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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 9-26-07

 

The engineer listened to the steam-driven air compressor and smiled.
The Lady Esther had come from the factory with compressed air and the new safety couplers. In some areas these were still a novelty; in some areas railroaders were still losing fingers, or hands, to the old link-and-pin couplings. The knuckle type was stronger, faster, easier; he especially liked the idea that men were not being crushed between cars as they had been with the old system.
He checked his watch. An hour, he thought, and they would pull out of station; it would take only about fifteen minutes to finish loading, coaling, water the old girl and hitch on the last car.
Easterners, he thought. They wear a fancy suit and ride in a private car and think they own the world. Demanded -- demanded! -- that he pull out immediately, and when the engineer politely invited him to a sightseeing tour of the Inferno, tried to buy him off!
He snorted.
He was a methodical man, and the timetable was a touchstone in his life, and he took pride in keeping to the schedule, even if the telegraph could change things up or down the line.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-26-07

 

Liam McKenna stumbled into the hotel mumbling dire threats under his voice. Charlie was standing in the doorway to the dining room watching. "Mister," he said quietly but in a voice that carried across the room and stopped McKenna in his tracks, "you shut your trap and do what Linn said to do. What he just did to you will feel like your momma's kiss compared to what he'll do if you don't get your butt moving faster than it is."

McKenna turned on Charlie and drew back his hand, thinking a wounded man would be no threat. The sudden appearance of the cutdown Remington in Charlie's hand disabused him of that notion in a hurry. Charlie chuckled at the stunned look on McKenna's face. "Don't even think about it, you snake. Now get up those stairs and get your things gathered up."

When McKenna turned toward the stairs his face was dead pale except for two bright spots on his cheekbones that betrayed his anger and embarrassment. He stormed up the stairs to his room and began to jam clothing into a carpetbag. He slammed out of the room and went down the stairs. Charlie still stood where he had been and his smile was infuriating. "You have not seen the last of me," McKenna hissed. "I won't be thrown out of this barbaric place like a common peasant." He stomped out the door and down the street.

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Linn Keller 9-26-07

 

Liam McKenna stumbled downstairs into the Silver Jewel and laid his hand on the bar. Mr. Baxter turned, polishing a glass, and came over to see what the fellow might want.
"Something strong," he gasped, dabbing at what looked like a long shaving cut on his neck.
Mr. Baxter poured a tall shot of his new acquisition, water clear and considerably less than 30 days old.
Liam downed half of it at a gulp, took a breath, and swallowed the other half, not giving his tonsils time to taste the treat. "Nerve tonic," he gasped, sliding payment across the burnished mahogany, and headed out the door, swinging his carpet bag.
Mr. Baxter shook his head. Some folks, he thought, are in entirely too much of a hurry.

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Linn Keller 9-26-07

 

McKenna paused, looking over at the House of McKenna adjacent. His lip curled. He needed to get in there, he needed to get her signature, he needed --
He swore, silently, looking around to make sure no one was near.
He hadn't been able to persuade that fool attorney to change his client's mind, he hadn't been able to bribe the man -- he'd offered him a young fortune!
Well, maybe not a young fortune, exactly, but enough to buy any New York lawyer!
What's wrong with these people? he thought. Even the engineer on that idiotic train wouldn't bribe! What kind of people name a locomotive?
Liam thought fast. He had to get out of town before that lunatic Mexican and the equally insane Sheriff caught up with him again.
He had to get his dear cousin out ...
He looked across the street at WJ's general store. WJ was sweeping out, again, and Liam could see clear through to the rear of the store, and the back door, which WJ kept open to catch the breeze.
He looked over at one of the red-shirted Irish firemen, coming out of Daisy's with a long-legged, swinging gait.
He looked down at the rigid suction hose sticking out from under the boardwalk.
Liam McKenna smiled.
He knew how to get dear cousin Bonnie away.

Clara looked up as Liam burst into the private car. "Well, you're back," she said sarcastically. "How are you planning to entertain me this evening?"
"Get dressed," he snapped. "Something easy to get out of, something people will notice. Red. Wear something red." He slammed open the roll-top desk, picked up the bottle of chloroform and settled it in his left-hand coat pocket, stuffed a thick cloth pad in with it; he went to a cupboard on the wall and opened it.
Clara draped herself on his arm and purred, "Shackles, honey? Wouldn't you rather I didn't put on that dress?"
He shook her off his arm. "These aren't for you!" he barked. "You're going to help me kidnap that idiot cousin of mine!"
Clara's eyes glowed.

Liam stepped into Bonnie's shop, boxes stacked in front of him. He placed them on a table and swept off his hat. "Forgive me, my dear," he said graciously, smoothly; "I fear I have made very much the wrong impression upon you, and have caused some distress."
Sarah, Bonnie thought, remembering she was in school. Caleb had walked her down, and said he was going to speak with the Sheriff while he was out.
"What do you want?" she asked suspiciously, drawing her dignity around her like a mantle. Clara stifled a laugh.
"Want?" Liam said smoothly, stepping closer. "I want to apologize, my dear cousin. I have caused you concern, and by way of apology, I appear, bearing gifts." He gestured to the boxes. "May I?"
Bonnie nodded, hands folded in front of her, regal as a queen.
Clara eyed her trim figure, her clear complexion; without cosmetics she was beautiful, and Clara burned with jealousy.
Liam opened a hat box and withdrew a lady's hat, broad of brim, with a heavy veil. "I'm afraid I'm not very knowledgeable about women's hats, but the sales clerk assured me these are the very latest in fashion."
Bonnie kept her thoughts to herself, considering that not only had he no sense for women's fashion, he'd just been taken for the price of such a hideous hat.
Clara's eyes were busy, appreciating the gowns under construction, one on display, and settled on some strips of cloth in the scraps box. Perfect, she thought.
Liam opened the next box and pulled out a woman's winter muff, the kind that a woman would wear for a winter sleigh ride to keep her hands warm. "And I thought this might look fetching on you."
"It's a bit warm for such a thing, don't you think?" Bonnie said, still suspicious.
Liam smiled, looked down beside her and said with an alarmed expression, "Good heavens, is that a rattlesnake?"
Bonnie turned quickly.
"It just went under there! Good heavens, it's right there!" Liam exclaimed, pointing, working his way behind Bonnie.
Bonnie bent down, bobbing her head, looking under the table.
"I don't see any mmph!"
Bonnie tried to struggle, and collapsed.
They dragged her to the back of the shop. "Switch dresses! Quickly, damn you! We haven't much time!"
Clara's fingers were busy. "Much time for what?"
"You'll know soon enough!"

Sean kissed his wife and looked around before he stepped out of her kitchen. He'd nearly been run into by one of the ladies the day before, and though they both laughed about it, it troubled him that he came so close to inconveniencing the lass.
His glance traveled out the front door, and he looked back, then back out the front door.
"St. Florian," he breathed, then: "Daisy! Where are th' fire buckets?"
"I have them in the back closet, why?"
"Fill 'em, lass, and stack them inside the front wall! Now!"

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Linn Keller 9-26-07

 

Jackson Cooper drew the buggy to a stop and hailed me.
I came over, eyeing Jackson's horse. "Don't believe I've seen this one before," I said. "Nice lines!"
Very nice lines, I thought. Reminds me quite a bit of my old Sam horse.
"Half Arabian and half Standard," Jackson replied. "There's no give-up to him. Haven't found the limit of his endurance, either! He's a pulling fool and he loves to run!"
As if agreeing, the tawny-brown horse threw its head energetically.
"Matter of fact I need to run him and get some of the fire worked out of him."
"Got something you can drag while he runs?"
"Don't want to put a drag on him. I'd rather have him pull a wagon or a buggy, keep him used to drawing something with wheels, so he'll be able to slow it by himself."
I nodded, patting the horse's shoulder..
"Might I ask a favor of you?" Jackson Cooper's tone was carefully casual.
I came around in front of the restless horse, caressing its neck and soothing it.
I came up beside the buggy, looked up at Jackson Cooper.
"Would you stand with me as my best man?"
I reckon my broad grin was answer enough. I thrust my hand up and Jackson Cooper took it.
"She said yes!" I exclaimed quietly.
"She did!"
"How soon, or have you set a date?"
Jackson Cooper's expression softened, almost saddened. "We've not." He thought for a moment. "I believe, if I wanted, she would marry me today." He looked long at the church, where she was teaching, at least until the new schoolhouse was finished. "I want her to be sure."
I nodded.
That weasel Liam McKenna and his doxy crossed the street, loaded with boxes, and went into the House of McKenna.
"I came into town to bring Emma her lunch. She hadn't packed one, and we had some cold beef and cheese, and a loaf of fresh bread." He picked up a covered wicker basket. "Made her a picnic."
"She'll like that."
I heard a shout, the crack of a whip, galloping hooves, a steam whistle.
Jackson Cooper turned to look. He'd never heard the fire brigade respond before.
My heart hit my boot tops. I'd never heard them respond for real.

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Linn Keller 9-26-07

 

Liam McKenna checked the blindfold, the mouth-filling ball of cloth; he took Bonnie's right wrist, closed the cuff cruelly tight about it, just above the wrist, at the smallest part of the forearm. Threading the muff well up on her left arm, he drew her right hand past her left, then cuffed her left wrist as well, overlapping her hands, and covered them with the muff, hiding the irons from view, guaranteeing her hands were completely contained. He pulled the draw strings tight on either end.
They sat Bonnie up and carefully placed the hat, tying it under her chin, then rolled down the heavy veil, concealing her face and hair completely.
Bonnie was struggling to wake up, and they got her to her feet.
The fire brigade came to a yelling, boiling stop in front of the Silver Jewel, where the suction line waited; while the firemen got their engine connected, hoses strung and prepared to make entry, Liam and Clara walked Bonnie out the back door. Everyone was looking at WJ's general store and the dirty yellow fire boiling in back. Nobody saw them go out: if any had, it appeared two people were helping another, probably the worse for drink by the way she staggered and had to be helped along.
The soft rattle of her shackles was inaudible against the confusion of the fire.
"How did you do that?" Clara whispered as they struggled along behind the Jewel.
"A candle," Liam chuckled, "and a pan of coal oil. I balanced a jar of alcohol over this, propped up with a thin stick. It will burn through quickly and spread the fire. The fools will be looking out there, and we can get away unnoticed!"
Unnoticed they almost were.
Shorty recognized Bonnie, despite the disguise, and legged it for the Sheriff.
Bonnie, stumbling, half-walked, half-dragged by the couple, tried without success to clear her thoughts.

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Linn Keller 9-26-07

 

Duzy and her Aunt Esther were in the Silver Jewel having an early lunch when the fire broke out. Like everyone else in town, they dropped what they were doing and ran outside to watch.
Duzy looked down the street. If ever there was a perfect time to get into that private rail car and see what was actually there, she thought, this was the moment.
She slipped away and ran, skirts hiked to her knees; she approached the railcar cautiously, climbed the steps, tried the door.
It was unlocked.
She went inside. It was quiet; it smelled of stale cigars and -- not whiskey, something ... she couldn't quite place the odor.
She stood for a moment, looking, uncomfortable.
This is what journalists do, she told herself. I am finding facts!
She opened a closet, another; women's clothes in one, men's in another.
A third closet?
She opened the door and gasped.
A jail cell?
The cell door was unlocked.
It opened easily.
She looked in, shivered at what she saw.
Shackles hung from each wall -- both sides and the back -- a set of leg irons was attached to the floor, and a steel collar depended from a chain attached to its ceiling.
Monsters, Duzy thought.
Keep looking.
She opened a cupboard, another; she put her hand to her mouth, a gesture of distress, of disbelief.
Riding crops, neatly ranked; buggy whips; paddles, both leather and wood ...
There was the sound of feet on metal steps and Duzy's breath caught in her throat.
She tried the nearest door, opposite the one she'd come in.
Locked!
She looked around, desperate: where could she hide?
There! -- a heavy curtain, gathered and tied ... she could just hide behind that!
She spun behind the curtain, willed herself to silence.
Calm, calm ... deep breath, slowly ...
Voices.
The door slammed; the jingle of keys, a lock turning.
The car shivered as it was coupled to the train. She heard the hiss-crack! of compressed air lines being connected.
I'll have quite a story to write, Duzy thought ironically.

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Linn Keller 9-26-07

 

Lightning shook his head.
"Please, Pa? I've never seen real firemen before!"
Lightning sighed. "You'll stay here, young man, until I tell you otherwise."
Lightning's boy opened his mouth. His next words were going to be a reluctant, "Yes, sir," but the sounder began to clatter, and the rule was, when the sounder was running, conversation stopped.
The boy's eyes grew big as he listened.
Lightning wrote the message, tapped an acknowledgement; he looked out the window for a long moment, added a line and handed it to his son.
"Take this to the Sheriff," he said, urgency tightening his voice. "RUN!"
Lightning's boy ran.

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Linn Keller 9-26-07

 

I swore, once, loudly.
Shorty's news confirmed the telegram: McKenna, a police impostor, with a forged arrest warrant, was now a kidnapper.
I seized Lightning's boy by the shoulder. "Go to the church. Jacob is in school. Tell him, 'Boots and Saddles.' Go!"
Lightning's boy was off at a run, and so was I.
Jackson Cooper was still at the church when Rose o' the Mornin' and I came galloping up with Jacob's Appaloosa in tow.
"Seen Charlie?" I barked.
Jackson pointed, back up the street, toward the fire.
I handed him the telegram. "McKenna has Bonnie. I'm going after him!" then, to Lightning's boy, standing expectantly: "Tell Lightning to wire ahead and stop that train. I don't care how, stop the damned thing!"
"Yes, sir!" Lightning's boy went from dead still to a dead run in one jump.
Jacob came running out of the church. Young faces crowded the windows, Sarah's included.
Jacob launched himself into the saddle. I tossed him his reins.
Lightning shouted from the end of the street, beckoning me with a great wave of his arm. He held a lighted red lantern.
"Here!" he said, thrusting it at me. "You'll need this!"
"Why?" I looked at the lantern, puzzled.
Lightning snatched it from my grip, swung it from side to side in a great arc. "Swing it like this in front of the locomotive. Get well ahead so he can see you and swing it! That's a washout signal! There's no railroader in the world ignores a washout! It means there's no track ahead or the trestle has been washed away!"
"Give it to Jacob!" I barked.
Rose o' the Mornin' reared a little under me, anxious to run. She danced, impatient, and I brought her around.
Jacob and I galloped up the street. Charlie was coming out of the Sheriff's office with Jacob's rifle in one hand and a Sharps in the other. He tossed Jacob his rifle and barked, "Go!"
"YAAHH!" We were off at a gallop, desperate to catch up with the tireless energy of the iron horse already speeding down the tracks.

Lightning's boy sprinted for the Sheriff's office. He had to catch Marshal MacNeil.
He did, barely.
"Marshal!" he gasped. "Duzy's on there too!"
"What?" Esther exclaimed.
MacNeil explained in clipped tones what Lightning had added at the bottom of the telegram: that Lightning had seen Duzy go into the car just after the fire broke out, and hadn't come out.
Esther's face was set.
She turned to Jackson Cooper.
"Mr. Cooper, is this a fast horse?"
"He is, ma'am!"
"Have you a rifle?"
"I have, ma'am!"
Esther climbed into the buggy. "If you please, Mr. Cooper!"
"Yes, ma'am!"
Jackson Cooper snapped the reins.
The big horse did not need to be told a second time.
Esther's grip on the side of the padded seat was as firm as the set of her jaw.
"Ma'am, are you sure you want to do this?" Jackson Cooper asked.
"Mr. Cooper, my niece is in that monster's private car, and I intend that she should not have to walk back."
"Yes, ma'am!"
The big horse lunged powerfully ahead, drawing the buggy as if it were a postage stamp.

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Linn Keller 9-26-07

 

Clara saw a pair of shoes, where a pair of shoes should not be.
Clara tapped Liam on the shoulder, put her finger to her lips; she reached into his pocket and withdrew chloroform and cloth. She put her lips near his ear.
"Talk," she said. "Talk like you are talking to someone."
Puzzled, Liam McKenna began a conversation with the empty air.
Clara tiptoed over to the curtain, anointed the cloth with chloroform, set the bottle on the floor.
There was a brief struggle.
Clara smiled as she corked the chloroform and placed it in the roll top desk.
Liam smiled as well.
He opened a cupboard and withdrew another set of manacles.

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Linn Keller 9-26-07

 

Jacob's Appaloosa was fast, sure-footed and tough.
Jacob coaxed the stallion to even greater velocity.
Horses love to run, boys love to ride running horses, and boys and horses love any excuse that will let them run as hard as they can.
Jacob knew that what he did was deadly serious, but he rode with a glad heart, and rejoiced that he was in the saddle, in this minute, on this day. His rifle was in its scabbard, the lantern in his left hand.
Jacob veered away from me, riding well off to the left. He knew the way.
I leaned over Rose o' the Mornin's neck, whispering encouragement to the chestnut mare, descended from the very mare I'd ridden with such desperation during the War, the mare that refused to fail me when my need was great.
We flashed over the earth, her steady rhythm eating up the miles, gaining on the train. I saw it, in the distance, and Rose did too, and surged under me, and I could feel her putting every last bit of her soul into this run, and I thought Hold on, Bonnie, I'm coming, I'm coming! and a set of eyes looked at me out of the past and I set my teeth against the memory.

I'd failed once. If it killed Rose o' the Mornin' I was not going to fail again.
I saw the ravine in the distance, and the trestle, and knew that I had to catch the train.
Yelling defiance, we streaked over the earth, coming close to the tracks, coming close to ballast and ties and the hoof-catching horse-traps that could send Rose o' the Mornin' tumbling and me with her.
I did not care.
Rose o' the Mornin' did not care.
Rose hated to have anything run faster than she did, and she flattened her ears and pointed her nose straight out and God Almighty I have never ridden so fast in all my life and I was leaned out over her neck and the wind was stripping tears out of my eyes and down the back of my neck and we came up on the private car and we pulled ahead and there was a flat car ahead of the private car and the trestle was plain in the distance and getting closer and I kicked out of the stirrups and put my hands on the saddle horn and drew my feet up under me on the saddle and squatted there and we came abreast of the flat car and Rose was steady under me and I jumped, I jumped --
Rifle in hand, I landed on all fours on the flat car.
Easier than I thought.
Rose o' the Mornin' turned hard away from us and ran parallel to the ravine, and the train clattered over the trestle.

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Linn Keller 9-26-07

 

Bonnie sat in a parlor chair.
Duzy sat in the jail cell.
Clara stood in front of the locked jail door. Her smile dripped venom.
"So you are friends with that Kikinshoot tart," she said in sweet tones. "If I can't have her, I can have her friend. I'll bet I can make you scream!"
Clara considered Duzy's complexion and considered what it would look like with a row of scars across it, souvenirs of her nails, or worse. Clara's beauty came from foundations and face paint; Duzy's, from good health and fresh air.
Duzy was naturally attractive, and Clara hated her for it.
"I'm the one that chained you," Clara continued in honeyed tones. "I think I'll keep you chained until we get to New York. Then, who knows? Perhaps the asylum? Or I could sell you on the waterfront." She batted her eyes innocently. "I've done it before, you know!"
Duzy glared, waiting. She looked like nothing as much as a very angry lioness, locked in a cage.

Bonnie was still in leg irons, her hands cuffed in front; the muff was gone, as was the hat.
"So you see, my dear," Liam continued smoothly, unctiously, "it is in your best interest to sign over your mineral rights to me. It is a very small price to pay."
Bonnie was still trying to clear the chloroform fumes from her head. "Price to pay? What am I buying?"
"Why, your friend's life, of course," Liam murmured.
"Who's my friend?" Bonnie asked, partly confused, mostly stalling until she could understand what was happening.
Liam placed a writing desk in her lap, a sheet already on it. "Just sign here, my dear. Sign this paper, and everything will be just fine."
Bonnie's head dropped back, her eyes unfocused.
Clara stepped up, raised her hand as if to slap her.
Liam held up a cautioning hand. "No, no, my dear. There are better ways."
"Like what? Needles under her fingernails?"
Liam smiled. "Not until we reach New York."
"Really?" Clara seemed delighted.
Liam sighed. "We'll wait until she's a bit more sober."
Bonnie raised her head. "You'll wait until hell freezes," she snarled. "Take these off!" She held up her cuffed hands.
Liam smiled. "I shall, my dear. I will be pleased to release both you and your lovely friend, the moment you sign!"
Bonnie struck the lap desk to the floor.
Clara struck Bonnie across the face.
Bonnie came out of the chair and lunged at Clara.
Clara stepped back with a mocking laugh as Bonnie fell to the floor.
Duzy glared from between the bars of her cell, twisting her wrists in the wide steel cuffs, trying vainly to escape. She chewed at the cloth filling her mouth.
"I think we can hasten her recovery," Liam said with mock solicitude.
Clara smiled.
"Pain is a powerful persuader," Liam said, as if lecturing in front of a class. "We use the victim's weight against her. The draw of gravity is steady and remoreseless; we need only hoist her by her cuffs, and the weight of her own body will cause such pain as to induce her obedience."
Bonnie struggled to all fours.
"Let me help you up," Liam said, clipping the end of a line to her wrist cuffs; then, turning a winch, he brought her steadily to her feet, then to the balls of her feet, then up on her toes, where she struggled to ease the tension on her bruised wrists.
"Now, my dear. We'll see how long you last."

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Linn Keller 9-27-07

 

Jackson Cooper reined the big horse, slowing him from a gallop to a steady trot. The road was worse here and he did not want to destroy Emma's fine buggy. It was one of the best made, but any machine, abused, will fail.
Esther hung on, confident in Jackson Cooper's skill, and the big horse's strength.

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Linn Keller 9-27-07

 

Jacob's Appaloosa pounded up the wash, and up the trail they'd found together. The trestle was off to the right about a mile distant. Jacob looked over, trusting the stallion's eyes to the trail, and saw the Sheriff stand up on the flat car, rifle in hand.
Even at this distance, he could see the man meant business.
The stallion grunted happily with each hard thrust of his hind hooves.
Jacob leaned forward, into the wind, and rejoiced.

 

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Linn Keller 9-27-07

 

Lightning's hand was steady on the key, and his "fist" was unchanged as he sent.
His message flashed up and down the wire. Sent in the clear and in plain language, each operator that heard it relayed it copied it, and had a runner hand-carry it to the local authority.
Stop signals were set against the approaching train, switches thrown to route the train onto side tracks if need be.
A big Irish sergeant was one recipient of Lightning's urgent message.
His Celtic blue eyes were frosty and his voice, as it always was before action, was quietly spoken.
""Mr. Duck, if you please!"
Duck raised his bugle and drove his wind into the bugle.
"Boots and Saddles" came out its bell.

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Linn Keller 9-27-07

 

Bonnie twisted in her irons, teeth clenched against any sound that might give the pair a greater satisfaction.
Liam was unfortunately correct: she was in agony, sweating with pain and with the effort of remaining on the very tips of her toes.
"I can't feel my hands," she gasped.
"Are you quite ready to sign, my dear?" Liam asked silkily, tapping the crop gently against his palm.
"I can't sign if I can't feel my hands!" Bonnie moaned.
'Quite right," Liam smiled, and stepped over to the winch. He eased it off several inches, enough to let her heels rest on the carpeted floor.
For a moment Bonnie felt relief.

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Linn Keller 9-27-07

 

Jacob judged they were about two miles ahead of the train.
He ground-reined the Appaloosa and stood in the middle of the track, waiting.
He was shadowed, a little; he hoped it would be enough to show the red of the railroad lantern Lightning had given him.
He waited until he could see detail on the engine.
Slowly, metronomically, he began swinging the red railroad lantern from side to side.

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Linn Keller 9-27-07

 

I stepped from the flat car onto the platform at the end of the private car, twisting to stand beside the door, hoping I hadn't been seen.
I expected a gunshot to come through the window glass.
Nothing happened.
I laid my thumb on the Winchester's hammer, brought it to full cock.
Going slowly to one knee, easing myself down in front of the door, I put my hand on the door's handle.
It turned easily.
I thrust inward, hard, rifle to shoulder.
Liam McKenna's eyes were huge and white. He dropped the riding crop he was holding and, seizing Bonnie about the ribs, tried to pull her in front of him as a shield.
Clara came at me, screaming, a bottle of some kind in hand.
I stepped aside, seized her arm and threw her out the door.
Her scream rose to a shriek, and was cut off.
I looked around. Nobody else --
Duzy snarled at me from behind a locked jail door.
I stroked the lever of the Winchester, kicking a loaded round into the air.
Liam watched, horrified, as the gleaming brass cartridge spun through the air in a shining, tumbling arc, and hit the floor, to roll back and forth and then stop.
He looked back up at me.
I reached in my shirt pocket and pulled out the round Sopris had given me.
I slid it into the loading gate, pushed it in, cycled the lever once more.
Liam shreiked and hid behind Bonnie.
There was the crash of glass breaking and Charlie MacNeil loomed in the far window, the muzzle of his Sharps rifle in the lead.
Hands cuffed above her head, ankles shackled in leg irons, Bonnie McKenna, mother and friend, was still not quite helpless.
Distracted by this new attack, Liam spun, holding onto Bonnie, keeping her between us.
She felt Liam's foot touch her right heel.
I saw her smile.
Shifting her weight onto her left leg, she drew her right leg up, as far as the shackles' chain would allow, and drove her entire weight down through the sharp focus of her right heel.
Liam's arch broke in three places.
He screamed again, from pain and from fear, and fell from behind her.
The Winchester spoke loudly in the confined space.
Liam McKenna, cheat, thief, coward, kidnapper and extortionist, gasped as he rolled over on his back.
I walked up to him.
He looked up at me, struggling to say something.
I drew a trimmed rose from an inside pocket.
I thrust its stem into the bullet hole in the middle of his chest.
I watched as his soul drained from his eyes.

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Linn Keller 9-27-07

 

The car shivered as the engineer set the air, and I heard the whistle, and knew Jacob had succeeded.
Duzy and Bonnie were, after some effort, freed: their relief was profound, and it would not be gentlemanly if I described how they fell into one another's arms, and wept, nor would it be proper for me to describe how they held Charlie and me, in like manner, and dampened our shirt-fronts with their tears.
I covered Liam's body with a sheet from his own bed, and poured a shot of rather expensive brandy for each of us.
Our little train was soon the center of seething humanity: cavalry and lawmen, mostly, all delighted at the happy outcome, and to a small degree disappointed that they didn't get to help send McKenna on his way.
Mick, the big Irish sergeant, had one of his men connect a portable telegraph to the wires and send that the ladies were safe. He reported the train could return safely to Firelands.
The engineer stopped after we'd crossed the trestle. I stepped out of the car to find out why.
Esther was there, with Jackson Cooper. So was Charlie's buckskin. So was Rose o' the Mornin'.
The ladies decided they preferred to ride in the carriage.
Charlie and I looked at the still form under the sheet and decided that we also preferred horse power.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-27-07

 

Linn's backhanded toss rolled Clara out the car's door and onto the platform in front. She tumbled toward the steps leading down to the ground and the rails, ties, and ballast that rushed by below. Her flailing hand touched iron and she made a desperate grab for the handrail. She brought up short with a jerk that nearly separated her arm from the rest of her body. Her head banged painfully against the steel of the platform and the world faded to black for a moment while her toes and the hem of her dress dragged through the rocks beneath the car.

Weakly she reached up with her other hand and grasped the railing and began to pull herself back up onto the rapidly slowing rail car. Somewhere in her numbed mind she thought she'd heard a shot but she paid that vague fact no mind as she struggled to survive.

At last she was on her knees on the platform and she stayed there for a few moments waiting for the ringing in her ears and the stabbing pains in her shoulder to subside. When the train came to a halt she pulled herself to her feet and stood swaying, shaking from her brush with death. In Liam McKenna's private car, some sort of celebration seemed to be going on and she knew instinctively that her benefactor was no more. She knew she should run, escape somehow, but there was nowhere to run in this wilderness so she waited to see what her fate might be.

Charlie glanced casually through the window at the front of the car. Movement caught his eye. "Linn!" he said sharply. When Linn looked at him Charlie pointed with his chin then casually drifted toward the door and jerked it open. Clara gasped and shrank away from him but Charlie reached out and took her arm and brought her into the car. "Well, look what we have here," he said. "Looks like we have someone besides the ladies to take back to town."

Duzy walked up to Clara and without a word slapped her full across the face then turned away. Clara swayed on her feet then without a word pulled away from Charlie and went to a nearby chair and sat down. She stared at the floor all the way back to Firelands.

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Mr. Box 9-27-07

 

There was so much comotion going on, the whole town came alive at once. I ran down to the livery and grabbed on of the horses, not Nellie, I need to move faster than her. I made sure I didn't get the green broke one. I threw a bridle on it and srepped up on a railing and got on bareback. I didn't dare try to run as hard as the others, espedially on a horse I had never been on before and without a saddle. I was just trying to get out there if they got the train stopped. I could never catch up to it with a full head of steam after this late of a start. I just hope they get it stopped before it gets out of range. I don't even know what the problem is, but I can only imagine from seeing the activity around town.

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Mr. Box 9-27-07

 

The train is coming to sight. They must have gotten it stopped. Smoke and steam are billowing out of the funnel and drifting ahead of the train. It's backing up! Half of town is riding along side. I slowed down and continued toward them. I met Jacob leading Rose of the Morning. They were just walking, very winded. They deserve a good rub down and I know they will get it. Charlie's horse was following behind. I picked up the rein. Jacob filled me in some of the details on the way back into town. The train was getting a ways ahead of us. I could tell Jacob was really wanting to be up there with it, but his horse needed to walk. "If you don't mind bareback you can take my horse on in." He nodded. I slid off my horse onto Charlie's. Jacob slid onto mine and handed the reins to the other two, gave a swat with his hat and was off at an easy gallop sufficient to catch the train before it got back to the station. The horses appreciated the easy walk back, and so did I. They were soaked in sweat, but breathing easier by the time we got there.

 

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Charlie MacNeil 9-27-07

 

Fannie had enjoyed Rey del Sol's exhibition as much as the rest of the town and she had also enjoyed seeing and hearing Linn's ultimatum to Liam McKenna. Then she'd gone back to her room to catch up on some reading when she saw from her window Linn and Jacob, followed closely by Charlie, blow out of town as fast as their horses could run. She went into her trunk and dug clear to the bottom for the clothes she really hadn't planned on wearing on this trip but which she always had with her for emergencies. She quickly changed into trousers and shirt, strapped her gunbelt around her waist, and slipped her feet into riding boots. A quick dip into a certain hat box and she was ready. Fannie smiled at herself in the mirror as she went by. "Dang, girl, you look good," she murmured. "Looks like old times." She ticked the brim of her hat with a finger and dashed out the door.

Fannie ignored the stares of the townsfolk, both women and men, as she trotted down the street to the livery. She slipped into the barn and called for Shorty. "Where'd the Sheriff and the Marshal go in such a hurry, and how fast can you saddle me a horse?"

Shorty said, "Seems that McKenna kidnapped Miss Duzy and Miss Bonnie, and the Sheriff's gone after the train. But they've got a pretty healthy head start."

Fannie contemplated for a minute then said, "Never mind the horse. By the time I get there things'll be settled. Thanks anyway." She turned on her heel and headed for the depot. She wanted to be there when the train got in, as she was sure it would. She'd seen Charlie's horse run and was pretty sure he and Linn would be bringing that train back soon.

At the depot, she looked up the track and could see, off in the near distance, the column of smoke from the engine, and a short time later the train backed in and stopped at the platform. Fannie waited somewhat impatiently for someone to step down and Charlie was her first victim, so to speak. "Alright, what's going on, and why didn't somebody tell me?" she demanded.

"McKenna and Clara kidnapped Miss Duzy and Miss Bonnie, and McKenna's dead and Clara's goin' to jail," he said succinctly. "Linn's gonna be bringing Clara out in a minute."

"Are Duzy and Bonnie alright?" Fannie asked next.

"Except for headaches from the chloroform, I think they're fine," Charlie told her.

"Chloroform!" Fannie exclaimed. She started forward and Charlie grabbed her arm.

"Just hold on now, Fannie," he said. "Don't do anything rash."

Fannie gave him her sweetest smile, but Charlie could see that her fangs were out. "Rash? Moi`?" she asked. "Hardly." She stopped moving toward the car but she was coiled tight and Charlie could see she was ready to explode.

Linn stepped down from the car holding Clara by the arm. He led Clara toward where Charlie and Fannie stood, not recognizing the danger signals radiating from Fannie. Fannie pulled away from Charlie and walked up to Clara. She stopped directly in front of the disheveled blond and said, "Remember what I said about me and mine, Clara?"

Clara glared at her from beneath her disarrayed hairdo and snarled, "So what?" Linn started to pull Clara away from Fannie but Charlie caught his eye and shook his head no. Linn released Clara's arm and stepped back.

"So this, you hussy!" Fannie exclaimed. She pulled her pistol and tossed it to Charlie who, surprised, nearly dropped it, and caught Clara on the side of the jaw with a roundhouse slap that nearly spun her off her feet. Clara regained her balance and launched herself at Fannie with a shriek of fury. Her fingers were clawed and she was reaching for Fannie's face. She hadn't been able to hurt Duzy but here was a convenient target for her anger.

Fannie sidestepped and balled up her right fist. She popped Clara on the point of the chin but the blond bore in. She got a grip on Fannie's sleeve and yanked Fannie forward, only to be met by another punch, this time to the stomach, that took her breath away and left her bent over and gagging.

Now it was Fannie's turn. She grabbed the bodice of Clara's dress and yanked her upright then began to slap her across the face, back and forth, with metronomic efficiency. Clara's nose was bleeding and tears streaked her face, her hair was down around her cheeks, and the only thing that kept her upright was Fannie's grip on her dress and her own grip on Fannie's wrist. Linn and Charlie stood in awe as Fannie gave Clara the beating she so richly deserved.

Only when Clara's eyes rolled up in her head and she fainted did Fannie release her grip. She was breathing hard and there were pinpoints of Clara's blood spattered on her face and clothes, but she was smiling, well-pleased with herself. She lowered Clara to the platform and looked at Linn. "She's all yours, Sheriff. I believe I'm done." She walked to where Duzy and Bonnie stood, speechless, near the side of the car. She gave them each a hug, whispered something in Duzy's ear that brought a smile, then turned on her heel and started toward the hotel. Time for a long, hot bath and to get ready for tonight's celebration at the Silver Jewel.

Linn looked after her in amazement. "I don't believe I've ever seen anything quite like that," he said. "Have you?" He looked at Charlie.

"Not quite like that," Charlie said with a grin. "But I have seen Miss Fannie Kikinshoot mad before, and I decided a long time ago I didn't wanna be on the receiving end of her temper." He turned toward where Clara sprawled on the depot platform. "I reckon we'd best get your prisoner to the jail, eh? You take her left arm." Between them they got Clara up off the floor and started toward the jail.

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Lady Leigh 9-27-07

 

As the group of people entered into town, Caleb and Sarah came running. Bonnie helped herself out of the buggy and half ran to Caleb and her daughter. Simutaniously, they all grabbed onto one another, and once again, Sarah was sandwiched in between Caleb and Bonnie.

No one said a thing ... there was simply the security being spread between the three.

Caleb pulled away first, and looked into the eyes of the woman he cared so deeply for, "I'm sorry, Bonnie ... I'm sorry I left you alone, even if it was for a moment ..."

Bonnie looked into those comforting gray eyes, "It's past, Caleb ... thank God it is past."

Sarah wiggled down to the ground, still holding onto Bonnie's waist, she looked up adoringly at the two adults, who were standing in the middle of the street .... embraced in a tender kiss.

Sarah looked over at the Merchantile where Bill and Mac were looking on. Sarah raised her hand in a wave to the two elderly men ... lo and behold, if Mac didn't raise his hand in return. With that, Sarah beamed.

Michael Moulton, too, came up the street, with an element of sorrow in his eyes as he saw Bonnie and Caleb. Tilly approached Michael, and linked her arm in through his, "Give it no second thought, Mr Moulton. Surely you knew those two are a match?"

Moulton looked down onto the tiny woman, and merely nodded his head.

Bonnie and Caleb broke away from one another ever so slightly, and Bonnie spoke first, "You mentioned Levi coming to town. I think it would be best to talk to him about what to do with Liam's body. I don't think I desire him to be buried here, and perhaps, Levi knows if Liam has family back east ... or something."

"I think that is wise, Bonnie ... Levi should be here today or tomorrow, according to the telegram ... at least that is how I read the 'soon' part."

Caleb picked up Sarah, and the three walked toward Duzy ...

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Duzy Wales 9-27-07

 

Jake was already by Duzy’s side, as he had been caught unaware as well, and had apologized profusely. “Jake, you had no way of knowing I would go into that boxcar and everything happened so fast, that you couldn’t have known! We are all safe, and that is what matters, and then Duzy laughed!

Jake thought Duzy must be in shock and asked if she needed to see Doctor Greenlees. “No Jake, I was just laughing at watching Fannie give Clara the beating I would have loved to, but they had me out cold before I could even reach for my derringer! Fannie never does anything half way, it is all or nothing! Duzy knew her friend would have loved to put a bullet between Clara’s eyes, but Clara had been unarmed, so she had to make it a fair fight!

“Drinks on the house,” Duzy said, let’s put this behind us and finish our celebration! Tonight Fannie Kikinshoot will be performing and that will be something no one should miss!

Duzy walked up to Mr. Baxter and hugged him for trying to get out to help them, and thanked each in turn for all the help and quick action that had saved Bonnie and herself from unspeakable cruelty. Charlie made light of it, as usual, but Duzy knew there was a deep side of him that many didn’t see. Saving Sheriff Keller for last, as he stood beside her Aunt, Duzy hugged him, like she would her Papa! She had already had her time with Aunt Esther on the ride back to Firelands, and although the women had been shaken, they had all discussed what they would like to do to Clara on the way home. Watching Fannie beat her senseless had been delightful!

They all made their way back to the Silver Jewel.

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Mr. Box 9-27-07

 

It was such a relief to see everyone intact, even if a little frazzled. I passed the horses off to be taken to Shorty and made my way back to the bar. I washed up quickly and knew I was going to be busy for the duration. I lined up some glasses and started pouring. A bottle of this, a bottle of that, some tequila, and a few beers. I didn't even bother taking orders until the first wave of drinks disappeared. Then I filled in the orders for the ones that didn't have something in their hands yet. "Don't forget Sasparila for the younger set."
"Yes, Miss Duzy, and a water for Dawg!"

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Linn Keller 9-27-07

 

"God Almighty," I breathed.
Charlie made some reply. I honestly didn't hear him. My attention was on Fannie knocking the daylights out of Clara.
Words weren't necessary. Everything that needed said, Fannie was saying, and in spades.
This had to be one of the most efficient out-and-out beatings I'd ever seen. Clara tried to come at Fannie, and Fannie put her down, fast, hard and nasty. It was plain she'd had to handle herself with knuckles before, and to be real honest, the lady is good at what she does.
I made a mental note to never get on her bad side.
Charlie and I picked up what was left of Clara and hauled her, bleeding and pretty well unconscious, to jail. I would likely get Tillie or one of the ladies to come over and help get her cleaned up.
Judge Hostetler had let me know, quietly, that if I needed anything, I should let him know. I started mentally composing a wire, asking for a jail matron to take this unsavory creature off our hands.
The Firelands jail was intended to hold decent and honorable criminals: murderers, bank robbers and the like: not filth like Clara.
I wanted her out of my town, and out of our lives.

Everyone got a good reception when we got back, and I had to turn away and kind of hold my hat in front of my face and pretend to wipe my face with my bandanna.
Sarah was happily sandwiched between Bonnie and Caleb.
I remembered a little girl sandwiched in just that same manner, a lifetime ago, and how it felt to hold my wife, that foggy morning when I left for the War, and I wiped my face.
Duzy knew better than to believe my manly, wipe-the-grease-off front.
She came up and gave me a long look, and a big hug, like I was her papa, and I run my arms around her, and squeezed her back, and lifted her off the ground, and held her for a long, long time.
I figured I could do that.
She's family.

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Linn Keller 9-27-07

 

Jacob handed the red railroad lantern back to Lightning.
"Did it work, son?" Lightning asked kindly.
"It did, sir, and I'm obliged to you."
Lightning clapped him heartily on the shoulder. "You've done a man's work today, son. I'm proud of you."
Jacob nodded, smiling a little. "Thank you, sir."

 

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Linn Keller 9-27-07

 

I am not a drinking man, but when Mr. Baxter set that short glass of liquid lightning in front of me, I downed it.
When I came up for air he poured a second one.
I nodded thanks and walked across the room, parked my rifle against the wall and set down with my back to the corner.
The mood was festive, the general feeling one of relief.
I was half sick.
Esther laid her warm hand on my forearm, gently, almost delicately.
"You were staring a thousand miles away," she said.
I blinked and returned to the here and now.
"I saw you come over here with your drink, and you just sat here for the longest time. Are you all right?"
I laid my hand on hers.
"I am very glad you are here," I said. "Where's Jacob?"
Jacob came in the front door, looking around. Mr. Baxter waved him over, handed him a sarsparilla, pointed to our table.
Jacob came across the floor, walking on air: something had pleased him mightily.
He sat down on my right, leaned his elbows on the table.
"Sir, I returned the railroad lantern," he said. "Rose has been rubbed down and grained and so has my Ap."
I nodded. "How hard was it to get ahead of the train?"
Jacob grinned, remembering his ride. "The tracks follow the bow of the river, sir. I cut a straight line. It was not hard."
"You did good work today, Jacob. Thank you." I held out my hand, and he took it, eyes shining.
"I am very proud of you, son."
His grin would have brought sunshine to a rainy day.

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Duzy Wales 9-27-07

 

The ladies and gentlemen of Firelands refused to let what had happened dampen their spirits, as they returned to the Silver Jewel to prepare for the evening. They were all thankful that the ones they loved were safe

Emma was kind and wise enough to have offered to give the children a day of fun at school, to meet her new students and to give the parent’s time to get ready for the festivities. Thankfully, that was why the children had been in school! Jackson Cooper had returned to help Emma, not being able to stay away from her for long.

“School on a Saturday,” one child was heard to say, but when realizing that it was to be all games, with refreshments, even he had decided to join in!

So, it was time to put Liam McKenna to rest, by having a wonderful evening at the Silver Jewel, Gambling Establishment and Bar, The Ruby Room, Daisy’s Kitchen, and “The House of McKenna who had had another good day……despite everything.

Everyone admired the way Fannie had stepped up. She had did just as those who knew her would. She had taken care of her own, “me or mine," she had said, and Duzy had heard it before. Duzy hugged her friend and said “Thank you! Again! I love you!"

“I love you too, Sugar!"

Duzy then went to Bonnie and hugged her, thinking of the danger that had faced, and how lucky they were, the fear they had shared, and the triumph they had felt by all that had come to help.

And the scent of roses was in the air.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-27-07

 

Lamps were polished and the wicks trimmed for the best light. Woodwork gleamed with polish and mirrors, chandeliers, candelabra, even flatware glittered. The tastefully painted nude over the bar even looked pleased with the preparations. The patrons were all in their best and the buzz of conversation, the tinkling of glasses and the gurgle of drinks pouring made a softly modulated roaring in the room.

Fannie stood in front of the full length mirror in her room and examined herself critically. "You're perfect, babe," she told her reflection. She gave herself a smile and turned to pick up the last touch, an ivory-ribbed silk fan. She looked back over her shoulder at the mirror one more time then sashayed across the room and out the door.

Fannie had already talked to Nelson Daine about the music for tonight and Nelson had recruited a few others in town to help. They had taken time to run through the songs she wanted to use one time and that seemed to be enough. The songs were mainly standards that most musicians knew already.

Fannie had found a way to get from her room to the stage unseen. She checked her watch and headed down the stairs.

In the grand ballroom even the air was buzzing with anticipation. Fannie peeked around the back curtains of the stage and caught Nelson's eye. He gave her a grin and a nod then stepped up in front of the stage. He stood in the gleam of lamplight and waited. Eventually the room quieted and Nelson spoke in a deep, cultured voice.

"Ladies and gentlemen, citizens of Firelands, and all the rest of you ruffians." He paused while laughter rippled through the room. "May I present the Siren of San Francisco, Miss Fannie Kikinshoot!" He began to clap and went back to his seat with the rest of the impromptu band. He picked up his fiddle and softly stroked the strings, coaxing the first notes of "I'll take you home again, Kathleen" from it. As the notes drifted across the suddenly hushed room, Fannie stepped slowly from behind the curtain and moved smoothly into that haunting ballad. Kathleen was followed by "Barbara Allen" then Fannie stepped to the front of the stage.

"Those are two of my favorite songs," she said over the applause. "But this is a celebration, not a funeral, so let's party!" She launched into a series of hand-clapping, foot-tapping songs that had the whole crowd involved. By the time she ran out of songs, the band was sweating and the whole room was aglow with energy.

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Linn Keller 9-28-07

 

Tillie sent two of the girls over to give me a hand.
Clara sat slumped in the jail cell looking for all the world like a puppet with its strings cut. Her eyes were dull and even the shine had gone out of her hair.
We got her undressed and cleaned up, and it didn't escape my attention, or theirs, that she carried two brands on her backside; there were no whip scars but there were bruises, old and fresh, linear and of varying widths, from the back of her neck to her ankles.
We got her clean, and we got her dressed, and on command she sat back down.
"Clara?" I asked, hunkering to her eye level, "Can I get you something to eat?"
She did not respond.
One of the girls came in with a dipper of water. I thanked her for the kindness and held it, carefully, to Clara's lips.
She swallowed mechanically.
I swept a stray curl back, and look deep into the vacancy in her eyes. "Clara? You hungry?"
I may as well have been addressing a wooden marionette.
"I'll be back a little later, if I may," I said gently, and we withdrew. I did not turn my back on her, and I waited until the ladies were out of the cell before I, too, backed out, slowly, carefully.
Clara's eyes lit up, just as the door started to swing shut, and I put my shoulder to it and reached down for the key, still in the lock.
She hit the door, hard, and had I not been braced for it, she would have knocked me against the far wall.
I shoved, hard, and turned the lock.
She clawed out at me, snarling, teeth bared; she just caught my cheek, and I felt a burn and a trickle of blood.
She'd been aiming for my eyes.
One of the ladies pressed a cloth against my face, and we withdrew as Clara raged and snarled wordlessly, clawing vainly through the bars at us.

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Linn Keller 9-28-07

 

Susan was new at the Silver Jewel.
Tillie had asked her, pretty much as a favor, to go over to the Sheriff's Office and lend a hand with a female prisoner.
Susan had been a nurse back East before circumstance and tragedy led her toward the setting sun; she'd been in town less than a day and counted herself lucky to get work and lodging so quickly. It was Saturday and the town was abuzz: something had happened down at the train station, there had been some kind of celebration the night before, the air was festive, and from the look of things, the joy was going to spread to a second night.
Susan didn't feel much like celebrating. She took the clothes Tillie handed her, and some cloths and towels, and crossed the street to lend a hand.
She assessed the prisoner with a professional eye. The doctor had seen her, she'd understood, but she hadn't heard his assessment; this woman had been beaten, not once, and not gently; it was obvious she was either insane, in shock, or both.
Susan did most of the work getting her cleaned up and tending to her personal needs. The Sheriff obviously considered this woman dangerous. He'd taken off his gun belt and left the key in the cell door, and had quietly told her that if anything went wrong, she was to get out and get help. He was a perfect gentleman, other than standing in arm's reach while they tended the prisoner; he neither leered, nor did he comment: in fact, she thought with a little surprise, he looked almost ... sad? Compassionate? His vigilance never wavered, but he knew something, and wasn't saying.
They got the prisoner cleaned up, and dressed.
She'd been pretty, once, Susan thought.
They picked up their towels and cloths, her worse-for-wear clothing, and left the cell.
Susan hesitated in the doorway.
Something cold prickled down her back bone.
She knew the feeling, and quietly moved down the hallway, ready to drop her armload and sprint for the front door.
The Sheriff backed out of the cell, slowly, and was just shutting the barred door.
Susan's throat swelled to shout a warning, but she was too late -- the prisoner raged toward the door, claws out, and her face was a mask of animal fury.
The Sheriff wasn't taken by surprise, though she did mark him.
Susan pressed a clean, dry cloth to his face and looked for any other signs of injury.
"You were lucky," she murmured.
They locked the inner door, then the office door, and went across the street.

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Mr. Box 9-28-07

 

Things at the bar were going very nicely for another night. Everyone was very happy and relaxed. There was a calm in the air. The frenzy had settled down from when Duzy had offered drinks on the house. A lot of people were buzzing about the goings ons around the train station earlier. In cases like this rumors get things and events all out of proportion, but most accounts of this event were pretty much on the money since it had all taken place right out in front of so many people.
Fannie started her show and the talk settled down. Nobody wanted to miss her in action. Her performance was especially spirited tonight.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-28-07

 

Fannie finished her performance with a heartfelt ballad she had written herself and which she sang a capella. There wasn't a sound in the room or a dry eye to be seen when she finished and bowed her head, hiding her face behind the fan she'd held all through her performance. She floated to the end of the stage and down the stairs before the crowd realized that she had finished the song. The room exploded with applause and cheers. All and sundry were on their feet, clapping and shouting their approval.

Charlie stood at Linn and Esther's table, beaming. Once again, Miss Fannie Kikinshoot had brought down the house. She peeked from behind her fan and gave him a sly wink and an insinuating smile as she came toward the table. Linn and Charlie bowed to her then she put her hand on Charlie's chest and pushed him gently back into his chair. "Make a lap, cowboy," she said gaily. Fannie floated to a landing on Charlie's knee and she put her free arm, the one without the fan, around his neck. He wrapped an arm around her waist to steady her and handed her a glass of champagne. She closed the fan and let it dangle from the small wrist cord as she took the glass.

"Nice job, hon," he said with a grin. "You've got 'em eating out of your hand." Around them, the crowd had subsided somewhat but all were talking about the events of the day and especially Fannie's performance.

Fannie leaned over and whispered in Charlie's ear, "How 'bout you, cowboy? You hungry?"

"I might just be ma'am, I might just be," he said softly, grinning from ear to ear.

The others at the table were looking at the two of them in something bordering on astonishment. They hadn't heard the last part of the exchange but all were wondering how these two knew each other well enough for the kind of familiarity that they were seeing. Both started to talk at once then Charlie said, "You tell 'em. I always mess it up." He picked up Fannie's champagne glass and drained what was left then held it up to get the attention of one of the passing Irish Brigade, who had again been pressed into service as waiters. The glass was quickly exchanged for a full one.

Fannie gave him a grin. "Charlie and I met a long time ago. Once upon a time, several other ladies and I were deputies, and Charlie ended up ramrodding our headquarters. One thing led to another and we became friends. Really good friends." She looked at Charlie and said, "Now how could you have messed that up?"

"I just like hearing you tell it, mostly," he chuckled.

She snorted and turned back to the others. "So anyway, we run into each other every so often, and renew our friendship all over again. And like I said, we're really good friends." She stood up, still with her hand on his shoulder. "And now I believe it's time to slip into something more comfortable. I'll see all of you tomorrow." She turned away from the table, flicked her fan open again, and gave Charlie a saucy smile over her shoulder. She slipped through the crowd and was gone.

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