?" Miss Sarah asked, giving him the full benefit of her big, lovely eyes.
"A little," he admitted, "but not terribly much."
"Good," Sarah declared with a bright smile. "I shall have fewer bad habits to un-teach you. Now -- I'm terribly sorry, we've not been properly introduced. My name is Sarah." She extended her hand.
He switched the pistol from right hand to left, Sarah's hand slapped his and just that quick he found himself looking down the muzzle of the gun that a moment before was in his grip.
"Did you see how I did that?" Sarah asked the others.
Two sat with their mouths open, the Chief was pointing and asking, "How --?" and the fellow she faced looked like he'd just been handed a cold dead fish.
Sarah blinked, handed the gun back to him.
"I asked you a question," she said. "My name is Sarah, and I don't know yours."
"It's --" he said, and Sarah slapped the back of his hand and the cocked pistol was pointed at his nose again.
"There," Sarah said, placing the pistol in the box and setting her knuckles on her hips. "You have to be absolutely the best volunteer I've had all day." She reached up, placed her hand on his shoulder and faced the class.
"Did you notice what I did? First -- I took the offensive.
"The best defense is a good offense and I decided to offend this poor fellow" -- she patted his flat belly -- "and he is being such a good sport about it. You really should give him a raise in pay."
The Chief closed his mouth and raised an eyebrow.
"I distracted him and I did something totally unexpected." Sarah reached into the box, handed him the pistol again.
"Now let's try this very slowly. Every one of you will learn this and you will practice it and you will become very good at it, and I'll show you why.
"Now. First, I distracted him -- I told him my name and broke his train of thought.
"I don't have to ask his name, I could --"
Sarah clapped her hands to her cheeks, shreiked, her face a mask of panic -- and she snatched the gun from his hand again.
"Anything can break the train of thought," she said. "Please be seated, you're next."
The next police officer came to his feet, laughing nervously; the others chuckled sympathetically.
"Now. This fellow is going to be ready for my little tricks." Sarah handed him the pistol, stuck out her hand. "Hello, we've not been properly introduced. My name is Sarah."
The man withdrew the pistol -- pulled it hard up against his ribs, cocked the hammer.
"There!" Sarah declared triumphantly. "Look at what he's done -- here, turn and face your fellows -- extend the gun as it was when I handed it to you -- now, I give you my hand, hello my name is Sarah, we've not been properly introduced -- now withdraw the pistol."
He drew it back again, until his fist -- and the little open top he gripped -- were against his ribs.
"Just so!" Sarah declared triumphantly. "If I try and grab this I will be shot for my troubles!"
She drew two steps toward the blackboard. "Here with me, sir, if you please. Now, gentlemen, let me show you how the magic trick works."
Sarah's eyes twinkled -- light blue, bright, full of mischief -- "first, he's right handed, so you want to twist the gun out of line with yourself. Chances are pretty good that it will go off especially if it's cocked, and you don't want to get shot. I have, it's no fun, believe me!"
Heads nodded; murmured assent was heard.
Jacob inclined his head to his father, who bent his toward his son's in return: "They're eating out of her hand," he whispered, and his father nodded agreement.
"Now. If you can't take a moment to distract them, don't worry about it, just go for the gun. Grab and twist, always toward the back of their hand, and let me show you why."
Sarah reached into the box again, pulled out a percussion Army Colt.
"Here, trade me," she said, put the little Robin Hood in the box.
"Now," she said, "I'm going to move slowly so you can see the why as well as the how."
"I am faced with a pointed pistol."
The Army Colt was thrust out.
"I am going to move, first, to slap the barrel out of engagement."
Sarah extended her hand, flat, exaggerating her moves.
"When I feel the barrel on my palm I am going to grip it with full intent of bending it into a horseshoe."
Grins and chuckles and Sarah looked over her spectacles, the image of a disapproving schoolmarm: she wagged a finger at the class and warned, "Gentlemen, have a care, I have a ruler and I know how to use it!"
"Now where was I?"
She stepped back, pretended to consider.
"So. We slap the barrel and grip it hard. We twist it toward the back of his hand" --
The officer yelped and released the pistol and Sarah grabbed his wrist, ran her leg behind his knee and pushed a very little bit.
"Take a look at his trigger finger," Sarah said, then she twisted the pistol the other way, taking the strain off the digit: "If I had turned a little more the bone in his finger would fracture; had I applied this quickly and briskly, the finger would have torn off." She looked over their heads and met the Sheriff's steady eyes. "A wise man taught me that."
"Now." She nodded to her accomplice, who released the Army Colt; she gestured the class toward her. "On your feet, the lot of you. Pair off, you will practice with me first because I'm just a little girl and I can't hurt big strong men like you, now, can I?"
"In Nomine Patri et Spiritu Sancti, Amen," Jacob intoned solemnly, and Sarah pointed an accusing finger at him: "Hey! You wit' da face! No Last Rites here!"
"Yeeeessss, Baaawwwsss," Jacob replied with a nasal whine.
Sarah shook her head sadly. "You just can't get good help these days. Everyone take a pistol, please don't take the Army Colt, just the spur triggers, thank you, now we'll take turns -- I'll start with you, Chief, I'll take it away from you slowly so you can see how it's done, then you'll take it away from me. Ready?"
Jacob opened his mouth to say something else and Sarah raised a hand, making clawing motions at him, and he immediately saw the wisdom of closing his mouth: as a matter of fact he was grateful the officers did not see his distressed twist and expression as Sarah threatened him again with the Dreaded Remote Tickle.

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Linn Keller 9-27-13

 

That night, just as the three finished their supper, an uncomfortable looking police officer presented himself at their table, his round cap under his arm.
The Sheriff appreciated the man's sense of timing; he'd just finished the last of an excellent slice of pumpkin pie, and cleared the crumbs from his throat with a long drink of coffee. Rising, he said, "Young fellow, you look like you've seen a ghost!"
"No, sir," the officer said -- his voice, at least, was steady -- "but thank you for keeping me from that honor."
"I think you should sit down," Sarah suggested, raising her hand; the waiter came over and Sarah said "Whiskey, if you please, three fingers' worth, single barrel."
"Yes, ma'am," the waiter bowed.
"Now, sir," Sarah said reassuringly, fixing the police officer with bright, light-blue eyes, "please speak frankly and tell us what burdens your handsome young soul."
He swallowed; the waiter appeared again, hovered attentively: Sarah dispatched him with an order of pie and a good beef sandwich, and again the obsequious slavey bowed and withdrew.
Sarah took the glass, slid it before the copper.
"Drink," she said. "You look like a man who needs a good belt."
"I can't," he said. "It's worth my job --"
"Drink," the Sheriff said. "You're off duty now, this is a consult, you're being sociable and if anyone objects I'll cut their throat. Now drink."
The man's words were quiet but authoritative: somehow, the young policeman did not doubt the man with the iron grey mustache meant exactly what he said in that moment.
He drank.
The whiskey went down, the story came up: he'd been on foot patrol in the lower section, a boy ran out with wide and panicked eyes to report two men in a fight; he ran down the alley, one man shot another, turned and thrust a pistol at him.
He responded as he'd been trained, reacted without thought: he seized the barrel, twisted it hard toward the back of the man's hand: the gun went off, he felt a tug along his coat sleeve, just before the bone snapped and he jerked, hard.
It hadn't been difficult to find the perpetrator afterward, he said grimly, and sure enough one of the local sawbones was patching up the stump of a freshly abbreviated trigger finger when the cop found him.
He held up his left forearm and showed them the powder scorch, the sliced material where the pistol ball parted fabric instead of his ribs.
"I have you to thank," he concluded.
"What about your wife?" Sarah asked.
"My ... wife?"
"You haven't told her?"
"I only just turned the fellow over to the jailer, then I came her to find you."
The Sheriff nodded thoughtfully, smiled a little.
"Son," he said in a reassuringly deep voice, "it's a rare thing for a teacher to ever find out that they actually did some good with their teaching." He nodded toward Sarah. "I do appreciate your letting us know." He looked up. "Ah, and here comes your supper."

The next morning was like the previous: four hours of instruction, then hit the street; the second day was knives, but the class was not as effective as the Sheriff wanted, and after the first hour he called a halt.
"You two," he said, "worked all night, didn't you?"
"Yes, sir," they chorused, their exhausted eyes betraying their bone deep fatigue.
"You two go sack out. We'll take care of you, fear not."
"Thank you, sir," they murmured.
"Good lads," the Chief said quietly as the pair departed. "They insisted on pulling their night shift."
"If I"d known they were working the hoot owl," the Sheriff frowned, "I would not have had them in class the day before."
"I'm glad you did," the Chief said stoutly. "They all saw your lesson save a man's life."
He looked directly at Sarah.
"Ye have a stiffness to your arm, young lady, in spite of making your lessons look so very easy."
Sarah's smile was thin.
"I rode into the broken off stub of a seasoned pine branch, Chief," she said ruefully, "and it speared me below the collar bone." She raised a hand, placed her palm protectively over the bullet wound. "It is no fun to feel one's lung collapse, and I must be careful of it even yet."
"Oh dear Lord," the Chief exclaimed quietly. "I didn't realize."
"That's why we rotate instructors," Sarah smiled. "No more than a half hour with any one of us. It keeps us from getting stale and it keeps your interest."
The Chief nodded. "It certainly works," he admitted.
"Jacob," Sarah said, "could you take over? I will admit I am a little ... sore ... after yesterday."
"Sure thing, Little Sis," he grinned.
"Hey, who are you calling Little Sis?" Sarah demanded, raising both hands and making clawing motions.
"Oh, no," the Chief groaned, twisting and grimacing at the sight: "not the Dreaded Remote Tickle!"
"You too?" Sarah asked, astonished.
"My little sister used to torment me with it," the Chief admitted.
"I'm sorry," Sarah said, laying a reassuring hand on the man's forearm. "That was not part of our curriculum."

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Linn Keller 9-29-13

 

A figure lay prostrate before the altar.
It had not moved for some hours.
It lay as if poured from a giant’s pail, lay motionless and boneless, as if the very life were pulled from its limbs.
The figure wore a nun’s habit; its veiled face was to the floor, arms outstretched over its head, toward the altar; its feet pointed back toward the aisle from whence it had been poured forth.
Nobody saw the silent nun in the white habit come into the church; Cripple Creek had its Catholic population, both Mexican and European; they never lacked for volunteers for Perpetual Adoration, and those quiet souls who contemplated the Eternal honestly did not know when the nun came in, nor when she prostrated herself before the altar: it was not until after they began their turn at Adoration, just short of midnight, and the slow tolling of four o’clock’s bells that they saw the figure stir.
The silent nun drew her arms down, pressed her knuckles into the floor and came to a squat, then stood: she raised her arms slowly overhead, slowly, gracefully, bringing her palms together: she lowered her prayer-pressed hands to the level of her veiled face and stopped, and stood as if carven of stone.
A door opened, and they looked away; they looked back, and the nun was gone, as silently as if she’d never been: they turned, their eyes wide, searching the darkened interior of the church’s ornate sanctuary, and they saw …
…nothing.

Men staggered from saloons and weaved down the street; a few brave souls trod the warped boards of the board walk, but at their peril: in the street they hazarded mud and mud holes, piles of horse manure and wagon-ruts, but these were known hazards and plainly seen: if a man was so drunk that he fell headlong and facefirst into a pile of refuse and offal, why, it was his own fault, and his laughter would likely join that of those who hooted and jeered at the seeing of it: those who trod the board walk impaired, though, ran the risk of invisible boards warping underfoot, or disappearing entirely, or of missing boards disguising themselves with the memory of a whole walkway, resulting in broken bones, sprained joints and torn crotch-seams.
The nighttime contingent of the new Cripple Creek Police Department traveled as a pair, unlike the late Marshal, who walked alone, and was respected for it: in pairs, the police were seen as afraid to brave the criminal elements as a lawman ought, and so were bullyragged, jeered at and insulted.
To their credit, the nighttime force held their temper; they returned good-natured jibes for insults, laughter for curses, which served to mollify many, but in one instance, it only enraged the troublemaker, who’d been fired that morning for high-grading, who’d lost his stake that evening to a crooked faro dealer, and who spilled his last drink thanks to the careless jostle of an anonymous elbow.
“You damned cowards,” he slurred, rising to his feet, “I’d ought to just kill you!” – and so saying, pulled a spur trigger .32 from a pocket and brought it up.
The nearer of the two officers responded without thought; he reacted as he’d been trained – he seized the barrel, hard, twisted; his other hand slapped the attacker’s wrist and the gun twisted from the man’s grasp.
He’d responded as he’d been trained.
Unfortunately, in that moment, he froze, for he had no idea what to do next.

A diminutive nun glided down the boardwalk, past one saloon and another; men, drunk or sober, made way for her: not because she was a formidable or impressive figure, but out of decency: these men worked hard, played hard, fought hard, but they were for the most part decent and honorable, and every last one of them lifted his cover, or at the very least, touched brim or bill as she passed.
She slowed as she came to the Diamond Saloon, froze as a single gunshot, then an exclamation and the sound of a man’s fist, shivered the early morning stillness.
Sarah ducked, looked under the bat wings, then shot under them in time to catch the collapsing policeman.
Pain seared through her own ribs as his weight came down on her: she twisted, eased him down as best she could: she seized his coat, tore it open, losing at least two buttons in the process: her hand disappeared up a voluminous sleeve, came out with a sharp, straight blade, inserted at the man’s collar and drew swiftly, carefully down, parting shirt-front linen to expose the man’s wound.
The policeman’s hand grasped Sarah’s arm.
“Bless me, Sister,” he gasped, “for I have sinned.”
The man’s face was becoming pallid, greyish; he was weakening by the moment, and Sarah’s gut told her his end was far nearer than he realized.
The policeman coughed bloody foam and he shivered and Sarah looked up at his pasty-faced partner and snapped, “Doctor! NOW!”
Something metallic clattered to the floor and Sarah looked up into a man’s panicked eyes.
She saw the pistol on the floor.
“You shot him?” she asked quietly.
He nodded, opened his mouth, his hands spread beseechingly.
“Sit down,” Sarah said, her voice quiet but tight, “and be very quiet.”
He did.
Sarah squeezed the policeman’s hand between both of hers, then made the Sign of the Cross and squeezed his hand again.
“In Nomine Patri, et Fili, et Spiritu Sancti, Amen,” she began, and she saw his lips try to follow her words, and then his eyes lost focus and his head turned to the side and he was gone.
Sarah tapped the corner of the man’s eyelid.
There was no response; his pupils slowly expanded, until no trace of blue remained, just huge, black vacancies where his soul used to live.
Sarah gently closed his eyes, then fumbled in her sleeve again; she brought out a kerchief, a square of hemmed linen, laid it over the man’s face: she gripped his dead hand in both his, lowered her forehead until it rested on his bent knuckles, and the saloon was absolutely silent save for the sound of this one woman’s quiet sobbing.

The Chief shoved through the swinging doors, stopped.
The floor was still wet where water was sloshed over the blood; the body was removed, the early morning drinking crowd carefully paying no attention to what had been a scene of murder not twenty minutes before.
"What happened here!" the Chief demanded.
Men turned over cards or stared into the depths of their drink.
No one replied.
The Chief's face reddened and he yelled, "I ASKED WHAT HAPPENED HERE!"
There was a slow, measured pace behind him.
He turned and saw the cold-eyed Sheriff, a double twelve-bore in his grip: he eared back the hammers, their coming to full cock, loud in the predawn saloon.
"The man asked a question," the Sheriff said mildly.
He pointed to a man squirming in a chair.
"Either you've had too much beer or you need to talk to me."
The man kicked a spur trigger pistol across the floor toward the lawman.
"She -- she -- the little -- I mean -- she -- said -- to sit here," he stammered.
"Go on."
"He, I, him, he, he and his, his, he --"
The Sheriff took a step toward him, the double gun laid up in front of his shoulder, the barrels pointed to the vertical.
"Go on," he said, his voice deep, kindly, reassuring.
The man swallowed hard, trying to find some courage, and gave up.
"I killed him," he blurted.
"You killed him."
"Yeah. He, he, damned coward I called him, he, he and his, his, he grabbed the gun -- he grabbed the gun -- he, I grabbed it and twisted it around and and shot him, him, he's dead ..."
His voice trailed off, his eyes were wells of hopelessness and he sagged in his chair.
"I got nothin'," he whispered. "Nothin'."
The Sheriff thrust his chin at another man.
"Is that what happened?" he demanded.
The man nodded.
The Sheriff glared at another; he, too, nodded.
"Chief," the Sheriff said, "you will need to take witness statements from each of these men. Get their name, their residence or current address, wherever we can find them. Write down their account of what happened."
The Chief's jaw was set; anger glittered in his narrowed eyes.
"Where is the deceased at this time?"
"The deceased?" one fellow guffawed. "Ain't that fancy now! You mean his carcass --"
The Sheriff swung the butt of the double gun hard against the side of the laughing man's head, knocking him out of his chair: the man hit the ground, rolled, tried to come up and found the Sheriff's boot traveling in the opposite direction at a right fair velocity.
The tall, slender lawman with the iron grey mustache planted his hind hoof squarely in the middle of the fellow's chest and shoved hard.
"You," he said, "will keep a civil tongue in your head or I will cut it out and tan it and nail it on the barn door with the others I've cut out and tanned."
He looked around.
"I asked a question. To where has the deceased been removed?"
"Sheriff," a voice called from the front door: a sick-looking policeman looked over the middle of the scrollwork doors. "He ... we took him to the doc but we were too late."
"Chief," the Sheriff said, "you will need the witness statements. Have you a note book? -- good -- a pencil? Splendid. I'll go to the doc's and find out what I can there, and I will report back to you."

"He did just like you taught us, Sheriff," the officer said slowly as they walked. "He grabbed that gun and twisted it right out of the other fellow's hand but I don't think he knew what to do next.
"The fellow he took it from, he grabbed it and tried to get it away.
"It got twisted around and when it went off he was in the way and that's all she wrote."
The Sheriff's eyes were cold, hard, his jaw set.
"Sheriff? Did we do wrong?"
"No," the Sheriff said shortly. "No, you did no wrong. You did the best you could."
"I shoulda ... I shoulda taken that ... taken him ... arrested him."
The Sheriff heard the tremor in the man's voice and he knew the reaction was setting in.
He stopped, laid a hand on the young officer's shoulder.
"Son," he said, not unkindly, "how many killin's have you seen?"
"Me?" The young officer with shiny buttons and the round uniform cap swallowed hard. "He ... Johnny was the first."
The Sheriff nodded.
"It's hardest when it's one of your own," he said, memory thickening his voice.
"Sheriff ... there was a nun, all in white ... I don't know where she come from but she was with him there at the last. He took a comfort from that."
The Sheriff looked at the young officer, then nodded.
They stopped at the doctor's office; a lamp was on inside.
The Sheriff raised his knuckles to knock.

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Linn Keller 9-30-13

 

The screen slid back, leaving a latticework and cloth separating confessor from penitent.
"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned," a woman's voice said.
The priest, like most of his kind, recognized stress (or distress) in the woman's voice.
He was still remembering the magnificent gift this morning, at early Mass, when a nun he'd only heard of -- the Mexicans called her the Little Faceless One -- sang the Ave in a voice so pure, so flawless, he was hard pressed to keep from shedding tears at the hearing of it.
This woman's voice was nothing like that: instead of a soaring soprano that resembled the porcelain wings of a white dove in flight, this soul's contralto was rough-edged.
She did not wait for the priest's response, but pushed ahead.
"Padre," she said, "my stupidity -- my slowness -- killed a man tonight."
He opened his mouth to make reply and the voice continued.
"I was brought in to teach your police officers how to keep themselves safe. We taught part of what they knew -- and the officer killed last night used what we taught him -- but we didn't teach him enough and that's my fault!"
The priest hesitated.
"Killed, you say?" he asked.
"Yeah," the voice husked. "I taught him a takeaway but he didn't know what to do afterward and he's dead." The voice laughed, a harsh, bitter sound. "I gave him a little knowledge and it killed him. You know the old saying, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing? His tombstone proves it!"
"Which officer ...?" the priest hazarded.
"I think he was one of your flock, Padre. My sister was with him when he died."
"Your sister?"
"She was here this morning. She sang at Mass."
The priest grunted as if punched.
"Oh, yeah," the speaker said bitterly. "Sweet and Light was there when he breathed his last."
"I see," he said slowly. "And it's your fault that he's dead?"
"Damned right it is, Padre. I should have taught him what to do next. I should have taught him!"
"Were you the only one teaching?" he asked cautiously.
There was a long silence on the other side of the screen.
"No," she finally responded.
"Are you the only one responsible?"
Again the long silence.
"No."
"Did you yourself kill this man?"
The silence was the longest of any ... and, finally, almost reluctantly, "No."
"Could it be, my child," the priest suggested, "that you are taking on guilt that is not rightfully your own?"
"No," the rough woman's voice said, and he heard sadness and regret in her words: "no, they trusted us to train them. I taught and I taught well but I did not teach enough and a good man is dead and it's my fault, Padre. It's my fault!"
The priest was not surprised that the woman was not weeping.
There were those who would have broken down in tears at this point; this woman was not one such: no, she would hold her guilt to her heart like a branding iron, searing her soul with guilt long after she should have cast it from her.
He searched for the right words; he considered the sin of pride but decided he would cause more harm to speak of it, and said instead, "My child, you are judged more harshly by your own heart than by the Sacred Heart. Know that you did not sin. Teach again, my child. If you are competent to teach our policemen, you are competent to teach well. Please don't deprive them of the knowledge you possess, the skills you can impart. If you stop now you will deprive them of what they need, and that may indeed be a sin, for surely there is more that you have, that they can use to their benefit."
He heard the confessional creak a little and he knew she was leaned back against the backrest; it creaked that way when someone relaxed against it -- and he took this as a good sign.
"All right," the voice said finally.
He heard the confessional door open, then close; footsteps retreated, and the priest sighed, crossed himself, and opened his own door.
Across the church, under one of the Stations of the Cross, the white nun with the completely veiled face stood, facing him, motionless: he stood, opening his mouth to call a greeting to her, then he stepped on the edge of his black robe and stumbled.
His hand shot out and he caught himself on the edge of a heavy wooden pew; he straightened, looked again, and the Little Faceless One was gone.

Sarah breakfasted with her father and her brother.
"You look tired," Jacob offered.
"Yeah, God loves you too," Sarah snapped, pouring a drizzle of milk into her coffee.
The Sheriff watched silently: usually Sarah drank tea; this morning she asked for coffee, and a large mug, and now she replied with an uncharacteristic abruptness.
"Last night?" the Sheriff asked.
Sarah nodded without looking up.
She took a slow, planned drink of the steaming-hot beverage, then very carefully, using both hands, placed the heavy ceramic mug on the table.
"I think," she said, enunciating her words very carefully, "I just scalded the hair off my tongue."
"I saw the widow just after it happened," the Sheriff said. "The Chief never has delivered a death notification. I did and he watched and learned."
The Sheriff held out a St. Christopher medal.
"This," he said, "goes to the little nun who knelt at his side. She came out of nowhere and held his hand as he died. His wife ... his widow wanted her to have this, and her thanks. She said it meant a great deal to her, to know that ... that he wasn't alone in his last moments."
The Sheriff placed the medal on the table, slid it toward Sarah.
"If you could see that she gets this ...?"
He left the question dangle.
Sarah nodded, bit her bottom lip; Jacob could see her eyes were unusually bright, and he looked away as she abruptly pressed a kerchief to one closed eye, then the other.
"I will," she said abruptly. "I will see to it."

The Sheriff ate with a good appetite, as did Jacob.
Sarah ate nothing: she drank coffee; the Sheriff knew she was upset, but held his counsel.
She would talk when she was ready.

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Linn Keller 10-1-13

 

“This morning,” Jacob said, “I want you all stripped to the waist. You’ll be rolling around in straw and getting chaff all over you and you don’t want to clean that off your coat and shirt before going on duty.”
The two officers and their Chief looked at one another, then unbuttoned their coats and hung them on the pegs indicated, with their shirts over: their caps went on top of the shirts.
“Now,” Jacob said, “my baby sis wanted to be in on this part of your training, but I told her if she did I was going to turn her over my knee and swat her little biscuits.”
The officers laughed and the Sheriff grinned: he’d been there when Jacob told her this.
“She laughed and said ‘Catch me first!’ – and then she did this.”
Jacob grabbed one of the officers, swept his legs out from under him and dropped him flat on his back on a thick layer of straw.
“It’s a simple move but it works really well – especially when you take someone by surprise.” He grabbed the officer’s forearm; they clasped one another firmly and he hauled the man to his feet.
“Now let me show you how that works, but slowly.”

Sarah soaked in a tub of hot, steaming water, fragrant vapors from scented soaps rising to steam up the marble trimmed tub room.
The hot water helped her aches – at least the physical aches – it did not help the pain she felt at losing one of her students.
Her students.
Charlie’s voice whispered in her memory, stern yet … not gentle … fatherly, perhaps?
You can’t save everyone.”
“I know,” she sighed. “I know I can’t … but I should have … I should have …”
You gave him a chance, her thoughts whispered back.
Not enough of a chance.
It’s all the time I had to work with him.
Then you did the best you could with what you were given.
I wish I were well enough to go Dark Rider on them.
I’d show them how to take a man down, hard …

Sarah snorted, almost a laugh.
I couldn’t Agent right now if I had to.
Not now.
Yes I could.
I could Agent as the Judge originally intended.
Disguise, subterfuge, gather intelligence, get into men’s’ confidences, weasel their secrets from them and report back.
A spy, an agent saboteur, an agent provocateur
.
Sarah closed her eyes and relaxed.
When I am healed, she thought.
When I am healed.

Jackson Cooper grabbed the man’s cocked Remington, running his thumb in front of the hammer and stripping the gun from the man’s fist.
He brought it down on a fast arc, smashing it into the man’s cheekbone hard enough to break the bone and drop the attacker like a slaughterhouse beef.
Jackson Cooper shifted his grip, wrapping his big paw around the Remington’s handle, brought it down and pressed the trigger.
The converted Remington drove a sizable payload down the bore, boosted by twice twenty grains of coarse powder, settling for all time the discussion of which was the more deadly, this second man, advancing with a knife, or a tall, muscular town marshal with a gun: the fact that he shot through the man’s knuckles, through the knife’s bone handle and then through the man’s spine, was beside the point.
The fight was over as quickly as it began; two men lay unmoving on the floor, one dead, one insensible: Jackson Cooper looked around, assessing those near and far, and finally rumbled, “Who was with this pair?”
One fellow at the bar raised his chin.
“I rode in with ‘em,” he said, “but I don’t know ‘em.”
“How’d you come to ride in with ‘em?”
“The trail I was a-ridin’ come into theirs west of town a few mile. We got to tellin’ lies to one another and laughin’ and here directly, why, we rode into town.”
“What were these two spattin’ about?”
The speaker shrugged. “Can’t say. I didn’t hear no disagreement between ‘em.”
Jackson Cooper grunted, bent, picked up the cold cocked fighter.
“Reckon Digger will be after that one,” he said thoughtfully. “I’ll pack this’un down to see Doc. You come with me, mister, I’ll need to take your statement.”
The young drifter looked around uncertainly, then nodded and followed the Marshal out, stepping over the carcass as he did.

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Linn Keller 10-2-13

 

A piercing whistle shivered the air and the Sheriff looked up, looked around.
He'd been winding his watch; he and the Chief compared their timepieces with the big clock on the tower; satisfied they were accurate, each carefully wound the knurled knob between thumb and forefinger, at least until the sharp summons brought the lawmen's attention outward.
The Sheriff smiled and pressed the knob, eased the watch's cover shut and slid it into his vest pocket; the Chief snapped his with a careless press of the thumb and made three tries before he found the watch pocket. Unlike the Sheriff, the Chief had a fob on a ribbon; it hung from his pocket, dangling a little, the ornate metal eagle swinging against his tight middle.
Sarah skipped down the stone steps of the Methodist church, a finer and larger structure than the simple, whitewashed and steepled box Firelands called its church: she looked left, looked right, then plucked up her skirts and scampered like a happy girl across the street, panting as she reached her Papa.
The Sheriff caught her by her elbows, his eyes smiling: "My dear," he murmured, "whoever taught you to whistle like that?"
Sarah looked up at her pale-eyed Papa and gave him an innocent eye-bat.
"Why, good sir," she said in a voice that professed her innocence, "you yourself taught me that, when I was but a little girl!"
The Chief did his best not to smile and failed miserably; Sarah gave him a wide-eyed look and added, "He also taught me how to whittle, how to make a whistle from willow stems and -- no, it was Uncle Charlie who taught me to sharpen a knife."
"I tried," the Sheriff protested, and Sarah came up on her toes and kissed the Sheriff quickly on the cheek.
"I know," she said, "but I was not a good student. Dear Papa, the fault was mine --"
She stopped, looked with alarm at the Chief, who nodded.
"Did you think it was that hard to see?" he chuckled. "Good Lord, girl, you have his eyes and his sense of humor!"
"Papa, a sense of humor?" Sarah teased. "Why, he is the very image of pale eyed death itself! The Grim Reaper in a tailored suit!"
"I have no idea why she would say that," the Sheriff said -- it was his turn to try and look innocent -- unlike his darlin' daughter, who succeeded wonderfully, he failed, and by an equally broad margin.
Sarah ran her arm through her Papa's, her other through the police chief's, and she steered the men toward a nearby restaurant.
"I have need of a sympathetic ear," she said, "or perhaps a swift kick in the pants, and I trust you two are good at either one."
The Sheriff and the Chief looked at one another; the Chief smiled and replied, "You do us too much honor, my Lady," and the Sheriff tried to keep a straight face.
They stepped into the restaurant just in time for one of the patrons to grab another by the shirt front and draw back a fist -- the Chief felt Sarah move but he didn't know really what happened until what appeared to be the aggressor hit the floor, Sarah's knees drove into the man's gut and she had a good grip on his right hand, twisting it mercilessly in a very painful come-along hold.
The Sheriff dropped his knee on the man's free shoulder, his hand going to the fellow's throat.
"Hold very still," he said, "and I will sort this out."
He looked up. "Chief," he said, "you just arrived at the scene of a crime. What do you do?"

Jacob stared at the two day cops, his mouth hanging open in surprise.
"They want you to WHAT??" he asked, his voice sharp and uplifted at the end.
Manfred nodded unhappily. "They want us to look like a sharp urban department. No gun in sight."
Jacob opened his mouth a little more, closed it.
"Are they telling you what kind of gun to carry?"
"No."
Jacob took off his hat, rubbed his face, looked at the pair.
"God Almighty save us from such fools," he said, frowning.
"Tell you what. I've got an idea. I'll need some help but I've got an idea."
He smiled, his light-blue eyes bright with mischief.
"Sure," the former detective said, "we'll be glad to help ... what will you need?"
Jacob rubbed his clean-shaven chin.
"Gentlemen," he said, "it's important to write things down." He opened a small wooden box beside him, pulled out two black-leather-bound notebooks that opened at the top. "One for each of you.
"Now let's say you went in on a barfight and a man was on the floor with a knife under his left armpit, up to the hilt between his ribs. You look it over and get witness names and where you can find them, they will have to testify at the inquest and if you find out who did it, they will be called to testify against the murderer. Later that evening you find two boys, one's scared to death, turns out his little brother fell in a rain barrel and you get there and the brother is doing a hand stand in six inches of water, he's mad as a wet hen but unhurt. You fetch him out, he's okay, move on.
"A woman runs screaming out of a fancy house firing a Derringer.
"You grab her wrist and strip the gun out of her hand and while she's busy kicking you in the shins your partner sees the shadow she was shooting at and gives chase, here directly he brings another woman back and soon as the two see each other they tear away from both your grips and they're going at one another like the Kilkenny cats and you've got a circle of folks in the middle of the stereet cheerin' and yellin' and makin' bets on who's gonna win.
"Next day you testify at the inquest and the coroner asks you if the knife was found under the man's left armpit.
"Was it?"
The two looked at one another; the former range detective hesitated, then said "No, 'twas under the right."
"No. No, it was left --"
"It's important that you know," Jacob interrupted, "for one of your night cops found a man who matched the murderer's description. He is left handed as a matter of have-to, his right hand was lost in a mining accident. Your answer determines whether an innocent man is hanged or a murderer pays for his crime. Which side was it?"
The two looked at one another.
"Open your notebook," Jacob said.
They blinked, then looked down at the forgotten tablets: two covers were swung open.
They saw the sketch of a man supine, one arm across his chest, the other out-thrown; under the out-thrown arm, the sketch of a knife, hilt deep, and beside this, carefully printed:
Knife, wrapped leather handle, brass cross guard. Hilt deep between ribs under victim's left armpit.
"An old Chinaman once told me the weakest ink is stronger than the strongest memory," Jacob said quietly. "That was your first lesson on writing things down."

Bonnie McKenna adjusted her spectacles and re-read the telegram, smiling a little.
"What is it, Mrs. Rosenthal?" her chief seamstress asked, coming over to look.
Bonnie handed Jacob's telegram to her.
"I'll need you to take two ladies and two portable machines. Buy material there unless none is suitable, you know what we have in stock. See if you can find the correct buttons or use the ones they have already." Bonnie put a bent forefinger to her lips, then delicately bit her knuckle.
"Check with Gracie Welker in town. The milliner. See if she can fabricate something as simple as a policeman's cap. If the House of McKenna is called upon to custom fit Cripple Creek's police uniforms, we're going to provide their caps as well!"

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