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.


Stand Tall the Women
(9th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

We can't afford to be innocent
Stand up and face the enemy
It's a do or die situation
We will be invincible

("Invincible" - Pat Benatar)

It was in the first moments when just a hint of light enveloped Curtis Wells and the surrounding landscape. Somewhere around 5:30 AM. The entire town appeared to be in the comfort of peaceful sleep. If anyone had been awake they might have heard the sounds of desperation which grew progressively louder.

Out of the merging of night's final breath and morning's first yawn a young woman suddenly opened the doors to the livery stable and quickly disappeared inside. She slammed the large doors shut then leaned with her back against them.

Call and Gretchen had saddled their horses to take an early morning ride and were in the corner of the stall kissing each other when the doors slammed. Leaning out they both saw the young woman. She wore a peach colored dress which was ripped in several places. They noticed she was breathing hard as she sobbed. She had long black hair and dark eyes.

The young woman suddenly noticed Call and Gretchen looking at her from the far end. "Please don't hurt me!" she begged. "Please?! Don't let him find me?! I beg you!"

Gretchen moved first. "We won't hurt you or let anyone find you," she said as she pulled Call's hand out with her.

The young woman tensed her body, petrified at being discovered.

"Call, we have to help her," Gretchen said as they neared her. Gretchen could see there were scratches on her face and arms and she appeared to be dirty, as if she hadn't slept in a bed for some time. "Who are you?" Gretchen asked as she reached out to take the girl's hand. Her hand was cold and shaking.

Just then the sound of a lone horse could be heard riding slowly past the livery. The girl's eye's widened in fear and her face paled as she moved behind both Gretchen and Call. "It's him. Oh, dear God! No! Please! No! He's here!"

"Who's here?" Call asked as he turned to the girl.

"I have to hide! Oh, please help me?" she begged as tears rolled down cheeks that had been scratched.

"Call! We can hide her up in the loft for now," Gretchen replied as she took the girl's hand and ran down to where the ladder was. Call nodded and backed up with his face to the doors.

Gretchen led the terrified girl up to where her and Call would spend moments of bliss when they could. Call hesitated until he was sure the horse had ridden past. He climbed the ladder and hurried over to the girls.

"Is he gone?" the girl asked.

"For now," Call said. "He might return so you best talk fast. For starters, what's your name and why's that fella chasing you?"

The girl put her hands to her chest as if trying to will herself to breath slower. "My name is Laurette Ann Mecurdy. Laurie Ann. I was visiting my cousin in Ohio when I was kidnapped by a Mormon. He brought me across the country to Utah but I managed to finally escape a few months ago." She looked at both Gretchen and Call. "He has three wives and was going to force me to marry him. I'm not a Mormon and I don't want to be a slave. I want to go back to North Carolina." She began weeping as Gretchen hugged her. "I just want to go home."

Gretchen turned to Call. "We can't let him have her, Call. You know that, don't you?"

Call nodded. "I know."

"We can hide her in my house. I'm sure Victoria and Paige will help."

Call looked at Gretchen. It was a sound idea. "All right. Wait here. I'll go take a look. See if he's still around. What's this fella look like?" Call asked Laurie Ann.

Laurie Ann lifted her head from Gretchen's embrace. "He's around thirty. Short blond hair with a thin mustache and bushy sideburns. He's average height. His name is Charles Huntington.

Call nodded then looked at Gretchen. He moved quietly to the ladder and climbed down where he quickly slipped out the back door and up between the livery and tonsorial parlor to look at the empty street. Call stared silently as he listened like a wary cougar. Whoever the rider was, he was nowhere around. Call went back inside and signaled for Gretchen to bring the girl down so they could take her across the street to the Brandt home.

They descended to the ground and hurried to the doors when Laurie Ann mumbled something and fell into Gretchen, unconscious.

"Call!" Gretchen quietly exclaimed.

Call spun around to help Gretchen. He lifted her into his arms.

"The poor girl," Gretchen said. "She must be exhausted."

They quickly crossed the street and went inside the small home behind the Montana Statesman. Gretchen opened the door to the bedroom where the three sisters slept in two beds. Victoria and Paige both woke with a start as Gretchen and Call stepped inside.

"Gretchen!" Victoria cried. "What's he doing in here?"

"Victoria, I'm sorry," Gretchen replied, "Call's carrying a girl who fainted. She's hiding from a Mormon who kidnapped her and is trying to force her to marry him. We have to protect her and help her, Victoria."

Victoria appeared hesitant.

"Gretchen's right, Victoria," Paige blurted out. "If it were one of us you would do anything to save us."

Victoria nodded. "All right. Call? Get out of our room so we can put our robes on."

Call turned and stepped into the larger room. "Don't take all day. She ain't getting any lighter."

In less than a minute the three sisters emerged. "Call. Put her on my bed," Victoria ordered. Call went into the smaller room and laid Laurie Ann on the bed.

"We better get Dr. Cleese," Gretchen said to Call. "I'll go with you." She smiled at him. Call nodded and the two of them headed outside.

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

Dr. Ephraim Cleese stumbled to the door. "Yes? Oh, Miss Brandt. Call. Is one of your sister's sick, Miss Brandt?"

"Not exactly," Gretchen replied. "But, someone else is. Please come quickly?"

Dr. Cleese nodded and went back inside where he dressed in a hurry and followed the two of them back to the Brandt home. Only Unbob was out this early as he headed toward the back of the livery, staggering as if more asleep than awake.

"She's in my bed, Doctor," Victoria mentioned as Dr. Cleese inquired about the patient once they entered the house.

Dr. Cleese went into the bedroom and looked at Laurie Ann. He sat on the bed to examine her. The town doctor immediately recognized the signs and returned to the larger room. "She's suffering from lack of food and sleep. A simple case of exhaustion. Who, may I inquire, is she?"

The sisters stared uncomfortably at each other. "She's running away from a man who is trying to force her to marry him," Gretchen finally replied.

"My goodness," Dr. Cleese said. "That is absolutely deplorable."

Call stepped close to the doctor. "You ain't set on telling anyone about this, are you, Cleese?" Call asked with intimidation in his voice.

"No. Of course not. I've told you before, Call, I preserve life, I don't try to harm it. I believe marriage should be a union of mutual love."

"Like Call and I are going to be," Gretchen said as she smiled at Call.

He smiled at her then looked at Cleese, his face becoming serious.

"Your secret is safe with me. I must be leaving. If questioned, I shall simply say one of the Brandt Sisters was ill."

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

"I'm looking for the sheriff! It's urgent!"

Most everyone in the hotel dining room paused to look at the blond haired stranger.

"I'm Sheriff Peale," Austin boasted as he stood up from the breakfast table he shared with his father. "What happened?"

The man hesitated for only a moment then reached into his pocket and pulled out a stack of folded paper money. "I have fifty dollars, hard cash. I'll give it to anyone who tells me where my wife is. She ran away and I tracked her to this town."

Austin picked up his hat and walked slowly toward the man. "Why did your wife run away?"

"That is no concern of yours or anyone else's. She's my property and I want her now," the man insisted.

"A wife ain't property!" Mattie arrogantly said. "What kind of man are you?"

"I happen to be a Mormon. From the Greater Salt Lake area. In Utah. I have three wives and she is to be my fourth."

Robert Shelby rose from his table and stepped in front of the man. "This is a respectable hotel, Sir. If you have an issue, you'll kindly address it in the sheriff's office."

"I'm in charge, Shelby," Austin said as he frowned at his deputy. "You can come over to the jail and give me the particulars," he added as he passed the man. The man nodded and followed him.

Amanda looked at Ike. "I don't care if he has a dozen wives. I could use that fifty dollars."

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

Victoria Brandt quietly entered the Dove. She noticed Robert Shelby and immediately walked over to where he stood. "Mr. Shelby, I have a request to ask of you."

Robert smiled and took her hand. "Yes, Miz Brandt. Ask anything."

"Would you inform Mr. Mosby that I wish to speak with him as soon as possible?"

"Clay? Can't I be of service to you, Miz Victoria?" Robert asked as he pretended to be saddened by her choice.

"Yes, of course, Mr. Shelby. Perhaps I could speak with both of you."

Robert smiled and nodded. "Then, consider it done. I shall inform Clay immediately."

"Thank you," Victoria replied as she curtseyed then left.

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

Laurette Mecurdy woke suddenly. She sat up in Victoria's bed and looked around the room. "Where am I? Did he find me?"

Paige came running into the bedroom. "Don't be alarmed. You're safe here."

Laurie Ann turned to Paige. "Who are you?"

"I'm Paige Brandt. You're in our home. My sister, Gretchen, and her husband-to-be, Call, brought you here. You fainted. Here. I made some soup for you. You need to eat."

Laurie Ann leaned over as Paige sat alongside her and offered her a spoonful of warm soup. "Every town I've run to from Salt Lake City to here . . ." she began to sob. "No one will help me." She looked at Paige. "It isn't right. He kidnapped me. He took me against my will. Why won't anyone help me?"

"We'll help you. My sisters and I. And, Call."

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

"My name is Charles Huntington. I must demand that you search every dwelling in this frontier town to find my wife."

Austin smirked as he sat on top of his desk. "No one orders me around in my town."

The Mormon stepped back slightly. "I . . . I apologize, sheriff. It's just that I have been chasing her for months and she must be disciplined."

"All I care about is upholding the law," Austin said. "Now, you can come with me and we can look for her. What's her name and what does she look like?"

"Laurette Ann Mecurdy. She's nineteen years old. Long black hair. Dark brown eyes. She was wearing an orange colored dress."

"Let's go shake some trees and ask questions, Mr. Huntington. If she is in Curtis Wells, I'll find her."

They walked out into the street and crossed over to where Call sat on the bench outside the general store. "You see a young woman with black hair come into town, Call?" Austin asked.

"Why?"

"Because I asked," Austin replied.

Call looked toward the Dove.

"I'm offering fifty dollars to anyone who finds her," Charles Huntington said. "You, Sir, appear as if you could use the money."

"That so?" Call replied as he continued to ignore them.

"We'll go to the Ambrosia first," Austin said as he walked away. "Then tent town."

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

The mood was slightly tense inside the dry goods as Victoria and Gretchen went about their daily routine. When asked about Paige, they politely mentioned that she was home not feeling well.

"I received a telegram from Mother and Father yesterday, Gretchen."

Gretchen hung up the dress she was looking at and turned to her older sister. "What did it say?"

"They both want to meet this wild, Texas boy who's won your heart," Victoria replied.

"You mean . . . they want Call and I to visit them? Back home? Although, this is my home now."

"Yes, Gretchen," Victoria said. "Does Call love you enough to take you back to Missouri for a visit?"

Gretchen giggled. "Oh, Victoria. Why, I believe with all my heart that Call and I love each other so much that we would both do anything for each other."

Before Victoria could reply to her younger sister, Clay Mosby stepped inside the store. "Good day, ladies. Miz Victoria." He looked at Gretchen. "Permit me to offer my congratulations to you, Miss Brandt. If memory serves me correct, you were interested in Newt Call from the moment you stepped off the stage months ago. I must admit, I never expected any woman to tame Call. I do wish you the very best." He smiled at Gretchen.

"Thank you, Mr. Mosby," Gretchen replied. "I'll leave you two alone."

******

Gretchen walked slowly along the wooden sidewalk with her arms folded. She thought how wonderful it would be to travel with Call back to St. Joseph. She would be Mrs. Newt Call and proudly wear his name and his ring. She would introduce him to all of her girlfriends. He, of course would fuss and complain about meeting her friends but he had already showed her his willingness to be unselfish. It just made her want to give more of herself to him.

Gretchen stopped daydreaming as she noticed Call sitting strategically on the bench facing the direction of her home. She ran across the street and sat close to him. "Sweetheart! I've missed you so much," she said as she hugged him.

"I missed you, Gretchen," Call replied as he buried his face into her cheek.

"Call? Would you take me to Missouri if I asked you?" She bit her lip and stared at him intently with her green eyes.

"I reckon if you were set on going back there, I'd take you."

She giggled happily as she squeezed him tight. "Oh, Call. I simply cannot stand this waiting. I want so much to be your wife."

"So do I, Coyote. I guess we're bound for Missouri sometime," He replied.

"Mother and Father want to meet you, Call. I'll be the first daughter to wed."

Call thought about it for a moment. "What about your sisters. They set on making the ride?"

"I don't know, sweetheart. I think I would prefer it if just the two of us went."

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

"Clay, I assume you have heard about the runaway girl?" Victoria asked.

"Yes," Clay replied. "It seems as if the entire town is speaking of nothing else."

A commotion outside in the street caused Clay to turn toward the windows. "Perhaps I had better see to this before it gets ugly. With your permission, Victoria?"

"Yes, of course, Clay."

Mosby stepped out into the street and crossed over to the front of the Dove. Town folks had taken both sides concerning the Mormon and the woman. Josiah had his Bible and was reading from it.

Mattie pushed through the crowd and stood face to face with Charles Huntington. "I could shoot you down like a dog," she angrily said.

Charles Huntington drew his hand back as if he were going to backhand her across the mouth, then stopped. "Very well," he replied. "I will raise my offer to one hundred dollars cash. Anyone who tells me where my wife is."

"We're going from building to building," Austin said for everyone to hear.

"You take one step into my shop and I'll fill you with so many holes," Mattie said.

Clay turned to Mattie. "You are awfully upset about this, Mattie."

"No man has the right to call a woman his property."

"It's their law, Mattie," Austin replied.

Charles Huntington waved his hands. "You misunderstand. Less than eighty percent of the Mormon men have multiple wives and it is not a harem, as you uneducated Gentiles believe. It is simply a matter of economy. Our wives are put to work for the common good of all of us."

"Like servants! Or, slaves!" Mattie said loud. She turned and pushed through the crowd once more as she returned to her gunsmith shop.

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

Northwest of Curtis Wells, west of Cat Creek, Mason Dobbs sat in the Hollister's kitchen. As he expected, Halfway Henry and his wife, Eleanor, had welcomed him to stay as long as he needed to sort things out. Mason was happy to see Ellen again. He hadn't seen her since the Spring Roundup and town dance, when the Brandt Sisters had just arrived in town, back in the spring.

"It's good to have you with us, Mesilla," Henry said as Eleanor brought him pie and coffee.

"Well, I'll wager that amnesty has a better chance if I stay out of trouble. I gave up that badge I was wearing. Seems there are two curs back there that tried to have me shot."

Ellen sat down near Mason. "I hope you and I have time to sit and talk."

Henry laughed. "If he isn't too tired from chores he will."

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

No one in tent town had seen a nineteen year old woman with long black hair. Frustrated and angry, Charles Huntington separated from Sheriff Peale and entered the Dove for something to eat.

"You can search every room in this hotel," Amanda said. "If you find her, I want that hundred dollars."

"Agreed," the Mormon replied.

***

Austin felt tense. Unable to find a nineteen year old woman. He went into Twyla's and opened every door to every room. He remembered a woman named Faris Dunnigan had been hiding there a couple years back. Twyla and her girls yelled at Austin but he ignored them.

He next climbed the stairs to Dr. Cleese's office. "I'm looking for a runaway woman. Is she in here, Cleese?"

"Of course not, Austin," Ephraim replied. He allowed Austin access to every room.

Austin next opened Mattie's gunsmith door. "Relax, Mattie. He's not with me."

"I don't care," Mattie shot back. "You're not looking in here, Austin. I wish that poor girl was safe in here away from that scum. Now, you get out of here."

Austin nodded and closed the door.

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

Robert Shelby sat in the back of the Ambrosia Club with Clay Mosby. The appearance of Charles Huntington in search of a woman he claimed to be his wife and his property had riled up the town. Some favored tearing the town apart until she was found. Those were the ones after the one hundred dollar reward.

Others felt a Mormon with three wives was wrong. Then there were those who just didn't care either way.

 

"He paid for a room for tonight, Clay. He vowed not to leave town until the woman was with him."

Clay sat back and observed his customers. "I suppose it is their strange law."

Robert nodded. "He is a Mormon, Clay. I do not know how they live. I have heard tales about multiple wives from others who claim to have known their kind. What do you propose we do?"

"I don't see how it is any concern of ours, Robert. Perhaps it is merely a minor domestic . . ."

"Mr. Mosby! I want to speak with you!"

Clay and Robert looked up to see the full figure of Twyla standing before them as they were nearly overcome by the stifling odor of cheap perfume. "What it is, Twyla?" Clay asked.

"My girls may be whores but they are still people. Your new sheriff barged into every room searching for that runaway girl."

"What would you have me do?" Clay asked, "take his badge away for one day?"

Robert laughed.

Twyla glared at both of them. "Mason Dobbs never treated us like Austin Peale treats us. He was respectful. Why isn't he still the sheriff?"

"Very well," Clay sighed. "I'll have a talk with Austin. Now, if you don't mind, we were discussing a matter of importance."

Twyla looked at both of them then walked away.

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

"There you are. I've been looking for you."

Call looked up from the bench outside the general merchant. "What do you want, Mattie?"

She sat down on the bench. "Call, I need your help. We have to find that girl and protect her from that bastard who thinks she's his property."

Call looked down toward the Dove but didn't answer.

"Didn't you hear me?" Mattie replied.

"I heard you."

"What's with you, Call? I would say you don't care about anyone but yourself, except that you seem to care about Miss Giggles. I guess you don't care what happens to that poor runaway girl."

"I didn't say that."

Mattie stood up. "You can go to Hell, Call. Go on, sit on your damn bench. I'll find her and help her." Mattie marched away disgusted.

Call waited for her to get out of sight then stood up and crossed the street. He quietly walked down the side of the Montana Statesman and knocked on the door of the Brandt Sisters' house. Paige opened the door and welcomed him inside.

"He's the one," Laurie Ann said as she sat at the table in the larger room. She looked at Gretchen. "Thank you both for bringing me here." She looked back at Call. "Is he still in town?"

Call nodded as Gretchen went and stood close to him.

"If he finds me, he'll take me back to Utah. I'll spend the rest of my life as a slave. I don't want to be with a man who has three other wives living in the same house. It isn't right." Laurie Ann began to cry. Victoria sat near her and tried to comfort her.

"Can we get her on a stage, Call?" Paige asked.

"Ain't gonna be here for two more days. I checked," Call replied. He looked at Gretchen. "I reckon it'd be best if I sat outside . . . just in case."

Gretchen hugged him tight then watched as he stepped outside.

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

Early next morning Charles Huntington and Austin Peale walked out of the jail. As they headed down the street Austin caught sight of Call sleeping against the Brandt Sister's door. He changed direction and walked up to Call.

Call jumped up with his sawed-off aimed at the two men.

"What's the matter, Call?" Austin teased. "Your girlfriend kick you out?"

Call stared at Austin but didn't speak.

Austin paused as he looked at Call. "Nervous, Call? You look as if you were standing guard . . .?" Austin thought about it. "She's inside, isn't she?" Austin and Charles Huntington advanced toward Call.

"You ain't going in," Call said. He cocked his sawed-off.

Austin hesitated. He knew Call was serious. "I'll be back." He turned to leave as Charles Huntington hesitated.

"If my wife is inside there, you had better hand her over to me. I will not tolerate this," Charles Huntington said.

Call stood with a defiant look.

"We'll get in," Austin replied. "Just follow me."

The Mormon reluctantly turned and joined Austin.

The commotion had waken the women inside the house. They rose and quickly dressed. Gretchen still in her robe, opened the door and stepped outside.

"Call? Are you all right?"

He turned to her as she ran into his arms. "Yep."

Victoria stood in the doorway. "We should have taken her away last night."

Call shook his head. "She can't run. That bastard ain't likely to give up. He'll run her down." He frowned and pointed to the ground. "It ends here."

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

Call's refusal to allow Austin and Charles Huntington entry into the Brandt house would not go unchallenged. Austin permitted the Mormon to rant and stir up some commotion in the street before enlisting Mosby and Shelby's help. By now word had spread that the runaway girl was holed up inside the two-room dwelling occupied by the three sisters from Missouri.

Call calmly checked his Peacemaker and his sawed-off, knowing the chance of this showdown being settled without the spilling of blood was practically impossible. Gretchen brought him a cup of coffee and some leftover supper from the night before.

While a small, unruly mob was building their courage to take on Call, there was one who quietly crossed the street just past the livery, then disappeared behind the jail. The silent intruder reached the unguarded back door to the Brandt home and drew a pistol from a holster.

Clay Mosby ordered Zeke and a few of his men to accompany them in anticipation of the crowd becoming violent.

Mosby, Robert Shelby, Austin, and Charles Huntington led the way as they marched on the four women and Call.

Gretchen stood near Call as the door opened behind them and both Victoria and Paige stepped outside. Laurette Mecurdy fearfully waited as she saw the small mob draw near.

Clay Mosby stared at Call. "Stand aside, Call."

"You'll be the first to die, Mosby," Call replied. His eyes were focused and set. There would be no flinching or backing down.

Clay Mosby stared just as unflinchingly at Call.

"I want my wife!" Charles Huntington yelled as he pushed men aside to stand before Call. He noticed Gretchen and her two sisters. "I will not tolerate this. You damn whores better . . ."

Call slammed the butt of his sawed-off into Charles Huntington's cheek. The Mormon crumpled to the ground.

"Open your mouth about these women once more and you'll feel the other end!" Call promised as he spun the sawed-off ready to blow the man's face apart.

"Call!" Austin yelled.

Charles Huntington looked up at Mosby, then Sheriff Peale. "I want him arrested! Right now!" he yelled as he held one hand to his bruised cheek.

"Damn it, Call!" Clay said. "I am trying to settle this."

"Then you won't mind allowing Laurie Ann to speak for herself, will you, Mr. Mosby?" Victoria replied. "You will hear her side, won't you?"

Clay looked at Victoria. He was actually quite impressed with the fortitude the three sisters were showing in the face of far greater odds. "Very well, Miz Brandt. She may speak freely now."

Suddenly, a gunshot was fired behind the Brandt Sister's home. Two men from tent town fell to the ground and quickly scrambled to their feet and ran back to where Mosby and the others were. Mattie Shaw came following them with her gun smoking.

"They tried to get in through the backdoor," Mattie said. She looked at Call. "I didn't know you were already helping her." She smiled a little. Call nodded.

Charles Huntington attempted to get to his feet. Call kicked him back to the ground. "You stay put," he ordered.

"You're not in charge here, Call!" Austin barked.

"Neither are you," Call replied.

"All right! Enough!" Clay protested. "I want to hear what the lady has to say."

Victoria and Paige assisted Laurie Ann to the door. They knew she was terrified.

"I am not that man's wife," Laurie Ann said. "He kidnapped me while I was visiting my cousin in Ohio. In the town of North Bend."

"She's lying!" Charles Huntington blurted out.

Clay Mosby turned to the man on the ground. "I do wish you would permit the lady to speak. One more such outburst and my deputy here will lock you up. Are we understood?"

Charles Huntington look first at Mosby, then at Robert Shelby. He grumbled under his breath.

"Please continue," Clay urged Laurie Ann.

She pointed to Charles Huntington. "He kidnapped me and took me against my will across the country to Utah. I refused to marry him. He found three other women and kidnapped them as well. He forced them to marry him. He promised a wonderful life with the Mormons in Utah. But, he lied. He put them to work as servants and slaves. I managed to escape and I've been trying to find my way back home to North Carolina for months now."

Clay rubbed his chin. "That is quite an interesting tale."

"That's not all of it," Laurie Ann replied. "I don't believe he is Charles Huntington. I think he murdered the real Charles Huntington and stole his documents so he could acquire multiple wives for his own filthy pleasures."

"And why would you believe this to be true?" Clay inquired.

"Because he had blood on his hands and on the documents the night he kidnapped me from my cousin's yard. "He told me never to say anything about the blood or where he found me."

Robert drew his gun and aimed it at Charles Huntington.

"Lock him up," Clay ordered. "At least until I can send a telegram to North Bend, Ohio. I'm rather interested in finding out about Mr. Huntington." Clay motioned with his hand for Austin and Robert to remove the man who claimed to be a Mormon.

"Actually," Laurie Ann said, "all the Mormon men I saw were decent and treated their wives kindly. It was only those seeking their own pleasures that were cruel."

Clay Mosby turned to the onlookers. "Go home. All of you." The crowd began to slowly disperse. "Well done, Call. Ladies. Until I receive an answer from the law in North Bend, I must insist this woman remain in town."

"As long as he's in jail, I'll stay," Laurie Ann replied.

"Thank you, Miss Shaw," Victoria said to Mattie. "Without you and Call, they would have taken her."

Mattie looked at Victoria, then looked at Paige and Gretchen. "It seems the three of you did more than your fair share to help."

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

It was after 1 o'clock in the morning. The streets were deserted, except for an occasional dog or stray cat. Inside the jail the man claiming to be Charles Huntington moaned loud. Austin reluctantly climbed out of the bed he slept in and walked over to the cell.

"Shut up!" Austin yelled.

The man ignored him as he thrashed about on the cot and groaned louder.

"What the hell's wrong with you?" Austin unlocked the cell door. "I'm talking to you. Do you hear me?" Austin stepped over to the cot and bent down.

"I need a doctor," the man said.

"Why?" Austin demanded.

The prisoner threw his blanket in Austin's face and lunged at him as he drove him into the bars with all of his strength. Austin's head banged into the bars as he moaned. The man pulled him away and drove him into the bars again. Austin's legs buckled as he slid to the floor, unconscious. The man claiming to be Charles Huntington moved through the dark jail until he found the door. He quietly slipped out into the night.

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

Down at the opposite end of town, inside the bath house, Mattie reclined against Clay's chest. She laughed slightly as she wiggled her shoulders. "Your hairy chest tickles me, Clay."

"Um hmm," Clay mumbled. His eyes were closed as he relaxed to the gentle swaying of the hot water as it swished back and forth in the tub.

"I think all these candles make it more romantic. Don't you, Clay?" Mattie turned her head slightly and kissed him lightly on the nose. Clay mumbled something incoherently as his eyes remained closed. She smiled and turned sideways so she could lean against him.

Clay opened his eyes. "How did you know men would try to sneak in the back of the Brandt Sisters' home, Mattie?"

"Well, I didn't think they were brave enough to face Call. When do you expect to get an answer to your telegram?"

Sometime tomorrow morning," Clay replied.

Mattie shoved her hand into the water until she found what she was looking for. "I think we should change the subject, Clay."

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

The escaped prisoner moved quietly and quickly down the side of the sheriff's office. He stood near the door to the Brandt Sisters home. He figured Laurette Ann Mecurdy was still inside and if she wasn't, one of those trouble-making women would serve as a hostage. He stepped closer to the door when he suddenly was struck in the face. He hit the ground hard as his face radiated in pain.

"I had me a notion you might try that."

He squinted through the dark and the pain to see who had just hit him. It was that straggly haired man who had held off the mob earlier.

The man sprang to his feet and darted out to the street where he ran off into the night.

"Ain't no place you can hide," Call said as he ran after him. The man charged down the middle of the quiet street until he found himself at the door to the bath house. The door was locked but before he could run Call drove his fist into the man's chest. The force propelled them into the door, causing the wood to splinter near the lock. The door swung open as both men landed hard on the floor.

Both Clay and Mattie were rudely interrupted from their lovemaking as the man attempted to both crawl and run. Call grabbed him as they reached Clay and Mattie's tub.

"What the hell are you doing, Call?! Damn you!" Clay yelled.

Call took the man and shoved his head into the already-occupied tub of water.

"Call!" Mattie screamed as she tried to cover herself.

The man struggled as Call held his head under the water.

"You'll pay for this, Call!" Mosby yelled as he stepped out of the tub dripping wet. Mattie climbed out and ran to the where they had placed the towels.

Call yanked the man's head out of the popular tub of water. The man gurgled and coughed as he choked on the water he had swallowed. Call then took the man's face and shoved it under the water again. The man's arms and legs flailed wildly as Call refused to let up.

"Damn it, Call!" Mosby yelled as he threw Call to the floor.

Call jumped up then paused, as if seeing both Clay and Mattie for the very first time. He looked at the towel wrapped around Mosby's waist and the water dripping off his body. He then looked at Mattie as she struggled to cover herself. If he hadn't been mad enough to kill the man, he probably would have laughed.

"You better have a damn good explanation, Call," Clay angrily replied.

"That's the bastard you locked up," Call said as he motioned to the man breathing hard on the ground.

"What?!" Clay said. "How?!"

"He was trying to break into Gretchen's home." Call stood up. "Bastard!" he said as he kicked the limp man in the side.

"That is enough, Call!" Clay furiously yelled.

Call walked away toward the door then turned back. "Nice looking towel, Mosby." He looked at Mattie and nodded. "Mattie." He opened the door to leave.

"Just a moment, Call!" Clay called out. "What about him?"

Call shrugged. "He's your prisoner. You lock him up. Besides . . ." he smirked, "I wouldn't wanna interrupt a couple's privacy."

Mattie had to put her hand over her mouth so Clay wouldn't see her laugh.

"Well, that's just great," Clay muttered as he put his fists on his hips and looked at Mattie.

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

By mid-morning the next day a bandage covered the back of Sheriff Austin Peale's head. Clay Mosby had received his telegram from North Bend, Ohio. While shooting cannonballs over the river in search of a drowned boy, two bodies were discovered. One was the real Charles Huntington. A ring with the initials C. T. H. was all they had to identify the decomposed body.

Word got out that the imposter had temporarily escaped jail and when he tried to break into the Brandt Sisters' home, Call had brutally beaten the man.

Mattie walked into the dry goods and stared at Gretchen Brandt for a moment. They were alone. Victoria and Paige were in the Dove with Clay, Robert, and Laurie Ann.

"That was real nice how you and your sisters helped that poor girl," Mattie said to break the ice.

"We weren't even watching the back door," Gretchen replied. "If you hadn't been there . . ."

"He must love you very much," Mattie interrupted.

Gretchen looked at her. "We both love each other very, very much."

Mattie smiled half-heartedly then quietly turned to leave as the door opened and Clay Mosby, Robert Shelby, Victoria Brandt, Paige Brandt, and Laurie Ann Mecurdy entered. Mattie and Gretchen both watched.

"Miss Laurie Ann would now be in the hands of a murderer if it were not for the courage and strong will of you four ladies. Now, arrangements have been made for her to return to her family." Clay said. "The four of you were quite remarkable."

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

A little while later Call walked into the Ambrosia. He saw Mosby standing at the far end of the bar and headed toward him. Clay noticed Call approaching and immediately tensed his body.

"Here to gloat, Call?"

"Nope."

Clay waited.

Call reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small package wrapped in plain brown paper.

Clay watched.

Call held the package up then placed it on the counter in front of Mosby.

Clay looked at Call. "What's this?"

"Just a little something for ruining your bath."

Clay hesitated, then nodded.

Call turned and walked out.

Clay picked up the small package and began to unwrap it. He pulled the wrapping paper back and saw a brand new bar of soap.

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

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