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.


Who Can You Trust?
(7th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Well they shot you point blank.
You been shot in the back.

("Point Blank" - Bruce Springsteen)

There it was up ahead. Curtis Wells. The windmill was the first thing Call saw as two horses trailed behind him. The brown horse carried a dead body laying across the saddle while the black one carried a man bound with ropes. For the past week Call had been away from town. Away from Gretchen Brandt. After the night the two of them had spent in the Scully's barn during the wind storm he figured he best earn some money. Bounty hunting seemed the most logical way to go about it. Seven days away from Gretchen. Call was anxious to deliver the outlaws to his uncle then find the girl he was falling deeper and deeper in love with.

He rode to the end of the street and stopped in front of the jail. Dismounting, he yanked the bound man off of the black horse, throwing him roughly to the hard ground. Call grabbed the man and shoved him up the stairs then opened the door and shoved him inside.

"Well howdy, nephew," Mason said as he stood up from his desk.

"Uncle Mason," Call replied. "One hundred dollars on this fella. Boulder Creek Jim Baylor. Robbery. Other fella's out there on his horse. Wouldn't come peaceably. Name's Roy Parrish. Two hundred on him. Dead or alive." Call shoved Boulder Creek Jim Baylor into an empty cell.

Mason laughed as he walked over and locked the cell door. "You're a mighty lucky hombre." He winked at the outlaw and turned to Call. "I'll get that wire sent to the Territorial Marshal. Get you your three hundred dollars real quick. You seen your girl yet, Newt?"

"Plan on doing that right now," Call said as he nodded to his uncle then stepped outside the door.

Robert Shelby stood in front of the Lonesome Dove Hotel watching Call walk quickly down the street where he disappeared inside the Brandt Sisters' store.

Call stepped inside the dry goods and immediately saw Gretchen helping a customer.

"Call! Call! You're back!" Gretchen exclaimed as she ran into his waiting arms. She giggled happily as Call lifted her off the ground and spun her around once.

"Gretchen!" Victoria said, "you have a customer."

"I'm sorry, Victoria. I haven't seen Call for a week," Gretchen replied as she just stared happily into his eyes. "Let's go out back, Call," Gretchen urged as she took his hand and pulled him to the back of the store.

"Gretchen?!" Victoria said again.

"It's all right, Victoria," Paige said, "I can help her customer."

Gretchen stepped out back with Call and began kissing him passionately. "I missed you so much, Call. It felt like you were gone for months. "

Call kissed her back and smiled. "I missed you, Gretchen." He paused as he looked into her green eyes. "I reckon I spent most every minute thinking 'bout you."

Her eyes lit up as she squeezed him tight. "Oh, Call. I'm so relieved nothing happened to you."

"I made three hundred dollars on the men I brought in."

"Three hundred!" Gretchen exclaimed. "What are you going to do with all that money?"

Call shrugged then smiled. "Well, first off, let's go back inside and buy you any dress you're set on."

"Call?!" Gretchen said. "You really mean it?"

"Yep. Been wanting to buy you something. Reckon this here's a good time."

Gretchen giggled. "Call, there's a pretty light blue gingham dress I simply adore. It's a blue and white checkered dress. I really think you'll like it. I really do."

Call nodded as he pulled Gretchen close to him. "Then we best go buy it. But, first . . . I haven't seen you for seven days. Maybe we should stay here for a short spell." He smiled.

Gretchen smiled and held him close. "Anything you say, Call."

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

Luther brought the Black Hills stage to a jerked stop right in front of the telegraph office. The telegrapher hurried out with a confused look on his face.

"Luther! Aren't you a little previous?" he said.

"This here ain't the regular run. Amos'll be hauling it in tomorrow. This here is a special run. It's called a . . . a . . .?"

"A charter," came the voice of a well dressed man as he stepped out of the stage on the side where the telegrapher stood.

"Who are you?" the telegrapher asked.

"Yeah, that's it," Luther replied. "A charter. That's what this here run is."

The man ignored the telegrapher and crossed the street toward the Dove and disappeared inside. He cut a figure of average height and his clothes fit fairly snug, as if he were on the muscular side. He sported a thin black mustache with short cropped, dark, curly hair. From the looks of it, the telegrapher assumed him to be in his early thirties.

"Luther, who is that fellow? He got business here?"

Luther climbed down off the driver's seat. "Hell if I know who he is. I was told to drive him to Curtis Wells. I'm gonna get me something to wet my throat." Luther headed straight for the Ambrosia Club.

*******

The well dressed man walked up to the register where Amanda stood. "I want a room with a window facing the street," he coldly replied as he turned the book and signed his name. He then took out a piece of paper and wrote two name's on it and gave it to Amanda. "I expect to see whoever these two are up in my room in one hour."

"Uh, sure . . . Mr. . . ." she turned the book, "Mr. DeLong. Burton DeLong."

"Don't wear out my name, woman. Just give me the key to my room and have those two found."

"Yes Sir, Mr. DeLong," Amanda said as she handed him a key. "Room 3. Turn right at the top of the stairs. Last door down the hall."

The man took the key and went straight to the stairs and climbed them.

Amanda watched him then she called Ike over and told him to go find someone.

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

Dewey squinted as he looked up at Mr. Mosby. Even though he knew Mr. Mosby was an important man in town, he still though he dressed strange. He couldn't understand why a man would wear fancy ruffles on his shirt. He finally shrugged with boredom from watching Mattie and Mr. Mosby talk and he ran out the back door pretending to shoot invisible outlaws with the wooden gun Mason Dobbs had carved for him.

"It would appear we can finally speak in private, without that little ruffian present," Clay remarked.

"Clay," Mattie scolded, "he's just a lonely little boy. How would you feel if you lost . . ." Mattie put her hand to her mouth. "I'm sorry." She paused. "You, more than anyone should understand."

"I do understand, Mattie. I just don't have time to deal with children."

Mattie softened. "Let's change the subject. You were going to ask me something."

Clay smiled. "Yes. I seem to find myself reminiscing about our night of passion." He flashed her a wicked smile.

Mattie's face reddened as she laughed. "Well . . . I would be lying if I were to tell you I haven't been thinking about it. It was like magic, Clay. Something happened that night and you can't deny it."

"I wouldn't dream of it, Mattie. I believe we should meet again tonight."

"I'll be there," Mattie said with a smile.

"Well good then. I shall breathlessly await your arrival tonight." Clay tipped his hat as Mattie watched him leave. It would be difficult for her to wait that long.

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

Robert Shelby opened the door and escorted Victoria Brandt outside the dry goods. It was early afternoon and they were going across the street to the Dove for tea. Before they reached the hotel a drunk stumbling out of tent town bumped into them.

"Watch where you're going," the man barked.

"I beg your forgiveness, Miz Brandt," Robert said as he drew his gun and brought it across the man's skull. The man crumpled to the ground.

"My goodness," Victoria replied.

Mason Dobbs came down the street at a casual pace.

"I apologize, Miz Brandt," Robert said, "that was truly unavoidable." He looked at Mason. "Perhaps, Sheriff Dobbs, if you were patrolling the street this wouldn't have occurred."

Mason scratched his jaw. "I'd venture to say, Mr. Shelby, that if you were alone this wouldn't have happened either."

"Are you suggesting, Sir, that I did that to impress the lady?" Robert angrily replied.

"I don't have to suggest it, amigo. You admitted it." Mason winked at Robert then bent down to take hold of the unconscious drunk and drag him off to jail.

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

"Mr. Peale! Mr. Peale!" Unbob excitedly said.

"What is it, Unbob?" Josiah asked as he paused with Austin in front of the Dove.

"Miss Paige sewed my favorite jacket for me. See?" He raised a bony arm to show the stitching on the sleeve. "Now I won't feel cold in the mornings when I tend to my pigs and roosters."

"That's quite nice, Unbob," Josiah replied as he smiled at Paige Brandt.

"You better tell your sister to keep her boyfriend in line cause I will be sheriff again," Austin suddenly replied.

Paige stood there for a moment. "Well then, I'm glad Mason Dobbs is sheriff, instead of a petty man like you, Deputy Peale. I don't know what you're trying to prove. Do you?"

"Austin!" Stop it!" Josiah ordered. "Let's go inside and have dinner."

*******

Josiah and Austin walked into a dining room that was a little chaotic. Amanda and her waitresses were in one of those rare evenings when it seemed like the entire town was there all at once. They noticed the well dressed man, Mr. Burton DeLong, sitting alone and watching everyone like some vulture. They saw Clay Mosby dining with his friend, Robert Shelby, the man now in charge of the hotel. They watched Mattie continuously correct the little orphan boy, Dewey. At another table, they saw Dr. Cleese eating with Luther.

Austin paused as they came to the table where Call and Gretchen sat together. "Go ahead and sit down, father," Austin said. "I'll be right there." Josiah nodded and found one of the last empty tables and sat down.

Austin glared at both Call and Gretchen as they ate. Then he pointed his finger at Gretchen. "You stay out of the church cemetery. I don't want you in there."

"It's public land, Austin," Call said as his peaceable mood was immediately tightened.

"I don't give a damn what it is, Call. You just keep her away from there," Austin angrily replied.

"I didn't do anything," Gretchen said as she looked at Austin then at Call.

"That's right, Gretchen," Call said while staring at Austin. "You best back off, Austin."

"Or what, Call?" Austin laughed. "You're going to shoot me? Your uncle won't always be sheriff. I intend to get that badge. Then you both better watch it."

Robert Shelby quickly stood up and stepped over to where Austin stood. "Excuse me, gentlemen. I must insist you both take this outside if indeed you intend to continue. I will not have this hotel turned into a saloon brawl."

Austin laughed and walked away to join his father while Robert returned to the table he was eating at with Mosby.

"All those sisters ought to go back to Missouri," Austin said loud enough for Call to hear.

"Sonofabitch!" Call said as he knocked the chair on its back and stood up.

"No! Call!" Gretchen pleaded as she stood up and reached out to take hold of him. "He isn't worth it. He's just a jealous, nosy, busy body." Then she leaned close and whispered, "let's just go to our secret spot. Please, Call?"

Call swallowed as he began to breathe a little more relaxed. He turned to Gretchen and nodded. She smiled and took his hand and hurried to pull him out of the Dove. Mason was standing in the doorway watching everything as they passed him. Burton DeLong took in all of this.

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

No one was happier than Gretchen Brandt once she declared to her older sister that Call was courting her. She could hold his hand or he could put his arm around her in public. Before that, she felt like she would just explode from walking so close but not being able to touch or exhibit her true feelings.

Gretchen wrapped her arms around Call as he led them out of the Dove and across the street past the dry goods and up the hill to the left. She knew he was tense after Austin had provoked him. She didn't say anything until they reached the log behind town that was now their secret spot.

"Are you upset with me, Call?" Gretchen softly asked as she put her hand on his cheek.

He shook his head sideways. "Ain't hardly no cause for that."

"I said I would never try to change you and I shouldn't have interferred. It's just that he was trying to get you to hit him so he could separate us and lock you up." Gretchen stared at Call. "Are you upset I went to Hannah's grave?"

"Nope," Call said as he took Gretchen's hand away from his cheek. He bent slightly to put his lips on her hand and held it there for a few moments before kissing it.

"Call, I love you so much. I just . . ."

Call touched Gretchen's lips with his finger to give her pause. She looked into his eyes. "Call," she whispered.

"It ain't easy for me." He shook his head. "To talk about it."

Gretchen kissed his finger then took his hand into her hands and squeezed it as she brought it to her cheek. She began to shake slightly as her eyes held back big tears.

"Gretchen?" Call said, concerned.

She swallowed and stared into his eyes. "I don't want to lose you, Call."

"You ain't gonna lose me, Gretchen. Not ever." He wiped her eyes and pulled her close. "I reckon I love you more than anyone that ever lived."

"Call? What are we waiting for? Do you need time? I . . . I just want to be with you so much. And I ask myself why aren't we together? It's so very hard to be patient. I love you, Call. I'll love you forever and ever." Gretchen leaned her face into his chest then lifted her eyes to him. "You're shaking now, Call."

He laughed slightly. "Uh . . . how's your leg?"

"My leg?" Gretchen said as she sighed. "It bothers me some now that the season's changing. It's colder up here in Montana than it is back in St. Joseph. I was hoping you could keep me warm this winter."

"I'll keep you warm," he said.

"This really has been a special day for me," she said. "You came back safe. I haven't seen you for a week. And you bought me a brand new dress. And you like it on me."

Call stepped back slightly to look at Gretchen. She took her hands and fanned the dress out for him. He smiled and nodded. "Looks real pretty on you. Think I'd like it off you, too."

Gretchen giggled and pushed him. "You're just going to have to wait for that, Mr. Newt Call." Gretchen looked into Call's eyes with a longing they both were experiencing. She looked at her dress. "It would take me months before I could have bought this. I still haven't finished paying for breaking Victoria's vase and the bowl I broke in the store."

"You got yourself a little temper I'd say," Call said as he pulled her close. Gretchen giggled happily as she hugged Call back.

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

Twilight in Curtis Wells was an artist's dream. A red-orange glow across the western horizon. A bluish-purple sky with no clouds. And in the alley behind the Lonesome Dove Hotel, Mr. Burton DeLong stood in the shadows with Ike. They spoke quietly for about three minutes as Ike pointed toward the jail. Burton DeLong noticed that Ike seemed nervous. The man who had arrived on the chartered stagecoach nodded and quietly went to the street where he proceeded down to Twyla's. Ike looked around to see if anyone had caught sight of them and then he slithered back inside the hotel.

Burton DeLong spoke to Twyla for a moment then Florie came over and walked him outside. Twyla watched with more than a casual interest as they spoke in fairly quiet tones. Twyla noticed they only talked for a minute or two. As Florie walked back in and Mr. DeLong walked away she heard Florie say something about doing anything for that kind of money.

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

Inside the Ambrosia it was busier than usual. The coming of autumn and colder nights brought more business to Mosby's saloon. He sat with Robert Shelby at his back table as they went about dealing with some topics of discussion.

"I appreciate how you feel Clay, but it's just the way things happen." Robert looked around. "You can't allow yourself to become sentimental."

"I suppose you're right, Robert. I had hoped that he might be the right one we could enlist." Clay appeared slightly out of sorts.

"Perhaps if you were to concentrate on the money," Robert suggested.

Clay nodded reluctantly. He would think of Mattie Shaw and their midnight rendezvous.

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

The bed actually lifted a half inch off the wooden floor as Clay pounded furiously into Mattie. He continuously drove himself like a miner swinging his pick axe over and over and over again. Finally, both covered in each other's sweat, they collapsed. Mattie's firm breasts were flattened almost halfway down from Clay's dead weight on top of her.

"I won't be able to walk straight come morning," Mattie said as she wiggled her fingers through his dark mane of curls while attempting to massage his head.

"Are you suggesting I allow you to spend the entire day up here?" Clay hoarsely muttered.

"Of course not," Mattie replied as she felt Clay's body slowly returning to normal. "I have a little orphan boy to tend to."

Clay rolled off of Mattie and stretched his arms out as he stared up at the ceiling. Mattie sat up and wrinkled her face. "Oh, Clay. It's all wet here." She stood up and walked over to the window that overlooked the street. Clay sat up slightly to gaze at Mattie's naked body. The silhouette of her finely curved shape caused a small rumbling in Clay's lower belly.

"Who's that man Luther brought here on that charter stage? I never heard of anyone chartering a stage, Clay." Mattie leaned against the sheer curtains that covered the glass window.

Clay stared at her for a moment without answering. Mattie turned and looked at him. Clay moaned as his eyes were riveted on her lower body. She laughed and walked quietly back then climbed up on top of Clay, as she straddled her legs across his hips.

"Now, how do you propose I answer your question if you do that?" Clay said with a grin.

Mattie began rubbing herself against him as she slowly rocked back and forth.

Clay reached up and pulled Mattie's head down to meet his rising mouth. They kissed as Clay resigned himself to the fact that he would be walking just as bowl-legged as Mattie come morning.

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

Next morning Mason searched for his nephew. He found him inside the No.10 sitting alone.

It's too early to be drinking, Newt," Mason said as he sat down at the table. "I'll wager you're feeling tormented about you and Gretchen."

Call nodded as he stared at his nearly full glass of beer.

Mason quietly sat there watching his oldest sister's boy. "You know something, Newt, I've never pressed you about anything. Maybe this would be a smart occasion for us to have a talk. I been up here for a good spell now and likely as not, I never seen you at peace. Since Gretchen arrived I have."

"I'm scared, uncle," Call replied as he lifted his eyes to meet his uncle's face. "I failed once before. I . . . I couldn't save her."

"I couldn't save your ma, Newt. None of us could. Your other uncles and aunts. We all failed, boy. But, you don't come from weak stock. The Cap'n's about as strong as they make 'em. The Dobbs' are a fair breed too. Lots of sand. Just like you, Newt. You know that I will back you up." Mason paused as Call took in all these words. "If you got something stuck on your tongue that you need saying then pull up your boots and get it done."

Mason stood up. "Why don't you walk out with me right now, Newt?"

Call nodded and stood up. He left the glass of beer sitting there as they headed out of the tent town saloon.

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

"Good morning, Unbob," Dr. Cleese said as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

"Dr. Cleese," Unbob replied.

"I see you and Dewey are going fishing," Dr. Cleese added as he straightened his coat.

"We're fixing on going just down to the river. Dewey stayed with me last night. Miss Mattie said she wasn't feeling very well and didn't want Dewey to catch anything."

"Perhaps I should find Miss Shaw and ask what troubles her," Cleese said.

"Well I hope she ain't sick. Mattie's been acting kind of strange lately. We gotta go." Unbob led Dewey away as Dr. Cleese headed for the Dove.

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

Mason opened the door to the sheriff's office and went inside. He grabbed the keys to the jail cells and unlocked one door.

"Go on now," he said to the drunk he arrested yesterday, "stay away from those Southern boys. They fancy putting on a show when a lady's present."

The sobered man nodded as he quietly left the jail.

Less than a minute passed when the door opened again. In stepped the mysterious Burton DeLong. "Mason Dobbs?" he asked.

"I've been wondering when you'd get around to paying a visit," Mason replied.

Burton Delong ignored Mason's comment as he stepped nearer the occupied cell. "Who's this and what's his crime?"

Mason paused as he took a good look at Mr. DeLong. "He's an outlaw named Boulder Creek Jim Baylor. You don't look much like a Territorial Marshal."

"And what does a Territorial Marshal exactly look like?" Burton DeLong replied.

"Mister, I'm beginning to smell a foul odor in here. You better move real careful like. Comprende, amigo?"

Burton Delong raised his hands and laughed. "You got it wrong, Dobbs. I have a paper to deliver to you. Here." Burton DeLong carefully slid one hand inside his coat and brought out a piece of paper. "Read this," he said as he stepped to the desk and dropped it.

Mason moved cautiously toward the desk with one hand on his gun handle. With the other hand, he turned the folded paper to open it. "What is this?!" he ordered. Burton Delong reached into his coat again and quickly drew a pistol from a shoulder holster. Mason tightened his grip on his gun but the other man was faster and brought his own smaller weapon across Mason's skull like a hammer. Mason dropped his gun as he fell into the chair and both toppled to the floor. Burton Delong was on Mason like a hungry cougar as he slapped a pair of handcuffs on Mason then dragged him into the empty cell.

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

"Mr. Shelby! My goodness. These are quite beautiful. Thank you." Victoria reached out to accept the small bouquet of flowers Robert had just picked from Amanda's garden on the side of the hotel.

"They pale in comparison to your beauty, Miz Brandt," Robert said as he once again took her hand and bent over to place a soft kiss on her fingers. Victoria blushed as she glanced at her two younger sisters. "Good morning, Miss Brandt. And Miss Brandt," Robert said as he nodded to both Paige and Gretchen. The girls both curtseyed as they had been taught by their mother.

"Mr. Shelby," Victoria said, "my sisters and I," she paused as she looked at Gretchen. "Well, Paige and I never expected to find one gentleman in Montana, let alone two."

Robert's laughter was a contagious, enchanting melody which caused Victoria to allow herself a subdued twitter.

"Tell me, Miz Brandt?" Robert inquired, "do you find the theater enlightening?"

"I would imagine all women do, Mr. Shelby. Why do ask?"

"I have discussed the matter with my dear friend, Clay Mosby. I have found that Miss Lotta Crabtree . . . you have heard of her, I presume?"

"Yes, Mr. Shelby," Victoria replied. "She is quite famous, though somewhat scandalous, from what I have read about her."

"I put little stock in what journalists write. They say anything to sell their newspapers," Robert said. "However, I have found that she is in the process of temporarily departing the Barbary Coast in San Francisco to return to New York. I have sent a wire to her in regards to her passing through here and performing for a substantial fee. If she accepts our generous offer, perhaps you would accompany me to witness her once-in-a-lifetime performance?"

Victoria's mouth slightly opened. She quickly closed it. "Mr. Shelby, I am quite taken back. Miss Crabtree taking time out of her busy schedule to perform in Curtis Wells. It would be a night, I dare say I would never forget."

"Well, good then," Robert replied as he smiled broadly. "Now, I should not have revealed this to you. Just in case it does not occur. I do have a good feeling about it to be quite honest." He nodded to Paige and Gretchen then looked into Victoria's eyes. "Good day, ladies."

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

Deputy Austin Peale entered the sheriff's office about the same time Mason was waking up. He looked at Burton DeLong sitting comfortably at the desk and then at Mason handcuffed behind bars.

"Well the hell is going on here?" Austin demanded. "You better have a good reason for locking him up."

"Oh, yeah?" Burton DeLong replied as he stood up slowly, almost in a flaunting manner. He noticed Austin's badge. "You're the deputy, I take it?"

"That's right," Austin nodded. "Austin Peale. Now answer my question."

Mr. DeLong reached into his coat and withdrew a badge. He held it up for Austin to see. "I'm Detective Burton DeLong. Pinkerton Detective Agency out of Chicago. We've been trailing Mason Dobbs, alias the Mesilla Kid, for about one year now. We lost his trail some time ago but a telegram turned up down near the Mexican border."

"I was promised amnesty from Governor Wallace in New Mexico and Governor Oran Roberts in Texas," Mason muttered as he shook his head trying to fully waken himself from the blow to his head.

"You don't have it yet," the Pinkerton man said. He looked at Austin. "Lay your cards on the table right now, deputy. Are you planning to try and stop me?"

Austin looked at Mason in the cell. "I . . . I can't go against the law. But, you're taking a foolish chance if you think you can just walk out of here with no trouble."

Mason shook the cell door, causing the rattling to attract the attention of both men. "Listen, Pinkerton man. I have a signed document from both Governors testifying under oath that my amnesty is real."

Burton DeLong walked over to Mason's cell. "A little town called Mesilla. Below Las Cruces along the Rio Grande. Not far from the Mexican border. Mean anything to you, Dobbs?"

Mason didn't answer.

"Let me refresh you," DeLong said. "Duncan Brady. Big River Kane. Three Card Tom Philipie."

"So what?" Mason shot back. "I'll wager those Concho County boys have been engaged in battle with the bloody Mescaleros and Chiricahuas. They all desire amnesty as much as I. You'll not trick me into believing they've emptied their chances."

"It doesn't matter what you believe, Mason Dobbs. Since the Governors haven't seen fit to grant you a full pardon as of today, I plan to cart you back to New Mexico. You killed a man there."

Mason turned around and ignored the Pinkerton detective. He was cursing himself under his breath for allowing himself to lose his edge.

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

Paige Brandt stood by the window looking out across the street. After a couple of minutes she turned to her sister. "Gretchen. I think you better come over here and take a look at this."

Gretchen put the feather duster on the counter then walked over to the window. "What is it, Paige?"

"Look at him," Paige said as she pointed to Call standing in front of the Dove. Gretchen quietly watched for at least a minute as Call sort of just shuffled around with his head down and his boot just kicking the dirt.

"What is he doing?" Gretchen asked as she turned to Paige. They both began laughing. "I better go out and talk to him."

"I'm going with you," Paige said. "Hurry! Before Victoria notices us." They both went outside giggling.

Victoria noticed them but just shook her head and smiled as she lifted the glass vase and inhaled the bouquet of orange and yellow flowers Robert Shelby had brought her.

"Call? What are you doing out here?" Gretchen asked as she crossed the street with her arms folded to stay warm.

"Hello, Call," Paige said with a grin as she joined her sister.

Call looked up at both Brandt Sisters. He shrugged as he kicked the toe of his boot in the dirt, back and forth in a line.

Gretchen moved close to Call. She was standing closer to him than his own shadow as she faced him. She lowered her head so that her hair was touching his face. "What it is, Call?" she whispered softly.

He sighed.

Gretchen took hold of his hand and squeezed it just a little. "Do you want to talk to me, Call?" she whispered as her warm breath touched his cheek.

"I reckon I do, Gretchen," he quietly said.

They both lifted their heads together as their eyes met at the same moment, causing them to smile at each other.

"We could go to our secret spot," Gretchen suggested as she continued to hold his hand.

Call nodded then looked at Paige.

Paige giggled. "I guess I'll go back inside and help Victoria." She turned to leave as Austin approached.

"You might want to go bid farewell to your outlaw uncle, Call," Austin smugly said. "Before he's taken away."

"What are you talking about, Austin?"

"That fellow Luther brought in on the stage yesterday. He's a Pinkerton detective. Came all the way from Chicago to take Mason back to Texas." Austin stood there and smiled as if he were enjoying it.

"Call, wait," Gretchen said as he started down the street. "What are you going to do?"

"I ain't letting him take him," Call said. He paused and looked down then back at Gretchen.

"Be careful, Call," Gretchen begged.

Call walked fast with Austin following him.

Paige came back to Gretchen. They both looked at each other with concern.

****

Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby were conversing in front of the Ambrosia as Call strode purposely past them. They ignored him until Austin paused as he followed Call. "Mosby! You better get down to the jail."

"You're the deputy, Austin. Why am I required to be there?" Clay replied.

"Because that fancy-dressed DeLong is a Pinkerton detective and Mason's locked up in a cell. He plans to return him to Texas," Austin said as he continued down the street.

"I thought he looked familiar," Robert commented as he followed Clay to the street and toward the jail.

Call walked up the stairs hard as his gun slapped his thigh. He threw open the door and stepped inside. The Pinkerton detective aimed his gun at Call.

"What do you want here?" Burton DeLong ordered.

Austin, Clay, and Robert all sounded like a stampeding herd of cattle as they mounted the stairs and entered the now crowded office.

On the street, Gretchen turned to her sister and grabbed her. "Paige. I have to go down there."

"No, Gretchen," Paige quickly replied. "Leave it to the men. There could be gunfire."

"But, Call?" Gretchen said.

"He loves you. He won't do anything foolish. Just wait here . . . Coyote."

Gretchen just looked at Paige then they both smiled. "Oooh. Please, Lord. Protect, Call," she said.

Luther had just stepped out of Twyla's where he had spent the night. Florie and Ike were talking. "There something going on?" Luther asked.

"Call ran down the street," Florie said as she stared at the Ambrosia. "Then Austin and Mosby and that Mr. Shelby all followed him."

Luther pushed past Ike. "Call's my friend. He might need some help."

Ike and Florie just looked at each other.

"Call!" Austin ordered. "He's a Pinkerton man. Don't try anything."

"What's going on, Mason?" Call asked as he ignored everyone else.

Mason stood at the bars. "He's got his mind set on taking me back to New Mexico. I should be due amnesty any time now."

Clay and Robert both quietly observed as their hands rested on their gun handles.

"All of you depart right now," Burton Delong said. "Mason Dobbs is my prisoner. I intend to bring him back to New Mexico to stand trial for killing a man."

"I'm still deputy," Austin said. "This is my jail, not yours."

Mason was only watching one man, his nephew. "Newt! Don't do anything. You hear me, boy? I won't let you gun down a Pinkerton detective."

The door opened and Luther stomped in. "Hey, Call?" He noticed Mason behind bars. "Why's your uncle locked up?"

"Deputy," the Pinkerton man said, "I demand you remove these intruders from this jail. I want two horses saddled to ride out within minutes."

"Wait a minute, buscadero," Mason said as he looked at Burton Delong. "One thing about you Pinkerton's. You have a famous saying as I've heard tell."

"What?" the Pinkerton detective replied. "So what?"

"Well, if I am to be captured I would like to hear the famous quote. How about it, amigo?" Mason said as he winked at Burton DeLong.

There was silence in the room for a few seconds.

"Seems a fair request," Call said as he stared with intensity at DeLong.

The Pinkerton agent grumbled then said, "We never fail. Satisfied, Dobbs?"

Mason nodded. "I'd venture to say you were hired to take me out there and kill me. Newt! He isn't a Pinkerton man! Their saying is We never sleep."

Call drew, cocked, and pointed his gun at Burton DeLong before DeLong could do anything.

"Who hired you?" Mason asked. "Austin. Get the keys and unlock this cell."

"Now just a minute," Clay Mosby ordered. He drew his Remington as Robert also pulled out his pistol.

Call's eyes burned into DeLong. "Drop your gun."

"Who hired you, DeLong?" Mason asked again.

"There were two of them," the imitation Pinkerton man replied. Both Clay and Robert shot a glance at each other.

Austin stepped over to DeLong to take the keys. As he got close Burton DeLong grabbed at him for cover.

"Newt!" Mason yelled. "Shoot him!"

Burton DeLong aimed at Mason's cell and fired as Mason dove for the floor. Call fired one shot that whizzed past Austin's shoulder and into the wall.

"No!" Clay yelled. DeLong turned to fire at the others as Call tried to get to DeLong's side so he wouldn't hit Austin.

Both Robert Shelby and Clay Mosby rushed DeLong while Luther drew his gun. DeLong fired once more, missing. Robert grabbed Austin and pulled him back as Clay Mosby emptied all six shells into Burton DeLong's body. The false detective slumped to the floor bleeding as he died. His secret would now die with him.

"Damn it!" Mason yelled as he stood up. "Why didn't you just wing him?"

"He was trying to kill you, Mason," Clay said as he began dropping the empty shells on the floor and reloading his gun.

"That was some move the two of you pulled off," Austin said to Clay and Robert as he unlocked the cell then unlocked the handcuffs on Mason.

"Yes, well," Clay said as he looked at Robert. "Robert Shelby served with me for years during the Virginia Campaign."

Luther stood quietly by looking at the dead man while Call went over to his uncle.

"I reckon it's good you knew about that saying," Call said.

Mason winked at his nephew then did something strange. He unpinned the sheriff's badge and dropped it on the desk. "I have two enemies that set me up. They're both right here in this town. What I need to do won't require this badge."

"Are you certain of this, Mason?" Clay asked as he picked up the tin star.

"I'm certain, amigo," Mason replied.

Clay turned to Austin. "Looks like you finally get a second chance, Austin." He handed the sheriff's badge to Austin. Austin didn't say anything. He squeezed the badge tight for a moment then removed his deputy's badge and pinned on the sheriff's badge. Clay picked up the deputy's badge and looked at Robert.

Robert smiled. "I can do both jobs, Clay. At least until you say otherwise."

"Well, good," Clay replied as he handed Robert the deputy's badge. "Deputy Shelby."

The door swung open again as Gretchen and Paige rushed inside. "Call? Oh, Call! You're safe!" Gretchen cried as she ran into his arms.

"Gretchen!" Call exclaimed as he pulled her close. "You shouldn't of come in here."

"I'm sorry, Call. I was worried about you. And the others. But you're safe. Please don't be angry with me, Call," Gretchen said as she tightened her arms around him.

"I ain't angry. Just don't want nothing to happen to you, is all," he replied.

Paige stood near her sister as Luther looked at Paige and smiled at her.

"Well, Sheriff Peale," Clay said, "I suggest you get that body over to Mattie and Unbob."

Mason walked over to Call. "I'll head out with you." Call nodded as Gretchen and Paige walked outside with Mason Dobbs.

Luther stayed to help Austin while Robert and Clay returned to the Ambrosia to discuss things.

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

Later that night two people met up in tent town.

"Now what do we do?" the first one asked.

"He's a smart one, that Mason Dobbs," the second one replied.

"You got something out of it. What about me? I was planning on using that reward money for my own purposes here in town," the first replied.

"If I were you, I'd be real careful from now on. If Mason finds out we were the ones who hired that outlaw, DeLong, to impersonate a Pinkerton . . ." the first one paused. "We did manage to obtain one of our goals."

"One out of two. But not mine," the second said.

"We'll keep trying. Now we had better split up before Mason sees us," the first said.

Austin Peale and Amanda Carpenter both separated as they walked through the cold night air of tent town.

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

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