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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Duzy Wales 10-28-07

 

Jake held Duzy’s head lovingly against him, afraid to move her, as her Papa pressed the torn petticoat over the wound, each sending up prayers as they looked at the woman they both loved and were afraid they were losing. Duzy’s face was drained of color, and her heartbeat could hardly be felt, and a lone tear dropped from Jake’s face as he tried not to think of life without her. They both knew the conductor was doing the best he could to get the Lady Esther to Firelands, but both feared they were running out of time. Mama was on her knees in prayer.

Mama was asking God to please let it be His will that Duzy would live, as He knew best, but prayed that His will would be to let her live, as Duzy had much more that she had wanted to do to help people in this lifetime. Papa was silently praying for the same outcome, as the white of the petticoat became soaked in blood beneath his hands, never in his life ever thinking he would have to bury his precious daughter, until now. He began to pray for a miracle as he could see her life draining from her before his eyes and he felt a gut wrenching pain that nearly took his own breath away.

Duzy was going toward the light, as it was calling to her and she had never felt such peace and love as she did at that moment. It was as if everything was perfect, without any daily struggles, no pain, fear or heartache, and she could see Grandma Edith and Grandpa Joseph coming toward her to meet her. In the far distance she could hear voices, Jake’s, Mama’s and Papa’s calling her back, begging her to hang on and stay with them. She could hear the pain in their voices, but the light still beckoned and she moved forward as she felt herself leave her body as she looked down at the scene below her. It didn’t seem at first that the body was her own, and then the reality hit that it must have been her destiny to die that day, as the light became stronger, and she continued to move toward her grandparents.

Jake pleaded, “Please Duzy, please hang on, stay with me, I love you, I need you, please do not leave me now! How will I ever live without you? We have just found our love and it has been much too short! Please stay with me! Remember all you wanted to do, remember all our plans, remember how much I love you, remember our future and your love for me and all that we have promised to each other! Please remember!”

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Linn Keller 10-28-07

 

"How far out are we, Bill?"
"Little less than ten mile now!"
"How fast we goin'?"
Bill looked at the speedometer, looked at Simms.
Simms looked at the speedometer.
They looked forward at the tracks, squinting into the wind, knowing they were well over the safe speed for this stretch of track. If they made it to Firelands in one piece they just might give whoever was hurt a fighting chance. If they didn't ... well, a steam boiler was a bomb on wheels, and derailment meant an instant, albeit agonizing, death.
"How does she feel to you, Bill?"
Bill laid his hand on the throttle, cocked his head, listened to Lady Esther chant, deep in her cast iron heart, all the valves, all the cams, all the pushrods, all the pistons, all working together in harmony, in rhythm, in perfection.
"She feels good, Simms!"
Simms shot his coal shovel into the tender again.

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Linn Keller 10-28-07

 

Annette's hand trembled inside its lace glove.
Her lace glove was clutching a coat sleeve.
Inside the coat sleeve was a man's arm.
Attached to the arm was a quiet man with absolutely black hair, shining obsidian eyes and high cheekbones. His tie was precisely knotted, his white shirt and black suit immaculate, his shoes shined; he wore a derby and his hair was cut unusually short.
His other hand was on top of the frightened girl's gloved hand.
They had exchanged less than twenty words since boarding the train. Chance, and a crowded passenger list, had seated them beside one another.
They didn't even know one another's names.
Annette turned and looked at the man's handsome profile, but her thoughts were not those of a young woman admiring a fine man's appearance.
"Can you help her?" she whispered.
George Flint considered. Though a graduate of the Harvard School of Medicine, he was still full-blood Navajo, and Indians were generally regarded poorly by the white man. Still, his father and his grandfather had been shamans, and he knew not only the white man's medicine, but his own.
George Flint smiled reassuringly. "I will see what I can do."
George Flint stood and retrieved a valise from overhead; he placed it on his seat, opened it, reached into a pocket.
He drew out a small buckskin pouch.
Reaching overhead, he pulled down what Annette recognized as a doctor's bag. Opening the bag, he withdrew a stethoscope, hung it around his neck with the ease of much practice and murmured, "Please excuse me," as he slipped past her.
"Excuse me, I am a doctor," he said. "May I be of assistance?"
A man stood, fear and gratitude on his face. "Oh my God man, whatever you can do, do it now!"
George Flint went to one knee. "Some room, if you please," he murmured, and drawing a small but very sharp knife from his waistcoat, he made two vertical cuts, opening Duzy's dress far enough to expose her corset.
He frowned. The sounds around him faded, and he no longer felt the rocking of the coach on the iron rails; his world shrank to the patient before him, and he began his assessment.
Breathing shallow and rapid. Pulse weak and thready. Massive blood loss, he thought.
George Flint made two incisions in the corset, drawing a line from the entry wound to the corset's top, then from the entry wound down to its bottom, and laid it open.
"Help me turn her."
Several hands seized Duzy at the shoulder, the ribs, the thigh; he rolled her up on her uninjured side, examined the exit wound. He reached into the wound and withdrew a length of metal.
Corset stay, he thought. How much is missing?
He looked around. A gawking fellow with bulging eyes and a prominent Adam's apple was holding an untasted and half-unwrapped sandwich. George Flint lunged for the man's lunch, handed him back the sandwich, carefully tore the waxed paper in two and laid one half against her exit wound. "Roll her back," he murmured, picking up the bloody compress that had been used on her front, and using it to pad between the floor and the waxed paper.
He picked up the edge of the corset, feeling the long pocket with his fingers until he found where the stay had been.
"What the hell are you doing!" someone demanded. "She's dying and you've got to look at her corset?"
He held up the strip of metal. "This is from her corset," he replied quietly. "I pulled it out of the hole in her back. I need to find out if there is any more in there."
He found the damaged stay, matched the fragment quickly with the remainder.
"Seems to be it," he muttered.
Duzy moaned. Blood and froth bubbled out of the dark hole in her side.
George pressed the square of waxed paper against the wound, picked up a folded strip of petticoat, placed it on the waxed paper and grabbed a nearby hand, placing this on the pad.
"Hold this."
George Flint put the stethoscope to his ears and began listening to her chest, opening the corset and her dress, exposing her to the waist. For a moment, just a moment, he wondered about the propriety of an Indian undressing a white woman in public, but then he heard the words of a particularly favored instructor:
"You can't treat what you can't see, so strip 'em down and be damned with who don't like it!"
He removed the eartips, hung the stethoscope around his neck again, laid two fingers on her chest just under her left collarbone, and tapped on these, twice, with the tips of his left index and middle fingers. Moving down a little, he tapped again, then a third an fourth time, assessing from the drumlike sounds just how far the lung had collapsed.
"Can you help her?"
George Flint picked up the hand holding the pad on the waxed paper. He put his hand over Duzy's mouth and nose, feeling her breathe. He saw her belly rise as she inhaled.
He held her nose and mouth.
Blood bluckered out her entrance wound.
He released his hand and she exhaled a little more, inhaled. As she inhaled the waxed paper pulled down against the wound, sealing it.
He held her mouth and nose again, and a third time, pumping the colllapsed lung back up.
There was muffled sobbing, the grief in a woman's voice that can come only with the knowledge that the Reaper had a good grip on a loved one's soul and was doing its bony best to drag her off across the river Styx.
George Flint was not about to let this happen.

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Linn Keller 10-28-07

 

Lightning's head came up like a hound's to a distant whistle.
"You hear that, Pa?" his son asked, opening the door and stepping out to listen.
Whooo - woo - whoooo - woo, they heard in the distance.
Lightning's boy frowned. "C?" he asked.
Lightning held up a cautioning hand.
Long-long-short-long, he thought.
"Q," they said in unison, and a knot started to tighten up in Lightning's belly.
Long-short-short.
"Oh, no," Lightning muttered, reaching for the key. "Get the Sheriff, get the Doc and get the firemen! Something bad is happening!"
Lightning's boy was at a dead run before he was off the short board porch.
Lightning's "fist" -- the cadence of his transmission -- was well known to the operators up and down the line. He was not particularly fast but he was precise and had the least number of errors of any of them.
They recognized his fist.
They knew something was wrong, as he was sending at half again his normal rate.
CQ, CQ, CQ, he sent: all stations, all stations, all stations: Firelands reporting inbound passenger unknown emrg any reports?
Up and down the line, operators ran fingers down their log book entries, scoured their memories.
No.
No.
No.

Lightning's boy sprinted up the street, thinking fast. The firehouse was closest. He began yelling half a hundred yards before he reached the tall horse house. Sean threw the door open as he approached, hammer in one hand and a folding ruler in the other.
"What's the alarm?" the German Irishman yelled from inside, looking up from the plank he was sawing.
"Is it Daisy, lad?" Sean asked, spitting out a half-dozen nails.
"Sir, it's the train -- something bad's happened, we don't know what --"
"FIRE THE BOILER, LADS, AND HARNESS THE HORSES! WE'VE WORK TO DO! NO IRISH NEED APPLY!" Sean roared, and the firemen ran for their gear, their helmets and their trademark red shirts.
The matched mares danced as the harness was dropped down on them and quickly snugged; the boiler lit off, its pre-laid fire starting with an appetizer of wood shavings and coal oil, licking happily at the entree of good black coal.
The doors swung open and the mares leaned into their harness, the men climbing aboard their shining, polished steam buggy. They drew out and hitched on the ladder wagon behind.
"ARE WE READY, THEN!" Sean swung his whip and cracked it a yard over the lead mare's head. "ST. FLORIAN, ST. CHRISTOPHER AND ST. COLUMBA!" he roared.
The mares lurched into their collars and dug into the dirt street and Sean, standing, reins in one hand and blacksnake whip in the other, laughed and began roaring an obscene drinking song in flawless Gaelic.

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Linn Keller 10-28-07

 

Dr. John Greenlees had just shaved, combed his hair, and was shrugging into a clean shirt when he distantly registered the sound of the approaching train's whistle.
Odd, he thought, then turned his attention to knotting his necktie. He was a precise man, a methodical man, and preferred to dress for dinner; the Silver Jewel provided a delightful bit of civilization in this Western land, and he was fond of sharing the company of the folk he found there.
Dusting off his coat with a clothing brush, he shrugged into it, buttoning it carefully, then dusted off his flat-crowned, narrow-brimmed hat. He'd meant to get a new one, something with a wider brim; the narrow brim marked him a townie, and though he was a civilized man, he also admired much about this Western country. Perhaps he would check with WJ down at the general store, and see what was available, or what could be ordered.
He heard a young voice shouting, and shortly after, the sound of a three-horse hitch galloping up the street, a blacksnake whip, a voice singing with more enthusiasm than talent in ... Gaelic?
Fire! he thought, and his stomach contracted a little. Please, God, not here!
Dr. Greenlees, thoughts of his dinner forgotten, snatched up his black doctor's bag and reached for the door knob.

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Linn Keller 10-28-07

 

I heard Lightning's boy shouting, down the street, so I parked the broom beside the door and opened the heavy oak door to take a look.
I frowned. Nothing in sight.
"Hmp!" I thought, and went back inside, but left the door open. I had to sweep this dirt somewhere, why not back outside where it came from?
Off in the distance I heard the Lady Esther's whistle.
My ear twitched.
Now that's odd, I thought. Never heard that pattern before.
A whistle, a shout, the sharp pop of a blacksnake whip and galloping hooves: I wouldn't have needed Sean's off-key rendition of something from the Sod to know the firemen had been alerted.
I swore, my belly tightening.
Western towns were made of wood; the dry climate made fire a perpetual enemy. God willing, whatever caught fire, they could put it out before we lost half the town, or all of it!
I stepped back outside.
That's odd, I thought for the second time, and strode out into the middle of the street. They'd swung hard over --
The depot? I thought. No smoke ... why there?
Esther and Daisy came out of the Jewel, looking down the street. Esther looked at me, extended a hand, palm up: What is it?
I raised both hands, palms up, shook my head slowly: Don't know.
I didn't know but I intended to find out.

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Linn Keller 10-28-07

 

Jacob had just come in from a day of splitting, sawing and stacking wood; it had been hard work, and it had been all day, but he'd taken a lunch and he was no stranger to hard work. His slender body, lean and browned with the sun, all whipcord and rawhide, laughed as a young man's body will, after a good day's work, with a good horse under him, in the cool of the lengthening afternoon.
He had two treasures in his saddlebag, two books, a thoughtful and delightful loan from their schoolmarm. Mrs. Cooper had seen him looking longingly at her copy of Robinson Crusoe. She'd handed it to him, and when he protested, she raised an admonishing finger and added Treasure Island to it.
Jacob loved to read, and positively devoured books, but his reading had been confined to the very few volumes available to him.
He had never read DeFoe or Stevenson.
The Lady Esther's whistle, approaching, had an odd cadence.
Jacob had a natural curiosity, which was only enhanced growing up the son of a curious man, so, like the Sheriff, Jacob determined to find out a bit more.
"Whoa, boy," he gentled his Appaloosa stallion, and stood in his stirrups, looking across the bow in the river as the Lady Esther came across the trestle.
She was approaching at an unusual speed. He'd never seen her traveling so fast, and her whistle was shreiking a staccato alarm, the great puffs of steam punctuating the air above her and torn to shreds with the velocity of her passing. Worse, her smoke was black: no engineer worth his overalls ran black smoke: it was a point of pride to have a clean exhaust, especially coming into station.
Something is very wrong, he thought.
On an impulse he turned back toward the Coopers' house. Jackson Cooper was a friend of his father's, and his father just might need his help.
"Yaah!" Jacob yelled, and the stallion gathered himself and shot back up the road they'd just walked down.

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Linn Keller 10-28-07

 

Duzy stood, looking around, frowning a little.
She didn't recognize the valley.
Rubbing her forehead, she frowned, trying to remember ...
Remember what? she thought.
The air was almost warm, like a spring day, and it smelled good. She closed her eyes and took a long, deep breath. It smelled of a thousand green growing things, and she smiled.
She heard water running, and realized she was thirsty; she found the spring, running over a sandstone shelf, and cupped her hands, and drank.
The water was cold and sweet.
She stood, slinging the water off her fingers.
I haven't felt this good in a very long time, she thought.
I don't hurt anymore.
I don't hurt?
"That's right," a familiar voice said.
Duzy turned -- lightly, easily.
Linn was standing there.
Duzy laughed and ran toward him, running like a schoolgirl, and Linn ran toward her and they grabbed one another and laughed and he spun her around, and she felt his strong, reassuring arms around her, and she threw her head back and the great fluffy cumuli in the flawless blue overhead spun around, and around, and around ...
They walked, holding hands.
"But where are we?"
"Where?" Linn smiled. "We're in the Valley."
Duzy frowned. "The Valley?"
Linn laughed. "People think of the Valley as a dark and foreboding place." He gestured, drawing her eye to the verdant expanse. "It's anything but! Grass underfoot, a sweetwater spring, a sky like that ..."
"The Valley of the Shadow?" she whispered.
He smiled. "And I've been dead over a century now."
"Dead?" She shook her head. "I don't understand any of this."
Linn took her hands. "Duzy, this is important. Do you remember your death?"
She looked up at him.
Memory returned.
Don't let them know, he had said.
Bad men. Robbers. The old woman, hostage.
Jake!
"He's all right," Linn soothed. "He's scared as hell, worried about you."
"About me? But I --" She closed her mouth, her hand going to her left chest, below her breast.
"You've been shot, Duzy. Remember lying on your back, on the ceiling, looking down at yourself, wondering why someone had just split that perfectly good corset open, and then realizing that was you?"
The memory came back like a freight train at full throttle.
Duzy's hand went to her mouth, eyes wide.
"Duzy." Linn's voice was soothing, reassuring. "Duzy, listen to me. You must go back."
Duzy's eyes filled with sorrow. "But I like it here," she said in a child's voice. "I don't hurt anymore."
"Duzy, this is important. Rembember this!"
Duzy nodded.
"When we are born, we are born into an ocean of pain. We swallow it and breathe it and swim in it like a fish in an ocean. That's why a baby cries when it's born: it hurts!"
Duzy nodded, eyes big and trusting.
"The pain is the pain of responsibility. We are relieved of it at the moment of our death.
"Every word we say or say not, every thing we do or do not, has a consequence, not just in our world, but in a world beyond. I don't understand what little I know of this, only that it is so. That's why you feel so good here, Duzy!" His hands were warm as he held her hands, squeezing them just a little for emphasis. "Because we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders every moment we live, and all that we do matters!"
Duzy felt lost. "But I don't want to go back!"
"Duzy, I love you like the daughter that was taken from me. Know this: your work isn't finished. It is important. Write, Duzy! You must write! Touch the world with your pen! Run the presses, make them hum with your thoughts, birthed on paper and delivered for all to read! Stand before them in great lecture halls and speak of what you know, of what you've done!"
She nodded, close to tears.
"My time is finished. Esther's is as well. We had a daughter, and she had a child, and in the fullness of time, a firstborn of my line will wear this very star, and will sit at my desk, and will be Sheriff in a time yet to come."
"But will I see you again?"
"You will see me, Duzy. You will see me."

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Mr. Box 10-28-07

 

I was walking over to the livery to check on Nelly and the other horses when I saw a lot of comotion starting up and the train whistle off in the distance was blowing time after time. I turned and headed toward the station. People were sailing past me before I got half way there. The fire brigade was leading the pack billowing smoke at a dead run! I didn't see any smoke anywhere other than theirs, but something was definately going on. No one seemed to know what it was, but we were all heading for the station as fast as we could get there. The sheriff, Jacob, Doc, and the fire brigade were ahead of me, and the rest of town was behind me and gaining fast! The train whistle was getting closer, fast! We were beginning to see smoke in some of the places where there was a halfway clear shot to the tracks. There was a lot of it when she came into sight! I can't remember ever seeing anything move that fast! That engine looked alive!

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Lady Leigh 10-29-07

 

"What is it love?" With lost eyes, Bonnie was starring out the window of the parlor in St Charles.

"I don't know, Caleb ..." Bonnies voice was perplexed. Eyebrows were gathered toward the center of her forehead. Lips once again perced together. Caleb approached her and put his hand gently and securely on the small of her back. "Caleb ... I have this aweful feeling. I can't explain it .... but something is terribly wrong."

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Linn Keller 10-29-07

 

Dr. Greenlees was there about two steps ahead of me and we climbed into the passenger car.
The dead had been dragged to the back of the car and piled without ceremony in the rearmost seats.
They would wait.
Duzy was in the middle of the aisle, dead pale, barely breathing; a fellow was working on her chest, a doctor's bag open beside him, stethoscope around his neck.
Doc eased past me with a murmured "Pardon me, Sheriff." He went to one knee, examined the work critically. "Dr. Flint, I presume."
"Dr. Greenlees, I presume," Dr. Flint replied absently. "Please prepare your surgery for immediate splenectomy, and I'll need her nearest blood relatives present as well." He withdrew his hands, dropped a bloodied scalpel with a few other tools on a white linen handkerchief that had apparently been spread out on her belly for that purpose. He gathered the kerchief, wrapped it, replaced it in his bag and looked up.
"You, you, you and you," he said, "are volunteers. We need to pick her up and keep her absolutely level."
Four sets of willing hands lined up oppose Dr. Flint.
"Gentlemen, I want you --" he pointed -- "to put your right hand under her head. That is your right hand's only job. You will keep her head steady and level, you will not allow it to drop nor to flex toward her chest." He pointed to the next. "You." He seized the next man's hands, positioned the above Duzy, palms up. "You will put your hands under her here, and here. You" -- he did the same with the next man. "And you." The last man was tasked with supporting her just above the knees, and at mid-calf.
"We will put our hands under her on my command, gentlemen, ON MY COMMAND. You will hear ONLY my voice, and you will do EXACTLY as I tell you. Ready? Hands under on three, MY COUNT. One. Two. Three."
Hands slid under Duzy's still form, worked carefully and fully under her.
"Hands in position? Good. Down on your right knee."
Four knees hit the floor.
"On my count you will raise her straight up, and rest her on your LEFT knee. Ready? One. Two. Three!"
Duzy was lifted straight up, rested on the knees.
"Now, gentlemen, we will stand together, on three, my count, standing straight up in one smooth move. You're all about the same height. One. Two. Three."
They stood, and Duzy was raised to forearm height on a standing man.
"Gentlemen, we will sidestep toward the engine, and when we come to the doorway we may have to bend her at the knees to make our turn. We will recruit more hands outside to get down the stairs."
I drew back with Doc. He stepped to the ground, strode for his office to prepare for surgery.
"Sean!" I barked, beckoning. "We need hands over here! It's Duzy!"
Sean looked like he'd just been punched, and he crossed himself, the names of several saints tumbling over his lips, then he turned. "LADS! PRY OFF YON SIDING BOARDS! I WANT THAT WALL BARE! LAY THEM ON THE LADDER! MOVE!"
The depot building was assaulted with several willing sets of hands and at least two pry bars, and the rough planks laid on the ladder. Sean peeled out of his red shirt and laid it on the boards and the other five did the same. Passengers who had been clenching their fists with helplessness and frustration saw their opportunity to help: men laid their coats on the rough boards, and as Duzy was placed on the ladder, ladies' shawls covered her.
"I WANT TWO MEN IN FRONT, EACH HOLDING THE BRIDLE OF TWO HORSES! I DON'T WANT ANYTHING FASTER THAN A WALK AND I WANT TO BE AT THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE AN HOUR AGO! MOVE!"
The German Irishman and the Welsh Irishman sprinted for the head of the three-horse hitch, each standing between two horses and holding a bridle in each hand.
Sean climbed to his accustomed place and watched anxiously as Duzy was made ready.
I waved.
"LADS! FORWARD! STEADY NOW, I WANT AN EASY RIDE OR I'LL HAVE YOUR GUTS FOR GARTERS!" Sean roared, and the team leaned into their padded collars, the steam engine began to roll easily on well-greased axles, the ladder wagon following, three men on either side of the ladder, steadying Duzy against any unexpected jar or jolt.
Jacob came sprinting up to me. He looked at Duzy.
I could tell it felt like the world just fell out from under his feet.
"Jacob!" I said quietly, urgently, clapping my hand on his shoulder. "We need to find Susan. I think she's coming back from the south. Should have been here by now. Find her, get her, Doc will need his right-hand nurse for the surgery!"
"Yes, sir!" Jacob said, and his eyes smoldered. He ran with clenched fists, something he'd never done; he'd always run easily, lightly, hands open and relaxed ...
I knew the deadly fury he was feeling.
I was feeling it myself.
Mr. Baxter plucked at my sleeve. "Sheriff? Is there anything I can do?"
"Thank God, yes!" I said. "Mr. Baxter, please have Esther report to the doctor's surgery. I don't know why they want her, but they want the nearest blood relative."
Mr. Baxter nodded, his jaw set, and I turned back toward the passenger car.
Duzy was not the only survivor.
There was an outlaw left alive, if Jake hadn't skinned him.
If he did, I thought, I hope he used a spoon.
A very dull one.

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Linn Keller 10-29-07

 

Esther was willing herself to be calm, willing herself not to believe in the terrible feeling of doom that had plagued her for the past few days, willing whatever was happening at the depot to be nothing...
"Linn will come running up the stairs the way he always does," she thought, and he'll tell me what happened, and like he always does, he'll get me to laughing..."
There were hurried steps approaching, but it wasn't Linn who knocked and thrust open the door.
Esther turned, her hand going to her bosom, as Mr. Baxter delivered his message.
She did not notice the box she'd just knocked over, nor the new watch it contained as it fell through a hole in the board floor, a hole left when a knot failed under the cast iron leg of her sewing machine, a hole that was to be fixed on the morrow.
The new watch, a railroad watch with jeweled bearings, and engraving, and a picture of Esther on the inside, fell into the dark recess between the floors; its watch chain followed, snakelike, ratttling down the hole.
Esther seized up her skirts and followed Mr. Baxter downstairs, not even shutting the door behind her.
Duzy! she thought. No!

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Linn Keller 10-29-07

 

Sean watched as Duzy was carried into the doctor's surgery, and it was as if his bones were poured out like water.
His knees failed him and he sank the upholstered, leather-covered seat, and lowered his head in his hands.
He stepped down off the rig, and looked around, and strode for the back of the doctor's building.
He found what he was looking for.
He opened the outhouse door, and stepped in, and latched the door behind him.
Sean, veteran firefighter, scarred-knuckle brawler and triumphant survivor of many a private and public brawl, attacker and defender during internecine warfare between rival fire companies, Sean the iron man who strode into the Devil's living room with a bucket of water and belted the Adversary himself across the chops and dared him to do his worst, Sean, who alone in the county had bested the Sheriff at a squared-off knock-down-drag-out bare-knuckles fight, Sean sat down on the smooth-sanded outhouse seat and fished the bandanna from his hip pocket.
He wiped his eyes, wiped them again.
He folded the bandanna twice, and pressed it against his face, and began to cry, great racking sobs that threatened to tear his soul apart.
If any noticed the muffled sounds from out back, or the pounding that followed, none spoke of it.

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Linn Keller 10-29-07

 

The outlaw had been shot through the outside of his upper thigh, and he had a bullet graze over his left ear.
There were other injuries as well.
I ignored them, just as I ignored Jake's bloodied knuckles.
Fact is, once I jerked the outlaw to his feet, I carried him to the front of the car at as much of a run as I could muster and drove him into the door frame, and held him up with my left hand and gut punched him, hard, with my good right fist.
From there I pretty much drug him to the jail.
Once I got him back to his cell I made sure he was not carrying any weapons.
I taken out my knife and slit his pants legs up the seam, and split his shirt down its back, and left him in very little but ... well, very little.
He tried to protest.
I threw him hard against the back wall.
I came back after a couple hours. He was laying on the floor, doubled up and holding his belly. I must not have been the only one to put a hay maker into his guts.
"I need the doc," he gasped. "I'm hurtin' bad!"
I squatted down so he could hear me, for I was not going to speak loud at all.
"The doc is busy," I said. "He's operatin' on that woman you shot."
"I never shot her!" he gasped.
"Tell me who did and maybe I'll get the Doc."
"He's dead already. Fellow named Jay Walters."
"Who sent you?"
"Nobody sent us. We figured it would be an easy job. Didn't figure on no Federal lawman meetin' us!"
"You ever hear about entertainin' angels unawares?"
He looked at me, puzzled.
"Angels or lawmen, makes no difference. Never know where you'll find us."
I stood.
"Ain't'cha gonna get the doc?"
I squatted back down.
"You shot my niece," I said quietly. "She might as well be my daughter. And you shot her. She's probably gonna die. If she does, I'll save the Judge the trouble of comin' out here and spare the town the expense of a trial!"
"You can't do that!"
I nodded slowly, still speaking quietly. "You shot at my friend, and you shot my family. How do you reckon I'm going to treat you now?"
I stood up and walked back into the office.
I sat down.
I pulled out the top right hand drawer.
I slammed it back in, teeth clenched, lips drawn back.
I reached into my vest pocket and pulled out the coin, looked at it, turned it over, considering.
I slid it back into my pocket.
This wasn't to be a Rose killing.
If he lived, and there's no reason he shouldn't, I thought, we'll give him a fair trial, and then hang him.

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Duzy Wales 10-29-07

 

Jake Thomas, a West Point graduate, a retired federal agent, specializing in covert operations for President Hayes, a man who had been hardened by what he had seen and by what he had did, had finally found the love of his life and had never felt as helpless as he did at this moment. Duzy had brought joy into his life, loving him with the innocence of a first love, and yet with the unbridled passion of a woman who knew what she wanted and needed and wasn’t afraid to communicate those needs or to reciprocate when it came to his wants and desires.

As he waited, he thought of the first time they had made love. It was the night of the grand opening and neither had expected it to happen. They had only known each other for a short time and he had meant to court her slowly, but when he had walked her to her room to say goodnight, fate had stepped in. The goodnight kiss had turned into a scorching kiss, much like a fire kindled from a small flame, and when their lips parted the air ignited the fire and they both knew that they had to have more. He remembered picking her up and carrying her to the bed, still kissing, both undressing each other as they explored each others bodies until the wee hours of morning, both feeling a euphoria like never before, as they kissed each other good morning, and made love again.

Since that night, they had lived, loved, laughed and cried together, as they planned a future full of dreams, happiness, children, and growing old together, sometimes thinking of the stories they could pass on to their grandchildren. Tears came to his eyes and he sat sobbing uncontrollably, fearful of the worst, a heartbreak that he couldn’t even imagine, as thinking of life without her was too much to bear.

Jake had felt like killing the outlaw that was still alive, and had started to do so, but it didn’t make him feel any better and he had decided to let the law handle it. He felt lost. He wanted to see Duzy’s mischievous brown eyes, to see again how she could make him smile at the smallest things, to catch her watching him when he least expected it, to hold and love her, to protect her with his life, not the other way around! He didn’t know what to do, what he would do, what he could do, so he did the only thing that came to his mind. He walked to the church to pray.

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Linn Keller 10-29-07

 

Dr. George Flint, M.D., Navajo indian and Harvard graduate, washed his hands methodically, carefully, and prepared himself for his next task.
The surgery had gone better, much better than he'd expected. The spleen was not burst, only grazed; enough to nearly bleed the poor woman to death, but had the bullet centered the organ she would have died in less than half a minute.
She'd been lucky, he thought, and almost smiled.
Lucky? he thought. She's pale as a cloud and has as much a grip on life as a cloud has on a mountaintop.
"A pleasure assisting, Doctor," Dr. Greenlees said, drying his hands.
They shook, exchanging the delicate grip of the surgeon: to the unitiated the grip was light, almost efffeminate; it was anything but: it was the professional recognition of the artistry and precision of the surgeon's hand.
"She won't last the night."
Dr. Flint's jaw thrust forward. "There is one thing we can try."
"Right now I would try anything!"
"Do you remember the first successful transfusion?"
Dr. Greenlees raised one eyebrow. "I remember. The year was 1818, and it was Dr. James Blundell. It saved a woman's life after post-partum hemorrhage."
Dr. Flint nodded. "It's risky but it's her only chance. There is a blood relative waiting without."
"Have you the transfusion equipment?"
Dr. Flint smiled grimly. "I have."

Esther was clinging to Linn's hand on one side, Daisy's on the other. Jackson was at the jail, watching the prisoner, freeing Linn to be with Esther.
The surgery door opened and a tall, blocky man emerged, drying his hands on a spotless linen towel.
"Esther Wales?" Dr. Flint asked. "I'm Doctor Flint. She's alive, but barely."
Esther swallowed hard, the red of her lips standing out against her pallor.
"Your niece is no ordinary woman," he said gently. "What she's been through -- the injury, and then surgery -- would have killed a grown man."
Esther pressed a kerchief to her nose and nodded.
"Mrs. Wales, there is a chance -- a slim chance -- a procedure that may save her life, but we will need your help."
"Whatever I can do," Esther said firmly, straightening her back with sudden resolve.
Dr. Flint nodded. "Come with me."

Esther's knees nearly failed her when she saw Duzy lying on the bed, waxy, pallid, and very, very still.
"Mrs. Wales, we need to transfer a volume of your blood into her veins. This has been done successfully in England, but I must be honest: sometimes something goes terribly wrong. We have no idea why, but sometimes blood is terribly incompatible. It may very well save her life, or it may not help at all. Without your blood, she will surely die. With it, she has a chance."
Esther turned and faced him squarely. "Tell me what to do."
A few moments later she was lying on a portable cot beside Duzy's bed, her bare arm outstretched, and she flinched and grimaced as the steel needle pierced the tender skin inside her elbow.
She looked over at her niece.
"Duzy, I'm here," she said softly.

"If you look any harder at the floor, you'll burn a hole in it," Daisy said gently.
The Sheriff started, then smiled sadly and nodded.
Daisy laid a gentle hand on his hunched back, between his shoulder blades. "They are doing their best, you know that."
The Sheriff nodded, hat dangling from his fingers.
"And they've that grand lady of yours in there with her." Daisy leaned over so she could see the Sheriff's eyes. "I don't know what the doctor was talkin' about, but it just might work."
"It might." He took a shivering breath, crushed the hat in his hand as if he were crushing the life out of an enemy.
Daisy shook her head. "You men," she said with the gentlest of voices. "You've crushed your fine hat, then, and my Sean knocked half the boards off the outhouse, and his knuckles are a mess. If you'd do like we women do, your knuckles and your hats would be less sore."
The Sheriff chuckled, looking at his twisted and mangled hat. "And just what do you women do?" he asked with the smile Daisy loved so well.
She regarded him with an impish smile. "Why, Sheriff! You don't know? And you fancy to marry one of us? For shame!" She pushed gently on his shoulder, then put a hand to her belly with a surprised look.
"Daisy?" the Sheriff asked, alarm in his eyes and his hand on her shoulder.
Daisy glowed, her eyes growing large. "I felt him move," she whispered. "I felt the wee baby move!" She stood. "Sean must know!"
"Go on," the Sheriff said, "Esther will likely be a while. I'm not going anywhere."
Daisy took two quick steps toward the door, then stopped.
She turned.
"You're a good man, Sheriff. Never forget that," she said with a serious expression, and then she was gone.
The Sheriff tried to return his hat to something resembling its former shape.
"Wonder what she meant by that?"

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Mr. Box 10-29-07

 

Esther nearly exploded when I opened her door! "It's Duzy, gasp, at the doctor's, gasp...." I could tell by the expression on her face that I was the last person she had expected to see. I can't remember saying another word. She boiled out of her room and down the stairs so fast I could barely stay ahead of her! She was so excited she couldn't form a sentence and I couldn't have given an answer anyway. I opened the door when we got there and she was absorbed into the frenzy. I waited outside with the gathering crowd for a few minutes. Then I decided to wander back down toward the station and see if there was anything to do there. Even after sitting still for a few minutes, the engine still seemed to be panting. That machine was charged up with all the spirit of Esther Wales herself! What a perfect match. "I need to take a ride on that thing someday!" I said in admiration. "Boy, can she move!"

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Linn Keller 10-29-07

 

Annette stood in the long rays of the afternoon sun, shading her eyes against its glare, looking around.
Her luggage was stacked neatly beside her; the storm of activity that swirled like a young tornado around the station when the train arrived, had dissipated, leaving only the empty coach, the panting engine, and one very young woman.
She was the only one left, and suddenly she felt very alone, and very lost.
There was a step on the rough boards of the platform, a gentle voice. "Miss, can I help you?"
She turned and smiled shyly. "I think I need to find the hotel," she said.
"I'll get the wagon, don't you worry. I work there, matter of fact. We'll get you settled in." He extended his hand. "Name's Baxter. I run the bar."
"Annette Messman." Her grip was as delicate as her voice.
She's such a little thing, Mr. Baxter thought. Wonder what brings her clear out here? Family, most likely.
He smiled and winked reassuringly. "I'll be right back."

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Mr. Box 10-29-07

 

"I'll just stack your things on here and the hotel is right down the street. They've got a nice restrurant there with it, too. Sorry about leaving you stranded here. There was a lot going on all of a sudden."
Miss Messman said, "After all the trouble, they were in quite a hurry to get here! I've never had such a fast ride, even when a horse ran away with me in a buggy!"
"She was really moving when I saw her. I'm surprised they got her stopped! I'll find you a room so you can get settled. Everybody's out seeing how the owner doing. That was her they carried off the train. I'll leave a note and then I can carry your bags up in a minute."
"Thank you."
"Welcome to Firelands."

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Linn Keller 10-29-07

 

Susan's professional mask was firmly in place.
She'd assisted with the surgery; she'd taken care of Duzy's effects; she'd bundled her ruined dress and smallclothes into a pile.
The pepperbox she put in the top drawer of the doctor's cabinet; her aunt was not disposed to receive her reticule and pistol, but they could wait.
Sue was less than a mile from Firelands when Jacob came streaking down the road toward her. She wasn't sure quite what she was seeing, not until they got very close, for when his stallion ran he stuck his nose straight out and his tail straight out and Jacob was laid down along his neck and it looked like the horse was about two feet tall and ten feet long, kind of a rusty blur coming right at her!
She folded a dampened cloth and laid it across Esther's forehead. She put another in her hand. "Wipe your face, dear," she said gently, "you've a bit of sweat built up."
Esther did, dabbing under her chin and around her neck: indelicate, perhaps, and certainly not something she would do in mixed company, but perfectly all right with Susan in the room.
Susan cocked her head and smiled. "I can see the resemblance," she said. "She's a strong woman, just like you."
Esther pressed the cloth to the corners of her eyes.
"I don't feel very strong," she said huskily.

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Linn Keller 10-29-07

 

Sean's great hand was spread gently over the swell of Daisy's belly, and his face held the same wonder as a child beholding his first Christmas tree.
"Did ye feel it, then?" Daisy asked, delight in her voice.
"I did," Sean whispered. "A son!"
Daisy swatted his shoulder. "Of course a son, you great Irish oaf! The broom straw never lies!"
Sean snatched her up and spun her around, laughing. "Daisy, me dear, kiss the happiest man in the entire United States!"
She did.
Did a good job, too.

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Duzy Wales 10-29-07

 

Lee and Mildred Wales had caught a ride into town, but as soon as they got there, Lee found the hotel to get Mildred to lie down, although he had quite a time doing it, having to tell Duzy’s Mama that she would need her strength later to tend to Duzy, which was how he had gotten her to leave Duzy in the first place, and how it was time for her to rest while the doctor did his work. When she finally agreed, Lee left to find Esther, thinking she would already be with Duzy, and to find out just how bad things were. He didn’t have much hope at this time and knew his beloved wife would need all her strength getting through losing Duzy, and it coming so close to losing her own Papa….damned if he knew how he was going to make it through it either! He wiped the tears from his eyes and went back downstairs.

Tilly had sent word to get Linn after getting Duzy’s Mama and Papa to a room, thinking how pale and worn they looked, grief stricken was more like it, she thought. Esther would want to know her brother and his wife were there too, she was thinking. When Mr. Wales came back downstairs, Tilly took him by the arm and said, "I will take you to her, Mr. Wales." Lee thanked her and soon they found Linn. “Mr. Wales, this is Sheriff Linn Keller, Linn, this is Duzy’s Papa, Lee Wales.

“Mr. Keller, I had hoped to be celebrating when I met the man Esther wanted to marry, but….and he reached out his hand, I'm sorry.... I know you love her too! Duzy has told me all about you and how much she and Esther both love you! Is she….is she still?” Lee couldn’t get the words out, but Linn did as he always did and reached out to his future brother-in-law, knowing how he was feeling, and shook his hand and the two left together to find out if there was anymore word.

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Linn Keller 10-29-07

 

Susan put her finger to her lips and opened the door.
I stepped in first, my eyes on Esther, and the black rubber tube running from the inside of her left elbow to the inside of Duzy's right elbow. I looked at Dr. Flint, raised a questioning eyebrow.
Dr. Flint raised one finger. In a moment, he said silently.
Lee leaned against the door frame, suddenly sick with dread.
Even a strong man is weakened when it's one of your own.
I closed my hand around Esther's. "Dearest?" I said quietly.
"Yes?" she and Duzy said together.
Esther's eyes snapped wide with shock, and she turned her head to look with amazement at her niece.
Duzy was pale, not quite as pale as she had been, but at least she didn't have the waxy look of a newly dead corpse.
I was pretty damned surprised myself, and it showed in my voice.
"Duzy?"
There was no response.
I looked back down at Esther.
"I'm all right, dearest," she murmured. "Just tired."
"I'll get some soup in you and get you tucked in," I said, squeezing her hand a little, and brushing a stray curl of lovely auburn hair from her pale forehead.
"That would be nice," Esther said, fatigue thickening her voice. "Hold me, Linn," she said. "Hold me."
"Excuse me," Dr. Flint said, his hand heavy on my shoulder. I released Esther's hand and stepped back.
Dr. Flint felt her wrist pulse, frowned; he reached over, felt the inside of Duzy's upper arm, pressed his fingers firmly to find the higher pulse.
"Mrs. Wales, I think we're going to discontinue the transfusion now," he said. "Susan, could you -- oh, thank you!"
Susan had the gauze pads cut and folded, ready to apply; as the doctor withdrew the steel needle, Susan pinched the tubing with one hand while applying pressure to the puncture with the other. Dr. Flint pinched the tubing with his off hand.
"Ready?"
"Yes, Doctor."
Dr. Flint pulled the steel needle from Duzy's arm.
Duzy flinched and moaned a little.
Susan had the pad on the wound the moment the needle was free of the skin.
They waited several minutes to ensure a good start on clotting before wrapping each one in gauze -- snugly, but not too tight -- the pair working as if they'd labored side by side for years.
"Mrs. Wales, you may feel light-headed or weak for a day or so," Dr. Flint cautioned her. "Don't get up just yet. Susan, could you -- oh, thank you."
Susan had a tumbler of fresh, cold well water in hand and slipped her hand under Esther's shoulders, helping her sit up. "Sip on this, dear," she said, "just sips, now. Your stomach will be delicate for an hour or so."
Esther took the glass in her right hand and downed half the contents. "Oh, that's so good," she murmured, took another breath and downed the other half.
"A good sign," Dr. Greenlees murmured.
"It will be a long night," Dr. Flint said. "Do you want the first watch, or shall I?"
"I had a good night's rest, Dr. Flint. You go get a meal and get a room and I'll stay for a while."
"I'd like to stay," Lee said weakly.
"And you are...?"
"Family," I said. "My brother-in-law. To be."
Dr. Greenlees nodded. "I'll get you a chair. And a cushion."
Esther swung her feet over the edge of the cot. It was wheeled, higher than normal; her feet were well off the floor, and Susan steadied her.
Susan's casual manner masked the sharpness of her observation. She was watching for sudden changes in balance, skin color, or sudden onset nausea.
Esther waved a hand in front of her face. "I'm all right," she said, and wobbled, nearly falling over.
I ran an arm behind her, just below her shoulder blades, the other under her knees.
I picked her up.
"Can I take her home?" I asked.

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Charlie MacNeil 10-29-07

 

Abraham Belding felt like he'd come home when he'd come to Firelands. He had been welcomed by one and all, and had helped to save the town from the outlaws. So he was chagrined to find that when another crisis had struck, he had been gone from town, hunting. It wasn't until he rode back into town with a string of ducks and a shotgun hanging from his saddle that he found out what happened.

Abraham took up his Bible and went to the sanctuary to pray for Duzy. He also prayed for Linn and Jake, because he knew the temperament of both men and he also knew that one of the outlaws was still alive. He himself felt the stirring of anger and damped it down. It would do no one any good for him to be anything but a figure of calm.

Abraham knelt to pray and heard the door of the church swing open. One of the hinges squeaked a bit no matter how much oil he used on it. He kept his head down as bootheels beat a quiet tattoo on the board floor. The footsteps stopped at the first row of pews. "Preacher, can we talk?"

Abraham rose and turned. Jake stood there with his hat in his hands and his face a craggy field marred by the anguish he felt. Tears streaked his cheeks. Abraham came forward with his hand outstretched. "Any time, Jake. You know that." Jake took the offered hand and squeezed it hard. "I know what happened to Duzy, Jake," Abraham said. "And I think I know why you're here."

"I feel so damn helpless," Jake started. "I feel like I should be there for her, but..." He stopped and stared at his hands. He looked up. "She was shot protecting me!" he blurted out.

"Jake, the female of the species is the most fierce when protecting her family," Abraham said softly. "You are her family, and Duzy is not the sort to sit back and wait." He chuckled. "I for one would not get in the way of any woman with a pistol, and especially one as determined as Duzy Wales!"

"Preacher, would you pray with me?"

"You know I will, Jake." Abraham led the way to the pulpit and beyond it to the sanctuary. They knelt where Abraham had been and together began to entreat the Almighty to bring his healing touch and his Spirit to Firelands.

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Duzy Wales 10-30-07

 

Duzy felt herself being pulled back and she tried to fight leaving, as it was such a peaceful and beautiful place with an unconditional love that was indescribable. Linn had said she wasn’t finished yet, that there was more for her to do and people who loved her were waiting for her, grief stricken, their hearts breaking. She felt herself turning and going away from the light and the beautiful green that had been in the valley where she and Linn had talked.

Nothing was clear, but she felt the pain return and then she heard Linn say “Dearest,” and thought she could go back to the valley, and she answered “Yes,” but it wasn’t meant to be as she still felt the pain and everything went black as she lost consciousness. In the distance, she could hear her Papa talking to her, pleading for her to hang on and stay with him through the night. At some point, Duzy could hear Jake telling Papa that he would sit with her and to go get some rest. She heard him say that Mildred was asking for him and was determined to get to Papa and Duzy. Papa thanked Jake and told him he would be back soon, as he knew Mildred wouldn’t wait much longer to be with Duzy and that she would need him to be strong for her.

Lee didn’t feel strong, he had never felt such heartache, not even when his own parents had left him, and he thought nothing could be worse than that! He left for the hotel to tell his wife that Duzy was still alive and that she was looking better than when they last saw her. After hearing Duzy speak that one word, he had been given hope that she might still survive.

Jake sat beside Duzy and stroked her face, pleading for her to come back to him, that he needed her, how he loved her as he described the plans they had made for the future. Duzy could hear him, but she still could not open her eyes or say anything, but she wanted to reassure him that she was back with him and that they would still be together. She felt herself move her hand to give him a sign and he saw it and took her hand, tears rolling down his face as he thought perhaps God had heard his plea and she would live.

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Linn Keller 10-30-07

 

I carried Esther upstairs to her room, holding her tight in against me so her head rested on my shoulder. Her one arm was around me but the other was limp in her lap, and she wasn't quite asleep but she wasn't very awake.
Folks watched as I carried her the short distance to the Jewel. Willing hands got the doors as I approached but none sought to interfere.
Tilly was behind the counter, tending some paper work; she looked up, laid down her pen and came around to follow.
I took the stairs two at a time, but not at a run like I usually did.
Tilly opened Esther's door for me and I stepped in and stood aside while Tilly drew her covers back.
I laid Esther on the clean sheets, gently, then began to undress her.
"Sheriff," Tilly said, "should you be doing that?"
"Close the door, Tilly," I said. "She's lost some blood. She'll need broth, I think, and as much water as she wants."
Tilly's hand went to her mouth. "Oh, no," she moaned, "not Esther too!"
"They took some of her blood and put in Duzy," I explained. "It might keep Duzy alive long enough for her to rally, we don't know, but it's knocked the strength out of poor Esther here!"
My fingers were marching clumsily down the pearl buttons of her blouse, trying to slip the dainty slippery things through their holes, and making a botch of it.
I fisted both hands, shaking with anger.
"Here, Sheriff," Tilly said gently. "Let me help."
Tilly's hand on my shoulder was as gentle as her words. I stepped back, striking fiercely at a tear that scalded down my cheek.
Tilly made short work of getting Esther ready for bed. Bless her, she stepped back so I could draw the covers up over my beloved.
I leaned down and kissed her, and stroked her cheek. "Rest, now," I whispered. "I'll be back."
I turned. "Thank you, Tilly."
Tilly wiped something shiny and wet off her own cheek and nodded.

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Linn Keller 10-30-07

 

I was mad, pure and simple, mad clear through to my soul and down to my boot heels. Matter of fact my boot heels must have had a good bit of mad in them from the racket I made as I strode down the board walk.
I'd fallen into the measured pace of a marching soldier, something I did when I was intending to walk up on someone and rip their heart out by reaching down their throat first.
I stepped down to the street and looked around. Few people were around, and it was getting on toward evening, and I looked on down at Doc's office, and at the church beyond.
Not yet.
I crossed the street, headed for the Sheriff's office. I needed to check on the prisoner first.
Jackson was on his feet with a gentle expression on his face; he's lighted both lamps and the inside of the office glowed warmly. He nodded greeting.
"Sheriff," he said, "I'd like you to meet Annette Messman. She's come down from Denver to gather her brother's things."
"Of course," I said, removing my hat and extending my hand. "I am so very sorry for your loss."
Miss Messman was a wee slip of a thing, about shirt pocket tall on me, and looked much like a child trying to dress like a woman. She wore half-glasses like Susan often did, worn well down on her nose, and her eyes, though tired and uncertain as a young lady's will be in a strange place in difficult times, still held a sparkle that promised mirth, hidden in their blue depths.
"Thank you, Sheriff," she said, and her voice wasn't quite childlike. Maybe it was her diminutive build that made her seem so young.
I turned to a cabinet and withdrew a set of saddle bags. "These were his," I said, "and the saddle is in back. I put his effects in here, and wrote up an inventory list."
"Thank you, Sheriff," she said. "That is very kind of you."
"He'd also acquired a small remuda of cow ponies. Good stock, too; I took the liberty of converting them to cash, along with a herd of cattle he'd managed to put together." I put the saddle bags on my desk, unbuckled one and drew out a long buckskin pouch.
I poured the gold coins out on the desk.
Miss Messman's eyes showed surprise, then sadness.
"Their accounting is on the inventory sheet, rolled up in this saddlebag." I returned the gold to the buckskin and handed to her. I had no idea what her personal finances were, but a young lady can always use spending money, I thought.
She nodded. "Thank you," she whispered, and picked up the saddlebags. "I've taken a room at the Silver Jewel. Do you know if there is a library nearby?"
"A library?" Jackson and I looked at one another.
She smiled. "I'm a librarian, and this looks like a nice place to live."
Jackson said, "I'll find out," and winked at me.
Miss Messman raised her chin bravely and I opened the door for her.
"Sweet little girl," Jackson said softly.
"She was on the train today?"
He nodded. "Kind of toward the back. She sat beside Dr. Flint and saw it all happen." He pushed two sheets of paper across the desk at me.
I read the neat script and smiled. "She gives a good account. Concise and to the point."
"I thought so." He smiled. "You were busy and I didn't feel like writing all that much, so when she offered to write it down I took her up on it."
"Good notion."
Jackson shifted uncomfortably. "There is something else."
I raised an eyebrow.
He hooked his thumb toward the cells. "Prisoner's dead."
I sighed, shook my head.
"Right after I got here he asked for a drink of water. Next I went back, maybe an hour later, he was deader'n a whore's heart. Saw you were carryin' Esther to the Jewel and figured it wasn't the time to trouble you."
I nodded. "Obliged."
"What do you want put down for cause of death?"
I thought for a moment.
"Suicide."
"Eh?" Jackson stopped dead, honestly puzzled.
"If I watched him take a running jump off a cliff I wouldn't say the cliff killed him. I'd say his choice did. Him and the others chose to rob a car full of people who just wanted left alone, and who were willing to back that up. His choice killed him."
Jackson nodded. "Reckon that's about right, then."
"Seen Jake?"
Jackson shook his head.
I stood and picked up my hat. "Reckon I'd best find him."
"I'll be here long as you need me. Mind if I light the fire?"
"Kindling's laid, help yourself."

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Lady Leigh 10-30-07

 

St. Charles, Illinois

Bonnie entered the telegraph office and appoached the counter where she handed the clerk the slip of paper:

Linn. Is all well in Firelands? Nagging feeling. Please let me know. Bonnie

The clerk read over the message, "I'll send it right away, Mrs. Rosenthal and send the reply to you as soon as it is recieved."

"Thank you, Mr. Halles. I'll be at the house."

Bonnie turned and exited the building, with great hopes she wouln't have to wait long for a reply.

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Mr. Box 10-30-07

 

Things were pretty quiet at the bar this evening. Not many here and the ones with drinks weren't getting them finished before they went stale. No music, only a small amount of hushed conversation. I could leave for the night and nobody would notice. Everyone's mind was on Duzy and Esther. I decided to give a hand in the kitchen part of the time sine all of the ladies were somewhat involved or preoccupied, too. I'd just check back in at the bar once in a while to catch up. Nobody seemed to mind a little wait.

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Duzy Wales 10-30-07

 

Lee took Mildred into his arms, as they looked into each others brown eyes, so much like Duzy’s, and Mildred could see a glint of hope that hadn’t been there before. She had rested a little, but Lee hadn’t, and she asked him to rest while she went downstairs to get something to eat to keep their strength up. He agreed, knowing she was right, but first told her what Esther had done for Duzy. “Oh my, if I had known they could do that, I would have been right there!” “Me too, Darling, don’t you go fretting, it was my fault. I knew Duzy was in the doctor’s hands, and I wanted to get you taken care of, you have been through so much lately! Esther is strong, and Linn Keller is a good man, and he loves her Mildred; he will take good care of Esther.” They held each other tight as they both silently prayed for their daughter and gave thanks for everyone who was trying so hard to save her.

As Mildred opened the door to go downstairs, Daisy met her in the hallway with two plates full of food, vanilla coffee and sarsaparilla, not knowing what they would prefer, but knowing they would need nourishment. She had a small flask of the Daine boys moonshine, remembering Duzy telling her that her Papa drank it back East at times. “Now, now, Mrs. Wales, you just need to get right back there beside of your husband and let me take care of getting whatever else you need! My name is Daisy and I am a friend of Duzy’s.” Lee and Mildred thanked her, asking her to call them Lee and Mildred, and noticed that Daisy would be having a wee one of her own in a few months. Duzy’s parents were beginning to see why Duzy loved Firelands as each person they had met had been such delightful and friendly people.

After eating as much as they felt they could, they boxed the rest to eat later, and left to check on Esther. Afterward, they planned to go stay with Duzy. Just before leaving, Lee turned and had a sip of moonshine and Mildred did the same, thinking they needed to thank Daisy again for being so thoughtful. "Hmmm, that daughter of our's must have been talking about us for her to think of that," Lee stated with the first hint of a smile.

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Linn Keller 10-30-07

 

"Jake?" I laid a hand light on his shoulder.
Jake was staring sightlessly at the wall for some time now.
"Hm?" He turned to look at me, and he looked like a husk of a man, like a man with all the hope poured out of him.
"My watch. Go get a bite and get some sleep."
Jake looked over at Duzy. "I can't leave her."
"You're not leaving her. You're already in her heart."
Jake didn't respond.
"Jake, you know how hard headed and contrary Duzy can be."
Jake smiled, a little, and he nodded. "Oh, yes, she can be that," he agreed.
"She thinks the world of you, Jake."
Jake reached over and laid his other hand on Duzy's. His left hand was about numb from being in one position so long, but as long as he was beside her, he was going to hold her hand. He might not have the words to speak, but a touch can speak more volumes than the tongue can utter.
"G'wan now," I said, hooking a thumb toward the door. "And get a bath while you're out! Jacob's got plenty of wood split, they've got plenty of hot water, get a good bath and a good meal and have the kitchen send me over a plate." I looked down at Duzy. "And some broth if they have it, in case she wakes."
Jake nodded, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands, a man beyond exhaustion and about at the end of his endurance.
He stood.
He looked at Duzy, looked at the floor, looked at me.
"She can be pretty stubborn, can't she?" he smiled.
I grinned. "No more than you, my friend. You'll make a fine couple, standing in front of Reverend Baxter in your Sunday-go-to-meetins!"
Jake's expression was haunted. "Will we?" he whispered.
I clapped both his upper arms. "You're damned right you will!" I exhorted him. "Duzy has set her mind to it, and did you ever know her not to plow right ahead with something once she'd made her mind up?"
Jake smiled, slow, but broad, and he nodded. "Supper sounds pretty good, all right." He arched his back and grimaced. "You'll holler if anything happens?"
"Holler, hell," I said, "I'll raise Whoop-Jamboreeho itself!"
Jake chuckled and reached for his hat.

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Linn Keller 10-30-07

 

I drug the wood chair out of the sickroom and drug in a rocking chair I'd lugged down from the Jewel. If I was going to sit night watch I was damn well going to be comfortable.
I slid the chair up beside Duzy's bed and gave her a good lookin' over. Sue was there, with her own rocker, and she'd just tended to Duzy whilst I was out. I didn't figure it was decent to ask what she'd done.
I'd borrowed a pillow and set it down in the rocker, and worked my backside into it, and pulled it out and laid it up behind me.
That was better.
I worked myself around comfortable, and hung my hat on the knob sticking up off the back of the chair, and eased my hand under Duzy's.
It was still warm from where Jake had hold of it.
"Duzy," I said, quiet-like, "it's Linn. I sent Jake to go get a bath, for he was startin' to smell some."
I watched her face closely for some response.
Duzy's breathing was regular, and she wasn't nearly as pale as she'd been. I didn't see any great amount of blood nor infection on the fresh bandages Sue had tossed in the pail. I looked, just before she took it out and emptied it.
"The town's worried for you, Duzy," I said quietly. "Lee is a strong man and you can be proud of him, he's looking after Mildred like a man ought. He was here for a while, but then you know that already. I reckon you two got into a cut throat game of poker and you likely skinned him out of his socks."
Duzy didn't respond but Sue smiled, her dark blue eyes laughing at me over her spectacles.
I looked up at the ceiling, remembering how I'd laid on my back, up against the ceiling, and looked down at my own long tall carcass, back when I was shot.
I pointed a finger at the ceiling.
"Duzy, if you're up there, you get back down here where you belong!"
Duzy did not change expression.
I looked at the ceiling and shook my finger this time. "Young lady, you get down here, right now, before I take you over my knee and fan your backside!"
Duzy did not respond.
Sue gave me a tolerant smile.
I squeezed Duzy's hand, very gently.
"Duzy, I told Jake you and he would be standing up in your Sunday-go-to-meetin's."
Duzy never stirred.
"I told Jake you'd be standing up in front of Mr. Baxter."
Nothing.
"I should have said the Reverend Belden."
Susan giggled behind me.
"Now can you imagine, the two of you standing up to the bar and the Reverend Belden pours you both a shot of tequila and says "I now pronounce you man and wife, have a drink?"
I was trying hard to keep my voice light, but the longer Duzy didn't respond, the lower I sunk, at least until Duzy squeezed my hand, just a little, one long squeeze, and the barest hint of a smile.
I leaned back in my rocking chair and felt that knot in my gut start to unwind.
It was time to address the Almighty with something other than a panicked scream for help.
It was time to say "Thank You!"

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Mr. Box 10-31-07

 

I decided to stop by the livery first thing this morning before something else comes up. "Nelly, how are you doing, old girl? Looks like you're starting to go soft with all this town living. We need to get out and see some country pretty soon. How would you like to go out to the claim in a couple of days?"
I paid Shorty up again. "If there's any interest in those extra horses I'd let them go cheap. I'd let the tack go with them, too. I might as well keep that better looking one. I need to get out of town once in a while or I'll get as fat as Nelly is getting."

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Duzy Wales 11-2-07

 

Lee and Mildred knocked on Esther’s door, announcing who they were, so Esther wouldn’t have to get out of bed. “Come on in, come in!” Esther was already rising from the bed, with a beautiful smile, welcoming her only brother and his wife into the room. “Lee, Mildred, come over here and let me see you and I need a hug from both of you! I don’t want to get your hopes up, but I just had a wonderful dream that Duzy is getting better and I want to get over there as fast as I can!” “Esther you need your rest after giving blood to save Duzy! I declare you and that daughter of mine are going to send me to an early grave with all this talk of dreams and knowing the future!” Lee stated, hugging his sister. Humph, like you don’t know it’s true by now Lee,” Esther came right back at him, as Mildred hugged Esther. “I am here to see how you are and to thank you! It is so wonderful to see you again Esther! I have missed you so! It was hard losing both of you to come out here, but I did feel much better knowing you were together, as you have always looked out for Duzy,” Mildred said with sincerity and love in her voice.

“Lee, I believe Esther, and I am going on over to see Duzy. I am the only one who has had any rest.” Esther would you please stay here with Lee to catch up on things and I will report back to you just as soon as I know anything?” They agreed, although Esther would have put up much more of a fight or been on her way if she hadn’t thought Mildred needed some time with Duzy and she and Lee did have a lot to talk about.

With Tilly’s help, Mildred was soon at the doctor’s office and had introduced herself to Linn. “She squeezed my hand,” Linn said smiling, offering his chair to Mildred. Mildred took Duzy’s hand in hers and starting talking to her daughter as she and Linn talked about Esther just having the dream and how she was ready to get out of bed and be there herself! “That doesn’t surprise me!” Linn said, thankful that Mildred had talked her into staying in bed for awhile longer, but knowing it wouldn’t be long if he didn’t get word back to her soon.

“Mama?” It was only one word, but one that had Linn and Mildred smiling with joy as they both saw Duzy trying hard to open her eyes and then she lost consciousness again. Jake had quietly joined the two just in time to hear Duzy speak.

Jake walked over to the other side of the bed, reaching out with his right hand to stroke Duzy’s hair as he talked to her, asking her to please come back to them. “Duzy, I prayed for you to come back to me, and you know I have never been much of a praying man….I just didn’t know what else to do, I felt so helpless and lost without you!” Duzy stirred again, with a small smile on her face as she opened her eyes and looked around at three of the people she loved most in the world, before closing her eyes again. It didn’t last long, but it left them all with more hope than either had expected just a short time before.

Linn left to give Esther the news as Mildred and Jake stayed with Duzy, hopeful and thankful that she was still alive and would be back with them soon.

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Linn Keller 11-2-07

 

I contained myself long enough to get outside of Doc's office.
I had need to address the Almighty on this matter.
I closed the sickroom door quietly behind me, and cat footed across the varnished, waxed waiting room floor, and out the front door.
Nobody was on the board walk outside.
I looked up and down the street.
My eyes lit on the church, solid in the morning sun, white washed and looking like a church ought.
I'd spent time in front of the altar, in the past, in times of trouble or turmoil, and on the one hand it would be proper to express thanksgiving for today's blessings in those walls ... but I figured what I had to say, I'd ought to say to the Almighty outside, where I had room to say it properly.
I walked out in the middle of the packed dirt street, spinning my hat in my hand, and of a sudden I slung it edge-on, straight up, just as hard as I could, and drug in a big double lung full of air and loud as I could I screamed,

"YEAHOOOOOO!"

I'm sure the Almighty understood my heartfelt expression of absolute delight and thanksgiving.

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