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Linn Keller 3-3-10

 

Daisy's lips were pressed hard together, making a thin, red line: disapproval fairly crackled from the woman and her hands moved with precision, if not with gentleness.
Little Sean sat solemnly as his Ma ministered to his Pa: the heavy shot had cut a bloody groove in his side, missing the wall of muscle, just enough to bleed and make a mess -- "And me havin' t' get th' blood out," Daisy scolded eyes snapping. "Men! Y'always think of yersel' an' what o' the women? What o' puir Esther, she that th' Sheriff threw down i' the snow like a dishrag?"
"Daisy me dear, he didna' throw th' woman --"
"I heard what happened!" Daisy wrung out the rag, sloshed it about in the warm water and wiped a trickle of fresh blood from the wound. "Now hold still, this'll no' feel good!"
Daisy wiped a black, smelly ointment into the groove and pressed a clean, folded cloth to it.
Sean's teeth clicked together and he looked sharply at Little Sean.
Little Sean looked solemnly back at his Pa.
Daisy pulled Sean's trousers up two inches, back where they normally rode: the pad was held firmly against the anointed injury.
"There now. That'll hold. Do you now go change an' get int' a clean pair, I'll soak these in salt watter to get the blood out." Daisy dropped the cloth in the bloody dishpan, then turned and seized Sean's face between both her hands.
"You damned Irishman," she whispered, her eyes brimming, "if ye get yersel' killed I'll never speak to you again!" -- and so saying, Daisy planted her mouth on Sean's, and Little Sean blinked, for the fierceness of his Ma's words were completely belied by the length of their embrace.

The Sheriff grimaced as Dr. Flint probed the wound in his thigh, and Dr. Greenlees explored the discolored splotch on his chest with practiced fingers.
"This won't feel good," Dr. Greenlees murmured, wiping the mouth of the wound with carbolic.
"Tell me somethin' I don't know," the Sheriff gasped.
"Would you like something for pain?" Dr. Greenlees turned, picked up a shining-sharp scalpel.
"I ain't in pain yet!"
Dr. John Greenlees shook his head, giving Jacob a pitying look.
"Son," he said sadly, "has anyone ever told you just how hard headed your father is?"
Jacob did his level best to look innocent.
"No, sir," he said, blinking.
Dr. Greenlees sighed.
"Son," Dr. Greenlees said, tilting his head and adjusting the acetylene operating lamp, "has anyone ever told you you'll go to hell for lying?"
"No, sir," Jacob said with the same careful innocence.
Dr. Greenlees made his initial incision as Dr. Flint withdrew the first of three heavy shot from the first hole in the Sheriff's thigh. The sound of the shot dropping into the metal pan was loud in the surgery.

Daisy fed her men and tucked Little Sean into bed, then she came to Big Sean and tucked him in as well.
"Will ye no' come to bed, then?" Big Sean asked quietly.
Daisy's scissors sheared through cloth in careful, precise curves, the sound of steel whispering through woven cotton almost loud in the nighttime hush.
Daisy cut carefully, sewed precisely, and stuffed her little creation with scraps of cloth too small to be otherwise useful: carefully, precisely, she embrodered eyes and a smiling little red mouth on the rag doll.
There was little Daisy did not hear in their little town, and she'd heard about Angela's last barefoot visit to the still form in the hand-rubbed cherry box.

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Linn Keller 11-22-07   Jacob and I took turns out back, splitting wood and hauling in kindling and fire wood, for the days were chll and the nights more so, and a November mist had started:

And that, loyal readers, is the original story of the town and people of Firelands as told by a variety of folks over a long space of time both modern and old. I hope that you have enjoyed our small e

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Mr. Box 3-3-10

 

The sudden events at the cemetery had people abuzz when I reopened the Silver Jewel. That brought the whole crowd in at once. It seemed nobody wanted to be out of the know and this was the place where the information would be. It was "I saw this...." or "I saw that..." and "So and so was by me...." or "I couldn't really see..."
If I hadn't have been there myself I would have been totally confused within the hour! It was a shame about the Adams' family's loss but it couldn't have been avoided. Things settled down to more normal around the Silver Jewel after a few hours and people began drifting on home.

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Linn Keller 3-7-10

 

Our fine stone Municipal Building also hosted the county court.
I'd thought it was plenty big when we built it but like anything else it turned out barely adequate when we were done and I figured we might want to tear it down and build bigger, but wiser heads than mine decided otherwise.
Esther, bless her, offered me a cripple stick to walk with.
"You'll look dignified," she said.
"You'll look dapper. You'll look dashing!"
I hung it up on the gun rack behind her double gun, then I bent down and kissed her.
"My dear, thank you," I murmured, running my arm around the small of her back. "Should I need it I will surely use it!"
It took a little bit for speech to become possible, for I was intent on communicating other matters.
Misfortune will do that. I have seen couples lose a child and it sundered their marriage: I have seen others lose a child and it made their stronger: ours was most definitely not sundered, nor even shivered.
Esther laid a gentle hand on my cheek.
"Mr. Keller?"
"Yes, Mrs. Keller?"
"Mr. Keller, you are a hard headed man."
"And you, Mrs. Keller, are a beautiful woman, and I wish to show you off!"
Esther took my elbow and I settled my Stetson on my head.
Angela was seated in her little chair in the parlor, stroking the yarn hair of her new rag doll with a quick little forefinger: when she saw me settling my hat on my head she came to her feet and strutted over to us, looking up expectantly.
I reached down and snatched her up, surprised at how solid and strong and how much heavier she'd become -- "What have you been eating, child, anvils and scrap metal?" I asked, raising her up until her curls just, just touched the ceiling overhead.
Angela giggled, her eyes squinting with delight, and she reached up and patted at the ceiling.
I brought her down and brushed the curls from her forehead with my finger, then I kissed her forehead. She seized me about the neck and the Stetson parted company from its perch.
I hugged our little girl for a long, long moment, feeling her warmth, feeling her wiggle, feeling her ... alive.
I lowered her to the floor, slowly, until her little flat soled shoes just touched the hook rug underfoot.
"Do it again, Daddy!" Angela begged, bouncing on her toes and clapping her pink hands.
My leg ached abominably and my chest was calling me seven kinds of a fool. Matter of fact it was calling me worse than that. Doc told me I was the luckiest fellow to stand in shoe leather that day: they'd pulled about eight heavy shot out of me, shot the size of a pistol ball: one had managed to miss lung and something he called a Sub Clavian Artery but it had cracked a rib, another ball and cracked another rib and tore up some meat and the others Dr. Flint managed to fetch out of my leg by virtue of patience, effort and finally a couple slugs of Old Stump Blower.
I had the pain killer, not Dr. Flint. He was not a drinking man.
In that moment, I most certainly was.
When he was done he looked at my pale countenance and the beads of sweat standing out on my forehead.
He just set there looking at me for the longest time.
Finally I broke the silence.
"I know," I muttered, "I'm a sissy."
He and Dr. Greenlees looked at one another and began to laugh, shaking their heads.
Can't imagine why.
Esther stayed home with Angela and I went on to court as I had to swear my deposition about the shooting at the grave yard. Fortunately there were plenty of folks who could attest to everything that led up to it, and to what happened in the moment itself.
I hadn't known about Adams in the Jewel. Had I known I might have --
I shook my head.
Maybe, mighta, coulda.
"I have no use for maybes," I whispered.
The shot had hit my right thigh, and a good thing.
I could still get into the saddle.
It didn't feel terrible good and my chest agreed in spades but I got into the saddle.
It wasn't until I was half way to Firelands that I realized that golden mare never so much as offered to snap at me.

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Linn Keller 3-7-10

 

Esther and Bridget rearranged furniture in the parlor, even to the point of changing curtains, moving pictures and trading lamps with another room.
Angela watched, silent, her newest rag doll comfortably squeezed in the bend of her left elbow.
So far she had three new dolls, each in a dress of a different color: though her Mommy had delighted in the selection and suggested she carry this doll with this dress, or that doll when she wore that dress, Angela seemed to pick a doll at random.
Currently her burgundy velvet dress contrasted pleasantly with the green silk her rag doll wore.
Angela never considered the irony of a rag doll wearing silk; she accepted the world around her at face value. There were many things beyond her understanding: how her Daddy got water out of a hole in the ground, when she, Angela, knew water fell from the sky as rain; how her Mommy could make swift and magical passes with a cloth and with a needle and thread, and in but moments hold up a garment: how Bridget could take flour and water and a bowl and a big wooden spoon and make a cake out of it.
Angela was satisfied these were constants, mysteries, in her universe: she may figure them out, or they may be explained to her, but she accepted them, just as she accepted that snow was yet outside, that the sky was occasionally blue, when the lead-colored clouds didn't cover the torquoise firmament.
Angela remembered a similar hurried overhaul of the room, before Joseph's cofffin was brought in for display.
Joseph wasn't in that waxy body in the coffin, but Angela knew it had some connection with the laughing, wiggling little brother she'd known, so she'd put her rag doll in the box, trusting that somehow it would get to where it was needed. Cause and effect were not lost on the child; she learned at this tender age that to give was to get, not just in the feeling that it was the right thing to do, but in a physical reward.
Angela rubbed her nose in the rag doll's braided yarn hair and giggled.

Digger saw the Sheriff emerge from the fine new municipal building, he and MacNeil and tall slender Jacob and Jackson Cooper, making the three other lawmen look spindly by comparison: Digger looked at the sheet in in his hand and shook his head.
"No accountin' for taste," he muttered, then looked over at the coffin.
It was a special order.
He'd embalmed old man Adams, then sealed him in an air tight, tin lined box: he was to be shipped back East, back to his family's graveyard.
His widow had been in earlier and had declared that she had no wish to be buried beside such a man, that she would have him freighted back East where men like him belong.
She'd specified the lettering for the tomb stone and paid Digger cash money to see that it was done, then she turned her back on the funeral parlor with nary a look at her dead husband's face.
Digger looked at the paper he was holding, then he turned and spoke softly to the waiting casket.
"Mister," he said, "I hope I never get a wife like yours."
The paper went into an envelope, the envelope into a flat metal holder on the box's lid.
On the sheet was the lettering for old man Adams's tomb stone.
"Jerez Joseph Adams," it read, with year of birth and year of death: then three words, and three words only:
"Husband.
"Father.
"Failure."
Digger shook his head and turned to look out the ornately-frosted window at the cold street without.

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Linn Keller 3-8-10

 

Strong hands seized my coat; I could not have escaped if I'd wanted.
"Easy, Soapy," he said. "I've got ye."
His breath smelt of stale tobacco and beer, he needed a bath, but his hands were sure and steady.
Had it not been for this fellow I would have hit the board walk and probably skint up my leg some at the least.
I'd dismounted well enough but from them shot going into my right thigh, and the good Dr. Flint fishing around in there with a steam crane and whatever else he was stirring around in my muscle meat, that thigh was still just a little bit unreliable.
I could swing the leg over the saddle in good enough shape -- I near to twisted my back off using muscles that weren't meant to swing a man's leg -- but I got aboard in good shape and that mare's gait was as butter smooth as her Conquistador ancestry had ever been, but the dismount wasn't somethin' I was particular proud of.
I pretty well dragged that leg across her hind quarters and when I come down my weight hit that leg and it folded up and if my old gadfly hadn't been in easy reach I would have been way less than dignified.
"You ain't lookin' good, Soapy," he said quietly, so just we two could hear.
"I'm a'right," I rasped.
"Yeah, you ain't a good liar neither." He eased his grip on my coat and I put most of my weight on my good left leg.
"Obliged," I said with a curt nod.
"Hell, it was worth it," he chuckled, rubbing the side of his jaw. "You was kind enough to teach me some manners here a couple years ago, I just had to return the favor!"
I nodded, then turned to dally the reins around the hitch rail.
The Sun-Witch snapped at me and her lips left a little slobber on the back of my knuckles.
I rubbed her nose. "You're just as sweet as your Mama, you know that," I said in an I-don't-trust-you voice, and fearlessly fed her one of the last of the ugly, dried, almost moldy apples I had left.
Her ears came forward and if ever a horse could look pleased, she did.
"Soapy, how many times did you git shot?"
"Which time?" I turned, lurched a step, seized the porch rail in front of the Sheriff's office. My jaw locked shut and I frowned.
"Over'n the grave yard."
"Hunnert."
"Ah." A wise and knowing nod.
Something wasn't right and I bit down hard on breakfast threatening to come back up. "Had to get Esther behint me."
"So you took hers."
"Hm." I grunted, nodding. "He near to kilt my little girl."
"Yeah, I'd heard." He tilted his hat back, scratched briskly at thick reddish-brown hair. "She okay?"
"Yeah." My stomach settled down and I dared hazard the lengthy response.
"Say, Soapy--" he shifted, not entirely comfortable, for men can torment one another and pull each other's leg and insult one another to their face, but sometimes an act of kindness doesn't come so easy -- "Soapy, could you give her this for me?"
He reached into his coat and pulled out a rag doll.
I blinked.
"Well I'd be damned," I said softly. "Thank you. I can do that."
He grunted and ducked his head and I could see his ears had started to redden up and he turned and walked away, quick-like.
I bent a little and rubbed my thigh and my hand came away wet.
I sighed, and I swore, and I untied the Sun-Witch.
"Come on, girl," I muttered. "Let's go see Doc. I'm leakin'."
I got into the saddle and had to lean waaaay over to get that leg over and finally reached over and grabbed me a hand full of trouser material and dragged it over.
The Sun-Witch pointed her nose towards the hospital and I patted her neck.
"Time was, girl, when I'd cut that open and drain out the corruption myself." I leaned over a little, trying to find a comfortable position.
"We'll let Doc handle it today."
I managed to get another twenty foot down the street before my stomach rebelled and I lost breakfast.

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Linn Keller 3-8-10

 

Emma Cooper's cheeks were bright red, as bright as her eyes, and her laugh floated behind her in the clear, cold Colorado air.
She kicked the snow off her shoes and shivered as she came into the welcome warmth of her kitchen.
Jackson Cooper had just closed the back door behind him. He'd taken out ashes and set the empty tin bucket down beside the stove where he kept it.
Jackson Cooper was a sizable man and a man of considerable strength, a man who'd known the rough side of life and the rough people that made it that way: he was a man who'd fought and fought hard when the need arose, and he was a bad man to cross.
For all that, he was a gentleman, and Emma Cooper, his wife and the town's schoolmarm, had to receive most of the credit for this salutary condition.
Jackson Cooper could still blush like a schoolboy in her presence: now, in the quiet of their home, his expression was gentle and almost shy.
He never knew how Emma melted inside when he looked at her like that, for Emma knew his strength, and delighted in it.
Jackson Cooper took a long moment to appreciate his wife's beauty.
Though he could recite Shakespeare and the classics, though he knew most of Paradise Lost by memory and could speak it in ringing oratory to the open air, he felt like a dirt kicking kid whenever he tried to speak the language of passion with his wife.
Want-to warred with bashful, until his mouth was forced open by the pressure of his words:
"Mrs. Cooper," he said, "the cold does look good on you!"
Emma's laugh was music in their kitchen: she was solid and warm in his arms, and he picked her up, the way he always did, and she felt the shivering rumble of his own chuckle through the material of his vest.
Jackson Cooper set his wife down, gently, carefully, and stroked the curve of her ear with gentle fingers.
"Mrs. Cooper," he said, "do you really feel like fixing supper I'll take that as a no might I take you to the Jewel tonight?" -- all in one breath.
Emma gave her husband a look of profound relief. "Bless you," she said, and Jackson Cooper nodded.
"The grey still harnessed up?"
Emma Cooper nodded, eyes bright and shining.
"Good." Jackson Cooper plucked his hat from its peg and shrugged into his coat. "You hungry?"
"Oh, yes!" Emma Cooper took her husband's big arm and leaned happily against him.
Jackson Cooper paused as they reached the front door.
"Mrs. Cooper?" he asked carefully.
"Yes, Mr. Cooper?"
"Mrs. Cooper, you are a fine looking woman."

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Linn Keller 3-9-10

 

Jacob heard his father's easy voice, talking as he often did, there in the little log fortress that was their Sheriff's office.
"There's always some dim wit who'll want to try you," he said. "Whether you're the new Sheriff, the new town Marshal or the new company commander, some stupid sort will want to try you and you'd better be able to whip him fast, hard and nasty."
"Yes, sir," Jacob had replied.
The Sheriff had leaned forward in his chair, the spring squeaking a little under him as it always did. He leaned his forearms on the desk top and looked levelly at his son.
"You've got to whip them fast and hard and with absolutely no mercy, because they're not the only ones you've got to deal with. There are people watching who will judge you on your response. If you're the man in charge, you've got to set that nail with a hammer and you've got to set it deep and with absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that if they cross you, you'll drive them into the ground like a fence post."
"Yes, sir."
All this seared through Jacob's mind in the same moment that he tasted copper and he knew he was going to have to put his father's lesson to use.
One fellow had pulled a knife on another and allowed as he was going to gut him like a fish, and Jacob had told him loudly and clearly and in a voice that fairly rang off the buildings on either side, "Drop the knife, mister!"
"Yeah?" came the sneering reply. "You gonna make me?"
Jacob unbuttoned his coat. "You're going to jail," he declared.
"You'll die tryin'," came the reply.
Jacob did not hesitate. There was empty street behind the fellow, there was just twenty feet between them and there was an uplifted blade in the man's hand.
The fellow took two long, quick steps toward Jacob.
Jacob fired, fired again.
His first shot went through the man's hand and through his guts, the second shot went a little higher.
Silence, shocked silence claimed the street as the fellow collapsed to his knees, then to the ground, a red stain crawling out from under him, turning the snow an incarnidined scarlet.
Jacob took a long breath, then pulled the pistol back and looked left, looked right, turning a little to see all that was beside and behind him.
Satisfied, he punched out two empties, loaded two rounds and set the hammer nose between two rims. Unlike most Westerners he did not keep his hammer down on an empty chamber: rather, he kept it down between two rims, affording him six beans in the wheel.
He holstered the revolver without looking.
Jackson Cooper, he knew, would be there very shortly: nothing untoward happened in town but that the Marshal was not on top of it: he was satisfied with his action and satisfied the law would see it that way.
"Not bad, kid," a voice drawled. "Think you're fast enough to take me?"
Jacob looked to the right.
A man slouched against a post on the boardwalk, casually lighting a good five-cent cigar.
Jacob scanned quickly around left, around right: his gut told him this was trouble and he wanted no part of trouble. He was not a fool, to seek it out: his Pa had taught him young that trouble enough comes to a man without his let-be to go looking.
"I have no quarrel with you," Jacob said carefully, enunciating his words with an unusual precision.
"I don't have a quarrel with you either, kid," came the reply. "I just want to know if you're fast enough to take me."
"Don't make us find out."
"Oh? That sounds like a challenge." The stranger pulled a leather poke out of a coat pocket. "My associates are willing to bet that I am faster than you."
"Your associates can go to hell."
Jacob took a long look at the man.
He was well dressed, unusually so; his suit was tailored, his silk tie precisely knotted, his hat brushed, his boots immaculate: no one would mistake the man for a dandy, but none could deny that he wore the best there was.
"Are you afraid?" he goaded. "Calling a man a coward is not good for the reputation."
"Then I won't call you a coward."
Jacob saw movement to his left; he took a quick glance.
Charlie was beside the Jewel with a rifle.
Jacob's scalp tightened.
Considerable pressure had just been lifted from his young shoulders: Charlie would see that none on that side of the street would bushwhack him. It was not unknown to capture a lawman's attention and hold it while someone else maneuvered into ambush position, for the purpose of murder.
"You won't call me a coward," the man said slowly. "Why, that's generous of you." His tone was sneering and he spoke with an insulting leisure.
Jacob made no reply.
The fellow stepped off the board walk and onto the packed snow as if he were stepping on something unclean.
"I think I want to find out."
"No you don't."
"Oh, but I do," he said, his voice smooth, oily. "How shall we proceed? Back to back, ten paces and fire?"
"A contest."
"And how would you contest me?" The man walked slowly, steadily toward Jacob.
"Three silver dollars," Jacob replied. "One more step and you're dead."
The fellow halted, smiling a little.
Jacob threw himself to the right, firing as he fell.
Something tugged at his coat sleeve and he hit the ground, rolled once: belly down on the cold snow, left arm thrust toward the stranger, he fired again as the man fell backwards.
The stranger's second shot went well over the comb of the roof behind him.
Charlie held position, eyes busy: there was no threat on the far side of the street, so if there were an ambush, it would have to be from this side --
The Jewel's fine, etched-glass-paneled doors opened and Charlie swung his rifle up, the front sight sharp and clear in the buckhorn notch.
Two men stepped out, unaware of the death that looked at them through an octagon barrel: one shook his head, the other's shoulders sagged, and they returned to the Jewel's warm interior.
Jacob looked up at the sound of hurried hoofbeats.
Jackson Cooper was pounding into town: his mount was nearly the size of the Sheriff's beloved Sam-horse, the plow horse he'd ridden into town so many years ago: Jackson Cooper had hunted long and hard for a mount big enough to pack his sizable carcass, and found one, and now he was just coming to the end of the street, and at a considerable velocity.
Jacob stood, reloaded his revolver: he looked around, left, then right, and holstered his Colt, then walked over to the well-dressed dead man.
Jackson Cooper dismounted, laid a hand on the slender deputy's shoulder.
"What happened here?" he asked in a voice that echoed up from the depths of a stone-lined well.

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Linn Keller 3-10-10

 

"See here! You can't do that!"
Jackson Cooper's response was to seize the man between the shoulder blades, twising up a good hand full of coat and hoisting him bodily from his chair.
Jacob's eyes were a cold, clear shade of river ice: the other man shrank from him, his expression uncomfortable, his drink forgotten on the table before him.
"You put him up to it," Jacob said quietly, his voice as cold and expressionless as his eyes. "You're guilty as he was."
"All we did was make a friendly wager!" was the protesting reply: it did not impress the two lawmen in the least.
"We'll just let His Honor the Judge figure it out," Jackson Cooper replied. "Are you gonna stand up or do I pack you too?"
The second fellow fairly leaped to his feet, drawing a step away from the silent, unmoving Jacob.
Jackson Cooper eased the first fellow back down, releasing his coat.
With his feet back on terra firma, the first fellow brushed briskly at his neatly-trimmed mustache and pulled at his coat, trying vainly to tug out the wrinkles and restore his lost dignity.
"You killed that man," he shot at Jacob. "How does it feel to be a killer?"
Jacob's eyes were as pale as his father's.
"Mister," he said in a voice as quiet and as chilled as melting snow, "I honestly don't feel a thing."

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Linn Keller 3-11-10

 

"Didn't I just see you?" the Sheriff joked.
Morning Star's obsidian eyes were unreadable.
Nurse Susan's eyes, on the other hand, were troubled.
Troubled or not, her hands were quick and efficient as she assembled the surgical tray.
Dr. Flint assessed the wound, his hands busy: he felt further up the leg.
He wasn't surprised to find swollen nodes: indeed, had they not been swollen he would have thought it most unusual, and probably alarming.
"Sheriff," he said, "you are not going to like what I must do."
"I don't like it already," the Sheriff muttered, then coughed. "What's on your mind?"
Dr. Flint's eyes smiled a little, though the rest of his face didn't.
"I'm not thinking of amputation."
"Good." The Sheriff laid his head back. "It's easier to take off than to put back on."
"You realize if it had hit the bone, I would probably have amputated."
"I don't deal in what-ifs." The Sheriff's voice was flat, efffectively shutting out any argument.
Dr. Flint said something in Navajo to Morning Star, who nodded and left the room.
Dr. Flint picked up a shining, sharp scalpel.
"I'll have to open this, you know that."
The Sheriff nodded.
"Do it."
Nurse Susan saw his knuckles turn white as he gripped the sides of the bed.

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Charlie MacNeil 3-11-10

 

Charlie strolled into the Jewel, Winchester at his side, three fingers hooked through the lever. He had emptied the chamber, but a flick of his wrist would cycle the action and the rifle would be ready for action again. His cold gaze took in the scene before him; Jacob's words told him all he needed to know about what he'd missed of the confrontation. He strolled up to the mustachioed fellow and disdain dripped from his voice. "Mister, I will double damn guarantee you that a pretty boy like you ain't gonna enjoy the territorial prison..."

"Prison? Why would you even say such a thing?" the gent demanded while Jackson Cooper smiled grimly. "Who are you, anyway?

"US Marshal Charlie MacNeil, retired, at your service," Charlie rumbled. The man's face paled as Charlie went on, "You instigated the killing of that man out yonder that Digger is loading up, and put him up to challenging Deputy Keller here. I believe that makes you an accessory to murder, and to assault on a peace officer. The Judge ain't gonna be happy with you. You'll be lucky to see daylight for a long time."

"But, but, but..." the man stammered. "Isn't there anything I can do?"

"You can go with these two gentlemen to the jail," Charlie finished. He turned his back on the pair and walked to the door, opening the door and standing to one side, rifle at port arms. "Marshal Cooper? Ready?"

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Linn Keller 3-13-10

 

"Mam-maaa," Sarah said in the annoyed tone of a young girl just feeling the first confusing surge of womanhood, "Brindle is a very nice mule!"
"Yes, dear, I'm sure Brindle is a very nice mule," Bonnie said patiently, "but a young lady of quality should have a suitable ... conveyance." Bonnie hoped she'd chosen the correct adjective. "Something more suited to her station."
"My station?" Sarah asked, going from annoyed to puzzled.
Bonnie sighed and placed a gentle arm around her growing daughter's shoulders. "Sarah, Mr. Smith has taken a liking to Brindle, and I think it would be a very nice gesture if you would allow him to purchase the mule from you."
Sarah looked equally lost, and confused.
"Brindle is a very good mule," she said slowly, "but Mr. Smith is a very nice man." She looked up at her Mama. "Do you think he really likes Brindle?"
"Yes, dear," Bonnie said soothingly. "I think he does."
Sarah nodded slowly, then smiled.
"Brindle surprised me," she admitted. "I never knew he was a racing mule until he started ... racing." She giggled at the memory of Brindle leaning into a hard turn, rounding the corner where the alley beside the Jewel corners with the main street, pounding up the street with a joyful HAAAWWW, Sarah clinging to the saddle in something akin to sheer, unadulterated terror ... and absolute, overwhelming delight!
"Your Papa and I talked long into the night after you sold your pony and wagon," Bonnie said, sweeping her skirts under her and seating herself gracefully at the kitchen table.
Sarah, too, descended into a chair with the same ladylike grace of her Mama.
Like the Sheriff, the family Rosenthal had a small staff; this was the rule, and not the exception, in this era: the quietly smiling maid was hired for her efficiency and for her ability to become invisible at a moment's notice: Sarah and Bonnie continued to converse, even as tea cups, saucers, hot tea and small cakes descended to the spotless tablecloth.
Sarah looked at her Mama, her eyes still bright, but the softer eyes that Bonnie remembered so well: gone were the hard reflections, the angry glare that had begun their conversation.
"You talked long into the night?" Sarah repeated. It was a trick she'd learned from her Uncle Linn, repeating what had just been said. It helped her clarify statements, it helped elicit more information, and Sarah secretly delighted in knowing it made her sound more adult.
Bonnie, however, regarded her daughter's immaculate manners, her careful speech, the manner in which she carried herself, with a degree of ... well, of loss: she could see her little girl growing, steadily, becoming less what she was, and becoming ... well, not a stranger, but somebody ... different.
"Your Papa ..." Bonnie shifted in her seat, suddenly uncomfortable; their maid had left the room, and the two of them were alone with their conversation.
"Your Papa was having a difficult moment." Bonnie replaced her tea cup, carefully, precisely, on the saucer, and Sarah saw with surprise the tremor in her Mama's slender hand.
Bonnie leaned toward her daughter and took Sarah's hands in her own.
"A Papa has trouble realizing his little girl is growing up," she explained. "It's something that all Papas go through." She smiled sadly. "Mine did, and it was hard for him to realize that his little girl was becoming a woman."
Sarah blinked, nodding carefully.
"Your Papa had never considered that you would ever be anything but his little girl." Bonnie bit her bottom lip the way she did when she was a little nervous.
"When you came out of the barn with Butter and Jelly that night -- the night it caught fire, and you got our horses out -- your Papa saw you as the woman you will become, for the very first time.
"He had never seen you that way before.
"When you" -- Bonnie smiled -- "when you independently sold that gaudy little wagon and that hateful pony" -- Sarah blinked, surprised, and Bonnie laughed. "Oh, yes, it was such a hateful little beast! I hate ponies!"
Sarah and her Mama laughed together.
Bonnie sighed and leaned back in her chair, sitting upright again, and so did Sarah.
"Your Papa will always think of you as his little girl."
Sarah understood, or believed she understood, what her Mama was saying.
She swallowed and looked down at her hands, the back up at her Mama, and her eyes were bright again.
"But Mama," she said hesitantly, "he will always be Papa!"
Sarah stood up and embraced her Mama, and Bonnie held her daughter, who was shaking a little with the effort of navigating the treacherous shoals and currents of thoughts and feelings that were so very new to her.
"Yes, Sweets," she whispered, "he will always be Papa."

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Linn Keller 3-14-10

 

"Get into my coat yonder" -- I nodded toward the hall tree on the other side of the room -- "and take that to Angela."
"Yes, sir."
Jacob's boot heels were brisk and businesslike on the sterile, polished floor.
My gut told me there was something more than just seeing his old man being worked on, so I took a noisy sip of the Daine boys' anesthetic and waited until my firstborn was turned toward me again.
"I know that look," I said as the bright fires of Kentucky corn seared its way down my swaller pipe and detonated in a bright explosion somewhere north-northeast of my belt buckle. "What happened?"
Jacob was looking long and thoughtfully at that rag doll.
I turned my head a little. "Jacob?"
Nurse Susan frowned at me as she packed something into the furrow Doc had sliced into my leg. I had no idea what the stuff was and I didn't particular want to know. Matter of fact I was doing my best not to look at it.
Jacob blinked and came toward me a couple steps.
"Sir, I had to tend to a matter," he said slowly, his words measured, but ... confident.
That told me whatever transpired, was justified.
I took another three swallows of Kentucky sunshine and handed the tin cup to Morning Star.
The who-hit-John was starting to work. My leg didn't hurt near so bad now.
Matter of fact I couldn't feel my fingers much.
Jacob came over to the left side of the bed, drew up a chair.
"Do not cough or sneeze," Nurse Susan said sternly. "If you must spit, please go outside."
Jacob's eyes wrinkled up in the corners, his smile spreading very slowly over the rest of his face, and I could tell he was debating a smart aleck reply to Doc's right hand caregiver.
To his credit, he held his tongue on the matter.
He turned to me as Morning Star ran the handle of the tin cup around my finger and my hand closed automatically on the vessel.
"Sir, you kept Mother safe," Jacob said, and the tone in his voice was ... well, different.
I nodded.
"Sir, you could have been killed or worse. You could have lost your leg."
I was feeling relaxed, dangerously so: I knew Old Stump Blower loosened a man's hold on the reins of his good sense, but I hazarded a careful reply:
"Didn't happen."
"No, sir," Jacob agreed, then he reached over and laid a firm hand on mine.
"Thank you, sir," he whispered hoarsely.
I winked at my fine, tall son, surprised that I could see him more clearly with one eye than with two.
Dr. Flint came over and leaned over Nurse Susan's shoulder and said something ... I'm not sure what, but I figured it had to be Dr. Flint, because both of 'em looked just like him and I realized the extract of fermented grain was reaching its full strength.
"Do 'er now, Doc," I said with a surprising strength. "Just don't saw my leg off!"
I'm not sure quite what the man did at that point but it felt like someone was pouring liquid fire into my leg.
I was almost drunk enough not to care.
As-is, I dropped that tin cup and took a good two hand hold of that-there mattress and the frame under it: I shoved my head back into the pillow and locked my teeth together, for my son was there, and damned if I was going to holler as long as my boy could see me!

Dr. Flint's hand was warm and firm on Jacob's shoulder.
"Has anyone ever told you," he said gently, "just how hard headed and contrary your father is?"
Jacob nodded, smiling a little.
"Yes, sir. My mother has made that observation a number of times."
Dr. Flint's hand patted Jacob's shoulder lightly. "In my professional medical opinion," he chuckled, "your mother is right!"
"Yes, sir." Jacob's eyes were troubled as they regarded his father's sweat-beaded face.
"He'll rest now. We'll give him plenty of water. It's the best we can do for how he's going to feel after that much of the Daine boys' product."
"Yes, sir."
Dr. Flint went around to the other side of the bed. Laying a hand on the Sheriff's forehead, then his cheek, he felt the pulse at the temple, the wrist; he pressed an experimental thumbnail lightly into a nailbed, released: satisfied, he nodded.
"Jacob," he said, "the one good thing your father can do for the next few months is ride."
"Sir?" Jacob's head tilted a little to the side and one eyebrow raised, for all the world like his old man.
Dr. Flint nodded. "That will work those leg muscles and promote their healing. It will crowd out any pus pockets or infection that tries to set in. It will get him out in the good air, and it will give him a feeling of accomplishment."
Jacob nodded. He knew how important it was for a man to feel useful, and a big part of that was taking on a task and solving it.
"By the way, how is your wife?"
"Fine, sir!" Jacob's grin was broad now, and his eyes shone. "She fair to glows!"
Dr. Flint nodded. "Has she much of a belly yet?"
"No, sir, not much."
"Once she does --" Dr. Flint crooked a finger and gave a conspiratorial wink.
Jacob rose and accompanied the good physician into the waiting room, where Dr. Flint reached into a closet and pulled out a corn broom.
He broke off a single straw.
"Put a straw cross ways on the mound of her belly," he said. "If it turns like a compass needle and runs up and down with the body, it's a girl. If it turns cross wise to the body, it's a boy!"
Jacob nodded. "Thank you, sir!" he said quietly.
Jacob's eyes shifted towards the closed doors, and Dr. Flint knew the younger man's thoughts were with his father.
"Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, we havn't told Pa yet --" Jacob stopped, cleared his throat, then looked at the trim, tall, smooth-muscled Navajo.
"Sir, Annette and I are agreed."
He turned and looked at the closed, dark doors.
"If she has a girl, we're going to name her Dana, same as Pa's little girl, the one he lost right after the War."
Jacob looked at Dr. Flint, and the physician saw grief in their depths.
"If it's a boy, his name is Joseph."

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Linn Keller 3-14-10

 

Little Sean regarded his Ma with solemn eyes.
Something was on the little Irishman's mind.
Daisy smiled at her son, her hands busy with eyes of their own: she changed the little one's diaper with a practiced ease.
Little Sean frowned at his little brother, then reached a tentative finger toward the wiggling, pink skinned creature.
Little Florian Patrick seized Little Sean's exploring finger and crowed with delight.
Daisy looked at Little Sean, and Little Sean looked at his Ma and asked with the innocent sincerity of a child, "Ma? Was I one of those?"
As Little Sean devoured a great slice of pie a few minutes later, he reflected that he would have to ask questions about his little brother more often.

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Linn Keller 3-16-10

 

About the time the Sheriff was gritting his teeth with the effort of saddling his little girl's horse, and sweat-beads were starting to gather on his forehead from the missives of unhappiness his leg was sending, the express messenger looked up in surprise.
He was the only man in the express car: he rode with the strongbox and the day-box, those two safes in which the valuables were transported.
He had the combination to the day-box; it was his job to receive or disburse certain items at certain places, and he did his job with a reliability that had earned him praise and bonuses in the past.
The man was scrupulously honest.
Miz Esther was one big reason.
Honor was a serious matter in the 1880s, a man's word was his bond, his reputation was his livelihood: to lie once was to be branded forever, to steal once was to be forever a thief: over and above this, however, was the memory of intense green eyes, a gloved hand light on his forearm, and the quiet words: "Thank you."
It is said a war was declared for a woman's hand: Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships, not at her royal command, but rather because a man desired her smile: Russel Doyle was not a naval man, nor a commander of any Greek navy: he was an employee of the Z&W, and at the moment he was looking at the door of the express car, surprised.
Russel thought in simple terms.
If he was hungry, he ate; if he was thirsty, he drank; if he was amused, he laughed.
At the moment he was concerned, so he reached for the shotgun.
The pounding from without was louder now, and Russel cocked the left-hand hammer, then the right, and waited.
He knew the Lady Esther had labored up one of the few grades on the run, and the train had slowed; he knew that attempts to rob trains often took advantage of the trains' being slowed by their fight against gravity, and he'd known men to try and board the train for purposes of robbery in the past.
Whoever was trying to get into his express car was having trouble with the door, and that told him this someone was not the conductor.
The only people he expected to see with the train on the move were the conductor and perhaps a porter, bringing him a lunch, though he generally had his own provisions.
Russel drew back behind the corner of the tall safe and waited.
When two men came into the express car, they were met with a cold voice and a command: as both had bandannas over their faces and weapons in hand, neither were there for any honest purpose, and when one raised his hand toward Russel's voice, he countered the argument with an ounce and a half of shot.
In the discussion that followed, hot words were exchanged -- well, it wasn't words that they traded, but the discussion was quite warm and rather intense -- and long story short, two fellows with bandannas failed to win the argument.
Russel stepped out from behind the big safe.
For all intents and purposes, the man was stone deaf: the impact of both barrels of the shotgun, plus the miscellaneous pistol-shots, had rendered his hearing useless, and so he later could not explain why he turned to look behind him.
There was a door at either end of the express car, and another man had come in.
Russel had no time to reload, nor had he another gun to seize, and so he responded in the only way he could: he took two long strides toward the intruder and drove the butt of his shotgun into the man's face, hard.
The third man went down and Russel broke the gun open and shook the empties free of the breech, then dunked two loaded rounds into the chambers and closed he action.
He spent the rest of the trip leaning back against that tall, solid safe, both barrels cocked, and shaking like a sinner at Revival.

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Mr. Box 3-16-10

 

A couple of men came into the Silver Jewel that looked like they had been riding for a good while. About half way down thru their bottle of Redeye they began asking about our sheriff. Then they mentioned they had heard something about him being shot up. I stayed busy serving a few other customers, a beer here and a shot there, but always in earshot of their conversation. It was sounding like they were up to no good and wanting to take advantage of the situation.
"Hey Barkeep! Where can we find this here sheriff?"
"Usually where you least suspect to."
"What kind of answer is that?" one of them snorted.
"The nearest one to the truth!" I told him. "Ain't much goes on here he don't know about."
The longer they drank, the more surly they got. I suggested they get a meal under their belts and be sure and treat the ladies with a little respect. "You've got plenty of time to meet the sheriff."

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Linn Keller 3-16-10

 

I opened one eye.
A pair of solemn hazel eyes looked back at me.
I raised my head off the pillow and opened the other eye.
Angela giggled. "Morning, Daddy," she said in her happy-little-girl voice, and I could not help but smile.
"Morning, Sunshine," I said, gentle-like.
"Daddy, you gonna ride today?" Angela asked, wrapping her arms around herself and twisting left, then right, flaring the skirt of her flannel nightgown as she turned.
I knew what she wanted.
Ever since Santos and Eduardo brought up the Sun-Witch and her foal, Angela had delighted in riding: as a little girl -- well, as a littler girl than she was now -- she would ride standing up behind me with her feet flat on the saddle skirt, clutching my vest or my coat and laughing, and Rey del Sol -- that big golden stallion with the butter-smooth gait -- seemed to pace all the more smoothly, knowing she was there.
When Angela got big enough she could just see over my shoulder she would laugh and shout "Faster, Daddy! Faster!" and Rey del Sol would shove his nose straight out, pin his ears back and run! -- and Angela's laugh would float in the high Colorado air behind us.
Esther made riding skirts for her, and Bonnie made riding dresses and outfits and gave her, and little Angela absolutely loved riding that fancy Mexican saddle that had come with her horsie, and she'd heard me tell Esther that Doc prescribed riding every day to help heal that leg.
I blinked and rubbed my nose.
"Dear heart," I said, "I reckon I'll ride some today, but I'll need a riding partner."
"Yay!" Angela crowed, bouncing on her toes and clapping her hands together, and Bridget looked in the bedroom door, lips pressed together disapprovingly.
"I need to get dressed!" Angela sang as she scampered around the foot of the bed and rushed past Bridget, and I rolled up on one elbow.
"Now will ye be layin' in bed all day or will ye be comin' down for this cold breakfast that used to be nice an' hot?" Bridget scolded, throwing her hands up for emphasis. "I work an' I work hard, I lay out a nice hot breakfast an' fer what? I may as well gi'e it t' someone who'll appreciate it!"
"Bridget," I said, "you are as lovely as you are kindly."
Bridget shook her head, raising hands and eyes to the ceiling. "Now he wastes food an' wants t' chase after a poor girl's virtue! Saint Patrick save me!"
"I'll be right down," I grunted as my ribs reminded me they were unhappy with me.
Bridget muttered her way down the stairs.
By the time I got myself up and dressed I could smell bacon frying and when I got downstairs -- carefully, slowly and kind of stiff legged -- Bridget was just cracking eggs into the skillet.
Angela had taken care of her morning ablutions and gotten dressed and she was sitting at the kitchen table, blinking and looking both innocent and impatient.
I went out back to the kaibo and washed up on my way back.
If I wasn't awake before I washed in that fresh pumped water, I was surely awake after.
I slung the water out of the pan out into the snow and went on inside.
Bridget was just shoveling fried eggs onto warmed plates.
"I said blessing, Daddy," Angela offered as she bit into a strip of bacon.

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Linn Keller 3-18-10

 

If Angela noticed her Daddy muttering, she didn't let on.
In all likelihood she was not noticing anything but the delight in her horsie ride: the Sun-Witch and Bruja paced together as if on parade, heads high, tails streaming, smooth and silky and easy on the backside.
Angela, of course, had no frame of reference: this was the first saddle she'd ever sat, the first horse she'd ever ridden all on her own: Bruja was of racing and fighting blood, but Bruja was also young and staying close to her Mama.
The Sheriff's muttering was a quiet prayer of thanksgiving, for both mounts were of the same blood as the Conquistadors had ridden, bred and bred again until they had the flawless, smooth gait that was known as the paso fino, a name by which they would be known.
For this, the Sheriff was profoundly grateful, and though his jaw was set and his expression taut, his muttered words were addressed to the Eternal, and framed his thanks for that careful breeding.
His carcass definitely appreciated the results of that careful, selective breeding.
They'd stopped at the firehouse and Big Sean admired their mounts, venturing so bold as to stroke the velvety muzzle of Angela's mount.
Of course Bruja snapped at Sean, who laughed and stroked her nose fearlessly.
"Ye're a beauty with a heart to match," he boomed. "Lass, what's her name?"
"Boo-ha," Angela intended to say, but she got excited and it came out more like "Boohicka."
"Bouadiccea!" Sean laughed, throwing his head back and showing fine white teeth beneath his massive black handlebar. "A warrior's name! Well chosen lass! Bouadiccea she is!"
"Boo-dicka?" Angela said tentatively, looking at her Daddy, and the Sheriff winked, and Angela knew that even if it was confusing it would be all right because her Daddy just told her so.
They paced on up the street to the Jewel.
The Sheriff's leg was throbbing and his chest ached where the doc had dug around to get the shot out of his pectoral fan, and he dismounted carefully, keeping a tight grip on the saddle horn.
A good thing, too; his leg was still not up to snuff.
"Dad-dee?" Angela asked tentatively. "Get me down?"
The Sheriff chuckled and rubbed the Sun-Witch's ears: "Let's show her what we've been doing," he whispered, and the Sun-Witch shoved her nose into the Sheriff's belly.
"You bum," the Sheriff scolded with a grin, feeding her a worse for wear apple.
"Angela," he said, "you want down?"
"Yes, Daddy," Angela said in a small voice, trying to look as small and helpless as she could.
They learn young, the Sheriff thought, and made a kissing sound and a hand motion.
Bruja -- or Bouadiccea -- knelt.
Angela's eyes got big and round and she exclaimed "Daddy! Look, Daddy! I can get down myself!" -- and so saying, she kicked out of her stirrups and swung off the saddle.
Another gesture, and the younger Witch stood, and was dallied to the hitch rail.
Angela bounced up the steps, the Sheriff laboring up the three well-braced boards and to the boardwalk.
Angela reached up to haul open the fine front door and the Sheriff reached over her with his left hand and pulled.
Tilly looked up at the Sheriff and her eyes shifted left, then back.

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Mr. Box 3-18-10

 

Angela came bouncing into the Silver Jewel with Sheriff Keller right behind her. The two men down at the end of the bar hadn't noticed him yet. I was setting some glasses up on the bar after cleaning them so they didn't notice the slightly different noise of the double barrel being set up there with them. Since they didn't take the time to eat I didn't expect them to make a very good judgement call when the need arose.

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Linn Keller 3-18-10

 

"Angela," I said as I hauled on the door, "why don't you head on back and find out what kind of pie we have today?"
"Okay, Daddy!" Angela giggled and soon as the door was open she was gone like a shot, streaking with a giggle and a smile and curls and ruffles between table and polished mahogany bar, navigating smoothly around backsides and bootheels and protruding spurs.
I hadn't missed Tilly's eyes and when Mr. Baxter set the double gun on the bar top I took his wordless admonition seriously.
One thing about that stubby double, I could handle it just fine left handed, so I taken it up with my left hand and swung the muzzle down, fetching back the right hand hammer against my holster and the left hand hammer with my thumb.
I leaned toward Mr. Baxter.
His eyes shifted to the end of the bar and his head tilted in like manner and I nodded.
There was trouble down that-a-way, and more explanation wasn't needed.
Tom Landers was nowhere to be seen, and I could not fault the man, for no one can be everywhere at once, and as the highwayman observed, "A sentry safeguards only as much ground as his bootsoles cover."
I brought the gun muzzle up, laid it against the front of my left shoulder, and studied the assembled.
A mostly empty bottle and two fellows with mean looks and dusty, down-at-heels duds caught my attention.
Long ride and an empty belly, I thought, most of a bottle of booze behind their belt buckle and they're looking for trouble.
Angela was safely inside the kitchen and I knew the wall between here and there was good white oak and proof against gunshot, so I taken a good deep breath, fetched back my shoulders and upped my head and challenged, "YOU FELLAS LOOKIN' FER ME?"

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Mr. Box 3-19-10

 

I took a step back from the bar to give a little room for strays. I was figuring on using the double barrel for back-up but Sheriff Keller swept it up real smooth and I didn't want to ruin the element of surprise. Tilly faded back into the kitchen and made sure Angela was kept occupied so she wouldn't pop out in the middle of something.
Sheriff Keller said, "You fellas lookin' fer me?"
The closer one turned and put his hand on his six gun as he said, "Who are you?" He stopped motionless when he saw the double barrel, except for a little unsteadyness on his feet.
I said, "That's that laid up sheriff you've been talking about!"
Upon hearing that, the other one spun around with his gun drawn. He was on the other side of the first one to respond so he hadn't seen the sheriff's stance.

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Linn Keller 3-19-10

 

There was four souls between me and the pair.
I was stepped off away from the bar far enough to have a clear shot at the two if need be.
There was no room to go further to the right, for I had a table beside me, but that meant they had that proof wall behind them and I had a window behind me.
I fetched that double gun down level and the first of the two turned at my challenge and froze.
I reckon them two black eyes lookin' at him was upsetting, for he looked like someone just handed him a cold dead fish.
The fellow behind him spun, his right shoulder dropped and I knew he'd gone for his gun, but his partner was between the two of us and that second fellow would have to move to hit me.
I moved first.
I took two long steps toward him, that Greener leading the way.
A man with a gun often doesn't expect his quarry to advance, much less charge: I am a tall man and a long legged man and I don't have to run to cover ground, and I reckon it confused him some, for he shifted left and right before he come out behind his fellow.
I shoved that double gun out in front of me and pointed it at the second fellow's middle and yanked the front trigger.
The man's pistol hit the floor and then so did he.
I drove the double gun's muzzle into the first man's ribs and leaned over real close to him.
"You found me," I rasped. "Now what?"

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Linn Keller 3-20-10

 

There was a heavy step behind me that I felt more than heard, and a familiar hand on my shoulder.
"Sheriff," Jackson Cooper rumbled, "how can I help?"
The fellow with two barrels shoved in his rib cage looked over my head and up at a significant angle.
I am not a short man by any means, I passed six foot on my 25th birthday and grew half a hand after that but Jackson Cooper makes me look like the Tooth Fairy, and this fellow I was glaring at seemed ... impressed.
It would not be polite for me to say that he dampened his drawers so I won't.
"I believe," I said slowly ... very slowly ... "that this fellow" -- I nodded to the pasty faced ranny in front of me -- "would like to talk to you."
At that point I reckon that ranny would have cheerfully taken a walk through Perdition itself to get away from the two of us.
I felt Jackson Cooper lean a little bit to the side.
He didn't have to lean none to get a good look at what happened, he was tall enough to see over my head easily but I reckon he wanted to emphasize that he was officially taking a look.
"Might be you oughta come along peaceful," Jackson Cooper said in a voice as gentle and quiet as a wagon load of rocks on a washboard road.
I stepped back and Jackson Cooper laid a hand on the fellow's shoulder.
The two of them headed out toward the front door and I shifted the grip on Mr. Baxter's double gun.
Nice gun, I thought detachedly: Mr. Baxter always did have good taste, and I looked down at the hand-chased engraving circling the breech end of both barrels -- some light scrollwork, enough to be tasteful but not gaudy -- and there was about three inches of vining curling up from it. The grip was relief carved in a fleur-de-lis, raised above the checkering.
I thumbed the lever and the Greener dropped open.
I looked at the carcass laying on the floor.
I stood there for a long minute, just staring at what used to be a man, and wondered why he had to come in and pull something so stupid as to try and pull a gun on a lawman with a shotgun.
Shaking my head, I turned.
The bar had emptied when the fracas started but the patrons were coming back rather quickly: the piano player resumed his labors, the oversized dice in the chuck-a-luck rattled as the croupier rolled the hourglass-shaped cage, tiredly intoning his funeral chant: "Lady Luck smiles tonight! Place your bets and win the pot!"
Pasteboards crackled as cards were shuffled, dealt; chips clattered across green felt, and Digger removed his top hat as he came in the front door, shaking his head and insincerely tsk-tsking as he came up beside me.
"No rest for the wicked," he said in a smooth, practiced voice, and I thrust my chin at the deceased.
"Looks like he's resting for a good long time," I countered
I turned toward the bar and handed Mr. Baxter his double gun with a nod and my thanks, and accepted a double shot of water clear, not over 30 days old.
My chest ached and my leg was thumping and I downed that double shot like it was water.
"Dad-dee?" Angela called down the hall. "You wanta-da blueberry or apple?"

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Mr. Box 3-20-10

 

"Figgered ya might like to know what was goin' on when ya stepped in, Sheriff. They just seemed to have a bad disposition. Wasn't spectin' ya to take off with my scatter gun."
I put my scatter gun away and said, "Better get ya some pie."

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Linn Keller 3-20-10

 

Angela came strutting up the hallway just as pleased as punch, balancing her plate carefully before her, tongue stuck out the side of her mouth the way she did when she was concentrating on something important.
Tilly followed with another plate and an amused expression.
"Daddy, I said hello to Dawg!" Angela exclaimed as I reached for the plate Tilly bore. "He was asleep though so he didn't say nuffin."
"Biscuits and gravy," Tilly stage-whispered, and continued on to her place behind the counter.
Angela preceded me to our usual table.
I did my best to walk normally, hoping my slowed gait would be attributed to the plate full of pie before me.
I don't reckon anyone missed the fact that I carried it in my left hand.
Hopefully the common belief would be that I was keeping my gun hand free but truth be known, my right hand wasn't as strong as it should be.
Doc said it could heal up and be as strong as it always was and I sincerely hoped so. I have always been a strong and capable man and did not want to be any less.
Besides, once word got around that the Sheriff was weak, why, I might have to turn the show over to Jacob.
While I have every confidence in him, a man has his pride and even his vanity, and it stung both to think I might have to step down.
At the moment, though, Angela's focus was on a good slab of apple pie and by the time we got to the table I realized I had an appetite my own self.
One of Daisy's girls came out with coffee for me and milk for Angela. There was a herd of dairy cows just outside of town and we benefitted greatly from this.
Personally I dislike milking.
Oh, I've done enough of it over the years, but it's easier when someone else does the work, for work it is. It'll put muscles on you and no two ways about it, but I was muscled enough, and besides, I'd been kicked often enough by a cranky old bossy that didn't want to be touched.
We set there for some time for when Daisy cuts a pie she makes one cut crossways of the pie, she gives it a quarter turn and makes another cut, and when you order pie and coffee, you get a fourth of a pie.
That's a meal in and of itself.
Jacob, of course, could eat that and a full meal besides.
I was much the same at his age: a walking appetite on two hollow legs.
Right now, though, Angela was trying to eat in a ladylike manner, but youthful enthusiasm warried with decorous conduct, and she ended up skirmishing with the crust, raiding the filling and otherwise happily demolishing the objective.
I laughed as I wiped her pink, laughing face, for enthusiasm is also kind of messy.

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Charlie MacNeil 3-21-10

 

Diffuse moonglow filtered through the overcast to light the slopes and swales of the hollow, snow glow limning the buildings and corrals with silver. In contrast to the silvery light, the shadows were a deep inky black that seemed to move of their own accord, though no breeze stirred the night.

Charlie stood at the kitchen window in his long handles and wool socks, gooseflesh marching the length of his spine. The lamp was long since cold, the fire banked in the Monarch range. Intricate patterns of frost scrolled the edges of the window panes. He shivered as he stared out the window, eyes straining for a glimpse of what had lifted him from the warmth of quilt and comforter. Some sense of impending event, some subconscious glimpse of what might be had touched his sleep with feathery digit, stirring him to wakefulness to pad to the kitchen.

The window faced the south, through the gap toward the open prairie. At first, the only visible movement was the stirring of the mares in the near end of the creek pasture, bunched as they were on the feedground near the fence, the red mare's youngster in their midst. Suddenly a shadow detached itself from the blackness and became a great silver wolf whose burning green eyes bridged the darkness between itself and the man who watched. Though distant, each hair stood out in glowing relief until the great predator appeared to be made of moonlight and frost. Charlie stared, knowing which wolf it was that he saw, and still more chills danced along his skin. Distantly, he heard a whine, a sharp yip, then the great muzzle lifted and the mournful sound of the howl drifted across through the night. As suddenly as the wolf had come, it was gone, no turning of head, no flirt of tail, just gone.

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Linn Keller 3-21-10

 

"Mr. Keller," Esther said as she worked liniment into my shoulder and arm, "you are a stubborn man."
I don't know which was worse, cleaning out the barn or letting her work that horse syrup into my hide.
"Your kindness warms my heart," I said, or rather squeaked: Esther's eyes fairly snapped as she worked, despite the gentleness in her voice. To her way of thinking I had ought to hire the barn cleaned, I'd ought to pay someone to fork out the stalls and put up hay and do the work around our little place.
We have money enough, I thought as Esther's strong, small hands expressed the strength of her disapproval.
Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea.
I thought back to the difficulty I had just gripping that hay fork, and how my hand was not quite strong enough to remain around the handle of the wheelbarow.
I ended up taking some hay string and tying it around the handle of the wheelbarrow then around my wrist, over my leather glove.
Esther came out as I was wheeling the barrow out to dump it.
She didn't say a thing, she just looked at how I walked and how I carried myself and then at the string tying my hand to the handle, and she turned and went back to the house.
"You know," she said, "it would be helpful to someone if you would hire them."
"You have someone in mind?"
"Emma Cooper spoke of someone who could use work."
I winced as Esther's fingers worked a little too close to some deep bruising just inside the far end of my collar bone.
"Just think," she continued, pouring a little more of the thick, stinging ointment into her hand, "you wouldn't have to tie your hand to the wheelbarrow."
I looked sharply at my wife, my jaw thrust out.
She'd hit a nerve with that one.
"Esther," I said quietly, "I am not going to cripple up, and the only way I can do that is to keep working that hand and that leg."
Esther's hands hesitated.
I think she realized she'd just said something.
She didn't reply, she just resumed working my muscles.
Finally I sighed.
"All right," I said finally. "I'll think about it."

Upstairs, warm in her bed, Angela rolled over, eyes wide.
She flipped back the quilt and the sheet and swung her little bare legs over the edge of the bed.
While her Mommy and Daddy were in their bedroom, and her Daddy was making the occasional funny noise he did when he wasn't feeling good, Angela slipped downstairs, knowing she would be unheard.
Angela's bare feet whispered on the painfully-clean floor as she skipped to the back door, where she slowly, carefully eased the latch open, then stepped into her slippers and out onto the back porch.
Denver Bup raised his head, the flesh between his ears wrinkling in curiosity.
"Ssh," Angela whispered, finger on her lips, and Denver Bup's pink tongue ran out, happily pulsing in the cool, damp night air.
Angela's destination was the kaibo behind the house: she had no fear of the night, nor of its darkness: she drew the door shut behind her while Denver Bup sat without, tongue panting, looking around.
After not terribly long, Angela emerged: giggling, she squatted and petted Denver Bup, and got a face washing in return.
She finally rose and scampered back down the short, cuved path to their back porch, Denver Bup happily beside her.
Just before she reached for the back door, she stopped and looked around like her Daddy always did before he went in.
"Ooh," she said, pointing. "Denver Bup! Look! Doggie!"

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Charlie MacNeil 3-21-10

 

The warmth of the hand on his shoulder startled him so that he spun, crouching, fingers hooking toward the waistband of his long handles, reaching for a pistol that wasn't there. Fannie jerked back and away, stumbling back from the snarl on her husband's lips for the moment that it took to shake off the sudden rush of adrenalin that left him shaking. "Charlie!" Fannie yelped.

Shaking his head Charlie jerked upright as his head cleared and he recognized the figure of his wife silhouetted against the light from the opposite window. He relaxed and reached out to her. "I'm sorry, Darlin'!" he declared quickly. "You startled me!"

Fannie let him bring her into the warm circle of flannel and draw her to his chest. She looked up, studying his face for a moment in the dim silver light before asking, "What were you looking at?"

"The wolf was back," he replied thoughtfully.

"The wolf?"

"The one we followed to town the day we buried little Joseph Keller," he replied. He shuddered. "The beast was standin' out yonder, big as life, then it let out that howl and was gone..." his voice trailed off and he squeezed her tighter, seeking her warmth and comfort as an antidote to the atavistic dread that tiptoed down the pathways of his nerves, searing a trail to his deepest center. "I can't help but think that somethin's gonna happen. Somethin' bad..." He shook his head.

Fannie pushed him back to arms length and stared into his face. "What howl, Charlie?" she asked uncertainly. "I didn't hear anything."

It was his turn to stare, incredulous, wide hazel eyes meeting her emerald orbs. "The wolf howlin' didn't wake you up?"

"No, I woke up when you got out of bed," Fannie answered. "I've been awake ever since, and when you didn't come back right away, I thought I'd better come and see if something was wrong. I didn't hear a howl!" she finished firmly.

Charlie dropped his gaze to the floor, then looked into her face, troubled and shaken to his very core. "Darlin', am I losin' my mind? I know I heard that wolf! It gave out a whine and a yip, then that long howl, real mournful-like! Am I goin' crazy?"

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Linn Keller 3-23-10

 

From the Sheriff's Journal:
My hand gains strength daily, as does my arm.
Doctor Flint tells me the leg will mend faster than the wing.
So far the man is right.
He also tells me I am the most hard headed and contrary fellow he has ever met.
No idea why.
Esther talked me into hiring a lad to muck out the barn.
Jacob and I used to share that chore.
I miss it.
We had such good talks and much good laughter.
Angela is growing so and she does not speak of little Joseph, nor do we.
I find Esther's eyes wandering toward where his cradle was and I look to the doorway half expecting to see him laughing and buck naked, for he loved to whip off his diaper and run laughing through the house.
Angela helps me groom the "Horsies" ... she still lays claim to Rose o' the Mornin's foal Rosebud.
I'm afraid the foal will be as confused as Booha.
Rosebud became Rosebug and then Whoabg. Bruja became Booha and then Boo-Dicka and then Dicka.
Angela can call them anything but late for supper and they come right to her.
She had that Witch-horse out with no saddle nor bridle and it followed her as faithfully as Denver Bup.
Esther is quieter than she has been and often I see her looking into the distance. I reckon she is thinking of the child she lost.
Many's the time I prayed Solomon's prayer.
Let me see what is.
Let me see what I have.
Let me not dwell on what might have been.
Sometimes I too look into the distance and remember a laughing tadpole wiggling in my hands, pulling my mustache and hollering "Da!"
My hand is improving.
The characters on this page are improved: the letters are more uniformly slanted, more attractively shaped, and my hand is not fatigued as it had been for the past week or so.
Can't wait for thaw.

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Linn Keller 3-24-10

 

Sarah Rosenthal glared at the sheet music before her.
The sheet music was not impressed.
Sarah's back was straight, her hair carefully coiled into a shining crown: her dress was flowing, immaculate, perfectly draped; her hands hesitated, fingers extended, then she gently, carefully, stroked the keyboard again, and began one more time.
Annette sat beside her, nodding gently in time to Sarah's playing, as her student labored through several minor chords and then came to the double-run that had given her so much trouble.
This time she skipped through the notes like a child in a field of daisies, easily, naturally, the notes bringing sunshine and springtime to the room.
Bonnie Rosenthal looked up from brushing Polly's hair and smiled.
Annette had been so very helpful in persuading Sarah that she should indeed practice the ladylike art of the piano: Sarah knew it was expected of her, she knew it was part of a daughter's duty to play, and to play well, for guests and for special occasions: like any growing child, though, she had moments of rebellion.
It wasn't until Bonnie dismissed the old witch of a piano teacher from Cripple Creek and asked Annette if she could help Sarah learn, that Sarah began making progress.
Sarah waited until she reached the end of the last page, then she rested her fingers on the keys, savoring the final chord as it hummed into silence.
Even the twins was quiet, listening.
Annette laid her fingertips on Sarah's arm, lightly, gently: "You did it," she whispered, and the two giggled like schoolgirls sharing a naughty secret.
Bonnie smiled and nodded, satisfied.
Sarah had neither laughed nor smiled at the piano for a very long time, and it was good to hear.

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Linn Keller 3-24-10

 

"How far do you reckon I'd ought to set these?"
"Half mile wouldn't be bad."
Callused hands hefted the explosive.
"Good 'nuff. You head that way, I'll go this."
"Don't you dawdle none!"
"I ain't about to!"
Brogans slipped on the coarse gravel of the railroad ballast and both men set out in opposite directions, moving fast.
The Sheriff had expanded his daily rides, taking one in the morning and one in the evening: an efficient man who loathed waste, he put these excursions to good use, making sure he was visible in his county, stopping at a ranch here, a line shack there, asking questions, swapping jokes and news and occasionally a book or two.
Angela, true to form, was with him as he rode along the railroad right-of-way: it was cleared for a good distance on this section of track, more by accident than design, and the golden mare flowed more than paced, her colt with her: Angela could have dropped the reins and held onto her own earlobes and the yearling would have kept station with its dam.
The Sheriff saw the railroader heading his way on the hot foot, so to speak, and he knew something just wasn't right.
No cowboy will walk across the street if his horse is anywhere near, and no railroader will travel afoot on a rail line.
The Sheriff gave the mare his knees and she responded with a will.
Angela laughed with delight as her mount stretched to keep up, going easily from a flowing trot to an easy gallop.
The railroader looked up, half fearful, half relieved at the approach of two riders: his relief increased as he recognized the lawman with the greying mustache.
"Torpedoes?" the Sheriff asked curtly.
"Half mile." The railroader handed the Sheriff four of the signals.
"How bad?"
"Broke a connecting rod and maybe a valve."
The Sheriff nodded. He knew the freight was headed back, empty, bound for the mines.
He also knew the consequence of another freight heading the opposite direction, believing the track empty.
"I'll let 'em know," the Sheriff said crisply, touching his hat brim.
The golden mare wheeled, dancing, anxious for a good run, and Angela's mare whinnied, excited.
"Angela," the Sheriff called, "are you up for a run?"
"Yes, Daddy!" Angela exclaimed.
The Sheriff laid the reins against his mare's neck and gave her his knees: she shot ahead like a cannonball from a field gun, thrusting her nose straight out and stretching herself with every hard thrust against the packed earth.
Behind him, Angela laughed with a child's fearless delight.
The Sheriff judged it to be a half mile when he reined in, swinging out of the saddle, grunting a little as his weight hit his bad leg.
"Angela," he called, "ride on ahead and tell Lightning to hold the freight!"
"Yes, Daddy!" Angela sang, turning her mare and squeezing her little knees against the saddle skirt. "Go, Becka!"
The Sheriff bent down and clamped the lead straps around the good steel rail: one, then another, twenty feet apart: he went to the other rail and clamped a torpedo at like intervals there also, so they would both go off when the steel wheels of the next locomotive passed over them.
His right hand still didn't have much strength but it worked, and it worked well enough to wrap that dead-soft lead strap around the flared, bright-polished rail.

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Linn Keller 3-25-10

 

Jacob's knife whispered in tight circles on the bellied out stone.
His Pa had given it to him two Christmases ago: Berea sadstone, mined in Amherst, back in Ohio, where they quarried the finest grinding sandstone in the world. Most mills would give their eye teeth for a good Berea millstone, and Jacob had been delighted with the gift.
In the intervening time the stone had developed a swale in the middle, which troubled Jacob not at all: he casually spit on the stone and resumed whetting the knife.
Smith had forged it out for him. It wasn't Damascus steel but it was good steel and well tempered and it took a good edge.
Long, tall and slender, Jacob was busy holding up a post on the board walk in front of the Sheriff's office. Jackson Cooper was within, making coffee, and Jacob had put a good edge on the town marshal's knife before starting on his own.
It had taken some time to sharpen Jackson Cooper's knife, simply because of its size: in the hands of a smaller man it would more resemble a short sword, but in Jackson Cooper's massive paw, and in proportion to his overall size, why, it suited him just fine.
Jacob walked the few feet to a nearby horse trough and sloshed off the knife and then the stone, slinging water off the blade.
He'd warmed it and waxed it, and the only part that was not bees wax slick was the honed edge itself, and it was protected by the sheep fleece lining the sheath in his right boot top.
Like his father, Jacob was a voracious reader, and he'd read where sword scabbards in ancient times had been made of two slabs of wood, carved out to fit the blade, lined with sheep skin with the wool to the inside: not only did it keep the blade from rattling, the natural lanolin kept the blade from rusting.
Jacob frowned and took a few steps the other way to look down the alley on the far end of the Sheriff's office.
Someone was running a horse and running hard and this was unusual this close to town.
Matter of fact, they were in town, and running the railroad right-of-way, which was even more unusual.
Curiosity is a common trait among lawmen and Jacob was a curious man. He set the whet stone down against the front wall of their little log fortress and returned to the mouth of the alley.
Suddenly he took three long striding steps toward his tethered stallion: yanking the tag end of the reins, he powered into the saddle.
The stallion, always ready for a good run, bunched his legs under him.
Jackson Cooper had just added grounds to the fresh, cold water when he heard "YAA!" and the staccato of a horse going from dead stop to wide open in a tenth of a second or less.
Frowning, Jackson Cooper flipped the blue-granite coffee pot's lid shut with one hand and reached for his hat with the other.
Just on general principles he picked up his double ten-bore as well.

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Linn Keller 3-25-10

 

Jacob slammed the door open, hard.
The sound was loud in the telegraph office.
Jacob's glare was enough to return Lightning's boy to his seat by the stove, the lad went down as fast and as hard as if he'd been stiff-armed: Lightning's expression was somewhere between frustration, confusion, anger and concern.
First the Sheriff's little girl came running in babbling something about her Daddy said the train broke and to stop the train, and he realized his telegraph key had been silent a little too long and did not respond to an experimental touch of the key, and now the Sheriff's son and chief deputy stormed in like he was ready to tear someone's head off.
Jacob yanked the closet door open.
Reaching in, he seized the box Lightning kept handy for emergencies.
He turned and swung his pale eyed gaze on the telegrapher like a man bringing a gun turret to bear, and spoke a single word:
"Washout."
Jacob's bootheels were loud on the clean-swept, oiled wood floor and the door went SLAM behind him.
Angela put her hands on her hips and frowned at the balding old man in the swivel chair.
"See?" she scolded. "I told ya!"

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Linn Keller 3-26-10

 

Lightning's boy stoked the pot belly stove and shook down the ashes.
Lightning gave the key another tentative touch.
This time there was a crisp, clear CLICK.
Lightning's shoulders squared and he turned to face the key squarely, his fingers busy on the round, black, gutta-percha button: he held it lightly between thumb and middle finger with his index finger on top, and with that grip, could send clearly and for long periods without fatigue.
Word flashed in spaced clicks and spaces.
In another telegraph station some distance away, the telegrapher gave a staccato series of clicks, then thrust out of his swivel chair with a hastily-printed message in hand: a whistle, a wave, and the conductor was caught just as the freight was about to pull out of Cripple.
It would take some quick rearranging of schedules, but the Z&W had prepared for just this sort of thing, and alternate timetables were accessed, coordinated between stations, made ready.
Esther read the report the next day and nodded with satisfaction.
She had foreseen just such a happening and had prepared for it: her written pre-plan, coordinated with engineers and mechanics, with men who know their trade, called for the roundhouse to send out a yard hog to haul in the crippled engine, with a repair gang to remove the broken parts from the damaged locomotive, draw its fire and blow down its boiler, and finally string high pressure lines from the Westinghouse connection on the back of the big-boilered, small-wheeled hog engine, to the Westinghouse helping hands connection on the front of the broken Baldwin.
The Z&W experienced a total of two and a half hours of interruption, which was made up for with one extra run that night.
It cost the railroad something per man-hour and per machine-hour, but Esther had made provisions for that, too, and she calculated the losses would be recovered by the extra run that night.
It was a combination run and hauled more than freight cars.
It hauled gold, a shuttle relay from the mint to the banks.

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Linn Keller 3-27-10

 

The conductor reached up, offering his hand.
"I'm awful glad to see you, Sheriff," he said, relief in his voice.
The Sheriff offered his good right hand and willed it to full strength.
"Flattery will get you everywhere," he nodded. "What can you tell me?"
The conductor gestured toward the head of the train. "Daggone connecting rod broke. We're dead in the water. I don't believe we have any scheduled runs tonight but they've set out torpedoes and red lanterns."
The Sheriff looked toward the crippled engine. "I set torpedoes yonder myself."
The conductor looked around, uncomfortable.
"Sheriff, we've got a shipment of gold on board. I don't think a man can make a connecting rod break, least not very easy, but this just does not make me happy at all!"
"No, I can see why not," the Sheriff agreed. "Who knows about this shipment?"
"You didn't?" the conductor asked, surprised.
"Nope."
The conductor's eyebrows raised, fell, and he puffed out his cheeks and blew out a long breath. He finally looked back up at the lawman, tilting his uniform cap back and scratching his bald scalp.
"Gold talks when men don't use words," the conductor replied. "I hadn't heard a thing about it but ..." He let the words trail off.
The Sheriff nodded. "You've got the express messenger in the car?"
The conductor nodded.
"Tell him to stand by to repel boarders."
"Aye, sir!" the conductor nodded briskly, his words betraying his own naval heritage. He turned and was a half dozen quick steps toward the express car when he realized the last several words that had been said.
Now how did he know ...? the conductor thought, hesitating in mid-step, then he shrugged and continued on his way.
The Sheriff turned the mare slowly, listening.
In the distance he heard the staccato cadence of the approaching rescue engine, laboring fast and hard: the Sheriff knew she had been a freight engine, from conversation with the roundhouse supervisor, but she'd been fitted with the small wheels of a switch engine: this gave the yard hog the pressure and steam reserve of a full size locomotive, but the leverage and raw hauling power that few freighters ever achieved. The cost, of course, was speed: a passenger locomotive had large diameter wheels and was built for speed at the sacrifice of power, and the freight locomotive had smaller wheels to haul immense loads up grades, but at the expense of speed.
The yard hog was the extreme example of the latter.
In the distance, a movement: the Sheriff turned to face this new development, approaching from the direction he heard the approaching locomotive's chant, and saw Angela and Jacob racing together, heading toward him, snow flying in angel-wing clods from the horses' hooves.

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Linn Keller 3-27-10

 

Angela's cheeks were apple-red, her eyes were shining and Jacob had never seen his baby sis with such an expression of utter and absolute delight in his life.
His Appaloosa stallion was hauling twice the weight of the Palomino, but she had been birthed and raised in the Border country -- closer to sea level, where the air was denser -- here in the high country, she winded more easily.
Still, she was not about to give up a race, and she and the stallion had been neck and neck for the entire run.
Now that they were nearing the Sheriff, Jacob leaned back in the saddle: his stallion slowed, and with him, the mare as well: Jacob looked over at his little sis, who was laughing, her bonnet hanging behind her, hair shining and curls bouncing as she rode.
It was a picture he carried in his heart for the rest of his life, for like his father, he was a hard man when need be, but he was a man of great and immense affection as well.
"Daddy!" Angela called in a joyful voice as they came closer. "Daddy I wentada depot annada Lightning didden lissen tome an I tole him daengine brokeit an yousaidda stop da train an' Jacob come in an saidda watchout --" Angela said all in one breath, and only her running clear out of air stoped the cascade of compressed and excited syllables.
Jacob and his father looked at one another and started to laugh.
Angela frowned and set her knuckles on her hips.
"Well I did!" she declared with an emphatic nod, which inspired the men to even greater mirth.
The Sheriff brought his mare up against Angela's and reached over to his little girl, drawing her into his strong Daddy-arms.
Angela's pique turned to delight, for few things in the world felt quite as good as Daddy's hugs!

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