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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 5-19-12

 

Sarah passed out the sketches: they were studied, handed back and forth, young eyes going from pen-drawn likenesses to the pretty young schoolmarm who never once demanded to know why they were not in school.
"These men interest me," Sarah said quietly. "I believe they intend to do me harm. This one" -- she reached over and tapped the picture of Willis with her left forefinger -- "is particularly dangerous."
"How dangerous?"
Sarah looked directly at the lad.
"I may have to kill him."
"Oh." It was an offhand comment, something only slightly unexpected. Violence was part of their universe; they were no strangers to the dirty work of the adult world, and the sight of a dead body held no terror for them.
"Now who knows the tanning works?"
"The tannery?" The youngest wrinkled up his face as if remembering a very bad odor. "It stinks there."
"Yeah, but they got a lime pit," the middle lad countered, looking over at Sarah.
Sarah nodded.
"I need to know how to get to that lime pit, when the bull makes his rounds, is he regular and exactly when. Who here can tell time?"
"Me," the oldest one said, raising a hand. "Got any more biscuits?"
"I've got one apiece left," Sarah said, handing them each a sweet-roll-and-meat sandwich.
"You don't know how good this is," the middle lad mumbled, his cheek bulging like a chipmunk freighting supplies for his winter stash.
Sarah withdrew a watch from a hidden pocket. It was plain, serviceable, the kind of watch a father might give an active son: thick of crystal and heavy of case, stem wound rather than key wound, set to the correct time, with a braided leather keeper.
"I need to know the times the bull makes his rounds," Sarah said. "Can you draw?"
"Not like this," the oldest lad mumbled, pattering the paper with crumbs: he swallowed, took another bite as if afraid someone would take his last bite from him.
"Here." Sarah handed him a small pad and a sharpened pencil. "Make a sketch when you get there, it doesn't have to be fancy. Like this." She made a quick, basic sketch of the warehouse, drew small stick figures for each of them, rectangles for doors, and in one corner an arrow in a circle.
"What's that?" the youngest piped, curious.
"That's north," Sarah said.
"Oh."
"You know where north is, don't you?"
"Yeaaahhhh!" came the chorused assent.
"Good. Now when you get to the tannery -- mark how to get in and out unseen. I won't be in a dress so don't worry about that. I need to know where the bull stays, if there's only one working at night, do they work all night -- where they are, where they go and when. Men are creatures of habit and they tend to go get rid of second hand beer at the same time every night."
"Whattaya gonna wear?" the middle lad asked, eyes big and innocent, then he flinched, expecting to be pelted with another pattering swat of cloth caps -- but the others looked at her, curious, for they knew her only as the schoolteacher in a mousy-grey dress who moved like a snake and surprised them by keeping her word.
"A burlap sack," Sarah said with a straight face.
"Oh."
"Will you three be safe here?" Sarah asked.
"Oh yeah, nobody comes here. They think it's haunted."
Sarah nodded.
"Good. Now ... back to these three." She thrust her chin at the pen-and-ink sketches, forgotten on the ground between them. "I think they'll be getting out of jail tomorrow, late afternoon. I need to know where they go."
"How do we tell you?" the middle lad asked, his voice high and curious.
Sarah named her hotel. "Do you know the doorman?"
"Yeah, he's a grouch!" the youngest pouted.
Sarah laughed.
"I will let him know that if you give him a message for me, it is very important and he is to let me know immediately if not sooner."
"Really?" They looked at her with new interest. "You can do that?"
Sarah nodded.
"I can do that."

"Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
The bow saw made steady progress through the pine log.
"Have you heard how Sarah is getting along in the city?"
Father and son labored on opposite ends of the saw: they were down to their shirts, but far enough from the house the didn't have to worry about scandalizing the ladies: a man who appeared in just his shirt was ... well, in centuries that followed, walking down the street in one's BVDs would be analogous: a shirt alone was underwear, and a man wore at the very least a vest in order to be decent.
On the other hand, the sage observed that "He who cuts his own wood is warmed twice," and warm they were: each had a dark streak down his back, for they'd both broken a sweat: wood was in constant need for the cook stove and other household heating, and each chunk that got sawed off and split up represented a meal that would be cooked, bath water that would be heated, or warmth given off by one of the heating stoves.
The Sheriff grinned, falling back into the easy rhythm they'd set.
Little Joseph picked up an arm load of Joseph-sized sticks and strutted importantly toward the house.
The Sheriff looked at the lad's retreating backside, then at his son; the saw's steady rhythm never hesitated as Jacob laughed and explained.
"I'd just sawed off a stump," he explained, "it was on a slope so I decided to saw it and not ax cut it."
The Sheriff nodded.
"Cut it off nice and level and the tree fell right where I wanted it to." He laughed. "Never do that again in a lifetime!"
The Sheriff grinned.
"My little helper boy" -- he thrust his chin at Joseph, who was nearly to the house -- "allowed as that was a Joseph size seat and hopped right up on it."
"On a fresh cut pine stump."
"Yes, sir."
The saw rasped as the chunk splintered free of the little web holding at the bottom, and fell.
"When he got up his butt was all sticky with pine pitch."
"What did you do?"
Jacob laughed.
"I did the only thing I could think of."
The Sheriff raised an eyebrow, tugged his leather gloves free of his sweating hands.
"I opened up a flour sack -- empty, you understand -- and set him down in what skift of flour was left in that sack."
The Sheriff nodded, grinning, then looked up at his son and started to laugh.
Jacob laughed, too.
"You don't have to ask, sir. Yes, my bride was ready to fetch me a good one with a fryin' pan!"
The Sheriff laughed: inside the house, Annette directed Joseph to place his kindling sticks in the sheet metal kindling tray, and her head came up and she smiled as she heard the good sound of manly laughter outside.
"Did I tell you the time" -- the Sheriff reached for the canteen, hung on a handy fence post -- "the time I got called to a house and some fella was a-settin' on his front porch with a bloody rag held ag'in his gourd?"
He unscrewed the cap, took a long drink, handed the canteen to Jacob: his son said "No, sir," and tilted the canteen up to refresh his own dry pipes.
"I asked him what happened and he said "My wife done hid me wid a smoov!"
Joseph swallowed, came up for air, took another long tilt from the blanket sided watering can.
"I asked him 'What?' and he said 'She done hid me wid a smoov!' so I asked him what was a smoov."
He accepted the canteen, tilted it up, drained it.
"He said 'You know, dat tang she smoov da wrinkles oudda da clo'es wid!"
Joseph laughed, nodding, and the Sheriff looked sadly at the empty receptacle in his hand.
"This thing's empty. Hole in it, I reckon."
They turned at the sound of a wooden spoon applied to an empty wash pan.
Annette stood on the front porch, briskly addressing the improvised dinner gong.

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Linn Keller 5-20-12

 

The doorman touched his cap as Sarah approached: she smiled as he drew the big, heavy, ornate door wide for the approaching schoolmarm.
Sarah stopped, tilted her head a little, smiled warmly: this instantly had the entirety of the doorman's attention, for few things warm an older man's heart more quickly than the attention of an attractive younger woman.
Sarah well knew how to hold a man's eyes, and his heart, at least for a moment: she laid gentle fingertips on his forerarm and looked up at him with big, innocent eyes and said softly, "Could you help me, please?"
"Yes, miss, of course," the doorman said, and Sarah hid a wicked smile, for she could almost hear the crunching sound of the man's spine crackling around and around and around her grey-gloved pinky.
"I was set upon by footpads," she said, allowing a trace of distress in her voice, "and chief among them was a respectable-looking man" -- Sarah produced the pen sketch of her classmate Willis -- "I have reason to believe this man may yet bear me ill will, for I went to the police with my report."
Sarah watched thunder clouds start to gather on the doorman's brow.
"I have some boys watching for him," Sarah continued. "They are active and rowdy lads and often truant from school but they have eyes everywhere."
The doorman looked sharply at her: he had no liking for the street Arabs, and took pleasure in running them away from the hotel's respectable facade.
No liking for pick-pockets, he thought, those barefoot trouble-makers!
"Please" -- Sarah's eyes were gentle, pleading, and she allowed a trickle of distress in her soft, feminine voice -- "if they bring you a message, whatever it is and whatever the hour, let me know?"
Sarah turned a little, leaned lightly against the door that he held, and against his arm as well: she crossed her arms and he felt her shiver a little.
"I was so scared," she whispered. "I was so scared!"
The doorman had strict orders not to fraternize with the guests: he maintained a formality befitting the hotel's image: but here was a pretty young schoolteacher, a vulnerable and frightened lady, who came to him for help.
The doorman propped the portal with his mirror-polished shoe and closed his arms gently around Sarah, patting her back like a grandfather would a favorite granddaughter.
"I shall," he murmured. "I shall."
Sarah leaned her cheek against his brass-buttoned front, trembling, but her face was not that of a frightened girl.
She had a look of triumph, almost a lustful look of a goal achieved.

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Linn Keller 5-20-12

 

"Sam," Levi said with quiet approval, "is turning us a steady profit, my dear."
"I know," Bonnie said, smiling quietly as she folded clothes for packing. "That's why Linn recommended her."
Levi chuckled. "I would never have thought a woman could run cattle."
"Oh, you'd be surprised what women can do," Bonnie purred.
"I know what you can do, Mrs. Rosenthal, and very well, I might add!"
"Naughty boy," Bonnie whispered, lowering her lashes and giving her grinning husband a smoldering look, "I shall have to spank you!"
"Promises, promises," Levi replied, rising and taking his bride in his arms.
"Mr. Rosenthal," Bonnie whispered, "what are your intentions?"
"I intend to get something... straight... between us," he whispered back, lowering his mouth to hers and drawing his arms tight around her.
Bonnie's plans to have them packed and ready to leave for Denver before going to bed, had to be somewhat revised, but neither objected.
Neither objected one little bit.

"That's right," Sarah said to the desk manager, "we'll need the adjacent suite, as agreed upon earlier."
"Yes, ma'am," the pomaded young man nodded. "It will be ready."
Sarah looked out across the lobby, still smiling, a relaxed and pleasant expression greeting the world: her eyes were pale and busy, methodically searching the ornate and well-appointed room for familiar faces.
Instead of her severe and mousy-grey dress, she wore a McKenna gown, and her hair was carefully done: a few changes resulted in a very different appearance, and she looked almost exactly nothing like the spare and Spartan figure that attended Professor Hunt's academy.
Mary, the maid, also wore a McKenna gown: her hair was very similarly done to Sarah's -- so much so, in fact, that the two might be mistaken for sisters: they took their evening meal together, in the dining room, at a table Sarah preferred: in a corner, where her back and Mary's both were to a wall, yet they were close enough for quiet conversation.
The other dinner guests drank according to their preference, which was mostly alcoholic, wines and brandies were in frequent demand: Sarah drank tea, good oolong spiced with burgamo, a combination she'd come to enjoy greatly: Mary was trying green tea, and she admitted to Sarah it wasn't exactly what she expected, but with a bit of honey to sweeten, it was actually quite good.
Sarah could see across the dining room and to the main desk, another reason she chose this particular table: she enjoyed being able to see who came and who went, especially since the main desk was the lens through which visitors were received and directed, and she was sure that if Mr. Willis chose to avail himself of her offer to repair shirt and vest, as she'd offered, he would be obliged to stop at the desk first.
Mary leaned forward a little.
"Sarah," she said in a low voice, "you look like you just saw a ghost!"
"Oh dear God," Sarah whispered, "I wrote the room number on that card!"
Mary blinked.
"I don't ... what card? What do you mean?"
Sarah's eyes grew noticeably pale.
"Mary," she said quietly, "I want you to stay here. Mark the time. If I am not back in six minutes exactly, I want you to go over to the main desk and have them summon the hotel detective. His name is Hugh Beymer, he is a big red headed Scotsman, and tell him the Clan McKenna requires his presence at our room."
Mary's eyes were big and serious as Sarah stood.
"Six minutes," she repeated. "But what shall I say if he asks why he is being summoned?"
Sarah's eyes were rapidly becoming a deadly shade of winter ice.
"Tell him there has been a killing."

Charles Willis had the paper wrapped package under his arm.
He also had a few other items secreted about his person.
His plan had the advantage of simplicity and directness: like a mechanism with few moving parts, a simple plan had the greatest chance of success.
Provided, of course, nothing went wrong.
Willis strode down the walk as if he had every right to be there; he knew the hotel in question, knew there was an alley on either side, knew there was also a stairway on either side.
He stopped just short of the mouth of the alley, withdrew a folded paper from his pocket, appeared to consult it, for all the world a man making a delivery and refreshing his memory as to its destination: in reality, he was surreptitiously scanning his surroundings, looking to see if he was watched.
Satisfied, he turned and walked down the alley.
He saw the stairway going up the side of the building and smiled.

Sarah shook the exit door at the head of the stairs leading down the side of the building.
It was locked from the outside, and secure; she turned, moving quickly, not running but not far from it: it took her a few moments to get to the other end of the hall and rattle the other door.
It, too, was secure.
Sarah nodded, walked back to her room.
She drew her .44 Bulldog, turned the key in the lock, thrust the door open, hard, the muzzle of her pistol scanning the interior.
Nothing.
She stepped inside, locked the door one-handed, revolver in the other: she cleared the room quickly, efficiently, grateful she'd practiced this exercise many times: satisfied, she returned the revolver to its hidden holster and checked her watch.

Mary's eyes were glued to the clock over the desk manager's head: she knew something was wrong, but not what was wrong.
Three minutes, she thought. You have three minutes.

"Hey, mister, gotta penny?" the grinning urchin piped, skipping along beside Willis.
Willis dug in a pocket, flipped him a nickle.
"Gee, thanks, mister!" he piped.
"There's more if you can tell me something."
The nickle disappeared.
"Sure, mister!"
"Have you seen a schoolteacher around here?"
Another lad ran past the first, snatched his cap, ran toward the street, yelling in triumph: the little lad clapped a hand to his denuded scalp, his face reflecting dismay, just before he sprinted after the fleet footed thief: "Hey you! Gimme back my hat!"

Sarah descended the stairs with the grace of royalty, knowing she was being watched by several pairs of eyes: her smile was warm and genuine, her gait, graceful; she was greeted by no less than a half-dozen young men, to whom she smiled and blushed and dropped a ladylike curtsy, before making her way across to her table.
She never heard the stairway door latch being shaken, nor the muffled curse followed by the sound of hurried steps descending to the alley below.

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Linn Keller 5-21-12

 

The two street urchins ran up to the doorman, who viewed them with ... well, something beyond distaste: his lip curled with contempt, and if looks could sweep trash aside, his glance would have addressed the pair with a broom the size of a beer wagon.
"Hey Mister," the younger of the two blurted, "tell the schoolteacher that man she was looking for is right down that alley!"
The doorman frowned, looked closely at the pair.
"What do you know about the schoolteacher?" he demanded.
"She showed us a pitcher of some guy wantsta hurt her," the second, slightly older urchin replied urgently, breathing hard as if having just run a wind sprint: "she said we saw him we're supposta tell ya and ya'd tell her."
The doorman squatted, drew the folded picture from an inside coat pocket, carefully unfolded it.
Two dirty fingers stabbed at it.
"That's him!" the chorused. "He's right down there!"
The doorman stood, hauled the door open, twisted inside.
The two lads looked at one another: the bigger one handed the smaller his cap, and they took off running down the other alley.

Levi settled into the cushioned seat beside his bride, wrapped his hand around hers: the two of them still held hands in church, and it was evident, whether standing, walking or seated, each was most pleased to be seen in public with the other.
The maid, seated behind them, smiled quietly: she was a half-dozen years older than Sarah and a widow for just over two years now, but she well remembered when she and her handsome young husband would travel, and they too held hands.
She closed her eyes for a long moment, then quietly raised a lace edged kerchief to press against one eye, then the other.

Angela's golden-red Rosebud kept easy pace with the bright-copper Cannonball: both horses glowed in the morning sun, almost as if lighted from within: they could see their breath, the horses' nostrils shooting out twin plumes as they walked.
"Daddy?" Angela asked in her high, little-girl's voice.
"Yes, Princess?"
"Daddy, can I jump-a da horsie?"
"Ho," the Sheriff said quietly, and both horses stopped: he turned in the saddle, left hand on his thigh, and looked at his little girl.
"You want to learn to jump Rosebud?"
Angela looked at her Daddy with bright and innocent eyes and nodded.
"I thought she knew how to jump already."
Angela's smile was bright as she giggled and hid shyly behind one hand.
"Well, let's see," the Sheriff said, looking around: "Do you see the rail fence on ahead of us?"
Angela stood up in her stirrups and stretched waaaaaay up in her saddle -- it was not necessary, but she was a little girl, and little girls like to show off for Daddy -- and she nodded, then eased back into her saddle.
"What say I go take down two of the rails and leave the bottom one, and you take Rosebud over the bottom rail?"
"Okay, Daddy!"
"Stay here, honey, and I'll go tend that detail."
"Okay, Daddy."
The Sheriff brought Cannonball in a slow circle, behind his little girl and her glowing mare, eyes busy: satisfied all was well at every point of the compass, he cantered ahead, then dismounted at the fence.
He pulled on a pair of good leather gloves, took a grip on the top rail and pulled, bringing one end free, his right ear pulling back a little as if expecting something.
He was right.
Angela's happy "Go, horsie!" was high and clear on the chill morning air as Rosebud launched into a gallop: the Sheriff turned and watched the magical sight of his little girl, a grin on her face as broad as a Texas township, leaned over her shining mare's neck, reins gripped in her daintily-gloved fists: the reins were well more than slack, her heels locked into the mare's ribs, and Rosebud's ears were pinned hard back as she thrust against the dew-wet earth: there was something magical to what the Sheriff saw in that moment, and part of his mind was happily enraptured, ensorcelled by its beauty; as Rosebud drove hard with her hind legs and rose from the earth and thrust herself into a flawless ballistic trajectory, sailing easily over the top rail of the chest-high fence rail adjacent, the Sheriff realized he was seeing not a horse and rider, but one magical creature, one that rode the wind itself.

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Linn Keller 5-21-12

 

Hugh Beymer dressed well.
His size alone would intimidate, and did: he stood half a head taller than most tall men, he was broad of shoulder (and equally broad of beltline, truth be told) but he could walk up to about anything he wanted to, pick it up and walk off with it, and it didn't much matter what it was he walked up to.
He frowned at the doorman's clipped words, his brows knit as he studied the drawing, he listened to the natty young man behind the desk.
Finally he raised a big hand and said quietly, "Where is the lady now?"
"I don't know," the desk clerk snapped: "I have not seen her all morning!"
"Have you a room number?"
The clerk turned, snatched up a key, handed it to the big Scotsman with the red muttonchops and equally red hair: he turned and made a final sweep of the dining room before turning toward the stairs.
There was not a trace of the severe young schoolmarm to be seen.

Sarah watched doorman and desk clerk in earnest conversation; he saw the clerk tug a bell-pull, and a truly big man paced into the room with the easy grace of a man completely at ease inside his own body: she coughed a little, put her teacup down hurriedly and pressed linen to her lips.
The maid looked up from her eggs and Sarah shook her head, barely a quarter-inch of travel, but enough to convey that she was all right, before she cleared her throat and looked back to the main desk.
The red-headed Scotsman was just disappearing upstairs.
"Excuse me," Sarah whispered, then harrumphed again, frowning: toast crumbs and a stray trickle of tea down the wind pipe was rather less than comfortable, and she did not quite trust her voice, lest she start coughing and make a spectacle.
Mary, ever a practical sort, waited until Sarah was safely started up the stairs before reaching across and appropriating her other slice of toast.

Beymer's steady pace meant Sarah had to snatch up her skirts and move on the hot foot, as it were: she slowed as the man turned, extended the key, obviously ready to enter her room.
"He's not there," she called quietly.
Hugh turned, easily slipping the key into a vest pocket before reaching up and removing his silk-banded Derby: he favored Sarah with a curious look, raising one red eyebrow and puffing out a small cloud of cigar smoke.
"You are looking for the man who is looking for me," Sarah said, stopping and folding her hands in her skirt.
"Might I have the honor of knowing your name, my dear?" Hugh asked in a surprisingly gentle voice: a voice all the more surprising as Sarah realized just how big the man's hands were, and that he could probably pick her up and snap her spine if he felt like it.
Sarah raised her head, dipped thumb and forefinger into a hidden pocket and brought out a small, rectangular wallet.
She opened it and handed it to the hotel detective.
Hugh Beymer studied the bronze shield, puffing out a quick series of tobacco-clouds as if sending a smoke signal: he reached up with his other hand, turned the leather flap over that served to protect the bronze badge's face, turned the wallet a quarter-turn, and read the carefully-scribed words on the heavy paper visible through its cut-out window.
He looked at Sarah and his eyebrow raised again.
"Agent Rosenthal?" he asked quietly, a slow smile beginning to broaden his beefy red face: "... agent of Firelands District Court ..." -- he frowned a little, considered Sarah with a frank, straightforward stare: "You wouldn't be ... related ... to another man by that name ...?"
"She's my daughter," a voice announced, and Hugh looked over Sarah's head: his grin broadened, he folded the wallet and handed it back to Sarah, turning to slip past her: he strode quickly, powerfully down the hall, giving the general impression of a freight locomotive under heavy throttle, and he seized Levi's hand, pumping it vigorously and beaming like a man who'd been given a small fortune.
"Hugh, how in the world have you been?" Levi declared, his hand disappearing into Hugh's big red mitt, his free hand pounding the big Scotsman's shoulder: Hugh laughed and jerked his head, indicating the young lady abandoned in his wake: "That is your daughter? You scalawag, you've been holding out on me!"
Hugh ran his arm around Levi's shoulders and the two of them fairly strutted toward Sarah, both of them talking, excitedly, animatedly, obviously old friends, each accusing the other of varied and unspecified crimes, until Sarah held up her hands and said "Stop, stop, stop, my head is spinning! I can see you two know each other --"
"Know each other?" the two said together, then looked at one another and laughed. "We worked together for years!"
Sarah's eyes were big as she regarded the pair, considering the trouble the two of them probably got into.
"Now Levi, old man," Hugh declared, to which Levi declared "Old? You scoundrel, you make dirt look young!" -- Sarah sighed and shook her head, looking past the two.
It was her time to smile very, very broadly.
"Mama!" she exclaimed, and ran down the hallway to the attractive and fashionably dressed woman just clearing the head of the stairs.

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Charlie MacNeil 5-21-12

 

"I do believe I miscounted months," Charlie said at the breakfast table as he spread sweet cream butter liberally over the cut surface of half a biscuit in preparation for taking a large, tasty bite of said bread.

"I do believe I told you that in the first place," Fannie replied in kind from her position near the kitchen window, her emerald gaze taking in the feed pasture and the gangly-legged young ones strutting about in the morning sunshine. "When you put the stud in with the mares I told you they would started dropping their foals in May." She sipped steaming black Arbuckle's from her enamelware cup and turned to face him before going on. "On the other hand, you got away with it. The weather's been good and the grass is up, the mares are fat and the babies are healthy. I'm firmly convinced that your guardian angel had you by the shirt collar on that one, Sugar." She turned back toward the window with a smile.

Charlie stepped up alongside of her and wrapped his left arm around her to cup her slender waist, feeling the warmth, in more ways than one, of the soft skin and firm flesh beneath the thin cloth of her housedress. His other hand was, for the moment, encumbered with what was left of the biscuit half. "I reckon there's times when it's way better to be lucky than good, Darlin'," he drawled before popping the remains of the biscuit into his mouth, chewing a few times and swallowing. "Dang nice crop of ponies, eh? That Apple stud of Jacob's does throw some fine colts."

"They are pretty flashy," Fannie replied. "If we can prove that they're as tough as they are pretty, we should do well with them once you get some of them at least broke to lead."

"They're all broke to lead right now. I do that almost as soon as they hit the ground," he replied. He grinned at her. "I can handle 'em when they're that size. By the time they get much older than that, they're more than an old man wants to mess with." She snorted derisively as he stepped around behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to him, bending his head to press his lips to the nape of her neck and nuzzle the lobe of her ear. She pressed back against him, forgotten coffee growing cold in her cup on the counter beneath the window as she laid her head back on his shoulder and turned her face up to his.

"You weren't so old last night, Sugar," she said with a saucy grin that he answered with a leer of his own.

"Good point," he said softly. He swooped his right arm down under her knees, swept her off the floor. Her arms went around his neck as he strode across the kitchen toward a door that most definitely did not lead outside, kicking it shut behind them as they disappeared into the dimly lit room beyond. The mares would have to wait a while to be turned out of the feed pasture for the day.

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Linn Keller 5-22-12

 

Willis thought of the lad he'd just met, the one he'd tried without success to recruit, and wondered if he might yet make an ally of the lad: he made his way down the outside staircase, then wondered if there was perhaps a second door, one hidden under the wooden stairs.
He swung under the stairs, froze as he heard running feet, young voices piping "He went down here! He was down here!" -- he held utterly still, knowing the human eye picks up movement faster than anything; two boys, the same ones he'd encountered earlier, sprinted past, the doorman pursuing at his best speed.
Willis realized the boys were in on something -- what, he wasn't sure, but with their shouts he suspected they just might be looking for him.
Still -- the doorman was away from his post, the watchful eyes were down the alley and still retreating, and if there was a chance to get in unobserved, he knew, it was now.
Willis stepped out from under the staircase, straightened, walked out to the street and around the corner, and walked right in the front door of the hotel, unnoticed and unchallenged.

The bellboy wore a snappy uniform, all red and grey and brass buttons, with a pillbox hat at a jaunty angle on his head, held in place with a black patent leather chin strap running under his clean-scrubbed jaw: he could not have been more than nine years old, but he took his duties seriously, and this duty involved delivering a boxy, paper wrapped package to one of the guests.
A fellow in a brown suit, with a wrapped package of his own, followed the bellboy past the main desk and up the broad, ornate staircase.
He looked to his left, noted the dining room, and smiled: he thought momentarily that he might enjoy eating there again, then he looked after the lad's retreating backside, and applied himself to ascending the stairway.
He stepped aside as a big, red-headed Scotsman descended the stairs, smiling to himself as if he'd just met an old and dear friend.
Willis smiled as well, for he recognized the man as the hotel detective, and wished to have nothing to do with the man, especially considering how thoroughly the big Scotsman was said to have bested rowdy visitors in the past.

Sarah gave a little sound of distress.
"Oh, no," she groaned, "I left Mary in the dining room!"
She snatched open the door, looked quickly to her right, stepped out into the hallway.
A moment later Bonnie's head snapped up and she looked at Levi.
"Did you hear something?"

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Linn Keller 5-23-12

 

Sarah’s eyes were very pale and her voice was very quiet.
“This is a .44 revolver you feel in your gut,” she whispered.
“I have it pushed halfway to your spine. Do you feel it?”
The well-dressed young man nodded, but barely, for the knife’s point threatened to pierce the tender skin under the angle of his jaw.
“Good. Now just in case you’re thinking of doing something foolish, like struggling, or shouting, this knife is tempered steel. I had it hand made here in Denver by a friend of mine. He took good steel and forged it and tempered it so it’s tough as dried leather but hard as glass, and I could shave you with it, if you were man enough to need shaved.
The young man swallowed.
It was the only move he dared make.
“If you move, if you shout, if you blink, I will drive this knife through the top of your skull,” Sarah said, never raising her voice above a dry whisper.
“I do not allow anyone – anyone! – to touch me.” Sarah’s mouth was open; her lips, red and lovely, were slightly parted, showing even, white teeth: in another setting, it would be a very attractive thing to see, but as the facial tissue surrounding it was very white, and her eyes were as warm and welcoming as moonlight on a glacier, the young man felt a sudden, strong desire to be elsewhere.
A door opened behind Sarah; the young man’s eyes shifted and for a moment, for just a moment, he dared hope that rescue might be had – until an attractive woman stood behind Sarah and regarded the young man coldly.
“Sarah,” Bonnie said quietly, “what is going on here?”
“Hello, Mother,” Sarah said, her voice the sound of a rattlesnake’s scales on dry rock – “this man put his hands on me, and I wish his departure.”
Anger ignited deep in Bonnie’s eyes: her chin came up and she regarded the young man like a hawk regarding a trembling rabbit.

Professor T. Joseph Hunt liked to follow his students when they were on assignment, especially when it was as convenient as this was proving: he regretted having sent one of his senior detective students after the young Miss Rosenthal, to test the student’s acumen: the young man saw it as an insultingly easy assignment – a girl, after all! – and with her arm in a sling! – this, of course, all changed when he decided instead to humiliate her in class, to so embarrass her that she would quit the class, run crying home to her Mama, and forget any further thoughts of injecting herself into what was quite obviously a man’s profession!
Mr. Willis's research found quickly that she was the stepdaughter of the late Caleb Rosenthal, a man of unsavory reputation; he accumulated a cursory dossier on the late Rosenthal’s fall from grace, his quick spiral into debauchery and drunkenness, wastefulness and gambling, and how he’d come to an untimely end under a dropped chandelier.
He was puzzled that the information ended there.
He could find nothing about what followed; nothing, that is, other than certain select henchmen in the employ of the indebted gambling establishment were sent to the Rosenthal ranch, where they …
... disappeared.
Rather than travel to Firelands and make inquiry, and attempt to unravel the mystery at its source, he determined to interrogate the vulnerable young woman, interrogate her by ungentlemanly and rather unpleasant, and frankly brutal means … and she herself provided him with the perfect means to get into her inner sanctum.
She’d given him, her card, and offered to repair shirt and vest damaged in the Professor’s arranged demonstration … a demonstration that was not supposed to involve a hand like a steel clamp about his wind pipe, nor being shoved, and shoved hard, back down into his seat.
He smiled as he came up the stairs, turned and was almost instantly face to face with his quarry.
An easy task, he thought.
Seize her, intimidate her, imply much and admit nothing and wring everything from her she could offer. He’d already had her in irons; this time, tied with black-silk cords, gagged, hooded, carried over his shoulder and down the outside stairs …
Willis smiled as Sarah's head came up and their eyes met.
He imagined her frightened, begging, crying and pleading for her freedom, which would be granted, after a ride in a closed carriage, and her blindfolded, to be thrown, still bound and nearly naked, into a muddy field on the edge of the city, when he was done with her: perhaps then she would quit the school.
Girls.
Hmph!
Women, he maintained, had no business in a man’s world; girls, even less, and he regarded the soft-spoken, slender young woman with her arm in a sling, to be more a distraction than anything else.
When he made to seize her, his footsteps silent on the thick hotel carpet, he found himself the unwelcome subject of her violent attention: she took him completely by surprise, first seizing his necktie and driving her knee into his thigh – her intended target, by happy chance, was barely out of harm’s way – he grabbed for her and she parried his arm, twisting it and pulling, using his own forward momentum against him: she turned, a move Jacob taught her, a move the Sheriff practiced with her, a move Fannie showed her how to polish and perfect, again and again and again, until it was reflex: he slammed hard into the wall, banging his head against the hardwood: so quick, so violent and so strong was her move that he was immobilized with pain and with astonishment, and when he turned, leaning back against the wall, eyes squinted shut with the pain of a broken nose and regained his wits some three-quarters of a second later, cold steel was laid against his throat and pricking up under his jawbone, and something hard was shoved deep into his belly.
“Don’t move,” the pale-eyed Miss Rosenthal hissed, teeth bared, and he felt as much as heard something go clickity-click … something like a pistol.
A pistol she must've concealed somewhere.
He had no idea where the knife had been stored.

Professor T. Joseph Hunt was three steps up the staircase when he looked up, surprised.
A woman’s voice, a man’s protestations, the sound of something whirring viciously through the air and striking someone rather briskly, rather quickly and apparently rather vigorously, by the sound of the yelps that followed the sound of each blow.
Professor Hunt could not know, of course, that Bonnie lacked the perfect pitch of her daughter, but he immediately realized her sense of rhythm was excellent, for the parasol she so expertly wielded chanted a regular, unchanging cadence as she did her best to break it over as many parts of his retreating carcass as she possibly could.
He saw his former student at a brisk trot make the turn to the top of the stairs, followed closely by a well and fashionably dressed woman, a woman with thunder upon her brow, anger on her features and a rather worse for wear parasol in her hand, a parasol with which she was addressing the retreating head and shoulders of his former student.
“You cad!” – whap! – “you bounder!!” –whap! – “you scoundrel!” –whap! – “you blaggard! -- whap! - keep your filthy hands of my little girl! – whap! – and don’t you” – whap! – "EVER!" – whap! – “come back!” – and with a final WHAP! the woman stopped, now halfway down the staircase, glaring at the ex-student who, stumbling, fell the last several steps and landed a-sprawl, face down, on the carpeted floor.
Professor T. Joseph Hunt regarded the woman with surprise; he turned to the student, slowly made his way down the steps and over to the young man.
“You, sir, should choose your company more carefully,” the woman threw at him: the Professor turned, surprised to find himself face to face with the young Miss Agent Rosenthal.
Professor T. Joseph Hunt blinked, surprised.
He hadn’t seen her following her mother, hadn’t been aware of her approach, and marveled that she could travel such a distance in silence.
“Professor,” Sarah said coldly, “are you responsible for this individual?”
Professor Hunt looked at his former student, who was just rolling over.
There was a trickle of blood from under his jaw, as if he’d nicked himself shaving.
“Before you reply, sir, I shall be charging this –“ she hesitated, searching for the correct adjective – “I shall be charging him with assault” – she held up a plaited leather shot-filled sap -- and attempted abduction” – she then displayed coils of black silk cord and a black sack, the same kind of bag that had been placed over her head when she was seized in the classroom.
She then held up a small pistol. “With weapon specification,” she added coldly.
If ice could blaze with cold fire, her eyes did, and the Professor blinked, surprised: he had completely under-estimated this … this little girl, as he’d rather dismissively though of her.
“I don’t believe that would be appropriate,” the Professor murmured. “For one thing, we have only your word –“
“No, sir,” Sarah interrupted. “You have the word of the most successful businesswoman in Firelands County to back mine, and if you need more, I will call in my father.”
“Your father,” Professor Hunt said. “I don’t understand, Miss Rosenthal. I thought your father was dead …?”
“My father,” Sarah said coldly, “is Sheriff of Firelands County, Colorado, and I believe you know the man personally.” Sarah’s smile was thin, her features tight. “He taught me how to conduct a successful prosecution. Besides” – she turned to the side, allowing the Professor to see beyond her, and up the staircase – “I believe you should be introduced to my mother, and to my stepfather. Bonnie Rosenthal, owner of the House of McKenna dress and fashion works, this is Professor T. Joseph Hunt, my instructor. Past Agent Levi Rosenthal, I believe you already know your old instructor.”

Levi picked Willis up off the floor by his lapels and introduced him to the wall hard enough to shake the wall: Hugh Beymer, the hotel’s detective, regarded the scene with a bored expression, while the desk clerk wrung his hands in obvious distress.
Those patrons in the lobby stared; the dining room was half empty now, and gawking humanity clogged its broad doorway, taking in the excitement that came tumbling, shouting and beating down the grand staircase.
Levi searched Willis quickly, efficiently, divesting him of a number of items, including a small notebook, which he handed to Sarah.
She examined the notebook, flipping quickly through its pages, then raised cold eyes to Willis.
On its last page, a quick scribble:
New York Herald.
Ragdoll?

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Linn Keller 5-23-12

 

The Sheriff rocked slowly, gently, his sleeping grandboy on his lap and wrapped in strong, manly arms.
The Sheriff leaned his head back against the high back of the rocker, smiling a little as Annette played their piano, played it gently: it was a guaranteed lullaby for their active little boy, and it was proving relaxing to the cuddled towhead's grandpater as well.
Jacob smiled quietly, looking up from Ecclesiastes: he'd read the same column three times, but could not focus on it: he kept wondering about Sarah, and how she was faring in the big city.
She's probably doing fine, he thought.
Like as not she's dancing with a handsome young man, or modeling her Mama's gowns on stage, or she may have found a spirited horse to ride.
He smiled at the memory of watching her flow over the high rail fence on her big black Frisian.

The desk sergeant regarded the Banty hen of a little girl in front of him rather skeptically.
If it were not for the presence of Levi Rosenthal with her -- a man he knew, a man he trusted, a man with whom he'd worked and on not a few cases -- he might be inclined to dismiss the pale-eyed young woman: a few quiet words from Levi, and he looked at the girl with new respect, but still with surprise: the astonishment on his face only increased as he examined the credentials she handed him.
He knew Willis was locked up on a 24 hour hold until earlier that afternoon; it was not evening yet, and the miscreant was back, and this time with formal charges, and rather serious charges at that.
The sergeant sighed and dipped his pen and started the paper work.

Sarah's spine was stiff with disapproval, her chin high and her expression severe: she was still a lovely young woman in her fine McKenna gown and elaborate coiffure, but her eyes snapped and her glare was fit to slice a careless man in two -- something Levi could not appreciate, as Sarah had his arm, and the two of them returned to the carriage outside the police-station.
Sarah ascended the carriage carefully, daintily, as befit a lady; Levi, seeing Sarah settled, climbed in the other side with a quick step and a swing of his leg, something a man could do with impunity: the driver clucked at the sleepy looking mare, and they set out with traffic, heading back for their hotel.
Silence grew long in the carriage, Sarah's hand still wrapped under and upon Levi's forearm, until she shifted her weight to turn toward him a little and she said quietly, "Thank you."
He looked down at her and smiled.
"You're welcome," he murmured, "though I'm not sure quite why."
Sarah took a long breath, turned her gaze forward.
"You taught me to persevere," she said quietly. "You taught me not to give up."
"I see."
"Driver," Sarah said suddenly, "do you know the club?" -- she named a gentleman's club, and not the highest reputed club, but the driver knew it, and it was not far out of their way.
"There's someone I have to see," she said, "and I will need your help getting in."
"Of course," Levi said, puzzled: "I know the club as well ... and you want to go there?"
"I have business there," Sarah said shortly, and Levi raised an eyebrow, but offered no further comment.
They drew up before the club: Sarah instructed the driver to wait, that they would not be more than four minutes: the top-hatted driver nodded, touching his hat-brim with his whip, and Sarah took Levi's arm once more.

The Sheriff's eyes opened and his expression was gentle.
Annette's fingertips were light on his jaw, and he shook his head carefully.
"It's all right," he whispered, standing: "I'll put him to bed," and Annette drew back a little, smiling: she'd been ready to pick up the lad and pack him off to his bunk, but if ol' Gwampa wanted to tend that detail, she was content to let him.

Sarah and the dancer embraced, laughing: each seized one of Levi's hands and they pulled him back the little hallway and into the dressing room.

As Sarah and Levi drove back to the hotel from the club, Sarah was noticeably more relaxed: she laughed and Levi smiled to her her laugh, for she sounded so very much like her mother: he looked at his stepdaughter and asked, "Just how do you know that place?"
"I borrowed their dancer -- the one who had my dress," Sarah explained.
"And what about the bouncer that came back to the dressing room, ready to throw me out on my ear?"
Sarah laughed again, her eyes bright and merry.
The bouncer had indeed come into the dressing-room, probably believing some debauchery was going on: the only debauchery allowed in the Club was with the regular girls, and the House got a cut of the take: Sarah stepped in front of the man, struck a pose and drummed her heels in a quick staccato: the dancer said "Catch!" and tossed her a pair of castanets, and Levi's eyes widened as he watched his diminutive, slender, athletic stepdaughter go from a proper, stern, rigid and inflexible lady of breeding and quality, to a lithe, seductive Spanish seductress, in a tenth of a second or less.
The bouncer, too, stared, then grinned.
Sarah tossed the castanets back to the dancer and patted the bouncer on the chest with the flat of her hand.
"Thank you so much for that Spanish guitar," she said quietly: "I have not danced that well in years," and the bouncer reddened and nodded: the dancer handed Sarah a paper wrapped package, tied with red string, and Sarah gave the muscled enforcer a mischevious wink: "I borrowed your dancer, too, and she wore my dress for the occasion." She patted the package. "I need to wear it tomorrow."
The bouncer looked over her head at Levi, his expression gone from serious to curious.
"May I introduce my stepfather, Agent Levi Rosenthal," Sarah said. "Father, this is Benjamin, and he is a friend of mine."
"Rosenthal, you old trouble maker," Benjamin greeted him, grinning, "how in seven hells have you been?"
"Never better, Ben!" Levi declared, taking the man's extended hand. "I don't feel quite so bad about my little girl coming to the Club now that I know you're still here!"
"Oh, don't you worry about her," Benjamin nodded. "Word has it she takes care of things." He gave Levi a knowing look. "You taught her well."
"Now, Father," Sarah said innocently, "I couldn't very well come here unescorted, now, could I? That just wouldn't be proper! Besides" -- she looked at the dancer, winked -- "I thought you might like to see Benjamin again!"
"How did ...?" Levi asked, pointing from Benjamin to himself and back again, confused.
"Ah, we have our ways," Sarah said innocently, looking bright-eyed at the dancer. "Thank you again for your help!"
"Honey, any time," she laughed. "Whenever you want to shake your trotters on my stage, come in and welcome!"
Sarah laughed, and Levi looked at the dancer, at his little girl, at the bouncer, somewhere between shocked, scandalized, surprised and just a little proud that Sarah was skilled enough to be invited to dance on stage.
Just as quickly he shoved the thought from himself, for decent women didn't do anything of the sort.

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Linn Keller 5-24-12

 

Denver at night had a different quality.
It was cooler, and on occasion a draught of good clean mountain air would sweep in unexpectedly, surging down the shallow, man made canyons, displacing the city stink: Sarah stopped, and smiled, closing her eyes and tightening her hand on her stepfather's arm.
For a moment she could almost imagine she were back in Firelands.
There was a shout, a shot, and not far away; Sarah's reverie burst like a soap-bubble on dry grass, and Levi knew -- as he turned left, his hand slipping inside his coat -- that Sarah's eyes were swinging to the right, and she too would have a handful of hidden persuasion, ready to bring into play as needed.
The driver snapped the reins lightly, paying no attention to the sudden noise: he was careful with his mare, unlike others they'd seen: Levi speculated that he must own the mare, and so took better care than if he were driving a rented nag.
They drove on a couple blocks past the roistering, smoky tavern where the noise probably originated: the streets were longer than Firelands, aye, and there were more gas lights, but they were just as inefficient, just as ineffective: they marked a prosperity but they were simple gas flames, and not large enough to be particularly effective: still, loafers gathered by ones and twos around the lamp posts, where the weak light wavered on the walkway and street below.
He felt Sarah relax a little.
"Sarah?"
"Yes?"
"Sarah ... back there at the club ... just what dance did they mean ... and what about 'shake your trotters'?"
Sarah laughed, her hand tightening on her stepfather's arm.
"Shake your trotters," she sighed. "It's an Irish expression. Your trotters are your feet. I must have danced well enough to be invited back."
Levi turned to his stepdaughter, laid a big, warm hand on her gloved hand: his eyes and his voice were serious.
"Sarah," he said quietly, "I don't want you dancing in public. It's ... not decent."
"Neither is seducing a banker's wife, Samuel, or have you forgotten Mrs. Stone's disappointment in the courtroom?"
Levi felt the blood run out of his face.
"You seduced a married woman, Levi. You pretended to be a banker from back East, Samuel J. Beulah, and you promised her you would take her away from her womanizing, card playing, hard drinking cheat of a husband who was being investigated for bank fraud. Your testimony put the man in prison for twenty years, and he was not a young man, and you saw the woman's face as you described particularly the ... details ... she'd confided in you when you two were ..." Sarah looked at her stepfather, her eyes hard, unforgiving -- "intimate."
"See here," Levi protested, and Sarah cut him off with a finger pressed against his lips.
"Levi," she said, her voice low, intense, "you live in a glass house, so don't you dare throw stones. In our line of work we have to do things. We may not be proud of them but we must do them for the greater good."
Sarah's eyes were polished quartz, bright, cold and hard: her face was set, just as hard and just as cold.
"Now."
Sarah withdrew the gloved fingers she'd pressed against the man's face, from mustache to chin.
"I was in disguise, Levi. I wore a half-veil so no one could see my face. I wore a Spanish fandango dress and I don't think anyone looked any higher than my legs." Sarah's smile was as cold and inflexible as the flesh around her eyes. "You know the sight of a woman's ankles -- barely the ankles as she steps over a curb-stone, or up a step -- will fire a young man's desire. Imagine a room full of men at drink and debauchery, and a good looking woman is on stage showing her legs from the knees down!"
Sarah's voice was a whisper now: she well knew the womanly way of guaranteeing a man's undivided and very close attention, by whispering her words.
"Besides" -- her voice was still a whisper, but her eyes changed: no longer hard, no longer stony, he saw mischief sparkling in their pale depths -- "it was necessary as I was working a case!"
Levi regarded his stepdaughter with a shocked expression, as if seeing her for the first time, or perhaps realizing for the first time that his pretty little girl wasn't ... wasn't just a pretty little girl.
He turned, facing forward again, staring blindly at the back of the driver's black swallowtailed coat.
"Dear God," he whispered, his mouth suddenly dry, "what have I done?"

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Linn Keller 5-25-12

 

There are times when mother and daughter discuss a matter of conflict by standing and shouting at one another, by icy silences punctuated by abbreviated, tightly-controlled motions akin to vicious slashes of the air; in such moments, words are exchanged that incise more cruelly than a blade, cut deeper than any sword, pierce the heart with wounds that make both wish for death.
There are other times when mother and daughter have tea and quiet conversation, and the mother can see a situation through the daughter's eyes, and, perhaps, vicariously re-live a forbidden moment, remembering what it was like to be young and full of adventure, and perhaps take a tiny nibble of that promising, inviting fruit, forbidden but alluring.
We will, for the most part, respect the privacy and intimacy shared by mother and daughter, and say only that the maid watched as the pair conversed quietly and sipped tea, talked more in low voice, leaning a little toward one another: there were moments when one's eyes, or the other's, grew larger, and round; hands went to lips, there were fleeting expressions on mobile and feminine faces -- surprise, astonishment, distress, delight, amusement -- and finally, whatever matter the two wished to explore, discuss, dissect, weigh, consider and conclude, was finished without a single shreik, shout, slap, thrown tea-pitcher or broken tea-cup.
Levi discreetly absented himself from this moment, for his own feelings were quite conflicted.
The memory of his successful investigation and prosecution of a crooked banker, he knew, was good: his memory of pretending to be a banker from back East, and the ease with which he seduced a woman upset over her philandering husband, a woman who wanted merely to be held, to be comforted, to be reassured that normalcy would once more be hers ... well, Levi's assumed identity provided those things, and the seduction was easy ... and he found the seduction to his liking.
It was not until his testimony, when he revealed his true name and stated that he had assumed the identity of a fictional banker from a non-existent bank, that he looked across the courtroom and saw the woman he had so cruelly betrayed.
The fact that he did not state, for the record, that he'd seduced a subject's wife, nor that the details she'd volunteered were whispered to him while they lay in one another's passion-dampened arms, were mentioned in court.
They didn't have to be.
The woman made no attempt at hiding her face from him or anyone, and all who saw her, attributed her grief to her husband's prosecution: the Denver police-sergeant knocked on Levi's door that evening and handed him an envelope, addressed in a rather shaky, feminine hand.
"From the banker's wife," the Sergeant said quietly, not meeting Levi's eyes: "she hanged herself."
Levi kept her suicide note: it never entered into his official reports, nor did it into the official police reports: as a matter of fact, Levi still had it, locked away in a place where he kept things he wished would never see the light of day again.
At some time in future, he knew, he would have to ask Sarah if she'd been into his locked box, in the safe, under the table in Bonnie's office, concealed with a table cloth.

Bonnie looked side-long at her husband, then back to Sarah.
"I know you danced every day when the family Vega y Vega were in town," she whispered, "and I suspected you were learning the fandango ... tell me, is there a studio here in the City that teaches it?"
Sarah's eyes were bright and knowing.
"Mother," she whispered back, "this is the City. You can buy anything in the City." Sarah glanced at Levi, pretending nonchalance as he read the evening paper. "I know a shop ... tomorrow we'll get you the proper shoes, a mantilla and a dress, and the proprietor has a room in back where he can teach you the basic steps. Besides, I need a set of castanets." Sarah's eyes flashed dangerously. "My dress is too small to fit you, but would you like to see it? I'm sure you'll like it!"
Bonnie's eyes, too, were bright.
"Levi has a weakness for Spanish dress and the fandango," she whispered, and Sarah could hear the ... warmth ... in her Mama's voice.
"Yes," Bonnie said suddenly, her voice changed a little, and Sarah recognized something more in her Mama's words than a simple affirmation: she heard more than the deep affection her Mama felt for her husband.
Sarah suppressed a smile.
She'd just confirmed something she'd suspected for some time.
Sarah filed away the man's weakness in her mental Book of Useful Knowledge.

Terry Scott hung his saddle off the indicated sidestall, the bridle on its nearby peg; the gimp-legged hostler whistled almost inaudibly as he started brushing Scott's dun.
"You ain't from Texas, now are ye?" Shorty asked, frowning: he dragged up a peach crate, stood and examined the dun's back, frowning harder.
"No," the man replied, twisting a little, the way a man will when he's been too long straddling the kak.
Shorty brushed lightly at the dun's back, then stepped down, picked up a forehoof and frowned again, shaking his head.
"They was a fella in here some time back," Shorty muttered, "an' he looked at the Sheriff's mare and ast him if he was from Texas." Shorty pulled out a square cornered scraper; Scott heard the man working on his horse's hoof, grunting as whatever it was proved to be just dirt.
"He said only a Texan take such good care of his hoss."
Terry nodded, too tired to grin.
"You look about used up, fella." Shorty set the dun's leg down, caressed it with knowing fingers: satisfied, he nodded, straightened.
"Th' Silver Jewel yonder ain't bad," he said. "Good grub, free lunch if you ain't got much. Even got hot water iffen you'd like yer Saturday night bath."
Scott looked across the distance between the livery and the Jewel.
"That don't sound bad," he admitted. "I ain't had a bath in some time."
"I had my Saturday night bath here about two weeks ago," Shorty nodded wisely. "It don't pay to over-do these things, y' understand." He fixed the stranger with bright and ornery eyes. "I've heard it said, and I hold it to be true, that too much bathin' can weaken yew."
Cousin Terry stared at Shorty.
"You didn't know an old feller named Kemper Laddie, by any chance?"
Shorty blinked.
"No ... no, stranger, attair's what the Sheriff told me some time back."
Shorty's eyes shifted to the broad alley between the Jewel and the municipal building.
"Matter of fact there he is, likely goin' in fer supper. I jest seed him pass on th' main street yonder."

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Linn Keller 5-25-12

 

"And I say it can't be done!"
Utter those words in an establishment where cards, chips, roulette-wheel, the chuck-a-luck, dice and coin all sing the seductive syllables of gambling, and instantly you attract the attention of those with coin in hand who are willing to bet on whatever it is you're allowing is not possible.
The tall, pale-eyed deputy smiled quietly.
"Now was you not a man of the law," the fellow said, poking a stiff finger into Jacob's belly, "I would call you a liar and to your face."
Jacob's face never lost its smile.
"Poke me one more time, mister," he said pleasantly, "and I will ask Mr. Baxter for a slice of bread."
The fellow stopped in mid-poke, peered at the quiet young man who was proving so hard to offend.
"A slice of bread?"
"Yes, sir," Jacob said quietly.
"What for?"
Jacob's smile broadened.
"Poke me once more and I break off that finger and feed it to you."
The fellow appeared to consider, then drew the finger back as if to poke the deputy one more time.
He didn't.
A cold cascade of beer down the back of his neck -- and his collar, yanked hard against his wind pipe from behind -- was enough of a distraction that his digit did not depart.
Daisy's girl pulled hard enough on the back of the man's shirt, as a matter of fact, that not only did she get most of a mug of beer down his spine, he staggered back off balance: the girl skipped back, into the welcoming arms of another patron, who like the belly poking better, was rather the worse for drink: the fellow with whom she found herself entangled, however, was a bit more sensible: his hands clasped her elbows only, he held her just long enough to steady her from falling, and in the gentlest of voices he murmured, "Your pardon, my Lady," lifting his hat in a most genteel manner.
"Now if you would care to put some money where your tongue is a-flappin'," Jacob said mildly, reaching into a vest pocket and addressing the laughing onlookers in a voice calculated to penetrate the audible confusion that was the Jewel at full run: "I've got a pair of double eagles says I can split a playing card left handed at twenty feet. Who wants the bet?"

The Sheriff grinned at his guest, reaching for the man's shoulder as he came into the kitchen.
"Cousin Terry Scott, may I present my wife, Esther."
Cousin Terry took Esther's hand a little awkwardly; Esther, recognizing the man as good hearted if not of the gentility, gave his hand a warm clasp in return.
"Family is precious in these parts," she said, her Carolina accent delicate and gentle: "we are so happy you are with us!"
"Set yourself down," the Sheriff invited. "Mary doesn't fool around when she fixes breakfast!"
Terry sniffed appreciatively at bacon and eggs, good home made bread and coffee: after the spread the maid threw out on short notice the night before, he was sure he'd not be hungry for a month at least, but found to his delight that a woman cooked meal was something he could still enjoy, even if it was much less than a month since the last time he set down in this same kitchen.
"Now what in God's earth brings you this far West?" the Sheriff asked, adding a long shot of cream to his coffee.
Esther didn't fail to note that he did not add any whiskey to the coffee.
She made a mental note to ask him later how his head aches had been.
"Wasn't much back home," he said. "Farm's wore out, cattle sold off, they's no oil in that part of the country, Uncle Roger sold the coal minin' rights an' that's spent." He took a cautious sip of his coffee. "Oh my, that's good," he whispered: most of what he'd drunk as coffee for the past year was flavorful as iron filings in boiled up oak bark.
"I sold what was left and drifted West. Punched cattle, drifted with the herds. Froze my butt off, boiled my hide raw, got snake bit, shot at, cussed out an' never did find me no pleasure so I figured, hell, why not try the high country. I heard they was a gold strike over toward Cripple but I was so tired of settin' my backside in a saddle, why, when I come t' your town I allowed as it was time to set on somethin' other than leather for a while."
The Sheriff nodded, looked sharply at Terry.
"I ain't heard from home for a coon's age," he said. "How is Uncle Roger?"
Terry's eyes changed and the Sheriff knew his Uncle Roger was now part of the earth, rather than farming it.
"He died here some years back, him and Mama both."
"Aunt Hazel," the Sheriff said slowly, as if saying goodbye.
Terry nodded. "She didn't last a month after he passed. We buried 'em side by side, the way they wanted."
The Sheriff nodded.
"So tell me about yourself! Good God, man, last I heard you'd whipped a whole family of men an' took the only woman they had, you run off to the Yankee flat country and raised a passel of young'uns an' got run out of town for runnin' a moon shine still!"
The Sheriff laughed, shaking his head.
"I didn't whip more'n six 'r eight of 'em," he said, "an' I left the moon shinin' to my Granddad, rest his soul, but yeah you heard rightly." He sighed. "Then there come the War an' I got back after that in time to bury our little girl. My wife died a week before I got back. Small pox, y'understand."
Terry's eyes were haunted: he'd heard of the cholera epidemic up north, the mass graves, a refugee train that left Sandusky a ghost town.
Small pox, now, he'd known himself, and had to dig his own graves after it ripped through Ohio.
"I drifted too," the Sheriff continued quietly. Lawman, after the war. Come out here an' quit driftin' and I don't reckon to leave til they plant me."
Terry nodded, then smiled at the maid as she set another plate of bacon and eggs before him.
"Linn, I never took you for a law dog."
The Sheriff shrugged, buttered a thick slab of warm bread.
"Trust me to cause trouble."
"Now speakin' of trouble," Terry said as a thought came to mind, "what ever happened to that deputy last night?"
The Sheriff's smile was slow as he remembered the previous evening.
"Well, y'see," he drawled, "that feller at the bar allowed as a man might use a pistol for a club in a bar fight an' it might be accurate across a camp fire but that was about it."
Terry nodded; he was never much good with a pistol himself.
"The deputy allowed as he could split a playin' card at twenty feet, edge wise, an' the fella come within an ace of callin' the deputy a liar.
"Words were spoken, money bet, they went out back an' he set up four playin' cards edge wise, and a candle behind 'em and to the side for it was near to dark."
"I know there was some shootin'," Cousin Terry said slowly. "I didn't go out."
The Sheriff smiled.
"I laid money on it too, so did nearly everyone there, but everyone bet on the deputy, me included.
"Out of five shots, he split all four cards and snuffed the candle.
"The candle wasn't part of the bet.
"If that poor fellow had to pay off every bet laid ag'in him, why, he'd be bankrupt for ten years or more, so we let him go an' didn't take his money."
Cousin Terry frowned a little.
"A bet is a bet, isn't it?"
"Oh, don't worry," the Sheriff said, picking up a crisp slice of bacon. "That stranger lost it all at poker later that night."

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Linn Keller 5-27-12

 

Sarah's eyes glittered brightly in the little room.
Her moves were slow, smooth, calculated: it had been most of an hour, and so far she had not said a word.
The officers were withdrawn from the interrogation room; Mr. Willis sat, shirtless, arms cuffed behind, secured to the heavy wooden chair: he was sweating, his face was discolored, evidently from previous questioning by the regular constabulary.
The Denver Police Department's methods of extracting information from a suspect were simple, crude and marginally effective: thus far, Willis had not cracked.
He did not know if it was day or night; the stone-walled room was underground, part of a secure facility where prisoners were brought, hooded, and kept isolated, between interrogations: it was a place spoken of in whispers by the prison population, officially it did not exist, unofficially it was feared.
Willis suspected this is where he'd ended up.
Sarah tilted her head a little, walked slowly behind the man, studying him as an entomologist might study an insect pinned to a cork.
"Mr. Willis," she said quietly, "you intended to pay me a visit."
She continued pacing, her hard little heels loud on the stone floor.
"You had a hood and silk cords with you, several lengths, just right for binding a prisoner."
He glared up at her as she passed slowly, leisurely, in front of him.
His chair was the only furnishing in the silent, airless little room. There were no windows, there was the one heavy, steel-strapped door, carefully fitted into the doorway: the hinges and locking latch were on the outside, with a small, barred window at eye level, currently shut.
"You had a lead filled leather sap and you had a pistol, you had a cloth ball made up for a gag. Tell me, sir" -- she whirled suddenly, facing him squarely, standing directly in front of him -- "what were your intentions?"
He glared at her, lip snarled up on one corner: "You go to hell," he said huskily.
"You probably expect me to use a belt on you," Sarah said quietly, almost pleasantly. "Or a razor strop, or maybe you think I'll ask for a club and break several of your bones."
"You wouldn't dare."
Sarah's smile was icy.
"Do not challenge me, Mr. Willis," she whispered, her sibilance clearly audible in the oppressing silence.
"I have absolutely no conscience, sir. I could kill you slowly and most painfully and take a week to do it, and when I was done, I could wash my hands, have a pleasant dinner and sleep like the babe innocent." Her eyes were glitter-bright behind her round schoolmarm spectacles. "I've done it before, and not only once."
"You're a liar."
"Am I?" Sarah bent at the waist, hands on her knees, her face level with the prisoner's.
"Do you know, Mr. Willis," she said conversationally, "I killed my first man when I was but ten years old." Her smile was warmer now, as if speaking of something she recalled with affection. "I walked up to him and called him names that would make a stevedore blush and then I emptied a .44 revolver into him."
"I don't believe you."
"I think you do, Mr. Willis, and you've been trying to find out more about me."
She whirled.
"You think you can sell the story of the Ragdoll to the newspapers."
Sarah turned, looked the man squarely in his face, and felt a surge of triumph as Willis's eyes betrayed him.
The man blinked, looked away, but Sarah knew she'd found a telling truth.
"The Ragdoll does exist, you know," she said, straightening and beginning her slow circuit of the room. "I know her, as a matter of fact." She smiled pleasantly, turning suddenly to pace the other way, staying in front of the prisoner instead of orbiting his shackled carcass.
"She had a unique characteristic, a particular identifier," Sarah said, tilting her head a little as if lecturing a slow student.
Sarah raised her hand, bent over again, traced her finger across Willis's left cheek, from the inside corner of his eye to the corner of his mouth: her gloved finger stroked him lightly, gently, and he smelled the lavender of her scent.
"She has a scar, Mr. Willis," Sarah said, her eyes bright. "It is a clean, curved line, from the corner of her eye to the corner of her mouth. She made a mistake, Mr. Willis, and did not believe her opponent as skilled as ..."
Sarah's voice trailed off and she stood up straight again.
"I haven't seen her for two years," she added softly. "I heard she was in Mexico." Her voice was softer, almost sad as she added, "I miss my sister."
Sarah looked to the ceiling, took a long breath, blew it out.
"I suppose you're wondering what happened that day in the schoolroom when you left me chained to that heavy oak chair."
Willis grunted, looked away.
"I escaped, Mr. Willis. I escaped in the same manner you could effect your own escape right now. I escaped because I did something you refuse to do."
Willis glared steadfastly at the wall to his right.
"I admitted that something could happen, Mr. Willis. I admitted that I could be overpowered, taken, seized." Her words were quiet, carefully spaced, precisely enunciated.
"I planned accordingly." She smiled wanly. "It is impossible to plan for everything, but one can plan for what is likely, and I knew it likely you would behave ... as you did."
Willis snarled, struggled against the steel grip of the cuffs tight on his wrists.
"Not only did I escape, I joined you."
Sarah opened her hands to show a pair of gleaming black castanets.
"You don't believe me."
"Damn you," Willis hissed, his eyes fierce, smoldering.
Sarah stretched, her hands turning with an impossibly feminine grace: she closed her eyes and her rigid body became suddenly boneless, lithe: the castanets snarled with a life of their own and her heels drummed out a quick cadence, she spun, the vertical lines of her severe schoolmarm's skirt flaring out, allowing her a quick kick, her leg passing over Willis's head, the flare and flow of skirting material preventing display of anything but a quick glimpse of leg.
A very nicely shaped leg, one might add, if one were inclined to notice such things, which, in this moment, Willis was not.
Sarah stopped suddenly, the castanets gone, her posture once more rigid, stern, disapproving.
"Tell me, Mr. Willis," Sarah said quietly. "Tell me what I want to know, and we can get you out of here. Tell me what you planned to do, and you can walk among men again, breathe air and see sunshine, drink coffee and eat breakfast. Tell me, Mr. Willis. Tell me why you planned to do it."

It took three days of isolation, three days of confinement in utter darkness, three days of Sarah's steady, patient, quiet-voiced interrogation, but Willis finally cracked, and when he did, he spilled his absolute guts.
When he did, a police stenographer noted down every heavy-voiced word.
Past Agent Levi Rosenthal sat beside the stenographer, his face the color of wheat paste as he listened to the man's confession.
Agent S. L. Rosenthal's face was impassive, expressionless; she looked like a slender little schoolmarm, her arm once more in its sling as she leaned on her polished ebony cane.
Her face was just as expressionless, just as impassionate, as she gave her testimony in court, and she never changed expression as sentence was passed: when, in the fullness of time, Willis's head was hooded and the noose placed about his neck, Agent S.L. Rosenthal's eyes did not change as the trap thumped open and the body fell to the end of the good hemp rope.

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Charlie MacNeil 5-27-12

 

The old man slid, shadow smooth, through the tall spring grass. The rains of recent weeks and the long-delayed arrival of warmth on the plains had combined to raise the bluestem and gramma to nearly belly-height on a tall Dawg. The breezes of early morning had given way to midday stillness, yet hardly a grass stem moved to betray the presence of the man to any who might be in a position to look as he steadily inched his way toward his goal.

A tiny sound, possibly the grate of leather on sand, perhaps linen cloth brushing softly across weathered granite, or even paws on dried soil, froze Cat Running in place. He listened intently, every fiber of nerve straining for any repeat of that sound, any hint of the presence of another being nearby. After several silent minutes broken only by the twitter and chirp of birds, the rustling of feathers as the avian residents of the area went on with their daily business, he relaxed his vigilance the tiniest degree. Only then did he continue on, the glacial slowness of his movements carrying him incrementally toward his quarry.

Cat Running slipped past a rounded flank of granite and stopped to rest for a moment. He had barely eased his buckskin covered torso to the soft green sod when something hard and round touched the back of his skull, and a soft, Carolina-accented voice said, "Tag, you're it," followed by an equally soft chuckle. Cat Running sat up abruptly.

"You ain't los' your touch, woman," he growled to Fannie, who answered him with a broad grin. "But I hear you back yonder." He hooked a calloused thumb over his shoulder. "Coulda gotcha then."

"That wasn't me," she answered, "that was Dawg. It was all I could do to keep him from pouncing on you." She dropped the stick she had used as a substitute for the gun she would have used on a real intruder, then stood and brushed off the knees and seat of her woolen britches. "I cheated."

The old man pushed himself stiffly to his feet. "Figgered you would. Don't care. Still shoulda beatcha. I'm gettin' too damn old."

Fannie gave him a heart-melting smile, the smile that had stood her in good stead all through her years on the stage and as a law officer. "Not hardly," she said. "Let's head for the house. I'm hungry."

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Linn Keller 5-28-12

 

The Sheriff frowned at the parts laid out in neat order on his desk top.
The Sheriff was a man of regular habits, a man of tidy nature and of an orderly disposition.
Right now his left hand Colt revolver lay in pieces on the desk top, ranked in neat order; each had been carefully cleaned, brushed, wiped, inspected, boiled, oiled, placed; his screwdrivers and other working tools were similarly arranged, and he nodded at the familiar array: his right-hand Colt was holstered, loaded and ready to go, and his left hand Colt was but minutes away from being reassembled, fed and secured for use in its symmetrically opposite carrier.
He picked up the barreled frame and smiled.
They were still warm to the touch.
Carefully, precisely, he placed it upside down on the desk and reached for the ejector rod spring and plunger.

Angela stroked Edi's nose.
Edi was old: Esther inherited the paint mare when Duzy stepped off this mortal coil some years back, and the mare, though regularly ridden, enjoyed mostly a life of leisure: she was groomed and fussed over, fed sweet little apples and soft words, but times takes its toll on all living creatures, and Edi grew old and tired, and now, as the Sheriff's little girl regarded the mare with bright and curious eyes, the mare blinked and snuffed at the child, and Angela drew her hand back and giggled happily.

The Bear Killer wandered into the kitchen of the Silver Jewel, an inky ghost, a shadow, moving with stealth and skill to the far end, where a rumpled blanket was kept under a small, square table.
The Bear Killer smelled fresh biscuits and gravy: as he curled up on the blanket kept there just for him, he licked his chops in happy anticipation.

Jacob's teeth clicked together as his Appaloosa stallion came to earth, stiff legged, hooves bunched and neck down: he crow-hopped a few more times, swapped ends and took out like an arrow launched from a Norman bow.
Jacob leaned over his neck, grinning.
A man likes few things quite as well as bucking out a good saddle horse first thing in the morning.

The Silver Jewel was freshly swept out and mopped, dusted and polished; clean table cloths were smoothed over table tops, chairs slid in just so: the inviting smell of frying bacon hung on the air, and Mr. Baxter considered it might be wise to find a way to pipe those good smells from the kitchen to the outside, for good smells brought customers.

Cousin Terry Scott looked back over his horse's backside toward Firelands, marveling again how small the place looked.
It wasn't near that tiny, he considered, when he was riding down its main street, or standing on the Sheriff's porch, talking quietly with his kinsman about home and family: the clear air this high up probably had something to do with the phenomenon, he knew, but it still surprised him.
He took a long, slow breath, turned, grinning.
He was for Cripple Creek and the gold mines there, and he allowed as he was going to make himself a rich man.
His horse, as usual, was unimpressed with Cousin Terry Scott's declaration.
Neither Cousin Terry, nor Jacob, nor the Sheriff, heard the scream that shattered off granite rocks, the anguished wail of a soul being lost to this world.

Boys tend to gravitate to places where they really shouldn't go.
It's just their nature.
Whether it's climbing the highest tree or a water tower, whether it's swinging out over a pond on a rope or a cut off grape vine and dropping into the water, boys will dare each other -- and themselves -- to go higher, faster, farther, and to the forbidden.
A couple boys from town and three of the Kolascinski lads were upstream from the Kolascinski's tight, well-built cabin, exploring the sloping falls that ended in a cold, deep pool.
One dared another to the edge; there were jeers, catcalls, another lad came up, blustering with bravado until he got to the brink, the moss-slick rim, and decided he really, really did not like the look of that drop.
It was sloping, mostly smooth and water worn: the two boys looked at one another and swallowed hard.
"Yer yella!" one shouted in an attempt to cover his own sudden cowardly streak.
"I ain't yella!" the other flared, pushing the first.
One lad staggered back from the edge, slipped: he landed on his back, threw his arms out, grabbed a rock stub -- safe.
The other backpedaled futilely, slipping inexorably toward the brink, bare feet scrambling in the numbing-cold water.
Both feet shout out at the same moment and he dropped over the edge.
Terror claimed his soul, panic, his lungs: in a human's last moment before utter destruction, in this moment of clear, sudden extremis, the lost soul will pour all of its future, all of its lost hopes, all of its dreams, now shattered, now gone, into one desperate wail, a chilling shreik that sears into the consciousness of any who hear it, a scream that scars the memory and lays cold whip-scars across the heart and resurrects as nightmares and waking chills for many years after.
The dying scream shivered off stone, shattered off cliff-face, was lost in the rush of water.
Anxious boys rushed to either side of the brink, clinging to saplings, tree-trunks, one another, looking down.
None had swum the pool and none could know it was deep and it was sand and gravel bottomed and there was but one dangerous rock and the lad managed to miss it by nothing but pure blind luck.
A handful of boys held their breaths until the victim's head broke surface, slung water with a great toss of his head, blew like a breaching whale: he looked up and yelled "That as fun!"
By evening, every lad made it home, soaking wet, green slime ground into the worn seats of their drawers, chilled and shivering and squelching with every step, but with the glorious memory of taking a running start for the brink, throwing themselves on their butts and sliding on algae-greased backsides over the brink and dropping about ten miles before hitting the cold pool below.

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Linn Keller 5-30-12

 

Sarah sat still, unmoving, giving the same general appearance as a cat relaxed in the sunshine, perched in a windowsill.
Professor T. Joseph Hunt cleared his throat, polished his spectacles, stalling for a few moments, while the class watched him expectantly.
He held his pince-nez up toward the window, frowning a little, then cleared his throat.
"You may be wondering," he began, "about the events of the past day or two."
The silence in the classroom was absolutely resounding.
"It seems that our Mr. Willis was, ah, less than discreet."
A few of the men glanced over toward Sarah.
"Not only did Mr. Willis induce two of his fellows into a most unwise course of action" -- Professor Hunt glared at Sarah -- "it seems that he followed his actions with ... ahhmmm ..."
Sarah looked up at the Professor, her expression calm.
"Do you tell them, sir, or shall I?" she said, her voice pleasant and musical: lifting a sheaf of papers, she added, "I can even read the official charges, if you wish."
Professor Hunt looked as if he'd just bitten into something distasteful.
"No, Miss Rosenthal," the Professor said slowly. "The responsibility is at least partially mine."
"With respect, sir," Sarah interrupted, "you are not to blame, nor are you culpable in this matter. Your intention was to assign a task, not to induce another to commit a capital offense."
Looks were exchanged and Sarah, without moving her head, lip-read the whispers: "Capital offense?" and "What the hell happened?" and "What did they do?"
Professor Hunt cleared his throat uncomfortably.
"Gentlemen, it seems that an attempt was made to abduct our Agent Rosenthal from her residence. The ... Mr. Willis," he hesitated, stopping just short of saying "the criminal" -- "Mr. Willis confessed to an intent to abduct, torture and ..."
Professor Hunt stopped, swallowed.
"Say it," Sarah said quietly. "Or I will."
Professor Hunt shook his head, his eyes on the floor.
Sarah stood.
She wore her customary schoolteacher's attire, made the more severe by the pallor of her face and the ice in her eyes.
"Mr. Willis," Sarah said, her voice cold, then smiled grimly -- "Pardon me while I spit! -- intended to cause me harm." She bent quickly, brought her carpet bag to the table: she seized its bottom, inverted it, dumped its contents on the table before her, then tossed the carpet bag to the floor, a severe departure for her normally organized and tidy approach.
She picked up a neatly coiled length of black silk line.
"This, gentlemen, is silk," she said, untying it, snapping it like a whip, flipping its full length across the table. "Pound for pound, silk is as strong as steel. Wrapped tightly around a subject's wrists, they hold more securely than handcuffs."
Sarah picked up a cloth ball with long tails.
"This is a gag. Thrust between the teeth, it fills the mouth and prevents the subject from making any but a muffled, little, grunt."
Her words were spaced, framed, enunciated with precision, her lip curling with contempt.
She picked up a slender bladed knife.
"He confessed to the particulars of his intended tortures."
Professor Hunt's expression was clearly uncomfortable.
"He intended to incise my face, to carve his mark on my beauty. His words."
Sarah sketched the planned cut with the tip of the knife, near but not quite touching her clear, healthy complexion.
"Here," she said, "at the corner of the eye, slicing the tear duct so it would heal shut and cause the eye to perpetually weep, weep for my beauty lost."
Sarah drove the knife into the tabletop.
The sound was loud in the classroom.
"He discussed how he intended to lift my fingernails with the blade. His words. Lift the fingernails." Her smile was thin, her eyes pale, very pale. "Gentlemen, have you ever had a splinter under the fingernail? I understand it is a very effective interrogation technique, driving a hatpin under a thumbnail. Imagine this with all ten fingers, only use a knife, working it back under the nail until the nail comes off the finger."
Sarah looked every man there squarely in the eye.
"This with the wrists crossed and tied behind the back, bent over a hitch post with my ankles tied wide apart and a line around my neck, keeping me bent over.
"He then described how he would use the knife to remove what I was wearing."
The dragon surged and coiled powerfully, spreading blood-fire wings over a blasted landscape: Sarah pushed it back down into its bottle, shoved the cork into the bottle's neck.
"His description that followed can be imagined."
Sarah pulled the sling over her head, brought her arm out: a knife appeared between thumb and foregfinger, gleaming, bright; it was a magician's move, sleight of hand.
Sarah regarded the shining steel as she walked slowly out from behind the table: she reached up with her off hand, drew down the rolled-up illustration, a schoolteacher's move, pulling it down against spring tension until it latched.
Sarah took a few steps toward the class, still turning the knife on her finger tips.
"His confession placed his neck in a hemp noose; his execution will be in a week or so. You're invited, if you'd like. I'll be there."
Sarah swept the class slowly with her pale gaze, turned to look at Professor Hunt, resumed her slow pace.
"We are here to learn to be detectives, to learn to be enforcers of the law, to be those to whom others look for justice.
"This is an immense trust.
"We are given more leeway, more latitude than the average police officer.
"With great authority comes great responsibility, and gentlemen, I know what responsibility feels like."
Sarah turned, paced slowly back along the front of the front row of tables, still turning the knife on the tips of her fingers.
"I remember hearing my father reciting a lecture when he thought no one was near to hear, and a phrase stuck with me -- "avoiding petty piques and quarrels" -- gentlemen, such matters are far too tempting. If you find yourself being drawn into such, far better to surrender your badge and disappear into the masses, become just another faceless citizen, than to betray the trust invested in you."
Sarah stopped.
"Because, believe me, if you decide you are bigger, meaner, faster or deadlier than someone else--"
Sarah turned, slashing backhand as if throwing a tea-saucer edge-on --
"Someone you pick on will be meaner, faster and deadlier than you can imagine!"
The class regarded the knife sticking out of the rolled-down illustration of the human form, and a cold chill trickled down every spine as Sarah turned and threw the other two knives.
The third knife went through the picture's face, precisely between its eyes.
The second knife drove through the center of the figure's breastbone.
And the first knife she threw drove precisely through a spot immediately below the illustration's belt buckle.
Every man in that classroom cringed.

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Linn Keller 5-31-12

 

"I understand Sarah is bringing her class here to Firelands."
"Do tell."
The Sheriff took a noisy sip of coffee, brushed the clinging drops into his greying lip broom.
"I reckon they figure they can learn things as well here as sittin' in a stuffy class room."
Jacob smiled, remembering Sarah's note to him.
"I would look for any excuse to get out of that city," Jacob said slowly.
The Sheriff's eyes sparkled over the rim of his cup.
"Why do you think I live here and not there?"
Jacob chuckled, nodding.
Angela stood patiently beside her brother, big eyes wide and solemn, until Jacob could pretend to ignore her no longer.
He picked her up, slid back from his father's table a little and set his little sis on his lap.
Angela giggled and ran her finger over Jacob's dark, soft mustache.
Jacob pretended to bite her finger with a "Rowf!" and Angela jerked her hand back, giggling.

The Bear Killer flowed up the steps to the schoolhouse door, slipping in between youthful legs; the tikki-tikki-tik of canine claws on clean plank floor was lost entirely with the confusion of young feet and books and giggles and excited voices.
Emma Cooper nodded to her young charges; she'd rung the bell and marched to the front of the room, confident that the last stragglers would follow: she pretended to ignore the big, black, furry straggler that trotted to the front and sat down beside her as if he owned the place.

Daciana brushed Buttercup, smiling, humming a little the way she did before a performance: she wore her circus costume, the tights, the brief, stand-out skirt, the ballet slippers, carefully crisscrossed and tied in symmetrical bows at precisely the same height.

Sarah stood at the head of the passenger car, looking very much the schoolteacher: lifting her chin, she pitched her schoolteacher's voice to carry to the rear of the car.
"Firelands," she said, "is the land of my nativity. The people there are as people anywhere, no better and no worse. You will see folk who work for a living, some with hard manual labor, some with skill, some with luck."
"Gamblers," one of the men whispered to his seat-mate, and his mate nodded.
"You may expect to see horsemen and gamblers, ranchers and ranch hands; you will very likely meet the county Sheriff and the town Marshal, and unless I miss my guess, the Mayor." Sarah's smile was warm and innocent as she continued, "He likes to meet distinguished visitors such as yourselves. You'll know him right away: he wears a satin sash across his pot gut, he struts when he walks, and there is the constant hiss of his ego inflating."
The class chuckled and nodded; they all knew exactly what she was talking about: politicians of the age were all of a kind.
"We don't have a brass band in town, at least not yet," she continued, "for if we did, His Honor the Mayor would doubtless treat you to a parade, a grand and very boring speech, and you would sleep through the rest of your entire visit."
The class laughed quietly, for they had seen this as well.
Sarah's head turned slightly at the engine's whistle; she shifted her weight: beneath the severe skirt, her feet were shoulder width apart and one foot ahead of the other, a boxer's footing, and for the same reason: her young legs soaked up the car's sway, and when the air brakes sighed and klunked beneath their feet, Sarah's stance allowed her to appear motionless despite the deceleration.


Jacob stacked the dozen tin cans ready to hand, drew his left hand Colt and loaded a sixth round.
The Sheriff balanced a green melon on the last of the ten fence posts, looked back at the other posts with their verdant toppers, looking like skinny, immature scarecrows, and nodded.
Daciana shoved the door aside and sunlight flooded her spacious exercise arena.
The Lady Esther's whistle followed the sunlight into the open expanse, and Daciana smiled.
She turned, placed her satin slipper's toe delicately into the stirrup, swung aboard her gaudy, polished, gleaming circus saddle.
"Showtime," she whispered, the way she always did, and Buttercup, as she always did, danced a little, anxious to be off.

"Please don't think badly of our little town," Sarah said, her voice carrying well on the cool, thin air. "It's quite boring, actually. Nothing ever happens here."
Daciana rode past on Buttercup, one foot on the saddle, her other leg in the air behind her, arms spread like wings.
"If you will come this way, I'll show you the major points of interest. Here, for instance, is the local bank. Beatrice Dean runs it and runs it very well; she also took a broom to the last fellow who tried to rob the place, and I shot the man's partner." Her expression was angelic. "My mama was distressed at such unladylike behavior."
"I've never seen a door on the corner of a building," one of the class murmured.
"That is our schoolhouse," Sarah said, "where I taught for some time and will very likely teach again."
Sarah looked around, frowning.
"I was hoping my dog would be here. He's a furry little puppy --"
The door was thrust open and something big, black and furry came streaking out the door: it was slightly more streamlined than a bear of equal size, but the bay that preceded it was no sound an ursine throat could ever frame.
Feral eyes fixed on Sarah, who stood as a figure in light grey amid a sea of black seersucker: fangs bared, it snarled and bristled, taking a few stiff-legged steps.
Sarah heard an oath behind her: "It's the size of a pony!"
Sarah took a few steps toward it, gesturing the class to stand fast.
"WHAT DID YOU SAY?" she demanded, her voice ringing loud and echoing from the building-fronts.
Fangs and fur and snarl replied to her voice: if ever a canine throat could conjure the obscenities that passed freely from a cowhand's lips, this one did: it took a few more steps toward Sarah, and Sarah raised one fist up beside her right ear, her left hand in front, bladed, ready.
"WHY DON'T YOU COME AND GET IT!" she flared, and men looked at one another, uncertain.
The massive, wild-looking, black-furred hell-dog snarled into a run, launching with a horrible, full-voiced promise to rip the living throat from its intended victim, and Sarah launched herself at the dog as well: young faces peered from the classroom windows, fingers spread on breath-fogged glass like pentagonal starfish.
Sarah ducked, twisted, just as the hell-dog leaped: both turned, crouched, charged again.
This time Sarah seized the big black dog around the rib cage and threw her head back and laughed, and the Bear Killer draped his forepaws over her shoulders and gave her a very thorough, very enthusiastic face washing.
The class could but stand and stare, for it was the first time they'd seen their young schoolmarm laugh.
When Sarah patted the monstrous dog and murmured something, and the dog stood beside her, she looked even more diminutive.
"This is Bear Killer," Sarah said, smiling, and the smile was in her voice as well: "he earned his name the hard way, and Uncle Charlie is the only thing that kept him alive when he tore into the throat of a wounded grizzly."
Sarah looked up.
"Now on my left" -- she raised an arm, pointed -- "is the Silver Jewel. It is the finest hotel, restaurant, tavern and meetinghouse in the Territory, and I say that without exaggeration. You'll find clean beds, good food, cool beer and straight games." The affection in her voice was real, unaffected.
Daciana rode by, her trick pony at a slow gallop, while she did a hand stand on the ornate, silver mounted saddle.
"Nothing ever happens here," Sarah said. "It's boring. Come this way, please."
The class followed her down the alley beside the funeral parlor; they could see the two sets of railroad tracks not far ahead, and a masculine voice yelled "COVER!" as a number two tin can flipped into the air, tumbling end over end in the sunlight, at least until a .44 punched a thumb sized hole through it, boosting it a little higher.
Five more shots shoved it five more times; what finally hit the ground was a good collection of holes, barely held together by a tracery of what used to be tinned steel.
Mouths hung open; elbows pressed into neighbors' ribs, stiff fingers poked incredulously at the slender -- deputy, it was -- who casually punched the empties out of his revolver and reloaded before holstering.
"You," he said, thrusting his chin at one of the class. "Are you right handed or left handed?"
"Right handed," the fellow said, puzzled.
"Right handed it is," Jacob shouted, scooped up another can, flipped it high in the air: he drew his right hand Colt and slip hammered a half dozen times, ventilating this second missile as efficiently as he'd shredded the first.
He holstered, snatched up a second can, slung it hard, snatched up a double gun: the concussion of the double twelve hit the spectators like two fists: they saw the can boost a second time, shredded, and then a Winchester began to bark, the slender deputy firing as quickly as he could work the lever.
By the time the tenth round went through what was now mostly ruined and vacant space, the can was tired of flinching with the passage of lead through its person: what hit the ground looked like shiny, irregular lace.
"This is Jacob Keller," Sarah said, her voice loud, firm in the ringing aftermath of the multiple concussions: "he is Chief Deputy for Firelands County, and he is my brother." Sarah skipped up to Jacob, gave him a hug and a quick kiss on his cheek.
"Don't let my little sis fool you," Jacob grinned, turning a little red: "she is fast and she is deadly and she can kill you so quick she'll have you gutted, bled out and her initials carved on your liver before you realize it!"
Sarah put her knuckles on her hip, shook her Mommy-finger at her brother: "You weren't supposed to tell!" she scolded.
Jacob casually thumbed fresh rounds into his '73 rifle, borrowed from the Sheriff's gunrack for the occasion.
"She can outshoot me," Jacob said frankly, "and make it look easy!"
Sarah picked up a wood block with four playing cards on it, set it on a convenient post, turning it a little so the cards were edge wise to her brother.
"My turn?" Sarah asked impishly, looking like a mischievous little sister.
Jacob drew his right hand Colt, handed it butt first.
Sarah raised her arm ... not so much that Sarah raised the big revolver, it's more like the revolver was part of her arm, and floated up to eye level.
"Let's see this," one of the men whispered.
BANG and a card fluttered to the ground, split in two.
"No!"
BANG and a second card split and fell.
Men looked at one another, looked at Sarah.
BANG and the third card was neatly decapitated, the lower half still in the split dowel.
BANG and the fourth card was similarly abbreviated.
"Did you load five or six?" Sarah asked, cranking back the big stand-up hammer.
BANG and the sawed off card split again.
Clickity click clack click snick.
BANG.
"I loaded six," Jacob said.
"I gathered." Sarah dropped the revolver over her trigger finger, letting it hang upside down for a moment, then flipped it up, handing it handle first to her brother.
Jacob took the revolver, put his arm around Sarah's shoulders.
"I taught her everything I know," Jacob said haughtily, and Sarah slapped him flat-handed on his flat belly.
"Yeah, and it took all of five minutes!" she snapped.
"It did not!" Jacob protested. "It was six minutes anyway!"
"If you'll follow me," Sarah said, raising a hand and gesturing back toward the main street. "Don't expect to see any outstanding examples of horsemanship, either. Nothing ever happens here."
Daciana and Buttercup cantered by, Daciana doing a slow somersault on her saddle, Daciana ending up astride, bent backward like a drawn bow, her head touching the root of her circus pony's tail, one leg pointed out over top Buttercup's neck, a ballerina's move with a ballerina's muscled leg.
"This way, gentlemen. On your left, this stone structure is our Municipal Building; the upper floor also houses the local Masonic Lodge, and beyond it, further toward the schoolhouse and back a little, our hospital, made of the same native quartz. Now back here" -- she pointed -- "is the local livery --"
Sarah's fellow students had no eyes for the livery.
The Sheriff was galloping toward them, his copper mare flying low, punishing the sod with sharp-shod hooves: the clear air let each man see the flared nostrils, the floating mane and tail, the pale, piercing eyes of the rider, and the curve of the cavalry sabre in his fist: he rode full-bore through the double row of fence posts, striking left, right, left, right, hard, practiced swings, splitting the green melons with a truly frightening precision.
The group shrank back a little as horse and rider thundered past them; they could feel the sound of hoofbeats in their chest more than hear them: they turned back from this sight in time to behold the back door of the Silver Jewel bang open, and three men emerge.
Two dangled their toes a foot from the ground and more.
The third man was as broad as any two of them, taller by a head and a half: the man strode like Tarquin across the grassy gap separating them from the livery, and the class stared, pop-eyed, as the giant hauled the protesting, writhing pair by their shirt fronts to the horse trough, and immersed first one, then the other, fetched them out, shook them as a terrier shakes a rat: finally he carried them back up toward the class and stopped.
"Miss Sarah!" Jackson Cooper boomed. "And a good mornin' to ya! You're as lovely as your dear mother!"
Sarah curtsied, blushing a little.
"You must tell me of your studies," Jackson Cooper continued, his voice that of a mountain giant, "but this pair had to be educated as to the folly of cheating and then lying about it."
The class parted -- scattered might be a more accurate term -- and Jackson Cooper resumed his purposeful stride up the broad alley toward the main street.
Neither man's feet had touched any but water and horse-trough since Jackson Cooper brought them out the back of the Jewel, and not a student there failed to note the strength it required for such a feat.
"Gentlemen, you may wish to rest and refresh yourselves after your journey," Sarah continued with an utterly innocent expression. "Let us proceed to the main street again, and into the Jewel, where I am pleased to inform that you are my guests, and your money is no good here."

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Linn Keller 6-2-12

 

The sound was sharp as a pistol-shot, sudden as a slap in the face: every man turned, half of them up on the board walk, a few on the steps and the street, and they stopped and stared as the three-mare hitch swung out of the firehouse, surging hard against their collars, getting up to a gallop before they were straightened out.
Red-shirted Irishmen clung to the gleaming, smoking steam machine, and a giant the size of the town's Marshal stood, reins in hand, a coiling, writhing, hand plaited whip curling overhead: pounding hooves and an Irish tenor seized their attention and they heard the big, red-headed Irishman bellow, "RUN, LADIES, RUN! TH' DIVIL HIMSELF IS ABOUT AN' WE'RE AFTER HIM! RUN!"
The ladder wagon bounced as it swung behind the steam machine, and even at this distance, the class of detectives saw the broad grins of the Irish Brigade beneath their mustaches and above their beards.
Necks craned, heads turned, men leaned over the edge of the boardwalk, searching for the source of the Brigade's alarm: no smoke stained the clear sky, no dirty red tongues roared out broken windows, no hellish cascade jetted up through shake-shingled roofs: the troika drummed hard against the dirt street, breaking chunks out of the hard pack with their efforts, and the shining brass trim on the Ahrens engine flashed in the morning sunlight, smoke rolling out the stubby, blunt stack and trailing behind.
A stray dog came running out, barking; two Dalmatians, one riding on the driver's seat and one barking and pacing the team, added to the spectacle.
The big Irishman driving bellowed "Ho, ladies,ho!" and hauled hard on the brake: Irishmen leaped from the machine, from the ladder, running before they hit the ground: the ladder was snapped loose and six men, gripping the ladder like a lance, charged the funeral parlor: they drove the foot of the ladder into dirt, shoved it upright, over center: an Irishman was scaling the ladder before it passed plumb, was halfway up by the time it went over center, and when the ladder banged against the clapboard between wavy glass windows, the Irishman was at its apex, slapping the clapboard hard and yelling "TIME!"
The Brigade turned toward their Chieftain, still standing in front of his upholstered driver's seat: the Dalmatian, impressed, gave a gap-jawed yawn that was remarkable for its length and volume, and this watchful guardian of the three-mare hitch curled up on the seat and gave a loud sigh, whipping its slender tail once in applause.
Sean consulted the timepiece he held in a massive, red-knuckled paw.
"LADS!" he bellowed, his voice as big as the figure he struck, bold in the morning sun -- "LADS, YE'VE BEATEN YER TIME! LOAD UP AN' WE'LL START AGAIN!"
The Irishman atop the ladder threw back his head and laughed, the fingers-on-a-chalkboard laugh of a wild-eyed maniac: he kicked his feet free of the rung, jumping up from the ladder a little, shifting his grip to the ladder's uprights: dropping the insides of his well polished boots to the sides of the ladder, he screamed with a lunatick's delight as he slid down the ladder, a madman's toboggan ride, landing with flexed knees and a sustained cackle.
A scream, high and panicked, a woman's voice, terror and panic: a female figure appeared on the edge of the roof not far from the ladder, shreiking, looking behind her: the wind was kicking up and her hair and her skirt flared in the draft, causing her to sway dangerously: the funeral parlor had a flat roof, sloped away from the street; it lacked the false front that was common to construction of the era: nothing separated this panicked soul from Eternity but about a foot of wood roofing.
"GRAB THAT LADDER!" came the shout.
The woman turned, drew her arms up, screamed again: "HE'S COMING! HE'S GOING TO KILL MEEEE!"
Sean swung the whip, bellowing: "THE HELL WITH THE LADDER, LADS! GET TH' NET, SHE'S GON'TA JUMP!"
The Brigade abandoned the ladder, sprinted for the ladder wagon: the class of detectives gaped, open mouthed, as what was apparently a training exercise was turning into a rescue.
Four Irishman unfolded the canvas rescue net as they ran: it folded open with the BOOM of a canvas sail under a gust: two more joined them about its periphery and they readied themselves on the boardwalk below, four on the boards and two on the street, all gripping the rim.
None watching from the Jewel missed the white knuckles on every man's fist.
The woman above raised her arms to the blue heavens and screamed, "GOD HELP MEEEE, HE'S COMING!" -- turned, looked down, flailed her arms and slipped: her toes pointed to the edge of the roof she'd just left, and as she fell, her shrill, despairing "NOOOOOOOOOOO!" turned every watcher's blood to ice.
She fell slowly, turning one, slow, somersault, hair and skirts streaming upward: a kerchief fell from her hand and fluttered a little as it took its own flight, then the woman hit the canvas, flat on her back, powder-blue-stockinged legs sticking straight up in the air, skirts and petticoat frills spilling around her: there was a collective grunt from the Brigade as she hit, and the canvas life-hoop dipped a little more than a foot as they took up the impact with bent knees and muscled arms and good Irish backs.
The pattering gallop of light hooves registered but not as important, and so the sudden appearance of the gaudy little circus-pony surprised the watchers, as much for the jarring nature of being utterly out of place in this dire situation, at least until the woman tumbled off the canvas, rolling off with the practiced grace of a circus acrobat: she gave a low, elaborate bow-and-curtsy, leaped aboard the circus-pony with a great and showy flare of cloth and ruffles and a very nicely shaped leg, and galloped up the street, coming quickly to a handstand that revealed her powder-blue circus tights beneath her modest dress.
The Brigade broke down the life-hoop in two quick moves, ran back across the street: a BANG and a SLAM and the hoop was stowed and the shout went up, "THROW THE WATER! THROW THE WATER!" and one Irishman climbed up on the back of the steam machine, bent, threw something inside: there was a devil's-tongue of flame from the blunt mouth of the boiler's stack, the scrape of shovel and coal, and the big Irishman standing at the helm frowned at his watch.
"Gentlemen," Sarah's voice summoned from the doorway of the Jewel. "If you please?"
Sarah stood with her back to the very place that Jackson Cooper slammed her face-first, and shivered a little: resolute, she raised her chin, and as the class was within the Jewel, Sarah said "Gentlemen, welcome to the Silver Jewel. If anything is to be known, it will be known here. If you want to know who is in town or who just left, who is a stranger and who is not, who does carpenter work or cheats at cards and who might be available to do a murder, a robbery, a bushwhack or a holdup, this is the place to find out.
"There is a Silver Jewel in every town, several in the bigger settlements. This is the information center for the town, the county, the territory, and this is the best starting point for any investigation."
The class looked around.
"Please make yourselves comfortable. Professor, you may wish to take advantage of learning opportunities as they present. Real life is not structured nor controlled; a classroom is both, and so lessons we see here today are not in any particular order, nor are they derived from the previous lesson." Sarah gestured to the bar. "Mr. Baxter will be happy to take your orders for drink, gentlemen, though I recommend you do not become intoxicated; it interferes with the learning process. Daisy's girls will be out to take your meal orders. As your noses have already detected, we have excellent provender should you be hungry, and as I said earlier, your money is no good here. If you'll excuse me for a few moments?"
Sarah's smile was impish as she curtsied, turned, and glided down the hallway and out of sight.
She popped back around the corner and added an afterthought.
"As you can see, gentlemen," she said innocently, "nothing ever happens here."

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Linn Keller 6-3-12

 

Levi had business with Mr. Moulton, the attorney; he saw a group of men in suits and Derby hats and frowned.
This was unusual.
The unusual, the puzzle piece that didn't fit, was something that stood out to Levi's sensibilities: any lawman, any agent, any detective, looks for patterns -- looks for puzzles, assembled -- and when something doesn't fit, when something sticks out, it's instantly noted.
Curious, Levi sauntered up the boardwalk, toward the Jewel.
Chances were rather more than excellent that any group of strangers -- especially well-dressed strangers -- would end up in the Silver Jewel.

Professor Hunt walked quietly among his students as they arranged themselves at clean, cloth-covered tables: there were other customers, but the students gathered in one general group, and were easily distinguished from the other clientele.
There was a quick, violin fanfare from the curtained stage: as Daisy's girls circulated among the polite, well dressed men, taking orders for drink and for food, the curtain was withdrawn with a flourish, and a diminutive Spanish dancer stood, graceful and feminine, a black half-veil covering from brow to lip: she was as still as the silver mantilla that stuck up from her black, straight hair, at least until the skinny, weathered mountaineer with the long white beard and the cherry-wood fiddle drew his bow across a rosin block, tapped it twice against the back of a chair to knock off the excess, and raised his bow to his fiddle.
The class had never heard Spanish music played on a mountain fiddle.
Fiddle or double-strung guitar, it made no difference: music is music, and with a pretty woman dancing, music becomes magic: sound becomes movement, and the woman began a slow fandango, the full, freely-draped black skirt allowing her lovely stockinged legs an unrestricted freedom of movement.

Levi Rosenthal's hand closed hard on the back of a chair, and his stomach sank a little.
Oh good Lord no! he thought, looking at ... oh dear God, no, she's not ... she wouldn't ...
Levi remembered the quiet voiced conversation he and Sarah shared on the Denver street as they were driven from the club to their hotel ... when he discovered Sarah, disguised, danced the sensuous, seductive fandango ... when he listened to the dancer invite Sarah to "shake her trotters" on the boards of her stage anytime ...
Sarah, I don't want you dancing in public.
Levi's own words whispered themselves in his ear.
It's not decent.
Levi swallowed, gathered his resolution.
He picked up the chair and advanced toward the stage.

Two lads in worn knee pants and cloth caps followed the class discreetly, skulking in shadow and behind rain-barrel, moving as invisibly as they had in the city: this burg was quiet, small, foreign to their experience, but that Death Angel schoolteacher with the sword asked for their help.
Besides, it was fun, following this bunch of -- they looked at one another and grinned -- detectives -- and not a man Jack of them knew they were followed!
The lads slipped into the Silver Jewel, waited in a convenient corner: when the pleasant-looking lady with all the pigeon holes and hotel keys behind her, looked their way and smiled, one of the lads walked up to the counter like he owned the place and consulted a note in his hand: he asked if Mr. James Johnson had arrived yet, and while the pleasant looking lady was consulting her register-book, the other slipped into the dining room and seated himself in the corner.

Levi set the chair down hard against the edge of the stage, stepped up on it and onto the stage: the dancer, surprised, stopped in mid-move, bringing her stockinged leg back down: the fiddle stopped as well, and the audience, surprised, was silent.
Two lads worked their way down the back wall, against the windows, unheard, unseen.
"Young lady," Levi said sternly, "I told you I don't want any daughter of mine dancing in public!" -- and so saying, he reached forward and snatched the black half-veil from the woman's face.
He expected the slap, and was ready for it: his forearm came up, blocked the open-handed slap, prepared to twist and pull back from the expected kick targeting his groin.
He did not expect the voice from the audience.
"Yoo-hoo, Levi," Sarah called from the back row of black-clad detectives: "Are you looking for me?"
Levi's eyes widened, his mouth opened: he turned, saw Sarah, severe and proper in her mousy-grey schoolmarm's dress, waving with a grey-gloved hand from the back row of tables.
He looked back at the stranger, who stood with her knuckles on her hips.
The patting of her foot was loud in the ringing, shocked silence.
Levi gathered what dignity he had left, straightened his coat, lifted his hat.
"My lady," he began, lifting his hat, "I do beg your pardon. I was obviously mistaken."
Dolly's hand seized Levi by his necktie.
"Not so fast, mister," she said sharply, her voice sharpened like a scythe-blade: "who did you think you were talking to?"
"My, um," Levi said, clearing his throat and swallowing: "My, my stepdaughter."
Dolly's hand came up, not to slap, but to caress his cheek.
"Bless you," she said, her eyes bright: she pulled him down by his necktie and kissed him quickly on the cheek.
"I wish my Papa cared as much about me!"
Dolly seized Levi in a quick hug, and Levi, uncertain, put his arms around Dolly and hugged her carefully, a fatherly embrace: red-faced, he stepped onto the chair and to the floor, his face reddening further with the rousing applause that met his efforts.
Levi ducked, reaching into his coat, at the sudden rattle of a stick of firecrackers: heads turned, chairs were scooted suddenly back: two lads ran out the front of the Jewel, and were gone.
Sarah stepped up on the chair so recently used by her stepfather, stood up on the stage and put two fingers to her lips: her shrill whistle cut through the firecracker smoke and confused voices.
"Gentlemen," she called. "GENTLEMEN!"
The detectives, standing now, turned to look at their slender classmate with the severe attire and hairdo of a schoolmarm, quite at contrast with the elaborately costumed dancer beside her.
"Gentlemen, this is Dolly," she said in a loud voice, her hand on the dancer's shoulder: "she is a friend of mine and a better dancer than I'll ever be."
"Oh, I don't know about that, honey," Dolly laughed.
Sarah's smile was quick and genuine.
"Gentlemen, what do we have here? A simple case of mistaken identity." She looked around, her eyes settling on Professor Hunt, who nodded, gravely, once: as he'd requested, Sarah illustrated an important point which would be discussed in the next day's class.
"You can see Dolly and I are of a like height, we are of the same" -- Sarah looked at Dolly's figure, then down at her own -- "We have the same" --she ran the flats of her hands over her hips, looked over at Dolly's hips -- "We can wear the same clothes," she finished, to the laughter of the entire class.
"Now, the firecrackers." She pointed to the back corner of the room.
"Gentlemen, how many of you still have your wallets?"
Astonished faces looked at Sarah, then at each other: hands slapped coat pockets, thrust inside yanked-open coats, explored vests: there were cries of dismay, oaths, two men started for the door, where they'd seen two lads escape not moments before.
"HOLD!" Sarah commanded, her voice surprisingly loud for such a diminutive frame: the pursuers stopped, looked at her, protesting, pointing toward the front door.
Sarah put two fingers to her lips again, shrilled a three-note summons, and two grinning lads in cloth caps and knee pants came in, holding up a half-dozen wallets like trophies.
"Here are the missing goods, gentlemen," Sarah said, "I guarantee their contents to be intact. This was a lesson, not a robbery."
Professor Hunt's approving nod was accompanied by a proud gleam.
His enterprising young Agent Rosenthal was proving to be surprisingly capable in all of his requests.
Levi, for his part leaned against the bar and nursed his wounded pride with a mug of beer.
"I feel like ..." he muttered, "... like an utter ..."
"Fool?" Mr. Baxter suggested.
"Worse," Levi grunted, taking a noisy slurp of beer.
Mr. Baxter polished the condensation ring from where Levi's mug resided a moment before.
"You, my friend," he said quietly, "are in some excellent company." He grinned. "Women have been making utter fools of men since Eve met Adam."
Levi sighed, nodding.
"I heard what she said to you," Mr. Baxter continued. "You did the right thing, you know."
Levi snorted.
Mr. Baxter's hand was warm and companionable on the ex-agent's shoulder.
"From one father to another," he said quietly. "A daughter loves it when her Daddy cares enough to make a damned fool of himself for her."
"He's right, you know," a feminine voice said from behind him, and Levi jumped, almost dropping his beer.
He set the mug down, turning quickly.
Sarah blinked at him from behind her round, schoolmarm spectacles.
"You did the right thing," Sarah said, then bit her bottom lip and looked down.
She looked up and her eyes were bright and brimming.
Sarah threw herself into Levi, seized him with strong, slender arms, and squeezed him, hard.
"Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you for caring about me!"

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Linn Keller 6-4-12

 

"I could do that."
"No you can't!"
"Wanta bet?"
"Betcha twenty dollars!"
"You ain't got twenty dollars!"
"Neither do you!"
The two schoolboys glared at each other, then grinned and turned back to the book.
"How come them fellows is naked?"
"Them's athletes, stoopid! That's how they dressed in ancient Greece!"
"What'sa Ainchentgreece?"
"If Miss Sarah heard you talk like that she'd hit you with that bell!"
"She would not!"
"Well, I would!"
"You ain't Miss Sarah so there!"
The two looked again at the two-page engraving, copied from a Greek vase.
"What's that there?"
"That's a bull."
"I know that, stupid! Whatta they doin'?"
"See, here's where they start. They take off a-runnin' toward that bull and the bull runs toward them" -- a stiff finger traced along with the picture, keeping narrative and illustration coordinated -- "then they grab the horns and flip over its back!"
"I could do that!"
"I just betcha couldn't!"
"If ya knew why'd you ask?"
"I didn't ask! You asked!"
The entire argument took place in whispers, in the back row of the schoolroom: it was near to the end of the day, and the two began laying plans to give this Greek sport a try.
They'd both gotten their hinders welted by their Pa when he saw them belt his bull over the head with a war club, the other smacked it across the back side and the pair took off yelling for the fence: their Pa allowed as it served the one right that he got a good boost over the fence and offered his stern opinion that they were lucky not to have been gored by the massive, blocky beast.
The very moment Miss Emma dismissed them they were out the door at a dead run, streaking for home, determined to try this classic Greek exercise.

The Bear Killer opened one eye at the sound of firecrackers in the dining room; he yawned, crawled out from under the table with the rumpled blanket beneath, and stretched, quite an operation for a creature his size: he filled the available acreage between cupboard and table, and after a shake and a hopeful look around, he padded out of the kitchen and down the hallway.

Disappointed that their Pa sold that big bull they tormented not long ago, the lads assessed the herd and spotted a yearling bull, apparently getting used to the idea that it was now the Herd Bull, its senior having been removed.
The lads looked at one another, grinning, and scrambled over the fence.
The young bull, not entirely sure what these small creatures were, came over to give them a companionable sniff ... at least that was his intent, until they both sprinted towards it, reaching with clawed hands.
Startled, the young bull whirled.
One of the lads ran squarely into the bull's backside, prompting a surprised grunt; the other lad ran past, turned around, eyes big.
The yearling turned, leaned down and sniffed loudly at the boy on the ground, then drew back, swinging his head toward the other.
The other boy was moving fast: he leaped, seized the bull by the horns: he knew if he was to clear the bull, he'd have to throw his legs high behind him and flip: he did not count on the bull's quick reactions, and as soon as the bull felt resistance on his horns, instinct took over and he threw his head, hard.
The boy lost his grip and landed on the bull's back.
Panicked, he clamped arms and legs around the bull's withers just as the bull turned: its bovine brain was deciding this interruption was not at all to its liking, and so when it glared at the lad just scrambling to his feet, the erstwhile athlete decided that perhaps the Greek Marathon was more his preferred competition, and began to sprint for the fence.
Their Pa, hearing a commotion, came to the fence, just in time to see one of his lads, riding the bull, backwards, while the other was leading it toward the fence in a merry game of chase.
"Boys!" he yelled. "Quit playin' with the bull, you got chores to do!"
That night at supper, the lads ate standing up: between falling off the bull, being boosted over the fence, and then receiving the Old Man's displeasure via a thumb-thick switch laid across their backsides, neither felt like sitting down.

The Bear Killer came up behind Sarah, noisy as a passing cloud in a summer sky: seeing she was in embrace with her Papa, he looked around: curious, he reared up, forepaws on the bar, sniffed at the free lunch, then saw Levi's beer was within reach.
The Bear Killer leaned his blunt muzzle over to the mug and began partaking of the cool brew, and found to his delight that he liked its contents.

The Sheriff finished wiping down his cavalry sabre and returned it to its sheath.
He enjoyed working regularly with the sabre.
When he first became a cavalry officer he worked with the curved blade hours upon hours until his arms were calling him unkind names and threatening to detach themselves and walk off: he ended up with wrists like iron, and though that dark conflict was long years ago, he kept up his skill with the blade, though his skill was more the hack and slash of a horseman and not the surgical finesse of his green-eyed bride's fencing blade.
He hung sword and scabbard back in its place in the gun rack, remembering how fast his wife killed him in practice, and how easily.
"Don't let me forget," he said quietly to the empty air, "never to get that woman mad at me!"
Jacob was squatting beside some tracks in the streambed mud, reading the water, the bruising of streambed weeds, the eddy of dirtied water behind rocks and in small pools in the cold mountain water.
Not long, he thought.
I'd ought to catch 'em in an hour.

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Linn Keller 6-5-12

 

Levi hung his hat inside the door as he always did, pausing to listen to something ... unusual?
The maid looked at him oddly, then toward Bonnie's study -- the door was closed, and the maid looked a little uncomfortable.
Levi raised a questioning eyebrow, tilted his head a little, and the maid put her finger to her lips, shook her head and retreated to the kitchen, probably because she felt safer there.
Levi heard the sound of hard heels attempting a cadence, but not quite making a rhythm; moving on the balls of his feet, he took a step, two, three to Bonnie's office door, listened.
Silence for several seconds, then he heard "Five, six, seven eight," and the sharp clatter of castanets, a quick snarl of heels against the hard board floor, then something hit the door hard, followed by a most unladylike "Blast and damn!"
Levi opened the door.
Bonnie was angrily tearing the other castanet free of her hand and threw it as well; it hit the row of books, fell to the chair beneath, and Levi, surprised to see the moisture on his wife's face, reached for her.
Bonnie's expression was taut: she was almost ready to cry, and when strong and manly arms enveloped her and she knew she was safe, she did cry -- and beat her fists against Levi's collar bones, and then clung to him, and then she stomped the floor, once, and gave an angry "Ooooh!"
She pushed Levi away, hard, but Levi didn't let her go.
He bent down and kissed her forehead.
Only then did he notice she was wearing a lovely silver mantilla and scarf, and only then did it sink through his hard head that she was wearing a feminine, seductive fandango dress.
"I wanted to surprise you," she said hoarsely. "I wanted to dance for you!"
Levi held her face gently between his big, warm hands, lowered his face until the tips of their noses touched.
"You just gave me the loveliest gift I've had since you said 'I do,'" he whispered.
"Really?" Bonnie's eyes brimmed and she sniffed, loudly; Levi snatched the kerchief from his sleeve, handed it to her, and Bonnie turned her head, gave a loud and less-than-ladylike honk! into the monogrammed linen, pressed it to one eye, then the other.
"Sarah dances," she whispered, stopping and clearing her throat.
"Not that well," Levi murmured. "Besides, she was working a case."
She leaned against her husband, ran her arms around his waist, laid her head against his chest and sighed.
"I'll never be a dancer," she whined.
Levi laid his cheek against the top of her head.
"You are a dancer, and a good one," he said softly. "You waltz like a feather on the breeze."
"Really?"
Bonnie looked hopefully up at her husband, her eyes bright and brimming again, and Levi nodded, wondering if he was going to need to give her the other kerchief as well.
He chuckled a little.
Bonnie made a little inquiring noise, and Levi never moved: he held her, his cheek laid atop her head, and murmured, "My dear, you are strong as a white oak and tough as rawhide leather, but damned if I have you figured out."
"Good," Bonnie sniffed, pressing the damp kerchief to her nose.

The class moved to the back room and over beer and sandwiches discussed the situations they'd seen so far today.
Professor Hunt felt confident in the class's ability to sort things out; he listened, he offered a few quiet words to steer discussion back to the subject, but for the most part he let the class pick up the day's events, turn them over and rub them and smell them and peer closely at them before offering a conclusion.
Sarah remained quiet, listening to the ebb and flow of conversation.
Professor Hunt knew he could count on her at the right time, and the right time was approaching.
"Gentlemen," he said, standing, and the class turned its attention to the dignified detective: "Gentlemen, you have correctly surmised most of what has occurred, but we still have one puzzle left to solve."
The Professor entertained curious looks before continuing.
"Let us consider the reason a man known to us, a fellow detective -- retired, yes, but still one of us -- would rise to the stage and declare that his daughter was not to dance in public."
Sarah stood silently, turned her chair a little, lifted her skirt and placed her foot on the edge of the chair.
"He thought she was his daughter," the guitarist offered.
"Why would he think that?" Professor Hunt inquired.
Several of the detectives looked at one another; one or two shrugged.
"Miss Agent Rosenthal?" Professor Hunt asked.
Sarah's heels drummed out a flawless cadence on the tabletop; the castanets purred in her hands as she struck a dancer's pose.
The half-veil and her graceful, feminine stance struck a sharp and unexpected contrast to the severe hairdo and stiff design of the schoolteacher's mousy-grey habit.
"Gentlemen, do you remember when the bouncer brought our musician the guitar?" Sarah asked as Mr. Baxter, grinning, brought in a double-strung Spanish guitar and handed it to the musician.
"If you please, sir," Sarah nodded.
It was the first time in the history of the Silver Jewel the fandango was ever danced on a tabletop.

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Charlie MacNeil 6-5-12

 

The tiny, spotted baby, struggling to focus newly opened eyes, nuzzled its mother's flank in search of those first life-giving drops of mother's milk. The first, nutrient rich meal for any mammal contains micro-organisms, transferred from the mother, that will stand the infant in good stead as its growth progresses. Wobbly legs held the newborn tight against mama's side as its dam licked it clean of the last of the birth fluids, in the process stimulating the flow of blood through the gangly-legged frame.

Charlie sat still and silent, tucked into the edge of an alder copse that was thick as the hair on a Dawg, watching a miracle that never grew old no matter how many times he was witness to it. His rifle leaned against a nearby branch as he watched the newborn mule deer fawn take in its first meal. The white spots on its coat, scattered across the underlying reddish-brown, would make the long-eared baby essentially invisible once it tucked gangly legs beneath itself to hide. And the fact that it was scentless at birth would make it essentially invisible to the keen nose of passing predators as well.

Warm milk makes for strong legs, and it wasn't long before the fawn was taking a few tentative steps, exploring the strange new world it found itself in, or at least its immediate environs. The ears that would later earn Odocoileus hemionus its common name of mule deer swiveled and flicked. The wet black nose was everywhere, vacuuming in the various and sundry odors and fragrances that swirled on the morning air as the newborn sought to discover the nature of the place that it instinctively knew was its new home.

Later, after the doe had led its young to cover, Charlie rose stiffly to moccasined feet, stretching and twisting the kinks of hours of inactivity from his knees, back and shoulders. He had been there for the whole show, from the time the doe had begun to strain to deliver her young to seeing the pair disappear into the surround brush. "You're gettin' old, my friend," he muttered to himself as he picked up his rifle. "But that show was most definitely worth a little pain to see."

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Linn Keller 6-7-12

 

“When we hear the word detective,” Professor Hunt began, “what comes to mind?”
Hands were raised, glances exchanged.
“You, sir.”
Professor Hunt peered at the student, awaiting the man’s reply: the student – a man in his early twenties, by appearance, with the neatly trimmed beard and curled mustache currently in vogue among young men of fashion – opened his mouth, then hazarded a glance toward the stern, disapproving schoolmarm at the far left of the room.
Behind the round spectacles and the carefully-set face, Sarah was back in the mountains, slipping through the brush with Charlie, fading down into a clump of grass with his hand warm and firm between her shoulder blades.
"Watch," he whispered.
Sarah blinked, once, and was back in the classroom.
She looked at the uncomfortable young man whose answer just escaped him.
“One who detects,” he stammered, then cleared his throat. “I mean, sir, a man who –“
“Your answer is clear enough,” the Professor interrupted, sparing the man further uncertainty. “One who detects is accurate, yes. And how do we detect?”
“We ask questions.”
“We listen.”
“We look, listen, observe.”
Professor Hunt turned, looked to his right.
“Miss Agent Rosenthal.”
Sarah looked at the Professor: she reached into her carpet bag, withdrew a deerstalker cap and clapped it on her head: another exploratory reach into the satchel’s depths, and she came up with a magnifying glass: a third time, and she withdrew a calabash-gourd pipe.
Standing, she said, “Detective is a stereotype in most peoples’ minds.” She looked at the pipe, the glass. “A stereotype fueled by engravings in Harper’s Weekly or the London Times, stage plays and dime novels.”
She placed the pipe on the table, removed the cap and dropped it neatly into the carpet bag: she turned the hand lens slowly as she continued.
“Detective is a flexible term and is entirely dependent upon the task required. I need a show of hands, gentlemen – how many of you have heard of a range detective?”
A half-dozen hands went up, some tentatively.
Sarah nodded.
“Range detectives are just that: they work with cattlemen, they find and hunt rustlers, determine whether a herd is being cut, thinned or high-graded illicitly. Detectives might be employed by a railroad to find thieves, track down train robbers, watch employees, and to do this it may be necessary to become an employee. Tell me, how many of you can read a railroad timetable?”
Every hand in the room went up.
“And how many of you have your timetable memorized?”
No hands this time; here and there a head shook slowly.
“How many can pound brass?”
One, and only one, hand went up.
Sarah tapped the handle of her glass on the table, a series of single and double taps: the lone hand descended, the student grinning as he thumped out a reply in single and double thumps with his stiffened finger on the table top.
“Those who can imitate a trade well enough to pass as an employee are especially valuable. Reading the clicks of a telegraph sounder can guarantee that the telegraph agent is not lying to you as to the content of a message. For the most part they are trustworthy, but they are in a position of trust and may try to hide a theft, whether their own or that of a confederate.
“I know we have one accountant here, have we more?”
No hands went up.
Sarah nodded slowly.
“There is as much information to be gotten from a ledger-book as from the trail of a wanted criminal. Our accountant" -- she gave a single, indicative nod toward the indicated individual -- "has a skill that will stand him in good stead when investigating embezzlement, outright theft, or shady book-keeping.
“Detection can be working in a gold mine, watching the miners as they shower and change clothes to make sure they are not high grading.”
“High grading?” The voice was as hesitant as the reluctantly-waved hand.
“Gold occurs mostly in thin veins in quartz rock,” Sarah explained, assuming the tone and posture of a lecturing schoolteacher. “Gold sometimes is found in larger lumps or richer veins. Sometimes it is found in lumps or nuggets.
“Any gold mined is property of the mine and the miners are paid an agreed-on wage for their work. If they find a particularly rich lump of ore, or perhaps a nugget big as your thumb, like this one” – she reached into her carpet bag, pulled out a small Japanned box, opened it and withdrew just such an item – "they may be tempted to keep it. Pass this around, gentlemen, please don’t bite it, it’s real and don’t swallow it or I will cut you open to get it back.”
Sarah’s smile was easy and genuine, but not a man doubted she meant what she said.
“That is a young fortune in gold. A solid nugget, as big as a man’s thumb from joint to tip. Weigh it in your palm. Rub it with your thumb. You may never again see such wealth in a compact mass in your lifetime.”
“Where did you get this?” an anonymous voice blurted.
“I panned it well away from here,” Sarah said. “We were after rustlers down near the New Mexico border, in the mountains yet. I camped for the evening and when I went to fill the coffee pot, I saw the streambed looked … well, promising. Black sand in the riffles.” She smiled again. “I filled the coffee pot and put it on to boil, then I took my gold pan and sloshed about a few times.”
“And that was it?”
“Oh, no,” Sarah said sadly. “The men we were after smelled my camp fire and came in. They were tired and they were hungry and I invited them to sit down, I would fix them something to eat, and would they like some coffee when it’s done?”
Sarah tilted her head a little, looking very feminine and very innocent.
“I said I would be with them as soon as I was done washing out my pan because I liked to cook with clean pans.”
She sighed.
“That’s when I looked down into the pan and saw the nugget you’re passing around.
“I slipped it into the cuff of my glove, took another dip from the streambed and came up with color.”
“Color?”
“Gold dust,” she explained. “Good color, too, a band wide as my little fingernail and long as my little finger, shining out from under the black sand. Pay sand, some call it.”
“What did you do?”
“I dumped it back into the water, rinsed the pan out and went to my pack saddle.
“I pulled out a cast iron frying pan and some bacon and a loaf of bread, then I went to the other pack saddle and got coffee I had bundled up and tied in some cloth, and some cold beef.”
“You … made supper for the men you were chasing?”
“Of course,” Sarah said, her eyes big and innocent behind her schoolmarm spectacles. “The most effective detective doesn’t look like one.” She reached back into her carpet bag, brought out the deerstalker cap again: with cap on her head, pipe between her teeth and the magnifying glass in front of her she said, “Now just how effective would I be if I looked like this?”
Even Professor Hunt laughed at the smiling young schoolteacher.
She put her props back on the table; the man at the opposite corner of the room stood, brought the nugget back to her, dropped it in her palm.
Sarah put it back in her Japanned box, returned it to her carpet bag.
“My gunbelt was hidden under my riding jacket; they could not see it … all they saw was a pretty young girl in a riding skirt, and supper, and of the two I think they lusted after the latter more than the former.”
“You … you actually cooked for them?”
“Yes, I made supper for them, and they could have eaten three times what I had,” Sarah continued. “I had about three pounds of bacon, for I planned to feed several men, I had bread and I had some cold beef, and those four outlaws ate every last bite I’d brought.”
“Well, then what happened?”
“Before or after they drank my coffee and split a pint of whiskey I just happened to have in the saddlebag to ward off the chill?”
“You drank with them?”
“Of course not!” Sarah exclaimed. “I didn’t have to.”
“I don’t follow,” another voice said.
“They were so happy to have their bellies full, and to have a pretty young girl hanging on their every word, that they never noticed the Sheriff and his deputy slipping up on them, at least not until two of them realized their pockets were being picked. I’m sorry, not their pockets, their holsters.”
“Just like that?”
Sarah smiled knowingly. “You have to know men of the frontier, gentlemen. They learned from the natives, learned from the best. The Sheriff can walk across streambed mud and leave no trace, he can track a wood tick across a glass window, he can read sign in waving grass and walk on pea gravel and make as much noise as an ant walking on a wool blanket.”
Sarah looked slowly around; she had every eye.
“The sheriff’s deputy is his son and he’s better than his old man.
“A friend of theirs – you may know the name, Charlie Macneil – puts them both to shame.
“Once the outlaws realized they had two shotguns looking at them, they decided it was better to surrender on a full belly than to die on a full belly.
“We never had to fire a shot, we never swung a single fist, nobody was injured, and because of what they told me – while they were devouring bacon as fast as I could fry it, tearing apart two loaves of bread and gnawing on slices of cold beef – why, I used their own words to solve a bank robbery, two rustling operations and a plot to swindle water rights from a widow woman!”
Sarah’s voice, there at the last, was almost indignant: her hands were on her hips and she gave a decisive nod, emphasizing her displeasure that miscreants would ever consider wronging a woman of the frontier, especially a widow.
“How many of you have prior law enforcement experience?”
Less than half the hands went up.
“Oh, dear,” Sarah said softly, looking at the Professor. “You do have your work cut out for you, don’t you?”
“In a way, Miss Agent Rosenthal,” Professor Hunt replied, his eyes smiling: “at least those students who have not such an advantage, will have fewer bad habits to break!”
Sarah laughed, tilting her head back a little.
“Yes, sir, you’re right,” she agreed.
“Now, gentlemen,” Professor Hunt said, resuming his crossed-arm stance as he leaned back against his heavy, white-oak desk, “what can you tell me about informants?”
Sarah smiled quietly, thinking of her little band of street rats that proved so useful already, then her mind wandered back to the mountains, and to watching mule deer with Charlie in a fog-veiled morning, watching a gravid doe graze, seeing the shadow on her flank as the fawn within shifted and kicked, once.
She remembered how the grass was chill and damp under her, how she breathed, slowly, blowing her breath down into the grass to spread it and cool it and hide its fog, and she remembered how it smelled clean and new like the first day of creation, how she heard the doe grunt and mew and she could hear the doe chew ...
Sarah blinked again, listened to the patient preaching of the Professor, realized she'd already put into practice what he was describing: still, she listened politely, making mental notes of questions to ask when he was finished pontificating.
Sarah found herself thinking of the mountains again, with Charlie warm and solid beside her and her rifle at her side, forgotten, as the two of them watched: they shot a barren doe for meat, later in the morning, but for that moment there was magic in watching the doe graze not twenty yards from them.
Sarah realized with surprise she was actually a little homesick.

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Linn Keller 6-8-12

 

"I don't know, sir," the student detective admitted.
"Well, you must have seen something! Out with it, man!"
"I saw two women go in confessional booths, yes, sir," the student said uncomfortably, "and I was trying to count which booth it was -- there is a row of them --"
"Yes, I am familiar," the Professor said, nodding. "And then what happened?"
"One of the young priests stopped and asked if I needed a Rosary."
"You didn't have one?"
The student turned rather red and looked distinctly uncomfortable.
"No, sir."
"You must learn to blend in with the surroundings," the Professor said gently. "If you follow a subject into a Catholic church, you must appear to be a parishoner. If you have no Rosary, there are some at Our Lady's statue."
"Yes, sir, that's what the priest said," the student admitted. "I stood and turned to look where he was pointing, and when I turned back, both confessional doors were open."
The Professor nodded.
"I excused myself on a pretext and walked quickly toward the confessionals, and past them, for the women had not come past me - they must have gone to an exit toward the front of the church -- but the young priest dogged my steps and I realized the quarry was lost.
"I apologized to the man and told him I had to meet someone, and made my own escape."
"You hesitated beside an open confessional."
"Yes, sir."
"You were searching the front of the church -- the front left, looking for an exit."
"Yes, sir."
"Take off your coat, sir, and turn it around."
The student blinked.
"Excuse me, sir?"
"Take off your coat."
Puzzled, slowly, the student removed his coat.
"Look at its back."
The color ran out of the student's face.
There was a small square of paper pinned to the back of his coat.
On it was a drawing.
The meaning was clear.
The drawing was a knife.
Beneath, three words:
"Remember, and live."

Sarah hugged the dancing girl: "Thank you so much!" she whispered. "You helped me out of a facer!"
"I don't know what a facer is," she laughed, "but that was fun! Can you make it from here?"
"Yes." Sarah's eyes were merry, a distinct sky blue without her window-glass spectacles; she wore a McKenna gown, as did the dancing girl; a silver-and-onyx Rosary draped around each of their necks.
"What about this?" the dancing girl asked.
"I will need it again," Sarah said, "but in the meantime, keep it for me. The dress is yours."
"Oh, honey!" she exclaimed. "You're ... I've never had ..." She looked up, almost dismayed. "You're sure?"
Sarah squeezed her hands. "I might need your help again!"
"Any time, honey, just ask it!"
A locomotive coasted to a stop behind Sarah, almost silent, the stack blowing clean: on the side of the cab, in Old English lettering, the gold-leaf declaration, The Lady Esther, and beneath, two stem-crossed roses, so cleverly painted they seemed more to be growing there than applied to the wood.
Sarah looked around, quickly, then darted aboard the private car: a wave, a smile and she was inside, and the bright-green door with black scrollwork closed.
The dancing girl turned, smiling to herself.
I don't know what she's up to, she thought, but she sure knows how to have a good time!
Inside the private car, Sarah poured herself a glass of chilled water, helped herself to the finger-sandwiches arrayed on a cut-glass platter: she waited until the inquiring dingle of the little private bell inquired if she was ready to travel, and she replied with tugs of the velvet bell-pull: tug-tug, tug-tug, tug.
The Lady Esther had made the turntable, been shunted behind the private car, and backed carefully until the big cast-iron knuckles latched: Sarah heard air sigh through the brake lines underfoot as the Westinghouse couplers were connected.
A discreet tap on the door; Sarah glided to the door, opened it, smiled at the familiar, red-faced conductor: he was an older man and going to grey, but few things will melt the heart of a greying older man than the smile of a pretty younger woman, especially one who calls him by name, asks how his wife and family are -- by name -- and laughs as he describes the latest tricks he's taught his dog.
Sarah waited until The Lady Esther whistled her readiness to depart to lock the car's doors.

About halfway to Firelands, Sarah opened the door at the conductor's knock: yes, all was still well, she assured him, and asked him to take a bundle to the express messenger.
The conductor smiled, for the bundle was warm, and smelled quite good.
Sarah knew the conductor and the express messenger often lunched together, and she knew they generally had cold sandwiches: she told the conductor she could make coffee, if he wouldn't mind making a second trip: the conductor made that second trip with a glad heart and a broad grin, and Sarah sent him back with two coffee cups around his neck, string tied through their handles, steaming-hot coffee pot in one hand and a small pitcher of chilled cream in the other, with two forks thrust into his coat pocket, for she'd neglected to include the working tools with the first shipment.

Sarah knew the conductor would bring back the coffee pot; it was well into evening when she handed him a good hot supper, so she lit a lamp and sat down to do some reading, a newspaper from back East, one of he New York penny newspapers, given to gossip, scandal and rumor, more to titillate than to inform, more given to exaggeration than fact, as was usual for newspapers of the day.

Sarah received the empty coffee pot and small wooden tray she'd covered with cloth to keep the men's meal warm, and she smiled and blushed a little as the conductor waited until she set them down before giving her a cleverly folded paper flower, a thank-you from the express messenger.
"Thank you," Sarah whispered, and the conductor touched his cap brim, and returned the way he came.
Sarah closed the door, locked it, blew out the lamp.
She stripped out of her fine gown and its underlayments, hung and folded them appropriately, then opened the trunk waiting for her beside the concealed, fold-away bunk.
She thrust arms into black-flannel shirt sleeves, buttoned black-covered metal buttons, drew on her black britches and black knee socks and black, knee-high Cavalry boots: she smiled a little as she settled the black, unadorned gunbelt around her slim middle, but the smile never got further than the corners of her eyes.
She withdrew the black, broad brimmed hat from its round, hard sided hat box and tossed it casually to a velvet upholstered chair.
Opening a cupboard, she exposed a mirror; she picked up the hair brush and brushed her hair out, taking her time, then braided it, carefully, precisely, and finally wrapped the braids around her throat, the way she'd seen Sam do back home.
Sam's hair was considerably heavier, coarser than hers, and long enough that a single thick braid sufficed to protect her throat from cold or from knife slashes: Sarah counted on the double wrap of her skinnier braids to do the same thing.
I could make a pipestem choker, she thought. That would even hide under a high collar.
I'll ask Cat Running's advice.

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Linn Keller 6-9-12

 

A moving railcar, especially a short run like this -- engine, tender, express car, freight car and the special -- is not a terribly quiet place: there is the constant clickity-clatter of steel wheel going over joints in the rails, the steel wheels sing as they roll, bearings rumble, the car itself will squeak and groan on occasion; the engine has its own irregular four-count chant, there is slack in the couplers, air hoses sway and springs will squeak ... but these are a normal background, the ear gets used to them, the mind stops hearing them, until something unusual presents.
The soft rattle of a cautious hand on a doorknob qualified.
Sarah did not hesitate.
She knew she was almost visible, with the small lamp's position: she knew whoever was testing a door had to be behind her and to her left; she continued to braid her hair, thinking fast.
The conductor would be with the express messenger: of this, she was sure.
The fireman would not leave the engine's cab and of course neither would the engineer.
Sarah smiled in the dim light, reached for the lamp and moved it a little more to the right, then turned and picked up the modesty panel women used to separate themselves from the rest of the room when changing.
She knew the lamp would glow behind the panel: she knew if she slipped to the right, she could just work her way behind a chair and across the car and to the other door.
If she kept low she would not be in silhouette, but whoever was at the door, unless he was crouched, would be.
She stopped halfway to the other door.
What if someone was already in the car?
She froze, listening with more than her ears.
There were two, and only two, places someone could hide.
She looked toward the other chair.
That was one.
Nobody there.

She looked to the concealed cupboard.
That is a possibility.
There was a quiet sound from overhead.
Sarah's smile was tight; she moved toward the door where she'd heard the knob tested.
Keeping low, she looked up through the imperfect glass; she saw a leg disappear and knew someone had just climbed the ladder and was on top of the private car.
You want to play cat and mouse? Sarah thought, unlocking the door with one hand, cocking her left hand Colt with the other.
She eased the door open, peering out with three eyes.
Two eyes of glacial blue, and one of utter, yawning, .44 caliber blackness.

Sarah slipped out the door, drew it shut, locked it from the outside and slipped the key in her coat pocket: she holstered the .44, climbed the ladder, looked back along the roof of the private car.
The figure was just turning to go down the ladder on the other end.
Sarah ducked, counted to five, peeked over again.
Gone, she thought. Move now.
Sarah slid down the ladder, used her key to unlock the end door of the freight car.
She turned, closed the door behind her, locked it: the freight smelled of hay and horses.
A single lamp was lit on the far end of the car.
Sarah felt a presence ... other than the black gelding that stamped and crunched corn.
The Colt was steady in her grip as she took a silent breath.
Something stirred in the hay.
Sarah's Colt was loud and metallic as it rolled into full cock.
"You can come out so I can see who you is," Sarah said conversationally. "Or I can come in and see who you was."
"Sawwah?" a little girl's voice called softly.
"Angela?"
It wasn't easy to surprise Sarah, but Angela managed: Sarah let the hammer down on her Colt, thrust it into her holster and reached for the running little girl.
Angela giggled as she slammed into her beloved "Sawwah" and hugged the black-clothed aunt or sister or whatever she was, Angela was not entirely clear and she did not particularly care: she was with Sawwah and she was happy.
"What are you doing here?" Sarah whispered.
"Daddy sent his horsie and I wanted to see you," Angela whispered breathily. "I miss you, Sawwah. So does Daddy. He's wor-r-ried about you."
Sarah stroked Angela's chin with the back of a forefinger.
"You said worrried," Sarah whispered approvingly. "Very nicely done!"
Angela clapsed her hands at arm's length and rocked a little, giggling.
"Angela, was there anyone else in here?"
Angela shook her head briskly. "No, but I heard someone walking on the woof. Rrroooffff," she corrrected herself.
Sarah looked around, considering.
"Angela," she said, "how loud can you scream?"
Angela drew a great lungful of air, at least until Sarah covered her mouth: "Not now!" she whispered fiercely.
Angela's eyes filled with sadness: Sarah removed her hand. "Not yet, but soon. Angela, I need your help."
"Okay!" The sadness disappeared like a summer storm's passing.
"Come with me."
Sarah stood, unlocked the door: she opened it a crack, peeked out, looked up, then down.
She opened the door wide, picked Angela up: she stepped out onto the tiny platform, stretched her leg impossibly far, to the private car's railed ledge: she set Angela on firm footing, leaned back to lock the freight car's door, then with a lurch, pulled herself over onto the private car's landing.
Finger to her lips, she unlocked the private car, opened the door: crouching, she shepherded Angela inside, closed and locked the door: finger across Angela's lips, she studied the far door until she was satisfied nobody was there.
Working mostly by feel, she turned down the fold-away bed, pulled back the covers.
"Get in," she whispered.
"But my shoes?" Angela whispered.
"Keep them on, it's all right."
Angela climbed in the bed.
Sarah stuffed the bedding in beside her, bulking it up.
"What do I do now?"
"You wait," Sarah said, "until someone comes inside that's not me. You wait until they get to the middle of the car."
Sarah's smile was barely visible in the darkness.
"Then you scream bloody murder and you don't stop!"

Sarah slipped back out the door, but did not lock it: the little lamp, behind the screen, barely showed that there was a figure in the bed.
It looked for all the world like someone was abed, with a light on for comfort.
Sarah slipped onto the back platform, then she closed the door -- just loud enough to be heard -- and didn't lock it.
She swung around the side of the car.
There was a ladder on the side, as there were all cars of this design, and she hung there in the darkness, waiting, while the world passed under her.
She had not long to wait.
A dark figure moved with surprising stealth across the roof and down the ladder.
Sarah heard the door knob turn.
She eased back onto the platform.
The door opened toward her -- the hinges were on the other side -- the intruder left the door open --
Sarah crouched, weight on the balls of her feet, her father's lead filled sap in her hand, its loop about her wrist.
The Lady Esther's chant was loud in the night: it took forever, forever for the intruder to get to the center of the car ...
Angela's scream was shrill, piercing: it was clearly the scream of a little girl and not of a woman: the intruder scrambled for the door, turned, backed out of the doorway and turned --
Sarah swung the sap in a tight, horizontal circle, snapping it around to catch the intruder behind his right ear: she seized the front of his coat and belted him again, hard, crushing his hard felt hat, pulling him down to the deck and driving her knees into his ribs.
There was a grunt as the wind went out of him.
Sarah heard small feet hit the floor and patter rapidly toward her.
"Is dat da bad guy, Sawwah?" Angela asked.
Sarah looked up into the big eyes of her little sister.
Sarah reached up and hugged Angela to her.
"We got the bad guy, Angela," she whispered fiercely, hugging her little sis tight to her. "We got the bad guy!"

Sarah sent Angela back into the private car: she secured the prisoner's wrists behind him with a length of piggin string, then crossed and tied his ankles, hoisted them and tied them off to the metal railing around the private car's platform.
"That'll hold you," she muttered, and went back inside.
"Angela," she said, "we'll be coming into Firelands in about ..." she consulted a pocket watch -- "oh, twenty minutes. We're going to take you to the express car and you're going to keep the express messenger and the conductor company, all right?"
"But I wanna stay with you!" Angela whined.
"Angela," Sarah said seriously, kneeling to get down to eye level with the sad-faced little girl, "I was kind of scared with that bad guy trying to get in."
Angela nodded.
"I think maybe you were a little scared too."
"A liddle," she admitted in a small voice.
"I think maybe the express messenger was kind of scared too, because they didn't know what was going on. If you were there you could help them be not scared, 'cause you helped get the bad guy!"
"Does that mean I'm a big girl?" Angela asked slowly.
Sarah nodded, her eyes bright. "Mm-hmm, it does," she nodded.
Angela hugged Sarah fiercely. "I don' wanna be a big girl no more!" she said in a lost little voice.
"I know, Princess," Sarah whispered, holding her tight, tight. "Sometimes I don't either."
She picked Angela up, put her broad brimmed hat on the little girl's head.
"But sometimes we just have to."
"Oh."
Angela held the hat by its brim, looking comically out from under the oversized skypiece.
"Now let's get to the express car, shall we?"
"Okay, Sawwah!"

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Linn Keller 6-10-12

 

Sarah slid the door open on the freight car.
It was not a stable car; her father’s black gelding was tied to a crossmember instead of being confined to a stall.
Hay was thrown underfoot, and Sarah spent a few minutes shoveling second hand horse feed out into the passing darkness: she led the gelding a few feet away, raked the wet hay out the door as well, then picked up her father’s saddle.
The gelding stood patiently for saddle blanket and saddle, bridle and bit; Sarah swung aboard and the gelding shifted his weight a little, not really accustomed to a rider in addition to the moving deck of the slowing railcar.
Sarah patted his neck.
“Easy, boy,” she soothed, “easy, now.”
The gelding’s ears flicked back, forward: Sarah leaned forward and offered a small, sweet apple, and the gelding turned his head, snuffing loudly: she felt the warmth of his breath, the cool wetness of his nose, and the rubbery lips as he plucked the bribe from her palm.
Sarah wiped her hand on her britches, pulled on the other black glove: she turned up her collar, tugged the broad brim hat further down on her head.
Sarah knew not only the timetable by heart, but every turn, every grade, every watering stop, and she knew the watering stop was approaching, and soon: she knew the ground rose a little, and the gelding was used to exiting the side door of a railcar onto that very spot, with her father in the saddle.
Sarah was considerably lighter than her long, tall father, and she had every confidence the gelding would make the jump easily from railcar to terra firma.
He did.
Sarah thrilled at the feel of a horse in flight, her stomach taking wings for a glorious moment, then she turned the gelding and watched as the train hissed to a stop so the engine could take on water.
She walked her father’s mount to the front of the private car.
The figure on the private car’s platform groaned.
Sarah watched, silent and unmoving.
The man’s hat was to his side – apparently he’d tried moving, earlier – Sarah watched in the near-dark as the figure struggled a little, weakly, then relaxed.
He turned his face toward her.
“Help me,” he groaned.
Sarah neither moved nor replied.
“You gotta help me,” the figure gasped, trying unsuccessfully to pull free: he convulsed once, shaking his legs, hard, trying to dislodge them from the steel railing.
“If you fall off,” Sarah said conversationally, “you’ll be run over. Nobody comes this way except for the train, and they have orders not to stop for debris on the tracks.”
“What – what are you going to do?”
“How’s your head?”
“Hurts.”
The man’s voice was weak.
Sarah’s was cold and unsympathetic.
“Good.”
She turned the gelding, stopped, considered for a moment, then turned back.
“By the way, that was my little sister in that bed.”
“Sister?”
“She’s also the Sheriff’s little girl. She’s six years old. I don’t think he’ll take kindly to the thought that a strange man forced his way into his little girl’s bedroom in the dark of night.”
The man’s groan was that of a soul upon learning it was about to be condemned for all eternity.
“I’ll stay with you until the train gets underway again. The next stop will be Firelands. By then you’ll be ready for a nice, uncomfortable bunk in the town jail.”
True to her word, Sarah waited until The Lady Esther whistled at the night and began pulling toward the final grade that separated them from Firelands.
The hoofbeats of her father’s gelding were loud on the trail as Sarah took the left fork.
She would be in town well before the train.
Long enough to arrange a welcoming committee for the unwanted guest.

The Sheriff opened his front door.
Sarah stood without hat in her left hand, her eyes very pale.
"You need some breakfast," the Sheriff said, "and so do I. In."
Sarah's movements were tightly controlled, her gait that of a panther: she moved as if oiled, smooth, silent, deadly.
Esther rose as Sarah entered the kitchen. "Good morning, Sarah," she smiled, her green eyes welcoming: Sarah's gait never wavered: she walked up to her ... aunt, stepmother ... it didn't matter ... she had need of maternal arms, and Esther found herself embraced by strong young arms that held her for a long moment.
The maid glided soundlessly into the kitchen and laid another plate and silverware; a coffee cup placed beside the plate, and she withdrew as silently as she'd arrived.
The Sheriff drew her chair out.
Sarah peeled out of her coat, hung it on a peg by the back door, stopped and looked at the Sheriff.
"You were right," she said simply, then sat and allowed her father to slide her ahead a little.
The Sheriff presented Esther's chair; she, too, sat, making the simple move of sitting down a graceful and feminine act.
The Sheriff walked around the table, seated himself carefully, looked directly at Sarah.
"One or two?" he asked.
"Two," she replied, looking up as the maid approached with a piled platter: she leaned back as fried eggs and bacon landed on her porcelain, but she did not touch them until the others were served as well.
"Report."
"One is tied to the front porch of your private car," she said, looking over at Esther.
"The other ..."
The Sheriff saw the smile hiding behind her eyes.
Esther's expression was innocent as she said "After all, dear, she is your daughter!"
The Sheriff laughed.
"Yes, ma'am, she is that!" he chuckled. "Now just where did you leave the other fellow?"
"Chasing his tail in Denver," Sarah said quietly.
"Good." The Sheriff bit savagely into a rasher of crisp bacon, picked up his fork.
"Now what did you do to him?"
"Nothing much," she shrugged, slicing into the fried egg.
The maid used the slightest amount of garlic on the eggs, a little pepper ... something Sarah could not quite place ... she didn't know what it was, but as she forked the first bite, she didn't care.
Fresh sliced bread in a basket joined the table, and pressed butter, fresh from the mold, cool and beaded with moisture: Sarah worked steadily on bacon and eggs as she considered her answer.
"I went to the big Catholic church on the south end of the city," she said, "and that dancer Levi complained about went with me. We're close to the same size, we were both in gowns and looking like ladies about town."
"You went to church."
"Catholic church," she corrected. "Think confessional booths."
"Ah." The Sheriff's eyes crinkled at the corners.
"We went into separate booths and the first man ran up from his seat halfway down the pews.
"When he stopped just past the booth, I leaned out and pinned a note to his coat."
The Sheriff raised an eyebrow, took a drink of coffee.
"I'd drawn a knife on the note and under it the words 'Remember, and live.'"
The Sheriff snorted, spraying coffee back into his cup and blowing it out on his face: he lowered the cup, snatched up the napkin, wiped his face and coughed violently, trying hard not to drown on hot Arbuckle's.
"You what?" he gasped.
Sarah nodded.
"I told you," Esther murmured, taking a bite of fragrant, still-warm bread.
The Sheriff harrumphed, coughed into his napkin, leaned back as the maid replaced his coffee cup and saucer and filled the new mug.
Clearing his throat, the Sheriff looked approvingly at his daughter.
"You know what you've done," he said quietly, the ghost of a smile pulling at his mouth.
"Yes, sir, I do."
"Good." The Sheriff looked at his eggs, just before the maid whisked them away and replaced plate and all: fresh, hot eggs and gleaming-hot bacon raised fragrant vapors to his appreciative nose, and his plate with its baptism of coffee was removed.
"Tell me about the second man."
"He tried to get into the car, just as you said he would."
The Sheriff nodded.
"Angela?"
Sarah's look was ... well, sly.
"Perfection."
"I trust her vocal range proved satisfactory," Esther said quietly, a hint of disapproval in her voice.
Sarah's smile was predatory, wolflike.
"Yes."
The Sheriff stood. "I'll get my coat. Finish up, Sarah, we have a train to meet."
It was the Sheriff's turn to smile, and his smile was as predatory as his daughter's.

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Linn Keller 6-11-12

 

"No, sir," the brakeman said. "I didn't have to use my brakeman's club a'tall. Someone already creased his crown for me. Besides" -- he grinned -- "he was tied up like a pig for slaughter an' he wasn't goin' anywhere so I just let him lay there."
The Sheriff nodded.
"Someone bent his Derby, y'say."
The Sheriff looked at Sarah.
Sarah pulled the Sheriff's lead sap out of her sleeve and handed it to him.
"Thank you for the loan," she said innocently.
The Sheriff accepted the braided leather slung shot and chuckled, shaking his head.
"What kind of a world is this," he said, shaking his head, "when a man's daughter wants a war club for a birthday present?"
"I have fine gowns," Sarah said, tilting her head a little, "and if I want diamonds, Mama has fine ear-bobs I can borrow any time." She looked at her tall, slender father with the iron-grey mustache. "Besides, I can actually use one of those."
The Sheriff sighed. "Can't argue that," he agreed, then looked at the stiff and unhappy soul trussed on the back porch of the private car.
Jackson Cooper appeared from somewhere: the man had the uncanny ability to appear, or seem to; in reality, like most big men, he could move with an eerie silence, and often did.
"You need that package hauled to the calaboose?" he rumbled, his voice grinding through several rock strata before coming to surface.
"Yes, please," Sarah and the Sheriff chorused.
Jackson Cooper stepped easily up onto the private car's platform, looked at the knot holding the bound ankles to the rail: reaching in with thumb and forefinger, he drew delicately at something, and the bound ankles fell away.
Jackson Cooper reached down, rolled the fellow over, frowning, then picked him up by his belt.
The prisoner groaned, clenching his jaw and grimacing in obvious pain.
Jackson Cooper picked up the crushed billycock with his free hand, turned it over, examined it closely.
"You're kind of hard on your hat," he said conversationally, then casually stepped off the private car's rear deck and carried the prisoner to the jail as easily as he might carry a luggage by the handle.
The Sheriff reached up and knocked on the express car's door: a coded series of knocks, to which the door opened, and a little blond-haired tornado launched out of the open door into the lawman's arms with a swirl of blond hair and calico dress and a delighted "Daddeee!"
The Sheriff was obliged to take a step backwards under the impact of the flying little girl: his arms were firm and strong around her and he threw his head back and laughed, and Sarah's heart sketched the sight: her Papa, with his head thrown back and a look of utter delight on his face, and for a moment she imagined herself as that little girl, full of joy at being held by her Papa, and all right with the world.
"Did she skin you at poker?" Sarah called up to the conductor, who was on one knee in the doorway, his expression momentarily soft and wondering, the look of one father who knew what it was to have children.
The conductor looked at Sarah and smiled a little.
"She slept curled up on my lap most of the trip," he said. "It's been a long time since I held my little girl like that."
"Didn't she get married here last year?"
"Yeah, she's clear the hell and gone down to Texas, her and that rancher. Last I heard she was expecting ... matter of fact she's due any time."
Sarah nodded.
Angela pulled her Daddy's pearl-grey Stetson off his head and plopped it on her own curls: giggling, she turned and waved at the conductor with a little girl's high-voiced "Thank you!" and then turned back to her Daddy.
"Daddy, Sawwah gottada bad guy," she said in an excited staccato, "annada I helpedit!"
The Sheriff laughed, looked at Sarah, and his look was not one of a lawman for a contemporary, it was a father for his daughter.
"Sarah," he said, "I believe I am proud of my girls this morning," and he ran his arm around Sarah's shoulders and pulled her in against him.
For just a moment, Sarah felt like a little girl, safe in her Daddy's embrace.
"Let's go see about breakfast for you, young lady," the Sheriff said, patting Angela's bottom affectionately, the way a Daddy does when holding his little girl: Angela nodded and said "I'm hungwy!"
"Once we get you situated, Sarah and I have to go interrogate a prisoner."
Angela picked up the oversized skypiece with both hands, holding it at arm's length above her head.
"You gonna dwill holes inniz head?" she asked, big-eyed.
Sarah laughed. "No, good heavens no!" she exclaimed. "Interrogate means we ask him lots of questions!"
"Oh." The hat plopped back down on Angela's head and she giggled.
Black-suited Sheriff and black-coated Agent, father and daughter, walked away from the depot building and up the board walk, their boots loud on the warped, dusty boards.

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Linn Keller 6-11-12

 

The man wore an expensive suit and smoked an expensive cigar.
His surroundings were simple but tasteful; there were few decorations, for he spent little time there.
It was more the office of a man who detested the office.
At the moment he was leaning forward in his comfortable, high-backed chair, glaring at his visitor.
"What do you mean, she got away?"
Professor Joseph Hunt glared back at the man.
"Just that."
"She got away." The man's eyes narrowed. "You obviously can't handle an assignment."
"You obviously can't provide competent help."
The man's fist came down hard on his gleaming desk top, causing ink-well and pen-set to jump. "I sent the best men I had!"
"Then you have poor men," Professor Hunt said quietly, his glare clearly showing the contempt he held for the crime boss.
"I want her." He puffed on his cigar, blew out a liquid stream of smoke. "I want her, and I want her mother."
"You thought you could take them a couple of years ago," the Professor said, eyes bright under shaggy eyebrows. "Your best men you sent. One got greedy and a little girl killed him." The professor paused for emphasis. "A little girl. A child. She was ten years old."
"Don't remind me," the well-dressed man muttered, taking the cigar between two fingers as if it were suddenly distasteful.
"The rest of your men ... well, they were just as incompetent, if you'll remember."
"I SAID DON'T REMIND ME!"
His shout was loud in the room, his face suddenly red, then dark red.
Professor Hunt's glare never wavered.
"How, then, do you wish to proceed?"
"The same as I always did," the boss muttered. "I want everything they have. I don't care what it takes. I want their gold, their land, their cattle, their business, their holdings. I don't care if it's half-interest in a monopoly on schoolboy's marble games, I want it!"
"That's all you want?"
"NO!" His voice rose again to a shout.
"You want the women."
"Woman," the boss corrected. "The mother is a woman. The girl is ... she's just a girl!" He waved his hand as if brushing aside an irritation.
"Don't underestimate the child," the Professor said smoothly.
"Don't tell me my business," the boss said, his voice dangerously quiet.
The Professor was a good judge of character: he knew better than to push the man any further.
"How much to deliver them both into your hands?"
"I thought you liked the girl."
"Business," the Professor said, "is for profit. Feelings just get in the way."
The boss opened a drawer, took out a bundled stack of bills, tossed them across the desk.
The Professor reached up, fanned the bills with his thumb, making a quick tally.
"Judas worked for forty pieces of silver," he said. "My fee is a bit more."

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Linn Keller 6-13-12

 

“How long have you known?”
“Long enough.”
“Does Mama know?”
“No.”
“Do you think you can keep it from her?”
The Sheriff looked over at Levi.
“That’s not for me to decide.”
Levi realized he was being asked to make a decision for which he’d given no forethought and no planning.
Levi preferred to plan; Levi preferred to think ahead, to consider a course of action before taking a course of action: he was not geared to swift response, in most cases, as was the Sheriff … and his own stepdaughter.
Levi considered for a long moment.
“I don’t want her in the dark,” he said. “I’ll tell her.”
“She’ll want to run,” Sarah said quietly.
“No, I don’t think so.”
Sarah looked at the Sheriff and mouthed the words, “She’ll run,” and the Sheriff gave a slow nod: to Levi, it looked like he was agreeing with the ex-agent; to Sarah, it was evident the Sheriff agreed with her assessment.
“Should you send her away?” the Sheriff asked quietly. “Don’t let her choose to run, but suggest a safe place for her.”
“Safe?” Levi asked. “Against that gang?”
The Sheriff nodded slowly, his eyes half-lidded.
“Where? Hell?”
The Sheriff’s smile was thin.
“I could suggest the Border country,” he said slowly, “but there’s someplace better.”
“Better?”
The Sheriff nodded.
“My place.”
Levi raised an eyebrow, rested his mustache on the edge of his forefinger, his elbows on his knees: he nodded, slowly, then looked up at the Sheriff.
“Let’s.”
The Sheriff nodded.
Sarah began cleaning her nails on a slender bladed knife.
Levi glanced over at her, surprised.
Where did that come from? he wondered, then, Never mind, I don’t want to know.


The Professor quietly assessed the inside of the Boss’s sanctum.
He’d already considered the window behind the immaculately barbered man, made a mental note to see how it opened, how it was latched: if it was the same as the other windows in the building, it had a simple latch that could be defeated with a steel ruler, a schoolchild’s implement, thrust between the lower pane and the upper and moved to one side or the other … an absurdly simple thing, he thought, and refrained from a smile.
There was a safe behind a painting, another behind the curtain to the left, both of them the old-fashioned variety … the Professor was willing to bet he could defeat them both in ten minutes’ time.
Not just yet, though.
Not yet.
Things … matters … had to play out, and he intended that it should play out to his personal advantage.
He wasn’t getting any younger, after all; he’d learned what was important in life, and some of it was on the Boss’s desk in front of him, wrapped with a rectangular strip of paper, printed with the dollar amount of its cargo.
More of the same would make his old age less uncomfortable, he knew, and here was an opportunity to make more of that lovely folding stuff.

Esther shifted her weight in her office chair and propped her feet on the little stool under her desk.
It helped ease her back.
I don’t remember my back hurting so with my last baby, she thought, laying a maternal hand on her belly.
I'm not so far along ... my belly isn't that big ... I shouldn't ache ...
I think perhaps I could use some tea.
Esther reached for the bell-pull and smiled.
It would be lovely to have some company, she thought, wishing her dear friend Bonnie would magically appear coming through her office door.

Bonnie nodded one time.
"I rather suspected this would happen," she said quietly, then turned to her roll top desk.
She opened the desk, reached into a pigeon hole, withdrew a Navy Colt.
Sarah recognized the worn, familiar revolver.
It used to belong to her Papa, the Sheriff.
Bonnie slid it into a concealed slit in her dress, her eyes hard, snapping: her face was set and Sarah saw the lines carved down from either side of her nose, and Sarah knew her Mama meant business.
"I won't be unready again," she said, lifting her chin and glaring at her husband. "Let them come. We will receive them."
She looked at Sarah with flinty eyes.
"We have a fashion show in Denver. It is known where we will stay and that we will be together. We will be in the den of iniquity and the heart of their evil empire. They will have no better opportunity to take us both."
Bonnie's face was pale and pinched, but her eyes were those of a hunting falcon.
"Levi," she said, "I want a screen of bodyguards around us. I want men who know how to turn invisible, men who can kill quickly and without conscience."
She looked at Sarah again.
"I may be old," she said, "but I can learn a little something from my daughter."
Sarah had held back since crossing the threshold of her own home, but she held back no longer.
Tall and skinny, rangy and sinewy as a thirteen year old is, dressed all in black, Sarah, in britches and boots and pigtails unwinding from around her throat, took three long steps and seized her Mama in a fierce embrace.

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Linn Keller 6-14-12

 

Bonnie seized Levi's face between her hands and kissed him soundly.
Her nose was an inch from his and she whispered, "Go have your council of war. Make your manly plans and Sarah and I will prepare for the show."
Levi hugged his wife, held her with a fierceness she hadn't felt before: there was something ... different ... in the way he embraced her: it wasn't the passion of a man whose fires burned bright for his wife's love, it wasn't the possessiveness of a small man.
Sarah waited silently until the men withdrew.
Mother and daughter, side by side, waited as the maid closed the door behind the retreating men; they both faced the door, relaxed, collected, as the maid curtsied and glided past them and toward the kitchen.
"Oh, Mary," Bonnie called quietly, "might we have some tea, please, and would there be any sandwiches?"
"Yes, ma'am," came the quiet reply.
Bonnie still faced the front door, as if looking through it at her husband.
"Sarah," she said, "have you spoken with them?"
"Daciana is willing," Sarah said, equally quiet. "She said I was the first one in town who didn't treat her like a whore. Dolly said the same thing. She's willing, too."
"Do they understand the risks?"
"Yes."
"And they are still willing."
Sarah's eyes were ice-pale.
"They are looking forward to it."

"Sheriff," Levi said, not entirely at home in the saddle, "if we were for the mountains and a fast, mobile enemy, I would trust your recruiting judgement. Trust mine now. I know just the men to operate in the city."
The Sheriff nodded.
Unlike Levi, he was completely at home in the saddle; it wasn't that he moved with the horse, it's more than he became one with his horse, in that curious magic that occurs when one's mount and rider are very well matched, physically and temperamentally.
"You know the terrain and you know the enemy better than I. You've trusted me, Levi, in this matter I trust you."
"It gets ... sticky, Sheriff," Levi said slowly.
"How's that?"
The Sheriff could tell there was something behind Levi's reluctant syllables.
"Sheriff, if the Denver police showed up suddenly in Firelands and laid hard hands on some locals, kicked in doors and cracked heads, no notice to you and without your permission or assistance, you'd be unhappy about it. This is your county and they have no jurisdiction here."
The Sheriff was silent for a long moment.
"Go on."
"If you go in and we don't have the Denver police blessing on your presence, it could be ... they could be unhappy."
The Sheriff nodded.
"Are you saying I should not go?"
It was Levi's turn to consider for a few moments before replying.
"I won't tell you that, Sheriff. This is family and I won't say thee nay."
"Good."
They rode on a few minutes more.
"Now tell me about this boss and the way he operates."

The Professor accepted the second bundle of bills, thrust them into an inside coat pocket.
"You will want to take them both at the same time," he said briskly, as if presenting a lecture. "They have a fashion show scheduled. I know the place and I know the floor plan. Mother and daughter, both on stage, neither expecting anything but buyers and sales and handling of their fine and lovely gowns. They can be taken most effectively immediately after the show, when buyers have mostly gone but a few are yet behind. It's not unusual for them to bring men with them to carry trunks or provide escort."
The boss nodded, his dark eyes gimlet-sharp.
"There are a number of trunks there. I propose mother and daughter be discreetly ... immobilized ... and muffled ... then secured tightly and rather uncomfortably before being placed in separate trunks."
The Professor's smile was cynical.
"Perhaps even use the buyers' hired help to carry the trunks and their ... cargo ... to your designated carriage, or wagon. Further transport through the City could be after you've ..."
The Professor's smile was wicked, and he leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers.
"Come, now, Professor," the boss said, plucking a shred of tobacco from the tip of his tongue: "I know that smile. Out with it, man, you have a delightfully unpleasant imagination."
"When it comes time to interrogate them, when it comes time to persuade them," the Professor said, "we let each see the other being placed in a coffin, the lid screwed down, loaded in a hearse.
"We imply to each the other will be treated very badly and finally buried alive, or perhaps you wish to stretch each by the wrists on a whipping post and give both of them a taste of leather, enough to raise welts and bring blood ... then tell each, whisper it so neither can hear what the other is told ... cooperate, and I won't have to hurt the other one, give me what I want and I will let her go, then whip them some more to show them what happens without their complete cooperation.
"They are, after all, merely women," the Professor said smugly. "Women are weak and timid creatures and their spirits are easily broken."
The boss frowned.
"Professor, you may entertain yourself yourself however you please. I am not interested in diversions. I wish to keep them both, yes. I wish to lock them both away, yes. I wish to look upon them and know that I own them, yes, and I will own all that they have. That will require legal documents, signatures, filings.
"Let me propose this." The boss leaned forward, pushing his forearms into the edge of the desk, cigar in hand curling blue ribbons into the still air.
"Let me get what I want, and I will allow you to use them. You may play with them as you please, as long as you don't damage their faces or kill them. I will keep them, I will own them, but you may ... use ... them as you wish.
What would that be worth to you?"
The Professor smiled wickedly.
"That would be worth ... a great deal of cooperation."
"I will depend on you to make it happen."
"It will happen." The Professor stood, extended his hand. "It's always a pleasure to draw screams from a young woman's throat. Properly applied, the whip on her skin is like a bow on violin strings."
The boss shivered, and the Professor felt the shiver in the man's handshake.
"My God, man," he whispered, "how do you live with yourself?"

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Linn Keller 6-14-12

 

The dress-works was quieter than normal: more intense, more focused, as three models, not one, were fitted with the newest McKenna gowns.
Accessories were quickly assembled for each gown, carefully coordinated: gowns were marked, folded, packed: the models were coached, instructed on how to stand, turn, walk; how to pluck up the skirt, hold out the material; they were instructed in how to wave a gracefully-bent wrist to indicate bodice or waist, skirt or collar, and the gowns were tried by the models to ensure they allowed for the necessary freedom of movement that may be needed.

Professor Hunt was exercising a freedom of his own.
The Professor was a city man.
He preferred the city, where he could satisfy his appetites easily.
All of his appetites.
He preferred the easier life found in the metropolis: though he had cultivated crops as a young man, slaughtered beeves, pigs and chickens, he preferred to purchase his comestibles rather than raise them: he knew where to purchase anything that suited him, and right now, what suited him was female.
He approached two slatterns of his acquaintance, and propositioned them with gentle voice and polite syllables.
The Professor was known to them; after a brief bargaining, they came to an agreement, and were soon at a warehouse of the Professor's choosing.
The boss was not far behind.
The Professor had his arm around the ladies, speaking quietly to them; they expressed distaste and reluctance, but money talks, and money is the reason they trolled their wares as they did: the Professor picked up the razor strop, smiled wickedly and whispered, "Remember, I like it when you scream."

The Boss glared at his right hand man.
"Boss," the man protested, eyes busy, "you don't want to do this."
He spotted an urchin in knee pants and a cloth cap: the lad looked up, winked, then went back to his study of the local ant population.
The man continued looking around, less tense now.
"I want to see what this man does," the Boss said quietly.
"Boss, you don't want to go there. What if he's raided? Can you imagine the headlines? I don't care if he ruins himself -- the women are nothing -- but you? Boss, you can't afford to get your name in the paper!"
"This won't take long," the boss growled.
The well-dressed man stepped out of the enclosed carriage, walked up toward the warehouse: he opened the door as a woman's scream shivered the still air within.
A man's laughter followed ... made all the more horrible by the pain in the scream, and the genuine love of what he was doing, evident in the man's voice.
There was another savage whirr as the razor strop rumbled through the air, then the sound of smooth, heavy leather searing across naked flesh.
Another scream, sobs, inarticulate words.
The boss froze, his eyes widening, and his right hand man saw the color drain from the man's face.
"Now, my dear," the Professor declared, "I don't want you to think I'm ignoring you. After all, you must be uncomfortable, stretched up like that. Let me give you something to think about besides the pain in your arms!"
"No," a voice begged, "no, please, no, I'll --"
The boss swallowed, suddenly uncomfortable, as the razor strop whistled audibly through the air, then lashed across the vulnerable, unprotected flesh.
The boss turned, grabbed his right hand man by the coat sleeve.
"Let's get out of here," he whispered hoarsely, and moments later the sound of a departing carriage could be heard.
The Professor put a finger to his lips; the women held their hands over their mouths: the Professor tossed the razor strop across a convenient hay-bale and ignored the swinging side of meat hanging from a hook.
He opened the door, looked cautiously out; the carriage was gone.
As the Professor counted out the ladies' fees, one stood hip shot and said, "You know, Professor, this is the easiest gelt I've made all week!"
"Yeah," the other agreed. "You need us to scream again sometime, maybe?"
The Professor laughed, kissed one, then the other: his eyes were merry, his voice gentle as he said, "Ladies, you have indeed earned your pay this night, and I thank you most sincerely for helping me in this little deception!"
"If it'll get him behind bars," the worn-looking woman thrust her chin at the door, "I'd be willing to let you use that thing on me, for real!"
The Professor laid a gentle hand on her cheek, his eyes almost sad.
"Never, my dear," he whispered. "Never."

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Linn Keller 6-15-12

 

A knowledgeable observer at Denver's depot might have felt a certain disquietude, had they seen The Lady Esther arrive and discharge its Firelands contingent.
Of course, the observer would have to know what, and who, they were looking at.
Especially who.
In reality, the passengers looked like the typical well dressed folk coming into the City; the trunks, offloaded, looked like trunks; luggage, looked like luggage.
There was really nothing to visually indicate that an efficient, organized strike team just arrived.

Levi had been busy the night before; messages were sent, messengers traveled swiftly, hand delivering missives: good men and true responded, or not, according to their lights, and trusted associates waited with quiet expression, brushed suits and curled mustaches, sipping coffee or an early beer as they awaited the author of their summons: men young and not so young, men who knew what it was to enforce the Law, some with legal authority, some with the authority God imbued in every heart: quiet eyes assessed everyone coming through the door, and more than one pair of eyes tightened into a smile as Levi Rosenthal came into the restaurant, sweeping the assembled with his characteristic slow, encompassing look.

Sarah changed into her severe, mousy-grey schoolmarm dress before disembarking the train.
It was important that any watchers be able to report that she had indeed returned.
Sarah was quiet on the way back to Denver, considering what she'd learned, what she and the Sheriff and Levi had learned, from the prisoner she'd slugged and captured on the way home.
She remembered her ... no, not stepfather ... that gambling no-good Mama married! she thought viciously, and good riddance to him! -- she remembered the moment she became the Ragdoll, and how what little of her childhood she'd regained, was shattered like the rag doll's head, how what innocence she'd managed to recover flew from her like white doves released at a funeral as she screamed obscenities at the man who'd come with intent to brutalize and murder her Mama and do worse to her, screamed at the man until he ended up on the floor full of Army Colt pistol balls, and how she'd bent over the porch rail afterward, sick with more than the knowledge that she'd just sent a deserving soul to Hell in front of her Mama -- she'd just been divested of any chance at childhood she might ever have --
Sarah stopped, leaned unsteadily against a railing: her Mama cupped her elbow with one hand, ran her other arm around Sarah's shoulders, held her for a long moment.
Sarah swallowed, hard.
"Mama," she whispered, her mouth suddenly dry, "I don't want you hurt."
Bonnie felt the Navy colt press into her as she held her daughter.
"I won't be," she said firmly.

You need respectability, the Professor told him: you need a secretary.
I don't need a secretary, the boss protested.
You need a secretary, the Professor persisted. You need someone to organize the office, keep track of your paper work, you need someone to write your letters and receive your correspondence, to screen your visitors and announce guests, you need a secretary to make your office look legitimate and prosperous.
After all -- and the man's smile was almost lustful, lascivious -- it's all about appearances, isn't it?
And so the Boss agreed, and the outer office was cleaned out: filing-cabinets were moved in, as was a sizable, solid desk; chairs were installed, pictures hung and plants in big pots of straw-covered dirt placed in corners.
The boss smiled and nodded and looked at the Professor.
Tell me about this secretary, he said, and the Professor smiled.
She knows nothing about you or what you do, he explained. She believes you are a businessman, secretive about your work, and she is content with this: she's a widow woman with a grown daughter and she knows the value of not asking questions.
The boss nodded.
Respectability, he said slowly.
The Professor nodded.
And so the boss consented, and all was made ready for the addition of a secretary to his little empire.


Sarah hugged the street rats fiercely: they were happy for the hug, but made a show of reluctance, for people were watching from the carriage.
Sarah received their report, listening first to the group as a whole, then individually, looking into their eyes as she held their shoulders, giving each her personal, complete attention: Bonnie stared openly as her daughter became someone else entirely, someone quite different, interacting easily and naturally with these unwashed street Arabs, these juvenile alley rats with disreputable garments and shifty, sneaky eyes: Sarah strode purposefully back to the carriage, began handing out the wrapped packages she'd prepared in the Jewel, one package to each of the lads: another set of quiet-voiced instructions and the dirty-faced squad dispersed, almost at a run, and in half a minute none were to be seen.
Sarah stood, hands folded, looking slowly about, the sunlight flashing from her window-glass spectacles: satisfied, she gave a single nod, looking very much the schoolteacher, very much the individual who'd planned and executed a carefully thought out little operation.

Bonnie, Sarah, trunks and stout yeomen assaulted the broad, carpeted stairs leading up from the lobby: the pomaded young man bowed and smiled, the doorman held the broad portals wide and the red-headed hotel detective leaned back against a wall and turned invisible, which he did with surprising skill.
House McKenna was arriving.
The hotel detective was not the only one to note their arrival.
He was, however, the only one to note the figure that slipped out the door afterward.

The Sheriff squared off against Sean, his hands taped and gloved: Sean stood, relaxed, bare to the waist, sculpted of seasoned white oak and rawhide, waiting with the grace of a panther sunning himself.
The Sheriff's face was tense and his skin was beaded with sweat: he raised his gloves again, shifted his weight.
Sean saw the man's left shoulder drop and raised a glove.
The Sheriff's glove hit Sean's intercepting mitt and he never saw the return blow that tagged the side of his head.
The lawman slung his hands down as if throwing water off them, stepped back and swore, once, loudly.
Sean stepped up and rested his gloves on the Sheriff's shoulders.
"Enough," he said, then, "Lad," and raised his chin.
At his summons, two of the Brigade stepped up and unlaced the gloves from the two old friends' hands.
Sean took the Sheriff firmly by the shoulders, steered him into the back door of the Jewel, past Daisy's kitchen and its wonderful smells, and to the bar.
Mr. Baxter took one look at the sweat-gleaming Sheriff and the composed Irishman and drew two beers.
The two men hoist their heavy glass mugs to each other, then drank, deep, gratefully of the amber brew.
When the came up for air, most of each mug had gone down the swaller pipe of its holder.
Mr. Baxter filled the mugs and the two sauntered back to the Lawman's Corner.
Nobody paid the least attention that neither wore any but an annoyed expression above the beltline.
The rest of the Brigade quietly waited at the bar as Mr. Baxter drew a steady row of froth-headed, heavy-glass mugs; the Welsh Irishman, as he always did, explored the free lunch, but when Daisy's girl came out with a heaping plate of sandwiches, he happily left the cold sausage and salt meat alone in favor of one of the Jewel's productions.
The Sheriff glared at something well beyond Sean's left bicep, something only he could see.
"Lad," Sean said quietly, "wha' troubles ye?"
"Nothing," the Sheriff snapped, taking a vicious and noisy slurp of beer.
Sean heard the man's lower teeth click on the heavy glass.
The Irishman leaned back and smiled as the plate of sandwiches settled on the table between them: he smiled and winked at Daisy's girl and the lass smiled back, turned with a flare of skirts and walked away, knowing full well that more than one set of Irish eyes was making a full and happy assessment of her ... assets.
She smiled.
She liked it when her assets were assessed, and her walk showed it.
"Sheriff," Sean rumbled quietly, "ye are as poor a liar as ye are a boxer this mornin'. Now out wi' it, man, wha' has yer soul stirred up?"
The Sheriff glared at the Irishman.
"Sean, you see that girl that just brought this plate?"
"Aye."
"She's young enough ... she could be my daughter."
The Irishman's eyes were amused.
"Sheriff," he said with the air of a man sharing a naughty confidence, "are ye tellin' me yer loins were fertile as a younger man?"
The Sheriff raised a hand, shaking his head.
"No, not her. Yes her. Oh hell!" He snatched up a sandwich, bit viciously at bread and meat, chewed as if masticating an enemy's living heart.
Sean picked up a sandwich, eyed it carefully, took a slow bite, savoring sourdough and back strap and the seasonings his beautiful bride taught her cooks to use.
The Sheriff swallowed, took another slurp of beer; he dashed the foam from his handlebar and set the beer down.
"Sean, I can ride the wind itself. I can part a gnat's hair with a pistol ball at fifty feet, one handed, in a stiff crosswind after dark. I can ought fight any man in the county -- except you this morning -- my word is law and I have the best looking woman in the territory!"
"Ye're still a terrible liar," Sean grinned. "Ma Daisy is th' best lookin' bride!"
The Sheriff grinned suddenly, raised his mug, and clinked glass with the Irish Chieftain. "Aye, ye're right," he agreed, "she is!" -- then, serious again -- "Sean, ye know Sarah is of my get."
Sean nodded, slowly, quietly.
"You know she's in Denver going to school."
"Aye, I do that," Sean said. "Finishing school I thought it was, t' polish her int' a proper young lady, an' ye send her t' detective school?" He leaned across the table, his forearm across the table in front of him. "Sheriff, is that any respectable trade f'r th' lass?"
The Sheriff looked his old friend in the eye.
"Sean, you know she's lived through hell a time or three."
"I r'member when ye thought she was dead, when th' buggy run over her," Sean murmured. "I thought ye were gon' t' die o' a broken heart yersel'."
"I didn't know she was mine yet," the Sheriff said bleakly. "I had no idea she ..."
Sean waited patiently.
"Sean, you remember me telling you about Bonnie's first ... no, not her first husband."
"That thievin' Rosenthal tha' was killed f'r gamblin' debts."
"The same."
"Aye, I r'member."
"The new boss decided he'd take over the debt."
Sean's eyes and his face both darkened.
"And?"
"And Sarah went back to Denver, she and Bonnie both."
"What?"
The Sheriff raised a hand.
"I didn't go."
"I see that," Sean said, leaning back in surprise. "Wha' in th' name o' the good St. Florian are ye don' here, man?"
The Sheriff's expression was that of a man who'd just bitten into something distasteful.
"It's not in my jurisdiction," he said, his lip curling: "I can't just ride into another bailiwick and take over."
Sean's head lowered and he glared at the lawman from under red, shaggy eyebrows.
"Levi is planning a trap."
"Wi' Sarah as bait."
The Sheriff nodded.
"God help us, man, an' ye're still here?"
"Aye."
"An' tha's why ye're cranky an' out o' sorts."
"Aye."
Sean took in a long breath, blew it out, along with a few bread crumbs.
"An' wha' has tha' t' diu wi' th' lass who brought us these?" Sean's blunt finger thumped the edge of the serving platter, just before he picked up another sandwich.
"Sarah is my daughter," the Sheriff said bleakly, "and I'm not there to keep her safe."

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Linn Keller 6-15-12

 

The Bear Killer leaped easily into the back of the wagon after the trunks were loaded, tail swinging slowly as he vacuumed the several items of baggage: the twins giggled from the porch as the massive canine examined the cargo, then laid down among the trunks as if he belonged there.
The Bear Killer opened his mouth and laughed at the twins and watched the two-story McKenna house recede as they clattered and bounced toward town.

"Something doesn't set right," the boss muttered, then glared at his right hand man. "Where's Schlingermann?"
"Froggy? Sobering up, knowing him."
"Make sure he's damn good and sober. I want to know when that skinny little schoolteacher gets to class. Whatever she says, I want to know it."
"Schlingermann sits about eight feet from her. He'll hear her every word."
The boss grunted, not convinced.
"The Professor ... there's something wrong with that man." The boss shook his head slowly. "I don't think he's entirely sane."
His right hand man raised his eyebrows, considering the boss's words, then relaxed.
"If he's not entirely sane, who knows what he'll do with those women?"
"I know you want the women, Boss, but what about their holdings?"
"I want those too. More."
The boss opened the ledger, his predecessor's ledger, ran his finger down the assets Rosenthal claimed as collateral against his gambling debts.
"For all I know, old man Rosenthal was lying through his teeth just to get money. On the other hand ..."
He looked at his segundo.
"If their holdings don't exist or never did, I could just sell the pair of them. Mother and daughter. Sell them to a San Francisco whorehouse."
"You could rent them out instead," the segundo suggested. "Just think, boss, it would be the ideal business deal: you sell it, and you still got it!"
The boss pointed at the man, closed one eye approvingly. "I like the way you think."
He leaned back, laced his fingers over his slightly-paunchy belly.
"I need to know if she goes anywhere at all," he muttered.
"Sure, boss."

Sarah braided her hair for bed as she always did, seated in front of a mirror, not looking into it: her eyes were pale, far away, and of all the ladies present, none missed the .44 bulldog revolver between the hair brush and the hand mirror.
Sarah finished with her hair, then opened a small satchel and took out a cleaning rag, two whet stones and a small bottle of oil.
She always did enjoy sharpening her knives.
The whisper of steel on Berea sandstone was always relaxing to her.
The Bear Killer slept at Sarah's feet, content.
When Sarah was done, she wiped the blade on the cleaning rag, blotted the stones; she held her arm up so the fine hair was visible against the darker wall beyond, and carefully drew the knife's edge across her arm.
Sarah shaved a small, bald patch on her forearm.
Her smile was relaxed and genuine; she was pleased to have a shaving edge with medium and fine stones only.
Another few minutes with the leather strop and the knife had the edge of a straight razor.

The Sheriff lay on his back, staring at his bedroom ceiling.
Esther was relaxed and warm beside him; as usual, she fell asleep holding his hand.
Usually he fell asleep holding hers as well.
The bedcovers were cool and comfortable when he slid between cotton sheets: they were becoming hot, unbearably so, and he started to reach for the cover when his bedroom door opened.
A pair of bright little eyes looked at him: Angela rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand and she padded silently across the floor, coming to a stop on her Daddy's deer skin rug, wiggling her bare toes into the stiff hairs.
The Sheriff slipped his hand from Esther's, drew back the covers and sat up: he stroked his little girl's cheek gently with the backs of his fingers and leaned close, until his muts-tash tickled her ear.
"Can't sleep?" he whispered, his breath warm and soft in her ear.
Angela shook her head, leaning against her Daddy.
The Sheriff stood slowly, carefully, picking up his little girl and laying her against his chest: she reached around his neck, her ever present rag doll hanging by one leg, and laid her head over his shoulder: the Sheriff walked slowly toward the door, opened it carefully, then cat footed silently down the stairs.
Esther's eyes closed slowly, and she smiled at the sight of Daddy and his drowsy daughter, retreating silently so as not to disturb her.

Sean, too, rose from his bunk: irritated, he pulled on socks and thrust into brogans and walked quietly to the equipment bay.
Sean pulled on a pair of padded gloves and glared at the heavy bag, hanging from its chain from a convenient ceiling beam.
I would ne'er stay here when 'twas ma daughter i' danger, he thought, glaring at the bag.
The sound of hard fists smacking into the bag was loud in the nighttime firehouse.

The dirty-faced boy leaned casually against the building, nearly completely hidden in shadow.
He'd faded a little more into the dark triangle as the beat cop came by, swinging his billy on its lanyard; he sneered as the cop went by, near enough to reach out and smack, but he was busy watching the building across the street and so offered neither insult nor surprise to the passing flatfoot.
He waited until the light went out in the upper story window, then watched the front door, saw both men emerge.
He waited until they were well gone before looking cautiously around, then he too drifted down the alley and out of sight.
He wrote carefully, slowly, printing block letters, folded the paper and shoved it into a pocket: he sauntered down the sidewalk as if he belonged there, and less than ten minutes later, shoved the paper -- and his account of the conversation he'd overheard, listening just outside that second floor office window, squatting on the strap-iron fire escape -- into the gap between the bannister and the upright, there on the stairway running up the side of the finest hotel in Denver.
The hotel where his benefactor, the schoolmarm who called herself Angel of Death, lived.

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Charlie MacNeil 6-15-12

 

The roan gelding was dead.

Charlie was belly-down in a nest of head-sized rocks and prairie bunchgrass, mentally taking body part inventory, listening outwardly for any sign of the adversary, listening inwardly for signs of distress. He was sure there had been more than one rifle...

There was a feeling of cold, deep bone-chilling cold, that alternated with lightning bolts of painful heat, radiating from the ribs along his right side. He cautiously took a breath, feeling the grate of bone on bone, cold sweat beading on his forehead. He pressed the flat of his palm gently against his side; a wave of nausea coursed through him as he drew his hand away covered with sticky redness...

Somewhere, out yonder beyond the meager cover of his hideout, someone had tried to kill him, and damn near gotten the job done. The thud of the heavy bullet into the roan's chest had come long before the sound of the shot; the bullet that would have killed him had he not flinched away from the sound of the roan's demise came from much closer, and, he was sure, from a different direction, immediately on the heels of the first. Therefore there were two shooters, and obviously neither was interested in the horse. Whoever was out there had to be after Charlie personally, and he was sure that whoever it was would be coming to make sure that the job was finished...

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Linn Keller 6-16-12

 

It was morning.
The Sheriff saddled his Cannonball mare.
His jaw was tight, he was frowning, and he was working in absolute silence.
His gut told him something was wrong, something was very, very wrong ... and he was an old enough lawman to know it was probably not what he thought it was.
He fetched his '73 rifle out of its scabbard, eared the hammer back to full cock and eased the bolt open enough to see brass, then closed the action and carefully lowered back down to half cock: he thrust the engraved rifle back into its scabbard, drew his left revolver, then his right, and added a sixth round, setting the hammer nose down between the rims.
I don't know what's wrong, he thought.
I do know who to talk to.
He seized the brim of his Stetson and fairly tore it off his head, slapped it hard against his leg and glared at the hay-dusted rafters overhead.

It was morning.
Levi spoke quietly to hard-eyed men in black suits and Derby hats, men with trimmed or curled mustaches and barbered hair, shined shoes and brushed garments ... men he knew, men he trusted, men who knew their business.
The men listened to his quiet syllables, then dispersed, their tread silent on the hotel carpet.

It was morning.
Janitors finished mopping the stage, dusting the ledges, making the generous stage ready for the fashion show.
Trunks were carried in, unpacked, dresses shaken out and hung up, accessories placed on tables, arranged by color or material, arranged for the most convenient pick-up, for costume changes were as much a part of the fashion show as they were a circus performance or a stage play.

It was morning.
The young woman with round lensed spectacles and a mousy-grey schoolteacher's dress plucked the folded paper from the gap in the stairway bannister, unfolded it, read it once, twice.
"Levi," she called, "could you come here, please?"

It was morning.
The boss was in his office, giving orders for the day.
"Mr. Schlingermann," the boss said quietly.
"Yes, sir."
"You sit close to her."
"Yes, sir."
"Mr. Schlingermann, I need to know if she leaves for lunch. I need to know where she goes. If she tells you she's going someplace, you are to let me know by the usual messenger."
"Yes, sir."
The boss paused, looked around, his eyes going to the closed door of his inner office.
"I'm expecting some important deliveries today," he said. "Very likely they'll be here before noon. I don't want anyone to interfere with they arrive."
"What kind of deliveries, boss?"
"Trunks," he replied. "Two trunks."
"I'll tell the boys to let the trunks pass."
The boss allowed himself a small smile.
Froggy Schlingermann knew the boss and knew this meant he'd been looking forward to something for a very long time.
Froggy also knew this usually meant ill for someone.
Froggy blinked, slowly, considering that he was grateful the boss's attention was apparently not going to be focused on him.

It was morning.
Two men in expensive suits watched from a few feet back in the mouth of an alley as the mousy-grey schoolteacher with the round-lenses spectacles marched purposefully down the sidewalk.
"There she is, right on time."
"Set your watch by her, you can."
"What did you expect? She is a schoolteacher!"
"What does she want with detective school?"
"Oh, hell, you know women. She wants to look at a schoolboy and know if he's the one dipped a little girl's pigtails in the ink well!"
Chuckles and nods; they waited until the slender young woman entered the building before raising their hats and passing them across at belt buckle height, signaling the watcher at the end of the block that all was well.

It was morning, and the new employee, the secretary recommended by the boss's right hand man, was arriving.
The new secretary rapped on the boss's door, opened it, stepped inside and regarded the well-dressed man with a surprisingly direct gaze.
"You wanted to see me, sir," she said without preamble.
The boss, surprised, took the cigar from between his teeth: "Who the hell are you?"
"Your secretary, sir."
"Oh. Oh, yes, yes. Of course." He looked sharply at her. "Tell me about yourself."
The woman raised her chin.
"My name is Marnie Cullisson, I am widowed and I have a crippled daughter. I am an experienced secretary and frankly from what I was told, you need my services."
"Just what ... services ... do you provide?" the boss asked, his voice oily.
The woman glared at him.
"You are a businessman," she said in clipped tones, "with a clientele in several states. You are an importer of goods and a wholesaler. In short, sir, you are very good at what you do." The woman paused. "I am very good at what I do, and what I do not do is anything like you're suggesting!"
"I see." The boss shrugged. "Well, keep the place clean and bring me coffee --"
"If you want a servant," the woman interrupted coldly, "hire a servant. I am a secretary. I will make your life much easier and with an improvement in this disorganization I anticipate your profits should increase." Her eyes were hard and angry. "If you want a janitor, hire one."
The boss stood, thrust out his hand.
"Very well, Mrs. Secretary," he said. "You're hired."
Bonnie McKenna felt like she was shaking hands with the Devil himself.
Bonnie McKenna allowed herself a tight little smile.

"Lord," the Sheriff said, his voice quiet in the barn's morning hush, "I don't know what's wrong. Likely it's Sarah and what-all is going to happen in Denver.
"If that's the case, Lord, she's got Levi and Levi has an army."
He frowned, pressed his lips together.
"Lord, if it ain't Sarah, tell me what it is but You better speak plainly because I'm kind of dense these days."
He clapped his Stetson on his balding head.
"Come on, Cannonball," the Sheriff said, leading the copper mare out into the morning sunlight.
Thrusting a boot into the dog house stirrup, he bounced once and swung easily into the saddle.
Cannonball turned as he laid the rein lightly against her neck, and he made a complete circle, surveying all that could be seen.
"God, I love mornings," he murmured, taking a long, deep breath.
"Smells good this morning."
He leaned down a little, patted Cannonball's neck.
"Y'know, dear heart," he said, "I reckon I'd oughta go talk to Charlie. He can make sense of things better than me most days."

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