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Linn Keller 12-25-07

 

Jacob slammed the door behind him and strode down the hall, worried.
The Sheriff wasn't in his room. He'd obviously finished his bath, and he'd put on part of his clean clothes, but his suit was still hung up, and his well-polished boots gleamed beside the bed, and his good hat hung on the peg beside the suit.
Jacob turned and thundered down the stairs.
Duzy hailed him from behind: "Jacob, is everything all right?"
Jacob turned, clapping a hand to his coat pocket, a guilty expression on his face. He turned and sprinted back up the stairs, two at a time, and seizing his hat from his head, thrust the other hand in his coat pocket: "Miz Duzy," he blurted, "I am so sorry, ma'am, I was supposed to give you this" -- he thrust a white pasteboard box into her hands -- "and have you give it to Miz Ester. I am so terribly sorry, ma'am, I was supposed to give it to you earlier. Please tell me I'm not too late!"
Duzy's violet eyes were suddenly wide, and one eyebrow twitched a little, and she opened the box.
Her mouth made an O of delight, and her eyes smiled a tenth of a second before the rest of her face, and she seized Jacob and hugged him, delighted with what she saw.
"Jacob, it's beautiful! Of course I will, and it's not too late!"
"Thank you, ma'am," Jacob blurted, his head swimming a little at having been the object of such a beautiful woman's attention; he turned and thundered back down the stairs with the stealth of a buffalo stampede, and thrusting open the doors to the Jewel, launched himself off the boardwalk and sprinted for the barbershop.
"Please be there," he whispered. "Please don't let anything be wrong!"

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Linn Keller 12-25-07

 

One of the hangers-on saw Jake's approach and waved at Jake, pointing; Jake was on his feet and out the door, finger to his lips.
They saw the conversation between Jake and Jacob, between the deputy and the Sheriff's tall, slender son; they saw the look of relief on the boy's face, Jake's smile and a gesture, and the boy touching the brim of his hat as he spun and sprinted away, dust puffing up in the wake of his pounding footfalls.
Jake eased the door open and stepped very quietly back into the barbershop.
The Sheriff was sound asleep. His lips puffed gently as he exhaled.
Jake cat-footed over to the barber and whispered, "The wedding's at three. We'll let him sleep just a bit, but I sent his boy after his horse."
The barber grinned wickedly and nodded.
The barber was a pleasant enough sort, but he liked a good joke as much as the next man, and this would be a tale he could tell for many years.

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Charlie MacNeil 12-25-07

 

Bronson held up a hand and the ragtag column of riders came to a jostling halt. "This here's far enough," he growled under his breath. "Any farther and we'll be raisin' a dust cloud a blind man could see comin'. We'll wait here." He stepped down from his saddle and eased the cinch before tying his horse to a nearby post oak.

The rest of the outlaw crew dropped to the ground and tied their horses. "How long we gotta wait?" Weasel wanted to know. He was already dreaming of all those slender, dark-eyed senoritas' swishing skirts and flirty hips.

Bronson drew out his watch. "'Bout an hour," he said. "Don't worry, you'll get your chance at that gold." He settled down against a fallen log and fished a chunk of jerky from the pocket of his sheep-lined coat and began to chew on it.

********


The Firelands Bank and Trust was a small brick building that nestled between two larger, plank and shiplap sided buildings. Its unassuming demeanor and small, elegantly lettered window insignia made it easy to pass over, unless one had prior knowledge, which Bronson had. He even knew what kind of safe it had. His knowledge didn't extend to having the combination to the locking mechanism, but he didn't need it. He had a master key in the person of one Dupont Tarrington.

Dupont Tarrington was an anomaly of sorts. He was dressed as roughly as any of the men he rode with, but his manners and speech were impeccably Continental. His ancestry included English men at arms and German peasants and his upbringing had been as unusual as his demeanor. Where most children of his age had learned their numbers and letters, Dupont, who was named after the gunpowder company of the same name, had learned the various and sundry means of efficiently destroying everything from small safes to large bridges. His teacher had been his father, who had been a demolitions expert in the English army until he was cashiered for insubordination, assault, and theft. He had backtalked then broken the nose of his regimental colonel and absconded with the man's horse and weapons. The tribunal had been short and far from sweet, and Papa Tarrington died while in gaol.

Dupont was a past master of the fine art of demolition, and from Bronson's description the safe in the back of the Firelands Bank and Trust would be child's play to open, as would the strong room where the gold would be kept.

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Kid Sopris 12-25-07

 

Being an Undercover Govenment Agent, one sometimes losses their own identity. Secretly in and out of character, usually never to return to a community; AND yet he was back, for a short time in Firelands. But not just the town, but where he dissappeared.

The rules of engagement issued by the Agency are simple; "lose your cover, lose your job".

Yet the moments with Duzy...AAhhhh...was it worth the risk ?

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Charlie MacNeil 12-25-07

 

Charlie was restless. He didn't have any specific duties regarding the wedding other than escorting Fannie, and nothing particular to do until 2:40 on the dot, at which time he had been informed he was to present himself at Fannie's door, shaved, bathed, and dressed to the nines.

Charlie stepped out onto the boardwalk fronting the Jewel and looked up and down the street. The sun shone brightly and the lack of wind made the afternoon pleasant but still he couldn't relax.

Down near the livery stable a large black four-legged shadow detached itself from the sunny side of the building and drifted toward him. Dawg had raised somewhat of a commotion on the train by nearly eating the express messenger after that worthy had accidentally stepped on Dawg's foot in the mail car, which was the only coach with enough space for the big animal. It had taken all of both Charlie and Fannie's powers of persuasion to keep the conductor from summarily ejecting them all from the train. Charlie was pretty sure it had mainly been Fannie's big eyes and exaggerated Carolina drawl that had kept all three of them from walking the last fifty miles to Firelands.

Dawg came up onto the boardwalk and pushed his nose into Charlie's hand. "You been behaving yourself?" Charlie asked. His only answer was a wicked gleam in the big black eyes and a twitch of the stub tail. "I take that as a no, pard," Charlie said as he ruffled Dawg's upstanding ears. Charlie hadn't heard the story of the whistle drummer yet.

Charlie looked down at Dawg, who stirred under the direct gaze. "You feel it too, don't you?" Charlie asked. He reached up and rubbed the back of his neck. "My hair's standing up like there's a lightning storm coming," he said absently. Dawg rumbled low in his chest and appeared to agree. Charlie shrugged. "Nothing we can do about it 'til it happens, I reckon," he said. "What say we go for a walk?"

The pair strolled casually along the street. Most people gave them a wide berth, except those who had made their acquaintance during their previous tenure in Firelands. At the end of the block a big man stepped out in front of Charlie. "Marshal MacNeil?" the man asked.

"That's right," Charlie said cautiously. "And you are..." Just then he noticed the gleam of sliver under the edge of the man's lapel. "I know Jake, so you must be Jackson." He held out his hand. "Linn's told me about you."

"All good, I hope," Jackson chuckled. "You said you know Jake?" Charlie nodded. "We're standin' in for Linn while he goes on his honeymoon. If he goes," he ended ruefully.

"He'll go, alright," Charlie said with a chuckle of his own. "If I have to hogtie him and bodily put him on the train." His expression changed. "Something feels off, somehow, but I'll be damned if I can tell what it is. What do you think?"

"I know what you mean," Jackson agreed. "The hair's standin' up on the back of my neck."

"Well, don't hesitate to give a yell if you need help," Charlie said. "I'll be at the wedding."

"Me too," Jackson said. "See ya there." The big man turned and walked away and suddenly a light seemed to flash in Charlie's brain.

"That's it," he muttered. "All the law and everybody else is gonna be at that wedding, and the town's gonna be wide open." Charlie turned and strode resolutely back toward the hotel, with Dawg trailing along behind. At the hotel door he stopped and told the big dog, "You'd best be patrolling around the back side of town," he said. "I ain't sure where trouble's coming from, but as sure as I'm standing here, it's coming. Keep an eye out."

Dawg's tongue lolled out for a minute then his jaws closed with a snap and he turned and eased into the alley next to the hotel. Charlie went inside and up to his room and dug into the smallest of his two valises and came out with a leather case, a belt, and two holsters. Time to dig out what a couple of Texas Rangers of his acquaintance would call his "barbacoa", or as the Texans had corrupted it, barbecue, guns.

With the single action revolvers most men carried on the frontier it was pretty much impossible to reload in a hurry, so men sometimes carried more than one gun, which often made reloading a moot point. Major George Schofield had changed that somewhat with his modifications of the Smith and Wesson Number 3 revolver, a top-break design that allowed for one handed opening and relatively rapid reloading.

The two S & W Model 3 revolvers that Charlie removed from their fitted case were truly works of art. The barrels were bobbed to four inches and the front sights had been removed. Gold filigree work covered the sideplates and cylinders and meandered up the barrels, and the original walnut grip panels had been replaced with finely checkered and engraved elephant ivory. The double crossdraw holster rig was carved with a Rose of Sharon pattern and Mexican peso conchos were spaced evenly around the belt. Charlie had bought the whole outfit on a whim, and was almost embarrassed to wear it, it was so fancy. But those damn stubby guns fit his hands like they had grown there and they hit what he looked at without him thinking about it. And with his coat on most people wouldn't know they were there. It might not be the best of manners to go armed to a wedding, but old habits were hard to break, and he'd be willing to bet he wouldn't be the only one.

He buckled the gun rig on and slid his arms into the sleeves of his frock coat. The turquoise and silver buckle on the belt would be the only thing that could possibly show once he had the coat buttoned. "My, don't you look good, my man," he murmured to the figure in the mirror on the closet door.

"Talking to yourself again, Charlie?" Fannie asked from behind him.

"Sometimes that's the only way I get to carry on an intelligent conversation," he answered as he turned around with a wicked grin.

"Yeah, right," Fannie snorted, and flounced out of the room. At the connecting door she stopped and turned back toward Charlie. "You're expecting trouble, aren't you?" she said. "That's why you're wearing those guns." She went on into her room and Charlie followed.

"Nope, just being cautious," he said lightly, knowing at the same time that he wasn't fooling her. Fannie snorted again and reached into one of her trunks. She brought out a larger reticule than she normally carried and dropped a cutdown birdshead-gripped Peacemaker into its leather lining. She moved to the nightstand next to her so far unmussed bed and slid the drawer open. She reached inside and brought out a Derringer that she tucked into her cleavage. A second Derringer appeared in her hand then disappeared under a garter on her left thigh. Charlie whistled loudly.

"I reckon you're gonna need help disposing of all that artillery later, ain't you?" Charlie asked nonchalantly.

"We'll just see, mister, we'll just see. Are you ready to go?"

"I reckon so, but we're a bit early, aren't we?" Charlie replied.

"Probably," Fannie said sweetly, "but I thought maybe we could stroll slowly to the church and make all the other ladies on the street jealous. You do look mighty fine today."

"Why thank you, ma'am," Charlie said. "You clean up pretty good yourself." Fannie slapped him lightly on the arm and led the way from the room.

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Linn Keller 12-25-07

 

Gieuseppe the barber could stand it no longer.
Truth be told, the occasional sniggers, snorts and wheezes of suppressed merriment were building, and it would be only a matter of time before one of those present would no longer be able to stifle himself, and the Sheriff would be wakened by a full-throated guffaw; rather than startle the poor man, Gieuseppe thought, I'll just wake him gentle-like, and he did.
"Sheriff?" he asked, resting a hand lightly on the sleeper's left shoulder. "You got anything special planned today?"
The Sheriff took a breath and opened one eye.
The world held its breath.
"Well, fellas," the Sheriff said mildly, "reckon I'd best head out."
Gieuseppe unfastened the catch-cloth from around the Sheriff's neck and the man was on his feet, holstering his left-hand Colt, and pressing a coin into the barber's palm in one smooth motion: striding for the door, he nodded at Jake, retrieved his hat and breezed out the door, unhitching Rose o' the Mornin' and trotting her diagonally up the street to the Silver Jewel.
The barbershop crowd had the decency to hold the sounds of their merriment until the door was closed, and the Sheriff out of sight.
After that moment, all semblance of dignity was utterly lost.

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Linn Keller 12-25-07

 

Rose o' the Mornin' was barely stopped when the Sheriff spun the reins around the hitch-rail and breezed into the Jewel and up the stairs. For a big man, he moved with surprising ease, and the velocity of his passage was belied by the smoothness of his movements.
He was into his room and undressing with absolutely no wasted motion; he frittered away no time with a glance in the mirror until he was dressed, his tie knotted and puffed out to his satisfaction, and both revolvers checked.
He hesitated, the drew each of them again, in turn, and loaded a sixth round in each, setting the firing-pin between the case rims.
He rolled his clothes into a neat bundle and looked around. Almost nothing remained to be moved out. He had already detailed Jacob to that duty, and placed his small bundle on the bed, with a note.
The Sheriff was down the stairs, not realizing a set of violet eyes watched his descent, a set of violet eyes that dropped to regard a white pasteboard box.
The Sheriff checked his watch.
Fifteen minutes to go.
Jacob waved at him from the church, and, ahead, that had to be Charlie: he'd never seen the man dressed up, but that had to be him -- it walked like him anyway, and it looked like his backside -- and he had a really good-looking lady on his arm, with the signature red hair that just had to be Miz Fannie.
Yep, that's Charlie, he thought, smiling.
He looked up. A few high wisps of cloud were brush-stroked across the deep, flawless blue overhead; it was a little cool, but not bad for this time of year.
Rose o' the Mornin' fairly danced under him. She was of a notion to run, and had he the time, and a more common set of clothes, he would have obliged her, but he reined both his mare and his emotions to a more sedate pace.

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Duzy Wales 12-25-07

 

Duzy had left her gift for Aunt Esther in her room, along with a few other items that would be needed when she heard Jacob call her name. Duzy turned to see the handsome young man, so polite, so much like Uncle Linn…….. Duzy could tell that she brought a little of his shyness out, but that would soon end, as he was growing into a man very quickly and one that they were all proud of.

Duzy had looked into the pasteboard box at the beautiful oval shaped Ivory Cameo, the black silhouette, sculpted from Onyx, with four Emeralds inset into the Ivory and hanging from a Emerald ribbon choker! So beautiful, simple yet elegant, just like Aunt Esther and Duzy thought it to be the perfect accessory for “the emerald green” gown that Aunt Esther would be wearing, the same one she wore the night of the grand opening of The Ruby Room! Oh how they had reminisced about that night as she and Duzy did sometimes when they were alone. Duzy smiled to herself at Linn’s generous nature and how much thought he put into everything he did and her heart filled with joy that her dear Aunt had found a man who loved her with every part of his being.

She remembered their first dinner together, the night of the killing…

And then she thought of Jake, her own dear Jake, and what she had did, as she knew that she had betrayed his love and her eyes started to mist, as her mind went to the night before….when she had made love to another man and couldn’t fathom why, as it was all so unclear and yet so real.

Fannie had been watching the different emotions play across her friends face and took her by the elbow as they walked into Duzy’s room. “Talk to me Duzy, you know you can and that you can trust me with anything.”

“I know, Fannie, I even know it when it happens, and I knew you have my back, I thought of it in the grave yard!” Duzy said, as she and Fannie sat on the bed together and Duzy told her friend what had happened. Fannie and Aunt Esther were the only two who knew about certain things. Duzy and Bonnie had an instant connection, but they hadn’t been friends nearly as long….and then Bonnie had moved….she had been shot…so much had happened. Last night had been an instant connection too, only it had gone much further….as if she had moved in space and time and it had been with a man, one she knew and yet couldn’t yet identify. A Ghost….a premonition, a past or future lifetime….and she could feel the anticipation of his touch, she wanted him to return…she was torn….

“Fannie, who could he be?” What about Jake? What am I to do? I know it happened because when I came back to my room I found a cloth where I had cleaned my…my gown before I returned to be with the rest of you! It was real….it happened. What kind of person am I Fannie…..I enjoyed every touch, every kiss…..it was as if we had lived and loved before, and it was as natural as the sun rising, and yet I love Jake! God, Fannie, when have I ever loved anyone like I do Jake….he is my world….what is happening? Duzy leaned into Fannie’s outreached arms and cried as Fannie held her, “it’s alright, Sugar, it’s alright, you could not help what you did….it is part of your gift, a part that hasn’t happened until now, but still it must have been meant to be, just as the rest has been meant to be, but we will talk of this more later. Right now, we need to concentrate on getting Esther and the rest of you down that aisle.”

Duzy pulled herself together and retrieved the items she needed, thankful to have a friend who understood as she left to join Esther and little Sarah, all dressed up and happy, smiling from ear to ear, who would be dropping the rose pedals that Maude had so lovingly given to the bride and groom, as Fannie left to go meet Charlie.

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Linn Keller 12-25-07

 

There was a burst of angry Spanish -- well, actually Mexican; even at this early date, Continental Spanish and Spanish as spoken south of the Rio were diverging -- but the tone of the speaker was unmistakable: masculine, demanding, harsh.
The female voice that spoke in reply was no less inflexible, and their voices grew louder as they descended the stairs, quarreling and gesturing, the conversation getting hotter by the minute.
Eduardo and Firecracker Mel stopped at the foot of the stairs, each glaring at the other, their jaws set, their spines straight, each the picture of inflexible, uncompromising rightness ... until there was a glint in Eduardo's eye, and a sparkle in Mel's, and they threw themselves into each others' embrace and kissed with a passion fit to melt the varnish off the woodwork.
They swept out the double doors of the Jewel as if nothing had happened.
Mr. Baxter was looking after them with an expression that was part surprise, part confusion and part dismay.
Santos hesitated. "You are puzzled, senor?" he asked, his teeth a startling, flawless white beneath his thick black mustache.
"I thought they were going to kill each other before they were halfway down the stairs," Mr. Baxter admitted.
Eduardo shook his head. "True love, senor, seldom runs in a quiet stream. Ever since they married, it has been so. Mi hermano Eduardo -- my dear brother -- was declaring that his wife was a married woman and could not decently ride astride like a young girl, a maiden. La Senora Firecracker was equally strong in her decision to ride as she pleased, for she does not wish to twist her spine into uselessness like that crippled English queen that invented the instrument of torture known as a side saddle, and besides" -- he shrugged -- "we have not a side saddle with us!"
"I coulda had Shorty hitch up a carriage for them," Mr. Baxter murmured.
Santos chuckled. "Gracias, Senor, your corazon is in the right place, but la Senora Firecracker, she is a woman of her own mind" -- he tapped his temple with a bent forefinger -- "and she will as she pleases!" He turned and shoved the doors open and followed his brother and sister-in-law.
Mr. Baxter untied his apron and reached for his coat and hat. He had just enough time to make the church. All was ready here for the reception; things could wait for his return.
"Tillie?" he asked. "Mr. Moulton fetching the carriage for you?"
"Yes, thank you, he just pulled up," Tillie smiled, one hand on her great belly, the other pressed against the counter.
"You doin' okay?" Mr. Baxter asked with a frown of concern.
"Oh, yes, it's just my back hurts, that's all. It'll pass, soon as the little one arrives." She stroked her belly gently. "I do wish it soon."
"Be careful what you wish for," Mr. Baxter muttered, holding the door open for her.

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Linn Keller 12-25-07

 

Sean scooted the cushion under Daisy's descending backside and she settled gratefully onto its padded softness. Sitting without one had become less than comfortable, here of late, and she smiled a thanks to her big Irish husband.
It had been suggested that the Irish brigade salute the happy couple with their steam-whistle, but it was quickly pointed out that, while the fire horses were accustomed to the shrill scream of the polished brass engine, few other equines were so tolerant; instead, the Irish Brigade had a low fire in the engine, enough to keep it nice and warm, so that only a few moments would be required to raise the hot water to steam, and the steam pump to life.
They'd drawn straws and the Welsh Irishman was short: he got to stay behind, ready to fire the boiler, harness the team, throw the doors open and roll the engine. The English Irishman volunteered to remain with him -- "he'll need someone to hold the horses when the doors open," he pointed out, "and it's a two man job to get the ladder wagon hitched on!"
They positioned the boiler directly under the big chimney, constructed to allow a fire while in the firehouse without smoking them out, and set to polishing the brass again.

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Linn Keller 12-25-07

 

"Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
I looked at the lad, nervous in his new suit, and smiled. He cut a fine figure in the new outfit.
"Sir, I, um ..." He bit his lip and shifted from one foot to the other.
I laid a hand on his shoulder. "Go on. I'll hold 'em off from here!"
He shot me a grateful look. "Thank you, sir!" he said quickly, and disappeared out the side door.
Parson Belden looked after him with a tolerant smile. "Usually it's the groom that gets a nervous bladder," he chuckled.
"I'm good," I said, my eyes busy; I was looking over the congregation -- good Lord! I thought, the entire county has turned out for this! My eyes went to the closed door of the Parson's study. The women had taken it over for their last minute preparations, and the door was tight shut.
Charlie MacNeil caught my eye and winked, and I winked back, and Miz Fannie blew me a kiss, and I felt my ears turn red.
Sarah waved shyly, and Bonnie looked up and smiled. Caleb, beside Sarah, was trying to look stern and proper and not doing well in the attempt: it was evident he was delighting in the company of his ladies. He looked down, and I guessed Twain Dawg had managed to slip into the church.
Knowing Sarah, she's got a ribbon bow tied around his neck, I thought. I wonder if she gives him a bath with her Mama's fancy bath salts, like she did Dawg that time.
I chuckled at the memory.
Parson Belden smiled tolerantly. "Usually the groom is a rattlin' wreck by now," he observed. "You don't appear troubled by this a'tall!"
"No, sir, not by this," I agreed.
"Is there trouble in the wind?" the Parson asked, glancing down at the two rifles behind the altar rail.
"Don't know, Parson, but I figure to be ready if there is."
The Parson nodded. "If need be, Sheriff, my buffalo rifle is yonder in the study, and I'm spry enough to coon right up that bell tower!"
"Parson, if it comes to that, I'll take ye up on your kind offer!"
Jacob came back in the side door, trying not to look shamefaced at his hasty exit. I gave him a wink and a nod.
The Parson and I each pulled out our watch, and pressed the stem, and our cases flipped open together.
Three minutes to go.

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Duzy Wales 12-25-07

 

Duzy fastened the Cameo on last and Aunt Esther looked like royalty, like a Queen! She was simply beautiful. They stood ready as they looked at each other with a love that could only be surpassed by the love Aunt Esther was about to give....the vows to a soul mate, and they kissed as they heard the music start and Duzy stood in front waiting for the doors to open.

She wondered where Jake was and how she would be able to look at him, to meet his eyes and then she felt a presence and knew "he" was there too....but who and where?

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Charlie MacNeil 12-25-07

 

"Alright, that weddin' starts in three minutes or so. Mount up!" Bronson snapped his watch shut and got to his feet and went to where his horse was tied. He tightened the cinch and his men did the same. He stepped into the saddle and waited for the rest to get mounted.

"You got all you need, Dupe?" he asked the dynamite man.

"Right here, boss." Dupont patted the satchel tied behind his saddle. "Won't need much to crack that candy box," he finished with confidence.

Bronson looked at his watch again. The church organ should be starting the opening strains of the wedding march about now. He heeled his horse into motion.

Dawg watched the strangers from a nearby thicket. When he first moved close, the horses had stirred nervously but as he settled down to wait, so the horses calmed and went back to dozing or nibbling on the dry leaves that still hung on the brush and small trees. He lay with his head on his paws and watched. The man had known something was wrong. He and the man had traveled together long enough that Dawg trusted the man's premonitions but the big canine believed in seeing for himself.

"Move out!" Bronson commanded and the short ragged column moved off in pairs toward the edge of Firelands.

Bronson drew rein behind the bank and tied his horse. "You boys scatter out, and keep an eye out," he commanded. "I don't wanna be seen, and I don't wanna have to shoot nobody if we can help it. You take their money, they'll just be pissed and chase you for a little while. You take a life and they'll chase you through the fires of Hell. So no shootin'!"

The men all nodded and scattered to their designated positions, six belted men weighted down with weaponry and ready to be rich. Weasel drew back and led three unladen pack-saddled mules toward a nearby stable and inside. He stepped from his saddle and stood holding his horse and the mules ready to make a beeline for the bank when the time came.

Bronson and Dupont stepped up on the porch of the bank and looked through the barred glass of the window. "I don't see nobody, and the shades up front are down," Bronson said. "Get 'er open." Dupont was also an accomplished lock picker and it was a matter of less than a minute before the locked door clicked once and swung part way open with a small squeak.

Bronson drew his Colt and eased the door open. He stood listening with one foot over the lintel but the only sound in the small building was the ticking of the Regulator clock in the lobby. The bank was empty, all employees and potential customers gone to the wedding. He nodded to Dupont. "Ain't nobody here. Let's go." He led the way into the building and Dupont followed with a large satchel in his hand that clanked lightly with every step. Nobody noticed the great black shadow that had followed them into town and watched them open the bank door before turning away toward the church.

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Mr. Box 12-25-07

 

 With all the hustle and bustle around the Silver Jewel all day, it was nice to be out of there for a while before everything got into full swing for a change. By the looks of the size of the crowd in the church there was going to be a real busy night tonight. The men of the wedding party were looking as fine as any I had ever seen. I have seen some of the ladies floating around the Silver Jewel as they were getting ready and they looked even finer. You couldn't have found a better looking bunch in St. Louis! Oh, they might have had fancier top hats and tails, but they wouldn't have anything over these folks. It is almost time and you can feel the tension in the air.

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Linn Keller 12-26-07

 

Mick swore, for the tenth time, and shoved his watch back in its pocket.
The big Irish sergeant raised a gloved hand, brought it down hard.
The column kicked their horses into a gallop.
Guidons fluttering in the breeze, the cavalry troop moved easily into a flat-out gallop.
Firelands was just coming in sight.

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Linn Keller 12-26-07

 

"Santos!" Sarah exclaimed, bouncing out of the pew and into the aisle, running pell-mell into the stocky Mexican's black trousers and hugging him.
Eduardo dropped to one knee and hugged the laughing child delicately. "But I am Eduardo, chiquita," he said gently. "Santos is the better looking of the two of us!"
Sarah leaned back and frowned. "Are you sure?" she asked.
"I am sure, my precious little flower. You may ask la Senora Firecracker, for a wife always knows!"
"You got married!" Sarah exclaimed, bouncing up and down and clapping her hands, absolutely unaware of the smiling stir she was causing in the surrounding pews. Few things are as delightful as a happy child, and Sarah knew two states of being: absolutely committed, and totally indifferent: it seemed as if she were either moving at a dead run, or she was collapsed in a heap, napping with Twain Dawg curled up with her. No middle ground with this child! was the common thought among the smiling onlookers.
Sarah looked up at la Senora Firecracker and her eyes grew huge. "Ooooo!" she exclaimed, "you're pretty!"
"Of course she is pretty! She is muy bonita! She must be so, for what woman can but be lovely when wedded to such a man as I, eh?" Eduardo laughed, throwing his head back in merriment, while Firecracker Mel smiled, and colored, and debated whether to deck him here, or wait until they were outside.
The Sheriff and Parson Belden watched this exchange and laughed quietly.
It did not escape their attention that Santos was not far behind the couple, his eyes quiet, his appearance relaxed ... arguably one of the most dangerous men in the church.
"I pity the poor fool that tries anything with those three," the Sheriff murmured, and Parson Belden nodded agreement.
Twain Dawg had never been known in his young lifetime to sit gently: when he sat beside Sarah, he plopped his bottom down solidly, and laughed, and offered a paw in greeting.
Eduardo gravely shook the paw. "Por Dios," he exclaimed, "un leoncito! Your poor puppy has been eaten by this great lion!"
Sarah put he hands on her hips and cocked her head. "That's Twain Dawg!" she said, not sure whether to laugh or scold.
A ripple of laughter from almost everyone watching took care of the quandary for her.
The music started and there was a general shuffling as people found their seats and settled in for the show.

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Linn Keller 12-26-07

 

Jacob's hands were loosely clasped in front, as were my own; my fingers strayed to the one button that was key to getting my coat open, and I saw Jacob's fingers were exploring in a similar manner.
He saw me looking and grinned.
I winked at him.
"You doing okay, sir?" Jacob whispered.
"Never better!" I said quietly. "You do have the rings?"
Jacob's eyes widened and for a moment I saw panic in them, and then his hand closed on the little box in his off pocket, and he relaxed. Dipping a hand in the pocket, he brought the box out, opened it and displayed its contents.
Parson Belden chuckled. "I could tell you a couple tales about rings getting lost," he murmured, "but maybe some other time."
"Yes, sir," Jacob said, snapping the hinged box shut and dropping it back into his pocket.
Miss Messman had proved a surprising talent. Not only was she a fast and accurate proofreader for Duzy's developing newspaper, she was quite a good hand on the piano: she could handle a Strauss waltz or "Pop Goes the Weasel" with an equal ease, and perfection; she began playing one I'd heard, long ago, as a matter of fact the last time I heard it played I was still in Georgia, and a window was playing her grief out on the piano. I believe it was called the "Ode to Joy" and she played it gently, and with respect.
She must have coordinated what she was doing with the ladies.
Most likely she did.
Women like things tidy, and organized, and I'd bet money they'd arranged it, for she just got to the end of the piece when the Parson's study door opened, and Duzy looked out, and smiled, and my heart skipped a beat ...
Mein Gott, I thought, she is beautiful!
I looked over at Jake, and reading his face was like reading a newspaper.
He was thinking the same as I.
I have never seen a man prouder, and I remember thinking, Jake, you damned fool, you'd best marry that woman, she's the best thing to ever happen to you!
But then at the moment I may not have been thinking too clearly, for I was about to do just that my own self.

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Linn Keller 12-26-07

 

Duck, the bugler, pulled easily abreast of the Sergeant.
"SARGE!" he shouted. "TRADE ME HORSES!"
"WHAT?" the big Irishman roared.
"TRADE ME HORSES!" Duck yelled back. "You only need us for the saber arch, after the wedding. He's your friend, you need to get there. Take my horse!"
"Are ye daft, man?"
"Sarge, this horse beat the Colonel's stallion!"
The Irishman's response was immediate: his hand flew up in the air and the column fanned out, slowing as he and Duck lept from their saddles and each mounted the other's steed.
"YAAH!" the Sergeant yelled, and Duck's horse, a blooded Arabian, shot ahead.
The rest of the troop surged after him, automatically forming a double column, but the big Arabian left them behind in short order.

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Linn Keller 12-26-07

 

The door to the Parson's study opened slowly.
I saw roses, red against a blue dress, and then heard the sound of hooves, hard-driven and pounding with a desperate speed.
A moment later, the sound of heavy boots on the steps outside and a great, booming, familiar voice: "I got here as quick as I could!"
"Mick!" Jacob and I exclaimed together, grinning.

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Linn Keller 12-26-07

 

Both Sarah and Twain Dawg were short enough they made it behind the back row of pews without being seen; Sarah slipped into the Parson's study, her eyes big, for the ladies were lined up, and they were tensed up, and each clutched her bouquet, and each trembled a little, for the day was very special, and they were all part of it.
Sarah reached for the shallow basket filled with rose petals.
Twain Dawg clamped his jaws firmly on the handle and picked it up.
Sarah put her hands on her hips. "Twain Dawg," she said in a warning voice.
Duzy giggled.
Twain Dawg blinked, the very image of innocence.
"You can't run away, Twain Dawg," Sarah said, shaking her Mommy-finger at the furry canine, and Twain Dawg's tail swept the clean floor even cleaner, and he turned, head high, basket swinging, ready to go.
Twain Dawg knew his part. He'd walked it with Sarah during the previous day's rehersal.
Sarah reached down for a double handful of rose petals.
"Are we ready?" Sarah asked, her voice loud and businesslike, and the Ode to Joy ended and Duzy drew the door open.
"Yes, Sarah. We're ready!"

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Charlie MacNeil 12-26-07

 

Bronson stepped silently through the gate in the fence dividing the lobby of the bank from the offices and went to the front. He eased the shade aside just far enough to survey the street then let the shade drop and turned to Dupont. "Go," he said in a whisper.

While Bronson had been walking through the bank Dupont had been readying his drill. Now he leaned on the knob and began to turn the crank. The sharp bit began to dig into the soft iron of the safe and curls of metal fell to the floor. In seemingly no time at all, he had a hole nearly through the wall of the safe next to the bottom door hinge.

Dupont stood and began to drill near the top hinge. When that hole was done, he moved to the lock and drilled a series of three holes around it. When all the holes were done he went to the strong room door and did the same thing. He packed all the holes with powder and covered them with beeswax. He pushed the detonators through the wax and into the powder and set his fuses.

"Fire in the hole!" he said in a stage whisper.

Bronson started to move to cover and stopped. "Dammit, we didn't bring the mattress!" he exclaimed. "Crap!" He thought a minute then said, "Ah hell, just blow the damn thing. By the time anybody knows what's happenin', we'll be long gone."

"Okay, boss." Dupont struck a match to a sliver of pitch wood he had brought and the wood flared up. He held the flame to the fuses in an exact sequence based on fuse length and burn rate then ran to where Bronson had taken cover behind the teller's station. "Fire in the hole!"

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Linn Keller 12-26-07

 

Twain Dawg trotted slowly down the aisle, tail and basket held equally high, just as pleased as punch with himself. Every few pews he would stop and turn around and Sarah would bend over and pick up some more rose petals and drop a few and occasionally fling a handful into an adjacent lap -- not a deliberate act, not really, just that she wanted to spread the rose petals like she'd been told, and she was trying to do a thorough job, without wasting her supply.
She managed to stretch her petals to the head of the aisle.
Twain Dawg sat down with his usual abrupt descent and sat there, grinning, the basket in his jaws, laughing, and Sarah reached down for the basket and tugged.
Twain Dawg tugged back.
"Twain Dawg!" Sarah whispered fiercely, "let go!"
Twain Dawg's eyes sparkled and his tail swung briskly, and he came up on all fours, and pulled, and Saran nearly went over on top of him.
She got her feet back under her and took a good two-handed grip and pulled, and Twain Dawg locked all four legs and skidded a little on the polished wood floor.
Heads leaned out into the aisle to watch the fun, and Duzy, in the lead, was doing her level best not to laugh out loud.
Twain Dawg finally let go, and Sarah fell backwards, landing on her bottom in a great flare of petticoats and ruffled pantalettes; she scrambled to her feet, shook her skirt and her ringlets and with a "Hmph!" hoisted her nose in the air and marched purpusefully to her appointed place.
Bonnie's face was pressed into her kerchief, as much to confine the laughter bubbling behind her pressed-together lips as to hide her flaming complexion.
Caleb was chuckling, trying to be quiet and not having much success.
Sean, his great, big-knuckled hand gently around Daisy's and both resting on the mound of Daisy's belly, had no such reservations; the sound of his mirth was loud in the church, and overrode Miss Messman's efforts on the piano, but only for the moment.
The Sheriff's grin was broad and his eyes were bright as he and Jacob watched the furry young dog and his blue-eyed companion.
Then Esther turned the corner, at the rear of the aisle, Miss Messman chorded the piano with a louder, familiar fanfare, and all present came to their feet.
Daisy pulled hard on Sean's great hand, her other hand grasping the back of the pew in front of her to lever herself up.
All eyes were on Esther.
Bonnie's hand rose to her lips, and tears stung her eyes a little, and Caleb's arm was warm and strong around her back.
Mick nodded and thought, "Now yon's a lady!"
"Good Lord, sir!" Jacob whispered, his throat dry and tight of a sudden.
The Sheriff nodded, his own throat suddenly unable to produce even a whisper in reply.
The bride, properly on a kinsman's arm, moving with glacier's slowness and yet from aisle to altar in but a moment, turned with grace and beauty, the material of her skirt and train flowing behind her like water; she handed the bouquet to one of the visions beside her, and turned, and the Sheriff, his world shrunk down to an oval the size of a man's Stetson brim, saw only the face of the woman for whom he would lay down his beating heart.
There was silence.
"Who giveth this woman in marriage?"
A voice said, "I do," and Esther's hands joined with the Sheriff's, and far away, the voice continued, "Please be seated."
I feel your hands, warm in mine, and I see your eyes, living oceans of emerald water, deep and pure, he thought, and nothing else in the world, nothing in all the entire world, existed, except the shining face of this, the woman he loved.
Somewhere, far away, a voice: "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here --"
From the congregation, a child's voice, high and piping: "Is he gonna kiss her now, Mama?"
Like the snap of a hypnotist's fingers, the spell was broken, and the congregation laughed, and so did the Sheriff, and his bride smiled, and they looked at the floor and then shyly up at one another.
Parson Belden let the laughter die down, for the entire congregation had joined in the expression of community mirth, and he tried it again:
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here --"
The Sheriff heard the words, and he didn't hear them: he knew the terms of the contract, and his presence was his assent to the terms named therein. His was a shrunken world, a tunnel, narrow in focus but clear in purpose, and Esther felt his hands tremble, just a little, as they held hers in a gentle envelopment.
The Parson inquired if the Sheriff took this woman, whose face he now beheld and whose hand he held in his own, and named the particulars of the contract, and the Sheriff swam up from the depths of his daze and looked at the Parson. "To all of these things, yes, sir, I do!" he declared in a ringing voice.
The Parson propounded the same questions to the bride, who in a softer voice, more befitting a proper lady, she, too, assented to the terms.
The rings were exchanged, and with them, their pledge, and the pronouncement was made, and the Sheriff felt that distant lightning-strike again, as he lifted the veil from his bride's face, and he drew her into his arms, and he kissed her once, delicately, gently; then as her arms tightened around him, he repeated the process, in the manner befitting a groom celebrating his lawful union with his beloved.
There was a dull explosion.
The floor shivered underfoot and the windows rattled, one pane breaking into three large pieces, which fell within and without the church.

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Charlie MacNeil 12-26-07

 

Smoke billowed throughout the building and drifted out of the windows at the back of the room that Bronson had opened while he waited for Dupont to set his charges. Bronson stood up from where he had been crouched and looked over to where Dupont was and would be for a good long time to come, at least until someone managed to bring in enough levers and etcetera to lift the safe door off of him. Apparently one of the charges on the door hinges had blown just slightly later than the others, and the resulting redirection of the safe door had launched it in Dupont's direction. The door had flattened both him and the teller's cage he had been hiding behind. A pool of crimson was forming slowly around the edges of the mangled door.

Bronson went to the back door and waved at Weasel who led the mules up to the back of the building and tied them securely to the porch posts. Bronson went to the safe and began to pull out the currency there and stuff it into burlap bags while Weasel headed for the strong room and the gold.


The dull thud of the blast followed by the tinkle of falling glass stopped all motion in the church for a millisecond. Charlie jumped to his feet, as did all those around him, at the sound. One of the Smith's appeared in his hand and he looked around for Jake and Jackson. Both men were already headed down the aisle

From the corner of his eye Charlie saw Linn make a leap toward the altar and pick up a rifle. Charlie dashed to the altar. "Where do you think you're going?" he demanded.

"Where do you think?" Linn snapped. He started toward the aisle.

"I think you've got a train to catch," Charlie barked. He stepped in front of Linn. "Now get! The train will be at the station real shortly, and you and your new bride need to be on it. Go!"

Charlie felt a hand on his arm. He looked down into Esther's eyes. "You know better than that, Charlie," she said. "He has to go."

"I'll not see either of you hurt on your wedding day if I can keep from it," Charlie said harshly. His voice softened. "Please, Miz Esther. Just this one time make him see that his duty is to take care of you, like he just promised. The rest of us will take care of the town." He turned and pointed at several faces in the crowd who looked familiar. "You, you, and you! See that the Sheriff and Miz Esther get to the train station safely. Their bags are already there. Anyone else who's armed come with me." He trotted down the aisle toward the back of the church followed by several men and a few women. Fannie led the charge.

At the door, Charlie turned and blew Fannie a kiss. "Take the front, Darlin'. I'll take the rear."

"You got it, Sugar."

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Linn Keller 12-26-07

 

White-faced and shaking, I bit back the rage that threatened to send words I'd regret into Charlie's back.
The three appointed to send Esther and I off to the station hesitated and I saw my chance.
Pointing to each in turn, I began giving orders in the same iron voice I'd used when I still wore Union blue, and scared boys who were ready to throw down their muskets and run took heart from the certainty in their officer's voice, and faced the enemy.
"You three, in front! I want eyes in all directions! Jacob and you, Parson -- the bell tower, NOW!"
Feet scrambled to follow orders. I looked around.
"Anyone armed, form up in back! NOW!"
Most of the men folk were on their feet and from their collective jaw set and brow furrows, they were ready for a young war and didn't care who knew it.
I looked over the men-folk. "Sean!" I barked.
I looked around. The big Irishman was nowhere to be seen.
"Sean!"
"Sheriff!" Duzy squeaked, and I handed my rifle to a big Swede, Johansson, a man I'd known in years past. "Anyone who ain't dressed for the weddin' tries to come in, kill him!" I said flatly.
"Ja, I do dot," Johansson nodded, and moved to the back doorway.
I moved back into the sanctuary proper and saw Sean, holding Daisy, and Daisy doubled over.
Sean looked up at me.
His Irish eyes were calm, and there was a knowing in his voice.
"It's time," he said quietly.
I looked around. Doc Greenlees was not to be found, but Dr. Flint was, and he was working his way to Daisy's side from the other end of the pew.
There was a quick, low conversation.
"I need tools I don't have here," Dr. Flint said crisply, standing up. "I need her in the office."
"Then we'll get her there," Sean declared, scooping his wife up as if she were a doll.
"HEAR ME!" I roared. "WE ARE GETTING DAISY TO THE DOC'S OFFICE! FORM UP ON SEAN, NOW!"
Mick stood and saluted. "Sir, I'd be most pleased t' take charge o' th' special detail," he said crisply.
I returned his salute. "Carry on, Sergeant!"
"Aye, sir!" Mick produced a revolver from somewhere and grinned wickedly. "Wi' me, lads!" he commanded, shouldering through the assembled, Sean behind him, Daisy's feet sticking out awkwardly to the side. They encircled the big Irishman and his laboring wife and moved with a surprising quickness, for every man faced out and every upraised hand held a weapon.
Three had hung behind.
I knew them, and they knew me.
"We have our orders, sir," one said quietly. "We can get you both to the station quickly and safely."
The Parson's rifle spoke from the bell tower, its deep note echoing painfully in the church. There were two sharper reports -- Jacob's .40-60 -- and an exclamation of pain.
My head snapped around and I strode toward the bell tower.
"Sheriff!" the Parson called, and there was a note in his voice I didn't like.
I was halfway up the ladder by the time he got Jacob around the middle and started down, and between the two of us we got him down to the floor.
Jacob was gasping and coughing blood.
I pulled his coat open, seized his new shirt and ripped it open.
He'd been shot just under the collar bone and he was bleeding to death.
Duzy was beside me. I don't know where she came from.
"A knife," I said, the bellowed, "I NEED A KNIFE!!"
Caleb handed me a folding knife and I snapped its blade open.
"Duzy, give me your hand," I said quietly.
Puzzled, she held her hand out.
I seized her hand and wrapped it around the handle of the knife, and I felt that prairie thunder storm again, and I heard the voice of that old mountain witch.
My hand was firm around Duzy's and I held the blade and I held her hand and she flinched as the fires went into her, and I held the knife flat against Jacob's chest and looked up to the little bit of sky I could see around the roof of the bell tower and I spoke to the Almighty on the matter, and then I spoke the Word.
"And I saw Jacob Keller in the ditch wallowing in Jacob Keller's blood and I said unto Jacob Keller, Live; yea, I said unto Jacob Keller, Live."
Duzy shivered as the fires shot through her, and they shot through me as well, and my hand was firm on hers and we held that knife flat on Jacob's chest, and the bleeding stopped like you put a cork in a bottle.
I released Duzy's hand, and she dropped the knife, and she looked at me, and her violet eyes were huge.
"What have you done?" she whispered.
"A gift from an old mountain witch," I said. "She handed me a knife and with it her power, and I have handed it with a knife to you. I have yet to teach you to blow fire but that will come."
Parson Belden was beside us and laid a hand on Jacob's chest, as he had mine, and he too spoke the Word, as he had done with me.
Had I laid my hand on his, I knew, I would have found it warm, and I remembered the unnatural warmth when he laid his hand on me as he had when I'd been hurt.
I stood.
They'd hurt my boy.
"Esther," I said quietly, "stay with him and keep him quiet. The bleedin' is stopped but he has some healin' up to do."
Esther laid a gentle hand on my forearm.
"Do what you must," she said softly, "but come back in one piece."
I drew her into me and kissed her, once, and strode for the doorway. Men parted for me, and the three detailed to our safe passage were right behind me.

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Linn Keller 12-26-07

 

Sarah and Twain Dawg had shied up against the altar rail, knowing they could be accidentally hurt in the press that was sure to follow; the side door looked like an option, and, unnoticed in the confusion, they slipped out the side.
Sarah looked around, wondering where she should go.
She saw the General Store, and remembered the penny candy in the big glass jar, and she saw the door was open.
"C'mon, Twain Dawg," she said. "Let's go say hello!"
Twain Dawg bounced along beside her, tongue hanging out in high good spirits.

Maude seized her skirts and stepped past Mr. Johanssen.
"I don' t'ink dot's a gut idea," Johanssen cautioned, and WJ's widow smiled and produced her late husband's LeMat revolver from somewhere among the folds of her skirt.
Mr. Johanssen saw the wisdom of not arguing the point further: he knew how determined a woman could be, and she could obviously take care of herself, so he settled back into his post as door guard.

Fog came out the kicked-open door of the general store with a brand new set of drawers on his unwashed bottom, and a brand new derby hat on his head. He was leaving in a bit of haste, as smoke was already curling up behind him: he'd been detailed to set a fire to further distract the townsfolk and engage them in something other than pursuit of the robbers.
Mildred raised the LeMat in a two hand grip and eared the massive hammer back to full stand. "Stop where you are," she said clearly.
Fog sneered. "And what you gonna do with that, granny?" he sneered, reaching into his own waistband.
"Don't you talk to her like that!" Sarah declared, thrusting an accusing finger at him, and Twain Dawg's ancestry kicked in.
Fog's last set of drawers had been quite sacky, and the crotch had more often than not sagged halfway to his knees.
Had Twain Dawg clamped down on a good jaw full of sacky drawers, chances are he would have had nothing to masticate but some unwashed cotton.
As it was, the drawers Fog had chosen, fit him quite a bit better, though "better" was probably not the term he would have chosen.
Twain Dawg's developing jaws closed on more than just cotton cloth.
As a matter of fact, his jaws did a remarkable job of causing Fog to absolutely, utterly, completely forget about the handle of the revolver in his waistband.
Or Maude.
Or the angry little girl with the pointing finger.
It is entirely possible to cause someone to pass out from a sufficient application of pain.
Fog did.
And for that reason.
Twain Dawg, puzzled, released his grip; cocking his head curiously to the side, he made a questioning noise, then he turned toward the horse trough, where it leaked at one corner, and there was a friendly puddle for him to drink out of.
He wanted to get the taste out of his mouth.

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Linn Keller 12-26-07

 

My face was drawn tight and I wanted blood.
A slug sang past my ear and I did not care.
I strode toward the bank building with murder in my heart and a Colt revolver in each hand.
A hard hand came from somewhere and grabbed a handful of my shirt front, stopping me like I'd run into a wall.
"You've got a train to catch," Charlie said in a surprisingly mild tone.
"They shot Jacob," I said.
Charlie hesitated. "And you're going to walk up and take them."
"Yep."
"You're not thinkin' clear," Charlie cautioned. "We will handle this. We WILL handle this."
Blood sang in my ears and I tasted copper.
"What about Jacob?" Charlie asked. "He had no one before he came here. Don't make Esther a widow and Jacob an orphan!"
Somewhere in the back of my mind a voice said He's right, listen to him, and reason cooled my war-lust, and I holstered the Colts.
"Be at it, then," I said shortly, and turned back toward the church.

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Linn Keller 12-26-07

 

Johansson handed me my rifle and sprinted down the street, toward the firehouse.
I didn't care.
I went inside and set down, and Jacob was still laying there on the floor, and had a bandage tied around his chest and under his arm. He'd bled out some and it made a sizeable puddle and his coat was off him, and rolled up under his head for a pillow.
I went to one knee beside him, and took his hand.
His eyes opened.
"Sir?" he whispered.
"Right here, Jacob."
"Sir, I'm sorry." His voice was faint, far-away.
"Sorry for what?" I asked, honestly puzzled.
"I ruined my suit," he said, and there was sorrow in his voice.
I couldn't help it.
I laughed, a little.
"Jacob," I said, "I can always buy you another suit. That's why God invented cloth and needles and thread and the like. You're alive and that's all that counts."
"The Parson," Jacob whispered. "Is the Parson hurt?"
"No, Jacob, he's not."
"I'm right here, son," the Parson rumbled, his hand on my shoulder.
"You just lay there and rest," I said quietly.
"Yes, sir," Jacob said and closed his eyes.

Outside, Doc Greenlees reined in with a puzzled look on his face. He'd just gotten back and was disappointed to be late for the wedding, but something was very wrong, a realization that was harshly confirmed when the Irish Brigade came screaming out of the firehouse at a full gallop, smoke rolling from the brazen throat of their steam fire engine.
He drew up in front of the church and set the brake on his buggy.

"Oh, no," Tilly groaned, "of all times, not now!"
Mr. Moulton squatted a little as if to pick his wife up as Sean had, and Tilly swatted his shoulder: "Don't you dare try and pick me up! I can walk!" she snapped, and proceeded to walk about four steps down the aisle, toward the back of the church, before she seized the back of a pew and went to her knees.
"Sheriff!" Mr. Moulton called, kneeling beside his panting wife.

Dr. John Greenlees' mind was an orderly and methodical piece of clockwork, or so he liked to believe; cause and effect, order and precision marked his work, and his surgery, and indeed his very life.
Unfortunately, when he found he had both a gunshot victim and a woman in labor, and was told there was something of a pitched battle at the bank with unknown casualties, and Dr. Flint already had a laboring woman in their little office -- well, the orderly mind of Dr. John Greenlees began to fairly hum with the rapid spinning of mental gears.
The Sheriff carried Jacob out of the church and set him in the back seat of the buggy, and sprinted back into the church; he re-emerged, carrying the sweating and gray-faced Tillie, followed by her worried husband.
The good Doctor hadn't driven at more than a sedate trot all morning, as was his preference.
As there was a rather serious disagreement going on in front of the bank, and he would have to pass by this center of conflict, he decided that a bit more velocity was called for, and in a moment of particularly clear and logical thinking, he hauled the buggy around, and down a back alley, and passed behind the bank, rather than in front of it.

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Charlie MacNeil 12-26-07

 

When the first shots blasted through the ringing in Bronson's ears, he cursed vehemently and his hands worked faster at stuffing greenbacks into the bags he held. Weasel's face was white and he was sweating but he resolutely kept on packing gold ingots out to the mules. "I don't think them mules can pack much more," he said at last.

"Alright," Bronson said. "Let's get movin' before the townsfolk totally get their dander up." He headed for the door, dragging two burlap bags full of paper money behind him.

Weasel sprinted for the door. Just as he stepped out on the porch a voice barked, "Freeze, bucko, or I'll blow you loose from your boots!" Weasel stopped so fast he nearly went on his face on the splintered boards of the porch and his hands shot into the air. Behind him, Bronson drew his Colt and slammed his back up against the wall beside the door and cursed under his breath.

When the skinny outlaw burst from the bank Charlie had just turned from sending Linn back to the church and so was surprised by the man's sudden appearance. He recovered quickly and told the man to freeze and the poor gunsel nearly went on his face under the mules. "Who else is in the bank?" Charlie demanded.

"Ain't nobody else in there," the runt stammered.

"Bull," Charlie snorted. "There ain't no way you set up this heist. There's gotta be somebody in there." Weasel didn't say anything. "Now pull that pistol out real slow and toss it over yonder past the mules." Weasel gingerly pulled his pistol and sent it flying toward where Charlie had indicated. "Good," Charlie said. "Now step down here."

Just then he heard Fannie's voice. "Charlie, SCRAM!"

Bronson had heard enough by now to know that whoever had ahold of Weasel was going to be coming into the bank in pretty short order. He cocked his pistol and held it up near his shoulder then started to take a step when a woman's voice shrieked out a warning to the man outside. Mentally Bronson was screaming "Don't go!" but he had already put his body in gear so after the first step he just kept on going.

A big man in a buckskin shirt and sweat-stained gray hat slammed out the door with his Colt blazing. Charlie hit the dirt and he felt a bullet slash through his coat and another lifted his hat from his head. "Freeze, dammit," he yelled but another shot spat dirt in his face. He thumbed back the hammer of the right hand Schofield and slipped the trigger. The big chunk of lead slammed into the man's chest and the blood began to flow but he kept coming. He shot the first gun empty, shoved it down in the holster, and jerked another from his belt and went back to shooting. Charlie fired again and saw the bullet hit next to where the other one hit.

Bronson felt the bullet slam into his chest. "No, not me!" his brain screamed. "Not me!" He felt rather than heard his pistol click on an empty cartridge and instinctively holstered it and drew his second gun. He triggered off two shots at the man laying in the dirt but for some reason the pistol had begun to weigh a ton, and the shots went wild as his arm sagged weakly. The second bullet slammed into him and he staggered back and tripped over the edge of the porch and sat heavily down. A trickle of blood started down his chin as he toppled over and died.

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Duzy Wales 12-26-07

 

When Duzy had first started to walk down the aisle, she had felt panic, knowing that she was there to stand beside the woman who had been every bit a Mother to her, as her own dear Mama. Papa was behind her, waiting to give Aunt Esther away, but she still had feelings that she didn’t understand and she had to remind herself, “stay focused.”

Within the first few steps, she felt that peace again, the feeling of calm, and of course the smell of roses, as Sarah and Twain Dawg were doing an amusing and thorough job of dropping the petals…..but it was the same feeling of peace she had felt in the grave yard the night before. He was there somewhere. “Focus Duzy,” she reminded herself as she walked forward and looked into Jake’s eyes, shining with love, with that lopsided smile of his, and knew he was thinking of their wedding, just as she should be.

Everything had gone perfectly, that is until the robbery, and all hell broke loose, and she found herself holding the knife with Uncle Linn and felt the warmth in her hand….a healing warmth and the realization of her responsibility hit her full force. She had been given a gift, one that she had tried to deal with all of her life, and she knew that the presence of the spirit the night before had helped her to prepare for what was to come today and in the future, by giving her that sense of peace, that they held a bond of some sort, a connection so strong that nothing would ever break it, but what she didn’t know was how he would fit into the rest of her life, in this lifetime. She also knew she had to tell Jake the truth and let the cards fall wherever, even if she lost him. She could not give herself to Jake with a full heart and a clear conscious without telling him the truth, and yet she had not stopped herself the night before, as she had felt his mouth on hers. Would she ever forget it? “No,” the answer came to her, just as quickly as it had entered her mind.

The weight was heavy. Could she control her urges, could she channel the power of the gift? Could she live her life wondering who he was, what the connection was, if “he” would return, if she would be drawn to him again, and what she would do if he did?

All these thoughts had come in such a short time, so much was happening and she could only wonder what would happen next when she saw Linn return to Jacob, saw Doctor Greenlees, heard Tilly, thought of Daisy, and knew that she needed to stop thinking and start doing whatever she could to help.

Where is Jake, and where is “he?” were the questions that entered her mind, as she felt someone lift her up, giving her strength, and then “he” was gone…..at least for the moment, as she turned to find Aunt Esther to see how she could help.

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Mr. Box 12-26-07

 

The instant Linn and Esther uttered "I do." and kissed, the whole town exploded into a frenzy of activity. The rose petals almost drifted out the door behind the rush of men flying into action! The church emptied out like a hornet's nest that had just been kicked by a mule! Men and women swarmed in all directions. I saw Sarah down near the merchantile. There was some smoke beginning to rise in the air. The Irish fire brigade was almost there. I decided to get down there and see if things were under control and see to it that Sarah was OK. Twain Dawg was sitting next to someone on the ground wearing new underwear. There was a rip in the back and a big blood stain. "Twain Dawg got him, Mr. Baxter!"
"Keep an eye on him, Twain Dawg, I'll get some rope and tie him up."
"Woof."
The boiler was coming up to a full head of steam. Lines were laid and ready to be charged. This was no drill!

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Linn Keller 12-27-07

 

I ground my teeth til my jaw hurt.
Didn't do a bit of good.
Jacob was limp in my arms. I held him rolled into me so as not to strain that hole high in his lung. He was dead pale and his breathing worried me but I was packing him into the Doc's surgery, and both doctors helped me lay him down on the operating table.
We shucked him out of his duds and the doctors began their work.
The women were in the room as well, and it was crowded, with two women in labor -- Tilly hadn't broke water yet but Daisy had -- I was seized by feminine hands and thrust into the outer darkness of the waiting room.
Sean was pacing.
His back was straight, his jaw was set and his color was good: gone were the fears that accompanied Daisy's first, strong contractions, but a few days -- or was it weeks -- ago?
Sean turned toward me. "How's the boy?" he asked quietly.
I punched a thumb under my left collar bone.
Sean nodded. "He's alive?"
I nodded, dumb with misery.
I could hear two flurries of gunshots, shouts, another couple of shots, then all was still, and I knew Charlie and ... hell, probably everyone in town had slung lead and I hadn't heard it.
"I shoulda been there," I whispered, my throat dry.
Sean's huge hands closed on my shoulders. "Lad, listen to an old Irishman," he said. "Ye are a fine man and an outstanding man and I don't know anyone more honest nor one that can hit harder." His smile was in his eyes, and it was contagious.
"Ye canna' be everywhere. Ye ha' guid people. Though it's a hard task they'll take care o' it, an' to your satisfaction." He thumped a knuckle against my chest. "Even though y'are a hard man t' please!"
My left ear twitched, and my head came up.
A bugle?
Sean's head, too, raised, and he chuckled.
"The cavalry has arrived," he rumbled, then: "I wonder how me boyos are doin'."
He looked at the closed door of the surgery, and then at the front door, and the street beyond. "Ye wish t' be wi' yer men," he muttered, though to me or to himself I was not sure.
"Is this Daisy's first child?" I asked.
Sean's grin was broad as the sunrise itself, and just as illuminating. "Aye, it is!"
"Likely she'll be a while. Go on ahead. Anything happens I'll let you know."
Sean stepped cautiously to the door of the surgery, tapped lightly; Miz Susan, the nurse, opened the door a hand's-breadth. "She's fine," she whispered, "though she's saying some very unpleasant things about men in general and a certain Irishman in particular!"
"Will she be long?" Sean blurted, and instantly regretted his choice of words.
Susan smiled tolerantly. "This is her first child. I don't think she'll be delivered before sundown, maybe not until morning."
"Thank ye," Sean nodded. "Tell her I love her."
I heard Daisy's voice raise, with an edge of pain in it: "Is that Sean? I'm going to rip his Bog-Irish head off and fry it for breakfast! I'm going to beat him to death with a frying pan and then I'm going to -- AAAAAHHHHHHH!"
Susan shut the door and contained the laboring woman's sounds of discomfiture.
"I'll go walk about in a burnin' buildin'," Sean said thoughtfully. "It's safer!"

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Linn Keller 12-27-07

 

Dr. Flint opened the door to the surgery.
I was on my feet like I had springs in my butt.
He had the door open just enough to admit his head; he crooked a finger at me.
I hauled the door open and Jacob was sitting up.
Pale -- a bedsheet held next to him would have looked ruddy -- but grinning at me, the way he always did.
I just stood there.
"Sir?" Jacob asked. His voice wasn't as strong as it usually was but then he'd just been shot and whittled on some and likely they dumped some of that damned carbolic down his bullet hole, or run a cleaning patch through it on a rod like they were cleaning out a gun barrel. I don't know what these modern surgeons do but it couldn't have felt good.
"Jacob, you ready for the reception?" I asked, and I begun to feel a little light headed.
"Yes, sir," Jacob assured me, "soon as I get me some good cookin' behind my belt buckle."
"He's hungry," Miz Susan the nurse smiled approvingly.
"And wha'd ye expect, he's a growin' boy!" Daisy challenged from the other side of the room, her teeth set against her own agonies. "Take him up there and tell the cook that I said to feed the poor lad!" Her head and shoulders arched backward and her heels dug into the thin mattress as her contractions seized her again.
"Get him out of here," Dr. Flint said with a wink. "These Western me are too healthy for the like of us. Back East that would've killed three men and crippled a fourth, and this fellow wants a meal and a dance! You'd think there'd been a wedding or something!"
I nodded. "I don't know what-all has gone on at the bank. Sounded like Mick's cavalry arrived, though."
I stood beside Jacob's bed and held out my hand.
He took it.
"Jake, you gonna be all right?"
"Fine, sir," Jacob said, the red of his lips standing out starkly against the pallor of his face.
"He's lost blood, make no mistake," Dr. Flint said in a professional tone. "Young man, I want you to have plenty of water and good red meat. See me daily for bandage changes, I want to keep track of how that's healing. And no hard work, no cutting wood or hauling locomotives around on your shoulder!" His tone was stern but his expression was knowing. He'd seen Jacob busy from reveille to taps at the Jewel, splitting and stacking and hauling wood, hauling water, shoveling coal, driving a team, packing trunks up and down the stairs, always with a will, always with a grin.
"Hard work?" Jacob protested. "Who'll fill the woodboxes? We've coal enough out back for the stoves but they need carried up to the rooms, and the fancy rooms with fire places need wood --"
I held up a hand. "Jacob, I'm sure the management will find willing hands during your heal-up."
"Haven't you got that puir boy a meal yet? Shame be wid ye, all o' ye! Men! Look what a man did t' puir innocent me, and I'm but a wee lass! I'd ought t' take a stick t' the lot o' ye! Why any grown man in his supposed right mind AAAAAAAA!" Daisy's labor came again, harder, quicker than she'd expected, and she groaned, and bent at the waist, her nails digging into her palms.
Dr. Greenlees raised one eyebrow. He turned and began washing his hands with a particular thoroughness.
Charlie opened the door to the surgery. "Is this a private party or can anyone jump in?"
Dr. Greenlees dried his hands and raised the sheet covering the laboring Daisy.
"Could you have Sean report to the waiting room, please," he said mildly. "Dr. Flint? Please check on our other patient."
"Time to go," Susan said with a brisk efficiency, taking me by the upper arm and steering me very neatly out the door. "We'll take care of Jacob, he'll be fine, go to your lovely bride, Sheriff, shoo!" and the door shut with an abrupt finality!
I don't remember the walk from the doc's office to the church.
I do remember walking with my hat in one hand and my rifle in the other.
I remember Esther, standing in the doorway like a queen, collected and beautiful.
I remember the hollow sound my boots made as I walked up the steps to her.
And as long as I live I shall never, ever, forget how it felt to take my wife into my arms.

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Linn Keller 12-27-07

 

Our sendoff was from the Jewel, instead of from the church.
Sean had a mug in one hand and his arm around whichever lovely lass was nearest at the moment, and he wasn't entirely sober, but a first time father, I reckon, has reason to celebrate. "A son!" he'd roared as he strode through the doorway. "A fine broth of a lad! Mr. Baxter! A month's pay to ye, pour 'em til that's gone!"
Jackson and Emma Cooper had their carriage outside, waiting on us. Our trunks were loaded and thanks to Lightning's skills the railroad schedule was altered just slightly, and our departure behind the Lady Esther was assured.
Judge Hostetler had ridden in, in his private car, and in a cloud of blue Havana smoke pumped my hand, kissed Esther on the cheek, and announced that he was putting his private car at our disposal for our honeymoon trip.
Esther was delighted, as was I: she kissed His Honor and I shook his hand again, and a glass of good Irish was pressed into the man's grip, and of a sudden we were surrounded by shouts and raised glasses, and willing hands seized us both and propelled us out the double doors of the Jewel.
The carriage was parked clear on the other side of the street.
Mick and his cavalry were ranked neatly in a blue uniformed aisle.
At his bellowed command, sharpened steel whispered from scabbards, and touched, a gleaming saber arch.
Esther and I stopped at the beginning of the arch.
I saluted Mick.
Thank you, Sergeant," I said simply.
Mick returned my salute and shook my hand. "Any time, Colonel!" he declared.
We walked down the arch of steel, and as we passed the last trooper, a saber broke formation and swung in a quick, bright arc, and the trooper swatted Esther across the backside with the flat of his blade.
In that moment I remember thinking that a record of sorts had just been set.
He's the only man I know of who swatted Esther's fanny unexpectedly and lived to tell the tale!

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Mr. Box 12-27-07

 

As soon as things started settling down the crowd started pouring into the Silver Jewel and the party was underway. A few people were dusting themselves off and inspecting snags in their Sunday best. I thought the celebration was at the highest level of any I'd seen yet when Sean burst thru the doors and shouted, "IT'S A BOY!"

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Linn Keller 12-28-07

 

I stood on the rear platform of His Honor's railcar with an empty brandy-glass in one hand, and a telegraph flimsy in the other.
Esther's hand was gentle in my arm, and she leaned her head against my shoulder. "What is it, darling?" she asked, and we swayed a bit as the car jolted under us; they were coupling our car to another train, to take us farther east.
I handed her the telegraph.
Esther produced a slender set of spectacles from somewhere and settled them well out on her nose, and read:
Jacob mending. Sean strutting. Tilly laboring. All well. Jake
"So much meaning, in so few words," Esther murmured.
A whistle, a jerk; we began moving again.
The Lady Esther began backing, on the track beside ours; she would be switched to another track, and from there she would pull onto the turntable, and thus would she turn her face back toward Firelands for her return trip.
The engineer -- Bill, the same one that drove the Lady Esther to a record speed -- leaned out the Lady Esther's cab and waved, hauling down on his whistle cord, giving us a great noisy salute as we pulled away.
We waved back.

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