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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Charlie MacNeil 1-7-09

 

The couple stepped into the kitchen. On the back of the huge Monarch range, a plum pudding was boiling merrily. "I see you've already started dessert," Fannie commented drily. Louis Fontaneau declined to comment. "Perfect!" Fannie declared. "What else did you have planned?"

"There is a large venison roast ready to go into the oven," Fontaneau said tartly. "The vegetables are in the root cellar, and the bread..."

"Perfect!" Fannie said again. "Now it's time for you to shoo!"

Fontaneau stared at her in disbelief. "Shoo? You wish me to shoo?" he said in an outraged tone. He stepped toward Fannie, and towered over her. Unfazed, Fannie stood her ground calmly.

"That's right," she said. "You agreed that my husband and I would do the cooking. We can't do that if you are in the way."

Fontaneau seemed to expand even further at her words. He sputtered but no words came out of his mouth, only untelligible noises. Finally he turned and stormed out of the room.

"Uh, Darlin', are you sure that was good negotiatin' technique?" Charlie asked tentatively. "He don't seem to be too happy."

"Don't worry, Sugar," Fannie said lightly. "He'll be back."

"What makes you say that?"

"He left his pudding boiling." Fannie took an apron down from a hook on the wall and put it over her dress. "Why don't you see what you can find in the root cellar?"

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Linn Keller 1-9-09

 

"Aw, c'mon, Pete, whattaya see?"
Pete cupped his hands around his eyes, trying to peer through the unwashed exterior of the wavy pane.
Frankie made a surprised noise and Pete said "Shuttup, Frankie, ya wanta get us caught?"
About then a hard hand closed about his shirt collar and Pete found himself pulled backwards, off the upturned crate.
Pete yelped with surprise, flailing for a moment until his feet found frozen ground under them. He looked over and saw his erstwhile companion and playmate was as firmly held by a lawman's hand as he himself, and the Sheriff was trying hard to maintain a stern expression, without having much success.
"Now fellas," he said in his deep lawman's voice, "what were you two doin' tryin' to see into Digger's back room?"
"He made me do it!" Frankie exclaimed, stabbing a finger at Pete.
"It was your idea!" Pete countered.
Frankie took a swing at Pete, and Pete countered with a roundhouse at Frankie, but as both were held well apart from the other, all they managed to do was twist in the Sheriff's two-hand grip.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold it," the Sheriff admonished them. "Now what's so all-fired interesting about Digger's back room?"
"He's got a body in there!" Frankie blurted. "Pete said it's layin' on a slab with its eyes open lookin' at you!"
"I see." The Sheriff knew what it was to be a curious lad, and actually he did see, for he'd done something similar in his own childhood, only he hadn't been caught.
"What did you see, standing up on that nail crate?" the Sheriff asked, hunkering down but not slacking his grip.
Pete frowned, disappointed. "I didn't see nothin'. Just some boxes."
The Sheriff nodded. "You were expecting to see a body?"
"Yeah!" Frankie nodded. "That guy you hanged!"
The Sheriff sighed. Adult or child, there was always a morbid fascination with death and the dead, at least until they saw the real thing up close. Once was generally enough, but it would have to come on them by surprise. Taking them into the funeral parlor to look at a corpse wouldn't do it.
"Fellows," the Sheriff said quietly, "Digger uses that room for storage. He's got lumber and boxes and not much else back there."
"No bodies?" Frankie sounded somewhere between disappointed and hopeful.
"No bodies."
"Aww," the two chorused.
The Sheriff released his grip on their collars and instead ran his arms around them, more a fatherly gesture than anything else.
"Fellas, I know your folks. Now what would happen if I were to go talk to them about this?"
Both boys looked like they'd seen the corpse they'd been trying to glimpse.
The Sheriff nodded. "I thought as much," he murmured.
"Tell you what."
The pair looked at him, half fearfully, half hopefully, sensing a possible reprieve.
"If I tell your folks, you'll each get the wrong end of a switch."
Two heads nodded agreement, four hands crept protectively to their respective backsides.
"If you give me your word, I won't have to breathe a word about this."
"Really?"
"Honest?"
The Sheriff nodded solemnly.
"Gee, thanks, Sheriff!" the two exclaimed in one voice, sprinting down the alley to freedom, with the exhilaration of a condemned man given a reprieve just as the noose was about to be placed about his neck.
The Sheriff squatted for a long moment there in the snowy alley, looking after the two lads, a quiet smile on his face, remembering.

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Linn Keller 1-11-08

 

Jackson Cooper knew something was in the wind when Emma said almost nothing as she set supper on their table.
Jackson Cooper delighted in his wife's cooking: Emma took a justifiable pride in feeding her man, and Jackson Cooper took great delight in Emma's marital skills.
Now, as she poured him another cup of coffee, and one for herself, Jackson Cooper smiled quietly and laid a surprisingly gentle hand on the small of her back as she stood beside him.
She looked at him with affection, but he read something else in her face.
Emma set the blue granite coffee pot back on the stove and put a warm, fragrant pie on the table between them.
"Cherry?" Jackson Cooper asked, delighted.
Emma's eyes smiled a little more and she made two strokes with the belly-worn knife: one slice across its diameter, a second at right angles to the first. She knew her husband's liking for her pie.
Jackson Cooper slid the tine of his fork under the crust and delighted at how it flaked a little. Emma's dear Aunt used to make such flaky pie crusts.
Emma sat down and sliced herself a wedge one-half the size of the slab she'd just handed her husband.
Jackson Cooper laid his fork down.
"Emma," he rumbled, "my bones tell me you have something to say."
Emma hesitated, then laid her fork carefully beside the slice of pie. She straightened and folded her hands in her lap.
"Indeed I have, Jackson Cooper," she said formally.
Jackson Cooper felt his heart jump, and he felt his cheeks tighten a little.
His eyes dropped to her belly.
Emma Cooper saw Jackson's hands shiver for just a moment, a passing tremor, and she read the apprehension, then the delight in his eyes.
Emma Cooper's cheeks began to turn red.
Emma Cooper fished a kerchief out of her apron pocket and pressed it to her lips.
Emma Cooper began to giggle.
Jackson Cooper's brows quirked together.
Emma Cooper began to laugh.
Jackson Cooper's left eyebrow assumed a distinct, high arch.
Emma Cooper laid a hand on Jackson Cooper's browned, furred paw and began dabbing at her eyes, giving vent to happy hysterics hardly proper for a lady raised in stuffy Boston society, but perfectly in keeping with a married woman at home, sharing a private moment with her best friend in the entire world.
When Emma kind of coasted to a stop, and took a breath, she composed herself, folded her hands in her lap, and straightened her spine once more.
Emma Cooper looked at Jackson Cooper and began laughing all over again.
Jackson Cooper's expression was now one of a man utterly lost, absolutely clueless, completely lacking in any idea whatsoever as to what in the world was going on.
Emma finally got out of her chair and hugged her husband, and he wrapped his strong, muscled arms around her, and held her as she laughed herself out for the second time, then he took her by the hips, turned her and set her on his lap like he would set a little girl on his lap: truth be told, as tall and broad as Jackson Cooper was, and as slender and diminutive as Emma Cooper, if she were wearing a pinafore and a big ribbon in her hair, it might look like a little schoolgirl on her Daddy's lap.
But I digress.
Emma Cooper smoothed Jackson Cooper's cowlick, which rebelliously sprang back up as it always did, and Emma Cooper said, "No, Jackson, I'm not pregnant," and began laughing again.
Jackson Cooper blinked, and drew her into him, and laid his head against her bosom.
"Shakespeare never told me what to say about this," he muttered.

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Charlie MacNeil 1-11-09

 

Laughter echoed through the dining room of the Empire House, overlaying the clink of crystal goblets and the sound of sterling silver on fine china. A host of appetizing aromas drifted on the pine-scented air. The tender venison roast lay in tatters on its bed of pine nuts, and the last few scraps of a fine plum pudding were drying on the few plates not scraped clean.

Charlie and Fannie stood near the kitchen doorway, hips touching, watching the happy diners. "We done good, Darlin'," Charlie murmured softly. He was tired, his shirt soaked through with sweat from the heat of the kitchen, but it was a happy exhaustion.

"That we did, Sugar." Fannie kissed him on the cheek then moved to the nearest table to gather the dishes.

"No you don't, Missus MacNeil," lilted a young woman in a maid's uniform as she took the plates from Fannie's hands. "You and the mister have done far too much already." She smiled saucily and said, "You're here on your honeymoon; ye'd best begone with ye and make the most of it."

The big French chef appeared in front of Charlie. "Monsieur, I made an exception for you tonight. It was not a mistake," he said stiffly. He bowed from the waist and held out his hand. The two men shook hands and the chef stepped past Charlie into the kitchen.

A softly muscled arm wrapped around Charlie's waist from behind. He leaned back against Fannie for a moment, then he pulled her around for a kiss. "I reckon we should leave the picking up to those who know what they're about, eh?" he said with a twinkle in his eye. "We've got other business to attend to."

"That we do," Fannie answered with a twinkle of her own.

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Linn Keller 1-12-09

 

Sean begrudged the architect the table space necessary for the carefully-drawn plans.
Sean frowned at the rolled-up plans on the table, knowing them to be a necessary evil.
Sean had little use for written plans; he was a creature of impulse, liking more to jump in and do a thing, rather than talk about it, and plan it out, and think about it for a while.
Sean was, however, experienced enough to realize this was, if not necessary, at least desirable.
Especially since it meant they would have a new, tight house.
This was not the first time the architect had come out and submitted plans for approval, but it was the first time they spaced and paced and measured and drew designs in the floor with flour, determining where walls would be placed, how big rooms would be, where the doorways and windows.
Gas had been discovered not far away, and was being piped into Firelands, and this was seized upon for heating not only the new firehouse, but also their new steam engine: it was a necessary evil to have the chimney, open to outside drafts, to carry off smoke from their steam engine's broad, blunt throat, for they kept a fire banked and smoldering at all times to keep the boiler warm: Ahrens made the best steam fire fighting engine in the world, and indeed Ahrens' upright boiler design was unsurpassed for speed of steam, volume of water it could throw, pressure it could produce on the hose tip, pressure it could maintain: still, Ahrens constantly chased after the next award, the next accolade, and as a result, the new steam wagon that was even now being freighted out from Cincinnati, would incorporate improvements the Irish Brigade anticipated, and wanted, and couldn't wait to get their collective hands on.
The engine would come with several brand new, red-enamel, square cans of something called gasoline, used to speed the boiler's coming to working pressure -- "distilled from the Devil's breath, it is," Sean had warned his lads, "and we'll no' be careless wi' the stuff!" -- his words were less admonition than order and indeed threat, for none mistook the steel in his words.
The architect's pencil, used as a pointer, indicated the most recent changes to the plans he'd made.
"This will be your steam boiler," he said proudly, "and these" -- the pencil traced lightly along carefully-inked lines -- "the steam lines to radiators here, here and here on this floor, two more here and here -- and this will be the coupling into your steam engine's boiler."
Sean nodded, square jaw thrust out aggressively; the Welsh Irishman's head nearly touched the German Irishman's as they bent over the sheet, eager to understand what they were being shown.
"And how soon will this marvel o' thermal engineerin' come about?" the New York Irishman blurted impatiently.
The architect sighed.
"I don't know," he admitted. "Your new firehouse is being made of brick. I would suggest you ask the contractors."
"Wi' th' winter's cold they're no' firin' bricks," the Welsh Irishman observed. "We've the mortar. Mrs. Keller has Masons hired t' raise th' edifice. She's steam fitters from Denver hired t' put in th' b'iler an' th' steam system." He looked over at their steam wagon. "Imagine that! We'll no' ha'e ta' keep a fire banked!"
"No more chimney," the German Irishman muttered.
There was general quiet laughter, for occasional down drafts pushed smoke back into the fire house, to their discomfort.
Discussion went long into the evening, and by the time they were done, the fine new brick station had been built a dozen times over, in their imaginations, there atop the firehouse table beside the gleaming steam-wagon.

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Linn Keller 1-15-09

 

I kicked the snow off my boots and reached for the Jewel's door.
I didn't quite hear something, but I knew something was out of the ordinary, and I drew my hand back from the polished brass handle. The fur lined collar was soft and welcome against my neck as I turned my head and looked up the street.
My eyes narrowed a little and I knew this couldn't be good.
The horse was beyond spent. It was moving out of habit and nothing else: it had been used plumb up, its head was down and it wobbled as it walked, and the man in the saddle looked almost as bad.
Boys have no terror of cold weather and it had turned cold, blue cold: anyone with business outside conducted it quickly, then got back in where it was warm, if at all possible -- unless they were inquisitive boys looking in the back window of the funeral parlor, I thought -- and unless I was very wrong, this fellow hadn't been warm in too long a time.
The horse wobbled to a stop, swayed for a long moment, then fell over, slow, onto its right side.
The rider hit the ground like a man asleep and just laid there.
I was down the two steps off the board walk in one long stride and legged it through the ankle deep snow.

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Linn Keller 1-16-09

 

Pete reached over and slapped Frankie's shoulder.
Frankie swatted his arm away and snapped, "G'wan, Pete, you got us in trouble once already!"
Pete's eyes were big as he followed the Sheriff's rapid progress up the street.
Frankie followed his intense gaze and his own mouth opened in surprise.
The two boys began running an intercept course, up over the end of the boardwalk beside the Mercantile, then back down onto the street. Frankie missed his footing and did a perfect point shoulder roll, coming up in a spray of snow.
Pete was three long strides ahead and Frankie yelled "Wait up!" and scrambled up on all fours, launching into a sprint while still mostly horizontal, a move perfected by athletes and small boys in the snow.

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Linn Keller 1-16-09

 

"Jackson Cooper, you were nearly shot," Emma said in the tones she would use before her schoolroom: a fact, a statement, inarguable and correct.
Jackson Cooper blinked. "Yes, ma'am," he agreed in his deep voice, for she had but spoken the truth, and he was not about to argue with the truth.
"I understand," Emma continued, lifting her chin a little but not meeting his eye, "that some women might be inclined to demand their husband assume a less dangerous line of work."
"Hm." Jackson Cooper frowned a little, projecting where this line of conversation might be going, and beginning to assemble a defense.
Emma continued, addressing herself to the far corner, her diction crisp as her carefully chosen words.
"Jackson Cooper, I will not ask you to do that."
Jackson Cooper's brows knitted and he studied his wife's face closely.
He hadn't expected to hear that sentence, following the one preceding: in fact, he expected the opposite: a well thought out, meticulously crafted, superbly logical argument on why he should give up law dogging for some other, more pedestrian and less hazardous, career.
Emma looked at her husband now, her expression uncertain.
"Jackson Cooper," she continued in a softer voice, "you are a good man. I knew that the moment I saw you and heard you speak."
She sat as if in a proper Boston parlor chair, her spine straight, her feet flat on the floor -- well, her toes were on the floor, for though she was all woman (to Jackson Cooper's approval and delight), she was a diminutive soul, and she would have been obliged to scoot forward a little to put her feet flat down. She preferred to sit straight.
"You keep the peace, Jackson Cooper, because you are the right man to keep the peace."
Jackson Cooper leaned both elbows on the table, clasping his hands together and leaning his upper lip on the edge of his index finger: his eyes were unblinking on his wife's, his body language saying plainly that she had his absolute and undivided attention.
Emma's eyes were soft now. "My dear, I learned in the moment when that awful man shot at you, that you can be killed at any time." She dropped her eyes for a moment, then brought them back up. "I knew that here" -- she touched her forehead lightly with the tip of her middle finger -- "but only then did I realize it, here" -- she touched three fingers to the center of her chest.
"Jackson Cooper, I am but a woman, but I would not be a helpless woman."
Jackson Cooper nodded, once, encouraging her to continue, to complete her thought.
"Jackson Cooper, you showed me once how to shoot. Please show me again, and I would know more than just the pistol."
Jackson Cooper nodded slowly. "Yes, ma'am," he said quietly. "I can do that."

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Linn Keller 1-17-09

 

The horse was done for.
I saw blood-bubbles from the ragged holes in its chest, felt as much as heard the distant thunder of artillery.
I smelt blood, hot against the winter snow, and I went to my knees beside the young lieutenant.
His kepi had fallen off and a shock of brown and bloodied hair fell with it, his face waxy, yellowish against the pristine snow on which it lay.
I grabbed his arm and brought it over my shoulder and bulled my head under his belly and reared up, bringing his weight across my shoulders.
I ran an arm under his leg and he was across my back and I headed for the field surgeon's tent.
Distantly there were voices, shouts, as there always are in battle: anger, warning, fear, pain: I blocked them with the single minded understanding that this soldier's life was in a surgeon's hands but I had to deliver him while life was still there to be delivered.
A child stood before me, staring.
A boy? I thought. What's a boy doing on a battlefield?
"Sheriff?"
The voice was thin, distant, tinny.
I pushed on, took a step, another.
"Sheriff?"
There was a roaring, then it was past, and I was myself again.
I blinked.
The boy was holding my hat.
I wobbled a little, took a long, shivering breath.
"Bring it," I said, my own voice strange on my ears.

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Linn Keller 1-18-09

 

Sarah was not a perfect child.
She was a well mannered young lady, yes.
She was raised in a loving household, yes.
She loved her Mama and her Papa, yes.
Right at the moment she was standing in her unmentionables with her arms crossed, her bottom jaw thrust out and an expression on her face that would have done credit to the famous British bulldog.
Bonnie looked at her daughter with honest surprise.
Oh, there had been childish resistances in the past, there had been occasional pouts and very rarely a tantrum in her much younger years, but Sarah had never shown a contrary streak before.
Bonnie sighed.
"Sarah, dear, you must get dressed for school," Bonnie said in the most patient of voices, debating at what point she should bring out her authority.
Sarah glared at the dress draped over Bonnie's forearm.
"I don't want to wear that dress," she said sullenly.
Bonnie blinked. This wasn't the battle she thought she was fighting.
"But Sarah, this is such a lovely dress, and you look so good in it!"
"I look like a child!" Sarah snapped, and then dropped her head so her Mama could not see the tears stinging her eyes.
In a moment of Mama's intuition, that native wisdom given to mothers in such moments, Bonnie lay the dress over the back of a chair and bent a gentle finger under her daughter's chin.
Hot and salty water spilled over the dam behind Sarah's eyes and she threw herself into her Mama's arms.
Bonnie eased herself down onto her knees and held her sobbing daughter, knowing and yet not knowing the cause of this storm, and finally remembering long ago, when she too was young, there had been a similar moment, so very confusing, when the tides in her young body dashed the fragile craft of her emotions against the rocky shore of her developing womanhood: these first storms, she remembered, were particularly abrupt, tempestuous, and gratefully brief.
At least I think mine were brief, she thought, wiping the tears from her daughter's quivering cheeks.
She stood and reached for Sarah's robe, hanging on a nearby peg.
"Here, dear," she said. "I think we need some nice, hot tea."
Sarah was late for school that day, but Miz Emma the schoolmarm understood, for she too remembered what it was to be a girl, and she too had been gently guided by her own Mama, who took the time to have quiet conversation over hot tea, just the two of them.

 

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Linn Keller 1-19-09

 

Frankie pelted on ahead of the laboring Sheriff, snow-clods throwing off his shoe-soles as he ran: he streaked for the Firelands Hospital, a fine building by Firelands standards, but quite modest to eyes that had seen similar structures in Eastern cities: it was two stories, twice as wide as the Silver Jewel and twice as deep, and made of polished, gleaming quartz.
Frankie hit the front door hard, twisted the knob one way, then the other, his breath puffing over the fluted brass hemisphere: glancing over his shoulder, he took a two-hand grip on the door knob and twisted hard.
Nurse Susan heard the fuss and glided into the front parlor -- in later years it might be called a waiting room, and there might be a counter, and a receptionist, and hard and uncomfortable chairs -- but this is Firelands, and the calendar was still in the 1880s, and it more resembled a parlor than a sterile corral for impatient hangers-on.
Susan opened the door and Frankie half-fell,half-ran into her starched white apron. He bounced back with a yelp, stepping on Nurse Susan's toe in the process; flustered, he snatched off his cap and looked up at her amused expression.
Fairly vibrating with a little boy's urgency, pointed back along his back trail and stammered, "Sheriff's a-comin'!"
Susan's expression lost all bemusement and she leaned out the doorway, looking up the street at the bareheaded Sheriff, a still form awkward and not quite limp in his arms, and an uncertain little boy marching along beside him, holding what Susan knew to be the Sheriff's hat.
Susan drew back in and reached behind the lip of the door trim.
Hidden from the common eye was a bell-pull, placed there for such moments.
She gave it two quick tugs, then a third.
Nurse Susan laid a gentle hand on Frankie's slicked hair.
"Thank you for letting us know," she said. "Please hold the door for the Sheriff. He seems to have his arms full."
"Yes, ma'am!" Frankie blurted, drawing the door wide open and standing back from it as far as his young arm would permit.

 

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Linn Keller 1-22-09

 

Any medical professional worth their salt will begin assessing a patient the moment they see the patient, whether that be in the saddle, in a wagon bed, on the ground, or in a lawman's arms.
Nurse Susan studied the patient with a quick and experienced eye as she steered the pallid and laboring Sheriff toward a partly-open door, threw it wide and drew back as the tall man turned to work the fallen rider's chilled and awkward limbs through the opening.
Nurse Susan's fingers were quick and sure as she began opening the still form's clothing. She got his coat laid open and grunted a little as she turned him to get an arm out of the sleeve.
It would be easier just to split the sleeve, she thought, then dismissed the idea as quickly as it formed: this just wasn't done, and so she fought the material to get the man's stiffened arm out.
"He's freezing," she said quietly. "What happened, Sheriff?"
Dr. John Greenlees came into the room, drying his hands on a towel, and stepped over to look at the patient: frowning, he felt temple, throat and breast, peeled back an eyelid.
He looked up at Nurse Susan, his face impassive.
"How are we set for hot water?" he asked quietly.
"We've enough for three baths." Nurse Susan began pulling at the man's left boot.
The Sheriff cleared his throat. "He rode into the upper end. His nag was used up and fell over dead when I looked up to see what he was about. Other than that I know nothing about him."
Dr. Greenlees added water to the carbide reservoir and lit the acetylene examination lamp: turning the polished parabolic bowl, he directed the pure-white light to his patient's injured head.
"Cold stopped the bleeding," he grunted. "Sheriff, could you give us a help moving him, please."
The Sheriff threw off his coat, tossing it at a vacant chair. "Whatever you need."
Nurse Susan struggled to sit the man up. They were down to his once-clean Union suit.
"We'll get this," Doc said gently. "If you could ready the bath, please."
"Yes, Doctor," Nurse Susan said crisply, disappearing through a side door.

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Mr. Box 1-22-09

 

I thought I heard something outside but nobody came in. "Now what's this dead horse in the street? I'd better see if Shorty can get it dragged out of here before it freezes!" I saw a few tracks in the snow. They didn't tell me much. Big ones, smaller ones, someone had been here. They all went off in the same direction. I'll need my coat if I'm going to spend much more time out here!

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Linn Keller 1-22-09

 

Pete was as curious as Frankie, and generally Pete and Frankie got in trouble together, but right now Frankie was busy with the Sheriff and Pete was at loose ends.
He looked at the dead horse.
Mr. Baxter had come out to size up the situation, then he'd gone back into the Jewel.
Pete looked at the saddle bags.
Pete wondered what was in the saddle bags.
Pete pulled at the saddle bags. They'd been draped over the back of the saddle -- either in haste or carelessly -- and had nearly fallen free when the horse fell dead -- he gave a final pull, fell back on his bottom in the snow, but he had his prize.
He drew back in the little gap between the Jewel, and where the library used to stand, and squatted.
He unbuckled the saddle bag and opened the flap.
A moment later he threw the saddle bags over his shoulder and began running for the Sheriff's office shouting "Mr. Cooper! Mr. Cooper! Looky what I found!"

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Mr. Box 1-23-09

 

I went back out with my coat on and a boy with some saddle bags was yelling and running toward the sheriff's office. It looked like he had pulled them off the dead horse. He was doing the right thing with them, so I didn't bother him. I made my way to the livery and found Shorty cleaning stalls. "We've got a dead horse laying out there in the street. Have you got some way to handle it?"
"I suppose I could hitch up a team and find somewhere to drag it off to."
"If the owner comes around needing another horse I'd give 'em a decent deal on my other one. I'd better pay up for their keep while I'm here, too. How's Nellie doing?"
"Oh, she ain't no trouble. Much obliged, Mr Baxter."
"Did you see who came in on that horse, Shorty?"
"No, I was in the back here."
"The tracks sort of lead off toward the hospital but I didn't notice any blood."

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Linn Keller 1-23-09

 

Jackson Cooper opened the heavy door just as Pete raised his hand to knock.
Being an excited boy, he hadn't slowed a bit and would have hit the door a fraction of a second after his upraised knuckles, at least until Jackson Cooper's arm threw open the door and his other muscled arm took Pete around the middle and swung him off the floor.
Jackson Cooper was a big man and had a big laugh and his warm laughter filled the little log fortress that was the Sheriff's office, and he set Pete down, laughing at the lad's surprised expression.
Pete was a little out of breath, but he managed to blurt, "Mistercooperyagoddaseethis!" before he had to take another few quick breaths.
Jackson Cooper sat his backside down on the corner of the Sheriff's desk and accepted the proffered saddle bags.
Pete bent over, hands on his thighs, gathering wind and composure.
Jackson Cooper moved smoothly, easily, without any of the awkwardness often ascribed to big men: he held up the saddle bags and examined them, turned them around: one was unbuckled, so he raised the flap and pulled the pouch open.
Jackson Cooper looked inside.
Jackson Cooper whistled.
"What have we here," he murmured.
Pete straightened and Jackson Cooper nodded to a chair. "Draw up to the stove," he instructed, "and thaw yourself out. I need you to tell me what happened."
Pete seized the indicated chair and dragged it noisily across the floor, turned it so he was quartering to the cast iron stove and mostly facing Jackson Cooper, and watched as Jackson Cooper pulled out a money bag marked DENVER TRUST AND SAVINGS.

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Linn Keller 1-25-09

 

I thanked Frankie for fetching my hat.
He'd waited out in the anteroom whilst we got the rider stripped down and into the warm bath.
Doc had some kind of a hoist rigged up -- the man was always one to plan ahead -- and the sling was already in the tub before we three eased the rider's pasty carcass into the warm water.
Doc Greenlees allowed as he and Dr. Flint could take care of things, and Nurse Susan smiled at me as she brought in a covered tray, so I made good my exit.
Frankie was bristling with curiosity.
I turned my hat around in my hands, studying it with mock seriousness.
"Frankie?" I asked.
"Yes, sir?"
"Frankie, did you see how pale that fellow was?"
"Yes, sir!"
"Tell me why he was so pale."
"He was cold, sir!"
"He was that," I agreed.
"Sir?"
"Yes, Frankie?"
"Sir, did someone shoot him?"
I stopped and considered and finally decided on honesty.
"No, Frankie, I don't think so."
"Aw," Frankie said, disappointment in his voice.
"Something happened to him, though," I continued, and Frankie brightened.
"What did happen to him, sir?"
I considered my answer, and with it, my course of action.
"I will wait until the good Doctor looks him over. He'll be able to tell me exactly what happened. I'll need to know that before I decide on what to do next."
The outer door rattled and opened and Pete's grinning face thrust itself into view.
"Sheriff?" he asked, eyes bright with the delight of a little boy entrusted with a man-sized message. "Sheriff, Mr. Cooper wants you at the Sheriff's office!"
I looked at Frankie and Frankie looked at me.
"Well, Frankie," I said, "let's not keep the man waiting!"
"Yes, sir!" Frankie exclaimed. "I mean no sir!"
I laughed and we headed for the door.

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Linn Keller 1-28-09

 

The Sheriff's eyebrows raised and he gave a low whistle.
"Well, well," he said quietly. "What's inside?"
Jackson Cooper untied the neck of the first bag: it had clanked when he set it on the desk, so they were not surprised to find it full of coin, which also explained its compact weight: the other was full of bills, bundled notes.
"I suppose we should telegraph Denver," the Sheriff murmured.
Jackson Cooper grinned and slid a telegraph blank across the desk, with a freshly whittled pencil.
The Sheriff considered for a moment, then printed his message, deliberately, with an economy of words that conveyed his message, but no more: folding the form, he laid the pencil on the desk and said, "Frankie."
"Yes, sir?"
"There is a strong box across on the other side of the stove. You and Pete fetch it over here."
"Yes, sir!" they chorused, and the two made a mad scramble for the secure receptacle: each took a handle, and they carried it over beside the Sheriff's desk.
The Sheriff folded the telegram and held it out, between two fingers.
"Pete," he said.
"Yes, sir?"
"Pete, I'm going to give this to Frankie. I need you to make sure he hands it to Lightning."
The boys looked at each other, surprised; Frankie reached up and took the message.
"Now." The Sheriff reached into his vest pocket, drew out two coins. "Once he hands this over to Lightning, I need you to take him over to the Jewel -- here, you'll need this" -- he extended the coins into Pete's eager grasp -- "and tell Daisy that you two are official pie testers, and she is to throw a slab of pie in front of each of you. After you are done eating, you will report back to me."
"Gee, thanks, Sheriff!" they chorused, scrambling for the door.
Jackson Cooper shook his head, chuckling.
The Sheriff grinned back. "Fetch open that bottom left hand drawer and put these bags in it."
Jackson Cooper's expression was one of amused surprise.
"While you're in there, fetch out that padlock."
Jackson Cooper slid the padlock across the desk, tucked the money bags into the bottom drawer, and slid it shut.
The Sheriff stood and walked over to the gun rack. Selecting a long barrel Greener, he broke it open, smiled at the brass hulls looking back at him, and eased the express gun shut.
"Jackson Cooper, if you'd be so kind, would you throw that strong box on your shoulder?"
Jackson Cooper did, easily.
The Sheriff reached up and snapped the padlock shut, dropping the big, machined-brass key into his vest pocket. "Now let's head for the bank."
"With an empty strong box?"
The Sheriff grinned. "Jackson Cooper, when you were the size of Pete and Frankie, how was your appetite?"
Jackson Cooper laughed again. "Sheriff, then and now, I walked on two hollow legs!"
"Now, Jackson Cooper, was you the size of Pete and Frankie, was a man to give you a note to deliver with the prospect of pie after, would you walk to deliver the note, or would you run?"
The Sheriff drew open the door and Jackson Cooper stepped outside.
The Sheriff followed, the double gun balanced in his left hand: he locked the door behind them, then, together, the two big lawmen made their way diagonally across the street, heading casually to the bank ... or as casually as two men with a locked strongbox could walk across a street, where God and everybody could see them.
Pete and Frankie went pelting up the street behind them and their "Thank you, Sheriff!" floated on the cold winter air, just before each grabbed the handle on the Jewel's fancy front door and yanked.
"Far as those boys know, the loot is in the strong box, the box is in the bank, and nobody the wiser."
Jackson Cooper was silent for a long moment.
"That says something," Jackson Cooper said finally.
"Yes it does."
Jackson Cooper stopped and looked squarely at his gray-mustachioed escort.
Jackson Cooper thrust out his hand.
"Thank you," he said.
The Sheriff took his hand solemnly, nodding once.
They proceeded on into the bank, where the strong box was secured in the vault.
The Sheriff handed Jackson Cooper the shotgun. "Jackson Cooper, I'll be looking in on that fellow, see how he's doing."
"What fellow?"
The Sheriff blinked in honest surprise. "Oh, hell," he exclaimed, "I forgot to tell you!"
"No, Sheriff," Jackson Cooper grinned, "you didn't forget. You just now remembered."
"You're right." The Sheriff's eyes wrinkled a little at their corners, they way they did when a smile was just about to drop down over the rest of his face.
"Some fellow came riding in, darn near froze to the saddle. He'd took somethin' to the skull, his horse was used up and fell over dead. I packed him down to Doc's and they'll be thawin' him out for a while, I reckon."
Jackson Cooper puffed out a great cloud of steam. His step was unique: when he walked, he did not drag his feet, but picked them clear of the snow so his every step made a clear impress.
Only a lazy man drags his heels, his Pa had taught him as a lad, and since childhood he'd taken pains not to leave drag marks in the snow when he walked.
He walked so now.
There were eyes that observed the exchange between the Sheriff and the fallen rider, the exclamation of the lads at their discovery, their carrying the saddlebags to the Sheriff's office, and finally the emergence of two lawmen, with an obviously-padlocked strongbox, guarded with a shotgun, their entry into the bank with this burden, and their emergence without.
"Jackson Cooper, I believe I said something earlier about pie."
Jackson Cooper grinned. He knew what was on the man's mind.
"I believe you did, Sheriff."
"Do you reckon Daisy has any left?"
Jackson Cooper rubbed his square chin meditatively.
"I reckon if she don't, the world will quit turnin' on its axle and the heavens will roll up like a parchment!"
The Sheriff nodded.
"What say we find out."
Jackson Cooper and the Sheriff walked the little distance through the snow, each man supported by two hollow legs.

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Mr. Box 1-28-09

 

There weren't many in the Silver Jewel today. The ones there weren't in any hurry to leave. I heard some sudden heavy footfalls on the boardwalk outside the door. I was about to welcome Sean and his brigade as the door flew open but it was just two boys puffing steam as they tried to catch their breath. I had seen them outside sometimes but not in here. They stomped the snow off their feet by the door and proceeded to scramble on in. They were bundled up pretty good but the color of their faces told how long they had been outside.
"What's the big rush, fellas?" I inquired.
"We're here to see Miss Daisy," they informed me in unison. "We're official pie tasters!"
I chuckled, "Wish I had a penny for every time I've heard that one!"
"No! We've got money!" as one of them produced two coins.
"How'd you come by that?"
"Sheriff Keller gave it to us! Well, Pete anyway."
"I suppose that makes you deputies now." They looked at each other and began to swell up with pride. "I thought maybe you had robbed a bank." They went into shock as if I had thrown a bucket of water on them. Their mouths dropped open as they sank back and all the color faded out of their faces! "Miss Daisy is back in the kitchen," I said as they scrambled off.
The door opened a few minutes later and it was Sheriff Linn Keller and Jackson Cooper. "I see you've got some new deputies, Sheriff. Got 'em checking up on the local establishments."

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Linn Keller 1-31-09

 

Jackson Cooper and I set down back in the back of the Jewel.
The back table had gotten the nick name of the "Lawman's Corner" as it was my favorite sittin' spot, and most often 'twas my 73 rifle parked beside me leaned up ag'inst the wall, but today it was that double gun.
Jackson Cooper and I turned out serious attention to Daisy's good pie, and coffee, hot and fragrant.
I stirred in a big gob of honey and poured in some cream from the cold-sweating pitcher Daisy set down between us.
Jackson Cooper looked up, surprised.
"Goin' soft in your old age?" he inquired mildly.
I laughed. "Nah, just appreciatin' the good things in life."
"Speakin' of which," Jackson Cooper nodded toward a table near to the other end of the room, where my two adventurous lads were happily investigating the quality and nature of the pie Morning Star had set down in front of them. She flashed a smile with her eyes before disappearing back down the hall, toward the kitchen.
"She don't often work here now, does she?" Jackson Cooper observed.
"No, not often. I think she comes up for a visit and helps out just outta habit." I shoveled in a bite of pie and delighted at flaky crust and preserved peaches.
Jackson Cooper sampled his as well.
In very short order we were mutually agreed that Daisy's pie was still up to her usual impeccable standards.
"Now that my ribs ain't clatterin' together," Jackson Cooper rumbled as he considered the mystery hidden in his coffee, "how much of our strongbox do we want known?"
Jackson Cooper saw my eyes shift toward the boys, then towards the bar.
"Word will travel fast enough, and drink loosens a man's tongue. If there's somethin' to be found out, it'll be found here."
"Hm," Jackson Cooper grunted in agreement. "Reckon we'd ought to fill in Mr. Baxter."
"Be a good idea."
We looked up as two bright-eyed lads approached, followed by Daisy herself.
"Well, Sheriff," Daisy scolded me, "isn't it bad enough ye're testin' me wares wi'out sendin' yer minions t' do it for ye?" The tilt of her head and an almost hidden smile put the lie to her words, and I knew them for what they were.
I looked up at her and raised my eyebrows in what I hoped was an innocent expression.
Understand I've been trying that innocent expression for ... oh, as long as I've been on this earth, and it ain't worked yet, but I keep tryin' it anyway.
Daisy put a hand on two young shoulders. "Now boys," she said, "what do you say to the Sheriff for his generosity?"
"We had the pie, Sheriff," Pete declared, "and it was good!"
"Hmph!" Daisy sniffed. "And what should ye be sayin'?"
Frankie grinned and gave a boy's absolutely honest answer.
"Sure would like to have another!"

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Mr. Box 2-2-09

 

Well, it looks like Sheriff Keller has met his match in the pie tasting game! I think it has been a while he has had to out wit the keen mind of a young man of so few years. Especially when there is so much at stake! It'll be interesting to see how much this really costs him! Now if it were Daisy they were dealing with, I know they would be eating pie again. As soon as the wood box was filled and plenty of fresh water carried in! Maybe a hot bath or two filled on the side!

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Mr. Box 2-4-09

 

Sheriff Keller came over by the bar on the way out and mentioned a strongbox he and Jackson Cooper had put in the bank vault. He asked me to keep an ear to the rail if anybody got to worrying about it and let him know. He said that drifter that fell out in the street might not be alone. I asked if he knew anything about him. He said, "Just enough to keep an eye on him."

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Linn Keller 2-4-09

 

My tummy was smiling.
Jackson Cooper had a look of contentment about him as well.
It had taken a major effort to go have a quiet word with Mr. Baxter. For a hard wood chair, that one had turned out to be right comfortable, and I set back down with Jackson Cooper and we shared a companionable silence that only friends can understand.
Finally I swilled down the last of my coffee and stood. Pete and Frankie were just leaving, making enough fuss and noise that the two of them was near to a dozen, or so it seemed.
I turned and picked up that double gun.
"Jackson Cooper," I said, "reckon we ought --"
"YOU LEGGO ME! LEGGO!"
Jackson Cooper's big head snapped around and the two of us took three long strides across the floor.
Jackson Cooper's paw caught the door as it opened and Pete dove in at the top of his lungs: "SHERIFFSOMEGUYSGOTFRANKIECOMEQUICK!" and he fell face first across the threshold.
I was over him in time to see some stranger in a fur trimmed coat swing into his saddle, Frankie kicking and swinging under one arm.
I fetched up the express gun and the fellow ducked and put the spurs to his bay mare and I swore: short though the distance was I could not guarantee a head shot without taking out the front window of the Mercantile opposite or maybe Frankie.
Instead I drove a charge of shot into the bay's hip.
It was a lesson I'd learned in the War: if you can't take out the soldier, take out his mount. I dislike hurting a horse but I had to stop this fellow.
Jackson Cooper took the three steps in one stride and I did too, and when this fellow came up it was with Frankie in front of him for a shield and a knife to Frankie's ribs.
Frankie did not see this: he was fighting like a young wildcat, yelling, kicking and reaching up to try and claw at the fellow's face.
The bay was thrashing and screaming and so was Frankie.
The double gun came up of its own self and the front bead settled right on the fellow's ear.
Frankie snapped his head back and bloodied the man's lips.
He loosened his grip on the boy.
It was all the opening we needed.
Frankie's feet didn't hit the ground.
I'm not sure quite what they did but he was running before the gun spoke: I saw the shot I wanted and I took it, and at ten feet the charge of swan shot did not open much at all.
The swarm took this fellow through the right ear lobe and he collapsed like a sack of tallow.
Fact is, he went down so fast he had a head start on the trip, or so it seemed. I've seen head shot beef go down like that for slaughter.
I broke open the double gun and flicked out the empties and dunked two more in the breech, but warn't no need, least not for this fellow.

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Linn Keller 2-4-09

 

Sean may have been the Chieftain of the Irish Brigade, but he was a fair man.
Until gas was laid and the new gas boiler installed and working, they fired with wood; where there is a wood stove, there must be kindling, and chunks, and the Irish Brigade divided their labors.
Sean did not shirk his share of chores.
The broad ax swung in a quick arc and clove the block cleanly, each half falling away: Sean picked one up, set it on the splitting stump and began another off key stanza to a particularly vile drinking song he was fond of, in unguarded moments.
Sean sang badly when he was happy, but he didn't care that he sang badly.
He sang in perfect pitch in one place, and one place only, and that's when he stood in the driver's seat, swinging the black snake whip over the three-mare hitch, when the Irish Brigade was responding to a call.
Today, though, he was happily off key, off tempo and he didn't even remember a quarter of the words.
He glanced up just as a stranger climbed the three steps to the board walk in front of the Jewel.
He shifted the broad ax in his strong grip and looked again in time to see him seize a boy, grab him under his arm and yank the reins free.
Sean let out a roar, the ax swinging lightly in his hand: the Irish Brigade, within, busy with their own tasks, thought perhaps Sean had taken a poor swing and was venting a mighty oath at the offending chunk of wood.
The German Irishman looked up from the harness he was polishing.
The Welsh Irishman looked at the German Irishman and listened.
There was the deep concussion of a shotgun from up the street.
"Now what's that?" the New York Irishman asked, and they reached for coats and hats and headed for the door.

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Linn Keller 2-5-09

 

Shorty had just shrugged into his coat when he heard the deep BOOM, BOOM outside.
He reached for the rifle parked handy and opened the door.
Frankie saw the door open and aimed for it. His speed was only slightly less than that of a descending meteor and he did not slow down one little bit at seeing Shorty in the doorway.
Shorty let go of the rifle barrel and caught Frankie coming in, caught him under both arms and spun, swinging the running boy to burn off his momentum. Running feet drummed on the ceiling before gravity took over and Shorty swung him back down.
Frankie stopped and stood, shivering, uncertainty on his face.
Shorty closed the heavy wood door and steered Frankie toward a chair, near to the stove.
"Now tell me, young fella," Shorty said in a fatherly voice, "what brings you here this fine and snowy day?"

Jackson Cooper leaned down and put a mercy shot through the bay's ear, ending its screaming and its agonized convulsions; he holstered the Remington and looked at the bay's ruined hip, and the brand beside the ragged hole.
US brand, he thought. Bad job with a running iron.
"Reckonize him?"
The Sheriff squatted, studying the distorted face.
"Not offhand. Help me get him out from under this carcass."
"Save your back. It'll take a horse to haul this off."
The Sheriff grunted agreement. "I'll take your advice."
Sean came puffing up to the pair, set his war-ax head-first beside his polished black boot. "What happened here?" he demanded. "I saw him take the lad!"
The Sheriff squinted up at the furious Irishman. "Recognize him?" he demanded.
Sean frowned. "He looks familiar ..." He shook his head. "No, can't say as he does ..."
Mr. Baxter laid a hand on the Sheriff's shoulder. "What do you need?" he asked in a tone the Sheriff recognized. He didn't have to look to know the barkeep had his double gun in hand.
"Mr. Baxter, I need Fiddler Daine to sketch this fellow's mug, I need Shorty to fetch up a horse to get this carcass off the man, I need a wagon to carry his sorry carcass down to Digger's, and I need a drink!"
Mr. Baxter laughed, a warm and welcoming sound, and he patted the Sheriff's shoulder fearlessly. "I believe I can help with two of the three!" he declared cheerfully. "Well, by the look of things, here's Shorty now, and your deputy with him! How's that for service?"
"Mr. Baxter," the Sheriff said with a straight face, "remind me to raise your pay!" He stood, his right knee giving a loud and alarming SNAP! as it straightened.
Jackson Cooper looked at him with concern in his eyes.
The Sheriff waved a dismissive hand. "Mileage," he said ruefully.
Shorty shook his head, his hand heavy on Frankie's shoulder. "Work, work, work," he complained loudly. "I never seen the likes! First some stranger plainly rides a horse to death, now we get 'em shot down on the street! It just ain't right, makin' a man of my august years labor like he was eighteen! Why, in my day we respected our elders ..."
Shorty's loud and affected complaints faded as he retraced his steps back down the alley toward the livery, and the Sheriff and Jackson Cooper traded an understanding glance, each one almost smiling at the hostler's loud-voiced and good-natured tirade.
Frankie walked up to the Sheriff, taking a long look at the dead man.
The Sheriff stood. "Come on inside, Frankie," he said quietly, running his arm around the boy's shoulders. "Jackson Cooper, if you could have this fellow taken down to Digger's, and I'll want to go through his contents."
Jackson Cooper nodded, spat.
The Sheriff kicked snow off his boots and Frankie did the same, and the Sheriff hauled open the Jewel's right-hand door.

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Mr. Box 2-5-09

 

Them two young deputies got into the middle of something pretty quick! I don't really know much about it but there's quite a sudden burst of activity for such a chilly day. I'll just have to keep my ear to the rail and see what else pops up. I'd best get that drink up for Sheriff Keller and see if I've got something the deputy can handle.

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Linn Keller 2-6-09

 

"First off, Frankie," I said, dragging the chair in under me, "you done good!"
Frankie looked kind of uncertain. He was receiving the direct and undiluted attention of the Sheriff himself, with the muscled war-chieftain of the Irish Brigade beside him: boy-like, he wished to be elsewhere, for somehow he felt that all that transpired might just be his fault.
"Now. Have you ever seen that fellow before?"
Frankie opened his mouth to blurt out a denial, hesitated, thought about it for a bit.
"No, sir," he said finally.
I nodded. "Frankie, here's what I think."
Frankie looked at me and Sean looked at Frankie.
"I think that fellow was following the first one and maybe chasin' him."
Frankie's eyes were big as his mind replayed what had just happened to him.
Mr. Baxter set down three glasses.
Sean's was big, foaming, and I knew carried more authority than just a beer.
Mine was water clear and three fingers' worth.
Frankie's was kind of tan colored and I reckon it had more in it than sarsparilla. On a cold day like this it would do to warm his belly, I thought, and the nerve tonic can't do any harm. He's been through a trial!
"That fellow that grabbed you" -- Frankie's eyes shifted to me and there was fear in them, fear at the memory, a fear I would have to help him through -- "that fellow wanted to know about those saddle bags."
"Yes, sir," Frankie said faintly.
"Now. You and Pete did just the right thing when you fetched them over to Jackson Cooper."
"Yes, sir." Frankie took a drink of his sarsparilla and never batted an eye.
"Do you know what was in those saddle bags?"
"Money, sir," Frankie replied, his eyes shifting to the left as he remembered.
I nodded. "And do you recall what became of the money?"
There was a trace of a grin as Frankie remembered how he and Pete pelted past us on their way to sample some of Daisy's good pie. "You took it to the bank, sir. In that strong box!"
I nodded.
"Frankie, what was the one worst thing that happened today?"
"When you kilt that fella that had me!"
"What happened next?"
"He hit the ground and let go a little."
"What happened next?"
Frankie grinned. "I run!"
I nodded. "Then what happened?"
"Shorty caught me an' my feet hit the ceilin'!"
I didn't know about this but nodded anyway.
"Frankie, tell me what happened when you and Pete left the Jewel, before all the excitement happened."
Pete's eyes shifted to the left and he closes his eyes and shied back just a little, shying away from the memory.
Frankie's hands were on the edge of the table.
I laid one of my hands on one of his, and Sean laid a big hand on the lad's left shoulder.
"We're right here, Frankie. You're safe."
Frankie opened his eyes and shivered.
"We went outside an' that fellow tried to grab us both."
I looked over at Sean and I don't reckon my look was none too friendly.
"Pete backed up and yanked the door open and started yellin' 'cause that guy got hold of me and tried to get me on his horse."
"Did he say anything?"
Frankie nodded and his hand closed around as many of my fingers as would fit in his young grip. "He was sayin' to come here an' quit fightin'."
"And you did what?"
Frankie looked at me and there was a deep war-light in his young eyes.
"I fought, sir!"
"And 'twas the right thing t' do!" Sean declared with a roar, his horny palm smacking the table and making Frankie and I jump. "A man ought to fight when it's his time, and lad, you made us all proud! PROUD!" Sean patted the lad gently on the back. "I seen ye, lad, and ye looked like a cat full of the Old Scratch under his arm!"
I nodded. "Frankie, you fought the man as hard as you could, and that bought us enough time to get out there and stop him." My hand closed a little now, just enough to give manly affirmation to my words.
"Now. Finish your drink and let's find Pete. He's likely worried about you!"
Frankie looked kind of guilty.
"Something wrong, Frankie?"
Frankie gulped down the rest of his sarsparilla. "We're supposed to be in school, sir," he admitted in a small voice.
Sean and I looked at one another, and neither of us could help the grin that overtook our faces, and stopping the laughter that followed would be like trying to stop the incoming tide.
Finally I wiped my eyes on my shirt sleeve and allowed as I would tell Mrs. Cooper that he'd helped us catch a desperado, and all would be well.
"Thank you, sir," Frankie said, his ears turning a remarkable shade of crimson.
"I reckon you've got a little bit of the school day left?"
"Yes, sir." Frankie shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"Sean," I said, "I believe I'll walk with this young man down to the schoolhouse. Something tells me the schoolmarm might not believe his tale of apprehending a scoundrel!"

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Linn Keller 2-7-09

 

Esther grimaced, then smiled and laid a hand on her belly.
New life was not just stirring, it was kicking, responding to the contraction that prompted her to drop her bookkeeping pencil.
Esther took a long, slow breath, looking out the window at the snow and cold, and the frost-feathers framing the window glass, and smiled. There had been mercifully few episodes of morning sickness -- for which she was most assuredly grateful! -- her own dear Mama had suffered so with it, and Esther had, as a young girl, wiped her Mama's face with a cool, damp cloth during such episodes.
Esther dabbed at her eyes with a lace edged kerchief, the ornate, encircled K in the corner stiff under her little finger: she did so wish her own dear Mama were there, and Duzy, but such was not to be.
She heard a step in the hallway outside and made one last wipe at her eyes. Bonnie was due to visit any time; they were in the habit of morning tea twice a week, which got Bonnie away from running her business, and relieved Esther of the concerns of her own business, and gave them both "Time for Us" ... long talks over hot tea, nibbling delicately at little pastries, ladylike speculation on their families and the town and the world in general.
There was a tap at the door, and the smell of hot tea, and Esther smiled and stood.

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Linn Keller 2-8-09

 

I went on down to see Doc and find out if that young fellow who'd rode his horse to death, had survived getting a nice warm bath.
I've known old timers who swore too much bathin' was a weakening thing. It may well be that not bathing was a strengthening thing, for they smelled pretty strong, but there have been times when I myself did not smell particularly good neither.
Nurse Susan met me with a quiet smile. I know she had been tending this young fellow, I know that involved bending over a tub of hot water and I know that involved tending a wood fire and packing water, and she still looked fresh, clean, starched and ladylike.
If I'd gone to that much trouble, I thought, my whole front would be soaky wet and I'd be half filthy.
Nurse Susan beckoned me with a lift of her chin.
Hat in hand, I followed her through one door, another.
The stranger was lying in bed, covered up to his chin. His gun belt and revolver were hung off the bed post and his shirt was washed, dried and hung up beside this on a hook on the wall.
There was a round badge on the shirt.
I stopped and studied the badge.
Denver Police.
I tilted my head and regarded the young man. Now that he was neither bloody nor half froze he looked younger than I remembered, maybe his early twenties. His height was a little hard to gauge as he was laying down and covered up.
I drew up a chair and set myself down.
His eyes opened slowly at the sound of chair across floor.
Nurse Susan bent to whisper "If you need me, I'm just outside," and she was gone.
We regarded each other for a few long moments.
"How did I get here?" he asked experimentally, as if surprised his voice still worked.
I grinned. "I packed you down the street, half froze and with your head laid open. What happened?"
He worked a hand out from under the several layers of clean sheets, blankets and a fluffy quilt, and explored the bandaging about his head. He blinked a couple times and frowned.
I held up a hand. "Don't force it, the memory will come. Let's start out easy. Who are you?"
"Tom Fraser, Denver."
I stuck out a hand. "Sheriff Keller, Firelands."
Fraser frowned, his eyes starting to track left and right as the gears behind his forehead began turning again. "Firelands?"
"Yep. Near to the Cripple gold strike."
He gripped my hand and started to sit up, then fell back against his pillow, releasing my hand and seizing a great handful of bedding in a vain attempt at stopping the room from rotating on its axis.
"Lay still, you've had a hard time of it."
Tom set his teeth and screwed his eyes shut hard.
"Where you from, Tom?" My voice was gentle, pitched to be reassuring. I'm told I look kindly and fatherly and I tried to project this image, hoping if he wasn't who his shirt said he was, he would be confident or reassured enough to slip up.
"Denver," Tom croaked.
I started looking around for a pan, opened the door on the side table.
Nurse Susan came bustling in with a white enamel pan and pressed me out of the way with her hip as she took Tom by the off shoulder, rolled him over with his face in the basin and held him while his stomach protested at the bed's oscillations. She drew a damp cloth from somewhere and wiped his face, folded the cloth, wiped it again, then carefully carried the basin out again.
I poured Tom three fingers of water and handed him the glass. He took a cautious sip, sloshed the water around a little and swallowed.
I took the glass. "Easy now," I cautioned. "Let's make sure that's staying down."
Tom laid back. "Bank was robbed," he gasped. "I wasn't workin' but I was close by."
I looked up at his shirt. "You usually carry your badge around? Last I looked, Denver police wear a coat with their badge."
Tom grinned boyishly. "Good luck charm," he said. "I carry it playing poker."
"Does it work?"
"No," he admitted.
I laughed. "Mine didn't work neither, don't feel bad."
"When the bank got robbed I was saddled and ready to go see my girl. I took out after this fellow but he was smart. He circled back and jumped me. He peeled me a good one with a club and left me, didn't even rob me, least when I woke up my gun and my horse were still there."
"How about your wallet?"
He blinked. "I didn't bring one."
"You hungry?"
His expression slid into a visual expression of misery. "I'd best not," he gasped.
"All right." I smiled reassuringly, stood. "I've pestered you enough for one day. You lay there and stay warm. They'll take good care of you here."
"Sheriff?"
I stopped, one hand on the back of the chair.
"Sheriff, I didn't bring my wallet. How am I gonna pay for this?"
I smiled . "Don't worry, son. You're a lawman. I'll take care of that."
I winked at Nurse Susan on my way out. Neither of the doctors were handy so I went on over to the depot.
I had Lightning pass me a telegraph blank.
I had need to talk to the Denver police department.

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Linn Keller 2-10-09

 

Annette sat in her own kitchen, a happily married woman, a woman of means and prosperity.
She was not yet twenty: indeed, she was barely fifteen, but she had more land, more clothes, more jewelry than most matrons twice her age.
She blinked, looked down at her tea, shimmering amber in the delicate, bone-china teacup.
Her hands encircled the welcome warmth of the drink. She'd tended the morning's womanly duties, at least for the moment, though they were never truly done: there were floors to be swept, sills to be dusted, Jacob would need his meal when he got in, she had to inventory the preserves and the smoked meats and there were cows to milk, but for the moment she could sit, and relax, and remember.
Denver seemed a very long time ago, she reflected, remembering her Papa and his laugh, her Mama's gentle hands, her brothers and how they tormented her and teased her and adored her. She remembered the sounds of the city, even in the quiet part of Denver where their fine house was built; she remembered horses' hooves on paved streets, the rumble and jingle and clatter of carriage and coach and wagon, the happy yelling of little boys chasing one another ...
Annette looked out the window at the high meadow. Fences were well tended, the barn was tight against the winter's winds; they had horses, they had cattle for beef and for milk and they had chickens, fluffed up against the chill and mostly in the barn, where the larger animals kept it warm, or at least warmer than the outside.
Annette wondered about that promoter fellow, John ... something ...
"Oh, what was his name?" she muttered, rubbing her forehead.
Daisy might remember, or Mr. Baxter. She would ask them next trip into town.
Annette stood, shaking her head.
"Annette Keller," she said into the kitchen's silence, "you are a dreaming girl. Nobody wants to hear you lecture, you're too young, you've never done anything, you're not a storyteller ..."
Annette walked over to the cupboard and drew out a sizable mixing-bowl, and a rolling-pin; she opened another cupboard and withdrew a generous scoop of flour, milled from their own grain, and she remembered the sun golden on rippling ripe heads of wheat, and how Jacob laughed as he and his Pa moved in unison, swinging the scythe-cradles and shocking the grain; she remembered listening to the great, water-driven stones grind the wheat into flour, and she marveled, taking grain in one hand, and flour in the other, and Jacob had put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed, gently, his signal that he loved her.
Annette sprinkled flour on the table-top and began mixing dough in the heavy crock bowl. She drizzled yeast into the waiting cup of warm water, and added a teaspoon of honey, stirring it gently: this was her Mama's secret, and she took it with her when she in her turn began making bread as a married woman.
Annette opened the fire door and tossed in a few more sticks. Jacob had brought in three big armloads of wood that morning, bless him; he must have known she would be baking.
Annette turned back to her bread making, remembering.
In her mind's eye she saw the night-dark main street, alive with gunfire and galloping horses and the scream of a steam-whistle; she saw the great gleaming boiler of the Ahrens steam engine and Sean standing in the driver's seat, singing and swearing and plying the black snake whip. She saw Bonnie draw Sarah to her and raise a Navy Colt as an invader approached, leering and reaching. She saw Dawg, motionless in the moonlit cemetery, point his great blunt muzzle to the cold, uncaring stars and heard him pour a song of grief and of loss and of mourning that shivered in the cold, cloudless sky.
Annette saw the Sheriff grab Duzy's hand and press a knife into it, and press her hand to Jacob's chest with the knife across the wound, and she heard his measured syllables as he taught Duzy to stop blood with the Word.
Annette heard the thump and crunch of the cast iron newspaper press as Duzy held up a page of newsprint, ink gleaming and damp, one curl of hair looping down between her eyes as she read, frowning, and finally gave that one nod of approval she always did.
Annette saw the Lady Ester, drivers gleaming and polished and thrusting in the sunlight, she saw Fiddler Daine laughing and clogging as he played, and the Jewel alive, alive with laughter and with everyone she knew.
Annette blinked, marveling at how busy her hands had been: she divided the lump of dough, shaped the loaves, covered each with a towel and parked them where they could sit and be warm and rise for a bit.
"Maybe I do have a story to tell," she whispered to the table-top, and began kneading a second batch.

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Linn Keller 2-10-09

 

Bonnie was dreaming.
Bonnie dreamed in color, and she saw the boardwalk, not in its weathered, faded gray, but as polished, finished hardwood, like a fine dance floor.
She smiled down at Sarah -- a young Sarah, as she was long ago -- or was it yesterday?
Sarah smiled back up at her, delighted: they each wore new dresses -- that is, dresses that were new to them: Bonnie's was a hand-me-down from that new woman ... that newspaper woman ... Duzy?
A shadow hissed up like smoke from between the boards, and turned into an ugly man wearing a derby hat: he had a fine watch chain and a brocaded vest and a leer, and grasping hands that reached for her, reached as so many hands had ...
Bonnie's head turned to the left and she murmured, "No," clutching the covers protectively to her bodice ...
A step on the boards behind her, a voice, a fist: the miscreant stiffened and fell, and the stranger blew across cracked knuckles and lifted his hat ... a man with sad eyes, kind eyes and a gentle voice.
Sarah looked up and exclaimed "Papa!" and the stranger became her husband, and Bonnie reached for him, shivering ...

Caleb came back to bed, slipping carefully under the covers to keep from disturbing his sleeping bride.
Caleb smiled as Bonnie rolled over and cuddled up against him, then Caleb's smile faded as Bonnie clung to him and whimpered a little, and he realized she was not awake, she was dreaming, and he put his arms around her and held her, held her until she stopped shaking.

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Linn Keller 2-12-09

 

I'd taken to riding into town with Esther and Angela, in the buggy, Hijo del Sol tied on behind: the buggy was fine for a married couple, but if I had to travel fast or far, I prefer the saddle.
Esther positively bloomed with her pregnancy. I've never seen her lovelier. Her skin glowed, her cheeks were pink and healthy, her hair shone like a healthy pelt -- I would never tell her that, of course! -- well, I told her it looked quite nice, and it shone beautifully in the red morning sun, but I never told her it looked like a healthy pelt.
Women take things wrong sometimes, you understand.
It was cold that morning, but no worse than it had been. Our mare stepped lively, her breath pluming out in fine twin clouds, the happy laughter of harness bells preceding our travel.
Esther sat close, Angela between us, both of them wrapped and bundled against winter's cold, sitting on and wrapped in buffalo robes. They were heavy but they were warm, and I drove with one across my own legs.
Once I got my ladies into the Jewel's warmth, I took the rig down to Shorty's stable. The mare was used to the luxury of a nice warm stall, and Shorty's place had been recently overhauled: I've seen looser siding on a fine house, and it was warm inside and smelled of horses and hay and good grain.
Hijo was just as happy to go back to drowsing and probably dreaming of his native border country: I was loath to leave him just tied outdoors to the hitch rail all day, and so left him in Shorty's good care. I knew he would be turned out into the corral after bit, and would not spend the entire day sleeping inside: besides, if I needed him, I needed but whistle, and he would clear any fence I've seen so far.
The three of us sat down together for a good breakfast. I was just as happy to eat our meals at the Jewel. Esther still cooked and kept house, at least some of the time; I was getting her used to the idea of having the girls come over from the Jewel and tend the house work, and more of the cooking -- we had money enough to pay them a decent wage, and with Esther's increasing ... ahh ... the bigger her belly, umm ...
How's the best way to put this?
Esther looks like a cherry on a toothpick, I thought, and chuckled.
Esther was taking a sip of tea, and so only favored me with a curious glance.
Angela was carefully cutting the last piece of her egg on her plate, frowning as it resisted her efforts to scoop it onto her fork.
Esther had been entertaining an offer to sell the railroad, and had asked my opinion. I told her I trusted her completely, that she had an excellent business head; if she figured it was a wise move, then she would, otherwise she would not.
She seemed reassured by this response.
We three finished our breakfast and went upstairs to Esther's office. I kissed my lovely ladies, twiddled Angela's nose with my mustache -- she loved that, and giggled -- and I went on downstairs.
I needed to talk to that young fellow over at the hospital.
Sure hope he can sit up without the room spinning, I thought.

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Linn Keller 2-12-09

 

Angela was arranging her rag doll's skirt with the happy imprecision of a four year old.
Esther smiled at their daughter, sitting ladylike in the Angela-sized chair the Daine brothers had made for her not long after they'd finished repairing the fire damage to the far corner room. When they heard little Angela happily speaking in their native Kentucky accents, nothing was too good for the child; she had a steady supply of limber jack dolls, wimmy-diddles, peg-and-loop toys and the like, all handmade, all finely finished.
Of all her toys, Angela still loved her battered rag doll -- now in its third or fourth incarnation -- the best.
She looked up, bright eyes curious, at the sound of footsteps in the hall. Esther turned in her swivel chair, raised her chin at the tap on the door.
"No, dear, no, don't get up," Bonnie admonished, raising a gloved hand: one of the Jewel's girls followed with the tea tray, as she always did, and placed it on the side table. It was a ritual; she would look at Esther, and if Esther needed anything, she would lift her head a fraction, and the girl knew to stay; if Esther gave just a shadow of a shake of the head, the girl would curtsy and depart.
Esther shook her head ever so slightly.
She looks tired, the girl thought, dropping her eyes modestly at the same time she dropped a curtsy.
Sarah was fairly bouncing that morning, and came over almost at a run and gave her Aunt Esther a hug. She released her embrace, surprised, and looked at Esther's belly, where her little arm had laid but a moment before.
Esther laughed. "Did he kick you?" she asked, reaching out to stroke Sarah's cheek with the back of her bent fingers.
Sarah nodded, looking at Esther's generous middle.
"He kicks me, too," Esther admitted. "It must be a boy. He's not at all a gentleman!"
Sarah tilted her head, frowning a little, trying to digest this bit of womanly information; she wasn't sure how gentlemanly behavior pertained to a little baby, but decided she would find out in due time.
Bonnie poured tea for them both. Normally she would have poured tea for the girls as well, but they were playing quietly, discussing their dolls, Sarah chatting about how her dolly did this or said that, and Angela, solemn and big-eyed, regarding her with the expression of a supplicant listening to the Delphi oracle.
Esther accepted the tea cup and saucer, grimaced.

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Linn Keller 2-13-09

 

I wished for Charlie, I surely did.
"You lazy bum," I said to myself, "he's tendin' to his affairs, now you do the same!"
Still ... I looked at the telegram.
It confirmed my young fellow's bona fides, asked my cooperation and said to expect a letter to follow.
I thanked Lightning and set my hat back on my head, frowning.
"I know that look, Sheriff," Lightning said, amusement bright in his eyes.
I looked up, a smile tugging at my cheek bones. "I'm that predictable?"
Lightning laughed dryly, coughing a little and laid a skinny hand on my shoulder. "Sheriff, I knowed you in the War. You was the same then. Watch a man long enough, you'll know his habits."
I blinked, surprised. The War had been some time ago, and I honestly did not remember the man.
I stepped out into the cold. It was snowing again and it promised to snow deep this time. It was already just shy of ankle deep on the depot platform so I grabbed a broom and went to sweepin'.
As I labored, I thought.
I'll go see if that young fellow is receivin' visitors, I thought, plying the hand tied brush broom carefully. Lightning had made it just the day before and I had no wish to work it loose. I need to know how the money bags got into his saddle bags.
It could be such a thing as he waylaid the real lawman and he's an impostor, only the lawman may have peeled him a good one in return.
I straightened, looked up the track, listening for the Lady Esther.
I cursed the snow for it had already covered any back trail, and I cursed my inability to wave a magician's sleeve and spirit Charlie here from Denver. He could track a man across bare rock, and had: he had puzzled out sign that I plainly could not see the least trace of, and my eye sight is good.
I parked the broom back where I got it and headed on over toward the hospital.
Sure enough, this young fellow was walking down the hall toward me as I came in, and I proceeded to play poker with him.
Now I can't play poker with cards to save me. My baby sister could skin a man out of his socks at cards and make it look easy, but I could never ply the pasteboards worth beans. I can deal but that's about it.
I have, however, learned to play poker in the real life game of law dogging, and I proceeded to bluff.
I grinned and stuck out my hand and called this young fellow by name. His grip was almost firm and I saw a trace of wobble in his walk.
Is he playing poker too? I wondered: might he be pretending to weakness or dizziness to throw me off, like I was pretending to accept him at face value?
"Can you walk any distance?" I asked.
He paused and leaned against the wall, closing his eyes for a long moment and swallowing hard. "Sheriff," he said quietly, "if I don't get a good square meal in me I'm gonna waste away to nothin'!" He cautiously opened one eye and regarded me for a moment before closing it again and leaning the uninjured side of his head against the wall as well.
"I can have a meal brought down," I offered, glancing over at Nurse Susan, who was glaring over her spectacles with her arms folded, her lips pressed together and one foot tapping somewhere under her starched white skirt.
"She don't think I should be out of bed." He hooked a thumb toward the statue-still woman in white, from whom disapproval radiated in waves.
"Sheriff, if I lay abed there any longer I'm a-gonna grow roots!"
"Excuse me a moment," I said civilly. "You just stand fast and hold that wall up." I stepped over to Nurse Susan.
"How is he?" I asked quietly.
Nurse Susan turned her glare from him to me, shaking her head. "Sheriff, you men are all alike! Hard headed, contrary and not willing to lay still and heal up! It's a wonder any of you ever make it past childhood!"
"That's beside the point," I said in a gentle and reassuring tone. "Tell me about him."
Susan threw up her hands in surrender. "He should be in bed but he's a grown man, Sheriff. If he wants to be up and about, you can expect him to be dizzy, probably weak, and if he screws up one side of his face or it looks all slack on one side and his speech gets slurred like a drunkard's, rein him up and dig a hole, for he'll be bleeding inside his head again."
I blinked, this time in surprise at the sharp edge of her frankness.
"Now what business do you have making that poor wife of yours work? You know she's within a month of delivering! She should be home with her feet up and servant girls to take care of the work! No, no, you can't be troubled with a mere woman, you have to go save the world!" Susan threw her hands in the air again and turned suddenly, hard heels loud on the polished floor as she stomped off, muttering.
"Well howdy do," I said softly, and turned to the young fellow who was doing his best to keep the wall from falling down on the both of us.
"Young fellow, if you're of a mind to eat, I could use some more coffee. Good stuff, none of that ground chicory."
We made our way through the deepening snow, stopping a few times, but not for long: he wasn't dressed for the weather, and I ended up wrapping my coat around his shoulders for the last couple hundred yards before we got to the Jewel.
By then I was ready to get inside where it was warm.

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Linn Keller 2-16-09

 

Jacob's Appaloosa had a belly full of fire, and Jacob was in a mind to enjoy it, for he too was young and full of sass and vinegar.
Once the Appaloosa tired of trying to sling the rider toward the zenith, he shivered and come down on all fours and trotted as pretty as you please past the front door of their fine stone house, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Annette watched from the kitchen window, one hand to her lips, eyes big: it never failed to amaze -- or frighten -- her how horse and rider could have such a contest of wills first thing of a morning. She'd seen the Wild West shows in Denver, she'd seen the bucking broncos and the young men who rode them, dashing fellows with smooth manners who somehow ended up with a local girl on their arm ...
Annette shivered. After watching Jacob's mount buck, swap ends, sunfish, crow-hop and pull some moves for which she had no names a'tall, she decided those fellows in the Wild West show were rank amateurs, and her husband could put them all to shame!
Jacob was dressed for a day's work: as a deputy, he might have occasion to head out in the county: his father preferred a suit, but Jacob preferred the plainer garb of a working man.
The only real difference between his attire and any other horseman of the area was probably that his clothes were cleaner and his boots shined.
The Appaloosa had a good long-legged pace, a nice easy gait that ate the miles: Jacob had long ago appreciated his stallion's speed, endurance, and especially that nice easy gait.
He'd ridden an Ap that had a gait that was smooth as a wash board.
He wasted no time trading that mount on something better.
Jacob's eyes were busy as he rode. He'd learned as much as he could from Charlie MacNeil and the infrequent visits of old Hiram, the mountain man. He never had much of a chance to study Bigfoot Wallace, though he would like to have, and he found himself wishing that fellow too would come back around sometime.
Jacob grinned. He'd known many good souls in his young life, and he recognized the gift each of them had been to him.
Annette had fed him well, as befits a wife her husband. He'd joked once with his father that she'd fixed him a dozen eggs, a pound of bacon, a loaf of bread with good fresh churned butter, a slab of back strap and a pot of coffee, and that took the edge off his hunger until she could fix a regular meal.
He'd been kidding, but not by much.
He rode steadily, the Appaloosa's sharp shod hooves cutting through the snow and lacking none for traction.
"Apple-horse," Jacob said aloud, "you doing okay?"
Apple-horse blew and shook his head, a great plume of steam gusting from his nostrils.
Jacob saw Firelands in the distance and grinned.
He'd seen his folks not four or five days ago.
It'll be good to see them again, he thought.

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