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Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 3-28-10


"Did they get the trains running again?" Mr. Baxter asked, his polishing rag never stopping.
The Sheriff accepted the beer with a nod, sliding a coin across the gleaming mahogany. If Mr. Baxter supplied the greying lawman with as much beer as he'd paid for over the years, the volume would probably float the Silver Jewel and have room enough for quite a party besides: though the man drank but little, he believed in plowing profits back into the business, and one way he did it, was by sliding extra to Mr. Baxter as a matter of habit.
The Sheriff took four long, slow swallows, savoring the cool brew, letting it take its time getting to his belly.
"Oh that's good," he sighed happily, then looked at Mr. Baxter and wiped the foam from his handlebar with thumb and forefinger. "Yep, they got another engine bolted to the ore cars and got underway in good shape."
"I wondered why they were so late getting past town tonight."
"Well, they had to make an unscheduled stop." The Sheriff took another sip of beer, closing his eyes with pleasure.
"Oh?" Mr. Baxter squinted down the length of his mahogany, making sure he'd not missed a spot, then he picked up a heavy mug and began burnishing it as well.
The Sheriff looked left, looked right, then leaned across the bar.
Mr. Baxter leaned toward him, sensing a confidential disclosure.
"They had an express car in the middle of the ore cars," the Sheriff said quietly, "and it had to be switched out here in town."
"I see," Mr. Baxter said, his expression clearly showing that he didn't see after all.
The Sheriff smiled a quiet, almost tired smile.
"The express car is being switched to the passenger run in the morning."
Mr. Baxter looked sharply at his friend.
"Should I have the girls boil up some extra coffee?" he asked quietly, sensing that somehow it was going to be a long night.
The Sheriff nodded. "Coffee and sandwiches, if you please, Mr. Baxter. I won't be getting much sleep and neither will Jackson Cooper nor Jacob."
Mr. Baxter reached up overhead and tugged on a cord, giving it a double-twitch, then another.
In the kitchen, a bell high up in the corner dingled in response to his summons.

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Linn Keller 3-29-10


We made two trips, moving the strong boxes of gold to the bank, but we did it in a plain old wagon and with Jacob driving by himself.
Jackson Cooper and I were mounted and ready but nothing happened.
We moved the gold as soon as the express car got close enough to unload the stuff, even before it was shunted out of the string of ore cars and onto the siding.
By the time Jacob got the gold into the bank -- I had two men there as well, waiting on him -- the express car had been carefully placed in the very center of the vacant siding, and Jackson Cooper and I took up prominent points of overwatch, he with his double ten bore and I with the double twelve.
Few things persuade folks better than the sight of twin shotgun barrels taking a serious look at their middle.
I rapped on the express car door and the express messenger took a cautious look out the small window before opening the door a crack.
I handed him in a basket of sandwiches and coffee and promised more later.
If there was to be unpleasantness over this unscheduled and unannounced shipment, it would be here, and I wanted the gold into the bank where it would be secure.
It was still cold out and we still had snow laying thick, here there and yonder, so Jackson Cooper and I were dressed for it and we each had a steady supply of coffee to warm our insides.
I durst not warm myself with anything else.
As long as I had cold weather and aggravation I need not worry about getting too drowsy.
I'm like an old b'ar: I get my belly full and I get warm and I go to sleep.
I had a sandwich in one hand and that double gun in the other, and I looked over at Jackson Cooper, standing large in the moon light.
I looked at smoke curling straight up from the chimney of the express car and thought of how good my bed at home would feel right about now.
I took another bite of sandwich, another swallow of rapidly cooling coffee
I might get my belly full, I thought, but I ain't gonna get very warm tonight!

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Linn Keller 3-30-10


Jacob leaned against a porch post, shadowed from the slim moon's light, invisible against the broken background.
His stallion, tethered in the alleyway, drowsed, head down, saddled and bridled and ready to go.
He had line of sight on his Pa, standing beside a barrel, and watched the older man finish a sandwich and coffee, using a convenient barrel head for a table: he ate right handed, set down the sandwich, drank right handed, the double gun held at balance point, and Jacob approved of what he saw.
His Pa hadn't said much about his right hand not working quite right but Jacob had noticed.
His Pa had a good strong left hand anyway, and not infrequently fetched men off their feet left handed when he needed to get their attention.
Most young men figure at some time or another they can whip their old man.
So far Jacob had never reached that point.
For one thing he regarded his Pa's build when the man was bare to the waist, and he realized that with a shirt sleeve clear full of lean muscle, the old man could probably drive him through the floor like a fence post if he got aggravated.
The Grand Old Man does not get aggravated often, Jacob thought.
His Pa was a man of longsuffering and tolerance, unless the situtation dictated otherwise, and Jacob had quietly, unobtrusively, made it his personal business to see that he never made the "otherwise" come about.
At least not towards himself.
Jacob's eyes were busy, his ears open, the Winchester rifle hanging alongside his leg.
He'd taken the gold into the Firelands bank openly, wearing a work shirt and vest instead of his usual suit coat: he looked like any working hand making some routine freight run, maybe delivering ledger books or lamp shades or something equally mundane.
He'd had help enough unloading the heavy as sin strong boxes, and these fellows had carefully blocked the common view to the padlocked, steel banded containers. One went so far as to admonish another for his clumsiness, declaring "Now be careful! That's glass!"
The rest of the shipment remained in the express car, in the big safe, the safe was guarded by the express messenger from within and the three lawmen from without.
Jacob yawned, cracking his ears twice more to ensure his hearing would be the best possible.
In the distace, a stray dog yapped, and somewhere two cats began serenading one another.

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Mr. Box 3-30-10


"Kinda handy having the roundhouse right here instead of having to send an engine way out here from Denver. How'd that engine come to break down anyway?" I asked
Sheriff Keller told me, "Crew said something about a connecting rod broke."
"Pretty heavy piece of iron to be breaking, isn't it"
"That's what I was thinking", replied the sheriff.
"So they hauling something pretty important in the express car?" I asked.
Sheriff Keller leaned a little closer to me and I leaned into the bar a little more, too, and he lowered his voice to where I could barely hear it, "Yellow rocks."
I straightened back up and gave him a confused look muttering, "Yellow rocks?...... Oh!" Then I glanced around to see if I might have let the cat out of the bag. Everything seemed quiet. I went back to cleaning glasses as we talked. "Should I have the girls boil up some extra coffee?"
The sheriff nodded, "Coffee and sandwiches if you please, Mr. Baxter, I won't be getting much sleep tonight and neither will Jackson Cooper nor Jacob."
"It'll be ready in just a little bit, Sheriff."

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Charlie MacNeil 3-30-10


Charlie trudged through the snow in the bottom of the hollow, out past where the mares milled around the feed ground nickering for their morning bait of grub, to the rise where the wolf had stood, hoping against hope to find some sign and knowing all the while that his search would be fruitless. Still, he had to go...

Casting about the rise, the only signs of the passage of any living creature were the tracks of rabbits, mice, birds and a lone coyote that had traveled through at some time in the relatively recent past. Charlie pushed back his hat and scratched his head, cold fingers of dread walking up his backbone. I can't be crazy! his mind declared, while deep inside he questioned, but would I know it if I was? He turned back toward the house, head down, staring at the settling snow underfoot as he walked. Suddenly, he slammed his right fist into the cup of his left palm. "Dammit, I ain't crazy! There's somethin' goin' on! But what? It's gotta be..." He stopped suddenly, his voice trailing off. The last time he'd seen the wolf, it had led him and Fannie to Firelands and little Joseph Keller's funeral. But this time... This time the wolf had gone the other way! With thought came action as he suddenly began to run toward the house.

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Linn Keller 3-31-10


The three lawmen were bundled against the cold, well insulated and not entirely uncomfortable.
The one complaint they shared, but did not voice, was that their feet were cold.
Hours dragged upon hours as the slivered, shining moon dragged dead-slow across the starry-decked firmament.
The three stood or sat, watching from darkened overwatch, partaking occasionally of refreshment, rifle or shotgun across their arm or ready to hand.
By the time the eastern sky began to lighten, the three were grateful for daylight's arrival.
Nothing makes for a longer night than when absolutely, positively nothing happens, and this night had been quite long.
Its most exciting moment had been a yodel dog in the distance, a 'yote's high-pitched complaint, followed by a catfight, or at least the sounds of one: then, silence.
The three remained on station until the express car was coupled with the passenger cars: the Sheriff checked with the express messenger and made sure all was well within, and then the Lady Esther whistled and chuffed big, white plumes of steam into the cold Colorado air, and the train began its journey again.

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Linn Keller 4-1-10


Jacob allowed as he was ready to eat.
I laughed.
At his age I was a walking appetite on two hollow legs.
Jackson Cooper allowed as he might use a bite too, so where two such experts agreed on an important matter, who was I to say nay to the effort?
We three set down in the Jewel and partook of bacon and eggs and fried up taters and did them full justice and it wasn't until we began to work on pie that an idea occurred to me.
"Jacob," I said, "you ain't seen Charlie around now have you?"
Jacob blinked, stopped in mid-chew.
"No, sir," he said, and swallowed his mouthful: "no sir, I ain't."
I frowned and my bottom jaw run out some.
"I been a-wonderin' about him."
I shook my head, reached for the steaming mug of coffee.
"Likely he's a'right. Was anything to happen we'd hear soon enough."

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Charlie MacNeil 4-1-10


Charlie strode hurriedly toward the barn, bulging saddlebags over his shoulder and his Winchester clamped in his right fist. He shrilled a piercing whistle, heard the nickering answer from two horses, and a grim smile stretched his lips but came nowhere close to reaching his hazel eyes. He'd been working the roan and the buckskin together, teaching the roan what the buckskin had learned long since, and one of the answering voices was that of the younger horse. By the time Charlie reached the barn, both animals had come in through the open runway door and were standing with their heads hanging over the gate waiting for the expected treat.

Charlie leaned the Winchester up in a corner just inside the barn door and reached into his pocket to produce two lumps of brown sugar that he palmed and held out to the pair. The roan was less gentle than the buckskin but still was careful not to nip as it picked up the treat.

Buck had the grace to look disappointed when Charlie slipped the hand-braided jaquima over the roan's nose and led it through the gate into the barn proper. Charlie smiled at the surprisingly expressive look on the older horse's tan countenance. "You old bandit, you know dang good and well you're happier hangin' out here than you would be on the trail." He ran his hand up the horse's neck to scratch its ears, then pushed Buck's neck back over the gate. "Git! Go find some hay!"

Charlie saddled the roan, tied on the saddlebags and shoved the rifle into the bucket then led the horse outside and tied it to the fence while he pitched hay from the tall stack over the fence to the mares, and an extra-large forkful to Buck. Fannie came from the house, bundled agains the cold. "Are you sure about this, Sugar?" she asked pensively. He dropped his fork, wrapped her in a hug and lifted her off her feet.

He planted a kiss on her forehead and whispered against her soft skin, "I gotta do this, Darlin'. I'll be back pretty soon." He set her back on her feet, squeezed her hand gently then turned and mounted the roan. He whistled again, three notes that echoed across the hollow. "DAWG! Let's us get goin'!" With another look toward Fannie, he heeled the roan across the yard in the direction the wolf had gone.

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Linn Keller 4-3-10


My hand was buried in the Bear Killer's ruff, massaging his muscles and his hide, and the expression on his face was that of a lover in the throes of passion, or that of me having my back scratched.
I reckon he would have give me about a week to stop it.
Sarah had gone inside the Mercantile with her Mama and I was fooling with what used to be Twain Dawg while he was a little pup.
"Nothing little about you, is there?" I said, and Bear Killer looked at me and grinned.
"Yeah, you bum," I scolded him affectionately, "you probably et a buffalo this morning" -- at the word "et" his ears came up and his appearance went from utter immersion in pleasure to a hopeful, there's-food? expression.
I looked over toward the schoolhouse.
"Now there's a good thing to see," I said, indicating the children running out of the schoolhouse at the top of their lungs and swarming into the side yard.
Bear Killer looked mournful and gave a quiet ow-wow-wow which I think meant he was thinking of biscuits and gravy but he was too polite to just jump and run to get them.
"You hungry?" I asked, and Bear Killer came up on all fours, that big plumed tail of his threatening to shake the hind third of him off his black-furred body.
"Well c'mon then," I said, "let's go see what Daisy's got."
The carriage lurched alarmingly as Bear Killer launched out of the back.
For such a massive canine he landed as light as a cat and almost as silent: his toenails were loud on the board walk as he skidded about and jumped to the snow packed street, stopping beside me, looking up with an expression of absolute and utter joy.
I laughed and rubbed his head.
"Now if you can't say more with your face than a politician can with an hour's oratory," I chuckled.
Bear Killer gave a happy woof and trotted along beside me as we crossed the street and headed for the Silver Jewel.

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Charlie MacNeil 4-3-10


The roan set off south at a spanking trot, enjoying the frosty morning. The young horse had a liking for wide country and long traveling; it didn't matter the length or destination of the trip, as long as it was a trip. After a fast-paced mile Charlie drew the gelding down into the rocking chair-smooth singlefoot gait that he knew would last for hours and cover a lot of ground.

Midday found the travelers miles from home. Charlie drew up at the top of a rise that gave him a long view of the snowy prairie. Dawg was somewhere nearby, on business of his own but close enough to know where Charlie had stopped. Far off, the whistle of the daily passenger train from Firelands echoed shrilly over the plain. Charlie squinted across the distance until he could see the plume of steam and cinder blowing from her stack. When he brought his gaze back to his more immediate surroundings, the wolf was there.

The great silver-backed predator whined softly as it watched Charlie and the roan. The gelding was oblivious to the animal's presence, making Charlie wonder even more about his sanity. Still, he was here, and the wolf was here, and he felt that he had no choice but to follow.

The whistle shrilled a second time; the wolf answered, tipping its muzzle to the sky, voice deep and wild, starting low and lifting across the snowy land to fade out on a long-drawn, mournful note. "Somethin' about that train is bothering you, ain't it?" Charlie asked, suddenly tense. The wolf whined again then suddenly struck out at a trot, angling toward the west. Charlie knew that the rail line made a wide sweeping turn past a tall, clay and granite butte before lining out almost directly north and climbing a gradual, miles-long grade that would, near the summit, slow it to a pace little faster than that of a long-stepping hiker. The roan should easily get him there well before the train arrived. Charlie heeled the roan down off the rise and turned it toward the west.

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Linn Keller 4-4-10


Jacob scratched his head, his jaw thrust out but his lips pressed tightly together.
He and his Pa had come to dessert at the same moment.
The Sheriff knew something was under his son's hide.
He smiled at the girl who topped off their heavy ceramic mugs of coffee, and the girl smiled shyly in return.
Jacob picked up his fork and stabbed viciously at his pie, glancing sideways at the girl as if her presence was an intrusion.
The Sheriff contemplated the golden-flaky surface of his pie's crust, then looked back up at his son.
"Sir, have you ever gotten irritated with a woman?"
The Sheriff's eyes tightened a little at the edges and the smile flowed down over the rest of his face, and he sighed.
"Oh, yes," he nodded.
Jacob twisted the fork against the pie, slid the tines under the bottom crust.
The Sheriff chewed his first bite, delighting in the preserved cherries. He chewed carefully in case a pit had slipped through, and sure enough, one had.
The Sheriff spit the pit out onto his plate, grateful for his caution.
We need to get a dentist in town, he thought. I wonder who Doc can recommend.
He looked up at his son.
"Sir, Annette ..."
Jacob frowned again and he seemed to trail off following a train of thought.
The Sheriff cut another bite of pie.
"Annette?" he prompted.
Jacob took a long breath.
"Sir, she was whining."
The Sheriff's ears twitched a little at the distaste in his son's voice.
"She said her ankles were swelling, she said she wasn't pretty anymore, she said she was fat and tired and she didn't deserve me."
"I see," the Sheriff said carefully, neutrally.
"Sir, she kept on and kept on and kept on and--" Jacob shook his head.
"Sir, she's the most beautiful woman I have ever seen," Jacob said, the intensity of his words reflected by the tightness of his fists.
"Did you tell her this?"
Jacob frowned.
"I did, sir."
"How did you tell her?"
Jacob looked sharply at his father.
The Sheriff's expression was knowing and patient, and in fact was so mild that Jacob -- immersed in the boiling heat of his feelings -- started to chuckle.
"Sir, I went down on one knee and took both her hands in mine and I told her she was the most beautiful woman in the world. I told her that would never change. I told her I hadn't noticed her ankles, she wasn't getting fat, and she was precious beyond gold and pearls."
"What followed?"
Jacob's face relaxed and he started to laugh.
"Sir, she started to giggle and she told me I was full of ..."
The Sheriff raised one eyebrow, chewing on another bite of pie.
"Yes?" he asked, a few flakes of crumb sailing out across his plate.
"Wellsir, she was polite when she said it."
"Mmm-hmm," the Sheriff replied.
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, was that the right thing to do? To tell her like that?"
The Sheriff forked up his last bite of pie.
"Is that all you told her?"
Jacob's face started to turn red and his father very carefully kept a neutral expression, for he knew how he'd handed the very same situation in the past.
"Well, sir ..." Jacob hesitated.
"No, sir, I ... that wasn't all."
The Sheriff took a long swallow of coffee.
"Sir, I kissed her."
"Kissed her."
"Yes, sir, and I taken my time about it."
The Sheriff drained his mug, set it down on its saucer.
"Jacob," he said frankly, "I believe you told her exactly the right thing."

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Charlie MacNeil 4-4-10


The plume bellowing from the stack of the Lady Esther broadened and grew darker as the grade progressed. Shoveled in with the coal were several pieces of pitchwood that burned with a fierce heat, keeping the boiler cooking at just below the redline of the pressure gauge. The engineer and boiler-tender had worked together for years, on other lines than the Z & W, and both men knew how to get the most from an engine without damaging it. In addition, the Lady Esther was no ordinary engine. Still, the immutable laws of gravity and inertia took their toll, so that the train's speed as it approached the top of the grade was slow, slower than either engineer or conductor, express agent or boiler-tender, cared to experience, considering the cargo they carried. But it was exactly what the watchers in the rocks at the summit were waiting for...

Charlie was approaching the summit from the east when the riders burst from cover to the west of the limestone-ballasted rail grade. The six all had bandannas concealing their features and were waving rifles, shotguns and pistols as they raced toward the cab of the engine. Charlie cursed out loud as he shucked his Winchester from the leather then gave the roan the steel. Like a shot the young horse went from trot to low-bellied run, flying over the ragged snow, weaving between scattered juniper and mountain mahogany, thundering toward the train robbery.

Steel screeched on steel as the engineer locked up the brakes, hoping to get the train slowed and reversed away from the riders before they could attack. The spang! of the first bullet ricocheting from the cab side disabused him of that notion immediately. As the Lady Esther ground to a halt engineer and boiler-tender raised their hands in surrender.

The roan was hunkered into the last rise below the rails, running flat out, when a thumping impact drove a grunt from the young horse. As its forelegs folded under it, nose digging into crusted snow, Charlie flung himself from the saddle, hanging on desperately to the Winchester. He was nearly clear when the tumbling mass of flesh thudded into his left hip, sending him flying. As he struck the ground and tumbled into a cluster of rocks, he heard the distant blast of a heavy caliber rifle echo from the surrounding hills. "Sharps!" he thought just before he slammed into the ground, stars pinwheeling through his brain until blackness closed in...


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Linn Keller 4-5-10


Lightning pecked impatiently at the round, black button on his telegraph key.
The sounder remained stubbornly silent.
The old man took a long breath, counted to ten and tapped the key once more.
He picked up his stub of a pencil, dropped it.
He heard its clatter clearly.
No, I ain't goin' deef, he thought, pressing the key once more while glaring at the unmoving sounder.
"Go git the Sheriff," he muttered.
Lightning's boy blinked, his reverie interrupted: his chair was comfortable, the stove warm and he had been in the midst of a pleasant daydream, perilously close to asleep.
"The Sheriff?" he asked, reaching up to rub his face.
"Yes, daggone it, that telegraph is deader'n a politician's promise an' it ain't but five minutes since that gold shipment pulled out'a town!"
"Gold!" the young man whispered.
He'd forgotten about the gold.
"Yes, sir," he gulped, reaching for the doorknob.
Lightning watched him go from a long-legged stride to a flat-out run.
Frowning, Lightning reached up and tapped the dead key again.

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Mr. Box 4-5-10


Sheriff Keller and Jacob were just putting the wraps on a good solid hot meal when the door burst open and Lightning's son flew in. He hesitated for a second as he scanned the room side to side then resumed his charge toward the sheriff's table yelling, "Pa said come git cha!" Sheriff Keller dropped a coin on the table and they were both striding for the door with two slices of pie half eaten left in their wake!
I know they didn't have near enough time to warm up after being out all night. As they were grabbing for the door I asked, "Need help?"

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Linn Keller 4-5-10


I thrust my thumb and forefinger into my vest pocket: the coin spun to the tabletop and I came out of my chair.
Jacob was already up and moving.
"What happened?" I barked, my hand heavy on the lad's shoulder.
"I don't know, sir," he admitted, "but the telegraph is dead and Pa said something about the gold shipment."
I seized my coat from its peg, clapping my hat on my head: I thrust my right arm into its sleeve, then the left, and reached for my engraved '73 rifle.
I had a distant pleasure when I realized I seized the rifle with my right hand.
Jacob shrugged into his own sheepskin lined and clapped his Stetson on his head.
Mr. Baxter leaned over his gleaming mahogany bar and called, "Need help?"
I turned, thinking fast.
"We'll need a travelin' meal if we could please!" I said, and my voice was sharper than I'd intended, for I was mentally reviewing the route of the rail line between there and Cripple.
I blinked as I realized the disappointment in Mr. Baxter's eyes.
"Come if you like," I added. "Bring what you like but be ready for a fight."
Mr. Baxter reached up for the bell-pull and he hadn't but got it tugged once or twice but the girl came steaming out of the kitchen like a paddle wheel tug heading down river, coming down the hall toward us with two cloth wrapped bundles.
Jacob was impatient at the door and Mr. Baxter was stripping off his apron as I tossed one bundle to Jacob.
"Head on out," I nodded, "We'll be right behind!"

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Mr. Box 4-5-10


"I'll need to change, but I'll be quick!" and I told Lightning's son to tell Shorty to get my horse ready.
"Yessir, Mr. Baxter!"
I fired up to my room and changed into some heavier outdoor wear and put on my shootin irons and headed for the livery.

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Charlie MacNeil 4-5-10


Charlie's eyes snapped open then immediately slammed shut to block out the blazing lances of pain that the sun's rays, slanting in from the west, had driven into his abused brain. He stifled a groan as his hand closed on his Winchester and he pushed himself to a sitting position. The nest of rocks his fall had tumbled him into blocked his line of sight on all sides, which meant no one could see him, either. Between two of the chunks of granite he could see the sprawled form of his horse, neck twisted back under its off side shoulder, leaving the saddlebag holding his spare cartridges on top and within reach.

Cautiously, Charlie slipped out on his belly, reached up and unbuckled the flap on the bag and retrieved the sack of cartridges that were on the top of the cargo. Squinting against the drumbeat and hammer blows in his skull that demanded his attention he hurriedly filled his pockets with shells before making an attempt to see where his adversary might be. He peered through a crack in the granite in time to see a man riding a long-legged sorrel mule, buffalo gun cradled across his thighs, appear from behind the crest of the ridge. The mule picked its way carefully down the slope and approached Charlie's nest in the rocks, its rider scanning the area and the dead horse warily. Charlie racked a round into the chamber of the Winchester.

"You best stop that critter right there!" he barked over the sound of the rifle's action. The mule's lanky rider, startled, began to lift the Sharps from his lap with his right hand around the wrist of the stock. "Mister, I will kill you where you sit if that rifle moves another inch," Charlie told the rider conversationally.

"You wouldn't shoot a man without givin' him a chance, would ya, mister?" the fellow questioned.

"You just try me!" Charlie snapped. He was in no mood for palaver. His horse was dead, he had a splitting headache and he was thoroughly mad.

"I reckon I'll do just that!" the rider declared, quickly dropping the reins on the mule's neck to grasp the Sharps with both hands. Charlie's Winchester barked once, then again, then he was scrambling toward the train...

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Linn Keller 4-6-10


Jacob was out of sight when I hit the saddle.
The Sun-Witch was tired of standing around all night.
She got to nap some and I didn't but right about then I didn't care.
She knew Jacob had landed on the hurricane deck in a two handed hurry and she wanted to play too, but though the reins were loose around the hitch rail, she never tried to pull free.
I blessed Santos and Eduardo and probably Firecracker Mel as well for the good care they took in training this partuclar mare. It would have played hell with my travels if she'd run off after Jacob and left me afoot.
I reckon that all went through my mind but it went through at the velocity of a Minie ball on a down hill shot.
The only thing I cared about was getting as much speed out of this Mexican palomino as I could, in the shortest amount of time.
My gut told me there was trouble ahead and I wasted a few moments cussing myself for seven kinds of a fool, and a damned fool at that: cold and tired though I was, I should have rode with that train --
Should have, should have, should have, singsonged through the canyons of memory and pictures rose, unbidden, as the Sun-Witch turned hard and pounded along the railroad track, stretching her neck and stretching her soul and grabbing as much real estate as she possibly could before throwing it away underneath of her.
I saw men, young men, ranked up and standing before a ranked enemy, and I should have had them on their bellies behind rocks instead of standing up to be killed, mowed like ripe wheat at harvest.
I should have deserted that damned army and got home and took Connie and Dana away before the small pox came through.
I snarled and cast the thoughts from me.
Should have, my aunt Cindy's billy goat! I thought viciously.
I got dealt one hand of cards and I got to play them as best I can!
My weight was in my stirrups and my body was leaned forward and my hands were on the mare's neck and I was talking to her, pleading with her, urging her to greater speed:
"Run ... run ... run ... run!"
My neck was thrust forward like hers and the wind of our passing tore the tears out of the corners of my eyes and around the side of my head into my ears.

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Linn Keller 4-7-10


Angela's arms crossed and she assumed what she hoped was a very stern expression.
Esther's expression, however, was one of amused tolerance.
"Daddy lets me ride with him every morning!" Angela protested, pat-pat-patting her foot and frowning.
The protrusion of her bottom lip, however, betrayed that she was having a little-girl pout, instead of an adult-level disagreement.
Esther tilted her head a little. "Daddy has important work this morning," she said gently, "otherwise he would be here."
"I don't like you anymore!" Angela blazed, her arms uncoiling and going stiff at her sides. "I'm gonna tell Daddy to buy me a new Mommy! They're only fifty dollars at the general store and he can afford that!"
So saying, Angela spun and stomped off for her room.
Esther's hand was over her mouth to contain her expression: she did not want to laugh openly, but it was all she could do to keep from laughing aloud.
There was a quiet sound of distress behind her, a light hand on her shoulder.
Esther turned and laughing, Irish-green eyes met laughing, Celtic-blue eyes.
Bridget's apron was gathered in one hand and pressed against her mouth for the same reason that Esther's hand was over her own smiling visage.


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Linn Keller 4-8-10


I could see Mr. Baxter on behind me and he was wastin' no time a'tall.
I looked forward and saw Jacob, drawn up, standing in his stirrups, looking.
From his posture I knew he was using binoculars.
Good lad, I thought: Jacob was much like me -- too much! a cautioning voice hissed somewhere between my ears -- but the rest of me approved of what I'd just seen.
Instead of conducting a one man cavalry charge, he'd drawn up with some cover to break his outline and he was glassing the situation.
I could not see what he saw but he turned and looked to his back trail.
I raised my hat to let him know it was me and he waved in return, then returned to glassing whatever was ahead.
A man can see for a fantastic distance in the mountains and I could see where The Lady Esther had labored hard up the grade, laying black smoke as she breathed hard in the thin air, pulling that long turning section of up hill track: her exhaust darkened her path a little: I knew if I reined in and listened, over my mount's breath I would hear nothing.
They've stopped her on the grade, I thought, cursing myself for looking to my own comfort instead of riding with this unscheduled, unannounced, unthinking shipment.
I just had to eat, I thought. I just had to go inside and thaw out!
There was no help for my sloth, however. It would not matter how much I flayed myself over this lapse of judgement: the dark deed was being done and I could only hope the engineer and fireman and the express messenger would come through this alive.
In the distance I heard a shot, another.

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Mr. Box 4-8-10


I got some warm clothes on as quick as I could and sprinted over to the livery. Shorty had my horse ready. "Thanks, Shorty! Which way did they go?" "Up the line!" he shouted!
I don't know how those guys could even think about doing this after being out in the cold all night. It's the least I can do to get out here and be sure they're all right. Once I got headed up the railbed I could see Sheriff Keller ahead in the distance. I was just letting my horse set his own pace, short of being spurred again! It's been a good while since I've ridden like this. "Horse, you've had a lot of rest lately! HAWW!"

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Charlie MacNeil 4-8-10


Charlie made it to the engine unscathed and unnoticed, somehow. He wasn't sure how he'd managed it, unless his guardian angel, which he was sure was occasionally babysitting someone else, had suddenly made an appearance on his shoulder. Either that or the Good Lord had decided that He did indeed look out for fools, drunks and children; Charlie figured that he qualified for at least a couple of those. Regardless, he found himself standing next to the cowcatcher of the Lady Esther, puffing a bit faster than the locomotive as he tried to catch his breath.

When he was sure that he could breath quietly, he eased his head past the edge of the boiler far enough to get an oblique look at the cab windows. Over the huffing of the engine he could hear voices, so he was sure that the engineer and stoker were still alive. He was about to step out when a plaid-clad arm appeared, then the brim of a black hat and a long stream of tobacco juice that splattered on the edge of the road bed. That made one man who was obviously hard of hearing, as the fellow showed no indication that he'd heard the shots that killed the man on the sorrel mule.

Charlie counted to thirty, slowly, then stepped out again. He slipped up under the cab window, still wondering what he was going to do about the man in the cab. Then he grinned to himself and leaned the Winchester against the pushrod and hoisted himself up on the narrow ledge that ran the length of the running gear above the wheels, using the polished brass rail that decorated the side of the engine boiler as a handhold.

Charlie hunkered below the window, patient as a hunting puma, waiting. As if on cue, the arm appeared, followed by the stream of brown juice. The arm began to withdraw and Charlie reached up with his free hand to tap the arm above the elbow. The arm stopped moving then a bearded face appeared. The train robber's eyes widened as Charlie suddenly stood, grasped a big handful of the plaid jacket and heaved the man out through the window and head first into the road bed. The fellow hit with a thud and whoof of expelled air, and rolled on his back at the perfect moment to meet Charlie's descending knees as he dropped his full weight on the outlaw's chest. A work-hardened fist to the jaw put one man out of the fight for the foreseeable future...

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Linn Keller 4-9-10


Jacob's teeth gleamed beneath the binoculars.
The grin was not particularly pleasant.
As a matter of fact it was rather wolfish, the expression of a warrior beholding another warrior's good work.
He handed the binoculars to his father.
"Charlie got one," he said quietly.
The Sheriff nodded to the side and Jacob side-stepped his stallion further behind the concealing brush, allowing the Sheriff to hide as well.
Turning in the saddle, he waved to Mr. Baxter, raised a fist.
I've never worked with the man outside the Jewel, he thought, then nodded as Mr. Baxter drew up and faded out of sight.
"I can see him," Jacob said quietly.
The Sheriff turned his attention back to the train, stopped not far ahead.
"You have to know where to look."
"Yes, sir."
The Sheriff studied the situation.
"Looks like Charlie got another one."
"Just now?" Jacob bobbed his head a little, finding a bigger hole through the brush.
"Was that the shots we heard?"
The Sheriff handed back the binoculars.
"Orders, sir?"
The Sheriff turned, spun his hand overhead.
Mr. Baxter faded out of concealment and began trotting toward the two lawmen, holding as far from the tracks as he could.
He'll be harder to see there, the Sheriff thought approvingly.
"Now we wait. You've got better eyes than me. I'd be willing to bet there's more than two holding up a gold train."
"Yes, sir." Jacob raised the binoculars once more.

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Linn Keller 4-10-10


Bonnie was just within earshot, but just out of sight.
Caleb Rosenthal, Mayor of Firelands, husband and father, was seated at his desk in a velvet upholstered chair, with a slightly panicked, slightly uncertain and rather uncomfortable look on his face.
Sarah Rosenthal was seated on her Papa's lap with a look of utter innocence on her face.
Bonnie could almost hear the man's spine snap, crackle and pop as Sarah wound the man about her little finger.
"But Papa," she said, giving him the full benefit of her deep, liquid eyes, "I don't want a bicycle." She reached up and touched a curl of his hair, brushing it back from his ear. "I am perfectly happy with a horse."
Caleb's hands twitched and his arms were wooden as he moved tentatively, almost fearfully, to embrace his young daughter.
He'd been reading about the bicycle craze back East, he'd seen illustrations of fashionable young ladies in riding attire on civilized Chicago streets, cycling down paved boulevards, and he wished to benefit his daughter with this new innovation.
Sarah, on the other hand, was mortified at the idea.
She'd gone to her Mama and poured out her distress.
Bonnie had gently reminded Sarah that her Papa wanted the very best for her, whether it was the best fabric for her hand made dresses, or whether it was the expensive and highest quality piano they'd had imported, freighted and placed in their parlor; he wished his daughter to have the very latest and the very best that society could offer, and he did this out of a father's love for his child.
Sarah considered all this, and then determined that she would change her Papa's mind.
Caleb had the letter half-written that would order a bicycle for his daughter; Sarah had fortuitously divined his intention, and interrupted his labors, and now sat on his lap, prettily dissuading her pater from his intentions.
Caleb, for his part, had the distinct and unmistakable expression of a man who was afraid to touch something delicate: the same expression he'd had when he had been handed their newborn baby girl not many years before: Bonnie smiled again as she remembered how the man had blurted, "I'll break it!" and how Nurse Susan admonished him, "You can't break a child, they bounce. No, not like that, here, this is how you hold her" -- and Bonnie, aching from delivering what felt like a freight wagon, sweating and dissheveled and needing a bath, could not help but feel a moment's unseen smile at the absolute look of utter panic on her husband's face.
"But Papa," Sarah said, "a saddle is nice and wide and much more comfortable. A bicycle would shake me to pieces! And besides, Papa, a bicycle is not very dignified." Her voice was soothing and sweet and her fingers caressed the curve of his ear as she toyed with his hair.
"I, um," Caleb stammered, and Sarah tilted her head and batted her eyes.
"Papa, I know you love me. You have proven it a thousand times. I want for nothing, and I have you to thank for it all. If we were in Chicago, then yes, but this is not Chicago. Why, I would have nowhere to ride such a thing, and I would surely fall and break something!"
"I, um," Caleb mumbled, looking hopefully at the doorway, as if wishing his wife could intervene somehow.
"Papa, I am very happy with what I have. Uncle Linn gave me a lovely saddle and Aunt Esther gave me a fine riding mare. A bicycle would be a great step backwards, don't you think?" Sarah's voice was gently wheedling, and Caleb was putty in her hands.
"I, um," he said.
Sarah leaned over and kissed her Papa's forehead, running her arms around his neck and giving him a quick squeeze.
"I love you, Papa," she whispered in his ear, then slid off his lap and skipped out of the room.
"I, um," Caleb said to nobody in particular, wondering what had just happened.

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Linn Keller 4-11-10


I had my glasses, Jacob had his.
Mr. Baxter was close in behind us.
His horse was glad for the halt and I reckon he might be too, but my attention was yonder, uphill of the engine, among the rocks.
"Sir?" Jacob said softly.
"Red or blue?" I asked.
"Red, sir."
"He's yours."
"Yes, sir."
I kept my glasses on the rocks.
Beside me I felt movement: I had no need to look, to know Jacob handed his field glasses back to Mr. Baxter.
I heard his rifle whisper out of its scabbard, a squeak of leather as Jacob dismounted.
I watched the fellow with the red wild rag looking around, looking down.
He knew something wasn't right, he wasn't particularly comfortable and he was exposing himself, trying to see what was going on.
Mr. Baxter eased up on my left, grunted.
"Jacob?" he asked. "You got the red'un?"
There was a quiet click as the .40-60 came to full cock.
"Yes, sir."
"Hold, now," Mr. Baxter said, and I heard his Vernier sight come up and snap into place, then the precise, quiet click as his set trigger engaged.
Charlie got two, I thought. Here are two on over watch. If I was holding up a gold train ...
I looked a little lower, down near to the express car, and my belly tightened up some.
Two more: one under the express car, the other climbing atop it.
I glanced quickly to my right, my left: Jacob and Mr. Baxter had both gone to a sitting position, knees drawn up, elbows set and locked.
I raised my glasses again and found the pair in the rocks.
"Jacob, do you have him?"
"I have, sir."
"Mr. Baxter?"
"Yes." His answer was drawn out in a quiet, sibilant hiss.
"Gentlemen, you may fire when ready."

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Linn Keller 4-12-10


Mr.Baxter's Sharps came to full cock with its distinct CLANK, and I felt him wiggle a little, setting his backside on the hard ground in a little less uncomfortable position.
Jacob's breath sighed out through his open mouth and he took another, deep, quick, then let half of it out and settled a pale eye behind his Marble peep.
The world held its breath for a long, long moment.
I remember hearing bird song off to the left, the chuckle of water down a rock-lined run, I remember how good the air smelled in that moment.
One of the horses chewed on its bit and there was the multiple thump of second hand horse feed hitting the ground behind me.
I blinked, once, to clear my vision.
Charlie was crouched, having dispatched the fellow he'd yanked out of the cab, and he was starting to move.
I realized with some surprise that I, too, was holding my breath.

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Mr. Box 4-12-10


Charlie didn't know he had backup. He was just acting alone and as cautiously as possible. I was waiting to give Jacob first shot and let mine go as he recoiled, before the other guy had a chance to react. That would take a lot of wind out of their sails real quick! Then we could pick off what we could at the express car or whatever popped out! That'll draw attention away from Charlie and he might be able to clear the engine.

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Charlie MacNeil 4-12-10


It hadn't taken the engineer and stoker long to wrap the outlaw Charlie yanked out of the Lady Esther's cab up tight as an Egyptian mummy. Charlie slipped under the tender and was carefully making his way along beneath the front passenger car when he was startled by the booms of two heavy caliber rifles. So startled, in fact, that he reared up, banging his aching head on the undercarriage of the car he was under. He mouthed a silent curse and kept moving. He was going to assume that whoever was out there was on his side; otherwise, he was wedged deeper in the fertilizer pile than he originally thought.

Charlie heard a curse from the platform at the back of his passenger car then a pair of boots dropped to the roadbed and made a beeline for the express car. Charlie rolled out the other side of the car he was under and got to his feet, pistol in hand, and hustled toward the express car himself. He arrived in time to hear the runner's panicked voice say, "Damn, Buck, somebody just shot Hank an' Wesley! We gotta git outta here!"

"Not 'til we get that safe open!" another voice declared. "You in there!" the voice went on, addressing the express messenger. "Open up this here door, or I'll blast you outta your hole like a gopher outta his den."

The express messenger's muffled voice could be plainly heard from where Charlie stood with his back against the corner of the car. "You don't have the means nor the spine for it!" the plucky fellow declared. "And if you come in here, I'll shoot! I've got a pair of Greeners, and they're loaded for bear!"

Grinning at the messenger's words, Charlie slipped over the knuckle connecting the express car with the Pullman car behind it then stepped around the corner of the express car. "And whoever's left when he gets done, I get to shoot," he said conversationally. He couldn't help but chuckle when he saw the expression on his victims' faces. "So why don't you boys just unbuckle them belts and deposit your irons on the ground?" His tone said he was in a good mood; the unwavering eye of the Remington's muzzle said the humorous tone was something less than the truth.

The two men stood as if frozen, until Charlie, the grin fading from his lips, snapped, "Your compadre shot my horse, I've got a knot on my head and a splitting headache, and I'm not in the mood to take any guff off of a couple of two-bit wannabe train robbers. Now drop those guns!" The Remington's hammer ratcheted back and almost immediately the men were scrambling to get rid of their pistol belts. "Now kick 'em over here, and drop your britches."


"I wanna see your pants piled around your ankles, and I wanna see it now. I don't want you boys runnin' off."

"But I ain't wearin' no drawers," the one called Buck grumbled.

"That is not my fault, nor is it my problem," Charlie informed him. "Drop 'em! If what you got under those britches is embarrassing, use your hat for cover. I don't care." He stood waiting impatiently, the pistol rock steady.

Buck was right, he wasn't wearing drawers. But Buck was mad, and he was apparently also stupid. As his britches hit his boot tops, he yanked off his hat and reached into the crown for the pepperbox nestled therein. The muzzles of the little pistol were just clearing the brim of the outlaw's hat when Charlie's Remington barked. Buck stared down in surprise for a moment at the red hole that suddenly appeared in his shirtfront before his eyes rolled up in his head and he slumped to the ground. Charlie looked at Buck's partner in crime.

"You got anything like that in mind?" he asked.

"Not me, mister. I may be crazy, but I ain't near that dumb."


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Linn Keller 4-13-10


HOLD fire, HOLD fire," I chanted.
One of the horses behind muttered unhappily at the double concussion but stayed put.
I blinked again. My eyes burned from the intensity of my gaze: I had braced my forefingers against my temples -- a trick I'd learned with my first set of field glasses -- and I studied the confusion around the rail cars.
Charlie came around between the Pullman and the express car and it looked like he was having a conversation with the two holdups.
I don't have any idea why the one was walking along the top of the express car unless he was looking for a hatch to get in, or maybe thinking the sound of his footfalls overhead would intimidate the express messenger.
I knew a little something about the fellow, and knew he did not intimidate easily.
That's one reason Esther hired him.
"Well now," I said as two sets of pants hit the ground.
"What do you see, sir?" Jacob asked.
I chuckled and Mr. Baxter replied for me.
"Would that be Two Moons?" he asked, passing the field glasses to Jacob.
I missed what happened next, only that one of the holdups made a move of some kind and earned a fast trip to the Hereafter for his troubles.
Charlie was unhappy, I could tell by the look on his face.
There are those who are gifted with the reading of lips: I am not so gifted, but I know when a man is irritated, and Charlie was that.
"I reckon it's down to Full Moon now, sir."

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Mr. Box 4-13-10


"Suppose it's about time to mozey on up that way?" I asked. "Seems like Charlie's about got it under control unless there's another surprise somewhere."

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Linn Keller 4-14-10


Jacob eased his rifle's hammer down to half cock.
Mr. Baxter's thumb was firmly around that big musket spur hammer as he touched the front trigger and eased the hammer down, then back up to the half cock notch.
I waited until the two of them were mounted before I lowered my binoculars and Jacob took over watching.
The three of us -- Jacob to the right, alongside the ballast, me in the middle and Mr. Baxter on my left, where the dirt was bare or mostly so -- rode up toward where Charlie and the gold train waited.
Now I don't normally ride a horse down the middle of the tracks.
Matter of fact I make it a practice not to: I don't want to stone bruise a hoof, but more than that, I watched a young lieutenant go flying off his mount right before his mare started screaming.
The young fool had been galloping her down a set of tracks and she wedged a hoof in the V where a spur took off the main line.
Broke her leg, tore off the hoof, I shot her and debated whether to shoot her rider.
A Confederate sniper took care of that detail for me.
The Sun-Witch didn't mind a bit riding up the middle of the tracks and I don't reckon Charlie minded the sight of three of us abreast, coming up toward him.
Jacob had to crowd up between the tracks behind me when we come to that rocky section.
I kept looking at that section above us.
Two carcasses to drag down if nothing else, I thought, and a fine place to hide a rifleman.
I fetched out my own rifle and propped it up on my thigh.

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Linn Keller 4-15-10


Esther looked back at her sleeping daughter and drew the door of her office shut, gently, turning the knob so the bolt would not drop into its mortise with its usual noise.
Gathering her skirts, she crept down the hallway to the stairs leading down, down to the front doors of the Jewel.
She halted at the top of the stairs and listened.
The stage had come in not long ago and there were always passengers hungry and tired and needing to step out and stretch, and as Firelands was one of the rare stops where the stage actually stopped for an hour or so, the passengers were able to partake of the Jewel's signature provender.
Some came in with money in their pockets, and some did not; those with money ate; those without, if able, tried to earn some coin.
Esther suspected this might be the case as she leaned a shoulder against the wall and remembered.
The sound was somewhat reminiscent of a triple-strung piano with its cast-iron harp removed and being tapped delicately with a curved wooden striker.
Esther recognized the sound immediately.
"A hammer dulcimer," she whispered as the happy sounds of the Arkansas Traveler sang up the stairway.
Esther drew a kerchief from her sleeve and pressed it to her left eye, then her right, as she stood in the silent hallway and listened, and remembered.
She had been Angela-sized or maybe just a little bigger when her beloved Aunt would play her hammered dulcimer for them.
She remembered being held by her Mama's arms, listening to her Aunt coax magic out of this frame of shining wood with wires running across its surface.
She remembered the ivory color of the hammers, as Auntie called them, looking like thick knitting needles with a wooden leaf at their end: they had been a gift, she said, from her husband many years ago, when they were both young: and though her Auntie was near blind with age, crippled with arthritis, slowed with the infirmities of her years, she stoutly refused to allow her several conditions to keep her from her music.
The very last time her Auntie had played, she'd played for her Esther, one night when Esther was a tall girl and barely a woman, when cannon muttered in the distance, fires glowed on the horizon and panicked riders galloped through with breathless reports of ravening hordes of Yankee locusts on the approach.
Her Aunt had played "Arkansas Traveler", and then she gave the hammers to Esther.
"These are yours now," she said. "My music is done," and she went to bed, and died in her sleep.
Now Esther stood at the top of the stairs, her lace-edged kerchief crumpled into a mass in her trembling fist, and she remembered again the grief of a tall girl, barely a woman, upon finding her Aunt had indeed played her last.
Esther pressed the kerchief to her eyes one final time, took a deep breath and glided down the stairs.
She smiled at the tired young traveler playing the instrument, a young man with trousers worn at the knee and a coat almost too small for him, and raised her chin to summon the waitress.
"Give that young man whatever he is having," she said quietly.
"Yes, ma'am," the girl nodded, smiling, for she, too, remembered someone she'd loved who played such an instrument, half a thousand miles distant and almost a year before.

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Mr. Box 4-15-10


As we rode up near the Lady Esther I asked Sheriff Keller if the train could start from a dead stop and continue up the grade or would they need to back down and get another run at it. He wasn't sure but the boiler would have to stoked up good before they tried anything. We were keeping their eyes peeled for any other problems as we approached. I kept a pistol drawn.

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Linn Keller 4-16-10


Engineer and fireman made short work of geting The Lady Esther back up to pressure.
They hadn't blown off her boiler nor damped her fire; she was still hot and it required but little stoking to raise the steam pressure until the pop-off valve started to hiss and sputter.
Sanders opened, dry quartz sand trickled through the gracefully curved tubes and dribbled gritty grains thick on the steel rails in front of the steel wheels.
"Come on, girl," the engineer whispered. "Come on, my Lady," and he leaned against the throttle.
The Lady Esther hissed and her drive wheels began to turn.
Sand was crushed to powder under her weight.
The first surge of steam out her stack seemed unusually loud in the still, thin air.
"Come on, girl," he muttered, leaning out his window to look down at the drivers.
A hiss, another chuff and The Lady Esther labored against her burden, beginning the long climb up the rest of the grade.
The sand had turned the trick.
She never slipped a wheel.
"That's my Lady," the Engineer laughed, patting the curve of her boiler affectionately with a heavy-gloved hand.
Jacob rode in the back of the passenger car with prisoners and dead alike.
No others had been found in the rocks above.
The Sheriff found himself obliged to throw his coat over his mare's head to get her into the stock car, rather to Charlie's amusement: at one point the tall, muscled ex-marshal beheld his friend, hoist well into the air, holding onto the mare's bridle with both hands and profaning his golden mount with a remarkable string of highly imaginative invective, none of which was what you'd call profane ... but it tickled his Old Lawman's Funny Bone to hear the Sheriff pronounce the horse a well bred refugee from a glue factory, and it was enlightening to discover from his Brother's discourse the entire equine lineage, back to the first stallion and mare that were created, named and ridden in the Garden of Eden, were as contrary, hard headed, obstinate, recalcitrant, reluctant, jug headed and pea brained as this one.
Apparently when the Sheriff ran out of air the mare ran out of fight, for about the time the former paused for breath, the latter quit backing and tossing her head, and acquiesced to be led to the wooden ramp, and up into the stock car.
They disappeared into its interior and Charlie heard the scrape of a galvanized steel scoop in the grain bin, followed by a pained yelp.
Charlie managed to look very innocent as the Sheriff emerged, rubbing his hinder and snarling.
"Well, did she bring blood?" he drawled, to which the Sheriff snapped, "I sure as hell ain't gonna show ye!" -- at which point the wholesome innocence of Charlie's expression penetrated the Sheriff's pique, and both of them ended up laughing.
Charlie swung up into the front of the passenger car, the Sheriff climbed into the engine's cab and Mr. Baxter, grinning, turned his nose back toward Firelands.
The sun was warm on his back, the air cool and fragrant, and his horse set a steady pace for home.

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Linn Keller 4-16-10


The cab of the engine was too crowded for three men.
Riding in the engine wasn't the first good idea I've had that didn't amount to much and I don't reckon it'll be the last, so I figured to get out of honest workin' men's way and scrambled up the pile of coal and onto the broad, flat back third of the tender, the water tank with its big hatch: I hesitated, then climbed the ladder down the other side and stepped onto the platform of the passenger car.
Charlie was grinning at me through the door, a grin only he had ... not particularly pleasant and more like the grin you'd see on a cat right before it pounced on its prey.
He opened the door and there was more in his eyes.
I knew he had something to tell me.
The passenger car was mostly empty. With Jacob in back with carcasses and prisoners, most of the folks had moved up toward the front.
I looked around as was my habit.
"Did any of these folks get robbed?" I asked Charlie, quiet-like.
Charlie's eyes tightened a little at the corners and his smile had gone from cat to wolf.
"Did they talk?"
Charlie nodded.

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