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.
Where the dark of night holds back the light of the day
Miz Ashley Jessup stood next to Clay Mosby. Her smooth, soft hand rested gently on his firm, strong shoulder as she looked on with excitement. Her rose colored dress complemented the Colonel's gray coat and trousers, as well as his favorite burgundy vest.
"Whoever sent you this box, Clay, dearest? Is it a present?"
Clay Mosby's dark eyes scanned the brown box that had arrived earlier in the day.
Ashley's sapphire blue eyes stared with anticipation. "Open it," she said, taking her other hand and nudging his elbow.
Clay turned from the anonymous box and in a mock tone, said, "are you trying to break my arm, my dear?"
Ashley blushed then smiled wide and pretty. "Why, Clay, dearest. Little ol' me could never break such a strong arm as yours." She slid her hand down from his shoulder and squeezed his arm. "See? That nearly broke my fingers."
Clay laughed. Never in his entire life would he have believed that the sullen, mourning young woman he had met in New Orleans would turn out to be so refreshing and so thoroughly enjoyable to be with. "Well then, I propose we put an end to the suspense and open it immediately."
Ashley nodded in agreement as Clay untied the excess twine used to secure the box. He folded back the flaps and stared inside.
"What in the hell . . .?"Clay mumbled as he blinked his eyes. Ashley gasped at the contents as Clay slowly reached in and took hold of two wooden crosses then pulled them out.
"Oh my, no! No!" Ashley cried as she read the words painted in black on the first cross.
Rest In Peace
Died ~ January 1882
Clay looked at the second cross, which was identical to the first.
Rest In Peace
Died ~ January 1882
"Clay?!" Ashley cried as she covered her eyes with her hands and shook her head. "Who would do such an awful and disgusting thing?"
Clay Mosby's gaze was intense. His jaw firmly set. There were so many enemies. How could he begin to count them? He turned to the frightened and upset Miz Ashley. "I truly don't know."
"Clay? Look! A note is inside the box." Ashley reached in and grabbed the white piece of paper and handed it to Clay. He unfolded it and read the words:
The time has come to pay up.
The Lakota, under Red Crow, had pulled up their lodges in late November, during the Moon of Starting Winter, and traveled to their winter camp. The location was along the Flat Willow Creek, east of the Big Snowy Mountains. It provided relative safety as it was not near any towns or white settlements.
Except for the tan colored mongrel that persisted in barking continuously, it was peaceful in the Lakota camp. Dressed in their winter skins and the old buffalo robes from better days, the women tended to the babies or else were near the river washing clothes. Not all the braves were in camp. Some had ridden out early to hunt. Most of the children were thin but actively ran and played within the confinements of the village.
As always, Red Crow was pleased when Newt Call and his wife, Gretchen, paid him a visit. He welcomed Wild Dog and the Coyote, as well as Gretchen's younger sister, Paige.
"My heart soars like the eagle," Red Crow said as he raised his right hand skyward, "to find my friend has come to visit." He looked at Paige, remembering her from last summer when the three of them had spent the night at his village. "I remember you," he replied, causing Paige to blush. "You are sister to Sung Ma<He Tu," ("Coyote") he continued as he looked at Gretchen.
"I wish I had an Indian name like you, Gretchen," Paige said.
Red Crow smiled. "You do have one."
"I do?!" Paige answered. "What it is?"
"I Sta<Mahpiya Bloketu," Red Crow proclaimed as he nodded in approval.
Paige wrinkled her nose. "What does it mean?"
"Eyes of Summer Sky," Red Crow said. "Your eyes are the color of summer."
Paige's blue eyes lit up. She curtseyed to Red Crow. "Thank you very kindly. I do hope I can remember it." She excitedly turned to her sister. "Gretchen! I have an Indian name too!"
During the time since Call led the buckboard into the Lakota camp, a square faced, old, gray haired woman had been staring at them, and especially Gretchen. She hobbled from the front of her lodge over to where they stood.
"I reckon we got us some fine news to share, Red Crow," Call said as he put his arm around Gretchen's waist and she enthusiastically did the same. "My wife's gonna have a baby."
Red Crow's smile slowly turned to joyful laughter. "She angered you when you first brought her here and she said she was your woman."
Call and Gretchen, as well as Paige, all laughed at the memory. Gretchen bit her lip and pressed her face into Call's chest as she squeezed him tight.
The old Lakota woman pointed to Gretchen and said, "tamaheca wan<ji tawaci hoksiyuha. Wiya tawaci yuha wasake ciksi nains cuwitku" ("the skinny one will have a baby. She will have a strong son or daughter.").
Red Crow nodded. "The old woman whose name is Can Wape Tona (Many Leaves) says Sung Ma<He Tu (Coyote) will have a strong child."
"Wiya tawaci ota skiciye" ("She will struggle much") the old woman added.
"She also says you will struggle to give birth. Niye wasake. You will be strong," Red Crow promised her.
Gretchen turned to her husband. "Call?" She wrapped her arms around him.
"Whatever happens you know I'll be there with you, Gretchen," Call assured his wife.
The old woman, Many Leaves, then pointed to the sky. "Wiaceiciti" ("Sun Dog").
The four others all gazed into the winter sky. "It is a sun dog," Red Crow replied. Call, Gretchen, and Paige observed the pale, rainbow-like spot above. "The sky will change," Red Crow mentioned. "It will become much colder."
It had already begun. The unusually warmer temperatures and rain storms from the previous week were quickly forgotten as northern winds blowing down from Canada had put an icy bite in the air. Red Crow turned to his guests. "Many Leaves was raised among the Blackfeet tribes. It is a sign of warning. Beware, Sun<Ka Watogla (Wild Dog)," Red Crow solemnly stated. He shook his head. "It is a bad sign."
Unbob Finch squinted real hard and finally shook his head. "Sorry, Mr. Mosby. I don't rightly know where Call is. He's got himself a wife now." Unbob smiled.
"I know he's got a wife, Unbob," Clay replied, short on patience.
"Don't go chewing off poor Unbob's head, Clay," Mattie Shaw scolded her former lover. "You know just as well as I do that ever since Call married that Missouri woman he hasn't been around here as much."
"Maybe his uncle knows?" Unbob suddenly said. It sounded reasonable to the kindhearted Unbob.
"Mason Dobbs rode out of town when Luther and Enona left the other day, Unbob," Mattie shared. "I think the three of them all left together."
The door to the gunsmith shop opened abruptly. Sheriff Austin Peale and Robert Shelby walked inside. Austin found it entertaining that two wooden crosses had been sent to Mosby and Call. He would never allow his deepest hatred to surface. He feared Clay Mosby far too much. As for Call, he could rot in Hell for letting his sister, Hannah, die.
"There is no one new in town, Clay," Robert Shelby said as he smiled at Mattie. She smiled back. "I checked the hotel register."
"It shouldn't be of any surprise, Mosby," Austin said, adding his two cents worth. "Both you and Call have killed men and made enemies."
"I am aware of that, Austin," Clay replied as he placed his hands on his hips. "I will not tolerate or be made spectacle of another situation such as the occasion when that Earl Hastings tried to kill me." He stared briefly at Mattie.
"Well I can't find that damn Call anywhere," Austin said. "Do you have any suspicions as to who it might be? It could be just a joke."
"Austin, you organize my men. I want someone near me at all times. Are we understood? Hmm?"
"Don't worry, Mosby," Austin replied, "I've already had Zeke see to it."
"Maybe it's Samuel Peters?" Mattie suggested. She began cleaning one of her guns housed inside the glass case. She usually calmed herself down in situations that rattled her nerves by touching her guns. It was a connection to her father and most times that proved to be sufficient.
Clay Mosby thought about it. If someone was serious about wanting him and Call dead, it likely was someone who had previous issues with both men. "Samuel Peters is a dangerous man, I admit," Clay finally said. "And . . . Peters would find it amusing to taunt me." Clay poked his bearded jaw out and rubbed the dark, manicured hair as he treated his words like a fine wine being rolled around in the mouth before being swallowed.
"Mama! Mama!" The five adults were startled as young Dewey burst through the back door. "Mama! Look! Look what I got?"
Mattie, as well as the four men, turned to discover Dewey holding a dead rabbit by the ears. It was swinging from the boy's excited dance. "I killed it with the slingshot Mason made for me. Got it on the very first shot! Lookit how fat it is, Mama! Can we have it for supper? Can we? Please?"
Mattie shook her head laughing. She wasn't what someone would refer to as a first rate cook but Dewey never once complained. He loved her and would have eaten a plateful of dirt if she told him she cooked it. "All right, Dewey. I suppose I can bring it over to Amanda and ask her if I can cook it in her kitchen."
"Thank you, Mama!" Dewey dropped the dead animal on the wooden floorboards and hugged Mattie. Before she could take hold of his arm to pick up the rabbit, he was halfway to the backdoor.
"I'm sorry, Clay," Mattie replied as she bent down and picked up the rabbit.
"Well, I have a saloon to run. Good day, Mattie." Clay walked out the door with Robert and Austin following behind.
Deciding to pay a visit to the dry goods and clothing store before returning to the Ambrosia Club, Clay Mosby stepped into what appeared an empty building. After standing in the doorway for a few moments, he heard laughter in the back. It was two voices. Clay walked down the aisle and paused as he watched Ephraim and Victoria Cleese leaning over a desk.
"Oh?! Mr. Mosby!" Victoria replied with a smile. "I'm sorry. We didn't hear you come in."
"We were considering names for our baby," Dr. Cleese said proudly.
"Yes," Clay said. "I heard both you and your younger sister are to give birth later this year. My congratulations to you both."
"Thank you, Mr. Mosby," Victoria replied and offered a small curtsey. "Is there anything I can help you with?"
"As a matter of fact, there is. Would you happen to know the whereabouts of Call?"
"He took Gretchen and Paige in the wagon to visit that Indian friend of theirs. I don't recall his name . . . uh . . . something like Red Bird? Red something?" Victoria said.
"Red Crow," Clay replied. "I see. And when do you expect them back?"
"Well I would expect them to return before it gets dark, Mr. Mosby. That is, unless Paige spends the night at Gretchen's house."
Clay Mosby sighed in frustration. "If Mr. Call shows up, I would consider it a great favor if you were to send him to me at once. It is rather urgent. Good day, Victoria. Ephraim."
Miz Ashley Jessup had a worried look on her face. It suddenly meant nothing that her cousin, Olivia Jessup had wired a telegram informing her and Clay Mosby that circumstances beyond her limited control had prevented her from arriving in Curtis Wells and that she truly would soon be there.
In the dark moments following the opening of that cursed, anonymous box with the horrible wooden crosses, Ashley wished she was back in New Orleans. Her thoughts were if she had never listened to cousin Olivia, she wouldn't be sick with the very real possibility that Colonel Clay Mosby might be killed any moment now. He had been the cure for what seemed like an extended case of the melancholies.
Her movements were listless as Robert Shelby watched her from across the table they both occupied in the hotel dining room.
"Miz Ashley," Robert began, treading cautiously, "surely you of all people are aware of the kind of man Clay Mosby is, are you not?" Robert brushed his short brown hair as he waited for her to speak.
"Mr. Shelby, you are Clay's closest friend. Please stay with him. Accompany him wherever he goes."
"Sheriff Peale and Clay's men are already doing that," Robert said, hoping to reassure her.
Ashley Jessup looked at Robert through what were now dull eyes. Gone was the radiant sapphire blue. Robert realized that Ashley had feelings for Clay that were deeper than friendship.
"Do not allow your spirit to fall, Miz Ashely," Robert pleaded. "The Yankees couldn't end his life and I suspect that whoever this coward is that seeks to taunt him, he too will end up at Clay's boots."
Ashley suddenly looked up from the table. "Do you truly think so, Mr. Shelby?"
"I believe so. Now, may I suggest you put an end to this senseless worry and let me handle it?"
Ashley desperately wanted to smile. She wanted to believe. She nodded and offered a slight smile.
Paige Brandt stared off at the pine-dotted slope behind the Lakota camp. She tilted her head as she gazed at two mummy-like objects on boards that were lashed to the limbs of trees at the edge of camp. Red Crow found himself admiring the youngest Brandt sister.
"Do you know what you look upon, little sister of Coyote?" Red Crow asked Paige.
Paige's blue eyes stared intently at the mummy-like objects, then at Red Crow. "Are those your dead?"
Red Crow smiled. "Eyes of Summer Sky would make a good wife for me."
At this comment, Call and Gretchen stared at Red Crow. Paige's bright eyes lit up at this unexpected remark.
"Are you bound to any man, Eyes of Summer Sky?" Red Crow asked.
Paige found herself both excited and afraid at the question. It had never even been a thought in any of the three Brandt Sisters that one of them could possibly marry an Indian. "Uh . . . um . . . I am . . . um . . . sort of, kind of, um, seeing someone," she stuttered. Hubie Kellner had taken her to dinner but it was nothing serious.
"I know it would be difficult for you to live here," Red Crow said. "The Lakota women would beat you and turn your beauty into an old woman like Many Leaves. I do respect your courage and interest in our things. Come, I will tell you about our dead up on the poles."
Paige walked with Red Crow, as Call and Gretchen followed at their heels.
"This one," Red Crow said as he pointed to the larger mummy, "was Five Ponies. He is with his weapon and some tobacco and strips of dry beef to carry him on the journey to the spirit world. This other one is Buffalo Rider. He was very old. He was a young man before the white eyes walked in our lands." He looked at Paige. "You would make a good wife, Eyes of Summer Sky."
Red Crow led his three friends back to his lodge and fed them while they sat on buffalo robes. Call recounted the near-tragic events from late November when he killed Black Knife. Gretchen found herself clinging especially close to her husband as he told the story. Red Crow had wondered why the Lakota no one liked had disappeared. He spoke of the joy in his heart that Call and Gretchen, and Paige, were his friends. It was almost impossible for the Lakota to trust any of the white people. Red Crow surprised the Call party by giving a present to Paige Brandt. It was two rows of neck beads with pinchbeck rings strung on the necklace. Paige spontaneously hugged Red Crow, causing her to blush as Red Crow nodded in approval. They said their goodbyes and Call led his wife and her sister away in the buckboard as the icy north wind blew mercilessly and snow clouds were quickly forming in the vast Montana sky.
It took almost ten seconds before Amanda Carpenter spotted Clay Mosby in the smoke-filled saloon. He wasn't behind the bar or at his private table in the back of the building, like he usually was. She squeezed her way between the mid-afternoon crowd of drinkers and gamblers until she reached the table near the piano.
"Clay! I just heard. Austin told me."
Clay Mosby looked up at Amanda. His eyes were dark and angry.
"Clay?" Amanda continued, "it must be Samuel Peters. Who else would want revenge with both you and Call?"
Clay extended his hand for Amanda to be seated. "What about that Bevan who was sweet on you?"
Amanda frowned. "Bevan? He didn't have a grudge against Call." She paused, taking the half-full bottle and pouring a short whiskey into the scratched shot glass. "I don't know? Maybe it is him. You took his pride, Clay. Maybe he wants revenge."
Clay suddenly slammed his fist onto the table, causing the bottle to teeter. "I want answers! Not possibilities."
Amanda held her tongue. There were times when it didn't pay to anger Clay Mosby any more. She had learned quickly about his moods. "What do you want me to do, Clay?"
"Have you seen Call?"
"Not for a day or two."
"If you see him you tell him I want to talk to him," Clay ordered.
"Sure, Clay," Amanda agreed. "As soon as I see him."
As soon as Call pulled the brake and wrapped the leather reins around it, Paige bounded out of the buckboard and ran inside the dry goods through the back door.
"Victoria! Victoria!" she excitedly said. "Look at the necklace Red Crow gave me! I have an Indian name, Victoria!"
"She's so excited, Call," Gretchen happily said. "Ever since the three of us spent the night at Red Crow's village last summer, when he named me Coyote, she's wanted an Indian name for herself." Gretchen's green eyes stared at her husband. "You were a wild man the way you danced that night, Call." She giggled as Call reached up and lifted her gently down to the ground.
"I still don't recollect much of that night," Call said. He pulled Gretchen against his body as she closed her eyes and moaned softly. He took his hand and rubbed it over her lower belly.
"That's where our baby is growing, Call," Gretchen whispered. She placed both her hands over his and held it on her belly. "Are you still happy we're going to have a baby, Call?"
He smiled. "Yep. I guess I can hardly believe it." He stared into Gretchen's eyes.
"I didn't even know you a year ago." She said, smiling warmly. To Call, it was the prettiest smile he had ever seen on a girl. "Now, we're husband and wife and we'll have our first son or daughter later this year. Call, I'm so happy." Gretchen hugged him and squeezed him tight. "I love you, Call."
Victoria stepped out the back door and smiled. "I'm glad you came back safe. Gretchen? Our little sister is so excited. She said the Indians named her Eyes of the Summer Sky?"
"Eyes of Summer Sky," Call repeated, holding Gretchen close to him.
"Oh, Newt," Victoria said, "Mr. Mosby was looking for you. He wants you to go see him."
Call nodded as he let go of Gretchen and loosened the reins of the Hellbitch, who had been hitched behind the store. He mounted his horse and pulled Gretchen up behind him. "We best be getting back home." He looked up at the sky. "It'll be dark in another hour."
"Newt?" Victoria replied. "What about Mr. Mosby? Are you going to see him?"
As Call led the Hellbitch between the dry goods and bath house, out to the street, Amanda was standing in front of the hotel talking to Josiah. "Call! Wait!" Amanda said as she stepped into the street. Call pulled up and looked at her.
"Where are you going?" Amanda inquired.
"That what you stopped us for?" he grumbled. "Ask where we're going?"
Amanda briefly looked at Gretchen with her arms wrapped tightly around Call's waist and her face contently resting against his back. "No, that's not what I stopped you for, Call. Mosby's been looking all around town for you. You better go see him."
Call smirked and snapped the reins to ride out.
"Call?! Damn it, Call!" Amanda cried.
"I ain't Mosby's lackey," he replied, "like some folks."
Amanda watched angrily as Call ignored her and turned his head to say something to his wife. Gretchen nodded and then they rode past the livery, out of town. "Stubborn son of a bitch," Amanda remarked then went back inside the Dove.
Gretchen Call stared for long moments at her husband. She finally sighed and twisting strands of her long hair in her hand, she plopped herself in Call's lap. "Call? I know I said I would never try to change you . . ." she paused and giggled. "I really like your hair long but would you let me trim it just a little? I swear, Call, just a little." She held her thumb and finger apart to show him how little she actually wanted to cut.
Call tensed slightly as he stared into Gretchen's eyes. He nodded. "Now just a little, Gretchen. I ain't set on being scalped, hear?"
Gretchen tugged his long locks and widened her eyes. "Yes, my husband. I hear you. Anything you say, Call." She jumped off his lap and went to the wicker basket sitting near the fireplace and grabbed her scissors. She held them up and snapped them loudly as she giggled. Call's eyes widened with caution. "Don't be a fraidy cat, Call. I promise not to cut much. Really I do."
Call watched his wife warily. "I'm trusting you, Coyote Girl."
A few minutes later Gretchen handed Call a small, round mirror. "See, Sweetheart. I didn't cut much, now did I?"
"Feels like I ain't got nothing left," he replied, looking in the mirror.
"No one will hardly even notice it," Gretchen commented.
Call made a sour face. "I notice it."
"You're such a baby," Gretchen laughed as she rubbed her hands over his head, messing up his hair. Then she smiled warmly. "Thank you, Call. I know you love me very much to let me trim just a little of your hair."
Call pulled Gretchen close as they locked their mouths together.
Clay Mosby was restless. He tossed in his bed. Isn't it just like Call? To ride off and ignore me. He sat up and turned so he was sitting on the side of his bed. Lowering his head and resting his forearms on his thighs, he listened for any unusual sound below him in the saloon. After the experience he had gone through with Earl Hastings, he wasn't going to make a similar error in judgement. Hastings could have easily killed him yet chose to toy with him. It had been his undoing and eventually led to his death.
Once again Clay had an unseen enemy toying with him. Only this time it somehow included Newt Call on the death list. There weren't a lot of mutual enemies the two men shared. I hope for the sake of his wife that damn Call isn't . . . he paused. A noise outside suddenly stirred him. He straightened up and tensed his body, as if that would allow him to hear better. He heard it again and shook his head. It was just an owl perched in a tree behind the Ambrosia Club, hooting.
Clay laid back down in his bed. Aside from his black riding boots, he was fully dressed, ready to take the offensive in an instant. He felt secure knowing Robert Shelby had insisted on sitting downstairs to watch for any sneak attack. He closed his eyes but wasn't tired.
It was around mid-morning the next day when Call and Gretchen rode into town. They rode double on the Hellbitch. Gretchen went inside the dry goods to help her sisters stock a new shipment of supplies they were fortunate enough to have arrive by stagecoach. Call headed up the street to stable the Hellbitch in the livery.
Call turned. The frown was a reaction. What the hell does Austin want now?
Sheriff Austin Peale squirted coffee from his teeth as he walked toward Call with a cocky attitude. "Get your ass to the Ambrosia, Call. Mosby's been waiting since yesterday to see you."
Call ignored Austin and walked his mount into the livery.
"You sonofabitch!" Austin said, raising his voice and hurling his coffee out of the tin and into the muddy street. "I just told you to do something! Didn't you hear me?"
Call paused and turned only halfway toward Austin. "I heard what you said, Austin."
"What the hell's your damn problem, Call?!" Austin angrily asked.
"I ain't got a mind to go see Mosby." Call stared at the taller man with unflinching eyes.
"Have it your way, Call. You'll be sorry." Austin turned and hurried out the livery doors. Odds were, he was bound for Mosby's.
Call unsaddled the Hellbitch and fed her a carrot as he brushed her. Within minutes the livery's opening was shadowed by Zeke and two other Mosby men blocking the entrance.
"Mosby wants to see you, Call. He sent us to personally bring you to him."
Call dropped the brush and stepped out of the stall. No one told him what to do. Except his wife, Gretchen. Especially not Mosby, though. He placed one hand on the bottom of his holster and the other hand on his gun handle. He slipped his finger around the trigger and placed his thumb on the hammer, ready to cock it.
"What are you doing, Call?!" Zeke nervously asked. "Are you loco?"
Call stared at the trio of Mosby's men. "If Mosby wants me he can come to me."
Zeke looked at the other men and nodded. "All right, Call. Just don't go getting any crazy ideas about drawing that hog leg."
Call stared menacingly at the men until they had the good sense to walk out of the livery and leave him be. He waited fifteen to twenty seconds before bending down to pick up the brush and turn his attention back to his horse, while listening for the sound of boots hitting the ground.
Miz Ashley Jessup had been gazing at the distant mountains, far to the north, behind the livery, and had heard the entire conversation between Call and Zeke, as well as Austin. She decided to pay a visit down the street to the Brandt Sisters' dry goods store.
As Ashley stepped inside the store, she looked at all three of the Missouri sisters working together. It was a simple matter to spot Gretchen Call. She was the one dressed slightly different than her sisters. Although the sisters all bore facial resemblances, Gretchen stood out in a striking way. Her simple outfit complimented her husband, Newt Call's look.
"Excuse me?" She walked up to the sisters and smiled, then curtseyed. The three Brandt Sisters' all smiled back and curtseyed to Ashley. "I haven't met y'all yet. I'm Ashley Jessup."
"Hello, Miss Jessup. I'm Victoria. These are my younger sisters. Gretchen and Paige."
"The Lakota Indians named me Eyes of Summer Sky, yesterday," Paige excitedly shared.
"My goodness," Ashley replied. "Why, I declare. I've never met any Lakota Indians yet." She turned to Gretchen. "You're Mrs. Call, aren't you?"
Gretchen smiled brightly hearing her married name. "Yes! Yes, I am. Call and I have been married nearly two months."
"How absolutely wonderful," Ashley replied. "You look so very happy, Mrs. Call."
"Oh," she sighed deeply, "I am very happy. But . . . you can call me Gretchen."
"All right . . . Gretchen." Ashley gazed at the younger woman. There had to be a fifteen year difference between their ages. "I feel it is important that we speak. Concerning your husband and Clay Mosby."
Gretchen squinted. "Really? Oh? Well, I suppose. We could sit here," she suggested, pointing to two chairs.
Clay Mosby wore his pants tucked into his boots as he stepped into the livery stable. He wore his brown duster as well as his wide brim hat. Call turned slightly, noticing him and smirked.
"All right, Call. If you are determined to flagrantly ignore my requests, I take it you expect me to find you?"
Call stared at Mosby for a moment and nodded. "Something like that."
Clay Mosby shook his head as if he were addressing a stubborn animal. He walked toward Call. "I suppose you have no idea whatsoever about this?" He dropped the two wooden crosses with their names painted in black, down on the dirt-covered floor.
Call looked at the crosses then his eyes widened slightly. "Your idea of a joke, Mosby?"
"Hardly. These were inside an anonymous box that arrived on yesterday morning's stage. I was rather hoping you might be able to shed some light on this unusual and disturbing message." Mosby handed Call the piece of paper included in the box.
"The time has come to pay up," Call mumbled as he read the words. He handed it back to Mosby. "I don't know nothing about this."
"Well fine," Clay remarked with an irritable tone. "We just sit around until some lunatic decides to kill us?" Clay rubbed his chin and handed Call another piece of paper. "This was wedged in the door this morning. I haven't shown it to anyone else."
Call frowned as he took the piece of paper and opened it. "Mosby Call be inside bath house tonight midnight wash your sins and die." He looked at Mosby.
"Call, this is serious. Now . . . I don't know who . . . but someone is out to kill both of us."
Call shrugged. "Ain't like you and me got us the same enemies, now is it, Mosby?"
"Well somewhere along the way it would appear we have," Clay replied. "The question is, who is it?"
Call lowered his eyes in thought. "What about that fella . . . the fat one. One who was running bad whiskey a few years back. What was his name?"
Clay Mosby thought on it. He had forgotten the whiskey traders back before Hannah had died. "Frazier? . . . Winston? . . . Clayton! That's it! His name was Clayton." Mosby shook his head. "I doubt he would have the brains to devise a plan such as this." Mosby thought about something and smiled. "We worked together admirably on that occasion, wouldn't you agree?"
Call just stared at Mosby without answering.
"Fine, Call," Clay said, "you keep on acting like this. If we are to survive this enemy it will be vital that we put aside any differences and work together . . . at least until we find who did this. Now, the most logical choice would appear to be Samuel Peters. Remember him?"
Call's eyes narrowed slightly. "Yep."
"Mr. Peters has a grudge against both you and I, Call. He is also highly dangerous and would delight greatly in toying with us," Clay commented.
"You can't be sure it's Peters," Call said. "Could be anyone."
"Well now, that is true," Clay replied in agreement. "However, no one else comes to mind that has a motive for wanting the two of us dead."
"Guess we'll both find out tonight," Call said.
"I suggest we meet early. Prepare ourselves. 11o'clock. My saloon," Clay added.
Josiah Peale's assistant, young Hubie Kellner, took notes quickly as he scribbled on the note pad, recording the comments of Amanda Carpenter and Mattie Shaw. They both recounted their terrifying experience with Samuel Peters over a year ago. It was the consensus of most everyone that it could only be Samuel Peters out for revenge against Mosby and Call.
Folks like Unbob, Dr. Cleese, and Ike all agreed that it likely was Peters. Mattie and Amanda both wanted the opportunity to put a bullet in Peters' head. It was Sheriff Austin Peale who told them to stay out of it and let Mosby and Call deal with it.
"I have Zeke and the rest of the men stationed strategically around town, Clay. I think this idea of yours is suicidal about entering that bath house tonight."
"Robert," Clay began, "you are my dearest and oldest friend. I trust you completely. However, I do wish you would allow me to proceed with this situation as I see fit. Whoever is after Call and myself, has their own plan. I neither trust or expect them to be a man, or perhaps, a woman, of honor."
Ashley Jessup slid her fingers underneath Clay's extremely tense hand as she attempted to intertwine their fingers. "Dearest Clay? I went to have a private 'girls only' talk with the Brandt Sisters. Actually, I went to have a talk with Gretchen. I thought it would be simply marvelous if you and I could have a picnic or supper with her and her husband."
Clay's eyes widened. "I hardly think Newt Call would be inclined to agree to your proposals, my dear, Ashley. And tell me, how did Mrs. Gretchen Call respond? Hmm?"
"I declare, Clay," Ashley replied, "she made the strangest looking face."
"As I would expect, my dear," Clay remarked. "Gretchen Call has been quite . . . hmm? How should I put this? Even before the wedding, as Gretchen Brandt, she was very outspoken in her attitude toward me." Clay laughed slightly. "Of course, that was because of my ideas about Mr. Call. She's defended and stood by him from the very day she first arrived here."
Ashley wasn't about to give up. "Well, I will have you know that we plan on having coffee or tea together one afternoon. Just the two of us."
Clay smiled. "Well good for you, my dear. She is quite younger than you. However, I see that to be of no consequence. You are far more lovelier than Mrs. Gretchen Call."
"You flatter me, Clay, dearest," Ashley said as she blinked her eyelashes. "And I must confess that I simply adore it."
Paige Brandt was the first to notice it. It happened the moment Call stepped inside the dry goods store. "Victoria!" she cried. "Look! Call cut his hair!"
Call groaned. Not a single person in town took note of the small trim his wife, Gretchen, had given him last night. Now, his sister-in-law, Paige, caught it right off.
Victoria smiled. "I would hardly say that Newt cut his hair, Paige. But I do notice it. It looks nice, Newt." She turned to Gretchen. "You did a real fine job there."
Gretchen's smile faded almost instantly as she went to her husband and held him tight. "Call? Ashley Jessup came here to talk to me. She told me about the crosses with your name and Mr. Mosby's name on them. I'm afraid of something bad happening to you."
Call looked at Gretchen. Her green eyes were shadowed with fear. "I reckon I'll be fine. I'm staying here tonight. Settle this business. I want you going home with your sister." He looked over at Victoria. "I'm trusting her with you, Victoria."
"No, Call!" Gretchen cried. "I'm not going. I will not leave while you stay here. We're husband and wife, Call. I won't leave you. I won't! I love you. I'm staying and that's final!"
Call shook his head. "Listen to me, Gretchen. I love you, too. I ain't about to risk you getting hurt. I don't know who's set on putting me in the ground."
"Call," Gretchen pleaded, "I'll be helpless at Victoria's if someone comes after me. Ephraim isn't a fighter. Please, Call? I can stay in the hotel. I'm not leaving, Call. I won't leave you."
Call's eyes darted as he thought quickly. "Then . . . you lock the door, hear? You're taking my sawed-off. If anyone opens that door and it ain't me, you aim at their belly and squeeze the trigger. Understand?"
Gretchen nodded through tears. "Yes, Call. I understand. Anything you say. Just come back to me." She threw herself into his arms and began crying. "We're going to have a baby, Call. I can't lose you. Not ever. I'm yours, Newt Call. Forever."
"You won't lose me, Coyote Girl." Call held Gretchen close as he solemnly looked at Victoria and Paige. He looked at Gretchen again and whispered, "forever."
Colonel Francis Clay Mosby was a man of many titles. Somewhere near the top of the list was the word honor. Robert Shelby, Austin Peale, and Zeke all knew if he said he would enter the bath house without being accompanied by all of them, it was a solid fact. So, it was no surprise at 11 o'clock that night when Call looked around the empty street and stepped inside the Ambrosia. The temperature had dropped suddenly down below freezing as massive snow clouds filled the starless sky.
Clay Mosby nodded without saying anything and walked across the empty saloon to the bar. "Drink, Call?"
Clay poured them each a shot of whiskey. "It doesn't pay to compromise your senses at a time such as this." Clay watched Call as he picked up the small glass and poured the liquor down his throat. "It is quite possible one of us . . . perhaps even both of us . . . will be dead before the sun comes up." Clay shrugged as Call ignored his comment.
"If it is Peters, or whoever it is, they'll likely expect us to enter the bath house at midnight ," Call suddenly remarked. "Seems to me we'd do best to head down there now."
"I do believe you are correct, Mr. Call." Clay emptied his glass and extended his arm toward the door. "Shall we?"
"Not that one," Call said. "We go out the back. Less likely we'll be spotted in the shadows behind the back than out in the open that way," he said, nodding toward the front.
Mosby nodded. "I agree. Then, let us capture our mutual enemy, shall we?"
Both men loaded their guns then slipped quietly out the back door. The clouds of steam from their breath were the only things visible in the cold night.
Victoria wouldn't go home. Neither would Paige. Ephraim brought them into the hotel. They crowded into the same small room Gretchen was staying in. Gretchen was too nervous to even consider sleeping.
Ashley Jessup, with Robert Shelby and Mattie Shaw, were in the dining room, downstairs. Even though the streets of Curtis Wells were deserted, not many slept.
Call and Mosby moved quietly behind the Ambrosia. They passed the telegraph office and the bank. They moved in front of the sign works shop and past the White Orchid Laundry, next to the dry goods and clothing store at the end. They silently peered out at the side of the bath house then proceeded to advance on the pre-arranged building until they stood abreast it. Both men stared long into the frigid, somber night before approaching the solitary door. It was somewhere between 11pm and 11:30pm.
With guns drawn and hammers cocked, Clay Mosby and Newt Call opened the wooden door and stepped inside the dark bath house. They stood in silence until their eyes adjusted somewhat to the dark shadows and flimsy curtains hanging all over the inside like lingering ghosts. Clay Mosby produced a match and set about to lighting a lamp. He held it out and they moved quickly, checking the entire inside of the bath house. It was empty, all except for the two of them.
Mosby suggested they pick up the long bench and place it across the big tub sideways, for better cover. He placed the lamp near the middle of the one-room building, on a small table, to provide decent lighting for when their enemy entered. By keeping it away from the door, whoever entered wouldn't be able to blow out the light, which would have caused a disadvantage to Mosby and Call.
After sitting on the floor for five or ten minutes, Clay Mosby looked at Call and shook his head. "I understand your wife is going to have a baby, Call. You still have time to get out of here."
Call suddenly turned to Mosby. "If you ever touch my wife I swear I'll kill you, Mosby!"
"I assure you, I have no interest whatsoever in your wife, Call." He laughed slightly.
"Something funny, Mosby?" Call got to his feet and held his arms out ready to grab Mosby.
"Sit down, Call," Clay ordered, "and stop acting like a jackass. We have more urgent matters to attend to rather than discussing your wife. I merely suggested with a wife and child to support, you might possibly want to consider avoiding this fight. If I have a comment to make regarding your wife, Gretchen, I shall save that for a more opportune time. Not tonight."
"I ain't sure what your meaning is about my wife, but I don't like it, Mosby."
"I'm beginning to lose my patience with you, Call," Clay replied.
"I just lost mine!" Call yelled and grabbed hold of Mosby's duster and pulled him up from the floor.
"Call! Damn you!" Clay yelled back, grabbing Call.
Before either one of them could throw a punch at the other, the sound of a nail being hammered suddenly paralyzed them momentarily.
"What the hell . . .?" Clay said as he let go of Call.
Another nail was hammered followed by the sound of muffled laughter from outside. "I'll see you both in Hell," said a voice from the other side of the door.
"Sonofabitch!" Call yelled. "That bastard bolted us in here."
Next they heard the sound of liquid being thrown against the outside of the bath house as it splashed against the building.
"Kerosene!" Call said as he smelled the air and turned to Mosby.
"Whoever is on the other side of that door plans to burn us alive," Clay Mosby said, suddenly realizing him and Call had been tricked.
"We'll bust through the door," Call said and ran toward the door.
"Call! No!" Mosby yelled as gunshots were fired through the door. Mosby jumped and tackled Call. "It's what he wants. To shoot us down."
"We stay in here we die, Mosby!" Call answered from the floor. "We got no choice!"
Clay Mosby scanned the bath house quickly. The big tub was full of water. He thought whether or not the two of them would be able to submerge themselves under the water and occasionally breathe until the bath house burned to the ground around them. No! Damn it! he thought. Smoke inhalation will kill us both.
"Come on, Mosby!" Call yelled. "The walls are just planks. The door ain't that sturdy. I can bust through it. You just start firing at it till I get a running start."
It was the only thing that made any sense. Better to take a chance at being shot by bullets than die a sure and painful death from the fire and smoke.
"Mosby!" Call yelled. "Now!" Call bent forward and charged for the door as Clay jumped up and fired his Remington into the secured door while whoever was on the outside fired back through the door.
"Uuhhnhh!" Call groaned and hit the floor.
"Call!" Clay yelled. He moved closer to where Call laid on the floor and fired more shots until he emptied his gun. "Call? Are you hit?"
Call rolled over and crawled behind a tub. "I slipped on some soapy water. Dammit!" Then Call saw it. An axe leaning against the wall. He jumped up and grabbed the axe. He swung it into the door with a loud thud. Whoever was outside fell back, surprised by the axe breaking part of the door. Clay Mosby finished reloading his pistol and stood up. He approached the door and fired one shot through the small opening. Call drew back the axe and swung it into the door again, shattering more wood. They could now hear someone struggling and grunting to light a match to set the building ablaze.
"Stand aside, Call," Clay urged and fired one, two, three, four shots through the door. A low groan was heard followed by a heavy thud outside. "Break it now, Call!" Clay urged. Call swung the axe, busting open half the door.
Call and Clay both kicked half the door away and stepped into the cold night. Someone was on the ground thrashing in agony. Clay Mosby strode up to the man and using his boot, rolled him onto his back.
"YOU?!" Clay said in disbelief.
Call stepped next to Mosby and with his gun pointed at the man on the ground, said, "what the hell?" He looked at Mosby. Mosby looked at Call. Clay Mosby cocked the hammer of his gun and pointed it at the man's head.
"Mosby! No! Don't kill him."
Clay paused, confused. "Not this time, Call. I intend to end it now."
"I have a better idea," Call said.
"It had better be good," Clay replied, lowering his Remington.
Early in the morning, not much after the sun had risen, three horses walked slowly into the winter camp of the Lakota and Red Crow. Red Crow and his small band of braves emerged from their lodges into the freezing morning. The women and children stood with them, shivering from the freezing temperature.
"It is unexpected to see my friend, Sun<Ka Watogla (Wild Dog) and the chief of the square lodges. Why have you journeyed here this early in the day?"
Call smiled at Red Crow. "We brought you something. I reckon you just might be interested in this."
Clay Mosby handed the reins of the third horse to Red Crow. Red Crow looked at the horse. The man Mosby had shot was strapped across the horse. Red Crow looked at the man's face. His eyes widened.
"Burns! Where did you find him?! He escaped many moons ago," Red Crow said. Once the Lakota braves realized it was Burns, the false Indian Agent who had killed Little Wolf, they began whooping and hollering as they broke out into passionate dance. Red Crow looked up at Clay Mosby and Call.
"We began torturing him but he passed out like a woman. He had a knife hidden in his boot. He tricked us. He killed one of our braves and escaped. We will have great joy in torturing him again. This time his clothing will be removed so he cannot surprise us. You will never see him again."
Call leaned on his saddle horn. "He set out to kill us both. He's all yours, Red Crow. We best be getting back."
The old woman who was named Many Leaves came over. She pointed to the sky. "Wiaceiciti" ("Sun Dog").
Call nodded. "I reckon it's over now."
Red Crow raised his arm to thank them for bringing Burns back. Mosby and Call turned and headed back to Curtis Wells.
They rode quietly part of the way home. It was cold and the sun hadn't warmed the earth yet. Faces and hands burned and stung from the severe change in weather. Then, Clay Mosby said, "Who would have thought it was Burns?"
"Not you," Call sharply said.
Clay laughed a little. "That's quite true. I thought Burns was dead. Of course, we never actually saw him die. We only assumed he would die."
"Guess you were wrong, weren't you, Mosby?"
"And you thought he was alive, Call?" Mosby laughed.
Call shrugged. He turned his face away and laughed quietly. But he'd be damned if he was going to let Mosby see it.
+++++++++++++++++++++ The End +++++++++++++++++++
Author's note: Sun Dog - A pale, rainbow-like spot in the winter sky, caused by sunlight illuminating ice crystals. Sun dogs are often a sign of impending weather change. James Willard Schultz indicates in My Life as an Indian that the Blackfeet understood sun dogs to be warnings of approaching danger.
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