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Firelands-The Beginning

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Lady Leigh 7-2-08


Bonnie was walking down the road on the way to see Duzy .... thinking about that revelation, Bonnie paused. “Oh Duzy .....” Bonnie said as she looked toward the Heavens, “I need you!” She cried.

Bonnie thought twice about completeing her trek into town. Esther would be a wonderful person to visit with, but with her business, and now Angela taking up more of her time, Bonnie decided against it .... besides, Esther reminded her a little to much of Duzy right now. That aspect was leaving an empty hole in Bonnies chest.

There was Maude ..... but at present, she reminded Bonnie of her Mama .... leaving an even deeper hole.

Instead, she turned toward a favorite spot of Duzy’s. If Duzy was the one Bonnie needed right now then she’d go to a place Duzy had taken her to on several occasions. A beautiful spot along the water ... soothing ....spiritual.

With her head down, she ventured along a path, keeping a sharp eye out on the tree roots and rocks. Wouldn’t do any good to take a fall .... though maybe falling and hurting herself would make a better understanding of the ache she was feeling and the tears that were being shed.

Rounding a slight bend, and turning toawrd the favored spot, Bonnie saw it was not vacant. Bill was sitting there looking off toward the mountain range. She first thought was to turn back, but she saw him turn his head and glance her way. With the nod of his head she approached him anyway. She sat down on the fallen tree next to where he sat. There was silence for a time. Neither saying anything. When the silence was broken, it was by Bill,

“I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, from where cometh my help.”


“Uh huh ... 121.”

Bonnie looked at him and pondered his words, “I didn’t know for certain you were a God fearing
man, Bill.”

He laughed ... the same laugh she directed at Levi a short time earlier, “No, Ms. Bonnie, I don’t
suppose my actions have been very consistent with that of a God fearing man ...... In truth? No
matter how much I have tried to turn my back on God, and no matter how hard I have tried to
deny His existence, this poor old man sitting next to you this afternoon, has been forced in
reconsidering those thoughts. We all do at some point, I believe. How we handle it can only
done gracefully with the help of God.”

Bill glanced at Bonnie seeing clearly the tear streaks running down her cheeks “I saw you coming
from a bit of a distance away. Kind of thought maybe I should skedaddle before you came upon
this spot, but I saw how it looked like you were chewing out Satin himself, and as I was having a
hard time lifting ,myself off of this tree, I figured God must have wanted me to stay.”

Bonnie just looked at him. She swore she had ‘never’ heard so many words come out of the old
mans mouth .... ever?

“Ms. Bonnie?”

“Yes ...”

“See those thunder clouds building over yonder?”

“Yes ...”

“Life resembles the lightening bolts you will see. You travel along on the straight and narrow,
then you make a jog here and a jog there, back on the straight again, only to have it interrupted
with another jog off to the side.”

Bonnie contemplated that for a moment, “Oh, Bill ... if only life would complete itself as quickly
as the flash of a lighten bolt ....”

“But Ms. Bonnie! Life does goes by just that fast! Believe me .... when you sit somewhere as an
old woman, you will look back over your life and realize it has gone by way to quickly ....”

They sat for a moment or two in silence again.

“I saw your brother-in-law get off the train earlier ...”

“He is one of the reasons that has brought me out today.” Was all Bonnie said.

“Ms. Bonnie? I am so ashamed of a great deal. There has been so many things I cursed the
Almighty about. I blamed Him for many trials .... many tribulations. He is not to blame,
however. I can fully see that now. God, in his ever loving graciousness, has given me a gift. I
thrust my fist at him in the past, only to have found he has always carried me in the palm of His

He glanced over to Bonnie for a brief moment ....mainly to see if she was paying any attention .... she was. Bonnie was listening to each and every word. Actually, she was captivated. She, too was angry at God ... had been for a long time. Oh, she pretended not to be. But she was .....

“Ms. Bonnie?”

“Yes, Bill.”

“You questioned my God fearing words .... my dear, at one point in time I was a foot soldier of the Pope. I was a Brother ... a Priest of the Society of Jesus.”

“A Jesuit?” Bonnie questioned

“Kind of funny isn’t it?” He chuckled, “But yes ....”

Bill shared with Bonnie his story and by the end, Bonnie was weeping openly. “So you see Ms. Bonnie, we all have a lightening bolt path to walk on.”

Silence .... meditative thoughts ....

“The overseer I told you about was a great deal like Burt Graves .... evil. Now I don’t know if Orvil has passed from this earth, but we both know Burt Graves has, “ Bonnie looked at him startled, “Now I know that nobody has seen him, and that no one has even really questioned his absence, but you and I both know he is gone from this earth, and the earth is probably the better for it. Look at your Sarah! She is better for it .... you have each other now.”

Bill was looking directly at Bonnie at this point .... and she at him, “I would like to ask you for forgiveness, Ms. Bonnie ...”

“What ever for?”

“I knew of the bad things that were happening to you ... most people in Firelands did .... but no one stepped up to help. Believe me when I say I wanted to say something .... but as I was mad at God, I guess I just felt that was one more instance that I was right .... God couldn’t have possibly existed if the bad things kept happening to the good people ..... but I see you now, Ms. Bonnie. You make me realize that Satin doesn’t have to always win .... look at you! Look at Sarah! Look at the little baby girls .... that is, but a few of God’s richest blessings. Those miracles of life are evidence of God’s goodness, and you get to see them everyday, Ms. Bonnie.”

Bill’s wrinkled, gnarled old hand found hers, “And Ms. Bonnie? God has found favor upon me this day. I, too, have a family. A family I dreamed was mine, but thought was not.”

“Who are they, Bill?”

“Your friends, the Knights, Ms. Bonnie .... that beautiful woman Beverly Knight is my daughter.”

Bonnie gasped. She knew a little of the story behind Beverly as they shared their story with one another when Bonnie was in St. Charles, but it wasn’t a story everyone knew about .... should hardly have been know by the man sitting next to her. “How do you know that Bill.”

“Why because of her son! When i first saw him earlier, I thought I was looking into a mirror from the past. I saw my face, Ms. Bonnie. Because of that, I know the truth now.”

“What are you going to do, Bill?”

“I don’t have the foggiest idea! I’ve been sitting here waiting for God to tell me. But I can safely say this to you, Ms. Bonnie. Life it too short. We do have some control on how big of a jig or a jog we want the lightening bolt path to have. What is past is past .... we don’t have any control over that any more than the control we have with out futures, but I belive we do have an element of control over the present. There is anger. There is hurt. But is it really a wise thing to give into them? Shouldn’t we try to find the good that sometimes comes from the bad?”

Bonnie’s other hand found it’s way over Bill’s hand that was covering her other. “Guess we need to make a straight road out of our lives again, huh? ..... I don’t know if I can do that, Bill. How do you live, always wondering if you are taking the chance on someone else trying to play with your life? What if they way they play with it is horror beyond belief?”

“Well ... maybe we are going to have to see if we can make it different. We don’t have to walk our lives alone after all ....”

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NCGranny 7-3-08


I just plane did not know how to feel. One minete I thote I wood be hung and the next this nice young Deputy wus handin me my life back. I hugged him afore I new what I wus doin and he turned red, but he let me hug him and gave me a hug back.

I thote of my baby boy and teers came to my eyes. If he had lived, I wood want him to be like Jacob. He was tuff, but he was fare and he had honor. I membered Esther, and I wished I cood go to her, but I new I needed to get on outta town. This wood be our secret, mine and Jacobs, jest like I promised.

I rode on out of town thinkin what I wus gonna do with the money.

I heard a thump and looked over at a scrawny dog, one that needed to be fed, one that looked like…..yep it wus a girl…..she looked like she needed a frind. She was black, and looked like no one cared, she needed fed and she wus lookin at me with dark eyes and I thote it must be ment to be. We wus both alone, but now we had money and we had each other. I stopped the buggy and we shared a meal.

You gonna have to have a name gurl, and I like Winnie. Do you like Winnie? I cood have sworn she smiled, but it wus jest in her eyes I spose.

Me and Winnie rode on outta town, sittin side by side and she made me feel better, like she was sent by a frind to help me get started somewhere. My hart swelled up with love for Winnie. She brote me a feelin of peace and I hoped I cood do the same for her.

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Linn Keller 7-3-08


"Nice gal," Shorty said, occupying the chair Jacob just vacated.
"Know her?" Shorty asked, taking off his battered billycock and scratching his thatch.
Jacob turned red. "Nope."
"Oh." Shorty kicked his feet up on his dusty desk top, displacing a cat.
Jacob looked embarrassed. "Ever start talkin' to someone thinkin' they was somebody you knew once, but they weren't?"
Shorty laughed, twisting a little in his chair, trying to find a more comfortable position. "Oh, yeah," he grinned. "I've done that a time or two." He looked shrewdly at Jacob. "One time it turns out I actually knew the fella but he didn't recall me from Adam, but he played along an' about a month later he come back through town an' stopped t' tell me he finally remembered who the dickens I was!"
Jacob nodded and headed toward the door.
Shorty waited until he was out of earshot before muttering to himself, which he was wont to do at times.
"You're a poor liar, Jacob Keller," he said softly, "but I reckonize a kindness when I see it."
The cat, displaced from the desk, decided Shorty's lap would be a good replacement, and Shorty spent some time stroking the barn cat, at least until the both of them fell asleep.

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Linn Keller 7-4-08


We spent more time afoot than mounted but damned if we didn't lose the tracks.
Whoever that was, I thought, was good.
Real good.
Digger showed up finally with his wagon and after we gave things a final looking-over, we loaded Collins in and Digger asked which plot I wanted used.
I gave the blanket covered form a long and unfriendly look.
"Digger, I don't reckon there's a soul either side of the Mississippi that will mourn his passing. Plant him with the rest of 'em." My voice was hard. "I don't want the likes of him stinking up our good cemetery!"
Digger chuckled. "Sure thing, Sheriff. I've got two men digging his hole now." He clucked to his mule and they headed back for town.
I picked up the rope loops I'd cut off Collins' wrists and ankles and studied the knots.
Nothing unique there, I thought. Common cord.
I threw them down, frustrated.
"Hm?" Charlie had one arm across his chest, the other propping his chin, meditating. Likely he was reconstructing what happened, step by step, putting himself in the murderer's boots, projecting the next move, the next move, the next ...
"Charlie, I don't reckon this one will be easy."
Charlie squinted along our back trail, looked again at the drove-in pegs.
"Worst part is ..." I shook my head. "Charlie, I don't hold with murder, but I don't particularly want to catch this one."
Charlie looked sharply at me. "You afraid?"
I let the words pass. Another man might take insult, but I knew better: Charlie tended to bluntness, and that was one thing I cherished about the man. No, his question was straightforward and honest.
"I'm afraid I'd give whoever did this, a medal."
Charlie smiled thinly.
I tilted my head back, eyes wandering idly along the mountain tops and their thickening clouds. "If it starts raining on us we'll lose all the sign there was." I considered. "Was I to kill someone and disappear, where would I disappear to?"
Charlie held his counsel. I could tell he was thinking too but he knew I was thinking out loud.
"Railroad is due south. A man could head south and strike the roadbed, make good time east or west."
"West, if he did that," Charlie nodded. "East would be back to Firelands."
I looked to where we'd found the scrap of cloth, mostly burnt up. "If it's a man."
"Coulda been all that's left of a shirt."
"You seen anyone wearin' a shirt of that pattern?"
The wind picked up, cooler and damp, and it smelled of rain.
Hijo del Sol's head came up and he nickered, muttering at me.
"We're gonna get wet," Charlie said. "We can either head for Collins' place or head back to Firelands."
"I was in his place once. Got the worst case o' fleas I'd ever had."
Charlie laughed. "I need some coffee anyway!"
We got into our slickers just as the first fat, cold drops pattered down around us.
"I hate a wet saddle," I muttered, and we pointed our noses for home.

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Linn Keller 7-6-08


The rain settled to a steady pace, a nice slow soaker as Granddad called it.
Soaker was right.
Hijo was not at all unhappy when we came in sight of the livery.
Charlie and I wasted no time in stripping our mounts of saddle and bridle and getting them inside where it was dry.
Some fellows would just turn their horses loose in the corral, rain or not, figuring they'd dry of their own once the rain quit. Me, I didn't hold with that, and neither did Charlie. He was always one to take care of his equipment.
Dawg was snoring in a corner. Shorty thrust his chin at the somnambulant and allowed as he'd come drifting in right ahead of the rain, and he figgered we'd not be far behind.
I've known several animals to be like that. My old Sam horse, for instance --
I paused in my attentions to Hijo.
I hadn't thought of that big old plow horse for some long time now.
Charlie looked over his horse's back at me.
"You wanta quit steppin' on my grave?" he asked solemnly and I chuckled and shook my head, the memory wisping away like cobwebs of fog before a sudden breeze.

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Linn Keller 7-7-08


Angela was standing up on a chair, studiously regarding the lump of dough that looked as big as a hay wagon.
Her newly stuffed doll watched from a second chair.
Esther had just wrapped an apron almost twice around the giggling little girl, and was now showing her how to knead bread dough.
"Here, let's get some flour on our hands," Esther said in the conspiratorial voice mothers use -- much the same voice as a mischievious little boy persuading a playmate to wade through fresh mud.
Angela patted her splay-fingered hands in flour, carefully sifted onto the tabletop for the purpose, following Esther's example.
She held her hands up, proudly displaying their dusty coating.
Esther held hers up too and they both laughed.
Esther reached up with a delicate forefinger and barely touched the tip of Angela's nose.
Angela stretched her little arm out as far as it would reach, and just as carefully, put a tiny white dot just on the tip of Esther's nose as well.
Esther floured the rest of the table and rolled the dough out, talking to the child as if she were an equal, instructing her on the proper way to fold the dough, and knead the dough, and fold it over again -- "but we mustn't work it too much," she cautioned, "or it will be tough."
Angela nodded knowledgeably, brown eyes big and sincere.
"Now. We'll divide the dough like this" -- Esther squinted one eye and cocked her head, and Angela did the same -- "here, and here, like this."
Angela leaned forward and happily patted the divided loaves.
Esther slid one loaf of dough over in front of the child. "Here," she said with a smile, "I think this one needs some more work."
Angela giggled and kneaded enthusiastically at the little loaf, managing to do little more than dust flour over it, and herself, and some floor underneath the table.
Angela watched as Esther slid the loaves into the oven. She did not approach the stove -- she'd learned that stoves were hot! some time ago -- and she turned, still standing on the kitchen chair, as Esther started to clean up the table.
"We want it nice and clean for supper," Esther explained, and Angela nodded vigorously, brown eyes wide and solemn.

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Charlie MacNeil 7-7-08


The two men stood just inside the cavernous barn door and watched the rain pour down. "Dammit, I feel like I should be doing something, but I can't for the life of me figure out what it is," Charlie said after a moment. "We lost the tracks, and..." His voice trailed off and he stood staring out into the rain for a little longer. Then he raised his voice. "Shorty! You in here somewhere?"

"Right over here in my office," Shorty's voice called. Charlie turned toward the small building within a building that Shorty called his office. He stepped inside.

"Did anybody leave town before this storm set in?" Charlie asked casually.

"Coulda been any number of folks leave," Shorty said cautiously. "Why?"

"How 'bout from this barn?" Charlie asked. He could sense that there was more here than was meeting the eye, so to speak. Shorty was holding something back. He turned and looked back out through the door. Something was missing. Then it came to him. "Where's that buckboard that was sitting out yonder?"

"Oh that," Shorty said hesitantly. "The lady said she was moving on. I fixed some stuff that was wearing out on the wagon, and shod her horse, and she pulled out. I ain't sure which way she went."

"Okay, thanks," Charlie said. He went back to where Linn stood waiting.

"What's up?" Linn asked when he saw Charlie's troubled expression.

"I think I may know who our killer is," Charlie answered. "But I'm not sure what to do about it." He looked at Linn. "You remember that woman who showed up at the Jewel the other day?" Linn nodded. "She was driving a buckboard that was sitting out yonder." He pointed with his chin. "It was there when we left for the Collins place, but it's gone now, and Shorty said she pulled out before the rain started." He stared out at the rain again. "This is one of those times when the book don't offer much guidance," he said finally. "If she is our killer, the law says I have to bring her in. On the other hand, she did a public service by killin' that man." His voice trailed off again then he looked at Linn again. "Maybe we'd best think about this over some pie and coffee. What do you think?"

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Linn Keller 7-7-08


It wasn't far to the back door of the Jewel, but I looked out at the rain and looked back into the livery, and I got curious before we stepped out into the wet.
"Hey, Shorty," I called back, "did she seem to be in any kind of a hurry?"
Shorty came limping out of his office, scratching up under his dented and much worse-for-wear derby. "No," he said, "come to think about it, she didn't seem to be, no. Didn't appear excited a'tall." He shoved his thumbs behind his galluses. "She wanted?"
"Hell, I don't know," I admitted, "Pie and coffee sounds good, I'm plumb chilled!"
We weren't quite going to run, not on muddy ground, but we didn't waste much time, especially cold as that rain was. We made quick use of a little patch of grass near to the back steps and we got most of the mud off our boots before going inside.

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Linn Keller 7-7-08


Running water and time had carved under a rock bluff not far from the road, forming a shallow overhang.
The overhang was tall enough to fit a loaded hay wagon and a team in from the rain, and time and again had sheltered just that very thing.
Eda Mae stroked her dog's curly coat and watched the rain, smiling a little.
She knew what little sign she would have left, would be long since washed away.
Could she but put enough distance between herself and Firelands, she knew, she just might get away.
That young deputy had given her a chance.
A chance, no more, she thought, thinking again of the Sheriff's pale eyes and that marshal's reputation.
It was cool, and it was damp, but her shiver was not entirely due to the weather.

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NCGranny 7-8-08


I wated in that perfect spot and pondered. Winnie nudged me and I scatched her behind her ears. I had saved a bar of lavender soap and Winnie and I both had a bath in the rain. She wus happy and so wus I!

I knowed I needed to get on my way, so as soon as it let up a bit, we headed off. I din’t want that there Marshall or Sheriff to get close, it was plane to see they wus good, better than most I had seen…..

I hitched up and rode on, still not knowin what I wus gonna do. I felt I owed Jacob, he had sure taken a lode off by givin me that money. Now, I cood stop werrying bout havin to whore for a livin. Someday, I wood repay that boy I thote as ideas came to my head bout what to do next.

I thote it was time for someone to start takin wemen serious and dreemed bout comin a law woman! Hell, if I could beat em, I cood join em, I thote as I laughed, with Winnie sittin by my side, lookin like she understood, and then I thote I had better stop laughing. I weren't away yet.

I cood still pass as a man if’n I wanted….I had done it afore, tho I hated havin to wrap a cloth round my upper parts to hide em. They felt better free and woman like….and then I thote how nice it wood be to meet a nice man and see what lovin one felt like….my ex had always been atop me and off afore I knowed what wus happenin…..God rest his soul.

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Mr. Box 7-9-08


Linn and Charlie came in the back door looking like the rain had caught up with them a ways back down the trail. One look told me they weren't interested in beer. Sure enough, their order was directed into the kitchen. After you've been out in weather like that and get drenched you are more interested in getting something in your stomach to warm up your bones.
The Silver Jewel had been busy all day but not bouncing like it started off this morning. Most of the celebrating began settling down after Linn and Charlie rode out of town. Daisy cooked up more than she needed today. She won't let it go to waste. That'll just give her a head start on tomorrow.

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Linn Keller 7-9-08


Morning Star met us at the back door with a big towel apiece and she relieved us of our dripping Stetsons.
"Dripping" really isn't the right word for it.
Water was pouring off mine and pretty well soaked through it and Charlie's was about the same.
We toweled off as best we could without peelin' off our soaky wet duds, and I shivered just a little, for I was losing heat fast coming out of that cold rain and now evaporating off what was left.
Morning Star collected our towels and nodded toward the dining room as Daisy looked out, waving a wooden spoon in our general direction.
"Now sure if ye don't look half drowned!" she scolded. "And likely ye'll be trackin' mud all over me clean floor! Now do ye get in there an' set down, I've some nice hot stew that'll warm ye up! Be off with ye!"
I looked at Charlie, and Charlie looked at me, and we both looked at Daisy, and we said with one voice, "Yes, ma'am!"
Morning Star's eyes were on the floor, but she was trying really hard not to smile.
We nodded at Mr. Baxter on the way past, and I commenced to shiver a little, grateful to be in where it was warm and dry. We set ourselves down and Morning Star set two cups of scalding hot vanilla coffee down in front of us, the damp towels still slung over her shoulder.
Daisy came bustling up behind her with a tray and two big bowls of stew. She frowned and laid the backs of her fingers against Charlie's cheek, and the back of the other hand against my forehead.
"Grown men!" she muttered. "Playin' about in the rain like schoolboys! Like as not ye'll both be down with pneumonia! Ye both need a dry change o' clothes!" She put her hands on her hips. "Sheriff, were ye no' married to a fine woman I'd tell ye t' fin' yerself a good wife, but ye' ha' one, an' she'd no' be happy t' find ye chilled an' shiverin'! And you!" She turned to Charlie, who managed to take a good slurp of coffee while looking both guilty and utterly innocent in the same moment. "Why d'ye no' marry that fine woman Fannie, now? She's a good woman, y'know!"
"I know," Charlie mumbled around the rim of his ceramic mug.
Daisy raised her hands to the ceiling. "He knows an' he's no' swept her off her feet an' carried her t' th' altar! Men! She's crazy about ye an' sure it's as plain as th' nose on your face!" She headed back for the kitchen, shaking her head and briskly opining every step of the way.
I slid my bowl of stew squarely in front of me, taking a long sniff of good smells floating up from its steaming surface.
"That woman really ought to go ahead and speak her mind," Charlie said with a serious expression.
I about choked on that first big mouthful of stew.

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Charlie MacNeil 7-10-08


"'Cause I hate it when they beat around the bush like that," Charlie went on. "Makes a man think he needs to be a mind reader." By this time Linn was laughing right out loud. Charlie joined him. When the chuckles subsided Charlie said, "I reckon maybe I'd best talk to Fannie and see how the wedding plans are progressing, eh?"

"It might not be a bad idea," Linn said. "Otherwise Daisy might just make 'em for you. She seems to be pretty serious about getting you two hitched."

"That she does," Charlie said. "That she does." As he finished speaking the topic of their conversation strolled into the dining room.

"Where have you two been?" Fannie demanded. "You're both soaked!"

"We've been out doin' our jobs," Charlie protested.

"And I suppose that doing your job includes coming down with pneumonia?" she asked.

Charlie looked at her with a bemused expression then said, "Not that I can recall."

"Then I suggest that it might just behoove you to get your behind upstairs and get out of those wet clothes," Fannie said with a saucy smile. Charlie saw the smile and answered it with one of his own. He turned to Linn.

"You heard the lady," he said with a chuckle. "See ya later, Linn." He picked up his wet hat from the chair it sat on and started to put it on his head then changed his mind and just kept it in his hand. He took a last slurp of coffee then a last big bite of stew and turned away from the table to where Fannie stood tapping her foot. "Let's us go, darlin'," Charlie said. "I'll see about some hot water on the way through the lobby. A nice hot bath might be just the thing."

"I do believe you're right," Fannie said as she led the way from the dining room. Behind them, Linn chuckled.

"I do believe Daisy's right," he said to the room in general. "That man needs to get that woman to the altar."

Behind the bar Mister Baxter chuckled and said, "I think that's on the agenda for the very near future. I've been overhearing a few things, and the wedding's gonna be a dandy if even half of what I've been hearing comes to pass."

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Linn Keller 7-11-08


Morning Star, bless her heart, had a folded towel under both Charlie's hat and mine: though still thoroughly wet, they were not longer running, dripping or otherwise leaking: like Charlie, I carried mine, at least until I got out the back door again and started squelching across muddy ground toward the livery.
It had stopped raining, but not for long, I judged.
I just might have time to get home before it cut loose again.
Shorty must've figured I'd be back shortly. He'd tended to Hijo as best he could, but he was still leery of the big Spanish stallion.
I saddled and bridled with a flash of Spanish silver and Shorty nodded approval. "Sheriff," he said, "you ain't the kind to show off, but that fancy saddle does suit you."
"Think so?" Hijo took the bit without protest and I slipped the bridle over his ears, carefully, gently as I could like I always did. "Might be I'd oughta get me one of those fancy Spanish jackets and a big sombrero with dingle-bobs around the entire rim!"
"You do that, Sheriff," Shorty laughed.
Shorty had expanded the livery not long before, and glad I was for it: Hijo was taller than most saddle horses by a good bit and it was nice not to have to duck when I rode out, like I used to do with the old, smaller livery.
Hijo paced easily over the wet ground and we set ourselves to heading for home.
We just made it before the clouds give up trying to hold back their water. I'd no sooner got Hijo in the barn and the saddle and bridle hung up than it started again, so I finished my have-to's and made sure the stallion was all taken care of, then me and my soaky-wet hat pulled the doors shut and dropped the bar across them and squelched on over to the back porch.
There was more grass by my back steps than there was by the Jewel's back steps and I made good use of a couple square feet of it, but by golly I got the mud off my boots before I went up on my own back porch.
Esther looked up and I saw her smile through the window when I reached for the door knob.
I'd just got the door open and stopped right at the threshold, there was a big BOOM of thunder and I saw the silver glare wash over the inside of the room.
I remember seeing my silhouette, stark and black and plain as if it was painted with an artist's brush and soot-black paint on the opposite wall.
I turned and saw a puff of steam, off in the field maybe a quarter mile from me, where lightning had hit the ground.
Angela's eyes, always seeming a bit big for her face, were huge: she had been standing on a kitchen chair, watching Esther fix supper, but she jumped down with a flare of apron and skirts and went running around the table.
I stood in the doorway taking in the smells of a good woman-cooked meal, and the sight of my wife and our little girl, Esther's face flushed with heat from the stove, and little Angela tugging urgently at Esther's skirt.
Esther bent down and Angela cupped her hand around Esther's ear and I could see her big brown eyes roll around looking at me, and I knew I was the subject of her urgent susurrant.
Esther put her hand to her mouth but her eyes betrayed the laughter she was politely stifling. She looked at me, and looked at Angela, and cupped her own hand around Angela's little ear and made a sibilant reply.
Angela nodded and came paddling rapidly around the table.
I knew I was a big man and she just a little girl, and I knew I filled the doorway, but I didn't know quite how big and impressive I looked, at least until I heard the world through Angela's eyes.
She stopped and regarded me seriously, and tilted her head a little.
"Daddy," she asked, just as solemn as the old judge, "are you God?"

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Charlie MacNeil 7-11-08


Drifting steam veiled the windows and beaded the panes with moisture from the inside. Charlie hummed and sloshed in the steaming tub and he could feel the heat of the water soaking deep into his cold bones. What the coffee and stew had started the hot water was putting the finishing touches to.

"I'm gettin' too old for this crap," Charlie mumbled to himself.

"Talking to yourself again?" the sweet voice drifted with the steam through the room followed by the source of the voice.

"Sometimes I like to carry on an intelligent conversa..." His words were cut off in a splutter as he found his head suddenly shoved under the surface of the water. He came up snorting and blowing like a breaching whale and water sloshed out of the tub onto the floor.

"You're making a mess, Sugar," Fannie said with a laugh. Her hand slid across Charlie's head and pushed a few wisps of his thinning hair back from his forehead. He reached up and grabbed her hand and she suddenly found herself upended and making a respectable splash of her own. She came in for a watery landing in Charlie's lap.

"Now who's making a mess, darlin'?" Charlie asked. Fannie did some spluttering of her own and started to push herself up out of the water then changed her mind and wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss. When they came up for air Charlie helped her get back on her feet. She spread some towels on the carpet to soak up the worst of the water then looked down at him.

"You'd best get out of those wet clothes," Charlie said solicitously. "You'll catch your death of pneumonia."

"There is a method to your madness, isn't there?" Fannie asked. "Or should I say there's a madness to your method?"

"Don't matter which," Charlie answered. "But I think that if we do it right, there's room for both of us in this tub."

"I do believe you might be right," Fannie said.

Later, when the water had cooled and so had they the couple sat side by side on the chaise in "Fannie's Room". "I've gotta get headed back to Denver," Charlie said, "but this time I ain't going without you. When do you want to have the wedding?"

"Don't believe in beating around the bush, do you?" Fannie asked.

Charlie answered her question indirectly. "We were mostly waiting for Duzy to make up her mind about Jake," he said quietly. "Now that's a moot point." Fannie started to protest and Charlie raised a hand. "Let me finish, would you please?" Fannie subsided. "Thanks, darlin'. As I was saying, that's a moot point. I miss Duzy as much as anybody even though I haven't known her near as long as most. But I can't bring her back and she wouldn't want us mourning too long. She wasn't exactly a mourning kind of gal. So I think we need to get on with the wedding plans. We can do it in her honor. I think she was more excited than anybody when she found out we were getting hitched and I want to do it up right."

That was more words than Charlie had strung together in quite a while and he sat back and looked at Fannie's pensive expression. "You're right, of course," she said after a while. "Duzy would want us to get on with it." She gave him her best mischievous grin. "I'm kind of looking forward to it myself. I'm not exactly the vestal virgin but I still plan on wearing white. I'll get Bonnie to make the dress. I'll let you know when to show up." She kissed him again. "Now that that's settled, what are we going to do for the rest of the evening?"

"I reckon we'll think of something," Charlie said.

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Linn Keller 7-14-08


Green eyes snapped open in the quiet darkness.
Esther's nostrils flared a little and her eyes tracked back and forth on the ceiling, ears straining in the nighttime quiet, searching for the sound, the vibration, the disturbance that wakened her.
Her hand was in her husband's; they often slept so, holding hands, and Linn's hand twitched once, and she felt him shaking just a little.
He was dreaming again, she realized ... no, not a dream, another nightmare ...

The tall form, silhouetted in the doorway, dusk blasted aside by the magnesium glare of a lightning strike directly behind the figure ... and a little girl's voice ... "Daddy, are you God?"
He slid out of the bed, feet first, yelling, down a waterfall, stopping in the church, hunched over on a pew, hat in hand and looking at the ornate altar.
His own voice, echoing in the still church.
"Oh, hell," he said, and he felt the vibrations in his throat, "I want her!"
A deep, echoing, sonorous voice, weighted with the ages and with wisdom: "I, thy God, am a jealous God."
A little girl with blue eyes and blond hair, giggling tiredly in her Daddy's tight embrace, cheeks like ripe apples, fever-bright, her life burning itself out in his arms ...
Another little girl-child's voice.
"Daddy, are you God?"

Esther did not know the Sheriff's dream, nor could she; Esther knew only that her husband was a man of conscience and of memories, a man who, when he loved, loved with all of his entire being, and when he grieved, grieved just as hard, just as deeply.
She knew that he was gripped with a nightmare, and she applied the wifely remedy that worked in the past.
Esther did not remove her left hand from his: she rolled up on her left side, and laid her free hand on his chest.
Linn jumped, a little, and his left hand came up and laid on top of hers, and she felt him relax, and his breathing slowed, and he murmured something, sleepy, drugged with somnambulance and almost unintelligible, yet clear to a wife's experienced ears ...
"Yuvs you ..."
Over the tight, well-made house, Colorado stars blazed fiercely in a clear sky, declaring their glory to any who cared to look, and many did.
One set of eyes belonged to a little girl with curly hair, who stood barefoot before her bedroom window in a house on the other side of the little town: her breath fogged the window as she marveled, and tilted her head a little, and studied the starry-decked firmament.
After a time, satisfied, she climbed back in her bed and found the warm place she'd occupied not long before, and curled up on her side, and was almost instantly asleep, having satisfied herself of her aunt Duzy's rightful place among the heavens.
A shadow flowed along the boardwalk in the town's main street, a discrete ink-blot, silent as death and black as a sinner's heart, ghosting with absolute stealth toward its own bed. Dawg knew just where to slip into the livery, and did, and after touching noses with a half-dozen horses and two cats, he too curled up in a warm bed, and was soon asleep.
Twain Dawg, on a rug at the foot of a little girl's bed, yawned widely and rested his head on his paws, his big brushy tail rising once and falling as he too closed his eyes, and relaxed.
"Daddy, are you God?"
He stepped out of the doorway and into the warm kitchen, rich with the smell of fresh baked bread and supper just ready to be dished up, and he scooped up his little girl and laughed and kissed her forehead.
"No, darlin'," he said, hugging her to him, "I'm just an old sheriff, glad to be home."

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NCGranny 7-15-08


I tride difrint places w’out much luk. I rode to a little place called Cripple Creek that I had heared of. The name of the rode was Myers Avenue and I cringed when a big negro lady jumped out and tole me she was “Leo the Lion!” I said, “fine by me, lady” and kep goin til I got to Bennett Avenue, all the time thinkin bout those little houses named cribs and how you went rite past them to get to the Grand Opera House, where the gentry wus all fancied up in nice clothes and keepin the youngins from lookin at the ladies peerin out the windoes w’out much on atall, sellin there wares so to speek.

I scratched Winnie and tole her someday I wus gonna go in that fancy Opry place and she just rolled her eyes like I wus crazy, but she still luved me, as she got up against me. I didn’t know ifin she wus gonna protect me or me her, but it wood be which ever way it happened. That little girl dog wus all I had and we got closer as each day passed. I had found thay were like peeple, jest needin lovin and eatin and a place to lay ther head at nite.

I stopped at the Sheriff’s Office and looked at the wanted posters, saw one that looked a bit like me and tore it down. Then I saw a face I had seen jest a few days afore, with $1000, dead or alive, and took it to. I knowed I cood track and kill, but I wanted to bring this in bak alive. I had done enough killin to last me a life time. I knowed I had that money from Jacob, but I wus afeared of tryin to fit in and thote it best to be a loner for a bit. Off I went in serch of the face on the poster…

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Lady Leigh 7-16-08


"The way I see it, Levi, is if people don't 'see' anything happening, then it isn't real. But, Levi, you 'did' see things happening and chose to do nothing."

The day dawned sunny. It was a wonderful change from the rainy weather of yesterday. The sun brought Bonnie outside to do a bit of weeding in the front flower garden while Opal and Polly took their morning naps.

She was not outside long when a horse and rider approached the Rosenthal home. With left hand on the handle of the hoe, and right hand breaking the sunshine from her eyes, Bonnie saw it was Levi. One could not mistake him from another rider. He had a presense that few had while sitting atop a horse. He disgarded the city clothes for a more western practicality. He was different from Caleb. The Rosenthal men were a handsome lot. None of them overly tall, as Levi was the tallest barely reaching 6 foot, but he had a ruggedness that David and Caleb did not have.

As the horse and rider neared the house, the rider pulled in the reins. Both Bonnie and Levi stared at one another, for what seemed an eternity. It was Bonnie who finally raised her arm and waved him in, then turned to continue her gardening. Without looking up from her task she continued, "Now I realize you were doing a job. I also realize it may not have been easy to do what was required of you ...."

It was then she looked up to Levi and then paused. She remembered Bills words of the past being the past ... present being the present ... the future stems from this day forward.

"I'm angry as hell, Levi," she spoke again, fervently trying to keep her voice as calm as was possible to do, "I can't begin to understand any of this. You knew me. You called me friend when we were young and growing up together. Our families were family to one another ...." Bonnie laid down the hoe and went to sit on the steps leading to the front porch, "Why was 'my' life held in such low regard, Levi? How is it that other people's lives meant more than mine?"

Levi got off the horse and went to stand in front of Bonnie. Her eyes were piercing, but they wanted an answer. Most people were honest. And incorrect. Levi knew honest incorrectness isn't exactly the same as lying, but it amounted to the same thing when talking about specific events.

Contaminated memories.
Things filled by assumption.

Events ..... Memories tend to become fuzzy, clouded and muddled over time, but Levi's memories of what transpired to Bonnie were clear as a bell. Throw emotions into the mix and mild confusion turns into havoc.

Bonnie sat still and quiet. Levi was enough like Caleb that she practically knew what his thoughts were. He was struggling to answer, that was plain to see.

But she was struggling to understand. To this day Bonnie had to work to keep the bile down her throat when she thought of Sam's Place. There were still times when Caleb touched Bonnie, when she did not know he was there and she flinched and retracted from him. Practically every morning she rose from bed wondering if today would be the day no memory from the past would haunt her.

Levi looked at Bonnie and saw the questions and hurt in her eyes. He shook his head, but did not take his eyes from her. "I'm sorry, Bonnie. I'm sorry for what you went through. I'm sorry I had to stand by and see it. I'm sorry I could not release you from the torture. I wish I could find the words to help you undersand. You are justified in what you feel. YOu are correct in the words you spoke to me the other day. More importantly, you are right in saying I had a choice. Hell! We all do! I chose to do what I did for as long as I could stand it. Perhaps in your eyes I left that job to late to help you. But in all honesty, Bonnie, I stayed long enough to help hundreds of people. I stayed long enough to help bring a horrid organization down. And yes, your words of the 'many' outweighing the needs one are true."

Bonnie strightened and she clenched her jaw, but Levi contnued, "I can not undo what has been done .... and either can you."

Silence bled through time. Neither looking away from the other.

Twain Dawg lumbered aroung from the side of the house and positioned himself between the two. He sat and looked from one to the other. Then he layed down and rested his head on his paw, all the while letting out an exasperated breath of air.

"Bonnie? I think the bigger question is .... can we get past this? Can we find a way ....."

"Everyday, Levi I try .... everyday it becomes easier. I will say this though, seeing you, and knowing what I now know, does make it .... damned hard .... and that does not bring me any joy what so ever."

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Linn Keller 7-21-08


The Sheriff chose his camp site carefully, in a little bowl, just enough of a depression to be overlooked by the casual eye. Deep enough that tall Hijo could graze unseen, some forty feet wide, with nothing but high prairie around for better than a mile, the Sheriff sat cross legged on dry grass before a teacup sized fire. Coffee, hot and fragrant, filled his nostrils and seared his palate; he frowned as he burned his lip yet again on the blue-granite tin cup.
He set the coffee cup down and looked over at Hijo.
Hijo looked back at him and resumed grazing.
The Sheriff knew the big Mexican stallion to be an excellent watchdog; he had no fear of being surprised.
Unless Bigfoot Wallace is in the territory, he amended his thought. I never in my life saw a man that big who could hide behind a broom handle or a leaf shadow!
He dipped the steel nib in the little travel ink well he'd used as an officer in the Union army, and continued scribing in his journal:
Jacob is making good progress with his house, he wrote. He has sense enough not to interfere with the stone masons. He did ask me later why we laid the first stone in the northeast corner, and I saw him later tracing the Square-and-Compasses with his finger tips, after they had been precisely relief-cut into the obdurate freestone.
He will know these things, in time.

The Sheriff looked up at the golden stallion, and looked around at the lowering clouds. He'd gotten a lead on someone he wanted to talk to: the wanted posters were disarrayed from the order he'd left them in: he knew Jacob had been going through them, and the last poster he looked at was on top.
The Huntress.
It's possible she'd taken care of Bloody John Collins.
It was also possible her presence was sheer coincidence.
If he could catch up with her -- which, at this point, seemed very unlikely, until he'd been told a worn-looking woman had been seen pulling a wanted poster -- well, there was just the outside chance he might catch up with her and have a conversation.
In the meantime there was coffee, and his thoughts were crowding their way out the end of the ink-dipped quill.
Jacob's house is shaping up nicely, he wrote in his precise hand. He is wise enough to build bigger than he needs. I have a notion he will sire fine tall sons, and he's chosen a good mountain to raise them on.
He looked around, smelling the air, listening.
Hijo del Sol slashed his blond tail at an annoying insect and continued sampling the native foliage.
An Easterner had come around asking for Duzy, some time ago. Annette said he'd come into the newspaper office and addressed her as if she were Duzy. As she spoke of this I could see the thought behind her eyes: Jacob has the fiddle foot and wishes to see something of the world, but he wants to build a nest for his fair little bird. I've never heard her speak before a group, but Annette seems strong enough to address an audience.
Not an easy thing, that.
There's good money to be made on the lecture circuit.

He looked off into the distance.
She did put right in the paper that Duzy was touring abroad.
His smile was a little sad as he wrote those last words: in the curve of the lower-case D's descender, he saw the flow of her skirt as she walked, and for a moment, just for a moment, he could almost hear her laugh.
"Only the wind," he said aloud. "It's only the wind."
Hijo del Sol looked at him and switched his long, blond tail.

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Lady Leigh 7-21-08


Thanks to Jacob, Bonnie was able to put the little girls on the front porch after the morning nap and feeding in a wooden structure that kept the girls safe and sound. Jacob made it with wooden slats placed close together for their safety within the four sides, and so they could see the world beyond. This way Bonnie could continue her care for the front flower gardens without worring about them falling down the wide steps, or scooting away, which was becoming their beloved pastime.

She paused as she heard a horse and buggy. “Great!” Bonnie said begrudgingly. Coming toward her was Beverly. Bonnie thought the world of this woman, but with what she knew after talking to Bill, she was a bit reluctant for the visit.

“Bonnie! You’ll have heat stroke working out here.” She said as she brought the buggy to a stop.

Bonnie laughed, “No, that isn’t a problem, Bev. I was reading the recent issue of Harpers. An interesting article on the Rational Dress Movement. It indicated that no more than 7 pounds of undergarments is much healthier for women.” Bonnie’s light blue gown she wore was designed in accordance with the commonsense principles of the movement. The bodice was snug fitting as was the current style, and because she left out the stays for additional comfort and ease, she was able to move freely. The bustle was small and minimally padded, and this, too, was much better. But the best thing, was she did not wear a corset to do the outside gardening. Her upper body was much cooler under a thin chemise and the cotton gown. Bonnie knew, without a doubt, she was far more comfortable than her friend who was throwing her skirts out of the buggy, and laboring herself out around the large bustle she wore.

“I saw Levi in town earlier .....”

“Hmm ...”

“He mentioned seeing you .... how did that go>”

“He’s Caleb’s brother .... I can’t exactly ignore his presence”, even though that is what Bonnie would have preferred to do, “He also says he’s here to stay to help Caleb and Monty .... and as a way to prove to me his sincerity.”

Beverly took note of the bit of sarcasm in Bonnies voice with the last comment, but did not make comment on it. Bev knew how difficult it was to overcome the past.

“What brings you out here today, Bev? How about some lemonaide? It was made earlier this morning.”

“That would be lovely.”

Glasses filled with the sweet tangy liquid, and the women found themselves back on the front porch. Polly was in Bev’s lap, contently sitting, while Opal was up and down, wiggling this way and that in Bonnies. Sarah was out running through the wild flowers with Twain Dawg. The laughter was music to Bonnie’s soul.

“Bonnie?” Bonnie had a feeling the real reason Beverly came was about to be introduced. “I ran into one of the elderly men at the Mercantile this morning ... a Mr. Mac .... he mentioned you and his friend, Bill, had a discussion in the recent days ....”

Bonnie took a swallow from her crystal glass and rest it in her hand atop a linen napkin. She looked over to her friend, “Bev .... I did speak with Bill.”

“Is he the Priest from Louisiana?”

After a deep breath, Bonnie continued, “Yes, Beverly, Bill is the man you remembered from 20 years ago.” Before Beverly could say anything in response, Bonnie hurriedly continued, “He has quite a tale to tell, Bev. I believe anymore information you hear on the subject really should come from him.”

“But ...”

“No but’s, Bev! I sincerely mean what I say! I ask you to keep an open mind. His story is both bitter as well as sweet .... though I do not think he has a full grasp on the sweetness of it until after he visits with you and Monty ....”

Bonnie caught herself in thought .....’bitter sweet’ makes an interesting reality. Bonnie was going to have to work hard with herself to find the sweet aspects concerning Levi. Bitter would only add fuel to a fire. “Fire should be avoided”, Bonnie thought.

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Linn Keller 7-21-08


I pressed the spring loaded lid shut on the little metal ink well and gathered it and my journal and the quill into my left hand.
Casually, as if cares were furthest from my mind, I rolled up on one knee and opened the near saddlebag, and secured them in their accustomed place.
I looked up at Hijo.
Hijo looked unconcerned.
I rubbed the back of my neck, suddenly uncomfortable, and slid my engraved '73 rifle from its scabbard.
I've got the damndest feeling someone is watching me!

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Linn Keller 7-22-08


Hijo was still unconcerned.
I wasn't.
I took off my Stetson and sneaked up to the lip of the bowl, peeked through the grass.
I watched, listened, smelled the cooling breeze.
Rain coming, I thought.
Something was wrong, something was wrong, something was wrong ...
I lay there and studied for a bit and the chill wind made my mind up for me.
I slipped back down into the bowl and kissed Hijo over to me and got him saddled in jig time. He took the bit without protest and I fetched out my rain slicker before I swung up into the saddle.
I was going to need it.
"Yup, boy," I said, and Hijo came out of the bowl at a brisk trot, which suited me fine: anyone watching would have seen me mount, then seen us come out on the quick-step, and I made sure to mount facing one direction but emerge from the opposite.
I touched my heels to his ribs and he took off running.
If anyone wants to bush whack me I'll give them a brisk target, I thought, and brought Hijo hard about, running him half a hundred yards before turning him hard left.
Absolutely nothing happened.
I slowed Hijo and he coasted to that nice easy lope that covered ground in such smooth fashion, and we pointed our noses generally east, toward Cripple Creek. Wasn't but another half day's ride or so, I thought, maybe a little less.
The clouds were moving in faster than I realized and the first fat, cold drops that precede a storm started down around us.
I spread my duster as much as I could, trying to keep Hijo's saddle dry: the saddle would shed water but I did not want the saddle blanket getting wet under it.
Drops plopped loudly on my hat brim and I thrust the Winchester back in its scabbard, then reached up behind my head to tighten down the storm strap, which I preferred to wear behind instead of under my chin.
The road to Cripple Creek passed through mostly scrub brush.
"Some decent trees yonder," I said aloud, looking around, looking down.
I tugged at Hijo's reins. "Ho," I said, and Hijo ho'd, and I leaned over a little bit and frowned.
Tracks, I thought.
Wagon tracks.
"Ain't but one road to Cripple," I said, "and looks like they were headed this-a-way, if I'm readin' her hoof prints aright!" I exulted. "Yup!"
Hijo yup'd, and we began to cover ground fast, for it was raining harder and I wanted to catch up with whoever made these tracks before they got washed away.
I squinted toward the trees.
"Wagon ho!" I said to Hijo, and Hijo stretched out into a God's honest run. His blood was up, his legs were stretched out and ready and he was anxious for a good run, rain or not. He had good shoes and good ground and he wanted to run, and I let him, at least until the rain slacked up.
I smelled it first.
Sulfur, or ozone, and then every hair on my arms stood straight up inside my shirt sleeve.
"Ho," I called, and Hijo ho'd. He didn't like it but he ho'd in, dancing a little.
He weren't the only thing dancing.
His ears were limned with blue fire, and I held up my hand.
Little blue balls danced at my finger tips.
"St. Elmo's Fire," I whispered, entranced, then I realized:
St. Elmo's Fire!
I brought Hijo hard about and leaned over his neck.
Hijo started to run, back toward the bowl, better than a mile distant now.
"YAAHHH!" I yelled and it was a full-throated scream, and Hijo gathered himself under me and began driving hard against the wet, grassy earth, and I squinted into the wind and the rain, hoping against hope we would make the bowl, make the bowl and safety, or what little safety there would be.
There was a detonation behind us and we felt a giant's hand slap our backs and Hijo ran now with the speed of desperation. He'd run for love of his rider before, but now he ran for sheer terror, and lightning hit again at his heels.
"Come about!" I yelled, giving Hijo a little rein and a lot of knee, and Hijo skidded on the wet grass, keeping his feet somehow -- I don't know how, but he did -- and we scrambled over the lip and into the bowl again.
I jumped out of the saddle and seized Hijo's bridle, calling on the shade of my long-dead cavalry mare.
I laid a hand against his neck and pushed: "Down, boy!"
Hijo went down.
"Bless you, Eduardo," I breathed, as Hijo folded his legs and then rolled over on his left side.
I laid down beside his mane, my arms around his neck, and Hijo shivered against me. I took off my hat and held it over his bulging eye, murmuring gentle words, telling him it would be all right, we were safe, nothing could happen to us, we were in low ground here, lightning couldn't get us, all the while hoping we wouldn't get hit, for I did not want to die with a lie between my teeth.
We both got absolutely soaked.

Violent as the storm was, it was fairly short duration.
I don't think it lasted more than a year and a half.
Hijo and I got up and shook ourselves like a couple of dogs.
The clouds were still muttering and when I got up I was muttering my own self, for now we'd have to find a place to build fire and dry off some. I've ridden in wet drawers and galded myself fiercely and I didn't want to ride Hijo with a soaky wet saddle blanket neither.
"Well, hell," I said, "no help for it. Let's head for the trees and find somethin' dry to burn!"
Hijo snorted.
"Yeah, I know," I sighed. "I'm probably lyin' about findin' anything dry after that toad strangler."
I'd just got into the saddle and we pointed our noses toward Cripple again and the clouds overhead had their final say.
Unfortunately they said it towards the biggest tree in sight.
The tree with the wagon under it.
I was looking squarely at it when the lightning bolt hit it.
That tree just plainly exploded.
I saw a puff of steam, and I saw a figure convulse and then fall from the wagon, and the horse fell in its harness like it had been pole axed.
I slumped in the saddle.
Hijo stood, switching his wet tail, slinging water up my back.
"Come on, fella," I finally said, lifting his reins. "Let's go see who they used to be."

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Linn Keller 7-23-08


The Sheriff's eyes were busy as he rode up on the wagon, now littered with steaming chunks of bark, leaves and splinters.
The still figure beside the wagon steamed a little itself.
The Sheriff reined in a few yards back, taking it all in before dismounting and unsaddling the Mexican stallion.
Turning the saddle upside down to try and catch what sunlight was squeezing through the fast moving clouds, he draped the soggy saddle blanket over the wagon's tail gate, then curried his mount, carefully, meticulously, looking for any signs of chafing under the wet blanket.
Satisfied that Hijo was not harmed by the good soaking and the short ride, he turned to the sad scene at hand.
He did not need to look to know the wagon's driver was quite dead, though he did take a long, thoughtful look at where the man's boot soles used to be.
The soles had blown out of his boots and his socks alike, leaving the soles of his feet surprisingly pink and healthy-looking.
"Not what I expected," he muttered.
Turning his attention to the man's coat pockets, he examined the wallet, extracted a sheaf of papers.
"Ticket stub," he muttered, "bank draft ... sizable amount, too! ... letter, who's it addressed to ..." He squinted a little, held the letter further away to make the reading easier. "Aaron Bernstein." He frowned, turned the envelope over, started to reach into the envelope.
"No," he said aloud. "No, what's there is your business and not mine."
He replaced the letter and found the man's purse, and a well-kept, leather-bound book.
He opened the book and smiled a little, then removed his stetson.
"Aaron," he said aloud, "could I but read Hebrew, I would read your Kaddish."
He replaced his Stetson and the dead man's Torah.
Frowning, he considered the envelope again, then removed the contents, read the letter, read it again.
He folded the paper and replaced it in the envelope, the envelope in the man's coat pocket.
He squinted at his stallion.
"Hijo," he said, "you ever draw a wagon?"

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Linn Keller 7-24-08


Esther scooted her chair back from her desk, wheezing a very little bit, her hand flat against her bodice.
Angela tilted her head a little, seeing her Mama was discomfited, and gently tugged once at the seated woman's skirt.
Esther smiled a little and leaned down to listen to the child's soft-voiced inquiry, hidden from the rest of the world by a pink, cupped hand.
Esther gave Angela's cheek a motherly caress. "Just a little trouble breathing, child," she said reassuringly. "Nothing to worry about. Once the rain comes, I'll be just fine."
There was the ripple of lightning overhead, drawing Angela's wide-eyed admiration. She scampered to the window, head tilted back, mouth open, as a lightning-chain seared across the rain-heavy clouds. Muttering thunder rippled against the nearby mountains, and Angela giggled.
Then a bolt of pure hell drove into the earth just across the tracks and the Jewel shivered like it had been cannonaded, and the color ran out of Angela's face like red ink out of an eye dropper.
Where she had been wide-eyed with shining admiration for the heavenly fireworks, now her eyes were wide with fear and with memory.
Her left arm locked reflexively around her ever-present doll and she backed stiffly away from the window like a wooden toy.
Esther knelt behind her and Angela turned and flung herself into the safety of her mother's arms.
Silent, dead pale, she clutched Esther with the desperate hope that she could escape that terrible sound and the memory that ran with it, the memory that slammed into her like an exploding locomotive boiler.

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Linn Keller 7-23-08


Macfarland was doing his level best to prop up the front wall of the Marshal's office.
Matter of fact, he was doing a right fine job of it, at least until a famliar figure rode in looking like he was drawing an artillery piece, only it wasn't an artillery piece behind the big golden stallion.
The Sheriff drew up in front of the Marshal's office.
"Macfarland," he greeted the man.
Macfarland nodded. "Sheriff," he greeted back in his usual long-winded fashion.
The Sheriff turned in his saddle, looked back at the efficiently packed wagon, and the blanket shrouded form on top of the load.
"Lightning strike," he said. "I reckon he's got family here yet."
The Marshal raised his chin and leaned away from the chinked log wall, frowning at the wagon.
A barefoot boy with sandy-brown hair and freckles ran past. The Marshal stopped him with a sharp whistle.
"Billy, go tell them folks over't the depot we need 'em here."
"Yes, sir!" Billy grinned, turning and running as fast in the opposite direction.
The Sheriff smiled a little at the lad's energy.
There was the hint of a smile at the corner of Macfarland's eyes.
The Sheriff nodded. He'd gotten as much of an answer from the man as he would get, he knew.
He thrust his chin along his back trail. "Yonder a little ways is the man's horse. Looks like lightning stunned him pretty good. He's got the hair scorched down his hind leg but I don't reckon it did more than just scare him. He was layin' there colder'n a foundered flounder, but breathin', and his heart felt steady."
Macfarland pressed his lips together a little and nodded.
"You want this?" The Sheriff indicated the wagon with an open palmed wave.
Macfarland looked past the Sheriff. "They might."
The Sheriff turned in his saddle and saw the approach of what must have been family.
He looked at Macfarland.
"Sometimes," he said quietly, "I hate this job."
Macfarland nodded.

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Linn Keller 7-25-08


The Sheriff sat at the table, coffee and beans in front of him, log wall to his back and Winchester rifle at his right hand.
The coffee was stale and strong and had all the appeal of warmed coal oil, but the coffee was hot, and his belly was chilled.
He dipped the quill in the little ink well and continued writing.
His name is Aaron, and he is a butcher.
I saw him from a distance during a violent thunder storm.
He'd taken shelter under a sizable tree.
Lightning was fierce and Hijo and I returned to the little bowl we'd sheltered in earlier, hoping to get low enough to avoid being struck ourselves.
Storm was over and we headed for the tree line to find something to burn and dry ourselves off or at least warm up some when one last bolt hit the tree, and the wagon, and the mare drawing the wagon.
Killed the driver, burned the mare's leg.
Brought the body and wagon back to town. I was obliged to harness Hijo like an artillery horse. He did not want anything at all to do with common harness but had no objection to harness if he was saddled, so I saddled him first then harnessed him up and rode him like I'd ridden artillery in the War.
Macfarland was leaned up against his office wall like I've seen him every time I came into town. I'm willing to bet his shoulders have rubbed a smooth spot on his log wall where he's leaned all the time.
He sent his boy to fetch Aaron's family. I'd hoped they were still there, and figured as much from the letter in his breast pocket. They and a Rabbi came and claimed the body, and the wagon; they were naturally distressed, and likely will have someone retrieve the mare, if she's still alive when they get there.
I prevailed upon one of the ladies there in town, and she sewed me up a white apron, short and square with a triangular flap on the front, and the family was quite happy that we had a half dozen brother Masons to perform the Masonic service at the graveside. The Rabbi is a Past Master and asked if I knew the Low Twelve by memory.
I did, and it was my honor to do so.
I'd stood shoulder to shoulder with men of damn near every faith at one time or another and too many times have done so at gravesides. The Jewish funeral I always found impressive. His box was the best one in the funeral parlor, cherry wood and finely crafted: their top hatted proprietor confided in me later that he'd bought the fancy coffin on impulse some years ago and spent too much money for it, and he was glad to get his money out of it.
He did not over charge the family.
I saw to that.
Aaron was buried just before sunset. I believe their faith requires interment before sundown but I could be wrong.
Turns out he was going ahead to buy property or a good building and set up a butcher shop in Firelands. He has a son who will likely take over the business and a nephew who is a baker and intends to set up a bakery.
With the mine near by and all those miners to feed, these folks just might have a good market.

Outside, Hijo stood lazily at the hitch rail, head hanging, almost asleep, by appearances.
A stealthy set of hands carefully unwound the reins from the hitch rail.
Hijo blinked lazily, looking as if he all all the ambition of a paving brick.
A strange foot slid into the ornate stirrup.
Hijo, patient, waiting, switched his tail.
The stranger's weight came into the saddle.
Hijo reared and jumped straight up in the air, came down hard on all fours and rolled over.
The Sheriff looked up just in time to see his stallion's head, through the half-curtained saloon window, at the apex of his ballistic flight.
He also saw the stranger in the Sheriff's saddle.
"Oh, hell," he muttered, pressing the metal lid down on the ink well with an impatient forefinger and snatching up his engraved '73 rifle.
There was a shout from outside, the sound of running feet.
Two men were running up on Hijo just as he was getting his hooves under him.
A third man lay on the ground, unmoving.
One fellow drew a pistol: "You murdering beast!" he shouted, and the Sheriff cranked a round into the Winchester.
"Put it back," he said coldly, one glacial eye settling behind the buck horn sight, finger light on the trigger. "You shoot him and I shoot you."
The fellow turned, pointed the pistol at the Sheriff.
He never saw the thumb-sized freight train that drove a railroad tunnel through his head.
The Sheriff cycled the lever, front bead steady on the other fellow's left eye.
Neither man moved.
Hijo snorted.
The street was dead silent for a long moment, long enough for the color to run clear out of the other fellow's face.
Macfarland watched the whole thing transpire; not until the gunman hit the ground did he sigh and begin to pry his weight off the wall.
He sauntered across the street and laid a callused hand on the second man's shoulder.
"You born stupid or did you learn it in school?" he asked with a voice that ground its way through a throat full of gravel.
"That, that, that devil horse done killed Orville!"
"Orville tried to steal another man's horse. He got what was comin' to him."
"Did not! He done bought it legal an' square!"
The Sheriff lowered his rifle, eased the hammer to half cock and stepped off the board walk. His movements were tight, controlled, economical: the moves of a man who was ready to rip someone's head off.
"Prove it," the Sheriff said quietly.
The second man looked into eyes that looked like little flakes of gold scattered on glacier ice, and fear, God-honest fear, wrapped itself around his heart, draining the strength from him entirely.
"You know this man?" Macfarland asked quietly.
The Sheriff shook his head, as did the fellow in the Marshal's grip.
The Sheriff bent down, grabbed the dead horse thief's shoulder and rolled him face-up.
The saddle horn had crushed his breast bone and the saddle had crushed most of the ribs. Death had been instantaneous, but not painless.
"He tried stealing the Sheriff's horse," Macfarland growled.
"Sheriff?" came the quivering reply.
The Sheriff straightened. Only then did the prisoner see the dull, six-point star on the man's muddy vest.
"That horse is a man killer," the Sheriff said. "He likes fingers. He's bit off several, clear up to the elbow. He eats small children, bones, hide and bawl. I ride him so I don't have to bring prisoners home. He takes care of 'em." The Sheriff leaned a little closer. "Your friends got what they asked for. You got a chance now. Don't waste it."
Macfarland hauled the man around and regarded him calmly.
"You might want to pay the preacher come Sunday," he said mildly.
The prisoner's eyes widened. "Why?" he asked weakly.
"That's Keller."
The prisoner's strength failed him and he sagged to his knees in the middle of the rutted, muddy street.
Macfarland squatted, took the fellow by the back of his belt, straightened.
Carrying the prisoner like he was carrying a suitcase, he muttered on his way over to the jail, "Man with a reputation just means more work for a poor hard workin' town marshal!"
It was more words than he'd strung together in a year and a half.

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NCGranny 7-26-08


I rounded the corner in my buggy, Winnie by my side, and Joseph Morris tide in the bak of the wagon, when I spied Sheriff Keller at the Sheriff’s Office in Cripple Creek! I spose I am gettin a bit ahead of myself. Joseph wus the man on the wanted poster and I was fixin to get me one thousand dollars for the horse thief…..that is til I seen Keller. I knowed I wood have to wate, for if’n he seen me, he jest mite be the one takin me inside that thare jail!

I stopped my buggy and was gonna pull into a little side rode when he looked up and I cood swear I could see the gold specks in his blue eyes as his met mine. Oh hell, wus my last thote when he started walkin to me.

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Linn Keller 7-26-08


Hijo was still aggravated: his ears were back, he'd started walling his eyes and he didn't want much to do with the carcass underneath of him. I don't reckon my voice was none too kind, nor did we smell any too friendly, any of us. Animals have a good sense of smell: I've smelt fear on a man and animals can smell that much better than we can, so I don't doubt one bit that a horse can smell gut twistin' anger.
My guts was wound up in knots.
I dislike killing a man halfway through a meal, I dislike it more when a man tries to kill my horse, and I really, really dislike men that are so absolutely, unutterably STUPID as to try to murder MY horse and interrupt MY meal!
I generally get good and boilin' mad once a year.
I am a quiet and gentle soul, and I dislike getting aggravated.
This was my one time a year.
"Come on, fellow," I soothed Hijo, running the Winchester into its scabbard and taking up the trailing reins.
Hijo calmed right down, with my voice and my hands, and I figured a little bit of a walk would calm us both.
We stepped over the mashed carcass and ignored the second one and turned toward up-street, when I saw her.
I didn't know this woman from Adam, and I reckon I didn't have none too friendly a look on my face neither. Right about then I was still boilin' mad and I reckon I could have bit the horn off an anvil.
We walked up-street and she drove down-street and we come up beside one another.
I noticed she wasn't looking any too comfortable, and when I saw Joseph Morris roped up in the back of her wagon, why, I figured that's why she was none too comfortable.
I knew Morris by reputation. He was a thug, a bush whacker, he was wanted by the stage line for a half dozen holdups and he was known for some other dirty dealin's. I'd run across his wanted dodger again when I was going through my own stack looking for the Huntress poster.
The woman reined to a stop, looking squarely at me.
Her dog blinked lazily, head on her lap, and her off hand was caressing the dog like it was an old friend.
I couldn't help but smile a little.
"Now she looks much like my old Rascal dog," I said, and there was a look of alarm in the woman's eyes.
"Rascal has been dead these twenty years and more," I added quickly, raising a cautioning hand.
There was a burst of unpleasant language from the back of the wagon.
I took a step toward the speaker.
"Mister," I said, "you will curb your tongue or I will drag it three foot out of your head and throw a knot in it!"
"Ain't you gonna get me outta here? That woman's CRAZY!!"
"That woman is one of the deadliest bounty hunters in the territory," I said levelly. "This is the Huntress, and you are just pretty darned lucky you're still drawin' breath!"
His eyes went big and round and he sagged like the wind had all run out of him.
I was running a bluff on him and I'd make my apologies to the woman later: I had no notion at all who she was, but it settled Morris down right quick.
"Ma'am, I reckon you'll want to turn him in for reward," I said, touching my hat brim. "Last I looked he was worth a thousand gold. Once your business is done I would admire to buy you a hot meal." I gestured toward the saloon. "It ain't the best but it's hot and fills the belly."
She opened her mouth and looked about half sick.
I almost laid the backs of my fingers against her forehead and asked if she felt well, but with Morris on board I did not want him to think she was in any way weak.
"Tell you what, the Marshal is in. I'll walk with you down to the jail and we'll get Morris locked up."
The dog's tail wagged slowly and she looked up at the woman like the woman was the most wonderful soul in the world.
The woman nodded and set her jaw and we started walking down toward the Marshal's office.

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NCGranny 7-26-08


I rased my head, and Winnie moved closer....she felt somethin, was it good or bad? I had heard that I wus called the "Huntress', secreetly I luved it, I luved the name....and yet I had never found the soorce....somethin toll me that I wus lookin at him...the soorce of me e'ver hearin that name....som'n tole me deep in my sole. Somethow, I had known that he would be a part of my life. I jest didn't no if'n he wus frind or fo.

"Winnie, watch for the signs.....you know, you have been in my life afore...I knows it to be tru. U are a part of me...you r my backup.....my frind!

I cood heer her rumble deep in her chest.

She wached him, walkin closer, lookin at me......and she stopped than damn noois.....and it seemed she liked him.....I no she is rite....but I can not figure out why?

I dearly hoped she was rite.

Everway I looked I was in site of Keller and he was watchin me close like...like......like he had been in my life afore or the one befoor that.....the link...

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Linn Keller 7-26-08


Macfarland must like that particular section of wall pretty well, the Sheriff thought.
He pulled the tail gate down on the wagon.
"Macfarland, you want this fellow to walk in or you want him drug in?"
"Ain't my prisoner," Macfarland rumbled.
"You gonna cut me loose or what?" Morris demanded.
The Sheriff silenced him with a glare.
"My Mama worked real hard to beat some manners into me," he said, his syllables clipped. "I mean she tried hard to teach me to be a gentleman, and a gentleman wouldn't make a lady pack your sorry carcass inside."
"You fellows is just loads of kindness," Morris snapped. "Why'nt you just drive me over to the gallows an' hang me while you're at it?"
"All things in time," the Sheriff said, grabbing the rope wound around above Morris's knees and dragging him out of the wagon bed.
Macfarland landed on the ground and none too gently.
The Sheriff grabbed the binding holding the prisoner's upper arms behind his back and straightened his legs, hauling the protesting Morris just clear of the ground, carrying him into the lockup like the Marshal had carried an earlier prisoner.
The woman set the brake on her wagon and returned her hand to Winnie's head.
She looked at the Marshal.
In spite of knowing this could be her own fate, to be drug into the hoosegow, she had to smile.
"Is the Sheriff always that kind and considerate?" she asked, just a trace of Carolina in her words.
Macfarland was typically lengthy in his response, but the amusement in his eyes belied the verbosity of his reply.
From inside the jail came the squeak of hinges, the sound of a body being dropped half a foot to the stone floor and the SLAM of a barred steel door.
The Sheriff emerged from the Marshal's office, scowling.
"He ain't untied," he addressed himself to the long winded Marshal, "now where do you hide the daggone key ring?"
Macfarland looked at the woman.
"Reckon you want paid."
She nodded.
"Come on in."
She took a deep breath, knowing it might be the last free air she breathed for a very long time, if ever.
"Come on, Winnie," she said quietly, and the dog came to her feet with a look of utter delight.

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Linn Keller 7-27-08


Angela had spoken no word without whispering in her Mama's ear first.
The child, even when frightened by the lightning storm, had made not a sound otherwise.
Not one.
Not a word.
Esther looked up from her perpetual book work -- running the railroad might sound glamorous and businesslike, she thought, but there is so very much routine to it! -- and smiled at her daughter, who was dressing her rag doll in a new doll-sized frock Bonnie had given her.
There was a knock at the door, the click of the latch.
One of the Daine boys -- one of the younger ones, he was a little younger than Jacob -- stuck his head in, grinning.
"Ma'am?" he asked, Kentucky plain in his voice, "you might want to look at this."
Esther smiled and rose, knowing they'd been making steady progress on overhauling the fire damage to the upstairs corner room. She rose, giving her skirts a quick shake, and looked down at Angela.
Angela's eyes were huge and her face was delighted. She reached for her Mama's hand, excitement fairly crackling from the ends of her hair-curls; indeed, Angela was not able to contain herself, released her Mama's hand and scampered ahead.
Esther walked a little more quickly, just quickly enough to see the little girl's skirt swing and disappear around the corner; she heard the small feet almost running down the hall, and as she came around the first corner, she heard the oldest Daine, old Ernest, laugh in delight, and then the busy sound of voices.
A little girl's voice, and an older man's voice, and both in the soft edged accents of their native Kentucky.
Esther's hand went to her lips, and she smiled, with tears stinging her Irish-green eyes.
It was the first time she'd heard Angela talking, talking freely, without the need to whisper a missive behind a concealing hand.

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Linn Keller 7-28-08


Marshal Macfarland handed over a voucher, newly signed, blotting sand still gleaming on the freshly inked signature. "Bank'll honor that," he said in a voice that elbowed painfully through his gravelly throat.
She held it up, looked closely at the good rag paper.
One thousand dollars, it said. Gold or paper, as the bearer demands.
She folded it, slipped it into a pocket and buttoned the flap down.
Winnie followed an invisible trail, nose to the floor, tail maintaining a leisurely metronome as she went.
"Will you need me to testify?" she asked.
The Sheriff's right ear twitched, just a little.
Quiver in the voice, he thought. Slight, but it's there. Why is she nervous?
He looked at her hands; they were never still -- her movements were smooth, graceful, coordinated, but constant.
Hiding a tremor? he thought, looking at a wisp of hair that just overhung the back of her neck.
That curl of hair is steady enough, he thought. She'd have to shake pretty hard to quiver that one, though.
The dog curled up beside her foot, yawned impossibly wide and dropped her muzzle on her paws, the image of utter exhaustion.
The Sheriff barely contained a smile.
Macfarland, unaware of the Sheriff's swift run of thought, interrupted the older man's ruminations with a long winded answer to the woman's question:
She nodded. "Thank you," she said quietly, and turned. "Winnie?"
Winnie went from sound asleep to on her feet, eyes bright, tail wagging, in less than a moment.
The Sheriff chuckled, remembering a dog from his younger years.
The woman turned and looked directly at the Sheriff. "I believe you said something about a hot meal, suh?" she asked.
The Sheriff and Macfarland exchanged a quick look.
Macfarland had gotten word to the Sheriff of this woman's arrival, and of her removal of the wanted poster, and that she matched the description of the woman he was looking for.
Macfarland did not know why the Sheriff wanted to talk to her: his curiosity was as extensive as his speechmaking, and he was content to know that his brother lawman had found the individual he'd sought. What he did from this point, Macfarland reasoned, was the Sheriff's business, and not his.
"Yes, ma'am, I did," the Sheriff said, gesturing toward the open door.
Macfarland watched the three leave his cluttered office, turned to look back toward the cells as Morris kicked at the bars with the side of his boot.
"Hey!" Morris yelled. "Aincha gonna untie me?"
Macfarland smiled thinly and sauntered outside, resuming his leaning position up against the log wall.
It was a pleasant day out and he saw no need to waste it sitting inside.
Besides, Morris would get tired of hollering.

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Linn Keller 7-30-08


I reached down with my left hand and untied the piggin string at the bottom of my right holster.
Then I reached down with my right hand and untied the piggin string at the bottom of my left holster.
I never took my eyes off the loud mouth that had irritated me so.
I straightened up and unbuckled my rig and laid it on the table without looking and managed to drop the buckle right in my plate of beans, which did not improve my mood one little bit.
"Ma'am," I said quietly, "if you could look after these for me."
By now she looked right uncomfortable, but she swung her chair around so she faced the bar, and us, and I stepped up to the fellow who'd been a bit too free with his language.
"Now, friend," I said mildly, "I asked you one time nicely to stop airin' your lungs in front of the lady, and you didn't do it."
His two companions behind him were grinning, anticipating the fight.
"You can apologize to the lady, or we can go to school."
The fellow had black finger nails, dirty hands and hadn't shaved for better than a week, by the look of him. He needed a bath and had for longer than he'd not shaved. His clothes were shabby, his boot heels worn and what was left of his collar looked like it needed an appointment with the nearest firebox.
I stepped in close to him.
I wasn't watching his eyes. We were going to fight -- of this I did not doubt -- but a man can't hit you with his eyes, and no matter what you read in the dime novels, a man's eyes won't change with his thoughts.
I watched his shoulders.
Sure enough, his hand went for his belt and I seized his wrist, stepping in and giving him a gut full of knee. He blocked with his thigh and I crossed my elbow over his jaw, hard.
His fist caught me in the soft ribs and like to taken the fight right out of me but I was mad now and brought my elbow back across the other side of his jaw, or tried to, but he pulled back and I missed and that left hand of his caught me in the belly.
I doubled over with it and shoved my shoulder into his belt buckle and we went over on top of his buddies, me still holding his gun hand and his hand still holding his Colt.
I drove my forearm hard across his neck. I hit him fast and hard again with my elbow this time and his eyes went wide and I drew back and hit him again, same place.
"SHERIFF!" the woman yelled and I rolled, and something like a red hot poker grazed down across my back side and just clipped my left boot heel.
I came up with a handful of Derringer and spit defiance at the second fellow's face. That little .41 rimfire did not pack much punch but I was not more than two foot from his nose when she went BANG and it was enough.
I twisted the wrist I still held, bending his palm hard down, trying to break his grip, and I twisted some harder than I realized for something splintered and he kind of gurgled and I came off the floor with his Colt in my left hand and an irritated look on my face.
The barkeep fetched up a double gun and I fetched back the hammer on that-there Colt and we had us a Mexican standoff for a long moment.
There was a slow footfall on the boardwalk outside, then the bat wings squeaked open and Macfarland stepped in.
He walked behind the bar and tapped the barkeep on the shoulder.
The barkeep looked at him and got kind of pale.
Macfarland shook his head, never said a word.
The barkeep brought the muzzle up and eased the hammers down, and tucked his two pipe shoot gun back under the bar.
I picked up my gun belt, slung the beans off my belt buckle as best I could.
Macfarland looked at me scattering pentoes across the unswept floor, amusement in his eyes.
I wiped what was left on my pants leg. "Gettin' a little iron in my diet," I muttered.
Macfarland looked at the casualties: one dead, one soon to be, larynx crushed from multiple blows to the voice box.
He looked up at me and proceeded with his long winded pontification.
"More work," he muttered, and squatted down; picking the two up by their belts, he straightened his legs and started for the door.
"Need a deposition?" I asked.
I set down and picked up my spoon.
"Windy, ain't he?" my dinner companion asked, as Macfarland shoved through the weathered and splintery batwings.
She reached down and caressed her hound dog as if asking reassurance from an old friend.
"Yep," I said around a mouthful of lukewarm beans, and reached for the cornbread.

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Linn Keller 7-31-08


There was a muffled THUMP and Jacob's Appaloosa's head came up, eyes walling and showing white around the edges.
Jacob grinned as chunks of rock crumbled and fell away from the cliff.
He'd never been one to stand to one side and let others work: when the chance was offered, he held the drill, turning it after each blow of the hard-swung sledge; the Italian stonecutters knew their craft, and knew how to read the grain of the rock. They'd drilled deep and drilled true, and packed small charges of powder, tamping it well and tightly; they chose their holes carefully, for drilling was work, and hard work at that.
It took a day and another day to get the cellar drilled into the cliff, and shot free, broken apart with hand tools and carted away in wheelbarrow and wagon.
Nothing went to waste.
They'd quarried off another part of the cliff for foundation-stones, and for lintels, for door-sills and thresholds, for mantels and hearthstones and for an arched doorway: this was the stonecutters' idea, for they were men who took pride in their work, and they wished to show their skill with a hand-laid doorway, arched at the top, with a finely chiseled, smoothly finished keystone at its apex, engraved with Jacob's and Annette's initials on either side, and an ornate, capital K in the center, relief carved in a shallow-sunken circle.
The foundation was in place: stone laid upon stone, set on bed rock and mortared in place, ashlars square and true, each with the individual stonecutter's mark carved in a hidden place: not necessary, perhaps, but each man took pride in his work, and continued this tradition that dated to the building of King Solomon's Temple.
Jacob and Annette had discussed their house, and how it should be laid out; how big, how many rooms, where situated; they considered prevailing wind, sunfall, defensibility; they considered water, they considered the outhouse, the barn, corral and pasture.
The stonecutters had taken account of Jacob's stakes and string, drawings and ideas, and persuaded him to increase the size of his home by ... well, enough that he would have room to raise fine tall sons and lovely daughters, to have guests, to have room enough for ... well, to have room enough.
Jacob considered their advice, and found it worth taking.
He worked with them, now that the house was taking shape, muscles protesting, a thing not unknown to the lean young man, but a thing that distressed him. He quickly realized that an operative Mason used different muscles than a horse-wrangler, or a wood-cutter, or a Sheriff's deputy: though neither soft nor fat, Jacob found himself hard pressed to keep up with these slender, sinewy men with dark eyes and black mustaches, men who worked hard rock for a living and had all their lives. They found the eager young deputy amusing but sincere, more than willing to learn, and like men everywhere, they were flattered to find his ear quick to listen, for nothing flatters a man more than someone willing to pay close attention to everything he has to say.

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Firecracker Mel 7-31-08


Esther wiped beads of perspiration from her brow, sighing as she uses her last sheet of paper for tallying the books. She look at the small remnant of lead pencil left, shaking her head. "I'd best go to the general store today. I've got to get the bookkeeping done."
Usually Esther prefers a dip quill pen for book ledger entries. Ever the perfectionist, she uses paper and lead pencil to "rough" out the figures before putting the permanent entry in the books. A southpaw by birth, she learned to use both hands on chores and can switch easily on most tasks.
Writing, however, is an exception.
She carefully inks in entries left-handed, waiting for drying time before proceeding, so as not to smudge.
Esther wheezes heavily as she ffeels the heat of the day. (She daydreams of the cool autumn breezes and falling leaves, and the early snow coming on...)
"Oh! for a brief moment away from this heat!"
She looks over at Angela, who is putting her doll down for a nap. She realizes she has raised her voice a bit too much, and has startled the child.
Angela stops to look up at Esther with an odd stare.
Esther reassures the child with lowering her tone. "Angela, we'd best get to the store for supplies. I have supper to fix yet. How about Chicken and Dumplings? You know your Daddy loves it so."
Angela nods and scurries over just in time to cling to Esther's skirt.
Esther smiles and heads out.
It is the heat of the day, and the heat-glare hits them both in the face as she opens their front door, momentarily blinding them both.
Esther winces and looks down at Angela, who has hidden her face in Esther's skirt, using it as a shield against the bright heat.
Esther laughs out loud and strokes her daughter's curls, and they head into the brightness.
They arrive not long after at Maude's general store, stepping gratefully into the shadowed coolness of the capacious building.
Esther complains gently to Maude about the heat, commenting on the coming storm.
"How do you know it is going to storm?" Maude asks.
"It's hard to breathe right before it rains, but it goes away afterward."
"This one must be strong," Maude replies. "As long as you're all right...?" she adds with a questioning look.
"I'll sit a spell and finish my bookkeeping before I get dinner on the stove. Besides," she smiled, looking down at Angela, who looked up with a smile of her own, "I have my helper!"
Angela takes Esther's hand and tugs her toward the door.
Esther smiles at Maude. "It seems I'm wanted!" she laughs gently, and Maude boxes up her several purchases.

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