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.


Death Be Not Proud
(45th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

The outlaws and the shady lawmen were like
all the rest of the Westerners in a way:
they were out for opportunity.

(The American Frontier -- William C. Davis)

The occasions when Clay Mosby had been caught off guard -- so utterly astonished and irresolute -- could have easily been counted on the fingers of one hand. Unfortunately for him, this was one of those occasions. He stood completely dumbfounded, wondering for the briefest of moments whether he was still asleep -- perhaps in an unwanted dream -- as he stared at his two guests -- adversaries too dangerous to stand before weaponless. Clay's sharp, militaristic mind prepared for immediate action -- either charging the two men and yelling out a warning to Robert Shelby, or diving for cover, something not in his nature.

"Clay!" Willis Logan said in his long, drawn style of speech. He stood up, smiling as if they were brothers, born of the same mother, having not seen each other in years. In truth, it had been a couple of years.

Clay didn't move. He had every reason to believe that Willis Logan and Samuel Peters had returned to exact their revenge on him.

"Come on, Clay," Willis urged, still smiling, "we've ridden a long way to discuss a partnership." He turned toward the bar. "How about a drink?"

Clay glanced first at Samuel Peters, then Robert. If this was a trap, he would do well to mount his own mental charge. Realizing the significance of his demeanor, he grasped complete control of his senses and walked casually to the bar. "To be quite honest, Willis, I never expected to see you here in Curtis Wells again."

"Nor did I, Clay," Willis Logan replied. "But, when Granville Stuart mentioned your plans to organize a cattle operation, I decided to make you a formidable offer."

Clay poured four drinks -- Samuel Peters and Robert Shelby joined Mosby and Logan. "And," Clay remarked, "that offer would be . . .?"

"A partnership -- you and I -- organizing the largest cattle empire in the entire Territory of Montana." Willis extended his hand toward Clay.

Hesitating, Clay cast a glance at Samuel Peters. "And, what of Mr. Peters? Am I to presume he is part of this partnership?"

"I just follow orders, Mosby," Peters said.

Willis nodded. "Mr. Peters provides a most . . . unique perspective on situations. I find his skills to be quite handy and persuasive when needed."

Peters stepped closer, offering his hand, as well. "Business is business, Mosby. That's all that was. I told you I'm a man of my word." He smiled, smug and with confidence bordering on the cocky.

"Montana is ripe, Clay," Willis Logan commented. "There are foreigners -- men from England and Scotland, who will ruin this country if we don't beat them to the cattle. Granville Stuart is a visionary. He knows a handful of strong men can control the price of beef. The East is begging for beef, Clay. There's fortunes to made for all of us. What do you say?"

Clay looked at Robert. He nodded in agreement. Clay stretched his hand to meet Willis Logan and Samuel Peters. "We have an agreement, gentlemen."

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

When Boone Mackinaw finally woke, it was morning. His clothes were damp -- covered with the early morning dew. He inhaled the deep fragrant odor of the sweet smelling grass, tall and yellowish, rising inches above his sprawled body. Springing to his feet with a suddenness, his eyes scanned the great prairie -- from one horizon across to the far distant opposite horizon. His companion, Mason Dobbs, was gone -- as was the two bounty hunters who had rode up behind them with their guns drawn.

Boone hoped to spot his rifle, perhaps carelessly ignored and left by the bounty hunters. He caught a glint of metal, reflecting the morning sunlight, near a stout Ponderosa pine, two hundred yards to the south. He broke into a sprint, scattering dozens of birds -- goldfinch, wood thrush, and black-billed magpie -- all circling low then rising into the brisk morning sky, escaping the sudden intruder.

The young bearded mountain man stopped short of the pine -- his rifle shattered -- lying in pieces near the tree -- the bark broken off where one of the bounty hunters had violently slammed his rifle into the pine. Boone now had to choose. Follow the bounty hunters, whose tracks he could easily trail in his sleep, or ride for Hat Creek and enlist the aid of riders willing to save Mason Dobbs. When he and Mason rode out from Hat Creek to wire the Brandt sisters that the Call's were safe, Mason had mentioned his outlaw past and that Captain Call, being a fierce Texas Ranger, was not prone to forgiving those who had strayed from the straight and narrow -- especially himself, the youngest brother of Maggie Dobbs, Newt's mother.

For the first time since he had trekked off to the mountains -- casting aside the wealthy life his family had come to expect, Boone Mackinaw was vexed. Even without his rifle he still had his two knives -- something the bounty hunters had neglected to notice. He was confident he could track them, come upon them silently during the deepest hours of night, and rescue Mason. Yet, failure might occur -- a possibility he must entertain as a simple equation that no one ever succeeded at every hostile engagement with an enemy. If captured, or killed, both he and Mason would likely vanish -- Mason returned to New Mexico and prison, Boone most likely dead on some empty prairie.

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

So shocked was he when set upon by the two bounty hunters that Mason Dobbs, usually talkative about any subject, had become strangely silent. If it were true, that Lew Wallace was no longer Governor of the Territory of New Mexico, then Mason might indeed be in trouble. More than the proposed year had elapsed since the Concho County Whip-Tail Scorpions had met with both Governor Wallace and Texas Governor, Oran Roberts, in regard to amnesty. Most of the boys had rode south, crossing the border into Mexico, where they hoped to disappear until word of their amnesty reached them. Mason had determined it being time he sought out his sister, Maggie's boy, Newt. Now, his close relationship with his nephew -- only a few years younger than he -- was in serious jeopardy.

It required little time before Mason realized the pair of bounty hunters to be somewhat mistrusting of each other -- a point he hoped to fully exploit if he intended to escape. The bickering between the two fortune seekers heated into a yelling match soon after they came upon the Tongue River. One of the bounty hunters decided they would follow the Tongue south into Wyoming -- the other, opted for veering east when the Tongue split into the Pumpkin Creek, then continuing southeast across the Powder River, into Wyoming.

"You damn fool!" the second man argued. "Don't you know nothing? The Tongue leads into Northern Cheyenne and Crow country. We could end up having our scalps removed before ever reaching Santa Fe."

"It's the middle of October, you egg-eating son of a jackass," the first retorted. "Those red devils are gone -- packed up and heading for their winter camps. Once we cross into Wyoming we can turn east and navigate the Clear Creek and then follow the Powder."

"You're a stupid fool, John Hind!" the second man pressed. "Too many damn rivers! I ain't obliged to crossing any more than necessary. I say cross now!"

Mason quietly listened. Besides roving tribes of Cheyenne or Crow, there were other hazards to consider -- grizzly bear, mountain lion, and wolves. Not to mention the chill of approaching winter had already been felt in the air.

After squandering valuable time, the bounty hunters agreed to follow the Tongue, as John Hind had suggested. They seemed not concerned of anyone coming to rescue Mason Dobbs, and proceeded at an easy pace. They made a small fire the first night -- posting no sentry -- unaware that they were being watched.

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

Ashley Mosby had been hesitant at first. Now, she had to ride into town and speak to Clay. She was fearful -- Clay Mosby, her own husband, had raped her yesterday, after catching her copulating with one of the servants. She guided the small buggy into Curtis Wells and pulled up in front of the Ambrosia Club. Sheriff Peale approached from the opposite direction.

"Is my husband inside his saloon, Sheriff?" Ashley inquired as Austin offered a hand.

"I wouldn't know, Mrs. Mosby," he replied. "I'm just getting out now." He glanced at the saloon. "I have business with Mosby -- I'll walk you inside." Austin opened the door, waiting for Ashley to step in first. As Austin stepped inside he saw Willis Logan and Samuel Peters. He drew his gun immediately.

Clay turned. "Ashley?! What are you . . .? Austin! Put the gun away!"

Austin Peale looked quickly at Clay, then at Logan and Peters. Both men sat at a table, smiling. Austin lowered his gun, then holstered it.

"Clay, we must talk," Ashley insisted. She had never met the two men sitting and had no interest in their business.

"Not now, Ashley," Clay answered. "Go home. We shall discuss matters tonight."

"That your wife, Mosby?" Peters said, staring hard at Ashley -- the puffed up cleavage, the shapely hips.

"Introduce your new partners to your wife, Clay," Willis Logan added, standing up.

"New partners?!" Austin repeated.

Reluctantly, Clay nodded. "Gentlemen, my wife, Mrs. Ashley Mosby."

Ashley, not in the mood for greetings, merely extended her hand.

"My pleasure making your acquaintance, Mrs. Mosby," Willis Logan said, taking Ashley's hand and smiling.

"Howdy, ma'am," Samuel Peters grinned, staring at her chest.

"Permit me to introduce you to Mr. Willis Logan and Mr. Samuel Peters. We have just formed a partnership in the cattle business," Clay said to Ashley.

"I am not interested in your business ventures, Clay. I simply must speak with you."

"As you have already informed me, my dear," Clay replied.

"Then, I shall await you at home," Ashley remarked. "Gentlemen." She walked out of the saloon. It would be another hour before the doors opened for business.

"Peters can't be seen around town, Mosby!" Austin said. "What about Amanda? Or, Mattie?" It was a valid point. Either one would likely try to kill Peters if they saw him on the street.

"You leave Miss Carpenter and Miss Shaw to me, Austin," Clay said.

Austin shrugged then walked out. He knew if Clay Mosby had just formed an unholy union with Willis Logan and Samuel Peters, his job was going to become more difficult.

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

When Gretchen Call placed the infant near her husband's face, his eyes immediately opened. It was a 'coyote move' -- knowing Call would be irritable at having to lay in bed. Seeing the tiny baby, his eyes lit up and he smiled.

"Someone wants to see her papa," Gretchen whispered, leaning close and tugging Call's hair. "I think the first thing I want to do when we get back home is wash your hair, Call."

"Maybe we'll ride on over to where we found Runt and we can both set about washing each other's hair." He shook Becky's tiny hand with his thumb and finger.

Gretchen's eyes widened and her face reddened. She knew Call meant for them to cast aside their clothing and go into the river naked, as they had done twice before. "Maybe we will," she whispered, then locked her mouth on his, kissing him deeply. Both Call and Gretchen placed a hand on Becky, to keep from pressing against her. The thought of her husband, Newt Call, washing her hair, excited Gretchen. She considered it quite intimate.

"I reckon I'm fit," Call grumbled. He looked around the small one-room cabin and laughed. "Cap'n must like you, Coyote Girl. He don't usually put a wood floor in."

"You mean, he just leaves the dirt on the floor?" Gretchen asked.

"Yep."

Gretchen cradled their infant daughter into her arms and nodded. "Our daughter had a very unpleasant night, Call."

He squinted. "I didn't know. What . . . what happened?"

"She had a fever," Gretchen sighed. "It's gone now, but she whimpered most of the night. Poor little baby. She wouldn't even eat. I was awake most of the night -- trying to comfort her." Gretchen smiled. "She's a strong-willed baby, Call. She'll be fine."

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

"You son of a bitch! You let him just walk back into town?!" Mattie was furious.

Amanda stared at Mattie.

"Calm down, Mattie," Clay urged. "At the moment it cannot be helped."

"I was shot! I was shot! I could have died!" Mattie's face reddened with anger. "I don't want any part of your cattle deal, Clay. I should kill him."

"Clay's right, honey," Amanda remarked. "Peters was the only one who treated us decent."

"Yeah! Real decent, Amanda," Mattie snapped.

"I'm afraid I must insist that neither of you attempt to injure either Mr. Peters or Willis Logan," Mosby said. "I will not allow anyone or anything to prevent me from accomplishing my plans."

"And, you trust those two?!" Mattie asked.

"No, not entirely," Clay replied. "Willis Logan has not even mentioned his dead son, Deke. Peters, on the other hand, is a very greedy man. I feel it is critical that I play along with them for the time being."

"I never met your Willis Logan, Clay," Amanda informed him. "If I allow Samuel Peters inside my hotel I expect . . ."

"Who's hotel, Amanda?"

"Damn it, Clay! It isn't fair," Amanda said.

"Yes, well . . . Willis Logan rode into Curtis Wells without his men," Clay commented.

Amanda snickered. "He doesn't need them -- not as long as he has Peters."

Mattie stood up to leave the Dove. Clay reached out to grab her arm.

"Don't you touch me!" Mattie barked.

"Let her go, Clay," Amanda suggested. "I'll talk to her." She looked at Mosby, shaking her head. "Do you know what you're doing, Clay?"

"I know exactly what I am doing, Amanda," Clay said.

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

"What are you reading?"

Paige Brandt paused, looking up from her table in the Dove. "Oh! You." She frowned at Beth Dewberry. "Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre. It's very romantic."

Elizabeth ignored the comment. "I haven't seen your sister or that uncivilized fool she's wed to."

Paige rose immediately from her chair. "You take that back or I'll smack you with this book!" She cocked her arm, ready to swing, startling Beth Dewberry.

"Very well," Elizabeth replied, "I take it back. I can't for the life of me understand what she sees in Newt Call?"

"Well, now that is strange," Paige answered, "considering you've been like a bitch in heat with your tongue hanging out, trying to entice Gretchen's husband. Haven't you learned, Miss Dewberry? Call loves my sister. Now, please go pester someone else so I can enjoy my book."

Elizabeth Dewberry fumed, then stormed off.

Paige giggled then sat down, opened her book, and continued reading. "Hasten to take off your things," said he: "and before you go, good-night -- good-night, my darling!" He kissed me repeatedly. Paige looked up, staring off -- somewhere far away. Wondering who might be more romantic -- Dish Boggett or Boone Mackinaw?

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

The bounty hunters rose early and followed the western bank of the Tongue, continuing south until the river forked just outside of Ashland. They proceeded southwest -- the mountains on each side of the river now narrowing. Mason occasionally noticed perch and two species of trout in the waters.

"You boys up for some fishing?" he asked. "I'll wager those are some mighty tasty fish just begging to be eaten."

"Shut up, Dobbs," John Hind said.

"We got to feed him sometime," the second bounty hunter remarked. "That poster says 'alive,' not dead. It's bound to take us some time reaching New Mexico."

"Both of you just shut the hell up," the first bounty hunter ordered. He rode faster, pulling Mason's gray while the other bounty hunter followed behind.

Above them, they were being followed.

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

Dr. Ephraim Cleese looked like a peacock. It couldn't be helped. He was proud of his infant son, Daniel. Victoria held the child as she walked alongside her husband.

"Dr. and Mrs. Cleese," Clay Mosby greeted the married couple. "Forgive my intrusion, but word has reached me that your sister and Call met with some difficulties on the way to Miles City."

"That is correct," Ephraim replied.

"Well," Clay persisted, "is there anything I can do for either of them?"

"Thank you, Mr. Mosby," Victoria said, bouncing her two and a half month old son in her arms. "Actually, it was Newt who suffered. Although we really haven't much information except that Gretchen dragged him across the plains while carrying the baby. I fear when they return home and we have the opportunity to hear the complete account we will most likely be appalled by perhaps the tragedy and horror of their ordeal."

Clay shook his head. "I seem to continuously be amazed with Mrs. Gretchen Call. Your sister is indeed a spirited and able partner for Mr. Call."

"We think so, Mr. Mosby," Victoria replied. "Although, I would be quite content if Gretchen's biggest excitement would merely be the cleaning up after her precious little daughter."

"Hardly realistic, I'm afraid," Ephraim commented.

Clay nodded to the Cleese's. "Well, my regards to the Call's -- and the two of you, as well. Good day." Clay Mosby proceeded to his destination -- the general store.

"Hello, Mr. Mosby," Elizabeth Dewberry intoned, when Clay entered the store.

"Miss Dewberry," Clay responded. "Might I have a moment with your sister?"

"Well, as you can see," Beth replied, nodding toward the barrel of new brooms, "Suzanne is busy with a customer."

"Yes, I see," Clay replied, none too happy. He strolled over to where Suzanne Van Atta and Josiah Peale were laughing. "Josiah? Haven't you a newspaper to run?"

Josiah gazed at Clay, then at Mrs. Van Atta. "As a matter of fact, I do. I can purchase a new broom later, Mrs. Van Atta." He nodded, then walked out of the store.

"That was very rude, Mr. Mosby," Suzanne berated. "He was going to make a purchase."

"The Montana Statesman hasn't been swept in years, my dear, Mrs. Van Atta."

Suzanne was going to reply that was why he should have bought the broom but when Clay referred to her as Mrs. Van Atta, her heart sunk and it no longer seemed important to discuss Josiah Peale and brooms.

"I merely stopped by to see how you feel today," Clay said. He looked at Suzanne. She was much younger than Ashley. "Is there anything you need?"

"An answer would be quite sufficient right now, Mr. Mosby."

"Yes. I'm sure it would," he agreed. "However, since we spoke yesterday about you being pregnant with my child something rather unexpected has occurred. This matter between us shall be determined as soon as possible, I assure you, Suzanne." He reached out, taking her hand and smiling. "Do be patient with me, my dear? I have urgent matters which require my immediate attention."

"All right, Mr. Mosby," Suzanne agreed. "I suppose I should be grateful you came to tell me this."

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

The opportunity finally presented itself. John Hind had gone off to sleep -- lying in a bedroll near the campfire. Mason knew he could plant seeds of hesitation if only allowed a chance to separate the bounty hunters.

"So, looks like you boys are going to collect a sizable bounty," he quietly stated.

The other bounty hunter looked up for a moment then continued loading his pistol.

"You boys ever run down any other men?" Mason grinned. "Well, if I'm your first bounty, you ought to tell me your name. I'd venture to say that's a favorable way to gain a reputation." He winked at the man, irritating him.

"Shut up and go to sleep, Dobbs."

"How long you been riding with this fella?" Mason asked, beginning his strategy. "You trust him? Most bounty hunters ride alone because they know having a partner is suicide."

"What are you talking about?" The man stood up. He stretched and yawned, then bent down near Mason. "I said, what are you talking about?!"

Mason laughed quietly. "I'm a gambling man, amigo. I'd put every coin I had on the table that your partner plans to kill you before we reach Nuevo Mexico."

"Well, you don't know him too good, Dobbs. We made us a pact to split any bounty we found. Hell! We was looking for fifty and a hundred dollar bounties before we recognized you. You're worth one thousand dollars to Governor Lionel Sheldon."

"I'll say a few words over your grave, amigo," Mason said, staring solemnly at the man.

"You got it wrong," he replied, shaking his head.

"Tell me your name, boy," Mason asked. I'll carve your name in a cross after your friend kills you. You won't see it coming. My guess is if you had a fifty dollar reward you'd live. Men tend to get real greedy over a thousand dollars. Keep your eyes open." He winked again. The seed of doubt had been planted.

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

It was near midnight when Clay Mosby entered the mansion. "Here we go," he grumbled, sarcastically, taking note of his pregnant wife.

"You didn't sleep here last night, Clay," Ashley remarked, folding her arms. "I tried to speak to you earlier today but you were preoccupied."

"And now I am tired, Ashley. It has been a rather eventful week."

"Lorenzo is gone!" Ashley blurted out then stepped fearfully back.

Clay nodded. "Um hum. Leaving a trail of blood, no doubt." He laughed. "I am quite sure we have seen the last of your young Spaniard, my dear. I warned you -- him, as well. I forbid you to take any more lovers, Ashley." Clay's smile turned into an angry scowl, causing Ashley to shiver, fearful of either being raped by Clay, again, or beaten, physically.

"Damn you, Clay Mosby! I told you I can't help myself." Ashley appealed to her husband with a look of helplessness, hoping to receive a few crumbs of sympathy.

Clay ignored her attempt, choosing instead to question her. "Perhaps you can enlighten me as to why Robert left before his bullet wound healed?"

Ashley blushed. "You know Robert, Clay. He was angry when I refused to allow him to fornicate with the servants."

Clay stared at her, as if reading her mind. Ashley grew angry. "Stop staring at me, Clay. I know what's going on in town between you and Suzanne Van Atta. How dare you forbid me to take a lover when you unbutton your trousers for any woman who smiles at you, including the prostitutes at Twyla's!" Ashley had lost control -- no longer able to hold her tongue.

For an instant, Clay Mosby teetered between ripping her clothes off and taking her by force once again, or walking out of the great house and never returning. Before he could react, Ashley burst into tears, sobbing violently, crumbling slowly to the floor. Clay watched as she lay on the floor, her tears pouring -- unable to be restrained any longer. Clay knew the woman that sobbed on the floor -- covered with expensive tiles imported from Italy -- had problems in her head and possibly the best doctors in the world might not be able to help her.

"Clay," she weakly begged, lifting her arm -- her eyes full of sadness and tears.

Clay Mosby was overcome with sympathy for his wife. She exasperated him at times, yet she had genuine problems that the medical experts would surely be at a loss to correct or even define, even though it was the modern times of the late nineteenth century. Clay bent down and tenderly lifted Ashley into his arms. He stood up -- Ashley laying her head against his chest -- and carried her up the marble stairs, into the privacy of their substantial bedroom. Clay undid the strings to her silk robe, revealing her attractive nakedness -- even with the curve of her belly revealing their growing child minimally.

Ashley's sobs soon turned to quiet moans as Clay gently kissed the length of her entire body -- his hands caressing and fondling every inch of her womanhood. Ashley's hand found her husband and guided him inside her garden as she displayed a soft side rarely seen. Maybe Clay wouldn't send her away once his child was born.

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

Mason Dobbs opened his eyes at the faintest sound of leaves being stepped on. He hoped it was the bounty hunter he hadn't spoken with -- it was his intention to plant a seed of doubt in both men's heads. If he caused them to quarrel -- suspect each other of greed and deadly intent toward one another -- he would have a better chance to escape.

The first bounty hunter had stood up -- rising to go relieve himself.

"Your partner plans on double crossing you, amigo," Mason quietly said, watching the other man as he slept. "I heard him talking last night. He said one thousand dollars is more money than he thought he'd ever have and plans to kill you soon, instead of splitting the reward. Money causes men to get crazy." He winked at the man.

John Hind, the thin, haggard looking bounty hunter paused, looking at Mason. He didn't say anything as he walked off toward the nearby trees but Mason was satisfied that he had at least been given an opportunity to speak privately to both men. "A house divided . . ." Mason quietly muttered.

Moments later, John Hind came running back, screaming, "Indians! Indians!"

The other bounty hunter stumbled, trying to separate himself from his bedroll as he attempted to reach his gun, which lay on the ground, holstered.

"Do not move or you will die!" The command was called out in English, which surprised the bounty hunters, as well as Mason Dobbs. The three men were surrounded by five Northern Cheyenne on horseback -- one of them, a woman.

The bounty hunters threw their arms up, fearful they would now be scalped or else brought back to a larger encampment where they would be tortured. Mason, bound with ropes around his hands and feet, could only sit and wait.

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

Clay Mosby rode away from his mansion while Ashley laid in their bed, her body satisfied. It was Sunday morning, most of Curtis Wells would be closed. Clay was anxious to ride out to where Willis Logan and Samuel Peters were camped. It occurred to him that Luther Root or Newt Call might hold a grudge against Samuel Peters. He assumed Call most likely was now so wrapped up with his wife, Gretchen, and newborn child, that he had little interest in what went on in Curtis Wells. Just as long as no one posed a threat to his wife or daughter.

Luther Root might also be willing to let the past stay buried. His only concern -- as far as Clay could remember -- was Peters scaring poor Unbob.

As Clay neared the tents a mile outside of town, he realized he would have to be aware of not only Mattie and Amanda, but very likely most of the town. He wasn't even sure he trusted Peters or Willis Logan.

"Well, hello, Clay," Willis said, greeting Mosby as he dismounted near the two tents. "Have some coffee with us." Willis poured a hot tin of coffee and handed it to Clay, who quickly adjusted his hands -- hooking two fingers around the handle.

"Rather hot," Clay mentioned.

"Just the way I like it," Peters bragged, swallowing a full cup of the fiery liquid. He grinned at Mosby. "I think I'll have me another cup."

Clay stared at Peters then turned to Willis Logan. "How, exactly, are we to begin this partnership, Willis?"

"Relax, Clay," Willis smiled. "Two men are scheduled to arrive from Oregon. They have five thousand head of cattle -- well fed and ready to sell to eastern markets. Our job is make them sell to us. There are men in Montana and Wyoming -- remittance men -- as they are referred to. They come from England and Ireland. Living off of the wealth of their families across the ocean. They make a mockery of our ways -- at least that's what Granville Stuart has said. It's vital, Clay, that we get these cattle, instead of these foreigners."

Clay looked over at Peters. "Am I to believe that Mr. Peters is our ace-in-the-hole?"

"No, Clay," Willis drawled. "You have a unique charm. I see no reason why these sellers won't be happy to do business with us. You'll have them eating out of your hand."

"Flattering words, Willis," Clay replied.

"True words, Clay. There are several willing men in Montana that would like to build a cattle empire but very few men have the courage and fortitude that you exhibit. One of us may even become Governor of Montana in five years."

Clay nodded. Governor of the Territory of Montana. Right now, though, Clay wanted his two partners to ride into Curtis Wells with him.

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

Boone Mackinaw decided to pursue the bounty hunters without the aid of anyone else. Riding to Hat Creek -- which was in the opposite direction -- where he already knew Call was injured and the Captain didn't favor Mason Dobbs -- might well lead to folly. Boone traveled southwest along the Tongue River, following the tracks of the bounty hunters and their prisoner. At times he had to slow his pace, cautious of riding into an ambush where the bend of the river led into blind spots. Being deliberate was called for -- rashness would likely get him killed.

Once it grew dark, Boone's horse stumbled on the narrow, rocky terrain, almost tumbling. Boone managed to stay upright but decided it best to dry camp for the night. He would have liked holding his rifle but was more than adequate with a knife in his hand.

Boone trailed the bounty hunters again once first light broke. By the time the autumn sun was straight up in the colorless gray sky, he reached the campsite where the Cheyenne had captured Mason and the bounty hunters. Cautiously, he listened -- his eyes scanning every tree and rock. He knew he was in Northern Cheyenne country and now, instead of two armed bounty hunters to take on, he had a handful of Cheyenne to deal with.

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

The instant Samuel Peters and Willis Logan followed Clay Mosby inside the Dove, Clay realized it was a mistake. Although not crowded, Mattie Shaw and Amanda Carpenter -- sitting together at a table -- both jumped up, angry.

"I could kill you!" Mattie lashed out, grabbing the handle of her Peacemaker.

"You got a lot of nerve showing your face back here, Mr. Peters," Amanda said.

"Now, now, ladies," Peters casually replied, "that was just business -- nothing personal."

"I take getting shot personal," Mattie snapped.

"One of those other boys -- that you killed -- shot you, Miss Shaw." Peters looked her up and down. "Hmm. I'd say you look just fine."

Mattie lunged forward to grab Peters. Clay, expecting such, intercepted her before she could strike him.

"That is enough!" Clay ordered. "I will not allow you to destroy this partnership." He stared at Mattie. "If you do anything to interfere I shall have no recourse but to lock you up."

"I'm leaving!" Mattie said,her eyes blazing hatred for Peters.

Amanda shook her head. "I don't believe you, Clay."

"That is quite enough out of you, Amanda," Clay barked. "The North won the war. Both sides are attempting to rebuild, in case you haven't noticed. Now, do your job and bring us coffee and something to satisfy our appetites."

Amanda reluctantly turned and retreated to the kitchen. Clay had slighted both her and Mattie. For what? Money? Power? Fortune did not favor the women.

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

A young man was prone to heal faster than an old man. Call was fed up with lying in bed. Gretchen didn't offer much resistance -- satisfied that her husband had spent two full days resting. She helped him get his shirt back on then handed him their infant daughter.

Call stared at Becky's tiny face. Her eyes were changing -- becoming greener like her mother's. "I reckon she favors you, Gretchen." He brought the baby close and kissed her cheek. Becky laughed. "She's laughing at me!" Call said, surprised.

Gretchen eased their daughter into her arms, smiling. "You love your papa, don't you, Becky Bug?" She took one hand, twining her fingers in her husband's hand. "Let's go outside, Call." She pulled him carefully -- so as not to stir up his injured ribs. The bruises and gash on his face were healing. They stepped out of the insubstantial cabin, into the somber, gray day. Call squinted -- his eyes rapidly adjusting to the brightness which hadn't penetrated their one-room cabin.

"You did a fine job there, Gretchen," Call said, "saving me."

She smiled. "It's the first time I had a chance to help you, Call."

"Ain't hardly so, at all, I reckon," he replied.

Gretchen stared at him, confused.

"Before we got hitched, back in Sand Springs. You and Paige busted me out of jail."

"That's right! I forgot!" Gretchen laughed at the memory.

Pea Eye and Woodrow -- both nearby -- approached. "You ready to earn your keep?" Captain Call asked.

"I reckon so, Cap'n," Newt replied, tensing his jaw from the pain.

"Got some mustangs need breaking," Woodrow said.

"Captain Call," Gretchen interrupted. "Newt has cracked ribs."

"Nothing softens a man more than a woman," Woodrow replied. He sighed deep. "All right then. Get yourself over to Isom Pickett. You can fetch supplies back from Miles City."

Call nodded. That suited him just fine. He was ready to ride, pain or no pain. That's just the way it was. Gretchen groaned quietly. She figured she had kept her husband quiet for two days. That, alone, was a miracle.

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

The Cheyenne encampment seemed similar to the other Cheyenne camp that Mason had seen, where Black Elk led a small band in the hidden valley behind the caves near the Big Paw Mountains. There were no children or old women in this camp -- only warriors -- seven men and the one woman who had helped capture Mason and the bounty hunters.

"I've been at Black Elk's camp near Flat Willow and Box Elder Creeks," Mason said, "north of here and to the west. They only speak Cheyenne. How is it you speak English?"

"Tell me why these two white men tie you? Then, I answer."

Mason gazed at the fierce looking Cheyenne. "These boys made a whopper of a mistake. They're set on bringing me to Santa Fe."

"That is a long journey," the Indian replied. He stared at Mason, then the bounty hunters, who were both too frightened to speak, this being their first ever meeting with the Cheyenne. "Maybe your tongue is straight. I am called Roan Bear, warrior of the Kit Fox Warriors Society. We are all from the Warrior Society of the Cheyenne."

Mason nodded. "I heard tell there's six or seven soldier societies among the Cheyenne."

"Yes," Roan Bear replied. All of us fought at Greasy Grass -- against your General Yellow Hair."

"Custer?" Mason asked.

"Yes. I fought him at Medicine Tail Ford." The Indian turned, pointing to the other Cheyenne warriors. "We speak your tongue because we have lived like dogs and starved on the land you give us. There! He is called Broken Jaw. He is of the Elk Warrior Society. That one, the tall one, is Big Crow, of the Crooked Lance Society. Bobtail Horse is of the Elkhorn Scraper Society. There are no dog soldiers or red shields with us. Rattlesnake Nose is Little Warrior Chief of Fox Warriors -- he is our chief now."

Mason nodded. In situations with hostiles, it was critical to choose words carefully. One misunderstood comment could result in immediate death or torture. "The woman -- is she a warrior?"

"That is Mutsimiuna -- Buffalo Calf Road Woman. She is sister of Chief Comes In Sight. She has fought alongside her husband and has killed longknives."

"I'm no friend of the white man's government. That's why these two polecats hunted me down," Mason said.

Roan Bear just stared at the three men. "Crow Necklace desires to roast all of you slowly over a fire. Rising Sun argues that we should slice open your bellies, pull out your bowels and feed them to the dogs."

One of the bounty hunters suddenly took ill -- vomiting until he had nothing left to spit out. Roan Bear laughed and walked away.

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

When Ashley Mosby finished her bath, she suddenly desired one of the servants. Lorenzo, the young Spaniard, had run off after the severe and brutal whipping Clay had unleashed upon catching him fornicating with Ashley. She could just as easily make due with Jonathan, the other servant. All she had to do was determine her husband's whereabouts. She dressed quickly, being sure to allow ample cleavage available to the eye, then rode into town in her buggy.

It was her good fortune to find Clay in front of his saloon with Robert Shelby and the two new men she had met yesterday, Willis Logan and Samuel Peters.

"Clay, dearest," Ashley cooed, "it's Sunday. Can't you forget about all that boring business and come home with me?"

Clay glared at his wife. "I happen to be discussing matters of great importance. Go home, Ashley. I will see you tonight." He turned to Robert. "A favor. Do escort my wife back home, Robert?"

Robert groaned. "Of course, Clay."

"Peters?" Willis Logan said. "Why don't you go with them? Mr. Mosby and I have details to work out."

Samuel Peters looked at Ashley. "Sure -- why not?"

Ashley snapped the reins, riding off fast. Her intent was only to secure her husbands plans. Robert and Peters mounted their horses and followed her. As they neared the mansion Robert stopped the buggy.

"This is as far as I go, Ashley. Mr. Peters can accompany you the rest of the way if he chooses to." Robert turned and rode back toward town.

Ashley stared at Samuel Peters. "Well, Mr. Peters? Are you afraid of me, too?"

"No, ma'am," he replied, grinning.

Ashley didn't say anything. She snapped the reins again and rode off.

"Come inside, Mr. Peters," she said, once they reached the mansion. "You must be thirsty?"

Peters followed her inside the house.

"Since it's Sunday," Ashley replied, "the servants are all in their quarters." She had plans for the young male servant, then suddenly allowed a wicked thought to enter her head. She had never copulated with a Negro man. She boldly stepped closer to Peters. "Take me by force, Mr. Peters. I'll make a good show of it."

Peters grinned, staring at her shapely body -- even at four months pregnant.

"Don't stand there grinning! Tear my clothes and rape me!" Ashley ordered, feeling the madness inside her head -- the pounding that preceded her amorous occasions with other men. She noticed a twinge in Peters' crotch -- blood flowing quickly to one place. But Peters didn't respond. "Why won't you take me, you colored bastard?!"

"If you weren't another man's wife," Peters replied, "I'd already have you on the ground, Mrs. Mosby. I work for your husband now. A man has to be true to something or he ain't much of a man. I won't touch another man's wife." He shrugged. "It just ain't right."

"You bastard!" Ashley screamed, as Peters turned and headed for the door to leave. She grabbed a glass vase holding fresh flowers one of the servants had cut and hurled it at Peters. The glass shattered against the wall, shards of glass and water hitting Peters' face and shoulder.

"You ought to be more careful, ma'am," Peters said, wiping his shoulder, then left.

Livid with fury at being denied, Ashley stormed off for the servants quarters. Jonathan would pay for Peters' refusal to copulate with her.

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

Clay Mosby wouldn't relax -- not yet. Everything Willis Logan had said made sense, but he wasn't ready to trust him completely. He agreed to keep the Ambrosia closed all day Sunday so the pair could organize the detailed plans as to how they would acquire the lumber and locations of the massive corrals which were needed to hold the thousands of fattened steers they expected to purchase. Clay had also asked Robert Shelby to keep watch on Mattie Shaw -- so she wouldn't shoot Peters or Logan wouldn't shoot her.

"Read this, Clay," Willis said, dropping a newspaper article on the table where a full bottle of whiskey had just been placed by Clay. Clay picked up the wrinkled article as Willis grabbed the bottle to pour their drinks. Willis raised the bottle then suddenly slammed it across Clay's head, driving him into the table, then onto the floor, unconscious. Willis Logan quickly bound Clay's hands behind his back and then bound his feet at the ankles. He dragged him outside behind the saloon where a wagon sat.

"It's time to pay, Mosby!" he said, no longer smiling. He lifted Clay's body into the back of the wagon, then climbed into the bench seat and rode off without anyone aware of what had happened. As he drew closer to Mosby's mansion, Samuel Peters was heading toward him, returning to town.

"What's Mosby doing tied up, Logan?" Peters asked, pulling alongside the wagon. "I thought you two were partners?"

"I'm just settling an unfinished debt," Willis answered. "Come with me. I may need you."

Peters shrugged and followed the wagon.

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

When Boone Mackinaw crept into the Cheyenne encampment, John Hind, the thin, haggard bounty hunter had already died, his belly sliced open -- dogs greedily chewing his entrails. The second bounty hunter had been tied to a spit and placed over a fire whose flames immediately began to scorch his flesh, making a crackling sound. The man, whose name Mason never knew, screamed in horrible, blood curdling cries. A foul, pungent odor filled the air, causing the Cheyenne to whoop and holler at the sight of the tortured man.

Boone silently advanced on Broken Jaw, of the Elk Warrior Society, standing guard near Mason Dobbs, at the camp's edge. He cut underneath the Cheyenne's throat, killing him before he could warn the others. Boone severed Mason from the pole he was bound to, cutting his ropes with his razor-sharp knife. Boone then picked up the dead Cheyenne's bow and strung an arrow while Mason quietly gathered his holster and gun. Boone shot an arrow into the back of Bobtail Horse, of the Elkhorn Scraper Society. The Cheyenne led out a grunt then fell dead.

The other Cheyenne all turned. Boone ran and mounted his horse and along with Mason, rode off while the angered Cheyenne ran for their ponies to follow. Boone suddenly rode back and pulling down one of the smaller lodges, dragged the deer skin into the fire that had now killed the second bounty hunter then threw it at the Cheyenne, causing three of them to collide with each other. Mason fired his pistol, hitting Rising Sun, but not fatally.

"Let's ride, Concho!" Boone urged, heading quickly toward the grassy plains. Mason clapped heels and having the quicker horse, caught him and continued running.

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

When Willis Logan reached Mosby's house, he pulled Mosby out of the wagon, throwing him roughly to the ground, rousing him to consciousness. "Watch this, Mosby. Did you think I would forget what happened to my only son? Did you?!" he yelled. Willis kicked open the door and dragged Mosby's bound body into the house. Peters followed, not sure what Logan planned to do. When Ashley appeared at the top of the marble staircase, Willis drew his gun, pointing it at her. "Get down here, Mrs. Mosby! Right now!"

Ashley, seeing her husband bound on the floor, ran down the stairs, heedless of the danger. "Clay! Clay!"

Willis grabbed her as she attempted to reach Clay, flinging her to the floor. Ashley cried in pain, grasping her arm. Willis, noticing the fire burning in the large stone fireplace, ripped the expensive curtains from the nearby windows and cast them into the fire.

"No!" Ashley screamed. "Clay!"

Clay's eyes widened. He strained but the cords that bound him were too tight to loosen. He looked over at Samuel Peters who stood by just watching.

Willis pulled the flaming curtains out of the fire and threw them onto a small wooden table, which ignited instantly -- flames jumping up, consuming the expensive furniture around it.

Ashley screamed, getting to her feet as she ran to Clay. Willis grabbed her.

"Now, Mrs. Mosby," he yelled, the entire living room going up in flames -- fire catching on curtains and spreading into other rooms. "Watch me kill your husband! Watch Clay Mosby die!"

"NO! Clay!" Ashley broke free from Willis Logan's grip and jumped in front of Clay to protect him just as Willis fired, shooting her in the head, killing her instantly.

Clay's eyes bulged. "Ashley! No! Ashley! You son of a bitch, Willis!"

"What are you doing, Logan?!" Peters yelled.

Willis turned to Clay. "Now, you live with that!"

"I don't want no part of this!" Peters hollered.

"Then die, you stupid fool!" Willis Logan turned and shot Peters, hitting him in the arm as he twisted his body. Willis Logan ran out of the blazing inferno that would soon destroy the entire house. The three servants had already managed to run out of the burning mansion. Logan mounted Peters' horse and rode off toward the river.

As Samuel Peters scrambled to his feet, Clay Mosby stared in shock at his dead wife, expecting to join her in moments. Peters bent down and grabbed Clay's boots, dragging him out of the crumbling house.

"Ashley!" Clay yelled. "ASHLEY!"

"She's gone, Mosby," Peters said.

Clay caught one last glance of the house -- the painting Etienne Meloche had done -- his wife, her body now unrecognizable in the fiery destruction. Peters untied Mosby as he stood up, his legs buckling.

"Ashley!" Clay screamed, scrambling toward the wall of flames.

Peters grabbed him. "She's dead, Mosby! Dead!"

Clay turned.

"I'm going after Willis Logan," Peters told Mosby.

"No! I want him!" Clay said, tensing his jaw. "Come on! There are horses over in the stable." The unlikely pair rushed to the stable and mounted up and rode after Willis Logan, who now had a decent lead.

The sun had set -- the last glow of light already fading -- when Mosby and Peters spotted Willis Logan. Peters fired one shot, causing Willis Logan to turn, guiding his horse into the river, where the current was fast.

"I want Logan!" Clay yelled, looking quickly at Peters then back to the escaping Willis Logan. They reached the bank of the river.

"It'll be too dark in a few minutes, Mosby," Peters yelled.

Clay drew his Remington and fired. The shot missed. Logan's horse plowing through the rushing waters. Clay aimed again and fired. Logan's body arched. He was hit somewhere. Willis Logan fell off the horse and was swallowed up by the river's dark waters. Mosby and Peters saw his arm come up then the current swept him away.

Clay Mosby dismounted, standing near the river's edge. His home was gone -- burned to the ground. Ashley Jessup, Olivia Jessup's cousin from New Orleans -- the woman he had married earlier in the year, was dead. Clay Mosby stood next to Samuel Peters, a man he never would have expected to help him. If not for Peters, Clay would have burned to death near Ashley's body. He felt alone and empty. In a matter of moments, Samuel Peters had saved his life -- Ashley had given up her life, dying, to save Clay.

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

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