This is a fan fiction story based on characters from the Lonesome Dove television show, which belongs to Rysher Entertainment and Hallmark. No infringement on copyrights is intended.


Lock, Stock and Barrel
(12th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

There's something happy and there's something sad
'Bout wanting somebody, oh so bad,
I wear my love darlin', without shame
I'd be proud if you would wear my name
("I Wanna Marry You" - Bruce Springsteen)

November 12th, 1881. Saturday morning. As far as the eye could see stretching from one horizon to the next, the Montana sky was gray. Not exactly the choicest of settings the day before an outdoor wedding.

Call and Gretchen had taken the last wagon load of their belongings out to their new home. Most everything belonged to Gretchen. Everything was placed where Gretchen thought best.

Call stepped out onto the porch of what used to be the Scully home. It would officially become the Call home tomorrow once he and Gretchen spoke their marriage vows. Call stared out at the low rolling hills to the east.

"Gretchen! Come on out here!" Call said.

Gretchen hurried out of their bedroom and walked onto the porch. "What it is, Call?"

He pointed to the top of the hill. "Look."

Gretchen gasped and tightly took hold of Call's arm. "Is that a wolf?"

Call turned his head to look at Gretchen. "Nope. It's a coyote. Like you," he smiled.

Gretchen looked into his eyes. "You're not going to shoot it, are you, Call?"

Call turned and watched the grayish-brown coyote trot across the top of the hill until it disappeared beyond a group of pine trees. He shook his head sideways. "I ain't gonna shoot it, Gretchen." He looked at her and smiled.

Gretchen smiled warmly as she rested her head on his neck, between his shoulder and ear.

"You like it out here?" he asked her.

"I like it, Call," she replied as she closed her eyes and breathed contently. "And we already named our tree. The one you carved our initials in." She sighed deeply. "Call, I love it out here. Just you and me."

They sat down on the step. Call pulled Gretchen close to him so she could recline against his chest. "Gonna be too many folks hereabouts tomorrow," he mumbled.

"Thank you for letting me invite the whole town, Sweetheart," Gretchen softly said. "I'm getting married only once. I want everyone to share in our joy. And most everyone from Hat Creek will show up."

Call frowned. "The Cap'n won't."

"I do hope he changes his mind. It would mean so much to me if he was here." She looked at Call. "You're a lot like him, Newt Call. Neither one of you likes crowds," Gretchen replied. "I hope you like the dress Victoria and Paige made for me. They won't let me see it."

"I reckon I'll favor you in anything you wear, Coyote Girl."

Gretchen giggled and nuzzled closer to Call. "Oh, Call. I can't wait until you put your ring on my finger. I can't wait to be your wife."

*********************************

Austin Peale slammed the door to the Ambrosia as he angrily stepped down into the street and crossed over to the hotel. He entered and walked straight to the table occupied by Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby.

"What is it, now, Austin? Or, are you still complaining about Call?" Mosby asked as he reached for his cup of coffee.

"It's not right, Mosby," Austin argued. "He killed a man. He should be locked up. At least have a trial."

"Austin, the man he killed deserved it. I would have done the same thing had it happened to me," Clay replied.

"Surely you can leave a man to enjoy his wedding, Sheriff?" Robert said.

Austin grumbled and shook his head. "So, you aren't going to do anything about it, Mosby?"

"Austin, the man is getting married tomorrow," Clay patiently replied. "It was justifiable. Now go find something important to do."

Austin stared angrily at both Clay and Robert, then marched out of the Dove.

****************************

It was a few minutes after Austin had walked out of the hotel when a man and a woman in a wagon rode into town. They hailed Dr. Cleese as he crossed the street from his office on his way to the Dove.

"Begging your pardon, Sir," the man said.

Dr. Cleese paused as he smiled at the couple. They appeared to be in their mid-thirties. "Yes?"

"We were informed that a boy named Dewey Olszewski lives here. Could you kindly direct us as to his whereabouts?" the man added.

Dr. Cleese took a good look at the couple. They appeared decent enough. Cleanly dressed in slightly better than average clothing, though not at all rich looking. Both had kind faces. "We never knew what his last name was."

"He was my wife's sister's boy. We have tried to locate him since receiving the tragic news that his parents had died."

Dr. Cleese's eyebrows raised. "I see. Well," he turned, "Dewey has been living with Mattie Shaw. She runs the gunsmith shop right over there," he said as he pointed to Mattie's shop.

"A woman gunsmith?" the man asked.

"My goodness," the woman quietly replied.

"Thank you . . .?"

"Ephraim Cleese. I happen to be the town physician."

"Thank you, Doctor," the man said as he snapped the reins to guide the wagon over to the gunsmith shop.

******************

Victoria and Paige were busy finishing the wedding dress they had made for Gretchen. It was a cream colored dress with lace at the wrists and around the neck, in front of the chest. A perfect dress for Gretchen. Not too fancy but still nicer than the dresses she wore daily.

"She's going to adore this dress, Victoria," Paige joyfully proclaimed.

Victoria gazed at the dress and nodded. "It says Gretchen all over it."

"I wish her friends back in St. Joseph could be here," Paige said. "I wish Mother and Father were here with us."

"Oh, I do too, Paige. But, the three of us are together. And I believe that we will have a baby niece or nephew within the next year," Victoria predicted.

Paige's eyes lit up. "Oh, Victoria! Do you really think so? That would be so wonderful."

Victoria giggled. "It won't be long before you and I are sewing clothes for her first baby, Paige."

Paige giggled and stared happily out the window of their dry goods store.

****************************

"May I help you?" Mattie asked as a man and woman she had never before met stepped inside her shop.

The couple took notice of Dewey as he sat on the floor playing with five cat's-eye marbles. He talked quietly to himself, unaware of the couple.

Mattie stared as the man reached into his coat and withdrew a faded photograph. Both he and the woman looked at Dewey, then the photograph.

"It's him, Martha," the man quietly said.

"Excuse me?" Mattie said a little louder.

"Forgive us," the man said as he removed his hat. "This is Dewey Olszewski? Is it not?" he asked as he motioned toward the orphan boy.

Mattie was momentarily stunned. "Uh . . . I never knew his last name."

Dewey stopped playing and sat up. He took notice of the couple.

The man stepped near the glass counter and laid the photograph down for Mattie to inspect. "We have been searching for the child for months now. Ever since we received news that his parents died."

Mattie picked up the photograph and stared at it. The sepia tone image was faded but it was clear that Dewey was one of the three people that posed for the picture.

"You will surely recognize the child as Dewey. Of course," the man said, "that was taken three years ago. Those are his parents in the picture.

Mattie felt weak. She never expected anyone would come looking for Dewey.

"Our name is LaPorte. My wife is the sister of Dewey's mother. We have come to take Dewey back home with us."

Mattie's heart seemed to get stuck in her throat as she heard the words spoken by Mr. LaPorte.

"Dewey!" Mr. LaPorte said as he walked over to the boy. "I am your Uncle Oliver and that is your Aunt Martha. We have come a long way to bring you back home with us to Indiana."

Dewey suddenly jumped up, sending his marbles scattering across the floor as he rushed to Mattie and wrapped his arms in a death-grip around her waist. "No!" he cried, "this is my Mama. I don't wanna go!"

****************************

Call drew rein on the wagon and tilted his head as he stared at Gretchen. "I reckon I'm gonna have to buy you a warm winter coat, Coyote Girl."

Gretchen giggled. "I am cold. Really, I am, Call. This shawl isn't made for Montana weather."

Call twisted his shoulders so he had enough room to remove his jacket then placed it over Gretchen's smaller shoulders.

"Thank you, Sweetheart. Call? Do you remember the first day we arrived in Curtis Wells? You bumped into me in front of our store. That was six months ago. We have some special memories."

Call smiled as he snapped the reins for the horses to pull the wagon. They were in the field where they had first said they loved each other. "Six months," he replied. "Tomorrow we'll be hanging our clothes together in that fancy piece of furniture the Scully's left us."

"It's called an armoire, Call," Gretchen giggled as she smiled at him. "And it's already got both our things in it. You own hardly any shirts. I intend to make you one every year."

Call frowned. "I don't need any clothes. I got all I need."

"Well, shirts wear out and need mending," she said as she playfully elbow-jabbed him in the side.

Call drew rein on the horses and looked at Gretchen. She stopped smiling and stared intently into his eyes. "Call," she whispered and wrapped her arms tightly around him.

"Gretchen," he quietly replied as he pulled her close to him.

"We really are getting married, aren't we, Call?" she whispered in his ear.

"Yep," he said. "We really are, Gretchen."

********************************

Dr. Cleese took a deep breath then turned the knob to open the door to the dry goods store. He nervously stepped inside.

"Hello, Dr. Cleese," Victoria said as she paused from placing a roll of material back on the shelf.

"Miss Brandt," Dr. Cleese replied. He cleared his throat three times.

Victoria watched him for a moment. "Is there something in particular I can help you with, Doctor?"

Ephraim breathed deep and swallowed hard. He nodded his head a few times. "Miss Brandt, may I speak frankly with you?"

Victoria hesitated. "Yes, Dr. Cleese."

"Due to Mr. Mosby, then, Mr. Shelby, I dared not make my intentions known. I have been quite aware of . . . if I may say, the situations within our little town." Dr. Cleese breathed deeply again. "I was wondering, Miss Brandt, if you would possibly consider allowing me the honor of escorting you to your sister's and Call's wedding tomorrow?"

Victoria was surprised by Dr. Cleese's request. She looked at him and smiled. "I would be most pleased to attend my sister's wedding with you, Dr. Cleese. However, I plan to travel with both Gretchen and Paige, as I am sure you can understand?"

Dr. Cleese smiled brightly. "That would be delightful. By no means do I mind, Miss Brandt. It will be an honor to escort all three of the Brandt Sisters."

""Thank you, Dr. Cleese," Victoria blushed.

"Then I shall be ready to escort you and your sisters tomorrow morning," Cleese replied. "And, thank you, Miss Brandt."

*********************************

When Mosby returned to his saloon early in the afternoon, he immediately took note of a fancy dressed man sitting alone at his private table near the back. Clay knew the man was a professional gambler by his outfit. The black slacks and matching coat. The clean white shirt and silk vest. Even the silver chain pocket watch.

Clay walked behind the bar and poured himself a shot as he continued to study the man. He noticed the man shuffling a deck of cards with the hands of a surgeon. The man flipped cards as he patiently sat at Mosby's table. Finally, Clay strolled over to the man.

"I assume you are here looking for a game of poker?" Clay said.

"I'm just waiting for whoever owns this place to show. I expect to be the new owner of this saloon by morning," the man replied without looking at Mosby.

"And whom might you be?" Clay asked, his smile suddenly disappearing.

"Long Tom Bolles. I imagine you have heard of me?"

Clay snickered. "As a matter of fact, I have. Haven't you been run out of towns before? Hmm?"

Long Tom looked Mosby in the eye. "Some folks just don't know how to lose with dignity."

Robert Shelby had wandered into the Ambrosia and positioned himself at the far end of the bar, where he could listen to both men speak.

"You do have the means to bet against this establishment?" Mosby asked.

"I have ten thousand dollars, cash," the gambler replied.

"Well, I hardly think ten thousand Yankee dollars is equivalent to my saloon," Clay suggested.

"I agree, Sir. That's why I intend to win right from the start." He looked Mosby in the eye and cracked a smile. "That is, unless you are afraid to play me?"

Mosby scowled at the man then turned to the bar. "Carson! Bring me a fresh deck. And a bottle, along with two glasses."

The gambler stuck his tongue in his cheek and laughed quietly.

**************************

Luther Root made sure he would be in town for the wedding between Call and the Missouri girl. He was feeling fairly good after dumping a few beers down his throat. He left the No.10 Saloon and went straight to the Dove to fill his belly with a meal.

"Hey, Unbob! Mason!" he loudly said as he made his entrance into the hotel dining room. Amanda Carpenter turned from her conversation at Josiah and Austin's table to hurry into the kitchen. The sooner she placed a plate of food in front of Luther, the sooner he would quiet down.

"Howdy, Luther," Unbob smiled. Mason winked at Luther.

"Hell, Mason," Luther bellowed. "We gotta find Call and get him drunk. He's getting himself hitched tomorrow."

"No, Sir," Mason replied. "That boy ain't about to step foot inside any saloon today. I mean to see that he's awake and ready proper come morning."

Luther lowered his head and groaned. He was quiet for a few seconds then raised his head and smiled. "Well, how about you and me, Mason? We could drink to his health. And to the health . . . oh! Thanks, Amanda," Luther replied as Amanda placed an extra helping of meat and potatoes in front of him. "Uh, like I was saying . . . drink to the health of that little Missouri gal he's marrying."

"Is Call gonna leave and never come back?" Unbob asked.

"No, Unbob," Mason said. "All right, Luther. Three or four." He looked back at Unbob. "Newt and Gretchen are going to live a few miles from town. I'll wager you see them every week."

Unbob smiled as he watched Luther clean his plate.

******************************

Call and Gretchen had returned to town. Their horses were the only things that remained in town that needed to go to the new house. Call figured him and Mason could ride them out in the morning. They walked out of the livery and Gretchen paused as she removed his jacket. Call put it back on then walked Gretchen toward the dry goods.

"Hold up, Call!" Austin ordered as he hurried down the stairs of the sheriff's office.

Call turned his head then kept walking.

"I said hold up!" Austin loudly said.

"What do you want, Austin?" Call asked as Gretchen stood close by.

"You should be locked up for murder!" Austin stared angrily at both of them. "Don't expect me to show up tomorrow."

Call shrugged his shoulders. "Suit yourself. Let's go, Gretchen."

Austin snorted as he watched them walk away.

****************************

Mr. and Mrs. LaPorte, the uncle and aunt of Dewey, stood at Mattie's back door. They quietly watched the nine year old boy roll around in the dirt with his pet piglet. Mrs. LaPorte, the blood sister of Dewey's mother, stood silently by as her husband contemplated the situation. She was one of those unfortunate women who was barren. She had never conceived a child for her husband. Her self esteem was non existent as she refused to open her mouth and speak her feelings. The truth was, she had no desire to raise her dead sister's boy. Something had happened to her, causing a cold and distant feeling to grow inside her heart.

Mr. LaPorte scratched his ear. He was aware that Dewey was a happy child. Letters from the boy's parents, before they died, had routinely stated that he was never a happy child. Mr. LaPorte knew Mattie had influenced the boy and this was something he hadn't expected. His mind flashed with the thought of Dewey becoming the child they could never naturally have. It made sense, he thought. The boy was family.

"Dewey!" Mr. Laporte called. The boy stopped playing with his pig and slowly walked toward the back door where he looped the rope around the railing of the back steps.

Mr. LaPorte tried to hug Dewey as he stepped inside the shop. The boy tensed up and made a face. Mr. LaPorte turned to his wife. "Martha? Don't you want to hug your sister's boy?"

Mrs. LaPorte did want to hug the boy. But something inside her repulsed her to touch him. If she couldn't give birth to her own child, she didn't care to raise someone else's child, even if it was blood.

Mr. LaPorte turned and walked slowly across the wooden floor. He looked at his wife, then he looked at Mattie. She was obviously shaken up by their arrival. She dropped the chamber of a Colt pistol she was cleaning. Dropped it twice.

"You care about the boy, don't you, Miss Shaw?" he finally said.

Mattie offered a half-hearted smile. "I care very much for Dewey. He was sleeping behind my shop in Miles City when I found him. I have a room above the shop here. Dewey sleeps in the bed."

"And, you, Miss Shaw?" he asked.

"Oh . . . I sleep in the chair. It's not that bad. It's a rocker."

Mr. LaPorte looked at his wife. "We have a room at the hotel. We will be returning home tomorrow. I suppose it would be fitting to allow Dewey to spend one more night with you, Miss Shaw."

Mattie nodded slightly as her fingers fumbled with the gun. "Thank you . . . that means a great deal to me."

"We will see you in the morning then. Good day, Miss Shaw."

*****************************

Paige hugged Gretchen and began crying. "I'm so happy for you, Gretchen," she sobbed.

"I've never been this happy in all my life," Gretchen replied. Then, she began crying as well. "I'm going to miss being with you, Boo. You too, Victoria."

"Boo?" Laurie Ann Mecurdy said. "You must tell me the story behind that name, Gretchen."

Victoria giggled slightly as her two younger sisters shed tears of happiness. "When Paige was only four or five years old, Gretchen and I would scare her." Victoria wrinkled her brow as she remembered. "Gretchen was six or seven years old. I was ten or eleven."

Laurie Ann held the sisters' kitten and laughed.

"We would run through the yard outside on warm summer evenings and hide by the white picket fence, where Mother grew her hawthorns and flowering dogwood trees hid us. Paige would come looking for us and we would both jump up and scream at the top of our lungs. BOO! Paige would laugh and it made us laugh. We did it so much that Father began calling her Boo. Then, we all called her Boo. Mother. Gretchen. And, I."

"Oh,Victoria," Laurie Ann said, "that is such a sweet story. I do declare that I miss my sisters and brothers back in North Carolina."

Victoria walked over to her younger sisters. Her blue skirt swaying across the cleanly swept floor of their dry goods store. She took hold of Gretchen's hands and looked into her eyes. "You are absolutely radiant, Gretchen."

Gretchen smiled brightly. "My heart is pounding so hard. Just thinking about it, Victoria. Tomorrow I will be Mrs. Newt Call. Do you believe it?"

"I wouldn't have, not a few months ago," Victoria replied. She turned to Paige. "We must find a decent young man for you now, Boo."

Paige giggled and grabbed Gretchen. "She's saying that because Dr. Cleese asked to escort her to the wedding tomorrow."

Gretchen's mouth opened and her eyes lit up. "Oh, Victoria! He's such a gentleman. And, he is an educated man. I'm sure the two of you will get along just wonderfully."

Victoria smiled. "Thank you. Now, it's time we closed up."

**********************

"I had me a feeling you'd turn up in here," Mason Dobbs said as he walked through the livery to join his nephew.

"Uncle Mason," Call said as he brushed the Hellbitch.

Mason just stared at Call. "I'll wager all your uncle and aunt Dobbs would be mighty proud to be here right now."

Call smiled. "I'm gonna have a wife to take care of, Mason."

"Yeah," Mason agreed, "and Gretchen's going to have a husband to tend to."

Call nodded. "I'm . . . real glad you're here with me, Mason. There ain't no one else I'd rather have with me tomorrow."

"We're kin, boy. It's been some ride, hasn't it, Newt?"

Call scratched his jaw and nodded. "I never expected this to happen a few months back. She sure is special. I don't rightly know what I would do without her now. She makes everything different. Better."

"You got yourself one fine woman, Newt. She's strong. I'll wager there's nothing like a Missouri girl . . . unless you got a Texas girl," Mason winked.

"Missouri. Yep," Call nodded. "I'm fixing to take Gretchen back to Missouri one day."

"I'm real pleased you found peace inside," Mason said. "Say? You want a drink? One more before you get hitched?"

Call dropped the brush in a small pile of hay. "I reckon one drink won't matter."

********************************************************************

Saturday night inside the Ambrosia was usually busy. While customers drank and gambled, Clay sat quietly in the back of the saloon with Long Tom Bolles. The poker game resembled two Big Horn's butting heads. First, one gave ground. Then, the other was pushed back. Clay had an unsettling feeling in his belly. There was something about this gambler that he didn't like.

"You win another hand, Mr. Bolles," Clay replied through an insincere smile.

"I feel lucky tonight, Sir. Lady luck has kissed my hand," the gambler grinned.

"More like kissed your cards," Clay mumbled too quietly for his opponent to hear.

"Tell me, Mr. Mosby?" the gambler suddenly said. "If I were to win this saloon from you, would you try to kill me?"

Clay hesitated. "I . . . am a man of honor, Sir. If you were indeed to prevail fairly, then I would most certainly not seek to harm you. I hope that is understood?"

Long Tom Bolles smiled. "Excellent answer, my friend. Then, we are both of one accord. Let the game continue."

Robert Shelby quietly leaned with his back against the bar. He never turned his gaze toward the game but was in tune as to how every hand played out.

***************************

Sheriff Austin Peale walked out of the jail and headed toward the Ambrosia for a drink. He paused in front of the Montana Statesman and looked inside the dusty windows. His father sat staring at a flickering candle. Austin stepped up to the door and opened it.

"Father? What are you doing?"

Josiah turned. "Oh? Austin. Austin? Why are you here?"

Austin frowned. "What are doing, Father?"

"I was just . . . remembering things," Josiah replied as his voice trailed off.

"It isn't right!" Austin suddenly said. "That sonofabitch Call is getting married tomorrow. Like nothing ever happened."

Josiah stared at his son. "Austin, please? You sound so angry. Why can't you just let . . ."

NO!" Austin yelled. He struggled as if trying to speak. "We suffer. He goes on like it never happened. I hate him, Father."

"Austin?" Josiah's voice was full of forgiveness. "It wasn't his fault. And, those sisters have done no wrong. They've brought new life into our town. You have to forgive him."

"I won't ever forgive Call," Austin angrily replied. He looked at his father then slammed the door and headed for the Ambrosia.

****************************

Clay Mosby removed his watch from the small vest pocket and opened it. 10:09PM. "Permit me a moment, won't you, Mr. Bolles?"

The gambler eyed Mosby cautiously. "Of Course, Sir. I shall rise and afford my legs a momentary stretch. It would appear we have a long night ahead of us." He smiled in a way that angered Clay. Almost as if he were toying with him. He had used these techniques before. Along the Arkansas-Tennessee borders. As he traveled by riverboat on the great Mississippi.

Clay walked over to the bar where Robert had stationed himself. He poured a short whiskey and looked around at the customers. "Get them all out of here, Robert. Don't make it obvious."

Robert stared straight ahead at the piano that sat under the stairs.

"He's cheating . . . I know it," Clay quietly revealed. "I just don't how he's doing it."

"I thought you knew every trick there was, Clay?" Robert replied.

"So did I," Clay said as he downed his shot and walked back to the table.

***************************

Gretchen Brandt leaned contently against Call as they sat above town on their log. "I remember the first time you brought me here, Call," Gretchen softly said.

He nodded. "I reckon that was likely when it was that I figured how much you meant to me. I couldn't let that other fella take you away."

Gretchen smiled. "I hope I give you a son with blue eyes just like you."

Call thought about it for a few seconds then looked into Gretchen's eyes. "I think I'd like the first one to be a girl with green eyes that favors you, Gretchen."

Gretchen hugged him. "Call, you tell me the sweetest things." Then she groaned. "I better get home. We probably won't sleep a wink all night."

Call pulled Gretchen up. "No turning back now."

"No, Call. Nothing is going to prevent us from becoming husband and wife."

Call carefully walked Gretchen down the dark path then held her close to him in front of her house.

"Call?" Gretchen softly said. "Remember the night we were at Red Crow's village?"

Call nodded as he kissed Gretchen's neck.

"Remember I talked about wishing on the stars?"

Call thought about it. "I remember."

"This is what I wished for," Gretchen replied. "That you and I would marry."

Call smiled and looked up at the gray starless sky.

"My wish came true, Call. You made it come true. I love you, Call."

"I love you, Gretchen."

*****************************

It was after midnight. Mattie sat in her rocker staring at Dewey. He slept peacefully in the big bed. Mattie loved the boy. He softened the pain of loneliness that stung so deep. She stood up and walked quietly to the window and looked out into the night. Dewey would be gone in the morning. She held a tear back at the prospect of never watching Dewey grow up or hearing his voice again. Mattie went and sat in the rocker. She didn't feel like sleeping.

****************************

Clay Mosby had never before had such an unkind run of luck at the card table. Not only was this gambler cheating him, he was mocking him at every turn. Clay was curious as to how Mr. Bolles was winning most every hand. By 4:30AM he still hadn't figured how it was being done.

"That cleans you out, Mr. Mosby," Long Tom Bolles said as he revealed a somewhat degrading smile. "Unless you want to wager this saloon."

Clay stood up and without speaking a single word, walked up the stairs and disappeared into his private chambers, where he returned moments afterward with a folded piece of paper in his hand.

"Excellent! Excellent!" Mr. Bolles laughed as he applauded slightly. "I cannot imagine you as being a coward when it comes to the addicting challenge of a good poker game."

Clay didn't smile and he didn't feel like small talk. He flipped the deed to the Ambrosia onto the table and sat down. Aside from Robert Shelby and the two poker players, the saloon was empty.

"One more hand, Mr. Bolles," Clay suggested. "Winner take all."

"I'm a gambler, Sir," Long Tom replied. "All or nothing, it is!"

***************************

The official time was 4:53AM when the unthinkable happened. The smooth gambler, Long Tom Bolles had just won the Ambrosia Club from a stunned Clay Mosby. Clay stood up and moved like a sleepwalker to the bar.

"I've lost my saloon, Robert," Clay said in disbelief.

Robert peered over at the triumphant Mr. Bolles. He was grinning as he examined the deed to the saloon.

"I don't quite know how . . . but he cheated, Robert. I've lost everything."

Robert Shelby patted Clay on the arm and walked over to the back table. There were only a few lanterns still burning and the gambler's shadow flickered like a dark specter on the wall. "Perhaps you would be inclined to match your new saloon against the hotel across the street?" Robert suggested.

"No, Sir. I have no need to own a hotel. I am quite satisfied to be the owner of the new renamed Bolles House Saloon.

Robert casually strode behind the gambler and opened the rear door. Long Tom Bolles turned slightly to look at Shelby then turned to Mosby. "If you'll sign this over to me . . ."

Robert suddenly drew a six and a half inch knife from its sheath and in a fit of rage shoved it into Long Tom's back. The gambler violently arched forward as Robert drove the sharp blade into his flesh until the hilt was pressing against the back and could go no further.

"ROBERT!" Clay exclaimed as he rushed to the table. Long Tom Bolles fell heavily onto the table as he gurgled and coughed then died with his eyes wide open.

"My God, Robert! You've killed him!"

"He was cheating, Clay. You said so yourself."

Clay was obviously out of sorts over losing his saloon, then watching Robert Shelby stab the man.

"We cannot afford to lose this place, Clay," Robert said as he grabbed Clay and shook him. There was no remorse in his voice.

Clay breathed hard then looked at Robert. "We must bury him, Robert. Immediately."

"And we will, Clay."

***************************************

Sunday morning, November 13, 1881. The day of Call and Gretchen's wedding. Call had rode out to the house early with his Uncle Mason Dobbs. Mason had some decent clothes of his own and they fit Call nearly perfectly. A pair of pants and a clean white shirt to go along with a coat. Call hated the outfit but figured he could stomach it for one day.

By 10:00 o'clock folks were arriving from town for the wedding. Mr. and Mrs. Scully had arrived with the Reverend Daniel Scully.

Dr. Cleese guided the wagon that carried the bride and her sisters. Victoria and Paige quickly ushered Gretchen inside the house to prepare her for the wedding.

Soon after, wagons and riders appeared from Hat Creek. Isom Pickett and his wife, Sarah. Augustina Vega and Carlos Herrerra and some music-playing vaqueros. Pea Eye, Lippy, Needle, Jasper, and most of the boys, hootin' and hollering.

Call was aware that the Cap'n hadn't showed up. He wasn't disappointed because he expected it to be this way. But, it still hurt.

Inside the house, Victoria and Paige helped Gretchen into her wedding dress.

They fixed her hair for her, putting it up and intertwining it with white ribbons and flowers. They left a small curl dangling on both sides of her temples.

"I love the dress! It's so gorgeous. Thank you, Victoria. Thank you, Boo," Gretchen said as she cried happily. Both Victoria and Paige shed tears of joy as they took notice of how beautiful their sister looked.

"Gretchen, you are absolutely stunning," Paige said.

Victoria nodded in agreement. "You are quite a lovely bride, Gretchen, dear."

"Call washed his hair and took a bath, I see," Paige giggled. All three sisters laughed at the comment.

****************************

In Curtis Wells, Mattie sadly looked at her plate of food. She just didn't feel much like eating. Her throat felt dry as she watched Mr. and Mrs. LaPorte slowly descend the stairs and walk over to her table.

"Good morning, Miss Shaw. Good morning, Dewey," Mr. LaPorte said.

"Hullo," Dewey replied. Mattie just stared at the couple.

"I suppose this is goodbye, Dewey," Mattie sadly replied.

Dewey's face wrinkled in confusion. "Where are you going, Mama?"

"Oh, Dewey," Mattie said. She couldn't hold back. Tears welled up in her eyes until they overflowed, sliding down her cheeks.

"Why are you crying, Mama?" Dewey asked and got up from his seat and went and hugged Mattie.

"Oh, Dewey. I love you," Mattie said as the tears increased.

Mrs. LaPorte looked at her husband. "I think you should tell her."

"Yes," Mr. LaPorte agreed. "Uh, Miss Shaw. We really must be leaving. Before we leave however, we have decided that it would best for Dewey if he were to remain here with you."

Mattie nearly strained her neck from twisting it so fast. "WHAT?!"

"Provided you allow us to visit on occasion and agree to send him to stay with us for one week each summer, back in Indiana," Mr. LaPorte said.

"Yes! Yes! Anything," Mattie agreed.

Dewey smiled. "You ain't leaving me, Mama?" he said to Mattie.

"No, Dewey. I'm not leaving you. Kiss your aunt and uncle goodbye now."

Dewey made a face then kissed his relatives.

**********************************

Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby both ached from digging the grave and burying the gambler. They sat quietly in the back of the Ambrosia as customers slowly entered and left the saloon.

"You nearly lost this place, Clay," Robert said.

"I suppose he had it coming," Clay replied.

"The man cheated you, Clay."

"We have done no less to others in our past, Robert."

"Robert nodded. "Yes, Clay. But we never were foolish enough to get caught."

"I do hope no one comes in search of our Mr. Bolles," Clay mentioned.

"I hardly think a cheap gambler like him had many friends," Robert suggested.

Clay looked at Robert and smiled. "It's reassuring having you here, Robert."

**************************************

The time was 11:03AM when Gretchen stepped out of the house wearing the cream colored wedding dress her sisters had made her. Holding a bouquet of wild flowers, she walked over to Call as everyone happily watched.

Call stared at her as he took her hand. "Gretchen, you look so beautiful!"

Gretchen smiled as she stared at Call. "You look so handsome in Mason's coat, Call."

The Reverend Daniel Scully stood before the young couple. Everyone stood quietly by to watch as the sacred vows would be spoken.

Reverend Scully spoke for a couple minutes then said, "O happy day that fixed my choice on thee. O happy bond that seals my vows to him who merits all my love, that theirs may be the love which knows no ending, when thou for ever more dost join in one."

The Reverend smiled at both Call and Gretchen. "Will you place the ring on her finger as a testament to your marriage as one?"

Call nodded as his fingers fumbled in the wrong pocket. Mason finally had to help locate the ring. Call took the thin gold band with whimsical hearts interlocking and tried to slide it on Gretchen's finger.

"It ain't going on," he mumbled as everyone smiled. Call struggled to slide the thin gold wedding ring onto Gretchen's finger.

Gretchen giggled nervously as Reverend Scully patiently waited until Call managed to slide the ring onto Gretchen's finger. Reverend Scully nodded in approval.

"Call! It's a lovely ring," Gretchen whispered.

"I now pronounce you . . . man and wife!" the Reverend proclaimed to the whole world.

Call took Gretchen into his arms and kissed her mouth as Gretchen kissed him back.

"I love you, Call," she whispered. "I'll love you forever."

"I love you, Gretchen. Forever," Call replied as they stared excitedly into each other's eyes.

"Mr. and Mrs. Newt Call," the Reverend said as a loud cheer went up into the Montana sky.

******

A few hours had passed since Call and Gretchen had married. The vaqueros played their guitars and Call even danced awkwardly with Gretchen for almost an entire minute. To Call, it felt more like thirty minutes.

Everyone had made a point to offer their blessings and congratulations to the happy young couple. The Hat Creek boys were merciless in razzing Call. Jasper was loud as Pea Eye shook his head. Isom Pickett spoke to Call like a father as he explained the importance of sharing. Call listened as he kept looking at Gretchen.

The townswomen huddled around Gretchen and her sisters. They fussed over her wedding ring. They talked about babies. They passed along advice to the young wife. Gretchen was gracious as she allowed every single woman to say their piece. She too, kept looking at Call.

Dr. Cleese was giddy as he thoroughly delighted in Victoria Brandt's company. He was pleasantly surprised at her knowledge of things in general.

Finally, Call and Gretchen were able to spend time together as folks began leaving. Gretchen put her hand on Call's face. "I wish the Captain would have come to our wedding, Call."

Call nodded. "I told you he . . ."

"What is it, Sweetheart?" Gretchen asked. She noticed Call staring out at a distant hill. She turned to look. A solitary horseman sat atop the hill due east of the house.

Call's eyes widened. "It's the Cap'n!"

Gretchen smiled. "Your father?" She began waving at the rider on the hill. Call lifted his hand, bending his arm at the elbow.

The Cap'n lifted his hand, bent at the elbow.

Gretchen smiled and spun around. "He saw us, Call!"

Call nodded.

They both looked back but the Cap'n was gone.

"He came to our wedding, Call!" Gretchen excitedly said.

Call smiled at Gretchen then turned his head sideways and swallowed.

************************************

Gretchen's sisters and Call's Uncle Mason were the last ones to leave. Call and Gretchen were now married and alone at their own house. It was a sight no one would have anticipated six months earlier when the Brandt Sisters had arrived in Curtis Wells. No one, except Gretchen.

A northern wind had blown in during the day. The sky had finally cleared.

Call held Gretchen close to him as they watched the autumn sun set behind the hills. It was like someone had taken a bucket of paint and threw it across the sky, leaving streaks of orange and purple and in the far distance a light blue where the sun had disappeared below the furthest hill.

Call bent slightly and hooked his arm under Gretchen's thighs so he could lift her into his arms.

"Call!" Gretchen giggled. She buried her face in his chest.

"Seems the proper thing for a husband to do for his wife," he said with a smile.

"And I am your wife, Call," Gretchen replied. "I really am."

"Gretchen Call, I love you," Call said as he stared into her eyes.

Gretchen bit her lip. "I've waited so long to hear you say that, Newt Call," she said as she stared intently at him. "November 13. Our wedding day."

Call walked up the steps and carried Gretchen into the house. "I reckon we should go into our bedroom, Mrs. Call."

Gretchen wrapped her arms tightly around Call and whispered in his ear, "anything you say, Mr. Call. Anything you say."

+++++++++++++++++++++ The End +++++++++++++++++++

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