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.


Desperation (A Thanksgiving Story)
(16th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Desperate as the night moves on
Just one look
And a whisper, and they're gone.

("Jungleland" - Bruce Springsteen)

Escorted by Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby, Mattie Shaw descended the stairs of her room above the gunsmith shop for the first time in days. She beamed like a child at the opportunity of finally being freed from her four-walled prison. Her gunshot wound was on its way to healing just fine as she stepped onto the wooden walkway and opened the door to her shop. Mattie's face lit up with a surprised smile as she gazed at a long white ribbon strung across the inside from her glass counter to the doorknob at the back door. A sign in black letters had been printed out saying, Welcome Back Mattie.

"Did you do this for me, Clay?" Mattie turned and asked.

Mosby shook his head. "Robert and I wanted to surprise you, Mattie."

She reached out to hug Robert then took hold of Clay and hugged him. "Thank you. Thank you, both. I feel like I've been cooped up in that room forever."

Across the street from the gunsmith shop, leaning against the side wall of the Lonesome Dove Hotel, two men patiently took note of Clay Mosby, along with the man and woman who were in his company. Both men were lean and tall. One had a long nose while the other a beard parted by a scar across his chin. They turned their heads to each other and nodded.

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

Mrs. Ephraim Cleese. Mrs. Victoria Cleese. Victoria smiled as she laid down her pencil and looked up at the sound of someone entering the dry goods.

"Ephraim," she replied.

Her husband, Dr. Ephraim Cleese, stood in the doorway. "Hello, Victoria," he said. He smiled at Paige.

"Aren't you two going to kiss each other like Gretchen and Call kiss?" Paige asked while dusting shelves.

Both Ephraim and Victoria's faces reddened from embarrassment.

"I am afraid," Ephraim replied, "your sister and I are not quite comfortable with showing our feelings in public."

"You've only been married a week," Paige reminded her oldest sister. "You are not like Mother and Father yet, are you?" She shook her head, realizing her youthful blunder. "I'm sorry, Victoria. I meant no harm in my words."

Victoria went and hugged Paige. "I know you didn't. Will you watch the store while I have lunch with Ephraim?"

Paige nodded and watched them leave. She knew Gretchen and Call's love was a special love. She knew it was wrong of her to suggest the sensible doctor and her sensible sister showing their feelings in the same manner as Gretchen and Call. She went back to her chores hoping that when her turn came, it would be like Gretchen rather than Victoria.

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

Gretchen Call climbed up behind her husband and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist. "Riding double on the Hellbitch will keep me warmer, Call."

Call twisted his head till his chin touched his shoulder. "You ain't forgetting nothing, are you, Gretchen?"

Gretchen leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "Oh! Your cheek's already cold. No, I'm not forgetting anything. All my chores are finished. Tomorrow I want to bake a pie to bring over Victoria's for our first Thanksgiving." Gretchen closed her eyes and squeezed Call. "Our very first Thanksgiving as husband and wife, Call. It feels so good."

Call snapped the reins as the Hellbitch moved out slow. "It does," he nodded in agreement. "I'd favor spending the day alone. Just the two of us."

"I know, Call. I know you would rather not go. But it's only going to be the six of us. And your uncle will be there. This will be the very first time my sisters and I won't be spending Thanksgiving with our parents." She brushed back some of his hair underneath his hat and blew her warm breath on his neck and giggled.

He stretched one hand behind him to grab Gretchen. Still giggling, she took hold of his hand and brought it to her lips then began kissing and playing seductively with his hand.

"You keep on doing that and I just might have me a mind to throw us both down in the snow," Call said as they slowly crossed the snow-covered ground.

"Is that a promise?" Gretchen giggled as she bit his hand.

"Hey!" Call replied. 'You little . . ."

Gretchen screamed happily as Call pulled them both off the Hellbitch. They landed in the fresh, powdery snow where Call quickly rolled Gretchen on top of him to keep her from laying in the cold. They began kissing passionately while the Hellbitch stood quietly by.

Finally, half out of breath, Gretchen pulled her mouth away from Call's mouth. "Let's hurry, Call. I can't wait to come home and climb in our bed together." She said this with a coy look in her eye.

Call pulled her up and whistled for the Hellbitch. The horse had wandered shortly away and reared her head and trotted over to them.

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

Mattie Shaw raised her head as the door opened to the gunsmith shop. "Can I help you?" she asked as two tall strangers stepped inside from the cold and snow.

The man with the long nose nodded. "We were wondering if you might be able to tell us something?"

"We're looking for a man who was supposed to be here in town," the bearded one with the scar added. "You'd remember him. He was dressed real fine."

Mattie smiled. "I'm sorry. I've been laid up sick for a while. I don't know who's been in town. You should ask Sheriff Peale. He might be able to help you. His office is just down the street."

The two men looked at each other and then turned for the door. "Obliged, ma'am."

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

Due to the early snow it was continuously crowded inside the Lonesome Dove Hotel's dining room. Dr. Cleese and his new bride, Victoria, had finished their meal and were enjoying a hot cup of tea.

"I am afraid that Call will not enjoy himself tomorrow at Thanksgiving dinner," Ephraim sadly replied.

"Newt is family, Ephraim. He's just going to have to adjust to having Paige and I involved in his life. As well as you." Victoria blew on the steaming tea and took a sip. "Mmmm. This hot steam feels good on my face."

"That was kind of you to invite his Uncle Mason to dine with us," Dr. Cleese quietly replied.

"It's a time for family gatherings," Victoria Cleese said. "Gretchen said her and Newt will show up in the morning so she can help prepare the meal."

Josiah Peale and Unbob Finch paused at their table on their way out of the hotel.

"I see Miss Laurie Ann Mecurdy got off all right on the stage," Josiah began.

"Yes," Victoria replied. "The poor dear missed her family back in North Carolina. I do so hope she has a safe journey."

"I gave her one of my kittens," Unbob mentioned. "To keep her company while she travels. It was brown with two white spots on its head."

Victoria nodded. "Yes, Unbob. She fell in love with it. That was kind of you."

"Well, come on, Unbob," Josiah said. "We were thinking about dusting off the printing press."

Dr. Cleese sat up straight. "Are you perhaps planning to start the newspaper again, Josiah?"

Josiah smiled. "I have been thinking about it, Ephraim. I think it could be time to start it up. Well, good day."

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

On his way back from bullying citizens of tent town over his recent beating, Sheriff Austin Peale was confronted by a pair of tall strangers.

"Howdy, Sheriff," the long-nosed man nodded. "We were told to ask you about a stranger that was here less than two weeks ago."

"What the hell do I look like?" Austin barked, still angry that no clue had turned up concerning his attack in the dark.

"He was a gambler by the name of Tom Bolles," the bearded man said.

Austin paused. Despite his blind hatred of whoever had injured him, he still was a lawman. "I don't have time for this. Ask me later," he grumbled as he turned and headed up the steps of the Ambrosia with lead feet.

Josiah Peale was crossing the street from the Dove and approached the two lean strangers. "I heard what you said. I saw the man you're looking for."

Both men turned quickly toward Josiah. "You saw Long Tom? Dressed in black, Gold watch chain," the bearded one replied.

"Yes," Josiah said. "Mr. Shelby escorted everyone out of the Ambrosia here around midnight. Clay Mosby was playing poker with your friend at the back table. Are you friends of that man?"

The two tall men eyed Josiah cautiously. "We're kin. This here's Seldom Bolles and I'm Sudden Bolles. Tom's our cousin," the bearded man revealed. "It was our intentions to all meet up here in Curtis Wells."

"I never saw him the next day," Josiah said. "But we had a wedding outside of town that day. Most folks attended it." Josiah paused. "Now that I think of it, Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby never attended it." He shrugged. "I'm the mayor of Curtis Wells, gentlemen. Let me know if I can assist you with anything else."

"Oh, I believe you've been a big help,Mayor," Seldom Bolles replied.

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

Mason Dobbs laid flat on his back while Rosa did all the work as she straddled him and bounced slowly up and down. This wasn't just another poke for the Mexican girl. Rosa had felt something inside for Mason after learning that Sheriff Peale had been attacked and beaten up. She knew Mason had done it to pay Austin back for his brutal beating to her.

After Mason had exploded inside her, she leaned over, pressing her firm breasts against his chest. She could feel his seed dribbling out of her as she nestled herself close to him. She opened her mouth then quickly shut it, not wanting to let her thoughts become public.

I wish it could always be like this, Rosa thought as Mason showed no signs of pushing her aside the way most men did after satisfying their lustful urges.

"Maybe I should consider finding me a hot, little senorita," Mason replied.

Rosa pushed herself up slightly as she separated her body from Mason's. "You can have me any time you want, Mason." She looked at him with burning eyes of copper.

He grinned up at the prostitute. "It's been too long since I had the pleasant . . . and wild company of a barefoot Mexican. I'll wager I had many a fine memory chasing brown-skinned senoritas down in Cuidad Juarez and Guadalupe Bravos along the Rio Grande. I always did favor a black-haired woman over one with corn silk hair. Something about you Southwest women turns my belly to butter."

"Senor Dobbs," Rosa replied, "I can churn your butter into something muy grande."

Mason frowned. "Grande?"

"It will feel that way after I get through pleasing you," Rosa said as she began rubbing herself lightly over his lower body.

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

Early in the cold afternoon the Hellbitch walked into Red Crow's village carrying Call and Gretchen. The dark-skinned Lakota people that Gretchen and her sister, Paige, had seen back in the summer during their last visit were all wearing deerskin clothing to keep warm as winter approached.

Red Crow smiled and headed straight for the newlyweds. "Their is a glow in both of your faces," he said as Call climbed down then helped Gretchen down. He saw the eagle claw necklace he had given Gretchen around Call's neck.

"She's my wife, Red Crow," Call proudly boasted as he extended one hand to the Lakota leader while putting his other arm around his wife.

Red Crow smiled then laughed. "Sun<Ka Watogla and Sung ma<he tu. Wild Dog and the Coyote."

Gretchen felt more comfortable being in this Indian camp than she did on that warm, star-filled, summer night months ago. She lifted her left hand to show Red Crow the gold wedding band with the two interlocking whimsical hearts Call had bought and placed on her finger nearly two weeks ago.

"And soon, you will have a child," Red Crow said.

"Yes," Gretchen replied. "I hope so." She squeezed Call tightly.

"Tomorrow we take our lodges down," Red Crow said. "It is time to move our village to the winter camp. Come. You two are now husband and wife. You will eat with me in my lodge. My heart is happy to see you, Wild Dog. My heart is happy that Coyote has your love and devotion. You will be strong. Ee wah sha keen tay."

Still slightly in awe and frightened in the presence of these frontier Indians, Gretchen stayed especially close to her husband as they walked across the cold, white ground to enter the lodge of Red Crow, while squaws and children hastened to pack their belongings for the coming journey.

Out of nowhere a brave walked up to Red Crow and pointing to Call and Gretchen, began arguing in the native tongue. Red Crow motioned for his two guests to enter the lodge and wait for him. Call nodded and holding Gretchen at his side, bent down and poked his head through the flap. He stepped inside the dark lodge bringing Gretchen with him.

As the voices of Red Crow and the unknown Lakota warrior grew and the argument ensued, Gretchen sat almost on top of Call. Though she was frightened, she felt a sense of calm. A feeling of being safe and secure with her husband. When she had dreamed about finding a young man like Call back in the relative safety of St. Joseph, Missouri, she never thought of actually sitting inside an authentic Indian lodge.

The heated argument ended as abruptly as it had begun. Red Crow stepped inside his lodge and sat on the warm buffalo robes along with his guests. His countenance had changed. Gretchen wasn't aware of it, but Call was.

"Trouble brewing?" Call asked.

"You must forgive me, my friends." Red Crow opened his hands to offer Call and Gretchen pieces of jerked beef. "We will eat together. A meal is being prepared as we share our words." He looked at Call. "The one who's words were those of anger is called Mi<la Sapa. Black Knife." Red Crow shook his head. "He does not ride or hunt with us. He has much anger and hate inside him. It is not good. He says you do not belong here. He trusts no white man. You, Sun<Ka Watogla," he said to Call, "are of the i sta< ska. You understand my words."

As Call nodded to his Lakota friend's reference to the "white eyes," a squaw whose features were heavy square and coarse entered the lodge carrying three bowls of food. Without saying anything she handed Call the first bowl. She then gave the second to Red Crow and the last one to Gretchen, then turned and quietly exited the lodge.

"Eat, my friends. I am sorry that I could not provide a better meal for two who just married," Red Crow said. He looked at the eagle claw necklace around Call's neck. "My heart sings to see you wear the gift I gave your woman." He laughed. "You did not like it when she said she was your woman four moons ago, Sun<Ka Watogla. Now she is your wife."

Call laughed as Gretchen stared into her husband's eyes with her warm smile. "Coyote Girl here has magic, Red Crow. I reckon she affected me more than anyone else ever did. I love her."

After the visit Call and Gretchen went outside to leave but it had begun snowing harder and the cold wind had blown down from the north making it difficult to see much of anything. Red Crow suggested Call and Gretchen remain as his guests for the night. He insisted they sleep in his lodge while he would sleep in another lodge. The Call's accepted Red Crow's generous offer.

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

"And, how are we feeling, Mattie?" Clay Mosby asked as he stepped inside the gunsmith shop.

Mattie paused as she looked at Clay. She liked him in his brown leather duster and wide-brimmed hat. "I feel tired, Clay. I think I'm going to close early."

"Well, good. Perhaps you would consider joining me for dinner?"

"I'd like that," Mattie smiled. " Afterwards, I think I should go to bed. Alone!"

"It's awfully cold outside, Mattie. Are you sure you wouldn't prefer I keep you warm tonight?" Clay said with a grin.

"I'm sure," Mattie replied with a laugh. "Oh?! Clay? Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Do you have any plans?"

"None," he said. "I suppose I will eat something at the hotel's dining room."

Mattie locked the backdoor and grabbing her own duster, headed toward the front door. "Let's have Thanksgiving dinner together, Clay. We could eat early in the afternoon."

Clay smiled. "Consider it done."

Mattie locked her shop and then they headed for the Dove.

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

Austin walked into Twyla's and looked around the crowded lobby as if searching for someone in particular. The early snow had been a boon for the whorehouse and business had been good.

"Rosa!" he loudly said.

Rosa tensed up and immediately broke into a cold sweat as she heard Austin's voice. She ran up one of the staircases as Austin squeezed and pushed his way through the crowd to reach the stairs. He followed quickly behind her and stopped as the door to her room slammed shut. Down the hall two men were laughing with Sadie as they drank whiskey and all went into the same room.

Austin opened the door and stepped inside of Rosa's room.

"It's not polite to walk in on folks, amigo."

Austin paused as he saw Rosa holding on to Mason Dobbs' arm. Mason laid on the bed wearing his longjohns. He stared at the two of them.

"Is this a social call, Peale?" Mason asked as he sat up. "Because if it's not you better get that ass of yours out of here pronto."

"I want to talk to Rosa," Austin finally said.

"She's occupied right now," Mason said in a calm voice. "The next time that door opens and something's dangling between your legs I'll shoot it off." He winked at Austin then laid down and pulled Rosa down with him.

Austin gritted his teeth and silently walked out.

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

With winter coming on the days were growing shorter. The next morning Red Crow thanked Call and Gretchen for their kindness in wanting to share the happy news of their marriage. He said goodbye as the young couple rode quietly out of the soon to be moved Lakota village.

"It's Thanksgiving morning, Call. Happy Thanksgiving, Sweetheart," Gretchen excitedly said to her husband. "Our first Thanksgiving married."

Call hesitated. He wasn't used to saying these words to anyone and he felt slightly awkward. "Uh . . . Happy . . . Happy Thanksgiving, Gretchen."

She giggled and hugged him.

"Call, how would he know whether or not we're going to have a child soon?" Gretchen softly asked as she laid her head on his back.

Call shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe he just figures it's bound to happen."

Gretchen sat back slightly and put one hand on her stomach. "I hope this time next year we already have our first child, Call. I really do."

"So do I, Gretchen," Call replied.

"Call, I love you. I'll love you forever and ever and ever," Gretchen said in her soft voice as she hugged him. "These days with you have been the happiest of my life."

Call drew rein on the Hellbitch and slid one arm in between his back and Gretchen's stomach so he could awkwardly put his arm around her. She made it easier by leaning forward so he could hold her close. "I love you, Gretchen. Forever. I reckon I feel the same. These days with you I like better than anything else I ever knew."

Gretchen moaned softly as Call's lips met hers and they kissed for long, heart-pounding moments. Their warm breath mixed with the cold air, causing a small cloud steam near their faces.

Call looked up at the sky. "It's snowing, Gretchen. We best move on."

Gretchen lifted her chin to touch her soft cheek against Call's rough cheek. "Anything you say, Call."

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

It was still snowing on Thanksgiving morning in Curtis Wells. Not as hard or as steady as it had last night, but a light snow fell silently and continuously. The streets were mostly quiet as Clay Mosby held his arms close to his chest as he stepped outside the sanctuary of his saloon and shivered.

I will never get used to this infernal cold, he thought as his tall black riding boots crunched through the layer of snow on his way to see Mattie. He paused in front of the gunsmith shop and peered inside the window. There was no sign of activity. Clay had assumed that Mattie would be closed but he half expected to see her move about from within.

Perhaps she's sleeping in, Clay thought, knowing Mattie hadn't completely healed from the accidental gunshot wound. He carefully climbed the slippery stairs and rapped his knuckles on her door. He did it twice more, a little louder each time as there was no answer. Perplexed, Clay turned to leave when a small, muffled sound from within caught his attention. He opened the door and put his head inside.

"Mattie?"

The room appeared empty. He was about to close the door when he noticed a pair of small feet wiggle on the floor. Clay stepped inside and walked around the bed.

"What in the . . .?!" he exclaimed as he saw young Dewey on the floor, bound and gagged. "Dewey?!" Clay bent down and quickly loosened the ropes that were cutting into the boy's flesh.

"Where's Mattie?!" Clay ordered.

Dewey squirmed to stand up and fell over. Clay lifted the scared boy off the floor and into the air with one strong hand. "What happened here?!"

"They took Mama!" he cried out in desperation as his lower lip quivered.

Clay held the boy by his skinny arm. "What? Who took her? Damn it, Dewey. What the hell happened here?!"

"Two ugly men came in last night and forced Mama to leave. They was gonna hurt me if she didn't go!"

Placing one hand on his hip and the other on his chin, Clay thought quickly. "Did they say any . . . Dewey! Listen to me! This is urgent! Did they say anything about why or where they were . . . !"

"NO!" Dewey screamed. "I want my Mama!"

Before Clay could order the boy to stay put the young orphan ran to the open door and rushed down the stairs. Clay hurried to follow him and moved quickly up the street to put together a search party.

"Wake up, Sheriff!" Clay loudly demanded as he slammed open the door to the sheriff's office.

Austin bolted up from a restless sleep. "Mosby?!"

"You have exactly ten minutes to dress and form a posse. Be outside," Clay order then turned to leave.

"Wait a minute!" Austin yelled. "What happened?"

"Mattie's been kidnapped."

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

Call and Gretchen rode across a silent sea of white as the morning sky took on a brownish tint. Scattered groves of snow-covered pines littered the cold November scenery. As they climbed one low rolling hill and then descended the peak, disaster struck. A waiting enemy rose up from his hiding place near a rock and taking hold of Call's boot, flung it out of the stirrup, sending Call out of his saddle and into the snow.

The Hellbitch bucked, causing a screaming Gretchen to fall off into the soft snow. As the Hellbitch spooked and ran a short distance away, the young married couple could see Black Knife, the Lakota. As Call angrily got to his feet, Black Knife swung the butt-end of his rifle as hard as he could into the side of Call's face. Gretchen screamed as she watched her husband's head snap and red blood squirt onto the white snow. Call reeled, fighting to not lose consciousness.

Gretchen hiked up her dress enough so she could run toward the Hellbitch, hoping to draw Call's Winchester from the scabbard. Black Knife was content to let her run as he moved on Call like a cougar coming in for the final blow. As Call stumbled toward Black Knife, the Indian turned from watching Gretchen where he quickly cocked and fired the rifle waist-high at Call's belly. Call groaned as he fell sideways into the snow. Black Knife was quickly on top of him. He pulled Call up and turning him, took hold of his head and slammed the side of his head into the unyielding trunk of a large pine.

Gretchen screamed hysterically as she watched her husband crumble face- first into the red-stained snow. Aware of her reason for running to the saddled horse, Black Knife left Call to die and bounded through the snow toward Gretchen. She tried to run wildly off into any direction but the Lakota warrior was much stronger and faster. Grabbing Call's rope off the Hellbitch's saddle horn, he bound her hands as her furious attempt to fight him was futile.

"CALLLLLL! CALLLLLLLL!" Gretchen screamed as loud as she could.

Black Knife grabbed Gretchen by the waist and pushed her up on the Hellbitch. He finished tying the rope that bound her hands around the saddle horn. He took hold of the reins and walked to where his saddle-less pony stood. Swinging effortlessly onto his Lakota pony, he shot a hateful glare at Gretchen. "Niye hi te." ("Your husband is dead.").

"CALLLL! CAAALLLLLLLLL!" she screamed again.

Black Knife expanded his lungs then let out a savage chorus of yells, war whoops, and taunting epithets. He looked at Gretchen. "Iye te! Iye te! Hemaca Mi<La Sapa!" ("He's dead! He's dead! I am Black Knife!").

Yanking the reins of the Hellbitch, Black Knife rode off as Call lay motionless, face-down in the cold, red snow.

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

Austin Peale ran through the snow and pulled up in front of the Ambrosia. Mosby had already assembled his hired hands and Zeke, along with a half dozen others were already scouring the nearby country for any sign of Mattie Shaw.

As Robert Shelby and Clay prepared to head down to the livery, a crippled transient from tent town hobbled over to them.

"You Mosby?" the man asked, waving a note. "Got something here for you."

Clay ripped the note out of the man's hand. He opened it and read:

If you ever want to see her again tie up the hounds. This is a private affair, Mosby. Just you and Shelby. Wait for us in saloon.

Clay reached out and grabbed the crippled man by his shirt. "Who gave you this?! Answer me!"

The man recoiled. "I don't know. Take your hands off me. All I know is some tall fellow handed me a dollar and said to deliver this here note to Clay Mosby. That's all I know."

Clay fumed at the prospect of Mattie being violated or worse from some unknown enemy. He turned to Austin. "You keep the streets clear. When Zeke returns you tell him not to interfere."

Austin protested. "I should at least go with . . ."

"I will not be defied! Is that understood?!" Clay said authoritatively.

Austin nodded.

"I guess we better go wait inside, Clay," Robert suggested. "It's light out. We could never sneak up on anyone if they're watching us."

Clay thought for a moment. "Perhaps you're right, Robert. They had better not touch Mattie.

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

Paige Brandt paused from setting the table to turn to her oldest sister. "Isn't this going to be the best Thanksgiving ever, Victoria? You and Ephraim are married and Gretchen and Call are married. And Mason should be here soon, along with Gretchen and Call."

Victoria stood up from the stove and turned her head. "It is going to be special, Paige. Our first Thanksgiving without Mother and Father. I miss them."

"Well," Dr. Cleese added, joining in on the conversation, "I certainly hope your parents will be delighting in their own holiday feast back in Missouri."

"Call's going to take Gretchen back to Missouri to visit Mother and Father," Paige said proudly.

"Perhaps we could travel together?" Ephraim suggested. "Provided I ever get an opportunity to step away from my office."

Victoria nodded in agreement as she worked on four different things at once. "Gretchen and Newt should have been here by now. I wonder what's keeping them?"

Just then there was a knocking on the front door. Paige jumped up excitedly. "That's Gretchen now, Victoria. I'll let them in."

Ephraim walked over to his new bride. "Victoria? May I be of any assistance?"

Victoria smiled. "No, thank you, Ephraim. You've been so kind to invite Gretchen and Newt here. As well as Newt's uncle."

"It's not them," Paige groaned as she stepped into the large kitchen with Call's uncle, Mason Dobbs.

"Did you happen to see your nephew and Gretchen on your way here, Mr. Dobbs?" Victoria asked.

"No, ma'am. I did not. I wouldn't fret much. I'll wager those two lovebirds will be walking in this fancy house any minute from now." He looked at Dr. Cleese and sent him a friendly wink.

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

He didn't know where he was at first or what he was doing. Call slowly opened his eyes and laid limp in the cold, wet snow. A light snowing had partially covered him. Suddenly, he jumped up as it all came back in a surge of horror. Call reached for the side of his head as he felt shooting pains burning and throbbing like drums in his head and down his neck. He turned around. Wet, sticky blood covering his cheek and forehead.

"GRETCHEN! GRETCHHHEENNNNNNN!"

He felt a dull pain down near his belly, by the front of his hip. Looking down, he saw his Colt Peacemaker had been broken. Then he realized the rifle shot fired by Black Knife had missed his flesh. Instead, the shell had shattered part of his gun handle and damaged the firing pin, rendering his weapon useless.

Call's heart pounded rapidly as he breathed in short, painful gasps. The icy cold air stung inside his lungs as he envisioned horrible possibilities.

"Sonofabitch! You bastard!" he yelled to the unresponsive, seemingly infinite plains. "Gretchen!"

With his left eye now half closed, Call looked around for any sign of footprints. Anything. He ran toward where the smooth white snow was broken and choppy, obviously from a struggle. He looked around for the Hellbitch and whistled for her but she didn't come. Fighting back the intense throbbing pain in his head, he ran after the two sets of horse prints that were already being covered by the continuous light snow. But his boots felt like they were filled with lead as he plodded through the snow. His thighs burned from the exhaustive effort he now employed in order to run across the barren, unsympathetic country.

"Gretchen! Gretchennnn!"

As Call ran the layer of snow fell off his shoulders and back. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious.

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

Her mind now bordering on slipping into the quicksand of insanity, Gretchen tried desperately to keep her hope alive, no matter how slim. She had been praying to the Good Lord ever since the vicious Black Knife had rode off with her. The last image she had of her husband was him lying face down in the snow. Unmoving and blood splattered across the pure white snow. She prayed that by some miracle Call wasn't dead and that he would find her and rescue her from this savage.

Never once did Black Knife turn around to observe Gretchen. Silently he pulled her along at a slow pace. Always moving at the same pace. Never speeding up or never slowing down. Through barren trees and snow-covered pines they continued on.

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

Mattie Shaw wasn't sure where the two tall men had taken her. In order to protect Dewey she had willingly allowed them to tie her hands behind her and not only gag her mouth, but blindfold her as well.

Now, she felt a pair of rough, calloused hands caress her face as she tried to yank her head away. The blindfold was untied and Mattie realized she was inside a small building with dim light. She lifted her eyes to see the man with the scar across his beard touching her hair. She turned her head but the man just laughed.

"Don't worry your pretty little head, Miss Shaw," he said in a low, deep voice. "It's Mosby we want. Mosby and his friend, Shelby." He scratched his cheek and stared at Mattie's firm breasts jutting out from the tightness of her white blouse. Grinning with a mouthful of yellow teeth, he reached out and began groping and fondling her breasts. Mattie's face tightened as she winced at the sickening thought of her helplessness.

"Hey, leave some for me," the other man replied. "I want to pull those tight leather pants off her legs and you know what happens then," he laughed.

The scarred man paused. "You go find Mosby. You know what to do." He stared lustfully at Mattie. "I'll stay here."

"You just save some of that woman for me, Brother." He opened the door and before he left Mattie took quick note of the lighting of the room. Wherever she was, it was a place she had never been inside before.

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

Seldom Bolles, the tall man with the long nose, slipped quietly out of the small building in back of Curtis Wells. There were a handful of buildings behind the town. Buildings like the Curtis Wells Sign Works, the grainery, Mr. Munroe the undertaker's building. But these small buildings hadn't been used for over two years now.

Seldom Bolles circled around the bath house and ran quietly across the snow-covered ground. Through tent town and then in between Twyla's and the Opera House as he walked up the empty street toward the Ambrosia. He felt fairly confident that after delivering his message he would leave and return to where Mattie Shaw was held captive and take his turn spilling his seed inside her violated body.

Clay Mosby spun around from his patterned pacing as Seldom Bolles entered the quiet saloon. Robert Shelby jumped up from his chair, knocking it loudly onto the cold, wooden floorboards.

"Don't try nothing," the long-nosed man replied, "if you ever expect to see Mattie Shaw again."

Clay rushed for the man. "If you've harmed her . . ."

"Clay! No!" Robert said as he moved to take hold of his friend. Robert had anticipated Clay's reaction.

"You hold him back," Seldom angrily ordered. "You'll never find the woman if I don't return just the same as I walked in here."

Clay tightened his jaw. "Why have you taken her?! Tell me!"

"We don't care none about her," the man said. "It's you, Mosby. You, and your damn friend. See, me and my brother, we been hanging around town for a couple days now. You might say we were gathering information."

Clay was tense but refused to let it show. "Why me? Why Robert?"

"Long Tom Bolles is our cousin," the long-nosed man revealed. "Where is he, Mosby? We know he came here and played poker with you."

"Your cousin was a cheap, carpetbagging, card cheating . . ."

"Where is he, Mosby?" Seldom Bolles ordered. "Either bring him to us or both you and your friend turn yourselves over to us."

Mosby's dark eyes burned into the man. "Your cousin is dead. And buried."

Seldom Bolles stepped back. "Then we'll kill the woman after we rape her every way possible if you don't turn yourselves . . ."

"You filthy Yankee scum," Clay said as he took hold of the man and swung him around. Seldom Bolles hit a table and chair and tumbled to the floor, suddenly full of fear.

"If you don't let me walk out of . . ."

Clay picked up the man and shoved him into a chair. "Robert?"

"Of course, Clay," Robert said as he drew the same knife that had stabbed the cheating Tom Bolles in the back. "If I were you, Mr. Bolles," Robert suggested, "I would be very obliging right now." Robert placed his sharp blade against Seldom's throat and pressed slightly.

"Aaaahhhh!" the tall man yelled as he felt the stinging and burning of a slight cut across his throat. "What's wrong with you?! Hurt me and you'll uuhhh!"

Clay backhanded him across the face. "Where is she? Tell us where you're holding her or I will let Robert Shelby end your worthless life here and now. I will not tolerate your demands. Do you hear me?"

"Go to Hell, Mosby. You wouldn't hurt me. You don't have the guts." Seldom Bolles spit in Clay's face.

"Stand aside, Robert," Clay ordered as he pulled out his handkerchief and wiped the man's spit off his face. Robert stepped back as Clay drew his Remington and cocked it. He pressed the gun against Seldom Bolles temple and pulled the trigger.

BAM!

One bullet and the tall man's head snapped as the other side of his head exploded as blood and hair and bone and brain splattered across the table and onto the floor. The man's body lurched forward and crumbled to the floor.

Clay holstered his gun and looked at Robert. "Let's find Mattie."

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

"Some thing must have happened," Victoria finally said as both her and Paige stood by one of the big front windows of their new home.

"Gretchen wouldn't have forgotten," Paige insisted. "She was making a pie and some sweet potatoes. Victoria?"

Victoria Cleese turned to Mason. "It isn't like Gretchen to not show up. They should have been here hours ago. Please, Mason? Will you ride to their house and see what happened?"

Mason grabbed his hat from the hat rack near the front door. "I'm on my way." He hurried down the stairs and mounted his gray and rode off toward the east.

Dr. Ephraim Cleese walked over to Gretchen's two sisters.. "I'm sure everything is quite well. They are young and tend to be carefree at times. Perhaps they simply lost track of time," he said to reassure them. Inwardly, he wasn't as certain. He knew Call was responsible.

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

By now the sky was beginning to darken. The first signs of the sun setting could be noticed beyond the thick blanket of snow clouds stretched far across the sky, from one horizon to the other. Tirelessly, Call continued on. A sharp pain radiated in his side as he followed the nearly-covered horse prints. Without any warning he suddenly came upon Black Knife's pony. It laid on its side, dead. Call paused as he snapped his head sideways looking for any signs of his wife. The Lakota had done nothing to hide his tracks, assuming he had killed the man known as Wild Dog.

As Call came into a large, flat clearing he suddenly slipped on a layer of thin ice and had to dive quickly to avoid being swallowed up by the icy stream that had just broke open. Call laid on the cold ground for only a moment then made it to his feet. Thirsty, he bent down near the cracked ice and stretched his hand into the frigid waters, cupping a small amount and bringing it to his mouth. He looked around, knowing Black Knife would have made Gretchen walk as he would have rode the Hellbitch himself.

Call hastened to his right searching for a narrow place where the thin frozen stream could safely be crossed. He soon spotted a large overhanging tree branch that seemed sturdy enough to swing across the narrow stream. Call jumped up with both hands and took hold of the crooked stump. He swung out once and then back to gain momentum then on the second try he arched his body and put all his motion into the swing. As his legs kicked out and his body was horizontal, the tree branch snapped and both Call and the branch came crashing down onto the thin, frozen stream.

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

The Lakota pony had stepped into a hole and fell, causing Black Knife to tumble awkwardly off his horse into the snow. Petrified, Gretchen sat on the Hellbitch without saying anything. The image of the poor animal being brutally killed bothered her. The angry Lakota warrior jumped up and instantly shot his horse in the head, killing it. He went to Gretchen and untied only the rope from the saddle horn. He put his hand on her side and pushed her off the horse into the snow.

Gretrchen was too frightened to speak and laid in the snow not sure what to do. Black Knife mounted the Hellbitch and leaned far over to take hold of the loose rope end. He tugged at it. "Niye kikta. Niye kikta!" ("You get up. You get up!"). Black Knife yanked hard on the rope, pulling Gretchen onto her face. "Niye win yan< witko tko ke niye tasogye." ("You crazy woman you will freeze.").

"I don't know what you're saying," Gretchen replied, holding back tears. "What am I supposed to do? Please let me go. My husband. Please?"

"Yasta!" ("Cease talking!"). Black Knife loudly ordered. He looked up and pointed to the sky. "Iye wahinhe." ("It is snowing."). He turned and rode slowly off, dragging Gretchen through the snow. She cried out for him to stop but he continued on. Gretchen finally pulled herself up and then tripped over the wet hem of her green dress. Black Knife laughed sadistically and led the Hellbitch toward a mountain some forty or fifty yards away.

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

The moment Clay Mosby stepped outside into the street he was set upon by Unbob and Dewey.

"Where's Mattie?" Unbob pleaded.

"My Mama. Where's my Mama?" Dewey added.

Clay turned and motioned for Austin to join him from his position near the jail. The sheriff trudged through the snow to stand alongside Mosby. "You get Zeke and every able-bodied man and you tear this town to pieces to find Mattie. As for whoever's holding her, I want him alive. Now go!"

"My Mama! My Mama!" Dewey repeated as he tugged Mosby's duster.

"I will find your mama. Now, please, get inside. Unbob. Take the boy inside."

Unbob nodded and taking Dewey's small hand he led him up into the Ambrosia.

Within minutes there was a mass searching under way.

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

Mason's boots hit the cold ground before his gray came to a halt. Victoria and Paige, as well as Ephraim, rushed outside into the now dark evening.

"Are they here?" Mason asked, already knowing the answer.

"No!" Victoria replied. "Something's happened! Mason! You have to find them!"

"Did either of them say anything about going anywhere?" Mason asked. "All of you, think!"

There were comments and what-ifs but nothing solid until Paige blurted out, "The Indian village! Gretchen said her and Call might go see Red Crow."

"I'll ride now," Mason said as he quickly placed his boot in the tapadero stirrup and mounted his gray. "It's dark but I'll do what I can." He turned the horse and rode out immediately.

"We need to go inside and pray for Gretchen and Newt," Victoria said.

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

As Call crashed with his head and back onto the frozen ice he groaned loudly in pain. Fearing the thin ice would collapse and drop him into the freezing stream, he rolled over and scampered quickly toward the solid ground. It was either good fortune or divine providence, but he made it safely to snow-covered ground. There were a pair of small broken ice chunks where his spurs has hit the ice. Feeling as if he had been run over and stomped by a dozen wild horses, he suddenly noticed a small flash of light ahead of him to his right, at the foot of the mountains. "Gretchen," he whispered and moved with renewed strength.

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

Black Knife had ridden the Hellbitch as Gretchen finally got to her feet. He stopped at the foot of a mountain where a cave opening sat like some great yawning mouth of a gigantic beast. Black Knife pointed to the opening and said, "Mako hloke." ("Cave.") He walked the Hellbitch into the large opening with Gretchen following behind, bruised and weary, her dress torn.

Black Knife serached the saddlebag and grunted as he withdrew a match. He found some dry twigs and had a small fire built soon after. He looked at Gretchen. "Niye hiya nape. Niye mitawa wiwayaka." ("You no escape. You are my captive.")

Mustering the last remaining bits of hope she could, Gretchen remembered the Bible account of King David when he was in his enemy's hand. How he had pretended to be insane to save his life. She scraped at the dirt and put some in her mouth and in the dim flickering illumination she pretended to eat.

Black Knife stared at her. "Win yan< 'gi 'sa witko tko ke." ("Woman with brown-red hair is crazy.")

Just then, a shadowy figure entered the cave. Gretchen's eyes widened as she wasn't sure it was a real vision. "Call?!" she whispered. "Call!" she cried out as tears flooded her eyes.

Black Knife turned his head to see the bloody face of Call. "Tokeske?" ("How in the world?")

With his knife in his hand, Call lunged for the Lakota warrior and ripped his sharp blade through the Indian's chest and side. "Aaaarrrgghhhh!" Black Knife screamed as searing pain overwhelmed his mind.

"You sonofabitch!" Call yelled as he stabbed the knife into Black Knife's side all the way till the hilt hit flesh and bone. The Lakota screamed again as Call began driving his fists over and over and over into Black Knife's face and head until the stunned and surprised Indian crumpled on the floor. Call stood over him and taking Black Knife's head with both hands, he violently twisted his head, snapping the Indian's neck like dry twigs being stepped on.

As the Indian fell dead, Call looked over to his wife as he breathed hard. "Gretchen!" he whispered. He stared at her. Her face scratched and bruised. Her hair messed up. Her green dress ripped and torn in places.

"Call!" she cried and ran into his arms and began weeping and sobbing. "Call. Oh, Call. Call."

Call held Gretchen close and squeezed her with the last of his ebbing strength. Suddenly, his eyes grew red and watery at the thought of what could have happened to her. "Gretchen," he groaned painfully. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I failed you."

"No, Call. No! You saved me," she whispered as she looked into his eyes and held her hands on his bloody cheeks. Seeing the emotion pour out of her husband's face caused Gretchen to cry more.

Call smiled as he stared into his wife's green eyes. "I would go across the whole world to find you, Gretchen Call." He slowly pulled the two of them to the dry, cold floor. "Did that bastard touch you, Gretchen?"

"No, Call. He never touched me. He just hit me once. I can't believe it. You found me! You really found me, Call. Oh, I love you, Call."

Call held Gretchen close to try and warm her. "I love you, Gretchen."

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

Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby busted into the old grainery just as Sudden Bolles had stripped down Mattie's pants and spread her bare legs wide apart. Mattie had been sobbing as she now saw her saviors appear. With his pants down, Sudden Bolles was unable to reach his gun as Robert took hold of him. Clay untied Mattie and instead of hugging him, she reached out and pulled Robert's large knife from its sheath.

"Mattie, no!" Clay said. "I want to hang him!"

"You can hang him, Clay. Soon as I finish," Mattie angrily said as she wiped her eyes and suddenly reached out to take hold of the bearded man's shrinking manhood. She lifted the knife and swung her arm down.

"Aaaaarrrrgggghhhhhhhh! Ooooouuhhhhhhhhhh!" The bearded man with the scar bellowed horribly in terrible pain as Mattie cut his manhood off his body. She stomped on it continuously until it looked like a bloody, internal body piece.

Both Clay and Robert stood there in shock.

"End it! End it!" Sudden Bolles screamed.

Mattie pulled up her pants and tried to cover her exposed breasts from her ripped-open blouse. Clay removed his duster and placed it around Mattie.

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

Next morning Mason Dobbs spotted a solitary horse silently carrying two hunched-over riders across the endless white landscape. He urged his gray through the snow until he met Call and Gretchen. "What happened?"

Call lifted his head. "Do you have to ask now?" He lowered his head as Gretchen quietly held him close from behind. They both appeared to have been through some terrible ordeal.

Mason jumped down and undid his saddle. He took the blanket and placed it around Gretchen and Call. He went back and saddled his gray. "They need that blanket more than you. Let's get the two of you back to Victoria's house. I'll wager Gretchen's two sisters will be mighty happy to see you two." Mason took hold of the Hellbitch's reins and led them back to where family would nurse them back to health.

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

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