This is a fan fiction story based on characters from the Lonesome Dove television show, which belong to Rysher Entertainment and Hallmark. No infringement on copyrights is intended. Author's notes at end.

Supposin' Clay Mosby Had Married Hannah Peale
by Craig Caff

Chapters: 16 ~ 17 ~ 18 ~ 19 ~ 20 ~ 21 ~ 22 ~ 23 ~ 24 ~ 25 ~ 26 ~ 27 ~ 28 ~ 29 ~ 30


Chapter 16: Setting the Trap

Clay Mosby rode off, kicking up a long trail of dust as he disappeared out of view. Clayton said something to the backstabbing Violet, who shook her head in agreement. Clayton then hurried to the empty wagon, sitting some twenty yards behind the jail.

Violet walked back into the Arcadia Opera House just as Sheriff Burly Bob Parrish was leaving.

"Why, Sheriff Bob! Goodness me! You do take away a woman's breath."

"Oh ... uh, Violet," Robert replied, holding a plate of food.

"Buy me a drink, Sheriff? " she hissed, wrapping her hands around his free arm.

"Some other time, Violet. I'm busy right now."

"Well, at least stay long enough to hear me sing, Burly," she said, smiling seductively.

"Next time, Violet," Robert answered, shaking her off his arm.

#####

Clay rode hard till he reached sight of the windmill leading into Curtis Wells. He was not accustomed to failure. He thought about Violet appearing to assist him. He felt he could probably trust her. And that she might come in handy concerning Robert.

#####

"I'm waiting for an answer, Deputy," Aaron Grayson repeated.

"I reckon it's simple enough," Newt replied. "Mrs. Grayson had some items to carry up to her room. I just helped her, is all."

Newt stared into Aaron's eyes. Both men stared hard at the other, neither one backing down.

"Well ... I'll be saying my goodbyes then," Aaron finally said. Both men turned and went in separate directions. Aaron, to the Unity Hotel. Newt, to the new Sheriff's Office.

Newt was surprised to see Josiah Peale sitting in the office.

"Mr. Peale. Something I can do for you?"

"Yes, Newt," he replied, "I want to pay Austin's $50 fine."

"What about my fine?" the other man protested.

"You're not my son, or my worry," Josiah said.

"This don't change nothin' between us, Call," Austin uttered.

"I do something to you, Austin? Something I don't know about?" Newt asked.

"It's not you," Josiah interrupted. "It's Mosby he's mad at."

"I should be wearing that tin star instead of you. I've lived here a lot longer. You just came to town."

"Don't see how workin' in a print shop's gonna give you experience for deputyin'," Newt suggested as he unlocked the cell door.

"You'll see plenty soon enough," Austin replied, pushing angrily past Newt.

#####

"Ida? What in Heaven's name are you doing in bed? Are you ailin', woman?"

Ida's eyes widened to the size of silver dollars. "Aaron! What are doing here?"

Aaron chuckled. "That's the second time I've been asked that in the last ten minutes."

"I ... I was feeling a bit faint ... from the bumpy ride."

Aaron marched over to her bed and forcefully pulled back the sheets. "Do you make a habit of napping during the day completely naked, Ida?"

"My clothes were wet, Aaron. The heat caused me to sweat," Ida replied, nervous. "What's wrong with you, Aaron? You're acting so strange."

"Strange? Maybe? Are you cheating on me with that young deputy?"

"My goodness, Aaron. I hope you aren't foolish enough to even consider anything unusual between me and another man. Least of all, someone young enough to be our son."

She stood up, letting the sheets fall to the floor. Aaron stared at her nakedness.

"My Lord, Ida. You are a beautiful woman," Aaron breathed, then swept her into his powerful arms, kissing her.

#####

"Clay? I brought you a meal. Eat it and ... WHAT?! ... CLAY!! " Robert dropped the plate of food and ran to the open cell door. He had absolutely no concept of how Mosby had escaped. He hurried outside and looked around. No sign of anything. Walking back inside, he kicked the wood desk, rattling everything. Opening the bottom drawer, he pulled out a full bottle of whisky. Uncapping it, he took a serious drink, spilling liquor down the sides of his mouth.

#####

Mosby entered his new office. Austin and Josiah were just leaving.

"I paid his fine, Clay. Next time, I expect you to consider family before locking my son up."

"I'm sorry, Josiah. I was appointed to uphold the law. That goes for everyone, including Austin."

"Seems your brother-in-law's out of sorts over you choosin' me instead of him," Newt commented.

"Is that so? And, what makes you think you're qualified to be a deputy, Austin?" Clay asked.

"What makes you qualified to be a sheriff, Clay? Because you served with the traitors to our country?"

"Josiah, take him out of here before I do something I'll regret," Clay angrily ordered.

"You should have never married my sister," Austin shot back as Josiah tried pushing him out the door.

#####

Violet walked out of the Sweetwater Telegraph Office. She wrapped her shawl around her arms and headed back to the Arcadia Opera House.

#####

"Mr. Mosby?" the bank clerk replied. "Telegram for you. It's from Sweetwater."

Clay took the folded note and opened it. It read:

Darling Clay ... Come at once ... heard where Clayton is hiding ... your dearest Violet.

 

Chapter 17: By Beauty Betrayed

Colonel Clay Mosby sat atop his black steed, straight and tall. His sharp eyes scanning every movement, whether human or animal. This was an exercise he had been through a hundred times before, during the War. Satisfied that neither Clayton nor Robert Shelby were anywhere in sight, he dismounted and carefully entered the Arcadia Opera House.

In his black coat and matching pants, he resembled a hungry panther stalking a lesser foe.

"Clay, dearest! You're here!" Violet called out, strolling up to him.

Yes, my dear. Tell me, Violet, how a woman of ... your abilities would know the whereabouts of a man like Clayton?"

"Why Clay, darling," Violet smiled, "I hear all sorts of things in this place."

"Nothing like a few drinks to loosen a man's tongue, isn't that so, Violet?"

She laughed. "That ... and knowing how generous you can be." She wrapped her arms around him, similar to a boa constrictor squeezing the life out of its victim.

"Take me to Clayton first, my dear. Then there will be sufficient time for pleasantry." Clay flashed a big smile as he removed her spidery arms from his waist.

#####

Newt walked the Hellbitch outside the livery. He caught sight of Aaron Grayson riding away, past the half-built church. Moments after that, Mrs. Grayson stepped out of the Unity. She crossed the street, entering the Curtis Wells Banking House. Something in her manner was strangely amiss.

Tethering his horse, Newt curiously walked toward the bank. Mrs. Grayson exited the bank as Newt's boot hit the worn steps.

"Oh, Newt," she said, surprised.

"Mrs. Grays ... oh! My Lord! What happened to your face?" Newt bounded the steps to get a closer look. A thin line of blood trickled down the side of her mouth. The side of her face was puffed and swollen.

"It's nothing to bother with, Newt. I ... I fell. We ... I slipped. That's all. Now, please. Go away."

"Well, it looks to me like you were hit in the face. He do this to you?"

Mrs. Grayson looked into Newt's eyes. "He knows about us, Newt," she whispered, tears welling in her eyes.

"C'mon, I'll walk you back to your room." Newt assisted Mrs. Grayson, who was visibly shaken over what had happened between her and her husband inside her room.

He got her settled and quickly returned outside. Hurrying to his horse, he rode out of Curtis Wells, taking the same road Aaron Grayson had taken. Newt Call quickly galloped out of sight.

#####

Austin Peale stared out the window of the Montana Statesman. He watched Call riding away. Josiah looked up from his desk.

"Austin. Why can't you forget this foolishness. You're the way you are, and Clay and Newt are the way they are."

"I can't, father. And, I won't. I'm tired of being a nobody."

"Austinnnn! You're not a nobody. You're my son."

"Phhh. That don't amount to much."

"I ... I didn't...." Josiah couldn't finish. He was hurt. Standing up, he quietly walked outside.

"Father ... I...." Austin stormed out of the newspaper office. He saddled his horse and rode out of town.

#####

"Clay, slow down, I'm not a horsewoman," Violet complained.

"My dear, you'll be amply rewarded for your services."

"This isn't my typical service, Clay. Ohhhh, this horse is soooooo hard," she continued.

After a few more minutes, Violet said, "We're there."

"I don't see anything," Clay quickly replied.

"He's camped out in the trees downstream from ... from Moses Creek. Moses? Yes, Clay, that's it. Near the waystation. That's all I remember."

"Well, my dear Violet, shall we continue?"

"I don't think so, Mosssby," a new voice called out.

Clay spun around in his saddle. A Winchester repeating rifle was pointed at his head.

"Cavanaugh?" Clay said, surprised and caught unawares by a man who’d been in the bank robbery gang.

"That's right, Mosby. Good work, woman. I didn't think you could do it," Cavanaugh said, sitting on his horse.

"You can go to Hell, Cavanaugh. Where's Clayton? I want my money now."

Cavanaugh smiled like some weasel. "Up ahead, woman. In those trees. Just like he told you. And, you, Mosby darling. Loosen that gunbelt and let 'er drop."

"What is this, Cavanaugh? Spotted Elk didn't get you with the rest of the hired men from Sweetwater? So, why me?"

"Shut your mouth, Mosby. Lessin' you wanna go see Clayton with a big hole in your gut. And, I ain't sayin' it again. Now move out!"

Cavanaugh motioned Clay with his Winchester in the direction to lead the horses.

"Dear, foolish Clay. This is going to cost you a lot more than your pretty saloon," Violet commented, as the trio rode to the nearby waystation.

#####

Ida Grayson sat on her bed. She dipped a small towel into the water bowl, rung it out, and patted it on her swollen face. Aaron had only hit her once before, when he was drunk. Hiram Cobb, the banker, had just informed her she wasn't "suitable" to purchase the Unity Hotel. Everything was going sour real fast. She stood up and opened the dresser. Her delicate, long fingers reached for the little derringer Aaron had given her. It would make things so much simpler. Just one shot to the head. Ida raised the small weapon, placing it against her temple.

"May God forgive me," she said, then squeezed the trigger!

 

Chapter 18: Whistling Dixie

Despondent over Hannah's recent murder and the cutting, painful words his son, Austin had spit out, Josiah dragged himself into the Unity Hotel. Dr. Ephraim Cleese, sitting alone at a table waved his friend over.

"Josiah! Join me, please," Cleese said, lifting his cup and saucer of coffee.

"Hmm? Oh ... uh, of course, Ephraim."

"My goodness, you appear to be...."

BAM! "AAHHHH!!"

"What was that?" Dr. Cleese yelled. A loud thud, like something hitting the floor came from above.

"It ... it came from up there," Josiah answered, pointing upstairs. Both men ran for the stairs, hurrying to reach the top.

"Which room is it?" Dr. Cleese asked, almost in a panic.

"Number 5. It's Mrs. Grayson's room," Josiah called.

They flung the door open. "No! Ida!" Josiah hollered, first in the room.

Ida Grayson was sprawled carelessly on the floor. Blood was spreading quickly under her head.

"Dear God in Heaven, what happened?" Cleese muttered as he dropped near her motionless body, trying to determine the situation.

"She's still alive," Josiah cried, feeling a slight pulse from her wrist.

"Hurry, Josiah. We must bring her to my office. There isn't a moment to spare."

"So much blood," Josiah said, mesmerized. "So much."

"Josiah! Please!"

#####

Robert Shelby marched between two brawling drunks, hurling them both in different directions, as he continued for Lucky Jim's. Shelby had established himself as a man to be feared, and when the drunks loudly protested, he paid them no heed whatsoever.

"Ahh, Burly Bob," an older, white bearded man said as Robert entered the Sweetwater establishment.

"Talk! And, be quick," Robert ordered.

The man laughed. "Takes more than you got to shake up Jack Riddle. In case you didn't know it, I'm the one used to be sheriff here."

"Well, Jack Riddle, I'm wearing the badge now."

"Trouble with you, Parrish, if that's your real name, is you're too derned impatient."

"I'm wasting my time with an old drunk," Robert said, turning to leave.

"Whoa, now just hold on a danged minute! Your friend Mosby's in danger."

Robert froze.

"Ha, uh huh. Thought that'd get you."

"What do you know, sir, about Clay Mosby and myself?"

"I know that men you thought you could trust can't be trusted. But it's gonna cost you. Everything has a price."

#####

Now, three men had ridden away in the same direction, at three different times. Some four and a half miles down the trail, the road forked. Aaron Grayson, first to reach the fork, took the trail heading southeast, toward Fort McNabb. Newt Call, second to reach the fork, paused, looking hard toward the road Grayson had taken. Wrinkling his face in anger, he followed the trail northeast, knowing how much he wanted to catch Grayson for hitting Ida.

But there was something even more urgent that needed doing.

Finally, Austin Peale, bringing up the rear, arrived at the fork. He was completely fooled by the recent tracks covering the ground. He took the wider trail. The one leading northwest, to Sweetwater.

#####

A sickening trail of blood led from the Unity, across the dirt street, to the back door, where Dr. Cleese's office was located. Ida Grayson had moved, but only slightly.

"What horrible things are going on inside this woman, that could cause her to try and take her life?" Dr. Cleese uttered.

"Oh, her head. Look at her head, Ephraim," Josiah said, nearly gagging.

"She must have pointed the gun at her temple. Observe, Josiah," Cleese replied. "The bullet ripped a gash from her temple, following this angle up the side of her head."

"Her hand must have been shaking, or else she would be dead, right, Ephraim?"

"I believe that is correct, Josiah."

Dr. Cleese began stitching the side of Mrs. Grayson's head. Suddenly, he stopped. "Josiah. It appears that Mrs. Grayson has inflicted damage to her optic nerves."

"What does that mean?"

"To be precise, the sensory cranial nerves that arise from the ventral part of the diencephalon, which supply the retina, conducting visual stimuli to the brain, has been damaged."

"Yes, but exactly what does that mean?" Josiah replied, confused.

"That there is a very good chance if indeed Mrs. Grayson survives, that she will lose her vision."

#####

Robert Shelby rode quickly out of Sweetwater. Striking a deal with Jack Riddle did not appeal to him. He felt there was no other choice, considering the information he had just paid for.

#####

As the three horses approached the abandoned waystation, Violet drew rein on her horse.

"What're you stoppin' for, woman?" Cavanaugh complained.

"This horse is not becoming to a lady like myself," she replied, waving her hand before her face.

"No matter. We're there. Cabin's just past these trees. I'm enjoyin' watching you squirm, Mosby," Cavanaugh muttered.

"Oh, quite the contrary, sir," Mosby smiled. "Before we dismount, perhaps you'd permit me to indulge myself?"

"Whaddya mean?" Cavanaugh said.

"Listen," Clay replied. He then began to whistle.

"What the Hell're you doing?" Cavanaugh barked.

"Merely whistling, sir. I'm sure you're familiar with the 1859 tune by Daniel D. Emmett, entitled Dixie?"

As Clay began whistling the tune, a shot rang out through the thick underbrush. Cavanaugh lurched forward in pain, then fell off his horse, laying face up on the ground, dead.

 

Chapter 19: Till Death Do Us Part

The unexpected shot had momentarily frozen Violet. Seeing Cavanaugh's bulging eyeballs staring blankly toward her had caused confusion and pause.

"Well, my dear Violet," Clay confidently proclaimed, "I do believe your little game has concluded." He smiled broadly and assuringly at the backstabbing "little whore."

"Who ... who...?"

"Who shot Cavanaugh? Is that what your lying little tongue is attempting to say, hmm?"

Violet just bobbed her head, fear seizing her mind for the first time.

Deputy Newt Call stepped out of the high grass, hidden by a cluster of trees. "Well done, Deputy," Mosby complimented his assistant. "They played right into my trap."

Turning his stallion Clay rode back to where he had dropped his holster. "Shoot her if she even blinks," he called out. Newt just pointed his rifle toward Violet's throat, causing her to squirm very uncomfortably in her saddle.

Clay returned directly and the three of them carefully advanced around the final bend, reaching the old waystation.

"Clayton! You're surrounded. Best acknowledge your defeat before it's too late," Mosby called out.

Newt slid off his horse and quietly snuck around back, careful not to arouse any suspicion.

"Clayton," Violet yelled. "They've killed Cavanaugh. Don't get shot, please." She then did something strange. She began crying, causing Clay to be distracted.

"That's enough of that, Violet dear. Do I make myself clear?"

Call had reached the back door. Weeds had grown almost four feet high in front of it. Call knew by the way they stood tall that no one had used that door recently. He raised his boot, and kicked the door open.

#####

Through the wonders of modern man, messages could be relayed in unheard of times, thanks to Samuel Morse. Aaron Grayson, upon returning to Fort McNabb, had a telegram waiting for him. Josiah Peale had informed him of his wife, Ida's attempt at suicide. Filled with rage and guilt, he quickly headed back in the very direction he had just come from.

#####

Arriving in Sweetwater, Austin Peale strolled into a tented building called the Paystreak Saloon. A dark haired young woman named Ruby joined him at his table. Austin's face lit up like a young boy getting his first peek at a woman removing her clothes.

#####

Call kicked open the back door, splintering the weathered wood. Stepping inside the darkened cabin, he aimed his rifle, looking for the slightest movement. Seeing it completely deserted, he walked across the dirt-covered floor, opening the other door.

"Ain't no one here, Clay," Newt called out.

"Wha...?" Violet uttered, then fainted, as she fell off her horse, into the thick grass. Mosby let her fall, more concerned with the disappearance of Clayton, and the fact that a murdering whisky trader was possibly aiming his rifle at him or his young deputy.

"There's an open window," Newt replied. "Clayton must of crawled out ... looks like he lit out."

"Then, perhaps we should be getting back to Curtis Wells," Clay said, motioning for Newt to join him. "Throw the ‘little whore’ on her horse, Newt."

Newt lowered his weapon as Clay held his, covering his partner just in case Clayton was hiding nearby.

Just then, Robert Shelby rode up near the waystation. Seeing Newt Call along with Clay, he quickly guided his mount into a patch of thickets, some fifteen, twenty yards away. He needed to speak to Clay. But, not in front of this other fella. Robert's keen eyes noticed the dead body of Cavanaugh on the ground. Things had become very confusing. Best he set a spell and talk to Clay later.

#####

Josiah had returned to Cleese's office. He notified the doctor that the telegram had been sent. Ida Grayson seemed to be a strong-willed woman. Apparently, she was going to live. She tossed about, tormented from pain and likely a persecuted conscience. But, she had not woken up yet.

#####

Till they reached the open flatlands, Mosby and Call kept a loaded gun on Violet, just in case Clayton was thereabouts. Once they entered Curtis Wells, they holstered their pistols. Mrs. Dorothy Hackett quickly approached the lawmen, informing them of Mrs. Grayson's disturbing situation. Newt jumped off his horse and made tracks for the doctor's office. First Hannah, now Ida. Seemed Dr. Cleese was only tending to women lately. Both Josiah and Ephriam grabbed him, quieting him down as he entered. Seeing Mrs. Ida Grayson laid up like that bothered Newt something powerful.

Newt returned to the Ambrosia, not sure if Mrs. Grayson's alarming act was his doing or her husband's.

Mosby informed him to post himself near the saloon, in preparation for Clayton.

#####

Mosby had tied Violet in an upstairs room. Convinced that his knots were escape-proof, he roughly pulled the gag off her mouth. Squeezing her mouth with his powerful hand, he said, "Now, suppose you tell me just exactly what your relationship is with our Mr. Clayton, hmm?"

"Ahhhh, you're hurting my mouth, Clay," she protested.

"My dear Violet, I would just as soon put a bullet in your backstabbing little head," he said, drawing his Remington and placing it against her skull.

"Alright, alright," she said, shaking her head.

"Well? ... I'm waiting?"

"Clayton is my husband, you Southern bastard."

"I see," Clay answered, smiling. "Good. I want you to watch when I hang him for murder."

He tugged the gag roughly back over her mouth. Her upper tooth cut her lip, drawing a very light line of blood.

"Sleep well, my dear." Clay closed the door, leaving Violet in total darkness.

It was late. The town was asleep. The quiet darkness was comforting. Clay laid on top of his bed, tired of fighting off sleep. He closed his eyes, and in what seemed like only a minute, he heard his name being called.

"Clay." It was so very faint. Then, once more. "Clay"

He sat up. "Who's there?"

"Darling, it's me, Hannah." Hannah was standing in the room, wearing some long white nightgown.

 

Chapter 20: Lady Long Time Gone

It seemed as if Clay had just shut his eyes when he heard his name. Sitting up, he was confused to behold the vision of his dead wife of only a few days.

"Clay, you silly man. Why are you sleeping in your clothes?"

"My ... clothes?" Clay looked down at himself.

"I've just missed you something awful. The least you could have done is greet me like the gentleman you truly are."

"Hannah? ... How is this possible?" Clay's vision wasn’t perfectly clear yet. He reached out to embrace the woman wearing a cream colored dress. "Your nightgown. What happened? It's a dress."

"Why, yes, Clay. Does it appeal to you?" the woman said.

"Hannah!" Clay pulled her close and kissed her mouth.

She let him kiss her and then gently pushed him back. "Hannah? Gracious me, Clay. Don't you know who I am?"

"Wha...?" He blinked, gazing hard at the woman he believed to be Hannah. She put her hands on her hips and smiled.

"I don't believe it! Olivia?"

"Yes, Clay. How dare you forget me. I believe my feelings are bruised and you must make a valiant effort to please me."

"Olivia Jessup! I could have sworn you were Hannah. What are you doing here in the middle of the night?"

"Night? Silly Clay. It's mid-morning. The stage arrived moments ago. That handsome, young deputy of yours allowed me inside. Otherwise, I would be most unhappy, waiting for you to wake from your beauty sleep."

Clay was both confused and excited. "I feel like I just closed my eyes five minutes ago. You were ... she was ... Hannah was here."

"No, Clay. Hannah is dead. I'm so sorry for your tragic loss." Olivia stood there wearing a long, cream colored dress with a brown hat.

"Well," Clay replied, his senses quickly returning, "shall we go downstairs and have a drink?"

"I must say the dusty road has indeed made me quite thirsty."

As they stepped out of Clay's room, they heard a muffled sound from the next room.

"Go downstairs, Olivia. I'll be with you momentarily, my dear."

Clay opened the door. Violet was still bound and gagged.

#####

Austin Peale was back in town. Looked as if he was a bit dazed. Smiling wide and big, he walked up to Newt, in front of the Pig's Eye Saloon.

"Howdy, Newt," he said, his eyes red.

"Austin?" Newt replied, trying to figure this strange behavior.

"I just spent the whole night with a woman named Ruby. Newt, I think I'm in love."

Newt laughed. "Austin, you ain't in love. I don't reckon that's your mind talking."

"I surely am in love, Newt. And, I was wrong to attack you. I just might ask Ruby to marry me."

"Who is this Ruby?" Newt asked, relieved he didn't have to fight Austin again.

"She's one of the girls that works at the Paystreak in Sweetwater. Well, gotta go. No time to talk. Gotta tell my father about her. See ya, Newt."

Call lifted his hand and shook his head.

#####

"Did you find him where I told you?" Jack Riddle asked.

"I found him," Robert Shelby replied, "but he was with his deputy. Cavanaugh's dead."

"Hell, he ain't nothin' but tumbleweed trash anyhow," Riddle said.

"Clayton's gone."

"Haaa. Damn kid. You really expect Clayton to just sit there waitin' for Mosby to find him?"

"What happens now, Riddle? Won't Clayton come back here?"

"I doubt it. Gimme one of those cigars there. I got some figurin' to do."

#####

Mosby opened the doors to the Pig's Eye Saloon. He motioned for his deputy.

"No sign of Clayton," Newt reported.

"Oh, I am quite certain our Mr. Clayton will indeed show up. However, may I introduce you to an old, dear friend. Newt Call ... say hello to Miss Olivia Jessup. The loveliest lily of Louisiana has chosen to grace the territory of Montana."

"Ma'am," Newt said, taking Miss Jessup's hand and shaking it.

"Charmed, Mr. Call," she said, "and I do so hope you will make absolute sure that nothing happens to Clay here."

"Uh, yes, Ma'am," Newt replied, his eyes taking in all the curves of the Southern lady.

"Newt, check on Mrs. Grayson. I'd like to know if she's improved."

#####

Newt was surprised to see Aaron Grayson inside Dr. Cleese's office. Ida was awake, laying in bed.

"You," Aaron said hatefully.

"Now, I just came to see how Mrs. Grayson's doing. Nothing more."

"You've done enough already, boy! It'd be wise for you to leave right--"

Please, gentlemen!" Dr. Cleese interrupted. "This woman is still in serious condition. Have you no respect for her?"

Ida tried to sit up. Her eyes were bandaged and she had trouble moving. "Stop it!" she cried.

"Best if I take my leave," Newt uttered, then left.

Aaron opened the door. "Don't go running off on me. We got us some business to take care of."

"I'll be here," Newt said. "I ain't runnin' from no woman-hitter."

#####

The bad whisky was gone. Clay opened the doors to his saloon. Josiah had come to meet Miss Jessup. Austin was telling his friends about Ruby. Newt leaned against the long counter. Then, the mood changed instantly. Aaron Grayson walked into the saloon.

"Look at me, boy," he ordered. "Only one of us is walking out of here tonight."

Newt turned to Aaron. "'Bout time you crawled in here."

Aaron Grayson smiled, then pulled out a huge Bowie knife.

 

Chapter 21: Changing of the Guard

It was as if the Northern wind had just blown out a lit candle. One moment, loud voices. The next, silence. Aaron Grayson stood in the open doorway, a dark visage seeking death. Newt Call, the young deputy, watching his opponent. Grayson lunged for Newt, swinging his arm and cutting air. Newt's keen senses reacted as soon as he saw Grayson's muscles tense. He jumped on top of the long counter, avoiding the razor-sharp knife.

"Damn, boy! You're fast," Grayson said, enjoying the situation.

"Reckon you ain't," Newt replied, kicking Grayson in the face. The Army scout tumbled back into a now empty table, where he lost his balance and fell to the floor.

Call jumped down and skedaddled out the open door. Mosby and the rest of the crowd assumed Newt was running scared. Newt reached the street and spun around, unsheathing his own pig-sticker. Slightly dazed from the mule kick, Aaron slowly stepped outside.

Night was coming on directly, and Grayson wasn't fool enough to rush after his enemy.

"Well now, I suppose it'd suit me just fine if you gave me the satisfaction of dragging this out before I slice out your heart," Grayson said.

Newt shrugged. "You gonna fight or you aim on killing me with your big mouth, woman-hitter?"

The strategy worked. Angered and embarrassed, Aaron Grayson charged head first toward Newt. Like some funny-clothes wearing bullfighter from far off Spain, Newt side-stepped his emotional attacker. Grayson spun around quicker than Newt expected and raised his knife for Newt's now vulnerable back.

#####

Inside Dr. Cleese's office, Ida Grayson had tried to climb out of bed. The door was open and Dr. Cleese was trying to see what all the yelling was about.

"Aaahhhh," Mrs. Grayson cried, then hit the floor. Cleese turned and hurried to assist the fallen woman.

"Mrs. Grayson. What in the name of decency are you doing?"

"Oohhhhh. My head's spinning. I ... I can't see with these bandages."

"You, my good woman, are in no condition to be standing up yet. It is much too soon for that," Ephriam calmly replied, as he guided her back to bed.

"What's happening out there? I thought I heard my husband and Newt yelling."

Dr. Cleese looked at Ida Grayson. He frowned. "I'm not quite sure, Mrs. Grayson," he said, knowing exactly what deadly game was being acted out in front of Mosby's saloon.

Ida tried to raise herself up again. "Please, Doctor. I must get out there. I know something terrible is going to happen."

Though weakened by the bullet grazing her skull, Ida Grayson was a very determined and strong-willed woman. She actually forced Dr. Cleese back, then teetered. He caught her, but the commotion had opened the stitches in her head.

"Mrs. Grayson. You're bleeding. Please stop moving. I must close the wound."

Ida ignored his plea and with her arms grasping, tried to find the door.

#####

A pair of eyes observed the street fight from the shadowy protection of the livery stable. Stepping out into the now darkened street, the man called Clayton watched, unbeknownst by the rest of the town. He walked across the street, then disappeared behind the new sheriff's office.

#####

Aaron Grayson began the motion of stabbing his vulnerable, younger opponent in his back.

Newt's youthful arrogance had mislead him. His mind flashed instantly, waiting to feel the sharp blade violate his unprotected back.

Suddenly, three loud shots rang out! Bam! Bam! Bam!

Grayson's body shook and spasmed. The knife fell out of his hand. He appeared shocked, trying to get some words out. It never happened as he collapsed to his right, hitting the dark street with a dull thud.

Startled, Newt turned toward the Pig's Eye. On the top step, away from the rest of the onlookers, stood Austin Peale, his arm held out, holding a smoking gun and also looking startled. Mosby quietly slid his Remington back into his holster. He had planned on killing Grayson.

No one expected Austin to save Newt. But, there it was, right in front of everyone's eyes. Newt swallowed hard. He knew it would most likely be him laying dead on the ground if Austin hasn't shot Aaron Grayson.

The crowd was stunned silent. No one wanted to see Newt die. Mosby looked over at Austin.

"Well done," he said, approvingly.

Josiah went up to his son. Newt walked toward Mosby. The four of them met. Newt pulled his badge off his shirt.

"I'd be dead if it weren't for you, Austin," Newt began. " 'Spect this is yours now." He handed his badge to Austin.

Austin let Newt drop the tin star in his open left hand. He didn't speak. Call turned to leave, his head lower than an old hound dog.

"Newt! Wait!" Clay reached out, grabbing Newt's arm. Newt pulled away.

"I failed you. He was gonna kill me."

"Things happen. He didn't kill you, Newt. Don't quit," Clay said.

Newt shook his head. "Don't matter now. Ida's husband is dead, on account of me." Newt walked off toward the livery. He hadn't shaved since Clay and Hannah's tragic wedding. His hair had grown longer and he resembled a shorter version of Buffalo Bill Cody in his jacket. The jacket Aaron Grayson had given him for saving his life.

#####

Upon hearing the three gunshots, Ida Grayson had fainted. One way or another, she knew in her heart that either Aaron or Newt was now dead.

#####

Clayton had silently exited the jail. Violet wasn't there. Only one other place Mosby might hold her. Like a lumbering bear, he thrashed behind the Montana Statesman, till he stumbled upon the back door of the Pig's Eye Saloon. Turning the weathered knob, he quietly stepped into the empty saloon.

 

Chapter 22: Vanished

The deadly scuffle had ended as quickly as it had begun. Confusion lingered outside the Pig's Eye. Miz Olivia Jessup had stepped back inside the empty saloon. This wasn't the first time she had witnessed a killing. They just didn't set well with her. Sighing, and relieved Newt wasn't dead, she moved to the bar, where she poured herself a shot.

In the rear of the saloon, Clayton cursed under his breath. He expected Violet to be held hostage either upstairs, or over at the Unity Hotel. He knew it was vital he move with haste. Now, this damn woman had interfered with his bold plan.

#####

Sheriff Burly Bob Parrish, also known as Robert Shelby, paced across the room. He could still detect a stale odor of whisky from the splattered bottle he had violently hurled against the wooded wall. Jack Riddle had finally gone. Robert could feel himself being squeezed inward. It was like pulling a thin thread of his shirt. Watching it unravel before his eyes.

Shelby sat down, trying to plot his next action. Cavanaugh was dead. Clayton had disappeared. Clay was on to his bad whisky scam. He couldn't just up and ride into Curtis Wells. Then, a new idea began to take root in his head. He smiled.

#####

Mosby reluctantly agreed to accepting Austin as his new deputy. He decided to have a drink before delivering the news to Mrs. Grayson concerning the death of her husband.

Mr. Munroe, the town's undertaker, went about the ordeal of transferring the dead man to the small building near the granary.

Clay entered his saloon thinking about the consequences this could bring from the Army. He went to the end of the bar, then noticed something strange. A crumpled piece of white paper sitting next to Miz Olivia's parasol. Curious, Clay reached for the note.

The note read: T'ain't never gonna see this one less you free Violet.

#####

Dr. Cleese had managed to close Ida's wound. She had fallen into a troubled sleep. Mrs. Hackett opened the door and peeked inside.

"Which one is dead?" Dr. Cleese asked, concerned and afraid.

"The Negro. Her husband," she said, pointing to Ida.

"A man is a man, Mrs. Hackett. Regardless of his outsides."

Mrs. Hackett huffed and closed the door.

Dr. Cleese turned to his tormented patient. "Poor woman. Losing her eyesight and her husband."

#####

Clay rushed through the open back doorway.

"OLIVIA! OLIVVVIAAA!."

It was dark now. They could be anywhere. Or nowhere. Clay charged up the stairs, barging into the room Violet had been held in. She was still there. Clay slammed the door and hurried back downstairs. He rushed outside where Austin was looking at the badge Newt had given him.

"Austin! Get over here!"

Austin jumped, dropped his badge in the dirt, scooped it up, and stepped over to Sheriff Mosby.

"I don't have time to explain. Miz Jessup's been kidnapped...."

"What?"

"Never mind, Austin. Get to the livery and stop Newt. I need him."

"But, Clay? I'm your--"

"AUSTIN!! The first thing I advise you to learn is when I give an order, you obey it. Are we clear on that? NOW GO!"

Austin ran through the lingering crowd.

"He couldn't just vanish into thin air," Clay uttered, looking around the dark street.

#####

Olivia didn't know where she was. Clayton had blindfolded her. But, the large man stunk. A sour odor of sweat filled her nostrils, causing her to nearly gag.

"Where'd Mosby put my woman? Where's Violet?" Clayton got real close to Olivia as he spoke.

"Get away from me, you disgusting, foul-smelling brute."

"I asked you where--"

"I heard you! I don't know anything about someone named Violet."

Clayton backed up. Once again Mosby was a thorn in his side. He decided if he was gonna die, so would this woman.

#####

"Leave me be, Austin. I just wanna put some space 'tween this town'n me," Newt expressed, ready to kick Austin away from him.

"No! Mosby said he needs you, Newt. Miz Jessup's missing. Said she wuz kidnapped."

"Whut," Newt said, climbing down from his saddle. Both men hurried out of the livery and headed to Mosby.

 

Chapter 23: Chaos 'Neath a Moonlit Sky

Austin was herding the curious townfolks away from the Pig's Eye. Clay and Newt had gone out behind the saloon.

"Weren't no one in the livery," Newt said, squatting near the back door.

"They didn't just vanish," Clay replied, looking around.

"He brought her out this way," Newt continued.

"I doubt he walked right out in view of all those men."

"Two sets of tracks ... one bigger and sunk deeper ... other's smaller," Newt said, standing up. "Ain't easy makin' out the marks in the dark." He pointed toward the smaller buildings behind the bank and dry goods.

"They never left town. They're down there. He's holed up in one a them small places."

"Austin's coming. I don't want him getting in the way," Clay mentioned.

Austin Peale, fresh minted deputy of less than an hour reached his two companions.

"I'm ready to ride. It's too dark to follow anyone, though," Austin remarked.

"They're here in town," Clay told him. "Austin, I want you to check the church. But, proceed with caution. I don't desire for you to get your head blown off."

"By myself?"

"Afraid, are we?" Clay answered, his patience being tested.

Austin hesitated. "No ... no. Where are you and Newt going?"

"Austin! This is the second time--"

"We ain't got time for this," Newt interrupted.

Austin angrily walked off, heading for the church.

#####

Dr. Cleese was taken by surprise as Ida Grayson awoke and began climbing out of bed once more.

"Mrs. Grayson. Please. You're not ready to do this. You're in need of much rest. I insist on you following my orders."

"Doctor, I have to know what happened. Take me out there."

"If won't do you any good."

She stopped moving. "That means Aaron is dead! Doesn't it, Dr. Cleese? My husband is dead, isn't he? ... TELL ME!"

"YES! He's dead. There's nothing you can do, Mrs. Grayson. Please. Your wound hasn't healed."

Ida Grayson raised her hands to her bandaged face and cried. Dr. Cleese approached her, hoping to guide her back to bed. As she felt his hand touch her arms, she swung violently, catching poor Ephriam off guard. He fell to the floor, hitting his head against the medical cabinet.

"Oh, no! Dr. Cleese? Are you alright? I ... I can't see. What have I done?"

There was no answer. The blow had rendered him unconscious.

Ida waited a few moments, then stumbled, bumped, and felt her way to the door. She opened it and stepped blindly out behind the dry goods store.

#####

"Austin! Wait up, Austin."

Austin turned. "Go home, father. You aren't qualified to do this."

"Oh, and you are qualified, Austin?"

"I'm Clay's deputy now. And I just killed a man. I'm qualified."

"Murdered, is more like it. And, what makes you qualified to be deputy? Slow down, Austin."

"Father. Please go back. Miz Jessup's been kidnapped."

"Oh my, no!"

"I'm going to search the church. If anyone's there ... well, it could be...."

Josiah finally realized his son was trying to keep him out of harms way. He reached out, putting his hand on Austin's shoulder. "Be careful, Austin. You're all I have left. I can't...."

Austin smiled at his father. "It'll be fine, father. Please go back."

Josiah watched as Austin, gun drawn, advanced nearer the unfinished church.

#####

Like twin harbingers of doom, Clay and Newt slowly made their way west, past the telegraph office and the bank. Both men masters of shadow walking. Neither spoke. Newt had been able to follow Clayton and Olivia's tracks due to the orange glow of a huge Montana moon, which had provided sufficient illumination.

Outside the Curtis Wells Sign Works, both men halted. Newt carefully examined the marks on the ground. Didn't make no never mind, though. Clay Mosby's keen sense of smell had managed to pick up the scent of Olivia's expensive New Orleans perfume. Even though the heavy scent of pine surrounded them, Clay recognized that distinct fragrance which had conquered dozens of men.

#####

Austin moved remarkably quiet for such a big man. He reached the back of the church when a loud sound startled him. It was like someone passing gas as loud as they could. He spun around, gun pointed.

"Austin! Don't shoot! It's me," a frightened voice hollered.

"Father? You sca ... I almost shot you. What are you doing?"

Josiah tilted his head and shyly smiled. "I just wanted to be close by."

Josiah let loose with another whopper of gas. This time louder than the first.

"Ohhhh, father. What did you eat? That smell is awful."

"Remember those beans I was supposed to throw away?"

"Ooohhhh. Let's get out of here! If anyone's hiding hereabouts, they'll surely be dead by morning."

#####

Clay pointed to the small Sign Works building, then pointed to Newt's boots. Newt shook his head, knowing Clay was warning him about his spurs clanking. Clay whispered something to Newt, who then quietly circled the building, holding up behind it.

"Clayton! I know you're in there." Mosby called out, keeping himself away from gunfire range near the door. "You're surrounded, Clayton. There's a dozen marksmen around you. I suggest you send Miz Jessup out unharmed, before your time runs out."

There was silence. Not a sound was heard from within the Sign Works.

"CLAYTON! I will NOT repeat this again. Let her go this moment or I'll hang you tonight."

Still no sound.

"I suspect we'll just have to burn you out then. GO ON Newt."

Newt dropped to his knees. He struck a match to an old, dried pine tree branch and held it under the back of the building. Within a minute, it was smoking and a small fire had begun.

A muffled cry, most likely from Olivia was now heard from inside the Sign Works. Suddenly, Mrs. Ida Grayson stumbled into shadowy view, the moonlight revealing her bandaged eyes and robed body.

"Mrs. Grayson?" Clay unexpectedly called out. "Stay back! Mrs. Grayson," Clay yelled, running for the wandering intruder.

The flames abruptly shot up the back wall with an explosive burst. "I swear!" Newt said as he fell back.

Next moment, the door to the Sign Works swung open. Clayton's large body was in the doorway. Clayton fired his gun twice. BAM! BAM!

It was too dark to see whether his shots were aimed inside, or outside.

"AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH."

A loud scream nearly split the orange moon in half. A body fell hard.

 

Chapter 24: Like a Hole in My Head

The two shots fired. The long, extended scream. The smell of gun powder. The chaos and confusion in the darkness. All reminiscent of the clash at Cold Harbor. As Clay moved, his mind like a flash saw the three day battle only a few miles north of Richmond.

Suddenly, a dark object slammed into him, causing both to tumble roughly to the cold ground. The dark, heavier man fell on top of Clay. His dead weight landed painfully on his left foot, aggravating the recent heel injury. Gritting his teeth with an uncommon iron will, Clay saw small, starry flashes before his eyes.

"Clay! Where are you?" Newt called out, rounding the back of the Sign Works. The illumination from the growing fire cast Newt as a giant shadowy figure.

"Hold your fire, Newt," Clay yelled.

"Mosby?" the heavy man said. Like some raging grizzly bear, Clayton raised his cupped-together fists and drove them with pile-driver force straight down for Clay's unprotected head.

BOOM! "AAA OOOWWWW, my hands!" Clayton cried. Mosby had barely dodged the deadly blow. In agonizing pain, Clay had twisted his head to avoid the attack.

"Help, I'm hurt," a voice cried out in the darkness.

Clayton scrambled to his feet and headed toward the street. He tripped on the raised walkway, tumbling to the ground once more.

Newt reached Clay and helped him up. Clay's foot was worst now than when the horse kicked it as Robert Shelby escaped the hangman's noose, weeks ago.

BAM! "Hey!" BAM!

Austin had reached the street. His gun inches away from Clayton's cheek.

"I think Austin caught him," Newt said.

"I did! I caught this bastard. Want me to shoot him, Clay?"

"No," came the reply, "we have to find out who he shot. Kill him if he moves, Austin."

Since Clay and Newt weren't shot, it could only be Olivia Jessup or Ida Grayson.

Both men spun around to the stumbling sounds behind them.

"Olivia!" Clay called out. "Newt, see to Mrs. Grayson near Dr. Cleese's.'

"Help me," Ida Grayson cried.

Clay limped to a frightened Olivia Jessup. She was gagged and her hands were tied in the front with her silk scarf. Clay released her gag, freeing her mouth.

"Olivia? Were you shot?" Clay asked, holding her at arms length.

"No, Clay. He shot the gun out here somewhere."

Newt saw Ida laying on the ground. "Mrs. Grayson! Are you hurt?"

"Yes. Newt? Is that you, Newt?"

"Yes, Ma'am, he replied, bending down in front of her.

#####

Ephriam Cleese was slowly waking up. He pulled himself to a sitting position, then rubbed his head. Save for the dying candlelight, it was dark in his office. He turned to look at his surroundings, just now noticing the mess.

#####

"Oh, my Lord," Newt said as he saw a puddle of blood spotlighted by the moon.

"Newt? I ... don't feel very well," Ida mumbled.

Newt carefully lifted her shoulders. "Where did you get shot, Mrs. Grayson? There's alot of blood."

"Shot? Am I shot?"

Olivia, now untied, advanced cautiously toward Mrs. Grayson, her undergarments swishing loudly. Clay, no stranger to severe pain, hobbled over.

"Austin!" Clay called out. "Everything under control?"

"If he moves a muscle, I kill him."

Mrs. Grayson's eyes were bandaged. Blood had seeped onto the cream colored material.

"What happened, Mrs. Grayson?" Clay asked, trying to determine whether she had been shot.

"A branch caught the inside of my robe." She hesitated, trying to remember. "I moved ahead . . . and . . . the branch swung me back. I couldn't, oh, my head is throbbing."

"Mrs. Grayson, try to recall what happened," Mosby urged.

"I was in the air. I think I was off the ground? I screamed. That's all."

"I didn't think Clayton shot anyone," Clay said.

"Well, how would you know that?" Newt asked, confused.

"A person that has been shot cries out like, Aaahh. Mrs. Grayson's much longer scream signified a person falling and not seeing."

"You learn that during the War?" Newt asked, completely impressed.

"I think perhaps we should see to Mrs. Grayson's well being," Miz Jessup interrupted.

"What about this here fire, Clay?" Newt said, pointing toward the Sign Works.

"Apparently, Newt, you didn't set too big of a fire."

A handful of men had now rushed the small building. They swung towels that had been hanging outside the White Orchid Laundry only moments before. Better a few angry citizens than a potential fire burning down buildings.

#####

Robert Shelby found Jack Riddle inside Lucky Jim's.

Riddle smiled like some know-everything kind of fella. "Uhh huh. Had a feeling you'd see things my way."

"When do I get paid?" Shelby ordered.

"Damn it, boy! You forgetting I know who you really are?" Riddle ate a spoonful of stew, dribbling brown juice down his white beard.

"You, Sir, are disgusting," Shelby uttered.

"What the hell do I care? You just gimme that badge. I'll deliver your money in less than an hour. In case you ain't noticed, almost everyone's asleep. 'Cept for him over there. He'll close soon's I leave."

Robert pulled his badge off and handed it to the old man.

"Now get the hell outta here. I'll see you behind the jail after I get the cash."

#####

Violet had heard the screaming and gunshots. She felt sick. Clayton was probably dead. She had to think of something faster than her evil little heart had ever done before.

#####

Newt and Austin kicked and pushed Clayton down the street to the new sheriff's office.

Olivia and Josiah helped Clay and Ida Grayson into Dr. Cleese's office.

"What happened here?" Clay asked.

"Whatever it is, I did it," Ida quietly said.

Dr. Cleese stood up and looked quizzically at the four people.

"By what leave do you good folks have to approach me in my quarters? And, where are my Secret Service Bodyguards?"

"This isn't the time for humor, Ephriam. Mrs. Grayson's head is bleeding and my foot may be broken," Clay replied.

"Do not call me Ephriam, Sir. Do you not know who I am?"

"What? Cleese! If this is some joke, I'm not laughing," Mosby said, angry.

"I assure you my dear man, the President of the United States does not toss jokes recklessly."

"Cleese! There are two people that need your medical ability. Now, attend to Mrs. Grayson."

"Clay," Josiah replied, "he ... he's serious!"

Dr. Cleese smiled. "At least one of you knows who I am."

"And, who might that be?" Clay uttered.

"I am Rutherford B. Hayes. Nineteenth President of these here United States!"

 

Chapter 25: Unraveled

Those involved in the night's encounter ended up with little sleep. Josiah had to wake an old Englishman who had settled in Montana. He had practiced medicine as a lad in jolly, old Great Britain. Though not Dr. Cleese, he managed to clean Ida's wound and pretty near stop the bleeding.

Mosby didn't fuss or lose sleep due to the high level of pain. It was Ephriam Cleese ailing everyone with his loud rantings and suddenly authoritative nature. Josiah had finally calmed the amnesic physician by telling him Vice President Wheeler would be in town in the morning. This seemed pleasing to Cleese, who proceeded to return to his office for sleep. He wouldn't allow Mrs. Grayson to stay in the same quarters as the President. What would his wife, Lucy, or the general public think, he argued?

#####

Robert Shelby sat on his spring bed inside the New Eden Hotel. It was a good trade. Giving his badge to Jack Riddle in exchange for a saddlebag of silver coins. Riddle wanted the power, though Shelby had long since concluded that no one over 8 years old in Sweetwater showed any respect for the old man. Robert truly wanted to embrace and caress each coin, but decided it was time to clear out. Likely as not, Riddle had robbed someone and was planning on accusing him. So, Sheriff Burly Bob Parrish died that night, and Robert Shelby took his old self back.

'Neath that big, full moon, Shelby rode out of the sleeping town of Sweetwater, for parts unknown.

#####

"Good morning, Clay," Olivia said, as Clay Mosby dragged himself down to the bar. "I've made some coffee. What are you going to do about your foot?"

"My dear Olivia, I doubt there is anything I can do except try and ignore the pain."

She shook her head. "Here, drink this," Olivia advised, as she handed him the cup and saucer of hot coffee.

Clay raised the cup to his nose, closed his eyes and inhaled. "My dear Olivia, you still make the best coffee in the entire 39 states."

"Perhaps you'll let me know exactly when our plan will begin, Clay?"

Clay sipped the hot drink. "If not for these unexpected occurrences, we would have already renamed this place." He looked at her. "Soon, my dear. Very soon."

"Clay?" Austin interrupted, walking into his brother-in-law's saloon. "Clayton wants to see you."

"You tell Mr. Clayton I'll see him when we hang his rotten body today. He has nothing of importance for me."

"Well," Austin began, "he says he has information about someone you both know."

Clay hesitated. It had to be Robert. Against his better judgement he put the cup and saucer down. "Go upstairs and get Violet. Wait outside the jail for me."

"I'll be over at the hotel, Clay," Olivia replied, heading for the door.

"Austin?" Clay asked. "Where's Newt?"

"Oh ... uh, I think he's still here? I saw him go into the Unity."

#####

"Mrs. Grayson?" Newt said.

"Newt? Please come in."

Newt walked loudly across the floor to where Ida Grayson was sitting. Her head had been re-bandaged and her cheeks were haggard.

"Mrs. Grayson, you best eat something 'fore you waste away to a shadow."

She smiled, but barely. "Did you kill Aaron? ... Did you, Newt?"

Newt looked at the floor, then to the older woman he had had an affair with. "No, Ma'am. Fact is, he was going to kill me."

"Oh. I see. Well, how is it he's dead? Who killed him, if you didn't?"

Newt didn't answer her.

"Newt. Please tell me. I will find out.

He looked at her. The thought of grabbing her and throwing her on the bed was gone. All he could feel was betrayal. Betrayal to someone he cared for.

"Newt?"

"Ma'am?"

"It's not your fault he's dead. I'm as much to blame as you are."

"I ... don't know, Mrs. Grays--"

"Do you know he slept with whores every chance he had?"

Newt squinted. "Didn't know that. 'Sides, it weren't my business."

"Who killed my husband, Newt?"

"What difference does it make ... who killed him. It's done."

"Done? Ha. It's only beginning. I'll be alone now. Dr. Cleese told me I may never see again.

Newt felt tormented. And, now he was feeling lust rushing through his veins. "Not now," he whispered.

#####

Josiah had dressed up in his Sunday best. He knocked on Dr. Cleese's door and introduced himself as William Wheeler, Vice President of these here United States. Cleese, actually believing himself to be President Hayes, welcomed the imposter into his messed up office. Josiah wasn't quite sure how to deal with the town's doctor, but he was willing to attempt a valiant effort.

#####

Mosby immediately saw through Clayton's ruse. His last gasp play at mentioning Burly Bob didn't deceive Curtis Wells' Sheriff. Notifying Clayton that his life in this world was about to end, he went outside.

Clay wondered why Austin hadn't brought Violet over yet. He walked quickly back to his saloon.

"Austin?" he called out as he took the stairs two at a time. The door where Violet had been was open. Clay peered inside.

"What the...?!"

Austin was on the floor, unconscious. His gun and Violet both gone.

 

Chapter 26: The Walls Come Crumbling Down

Clay Mosby bent down, shaking his deputy.

"Austin! Wake up, damn you."

"Oooohhhh. Uhhnnnnn."

"I never should have allowed them to think you killed Grayson."

"Uhnnn. Wha? I didn't kill...? Uhhnnn."

"What happened? How did that little whore get away?" Mosby was hot as a potbelly stove.

Austin staggered to his feet. He winced in pain, feeling an egg-sized lump on his head.

"Where's...? ... Where did, what did?" Austin mumbled incoherently.

Clay set the tipped-over chair on its feet. "Sit here. You're of no help to me now."

"Violet hit me," Austin replied, slowly coming around.

"That is quite obvious," Clay spit out. "Did you tell her Clayton is here?"

Austin stared at Clay. This was a tough one and required a good memory.

#####

Robert Shelby reached the fork of Three Roads. He knew it was likely to his well-being space be put between him and Sweetwater. He put his hand on the saddlebag Riddle had given him. He wanted to squeeze every piece of silver it held. His moment was interrupted as he saw riders approaching from the road to Fort McNabb. Damn, he thought. Soldiers. They were still a fair piece away and probably hadn't spotted him yet. Nudging his mount, he lit out for Miles City and the quickest covering of trees.

#####

Josiah had grown weary of playing games. Allowing Dr. Cleese to order him about was quickly getting old.

"Mr. President. I suggest we take a recess and eat something at the Unity."

"Unity? I can't go outside, Mr. Wheeler. How do you expect me to face my public without my beard? I have not the slightest recollection of shaving it."

Josiah shrugged and patted his stomach. He hoped Mosby would show up soon. He always knew what was best for everyone.

#####

"Well, Newt?" Ida Grayson said, sitting in a chair near her bed. "You must tell me, who killed Aaron?"

Newt noticed that her robe had torn from the tree branch and was now revealing a little more flesh than Mrs. Grayson was aware of.

"Newt? I can't see you ... are you being naughty?"

The temperature of his face shot up real fast. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Grayson."

"This is not the time, dear, young Newt. My husband isn't even in the ground yet."

"Meaning no disrespect, Ma'am. I don't seem to understand what I'm...."

He paused. Ida stood up. "Newt," she ordered, "come over here right now."

He stepped over to her. She reached out, feeling air till she touched him. Ida pulled Newt against her. "Who killed him?"

Newt was no match for this seductive woman. "Austin," he reluctantly said, cursing himself for his weakness.

She let go of the young Texan. "Austin?"

#####

Mosby swiftly exited the Pig's Eye Saloon and limped toward the jail. Olivia Jessup tried to get his attention from outside the Unity. Clay motioned he was busy and with his gun drawn, entered the sheriff's office.

"What's wrong, Mosby?" Clayton teased. "Lose something?"

Clay cocked the hammer, pointed the gun at Clayton, then said, "Goodbye, Clayton."

"No!" Clayton yelled. BAM! Clayton shook. He opened his eyes. Mosby smiled, holding the gun skyward.

"YOU BASTARD! You hear me, Mosby?" Clayton hollered. "I'll break the other leg when I get out of here."

Mosby ignored the angry whisky trader. He stepped back outside, trying hard to disregard the pain which was running from his heel up his leg.

Violet must have stolen a horse and headed back to Sweetwater. Clay could feel things unraveling. This quiet little town had been nothing but a great big headache since Robert shot Hannah. He paused a moment. Nothing good came from his five minute marriage.

Clay hobbled back to the Pig's Eye. It should have already been renamed the Ambrosia Club before Olivia had arrived.

#####

Newt Call, tormented by guilt, and honor bound by duty had just made an incredible announcement.

"WHAT?! Newt? What did you say to me?!" Ida Grayson asked, stunned.

"I reckon I should take you as my wife, Ida."

"Oh, Lord! Whatever made you say that?"

"All this that happened. Aaron bein' killed. You losin' your sight.... I reckon I caused it all. Suppose it best if I looked after your needs."

Ida Grayson, still stunned over the outrageous proposal, felt her way to the bed. She sat down, letting the words take root.

Newt watched, wondering if she was considering his offer.

#####

Clay assisted Austin out of the saloon. The weight of the big man on Clay forced him to grit his teeth.

"Unhand me," Dr. Cleese yelled, as Josiah pushed him out to the street.

This happened just as the small troop of soldiers dispatched from Fort McNabb, the ones Robert Shelby had seen, rode up and halted.

"Unhand me! I cannot be seen until my beard grows back," Cleese yelled again.

"You Sheriff Mosby?" The leader asked. "Why is that man being roughed up?"

"I'm hungry and tired of pretending," Josiah barked.

"That man is our town doctor. He's lost his memory and presumes to be the President," Mosby replied. "We've got an escaped prisoner loose that needs dealing with."

"Well, it appears you run a sloppy town, Mosby. Damn Southerners. Shoulda stayed where you belong."

Clay looked at the man speaking. "I'm losing my patience, Sir. Who are you, and what are you here for?"

"We are here to apprehend one Austin Peale."

"Me?" Austin answered, still out of it.

"What does this concern?" Clay ordered.

"He is being arrested for the murder of Aaron Grayson. ... Oh, by the way, my name is Captain Armstrong. 3rd Cavalry."

 

Chapter 27: No Help in Sight

Austin Peale was still groggy, only making sense of bits and pieces of the soldier's conversation. A small crowd of townfolks were gathering near the Pig's Eye Saloon.

"Sgt. Baker?" Captain Armstrong ordered.

"Yes, Sir?"

"Take that man into custody," he said, pointing to a confused Austin.

"Now just one moment," Mosby interrupted, raising his arms. "It was a fair fight. Your man lost. We'll handle the decision of discipline here in town."

Armstrong looked disdainfully at Clay. "Discipline, Mosby? I know something of discipline. I had some practice with you Rebs during the War."

If the Yankee Captain was attempting to provoke Clay, he was getting mighty close to succeeding.

"Look, Captain," Clay began, a plan forming quickly in his mind. "We'll lock Peale in jail for now. I suppose you and your men could use a drink? On the house."

The strategy appeared to work. Captain Armstrong pondered the offer for only a moment before agreeing. Mosby had hoped to lull the leader into a false security. But, he needed Newt's help.

As the five men, four on horseback, one driving a wagon, climbed down, Dr. Cleese headed back to his office. Josiah looked at Clay for guidance. Clay shook his head and waved him over. He waited for the soldiers to dust themselves and get inside his saloon before addressing Josiah.

"Go over to the Unity. Find Newt. It's a matter of urgency. Tell him not to wear his gun."

"I don't underst--"

"Josiah! Just do as I say. Now, be quick."

A tall, young fellow named Sgt. Baker walked back out of the saloon. "Captain Armstrong ordered me to make sure Peale's locked up proper."

Mosby sized him up real fast. "Fine, Sergeant. Shall we go."

They walked a dazed Austin down to the jail. "Where's Ruby? She's my girl," Austin kept repeating.

#####

Newt stood there watching Ida's reaction. He heard his heartbeat pounding in his ears like hostile drums. She was no doubt contemplating his proposal. Before she could answer the young Texan, Josiah was calling his name from out in the hall. Both Newt and Ida looked into each other's eyes, then Newt hurried to find out what happened.

#####

Clayton laughed as Austin was locked in the adjoining cell.

"Hey, you! Soldier boy. Let me outta here. I didn't do no wrong. They're settin' me up," Clayton began yelling.

"He sold bad whisky that killed a man," Clay replied to the sergeant. "And, he will be hung eventually."

Sgt. Baker looked at both men. This wasn't his concern.

As Mosby led the sergeant back to the saloon, Miz Olivia Jessup crossed the street to speak.

"Clay? Whatever is going on?"

"My dear, you must excuse me. I am after all, the sheriff."

#####

Ephriam Cleese looked closely at his face in the dresser mirror. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something was amiss.

#####

Josiah got it right. He relayed Clay's message without a hitch. Newt left his gun in Mrs. Grayson's room and headed straight to the saloon.

Captain Armstrong and his men were sitting 'round a table, taking advantage of Mosby's generosity. Sgt. Baker informed his Captain about the whisky trader in jail.

Armstrong stood up. "You wouldn't be fixin' on giving us some of that bad whisky, would you, Sheriff?"

"I wouldn't dream of it," Clay answered, showing a huge smile that would one day be remembered as a 'Cheshire Cat' smile.

Armstrong stared at Mosby. He sat down and said, "Those damn Southerners. We should have killed every one of them."

Newt walked into the saloon, saw Clay and joined him. Clay spoke quietly, all the time flashing his broad smile. Newt left but was watched by Armstrong. Seeing no gun on Newt, Armstrong paid little heed to the situation.

#####

Call went to the telegraph office. He returned to Mosby in minutes. Newt delivered the information Clay had requested. He knew now who had snitched on Austin.

As Clay turned his thoughts to Violet, and where she likely would be, Josiah came bursting into the saloon.

"You're not taking my son! I won't let you," he cried out, aiming an archaic 1836 Patterson Colt at the table of soldiers.

"Josiah!" Clay called out, hoping his plan wasn't now in jeopardy.

"No, Clay. My son's not leaving," Josiah replied, his hand visibly shaking.

Captain Armstrong slowly stood up. "Now you best put away that stale gun you're toting, old man, before all five of us kill you."

Mosby fumed in anger at this most untimely intrusion. Knowing strategical warfare had begun, he quickly grabbed Josiah from behind, knocking the gun onto the floor.

"No! Clay. No!," Josiah cried, dropping to his knees.

"He's a sick man," Mosby replied, "I'll deal with him."

Clay bent down and whispered something in Josiah's ear. He slowly stood up, pulling Josiah with him. Josiah turned and started to head for the door.

Armstrong looked at Mosby. "Next time he tries something, we'll hang him. Just like we're gonna hang Grayson's killer." He laughed. "Bring more of that whisky, Mosby."

Clay served them two more bottles. "Will you allow my deputy a trial before you leave?" he asked Armstrong.

The Captain stared at him for a few seconds. "Sure. Whatever you want." The five soldiers broke into a mocking laughter.

Clay and Newt stepped outside. "Get your gun, Newt."

Newt crossed the street and entered the Unity, just as Miz Olivia walked out. Clay walked over to her.

"Are you mad, Olivia? Whatever possessed you to send that telegram?"

"He made an inexcusable comment to me! And, he put his hand on me."

"Do you see what your little temper tantrum has caused?"

"I don't really care, Clay. Austin Peale must be taught a lesson."

"You should have told me, Olivia."

Newt exited the hotel just then. As he and Clay turned, three guns were pointed at them.

"What are you doing?" Mosby asked Armstrong.

"We had our trial, Reb. Time for Peale to hang."

Captain Armstrong and Sgt. Baker walked to the jail. Moments later they dragged Austin out. Clay and Newt were helpless as the other three soldiers aimed their weapons at them.

A rope was fashioned into a noose and forced around Austin's throat. The coarse strands of fiber burned against his flesh. He was shoved up onto a waiting horse of death. Sgt. Baker climbed the ladder and began tying the rope onto the livery overhang.

"You got any last words, say 'em now, boy," Armstrong said, laughing.

 

Chapter 28: Death Be Not Proud

Clay and Newt watched helplessly. Captain Armstrong's three men pointing weapons in their faces. One move meant death. Townsfolk were stepping out of buildings, very cautiously. Josiah, weaponless, stood in the street unable to save his son.

Austin sat on the horse now fully awake. His breathing was quick and short. He broke out into a hot sweat. Then, he felt cold shivers. Next, his stomach was squeezing up into his throat. He thought he was going to puke. Then, his eyes rolled up like he was going to black out. The rope tightened around his naked, unprotected neck. Ready to violate his life.

His sight was blurry and there was a loud ringing in his ears. Then, everything became completely silent. Like the entire world was a pocket watch that just stopped ticking. Austin thought he saw his sister, Hannah, in the street yonder. An unexplainable peace came over him. His rigid body just sort of relaxed. All of this happened in less than ten seconds.

Captain Douglas Armstrong turned toward Mosby and Call. Since the War had ended some thirteen years ago, his greatest pleasure in life was watching people suffer. The berry in the pie was when he could see a Southerner in misery. He revealed an evil grin, then looked up to where Sgt. Baker was tying the rope.

Miz Olivia Jessup turned her back away from the lynching party. She regretted her part in this tragic event. Her eyes darted toward Clay. She knew he might never forgive her now.

The town of Curtis Wells watched helplessly as there was no one to save Austin. Not a single person in the entire town was now able to prevent what happened next.

Captain Armstrong looked at Austin Peale. Austin was smiling, though slightly. Armstrong squinted in astonishment, expecting and desiring to observe fear. He turned around to see what Austin was looking at. THERE WAS NO ONE THERE?! Armstrong turned back to the prisoner. It didn't matter. The Captain raised his head to Sgt. Baker.

"Hang him now!" Armstrong ordered.

Sgt. Baker stopped tying the rope for only a moment. He shook his head and leaned back. Something was wrong. Real wrong. He tried to get to his feet but let out a painful sigh and tumbled head first down to the ground.

"WHAT THE HELL?" Captain Armstrong yelled. Sgt. Baker was on the street, dead!

"Uh huh," Clay Mosby uttered, smiling at the three suddenly bewildered guards. They looked at each other, then Mosby.

"I saved some of the poison whisky for just such an occurrence as this."

They dropped their weapons in fear.

"Every one of you, except of course, your Captain, drank a lethal amount." Mosby flashed a confidently broad smile to the three soldiers.

As if on cue, each man grabbed his belly and began writhing in pain. Their tongues swelled and they dropped to the street, all dead.

Captain Armstrong, expecting the same thing to hit him directly, drew his gun to at least take Grayson's killer out. Newt ran down the street but was too far away to stop Armstrong. The sadistic Captain raised his pistol at Austin. Austin didn't move for fear of the rope being tied enough to still hang him.

"You still lose, Peale," Captain Armstrong said.

BAM! BAM! The shots were fired. Only, Armstrong never pulled the trigger. It was Clay Mosby, firing from way down by the Unity. He had quickly picked up one of the rifles the guards had dropped. Weren't no possible way his Remington could be accurate at that distance.

Armstrong fell face forward in the dirt. All five soldiers now dead. Newt reached Austin and realized he didn't need to steady the horse from jumping. The horse was Old General Fremont. Half blind. Three-quarters deaf. The oldest horse in town. He had probably been sleeping through the entire scene.

Newt ran inside the livery and climbed the ladder. He untied the rope, letting it drop onto Austin's shoulders. By now, Josiah was pulling his son off the ancient beast. The father hugged his son. The son hugged his father. Mosby, rifle in hand, kicked the dead Captain Armstrong onto his front. The dead soldier's eyes were still open.

"This is one victory for the South," he said, then rolled him back over with his boot.

#####

Later that day...

The dust had settled temporarily. Clayton was still in jail. Violet, most likely in Sweetwater.

Miz Olivia Jessup stayed away from Clay. She knew Francis Clay Mosby well enough to provide him with sufficient space till he could forgive her near fatal error.

Dr. Ephriam Cleese no longer believed himself to be President Rutherford B. Hayes. He just didn't know who he was now.

Newt returned to Ida Grayson, who informed him his offer was touching and honorable, but highly impractical. To his relief, she explained their age difference and color difference would never be accepted. Strange thing now was, Newt burned lustfully for this woman more than he had previously. It wasn't love, though he truly cared for her. It was desiring something forbidden.

#####

Clay Mosby pulled and tugged till he was free of his black boots. Though a full moon lit his upstairs bedroom to a degree, the quiet darkness was something he embraced. He finished a glass of whisky and crushed the life out of an already dying cigar, taking in the sweet smelling aroma of tobacco. Albeit a man's man, he was still flesh and bone. Now that the latest episode was history, he was once again aware of an almost intolerable pain radiating from his twice-injured left foot.

Clay fell back onto his bed, craving rest. His eyes were too heavy to stay open, and he was snoring within minutes. Hours later, while Clay Mosby was breathing like a man in a deep sleep, it happened! A figure quietly crawled out from underneath his bed. The small framed person stood next to his body. The moon's glow cast its silent light onto the intruder. The face of Violet was looking down at Clay. With both hands, she pointed Austin's gun at his unknowing and exposed chest.

"Au revoir, Clay darling."

BAM! BAM! BAM!

 

Chapter 29: What Profit A Man?

The three shots were like cannon blasts in the quiet of night.

"Au revoir, yourself, dear Violet."

Clay Mosby sat up on his bed. Violet stood there, in shock. The moonlight revealed something dark red oozing out of three holes in her body. If she wasn't already dead, she soon would be. Foolish little whore. Presuming she could deceive Clay Mosby. He had caught the reflection of her sequined dress under his bed, and had laid down and pretended to be asleep, waiting for her to make her final move.

Clay pulled his black boots back on. He stood up and grabbed Violet by her hair. Pulling her like some rag doll, he dragged her powerless body roughly down the entire flight of stairs, a trail of blood following every step.

Violet tried to reach for Clay. He paused near the doors to the saloon. Her feeble attempt only angered him. He opened the doors with his free hand, then swung her into the air and violently out into the cold, hard street. He held a handful of her hair in his fist. He looked at dozens of white roots, some red with her blood.

"I have had enough!" Clay yelled.

Throwing the handful of hair down, Clay grabbed her remaining hair and dragged her down the street, till he reached the jail. Kicking open the door, Clay pulled the nearly dead Violet into the dark building.

"Who's in here?" Clayton called out.

Mosby found the lantern near the door and lit it.

"Mosby?! What're you...? Violet? Is ... is that my wife?" Clayton said, surprised.

Clay grabbed the keys to the cell and unlocked it. Clayton didn't know what was happening.

Mosby grabbed the bigger man by his collar and pulled him out of the cell. Clayton swung at Mosby but only hit air. Sheriff Mosby swung upward, driving his fist into Clayton's jaw. A little harder and he would have driven Clayton's jaw right through his brain. As Clayton reeled, Austin and Josiah were charging into the jail.

"Clay?!" Josiah hollered. "Stop! Stop!"

"Leave him alone, Mosby," Austin added, trying to grab Clay from behind.

Clay threw Austin off him like he weighed ten pounds. He spun Clayton around, then began slamming his face into the iron cell bars as hard as he could. By the ninth time, Clayton's head made a sound like a watermelon being split open. Clayton's body, which had been trying to struggle, went limp. Clay turned him around, drew his gun and fired a shot. The bullet flew through his skull, coming out of the back, and lodging in the nearest wall.

Dr. Cleese had also joined the townsfolk trying to stop the berserk actions Mosby was displaying. Hearing the last gunshot scared Cleese, causing him to pause. He smiled. He didn't know what had happened, but he knew who he was.

Newt Call had come running from his penthouse suite upstairs in the livery. When Austin or Josiah tried to pull Mosby away, Newt grabbed the Peales, freeing Mosby to do as he desired.

To be honest, it was a sickening and disgusting sight. Clay Mosby had been pushed past his breaking point. The town would likely not forgive their sheriff for killing two people so brutally.

Newt held everyone back, allowing Clay to slowly regain his senses. He was breathing real hard. He looked around the dim lit sheriff's office. The flickering lantern revealed Violet lying dead on the floor, part of her head shiny red and bald. And there next to her, the mutilated head of Clayton, or what used to be Clayton.

Mosby's mouth was open. Last time he had gone berserk was during the War. He was aware of the hostility from the townsfolk. He was also very aware of the loyalty Newt Call had portrayed for him.

#####

It seemed as if the entire town had gathered outside the new sheriff's office. Some were hastily dressed. Others still in night clothes. Mrs. Grayson stood in front of the Unity, calling for Newt. Mrs. Hackett relayed the message, but Newt wasn't leaving Clay's side. This was starting to look like the makings of an ugly mob.

It wasn't so much that Violet and Clayton had been killed. They both deserved it. It was the brutal and violent way Clay Mosby had done it. But Clay Mosby was far too intelligent for this group of sheep. Knowing exactly what people like Josiah Peale and Dorothy Hackett were going to say, Clay did it before they could react.

He pulled the silver-colored tin off his shirt and threw it on the floor, landing in a puddle of blood.

"Take it," he ordered. "It's what you want. You won't want me as sheriff after this night."

Austin smiled and quickly picked up the sheriff's badge. He looked at his father.

"You be sheriff, Austin," Josiah said. "Clay, I'm sorry. You're too much of a killer."

"Yes," Clay answered back, "too much of a killer. It didn't matter when I saved Austin's life earlier tonight, did it, Josiah?"

Ashamed, Josiah looked down.

Clay pushed past his father-in-law and brother-in-law. He crossed over to the livery. Newt ran after him, following Clay into the dark stable.

"Clay," Newt called.

Mosby appeared to be saddling his horse.

"What are you doing?" Newt asked. "You ain't leavin', are ya?"

#####

About fifteen men, road sore and thirsty, climbed off their horses in front of the Celestial Palace, in the town of Sweetwater. Sheriff Jack Riddle was waiting. He bid them enter the saloon for a free round. An older fella, looking like he mighta done some scouting years ago, led the group.

"Did you find Burly Bob Parrish?" Riddle asked.

"Yer darn tootin' we did," the old fella said. "And here's the bag of silver coins he stole," the man replied, dropping Robert Shelby's saddlebag onto the table.

"What about Burly Bob? Did you get him?" Riddle continued.

"Shot him off his horse knee deep in the river. He took a tumble an' ain't likely to see the light a day agin."

"He's dead?" Riddle asked.

"Reckon so. He got swallowed by the river and never came back up. Now how 'bout that bottle you promised us, sheriff?"

#####

"What choice do I have, Newt?" Clay said.

"So that's it? You, you're gonna light out," Newt replied.

"I don't know. Perhaps I need to get away ... think some."

"I'm going with you," Newt insisted.

Clay smiled. This young Texan was easy for him to like.

Just then, Miz Olivia Jessup hurried into the livery.

"Clay! You must leave immediately. They're coming for you," Olivia called out.

"Too late, Miz Jessup," Austin said, pointing his revolver at Clay.

"What are you doing, Austin?" Clay demanded.

"I'm arresting you, brother."

Mosby and Call fumed with anger. Hours ago Clay had saved Austin's life. This was how Austin repaid him?

"Keep your hands away from your gun and walk to the jail right now," Austin ordered.

 

Chapter 30: Memories Don't Die

Austin Peale led Clay Mosby from the livery back to the sheriff's office. Newt Call, refusing to abandon the Virginian, followed both men.

Miz Olivia Jessup retreated back to the Unity Hotel.

Austin steered everyone out of the blood-splattered jailhouse.

"Austin, you ain't got no right to do this," Newt protested, "Clay here saved your life. You forget that already?"

"No, I didn't forget that, Call. It's for that very reason I'm doing this," Austin replied.

"Locking me up?" Clay asked.

"I'm not locking you up, Clay. I don't want some hotheaded mob going after you. You ride out now, they'll surely do that."

Newt shrugged. "Suppose he's right, Clay. Best you stay right here."

Josiah stepped back inside. "Clay, you were too brutal. ... I guess the War did things to men that can't be helped." He reached out and hugged Clay. "You saved my son from hanging. I'm thankful to you."

Josiah backed up, smiling at Clay.

"Well," Clay sighed, "perhaps it's better. That is that I no longer wear that badge. I prefer to concentrate more time in my saloon. I do have plans, after all."

"Then, I guess that settles it," Austin said. "I'm Curtis Wells' new sheriff. What about you, Newt? I could use you as my deputy."

Newt shook his head. "I don't think so, Austin."

#####

Dr. Cleese, feeling much better, had visited Mrs. Grayson, remembering her injuries. The bandages were finally removed. Against all odds, Ida still had some vision, although not quite as well as before she tried to kill herself.

#####

A couple of days had passed since the town had changed sheriffs. Clay Mosby had unveiled his new sign, renaming the Pig's Eye into the Ambrosia Club. Gaming tables adorned the saloon, and along with his partner, Miz Olivia Jessup, business was very profitable.

It was still fairly early when Clay walked over to the table closest to the open back door.

"Mr. Adams, if I may be so bold," Clay said to the sleeping drunk man, "I'd like to propose a wager. A flip of the coin, hmm. Tales, you win my saloon. Heads, I put a bullet in your brain," Clay smiled as he put his gun on the table.

"Hell, I'll take that bet in a minute," a new voice uttered.

Surprised, Clay looked up. Standing in the doorway, leaning against the wall, was Robert Shelby.

"Robert!" Clay exclaimed. He jumped up, hugging his dearest friend.

"Ow," Robert involuntarily cried.

"Robert? What's wrong?"

"I'll be alright," he said, staggering to the bar.

"You've been shot," Clay replied.

Then everything went black and Robert collapsed on the floor.

#####

The whores flaunted themselves shamelessly. Men strode sidewinder style on the street, publicly drunk. Filth piled up in every direction a body looked. And, Sheriff Jack Riddle sat in the Arcadia Opera House, whisky dribbling down his white beard. Just another day in Sweetwater, home of lost souls.

Riddle sat with a young woman named Ruby. His paws were all over her sweet smelling body. She figured he'd do as well as any man. Leastways till that tall fellow from Curtis Wells, Austin, returned.

Jack Riddle was telling Ruby how he backstabbed Burly Bob Parrish. He explained the whole story, twice. "Yep," he said, "it'll be a fair piece before anyone from Curtis Wells comes here stirrin' things up."

#####

Robert Shelby awoke with a start. Clay calmed him. Robert was upstairs, in Clay's bed.

"You lost enough blood to make the Mississippi run red," Clay said.

Robert went on to explain how Jack Riddle had set him up. He told Clay about the posse that chased him, and finally shot him. He knew the only chance he had to survive was to swim underwater for as long as he could hold his breath.

As they talked, Clay informed Robert how he had finally killed both Clayton and Violet.

"The devil himself lives in that hellhole," Robert replied.

"Rest up, Robert," Clay urged. "You need to travel soon."

#####

Nigh on a week had passed. Robert Shelby had healed well enough. All he had spoken of was paying back Jack Riddle, and the town of Sweetwater. At first, Clay wouldn't give ear to his words. Yet, as the days slowly crept by, the words were taking root and growing.

So it was, as night descended upon the town of Curtis Wells, that two men quietly rode out.

Colonel Clay Mosby, along with his most trusted soldier, Captain Robert Shelby, traveled the dark path till they reached the unsuspecting, and sleeping Sweetwater.

Looping their reins behind the sheriff's office, on the edge of town, both men silently moved about. They poured measured amounts of kerosine on every saloon and whorehouse.

Within minutes, they had struck wooden matches, running from one location to another, until the entire sky was a dancing, yellow-red flame. Black smoke rose up into the night, blocking the twinkling lights from far away stars. It was as if the furnaces of Hell itself had been ripped open.

Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby reached their horses and led them to the front of the Sweetwater Jail. The smell of burning wood was everywhere. People were now screaming and running into each other.

A tall man, without a shirt, and a shorter woman, ran out of the New Eden Hotel. He drew his gun and ran toward Clay and Robert.

"Mosby?! What're you doing?"

Clay looked down from his horse. It was difficult to see through the spreading smoke and engulfing flames.

"Austin?!" Clay responded, surprised.

Just then, Jack Riddle stepped out of his office wearing only his underwear. He held a gun in one hand, and a near-empty bottle in the other.

"You bastard," he yelled, recognizing Robert Shelby.

Before he could aim at Shelby, Robert rode him down with his mount. Turning the horse quickly around, Robert's face was revealed to a very surprised Austin Peale.

"That's Robert Shelby!" Austin hollered.

Austin looked at Mosby, then raised his gun at Robert.

As Jack Riddle struggled to gain his feet, Robert shot the backstabbing sheriff in the head, killing him instantly.

As Riddle fell to the ground, Clay watched Austin.

Wood crashed loudly around them, like thunder echoing before them. People were staggering and stumbling, panic and confusion.

"Don't do it, Austin," Clay yelled at his brother-in-law.

"That's Robert Shelby, Clay! He killed my sister! He killed Hannah, your wife."

Clay Mosby watched as Austin prepared to shoot Robert Shelby. Clay's mind raced furiously. He couldn't allow Austin to kill Robert. And, he couldn't kill Austin.

BOOM! BOOM!

The Sweetwater sheriff's office exploded. Austin and Ruby were thrown into the air like two circus acrobats. Splintered wood shot in over forty directions. Robert was thrown off his horse. Clay barely managed to keep himself in the saddle.

"C'mon, Clay," Robert yelled, climbing quickly back onto his horse, "we gotta get out of here. NOW!"

Robert spurred his mount's flanks, charging away from the blazing destruction of what had been Sweetwater.

Clay looked for Austin, but there was too much smoke. Too many firery chunks of wood raining down.

BOOM!

Another explosion. It was suicide to remain near the flames, which had now risen to such an extreme heat that it seemed likely to melt a man's flesh right off his body.

Cursing at not knowing where Austin was, or for that matter, if he had even survived, Clay turned and rode off in the direction Robert had taken.

#####

Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby sat atop their horses some two miles away from what used to be Sweetwater. They stared quietly at the brightness that lit the black, star-filled night.

Robert Shelby was satisfied. He had paid back the men who chased and shot him. And, he had personally killed Jack Riddle, the man who betrayed him.

Clay Mosby gazed at the distant fire shooting up into the dark sky. He had no idea that this night's evil deeds would have far reaching effects. How could he possibly know that the survivors of the Sweetwater Fire would almost all relocate in Curtis Wells.

Clay reflected on the recent past. He and Robert had left Virginia and headed West to separate themselves from the violent days of war and death. They had hoped to put as much distance as possible between them and all the senseless killing and mayhem.

But, Clay realized, a man can't change any more than a Grizzly can sit down at a table and eat with a fork and knife. Thoughts filled his mind about how he had gotten to this very moment.

He thought of dear, sweet Hannah. He knew it was a mistake. She wasn't his precious, precious Mary. Just a far cry from the real love he would carry throughout his days upon this mortal coil.

He thought of his near friendship-ending fight with Robert.

And, the loyalty and devotion young Newt Call had portrayed.

Finally, he pondered the situation tonight. Damn that Austin. He should never have been in Sweetwater. Clay grew momentarily angry. Would he have killed Austin? It would indeed be most ironic to kill the man he had saved one week before. Yet, he didn't even know whether Austin was alive or dead.

Thirteen long and tormenting years had passed since the War ended. But there was still a war within. A war that would never end. Did it really matter where a man like Clay laid his head at night? Without Mary, there was little color left in the world. There was little joy. Just moments that never lasted. He thought of the poem he had written Mary. I never found the time to see into my lady, her memories don't die but with time become hazy.

"What now, Clay?" Robert asked, bringing him back to the harsh reality of this very night.

Clay didn't speak. He reached into his vest pocket, pulling out his pocket watch. He gently opened it, and looked at the small, faded photograph of Mary.

THE END

Feed the author here!


Author's Notes:

Back in the 1970's Marvel Comics Group created a short running series entitled "What If."

They took their biggest heroes and put them in situations that had never happened, but where the possibility existed. In honor of Stan "The Man" Lee and Jack "King" Kirby, Marvel's creators, I present a new LD series, entitled "Supposin'".

Now, we've all had ideas for different stories and different scenarios in our minds. Like most of these types of stories, events usually begin similar to the original. Then, one small significant action changes everything. One small action triggers a new reaction that forces all events to reroute into a whole new story.

This story will be presented in serial form, similar to the Saturday morning cowboy serials of the 1940's.

Back to beginning of story.

AMBROSIA FANFIC CLUB:
[Homepage] [Reading Room] [Art Gallery]