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Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 7-9-10


My head came up when I heard the gunshots.
Now I was getting mad.
This fellow had shot at my little girl.
Nobody shoots my little girl! I raged, but silently, for my little girls -- both of them -- sat not ten feet from me.
I whistled the black horse over.
"Sarah," I said, and my voice was uncharacteristically tight, "you have done well today." I looked squarely at her, addressing her as if she were an equal.
"We are going through the trees and we are going to find Jacob. Is your rifle reloaded?"
"Yes, sir," Sarah said, a little faintly now.
My ear twitched.
Usually her reply would have been "Yes, Uncle Linn."
"I will ride in front, Angela will be behind me. Sarah, you will have your rifle in hand, for we may need it."
"Yes, sir."
I whistled up my black horse.
He blew and snuffed at my vest, begging.
"You bum," I muttered, feeding him a thick shaving of tobacco, then swinging into the saddle.
"Sarah, if shooting starts and I am hit, take Angela and make for Jacob's just as hard as you can ride."
"Yes, sir."
"Angela, if it comes to that, you stay with Sarah, no matter what, do you understand?"
"Yes, Daddy," Angela said: her eyes were big and uncertain but I was satisfied she would do as she was told.
We trotted for the trees and I cast about to find the path Jacob took through the wood: I drew the black to a quick stop as movement caught my eye.
I relaxed.
"Jacob," Sarah breathed.
We turned and drew back a little, for Jacob was coming through the trees, considerably slower than he had penetrated them: he rode with rifle in hand, and as he drew close, we saw he led a second horse, and on this other horse, a fellow rather the worse for wear, his wrists tied to his saddle horn.
The third horse was empty.
Must belong to that dead fellow, I thought. Might as well load him while I'm thinking about it.
I turned, looked left, looked right: I made sure no one, no thing, was behind us or beside us: enough had happened recently that I was not about to face into the trees to the exclusion of all else.
Jacob hesitated inside the trees, looking as was I: satisfied, he emerged, slowly, riding up to me.
He stopped when our stirrups nearly touched.
"Sir," he said, "I would counsel with you," and I nodded, once.

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Linn Keller 7-9-10


Jacob boosted Johnnie up behind me.
"Can you hold on, son?" I asked and tried to ask kindly, for from what Jacob had just described, the lad had come perilously near to residing in the Valley.
"Yes, sir," he said faintly, and I felt him lean against me as he run his arms around my middle.
I pressed my hand on his, hoping my touch was reassuring: the other lad rode behind Angela, her Bruja not seeming to mind the extra weight: the lad was slender and I judged would not be a problem for the well built mare: the problem would be if she would tolerate this new burden.
We made for town, Jacob in the lead.
His prisoner rode hunched over, groaning on occasion; he kept his upper arms pressed hard against his ribs and he held as absolutely still as he could, given the fact that he was a-horse: broken ribs, I thought, for I'd seen men ride in just that manner before, knowing them to have fracturred themselves in a hard fall or a fight.
We made town in not too long and I rode Johnnie up to his front steps just as bold as brass.
I knew the lad's father, and when he came around the house with his shirt dark with sweat and his townie hat shoved back on his head I dismounted carefully, then reached up and brought his boy off.
I set the lad down easy, hesitated a moment to make sure his pins would hold him up, then I looked up as his Pa opened his mouth.
"Where you been! I oughta switch your --" he started and I seized the man's arm, hauling him about and frogmarching him around the corner.
I caught him by surprise and he come along with a lively step, for I tend to move quickly when I am irritated.
"Do you want to bury him now or later?" I hissed.
"What?" Henry squinted as the unexpected question hit him between the eyes.
"He nearly drowned today. It was no fault of his own. You nearly had a carcass brought to your door."
His eyes shifted right, he started to turn, I took him by the front of his sweaty vest.
"You listen to me," I said, my voice hard and my fist tight: "I have lost two of my children. Every time I look at your boy I wonder if my Joseph would have grown up as tall or as strong or as fine, or whether my little Dana would have had the same laugh, the same intelligence, the same curiosity.
"I will never know these things."
I let go of Henry's vest.
"Your boy is still alive. Was I you I would set him down with a good meal in front of him and when he was done I would give him a hug and tell him that he is precious to you."
Henry sifted his weight from one leg to the other, considering.
I had hit him where he lived.
"God knows I wish I could do just that," I rasped, and laid a hand on the man's shoulder, then I looked the man square in the eye again.
"Watch for pneumonia. Other than that I don't think he's hurt."
Henry closed his mouth and nodded.
I went back around the house.
Jimmie must have just gone inside, his Ma was just going in: she turned and I touched my hat brim.
I saw her lips say "Thank you," and I was back on my black horse and headed for the Sheriff's office.

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Linn Keller 7-10-10


It was not unusual to see a lawman with his rifle out, riding down the street, muzzle pointed to the zenith.
It was somewhat out of the ordinary for a lovely girl-woman to bring up the rear of a five-horse procession with a rifle in like manner.
Jacob reined up in front of the Sheriff's office.
Jackson Cooper was loafing against the front of the building, leaned comfortably back in a rude chair: he tilted his hat brim up with one thick finger and studied the little procession as it came to a halt.
Long winded as usual, Jackson Cooper said nothing.
Jacob dismounted, slung the reins of his Pa's mare over the hitch rail -- she was trained to stand, he had no fear of her wandering -- and Jacob reached up and worked the knot loose in the piggin string he'd used to bind his prisoner's wrists.
"Got a carcass for Digger," Jacob said offhandedly, thrusting his chin at the next to last horse with the form bent over the saddle and tied in place.
"Jackson Cooper," he said, "could you lift this fellow off for me?"
Jackson Cooper brought his chair slowly down to four legs, stood; the prisoner's eyes widened, then narrowed quickly, as if to hide the fact that he'd actually seen a mountain stand up and walk.
"Busted ribs," Jacob cautioned. "Might want to fetch him off --"
Jackson Cooper took the fellow by the belt, fore and aft, picked him up enough to slide a forearm the size of Jacob's calf under the man's backside: he brought him off with little effort but considerable discomfort, for broken ribs hurt if there is any movement, or if there is no movement.
"You look like you been run over," Jackson Cooper rumbled conversationally.
"Yeah," the fellow gasped.
"Might we want Doc to take a look?" Jackson Cooper turned and regarded Jacob from beneath deceptively sleepy eyelids.
The outlaw sat on Jackson Cooper's arm like a child might sit on a board swing.
Jacob nodded. "Likely he needs it," he agreed.
Jackson Cooper grunted, looked at the prisoner like a man might regard a parakeet perched on a finger.
"Don't fall off," he said, and the prisoner considered the state of his ribs, his belly and miscellaneous other parts of his anatomy, and just how far it was to Terra Firma.

Caleb Rosenthal halted his buggy in front of the little hospital.
Grimacing, he set the brake, then climbed very carefully out of the carriage.
He'd borrowed a pillow from home: in spite of the carriage's good quality, tuck-and-roll upholstered seat, a pillow under his backside was ... well, not comfortable, but less uncomfortable.
Caleb was suffering not one boil, but two: one squarely on his setter, and one under the belt line, on the left hand side.
He'd fortified himself with a good stout belt of brandy, and it went down so well he had another just like it, reasoning that it was medicinal in nature and therefore must be good for a body.
Caleb tucked the pillow under his left arm, tilted his Derby hat forward and took his first resolute step toward getting his two problems taken care of.

Jackson Cooper, unlike most Western men and every true cowboy, was not at all averse to walking.
Jacob, on the other hand, liked the mobility a horse offered, so he followed along at a walk, the golden mare content to poke along beside Jackson Cooper.
Sarah and Angela remained inside the Sheriff's office.
Neither was willing to take the Sheriff's chair -- normally Angela would have run across the room, jumped in the chair and spun it happily around and around and around -- but instead she looked at it and then at her cousin Sarah and said in a subdued little girl's voice, "Is Daddy angry?"
Sarah paced like a cat. "Not at you, sweets," she said, and her voice was still funny, little above a whisper, as if she were so dry she could barely speak.
"Oh." Angela considered all that had happened so far, and how her Daddy got all cold and angry and spoke in that hard Daddy-voice that meant Someone Is In Big Trouble and I Hope It's Not Me, and Angela was a little scared.
Sarah saw her apple cheeked features start to wrinkle up and she swept across the room, drawing Angela to her with her left arm.
Angela seized her cousin about the waist and buried her face into her belly.
Sarah felt her tremble a little.
Sarah had her rifle by its wrist and she swung it up, rested the barrel on her shoulder.
Sarah's eyes were calm and her spirit was not troubled.
She had done what was right, she had done what was needed, and in this she was content.

"Bring him right in here," Nurse Susan said briskly, assessing the man's face and sizing up the way he held himself: she took note of his posture as the weight came on his legs again, she noted the stiffness with which he maintained his torso, and she drew up the head of the bed.
"Now turn," she said, dipping to seize him at ankle level: the outlaw gurled with pain as the nurse hoisted his legs up, turning him so he was no longer sitting on the edge of the bed, but sitting in it: the mattress was flexible and moderately comfortable, and she lowered him slowly from the slightly reclined to the mostly flat, but with the legs drawn up a little at the knees.
"The doctor will be with you shortly," she said. "In the meantime let's get you out of these things."
Jackson Cooper held station there beside the bed.
He knew his mere presence would encourage cooperation and decrease the chance of resistance to authority.

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Linn Keller 7-11-10


Jacob had not dismounted.
He was considering the steam fire fighting engine with distant eyes and I knew he was reviewing what had happened thus far today.
I mounted the black, grateful for a good high grade saddle: like most things, I got what I paid for, and knowing just how much a man can regret a poor saddle, I got the very best one available.
It cost accordingly.
Fortunately, I got my money's worth.
I turned the black and we settled stirrup to stirrup, me facing north, Jacob to south.
Jacob looked squarely at me, his bottom jaw thrust out, and his eyes narrowed a little as he took in a long breath through his nose.
I waited: part of my mind patiently considered what he might be going to say, part of me thinking about the girls back at the Sheriff's office, and how I needed to talk to Sarah, to let her know she had done well --
"Yes, Jacob?"
Jacob's eyes searched the ground, then back up at me.
"I wanted to kill that man," he said slowly.
I nodded.
I'd felt that way myself a time or three.
Jacob lifted his left hand, looked at it, turned it over.
"I didn't just want to kill him."
He looked up at the polished quartz face of the hospital.
I knew the look.
I'd seen it often enough in young troops after battle, sometimes long after.
It was like they were staring at something a thousand miles off, something only they could see.
"Killin's easy," Jacob said quietly. He looked suddenly at me. "It ain't right but it's easy."
I nodded.
"Nothin' to it. Shoot a man, cut his throat, hold his head in a rain barrel, strangle him, cleave his skull with a hatchet." His voice was distant, thoughtful.
"It's a simple mechanical act. That's all it is."
I waited.
Jacob looked at me and his eyes smoldered: they were hard, hard and unforgiving.
"There has to be a difference, sir."
"Go on."
Jacob closed his left hand into a fist, clenched until it trembled, then opened it, his fingers still bent, clawed.
He spoke as if speaking to his own hand.
"I wanted to KILL that fellow." His glare was like a weapon and he slashed the front of the hospital with it.
"Sir, there's a difference between simply ending a body's life and KILLING!"
I nodded.
"I didn't want to shoot him, sir." Jacob's hand closed again, slowly, almost gently.
"I wanted to SEIZE his throat and RIP the windpipe out of his neck and TEAR him open barehand!"
My belly was tight as I listened to the fire in my son's voice.
There was murder in his belly and hatred on his tongue.
I'd known exactly what he was talking about, and I had rejoiced as I spilled blood, hot and smoking, on thirsty earth: my own blood had been equally hot and I laughed as I spilled it --
I shivered.
It was twenty years and more since that damned war, twenty years since I'd swung a saber in combat, twenty years since the gods of battle had demanded human sacrifice and I had heaped riven souls upon their bloody altar --
"Sir," Jacob said, and his single word snapped me from reverie.
I looked at Jacob.
"Sir, I didn't do it."
I nodded again.
"I could have killed him, sir. I wanted to SEIZE him and drive my fist through his FACE and TEAR HIS LIVING HEART OUT OF HIS CHEST with my own two hands."
His fists clenched, unclenched; he took a long, slow breath, let it out, calmed himself with a sheer act of will.
"I didn't do it."
"What did you?" My question was rhetorical; it was also investigative: it helped him clarify his own actions, and it filled me in on what I didn't completely know.
"He turned to shoot at me again. I was close enough he would likely not miss and I shot for his face."
"Which explains the long wound down his cheek bone and that forty caliber chunk out of his ear."
"Yes, sir." Jacob grinned ruefully. "I didn't know Goldy here threw her head like that." He patted her neck affectionately and the hardness melted from his eyes.
"Then what happened?"
"We rammed his horse and I grabbed him on the way down. He didn't want to come along peaceful so I had to soften him up some."
"Which explains how he ran face first into a southbound freight."
"Yes, sir."
"What then happened?"
Jacob considered.
"I divested him of his hideout gun and then I looked around, make sure nobody else wanted a hand in the game."
"And ...?"
Jacob's eyes were veiled.
"He pulled another hideout and made to shoot your horse."
I felt my jaw thrust out some.
"I prize that horse," I said quietly, the menace in my voice plain even to my ears.
Jacob grinned and then laughed.
"Sir," he said, "that's exactly what I said, those very words!"
"Then you brought him in."
"Yes, sir."
"You didn't run your hand down his neck, grab his bung and yank him inside out."
"No, sir."
"You didn't drive your fist into his gut up to your shoulder and yank his tonsils out."
Jacob chuckled. "No, sir."
"You brought him in."
"Yes, sir."
It was not a challenge, nor was it to say that he was wrong, and Jacob knew how I meant the question.
"Sir, we must know what he knows, then we must let His Honor decide."
"So you're saying ...?"
Jacob looked puzzled.
"Sir, I reckon I'm saying I did the right thing."
I nodded.
"Jacob, do you know what you've just told me?"
Jacob was silent for several long moments, then he reached up and unpinned the badge from the back side of his lapel. He held it for a minute, staring at it, then extended it toward me.
"Here, sir."
"And your reason...?"
"Sir, I could have killed the man. He shot at a deputy. He was bought and paid for."
I reached out, took the badge, turned it over, frowned.
"Jacob," I said, "yesterday you were a deputy."
"Yes, sir."
I held it back out to him. "You'd best put this back on."
Jacob blinked, surprised.
His hand closed around the badge.
"Jacob," I said, "yesterday you were a deputy. Today you are a lawman." I gave him a solemn nod, the recognition of an equal. "Now you know the difference."
I turned the black and we trotted slowly over to the Sheriff's office.
I'd just had one conversation with someone who needed to hear certain words.
I was about to have another.

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Linn Keller 7-12-10


Unlike the Western man of legend, Caleb was afraid of pain.
There were those hardy souls (he knew several) who would (at most) bite a stick while the doctor was whittling on various parts of their anatomy, or like the frontiersman during the French and Indian Wars, bite down on two musket balls during an actual operation ... and when the physicians were done with their bloody craft, spit out two flat lead discs.
He, Caleb, shrank from any such hardihood, and so requested something to lessen his discomfort.
A dose of laudunum sufficed; the tall, slender Doctor John Greenlees relieved him of the boil on his left waistband: after incision, excision, drain and pack, two stitches sufficed to hold the wound closed on the iodoform: Caleb, discomfited in spite of the narcotic solution, bent over when instructed, and prepared to bear as best he could the discomfort that was sure to follow.
Doctor George Flint, in the next room, was tending carefully and methodically to the outlaw: after binding the ribs and assessing the belly for internal damage, after ascertaining that indeed the man was not passing blood, after carefully cleansing the bullet-burn along the man's cheek bone and deciding it required no turther treatment, he gave a draft similar to that which relaxed the nervous Mayor, and bade him take his ease there upon the hospital bed.
Dr. Flint had then departed the room, leaving Nurse Susan to tend the patient.
Laudunum dulls pain and has a depressant effect owing to its opiate content: it relaxes inhibitions, owing to its alcoholic content: desperation adds its own flavor to the stew: with the pain relieved a bit, with a chance presented, the outlaw clenched his teeth and eased to a sitting position on the edge of the bed.
Nurse Susan was examining the contents of a wall mounted cupboard when the outlaw came up behind her, blade in hand.
Some instinct bade her turn.
The outlaw may have intended simply to ensure her silence with threat and with brandish of a honed edge, we will never know: when Nurse Susan turned, she opened her mouth to scream, and the outlaw, seeing his only chance to escape a gallows about to be dispatched through the woman's throat, slashed blindly, aiming to slice through her voice box.
Nurse Susan threw her head sideways and dropped.
She felt steel grate bone as the edge drew a line of fire across her face: seizing a handful of pristine apron, she pressed it hard against her cheek as the patient, wearing little besides the whiskers on his face and the rib-binder, sprinted for the door.
Nurse Susan pushed against the floor with her free hand, marveling at how red her apron had become: bent over and half sick, she staggered for the door, drew it open.
"Doctor Flint," she gasped, and her knees buckled.
Strong hands seized her arms and she felt herself carried and laid on the very bed vacated so suddenly bare moments ago.

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Linn Keller 7-13-10


Sarah was pacing like a wolf in a cage when we came into the office.
I removed my hat and parked my Winchester against the door frame, and then I very carefully put my arm around her and drew her into me.
She was shivering a little and I don't blame her.
I held her as Angela charged across the room in a rapid patter of little flat-soled shoes and a delighted "Jacob!" and Jacob went down on one knee and grunted a little as his little sis hit him at full gallop.
I heard him laugh and smiled a little, for I had heard that same laugh from my own throat.
I drew up a chair, spun it around and bade Sarah sit, then I drew one up of my own.
I leaned well forward.
Our knees were almost touching and I held my hands out, both of them, palm up, on my knees: Sarah bit her bottom lip, suddenly uncertain, and I realized she didn't quite know what to do with her rifle.
"Here," I said gently, and she handed it to me: I laid it across her lap, muzzle away from the doorway, pointing roughly at the pot belly stove.
She took my hands.
Her hands were cool, dry, delicate, much like her Mama's.
"Sarah," I said, "you are a most remarkable young woman."
Sarah's eyes were big and moist and a little uncertain.
Now that the pressure was off, all the bottled feelings were fizzing like a sarsparilla shaken on a hot day.
"You did the right thing back there."
Her hands tightened a little and I felt their tremor.
"That criminal tried to kill you and he tried to kill Angela."
I saw the hardness come back into her eyes.
A woman will sometimes accept her own near demise with equanimity but seldom will a woman tolerate the death of someone close to them.
"You stopped him from killing." I gently, carefully, squeezed her hands, just enough to let her know the emphasis of my words. "You did the right thing!"
Her eyes softened again and grew wide as she looked back and saw it again, saw the bloom of white smoke, heard the heavy bullet's snarling hum as it passed between her and her cousin.
"Sarah, tell me what you saw."
Sarah hesitated, her eyes tracking to the left.
She was remembering.
"I saw movement," she said. "I did not know what it was until I saw the smoke. When I heard the bullet and I knew what it was because I heard you telling Mr. Baxter about a bullet that passed near your ear during the War and I had to stop him because Sarah was there and I didn't know how close it came to her and --"
Sarah's words began to tumble out, falling over one another, and I let her talk: that sarsparilla bottle was tipped over and spilling out and foaming briskly as spilled.
She was breathing a little faster and her hands tightened steadily on mine.
"What happened next?" I prompted.
Sarah blinked.
"Jacob," she said distantly. "Jacob, and that boy --"
"Never mind them, honey," I said quietly, steering her back to the task at hand. "You reloaded your rifle and you rode up to where I was standing."
Sarah blinked as I repeated her own words back to her, and continued.
She described looking down at the carcass and knowing he was dead, knowing she had a hand in it, and feeling ... feeling very ...
"Righteous," she said, looking up, looking me squarely in the eye.
"I felt righteous."
I nodded.
"Sarah, it is never an easy thing to kill someone and it is seldom a good thing, but sometimes it is needful.
"If you had not stopped him -- you stopped him, Sarah, you stopped him from causing great harm, you stopped him from killing you or Angela -- you did what needed to be done. It was the only way you had to stop him from killing again!"
Sarah nodded.
"What happened next?"
Sarah blinked.
Left to her own devices, her young mind would run up against that one most horrible moment, and shink back from it: it would run up against that one most horrible moment again, and again it would pull back: it would never, ever get past that time, and unless I could talk her through it and talk her beyond it, she would be scarred and suffer for the rest of her life.
"... then we rode back into town," she finished, "and here we are."
I nodded.
"Sarah," I said quietly, deepening my voice, knowing what I said in this moment would engrave itself on her young heart, "you are a fine, strong young woman. I am very, very proud of you, because you faced a very difficult decision and you made that decision, and you acted properly under great pressure."
I gave her a little smile.
"You did better than most grown men would have done!"
Sarah's smile was thin, almost sad, but she got up and leaned into me and wrapped her arms around me.
I hugged her back.
Some things are best said without words, and this was one of them.
I held her for a long time, a very long time; not until she made a little sound of distress and yanked her arms away did she remember the Winchester rifle across her lap.
I hadn't forgotten; my left knee was slightly forward, between hers, and the rifle had only tilted a little.
Sarah grabbed the rifle and sat back down and giggled a little.
"I am proud of you," I said again, and Sarah looked at me with those lovely dark eyes, then we both turned to look out the open door.
There was the sound of a hoarse voice, the clatter of hooves and a buggy, hard driven.
We looked out the door in time to see the Mayor's buggy and the Mayor's fine Morgan horse and some fellow wearing a surcingle around his ribs and little else, swinging the buggy-whip in a vicious arc.
I powered out of my chair, snatching up the Winchester rifle.
Jackson Cooper was running for the hospital.
Jacob was just coming out of the Silver Jewel: Angela was behind him, and Esther.
I pulled the reins free, threw them over the saddle horn and mounted.
"Jacob!" I shouted. "With me!"
My Witch of the Sun danced impatiently at the hitch-rail, unhappy at being left behind, and I swung on board my black outlaw gelding.
The black horse turned and we shot after the fleeing buggy and its felonious passenger.

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Linn Keller 7-14-10


Esther's hands were firm on Angela's shoulders.
"I wanna go with Daddy!" she wailed, twisting, but Esther's hands and Esther's voice persuaded their little girl to stand fast.
Jacob sprinted across the street, looking after the fleeing buggy and the retreating backside of his Pa and the black Outlaw-horse.
Jacob had just gotten in arm's reach of his Pa's golden stallion when a stentorian summons spun him about.
Jackson Cooper was thrust from the hospital's door.
Jacob released the saddle horn, drew back and marveled.
In all his young life he had never, ever seen Jackson Cooper angry.
He had seen the man pleased, annoyed, sleepy, stern, amused and in an unguarded moment, he'd seen a soft affection as the big man gazed upon Emma, his beautiful bride: this, though, was different, much different, and Jacob -- blooded warrior in his own right -- felt his blood cool several degrees.
Jackson Cooper was angry.
Matter of fact, Jackson Cooper's face was a dangerous shade of dark scarlet and his expression bespoke a fury the man felt to boot heels.
Jacob did not recall just how he got into the saddle, just that he was aboard and coming hard about, and the Sun-Witch galloped for the fine little hospital shining in the sun, and Jacob threw her reins over her head and barked "Stand!" as he sprinted for the open door.
When Jacob emerged, a dozen heartbeats later, his face too was graven in lines of fury: his jaw was set and rage ruled his heart.
If his thoughts could be distilled into spoken words, they would have been something like this:
If Pa doesn't get him I will, and this time I kill him barehand!
Sarah thrilled as she watched Jacob and the Sun-Witch launch down the street.
She hesitated, looked over at her Aunt Esther and at little Angela, there in the doorway of the Jewel, heard Angela's protests, saw the pout on her young cousin's face.
For a moment she considered being a lady and joining her aunt and her cousin and having tea and quiet, ladylike conversation ... then the moment passed, and she thrust her rifle into its scabbard, seized the reins of her Papa's grey horse: her young blood sang power as she thrust her foot into the stirrup, then she, too, ahorse and a-gallop, added her voice to the pursuit.
"Oh, dear," Esther sighed, shaking her head: then, "Come, Angela. We must have tea," and the two ladies withdrew into the Jewel, leaving the little crowd gathered at the door to mutter and speculate on just what in the Sam Hill had happened to cause such commotion.

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Linn Keller 7-14-10


The Sheriff knew just what his black outlaw horse could do.
He gauged the distance to the fleeing buggy, lips drawing back in a silent snarl.
Jacob knew just what his Pa's golden mare could do.
He was content to let her have her head: he might get a momentary thrust of speed by slapping her hinder with the tag end of the reins, but it would not last: no, he was content to ride this living rocket, content in the knowledge that he would overhaul both his Pa and the buggy, and with a bit of a margin.
Sarah, following, was tasting the madness of power: righteousness sang in her heart, speed intoxicated her young senses, wind roared in her ears, hoofbeats drummed a song of madness.
Her Papa's grey horse was a runner -- he loved to run -- Caleb had been warned the horse would bolt if not held with a firm hand -- and perhaps this was true if ridden by a man of trepidation and of caution: but Sarah, fueling herself on recklessness and tasting the nectar of adrenalin, gave the gelding exactly what he craved, and that was a free hand to do the one thing in this world that he loved doing the best.
They were strung out over a mile, but their procession was shrinking fast, each gaining on the other at a steady rate, until Sarah was close enough to Uncle Linn and her cousin Jacob to put two fingers to her lips and blow a single, long, shrill, piercing whistle.
Jacob looked around, turning his head left and down: Linn did the same a moment later, the same move, identical, and part of Sarah's young heart laughed, for father and son were so much alike: clamping the reins in her teeth, she used both arms in a great come-here gesture.

The Sheriff was near enough the wagon that he saw the thief and would-be murderer was coming quickly to his moment of freedom: sitting upright in the saddle, he slowed his black horse, waved Jacob down.
Puzzled, Jacob slowed.
Sarah was now close enough she shot past Jacob, who leaned abruptly forward and yelled "Git 'im!" and the Sun-Witch joyfully pursued the Mayor's grey.

Twain Dawg's morning had been leisurely.
Sarah had given him a warm-water bath, scrubbing scented bath salts into his curly black fur: if he'd been a cat he would have purred, for her hands knew just where to work the soap into his hide.
His big plume of a tail manufactured sufficient turbulence to cause a casual observer to think a great sea-creature was restless beneath the surface: Twain Dawg had stepped from the tub when so bade, and stood in regal pleasure as Sarah carefully ladeled dippers of warm water over him to rinse off the soap.
She held up a bedsheet to shield herself and said "Now shake," and Twain Dawg enthusiastically shook himself, slinging water and some residual soap suds for an incredible distance: when he was done, Sarah had toweled him off, there in the sun, and when she was satisfied, she tied a red ribbon around his neck and pronounced him a fine looking lad.
Sarah went inside at her Mama's summons, leaving Twain Dawg to his own devices: relaxed and lazy after a good rubbing, Twain Dawg blinked and decided the back of the carriage would be a good place to curl up for a nap.
The Mayor had gone to town without realizing he had a passenger.
The Mayor drove at a rather sedate pace; with full sun and a gentle ride, Twain Dawg slept and slept well: when the carriage stopped in front of the hospital, he never stirred: when the carriage started abruptly and began driving at an unusually rapid velocity, Twain Dawg opened his great jaws in a yawn, curling his pink tongue and pushing stiff-legged against the inside of the carriage.
Blinking, he looked around, but not until the rough ride rattled him a few times did he uncurl his near-hundredweight of muscle and take a look around.

Sarah did not know what the thief had done.
She did know he had her Papa's carriage and horse, and was whipping the horse mercilessly -- in and of itself, a thing to raise her ire.
She took note of the man's state of undress and his wild expression and concluded he must be insane.
"You there!" she shouted. "That's my Papa's carriage! You turn around right now!"
His reply was to slash at her with the buggy-whip.
It was too short to reach her but his intent was plain.
Twain Dawg's ears had stood up at the anger in his beloved mistress's voice, then they laid down flat against his head as the stranger driving shouted something angry and made as if to hurt the one soul Twain Dawg loved most.
"Twain Dawg!" Sarah shouted. "Get him!"

"Great God Almighty," Jacob breathed.
What the Sheriff said does not bear repeating in polite company.
Neither had known the Bear Killer to be aboard the buggy.
Both saw Sarah's approach, the slash -- both saw the Bear Killer rising like a bear himself -- and both heard the man's scream over the sound of hooves, wheels, and trace chains.

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Linn Keller 7-15-10


Sarah's voice carried over the sound of the speeding carriage.
Where the massive canine had been sitting upright -- blinking in the wind, wondering why this odd smelling stranger that sweated fear was driving -- his ease was interrupted by the obvious attack on his beloved mistress.
Twain Dawg did not take kindly to that action.
Hard muscles galvanized, hind legs thrust hard against the floor and Twain Dawg launched for the front seat, jaws wide and the sound of battle stripping his throat raw.
The Bear Killer had not hesitated to charge a wounded grizzly, nor had he hesitated at other times to apply ivory dentistry to a given problem.
The fleeing felon, distracted by Sarah's sudden and peremptory demand, slacked the reins a bit and the Morgan horse veered accordingly.
Twain Dawg aimed for the near shoulder, intending to come down with a crushing bite.
The buggy lurched.
Bear Killer missed.
The sudden appearance of a red-eyed, raging, fanged monster, slavering and hot-voiced, will shrivel the heart of a strong man, and this fellow was not a particularly strong sort: his response was sheer reflex.
He jumped.

The Sheriff saw Bear Killer sit up.
The Sheriff saw the fellow take a vicious cut at Sarah with the buggy-whip.
The Sheriff saw Bear Killer surge forward.
The Sheriff saw the buggy lurch as the Morgan horse swung to the right, halfway off the road: the driver dove out of the buggy, his scream cut off as he hit the ground and rolled like a rag doll.
The buggy's rear wheel ran over him, throwing the buggy and the Bear Killer into the air.
Bear Killer got back up, still in the buggy, and stood with his forepaws on the back of the front seat.
The injured thief rolled once more and lay still.
An oath seared the Sheriff's lips, one he hadn't spoken since those dark days when he wore Union blue.

Jacob saw Twain Dawg's attack and the driver's departure.
He saw Sarah desperately trying to slow the Morgan horse.
Jacob was close to the buggy now, coming up on its right side: he ignored the rolling felon, knowing the thief would be going neither far, nor fast.

"Ho!" Sarah shouted, reaching for the Morgan's near rein.
She could not reach it.
Sarah leaned a little further, one hand locked on her saddle horn.
"Ho there! Ho!" she screamed.
The Morgan walled its eyes and shied away from her, drifting almost completely off the road.

Jacob kicked free of the stirrups, put his palms on the pommel and jumped straight up, planting his feet on the saddle.
It was a move he'd practiced, but never on his Pa's mare.
The golden mare was neck-and-neck now with the Morgan.
Jacob pressed his right hand on the side of her neck and the palomino crowded over a little closer.
The Morgan's eyes were wild: bit between its teeth, it was running mindlessly, trying to escape the bouncing, clattering thing tethered behind.
Jacob wished for his Apple-horse, for Apple knew what he was doing: he'd recalled his Pa telling him how he jumped onto a moving flatcar from the saddle, and so Jacob had tried it, and tried again, and again, until he and Apple-horse could make the transfer at a dead-out gallop.
Jacob balanced easily, gauged his distance to the Morgan's back, jumped.

Sarah snatched at the rein and over-balanced.
Her hand lost its grip on her saddle horn and she felt herself falling.
Part of her mind marveled at how long it was taking to hit the ground.
Then she realized just how close those shiny red-lacquered buggy-wheel spokes were, and she hit the ground, and the world exploded in bright stars and a giant's hand slammed into her back and she tasted copper ...

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Linn Keller 7-16-10


Jacob was set to jump on that Morgan horse.
I could not change that.
The outlaw was on the ground and not going anywhere.
I would not have to change that.
Sarah had just hit the ground and so had my beating heart.
I could do something about that.
The river gorge was ahead and not far.
I knew I could not get ahead of the carriage in time to turn it.
Jacob was on his own.
Part of me turned cold, cold, an officer's legacy of commanding men in wartime.
Jacob was a soldier and could well become a casualty, an acceptable loss.
He'd chosen his course of action.
He was on his own.
I had a chaotic situation and no control and the only good I could do, the only good thing I could bring out of this moment, was to get to Sarah and render such aid as I was able.
The moment froze itself in my memory and as I write these words I could see every detail in stark relief, in chiseled clarity.
I saw Twain Dawg sitting up with his paws on the back of the seat, looking for all the world like he was enjoying the ride.
I saw Jacob in mid-leap, legs and arms splaying, launching through space from his squatted position on his saddle, aiming for the back of that Morgan horse.
I saw daylight under all four wheels of Caleb's fine, shining carriage.
I saw Sarah laying absolutely still and unmoving, face-up under that immense, curved, incredibly blue Colorado sky.
I remember how it smelt, the grit of dust between my teeth, the feel of that Outlaw horse and saddle leather and the drumming thunder of hooves, and I don't think I will ever for the rest of my entire life forget just how helpless I felt in that one bright moment.

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Linn Keller 7-16-10


Outlaw skidded some coming to a halt and I was out of the saddle before he was stopped.
I took two running steps and fell to my knees.
Sarah's eyes were open but unmoving and I could not see her breathe.
I am not a man to panic easy and I can't say as panic is what I did, but the past reared up and hit me hard.
Of a sudden I was sitting in a rocking chair in front of a fireplace holding my little girl, my Dana, as she quit shivering, still fever-hot, and gasped her last breath in my ear and died.
I was holding Duzy's body, limp, lifeless, with Sopris's hand on my shoulder.
I was holding Esther, unconscious and solid as a rag doll as I staggered down the stairs of the Jewel with her, leaving a bloody trail of scarlet droplets behind me.
I looked down at this child, this girl, this innocent, and the overwhelming feeling of loss took all the strength out of me.
My guts turned to water.
I reached for her, drew back: fearfully, I extended my hand again, then I bent, still kneeling, and thrust both arms under her.
I rolled her into me, straightening, then standing, marveling that she was still warm.
Grief claimed my soul.
Damn me! I thought.
Damn me to hell!
She's dead and I had a hand in it!

I looked at her face, her unseeing eyes, I looked at lips that had never known a man's kiss, I looked at eyes that had seen too little of the world, I looked at more than a girl but not quite a woman and I knew she would never hold her Papa's arm as she walked slowly down a church filled with friends and kinfolk, she would never know the nervous touch of a husband or of a beau, she would never waltz with a man when she wore the dress of a woman and the dizzying delight of being the very center of attention.
I saw everyone I've known that died and not one damn thing I could do to stop their death, and I saw everyone I've ever loved that had left this earth.
I took a deep breath and threw my head back and I screamed.
I filled the space between the dirt beneath my boot soles and the great azure firmament overhead with a wordless defiance, a man's hurt, with the agony of a soul stretched too far, and my scream tapered off as I run out of air, and I bent my face down into the front of her riding dress and cried like a lost child.
My knees failed me again and, still holding Sarah tight, tight, I sobbed like I have not done in a very long time.
It felt like I was about to tear apart inside.
If Lucifer himself had come up and seared his claws into my shoulder I would have gone with him without hesitation, for I damned myself for her death, and hell would be too mild for what I deserved!
I don't know how long I soaked my grief into her bodice.
I remember hearing a carriage come up close.
There was the sound of boot soles hitting the ground and a hand on my shoulder, and beside me a sniff and I felt the Bear Killer brush against me as he walked around and began washing Sarah's face.
I felt Sarah shiver a little in my arms.
I thought Bear Killer was washing her too rough, until she moved again and I raised my head.
Sarah groaned and raised an arm.
Jacob stepped around and ran his arms under her, beside mine.
"We will lift her on three," he said, and I marveled at how full of confidence his voice was.
On three we stood, the two of us, Bear Killer watching closely: he followed, step for step, as we bore her to the carriage.
We got her into the carriage, into the back seat. There was not room to lay her down and Jacob bade me sit with her and hold her still.
Sarah was breathing funny and something told me she'd hit harder than I thought.
She made a little whimpery sound and worked her left arm around behind me, reaching down and grabbing the back of my belt, and she leaned her head against me.
Bear Killer jumped in back and laid his head over the seat and whined.
I wrapped my arms around her and held her.
Jacob tied our horses on the back of the carriage and climbed into the front seat.
Taking the reins, he clucked to the Morgan, and brought us slowly around, and toward Firelands at a nice easy walk.

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Linn Keller 7-17-10


The Sheriff's eyes were haunted, distant.
His arms were around his niece, his cheek against the top of her head: his legs were wide and braced, and he guarded against the slightest move transferred from dirt roadway through the fine, well sprung carriage.
The Sheriff was not entirely insensible to the world around them.
At one point he blinked and raised his head.
"Jacob?" he called softly.
"Yes, sir?"
"Jacob, the prisoner ...?"
"Dead, sir."
"Yes, sir." Jacob was silent for several long moments, then: "I didn't have to help him along none, sir."
The Sheriff's eyes changed, anger swirling in their depths.
He would like very much to have helped the man on his journey.
The Sheriff closed his eyes and ordered his thoughts.
He knew what it was to have his mind disjointed by horror and by battle, and he'd learned -- he'd learned the hard way -- that he had to master his thoughts, and not let them master him: he'd forgotten this hard lesson, bought with blood and with good men's lives, and he'd let the reins of control yank from his grip when he saw Sarah dead on the ground.
He felt her move a little in his arms, felt her breathe, and considered that there were times when a man didn't mind being wrong.
In this case he was very pleased that he was very, very wrong about the state of her demise.

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Linn Keller 7-19-10


Jackson Cooper waved as Ben Halsey headed out with a rented wagon and the carcass of the deceased.
The reward money was in a poke on the Sheriff's desk, the two back in lockup had been told, one time, to hush up and ask no questions, and as Jackson Cooper was tall enough to absolutely fill any given doorway both high and wide, the pair was not inclined to disagree with the man.
Jackson Cooper saw the Sheriff and Jacob come down the street at a slow trot: he noticed how stiffly the younger man sat and how rigid his Pa sat in the back seat: three horses in tow was an unusual touch, and Jackson Cooper, his curiosity whetted, drew the door shut behind him and sauntered across the street.
The mayor's fine, shining carriage, dusty now and filled with humanity, drew up in front of their little hospital.
Jackson Cooper's stride lengthened as he saw Jacob's pasty-white face: he reached up and took the younger man under the arms, lifted him from the carriage and held him for a long moment while his legs gathered strength enough not to collapse.
Jacob's hand closed on the Marshal's forearm.
"See to Sarah," he said in a husky voice. "I'm not hurt."
Jackson Cooper could smell a lie a mile away and he did not need to be that far distant to know Deputy Keller was uttering a profound untruth, but he didn't see fit to debate the matter: the Sheriff picked Sarah up, slowly, carefully, and Jackson Cooper's gut tightened as he reached up and accepted the limp burden.
The Sheriff put a had on the side of the carriage, jumped easily to the ground, went to his son.
"Jacob?" he said quietly, taking in the pained posture, the white-knuckled grip on the side of the carriage, the jaw muscles clamped tight.
Jacob began to tremble.
The Sheriff caught him as he went down, debating whether to load him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry: no, he thought, not with that belly, and with some difficulty he got Jacob behind the knees and under the shoulder blades: setting his teeth together in a tight jaw lock of his own, he straightened, tucking his butt and lifting with long, rangy legs, and staggered into the hospital after Jackson Cooper.

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Linn Keller 7-20-10


Whose knuckles drummed urgently on the door of the Z&W's office, is not particularly important.
Urgent syllables whispered to the red-haired railroad owner were distilled by the recipient to extract speculation, rumor and supposition.
Esther was left with the distinct impression that something unusual had happened, and that it might be wise for her to look into the matter -- but discreetly, for if a bloody wagon full of gore-dripping body parts had indeed just drawn up to their fine little hospital, and a legion of white-coated attendants carried in a dozen screaming, thrashing, dying victims of some horrendous encounter, she did not wish to distract their medical staff from the urgency of their emurgent duties.

Jacob tried rolling over.
Now that the numb had wore off, now that the pressure was off, the cumulative effects of his several exertions were stiffening him up most painfully.
He could not roll over without this back and his sides encircling him with sheets of tearing pain: his belly muscles twitched and threatened to cramp and he was afraid to sneeze for fear of ripping himself in two, and for fear of blowing a thick layer of dust over everyone and everything.
His throat felt like leather and his tongue like a wood rasp.
Morning Star appeared from nowhere and Jacob blinked.
Morning Star quickly, expertly divested him of as many clothes as she could without moving him, then she reached into an apron pocket and pulled out a thick strip of leather.
Jacob knew what it was for.
He opened his mouth.
Morning Star eased the strip deep between his teeth and he bit down on it, nodding his thanks.
Morning Star had known warriors of every stripe and of many races: she had the most respect for the stoicism of her native people: Jacob made no sound as she worked him out of coat and shirt, long handles and drawers and boots: her strong, slender hands explored his belly, his ribs: finally the backs of her hands assessed his cheeks, the back of one hand across his forehead for a long moment: she knew this would be diagnostic not only for body temperature, but was also a reassurance.
Jacob reached up and pulled the leather from between his molars.
It was bitten through in a few places.
Morning Star drew the sheet over him and gave him a long look, then nodded, once.
She turned to leave.
"Morning Star," Jacob husked.
She turned, black eyes unreadable.
Morning Star's eyes shifted to the left, toward an adjacent room.
"I will see," she said quietly.

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Linn Keller 7-20-10


Annette was restless.
In spite of her belly she'd cleaned house, she'd fixed a full meal, she'd sewed, she'd patched Jacob's trousers and replaced buttons on two of his shirts.
Sweat was beaded up on her forehead and she wiped it savagely with a towel: she was not in a good humor, her ankles were swelled, her feet hurt, her back ached and Jacob had promised to be home by now, and wasn't.
Annette, like any good wife, could keep a meal warm when necessary, and she sat about keeping her husband's repast warm.

Esther drew open the hospital's front door just as the Sheriff pushed it open from within: each caught the other's momentary look of surprise and in spite of himself the Sheriff blurted, "Comin' or goin'?" -- then he blinked as he realized how stupid he must sound.
Esther turned and gestured toward Caleb's fine carriage. The Morgan showed the effects of a hard run at high elevation: its head was hanging, it was still breathing fast and sweat was salt-dried on hide and harness.
"Caleb?" she asked. "Is there some ... ?"
The Sheriff nodded and stood aside to allow his wife's entry.

Caleb's backside felt odd.
Doc told him he had two stitches holding the incision closed.
He really didn't care, not with narcotic and alcohol singing in his veins.
He was in no shape to drive home, and he knew he was in no shape to go home, but he was still inclined to have a bit of a sociable drink: there seemed to have been some excitement to the front of the building, and so Caleb, fully dressed now, decided he just might saunter up to the Silver Jewel, and tend his thirst.
"Just in case the pain returns," he said affably to the empty air: tilting his Derby hat forward at an alarming angle, he waited for the floor to stop wobbling underfoot before he took an unsteady step, then another, toward the door.
He knew the hallway led to the back door, and he held every confidence that his departure would not cause any great concern.
It was, after all, he reasoned, just a minor operation.
Even if it was his personal setter that had been operated on.

"Open your hand, Sarah," Dr. Flint said gently as he sat beside the pallid girl.
Sarah, like Jacob, had been undressed: like Jacob, she had made no sound, in spite of her discomfort, and now lay covered with a sheet and embarrassment.
Dr. Flint's hands were warm, his voice gentle; Morning Star was in and out of the room, in long enough to reassure the girl, out as necessary, for they had more than just Sarah to tend, and Nurse Susan was departed for Denver to a better surgeon than either Dr. Greenlees or Dr. Flint.
Dr. Flint's left hand was supporting Sarah's elbow, his right was firmly around her wrist: his face was expressionless and his obsidian eyes unreadable as he studied her forearm.
"Now close it, slowly."
Sarah did as instructed.
Dr. Flint enclosed her hand with his. "Open your hand slowly."
His own hand allowed hers to open, but with resistance.
"Does that hurt?"
Sarah bit her lip, nodded.
Dr. Flint took her fingers, held them: "Now close your hand."
This time a note of distress escaped her throat.
"Hm." Dr. Flint released her hand, took her wrist again.
"Sarah, relax your arm and I will move it." He smiled a little. "I will move it very gently."
Sarah nodded again, a shallow little nod, as if she were afraid any move was going to hurt -- and unfortunately she was right.
Dr. Flint stressed her arm slightly: he pulled gently, bent the forearm very, very slightly, eyes closed: his fingers could see much better than his eyes in this particular case, and he nodded, satisfied.
"Sarah," he said, "how did this happen?" -- and his finger brushed ever so lightly over the swollen, enpurpling area on the inner aspect of her right forearm.
"I don't know," Sarah said in a small voice. "I fell off my horse and I hit the ground." She grimaced. "That sounds so stupid."
Dr. Flint's eyebrows raised a little. "Why does it sound stupid?"
Sarah gave him an uncomfortable look. "Am I going to fall off and hit the sky?"
Dr. George Flint threw back his head and laughed as only a strong man can laugh, and Sarah had to smile a little herself.
Dr. Flint brushed a few stray hairs from her forehead and his expression was one of an affectionate older uncle, perhaps, or a grandfather.
"I fell into the sky, once," he said quietly, "but it's not something I tell everyone."
Sarah was quiet. She knew this was not a thing he would joke about.
"Your arm is not broken but it may be cracked," he said. "The bone is young and green and should heal. You will probably have a knot on one bone or perhaps both. You may ache there when the rains come." He stood, moved to the head of the bed. "Close your eyes, Sarah, and relax your neck."
He slipped strong, skilled hands under her neck and gently, carefully felt the alignment of the spine, then the collar bones and shoulder girdle: Morning Star touched Sarah's left hand, and Sarah gave her a look that was somewhere between gratitude and fear.
Dr. Flint very carefully placed the edge of his hand on the center of her breast bone.
"Tell me if this hurts," he said, pressing gently.
Sarah's eyes told him better than any words that they did.
"I suspected so." He placed two fingers flat on her breast bone and tapped them, once, with two fingers of the opposite hand.
"Ow," Sarah protested, or rather squeaked.
"Tell me where it hurts."
"My back," she said. "Below my left shoulder blade."
Dr. Flint nodded, then continued as if he were addressing a comparative anatomy class, or delivering a tutorial on discovering faults in the skeletal system.
"We will now examine the structure of the pelvic girdle," he said, placing the heels of his hands on the left and right crests and pressing gently.

"And Jacob?" Esther asked.
"He will need to rest for a few days but I believe he will be fine."
Esther nodded once, briskly.
"And what shall I tell Bonnie?"
"Nothing, yet." Dr. Greenlees shifted his weight: he'd injured his left knee in his wild and misspent youth -- as a college freshman he'd pushed a schoolmate from the path of a runaway beer wagon, his chum was uninjured but he'd gone down hard -- "Dr. Flint has yet to complete his examination."
As if waiting for his cue, Dr. Flint opened the door and nodded to his colleague.
"Mrs. Keller was inquiring what she should tell Sarah's mother," Dr. Greenlees said with a returning nod.
Dr. Flint steepled his fingers, considering.
"If you could tell her," he said, "that she has a remarkable daughter, that her daughter fell from her horse, that she has three cracked ribs and a bruised arm, and that she should be just fine in a few weeks."
Dr. Flint frowned and Esther rested gloved fingertips on his forearm.
"There is something else ...?"
"Yes, ma'am. Her husband, Caleb. She may wish to drive him home." Dr. Flint looked around, then at his fellow physician.
"Where is His Honor?"

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Linn Keller 7-21-10


I'd sent Digger after the thief's carcass.
Much as I'd like to leave it to buzzards and possums, I feared 'yotes and wolves might dine upon it and either die a horrible slow death from his poisoned parts, or decide they liked the taste of man-flesh; neither would be good.
I made sure Jacob was settled in, and preliminary examination showed nothing life threatening -- I could not bring myself to poke my head in to say howdy to Sarah.
Somehow, clear to my boot soles, I was ashamed.
I had let this fine girl down.
Somehow I had betrayed her and it was my fault, and if it's possible to wish there was two of me so I could have knocked the dog stuffing out of myself, I would have done it.
It ain't possible, of course, so I did the next best thing.
I shoved the whole mess down deep into a bottle I keep inside me for such things and I stoved the cork in tight.
I went over to the Sheriff's office and set down with the journal book and made the formal, official entry into its blue-lined pages.
I run through events in my mind and got them in chronological order, and so set them down, one carefully shaped character after another, flowing from my mind through my good right hand and out the gracefully lanceolate steel nib, tracing each thought in regular characters, one after another across the page.
It took me a while to finish the account.
I realized I was hungry.
I turned and looked at the big Regulator clock, looked out the window to my left.
"Reckon I could eat," I muttered, but my thoughts were not with my meal.
My thoughts were with Jacob.
I'd seen how white his face became when he turned in the saddle, I'd seen how he carried himself stiff through the belly, I'd heard his teeth click together and felt the stifled exclamation vibrating in his throat but locked behind muscled-shut jaw when he near to collapsed and I picked him up.
He'll need supper too, I thought, then I thought of Annette.
I groaned aloud, then reached for my hat on its peg behind me.
I'd have to go bear her the bad news.

Annette, too, groaned, and fresh sweat was beading up on her forehead.
"No," she moaned, both hands on her belly.
She stood, then sat again, breathing fast, eyes wide and scared in the darkening kitchen.

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Linn Keller 7-22-10


Caleb had managed to navigate the distance between the stone hospital and the rear of the Silver Jewel without too much difficulty.
He did circle an oak tree three times, believing that when he reached out a hand to steady himself, the tree was coming along with him, and so accepting this kind charity, he slowly orbited the tree trunk, marveling at how the world was turning around him.
Finally he stopped and leaned back against the trunk (carefully, so as not to put any pressure on his recently mended backside) and squinted at the livery.
Pointing at the livery with his left hand, pointing to the back door of the Jewel with his right, he frowned and considered for several long moments; then leaning forward, he took three staggering steps and turned.
Drawing himself up into a posture of intoxicated gentility, he raised his hat to the tree.
"I thank you, my friend," he smiled, "but I believe I can make it from here" -- and so saying, replaced his hat, slid it forward until he could barely see out from under its short brim, and steered a somewhat unsteady course for the back door of the Silver Jewel.

Bonnie drew back a curtain, gazing toward Firelands, searching the long, straight, two-track road that led straight as a die from their ranch to the town.
She'd sent Sarah that morning, intending her daughter take Annette a meal: she expected to hear the rattle of the buggy and instead heard the quick drumming of hooves.
She'd sighed, shaking her head: Sarah was growing, physically and emotionally: though she was a good girl, though she was ladylike and obedient, there was a streak in her ... not a bad streak, but headstrong --
Just like I was, Bonnie thought, and caught her own smile in a mirror.
She turned and plucked up the front of her skirt, and scaled the stairs, or rather glided up them: she practiced gliding when she walked, an art she had perfected as a young girl, a skill she'd lost in the dark days of widowhood, an art she taught Sarah when Sarah began to wear the full length skirts appropriate to a maturing age.
I will pack her things, she thought: she does so delight in our Denver trips, and modeling my dresses before the buyers.
Humming a little to herself, Bonnie slid Sarah's trunk out of its cubby, opened it and began selecting the clothes her daughter would need for their trip in the morning.

Jackson Cooper seized the rifle's barrel, hauling it quickly to a high angle: surprised, its user pulled the trigger, sending the .44-caliber slug whistling steeply into the atmosphere instead of at its intended target, a man galloping away at the far end of the street.
Jackson Cooper had seen the man ride in, and knew he was departing on the same horse.
Horse theft was dealt with swiftly and harshly, but somehow Jackson Cooper doubted horse theft was the cause.
One hard yank and the Winchester was stripped from his subject's hands.
"Mind tellin' me what you're doin'?" he rumbled, his voice carefully neutral.

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Linn Keller 7-23-10


Esther looked out of the hospital's front door about the time the Sheriff stepped out of his office.
Jackson Cooper had just punched the crescent butt plate of a Winchester into some fellow's breast bone, which naturally caused the recipient considerable discomfort, not to mention a swift descent to Terra Firma. A casual boot on the fallen felon's wrist ensured there would be no further move toward a hideout, and as the Sheriff and Esther both approached, Jackson Cooper reached down, crushed a great handful of clothing into his fist and fetched the man quite easily off the ground.
There is something very, very unsettling about being hoist off one's feet.
Jackson Cooper preferred less than strenuous methods of keeping the peace.
He knew how impressive his mere appearance could be, and he had seen the Sheriff use this particular dodge to good effect, and if it worked for one lawman, why, it ought to work for another.
It did.
The Sheriff sized up the town Marshal, the fellow dangling from the Marshal's great ham of a fist, turned his head to view the individual departing town at a respectable velocity. His eyes picked up movement -- a barefoot boy was scampering in his direction from the Jewel -- and he looked over at the approach of his beautiful bride.
The Sheriff was cold and controlled inside. Gone was the loving uncle, the proud father: gone were feelings of filial affection: the Sheriff had drawn within a hard shell of his own making, a fortress built in battle and in wartime, a refuge where sanity could cower, shaking, while the outer warrior raged and fought with the insanity demanded of the moment.
"Now suppose," Jackson Cooper growled, "suppose you tell me why you're shootin' at a man's back."
The fellow's hands were around Jackson Cooper's wrist, and completely ineffective: "He stole from me!" he gasped. "He's a thief!"
Jackson Cooper nodded, once.
"We have law in this town, mister. Where you from?"
"Car, Car, Carbon Hill," he blurted.
"Then you need to talk to the Sheriff here."
"No, I, I, no, no --"
"You'll have plenty of time, don't you worry none," Jackson Cooper continued, his voice rumbling up from somewhere well below his boot heels. "You're goin' to jail. Dischargin' a firearm in town is illegal. Shootin' a man in the back is the mark of a coward an' I don't let cowards go shootin' none in my town."
"I, I, I, hey, hey, you can't, you can't --"
Jackson Cooper handed the rifle to the Sheriff and packed the protesting figure into the hoosegow.
The Sheriff blinked, looked to his wife.
Esther placed her gloved hand on his forearm.
She instantly had her husband's cold-eyed attention: I expect him to say "Report," she thought.
"Caleb is missing," she said, and the boy at their elbow piped, "No he isn't."
In the 1880s it was unheard-of for a child to interrupt an adult's conversation: they both turned and looked at the lad: he grimaced and shuffled uncomfortably, knowing he'd broken a taboo, but he was on a mission and he would carry it out as instructed.
"Mr. Baxter said Caleb is in there and he's ..." The lad's ears turned red, then his face. "Sheriff, Mr. Baxter said you're a friend of his, you'd better come."
The Sheriff turned icy eyes to his wife.
"Does he know about Sarah?"
Esther's lips shaped "No" though no sound came out.
"Have Jackson Cooper join me," the Sheriff told the lad, giving him a reassuring hand on the shoulder.
The lad sprinted for the Sheriff's office and the greying old lawman took his wife by her shoulders.
His expression was intense, his eyes frigid, burning into hers: his voice was low, quiet, the kind people listen to, for words spoken thus are words to be heeded.
"Never forget this, Mrs. Keller," he said, and she nodded, once, the plume on her fashionable hat bobbing with the movement.
"Never forget that, above all else, I love you."
He drew her to him and kissed her, quickly, passionately, molding his body to hers: then he was gone, and she raised surprised fingers to tingling lips, wondering what she'd done to deserve this ... and could she possibly do it again, and soon.

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Linn Keller 7-24-10


We drove out to Caleb and Bonnie's at a little more than a walk.
The Sun-Witch walked alongside of us, content to saunter along at our leisurely pace.
That Morgan horse needed a good rub down and some grain, but he was game and even trotted a little, but I held him down to more of a walk.
Esther sat on one side of Caleb and I on the other, at least until we were out of town.
I wanted to get His Honor out of the common eye before he got sick and we barely got out of town and a few hundred yards away before I was obliged to draw his Morgan to a stop and set the brake real quick.
I climbed into the back seat and took him under the arms: Esther pulled off his hat and we got his coat and vest off him, and I dragged him into the back of his buggy and bent him over the back so he hung out head and shoulders with his arms a-dangle.
He didn't feel a thing layin' there like that.
Now if I'd laid over the back of the rearmost seat, padded or not, it would have pained my ribs in not long a'tall, but Caleb ... well, you could have whittled on him with a dull knife and I don't believe he would have felt it much.
It wasn't until we were nearly to the Rosenthal ranch that I realized ... while I had Caleb's grey horse and my black horse tied on behind, Esther was not wearing a divided skirt for the ride back.
My sudden look of alarm coincided with Caleb's sounds of distress, and Esther laid a sympathetic hand on my arm.
"He'll feel better when he's emptied," she said, mistaking my concern for her, for concern for the Mayor.
I closed my mouth and nodded, looked back at the heaving administrator.
Both the grey and Outlaw had drawn to the side, giving Caleb the center: apparently neither cared to be splashed, and I don't blame them.
Bet over like that he'd neither choke nor drown, and all the mess he could make would be confined to a little splatter on the back of his carriage, or so I hoped.
I drove their carriage around to the back of the house.
Bonnie came out the back door, she and her Irish maid, concern on their faces and skirts gathered as they came down the three steps from the back porch.
Caleb was still shaking and weak and I figured the man would benefit from some good cold water, so I packed him over to the rain barrel and held him from behind with my arm around his chest and my thigh stuck between his legs: my own leg carried his weight, my arm steadied him and I sloshed water on his face, getting the bitter dregs off his lips, his chin.
His shirt would need washed anyway so I was not worried about getting it wet.
The ladies held a quick council of war and determined the man would likely benefit from a bath, and a bath would be facilitated with Yours Truly to pack him to the tub and set him in it and fetch him out afterward: Caleb had apparently taken advantage of the free lunch there in the Jewel: he had dined wisely but not well, and he'd wined very well indeed and not in the least bit wisely: it would be a betrayal of our friendship of I described the further ill effects of drink on the man: let me say simply that a bath was in order, and we got some water in the man, which came up almost as fast: we primed him again like we'd prime a pump, and finally it stayed down, little sips, and the maid had some broth ready and we got a few sips of that into the man.
This didn't set well but it set, and Bonnie asked the maid if they still had dried spearmint, and they steeped mint in weak tea and tried that with some honey stirred in.
That settled his belly a little.
A bath, and bed, with a pan on the floor by the head of the bed and a towel under his head, leading down to the pan: he was awake enough and aware enough to understand if he had to heave, he needed only roll over.
He was barely able to nod his understanding.
I drew Bonnie aside.
Esther was soothing Caleb's forehead and cheeks with a damp cloth, making the soothing sounds a Mama makes when a child is unwell, and it seemed a comfort to Caleb.
Bonnie touched my arm and I looked at her.
"Did you cause this?" she asked in a low voice, and I blinked, then my walls went up.
"No," I said bluntly.
Bonnie's eyes dropped. "I'm sorry," she said. "That wasn't very kind."
I touched her under the chin, bringing her head back up.
"Bonnie," I said frankly, "if you didn't give a good damn you would not have asked."
She nodded.
"We set him up beween us for the drive out here. It looked like he was sober or at least not badly affected. Didn't want the town to see him like that."
"He had two boils ..."
"Taken care of."
"He was afraid ..."
I waited.
"He didn't want it to hurt any more." Her face turned steadily redder. I reckon she was afraid I would think less of the man, but she admitted finally he was afraid of pain.
He'd never been tried like metal in the forge, like many men here in the West.
Bonnie blinked.
"Sarah," she said. "I asked her to take Annette a meal. She rode to town on Caleb's new grey horse."
I nodded. "She was with me."
My jaw ran forward and I hesitated, and Bonnie's eyes changed.
"Sheriff...?" she said, her voice raising a little at the end, the question of a mother who knows someone is holding out on her.
"Sarah ..." I hesitated, trying to come up with the right words.
"A man stole your carriage. Sarah rode after him to get it back. She reached over to grab the reins after the fellow jumped and the carriage was a runaway. She fell off the grey horse and cracked some ribs and likely banged her head."
Bonnie froze and her eyes hardened.
She looked at her husband and I saw contempt in her eyes.
"The doctor says she'll be just fine as soon as her ribs knit."
Bonnie leaned against me and I put my arms around her.
She made a little sound of distress and lowered her face into her hands and I felt her shiver a little.
Esther was beside her and Bonnie turned to her, and I looked toward the doorway, to the ladies.
Esther looked up at me, saw my glance: she tilted her head: Go, she said, I've got her, and I felt absolutely helpless as I looked at Bonnie's shoulders start to shake.

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Linn Keller 7-24-10


I rubbed down the Morgan first, then the grey.
The Morgan was glad to get the harness off and get back to a nice quiet barn and a nice quiet corral and a nice quiet pasture, at least it was nice and quiet until a big yaller barn cat picked a fight with another big yaller barn cat.
I had hold of the Morgan's bridle and soon as the cats cut loose with a caterwaul and started scrapping at the top of their lungs, my gloved hand closed hard shut ... trouble was, it was through the Morgan horse's bridle, and I found myself hoist into the air for a little, and drug several feet as the Morgan backed away from the sudden sizzling, snarling, fuzzed-up and furred-out war-cats.
I spoke sharply to the Morgan and smacked it across the nose with the flat of my free hand and it dropped its head a little and I got my feet under me.
I led the Morgan around back of the barn, talking to it, petting it, soothing it, and by the time we'd walked around the barn three times it had calmed back down.
The grey acted like he was half asleep and walked along with us, head down, paying no mind to anything.
I picked up a rock the size of half a man's fist, figuring to lambaste them cats hard if they were still raising Cain.
The Morgan shied a little as we come to the doorway and the cats were sitting on a crate, washing their paws and looking like cream would not melt in their mouths.
I stopped and squinted at the cats, looked at the Morgan.
The grey shook his head and cropped grass, unimpressed.
The cats yawned and looked bored.
I shook my own head and led the Morgan and the grey into what I figured was their respective stalls and worked on them some with a brush and tickled their fancy with some grain. The grey's saddle went where I remembered Caleb kept it, and Sarah's scabbarded rifle and saddle bags I parked handy to pack over to the house.
I was thinking and thinking hard.
How do you tell a woman her little girl just killed a man?
She won't be a little girl anymore.
She's not a little girl anyway
, I answered myself.
Yeah, I know, but I want her to stay little, to stay innocent --
As well try to stop the tide from coming in!

I shook my head.
The Morgan took some work and I took my time with him, doing the job thoroughly and doing it right.
When I was done I put the tools away where I'd found them and pumped fresh water for the wash pan out back, and washed my hands and my face.
Slinging water off my hands, I watched their diamond arcs as they sailed to the ground, then I squinted up at the immense sky.
I'd never failed to marvel at how big the sky was out here.
I recall how amazed I was when Connie and I moved from the hill country to the flat lands up near to the Sweet Sea.
Why, in the hill country, the ground might subtend 45 degrees and delay sunrise for a while: up in the flat country, it was so dern flat a man had trouble breathing, but it made for some absolutely beautiful sun rises.
I squinted at a towering white and fluffy cloud that was starting to anvil out on top, noticing how dark it was getting in its lower parts.
That might be trouble, I thought, then turned and looked at the house.
I kicked myself mentally.
You're delaying, I thought.
Yes I am, just like a schoolboy!
It won't do much good. You've got to tell her.
I know.

I took a long breath, wiped off my sweat band, picked up the rifle and saddlebags, and walked the three steps up to their spacious back porch.

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Linn Keller 7-25-10


Jacob rolled slowly onto his side.
Morning Star watched expressionlessly, only the light in her eyes betraying her watchfulness.
Jacob had done this once already: he managed to stand, swaying a little, clutching the edge of the table with a grip that threatened to crush the polished oak.
He'd made it across the room, one short, tottering step, then another, stiff and stove-up as an arthritic old man: he finally made the far door, leaned against the door frame, exhausted, sweating.
Morning Star stood motionless as Jacob opened the door, then using the door frame to steady himself, stepped through, and into the back hall.
Morning Star knew he would be a few minutes and so went into the next room.

The Bear Killer stood with forepaws on the bed and his head laid just touching Sarah's shoulder.
She had been given a draught to help her relax; she'd slept for several hours, but the draught was wearing off and her young body had certain needs, one of which was disposing of the long drink of water she'd had before leaving her house.
Morning Star arrived as if summoned: her black eyes took in the sight: Twain Dawg looking at his beloved mistress with adoring eyes, Sarah's eyes just coming open, and the developing expression of distress on her face.

Bonnie and Esther selected which of the corsets would best support Sarah's slender torso: women are very conscious of appearances and so the two of them conferred and considered and sorted and finally came up with the right dress for Sarah to wear home.

Annette dried her eyes, taking a long breath, relaxing back into the high-backed chair.
Supper was late, late, and she was afraid it was almost ruined now: fisting her hand in the corner of her apron, she hissed, "Jacob Keller, I'm going to KILL you!"

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Linn Keller 7-25-10


I left the ladies to tend to Sarah.
I did look in on her.
The Bear Killer was settin' beside her bed with his head laying up against her shoulder and he looked at me with bright, black eyes and made a little groaning sound, and his huge brush of a tail swished twice on the spotless floor.
I went on in, smiling a little -- very little -- at the Bear Killer's cold wet nose and welcoming tongue on my hand, and my cold heart warmed a little as he groaned and closed his eyes in sinful pleasure whilst I rubbed his ears.
"You watchin' over her?" I whispered.
Bear Killer grinned with a mouthful of ivory.
Sarah opened her eyes, drowsy-like, and tried to reach across with her right arm.
"No," I whispered urgently, raising a hand -- "no, don't move, Sarah."
Sarah winced, turned her head slowly.
Bear Killer r'ared up and put both forepaws on the bed and proceeded to give Sarah a good face washing.
I rubbed his back and turned away.
A man's dog will give him a better greeting than his whole family will, most times, and Sarah could use what the Bear Killer had better than anything I had.
I hesitated at the door, listening to Sarah's pained giggle, then hesitated as my hand closed on the knob:
"Uncle Linn?"
I froze, swallowed hard.
Reluctantly, hesitantly, I walked back over to Sarah's bedside.
"Uncle Linn, what about Papa's Morgan horse?"
I smiled a little.
"Back home and in his own stall. Like you ought to be right directly."
"The river ..." Her voice trailed off, her eyes tracking left and right as she summoned the memory. "Uncle Linn, we were almost ..."
"Almost. You got the Morgan turned, Sarah. You kept him from going over the edge, and your Papa's carriage with it."
Sarah tried to nod, hissed between suddenly-clenched teeth.
"The man ... he was stealing ... did you get him?"
Sarah opened those lovely eyes of hers, older eyes than a child should ever have, eyes that demanded an honest answer, eyes that begged for a Papa's strong arms to hold her and let her know she was loved and would always be protected.
I bent down a little and took her right hand in both mine.
"He's taken care of, don't you worry on that. Your Papa's horse is home and safe, thanks to you. You're going to be just fine. Bear Killer will see to that."
"Bear K --" she blinked, then looked over at the black head, tilted curiously as he looked at her.
"I fell," she said. "I fell and ..."
Sarah's lips pulled back as she pushed down her sheet and the light blanket, and she drew her left arm up and looked at it.
She worked her hand experimentally, wiggling her fingers.
"Ow," she said, running light fingertips over the ugly bruise on the inside of her forearm.
I whistled. "Daggone, Sarah," I said, "you gotta quit gettin' in saloon brawls!"
There was a light knock on the door, and Esther's voice: "Pardon me, Doctor, is the patient receiving visitors?"
I bent and kissed Sarah's forehead.
"Uncle Linn," she said urgently, "Mama wanted me to take Jacob and Annette a meal, and it's in my saddle bags --"
"I'll take care of that," I said, brushing a wisp of hair from her forehead.
Dr. Flint's reassuring voice tugged at my ear and I looked over at the man, dignified as always in his tailored suit, addressing Bonnie.
"I believe the patient is ready for discharge," he said, and though his face was expressionless, his eyes smiled as broad as any two counties in Texas.

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Linn Keller 7-26-10


Sarah made a face when Dr. Flint primed her with a good belt of laudunum.
She did not care for it at all, but on the ride home she was grateful for the analgesic.
Bonnie's lips were thin and pressed together, her spine very straight; the three ladies rode in the front seat together, for the same reason we three had ridden thusly, taking Caleb home: to brace up the patient and make sure the patient did not fall over, though in Sarah's case, she was most definitely not needing to be propped upright.
I helped get my niece out of the carriage and into the house: I was strongly minded to pick her up and carry her, but that would have been more painful than her walking, and besides, she needed to walk in under her own steam.
Bear Killer looked worried and paced silently behind them.
He'd taken time to salute the hitch rail before coming on in the house and Esther told me later he set himself down beside her bed with his chin on the coverlet, looking absolutely mournful.
Bonnie would not hardly speak to me and I didn't blame her.
I was in the habit of talking to myself on occasion and I wasn't talking to me.
I took my leave of the ladies, quietly, and rode back into town.
I needed to sort out all that had happened.
Jacob ... I needed to talk to Jacob, and to the lad I'd ridden home.

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Linn Keller 7-27-10


"You look any harder at that wall, friend, and I believe it will catch fire."
I blinked.
Charlie slouched against the door frame with that quiet, knowing look of his.
I took a long breath, leaned back in my chair. "Come on in an' have a set," I said. "Coffee's decent, Jackson Cooper made it."
"Which proves the Lord's mercy," Charlie said with a perfectly straight face.
I grinned.
I couldn't help it.
'Yeah, rub it in." I twisted my back left, then right, and produced an alarming crunching sound.
Charlie winced. "That sounded like it hurt!"
"Yeah," I gasped, "but it hurts so good!"
Charlie grunted. "Yeah. You and Ivory Joe."
"Now there's a name I ain't heard for some time!"
"Likely you won't, neither. Sam Peters said he was killed in a rock fall."
I nodded. "Warn't he the fellow with the musical neck?"
Charlie shivered. "Yep."
I remembered how Ivory Joe used to twist his neck one way and then t'other, sometimes taking one hand on his chin and the other on the back of his head, cranking his neck and producing sounds that made strong men cringe.
"I hear you had a busy day."
I glared at him. "You could say that."
"That bad?"
I opened the drawer, pulled out a bottle and two glasses.
"Reckon it was that bad," Charlie said quietly.
I poured him about three fingers' worth and me the same, stood up and carried Charlie's over to him.
We clinked glasses and drank.
I picked up the bottle.
Charlie shook his head, leaned forward and set his empty on the corner of the desk: thinking better of it, he slid it further toward the middle, then kicked his feet up on the edge of the desk.
I returned to my chair and did the same.
"How's Jacob?"
"Stove up and sore. He'll be crippin' around like an old man with lumbago for a few days."
"Told Annette yet?"
I shook my head. "I just got Jacob's statement and wanted to get it all wrote down before I went out."
Charlie nodded. He understood a lawman's need to establish what happened, while it was still fresh in memory.
"Ever hear of a fellow named Waters?"
Charlie nodded, his eyes veiled. "Two-bit tin horn. Coward. Back shooter."
From the cells a voice yelled "I ain't no two bit tin horn!"
"Sounds like you know yourself pretty well," Charlie called back drily.
I could see that ornery look behind his eyes.
"You Waters?"
"By the Great Horn Spoon, NO!"
"Then shut up." Charlie looked over at me. "Now what about Waters?"
"He thought Jacob was me and tried to back shoot him."
Charlie nodded. "I don't reckon we'll have the expense of a hangin'?"
I shook my head.
"Do we know why?"
I nodded. "You said he was a tin horn. Seems he figured he would kill me and make hisself a big man."
Charlie took a long breath, hissed it out.
"I reckon the trial will be interestin'."
I know I looked as cheerful as a wet dog on a cold day.
"That's what I'm afraid of."

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Linn Keller 7-28-10


My drink sloshed onto the desk top as I slammed the glass down fast.
Charlie was on his feet, Remington in hand, and I took a long step to the right and snatched up the double gun.
Four fast shots, one shot, one more: Charlie yanked the door open, flattened himself against the wall on the right, I spun and backed hard into the open door.
Each of us looked out, alongside the building, then swinging our gaze outward.
Charlie looked at me and shook his head, just a little twitch, but enough.
I nodded.
Each of us knew what the other was saying.
Charlie had nothing in sight, but I did.
Charlie spun, going to one knee, Remington extended, and I raised the double gun to shoulder.
Jackson Cooper stood with his back to us, a fading blue cloud in front of him: up the street maybe twenty foot a bigger cloud, and a figure on the ground, moving, then still.
I stepped out, looking around behind, then took two long steps out into the street.
Charlie hugged the building.
We'd done this before.
With me out in the street, I was first seen, I was first to be shot at, if anyone had intent to bush whack us.
That's one reason I had the shotgun.
Charlie, close to the building, practiced invisibility.
I have no idea how the man could do it, but he did it and I've seen him do it -- or not seen him, as the case may be -- any number of times.
He could just plainly disappear and disappear he did.
Jackson Cooper holstered his own Remington and looked around.
About a dozen had emptied out of the Jewel.
When Jackson Cooper got irritated he could be loud, and a man his size tended to be really loud when the notion struck, and the notion struck him.
"You three" -- he raised an arm thick as a young oak -- "rode in with him. Any of you want to try, step right up, the store's open."
"Let's even this up," Charlie said and stood up straight.
We walked up the street, the two of us, about two arm's lengths apart.
There is a walk to a man who knows he's ready to kill someone and we walked that way, the two of us.
Nobody moved and nobody spoke.
My eyes were busy under my hat brim and I kicked myself for not having any reloads for the shotgun, but it couldn't be helped.
Serves me right for bein' in a hurry, I thought, and wished for the day someone would invent a magazine gun in a twelve bore or maybe even a ten bore.
Jackson Cooper spoke again as Charlie and I stopped, one of us on each side of the big lawman.
"I reckon you three ought to leave now."
Charlie and I never moved, never spoke: times like that, I've found, I didn't have to: standing there silent as death, eyes shadowed under the hat brim with a double handful of Damascus barrel shotgun, and the implication was clear: cross me and die.
The three wasted little time in departing.
We three watched them leave, with what used to be one of their party dead in the street.
Jackson Cooper walked up to the carcass, casually removing his Remington and reloading the spent round.
I squatted, setting the shotgun's butt plate on my boot as I frowned at the dead face purpling on the ground in front of me.
"Know him?" someone asked from behind me.

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Linn Keller 7-29-13


I rolled the deceased over on his back and went through his pockets.
A wallet contained an envelope, the envelope was addressed to "Scotch Nisley."
I handed it to Charlie.
There was little else of any interest. Ten dollars in greenbacks, twice that in coin, a nice three jewel railroad watch with a round glass fob on the end of his watch chain. A Derringer, a clasp knife, a handkerchief.
"Not much for a lifetime's work," I observed.
"Work?" Charlie snorted. "He worked maybe one day in his whole life."
"You know this man?" Jackson Cooper rumbled, looking slowly around.
"I know of him." Charlie stood easily, effortlessly, as he always did. "Bad reputation. Likes to provoke a fight so he can show off how fast he is."
"Hm." Jackson Cooper's grunt said more than five minutes' oratory.
"How'd it happen?" I asked, opening the loading gate of his Colt, half-cocking the hammer.
Five rounds spent, I thought, remembering the burst of four shots, then one, then one.
A single red hole where his third shirt button used to be showed Jackson Cooper's accuracy.
"Sheriff, Sheriff, I seen it all, I did, I seen it," a little rat-faced fellow offered, plucking at my shirt sleeve. "He, he, he asked for it, he did, he did."
I stopped and raised one eybrow. "Do tell," I drawled.
"Oh, oh, oh, yes, yes indeed," he nodded, removing his dusty derby and wiping his pale forehead nervously. "This, this, this fellow said, he said, he said he was fast, fast, fast, and he was going to kill, to kill, to kill, the Marshal here, here, here --"
"Slow down, son," Charlie said calmly. "You're gettin' all wound up. Excitement's over."
"Yes, yes, yes, you're right, you're right," the rat-faced man nodded briskly, thrusting out a hand. "Orville Skinner, at your, at your, at your service, your service!"
I took his hand.
I've known dish rags with more substance than this fellow's grip.
"Mr. Orville Skinner," I said, "how did this all happen?"
Orville Skinner took a deep breath and looked down at the deceased.
For a moment I thought he was going to bend over and throw up, but he looked away and swallowed hard instead.
"Nisley here," Jackson Cooper said, "said he could out-draw me and he would prove it."
"He did, he did, he really did," Skinner stammered.
I imagined Skinner with long whiskers and velvety ears, and could almost see a hairless tail protruding from the seat of his drawers. Never in my days have I seen a man to remind me so profoundly of a rodent.
"I told him it was bad manners to shoot a man in a saloon, he should let me buy him a drink."
"That's what, that's what, that's what he said, he said," Skinner affirmed with his vigorous head-nodding.
"Nisley said I was a yellow coward and if I would not gun fight him he would make it known far and wide.
"I slid a beer over to him and told him to drink up and ride out.
"Then he said he would back shoot me and go pay my wife a visit."
Charlie and I looked at one another.
Skinner was busy uttering his head-bobbing affirmations.
I wasn't listening to him.
I was seeing Emma Cooper, in my mind's eye, prim and ladylike and with that gentle smile that would melt a stone statue's heart.
"I figured he might just do that," Jackson Cooper said, his voice deadly and quiet, and I knew the look on the man's face.
I'd seen it before, but only once before: his wife had been threatened, and he, Jackson Cooper, had taken the offender by the throat.
He'd taken a blade between the ribs, but the blade did not go deep and Jackson Cooper crushed the offender's wind pipe, and held him a foot off the ground until he quit kicking.
I recall the look on the man's face.
I doubt if I will ever forget that look.
It's not a thing that leaves a man, once you see it it's with you forever.
"Go on," I nodded.
"We squared off.
"He allowed as I should draw first.
"I allowed as he was throwin' the party, why didn't he move first.
"He said he was faster and he'd prove it.
"I figured 'twas twenty feet between us and he'd likely put lead into me but I knew he was a dead man so I moved.
"He brought blood." Jackson Cooper reached up and removed his hat, frowned as he regarded the notch in the crown of his hat. "He blooded me with three shots."
"You, you, you should have, should have, should have seen, seen, seen it, Sheriff, Sheriff, Sheriff," Skinner gabbled, hands opening and closing spasmodically. "The Marshal, the Marshal, the Marshal, was fast, fast, fast! Why, I never saw him draw, draw, draw!"
"Jackson Cooper," I said, and I felt my eyes narrow and cold water trickle down my back bone, "are you hurt?"
Jackson Cooper's eyes were somewhere between irritated and amused.
"Emma is gonna have my hide," he rumbled, reaching down, and my eyes followed his hand.
There was blood on the inside of his trousers.
The first shot of the four-shot burst had just broken the skin on the inside of his left thigh, a hand's-breadth above his knee; then I saw a stain from another graze on his left side just above the belt, and one along his left rib cage. He took off his vest and together we ran an inventory of the insults to his massive frame.
"One, two," he counted, "three, and the hat makes four." He frowned at his hat. "That was my good hat, too."
Glaring at the unmoving form laying in the bloodied dirt, he chuckled.
"You know, Sheriff," he said, "if he wasn't dead I would probably beat the stuffing out of him. Emma's gonna have to soak all these clothes in salt water and then mend 'em all."
I counted in my mind. "He fired four times," I said thoughtfully. "Then we heard one, and one again."
Jackson Cooper nodded.
"He fired the first four," he said.
"I fired number five and stopped the fight.
"The sixth one went into the dirt." He looked around, then pointed to a furrow ending in a hole. "There."

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Linn Keller 7-30-10


Caleb had never been accustomed to strong drink.
As a matter of fact he still wasn't.
It would take too long to detail the man's suffering and the details thereof would be less than pleasant: in like wise, we shall be less than forthcoming about his abused belly's response to greasy fried eggs for breakfast, and fat meat for lunch: let us suffice with, "The man did not have a morning after, he had a day after."
Bonnie knew her husband to be a cleanly man, of regular habits, and not given to intoxication, nor had he ever been: his condition was a most unpleasant surprise for her, as it offended her image of him, and she realized the appearance of the Mayor in such a sorry state was detrimental to their social standing in the community: consequently, she was most grateful to the Sheriff and his wife for their swift and discreet removal of her besotted husband, and even more so for their assistance in getting him not only ready for bed, but in bed.
Bonnie slept in another room that night, wrapped in indigination and hand-sewn quilts.
She lay awake long into the night, listening to crickets and night bugs without, and the occasional creaking complaint of an odd timber or board in their home.
It was short of sunup when Bonnie swung her long, sculpted legs out of bed, thrust her feet into slippers and whispered her way downstairs.
Halfway down their gleaming staircase, she smelled tea, fresh and hot, and smiled a little.
Sarah was sitting at the table, fully dressed, wearing the clothes she'd had on the night before: the lamp was lit and placed ahead of her, and a little to the left: she had two books open before her.
Bonnie recognized a copy of Blackstone, and her daughter's Bible beside it.
"Your tea is ready," Sarah said without preamble, picking up the good china teapot and putting the heel of her left hand on the tablecloth as she leaned over and precisely dispensed a volume of steaming, fragrant amber oolong into the waiting cup.
Bonnie drew out a chair, seated herself, regarding her daughter quizzically.
Sarah sat back down, wrapped both hands around her own tea cup. She rolled her lips together, sticking her bottom jaw out, then she brought the teacup to her lps and delicately sipped once, twice.
Bonnie, too, sampled hers; it was pleasantly warm, and she savored its fragrance as it warmed her all the way down.
"Hm?" Bonnie brought her other hand up, holding the teacup delicately with slender fingertips.
"Do you remember -- a long time ago -- those men came to Firelands and you stuck me behind a piano in the Silver Jewel so they wouldn't get me?"
Bonnie's belly shrank within her and she felt herself turn cold.
She well remembered the night an organized band of raiders came to town, with full intent to murder the men, brutalize every woman and girl-child, and burn what was left to the ground. Only an equally organized and cunningly-executed ambush kept it from happening.
"Yes, Sweets," she said, clearing her throat delicately as a trickle of tea went down the wrong pipe.
"Mama, you kept me safe that night."
Bonnie's eyes were bright, almost frightened: partly because of the memory, partly because Sarah remembered the event, and partly ...
She wasn't sure quite why, but she was frightened by what would be divulged in the predawn quiet of their kitchen.
"Mama, you used Uncle Linn's revolver to stop those bad men from hurting me."
Bonnie's eyes were haunted now and her hands trembled a little: she set her china cup down slowly, precisely, and Sarah did not miss its quick, brittle clatter as it touched the saucer.
She looked past Sarah, saw the man coming in the back, reaching for her, reaching for her little girl, and she brought up the Sheriff's Navy Colt and it was the most natural thing in the world, and the Navy spoke and the sound was muffled and quiet and her thumb wrapped around that stand-up hammer spur and brought it back again and she fired once more --
Bonnie blinked, breaking the spell.
Her breathing was a little quicker, a little harder.
"Mama, I shot a man yesterday."

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Lady Leigh 7-31-10


Once again Bonnie's internal wellbeing was in turmoil. Removing trembling hands from the already rocking saucer, she clasped them together in her lap hoping Sarah would not see the knuckles whiten.

How does one begin to explain to another living soul the darkenss behind the ugliness of anothers life and resulting death?
"Damn it, Duzy! Where are you?" thought Bonnie. Duzy would have the answers easily at hand at a moment like this. Duzy would be able to come across clearly. Logically.

"Sarah", Bonnie began, "If we were still living outside Chicago, the chances of you going through yesterdays circumstances would have been remote indeed. But we are not there are we?"

Sarah, too, put down her tea cup, "No Mama, we are not, but,"
"Let me finish" and with a nod from Sarah, Bonnie began anew, "Look around Sarah. Your father and I chose to return to Firelands, Colorado for many reasons. She is a beautiful town set in the most idylic surroundings. Wild yet tame. And her survival depends on each and everyone of us living here. Your father has chosen to contribute civility. That, in itself, is difficult when Firelands is still torn between a more modern direction and yet struggles with her firery past. It is that past, afterall, which brought her to life. That past is what drew my own Father to this place." Bonnie stopped for a moment remembering those early hardships for her Mother, Pauline, sister, Margaret and herself. Those where hard days indeed after her fathers murder and establishing the boarding house, only to find the abuses of greedy and murderous men to take precidence over the more charitable ones Firelands had to offer. Bonnie took the moment to take another swallow of her now chilled tea and preceeded,
"Sarah, I doubt very seriously if the Almighty said when 'Sarah Rosenthal awake this morning she is going to kill a man'." Sarah's face went white at Bonnie's words and her eyes grew wide with the fear and dread of her memories, but before Sarah could make a statement, if indeed she had it within herself the capability of speaking, Bonnie, yet again, trudged on.
"I do believe the man was to die yesterday, Sarah. We all have our days to spend on this earth, but the days come to an end. And Sarah," Bonnie placed a gentle hand upon Sarah's, "my darling, sweet Sarah, his death would have happened by your intervention or not. Oh how I wish it would have been accomplished another way, Sweets, but it was not .... and as life takes on interesting twists, this is one twist and turn that you are going have to bare, and one that does not always come easily, but will ease with time.

I still remember the Man I shot. It still makes the hair on the back of my neck rise, Sarah. But what was I to do? What would have been the outcome had I not? We all had speculations, and believed our thoughts to be accurate and true. I shot him knowingly. Without reservation. And would do so again."

Tears puddled and overflowed Sarah's eyes. Old enough to know the burden she was to carry. Young enough wishing for the days to play with her dolls, and wishing the ache in her sides were caused by playing like a tomboy with the other children in schooltime recesses instead of the memory she tried to wash away with each swallow of her tea.

Sarah decided to momentarily change the subject, "What about Papa? What are your thoughts on that?"

Bonnie had not thought Sarah was aware of that particular circumstance, but then again, Sarah was keen to many things Bonnie wondered about. Standing and crossing to the kitchen counter and stove, "This morning is a good time to produce buscuits and sausage gravy, thick slabs of bacon and eggs."

Sarah giggled, "that is liable to make Papa's stomach unsettled."

"Indeed it will," Bonnie replyed with a devious twinkle in her eye. And knowing she and Sarah still had words to speak on their prior topic, they could wait for the time being ...

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Linn Keller 7-31-10


Esther's gloved hand was warm and gentle on Annette's cheek. Green eyes looked with understanding on the younger woman as Annette bit her bottom lip and squeezed her eyes shut, hard, agains the pain.
"How long have you been laboring?" Esther asked in a comforting, mother's voice, and Annette started panting, swallowed, panted some more.
"A day," she whispered hoarsely. "A day and all last night." She shivered hard, once. "It's ... it's different now ..."
"How different?" Esther's hand pressed gently on the great mound of Annette's gravid belly.
"It's lower," she husked, eyes wide, scared.
"Up with you, then," Esther prompted, bending a little and taking Annette under the elbows. "We're going to our fine new hospital and we're having a baby."
"My baby?" Annette squealed, half-smiling, almost crying. "But Jacob --"
"Jacob is waiting on you, sweets, now shhh, come along, there's a good girl."

Caleb jumped, winced, dropped the slice of toast he'd half-heartedly been trying to eat: weak tea sloshed out of his cup and into the saucer beneath.
"No," he groaned, hands pressing against his throbbing head.
Bonnie stormed into the kitchen, seized up a dishpan and a wooden spoon and began hammering briskly.
Caleb pressed his hands against his ears and whimpered.
Bonnie threw the dishpan to the floor, the spoon across the room.
"Do you even KNOW what I've been DOING?" Bonnie screamed, bending a little at the waist, a double handful of skirt snatched into her trembling fists. Well, DO YOU?"
Caleb made a little waving motion with one hand: "No, please, don't, not so loud --"
"Not so loud?" Bonnie asked, seizing the back of a chair and yanking it out, then driving it into the floor. "Not so LOUD? MISTER, YOU HAVE NOT HEARD LOUD!"

"Sawah?" Polly asked, regarding her older sis curiously.
"Hm?" Sarah looked down at her sibling and smiled.
"Why did Mama send us to da Mercantickle?"
Sarah and their Irish maid both laughed: none remembered whether it was Opal or Polly who called it the Mercantickle, but the name stuck, at least with the twins.
"I think she wants to talk to Papa," Sarah suggested. "But she said you were each to have a stick of candy, and she wants some canned peaches."
"Peaches!" Sarah and Opal chorused, both of them clapping their little pink hands together.
"And you're going to see your family?" Sarah asked, looking over her shoulder at the smiling, apple-cheeked maid.
"Yes indeed I am!" she smiled. "She gave me an envelope an' told me to go see ma Mama an' ma family, an' to stay two days."
"Why two days?" Polly asked, turning around and kneeling on the thick tuck-and-roll upholstery.
"She's going to Denver with your Papa. I think they're going to the opera again."
"Whats da op-wa?" Opal asked, dark eyes sparkling with curiosity.
"It's where they sing reeeeally high songs," Polly said with an authoritative nod.
"Oh." Opal considered this for a moment, then looked up at Sarah.
"Can I weewee have my vewwy own penny candee?"
Sarah laughed. "A whole stick, just for you!"
"Yay!" Opal cheered, clapping her hands together again, then she frowned.
"Can we make-a da horsie go faster?"

The fist caught the Sheriff over the right cheek bone hard enough to reveal two major constellations and a stray comet.
He fell back against the Mercantile and came off the rough-sawed timber with a roar, seizing his attacker about the throat and bearing them both to the street below.

Bonnie leaned both palms against the spotless, checkered tablecloth.
"I know about the French girl," she hissed. "I sent her away with two hundred dollars and the promise of an early grave if she ever sets foot inside Colorado again."
Bonnie's eyes blazed: she was white around the mouth and her words were spoken quietly, venomously, increasing as she spoke until it was a full-voiced shout:
"Caleb Rosenthal, you may think you are clever, but you are not. You are a small man, you are a weasel, you have ruined your reputation but by God Almighty! you will NOT ruin MINE!"

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Lady Leigh 8-1-10


Bonnie always thought it was mighty incredible what a person could undure. She had read recently some wildlife stories about sow Grizzlies protecting their cubs. The sheer distruction a sow could, and would, produce if 'anyone' was idiotic enough to stand between, was nothing short of detrimental. Not that Bonnie was even remotely classifying herself as a female Grizzly bear, but she did share with the animal the determined need to protect her young. If anyone looked closely, they would see lines of stress etched in her beautiful face. They may even see her walking with a slightly unusual slowness. Fact was, Bonnie was tired of playing Badmitten with her life. At this point in time, she was unsure exactly when Caleb began his .... "what do you even call what Caleb is doing these days?" Business investments that are laced with secrecy and horrid judgement calls. Madame Lynette LaDue was actually a pleasure to deal with .... "Fannie would have been been pleased to hear the story", Bonnie said to herself with a chuckle in her voice. Bonnie thought further about the boy who was Bonnie's childhood friend. The man who took her to be his wife, against all odds in Bonnie's mind. The man who loved her with such intensity, warmth and compassion ... the man who made her blood boil simply with the physical and spiritual need of him, now made her blood boil with anger .... and embarrasement.

Lord knows how she was not looking foreward to the Denver trip with him. She longed to see the opera, but she overheard him making comments with the hopes to obtain tickets to see the famed Lily Langtry here from her home in England, and now touring the United States, Denver being one of her stops. When Bonnie questioned Caleb about it his remark was, "Bonnie! She wears Worth gowns for Christ's sake! Do you not want to take this opportunity to introduce your gown designs to her? Imagin the business sales when the news reaches the ears of prominant ... and wealth, mind you, Bonnie .... men and women who would flock to buy from 'House of McKenna'!"

Oh how Bonnie was weary of Caleb .... She doubted seriously his reasons for viewing and visiting with Mrs. Langtry had anything to do with the business of buying gowns.

Bonnie felt the furthered need to drive a wedge between Caleb Rosenthal and the possible distruction of her children, foremost, and herself.

Needing to finalize details on business and personal related items, Bonnie was entering her Lawyer, and friend, Micheal Morino's office. Though it had been a hard task to keep quiet all of Caleb Rosenthal's nonsence, Micheal and his wife, Tilly, were the only two privy to the happenings.

Micheal stood upon Bonnie's entering, but quickly sat back down behind his massive maple desk. "Bonnie, do sit. Please. I simply do not know what to think about Caleb's expenditures."

"What has Caleb gone and done now?" Bonnie replied wearily as she sat and arranged her sky blue and brown gown up and back around her as she eased her bustle into one of Micheal's brown leather chairs.

"He rushed in here, not an hour ago wanting funds released for the trip you two are making to Denver. His imaginings are unrealistic. It was wise to put a stop to his financial withdrawls before seeing me first. But Bonnie, it certainly does not stop him from dropping in this office ... often mind you ... to try every tactic in the book to obtain money." Micheal Morrino paused and then lowering his voice and directly looking into Bonnie's emerald green eyes, "Only today's 'request', and I do say that lightly, Bonnie .... was tinged with a threat."

Bonnie sat back a bit further into her chair, let out a breath of air and sighed.

"Bonnie? Has something new transpired?" He questioned her.

"Yes .... I fear my temper took hold, Micheal, and I let it slip about the LaDue tart." Bonnie cocked her head to the side and with a slight lift in her lips and a twinkle in her eye, "But Micheal ... in did feel grande!"

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Lady Leigh 8-1-10


"Do take care, Bonnie ..." Bonnie did not miss the concern in Micheal's voice.

Thank you, Micheal, I will, of course. Please give my kind regards to Tilly and that sweet Godson of mine!" and with a click of the doorknob, Bonnie had exited her Attorney's office.

Bonnie took a moments pause to wonder why she had not felt guilty at what just transpired within Micheal's office walls. She wondered if she had become cold and heartless .... After returning back to Firelands from Denver, she would have to confess all, first to Linn, and then to Esther. She would need them desperately, and hoped they would not hold against her for her thus far secrecy. She knew with all her heart the secrets had to stop. She also knew her future ... her future as a woman, depended on the strength and understanding of those around her, for what she was about to do was not only unlady like, but still unheard of even in these modern times.

THUMP! "Goodness me!" Exclaimed Bonnie, "I do appologize .... oh .. it's only you ..." Bonnie stepped back and proceeded around Levi Rosenthal, brother to Caleb, and still very much a person who Bonnie took great delight in avoiding as much as was possible.

A gentle hand touched and then clasped behind her elbow, "Bonnie, if you would give me but a moment for I really would like to speak to you."

"No!" Bonnie stepped aside in order to release Levi's hand and preceeded to walk away, but Levi was yet again at her side. She hissed, "Leave me this instant! I do not wish to carry on a conversation with you this day, Levi (nor any day she thought to herself), I have much to do before Caleb and I depart to Denver."

That is precisely what I want to discuss with you, Bonnie. You must not go to Denver ..."

Bonnie stopped and turned toward her brother-in-law, "And why must that be?" knowing how she'd love to take the opportunity to heed Levi's words ... if only she liked the man, perhaps she would take his warning, she surmissed.

"That is something I can't explain ... can't you just take my word for it?" he answered.

After rolling her eyes, "Of course you can not explain! Of course you want me to take your word for it! Please give me a little cedit, Levi. Exactly what has transpired in our past that would give me the desire to trust you now?" Bonnie still ached knowing had Levi trusted her with the knowledge two years ago her brother, Jamie, was still alive .... The whole Pinkerton mess ... Jamie's murder ... the loss of Jamie's wife, Jade .... Levi knowing the plight Bonnie was in being forced into prostituting herself ... really! What was Levi thinking? Trust him? Never!

"When will this fued end, Bonnie?"

Bonnie laughed and took her leave of him.

"You realize your Scottish stubborness could be disasterous, don't you?"

Bonnie laughed again ... what a day for her Scottish heretage to be acknowledged. First in temper toward her husband and now in stubborness toward her brother-in-law. Soon, she hoped to have the whole Rosenthal lot behind her.

Levi watched Bonnie march toward the House of McKenna. He rubbed his hand over his freshly shaven jaw and shook his head. He didn't blame her really for her feelings toward him, and he also knew in time he would be able to soften her toward him ... she did speak to him after all just now, and that was the first time in these two years since she found out the truths ... "we're making headway" he laughed, as he turned to the Jewel to pack his own bag ... as it appeared, he too, was heading to Denver.

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Linn Keller 8-2-10


Jacob held Annette's hand, listening to her breathe, watching her strong young body twist as she labored: he studied the responses of his lovely young wife, knowing this was her first child, knowing the first child takes longer, knowing the other births he'd helped along were by mothers who had delivered multiple times in the past.
This was different.
Annette's eyes were glazed, she was panting, sweat shone on her face and her good right hand threatened to crush Jacob's.
Jacob's face was impassionate but his eyes were bright, bright and fixed on Annette's glowing face.
Thus far Annette had not screamed, as did most women in her situation, and Morning Star looked on the deputy's wife with approval.
Women of Morning Star's tribe birthed in silence.
Morning Star had assisted birthing white women and universally they screamed, and cried, and thrashed about, and made the most outrageous statements while laboring: not so the women of her line: and though Annette had not been silent, neither had she been vocal.
"Jacob," Annette gasped.
Jacob's good right hand was locked in Annette's white-knuckled grip; he patted her knuckles with his left hand. "Right here, dear heart."
"It's close, it's very close."
"I know."
"Jacob!" Her voice was a hiss. "Your father! Will he --"
Jacob's pale eyes were soft now, wrinkled a little at the corners, they way they did when he was tolerant and amused. "He's fine, my dear, he thinks it is a wonderful idea!"
"A boy," Annette whispered hoarsely. "I think it's a boyyyyyy --"
She locked her teeth, squeezed her eyes shut, and Jacob thought she was going to pulverize the bones in his palm.
The cords stood out in Annette's neck and her left hand, clawed, raked hard at the mattress beneath her.

The Sheriff rolled off the ranch foreman, coming up on all fours, then thrust forward, aiming for the man's belt buckle.
The foreman had just gotten up, wiped blood and tears from his eyes and looked around.
Something blurry was heading toward him, fast.
He cocked a fist, but too late: something like the noon freight drove into his belly and he folded up like a bad poker hand.

"So you're goin' to Denver then," the maid prompted from the back seat, leaning forward a little and holding the back of the front seat, swaying a little with the carriage's movement. "And will ye be wearin' yer Mama's fine gowns?"
Sarah laughed. "Yes I will, and Mama will tuck them and pin them and sew them until they fit like my own skin!"
"Does she know what she's doin', trollin' a lovely girl like yoursel' like fish bait in a woman's dress?" Her head wagged in disapproval. "Why, they're liable to think ye a woman grown and ye'll ha'e ten young men on their knees proprosin' to ye! Especially if they've pockets full of gold and a head full of dreams!"
Sarah smiled a quiet, knowing smile.
One fellow had done just that, not long after she and her Mama had addressed a group of buyers on their previous trip to Denver.
Bonnie and Sarah were on their way back to the Depot, and as they emerged from their carriage a voice shouted, "There! There she is!" -- there was the sound of running feet, and a panting young man in a fine city suit skidded to a stop, eyes bulging: he'd snatched off his hat, gone to one knee and blurted, "Rose, my dear! I thought I would never find you! Marry me, darling!" -- and had extended his hand, beseeching her to take it.
Bonnie's hand was in her reticule, her own hand firmly around the grip of the pistol she kept there.
Bonnie cleared her throat.
The young man looked at Bonnie, then back at Sarah; he blinked; his shoulders had sagged, his hand had fallen, and his expression was that of a man who'd just seen, and then lost, the most precious gem in the entire world.

Caleb sat on the edge of his bed, trembling.
He held the Root revolver he sometimes carried.
Bonnie's words seared and burned even yet, and he knew with an utter, doomed certainty, that she was right, that her every word was true and accurate ... unlike his own had been.
He had indeed philandered.
He had chased happily after the younger woman ... in hind sight he could see she only wanted an older man, a money man, and he ... well, Caleb was not the first man to fall for a pretty face, a scented neck, a glance, a peek of ankle as she coyly raised her skirt as she sat.
I have been a fool, he thought miserably, and looked across the room at the open dresser drawer where the Root revolver had slept
He thought of the money he'd lost ... money he'd spent on the other woman ... and he felt the world fall out from under him as he realized, for the first time, just how utterly he had betrayed his wife.
Not only had he given his affections to another woman, he reflected, he had gambled, spent and frittered her inheritance money, every cent of it.
Caleb Rosenthal looked at the side-hammer Colt pistol in his hand.
Caleb Rosenthal wondered if it would hurt if he put its muzzle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Caleb Rosenthal was afraid of pain so he did the next best thing.
He went downstairs and had yet another brandy, and another, and one more after that.

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Linn Keller 8-2-10


Bonnie was stubborn, yes, but she was also a thoughtful woman. She did take Levi's words seriously, but at this point, she could not take them seriously for herself. There had to have been a good and logical reason why Levi would urge her to stay put in Firelands, but his remaining to keep things known, “off limits” to Bonnie only made Bonnie keeping the distance between she and her brother-in-law more emphatic. “Infuriating man!” Bonnie continued your thoughts, “Why does everything have to be a mystery?” Sarah would be devastated of course, but Bonnie's intuition told her to leave Sarah in Firelands. There was no mistaking the alarms going off in Bonnie's mind concerning Caleb, but there was no reason to hide behind a young girl.


“Morning little brother!” Levi stood in the door way as if keeping it up with his shoulder. He leaned there relaxed for some time observing his brother, Caleb

… relaxed until a pistol was picked up and looking as if it were going to be used as a suicide tool. And now Caleb was drinking again .....

“How long have you been standing there?” Caleb yelled

“Long enough ...” Levi moved his muscular self into the room and stood adjacent to Caleb. “Don't suppose you would be willing to tell me what that was all about?” as Levi nodded toward the pistol Caleb had, thankfully, set aside.

“No! I do NOT care to tell you what that is all about, and how dare you just walk into the house with no announcement what so ever! Suppose Bonnie were here? She'd not like you loitering about ….” Of course this was Caleb's way of changing the subject and directing Levi away from himself.

Levi knew of the financial troubles Caleb was in. He also knew who Caleb was financially beholding to, and their ilk was nothing to be trifle with. There were many conversation directed toward Caleb with the extreme hope he would come clean and allow Levi to help. There were aspects of working with this agency he continued to despise … especially when his family and people he knew and cared for were a part of the investigations. Levi also hoped his newest findings concerning his younger brother were unfounded, and it was for this reason he was going to Denver as well. Oh, Caleb and Bonnie would not know he was there, but for, what could be the safely of his sister-in-law, it would behoove him to be in close proximity. “How did Caleb let things get this out of hand?”, Levi thought. Though his own knowledge of the situations were bad enough, he had a suspicion Sarah was privy to assumption … obviously things a young girl of 12 should, in no way, be harboring. “Sarah's a gutsy thing!”

“Caleb? If there is 'anything' I can do to … assist ….” Levi was trying one more time.

Caleb laughed. A laugh as evil stricken as Levi had heard in a long time. A laugh laced with anxiety. With forbearance. A laugh filled with his own self loathing ... Levi was sure of it. Caleb thought himself lost and at the end of a rope. Levi was not sure how much he was going to be able to help his brother. But help he must!

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Linn Keller 8-3-10


Jacob was no stranger to natural functions in life.
He'd helped pull calves, deliver colts, he'd helped deliver human young while he himself was still a child: whether bovine, equine or womanly throat, he had heard most of the sounds made in laboring travail.
This was different.
This was the woman he loved, the woman he adored, the woman he hadn't realized he'd grown to love and adore, at least until moments like this ... moments when reality shone bright and sharp through the focus, the lens, of this tick of the clock.
Annette took three quick breaths, then one long, deep breath, and it looked to Jacob for one irrational moment that Annette dove deep into herself: she did not lock her jaws like she had previously, she simply pressed her lips together; the grimace, the pallor, were gone: her eyes were closed, her grip eased a little -- firm yet, but not crushing --
"Ah, yes," Dr. Greenlees said, as if quietly acknowledging a minor discovery in some pathology laboratory.
Jacob looked over, saw the man busy behind the knee- tented sheet that somehow failed to preserve the laboring woman's modesty: Jacob looked to Annette's face and her eyes opened: she looked at Jacob and opened her mouth, gasped, and her other hand came over and laid itself, gentle and yet anxious, over Jacob's knuckles.
She opened her lips a little and he saw her teeth, white and even, and somewhere he heard the unguarded thought, like a whisper in a silent room, My God! I love this woman! -- and it seemed to the tall, slender lawman that the world held its breath --
There was a little mouse-squeak, a half-whimper, then Doctor Flint held up a wiggling, bloody, open-mouthed something that Jacob vaguely recognized as a baby.
"Jacob," Dr. Flint said with a broad grin in his voice, "would you do me the honor of informing your wife that you have a son?"
Jacob looked down at Annette, at her smile, the moment freezing into a glass-plate photograph in his memory: her cheeks were pink again, a single tear streaked brightly from the corner of her eye, down toward her ear: he saw her every hair in bright, sharp relief, how her skin gleamed with labor's sweat, he felt her hands in his, and he was absolutely, positively, completely at a loss as to what he should say.
He did the next best thing.
He leaned down and kissed her.
Dr. Greenlees handed the wiggling bundle into the waiting Morning Star's towel: she bundled it, took it over to the basin of warm water and began giving the lad his first bath.
"Joseph," Annette whispered.
"Joseph," Jacob confirmed.
Young Joseph, a typical boy, voiced his opinion of the whole operation, but especially of being made to take a bath.
Little Joseph Keller began to cry.

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Lady Leigh 8-3-10


With chin resting in palm, Bonnie sat at the dinning table glaring at Caleb across the room sitting in similar fashion, though his head was held with a two handed support, and where Bonnie's eyes were bright, Caleb's were dull.

“Do not yell at me again, Bonnie”, he barely spoke out, “I don't think I could stand it.”

Bonnie merely stood and gracefully walked toward the dinning room exit before turning around slightly to speak, “The trunks are being packed. We leave first thing in the morning for Denver. Arrangements have already been made to reside at the Brown's Palace while we are there.” Bonnie moved through the door way and stopped, but did not turn around to look at Caleb's with his whiskey glass and emptied decanter displayed half hazard in front of him, “Tickets have already been purchased for the opera … your Mrs. Langtry will have to wait for another time (without me at any rate, Bonnie thought to herself). And it would do the girls good to see their Papa in a sober …. and loving state before we leave so as they can say their goodbyes to a man they recognize.”

With that said and a swoosh from her skirts Bonnie was gone.

Caleb could could hear her quietly walking down the hall and around the corner to ascend the staircase. He assumed she was heading to the nursery to be with the girls and to relieve Sarah with some of the constant demands two year old Polly and Opal tended to make.

“Damn you Bonnie for not giving me the money needed to pay back the monies borrowed!” Caleb grunted out as he took the last swallow in the glass. “What ever happens to you Bonnie is not my fault …. you should have gleefully handed it all over instead of making me grovel to Morrino and still not getting it.” He was about to throw the glass in his hand when he spied Sarah at the doorway, and Caleb set the glass down instead.

“What's happened to you Papa?”

“Nothing that can't be taken care of over the weekend.” Caleb said quietly to himself. And Sarah hearing nothing left with Twain Dawg at her heels.

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