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Monday, August 7, 2017

The Falling Star: Chapter 4, Part 1



Posted 08-07-17


An Angel from Hell story



by Christopher Leeson



“I would have remembered someone like you,” observed the man.  “Tourist?”

Jezebel shrugged.  “Is there anything worth touring in this town?”

He smiled again.  “There is – now that you've showed up.  By the way, I'm Robert.”

“Jill,” she said with a slight catch.

“The way you say that.  Not your real name?”

She raised her chin.  “It's real for tonight, as far as you're concerned.”

He nodded.  “I'm easy.  Back in pioneer days, so many people were coming across Nebraska under assumed names that polite folks learned not to ask them direct questions.”

“So what did polite people do?”

“They'd ask, 'What name are you traveling under?'”

Jezebel smiled.  After that it was just bar talk -- boring, but the angel hadn't come in to be entertained.  Robert, apparently, saw things differently.  He kept eying her thighs and her cleavage, albeit slyly.  Such furtiveness irked the girl, but, on the upside, being physically desirable had afforded attractive people a form of power since the Creation.  What she needed to learn swiftly was how to manipulate such a situation to her advantage. 

Jezebel could sense Robert's rising ardor as an energy flow.  It was food for her demon spirit and, after a few moments, she was feeling as though she could brawl the whole tavern crowd and win.  Finally she said, “You don't have to be so sneaky.  What woman would come into a place like this, dressed like this, and not want to be looked at?”

Robert grinned.  “I was trying to be polite.  Women usually aren't as logical as you seem to be.  It's a tragedy of life that a man can't manage to please most of them no matter how he behaves.  Are you really a different sort?”

“I'm a different sort, all right,” she agreed.  “By the way, if you get the idea that I'm here hooking, I'm going to break your arm.”

He laughed.  “I won't make that mistake.”  He glanced over to the digital jukebox.  It was playing someone's choice – a piece that sounded to Jezebel only marginally better than the screams from the pits of Hell.  Still, it had a beat and a couple was already dancing to it.

“Do you dance?” Robert asked.

The Watcher shrugged.  “I haven't tried dancing to crap like that so far, but if what those two are doing can be called dancing, it doesn't look very difficult.  Besides, I'm guessing that all you're really interested in is getting an excuse to touch me.  Relax, I'm game.”

Robert shook his head.  “You really are another kind of woman.”

“You've got that right.”

His brows knitted.  “That sound like a double entendre.  If you weren't so absolutely gorgeous, I'd be wondering.”

“About what?”

He seemed reluctant to explain and only responded, “I'd rather not say.”

“Oh, I see; it's something naughty. But maybe this the right night for being naughty.”  She reached out and took him by the wrist.  “Let's dance, if you really want to dance.”

Jezebel led the young man out into an open space, let go of him, and started mimicking the dancing woman.  Very quickly, she was extemporizing.  Robert seemed to like what he saw.  The angel had previously watched many males ogling women dancing; it excited them amazingly.  As the Nebraskan's libido was heating up, she continued to siphon off energy from his emotions.  Better still, she was getting similar attention from other onlookers.  She felt like she was binging on potent liquor.  The blonde had to restrain herself, or else go completely wild.  She heard cheering.  The crowd was getting excited just from watching her and pairs of them started to join into the dance themselves. 

Jezebel was getting impatient with Robert's gallantry and so took hold of his sleeve and pulled him nearer.  Her boldness coaxed him into the spirit of the moment and he started to cut loose.  They danced more than one number.  Human bodies, the angel was discovering, were divinely crafted to be receptive to the pleasure of new experiences.  So, why was it that the Father punished lust to harshly; he had been the one who had made it so delectable?  She had to stay wary, knowing the Father's cunning.  Everything that he said and everything that he did came with layers.  This situation that he had imposed on her was supposed to be about mercy – but if he would be merciful today, why had he refused to be so in the distant past?  Whatever her maker's plan might be, it had to be more complex than it seemed. 

Even to angels, the Father was a paradox.  For one thing, sin was like a toxin to him and one of the most despised sins he cited was pride.  Was that why she had been raped?  Was he trying to shatter her pride at a breakneck pace?  Was he trying to force her to know and see the world in the same way as his despised human creations did?  If she stubbornly refused to change her thinking, would that mean more and worse punishment would be inflicted, until she was entirely remade?  Jezebel wondered what she could do to defy him, to stand up for her independence and sense of self.  The answer was painfully apparent, but she refused to contemplate it.

The music suddenly ended and Robert led his partner back toward the bar.  “Would you like me to buy you another drink, or would you prefer to go someplace else?”

The angel struggled to banish her fog of euphoria and re-access the encounter.  His was a good face.  That lascivious twinkle in his eyes seemed to reveal all that she needed to know.

“Oh, and were would you want us to go?”

“There's a bigger and better club than this one.”

Jezebel shook her head.  “We have to stay close-in.  I have a traveling companion.  It wouldn't be right to leave her alone in a strange town.”

“Nothing ever happens in Alliance.”

She glanced over her shoulder, at nothing in particular.  “Let's hope it doesn't.”

“Would you like a lift back to your place?  Maybe your friend isn't even there.  If she's not, well, it could be cozy.”

“Do you have a place of your own?”

“I do.  That could work, too.”

“Let's get our coats,” she suggested.

A moment later, they were outside.  Jezebel realized that the wind – which must still have been irksomely cold – wasn't chilling her anymore.  It was like she had acquired an internal heating unit.

“The motel is only five or ten minutes away,” she said.  “Why don't we stroll?”

“I'm for it,” Robert replied.

Jezebel sighed.  Men hadn't changed over all these millennia.  They would say yes to anything that a female thought of, as long as they wanted her.  But the Watcher had an ulterior motive of her own; a prolonged trip would afford them time and privacy enough to carry out more experimentation.  When their path crossed into the shadow of a Dollar General, she paused.  Her companion looked back at her. 

The angel, taking her lead from what modern women did in motion pictures, stepped up and placed her left arm around behind his back.  Her right hand rested on his left arm.  “I haven't been kissed in a long time,” she said.

“I don't believe it.”

“To me, it feels like a long time.”  In fact, it had been some five thousand years.

“Well, I like helping a lady in distress.”  He lightly enfolded her slimness and nuzzled her hair.  “That's a nice scent – Aahh!”

Jezebel had touched his groin; he was well endowed and obviously excited.  It crossed her thoughts to make the most of the situation. 

Abruptly, she changed her mind and drew back.  The Watcher had belatedly realized that was slipping away from her; emotion was in control.  She suspected that her Jezebel spirit stowaway was to blame.  That thrice-cursed demon!  She didn't want to give in, not to an entity that was so inferior.  Any weakness she showed would be known.  The Father saw everything, and Shekinah would probably be watching, too, with a smirk on her face. 

“What's wrong?” Robert asked.

The angel looked up, frowning slightly.  There was no privacy under the watchful eye of Heaven.  And there was absolutely nothing that she could do to change that.  Even living in a fish bowl, she had to do the best that she could for herself.  This whole outing was about discovering her talents and limitations, and learning of them at as swift a pace as possible.  It would be self-defeating to slow-walk this, simply for the sake of mortification.  Dark energy was power, and sex was the road toward it.  Only pride was blocking her.  Jetrel had been with humans, many of them, and with animals, too.  But all her previous dalliances had been for pleasure; in this incarnation, it was a means to an end.  Jezebel steeled herself and smiled again.

“I'm just jumpy with strangers,” she said.  Without giving him time to frame a reply, the Watcher took a lock of his dark hair and twirled it around her finger.  Then, lightly but insistently, she tugged down and drew his mouth closer to hers.  

Robert closed the gap, cupping her left breast, thumb-massaging the firmed-up point of its nipple.  Jezebel gasped, startled by the poignancy of their intimacy.  Her lips, pressed against his, felt the sandpaper texture of his five o' clock shadow.  His was not the soft mouth of a woman; but Jezebel refused to be daunted.  Jetrel had previously kissed even wild boars, simply for the experience of it.  But yet, somehow, those ancient memories had suddenly become unpleasant.  Why should that be, after five thousand years?  She suspected that her sudden aversion might be rooted in the psyche of Jill Arendel's physical mind.  She was dead and gone, but her mindset was still stored in the chest of drawers that Jezebel was tapping.

One of her companion's hands migrated to the small of her back; the other pressed her firm buttocks.  “If we don't get to someplace comfortable tonight, I'm going to go crazy,” he whispered.

Jezebel looked inside herself.  Whereas Jill did not seem to like her thoughts about wild boars, this thing with Robert was the type of liaisons that seemed to thrill her.  But the angel yet felt awkward. 

For one thing, the ambiance of the female role was so unfamiliar.

Jetrel had always been masterful and dominant while romancing the daughters of men.  Jezebel still thought along those lines.  But would aggression offend a male partner?  Fallen angels had brazenly taken what they wanted and that every woman might not have liked it had been of minor importance.  But for the first time she had to take into consideration the likings and reactions of a human.  Male performance depended on his willingness to join in a carnal encounter.  If Robert rejected her style, should she accept his reluctance?  Should she overpower him?  A mistake made now could cut off the energy flow that she didn't want to lose.  Or should she try to bring him along by falling in with his feelings?  Jezebel felt frustrated.  Had she sunk so low already that she needed to care about what a mere human being preferred?

The Watcher stepped back, out of his embrace.  “This is happening too quickly,” she declared ingenuously.  “Let's see if my girl friend's all right before we make plans.”

The man sighed.  Jezebel guessed that he was reacting in the same manner with her as he must have done with many another woman.  In other circumstances, she would have struck him for being condescending, but with her time constraints, she had to play the hand that she had been dealt.  When the Watcher started off toward the motel again, Robert stepped lively to stay next to her.  Neither made chit-chat.  Jezebel had imponderables to consider, and  Robert was probably thinking about ways to ingratiate himself to yet another woman, maddening in her capacity to send out mixed signals. 

At the motel room door, Jezebel searched her purse, took out her key, and pushed it into the lock.

At the sight within, the Watcher drew up.  Things were in disarray.  One lamp was still lit.  The other was dark and on the floor, next to the tipped-over night stand from which the Bible had also fallen.

#

It didn't look like it had been much of a fight – and against Pelosia Wittke, it could not have been. 

“What do you suppose happened?” Robert asked. 

Jebezel turned.  “I don't know, but I have to find her.”

“Maybe we can ask the front desk, like if they saw anything.”

That wasn't as dumb as it sounded.  But pity any night clerk who was confronted by a squad of Cabalist thugs that had come in wanting information.  The Watcher had to overtake them before they got away, and when she did, violence would be the only means to a resolution.  She abruptly wheeled toward her companion.

“Robert,” she said, touching his cheek, her blue eyes bright in the lamplight.  “You will forget that we ever met.  You never saw me.  Go back to --”  Jezebel paused.  Where?  To the saloon?  What if the Cabalists were over there, seeking her?  They would surely have forced Holly to tell them who's luggage was on the other bed.  No doubt, the Cabalists would see a companion as a loose end that needed to be snipped off.  Though there had been no one suspicious at the Sandhillers before, they may have just narrowly missed each other.  The Watcher needed to go back, take them alive, and then beat Holly's location out of them.  

Finally, Jezebel told Robert, “Head back home.  If you need your car, get it, but don't enter the saloon.” 

Why had she added that?  Was it just to avoid making him a casualty, and thereby earn a point or two in Heaven?

“Now, be on your way!” she commanded.

Like a sleepwalker, the man turned and, after a moment's hesitation, started toward the lounge parking lot.

Jezebel hurried into the motel office and found it deserted, except for the youth slumped behind the desk.  He had a fresh red bruise on the side of his face, but was breathing.  His survival suggested that he hadn't resisted.  Cabalist hirelings were a mixed bag, but they were usually brutes or sadists. 

With her warrior instincts kicking in, the Watcher was once more a Heavenly soldier.  She went to the exit, took off her stilettos, and then continued outside. 

Robert was still making his way at a somnolent pace, but the Watcher passed him by in seconds, covering the five minute walking distance in less than one.  She barely paused by her Toyota, into which she tossed her unbattleworthy foot gear, before going into the Sandhillers Saloon by way of the front door.

Jezebel looked around the barroom.  It didn't occur to her to be afraid; she was a predator avid to find her prey.  Then she saw them.

Jetrel had always possessed an eidetic memory, though it had been dulled since her confinement in a human body.  But with dark energy vibrant in her every cell, the angel's mind was working clearly and coldly.  Jezebel beheld two of the ghuls from the Dodge.  She had a grudge to settle with the Syrian wesen, but first had to find out what they knew.  

To the Watcher's pleasure, she was seeing more than just enemies whom she recognized.  Another of her angel talents had returned.  Angels were able to see auras, and auras could convey much information about a visible target.  When Satan and his angels had fallen, the Father had, apparently, exaggerated the ketheric component of their auras, making it outshine all the other colors.  A violet aura was a sure sign of their evil allegiance, which was useful for Heavenly angels to know.  This violet aura was to be seen, too, in those who were only Nephilim, though the glow was not so strong. 

The two ghuls were still surveying the crowd like luckless hunters.  But both tensed at almost the same moment.  Their ghul ancestors had possessed a predator's sense of smell, and they could recognize her scent from the motel room.  One, sniffing the air, turned Jezebel's way.

The Watcher reversed direction, wanting to draw them away from prying eyes.  The wesen started after her, throwing people aside in their eagerness to overtake their quarry.  Jezebel steeled herself; having already fought them in the pasture, they wouldn't be taken by surprise this time.

Unfortunately, the Watcher still lacked a weapon, an unforced mistake that she swore never to repeat.  Wesen were hard to kill, but humans much less so.  Until Jezebel knew her capabilities better, she had to assume that she possessed a fragile physiology.  But, in her corner, was the fact that she was crackling with the energy of darkness.  She felt ready for the fight at hand, and only had to worry whether they had guns ---

Oh, oh.  They did!

TO BE CONTINUED, Chapter 4, Part 2

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Treasure of Eerie, Arizona, Chapter 1, Part 1






 Posted July 21, 2017


By Christopher Leeson and Ellie Dauber

In our prologue last month, Myron Thornton Caldwell, seventeen year old runaway and would-be stage robber, had been accidentally shot during his attempt to steal a gold shipment from Eerie, Arizona.  He had led the gang to his own neighborhood to commit the crime, which is lucky for him, because the only person in the world who cares if he lives or dies is his aunt Irene, who lives just a couple miles away.  With his life at stake, that is the place to go.  But things have changed in Eerie since the last time he has been there. . . .

*****



Chapter 1, Part 1



December 13, 1871



Irene Fanning made the whip snap over the horse's back, wincing at the thought of what the joggling must be doing to Myron's injuries.  She was forcing the buggy down Riley Canyon Road as hastily as she dared.    Though only twenty-six, it had taken all of her strength to hoist him into the carrier behind the driver's seat.  Since then, under a woolen blanket, he hadn't made a sound.  This had alarmed the widow so much that she had stopped once to check on him, to gratefully find that he was still breathing slowly.  Then she was on her way again.  If she couldn't reach Hiram Upshaw's office in time, her nephew didn't have a hope.  The doctor had been an army surgeon during the War, she knew; if anyone in Eerie could save a badly wounded boy, Upshaw could.



At that moment, the buckboard was rattling past the familiar wooden sign that was painted with the words “Eerie Arizona – Welcome, Friend.”  The first of the town's lamp-lit houses were showing up ahead.  She dreaded to think what might happen over the next few hours.  Myron was an outlaw that the law would be ready to arrest the moment that they learned he was back.



Irene Fanning slowed her buckboard when it entered the town proper.  Eerie wasn't large, and in just a minute they were halfway through it.  She pulled up behind the doctor's office.  It was supper-time, after regular hours, but Doc Upshaw lived in the rear section.   She was whispering prayers that he would be at home.



Irene drew up and braked.  She wrenched her ankle springing to earth, but didn't stop before she was pounding on the back door.  Though she was striking the panels as hard as she could, the widow didn't shout.  She didn't dare attract attention. 



“Hold on, hold on, I'm coming,” sounded a resonant but muffled voice. 



A few seconds later, the door swung open.  The man looked questioningly into the face of the young woman whom he'd met several times before.  “Mrs. Fanning?  You look a sight,” Doctor Upshaw remarked.  “What's the trouble?”



“M-My nephew.  He's been shot!”  Breathless, the farm woman had to put her shoulder against the door post for support.  Hiram helped her inside, to a chair beside the door. 



“Thorn?” he muttered.  “Shot?  Where is he?”



“In – in the buckboard.”



The doctor spied the one-horse vehicle through the window.  In the back was what looked like a body covered by a blanket.



“Don't tell anyone he's here!” Irene said.  “He broke the law.”



The words were hardly spoken before the Hiram Upshaw was outside, closing in on the buckboard.  Almost covered by a quilt was a boy's face.  He'd seen that sort of face many times before, on many young soldiers who had been brought to the infirmaries of General Joe Johnston's Confederate army.  Drawing the blanket lower, he saw the blood, so much of it that it looked like a spill of warm tar in the fading twilight.  It seemed to be a gut-shot wound, and that was always bad.  Upshaw called for the widow's assistance and together they moved the boy inside. The doctor had lost hundreds of patients in the late war, but had fought for the life of every last one of them.  He didn't know any other way to do his job.



Moving a belly-shot man, the surgeon knew, could kill him right quickly, but every second counted.  He was already guessing that the case was hopeless, but with a family member looking on in horror, he couldn't let himself think like that.



The doctor and the widow took Thorn Caldwell down a central hall that connected his living and work areas, and into a room with three infirmary beds.  As they eased him down on the sheets, the sufferer cried out, which at least informed Upshaw that the boy was not so far gone that he couldn't feel pain.  Fortunately, his blood loss inside the buckboard hadn't given evidence of a full-blown hemorrhage.  But if his bowels were leaking into his bloodstream it would poison him in a day or less. 



Hiram banished the boy's aunt to the waiting room and then lighted the whale oil lamp on the night stand by Thorn's bed.  Examination told him that the bullet was still lodged inside the youth's body, making a bad situation worse.  He wiped his hands on a towel and joined Mrs. Fanning.  “Whether I take out the shell or not, I don't think the poor boy will make it... ” he trailed off.



The surgeon felt rather than saw the widow blanching in the gloom.  “He's too young,” she said. 



Upshaw shook his head.  “In a better world than this one, he would be too young to die.  But during the war, I saw hundreds of boys like him pass from less serious wounds.”



“Lordy, lordy,” the woman moaned.



“We'll have to keep him warm and reduce the pain with laudanum, until...



Irene groaned and covered her face.



The doctor surprised himself when he blurted, “There may be one way to save his life... ”



The widow looked up hopefully.  “If you can save him, do it!”



He was immediately sorry that he had spoken.  Death was an everyday thing.  But was the cure that he was about to suggest… ethical?  He’d read through the few books he had on medical ethics: “the patient can refuse treatment” versus “the physician should do what is best for the patient” and “do no harm.”  He still wasn’t _completely_ sure what was right.  “I'm not sure you would like saving your boy’s life the way we'd have to.”



Mrs. Fanning looked excitedly into his face.  “I don't care about the cost!  You can have the cattle.  Even the farm.”



Upshaw shook his head.  “It's not the cost.  The medicine...does things that might horrify you.  I'm not sure that Thorn himself wouldn't want to die instead.” 



‘Just as Elmer O’Hanlan had refused the potion,’ the physician thought.  ‘His father had to trick the boy into taking it, but the trick backfired; the father had been transformed as well.  But… Elmer – Emma now -- _was_ still alive.  And wasn’t having one's patient survive the goal of every doctor?’



“What kind of medicine is it?”



“Indian medicine man medicine.  Magic.  Maybe magic.  Probably.”



Irene drew back.  “Magic?”  Then her eyes opened wide.  “You're thinking of doing what Shamus O'Toole did to save that O'Hanlan boy?”



Upshaw turned away.  “I should have said that better.”



Irene wheeled away, her mind reeling.  “I've heard the stories...  I've seen Patrick O'Hanlan and his... son.  People are saying all sorts of things about the potion, and how it messed up their lives.”



The doctor shrugged.  “That it surely did.  My work is science, not sorcery.  If you wish to get advice from somebody else, you ought to talk with Sheriff Talbot.  He has more experience with potion girls than I have.”



“I don't know what I should do,” Irene answered back.



“I suggest you pray.”



Hiram Upshaw returned to his patient.  From a shelf, he took a brown-glass bottle of laudanum, unstopped it, and put the open neck to the stricken boy's lips.  The cinnamon, added to subdue the drug's bitterness, wafted pungently.  After setting the vial aside, the physician used his scissors to cut away the dirty and bloody shirt that was pasted to his patient.  That done, he cleaned the wound with alcohol and stuffed the bullet hole with gauze. 



'Inoperable,' he was thinking.  Whatever Mrs. Fanning decided, under no circumstances would it be his hand that administered the bewitching draft; not while he still had so many ethical questions.  But should he do more?   Did he have the right to say no if -- _when_ -- she asked for it?  The War had driven God out of the hearts of many of his fellow doctors, but that hadn't happened to Hiram Upshaw.  He had seen miracles – many of them -- during those four awful years, and even later.  Maybe Shamus’ potion was one of those miracles.



The office had grown as silent as the tomb.  He looked into the drawing room and realized that he was alone. 



#



The coal-oil lamp he was reading hung by a black chain from the beam above Sheriff Dan Talbot.  He was deep into _Castle_ _Dangerous_ by Sir Walter Scott.  There wasn't much else for a man to do at such a quiet hour.  His deputy, Paul Grant, was due in at ten.  Paul liked the night shift; nothing ever happened during the small hours, and the younger man's only address was the jail storeroom.  Dan smiled.  Right now Paul would be over at the Eerie Saloon, where his lady love worked.



He shook his head.  That match-up was one that he had never seen coming.  He wondered how long the two of them could stay a couple.  An outlaw and a peace officer?  Miracles happened.  They really did.



Talbot glanced up when pounding hooves stopped in front of the jailhouse.  A moment later, the door flew open.  Dan swung his heels off the desk and turned in his swivel chair.  The lawman knew his excited visitor.  It was Hank Durst, a cowpuncher from Abner Slocum's ranch.



“Sheriff!” he exclaimed.



Talbot set aside the book and stood up.  “A problem, Hank?”



The cowboy's head bobbed up and down.  “Big problem.  Stage robbery!”



The sheriff gritted his teeth.  The stage often took on nuggets and dust from the assay office.  But it had been a long while since a robbery had occurred near Eerie.



“Where?”



“Riley Canyon Road, up in the gap,” replied the young man.



“Anyone hurt?” Dan asked.



“One bandit got shot.  Old lady Deeters thought it was Thorn Caldwell.”



Talbot scowled.  “Who shot him?”



“A ricochet off the strongbox, the guard said.  “The bandits let the stage go free, with Thorn just lying there on the road.  They kept the chest.  The stage men flagged me down when I ran into them.  They was going on to Phoenix to alert the authorities.”



The sheriff scowled.  He knew Thorn Caldwell – a quick-tempered kid with a chip on his shoulder, some seventeen or eighteen years of age by now.  The boy had done a lot of fist-fighting and could always be found practicing target-shooting and the quick-draw.  He was suspected in some thieving, too.  Once Dan had had to go out to the farm to reprimand the lad for reckless gun-play.  Not too long after that, Caldwell had disappeared, run away.  A neighbor had accused him of stealing one of his horses.  That had been back in January, and the boy hadn't shown his face in Eerie since.



“What are you going to do, Sheriff?” Durst asked.  “I'll join the posse if you're starting one.”



Dan took a deep breath.  “First, I'm going to send out alerts.  All the towns on the telegraph line have to be put on the lookout.  Tell, me, Hank, how many long riders were there?”



“The stage people saw four, including Thorn.  They thought they were all young pups.”



“If Caldwell was wounded, that might slow them down,” Talbot mused out loud.  Dan decided to leave organizing the posse to Paul, who could get things ready for him to lead out after a night's sleep.



“Lad, hang around until the emergency bell rings if you want to hunt bandits.  We'll start at first light.  Get yourself a little rest before then, if you can.”



“Sure enough, Sheriff,” Durst said.  The young man then hurried out into the street. 



Dan Talbot had just started putting on his guns when there was a tapping at the door.  He yelled over his shoulder, “It's not locked.”



A woman stepped in and he recognized the widow Irene Fanning, Thorn Caldwell's aunt.  This couldn't be a coincidence.



“Mrs. Fanning.  Did you hear about your nephew?”



She blinked, amazed at how swiftly terrible news could travel.  “That he's hurt?”



“That he's robbed a stage!”



“He robbed?”



Talbot frowned.  “You didn't know?”



“I know he's been shot!”



The peace officer nodded.  “A rider came in.  He said the stage was relieved of a strongbox up in Stagecoach Gap.”



She looked pained.  “He came to the farm badly wounded, about an hour ago.”



“How is he?”



“He's with the doctor.  Doc Upshaw says that he's... he's probably... lost.”



Talbot sighed.  “I'm sorry, ma'am.”



“He says that the... the potion might save him, like the O'Hanlan boy.”



Dan sent her a hard look.  “I see.”



“Dr. Upshaw told me to tell you.  What should we do?”



“Ma'am,” he said, “do you know what that potion does?  A lot of men would rather die than take it.”



Irene's anguish was writ large.  “Maybe it isn't as bad as him dying.”



The tall man shrugged.  “Are you sure?  Is he able to speak for himself?”



“He's lying like dead.  He can't talk,” Irene explained.



Dan nodded.  “I can't make that decision for another person.  I think you should talk to Judge Humphreys.  He's the one who orders up the potion for outlaws, sometimes.”



She looked despairing.  “Will he let Myron have it?”



The sheriff shook his head.  “I can't say.”



“I just --” Mrs. Fanning began, but couldn't find the words she needed.



“We've got get a move on, ma'am.  While you and the Judge talk, I need to get on the telegraph, so the robbers won't get away.”  As courteously as he could, he led the farm woman outside.



#



Judge Humphrey's lamps were lit.  Sheriff Talbot banged on the door and, when it opened, the jurist stood regarding him, looking like he was ready for news concerning some new trouble.



“Dan?” Humphreys asked.  “What's the emergency?”



Talbot let Mrs. Fanning lead the way out of the night's chill.  “The Prescott to Phoenix Stage has been robbed,” he told the Judge.



Humphreys frowned.  “My word!” he said.  “Do we know who did it?”



Dan nodded.  “It was Thorn Caldwell, along with three other kids.  Caldwell is with the doctor now.  Wounded.”



“Thornton Caldwell?” the Judge muttered.  Only now did it dawn on him why Dan had brought along the woman, one whom he knew from church.  “Your nephew?”



“Yes, sir,” she said.  “He's dying.”



Humphreys rubbed his thin hair.  “I regret to hear that.”



“Your Honor,” said the lawman, “she's got something to consult with you about.  I'll abide with your decision, whatever it is.  But, right now, I have to send out the warning that there are thieves on the road.  If you're going over to the saloon, let Paul know that he has to form up a posse.”



“The saloon?” the Judge repeated. 



“Mrs. Fanning will explain.”  Talbot tipped his hat and withdrew.



Parnassus C. Humphreys shifted his attention to Irene Fanning.  “How can I be of assistance, my dear?”



She hurriedly explained.



The Judge pursed his lips thoughtfully.  “If that's what you want, it might be the judgment of fate.  If a boy with Thorn's record for trouble-making was ever found guilty for stage robbery in my court, I'd be sorely tempted to give him the potion, even if it were only a first offense.  It may be that justice is about to be served, with no trial required.”



“Thank you, Your Honor, I think,” Thorn's aunt replied bemusedly.  “But one thing... ”  She hesitated.



“Yes?”



“I'm not sure giving him the potion is the Christian thing to do.”



Humphreys' brow wrinkled.  “I'm not sure either.  Mostly, I've let it happen because I don't like hanging an outlaw.”



Irene shook her head.  “Myron tried to grow up too quickly, I'm afraid, and grew up angry.  But if he takes the potion and changes, it's important that no one knows about it.”



The Judge nodded.   “I dare say that being humiliated would make him even angrier.  I assure you, Madame, no one will find out such a thing from me.  But if you really want to do this, we have to hurry over and see Shamus.  He's the only one who can prepare the potion.”



#



There were few lights along the benighted street.  Many buildings were full dark; the shops had mostly closed, thought the several drinking establishments were lit.  Long before they reached the batwing doors of the Eerie Saloon, the pair heard music and a girl singing:



`      When the blackbird in the Spring,
`      On the willow tree,
`      Sat and rocked, I heard him sing,
`      Singing Aura Lee.


`      Aura Lee, Aura Lee,
`      Maid with golden hair;
`      Sunshine comes along with thee,
`      And swallows fill the air.


Judge Humphrey led the widow inside and guided her between the tables.  From his companion's darting eyes and curious glances, he guessed that she had never set foot inside a saloon before.  Shamus had a good-sized crowd tonight.  There were card games and layers of conversation going on.  A slim blond in blue was holding people's attention, delivering a version of the soulful Aura Lee.  These war tunes usually hushed a house, bringing back memories of  hardship and lonely nights in camp. 



`      In thy blush the rose was born,
`      Music, when thou spake;
`      Through thine azure eyes the morn
`      Sparkling seems to break.


`      Aura Lee, Aura Lee,
`      Maid with golden hair;
`      Sunshine comes along with thee,
`      And swallows fill the air.



`      Aura Lee! birds may flee
`      From the willow bare,
`      Flying 'gainst the winter's breath,
`      Through the stormy air.


`      Aura Lee, Aura Lee,
`      Maid with golden hair;
`      Sunshine comes along with thee,
`      And swallows fill the air.



`      When the mistletoe was green,
`      Midst the season’s snows,
`      Sunshine in thy face was seen,
`      Kissing lips of rose.


`      Aura Lee, Aura Lee,
`      Maid with golden hair;
`      Sunshine comes along with thee,
`      And swallows fill the air.



`      Says thy beau, sweet Aura Lee,
`      Thy smiles warm his heart,

`      So let the sadness that I see
`      From thine eyes depart.


`      Aura Lee, Aura Lee,
`      Maid with golden hair;
`      Sunshine comes along with thee,
`      And swallows fill the air.



`      Aura Lee, Aura Lee,
`      Take thy wooer`s ring;
`      Love and lightness welcome thee,
`      As robins hail the spring.


`      Aura Lee, Aura Lee,
`      Maid with golden hair;
`      Sunshine comes along with thee,
`      And swallows fill the air.



“That's Jessie Hanks,” remarked Humphreys to Irene Fanning.



She had heard the name before.  “One of the outlaws?”



Humphreys nodded. 



She stared, amazed, at the gaily-dressed, petite girl.  Embarrassed, she changed the subject.  “Please, we must hurry!”



Humphreys scanned the crowd.  “I don't see Shamus.  We'll ask the bartender where he's at.” 



A dark-haired man in a deep blue silk vest and white shirt stood behind the counter serving customers from brown bottles.  He glanced up as the pair neared.  “What's your flavor tonight, Judge?”



“No time for that, R. J.  This lady and I have urgent business with Shamus.”



R.J. Rossi looked across to the stairs.  “He's in his rooms; go on up.”



TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 1, Part 2