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Firelands-The Beginning

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Duzy Wales 5-29-08


As Josie and Fannie walked down the steps of the Silver Jewel, all eyes were upon them. It seemed as if the talking, music and laughter had all stopped and suddenly everything was real quiet. Josie felt as nervous as a whore in church and couldn’t understand why, except that for once she had the attention of everyone in the room. Shocked was a good word for it, for she thought she would barely be noticed with the gorgeous and flamboyant redhead walking beside her.

“Why are they staring at me?” Josie whispered.

“Head up, shoulders back, chest out, and keep walking. They will warm up to you soon enough. They were expectin’ Duzy, and it is obvious that you are not her tonight.” Fannie answered, with a knowing smile on her face.

Josie didn’t quite know how to take Fannie’s words; thinking she had given in too much to the woman’s demands, her hair all done up, her face painted, and the soft silk blouse was showing way too much in her opinion. What she didn’t realize was how womanly she did look. Every curve of her body could be seen in the tight britches and low cut blouse, and with Fannie’s work on her hair and face, her dark eyes seemed to shine like stars on a moonlit night. Taking a deep breath, she kept walking until she reached the bottom of the stairs.

The bartender came around and took her hand in his. “Attention everyone, it is my honor to introduce Miss Josie! She will be dealing at this poker table if you wish to play.”

“Miss Josie, I am Fred Baxter, it’s nice to meet you. Can I get you a drink?”

“Thank you, Mr. Baxter, Josie said, blushing as he pulled out the seat for her. “I’m not much of a drinker, but tonight I think I will have a, hmmm, a shot of tequila please?” Fred smiled to himself as he poured the golden liquid into Duzy’s favorite shot glass and sat it before her. He watched as Duzy downed the drink and set the glass down. Picking up the cards, she began to shuffle and soon the table was full and Josie was in her environment, smiling as she raked in the money, but leaving the gamblers thinkin’ that she was sorry they had lost their hard earned money!

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Linn Keller 5-29-08


I got Esther tucked in nice and warm, and kissed her forehead.
"I'll be back shortly," I promised, and she patted my hand and smiled.
The bruising on her face was beginning to show the glorious shades of healing; she'd not once tried to hide, nor to hide the colors with face paint: it's as if she wanted the world to see that she wasn't going to be stopped by something as minor as being belted with a mule hoof.
I smiled and winked at her, gave the quilt a final tug, then leaned over, cupped my hand over the lamp's chimney and puffed it out.
Hijo del Rey waited patiently at the hitch rail, but perked up when I came out of the house. It was cool tonight, a little damp ... easy to breathe, and the air smelled so very good.
The saddle creaked a little as I swung up and settled in.
Hijo del Rey was of a mind to buck, and I was of a mind to let him: after he'd twisted the kinks out of his back, and put a couple in mine, he settled down to a steady, smooth pace, and we pointed our nose toward town, and toward the Jewel.
I wanted to see Josie dealing poker.
The street was quiet. Maude was just locking up for the night, and waved as I rode by; I lifted my hat to her and she smiled and waved through the front door's double window. On down the street, Mrs. Belden, the parson's wife, greeted me cheerily; she was headed up the street with a covered basket, headed for Maude's back door; she'd gotten in the habit of taking fresh baked bread or cakes or some such up to Maude a couple times a week -- not that Maude needed the charity, but rather as the two women had formed a fast friendship, and would talk and sew for a while.
We drew up in front of the Jewel. There were several horses tethered, mostly brands I'd never seen; the Jewel was lit up and inviting, I could hear a lively tune on one of the pianos from within -- I tilted my head and listened, trying to figure who was playing by their style.
Don't think it's Miss Messman, I thought. Tillie has gone home by now.
I patted Hijo del Rey's neck. "I won't be long, fella," I murmured, and Hijo leaned his head against me and sighed.
"Darn if you're not more like a big pup than a saddle horse sometimes," I murmured, rubbing his ears.
I went on in, stopping inside the door as I always did, taking a step to the left to get a wall to my back. The Jewel was home, in many ways; I had part ownership in it, I knew everyone that made the Jewel what it was ... but I was also careful, and so I got the wall to my back, and stood there, still, silent, watching.
Morning Star was doing her best to be invisible. She was still not comfortable in a crowd, but she was pushing her fears aside and bringing trays of food and drink; she looked over at me and I saw her eyes smile, and she inclined her head, just a fraction. I touched my hat brim to her and saw the recognition of the gesture, reflected in her dark eyes.
Mr. Baxter raised his chin in greeting as he set four froth-capped mugs up onto the gleaming, polished bar. I saw his glance shift, and moved into the room a bit, to see where he was indicating.
I'm told I have a pretty good poker face.
I don't think it was too good in that moment.
I'd always seen Duzy dressed ladylike, and behaving ladylike, all but her recent arrival: she'd looked rough, like someone else -- in a way she was someone else -- but now ...
I was looking at a stranger.
This slender, well-built woman -- God help me, I thought, I'm thinking of her like she's a woman! -- and I had to laugh: I'd always thought of her as a lady ... no, as a Lady, a Suth'n Belle, and later as my niece ...
This woman had her hair fixed, her face painted -- she was wearing a frilly blouse, and I let my gaze wander, and marvelled at how well she filled out those britches ...
It's a good thing a man can't be shot for what he's thinkin', I thought, and felt my face heat up, ashamed of myself for recognizing that my darlin' niece was a really good looking woman!
I blinked, and grabbed the reins of my thoughts and hauled them in hard and mercilessly. I looked again, coldly, with the eyes of a lawman.
Duzy's hands were deft, quick, graceful: she dealt a deck and made it look easy, she cut and shuffled one-handed, all while smiling and laughing and flirting mercilessly with the fellows around the table.
Between her laughter, and her sweet voice, between her ... ah ... well, she filled that blouse out pretty well, too ...
I hauled back on my mental reins again.
She was dealing poker like she'd dealt all her life.
She was also consistent winners.
Tom Landers raised his chin in greeting, and I returned the nod; he came over, carefully working his way behind Duzy and greeting Miz Fannie as he went past.
"Tom," I said, shaking the man's hand, "what do you make of this?"
Tom shook his head. "I've never seen her like this," he admitted, "but she's not cheatin'. If she is, she's too good for me to catch."
"She doesn't have to cheat, Tom," I said, my voice pitched to carry no further than his good ear. "Look at 'em. They're just lined up and ready to throw their money at her feet. Daggone, they're lookin' at anythin' but their cards!"
Tom clapped his hand good-naturedly on my shoulder. "When I was their age I was the same way!" he laughed. "That's why I was forever broke!"
Morning Star came over with a tray, and two steaming mugs of coffee, one with cream already, and one without: Tom took the black one and I took the other, and we stood and marveled at the sight of this Josie, this stranger, laughing and flirting and taking their money and making them like it.
I took a long drink of coffee, draining the mug and setting it carefully on Morning Star's tray.
"Thank you," I said gently, and Tom set his down too, and Morning Star worked her way invisibly through the crowd, and back toward the kitchen.

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Linn Keller 5-29-08


Jacob knew what he had in mind.
Frowning at the meadow before him, he considered the sheer, rocky cliff behind, the sweetwater spring in easy reach to one side; the cliff curved a little, which meant no one could come up behind, and yet if he built carefully, he could still fashion a concealed escape, to the rear.
Here, off to the side, he thought, a corral and barn -- or should he put them out, into the meadow?
He squinted up at the high cliff. There were no loose rocks, no fissures or cracks, nothing to split off and fall. Still -- he drew a set of field glasses from his saddle bag -- still, he wanted to be sure, for a roof that would turn rain and hail would provide little protection against stone.
His father owned the land, and the land for a respectable distance surrounding. Chances are he'd give it as a wedding gift.
Jacob lowered the glasses.
Many men work a lifetime and never earn what he was about to be given, he realized; a gift of this enormity was not to be taken lightly, nor misused.
The deed was free and clear. Mr. Moulton had seen to that, when his father first acquired the property; transferring the deed would be simplicity itself.
There remained only the building of the house, and barn, and corral.
After that ... well, Jacob knew that a married man had responsibilities, and he looked forward to them.
In his mind's eye he saw a smiling wife and laughing children, stock in the corral and grazing in the meadow.
"Annette," he murmured, and his horse swiveled its ears at the sound of his voice, "I believe you'll like it here."
He dismounted and opened a saddlebag.
Taking out stakes and string, he began planning the building of their house.

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Duzy Wales 5-31-08


Josie slept late into the morning and awoke feeling; well, special, special for the first time she could remember. Tom Landers had congratulated her on a job well done and Josie was proud of her cut of the money from the night before, and the deal she and Mr. Landers had agreed upon for her stay in Firelands.

Josie had enjoyed the attention from the men, the laughter and camaraderie of the gamblers as they had flirted with her and she back with them, and it seemed that coming to Firelands may be a good thing.

Josie picked up the bottle of laudanum and the memories of a woman addicted to laudanum came to her, of opium dens, of Chinese slaves, and Josie sat the bottle down, wondering where the memories came from.

Hearing her stomach growl, she quickly washed her face, pulled her britches over her hips, slipped into one of her own shirts, fastened her gun belt, checked her Colts, and walked downstairs for a bite to eat. Suddenly a little girl with corn silk blond hair came running to her and Josie’s eyes lit up as she leaned down and hugged the little girl and said, “Sarah!”

“See, Mommy, I told you Auntie Duzy would remember me!”

Josie looked confused for a few seconds and then answered, “Honey, I am not your Auntie Duzy, my name is Josie.”

“It is nice to meet you, Miss Josie, but may I ask you a question?”

Of course you can what would you like to know?”

“Well, if you are not Duzy, how did you know my name?”

“Sarah, there you are!” A woman spoke from behind the little girl, and Josie looked up into the eyes of a tall and beautiful, auburn haired woman, holding two infants, and was obviously out of breath from trying to catch up with the little girl.

When their eyes met, there was recognition, and then images. The images of a dirty room, a scared little girl huddling in the corner, the woman’s face and body bruised and beaten, and then the sound of gunfire, a large man coming to pick up the body of the man, to protect, protect who? The darkness came with more images. Roses, the smell of roses, a grand opening, the lady fitting Josie for an outfit, no it wasn’t Josie….a tiny baby being buried, as she held the woman as they both cried….and then total darkness as Josie passed out from the pain in her head along with the swirling darkness that always preceded the pain.

Fred Baxter had watched the scene and had sent for a doctor as soon as Josie had reached for her head, as if she was struggling within herself, the pain etched across her face.

Caleb had caught up with Bonnie and had pulled out a chair, giving her a place to sit, and had taken one of the infants from her arms as she consoled Sarah, “she will be fine, Sarah, you did not hurt Auntie Duzy.”

“But Mama, I ask her how she knew my name; I didn’t just say it was nice to meet Miss Josie like I promised!”

“It is not your fault Sarah, Auntie Duzy was hurt in the storm, do you remember?”

“Yes. I remember.”

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Linn Keller 5-31-08


Jacob labored like a giant, in the shadow of the cliff: the rock was sound, and on the southern exposure, could be quarried: he'd hired a pair of stonecutters from the mine, men who knew hard rock and its harvesting, and they made plans to extract building stone from this outcrop.
They ended up with more than just two men: in fact, a dozen ended up working the little quarry, and thrifty Jacob had saved enough to pay them for their work: but I am getting ahead of myself, for the scene here is on the first day, and how Jacob laid out his foundation, and as he surveyed the stakes and the string and his carefully drawn sketches, he built a house, a home, in his mind, for he knew that thought is parent to the deed.
It was not until they had the stone cut and squared, stacked and sledged the few yards from the outcrop to the construction, that he brought Annette to see the site.
The stonecutters were gone for the day, there at the sun's setting, and the two walked slowly across the ground that was to be their home; they held hands and talked, quietly, and laid their plans, as young lovers will.

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Duzy Wales 6-1-08


“What do you think, Dr. Flint?” Sheriff Keller asked, with a worried expression as he held his hat in his hand, with Esther standing lovingly by his side.

“I am not sure; the mind is powerful and can shut down for its own protection; although, Miz. Rosenthal assured me she did not have a seizure before passing out. It is possible that she has a split personality, or even more than two, I have seen it once before. It is also possible that she is starting to remember and isn’t ready for whatever she is blocking out. We don’t know how badly she was hurt in the storm.”

“What do we do?”

“Nothing you would want to do, as they are usually put into an institution, locked up and watched, studied, or hid away, a hell of an existence for such a lovely young woman, or anyone for that matter!”

“We’ll do no such thing!” Esther said vehemently. “No Dear, we will not, we will take care of her, and don’t you worry now!” Linn said taking his wife’s hand in his and bringing it to his lips. “We are her family and we will look after her!”

“I agree,” Dr. Flint stated, “but I must warn you, people will start talking and some are afraid of the unknown. Remember the witch hunts?”

Esther had a pained look on her face, remembering when she was small and just starting to get the sight, how she was made fun of and called names, although she hadn’t thought of it in years. She had drunk the moonshine to keep the darkness away and knew exactly what her niece was going through, although she had never taken on a different personality.

Josie couldn’t believe what she was hearing! Locked away, no, she would do something; she would leave Firelands and start over somewhere else. Josie pretended to sleep as she continued to listen to the conversation. She would need money, a way to travel, somewhere to go. Or, if she could keep the pain away, maybe they would accept her as Josie. She would have to be sure not to let the pain get the best of her and remembered the bottle of laudanum, wishing she had taken some before walking downstairs that morning, or was it just this morning? How long had she been out?

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Kid Sopris 6-1-08


It was no different than any other day in the high Country. A concerto was playing led by Mother Nature, The gentle breeze through the Aspen's provided the the stings and woodwinds to harmony, the water in the stream over the rocks and the occasional woodpecker tapping out a percussion beat. The distant bugling of elk and high pitched echos of the song birds made the sound pleasant to the ears, brain and senses that all was well.

But all was not well, the horses became restless, the mules spoke loudly off key to the concerto tunes, Sopris aware that something was amiss..grabbed the Marlin 38-55 and waited in the shadows of the late morning.

It stood over 7 foot, A cinnamon brown in color and a disposition reminiscent of patient who had the wrong tooth pulled...A snarling and frothing that could not be mistaken for anything else. The coat was thick and beautiful but Sopris had no personal use for it himself..But he knew of a Squaw from a tribe close by that could use the products of the ultimate conclusion.

Three quick rounds from 25 yards away into the Huge Bear, breaking it's front shoulder and sudden demise, brought calm to the live stock, and even brought the wolf and her pups back out of hiding.

Before approaching the dead bear and to make sure it was dead, Sopris did two more things: Loaded the Marlin with more rounds and filled his coffee cup, no sense in rushing things.

After skinning and butchering up all the bear, Sopris packed the load and road the 10 miles across the base of Mt. Sopris along the Crystal River to the Village of Ute Indians who were always peaceful, for the most part, but always friendly to Sopris.

There Sopris was treated like royalty, respect and because of his gift of the Bear...He was invited to dinner. Such invitations were not ignored in fear of insulting these great people. The Squaw, Morning Rose, was grateful for the hide as payment for looking after Sopris's Cabin in his absence. Her warrior husband enjoyed the bones of the bear for new hunting tools.

It was nightfall when Sopris started back to his cabin along the well worn trail. His horses and mules knew their own way back as Sopris half slept in the saddle for the short 1 hour journey; Still listening to Mother Natures concerto but now played in a different key and a hollowing reverberation. His thoughts of the past now replaying in his subconscious.

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Linn Keller 6-1-08


"Hm?" Esther was looking out the window. I could tell from her right elbow she was holding her kerchief to her nose, though her voice was steady.
I had drawn up a chair and was set down beside the bed, holding what I hoped was my niece's hand. I didn't know this Josie, but I was willing to do whatever I had to for her as well.
"Esther, I'm lost here." I had my left hand under Duzy's, my right on top of it, and I felt half sick. "I can look a man in the eye and tell you what he's thinking. I can break a horse and cut hay and notch a log, I can tell from the wind and the sky what the weather will be, but God help me, I don't know what to do for her!"
"We are doing it right now," Esther said quietly, composing herself.
"Esther, I'm not the brightest candle in the chandelier, but how do we get her back?"
Esther turned. It was difficult to read her expression -- the light from the window behind her pretty much washed out her face, and even if it hadn't, the bruising would have camouflaged her expression -- but there was no mistaking the sadness in her voice.
"First of all, my dear, she is not going in any institution. Have you ever been in one?"
I shuddered. "I was, yes. I went to visit one of my command, after the War."
"He was unwell?"
"He was ..." I hesitated, remembering the strong, vital, laughing young man who'd absolutely gone screaming, wild-eyed insane after the battle, after he'd personally accounted for the dead, most of them young men from his town.
"Esther, it is no place I would ever send anyone!" I declared. "I will not have my niece chained in a stone cell and kept in darkness, except when she's taken out to be bathed with lye soap and bristle brushes on long handles!" There was steel in my voice, and anger heating the steel. "I don't care who she thinks she is. If she wants to be Josie, so be it. If her mind has splintered or split or whatever it was Doc said, if she's invented someone new to take the hurt while she heals, I don't care!"
I felt her hand twitch in mine -- barely, but it was there.
I brushed her hair back from her forhead, gently, biting my bottom lip.
"Don't leave us, Duzy," I whispered.
One tear, unbidden, rolled over the dam that tried futilely to contain it, and splashed, hot and wet, on the back of Duzy's hand.
I couldn't help it.
Something in me broke.
I have ridden into battle with the full knowledge that Confederate lead was heading straight for my center jacket button.
I have faced men with death in their eye and weapons in their hands.
I have gone up against terrors that a sane man would never consider.
I count myself no less strong than any man.
I am not in the least bit ashamed to admit that here, with my niece either insane, or maybe never to wake up, and if she did, no guarantees that she would ever be the Duzy that we loved -- well, a strong man can break, and I did, and I laid my head down on Duzy's shoulder, trying hard to stifle my grief.
I didn't do that too well neither.
A gentle hand stroked my head, and that just made it worse, and hard as I tried to bite it back, grief stripped its way out my closed throat.
Women can grieve easier than men. I reckon that's why women have that hidden strength. It near to kills a man to grieve and it would have been easier for me to die than for what I was feeling.
I raised up and Duzy was looking at me, those big brown eyes I remember so well, and it was her hand stroking my hair and comforting me in my grief.
Right about then she grabbed the back of my head and shoved my face down into the mattress.

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Linn Keller 6-1-08


Esther had fought the darkness all of her life.
The Sight was a gift and a curse: she'd first seen it in the black-glass mirror of a nighttime window, when she was a little girl.
She'd seen a neighbor's house, the big house on the neighboring plantation, on fire, with flames rolling out the upper story windows, and just coming through the smoking roof.
She felt as much as heard the souls screaming inside, and she screamed with them, running barefoot downstairs, panicked as a little child with such a vision would, wanting desperately the comfort of her Mama's arms, her Mama's gentle words.
Instead she was spanked for her foolishness and told brusquely she'd just had a bad dream, and to get back upstairs and go to sleep.
When she protested, her little backside was switched every step of the way back up the stairs.
The next day the plantation house burned, just as she'd seen, and her parents looked at one another and then at little Esther, as eyewitnesses described the screams of those who burned to death within as flames rolled out the upper story windows.
The darkness often came with such visions, roiling clouds of uncertainty that brought headaches, sick headaches, headaches that threatened to split her from crown to teeth.
She'd discovered a sip of moon shine whiskey could help the pain, and then laudnum, and for a time her mother said nothing about the supply diminishing, but finally there was a confrontation, and Esther had to do without the narcotic drink.
Whiskey became her companion, her comfort, until this too had to be faced, and fought.
Esther knew the pain of the visions, and she'd known for years that her dear Duzy, her most favorite niece, was blessed -- or cursed -- with them.
Until now there had been no indication she was using anything to ease the pain, at least until she considered how easily Duzy could drink her golden tequila.
"Oh, my dear," she murmured, and turned to see her husband, torn with grief, just resting his forehead on his niece's shoulder.
She stood for a moment, wringing her kerchief in her hands, and moved to comfort him, when Duzy's eyes snapped open.
She was looking at the grieving Sheriff, and her left hand started to move.
So did Esther.
The hand seized the Sheriff by the back of the neck; as she twisted from under him, she shoved his face into the mattress and made a jump for the door.
Esther's mahogany walking stick caught her in the gut, and the fight was on.
Josie was caught completely by surprise when the end of the cane drove into her wind. The heavy stick was as thick as a man's wrist at the top and tapered; not only did it take her breath, it hurt: Esther knew how to use it, too, for she did not content herself with one strike. Esther was moving, fast, and Duzy tried to grapple the older woman around her waist.
Esther wasn't there.
She swatted Josie across the back of the head.
Josie's momentum carried her into the door, and her weight carried her to the floor.
The Sheriff picked her up and put her back to bed, and set down beside her again, but this time he did not allow his feelings their rein.

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Linn Keller 6-2-08


We set with her, Esther and I, and we had a meal sent up from the Jewel, and a glass of tequila.
I was not sure about the golden liquid.
Esther said it would be needed, and I trusted her in this: wisely, I trusted, for she has ever been a woman of remarkably good sense, and I was dealing with a darkness I have neither experienced, nor understood.
Duzy came around in maybe an hour.
I think it was Duzy.
She called Esther by name and asked why her head hurt, and why she was in her room, and what in the world was she doing dressed like this; she tried to get up and got as far as one elbow.
"Laudanum," she muttered, and Esther handed her the tequila.
"Just a sip," she cautioned, and Duzy knocked it back like it was water.
She handed the glass back and squinted at me.
"Uncle Linn?" she asked, puzzled, and her eyes, tracked back and forth as she tried to remember.
I smiled. "It's kind of complicated, dear heart," I said. "How do you feel?"
She squinted and put her hand to the back of her head. "Like I've been clubbed."
"How is the darkness?"
Her eyes snapped wide open. "The darkness?"
"Clouds pressing in, splitting your head open. The visions. Waking nightmares. Whatever you call them." I smiled. "I have a little of it myself."
She looked at Esther, who nodded, once, with that patient, quiet smile I remember so well.
Duzy licked her lips. "I need -- I need my --" She shivered, and her eyes opened again, and she wasn't Duzy anymore.
This time I was ready.
I blocked her left hand as it arced for my eyes, claws extended, and launched myself on top of her as she tried coming off the bed.
I've fought strong men, I've fought big men, I've given and taken in a knock down drag out knuckles-to-the-face slugging match, but this was completely different. Duzy was a trim young woman and this Josie was using Duzy's slender, wiry build and Duzy's coordination to very, very good effect.
I didn't punch her -- I probably should have -- but I kid thee not one little bit, holding onto her was like trying to hold onto a Kansas twister.
She got up a little and drove a knee into my thigh -- I'd felt her move and blocked -- she tried to kick and I rolled over and pinned her thighs, and got her wrists down, stiff-armed, and held her, panting. She threw both legs up, trying to drive her knees into me, and I leaned down just a little; her thighs rolled up against my ribs, which didn't do much until her legs came back down and she threw me off the bed.
I had a good grip on her wrists.
I came off the bed but she came with me and we both landed on the floor, rolling.
This time her knee found what it was looking for and the world exploded in red haze and bright yellow pain-stars, and I made kind of a strangled noise and I just honestly collapsed as the strength ran out of me like rain water out of an overturned barrel.
I was so instantly sick that I didn't even realize how soft and feminine she was underneath me.

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Linn Keller 6-2-08


Josie was getting out and she didn't care if she had to go through the Sheriff to do it.
The older woman was out of reach -- her and that damned club with a sword in it! -- all she had to do was claw this gray mustached old man's eyes and he'd drop to his knees crying like a little girl, the sentimental old fool! She'd climb over him at a dead run, snatch the door open and be gone!
She hadn't counted on the graying old man's readiness, nor on his strength: he didn't punch her, she wasn't in irons, but he was strong! -- she felt an opening and tried to drive a knee into him, but he twisted just enough to deflect the blow.
She snapped her legs down, bringing her upper half off the bed and trying to twist out of his iron grip on her wrists.
Old he might be, she realized, but he was stronger than she had reckoned, and she had to shock him to break his grip.
She drove her legs down into the mattress, using the momentum and leverage to throw her torso up, off the bed; she twisted, rolling them over the edge.
To her surprise he rolled with her and they hit the floor, still rolling.
Like most men, he threw his legs apart to stop their roll and get a leverage advantage, and this opening, this one opening, is what she wanted.
She hauled her left knee up, fast, hard, into the V formed by his spread legs.
His grip did not diminish, but she saw the blinding agony in his eyes.
Josie's lips curled with grim satisfaction.

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Duzy Wales 6-2-08


Josie knew she had to get away and get away fast, so she rolled the lawman off of her, taking his gun as she stood and held it on the witch that had taken the cane to her. “You hold real still, cause Duzy don’t want me to hurt you! I am protecting her, do you not understand that?

Esther stared at Josie with those emerald eyes and Josie could feel the darkness start once again, but she fought it, swallowing the memories that were trying to surface. Esther started forward and Josie turned the gun on the lawman instead, stopping her cold in her tracks. “Put the cane down or I will kill him!” Josie had never killed anyone, but she was fighting for her life and had to do whatever she could to get away. Esther dropped the cane and went to her husband. Knowing she needed time, Josie did the hardest thing she had ever done and with the butt of the gun she knocked the woman out cold.

“Stop, do not hurt them, they are my family!” “Shut up Duzy, did you not feel how she hurt me? I have to get us out of here!” “Get what we need and I will help, but I do not want them hurt! I have a horse in the stables, the man’s name is Shorty, and the horse is Edi. Go dressed as me and he will let you have her. There is a rope in the closet, get it and tie them and then put the brown riding outfit on.” “You are getting kinda bossy aren’t you?” “I want you away from my family!” “It was that damn retired lawman that sent me here, and now I know why! He is the first one I will make pay for this!” “No, Josie, Kid is a good man; we are going where we are not known!” Josie let that remark go, and finished packing. “Now, get some money out of that little silver chest.” Josie’s eyes lit up when she noticed the gold coins and jewels in the chest, picking it up and emptying the contents into the bag.

Josie took a sip of laudanum, and watched as the Sheriff opened his eyes and noticed he was tied up and gagged along with his wife. “Goodbye lawman!” Josie said and then Duzy spoke, “Uncle Linn, I will be fine, take care of Aunt Esther!” as they stepped outside of her room at the Silver Jewel, locking it as they left. Josie had packed a few of Duzy’s things, along with her few items, and was dressed in the brown riding habit and her Colts. Josie had dropped the lawman’s gun, unloaded, onto the bed. Tough, she may be, but a thief she was not. Not yet anyway, she thought, as she had never thought she would take a gun to an old woman’s head either!

“Now do your part if you want us outta here!” Duzy walked down the stairway, said hello to Fred and asked for a bottle of tequila, went by to see Daisy for a few items, bragging on little Sean and how he had grown, and then stopped and hugged Tillie, saying “sorry I had to leave before thanking you.”


Tillie blushed and said, “It was my pleasure Duzy, that tramp deserved a good beating for what she did to Jake, and might I add, it is so good to see you again!”


“It is good to be back, Tillie!” “By the way, where is Jake?”


“Did he not tell you he got an assignment and left?”


“No, but he didn’t like Josie too well.”


“Now that you are back, maybe you two can work things out again.”


“We will wait and see, Tillie.”

“You are so sweet it’s sickening!” “Yes, well it was a lot easier than knocking everyone out with the butt of a gun Josie!” “Sorry about that, but that witch is strong!” “That woman is my Aunt Esther and you are right, she is strong, which is why I am not going to let you hurt her!” “Now what do we do?” “Go get Edi and borrow a mule, we will ride to the nearest town and board the train there. We cannot do it here without being noticed and Aunt Esther owns that train, she can have it stopped!” “Now quit your dallying and let’s go!”

It seemed like forever, but actually it had only taken a short amount of time to get to the next town and board the train. Josie took another sip of laudanum, gave the porter their destination, pulled her hat low and began to make plans. Duzy hadn’t spoken since they were away from Firelands and she hoped it stayed that way…

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Lady Leigh 6-2-08


Sarah was sitting on the front steps of the Merchantile while Bill and Mac were teaching her the right way to suck on a peppermint stick, "Sarah", Bill was saying, "It's important to not suck to hard."

"Why is that?" Sarah asked

Mac chimed in, "Cus you want to see how thin ya can make the stick fore it breaks!"

Sarah giggled, and then she saw .... "Is that Auntie Duzy or Josie?" Sarah thought.

"Mama" screamed Sarah, "Mama! "

Bonnie hurried out the door, "What is it Sarah?"

Sarah pointed toward the woman in the brown riding habit crossing the street.

"Maude?" Bonnie asked quickly, "Would you watch the girls for just a moment?"

Bonnie descended the stairs and quickly, but calmly, began her approach of her dear friend, "what ever name you are going by Duzy, I love you", Bonnie said quietly to herself. "Sarah? Please stay there with Maude, Polly and Opal."

As Bonnie got closer, Duzy was gone in a flash riding atop Edi .... "Oh Duzy .... what are you doing now?"

Sorrowfully, Bonnie turned back toward the Merchantile to retrieve her daughters.

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Linn Keller 6-2-08


I choked and bit back the bile that threatened to come up again.
I tried to roll over.
Bound, I thought, and realized my mouth was packed with a large wad of cloth, and tied in place.
Instantly I froze, listening.
Something -- someone! -- was laying against me on the floor.
Esther? I thought, my eyes snapping open.
I saw Esther, her shining hair matted with blood, gagged, her eyes closed: she, too, was tied, and well tied.
Rage roared through me.
I looked around, nostrils flared, listening.
We were alone.
I bent double, backwards, and my fingers found my boot knife.
Duzy or Josie, I thought, you've hurt my wife, and there was a black hatred in my heart.
I would see to my Esther first, and then I would find this she-creature that had hurt the one thing in my world that I loved more than anything.
I wasn't thinking clearly, and I knew I wasn't thinking clearly. I was in more pain than I'd been in for a very long time, I could barely move for the hurt she'd caused me, and I did not care.
Duzy is dead, I thought. That she-creature has killed her and taken her body, and now she's bloodied Esther, and she's mine.
I slid the blade under a turn of rope, worked it delicately, carefully, and felt the fibers fray. I kept that blade shaving-sharp as a matter of habit, and right now I was glad for it.
I got myself loose and then turned to Esther.
My hands worked quickly, surely, making quick, precise cuts, loosing her wrists, her arms, her knees, her ankles; I slid the knife under the knot and cut the gagging cloth free, and drew the wet ball of cloth out of her mouth.
Esther's breathing was labored, almost snoring, and her eyes were still closed.
I probed her scalp with delicate fingers and my stomach fell about ten feet when I felt a little depression, and a very slight grinding sensation.
I knew what this was.
The bone had been broken, and this was something I couldn't afford to fool with.
I got on my knees beside her and worked my arms under; rolling back, I used my weight to lever her up, then slowly, carefully, I came up on one knee, then the other, and I took a deep breath and grunted and stood, shaking and sweating and weaker than a man had ever ought to be.
Esther was limp in my arms and blood still dripped from her scalp and I staggered for the door.

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Linn Keller 6-2-08


Tillie looked up, curious.
Heavy, slow footfalls on the stairs, not the usual walking cadence: no one had come in, it was someone coming down, but slowly, as if burdened, or drunken...?
There was a groan, the heavy sound of someone falling, a couple dull thumps.
Tilly looked over at Mr. Baxter and they both came around the end of the bannister.
The Sheriff was laying on his back, one leg under him, holding Esther across him, an expression of pain on his pale face.
Tillie's hand went to her mouth.
Esther was a vision of horror.
Esther's face was still swollen from the mule's hoof.
Half her face was still brightly colored from the resolving bruising; the other half was the color of a bedsheet, and her normally immaculate, gleaming red hair, was dishevelled, dark with blood.
The Sheriff tried to rise but only succeeded in sliding down another three steps on his backside.
Mr. Baxter powered up the stairs and slid his arms in beside the Sheriff's.
Carefully, slowly, he rolled Esther up into him, and backed down the last four steps to the bottom.
"Get the door," he said quietly, and Tillie turned and shoved hard on the Jewel's ornate double doors.

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Linn Keller 6-2-08


Bonnie had gone into the Mercantile and was smiling at Maude's telling her of her own children as infants.
Sarah, disappointed at Auntie Duzy's abrupt and uncharacteristic departure, sadly regarded the long spike of Bill's peppermint stick.
"Mine won't do that," she sighed, regarding her stubby cone with a critical frown.
Bill looked over at the Jewel. Mac was already on his feet.
Sarah looked up at Mac, assessing the length of his peppermint spike.
Mac opened the Mercantile door. "Maude?" he called softly, and something in his voice froze Maude's voice in mid-syllable.
Maude swung out from behind the counter, wringing her hands in her apron the way she did when she just knew something was not going to go well, and she stopped at the open door.
Sarah was just coming to her feet, her eyes big. "Mama?" she said in a quiet, scared little voice.
Maude turned, reaching for the babies, and Sarah turned to the comfort of her Mama's arms.
Bill and Mac each took a long step off the boardwalk, pacing off on the left, and strode down the street in perfect step, the early training of a military man revealing itself in this moment of stress.

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Duzy Wales 6-2-08


Josie sat on the train thinkin’, she knew that Sheriff, damn he had nice eyes, like a Carolina sky with gold flecks, wouldn’t take too kindly to what she had did to his wife, and knew she would have to be real careful.

Josie had thought about gettin’ off at Glenwood Springs, but knew she didn’t need another lawman lookin’ down her back right now. She hoped someday to see him again though, him knowing what he was sending her back to when he had mentioned that little town and then gettin’ off the train like she was nothin’! He probably thought she would never escape; it wasn’t a safe place to be anyway, not with Duzy bein’ sweet on the man!

Josie also knew she had to get off the train; that Sheriff would have the telegraph lines burning up and the law would be everywhere looking for her. At the next stop, Josie took Edi and her mule and headed off to find a place to settle down. She had heard somewhere that you can hide best right under someone’s nose and she wasn’t far from someone who knew her well….she just wasn’t plannin’ on visiting.

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Linn Keller 6-3-08


The Sheriff struggled down the last few stairs.
He tried standing.
Didn't work.
He set down and when his back side came down on the varnished step, his eyes screwed shut and he rolled over on his side.
When he fell back on the stairs earlier he fell right on the edge of one of those hard wood steps.
Only the knowledge that his injured wife was in his arms kept him from passing out from the sunball of utter agony that detonated in his backside.
Between the continuing, throbbing, nauseating agony of Josie's vigorous and most un-ladylike but very effective knee-strike, and the pain of a broken tail bone, the Sheriff could do little but lay there, teeth clenched.
He didn't really remember getting up, more out of sheer hard-headedness than anything else, and managed to lean weakly against the wrong side of the Jewel's right hand door.
A small, firm had had him under the left arm, and he felt something thrust into his left hand holster.
"Lean on me," a quiet, feminine voice said, and he felt an arm across the small of his back, gripping his belt on the right side.
The door opened.
The Sheriff's eyes were closed as he fought the nausea again, but he felt the cool outside air, and he leaned on the soft voice with the strong grip.
Slowly, haltingly, they navigated the board walk to the first set of steps.
Sarah released her grip on her Mama's skirt.
She might be small but she knew what to do.
"Sarah!" Bonnie called, reaching futilely in a mother's gesture toward her fleet little girl, and marveling at how fast the child could run. Her hand came back as Sarah made a bee line for the great golden stallion switching its tail patiently at the hitch rail.
Bonnie breathed a quick prayer as she realized this was the same horse the Sheriff had used to knock a jack mule half the length of the town -- why, that horse could knock the Lady Esther off her rails and bust a hole in her boiler with one good kick! she'd heard. That wasn't a horse, it was half grizzly bear, born of a Mexican sun-god, with teeth like a tiger and a temper to match! They had to keep it chained up, she'd been assured, otherwise it would surely kick down the schoolhouse door and feast on the children!
Sarah, fortunately, had not heard these valuable bits of information, and fearlessly presented herself at the hitch rail.
The stallion blinked sleepily and snuffed her in greeting.
'Uncle Linn needs you," Sarah said with the assurance of a child who knows She Is Doing The Right Thing, and her quick little fingers undid the reins.
She drew Hijo del Sol from the hitch rail and pulled gently on the reins. "Down, horsie," she said, remembering another time when she commanded a great golden stallion.
Like his father, Hijo del Sol knelt.
Sarah grasped the saddle horn and swung her little leg over the man-sized saddle. The net effect was kind of like throwing her leg over the dining room table, but she managed.
"Giddup, horsie," she said in her little-girl voice, and Rey del Sol, bred of Arab racers and Conquistador mounts, with the blood of centuries of warriors in his veins, got his forehooves planted and levered himself up.
Sarah laughed with delight.
Never having learned to ride, she wasn't sure really what the reins were for, other than holding onto.
Sarah turned in the saddle, looking at Morning Star holding up her Uncle Linn's slumped and obviously pained form.
As she turned, her far knee pressed in more than her near.
Hijo del Sol's ancestors had borne armored knights in battle, where the reins were forgotten, and the warrior's hands were occupied with sword and shield, lance and shield, shield and war-ax -- anything but reins.
Hijo del Sol's ancestors had learned to use the rider's many other signals for guidance.
Hijo del Sol turned obediently, and began trotting, butter-smooth, toward the hobbling figure of the Sheriff, and the Indian woman who was the only thing keeping him from collapsing.

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Lady Leigh 6-3-08


Maude holding Polly, walked and stood next to Bonnie holding Opal, "Sarah will the death of you, Bonnie" Maude stated, but not with a predetermined future outlook.

"No," Bonnie answered back, "I believe my Sarah will be the 'life' of many."

Bonnie, though frightened out of her wits, looked at young Sarah through the eyes of pride.

Together the women headed in the direction where, a sort of Linn was standing, and Morning Star crouched under his shoulder and stood with a regal calmness and stability. Bonnie made a mental note of truly getting to know the woman ..... something in Morning Stars eyes spoke to Bonnie, but until more recently, Bonnie could not muster the time or energy to do much more than care for the girls.

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Linn Keller 6-3-08


Gambling houses serve liquor for several reasons, and lawmen learn to use those reasons, and Jacob was doing just that as he savored the cool beer Mr. Baxter slid across the gleaming mahogany bar-top to him.
Jacob was only just returned to Firelands; he was tired, he was half sore and he wanted nothing more than a hot bath, a good meal and a bunk, in that order, but he was kind of dry, and a beer sounded pretty good.
Jacob looked like any nondescript Westerner, slouched at the bar, one boot up on the brass rail, working the bend out of his lower back; out of habit, the young lawman listened, looking casually around, using the mirror behind the bar to keep his back safe.
Daisy's cooking was smelling pretty good: Twain Dawg apparently approved, for he came out and stopped for Jacob to pet him.
Twain Dawg carried the smell of biscuits and gravy with him, and from his pleased expression and the repeated licking of his chops, he'd been taste testing Daisy's work, as he always did.
"You bum," Jacob murmured affectionately, rubbing Twain Dawg's ears, and Twain Dawg's eyes closed in utter bliss as his tail punished the close-fitted floor boards.
"Yeah, I hear the Sheriff's laid up," the fellow beside Jacob declared, a little loudly; Jacob straightened slowly, careful to appear uninterested, and studied the man over the rim of his mug.
He could tell from the slight change in Mr. Baxter's perpetual polishing that he, too, heard, and was listening.
His fellow was as shabbily dressed as the speaker: both wore worse-for-the-wear derbies, their coats had seen some attempt at brushing, but their worn boots and callused hands declared them hard-rock miners, and their unconscious efforts to lip-read in addition to their raised voices told Jacob they were probably hard of hearing as well.
"Yeah, that cute girl dealin' poker put the hurts to him."
"Do tell! You mean that real good lookin' gal in the frilly blouse that ended up with my month's wages?"
"She didn't get your month's wages, you miser! You only lost what you brought!"
"Yeah, I know, I know," the other muttered, "but she got all of it!"
"Now if you ain't lyin' through your teeth!" the first declared, and Jacob picked up his beer and faded back a step, doing his best to turn invisible.
In the West, to call a man a liar was an invitation to a killin', and while Jacob had no objection to one man killin' another, he didn't want them to spill his beer in the process.
The other miner, however, was not a Westerner; he took no offense at the statement and agreed sadly with the other.
"Didja see how she never let anyone leave the table broke, though?"
"Yeah, I saw that."
"She called it dealer's luck. Everyone that emptied their poke got a coin. 'This isn't charity, boys,' she said in that sweet voice o' hers, 'this is Dealer's Luck.'" The miner up-ended his beer and sadly regarded its empty interior.
"She was a looker, too. Josie, wasn't that what they called her?"
"Josie. Believe so."
Jacob drifted back to the bar and resumed his place. The two never noticed his absence nor his return.
"You know, was a man of a mind, he could raise some Hell in this town with that-there Sheriff laid up."
"What happen' to him ennyway?"
"Why, he got frisky with that Josie gal!"
"Oh, yes! Why, she drove him such a lick as to double him up!"
"She didn't!" Work-callused palms smacked the bar in delight. "Well good for her!"
"Say, do you reckon ennythin' will happen with him in the hurts?"
The miner slid his empty mug toward Mr. Baxter and shook his head, indicating no refill. Speaking to his partner, but never lifting his eyes from the bar, he said "You see the deppities he's got?"
"Deppities? Nah, never seen 'em."
"They don't have a town marshal here, y'know."
"No? Hell, I never noticed!"
"There's one big fella. Jackson Cooper, they call 'im. Never Jack, never Jackson, never Coop nor Cooper. Always Jackson Cooper."
The other grunted.
"Big. Why he'd make two o' you, an' eat you f'r breakfast!"
"Never happen."
"Why, I watched him bend horse shoes f'r fun! That-there steam locomotive needed its front truck greased so he took holt of it an' jist fetched it up off the ground so's they could dump in some lard!"
The other gave him the fish eye. "You wouldn't be funnin' me now, would ye?"
"Well, maybe he didn't pick up that-there steam engine, but by God! I think he could!"
"How 'bout them horse shoes?"
The two were drifting for the front door.
"Now I did see that. I did f'r a fact!"
"Well, that's one depitty, what about t'othern?"
"There's two more."
"Oh, yes! You don't want to cross neither one of 'em!"
"And why not? I can whip just about anyone!"
"You'd not get the chance," the other said solemnly. "Why, that tall skinny fello' can out-draw lightning, fetch out a knife an' carve his 'nitials in yer liver an' serve it up on a platter before y'know it's gone!"
"Ah-hah," the other said, half-disbelieving.
"Now I seen that too!"
"You seen it!" Skepticism drooled from the words.
"Now I did! They was out b'hint the Shurf's house, him an' that skinny depitty, an' dag-gone, that gray old man is fast but that younger fella, he's just plainly a snake with a Colt!"
Jacob smiled in his beer. He saw no need to correct their exaggerations; in this moment, he was learning his father's lesson of allowing a reputation to do your work for you. There would be no trouble from this pair, and probably none from anyone they talked to.
"Say, you see that big horse the Sheriff rides?"
"It's tied just up the street, ain't?"
"You stay shy o' that thing now! It'll bite yer hand off up to yer elbow!"
They pushed open the Jewel's double doors just in time to see Sarah, on top of that big horse of the Sheriff's, laughing and riding it down the street.
The miners stopped, and looked at one another, and looked at the retreating form of curls and petticoats and little button boots riding a horse the size of a small mountain. Twain Dawg flowed along behind like running ink.
One miner turned to the other and said "Now what was that about a horse that'll take off a man's hand?"

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Charlie MacNeil 6-3-08


Charlie waited outside the operating room where Chang worked. He didn't wait well, and he was pacing the room with his hands behind his back, five steps one way then five the other.

From outside there came the murmuring of voices. At first it was quieter than the breeze in the few long-dried leaves that still clung to the tree near the porch and barely noticeable. But as the afternoon wore on and the number of voices grew the sound gradually increased until it began to intrude on Charlie's waiting. Charlie stopped his pacing and listened then he walked to the door and slowly swung it open. He stepped out on the porch and tipped his hat back.

Many of those gathered in the street were well-dressed, but the majority wore the rough clothing of miners and others who worked with their hands. One and all had anger etched across their features, the self-righteous anger of the prejudiced and of those whose lives had led them, for no good reason, to consider themselves better than others who might be less fortunate. In the forefront stood the doctor Charlie had evicted from his own premises.

"I told you I had friends," the doctor said in a sneering tone.

"How many of these friends of yours will stick around to dig the hole the undertaker puts you in?" Charlie asked quietly.

A burly fellow in off the shelf black broadcloth stepped up close to Charlie. "It's you who the undertaker will be fitting for a box," he snarled. He drew breath to go on but the indrawn breath turned into a gasp. The man looked down.

Charlie's left hand gun was tucked neatly into the central crease of the man's trousers, which suddenly darkened with a pungent liquid. "And who, pray tell," Charlie asked, "is going to put me there? You?" The man tried to step back away from the gun but Charlie's right hand grabbed the waistband of the now soggy trousers and held him in place. The man started to reach for Charlie's wrist but was interrupted by a clicking sound as the hammer of the pistol ratcheted back. "Don't even think about it."

The man, trapped though he was, tried to bluster. "There's a lot more of us than there is of you," he said with an attempted bravado he obviously didn't feel. "How are you going to shoot us all?"

"I don't need to shoot you all," Charlie said softly. He raised his voice. "Just enough of you to block this porch. Starting with you." He looked around at those in the front of the mob, for mob it was. "Then the next three or four. That should do it." He purposefully stared into the eyes of each of the men in the front ranks. "Who's it gonna be?" The men he looked at were already shrinking back into the crowd.

"Let's rush him!" a voice called. "He cain't take us all!"

"NO!" the man in front of Charlie said loudly. "Don't do anything foolish!"

"You're smarter than you look and act," Charlie said. "Now all of you get home or get back to work, unless you really are gonna start something. In which case my friend with the wet britches here becomes a soprano and some of you become dead." No one moved and Charlie suddenly yanked the man off balance then boosted him one handed into the front ranks of the crowd. "MOVE!" he roared.

The crowd, which had been diminishing in number steadily since Charlie had pulled his pistol, faded away, leaving the man in the black suit sitting in the dust and the doctor standing nearby with a dazed expression on his face. "Just who do you think you are?" the doctor demanded.

"Charlie MacNeil, supervisory US Marshal for Colorado and the surrounding area," Charlie said. The doctor's face paled.

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Linn Keller 6-3-08


There is a ritual to surgery, a structure, an illusion of control: with the careful shaving of the scalp, placement of the acetylene light to cast its pure white focus on the bared wound, the quick, precise incision, a semicircle around the depression: sponges to absorb the blood, retractors to hold back the flesh, tools shining and sharp and shaped to look somehow less medieval.
Dr. Flint was assisting, Dr. Greenlees taking the lead: carefully, precisely, they shaved bone from the margin of the depressed fracture and then carefully, so carefully, lifted out the irregular oval that had been broken free and pressed down; removing this irregular chunk of skull lessened the pressure on the brain beneath: the patient, mercifully, was asleep, with the help of a draught, swallowed between convulsions: now, with the pressure off the brain, the physicians examined the bone window, assessing whether the tough membrane beneath the bone and adherent to the gray matter beneath was compromised.
"I see no leakage," Dr. Greenlees said quietly.
Dr. Flint folded a sponge, folded it again, touched the fold to the small pool of blood: unfolding it, he held it up against the light, so the light shone through the spot.
"I concur," he said quietly. "There is no double ring."
They were preserving the evacuated bone in a salt water bath, salt water boiled and cooled just moments before, in this same pan, guaranteeing sterility of vessel and fluid alike: a technique debated and discussed, but which each had used to good effect in the past: now, carefully assessing the margins of the bone window for any splinters, they fitted the irregular piece of skull, two fingers wide and three fingers long, back into its socket.
Cleansing the wound one final time, they made quick, neat work of stitching the scalp over the bone.
Jacob sat in the waiting room, sat very still: his hands, normally restless, held his Stetson lightly in his lap.
He waited, patiently, considering the facts as he knew them.
Until the miners had mentioned the Sheriff's recent injury, Jacob hadn't known both his mother and his Pa were hurt: Mr. Baxter ended up being the bearer of bad news, but he waited until the miners were safely gone, in case they decided to cause trouble, and Jacob's mind would need to be clear to handle the situation.
Mr. Baxter was concerned at Jacob's response.
The slender young man had become very quiet, his face very impassive.
He thanked Mr. Baxter for the information, paid him for the beer, and still in sweat stained and labor soiled clothing, departed for the hospital.
He'd gotten there just as Morning Star opened the door for the bowed, shuffling old man she was propping up.
Jacob was shocked to realize that shuffling old man was his Pa.
He read the trail of blood drops leading into the stone structure; recalling Mr. Baxter's plain-spoken account of carrying his Ma here, Jacob realized the blood was hers.
His fists tightened, trembling, then relaxed.
Jacob removed his Stetson and went in.
Now, sitting in the waiting room, alone, he turned the facts over and over and over again in his mind.

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Linn Keller 6-4-08


Esther was taken to a room; carefully, moving as one, the three lifted her on the stained and soiled bedsheet and carried her on this improvised sling from the rolling table onto the bed.
Nurse Susan enlisted the doctors' assistance in lifting her on this sheet-sling and transferring her smoothly over onto the bed, and then in finishing undressing her. Susan had pans of warm water and wash cloths and was prepared to bathe the unconscious woman, and get her into a clean gown for the evening.
They had her mostly undressed, carefully using a sheet to maintain her modesty, and had just proceeded to the lower half when they stopped.
Nurse Susan brought a lamp over so the doctors could examine this new finding.
"I saw no sign of contractions," Dr. Greenlees said quietly.
"It was probably during her seizure activity."
The physicians looked at one another.
"Dr. Flint?"
"Dr. Greenlees?"
"Sometimes I hate my job."

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Linn Keller 6-4-08


Nurse Susan and Morning Star had stripped me down to my long handles.
I was honestly too sick to offer either help or hinderance.
I've known men kicked in such a way as could walk it off.
I ain't one of those men.
I didn't really know I was otherwise hurt until I tried to set down.
We figured when I near to passed out, there on the stairway, with a double arm full of unconscious Esther, I fell back on the edge of a step and broke my tail bone.
Least that's what the Docs told me.
They said both my hurts would heal with time, that maybe packing myself in snow would help but there was no snow to be had, and might be if I would just lay over on my side and take life easy for a bit things would straighten out of their own accord.
"Esther?" I croaked.
Doc Greenlees looked up, I believe at Dr. Flint behind me, and I could tell by the look on his face it wasn't good.
He drug up a chair and set down facing me.
Doc looked at his hands and cleared his throat as my soul froze over.
"She's alive," he said.
I gathered my strength. My thoughts had been clouded with pain. A draught of laudunum took the edge off, enough to clear my mind.
I felt my expression harden.
"She went into convulsions right after Mr. Baxter carried her in here," Doc said, not looking up from his long, thin hands. "We kept her from hittin' the floor but not my much. Once she quit convulsing we got some laudunum down her, enough to quiet the seizure. We found she'd been hit in the head and it broke an oval out of her skull and pressed it down against the brain." He looked up at me. "I believe that was the cause of her seizures."
He looked down again. "We evacuated the avulsed bone and relieved pressure on the brain, which also relieved the seizure activity. She's resting now and as long as infection doesn't set in she will probably be all right."
I pushed up on one elbow.
"You're holdin' somethin' back, Doc."
Dr. John Greenlees pursed his lips and nodded, slowly.
He looked me square in the eye and spoke the words that hit me harder than I'd been hit yet in my entire life.
"Esther lost the baby."

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Charlie MacNeil 6-4-08


Chang came from the doctor's door. "Your friend is sleeping," he told Charlie quietly. Charlie let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding.

"Thank you, Chang," he said. "Were you able to..."

"He will retain the use of his arm," Chang said, "but it will be stiff, probably for the rest of his life. The damage was extensive."

"Can we move him?" Charlie asked. "I'd like to get him to some place a little more friendly, so to speak." He looked at the doctor, who swallowed and started to turn away then turned back.

"Marshal MacNeil?" he said tentatively. "If you don't mind, why don't you leave that young man here? I'll see to his care."

"What made you change your mind?" Charlie asked.

"I have nothing against that young man in there," he said. "And I hate appearing to be a fool. Which is exactly how I acted toward both you and Chang. Please allow me to make amends to both of you." He held his hand out to Chang. The Chinese looked from the hand to the doctor's face then reached out and shook. Charlie did the same. "You did what I was afraid to do," the doctor said to Chang. "Both of you did. I was afraid to go against public opinion, and I was wrong." He gestured toward the door. "Doctor, would you please come inside and show me what I need to do to care for your patient?" Chang looked at Charlie with a small smile on his lips then went to the door.

"Of course, Doctor. I would be happy to."

Charlie waited until the door closed then turned back toward the office. It wasn't until he stepped inside that he remembered the dead man. He went to his desk and found a note there that read Parker at Holliwell Funeral Parlor. His next of kin have been notified. Signed, J. Dawson, Denver City Police Department. Good. That was something that didn't need to be handled right away.

Charlie went to the small room that held the telegraph key. Mel Davis, the office telegrapher, was just closing up for the day when he saw Charlie. "Hello, Marshal," he said. "A telegram just came for you. I was just headed to your office with it." He held out the slip of paper. Charlie took it, thanked Mel, and headed back to his desk. The telegram was from Fannie.

Charlie: Esther attacked, in hospital STOP Linn hurt also STOP Fannie

Charlie saw Mel passing by his door and hollered at him. "I need to send an answer to this now!" He headed for the telegraph office one step ahead of Mel and quickly wrote his message for Mel to send.

To Deputy Jacob Keller: What is nature of Linn and Esther's injuries STOP Let me know how to help STOP Signed, Charlie MacNeil

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Linn Keller 6-4-08


The Sheriff sat beside his wife the rest of the night, holding her hand, watching her breathe.
Jacob had come in, earlier, smelling of honest toil and fresh sawed wood; the Sheriff had taken him aside and told him as gently as he could that Esther had lost their child.
Jacob's eyes had closed when his Pa told him this, and when they opened again they were unreadable.
"Orders, sir?" he asked quietly, and the Sheriff knew that a terrible resolve was born in his son's heart: given the order, he would follow this Josie to hell's gate, and if need be kick in the gate and drag her out by the hair of the head.
"First," the Sheriff said, "a hot bath, a meal and a night's rest."
"Yes, sir."
"Have Fiddler Daine draw up ten of Josie. I'll need to write some letters."
"Yes, sir."
The Sheriff tossed a pillow on a chair and sat carefully -- very carefully! -- and motioned Jacob to a chair beside him.
"Jacob, I don't want this Josie hunted like a criminal, and I don't want her arrested and brought back in irons."
"Yes, sir." Jacob's voice was flat.
"I do want to help her."
"Yes, sir."
The Sheriff's fists balled, tight, shaking with the power of his grip. "I also want to kill her for what she's done!"
Jacob's voice was quiet. "I can do that if you like, sir." He looked over at his Pa. "I would like to do that, sir."
"She's mine," the Sheriff said, menace in his voice, and Jacob knew the menace was directed not at the son, but rather at the murderess.
"Yes, sir."
It took a few moments for the Sheriff to master his rage. When he spoke again, his voice was even, quiet.
"I will let certain key lawmen know that she is unwell, and I want to know if she is in their jurisdiction. They are not to move on her unless she deserves it."
"Yes, sir."
"One more thing."
"Yes, sir?"
"I'll need a pillow."
Jacob looked down at the one currently cushioning his father's backside.
The Sheriff smiled. "Did I ever tell you about Sarah washing my mouth out with soap?"
Jacob smiled, a little, and he nodded.
"I got called 'Soapy' for a while after," the Sheriff said quietly, and his eyes softened at the memory. "If I'm seen with a pillow on my saddle, I'll get the hoo-raw for that. Now I could try and hide the pillow or I could do just the opposite."
The Sheriff grinned at his son. "I want you to have the ladies make the the brightest, gaudiest, flashiest bawdy-house pillow they can put together. I want something with gold tassels and red silk that will make your eyes bleed to look at it!"
Jacob chuckled. "Yes, sir," he said, spinning his Stetson in his grip.
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, what did you hurt?"
The Sheriff was quiet for a long time.
"Jacob, I reckon my feelin's got hurt more than anythin' else. I thought I could contain that Josie gal. I'd forgot how well Duzy can dance, and a dancer has strong legs, and ... well, she drove my ..."
Jacob looked over at the Sheriff's ears, which were turning a remarkable shade of scarlet.
"I think I follow you, sir."
The Sheriff nodded. "Hit a man hard enough there you can kill him."
"Yes, sir."
"But she clubbed Esther and broke her skull. I carried Esther down stairs and near to passed out and when I fell on them hardwood stair steps..."
The Sheriff looked over at Jacob. "Broke the end off my tail bone."
Jacob nodded solemnly.
"You broke your butt."
The Sheriff grinned sheepishly. "Yep."
Jacob stood. "I believe Fiddler Daine is at the Jewel this time of night. I'll get him busy. Ten of them, you say?"
"Yes, please."
"Mother ... " Jacob's eyes went to the closed door. "How is she taking it?"
The Sheriff's expression was haunted. "Jacob, she doesn't know yet. She hasn't woke up from their putting her skull back together."
"Will she wake, sir?"
The Sheriff's eyes trailed down to the floor and Jacob realized with dismay just how old his father looked.

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Linn Keller 6-4-08


Jackson Cooper stepped into the Jewel, looking for Jacob.
Jacob had just turned from Fiddler Daine and the big deputy waved at him.
Jacob came over and Jackson Cooper handed him a telegraph flimsy.
Jacob unfolded it and read the message.
"Word travels fast," he murmured.
"Usually does," Jackson Cooper agreed, and the two leaned on Mr. Baxter's mahogany bar. "How are they?"
"Pa's in pain. He was tryin' hard not to show it. Mother ..."
Mr. Baxter paused in his perpetual polishing to lean closer to them, listening.
Jacob turned to include Mr. Baxter in his answer. "Josie caved in Mother's skull. They had to put it back together."
He looked down at the bar.
"Mother lost the baby."
Jacob's words were quiet, gently framed, not loud at all, but if there were ever bolts of black lightning that spread silence as they struck, this was one.
For one long moment the Jewel was absolutely silent.
Jacob took a long breath. "Gentlemen, I am starting to smell like a man. I am under orders to have a bath, a meal and a good night's rest, and I shall follow the Sheriff's orders to the letter." He folded the telegraph and slid it in his vest pocket. "Just as soon as I send a reply to this."

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Linn Keller 6-4-08



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Duzy Wales 6-4-08


Duzy was quiet but she was aware of what was going on. She was tormented and heartbroken; she had let Josie hurt her dear Aunt and Uncle, and had no idea how they were faring. Duzy felt weak for not stopping Josie before she could hurt her family and knew she had to take control of Josie’s domination and get back to Firelands as soon as possible, so she was thankful when Josie exited the train while still in Colorado. Silently, she prayed for Aunt Esther and Uncle Linn and was thankful that she had gotten Josie away before she could hurt anyone else she loved.

Josie thought the silence was a good sign, that she could live how she wanted, where she wanted and not have to worry about Duzy’s interference, now that they were away from the memories that Firelands had brought back. “That damn lawman was smart!” she muttered to herself, him knowin’ that Firelands would bring those memories back to Duzy and to help Duzy take control, while giving her the blinding headaches.

A man on the train had been pleased to draw Josie a crude map of the area and she now knew there were many places she could hide out or find work. He had told her of Woody Creek, where the Woody Creek and the Roaring Fork River made its junction and where the water flowed down from Aspen. She looked due west and thought about the retired lawman who had said he would be there, but she kept riding. The man had told her of a bar in Basalt, the “Dew Drop Inn,” and a small town called Carbondale, where the residents mostly mined coal. There was also Ol Snowmass, a sleepy little ranching community, just west of Woody Creek.

Now, she sat in a saloon, playin’ the same role she had in Firelands, using some of the tricks that Fannie had taught her, using her assets for her own gain while making the men feel as if they were not losing, but instead enjoying the company of the beautiful and vivacious card player. The place was “Little Annie’s,” named after one of the many mines in the area surrounding Aspen, but her plan was to keep moving, not staying at any one place for long, for she could feel the shills that ran up her spine when she thought of the icy blue eyes of the Sheriff back in Firelands.

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Lady Leigh 6-4-08


A hand softly touched Linn's shoulder. He had not noticed Bonnie slide into the room, and he only lifted his right hand and placed it on her's, so maybe he was more cognizant of Bonnie than she thought.

"Linn?" Bonnie began, "If it would help, we could talk?" The small grave planted out in the cemetary still looked like a basically fresh mound. Grass had not grown on it completely just yet, and the freshness of that loss was fresh for Bonnie, too. But she knew this man who sat by Esther. God knew she loved them both. Loss was loss .... it didn't matter the age of the child ... it was still a child missed. This was complicated by Esthers injury's.

Fear, anger, confusement .... all emotions that would need to be dealt with. Emotions that would need to be struggled through.

Linn squeezed her hand .... and wept. Bonnie found herself down on her knees with her arms wraped around the Giant of a Man .... cradling him against her ... together they wept .... pouring out tears for those who were lost to them .... tears spent on baby Abram, for an unnamed child of Linn and Esther's .... tears for the loss of Duzy ...

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Linn Keller 6-5-08


I felt just about as useless as a man can.
My butt was broke, until it healed I couldn't sit a saddle.
Useless, the voice whispered in the dark.
Esther was near to dead.
You couldn't keep her safe, the voice accused, a hoarse whisper of blame pointed squarely at me.
Our child was dead, lost when she was hurt for the second time.
The voice was right.
I hadn't been able to keep Duzy from turning into Josie again, nor to keep her until we could get her to right and that made Esther's situation my fault.
I'd failed.
You couldn't hold her, my own voice accused.
You couldn't keep her down and now she killed your child and maybe your wife.
I set there holding Esther's hand, numb.
Jacob had been in earlier, after we'd talked, and he'd set on the other side, holding Esther's other hand. Her face was still a fright but the bruise was fading some on the edges. Doc had to shave some off her scalp to fix where it had busted in, but Esther had a good head of hair and that little spot would be easy enough to hide.
Doc had been honest with me, he said she might not wake up, or if she did she might not be what she was.
Imagine a sailing ship in a great sea-storm: rudder torn away, masts snapped off, sea anchor shredded, and that's kind of how I felt: a useless, wallowing hulk, not even able to stand up straight.
Worse than useless.
My back was to the door, which I never, ever do.
Maybe I wanted someone to just walk in and kill me.
I think that's what I wanted, but it didn't happen.
The approaching step was light and there was a rustle of petticoats, a gentle hand on my shoulder.
I reached up and laid my hand on Bonnie's, and that was all the strength I had.
I give up.
I just plainly give up when she touched me, gentle-like, and if a man can break and crumble like a busted clay statue, I did.
Bonnie, wise woman that she is, wrapped her arms around me as the big bad Sheriff, blooded warrior and bad man to cross, peacemaker and lawkeeper and dispenser of justice, husband and father and now utter failure, grieved for the one soul in the world he loved above all others, and for all the other griefs that piled up and piled up and got ignored and shoved aside, until they teetered and fell over and crushed me under their weight.

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Linn Keller 6-5-08


Jacob rode back into town from the Sheriff's house with a small satchel.
He would bathe at the Jewel, for the water there was already hot, and they had plenty of towels.
He brought a change of clothes. It would not do to put all that work into getting clean and sweet smellin' only to put on his old dirties: besides, he was hoping to see Miss Messman, hopefully to sit with her at a table and share a meal.
Jacob rode easy, a natural horseman, his Appaloosa pacing effortlessly across the high prairie; it was cool of the evening, and his belly reminded him it hadn't been fed in far too long.
Jacob chuckled, considering the size of his appetite, and the dainty nature of Miss Messman's waist; could he talk her into having supper with him, she would eat a ladylike amount, and he would eat considerably more, and he'd hope she didn't think less of him for indulging a young man's appetite.
He slapped his left thigh, then his right, and the Appaloosa swung his ears back curiously.
"One leg's empty, Apple!" he laughed. "Let's throw on the feed bag!"
Apple-horse grunted, moving into an easy gallop.

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Charlie MacNeil 6-5-08


Charlie held Jacob's answer to his question in his hand and a red rage crashed through him. The waves of anger were tinged with sorrow for Esther and Linn's loss. He knew how much the baby had meant to the big man. It was a new beginning for him, and a chance to dispel the ghosts of his past once and for all. And now that chance had been taken rudely away.

The rage passed and left behind an icy calm. He went to the telegraph room and slowly pecked out a message to Fannie. Her second telegram had told him who was responsible for Linn and Esther's injuries.

Keep Jacob in town STOP On next train to Firelands STOP Charlie

If Linn was laid up, Charlie knew that Jacob would be hunting. The young man was wise beyond his years but his contacts in this part of the world were few and Charlie had been working here for years. He knew where a lot of the skeletons were buried and which rocks to turn over to get what he needed from those who might not want to help. Between the two of them he was sure they could bring the witch who had done this to those Charlie considered family to justice.

Charlie wasn't sure he believed in multiple personalities. But he had seen enough strange things over the years not to dismiss the possibility out of hand. It was enough that Fannie believed. The urgency now was to get back to Firelands and talk to Linn and Jacob, and to start on the trail of whoever Duzy was now. He went to his room and packed then went to the doctor's office to leave a message for Willy and Chang. Another note went on the desk of the resident deputy. From there Charlie went to the railroad depot and bought a ticket for the next train back to Firelands.

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Linn Keller 6-5-08


Daisy's kitchen, as usual, was an orchestra of coordinated activity; she and Morning Star meshed well indeed, each performing a graceful, intricate dance as they fed the stove and fixed the food, prepared the trays and carried them out: Daisy had fed the Irish Brigade that morning, and had some left over; she lined a basket with warmed bricks, covered them with a towel, loaded in a couple pots with lids and covered these, and told Morning Star, "I'm taking breakfast to the Sheriff's wife. Ye may ha' t' visit me i' jail," and she was gone with a mischievous flash of Irish eyes and a swing of her skirt.
Little Sean was walking: like his father, he did little, halfway: he preceded his mother down the hallway at his best imitation of a dead run, and was scooped up by the soft but strong hands of a well-dressed stranger, who swung the blue-eyed, red-headed Irish lad well above head height with a great laugh.
"Well now, where are off to this fine morning?" he greeted the laughing child, and Daisy said, in her Mama's-voice, "Now Sean, ye know ye're no' supposed t' trouble th' guests!" and Sean squealed with delight, reaching for the brim of the stranger's derby.
The stranger lowered Sean carefully to the floor and watched wistfully as the lad ran back down the hall, to be shooed into the kitchen by a smiling Morning Star.
"My sons were much the same," he murmured, then lifted his derby.
"John Berkshire, ma'am, at your service."
"And Mr. Berkshire, what would bring ye clear out here?" Daisy asked with a tilt of her head.
"I am a promoter," Mr. Berkshire said. "I was just telling our friend here" -- he motioned to Mr. Baxter, who was patiently polishing a beer mug -- "back East, the lecture circuit is popular. Grand it is! Why, people will pack a theatre to hear accounts of far-off places and interesting happenings!"
"And ye think that we're ... interesting?" Daisy said mildly, balancing her wish to deliver a hot meal against her wish to have fun with this stranger.
"Dear lady!" Mr. Berkshire exclaimed with a theatrical gesture. "Firelands has a Reputation!"
"And what would that be, Mr. Berkshire? Putting people to sleep when they hear the name?"
Mr. Berkshire assumed an expression of wounded innocence. "The reputation of Firelands is well established, and wide spread! Why, you have a Sheriff who can shoot the eye out of a gnat at twenty paces, a deputy ten feet tall who picks his teeth with railroad spikes! You have a railroad run by a woman, a locomotive that can outpace the very wind, and -- oh, yes, your Sheriff tends to dispatch outlaws with a cavalry sabre!"
"Oh, my," Daisy murmured with an absolutely guileless expression, her eyes very wide, and very blue.
"Why, at the social event of the season, the bank was robbed and the entire town turned out for the robbery, including a little girl who single handedly apprehended a dangerous and known felon who'd just stolen from three stores and burned down two more!"
Mr. Berkshire paused for breath, having exhausted his excited presentation.
"If you could direct me to a Miss Duzy Wales, please. I am told she is with the local newspaper, and we believe she would be the proper presenter for the recounting of such exciting lore!"
"Miss Duzy is away on assignment," Mr. Baxter spoke up.
"Oh?" Mr. Berkshire turned, disappointment in his voice.
"You know these newspaper folk. Always looking for a story." He paused to peer through the last of the beer mugs, satisfying himself it was absolutely spotless. "I'm not sure when she'll be back, but we can see to it she knows of your offer!"
"Mr. Baxter, could you accommodate Mr. Berkshire in this venture?" Daisy asked sweetly, her Irish accent adding charm to her words. "I wish to deliver this t' the hospital while it's still hot."
"You have a hospital!" Mr. Berkshire exclaimed in honest surprise.
"We have, and we expect to have gas lights within the year."
Mr. Berkshire almost looked sad. "The Wild West is passing," he said with a shake of his carefully-barbered head.
Daisy dropped a curtsy: "Mr. Berkshire," she said with a smile, and swept out the front door of the Jewel.
Once outside, Daisy had a difficult time stifling her laughter until she was away from the Jewel; even then, her laughter was pleasant to the ear, for those who were about at this early hour.

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Linn Keller 6-5-08


Daisy's step was brisk, her back straight; her Irish-red hair was put up, but like women of her age, it was not simply put up: a woman's hair, we read in Scripture, is her crowning glory, and Daisy, with a few twists and pins, had turned her thick Celtic mane into a true crown, shining in the morning sun.
She greeted her fellow citizens, her step brisk, her chin high and her demeanor pleasant; she greeted Nurse Susan and Dr. Flint as she went into the hospital.
Daisy pulled back the covering cloth and the good smell of her morning menu filled the room.
"Where would the Sheriff and his wife be?" she asked in her charming Irish accent, and Nurse Susan opened the door for her, and closed it behind her.
Esther was asleep; pale, Daisy thought, but breathing: her face is better, poor thing! -- she set down the breakfast and walked around in front of the Sheriff.
She laid a gentle hand on his shoulder as he raised his head.
His face was a picture of misery.
Daisy drew back and belted him across the face with her open hand.
The sound was loud in the room and the Sheriff blinked, stung. He put a hand to his cheek, unbelieving.
"Shame be wid' ye," Daisy declared loudly. "Ye call yersel' a mon? Ye shuid be wearin' petticoats wi' yer weepin'! Ye're no' a woman, t' wear tears!" She gestured fiercely at Esther.
"Yon's the woman here, an' worthy o' the name! She married a man! No' a snivelin' girl!"
It took a moment for the Sheriff to get his thoughts together.
He looked over at Esther, back up at Daisy.
Nurse Susan, hearing the commotion, thrust open the door. "What in the world --"
Esther turned her head and reached for her husband's hand.
"Do I smell breakfast?" she asked with that smile he remembered so well.
The Sheriff took Esther's hand in both his, then he turned to Daisy.
"We will speak of this later," he said quietly.
Daisy turned and left the room, trembling a little, not entirely certain she'd gotten away with it.
Earlier in the day she listened unobtrusively as Bonnie was speaking of the Sheriff's grief.
Daisy had known how hard men grieve; she'd watched her Sean grieve before, and knew there was a time for a woman's gentle touch, and there was a time for a woman to backhand some sense into him.
It had worked for Sean, she thought. There is no reason it will no' work for the Sheriff as well!
Daisy raised her chin and marched back to the Silver Jewel with the step of a woman who was satisfied she had just done a good thing.

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