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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Lady Leigh 9-19-07

 

"The new school teacher? Why, Caleb and I were just visiting about that subject this morning! Isn't that interesting? What's she like, Duzy?"

"Bonnie! She is refereshing! About our age I am supposing, lighter red hair than your own, and looks to be curlier than yours ... shorter than you." Then Duzy chuckled, "but most women are!" Both women laughed at that. "Let's see if I can manage this buggy and go get her at Mr. Moulton's office."

"Maybe I should wait here, and you pick me up on the way out with her ..."

"Why ever should I do that, Bonnie?"

"Because Mr. Moulton ....stares at me all the time .... he seems fine while we conduct business ... but on a personal level he makes me uncomfortable."

Duzy smiled at her friend, "Bonnie? When are you going to realize you are a beautiful woman? A woman who deserves to be looked at in such a lovely way?" Before Bonnie could answer, Duzy continued, "Besides, you don't seem to mind Caleb's attention!"

"That's different ..."

"How, Bonnie, is that different?"

Bonnie thought on that, and supposed a subject change was in order. Afterall, how was it all different? It just was. Caleb was ... Caleb. SHe was comfortable with him. SHe didn't get the impression Caleb was there to make her uncomfortable ... to judge her ... He simply cared for her, and she for him. Bonnie was not exactly sure what level of care she was feeling. She knew she loved him ... but which love was it? She wanted to make sure before committing, though Bonnie felt Caleb was convinced of how he felt for her, but he never pushed. He trusted his feelings, she supposed, and she was envious of that to a certain degree. Time was a natural healer. Time was on their side, and time was the key.

"Well, Duzy, let's stop and get Sarah first. Schools about out and I think our Miss Jones should find out first hand just what our Sarah is all about!" Again more laughter from the women.

Within a half hour, Duzy, Bonnie, and a very excited Sarah, pulled up in front of Mr. Moulton's office. Duzy no sooner pulled in the reins, when the office door opened, and out steped a lovely young woman dressed in black, and Micheal Moulton. "Mama!" Sarah exclaimed, "You and the teacher could be cousins or something!"

"Shhh ... Sarah! Display your manners please!"

"But she has red hair!"

"Lots of people have red hair, Sarah, but that doesn't mean we are all related!" Bonnie smiled at Sarah, then looked over to the young woman. Mr. Moulton stepped up quickly, "Miss McKenna! A pleasure to see you this afternoon!"

Bonnie smiled, and nodded her head toward him, "Mr Moulton. And how are you today?"

"Fine! Fine. Miss McKenna, allow me to introduce you to Miss Emma Jones. Firelands new school teacher. Miss Jones, this is Miss Bonnie McKenna, and her daughter, Sarah McKenna."

Miss? Thought Emma to herself. Miss with a daughter? She couldn't remember her Aunt writing about this woman and child. She would have to refresh her memory. "It is my pleasure to meet you both. Miss McKenna ..."

"Bonnie, if you don't mind?"

"Bonnie it is, if you would be kind enough to call me Emma?" Bonnie nodded in agreement. "Bonnie, I have already heard a little about you from Duzy on our way to Mr. Moulton's office, and it is a pleasure to put a face to the lovely things Duzy said about you and your new business!" She then looked to Sarah, "and Miss Sarah! It is a very special pleasure to meet you! You are the first student I have met here!"

"Nice to meet you, too, Miss Jones. It sure will be great to have a teacher that we can play with on our break times. Mrs. Stevens complains that she can't run away from the ball like she used to."

"Sarah!" Bonnie exclaimed.

"But Mama! It's true! And I feel bad for her when the kids throw the ball at her and she doesn't catch it! That's why I stand next to her and tell her I'll go get it for her!"

Bonnie grew red in the face, looked at Miss Jones, who was smiling broadly, as was Micheal, and Duzy was laughing, "You're not helping. Duzy!" Bonnie said to her friend quietly.

"Oh, Bonnie! There is nothing to help with! .... Emma, if you are ready, we can take you to your new home."

Michael Moulton looked to Bonnie with an expression as if wanting to speak to her, but, as usual, the words got lost. He was a confident man, but seemed to loose the confidence when it came to this woman. He handed Emma Jones into the buggy, tipped his hat at the women, and waved at Sarah, then stepped back onto the board walk, and watched the women push forward.


Liam was standing on a boardwalk down the street, and also was watching the buggy. "Two redheads ...." he thought to himself. Wondering if one of them was Cousin Bonnie. Then his eyes roamed over the other woman. The one he saw earlier. Now that was a delectable piece he'd like to get his hands on. He'd been without for to long, any woman would do for the present, but that dark haired beauty would be someone he'd try to conquer. And if his gut feeling was right, one of those two read heads was his cousin, and that meant an "in" for him and the dark haired, dark eyed woman.

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Linn Keller 9-19-07

 

The office smelled of her perfume for some time.
I propped the door open and wished for something to move the air. Even Doerffler, back in his cell, inquired about the smell.
Finally I locked the door and went over to the Silver Jewel. I needed coffee, and I needed to think.
The Irish Brigade was just finishing their meal when I set foot in Daisy's. Sean leaped to his feet with a broad grin and thumped me heartily on the back. "Sheriff! Will ye join us?" he invited, and not quietly. "We've a question for ye!"
I sat, and Daisy set a slice of pie in front of me, and a big mug of coffee, and refilled everyone's mugs. There was almost an air of anticipation, and Daisy didn't leave. She stood there, holding the coffee pot and smiling.
"Sheriff, we've been talkin', me an' the boyos," Sean declared. "Ye've a foine little town here and we'd be please to stay!"
There were nods and affirmations from the other five.
"We'd be pleased to have you," I admitted. "My great fear is fire. You can see we're all built with wood, and out here wood dries out fast, and should she catch fire she goes up fast."
"Aye, we're no stranger t' that," Piotor growled in his curious accent. "It's taken me months t' grow me mustache back!" There was laughter and agreement as they remembered loudly how Piotor had gone into a burning room and come out, with a blanket-wrapped child in his arms, but without his trademark black handlebar mustache. Shirt, hair, blanket, all were smoking, but the child was unharmed. Piotor had gotten royally drunk that night, mostly thanks to a grateful community, and the local constabulary saluted him as he staggered back to the firehouse, supported by his comrades, who were only slightly less inebriated.
I held up a cautioning hand. "Right now I don't know if the town can afford your wage," I admitted. "I would hate to tell you to stay and then find out afterward we can't pay you."
Lew leaned across the table and said conspiratorially, "We hear there's gold hereabouts," he winked, and the others leaned closer, anxious for my response.
"I've heard that," I admitted, "and every now and again someone will find a couple nuggets in a creek, but you can find random nuggets in about any creek at any time." I looked from face to face to face, knowing that if I lied to them, and a gold strike became general knowledge, they would never trust me again. "I've seen gold fever ruin a town. You recall San Francisco, with a harbor full of abandoned ships, where even the crews got gold fever and ran off, leaving the boats to rot in harbor."
"Aye, we've heard," Sean rumbled. "See here, Sheriff, if there's gold, there's money to be made, and if there's money, there's civic improvements, and wi' improvements there's fire protection. And that's us!" He smacked a meaty hand on the table and laughed.
Daisy laid a hand on his shoulder and set the coffee pot down on the table. She shook her forearm and made a face. "It does grow heavy," she murmured. Sean's great arm went around her waist, drawing her into him. "Daisy me darlin'," he said with obvious affection, looking up into her lovely, Irish-blue eyes, "will ye marry me this day?"
"Sheriff," Daisy said, tilting her head a little to the side, "do y' think I should marry this great red-shirted Irishman?"
I leaned my elbow on the table and my chin on my fist, frowning and pretending to study Sean closely. I looked around the table, slowly, and back at Sean.
"Daisy," I said, "this fellow looks happy with you on his arm."
She looked down and smiled, and it was a special smile, one I've seen before, and I knew what the answer would be, but it was time to have a little fun with it.
"Aye," she said. "He does."
"Now, Daisy," I said, "you are a lovely lass, and a wonderful cook. You are young and pretty and full of life. Why, if it weren't for Sean's good right hand I might ask you to marry me!"
There was general and uproarious laughter, and Sean pounded happily on the table. I held up my hand for silence.
"Now, considering Sean hits hardest of any man I've ever fought, and I'd really rather not have to square off against him again, I am willing to concede to the better man." Whistles, shouts of approval, stomping of polished boots on the floor. Again I made a silencing gesture. "Not only that, Daisy, he is not only younger, he's better looking!" I paused while they laughed, and when it died down just a little, I concluded: "Well, he's younger, anyway!"
The laughter was loud, and it was long, and finally Daisy stroked Sean's hair, and opened her mouth.
Silence fell across the dining room.
"Yes, Sean," she said gently. "I will marry you this day."
Sean roared up out of his chair, seizing Daisy under the arms, spinning her around like a child's doll. Fiddler Daine had been watching the fun from his corner and began an Irish jig. Tables and chairs were shoved back, and Daisy and Sean danced, and the other five redshirts stamped and clapped, and I took the opportunity to slip out the door and over to Bonnie's.
I wanted to talk to Duzy.

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Linn Keller 9-19-07

 

I paused at the foot of the stairs.
When the Irish Brigade went anywhere, it was with all the stealth and delicacy of a cyclone. They were headed for the church, and the good Reverend Belden, and their intent was to be married, tonight.
They'd taken the trouble to restore the dining room to good order. Loud, brawling, full of fire they might be, but every man Jack of the Irish Brigade was a decent and honorable sort. They'd run an oiled mop on the floor to pick up any dust they tracked in, straightened every table cloth, reset every table, repositioned every chair.
Sean promised he would not take Daisy away from us, and I smiled, knowing such promises are easily given. I would ask Bonnie which of the girls could fill for Daisy for the interim.
Duzy was kind enough to fill me in about this Fannie Kikinshoot.
Duzy hadn't heard of this Clara Carlson.
I'd known some Carlsons, back in Northern Ohio. One of the Carlson girls, matter of fact, had broken my heart, not long after I'd lost Connie, which was one reason I stayed a single man for so long after.
I ascended the stairs and knocked on the right door, standing a bit to the side, in case a shot came through the door. I might look dumb but I try not to act it.
Don't always succeed, but I try.
A woman's voice. "Who is it?"
"Sheriff Linn Keller, ma'am. Might I talk with you?"
The door opened a crack and I could see one eye, some red hair and the business end of a Remington derringer. She looked me up and looked me down, and I could hear a chair being moved away from the door and she swung it open. "Come in, Sheriff."
I took off my hat. Miz Fannie was still fully dressed, and a fine looking woman she was; automatically I swept the room, even using the mirror on the far wall to see behind the door. "Thank you, Miz Fannie, I do apologize for interrupting a lady this late of an evening. Might I buy you some coffee?"
This seemed to take her by surprise. She raised an eyebrow and smiled, and the smile was dazzling. "Thank you, Sheriff. I'd like that." I offered her my arm and we descended the stairs.
Esther was below, and I beckoned her over. "Miz Fannie, I'd like you to meet my fiancee, Esther Wales," I smiled. "Esther, this is Fannie Kikinshoot, just arrived."
Esther's smile was bright and genuine. "Fannie! Good heavens, I haven't seen you forever! How are you?" and they embraced like old friends.
It was my turn to scratch my head and wonder aloud, "Does she know everybody?"
Tillie came out with a coffee pot and three mugs. "Daisy ran off to get married," she smiled, "and about time, too! I don't see why she didn't hit that big Irishman over the head with a frying pan and drag him off to the Parson when she first saw him! He's a catch!"
Esther patted her arm. "Now, dear, it doesn't pay to hurry into these things," she said reassuringly. "Good things come with time."
Tilly leaned down with her hand on my shoudler and stage-whispered, "Sheriff, if you ever want to give away any more promises, I'm available!" and swept back to the kitchen.
"Promises?" Miz Fannie asked, knowing she'd missed some private joke.
Esther extended her hand, showing her the diamond.
Fannie's mouth dropped open. "Esther! You are?" She leaned over and embraced Esther again. "You are! That's wonderful! You simply must tell me all about it! When did he propose? How did he do it?" She waved a dismissing hand at me. "Girl talk, Sheriff, you'll have to excuse us!"
Esther laughed. "All in good time, my dear. Now just why did I find you on my intended spouse's arm, floating down the staircase and looking like you could happily twist someone's head off their neck?"
They both looked at me.
I smiled. "Daisy might have some pie left. How's your appetite?"

Esther's presence made it easier to get what actually happened out of Miz Fannie. I listened carefully to her recounting of the encounter. She gave it to me plain, unvarnished, in chronological order and word-for-word quotes. My gut told me she was being honest, and I appreciated that.
I nodded.
"Miz Fannie, this Clara Carlson came to my office with a fanciful tale and crocodile tears. I took her report and carefully noted her inconsistences and lies, and filed it under "B" for bullsh--" I caught myself. "For barely believable."
"I know what you meant, Sheriff," Miz Fannie smiled over her coffee cup.
"What can we expect from her?"
Fannie put down her coffee cup. "Be wary of her, Sheriff. She uses men like a man uses a cleaning rag. She will drain them and discard them and she can seduce a priest. She's done it. It's a game to her, to be able to doxy her way into any man's wallet. She breaks hearts and dances on them, all but one."
"One?"
"She has someone back East. Not a good man, either. He likes ..." She frowned. "Well, I didn't believe her when she told me, but once when I visited her, they invited me to ... join them." She shook her head, distaste evident on her face. "I left, and would have nothing to do with them after that."
Tilly saw the grimace and came over, concerned. "Is the coffee scorched?"
Fannie looked up, surprised, then realized she still had her coffee cup almost to her lips. "Oh, honey, no, I'm sorry. It was a bad memory, not the coffee."

Esther laid her hand gently on the Sheriff's. It was nearly full dark out. Town was quiet, Tillie was cleaning up in back. Esther brushed pie crumbs off the table cloth.
"Daisy makes the flakiest crust," she murmured.
The Sheriff smiled. "She does."
"This Clara Carlson. How did you know she wasn't telling the truth?"
"She started out by telling me she didn't know this maniacal woman, then she proceeded to give me this maniacal woman's name and habits."
"What else made you think she was lying?"
The Sheriff's hand tightened into a fist, and when he looked into her eyes, his were cold and the color of flint. "When a woman lies to me and then tries to seduce me, I tend not to believe her. Not then, and never again."

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Linn Keller 9-19-07

 

She heard a familiar quiet rattle, and shivered.
She could see nothing: the black silk blindfold was snug against her eyes. She hadn't moved since he'd placed her in the middle of the floor, with a strict warning not to move.
She'd taken a step and was rewarded with a blaze of pain across her backside.
She stood very still, blindfolded, waiting.
She shivered a little. Her skin was getting used to the change in temperature. It was warmer in the private car than outdoors, true, but at least before she came into Liam's rolling domicile, she'd been wearing clothing. Now she wore her shoes, and a blindfold, and an anxious expression.
That, of course, was about to change.
She felt the pressure on her ankles, and heard the sharp clicks, and knew she'd just been shackled. She smiled. She'd never worn leg irons before. This would be a new experience.
Liam's voice was in front of her now. "Give me your hands," he whispered.
She surrendered her hands, and he quickly, harshly, tightened the polished steel about her soft wrists. She winced. They were tight.
"Don't move."
It still surprised her how, even at a whisper, his voice could change. Oily, silky, soothing, reassuring, he could charm the devil into buying coal and cinders, and yet when he had her alone, a soft whisper carried all the menace of an oiled and coiled horse whip.
She heard a familiar whistle and felt the breeze of the leather crop passing very near her backside. He would do this, she thought, he would tease her and torment her with promises of the leather's kiss before actually applying it, and she shivered, this time less with chill than with anticipation. Her lips were parted a little, and her breathing was faster.
His voice was near her ear now, smelling of stale cigars and brandy. "I have a surprise for you," he said, and this generally meant something new, and often painful.
She tilted her head back a little, opening her mouth.
Something clicked -- she felt something attach to her cuffs -- her wrists were suddenly, harshly pulled up over her head, and an involuntary little sound came from her throat, quickly stifled, as she rose on the balls of her feet to ease the sudden pain in her wrists. He let her stretch for a full minute, letting her get used to the idea that she was hoist in irons, long enough for her calves to start telling her this wasn't fun anymore, let's find something less uncomfortable, and then she heard the sudden whirr of leather, hard-swung in the quiet air, just before a line of pain exploded across the back of her left thigh.

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Duzy Wales 9-19-07

 

The ride to Miss Jones’ farm had been delightful!. It was a beautiful day and everyone enjoyed the conversation and the scenery that surrounded them.

Mr. Jackson Cooper’s absence when they arrived disturbed Duzy and Bonnie, as they had wanted to meet him, but that was not to be. Perhaps he had gone into town after all, and they had missed each other while at Mr. Moulton’s office. It seemed that everything was in order, the animals fed, the house was charming, and soon Bonnie, Duzy and Sarah left Miss Jones to get settled, having made future plans to get together.

The carriage was returned to Shorty, Duzy left for her promised meeting with Mr. Baxter, and Bonnie had returned to “The House of McKenna.”

After their conversation, Duzy had asked Mr. Baxter to be ready for the grand opening to begin on Friday night.

Duzy had then walked to their home to pick up her journal to read the entry of her dream, as it had been in the back of her mind all day. Sitting on the side of the bed, she began to read……..

There was a beautiful blond woman with icy blue eyes, a well dressed man, carrying a satchel, whips, cuffs, the woman’s body being whipped as she laughed and taunted for more, as the whip marked her buttocks and the backs of her legs. It was obvious she loved driving men insane with lust for her body as she took the gold they so readily gave her. Flashing between these scenes were images of Bonnie, a trunk, the well dressed man walking Duzy through Firelands, looking as if they were a happy couple, and yet the same man who had yielded the whip……Bonnie hugging the man and welcoming him into their home, the icy blue eyes turning into fire and rage in place of pleasure……

What could it all mean?

Duzy decided it was time to find Aunt Esther, Bonnie, and Sheriff Keller to find out just who this man was!

As she walked in the “The Silver Jewel,” she noticed Sheriff Keller and Aunt Esther sitting at a table talking and decided it would be a good time to start asking some questions and filling her Aunt in on her latest premonition, as it was very disturbing!

“There you are, Duzy, we have been wondering where you were after seeing Mr. Baxter,” Aunt Esther said. “And there is someone waiting for you upstairs, Fannie is in town!”

Duzy forgot all about the unnamed man and the dream as she hurriedly went upstairs to greet her friend!

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Linn Keller 9-19-07

 

I felt the fine hairs on my arm stand up, and there was a movement out the corner of my eye.
I turned and looked, and recognized the man.
"Esther," I said quietly, "go to the kitchen."
Esther hadn't heard that tone of voice before, but bless her, she trusted me, and she went.
I stood, scooting the chair back and squaring up to face this fellow.
I knew him.
He knew me.
He side stepped to get the front window to his back. Not ideal, but the best he could do in that moment.
"Jackson Cooper," I said.
"Linn Keller," he said.
"You know me."
"We know each other."
I looked at this seasoned gun fighter, this blooded killer, this worn and tired survivor of too many conflicts, and I took a step toward him. I was loose, and I was ready.
He took a step toward me.
His lips pressed together and his eyes wrinkled up at the corners, and it was evident he was trying to keep from laughing, and my face must have looked the same, for we took two long steps toward one another, and bear hugged one another and laughed, the good laughter of men who haven't seen one another in far too long. We happily profaned one another and pounded one another on the shoulder and demanded each of us an accounting of the other, and with arms around one another's shoulders we went back to the table and I called, "Esther? Got someone here I'd like you to meet!"

We put a dent in Daisy's store of pies, but Tilly was pleased to see old friends eating with a good appetite, and promised to make more. Esther brought out the coffee pot and the smell of good vanilla coffee is better when shared, and she sat down and joined us.

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Mr. Box 9-19-07

 

I decided I'd better get a little more familiar with the bar setting since the opening was before us. I took an empty mug and slid it down the bar in the fashion I had seen in the big city. It wobbled when it passed a spot about half way down. I tried it again and again, each time buffing down that area a little harder. Soon I had it smoothed out and was practicing sliding the mug down the bar as if I were passing beers to each one of the Irish fire brigade. Unnoticed by me, Miss duzy looked in there once and just shook her head.
Later I went over to the livery to check on Nelly and my new horses. Nelly was anxious to go somewhere, "Not today, Girl." The horses with the minor wounds were healing well. When I approached the two in the outside pen, one of them was pretty skittish. I figure it was only green broke. Somebody would have to spend some time with it. I paid Shorty for another week. That was starting to add up faster than I was used to. I decided to go over to the bank and cash in some of the smaller nuggets to get by on for a while. They came to $38.62. I took it in coin.

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Linn Keller 9-19-07

 

"May and Herbert were two of the best people I'd ever met," he said quietly. "I took it pretty hard when Herbert passed away, and stuck around to keep things up for May. Then she died." His expression was haunted. "They were decent folks. When May died I took out and come near to hittin' the owlhoot again. Some fella offered me gold to help burn you folks out, matter of fact."
"But you didn't," Esther said gently.
Jackson's expression was almost sad. "No, ma'am. I could see May's eyes lookin' at me like she did, soft and gentle, and I knew ... it wasn't right."
Coming from Jackson Cooper, that was a significant admission. He'd been a hard case when I knew him back in the Ohio country. We'd traded shots once, I'd been after him for bank robbery, but he got away and charges were dropped; now and again his name came up, always associated with some unpleasant deed. Like most men with a name, most of the deeds attributed to him were actually done by somebody else.
Kind of hard to raid a bank in Kansas City if you're still in Ohio.
"What do you figure to do now?" I asked.
"That depends on you." He stabbed a forkful of pie, chewed it thoughtfully. "I'd heard you were Sheriff now, and figured you'd be after me if you heard I was out there."
I nodded. "Likely you're right. I would've."
He took a sip of coffee. "You're the only lawman that ever played straight with me."
I nodded. Too many lawmen would play fast and loose with the truth when the need arose. I might hold back information but I dislike out and out lying, and I don't like to play a man dirty.
"So here I am." He smiled a little. "Didn't know if I was going to kill you or not." He looked at Esther and his expression was a little hard to read. "I honestly did not expect to sit down at your table and eat."
"I'm lazy," I said quietly. "This is easier than fightin'."
"You? Lazy?" Jack threw his head back and laughed, and took a good breath, and wiped his eyes. He turned to Esther. "Ma'am, do you really admire keepin' company with this fellow?"
Esther's hands were properly folded in her lap, and her expression was relaxed and almost formal. "Yes, Mr. Cooper. I do admire keeping his company."
Cooper stuffed the bandana back into a pocket and chuckled, shaking his head. "Ma'am, I have worked beside this man, and I have fought with him, and I have run from him, and I can tell you plainly there is no give-up to him. Once he sets his hard head to somethin' he does it. He is nothing short of a workin' fool."
Esther tilted her head and regarded me with a smile. "A woman likes that in her husband."
Jack's mouth dropped open, and for a long moment he was speechless.
"Married? You?"
"Yes, Mr. Cooper. We shall be, and soon. Linn here will be proposing to me on Friday, when we open Ruby's Room."
"I will be sawed off and damned," Jackson Cooper murmured. "Then, ma'am, you have made perhaps the best choice in husbands any woman could ..." he looked at me and I knew that ornery expression, he was coming up with something ... "if you like 'em old and gray!"
"An old horse is a steady horse, Mr. Cooper," Esther said, the imp of mischief dancing in her own eyes, "and as you can see, I am no longer an impulsive young girl. I've come to appreciate the gray in a man's hair. I find it rather attractive, as a matter of fact."
"Ma'am, with respect, and lookin' at you, I am now full of hope for my own old age."
Jack stood, as did I. We walked together to the front door.
"Jack," I said, "I have no personal knowledge of your crimes out here. The past is long dead and I am content to leave it that way."
"Glad to hear it," he replied cautiously, suspicious of a caveat.
"I understand you were very highly thought of by May. I never met her but she had the reputation of being a good judge of character." I thrust out my hand. "You are welcome under my roof any time."
Jack returned my grip, then he turned and walked back over to the table. His hat had been off since the moment Esther came back from the kitchen, and it still was; he exchanged a few quiet words with her, and I saw her smile. Jack nodded to me and settled the stained hat on his head as he stepped out the front door.
I sat back down.
Esther smiled.
My eyebrows asked the question.
"He said you are a good man," she finally said, "and he will give you no cause."
I nodded, pleased. We had been friends once, and in spite of all that had happened, I hoped we could be again.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-19-07

 

Charlie heard boots pound across rotted boards and had no choice but to follow. But cautiously, he told himself, cautiously. He holstered the Remington in the small of his back again and stepped through the doorway.

The room beyond was dark, with only the smallest light from a sliver of moon laying a thin white finger on the floor from the open doorway beyond. He ghosted across the room and took off his hat. He peered outside and saw...nothing. Nothing but an eerie, wind-blasted landscape that seemed to go forever in the darkness. Beyond was the bulk of Storm Mountain looming black against the sky and blanking out what little light the few visible stars tried to add to the night.

Charlie stood unmoving in the doorway where his silhouette would be part of the shadows until his eyesight adjusted then stepped outside to listen. A fitful breeze stirred the withered weeds nearby for a moment then died, leaving the night utterly still. In the distance ahead of him Charlie heard the clatter of rock so he put his hat back on and stepped out toward where his memory told him the Oro Blanco mine head would be. He walked cautiously but confidently. He was certain that Colin would wait until he could see Charlie's face to force the fight. He would want to see the pain and suffering he caused up close and personal.

Near the bottom of the tailings heap at the mouth of the mine stood a lone mountain mahogany. Its limbs had been pushed to one side of the trunk by the eternal wind. Charlie stood straight alongside the trunk and looked up. He could see where the side of the mound of rock and dirt had been recently disturbed and knew that Colin had climbed up to the flat bench above. So be it. They would have their reckoning there.

Charlie eased around the tree trunk and his boot knocked a rusted can rolling to clatter against a rock. He half expected a shot but instead heard Colin's voice once again. "Follow if you dare. I'm waiting."

Charlie threw caution to the wind and went straight up the tailings pile, using the places Colin had stepped. Moments later, his head cleared the edge and he could see a dark figure near the mouth of the old mineshaft. He put his hands on the bench surface and heaved himself to his feet and stood facing the man who had once been the steadfast companion of his happy childhood.

"It doesn't have to be this way," Charlie called. "If necessary, I can see that you don't hang but can go to an asylum instead."

"And be locked in a cage the rest of my life? I think not, dear brother," Colin sneered. "Nor will I swing from the gallows. Instead, you will be the one to perish this night, and I will go on with my life and my pleasures." Charlie saw the flash of white teeth in the dark. "And such pleasures they are," Colin said musingly. "Such pleasures they are." He looked up. "But enough of that," he said. "Prepare to die, brother."

Charlie walked toward his twin. "I've been ready to go to my Maker for a long time," he said. "But He's got a plan for me, apparently, because I'm still around. Maybe you should make your own peace."

"Go to Hell, Charlie," Colin snarled. His hand streaked to the gun on his hip and flame blossomed in the night. Charlie went for his own gun at the same time, and felt a blow low down on the left side. He threw himself that way, landed with a grunt, and blasted three shots at Colin just above the powder flame. He heard a shriek, and emptied the pistol into the middle of the dark mass.

The hammer came down on an empty chamber and he reached behind him for the Remington but it wasn't needed. As the Remington came level, Colin crumpled to the ground. Weak and sick, Charlie forced himself up to a sitting position, keeping Colin under the gun. He rolled up onto his knees and heard a laugh that bubbled liquidly. "I believe you've killed me, dear brother," Colin said, gasping. The clouds parted and moonlight came down. Bubbles formed and burst on Colin's lips as he talked. "I never thought it was possible." His head turned and his eyes went to where Charlie was hunched on his knees, holding a hand to his side. "But I got lead in you." He tried to laugh and began to cough. "You may die alongside me." A great gout of blood poured down his chin and he stopped speaking. His eyes opened wide to the breeze that had again sprung up and stayed open.

"I ain't dead yet," Charlie told his brother's corpse. "And I ain't about to be." He holstered his guns and forced himself to his feet, staggering. He pulled a bandanna from his pocket and pressed it against his wound then turned toward the building and the fire. If he could make it to his horse, he could clean and bandage the wound and try to make it down off the mountain to more hospitable surroundings. If not, then it was God's will that he die up here. It was in God's hands now.

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Linn Keller 9-19-07

 

Mr. Baxter polished the spotless bar. It was evident he took pride in what he did; his shirt was clean, as was his apron, the glasses gleamed, absolutely spotless. The huge mirror behind the bar, prized posession of any fine establishment, was absolutely pristine. Bottles were ranked in military order.
"Get you something, Sheriff?" Mr. Baxter asked, his rag never stopping its circular motion on the shining mahogany.
"No, not right now, thank you. If I drink any more after all that coffee I'll have to water every fence post between here and Kansas City."
"From the coffee you drank you'll have to anyway," he chuckled. "Say, where do you intend to live, now that you're going to be a married man?"
The question hit me like a bucket of cold water.
Mr. Baxter's words had as little pause as his polishing cloth. "You've been staying in the jail, you and Jacob. A jail's no fit place for a bedroom, not for either of you." He stopped and looked me squarely in the eye. "You have earned better than that, Sheriff."
I nodded. He was right.
"No, no, not for Jacob," Mr. Baxter continued, resuming his polishing, but with longer, deliberate strokes. "For you. You've earned better than that. You're worth it!"
That one took me by surprise.
I hadn't thought that for a very long time.
Court will be, what? Tomorrow? You'll dispose of your prisoner, there will be no reason for you to stay in the jail house. Jake will be back from Washington here directly, he can take over jail duty whenever you have a prisoner." He stopped again.
"Sheriff, a married man owes his wife a good home."
I nodded. "Mr. Baxter, if you'll excuse me, I have to step out back. Please draw me a beer. I would like to continue this conversation."
Mr. Baxter smiled. He was familiar with the effects of coffee in large volumes.
"Miz Esther," he murmured, "how would you like a brand new home?"

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Mr. Box 9-19-07

 

Sheriff Keller and I were getting aquainted as I was getting the bar surface into working order. To the average person it looked smooth as could be, but there were a few slight bumps in a spot part way down. It wasn't in the wood as much as in the finish. Once I got them buffed down, it was as smooth as a baby's behind. I could slide beers down the bar like a pro as long as I could get the range figured out.
Linn had returned from the little shack out back and I drew him a beer. I was tempted to try out the bartop with a loaded mug, but he was standing right across from me. "I took a few of my smaller nuggets over to the bank. They gave me a pretty fair shake. Thanks for the advice, Linn. I've started working on filing that claim."
"Have you got any idea where you might put up a house? Let me know if you need a little help putting it up. I might have time to bend a nail or two."
Linn chuckled at the thought of that.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-19-07

 

Fannie was sitting comfortably up to her chin in hot water and bubbles when there was a knock on the door of her suite. She hadn't seen Duzy anywhere so she had cajoled the hotel's staff to haul hot water up for a bath so she could get rid of the grime from the train ride. She snorted and hollered, "Come in if you're female, go away if you're not. I'm armed and dangerous and I shoot to kill!" She reached for the Colt storekeeper on the chair next to the tub and laid her hand on the grip.

"I'm female and I'm coming in," a voice said somewhat timidly.

"Duzy!" Fannie squealed. "Come in! I'm in the bathtub!"

Duzy came into the suite and rushed into the bedroom where the tub stood. "I should have known I'd find you in hot water, after what I heard about this afternoon. Did you really threaten to shoot someone in the hotel lobby?"

"Moi`?" Fannie asked innocently. "Would I do such a thing?" She burst out laughing. She reached for a towel. "Would you mind waiting in the other room for a minute, Duzy? I'll be right out."

"Of course," Duzy said. She stepped into the sitting room and closed the door.

Fannie appeared in a couple of minutes in a raw silk kimono of a shade of green that complimented both her hair color and her eyes. A pair of matching fuzzy mules were on her feet and her face was artfully made up. She stopped in the doorway and posed for just a few seconds with one hand on the door jamb above her head and the other on her hip. She burst out laughing at the expression on Duzy's face.

"I'm not as shameless as I sometimes act," she said, laughing. "I just like to keep people guessing."

Duzy rushed forward and they hugged each other tightly. They had been friends for a long time, and it had been a long time since they'd seen each other. "Duzy, this western air must be good for you," Fannie commented, holding Duzy at arm's length. "You look downright beautiful. Your skin is so clear."

"You look pretty good yourself," Duzy said. "Apparently the stage must agree with you."

Fannie released her and moved to a nearby chaise lounge and sat down with her feet tucked under her. "I love it," she said. "Sit down, sit down," she told Duzy. "We have so much to catch up on." Duzy sat and the pair launched into a riot of reminiscence. They surfaced several hours later when they noticed that the room had gotten dim enough to require a light.

"Goodness," Duzy said. "I have to be going. Aunt Esther will be worried about me."

"I think Aunt Esther has other things to occupy her time than your whereabouts," Fannie said. "That sheriff's cute." She giggled then stood and stretched. "Why don't I get dressed and we'll go downstairs for dinner?"

"Oh, alright," Duzy said. "But hurry, I'm suddenly very hungry."

Fannie reappeared shortly in a dinner dress of finely patterned gingham with a matching lace shawl. She stuck out her arm. "Shall we?" Duzy took her arm and they marched to the door side by side. At the door they both suddenly burst out giggling.

"After you," Duzy said with a flourish.

"Don't mind if I do," Fannie said, opened the door, and strode out into the hall. Duzy stepped out and closed the door and the pair made their way down the stairs to Daisy's Kitchen for dinner.

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Linn Keller 9-20-07

 

It is amazing how much better a body can feel, I marveled quietly in the darkness. Wasn't much light, wasn't much moon tonight; still, I looked out toward the ground I'd bought, thinking.
An alley had kind of created itself here, behind the Jewel; it started up yonder, just at the end of the long building, and came behind them, and down to the livery. It was handy to draw a wagon up here and unload into the back of Daisy's kitchen, or in the back of the saloon. I stood on the packed ground, looking around, and listened to the night.
Likely Esther and I would live upstairs of the Jewel. Like WJ, we would be living over top of our business, which made it awful handy to get to work of a morning. Esther wouldn't even be getting her skirts dusty. Me, I had only to cross the street and go down just a very short distance to the Sheriff's office. Once she took over the railroad she might decide to overhaul the rail office or maybe even move it here ... no, space was pretty well taken up already.
I turned and regarded the back side of the Jewel. Add another business?
Our newly overhauled building was already getting too small.
I smiled. Esther was, by all accounts, a sharp business woman, She'd figure out what would work.
I looked back across the dark and purpled prairie. The night air smelled clean, cool ... fall was coming and coming fast, and after that, winter. It would not do to start construction this time of year. Fall rains would drown us out and make a muddy mess, and I didn't feel like freezing my hands trying to position timbers or set stone with snow whipping down the back of my neck -- I sure as perdition wouldn't ask anyone else to work in those conditions! Once the weather broke, once winter had thawed and we could dig the good black soil without throwing sparks, we'd get started then. Esther could look out an upstairs window and see where her new house was shaping up.
If she wanted it there.
I smiled in the darkness. Just because I had a patch of ground yonder didn't mean she'd want to live there; she might like another location better. I looked around, listened.
Haven't seen Dawg in some time, I thought. He was still around after Charlie went hunting. Like as not Dawg was with either Sarah or Charlie.
Charlie.
I felt uneasy, thinking of him gone so sudden.
"Watch your back," I whispered into the silence.

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Mr. Box 9-20-07

 

I took stock of the liquor supply and different types. How busy would it be at the grand opening? How much should I have out? How long would a cask of beer last? I hope I get this right. Miss Duzy is really counting on me.
I went to my room to sort thru my own things. It looks like I might be here for a while. What am I going to do with all those horses?

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Duzy Wales 9-20-07

 

Thursday morning came, and the ladies were all up at daylight, getting everything prepared for the long awaited Grand Opening’s! Duzy had ordered banners, posters and flyers to be sent from Saint Louis, and they had arrived on the train the week before! The Daine brothers were happily hanging the banners that swung high across the streets on each end of town, welcoming all the visitors who would be arriving.

The “Silver Jewel Hotel” was almost at full capacity! Advertisements were in newspapers in surrounding areas and flyers sent to the Sheriff’s offices of the neighboring towns that were too small for a newspaper office. Emmett had drawn beautiful posters of the ladies who were to entertain, and “Bigfoot Wallace” had been hunting all week for the meats Aunt Esther would be preparing for “The Ruby Room’s” first official meal on Friday night.

Paper still covered the inside windows of “The House of McKenna,” which would be brought down when the business opened on Friday morning! The ladies of the town were all abuzz about the new seamstress shop, as they had noticed the clothing that Bonnie had sewn for herself and Sarah! Orders had already been made in secret and Bonnie and Caleb had been drafting and sewing the outfits some of the ladies would be wearing on Friday and Saturday nights!

“Daisy’s Kitchen” had been written in gold lettering with pictures of daisies drawn around the name to surprise Daisy when she returned for the grand opening.

The bar would be closed on Sunday morning and a piano donated to the church.

Emmett had volunteered to set up on the street outside to do drawings of the residents of Firelands! Refreshments were being prepared, the steam engine was to be on display, and merriment was everywhere as last minute details were being taken care of. It was to be a weekend of celebration for Firelands.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-20-07

 

Charlie made it down off of the tailings pile without falling, though it was a near thing. He stumbled across the uneven ground toward the fire and the warmth and light it could provide. He made it inside and went haltingly to the fireplace. A few embers remained and he went to one knee in front of it. His head was spinning and he was cold, bone deep cold.

Charlie added some small sticks from a nearby pack rat's nest to the embers then carefully bent to blow on them. A moment later a small flame licked up at the twigs and liked the taste. Shortly a small fire was burning again.

Charlie pushed himself to his feet again and made his way to the door. He had to get to his horse. Once outside, he crabbed his way to where Buck stood patiently waiting. Buck stood solidly as Charlie untied him. The pale horse had smelled blood before. Charlie led him back to the front of the place he would live or die in and loosened the cinch. He was afraid to loosen it too much, or take the saddle off, because he was sure he'd never get it back on if he did. He reached up and untied his saddlebags and draped them over his shoulder then unhooked his canteen from his saddlehorn. He squinted against the pain that had begun to gnaw at him, and the darkness that seemed to surround him. It would be a long journey back inside.

Back in front of the fireplace Charlie stoked up the fire once again with sticks from the rat's nest. He dragged the chair Colin had sat in over and sat heavily on it. He could feel blood oozing down the back of his left leg, so he knew that at least the bullet had gone through. Now he needed to clean and bandage the wound as best he could.

Charlie reached into his saddlebag and drew out a bottle of whiskey. He pulled the cork with his teeth and spat it aside then took a long drink. He knew the whiskey wasn't what he needed, but he also knew it might dull what was coming  just a mite. He brought out a straight stick about a foot long with a clean linen cloth wrapped around the end and tied with stout cotton string. He dropped his gunbelt on the floor and unbuttoned his britches and pulled out his shirt.

In the light of the fire Charlie could see the angry red-rimmed hole the bullet had made just above his belt. He listened deep inside and as far as he could tell the bullet had just torn muscle and hide, nothing internal seemed to be hurt. Only time would tell.

Charlie soaked the linen with the whiskey and held it to the hole in his side. With a rush he pushed it through and groaned deeply with the burn of the alcohol. He pulled it back, soaked it again, and pushed it through again as large beads of sweat burst out on his forehead and he nearly passed out. Only by a sheer effort of will did he remain conscious.

When the burn had subsided a bit, he took another drink from the bottle and set it aside. He pulled some linen pads from a cloth bag in his saddlebag and soaked them with the whiskey then used some strips of the same material to bind them as best he could over the bullet holes. When he was done he was gasping and sweating. He buttoned up his britches and buckled his gunbelt over the bandages to help hold them in place. It was only then that he remembered that he hadn't reloaded his gun. He shucked the empty cases from the cylinder and reloaded then holstered the gun. It was time to move, no matter how bad he felt. He had neither the food nor the water for an extended stay here. He'd just have to take his chances on the trail.

Charlie picked up his saddlebags and stood. He clutched the back of the chair until the dizziness subsided enough so he could walk. He took a long drink from his canteen and went to the door. Outside, Buck still stood nearby and Charlie forced himself to swing his saddlebags up behind the cantle of the saddle and tie them down. He hung the canteen on the saddlehorn and led Buck over to a nearby stump and tightened the cinch. He took his sheepskin coat down from the saddle and shoved his arms into the sleeves. With a supreme effort of will he swung himself into the saddle and sat, head down, hanging on to the saddlehorn for all he was worth. In a minute he was able to lift his head and turn Buck back toward Firelands. It was going to be a damn long ride back.

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Linn Keller 9-20-07

 

Dawg was restless and so was I.
The ladies were all getting ready for the grand opening. Banners, posters, new lettering on the windows, all of it looked grand, but my gut told me something was wrong, wrong.
I pulled on my heavy coat, slung a canteen over my shoulder and stuffed some iron rations in my saddlebags. Shorty saw me coming down the alley and had Rose saddled by the time I got there.
I think better in the saddle. Rose o' the Mornin' was happy to get out of the livery. I think she was bored. Dawg paced back and forth and kept looking off toward the mountains.
I had no idea where Charlie had gone, and it would be worse than a fool's errand if I went hell-a-tearin' off into the dark with no idea where I was going, nor how far.
Wouldn't hurt to ride out a ways, though.
Jacob came pelting down the alley, all arms and legs, gangly like growing boys are. I looked again. He was taller than first time I saw him.
He stopped, breathing hard. "Sir?" he asked.
"Saddle up. I'm restless."
"Yes, sir!" He thrust his rifle in the scabbard and he and Shorty made quick work of readying his Appaloosa.
"You want your coat?" I asked.
"Don't have one, sir," he grinned. "I'm not cold."
I shucked out of mine, handed it to him. "See that you don't get cold. I'll grab my extra."
The horses blew great clouds of steam and wheeled smartly, dancing, clearly ready for a run.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-20-07

 

The buckskin horse paced steadily through the night. He knew with the instinct that horses seem to have sometimes exactly which way led back to his latest place. And he also knew just how to place his feet so as not to jar the man on his back, who swayed in the saddle with every step.

Charlie woke with a start in the first dim light of day and looked around. His side throbbed and his neck was stiff, and he was dizzy and weak. Somewhere in the night he had tied the saddle strings across his legs in an effort to stay in the saddle but he didn't remember doing it. He reached down and untied the strings and let them drop.

Charlie didn't recognize the terrain around him except to know that they were down from the mountains and were crossing some sort of valley. Buck had apparently taken a much more direct route than what they'd taken getting to the mining camp. Ahead a line of trees indicated a stream and the horse turned that way. At the stream he put his head down to drink.

Buck suddenly threw his head up. Bit chains jingled and water droplets scattered glittering in the early light. Charlie felt him draw breath to whinny and gigged him with his spurs to keep him quiet. He had no way of knowing whether or not the horse Buck had been about to call to belonged to friend or foe. Then before Charlie could stop him, Buck let out with a loud whinny which was answered not by another horse, but a dog. Or rather a Dawg, to be exact.

Charlie squinted through the trees and saw Dawg bounding toward them with his stub tail wagging miles a minute. "Dang, I never thought I'd be so happy to see a critter in my life, Dawg," Charlie grated through his parched lips. "Did you bring somebody with you?" Dawg woofed and looked back over his shoulder. Charlie followed Dawg's look and saw Linn ride from the trees yonder. Linn pulled up alongside of Charlie.

"My friend, you look like hell," Linn said pleasantly.

"I fell like hell," Charlie said, and fell sideways from his saddle.

Linn was quick, dropping from Rose's back in time to catch Charlie and ease him to the ground. Charlie's face was white and his shirt and pants were crusted with dried blood. Linn got Charlie's canteen from his saddle and wet a bandanna and wiped the wounded man's face. Charlie's eyes fluttered open.

"Sorry about that," he croaked. "Get me back up there and we can go."

"We're not going anywhere for a while," Linn said. "You need something to eat first, and some coffee and whiskey. Then we'll think about it."

"We ain't got time," Charlie said with a grimacing smile. "You've got a lady to propose to."

"I know," Linn said ruefully. "But if I didn't take care of you and get you to town in one piece, proposing might not do me much good."

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Linn Keller 9-20-07

 

Dawg had caught up with us and streaked on by.
We leaned into the wind and kept him in sight, though it was a task: try following a black dog through the nighttime prairie, through shadowed hollow and creek crossing and the occasional thicket as we got into the hills.
Sailors on the salt water sea navigate by the stars, and I'd learned the trick as a matter of have-to, ever since a fool lieutenant with a compass failed to account for the steel strapping under his map table, and sent one of my companies straight into the nastiest, ugliest, muddiest, most mosquito-infested swamp I'd ever had the displeasure to help drag horses and wagons out of.
I looked to the stars and noticed the moon.
"Blood on the moon," I whispered, and a dread was upon me, but I shook it off.
Imagination.
Dawg had disappeared, just as the trail took a bow around a thicket.
"Dawg!" I called, and there was a woof, and we followed.
The horses were all for a flat-out run but I knew better. Best to husband their strength. This could be a long night's ride.
I was right.
Daybreak was streaking the eastern sky and I shivered in my blanket lined coat. Jacob was perfectly comfortable, bundled in my oversized fleece lined coat. He grinned at me and I handed him a twist of jerky. He wasn't showing much fatigue but I sure felt it. By now his Appaloosa was starting to hang his head a little, not quite so full of fire, and even Rose seemed grateful to slow a little.
We came into a valley, still shadowed, as the sun hadn't done more than just peep over the horizon, when Rose o' the Mornin' came to a fast stop. Jacob reined his Appaloosa around and brought him behind Rose, and up beside us.
We listened.
A light jingle, maybe trace chains, I thought. I looked at Jacob. He had his head cocked a little, listening hard.
There was a whinny, sharp and bright on the chill of the morning air and Dawg's great WOOF and all four of us felt a surge of strength and we headed for the sound.

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Linn Keller 9-20-07

 

We got Charlie wrapped up in both our blankets and got some hot coffee down him, just a little. I'd been told never to let someone gut-shot drink anything but I figured if he's gut shot he'll die anyhow, and if he's not, it won't hurt him. Besides, it was warm, and he was chilled. I didn't try to lay him out flat nor did I take off the bandages he'd put on. Let Doc handle that.
"Did you get what you went for?" I asked.
"Yeah." He chuckled ruefully. "He give back a little too."
"So I gather."
"He needed killin'."
I nodded.
Charlie faded a little and shivered again. Dawg laid against Charlie's back. I worked the blanket out from under Dawg and brought it over him, the better to hold in any heat Dawg generated.
Jacob came up with an arm load of wood he'd gathered in the thicket. I put a finger to my lips, laid my head against my flat hand, closed my eyes and pointed to Charlie. Charlie was asleep and right now sleep would be healing for him.
Jacob nodded his understanding.
We laid the wood down quietly, added some to the fire. I put my lips close to Jacob's ear.
"I'll boil some jerky and soften it. If he wakes and I'm not here, try and get him to eat a little."
Jacob nodded.
I fetched out my folding knife, the sharp one, and proceeded to whittle jerky into slivers, into my tin cup.

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Duzy Wales 9-20-07

 

Duzy wouldn’t admit it, even to herself, but it had hurt that Jake Thomas has left town without seeing her. She had found out through Fred Baxter that he had left immediately after the attack on Firelands. Not normally one to partake of alcohol, Duzy decided to take a break from all the activity and have a drink of tequila. “Fred, one shot of tequila, straight up, would you please?” Fred looked a little shocked, but turned, picked up a shot glass, filled it with tequila and placed it on the bar for Duzy. “Is something troubling you, Miss Duzy?” “Oh Mr. Baxter, you are going to hear a lot of woes behind that bar without hearing mine today; I should be happy and celebrating!” Before Duzy could go any further, a man walked up behind Duzy at the bar. “A beautiful lady like yourself should be celebrating, Miss ?

"It’s Wales, Miss Duzy Wales, and your name sir?” “Liam McKenna, ma’am, it is my pleasure, do you mind if I sit next to you?” Duzy thought “McKenna,” could it be that this man was related to Bonnie? “No, not at all, we are pleased to have you here! Are you here for the grand opening entertainment?” Liam’s mind went directly to what type of entertainment he was interested in, thinking of having this woman in the same position he had Clara in the evening before had kept his mind busy with Clara, as it had been the dark haired woman in front of him he had been thinking of, but catching himself before undressing Duzy with his eyes and thoughts, he simply stated, “yes, that and I am looking for my beloved cousin. I heard she may be residing here in Firelands.

At that moment, Clara walked up to the pair, her hands on her hips, her lips pouting, and said “Liam, honey, I have been looking everywhere for you!” And then she saw Duzy and remembered why she was in Firelands to begin with. “Miss Wales, I notice you do not have a wedding ring on your finger yet, where is that handsome fiancée of your’s? I heard he had left North Carolina looking for you!”

“Sorry, you must be mistaken, as I have never had a fiancée,” Duzy stated, as she stared into the ice blue eyes of her dream. Duzy picked up the shot glass, downed the drink, and excused herself from everyone, walking away to go upstairs, leaving all of them staring as she walked up the curved stairs. Duzy was thinking this would be a good time for Mr. Baxter to be listening in on the conversation she left behind.

And that he was.....

"Clara, what the hell are you doing here, I had business with Miss Wales!"

"Oh really, and what kind of business could you have with her?"

"That, my dear, is none of your business!"

"I would think after our times together, that it would be my business!"

"You stupid little whore, what I do is none of your business, as I pay you well for your services!"

Clara drew her breath in and said, "Oh really, well you will pay for that one and so will she!"

And the conversation continued....all the while Fred was polishing the bar as if hearing nothing...

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Sweet Violet 9-20-07

 

Sitting on the leather seat of the buggy that Duzy had appeared with, Emma couldn't help but smile. Duzy had just introduced her to Bonnie and Sarah McKenna and Sarah was to be one of her students at the school. She recalled with a giggle what Sarah had said about Mrs. Stevens not being able to run away from the ball like she used to. Emma had stooped down to Sarah's level, looked in to her eyes and said, "It would be wonderful fun to play ball with you and the other children at lunch break! I haven't played in years, so you'll have to remind me of the rules. Do you think you can help me?" Sarah's smile and twinkling eyes were all the answer Emma needed.

They drove through town, Duzy pointing out all of the establishments. "You have already been to the lawyer's office, you know where the train station is. There's the Ruby Room, and over there is Daisy's Kitchen. Oh and there is The House of McKenna operated by Bonnie McKenna herself! Whenever you need a new outfit, just ask Bonnie here to design and make you one! She does a fabulous job and is so talented! I'll just bet no one in Boston has seen anything like what she can do."

At this Bonnie blushed and waved a dismissive hand in the air. "Oh, you do go on Duzy! You are going to put a permanent stain on my cheeks!!"

"Well, it's true. And here is my place! The Silver Jewel." Duzy's face beamed with contented happiness, joy, and pride. "Our Grand Opening, like I told you earlier is on Friday. I hope you will still do a reading for us."

"Oh yes! I really would like to do that for you!" Emma said aloud, thinking to herself, "Now what trunk did I put my books in?"

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Sweet Violet 9-20-07

 

The house and farm came into view causing Emma's heart to constrict. Memories of times spent here rushed over her like a dam bursting. Helping Aunt May put up apple butter and blackberry jam, churning butter and gathering eggs. Talking with Uncle Herbert as he polished the leather tack in the barn. Feeling loved and happy with them.

Duzy pulled up to the front porch and reigned the horses in. "Here we are Emma. We'll help you unload your trunks and then I have to get back to town. I'm sorry I can't stay and visit with you more, but I know we will be seeing a lot of eachother."

"And I'll be seeing you every day at school!" exclaimed a jumping Sarah.

"Sarah!" said Bonnie, "Remember your manners!"

Trying in vain to hide her smile at the exuberant Sarah, Emma replied, "Thank you so much ladies for giving me a ride and for helping me with my trunks. It was truly my pleasure to meet all of you! Next time you come out, you will have to stay for lemonade or tea."

"Oh me too?" questioned Sarah.

Bonnie's just rolled her eyes and heaved a big sigh.

"Well, of course you are invited too Sarah."

Emma turned to Duzy saying, "Friday evening, Mr. Shakespeare and I will be joining you at the Silver Jewel."

"Miss Sarah, I will be seeing you bright and early on Monday morning. Bonnie, thank you for riding along and I look forward to the time when I can see the works of art that Duzy was raving about!"

They climbed back into the waiting buggy, and with a wave of their hands, the three ladies made their way down the lane back towards town. Emma waved until she could see them no longer, then turned around and gazed at the old house.

Walking up the steps leading to the front door, she tilted her head to the right and frowned at the trunks. Who was this Mr. Cooper and why had he not come to get her at the train station?

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Linn Keller 9-20-07

 

Charlie woke up slightly confused.
His buckskin was standing sideways, as if his hooves were planted on a vertical wall. It took a moment to realize he was lying on the ground, on a blanket, curled up on his side, with something warm at his back.
Soon as he tried moving something beside his eyelids, he wished he hadn't.
Then he remembered.
The Sheriff was stirring something in a tin cup over the fire, and it smelled good.
"Got extra?" Charlie asked, and Linn looked over and smiled.
"Yep."

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Linn Keller 9-20-07

 

Jackson Cooper swallowed hard.
Jackson Cooper, with a reputation as a hired killer, who had supposedly robbed ten thousand banks, ripped open railroad box cars with his teeth and kicked locomotives off the rails. Jackson Cooper, who was reputed to have, single-handedly, rustled every steer in Arizona and herded them single handedly to the Kansas City stock yards. Jackson Cooper, who according to legend broke every lady's heart between here and Abilene, took his hat in his hand and twisted the brim into a felt panatela.
He looked around, and in his mind's eye he could see Herbert currying the horses and checking their hooves, going over the traces with his eyes and his fingers. He could hear May's voice, humming contentedly as she baked, and he closed his eyes, and almost, almost he could smell fresh bread baking.
Grief gnawed at his heart.
They had taken him in, and accepted him, and they had trusted him.
No one had done that, not for a very, very long time.
He'd grown to love them, and when they died, it hurt too bad to stay.
He'd come back and taken care of the stock, and patched the rail fence when need be, mucked out the stalls and saw to it they were all fed, he kept the wood box full and the water bucket full and the beds made and the floor swept ... but he hadn't the heart to stay.
In a weak moment he'd agreed to meet the new school marm, but when he thought of bringing her out here, showing her all the memories, he could not bear the hurt, and he ran.
Jackson Cooper, blooded killer, for the one and only time in his life, ran like a coward.
He'd gone into town. He'd heard an old friend and sometimes adversary was Sheriff. The man had always treated him square.
He would either renew the friendship, or he'd be killed. Either way was better than what he had.
Now ... now he was about to face up to the woman he'd not met at the station, and he was about to face up to all the hurt he'd run from, and he was about to introduce himself.
He took a deep breath and knocked.

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Mr. Box 9-20-07

 

Miss Duzy had something bothering her. She came to me and asked for a shot of that Mexican tequila stuff. It must not be too potent because she tossed it down like a cowpoke fresh off a cattle drive does a shot of redeye. The feller that sat down beside her didn't help her mood either. Especially the way his attitude was.
She sure didn't seem to trust them two and after listening to them for a few minutes, I didn't either. Their conversation seemed to lead to no good! I'd be watching them if they came back.

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Linn Keller 9-20-07

 

"It ain't Daisy's good roast beef, but it's the best I could do on short notice."
Charlie swallowed cautiously. It had taken considerable effort to lever himself to a semi-sitting position. For all the romance of dime novels, sleeping under the stars is not enhanced one little bit by having nothing between you and the ground but a saddle blanket.
After a few tentative swallows to make sure what went down, was going to stay down, he finished the cup of broth and boiled jerky and sipped cautiously at coffee. I'd built the fire back up and he still had a blanket around his shoulders.
Dawg laid his great head down beside him and groaned. Charlie ruffled him behind the ears.
Dawg closed his eyes in sheer bliss.
It took a while longer to get off the ground. With that hole through his belly every move hurt, and we taken our time, but Charlie is a hard headed man and nothing would do but that he whistle his buckskin over to him and get up into the saddle.
I helped some but the pain was all his, and I envied him not one little bit.
He was pale and sweating when he was done but he was astraddle of his own horse.
Jacob had curried the buckskin, spooky though he was, not being used to Jacob's handling; our mounts had grazed and watered and now were saddled up and ready to go. He dumped the coffee pot out on the fire, kicking it apart and soaking it. No sense to start a grass fire on top of everything else that had happened.
"How much farther?" Charlie asked through set teeth. "Don't want a man to be late to propose."
"You let me worry about that, amigo. Me pappy told me at a tender age that hurry up is brother to mess it up, and I proved him right a number of times."
"I'll try to remember that." He squinted up at the sun. "It ain't noon yet. We might make it by dark."
We turned our faces toward Firelands and let the buckskin set the pace.

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Lady Leigh 9-20-07

 

"Tilly? What is it?" Tilly came running into the back door of the "House of McKenna", where Bonnie and Caleb were busy finishing up the gowns for the next night.

"Bonnie! Duzy's in a terrible way! SHe's babbling about some dream of hers. Rattled on about you, and then she said something about a man looking for his cousin ..." Caleb's head jerked toward Bonnie, and Bonnie's eyes widened. Caleb was first to speak,

"Liam McKenna, Tilly? Is that the name Duzy said?"

"Yes! That's the name!"

"Well, Bonnie ... seems we may have been right. Now that the telegraph is up and running, I'll get another message to Chicago. I also think I'll get a message to Levi and see what the Pinkertons know about this Liam McKenna."

Bonnie approached Caleb, "I was really hoping we wouldn't have to go ahead with this plan, Caleb! .... I'm tired of worring, I'm tired of all that has been happening ... I just want .... normality, Caleb!"

Caleb encircled Bonnie in his arm, and then looked over to Tilly. "Tell Duzy I need to talk to her as soon as is convienient about the McKenna fellow, Tilly. Need to let her know we may be needing to play along with him for a time. Let me get those telegrams out, and then I'll be making my way to the "Silver Jewel".

Bonnie interjected, "Don't you think I ought to be with you, Caleb? I mean, I'm going to have to run into him sooner or later ... he's supposedly looking for me."

"Not yet, Bonnie. Let me get a feel for this cousin of yours. Linn and I talked breifly about this the other day when we heard about the cigars, and I know he'll be keeping an eye on your cousin. Who know's", Caleb brushed his fingers against Bonnie's cheek, "maybe this guy's on the up and up ..."

"Not likely" Tilly interupted, "not if he's with a certain lady guest at the "Silver Jewel". She's already causing trouble for Duzy's friend, Fannie. I also seen she and the McKenna fella talking ... I don't think he's on the up and up ..."

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Linn Keller 9-20-07

 

“Senor Caleb, Senora McKenna, pardon," Santos greeted them, hesitating, sombrero in hand. "Have we come at a bad time?"
Bonnie was obviously concerned, Caleb had a worried look and Tillie was quite agitated. "No, no, it's perfectly all right. Please come in." Bonnie held Caleb's sleeve for a moment or two longer than had been really necessary.
Firecracker Mel read the situation and laid her flamenco dress down on a work table. "I know that look," she said, her boot heels loud on the floor. She laid a gentle hand on Bonnie's forehead, on her cheek. "You're pregnant."
"WHAT!!!" came the united shriek from three throats, and Mel nodded.
"Okay, you're not pregnant. Now what happened?"
There was a long silence, then the three of them began talking all at once, simultaneously interrupting and contradicting and correcting until Mel raised her hands and shook her head. "It would be easier if you were PREGNANT!" she exclaimed.
There was again silence in the House of McKenna.
"Now. You!" She pointed at Tillie. "What happened?"
"I'm not pregnant," Tillie squeaked.
Bonnie giggled.
Caleb stifled a grin.
Tillie's hands went to her mouth and she began to laugh.
In the back room, Sarah picked up Dolly and asked, "Dolly, are you pregnant?"

 

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Linn Keller 9-20-07

 

Eduardo and Santos were like brothers to la Senorita Firecracker, as protective as a pair of sheepdogs, as jealous as a pair of duenas. They listened to the descriptions of Senor McKenna, faces impassive, all but their eyes. They'd known men like this before.
If this fellow was so forward at a bar, with a woman he knew, how would he conduct himself toward their beloved hermanita?
Santos smiled, and the smile was not pleasant. Few had seen it. That is to say, few had seen it and lived.
This Senor McKenna, perhaps he would see my brother smile, Eduardo thought. I shall sit near this Senor McKenna and we will see whose smiles.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-20-07

 

Damn, making it up onto Buck's back was just about the hardest thing Charlie had done in a long while. But there was no way he was going to make Linn late for his engagement even if it killed him. "I'll hang on, Linn," Charlie said through grit teeth, "But if we start running late you'd best get on down the trail. Just leave me Jacob, if he doesn't mind."

"I'm not planning on leaving you for the buzzards," Linn said. "Besides, it's only Thursday. The grand opening doesn't start until Friday night. And Miss Fannie isn't singing until Saturday."

Charlie looked sharply at Linn. "Did you say Fannie? That wouldn't be Fannie Kikinshoot, would it?"

"Yeah, why?" Linn asked. "Do you know her?"

Charlie chuckled and grimaced at the bolt of pain that went through him. "I'd say. Me and Fannie go way back. How much has she stirred things up so far?"

Linn told him about Fannie's confrontation with Clara in the hotel lobby and Charlie said, "You'd best be watching Clara Carlson. She's about as mercenary as a female can get."

"I got the same impression," Linn said. The group fell silent as the miles passed beneath the horses' hooves.

When the town finally came into sight Charlie was barely staying in the saddle, but stay in the saddle he did. Linn had been leading Buck for the last two hours and he led the pale horse directly to Doc Greenlee's place and between him and Jacob they got Charlie to the ground and into the Doc's place.

"What in the world happened to him?" Doc wanted to know.

"He shot it out with somebody who got lead into him," Linn said. "We've been most of the day getting him here."

"Well get him on the table, and let's see what we need to do with him." Jacob and Linn hoisted Charlie up onto Doc's table and helped take off his coat, hat, and gunbelt.

"The bullet went straight through," Charlie mumbled. "I swabbed the hole out with whiskey."

Doc snorted. "If you men weren't made of whalebone and rawhide, I swear you'd all be dead. As it is, seeing as how you've made it this far, you'll more than likely make it a bit farther."

"I'm not gonna miss the grand opening at the hotel," Charlie told him. "A good friend of mine is singin' there."

Doc snorted again. "We'll see." He unbuttoned Charlie's shirt and pulled it off then unbuttoned his britches and pulled them down far enough to get to the crude bandages Charlie had put on. The linen pads were stuck to the wounds. He got a pan of hot water and started working on soaking them loose and soon had the entry and exit holes uncovered.

"Well, it looks like the bullet didn't touch anything too vital," Doc said. "I think you'll live. But this next part is gonna hurt you worse than it does me." He took a bottle of carbolic from a shelf and poured some in a second pan of water and began to swab the wounds.

"Holy crap, Doc!" Charlie exclaimed. "I think maybe the cure's worse than the disease." Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead and he was white and shaking.

"It's either that, or let it get infected, and that's a damn poor place to try for an amputation," Doc told him. "Now sit still while I wrap it up." He placed a clean cloth pad on the entry hole and had Charlie hold it while he wrapped a long strip of cloth around him to hold both pads. When he was done, Charlie was wrapped from his hips halfway up his ribs. "Now take it easy. You're gonna be pretty sore for quite a while."

"I'll give it my best shot," Charlie said, and swung his feet over the edge of the table. "Linn, if you'll give me a hand over to the jail, I think I'd like to lay down for a bit."

"And don't forget to eat," Doc said as Linn stepped forward to help Charlie get dressed.

"That's one thing I've never had trouble with," Charlie told him as reassuringly as he could.

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Linn Keller 9-20-07

 

"Eloped!" Firecracker Mel shook her head in disbelief. "We come all the way from the border just to find she eloped!"
Bonnie had enough pins in her mouth she could not frame an intelligible reply; instead, she marked the material and pinned a fold in place.
Caleb frowned at the layered dress and the amount of leg it showed. "Isn't that a bit ... short?" he asked, almost scandalized at the amount of ankle Mel was showing, although in fairness, it was a very nice ankle.
Mel laughed. "This is for dancing the flamenco," she smiled. "I promised we would dance at my cousin's wedding, and since she has run off to get married, I shall dance here!"
Eduardo and Santos had already tossed coin to determine who would dance with her, and after a heated argument, accusations of cheating, a challenge to a duel, the drawing of cards, more accusations and a final toss of the coin, they agreed that Santos would have the first dance while Eduardo played their guitar, then Eduardo would dance while Santos played the guitar, and Mel interjected that when she grew tired she could play piano.
All thoughts of quarreling left Eduardo and Santos.
They looked at each other, and their mutual expression was one of pity.
"I've never seen the flamenco danced," Bonnie said around the three pins remaining in her mouth.
Mel laughed. "It is delightful! I had a pair of shoes made especially for dancing! Steel taps on the heels only -- I don't like taps on the toes, especially on a wooden floor -- but if you really want to see it danced well, watch these two!"
Eduardo and Santos both colored furiously.
Bonnie finished the adjustments on the dress and stepped back to check her work. Mel turned slowly and Bonnie nodded.
"That does fit you well," she murmured, making mental notes for future use.

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Mr. Box 9-20-07

 

"Miss Duzy, That couple you left at the bar are up to no good! Watch yourself, Miss. The way they were talking leads me to believe they're a pretty rough pair."
Duzy said, "Thank you. Tomorrow night I've got something special I want you to do when everything gets in full swing."
"Yes, Miss Duzy, anything you like."

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Linn Keller 9-21-07

 

We got Charlie into Doc's office.
Sounds easy when you say it fast.
Charlie is a solid built man. Not an ounce of fat on him but what's there is solid.
He's tall as I am and a bit broader at the shoulder and it was genuinely all I wanted to try and get his long tall carcass on his feet and into the saddle. He done the work, make no mistake, but I began to appreciate just how much muscle was wound around his bones.
Doc allowed as he'd live. I figured he would. Someone that naturally tough ain't about to lay down and die and I seen men hurt worse and live, but having been recently shot my own self, maybe I had more sympathy for his aches and pains.
Doc shook his head when the three of us made our way out of his office and over to the Sheriff's office. I thought to suggest a room at the Silver Jewel but thought better of it. Stairs would not be a good idea right now, and we didn't want everybody and their uncle seeing one of the lawmen laid up again.
There's kind of an art to caring for a man who is worthy of the name. It's almost an insult to hover and be fussbudget as a nanny but on the other hand there's a comfort to having a fellow warrior give enough of a damn about you to take that care.
Jacob and I got Charlie as comfortable as we could get him. He was still chillin' a bit so Jacob stoked up the stove, nothing overly hot, and as it warmed up and cracked and popped as it heated, I asked Charlie if I could do anything to make him more comfortable.
"Yeah," he said. "Go shoot me a beef and drag it in here. Cut off a hind quarter, wave it over the stove once or twice and I'll eat it!"
"I'll see if Daisy has any longhorns tethered out back," I grinned. "Want any salt with that?"
"Hell, yes, meat's no good without you salt it!" He chuckled and then grimaced.
"You warm enough?"
He was still shivering. "Yeah," he lied, and I threw another blanket over him. He nodded appreciation.
"Jacob, stay with him. Charlie, I'll be right back."
I looked around before I stepped out the door. Dark stains on the board walk cautioned me to a greater care, and I looked to where Sam had fallen, and I thought of my friend, weak and swaying in the saddle, and my hand tightened around the receiver of my Winchester.
Charlie, I hope you killed that fella, I thought, 'cause if you didn't I will and it will be slow.
Town was busy, especially in front of the Silver Jewel. It was Thursday and on toward afternoon and my stomach reminded me none of us had et decent since the night before.
I don't think my expression was none too pleasant. I know I didn't feel none too sociable. I worked my way back to Daisy's kitchen. The bar was crowded, shoulder-to-shoulder with a wonderfully ecumenical mixture of humanity, business suits and cowhand vests, townie shoes and dusty boots side-by-side; ladies in their finest, some in worn work dresses, but they'd taken pains to be clean and in good repair.
Good people. Honest folk.
I bumped one fellow as I went past. He turned and snarled "Hey! Watch it!"
I seized him by the shirt front and slammed him back against the bar, bending him backward over its rounded edge. I was not gentle.
He dropped his beer.
I yanked him upright again, left handed, and brought his feet off the floor.
Take a man's feet off the ground and generally the fight goes out of him, I'd found, and sure enough it did.
Silence spread around us like ripples in a still pond, from a dropped pebble.
"Mister," I said quietly, "I just rode all night and most of the day to find a friend. He'd been shot and we just got him in to the doc's office. I am tired and I am hungry and I am not in a kind mood. If you want a fight I will oblige you, so give some thought to what name you want on your headstone!"
I dropped him, and he come near to falling, but kept his feet and held onto the edge of the bar.
The silent crowd parted for me and I went on into the kitchen.

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Lady Leigh 9-21-07

 

Caleb had just left the telegraph office, having left two notes for Lightening to send. One to his Father, Abram Rosenthal, telling him the man named before did appear to be in town.

The second note was sent to his brother, Levi Rosenthal. Levi, three years older than Caleb, hair just as dark and wavy, but where Caleb's eyes were gray, Levi's were chocolate brown. Levi was equally as tall as Caleb and a bit bigger in the shoulders and chest. Levi Rosenthal had been working with the Pinkerton Office for seven years, and Caleb thought it would be a good idea to get the Pinkertons professional opinion on Liam McKenna.

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