She had an explosive temper and a glare that could split rocks, and she had light eyes, pale eyes, the color of a glacier's heart -- just like her ancestor, her Great-Great-Grandfather, the second Sheriff of Firelands County, Colorado.
When her husband found the Old Sheriff's personal journal in a hidden compartment of their roll top desk, Sheriff Willamina found a door through which she could step, a door that led to another world, another time.
Follow the Sheriff from the Northern Ohio farm country through the war that tore the young nation apart, through dirty little coal mining towns and corrupt Kansas villages, aboard steam boat and a plow horse, until a final confrontation with a corrupt official shows Sheriff Willamina Keller that she is cut of the same violent, uncompromising cloth as her pioneering ancestor."
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The Sheriff's Journal
By Linn Keller
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Linn Keller
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIN PRISON, AND AFTER
This may be my last night on earth.
If it is, then so be it, and God be my judge.
My name is Linn Keller.
I am a Colonel with the 2d Ohio Volunteer Cavalry out of Camp Chase, Cleveland, Ohio, or at least I was when I swore into this damned war.
I sit here with the fervent hope that my wife, Connie Lee, will receive this journal should my own existence come to an abrupt end at the end of Uncle Billy's hemp noose at dawn, as it very well might.
I was separated from my unit in the confusion of our first battle and reattached to other units; separation, attachment, move here, move there, trying to find my home unit and never quite succeeding: there never seemed to be a time when we were not on the move, or engaged, attacking, retreating, chasing after resupply. I have roasted, sweated, froze, starved, ate until I was sick, starved again: I have been shot at and shot, I survived a burst cannon that caved in my low ribs and near to killed me.
It did kill the gun crew and a young Lieutenant of my acquaintance.
I sit here in stone embrasure and behind steel bars because I shot three of my own men and hanged another three, much to Uncle Billy's displeasure.
Cump, they call him behind his back, for his Indian middle name of Tecumseh, the name he detests: William Tecumseh Sherman, a damned Yankee if ever there was one. The man is a disgrace to Union blue and to the flag I signed up to serve and I no longer hold loyalty to him.
I will not be loyal to an officer who orders rapine and arson and looting against a civilian population!
Connie, should you read these words, know that I did shoot my own men.
They had beaten and violated a Southern girl, and were ready to do it again when I came upon them.
God forgive my tardy arrival: would that I had prevented their despoiling this virgin child, but that was not to be: those three I shot, had done the act, and three who held her, and those who cheered them on, were as guilty: three I murdered in that instant, three I held and that evening hanged before the company assembled, on my authority and on my order.
Politics are rife in the command ranks. Those who curry favor are quick to carry tales, seeking to aggrandize themselves and not realizing that their actions of a schoolyard tattle-tale are poorly viewed by the command strata where decisions are actually made: still, such small-minded folk exist, and such were minded to capitalize on my decision for their hoped-for gain.
Word was quickly carried to headquarters, not far away, and I found myself turned out of an uncomfortable bed to stand before Uncle Billy himself.
Cump railed at me in the lamp-lit tent, a tent illuminated by a lamp stolen from a Carolina residence, an incongruous note of luxury in the Spartan surroundings of his canvas home, and yet emblematic of the crimes he perpetrated upon the civilian populace: he afforded me not one word in my own defense, but instead screamed that he would not have officers shooting his men - my men, he roared, his nose not an inch from my own, not yours! - and finally ordered me taken to the stockade, which turned out to be the city gaol.
I am at least afforded the comfort of this journal, which I now begin, and may just as abruptly end, depending on what dawns cold light brings me.
- Next day -
Rumor and lies are twin runners, each swifter than the other; it seems my exploits are made known, and Shermans murdering hand is stayed from stretching my neck. I can imagine that red-bearded little man grinding his teeth and hammering his fists into the empty air, as he is wont to do in fits of temper: yet the orders, I am told, are from a high enough authority he dare not simply have me murdered, as much as he may like it.
He is a small man, and suffers from Small Mans Disease.
I had heard accounts of his blinding rage if his least command were thwarted; right and wrong are of no account to him, but rather only his authority: any challenge to that authority, no matter how slight, drives him into an insane anger.
I do not know the nit-wit who chose the gaolers, but they have selected a Southerner to guard the Yankee prisoners locked up here: a poor choice, as he has smuggled me a Colts revolving pistol, and I have it tucked in the back of my belt, under my coat, for I am told I am to appear again before that ill-tempered little man.
If the guards come in and seek to do me harm, I shall do as many of them as much harm as I am able, before surrendering, for surely if they do me violence, it will be at the order of Cump, and he will wish me murdered on some pretext.
A hiss from without.
- Later -
Four soldiers came into my little cell, each with a bayonet-fixed musket, all at sling arms; all four were obliged to un-sling his musket to enter my sparse quarters, which removed any air of dignity or authority from them: green troops, none ranked higher than Corporal, and all were uncertain as to the handling of an officer of my rank.
They asked me politely to accompany them.
I did so, ready in any moment to sell my life most dearly.
Such did not happen.
I stood at correct military attention before Cump, my hat under my left arm, chin raised slightly and my eyes fixed on a spot over the mans fuming scalp. So hot was he that I wondered at his hair not catching fire.
Cump waved a dispatch at me, snapping it about in the air - he railed at the injustice of countermanded orders - it seems my actions were approved of at higher echelons - indeed, a galloper had been despatched to the nearest telegraph-office, and a wire to Washington was read immediately by Old Abe himself, and a reply sent.
I felt it wise to lower my gaze as Cumps temper approached a truly marvelous elevation, for I felt it entirely possible he might take leave of his senses, snatch up a saber or a sidearm, and seek to cause me harm.
Finally he ordered me loudly and profanely from his presence.
I saluted the rank - I did not salute the man - and he showed his true colors by turning his back on me without returning the salute.
I executed a crisp military about-face, paced off on the left, and departed from his company. I have been over-long in catching up this journal. It is well after that miserable moment; I have been to Washington, and a grateful nation has handed me my discharge papers.
I write this line in the still moment before the northbound train arrives, the train that will carry me back across the frontier, across the Ohio, and back to my dear Connie Lee, and our little daughter Dana.
I sit here smelling vaguely of coal-oil and soap.
A widow-woman who runs a boarding-house had taken kindly to me. She boiled my clothes and had her servant help me with a good delousing.
I will omit the unpleasant description of having coal oil worked into every part of my long tall self and say simply that we are certain wars graybacks are defeated. If a single louse survived this dousing I shall be surprised indeed.
I have lathered and rinsed in three successive tubs of water, and lay for an hour soaking like a sultan, until the water cooled and I toweled quickly dry.
I left the good woman more than a fair price for her kindness: she would take nothing for it, but I know her to be a widow and I would not be miserly.
In a Columbus train-station -
Quite by accident I met a man on his way to Athens: he mentioned Ohio University, the first such establishment in the Northwest Territory, and how it had been built by mistake. It was entertaining to listen to this native discuss how the first surveyors had partaken too well of the local distillate and gotten two points on their maps reversed. It seems Ohio University was supposed to have been built in the current, ridge-top location of Wolf Plains, a little community above the mining village of Hocking-under-the-Hill, their intent being to erect the educational edifice on high ground, that it may not flood, and that it be free of the swamps miasmas and Musquitters.
Unfortunately, alcohol interfered with their good intentions, and the Universitatus Ohenesis has been erected in the Hocking Rivers flood plain: further discussion of the geographical misfortune was ended when the conductor leaned out of his wheeled office, shouting "'Board! All aboard! San-dusky, Cleve-land, Do-ver, New Phil-la-del-phia!"
I had but a single grip; its contents were clean, the grip itself, new: the Colt revolver given me by the Confederate jail guard rode in a slender holster I had commissioned from a saddle-maker in the same town, and it hid well beneath my coat.
I hadn't needed it but once or twice so far.
Erie County - at last!
I watched the clouds bank up tall and fluffy over the Lake: the land grew flat, the horizon curved a little, and I knew the Lake to lie under those clouds, those happy harbingers of home!
As the children of Israel followed the cloud by day, so do I follow these messengers of delight! If it were possible to propel a locomotive with will alone, mine would out-strip anything on the rails!
The depot is but a mile from our little farm, and I am disquieted nearly from the moment my foot descends to the depot platform: smallpox is scourging the land, and many wear a cloth tied over their face in a vain attempt at preserving their life.
I shall put away quill and ink-pot now and hasten my steps toward home!
Connie will be there, shading her brow with her hands, looking to the south, looking for my approach, and Dana, our child ... little Dana who was a babe in arms last I saw her.
Today is her second birthday.
I could tarry here in town and buy her a doll, but my heart is not inclined to delay, and my feet fairly dance with impatience!
Richard looked up from the hand-written account, taking a moment to return to the here and now. He looked around the room that had once been his wife's great-great-grandfather's study, thinking the man who wrote this account had built this room, had sat in this room, had discussed matters in this room, and now he was seeing the man for the first time in ... well, in more than a century.
Richard turned the page and felt a chill trace its finger down his spine.
The handwriting was slower and more precise: the ink was blacker, which meant the pen had moved slower, more deliberately: what had been a quick script, was now deliberate print.
Even without reading the text, Richard knew something was very wrong.
Chapter TwoSKINNING THE CAT
"You know, Sheriff," Chief of Police Roger Taylor admitted frankly, "if you hadn't married Richard, I planned to make a play for you."
Sheriff Willamina Keller, across the table from the Chief, leaned back in her chair a little, smiling quietly; she crossed her smooth-muscled, stockinged legs, steepled her fingers and replied with an equal frankness, "Chief, if you hadn't married Leanna, you'd make a pretty good catch yourself!"
The Chief blinked. He wasn't sure what the Sheriff's response would be to his admission, but this frankness wasn't quite what he expected.
The Sheriff uncrossed her legs, looked at the waitress behind the counter, raised her coffee cup; the waitress started across the floor with a fresh pot. "Roger, I remember the times I lay in our hospital. You were the one sitting outside my door. You didn't have to, you could have detailed that to any of a number of people, but it was you who sat there." She smiled as the waitress filled her cup and topped off the Chief's.
"You backed my play a number of times. You have gone out of your way to avoid any jurisdictional pissing matches, you have stood shoulder to shoulder with myself and my people, you have watched our several backs and we've watched yours." She added a dollop of cream to her coffee, took a sip.
"You're a good man, Chief. Don't ever doubt that."
Chief Taylor leaned back and scratched the back of his head.
"Not quite what you expected?" the Sheriff teased lightly.
"No, not quite."
"Chief, let me tell you a story."
The Chief blinked, leaned forward a little and sampled his own refilled cup.
"Once upon a time there was a young officer, a green cop out to save the world. This green cop was short on cash and so took a second job, private security in the county seat.
"Unfortunately this green cop didn't realize the police in the county seat considered any off-duty gigs in their city, as their exclusive property. "They went boo-hooing to the green cop's Chief, and to maintain good relations with this larger department, he said he would take care of the matter.
"The green cop with the empty purse received a letter from the Chief - a certified letter - the Chief didn't have the guts, nor the decency, to call the greenie in for a talk. No, this Chief saw fit to swat a fly with a sledge hammer.
"The letter said the green cop was forbidden to carry a weapon anywhere but within the jurisdiction, and was forbidden to appear in uniform anywhere outside the jurisdiction.
"In conversation the Chief was a decent fellow, but he had the marvelous ability to piss off the Pope with the written word, and he managed to piss off our hero.
"The green cop showed up the next night, in uniform.
It was Council meeting.
She walked up to the Chief, who was sitting behind his desk, there in the one-room village hall.
"The Chief ducked his head and turned his face away.
"Our hero slapped the letter down in front of him. 'Explain this!' our hero demanded.
"'You know what it says,' the Chief mumbled.
"This, of course, got the Council's attention, for the green cop was not quiet, and Council had never, ever seen this quiet and even tempered copper mad.
"The Chief said, 'If you don't like it you can quit,' and the green cop said, 'You just hold that thought,' and turned to leave.
Seeing his authority spurned in front of Council, the Chief stood up and shouted, 'You get back here!'
"The green cop turned and said quietly, 'You go to hell,' and the green cop's voice would have dissolved a steel bridge beam.
"'If you step out that door you're impersonating a police officer and I'll have you arrested!' the Chief yelled.
"The green cop smiled, a quiet smile that should have been a warning, and stepped out the door.
"The Chief stood there with his mouth open and finally the Council President said, 'Can't even control your own people, eh?' and the Chief's face turned purple and he stormed out the door after the green cop.
"About an hour later the green cop showed up in blue jeans and a flannel shirt, with a .45 automatic on the belt.
"The Chief came to his feet, handcuffs in hand, and declared, 'You're under arrest!'
"The green cop walked up to the man, drew the .45 and punched it up under the Chief's chin, hard.
"'You miserable excuse for a man,' the green cop said quietly, and the room got very, very quiet. 'If you move, if you so much as breathe hard, I will blow your brains all over the ceiling. You step out here so everyone can see you.'
"The green cop seized the Chief by the shirt front and pulled him into the middle of the floor.
"'Here is your commission card,' the green cop said, holding up and then dropping a small paper rectangle. 'And here is my identification as a police officer, from another jurisdiction.' The green cop held up a badge wallet, displayed a badge and card, holding it up for Council to see, then held it within an inch of the Chief's nose.
"'I am commissioned in another jurisdiction, and have been for some time now' the green cop said.
"'You have just threatened me with false arrest,' the green cop said, 'and in this State it is lawful to resist an unlawful arrest.' The green cop folded the badge wallet shut with a snap and slid it into a hip pocket."
Chief Taylor was listening closely, his mind's eye seeing the events unfold as the Sheriff described them.
"What happened next?" he asked, fascinated.
The Sheriff smiled. "I kneed the son-of-a-bitch as hard as I could."
Chief Taylor cringed, then nodded.
"Did he file charges?"
The Sheriff smiled pleasantly. "He tried."
"The county prosecutor was visiting that night, and watched the whole thing happen."
"What did he have to say?"
The Sheriff's smile never wavered. "He advised the Chief that he had no case, that I could prefer charges of aggravated assault with weapons specification, which, he reminded the Chief, carried a mandatory prison term.
Excerpted from The Sheriff's Journal by Linn Keller Copyright © 2011 by Linn Keller. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. IN PRISON, AND AFTER....................1
2. SKINNING THE CAT....................11
3. INTO THE PAST....................21
4. PERRY COUNTY....................35
5. WARS, AND RUMORS OF WAR....................41
7. BLACK HOMECOMING....................53
8. MARSHAL IN A SMALL TOWN....................65
9. GOING WEST....................71
10. THE HERE AND NOW....................81
11. A HIDDEN BOUNTY....................85
12. THE POWER OF THE PEN....................99
14. SHOTS FIRED!....................135
15. A DIRTY LITTLE TOWN....................147
16. THE LANGUAGE THEY UNDERSTAND....................165
18. A COMFORT....................193
19. UNCLE PETE....................203