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HANG FIRE


CHAPTER ONE

Angel closed the shutters against the night air, snapped on the banker’s lamp above the ancient oak rolltop desk that served as an armorer’s bench, and reverently lifted the Hammer of God from its pegs on the barn wall.

The heavy flintlock musket had been in the family for many generations, and a long-ago forebear had carved the name in the polished maple stock. The Hammer killed Redcoats at Cowpens, Monmouth, and Yorktown after service in the French and Indian War, Daddy had said before his lingering death from cancer. A Texan ancestor had used it in the conflict with Mexico.

After that the musket was retired from war, but from time to time a grandfather took it out of a closet or down from the wall above the mantel and caressed it while telling its family stories to the grandchildren. Sometimes it was taken outdoors for a little target shooting. Afterward the musket would be thoroughly cleaned, then oiled and replaced in the closet or atop the mantel.

In this fashion the well-worn weapon had been lovingly maintained down through the more than two hundred fifty years of its existence, and was as ready for action as it had been the day it emerged from the armory in the Tower of London. The Hammer would now return to slaying the Nation’s enemies.

Before setting to work Angel cued the iPod to an old favorite.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are   stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

With a slight tilt Angel rolled a heavy cast lead ball across the surface of a hand mirror, watching its path for telltale jitters and hesitations from flaws on the metal. When the ball bounced ever so slightly, Angel picked it up and peered at it through a loupe, searching for a dimple or ridge in the metal that might alter its trajectory. An emery board took care of the worst and a thorough polishing with jeweler’s rouge the rest. The ball gleamed in the soft light from the banker’s lamp.

Angel was pleased. Each ball had been hand cast from the finest lead alloy and finished painstakingly. The expensive black powder that propelled it came from a small factory in Switzerland famous for the precision ammunition it produced for the best marksmen in the world, both competition target shooters and military snipers. Angel measured out the powder not in a rough flask the musket’s previous owners had employed but with a small precision chemist’s scale, and carefully poured it into the muzzle of the Hammer so that not a single grain would be lost.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

From a small pile of round patches made of striped pillow ticking Angel selected what seemed to be the most perfect circle of cotton. The patches were not custom-made, but came from a big mail-order company in Kentucky. Though they had been carefully punched out from the cloth with steel dies, some patches bore imperfections almost imperceptible to the naked eye, and Angel quickly plucked and threw out the rejects.

Nestling the leaden ball dead center within the patch, Angel brought it to the muzzle of the musket and fitted it inside with a single sharp roll of a polished maple sphere a little larger than a golf ball, then shoved the patch-shrouded projectile an inch deeper into the barrel with a metal-tipped wooden nub attached to the sphere. Finally, with a single smooth stroke of the musket’s wooden ramrod Angel drove the ball deep into its breech. Two brief taps with the ramrod seated the patched ball firmly against the charge.


I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

Angel reversed the musket to bring its trigger, hammer and primer pan within easy reach, then filled the pan with another carefully weighed dose of powder ground finer than that of the main charge. Then Angel lowered the lid of the frizzen onto the pan.

With the loupe Angel examined the surface of a thumb-sized stone that had been selected from a pile of rough flints and carefully knapped with a staghorn, making sure it carried a sharp edge that would strike a strong spark against the steel of the frizzen and ignite the powder in the pan. That in turn would fire the main charge in the breech and send the ball to do the work of God.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
As ye deal with my condemners, so with you my grace shall deal.
Let the hero born of woman crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on!

Making sure the forked hammer bearing the flint was safely caught at half cock, Angel hefted the heavy musket and sighted down its barrel at the Devil in an old framed print of the Lord smiting His enemy.
Two more stanzas of the Battle Hymn, and with practiced care and profound reverence Angel returned the Hammer to its place on the wall. Around it nestled, like apostles at the Last Supper, a dozen other muzzle-loading weapons, all of them loaded, oiled and shining, ready for action in the looming battle.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave;
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave.
Our God is marching on.

Angel was a soldier of the Lord.

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