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.


Visions of Unfavorable Destinies (or When Legends Collide)
(59th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Dream you're on a schooner
in the waters of all time.
Or in a tee-pee on the plains
chantin' all time magic rhymes.

("Feet On Earth, Head In Sky" -- Black Oak Arkansas)

CHAPTER 1

One and twenty days had quietly slipped by since Red Crow had been dry-gulched by the deceitful missionaries. Coupled with Dr. Cleese's medical skills, the strong, young Lakota healed fairly well -- as well as expected for a man with a lead slug hacked from his flesh. The grateful Red Crow and his wife, Singing Bird requested their Wasicu friends return to their village to be honored. Ephraim and Victoria -- neither of whom felt comfortable among the Plains tribes, did not accept. As Ephraim diplomatically stated, he was constantly needed in town.

Paige desired to visit the village where she first met her husband, Boone, during the ambush that nearly wiped out the Lakota. She was due to give birth to her first child within the week and regretfully declined the invitation.

To the delight of Red Crow and Singing Bird, Call and Gretchen welcomed the opportunity. Bundling Rebecca Maggie, they rode southeast to the summer camp of the Lakota, where one of the streams broke from the green waters of the Yellowstone. Ephraim had assured Gretchen that Paige would not give birth for at least a few more days, allowing sufficient time to return.

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

It pleased Gretchen Call exceedingly as she stood on the bank of the Yellowstone. It was here two summers ago Newt first showed signs of liking her. They had stared up at the night sky -- the brilliance of countless twinkling stars stretched across the black expanse on a warm June evening. It was that night she was given her now-cherished name of Coyote.

Drifting from her precious memories to the sudden laughter of her nearly eleven month old daughter, Gretchen smiled, watching the joy in Singing Bird's eyes as she spoke to Becky. The Lakota had named Becky Tokala Cikala, Little Fox. Her gift would be to listen but not be seen -- being present but not noticed. To Gretchen, this was strange, since Becky was already a disruptive and strong force in the Call household. Hadn't she already had her papa wrapped around her little fingers?

"Wakayaja iyuski" (The child is happy"), Singing Bird said, smiling at Becky. "Iyuski . . . ha . . . hah . . . pe."

Gretchen nodded. "Yes. Happy. Becky Bug is a very happy little girl."

Singing Bird's younger sister, fourteen year old Yellow Flower, stood quietly by, expressing no interest in holding Gretchen's baby. Red Crow informed them that in two more summers Yellow Flower's fruit would be ripe and ready for plucking by one of the young braves who would take her for his wife. Gretchen thought about her own younger sister, Paige. Within the week all three of the Missouri-born sisters would have experienced child birth. Would Paige's baby be a boy or girl?

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

At the edge of the Lakota encampment, between the waters of the Yellowstone and the thicket of pines, stood a lone lodge. It was situated twenty-five yards from the other lodges, alone on the plains. Red Crow had invited Call to sit with him and smoke a pipe -- it was time for a vision. Inside the lodge was a painting on the patched skins stretched over the lodgepoles. The painting, according to Red Crow, represented the four winds.

"Before we smoke I will tell you of the wheel you see before you," Red Crow said, holding a medicine pipe in his lap. "East is red, home of the eagle, the sun, the dawn, the new day, and birth; south is yellow, where we are coming from, it is the fulfilling; west is black, home of the thunder beings, and of middle age; north is white, home of the white giant, and of old age. We offer this pipe to the sky and the Earth and the four directions."

Call nodded respectfully.

"My heart is full of good that you have joined me, Wild Dog. I know that you remember Little Wolf was a man of great medicine -- he had strong contact with the powers. He understood what is and the invisible worlds."

Again Call nodded. He lifted his eyes from the circle of round rocks where the fire burnt. He was ready for a vision, his senses sharp. The intoxicating smell of the summer prairie grass was sweet. The scent of fresh dirt, a pleasing aroma, covered his scarred hands. Red Crow's medicine bundle, containing the sacred collection and medicine objects of importance, sat unwrapped near their feet.

"It is time, Sun Ka<Watogla" ("Wild Dog"), Red Crow said, handing the sacred pipe to Call. "Now listen for the holy silence, the life-stirring sounds of pulsing and breathing, gratitude and reverence, the return gifts to Wakan Tanka."

Reaching out with his free hand, Call took hold of a small stick, raising the orange, smoldering end to light the pipe. Inhaling the smoke was an enjoyable experience -- the taste was either favored or disliked by the smoker -- rarely was someone neutral in their opinion of it. Call tended to favor the unique bitter taste. He felt content holding the pipe in his hands and the sudden melting away of the tenseness within his muscles. The last things he observed before his mind was consumed by complete darkness were the long, chipped lodgepoles and the stretched buffalo hides sewn together inside the lodge.

When Call opened his eyes he stared for long moments. When he had drifted out of consciousness he wasn't sure -- so subtle had the darkness come upon him it was impossible to pinpoint. He knew he had drifted because there was nothing before right now, it was blank. He wasn't sure whether he was awake or in a dream, until the shrouds of darkness seemed to melt and he realized he was no longer inside Red Crow's lodge but inside a small, wooden shack. Strips of sunlight filtered through the cracks between the faded, weathered wood. Call realized he wasn't alone, though he didn't feel alarmed. Squinting, he gazed upon an old Indian. His face was sun-baked red-brown. His nose large and distinctive. Deep wrinkles were carved in his face -- his eyes like narrow slits.

The old man stepped toward Call, adorned in tan moccasins and fringed buckskin clothing. A buffalo-horned head piece covered a full head of long, gray hair. His chest bore a breast piece with twin white rows of bone as well as the sharp teeth and claws of animals. A second necklace hung over his neck -- rows of blue beads strung together.

Lifting the necklace with the seven eagle claws Gretchen had given him as a wedding present from his chest, Call silently showed it to the old man. The old Indian nodded and said, "La-ko-ta."

"Why are you here?" Call finally heard himself say.

"To show you the way. Eciyapi Mani Kaipsilyalake Se Apawi" (I am called Walks Ahead of The Sun").

"Maybe I don't need showing," Call replied.

"You will be tested, Sun Ka<Watogla." Walks Ahead of The Sun pointed behind Call, to a pile of rifles that hadn't been there a moment earlier. Without questioning him, Call turned and bent down, gathering more than a dozen rifles into his arms. As he stepped past the old man and headed toward the door at the end of the shack he struggled to keep control of the weapons -- some slid up at awkward angles, making it difficult to hold them. He succeeded in carrying the rifles out the door into the light.

"Now, gather the wood blocks," Walks Ahead of The Sun said.

Call returned to where the rifles had been on the ground -- several small square and rectangular pieces of wood now lay on the floor. He scooped up the light pieces of wood. Suddenly, his shoulders hunched and his legs buckled from the unexpected weight of the wood blocks, which had become exceedingly heavy. What seemed a simple task was now an immense burden -- Call struggled, attempting to carry the blocks toward the door. "Why are they so heavy?" he asked.

"You wish to know why you carried the rifles and why the wood became like a great mountain," the old Indian replied.

"Yes."

"Mazawakan (The Rifles) is the men you will lead. You will struggle to make them as one under your will, but you will overcome and be victorious. The wood is akahpe (lodges) of the Wasicu (White Man). The burden of protecting the wooden lodges of your people will be on your shoulders. Niye tawaci un wasake" (You will be strong").

Feeling strength surge through his legs and arms, Call managed to reach the door and place the wood pieces in the light. He turned and stared at the old Indian, then found himself back in Red Crow's lodge. Whether a moment had passed or it had been hours he didn't know. It required a few minutes for him to get his bearings and rise to his feet.

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

CHAPTER 2

Slouched in his chair, his big boots resting on the wooden railing, Sheriff Austin Peale observed the lazy street as the fading sun cast a golden hue in the far western sky.

"Isn't that a beautiful sunset, Austin?"

"Not as beautiful as you, Mattie."

Mattie Shaw's face reddened. She smiled. After all the disappointments in her life where love or romance were concerned, it appeared there might actually be a future between her and Austin. She looked at him, watching him sip the hot coffee she had made moments earlier. "Austin Peale! Are you funning me?"

"Why should I fun you, Mattie? You're a fine looking woman." It was a sincere comment. Like Mattie, he lacked a fulfilling relationship since journeying west. Why not consider her? She was pretty, possessing an attractive figure, as displayed by the shapely curves her snug pants exposed. Rather, it was her independence that bothered him. Austin considered himself a leader of men -- a pillar not easily shaken. In truth, he knew deep inside that he lacked the security and adequacy of Clay Mosby. Although, to be honest, most men fell short when compared with Mr. Mosby.

"Am I interrupting anything?"

Austin flinched, looking to the street. "What is it, Father?"

Josiah Peale climbed the steps -- signs of aging pains in his hips and knees. It required his holding the railing for support. "I came to warn you, Austin. Hello, Mattie."

Mattie smiled. She had been fantasizing about her and Austin and what might be.

"What are you talking about, Father? Warn me about what?"

"Danger!"

Austin had also immersed himself in pleasurable thoughts regarding Mattie and it annoyed him that his father had interrupted him at this untimeliness.

"Austin! This is serious!" He handed his son a telegram. "I correspond with the editor of the Great Falls Tribune. He wired this to me. Read it."

Austin scanned the note. Better to humor his father or risk losing the intimacy that was developing.

"Well?" Josiah blurted.

"Well, what?" A minor annoyance was progressing into irritability. "All this message says is some gang of outlaws are robbing towns to the west of us. Why should this concern me?"

"Look at the pattern, Austin. They started up in Sweetgrass, near the Canadian border, then Black Eagle and Coffee Creek. And now, Ross Fork. Austin, they're heading this way -- I'm sure of it."

"Here, Father -- take your telegram. Don't you think I'm aware of this? I've already heard of this. I'm the sheriff. Mosby has enough men -- I doubt we need worry."

Josiah stared at his son then realized he had possibly interrupted a delicate situation. He looked at Mattie. "Forgive my intrusion, Mattie. Austin? We can speak about this tomorrow." He quickly headed back to the Statesman.

Mattie smiled at Austin. "We could walk out there -- in the field."

The empty field between the livery and the church was inviting -- the sun's last glow quickly fading. "I suppose I could leave the office unattended for a while," Austin replied, smiling.

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

CHAPTER 3

All the way from the sporting house to the rear of the Ambrosia Club no one noticed Florie. Moving silently through gloomy shadows she adeptly avoided any light cast upon the street by the moon's brilliance, until she successfully reached her destination, the back door of the saloon. Quietly entering the darkened Ambrosia as she had done on several occasions she needed no light to find her way to the staircase leading up to Clay Mosby's private chamber. She could navigate the tables and chairs with her eyes shut.

The door to Clay's room was slightly ajar, the flicker of candlelight illuminating its soft glow. The oiled door hinges gave no hint of an intruder as Florie quietly stepped into the room, Clay's back to her as he sat at his desk writing.

"Do come in, my dear," Clay remarked without turning.

"How did you know I was here, Clay? I didn't make any sounds."

"On the contrary," he replied, turning to cast his dark eyes upon her. "In the still of night even the most hushed sounds are remarkably loud and quite easily heard." He grinned.

Florie discarded her black shawl, tossing it carelessly on the bed. She noticed the sheets were extremely wrinkled. "Were you sleeping, Clay?"

"Hardly. I seem to be restless as of late and merely laid down for a brief rest."

"I know all about your restlessness, Clay." Florie began running her slender fingers through his dark curls, slowly lowering her hands to his neck where she massaged his shoulders. "Doesn't that feel nice, Clay?"

"Your hands always exhibit a superb touch," he said, closing his eyes.

"Damn it, Clay! You're still tense -- I can feel it." Florie went to the bed where she had placed something. "I have just the remedy for your restlessness, Clay."

"Uh huh. And, what might that be?" He stared at her body.

"You'll get that, too, Clay," she grinned. "It's no secret that all of us that work for Twyla are regular customers of Harry. Don't look at me that way, Clay. We're only human -- just like anyone else, even if we are prostitutes. Men don't understand. We have no hope in life. No man is going to come into Twyla's and take us away to a better life, like some storybook. We get beat up. We get diseases. We get . . ."

"Spare me the melodrama, Florie. I am neither in the mood nor tolerant of this type of conversation at the moment."

Known for her quick flaring temper, Florie gritted her teeth then smiled and nodded. She held up a pipe and a small pouch. "I know you don't hold with this kind of remedy, Clay. But, on occasion you do."

"Opium?"

"That's right. Opium controls everyone -- but not you. It isn't an addiction for you. I don't how you have so much willpower, Clay, but you do."

Clay thought about it. It was true -- he didn't hold with smoking the opium pipe. Yet, it was also a fact that on the few times he had, he never gave in to its intoxicating and intensely addictive pull, afterward. He did indeed exercise control over the drug. "Perhaps this is one of those occasions."

Satisfied that he wasn't going to argue with her, Florie immediately cast her clothing to the floor. "Take your clothes off, Clay." She sat on the side of the bed and lit the pipe.

**********

After pouring his seed into her a second time, a small puddle of sweat had formed between Clay's tightly curled chest hairs and Florie's firm, pointed breasts. Breathing hard, his heart pounding in his ears, Clay rolled off of Florie's heated body, aware of her soft, pleasurable groans. Sitting up, Clay brushed his wet hair off of his face and reached for the bottle of brandy on the nearby mahogany nightstand. "Brandy?"

"Ummm" Florie replied.

Thin trails of sweat beaded upon Clay's temples and his cheeks, sliding down his face like dripping snow in the sun. Wiping his hands on the wrinkled bed sheets, he lifted the bottle with a shaky hand, filling the shot glass next to it. His throat parched, Clay swallowed the brandy then poured a second glass. He turned to Florie -- she had rolled to her side and curled up, already asleep. Clay drank the brandy then put the glass back on the nightstand. Between the opium, the brandy, and the energetic love making, his body was drained and limp. He closed his eyes and drifted into a deep sleep.

When Clay Mosby opened his eyes and consciousness returned, he assumed he was dreaming. Elongated, grotesque, black shadowy arms with spider-like fingers were coming out of the ceiling, reaching for him. He supposed himself awake, since he was in his own room and everything was in its natural place. Without hesitation or time to rationalize he leapt from the bed and attacked the shadowy arms. The arms evaporated, becoming one with the night. Clay stared at the ceiling for long moments before walking around the bed to Florie. Sliding his hands underneath her warm body, he scooped her into his arms and carried her out into the dark hallway. As he descended the stairs her face changed -- the feminine features suddenly became a horrid skull, causing Clay's head to tingle. Though he heard no spoken word, his mind heard 'this path leads to certain death.' The image struck him like a blow to the head. He realized that Florie's body no longer felt heavy -- it was as light as his Remington.

Clay sat the sleeping Florie in one of the saloon chairs then noticed he was dressed. His gray Confederate uniform was ripped to shreds -- he was no longer a Colonel but a disposable non-commissioned soldier, a pawn whose blood was to be spilled by those who cared nothing for him. He was the lowest of the low, made to do the bidding of others.

All around him was carnage and smoke. He heard women scream and violent men laughing. Near his boots a lawman's badge was covered in blood. He wandered aimlessly about, each moment forgetting more of his past as he became a mindless tool for the use of evil men. He paused, aware that he was in a large house. A room with an open door seemed to beckon him. As he neared the doorway he saw the figure of a person sitting in a chair, patiently awaiting his arrival. Though he couldn't determine the person's identity he felt trustful that it was safe to enter the room. Yet, before he could step into the room, he was guided away. This happened repeatedly until he finally, by sheer willpower alone, forced himself across the threshold and into the room. The one who awaited him no longer sat in the chair but he felt the presence of someone. A hand was placed on his back and a voice said, "Clay."

Clay spun to see who the mysterious voice belonged to and suddenly opened his eyes. "Florie?! What . . . are you doing . . .?"

"Clay! Are you all right? You were having a nightmare. It must have been the opium," Florie commented, staring at him.

"No!" he answered, his mind dull -- his head throbbing. "It was no nightmare -- it was far too real."

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

CHAPTER 4

"Babies are rarely as innocent as they appear, Call."

Newt Call frowned. He found one of his boot's among the ashes inside the fireplace and the other one underneath the bed. "I ain't likely none to scold her, Gretchen. My guess is she don't hardly know what she's doing."

"Oh, this Little Miss knows exactly what she's doing, Call," Gretchen replied, buttoning her shoes. "Do you know what two of her favorite words are?"

Call shrugged. "Mama and Papa?"

"Besides those, Sweetheart."

"I reckon not," he conceded.

"You reckon not," Gretchen mimicked. "Of course not. Mothers are always more aware of their children. The two words our little Becky says the most are 'no' and 'mine.' She's becoming a bossy little girl, or haven't you noticed?"

"I noticed," Call replied, gazing at their infant daughter playing with the doll Mason had bought her.

"Yes," Gretchen said, "and you think it's cute when she does that. How is it a strong, brave man can have such a difficult time reprimanding a ten month old baby?" She giggled. "She has you eating out of her hand, Call."

At that he flashed a wide smile. "I expect I'll learn to say no."

"I expect you will -- hopefully before she has a little brother or sister." Gretchen kissed Call then scooped Becky up into her arms. "We better get ready, Call. Victoria expects me to help at the store since Paige is due to give birth any day now."

Call shook the ashes off his boot outside the house then sat down at the table. "Soon as I pull on my boots I'll be ready, Coyote Girl."

Gretchen placed Becky on the floor near her father. "Keep an eye on her, Call -- you know how fast she scoots around. I'm going outside for just one minute to take my skirt off the clothesline."

Call nodded. Though it had been a few days since his vision in Red Crow's lodge, he hadn't forgotten it. Gretchen hadn't pestered him about what went on in the lodge, assuming he would tell her when he was ready. He pulled one weathered boot on, then the other.

"Call! Look at Becky!"

Call turned his head. The baby was playing with the ashes by the fireplace. She had rubbed them on her face and hands and white nightgown. "How'd she get there so quick?"

Gretchen threw her clean skirt in Call's face and hurried to the baby. "Now I have to wash her again, Call. Couldn't you watch her?" She groaned.

"All I did was pull my boots on," he said.

"Now you can come out and help me." Gretchen stepped outside and sat Becky on the porch. She bent over and shook her finger at the baby. "You stay on the porch, Becky Bug. Come on, Call -- I need water." She grabbed her husband's hand and pulled him to the well. After Call raised the bucket and emptied it into the wash bowl, he handed it to his wife and turned toward the house. Gretchen quickly pulled the green bow out of her hair and dropped it down the well.

"Call! My bow! It fell down the well."

"Now how'd you set about doing that, Gretchen?" Call asked. He knew exactly how she did it -- he enjoyed playing along with her, revealing no sign of detecting her devious scheme.

"I think it's in the bucket -- can you get it for me, please?"

He leaned over to look and suddenly felt the bowl of water being poured on his head and heard Gretchen laughing as she ran toward the house, her black, nine-button shoes exposed as she hiked her skirt to escape.

Call shook his long, tangled hair and gave his wife a fair lead before catching her at the steps to their modest home.

"What are you going to do to me, Call?" Gretchen bit her lower lip, smiling coyly.

"I reckon I'll carry you inside and put you over my knee and spank you," he replied, smiling as water dripped down his chin and neck.

Gretchen lifted Becky, who was laughing at her mother and father, and ran inside, awaiting her husband. Victoria would just have to wait a little longer.

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

CHAPTER 5

It had been determined by Clay Mosby the visions he experienced were nothing more than nightmares -- affects of his opium-induced ordeal. Visions and magic were to be scoffed at by Clay -- the creations and mumbo-jumbo of fools. Although he had been raised to believe in the one all-mighty God as a boy in Virginia, the destruction and butchery of the war left him with unanswered questions. Why would this God, the creator of man, allow so much bloodshed and slaughter? His faith wavered then dissolved into anger, allowing no room for religion, or answers which were there if he had only sought them.

"You seem lost in thought, Clay?" Robert Shelby noted. "Are you feeling ill?"

"No," Clay replied. "It's nothing, really. Dreams, as strange as they might be, sometimes linger."

"It's those brandy's, Clay. They play havoc with a man's mind. You should consider drinking something else before turning in at night."

"If my shipment of brandy doesn't arrive soon," Clay remarked, "I will indeed have no other recourse but to drink something else." It was a statement Clay would later look back on as unusual.

"Mr. Mosby! You better come outside, sir." Brody, one of his hired men, stood in the doorway, dirty, his shirt torn, and dried blood on his face.

"You do have my brandy, I trust?" Clay inquired.

"No, Mr. Mosby. I think you better come outside." He glanced at Clay and Robert then turned and went out the door.

Austin Peale decided to join in and followed them out. Sprawled out unconscious in the back of the wagon lay Zeke.

"What happened?" Clay demanded. "And, where is my brandy?"

"We were attacked on the road between Winnett and Box Elder Creek, Mr. Mosby," Brody said. "There were eight or nine of them -- all wearing black sacks over their heads. Me and Zeke never had a chance. It was like they were waiting for us. They beat us and stole all your cases of brandy, Mr. Mosby. We got back as soon as we could. I'm sorry."

"It was that gang!" Josiah Peale blurted, rushing up to the others. "I told you, Austin -- they're heading this way."

A few more of Mosby's men had gathered. "Some of you men carry Zeke up to Dr. Cleese's. Go with them, Brody. I will not allow anyone to rob me and attack my men."

"Wait, Mosby!" Austin said. "I'll get some men and we'll . . ."

"No! I intend to deal with this personally, Austin. Thank you. Robert and I should be quite capable of tracking these thieves. I'll need you to remain here -- see to the town."

"Clay, you'll be outnumbered," Josiah remarked. "Even if you succeed in tracking them, didn't you hear what Brody said? Eight or nine men!"

Clay ignored Josiah. He was no fool. He had learned much about guerilla tactics from his cousin, John Singleton Mosby, the Gray Ghost. He would not attempt to ride straight into the camp of an enemy that outnumbered him without first scouting and sizing up his enemy. This was just what he needed -- something to remove his thoughts from the nightmare which he had not been able to shake. "I have no intention of returning to my saloon until I find and reclaim my brandy."

"I can handle things here, Mosby," Austin replied.

"Josiah?" Clay said. "I would consider it a favor if you were to look in on Zeke and Brody."

"Of course, Clay," Josiah agreed. "I would feel more assured if you were to bring more men with you."

Clay didn't hear him. He followed Robert inside the Ambrosia to gather weapons and supplies that they might ride out within the hour.

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

CHAPTER 6

Conversation, usually enjoyable between the pair, was held to a minimum as Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby rode west toward Box Elder Creek. The former Confederates had rode on countless missions together -- most of them dangerous. Each man knew what to expect from the other. When the time would come to cross the waters there would be several choice locations to ford -- the waters being low now that summer was in full bloom and the early spring flooding had subsided.

Upon crossing Box Elder Creek they followed the waters north five or six miles until they reached a sizable waterfall, separating the high ground from the low ground, where the lower waters angled sharply to the west, like the outline of a half moon. Clay and Robert dismounted, walking their horses to the edge of the green flowing waters. Robert bent down to fill his canteen near the waterfall.

The sudden sound of rifles being cocked behind Clay in the nearby trees caused him to spin around.

"Now, you just stand there looking all pretty in those fine clothes -- I don't want no bullet holes in anything I intend to wear." The man, a three day old growth of porcupine stubble on his face, aimed his rifle at Clay. Two others, similar in appearance, approached with their rifles ready to fire.

Robert Shelby suddenly rose from behind his horse and fired his gun, hitting one of the men. The first man fired at Robert -- he tumbled off the edge, plummeting down into the waters where he was swallowed up at the bottom of the falls.

"Robert! Nooooo!" Clay hollered. Before Clay could draw his Remington and turn he felt a sharp pain behind his ear.

"Get on the ground, worm," ordered the man who had just slammed the butt-end of his rifle into Clay's head.

Reeling in stabbing pain shooting down his spine and fighting to not lose consciousness, Clay slid his boot into the stirrup to ride away. One of the men raised his rifle, firing a shot into the sky. The horse spooked, bolting away toward the small grove of cottonwoods, Clay's body thrown mercilessly to the hard terrain. He was helpless as his body took a pounding, bouncing and rolling over repeatedly until his head slammed into one of the stouter cottonwoods, and his foot loosened from the stirrup, leaving him bloodied and tattered on the ground.

The two men went to check on the unconscious, perhaps even dead Clay Mosby. Gunshots from a small group of riders approaching from the bottom of the hill dissuaded them. They left both Mosby and their own partner and quickly mounted and rode off through the cottonwoods.

The five new riders reached the crest of the hill near the waterfall with guns drawn. "Let them go," ordered an older, gray bearded man wearing a badge. "Looks like we got us two of those slimy, no-good thieving, chicken scratching outlaws."

The men dismounted, moving cautiously, wary that the outlaws might suddenly charge them. "Hey, Sheriff Tunney! I think this one over here is dead."

The sheriff moved from the bank where the man Robert shot sat with his arms up in surrender, crossing to where Clay Mosby lay bleeding. With his boot the sheriff nudged Clay's body, rolling it over. "He's not dead, you addle-brained moron. Can't you see he's breathing. Pick him up and put him on one of the horses. These two will wish they were dead before I get around to stretching their worthless necks. I won't abide outlaws or their filthy breed in my town."

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

CHAPTER 7

"Who's that fella up there at the bar, Newt?" Mason Dobbs asked.

Call glanced over at the man. A crowd had settled around him, taken in by his charming ways and manner of speech. "Just some drummer," he commented, shrugging.

Mason stared at the thin, well-dressed man. Mattie and Unbob, along with Austin Peale and Luther Root were part of the crowd that stood alongside him. Of course, the traveling salesman had maneuvered the crowd to exactly where he intended. He had entered the Ambrosia an hour earlier, offering to buy the first round for everyone. He proceeded to talk about his journey west by way of train and the dust-filled, bone-rattling stagecoach. It was his annual trip west of the Mississippi and the products he peddled had nearly doubled from last year's inventory back in Chicago. He was friendly and honey seemed to drip from his mouth as he spoke. When he revealed his fondness for the theater and ability to quote Shakespeare, the crowd had no intentions of allowing him to leave without a small performance.

"Very well," the drummer replied. "Hmm? Let me think now . . . perhaps . . . no! That won't do. Ahh! I know. I shall quote Titania from Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream." He cleared his throat then straightened up like a liberty pole. "Act two -- scene two."

"You spotted snakes with double tongue,

Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;

Newts and blind-worms, do not wrong,

Come not near our fairy queen."

"Let's buy you another drink, mister," Luther insisted.

Mason frowned. "Newts? Is that crazy ol' coot talking about you, Newt, boy?"

Squinting, Call lifted his eyes from his empty glass of beer. "Ain't likely, Uncle. Must be some other fella with the same name. I don't hardly know him -- never seen him before."

Mason nodded. "I'll wager you like it fine with Clay Mosby out of town."

"It don't matter none," Newt replied. "I reckon we ain't ever likely to mend fences." He stood up, ignoring the crowd and the drummer. "I best be going, Mason. It's time I get Gretchen and fetch her and the baby back home."

"You mind if I spend the night in the barn?" Mason asked. "Rosa's wearing me out. I need a night to kick my boots off and sleep."

"Nope," Call said. "Gretchen and the baby will like having you spend over."

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

CHAPTER 8

Once or twice during the night Clay Mosby stirred, waking from troubled sleep. Intense, pounding pain shot through his head -- throbbing, aching pain through the rest of his bruised body. Even closing his eyelids was painful. Retreating into the cold, darkness of the night, his only conscious thoughts were that he was a man in a great deal of pain.

Unaware that he had been locked inside the Winnett jail by Sheriff Cyrus Tunney, a man who made a habit of publicly voicing how much he despised outlaws, Clay finally awakened. His mind cloudy, he stared at an older man with a gray beard, a badge pinned on his vest. He struggled, attempting to focus his attention as the bearded lawman barked some angry words at a skinny, freckled young man who also wore a badge.

"Well, it's about damn time you woke up, you scum sucking son of a bitch," the bearded lawman said when he turned and noticed Mosby awake. "What's your name?"

Clay stared blankly at the man. What was his name?

"I asked you a question, you dung-eating bastard! Answer me! I'm Sheriff Cyrus Tunney and I'll drag your sorry excuse of a body outside right now and string you up!"

"I . . . I . . .?" Clay hesitated. It was hard to think -- his thoughts wouldn't put together anything coherent. His mind felt dull, like he was there in body only. It was frustrating -- he was unable to think clearly. "I . . . I . . . can't . . .? can't . . . re . . . member . . . who?"

Sheriff Tunney scowled at Mosby, then the other outlaw Robert Shelby had shot before tumbling over the cliff and disappearing under the bottom of the falls. The other outlaw, named Judd Wyandotte, made an effort not to look the sheriff in the eye for fear of being gunned down behind bars. The sheriff stepped near the cell and spit at Clay. "Listen up good, you useless son of a whore. Don't you play stupid with me." He drew his pistol and cocked it, causing the other outlaw to scamper off the paper-thin cot, onto the soiled, grimy floor.

"Don't shoot him, Sheriff," the other lawman said. "I think he doesn't know who he is. That's a fair sized knot on his head."

Sheriff Tunney turned. "Did I ask your opinion, Deputy?"

"No, sir."

"Then, shut the hell up!" The sheriff turned back to the cell. He gazed hard at Mosby. "Maybe my deputy's right -- maybe you don't know who you are. That's too bad for you, boy. We just might dig a hole and dump your carcass in it without no tombstone." He laughed and slid his gun back into his holster. "I'm going down the street to take my breakfast, Tommy. Stay away from those two."

"Yes sir, Sheriff Tunney."

"Sweep up this office before I get back."

As soon as the sheriff left, the other outlaw moved close to Clay. "You telling it straight? You really can't remember your own name?"

Clay felt bewildered. He glanced at himself -- his clothes ripped and shredded. He was in jail. The sheriff must have been right. He had to be an outlaw. But, what was his name? He finally shook his head. "I can recall nothing -- whether significant or otherwise. How I got here -- who I am . . . it's a blank."

The outlaw nodded. "You stick with me, hear? We're getting out of here real soon like. Just make damn sure you follow me."

Clay nodded, but his mind was troubled.

"Hey, Deputy?" the other outlaw suddenly said, standing up.

"Yeah? What do you want?"

Judd Wyandotte produced a small .41 caliber Derringer that was hidden in his boot. "Open this here cell or I swear I'll put a hole through your head."

Frightened and nervous, the deputy dropped his broom and grabbed the cell keys. With his hands shaking he unlocked the cell door. "Don't shoot me, mister. I'm just a deputy."

"Come on, you," the outlaw chided Clay. "We don't have all day."

Clay jumped up, felt lightheaded, then held his arms out to balance himself. He managed to step out of the cell as the outlaw bound and gagged the deputy then flung him to the jail floor, slamming the door shut. "Let's get out of here. The boss will want to see you."

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

The ride had been painful for Clay as they covered miles of open prairie. It had been a simple matter to slip quietly out into the early morning dawn and mount their horses, leaving town unnoticed. The difficulty came from the continuous bouncing on the horse, causing Clay more than one time to nearly lose his stomach.

When the pair of escaped men rode onto a fairly large ranch and tethered their horses and entered the bunkhouse, the two men who attacked Clay and Robert jumped up from their bunks. "What's he doing here?! Are you loco?"

"Settle down," Judd said. "He can't remember anything -- his name, nothing. Besides, he's one of us. We can use him." He nodded to them.

"What about the other one? The one we shot?" asked one of the outlaws, pulling the man aside.

"I guess he drowned. I don't know -- he never appeared." He looked at Mosby. "All I know about him is he's a Reb. I can tell when he talks."

"Then, that's what we'll call him -- Reb." He walked up to Mosby. "Take that empty bunk over there, Reb. By those cases of brandy we just stole. You're home now."

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

When Clay awakened, it was evening. He was alone in the bunkhouse. The murmur of voices could be heard outside the door. While deciding whether to go outside or sleep longer, the door opened and a half dozen men entered.

"Hey, Reb," Judd said. "How're you feeling? The boss is here -- he wants to talk to you." The men parted slightly, allowing the boss to emerge.

"Hello, Reb."

Clay stared, confused. He recognized the man -- it was the only thing he had recognized since waking up in the Winnett jail. "You . . . you're . . . the sheriff!"

"That's right," he laughed. The others laughed with him. "I'm Sheriff Cyrus Tunney, upstanding citizen of Winnett -- that's what those ignorant fools believe." He looked at Clay. "Rest up, Reb."

Clay nodded slowly. He had no choice but to trust this man. "You know me, I take it? Perhaps you could inform me what my name is?"

Tunney grinned. "Sure. It's . . . Richards -- Rebel Richards."

Clay frowned. His thoughts were cloudy -- nothing clicked.

The sheriff and his outlaw gang went outside. "Well done, Judd," he said. "What happened to his friend?"

"He's gone, Boss."

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

Before first light cracked the horizon next morning seven of Sheriff Tunney's men rode west along the Box Elder Creek. The promise of another hot July day could be felt in the early morning air. After hours of constant riding the seven pulled up in front of a town.

"You know what to do, boys," one of the men said. "Pull your sacks over your heads." The outlaws covered their heads with black, vigilante-style sacks. Not only would this protect their identities, it was meant to strike fear into the town folks.

"Not that it matters," one of the men said, "but, what town is this?"

"Some little piss hole named Curtis Wells," Judd replied.

The man in charge yelled "ride!" The gang began firing their pistols as they rode hard pass the windmill and down the street of the small town -- past the Lonesome Dove Hotel, the Ambrosia, to the livery at street's end. Since it was still fairly early not many folks were out on the street. The outlaw gang rode past the sheriff's office and turned around and rode back, this time turning down toward Twyla's where they circled behind tent town and past the windmill, charging down the main street a second time.

Sheriff Austin Peale stepped outside his office and fired his rifle, knocking one masked man to the ground. He shot another in the leg as he descended the stairs.

"That's him over there," Judd Wyandotte urged one of the masked riders. "Shoot him!"

The rider raised his gun and fired at the sheriff of Curtis Wells, hitting him in the belly. He paused, watching the tall sheriff double over and collapse on the ground, a small pool of dark blood spreading quickly on the ground.

"Noooooooo!" Mattie Shaw screamed. She had joined in, firing and hitting one rider and now panicked seeing Austin shot in the gut.

Amanda Carpenter, also firing her rifle, though without results, ran down the street toward Austin.

"That's enough!" one rider yelled. "Let's get out of here!"

Mattie and Amanda reached the unmoving Austin -- face down in the dirt. The gunman who shot Austin suddenly reared in his saddle. He managed to control his mount as the other outlaws rode toward the windmill to escape but the jolt loosened his sack, rising to cover the eye slits. The black sack fell off his head as another rider yelled for him to ride off.

Holding Austin's limp body and looking up at the exposed gunman Mattie stared into the face of Clay Mosby. Shocked, she blinked, turning to Amanda as the unmasked assassin rode away. "That was Clay! He shot Austin!" Mattie stated. Amanda stared in disbelief.

++++++++++ Continued in Next Installment ++++++++++

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