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.


Judge Colt and His Jury of Six
(17th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Historical Note: Peril Rode The Highways of Montana Territory

Invincible stage line tycoon, Ben Holladay, the bearded King of Hurry was everywhere West with his Concord Stage, until he sold to Wells Fargo. During the 1860's, Montana's gold digging towns of Bannack, Virginia City, Nevada City, and Last Chance Gulch ( later renamed Helena) had stage runs where robberies were commonplace. Guards and drivers were shot from the box without warning and large sums of bullion were lost never to be recovered.
(The American West, by Lucius Beebe & Charles Clegg)

The Montana Statesman, Monday, November 28, 1881

(Editor-J.Peale) Panic strikes stage lines on Miles City-Great Falls-Bozeman circuit. Curtis Wells included as rash of robberies appear aimed at Adams Express Company. Adams Express is a well known Southern sympathizer. No fatalities to date as payrolls taken by force.

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

Newt Call laid flat on his back, staring wide-eyed at the darkened ceiling. It was hours past midnight. Sleep had eluded him the past few nights. In his mind he relived time and again the near-tragic events that were still fresh in his memory and stapled in battle scars on his bruised and cut face. The possibility of almost losing his wife, Gretchen, to death, or a fate even worst, troubled him deeply. He loved her far beyond any words he knew and it was tearing him apart inside to think in just a moment she had been taken from him.

Call closed his eyes then suddenly opened them wide. This was how it had been these nights since tracking down Gretchen and viciously killing her abductor, the dreaded Lakota warrior, Black Knife. He couldn't, or wouldn't, allow himself to relax. He listened to the sweet sounds of Gretchen's breathing as she lay half way on top of his body, her head on his shoulder. Her breathing was restless and troubled. Not like the peaceful breathing of a week ago.

He wrapped his arm around her back slightly tighter as both of his thumbs squeezed her warm body. Gretchen softly mumbled and adjusted her face so she would be closer to Call's head. She felt incredible in his arms and he couldn't understand it. There was Hannah. And there were others he had held close. He swallowed and realized it was like the Bible story Gretchen had told him about the man who found a rare and precious jewel in a field and sold everything he owned to buy that jewel. Call smiled slightly as he understood that his beloved Gretchen was that precious jewel.

Gretchen began moaning. Her body thrashed as she suddenly screamed.

"No! No! Nnnooooooo!"

"Gretchen!" Call nervously replied as he took hold of her arms in their dark bedroom. "Gretchen! Now calm down. It's me."

Gretchen fought him for a few seconds then heard his voice. "Call?! Call, is that you?"

"It's me, Gretchen. You're safe. We're in bed," Call reassured her as he massaged and caressed her head and back. He kissed her and held her tight.

"Oh, Call," she replied, breathing hard, "I had a nightmare. It was terrible." She wrapped her arms around him. "Call," she whispered.

Call rolled the two of them to their sides and put his forehead against Gretchen's forehead. "You want to get up maybe?" he calmly said as he placed a soothing hand on her cheek.

She shook her head. "Just hold me close, Call. I feel better with you near me."

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

Josiah Peale sat on the small bench in front of his newspaper office the next morning. This was a significant day. Monday, November 28th, 1881. It had been almost three full years since he had run the presses and printed a newspaper for the town. As a sense of purpose and pride filled his insides, he suddenly sat up straight as a liberty pole, taking notice of a peculiar sight; Luther Root guiding the Black Hills stage into town with an escort of eight or nine armed men.

Rising to his feet with a tin of coffee in one hand, Josiah stared as Luther pointed toward the sheriff's office. Two men dismounted and walked up the snow-covered street. They paused as they approached Josiah.

"You run this printing business, old man?" the younger of the pair said. He had a swagger to his walk and wore two guns tied down around his thighs.

Josiah nodded. "I . . . I just began printing for the first time in . . ."

"Well, put this in your next edition, Gramps," the young man said as he made a fist and pointed his thumb at the group of armed men sitting alongside the stage, "the law has come to protect you."

Josiah squinted. The other man's eyes narrowed as he sized up the newspaper man then spit tobacco juice in the snow and without any words just continued on to the jail.

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

Holding her arms across her chest, close to her body, Gretchen Call walked at a quick pace over the cold, white ground. She entered the barn and paused as she watched her husband shoveling piles left by Sugar and the Hellbitch.

"Those two rabbits you shot are kind of scrawny, Call. But there's enough meat for the stew I'm cooking."

Call turned and stared at his wife. Gretchen's hair was down. She wore a white bow in the back of her hair. He liked her in her brown skirt and olive green blouse. The blouse caused her green eyes to shine even prettier.

"I counted our money," Gretchen said, "and I think we'll make do until early spring." She walked over to Call. "It's so cold out here, Call."

"Guess I didn't notice," he replied with a smile.

Gretchen paused in front of him. She looked down at the ground.

"Something on your mind, Gretchen?"

She nodded slightly. "Call . . . I . . . I've heard stories about white girls that were captured by Indians."

Call leaned the shovel against a stall as he listened to Gretchen.

"I heard after they were . . . used . . . their . . . their husbands didn't want anything to do with them."

Call stepped close to his wife and gently took hold of her arms. "What are you saying, Gretchen?"

She looked into his eyes. "That Indian, Black Knife, never touched me, Call. He never did. But . . . if he had . . .?" she couldn't finish the sentence.

Call pulled Gretchen tight against his chest. "I don't ever want any man to touch you, Gretchen. But if something did happen," he lifted her chin so she could look at him, "you're my wife. I love you, Gretchen. I ain't ever gonna turn my back on you. Not for any reason."

Gretchen smiled warmly at Call. "Thank you, Call."

Suddenly, an unknown voice called out from just inside the doors. "Looks like I finally caught up to you."

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

"Hell, I'd be laying out there in the badlands dead right now if it weren't for them boys outside," Luther bellowed as he thirstily guzzled a mug of beer. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he looked at Mosby. "You ain't out there hauling them coaches, Mosby."

Clay mosby smirked. "That may be, Luther. However, I hardly think we have need for a whole group of regulators in Curtis Wells."

"I wouldn't call United States Deputy Marshals a group of regulators, Mosby? Is that your name?"

Clay turned and sized up the new man who just entered the saloon along with Sheriff Peale. "Deputy Marshals, are you?"

The man crossed the floor with his hand extended. "U.S. Territorial Marshal Nels Hammack. Out of Great Falls. Bloodhound Nels to those who know me."

Clay cautiously extended his hand as he looked over the man. He was slightly older than Clay with short grayish-brown hair. He wore a thick mustache with close set eyes. "Well, Marshal, if the stage lines are being robbed, why would Curtis Wells require so many men?" Clay smiled.

"That's a fair and simple question, Mr. Mosby," the lawman replied. "Your town affords us a central location. Strategy, Sir. By operating from this town, we can keep a closer and safer watch on all stages out of Great Falls or Bozeman. Even Miles City. Now, my men and I do not wish to inconvenience anyone while attempting to perform out duties. It's a bit on the cold side out there, with these recent snows. Is there a building we could all bunk in?"

Clay Mosby hesitated as he looked the man over. "We have had impersonators show up before. I assume you'll allow us to wire the Governor's office to make certain of who you are?"

The Territorial Marshal nodded. "Benjamin F. Potts, the Republican, has been Governor of the territory since back in '70. I invite you to inquire about anything you aren't satisfied with, Mr. Mosby. Now, about that building? My men may be accustomed to riding all night through snow, but I would appreciate any rest they can scrape up now. We need to ride at a moment's notice."

Clay frowned. "Austin, take them to the empty saloon two buildings up from Twyla's. I will wire the Governor immediately."

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

Amanda Carpenter handed Unbob the bag of flour and looked at Victoria. "I don't think Mr. Creel likes that your prices are lower than his."

"I don't wish to speak poorly of the man, Miss Carpenter," Victoria replied, "but it seems as if every item in his store has inflated prices. Hardly a proper way to run a business."

Amanda nodded. "Oh, I agree." She turned to Paige, who was petting Pearl, the white kitten Unbob had given her. "Miss Brandt," Amanda laughed slightly. "With your two sisters recently marrying, only you have the Brandt name."

Paige smiled at Amanda.

Amanda suddenly became serious. "Words spread fast in Curtis Wells. I'm glad Call was able to rescue his wife before that filthy savage did anything to her."

"Yes," Victoria said, "we were all relieved. Ephraim patched them both up. It must have been a horrible experience for both of them."

"And what happened to Mattie right here in town," Amanda continued. "Well, come on, Unbob. We better get back to the hotel. Good day."

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

Hearing the unknown voice caused Call to draw his Colt and spin around.

"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" the voice laughed. "You wouldn't want to go on there and put any holes in me, would you, Newt?"

Gretchen stepped behind her husband and took hold of his arm.

"Bill Cody?!" Call said as he stared at the stranger.

The man removed his hat and bowed. "It is none other than ol' Buffalo Bill, himself." He stood up and clapped his hand across his thigh. "How the hell are you, son? I've been meaning to look you up for quite a spell."

Call dropped his Peacemaker back into his holster and stood there as Bill Cody stepped near him. "I've been keeping an ear out for you, son. I heard you had some hard times. Heard too that you just got hitched." He looked at Gretchen. "Howdy, Mrs. Call."

Call turned to Gretchen and smiled. "It's all right. This here is the real Buffalo Bill Cody." He looked at Cody. "My wife, Gretchen."

Bill Cody reached out and took Gretchen's hand. He bent over and lightly kissed her left hand as he noticed her wedding band. "You must be some kind of special little filly to throw your rope around Newt, here?"

Gretchen giggled and curtseyed. "Thank you, Mr. Cody. Would you care for some coffee? I have a fresh pot on the stove."

"Are there any of Newt's biscuits to go with that coffee, ma'am?" Bill asked.

"No, Mr. Cody," Gretchen replied. "But I can make some right away." She hiked her skirt slightly and ran out of the barn toward the house. Call and Bill followed behind her.

"You've changed, son," Bill remarked as they entered the small house. "I'm in favor of the change. Reminds me of myself," he commented as he pointed to Call's long hair.

"What're you doing out here, Bill?" Call asked as they sat down at the table. Gretchen came over and poured two cups of coffee. She placed the pot on the stove then went and sat on Call's lap. Bill laughed as Call put one arm around his wife.

"Well, I'll tell you," Cody began, as he raised his cup of coffee and drank. He closed his eyes and shook his head. "This, is what I call a cup of coffee. My compliments, Mrs. Call."

Gretchen smiled and twisted some strands of her long hair. "Thank you, Mr. Cody."

"As I was saying," Bill continued, "I was involved in a theatrical Combination with Texas Jack Omohundro. I'm taking a breather right now but I've got big plans for next summer. It's called the 'Old Glory Blow-Out.' It's going to be in North Platte for the Fourth of July. Buffalo Bill is now on the threshold of his greatest fame."

Gretchen looked at Call then turned her gaze to Cody. "Call's spoken about you, Mr. Cody. Will you stay for supper?"

"I've never turned down an invitation yet, Mrs. Call," Bill smiled. "Son, I've heard you took up bounty hunting."

Call shrugged. "I've had occasion for it. Seems to me now that a man's place is looking after his wife."

Gretchen smiled brightly at Call. "And a wife's place is at her husband's side."

Bill laughed as he emptied his coffee. "Well I'd say you two are going to be fine together." He held up his cup. "Any more of that good coffee, Mrs. Call?"

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

Robert Shelby had made a point to check in on Mattie Shaw each day now. "Afternoon, Mattie," he said, stepping in from the cold. "It hasn't snowed for two days now."

Mattie smiled. "It looks that way. Robert, you don't have to keep coming in here like I'm some school girl."

Robert frowned. "How are you feeling, Mattie?"

"I'm fine," she insisted as she placed the chamber of a Navy Colt on the glass counter top. She stepped out from behind the counter and placed her hands on her hips.

Robert's eyes rode slowly up and down Mattie's body. The tight leather pants and the tight blouse revealed her curves to a degree not as apparent with other women wearing flowing long skirts.

Mattie's eyes suddenly seemed to burn with a fire. "Robert?" she quietly said.

"Mattie," he breathed, "forgive me." Robert pulled Mattie close to him, feeling her firm breasts pressing against his hard chest. He locked his mouth onto Mattie's surprised mouth and began kissing her. Mattie's arms were poised to push him away but instead she groaned and wrapped her arms around Robert's shoulders, allowing him free rein to kiss her.

Robert finally separated himself from Mattie as they both stared at each other in shocked silence. Their eyes burning into each other. Their hearts pounding.

"Mat . . . Mattie," Robert whispered as if seeing her for the first time ever.

Mattie swallowed hard and placed her hand on her lips. "What do we do now, Robert?"

Robert didn't answer her. He moved one boot-step closer and with his powerful arms, pulled Mattie against his body and kissed her hard and long.

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

It was nearing 11 o'clock. The streets were dark and quiet. Robert Shelby huddled to maintain a semblance of warmth as he hurried across the snow-covered street to join his dear friend, Clay.

"Brrrr, this Yankee weather is awful cold, Clay," Robert said as he stood outside the Ambrosia Club stamping his feet and waving his arms.

"I suppose," Clay replied, staring down the street.

Robert Shelby paused and took a longer look at Clay. "I was hoping to speak to you about something, Clay. Maybe have a warm whiskey while we speak."

Mosby shook his head slightly. "Forgive me, Robert. My mind was . . . occupied. Come, Robert. Let's go inside."

"Are you feeling all right, Clay?" Robert asked as they walked across the empty saloon to the long mahogany counter.

"I'm not quite sure, Robert," Clay admitted as he poured two shots of whiskey. "I do not approve of this Territorial Marshal and his flunkies taking over my town."

"Well he appears decent enough," Robert replied as he swallowed half the whiskey in his small glass. "I've had no complains about any of his men from Amanda."

Clay sipped his drink and nodded. "Perhaps. Still, I would prefer they leave. And, soon." He looked at Robert. "Now, you wanted to talk?"

Robert suddenly stopped smiling. "Clay, you know I would never do anything to hurt you, don't you?"

"What kind of a remark is that, Robert?" Clay said as he frowned. "Of course I know that. Why do you say that?"

"Clay? I need you to tell me precisely how you feel about Mattie Shaw." Robert emptied his glass and quickly poured himself another drink.

"Mattie?" Clay replied. "I happen to care a great deal about her, Robert. However, I do not think my feelings are meant to develop into anything that includes a romantic nature or possible matrimony."

Robert stared at Clay, looking for a sign of deceit in his words. He finally breathed a sigh of deep relief. "Clay, I think . . . Clay."

"What is it, Robert? For God's sake, say it."

"I think I am in love with Mattie, Clay. I . . . think she feels the same."

Clay stared at Robert. "Love? Mattie? When did you realize this, Robert?"

"The other night when we rescued her from that Bolles character. She needs a man to take care of her. After what we saw her do . . . Clay, you're a man. You understand exactly what I'm saying. No woman can understand or really know how we think or feel."

"I believe you are quite correct in that regard, Robert," Clay replied.

Robert looked into his empty whiskey glass. "It's not lust, Clay. We both felt it when I saw her today. Clay?" Robert looked up from the glass at his friend.

Clay smiled and put his arm around Robert's shoulders. "You have my blessing, Robert. You do understand that Mattie and I had . . . a certain arrangement? That will no longer be an option."

"Clay, I seem to interfere with all your women. First, Miss Victoria Brandt. Now, Mattie."

"Oh, nonsense, Robert. If I truly had my mind set on one of these women they would be eating out of my hand right now."

They both laughed.

"Clay," Robert said, "you are a charmer."

"Yes," Mosby replied, "and don't you forget it."

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

On his way back to the jail Austin Peale paused to look in the window of the Montana Statesman, as he regularly did. He was caught off guard seeing his father busy operating the printing press with three lamps burning. Austin immediately opened the door and entered.

"Father? What are you doing?" Austin asked.

"I'm working on tomorrow's edition, Austin." Josiah looked at his son and shrugged. "I don't have any help. I have to do everything myself."

Austin frowned as his eyes scanned the dimly lit newspaper office. A cold plate of half-eaten food and a cup of old coffee sat neglected on the desk. There was a smudge of black ink on Josiah's forehead.

"Austin," Josiah said as he walked over to his son, "why don't you forget those foolish dreams of yours and come back here where you belong? You're a newspaper man, Austin."

For a brief moment Austin allowed a smile to appear on his tired face. He flashed back to the good days when the three Peale's ran the newspaper. Days before Call or Mosby had arrived and changed everything.

"I was thinking that maybe we could ask Newt's wife, Gretchen, to work here," Josiah mentioned.

Austin's smile suddenly melted. "What?! No, Father! She doesn't belong in here. She's trash."

Josiah shook his head, grieved by his son's bitter attitude. "She's a nice girl, Austin. You have no right to speak of her that way."

Austin fumed. "Don't I?" He slammed the door and marched angrily to the jail.

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

During the next few days Territorial Marshal Nels Hammack and his deputies were model citizens. They respected everyone and were well behaved. They split up as some followed Luther Root on his run to Miles City while the others became side-riders for the Adams Express runs from Bozeman to Great Falls.

By day's end the lawmen quietly returned to Curtis Wells, bunking on the floor of the empty saloon across the street from Dr. Cleese's office.

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

"I don't know, Clay," Amanda Carpenter replied, "they pay for every meal. They patrol tent town and keep order out there. I think we need them."

Clay watched the steam rise from his cup of coffee. It was against his nature and better judgement to blindly trust any of these men. "I would not go so far as to say that, Amanda."

"Clay, you said yourself that you received a wire from Great Falls praising Marshal Hammack and his dedicated deputies for their jobs." Amanda laughed slightly. "What more do you want?"

"Yes, well, I have no proof the telegram was sent by anyone reputable."

Ike walked sheepishly up to their table. "Miss Amanda? I'm looking for Mr. Shelby to find out if we're going to change our rates for winter. Have you seen him?"

"No, Ike," Amanda replied, "I haven't seen much of him lately."

"Well," Clay said, "I am quite sure Mr. Shelby will deal with the situation concerning hotel rates at some point soon." He stood up. "I had better return to my saloon. Good day, Amanda."

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

Chaos and commotion echoed throughout the streets and buildings of Curtis Wells by Friday afternoon as Marshal Hammack and three deputies came racing hell-bent into town. Folks had to quick-step off the snow-covered street as the four horsemen drew rein in front of the mining supplies building. They dismounted and pulled one of their own off his horse. It was the sandy-haired deputy called Rory. His white shirt was half soaked with his own blood as the other two deputies hauled him between the buildings and then lugged him up the stairs into Dr. Cleese's office.

By now half the town was outside as folks clamored over the event, still not even certain as to what had transpired on the nearby plains. Sheriff Peale strode past onlookers in his gray duster and climbed the stairs now stained with droplets of blood the size of half dollar coins. He stepped inside and headed across the room to Territorial Marshal Nels Hammack.

"What happened, Marshal?" Austin asked as he looked at the young man laid out on a table with his shirt ripped open.

"The stage from Bozeman was robbed. They shot the driver. Some old man. But they got one of my men." The Marshal turned his gaze away from the injured deputy and looked at Austin. "Rory Buckley is only twenty years old. He's one of the two pups in our group."

Austin thought about it for a moment. "The driver was Amos. He was a good man. How many were there? Why didn't you run them down? The snow would slow down any getaway attempts. And their tracks would be easy enough to follow."

Marshal Hammack suddenly became angered. "Don't you presume to tell me how to do my job, Sheriff."

Austin stepped back some, caught off guard by the Marshal's outburst.

"I apologize, Sheriff," Nels Hammack said. "I know Rory's folks. If he dies I don't look forward to sending the telegram back to his family."

Austin nodded and headed for the door. "Well, I best leave you alone." He looked at the young man then back at the Marshal. "I sincerely hope he makes it."

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

Austin Peale decided to investigate the situation personally. He quietly found Deputy Robert Shelby and relayed his ideas then rode out of town taking the trail west toward Bozeman.

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

Bam! Bam!

"Gretchen? You're supposed to keep your eyes open when you squeeze the trigger. How else you figure on hitting anything?"

Gretchen giggled. "I'm sorry, Call. I've never shot a gun before today."

Call nodded. "It shows."

She opened her mouth wide. "Hey? You're my husband. Aren't you supposed to support me, Call?"

Call shrugged and carefully took the gun out of Gretchen's hand. "All right. Supposin' I do this?" He bent his legs and wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her so that almost half of her was hanging over his shoulder.

"Call!" she screamed and began wiggling her legs and feet.

"I reckon your shooting lesson is done for today. I got me a mind to carry you right straight to our bed," he laughed as he walked toward the house, playfully slapping her behind.

Gretchen laughed happily. "Is that a promise, Mr. Call?"

Call carried Gretchen through the open doorway into their house. "I guess you'll find out soon enough, Mrs. Call."

"Call? Can we just rest from all the chores for a short spell and lay on our bed together? Please, Sweetheart? I just . . . I . . . need to have you near me."

Call paused, still holding his wife in his arms. He looked into her green eyes. He knew the recent ordeal with Black Knife had made her cling to him. He nodded. "I reckon the place won't fall to pieces if we sleep a mite."

Gretchen leaned in and with her warm breath whispered in his ear, "who's talking about sleeping?" She playfully bit his ear and giggled.

Call grinned as he felt something stir in his lower belly. He walked into the small bedroom and lowered Gretchen onto the bed. She reached up with her hand and pulled him down on top of her.

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

Paige Brandt opened the door to the Montana Statesman and stepped in out of the cold. "Good day, Mr. Peale," she smiled. "Oh? I see you have company."

"Hello, Miss Brandt," Josiah nodded. He turned to the young man visiting him. "Miss Paige? Allow me to introduce you to Hubie Kellner. He's one of Marshal Hammack's deputies. It seems he has quite an extensive knowledge of printing presses."

Paige smiled and curtseyed to the handsome young man. "Mr. Kellner."

Hubie jumped up from his chair and quickly removed his hat and nodded his head. "Uh, howdy, Miss."

Paige giggled slightly. She took note of the deputy's short brown hair and his clean-shaven face. "Do you know much about newspapers, Mr. Kellner?"

"Uh, yes ma'am," he nodded. "My pa runs the local newspaper back home."

Josiah smiled. "He's been very helpful. I could use a man with his ability to work with me."

Paige's eyes lit up. The young man was taller than Call and Ephraim. He was fairly thin and had a boyish gleam in his eyes. "Where do you come from, Mr. Kellner? If I may be so bold?"

Hubie frowned. "Well, I hail from Ohio. But my folks moved most every two years. I lived in Oregon and Nevada last, before leaving home to make my own way. Mr. Peale here has been right kind in letting me assist him."

Josiah laughed. "He's got newspaper blood in his veins, Miss Brandt."

Paige smiled. "Well, I just dropped by to thank you for printing your newspaper. I miss reading local events. I should be getting back to the dry goods."

Paige walked out into the cold street. Hubie Kellner followed her. "Miss Brandt?"

Paige turned. "Yes, Mr. Kellner?"

"Mind if I walk alongside you?"

"I don't mind," Paige said as she lowered her face to hide her smile.

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

Sheriff Austin Peale had ridden hard following a hunch he felt worth pursuing. He headed due south alongside the Musselshell River until he came to Melstone, where the road as well as the river changed course and turned west. Within three or four miles he spotted the stage that Marshal Hammack had said was robbed.

Dismounting quickly and drawing his pistol, Austin scanned the surrounding area for any signs of life. He walked around the far side of the stage and found old Amos laying head-first in the snowy grass.

"Amos!" Sheriff Peale yelled as he turned him over. There was a bullet hole near his collarbone. "Amos!" he said again. To his relief and surprise, the old stage driver groaned and showed signs of life.

"Those sons of bitches," Amos moaned in pain. He coughed and looked up at Austin then slightly laughed. "Tell you the truth, Peale, I didn't think you had it in you to find me."

"You just save your talking for later, Amos," Austin replied. He lifted the injured stage driver and placed him carefully inside the coach. "It'll be safer if I drive you back in the stage."

"If I ever see them murdering polecats . . . " Amos grumbled.

Austin tied the leather reins of his horse to the rear boot and climbed up into the driver's box. He released the brake lever and snapped the reins, sending the six-horse team galloping away for Curtis Wells.

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

After accepting the gracious offer of Newt and Gretchen Call to stay in the spare bedroom for a few nights, Buffalo Bill Cody decided to give the young newlyweds a break. He rode into Curtis Wells and after visiting Josiah Peale, took a room at the Lonesome Dove Hotel. He quickly returned to the Ambrosia Club.

"Last time I was in here it was called the Pig's Eye Saloon," Bill mentioned to Clay Mosby. "There weren't these gaming tables here, either."

"Am I to understand that the new name doesn't meet with your approval, Mr. Cody?" Clay replied as he stood across the counter from Bill.

Cody waved his hand and shrugged. "As long as the whiskey is here, I don't give two hoots what you call it."

"I must say," Clay said, "I am mildly surprised to see you here."

"Buffalo Bill is feeling first rate and looking good," Cody bellowed in a theatrical stance. "I've been traveling around pulling Jaspers off the street for my shows and it's time to regroup and come back with something spectacular."

Mosby nodded as he suddenly noticed four of Marshal Nels Hammack's deputies enter the saloon. These were the men who had gone off toward Miles City while the Marshal and three others had the shootout with the stage from Bozeman. Clay watched as the four lawmen quietly sat at an empty table near the back and ordered drinks. "Excuse me, Mr. Cody," Clay said as he walked out from behind the counter and headed to their table.

The four deputies were speaking in low tones as Mosby approached their table.

"You men look as if you've had a rough day," Clay said. The four men were all in their twenties and thirties. Three had mustaches and of those three, two had beards. One of the four wore a bowler on his head and sported bushy side chops.

"We did," said Tug, the one with the bowler. He shook his head. "Lost another damn payroll to that gang. It happened west of Cohagen, along the Little Dry Creek. We could sure use us a bottle of whiskey."

Mosby nodded. "Permit me to buy your drinks, gentlemen." He crossed the saloon and returned a minute later with four glasses and a bottle. He placed the tray on the table. "To your health . . . and the safety of Montana's roads, gentlemen."

"Thanks, Mosby," one of the other men said.

Clay headed back to the bar. He was aware that now two stages had been robbed today.

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

It was evening when Dr. Cleese finally walked through the door of the house belonging to him and his wife, Victoria.

"Ephraim, you must be exhausted," Victoria commented as she brushed her youngest sister, Paige's hair. "I've kept dinner warm."

Paige bent her fingers twice with her wave to Ephraim. He smiled at her and nodded. "Thank you, Victoria. I am quite famished. It smells delicious."

"Will the young man the Marshal brought in live, Ephraim?" Victoria asked as she bent over so Ephraim could kiss her on the forehead.

"Yes," Ephraim smiled. "The young man's name is Rory. I was fearful he would not survive but he is quite strong."

"I met one of them today," Paige said in a singing-like voice as she held her dress out and swung her arms in and out. "He was helping Mr. Peale in the newspaper office. His name is Hubie."

Victoria and Ephraim both looked at Paige and smiled.

Paige began crying at the table. "If that Indian would have hurt her . . ."

Victoria went and rested Paige's head against her chest. She quickly pulled back due to the tenderness. "Newt saved her, Paige. He is quite an extraordinary young man. We should be very thankful the two of are together." She frowned as she placed her hand gently on her chest. "My breasts have been tender the past day or so."

"Perhaps I had better examine you in my office, my dear?" Ephraim replied.

"Oh, I suppose it's nothing," Victoria said.

"None the less, I insist that you allow me to look at you. It could be important. Shall we eat, ladies?" Ephraim said as he tucked his white linen napkin into his shirt collar.

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

It was nearly 3 o'clock in the morning when two shadowy figures silently crossed the snow-covered street and entered the bath house. The town was sleeping as temperatures dropped into the high 20's.

Mattie Shaw looked on with a surprised smile as Robert Shelby had prepared a private hot bath for the two of them. Seven or eight flickering candles were dotted around the large tub while whatever winter flowers Robert could scrounge up out of the cold ground were placed in between the candles. Mattie laughed slightly as she saw a full bottle of champagne with two glasses within arms reach of the tub.

"The water won't stay hot forever, Mattie," Robert suggested as he quickly began removing his boots. His coat, shirt, and trousers all followed, making a small pile on the floor.

Mattie put her hand to her mouth, slightly embarrassed. Her face reddened as Robert Shelby stepped in front of her completely naked. She let him unbutton her white blouse and in one smooth motion peel both her vest and blouse off of her soft, white shoulders. He then gently undid her camisole and opened it, pausing to hungrily gaze at her firm, jutting breasts.

"Mattie," he softly said.

Mattie took a step back and unbuttoned her pants. She slid them past her hips and down her legs as Robert kneeled and removed her boots. As her pants fell and bunched around her ankles, Robert slowly lifted each leg, freeing her from all clothing. Robert leaned up against her pubic area and kissed her blond tuff of hair, inhaling her womanly fragrance deeply. Mattie shivered, not quite sure if it was due to the cold or because of Robert.

Robert gently placed his hands behind her thighs and lightly slid them up to her firm, white cheeks and pulled her against his face. He proceeded to passionately devour her private area with his tongue and mouth as Mattie moaned in pleasure until her legs buckled and she had to cover her mouth to keep from screaming in sheer ecstasy.

Robert continued to lightly kiss around the area as he smiled inwardly at Mattie's rapid breathing.

"Robert!" she whispered as he slowly stood up and took her into his strong arms. "Where did you learn that?!"

Robert pressed his hard body tightly against Mattie. "A Southern gentleman never tells." He took her hand and kissed it then lifted one leg to step into the lukewarm water. "Ooohhh! That feels so good, Mattie."

Mesmerized, Mattie lifted first one leg, then her other leg as she stepped into the tub with Robert. He pulled her back against his chest and lathering up his hands with the bar of soap, began rubbing his fingers over her belly and ever so slowly brought them higher until they lightly brushed across her nipples. As Mattie groaned, Robert gently squeezed and moved his palms in circular motions over and over as she heaved her breasts out.

Robert was purposely making an effort to tend only to Mattie, with no regard for his own pleasure. He knew there would time for his needs to be met another time. It was vital to him that Mattie trust and relax with a man after her terrible ordeal a week ago.

Robert wrapped his arms around Mattie's shoulders and softly kissed her neck. She smiled and closed her eyes. Robert looked at her and smiled.

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

Early next morning Gretchen squeezed as close to Call as she could in their bed. Dawn was just breaking outside in the distance and even though it hadn't snowed for days it was still freezing.

"Warm me, Call," Gretchen whispered through rattling teeth as she placed her head against his. "Feel my nose how cold it is?" she giggled.

Call laughed and immediately began rubbing his hands up and down her arms while kissing her face.

"Call? Would you do something for me if I told you it meant a lot to me? Would you, Sweetheart?"

Call paused and stared into her eyes. "I reckon I would do anything you wanted, Gretchen. What . . . what, exactly is it you want?"

"Will you take me to Missouri? To St. Joseph? I really want to be there at the beginning of April. Please, Call? I love you so much. I really do." She smiled warmly at her husband and kissed him back.

Call frowned. "Why the beginning of April? Something happening?"

"Yes, Sweetheart. April 3rd is the anniversary of the Pony Express. It will be twenty-two years. My father was there back in '60." Gretchen excitedly leaned up on her elbows as she placed her hands across his chest. "And we could visit Mother and Father. Please, Call?" She smiled and batted her eyelashes.

Call shook his head and laughed. "That what you want, Coyote Girl?"

"Oh, I do, Call. I really do," Gretchen said.

"I thought you favored waiting till after we have a child before making the trip?"

"Well, I guess I changed my mind, Call," Gretchen giggled. "I'm a woman. I'm supposed to do that."

"I guess it's settled then," Call replied. "You and me are bound for Missouri come April."

Gretchen hugged Call tightly. "Thank you, Call." She laid close to him and smiled. "We'll have to leave early to be there on time."

"Yep."

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

It was still early when Austin Peale guided the stage into Curtis Wells. The tall sheriff easily lifted old Amos, carrying him across the street and up the stairs to Dr. Cleese's office. It was quiet inside as Austin brought Amos to an empty cot and placed him on it.

"Austin? What happened?"

Austin turned to see Dr. Cleese standing in the doorway of one of the other rooms. "It's Amos. He was shot up in the robbery that other fellow was in," he said as he pointed to the sleeping deputy named Rory.

Dr. Cleese immediately walked over to where Amos lay and looked at him. "I will proceed instantly. Hmm? He's taken a gunshot wound . . . but it does not appear to be critical."

Austin nodded and slowly headed to the door. "I'm going over to the jail and sleep. It was a long and slow haul coming in. I'll check back later today."

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

In the empty saloon that sat on the side of the Dove, across the street from Dr. Cleese's office, a meeting was taking place involving seven men. Marshal Nels Hammack reclined at a table with three men while two others pulled chairs off to the side and another sat against a wall with two legs of his chair tipped off the floor.

"We were sloppy yesterday," Marshal Hammack angrily said. "Rory Buckley should never have been shot. Sloppy!" He pounded his fist against the table.

"It won't happen again, Nels," Tug, the man wearing the bowler replied.

"It better not," the Marshal answered back. He slid his chair back across the wooden floorboards and stood up. "Blend into the scenery, men. I don't cotton no slip ups. I'll check on Rory."

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

Call rode the Hellbitch into town with his wife, Gretchen, riding alongside with Sugar. They pulled in front of the Dove and hitched their horses to the wood post. Gretchen excitedly ran across the street to visit her sisters inside the dry goods. Call followed behind as he paused to take note of the group of strange men loitering in front of the empty saloon down the street. He watched them for a few moments then went inside the Brandt Sisters' store.

"Gretchen! I'm so happy to see you," Paige said as she hugged her older sister. She turned to the young man next to her. "Hubie Kellner, say hello to my sister, Gretchen. Hello, Call. And that's her husband, Newt Call."

The young deputy nodded. "Hello, Mrs. Call. Mr. Call."

Gretchen smiled and curtseyed as Call nodded back.

"Mr. Kellner, here, is one of the deputies in town with a Territorial Marshall, Call," Paige explained.

Call sized the young man up and down. He was only a couple of years younger than Call and Gretchen, closer in age to Paige.

"Uh, we're supposed to be preventing the stage robberies," Hubie replied.

Victoria walked up to her sister. "Gretchen! Oh, you look so much better now. Hello, Newt. You're both healing well."

"Hello, Victoria," Gretchen said. "I really am feeling better."

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

Territorial Marshal Nels Hammack stepped inside Dr. Cleese's office and hesitated as he saw old Amos asleep on a cot. He looked over at Deputy Rory Buckley.

"Look it him, Nels!" Rory urgently said. "I thought we killed him yesterday when we robbed that stage?"

Marshal Hammack began sweating. He drew his revolver from his holster and cocked the gun. "Well, I'll make damn sure he never wakes up to tell anyone what really happened out there."

Suddenly, the door to another room opened as Dr. Cleese stepped into the main office. He saw Nels Hammack aiming his gun at Amos. "What is going on here?!"

Suddenly, a gunshot was fired, followed by another gunshot three seconds later.

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

The unexpected sound of gunshots echoing through town caused Gretchen to run to Call. Hubie Kellner turned quickly to Paige. "Marshal Hammack isn't really a Marshal. We rode into town to have a central location to rob the stages. I don't want to ride with them any more. Miss Brandt," he said to Paige. "Please believe me? I want to stay here and work with Mr. Peale in the newspaper office. Rory was my closest friend. Now he's all shot up over at the Doc's."

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

Clay Mosby and Buffalo Bill Cody charged out of the Ambrosia Club, looking toward Dr. Cleese's office. In front of the saloon occupied by the Marshal and his deputies stood five of those deputies.

Inside Dr. Cleese's office Marshal Nels Hammack stood for a moment, then crashed head first onto the floor, dead. Rory Buckley stared with surprise at Sheriff Austin Peale, standing tall in the doorway, his gun smoking.

"Austin!" Dr. Cleese cried with relief. "He was going to shoot Amos and I."

Austin saw that old Amos was still safely alive and the shot-up Rory Buckley too injured to escape. Austin turned and headed out the door and quickly down the stairs as Rory forced himself out of bed and struggled to reach a window in front of the street. He opened the window while screaming in agonizing pain and hollered to the other deputies. "The sheriff killed Nels!"

And then . . . all hell broke loose! Robert Shelby stepped out from behind Mattie's gunsmith as Austin moved to the alley between the buildings. The five deputies across the street drew their weapons and began firing at Robert and Austin. Mattie screamed from inside her shop as both Robert and Austin dove to the ground for cover behind the wood pile alongside the gunsmith shop.

Buffalo Bill Cody, the famous Indian fighter and plainsman, pulled two Colt revolvers and fired at the five deputies as Clay Mosby drew his Remington and commenced firing as well.

The three Brandt Sisters, along with Call and Hubie Kellner stepped outside the dry goods as Hubie yelled to the other deputies to lay down their weapons and surrender. One of deputies, Tug, the man wearing the bowler, turned and seeing Paige standing near Hubie, aimed his rifle at her. Hubie yelled as the robber imitating a lawman fired his rifle. Hubie jumped in front of Paige and moaned as the lead bullet tore through his flesh. Paige fell as Hubie hit the snow face-first, blood exiting his side, turning the snow red.

Call fired a quickly aimed shot, hitting Tug in the chest. "Get inside! All of you!" Call yelled as he put his body in front to shield Gretchen and her sisters as they hastened to take cover on the floor of their store.

With four robbers left, two ran left toward Twyla's while the other two ran in between the empty saloon and the Dove, coming out between the hotel and real estate brokers where they opened fire on Call as he dragged Hubie back into the dry goods.

"Call!" Gretchen screamed.

"Stay down, Gretchen!" Call yelled as bullets whizzed past his head, splintering pieces of wood on the building. Victoria closed the door from her spot on the floor as Buffalo Bill Cody could be heard barking orders to Austin and Robert across the street. Rory Buckley had opened Cleese's window and was trying to yell for someone to get him out of there just as Bill Cody shot him in the head, causing the young man to topple out of the window, crashing dead to the street below.

Two of the surprised deputies were now running for Twyla's doors where they could take hostages but Austin Peale charged like a runaway locomotive into the street and taking careful aim, shot them both down at the doorway to the whore house.

The two remaining stage robbers continued firing at the dry goods, hoping to kill the traitor, Hubie Kellner. Call laid on top of his wife, protecting her from any stray bullets ricocheting into the store. "Paige? You and Victoria stay down!" Call yelled through the chaos.

"Call?" Paige cried. "Hubie's been shot."

"It ain't serious. Just stay put, dammit!" Call argued. He looked at Gretchen. Her green eyes were open wide as she stared at her husband.

Robert Shelby and Clay Mosby met on the side of the Dove facing Cleese's office to check the men laying in the street. Bill Cody circled down the side of Mosby's saloon, past the telegraph office and behind the banking house as he sought to gain safer terrain.

Austin Peale charged around Twyla's and ran through tent town while emptying his used shells and quickly reloading his gun. He had to dive for two barrels as one of the remaining men turned and fired once at him.

"You sonofabitch, Kellner!" the other man yelled to the dry goods. "I hope we gutted you, you dirty, stinking traitor!"

Bill Cody stepped out near the side of the dry goods and fired again, hitting the man yelling in the throat as he was reloading. He fell back as blood poured out of his throat then he slid to the cold, white ground dying. Austin stood up and fired, hitting the last remaining robber in the leg. He yelled and turned toward Austin, emptying his gun into the back of a building. Austin stepped out and fired once more, killing the final man.

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

For the next minute there was silence in the air. Gunshots and screaming still echoed in the ears of those involved in the shootout. Seven men had been gunned down. Only Hubie Kellner remained alive. And he was bleeding from a gunshot wound from his own men.

As Sheriff Peale and Buffalo Bill approached the dry goods, Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby checked on Mattie, hoping no stray bullets had hit anything.

Gretchen held on to Call as Victoria helped Paige lift Hubie to his feet.

By now the entire town was in the street gawking at the carnage. Buffalo Bill made sure Mrs. Gretchen Call was safe and turned to anyone who had a mind to listen to him. "Judge Colt and his jury of six has saved the day again!" He twirled his two Colt .45 pistols for everyone to see. "That's how Buffalo Bill Cody saved the day!"

Mattie rushed into Robert's arms as Clay stood nearby watching them. Folks were coming up to Austin and shaking his hand and patting him on the back for such an outstanding portrayal of bravery, as well as for single-handedly killing four of the seven outlaws that had completely fooled the town.

Dr. Cleese ran over to check on his wife, Victoria. He then helped Victoria and Paige bring Hubie Kellner to his office while Call and Gretchen held each close together as they all-too-soon were forced to relive the memory of their recent ordeal with Black Knife.

Buffalo Bill barked loud as he used the snow and blood-covered street as his stage. "One, two, three, four, five, six! Six shooters! Six bullets makes a jury! Judge Colt has declared this case officially over! Buffalo Bill needs a drink!" And he slid both his pistols into his holster and strode off for the Ambrosia.

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

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