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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 9-1-07

 

Daisy opened the door as I approached, and I turned sideways to get Miriam and I through the door. Doc held the inner door and I went into his examination room and laid her down on his table. Her father was right behind me, pale, but staying with us.
"What happened?" Doc asked, gently untying the cloth over her eyes.
Miriam's hands trembled a little. Doc frowned.
"Doc?" I asked. "Whattaya need?"
"Miriam?" Doc asked gently. "It's Doc Greenlees. Does your head hurt?"
Miriam whimpered a little, nodded, then put both hands to her head, as if the bare movement hurt terribly.
He lay a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "I'm here, Miriam. I'll take care of it." He stepped around the table and opened a cupboard.
"What's that?" her father asked, voice heavy with misery and with knowledge.
"Laudanum," Doc replied, pouring out a little in a glass.
"Doc, do you need us?" I asked quietly.
"No. No, thank you for asking, but we'll be all right. Have Daisy come in here, please, or the girl's mother."
I nodded to the father, then to the door, and took him gently by the elbow. We went out in the waiting room. Miriam's mother was there, fully dressed, hair brushed, looking like she'd been ready to face the day for an hour; the infant was wrapped up, asleep in her arms.
I marveled. A man would look like he'd just crawled out of the bunk. Women, these wonderful creatures, can be completely put together, composed, and ready for the world.
I asked her to go in; she did.
I drew up a chair to face the father.
His face was sunk in his hands, his elbows were on his knees, and he was the picture of utter misery.
"What ails the child?" I asked.
"She's dying," he husked.
I waited.
"She has a cancer," he said. "They told us it was going to kill her, and they were right." He raised his head, pulled out a worse-for-wear bandanna, wiped his eyes and blew his nose fiercely. "We spent all we had on quacks, shysters that promised a cure. Nothing worked." He wadded the cloth in his fists, smacked one fist into another. "Finally sold the farm so we could move west."
"You did her a kindness," I said gently.
He glared up at me.
"She is here, she's had a good night's rest in a clean bed. She's going to be free of pain, and she has you nearby. Had you been in a wagon train she would die without pain killers. She would die screaming. You've given her a comfort. That's a mercy few can say."
"What do you know about mercy?" he groaned, sinking his face into his hands.
I slapped his arms out from under his face, grabbed him by his shirt front and hauled him to his feet. "I'll tell you what I know," I hissed. "I held my best friend while he drowned in his own blood. I listened to boys screaming for their mama with a yard of bayonet in their guts. I helped the doc saw a leg off a man while he was awake because it's the only way he could save his life! I know what mercy is!" I released him and pushed him back, a little, until the backs of his legs touched the edge of his chair.
I saw the punch coming.
I stood and let him belt me.
I won't say I saw stars, but he had a shirt sleeve plumb full of arm, and a couple planets and a moon came into view when his knuckles hit my cheek bone.
Doc opened the door, raised his eyebrows. He crooked a finger.
We went inside.
Miriam was resting easier, but her breathing was not good. Her mother was biting her knuckle, trying to stifle her grief.
She turned to her husband and they held each other.
Doc motioned me to the corner of the room, looked at my face.
"Not bad," he said quietly. "You always so kind and gentle?"
I smiled, a little, and winced. He'd clobbered me a good one but he needed to get it out, and best to get it out now before it got worse.
"How long?" I asked, nodding toward the struggling girl.
"Not long now." Doc sighed, tired already, though it was still early morning.
He was right. In five minutes' time she'd breathed her last, and her mother composed herself, and kissed the dead child's forehead, and Doc drew the sheet up over her face, slowly, with respect.

Jacob was gone until noon. Sam was quite pleased with his long ride; it showed in his gait, in the way he carried his head. Maybe he liked carrying Jacob instead of my greater weight. It looked almost comical, with skinny Jacob on top of great big Sam -- hell, it looked like Jacob was trying to straddle a dining room table! -- but they rode well together.
Jacob came into the sheriff's office, grinning, and took off his hat as he crossed the threshold, as he always did.
"Sir?" he said, blinking as his eyes adjusted from the noonday bright.
I smiled, holding a folded wet towel to the side of my face. "What did you see?"
"Wagon train comin', sir, about a day out." He took a couple steps toward me, concerned. "Sir? What happened?"
"Sit down, Jacob. I have some hard news."

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Duzy Wales 9-1-07

 

Duzy awoke to the smell of coffee and vanilla, having slept later than usual, stretched, tied her robe around her, and walked in the kitchen. Aunt Esther looked at her with one eyebrow raised, and that look Duzy knew so well. After hugging Sarah, and giving her a "good morning" kiss on top of her head, she went to Aunt Esther and hugged her and then on to Bonnie for another hug.

She was happy with their new family, but knew there would be many changes in the near future that they needed to discuss. Duzy was considering moving into her room at “The Silver Jewel,” but had not asked the others their plans.

Aunt Esther wasn’t going to let it go that lightly, as she heard her Aunt say, “how was the moon last night, Duzy?” “Very pretty, very calming,” Duzy answered, as she saw that eyebrow rise once again. “I feel refreshed and I would like to talk to the three of you about something."

"As you all know, I have been neglecting Edi lately, having been so busy with “The Silver Jewel.” You remember, we own two more horses, and I know Aunt Esther loves to ride, do you Bonnie?" “I used to ride very well……” and Duzy could see Bonnie’s thoughts going back to another time…..Duzy continued and asked Sarah if she had ever ridden a horse? “No, Auntie Duzy, oh Mama, do you think you could teach me to ride?” Hearing Sarah say “Mama,” was all it took to bring Bonnie back to the conversation. “Yes, Sarah, I think that is a wonderful idea. We will need to schedule a time to do it everyday, and I do not think it wise to go very far from town just yet!”

There was the eyebrow again as Aunt Esther looked at Duzy, as there was no doubt there would be many questions when they were alone! “Well, I am off to get dressed, as I have business in town," Duzy said, "How about the rest of you?"

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Charlie MacNeil 9-1-07

 

Abraham Belding had found the church and the pastor's quarters quite to his liking. In fact, the bed was the most comfortable one he'd slept in since... Well, he wasn't sure when he'd last slept in such a bed, if he ever had. His animals were comfortable in the stable behind the church, and Abraham had enough food, bacon, flour, coffee and such, to at least begin to stock the pantry.

Abraham had just finished a fine breakfast of biscuits with bacon gravy and was drinking coffee and reading his Bible when there was a scratching at the back door. He rose from the table and moved to the door. "Who's there?" he asked quietly. He was answered with a quiet "Woof".

Curious, Abraham opened the door to see the biggest dog he'd ever set eyes on looking at him with his tongue lolling out of his mouth and his stub of a tail wagging. "Good morning to you, Mister Dawg," Abraham said cheerfully. He didn't know the critter's name, but a dog that big should definitely be addressed as Mister, at least until they became better acquainted. Dawg lifted a paw and Abraham shook it. "Would you care for some breakfast?"

Dawg woofed again, happily, and Abraham waved him into the kitchen. He went to the stove and broke several of the remaining biscuits into the skillet that held the rest of the gravy and set the skillet on the flour. Dawg politely waited for the skillet to touch down then began to eat. He ate quickly and neatly and made sure the skillet was clean down to the cast iron then stood back and cleaned his chin with his long tongue.

"Can I get you anything..." Abraham started to ask. He stopped when he saw Dawg listening intently, staring off in the direction of the town. "What is it, Mister Dawg?" Dawg turned to look at Abraham then moved to the table and nudged the open Bible with his nose and woofed solemnly. "Someone needs help, don't they?" Abraham asked unnecessarily as a sudden chill washed over him and sent goosebumps up his spine. Dawg turned toward the door then stopped and looked back over his shoulder. Abraham picked the Bible up from the table. "Let me get my hat," he said.

Man and dog went at a fast walk down the street with the dog showing the man the way. In a matter of minutes the pair arrived at Doc Greenlee's and Dawg went up to the door and stopped. Abraham stepped up and knocked and heard a voice tell him to come in. As he stepped inside and removed his hat, Abraham could see a group of people, including the Sheriff, gathered around a bed in another room. "I came as quickly as I could," he said simply.

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Duzy Wales 9-1-07

 

Jake Thomas had seen the man standing behind Bonnie and Duzy the day he stepped off the train. Trying not to be noticed by many, he knew that Kid Sopris had seen him and had recognized him. They were two of a kind, some people would say, both worked covertly for the federal government, both had worn many hats, both were there to protect and serve; and, at times that was a hard line to walk. What he didn’t understand was the disappearance of Kid Sopris? To him, it seemed that they could have worked together, unless there was a conflict of interest in some way, or that Sopris knew something that he didn’t know, and was not ready to share the information.

When Mr. Wales had asked Jake to follow Luke to watch out for his daughter, it had become a second mission for him, as he had been watching Luke for weeks. He had been to the same Gentleman’s Club where Luke and Clara had spent a lot of their time together. He had played the tables and intercepted correspondence that was meant for Luke Hawkins, as well as going through his home to search for other clues. He knew that the death of Luke would not stop the conspiracy that was already in force. What was he missing?

What he did know, was that continuing to see Miss Wales could blow up in his face and put her in danger as well. He didn’t want her involved in his investigation, hell; he couldn’t even be honest with her about his work! How could he expect to treat a lady with anything but honesty and expect a relationship to work? And yet, he couldn’t seem to take his mind off of her. It seemed as if he had known her since he had picked up that picture of her, years ago, at her Papa’s home. After spending the time with her the last few days, all he could think about were those dancing brown eyes, full of mischief, and yet so innocent, how her body had felt in his arms, and damn, how he wished for so much more, for the first time in his life. For her, he would retire, and live the rest of their lives together, hopefully raising a family of their own. Damn! The dreaded love bug must have finally gotten to him, as he could envision living to be an old man loving her!

Jake knew too, that Tom Landers was a good man, and that he had his eyes on Miss Wales, which was a relief in a way, and yet with his hands tied with the conspiracy, would he lose her to Tom by backing away? “Well old boy, you’ve got yourself in a tangle this time, as you have already asked to see her today, so what are you going to do when you see her?” he asked himself.

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Linn Keller 9-1-07

 

Liam McKenna sat comfortably in his cushioned seat and steepled his fingers, thinking.
If he was going to cozen his way into dear cousin Bonnie's confidence, he'd reasoned, he should come bearing gifts ... consequently he had a selection of hats in his baggage, ladies' hats, guaranteed to delight any fashionable lass.
Including one hat that she was guaranteed not to like at all.
He smiled, and the smile was not pleasant.
The coach swayed as it rolled down gleaming rails, the landscape passing unseen as McKenna considered the immense value of her holdings. Yes, dear cousin Bonnie was about to make him a wealthy man, whether she liked the idea or not.
He shifted in his seat, moved the leather satchel slightly. It never left his side; he never let it out of reach.
It clinked just a little as he moved it, a metallic sound, and he smiled again.


Jacob sat at the table, staring sightlessly at the untouched slice of pie in front of him. His coffee, untasted, cold, sat on the spotless tablecloth, reflecting the crystal chandelier overhead.
Jacob leaned his head back, gazing at the shining crystal prisms.
Wasn't right.
Miriam never had a chance to see them.
He'd told her they were there, but he lacked the words to describe them, and that knowledge gnawed at his belly.
Daisy was a ghost in his vision; she was there, but she wasn't there; she was very likely dusting or cleaning, a small part of his mind thought, but he paid her no mind.
She was somewhere near one of the pianos and he heard it starting to play.
He closed his eyes, remembering.
The piano was playing "Pretty Redwing" just like Miriam had played it.
Jacob had a good ear, and he'd learned in his young life that each artist plays the same tune just a little differently.
The player piano, he thought. Miriam had played on the player, and she'd punched a paper master, and it was playing her tune the way she played it.
A single, fat tear rolled down his cheek.
It wasn't right.
He hung his head, clenched his fists, pressed them hard on the table cloth, shoulders heaving, jaw clenched, silent in his terrible grief.
The piano continued to play.
Something in him relaxed, listening to the music, remembering.

Daisy smiled as she saw he was eating. She'd been worried about the quiet boy. She knew he was grieving hard and she knew he wasn't going to let it show. The sheriff had implied the boy's hard life, and she was glad he'd taken the boy in as his own, but he'd not gone into any details, and she hadn't asked.
She came along and traded his cold coffee for hot, and he sipped it gratefully.
She laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.
He leaned his smooth cheek on her hand and took a shivering breath.
"Thank you, Daisy," he said, he husked.
"Thought warm coffee would taste better," she said.
Jacob nodded toward the piano. "No, for the piano," he said. "Thank you for running the player."
Daisy's head came up, alarm on her face.
She sat down hard, one hand going to her mouth.
The player piano was empty. Its paper rolls hadn't come in yet.

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Lady Leigh 9-1-07

 

Sarah was actually cooporating that morning with going to school. Dressed in a lovely green and tan calico frock and pinafore, hair tied back with a pretty satin ribbon, slate tucked onder one arm and lunch pail in hand, she and Bonnie headed into town. There was light conversation between the two, Bonnie speaking positively and gently with Sarah, all the while hoping to instill upon Sarah that school would be a fine place to be.

Dawg, as usual, lumbered up to Sarah, looking like he was going to school that morning as well, "Oh Dawg", Sarah exclaimed,"I am so glad you did not forget to be with me today! Now Mama says you probably can't go into the building for school, but I will be so happy to look out the window and see you there!"

Dawg licked her hand, and Bonnie smiled realizeing that Dawg probably knew 'exactly' what was expected of him.

Until the school house was built, the church would be where the children of the town and surrounding area met. As they approached the church, Billy came running up to Sarah, paused in front of her, "Gee Sarah! You look different!" Sarah immediately bristled, but Billy continued, "You look nice! Hey were are playing tag before the school bell rings, do you want to play, too?" Sarah looked up at Bonnie with a smile on her face, then flung her arms around Bonnie, "Thanks for being stubborn, Mama ... maybe school won't be so bad." With that said, Sarah was off and running, Dawg at her heels.

"I love you, Sarah! Have a good day! I'll be here waiting when you get out!"

"Love you, too, Mama! Bye!!"

Today was going to be the day Bonnie began sewing items for display at the 'House of McKenna'. The excitement made it hard sleeping that night, but now a dream can come true.

Bonnie rounded the corner to see Caleb standing in front of the door with a cheezie grin on his face and a bouquet of fall wild flowers in hand. "What's this?"

"Bonnie! You deserve flowers on your first day of getting this place ready for opening ... and I deserve to be here to give you a hand."

"Excuse me?"

"Hey! You should know by now that fabrics and tayloring run in the family. I'm helping, and that is all there is to it. I saw the notes you were writing for yourself, I know what you want done. I'll draft and cut ... you sew. See? all settled!" He chuckled as she smiled.

"Well! I wouldn't want to be accused of getting in your way, Caleb!"

Bonnie unlocked the door and the two entered with smiles and laughter.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-1-07

 

Abraham sat with Miriam's family while they grieved. When their grief at last seemed to subside, he said quietly, "In times of trouble I like to turn to the Book of Matthew." He opened his Bible and began to read. "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light."

The simple but strong words of the Lord seemed to give Miriam's parents the lift they needed. "We must make her ready for her final rest," Abraham said to them. "I can make the arrangements if you like."

"Thank you so much," Miriam's mother said. "We would both appreciate that very much." She turned to her husband. "Raymond, you will go with the preacher."

"There's no need for that," Abraham said. "It will be my pleasure." Abraham picked up his hat from where he had laid it when he came into the room and turned toward the door. "I should be back shortly."

Abraham started down the street toward the undertaker's establishment. He had to pass by the Silver Jewel's restaurant and saw Jacob sitting with Daisy. From the look on his face the boy was taking the young lady's death hard.

Abraham was torn between his duty to the dead and his duty to the living. For the moment the living won out, and he stepped into the restaurant. He looked at the two sitting at the table and knew immediately that something was wrong, something beyond simple grief.

"Is there something I can help with?" he asked quietly.

Both Daisy and Jacob turned their faces to him. Their eyes were as big as saucers. "Do you believe in spirits?" Jacob asked faintly.

Abraham answered with a question of his own. "Good or bad?"

Jacob thought for a moment then said, "Good, I think. We both heard the song that Miriam played last night on the piano. I thought that Miriam had punched the paper on the piano and that Daisy had started it playing, but..." He shook his head. "I just don't know what to think now." He pointed at the empty place where the roll of paper would be if there had been one.

Jacob regarded the boy solemnly. He could see the tear stains on the boy's cheeks. "Perhaps that was Miriam's way of saying goodbye," he said.

Jacob looked back at him just as solemnly. "I guess you could be right," he said. He smiled sadly. "I would like to have gotten to know her better."

"All things take place at their appointed times, son," Abraham said. "I do believe that the Lord must have found a need for a piano player." He sat down beside Jacob and Jacob held out his hand. Abraham clasped the small hand in both of his large ones. "You'll meet again some day, I'm sure of it."

Jacob suddenly leaned from his chair and wrapped his arms around Abraham's neck. "Thank you, sir," he whispered. He suddenly pulled back, embarrassed. Abraham could see him making a visible effort to retake control of himself.

Abraham stood and excused himself. "I'll check back with you later, young man," he said. He left the restaurant and went on with his other duty.

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Lady Leigh 9-1-07

 

While Caleb and Bonnie worked, Caleb thought back to the conversations he had heard since he arrived in Firelands. The talk with Sheriff Keller alerted him Bonnie could possibly be in danger with her financial holdings. Caleb knew the sheriff was right that greed and eveil could persuade some to do bodily harm to Bonnie in order to get their hands on the mineral shares. He also knew that endeavor was already done in certain aspects.

Bonnie had told Caleb that she still didn't know anything about Jamie's where abouts, and that she suspected he was probably dead ... there were just to many years of not hearing anything from him. And considering he had basically been missing since shortly after his arrival to Firelands to manage his step fathers shares, Bonnie thought it was probably because of the shares that someone removed Jamie inorder to take some kind of control. She even thought that because of her fathers death, it may have caused some delay to those who wanted the shares, and that her mother, Margaret and herself turning up in Firelands, as instructed by Angus, that those same people may have needed to pause their actions. Caleb thought that was fairly possible, too.

Caleb struggled with what happened to Bonnie. Not because her virginity was taken away, but because the thought that someone would be so cruel as to indenture a female to something so heinous .... the ugliness of it nauseated Caleb. He would have to proceed with Bonnie carefully ... with understanding and love.

Caleb also knew that he could not leave her ... not that he had any intentions of it. It would be best to stay right there in Firelands and keep an eye on Bonnie and her holdings.

Then there was Sarah ... what a jewel she was. It would be easy for Caleb to be a family with them. In time ... in time.

Another thought struck him, too. Those who are close to Bonnie could also find trouble at her expense. Duzy and Esther were close to Bonnies heart, and it would not do Bonnie any good if anything happened to them.

No ... he was going to be keeping a close eye things.

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Linn Keller 9-2-07

 

Always did like mornings. They were like a fresh sheet of paper to a writer, full of promise, of the good that could come of the day's work.
Jacob was still asleep. He'd had a rough day and a restless night and a couple times I heard sounds of grief, muffled into his pillow, and I remembered young men during the war, grieving into their blankets so their fellows would not hear.
I did not bother to fire the stove. Better to let him rest, undisturbed.
I got dressed, quietly.
Jacob woke, rolled out of bed, and started to fire the stove.
I went in back and washed up. The water was cold but guaranteed I was very awake.
"Sir?" Jacob called back. "Will you need anything this morning?"
I had the sense that something was happening today. Wagon train, I thought. Miriam's folks would be rejoining it as it passed through. Shorty had grained their mules and fixed a loose shoe, patched a weak spot he found in the traces and greased their axles. He hadn't told them and he asked me not to.
Wagon train. Likely that's what it was.
"Jacob, could you saddle up Sam and fetch him over here?" I asked.
"Yes, sir!" I could hear him grin as he turned toward the door. He hesitated, came back. "Sir? Shorty had me exercising some of the other stock yesterday."
I walked back up front. "How'd you like that Appaloosa?" I asked, and smiled at the surprise but delight in his face. He hadn't known I was watching.
"Fine, sir," he grinned. "Surprised me, he did!"
"I'd reckon so!" I laughed. "Shorty didn't tell you he was green broke?"
"No, sir, he didn't, but I found out fast enough!" He rubbed his back side. "Reckon he'll gentle down some?"
I nodded, reaching for my hat. "The more he's rode, the better he'll ride."
Jacob headed for the door. "I'll go fetch up Sam." He looked around before going outside. Good lad. Pays to be cautious.
I drew out a sheet of paper, opened the ink well and dipped the quill. Frowning at the sheet I'd started the night before, I finished the last of the report. I would leave it in the usual place, on the stone in the grave yard, and the hooded figure would pick it up. I'd never seen him get it but the reports I'd left before disappeared, and there had been no track, no sound, no wind.
Charlie knocked and came in just as I finished. "The report?" he asked.
"Yep. Anything you want to add?"
Charlie shook his head. "Don't reckon so." He smiled, tilted his head toward the door. "Dawg went to school with Sarah."
I chuckled. "Reckon he could teach the class."
"He'd likely bum their lunches and make 'em like it!"
"Had breakfast?"
"Yep. Didn't figure it wise for both lawmen to be where someone could kill us both at the same time."
I nodded. "Likely you're right. Say, you see that wagon train yet?"
"They're comin'."
I stood, slipped the folded report in desk drawer. "Reckon I'll put this on the stone tonight. Right now I'm for breakfast."
Shorty must've had Sam saddled and ready, for Jacob opened the door with a grin on his face. Sam was outside, waiting.
I went out the door, stepped around the hitch rail.
Something hit me in the side, hard.
Instantly I was sick, and so weak I could hardly move. I'd been shot.
I drew the Navy Colt, looked up the street. There was smoke, and a standing figure with a rifle.
The ground jumped up and hit me in the knees. I was laboring to breathe and the Colt weighted a little better than ten pound.
I knew just how much to hold up for this distance and I set the front sight right where I wanted the pistol ball to hit and BOOM and the Navy Colt squirted blue smoke and my thumb fetched back that stand up hammer spur and I saw the figure wobble and the rifle came up and I knew just where to hold and BOOM and he brought the rifle to shoulder and fired, once, twice, and something tugged at my coat sleeve and Sam grunted and BOOM and Jacob was standing over me yelling and his .44 boomed and I saw the weave in his pants leg and I tried to ear the hammer back again and it was harder to breathe and the ground came up and laid itself against my face and I heard a deeper BOOM and something pulled at my collar, hard, trying to drag me off, and I was falling, I was falling, and there was a star, a single shining star, like I was looking up from a deep well ...

Jacob heard the rifle shot and saw Linn spin around and draw his revolver. He fired twice before Jacob overcame his surprise and headed outside. The .44 Army revolver was in his hand of its own accord and he stood over the Sheriff screaming "YOU SON OF A ***** YOU CAN'T HAVE HIM TOO!" and took a careful aim and 40 grains of FFF detonated deep in its steel throat and a round ball whistled down the street and the revolver rolled up in his hand and he let it roll and cocked the hammer and felt percussion cap fragments bounce off his wrist as he brought it back down level and saw right where he wanted the ball to hit and he was still screaming and the revolver rolled up in his hand again and the figure staggered and Charlie stepped out the door with a Sharps rifle and its concussion was like a blow and the figure fell and Jacob grabbed the Sheriff by the collar of his coat and tried to drag him inside, and he got him swung around and Charlie came out and grabbed his big knuckled hand down beside Jacob's and together they started dragging him inside and Sam wheezed and his knees buckled and Jacob saw he was bleeding out the nostrils and out a hole in his chest.
They got the Sheriff inside.
They slammed the door and dropped the latch.
There was blood on the board walk where they'd drug him in.

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Linn Keller 9-2-07

 

Jake Thomas came out of bed like a scalded cat.
He looked out the window and saw the Sheriff half-turn, obviously shot, but shooting back.
He saw the Sheriff go down.
Jake swung his gun belt about his middle and headed out the door.
Jake was dressed for war. He was wearing his flannel long handles, boots and hat, and his gun belt.
Daisy was frozen, eyes huge and face pale, as Jake brushed by her, half-running out the back door, and parallel to the street. His stride lengthened into a long-legged run and he was soon at the last building, near the shooter's position.
He'd flanked the enemy. Time to move in.
Weight on the balls of his feet, he eased around the corner, preceded by five inches of blued steel gun barrel, and saw a rifleman on the ground, bleeding, either dead or nearly so.
Jake looked back toward the sheriff's office just in time to see the Sheriff's boots disappear through the doorway, and the door slam shut.

Jake stood in the red rays of the morning sun, wearing his Stetson and his Union suit and his polished boots. He thrust his Colt back into its carved-leather holster.
"Mister, you just killed the Sheriff's horse. If you ain't dead he's gonna hang you, and I'm gonna tie the noose!"

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Linn Keller 9-2-07

 

Daisy ran.
Skirts clenched in both fists, she pounded the brief distance to the ladies' house, tripped going up the porch steps, caught herself, drummed her knuckles on the door. "Miz Esther!" she shouted. "Miz Esther, open up, it's Daisy!"
The door swung quickly inward. Esther was pinning up her hair. "Why, Daisy, what ever--"
"It'stheSheriffhe'sbeenshot!" Daisy gasped, breathing hard and half-collapsing against the door frame.
Esther abandoned her hair style and seized Daisy's shoulders. Her grip was iron, as hard as the set of her face. She spun Daisy inside and into a chair. "Sit there!" she said quietly, her voice hard, and she reached into the corner behind the door for the double barrel shotgun she kept there.
Esther was dressed, wearing her favorite riding outfit. She'd intended to ride Edi that morning. She was sure Duzy wouldn't mind, and Esther did so love riding, and Edi needed a bit of exercise.
Daisy had almost recovered her breath when she heard hoof beats galloping into town.

Esther was an expert horsewoman and knew how to get the best out of her mount, and Edi was well bred of excellent stock. Edi knew her rider wanted speed, and Edi was more than happy to oblige.

Esther leaned into the wind, shotgun across the bow of her saddle.
"Don't you die on me," she whispered between clenched teeth. "Don't you DARE die on me! I lost one man I loved, I won't lose you too!"

Hair loose and flying behind her, Esther pounded into town, ready for war.

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Lady Leigh 9-2-07

 

"Caleb!"

"I know! I heard it, too ... wait here ..."

Caleb ran out of the door in time to see a horse lieing on the ground, the Sheriffs door close, Jake Thomas run onto the street and Daisy running like the wind with skirts hitched up to her knees.

Looking frantically in every direction before approaching Jake, Caleb headed in the direction of Jake and the fallen man.

Bonnie hesitantly stepped out the shops door, worry and fear etched her every body movement. She saw Jake Thomas standing over a man on the ground, and that Caleb was down on one knee looking at the man lieing there.

Doctor Greenlees, with medical bag in hand, was approaching, too.

"Good God". Bonnie said, "What is going on?" Her feet felt like lead ... she thought of Sarah, hoping she was safe within the church, she thought of Duzy and Esther and Tilly, "Please, Lord! Let those I care about be OK!"

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Charlie MacNeil 9-2-07

 

Charlie was in the back of the jail, checking on the prisoners, when the rifle shot blasted in the street outside. "Dammit!" burst from his lips and he ran for the front of the building. He ran to the window with his pistol drawn and saw Linn on one knee with blood all over him and a man with a rifle down the street. He slammed the Colt into the holster and ran for the gun rack. This would be rifle work.

Charlie yanked a Sharps from the rack, opened the lever far enough to see the gleam of brass in the chamber, and slammed the action shut. He ran to the door and out onto the boardwalk. As the Sharps was rising to his shoulder he thumbed back the hammer and his finger found the set trigger and tripped it. The butt of the big rifle came against his shoulder and he paused for the barest instant to see if anyone was behind the rifleman. He knew the big slug from the Sharps was barely going to slow down passing through a man at that distance.

Charlie's finger tickled the trigger and the big rifle boomed. Through the acrid cloud of white smoke Charlie saw the rifleman slammed to the ground and he turned his attention to more urgent matters. Jacob was trying to drag Linn with one hand and keep the rifleman covered with the pistol in his other hand. "I've got him!" Charlie told Jacob sharply. "You keep that b@#$#@d covered." Charlie took a tight grip on Linn's collar, took a deep breath, and yanked the big man up onto the boardwalk and in through the door. He knew he was hurting Linn but better that than another bullet. He and Jacob got into the jail and slammed the door and dropped the oak bar in place in front of it.

The street was chaotic. People were yelling, wanting to know what had happened. Charlie reloaded the Sharps and went to the window, scanning the rooftops across the street and trying to look everywhere at once. Behind him, he could hear Jacob talking to Linn, trying to get some kind of response. Out where the rifleman lay Charlie could see that new gent, dressed in long handles and boots, standing over what Charlie knew was a corpse. Doc Greenlee was hurrying down the street and stopped at the dead man.

Charlie yanked the bar from the door and pulled it open. He stepped out on the boardwalk with the Sharps at port arms and called over, "That one's dead, Doc. But Linn's still alive. You'd best get over here." At the sound of his voice the man Charlie had heard called Jake spun and his hand dropped to his pistol then he saw the source of the voice and relaxed. Doc turned and came at a trot toward the jail, jumped up on the boardwalk, and went inside.

The rapid hammering of a running horse's hooves turned Charlie's attention up the street in time to see Esther racing toward the jail with a shotgun across her saddle. She yanked the paint to a stop and made a flying dismount with the shotgun held tightly. "Where's Linn?" she demanded harshly.

"Inside," Charlie said. He stepped aside and she rushed by. He caught the barrel of the shotgun as she passed. She pulled back for an instant then let him have the gun. She dropped to her knees on the other side of Linn from where Doc knelt opening his bag.

"I won't ask how he is," Esther told Doc tightly. "I just want to know how I can help."

Doc looked at her. "You can start by helping me get his shirt off. I don't want to move him until I see how badly he's hurt." He handed Esther a pair of scissors and she began cutting the cloth away from the rapidly spreading spot of crimson on Linn's side.

Doc unbuckled Linn's pistol belt and tugged. Charlie quickly racked the Sharps and bent down. "Here, let me," he said. He eased the belt from around Linn's waist and hung it on a chair then stood by, ready to help where he could.

Jacob came into the room. "I've got hot water ready, sir," he told Doc.

"Bless you, son," Doc said. "I'm going to need it." He reached into his bag and took out a bottle of carbolic. "Can you bring me a pan of water? I need to clean my hands." Jacob hurried from the room and returned in a moment with a pan of steaming water. Doc quickly washed and disinfected his hands then began to probe the wound. "That bullet's still in there. I'll have to get it out. You," he indicated Charlie, "hold his shoulders. He's out cold now, but I'll damn well guarantee that he's gonna move when I start probing." He reached into his bag and brought out a long forceps. "Esther, you've got to hold his hands. I think your touch should be enough to keep him still. Let's get this done."

Doc eased the forceps into the hole in Linn's side and gently worked it deeper into the wound. Linn groaned deep in his chest but his eyes stayed closed. Doc reached deeper and Linn's eyes snapped open and he tried to raise up from the floor. Charlie held him down as best he could and Esther's grip on Linn's hands was white-knuckled. She was talking low and soft to Linn and it seemed to help.

Doc gave a grunt of satisfaction and drew the forceps from the wound. The grisly chunk of lead was gripped tightly in the jaws of the instrument. "I don't think it fragmented," he said. He dropped the deformed bullet on the floor and pulled a handful of linen pads from his bag. The blood had begun to well up from the wound again and he pressed the pads deep into it to attempt to staunch the flow. When the bleeding had slowed perceptibly he looked at Charlie. "Alright, let's get him up off the floor and see about getting this hole covered up. I'll disinfect the wound once we've got him settled."

While Doc had been working on Linn, Jake had come into the jail. Charlie looked over at him. "You take the other side," he told Jake. He never thought to ask for the man's help, he just assumed. His assumption was right. The two of them each eased an arm under Linn's shoulders and grasped each other's wrist. They did the same under his legs. "Ready? One, two, now!" They lifted Linn from the floor and moved to his cot and laid him down.

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Linn Keller 9-2-07

 

The cannon blew apart just aft of the trunnions.
It was an old gun, smooth bored, pressed into service during the War as was much old equipment. Cast iron, it was heavy, it was not terribly accurate, and in the excitement of battle, its green crew had double loaded it.
'FIRE!" the Sergeant yelled, holding his ears and squatting, turning a little as he went, and his corporal yanked the lanyard on what none of them knew was a bomb.
Most of the gun crew was killed when it let go. A chunk of cast iron, long as a man's finger and half as big around, drove into the Colonel's ribs, low on the right side, and lodged there. The body walled it off, in time, and though it ached abominably with changes in the weather, it was ignored as a "war wound."
When the rifle bullet hit the cast iron fragment between two ribs it knocked the shrapnel loose and to the ground, causing a sizeable, spectacularly bloody but not entirely life-threatening injury. More dangerous was the tear to the pleura, the double sac that encloses the lungs, and the bleeding that was trying to collapse the lower lobe of the right lung.
This wound was life-threatening.
The medical forceps pushed aside the pleural layers and brought the spent bullet out without significant further damage. Blood flowed freely, washing out debris, not entirely eliminating sources of infection but reducing the chance significantly.
Doc's pressure dressing sealed the wound from the outside air and slowed both bleeding and pneumatic collapse. Periodically he loosened the bandage and, timing his hand with Linn's breathing, held his hand over Linn's mouth and nose as he exhaled. Air bluckered out the wound as he struggled to breathe out. Doc did this half a dozen times until he was satisfied the lung had pumped back up as far as it would go. Blood stained the heavy canvas of the cot.
Charlie laid a hand firmly but gently on Jacob's shoulder. "You did well out there, son. I'm proud of you."
"Thank you, sir," Jacob said woodenly, his eyes full of misery.
Esther's lips were tight as she looked at the still figure.
"Tell me what happened," she whispered.

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Duzy Wales 9-2-07

 

Duzy had been upstairs in the “Silver Jewel” when she heard the shots. She ran to one of the front windows and looked down; everything seemed to play out in slow motion as she watched the action below!

Running down the spiral staircase as quickly as she could, she made it to the street as she saw Aunt Esther riding in on Edi. “Heaven help us,” she thought! Why would anyone want to shoot Sheriff Keller? Aunt Esther had already lost one man she had loved with all her heart, and now this!

She found Bonnie and both could see the concern in each others eyes and the relief that the other was alright and that little Sarah was in school! It seemed that words didn’t have to be spoken between the two at times; all it took was looking into the other’s eyes. Tilly and Daisy were both already there! The scene was chaotic as everyone was wondering who the dead man was and whether Sheriff Keller was still alive.

Aunt Esther, Marshall MacNeil, Jacob and Jake were all inside helping Doctor Greenlees. The fact that no one had come out gave them all hope, and yet they worried why it was taking so long for anyone to give them word.

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Duzy Wales 9-2-07

 

Esther was not going to lose Linn Keller, she was counting on that as she helped the Doctor to keep him steady, whispering to him “Linn this is Esther and I am here with you, hold on for us, you have to hold on for us, I can’t lose you! You are going to live, you have to, Linn, please hang on for us,” she kept whispering as she held his hands. “I should have told you before now, Linn Keller, but I love you and you had better not die on me!” Esther kept whispering these words of hope and love with the will power of a woman in love as they fought to keep him alive.

Caleb was standing with Bonnie and Tom Landers had came to Duzy's side as they all continued to wait.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-2-07

 

Jacob looked up at Esther. "We were just gonna go to breakfast, and we went out the door, and that man started shooting," he said haltingly. "I don't know who he is..."

"Dammit," Charlie said suddenly. "I got so busy with Linn I forgot about the shooter." He jumped up. "I'm getting too old for this crap," he said to himself as he trotted out the door. Out in the street, a small crowd had gathered around the shooter. To one side Charlie could see Duzy and the other ladies bunched together and he veered toward them. He could see that they were desperate for news.

"Linn was hit once, but Doc got the bullet out," he said, looking at each of them in turn. "It looks like one lung was nicked, but Doc's got that under control too. Esther's with them." He turned away toward the small crowd.

"Alright, folks, make a hole," he said roughly. The crowd parted and he went to the shooter's side. "Anybody know this gent?" The crowd was silent. "Oh for criminy sakes, surely somebody's seen him before."

"He looks like a feller the Sheriff run outta town a few days back," a man dressed like a ranch hand finally volunteered. "I ain't sure what his name is, but they had a bit of a disagreement regardin' the wimmen at the hotel, and the Sheriff pasted him one and sent him and his saddle pard on their way."

"His name's Shiloh, and he's a damned fool," a voice volunteered.

Charlie whirled on the speaker. "Shiloh what? And how do you know him?" he asked.

"Shiloh Strothers." The speaker was a well-dressed man of medium height. "I know who he is because he worked for me once, but not for long. I didn't like the way he treated my horses. I'm Mason Barlow, and I own the MB out south of here."

"Alright," Charlie said. "Thanks. I'll check the wanted flyers and see if there's any paper on him. For now, somebody find something to pack this on," he nudged the body with his boot toe, "and help me get him to the undertaking parlor." In short order two men appeared from an alley carrying a door between them and Charlie detailed some of the others in the crowd to help carry the hapless Strothers to the undertaker's.

Charlie stepped back inside the jail a while later and found Linn was awake, but his eyelids were drooping heavily. "Doc gave him some laudanum," Jacob said from the chair behind the Sheriff's desk. "He'll be back later to check on him."

Charlie looked at Esther, who had pulled a chair up beside Linn's cot and was holding tightly to his hand. "I found out who the shooter was. Him and Linn had words a few days ago, and Linn ran him out of town. Apparently that didn't set well with this gent so he came back." Esther stared at Charlie for a moment, then nodded. "He won't be bothering anyone else."

"Thank you," she said quietly. "Many men would have tried to sugarcoat things to protect me."

"I think you're well beyond needing any man to 'protect' you, Miss Esther," Charlie said just as quietly. "And I don't believe in that sort of thing anyway." He started to turn toward the door then said, "Your niece and the other ladies are outside. Maybe you'd better talk to them. I told them Linn was alive, but you can tell them more."

"Alright," Esther said. "I'll go talk to them." She laid Linn's hand down on the blanket covering him and stood. "Thank you again, Marshall MacNeil."

"Just call me Charlie, ma'am," he said. "I'll go unsaddle your horse if you'd like."

Esther looked at Jacob where he sat moping in the chair. "I think Jacob will do that for me." She raised her voice. "Won't you, Jacob?"

"Won't I what, ma'am?" the boy said, startled from his reverie by her voice.

"Unsaddle Edi for me. I'm sure she's out wandering the streets, looking for someone's flowers to nibble on. I would appreciate it if you would take care of her."

"I'll do that, ma'am," Jacob said. He got out of the chair and went outside.

Esther smiled at Charlie. "He needed something to do. But he also needs a man to talk to him. He told me that he was shooting at that man also."

"I'll talk to him when he comes back, Miss Esther," Charlie said. He turned toward Linn's cot. "I'll set with Linn until you get back."

"Thank you, Charlie." Esther went to talk to Duzy and the others and Charlie sat down in the swivel chair by the desk.

"Damned if trouble don't come in bunches around here," he said quietly to himself.

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Kid Sopris  9-2-07

 

Duzy's head jerked upward, as she took another deep breath. She quickly looked all around. She than spoke out. "Do you smell that? I smell roses!" Others stopped momentarily and took a deep breath. Sure enough everyone could smell the fragrance.

But only Duzy and Dawg knew it's origin.

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Duzy Wales 9-2-07

 

 The smell of roses was as strong as the fear it had replaced, and Duzy silently thanked the bearer of such a wonderful sign. It seemed everyone felt more at peace.

At that time, Aunt Esther stepped out and walked over to the ladies and gentlemen awaiting news. She quietly gave everyone the details of Linn’s condition, but it was obvious that her thoughts were still inside with Linn and even more obvious that she was a lady in love. Duzy wondered if her Aunt Esther would have the first wedding in the new church.

Everyone was relieved, but knew that Linn still had a long way before he would be out of danger, as infections were always a possibility, and it would take time for him to heal.

Jake had finally had time to finish getting dressed and joined everyone. He noticed Tom Landers was by Duzy’s side and thought “maybe it was for the best,” and yet his heart felt heavy. At that time, Duzy looked up at him, and without thinking, she rushed to his side, hugging him, and saying, “thank God you are alright!” It didn’t go unnoticed by anyone standing there. Tom was a bit surprised at the public display of affection, and yet he had been concerned that Jake Thomas was his worst threat when it came to courting his partner in “The Silver Jewel.” He wasn’t ready to give up the fight; however, and suggested they all retire to Daisy’s Kitchen to have a drink.

Everyone agreed and went inside for a much needed drink, this time most forgoing the coffee for something a little stronger. Jake was surprised when Duzy ordered a shot of tequila, straight up, and then asked for another. He had only known Duzy to drink once and that had been the night she had the nightmare and had drank the apple brandy. Just thinking of that night made Jake’s coming decision on what to do much harder!

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Lady Leigh 9-2-07

 

"I can well imgin you think Firelands is pretty primitive with the things you have witnessed ... and heard, since arriving, Caleb ..."

"Honestly? Not really primitive. I don't think there is a place on this earth that isn't spared its' share of hardships ... I do have to admit though, Bonnie, there is definitly something amiss about this place. Some things a person can put their finger on what it is, while other aspects seem rather mysterious."

"Like the rose scent?" Bonnie questioned.

"I don't suppose I've thought about that ... but because you have brought it up, what is your take on that subject?"

"Can't say as I can put my finger to it, as you have just mentioned. Did you notice Duzy's face expression when she brought that topic up after Esther came out to tell us how Sheriff Keller was? It was ... peaceful, Caleb! There we all were, standing there worring and praying about the Sheriff ... I was scared to death, and I'm not ashamed to admit it ... but as soon as Duzy brought up the scent of roses, everyone seemed to calm .... surely you noticed that!"

"I did. But is there something to do with roses around here? Or is a rose symbolic of something I don't know about? You know, like with the towns lore or something?"

"I don't know! But I have a feeling Duzy does. I'm at a quandry as to whether I should ask her about it or not. Have you heard, or read about people who have premintions? A sixth sense, if you will."

"Yes ... you aren't saying Duzy has that capability are you?"

"Yes, Caleb, that is exactly what I am saying! I didn't know what to make of it at first, but now, sometimes all I have to do is look at her, and I 'know' she knows things that can't possibly be known ... with a slight exception concerning Luke Hawkins."

"Who's that?" Bonnie had to think about that for a bit, as she didn't know him ... just didn't like him,

"I don't have a clue as to who he was, Caleb. All I know is the moment I met him you could tell he was awful ... awful in several catagories, if you want 'my' thoughts on it, but Duzy seemed attracted to him ... I don't think anything would have become of it, but ... I guess we'll never know. He fancied himself Duzy's Sweetheart, hell bent on taking her back east. But ....."

"But what, Bonnie?"

Bonnie took a deep breath, "Something about his death is very unnerving, Caleb. He was here just a few days, and other than Esther and Duzy, I didn't think he knew anyone else here in Firelands."

"But why is his death unnerving, Bonnie?"

"Because he was killed along with the banker, Dan Carsey. They were found at the cemetary dead, and incidentally, our Reverand Sopris was also found there dead, but when Sheriff Keller and Marshall McNeil went back to the cemetary, the Reverand was gone ... then there was the way they were buried."

"What about it?"

"I can't understand why Luke Hawkins was buried and a plain ole headstone set into place. It is almost like he is supposed to just disappear from our thoughts ... not just from our lives, Caleb. I just have a nagging feeling he was up to no good ... on a more major scale than just trying to get Duzy to go home back east. I also think someone here in Firelands also knew that, and that is why Luke Hawkins is dead ... I'd like to ask Duzy if her preminitions ever dealt with Luke Hawkins ... I just don't think I can ask her about him."

" Well, my dear Bonnie, maybe it isn't necessary we know anything about this ... it's over, and maybe we need to let it lie."

"Maybe ..."

The church door flew open and about 20 or so children came running out ... Sarah being one of them, but this Sarah had a big smile on her face. The big smile grew larger when Billy and another young girl said good bye to Sarah, and promises of what they would do together the next day.

Sarah ran to Bonnie, who awaited her with arms outstretched. Embraced in a big hug, Bonnie wispered into Sarah's ear, "I told you school would be different this year ..."

Sarah walking in between Caleb and Bonnie ... and Dawg right behind them, they headed toward home.

"Mr. Rosenthal? Are you staying for supper?"

"Thinking about, but your Mama hasn't asked me yet."

"Mama!!! Shame on you!"

What an unusual day Firelands had. A shooting, a near death of the Sheriff, a frightening day for a little girl going back to school, ending in smiles and laughter as Sarah's day went just fine, but as Caleb thought about what he and Bonnie talked about while waiting for Sarah, he decided he needed to look into the matter about Luke Hawkins. There was more to him that met the eye.

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Kid Sopris 9-2-07

 

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"

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Duzy Wales 9-2-07

 

And Duzy sees a shadow of a vision, sometimes, that leave her shaking, wishing to be held.....or is it a vision of a shadow? Sometimes it comes so quickly, that she cannot keep up.....

Sometimes she wished she had someone other than Aunt Esther to talk about of her visions, as some were unusual at times, and very personal...and not what she needed to be talking to Aunt Esther about with Linn on her mind! She couldn't do that.

She wondered if Bonnie would discuss it with her? She knew they had a connection and that they should find out what it was, so they could work in unison to defeat whatever they had to face.......as Duzy heartbeat got faster.....and she started to meditate to calm herself.

And then she smelled the roses....again!

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Linn Keller 9-2-07

 

I lay on my back, on the ceiling, and looked down at the bed.
Some long tall fellow lay there, his ribs bandaged up, and Doc was tending to him.
Struck me that fellow was skinny enough he could use a good square meal.
Wait a minute.
That's me.
Something's not right here.

I woke briefly, feeling like I'd been run over by a team of mules, but Esther was there, poor thing, looking like she hadn't slept in a week. She was holding onto my hand. A good thing, too, as that left hand is the only part of me that wasn't cold. I squeezed her hand, a little, and she looked at me, and smiled, and I must have drifted again.
I drifted, but that smile warmed my heart, and that warmth drifted with me.

Bonnie sat with Linn while Esther went home and freshened herself. Sarah sat with Bonnie, not so much to be with Linn, as because she didn't want to be away from Bonnie. Dolly sat with Sarah because Dolly didn't want to be away from Sarah. Dawg sat with them because Dawg could sit anywhere he darn well pleased.
"Mama?" Sarah asked, tilting her head a little the way she did when she was genuinely curious, "Why did that man hurt Mr. Keller?"
Bonnie hesitated. How do you explain such a thing to a child? She thought for a moment.
"Sarah, sometimes when a man-- or a woman -- does a decent thing, and stands up for what's right, people don't like it very much. Some people are so mean-spirited, so petty, so jealous, that they want to hurt the ones who have the courage to stand up and say "That isn't right." I think that's what happened."
Sarah considered this. Dolly lay on her lap, content to let Sarah think.
"Did Mr. Keller do something good?"
"Yes, Sarah. Mr. Keller did something very decent." She pressed a kerchief to her nose.
"Mama, why are you crying?"
Bonnie smiled bravely. "No one ever stood up for me like that for me before," she said haltingly.


Jacob was in Doc's anteroom. He stood, hat in his hand, when Esther came out.
She put a hand lightly on his shoulder. "He's resting but his fever's not broken yet. Bonnie is with him. Would you like to go in?"
Jacob's expression was heartbroken. He shook his head.
"When you're ready, I'm sure you can go in and see him."
"Yes, ma'am," he whispered.
Esther stroked his thick head of hair. "When did you eat last?"
Jacob's expression was haunted. "We were going to go get breakfast. Don't reckon I've eaten all day, ma'am."
"Good heavens, you must be starving! Come along, now, let's get you fed! Why, you'll waste away to nothing!"
He smiled, just a little. "Don't believe that's likely, ma'am."
Esther put her hands on her hips. "I know boys, Jacob, and I know you are an appetite on two legs. Much more of this and you won't cast a decent shadow! I'm going to go freshen up, but I'm going right by Daisy's, and I'm sure she's just dying to hear some word of the Sheriff's condition. I believe you're just the one who should tell her that he's doing fine and he's going to be all right!"
"Is he?" Jacob whispered. "Will he be all right?"
"Yes," Esther replied, and there was steel in her voice. "I will not countenance any other outcome!" She fairly bristled with her certainty on the matter.
In spite of himself, in spite of his grief, Jacob smiled.

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Linn Keller 9-3-07

 

Liam McKenna went back to the sleeper car. He'd had an excellent meal, a good wine, a good cigar; he'd cheated a man at cards, not because he had to, but because he enjoyed it. He discussed politics, debated the merits of different Administration policies, and finally excused himself; after a brandy, and a few moments on the open platform of the observation car to take the evening air, he went back to the sleeper car.
He'd been traveling all day.
Four days to go.
He thought of that fortune, that lovely underground river of gold, just waiting for his command; waiting for those lovely golden ribbons to come to him so he could caress them, savor them, turn them into bullion and into coin and into perhaps the greatest wealth any one man would ever amass on this continent.
He chuckled as the observation car rumbled over the tracks, click-clicking over the expansion joints in the rails. For the size return he anticipated, his investment was ... why, in comparison, nothing at all! He examined the ash on the end of the excellent Havana and smiled, and the smile was not kind. A few hats, a couple muffs, out of season but nonetheless fashionable, a couple of dresses, things women like ... yes, he would work his way with ease into his dear cousin's confidence.
They were family, after all.
And then?
He thought of the bottle of clear liquid in his leather satchel, and the gauze pad with it.
Money could buy anything, and he'd bought the services of a doctor. The doctor ran an asylum, essentially a private prison where inconvenient people could be kept as long as they were useful, or as long as it was too dangerous to have them killed. Bodies had a distressing way of being discovered, and questions could be inconvenient, especially when one had just acquired an immense fortune.
The bottle was insurance, just like the arrest warrant. The doctor had instructed him on its use, and how to measure the dosage, and how long to hold the saturated pad on a woman's face. Too little, and it would not be effective; too long and she would pass out; the goal, he'd taught Liam, was to sap the will, stupefy the thought process, long enough to "get control of the situation."
Liam liked controlling the situation.
He picked up the leather satchel, with its precious contents, the satchel that hadn't left his side all day.
The night air was cool.
Liam McKenna went inside, and to the sleeper car, and prepared for bed.

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Linn Keller 9-3-07

 

Jacob ate with more appetite than he realized. Daisy sat with him and ate a little herself.
Jacob leaned back in his chair and considered his empty plate.
"I've got some pie, Jacob. Still warm."
"No, ma'am, thank you," Jacob said. "I should get back."
"Sit with me just a bit," Daisy said. "Tell me again how he's doing." She could see he was still deeply troubled, and if she could get him to talk, perhaps it would help. It helped with girls, she knew, but she had precious little experience with boys of his age ... still, a sympathetic ear, if offered, might prove helpful.
Jacob looked at the piano.
Daisy could see the memory in his eyes.
"Everyone I've loved has been kilt," Jacob said softly. "Papa was taken when I was just a baby, or so Mama told me. I watched Mama killed, and I kilt the man that kilt her. I come here hopin' I could find someplace where nobody I loved would die." He closed his eyes, listening to the memory playing between his ears. "Miriam was taken, just after she was here."
"I remember," Daisy said softly.
"Then this happened." Jacob looked at Miriam, and for the first time, she saw fear in his eyes.
"He's a good man. Why does he have to die?"
Daisy reached over and laid a soft hand on his quivering fist. "Is he dead now?" she asked softly.
"I don't know," he husked. "I'm afraid to go look."
"Was he dead when you left?"
"No."
"Is someone with him? Esther, perhaps?"
"No, no ... she left to clean up a little."
"Poor dear, she hasn't left his side since she rode in."
"I got Edi unsaddled and grained.
She's in the livery again. Shorty was tickled to have Edi back. He does love his horses." Jacob smiled a little. "He let me exercise his stock. He's got an Appaloosa I like."
"I saw you riding him. He looks like a fine animal."
"He's kid of wild," Jacob said. "Crow hopped some and sunfished and I thought he was goin' to throw me, but then he decided he wanted to run more than buck, so we took off." Jacob clung to the memory and smiled.
"Did you like it?"
"Yes." Jacob looked her squarely in the eye. "Yes, I did!"
"There is good in the world, then," she said quietly.
Jacob looked down at the table, considering.
"I reckon he'll need his hat," he said finally. "Reckon I should fetch it to him."

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Linn Keller 9-3-07

 

Clara smiled, twisting a ringlet around her finger, satisfied she'd just destroyed another marriage.
She didn't know the man, nor a thing about him; he was a victim of opportunity, another chance to prove she could do anything, anything at all, to any man she wanted.
She'd bumped into him -- by accident, of course -- he lifted his narrow-brimmed hat and said "Excuse me, miss," quite civilly.
She'd widened her eyes, put her hand to her mouth, the picture of surprise and delight. "Taylor!" she exclaimed quietly, as if astonished beyond words. "They told me you were dead!" She embraced him and put her mouth to his.
Surprised, and thinking it an honest mistake, the man did not push her away; unfortunately, her talented mouth provoked a response, and as he began to kiss her back, she set the hook.
She turned and bent backwards, knowing what she was doing would bring his mouth with hers, and she was right.
The man hadn't seen his wife approach.
Clara had.
Clara suddenly began to struggle. Surprised, and confused, the man pulled away, and Clara slapped him.
"How dare you!" she hissed, seizing her skirts and sweeping out of the car, and onto the platform.
The moment she was on the platform she turned and looked, unable to resist viewing the carnage she'd caused.
From what she was seeing through the passenger coach window, she'd just destroyed another marriage.
Her luggage was waiting for her on the platform. From here she would take a connecting train, and who knows what trouble she could cause on this next leg of her trip to Firelands!

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Linn Keller 9-3-07

 

"Jaysus, Joseph and Mary! Will ye look a' that, layin' about like a gentleman o' leisure! Sheriffin' must be a soft occupation these days!"
Esther looked up, alarmed, and I squeezed her hand gently, smiling.
"Hello, Mick," I said carefully, "how's your end of the world?"
"Oh, the same," he said, affecting a casual air and winking at Esther. "Chasin' after government business, payroll thieves an' the like. Nothin' ye'd be interested in."
"Help me up, Esther," I said, starting to turn and instantly regretting the move.
"You lie still," Esther said, laying a gentle hand on my chest. It might as well have been an anvil, so effectively did she keep me on my back. Fact is, I didn't have the strength to raise a kitten off the floor, let alone raise myself off the bed.
"I met an interestin' fella this mornin'," Mick said, twirling a rose between thumb and forefinger. "He said to gi' ye this."
Esther took the rose and passed it to me, puzzled.
I smelled it, smiled. I remembered the rose I'd given Esther.
Something about the stem felt odd.
My fingers unwrapped a strip of paper.
I laid the rose on my chest, held the paper up, then a little farther up. My arms were getting short.
"What is it?" Esther asked.
I recognized the precise script.
"Clean your suit and sharpen your sword," it said, "you will need both." It was signed with a pencil-drawn rose.
"Esther," I said, "I'm chillin'. Am I fevered?"
Her eyes were bright with worry, but she put on a brave face. "Yes you are, and I'll get you a blanket."
Mick stood as she rose and left the room.
"Your orders, sir?" he asked quietly.
I handed him the slip. "Take this to Charlie over at the sheriff's office," I told the Sergeant. "What else did he tell you?"
"That my troop and I are under your command, further orders to follow."
I nodded. "Grain the horses and drill the men. We may be meeting an attack."
The Sergeant drew himself to attention and saluted. I raised my hand to my brow in reply.
"Sergeant?"
"Sir?"
"One more thing, if you could, please."
"Yes, sir."
"Fetch me a quart of whiskey."
"Sir?"
"And don't let Esther know it."
"I never took you for the drinkin' kind, sir."
"I'm not, but I've got to break this fever."
"Aye, sir! I understand!" He saluted again, and was gone.
Esther came back in with not one, but two blankets. I was shivering.
"Esther?"
"Yes?" She tucked the blanket in around me.
"What does Doc say?"
"He says for you to lay still and not to get up." She pulled the blanket up around my chin, around my face. "You've been shot."
"Jacob?"
"Worried sick about you!" She regarded me seriously, folding her hands in her lap. "You'd think his best friend is dying."
I considered that.
"Tell him I'm not dying and I'm not about to. No -- send him in and I'll tell him."
She smiled. "I'd hoped you would say that. He's right outside." She bent over and kissed my forehead.
"Esther?"
"Hm?"
"I would like to waltz with you again."
"I'd like that." She smiled, and went to the door. "Jacob?"
"I would like to waltz with my wife," I whispered.
I think she heard.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-3-07

 

Linn's horse had been dragged out of town by a team from the livery and the blood covered with dirt. The town had returned to some semblance of normality but as Charlie walked the streets he could feel the tension in the air. Everyone seemed to be holding their collective breath in anticipation of the next crisis to develop.

Ahead of him Charlie saw Jake come out of the hotel and lengthened his stride to catch up. "Mister Thomas," he called when within earshot. "Could I have a moment of your time?" Jake turned at the sound of his name and waited for Charlie's approach.

"What can I do for you, Marshal?" Jake asked.

"I was wondering if you might be interested in becoming an interim deputy," Charlie said. "At least until Linn is back on his feet. You were Johnny on the spot this morning."

Jake looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. "I'll take it under advisement, Marshal," he said at at last. He smiled. "From what I've seen around here, the average lifespan of a lawman might be on the short side."

Charlie smiled back. "I hope not. I still have to make it back to Wyoming. Let me know what you decide, alright?"

"You'll be the first to know, Marshal," Jake answered. The two men parted company and went on their respective way.

A voice with a strong brogue called Charlie's name. He turned and saw the cavalry sergeant who had just come to town coming toward him so he stopped and waited. The man came to a position almost of attention in front of Charlie and said, "I have a message for you, sir."

"Relax, Sergeant," Charlie said. "I'm just an officer of the law, not a soldier." The sergeant handed him the slip of paper and Charlie felt a chill when he read the words. It immediately dawned on him that it might be a good thing that he'd tried to recruit Jake Thomas just now. It looked like he was going to need all the help he could get.

"Sergeant," Charlie began.

"Call me Mick," the sergeant said. "Since we're bein' informal here and all."

"Alright, Mick," Charlie said. "I assume you know the contents of this note?"

"Yessir, Sheriff Keller made me privy to the contents. I'm to tell you as well that I and my men are under his orders, and by proxy under yours."

Charlie was taken aback for a moment then said, "I'll leave your orders to Linn. He'd know better than me what he wants from you. Just please keep your men and yourself ready for anything."

"I would do that anyway, sir." Mick ticked his hat brim with a finger. "Good day, Marshal."

"And the same to you, Mick." Charlie turned toward the jail. He'd best check on the prisoners then go see if he could talk to Linn and see what the Sheriff's plans were.

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Linn Keller 9-3-07

 

Esther walked to Bonnie's shop. She needed time to think, time to sort herself out. Perhaps a nice cup of tea, she thought.
She met the Sergeant coming out, just as she was going in.
She saw he was trying without success to hide a quart of whiskey.
He touched his brim. "Good day to ye, ma'am," he said, and made to continue on his way.
Esther neatly sidestepped in front of him. "Sergeant," she asked in a tone he recognized, "is that for the Sheriff?"
"Eh, yes, ma'am, it is. At his request, I might add."
"Come with me." She turned abruptly and with a purposeful step returned to Doc Greenlees' office, just as Charlie MacNeil was arriving. He opened the door for her and she swept in with a smile and a "Thank you, Marshal."
The sergeant followed with a guilty expression, like a schoolboy that had just been caught.
Curious, Charlie followed them in.

I'd tried to sit up but it felt like someone had a sword between my ribs every time I moved. I finally gave up, gasping. Doc had been in and changed the bandage, listened to my chest. "Sounds as if your lung is re-inflated," he said. "There is some purulent drainage but not as much as I would have expected."
"Did I lose much blood?"
"Enough. Made a mess on the floor."
"Sorry." It hurt to talk much and I couldn't take a decently deep breath yet.
"How's your appetite?" Doc asked, laying the back of his fingers against my cheek, my forehead.
"A little hungry," I admitted.
"That's a good sign," Doc nodded. "You're still warm so there's infection somewhere. I'm going to try and keep that open so it will drain. We don't want it to pocket in there." He dropped the soiled bandages in a bucket, washed his hands in the basin and carried the basin out. Charlie, Esther and Mick came in.
"Well, you're awake," Charlie grinned. "You look better than I thought you would."
Esther got right to the point. She took the bottle from the Sergeant. "What's this?" she asked sharply.
I looked at her levelly and there was no nonsense in my voice. "I need to break this fever. That's the fastest way I know of -- that, blankets, and sweat it out."
She nodded. "I agree."
I must have looked surprised.
"Doctor?" Esther cracked the door and called. "Could we have four glasses in here, please? Make it five?"
Doc came back in with three glasses, two coffee cups and a tin cup.
Esther distributed them and poured about two fingers in each one, and set the quart on the side table.
"Gentlemen," she declared briskly, "here's to a swift recovery!"
We drank.
I don't know which of us was the more surprised, but we drank.
"Now, gentlemen," Esther continued, "this has the look of a council of war. Is there anything I should know before I leave you to your planning?"
Mick's eyebrows went up and he pursed his lips in a soundless whistle.
Charlie looked at Esther, looked at me.
Doc was leaning back, grinning, enjoying the show.
"Yes there is," I said. "First, send Jacob to WJ's and have him fitted with a suit. Tell WJ I want to start an account and if he has any questions send him over."
"A suit?"
"Yes, ma'am. I want you to think about the dress you want to be married in."
"Married?"
"You've been thinking it and so have I, Esther. Next, I want you to have Bonnie clean my suit, and bring it over here."
"Your suit?" Esther looked dubious. "Why?"
"I will wear that suit in three days," I said.
Dead silence.
Each one looked at the other, then at Doc, and then at me again.
"Three days," Mick said.
"In three days' time I will wear that suit," I repeated. "On that third day, either I will walk out that door, or I will be buried in it."
Doc pursed his lips. "That's ambitious, Sheriff," he said. "I don't know if you can do it in three days' time."
"Why three days?" Charlie asked.
"We are sitting on a big fat gold vein. Agent Sopris advises the government needs it for the good of the national economy. We already know there are slickers and scoundrels back East that want it for their private wealth. With that kind of bonanza at stake they'll try and take it from us by fair means or foul. Agent Sopris is already working primarily in Washington to keep the legal end under control, which means they'll try otherwise, either by savvy individuals or in organized groups."
I paused for breath. My side hurt like homemade hell.
"I think we can expect an attack from without, by force. Why else were we detailed a detatchment of cavalry?"
"There would have been more, sir," Mick volunteered, "but they're all otherwise tied up well south o' here."
"No cannon, no infantry, no reinforcements?"
"That's the size of it, sir."
I nodded. "What's the most likely direction of attack?"
"If 'twas me, sir," Mick said without hesitation, "I'd attack from the east, out o' the morning sun. Catch 'em asleep or just wakin' up."
"I would too," I agreed. "We'll need outriders, scouts on good horses to keep watch and give warning."
"I know just who to pick," Charlie said.
"We'll need an inner ring of defense. Charlie, set up rifle posts on the rooftops. Get hold of the Daine boys and see about recruiting them. Pay 'em if you have to. Every Kentucky man I ever met was a dead shot and a born horseman."
Charlie nodded.
"I don't think the attack will come as near as three days. They'll have to recruit a sizeable enough force to burn us out. They'll want to terrify us bad enough we'll want to abandon everything and run and never come back, and they'll burn what's left to guarantee there's no town to come back to." I stopped again, short of breath.
"You really think you're going to walk out that door in three days' time?"
My entire right chest ached abominably. "I'm sure gonna try."
"Can't ask for any more than that," Doc said solidly. "Esther, how hard is his head?"
"His head?" Esther asked, alarmed. "Is his head hurt?"
"No, ma'am, but gauging from that last, I'd say he is a hard headed and contrary man, and you may wish to think twice about marrying someone so stubborn."
Esther blushed fiercely, then laughed. "Doctor," she said quietly, "I can out-contrary the best of them. I think we're pretty well matched."
Mick shifted uncomfortably. "Will there be anything else, sir?" he asked.
"Two more things," I said. "Sam?"
Mick looked puzzled. "Sam?"
It was Charlie's turn to look uncomfortable. He shook his head.
I closed my eyes against the loss, then put my grief aside. I would deal with it later. "I'll need a horse, then."
"Can do, sir. And the other?"
"Charlie, fit Jacob with a rifle. I think you can depend on him."
Charlie smiled quietly, remembering. "I think you're right."
I lay back against the pillow. Esther poured me another two fingers' worth, turned. "Gentlemen, we thank you for your kind attendance. This council of war is now adjourned. Could you excuse us, please?"
The door closed quietly behind them.
Esther drew up a chair, put her coffee cup on the side table with the bottle.
"Three days, Mr. Keller?" she said skeptically. "Isn't that just a bit ambitioius?"
"Esther," I said, "I intend to walk in three days, because in five days I want to be on one knee before you, asking your hand in marriage."
Her eyes were bright, and her hands bunched up some material from her skirt, the way she did when she was a little anxious, or excited.
"I'll have to get back up, you see, once I get down on one knee."
Her eye wandered down to where she knew the bandage padded against my chest. Unbidden, the words came: "Will you live that long?"
"Between this, and what's coming?" I grinned. "Esther, I am going to marry the most beautiful woman in the world. I will not be kept from it!"
I'd spoken just a little too strongly. That sword stirred around some in my side.
"Now, Esther," I gasped, "where do you want me to propose to you?"

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Charlie MacNeil 9-3-07

 

Charlie and Mick stopped outside Doc's house. "I've got an idea that I think you and your boys can help me with, if your horse soldiers don't mind doing a little manual labor," Charlie said.

"They'll do as I tell 'em," Mick answered.

"Good. Then here's what I want to do." Charlie talked quietly for a few minutes and by the time he was done Mick was chuckling.

"That'll give somebody one hell of a surprise," the big Irishman said. "If you want to roust out the townsfolk, I'll get my boys busy. I know just the place to start." Mick went on his way with a smile on his face.

Charlie made the rounds of the businesses on Main Street, explaining what he wanted to do. A few were a little reluctant at the start, but when he went into detail regarding what they could expect in the near future, it didn't take long for everyone to agree to do what he asked.

Charlie walked into the livery. Shorty was cleaning stalls but he stopped when he saw Charlie come in. A short while later Charlie left the livery with a big freight wagon, several shovels, and a hand-drawn map. A couple of hours after that a very sweaty Charlie and three equally sweat-soaked soldiers came back into town with the big wagon loaded down.

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Duzy Wales 9-3-07

 

Jake had found Duzy and wished to speak to her about becoming the new Deputy for the time being. He didn't know why he wanted her approval, but he did, nevertheless!

"Well, you are certainly qualified, I would say over qualified, but to help Sheriff Keller and Marshall MacNeil, I think it would be a wonderful idea! I had hoped you would be staying for awhile, Jake, as I would love to get to know you better," Duzy stated smiling into his eyes.

Jake was like putty in Duzy's hands when she looked at him that way, and as she stepped closer to him, he could feel the heat coming from her body. "Do you remember the night of my nightmare, Jake?" "How the hell could he forget," Jake was thinking, when Duzy took another step closer to him. "I know I am being forward, but with all that has happened, with Linn....and.... would you hold me for just a minute, like you did that night?"

Jake pulled Duzy into his arms and held her, giving her his strength, as she held him in much the same way, as if she were drawing strength from him, but giving him hers as well. It was a feeling he wasn't used to, sharing his feelings with a woman. Duzy looked up and before either realized what was happening, he brought his lips down on hers, gently at first, and then kissing the side of her neck and back up to her lips until they were lost in exploring each other mouths, with a fire beginning to burn in both of them that only made them want more! Jake knew that Duzy was feeling the same needs, and yet she was innocent, and didn't understand exactly what it was she was wanting from him. He hoped with all his heart that he would be the one to teach Duzy the joys that they could share and to be the man that finally made Duzy realize what a passionate woman she was! With that, and the love that he felt, and was beginning to think she felt, they could live a very happy life together, raising little ones, and growing old together.

Jake pulled back and said, "Duzy, you know I would never intentionally hurt you, don't you?" Duzy looked up at him and said, "Yes, Jake, I trust you! God help me, but I can't seem to get enough of you, and yet I barely know you. You are in my dreams, my thoughts, I can't seem to make a decision without wondering how you might feel about it. I have never felt this way before." Jake was elated, but scared at the same time, as he had a feeling that somehow that was going to change, and he couldn't let that happen.

They parted with Jake going to talk to Charlie and with Duzy going to find Bonnie. She needed to talk to her friend and felt like Bonnie may have some questions of her own. They needed to plan the Grand Opening of their businesses and to decide where they were going to live. Duzy thought perhaps Bonnie would like to keep the house for herself and Sarah, but she wouldn't know until she talked to her.

Aunt Esther had already said she would be staying at "The Silver Jewel" as long as that was where Duzy would be staying, as she took her responsiblity as Duzy's excort to Firelands very seriously and knew how easily Duzy could get herself into something, although she had been doing better, except for that little excursion the other night that she had almost forgotten about, due to Linn being shot.

Aunt Esther was happy about Linn offering for her hand in marriage, but she would have to see Duzy settled and safe first and secretly hoped Jake Thomas was the man to do that, knowing her brother Lee would approve.

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Linn Keller 9-3-07

 

Attorney Moulton cast an appreciative eye over the documents.
"Very impressive," he murmured appreciatively. "May I congratulate you on the perspicacity of your investments, sir."
I nodded carefully, shivering a little. I hadn't started to sweat yet but the whiskey was starting to work. I was getting warm and it was affecting my thinking, but this was important and could not wait.
"You wish to divide your assets evenly between Jacob and Esther, then."
"Only after I die."
The attorney chuckled dryly. "Of course."
"How long before they're ready?"
"They should be ready tomorrow."
I nodded, frowned. "The engine?"
"Oh, yes! I'd nearly forgotten!" He riffled through his portfolio, drew out an illustration. "Here it is, and to be delivered in one week."
"Has it been lettered and numbered?"
"Yes, at the factory. Why?"
"I want a rose on it."
"That should not be a problem. Will there be any special lettering?"
"On the engine, yes, on the side of the cab." I stopped to gather my strength.
"I want it to say, "Lady Esther."
The attorney smiled quietly. "I will see to it."
"Is Jacob out there?" I gestured weakly toward the anteroom door.
"No, I don't believe so. I think Marshal McAllister has him. They're quite busy, I understand."
I nodded. "Thank you, my friend." I extended my hand, as best I could, and the attorney shook it, carefully, as if afraid it would break off. It is a difficult thing to see a strong man made weak, and Moulton was having difficulty with the sight of it.
I shivered harder under the covers.
I was getting warmer now.
"Break!" I whispered, willing the fever to peak and die.

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Duzy Wales 9-3-07

 

Duzy found Bonnie and Caleb deep in conversation, and decided not to interrupt at the moment. She did need to seek Bonnie’s advice, as Duzy respected Bonnie, and had come to think of her more as a sister, one who had more experience with certain parts of life, than Duzy had, although that experience had come to Bonnie through the hands of others, and not of her own choosing, as she had been used and abused in a horrible way. When it actually came to love, the two women were probably more alike than either realized, as it was new to both of them.

At college, Duzy’s friends had picked on her for thinking only about schooling and never dating like most of the ladies did. Duzy was innocent in the ways of a man and woman; although, Duzy had never regretted the decision to keep her virginity until she was in love and hoped to live her days out with the man who would teach her those things. Here, she was looked at as being an “old maid” at the old age of 22…..although it had been that way in the Southeast, in those times, except for the few who could choose a career over marriage, as most thought that marriage to a person of means was the ultimate goal for a young lady.

Duzy thought about the feelings that churned in her body when Jake held her and how she knew, somehow, that he was the right man for her. She was comfortable with him, and yet somewhat shy at the same time; at other times, she would surprise him with her challenging attitude toward life, including her actions toward him. Jake could certainly understand why she worried her Papa at times, thinking of the way she had asked him to hold her for a little while, culminating in the kiss that held both of them spellbound.

Jake knew he needed to complete his mission in Firelands, and court Duzy, being able to be honest with her, as his worst fear was that she would lose her trust in him before he could carry out what he had come to do. He didn’t understand where those feelings were coming from, except possibly from guilt that he couldn’t be honest about why he was there in the first place.

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Duzy Wales 9-3-07

 

Aunt Esther had been thinking of Linn's question all day. Where did she want to be proposed to? She knew it would be on bended knee, full of love and sincerity, with promises of the unbridled passion toward each other that they would both soon know....

However, since he had asked, she wished it to be on the eve of the Grand Opening of "The Ruby Room," where she would make him and everyone there the best meal they had eaten in a long time. She needed to find out if anyone had seen "Bigfoot Wallace," so she could get the meat she needed.

Duzy would see to the entertainment. All her friends would be there, and they could announce it that night!

The two of them would live at "The Silver Jewel," until Duzy was more settled, as she would not give up her responsibility of her niece, and knew that Linn would not want her to.

She would invite him to a special "preview" of the evening, with the table already set with candles, flowers and food, and leave the rest to Linn...

It would be three things she had never expected to happen again....being loved, in love, and her owning her own restaurant!

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Linn Keller 9-4-07

 

Esther's step was brisk and businesslike; her chin was up, her carriage erect, and she moved with purpose. There were many things to consider, and she'd considered the work the Marshal was coordinating, and what it seemed to imply. She'd seen to Daisy's needs -- the larder was sufficiently stocked to feed the laboring troops, understanding they were strong young men in the prime of life, working and sweating and building up each a strong young man's appetite.
She crossed the street, skirts held just above the dust, and up the two steps in front of WJ's store.
WJ looked up from his list and smiled. "Morning, Miz Esther. How can I help ou today?"
Esther's pace didn't slow, her heels sharp and purposeful on the oiled board floor. She tapped a fingernail twice on the glass top of the pistol case. "WJ, I'd like a pair of these, please, and I will need a gunbelt and holsters made for them."
"Yes, ma'am!" JW said. He seldom made such a swift sale.
"And a matching rifle. Model of 1873, if you please."
"Yes, ma'am!" The rifle was placed on the counter, joined by a pair of blued steel, five inch Colt Peacemakers, in .44-40.
"And one case of ammunition, please."
"Yes, ma'am. Will you be taking these with you?"
Esther smiled and colored a little, thinking of their intended recipient. "If you could deliver them to the Ruby Room for me, please."
"Yes, ma'am, I can do that." He paused, smiled. "The Ruby Room?"
Esther turned a little, looked out the window, looked back at WJ. "Yes, Mr. Garrison, I'm opening a fine restaurant, with the Silver Jewel. It will bear my name, and its quality will be no less than what I myself expect."
JW looked at the counter, smiled. "Yes, ma'am," he said, remembering his pride as a young man when he opened his own store. "That sounds wonderful!"
"How long before you can have the gun belt and holsters made?"
"I'll need a waist size, and any custom work you'd like: bordering, carving, dyed background, any conchos, inlays, decorative metalwork..?"
"If you would have something to write on." Esther knew the size she wanted, and sketched out the particulars in a feminine script.
"Should not be long at all, ma'am. My saddle maker does first rate work, and he'll do you a fine job."
"Thank you, WJ," Esther smiled, returning to the familiar address with a smile. "I have a few other details to attend, if you will excuse me?" A swirl of skirts, and she was gone.
WJ sighed, looking after her.
"Now there goes a Lady!" he murmured in admiration.

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