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Trouble Comes to Stone Creek

Calico Mary

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Preacher Keller took off his hat and scaled it neatly over towards the pulpit, where it landed on his designated chair like 'twas a bird settin' down on a branch.

He turned and ran marveling fingertips over the piano's spotless surface.

It got dusty surprising fast even here in the Church -- he'd spend two hours of a Sabbath getting the pews wiped down so folks in their Sunday-go-to-meetins wouldn't get all dusty settin' down -- and he'd dusted off this brand new piano.

It took strong backs to haul it up those steps, and up these steps, and set it in place, it took effort bringing it back in a wagon through some less than entirely pleasant territory for a drive ... it took effort for Rye to know where to find it, let alone funding and negotiating, and the ceremonial passing of a bottle back and forth during the good natured and happily profane haggle.

It worked.

The preacher looked up at the rough cross on the back wall.

"Thank You," he breathed, and then a thought struck him, and he laughed.

"Lord," he said aloud, "now that we've got a piano, do You have someone in mind to play it properly?"

The preacher's face softened and he looked into the past, into a memory, and laughed again, quietly, at the recollection of an ornery little boy who put thumb tacks on the felt hammers in the church piano ... when the introduction to the next hymn was played, it was with the tinny rinky-tink of a saloon piano, and the piano player, not to be out-done, proceeded to play a bouncy, rollicking saloon tune, which garnered a laugh from the congregation and a disapproving glare from the choir director ... especially when the Parson proceeded to laugh, to wipe his eyes, to look at the grinning piano player; he snorted, he giggled, he guffawed, and with each increase in personal histrionics, the choir director's eyebrows climbed to an even greater altitutde, until young Linn Keller was certain they were going to climb up under her wig line and hide there.

Preacher Keller nodded and whipped out a clean white hankie, wiped the laughter from the corners of his eyes.

"All things in their own time," he murmured.


Doc Ward looked up as the Preacher crossed the street.

The Parson stopped and regarded the man frankly.

"Doc," he said, "you didn't get much rest last night."

It was a statement, not a question.

Doc looked away, his bottom jaw shoving out a little:   a man doesn't like to admit his private troubles, and as good a man as Doc was, he was equally private about his personal griefs.

"Your nightmares as bad as mine?" the preacher asked quietly, so only the two of them could hear.

Doc gave him a surprised look and nodded.

Linn's hand clapped companionably on the man's shoulder.

"I hear tell there's a new keg of beer in town.  What say we make sure it's still fit to drink."

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Calamity, not wanting to stir up trouble, wasn't sure about getting the law involved in her little incident.  No one was hurt or killed and maybe she didn't mean anything by it.  Calamity coudln't get it out of her head, though.  Some trouble was most certainly brewing.  She could feel that in the pit of her stomach.  Maybe she should bounce this off Preacher Keller instead.  He's sure to know what to do.  Calamity closed the door to her shop for the day and commenced to finding the preacher.

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Doc Ward walked with Parson Keller toward the Saloon, quietly discussing his experiences in the war, things he had never told another living soul. He spoke of seeing men torn apart by the artillery he manned, then later helping the surgeons do their best to keep the broken pieces of men alive. He spoke of a battle when his battery had been flanked by Confederate cavalry, and how he had been injured. Worse than the injury, he discovered that when the fighting became close in, he went into what he could only describe as a cold fury. He didn't panic, as others had, instead, the adrenaline slowed things down, and he fought. He needed to fight. Not simply for survival, but because of a burning desire to fight, to destroy. Doc told the Parson that afterward, he was terrified of his own actions, about how he had felt during those awful moments. He was thankful after to become a Hospital Steward at the request of one of the surgeons.


The nightmares, he told Parson Keller, started later. He could vividly see the bodies, those he helped in destroying and those he couldn't help save. He could smell the acrid bite of powder, the salt of his own sweat, the metallic taste of blood. He could hear the blasts of cannon and cracks of small arms. He could hear the men screaming as He fought to hold them still for the surgeon's saw. And it all seemed too real. He told the man at his side that he hadn't had a nightmare in a very long time. Then, after confronting Gardner and his men, and feeling that need for violence he had worked hard to put behind him, they came rushing back, fresh as though they had happened yesterday.

Doc glanced over at Keller as they approached the Saloon. "Parson, you know I'm not much of a drinker, and all of that is why. I'm afraid if I ever let myself get too far into a bottle, I would just keep going, and never come out. On the other hand, one beer doesn't sound bad at all." Doc pulled up short and looked over at the man. "And in all seriousness, I thank you for your understanding about my... My beliefs. I know you pray for me every Sunday, and I can only say that I take it as just about the sincerest sign of friendship you could give."


With that, the men walked into the Saloon for a beer.

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The Parson did his best to cultivate a good poker face.

He wasn't bad at it, matter of fact he'd put it to good use.

He'd told a mother her daughter's last words were of her, that the child died quickly, that she felt no pain, for he was with her in her final moments.

He'd knelt in their church afterward, shaking, clammy with sweat, gritting his teeth against what little was in his stomach that was trying to launch out of his craw.

The child had gotten too close to the open fire and her skirts caught and she'd died screaming for her Mama, died a horrifying, red-and-black monster in the Preacher's hands as he seized the burning child and drove her feet first into a rain barrel to douse the fires.

He'd had that poker face on like a mask when he looked the little girl's mother in the eye and lied through his teeth.

It wasn't the first time he'd lied, and lied with a clean conscience.

Now, listening to Doc, he too could feel the concussion of cannon fire close up, more felt that heard: he knew what it was to be shot, and to be charged up enough that he ran screaming with that joyful battle rage that Doc described.

The only difference was, where Doc was cold, and saw the world as slow, and his red slaughter was methodical, Linn's was at the top of his lungs, fast, hard, violent, a living buzz saw, reveling in laying waste to everything that came within arm's reach.

He too had slaughtered, he'd used sabre and Bowie, a broad ax and a rifle, a bayonet and a singletree and his bare hands, and he knew what it was to have his fellows draw back from him with horror on their faces.

Where Doc had gone into healing, Linn went into Seminary:  each man worked hard as he could to scrub that stain from his soul, that mark of Cain that, once acquired, never goes away.

Doc's quiet voice continued until they reached the saloon: Linn was thoughtful, quiet, as the two men came in, found a table, set down:  Linn pinched his vest pocket, puzzled a moment at the lump, then dismissed the memory ... something he'd picked up a year before, and never got around to throwing away.



He looked around and felt his stomach tighten a little.

If he'd been a hound, his long ears would have picked up and his moist black nose would have flared, searching for the scent he knew would be there:  as he was a man, and not a canine, his jaw hardened and he reached into the other vest pocket, tipped a wink towards the barkeep, sauntered casually toward the bar.

"I need a bottle of your cheapest," he said quietly.

The barkeep raised an eyebrow and sneered a little, but the look the preacher gave him stopped the gibe unspoken.

Linn said "We'll need two beers, and I'll try not to make too much of a mess."  His voice was low, hard, the voice of a man who was quite ready to face up to and face down something really unpleasant, and probably armed.

The barkeep handed him the bottle.

"I'll fetch out your beer."

Linn straightened, turned.

"John Collins," he said firmly, and the stranger squinted a little, for it was bright outside and shadowed within:  it took him a moment to locate the voice, another long moment to recognize the speaker.

"Well, now, if it ain't --"

Linn took two long steps and belted the man over the head with the bottle, clubbing him hard enough to drop him to his knees.

He set the unbroken, heavy-glass quart on the bar, seized the newcomer by the front of his coat, hauled him off the floor and powered towards the door:  he slammed into the bat wings, out of sight, but those within could hear the distinct sound of a body being thrown into a horse trough.

A moment later, the meaty smack of fist on meat; a grunt, another, then the front of the building shook as someone was thrown hard against it, another splash.

The barkeep brought two beers over to Doc's table, looking from the puzzled face to the bright doorway and back.

A moment later the preacher shoved back in with a look on his face that would sour milk at ten paces:  his hands were opening and closing, he stopped, picked up a beer, took a noisy slurp, dashed the foam off his lip with his coat sleeve.

"Did you have fun?"  Doc asked mildly, and Linn shot him a glare that almost immediately softened, and then Doc saw a smile narrow the corners of the man's eyes:  his smile spread over his face like shadow sliding across a valley floor, and the preacher chuckled and drew out his seat.

"Yes I did," he said.  "I did, for a fact."

"Must have been some disagreement you two had."

Linn nodded, stared at the mug of beer, considered.

"Doc, I'm going to tell you something I've never told anyone out here."

Doc leaned forward a little, looked up at the hovering barkeep:  at his hard eyed glare, the aproned proprietor turned and shuffled reluctantly back behind his bar.

"Doc," Linn said in a pained voice, "I can't ride a horse."

Doc stared at the man, his mouth opening a little, then closing:  he took a pull on his own beer, just a swig, just enough to wet his whistle and cover his confusion.

"That's why I drive a carriage or ride the steam train."  Linn bit his bottom lip a little, stared through the amber eternity in his bubble-streaked mug.

"Last time I tried, Collins and I were ... younger."

Doc nodded a little, enough to show he was listening.

"I got just an awful case of saddle sores and I hit the ground enough times ... I gave it up for a bad job, and I made the mistake of sayin' I was galded where Collins could hear me."

The preacher took a long breath, blew it out, cheeks puffing a little as he did.

"He called me Tendercheeks."

It was Doc's turn to assume that Innocent Expression:  hard as it was, he managed not to let the least shade of amusement show.

"There were some other dirty deals too, but when I saw him, all I could hear was that sneerin' voice of his -- 'Tendercheeks!' -- and I knew he'd ride me like a rented mule if I did not put a stop to it right her and right now."

Doc frowned, steepled his fingers, leaned back.

"You cold cocked him in here, you hauled him outside, it sounded like you gave him his Saturday night bath a few days early."

Linn nodded.  "I did that."

"Sounded like someone got smacked a couple times."

Linn shifted a little and when he twisted slightly, Doc recognized the stiffening that meant he'd taken a hit to the ribs and probably the gut.

"He got a lick or two in."

"And someone got thrown against the front of the saloon here."

Linn nodded but offered no further comment.

"Strikes me a man like that won't like bein' shamed in public."

Linn took a long breath.  "I reckon you're right."

They both looked to the doorway as a silhouette blocked most of the light for a moment:  it was not, however, the silhouette of a man aggrieved.

"Preacher?"  a woman's voice called, and both men came to their feet.

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As Doc Ward and Parson Keller started, and jumped to their feet, they realized the voice they heard  was that of Calamity Kris calling "Preacher? Parson!? Can I speak with you? Oh, and you too, Doc Ward? I'm afraid we have problems coming." With that, she began to fill them in on her encounter with Alice Slye. Doc Ward and Pastor Keller stood listening to Calamity Kris as she explained the incident at her shop. Doc nodded as he listened intently. "You're sure she didn't want to buy something?" Keller asked. Kris shook her head, replying, "No, she said she was there to make me an offer, and that I would be sorry for not taking her offer." Doc thought about it for a moment, then responded, "But you have no idea what her offer was going to be?" "No, Doc, I'm sorry, I just wanted her out of my shop." Doc nodded his understanding, then looked at Keller. "Any ideas? I don't think there was an actual threat, but given that crowd, I'm worried. Maybe we should run this past Sheriff Cody?" At Keller's nod, the men changed direction to head over to the jail. After speaking with Cody, Doc relayed to Kris that they didn't have anything to go on, but they would keep an eye on things.


Calico Mary was staying true to her word about caring for horses at the livery stable, but she was working faster than need be, and acting peculiar. "More peculiar than usual," Doc spoke to nobody in particular. As he walked through the stable, he nodded approvingly at the condition of the stalls, and was impressed by Mary's work, regardless. "I would have thought she would be around much longer than she has been, she must be getting here awfully early. Poor thing must not be getting any sleep trying to keep things going here, and at that farm." Doc grabbed a book from his collection and walked over to the jail. The sheriff was up and moving, but still sore and tender, and prone to dizzy spells. 


As Doc Ward walked into the jail, he glanced at the sheriff, just finishing up his evening meal. He pointed to a plate of beef and potatoes sitting waiting for Doc, and Doc took it and ate it while sitting on a chair against the wall. Setting the empty plate aside when he finished, Doc crossed one leg over the other, and sat back to read while Cody read a letter inquiring about the arrest of Mr. Gardner from an attorney from out of town. Gardner had long since been released, with a fine and "time served." When Gardner tried to get Doc Ward fired, Cody's reply was succinct "You put hands on a young lady in this town. Hands that she clearly didn't want touching her. If the other men at the dance had been armed, so as to not be buffaloed by your men, you might very well have been swinging from that big oak behind Old Sam's barn, and the hell of it is, Doc would've tried to prevent it. You're alive, and none of your men were stupid enough to get themselves shot by Doc. I'd say it was a good outcome for you, even if you did lose a couple of teeth. More important to me, none of my townspeople got charged with a lynching." Gardner stormed out of the jail, and hadn't been seen since. It had been almost a week since Alice Slye stopped in at Calamity Kris's shop.


Doc Ward was settled in for the evening, boots up on the corner of the sheriff's desk, and just getting to enjoy his book, when he and Sheriff Cody both heard the word shouted in the distance. "FIRE!!!"

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Seamus got word to Rye that the parts came in for the piano. Rye opened the box and was explaining to Seamus what they were and how to replace the broken hammers and strings. They're were also some intricate action parts that required some glueing and repairing. Seamus was interested in seeing how it was done. Rye said, "Sure enough, in fact I could use a hand to help with a few things." They walked over to the saloon with the box of parts. Kay stayed to tend the store. It was early morning and Whiskey just opened and her bartender was sweeping up as she tended to restocking the whiskey from a very busy and profitable night. Rye removed the front of the piano and proceeded to removed the piano's action. It was essentially the "engine" of the piano. He started off by showing Seamus how to cut the bass strings to fit where they were missing. Seamus was very careful and picked up the task quickly. Rye got to drilling out the broken hammer shanks and replacing them by glueing the new ones in the hammer butt. Then he replaced the hammers and glued them in place. He used hide glue, which had been used on pianos since day one!

After a few hours they got the piano together and Rye proceeded to tune it. He then played it a bit and it sounded 100% better than it was. It was still an old rickety piano that had seen it's days but at least everything played now. Whiskey was happy and Seamus said he'd like to get an old piano and mess around repairing it. Rye said he'd help but he didn't have too much time left in Stone Creek, he was anxious to take on the job of Arizona Ranger. It would be a few weeks before he took off for his new job. He told Seamus he'd be back from time to time depending on when he was in the area. Seamus said, "We'll miss ya Rye but good luck on yer new adventure".

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Calamity Kris and Clara Pierce had been friends for as long as either of them can remember.  They grew up near each other and went to school together.  When Clara's folks passed on, Clara became the owner of the cafe in town.  A nice little cafe with good, warm food and friendly staff.  At first, Calamity came over to help Clara run the place until Clara could handle things herself.  After the mine closed outside of town and a lot of folks left, Calamity would come help Clara in exchange for a meal.  It worked out well for both of them.  This evening was no exception.  Things in the dress shop had been slow and Calamity had bills to pay so she offered to help Clara in exchange for a hot meal.  All was well until a woman came running down the street shouting "FIRE".  Calamity Kris looked up and saw the front of her shop in flames.  She dropped the dirty dished she was holding and ran out the door to the dress shop. 


The only thing Calamity could think of was saving the customers alterations.  She had to save those clothes or she would be in a lot worse shape financially.  She ran to the door on the side of the shop in the alley and opened it.  The fire hadn't made it back that far yet so she had time to pull out as much as she could.  Other folks from town ran over and started grabbing the items Calamity was pulling out of the shop and setting them aside, away from the flames.  By then, a couple of men from the fire brigade came over and started throwing buckets of water on the fire through the broken front windows.  Calamity was able to get most everything out of the back of the shop, including her prized sewing machine.  Unfortunately, most of the stock from the front of the store was lost. 


After the fire was out, Mary, Lorelei and a few other folks came by to give their support to Calamity and offer their help.  All she could do was stand in the doorway between the back and front of the shop numb.  She had no idea what she could do now.  Rebuild or move on?  Where to go?  How to pay the bills and clean all the customers clothes.  She just hung her head and started to cry.

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Pat and SD rode on through he night As the sun was coming up in the east the sky had an ominous red color. SD over heard Pat reciting an old seaman's rhyme he had heard when working on the river boats. "Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky of morning, sailor take warning. SD had heard that rhyme many times and more often than not it proved to be accurate.

As they approached the ranch black angry clouds could be seen over in Stone Creek Valley SD made a silent plea to Creator that he spare the good people that lived there from Mother Natures wrath.

SD could see his wife standing on the front porch shifting her gaze from the angry clouds to the men that worked the ranch. 

At first glance EyeLash did not look tough enough to be a ranchers wife. She had waist length blond hair and brilliant blue eyes. However after just a few minutes in her presence it was very obvious that this was no ordinary woman. At 6 ft, she was taller than most men and here face could transform from soft and caring to hard as granite in the blink of an eye. She had little use for most people but had soft spot bigger that Texas for animals and would go out of her way to care for any creature that needed it.

Those the knew her, knew that she was not someone to be trifled with. She could out draw most men and had nerves of steel. She was proficient with a bow and had taken more than her fair share of game with one. Her skill with a whip was how she had earned the name EyeLash, for is was rumored that she could remove a mans eyelashes with a whip before he could blink.


SD and Pat held back till she had finished addressing the men. Branding season was starting and EyeLash, Stirrup Trouble, and Gateway Kid were giving the men their assignments. Branding was going to take a little longer this year as the S-D was short of men. Last year the ranch had erected 2 wall tents to house the seasonal hires need this time of year. However, this year there were still a few empty bunks in the bunkhouse. Several of the regulars didn’t show up this year and a lot of the new men that did come around looking for work did pass muster. Most looked a lot more like hired guns than vaqueros. Both SD and EyeLash had though it odd that about half of the regular hires didn’t show. The S-D paid good wages in exchange for a fair days work and served up better chow that most of the other spreads in Arizona Territory.

As the meeting ended and the men started to disperse SD rode up the the porch and dismounted. He handed the reigns to Pat who headed for the barn as SD brushed off some of the trail dust before going into the house.

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The branding was moving right along in spite of the lack of hands. The weather had been perfect and not lowering the bar when it came to hiring vaqueros had paid off. However, it still bugged SD that most of the usual seasonal hires were absent.


Last Saturday a couple of the more senior hands had asked for permission to ride into town. They had been seriously courting a couple of older women in town and were hoping that they could take them to a dance that night. I had been planning to mail a couple of letters and pick up supplies for several days now but just never could find the time to make the trip into town. So I decided to let them go in my stead. That way they got a little reward for all the hard work they had been putting in and I could stay at the ranch.


When they returned to the ranch Sunday they couldn’t wait to tell me about all the excitement that had happened at the dance. As they told the story of how Doc Ward had used the butt of a shotgun to flattened the new owner of the Hoover place for disrespecting Calico Mary a stared at them slack jawed in disbelief. Twice I asked them if they were sure it was Doc Ward as the Doc I knew would go out of his way so as to not hurt a fly. They both said they were sure as Doc always let them sleep out behind the stables when they had had too much to drink after a night of whooping it up in town.


As they headed back to the barn to get fresh mounts before returning to their regular chores I went in the opposite direction to find Eyelash and let her know of the troubling events over in Stone Creek.



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Doc Ward and Sheriff Cody made their way through the smouldering rubble of the storefront.  Calamity Kris was working her way forward from the back of the store, sifting through the debris looking for as many things as possible that she could salvage.  Calico Mary was helping her out as much as possible.  Every time Calamity would pick up the remnants of a hat or a dress, she would show it to Calico and say "I could clean this part up and fix it, good as new again".  Calico knew Calamity was just grasping at straws in hopes of recovering some of her losses.  Calico would just sadly shake her head no and Calamity would move on to the next piece of merchandise, searching desperately for something good to come of this.  Sheriff Cody stepped up, removing his hat said "Evening Miss Calamity.  I sure am sorry about your shop.  Did you happen to see anything?  Can you tell me what you do know?"  Calamity recounted the events of the later afternoon.  "Well Sheriff, I had just finished some alterations for Lorelei and locked up the shop, just like I always do.  I was running a little late in getting to Clara's cafe so I walked as briskly down the street as I could.  I don't remember seeing anyone or anything unusual......"  As Calamity's voice trailed off, she remembered seeing two men in the alley as she locked up.  She had never seen them before.  They didn't seem to be doing anything unusual........ or were they?  They were just leaning on the building across the alley, about 30 feet back from the side door to the shop.  Both were looking down so she couldn't see their faces.  They were fairly large build with dark hair and beards.  They were dirty as if they had just come off the trail.  That was all she could remember.  "Does that sound strange to you, Sheriff" she asked?  Doc Ward asked if they looked like any of the men from the Barn Dance.  Calamity shook her hear no, as she couldn't see their faces.  She was standing near Calico Mary when the trouble started so she would have noticed the men.  Unfortunately, with their heads down, she couldn't tell for sure if it was one of them.  Sheriff Cody said thank you, both men tipped their hats, and walked out into the street.  As they reached the middle of the street, Calamity Kris remembered something and ran out into the street to catch them before they walked away.  "Wait Sheriff", she called.  "I do remember something odd, the two men were standing in front of that barrel back there and one was talking to the other.  He talked funny, like he had some kind of an accent, or something."  Doc Ward and the Sheriff thanked her and made their way down the alley towards the barrel. 

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Linn stared at the man looking back at him in the big silvered glass.

He had no idea why the previous parson had such a big mirror in his small hacienda, but he admitted it was a handy thing.

Folks expected their sky pilot to look the part and that meant, so far as possible, he had to look presentable or nearly so, except when he wasn't ... such as times when he had to knuckle an old enemy, or when he was coatless and splittin' wood, or otherwise doing more than looking dignified and quoting from the Book.

On Sundays the Parson was expected to look like a store front dummy or near to it, and he'd carefully brushed his black suit, he'd burnished his boots, he'd dusted off his flat brim skypiece and knotted his tie and now he looked at the Man in the Mirror.

His Smith & Wesson rode on one side, in its slender black holster, his knife on the other:  he reached up and pinched his vest pocket again, and he felt a smile try to tighten the corners of his eyes.

He had the Sunday sermon figured out.


Entertainment on the frontier was rare: more often than not, a man made his own amusement, but there were certain community activities that were the local theater.

Court, for instance, was well attended, when the circuit riding judge showed up.

Auctions, rare though they were, had a good crowd:  most were there to be entertained, truth be told.

Any time their little whitewashed schoolhouse had a children's program, damn neart the entire county turned out to see it, for it was Entertainment, and even hard-bit, sun-wrinkled, callus-handed ranchers remembered what it was to be a child and to feel the breathy excitement of a recitation in front of a classroom full of bright eyes looking squarely at them.

And, of course, there was Church.

Reverend Keller was like many thereabouts:  he'd picked up what was left of his broken heart and shattered dreams, and gone West.

He, like they, left behind what he'd been; he, like they, became someone else.

He, like they, was accepted as the man he'd made himself, and in this, he was content.

Preacher Keller reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a lump of something shiny and yellow, something the size of a man's knuckle, and he considered the insanity that went with this yellow color, and then he lifted his chin and paced off on the left, strode boldly out of the Parsonage and through the short hallway, closing one door behind him, opening the next, opened the door into the Church.


There had been discussion as to who would play the piano for the first time in Church, and several of the women tried it and delighted in being able to exercise this skill that all proper young ladies learned; Linn stayed out of the way while they played, and talked, and played, and talked some more, and played, and he reckoned it was a good thing he was not there, for he was not comfortable in a gathering of women:  he preferred his women high enough on a pedestal they were likely to get nosebleed, he preferred his women frilly and proper and clean and sweet smellin' and he realized he was remembering his own dead wife, the last time he saw her, and he seized that old and familiar ache and shoved it down in a bottle and stoved the cork in tight to contain it.

His hat was back in the Parsonage; his Bible was under his arm, and as his hind hoof crossed the threshold into the Sanctuary, Miz Loreli sounded the first notes of the first hymn and everyone came to their feet, singing.

Preacher Keller crossed the front of the church, climbed the few steps to altar level, stepped behind the pulpit, set his Scripture and opened it up to the first book mark, closed his eyes and bowed his head and smiled a little, remembering how his own wife played the piano, and sang, how he stood behind her, his hands on her shoulders, feeling her sing through his hands, smelling her lilac water and sun dried linens and thinking himself the absolutely luckiest sod to ever fill a pair of boots, and for a moment, for one bare moment, that old familiar grief eased away from his heart, and he smiled.

The church service followed a set pattern, for he was a methodical man, and he'd learned that people are comfortable with a familiar routine: a second hymn was sung, he read of announcements -- there'd been a birth, he extended a palm-up hand toward a grinning man he knew and announced that he'd sired a fine young son that didn't look a thing like him, no sign of a mustache -- this gained the man's red-faced grin and a general, good-natured laughter -- he announced the recent fire that burnt out Calamity's shop -- even though it was common knowledge, this formal acknowledgement was expected -- there were two or three other items, the plate was passed, another hymn, and then Preacher Keller said "I'd like a show of hands, how many of you would like a long and boring sermon?"

The fellow whose infant son lacked a lip broom called out, "I could use a good nap!" to which everyone -- the Preacher included -- laughed.

"We read in Scripture that the love of money is the root of all evil."  He frowned a little at this.  "I don't know about you but I generally don't have two nickles to rub together, so I'm safe!" -- a chuckle -- then the Preacher dry-washed his hands and cackled a little.

His face went slack and he laughed, and not a normal laugh, and he reached in his vest pocket -- he turned, wide-eyed, looked left, looked right, scuttled bow-legged from behind the pulpit and down the steps to floor level, and he stalked across in front of the pews, wide-eyed, whipped his coat tail back and pulled out that long bladed Bowie with the honed blade.

"You, you, you can't have it," he slurred, drawing something from his vest pocket and holding it up:  "I, I, I found it, it's mine, I tell you!  MINE!"

His voice cracked, the voice of a lunatic, as he held up a gold nugget the size of the end joint of his thumb.

"GOLD, I tell you!  GOLD!" -- he threw his head back and the shocked-silent church rang with absolutely maniacal laughter.

He stopped, hugged the nugget to his breast, clapped the white-knuckle-fisted knife over it, hiding, protecting his treasure --

"It's gold, I tell you!  GOLD!"  He danced a few steps, whirling, coat tails flaring as he did, and he stopped very precisely in front of the altar.

"I'll show you," he whispered, and his lunatick whisper hissed plainly to the rear pews:  "I'LL SHOW YOU!"

He slowly, slowly extended the knife, eyes wide, face drawn and pale, the face of a man firmly gripped with insanity, and more than one set of fingers touched, or gripped, the handle of shaped wood and machined steel, in case it should be necessary to stop a knife's attack.

"Gold, gold, gold, is soft, soft," Preacher stammered, holding the lump up so all could see:  it shone in the shadow, inviting greedy hearts to worship its beauty:  he spun the knife, caught it, held it straight out in front of him:  "It'll cut with a knife!  WATCH!"

A swift move, a descending arc, eyes widened as they saw this gibbering lunatick bring the shining nugget down toward honed steel:  at best, it would cut a chunk off the nugget -- but more likely, all knew, it would result in fingers on the floor, blood spraying, the screams of a man in pain.

That didn't happen.

Preacher Keller held his Bowie edge-down; he struck the nugget on its spine, raked it longways, drew out a frightening spray of sparks.


Another long rake, another shower of high-carbon fire, and a voice murmured from the rear of the church, "Fool's Gold!"

The Preacher straightened, thrust out the nugget as if it were a pointer:  "Give da man a see-gah!" he declared nasally, thrusting his Bowie back into its sheath:  he turned, ran back up the three steps, and stood once more behind the pulpit.

"The love of money is the root of all evil," he quoted, "and you and I both have seen men go insane when the cry of gold went up."  He held up the shining lump of pyrite.  "This came from a local stream.  It caused a local sensation, until folks found what it really was.  No gold to be had, I'm afraid."  He tossed it up, caught it.  "Let this, then, be my sermon for today: You value wages gained with the sweat of your brow, and you regard lightly that which is simply given."

He looked over at Miz Loreli, who was regarding him with a mixture of suspicion and anticipation.

"Let us now sing the final hymn, Let Us Gather By the River, and please note that a copper prospector's pan is not mentioned in the hymnal."


Preacher Keller shook hands with all who cared to, as they filed out; this was when he gained the most information at one time, for everyone had something to say, and he was quick to listen to whatever it was, and made careful mental notes, for more often than not he'd have visits to make, or invitations to keep:  today, though, when Calamity offered her gloved hand, the Preacher leaned close and murmured "Please see me later," which surprised her greatly: the man had never made any invitation before, and, surprised, she blinked, then nodded.

It was more accident than design that their meeting was less than an hour later.

"Preacher, I --" she began uncertainly.

Linn raised a finger.  "Forgive my being forward," he said, "you have business to attend and I have Sunday dinner to accept, but this needs said."

He took a long breath, bit his bottom lip, reached into his coat.

"There is gold to be hand and not far off, and once it's known, gold fever will drive men to terrible deeds."  His blue eyes were troubled as he looked very directly at her and added, "I have seen it, and it ... they'll strip the streambed like locusts in a wheatfield."

His hand came out of his coat and he handed her a leather wallet.

"Open this in private and when no one else can see."
The man's ears were red and he turned, and she did not miss an expression of sorrow he'd tried to keep hidden, an expression he'd managed to conceal until the very last moment.

Linn knew curiosity is a powerful thing, and he wasn't surprised when he heard a distant, startled, but distinctly happy, squeal, quickly suppressed, and he knew she'd taken a look, and realized she held wealth enough to rebuild that shop twice over -- from the ground up, fully stocked.

Linn whipped out a bedsheet handkerchief and pressed it against his closed eyes, remembering a woman he'd known, a woman he'd loved to the very bottom of his eternal soul, a woman whose hand he held as she sighed out her last breath, and as he eternal soul left her physical body, it felt like his heart went with it.

He whispered a name, collapsed against the side of a building, sank to a squat, unseen, a man who'd just struck a blow against the Fate that took his wife, and took another woman's business.

He clenched his teeth and forbade himself to weep.

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Doc Ward chuckled as the story was relayed to him of the preacher's theatrics in church by Sheriff Cody. "Almost makes me wish I'd gone myownself," Doc mused. The sheriff used a stiffened index finger under the brim of his hat to push it back slightly on his head as he leaned back in his desk chair. "It may be none of my business," the sheriff started, and paused, hesitating before he continued, "but why don't we ever see you in church?" Doc paused, knowing that the sheriff was simply trying to make inroads, to get to know the quiet, standoffish man in the seat across from him.


Everyone in town knew Doc would come at a word if someone needed help, and that he had a smile and a bad joke ready for the men in town, and a tip of his hat and a respectful comment for the women of the town, regardless of their station or lot in life. But he socialized little, and if he weren't sitting back reading a book with a cup of coffee, he was just as likely to be either in the pasture checking over the horses, or taking a long solitary hike, rifle or shotgun in hand. Beyond that, nobody knew much about him. It was known he was from Kentucky, believed he had attended college in Ohio, and had served in the Union Army during the war. Like many, he talked but little of his experiences in the war. Some of the citizens of the town, particularly those busybodies in need of a person to gossip about and think ill of, were quick to judge Doc for not going to church. 


Before the incident at the dance, he was known to be calm and level headed in a crisis. When a gang robbed the bank, as they charged down the main street, Doc was at the end by the livery stable, taking a knee and calmly firing his lever action at them, striking two of the robbers and one of the horses. The robbers were shot to doll rags by Doc and the others in town, and the money returned to the bank. The survivors found themselves in jail, awaiting a trial and a rope. Town gossip was that Doc was in tears as he pointed his Colt at the dying horse and said "I'm sorry, boy," before putting it out of its misery. Town gossip also held that he didn't seem so concerned about the robbers, although he showed considerable skill in patching their wounds until they could be seen by Okie. Women of the town whispered he had never married, others rejected that, claiming his wife had been murdered, or that she fell prey to indians or cholera. Whichever the case, Doc was polite to all women, and a sharp eye would catch him take an admiring glance on occasion, but certainly nothing to be considered untoward.


Doc finally shrugged and looked at the Sheriff. "I could give you plenty of answers. The truth is, I lack faith. I believe I would feel like a hypocrite walking through the doors and lowering my head in prayer." The sheriff masked any surprise he may have felt as he nodded. "Did I ever tell you my father was a Methodist circuit rider?" Doc queried. The sheriff laughed. "Hell Doc, you ain't told me much more than your name in the few years I've known you." Doc chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, I suppose that's true. Yes, he was. He arranged for me to go to college up in Ohio. A Methodist college, of course. If he had hoped for me to go to seminary, I can't say, but I ended up reading law, and had planned to be a lawyer. I was for awhile, after the war." Now Sheriff Cody's eyes did show a little surprise. "I knew you were educated, that much can be figured from talking to you, but I wouldn't have guessed a lawyer. You don't seem the type." Doc laughed, "I guess that's why I 'was' a lawyer. Anyway, horses are much more peaceful and agreeable than most people I've dealt with." Doc smiled and said, "I'd take it as a favor if you didn't repeat this to the gossips here in town. They're already convinced I'm going to hell, might as well not fuel that particular fire." Both men laughed at the unintentional pun, and Cody gave his word.


The smile disappeared and Doc's face became wistful, and his eyes seemed to look far away, into another time. "My wife taught me everything I know about horses. She taught me to love them. She loved them from childhood, and was as good a rider as a person could hope to be, and a remarkable woman." With a deep breath, Doc shook his head and stood up. "I need a cup of coffee." Cody knew Doc had probably revealed as much to him as he had anyone else in town, although he had heard through the grapevine that Doc had a long discussion with the preacher a few days earlier at the Saloon. Like a smart lawman, he also knew not to press for information when it wasn't necessary. If Doc wanted to reveal more, he would in his own time. If not, asking would only make him clam up.


Pouring coffee, Doc looked over at the sheriff. "It had to be Gardner's men that started that fire. I tried to look for tracks, but couldn't find any. Everything was wiped out by the confusion trying to put out the fire. But it only makes sense. The threat from Alice Slye, then shortly later, the fire." The sheriff nodded. "Problem is, I can't even say how the fire started, let alone who might have started it. We can't go over there half-cocked making accusations." There was a knock on the door, and Doc grinned. "Miss Whiskey must have sent lunch." Carrying his coffee cup in hand, Doc walked to open the door. Standing with a tray was one of the girls from the Saloon. Doc tipped his hat and smiled, "Ma'am, how are you today?" She gave Doc a pleasant smile and a bit of a flirty look, before Doc saw movement behind her.


As he looked past her, Doc saw one of the men from Gardner's bunch, the one he'd had words with, standing in the street, staring at him. Gently nudging the girl inside, Doc took a couple of strides to the left. Looking at the man, Doc calmly asked "May I help you?" The man laughed. "Well, aren't you the polite one? What's wrong, you scared?" As he asked, he motioned down to the gun on his hip. Doc replied simply "Good breeding." The man paused, confused. "What's that mean?" he demanded. "Good breeding." Doc said again. "It usually results in good manners, in politeness. So, what is it you would like?" The man shifted, now a little unsure, but knowing he had been insulted. "I'm here, now, and you ain't got no shotgun with the drop on me, and I've got my gun. I'm going to kill yo..." Doc didn't let the man finish before his hand seemed to leave his cup hanging in the air as it dropped for his Colt. As the other man's eyes got large, he reached for his own gun, far too slowly. As the man started his draw, the roar of two shots rang out. Two puffs of dust seemed to leap from the man's chest in front of two dark circles, even as the sound of the cup crashing on the boardwalk was drowned out by the sound of the shots. The man's body stiffened, his gun half-drawn, and he took a step back, staring. "You... You didn't let me... Say..." With that, the man tumbled face first into the dirt.


Looking around for anyone else before beginning to reload his revolver, Doc glanced to see the Sheriff standing in the doorway to the jail, rifle in hand. Shaking his head, Doc looked at Cody and heaved a great sigh. "He said enough for me to know his intent. I didn't see any reason to let him say anything else." Cody nodded. "I heard. There's a time to talk, and a time to fight. He seems to have thought it was still time to talk. Know his name?" Doc shook his head and explained what had happened at the dance. "Guess lunch will wait. I'll walk down and get the undertaker. Things seem to be taking a turn for the worse." Doc walked down the street, looking slightly dejected.

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Rye joined a crew of townsfolk to help clean up the debris from Calamity's fire. It was a total disaster! Someone said, "Time to get another fund raiser going for Calamity". Rye shook his head in agreement. It was pretty easy to get the fund raising going for the new piano for the church and money to repair Whiskey's piano. Rye would get Doc, The Sheriff, the Mayor and some others together. One last fund raising effort before he left for the Rangers. The townsfolk were a solid lot of people and helping everyone out was a pretty easy task. Just spread the word and it would all come together.


A couple of men rode into town, a couple of rough looking characters. Cat Spencer and Yuma Sam were brothers and both Arizona Rangers. They're the ones that recruited Rye to join. They were all old friends from growing up together and were on many cattle drives  together. Cat was as fast as anyone with a pistol and Yuma Sam was a crack shot with his .45-70 Rolling block. They pulled up in front of the store and jumped down from their mounts to pitch in. They yelled to Rye and that brought a big smile to his face. "Why you snarly old coot, how the hell have ya been" said Cat to Rye. They were good pards, Rye knew Cat and Sam from his early childhood days and hadn't seen Cat or Sam in a couple months. Cat and Sam were half brothers, Cat's mom died when he was about 5 yrs. old and his dad remarried and his new wife gave birth to Sam. They lived on the border of Arizona in Yuma and that's how Sam got his nickname. It was good to see his old friends, the Spencer brothers.

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Zeb Gardner was sitting in the parlor at the Hoover ranch house looking over some maps of the area that were drawn up based on scouting done by his men. His jaw and neck still ached from the crack he took with the butt of a shotgun, and he had to have a broken tooth pulled, all of which left him in a foul mood. Alice Slye, a late riser whenever she had the chance, was just wandering into the kitchen in search of breakfast. The door to the ranch house opened and his son Nathaniel walked in. "Pa, there's a bit of a problem. The undertaker just rode up, and it seems Bob Monk went and got himself killed."


Gardner came half out of his seat, and started cursing a blue streak. Nate stood patiently until his father asked "How the hell did he get himself killed?" Nate shifted uncomfortably before replying. "According to what the undertaker said, he braced that deputy sheriff. Seems they had words at the dance, and he went back with a chip on his shoulder." Gardner now stood, and began pacing, cursing again. "Why didn't he take someone with him? I've told everyone to always have a saddle partner wherever they go. And how did that deputy kill him? Bob was no slouch with a gun, and we were told he was just some milksop liveryman who always has his nose in a book! What the hell is going on here?" Now Nate took a deep breath. "I asked the undertaker about that. He said Bob wanted to talk big, but once he said he was going to kill the deputy, the deputy didn't wait for Bob to open the ball. Said Nate had two slugs in his chest, and his gun was still in the holster. According to the undertaker, that liveryman was shooting at a bunch of bank robbers as they barreled toward him at a full gallop a couple of years back, and he hit what he was aiming at. Lots of rumors about what he did before coming to town, but nobody knows for sure. Whatever he is, he ain't no milksop."


Zeb Gardner continued pacing, mumbling "Should've figured that after the way he reacted at that dance. By what you boys said, he sounded more like a crazy man after he knocked me out. I don't think he's in his right mind. Maybe I should go talk to that Sheriff and see if we have any recourse. A man like that could be a danger to us." Gardner's head lifted and he rubbed his sore jaw as a thought came to him. "A man like that could be a danger. He shouldn't be a deputy sheriff! Why, what about the citizens of the community?" Nate immediately understood what his father meant. Get the deputy out of a job, and there might be one less thing to deal with.


"What's the word on that girl and her brother? We need that place." Gardner asked. His son shook his head. "Got men scouting, but trying hard not to be seen. Seems one of the two is always traipsing around. That windstorm we had tore through their place especially hard too. Tore up a bunch of trees and brush. Making some of it unpassable." Gardner nodded, and looked at his son with a flat expression. "It'd be tragic if one of 'em was to get hurt in all that torn up ground, now wouldn't it. Simply tragic." His son nodded grimly. "Yes, Pa, I'll pass that along." "And tell the men to ride in pairs, and to give that crazy deputy a wide berth."



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Shortly after Nathaniel Gardner walked out of the house, two men walked onto the porch and knocked before entering. One was tall and muscular, with blonde hair and pale blue eyes. The other was shorter and stockier, with a swarthy look and eyes that were flat and emotionless. He had a heavy stubble across his jaw that made his face look even darker. Zeb Gardner greeted them both, and when they asked about the whereabouts of Alice Slye, he gestured toward the kitchen with his thumb.


Walking into the kitchen they saw Alice, still wearing her sleeping gown that didn't leave enough to the imagination for decorum, with her hair pulled back into a braid. The blonde averted his attention, a bit of red rising up his neck to his cheeks. His shorter companion just looked ahead, as if he barely noticed Alice's presence. Alice Slye rose to greet the men with a smile. Her soft voice almost cooed as she got closer to the men. "Johann, Michael, thank you so much for what you did the other night. I'm sorry I wasn't here when you got back." Standing a little too close for the comfort of the tall blonde, she smiled and out of a hidden pocket, produced a gold piece, slipping it in his  vest pocket and patting it as she looked up at him, finding humor in his discomfort at the situation. Turning to the shorter, dark skin man, Alice looked at him, almost at eye level, and did the same for him, letting her hand linger a little longer to see if she could get some sort of reaction. To her disappointment, all he did was glance down at her hand and then nod.


Alice turned and walked to the heavy table and leaned against it, knowing the clothes she wore framed her womanly body. "We have to think of what to do next. More of the same won't work for now. Perhaps if some of the cattle from the S-D were to end up on the land of that little wench and her brother. Maybe butcher one where it can be found. You get the idea." Pushing away from the table, Alice Slye again stood close to the pair, putting her hands to pat their vest pockets. "You know I'll make it worth your while." The blonde nodded and in a thick German accent said "Ya, I think ve can do that."

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Reverend Keller's face was expressionless.
He'd been on his knees for better than two hours and he intended to punish himself even more before he was done.

His knees ached, they always did when he had 'em pressed into the floor, but he did not even consider rising.

His floor was absolutely spotless now; he'd hand scrubbed it, he'd paid particular care to the corners and along the trim work, and when he was done it was clean enough a man could eat off of it.

It was not until the entire parsonage floors were absolutely spotless that he allowed himself to rise.

He sat; he rested; he closed his eyes and asked forgiveness for his grief, for it was selfish, and grief crowded out the gratitude he should feel:  then he opened his eyes and looked to his laundry.

He could punish himself further with his laundry.

He nodded, looked around, stopped when his eyes hit the closed cupboard.

The ghost of a smile came to his face and pulled back on his ears and he rose, walked in sock feet across the absolutely spotless floor.

He opened the cupboard and drew out two '73 rifles, a pair of double guns, two gunrigs:  he stacked them in neat ranks on the kitchen table, he emptied the cupboard of boxes of ammunition and cleaning supplies and finally he picked up the rag he'd been using most recently on the floor and he began cleaning the inside of the cabinet.

It was not until the cabinet was as immaculately spotless as the floor that he turned to the table, that he returned boxes of cartridges in precise stacks and ranked rows within: then he picked up the first double gun, a little shorter than standard; he opened it, set the twin brass hulls on the table, peered down the bores.

His hands had eyes of their own as he dismounted the double gun, laid the parts on a clean cloth; he carefully, precisely cleaned the shotgun, though cleaning was not needed: he opened a small kit, removed a selection of hollow ground screwdrivers, dismounted the back action locks, examined and frowned and brushed and wiped and finally very lightly greased the bearing surfaces, oiled others by dipping a coarse wire in the oil he preferred, then lightly touching the end of this oil-dipped wire to the precise spot where it was needed.

He recalled a boy watching him oil his double gun thusly once, years ago, and the boy blurted, "Mister, are you oilin' that gun?" and Reverend Keller looked up and grinned and said "Son, I'm oiling a gun lock, not greasing a wagon wheel!" and he and the boy both laughed.

It was a good memory.

The gun went back together quickly, with the ease of long practice; brass hulls dropped with their heavy, hollow sound back into the breech, he raised the rearstock to close it, the way he always did -- he'd heard somewhere that a double gun should be treated with respect, and one respected a well built double by raising the rearstock instead of twisting up the barreled action -- then he brought it to shoulder, swung it at an imaginary bird, lowered the gun, brought it up and swung it again.

He couldn't help it.

He grinned broadly, for it was something he truly loved.

The good Reverend steadily, methodically tended each of his firearms:  they were as immaculately clean as his floor, they were stacked back in the cupboard, the Reverend Keller straightened leaned back, taking the ache out of his lower back, and then he went over to the dishpan and methodically, very precisely, washed the oil from his hands.

His stomach reminded him he hadn't eaten that day.

He looked around the room and decided he couldn't do any more damage here:  he looked down at his boots, as if hopeful he could make an improvement there as well, but they were burnished to a high shine: still, he propped one foot up, wiped off any imaginary dust, then the other, before he turned and started for the door, pacing off on the left as he'd done since the War.

He got halfway to the saloon, approaching it from behind, when two gunshots punched holes in the otherwise quiet air.

The Reverend Keller, sky pilot and designated marry, bury and sermon pusher, felt his stomach tighten as he leaned forward into a run, running to the sound of battle as he'd always done.


The barkeep looked up as the Reverend came in.

A barkeep gets pretty good at reading men and he knew he was looking at a troubled soul.

"What's good today?" the sky pilot asked quietly.

"Mazie?" the barkeep called.  "What's on the stove?"

Linn turned, frowned a little, took three long strides and took the saloon girl by her elbows.

"What happened?" he asked quietly, steering her into a chair, squatting ahead of and a little to the side of the shivering girl.

"I didn't know," she whispered unsteadily. "I didn't know ..."

She lowered her face into her hands, then slid her hands over her cheeks so she could stare at the Parson with big and frightened eyes.

"I didn't know ... he was behind me, he was going to kill him, he, I, my God it happened so fast!"

Reverend Keller nodded; he'd stayed back and out of the way, coming in just long enough to close the dead man's eyes and talk to God about it, before drawing back and getting out of the undertaker's way:  he had a marvelous way of turning invisible, or nearly so, and he practiced staying out of the road so much as possible, unless otherwise was needed.

"You are safe now," he murmured, and Mazie lowered her hands into the Reverend's.

His hands were big, gentle, warm, a father's hands:  he did not attempt to grasp her hands, he just held them open, welcoming, comforting, and she put her hands on his, drawing comfort from his warm, confident, quiet strength.

The barkeep watched, silent; if he didn't know better, he'd have thought the good Reverend was a detective or something of the kind.

If he wasn't, he thought, he had a natural way of putting people at ease, and the barkeep considered that his Mazie would be inclined to talk to the Reverend all the more easily.

He'd been a detective himself, and he tended to notice such things.

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Calamity Kris was at Clara's cafe helping her clean up after the meal.  As soon as they were done, Calamity excitedly sat Clara down and told her about the wonderful gift from Reverend Keller.  "Clara you won't believe what Reverend Keller gave me.  Why it's more money than I've ever seen."  Clara stared at Calamity wide eyed and asked "What are you going to do with it?"  The smile ran away from Calamity's face as she looked down at the table.  "I think I'm going to give it back.  I wouldn't want Reverend Keller to do without just so I could stock my shop.  That's not right."  Clara nodded in agreement.  "The towns folk, led by Rye, have done a wonderful job of rebuilding the shop so all I have to do is restock it", continued Calamity.  "Have you said anything to Reverend Keller about this?", asked Clara.   Calamity nodded no.  Just then, both ladies caught sight of a shadow that moved outside the window.  There was no reason for anyone to be walking along that side of the cafe as the sidewalk leads to the back door.  Had someone been listening to their conversation, were they lying in wait or something else............

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The Spencer boys told Rye that were tracking down a group of rustlers that operated on the US/Mexico border down by Yuma. They told Rye they couldn't stay and that they'd be leaving in the morning. "We just wanted to know if'n yer on board with this Ranger thing" asked Cat. "I am fer sure on board, I just got a few little things to mend 'round town here before I leave" said Rye. They all went to Whiskey's place for the evening to hear the newly fixed and tuned piano. Whiskey had even come up with a piano player that got of the stage that morning. He was on his way to Nogales but stopped off here for a rest. He was a real entertainer and a true piano player unlike Rye who always said, "I'm not a piano player I just play at it". This new piano player was really great, he could play anyhting people requested. Lots of people gathered around the piano to sing along. The guy was a true entertainer. People were having fun, the place was buzzing. Drinks were pouring like crazy and the 3 card games were in full bloom. What a night at Whiskey's place. She couldn't be happier, she was at the end of the bar with a big beautiful smile on her face, drinking a beer with some customers.


Through the batwing doors came a man with a shotgun leveled at the crowd! He yelled, "I'm here to see who killed my boys", I hear it was the Sheriff of this town, where is he?" Rye yelled from a table in the corner for the man to put the gun down before he gets hurt! The crazed man pointed the shotgun in the direction of Rye and his friends. He blasted both barrels in their direction hitting nothing but the wall. Rye pulled his pistol and sent a bullet slamming into the chest of the crazed man. "Dumb idiot", said Rye, "you never let off both barrels!!! He had nothing left , the damn fool". They picked up the man and dragged him outside. Rye yelled for someone to get Doc or Sheriff Tyrel!


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Too many things are going on.

Too many changes, too fast.

He closed his eyes, bowed his head, planted his elbows on his kitchen table top on either side of the opened Scripture, lowered his forehead onto interlaced fingers.

It used to change like this -- fast, unplanned, chaotic -- and men got killed.

He looked up, stared hollow eyed across the room, tasting copper, hearing cannon, feeling the fight swirling around him like a flooded stream.

He blinked and the sounds were gone, the silence rushing in to replace them almost crushing him.

All I wanted was a nice quiet parish where nothing ever happened.

Marry happy couples, bury the dead, preach a sermon on Sunday and try not to cause trouble in between.

That's all I wanted.

"Maybe you're still needed," the voice said.

He shook his head, staring sightlessly at the printed page before him.

"I'm not needed," he whispered. "I couldn't keep my men from being killed."

"Can you go back and change that?" 

He shook his head.

"No," he admitted.  "No, I can't."

"You haven't killed yourself."


"You've known men who did."

He nodded miserably, remembering what it was to sit with a comrade from that damned war, to sit and drink coffee and listen to him pour out his grief and his misery and to absolutely dump a wagon load of personal guilt from having survived combat and battle and finally, finally he'd shaken hands with the man and they went their separate ways, and a week later he'd been told his old war buddy hanged himself.

"I couldn't help him," he whispered miserably.

"Did you try?"

He nodded.

"Turn the page."

The voice was no more than a whisper, but a whisper can be more compelling that a shout:  he lowered one hand, turned one page, straightened.


He opened his eyes.

He read.

He read again.

He stared, his mouth fell open, he blinked, he re-read the words.

" 'For I know the plans I have for you,' " he said aloud, slowly, wonderingly.

"You are far from worthless," the voice whispered.  "Your work is not yet done.  You are doing the Master's bidding."

He leaned back, touched the page, saw his fingers were trembling a little.

"Work to be done," he said in a quiet voice.

"You'd better pull on your boots," he heard, and he looked down at his sock feet and laughed quietly.

"Yep," he agreed.  "I'd look silly without, wouldn't I?"

He stood, straightened, rolled down his shirt sleeves, fast up the cuffs:  he swiped off the soles of his feet before thrusting into his burnished boots, shrugged into his coat, reached for his hat.

There was work to be done.

He drew his Smith & Wesson, opened it, looked at the shining primers looking back at him:  he eased the action closed, holstered, drew his coat over it.

He was needed.

He didn't know where, nor why, but he was going to go find out, and he smiled a little, for his stomach reminded him he may want to look about a little something to eat while he was in the business.

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Doc Ward stood outside Miss Whiskey's place, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. Looking at Rye, he asked, "He said Sheriff Cody killed his sons? Did he say what his name was?" Rye slowly shook his head, "No, and after he unloaded both barrels, I wasn't inclined to ask while he reloaded." Doc nodded his understanding. "Anything with his name in his pockets? I'd at least like to know who we're burying." At this query the undertaker piped up. "Just a couple of dollars and more shotgun shells." Again Doc nodded. "Any reason to believe he's part of this new group with Zeb Gardner? He's down at the jail right now talking to the sheriff. Any of their group inside?" At this question, Miss Whiskey, who had been standing nearby, commented "Not tonight, and I don't think so Doc. He ain't as well dressed as that group, and they seem to have plenty of money. Also, I noticed since you sh.. had the run in with that man down by the jail, they always come by in groups of twos, at least. He was alone." Doc nodded his agreement and shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I'll see if the sheriff has any ideas. Hopefully he'll be done talking to Gardner soon.


At that moment, Gardner was feeling frustrated, sensing the sheriff was smarter than he had been told, and suspected more than he let on. He had come into the jail with a couple of demands in mind, although he had called them "requests." As the sheriff stood behind his desk, Mr. Gardner took the seat offered to him, Alice Slye in her typically risqué clothing seating herself first. Once she was seated, the sheriff sat himself back down. "Sheriff, I have a couple of requests of you." Nodding, Cody asked pleasantly "And what might those be?" Gardner, looking very seriously, said "I believe it would be appropriate to fire your deputy and charge him with murder." Sheriff Cody paused for a moment, then leaned back in his seat, his elbows on the arms of the chair, fingers interlocked in front of him.


"Not simply fire him, but charge him with murder? Why would I do that?" Mr. Gardner, feigned a look of awkwardness before responding, "Well, now, face it, he does appear to be somewhat of a loose cannon." Gesturing to his own face that still had some swelling and bruising, more from having the tooth pulled than the actual blow with the shotgun butt. "According to the undertaker, he shot Bob Monk in cold blood." Now Cody was genuinely surprised. "The undertaker said that?" Gardner hesitated a moment before continuing. "Uhmmm.... Well, not exactly. He did say Bob's pistol was still in the holster. So what else could it have been? We're just cattlemen," Gardner lied, "but Bob was known among our small group as being... Handy... Handy with a gun." At this, the sheriff asked "Was he known to be a liar or to exaggerate things as well?" Mr. Gardner stiffened. "Most certainly not." Cody responded, "So, when he asked Doc if he was scared, and then told him that he was going to kill him, Doc was smart in taking him at his word, wouldn't you agree?" Gardner shifted in his seat, unaware of the information before now. Cody continued. "I wouldn't expect any man, much less a deputy working for me, who had previously been threatened by someone, was being confronted and told by that person he was going to kill him, and had the means on his hip, to wait for that man to make good on his word before responding. Would you?"


Gardner sat quietly for a moment, when Alice Slye leaned forward, placing a lace-gloved hand on the edge of the desk and, smiling a smile that was a little cold for its effort, chimed in, "Sheriff, Bob was well liked. Men at the ranch aren't happy about what they see as him being murdered. I don't want it to get ugly for you." If Alice was thinking the Sheriff would be any more likely to agree with her due to her womanly charms, she was mistaken. With a frown and a cold gaze, Cody responded "It will be entirely up to Mr. Gardner, and you, if you are giving orders over there, to keep under control. I will not be threatened, and I certainly won't fire my deputy so he can be tossed to wolves." Alice, quickly shaking off the surprise of the Sheriff's answer, replied, "Oh, no, sheriff, that isn't what I meant at all. We're just worried about keeping the peace, and everyone being safe." Cody smiled a smile that let her know he took the comment with more than just a grain of salt. "Then we're on the same page. I know Doc doesn't want to hurt anyone," Cody paused, looking at Gardner's jaw and smiling, "much less kill them. I'm confident, though, that he will not be pushed. I think you both understand that he has my full faith to do the job as he sees fit."


Cody leaned forward, his voice lowered, less in a threatening manner and more informational. "I believe Doc has a couple of graveyards behind him. It seems to me, he has gone out of his way to find a way to not add to them. Unfortunately, he was the best man for the job when I got beat within an inch of my own life, and I had to talk him into taking the job, at that. Now it seems we have enough trouble to warrant me keeping him on. I'm glad to have him, quite frankly." At this point, Cody's voice took on more of a lecturing tone. "I'm convinced his actions at the dance saved lives." When Gardner started to protest, " Cody held up a hand, "Either some good townspeople were going to be shot by your crew of 'cattlemen,'" Cody added sarcastic emphasis to the word, "or you, and maybe a few of your men, were going to be lynched at some point. This is a peaceful town, with peaceful people who just want to be left alone. Like many another though, they have a strong sense of what is right and wrong, will fight if pushed, make no mistake."


Gardner stood, and Alice Slye and the sheriff stood as well. "I have friends in the legislature who may feel the need to inquire further." Gardner threatened. "Your deputy, you, and the people of this town." Cody took a deep breath, counting to control his temper. Finally, after a long pause, he replied, "So do I, Mr. Gardner, as well as other places. Let your friends inquire. I welcome it. There may be plenty for them to inquire about before too long. Seems with arson, assaults and beatings, we've had an increase in crime since you and your group have moved into the area. Right now, I'm only able to say it is a coincidence. Who knows what a full blown investigation might reveal." Gardner's face got hard and he turned on his heel. "Good evening, sheriff," he said stiffly. As he approached the door, Doc Ward was just walking in. Gardner shoved his way by, even as Doc was tipping his hat and saying "Ma'am," to Alice Slye, who offered a cold glare in return as she brushed past.


Closing the door, Doc Ward looked at the sheriff. "What did they want." Cody shrugged. "For me to fire you." Doc grinned and let his hand hover over his badge. "Are you going to?" Cody's answer was succinct. "Nope." Doc sighed. "Well, damn." As he sat down, Doc looked over at the Sheriff and asked, "Say, did you ever kill any brothers?" Cody, completely confused, paused before replying, "Not that I am aware of, why?" With that, Doc explained about the man that Rye had shot. "Part of the Gardner bunch?" Doc shook his head. "My first thought, but nobody seems to think so." Cody shook his head again, "That is troublesome. Troublesome, indeed. Why can't things just stay quiet? This is a good community, with good people. I'd hate to see that change."

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In Denver I looked up Mr. Farley at the Thiel Detective Agency.  He had a large fancy office, well outfitted with English furniture and heavy drapes.  On one wall he had a collection of firearms taken from some of the men his agency had apprehended.  He smiled as he saw me looking "All those guns were taken from outlaws in a 12 month period.  There are 87 if you prefer not to count."  I suppose I should have been duly impressed, but I was not.  "How many men were in your employment during that year?" I asked.  He seemed surprised by the question and stuttered "Fourteen, no fifteen deputies worked for us that year.  Of course there are that many more in administrative positions."


I chuckled softly.  "So you have 15, fire eating, man hunting, deputies at your disposal.  What would you like from me?"


He forced a smile "Is it true that during the Civil War, you served for a time as a sniper?"


I pushed back my chair and stood "If you want to talk about my war record,  you have wasted your money."  He quickly stood up and I watched his eyes get big as my colt jumped out and threatened to bite.


"I mean no disrespect, but it has to do with a man you may have served with, all I want is information."  He carefully opened his jacket and dropped an envelope full of money on the table.

"All I want is some information, $5,000.00 pay for a few more minutes of your time."


I looked at the money, I didn't need it, but I was curious.  "You ask all of your questions and I'll listen, then I'll decide whether or not I want to do business with you."


Farley seemed to relax "Okay, so I want to know if you served as a sniper, if you trained a sniper, if he was indeed the man that shot General John Sedgewick, if you can confirm the type rifle and bullet used, and lastly if you know the man's location.  Answer the questions and the money is yours."


I looked at him. "I'm not inclined to do business with you, Mr. Farley, about the only thing that might change my mind would be the answer to my questions.  Who wants to know, what is the reason for dredging this up now, and what is to be gained by this inquiry."


Farley looked nervous as he responded.  "Our client's identity is not subject to discussion, nor are their reasons."


"Well Mr. Farley, it looks like I have made a long trip for no good reason.  perhaps I do have something of value for you.  I know for a fact that Ben Powell was not the shooter, nor was either Thorn Yancy or Thomas Burgess."


Farley peeled $500.00 off his pile of bills. and handed it to me. "You will sign an affidavit to that effect?"  I took the money and pocketed it as I nodded.  He called for his assistant and we discussed the wording of the affidavit. and finally she went in the other room to prepare it.


Farley looked at me "Burgess and Powell were our two primary candidates,  Who was this Thorn Yancy fellow?"


"I guess it won't hurt any to tell you.  He was the sniper they killed later that day."  Farley nodded. "First time his name has ever been mentioned. Were you there that day?"


I looked at him "You already know the answer to that, you already know the answer to all your questions, I imagine. Once I sign that affidavit, I'll be leaving.  Should you wish to find me I'll be in Stone Creek and a word of advice . . . you come to see me in Stone Creek, you better bring more than 15 men and you best have all your affairs in order."


He looked a little pale as his secretary walked in with the affidavit.  I took the pen in my left hand and scribbled my name, then I eased out the door never turning my back. 

"Good day Mr. Farley"


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Doc noticed a horse lingering around his stable, he was saddled but not tied up. He went up to the horse and checked the saddlebags, there was release papers from Yuma prison with the name Gordon "Bull" Riddle on it. Doc had no idea who's horse it was but guessed it might have belonged to the man Rye gunned down in the saloon. Bull Riddle didn't sound familiar to him at all. He checked with Mayor Dawg and the mayor said." Bull Riddle's two sons were shot by the previous sheriff, Cole Alan, who left the town just before Sheriff Tyrel took over. It was also before I became mayor but I'd heard the story from some of the townsfolk. Bull was in prison for armed robbery. He did 6 years and heard his sons were shot by Sheriff Alan in a bank holdup. Bull had no idea Sheriff Alan left town and had taken a job as a Wells Fargo detective. He was drunk and determined to find revenge for his sons being killed. I've gotta tell Rye who this maniac was" said the Mayor.


The Mayor went down to the saloon where Rye was hanging out talking to the piano player. He explained to Rye who the crazed shotgun wielding lunatic was and who he was after. "I know Cole Alan, he was a sheriff in Sandstone which is where I found the Steinway piano. I knew Cole from a few years ago before he became sheriff here. We were on a cattle drive together. I forgot all about that whole Bull Riddle incident. I heard about it when I first got here to Stone Creek" said Rye. He poured a drink for the the Mayor and told him about his leaving to join the Arizona Rangers. The Mayor agreed that it was a good opportunity for Rye. He had been kicking around pushing cattle and playing piano and doing a couple temporary deputy gigs here and there. This Ranger job sounded like some stability which was scarce in the west. If you landed a job you hung onto it. "Good for you Rye, I hope you'll come back from time to time if you can, don't you be forgettin' about us now" said the Mayor. Rye said, " Mayor, I've made some good friends here that I won't forget and I'll be back when I can. I still have a few loose ends to tie up before I leave so you''ll have to put up with me for a couple weeks yet". The Mayor smiled and held up his glass and said, "I'll drink to that".

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Lorelei knew Mary was working part-time at the livery stable, so she got up early so she could stop by to see Calico before the children arrived for school.  Mary was working hard cleaning and mucking stalls when she got there, but was willing to take a minute to talk with her.


"Mary, I'm real worried about all the bad things happening lately so I really would like you to help me pick out a suitable rifle and six gun today, if possible and start teaching me how to use both."  Calico agreed and they planned to get together right after school to meet and go purchase the guns.  


Lorelei had cut up several pieces of the paper that she only rarely used and gave them to Mary, who she knew was a fairly accomplished artist in addition to all her other talents.  She told Mary to draw pictures of all the farm animals, wild animals, birds, and farm implements on each side of the pieces leaving room at the bottom of each.  She planned to use these to begin teaching Mary to read before getting started with the copy of McGuffey's First Eclectic Reader that she had back at the school house. 

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I left Denver and headed home, not to Stone Creek, but to the little glen by the lake in the middle of nowhere, where my adoptive parents were buried.  I thought about the old man that gave me my start and helped me get to England and get an education.


When I arrived, a new home sat on the site. and a new family was living there.  I watered my horse and explained that my folks were buried and after I visited their graves I would be on my way.  the man of the house shouted for his son. "Jericho, get this man a drink of fresh water and show him to the cemetery, while I tell your ma to set an extra place for dinner."  I tried to decline, but he was having none of it, so I followed the boy to the cemetery and found the graves fenced off and neatly groomed with stone markers that I had never seen before, but which listed dates of birth and death.  I ran my fingers across the stone and pressed my hands against the grass a moment, trying to connect and remember more, but it was long ago and much had transpired.


"Thank you. Jericho. Looks like we should wash up for dinner."

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Calamity waited for Clara to finish closing up the cafe and they left together, deciding it was best the two women stay close to each other until they were sure everything was clear.  Clara's ranch was on the way out of town and Calamity's was not much further.  Calamity stayed on her mount and waited for Clara to open the door and was inside before continuing on to her place.  It was quiet the further she rode out of town, almost eerily so.   The normal evening animal sounds, like the coyote's crying or owl hooting were almost non-existent.   I wonder why, she thought.  When she reached her barn, she put up her horse Barron as quickly as she could and headed inside.  There she made sure her pistols and shotgun were where she could easily reach them, just in case.  She decided she would try to talk with Reverend Keller in the morning. She sat in her chair and drifted off to a fitful sleep.

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Doc Ward had been up early, having difficulty sleeping yet again. After coffee and breakfast, Doc walked to the livery stable, taking his time to check the stalls, and spending a minute or two with each horse, checking to see if hooves were being picked, and looking for signs of problems. It was also relaxing for him just to spend some time with the horses. When he got to the last stall, he stood inside, looking at the older but still fit horse that approached him like a pet. First Doc rubbed the horse's muzzle, then began currying him, working his way down his neck and his left side, pausing occasionally to look him over. As Doc worked, he talked conversationally to the tall, almost black gelding. "I know boy, I miss her too." Working his way around the horse and back up his right side, Doc reached under his neck and patted the other side. "She loved you. Almost as much as she loved me I think." Then with a chuckle, Doc patted the horse again and added, "Hell, maybe more."


Putting a halter on the big horse, Doc hooked a longe line to it, and walked the horse out of the stall, then out to the pen next to the stable. As he let the line out, he signaled and the horse started slowly trotting in a circle. After a few minutes, the horse picked up his pace a little and extended his trot, then broke into a canter. After a few minutes more, Doc slowed the horse to a walk then a stop, then turned him and repeated the process. All told, Doc spent about 20 minutes exercising the horse before taking him back into the barn.


Once Calico Mary arrived to begin her work, Doc asked her how everything was. She shook her head and said "Things were kind of weird last night. I usually fall asleep to the sounds of the wild animals off in the distance. Last night, I didn't hear nary a one." Doc paused and thought. "Peculiar," Doc said with a nod. "Right peculiar. I might have to take a ride off in that direction and see what I see." Mary shifted a little uncomfortably and avoiding eye contact said, "Oh, I don't think you need to do that." After a pause she looked up and saw the curious look on Doc's face, then said quickly "That twister we had out that way made things a mess. I'd hate for you or one of your horses to get hurt in that mess." Doc nodded, and said "Probably nothing, anyway," and changed the conversation to the good job Mary was doing at the stable. After a few minutes, he told Mary he needed to get to the Sheriff's Office.


Walking into the office later, Doc looked at the sheriff and asked "Have you noticed Calico Mary acting peculiar?" Sheriff Cody shot Doc a strange look and responded, "More so than normal?" Unable to not laugh at the comment, Doc nodded. "Yeah, more so than normal." Doc proceeded to explain the conversation he'd had with Mary, and the Sheriff nodded. "Yeah, that's not like her at all. Maybe one of us does need to take a ride over that way."

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Doc Ward gave the preacher a skeptical look.

"You're still this side of the sod."

Preacher Keller raised a curious eyebrow.

"I thought you might have run into that fellow that run face first into the side of the Saloon."

Doc Ward was a good judge of men and when the Parson hesitated, and considered, he knew there was something that hadn't come to the law's attention, but was about to.

"We settled it," the preacher said simply.

"I see."

Silence grew long between them.

"Where'd it settle?"

Half the preacher's mouth smiled.

"A ways from here," he said slowly.  "Far enough it's not your jurisdiction."

Doc Ward looked closely at the sky pilot.  

"Preacher, is there somethin' I need to know?"

"Yes."  The sky pilot turned to face the lawman squarely.  "He's in prison."

"Come again?"

"He had a warrant out against him and I kind of steered the right people his way.  He left in irons."

"For how long?"
"I don't reckon he'll be out in less than twenty years."

Doc Ward maintained a carefully neutral face, but his mind was busy sorting things out:  like any badge packer, he looked first for patterns, then for things that didn't fit the pattern, and this normally well-spoken and educated man was suddenly expressing himself in a less educated manner:  it was not uncommon to hear a man saying that he don't reckon this-or-that, but it was the first time he recalled the preacher say it.

Doc looked up at the sound of slow hoof-falls.

"Preacher," a little boy said, "here's that horse you wanted."

"Thank you, son."  The Preacher winked at Doc, turned, took the reins, rubbed the horse's nose.

"My sister likes him real well, Preacher.  She said he rides really nice."
The preacher took a long breath, checked the girth.

"Well, now, let's try this," he said, thrusting his well polished boot into the stirrup.

Doc stared in utter amazement how this gentle, girl's-favorite-mount, slung the sky pilot into the cloudless sky.

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Rye said goodbye to all the townsfolk that were gathered in the saloon. He bought everyone a round of drinks. He played, "Red River Valley" on the piano, a song that was one of his favorites. Everyone clapped, even though he made a couple little mistakes! As he walked out the door he said to everyone, "I'll be back".

Rye and his buddies mounted up for the long ride to Yuma where there was trouble with some cattle rustling. He was also going to be sworn in as an Arizona Ranger when he got there. "I'm sure gonna miss that town, there's some nice people there" he said. There's some nice little pieces of land that are good for homesteading if'n I ever decide to settle down". He looked back sadly at the disappearing image of the town as they rode on.

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Preacher Keller raised his dripping face from the wash basin.

He looked at the wet reflection and shook his head sadly.

"I don't mind it when a horse throws me," he said to the reflection.  "I've been thrown any number of times."

He reached over and picked up his shaving mug, added a little water and spun up some lather.

He applied the fresh shaving cream to his wet stubble, twisting his mouth to the side as he did.

"I refuse to admit I saw stars."

He nodded in satisfaction at the coverage, at the white foamy beard he'd just applied to himself, then he picked up the freshly stropped straight razor, looked back into the mirror and stopped.

"I'm goin' to miss Rye."
He frowned, then laughed.

"The man's more of a gentleman than folks realize.  When I was flat on my back in the dirt and Doc was doing his best not to laugh at me, Rye came over and offered me a hand up and he didn't more than smile ever so slightly."

He set the straight razor down, leaned the heels of his hands on the table, regarded his reflection as if he was studying a friend's face.

"I didn't see any stars, but I'll admit to three planets and a stray comet."

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War will drive men to insanity and beyond.

War will poison good men and I was poisoned.

I'd known that insanity.

I still had some and I rubbed it and cherished it and I swung it like a whip to flog myself in punishment for what I'd not done, mostly.

I'd not been able to keep Collins from hangin' a woman and I damned myself daily for that.

He'd accused her of having shot at his men.

She hadn't.

A galloper came up yelling that another was confessed to the crime.

I stood beside Collins and he reached forward to shove the woman off the barrel:  it would be a short drop, less than a foot, and she would strangle, the common means of execution: we had neither materials nor time to build a proper gallows and ensure an English drop, and he hadn't tied a hangman's knot, the kind that smacked the condemned behind the ear and helped break the neck:  no, this was just a short step off so everyone could see her do the Hanged Man's Dance, and dance she did.

Collins was my superior officer and I should have slashed the rope and kept her from dying, but Collins turned and glared at me and I told myself her death was on his hands.

I testified against him later, when an inquiry was held, but it was war and people die in wartime and nothing ever came of it, for by then the war was over and he was long gone.

Collins found out about the inquest, and my testimony, and bragged that he was going to make my life miserable.

I seriously considered assassinating the man, but war's end was declared the day after he hanged that innocent woman, and his thoughts of retaliation were lost in whiskey and cigars and a general celebration.

I dug the woman's grave myself, I used my pocket-compass to line the grave up very precisely east-west, and I laid her in a bedsheet shroud with her feet pointing toward the sunrise so when the Almighty came back to earth, she could set up and face Him coming with the rising sun.

Collins came by, staggering, his tunic unkempt, loaded to the gills, sneering:  "You're an officer, man!  Let the enlisted do that!"

He was so drunk he never remembered it was me that swung the shovel and caught him in the side of the head, and he never remembered that I stood over him and told him the next time I saw him I would do the same again, and every time I saw him after that, in memory of his murdering that woman.


Miz Calamity came into the church and I met her there, and Miz Loreli was with her, and glad I was I'd whittled off my stubble:  I looked at the two of them and swallowed hard, for the memory of that dignified woman, that wife and mother Collins murdered, was raw upon my soul when I looked the two of them, beautiful and capable and very much alive.

"I can't let you go without on my account," Miz Calamity said abruptly, shoving the wallet back at me.  "It's not right.  My shop is rebuilt.  I'll be okay."

She turned quickly, turned to leave, and I said, "Miz Calamity."

My voice was soft, not commanding, but she froze like she'd run into an ice-wall.

Miz Loreli gave me that wise, knowing look of hers, but said not a word:  her eyes shifted to Miz Calamity, then back to the wallet, then up to me, then back to Miz Calamity.

"Ma'am, if you'd take this, it would be a blessing on me."  I swallowed hard at the lump in my neck and took a breath and plunged ahead.

"I want for nothing. I could lie to you and say this sprouted up on a vine and I picked it like a ripe apple, but ..."
I kind of ground to a stop, like a wagon with no wheels.

I held it out.

She reached slowly for it, her hand closed around the leather wallet, and I could see the gears turning behind those pretty eyes as she added up how much stock she could purchase, then she raised her head and her spine stiffened and she said "No, Preacher.  I won't see you go without" -- she let go of the wallet as if it were hot, and she raised her chin and swept out, and Miz Loreli gave me a sympathetic look before she followed.

I waited until they were gone, then I tucked the wallet back in my coat and paced slowly to the front of the church.

I knelt, leaned my forehead on the altar rail.

"Lord, I tried," I whispered.  "I failed, but I tried."

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Doc Ward was just walking up to the church as Calamity and Lorelei were coming out. Doc held the door and stepped aside for them. Both ladies looked a little surprised as Doc tipped his hat, smiled and nodded, his voice friendly, "Good afternoon, ladies." The two replied, almost in unison "Uhmmm... Hi, Doc." As they hurried on their way, Doc laughed and shook his head. He liked both Calamity and Lorelei, and knew them not to be gossips, but their reaction amused him. Talking to himself as he sometimes did, Doc said aloud, "I wonder if their reaction was because they were shocked to see me going into a church or because they didn't want to be hit by lightning when I did."


Doc held the sturdy door, admiring the quality of the workmanship that went into building it, along with the whole building. Stepping in, Doc saw Pastor Keller in prayer at the alter. Quietly closing the door, he stood quietly in the back, removing his hat out of respect. After several minutes had passed, Keller lifted his head and pushed himself up. Turning, Doc could see the mild surprise on his face and it almost looked as if Keller had been crying. Doc sensed from the look on the pastor's face that he was there right after a very personal moment.


Keller started to speak, then cleared his throat. "Hi Doc, I'm sorry, I didn't hear you come in." Trying to lighten the mood, he added, "You're a couple of days early for services." Doc smiled and asked "Is everything OK? I saw Calamity and Lorelei on the way out." Keller nodded, and heaving a sigh, said "Yes, it is, thanks for asking." The tone of his voice let Doc know he didn't want to talk further about it, and Doc decided he and the preacher had grown close enough recently that if he wanted to talk, he would. Keller continued, "So, what is it I can do for you? Baptism? We do those down by the river on Sundays. Confession? I don't really do those, but I can probably fake it..." Shaking his head as he laughed, Doc lifted a hand. "I was baptized long ago, so I'll pass. If I got started confessing, We'd have to break for dinner and again for breakfast. No, I'm here with a question and a couple of favors to ask of you."


The pastor cocked his head in curiosity and replied "What favors? I'll help if I can." Doc looked down at his hat for a moment, then looking up asked, "Has Calico Mary been acting..." Doc started to say 'peculiar,' but caught himself... "Different than usual?" When the negative reply came, Doc proceeded to explain the discussion he had with her. "It seemed she was almost panicked at the thought of me coming out to her place to look around, and I have no idea why." The preacher agreed, "That is odd for Mary. She is gracious, certainly. No, I can't explain that, at all." Doc nodded, pondering it. Looking up at Keller, Doc asked "Given the Gardner group wanting to run cattle on a place better suited for timbering and maybe some sheep, you're... warning... against the lust for gold, and Mary's reaction... It wouldn't be possible that those rumors of gold in the area are true would it?" Keller gave Doc a long look, thinking how to respond. He knew Doc for a stable, level-headed man, but the lust for gold had ruined many others like him. It wasn't in Keller to lie to him though. "Doc, promise me you won't go off searching for it, but yes, I believe there is gold in this area. I stumbled on a bit in the stream that runs back up on Mary and her brother's place while fishing, and it didn't look like it had traveled very far. I'd say there is some. How much, I don't know."


Doc's response caught Keller off guard as he muttered a heartfelt "Damnit!" Looking up, he quickly added, "My apologies. The last thing I want is a gold strike here. This is a quiet town, with good people. They generally respect me and leave me alone, and we don't have trouble. Or didn't." Doc shook his head sadly. With a sigh, he responded, "Well, it is what it is. Yes, you have my word, I won't be hunting it. At any rate, if there is any, by rights it sounds like it belongs to Mary. I'm pretty sure Flint did his best to see she and her brother have proper title to that place. It might also explain why Gardner was so interested in speaking to her. We might need to arrange to have a couple of people going over to her place regularly, whether she likes it or not, and maybe you could have a word with her. Let me talk to Sheriff Cody about it. I don't think he is any hungrier for gold than I am."


Keller nodded his agreement, then asked, "You said you had two favors?" Doc nodded then asked if the pastor would head to the livery stable with him. Taking up his hat, Keller followed Doc out where there was a surrey waiting, and they climbed in. Doc drove the carriage through town, appearing much in thought, before stopping at the livery stable and stepping down. Leading the pastor through the stable, they walked to the pen outside There stood the older, tall, dark horse that Keller had watched Doc work with out in the pen next to the stable. While Doc Ward took care of all the animals, he seemed to take far better care of the big gelding than any others. A second horse, a much older and smaller paint, stood in the pen as well. Keller's confusion was apparent. "I want to see how the big horse responds to you. I don't want or expect you to ride him, just handle him." Walking up to the horse, Doc reached a hand out and the big horse thrust his nuzzle forward, and Doc rubbed it. The men spent the next fifteen minutes handling the horse, and Keller taking in Doc's explanation on how to curry, check hooves and the like, much of which Keller knew, despite not riding himself. Next, Doc explained how to exercise him, making kissing sounds and clicking sounds to get him to go into different gaits as he circled on the longe line. Letting Keller try, Doc stood nodding in satisfaction at how well he picked it up.


When they were done, Keller asked "Why are you showing me all this?" Doc looked at Keller soberly. "I've got a bad feeling with the trouble coming, and I want to make sure everything is planned for." Patting the horse on the neck, Doc continued, "This horse means more to me than pretty much anything I can call mine. He belonged to my wife, and I want to make sure he is taken care of if something happens to me. You don't need to ride him, heck I haven't, and he hasn't been since she..." Keller saw the emotion in Doc's face. "Since she last rode him. He's more of a pet at this point. At any rate, if something happens to me, please make sure he is well cared for. He likes you and responds well to you. I would appreciate it." Keller was speechless for a long moment, almost taken aback by the request. Finally, clearing his throat, the pastor replied simply, "It would be an honor."


Trying to change the subject to more comfortable terms, the pastor looked over at the paint standing quietly. "What about him?" Doc looked at the man seriously. "Well, not today, not tomorrow, maybe not next week, but one day soon, you're going to ride him." When Keller started to object, Doc cut him off. "He's old, he's dead broke, a real babysitter, and enjoys being ridden. The things we just did with him," Doc gestured toward the big horse, "You're going to do with him. Then a bit more, until you're confident enough around him, then we're... You're... going to put a saddle on him correctly, cinch it up right, bridle him, and... Just lead him. After awhile of that, we'll get you up on him. Eventually, you're going to ride him." The look on Keller's face meant he wasn't so sure.

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After Calamity and Lorelei were out of ear shot of Doc, Calamity heaved a deep sigh.  Slowing her pace she looked over at Lorelei and said "I feel better about that".  I do understand Reverend Keller wanted to help but that was way too much money.  Besides, he's such a good man and has done so much good for this town, I would rather he spend it on himself or his church.  I'm sure there are others in this town that could use some help.  Lorelei grabbed Calamity's arm as though she were going to shake her.  Calamity stopped in her tracks and turned to Lorelei with a stunned look.  Lorelei said "are you so sure"?  "Most of the town knows you work at Clara's for a meal.  Heck most folks think that's the only good meal you get".  Embarrassed, Calamity quickly turned away and said, "Whatever do you mean?  I'm doing just fine.".   Lorelei grabbed her arm again and spun her towards her "Are you so sure of that?  Get rid of that stiff German neck of yours and let folks help you.   You've done a lot to help this town....." Calamity cut her off with "Yes and the town lead by Rye rebuilt the shop for me.  I'm eternally grateful for that".  Lorelei sighed exasperated, "look.  Maybe you can look at it like a loan instead of a gift.  Pay it back when things get better with the shop.  You know you're in a bad way.  Let folks help you...."  Calamity stood still, staring at the ground unsure what to think.  "A loan.....  Really?  Well, I've already told him no so I will have to find another way."  Lorelei looked towards the heavens, sighed deeply and they continued on their way.

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Once the two ladies arrived on Main street, the town was buzzing with activity.  There were people hurrying everywhere.  Lots of chatting and whispering.  Calamity and Lorelei looked at each other rather surprised.  "What do you think is going on?" asked Lorelei.  Calamity shrugged her shoulders with a bewildered look.  "Lets head over to Whiskey's place and see what we can find out" Calamity said as she grabbed Lorelei's hand and quickly started for Whiskey's Saloon.  Once inside, the place was buzzing.  One man sitting at a table near the bar exclaimed rather loudly "I'm going to lay the first gold claim in this town and will be a wealthy man."  Lorelei and Calamity looked at each other and rolled their eyes.  "The last thing this town needs is a gold strike" Calamity stated flatly.  "Let's go see the Sheriff and find out what he knows.  There could be more trouble brewing here than we've ever seen."  Both ladies turned on their heels and headed back through the bat wing doors for the street.

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Lorelei worried what a gold strike if true would do to Stone Creek.  She was definitely going to get that rifle and pistol and have Mary give her shooting lessons as soon as possible.

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