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Trouble Comes to Stone Creek

Calico Mary

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"Why the hell don't we just skidaddle outta here as fast as we can" said Rye. The shots were coming from the direction that they were heading to. "Mark said, So yer suggesting we turn tail and run"? Rye said, "Yea that's exactly what I'm sayin', whoever that is has us pinned down with some long range rifle and they're pretty darn good with it too!"  Everyone nodded in agreement. "Maybe we can hightail it outta here and circle around this scoundrel". They got on their horses and Rye and Mark got in the wagon and spurred the two horse team on. A bullet hit the wagon and wood splintered. It was about 20 seconds before another shot hit the wagon again even though they were moving. " Well at least we know he doesn't have a repeater, that took a little bit to get that second shot off, said Rye. Mark slapped the reins harder and yelled at the horses. They didn't hear any more shots. They were all relieved that maybe they were out of range. They all turned left and tried to figure out how to flank the shooter. This wasn't going to be easy, thought Rye. Maybe they should take the long way back to town but how did they know the shooter wasn't going to follow them?

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Lorelei sure looked good in that purple dress.  I'm just pleased someone liked it, thought Calamity.  Boy have I got THE dress for Calico.  It's a sweet little dark blue number with really pretty embroidery on it.  I have a pretty fascinator to go with it too.  Those would look really nice with her pretty brown hair.  Now to come up with a way to get Calico into the shop.  I know, thought Calamity.  I'll ask Calico to show me some of her beautiful crochet stitches.  I can add those to the simpler dresses to fancy them up a bit.  I'll have the dark blue dress hanging nearby where Calico can see it and convince her to try it on.  Maybe even talk her into going to the dance.  "I'll go if you go" I'll tell her.  That's the ticket.  Calamity smiled at the thought of Calico in that pretty dress and commenced to finishing the alterations on the purple dress for Lorelei.

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“There, the chicken coup is finally fixed.  Now, if the weather holds, I can think about plowing next week.  Still won’t plant until I’m sure it won’t freeze anymore, but at least I can be ready when the time comes.”  Calico was pleased with the amount of work she’d gotten accomplished that day.  There was still more to be done, but maybe tomorrow she could sneak into town for a little while.  She still needed to find Okie, and she wouldn’t mind another walk past Kris’s shop windows.  Plus it was high time she dropped in to pay a visit to Grumpy.  With any luck, he’d have his dog Buford with him, she had always enjoyed petting him.  She wished she had a dog, the family had had one when she was younger, but their shepherd had died years ago.  Now all she and Critter had was a couple of cats, they came in handy in keeping vermin out of the barn. 


She was still over by the barn when she heard the sound of a buggy approaching.  With the cabin in the way, she couldn’t see who it was, so made sure to grab the shotgun before walking around front to see who her visitor was.  As she came around the side of the cabin, a man who she had never seen before was pulling the buggy to a stop out front.  He was tall, with dark hair and eyes, wearing a very expensive looking suit.  The woman next to him was wearing a very low cut, over the shoulder dress, the skirt slit up one side past her knee.  She was wearing a feathered hair piece, and her lips and cheeks looked far too red to be natural.  Even though neither of them had yet said a word, Calico got that funny feeling up her spine again, as if she was facing something malevolent.


“State your business!” Calico called out, but the man didn’t say a word as he climbed down from the buggy and walked towards her.  “That’s far enough!” Calico brought the shotgun up waist high, aimed straight at the stranger’s midsection.  The man quickly raised his hands.  “Whoa there, little girl, don’t be playing with your pa’s guns like that, some folks might not find that very polite.  Now be a good girl and run get your pa for me, I need to talk to him.”  Calico shook her head.  “Pa’s dead, this place belongs to me and my brother.  Now state your business, or get back in that there buggy and head back the way you came!”  Something about this man totally unnerved her, even though she couldn’t put her finger on why.   “Then where is your brother, I wish to talk to him, if you would,” the man stated.  “Charlie will be here shortly, but if you don’t start telling me what you want, you ain’t gonna be alive long enough to talk to him!”


The man stared hard at her, then sighed.  “Fine.  I am Zebediah Gardner, this is my associate, Alice Slye.”  The woman in the buggy was smirking at Calico, who promptly turned back to the man, ignoring the other female.  “I recently bought a place north of here, I think it belonged to someone named Hoover, and I intend to take up ranching.  But I was hoping to pick up another property or two in the area, and I would like to see if your brother would entertain an offer for this place.  Not that it’s worth much, but I’m willing to offer a reasonable price.”  The smirk on the face of Alice got even bigger, but Calico was not amused.


“Hell no, me and Charlie aren’t interested, so you can just be on your way.  We ain’t selling, not to you or anyone else!  Now the road back to town is over yonder, I suggest you use it, and quick!”  Calico brought the shotgun up to her shoulder, there was no question that she was willing to use it.  Zeb Gardner looked furious, but silently climbed back in the buggy and picked up the reins.  Grabbing a short whip that had been laying on the seat, he smacked the horse’s rear until the animal leapt forward.  Pulling one rein hard, he managed to turn the buggy so sharply one wheel almost left the ground, then raced off back towards town.  It took several minutes before Calico felt safe in lowering the shotgun, hopefully Critter would be home soon….




(to my fellow writers, I'm shooting Smoke in the Woods this weekend, so I may or may not have the time/energy to post much for a couple of days.  Please, do NOT let that stop any of the rest of you, if you have an idea, please write it before it has a chance to escape!)

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The boys took the long way around to avoid the shooter whomever it was! They finally got back into town and promptly told Dawg and Tyrel about what happened at the ranch and what happened as they were leaving. They didn't know if the two incidences had anything in common but they suspected maybe they did. They stabled the horses and went about their business. Now back to trying to get a meeting together about that piano for the church and saloon. 

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Doc Ward walked out of the stables and got a breath of fresh air. As he looked out past the paddocks and pasture where he would graze horses, he took off his hat and wondered why he ever agreed to purchase a livery stable. Granted, he liked horses and dogs more than he did most people, and it allowed him to stay to himself and read whatever books he could get his hands on, but it seemed he spent half his day sneezing and short of breath. When it was feeding time, he made sure to give the horses their grain, then their hay, and get out of the building as quick as he could because he ended up wheezing as a result.


"I should've gone back east and become a professor when I had the opportunity," Doc said to the horse that had come up, nuzzling him for attention. Even as he said it, he knew it wasn't for him, as much as he thought he would have enjoyed teaching. He would have been lying to everyone at the school, and would've felt like a hypocrite, as the school was a religious one, and any faith he had was knocked out of him by that damn war. He never claimed to be an atheist, but he was pretty sure whatever the heavens had in store after a person died was up to him to figure out. When Pastor Keller would comment about not seeing him Sunday mornings, Doc would always shrug, smile and say "With you praying for me, I'm sure I'll be fine."


As he rubbed the horse's neck, Doc looked down and made a note to tell the horse's owner the gelding needed his hooves worked on, and soon. Doc paused, and tried to remember the gent's name, but could only recall him saying he and some others were buying the old Hoover place to ranch on. Doc thought that odd, since the land wasn't particularly good for cattle, although it did have some fine timber on it. Heck, Hoover tried running cattle on it, and struggled for years, always sure the next would be better. Looking over the horse's flank, Doc paused. A rocking lazy B. Something about that rung a bell, but Doc couldn't place it. Shaking his head, he muttered, "not a bad brand for someone intent on covering other brands. It'd cover a few in these parts."


Off in the distance, Doc could swear he heard the sound of a heavy rifle. Cocking his head he listened, thought he heard another shot, followed sometime later by a third. Laughing, Doc said to himself, "Well, hell, someone ain't much of a hunter. Wonder who in town got themselves a Sharps." Making a mental note to ask Seamus, Doc listened for more shots, but all he could hear was the tinnitus that resulted from his time in the artillery, and the sound of horses cropping grass.

Walking back into the small office in the livery, Doc looked at his collection of books. Looking at it, he smiled. Some men wanted land, others wanted gold. Many wanted power. Some couldn't escape the clutches of alcohol, opium, or the soiled doves plying their trade. For Doc, a book, a cup of coffee and crisp morning air was all he needed. All of his books were well worn, having been read many times by himself, and those in town who wanted to borrow them. It pained him when Calico Mary would come in and look at them longingly. Her desire to read them was almost palpable, but she had never learned to do more than write her name. Doc shook his head, thinking out loud, "Hell, I have the time to teach her, but she doesn't have five minutes to herself. Besides, Miss Lorelei  is better suited to it than I am." Looking to his books, Doc picked out a well worn copy of Shakespeare's The Tempest, and sat down.

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Doc Okie waddled out of his office, wearing a dirty tee shirt and a three-day stubble on his face. The tequila fumes on his breath were enough to send two cur dogs yelping up under the boardwalk. He went to the side of the building and was taking a leak when Calamity walked by.


"For the love of God, doctor, where are your manners? Have you no dignity? Lord save us, what is that smell, cried Calamity?" About that time J Mark came down the street sucking on a cigar the size of a hatchet handle. Calamity screamed at him, "Put that blasted thing out, or we're all going up in flames!"


J Mark pitched the stogie in a horse trough, and came wandering over to see what all of the commotion was about. Unfortunately for him, he was down wind. Putting his hand to his nose, he sputtered out, "Whoo-wee, Okie, did you ride into town on the back of a skinner's wagon? Have you been drinking turpentine?"


Doc Okie belched, causing Calamity and J Mark to jump back. As he scratched his belly, Doc Okie said, "Y'all cut me some slack already. I had to go way back in the sticks to the old Ferguson place, to deliver a baby. I'm telling you, that family has no branches on its family tree, none. As it turns out, it wasn't just a baby. It was triplets, all boys. But that isn't the worst of it. When old man Ferguson came over, holding a brightly burning lantern, I got a good look at those babies. Each and every one of them looked exactly like Rye Miles. Now the human brain can deal with a lot of trauma, but it is not designed to deal with the scope of this event. I staggered out of the house, found a gallon jug of tequila, and I don't remember anything until 10 minutes ago."

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Calamity bumped into Rye at the outside of Seamus' gun shop and told him about Okie's delivering triplets and how they all looked like him! Rye roared with laughter! "I imagine that Ol' Okie was a little lit before he delivered them babies. Did ya ever see babies with beards? asked Rye. " Okie's a good doctor but I really wonder about him sometimes! I think he's been hittin' that bottle kinda hard lately. Well, he's the only sawbones we got so we'd better keep him around here".


The town meeting started right after church on Sunday. Calico Mary offered one of her beautiful quilts for auction and everyone in town kicked in what they could afford to get some dough for a piano. Doc Ward offered a beautiful black sorrel for auction.  Seamus and Cayenne Kay offered up a beautiful Winchester repeating shotgun! Okie offered a case of whiskey!! That would bring in some money for sure!! Rye offered to auction off a derringer and a beautiful guitar that he had. Everyone was excited about the auction. They set it for Saturday morning at the saloon. Drinks were on the house compliments of Whiskey Business. Mayor Dawg offered to host and be the auctioneer. Everyone else was scrambling around trying to figure out what they could give up for the auction. The people of Stone Creek really stepped up to the task at hand! 


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I looked through my collection of valuable objects and selected one for the auction.  It sat in a Small wooden box adorned only with an ivory inlay of  the phrase

Die linke Hand des Teufels
 Which I understood to be German for "The Devil's Left Hand."  Inside the box was a small palm pistol of a sort, equipped to file a ..50 Caliber ball 
by depressing the plunger.  That is to say you punched an object and the gun fired.  I took it over to the Saloon and left it with Whisky Business.  I figured there 
were others who would be collecting for the raffle, but she certainly smelled the best.
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Tyrel eased out of bed and dressed. He was still quite sore, worse than anything he could remember and that included being shot. Sudden movements were out of the question for a while yet. Okie had mentioned a benefit auction and thought he had just the thing, so he headed over to the jail to retrieve them.


When Tyrel finally got over to the saloon Rye was leaned up against the bar bragging about how good a shot he was and said, "See this here derringer, that short barrel don't mean nothing. I can still hit a half dollar target at 100 paces!" 


"Yeah right! Imagine what you could do with these!",  Tyrel said, producing a pair of shiny nickel Colt's. "Sometimes being an officer has it's benefits. I picked these up from a train robber that I captured and was then hanged. We couldn't find any family and the judge told me I could could keep the guns as a reward. So I'm going to offer them up at the auction."


When Tyrel left the saloon he headed down to the livery to find Doc Ward, he was goning to need a level headed deputy for a while as he recovered; especially with some newcomers around and J. Mark going off half cocked.

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Well, Calamity didn't have to look through her merchandise too long before she found the right items for the auction.  It will be his and hers baskets.  Sleeve garters, collars and a Bowler for the gents, lace gloves, a lace collar and hat for the ladies.  She had just finished the ladies hat and was right proud of it.  Just the right accessories for the upcoming dance.  That reminded her, she had better get those dresses finished or there would be some really unhappy customers.  She'd get started just as soon as she dropped the baskets off with Whiskey.

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Doc Ward looked up as he heard Sheriff Cody walk into the stable toward the small office inside. Closing his book, Doc got up, taking in Cody's stiff movements and battered face in a glance. Pulling a chair around, Doc gestured for the Sheriff to have a seat, and asked if he'd care for a cup of coffee. When Sheriff Cody waved a hand and shook his head, Doc went and poured himself a cup before returning to his seat at the desk. Sliding the book he was reading aside, and absent-mindedly shifting the ledger so it was straight on the desk. Doc gave a slight smile before saying "I'm afraid I don't keep anything stronger around, I'm not much of a drinker, as you know." Sheriff Cody laughed, and said, "Hell, Doc, by what I've heard, your coffee is strong enough to put up a fight before you drink it, but I understand, and I don't need any whiskey at the moment, either." Doc laughed and shrugged. "That could be,  but at any rate, I'm glad to see you up and about. Are you sure you should be?" The concern in Doc's voice was genuine as he glanced at the lawman. "Not much choice, I reckon," Cody replied, "but that's also why I'm here. While I'm on the mend, I need a deputy."


Doc's look was one of confusion, then his eyes widened a little as understanding sunk in. "Sheriff, I'm afraid I don't have any experience there. Surely there's someone in town with more experience that's more capable? Someone who knows what they're doing?" Cody shook his head in response. "I need someone who is calm, thoughtful, and who won't go off half-cocked. More importantly, someone who won't do something stupid and get them-fool-selves killed." Doc shook his head in disbelief. "I think that's where the 'knows what they're doing' part would come into play. I don't think it's quite the kind of job where you learn as you go." Sheriff Cody gave a sharp laugh. "I did. Most lawmen do." Doc shook his head again, "Yeah, but aren't most lawmen gun handy? Hell, I'm only fair with a pistol, and not a lot better with a rifle! It isn't that I'm scared, I just have a hard time believing there aren't better choices in town." Now it was time for Cody to shake his head. "Afraid not, or, no offense, I'd be visiting with them. I know you aren't scared. There's been a rumor or two that you did a bit more in the war than you let on, and I recall you taking a knee and returning fire with your rifle when others were ducking for cover when those bank robbers tried their hand a couple of years back.


Doc let out a sigh. He was pretty sure Sheriff Cody wasn't going to take "no" for an answer, and Doc did feel it was his civic duty to step up when needed. Taking off his hat, Doc ran his fingers through his slowly graying hair, a sure sign he was thinking of what to say next. Putting his hat back on his head, Doc pushed away from the desk and stood. Walking over to a cabinet, Doc opened it and pulled out a gun belt with a Colt stuck down in the holster. Cody noticed Doc swung the belt around his hips with practiced ease. Starting to close the cabinet, Doc paused, then reached in to pull out one of his prized Parker shotguns, along with rounds for both guns. Breaking the shotgun open and putting it over his shoulder after closing the doors, Doc turned and asked, "So, I suppose I should ask... What does the job pay?" Sheriff Cody grinned as he pushed himself out of the chair,  grunting and wincing in pain despite himself. "Twenty a month and board. Miss Whiskey has someone from the Saloon send lunch and dinner over to the jail. Breakfast you'll have to get there. But bring your own coffee, by what Seamus and Kay say, we can't afford that." Doc chuckled as he followed the Sheriff, glancing at the livery and making a mental note to find someone to help out. He figured it would end up costing him about twenty dollars a month...

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As I handed off the box to Whisky Business, I passed he an envelope with $200.00.  "I'd appreciate it if you would do something for me.  Buy that gun back at the auction if the bids stop at less than that.  Anything left over, donate for me."


She smiled and took the envelope "Sure Mark, but why aren't you going to the auction?"


I looked around before answering as I pulled a letter out of my pocket. "I got a new job, gonna be doing some traveling."  I passed the letter over.


To :   J. Mark Flint


From:Thiel Detective Service Company


Colonel Flint,


If you can bring yourself to work for a Yankee,  I am in need of a trouble shooter

to handle some confidential work.  I have enclosed $200.00 to cover your expenses

for travel to Denver to discuss the opportunities available.  I look forward to

speaking with you in the near future.



John Farley

Manager Denver office



She looked it over "Didn't know you were looking for regular work, thought you enjoyed being semi retired"


I grinned "I am not, and I do.  But I am curious and I haven't been to Denver in a few years.  I've made arrangements at the bank and if you are willing, I'll set up an account at the bank in your name, so you might act as my agent here and cover any expenses I may incur.  I'll telegraph periodically with instructions.  Everything Iask will be 100% legal and above board-I give you my word."


She mulled it over.  "Can I think about it for a day or two?"  I nodded "Of course, just let me know when you decide."


"Okay, how long do you think you are going to be gone?"


"A while, can't rightly say, but at least til the end of the story."












Leaving the story for now as my time is over committed and I need to be completing other things to fulfill previous promises.  TC did not offend me.









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"Thanks Doc, you have no idea how much I appreciate it. I don't believe this will be for an extended period, but I am very concerned for a few more weeks and especially during the upcoming dance. I'll also mention that I have some extra in the budget and we can pay say $10 a month to someone if you want to get one of Calico's brothers or someone else to help around the stables. I've also got a couple of extra shotguns in the safe if you need one." 


After Tyrel had sworn in Doc he went back to the backroom of the jail to rest for a while as this had really taken a toll on him.

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Doc Ward watched Sheriff Cody go back to rest, then glanced down at the badge on his chest. As his gaze dropped further, he looked at the dirty pants and boots he wore from mucking stalls that morning. Shaking his head, Doc muttered, "That will never do, I suppose I need to get into something a little more appropriate for the position." Sniffing, he added, "And a bit cleaner." Checking in to see Cody snoring softly, Doc walked to the door of the jail and paused. Pulling his Colt, Doc pulled the hammer to the half-cock position, spun the cylinder to make sure it moved freely, then checked to make sure of where the empty chamber was before pulling the hammer all the way back and lowering it on the empty. Slipping two shells into the shotgun, Doc closed it, and lifted it to let the barrels rest on his shoulder, his right hand gripping right behind the trigger guard. If trouble happened, all he had to do was flip the shotgun down, catch it with his left hand as he cocked it, and open fire.


Doc looked around after stepping from the door of the jail, staying in the shadow of the porch roof. That he felt uneasy was an understatement. Doc was sure someone was watching him, or the jail, but despite scanning the most obvious spots, then the less obvious ones, he couldn't spot anything out of the normal. Shaking his head, trying to get rid of the feeling, Doc moved off toward the general store. He'd been meaning to get some new clothes anyway, and not wanting to be away from the jail long, the store was closer than his place. Besides, he might be able to get some news from Seamus there.

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It was shaping up to be a good year at the S Bar D. This years foals were all strong and healthy and despite the harder than normal winter the ranch had a bumper crop of new calves. I was sure glad I had Stirrup Trouble overseeing the horses and Gateway Kid was easily the top cow hand in the territory. With their expert help the S Bar D was one shaping up to be one of the largest spreads in the territory. The down side was that expanding the spread meant that getting to town to chew the fat with his friends was happening a lot less often. I made a mental note to make the time to go into town and catch up on the latest happenings. 


Life was goog but there was one thing that worried me. Overnight about a dozen or so cows were missing from the main herd. The Kid thought that maybe that old Cougar that hung out way up in the mountains had drifted down looking for easy pickings and spooked a few. I had another suspicion that was gnawing at my conscious.


A couple of weeks ago I was out with my lovely bride Eyelash LaRue and we had run into a couple of rough looking hombres that claimed they were punching cows for the folks that bought the Hoover place. When I has asked them why they were so far from their spread they claimed to just riding the range to get the lay of the land. After they had rode out of sight EyeLash remarked that she had serious doubts about their story. I agreed and added that they looked a lot more like hired guns than cowboys.


Well there was only one thing to do, Grab a quick bite and go see what happened to the cattle. As I walked across the porch that little voice that had kept me on the right side of the grass all these years was reminding me to take my Sharps. As I was opening the front door Pat Riot came out of the barn I called out to him and told him join me for a bit of lunch. As we ate I told him of my suspicions. He volunteered to saddle two fresh mounts and come along. I thanked him and reminded him to bring that new Winchester repeater along. 


As I packed my saddle bags my lovely bride brought me a flour sack with enough grub to hold the two of us for a couple of days. She was always thinking ahead and looking out for me. Heaven only knows where I would be without her. 


I gave her a hug and kiss as I grabbed my hat and headed out onto the porch. PR was there with two fresh horses and ready to go.


Didn't take us long to find the trail of the missing cattle and to determine that there were at least two riders with them. As we followed their trail we suddenly heard someone with a rifle open up. It sounded like they were over the ridge towards the Hoover place. After the third shot we turned our horses towards the direction the shots were coming from. We rode up to just below the ridge line and dismounted. As we slowly made our way to the top of the ridge the to see what all the shooting was about we could tell that whoever it was was shooting a buffalo rifle by the long pause between shots. At the top of the ridge Pat pulled out his spyglass and proceeded to expertly scan the base of the ridge for the shooter. As he did so I saw a speck of dust suddenly spring up  about 1200 yards away. I pulled out my spyglass to get a better look and saw 2 riders on horseback and two in a wagon going across the valley like their hind ends were painted with turpentine. Just then I heard another shot ring out near the base of the ridge followed by another about a half minute later. Unfortunately neither Pat nor I could see the shooter, the brush was just too thick. 

Suddenly Pat made a motion to his right and following his hand I saw whoever was doing all the shooting high tailing it across the creek. The brush on the other side was too thick to get a good enough look to make a positive ID but while he was in the middle of the creek I got a good enough look to be pretty sure that was the same horse one of those hombres I saw a couple of weeks ago was riding. Pat wanted to follow him but I cautioned against it. I didn't know if he saw us or if something else spooked him and I had no desire to try sneaking up an anyone carrying a Buffalo gun. Besides I wanted to get back to the ranch and warn all the hands that trouble was a brewing. 


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(TC needs to try harder next time.....:P)



Calico wasn’t sure who was more tired by the time she got done plowing that field, her or the horse.  Doing it was harder than it looked…either Pa or Critter usually did that part, and she would help with the planting.  This year, Pa was gone and Critter was off at the Lazy B, so Calico didn’t have much choice…not if they were going to eat next winter.  Her whole body was sore as she guided the horse back towards the barn, at least the only thing left to do before making dinner was to feed the chickens.  When she got back though, she saw Critter already taking care of that part.  “Hey, what are you doing home so early?”  Critter looked up but didn’t stop sprinkling corn on the ground for the chickens gathered around his feet.  “There you are, I was about to come looking for you.  How would you like a job?” 


That brought Calico to a stop as she was unbuckling the harness from the horse.  “A job?  Doing what?  And don’t I already have enough to do around here?”  Critter went on to explain about Sheriff Cody deputizing DocWard to help out while he recovered from the attack he’d suffered, and how DocWard needed someone to help out at the livery stable.  “Mucking out stalls, that’s perfect for you,” he crowed, laughing.  Calico quickly scooped up a clod of dirt and threw it at her brother, missing him but forcing him to duck.  “And just what are we gonna do for food around here if I don’t get the planting done?  Don’t tell me he’s paying enough for us to afford to buy it all?” she asked.


“Nope, not that much, but I got it all worked out.  I already talked it over with Mr. Utah, I’ll work mornings at his place, then come home and do stuff here in the afternoons.  And Mr. Utah is gonna talk to Olaf Swenson, see if maybe young Hans can come over here a couple of afternoons a week to help me out.  I figure, DocWard is willing to pay you $10 a month, we could pay Hans $2 a month and still come out ahead.  Mr. Utah won’t cut my pay as long as I still get all my work done for him, and to be honest, it rarely takes me all day anyway.  Plus, right now I would feel safer if you were in town instead of out here by yourself all the time, not after that fella came by here yesterday.”  Critter had a good point, so Calico agreed to go talk to DocWard first thing in the morning. 


Arriving in town the following morning just as most folks were getting started with their day, Calico first passed Rye on his way home from the saloon.  He was still very excited about the coming auction, and told her about some more items that had been donated.  Calico listened politely, but she did feel a little bad that she and Critter didn’t really have enough money to actually bid on any of it.  As she moved on, she noticed Okie coming out of his office, holding a cup of coffee.  Heading his direction, she paused before she got to him….just what the heck was that smell?  She was still upwind of the stables, so it couldn’t be from that…just then, Okie glanced over and saw her approaching.  “Hey, you got that new dress yet?  C’mere and pull my finger….”  As the doctor stuck his hand out towards her, index finger extended, Calico changed direction and moved off quickly.  “Oh heck no!  I ain’t THAT stupid!”  She practically ran down the street towards the sheriff’s office, hopefully DocWard would be there and she could clear her nostrils for a minute or two before heading for the livery….if he agreed to give her the job.

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The auction began as Mayor Dawg started with the first item, a beautiful multi-colored quilt by Calico Mary. It seemed like it would never end! Everyone was bidding on that quilt! It finally ended with a tidy sum of $150.00 which was won by the Harrison's who had a pretty good sized ranch about 10 miles from town! Mrs. Harrison wanted that quilt in the worst way and her husband got it for her! As the auction went on and drinks were being poured the money kept rolling in. The auction ended with a sum of $1007.40!!! Enough for the new (used) piano and money left over to buy enough parts to fix the saloon piano. Rye had used his negotiation skills to slim down the price on the Steinway piano to $800.00. Everyone was happy and most were feeling real good and happy from the free drinks! Two savory looking characters who didn't even bid on anything were passed out on the floor in the back of the room. 


Now it was time for Rye to get some help in getting the piano from Sandstone to Stoney Creek. Not an impossible task but not a real easy one either. They would pull the wagon up to the house and lay some heavy planks down to roll the heavy piano onto the wagon and then tie it down for the ride home. That was the plan anyway.................. 

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Doc Okie figured Calico would pull his finger for sure, since she fell for it every time for the past 10 years. So much for eating all of those beans and onions. As he walked back into his office, he noticed Calico was two stepping it towards the outhouse. If I told her once, I told her a hundred times to leave dead animals alone. But right in the stew pot they go. Note to self: never go to a church potluck that Calico attends. Back in the office, Sedalia Dave was waiting to get a large boil lanced on his backside. He wouldn't listen to me about spending so much time in the saddle. As I cleaned the skin and lanced the boil, something profane sprang out of his wound. "Mother of God and all that's holy," screamed Okie, "what the hell crawled in you and died!?"


About that time, Lorelie Longshot came in the office to see about a large paper cut. She gasped. did a 180, and took off towards the schoolhouse like a mongoose had ran up her right leg. I swear I saw her making dust devils in her haste. Sedalia Dave slapped a seated liberty silver dollar on the table and lit out himself.


While waiting for the office to air out, Doc Okie parked his butt in a chair on the boardwalk. He saw Grumpy Old Man flipping scraps to an old cur dog. The cur dog was thankful he didn't have competition from Calico today. Up the street, a song emanated from the saloon that sounded like a screech owl caught in the bar doors. Obviously Michigan Slim was sampling the goods from some whisky drummer. Critter was sitting by the horse trough making mud pies, but I ain't sure that was all mud.


Another day in Stone Creek, where culture is found in the bottom of a bottle...

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Doc Ward was just taking the first sip of a cup of coffee when Calico Mary burst through the door, fast enough to startle him into spilling the hot coffee. Yelping in pain, Doc jumped out of his seat and started to unbutton his wet shirt. Looking at Mary, Doc quickly spun around, so his back was to her and unbuttoned the shirt and walked over to grab a towel and dunked it in the water bucket. Looking down at his reddened chest, Doc held the cool wet towel to his chest. Looking over his shoulder, Doc said "Good morning, Ma'am, how are you today?" Mary put her hands on her hips and glared. "Ma'am? My name is Mary, and you know it." Doc held up a finger and said "Hold that thought." He proceeded to walk into the back room to get a clean shirt, hoping not to disturb Sheriff Cody. Cody opened one eye and took in the situation. "Burn yourself? Wouldn't happen if you stuck to whiskey like everyone else around here." Doc nodded and grinned, responding "Calico Mary slammed through the door and scared the hell out of me. And there are reasons I don't drink much."


Finishing buttoning his shirt, Doc walked back out to where Mary stood, looking at the copy of The Tempest Doc still hadn't had the chance to finish. Her delicate fingers ran over the embossed lettering on the book's jacket. When she saw Doc, her hand jerked back as if burned. "It's a very good story," Doc commented, gesturing toward the book." "It has magic, comedy, romance, and more. Perhaps one day you'll get the chance to watch the play." Mary looked at the book, a little confused. "It's a play? You mean a stage show? But I thought it was a story book." Doc nodded, reaching for the book. "It's both." Opening the book, Doc pointed and explained that there were characters, and even stage directions. Laughing as he noticed a line on the page he had opened to. "Hell is empty and all the devils are here," Doc said aloud. Mary laughed and said "you can say that again! But there are good people here too." Doc agreed, as he poured more coffee.


"So what brings you here?" Mary hesitated before saying "I was told you might need some help at the livery stable." Doc looked at her, surprised. "And you want the job?" Mary nodded eagerly. Doc leaned against the desk, appraising Mary's frail figure, but then considered the fact that she worked hard to keep her place going, and had been for some time. Doc knew she needed the money desperately. "Are you sure you're up to it? You'll need to muck stalls, feed, water, and get them in and out of pasture, groom those in need and pick hooves. There's a lot of down time, you'd only need to be busy about four hours a day, total, depending on how quickly you work." Mary nodded and said "I can do it. I do that at home, just not for anywhere near as many." Doc nodded, "Alright, the job's yours. Will twenty dollars a month be enough?" Mary looked surprised and then her face reddened with a bit of anger. "I was told it was ten dollars a month. You ain't just giving me charity are you?" Doc shrugged, "I figured from the get-go it would cost me about twenty bucks to get good help. If you don't think you're going to be good help, I can pay you ten and someone else ten, or find someone else who can do the job." Mary pouted and said "I didn't say I wouldn't be good help! Don't make me throw hot coffee on you! I'll take the twenty, and show you how good a job I can do." With that, she spun on a heel and stomped out of the jail, slamming the door behind her.


Doc turned to see Cody leaning against the door post. "So she's getting twenty out of the deal? You know that means she'll be clearing twice as much as you do out of the deal, right?" Doc nodded. "I can do the math. The difference is, she needs the money, I don't. But if you breathe a word to anyone and it gets back to her, so help me, I'll tell her it was all your idea and send her your direction to deal with." Cody looked incredulous. "You wouldn't do that, would you? That would be just plain mean!" Doc nodded, "I would, I sure as hell don't want to deal with Mary when she's angry. Hell, I'd rather deal with someone shooting at me." As if on cue, the sound of gunfire erupted down the street from the direction of Miss Whiskey's. Doc snatched up his shotgun and headed for the door.

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“Well, that went better than expected,” Calico thought to herself as she headed towards the livery.   She didn’t figure DocWard would mind if she went and took a close look around, maybe see if there was anything she wanted to bring with her to work.  She hadn’t forgotten that she’d promised Lorelei shooting lessons, and as she passed Whiskey’s saloon she saw Lorelei talking to Kris right outside the door of the dress shop, and they waved her over.  Calico had only taken a couple of steps out into the street when the sound of gunfire erupted.  She felt one bullet whiz by her head, and another kicked up dirt just a foot or so to one side.  “Take cover!” she shouted at the other women, who quickly ducked back inside the shop.  Calico jumped backwards and landed on one hip behind a horse trough, just as a third bullet chipped the edge of it.


Michigan Slim, Grumpy, and Okie came pouring out of the saloon, guns drawn.  They saw Calico hiding, and immediately knew the shots were coming from across the street, beyond Kris’s shop.  All of a sudden a shadow appeared on the ground, just behind the space that ran between the shop and the general store.  From the looks of it, someone had been on the roof of Kris’s place but had jumped down, and now was running away, keeping the buildings between themselves and the men from the saloon.  As they gave chase, whoever it was made it to their horse and rode off at a full gallop into the woods just beyond the edge of town.  On foot, the pursuers couldn’t even begin to catch up.  They headed back towards the saloon, with Okie stopping to check to make sure Calico wasn’t injured.  Just then DocWard came running, and Grumpy started filling him in on what he’d seen, as he’d been standing just inside the bat wing doors when it all started.


“By the time I get a horse saddled, whoever it was will be long gone, dammit!” exclaimed DocWard.  “Hey, Sawbones, is she ok?”  Okie nodded, then bent forward and extended his hand to help Calico stand up.  “What do you mean ok?  My hand is all scraped to heck, and my hip is gonna have a huge bruise in no time,” Calico whined.  Okie rolled his eyes, then reached over and shoved Calico into the trough.  “Wash that hand off while you’re in there!


Just then Lorelei and Kris headed over, and helped Calico out of the water.  “You may be a good doctor, but you can be so mean sometimes,” Lorelei lectured, but the men were all still busy laughing.  Kris put one arm around Calico’s shoulders, and told her, “Come on with me, I’ll help you get dried off and get you something dry to wear.  And as long as you are changing clothes, why don’t you try on this cute little dress I have that would be just perfect for you.  You DO need something nice to wear to the dance tonight, right?”  Calico tried to say she wasn’t planning on going to the dance, but Kris and Lorelei just shushed her and started talking about doing Calico’s hair up nice, and how much fun they’d all have as they led her across the street.  “Hey, at least I gave you a head start and gave her a bath….you’re welcome!” Okie called out after them.   It was probably a good thing that Okie didn’t hear Calico’s response….

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There is a clean dressing gown in the wardrobe, Kris called to Calico.  You can put it on and come out here and some tea with us.  Lorelei and Kris were situated at at small round table in the back room of the shop.  A fire was going in the stove and Calico's dedicates were hanging above it drying.  There now, don't you feel better?  Your clothes should be dry soon and we can commence to trying on dresses for the dance, Kris said.  While Calico tried to protest, Kris and Lorelei wouldn't hear of it.  Listen Calico, Lorelei started.  There are few of us women folk here in town.  We have to stick together.  If it makes you feel any better, I would just as soon sit in the corner and watch as be out there dancing, added Kris.  Dances do give us a chance to catch up on all the goings on in town and the opportunity for us womenfolk to get together, Lorelei chimed in.  The ladies stared out the window for a bit wondering what this evenings dance would hold for them.


Lorelei stood up and gently squeezed Calico's clothes checking for dryness. They feel dry to me.  Why don't you check them out, as she handed them to Calico.  Calico agreed they were dry and she went behind the divider to put them on.  In the mean time, Kris grabbed the dark blue dress from the front of the shop and handed it to Calico.  Before you put your regular clothes on, try this Kris exclaimed.  I'm dying to see how it looks on you.  Calico fussed a bit about putting on the new dress but knew it was a loosing battle.  When she stepped out from behind the divider, both ladies were speechless.  Lorelei started with, my goodness that looks stunning on you.  Kris agreed and added, it couldn't fit you any better.   Kris grabbed the long mirror from the front of the shop and wheeled it to the back room to show Calico.  Calico was amazed at how well it fit and she had never imagined herself in a dress this nice.  Before she could protest again, Lorelei began to work with Caliso's hair and show her how nice it would look done in a certain way.  In the mean time, Kris grabbed a beautiful fascinator that was just made to go with that dress so Lorelei could incorporate it into the hair style.  We had better get you gussied up now, if we all want to be ready in time for the dance, Lorelei exclaimed.   No mention of payment was ever made.  Kris figured they could talk about it later.  Time was ticking and they had to get ready.

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Thank God Okie had the aforethought to put some bleach and lye soap in the horse trough. He figured that might cut two weeks of stink off of Calico. Feral cats were trying to bury her any time she stood still long enough. He figured he could get her in the office next week for a good fleaing.


Well enough of that. Okie heard that Slim got some new Takillya in, and of course he had to test the firewater to make sure it was safe for the townspeople. He figured this would require an afternoon of sampling. Then he could stagger over to the dance and 'examine' some of the lady folk.

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Doc got a wagon and team hooked up for the trip to Sandstone to get the Steinway piano. Slim, Lynn and Dawg were going on the trip. It was about a 40 mile trip one way. They planned on staying overnight since the trip back could be very slow and careful. Doc and Linn got in the wagon and Dawg and Rye rode their horses. Rye said, "It's lively little town, they got some good saloons so I hear". They took off in the morning after having a good breakfast of eggs and ham and coffee. They planned on getting there sometime in the afternoon around lunchtime or maybe a bit later. They were planning on visiting with the owner of the piano a bit and then checking out the town. 

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The big building on the edge of town was called “Old Sam’s barn” by just about everyone, and that’s what it had started out as.  Samuel Stone was the first person to settle in what would become Stone Creek, he and his wife Esther, and had built his barn to last a lifetime and then some.  His cabin had not been so lucky, it had burnt down several years earlier.  Old Sam and Esther were laid to rest in the town’s small cemetery now, but had not been forgotten.  Now the town used the building for special occasions, and gatherings too large to fit in the schoolhouse.  Tonight it was decorated with festive bunting, benches lined the walls, and Cayenne Kay had already set up her big punchbowl on a table and was getting the refreshments ready.


There was already a dozen or so wagons parked in the field next to the barn when Calico, Kris, and Lorelei arrived.  Calico knew before she walked in that Critter was already there, she had seen his horse Starlight and her own Sundance tied up outside.  Critter was off in a corner, with his pals Petr Swenson, Sean Ferguson, and Old Sam Stone’s oldest grandson Sylvester.  He nodded to his sister when he saw her, but stayed with his friends.  That was fine with Calico, it was nice spending time with Kris and Lorelei and having other women to talk to for a change.  The dress Kris had insisted she wear was lovely, and although Calico felt strange wearing it, maybe she’d fit in a little better this way.


The three ladies had just gotten cups of punch from Kay when they saw Okie walk, well, stagger actually, through the open doors.  It was a good thing the doorway was about 10 feet wide…as it was the doctor almost hit both sides of the door frame as he came in.  Several people moved towards Okie, thinking to give him a steadying hand, but backed off just as quickly, their noses twitching and sour looks appearing on their faces.  By then he had the attention of everyone there…not only because he was practically crawling by the time he was halfway to the punchbowl, but because he was only wearing his long johns…nothing else.  To Calico’s amusement and Kris and Lorelei’s horror, the flap in the back was wide open, and the skin showing through was so white it was like another lantern had been lit.  It took him a while, but he finally made it to the table, and used that to pull himself to his feet.  “Here…brought ya a little something to make that punch taste better!” he exclaimed, and before Kay could stop him, he’d poured what was left in the bottle of tequila he had been cradling to his chest into the bowl.  Thankfully, there wasn’t much left of what had been a full bottle when he’d stolen it from Whiskey’s saloon.


Critter, Petr, Sean, and Sly came rushing over to volunteer to clear out the punchbowl so Kay could make a fresh batch.  Laughing, Kay shoved to towards the teens, she’d seen how little Okie had managed to pour in and knew it wasn’t enough to cause a problem.  She then grabbed the spare bowl she had brought with her (knowing from past experience that this was a common occurrence) and started making more.  Calico wanted more punch, but was hesitant to get any closer to Okie, until she saw that he had noticed Whiskey come in and was staring at her, his eyes bulging and his tongue hanging down to his knees.  Calico quickly grabbed the cups from her two friends and made a mad dash for the punchbowl, with any luck she could get all three cups refilled and be out of reach before the doctor realized another female had gotten enough courage to come that close.


The party was in full swing by then, a few local musicians had a small band and were playing a lively tune and some couples were now dancing.  Everyone was having a good time, even Calico.  She still wasn’t dancing, but she did notice Grumpy Old Man heading towards her, Lorelei, and Kris, with a rare smile on his face.  His dog Buford got to the ladies first, and they were all petting him when all of a sudden the music came to an unexpected stop.  Looking up, Calico noticed what everyone else, including the band, had already seen.  Zebediah Gardner had arrived, with Alice Slye on his arm, and over a dozen rough looking men right behind.  Miss Slye was barely dressed in an outfit so skimpy and revealing that even the women that worked for Miss Whiskey wouldn’t be caught dead in.  The men with Gardner were all snarling, looking like they were spoiling for a fight.  It was obvious they weren’t there to have a good time…


Gardner headed straight for Calico, and planted himself right in front of her, not leaving her much room to gracefully escape.  “Would you care to dance?” he asked, holding his arm out for her to take it.  No way was Calico going to do any such thing, and she tried to squeeze by him as she declined.  Gardner grabbed Calico’s arm and swung her around to face him, pulling her so close she was almost touching him.  “Leave her alone!” shouted Critter, as he tried to come to his sister’s aid.  Gardner’s men moved so they were all between Critter and his friends, and Calico, and it was clear that serious trouble was brewing. Most of the other men of Stone Creek moved forward to back up the teens, but they were at a distinct disadvantage.  It had been understood between the townspeople that guns were not to be brought to the dance, there shouldn’t have been any need, but some of the strangers were in fact wearing pistols.  Could bloodshed be avoided…or was this to be the first battle in the coming war?



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Doc Ward sat driving the wagon, staring out over the expanse of road ahead. Finally, he pulled the team up and stopped the wagon. "Gentlemen?" At the word, the three men looked around at one another as if to try to figure out who Doc was referring to. "I've been thinking." More confused looks. "I need to be back there in town right now. Cody still isn't up to any big trouble, and if something comes up, I'm supposed to be the one responsible. I just have a gnawing feeling I need to be back there." Slim looked at Doc suspiciously. "You sure you just don't wanna go back and go whoop it up with the others?" This comment was met by nods and knowing looks from Rye and Dawg. Doc shook his head. "Ya'll know me. While I like to look at pretty girls as much as the next man, I generally don't like dealing with people, especially in large numbers."


Glancing over his shoulder, Doc estimated the distance back to town. Handing the reins over to Linn, Doc hopped from the wagon. "It's about three miles back to town, I should be able to walk that without a problem." Reaching into his pocket, Doc pulled out two bits and offered it up to Rye. "Get some kid with a strong back and a weak mind to help load it." The others grumbled a bit, and Doc had a sneaking suspicion that they had planned on painting the town red once they got to Sandstone, knowing Doc drank but little, and would keep them out of too much trouble, and then drive back if they were too hungover come morning.


Turning back toward Stone Creek, Doc waved at his friends, "Safe travels, and I'll help unload the piano when you return." With that, Doc began the walk back to town. Glancing back to see the wagon start on its way, Doc hitched up his gun belt and watched the glorious blues, pinks, golds and reds of the setting sun as he walked. As he watched the changing hues of the sunset, Doc noticed a dust cloud moving from the direction of the Hoover place. "That," Doc said to himself, "is a good size group of riders." The feeling that had been merely gnawing at him turned into a large chunk of dread, and Doc picked up his pace, almost breaking into a jog.


Doc could hear the music playing as he stepped up the step to the jail. Nothing seemed amiss until he spotted over a dozen horses all tied toward Old Sam's barn. Reaching for the door, Doc stepped inside. Taking his hat off, Doc ran his hand back through his hair as he thought for a moment while catching his breath. Walking to the rack, Doc picked up his shotgun, and stuffed two shells inside. Pausing, he thought for a moment, and slid open the drawer underneath and pulled out a Peacemaker sitting inside, checked to see if it was loaded, and stuffed it down in the front of his belt. Walking to the back room, Doc peaked in to see Sheriff Cody asleep. "Sheriff, we may have trouble." Quickly, Doc explained what he saw, and said "I'm just going to meander down to the party. You stay here, but you should probably get yourself up and about." With that, Doc walked out the door.


Doc was approaching the party when he heard the music stop in a painfully discordant squeaking of strings. Picking up his pace, Doc looked around for anyone who may be outside keeping a lookout, and was thankful he didn't see anyone. Moving to the side door to the barn, Doc opened the door just enough to look in. He saw a semi-circle of rough looking men, and toward their right was the man Doc guessed to be Zebediah Gardner. The men of the town, unarmed, were fuming, and the men with Gardner were standing, hands poised near their holsters. Gardner's voice, somewhat shrill for a man of his size Doc realized, was clear in the air. As he held Calico Mary, Gardner said "I said would you care to dance. The polite thing is to say yes, young... lady," giving sarcastic emphasis to the last word.


Hearing movement, Doc glanced around to see Cayenne Kay approaching with a fresh bowl of punch. Holding up his hand, Doc gestured for her to stay quiet and put the bowl down. Motioning her over, Doc tugged the Peacemaker from his belt and handed it to her. "Follow me in and step to the right and keep this pointed at that woman, I don't trust her not to start shooting herself. If shooting starts, hit as many of Gardner's men as you can, then run for the Sheriff." With that, Doc stepped inside, the crowd of armed men unaware as they faced away from him. The sound of hammers clicking back on the shotgun caused them to spin around, hands ready to draw until they saw the shotgun pointed directly at Zebediah Gardner. Doc's voice was quiet, but threatening as he stared down the barrels of the shotgun at Gardner. "If you men want to be looking for a new job, go ahead and draw. This shotgun holds a tight pattern, and my hunch is your boss will die of lead poisoning right quick before I fall." Hands moved away from gun butts as Gardner glared at Doc Ward. "This is none of your affair, law man. I want to dance with the lady." Doc nodded. "I heard. She doesn't want to dance with you. Get your hand off of her arm, Sir." Gardner glared at Doc, not moving.


"NOW!" Doc's voice boomed in such a way as to cause the townspeople to jump in surprise, and Buford the dog to run for cover. Nobody in town had ever heard Doc raise his voice before and the shock of the word seemed to seep from them to the rough crowd of Gardner's, making them even more unsure. Gardner held firm to Calico's arm. Sneering, he looked at Doc. "Or what?" Doc never lowered the shotgun, or wavered it away from Gardner's midsection, but took four steps toward him, and in a smooth motion swung the butt of the shotgun down in an arc, and up under Gardner's chin. The sound of the thud was accompanied by the sound of teeth clicking together as Gardner's head jerked back and he fell to the ground. Doc continued the motion so he was facing Gardner's men, who were caught off guard by the rapid violence, and now had the shotgun pointed at them as he stood next to their downed leader.


Silence filled the air as everyone in the barn was taken aback by the look in Doc's eyes as he glared at the men. "Who's next? Step up, damn you! It's a party and I'm ready to dance!" The men looked down at their boss on the floor, and the shotgun staring back at them. One finally said "We don't want any trouble right now, just let us get our boss and we'll leave." Doc hissed back at the man "Might as well have trouble now as later, if you're going to want it at all. Open the ball, and let's go." Shaking his head the man made clear he was of no mind to buck a stacked deck. "Just let us get our boss, and we'll go," he repeated. "The only place your boss is going is over to the jail. If you have a problem with that, tell me now." Doc's voice got a little louder, an imploring tone to it as if he were begging for trouble. "Which of you has a problem with that?" The men all shook their heads negatively as they started to back away. "Stop! One at a time, starting with you at the end. Hand on buckle, and drop the gun belts to the floor. If someone wants to die, make a quick movement."


Not averting his gaze, or moving the shotgun, Doc said "Critter, pick the belts up. Petr, Sylvester, go out to their horses and grab their long guns and the three of you take the guns over to the jail. You men can come into town, one at a time tomorrow, and pick up your guns. Any questions?" Doc watched as the men, one by one, dropped their belts. As Gardner began to stir, Doc shot a quick heel to his head, and he lay silent. The boys hurried to get the guns, and ran off toward the jail, and when Doc was sure they had fulfilled their task, gestured for the men and Alice Slye toward the door. "You too, Ma'am." Following them, Doc knew if looks could kill, the look Alice Slye gave him would have already had him cold and in the ground. Watching as they mounted their horses, one of the men looked at Doc and sneered "This ain't over." Doc laughed at him. "You damn coward, you had the chance to have it over now. Get out of town before I pull you off of that horse and make things very over for you." The man didn't respond as he turned his horse and spurred it to follow the others out of town.


Doc watched them leave, still gripping the shotgun, then turned and went inside. He asked Seamus and a couple of the other men to get Gardner over to the jail, then leaned against the doorframe, trembling with adrenaline and unspent fury, a look of anger on his face. Taking a deep breath, Doc looked at Calico Mary. "Are you alright?" Mary nodded, "My arm hurts from him squeezing it, but I'm OK." Looking at Kay, Doc reached for the Colt in her hand. "Thanks for keeping your eye on her, Kay." Kay nodded. "She started to reach into her purse until she saw me holding the gun and staring at her." Doc nodded his understanding. Looking around, Doc spied Miss Whiskey. "Ma'am, you wouldn't by chance have a bit of whiskey hiding close at hand would you?" With a very surprised look, Whiskey turned, and was back a moment later with a bottle. Doc got a cup from the punch and poured a double shot, and swallowed it down. Handing the bottle back to her, Doc looked at everyone and lifted his voice a little. "Don't let them ruin the evening. Have some fun tonight. I'll be at the jail if needed." Doc took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled as he started walking toward the jail, leaving the townspeople talking about what they had seen, and the side of their studious liveryman they had never seen before.

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Rye waved his hand at the two bit offering from Doc, "No problem pard" we'll handle this, ya'll git back to town and help out Tyrel" They rolled along with the wagon on some really bumpy terrain. Rye thought this was gonna be a rough ride coming back with the piano. It was gonna take a lot longer than he thought and a lot harder than he thought.

After a couple hours they could see the town of Sandstone in the distance. It looked larger than Stone Creek but not by much. They'd be there in a hour or so, just in time for lunch. Rye wanted to get into a card game at night, he wasn't so interested in just getting drunk, although libations would be welcome. He wanted to win some money. He was always pretty lucky at poker.


Rye told Slim and Linn as they rode on that he got an offer to join the Arizona Rangers. He thought it would be a really exciting job. Rye was born on a small ranch and did some cowboying before he got to Stone Creek. He viewed Stone Creek as a rest stop from a hard 4 month cattle drive that he had been on. His mom taught him some piano but he never got serious about it. His Dad played guitar and fiddle so there was always music in the house. As a piano player he was only good enough to entertain some drunks in a bar. The more they drank the better he sounded was what he always said! His true love was the wide open spaces. He was determined to follow through with getting this piano and fixing up the old one at Whiskey's place. Once he dealt himself into a game, he didn't back out and wouldn't leave until this job was all done. 

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Calico didn’t get much sleep that night…her arm was still sore, and the night hadn’t turned out the way she’d hoped.  Oh, Grumpy had offered to dance with her once the party got going again, and so did Seamus, but she hadn’t been in the mood after what had happened.  Old Okie had offered as well, but considering he did so from flat on his face under the refreshment table, she hadn’t really taken him seriously.  Of course, unless he was giving someone medical care it was almost impossible to take him seriously any time.  She and Critter had decided to call it an early night, and were going to head home when Seamus stopped them.  Considering that no one knew for sure if Gardner’s men had in fact left the area, he didn’t want the youngsters riding all the way home in the dark, just the two of them.  Brother and sister had spent the night at Seamus and Kay’s house, Calico in their spare room, and Critter on a cot borrowed from the general store’s stock and set up in the main room.


After Kay had feed them a good breakfast in the morning, the teens took their leave and headed home.  Seamus was still a little nervous about that, and made sure they were both armed before he’d let them leave, but they had animals needing fed, they couldn’t stay in town indefinitely.  After promising they’d keep their eyes open, they mounted up and went on their way.  Kay graciously offered to keep Calico’s pretty new dress until she had a chance to come back in the wagon, so as not to risk ruining it trying to carry it and ride at the same time.


Sunday was usually a day of rest and worship for them, as it was for most of the town, but with Preacher Keller out of town with Rye and the others, there obviously wasn’t going to be any church service that day.  They got the animals fed, and a few other chores done, then Critter noticed storm clouds brewing, and they were getting close awfully fast.  Calico had washed some clothes and hung them up to dry, and she started scrambling to get them down off the line.  She’d have to let the stuff finish drying inside, it was already starting to rain and she could tell more was coming.  As she was struggling against an ever increasing wind, Critter came over to help pull down the last few shirts.  As he turned to hand them over to his sister, he noticed a horrifying sight….”Tornado!  Forget the clothes, get your butt in the cellar….NOW!”


Calico froze for a second, then turned to look in the direction Critter just had.  Sure enough, a small funnel was descending out of a cloud, and it wasn’t far off.  That was a shock, as close as they were to the foothills, tornados were an unlikely occurrence for them, as the phenomenon was much more likely to happen further east.  For a second Calico wondered what they should do with the horses, as there was no way to get them into the root cellar.  She couldn’t just abandon Sundance, could she?  But Critter grabbed her arm and just about dragged her to the cellar, throwing the door open and pushing his sister down the steps, then slamming the door closed.  He quickly grabbed a piece of wood and shoved it through the inside door handles, as there was no way to bolt the door from that side.  By then Calico had gotten over the initial shock, and she grabbed a blanket to throw over them as they huddled in one far corner of the cellar.


It seemed like forever before the noise of the storm rose then subsided, but it reality it was only about 15 minutes or so.  The whole time, they were afraid they would emerge from the cellar to find the entire farm leveled, but there was no way to know what was going on, and neither of them were stupid enough to open the doors to look out until the noise of the storm had died down.  When they did finally climb out, to their amazement everything was still standing.  There was some damage to part of the corral fence, and plenty of tree limbs lying around, but nothing all that major.  Or at least it seemed so until they went in the barn to check on the horses and realized that although Starlight and the plow horse were in there, Sundance was nowhere in sight.  Fixing the corral could wait, Calico just had to find her horse!


The plow horse, Digger, wasn’t used to a saddle, but she put one on him anyway, while Critter did the same to starlight.  When they were ready, he suggested they split up, he would look east first, then north, while Calico should search the west and south.  They made sure to take their pistols and rifles, and if either of them located the palomino they would fire off one shot to alert the other.  More than one shot would mean trouble, but considering the weather they weren’t that concerned about that now.  With a final “good luck” they went their separate ways.  As she headed towards the creeks and the hill beyond, Calico realized that the twister had taken a path similar to Cedar Creek, as the damage was worse along the banks.  Basically, it had gone between the hill and the farm house, thankfully sparing them from losing the house, but the field nearest the creek would need a lot of cleanup before they could plant anything there.


After about half an hour, Calico made it to the spot where Cedar Creek poured into Stone Creek.  There, in a cluster of trees, stood Sundance.  The horse was calmly chewing on a bunch of wildflowers growing there, and barely raised her head as Calico approached.  “Silly horse, why’d you run off like that?  Let me get a good look at you, make sure you aren’t hurt anywhere.”  As Calico was running her hands up and down the mare’s legs, for some reason she noticed a glint of something bright over in the rocks at the base of Badger Peak.  Normally that spot was fairly unnoticeable due to the bushes that grew there, but the tornado had stripped the branches bare.  Some of the smaller ones were gone entirely.  Satisfied that Sundance was uninjured, Calico drew one pistol then walked towards the rocks, thinking to get a little ways away from both horses before she fired to alert her brother.  As she got closer, the bright spot grew into a streak of something shiny, running up the side of the peak. 


Gold!  The realization brought her to a complete stop, her pistol still raised and pointed skyward.  That was gold reflecting the sunlight that was just now starting to peak out from a break in the clouds now that the worst of the storm had passed.  Taking a deep breath, she fired one shot, that should bring Critter soon enough.  For now, she wanted to gather as many of the downed limbs as she could find, and cover that streak of gold back up so it was hidden again.  This would be a big help to her and her brother, if they could figure out how to remove at least some of the precious metal without word getting out that it wasn’t just a rumor, it really did exist.  Maybe now they wouldn’t have to worry about how they were going to afford food and necessary supplies all the time…as long as they were able to keep this a secret….

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Doc Ward was up early, having not slept well after the events of the night before. Several times he had drifted off, only to have nightmares of events past he had hoped were buried wake him up. Getting dressed, he walked the distance from his house past the horse pasture to the livery stable. Looking around, he decided to give the horses fresh water, grain and hay, and see if Mary made it in to clean stalls. She'd had a rough night, so if she didn't make it in, he would take care of it later and let the horses out to pasture. Finishing, he hurried out of the barn before he started coughing and wheezing. Cleaning himself off, he walked over to the jail.


Stepping foot inside, Doc smiled to see the Sheriff up and at his desk, although he still showed the effects of the brutal beating he had taken. "Feeling better?" Doc asked. Sheriff Cody shrugged and responded, "A bit, but i'm tired of laying about. You looked jumpy as a cat last night, all coiled energy ready to explode. Today you look like you haven't slept. Everything OK?" Doc nodded, commenting "Yeah, it was a long night." He didn't offer anything more, and Cody decided not to ask. Instead he gestured toward the cell that Gardner dozed in. "When they dragged him in here last night, I thought he was dead. By the sound of it, the old man is going to have one heckuva headache. I didn't ask last night what you thought he should be charged with. He'll probably want to know when he wakes up." Doc took his hat off, and ran his fingers through his hair absent-mindedly as he thought. "Heck, you're the professional lawman. Battery for grabbing Mary? Disturbing the Peace? Not Obeying an Officer of the Law? I'm sure there's something." Cody nodded. "I'll think about it, but most everything would be worthy of a fine, not jail time."


At Doc's surprised look, the Sheriff lifted a hand. "Not saying you did the wrong thing, it sounds like you did a smart job of defusing an ugly situation. Speaking of, I've already had a couple of visitors this morning. Seamus and Kay stopped in on their way to the store. Said you backed those men of his right up, but that you were somewhat..." The Sheriff looked for the right word, not wanting to offend Doc, "Intense." Cody could tell he had at least hit a small nerve from the way Doc's face flushed a little and he averted his gaze. "Everything alright? Is there anything you want to talk about?" Glancing back, Doc smiled a weak smile and shook his head. "No, but I appreciate it. I'm fine."


Off in the distance, both men could hear the sound of thunder and the wind picking up.

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SD and PR left the ridge and resumed tracking the missing cattle. As they rode along SD noticed that Pat was deep in thought. After a bit Pat spoke up and stated that he thought they were being set up. SD enquired as to why and Pat replied "Several reasons. One this trail is way too easy to follow. Two whomever took the cattle didn't appear to be trying to hide their horses tracks. Three, up ahead this valley narrows up considerably and that area is the perfect place to ambush as there is zip point s**t for cover on the valley floor but lots of concealment up high.

SD reigned in his horse and said "Your Right! Why don't we swing around to the North and see if we can get ahead of them. We can easily skirt this valley and get ahead of them" With that they altered course for the trail that would take them around the narrows and give them the high ground.

It was close to dark and there was a good camp site up ahead so they decided to rest their horses, fill their bellies, and take a short nap. A full moon would be up before long and they could negotiate the rest of the path by moonlight.

After the horses were take care of SD and Pat discussed if it was worth the risk to start a fire. They both came to the conclusion that a fire was too risky so they would have to forgo hot coffee and a hot meal. Fortunately Eyelash had thoughtfully packed deer jerky, biscuits carefully wrapped so as to stay fresh, a small tin of butter and a tin of fresh honey in the flour sack so the meal was not too bad. 

The camp site was a ways off the trail near a small spring. It was almost impossible to find unless you knew it was there making it well protected. As SD was getting comfortable on his bedroll he gazed up at the blanket of stars over head and began reflecting on how fortunate he was to have Pat Riot as a ranch hand.  Most folks in the Stone Creek  would have thought SD had been chewing on loco weed for hiring anyone with a bum foot to work on ranch much less a Sailor with a bum foot. But SD had done it and after a short while it was obvious that Pat was no ordinary man.


He was a Gunners Mate during the war and would have likely been a carrier sailor if not for an unlucky encounter with canister shot. Were is not for an exceptionally skilled ships surgeon he would have lost his foot. The surgeon saved his foot however he was left with a permanent limp was forced to muster out.  SD happened upon him in riding a train from St Louis to Hunnewell. During the lengthy ride the the two shared their life histories. Pat worked for the rail road but didn't particularly like the people he had to ride herd over. Seems that the rail road would hire anyone with pulse but common sense was scarce as hens teeth. SD had worked River Boats till he got enough of a stake to try his hand ranching out west. He like the river but it was dangerous work. If a steamboat lasted 6 months before it tore out its bottom in the ever shifting channel of the mighty Missouri it would have been a miracle. 

The two men had hit it off and by they time they reached the Kansas line, SD had persuaded Pat to leave the railroad and come to work for him at the S bar D near Stone Creek. Didn't take long for the folks around to learn two thing about Pat. First he loved fast horses. Second despite his unruly outward appearance and language that would make the devil blush he could always be counted on.


As SD continued to admire the stars as he dozed off. 


SD woke with a start. he was wondering what had disturbed his sleep when he heard the sound of horses on the trail trying to pick their way through the near total darkness. The sounds had also caused Pat open an eye. Both men thought it was odd that anyone would be stumbling along in the dark instead of waiting for the moon to rise and light the trail.

As they lay there SD silently slid a Spencer rifle out of its scabbard. He had been meaning to buy one of those new Winchester Repeaters but just hadn't made it into Seamus's to pick one up. Pat on the other hand had used his Christmas Bonus to buy one. It was a beautiful rifle and that new .44 WCF cartridge was a darn good round. Plenty powerful enough dispatching varmints including the two legged kind.

As the two men silently made they way to the top of a small rise that would give them a commanding view of the trail they overheard the riders cursing the darkness. As Pat and SD lay there waiting for the moon to climb above the ridge they could hear the men below discussing why their earlier plan to ambush the cowpunchers trailing them hadn't worked. Their new plan had been to head back down the trail and ambush the cowhands somewhere along the way. It was a little risky but they were confident that 6 gunmen could take two cowhands. Now they were trying to figure out how their perfect plan had resulted in them stumbling around in the darkness unsure of where they were. 


The men had stopped moving and were arguing over who had gotten them into this mess. As the moon rose above the ridge and bathed them in its glow. SD called out for them to stop right where they were and to not make any sudden moves. The men froze for a minute before drawing their six guns and charging towards the rise where they had heard SD call out. SD carefully drew a bead and dropped the lead rider dead in his tracks. As he was cycling the Spencer's painfully slow action, Pat got off three rounds and dropped 3 riders. SD dropped another one as the remaining rider turned tail and attempted to disappear into the shadows cast by the huge cottonwood trees. Pat fired 4 more rounds at the fleeing rider as he dodged from one shadow to the next. Pat was sure he had hit the rider atleast once but it wasn't enough to knock him from the saddle and the rider was soon out of range.


As SD and Pat used the moon's light to break camp, they discussed their options and decided that the best course of action was to head back to the S bar D for some reinforcements. As Pat and SD made their way back to the trail they stopped long enough to examine the men that they had just dispatched. As they searched for any papers that would identify the men Pat and SD found two shiny 20 dollar gold pieces on each man.


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Hoofbeats, slow and patient, just like the nag that drew the wagon.

Linn held out the blanket covered canteen and Rye took it: the canteen went East and the reins went West: trade was made and drink was taken, and when Rye's Adam's apple was done bobbin', the canteen was half empty.

He passed it back to the Parson, who proceeded to empty it the rest of the way, handing back the reins before tilting up the guzzler.

He screwed the lid back on, laid it behind the wagon's seat, looked at the quilt covered cargo.

"I'd forgotten how heavy a piano was," he murmured.

Rye laughed a little.

He'd remembered, which is why he'd not hesitated to bribe those young fellows with strong backs to get the piano loaded.

Another hour's travel passed with nary a word passing between the two.

"Reckon anyone'll take another shot at us?" the Parson finally half-asked, half-speculated.

Rye snorted.  "And what? Steal our piano so they can play a tune out here?"

They laughed a little at the thought, and another hour's silence laid its claim on their journey.

"Rye, I'm thinking."

Rye turned with that stubble-cheek half-grin of his.  "I thought I heard gears turnin', Parson.  You should have drunk some oil this mornin'."

"Yeah, trust me to cause trouble."  The Parson hooked a thumb over his shoulder.  "I wonder how to get this off peacefully instead of otherwise."

Rye frowned a little and grunted.

"Was a man to set it off at Sam's barn we could just throw up a block, or maybe a snatch block and a two-shiv pulley, hoist it easy, but that wouldn't get it into where you want it."

Rye frowned again, considering.

"We can think on this," Linn said confidently. "The best place to change is while it's still being planned."



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When they got back to Stone Creek they pulled up to the church. The hard part of this piano move was going to be getting it up the 6 steps to the church. Rye had an idea to lay a couple of heavy planks from the back of the wagon to the ground. They rolled the piano down the planks very slowly and carefully. Now they needed help to get it up the steps. Would the planks work going up the steps as well? Rye said to the Parson, I think we need a swig o' this firewater! They both took a couple swigs from the bottle Rye had with him. It was powerful stuff and burned all the way down! "Whew, Damn that's good said the Parson. Rye, laughed. "Parson yer my kinda preacher". They walked over to the stables to get Doc and some others to help. There were two big strapping young men waiting around for their horses to be shod. Parson asked them if they could please help, "The Lord will reward you for your help in this matter" said the Parson. They agreed. Instead of rolling the piano up the planks they all took a corner and lifted it up step by step by step stopping at each step. "This thing's gotta weigh as much as a horse", said one of the young men. "About 1000 lbs." Rye said. They finally got it in the church and then had to lift it up 3 steps to the altar! Rye went out and got the bottle of booze and offered it to the young men. They refused. They said it was their pleasure and wished them good luck! They even handed the Parson a couple bucks as a donation to the church! 

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Calamity was buzzing around the shop looking in every corner for something.  I know it has to be here, she said aloud.  A hat that big doesn't just walk away.  She had to find that hat before Mrs. Simmons came to try on the dress Calamity altered.  She would certainly want the hat also.  She slipped into the back room to look one more time when the chimes hung on the door rang signaling someone had entered.  Oh dear she thought.  Mrs. Simmons is here.  "Afternoon Mrs. Simmons" Calamity called out.  No answer was returned.  That's funny, She always says hello.  Calamity rushed out of the back room to see Alice Slye standing at the door.  "Afternoon" Alice said in a low voice, almost as though she didn't want to be heard.  Calamity gathered her thoughts for a second, planting her hands firmly on her hips she demanded, "what are you doing here?"  Alice came back "is that any way to treat a customer?"  "I want no dealings with you or your kin" Calamity stated flatly.  "Do us both a favor and go back out the way you came in."  Alice continued, "I have no quarles with you.  Why I've some to make you an offer."  Calamity stated firmly again "I'll have no dealings with you.  Now please be on your way".  Alice turned and headed for the door, but paused as she put her hand on the knob.  She turned back one last time to Calamity and stated "You'll be sorry you didn't take my offer".  Just as the words left her lips, Mrs. Simmons appeared in the doorway.  She stepped back to give Alice a wide berth to leave.  Alice headed back out the door and continued down the boardwalk.  Mrs. Simmons came in and said to Calamity, "what did she want?  It couldn't have been anything good".  Calamity shook her head no and paused to collect herself.  Mrs. Simmons said "are you OK?  You look like you've seen a ghost."  Calamity said "lets commence with trying on your dress.  I need to get over to see the sheriff and deputy as soon as we're finished". 

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Mayor Dawg, gave $35.00, some of the money left over from the auction to Rye to order some parts needed for the piano at the saloon. Rye was confident he could fix it up to make it at least fair. He needed a few strings, a couple hammers and some various action parts. They would come in probably a month if they were lucky. The parts were coming from New York, from a wholesale piano supply company. Getting parts for anything out west was very slow. In the meantime the piano would have to suffice. They're were several notes not working but you just had to avoid those keys. Not an easy thing to do.

Rye went over to the saloon and got himself in a card game. It was a lively game with stakes a little higher than he liked but he was holding his own and winning some hands which put him ahead of where he started. One of the players was a fancy dressed, well spoken dandy that was doing most of the winning. Rye kept his eye on him. He could spot a sneaky player pretty easily and this dandy dude fit the bill. He swore he saw him deal from the bottom of the deck a few times but he let it slide since no one else caught the moves. It was a pretty big deal to accuse someone of cheating unless you knew for sure. The dandy dude had a pearl handled pistol that showed now and then when his jacket opened enough to expose the grip. It looked like a Colt Lightning and Rye was sure this dude was pretty handy with it.

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The dude dealt the cards out and Rye saw him deal again from the bottom of the deck. He observed that every time he did that he won that hand. The cards were dealt. The dude looked to Rye and asked how many cards he wanted. Rye peeked over the cards he held close to his face and put one card face down. "Rye said, "One, and I want that from the bottom of the deck where you get most of yours from". The dude looked sternly at Rye and said, "What do you mean?". Rye said, "You know damn well what I mean, you've been dealing yourself cards from the bottom for the last half hour". The dude started to reach inside his suit jacket but Rye beat him to it! The dude was staring down the barrel of a .44 Colt. Rye reached inside the dude's jacket and pulled out the pearl handled Colt Lightning. "Now get outta here before this .44 starts talking for me". The dude got up and walked out in a hurry! Rye picked up his money in front of him and counted the money in the pot and the money the dude left in front of him which was a sizeable amount. He handed out the pot money to the other 3 players. He took the dude's money and walked over to the bar and gave it to the bartender. "If he comes back this is his money, even though he got most of it from cheating, give it to him". Rye walked out the front door and a shot whizzed by his ear! He hit the ground and pulled his Colt and seen the dude standing there with a derringer in his hand. Rye fired a shot square in the dude's chest. He fell back with a thud and laid motionless and bleeding from his chest.  Doc Ward heard the shots and came running. Rye explained to Doc what happened and the 3 others who were playing came out and confirmed the dude's underhanded dealings. All was well in Stone Creek once again.............for now.

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