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.


Horsefly
(56th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

No one knows anyone....
Then, when they act different, you're surprised.

(Josiah Peale to Newt Call -- "Betrayal," Season 2)

"Hey, mister? I been studying it over and I can't figure why that there horse ain't got him some orange colored teeth, seein' how you feed him so many carrots. Where did you come across so many carrots, huh?"

Luther Root gazed at the skinny, toothy boy. Since boarding the stage with his sister in Broadus, along the Powder River, he had talked non-stop, displaying a persistence rarely experienced in man or beast. Luther, for his part, had revealed patience that was Biblical, if nothing else. His ears rang from the constant questioning, the constant did you know and have you heard from the chatty boy. Four times before the sun had reached its zenith in the early May sky the boy had mentioned that he and his older sister were on their way to Curtis Wells to visit their cousins, the Brandt sisters. Five times he had mentioned this was his first time away from Union Star, Missouri. Twice he notified Luther that it was acceptable to him if he wanted to marry his sister, Jenny.

"Here," Luther said, offering the boy one of the carrots that still showed a hint of green. "Why don't you feed him."

The boy snatched the carrot from Luther's huge calloused hand and immediately took a bite. "If this ol' carrot is good enough for me," the boy remarked, "then it'll do just fine and dandy for this horse."

"Caleb! Will you stop pestering Mr. Root and climb back inside this coach."

The boy turned, staring at his sister, whose head was sticking out of the small window. "Dern you, Sis. Can't you see I'm obliged to being Mr. Root's assistant? I might even have to ride up there holding the shotgun, in case pirates or Mexican bandits try to rob us."

"That just shows how much you know, Caleb Letts," the girl replied. "There are no Mexican bandits way up here in Montana. And, there certainly are no pirates, either."

"Don't fret none, ma'am," Luther assured her. "Your little brother ain't hardly no bother at all. Truth is, I'd prefer someone like him over some of these folks that ride the stage." He looked at the boy. "Your sister's right though, Caleb. You best climb on back inside. We're fixing to pull out now."

"Don't leave without us!" The cry, sudden and unexpected, came from the side of the station. Two men dressed in eastern finery and carrying suitcases hurried toward the stage.

"Drummers," Luther mumbled, repressing a grin. He watched as the pair of traveling salesmen boarded the stage, then, satisfied that the thoroughbrace had not sustained any measurable damage from the large pot hole recently struck, he climbed up into the driver's box and pulled out, heading northwest for Curtis Wells.

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

"Look at him! He's walking! It's precisely as I predicted. Did I not say he would walk by nine months old?" Dr. Ephraim Cleese, the proud father, exhibited an emotional outbreak seldom witnessed by others, even his wife, Victoria.

The infant child, Daniel Cleese, had just stood up and taken nearly a dozen steps before falling forward on his hands and knees. His younger cousin, Rebecca Maggie Call, watched with interest from her mother's arms, waving her own tiny arms in excitement.

"What a good boy you are, Daniel," Victoria Cleese happily encouraged. She turned to her younger sisters, Gretchen and Paige. "Becky will be walking in another few weeks, I believe. Now that she's eight months old, I imagine she's almost ready."

Gretchen Call stared at her infant daughter. "The time has gone by so fast. It seems as if Becky was just lying between Call and I, when she was only a few days old."

"And, my baby will be born in another two and a half months," Paige Mackinaw proclaimed. It's a shame that Boone and Call weren't here to see Daniel take his first steps."

Victoria laughed, bending down to help Daniel to his feet, which were still wobbly. "I doubt our Newt and Boone will feel cheated, Paige. Newt will want to be there when little Becky takes her first step -- Boone will want to see his baby's first step."

"The timing is quite opportune," Ephraim boasted, "with your cousin, Jenny, arriving at any time." He was puffed up like a hot air balloon. "My son took his first step."

Paige leaned near Gretchen. "Maybe Daniel will grow out of his whiny and lazy stage?" Both sisters tried to giggle quietly.

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

"I can't believe it, Austin," Mattie confessed. "I've never seen Dewey act this way. I almost wonder if he snuck off to the Dove this morning and drank a whole pot of Amanda's coffee. Look at him -- he's running around like one of Unbob's chickens."

Austin offered a small laugh. Though not fond of the orphan boy, he was slowly adjusting to the continuous pranks and lies Dewey dished out. "Well, he is a boy, Mattie. He's much too smart for the other boys in town. As I've heard it, this cousin of the Brandt sisters is probably going to be another Dewey."

"Oh, no!" Mattie cried in mock fear. "I doubt Curtis Wells can handle two Dewey's -- one is more than enough for any town."

"I've been thinking," Austin said, smiling at Mattie.

"Oh?" Mattie allowed a warm smile to cross her face. "What have you been thinking, Austin?" Alone with the tall sheriff in her gunsmith shop, Mattie didn't hesitate to reach out and intertwine her fingers with his much larger hand, squeezing it affectionately.

Austin's smile stretched wider. "Tomorrow's Saturday. I thought . . . well, since it's been rather quiet and peaceful in town, maybe we could take a day or two and ride up to Miles City? I know you've been wanting to look into reopening your other gun shop and we could spend the night at the hotel. I've got some money saved up."

Austin noticed Mattie's face first reflect surprise, then approval -- wholehearted approval. "And, I've already seen to Dewey. Both Unbob and my father have consented to care for the little . . ." he barely was able to hold his tongue from expressing an opinionated insult -- one which would surely anger Mattie, possibly even to the point of refusing to accommodate him to Miles City.

"Little what?" Mattie quickly inquired. She had long since come to feel quite maternal toward the boy.

Austin laughed, searching for a suitable word. "Little fellow. Of course."

Mattie nodded. "Then, I better start packing a few things."

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

Outside the Mackinaw house, Call and his Uncle Mason were helping Boone dig a new well. Remembering the occasion in Lonesome Dove, Texas, when he dug another well with Pea Eye and Dish Boggett, Call, thankful it was still early spring and not nearly as hot as the furnace-like heat of South Texas, near the Rio Grande, paused to wipe the thin drops of sweat sliding down his forehead.

Boone Mackinaw finished taking a large drink from his canteen. "Not much tastes sweeter than cool canteen water." He squinted through the afternoon sun, staring at Mason. "What're you looking at, Concho? Something out in those pines?"

Mason Dobbs, peeled down to just his trousers and boots, turned to Boone. "Amigo, I'd venture to say that's one of the prettiest sights I ever saw -- the sun coming through those pines. Why, I'll wager that might be the prettiest green I ever saw -- outside of good ol' United States currency."

"Aw, Concho," Boone joked, "you shouldn't go saying things like that. You know that Call, here, favors his wife's green eyes."

Mason looked at his sweat-covered nephew and grinned. "Take no offense at my comment, Newt, boy. I'm not in love like you are." He winked.

"None taken, Uncle. I reckon you're one of them philosophers just like Gus was." Call climbed out of the sizable hole they had already dug since morning and drank from his own canteen. He cast a glance out across the plains, toward the pines less than a half mile away. "Seems to me there's a couple turkey vultures circling yonder."

"That's a damn ugly creature," Mason grumbled.

Boone hesitated, staring into the cloudless, light blue sky. "Come on, Concho. Call. I sure would take it as good fortune if we could dig most of this well before those two cousins of our wives get out here. I don't doubt there'll be so much female going-on's that I just might want to jump down this well for a little quiet."

Mason and Call both laughed. "Hell, boy," Mason said to his nephew, "I expect you'll be in the same fix as Mack, here."

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

"Here comes the stage, Mr. Mosby," Ike announced. "Would you like me to bring your letter to the driver? I think it's Luther."

Clay Mosby rose from the table where he had been in conversation with Amanda Carpenter. Both moved quietly to the open door -- Clay removed an envelope from his coat pocket and handed it to Ike, motioning for him to deliver the mail to the stage driver. They stood there, observing four passengers climb out of the stage -- two men, a young woman, and a young boy.

"Well," Amanda noted, "it's obvious who that woman and boy are related to."

Clay nodded, staring at the attractive young woman -- her bright red hair in sharp contrast to the three Brandt sisters, who had swarmed around her and the boy, hugging each of them repeatedly. He found himself staring shamelessly at her, realizing the fiery-haired girl to still be in her teens -- probably seventeen to nineteen. Yet, it was no doubt the marrying age.

"Put your eyes back in your head, Clay," Amanda scolded. "You're old enough to be that girl's father. Not that it would ever bother a man like you."

Clay momentarily glanced at Amanda, then back at the young woman. "It appears you have two guests, Amanda. If I were you, I would attend to their registration."

Amanda frowned, aware of the two salesmen crossing the street and entering the hotel.

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

"Hello, buddy. Hey? Are you Caleb?"

Caleb Letts turned before entering the dry goods with his sister, Jenny, and their three cousins. He looked at another boy -- scruffy and dirty, similar in height and age.

"I'm Dewey. I been waiting forever for you to get here. Your cousin, Miss Paige, she's been telling me all about you."

"Why, that's the most astonishing speech I ever heard," Caleb replied. "I'm bound to say that I never knew anyone that knowed of me outside of Union Star -- ceptin' for maybe kin."

"Oh, shucks," Dewey answered. "By tomorrow, everyone in Curtis Wells is likely to know you."

Caleb turned toward the door. "I got no notion to set inside that store with all them girls. My sister and my three cousins -- all girls. Say, what's the men folk they're hitched to like?"

Dewey scratched his cheek. "Well, one of em's the town doctor. He's hitched to Miss Victoria. I guess he's nice enough but he don't like me much. Miss Gretchen, she's hitched to Call. He's real good with a gun and plenty tough. Yessiree, Bob. I saw him whup lots of fellows. And, Miss Paige, she's hitched to Boone -- he used to be a mountain man. He knows all about hunting and fishing and trapping."

"Looky here," Caleb interrupted. He pulled out a small pocket knife. "Don't go telling Sis I brung this with me or she'll skin my neck, sure as I'm standing here, she will."

Dewey grinned, pulling out the slingshot Mason had made for him. "Only two folks you gotta be careful of -- Mr. Creel, he runs the general store down there. He's the meanest man in town. And, Sheriff Peale. He blames me for everything that happens." Dewey thought for a moment. "Come on, buddy. Want to crawl under the whorehouse and listen?"

"Sure!" Caleb replied. The two boys threw their skinny arms around each other's shoulders and headed down the street like the best of friends.

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

When the two drummers -- Mr. Elston and Mr. Dalrymple, both men in their late thirties -- revealed they were representatives of a great mail order house along the Chicago River, as well as a big merchandising firm in Kansas City, and that they had traveled into Montana for their annual sale, word spread throughout Curtis Wells and the neighboring ranches.

Both men insisted on not doing any business for at least one day -- in order to meet and learn about the needs of the prospective buyers they were hoping to win over. After a much needed bath, each salesman returned to the hotel dining room. Amanda willingly provided meals at no charge, anticipating a fair deal in return.

"How do you find our little town?" Josiah Peale inquired, joining the pair after a large supper.

"Well, to be honest, Mr. Peale," Mr. Elston began, "we are quite fond of Curtis Wells. It was our decision to journey this far north. We've each been fortunate enough to work the more civilized southwest. Why, do you know, sir, that earlier this year, a man named Fred Harvey began serving hot meals and freshly brewed coffee along the southwestern routes?"

"Yes," Josiah replied. "As the editor of our newspaper, it is my responsibility to keep in touch with such news. I've heard of the new Harvey Houses. Quite inspiring."

"We carry the most current and up to date catalogues," Mr. Dalrymple said. "And, to show we mean to earn your trust, we intend to only collect partial payment now for all purchases made before we return home with our orders."

Josiah looked at Amanda. "That sounds quite fair."

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

Gretchen had much to tell her husband. Call had just returned home from digging the well, washing up on the side of the house. Cold water and a minimum of soap was sufficient to clean the sweat and caked-on dirt.

"Did the three of you get a lot done today, Call?" Gretchen held Becky in her arms, cradling their infant daughter as she showered the baby's head with kisses.

"We did a first rate job," Call replied. He didn't put a value on rubbing off every spot of dirt -- whatever stayed on stayed until the next cleaning. "My guess is we'll find of some water tomorrow or the day after."

"I had an exciting day, Call. Daniel took his first steps today -- he walked all by himself."

Call nodded, hanging the thin, dirt-stained towel on the nail above the bowl of water.

"Did you hear that, Sweetheart? Little Daniel walked all by himself."

"Yep."

It was obvious that the news didn't phase Call. How could it? Someone else's baby, even his wife's sister's child, wasn't much of a concern to him. "I suppose women are more excited about these things then men are. Ephraim was quite excited."

"I reckon he would be," Call agreed, "seeing it's his son."

"Well," Gretchen said, her voice hinting at disappointment, "I do hope you will be excited when our little Becky Bug takes her first step."

Call looked at Gretchen and the baby. "What kind of thing is that to say?" He stepped onto the porch and reached out to hold their daughter. Gretchen smiled, handing Becky to her husband.

"My cousins arrived today on the stage, Call."

Call frowned. Life had taken a most unexpected turn. The freedom he once knew -- the coming and going as he chose, answerable to no one, had disappeared. Not only did he have a wife and baby, he had two sisters-in-law and their families. Now, two cousins had arrived from Missouri.

"You should have seen Jenny," Gretchen said. She linked her arm through her husband's arm and walked into their modest house with him. "She's quite pretty. All of the men in town were staring at her." She laughed. "She actually was flirting with Ephraim -- she made his face red as a beet. You should have seen it, Call. Why, I do believe she might try to flirt with you and Boone. She'll be coming out here tomorrow. She's spending the night at Victoria's."

"What about the boy?"

"Caleb? He spent most of the afternoon with Dewey."

Call gently put Becky on the floor. The infant immediately scooted across the floor, grabbing her doll. She lifted it to her mouth and began chewing on one of the legs.

Gretchen reached out and hugged Call. "Thank you, Call. I know it's not easy for you to be around all these people. I know you love me very much."

Call nodded. He did love Gretchen very much.

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

The wagon was just pulling out next morning when Austin Peale paused. Two drifters were slowly riding down the street, entering the town. He studied them for a moment then pulled the wagon to the Ambrosia and jumped out.

"I pay you to be my sheriff, Austin," Clay Mosby said, when told about the two mean-eyed types that had just rode in. "I find it rather undignified that you could abandon me and go off to Miles City."

"We'll be back tomorrow, Mosby," Austin insisted. He wondered if it would have been better to just ride off without any mention of the drifters. "I'm sure, caring about Mattie as you do, you wouldn't like her going off all alone."

Clay frowned. It was early -- the coffee brewed in the pot. He gazed at the pair of men who had dismounted across the street. "Saddle tramps, no doubt. Austin, I have a town to run. See that you return no later than tomorrow. Are we clear?"

"Let him go, Clay," Robert Shelby replied. "I'm the deputy -- I can handle anything."

Austin climbed up onto the springy bench seat and rode away with Mattie. The two drifters spend a few moments looking around then headed for the hotel. Clay and Robert watched closely.

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

The Hellbitch, saddled and ready to ride, had just been walked out of the barn when cousin Jenny Letts and her younger brother, Caleb, came riding up in the Cleese wagon. It had been Call's intention to leave before Gretchen's cousin showed up -- it was now unavoidable.

"Well, you must be Newt," Jenny said, boldly hugging Call. "Well, of course you are. Who else would you be? I'm Jenny."

Gretchen smiled. Poor Call, she thought.

Jenny looked at Gretchen. "He's so different than Victoria's doctor, isn't he, Gretchen? We've already stopped by Paige's house on our way out here. I always thought she wanted a husband more like Victoria."

"We all have good husbands, Jenny," Gretchen replied. Becky, who had been restless during the night, began to cry.

"Close your mouth, Caleb," Jenny scolded her little brother. "It isn't polite to stare."

Call looked at the boy. "I best be going. Gretchen." He nodded at Jenny.

"Wait! Call!" Gretchen blurted out. "Why don't you take Caleb with you? He might like spending the day with the three of you."

Call turned to the silent boy. "Well?"

Caleb nodded and quickly mounted behind Call. "Thank you, kindly. It's downright irregular for a boy to spend time with so many women. I was nearly bound to break out in such a rash. I can help dig the well. I saw it just a little while ago, I did."

Call bent over to kiss Gretchen and Becky, then rode off for the Mackinaw house.

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

Deciding to forego the usual day of rest, Mr. Elston and Mr. Dalrymple, the two drummers, had been occupied most of the morning selling their company's items to willing and eager town folks. They paused briefly at noon to take lunch inside the hotel. Once their bellies were full, each man lit a fat five cents cigar and reclined at their table.

"Those two are good at what they do, Clay," Amanda Carpenter remarked, taking a moment to pour Mosby another cup of coffee. "They could sell Call a ticket to the bath house."

Clay snickered. "Forgive me, Amanda, if I appear skeptical. Those two are merely salesmen -- it's their job to entice others to desire their products. I have no doubt whatsoever that they will attempt to persuade me that I have urgent need of their company's provisions. I advise you to use caution, Amanda."

Amanda leaned over, near Clay's ear. "I ordered two corsets, Clay -- among other niceties. I think you'll be pleased with how they look." She allowed a smug laugh.

Clay shrugged. "Perhaps there could be one or two useful items."

Amanda's lustful moment quickly vanished as she noticed the two drifters sitting at a table. "I don't like those two over there, Clay. They said they were looking for work -- short term. One of them asked me to buy his spurs and rifle for money."

"Is that a fact?" Clay replied. "Robert is in charge while Austin is away. Be sure to inform either of us if you suspect anything."

"I'll do just that," Amanda promised as she hastened off to other customers. Clay sat back and watched the drifters.

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

A young boy in the presence of Mason Dobbs, Boone Mackinaw, and Newt Call was bound to be in awe. Caleb Letts, eleven years old, was in awe. It had been Mason, referring to the boy as amigo and asking him to fetch his canteen, that finally stirred the youngster to not only talk, but to assist with the digging of the well.

"We been hard at it for hours," Caleb groaned. "I'd be powerful glad if we was to lay off for a spell. When I'm down in that hole, I get to feeling cramped up and smothery. My hands are all blistered from using the shovel and pick."

The three men stared at the boy, then laughed. Mason reached into his pocket and pulled out a coin. "Here. Take this, little amigo. I'll wager you already earned it." He flipped the coin to the boy.

Caleb opened his dirt-covered hands, catching the silver coin. His eyes widened. "A whole dollar! For me? A whole blamed silver dollar! Thanks, Mr. Dobbs."

"I reckon we can get done faster if you ain't pestering us so much," Call said, laughing.

"Truth is," Boone added, "we've all taken a strong liking to you, Caleb. You're like a horsefly buzzing around us."

All three men laughed. "That squares it," Mason replied. "You're the 'Horsefly,' little amigo."

Boone pointed to a basket on the front porch. "Go on now, Horsefly. Your cousin Paige cooked up some fried chicken. Have yourself a piece or two or three. You've earned it."

The boy raced across the yard for the basket of chicken. He turned and looked at the three men. I guess they're always that particular and full of principle, he thought, then said, "I like being Horsefly." He flashed a toothy grin.

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

"Austin Peale? Are you out of your mind?" Mattie Shaw stared at the tall sheriff, standing in their hotel room in Miles City. He was completely naked. "It's not even dark outside yet, Austin. I thought we were going across the street to eat?" Her eyes feasted on his powerful body.

Proud of what he had to offer, Austin grinned. "We have this fancy bathtub in the room -- it's filled with hot water, Mattie. We can go eat supper later." He stepped into the tub and sat down.

"You're crazy, Austin. You know that?"

"Why don't you stop talking, Mattie. Take your clothes off and get in here with me."

Mattie hesitated for a moment, then shed her garments, quickly joining Austin in the fancy tub. She leaned back against his chest. "Whatever caused you to think of this, Austin?"

"Well," he confessed, wrapping his strong arms around her, "I thought it was time you had something special. Do you like it?"

Mattie smiled. "I like it, Austin."

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

Unable to recognize or identify the two drifters from any wanted posters, Deputy Shelby headed back to the Ambrosia Club. "I suspect those two saddle tramps are wanted someplace -- there just aren't any posters on them in our office. What have they been doing, Clay?"

Clay poured Robert a drink. "Not much. They seem content to wile away the hours playing small stakes poker with each other."

"I find that to be suspicious activity, Clay. They appear to have little between them and they're playing poker."

"Yes," Clay replied. "At no time has either man held a significant amount of money. It would seem they are merely biding their time. They perhaps are waiting for other men to ride in or else intend something illegal."

"I've spoken with Amanda," Robert said. "They didn't get a room at the hotel. They've got a tent in tent town -- by the night."

"Then, I suggest we keep our eyes on them, Robert. I will not have any drifters coming into my town and attempting to rob the bank or any other building. It's bad for business."

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

Victoria Cleese was exasperated. A second customer had just walked out of the dry goods, claiming they would return another day. The two drummers were bidding against each other, lowering their prices, offering quicker delivery, pressuring the Brandt sisters to buy now while supplies were plentiful.

"I've already told both of you," Victoria persisted, "we purchase all of all supplies from Mr. Malachi Kettering in Sand Springs. He's a friend of our family and he's been most generous and kind to my sisters and I."

Paige, who had been observing their flirtatious cousin, Jenny, out in the street charming Mr. Mosby and Mr. Shelby, turned from the window and walked over to Gretchen. "Our Jenny seems to have cast her enchanting spell on almost every man in town . . . including Ephraim."

Gretchen nodded. "I noticed your Boone and my Call weren't swept away by her red hair or pretty smile."

"No. Thank God neither of them were," Paige replied. She watched Victoria and the drummers. "Do you think we should come to the aid of our big sister?"

Gretchen paused from stocking the shelf with canned peaches and glanced at Victoria. "No, Boo. She's irritable enough today. Ephraim made a fool of himself earlier with Jenny. I wouldn't want to be either of those salesmen when Victoria has heard enough."

Paige agreed, laughing quietly with her sister.

"My dear Mrs. Cleese," Mr. Dalrymple pressed, "you must understand that my friend and I have suffered many privations since departing from our main arteries of travel. Life on the road for a salesman is lonely and rather harsh -- we long for our loved ones back home in Kansas City and Chicago. We provide wonderments and conveniences to an entire generation of people removed from the finery of civilization. Now, if you would be so kind as to accommodate us, we will each throw in a free item if you order now." He pushed his voluminous catalogue near Victoria's face. "Listen. You're a hard sell. I'll give you four different brands of fancy store-bought soaps that are reserved for upper class women -- Bross Brothers, Genuine Turkish Bath Soap, Brag Soap, and Dr. Pierce's Pure Medicated Facial Soap. All free if you'll agree to order some items from me."

Victoria snatched the weighty catalogue from the drummer's hands. "Sir, I am a mild mannered woman. I am not prone to explosive tempers such as my sister, Gretchen. I am not prone to being as outspoken as my sister, Paige. But, you, sir, have pushed me to my limit." Victoria swung the catalogue, hitting the drummer hard in the shoulder, knocking him off balance, into the other drummer.

Gretchen and Paige stood motionless, staring at their oldest sister. The two drummers stood next to each other, their faces painted with surprise.

"Leave this store immediately!" Victoria demanded.

The drummers said no more. They quickly exited the dry goods, determined to find easier sales elsewhere.

"Oh, Victoria!" Paige cried. "You were magnificent."

"Yes," Gretchen heartily agreed. "Very impressive, Victoria. Of course, if you had broken something . . ."

Victoria shook her head. "If I had lost my temper with those incessant fools as quickly as you, Gretchen, I most certainly would have broken something across that pushy one's head." The three sisters laughed.

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

"My heart dropped down around my liver and my lungs when that old man nearly spotted us," Caleb Letts said.

"Didn't I tell you no one would discover us underneath this building?" Dewey replied. "Huh? Didn't I?"

"Yep, buddy. You sure did. This here's a real Jim Dandy hiding place. Why, if we were pirates we could hide all our stolen treasure in this hole under your mama's gunsmith shop."

"Boy, oh boy," Dewey confessed. "You're just about the luckiest boy in the whole world. You got a whole silver dollar and a new name. Horsefly. That's a fine name. I wish I had me a name like that. The only thing these folks around here ever call me is swear words."

"If that old man figures it was us," Horsefly said, "there'll be no end of trouble for us.

"Aw, don't fret none over old man Creel. I already figured out a plan to scare him real good," Dewey bragged. "We'll write him a note in blood and tell him the evil spirits are coming for him. And we'll stuff in inside an envelope like the way folks send mail and we'll find some spiders and bugs to put in with it."

"That sounds like a bully idea, buddy," Horsefly admitted. "Say? How long you reckon we gotta stay put under here? My belly's starting to growl something awful."

"Shh," Dewey whispered. He pointed at a pair of feet walking briskly on the street. "There he goes now, the mean old goat."

****

Angry and spitting fire, Mr. Creel stormed out of his general merchant shop and headed straight for the sheriff's office. He next went to the Ambrosia, and then to the Lonesome Dove Hotel.

"There you are!" he barked, noticing Robert Shelby and Clay Mosby drinking tea with Miss Jenny Letts. "Where's that puppet sheriff of yours, Mosby?"

Clay, showing no sign of agitation over the rude interruption, addressed Creel. "If you are referring to Sheriff Peale, he is currently out of town. I trust my deputy, Mr. Shelby, can be of some assistance."

"I want to file a complain," Creel snapped. "Someone lit a small fire out behind my store. When I was putting it out, someone entered my store and put a pile of horse shit on my counter top."

"Well," Clay began, smiling at Jenny Letts, "did you happen to see who did it?"

"No, I didn't see who did it!" Creel yelled. "But, I know who's responsible and so do you, Mosby. It had to be that little bastard, Dewey. No adult would think of such a prank."

"Robert? Perhaps you could bring Mr. Creel over to Josiah Peale. He's in charge of the boy while Mattie's away."

Robert stared at Clay. "Now, Clay?!"

"It would be advisable, Robert," Clay replied.

Jenny Letts touched Robert's hand. "It's all right, Mr. Shelby. I promise we won't have any fun until you return."

It was a somewhat reluctant Robert that stood up. "Let's go, Creel. Make it fast." It was his intention to deal quickly with Creel, then come back to the attractive and flirtatious Jenny Letts.

***********

"I'm the mayor! I am also editor of the Montana Statesman."

"Don't change the subject, Peale!" Mr. Creel's face had become quite rosy -- his eyeballs bulged with an inhuman appearance, causing Unbob Finch to take drastic action.

"Mr. Creel! Mr. Creel! Lordy! Your eyeballs are sort of hanging out," Unbob remarked, genuine concern his motive.

"Shut up, you half-wit!" Creel growled. He shook his finger, somewhat small in nature, at Josiah. "Don't you protect that little bastard -- I know it was him!"

Josiah released a deep sigh. "I'm quite sorry for what happened, Mr. Creel. I can hardly be expected to watch an energetic young boy every moment."

"Well," Unbob offered, "how do you know Dewey started the fire?"

Creel glared at Unbob -- he had neither sympathy nor patience for the lovable undertaker. "Anyone can see he did it. When is that useless son of yours returning, Peale? I intend to make that little son of a bitch pay."

"I'm quite sure once he returns tomorrow with Miss Shaw he'll be able to attend to your complaint." Josiah offered a cordial smile.

Creel turned abruptly and stormed off. Deputy Shelby watched him rudely bump into one of the town women. He looked at Josiah. "If I knew who angered Creel that much, I would be tempted to reward him for it. I despise that man."

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

It was the kind of story that would grow over time -- becoming legend with each retelling. "You should have been there, Jenny," Paige said. "I wish you had been there. I can't ever remember Victoria losing her temper like she did with those two salesmen."

Jenny Letts laughed quietly. "When Mama was sick and Victoria came up to Union Star to help care for her that one summer, she most definitely put the fear of God in me. I should have delighted in seeing her lose her temper today -- I doubt the opportunity will present itself any time soon."

Boone rubbed his bearded chin, staring at Caleb. The pair of visiting cousins were spending the night at the Mackinaw house and Caleb had been uncommonly quiet at the supper table. "Word came to me that somebody started a small fire behind the general store today." His eyes burned into Caleb. "You wouldn't know anything about that, would you, Horsefly?"

"Horsefly?!" Jenny replied. "Why on earth did you call him that?"

"That's my name, Sis," Caleb proudly announced. "Cousin Boone named me today when us men were digging the well outside. It's a decent and proper name and I'm all for it."

Paige tapped Caleb on his skinny shoulder. "You didn't answer the question, Caleb."

"Uh . . . um . . . may I please be excused? Please?"

Jenny folded her arms. "We're guests at Cousin Paige and Boone's."

"May I, Cousin Paige?" Caleb asked again. It was more like begging rather than a request.

"Go on," Paige replied. Caleb hurried outside into the night and let out a sigh of relief.

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

Forced to attend Sunday morning worship, Caleb and Dewey sat uncomfortably in the center of a long wooden bench -- Ephraim and Victoria immediately to their right, Gretchen, Paige, and Jenny to their left. Reverend Scully, the same man who had married Call and Gretchen nearly a year and a half ago, stood in front of the modest crowd preaching the Good Book. The boys sweated something awful, jittery and scratching for what felt like an eternity. Once released from their cage, the boys raced across the empty field, disappearing among the sleepy streets of Curtis Wells.

"I shall be most happy to drive Caleb back once I've concluded my duties in town," Ephraim offered.

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

"I'll get on it right away," Sheriff Austin Peale notified Clay Mosby, once he and Mattie had returned from a successful and pleasurable visit to Miles City. "Zeke and some of the boys are staked out in tent town. Those two drifters seem content to stay near the No.10 today."

"Excellent," Clay replied. "I expect to be kept informed as to their movements, Austin."

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

An accident, injuring two of Twyla's girls had prevented Dr. Cleese from returning home at an opportune hour. By early evening Caleb and Dewey were sitting behind the canvas-covered No.10 Saloon when two men quietly withdrew to the side of the building. They heard the two men, slightly drunk, reveal that they had murdered two men before arriving in Curtis Wells and that if anyone found out they would slice their throats and let them bleed to death. Frightened to where they were paralyzed, the young boys sat still, unable to even breathe, for fear of being discovered by the two men.

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

"I regret to inform you that I was unable to locate the boy, Caleb," Ephraim confessed. The three Brandt sisters and Cousin Jenny could hardly fault the doctor -- almost anyone would have been hard pressed to find Caleb or Dewey.

"I reckon I'll ride into town and see to their whereabouts," Call volunteered. He saddled the Hellbitch and rode off. It was dusk -- the distant sky was alive in bright orange-red, stretched across the entire western horizon. It looked as if the world far off was on fire.

"Hey, Call," Mattie said, watching him ride slowly down the street.

Call drew rein. "Mattie."

"What brings you into town this late in the day?"

"Gretchen's cousin is missing. My guess is he's bound to be somewhere hereabouts with Dewey."

"Dewey's missing as well," Mattie informed him. "I'll help you search."

Call nodded and dismounted. "Ephraim couldn't find them." They moved quietly and with purpose, bending down to hail the boys names under each building. When they reached tent town, they noticed the two drifters standing in front of the No.10, drinking. Moments later, they found the boys behind the tent saloon. Dewey grabbed Mattie's hand -- Caleb stood close to Call as if he were an extra pair of pants.

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

There was no conversation between Call and Caleb on the ride home. Once they reached the Cleese house, where the family had gathered, Caleb became quite animated.

"I heard them! We both did. They said they murdered two men before coming here. I was too scared to breathe. Besides, I couldn't very well breathe and listen to such talk. We were both so scared . . ."

"Whoa. Slow down," Call said. Jenny and her three cousins as well as Boone and Ephraim all gave Caleb their attention.

"What happened, Horsefly?" Boone asked.

"Two men. We saw them. They said they murdered two other men before they got to Curtis Wells. They said if anyone found out what they did they was obliged to taking a big ol' sharp knife and slicing their throat till they were dead. Me and Dewey we were so scared we couldn't move and Dewey he had to pee something awful. I was in a cold sweat and thought most likely I was gonna faint. 'We're in a fix for sure,' I told Dewey, but he was too scared to even nod his head. Then, you came and found us, Cousin Call. Don't let those men slice my throat."

"Oh, my Lord!" Jenny exclaimed. "Caleb! If I wrote to Mama and Papa about this they would make me come straight home with you."

Call placed a reassuring hand on Caleb's shoulder. "You done good. We'll ride into town come morning and settle up this matter."

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

"I hope you both enjoyed your stay in Curtis Wells," Amanda said to the drummers. The Monday morning stage should be here soon."

"Our superiors back in Kansas City and Chicago will be quite pleased," Mr. Elston replied. "We outdid even our grandest expectations, Miss Carpenter. Folks are more apt to purchase items when required only to pay half the cost up front and the remainder once their products arrive."

"We have thoroughly delighted in your hospitality, Miss Carpenter," Mr. Dalrymple confessed. "Now, we shall step outside with our suitcases and enjoy one last cigar before our stage arrives."

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

Sheriff Peale burst into the Ambrosia, hurrying to Clay Mosby. "This telegram just came over the wire."

Clay took the note and read it. "Just as I suspected. Bring the men here, Austin. Robert? It's time."

"Those drifters are inside the Dove, Mosby," Austin said.

"Good. I hope they had their breakfast," Clay replied. "Let's go."

Austin rushed outside, gathering Mosby's men. Clay and Robert crossed the street, entering the hotel. Call and Caleb came riding down the street on the Hellbitch while Boone Mackinaw and Mason Dobbs rode with them.

"What the hell are you doing?" one of the drifters asked, staring at cocked guns held by Mosby and Shelby. They had just finished breakfast.

"Both of you stand up slow," Clay ordered. "Unbuckle your holsters. We're arresting you for the murder of two men."

"We didn't kill anyone," one of the drifters said.

Austin entered the dining room. "We can discuss it across the street. Do like Mosby said."

The drifters unbuckled their holsters, dropping them on the floor. "You're making a mistake. We aren't killers." They walked outside, guns pointed at them.

"Those are the men!" Caleb said.

Call aimed his sawed-off at the two drummers that Caleb had pointed to. Mason and Boone did the same. "Looks like you got the wrong men, Mosby," Call said, snickering.

"Stay out of it, Call," Austin barked. "You too, Dobbs. Mackinaw."

Mattie and Dewey ran over. "Those two are the ones we heard talking about killing two men," Dewey said, pointing toward the drummers.

"I told you you got the wrong men, you moron," one of the drifters said to Mosby. "We're both Pinkerton Agents -- hired to capture these two. They're the ones who murdered two real drummers and took their clothes and have been stealing money from unsuspecting folks from town to town." The two drifters presented their papers as Pinkerton men.

The other Pinkerton man looked at Caleb and Dewey. "It looks as if you boys just might have a sizable reward coming to you."

"Reward?!" Caleb repeated. "Shucks. Me and my buddy weren't hardly scared at all -- not hardly at all. We had us a tight place last night but we figured it would be an adventure and it turned out perfectly satisfying. We weren't scared of those two. No sirree."

"We weren't?" Dewey mumbled.

Mason nudged Call. "Someone's come to town." He winked.

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

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