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Linn Keller 6-5-10

 

Fred Jerome looked out the window as the train pulled into Firelands.
It had been long years since he'd seen his old and dear friend: the man had been a mentor to him, not quite a father -- no one could replace his Pa, but a young man without a father nearby will naturally gravitate toward a father figure -- anyway, there was also some shirt tail relative involved.
Fred never did figure out quite whether they were in-laws or out-laws but he didn't much care.
He'd decided to cast the dice and head West, and if he was going to turn his back on all that had been, he was damn well going to stop and see the man who'd so influenced his young life.
St. Louis had been big, sprawling, brawling, cosmopolitan, urban, sophisticated ... and expensive ... he'd spent far more than he'd anticipated in that town and even now gave his slender purse an experimental squeeze.
He'd regarded its diminished contents rather sadly as the train pulled out of St. Louis, and a gambler offered a turn of the cards for what was left.
Wisely, Fred declined the man's kind offer.
Now Fred looked at the backs of the buildings lining the main street and swayed a little as the car slowed: hiss and klunk beneath his feet told of the Westinghouse brakes' application.
He smiled a little, but only a little: his expression was perpetually doleful, and good news or bad had the same effect on his long face: he managed to maintain a perpetual expression of wonderful sadness, even now, as he considered that every other railroad had punctuated its travel with heavy footfalls overhead as the brakemen strode down the roof of the car to apply brakes by hand.
The Z&W was the first railroad he'd ridden that used the new Westinghouse system.
They were not the first -- progressive railroads back East were slowly, slowly beginning to use them -- and his thin, imperceptible smile faded as he realized the train slowed not just more quickly, but very smoothly, as they chuffed into the depot.
Fred stood and lifted his grip from the rack overhead.
His posessions in this world were few; a couple changes of clothes, a second pair of shoes, three books and a hat were all he had left.
That, and the skills he'd learned, thanks to his mentor.
Fred took a long step over onto the depot platform and looked at the telegrapher's window.
I have missed you, my friend, he thought, just as a tall, slender young man came around the corner, as if to open the telegraph office door.
The pair stopped, each regarding the other, each with the same very distinct impression:
I should know you --
Samuel, in spite of his grief, brightened: "Fred!" he exclaimed, throwing his arms as broadly wide as the grin on his young face, and advancing toward the newcomer.
Fred dropped his grip and with a joyfully sad expression said "Samuel?"

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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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Linn Keller 6-7-10

 

"Samuel!"
Esther's embrace was motherly, her voice warm and welcoming, and the smells of supper reminded the lad he'd not eaten for some time.
His companion, too, noted the savories in the air, but tried not to look too famished.
"I got your note, ma'am," Samuel said uncertainly. "This is Fred Jerome -- we grew up together and his Pa and mine were --"
Samuel's expression changed, mostly around his eyes, and Esther could feel the aching emptiness his eyes described.
"Mr. Jerome, be welcome," Esther said formally, taking the young man's hand in both hers. "Have you two eaten?"
"Yes, ma'am," Samuel lied.
"No you haven't. Come now, supper's ready!" -- and taking each of the lads by a hand, Esther towed them into their dining room.
"My husband won't be home for a bit, and I can't abide a cold supper," Esther said in her best I'm-the-mother, do-as-I-say voice. "Please, join us."
Fred stepped around Esther and drew her chair out: Samuel flushed, berating himself for not thinking of it sooner, for Esther's expression was one of pleasure, and of approval.
Angela watched the two newcomers to their table with a child's frank and open curiosity.
Samuel looked around, remembering: he and his Pa had eaten here a few times, guests of the Sheriff and his wife: as a matter of fact, he'd had his first taste of strong drink just yonder, nearer the parlor piano, and he could not help but smile a little remembering his Pa's fine tenor as Esther played and they all sang.
Fred ate with a good appetite, Samuel ate sparingly at first, at least until his stomach realized it was finally getting fed -- his stomach had been so flat empty the sides were kind of sand papering together -- and soon he, too, was eating as a young man ought.
They were through the second platter of meat, and each had two more helpings of mashed taters and gravy, before conversation resumed.
"Samuel," Esther said without preamble, "this is a difficult time for you, and I want you to think this over before you give an answer."
Samuel put down his fork and looked squarely at Esther.
He was too consumed with grief for niceties; he regarded her square-on, nodded once.
"I understand from your father that you can run the telegraph office as well as he. I want you as our telegrapher, at your father's rate of pay."
"Yes, ma'am," Samuel said faintly.
"Now Samuel, don't you yes-ma'am me," Esther scolded gently, her quiet smile taking any sting from the words before they arrived. "If you don't think it's the right thing for you, don't do it because you think it's what you're supposed to."
"No ma'am," Samuel said, looking down at his plate. "I mean yes ma'am. I mean --"
He rested his forearms on the edge of the table and closed both hands into quivering fists.
"It ain't easy, ma'am." His gaze was distant now, looking out across the table and through the far wall.
"Pa was my anchor. He was the world's foundation and now he's dead and buried."
Fred's look was quick and startled: his eyes snapped to Samuel, then to Esther, his mouth opened as if to say something, then he closed it, carefully.
He looked sick with the realization that his old and dear friend was dead.
"It feels so," Esther nodded. "I felt the same when --"
She blinked, shook her head a little.
"Mr. Jerome." Esther sat a little straighter. "What brings you to our part of the mountains?"
Fred shifted in his seat, suddenly uncomfortable.
"Ma'am, I, um, came out hoping to find work. His Pa--" he hooked a thumb at Samuel -- "he and my uncle taught me the key, and I hoped to find work pounding brass."
"Samuel, would you object to having a business partner?" Esther asked, a quiet smile drawing up the corners of her eyes.
Samuel looked at his old chum.
"Let's try it," he said, nodding.
Angela, bored with adult conversation, brightened as pie was borne into the room by their starched, ruffled maid.
"Yay!" she exclaimed, clapping her little pink hands, and in spite of his uncertainty, for he was far from home and experiencing many new sights and sounds and situations, Fred smiled at the little girl's unaffected delight.

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Charlie MacNeil 6-7-10

 

Charlie stepped out on the porch with a steaming porcelain mug of Arbuckle's best in hand to lean against the juniper pole cornering up the shingled overhang. A broad grin creased his face as he sized up the crop of broom-tailed foals skittering across the grass of the holding pasture yonder past the corrals. The spotted stud colt whose arrival had brought the silver wolf, being older than the others by a good bit, was lording it over his smaller siblings, trotting aloofly at his dam's side until the beauty of the spring morning and the freshness of the air was more temptation than his exuberant nature could suppress. With a squeal he raced to join the others as they gamboled through the bright green of the pasture.

All of the mares had delivered without incident, and between them Charlie and Fannie had imprinted all of the foals, seven stud colts and five fillies. At only a few weeks old, all were broke to halter, hand and piercing whistle. Charlie strolled to the pasture fence, pursed his lips and shrilled his morning greeting to the herd. Heads came up and with a nickered chorus the spotted mares and their offspring variously trotted, ran or galloped up to where Charlie waited with dried apple treats for all who might be interested. Charlie grinned widely again as Fannie stepped up alongside him and put her arm around his waist. Life was indeed good!

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Linn Keller 6-10-10

 

I swirled the brandy and brooded.
Court had been earlier.
I'd given testimony in Jacob's shooting.
He was exonerated and Hinkle sentenced to 90 years in the state pen for the attempted murder of a lawman, and fleeing the original warrant.
Turns out he'd been on the dodge for better than a decade when he was found out, and Jacob went out to fetch him in on the strength of the warrant.
I stared at the floor, not seeing it: the brandy smelled rich and strong as I shoved my nose down into the snifter.
My arm moved of its own accord.
My mind was elsewhere.
I winched my jaw back into place with an effort: I'd had it shoved out, hard, for a man wants to protect his son and I'd done anything but.
I took a sip of the brandy, swallowed, took a sizable gulp.
I stood and saw my reflection in the window.
I drew back my arm and made to throw that brandy balloon right through the black pane when Esther's hand caught my wrist: she timed it perfectly, she caught me before I brought my weight into the throw, and drew the glass from my fingers.
"Now, dear," she said gently, "we don't want to waste good brandy, do we?"
She raised the snifter, took a delicate sip.
"You have good taste, Mr. Keller."
I looked at the window I'd come near to perforating, then I looked at my bride as she placed the brandy snifter precisely on a hand crocheted doily.
"He's home," I said curtly, setting back down and leaning back in the upholstered chair. "Annette is taking good care of him, he's under his own roof and he's doing fine."
Esther stood, looking very much the proper wife and mother: she clasped her fingers together and nodded. "I would expect nothing less," she said crisply.
I sighed, shook my head.
My jaw thrust itself out again.
I looked up at Esther.
"My dear," I said, a little more gently this time, "you are wiser than I."
Amusement gathered at the corners of Esther's eyes and she turned a little, turned back, her skirt swinging with the move. "Of course," she said. "I'm a beautiful woman with her own railroad and a fine upstanding husband.
"Besides," she added, bending and putting her forehead against mine, "I'm Irish!"
I closed my eyes and felt her hands on mine.
I opened my eyes and looked into hers.
"Charlie was right."
Esther's eyebrows went up and she tilted her head a little, smiling gently.
"Things'll look better in the morning."
Esther nodded. "Charlie is a wise man," she affirmed.
I picked up the snifter, downed the rest of the amber peach.
"I'd best go to bed now," I said.
Esther took my arm and we headed for the staircase.
I got up stairs and half undressed before the distilled fruit started to hit me.
Once my head hit the pillow I don't reckon I so much as stirred until sunup.

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Linn Keller 6-10-10

 

Callused hands grasped the ribbed-glass handle of the heavy beer mug.
"Killed hisself?"
"Yep."
Foam clung to unkempt mustaches, untrimmed for too long: beer, cool, refreshing, fairly hissed as it rehydrated parched throats: of the four long, slow swallows, less than half hit bottom, the rest was soaked up by leather-dry throat muscles.
"What happened?"
Dirty fingernails scratched lightly at the gleaming, glassy mahogany.
"His boy said the man woke up with a bum tooth."
Unwashed hands beckoned the barkeep; a bowl of pretzels was slid over in response, a full beer mug traded for the empty.
"Musta been some tooth."
Another slow drink: slow, to savor the taste, a taste he'd missed terribly. A man on the trail doesn't drink much other than Adam's Ale unless he used it to boil up Arbuckle's. He's woke up at night, dreaming of this, dreaming of the smells of cooking, the taste of beer, the feel of the burnished brass rail propping up his boot as he stood, hip-shot and relaxed, in front of the great mirror behind the bar.
"His boy said he had a knot the size of a walnut on his jaw."
A grimace; he'd had such, once, and he recalled nearly passing out from pain when a fellow soldier used a common set of pliers to drag it out of his swollen gum.
"I guess he took that-there steam train over to Cripple -- they got a dentist over there, or some fellow claims to be -- he fetched out that bad tooth and about a pound of gum meat with it."
A grimace, a shiver: another raised finger, and Mr. Baxter slid a shot glass of something water clear and not over 30 days old over to him.
He knocked back the shot as if to sear the memory from him.
"He come back with the whole side of his face swole up an' fevered, an' he lasted like that two days and a night."
Two beer mugs levitated as one; two throats pulled down another good volume of cool, satisfying amber.
"His boy found him behint the barn."
A nod. He'd found someone like that, once, and it still troubled him these twenty years ago and more.
"Doc said it sounded like one of them-there suicide headaches."
A shiver, a nod, a raised finger.
It was past time for a sociable drink.
It was time to get good and drunk, get a good hot bath, get a clean bed, and forget the memories that swarmed around like angry hornets.

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Linn Keller 6-11-10

 

Sarah walked with the Bear Killer and the twins, while her Mama and Papa went into the Jewel.
The twins were giggly and laughing, but neither was willing to relinquish her hold on Twain Dawg's ruff: there was something very reassuring about this walking mountain of fur and muscle, and besides, sometimes their little flat-soled shoes tried to trip them, and Twain Dawg was a marvelous way to keep from ending up on the ground.
Especially since they were getting some sense of Looking Pretty and Wearing a Pretty Frock and Don't Get Dirty: lessons Mama tried hard to impress upon them.
Sarah was grateful that so far neither had decided to pull an Angela and make mud pies, but she was fearful the day might arrive -- and even more fearful that, as the Big Sister, she would be held accountable for the disaster that was sure to follow: and so she "rode a close herd" on her twin sisters.
Bonnie was quietly pleased that her growing girl was steady and responsible and attentive.
Sarah, for her part, was somewhat paranoid.
Two fellows were coming out of the Jewel, just as Bonnie and Caleb were going in: they opened the ornate double doors just in time to see two pretty little girls and a lovely young lady, keeping company with a blunt muzzled, black-as-sin bear cub that looked remarkably like some kind of a dog, and each decided that perhaps they had best forego a smoke and just go on upstairs for a bath and bed.
Each looked at the other, then back at the bar, perhaps wondering just what was in that beer of which they had both so liberally partaken.

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Linn Keller 6-12-10

 

Jacob's eyes snapped and his glare would have burnt holes in a seasoned white oak plank.
Annette's steady gaze met his, her chin lifting a little.
Jacob closed his eyes, tight, his hand equally tight around the cane: he debated whether to heave it across the room, then decided against it.
His Mother had recommended it to him -- "it will make it much easier to rise from a chair, dear," she had said, and the loving and loyal son thanked her in a kind and gentlemanly way.
The strong young man within, however, chafed at this veneer of affected manners.
A lifetime's training checked the heat of his temper, though it chewed at the steel bit of discretion between its teeth and pulled mightily at the reins of Jacob's reserve, until now, in the privacy of his own bedchamber, he was very near uttering words that would cut like a knife.
His knuckles were white and his hand trembled with the force of his grip.
Annette's hand was cool on his and he jumped a little, his incendiary pique dying with an almost audible hiss, like fire under a sudden shower of cool water.
There was a brisk rap from without, a quick knock-knock, knock, and they both knew the Sheriff had come to call.
Jacob's throat tightened as he came to his feet, much of his weight on the sassafrass cane's foot-shaped handle.
"Tell Pa," he said, his voice tight, "I'll be down directly."

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Linn Keller 6-13-10

 

Annette pointed a warning finger at me and I could see amusement and seriousness both in her sparkling eyes.
"Don't," she warned, and I set myself back down.
"Yes, ma'am," I said respectfully, for she was the Queen in her own Castle, and besides I'd never seen Annette with her fuse lit.
She'd always been such an even tempered sort, she'd always been so quiet natured and soft spoken, something told me that it would be most unwise to make her mad.
Annette's step was brisk in spite of her gravid state: she marched over to the pie safe and withdrew what I knew had to be fresh baked, and when she set down a sizable slab in front of me, my nose told me it was dried apple and my jaws started raining.
Annette was quite the cook.
Jacob had spoken most favorably of her table fare in the past, and the times I'd guested at their board corroborated his testimony: by the time Annette set that big mug of good hot coffee in front of me, my stomach was beyond growling, it was ready to stage a rebellion if necessary in order to get itself wrapped around that good pie!
I had risen and moved as if to get pie and plates myself, but Annette had stopped me.
I recall how she'd told Esther how Jacob treated her like delicate china, or at least had, until she'd stamped her foot and scolded, "Jacob Keller, I am carrying your child, but I am not helpless! Now scoot, out of my kitchen and let me get supper! Go on!" -- and when she saw the hurt in his eyes, she seized him by the front of his vest, pressed her lips most firmly to his, and thanked him for taking care of her as a man ought.
She'd maintained her independence so far as she was able, though when Jacob relieved her of a tub of wet clothes and packed them to the clothes line for her, she did not object.
I remembered all this when she fairly pinned me with that pointing Mommy-finger of hers, and so accorded her the respect she demanded by returning to my seat and allowing her to be the gracious hostess she'd always been.
Jacob's descent was nearly soundless. He wore fur lined moccasins in the house; there was no hiss of in-drawn breath, no click of teeth as if biting back an exclamation of pain, no grunt of discomfort: when Jacob came around the corner into the kitchen, he bore the cane as if a king's scepter.
Only the pallor around his mouth betrayed his discomfiture.
I rose.
"Jacob," I said, "did you notice how good it smelled this morning?"

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Linn Keller 6-14-10

 

Annette, in spite of her increasing girth, was the perfect hostess, if you ignored her frequent sit-downs, and her warning glare if either of us tried to get the coffee pot for her, or pick up the dishes for her, or do much of anything for her.
In all my born days I never saw a woman more contrary and hard headed about carrying on her duties in spite of her belly, Esther not excepted, and I believed her to have a corner on the market!
Jacob and I retired without, for it was too lovely a day to stay inside.
We walked -- slowly, for Jacob was damned and determined to stand up straight in spite of his sawed open belly and its repair -- we looked a the horizon and the mountains and speculated on the weather and crops and how his small herds were doing, and how he'd hired two neighbor boys to tend the herds and keep the fences up, and how well they'd been doing at it.
Then Jacob mentioned the neighbors had a girl of likely age, and I saw the opening for the idea that had been knocking at the back of my mind, ever since Annette set me down with that one finger.
"Jacob," I said, "might Annette find use for a girl around the house?"
Jacob stopped and for the first time he set that cane down workwise and leaned on it.
He turned his head a little and looked at me and for the first time I saw the man he had become.
That's a hard thing for a father to see.
A father too often sees his son as his son, as the boy he was, and never gets past that.
I recalled when I realized my own Pa's feet were made of the same clay as my own, and it was a terrible day indeed -- I know how flawed a creature I am, and I realized he was too -- and now I saw my son as a man grown and worthy of the name.
He nodded, breathing a little hard, and I figure he was in some pain.
I was, the time I had my belly worked on.
"I thought it a good idea," he affirmed, "but might be she'd take it better if you'd suggest it."
I laughed, and my chuckles echoed off the rock face to our left.
His Apple-horse and my mare both looked at us, then went back to grazing.
"Jacob," I admitted, "I reckon was I to make any such idea, she would likely drive me through the floor like a fence post."
Jacob grinned and for a moment, just a moment, the boy he had almost never been peeped around from behind the man and I saw that grin I'd seen so seldom, but cherished so much.
I laid a hand on his shoulder.
"No, Jacob," I said, "was I to give her flowers and say they were from you, it would mean much less than if you gave them yourself. Go on in there and tell her you're hiring a girl to work around the house. It will be a relief to her."
Jacob nodded, and his eyes told me it had been the right thing to say.
JAAACOB!"
Annette's voice was high and shrill on the still, cool air.
Jacob's left hand came up, his right bringing the cane up like a sword: my left hand dropped to the Colt's smooth walnut handle and we both took out for the house on a dead run.
That was the longest hundred yards I have ever run in my entire young life and Jacob was right beside me, matching me stride for stride.
We got to the front door and I skidded a little but Jacob did not and he was first up the steps, that rock maple cane held two handed, ready for a young war.
I was in right behind him.
Annette was leaned back against the counter with her hands on her belly and tears running out of both eyes, and her face was kind of glowing like those pictures you see of the Madonna in a Catholic church.
"Jacob," Annette squeaked, "it moved! I felt the baby move!"
The cane was loud on the spotless floor as Jacob took his wife in his arms and held her, and I set myself down, and none of us said a thing for a long time.

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Linn Keller 6-15-10

 

Mac smiled a little and considered this must be a day for good news.
He didn't really know what happened, but he'd finished sweeping off the boardwalk in front of the Mercantile when he saw the Sheriff ride past with a grin on his face as broad as any two counties in Texas.
The stage had come and gone, and with it the mail, and the schoolboys eager to cadge a penny candy if at all possible: Maude had shoo'd them out the door with a brisk flapping of her apron, and the lads scampered out with "Thank you!" sailing over their shoulder, and as Mac came inside and parked his broom bristle-end-up as he always did, he noticed Maude was sitting in her rocking chair, smiling a little and looking with fondness at the unfolded sheet she held in her lap.
Must be important, or from kin folk, he thought. She don't often sit down through the day, she's forever busy with somethin' or another.
Mac didn't inquire as it was none of his business, but he noticed from the little distance the lines were neat and regular, on both sides of the sheet, and he saw later one side of the sheet would have been a little difficult for Maude to reade, as the writing went both left-to-right, and then to avoid the extra postage of a second sheet, the writer had turned the paper sideways and written top-to-bottom over the existing script, thriftily crowding two-and-a-half pages' worth on one sheet.
Reckon that's why she got out her spectacles, he thought, for though she did all the bookwork, she seldom had need to resort to them save when she was tired, or had an unusual amount to do: but he thought it without rancor, as Maude had a faraway smile on her face.

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Linn Keller 6-18-10

 

Jacob wasn't near as pale.
Matter of fact Jacob had more color in his face than I'd seen for some time.
At the moment I was kind of red faced my own self.
I'd rode out to Jacob's place on the palomino mare and leading the black horse: I figured with his belly healing he'd need something easier to ride than his stallion.
The golden mare had a gait like butter, and a time or three I had been profoundly grateful for that bred in characteristic, but for now he needed that nice easy gait and it was not in me to hold it from him.
We'd set off for town, full of ... well, hell, there's little to make a man feel better than to know he's planted a good seed, and there is life in that belly! -- I don't honestly know who was the more tickled, him or me.
Now I said I hadn't seen Jacob with a good color to him and that takes some explaining.
You see, when I noticed his color, he was laying on his back on the ground, curled up and holding his belly, laughing like a damned fool.
I reckon it was comical, a least from his end.
The Sun-Witch hadn't really cared to have someone else in the saddle besides me and I hadn't known she was so finicky -- anyway she shied and she dumped him off and she run off, and me after her, and about the time I shook out a loop and yelled at her to stop, that black horse walled up its eyes and just plainly collapsed and him and me rolled over in the dirt and him on top of my leg, dead weight.
I should be somewhat more honest here.
I didn't just yell at that Sun-Witch horse.
I profaned her at the absolute top of my lungs, called her every foul thing to which I could lay my old soldier's tongue to, turned the air sulfur blue and I'm satisfied even the devils that hide under rocks quailed at the verbal assault, so profound were my terms.
I lay there swearing and kicking at the saddle and that black horse is just plainly dead weight, he ain't movin' and I begin to wonder if he didn't break his fool neck, least until I saw his flank move as he breathed and I kicked harder and swore louder and there was this odd noise off to my left and I turned much as I could.
That Sun-Witch horse had come back to Jacob looking for all the world like a guilty pup that just wet on the floor and knows he'd done something wrong, and Jacob was curled up like his belly hurt him but he's looking at me, propped up on one elbow and turning the color of a rotten strawberry, laughing his fool head off.
That made me madder.
I kicked harder at the saddle and yanked fruitlessly at my trapped leg and uttered maledictions that fair to singed the hair off that black gelding's comatose hide, until I realized how I must look in that moment ...
Then I looked over at Jacob, who has tears running out of his eyes, he's pointing at me and laughing and pounding the ground with the flat of his hand and I realize just how ridiculous I must look, and sound, and I begun to laugh too, and the two of us laid there in the dirt and the grass under the impossible blue depths of that endless Colorado sky, father and son, each making the approximate noise of a chicken laying a paving brick.

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Mr. Box 6-19-10

 

Sheriff Keller and Jacob came into the Silver Jewel, each of them with a smirk on their face like the cat that ate the canary. They swaggered up to the bar and I set them up a round. "Jacob's going to be a Papa!" Boasted Linn.
"Let me join ya!" I added. "Is that what's got ya so wound up?"
Jacob chuckled, "No, but another round of drinks couldn't pry it from my lips!"
"I can see this is going to cost me." I murmured.
Jacob started, "Words alone cannot describe what just went on, Mr Baxter."
Linn just rolled his eyes and shook his head! Jacob chuckled and continued, "Well, over at my house......." I leaned in a little and I cocked an eye toward the Sheriff and he was just hanging his head slowly shaking it. This had the makings of something good! A couple of others within earshot were beginning to direct their attention toward us, too.

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Linn Keller 6-20-10

 

I stood there with my head hung and my ears turning red, about to suffocate from trying not to laugh, and it didn't do me any good: I ended up hee-hawing with the rest of 'em as Jacob described how I looked layin' there with that black horse on top of me and me a-kickin' at that saddle, turnin' the air blue with profound utterances, and somewhere in the confusion Sean showed up and thumped me on the back and Jacob as well: I don't know how that big Irishman does it, but if there's celebratin' to be had he's in on it, and directly he stood there between us with a beer in his hand and laughter on his lips.
Along with some foam.
"Now by the good St. Florian, I knew the lass was wi' child," he boomed as he accepted another mug of the foaming barley water from Mr. Baxter, "but when the wee bairn begins t' move, it's a fine day indeed!"
Jacob set his mug down quickly, anticipating another flat-handed assault of Irish approval to his shoulder blades, but this time Sean laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Lad," he said quietly, "ha'e ye thought of a name?"
I leaned both elbows on the bar and shifted my weight. My knee didn't feel terribly good for having been pinned to the ground and I'm satisfied a rock crawled up through that dirt just so it could grind into the side of my leg opposite that saddle leather; I switched feet, propping the other boot up on the rail and debating whether to park my butt in a nearby chair.
I felt Sean's gaze on me and I looked over, and up, at the big red shirted fireman.
"Joseph's a fine name," he said again, and I realized he'd said it once already to Jacob, and he repeated it for emphasis, looking squarely at me.
I nodded.
I figured Sean knew, or had figured, how much that meant to me.
That was all well and good, and I tilted my mug up for another good long draught of Mr. Baxter's fine brew, when Sean asked to nobody in particular, "Now what was all the laughin' about when I come in here?" and I near to drowned, for I could not help but laugh at the image Jacob's words had painted.
It does a man good to laugh at himself and it don't hurt much on occasion to laugh at himself in good company like this!

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Mr. Box 6-20-10

 

It was good to have a happy occasion in the bar again. This was about the first time since it had been shut down for Lightning's funeral. I didn't mind setting up a few rounds for this one. I think maybe I'd better have some champagne on hand for the big event. I wonder how long that stuff keeps. It seems like there's about a half a case still back in the corner of the spring room.

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Linn Keller 6-21-10

 

Jacob had excused himself to get rid of some second hand beer.
I had already tended that detail my own self so I was doing pretty good.
Mr. Baxter had a broad grin on his face and so did I.
The piano player was doing a passing fine job -- skinny fellow and he wore his hat way over on the side of his head but he was a nice enough sort -- there was the usual happy hubbub of cards, coin and dice, and generally things felt pretty good.
Mr. Baxter exchanged my empty mug for a full one, and leaned his elbows on the bar.
I leaned over toward him, and Sean did too, for the big Irishman and I both recognized that the barkeep had something on his mind.
"Y'know," he said so only we three could hear, "Jacob took a good tickle tellin' about you back yonder."
Sean chuckled, I could feel his laughter -- and the animal heat off his near shoulder -- and I grinned.
Mr. Baxter looked a little troubled and I looked directly at the man.
"Now that ..."
He hesitated, as if unsure, then plunged ahead like a swimmer into cold water.
"Now that wasn't too good a respect to show for his Pa!"
I laughed again, quietly, and nodded, looking long into my past in that foaming mug of barley water.
"Mr. Baxter," I said at length, "I was some younger than him when I spoke of my own Pa."
Sean shifted his weight beside me, leaning his thick left arm on the bar so he could turn and put both ears to what I had to say.
"Y'see it was a fine spring mornin' and cool, a little damp. Easy breathin'."
I looked up at the fine, polished mirror, at the figures in it, the wall behind, and saw none of it.
I saw a piece of bottom ground in Perry County with the wooded sides of the holler rising on either side, and a slender, muscled man harnessing a bulky, furry footed draft horse.
"Pa had just harnessed up the horse to rake down a freshly plowed field.
"Wellsir, he got the harness on just fine and he was backin' that plow horse up a little so he could hitch on the harrow an' that-there horse took out across the plowed field with Pa draggin' along behind, holdin' onto them traces.
"He tried to whoa but he was belly whoppin' across the furrows like a whale boat drug through a rough ocean an' it knocked the wind out of him, an' I took out a-runnin' and a-whistlin' for that-there horse, and by the time he quit, the old man had dirt down his pants to his knees an' his shirt was about ruint, he'd let go of them traces an' he was layin' in a furrow tryin' to get some air into him an' darn if he didn't look like a fish gaspin'.
"Well, Granddad was alive yet, an' next I saw him I pulled him aside an' we had us a good hee-haw when I described how Pa was just a-beatin' across them-there furrows, wham, wham, wham, an' how his eyes was a-bulged an' his mouth was a-open an' shut, an' the two of us had us a good laugh there off to the side of Granddad's barn.
"Wasn't but an hour later that Pa had a talk with me."
I stopped, seeing the back field again, hearing the Grand Old Man's words, measured and quietly spoken, in my ear.
"He didn't much care to have his own Pa give him the hoo-raw about ridin' the dirt waves.
"Now I learnt somethin' that day." I looked up at Mr. Baxter, and I felt my voice tighten a little. "I learnt not to be quite so prideful as to speak to my son when the joke is on me.
"I earned that. I turned the wind sulfur blue and like to kicked a hole in that-there saddle, an' pore ol' Jacob like to suffocated, he was laughin' so hard."
I stopped and took two long swallows of good, cool beer.
"Jacob did me no discourtesy."
I set the mug down, licked form off my mustache.
I felt the corners of my eyes tighten.
"Matter of fact the way he told it, I thought it was funny!"

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Linn Keller 6-22-10

 

Any story told in a saloon grows legs and before supper time I think everyone and their uncle heard about my war dance whilst layin' on my side, and I was hailed as Saddle Kicker and Horse Killer, and I give a grin and a wave to nearly all of 'em.
I stopped and spoke with Caleb, lifted my hat to his lovely wife Bonnie and their little girl Sarah, who wasn't near so little any more, and her Bear Killer dawg licked his chops as he looked at me and thumped that log of a fur covered tail noisily against the floor of their buggy.
I had to stop and fool with him a bit and he like to washed the ears off my head.
Sarah was some subdued and I didn't know if anythin' was wrong or if she was just quiet.
I have trouble readin' women.
Men, now, I can pretty well figure out what is grindin' together between their ears, but women -- some girls included! -- well, I am not the first man to reckon the female is a mystery, and I don't happen to have a crystal ball.
Jacob was never one to be wasteful: we'd rode into town and he was needful of a few items at the Mercantile, not a whole lot, he'd said, he could carry the lot of it in his saddle bags, so I let him be and went over to the office.
I reckoned if he'd hurt hisself in that fall he'd have brains enough to go see Doc, and if he wasn't hurt he'd carry on.
I could fuss over him like a worried hen but he was a man grown and time he took care of such matters his own self.
I'd stood back and let him get into situations where he come out in second place: nothing too serious, now, but enough so he'd realize life ain't fair, and he has to watch out for himself for no one will do it for him, least that was the case until I was a-cuttin' a standing dead pine and he was on t' other end of that two man saw.
We had that saw greased up good and we were working steady at it, not out to kill ourselves nor to get over worked at the chore, and I looked up in time to see a widow maker fall free.
I honestly don't recall lettin' go of that cross cut saw and I surely don't remember stretchin' my legs out to get from me to him.
I do remember his belly, warm and solid ag'in my forearm as I grabbed him across the middle and kept on goin' and I recall that stub of a branch that slashed the vest I wore, and the shirt beneath, and the red wool of my long handles, and finally a generous amount of flesh: Jacob told me later he could have laid his finger in the wound.
It was bloody and spectacular looking but that was about it.
I let Jacob make his own mistakes but that time I didn't, and right glad I am for the choice I made.
But that was a year or two back and long in the past.
Jacob had meantime turned out to be a fine young man, and a son I was proud of.
I told him as much, and in as many words, and his ears turned a remarkable shade of crimson.
He nodded and he didn't say much after that.
Now, though, I set myself down in the cool and quiet inside of the Sheriff's office: Hinkle had been sent down-state to the penitentiary, we'd processed out those the court said we could, hadn't had to hang nobody in a while (which suited me just fine) and I set down, working my back side into that fancy pillow.
The chair had a contoured seat and was comfortable enough, but a bit of padding made life so much nicer.

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Linn Keller 6-23-10

 

"MA!"
The child's voice was thin on the high mountain air, pitched in panic and screamed at the top of a young set of lungs.
Inge Kolascinski straightened, left hand at the small of her aching back, using the hoe to help push herself upright.
She looked around at neat rows of tended crop, and nodded once.
Her husband was working the mine.
The garden needed tending, the children were performing their assigned tasks, the baby was asleep in the cabin and she'd been plying the heavy, long-handled hoe for longer than she realized.
Corn was sprouted and she had been working the dirt loose around them, cutting out weeds and so far she hadn't hooked a single corn plant.
A good thing, too, she thought.
We need that corn!
"MA-A-A-A!"
Panic and the jarring cadence of bare heels at a dead run down the path lent urgency to the child's panicked scream and Inge turned, drawing the hoe up in both hands in a defensive move.
Then she saw smoke pouring from between the hand split shake shingles of their cabin.
Inge threw the hoe aside, snatching her skirts and sprinting down the die-straight row: she was almost in the exact center of the garden and her fastest way to the cabin was straight ahead, down the row she'd just hoed.
She saw her oldest running toward the cabin as well but he was a few hundred yards away and she knew he would be of no help in the little time available.
Inge felt fresh-turned dirt crumble underfoot, felt the wind of her passing on her cheeks, smelled the first faint traces of wood smoke, but paid no mind to any of it: her entire focus was on the cabin, the cabin, the cabin!
Inge followed the gentle turn in the bare-dirt path and ran for the cabin's open door.
Hell glowed at her from within.
Inge crouched and screamed defiance.
She knew where the baby was and she was less than ten feet from her child: smoke seared her throat and burned her lungs and she could taste it deep in her throat, for she was breathing hard from running, from running as if life itself depended on the swiftness of her feet: eyes stinging, watering, she was suddenly blind, choking, and went to her knees.
The air was a couple degrees cooler and she proned out, crawling forward.
Grasping hands felt familiar cloth: she scooted forward again, seized a little girl's dress, felt resistance.
Inge rolled over, hauling her motionless child onto her breast, snarling a little: she was too mad, too scared to cry, and she rolled over onto knees and one hand, rubbing her eyes against one shoulder, then the other, trying to clear her vision.
The inside of the cabin was hot, hot, a reflector oven: fire was gathering its legs and muttering dark secrets as it devoured her very home, and she knew if she stayed it would consume her as well, and her baby.
"MAAAA!"
Inge tried to get up but couldn't: she rolled over to keep from falling on the limp infant in her arms and wallowed toward the lighter rectangle she knew must be the door.

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Linn Keller 6-23-10

 

Brother William elevated the Host and chanted in Latin, his fine tenor echoing in the cool interior of the stone sanctuary.
Miles away, Parson Belden listened with part of his mind and only one ear as he considered the next line of his sermon.
Annette sat at the piano, her delicate artist's fingers caressing the keys, bringing a particular beauty to the hymn she was practicing.
In the Mercantile, Maude was carefully writing out another order: the mines were a steady and reliable customer, and she had increased her net worth considerably by fair and honest dealing.
Bonnie Rosenthal pressed her lips together, holding a half dozen straight pins, as skilled fingers tucked and held material, pinning it in place, while her customer held very still for her fitting.
Jacob fought his discomfort and sat absolutely straight in the saddle, getting better acquainted with the golden mare; the Sun-Witch, for her part, paced steadily across the high meadow, getting better acquainted with her rider.
In the depot building a young man was struggling with the realization that he had inherited not only his father's position, but also his name: it was with some surprise that he responded to the fellow who addressed him as "Lightning" as if it were his name, and he realized that, like it or not, it was indeed his new name.
Nobody noticed the smoke rising in the distance: even if they had, fires were not uncommon: in the clear, still mountain air, though, the volume of smoke might bear remark.
If anyone were near enough to see.
Nobody was.

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Linn Keller 6-24-10

 

Inge wheezed, coughed.
The child in her arms squirmed and made a little cat-like noise.
Inge put one hand down, worked her feet under her, stood: she tottered away from the heat blasting from the open doorway, not realizing the back of her skirt was starting to smoke, hearing the hiss as loose hair seared, curled.
The heat on the back of her neck was like a sun, and not until the next day would she realize the artificial sunburn.
Her son stopped, eyes huge, and Inge handed the baby to him.
Woodenly, he took his little sister, then gaped, unbelieving, as his mother turned and went back into the burning cabin.
"No," he said through a tight throat, panic searing his stomach: he stood for a young eternity, unable to move, until his mother came coughing and choking out of the smoke, arms wrapped around the flour barrel: staggering under the weight, she teetered a little distance from the cabin, set the barrel down abruptly: leaning against it, she choked, spat, took in several long breaths of good clean air, like a man dying of thirst might gulp at a dipper of cool well water: then she turned and plunged back into the cabin.
"Ma!"
The baby twisted in his arms, whimpering: he shifted his grip, holding his protesting little sister as if afraid she would be yanked from his embrace and spirited back into the malestrom of living flame.
The fire was through the roof now, breathing easy, reaching a shocking height. Pine branches swayed with the velocity of the rising hot air; none were near enough to catch fire, for his father had cleared the timber for a little distance from the cabin, but there was just enough to reach the nearest branches.
He looked down at the doorway, terrified.
His mother, bent double, labored out the door: she had bent over at the waist, scuttled under their big hand made table, reared up and walked the only piece of furniture she could salvage, out the front door.
She got maybe twenty feet from the door before she stopped, and crawled out from under.
"Ma," her son pleaded, but Inge paid him no mind.
Another dozen, deep, rapid breaths, and she went back in.
This time she came out with a double handful of bedding, sheets and blankets, some of it smoking as was her skirt.
This time she didn't go back inside.
She threw the bedding onto the table, spread it and slapped out the smolders, held up the damaged areas and whined as if to complain that she had more sewing to do now: then she started to cough again, and her son laid his arm across her back, partly to reassure, partly in the vain hope that he might stop her from another suicidal return to immolation.
Inge reached around his waist and drew him close, her breath noisy, ragged: she stood there for a minute or two, bent over the table, shaking: finally they made their way to the well, winched up a bucket of water: Inge took the dipper in both hands, tilted it up, spilling most of it from shivering so hard: in later years she would remember with a precise clarity the unreality of the moment: it was a beautiful, clear morning, birds were singing not far away, the cabin was become a shell, her children running toward her, panic in their faces and desperation in their grasp.
She remembered that dipper of water, how cold and how sweet and how absolutely wonderful it tasted.
Her little baby girl twisted up her little face and began to cry, and Inge took a last long swallow, hung the dipper back up by its hook, and took her child.
"Go to the barn," she whispered hoarsely, for her voice would not work: "go and see that it is safe," and her son, fairly vibrating with barely-confined energy, exploded into a full-out sprint, and streaked barefoot for the barn, hoping against desperate hope that the hungry fire had not somehow eaten their only remaining shelter.

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Linn Keller 6-25-10

 

Tom Landers turned the key on the jail cell.
Within the cell, a fellow slouched on the metal bunk, a hand to his bloodied face: he'd groaned once, his only concession to a fast and unpleasant return to sobriety.
The other cell held the other contestant; like the first, he too had come out in second place: his nose lay at an odd angle and a sizable discoloration swelled over one cheek bone.
Tom had expertly deprived them of things they shouldn't have while in jail; these were either hung on pegs or deposited on top of the Sheriff's desk.
Tom flexed his fingers, frowning; it had been a while since he'd taken two fellows by the nape of the neck and banged their heads together, but by God! he'd done it! and dragged them off to the hoosegow besides.
A man had to demonstrate his authority from time to time to keep the respect of those who inhabited the Jewel: not just the ones present when the event occurred, but those who would listen over campfires, or saddle-talk: word traveled, for good and for bad, and Tom knew there would be talk about that wore-out, used-up old ex-sheriff who could still keep peace in his bailiwick.
Tom frowned, working his shoulders.
I reckon I'll be stove up and sore in the morning, he thought, but damn! it's nice to know I can still crack heads!

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Linn Keller 6-29-10

 

Fred Jerome -- alias "the other Lightning" -- scratched the back of his head and looked at the message neatly printed in block letters on the little yellow square.
"Where's the Sheriff?" he asked, shifting in his seat.
Lightning -- well, Lightning's boy as he was still sometimes called, though most just called him by his title -- stood easily. "He'll likely be at his office, or maybe the Jewel. If he's not there you can give it to the town marshal, he'll be sure the Sheriff gets it."
Fred nodded uncertainly. Though his spirit was pure as the driven snow, he had carefully regarded Jackson Cooper and decided that he would absolutely positively remain on the right side of the law, for the man looked more like a mountain of muscle and flannel shirt and completly capable of breaking a locomotive in two if he so chose.
"I'll see if I can find him."
He pulled the green eye shade off and laid it on the desk; Lightning moved to occupy his chair, for the sounder was already clattering.
The Sheriff, it turned out, was not hard to find: he was indeed in the stout timber building, sorting through some papers, a map laid out on the desk, his feet propped up on an overturned bucket and his chair leaned back at a comfortable angle.
"Telegram, Sheriff."
The Sheriff grinned and reached for the flimsy. He'd developed a liking for the polite young man, and he liked him even more when his eye fell on the paper: the Sheriff prized a good clear hand and took pride in his own penmanship, and he approved of the distinct print young Mr. Jerome utilized.
His grin was even broader when he read the contents.
"Sir, will there be a reply?" Fred asked hesitantly.
"Yes."
The Sheriff's feet came off the bucket and he stood, favoring one leg a little.
"Message as follows."
Fred kicked himself for not bringing something to write on.
"Name him after me."
"Very good, sir." Fred nodded and left, his footsteps brisk and loud on the boardwalk outside.
The Sheriff grinned.
"This," he announced to nobody in particular, "calls for a drink!"
The Sheriff's steps were almost as brisk as the younger man's, though considerably less noisy, as he strode across the street to the Silver Jewel.

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Linn Keller 6-30-10

 

The stinging taste of good red likker was still glowing in my throat when I headed down the street for the attorney's office.
Mr. Moulton and I had business.
It seems that Hinkle fellow had some debts come due and nobody to pay them, so I did, and then filed a lien on his property.
This would effectively double my current holdings, for it was a sizable ranch.
Between the several of us, we'd tied up all the gold claims for the entire county and some beyond, we'd bought up as much land as could be purchased -- we'd done this quietly, unobtrusively, but steadily.
Charlie's spread bordered on mine for a couple of miles -- he'd bought big when he bought, wise man he! -- I now had most of the water and water rights for the area, and all the mineral rights except for the gold mine.
The mine continued to pay us, steadily, unobtrusively, quietly and discreetly: we invested cautiously, and enjoyed the benefit of wise investments.
I found myself, after a lengthy audit of our books, rather surprised at how wealthy we actually were.
That afternoon I had Mr. Moulton file the lien, and now I was headed down to the man's office to sign the papers that would finalize the deal.
We exchanged pleasantries, we inquired into each other's health and discreetly asked if all was well with each other's families: finally we both laughed, for the pretense of politeness was a facade and we both knew it.
Michael and I were old friends and had been since the happy day when he took over for that lawyer I decked when I first rode into town: his little boy played with my little girl, his wife worked in our Silver Jewel, which meant she was there a couple of hours every day, no more (she did have a house, a husband and a child to tend!) -- and she and Esther conferred, and gossiped, and shared a startling number of cups of citrus-scented tea.
I signed the paper with a fluorish, the final up-swept stroke of the pen carrying the tail of the R up to the text of the document: Michael's eyes crinkled with pleasure as he considered the signature.
"Sheriff," he said quietly, "that one letter alone tells me you're feeling pretty good right about now."
"I am," I said. "I'd hoped to buy that piece of ground for a long time now."
"What'll you do with it?" He pressed the rocker down on the blotting paper, worked it back and forth a couple times. "Will you be moving out there?"
I leaned back in the chair, then scooted it around a little so my back was no longer squarely to the door.
"No. Oh, no," I chuckled, shaking my head a little and resting my Stetson on my knee. "I've a good man picked out to run the ranch. The ground is fertile out there and I reckon it'll grow a good crop of wheat for me."
"Wheat? This high up?"
I nodded. "Wheat grows well in Canada, well north of here where it's colder. I reckon if wheat don't work out I'll plant something else, but daggone!" I shook my head. "Have you seen the dirt out there?"
Michael leaned forward a little, shaking his head.
"Black as your hat and six foot deep! Why, you could plant a brick and grow an outhouse!"
Michael laughed a genuine, relaxed laugh, the kind you share with a friend.
"I've never heard that one before!" he admitted.
"Now there's not much market for outhouses," I continued, "but if there was I reckon I could grow a bumper crop!"
"Speaking of which, didn't I see the ore train hauling some flat cars of bricks over to Cripple?"
I nodded again, grinning. "Esther's brick works is fired up and they're doing a land office business! Why, if this keeps up they'll be tearin' down buildings to replace them with good Firelands brick!"
Michael nodded, looked over at the corner of his desk.
I followed his gaze.
He'd been reading a dime novel -- I think it was titled "Prince of the Pistoleers" or something of the kind -- and I raised a questioning eyebrow.
Michael nodded toward the book.
"They have some strange notions about us back East," he said.
I nodded too.
I'd read that very book not two days before.

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Linn Keller 7-1-10

 

Things were going better for the family Kolascinski.
Brother William showed up and with him a delegation from the mine: an entire shift had shown up, as a matter of fact, and with team and sled, with hand tools and rough sketches, with labor and laughter and good honest sweat, the Kolascinski cabin site was cleared of its charred remnants, a foundation dug down to bed rock and stones chosen, cut, skidded in and placed: a Square and Compasses had been inscribed on one particular stone, the very first one laid, and it was placed in the northeast corner.
This was done unobtrusively, quietly, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and among these masons, these Masons, it was.
The foundation was laid on good solid native rock: the stones were easily hewn, for though it was a good durable stone, it was freestone, able to be worked with hand tools.
The foundation was laid and finished in a day.
It was a festive event, with food being brought out from Cripple, with foot races laid out and run, with competition in wrestling and boxing, singing and storytelling: it had more the appearance of a rude and primitive carnival than of a construction: when finally the sun swung below the horizon and the sweaty, satisfied revellers retreated to their Cripple Creek quarters, the house Kolascinski's foundation was half again bigger in length and in width than the original, and promise of timber cutters had been made for the morrow, Brother William spoke the blessing and the family Kolascinski -- still rather surprised at this unexpected but happy turn of events -- bowed their heads over victuals, just before they ate like people with an appetite sharpened by good honest labor.
Brother William stayed the night; he told stories for the children, listened to the plans of the parents, soothed the fears of the youngest, applied a slightly malodorous ointment to the blisters healing on the back of Inge's neck and her ears, before he too laid down in the barn, on a fresh pallet of hay-padded saddle blanket.
Sometime through the night he woke as a chicken walked across his belly as casually if the hen were strolling through her own yard: smiling, he went back to sleep, comforted by the familiar sounds and smells of livestock at night.

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Linn Keller 7-2-10

 

Jacob was bent over a little, trying to ease the ache in his belly where Doc had worked on him.
The golden mare had not been entirely cooperative: at one point she reared and Jacob stuck to the saddle like a cockle burr on a long-haired dog: he hadn't spoken harshly to her, but he was vigilant, for in his years in the saddle he'd learned the unexpected generally followed anything when horseback.
He was right, just not in the way he anticipated.
Jacob rode home along the railroad right-of-way, knowing he would have to ford the small river not far below the bigger of the three trestles: the river made a bend and the waters were deep where current threw itself against stone, and boys favored it for swimming.
In fact he heard the sound of youthful frolic as he approached.
His hand caressed the golden mare's neck, a gesture the Sun-Witch recognized: the Sheriff was in such a habit, and her gait slowed and became most stealthy.
Jacob stood in the stirrups, looking: then he dropped back into the saddle, tightened his legs and yelled "YAAHH!" and the Sun-Witch gathered herself and shot through the screening vegetation, hooves slipping a little on loose rock and sand as she drove for the swimming hole.

Sarah was of an inquisitive and adventurous spirit: perhaps not the most desired qualities in a fine and refined lady back East, but not at all uncommon here in the West: she had been tasked with a visit to Annette and Jacob: rather than the carefully packed picnic basket her Mama had imagined, she prepared cloth-wrapped bundles that fit neatly in a set of saddle bags she'd had made, and she was riding astride, delighting in the feel of good horse flesh and saddle leather and the magical sense of freedom, of near-flight, that comes of being one with a saddle mount.
As stated, Sarah was inquisitive and adventurous: she'd heard her Aunt Esther talk of the time she had the inspection car out for a tour of the trestles after high water, and on impulse directed her mount toward that structure mentioned in her dear Aunt's recounting.
She came to the edge of a rocky drop-off and stopped to admire the sight.
It was a fine day, sunlight drove into the river-cut gorge, and below she could see the naked forms of swimmers, boys from town slipped away from summertime chores --
Sarah frowned and took a closer look.
She was half again a hundred feet above the scene as she realized one lad was foundering and another attempting a panicked rescue.
Sarah's hand went to her mouth and she felt the cold hand of helpless fear close about her stomach.
Somewhere in her young mind was a memory fragment, something she'd read of daring knights charging to rescue helpless damsels, warriors in obdurate steel plate, and irrationally she thought of just such a galloping fortress charging to the rescue, polished steel gleaming in the sun, plumes and banners fluttering in the wind of a war-stallion's charge --
"YAAH!"
A golden mare shot through the brush screen toward the water: the shining horse reared as she was drawn to a hard stop, skidding a little in rock and in sand: Sarah watched, both hands pressed to her stomach, eyes wide and her breath coming quickly, as a familiar figure valted from the saddle: frozen, she watched as gunbelt and saddle, saddlebags and rifle were dumped from the mount, then a bareback charge into the current.
Sunlight gleamed from diamond spray thrown up by hooves and belly as the Sun-Witch threw herself into the water, Jacob yelling encouragement, his voice echoing strongly off the stone walls and up to Sarah's young ears.

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Linn Keller 7-2-10

 

"That him?"
The shorter of the two frowned at the scene below.
"Gotta be. Ain't nobody else rides that man hatin' horse."
Both looked up as a young woman turned her mount, galloping hard as she could whip her horse away from the cliff's edge.
"Think she saw us?"
"Nah." They looked back over the lip.
"Think you can take him?"
"Where you want him hit?"
Yellowed teeth gleamed wetly beneath an untrimmed and undisciplined mustache.
"Shoot that law doggin' son of a horse thief right between the lug an' the horn."
"Let me go git m' buffalo gun."

Sarah rode with the speed of desperation.
She knew she could be of no help to the scene below: she could swim but little, and with her skirts, would be but hinderance should she try: Jacob was already in water with his horse, and she knew he could do far better than she, and that he could do far better without her distraction.
I can still get help, she thought, and to think was to act: she whirled her Papa's grey and put her heels to its ribs.
The grey shook its head but gathered itself and surged under her, and Sarah leaned out over the horse's neatly trimmed mane.
She tried to yell but all she could produce was a dry-throated whisper, and through a mouth full of cotton she whispered, "Go."

The golden mare fought her way to mid-stream, where it was deepest, where Jacob had seen the boy go under: he turned the mare down stream, slipped off her back: he took a breath, folded like a jack-knife and surface-dove deep into the swift, mountain-cold water.
Jacob detested water in his eyes but the situation was desperate, and so he opened his eyes to cold, burning agony: blinking rapidly, he looked around --
There!
The boy's arm, then his leg came into view from behind a rock.
Jacob stroked against the current pulling them downstream, reached, missed.
His lungs were on fire and he was desperate for air --
His foot brushed a rock and he drew his legs under him, found the rock, pushed against it, shooting forward like a torpedo --
Got you! he thought, seizing a wrist, then running his arm around the boy's chest, he got his feet under him and shoved for the surface.
Part of him realized the lad's flesh was cold, cold as a corpse: another thought ran up and chased the first one off: Of course he's cold, it's cold in the water --
Jacob broke surface, reached for a rock, but the current pulled him downstream.
He kicked, moving with the current, angling for the shoreline, knowing it had to shallow out downstream.
Coughing, he dragged in air, sweet air! -- never had air tasted so good! -- and then the bank angled up under his feet and he scrambled upright, one arm around the boy's middle.
Break him over your arm like a shotgun.
His father's voice, in his ear: automatically he bent the lad over his forearm, bouncing him once, twice --
The cold, wet, naked form vomited up about ten gallons of Colorado river water.
Jacob flipped him around, carried him in his arms back toward his saddle and saddle blanket, looked down at blue lips and pale face.
His companion was half dressed: half anxious and half fearful, he shifted from foot to foot, undecided whether to run to his friend and his rescuer, or to run the other way.
Jacob knelt, laid the still form on the saddle blanket, yanked the blanket out straight under him.
He laid a hand on the lad's cheek, then his chest.
He looked up into the scared face of a schoolboy, swimming and laughing with his chum on a lovely summer day, convinced that his chum was dead.
Jacob rubbed the unmoving lad's arms briskly.
"Come on, now," he said quietly, and his words were all the more menacing for being spoken in a soft voice: "come on, now, breathe!"

"Now where did that-there Sheriff git off to?"
"Waller on out here and lean over some more. He's down stream some."
"I cain't hit him from here!"
"Well now ain't you gonna kill him? You said you's gonna!"
Waters -- his name had been Walters, but it had proven convenient to change it a little -- glared at his unwashed companion.
"I kill him, that makes me a pretty big man!" he snapped. "Folks'll be afraid'a' me."
"Yeah, brag, why don't ya. Let's see ya do it."

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Linn Keller 7-3-10

 

Tom Landers considered the wanted dodger.
Like most with a picture, it was printed off a woodcut and a rather crude one at that, but the name was plain and he recognized it right away.
"Walters," he said, shaking his head. "I should hung him when I had him."
"Why didn't you?" the deputy asked, settling down into a chair. It felt good to set his hind quarters on something that did not move.
Tom Landers' gaze was level beneath shaggy black eyebrows. "Had us a crooked lawyer. Pay a man enough an' he'll get the devil off."
A nod, a pressing together of the lips: both lawmen lived in the real world, and both had been stung by crooked judges and crooked lawyers, as have all lawmen at one time or another.
"He's headed this way, you say?"
"Yep." The deputy was from the far east of the state, near to the state line -- in fact, right on the line,which made its own set of headaches: part of the town was in Colorado and part was in Kansas, not far south of Big Springs.
"Tell me some more about him. Habits, associates, what does he like, what'll he be lookin' for."
The deputy tilted his chair back and scratched his curly thatch.
"Started out small. Most do." He and Tom Landers shared a knowing look. "Started relievin' travelers of their pokes an' kilt a few, an' once he found out killin' was easy, why, he didn't stop. Most times he'd use a single tree, belt 'em over the head from behind. Mostly picked on Easterners, travelers, the like, one night a fellow grabbed his club an' beat him with it."
Tom Landers saw the deputy's eyes change as he saw the scene through the window of clear memory.
"Did a fine job too. He left town after that, good riddance!" -- the deputy looked like he was going to spit on the floor, then changed his mind, leaned over and spat in the polished brass gobboon at the corner of the Sheriff's desk instead -- "I heard he was headed this-a-way and figured to get ahead of him."
"Obliged." Tom Landers nodded. "How's your appetite?"
"Oh, I ain't too fussy. It wouldn't take but a cow and a half to fill me."
"Let's set down over at the Silver Jewel." Tom Landers gestured with a knuckle and nodded toward the door. "I believe you'll like it."
The deputy nodded, smiled a little. He'd heard of the Silver Jewel -- who hadn't! -- but this was the first time he'd had a chance to visit.
The two men stood as the door opened.
Tom Landers grinned at the startled look on the visiting lawman's face.
"Jackson Cooper, town Marshal," he said by way of introduction. "Ben Halsey, deputy over torst the Kansas line."
Jackson Cooper grinned, thrust out an enormous hand. "Ain't you the fella that took on the Rand brothers?"
Morgan looked almost embarassed. He'd heard the stories that came out of the encounter and most were rather exaggerated. "Warn't but three of 'em," he muttered, his ears reddening like a schoolboy's.
"We're thinkin' it's time for a good square meal," Tom said. "Join us?"
Jackson Cooper stepped back out of the doorway, leaving the door open and the good clean air in. He hooked his thumbs in his gun belt and pretended to study the ceiling as if pondering a complex matter indeed.
"Oh, I reckon I could be persuaded. Twist my arm a little."
"Twist your arm," Tom Landers muttered. "Ben, you ever see this man's arm? I'd as leave twist a length of mine rail! I'd have better luck at it!"
The three chuckled companionably.
"Say, you ain't seen the Sheriff by any chance?"
Jackson Cooper hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Him and his little girl was ridin' out of town. I think they left maybe ten minutes ago."
Tom Landers nodded. "He'll want to hear about this Walters fella."
Jackson Cooper looked sharply at the man.
"Water Walters?"
"The same," Halsey nodded, his bottom jaw thrust out.
Jackson Cooper's eyes narrowed.
"I heard of him," he nodded. "Tell me some about this fella."

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Linn Keller 7-3-10

 

I had a hand on the small of Angela's back, and both of us was bellied down behind a little rise.
I'd spotted the doe and fawn -- we were making no attempt at stealth, and why they didn't spot us and shy I'll never know -- I dismounted, put my finger to my lips and lifted Angela from the saddle.
We hunkered down and duck walked, then we walked bent over on two legs and one hand on the ground, and finally come up behind that little rise.
I took off my hat, peeked up beside a tuft of grass.
Angela popped her head up like a turkey taking a look over a log.
I looked over at her and any thought to scold her fled like a wisp of smoke on a sudden gust.
Her eyes were big and shining and her little red lips were in a child's O of delight: the O became a smile and she froze, taking in the sight of a fawn most earnestly petitioning its dam for a spigot.
I eased down flat on my belly and I don't know what I enjoyed the more, that little blacktail deer getting a meal, or Angela and her silent, rapt study of the scene before her.
Bruised grasses under me were fragrant and welcoming: birds sang in the tree line, the sun was warm on my back and legs, and my little girl was warm and solid under my hand --
The doe's head came up and her ears swung forward.
When her flag snapped up I knew she was a tenth of a second from disappearing.
I rolled over, quick-like, to see what had spooked her.
My right hand closed on the crown of my hat and I came to my feet, straightening.
Sarah? I thought. Now what is she doing out --
Then her speed registered: she was begging Caleb's grey for as much speed as it could give her and it was obliging.
"Angela," I said urgently, "cartridge case."
I felt the brass empty slap into my open hand and I brougtht it to my lips.
I blew across the mouth of the empty cartridge, steadily so as not to over blow it, bringing a shrill whistle out on the clear mountain air.
I knew the grey would prick up and turn, and sure enough it did.
Angela was clapping her hands and laughing.
I'd told her I could make that brass empty whistle and promised I'd show her the secret, but I honestly had no idea it would be like this!
Sarah tried to turn the grey back toward Firelands, least until I waved my hat in a great arc overhead, and she saw me.
Soon as she did, the grey turned toward us like a compass needle and I saw her arm rise and fall and knew she'd just stung the horse across the hinder, one time hard: she was bent over in the saddle, her fancy little hat fell down behind and floating on its chin ribbon. She was standing up in the stirrups and she bobbed a little, her knees taking up any movement with the ease of youthful muscles.
The grey's hooves hammered like pistons against the earth, raising a little dust in spite of the greenery, and she made for us just as hard as that horse could run.

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Linn Keller 7-4-10

 

"Ma, you seen the boy?"
"No I haven't."
"He's not finished splittin' kindling."
"Rafe, you know our Bobby. If he's not fishing he's wandering with that Sauders boy."
Frown, grumble. "Why, when I was his age --"
"You were doing worse," his wife interrupted, dusting the flour off his hands. "Your mother told me what you were like, sir, and you were far worse."
A hat slid back, fingers massaging a scalp, a slow smile spreading across a tanned face: "Yes, ma'am, I certainly was." A townie shoe kicked against a chunk of wood. "I suppose this can wait."
"He can finish when he comes home," his goodwife affirmed, crimping the edge of the pie crust between thumb and forefinger, turning the pie pan a little and continuing the crimp around the periphery.
Hazel eyes contemplated the horizon, seeing a far-off time when he, too, wore knee pants and ran barefoot through the summer.

Jacob turned the lad over, ran his arm under his belly again: he raised him up, then lowered him; raised him again, slower this time, let him back down, face-down on the saddle blanket.
The golden mare sniffed at the small of Jacob's back.
Jacob lifted the lad again, glancing at the pale face and trembling lip of the lad's companion.
He felt movement, then another: withdrawing his arm, he rolled the boy over on his side.
"Fetch me his clothes," he said quietly.
He looked up again, into a set of eyes widened with hope, fearful of hope's betrayal.
"I can't take him home naked now, can I?" Jacob asked quietly, laying a firm hand on the shivering shoulder.
"No, sir," the smaller boy replied in a small boy's voice.
Jacob winked and patted his shoulder. "Good man. I'll need your help."
"Yes, sir!" The lad turned and sprinted barefoot over loose rock and through sand, toward the place where they'd thrown their few garments with the happy abandon of carefree boys about to swim.
Jacob rubbed his young charge's ribs and back, briskly, like he was rubbing down a horse.
The lad coughed a couple times and more water dribbled out his mouth.
"Welcome back," Jacob said gently as the lad gasped and coughed and took a deep, sudden breath, then coughed some more.
Jacob thumped him gently with wide-open hand, thumped his back and grasped the lad's upper shoulder with his other hand: he waited until the spasm passed, then he rolled the boy over on his back, laid a gentle hand against the side of his head, looking at his eyes, his lips: quick fingers pressed against the pulse at the neck, then the pulse at the temple, and down to the wrist: though Jacob was not a physician, he'd seen the Doctors Flint and Greenlees do this, and he knew it was diagnostic.
The lad's eyes snapped to the side, toward the river, and he sat up: "Robbie!" he called hoarsely, and Jacob laid a hand against his chest.
"Easy now, you've had a time of it," he said soothingly. "Is this Robbie?"
The younger boy came running up, dropped a bundle of clothing.
The two stared at one another for a long, long moment, until the older of the two uttered that one universal phrase used by boys since time immemorial in such moments:
"Mama's gonna kill me!"

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Linn Keller 7-5-10

 

Angela scampered over to her beloved Bruja and patted her on the leg: "Down, Horsie!" she called in her high, piping little-girl's voice.
The Sheriff's black horse had reared its head when the Sheriff used the empty rifle case as a whistle: the black gelding raised his head enough to keep from stepping on the trailing reins and trotted over to the man, who gathered the reins and swung easily into the saddle.
Sarah pulled her Papa's grey to a hard stop, too hard: the horse shook its head and pulled hard at the bit in protest, but stopped nonetheless.
The Sheriff's hand shot out and seized the grey horse's bridle.
Sarah's eyes were big and she swallowed hard, words piling up in the back of her throat, log-jammed with the urgency of the moment: she swallowed them down and tried again:
"Jacob is under the trestle. A boy has drowned."
Her words were precise, clipped, tightly controlled: she was pale and her eyes stood out bright and dark against her pallid complexion, but she sat erect and resolute, awaiting the Sheriff's response.
"Angela," the Sheriff said in his Daddy-voice, "stay here with Sarah."
Angela had just climbed into the saddle, her Bruja-horse bellied down to allow her diminutive rider aboard: she put her hands on her hips, cocked her head and protested "Dad-deee!" as her father heeled the black into a gallop.

The river downstream went into a rapids and their hissing roar echoed up the canyon.
It was cool in the shadow of the overhang, a little breeze drawn by the moving water making it even more damp and chill.
"I'm cold," the lad chattered, teeth clicking together: Jacob worked his drawers on him, buttoned them.
"Here," he said, "this'll help," and spun the lad's shirt around his shoulders. He was obliged to run his hand up the shirt sleeve, backwards, grasp the lad's cold hand and then thread the shirt sleeve off his wrist up the length of the lad's arm. It was a trick he'd seen used in the past, getting a coat on an unconscious man, and it worked well here.
"Come on out in the sun. It's chilly here in the shade."
The lad shivered, leaned against Jacob.
He was solid, fairly vibrating and cold against Jacob, and for a long moment, Jacob knelt, his arms wrapped around the lad: it was a moment where an older man wordlessly told a scared boy I'm here, you're safe, all's well.
The lad mumbled something, his head hung down.
Jacob stood, a hand guiding the lad away from the shadowed overhang and into the sun warming the sandy river bank.
"Come again?"
The lad looked up at him, his eyes big and scared.
"My Ma is gonna kill me!"

An unwashed hand smacked Waters' shoulder.
"There he is."
"About time. I oughta kill 'im fer makin' me wait!"
He eased forward a little more, leaned the octagon barrel out over the grass rimmed overhang.

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Linn Keller 7-5-10

 

The black knew something was in the wind.
I was not pushing him hard.
Jacob was young and strong and capable, and by the time I got there, whatever was happening was likely to be over with.
I looked over my shoulder and swore.
Sure enough, both girls were hard after me.
I grunted.
No father wants his child to disobey and I had told Angela to stand fast, to stay with Sarah --
You never told Sarah to stay, a voice said in the back of my mind, and I realized I hadn't.

"Now shootin' down hill," Waters said meditatively, "do I hold high or low?"
"How should I know? You're the big man around here!"
"If it was up hill it's climbin' uphill further so I'd have to hold high but this is downhill so I best hold low." He frowned. "Now that's a fair distance ..."
"You gonna lay there an' make excuses or you gonna take a skelp?"
"Oh, shut up." He settled his cheek bone hard on the comb and sighed, settling the front bead on what he thought was the Sheriff's head.

"You go on over there an' sit down," Jacob said. "I'll be right back."
He turned and started back toward his boots and hat and coat.
There was the sound of one rock hitting another and something stung the back of his legs.
Jacob sprinted, not for hat or boots or coat, but rather for the scabbarded rifle not twenty feet from him.
He was halfway to his rifle when the buffalo gun's boom echoed hollowly down the canyon.

I drew the black hard about at the sound of the gun shot: it was the powerful boom of a large bore rifle, likely a buffalo rifle.
We turned hard right and I saw the rolling cloud of smoke that marked their position.
I didn't know quite what was happening but my gut told me it was trouble.
I fetched out that engraved '73 rifle and dropped the knotted reins over the saddle horn.
I gave the Black-horse my knees and my heels and he pinned his ears back and began to run, and I sighted his nose squarely for where I'd seen that smoke come from.

Waters swore. "Daggone him, he run off! Gimme another ca'tridge!"
He turned, then rolled over and set up.
His companion was showing him a clean set of heels, running for the horses as hard as he could go.
Waters slapped his pockets and felt a forgotten round in his vest pocket.
He remembered to half-cock before dropping the breech block: the rifle was factory converted from the tobacco cutter and the firing pin was complex and delicate: if he'd dropped the breech block with the hammer down, he'd have a fair chance of breaking the multi-angled part.
He had a half dozen replacements but he hated changing it out.
The cartridge slid into the breech and he yanked the lever shut.
Something made him look to the right, and then behind him, and his blood turned cold.
Three riders bore down on him and all three were at a gallop.
Waters looked at his fleeing companion.
I'll slow 'em down, he thought, then I kin make the trees an' get m' horse --He brought the big, heavy hammer to full cock and raised it toward the pair of riders.

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Linn Keller 7-6-10

 

Sarah's eyes widened and she reined her Papa's grey hard left.
Angela and her hot-blooded Mexican horse were a full length in front of her when she realized they were running toward a man who was pointing a rifle at them.
She felt more than heard the vicious hum of the heavy slug's passing.
Angela was still running straight for him.
Sarah turned the grey back toward Angela and the grey surged powerfully under her: she, too, had a rifle, and someone had just shot at her cousin, and she was not going to take that kindly.
Sarah managed to haul the octagon-barreled .32-20 out of its carved-leather scabbard, cycled the lever and considered the distance.
The grey gathered itself and sailed over a little obstruction; Sarah's legs tightened a little but otherwise she was not troubled.
Rifle at port arms, she willed her mount to a greater speed, for Angela was pulling steadily ahead.

"HO!" I called, halting the black: I turned him sideways, took a quick sight.
My stomach had turned to lead and fell half a hundred feet at least.
I saw the figure raise a rifle and fire: blue smoke squirted out the barrel in a double curlicue, a smoke ring wobbling out in front of the muzzle, and I looked off to the right where he was shooting.
I bit back a word and halted the black.
At this distance I had little chance of making a solid hit but by God! I could make him scamper.
The black halted, trembling, and I flipped up the Marble sight and brought my rifle to shoulder.

Sarah's reins were in her left hand, her left hand was around the figured walnut fore-end of her little rifle: she tried to steady the barrel but found it hopeless, and so brought the rifle back, propping its crescent butt plate on her right thigh and heeling the grey again.

Angela was further ahead now.
Sarah looked to her left.
Uncle Linn was astride his black, raising his rifle, and Sarah gave herself a kick in the mental drawers: I could stop my horse, she realized, it's what Uncle Linn did! -- but she also knew the closer she got, the more likely it was she could place an accurate shot.
She leaned forward, yelling.

"Whoa, horsie," Angela called.
Bruja did not want to whoa.
Bruja was born of racing stock and she loved to run, and now she was running and she did not want to stop.
Angela threw her reins against the side of the Bruja's neck and pressed with her knee: leaning in the saddle, she persuaded Bruja that if she wasn't going to stop, she could at least alter course a little, and Bruja turned to the right, toward the tree-line.
Angela did not like the look of trees and so continued to bring her shining, golden mare around, around, until she saw her Daddy.
Her Daddy was stopped, his horsie sideways, but he was turning toward her and she knew her Daddy meant safety.
Angela leaned forward, both hands flat on the Bruja's neck, her little heels thumping the mare's ribs.
"Go, horsie!" she called, and the Bruja responded with a will, arrowing across the high meadow toward the Sheriff.

"Easy, boy," I soothed the black.
I did not want to dismount but neither did I want to waste a moment that might afford me a steady shot.

Sarah saw the man raise his rifle again.
"WHOA!" she called sharply, reining back: she'd bruised the grey's mouth earlier and it was tender, and the grey skidded to a fast stop, grunting.
"STAND!"
Caleb and Bonnie had tried hard to raise their little girl to be a proper lady.
Proper young ladies were of gentle mien and delicate features.
Proper young ladies did not bare their teeth and snarl, nor did they gallop fearlessly at an attacker and raise a rifle against their fellow man.
Are we to say that, deep in this young lady's heart, there was still the scared little girl who had seen, and heard, her Mama being beaten and brutalized in long-ago years, when the Silver Jewel was a house of filth and drunkenness?
Are we to say fists and open-handed slaps might not have all been directed at the grown woman, and perhaps a little girl -- a child so terrified that she knew all the child-sized hiding-places in the entire building -- could hold and harbor a deep, burning fear that, trapped, turned to fighting anger?
Or are we to say that an upright young woman saw her little cousin in mortal danger, and acted to save her younger relative?
Perhaps it does not matter.
We do know the Sheriff shouldered his rifle in that moment.
We do know that in that same moment, Sarah raised hers as well.
She began to shoot, a slow, measured cadence: she blinked painfully at the sound, and the grey muttered and shifted under her, but Sarah cycled the lever and shot again, again, again, aiming for the collar bones and where they met under the chin.
Were one to take a closer look, one might note that in that moment, the Sheriff's eyes were a pale blue, an icy blue, a shade found in high-country snows and mountain glaciers: Sarah's eyes, though sparkling and dark, were somehow just as cold and just as unforgiving and just as full of ice.

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Linn Keller 7-6-10

 

Jacob came thundering up out of the gulf just as fast as the Sun-Witch could climb.
Once they two hit the level, she began to grunt with each thrust, her nose stuck straight out and her ears back and Jacob leaned forward in the saddle, his reins knotted and dropped over the saddle horn, heels locked into her ribs, his glacial eyes pale and his rifle angled forward.
Jacob did not take kindly to being shot at.
Jacob also saw his Pa, rifle to shoulder, Angela riding toward him.
He also saw through a gap in the trees someone making a fast retreat.
Jacob streaked past his Pa just as fast and just as hard as he could get his Pa's horse to run: she shot by like an arrow afire, leaving a golden streak in the air of her passing.
Sheer, unadulterated, blind luck timed his passage between Sarah's bullets: so focused was he on pursuit that his vision faded to the sides and he never saw his cousin off to the right, nor did he give any credence to his Pa as he thundered past like a highball freight on a down grade: no, his world was constricted to a narrow cone directly ahead, through the trees.
The Sun-Witch slowed but not much when she came to the trees: Jacob was obliged to draw his rifle back and lay it hard alongside the Witch's neck to keep it from being grabbed by tree trunk or branch: a trunk scraped his leg, a branch slashed at his arms and face, but he paid the no mind: he had but one thought, one purpose, one focus, and he followed that focus like a hound in sight of the quarry.
Silent, swift, and deadly, the pair sliced through the wood like a sharp knife through canvas.
A road on the other side, a little dust: Jacob looked around, left, then right, and heeled the Sun-Witch after the dust.
He brought the rifle back up to port, thumb heavy on the half-cocked hammer.
They topped a little rise in the road and he saw his quarry, a quarter mile away: he saw an arm raise and fall several times and he knew the ridden horse was being quirted: the riderless horse was released and peeled off to the side, and it trotted out a little ways and stopped.
The Sun-Witch was of the same hot racing blood as Angela's Bruja: a race horse detests losing and cannot stand to see another horse ahead, and will burst its heart with the effort of gaining and overtaking, and Jacob encouraged her every moment, every second, with hand and with knees and with his weight well forward and his heels in her ribs.
Wind roared in his ears and tore water from the corners of his eyes.
He did not care.
The rider turned and saw he was being pursued.
Jacob saw a puff of white smoke.
He did not care.
Jacob drew a great lung full of air and roared a wordless challenge, a warrior's scream, an invitation to battle, a challenge to Hell itself, that they'd better fetch open the doors, for hot blood was about to sear the earth and a carcass was headed their way.

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Linn Keller 7-6-10

 

The outlaw that had the black horse beat it like a rented mule but it had been trained to stand fast under fire and I could not have asked for a steadier seat.
I set that front bead at the man's neck and knew drop would carry it right where I wanted it to go.
Trouble was, he didn't hold still.
He staggered back a little and I had to jack the lever and push another one at him and this one didn't miss.
I fired once more but it probably wasn't necessary as he started to fold up and fell.
Something gold and fast streaked a-past me and I realized it was Jacob on my Sun-Witch, and he was going somewhere a-purpose and a-fire.
I had no idea what he was after, nor did I much care.
I thumbed two rounds into the loading gate and kneed the black around.
We trotted up to what used to be a man, at least before it inherited some holes.
The Sharps lay on the ground where he dropped it, the tang mounted peep still up: I set there for a bit and he warn't breathing so I figured it was safe to dismount and slide that-there Winchester back into its carved scabbard.
I grabbed him and drug him up where I could lay him flat on his back.
His right arm was broke halfway to the elbow -- that was my shot -- another had taken him in the ribs where his arm had jerked out of the way -- but I frowned and unbuttoned his vest, then his shirt.
He had more holes in him than I'd realized.
Now that's odd, I thought, scratching up under my hat. Who --
He was facing that-a-way, the shots would have to have come from --
I looked up at Sarah, sitting on her Papa's grey, her rifle set on her thigh and pointing straight up in the air.
Angela came walking her golden Bruja up beside her, eyes big and solemn.
I looked at Sarah again, and what I saw, I saw for the first time.
I'd never seen her with those eyes.
I have seen faces in anger and in grief, in rage and in sorrow, faces in laughter and in drunkenness and in betrayal, but never in my entire life have I seen eyes as cold, as unforgiving, as hard as Sarah's were in that moment.
Her voice was just as warm and full of loving-kindness as her eyes.
"Is he dead?" she asked from a carved marble throat, in a voice that chilled the air around me.
I looked at Angela's solemn expression and knew she was putting up a front the way scared little girls will sometimes.
"Yeah," I said. "He's dead."
"Good."
She turned her grey and rode back toward where I had been, rode in a slow circle.
She was thinking, and thinking hard, and a time or two she looked out across the river's gulf, and then she rode back to us, rifle still propped up on her thigh.
"Daddy," Angela said in a little-girl's voice, "that man shot at me."
"I know, Princess," I said, nodding and looking down at the carcass.
"He'll not do that ever again."
I looked up, toward the trees, my bottom jaw thrust out, wondering what Jacob was about, and where.

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Linn Keller 7-7-10

 

Jacob's thoughts ran as fast as his Pa's mare.
I ain't no back shooter, he thought as the Sun-Witch closed the distance with the fleeing outlaw.
I'll not shoot him in the back.
I'll wait until he turns to fire.

Jacob thumbed his '76 rifle back to full cock and willed the golden mare to greater speed.
She had found her stride and she was breathing easy in the thin, high-country air, and she was doing the one thing in the world she loved the most, she was running, she was running: Jacob felt her pull on some deep reserve and she started to gain again, gaining steadily, closing the distance, closing the distance --
The outlaw turned, desperation on his face and revolver in hand.
Jacob's rifle came to shoulder and he took a quick sight.
He saw the brass bead, bright, shining, steady on the outlaw's face.
Jacob's weight was in his stirrups, his knees taking up what little movement there was, he had the sight picture, he slapped the trigger --
The Sun-Witch knew what it was to be a living gun platform.
The Sun-Witch loved to chase coyote with the Sheriff, and the Sheriff loved chasing coyote: when he chopped a revolver-shot at the running 'yote, his Witch-horse would throw her head away from the revolver, knowing a concussion was to follow, and as Jacob brought the rifle to shoulder, his Pa's Witch threw her head to the side.
Jacob's finger slapped hard on the trigger and he swore.
The movement had been enough, just enough --
The outlaw dropped his revolver, clapped a hand to the side of his head: he lost his reins, his horse slowed --
Bruja del Sol never slacked her speed: she rammed the hind end of the slowing horse with her chest and men, horseflesh and hardware tangled and flew in a brutal collision.
Jacob lost his rifle but gained the outlaw: he seized a handful of something cloth and his good right hand knotted up and he had three fists in the man's face before they hit the ground.
He never let go with his off hand and he was busy putting as much knuckle as far into the outlaw as he possibly could, as many times as he could, and his knees managed to find some anatomy as well: by the time they finished rolling, Jacob had been hit a few times, but the outlaw had been hit more and harder.
Jacob was to his feet first.
The outlaw came up on all fours.
Jacob drove his boot heel into the side of the man's head and he went down.
Jacob looked around, grabbed the handles of his revolvers: the thumb straps were still there, his revolvers were still there.
Jacob stood, clenching teeth hard against the pain: he'd landed hard on a rock and his kidneys were calling him unkind names, he must have cracked a rib and his sewed up belly was letting him know he should have stayed home with his sock feet kicked up on an upholstered velvet stool.
The outlaw gagged, coughed.
"Don't try it," Jacob rasped, drawing the tabs free of his Colt's hammers.
The outlaw looked up, eyes full of hate.
"I got no quarrel with you," he spat.
"You took a shot at me," Jacob said levelly.
"Yeah, you was chasin' me!"
Jacob turned back his lapel to show his deputy's star.
"Shootin' at a lawman is a straight ticket to hell."
The outlaw was silent for a long moment. He set back on his bottom, one hand across his belly.
Jacob had taken note of his shot burning a bloody groove across the man's cheek, and the missing semi-circle from the man's ear, but he only the noticed just how pale the outlaw's face was.
Apparently Jacob was not the only one to land badly.
Then, too, from the fast developing marks on the outlaw's face, Jacob had made a good accounting of himself.
"Wasn't me that shot at you back there. 'Twas that Walters fella. I just run across him."
The outlaw's voice was pained and he leaned forward a little, arm across his belly.
Jacob, suspicious, moved to the man's right. "Keep your hands where I can see 'em."
"I'm busted up inside."
"I can fix that."
Jacob's voice was as cold as his eyes.
The sun was warm, almost hot. Overhead, an eagle banked in the high thermals; clouds were tall, pure white; the outlaw's horse had described a circle and was walking back, slowly, as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
"You're younger than we thought."
Jacob remained silent. He looked quickly left, then right.
"Younger," he said, reflecting the outlaw's term back on him.
"Ain't but one Sheriff this side of Pittsburgh with eyes like that."
The outlaw coughed, spat blood.
"Sheriff," Jacob repeated.
The outlaw gasped. "Waters said if he's to kill you he'd be a mighty big man."
Jacob's face was expressionless.
"Toss out that hideout you been creepin' your hand up to."
The outlaw's glare would have killed a child or crippled a small man.
Jacob's arms hung loose, relaxed.
"Tell me about the Sheriff with pale eyes."
The outlaw deflated like he was stuck with a pin and the air hissed out.
He tossed a top break into the dirt halfway between himself and the slender young deputy.
Jacob nodded.
"Let's get you a-horse and back to town. We'll let Doc tend that belly."
The outlaw nodded, bent forward a little more.
Jacob put two fingers to his lips and whistled, a high, steady note his Pa used: the Sun-Witch's head came up and she came trotting in toward him.
Jacob looked up at the approaching mare.
Movement caught his eye.
The outlaw had pulled another top-break and was bearing it toward the mare.
Jacob's Colt was in his hand and he barked "NO!" as if commanding a wayward dog or a misbehaving child.
The outlaw's hand opened and the second hideout gun hit the ground.
"I prize that horse," Jacob said coldly. "You just used your last chance. One more slip up and His Honor the Judge will pronounce sentence over your carcass." Jacob nodded toward the outlaw's mount. "You can ride or you can lay across the saddle tied down. With that belly it won't be pleasant. You behave and you'll get to town alive. Try me once more and you're buzzard meat, an' once I get done killin' ya, I know a mountain witch that will resurrect your moldy soul so my Pa can kill you all over again."
The outlaw squinted, comprehension and dismay claiming equal territorial rights over his soul.
"Your --"
"My Pa," Jacob affirmed. "The Sheriff."
"You --"
"I'm his son."

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Linn Keller 7-8-10

 

Bare feet whispered on packed dirt as one lad scampered up the dirt path.
The other sat, shaking, half sick.
"Johnnie, c'mon!" The high voice of a pre-adolescent carried and echoed off the rock walls.
The other closed his eyes, laid back, still weak.
I wanna go home, he thought, then: Ma is baking pies.
He thought of her hands, swift and precise as she crimped the edge of the crust, turning the pie a little with each pinch of thumb and fingers: in his mind's eye he could see the crust gleaming wetly as she spread it with milk, then sprinkled every so lightly with sugar. This was a rare treat, for sugar was expensive and not common, but it remained his favorite.
"Johnnie!"
Johnnie rolled over, pushed up on hands and knees, wobbled to his feet.
The river seemed to be calling to him, the hissing undercurrent whispering its invitation.
Johnnie climbed the steep path, one slow step at a time.

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