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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 12-18-07

 

Women have a way of finding things out.
Esther walked back to the kitchen, looking for Linn.
Her trip down the hall was not particularly stealthy.
She stood in the doorway for a long moment, smiling, then very carefully, very quietly, walked back up the hallway.
History does not record the number of folks who slipped down the hall to take a look, but Fiddler Daine kept many of his drawings, and the one he cherished most in the years that followed was one of a graying old lawman, asleep in a rocking chair near the kitchen stove, with a little girl curled up and asleep on his lap, with a great furry pup asleep beside their rocking chair.

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Linn Keller 12-19-07

 

Festivities continued, for life on the frontier was often hard, and any excuse to celebrate was joyfully embraced: still, the revelers were but human, and one by one by one called it a night. Even Fiddler Daine, with his skinny, sinewy arm seemingly made of whalebone and rawhide, admitted that he too was getting kind of tired.
Miss Messman had been playing piano, with vigor and energy earlier in the evening, slower pieces as the night went on and the crowd tired down; now, with Fiddler Daine leaning back in his chair with a quiet smile on his face and his fiddle asleep in its case, she played a quiet good-night on the piano, a favorite piece her mother had played when she was a child, and it was time for good little girls and boys to go to sleep.
Caleb stood and stretched and grunted as a few miscellaneous pops and crackles relieved their joint strains, then he began looking for his wife, knowing she would not be far. He didn't think she'd gone upstairs -- he would have seen her pass in front of the polished, gleaming bar -- no sooner had he taken the first step in that general direction, than Esther stepped around the corner, a mischevious smile on her face, and she crooked a finger at him.
Puzzled, he attended her summons; obediently, he moved with stealth, at the behest of her finger laid on her pursed lips.
Together they slipped down the hall towards the kitchen.
Twain Dawg looked up, his tail beginning a slow caress of the spotless floor; his head came up and his tongue lolled out in greeting.
Caleb made a flat-handed gesture, one he'd used many times, and Twain Dawg obediently flattened himself on the floor, silent and unmoving, all but his button-bright eyes.
Caleb could not help but smile.
His grin would have been equally at home on the face of a poker player raking in a record pot.
Slowly, silently, he leaned over the Sheriff, slipping his hands under his daughter's arms.
Esther was on the other side of the rocking chair and gently lifted the Sheriff's hands.
Sarah cuddled into her Papa's chest, comforted by the familiar warmth and smell of her father, and gave a contented little sigh, one arm going over his left shoulder, the other hanging limp.
Esther held her husband-to-be's hands, and looked at his face, and smiled, for he was smiling in his sleep, and she could see his eyes moving under his closed eyelids, and his hands closed gently on hers.
Esther eased down onto her knees and looked over at Bonnie.
Bonnie, with the wonderful prescience of a mother for her child, had wakened the moment Caleb's hands slipped around Sarah's ribs.
Bonnie rose, silent, fully awake, and with a smile for Esther, followed her husband and daughter out of the kitchen, and upstairs to their room, Twain Dawg remaining beside the Sheriff's rocking chair.
The Sheriff, asleep, dreamed ...
Her hair was like ripe corn silk, he thought, and her eyes as blue as an Arizona sky.
Dana ran to her Papa, arms outstretched, eyes fever-bright, and he snatched her up and spun her around and she laughed, that high-pitched, happy laugh of a delighted child, and he could see her mother's laugh in the tilt of her head, and he drew her into his arms and she hugged him around the neck ...
He had hoped to shed out of the hated Union blue before getting home, wanting to put that damned war forever behind him, but he had no clothes to change into.
He hoped that his wife and daughter would at least recognize him.
He slept that night in a rocking chair, with his little girl on his lap, little Dana holding her Papa, hot with fever and beginning to speckle with the death-sentence that had taken her Mama not a week before.
The Sheriff groaned in his sleep, his hands tightening on Esther's. She squeezed back, and he relaxed, and dreamed ....
Connie stood before him, in her wedding gown, young and beautiful, just the way he remembered her.
She handed him a flower, a single red rose, and he took it, and Connie smiled and tilted her head, and the rose turned into a scroll, and he unrolled it, and in Connie's flowing script he read, Marry her, and be happy,and the mist rolled in off the lake, and she was gone, she was gone ...
Esther drew a dainty, embroidered kerchief from her sleeve and pressed it carefully, gently against Linn's closed eyes, one, then the other; he woke, tears rolling down both cheeks, and he leaned forward, going to his knees and gathering Esther in his arms.
She held him, not knowing what had happened, her intuition telling her to hold him, just hold him, and she did.
He took a long, shuddering breath, and drew back, finger tips on her shoulders.
"It's all right," he said, smiling a little, his voice steady. "It's all right now."

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Linn Keller 12-19-07

 

It was a night when ghosts walked, and touched sleepers' minds, and dreamed them dreams.
Duzy lay with one arm outstretched, as if to welcome a lover, and her eyes, too, moved beneath closed lids ...
Tall he was, and slender, and he sat a chestnut mare, and sat her well.
Duzy smiled, thinking how good he looked in that blue officer's uniform.
She saw an old woman, and the old woman looked at Duzy, and the knowing was upon her, this was a witch, an old mountain witch, a woman wise in the way of herbs and healing and things men know not, and the old woman seized the young officer's hands, and turned them over, and turned them again, and she felt their heat as if she herself held his hands ...
Hot hands, she thought, a Healer's hands!
She saw the old woman hand him something written, and Duzy knew this was wrong, wrong ... no, not wrong, but very odd ...

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Linn Keller 12-19-07

 

Esther's eyes were deep and lovely and she was looking at me the way a woman does when ... well, I reckon she could look at me like that if she wanted.
I surely was not objecting.
I know I was tin cup over apple cart in love for this woman and it sure looked like she felt the same way about me.
"Dearest?" I asked quietly.
"Yes?" Esther said in the kitchen's hush.
"How did I end up here on the floor?"
Esther smiled. "The same way I did."
I probably looked as puzzled as I felt, for Esther laughed, gently, not wanting to disturb the nighttime quiet.
"Caleb came in and took Sarah, and I drew your hands off her so he could pick her up."
I smiled at the memory of Sarah, asleep in my arms, and looked over at the empty chair. "Bonnie?"
"She's upstairs with them."
"How late is it?"
"It's late."
"How long have you been down on your prayer bones?"
"As long as you have." She reached up and laid her hand against my cheek. "You were dreaming."
I closed my eyes and shivered.
Dreaming.
I nodded.
"You said it was all right now...?"
I took a deep breath, nodded. "All is well, my dear. It was a goodbye, and a blessing."
Esther smiled a little, wrinkling her brow in curiosity. "I don't understand."
I stood, with an effort, and helped Esther to her feet. "Have you a shawl handy?" I reached for my hat, and Twain Dawg leaped to attention, fairly quivering with eagerness.
I looked down. "Need to go outside, fella?"
Twain Dawg's expression was plainly delighted.
Esther smiled. "My shawl is just out here."
"Let's walk."
The desk was untenanted, the bar closed, all but two lamps had been put out for the night. Twain Dawg slipped out ahead of us, bounding off the boardwalk and down the street so he could salute the horse trough.
Esther took my arm and we walked down the street toward the church.
"My dear, you remember my telling you I was married before?"
"Yes, I remember."
"I dreamed of Dana, and of Connie."
Esther felt the dampness of the kerchief she'd tucked back up into her sleeve and nodded.
"It was as if they came to say goodbye."
"Have they not gone?"
I looked up at the church steeple, then back down to Esther.
"It's not so much they haven't left, as I hadn't let go."
Esther's eyes were soft in the moonlight. "You loved them, didn't you?"
"More than life itself," I said quietly. "I loved them as a young man full of fire loves his wife and child."
Esther lay a gentle hand on my chest and said nothing.
I brushed the hair back from her forehead. "I'm not so full of fire these days."
Esther smiled, and then chuckled: running a finger inside my shirt and tugging it a bit, she said "Oh, I think I can fan the flames into life."
I drew her hand from my chest to my lips and kissed her knuckles. "My dear!" I chided, "are you thinking improper thoughts?"
I have seen the flash of a Spanish girl's eyes when she was attracted to a lover, and that was the same look Esther gave me: one look, speaking volumes.
I shivered a little, and it wasn't from the cold.
"Not long now," I whispered, wrapping my arms around her and holding her close. "Not long."
"Mmm, I love this," Esther murmured. "You are nice and warm!"
"I'm better than a warm brick."
"Really?" She smiled. "We'll see what you say when I put my cold feet in the middle of your back!"
I made as distressed a face as I could muster, and Esther laughed, and her laugh was like water running in a mountain creek.
"Let's get you inside and up to bed," I said.
Esther's hand was warm on my cheek. "How much longer before you can get us to bed?" Esther smiled wickedly.
"Soon," I whispered. "Very soon!"
"You could come upstairs with me ...?"
I sighed. She knew what my answer would be, and she knew that I knew, and she teased me anyway.
"I should turn you over my knee and spank your behind," I warned her.
"You're welcome to try," she said pertly, hands on her hips and a look in her eyes that said Try it, I'll like it, unless I break your neck for trying!
I opened the door to the Jewel, and Twain Dawg's toenails were loud on the boardwalk as he gallumphed in behind us.
I saw Esther to her door, and lingered long with our parting kiss.
Twain Dawg scratched at a door, and was admitted; I drew Esther's door shut, and settled the hat on my head, and walked quietly down the spotless staircase.
I would make one last pasear around town before heading for my own bunk.
I grinned in the dark.
I had yet to sleep in that fancy new four poster bed I'd had freighted in from Cincinnati. Jacob was bunking in the Jewel, but I was restless being away from the Sheriff's office, and had gone back to sacking out on the folding cot, where folks could find me if need be.
I pulled off my boots and laid down fully dressed, and drew the blanket over me.
Likely this is about the last night I'll be sleeping here, I thought.
I don't reckon I will get a bit of sleep tomorrow night ... likely I'll end up pacing the streets, like Parson Belden did ...
I smiled up at the ceiling.
Nah. Rose o' the Mornin' wouldn't mind being out late. Let her pace for me. I think better in the saddle.
Tomorrow would be my last day as a single man.
I would lose the utter freedom of a bachelor, but I would gain so much more, so very much more ...

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Linn Keller 12-20-07

 

Maude carried the lamp upstairs.
She smiled as she looked at the roses, tall and strong and green, nurtured in rope-handled wooden buckets, coaxed to beauty and bloom with the sun in the windows and proximity to a friendly stove, and careful watering.
It had been WJ's idea, and he'd carried the roses upstairs to their extra room, surreptitiously dug from the flowerbed beside the church, transplanted in the enriched dirt, ranked near the windowsills, a surprise for his friend.
There will be plenty of roses, Maude thought, and smiled sadly.
Perhaps I could keep a plant or two, to cheer me through the winter, she thought.

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Duzy Wales 12-20-07

 

Morning came and Jake and Jackson Cooper were at the jail at first light. They had already planned to take on all the duties of Sheriff Keller until he was back from his honeymoon with Esther. They knew they would have to convince Linn that Firelands would still be intact when he returned, as he took his job as seriously as he did everything else, and were ready to use anything at their disposal to do so. Duzy and Emma had advised the men to use Esther as the deciding factor, knowing that pleasing Esther would sway the hard headed but kind hearted Sheriff. After a few rounds of polite conversation, and coffee, Jake asked Linn to sit back down in his chair as they needed to talk to him. Sheriff Keller was not a man to take orders lightly, not even by two friends, but after offering to do it as a wedding gift so he could keep his promise to take Esther on a trip, Linn relented and deputized Jackson Cooper.

Duzy and Emma had been outside listening to the conversation and Duzy winked at Emma and said, “Emma, I think he may have protested too much, as it seems this is just what he wanted in the first place!” Laughing, both ladies walked on past the sheriff’s office to find Bonnie. Duzy had a wedding to plan too, and had wondered if Bonnie had brought the dress she had dreamed of. She knew in her heart that it had to be true, but Bonnie was surely keeping her waiting and guessing, as she had not mentioned the dress at all.

Jake was the first to ride the perimeters of Firelands, much as he and Sheriff Keller did each day, taking turns and being ever watchful for anyone who looked like trouble for the little town. Not seeing anything, he turned to go back to the Silver Jewel to find Duzy and let Jackson know that everything seemed to be fine. Jake couldn’t help his lopsided grin when he thought of his bride to be, for he felt like the luckiest man alive. There was only one problem that had been nagging him, stuck in the back of his head, and as hard as he tried to ignore it, he knew he had to face it and talk to Duzy about it.

The fact was, he loved the work he was doing, and he had always been a lawman of sorts, even though his former work had been more covert and at a federal level, he still needed the intrigue, the outdoors, the feeling that he was making the world a safer place for those in it, and damned if he thought he could be cooped up all day in a newspaper office! Duzy had assumed he would be running the presses while she did the journalistic work, with Miss Messman helping with the editing, but for the life of him, he felt as if it would stifle him. When she had first mentioned the idea, she had been hanging on for her life, and he would have promised to go to hell and back for her, and had went along with the idea, but now, he thought it was time that they discuss it again.

Wondering how Duzy would take the news, especially after everything had been ordered to open the office and the building was being prepared; it was with some trepidation that he entered the Silver Jewel. His breath caught as he stopped and watched Duzy walking down the steps in a sapphire blue silk day dress, her dark hair pulled up, with a few strands that curled around her face, her brown eyes sparkling under the matching hat, her creamy white skin peeking above the bodice of the gown, and damned if it didn’t look like his hands could reach around her waist and he wondered how he could disappoint her! He felt the need to carry her upstairs, undo her hair, run his fingers through it, and kiss her from head to toe until her body was on fire for him. He knew her passionate nature and knew how she would respond and it took all his self control to greet her with a kiss and simply tell her how lovely she looked.

“Hello Darlin’, how was your morning?” Duzy asked looking at him with love in her eyes and what looked like desire as well, as her eyes scanned his body mischievously, and then returned to his eyes. “What is it Jake? You look worried!”

“Don’t you start fretting, Duzy, there is nothing wrong, we do need to discuss something, or I should say, I need to talk to you about something. But, first, tell me about your morning, did you and Emma find Bonnie?"

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Lady Leigh 12-20-07

 

Bonnie approached her dearest friend and fingered the blue fabric that made up the gown Duzy was wearing, "This is stunning on you Duzy!"

Smiling and then hugging Bonnie, "Where have you been hiding?"

Chuckling, Bonnie responded, "This isn't the only wedding that has been on my mind, you silly goose! And as a result, I can't tell you .... you'll just have to wait a little bit longer .... Now tell me, what is on your mind?"


Meanwhile, Sarah and Twain Dawg found themselves in the threshold of The Merchantile, "Wait here, Twain Dawg. I'll be right back!" Sarah closed the door behind her.

SHe looked toward the two men wearing white aprons, and both were standing by the pickle barrel, that now presented itself on the other side of the window from it's warmer days.

"Bill, that was a terrible move!"

"What do ya expect, Mac? I can only take a moment er two to make up my mind these days! What with a helpin Maude, I don't get a chance to conscentrate like I us't ta!"

"That's only an excuse, an ya knows it, Bill!

Out of the corner of Mac's eye, he saw blond ringlets resting on a brown tweed coat, and a smile broke out within the wrinkles on his face. He nudged Bill in the ribs, and nodded toward Sarah, who in turn skipped toward the two and promptly gave each a hug.

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Linn Keller 12-20-07

 

I must have slept more soundly than I realized.
Jake was stoking the pot belly stove when I swam up through the dark sea of unconsciousness and opened my eyes.
"Morning, Boss," Jake greeted me heartily. "You must have been wore plumb out. You didn't even stir when I eased the door open."
"Should never have oiled them hinges," I muttered, tossing back the blanket and swinging my legs over the side of the cot.
"If you hadn't, I would've," a familiar voice chuckled, and I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. Blinking, I squinted toward the front door, and grinned.
I thrust one sock foot into my left boot and grabbed the dog ears to haul them on. "Jackson Cooper, I been tryin' to catch up with you!" I declared.
Jackson Cooper grinned, that familiar grin I'd known for so many years. I'll swear, when that man gets old and wrinkled he'll have that same grin, I don't care how wizened he gets!
"Yeah, I know," he nodded, his ears turning red, "but ... oh, hell, Sheriff, married life agrees with me!"
My right foot seated solidly into its leather house and I stood. "You look the better for it, too. Don't you think so, Jake? A little more... relaxed?"
Jake closed the door on the stove, stuck the crank in its belly and shook down the ashes. "Oh, I dunno. He's as homely as ever."
Jackson threw his head back and laughed. "Jake, it wouldn't be near so bad if you weren't right!"
We laughed together.
Jake had brought in a fresh bucket of water and proceeded to fill the coffee pot. "Boss, we wanted to ask you somethin'."
"Yeah, I want to ask you two somethin' myself, but you go first."
Surprised, the two looked at each other, and a look passed between them.
They were up to something.
This is ugly on my face, it's not stupid, and I know plotters when I see them.
"All right, out with it," I demanded. "What have you two been up to?"
"Just the same as when you was with Chauncey," Jackson Cooper muttered, shaking his head with a chuckle. "Can't get away with nothin'!"
I clapped my hand on Jake's shoulder. "Jake, my friend, you went to war on my behalf in nothing more than your Union Suit when I lay a-bleedin' at this self-same doorway," I declared. "And Jackson Cooper, you sided me back in Athens County even before I wore a star. You're both fit to ride the river with and I trust you with my life. Now you've got somethin' on your minds and you're in it together, so let's have it!"
"Maybe you better sit down for this," Jake said quietly.
Cold water ran right down my back bone.
I walked over to my desk and drew the chair out, standing for a long moment and girding my strength about me.
"Is it Esther?" I asked quietly, dread heavy in my voice.
Jackson Cooper's chin about hit the floor and Jake looked like he was ready to fall through it. "Good Lord, man, NO!" Jake blurted, and Jackson Cooper began to laugh, and so did I, and poor Jake's face turned red and he began to chuckle and directly the three of us were making the sound of a chicken laying a paving brick.
Once we got our breath we wiped our eyes and took a deep one and I cocked my head and said "Okay, since you won't ask me let me ask you."
Jackson Cooper held up a forestalling hand. "No, Sheriff, we asked first. How about we watch the town while you're tending to Miz Esther?"
Laughter bubbled up again in my throat and I had some real difficulty mustering a straight face as I repeated, "Tend Miz Esther?"
"Why, of course," Jake jumped in with an expression of utter innocence. "Women-folks dote on being tended to, y'see, like they was a rare and precious flower in a warm flower bed."
I swung my chair around. "So I should put her in a bed and feed her second hand horse feed?"
"Nah, she's used to that already," Jackson Cooper said with a perfectly straight face "Anyone that's around you is used to second hand horse feed!"
It was my turn to lead the laughter, and I did, and the bandannas were pressed into service again.
"Jackson Cooper, that wouldn't be near so bad if you weren't right this time!"
Cotton was rubbed against the dampness exuding from six inner canthes. I'm sure our hysterics were audible to the county line. It felt good to laugh, with good friends, brothers of the badge.
"Now let me understand you," I said when I had wind enough to talk again. "You two want me to grab my lovely lady and just skedaddle out of town."
"Yep."
"You want me to forget completely about my sworn duty and just head out someplace with nothing on my mind but treating Miz Esther like she was a flower."
"Did we say that?" Looks of feigned innocence were exchanged.
"Fellas, I'd planned to ask the two of you if you could tend that very detail, and for that very reason."
"Good!" Jake declared. "Sheriff, you've got a conscience as big around as a church and tall as a shot tower, and we was fearful it would take an act of Congress, or at least a fryin' pan swung by several of the ladies, to convince you we can run the show in your stead!"
I leaned back in my chair. "Fellas, I'll be real honest. I can't think of anyone else I'd trust with the job. You two take 'er and go, and my blessings on you!"
"Good!" Jake drew himself to attention, cracking his heels together and snapping me a salute. "Sir, I relieve you!"
I rose, came to attention and cracked my heels together, returning his salute. "Sir, I stand relieved!"
Jackson Cooper sat there and muttered, "You better not expect me to do that!"
"I'll tell you what I do expect," I said quietly, my tone serious and my face matching my tone. "You two be careful. I don't want neither of you hurt. I don't make friends that easy and I hate funerals."
"Why, Boss," Jake said, blinking, "I'd hate to be guest of honor at a funeral my own self! That would just plainly ruin my day!"
I nodded. "Good enough. How soon you two figure to take over?"
"Right now's good."
I nodded. "Thank you," I said quietly. "I do appreciate this."
I walked over to the rack and took down my rifle, the '73 Esther had engraved for me, and gave me for a wedding present the night the outlaws hit town. "I was hoping for a day to get ready. This'll give me enough of a day to tend what little remains to be done." I looked from one to the other of them. "I was in a quandary as to who to ask to be my best man."
They two nodded.
"I was afeared whoever I asked, a half dozen others would take exception and there would be a fist fight, and I didn't want that."
They two nodded solemnly.
"I have asked Jacob to stand with me for this fine day."
The both grinned broadly. Jackson Cooper looked relieved, and they both voiced their support of the decision.
"Now that you two have the town -- have y'all eaten? I'm buyin'!"

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Charlie MacNeil 12-20-07

 

The grapevine was working overtime. Fannie first heard about the wedding after her last performance in Omaha. She didn't hear the specifics of date and time, only that it would be taking place soon. She dashed to the telegraph office.

Linn and Esther wedding soon stop Get your suit pressed stop

Charlie heard almost as soon as Fannie did, but from a different source. Lawmen could gossip like farmer's wives, and did so on a regular basis. Charlie heard about the battle on the train from a town marshal down on the Strip then he heard about Duzy being hurt from a county deputy in west Texas. The next thing he heard, from a Ranger over north of Tucson, was that the wedding was on and he even heard what he thought might be the date. So he cabled Sean and found out from the big Irishman that the date he'd heard was right. He already had his suit pressed in anticipation of Fannie contacting him.

Charlie met the train from Omaha. When Fannie stepped, or rather swept, down from the parlor car with the conductor fawning over her and every eye on the platform pointing her way, he felt his heart swell like it always did when he saw her. "How you doin', sugar?" her lilting voice said. She reached out and took both of his hands in hers and gave him that smile. Over her shoulder he could see the envy in the eyes of every man on the platform.

"I'm fine, now," he said with a smile of his own. "The sunshine has done come back to town." He lifted her hands and kissed them.

"Now what kind of a greeting is that?" she asked with a saucy tilt of her head. She reached up and grabbed the back of his neck in both hands and pulled his face down to hers for a proper kiss, one that seemed to freeze time.

A matronly woman with a face like she'd just bit into a sour pickle standing nearby sniffed and said, "Well I never!" in a disapproving tone.

Fannie broke the kiss, giggled, and said, "Maybe if you had at some time, you might be a little more cheerful!" She slipped her hand into the crook of Charlie's elbow and said, "Try it some time. You might like it. But not with this man, he's mine." She turned Charlie and they marched in step off of the platform, followed by one of the baggage handlers and a cart full of luggage. Behind the couple the woman stood aghast with her mouth hanging open, staring around at the men, and women, on the platform who were trying their level best not to burst out laughing, then stomped off in a huff. It appeared that Laramie, or at least part of it, wasn't quite ready for Fannie Kikinshoot.

"Are you packed and ready to go?" Fannie asked as they went down the street toward Erma Benson's boarding house. "The wedding could be any time."

"Any time, as you put it, is the day after tomorrow, in the afternoon," Charlie told her smugly. "And I've been ready to go for a week, just waiting for you to get here."

Fannie slapped him lightly on the arm. "How did you find out?" she asked. "I've done everything but wire Duzy. I didn't want to bother her."

"I've got connections," he said. She grimaced and stuck her tongue out at him. He grinned and stuck his out right back. "And I've got train tickets. We're out of here first thing in the morning. Don't wanna be late, you know. So don't unpack everything you brought." She gave him a mock salute then broke out laughing.

"Yes sir, whatever you say, sir."

They stepped up on the porch of the boarding house and Missus Benson met them at the door. She gave Fannie a hug then motioned her inside. When Charlie started to follow, Erma Benson put her hand on his chest and stopped him. "Federal marshal or no, you know the rules, Mister MacNeil. You two aren't married, so you stay out. I'll see she gets settled." She shooed him away.

As he turned to go he said, "We're on the seven o'clock train in the morning, Missus B. Would you mind seeing that she's ready?"

"You can pick her up at this very same door, Charlie," Erma told him. "Now go on with you." Fannie was grinning over Erma's shoulder at him and he shook his finger at Fannie and mouthed, "I'll get you for this." Fannie just smiled wider and he went on down the street. Erma watched him go then stepped inside and closed the door.

"You shouldn't torture that man like that," Erma told Fannie. They both burst out laughing. "Come on, I'll show you to your room and have Eli bring up your bags."

Charlie was up at first light the next morning. He dressed carefully in new trousers and a freshly washed muslin shirt. His black vest and new gray hat went on after his freshly polished boots. The vest was cut a little fuller on the left side, under his arm, to make room for the holster he put on under the vest. A derringer went into each lower vest pocket and a silver watch chain with an elk tooth in the middle swung between the upper pockets. He slipped on a wool houndstooth check jacket and examined his reflection in the mirror. He fluffed up his puff tie and told the man looking back at him, "My, my, my, don't you look the dandy." He looked at the watch. "Time to go." He picked up his carpetbag and went out, locking the door behind him.

At Erma's he stepped up on the porch and made his way through the maze of luggage piled there. Surely that couldn't all be Fannie's, could it? He tapped on the door and Erma swung it open. Before he could say a word she said, "She'll be here in a minute." Actually it was only a few seconds.

Fannie stepped out on the porch and gave him a demure peck on the cheek. "Did you sleep well, Charlie?" she asked mischievously.

"Not bad at all," he said calmly. "And yourself?"

"I had a wonderful night," Fannie said seriously.

"But I will get you for this," Charlie said under his breath. She smiled calmly at him.

"I know. I can hardly wait," she said just as quietly.

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Charlie MacNeil 12-20-07

 

When the train got them to Firelands and they stepped down on the platform Sean was there to meet them. He grabbed Charlie in a bear hug. “Ye’ve got adjoinin’ rooms at the Jewel,” he said with a wink. He turned on the porter. “You there, see that the luggage gets where it’s goin’, and be quick about it. We’ve a need for some celebration.” He turned and gave Fannie an equally enthusiastic hug, nearly dislodging her carefully pinned hat. “Ah Miss Fannie, ye’re a sight. This town’s been too quiet lately.”

“Quiet can be our friend,” Charlie told him.

“Aye, but this quiet is too much, if ye take my meanin’,” the big Irishman said. “It needs some of the livenin’ up that Miss Fannie can bring. Come on, let’s us go for a drink.”

“We’d kind of like our being here to be somewhat of a surprise, if that’s possible,” Charlie told Sean.

“We’ll see about that,” Sean answered. “I can’t be guaranteein’ anything, but we’ll see.” He winked at Charlie again. “Mayhap we can keep it a secret ‘til mornin’, anyway.” He clapped Charlie on the shoulder, nearly putting him off his feet, and said, “Let’s be off.”

The trio made their way to the Jewel and by some sleight of hand that Charlie never did figure out Sean got him and Fannie into the hotel undetected by any of their friends in the town. They had discussed it and decided to wait until the day of the wedding to announce their presence. That would give them some time together before they waded into the middle of the festivities.

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Lady Leigh 12-20-07

 

"Caleb?"

"Hmm?"

Bonnie and Caleb were nestled in bed. The fires embers were still glowing in the fireplace in their room. As usual, Bonnie was having trouble falling asleep ... Caleb, on the other hand, didn't have problems falling asleep ever. Bonnie's head was resting on Caleb's shoulder, while her long auburn hair spilled out over his bare chest.

"I was talking to Daisy today."

"And how is Daisy?" Caleb was fully awake at this point .... Bonnie did a lot of chattering at night these days.

"She said she didn't show as fast I am ...."

"Maybe because you are both built differently."

"Well, if that's the case, I am taller than she is. That would mean I have more room for a baby. That also means I shouldn't start showing so fast."

"Well, Bonnie," as Caleb pulled her closer, "I don't mind one bit that you are showing!" He put his hand tenderly upon Bonnie's belly. A hand so full of warmth and love.

"I love you Bonnie Rosenthal ...."

Bonnie rolled over onto Caleb and planted a kiss at the crook of Caleb's neck ..... there wouldn't be any more talking this night ..... not much sleeping either ...

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Duzy Wales 12-20-07

 

Duzy hugged Bonnie close and then stepped back to look at her. She looked beautiful and was glowing with happiness. Their eyes met and Duzy knew that Bonnie knew why she was there and was enjoying teasing her about it.

“What do you have on your mind?” Bonnie had asked, and Duzy felt guilty for a moment that she was thinking of her own wedding when Aunt Esther’s and Linn’s was first on everyone else’s mind, but she still spied the box in the corner and wanted to open it, hold it up to her, try it on, see if it was the dress in her dream, but she bit back that desire and decided it best to keep quiet for the moment.

Quiet wasn’t exactly the word, as Emma, Bonnie and Duzy caught up with each other’s lives since they had last seen each other. Duzy told Bonnie about being shot, Emma spoke of the play the children were giving at the church for Christmas and that she had saved a spot for Sarah as an Angel. Bonnie told them how she had told Caleb that they were having a baby. So much had happened that the morning flew by as they filled each other in on all the details.

“Will Fannie be here Duzy?” “No, I am afraid I haven’t been able to locate her, I was in bed most of the time, but I surely wish she could have come!”

Sarah came skipping back in from visiting Bill and Mac at the mercantile, with Twain Dawg right at her heels.

“Mama said you had to wait for your surprise, Auntie Duzy, but you will look beautiful in it, it is….!”

“Sarah, we can’t tell her or it will not be a surprise.”

“Sorry Mama, I forgot for a minute." Bonnie smiled at Sarah and said, "I do not know which of you is the most impatient about that box, you or Duzy!"

Duzy gave Sarah a big hug and said, “I hope to be at your wedding someday Sarah, and you will be the most beautiful bride ever!”

“Do you really think so?” Sarah said with her eyes shining, reminding Duzy of a Carolina sky, and she couldn’t help but wonder how it would feel to be a Mother and see her own daughter wed.

“I know so, but we are here to celebrate Auntie Esther’s and Uncle Linn’s big day and we still have much to do.” The ladies agreed to meet at midday to visit with Mildred and Esther and see if there was anyway they could help or think of last minute details.

Duzy walked downstairs to the bar to say good morning to Fred and was soon surrounded by Santos and Eduardo, both flashing smiles that would charm any lady, as they were so very handsome in their Spanish attire, giving Duzy flashbacks of the dashing pirates and Spanish aristocracy she had read about in her many books.

¡Senorita Wales, que bajo de párrafos de los quisieramos de del amor y del tequila de le entendemos usted pais del nuestro del en de los hicimos del alguno del intente!”

“¡Gracias mucho! ¡Amaría intentarlo!”

Santos had just begun to translate for his brother and laughed when he found it unnecessary to tell the beautiful young woman that they wished for her to try their tequila and was thrilled that she was happy to do so. Duzy promised to try the amber liquid later in the day. Firecracker Mel walked over and with her hands on her hips, and a pouty look on her face, and after giving Duzy a conspirator’s wink, she commenced to inform the brother’s that she was feeling very neglected! Eduardo almost fell out of his chair to get by her side and both brothers looked distressed until Duzy and Mel both burst out laughing.

Duzy had felt uneasy on her stomach and had put off drinking the tequila until she had something to eat, not mentioning that fact to anyone, but instead excusing herself to go to Daisy’s Kitchen to have a bite of toast.

As Duzy was eating the toast, she thought of the good news she had for Jake and hoped it would make whatever was bothering him feel better. Duzy’s Papa had hired a staff to run the newspaper, coming to Firelands from an already established paper back east, “The Raleigh Democrat.” Lee had convinced Duzy that although the “Democrat” was somewhat political in nature that she would have complete control over what was published. Duzy had many political things she wished to write about, to research, learn, and investigate to be sure she had the truth and then to print all points of view, never confusing politics and journalism.

Duzy thought prohibition was a foolish mistake, and that you could not make laws to keep humanity moral, first because it wouldn’t work and most importantly because the state and church were separate, as they should be. Women needed the right to vote and hold office nationwide. Women and children should both be taught how to handle guns and to protect themselves, as they were left alone much of the time, and Duzy thought that a class in self protection for the ladies and children in the town would be a fun and useful thing to do. She believed that immigrants were to be welcomed, as diversity was important, and should never be used as slave labor, as many young Asian women were being sold into prostitution in the west on a regular basis. She could go on an on about her views on many issues, and would ask for and want Jake’s input, but running the presses of a newspaper office was not what was best for her lawman and she was looking forward to giving him the news.

Duzy had eaten and went upstairs to freshen up and had just started down the steps when she had met Jake. She told Jake about her morning and suddenly felt lightheaded. Jake noticed immediately and had her sit down. “Duzy, darlin’, do you think you need to see Doctor Greenlees or Doctor Flint?”

“I think it is probably all the excitement, Jake, and I want to hear what you have on your mind. I have some news for you too, but you please go first, as I can tell you are worried. Mine is good news and can wait until we discuss yours.”

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Linn Keller 12-20-07

 

I was halfway across the street when the air split with a most un-ladylike whistle.
Puzzled, I turned.
Maude was waving at me from the General Store, beckoning me with a grin on her face.
Now I was puzzled.
I followed her inside. She was holding something in, something that tickled her just a'mighty, I could see, but she was well schooled in holding her tongue until she'd gained some measure of control over herself.
She almost had herself under control when she couldn't hold it in any longer, and she laughed.
I stood there with rifle in one hand and my hat in the other and I know I had the dumbest look on my face, for Maude's face turned the color of a rotten strawberry and she pulled her apron up to wipe her eyes and leaned her ample backside against the counter, and she looked at me, and began to laugh again.
Laughter is contagious and I could not help but grin myself.
Finally I went over to poor Maude and laid a hand on her shoulder and said, "Maude, if you don't come up for air you're going to suffocate," which only sent her further into convulsions, and finally she commenced to cough, and she waved her hand in front of her face and straightened up and wiped her eyes and shook her head.
Apparently she didn't trust herself to voice yet, as she crooked her finger at me and headed upstairs.
I realized that however puzzled I was back on the street, I was really curious now!
We came out in a short hallway and Maude opened a door and the smell of roses came rolling out to greet us.
There were a half dozen buckets, each with the loveliest, healthiest roses I'd ever seen in my life, ranked neatly on shelves in front of the windows, where they could get plenty of sun, but they would be almost unnoticeable from the street.
I stood there with a big idiot grin on my face and I finally went over to the nearest and leaned over and gave it a sniff, and looked up, and Maude had this quiet smile on her face, and she was starting to sniffle a bit.
She'd just gone from laughter to grief in a heartbeat's span.
I leaned my rifle up against the door frame and gathered her up in my arms and she leaned into me and tried real hard not to cry, not that trying did any good; the dam had broke and tears were running.
I just stood and held her, knowing somehow that's what she needed.
She finally come up for air and I handed her my bandana, which was a little damp on one corner from our spell of merriment not but a few minutes ago in the Sheriff's office; she wiped her eyes, dabbed her cheeks and blew her nose with vigor -- so much so, in fact, that she viewed the result with distaste, thrust the used cotton in her apron pocket and said "I'll get you a fresh one" -- then she turned and waved a wrinkled hand at the roses.
"This was WJ's wedding present," she whispered hoarsely. "He was so happy to steal from the church's flower bed one dark night and pack these up here. He knew somehow they would be bloomed out and ready for you, and here they are."
"I'll be damned," I said quietly. "Maude, thank you."
"I'd like to keep one of them. WJ always delighted in the roses there at the church, and if I can keep one of them green through winter, it'll remind me of WJ sneaking up here every night to water them and chuckle about his surprise."
I nodded. "I think that's a fine idea, Maude!"
"I expect you'll recruit that sweet little girl to scatter rose petals down the aisle, or something of the kind?"
"Oh, I reckon she'll get recruited, all right," I replied, "but I don't know what they've got her lined up to do."
"For heaven's sake, if someone has to carry the rings, don't put no little boy up to the job!" Maude drew herself up with dignity and indigination. "I was to a wedding once where a little boy had been told he would carry the rings, and nobody should get them. He took his job seriously and he wouldn't let the preacher nor the groom neither one have them!"
I laughed. "Maude! You're not pullin' my leg?"
"No, sir, I'm not!" Maude replied stoutly. "There was another weddin' that same summer, and the rings fell off the satin pillow when another little boy was carryin' it down the aisle, and someone suggested the rings be sewed in place -- you know, just one tack loop with a free end so you could pull the end and it's free?"
I nodded. I'd seen that done with a ring tied in place with a slip knot in a ribbon.
"Well, the mother in law didn't much care for the girl her boy was a-marryin' so she sewed the rings down, all right. She run a double stitch clear around 'em both, and they had to borrow a knife out of the congregation to cut 'em free!"
We shared a laugh on that one.
"No, Maude, I figured to let Jake carry the ring."
"Just one ring?" Maude asked.
I blinked, confused. "Well heavens sakes, Maude, I already got her that fancy diamond ring. That, and a wedding band, ain't that enough?"
"What about you, though? You're a good-lookin' man! Why, some sweet doxy might look at you and figure you're eligible unless you're wearin' a ring too!"
I shook my head. "Maude, anyone that falls for someone homely as me needs their eyes checked."
Maude gave me a wise look. "I see Miz Esther does wear spectacles."
"Everyone's entitled to a mistake once in a while."
Maude shook her head. "Men!" she muttered, then: "I already told Miz Esther the flowers are here. She can delegate flower detail to whoever she sees fit. I just wanted to show you what WJ had in mind."
"Bless his skinny old soul," I said, "and thank you for this kindness, Maude. These are just plainly lovely!"

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Linn Keller 12-20-07

 

I hesitated at the door of the general store, giving the street a looking-over as I always did before going out a doorway.
Settling my hat on my head, I pulled the door open and my ear twitched at the sound of a heavy-laden wagon rattling into town.
Gold shipment, I thought. Payday for the mines, I reckon.
The mines were producing good ore and in goodly amounts; the second track was laid an in service, and twice a day the ore train went out, and twice a day, the empties came back. Esther had worked some legerdemain with the books and in collusion with the mines -- and probably a good application of her natural charm -- she'd persuaded the mines, in addition to building the second track -- to go halves on a new engine.
Turns out they were delighted with the idea.
Esther found out they were intending to get a foothold into her railroad and work their way into a controlling interest and then take it over, so she consulted with Mr. Moulton and some associates he recommended, and she bought the mine's half of the new locomotive before they could pull a fast one. The mines had already entered into contractural agreement to build the new rail line and immediately sign over its ownership to the railroad.
Esther, bless her, discovered their slicker, and she out-slickered them.
There was hell to pay in the mine's boardroom, I'd found out later, and Esther's reputation as a canny businesswoman went up considerably.
Me, I stood on the board walk and my gut told me this was a prime target for scoundrels and thieves, and automatically I was looking for lookouts, loafers, signs of trouble --
And then I realized that both Jackson Cooper and Jake were doing the exact same thing.
They've got the town, I told myself. It's in good hands.
Still ... I waited until the gold was offloaded into the bank, and the shotgun guard had gone into the bank with it, and then they'd all come out and got back in the wagon and drove out of town.
Then I relaxed.
I crossed the street and into the Jewel. It was quiet yet, this early in the morning, Daisy's kitchen was busy and the good smells of breakfast reminded me I hadn't even had coffee yet, but it could wait.
I wanted to check on something.
Now I am not much of a hand at fancy things. I'd read somewhere that Japanese Samurai, in addition to being some of the fiercest warriors the world had ever seen, were also artisans: that the most common art practiced by these steel-spined warriors was flower arrangement.
Back in warm weather yet, before fall had frosted the flowers out of existence, I'd carefully selected and dried some prairie flowers, and buried them in cornmeal and borax to dry them good, and I managed to poke holes in the bottom of the box to let the mixture philter out and not hurt the flowers none.
I took the flowers and drew them into a bouquet and wrapped them in a ribbon, and I looked at the ugly mess and stuck it in a hat box.
Now ... now I had an idea.
Might be such a thing as I could hand this to Bonnie and ask her if she could turn it into a bouquet.
Then I thought about those lovely roses.
Better live roses than old dead prairie flowers,I thought, and put them back in the hat box and closed the lid on it.
Reckon I'll polish up my boots and look to my suit, I thought. I need to brush off my good hat.
I went to the dresser, opened a drawer.
The tickets were there: train tickets to the Mr. and Mrs. Sippi River, where an old friend I'd sided with during the War was now a steamboat captain; he was holding their finest stateroom for us, partly out of camaraderie, and partly from the gold I'd forwarded him: the man was nothing if not honest, and by taking my gold he'd entered into an honorable agreement that Hell itself could not bust. I knew the man and trusted him.
My stomach wrote out a telegram and sent it upstairs: in rather terse language it offered the opinion that my throat must be cut, and if I did not want my ribs clatterin' together before nightfall I had better send some feed its way pronto.
Considering the good smells coming out of Daisy's kitchen, breakfast sounded pretty good to me!

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Mr. Box 12-20-07

 

With the new day I decided to take stock of supplies. After the great celebration we'd just had and then with things coming up, I didn't want to run short in the middle of things. "Miss Duzy, are you sure we have enough stock on hand for the upcoming festivities?"
"I have put an order in, Fred, it might be on the train today."
That's not all that was on the train. Charlie and Miss Fannie came slipping into the hotel before many people had even noticed the train being here. I got over to the depot and several crates were being loaded onto a freight cart for the Silver Jewel as well as a mountain of trunks and other luggage for the hotel. "I'd better swing by the livery while I'm out and check on Nelly before she forgets who I am."

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Duzy Wales 12-21-07

 

Duzy’s eyes couldn’t have gotten any bigger, or with more shock, delight and surprise than hearing that Fannie and Charlie had snuck into town. “Oh my, Fred, I can’t give them away…..I just can’t, that would be betraying your trust, but I just have to have a little fun with them. Is that fine with you…..I mean with you telling me about it and me letting them know that I know?”

Duzy could hardly hold a straight face as she went to the kitchen for some dried fruit, jerky, a bottle of the Daine boy’s moonshine, and then found some leftover fried chicken and added it to the tray along with the house key to open the doors with.

Duzy listened outside the door that had been given to Fannie and then on to the adjoining door to listen. She didn’t really want to interrupt….who was she kidding, that was exactly what she wished to do and from the sound in Charlie’s room, she surmised that they were both in his room, as she heard Fannie’s laughter, which was like hearing the first bird in springtime!

Thinking that they may have thought to block the door, Duzy entered through Fannie’s door and then on to the adjoining door, hoping that it would be clear for her to slip in. Sure enough, the door easily opened and then one thing after another starting happening. Covers started flying, guns were pulled, Duzy lost balance of the tray, and the moonshine landed on the bed, Charlie was hanging onto a sheet with one hand, but let go of it long enough to catch a flying chicken leg, and finally lowered his gun, as did Fannie when they realized who was there!

“Women!” was all that Charlie said, but he had regained his sheet along with his modesty, while Fannie just smiled that pretty smile of hers and said, “Why don’t you join us Duzy, it’s so good to see you Sugar! Her cheeks were pink, but Duzy could swear it wasn’t from embarrassment and then they all looked at the strewn food, at each other, and had a good laugh with Duzy sitting on the side of the bed as they talked, while Charlie ate his chicken with a smile on his face.

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Duzy Wales 12-21-07

 

Duzy, Bonnie, Emma and Mildred all met in Esther’s room to help with any last details and found Esther in her gown and checking off her list of things to do. She had bags already packed for their trip and it looked as if nothing needed to be done. She turned and looked at her family and friends as if to say, “How do I look?” Esther had seemed so self assured that the ladies had felt as if she didn’t have a doubt in the world, but the answer was, she was absolutely beautiful with a sparkle of love in her eyes that anyone would have to be blind not to see! Tears of joy filled their eyes and soon the hugs were being passed around as they got Esther out of her dress before it was ruined.

Everyone started talking at once and soon the ladies were all reminiscing about old times and new beginnings and how grateful they were to have each other. Tilly and Daisy had arrived too, and at some point, Fannie had slipped in the room and surprised everyone, except Duzy, so that story was told too, with much banter about the chicken leg momentarily taking precedence over the sheet Charlie had been holding, and soon they were all in stitches making comparisons that a lady should never speak of, but one comment would bring another until tears were running down their eyes! It was a good thing Charlie couldn’t hear them, as even a hardened lawman would have burning ears at some of the remarks!

It would certainly be a day the ladies would remember all of their lives with delight and laughter, a time of bonding old and new relationships, as Emma had added to the remarks with a devilish sense of humor that you didn’t expect from a school teacher! It was obvious that Jackson Cooper was making her happy. Bonnie was glowing and teasing and Daisy was a saucy as ever, and well Fannie was Fannie and that in itself was a riot, just hearing her version of what had happened, Mildred had never shown as much emotion as she did seeing her sister-in-law so happy, Tilly was quieter than the others, but was having a great time and Duzy was overwhelmed with so much love in one room and all because they were so happy for her dear Aunt Esther and very soon to be Uncle Linn!

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Mr. Box 12-21-07

 

The activities around the Silver Jewel had a little different mood to them today. You could tell it was going to be a day to remember. I got busy right away with the new stock. Miss Duzy had made sure there was plenty of the good stuff on hand. There was enough to handle a few grand events. The supply of glasses seems to be sufficient. There hasn't been too much breakage so far. All the ladies are buzzing like a bee hive!

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Charlie MacNeil 12-21-07

 

Fannie and Charlie had spent the night making up for lost time. Their time together always seemed so short that they tried to make the most of every minute, so the couple got little sleep. Come morning they decided to lounge a bit rather than jumping right up to greet the day.

Charlie was half drowsing and half talking to Fannie. Both of them were decidedly underdressed for the time of day but neither one cared as long as they were together. So it was with a great deal of shock that they suddenly realized that there was an intruder in their room. The couple rolled to opposite sides of the bed and both came up with the guns that were on the paired night stands. There was a gasp, a squeal, and a crash, and a small jug of what turned out to be Tennessee style sippin' whiskey and a fairly large chicken leg flew toward the bed.

Charlie had a pistol in one hand and the sheet in the other and was undecided for a flash which one to let go of. After all, it would be a shame to waste a perfectly good chicken leg. Since the poultry piece had the highest velocity, and therefore would get to him where the jug wouldn't, he decided that Fannie would have to take care of the jug while he took care of the grub. He let go of the sheet and lunged for the chicken leg, fully aware of the show he was putting on for Duzy.

He snagged the aerial fowl and dropped back to the mattress and pulled the thoroughly tangled sheet up far enough to maintain some shred of dignity. His face was red but there was a smile on his face both from the fact that he had one of his favorite foods in his hand and the view next to him was quite nice too.

Fannie let out a squeal of her own. "Duzy!" She snagged the jug before it could roll off on the floor, settled back against the headboard of the bed and raised the jug on her elbow and took a sip. "My, that's good," she said with a saucy smile. "Want a drink, Charlie?"

Charlie left off gnawing on the chicken leg long enough to take the jug and take a long swallow. "That is good!" he said. "Now you might want to think about covering up just a skosh though, Darlin'. You're displaying an awful lot."

Fannie yanked the sheet up to her chin and burst out laughing. Soon the three of them were practically breathless and the laughter subsided to the occasional hickuping giggle. Charlie looked at Duzy. "Miss Duzy, I'd appreciate it if you'd excuse us for just a couple of minutes while we make ourselves a bit more presentable," he said.

"Why Charlie, you look fine to me the way you're dressed," Duzy said. At the stricken look on his face she laughed and held up a hand. "Alright, alright, I'll go. I have to look in on Aunt Esther anyway." She turned to leave and Fannie slipped out of the sheets and into a silk kimono that still didn't leave a whole lot to the imagination.

"I'll be there momentarily," Fannie said.

"And Miss Duzy," Charlie said hesitantly, "you aren't gonna tell anyone about this, right?"

"Cross my heart and hope to die," Duzy said solemnly. She went back into Fannie's room and out in to the hall, closing the door behind her. Charlie didn't see that she had her fingers crossed in the folds of her skirt, obviously having no intention whatsoever of keeping this morning's adventure a secret.

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Linn Keller 12-22-07

 

I hadn't ought to be this jumpy, I thought, my fist tight around the handle of my fork.
I looked at the fried eggs like they had offended me. I had no idea who Daisy had approved for kitchen duty but they were earning their pay: the eggs were lightly spiced, a delight to palate and eye, but right about now I was as cheerfully calm as a cat slingshot in the butt by a nasty little boy.
It's a quiet mornin' with nothing going on, I told myself. No one else awake, just me and the cook, and Tillie just sashayed in for desk duty.
No reason for me to be this jumpy.

I picked up a slice of bacon and bit into it.
My hand was shaking, just a fine little tremor, but shaking nonetheless.

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Charlie MacNeil 12-22-07

 

After Fannie left, Charlie tried to go back to sleep but something kept nudging him awake, some feeling that something was going on, something less than good. Finally he swung his feet to the floor and levered himself to his feet.

Fannie had left the jug on the night table and he picked it up, pulled the cork, and took a big sip and sloshed it around in his mouth before swallowing. The 'shine was warm on the palate and lit a fire in his belly when it splashed down. He sloshed water from the basin on top of the bureau in his face and wiped face and hands with the towel Fannie had left there then moved to his carpetbag and took out clean drawers and socks.

Charlie dressed, up to and including the same guns he'd worn on the train, then picked up his hat and set it on his head at just the right angle and went out the door.

At the dining room Charlie slowed his step and looked inside to survey who might be there. The only person he saw was Linn, who had a worried look on his face and was picking at his food. "Miss Daisy will be upset when she sees the hash you made out of her good eggs and bacon," Charlie said.

Linn whipped his head around to look at Charlie and his hand dropped to his hip before he grinned sheepishly. "Damn, Charlie, you just about stopped my heart," Linn said. "Light and set." He kicked a chair away from the table.

Charlie dropped into the chair across from Linn and turned it until he could see all of the windows and doors. "When did you get in?" Linn asked. He leaned across the table and held out his hand to Charlie.

"Me and Fannie got in on the late train yesterday," Charlie said as they shook hands. "We wanted it to be a surprise, but Miss Duzy apparently found out somehow." He went on to tell Linn about Duzy's surprise visit. The two men laughed together for a minute then the serious look came back to Linn's face.

"Now tell me what's wrong," Charlie told him. "A man shouldn't look that serious on his wedding day. So spill it."

"I don't rightly know if anything's wrong," Linn answered slowly. He went on to tell Charlie about the gold shipment. He finished with, "I haven't seen any sign of anything or anyone that shouldn't be here, but there's an itch deep down that I just can't seem to scratch."

"I know the feeling," Charlie said. "I tried to go back to sleep after Fannie left, but something kept jabbing me. I couldn't ignore it, so here I am, at your service."

"Jake and Jackson are minding the store for me so I can take Esther on our honeymoon," Linn said, "but I'm not sure now that I can go."

"Horse puckey," Charlie snorted. "You're gonna get hitched, and you're gonna take that lovely lady on the honeymoon you both deserve." Linn started to protest and Charlie cut him off. "No arguments, cowboy. You're going and that's that." He gave Linn a grin. "After all, I'll be here, Fannie'll be here, and the whole damn town can shoot, so what's to worry about?"

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Charlie MacNeil 12-22-07

 

Horses stamped restlessly, tired of standing around. A wispy column of smoke drifted from a small fire and steam was oozing from the spout of an enamelware coffeepot. The aroma of boiling coffee rode the morning breeze. Beyond a screen of lodgepole pines a freight wagon accompanied by a pair of burly men with shotguns across their saddlebows rattled by headed toward the mines.

Buckshot Bronson knelt to rub his hands together over the small fire then wrapped a bandana around his hand and used that hand to pour himself a cup of coffee. He stood and sipped the fragrant brew. "You boys ready to be rich?" he asked the motley group of bearded ruffians that lounged around the small blaze.

"Damn straight," a small wiry man in a buffalo coat that looked too big for him answered. He grinned through tobacco-stained teeth. "It's too cold up here. I'm headin' south as soon as we get that money. There's a few senoritas down yonder that I plan to visit."

"You'd best hope for a lotta money," a lanky, long-haired blond pistolero said. "Otherwise the stink'll run off any senorita you get close to." He grinned at the wiry man, who bristled up and tried to look bigger than he was.

"You boys save the hostility for when we take that bank," Bronson told them. "Then if you wanna fight, you can carve each other to pieces for all I care. Until then, your time's mine." He took another sip of coffee then tossed away the dregs from the bottom of his cup and went to where his saddle and blanket roll lay tucked in against the trees. He lay down and pulled a pistol and held it across his chest. "I'm takin' a nap. Wake me up at noon." A short time later he was asleep.

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Linn Keller 12-22-07

 

I didn't know whether to be relieved, or alarmed.
Charlie's gut told him the same thing mine told me: something just wasn't right, and not knowin' what wasn't right just made it worse.
"Charlie, in my young life I have been shot, stabbed, cut, blowed up, run over and a wandering preacher tried to save my corroded soul," I said, stirring my fork around in what used to be an egg. "I even got married once. Unless my brain has turned to sawdust I don't recall bein' this nervous."
Charlie favored me with The Look. He'd spoke his piece and spoke it well and he was right: the town was full of old soldiers, Indian fighters and buffalo hunters, men and women alike who could shoot and shoot well. Firelands had a reputation as a good place to shy away from if you wanted trouble for we'd proven over time we lived by Scripture: violence begets violence, and them that came in wanting to beget us violence, got enough begotten to them in return that they didn't enjoy it much.
"I'm glad you're here, pard," I said quietly.
Charlie nodded, grinning like he did when he had two or three things running through his mind at the same time, and I reckon one of them things on his mind was coming down the stairs, for Mr. Baxter brightened like a lit kerosene lamp and grinned fit to welcome the Queen herself.
In a way, it was the Queen. Or a Queen, for Miz Fannie coasted down the stairs, the vision of perfection and beauty.
Charlie looked at her and she looked our way and I could feel the heat of her gaze. Or maybe it was the heat off Charlie. I didn't think too hard on it, for Charlie is a healthy and full-blooded man and his business is his business, and besides, I had enough to keep my mind busy.
Miz Fannie headed our way and we both came to our feet.
I'll swear that smile could thaw a winter's day, I thought, and a look passed between the two of them that fairly sizzled. Miz Fannie extended her gloved hand to me, and I raised it to my lips and kissed her knuckles: hands, I reflected, that could deal cards, manage a spirited mount, caress a man's face or run a dagger into his belly, whichever was necessary.
Much of what I knew about Miz Fannie I knew second or third hand, and damn near none of it from Charlie: for all that he was a robust and lusty sort, he was also the perfect gentleman, and he'd never betrayed any confidences, nor even insinuated any. No, what little I knew was observation but mostly second or third hand.
What little I did know could be simply stated:
Miz Fannie is a lady, every inch of her!

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Linn Keller 12-22-07

 

Jacob waved at me from the hallway and came over just as Charlie was sliding the chair in under Miz Fannie. He nodded at Charlie and grinned, and looked at Miz Fannie, and his ears turned red, but he had work to do and he was about his work.
"Miz Fannie," he said with a nod and a bashful smile, and turned to me to give his report. His mouth snapped shut as Miz Fannie stood with a delighted "Jacob!" and seized him in a big hug.
Charlie hid his grin behind his hand but nothing could hide the humor in his eyes. Poor Jacob's face was turning the color of his ears as Miz Fannie held him at arm's length and regarded him closely. "You have grown, young man! And those arms!" She squeezed his shoulders firmly. "You've been doing some honest labor!"
"Yes, ma'am," Jacob said.
"Join us, please," Miz Fannie said, tilting her hand toward the last vacant chair.
"Ma'am, thank you, I have work to do," Jacob said politely, though it pained him to decline her offer. He turned to me. "Sir, Miz Esther's belongings are all in your house now, and her travel trunks are ready to load. I have your suit hung up and ready, your boots are polished, your hat is brushed and your bath is drawn."
"I do declare," Miz Fannie said softly, "this young man could run a corporation!"
"I plan that he should," I said. "His will be the railroad, in due time."
"Yes, sir," Jacob said, looking at the table. His gaze was drawn to Miz Fannie like steel to a magnet, and he manfully wrenched it away, lest he stare like a bumpkin.
"Jacob, thank you. You've saved me quite a bit of work."
"'Twas Miz Tillie's idea, sir," Jacob said honestly. "I'd thought to brush your suit, but Miz Tillie thought of the rest."
"You're too honest for your own good," Miz Fannie chided gently with a swat of her closed fan. "You will never make it in politics!"
This time Jacob looked directly at her. "I will take that as a complement, ma'am," he said, grinning in spite of himself.
"Sir -- I was talkin' to Mr. Baxter -- he set in that new barber's chair yesterday and he said the man does a good job."
I nodded and stood. "If you two will excuse me," I said, reaching for my Winchester, "I believe I should get my carcass cleaned up and get a genuine factory made shave and a hair cut. I want to look presentable for this venture."
"Yes, you do, darlin'," Miz Fannie purred, and there was a secret behind her veiled eyes, and she looked at Charlie and they laughed.
Another conspiracy, I thought, then dismissed the notion: it was my wedding day, and I reckon there would be plenty of surprises. Let them have theirs.
Of a sudden I remembered what I'd asked Charlie some time ago, and my heart fell to about my boot heels.
"Charlie," I said, feeling like an absolute scoundrel, "I had no idea if you'd be able to make it back and didn't know where to get hold of you. I asked you some time ago if you'd stand with me as my best man when Esther and I tied the knot."
Charlie chuckled and reached for Miz Fannie's hand. "I know. You asked Jacob."
Jacob looked as uncomfortable as I felt.
Charlie leaned his right elbow on the table and looked me squarely in the eye.
"Linn, it's a rare man that can have his son beside him on a day this important. Jacob should be your best man." He squeezed Miz Fannie's hand and smiled, and she laid her other hand on top of his. "I'll be sitting with my lady, here, enjoyin' the show."
I nodded. "Thank you," I said simply.

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Linn Keller 12-23-07

 

Normally I would have winked at Miz Fannie as I left, but it was not in me to do more than give her kind of a sad smile. Jacob followed as I headed across the dining room.
I stopped at the foot of the stairs and frowned, looking at the floor.
"Sir?" Jacob asked.
"Jacob," I said quietly, "is your suit clean, hung up and ready to wear?"
"Yes, sir, it is," he said a little uncertainly. "My boots are polished, I'm fixing to take a bath shortly after you do and I don't reckon to do any work after that, so's I don't get dirty nor sweaty."
I laid a hand on his shoulder. "Good man," I said, and meant it.
"I've laid in plenty of wood, sir, and more than enough coal. The ashes are all taken out, we've enough water drawn -- at least for this mornin'!" -- he grinned a little, then continued: "I believe, sir, if you head upstairs now, your bath will still be nice and hot."
I nodded. "Thank you, Jacob. Say, if you see Miz Duzy, could you ask her if I might impose upon her wise counsel? I wish to ask something of her advice."
"And how might I advise our dashing and handsome Sheriff on this fine day?" Duzy teased from arm's length away, and I about came out of my boots, for she'd come up on me with all the fuss and rumble of a passing shadow.
Folks don't normally sneak up on me, but for whatever reason, Duzy was one of the only people in the world who could.
"Duzy, would you walk with me? I have need of your wisdom."
"Certainly!" She wrapped a hand up under my left forearm and we pushed out the double doors with the fancy lilies-in-a-vase design in the frosted glass.
We walked down the street, toward the church. It was a little chilly but not bad for early December, and we were in the sunlight, with little wind. Duzy's shawl was welcome around her shoulders. Me, I was fine, I generally was. Hot blooded, I reckon. Esther one time took my hand and drew back as if she was scalded: later she'd cuddled up to me when I put my arm around her, for she was chilled, and she purred that I was like a walking furance.
"Duzy, what do you know about the Second Sight?"
Duzy turned sharply to look at me.
"I know what the Reverend Sopris told you, but over and above that."
"Why would you ask me that?" Duzy answered slowly.
I turned and faced her squarely. "Duzy, I been dreamin'."
I can see why Jake was drawn to her. Those violet eyes would draw any man.
"I dreamed I was in Scripture and opened up to Ezekiel, and I read about blood."
"Blood," Duzy repeated.
"I read the Scripture and it didn't set right, so I read it again, in Hebrew."
"Hebrew."
"I don't know Hebrew no more than I know French or Eye-Talian, Duzy, but I knew that passage, and it's the same one taught me by an old mountain witch during the War."
Duzy's eyes changed and her grip tightened a little on my forearm.
"She taught me that verse -- well, she wrote it down." I turned and started walking again, and Duzy with me. "She told me my Mama's firstborn had been a girl but she miscarried and so the spirit went into her next child, and that was me. This witch-woman told me I broke the chain of seven generations of firstborn females, and she told me that was important."
I squinted at the horizon, listening to the morning sounds. A dog yapped in the distance and was answered by another, and overhead some late geese labored across the immense expanse of sky, complaining all the way.
"She told me that when a woman has the Second Sight she can pass it along to another woman, or to a girl -- preferably her firstborn daughter -- and that I carried part of it. Then she handed me a little knife, handle first.
"Duzy, I was one time out on the prairie when a storm came up real sudden, and lightning hit not far from me, and I tasted copper and it tingled me all over. This felt kind of like that only I wasn't deaf after.
"She wrote down two things on a slip -- I think she tore the fly leaf out of a book -- she said no man can remember them and no man can use them, they have not the ability. But I remember them, Duzy, and I have used them!"
Duzy's eyes were serious and she was quite unsmiling. "You have used what, exactly?"
I took a deep breath and shivered a little. "Duzy, have you known anyone who could stop blood with the Word, or blow fire, either one?"
Duzy's eyes went round and she took a half-step back. "Not you," she whispered.
I nodded.
"How?"
"I do not know, Duzy. Can you do these things?"
Duzy shook her head quickly.
I was suddenly uncomfortable. "We will speak of this later."
"Sheriff?" Duzy's tone was uncertain.
I turned to face her again.
"Sheriff, why are you telling me this?"
My eyes were busy over her shoulder, searching for something I knew was there but could not see. "Duzy, my bones tell me somethig is happening today, and I'm just as calm as a cat in a schoolyard full of little boys with slingshots."
Duzy's eyes softened and she laughed and she pushed at my shoulder. "Of course something is happening, silly!" she exclaimed. "You're nervous and you should be! You're getting married!"
I took a deep breath and laughed. "Reckon so," I sighed.
"I can't see things the way I want, either, Sheriff," Duzy said.
"Aggravatin', ain't it?"
She nodded.
I tugged at my hat brim. "Thank you, Miz Duzy. I'm afraid I've only wasted your time with my frets."
Duzy laid a cool, gentle hand against my cheek and smiled. "You'd better tend to that bath before it gets cold, Sheriff."
I nodded.
We each turned, she back toward the Jewel, and I toward the church.
I had need to speak with the Parson.

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Linn Keller 12-23-07

 

Dawg bristled up and looked half again bigger than his already impressive size.
I laughed at him, which made him bristle and growl all the more.
"Dawg," I said, "you are just as big and mean as ever, but daggone it, this is MY office and you ain't keepin' me out!"
Dawg advanced, snarling fit to rip a man's leg off, at least until he took one sniff of my shin bone. He thumped his massive bottom down on the clean-swept boards and grinned, his stub of a tail fairly vibrating.
I reached down and let him sniff my hand, then I rubbed his ears.
Dawg groaned and leaned his not inconsiderable weight on my leg.
"Need your help, fella," I said quietly, and Dawg's ears came up.
I slipped into the office and retrieved a package I'd hid under the cot, and another with it: I'd left my rifle parked behind the altar rail of the church, then I'd gone in and paid the preacher -- "You know how rattled a groom can get," I'd said, "I'd rather make sure I don't forget this!"
Parson Belden thought that was rather amusing, and Mrs. Parson came out and invited me to set down for coffee and some fancy little cakes she'd baked a few hundred of, but I begged off, as I had some Skull Duggery of my own to tend.
I slipped in the back door of the Jewel, waving at Jake as I went cat footing along the back alley. He knew I was up to something, and he was content to go on about his way as if he'd seen nothing of importance.
I took the back stairs two at a time, and eased Jacob's room's door open, and looked around.
Nobody home.
Good.
I went over to where he had his suit hung, and I taken it down and laid it on the bed, and I opened the package and hung up a brand new suit I'd had tailor made for him. The ladies had helped me with this: his old sit was getting tight across the sholders and short in the legs and they'd measured him all over on pretext of figuring how to fix his old suit.
I opened the second package and took out a rolled up gun belt and holster, with a brand new Colt's revolver in the holster, twin brother to my own. There was a second holster and second revolver as well he could thread on the left hand side if he wanted, or he could wear just the one, as he chose.
I laid the gun belt, holsters and revolvers on the chair under the suit, and with it, a Remington derringer.
Charlie MacNeil thinks highly of his, and I tend to respect the man's opinion.
This being done, I cat footed it out of the room and down the hall.
I hesitated at Esther's door. There was a popular superstition that it's bad luck to see the bride before the wedding, but I had a longing to see this wonderful woman who'd had enough of an attack of the Soft Head to agree to marry the likes of me.
There was giggling and women's voices within and I figured she had company, and she would have need for women around her on this, her special morning.
She'll have a lifetime with me, I thought. Let her have this time with her friends.
I went on into my own room, which was quite bare since I'd moved everything over to the house. I kept it for I wanted to base my operations here, out of the Jewel, on my wedding day: I would need somewhere handy to take a bath and get cleaned up, and I figured now's the time, so I shucked out of my everyday clothes and set the gun belt next to the tub and stuck my hand in.
Kind of lukey warm, I thought. You fooled around too long, fella, and it's got cold. Your own fault.
Yeah, I know, I answered myself silently.
The door wasn't shut yet but then I wasn't stripped down neither and it was Jacob coming in with two buckets, one empty and one full of steaming hot water. He set the hot one down and shook his hand. He was using a folded dish towel as padding and insulation, but water is heavy and I reckon hauling a bucket of hot water is a careful job.
"How we doing on time, sir?" Jacob asked, grinning.
"Getting kind of excited?" I asked.
"Yes, sir! I've never been a best man before!"
"Your suit still fit?"
Jacob hesitated but then he put on a brave face. "It fits me well enough, sir."
I nodded. "Had your bath?"
"I have, sir!"
"Might try on that suit, then, let me see how it looks on you."
"Yes, sir."
"Wait til you get rid of that second bucket of water before you do."
"Yes, sir!" he laughed, dipping out a bucket of tepid water and pouring in the steaming-hot water. From the face he made when he tilted the bucket, it was still quite warm.
I got myself Buck Naked and eased down into the water, and it felt pretty good, and I was just startin' to soap up when Jacob came in the room in his brand new suit.
His eyes were the size of silver dollars and his grin was broad as any two counties in Texas.
I scrubbed my knuckles with a bristle brush. "Turn around, let's see how it fits in the seat."
Jacob opened his coat. The gunbelt was a perfect fit, and the coat was cut to drape perfectly with twin Colts in place.
"If you'll feel inside the waistband at center back," I said, "dead center between your suspender buttons, there's a pocket just the right size for that little two barrel Derringer. That's how Charlie carries his sometimes."
Jacob opened his mouth and closed it and opened it again and I didn't know if he was going to laugh, cry or sit down and look dazed.
"How, sir?" he asked. "Why?"
"You don't like 'em?"
"Yes -- no -- I mean -- I like 'em fine, sir -- but -- I don't understand, sir, you're the one getting married, shouldn't you be getting something?"
I started soaping up my right foot. "It's customary to gift the best man, Jacob. You're still my best man today, are you not?"
"I am, sir!"
"Good. Take your rifle with you."
"Sir?"
"Mine is behind the altar rail. Just a feeling I have. You can park yours there too if you like."
"Yes, sir." He was suddenly serious.
"Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, what'll I do with my other revolver?"
I thought of my Navy Colt, currently loaded and in the upper right hand drawer in my desk. "Still works, don't it?"
"It does, sir!"
"Keep it. I still have my Navy."
"Yes, sir."
"Jacob?"
"Yes, sir?"
"Head on down to that new barber and get yourself a brand new hair cut and have him put some of that good smellin' stuff on you. Tell him I'll be along directly."
"Yes, sir!"
Jacob shut the door quietly behind him and I dunked my right foot down under the water.
I could get used to this, I thought.

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Charlie MacNeil 12-23-07

 

Noon. And time to wake up the boss. Lefty Harris stood and sauntered over to where Bronson lay napping with his hat over his face. Waking Bronson could be a perilous undertaking, and Harris had lost the coin toss. He walked up as noisily as he could, crunching a few dry pine cones in the process and hoping he wouldn't have to get close but Bronson didn't move.

Harris stopped near Bronson's right side and started to bend down and touch his boss on the arm when he felt something prod him in the crotch. He looked down and found the muzzle of a .44 caliber revolver snuggled neatly into the center seam of his britches. It was all Lefty could do to keep from washing the barrel of the gun with his bodily fluids. "I-i-i-it's noon, b-b-b-boss," he stammered.

"I figured as much when you came stompin' up here like a bull in a china closet," Bronson said from under his hat. He tipped the hat back and sat up. He holstered his Colt and slid to his feet in one easy motion. "Alright, the wedding ain't until three but let's us get horses saddled and move on toward that town."

Bronson laughed at the expressions on his men's faces. They were looking back and forth at each other like they were pretty sure he'd lost his mind. Finally Weasel Haskins asked from inside his over-sized buffalo coat, "We're goin' to a wedding? I thought we was gonna take the bank."

Bronson laughed louder. "We are gonna take the bank, Weasel. We're just gonna wait until the sheriff's wedding gets goin' before we do. That way there won't be nobody with guns to get in the way. Everybody knows it ain't polite to take guns to church. Now saddle up."

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Linn Keller 12-24-07

 

Fog Johnson swore for the ten thousandth time at the man whose pants he wore.
They'd been in the carpet bag he'd been able to hold onto while he ran like a scared schoolboy away from that last stage coach holdup, the one where the passegers all drew and fired at the same time. Somehow he'd managed to get to his horse and get away with nothing worse than a bullet burn on his right thigh.
He was a mile away before he realized he still hung onto that carpet bag.
The other two he'd been with had fallen in the fusillade: they'd stopped the coach but hadn't shot the shotgun and the driver -- that was their mistake -- Fog didn't like it, they give up too easy and come out of the stage with no protest -- but Beavers shut him up when he questioned it, quiet-like, and he'd no more than got hold of that-there red carpet bag when the world blowed up and he dropped his gun but kept that carpet bag.
The only thing in it he ended up keepin' was one pair of pants with galluses attached, and he wore them now, as his own had been less than ideal between a long tear from the bullet and a good soakin' in his own blood.
Whoever had owned them pants must have been a tall feller, he reflected, as he'd been obliged to tie a few knots in the galluses to keep the crotch from riding halfway to his knees.
At least I don't have to hitch 'em up when I mount, he thought, and swung into the saddle.
Weasel laughed and spit out the last of his chawin' tobacker. Might be he could relieve the general store of a fresh supply, was it open today, he thought.
Or even if it wasn't, if they had the time.
Looking over at Fog he laughed and challenged, "Fog, you dressed for a weddin'?"
Fog patted his saddle bag. "I got all the celebration right here we need!"

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Linn Keller 12-24-07

 

Sean squinted at the skinny fellow in the city suit. "Now what could ye possibly have that would make me part wi' ma hard earned coin, eh?"
The Welsh Irishman pretended to polish the gleaming brass boiler on their steam fire-fighting engine, running his fingers thoughtfully along the groove engraved by the passing of a bullet one busy night. He remembered how the deformed slug hummed viciously past his ear, and how he'd snatched a pike pole loose from its clip and used it like a lance to unhorse one of the outlaws.
"Why, sir, let me show you the least of my wonders," the drummer said smoothly, drawing a small leather wallet from his gaudily-lettered drummer's case and selecting a short, pipestem-like implement from its interior. "Let me introduce you to Dr. Recipo's Wondrous Dog Whistle! Silent, so as not to disturb the human ear, but easily heard at a distance by the canine you wish to summon. Observe!"
The salesman placed the end of the slender tube to his lips; he appeared to blow through the pipe.
The fire horses all shivered and began to prance, nickering irritably.
"Ye're irritatin' me team," Sean said quietly. "An' I see no canines comin' ta yer summons."
Unfortunately one was; big, black and in an ill temper, Dawg sincerely disliked high-pitched noises, especially very high-pitched noises, such as the so-called silent dog whistles.
Dawg's dislike, as a matter of fact, was profound, and prompted by the pain it caused deep in his auditory meatus, and he purposed to end the source of the irritation.
The salesman looked around, surprised. Normally there would be a stray dog or two set up a howl, and he could capitalize on that; the sight of a nattily-dressed stranger, with a drummer's case emblazoned with WONDERS OF SCIENCE in big letters, would prompt a half-dozen curious boys, and boys have dogs, and he could claim success.
He had no idea whether the whistles actually worked, nor did he care: he was a drummer, a salesman, and his goal was to sell. Truth, justice and a working product were fairly low on his list of priorities.
Dawg saw the source of his discomfort, and began to trot.
"Allow me a wider scope of recall," the salesman murmured with a half-bow, stepping out into the middle of the street.
The German Irishman moved up and began gentling the matched white mares.
"Easy, ladies," he murmured, and said something soft in German.
Sean marveled, for a moment, at how soft and gentle the otherwise-harsh phonemes of the German language could be. Normally, when uttered by his trusted lieutenant, even the most innocuous phrase sounded like it was fit to rip the hide off a pack mule: indeed, he'd watched the German Irishman back a rival firefighter clear across a street while saying something -- Sean had seen the first of the conversation, when the German Irishman's finger snapped out like a switchblade knife, and he began soft and gentle, and his voice got louder, and his tone got harsher, and by the time he was done reading this spalpeen's pedigree, the rival's face was the color of wheat paste and he was backed flat up against the brick wall of the structure opposite.
The German Irishman, when asked, said "I'll tell ye later, uberhauptmann," and would say not another word until they were back in station.
When finally they were returned to quarters, and the horses unharnessed, the harness raised up above them and secured, and the coal bin restocked and the reservoir refilled, only then would the German Irishman admit that the dressing-down he'd given the rival firefighter from another company, the verbal hide-ripping he'd administered to this fellow horning into their fire district, was actually a bedtime story told him by his grandmother when he was a lad.
The German Irishman held the center mare's bridle and brushed her mane, whispering like a man gentling a fussy child, as the drummer stood in the middle of the street, assumed an erect posture, dramatically raised the pipestem whistle to his lips, took an exaggerated breath, and blew.
Dawg went from a trot to a full gallop, and his deep, baying challenge echoed down the empty street, sounding like the war-horn of Hell itself.
The drummer dropped the whistle, snatched up his drummer's case and with a yell of pure terror, ran in the opposite direction just as fast as his elastic-sided townie shoes would carry him.
Dawg coasted to a stop, pretty much where the drummer had started, and sat down, and ran his red tongue out, and laughed.
Sean and the German Irishman were out in the street, doubled over in their own merriment, pounding one another on the back, pointing at the retreating figure with its hard-case in one hand and the other holding the round Derby hat on its head: "Will ye look at that!" Sean declared when he could finally get his breath. "It may not bring the dogs, but we've found what that magic whistle really does! It turns drummers into sprinters!"
Dawg looked over at them, panting a little, and blinked lazily, as if nothing at all out of the ordinary had happened.

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Duzy Wales 12-24-07

 

Duzy couldn’t get Uncle Linn’s words out of her mind. She had dreamed of blood, and had blocked those feelings, to celebrate, and she had kept it to the back of her mind, she thought…..and it was a good thing Aunt Esther’s mind was on her wedding and packing and the ladies were all so busy…..but now she was being pulled….just as she had the night she had killed Sarah’s Papa and taken Bonnie from Sam’s Place, the night Reverend Sopris had kept the Sheriff playing poker all night, the night Mr. Wallace had buried the body……her first night in Firelands when they had all become friends.

Only, this time she was being pulled to the graveyard. Duzy excused herself, leaving Aunt Esther, her Mama, Bonnie, Fannie, Emma...…. and was soon at the grave yard. She didn’t remember how she got there, but she had Edith, so she must have gone by Shorty’s or did she have her tied in front of the Silver Jewel? It was still midday….the wedding was at three, she had to get back and finish getting ready and to help Aunt Esther…..thank God Fannie was in town, she would know something was wrong and would find out, covering for her until she did.

The sky turned dark, the clouds were hanging low to the ground. It had all happened at once. It was as if Duzy couldn’t see anything but shadows. And then she felt a sense of peace, calm, and the whiff of roses, and she felt his arms encircle her body, she felt his breath on her neck, his hand reaching and turning her face to his…..only he wore a cloak and she couldn’t see his face or eyes. He touched his lips to hers, he tasted her mouth, and Duzy couldn’t pull away. It was if she had been transformed to a different lifetime….and she knew this man, she loved him, she wanted him and she knew she couldn’t stop….but what about Jake, she thought for a second, as the man’s lips touched hers again with a kiss so deep she felt it to her soul.

Duzy was riding Edith back to be with Aunt Esther, and all she could think was how could she face Jake, how, now that......

The clouds had disappeared and everything looked normal again and she was soon with Aunt Esther and the ladies again and Duzy was beginning to think it was a dream.

Fannie had noticed she wasn’t acting quite right, but then the ladies were all fussing over the way a skirt draped or to get a corset laced just right, all the while talking like ladies do, when they are together in private and not within the confines of society. Today, there were several conversations going on at the same time, but with no one missing anything that was important to any particular individual, as it would hit their ear and conversations would change from one to the other at a moments notice! It was Aunt Esther’s and Linn’s wedding day!

Helping hands were being exchanged, along with the conversations, as to who could give the best advice for any certain task. Last minute tucks were being added to the gowns, a hat would be straightened, someones hair would need a curl here or there, sometimes a different idea would be added, considered, tried and decided on.

Lusty jokes were being made, the ladies giggle like school children, elbows were nudged due to someones remark....

Gifts were handed out by the ladies that they had ordered, bought or made for Aunt Esther. Duzy was saving hers for now.....Bonnie knelt now in front of Aunt Esther with a box.

Bonnie looked at Esther with so much joy in her heart. Having lost her own Mother nearly 4 years earlier, Bonnie looked at this tender woman in front of her through clouded eyes, as the woman who found the way into Bonnie's heart as a
surrogate Mother.

Bonnie reached for another box she had brought with her from St. Charles and handed it to Esther.

Esther pulled the Emerald ribbon bow from the box, lifted the top from the box, and pulled out a multicolored calico interlaced with cream muslin. "Bonnie! My dear! ..... This is a wedding Ring Quilt pattern!"

"Yes ...."

Through tears in each woman's eyes, they embraced and whispered their I Love Yous!

"Thank you my Dear Young Friend, thank you!"

Suddenly, Aunt Esther said, “Ladies, I love all of you dearly, but could you excuse Duzy and myself for just a few minutes? Duzy knew it wasn't a dream at that moment....and that there had been no blood....that....

Fannie’s eyes narrowed and looked at Duzy just as Bonnie looked at Duzy's downcast eyes and knew something had happened, but they all left the room as Aunt Esther had bid them to do.

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Mr. Box 12-24-07

 

Yesterday when I was out in town, I decided to stop by the merchantile and get a box of bird shot for the next time I went out to the claim. I happened to talk to Bill and he said, "Been sellin a lot of ammunition lately."
"Maybe I'd better take a couple of boxes of buckshot, too. Whenever there's a rush, don't be last in line!"

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Duzy Wales 12-24-07

 

Aunt Esther took Duzy’s hand and pulled her to her, looking directly in her eyes. “What is the matter, my child?”

Duzy knew she couldn’t lie…..not to Aunt Esther, not to anyone really……and then she had a streak of conscious about crossing her fingers behind her back to Charlie….but then she knew Charlie would forgive her for that little lie, hell he had enjoyed the encounter with the chicken and the three of them catching up on their news since their last visit! Now it seemed like a lifetime ago.

“Duzy, I have raised you as if you were my own, I know when you are troubled. Now, this is my wedding day and I do not want to walk to Linn troubled, so talk to me, you know whatever it is, we will work it out.”

“That is just it, Aunt Esther, I am not sure what happened…..I feel as if I passed out or left this space and time and things happened…..no, do not look worried, it wasn’t anything unpleasant at all. But….?”

“But what, Dear,” Aunt Esther asked, again looking into Duzy’s eyes.’

“Did I leave you and the other ladies?”

“Yes, Duzy, you left, what happened?”

Duzy looked down, and then back up at the woman who had backed her many times over her dreams and premonitions and told her about the other man, how wonderful he had felt, how she believed it may have happened, and if so, what was she to do or say to Jake.

“Perhaps you went to your room for a nap; you haven’t been feeling that well lately. Just yesterday you were light headed…..do not worry about Jake now. It is probably nothing.”

“Now, get everyone back in here before they start wondering what is happening and put this behind you.”

“I love you, Aunt Esther, I love Linn, I wish you all the happiness in the world and I hope that you are right about what happened, I will take your advice and not worry about it and I do not want you worried either! This is your day!”

Duzy decided to take her advice, to not dwell on it, to block it out, it was almost time for the wedding and there were still things to do.

It was a day to celebrate!

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Charlie MacNeil 12-25-07

 

Fannie had seen that look in Duzy's eyes before and knew, even if Duzy didn't right then, that something was happening, something beyond the usual. She watched Duzy drift out of the room as if someone else was steering and Duzy was just the means of transportation of the body. Cold fingers traced a line of gooseflesh up her spine and she shivered. "I've got your back, Sugar," Fannie whispered.

A short time later the door opened silently and Duzy slipped inside the room. Fannie had kept the ladies laughing and the bawdy jokes and innuendos had flown thick and fast, and Duzy slid into the middle of the fray with a small joke of her own as if she had never left. But Fannie could see beneath the surface that something had happened, something that had left Duzy troubled clean to her soul.

Fannie leaned over and whispered in Duzy's ear, "If you need someone to talk to..." Duzy gave her a wan smile and a quick nod.

When Duzy told the assembled ladies that she needed to talk to her Aunt Esther it was Fannie who shooed the flock from the room. As Fannie left she whispered again, "I've got your back."

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Linn Keller 12-25-07

 

I pulled out my beat up pocket watch and pressed the stem.
The hunter case popped open after a moment, and I considered the time.
I was not in my suit but I was in clean pants and shirt, so I shrugged into my coat and clapped my hat on my head and trotted on down stairs.
Sounds like a bunch of hens in Esther's room, I thought. Good thing I didn't beat on her door, likely they would have mobbed me! I'm safer out here!
With a wave at Mr. Baxter, I headed for the front door.
A cold finger trailed up my spine and I leaned back against the wall, looking out the bent-lily design, clear in the frosted panes.
Nothing at all unusual out there.
I opened the door a little, and looked again, then stepped out.
A stray cat curled its tail around its paws, yawning at me.
I eased the door shut behind me and looked around.
Nothing.
I stepped out onto the dirt street and headed toward that new barber shop.
The inside was surprisingly cheerful: the new owner had imported two big mirrors, glass that would have done a saloon credit: he had two shelves lined with various bottles and jars, and the fellow was spouting fourteen to the dozen, like barbers often do. He greeted me with a laugh and a broad smile and gestured grandly for me to try his new chair, and I did.
As he spun the white sheet over me and gently fast it around my neck, I eased my right hand Colt into my lap: the front door was to my left, and if a threat appeared, most likely it would be from there.
The fellow shortly had my face wrapped in a steaming hot towel: I wasn't terribly happy with this, especially when the door opened, but Jake's voice preceded his step: "At ease, Sheriff, it's just me," and I relaxed, and only then realized I had been holding my breath, the better to gauge by sound the location of a possible threat.
The barber's mustache was curled and waxed, his hair was parted in the middle and slicked down, he was wearing some kind of a ribbon tie and looked to be ... what? Eye-talian, maybe, or Greek; I couldn't hardly tell from his accent, but the man talked like an auctioneer, discussing everything from the weather to politics to the newspaper reports of Washington and diplomatic relations with England.
He was gratefully silent when he lathered my face and began to apply the straight razor.
His hand was steady, his strokes short and precise; he stopped and stropped the cut throat razor several times in the process, and I'll be honest, I don't believe I ever had a better shave in my life.
Jake traded a few gentle barbs with the man, and my eyes closed for a moment. This-here barber chair, I thought, feels pretty darn good, and my eyes closed again, and I began to relax for the first time in two days ...

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Linn Keller 12-25-07

 

The barber looked over at Jake, and Jake looked at the barber, and two of the hangers-on in the barber shop looked at the two of them and then at each other, and all of them stifled their laughter, for the Sheriff was beginning to snore ever so gently.
A customer opened the front door, and all of them turned and put their fingers to their lips, and four sets of fingers then pointed to the Sheriff, sound asleep under the white, hair-littered sheet, and the customer grinned broadly, and removed his hat, and happily joined in the conspiracy of silence.

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