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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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William A.A. Wallace

"Reverend Belden? Hmmm...well met, Sir", Bigfoot Wallace said as he offered his outstretched hand to the new preacher. The Reverend Belden found his hand engulfed in a man's hand that was as large as a grizzly bear's paw! Reverend Belden thought to himself, "He's nearly as large as a grizzly bear himself!", but thought better of mentioning it out loud.

Wallace released his grip and turned to the Sheriff. "Sheriff Keller, it seems that my friend Preacher Sopris has given you fair warning as to the outlaws that are camped out there. They are an unruly bunch and looks like they're itching for a fight. I found their camp near a stand of cottonwood trees about a half days ride north of the town. After sneaking in and listening to their conversations and watching their preparations, I would imagine that they plan on attacking the town within the next couple of days. I'm here to warn you folks and offer my assistance. I also have a cache of smoked meats that I need to sell to whomever in town has needs of them. There's smoked trout, venison and some wild hog as well as some pheasent and quail. Probably about 200 pounds of meat and it's smoked and cured so it won't spoil."

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Linn Keller 9-7-07

"Thank'ee kindly for that word. I knew they were somewhere but not quite where, and that's a bit sooner than I reckoned they'd arrive." I rubbed my chin. "As far as the meat, that will be most welcome! I reckon Daisy will be tickled to pay you good money for it."
There was the crack of a whip, hoofbeats that reached to a gallop, the jingle of trace-chains, the scream of a steam whistle, a bell, children shouting and stout Irish oaths, all at the same time.
Bigfoot looked toward the commotion, an expression of patient amusement on his face.
"If she's not in the kitchen, just look for that biggest red shirted Irishman. She's engaged to be married."
"Do tell?" Bigfoot replied mildly. "The fellow works fast, doesn't he?"

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Duzy Wales 9-7-07

Jake Thomas had talked to Marshall MacNeil, accepting his position as interim Deputy, while confiding in him that he would soon need to return to Washington, for a short stay, but would wait until the imminent danger was over. He needed to find Kid Sopris to share information on his dealings with Luke Hawkins, and he was also planning to turn in his resignation to President Hayes.

Jake had decided he was ready to settle down and wanted to court Duzy in a gentlemanly way, without the intrigue, that went with his current position. Jake wished to ask Aunt Esther for her permission to take Duzy on picnics, buggy rides, and romantic dinners, dancing, and riding together, to explore the countryside. He hoped someday to share in everything in her life, as it seemed the bug had bitten him badly!

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Duzy Wales 9-7-07

 

Duzy was restless again and needed to ride. The things she and Aunt Esther had talked about had given her much to think about……

The much needed talk had gone well. Duzy had explained how she felt. Aunt Esther had taken it all in. Having known love twice now, Esther knew the feelings Duzy was describing; however, she thought Duzy needed to go much slower and figure out exactly what she wanted in the man she would share her life with. Aunt Esther understood the stirrings of her body, the need to be fulfilled, touched, kissed, made love to, and knew those feelings could be from curiosity and the natural needs of a woman, and that she could have these feelings with someone she felt comfortable with, but not based on the kind of love that Duzy desired in her heart. Therefore, she felt Duzy needed more experience around different men to see how she reacted to them mentally and physically, saving herself until she was sure it was the kind of love her Mama and Papa had shared, which was what Duzy had dreamed of.

Aunt Esther also realized Jake Thomas had not lied Duzy, but he had not been forthcoming about his life either, not giving Duzy any of the details, but knowing Jake, he was probably caught in the middle of something and couldn’t tell Duzy anything without betraying confidences! Esther made a mental note to see if Jake planned on continuing his present career. If so, she didn’t think Jake would be right for Duzy, as Duzy needed a man there with her fulltime, as she knew Duzy would want to share their lives and not be waiting at home, wondering when or if he would return! She would want her children to have a Papa who was a daily part of their lives.

Shorty had Edi waiting for Duzy, and cautioned her to be careful, adding that perhaps Jacob should ride with her. Duzy needed to be alone in her thoughts and, smiling; she thanked Shorty for his concern, but declined, saying she wouldn’t go too far.

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Linn Keller 9-7-07

Bigfoot and I headed for the Sheriff's office. The firemen were returning to their tall, narrow horse house, again; the street was muddy, the three-horse hitch tired, the Irishmen were grinning and laughing.
"Energetic bunch," Bigfoot observed.
"They're young. I was that way when I was their age."
Bigfoot looked at me, amusement in his eye, and with a perfectly straight face he asked, "You were young once?"
We laughed together at that one. I hailed Charlie and Jake. Bigfoot was kind enough to repeat for them what he'd told me, and we four discussed the situation: probable route of advance, ambush points, numbers; we kicked it around for a while and decided Charlie's original idea was still the best: sucker them into our trap and slaughter them, for slaughter it would be. With riflemen waiting on the rooftops, firing points from behind sandbagged emplacements, we would have both the high ground and the advantage of preparation.
I have no stomach for slaughter, but I have no tolerance for those who would seek to slaughter me or mine. In case of a tie, they lose.
"What is today?" Bigfoot asked.
"Why, it's Saturday," Jake replied.
"Sunday tomorrow," I muttered.
"How's that?"
"Parson wants me to give the guest sermon tomorrow."
Jake grinned broadly. "Then I shall be there with my boots polished, for I wish to see just what you're going to do THIS time!" We laughed together about that one, and Charlie and Jake interrupted one another happily, filling Bigfoot in on my last presentation from the pulpit.
I frowned, looked into the jail. "You got Sam and Higgins safely on the train?"
"Yep. Friend of mine received them and they're on their way to trial right now."
"Shame that crooked Carsey got plugged. He'd make a fine witness."
"We've got my auditor's report," Charlie smiled. "He's uncovered enough to hang 'em three times over."
"Sopris knows they're on their way?"
"Sent him a telegram at the S.C.O.L.D. contact. He'll get it in plenty of time. If he doesn't, someone will take care of it for him."
"I don't doubt that," I agreed. "Bigfoot, what say we go talk to Daisy, see where she wants that meat you got all smoked up and ready."
Bigfoot thumped me across the back with a hand that would span half the county if he stretched it out, and I stumbled and nearly fell. The man was impressive with a companionable gesture. He would be formidable indeed in a tight spot.

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Linn Keller 9-7-07

 

Firecracker Mel looked out her window. She had a room facing away from the street, as she'd requested; she looked over the livery stable, and the prairie behind the town, and off to her left was the church.
She'd taken the train from West Texas as far as it would go. Firelands was the last railhead. From here it would be horseback half a hundred miles to her cousin's ranch, which to a Texan was a pleasant afternoon's jaunt. Especially, she thought, on Rey del Sol, the King of the Sun, her favorite mount, an Arabian stallion that no man could ride.
She smiled at the thought.
Rey del Sol. A good name for him, she thought, almost blond, golden in the sunlight, with a short temper and a mean disposition toward the world in general; she and her two favorite hands, Eduardo and Santos, were the only ones that could ride him.
Eduardo and Santos. Her father's best friend's sons and most trusted by the Grand Old Man, and as dear to her as brothers.
Most trusted, that is, besides their father, who was her father's best friend for more years than Mel had been on this earth.
Shorty had a wagon at the depot when the train came in; the Irish firefighters and their flashy new steam wagon had drawn every eye, and nobody paid attention to Shorty driving the wagon, and luggage, a lady and a vaquero to the hotel; nobody noticed the other vaquero riding a palomino and leading another, a pack horse, and a high-spirited golden stallion.
Shorty had a way with horses of all kinds, and even he had some difficulty persuading the great golden stallion to trust him; after the king stallion tried a couple tentative bites, missing partly due to Shorty's extensive experience, and mostly from Shorty's good luck, he deigned to permit the hostler to groom him, and check his hooves, and pour some grain.
He did manage to reach behind Shorty and, biting the dangling end of his apron string, pulled it loose.
There was a quiet tap on Mel's door. "Senorita?" Eduardo called.
"Si, viene."
Eduardo opened the door. "Su fusil, senorita."
"Gracias, Eduardo."
Eduardo placed her Winchester on the bed, and four boxes of shells. Mel nodded.
"Tienes bastante?" she asked.
"Si, gracias." Eduardo hesitated. "Senorita, el patron -- your father -- would be most displeased if you came to harm. This fight is not yours. We can be well away before morning."
Firecracker Mel smiled. "Eduardo, my friend, your words are true as your heart, but I will not run. I intend to have a good night's rest in a decent bed, something I have not had since leaving Texas. I shall have a bath and a meal and I shall go to church tomorrow. I am told the Ruby Room opens in but a few days, and I shall have a fine meal there, with you on my left and Santos on my right, and we will sleep well that night, and leave the morning after."
"Si, senorita." Eduardo knew both Melanie Sharp's temper -- a Sharp temper, they often joked -- but also her legendary stubbornness, honestly inherited from her father, owner of one of the most profitable ranches in West Texas.
Eduardo walked over to the window. "Nos caballos -- the horses -- they will strike at the livery, and they will seek to steal our horses, and the others as well."
Eduardo looked at Melanie, and saw fire deep in her Scottish blue eyes.
"Let them try," she said quietly.

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Lady Leigh 9-7-07

 

Sarah was telling everyone she met to take a good look at Dawg, "He's the best dressed dog in town!" Bonnie and Caleb went into town to make sure the "House of McKenna" was secured. Both had their own private thoughts concerning the business. Both had invested a great deal of time in preparation to it's opening. Brown paper covered the front window, but behind the paper on the glass was a well dressed window containing items that would intice passerby's who could obtain the beautiful fabrics or sewn items from within.

It was then decided they would stop off at the Merchantile to get a stick candy for Sarah before heading back to the house.

"Bonnie? Who are those two older gentelman?"

"All I know is their names are Bill and Mac. Why?"

"I always see them sitting there, that's all."

Bill and Mac were 80 if they were a day. Everyday, all day, the towns people of Firelands would see them sitting at a makeshift table made from an old pickle barrel with a board resting on top, big enough to hold a checkers board. The table always in the same spot to the left of the Merchantile's door and in front of the large window. Bill on the left of the table, Mac on the right ... that never varied. Another thing that never varied was the fact that the only words ever heard among them were spoken to each other. Caleb noticed that a few people seemed to try to engage Bill and Mac in a conversation a few times. Though it would look like one or the other was attempting to wave a hello with a hand movemnet, only to see that he was getting ready to move a checker piece. After a while, most people walking by eventually did not take notice of the two.

"There goes that whore and the kid again."

" She's not a whore anymore, Mac."

"Oh ... forgot about that ..."

"Who's the fella she's with?"

"Another new person in town, I recon."

"That's becomin a regular occurance, aint it?"

"Yep. What's the town folk doin this time, Bill?"

"Well, Mac, looks like they's bein chased ragged with somethin on their minds."

'Dag nabit youth. Can't anyone tell them to slow down a little?'

"I'm listenin Mac, ya don't need ta tell me."

They both grumble a bit and watch the sun pass by, reminicing of the old days when they were able to chew.

"It's yer turn, Bill! Been yer turn fer darn near the better part of the afternoon!"

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Linn Keller 9-8-08

 

The detective's expression was pleasant as he walked into the bank. His visage was generally so, for he was a cheerful man, and he enjoyed what he did. That morning he'd taken protection money from half-a-dozen people, guaranteeing their businesses would not be raided, at least until the next time it was necessary to extract the cost of doing business.
He signed the check with a flourish and presented it to the cashier.
His pleasant expression never changed, even when the cashier expressed her regrets that the bank could not honor the check.
The detective turned over his lapel to display his badge and inquired pleasantly the reason, and continued to smile quietly as he was told the account had been closed the day before the check was written. The bank could provide the detective with a statement to that effect, if he wished.
He wished.
With the bank's statement, on its official letterhead and in an envelope, he proceeded down the sun-lit street. A group of barefoot boys ran past, yelling, chased by a smaller boy and a pup, ki-yi-ing after one another. Overhead, from an anonymous apartment, a woman's strident voice shrilled, "Jaysus, Barney, can ya ne'er come home ta me sober?" followed by a meaty smack, and silence.
The detective smiled. He loved the city.
He stepped into the telegraph office, filled out a slip, handed it to the clerk.
"TO SHERIFF, FIRELANDS, COLORADO TERRITORY, FROM NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT: WANTED: LIAM MC KENNA, ENROUTE YOUR JURISDICTION. WARRANT TO FOLLOW. POLICE IMPOSTOR IN POSSESSION OF FALSIFIED ARREST WARRANT. ARREST AND HOLD. MACTAVISH, SERGEANT OF DETECTIVES, CITY OF NEW YORK."
The detective, with his pleasant smile still in place, strolled toward the police station. He would speak with the captain, and arrange a warrant. The captain would not mind, for he was to have gotten half the proceeds from McKenna's bouncing check.
The detective took protection money, and he sold favors, but he was honest about it, and he would not be cheated.

Liam McKenna was viewing that very warrant with the very same smile on his face. His satchel was open before him. He drew out a set of Tower handcuffs, made with a flexible, flat-linked bow, especially made to confine the feminine offender's delicate wrist; inside the satchel, coiled like a snake, was a set of dainty but very serviceable shackles.
He was taking no chances on possessing the gold.
Dear Cousin Bonnie, he thought, kinswoman and deserver of my good protection, you will either sign me over your gold, or I shall take you in irons back to the asylum, where you will remain alone in a cold dark cell, underground and well away from any who might help, until such time as you either go insane, or you agree to sign.
Liam smiled. The irons before him had held feminine limbs before. Given his tastes, and especially with the gold, they would not be the last feminine prisoner they would confine, either.

The previous occupant of the manacles was on another train, also headed west; she was not confined at the moment, but she was occupied, and while mildly amused, she was not as pleased as she was with Liam's attentions. In fact, she was somewhat bored, but she bore her new conquest's attentions with patience, knowing it was a sure route to his well-filled purse.
Men are such fools, she smiled, and her latest victim smiled back, believing it was he who brought the smile to her face.

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Linn Keller 9-8-07

Art Parlan was not a man to be trifled with.
The well-dressed stranger did not look up.
"I said on your feet, you!" he bellowed, cords standing out in his neck.
The stranger tilted his hat back with a forefinger, smiled mildly.
"No," he said. "I don't play cards with the likes of you."
Parlan's segundo moved.
The well-dressed stranger moved faster.
Malone found himself looking down a .44 caliber gateway to the next world.
The stranger stood. Slowly. On his terms.
"I do not play with the likes of you," the stranger said quietly, "because, frankly, you are so far beneath me."
Parlan started to purple with rage.
The stranger smiled, quietly; the nickled revolver disappeared and he thrust a deck of cards at Parlan. "Cut."
Parlan cut, loathing and distrust plain on his face.
The stranger took the deck and, one-handed, cut it again, a third time; one-handed, he shuffled the deck, held it out. "Turn over the top card."
It was the ace of spades.
The stranger cut and shuffled, handed the deck to Malone. "Cut."
Malone cut the deck.
"Hand it to him."
Malone handed the deck to Parlan.
Shaking with rage, Parlan took the deck.
"Shuffle."
Parlan shuffled the deck.
The stranger took the deck, cut, shuffled, held it out. "Turn over the top card."
It was the ace of spades.
The stranger cut, shuffled, fanned the cards; snapped them back into the square deck, accordion shuffled, turned over the top card.
Ace of spades.
"Cut."
Malone cut.
"Shuffle."
Parlan shuffled.
"I know, fancy man, the Ace of Spades."
"Not quite." The well dressed stranger turned the deck over, displaying the bottom card.
The Ace of Spades.
"YOU'RE A CHEAT!" Parlan roared.
"And a damned good one. Far better than you." The stranger's eyes were cold, and frost formed on the sharp edge of his voice. "I give the orders. You take them. You don't like it, ride out."
"Why, you --"
Parlan hadn't noticed the stranger's tension on the deck of cards, at least not until the deck exploded in his face like a covey of frightened quail. He was fast, but the stranger was faster, and drove a knee into Parlan's groin.
Parlan folded up like a cheap suit.
Malone watched in shock. He had never, ever, seen anyone best his boss.
The stranger seized Parlan's head and drove his other knee into the man's face, hard, then pulled him to the ground, kneedropping into the man's kidneys.
The stranger rolled him over, picked up a canteen, emptied it in the man's face.
Parlan's dozen riders had gathered around, as had the other recruits. The well dressed stranger tugged delicately at his ruffled shirt cuffs. "Understand me," he said just loud enough to be heard by all. "This man commands his own men, and I command him. If any wishes to dispute that, speak now."
None wished to dispute. Not after what they'd just seen.
"Good." The well dressed stranger turned, looking each man in the eye, letting his presence be felt. "We are hired to kill all we can, run off who we can't, and burn the town so there is nothing to come back to."
There was a general muttering of agreement.
"Your job will be to kill and run off. You may do with the women what you wish. No one -- and I mean NO ONE -- will set any fires."
"Why the hell not?" one fellow demanded.
The well-dressed stranger smiled, and the smile was not entirely sane, nor was the look in his eyes. He walked toward the fellow who had challenged him. Men, hard men who feared not the Devil himself, stepped aside.
He faced the unwashed outlaw who had dared demand a reason. The outlaw swallowed hard. Rationality and reason had fled from those icy eyes, and a monster looked out through them.
"Because I like to burn things," he said. "I will set the fires, and I will listen to them scream. You can't kill everyone. They'll hole up in the buildings, and I will find them, and I will listen to them screaming to death." He took a deep breath in through his nose, as if savoring the scent of burning flesh, then he hissed, "I like it!"
The most hardened among them shivered, for this was evil such as they had never seen.
"I will have torches," the well-dressed stranger declared in the voice of an Old Testament prophet. "Let no man carry torch nor oil, for mine is the Kingdom of Fire! Do any dispute my word?"
Muttered "No"'s could be heard throughout the group.
"Very well. Our time is soon. Very soon."
Insanity shone in his eyes, danced on his lips.
Fire," he hissed, and his fingers danced upward, like leaves consumed above a rising flame.

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Linn Keller 9-8-07

"Now that's odd," I muttered as someone threw a bucket of water out WJ's door.
"That's very odd," Mick agreed. "Them's the fire buckets they're emptyin' out!" He strode toward the door and began to bellow.
Sean stepped out, empty bucket in one hand and his other fist up.
"St. Patrick's Beard," Mick swore, "what in creation are ye doin', lad? Those are f'r fire!"
"And whose small minded idea was it to' fill every bucket wi' water, I ask ye?"
"Twas my order, from the Colonel yonder, and ye'll folla his orders an' like it!"
"My respects t' the Colonel, but the man hired me t' do a job and damned if I'll see anyone muck it up, even himself!"
"HOLD!" I roared.
They held.
"Sean, why not water?"
"Colonel -- Sheriff -- whatever yer name is, these buildin's are wood, y'see."
"They are wood, yes."
"Now how's an outlaw goin' to fire a wooden buildin' if he's ridin' through, shootin' the place up and carryin' off the women, I ask ye?" Sean declared, fists on his hips. "They're goin' ta use coal oil, that's how! A lamp or a can or a smoker bomb, they'll fire the place wi' oil, and watter will only spread th' fire!"
"So what do we use?"
"Dirt, sir!" he declared. "Dry dirt! Smother th' stuff, keep it from spreadin', ye can smother it wi' a wet woolen blanket. Or let us put th' damned thing out."
Up and down the street, shining arcs of water sailed over the boardwalk into the street.
"He's right, sir," Mick muttered.
"Good enough," I said. "Give the man a shovel."

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Duzy Wales 9-8-07

 

Tom Landers had been going over the books of “The Silver Jewel,” and knew that they were going to have a successful business, as they were already bringing in money before the opening of “The Ruby Room,” and once the gambling establishment was open, it would all be uphill from there.

Tom had stepped back, when it seemed that Duzy was interested in Jake Thomas, and had been helping the lawmen secure the town while keeping himself busy at “The Silver Jewel.”

Tom looked out the upstairs window of the office, and saw Duzy leaving for a ride on Edi. Not being a man to forego a chance to spend some time with her alone, he walked downstairs, checked in with Miz Tilly and could hear the ruckus going on in “Daisy’s Kitchen,” as she fed the firefighters. Some of the men stepped out and Tom was deterred from his previous mission as he shook hands and met the new firefighters.

Duzy was lost in her thoughts and the feel of Edi as she began her ride. Her long dark hair was flying behind her, as she let Edi run, letting all the dark thoughts go, as she enjoyed the nature around her. Aunt Esther was right, she usually was, and Duzy had decided to do as she said and take things slower with Jake.

Remembering her promise to Shorty, Duzy brought Edi to a halt and looked at the town below, much the same as she had the day of the celebration. It seemed like ages ago, the first day she had met Sarah, when actually it had only been a few months. She remembered the talk she had with Bonnie about teaching Sarah to ride, and hoped they could start the riding lessons soon; as she knew Sarah would love it!

As she started back to town, she thought she heard another rider, or perhaps two, and turned to look behind her. Sure enough, there were two riders, and they seemed to be headed straight toward her, gaining speed. It didn’t look like anyone Duzy recognized and she nudged Edi faster, knowing she been lost in thought and it was later than she had thought. Edi could feel the urgency that Duzy was feeling as Duzy reached for her rifle. The men were gaining on her, and she turned, aimed, and shot, knocking one of the men off his horse, as she continued toward town. She fired again, missed, swore, and started to fire again when she was suddenly jerked off Edi’s back and slung across the other horse, knocking her breath out for a few seconds.

“You gonna pay little girlie, you just kilt the old boss's brother, before that crazier one come along! Yep, once he is through with you, wee’l all get our turn at you!”

Duzy pretended to faint at his words and could hear his laughter as she slowly reached for her derringer hidden in the pocket of her riding habit. Pretending to come to, she moved just enough to reach the gun, bringing her arm up and shot, hitting the foul looking man in his arm instead of his heart! He grabbed his arm, but held tight to Duzy as she fought him with all her strength. Suddenly she heard a GRRRRR and Duzy could see his eyes widen as Dawg attacked his leg pulling him off the horse, and commenced to tear him apart. Duzy regained her balance and left to catch the other horses.

Knowing the man could no longer hurt anyone, he then ran to the other body and saw that his help was not needed there; as Duzy’s first shot had been a good one! He then left to help Duzy round up the other horses. Duzy came riding with one horse and saw Dawg had the other one, and jumped off Edi to hug Dawg, knowing that she could have been at the mercy of those men had he not been there!

Tom had managed to get away from the good hearted bantering of the firemen, along with Daisy who was talking of her upcoming marriage, and headed to the stables to ask Shorty if Duzy had returned. “No, Tom, and I am gettin’ mighty worried. She should be back by now. I have already sent word to Sheriff Keller that someone should check on her, with all that is going on around here lately…..I shouldn’t have let her go alone!”

Jake Thomas would not hear of anyone going to look for Duzy except himself, and said so to Sheriff Keller, as he went to the stables and overheard Shorty’s conversation with Tom Landers.

At that moment they heard a bark and the sound of horses riding into town. Duzy was on Edi, her riding habit torn and dirty and a bruise starting to form on her cheekbone, as she brought the dead men’s horses along with her. Dawg was still with her. Duzy handed the reins of the two horses to Shorty, apologizing to him for being late, and then looked from Tom Landers to Jake Thomas and said, “I thought it best that these horses not get back to their camp, so I caught up with them and brought them back. I left the two men to rot, but one did speak of me “killing the boss’s brother!” Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go clean up!”

Duzy knew she would be sore as hell come morning, but didn’t feel like anyone fussing over her at the moment, as frankly she was mad as hell at herself for missing one shot and not hitting her target on the other! She rode on into town to “The Silver Jewel,” where she planned to take a nice long bath as she silently made an oath to herself to start practicing her shooting, as it may be needed in the next few days!

Sheriff Keller had sent Jacob for Doctor Greenlee’s, just in case, and then had headed for the stables. He looked at Tom Landers and Jake Thomas and said, “Well which one of you is going to see if she if really okay?” Both men went into action, but by the time they got there, Aunt Esther, Bonnie and Miz Tilly were all standing guard, with Aunt Esther saying she needed to go talk to Mr. Keller. Bonnie nor Miz Tilly missed the use of “Mr. Keller instead of Linn,” and could only imagine what would happen next!

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Linn Keller 9-8-07

I clamped an iron lid down on my rage.
Long and long ago I learned that once that rage got so big, that I could neither bridle it nor saddle it, so I learned to shove it down in an iron kettle and screw the lid on tight.
Someone tried to take Duzy.
She'd been slugged and thrown over a saddle, and Tom said they'd marked her face, and I could feel it building. It had been a very long time since I'd felt it that deep and I did not count it a good thing.
Tom was kind enough to let me know my presence was requested. He said Esther had asked for "Mr. Keller" and I knew from that she was feelin' the same as I was.
I asked Tom if he'd have Shorty saddle Rose o' the Morning, and I taken the Greener in hand and I strode over to the Silver Jewel.

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Duzy Wales 9-9-07

 

Duzy could only describe the attitude of all the ladies as “someone stirring in a hornet’s nest.” As soon as she walked into “The Silver Jewel,” Miz Tilly came running, calling for Daisy, who went after Bonnie and Aunt Esther, and soon everyone was asking questions!

As the riding habit was removed, more bruises were revealed on Duzy’s body and it became apparent that Duzy had made light of the situation! The bruise on Duzy’s cheekbone was nothing compared to the bruises she sustained as she was jerked off Edi and onto the other horse, and the ensuing fight that had incurred before Dawg pulled the man off his horse!

After Aunt Esther's careful inspection of Duzy's ribs, it seemed the doctor wouldn't be needed afterall, and neither of the ladies even considered an undertaker for the two men, thinking the buzzards needed a good meal!

Sometime during the melee, Duzy had thought to ask that someone look after Edi, and found that Shorty had already been by and taken Edi back to the stables for some loving care of her own.

Thankfully, Duzy was soon in a warm bath and relaxing her muscles, and could only hear the muffled talking through the door. Duzy could hear Jake Thomas and Tom Landers, among others, and Daisy came to the rescue by ushering all the men into “Daisy’s Kitchen,” for pie and coffee.

Jacob had given Dawg a good bath and Miz Tilly was entertaining Sarah, so thankfully she had been spared seeing the bruises and was not asking any questions.

Duzy knew she would be sore as hell, but thankfully the bruises could be hidden for the grand opening, although she wouldn’t get to wear the beautiful ball gown that Bonnie had made her for opening night. That thought made Duzy so mad, she yelled, “Damn it to hell!” Bonnie hurriedly stepped inside and asked what was wrong. Once Duzy told her, they looked at each other and suddenly began to laugh, breaking the tension in the room and relieving them of any other worries they had at the moment, other than what Aunt Esther was doing since she had left to see "Mr. Keller."

Bonnie said, “It is alright, Duzy dear, I can make you a lace inset for the top of your bodice for that evening and you will be able to wear it with long gloves.”

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Linn Keller 9-9-07

 

"Esther," I asked quietly, "what are the nature and extent of Duzy's injuries?"
"You needn't concern yourself with Duzy, Sheriff," Esther said in an equally quiet voice, "I thanked the good doctor for coming so quickly and sent him on his way."
"You have not answered my question." I could hear ice in my voice, and a sharp edge to it, and I really, really did not want to do this to someone I loved, but it was needful.
"Her injuries are not serious enough to warrant attention, we'll take care of --"
I slammed my hand down on the polished tabletop. "DAMMIT WOMAN I AM THE SHERIFF AND I NEED TO KNOW! NOW EXACTLY WHAT ARE HER INJURIES, WHERE ARE THEY AND HOW SEVERE?"

Esther bit her bottom lip, hurt in her eyes, and I could tell I had just wounded a gentle soul that did not deserve it.
She looked at me and there was understanding in her eyes. "You think a great deal of her, don't you?"
I nodded, my anger spent, color draining from my face.
"Why don't you sit down, Sheriff. We'll talk."
I laid the Greener across the table, and Esther pulled her chair over beside mine, and she laid a gentle hand on my arm.
This could be effective, part of my mind thought, a means of getting information from an uncooperative subject. I need that detail of injuries to help me reconstruct the crime.
Another part of my mind was remembering, and the memory scalded my soul.
"Duzy has been bruised here," she traced a line with her fingers on her own torso, "here, along here -- she may have hit the saddle horn, from the look of it, but the rib is not broken -- and here. Bruising here, and here, was rapid and these here, and here, are just showing up."
"You're sure she's no broken ribs? No belly pain?"
"She's in pain, yes, but anyone would be, poor thing."
I closed my eyes and let out a long breath. "Thank you, Esther." I opened them. "I am sorry. You did not deserve that."
Esther was quiet for a long moment. "What happened, Sheriff?"
She could read the scars on my soul, that woman. God Almighty I do love her! She didn't deserve that!
Bruises like so ... edge of the saddle, bruises from the saddle horn. These were probably from her garment tightening when she was hauled off her horse, or up off the ground, whichever it was. I would take a look at the saddles on the captured stock.
"Sheriff?"
"Her name was Angelina," I said softly. "She came to me for help. The man that attacked her was long gone by the time I got there. I was called away that Saturday to testify in a case. When I got back I was told he'd come back and he'd beat her to death." I stared through the piano, into the past, and I could still see the cut and the bruise on Angie's cheek, the hope in her eyes that I could keep her safe.
"I failed her, Esther. I failed her, and she's dead."
A terrible anger started all over again, and I shivered. My voice changed.
"I won't fail Duzy, Esther. And I won't fail you."
"You were testifying in court," Esther said gently, soothing as oil poured on a burn.
I nodded, anger dissolving into misery.
"You could not have known he was coming back."
"She came to me for help," I whispered. It's all the voice I had.
"And you did, as best you could at the time."
I nodded. "I know. I keep telling myself that. Preachers have told me that. Even her mother said as much."
"But you haven't told yourself that."
I laid my finger tips on her hand and shook my head, slowly. "Maybe it's time you did."
"God forgives all sins," Esther said, in that same gentle voice. "Who are we to judge ourselves if He is not going to judge us?" She smiled, tilted her head. "It wasn't me you were shouting at, was it?"
"No." I shook my head slowly. "No, it wasn't."
Esther has the soul of a saint, I thought. "Well, now you've seen my temper."
"My dear, I have seen much worse."
"Esther, I'm sorry."
"For what? For being human? Someone you admire and respect, someone you care about, has been attacked, and hurt, and you are very angry about it. I would be worried if you didn't have a good head of steam in your boiler!"
I chuckled. "Now that sounds like something I'd say!"
She smiled. "Yes, it does, doesn't it? Maybe you're rubbing off on me."
My smile faded. "As long as I don't rub the wrong way, Esther. If I do, please tell me."
"I will."
I stood. "I can take Duzy's statement later. You'll see to her needs?"
Esther thought of how quickly Duzy had been surrounded by a ring of feminine power. "I think we can handle that, Sheriff."
"Thank you, dearest."
I left and headed for the livery. I wanted to look over the deceased, read the tracks, reconstruct what happened, and where.
The more I knew, the better I could prepare.

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Linn Keller 9-9-07

 

"Duck!" the Sergeant called.
A tall, slender fellow stood. "Here, Sergeant!"
"Duck, me lad, how's yer back?"
"Sore, Sergeant, but it'll be fine."
"Aye, I've no doubt it will," the Sergeant nodded. "You understand your part in all o' this, now, don't ye?"
"I do, Sergeant."
"Good." The Sergeant removed his hat, wiped his sweaty forehead with a somewhat worse for wear bandanna. "The lads did fine work, makin' the gates and the hinges."
"They did that, Sergeant."
"Now ye understan', lad, the rascals that intend t' despoil the town an' carry off the ladies are less than two miles from us."
"Yes, Sergeant."
"And ye know sound carries far on this flat ground, especially in the cool o' the evening."
"Yes, Sergeant."
"I'll no' want ye usin' yer bugle until I tell ye to."
"Of course, Sergeant."
"That's all, Duck."
"Thank you, Sergeant." Salutes were exchanged and the Sergeant went on his rounds, inspecting "his lads," as he called them.
They each had their assigned positions; they had prepared sandbagged or concealed emplacements; they had seen to the construction of others, that at the right moment would be manned with townspeople. In the meantime, troopers were in place, waiting.
The Sergeant knew waiting was detrimental to the sharp edge of a soldier's readiness, so he made his rounds, speaking with each of the troops, reviewing even if not necessary, making sure when the time came, they would speak with the deadly efficiency he'd drilled into them from their first day together.
Take young Duck, yonder, the Sergeant thought. Name's Crow. He was a talented musician in his own right, played trumpet in concert back East, but like many young men he got the itch for adventure.
He approached a recruiter and had been promised a place in a regimental band.
Instead he was issued a carbine, a horse and a bugle.
He'd found the rigorous life of a cavalry trooper much to his liking, and what young Trooper Crow did, he did to the best of his ability. Not wanting to practice bugle on a moving horse, he obtained a spare mouthpiece, and practiced bugle calls on the mouthpiece only.
This was quiet enough that few heard him.
Next he obtained a foot of copper tubing of the same diameter as the mouthpiece's tapered insertion, giving him more to hold onto, but remaining quiet enough so as not to disturb the troop as they rode.
He got some odd looks.
In time, when he was satisfied he could produce bugle calls on this contraption to his own satisfaction, he added weight to the length of tube, to duplicate the weight of the regulation bugle.
Finally the Sergeant rode up beside him, while they were in the field and on the move, and inquired politely what in the name of the good St. Brendan did he think he was doin' makin' a sound like a strangled duck?
The name stuck.
Duck prided himself on being able to produce any bugle call from the back of a moving horse, whether walk, trot, canter, gallop or flat-out run as hard as the horse could go, and the Sergeant had been so pleased with his results that he made a general announcement to his troop that Duck was not to be troubled when he was making his strangled noises.
Duck regarded the Sergeant's retreating back with a genuine admiration. When the others found he was from Mooresville, South Carolina, they tended to give him a hard time, often asking if he was a Galvanized Yankee.
The Sergeant stood for none of it. Duck had proven his worth, and that was good enough for the big Irishman, and therefore it was good enough for the US Cavalry.

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Linn Keller 9-9-07

 

I cussed myself every step of the way to the livery stable.
I cussed myself every yard I rode out to where those two skunks tried to take Duzy.
I cussed those two dead cut throats as I looked them over, and went through their pockets, and stripped them of their valuables. I'd send the undertaker out with a wagon and have them planted, unless I can find an address on them, in which case I'll ride out to whoever they belong to and ask if they'd like to claim the carcass.
Cause of death on each was apparent, and exactly as I'd been given to understand.
Neither had anything interesting . One had a broken pocket watch. The other had four bits and half a plug of low grade tobacker. Both were armed, but not well; from the look of their revolvers they'd been hooked to a chain and drug down ten mile of gravel road at a gallop and then hung up and let rust for a couple of years before being thrust into the secondhand, ill-fitting, dry-rotted leather they wore. Both had a folder, as most cattlemen had, with two blades: a bigger blade with a sharp but rough edge for general cutting, and a second, smaller blade shaving-sharp, for cutting calves at branding. Neither had a hideout gun. One had a dull knife in his boot top where he'd split the lining from the stove pipe to cobble up a sheath. It wasn't worth taking but I took it anyway and stowed it in my saddle bag.
I studied their back trail, as far as I could follow it, which wasn't far. Ground wasn't good for tracking. I cast about for a while, then went back and rode circles around the carcasses, reading sign and reconstructing what had happened.
Duzy was here -- so! -- Edy's tracks were sharp and clean, her shoes were new and made a distinct mark, at least to my eyes. Rose o' the Morning walked, slowly, head down, taking a leisurely bite now and then if we passed something that looked particularly good. She grazed, I looked ... yes, here's where Edi turned -- the confusion of hoof prints tells me she pranced a little, then turned ... yes, the tracks lengthened.
I whistled. That mare had some reach when she stretched out into a gallop.
The pursuit was fairly short. I read the tracks easily enough here, where the ground was a little friendlier, but they told me nothing I didn't know: Duzy's story agreed entirely with the tracks.
I circled back and took another long look at the carcasses, rolled face-up and gathering flies.
I studied their faces . Nothing interesting there. Ground-reining Rose, I split their shirt sleeves, opened their shirts, looking for identifying tattoos, scars or unique markings of any kind.
The taller of the two had bad teeth, a puckered scar on one cheek bone; the other had a scar along his left ribs, a clean cut by the look of it, well healed, but without stitch scars.
I hunkered there for a while, squinting toward town, thinking.

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Linn Keller 9-10-07

 

WJ was checking off the order he'd placed, comparing what was on the invoice with what was actually delivered. For a miracle, he thought, everything made it. Delivery was usually quite reliable, but WJ liked to complain sometimes, and he never expressed any satisfaction with receiving an order, just in case the next one was short an item.
He frowned as he picked up an extra box. Checking the invoice again, he found an extra page. He raised one gray-shot eyebrow.
"Havanas," he murmured, sniffing the box. "Fresh, too." He turned the box around, squinted at the label pasted on its lid.
"Hold for Liam McKenna," he muttered. "Now who is Liam McKenna? Don't know anyone by that name hereabouts."
WJ shuffled to the door and stuck his head out, addressing the ancient pair hunched over their endless game of checkers. "Either of you two ever hear of someone named Liam McKenna?"
There was silence for the better part of twenty seconds, then both responded with one voice, "Noooope," and one extended a wrinkled finger toward a checker-piece.
WJ sighed, shaking his head and drawing back into his store.

Liam McKenna frowned at the slim count in his cigar-box. He knew he could not count on getting good Havanas on the frontier; he'd had the forethought to send a box ahead, to be held at the general store for his arrival. One box, he thought, should be sufficient for the brief time he planned to be there, and for his triumphant return as a rich man. Or rich man-to-be.
He selected one of the remaining Havanas and smiled.
Not long now.
Not long at all.

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Mr. Box 9-10-07

 

Breaking camp after coffee the second morning out, I was washing my face in the creek and letting Nelly water up, I saw something shiney in the water. I fished it out and it was a nugget as big as an acorn! I swished around for a while and found a couple of smaller ones, too. I thought about setting up camp and staying longer, but Nelly was getting restless. After a day of wandering, I saw a small town coming up. When We got to it I said, "You lost your mind, Nelly? We just left here!" We pulled up to the livery.
Shorty said, "You're back."
"Yeah, I think Nelly's going soft on me." We parked the buck board and hung the harness up. I gave Shorty some coin and set out to find the sheriff.
"Howdy Sheriff, I'm Fred Baxter."
"Sheriff Linn Keller. You were in town a few days ago weren't you?"
"Yes, the day it rained." I fumbled around in my poke a minute and found a couple of the nuggets. I asked where I could have them taken care of.
"Where did you get those?"
"I don't really know, Nelly was driving. Found them yesterday morning when we were watering in a creek." I told him.
"Hold on tho them till things settle down if you can."

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Linn Keller 9-10-07

 

Mr. Baxter held out an acorn-size nugget.
I turned it over, rubbed it with my thumb, tried it with the edge of my thumb nail.
It left a mark.
Dead soft.
Pure gold.
I handed it back to him. "Hold onto this til things quiet down. We'll get you taken care of." He smiled the smile of an honest man, the kind that doesn't let the world's distress trouble him, and I thought, "Now there's the kind of man to be," before my thoughts turned again to the work at hand.
Today was Sunday, and Mr. Baxter had caught me coming out of the Sheriff's office. Rose o' the Morning was waiting at the hitch rail for me. Today was Sunday and I was delivering the guest sermon.
I walked quietly for a big man, always have, and so made as much noise as a passing cloud as I crossed the threshold and removed my hat.
It escaped nobody's notice that, as I strode down the aisle to the front, and mounted the dais, that I was not in my suit: I was there, not as a replacement parson, but as the Sheriff.
I hung my hat on the peg on the back wall, and sat down in the guest's chair, and waited, reviewing what I would say.
The Reverend Belden finished up the hymn and placed his hands lightly on the lectern. "Instead of my usual sermon," he announced in a fine speaking voice, a voice that carried to the furthest corners, "I've asked the Sheriff to give the guest sermon today. Sheriff?"
I stood and thanked him for his kindness, and took his place behind the pulpit.
"I won't be cutting any kerchiefs in two today," I announced with a smile.
Sarah looked disappointed.
"First of all, the bank will re-open tomorrow under new management, folks honest as the day is long. This will be a welcome change. We've cut down the grove of cork screws that had been planted to shade its previous administration, and as a matter of fact, the dirty deals done in the past are being investigated at the Territorial level. Sam and Higgins are already in custody of the US marshal, and will be on trial tomorrow. Their deposition, my own, and some of yours, will figure largely in that trial, as will the evidence we obtained during our investigation.
"You already know we are faced with imminent attack from a band of outlaws, hired to kill and burn until nothing is left of Firelands. You deserve to know why."
I paused. There was no movement other than fans stirring the warm air; the loudest noise, as the echoes of my voice shivered into nothingness, was the buzzing of a large fly in one window.
"There is a vein of gold underlying Firelands. The US Government has an interest in this, as it needs that bullion to stabilize our economy in these difficult times. Unfortunately, there are those who would steal what is rightly ours. You have all kept Mr. Moulton busy with ensuring your claims are duly registered, your mineral rights are actually intact, except in those cases where you have legitimately signed them over. Some have. We've tried to correct all the swindles that Carsey, Slade & Company pulled, and for the most part, have been successful. We will worry about all that later.
"Our main concern is attack. Marshal MacNeil and the US Cavalry have done yeoman's work in preparing us for the upcoming raid. I don't need to describe sandbagging of buildings up to the window sills. You've had to put up with the dirt and the inconvenience.
"Let me tell you about the kind of people we are up against. Most of you either remember, or have heard of, Bloody Kansas." Nods here and there, murmurs, shifting in the seats. They remembered. "That's what we are looking at. This band has orders to kill all they can, run off who they can't, burn down what's left so we have nothing to come back to. With rightful owners dead or out of contact, false claims can be filed and no one will be able to dispute them, they get rich." I paused. "I don't need to tell you what happens to the women in times like this."
My own jaw was thrust out a bit, and I felt the tension in my jaw muscles, for I saw first hand what happens when raiders are given a free hand. I could see the same general reaction, and I was pleased. Few things will unite a group like protecting their women.
"Our plan is to bring them in. Get them into town. No room to maneuver, no room to move. We have barbed wire gates ready to swing shut at every alley and the cavalrymen are ready to haul loaded freight wagons across either end of the main street and chain them together. Escape will be impossible. When this happens, we open up from the rooftops and from wherever we are.
"I know what you're thinking. It will be slaughter, and you are right." I took a breath. "I had the priviledge to serve with some men, back during the War, who enjoyed discussing Scripture. One was a New York rabbi, one was a Presbyterian minister from Connecticut, and between the two of them, they had more education than Congress and could speak more languages than I knew existed."
Smiles in the audience.
"We often discussed Scripture, as an escape from the horrors of our daily life. It seems that when Moses freighted the tablets down off the mountain, the correct translation was not, "Thou shalt not kill."
I had their attention.
"The correct translation is, "Thou shalt not do murder."
The fly was still batting against the window.
"We read further in Scripture that if a thief wants what a strong man has, he must break into his house, overcome the strong man and bind him, before he can take what the strong man has. And again, in Scripture, we are admonished to resist evil." I looked from eye to eye to eye. "Evil comes with intent to overcome us. Evil is riding in with intent to bind us and take what is ours.
"I am not leaving." I let the words hang on the air. "I have made my home here, and here I stand." I looked at Esther. "Matter of fact I intend to become an old married man here."
Esther colored, dropped her eyes, smiling.
"I will ask you not to tell Esther. I have not proposed to her yet, so she doesn't know."
There was a ripple of laughter. Everyone knew already, but they still enjoyed the joke.
"I do not intend to see my town burned. I will not stand for these outlaws coming in for a raid. Evil understands only force, and force understands only a greater force.
"You may make your own choice. If you choose to stay, you are in for the fight of your life, the fight for your home, the fight for your family. Make no mistake: these outlaws will do their best to destroy us. If you choose to stay, you choose to destroy them."
I looked at Esther, and at Duzy, and at Sarah and Bonnie, and back to Jacob.
"I choose to stay. For my wife, for my son, and for every one of you who choose to stand and fight." I stepped back from the pulpit, nodded to the Reverend Belden.
"My own choice is made," the Reverend said quietly. "The Sheriff's son and I will be in the bell tower, with rifles. I am no stranger to war myself, and it is the Lord's work to resist evil." He gave a grand stand-up gesture. "Let us now sing "Blessed Lord, Strengthen Me."

Jacob came to me after the service, biting his lip, his eyes swimming.
"Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Sir, you called me your son."
I nodded, smiling.
He embraced me, wrapping his skinny arms around me and squeezing hard.
I returned his embrace, crushing him to me. I felt him shiver. He was trying hard, really hard, not to cry.
I stood there in the church and held him for a long, long time.

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Lady Leigh 9-10-07

 

Bonnie was redoing Duzy's ball gown bodice, when she heard a soft knock at the back door. Caleb went and opened the door and waved Sheriff Keller into the back room.
Tipping the front brim of his hat at Bonnie, and shaking Calebs hand, "I am wondering if I could have a word with you Ms. Bonnie?"

Caleb was about to excuse himself, but Linn waved him to stay, "Of course Sheriff ... what can I help you with?" Bonnie laid down the emerald green tafetta bodice, and pushed away the black and ecru embroidered net lace.

"Out of curiosity, would you happen to know a Liam McKenna?"

Bonnie looked at Linn perplexed,, "No, I don't ..." Then her face expression took on a new look, "Wait! If memory serves me correct, I believe I have a cousin in Scotland named Liam. At least that is what my Father mentioned. Papa said he had an older brother, Colin, who had a son named Liam. There are other children, too, belonging to that distant relation ... why?"

Perhaps not so distant, Sheriff Keller thought, and said, "I don't rightly know, Ms Bonnie, but it seems there are some Havana cigars at the Merchantile with a note to hold for a Liam McKenna ..." He glanced at Bonnie for a reaction, but did not find an obvious one, so continued. "You wouldn't happen to know him if you saw him would you?"

Laughing, Bonnie replyed, "Goodness no! My Father was not on speaking terms with his family in Scotland, except for an elderly aunt. It was she who probably told Papa there were neices and nephews in Scotland. To my knowledge there were never any drawings or photographs sent to Papa."

"Well ... I suspect we'll just have to wait and see. I just wanted to ask you if you were familiar ... that's all. I'll leve you to your work, Ms Bonnie."

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Mr. Box 9-10-07

 

Guess I could afford a few nights in town. Nelly seems to like it here. I'd better see about a room and something to eat. A good bowl of stew might be good for a change.

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Duzy Wales 9-10-07

 

Duzy was not resting easy, as each way she turned, she felt another sore place, either a bruise, a pulled muscle, or still kicking her own self for missing those shots! Finally, she fell asleep and then the images began.

There was a beautiful blond woman with icy blue eyes, a well dressed man, carrying a satchel, whips, cuffs, the woman’s body being whipped as she laughed and taunted for more, as the whip marked her buttocks and the backs of her legs. It was obvious she loved driving men insane with lust for her body as she took the gold they so readily gave her. Flashing between these scenes were images of Bonnie, a trunk, the well dressed man walking Duzy through Firelands, looking as if they were a happy couple, and yet the same man who had yielded the whip……Bonnie hugging the man and welcoming him into their home, the icy blue eyes turning into fire and rage in place of pleasure……

Duzy awoke and tried to understand the images. She quickly wrote them in her journal. She had never seen the two strangers, and yet it was as if she knew she would. and she felt it would be soon. She felt a sense of danger, not only for Bonnie, but for herself as well...

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Mr. Box 9-10-07

 

As I walked down the street I felt a puff of warm air on my hand. I looked down and saw one of the larger dogs I'd seen in a long time sniffing at my hand. He wasn't snarling so I stopped and let him finish his investigation. "How you doing, Big Feller?" I looked at both sides of the street. One side was the older boarding house I had stayed in last time, and on the other was a newer one that looked more inviting. Dawg favored me that way. "I agree with you, Big Feller."

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Linn Keller 9-10-07

 

The German Irishman peered into the firebox, stirring about with a poker.
The Irish Irishman squatted beside him, squinting into its glowing darkness. "Did the fire hold overnight, lad?"
The German Irishman inserted the crank into the shaker and shook ash out of the firebox; cinders and ash fell to the bare dirt floor. His shovel scraped as he shot it into the coal-bin, and sang as the coal flew from it, neatly into the firebox, just enough to keep things nice and warm. Carefully, almost gently, he closed the firebox, then he planted the bit of the shovel on the floor in front of his feet and leaned both hands on the shovel.
"Ya big dumb Mick, I banked the fire me own self. Of course it held!"
The others paused from polishing harness or polishing the gleaming engine, grinning with anticipation. They were getting into it again.
"Ya sawed off excuse for a German sausage, wha' makes ye think ye can speak t'me in such a way?" The Irish Irishman struck an exaggerated pose, one fist behind his back, the other across his chest.
"You bog trotting son of a beer drinking boxer," the German Irishman roared at the top of his voice, "you know what I do wi' the likes o' yourself?"
"And what would that be, you strutting beer stein?" Sean roared back in a like volume.
The German Irishman shoved his face close to Sean's and the shovel was tossed aside. Punching his finger into Sean's chest for emphasis, he declared loudly, "I AM GOING TO TAKE YOU BY YOUR SCRAWNY IRISH NECK AND DRAG YOU UPTOWN AND BUY YOU A BEER, THAT'S WHAT!"
Their arms whipped around each other's shoulders and Sean called to his men, "Come on, lads, it's time we fortified ourselves against the heat of the day!"
The fact that it was not even nearing noon failed to dissuade the six from trooping happily to what had become their favorite watering hole west of the Mississippi.
Daisy smiled as she heard them quarreling and laughing their way up the street. She was a woman who enjoyed seeing her labors appreciated, and these six redshirts appreciated her cooking, loudly and in colorful terms, but with the sincerity of young boys.
She colored as Sean strode into her kitchen, subtle as a cyclone, seized her about the waist and spun her about like a doll, raising her to his eye level and laughing. He kissed her once, set her down and said "Will we be married this day, lass?"
She gave him a saucy look. "Sure and you're in a hurry, Sean! Will ye begin your married life on an empty stomach? Now sit you down wi' our lads and let me feed you all in peace!"
They all laughed at the exchange, for a peaceful meal with this bunch was unheard of.

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Linn Keller 9-10-07

 

Firecracker Mel, her father had called her, and the name fit.
She smiled as she ran the hairbrush through her fine auburn hair. She had slept later than she'd expected; the bed was unusually comfortable, clean and smelling of soap and the outdoors. Even the pillow was even and fluffy and without lumps. She buttoned her black jacket with the silver embroidery and adjusted her flat-crowned riding hat. Satisfied, she turned away from the mirror.
There was a tap on the door. "Senorita?"
"Viene, Eduardo." She relaxed. Reflexively, her hand had gone for the rifle.
Eduardo opened the door but did not step in. He'd always been as loving as a brother, equally as over-protective, but always, unfailingly, a gentleman. Just like his father, she thought with a rush of affection. Eduardo's father, her father's best friend, was like a favorite uncle to her, and though she loved Eduardo and Santos like brothers, she also respected their gentleman's formality.
Eduardo's sombrero was in his hand; like Mel, he was fully dressed for the day; like Mel, he did not dress quietly. His chaps were black as a witch's heart, with great gaudy conchos down the side; his shirt was a screaming crimson, his vest bright canary yellow with black embroidered work, a combination guaranteed to make the eyes bleed, but he liked it. His brother Santos shared his taste in clothes. Along the border such was not at all exceptional; they realized that here in the Yanqui North they would be the object of attention, and, boy-like, they liked the idea.
"What shall we do on this lovely morning that El Senor Dios has given us?" Eduardo asked, with a fine display of beautifully white teeth under his black, neatly-trimmed mustache.
"We shall go to la iglesia," Mel announced briskly, "then we shall have breakfast, and we shall see what happens."
Santos shifted from one foot to the other. "Senorita," he said uncertainly, "the last time we waited to see what happens, it was on the train, and you nearly lost your Grandmother's locket."
Mel unbuttoned the top button of her blouse, withdrew the necklace, rubbed it lightly, and smiled. "But I did not," she smiled, "because you are like brothers to me, and you kept me safe."
"Si, senorita," he said, "but we did not board the train to shoot a half dozen banditos."
Mel replaced the locket, buttoned her collar and picked up her Winchester. "Let's see how good the sermon is today," she said.

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Linn Keller 9-10-07

 

"Jonsey?"
"Yeah, Durf."
Marcus Doerffler jerked his head, walked over to a sheltering cottonwood. Jonsey came over, leaned casually against the tree.
Durf looked furtively around. "Jonsey, did you see his eyes?"
Jonsey shivered. "I saw his face, that was enough!"
"Jonsey, that's not a man! Did you hear him? 'Fire,' he hissed. 'Kingdom of fire' he said, like a snake talking! Did you hear him, Jonsey?"
"Yeah, I heard." Jonsey had been thinking of slipping away, of deserting, and secretly hoped Durf had the same idea.
Durf had been thinking the same thought. "I don't know why he wears boots."
Jonsey looked at him in surprise. "What would he wear? Carpet slippers?"
"Jonsey, if he'd take off those boots he'd leave prints like an antelope." He paused, swallowed hard. "He ain't human, Jonsey! That's the devil among us!"
Jonsey took out a coin. "How much did Judas sell out for? Forty of these?"
"He sold out for silver. These is gold."
"Silver, gold, it don't matter. I want no more of it. How do you figure is the best way out of here?"
"If we go for the picket line they'll see us."
"How far to that town?"
"Firelands? Are you crazy? That's where this bunch is going!"
"Maybe if we warn them. Maybe they can keep us safe!"
"Maybe if we warn 'em and grab a couple horses and keep running!"
Durf considered. "You're right. When's a good time to go?"
"How about now?"
They looked around. Nobody was watching.
Quietly, cautiously, they slipped through the cottonwoods and toward a little draw, and began working their way toward the little town that dozed in the Sunday morning sunlight.
They thought they were unobserved.
They were almost right.
Art Parlan saw Jonsey.
Art Parlan's finger tightened on the trigger of his Winchester.
Durf had to make his escape without his erstwhile partner.

The well-dressed stranger's anger was under icy control, but it was too late: the damage was done.
If he were to kill Parlan it would not help.
The rifle's report rolled across the still morning air, betraying their position.
For the entire rest of the day the camp was nearly silent, waiting, in case the town, alarmed, should come after them.
They began to relax, about noontime, and by evening had dropped their guard entirely.
That night, with blankets drawn up to prevent any stray light from reaching the town, a map was scratched in the dirt with the end of a stick, as the well-dressed stranger, immaculate as always, drew the town, the approach, the avenues of escape; where the occupants would be, where the jail was, where the greatest resistance could be expected.
He took pains to mention where the ladies could be found, and the saloon.
"Any questions?" he finished.
Parlan stood. "No one shoots the sheriff," he said. "I hear he's a hard man. He's mine."
"You might want to think that one over," the well-dressed stranger said mildly. "I've heard both he and the marshal fight like winter wolves."
Parlan smiled. "I eat wolves," he said, and his stained teeth gleamed in the lantern light.

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Linn Keller 9-11-07

 

"You've been going through those wanted dodgers all morning."
I dropped the wanted flyers to the desk top, leaned back and rubbed my eyes. "Yeah."
"Didn't find them?" Charlie MacNeil poured some more coffee, set the blue granite cup on my desk. I took a sip, made a face.
"It's not the same without the Reverend Sopris's anointing, is it?"
I chuckled. "Never thought of it like that but you're right. It's better with vanilla." I took another careful sip, scalding my bottom lip yet again. "No, couldn't find anyone that looked like either of 'em. I sent Digger out to bring 'em back, you might want to take a look before he plants 'em."
Charlie poured coffee for himself. "I saw Jacob in that new suit, just a little bit ago. Looks like the ladies are having a sewing fit over there. Don't know what-all they're sewing up but they're just going to town, and apparently Bonnie called Jacob in and altered that suit some." He took a sip, made a face. "Damn, I miss Sopris!"
We looked up as Digger's wagon went rattling past, two shrouded forms in the open back. "Reckon I'll go take a look," Charlie said mildly, pouring his coffee back in the blue-granite pot.
I wondered if I shouldn't start using cream in my coffee when it's this bad. Either that, or maybe acid. Something to make it milder. This stuff could peel hair off a bull buffalo's hump.
I opened the desk drawer and drew out an envelope. I just sat there looking at it, knowing what was inside, considering what I was going to do with it.
It was title to the railroad.
I'd used proceeds from selling the Z&W back in Ohio to buy this one, and already it was turning me a profit, and not a bad one either. It had almost enough already to buy a new engine; I went over the books with Charlie's man, the one he sprung from the pen to help us with the bank, and he was able to correct some errors he figured had been deliberately engineered into the neat columns of figures -- I fired the old bookkeeper when I found that out -- it amounted to enough to buy that new locomotive.
So I did.
New engine should be pulling into town in a day or two. I hoped it would be the day Esther opened the Ruby Room, for on that day, I would propose to her, and present her with title to the railroad, and show off that brand-new locomotive.
Women don't have much interest in steam engines, but it would mean something to her when I removed the canvas covering the side of the cab, to show a single red rose, with "Lady Esther" lettered across it.
Charlie came back in. "Nope, don't recognize either of them." He sat down, poured a fresh charge of coffee. "Something interesting?"
I smiled. "Charlie, when the ladies open the Ruby Room, I will propose to Esther," I said, "and when I propose to her, I'll present her with this" -- I reached in a vest pocket and pulled out a small box, and opened it, and held it up so the light shone on it. Rings, a pair of them, one smooth gold, the other a little narrower with a diamond.
Charlie whistled. "Pretty," he admired. "How'd you find her size?"
"I asked Duzy," I grinned. "Turns out she and Esther have the same size ring fingers. Duzy made me promise that if Esther turned me down, she could have the rings to get married in."
"She'll like that. Women like being fussed over."
"Then I'll give her this." I handed him the envelope.
He looked inside the envelope, whistled again. "You have a way of surprising me," he said. "You're giving her your RAILROAD?"
"Think she can run it?" He handed the envelope back to me, and I put it, and the rings, in the top right hand desk drawer.
"Oh, I don't know," Charlie said, "probably can't run it any smoother than a Swiss watch."
"About what I was thinking." I leaned back, scanned the ceiling. "Charlie, you ever hear of someone named Liam McKenna?"
"Liam? Scottish name ... no, can't say as I have, why?"
"WJ is holding a box of Havana cigars for a Liam McKenna -- hold until picked up. Never heard of the fellow, no relation to Bonnie. She recalls a cousin, about knee high, back in Scotland from many years ago. I figure he's a man grown by now. She has never seen the fellow, no pictures, no drawings, no idea if he's still in Scotland."
"I'll watch the passengers on tomorrow's train."
"Appreciate that."
"Now wouldn't it be convenient," Charlie said slowly, thinking out loud, "if some long lost relative came out here and just happened to find out about the gold, and about someone holding mineral rights."
I nodded. "That would be convenient, all right."
"Had any trouble with your Irish firemen?"
"Not since that right hook put me on my butt!"
Charlie threw back his head and laughed. "I would have paid good money to have seen that!" he exclaimed, delighted. "Didn't know there was much of anyone could put you down!"
I rubbed the bruise ahead of and above my ear. "He did belt me a good one!"

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Mr. Box 9-11-07

 

I had to wait till church was out before I checked in with a young lady name of Daisy.Told her I'd be around for a few days, most likely, then asked about getting something to eat after a bath. "Looks like you've got quite a bit going on in this place. It all looks pretty new."
"We're almost ready to open The Ruby Room. We need a bartender still," said Daisy.
"I ain't never been on the back side of a bar."

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Lady Leigh 9-11-07

 

Caleb was at the telegraph office writing what he wanted sent to his Father in Chicago. The note read as follows,

Father, do you recall Angus McKenna ever mentioning a Liam McKenna? Caleb

After the Sheriff left, Caleb questioned Bonnie further on Liam McKenna. They both decided the McKenna name was unusual, and also decided it was a possibility the Liam character was on his way to introduce himself to Bonnie.

Caleb thought the possibility of a warm intentioned introduction uncanny. What Caleb remembered hearing from his Father was that the McKenna's in Scotland were ruthless. Perhaps his Father could assist with additional information.

In the meantime, Caleb would keep his eyes wide open in regards to Bonnie and Sarah's safety. He was comforted with the knowledge that he wouldn't be doing that alone, as the Sheriff seemed to be aware of possible dangers.

Bonnie, too, seemed uneasy about Liam McKenna. Together, Bonnie and Caleb came up with a plan in case this Liam was, indeed, a long lost cousin.

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William A.A. Wallace 9-11-07

 

Having been paid by Daisy for his smoked meats and fish, Bigfoot took it upon himself to look around town at the preparations being made for the "assault"...

Sandbags had been placed to reinforce walls, the new fire crew and apparatus were in place, folks were loading up on guns and ammunition...all seemed like it was going according to the Sheriff's plan with the help of quite a few others.

Bigfoot was an expert in the ways of the wild, not normally associating himself with the defense of a town. Sitting down on a bench outside of the livery, he pondered what part he may have in this endeavor...maybe he'd go check in with the Sheriff and have a chat with him. Yep, that's what was needed...two heads together had to be better than one!

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Linn Keller 9-11-07

 

I stood and smiled and stuck out my hand.
"Emmett Daine, you are a welcome sight," I greeted him, and he returned my grip with a solemn nod. His brothers all stepped up and shook my head as well. As usual, the taciturn bunch was more than willing to let Emmett do their talking for them.
"Heard tell you got a fight a-comin'." Emmett was as sparse with his words as he was with meat on his bones. That man wouldn't throw a decent shadow at twelve noon if he had a full meal and put on a winter coat.
I nodded. "About forty hired outlaws. They want to kill and run off who they can, burn the town and take what's ours."
"Where do you want us?"
"Let's go take a look. I'll show you what we've prepared and you can pick your ground."
The Daine brothers all shared one disturbing characteristic.
When it came to an upcoming unpleasantness, they shared the same wolflike smile.
The room was suddenly full of wolves.

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Linn Keller 9-11-07

 

The well-dressed stranger, whether cloven-hooved or not, moved with an impressive stealth.
He'd managed to slip away from the outlaws, to the edge of the cottonwoods; quickly assembling a device he'd pattered after the standard US military heliograph, he adjusted the pocket-sized mirror, aimed it precisely at Firelands, and with quick, precise strokes, tapped the telegraph-like key. The mirror wobbled slightly, held against its spring, and reflected sunlight in a bright, narrow beam.
His message was brief and concise.
Done, he disassembled the device, tucked it away.
Nobody in Firelands noticed.

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Linn Keller 9-12-07

 

The Lady Esther hissed with impatience.
She was coaled, watered, fired; gagues were where they should be.
The engineer smiled.
He'd seen her first from a distance, and he stopped and looked at her, noting her outsized boiler, her second steam dome, the oversized pistons.
She'd been a builder's mistake, but one that worked in his favor. Bigger boiler, more steam, more power, more speed: her only limitation, he thought, would be the track itself.
He always carried two bandannas, one red, one blue; the red one was for his own brow, the blue one, for the engine. He'd replaced the blue one that morning, and as he walked up to his new brand engine for the very first time, he whipped out his brand new bandanna and caressed her brightwork.
"Show me what you've got, darlin'," he murmured, and removed the canvas from the side of the cab, showing the painted rose and the fancy lettering.
"Hey, we're supposed to keep that covered," his fireman protested.
The engineer laughed. "Ladies like to be seen!" He folded the canvas, tossed it to the ground. "She deserves to have a man show her off! Don't you, darlin'?"
They'd hitched up to the short string of cars -- two passenger, two freight ,the dining and the private -- the conductor waved the go-ahead -- the engineer leaned down on the whistle lanyard. He normally left the station with only a short toot, but he wanted to hear her voice.
She sang.
Grinning, he threw his weight to the throttle and the Johnson bar, hauled open the sanders, and she thrust strongly against the couplers.
"Come on, my lady," he whispered. "Let's dance!"

Liam McKenna regretfully flicked the stub of his last Havana over the side. He was only a day from Firelands, and a fresh supply; he would make do with drink, he supposed, and regretfully considered the few females in the passenger car. He rode in comfort, in the private car, shared with no one else; a porter in the far end tended to his meals, but left him otherwise alone, which suited him fine. He had nothing in common with these rustic peasants.
One more day, he smiled. One more day, dear Bonnie, and what's yours, will be mine.
Father will be pleased.

Lightning stepped out of the telegraph office for a breath of air. It was evening, and cool; he liked this time of day, with the sun setting the distant mountain tops on fire, with shadows running like purple water over the prairie.
He tasked his son with listening for the key: his firstborn had a natural "fist," and could send and receive as well as he himself. They lived alone, two men in happy bachelorhood: his wife had died these fifteen years agone, hemorrhaged after childbirth, but this was not uncommon for the era.
Lightning walked up to Daisy's for a bite.

The outlaw shivered as he talked.
Bigfoot, Charlie and I listened to his description of the enemy we faced.
He spoke of their number, their drunkenness, of the few that seemed effective, but mostly of a well-dressed stranger, who he described as step-brother to Beelzebub and quite a bit less than entirely sane.
Charlie looked sharply at me, and I could see an idea in his eyes.
"Did he have any kind of jewelry?" Charlie asked. "A ring, for instance, or a watch fob?"
The shivering outlaw scanned the floor and his memory. "Yeah. Yeah, he did, the fob was round -- like a coin -- and it had some kind of a funny triangle on it."
Charlie pulled out his coin. "Like this?"
The outlaw turned a little bit pale. "Just like that," he gasped.
Charlie looked at me, and I at Charlie.
"Him," we said together.
"You know him?" the outlaw squeaked, swallowing hard, looking like he was considering bolting out the door.
I nodded. "Yep."
"You'll protect me? Or give me a fast horse?"
Charlie laid a hard hand on his shirt collar and hauled him to his feet. "First thing we're going to do is get you a good square meal," he declared, "then we'll get you bedded down for the night. Seems to me you've had a troublesome day."
Charlie towed his stammering charge across the dusty street.
"Well, Sheriff," Bigfoot said, turning to me, "where d'ye want me?"
"Do you think you can take a look at their camp, see what they're about?"
"I can do that." He picked up his rifle and smiled. "Anythin' you would like while I'm there?"
"If you can thin them out a little I wouldn't object," I admitted. "I don't like the idea of fighting a defensive war, but Charlie has quite a good trap set up here, and I'm not about to kick a good idea out the door just because it isn't mine!"
Bigfoot laughed. "You're smarter than you look, Sheriff," he smiled. "Not many men can admit that!"
I smiled. "Smarter than I look? Guess that proves the Lord's mercy!"
We shared a laugh, and he was gone.

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Linn Keller 9-12-07

 

I'd asked the brothers Daine who the meanest close-in fighter was they had.
They all looked at Emmett.
I asked them who they would least want to have after them.
They all looked at Emmett.
I set each of the four on a roof top and let him take a good look around at our set-up, at their field of fire, at what lay beyond their field of fire. Then I turned to Emmett.
"I would ask a favor," I said quietly.
Emmett waited, listening.
"Esther is to be my wife. I am Sheriff. My fight will be outside. I cannot stand and guard her. I need a good man to keep her and the ladies safe."
Emmett smiled. "Suh, you safeguarded my sister's honor. It would be my honor to guard hers."
I stuck out my hand.
Emmett took it.
"Can I offer you a shotgun? Rifle?"
Emmett's wolf smiled through his face. "Thank you, suh, I have what I need."

We climbed down and crossed the street, back into what would soon be opening as Ruby's Room. All was ready, at least to my eye, though the ladies would likely fuss with it until the very last minute. Emmett studied the street from the front door, seated himself at a table. Daisy brought him a big mug of coffee and a slice of pie. He smiled and thanked her in his gentle voice.
"Ladies?" I called. "Daisy, Tilly, Bonnie" -- I smiled -- "Sarah ... and Esther. With me, please?"
We went into the back room.
I closed the door.
"I have two things," I said.
I had their undivided.
"First, I have asked Emmett Daine to keep you safe here. I'm satisfied he's more than adequate for the job..." I paused as the ladies exchanged knowing looks. I held up a hand. "Look, I know there is no fiercer fighter in all of nature than a mother tiger defending her cubs, and I know each of you would be more than a match for a tiger when it comes to keeping Sarah, and each other for that matter, safe. Please don't think I lack confidence in your your fighting skills." I looked at Esther and smiled. "I understand you were ready to take on the entire Prussian Cavalry the other day."
There was a momentary fire in her eyes, quickly veiled; her expression never changed, though she did color up a bit.
"I have a feeling," I continued, "the same feeling I got just before a battle, back during the War. It's coming. I know how random a battle can be." I paused and shivered. "I lost a sergeant on my right and my bugler on my left, and in the swarm of battle I was untouched. I intend the same thing should happen. Now I don't know when it's coming, I just know it's coming soon -- whether five minutes, five hours, tonight, tomorrow -- but soon."
Sarah squirmed impatiently in her seat.
It was time.
"Sarah," I said, going to one knee, "take a look at this." I had thumb and forefinger in my vest pocket.
One of the ladies -- Tillie, I think -- drew in a sudden breath.
Sarah hopped from her chair and bounced over to me, curious.
I pulled out a ring.
"You asked me what's a diamond," I said, holding it up for her inspection. "Here it is."
"Oooh," she said, "pretty! Can I have it?"
I laughed, and so did Bonnie. "Do you know what a diamond is, Sarah?"
"It's very nice," she said positively, nodding with such vigor that her ringlets bobbed.
"A diamond is a promise," I said, "and that's what I am doing right now." I switched to the other knee, turning a bit toward Esther.
"My lady, if I may have your hand."
Esther's right hand went to her mouth, and her left hand, to me.
I slid the ring on her finger.
Perfect fit.
"Esther," I said gently, "when you open Ruby's Room, I will propose to you in front of everyone. I will propose to you, and I will say it loud enough so everyone can hear it." I held her hand in mine and put my other hand on top of hers. "This is not my proposal -- this is my promise." I drew her knuckles to my lips and kissed them, and released her hand.
Of the five ladies present, four were employing kerchiefs.
Sarah bounced on her heels. "That's pretty! Can I have one?"

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William A.A. Wallace 9-12-07

 

Bigfoot Wallace had no problem doing a recon of the outlaw camp. He'd been there before and could easily hide just about anywhere. One of the secrets of his trade was the employment of a "ghillie" suit, developed by gameskeepers in Scotland to be able to blend in with the countryside and approach game animals without being seen. Human beings were not nearly as adept as wild game and were easy prey to sneak up on. Wallace was an expert in the use of many weapons, including a bow and arrows and would creep up to the outlaw camp and see what he might learn and what damage he might do...

Setting out at dusk, the large man in the "ghillie" suit, armed with a stout Indian bow and a quiver of razor sharp arrows, mase his way quietly towards the outlaw camp. It would be dark in about an hour...the perfect time to strike and make his getaway...

Wallace slid on his belly like a lizard or snake the final 200 yards to the outskirts of the camp. The outlaws were finishing their evening meal and settling in for the night. Two of the outlaws made their way towards Bigfoot's position which was near the stream, presumably to fill their water bags and canteens...as they knelt down to fill the water bags, Wallace rose to one knee, knocked an arrow and let loose...the arrow drove home into the first outlaw's back just left of his spine and pierced his heart...a good six inches of arrow shaft appeared out the front of the man's shirt. The outlaw fell forward into the water and his companion turned and saw the arrow sticking out of his partner's back. It would be his last vision on earth as the second arrow from Wallace's bow caught him in the left eye and penetrated deeply into his brain...he fell backwards into the stream, having never uttered a sound.

Wallace waited a few minutes to see if the men were dead...knowing that they must be...he then crept forward towards the camp...getting closer to ensure good shots later on during the night. Wallace's vision was like a hawk during the day and much like an owl during the night...as darkness fell and the outlaws turned to their bedrolls, Wallace formed a plan. The outlaws only kept one sentry on alert and changed shifts every four hours. Lying in wait until the men were sleeping, Wallace located the sentry setting on a cottonwood log on the edge of the camp facing towards Firelands. Wallace again came to one knee and let loose two arrows in succession...both penetrating the man's chest. The outlaw slumped over and never made a sound...so good, so far...

Slipping around to the far side of the camp, near the cottonwood trees, Wallace checked his quiver and found six more arrows ready to go. Standing up to his full height, obscured by the trees, he let loose six arrows in rapid succession at the men lying unawares in their bedrolls...five arrows met their mark and one skipped on a rock, causing a spark and hitting a horse that reared up and started a commotion...

Wallace slid down to the ground...making sure that his "ghillie" suit covered his large frame. The ruckus caused by the horse awakened the camp. One of the outlwas came out of his bedroll to see an arrow sticking out of the man next to him and yelled, "Indian attack!!" The rest of the outlaws began firing wildly into the darkness until the leader yelled at them, "Cease fire...cease fire!! The sound will carry all the way to Firelands!!"

The outlaws stopped firing, but were shaken up by the percieved ambush and attack from unknown Indian adversaries. The outlaw leader set out a perimeter of men and told them to only fire if they saw a body to shoot at. There would be no sleep for them the rest of the night...visions of Indians taking their scalps kept creeping into their mind's eye...

Bigfoot let the camp settle down some and proceeded to make his way back to the creek, where his first two victims lay...taking out his fourteen inch knife, he grabbed them by their hair and neatly scalped each of them...

His duty done for the evening, Wallace made his way back to his horse and mounted up...he'd have a good report for the Sheriff...

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