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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 9-21-07

 

The wave of silence from the bar was as powerful as if there had been a great shout or a small explosion.
Esther turned, a smile still on her face, and she saw her husband-to-be, rifle in one hand and some fellow in the other, and Linn was white-lipped and speaking nose-to-nose with this individual.
The fact that this individual's feet were six inches off the floor did not escape her attention.
Something was very, very wrong.
It was the night before Grand Opening. She'd hoped to have her handsome fiancee on her arm, sweet smelling and clean from a good hot-water bath. His suit was hanging up, brushed and ready, and she'd selected her dress to complement both her complexion and his attire.
Linn was in a worn, blanket-lined coat, his face was drawn, he was obviously just out of the saddle, and he had rifle in hand.
Esther flowed smoothly through the crowd, murmuring "Excuse me, pardon me," as she went, and followed him into the kitchen.
Daisy's eyes were big and her hand was on his arm, her head bent toward him, and Esther wasn't sure if her expression was alarm, or distress, or both.
Daisy looked past Linn at Esther and Linn turned, fast.
Esther saw sorrow, and deep anger.
Esther laid a gentle hand on his forearm.
Linn wrapped his arm around her and pulled her tight. He was shaking a little.
Daisy turned and laid a serving tray on the table and began to load it up.
"Charlie's been shot," Linn whispered, pain in his voice.
"Oh, no!" Esther whispered, and looked up. "How...?"
"He'll live. He's hungry. I need to get Jacob fed and rested, we've been in the saddle all night."
Esther was instantly all business. She looked across the room, flagged Tillie, who was looking in their direction. Tillie worked her way over to them.
"I'll get this over to Charlie, Sheriff. Go send Jacob over and we'll get him fed and cleaned up," Daisy said briskly.
Esther took her beloved by the elbow and drew him over to a little table in the corner of the kitchen. He parked his rifle against the wall and they sat down. Daisy headed out the back door with the loaded tray and Esther loaded a plate and set it in front of Linn, with a steaming mug of the Silver Jewel's trademark vanilla coffee.
"Tillie," Esther said, "Jacob will be over here shortly. Draw a hot bath and prepare a change of clothes for him. He'll eat as much as any two men. See that he has blankets enough for his cot, and a better pillow." She turned to Linn. "You'd better eat."
Linn nodded.

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Lady Leigh 9-21-07

 

Bonnie was delighted at how beautifully the gowns for the opening night at the "Silver Jewel" turned out. Tilly would be dressed in blue and in a style fitting for the manager of the new establishment. Bonnie in pink ... "What would Caleb think?"

 

 

Edited by Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

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Lady Leigh 9-21-07

 

Aunt Esther chose the fashion plate with the gown in red. Esther wanted Emerald green, and Bonnie replicated the gown in that color, and accented it with Emerald and Black velvet.

Bonnie rememebered how Esther gasped when she saw it. The elegance of the gown would be striking on such an elegant woman. Linn would be most pleased at the vision he saw before him on Friday night.

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Lady Leigh 9-21-07

 

Bonnie looked at Duzy's gown. The fashion plate she chose was replicated, too, with the only stipulation being to exchange the red for Emerald green. Bonnie chuckled at how similar Esther and Duzy were ... more like Mother and Daughter than Aunt and Niece.

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Duzy Wales 9-21-07

 

Duzy had just reached the top of the steps when she ran into Tilly. “My goodness, Duzy, are you feeling alright?” “Yes, Tilly, sometimes these dreams and premonitions can be so confusing! I don’t know if that Liam McKenna downstairs is kin to Bonnie, he did mention a cousin, and I don’t like that woman he is with at all. She is a troublemaker, she started trouble with Fannie as soon as she saw her, and I don’t like that one bit! And she mentioned me not being married…..what is that about? Sometimes, I wish I didn’t have these dreams at all! Please excuse me; I think I will lie down for a little while.

Duzy regretted rambling on so with Tilly as soon as she did it. Instead of going on to her room, Duzy knocked on Fannie’s door, this time telling her friend “It’s Duzy, Fannie!” “Come on in Sugar, my door is always open to you!” Fannie replied.

“Looks like I got here just in time to help,” Duzy said smiling, as Fannie was cinching her corset herself, something she knew how to do quite well, but something that was always easier with help. Duzy couldn’t help but admire Fannie’s body, her milky white skin didn’t have a freckle on it, and her curves were every woman’s dream! Still, Duzy knew that the real beauty in Fannie was in her heart, as they had been friends for a long time.

“Fannie, I had a dream the other night about two people I have never seen before, and now they are both downstairs at the bar! I am frustrated, as the dream just doesn’t make sense! But enough about that, I want you to meet a friend of mine here in Firelands, Bonnie, the one I told you about yesterday.” “I’d love to meet her! Fannie said as she continued to get dressed. Soon the two were walking back downstairs.

Fred caught Duzy’s attention as they reached the bar and Duzy excused herself to speak to him. They talked for a couple minutes about the pair that had been downstairs and something Duzy wanted him to remind her of while Fannie was looking at the new artwork in the bar. “You would make a good model for one of those, Fannie,” Duzy said mischievously, as she took her arm and said, let’s go meet Bonnie! “Yes, well you model for one and I will too, and maybe we can talk this new friend of yours into modeling with us!” Fannie said laughing.

The two walked next door to “The House of McKenna,” and knocked on the door, Duzy asking Bonnie to “please open up, it’s Duzy and someone I want you to meet!”

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Linn Keller 9-21-07

 

Charlie ate with a good appetite, the appetite of not only a hungry man, but a man who truly appreciated how good the cooking was. The Sheriff's office smelled as good as the food tasted, or used to taste, as Charlie cleaned up the feast in short order, and was glad for it. Jacob had put on a pot of coffee and Daisy had brought her ever-present bottle of genuine vanilla extract.
Charlie burnt his lip on the blue-granite cup. Coffee wasn't much good unless it was hot enough to burn your lip, and this cup was very, very good.
He waited a little before tasting it again.

 

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Sweet Violet 9-21-07

 

Up in her new room, the room that used to be Aunt May's, Emma sat on the floor. The scent in the room, a mixture of violets, french milled soap, and sunshine, assailed her senses threatening to undo her already fragile hold on her emotions.

She clutched Aunt May and Uncle Herbert's picture to her breast as hot tears of sorrow and yes, anger, streamed down her face. The only two people in the world who loved her unconditionally were gone. She would never have the chance to kiss Aunt May's soft, wrinkled cheek again. Never again would she feel the comforting arms of Uncle Herbert circling her in a fatherly hug.

Angrily she swiped the tears from her face. "Enough of this self pitty Emma" she fairly shouted to herself. She stood, placed the picture back on the oak dresser and dusted off the back of her skirt.

Turning to her trunks, she began to search for her books. It was Thursday and the Friday night Grand Opening of The Silver Jewel was quickly approaching.

"There you are Mr. Shakespeare! Now which one of your wonderful passages should I read tomorrow night?"

The words had barely left her lips when she heard a firm knocking on her door. Thinking it was Duzy or Bonnie already come back for a visit, she hurried down the stairs.

She flung the door open with a welcoming smile on her face and stopped cold. There before her stood one of the biggest men she had ever seen. A head taller that she at least, he had eyes the color of the sky right before a summer storm and brown wavy hair that lightly touched his collar. He had in his hand what could have only been a hat, although at the moment it looked more like a piece of very badly made jerky. A big piece.

He had the look about him of one who hadn't been good to life or life hadn't been good to him, or maybe both. There was a haunted look in his eyes. Anger, pain, and distrust played there as well. But there was something else that caught Emma's attention that overshadowed all the other emotions. This is what made her stay rooted to the floor and not slam the door and run back to the safety of her room.

She saw in his steel blue eyes a great sorrow.

"Hello" came her timid greeting. "May I help you?"

In a voice as deep and as rich as Grandfather Port he replied, "Hello, Miss Jones. My name is Jackson Cooper."

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Linn Keller 9-21-07

 

"I come out here ahead of the law," Jackson Cooper said quietly, "trying to keep ahead of what folks said I'd done." He looked at her sharply. "I hadn't, but they said I had, and so I kept drifting. Herbert figured I looked honest enough, and May took a likin' to me, God only knows why." He smiled wryly and rubbed his big, callused palms together, slowly, meditatively. "Something big as me comes to the door, most folks run the other way. May asked me to come on in and have supper with 'em."
He looked up at Emma.
"They trusted me."
He was leaned forward, elbows on his meaty thighs, and told her about how he'd kept their stable mucked out, and the roof shingled, the fences patched.
He talked about her Uncle Herbert, and that tune he used to whistle while he worked, not realizing he was whistling, and how Aunt May used to hum as she baked bread, and how it was the most comforting thing in the world to him to hear that soft voice.
Emma closed her eyes against the tears that tried to overflow. She knew that voice, and she missed those gentle, wrinkled hands.
He talked about how something in him died when May did, how it was hard enough when Herbert died. He talked about coming back every couple of days to see the stock were fed, the fences kept up, the stalls mucked out; how he almost hit the owlhoot trail and taken up the outlaw ways, but when he was offered gold -- genuine gold -- to help burn out Firelands, how it was like May was looking at him with those gentle eyes.
"It wasn't right," he said. "I have May to thank for that."
She felt something brush against her cheek, and opened her eyes, and realized Mr. Cooper was touching the edge of a surprisingly clean bandanna to her cheek, just ahead of the scalding stream that had escaped the dam she tried unsuccessfully to build behind her eyes.
She accepted the clean cotton and pressed it to her eyes and leaned her elbows forward onto her knees and began to cry, great heartbroken sobs that threatened to tear her soul apart.
Jackson Cooper, reputed outlaw, accused rustler and bank robber, reputed gunfighter and killer of men, gathered the grieving schoolmarm into his strong-muscled arms and held her, rocking a little, as she grieved for them both.

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Duzy Wales 9-21-07

 

Bonnie opened the door, and Duzy introduced the two red headed women, knowing they would become instant friends. Fannie took in all the bolts of silks, brocades, linens, and other fabrics, and then noticed the trims! She looked at the forms with the outfits on display and ideas starting forming in her mind of what she would want made first! If Bonnie wasn’t careful, Fannie alone could keep her busy, Duzy thought, amused, as she watched her two friends handling the materials and bouncing ideas back and forth.

It then seemed that Bonnie became more serious and said, “Duzy, I hate to bring this up now, with such a happy reunion, but I think we need to talk about Liam McKenna. I understand you met Liam earlier today, Duzy, what was he like?” “I really didn’t have time to tell before the blond walked up to the bar…”

“Clara Carlson?” Fannie asked.

 

“I don’t know for sure, Fannie, as we were not introduced, although I had already heard how this particular woman treated you! She tried to start with me, by being nosy, and frankly I wasn’t in the mood! I excused myself, and it was then that I came to your room.”

 

“Just be careful around her, she isn’t any good and will do anything to get what she wants!” Fannie replied.

Bonnie took in the exchange and said, “I wonder how she is involved with Liam McKenna, as I think he is my cousin and may be up to something himself! Duzy, would you mind just playing along with him and find out what you can, but be careful around him until we are sure? That is what I plan to do as well.”

“Of course, Bonnie, I will help in any way I can, and if you think he may be trouble for you, the more we find out about him the better, I would think! I am free to play the game of adoring woman for awhile, to get to know him a little better, if that is what you are asking,” Duzy said smiling.

“Just be careful!” both Bonnie and Fannie said in unison, making all three of the women laugh, as they continued their conversation.

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Sweet Violet 9-21-07

 

Emma cried and cried until she felt as if she were a well gone dry. Slowly she realized that she was in the comforting circle of very strong arms and those arms belonged to a man she didn't know. Yet she knew without a doubt that these arms would never be raised in anger towards her and she felt safe there.

She stayed where she was for a moment taking him in. He smelled of lye soap and leather and earth. Wishing she could stay there longer she pulled away, using his handkerchief to wipe the tears away.

"I am so sorry," she said lowering her eyes and blushing. Emma was not one to dissolve into fits of sobbing very often and the thought of doing it in front of a man like Jackson Cooper made her want to run up the stairs and hide.

Jackson reached out, hooked his finger under her chin and made her eyes meet his. "Please don't feel sorry for mourning your Aunt May. I know very much how you feel." Taking his thumb, he brushed away one last tear that had escaped and traced its way down her cheek, catching a glimpse of trust in her eyes. Feeling a tightening in his chest, he had a very deep desire to protect this young lady and see to it that she never felt this kind of sorrow again.

After a few deep breaths, Emma collected her wits and stood.

"I made some coffee before I went to look for my books, would you care to join me for a cup Mr. Cooper?"

"Please, I don't stand on ceremony and I'm not my pa. Call me Jackson." He said wondering at the propriety of asking a young lady to call him by his first name.

Emma's face broke into a radiant smile. "Alright, Jackson. And please call me Emma. I can pour a cup for us and then I need to find a book on William Shakespeare's sonnets. I told Miss Wales I would read for her tomorrow night at the Grand Opening of the Silver Jewel. Will you be attending Jackson?"

"Well, I will have to think on it a spell. I-I should be getting back," to what? He thought.

And with that Jackson Cooper stood, deposited his hat on his head and bid Emma Jones good day. She followed him to the door and stood at the threshold, watched him mount his horse and ride away. Only then did she realize that she hadn't gotten him his coffee.

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Mr. Box 9-21-07

 

Late in the afternoon the Irish fire brigade came roaring into the bar like stampeeding horses. They were half carrying Sean already. "We've come to honor the little woman! Give us the best you got!"
"Well, I've got Redeye and Rye and this mexican stuff, T-E-Q-U-I-L-A and some of this stuff that I've never seen the likes of before." I pulled a bottle from under the bar and kept my hand over the label. "Most people don't seem to like it." as I poured a shot for Sean.
"Nothing but the best for me friend!" roared a burly fireman.
Sean picked up the glass, steadying himself with the other hand on the bar. He took the whole shot straight down in one gulp. He gasped and shook his head with his eyes bugged out!
It looked like the rest of the fire brigade was ready to leap over the bar for insulting their friend. I was setting five more glasses on the bar as he yelled at the top of his lungs, "Good Lord, Laddie, where did you get this stuff?" I poured them full. His comrads picked them up aprehensively and sipped carefully. Their eyes popped open and their mouths dropped open as I set the bottle in front of them. "Irish Whiskey!" they exclaimed in unison.
"Miss Duzy had it sent out from New York City on the last train" I said as they all pulled me across the bar in a huge bear hug. I refilled the glasses and then we toasted the little woman properly! All of us....

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Linn Keller 9-21-07

 

Emma looked out the window, half hoping, half fearful, that the big man would come riding back. He was ... what? Not afraid ... uncertain?

Not a hundred yards away, Jackson Cooper reined to a stop and frowned.
"Now why did I do that?" he wondered aloud.
She'd been so deep in grief he didn't really know what to do, other than hold her and comfort her like he would a frightened child, and in a way there was a comfort to him.
Unable to express his own grief, he could hold her while she grieved for them both.
His face hadn't seen a smile for some time, at least since he'd set down for pie and coffee the night before.
It smiled now, and the smile was genuine.
She'd offered him coffee, and it sounded pretty good.
He rode back to the house.

Emma heard his step on the porch, and was at the door just as he knocked. She was not certain at all what to say.

Jackson Cooper took off his hat. He did not twist it into shapelessness.

"When in disgrace with fortune in men's eyes
"I all alone beweep my outcast state,
"And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
"And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
"Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
"Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
"With what I most enjoy, contented least."

Emma was enthralled. She'd first heard these measured lines delivered in the ringing tones of a fine tenor, on a Boston stage; yet this man, rude in appearance, rough around the edges, speaking these same measured stanzas on the front porch of a simple farmhouse, spoke them with a deep, powerful, and unbelievably reassuring voice.

"Yet ... in these thoughts, myself most despising,
"Happily I think on thee, and then
"Like to the lark, at break of day, arising,
"From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate,
"For thy sweet love remembered, such wealth brings,
"That then I scorn to change my state with kings!"

Jackson Cooper smiled, a little, remembering how May loved it when he recited Shakespeare.
"That might not be quite how old William wrote it," he said gently, "but it's the best I recall."
"That is wonderful," Emma whispered. "Thank you!"
Jackson nodded gravely.
Emma blinked. "I promised coffee ... please, come in! I am so sorry!"
"Thank you, Emma. It was my own fault, not yours."
Emma hurried to the kitchen, feeling almost breathless. She'd found her Shakespeare!

Jackson Cooper picked up her Shakespeare, and paged slowly through it, remembering.
Lots of good memories in old William's words, he thought.

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Linn Keller 9-21-07

 

I folded Jacob's castoff pillow in two and shoved it in behind the small of my back.
Jacob was wore plumb out and so was I, and Charlie was sleeping peacefully for the first time since we got back. A good meal, a clean bunk and an unbelievably hard and contrary head could do wonders, I reflected. Even Doc Greenlees had said that an Eastern man shot in the belly would lay down and die, or be crippled for life. A Western man would either plug the holes with a whiskey soaked rag or sew them shut with horse hair and drink the whiskey. Either way he would not only survive but thrive.
The office was quiet. Tom Landers had stopped over with another basket from Daisy, and both Charlie and Jacob ate well. I ate a little but not much. Didn't have much appetite.
Tom and I taken our chairs out onto the boardwalk and talked quietly in the gathering dark. Tom chuckled as he told me about catching a card sharp trying to skin some unwary folk out of their savings. Tom had set in on the game, and when it was his turn to deal, he'd stacked the deck -- not hard, as soon as he got hold of the deck he could tell the cards were shaved and tapered -- and he told everyone at the table not to touch their cards til he told them to. He pointed to one, then the other, then the one beside him, telling each in turn what their hand would be.
They were surprised to find he was right.
He gathered the cards again, cut and shuffled, stripped and shuffled again, and looked from face to face to face. "What is the top card?" he asked.
"Ace of spades?" one hazarded.
Tom tapped the deck, once, then picked it up and turned it over.
Bottom card ... Ace of Spades.
He turned over the top card.
Ace of Spades.
He shuffled the deck again, and this time spread them out in a big fan on the table.
"Which card is which? Can you tell from the back?" he asked.
No one could, at least no one who was saying. Tom picked a half-dozen cards, almost at random, called them then turned them over. "King of hearts. Queen of hearts. Ace of hearts. Jack of hearts. Queen of diamonds. Jack of diamonds." He swept the cards together and looked at the fellow who'd been ready to fleece the unwary.
He looked quite uncomfortable, Tom said.
I chuckled. Most cheats do, when they're caught.
Tom did not want to ruin the festival atmosphere so he gave the fellow a sad and pitying look and said, "Friend, you have been slickered, and probably by someone quite good at cheating." He again looked around the table, addressing everyone present. "Some of these-here card sharpers will pick someone who's good at cards and then slip them a trick deck. Our friend here is one such victim. He's had a nasty trick played on him by some gambler who wanted to skin him out of his socks."
"How'd you know?" one fellow said accusingly.
Tom smiled. "I make it my business to know these things. I'm Tom Landers."
"Landers." It was almost a ghost of a whisper that went around the table.
Tom Landers was not a man to be trifled with, and he'd established a name for himself as a man of fair dealing but no tolerance for cheats.
Tom called for a fresh deck, broke the seal, set it in the middle of the table. "Y'all can look this one over as you please. Here's what to watch for" -- and he showed them the telltales on the backs of the trick deck, then showed them how a thumbnail mark could also be used to mark cards -- "and if you see a fellow wearing blue glasses, take your game elsewhere. They'll mark cards with lemon juice, and the blue spectacles let them see the lemon juice while nobody else can."
The card sharper was grateful he hadn't pulled out his blue spectacles.

Tom and I talked long into the night, and then I went inside, and folded the pillow behind my back in that daggone chair, and tried to get some rest.
Charlie's breathing was easy, as was Jacob's, and we slept.

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Lady Leigh 9-21-07

 

"Hi Mr. Bill! Hi Mr. Mac!"

Quietly .... very quietly ... Bill said hello back, and Mac nodded his head as Sarah made her greetings while she and Caleb walked into the Merchantile.

"Sarah?" Asked W.J., "Did they actually say something back to you?"

"Yes, sir they did ... it's the second time, but it is still only one voice I hear, but today Mr. Mac nodded! Wait until I tell Mama!"
*
*
*
*
Bonnie, Duzy and Fannie were talking, "Please Duzy, all I want is for you to be careful, OK?"

"You know I will ..."

"And I'll be around to help keep an eye on her, Darlin!" Fannie announced.

Bonnie looked at this new acquantance. What a marvelous woman she appeared to Bonnie. A spitfire is what her Papa would have called her, but a spitfire with a big heart, and an honest head on her shoulders. "Papa would have been right about this woman", Bonnie thought.

"Until Caleb hears back from his father and brother, Levi, I really think we need to keep on the cautious side of life. You know how Esther says you can get more with honey than vinegar?"

"I do indeed, Bonnie!", Duzy answered.

"Well, I think we should sweetly find out what Liam McKenna is up to. I'm just trying to figure out how I am going to conduct myself when the introduction actually takes place ...."

Fannie was fingering some green satin fabric. Not just any color of green, mind you, but a green so vibrant it resembled new leaves on a willow tree. "I know just the gown I want made from this luscious fabric, Bonnie, and I want this sequined fabric to go with it, too." Bonnie laughed at Fannie's choice of fabrics. When Bonnie opened the crate and pulled those particular bolts out, she wondered what type of woman would want fabric the color of limes, and now she knew. Someone as refreshing as Fannie Kikinshoot, that's who!

"I would be delighted and honored to create a gown for you, Fannie. When you have the time, I would like to get your measurements and we'll be set.'

"Oh Honey! This gown is going to be devine!!" Fannie exclaimed

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Linn Keller 9-22-07

 

I raised an eyebrow at Charlie. "You sure you want to be up this soon?"
He gave me an equally critical look. "You sure you're able to walk?"
We both looked at the offending chair.
The chair was not impressed by the strength of our united glare.
Jacob tossed his covers back and fairly bounced off his cot, grinning. "It's Friday!" he exclaimed with obvious delight, then yelped as his bare feet hit the cold board floor.
"Jacob," I said, "how about fetching that wash pan out here on top of the stove so Charlie don't die of the live-forevers gettin' washed up?"
"Kindly of ye," Charlie nodded, leaning against the doorway, one hand low on his belly. "Damn him, if I hadn't killed him already I'd go back and kill him again."
"I know an old mountain witch that claimed she could raise the dead. You want I should have her drag his shade back from the Inferno so you can send him back?"
Charlie smiled quietly. "Don't tempt me."
"You must've hated whoever it was."
Charlie was quiet for a long moment.
"You could say that."
Jacob came carrying the wash pan from in back. There wasn't room on top of the pot belly stove for wash pan and coffee pot both so he set the coffee pot on the floor and the wash pan on top, then he opened the stove door and touched match to the fire already laid in it.
"Won't take long," he said cheerfully.
"Charlie, why don't you take a seat?" I asked.
He grinned. "Not in that chair!"
I laughed. "No, not that one!"
Charlie carefully, slowly, tried to straighten up, and almost succeeded. I didn't have to caution him against tearing something; from the sweat beading up on his fore head, he was being reminded enough the way it was.
I contemplated that back breaking chair and considered feeding it to our stove. From the way my poor old back hurt, that might not be too bad an idea. Hell, I could sit on a peach crate until we got it replaced, if need be!
My back applauded the idea.
"Jacob?"
"Sir?"
"You seen any peach crates hereabouts?"

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Linn Keller 9-22-07

 

I hadn't got into my suit.
Not yet.
I had other business this morning.
Rose blew clouds of steam as Shorty led her down the alley to me. "She's full of fire this morning, Sheriff," he reported with satisfaction. "I didn't try topping her off, figured I'd leave that for someone younger and better lookin' than me." He laughed. "Well, younger, maybe!"
I laughed with him and stepped into the saddle.
Rose was full of fire, all right, and it was all I wanted just to keep my seat, but once she got the kinks worked out of her back, and beat out of mine, she settled down to a happy trot and we made a big circle of town, not for any particular need, but more out of the shared joy of a good ride.
We ended up at the church. I could have just walked down but I needed the ride. I needed to get out of the Sheriff's office, and out by myself, with a good horse under me and wind in my face.
I think better in the saddle. Always did.
Rose was content to wait at the hitch rail while I went inside.
I took off my Stetson as I crossed the threshold, and walked quietly up the aisle, and set myself down squarely in front of the altar.
I set there for some time, considering.
Today was Friday.
Today was Grand Opening.
The ladies had the hotel, and Daisy's Kitchen, and the Ruby Room, and the House of McKenna, all clean and polished and presentable. Mr. Baxter had been busy stocking the shelves with precise ranks of libations of all kinds; beer was in the cool of the cellar, ready to be tapped upstairs into tall tankards and slid down the bar.
I smiled, recalling his careful practice, sliding empty mugs, then full ones, getting the hang of delivering drinks with the casual panache of barkeeps in them big fancy saloons.
Parson Belden set down beside me.
"Must be a good memory," he said quietly.
I nodded. "A good memory."
"Figure to keep it all to yourself?"
I looked into those smiling eyes, and I told him about watching Mr. Baxter buff down that gleaming bar, and working with beer mugs and his good right arm, practicing and working and buffing until he could do good work, to his satisfaction.
"He sounds like a fellow who expects much of himself."
I nodded. "To look at him, to talk with him ... he seems the most easy goin' and peaceable sort you'd ever want to meet." I looked up at the altar. "Reckon you're right, though. Was he to put his hand to building something, for instance, I don't reckon he'd be happy unless it came out just plainly perfect."
The parson nodded. "Sounds to be." He smiled. "He slid me a beer last night, put it right into my hand."
I nodded.
"Understand he did well the night of the outlaws."
"Oh, yes!"
"Jacob did well, too."
I nodded.
Parson looked to the altar, remembering.
"He's near to a man in so many ways, despite his few years," Parson thought aloud. "He's still a boy in so many others." He turned and looked sharply at me. "And he thinks absolutely the world of you!"
I nodded, remembering my own youth, and how I looked up to my own Pa in just such a way.
The Parson shifted in his seat. "I'll have to remember just how comfortable these bare wood pews aren't, next sermon I give."
I laughed out loud. "Parson, if you'd spent the night in the chair I did, you'd think these-here bare wood pews are just wonderful!"
We laughed together at that, and it was good to hear the man's laugh.
"Tell me, Sheriff, what brings you to God's house this fine Friday morning?"
"Have you had breakfast, Parson?"
"No, hadn't got that far."
"Tell you what. I'm hungry, I'm headed for Daisy's, I'm buyin' and I would admire to share a table with you."
"Like the old preacher said," the Reverend Belden intoned with an utterly innocent expression, "all donations cheerfully accepted!"

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Linn Keller 9-22-07

 

Clara pouted.
No one could see her pout, but she pouted anyway.
Liam had given her a severe dressing-down for her behavior in the Silver Jewel, once they were in the privacy of his private car. She'd hoped he would hold her hand as they walked, but he gripped her wrist instead; his words had been harsh, his touch demanding; at one point he'd had her across his knee as if she were a naughty schoolgirl.
She smiled at that memory, or tried to smile. The mouthful of cloth made it hard to form any expression, there in the darkness of the hidden jail cell.
At least he'd put a blanket around her. It would be hard to draw the blanket up herself, with her wrists cuffed behind her back. She'd not slept well, not with the welts on her backside, but she'd managed to sleep a little.
A thin crack of light seeped in under the concealing wooden door, and under the barred steel door of her small cell.
There was the grinding click of a lock turning. The outer door opened; she was momentarily blind.
Liam's silhouette stood in the doorway.
"What a lovely sight," he hissed. "Are you ready to be a good girl today?"
She smiled through her gag and shook her head.
"No? I thought perhaps you might say that." He tapped the riding crop against his leg. "Perhaps I could persuade you."

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Linn Keller 9-22-07

 

The Irish Brigade loudly argued the merits of parking their steam wagon right outside the Ruby Room, where the suction line was still installed in the cistern, just poking out from under the board walk. To hear them a body would think they were ready to rip one another's heads off, but we knew better. These six were united not only by friendship but by having faced a common enemy, and not a few times.
Sean strode back to the kitchen. I heard Daisy's shriek, her laugh, Sean's booming voice: "Daisy me darlin', how is the loveliest wife this side of the Mississippi this mornin'?" and I heard the clop of her heels coming back down to the floor as he set her down and her laughing, "Sean, ye great Irishman, I'm the same as when ye saw me two hours ago!"
I grinned. Daisy gave as good as she got, and she was well matched with Sean.
We worked on vanilla coffee and eggs, biscuits and gravy, bacon, and I heard Daisy greet Dawg, and knew he'd slipped in the back for his favorite treat.
The Parson and I ate with a good appetite.
Full, we leaned back, and Daisy refilled our coffee. I cocked an eyebrow.
Daisy grinned. She knew I was about to pull her leg, and she was right.
"Daisy, my dear," I declared in a loud voice, "it's a darn good thing you're a married woman!"
She laid her hand on my shoulder and threw her weight onto one leg, standing hip shot and winking at Sean. "Now why would that be, darlin'?" she asked with that ornery smile of hers.
"Why, were you not married, I might just run off with you, long as I could pack up that kitchen and take it with us!"
Daisy pretended to indignation. "Why, I never!" she exclaimed, swatting at me with her ever-present towel. "Men! You're all alike! You should be ashamed of yourself, Sheriff!"
Esther had just come down the stairs, and I thought she was going to have to stuff her fist in her mouth to keep from laughing. She was enjoying the show.
Unaware, Daisy continued, sweeping the table full of Irishmen with her laughing eyes. "You men are all alike! You're all mouth and hands! You only think of one thing! One thing!"
She paused and let the air grow heavy with anticipation, then ...
"FOOD!"
Everyone in the house laughed.

Esther sat down and joined us, and I was glad she did.
I held her hand.
"Parson, it is well to invoke the blessing of God before undertaking any important task, and I intend to undertake one of the most important of my life."
The Parson nodded, once, listening; he looked from Esther, to myself.
"I promised Esther that I would ask for her hand in marriage, at the time and place that suited her best. The time is tonight. The place will be just yonder, in Ruby's Room. It will be a fine affair. You've seen the banners, you've read the handbills, we'll have singers and poets and music and I doubt me not we'll have dancing as well." I squeezed Esther's hand, gently, and she squeezed mine back. "I'm told Esther and I will have the head table -- yonder, against the wall -- and at the right time, I will stand, and I will propose to Esther, and she will give me her answer at that time."
There was a heavy hand on my shoulder.
"Parson," Sean said in his deep and lovely Irish accent, "before you invoke the blessings of the Almighty, let me tell you of this man." He hesitated, and the rest of the Irish Brigade came over and ranked shoulder to shoulder with him. "I first met him at the depot, and though he ended up on his back it was not until he'd hit me harder than anyone, man or boy, has hit in me life, and that's sayin' somethin'." His big hands squeezed, gently. "He has acted honorably in everything he's done. He's had a thousand chances to take advantage, he could have sold out and run and lived a wealthy man, and he's no' done that. I understand he came into filth and turned it into righteousness, and wha' he's done for the girls here should make him a guid Irish saint."
The Irish Brigade muttered affirmations to this.
"I would no' presume to gi'e advice t' the Divine, but had I the ear of the good St. Patrick I'd ask him to incline the Almighty favorably toward this man and all his purposes."
Esther bit her lower lip and fished out a lacy hankie.
I found myself seized under the arms and hoist to shoulder height. There was a great roar. "Come along, lads! If we're askin' the Almighty's blessin' we're doin' it right, in church!"
We were borne along like leaves in a strong current, and so, in church that morning, surrounded by a half-dozen red-shirted Irish giants, Esther and I knelt and sought the blessing of the Almighty on what we were about to do.
We didn't know until we stood, and shook the Parson's hand and thanked him for his kindness, and turned, that we saw Charlie, and Jacob, and Tillie, Bonnie, Sarah, Tom Landers and several others, attracted by the commotion, standing in the back of the church: all grinning at us, and most of the ladies were dabbing at their eyes.
Liam McKenna was behind them; he dropped his eyes, and looked troubled.
Clara was there as well.
I knew the look on her face, and knew she planned trouble.
Turns out I was right.

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Sweet Violet 9-22-07

 

The sun was just beginning to streak the sky red and pink when Emma woke early Friday morning. She stretched lazily, then snuggled back down into the covers of the bed. A smile tugged at her lips as she remembered yesterday.

Jackson had indeed turned his horse around and came back for his cup of coffee. When she met him at the door he had quoted Shakespeare to her. To her. Not on a stage to an audiance full of patrons dripping with diamonds who had paid a hefty price to hear the newest talent quote Shakespeare. This man who looked for all the world like he would rather kill a man as look at him, quoted William Shakespeare!

Emma had stared at him with eyes rounded and a smile that leaned toward the embarassing, and just listened.

"Hmmmmmmmmm" she murmered. What would it be like to have that happen....... "Oh stop your silly mooning, Emma!"

And with that she jumped out of bed and prepared for the day. Duzy had offered to come out in her buggy and drive her back to town and to the opening of the Silver Jewel. Emma had thought long and hard about what she would read tonight. Finally she had made her decision.

Emma had asked Jackson if he would be attending the Grand Opening and he said he still wasn't decided one way or the other. Trying not to let her disapointment show at the prospect of him not being there, Emma decided to hope that he would be. And thus she had made her choice concerning the sonnets to be read. And she decided she would dedicate one to the love that Aunt May and Uncle Herbert had. That was a love that she knew she wanted.

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Mr. Box 9-22-07

 

Well, this is Friday, I'd better get an early start, I said to myself. Can't be too ready when there's this much riding on it. I went downstairs and the ladies were already abuzz. I'd best go pay Nelly a visit first.
"Shorty, if it gets too crowded in here, Nelly would be alright outside."
"May have to if town fills up like I think it will. I've heard several people talking about coming today."

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Linn Keller 9-22-07

 

We trooped back to the Jewel, all of us, a happy, chattering crowd. Most everyone went inside right away.
Esther and I hung back, holding hands; there were many hugs, many handshakes, many kind words of support.
I don't reckon I will ever recall what was said to me that day, but I don't reckon I will ever, ever forget the folks that cared enough to say them!
Finally we stood outside the Jewel, just the two of us.
I held both Esther's hands.
"You understand, dear heart, you'll be marrying everything I've ever been, and everything I am, and everything I'll ever be," I said gently.
"I know that," she smiled, "and I am content."
"Understand that just like the other night I might have to ride out without saying a word, and I might come back shot up or killed."
Esther raised her head and there was steel in her spine. "I am marrying a man I respect, an honorable man who is worthy of the name." Her eyes softened and so did her voice. "I am willing to take that risk. I loved once. I would love again."
I nodded, realizing she already did, and realizing that I did too.
I raised her hand to my lips, kissed her knuckles.
"I promise to get a good bath before I put on that clean suit."
Esther smiled, and went inside.
I turned and headed for the Sheriff's office.


Clara was just rising from my chair behind the desk.
"You should really replace that chair," Clara pouted. "It is not comfortable."
I pulled in my elbows like a boxer before a fight. "How can I help you, ma'am?" I asked formally.
Clara swept around the desk, beautiful with her hair styled, her bodice tailored, her skirt swinging with the sway of her hips. I bristled as she came near -- too near! -- and she pressed herself against me.
I was backed against the wall.
She thrust her lips against mine, her mouth suddenly busy, and not with talking.
Almighty God! I thought, this woman can kiss!
For a moment, just a moment, lust-fires ignited in my belly and I almost kissed her back.
Almost.
I got my arms between us and broke her grip.
She stepped back, fire in her eyes and lust in her face. She traced her tongue across her bottom lip and whispered, "Sheriff, the desk ... it's solid ... please, I need you..."-- then she came at me again, seizing me about the neck.
I broke her grip a second time, twisting my face away from hers, I spun her around in what I knew was a painful arm lock. The sound she made was not one of pain.
"You have to arrest me," she said huskily. "I've just assaulted a police officer! You have to lock me up, Sheriff! I've been very bad!"
I bent her wrist with another ounce of pressure. This time the sound she made was not one of pleasure.
I brought her up on her tip-toes and escorted her rather ungently to the door. I thrust her outside, released her wrist.
She spun. "Sheriff, please, I can do things through the bars that--"
SLAM!
I held my palm hard against the white oak door and dropped the bar in place.
"Sheriff?" Her voice filtered through the wood. "Whenever you're ready, darling! I can take you places you've never been!" There was a mocking laugh, the sound of hard heels on the board walk, and she was gone.
I poured some scalding coffee. I had to get that taste out of my mouth, and I needed a bath, for all of a sudden, I felt quite dirty.

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Duzy Wales 9-22-07

 

Duzy climbed onto her soft feather tic mattress and had soon fallen asleep, as it had been a day of preparation, fun with Fannie and Bonnie, and intrigue, as she thought of Liam McKenna and why he was in Firelands. Her last thought before sleep came was to make sure that he did not hurt Bonnie, as tomorrow was a day of celebration for her new friend, as “The House of McKenna” was to open come morning, and then more celebrations to follow…..

And with sleep came the dream……

A secret space… well hidden…. darkness…. light coming from under the door… arms aching….the door opening…. a form of a man…blinding light….Liam McKenna….a leather crop…..a cruel smile...... the inside of a room….no, in a private car of the train… and then the words…. you will do as I say…..no, never…. cruel laughter …..I have Bonnie...where ….in the trunk......no… I will let her go….you must beg me….no….you want her to die…..no…..then beg…..don’t believe you…..more laughter…..a sickening smell….bars.... unconsciousness….Bonnie….the trunk….no don’t believe it…. oh yes, my dear, you will, if not today, then the next, or the next, until you will beg for it or she will die if you don’t! Beg me, and I will let her go…….

Duzy woke up in a cold sweat and knew in her heart that Liam McKenna was there to hurt Bonnie, and he would use her or anyone else she or Bonnie loved to get what he wanted. Duzy reached for her journal and wrote her dream. She slipped downstairs and poured herself a drink of tequila to stop the shakes…..oh how she wished Jake was here to hold her! She walked back upstairs and knocked on Aunt Esther’s door. “Aunt Esther, it is Duzy, may I come in?” Aunt Esther opened the door and took Duzy in her arms, knowing that her niece was terrified from the look of anguish on her pretty face. “Come on in dear, you can sleep with me.”

Duzy told Aunt Esther the details of the dream, as her Aunt stroked her hair and told her everything would be fine, not to worry, and Duzy remembered all the times she had comforted her like this, since the dreams had begun so many years ago! “Aunt Esther, I love you.” “And I love you too, my dear, now go to sleep, I will tell Linn of your dream tomorrow.” Duzy slept like a child, as her Aunt Esther held her, in her loving arms.”

When Duzy awoke again, it was to a beautiful morning, the sun was coming up, and the blood in her veins started pounding with excitement, anticipation, and yet, worry! Today was the opening of “The House of McKenna!” She knew Bonnie must be as excited as she,….and tonight, tonight her Aunt Esther would accept the marriage proposal of Linn Keller, and the grand opening of “The Silver Jewel Gambling Establishment, Bar and Hotel” would be formally opened with two dining rooms, “Daisy’s Kitchen,” and “The Ruby Room!” So much planning and hard work was finally becoming a reality.

Aunt Esther was already up and gone, and Duzy saw a note on the night stand. “Gone for breakfast….I will talk to Linn.”

Duzy hurried to her own room and dressed to take care of any last minute details before riding out to pick up Miss Jones. She placed her derringer in the hidden pocket that was sewn in all her clothes, sheathed her knife in her boot, and used one of Aunt Esther's ten inch hat pins to secure her hat.

She had spoken to Shorty the day before and knew he would have the buggy ready for her at noon. Duzy started to knock on Fannie’s door, but it opened just as she raised her hand. “Good morning Sugar,” Fannie said, with a bright smile on her face. "Good morning Fannie, I need a favor, if you don't mind?" "Well, just tell me what it is so I will know what I need!" "I wish for you to ride out with me to pick up Miss Jones later today, she will be performing tonight and I promised her a ride into town." "I would love to, now let's go get something to eat and find Bonnie, I just know she is excited as can be today!"

Fannie noticed the small lines around Duzy's eyes, and asked, "anymore dreams last night?" "Yes, there is danger around us." "Well, since when have we been afraid of a little bit of danger!" Fannie replied. "However, we will be careful and watchful for each other."

As they descended the stairs, they met everyone coming back from breakfast and into the lobby of "The Silver Jewel." Duzy looked for Aunt Esther to see if she had spoken to Sheriff Keller about the dream.

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Linn Keller 9-22-07

 

I had almost finished my second cup of truly objectionable coffee and was making a terrible face when someone tapped delicately on the door.
I had a sudden feeling of dread.
Girding my strength about me, I took a deep breath, lifted the bar.
It was Esther.
"You look worried," I said, and reached for her elbow.
She laid a hand on my chest. "You look sick!"
I drew her inside and pulled her to me.
Esther smelled another woman's perfume on me and pulled away and looked up at me. To my surprise she smiled, just a little.
"I saw you send her packing."
I nodded, miserable to my very soul.
Esther caressed my cheek. I would have felt better if she'd slapped me.
"Did anything happen?" she asked quietly.
I looked her squarely in the eye. "She tried."
"And?"
"She failed."
"That's all I need to know." She leaned back into me and I surrounded her with my arms.
"Esther, she made me feel so ... dirty!"
"Women of her stripe often do." She sighed. "I understand men are often tempted just before their wedding. Maybe this is just one of those temptations."
"That wasn't a temptation," I muttered, "that was an assault!"
Esther sniffed. "Is that coffee I smell?"
"If you want to call it that. Worst I've had for some time."
Esther's nose wrinkled. "I could make a nice fresh pot."
"No need, dearest. I'll dump this mess and we can have some good coffee over at the Jewel."
Esther smiled.
I drew out a chair, and she sat, as comfortable on a rude wooden straight-back chair as any queen on a cushioned throne.
"My dear, Duzy received ... information."
I sat on the desk, facing her. If I'd been a cat my ears would have swung forward.
"You know she has the Second Sight."
"My mother had the Second Sight, and I knew a mountain witch back home that could tell you things nobody else could know."
Esther nodded. She recounted Duzy's dream, as near to word-for-word as she'd gotten it.
Something sounded familiar. I frowned.
"I read something ..." My gaze swept back and forth on the floor, vainly searching darkened rooms of my memory, trying to find a sliver of recollection. "That sounds awful familiar. Tell me again."
Esther patiently repeated herself. My head was tilted to the side, my right ear inclined toward her, eyes closed. I was biting the inside of the corner of my mouth with concentration.
Finally I shook my head. "Don't recall where but I read something ... something that sounded just Almighty familiar to what you just told me."
Esther rose, and so did I. She laid a gentle hand on my chest.
"Darling, will you be all right?"
I shifted uncomfortably. "Esther, after that woman was in here, I feel dirty. I need a bath!"
Esther smiled. "I think we can arrange that. Jacob has been hauling wood and hot water all morning. I think the entire town wants a bath, and we're having trouble keeping up!"
I smiled. "Paying customers come first. I can wait."
"Nonsense!" Esther declared. "I want my husband clean and sweet-smelling when he proposes to me tonight!"
I laughed, and the tension unwound from around my gut. "Then you shall have it, my dear, for I can deny you nothing!"
A mischievous light danced in Esther's eyes as she said, "I'll remember you said that!"

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Duzy Wales 9-22-07

 

Fannie and Duzy had a fun breakfast together, laughing about old times, each remembering something funny the other had did. Not only had they grown up in the same area, but they had been in some of the same classes in college, as Fannie studied drama and the arts, while Duzy studied journalism.

They walked outside, into the street, and the town was bustling. Everyone was in high spirits; several ladies were already lined up in front of Bonnie’s shop waiting for her to open. “Looks like we need to go on out and get Miss Jones, Duzy said, as Bonnie may need some help!” Soon they pulled up in front of Emma’s home. Emma met them at the door with a pretty smile, and it seemed as if everything was right in the world.

“Emma, please meet my friend, Fannie Kikinshoot, Fannie, this is Miss Emma Jones! We have only met this week, but are already becoming friends. Emma, I must confess, Fannie already knows as much about you as I do, as we have been catching up the past two days!”

The ladies were soon on their way back to town with all three talking nonstop. Dawg had decided to follow them and Emma had let him sit beside her on the seat on the way back to town, reaching to pet him, as they continued to talk. Duzy wondered if Dawg had a sixth sense as well, as he surely seemed to know when danger was around. Duzy looked around and didn’t see anyone……

Duzy thought of her three red headed friends, fiery in their own way, and yet so different in others, each of them accomplished and talented and on their own. Bonnie could create with her mind and hands masterpieces from a bolt of cloth, Fannie had a flair like no one else, vivacious and exciting, who would bring a crowd to their feet, begging for one more song, as she sometimes left the stage and would sing atop a table or in someones lap, and then Emma, quieter, but someone who could speak Shakespeare from her heart and knew how to handle twenty children without a harsh word!

They reached town and left the buggy with Shorty as the three walked to "The Silver Jewel."

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Linn Keller 9-22-07

 

My muscles were slowly relaxing their tension, one by one by one, and the warm water felt so very good.
I closed my eyes and sighed.
The room was quiet, there were muted sounds from the street; footsteps out in the hall or on the stairs. Nothing exciting, which suited me fine, just fine ...
There was a tap on the door.
I looked to the Colt, in easy reach beside my copper tub. "Hello!" I called out.
"Just me, sir," Jacob replied, opening the door just enough to get his hand in. The hinges were on my side, the door opening away from me, a design I'd insisted on when we overhauled the second floor, and I was grateful now I had insisted on the change.
Jacob brought in my suit and my new boots, polished to a high shine. My new hat already hung on the hat tree by the door. "Sir, I found this in your suit pocket. Thought it might be important."
He brought over a telegraph flimsy, held it open for me to read.
I read it and frowned.
"Take that to Lightning if you would, please. I believe the wire went down as he was receiving this."
"Yes, sir," he replied. "Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, Senor Santos would like to speak with you."
I frowned. "Now?"
"Yes, sir. He said it was muy importante." He stumbled a little over the unfamiliar phrasing and tried unsuccessfully to put a small trill on his r.
"Hang a shingle on the door that says "Sheriff's Office," and send him in," I said.
"Yes, sir." Jacob went to the door, beckoned. He stepped out as Santos stepped in, sombrero in hand.
"Pardon, Jefe," he greeted me apologetically, "pero hace muy importante."
"Hablo un poco de su lingua," I replied, "pero entiendo solo un poquito."
Santos grinned in appreciation of my frank admission: though I spoke a little of his language, I understood much less. "Bueno," he replied, "hablo en Ingles."
"Gracias. Que tiene?"
His face grew serious. "El Senor McKenna, Jefe. Hace un hombre muy malo."
I nodded. "He is a bad man, and his companion, Senora Clara, is no better."
"Bruja!" Santos spat. "She rides brooms and eats children, Jefe, and unless I am much mistaken, her lovely dress hides hooves and a tail!"
"Can you give me any particulars?"
"I listen, senor. Los Yanquis, they think because I am a Texican that I understand nothing they say, and so I listen, and I learn much." Anger smoldered in his dark eyes. "He spoke of the ladies in a way no man should speak, Jefe." His fingers caressed the hilt of his great knife. "I hope for the moment that he speaks ill of nos hermanita, la Senorita Firecracker, so that I may cut his throat."
I nodded, knowing that in some jurisdictions it was still a viable defense to tell the court that someone you killed, needed killin'.
"Should you increase his smile from ear to ear," I said, "try to do it outside, in the dirt, so the ladies will not have a mess to clean up."
"Si, Jefe," he replied with a great flash of white teeth. "I am told blood makes very good fertilizer."
"I would be very interested in anything more you can tell me of el Senor McKenna, or his bruja."
"Entiendo," Santos smiled. "I will listen closely." Again that brilliant flash of teeth, and he was gone.
I soaped up my rag again and scrubbed the back of my neck, thinking. Witch, Santos had called her. Sure fit. As far as cloven hooves or a tail, I really didn't care to find out. The sooner she was out of my town, the easier I could breathe.

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Linn Keller 9-22-07

 

Lightning looked at the unfamiliar flimsy and scratched his thinning scalp.
"Sheriff said to bring it to you. He thought it was coming through as the wire went down."
Lightning nodded. "Date's right, that's when they cut the wire. Let me take a look here." He paged through his log book. "No, it wasn't repeated."
"Can you have them re-send the message?"
"I'll give it a good try." He sat down in front of his key and began tapping his message with the ease of long practice.

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Linn Keller 9-22-07

 

Jackson Cooper was a lonely man, and like lonely men, he tended to think out loud. Sometimes, he'd told a partner years ago, it was easier if he threw his thoughts out on the air so he could see what they sounded like.
"Jackson," he said, "what kind of a fool quotes Shakespeare to a stranger, especially a Boston schoolmarm?"
His horse didn't answer.
He thought of her good coffee, of how vulnerable she felt in his arms, of the music in her voice. He thought of how she smelled, and how right she looked in that house.
She loves Shakespeare, he thought, and she's going to recite Shakespeare at the Grand Opening. I could watch her there.
"You don't have any decent clothes," he growled.
You have a suit, he thought, May made you that suit to wear for Herbert's funeral.
"Awright, I got a suit," he snarled.
Your boots are still new enough they'll polish up well. Emma just left the house. Get yourself moving and you can take a bath and shave and get yourself presentable for tonight.
Jackson Cooper was never one to over-think a situation. Once he arrived at a decision, he acted upon it.
It was only a few minutes at a gallop, and it was not long after that, with soap and scrub brush in hand that Jackson Cooper, reputed border raider, alleged robber of stagecoach and strongbox, was scrubbing his weather-toughened hide at the outdoor trough, until it was pink, and clean, and glowing.
He went into the house where he had once been welcomed and went upstairs, to the closet, and withdrew the suit, and hung it carefully.
Jackson Cooper knew where the straight razors and soap were kept, and the razor strop still hung beside the basin, and he carefully plied its honed edge until the figure in the mirror was considerably more presentable.
Clean, shaved, and dressed, he headed into town, wearing a hat considerably the worse for having been crushed, twisted, wrung and squeezed in moments of great duress.
He could, he reasoned, afford a new hat.

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Duzy Wales 9-22-07

 

Duzy made it up to her room and reached for the beautiful emerald green outfit she would be wearing. The detail of the outfit was amazing and Duzy could hardly wait to make her entrance down the stairway. She was hoping to catch Liam McKenna’s attention tonight and see what she could find out about the man, although secretly she wished that Jake Thomas was there, as well.

Duzy had checked on Aunt Esther who was like a drill sergeant in the kitchen, only her Aunt could get the point across by using a soothing voice and soft manner or sometimes just a look in the right direction. Each way she turned, she was asking someone to do this or that and the foods in the kitchen were beginning to smell delightful. “Duzy, honey, you run on and start getting ready, everything is under control here! I will be up to change later.

Bonnie had been taking orders since opening her shop, with Caleb by her side, already having enough orders to keep both of them busy and Bonnie already thinking they may need to hire help, if the orders kept coming in.

Sarah was playing in front of the shop with the other children! Emmett was painting the children’s faces, and some looked like Indians, with war paint, while others were clowns, or some with rainbows or hearts, or whatever the child could think of, he could paint it to their delight! He had found some roots and mixed paints that he jokingly said “if it doesn’t wash off, it will wear off!” Duzy wasn’t sure but what he was serious and Miss Emma would have a class full of painted faces come Monday morning! Many couples had him draw their likeness on paper, and although he did not ask for money, his shirt pocket was beginning to overflow. Gailen Daine had gotten an unused spittoon from the saloon and jokingly sat it beside him.

Tilly was managing the hotel like a well oiled machine, making sure everyone was taken care of, and had anything they needed, with the help of the other women she had hired, plus the porter, a male, who could handle the baggage better. Duzy made a mental note to ask his name, as she couldn’t remember it at the moment!

Daisy and Sean worked side by side in her kitchen, as it had become to busy for her to handle, even with Sally helping with the tables. She had closed the kitchen after the noon meal, leaving it spotless for Esther to start her evening meal.

Mr. Baxter was sliding drinks down the bar as fast as they were ordered, never missing the outreached hand. He looked handsome in a white shirt and vest, with a bow tie and apron over dark pants, and his shoes shined. The player piano had been playing off and on all day, along with Nelson Daine playing the fiddle, if anyone asked, or if he took the notion to do so! Money was being exchanged at the gambling tables and some would be going home broke, but having had a good time, and others would be leaving with a little extra money!

So far, the grand opening was a real success and no one had been arrested nor anyone had caused any trouble that Duzy had heard about.

Duzy asked for a warm bath, and was soon soaking; relaxing her muscles, and had set it up that Emma would get the next bath, in Duzy’s room, so she could prepare for the evening. Fannie was in her room getting dressed and Bonnie was closing shop for the day to dress for the evening. It had been a wonderful day and soon the real festivities would begin

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Lady Leigh 9-22-07

 

"Oh, Caleb!" Bonnie was beside herself with how wonderfully the opening day to 'House of McKenna' turned out. "I wouldn't have guessed the enthusiasm of the women in a thousand years, Caleb!"

"Surely you suspected, Bonnie ..."

"No! I didn't! Seriously, I truely didn't! ..... Caleb! I need to think about finding some help! You and I can't do it alone. Not with what we saw today!"

"Mama? I could help a little! Maybe not with the sewing, but I could help clean and I can show the women Dolly's new clothes and that would help!" Sarah had a wonderful day, and her enthusuiasm alone would carry 5 people.

"You just may have found yourself a job for after school Sweets." Oh how Bonnie loved this child ...

Caleb was walking Bonnie and Sarah over to the Silver Jewel so that they could all change for the evening festivities. "Bonnie?"

"Yes."

"What are you going to do with the house?"

"Why live there, of course! Why?"

"Well, with Esther, Duzy and Tilly here at the Silver Jewel, that leaves you and Sarah at the house alone."

"And your point is, Caleb?"

"Just don't think it is a good idea, that's all."

"Because of Liam McKenna?"

"Partly ... I'd just feel better if you were with people. Especially until we hear, or know more about this Liam fellow."

"I understand ... but Caleb, I really don't think he'd do anything rash, do you? I mean, really, if he's here because he wants something, he certainly wouldn't make waves ... would he?"

They stopped in the street, and Caleb looked at Bonnie, "Haven't you ever had a feeling so strong, but couldn't pin point it?"

"Yes ... but not like the ones Duzy feels. I have to admit, what she has said about her dreams are frightening, Caleb. I do believe he is up to something, but he has yet to introduce himself. I am beginning to wonder how long we have to play this game! It's annoying!" Bristled, Bonnie started walking again, and Sarah and Caleb moved quickly to catch up. "Let's just get ready for tonight, Ok? I don't want to think about Liam McKenna at the moment. Let's just see what he does, and take it from there, OK?"

This was a side of Bonnie he remembered seeing when she was a child. She'd set her jaw, and become bullheaded, and there was no reasoning with her. Caleb knew she worried. He knew she was not putting Liam McKenna out of her mind. He also knew that she was tired of the hastles life had thrown her way. Todays business success did Bonnie the world of good. That is what she wanted to revel in, not the 'could be doom' that may, or may not be pending.

"Fine, Bonnie ... forgive me for bringing your wonderful day down a level. That was not my intention."

"I know Caleb .... I just want to put that pretty dress on and continue this fairy tale dream ... "

Inside, the three went up the stairs, Caleb turning toward his own room, and Bonnie and Sarah in the direction of Duzy's.

Downstairs, tucked into a darkish corner, Liam watched the three walk in the main door and take the stairs up one step at a time. "Why is that kid always with her?" Liam thought. He certainly knew her three year experience at Sam's Place, but he never heard about her having a kid.

Actually, Liam's mood was at an all time anger level. Today he found out why he hadn't heard anything from Luke Hawkins. It was because Luke got himself killed. That made Liam wonder if Luke's cover had been found out. If that were the case, Liam's own plans would need to be altered.

Then there was Clara. Liam was finding her to be good at only one thing ... other than that, she was becoming a problem. Liam didn't want the towns people associating her with himself. Clara was going to be trouble, and Liam needed to find a way to remove her. Then he thought about his own lustful needs. He thought maybe keeping her around until he could get close ... 'real close' to that Duzy Wales.

Liam drummed his fingers on a table top that was close by. He had to befriend Bonnie first ... and the brat if it was Bonnie's ... and then he'd have the ability to get close to the Wales *****. Then it would be bye bye to Clara, then to Bonnie ... and hello to Duzy Wales and financial freedom.

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Lady Leigh 9-22-07

 

Liam exited the Silver Jewel and headed toward his private box car. "Tonight, Bonnie, you beloved cousin has come to capture your heart!"

Maniacal laughter followed.

Three others watched him walk away from the Silver Jewel. Caleb from his bedroom window, Fannie from hers, and Linn from down the street.

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Mr. Box 9-22-07

 

Firelands had been busy all day, but as the afternoon wore on it just got busier and busier. The bar was getting quite busy itself. There was a very pleasant aire about the crowd except that McKenna feller over in the corner. Everytime I glanced over his way he seemed to be deep in thought about something with a disagreeable expression on his face.
I was sliding beers down the bar like I'd been doing it for years. It really helped having that little rough spot smoothed out. Having the mugs full was a lot different than doing it empty. I always had to be sure I started the slide off smooth and not slosh the head all over the bar. It took me a few times to get the head just right when I started. Now it is easier.
Duzy came to just before she went up to get dressed for the evening, "I've got something special back in the spring room for when Linn proposes to Aunt Esther. I want you to get it out in time for that. Use these glasses for it."
"Yes, Miss Duzy. I'll keep an eye out for it. Give me a nod if you can."

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Duzy Wales 9-22-07

 

Soon, Duzy, Bonnie, Fannie, Aunt Esther and Emma were all dressed, each helping each other as they cinched corsets, oooohhh and ahhhed over what each was wearing, each helping with the other’s hair, and the ornaments that adorned it, clasping jewelry for each other, and finally looking at each other with approval. They were all having such a wonderful time together, that even if the evening before them wasn’t to be so exciting, the camaraderie between the ladies was worth more than either could put into words!

Each one had been discussing Liam McKenna and Clara, and how they planned to handle whatever might be coming. Duzy was to “play his game” to find out what she could, Bonnie would figure out how to react to his introduction, depending on what he did, Emma would be performing, Aunt Esther and Fannie would be watching and listening whenever they could, as would Emma when she could……but this was Aunt Esther’s night, and that is why they all planned together to keep anyone from spoiling it for her. As far as Clara was concerned, they all agreed a closet would be a good place to stuff her, gagged and bound, until it was over, if she even tried to start anything! Who would believe her over the rest of them? Especially, Sheriff Keller, tonight, as his eyes would be on Aunt Esther. They all laughed, as they planned! Fannie placed her hands on her hips and said, “I will take care of Clara tonight if she even begins anything that will ruin your night, Esther.” Esther thanked Fannie, and Duzy thought she had never seen her Aunt look as beautiful in all her life. Linn would think she was ravishing! Esther was dressed in the emerald green and black outfit, and was absolutely glowing, from the inside out, as she thought of Linn Keller on his knees before her, oh how she loved that man, she admitted to them! It was a feeling of love and warmth as they made any last minute adjustments.

Secretly, Emma was hoping that Jackson Cooper would come. Duzy wished Jake Thomas could be there. Bonnie’s hope was that Liam didn’t cause trouble and that she and Caleb could enjoy the night, as Maude Stevens had agreed to keep Sarah for the evening, Fannie was ready for anything, and Aunt Esther’s anticipation was at it’s highest level!

They decided to descend the stairs, one by one, with a minute or so between each other, leaving Aunt Esther for last, as the party began.

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Mr. Box 9-22-07

 

Fannie was the first one to come down the staircase. She wasn't a third of the way down before a hush fell over the room and all eyes were on her! She floated down with poise and grace, barely showing any movement as she decended from one step to the next.

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Mr. Box 9-22-07

 

The ladies waiting upstairs noticed the hush.Their anticipation was so high they could see goosebumps on each other. It was going to be more than a minute before the next one came down. They were fanning themselves trying to catch their breath.
I stepped out from behind the bar and met Fannie at the bottom of the staircase. I offered my arm and led her to an open area in the center of the room where everybody could see her. I bowed, kissed her hand, and presented her to the crowd. Everyone applauded her. My heart was racing. "Three more ladies!"

 

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Sweet Violet 9-22-07

 

Vanity had never figured into Emma's life before, so she thought it very odd that she would have spent so much time deciding what to wear for this evening. She figured it was time to put aside her mourning dress and rejoin life, though her heart would still mourn for Aunt May and Uncle Herbert for quite some time.

Now she stood at the top of the stairs at the Silver Jewel in the sage green and cream reception gown that Mrs. Devereaux of Boston had made for one of her Father's grand receptions six months ago. Bonnie had tightened her corsette and Duzy had helped her with the clasp of Grandmother's pearl necklace. At her ears were pearl earrings that went with it. In her hair was the mother of pearl comb that had been a gift to her Mother from her Father on their wedding day. A cream ostrich fan was clasped in cream kid leather gloves that housed hands that shook.


She pressed her hand to her stomach in an attempt to calm the butterflies that seemed to have taken up residence there. She would be performing for Duzy and her guests at the Silver Jewel, but she would also be performing for him.......

Emma looked over at the ladies who she had shared a room with for over an hour getting ready for tonight. What wonderful women these were and she felt closer to them that she had anyone, save Aunt May and Uncle Herbert, in her life. Then her eyes settled on Miss Esther. "If I feel this way after only knowing Jackson for two days, I wonder what that sweet lady is feeling. I hope and pray that everything goes more than wonderful for her! She looks so very happy and so very radiant."

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