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.


All's Fair
by Debbie Vega

The moment Austin had been waiting for had finally arrived.

He’d been chasing a gang of outlaws, headed by a desperado named Rivers, for over three weeks. He’d finally caught up with Cal Rivers and one of his gang at a roadhouse near the Canadian border. Most of the rest of the gang, he’d heard, was already in Canada, so they were out of his reach. Rivers, though, was his, and so was the $200 bounty on him and his partner. He was sure of it.

He sat at one of the rough-hewn tables in the roadhouse, slowly sipping some of the worst rotgut he’d ever come across in his life. It was hot and smoky in the little cabin, and surprisingly crowded. Most of the men sat drinking and minding their own business, and there was little mixing and talking.

He watched Rivers. The man was small and spry, and, they said, not terribly good with a gun. He was the brains of the outfit, the one who’d planned and executed a number of daring bank robberies all over the territory. He was also smart enough to back himself up with expert gunslingers, and the man with him at the moment, named Barton, was one of these.

Austin did not have an elaborate plan. He merely figured an opportunity would present itself when he could get the drop on Barton and capture both him and Rivers, if he’d just wait them out.

He sipped some more rotgut and grimaced. It made Mosby’s stuff taste like manna from heaven in comparison. As he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, he heard Barton tell Rivers he was going to the outhouse.

This was it! Without his firepower, Rivers was vulnerable. He watched Barton leave the roadhouse. The minute the door slammed shut behind him, he began to rise from his chair. He headed for the bar, where Rivers was standing, as if he meant to get another whisky.

Just as he was about to reach for his gun, a whooshing sound came through the air close to his head. It took a few seconds for him to comprehend that it was a rope whizzing by him. Looking back on the incident later, he realized trying to rope someone in that tiny cabin was just about one of the most daring things he’d ever seen.

As it was happening, though, he only felt confusion. Rivers cried out in pain as the rope was cinched tightly around his chest. The whisky glass he held in his hand went flying into the air and crashed on the bar.

"What the hell—" Rivers managed to croak out.

Austin saw a tall man with long red hair and striking blue eyes yanking on the rope and pulling on it, winding it around one fist. It was as if he had roped a steer. Rivers opened his mouth to protest, but before he could say another word, the red-headed man had stopped winding the rope and had Rivers’ revolver out of its holster and pointed in his own face.

"Damn!" said an old man sitting at a nearby table. "That were the fastest draw I ever done seen!"

Austin wasn’t so impressed. He knew he’d seen a faster draw.

The red-headed man said nothing, just turned around and pulled the rope over his shoulder. Then he crashed through the door and proceeded to drag his prisoner outside. Since all the patrons in the roadhouse began following them out to witness the rest of this little drama, Austin decided he might as well, too.

The end came quick for the two outlaws. Red-head drew his own gun and kicked the door to the outhouse open with his foot. Everyone laughed when they saw the surprised look on Barton’s face as he sat there with his pants down and his gun out of reach.

"Put your pants on, Barton," growled Red-head. "Don’t even look at your gun, or I’ll shoot you where you sit."

Barton quickly obeyed, and came out with his hands up.

Before you could blink, the two outlaws were trussed up and on their horses, with Red-head ready to ride out with them.

Austin knew it was time to step in and make his claim on the two outlaws. He’d been chasing the damned bastards for three damned weeks, after all. He pushed his way in front of the crowd of gawkers.

"That there is Cal Rivers and one of his associates," he said to Red-head.

The man did not look at him, just proceeded to mount his own horse. "Well, whaddaya know. I thought they was a couple a Sunday school teachers."

"They’re my prisoners, Mister."

"The hell they are." Red-head looked down at Austin. "I got me about ten witnesses who know different."

A murmur of agreement went through the crowd.

"Look." Austin pulled back his coat and exposed his sheriff’s badge.

The man raised his eyebrows in amusement. "Yeah? What’s that to me?"

"I’m the sheriff of Curtis Wells, and these two—"

Red-head threw back his head and laughed. "Haw! Haw! Curtis Wells! Hell, that ain’t even this jurisdiction!"

The crowd started to laugh, too. Austin felt himself flush. He had to take these two in, he just had to! He started to step forward to argue some more, when a meaty paw grabbed his shoulder and pulled him roughly back.

Austin turned around and saw it was the man who’d been tending bar in the roadhouse. "Now look, Sheriff," the man said. "You don’t want no trouble with that one. That’s Red McInerney, and he’s a mean son of a bitch. He’d shoot you dead, even if you is a sheriff."

Austin felt a shiver go through him. McInerney was known to walk a very thin line between bounty hunting and outlawry. He stepped back and tried to melt into the crowd.

McInerney sniggered, then spat close to Austin’s feet. He proceeded to lead his two prisoners away from the roadhouse.

"You’s lucky, Sheriff. Damn lucky," said the bartender.

"Yeah, I’m lucky, all right."

He watched his quarry ride away.

* * * * * * *

Larkin lay stretched out on Amanda’s bed, smoking one of Clay Mosby’s cigars. Amanda sat on the edge of the bed, almost fully dressed and lacing up her boot.

"You’d best not get too used to Mosby’s bounty, Ned," she said, giving her laces a final tight tug. "A few fancy cigars ain’t worth jeopardizin’ our enterprise."

"Darlin’, you amaze me," he said, sitting up and kissing her on the ear. "You think I’d ever betray you for Mosby’s sake?"

She looked at him appraisingly. She knew not to trust him, knew he had the scruples of a low-down snake, but then, he probably didn’t trust her too well, either. And would be stupid if he did. Still, he was much more satisfying as a partner than Austin, both in and out of bed.

"Ah—I’m sorry, Ned," she said. "I’m just jumpy, is all. Won’t feel right until we find a way to put this business to rest without Mosby finding out we done it."

"Well, let’s talk about that. Have you given more thought to who we should set up?"

"Oh, yeah. I got the perfect mark."

"Who?"

"None other than our illustrious sheriff, Austin Peale."

Larkin frowned. "The sheriff? Isn’t that a tad risky? I’ve heard he’s kind of popular hereabouts. Got elected in a landslide. Saved the town from some dangerous desperadoes, or something."

Amanda let out a silvery laugh. "Believe me, that was just fool’s luck. First off, Mosby fixed that election—"

"So he’s Mosby’s man?"

"No, not anymore. He was once, and then they fell out. No, he blackmailed Mosby into doin’ that."

"Really? With what?"

She instantly regretted letting that bit of information slip out. No point in giving Larkin as much leverage over Mosby as she had. "I—I ain’t exactly sure. The thing is, he hates Mosby’s guts and vice versa. And he’s also been out of town several times over the past few months."

"Aha."

"Right. He’s just near perfect. Why, Mosby will be plum overjoyed to have a reason to get rid of him. Almost breaks my heart to give him anything that will cause him so much pleasure."

"If you had a heart."

"What kind of thing is that to say?" she asked sharply.

He held up his hands in a mock defensive gesture and gave her a sunny smile. "Now, you know I’m just teasing you, hon."

"Yeah, I know."

She stood up and began buttoning her blouse. There were times she wished it wasn’t necessary to have a partner at all.

* * * * * * *

Never before had the sight of Curtis Wells in the distance looked so good to Austin. He was dirty, tired, hungry and frustrated. The last two days traveling through the badlands he’d almost completely exhausted his provisions. A bath, dinner at the Dove and a visit to Amanda were all he wanted at that moment. Of course, that last bit depended on Amanda’s mood. She’d been awfully cold to him lately. He thought he might end up at Twyla’s, in the end.

He was mulling over the unpleasant events of the past weeks in his mind when he finally saw his father’s house come into view. As tired as he was, he still noticed something about it seemed amiss. Not amiss, exactly—different. He realized it was because smoke was curling out of the chimney.

He perked up. This must mean that Call has decided to stay on at the house, after all, he thought. He decided to stop by and check it out for himself. It was also possible some squatters had taken it over. He’d had to chase some out more than once since his father had abandoned it.

He dismounted his horse and tied him to a post. He immediately noticed the door was ajar. It made him slightly nervous, so he took out his gun. He stepped inside.

The sight that greeted him was so unexpected he almost fell off his feet. He felt as though he’d stepped back in time. The house, which had been a filthy, musty wreck when he left, was now neat as a pin. Everything was dusted and polished, and there wasn’t a cobweb in sight. The pictures on the walls were all straight, the pillows all fluffed, the curtains freshly washed and ironed. Though he thought it had to be some fancy of his imagination, he detected the aroma of a chicken stewing wafting from the kitchen. He also heard the cheerful sound of a kettle whistling. Obviously another figment of his imagination.

"What the hell happened here?" he asked himself.

He heard a noise and turned quickly around, pointing his gun in its direction. He saw Eliza Monahan standing by the kitchen entrance. She wore an apron over her black skirt and held a bowl cradled in one arm. She stirred the contents with a spoon, amusement quickly replacing the startled look on her face.

"You can put the gun down, Sheriff. I’m not armed, honestly. Even if I were, taking the time to draw would ruin my cake batter."

He squinted at her. It seemed as though she was insulting him, somehow. He finally put his gun back in its holster.

He said, "What are you doin’ here?"

"Working." She continued beating the batter. "Your father hired me to clean the house once a week."

"You mean—he’s living here?" He couldn’t keep the shock out of his voice.

"Yes. And so is your brother-in-law."

"The hell he is! Uh—uh—excuse me, ma’am. Didn’t mean to be rude."

"That’s quite all right." She turned back toward the kitchen, but before she went in she paused and said, "Why don’t you get cleaned up? Dinner will be ready in about an hour."

"Yeah—yeah. I’ll do that."

He left the house in a daze. After seeing his horse safely ensconced at the livery, he headed for the newspaper office.

Again, as he walked through the door he felt as though he’d been transported in time. That Monahan woman must have been through there, too. Everything was clean, neat and in order, just as it had been when Hannah was alive. His father was bent over the desk, writing. The only thing missing from the scene, he thought with a lump in his throat, was Hannah herself.

"Austin!" His father looked up and leapt out of his chair. He extended his hand, and Austin shook it. "Good to see you, son."

"Father." He still couldn’t stop from looking around the office.

His father laughed. "Surprised, are you?"

"A little."

"It’s all Mrs. Monahan’s doing."

"Yeah, I stopped at the house. She told me she’s workin’ for you now."

"She’s a wonder." His father got a bit of that far-off look again, but it faded fairly quickly and he turned his attention back to his son. "So how have you been? You must have a lot to tell me."

He felt himself flush. He was ashamed to tell him the real story, so he simply said, "Damned gang managed to slip over the Canadian border before I could get ‘em."

"Well, that’s all right, son. I know you tried your best."

The heat rose to his face again. He hated lying to his father first thing, especially after seeing him acting almost normal again. "How’s Call?" he asked. "Mrs. Monahan said he’s livin’ with you now."

"He’s better. Cleese says the cast comes off his hand any day now."

"Will he be—you know—the same as before?"

"I just don’t know, son. Guess that’s up to the good Lord."

"I reckon." He didn’t know for sure how he felt about Call having a full recovery, and felt shame rising in him again. There was no cause to find pleasure in Call’s misfortunes. No one deserved the terrible retribution he got from those damned Stantons.

He cleared his throat and said, "I’ll just stop over at the bath house, then I’ll come to the house."

"See you later, son."

He headed out for Mr. Lau’s, pondering on all the amazing changes in the few weeks since he’d left town.

* * * * * * *

After Ned left her, Amanda thought about her conversation with him. He was cozying up with Mosby just a little too much for her taste. She knew having him planted right at Mosby’s side had innumerable advantages, yet she couldn’t shake off this feeling of foreboding.

She decided to distract herself by strolling into town to run a few last-minute errands before the stores closed. As she approached the center of town, she caught sight of Austin on his way to the bath house. That certainly didn’t help her mood. She had no idea he was back. She slowed her walk and bit her lip, thinking. She and Larkin would have to put their plan into action right away.

She shook her head, remembering how Austin had turned on her and thinking how likely it was that Larkin would do the same one day. She needed some kind of insurance against that. But what?

She paused in front of the hotel where a bunch of kids were playing kick-the-can. The little monsters took no notice of her, and she tried to side step them without getting kicked. She had to jump out of the way of one big, beefy boy just as he was about to tumble into her.

The boy took no notice of her deadly sneer and went straight back to the game. She stood there and glowered for a few seconds, then noticed Robbie Monahan standing in front of the hotel, hands in pockets, watching the game.

She studied him. The boy’s face was an odd mixture of defiance and longing. She wondered why he wasn’t playing, too. Then it dawned on her. For some reason he’d been deliberately left out of the game.

She walked over to him and said hello, then joined him in watching the game.

After a bit she said, "Ain’t you gonna play, kid?"

The boy just shrugged.

"Won’t they let you?"

The boy straightened up, as if to deny it, then his shoulders hunched over again almost immediately. "No, ma’am."

"How come?"

The boy looked down at the ground and shrugged again. "I guess ‘cause of what happened to Pa."

"Oh." Mean little bastards, she thought. The boy was getting a very early lesson in the harsh realities of the world. Maybe he was lucky.

A sudden idea formed in her mind. "Say, kid. What do you do after your lessons and such?"

The boy shrugged again. "Nothin’ much. Sometimes I visit UnBob. He likes me. We go fishin’ now and again. Only Ma don’t like me hanging about at the undertaker’s too much."

"Listen, kid. I’m goin’ over to the mercantile. Why don’t you tag along?"

He looked at her doubtfully, perhaps remembering her unfriendly attitude when he’d lived down in tent-town. How could she get a kid to like her?

Bribing him seemed a safe bet. "If you come with me, maybe I can scare up some candy."

She started walking away from him. He didn’t follow immediately. She kept on walking, but as she looked back she gave him an encouraging smile. After a last look at the children playing, he finally started to follow.

* * * * * * *

Mosby had just about reached the end of his rope as far as Malone was concerned.

They’d been sitting together in his office, waiting for Larkin to show up for a meeting, when Malone casually announced that he’d already hired a foreman for the mine.

Mosby couldn’t believe the man’s gall. "Without consultin’ me?"

"You didn’t choose too well the last time, did you, Mosby?"

That was the last straw. The one and only reason they didn’t come to blows then and there was because Larkin chose that exact moment to enter the room.

"Hello—oh." Larkin’s cheerful greeting died on his lips, divining the palpable tension between the two men.

Mosby tried to keep control of his temper. In an even voice he said, "Seems Malone here has gone and hired a foreman for the mine without consultin’ either of us."

"Is that right?" Larkin hung up his hat and sat down next to Malone. "It seems I need to remind Mr. Malone that these sorts of decisions are to be made jointly, as spelled out very clearly in the partnership agreement."

"Bah—that agreement. I hired a perfectly qualified and capable man. I’m sure you’ll both agree when you meet him."

"Now, look, Malone, I don’t care if you’ve hired the greatest mine foreman the world has ever known. We make these decisions together, we—"

"He’ll be arrivin’ on the stage next week. The man’s anxious to get to work, and he’ll be havin’ the copper flowin’ out of that mine in no time. Which is what we both want, isn’t that so?"

Before Mosby could explode, Larkin stepped in and said, "Just out of curiosity, what’s the fellow’s name?"

"Duncan Killborn."

"He’s one of the names we had on our list, Clay," said Larkin. "Very highly recommended, as I recall."

"That’s hardly the point," said Mosby.

"It’s exactly the point," said Malone, standing up. "There’s no need to go off yer nut over this, Mosby. You’d have probably picked him yourself in the end. Now I’ll say good evenin’, gentlemen."

Malone calmly walked out of the office.

"That bastard is goin’ to go too far one of these days," said Mosby after the door closed.

"Why did you become partners with him, if you feel that way about him?"

Mosby decided he may as well tell him, at least part of it. "It was the only way to get the mine reopened. He has sufficient capital, whereas I had lost so much after the explosion—my original investment, the compensation I had to pay to the families of the dead and injured—then there was the work that had to be done getting it back into full operation—"

"Ah. I see." Larkin grew thoughtful. "Well, I think this one particular time you should let it slide by—"

"One time? He’s been throwin’ his weight around ever since—"

"Calm down. He’s right, you know. Killborn was very high on our list and you probably would have chosen him, anyway. Let the mine get back into operation first, then maybe you can think of a way to squeeze him out."

"Have you got any ideas on how to do that?"

"Well," said Larkin with a grin. "According to the agreement, since neither you nor Malone have any immediate family, you’re each other’s heirs. Should Malone ever meet with an unfortunate accident—"

Mosby looked Larkin over sharply. "You’re not suggestin’—"

Larkin kept on grinning. "Come on, now, Clay. I was just thinking aloud. People do die every day of the week."

Mosby felt another little thump of doubt about Larkin. A few had crept up on him over the past weeks. Most of the time, he was pleased with the fellow and the work he did, but every now and again had a spell of uneasiness about him. Austin occasionally made those kinds of suggestions in the past, and look how that turned out.

Perhaps he was joking. He’d give him the benefit of the doubt this time. "Now, Ned, you know I can’t wait around, hopin’ for the bastard to keel over and die just ‘cause it’s convenient for me."

"No, I suppose not," said Larkin in a regretful tone. "Well, I’m sure we can find a way to push him out. Not strictly legal, maybe, but—"

"Whatever it takes. I want that stinkin’ son of a bitch out of here, once and for all."

"I’ll give it some serious thought."

* * * * * * *

Austin and his father drank their coffee and finished up the remains of a delicious spice cake in appreciative silence. They could hear Mrs. Monahan in the kitchen, cleaning up.

Austin had been surprised when Call had not joined them. Apparently, he was out wandering or hanging about at the Ambrosia or the No. 10. According to Josiah, he usually showed up at the house late to sleep, but that was all. Well, it’s an improvement over the livery, thought Austin.

"When she comes out," said Josiah. "Compliment her on her fine dinner."

"I’ll do that. It was a fine dinner. She sure can cook."

Josiah put down his coffee mug and looked his son over in such a way that Austin knew something was up. "What is it, Father?" he asked.

"What do you think of her?"

"What do you mean?"

"She’s a fine-looking woman, wouldn’t you agree?"

Austin was more puzzled than ever. "I suppose—yeah."

His father leaned in close and lowered his voice a bit. "Why don’t you think about—"

"What?"

"—when a proper period of time has passed, of course—"

"What are you on about, Father?"

After a bit more hemming and hawing, his father finally said, with a sheepish smile, "Why don’t you set about courting her?"

"What?" He started to laugh. "You can’t be serious."

"I’ve never been more serious. Why not? You said yourself she’s pretty and can cook. She’s good and kind and—"

"—comes with some very heavy baggage. That kid of hers."

As far as Austin was concerned, that decided the whole business, but Josiah was not so easily discouraged. "It would do you nothing but good to take on that kind of responsibility."

"I don’t think so."

"You should give serious consideration to settling down. People look up to you now, look to you as a leader. Having a wife and family would make them respect you even more. There’s not many to choose from around here with her kind of quality."

Austin shook his head. "Sorry, Father. Matchmakin’ just ain’t your strong point, I guess."

"You’re making a mistake if you don’t at least think about it."

"If you feel that way about her, why don’t you court her yourself?"

He meant it as a joke, but was surprised to see his father regard it as a serious idea. "I just might have, if I were twenty years younger. But if she were married to you—it would be like having a daughter again."

So that’s what this is all about, thought Austin. He studied his father, waiting for that vague look to come over him, but he was relieved when he continued looking at him steadily.

She came into the room and Josiah stood up, signaling Austin to do the same, which he did.

"I’ll just take care of these last dishes," she said.

"Oh, don’t bother yourself, Mrs. Monahan," said Josiah. "I can manage that. Austin," he said, turning to his son. "Why don’t you walk Mrs. Monahan back to the hotel? It’s getting late, she shouldn’t go alone."

The old man was as subtle as a sledgehammer. "Sure," said Austin.

She nodded graciously and removed her apron, then fetched her shawl and handbag from a rack by the door.

As they headed for the center of town, he couldn’t help giving her a couple of sideways glances. Since he’d known her, she’d impressed him as a bit mousy and nondescript, always going about in her black dresses. For the first time, he saw what his father was talking about, but she wasn’t anywhere near the type of woman he favored. He preferred Amanda, whose charms were more obvious and whose very presence in a room promised excitement. She was too retiring and quiet for his taste.

Still, he had to admit that her influence on his father and Call was startling, and he was grateful to her. As they stopped by the hotel entrance, she thanked him and said good-night.

He stopped her before she could enter the hotel. "Mrs. Monahan, I just wanted to thank you for all you’ve done."

"For what I’ve done? I haven’t—"

"Oh, but you have. You have. My father—"

"—has been incredibly kind to me. I’m the one who should be grateful."

"Yeah. Just the same, I think it’s done him the world of good now that you’ve put some order back in his life. I won’t forget it."

Awkwardly, he held out his hand. She looked surprised, but after a moment’s hesitation she smiled and shook it, then said goodnight again and entered the hotel.

* * * * * * *

After she was gone he headed for the 10, meaning to have a drink and arrange a tryst with Amanda, but as he passed by the Ambrosia he caught sight of Call standing at the bar. He decided to see if Mrs. Monahan had worked any further miracles.

As he walked up to where Call was standing, he heard Cleese, who was on the other side of him at the bar, admonishing him.

"Tomorrow, Mr. Call. You’ve put it off far too long as it is."

"Yeah," said Call, gulping back part of his drink. "I know it, and you’ve told me. One hundred times at least."

Austin squeezed in between Call and a cowboy and ordered a whisky from Carson.

Call glanced at him disinterestedly. "Welcome back."

"Thanks," he said, picking up his glass. "What’s all this Cleese is yammering at you to do?"

Before Call could speak, Cleese broke in, "He needs to have the cast taken off, and he won’t come and see me to get it done."

"What you waitin’ for, Call? An engraved invitation?"

Call just shook his head and looked away, taking another short sip of whisky.

"Good to see somethin’ is the same as always," said Austin. "You’re still the same stubborn jackass you always was, and always will be."

"Thanks, Austin."

"Tomorrow, Mr. Call. I’ll expect you in my office bright and early." Cleese drank the dregs from his glass and left the Ambrosia.

"Pain in the ass," muttered Call. He looked Austin over. "So? You get that gang you was after?"

Austin shook his head and sipped some whisky. "Most of ‘em escaped over the border."

"Tough luck."

"Yeah." Not wanting to have to give more detail, he sipped his drink quickly. A stranger who was talking to a bargirl caught his eye, and to change the subject he asked, "Who’s the slicker?"

"Mosby’s new associate. Some lawyer from Miles City, name of Larkin."

"Is that right?" He looked him over. Something about the man irritated him. He smiled too much for someone doomed to do Mosby’s fetching and carrying. Austin was damned glad to be free from that forever.

He finished his drink. Before he left, he said, "Go see the Doc tomorrow."

Call did not answer him, but he did nod slightly.

After he left the Ambrosia, Austin realized he was dead tired, so instead of going to the No. 10, he headed straight for Amanda’s tent. She wasn’t there, so he figured he would stretch out on the bed and wait for her.

He flopped down on it without even taking off his boots. Then he remembered Amanda would give him a good tongue-lashing if she found him like that. She hated when his boots muddied up the coverlet.

He sat up and took a moment to light the lamp. He began tugging them off. As he was doing so, something caught his eye.

On the table with the lamp was a small, cracked porcelain dish that someone had used as an ashtray. The remains of two cigars had been squashed into it. Austin reached over and picked one up. At first, he actually wondered if Amanda had taken up smoking. Slowly, very slowly, their true implication hit him square in the face.

"Son of a bitch," he hissed.

* * * * * * *

It was the oddest sensation to Call, now that his hand was free of its prison, exposed to the open air again. He turned it palm upward, afraid to move it, afraid he would find out he could never move it again.

Cleese held it by the wrist and examined it closely, as if looking for something in particular. Call knew what he saw didn’t please him. Even to Call’s untrained eye, he could see there were definitely areas that were misshapened.

"Try moving your fingers," said Cleese.

He hesitated, then obeyed. He grimaced. "Feel awful stiff."

"That’s to be expected. Try gripping my hand."

He took the hand Cleese offered to him in his and tried to do as he said. He felt tears leaping into his eyes from the effort.

"It’s all right, Call." Cleese stepped back and began gathering up the remains of the cast. "It will take time. You should try to engage in some kind of activity that forces you to use it."

"Knitting?"

Cleese gave him one of his humorless smiles. "I’m certain you’ll think of something suitable."

"Looks different, don’t it?"

"That’s to be expected, too. I doubt it will ever be exactly as it was before. But I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to regain at least some—even most—of the use of that hand again."

He’d had enough of Cleese’s comforting talk, so he reached into the pocket of his shirt with his other hand and took out a $5 bill.

Cleese looked surprised. "I was going to tell you to pay me later—I thought you were short of funds."

"Josiah loaned it to me. Don’t know when I’ll be able to pay him back, though."

"I would happily defer—"

"You gotta live like anyone else, Doc."

"Yes," said Cleese, taking the bill. "Thank you. And come see me next week. I want to monitor your progress."

"Sure thing, Doc."

After he left the doctor, he found himself doing what he swore he would avoid doing no matter what. He went straight to Josiah’s house and hunted up his gunbelt and pistol, taking them out back and setting up some cans along a fence railing.

This is so damned stupid, he thought to himself. He could barely buckle up his gunbelt. He must love torturing himself for some reason.

He slowly extracted the gun from its holster, not even wanting to try testing his draw. That would come later, he decided. He tried gripping it, and was not surprised when it immediately slipped out of his grasp.

"Damn," he said, as it plunked to the ground.

"Well, now, that is truly a tragedy."

He turned around quickly and saw Mrs. Monahan standing at the back door of the house, holding a basket of freshly folded laundry. He felt himself turn a deep red. He’d hoped no one would catch him in this futile effort.

"What you doin’ here? Ain’t your day to work for Josiah."

"No," she said, setting down the basket by the inside of the door and coming out to the back. "I was just dropping off some laundry I did for him."

"You do more than what he pays you to do."

"It’s no trouble. I just do it along with mine, hardly takes up another minute of my time." She looked at the gun on the ground by his feet, not to be deterred from the original topic of conversation. "Yes, indeed, that is a tragedy. Won’t be able to tear up the countryside anymore, will you? Things will get awful dull around here."

He started to get annoyed. "It’s what I do. I can’t do nothin’ else."

"Hmm. I see."

"You don’t know me, Mrs. Monahan. You think you do, but you don’t. You waste your time tryin’ to make me out to be different."

"Well, if you say so," she said good-naturedly.

"I do."

"Then I guess I’ll leave you to your own devices."

She turned and went back into the house. He bent down and picked up the gun with his left hand. Then he tried to hold it in his right hand again.

This time he was able to hold on to it for a few seconds longer.

* * * * * * *

Austin sat at his desk in the sheriff’s office, cleaning his gun. He took his time about it, making sure it was in perfect working order.

After a bit, he turned to the bed in the corner of the room and said to the whore, "You’d best be movin’ on."

She sat up and stretched, not mindful of the fact that the blanket did not quite cover her. Luckily, there were no prisoners in the cell to get a free show.

"Come on, come on," he said impatiently. "Get lost."

"All right. All right." She started pulling on her clothes. "Hurry, hurry, hurry. Always in a hurry, ain’t ya? Always."

She deliberately let that last word linger on her tongue. He put down the gun and walked over to her, yanked her up from the bed and started hauling her out the door.

"Hey! You bastard!" She twisted away from him. "You ain’t paid me yet."

He went to the desk, opened the drawer and took out some money, which he threw on the floor at her feet. She bent down and picked it up, then ran out the door, still only half-dressed. He stomped over to the bed, picked up the articles of clothing she’d left behind and took them to the door, where he tossed them out onto the muddy street after her.

He went back inside and picked up the gun, resuming his task as he sat on the edge of the desk. He heard a familiar laugh. He froze, then looked up and saw Amanda standing by the door. His heart leapt up into his throat, almost choking him.

She said, "What’d you do to her, Austin?"

He didn’t answer. He couldn’t. It was impossible to speak, so he started polishing the gun again.

She looked him over, perhaps trying to assess his current mood. His hand tightened on the handle of the gun. If only she knew.

"You didn’t come see me last night," she finally said.

With great effort, he made his voice work. "It was late. Didn’t want to disturb you."

"Mighty considerate of you—botherin’ a whore instead."

He put down the gun and stood up. "You jealous, or somethin’?"

"Me? I think you know me better than that."

He couldn’t help sneering. "No, you’d never be jealous. You’d almost have to be human to feel somethin’ like that."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It means—it means that whore is a damned sight more honest than you could ever be."

"Now just a minute—"

He strode over to her and, before he could think through what he was about to do, slapped her across the face.

A bright red spot rapidly spread over her cheek. Her eyes narrowed with fury. "You bastard," she croaked, raising her hand to strike him back. "I’ll fix you for that!"

He grabbed it before she could. "You bitch. You two-timin’—"

She wrenched her hand away. "So that’s what this is all about. You think I’m seein’ someone else."

"I know you are. I know it!"

"So what if I was? What did you think we are—engaged, or somethin’?"

"N-no. But—" He reached into his pocket and took out one of the cigar butts, shoving it under her nose. "Does it have to be Mosby? What game you playin’ at, anyway?"

Her eyes flashed with surprise. After a moment she said, "I’m not playin’ any game. He—he came to see me. We talked. That’s all."

"Talked," he said, throwing the cigar butt away. "You expect me to believe that? You think I’m stupid, don’t ya?"

"Really. That’s what happened."

"I don’t believe you. Why’d he want to speak to you, anyway?"

"He wanted to mend fences."

"You’re lyin’."

"Fine, if that’s what you want to think, you go right ahead." She pulled her shawl over her shoulders and turned. "You’ll see. You’ll end up apologizin’ to me sooner than you think."

She sashayed out of the office and slammed the door behind her.

* * * * * * *

This is bad, this is bad, Amanda thought as she charged back to the No. 10, as close to hysteria as she ever got in her life. The only piece of luck was that Austin had not caught her with Ned, or everything could have unraveled right then and there.

The target of her fury changed from Austin to Ned. She’d told that randy bastard to be careful! He was coming to see her much too often. It was inevitable someone was going to find out about their partnership and pass the information on to Mosby.

She just couldn’t take the chance that Austin might actually use that brain of his for thinking, and come to the conclusion that Mosby hadn’t left those cigar butts in her tent. His outburst of jealousy surprised her. She cursed herself, remembering how unpredictable he could be. He might even be dumb enough to pick a fight with Ned over her, and that would be a complete disaster.

She touched the sore spot on her cheek. Austin was going to pay dearly for that, she vowed. She abruptly changed direction and headed over to the telegraph office. It was time to speed up the process.

* * * * * * *

Mosby entered his office and was shocked to find he had a most unexpected visitor.

Robbie Monahan, who rarely favored him with a look or a grunt, stood in the office, waiting for him.

"Good afternoon, sir," the boy said. The effort at civility in his voice further surprised him.

He hung up his hat and returned the greeting, then sat behind his desk. "Is there somethin’ I can do for you, son?"

The hostility made a brief reappearance, but then quickly receded. "Yes, sir. I was wonderin’—"

"Yes?"

"If maybe you could give me a job, or somethin’."

"I see." He tried to conceal it, but it was difficult to suppress a glow of pleasure at hearing this request. If the boy was thawing out to him, then perhaps the mother would, too. He looked him over and said seriously, "Well, just what are your qualifications?"

"Qua—?"

"What can you do?"

"Lots of stuff," the boy said eagerly. "I could fetch things for you, give people messages, shine your boots—"

He smiled at the boy. "Yes, you could be a great deal of use to me. What does your mother say about this? Has she approved of your enterprisin’ goal?"

"My ma? I never said nothin’ to her about it."

"I think you’d better, don’t you?"

"Well, it’s like this, sir. I was fixin’ on buyin’ her a present. For her birthday."

"And you want it to be a surprise?"

"Yes, sir."

He thought it over. Nothing but good could come of having the boy in his company for extended periods of time, he was sure of it. "How does a quarter a week sound as your salary?"

The boy said in a serious voice, "That seems fair to me, sir."

He suppressed a chuckle and reached for some letters on his desk, which he handed to the child, along with some money. "You can start by postin’ these for me at the telegraph office."

The boy looked at the letters reluctantly. "Ain’t you got nothin’ for me to do around here?"

"I’ll have plenty for you to do, as soon as you get back."

The boy nodded and took off.

How nice to see a boy so loving towards his mother, thought Mosby.

* * * * * * *

"What the hell are you doin’ here, Ned?" Amanda glared at him as he stood at the entrance to her tent. "For cryin’ out loud, get in!" she cried. "Don’t want no one to see you, how many times do I have to tell you that!"

"All right, sweet pea, all right. No need to scream and holler."

He came in. She closed the flap of the tent over the opening. Her face turned red when she saw he was already half-way out of his jacket.

"Oh, no you don’t." She strode over to him and pulled on the lapels of his jacket, yanking it back on him.

"Darlin’, what in the hell has got into you?"

"Don’t darlin’ me, you, you—"

"What’s wrong?"

She turned away from him. Without looking him in the eye, she said, "We’ve been found out. I told you, I told you this would happen, but you wouldn’t listen to me."

"Who knows?"

"Austin. I mean, he don’t know it’s you, but he found those cigars—"

"Why, darlin’, that’s nothing to worry over." He reached for her as if to embrace her.

She pushed him away roughly. "This is no joke. You’re gonna have to get your lovin’ from someplace else, Ned. We’ve taken too many risks already."

His mouth fell open. "You can’t be serious."

"I’ve never been more serious."

He started to get mad, a state she’d rarely seen him in. "And just what the hell am I supposed to do, stuck in this town—there’s hardly a surplus of pleasing female companionship."

She shrugged impatiently. "Go to Twyla’s, like everyone else."

"You mean, pay for it?" He almost spat the words out. "Why would I want something anyone with two dollars can get?"

"Guess you’re gonna have to put up with a little loneliness, then."

"Amanda—"

"It’s better than bein’ dead."

"Now, I’m not so sure I agree with you there."

She couldn’t help laughing at that, because she knew he meant it. "Ned, look. We just can’t take anymore chances. You’ll find someone else to amuse yourself with in the meantime, I’m sure of it. Think of everythin’ we’ll get in the end, if we just make a few sacrifices."

He stopped being mad and started to sulk. "Someone else? Like who?"

"Don’t tell me you haven’t had your eye on at least a couple of gals since you’ve got to town."

He thought about that for a few seconds. A grin slowly spread over his face. "Maybe."

She knew it. "See? I’m tellin’ you, Ned, it’s all gonna be worth it."

"Oh—I guess."

"I’ll make it up to you when it’s all over. We’ll have a celebration to end all celebrations."

He didn’t look totally convinced, but he finally shrugged his shoulders in acquiescence.

* * * * * * *

Mosby found the boy to be great help to him over the next few days. Malone grumbled, of course, about the "little snot" always being underfoot, but soon began to regard him as part of the scenery.

The child remained distant and cold to him personally, which pained him somewhat. Though he fulfilled every request instantly and efficiently, he never made the least effort to be friendly, and seemed glad when he could get away.

After a time, Mosby also took to forgetting the boy was in the room, and he, Ned and Malone thought nothing of conducting business while he was about.

One afternoon Robbie was in a corner of the office, keeping his word about polishing some of Mosby’s boots. The boy made a slow, methodical job of it as Mosby spent some time answering correspondence.

The stage was arriving that day, bringing with it the new mine foreman. He was still irked by having to knuckle under to Malone, but he had to admit that the choice was probably a good one and the most important thing was to have the mine back in operation.

When he heard the knock at the door, he expected it to be Ned with Killborn in tow. He called out for them to enter, but it was not two men who came through the door. Instead, he saw a woman standing before him, a very handsome and familiar-looking one in a blue traveling dress.

He was confused for a moment, trying to place her. Then his heart thumped as he remembered.

"Mrs. Zander?" he said, as he rose from his chair.

The woman smiled, her dark brown eyes dancing with amusement. "It’s not Mrs. Zander, anymore, Mr. Mosby. I’m flattered that you remember me."

His eyes narrowed. "Oh, I’d never forget you."

There was a short silence as they appraised each other. Finally, she said, "May I speak to you? Alone?"

She tilted her head toward where the boy was sitting.

He nodded. "Robbie, let that go for now. You can finish it later."

"But, sir—" the boy protested.

"Go on, now. Time for you to go home, anyway."

The boy looked as if he was going to argue further, but he put down the boot and rag and left the office without saying another word.

Mosby gestured to the woman to sit down, which she did. "You say you’re not Mrs. Zander anymore?"

She smiled beguilingly. "I never was Mrs. Zander in the first place. I’d have thought you would have guessed that by now."

He was taken aback by her candor, then mightily intrigued. "What is your name, then?"

"Well, it changes to suit my purpose. But you may call me Lucinda, if you like."

He was further astonished by this offer of familiarity, but he merely said, "Then you must call me Clay."

"I will."

"So who do you work for? Is it Malone?"

Her eyebrows knit together. "Mike Malone? That scurvy lout--I should say not."

He couldn’t help smiling at her vehemence. "Then it must be Halcyon. Did they send you to try and scare me out of reopening the mine?"

She laughed prettily. "It’s true, my last assignment was for them. But you can’t really think I’m capable of pressuring people into bending to someone else’s will."

He looked her over and thought that she was probably capable of a great many things. "Then you work for the Pinkertons."

"I admit I started out with them. But I’m a free agent now. My specialty is the mining industry, which is why I’ve come to offer my services to you."

He was more confused than ever, but tried to hide it. "I don’t believe I’m in need of your services, Lucinda."

"Oh, but you are, Clay. You are in desperate need of them." She opened her handbag and extracted a letter, which she handed to him. "This will explain why."

He took the letter from her and read it slowly. Even so, he couldn’t make sense of it right away. It was addressed to him, from a surveyor advising him of the discovery of a rich vein, and telling him that the money needed to reopen the mine, estimated at over a million dollars, would be returned tenfold.

The problem with the letter was that he had never received it. Nor had he ever contracted a surveyor after the mine explosion. The letter was also dated months before Malone had ever come to Curtis Wells.

"I don’t—" he began, as he put down the letter.

Lucinda smiled at his confusion, then began to explain. "Someone I know found that letter tucked into a chair in a hotel lobby in Bozeman and brought it to me. He wanted my advice on whether or not he should seek you out so he could invest in the mine. By any chance were you in Bozeman near the date of the letter?"

"No."

"The hotel register says that you were."

His mouth fell open. "You mean, someone’s been impersonatin’ me?"

"It seems so."

"But—why?"

"It’s a scam, Clay, and one as old as the hills. These letters are lures used by confidence tricksters to sell phony mine shares."

It took a few seconds for that sink in. "What exactly does this mean to me?"

"Now the mine is due to reopen, some victims may insist on suing you. If someone could get a judge to believe that an associate working on your behalf sold them the shares, then you could have—God knows, dozens, even hundreds of people claiming to own a share in your mine."

"No one would be able to prove such a thing."

"Perhaps not. But the proceedings could drag on for some time."

The ramifications of the situation finally began to take hold, and he felt heat rise to his face. "But why would they use a real mine? Why not make the whole thing up?"

"I’m not sure. It may never have occurred to them that the mine would reopen, because the minute it does they are in danger of being exposed. It’s just pure luck that I found out about it beforehand."

"Not very bright of them, was it?"

"Not particularly—though I can imagine why they would have thought the mine was closed for good."

He tossed the letter aside. Just as he was about to have everything the way he wanted it, this had to come along and ruin things. It was intolerable. "What is your price to find who did this?"

"A thousand."

"Dollars?" he almost yelped.

"Well, I didn’t mean pennies."

"That’s ridiculous!"

"It could save you millions in the long run."

"Five hundred."

"A thousand, and half in advance. Plus expenses, of course."

A thought suddenly occurred to him. "Need I remind you of the money you yourself bilked out of me? Zander’s backpay?"

Her smile died. "I think it is extremely ungentlemanly of you to bring up money that you practically begged me to take from you," she said frostily. "I never asked for it, and considering how that whole situation resolved itself, the money was well spent, don’t you agree?"

He simply didn’t know how to answer that, so he went back to bargaining. "Seven hundred and fifty. A quarter in advance."

"A thousand, half in advance. I don’t negotiate, Clay."

He detected a hard glint in her eye, and knew she meant what she said. "All right," he said reluctantly. "However, there is one condition—"

"No conditions."

"This is a perfectly reasonable one. You get the other half when the guilty party or parties are brought to justice, and I am out of danger of being liable for the fraud."

She considered for a moment, then nodded. "Agreed."

He got up and went to his safe, and after opening it counted out five hundred dollars straight into her hand. He couldn’t help noticing an almost girlish thrill on her face as she held the money, but soon she was back to being cool and business-like.

"You’d best not tell anyone about this. And I mean anyone, Clay. Not your dearest friend or closest associate."

"Malone knows you, doesn’t he? He might suspect."

"He’s the only one you can trust, in this instance. He’s the one person on earth who couldn’t have done it, because opening the mine was sure to expose the scam."

Trust Malone—he almost laughed. "How long will this take?"

"Hard to say. I’ll do my best—which is extremely good, Clay."

"The foreman we hired is arrivin’ today."

"Yes. I rode on the stage with him. Duncan Killborn is a good man. I’ve never dealt with him personally, but he has a great reputation. You made a good choice."

He rolled his eyes. "Thanks."

* * * * * * *

Call came upon Mrs. Monahan as she stood outside the hotel, looking up and down the street.

"Who you lookin’ for?" he asked.

"Robbie. I swear, I don’t know where that child gets to half the time."

"Try lookin’ at the Ambrosia."

"What?" She turned and looked at him sharply. "He knows he’s not allowed to hang about in a saloon."

"I’ve seen him goin’ in there a few times."

"In the bar? Surely they don’t want children around there."

Call shook his head. "No. Never see him down there. Saw him go upstairs once or twice."

"Why would he do that?"

Call shrugged.

She answered her own question. "He’s lonely. The children—they shun him because of what happened to his father. I suppose it’s not so surprising he’d find refuge in a saloon and the undertaker’s."

He could see tears glistening in her eyes. He said quickly, "People, they’ll forget soon."

"Will they?" She laughed bitterly. "How nice for them. I never will, and neither will he. Not if we each live a hundred years."

He looked away, embarrassed. Then he caught sight of a well-dressed woman entering the Dove.

She did not turn to look at him, but he recognized her immediately. She was that woman who’d impersonated Zander’s widow.

He was so surprised he almost forgot about Mrs. Monahan standing beside him. What the hell was she doing back in town? She had to have nerves of steel to show her face around Curtis Wells again.

"That woman—" he said.

Mrs. Monahan snapped out of her pensive mood and said, "You mean Mrs. Donovan?"

"She was here before. Called herself Mrs. Zander."

"Yes, I remember. I suppose she has remarried."

"I reckon so." He saw Mosby, Malone and Larkin coming across the way, with a man he did not recognize. "That her husband, by any chance?"

"No. He’s Mr. Killborn, the mine foreman they’ve hired. She came on the stage alone." She excused herself. "I must get back to work."

He nodded as she went back into the hotel, then watched the quartet of men approach. They ignored him. The stranger, Killborn, was a small man, stocky and middle-aged, who looked more like a schoolteacher than a foreman. He had thick hair peppered with gray and a humorless face.

Call shook his head as they went into the Dove. Mosby’s cronies seemed to be multiplying faster than a plague of locusts. Soon the whole damn town would be overrun with them.

* * * * * * *

Eliza sent a message to Mosby via one of the waitresses that she wanted to speak to him. She waited for him, nervously pounding on some bread dough. She’d carefully avoided lengthy discussions with him ever since Call had told her about him having her followed. She hated to have to now, but she simply had to know what Robbie had been up to.

She was surprised when he came through the door bare seconds after she’d sent the message.

"Mrs. Monahan. What can I do for you?"

She got straight to the point. "It’s about Robbie. I’ve heard he’s been hanging around the Ambrosia."

"Why, yes, he has."

"I wish you had mentioned this to me before. I’ll tell him to stop it right away. I’m sure he’s a nuisance."

"No, not at all."

"Regardless, I don’t want him spending his time over there. It’s not a proper atmosphere for a young boy."

Mosby stood there, half-smiling, as if he wanted to say something but couldn’t.

"Is that understood?" she asked.

"Yes, but—the truth is, Mrs. Monahan, he’s been workin’ for me."

"He’s—what?"

"Now, don’t get upset. When you hear why—"

"I don’t want him working in a saloon and besides, I never gave my permission in the first place."

"I know that. But he said he wanted to surprise you."

"I am surprised. Shocked, more like. He’s going to be punished."

"I mean, he wants to earn money to buy you a birthday present."

She stopped kneading the dough. "A birthday present? My birthday’s not for months."

There was an awkward silence.

Finally, she said, "I don’t know what he’s up to, but I assure you that I’m going to find out."

"He probably told me that just to get out of tellin’ you about it. He must have known you would oppose the idea."

"I do, and I want to make it clear to him and to you that he’s not to go back to the Ambrosia under any circumstances."

She suddenly caught the bile in her tone. As often as she reminded Robbie, she had to remind herself that Mosby was the one person standing between them and disaster and she had to be very careful not to test the limits of his good will. She softened her stance slightly. "Thank you for the thought, I’m sure you only meant to do Robbie a kindness. But I simply can’t allow this to continue."

"I will abide by your decision, Mrs. Monahan."

"Thank you, Mr. Mosby."

* * * * * * *

Call walked into the dining room of the Dove and surveyed the people having their lunch. Mosby and his gang were in one corner, smoking cigars and drinking coffee. On the other side of the room was the woman calling herself Lucinda Donovan, sipping coffee on her own. He walked over to her.

She looked up, a spark of recognition in her eyes. "Why, it’s Mr. Call, isn’t it? My goodness, you look the worse for wear."

He suddenly felt self-conscious under her critical gaze. "I’d like to join you."

He sat down before she could decline. She looked slightly annoyed, but didn’t protest.

"What brings you back our way, ma’am? Mrs.—Donovan, now, is it?"

She tittered into her cup of coffee. "You’re a curious sort, Mr. Call. You know what curiosity did to the cat, don’t you?"

Her back-handed attempt at a threat was surprising to him. "Just makin’ conversation."

"I see. Well, I’m just passing through, since you asked. I had such a pleasant time here on my last visit. But I’m on my way again in the morning."

A voice said behind Call, "Is this man botherin’ you, ma’am?"

Call turned around and saw Mosby standing beside him. He stood up and said, "What’s it to you, Mosby?"

"Nothin’, except I seem to recall that you were thrown out of this hotel once already, and I’d hate to have to do it again. Now, why don’t you run around to the back and beg for a meal from Mrs. Monahan, like you usually do, and stop botherin’ my guests."

Call felt himself turning red. "I ain’t never begged for nothin’ from no one, and you know it."

"That I believe. I’m sure you know you don’t have to beg Mrs. Monahan for anything, she’s so kind-hearted. Too kind-hearted, if you ask me."

"No one did."

"Go on now. Run along, and stop botherin’ folk."

Call felt his hand trying to curl into a fist, and just as quick felt pain jab through his entire arm from the effort. With a last glance at Lucinda, he left the Dove, carrying the look of wry amusement on her face with him as he went out the door.

* * * * * * *

Eliza always made up Robbie’s room herself, feeling it was her place to do so and not the girls’. She’d got to it late that day, and was pulling the linens off the bed when a couple of dollar bills fell out of a pillowcase.

She didn’t know what they were at first, and was amazed when she realized she was holding money. At first she assumed Mosby had given it to him, but so much? Robbie’s forays into the Ambrosia seemed a recent phenomenon, and while Mosby was rich, she seriously doubted even he would pay an eight year old boy two dollars just to run a few errands for him.

She tucked the money into her apron pocket and sought out the child. She found him by the back of the hotel, stroking a stray cat that hung about the place.

Her heart tugged at the sight of him. He was so lonely, she could see it in his face. She hated to have to scold him, but there was no alternative. He had to understand that going behind her back was wrong.

"Robbie, dear," she said.

"Yes, ma’am?"

She drew out the two dollar bills and showed them to him. The boy said not a word, though bright spots of red appeared on his cheeks.

"Where did you get this money, son?"

The boy shrugged. "Mosby. I’ve been doin’ odd jobs for him."

"For how long?"

"’Bout a week."

"Now, I know perfectly well that he never paid you two dollars for a week’s work. Where did you get all this money?"

The boy looked down at his feet and mumbled something.

"How’s that?" asked his mother.

"It was just a game. She said it was a game."

"Who did?"

"Amanda."

This disturbed her greatly. What in the world would that woman want with her boy? "And what was this game Amanda had you play?"

"I just listen. I tell her what goes on. Don’t understand most of it, but I tell her what Mosby and his friends say to each other."

Eliza gasped. She was using her son to spy on Mosby! It made her so angry her teeth ached, but she tried to stay in control of herself in front of the boy.

"Robbie, you know doing such a thing is very wicked, don’t you?"

"Why, I didn’t see no harm in it, Ma. It was just a game, she said so. Just a joke." The boy looked up at her, pleadingly. "I swear, I was gonna give you the money. I know we need it. I just wanted to help."

She crushed the bills in her hand. "We can’t keep the money, it’s out of the question."

"Why not?"

"I told you—it’s wrong to spy on people, son. She never should have had you do such a thing."

Robbie shoved his hands in his pockets and lowered his head. "No, ma’am. I guess not. I’m sorry."

"Go on up to your room and stay there until suppertime."

"But ma’am!" the boy protested. "I said I was sorry."

"That’s not good enough. You lied, you did something you knew perfectly well I wouldn’t approve of, and you have to understand how serious a thing it is to spy on people. Count yourself lucky, Robbie. You’re getting off very easy."

After the boy trudged into the hotel without further protest, Eliza set off for the No. 10 without even bothering to take off her apron. She was going to give that woman a piece of her mind.

She hated being in that part of town and ignored the looks she elicited from the patrons when she entered the tent. She walked up to the bar decidedly and slammed the two dollar bills on the counter right in front of Amanda.

Amanda at first looked puzzled, then amused. "Here to purchase a couple of bottles of whisky, Eliza?"

"You know perfectly well what that money is, don’t even pretend that you don’t," she said in as steady a voice as she could manage.

"No, I don’t."

"Never mind, just stay away from my son, understand? Stay away from him, or—"

"Or what?"

"Don’t think I’m not capable of tearing your head off. When it comes to my son—"

Amanda’s response was to laugh out loud. It made Eliza furious, so without thinking she reached for a shot glass on the bar and tossed the contents into her face.

Uproarious laughter rumbled through the tent. Amanda gasped and stood there with a stunned look on her face as the whisky dripped down her chin and onto the front of her dress. Quicker than lightning, she reached over the bar and grabbed at Eliza, pulling on handfuls of hair. Eliza cried out and tried to pull her off but couldn’t, so she gave up and started pulling Amanda’s hair, too.

The patrons hooted and hollered at the spectacle. Though the tussle couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, it seemed to go on for an eternity. Finally, she felt themselves being pulled apart. Amanda was being pulled by Ned Larkin, and when she looked around Eliza saw that Austin Peale had hold of her.

"What the hell is goin’ on here?" demanded Austin, the full authority of his office in his voice.

"You saw for yourself what happened!" yelled Amanda. "She came in here and picked a fight with me. She attacked me!"

"Well, Mrs. Monahan? What do you have to say?"

"I—I—" Shame suddenly washed over her, as she realized she had involved herself in a cat fight in a saloon. She was on the verge of tears. "It was a very personal disagreement, Sheriff. I didn’t mean for it to escalate into a physical fight."

"Come with me," he said, pulling her out the door.

Eliza couldn’t believe what was happening. "Are you—arresting me?"

"Come on."

"Serves you right!" she heard Amanda yell after them as they went out the door. "You lock her up, Sheriff!"

She tried to keep control of her emotions as he led her to the sheriff’s office, but the cat-calls from the crowd of gawkers following them were too much, as was the sight of the jail cell as they went through the door. She burst into tears.

He sat her in a chair, then slammed the door in the faces of the onlookers, pulling down the blind. Then he went to the stove, where there was a pot of coffee. He poured some into a mug and set it in front of her.

"Here," he said.

She stopped crying and looked at him. He half-smiled.

"I ain’t arrestin’ you, ma’am." He sat down at his desk.

"Th-thank you." With hands trembling from relief, she reached for the mug and drank a couple of sips. "I’m sorry, so sorry to cause such a scene."

"Hell," he said, striking a match and lighting a cigarette he had extracted from his shirt pocket. "That’s a kiddie show compared to what usually goes on at the 10."

She put down the cup and started smoothing her hair, which must have been a sight. "Oh. Well I hate to be so dull."

He laughed and then puffed on his cigarette for a time. While he did so he looked her over, as if he’d never seen her before. It made her slightly nervous. Then he said, "You go on back to the hotel whenever you like."

"Don’t you want to know why—"

"I’m sure you had more than enough reason."

"I know, but that doesn’t justify—"

"If it pushed a nice lady like you into a public brawl, whatever she did must have been pretty damn low."

"It was," she said in a soft voice. "It was very low."

* * * * * * *

"Woo-eeh!" said Ned, laughing, after Austin had dragged Mrs. Monahan from the 10. "That woman is like fire and ice!"

Amanda slammed a shot glass in front of him and filled it. She tried to do it without her hands shaking, but she was so mad it was no use. That stupid twit had spoiled all her plans. It was just plain luck that she hadn’t mouthed-off about why she started the fight, because Ned would not have taken kindly to being spied upon.

Since most of the patrons had followed Austin out to watch him haul off Mrs. Monahan to jail, leaving only a few disinterested drovers passing through town, she spoke freely to Ned.

"You’re not to say anything nice about that whey-faced cow."

"Ah, when I think of her, I do not liken her to a cow, sweat pea. A dove, more like."

"Don’t call me—" What he said suddenly sank in, and it stopped her short. "You mean—you like her?"

"I wouldn’t mind consoling that little Monahan widow, if the truth be known."

It was as though someone had punched her in the stomach. Here she thought he was going to go after some insignificant bargirl or waitress. That he should single out that stuck-up little bitch made her furious.

Before she could say anything, Ned continued in a sighing voice, "But this great love affair is never meant to be, alas. Mosby has already staked a claim on her."

This jolted her even more. "Mosby? I don’t believe you!"

"It’s quite true, darlin’. He warned me off."

"He did that?"

"Well, not in so many words, but his meaning was crystal clear."

"But—she’d never have anythin’ to do with him," she sputtered. "He’s the one who ordered her husband to be hanged."

"There are few things in this world a woman won’t overlook when a man has enough money, sweat pea. A cynical view, I admit, but realistic."

She blinked, trying to absorb this astounding revelation. It took her less than ten seconds to decide that she wouldn’t allow this ever to pass. Nothing that poisonous sidewinder wanted should be his—not his town, and certainly not the Widow Monahan. Besides, that woman had to pay for attacking her like that in her own place.

She quickly regained her composure. She turned to Ned and said lightly, "It’s probably for the best. You’d never get anything out of Miss Starchy Drawers. Mosby’s savin’ you a deal of humiliation."

Her words had the exact effect that she’d hoped for. Ned drew himself up straight and said, "Now, darlin’, that sounds an awful lot like a challenge. You know how much I like a challenge."

She laughed. "Why, you said yourself that Mosby—"

"He doesn’t have to know about everything I do."

"No, no," she said with an exaggerated, doubtful tone. "I bet you couldn’t do it. Not someone as prim and proper as her."

"Darlin’ I’m shocked by your lack of faith in me." He gave her a smug smile. "I’ve been the downfall of more than one virtuous woman, I’ll have you know."

"Maybe so—"

"Care to make a real bet? Money on the line?"

"I might."

"One hundred?"

"Make it two."

"Done!"

"But just one thing, Ned." She hesitated, and wondered if he’d go for it.

"What’s that, love?"

"Well, at some point you’re gonna have to beat it out of town."

"I suppose that is inevitable."

"Part of the bet is that you take her and her brat with you."

He shook his head vigorously. "Now hold on. You know I like to travel light, darlin’."

She said in a soothing voice, "Just far enough away so she can’t get back here. Just take her and dump her wherever and whenever you like."

He just stood there looking at her for so long that she thought she’d gone too far. Finally, he whistled and said, "You sure hate her, don’t you?"

"It’s not about her. I want you to make sure Mosby never gets his paws on her. He’s not to have anything he wants, not while I’m still breathin’."

He thought about that, then nodded. "All right, darlin’. If that’s how you want it."

She couldn’t stop herself from grinning. She poured them each another drink. She held up her glass and said, "I love this kind of bet. If I win, I win. If you win, I still win."

She almost cackled with delight at the thought.

* * * * * * *

After Mrs. Monahan left to return to the hotel, Call walked into the sheriff’s office.

"Heard there was a ruckus over at the 10. What was that all about?"

"Hello to you, too," said Austin.

"Well?"

"Had to break up a fight between Amanda and Mrs. Monahan."

"Who?"

"You heard me. Hair-pullin’, screamin’, you name it. Like a couple of alley cats."

"Do you know what it was about?"

"Nope. Wonder what my father’ll think when he hears about this. Him thinkin’ Mrs. Monahan is such a fine lady and all."

"She is a fine lady. Whatever happened, I’m sure it’s Amanda’s fault. She has a talent for rubbin’ people the wrong way."

Austin nodded. "Well, you’re probably right about that. Still, I’m sure my father will no longer consider Mrs. Monahan proper daughter-in-law material."

Call whirled around, astounded. "What did you say?"

Austin smirked. "Got it in his head that I should marry her."

Call thought that was probably the funniest thing he’d ever heard in his life. He started to laugh, a very strange sensation for him these days, but he couldn’t help himself.

Austin looked very peeved. "And just what the hell is so funny about that?"

"Nothin’—nothin’," he sputtered between guffaws. "Congratulations—I wish you both joy."

"You think I couldn’t—"

"Didn’t—didn’t say that," he said, laughing some more. "Just don’t see you as the marryin’ kind, is all."

"Why, I don’t know about that." Austin was working up a head of steam. "Need I remind you, I’m the one in this room with a job. A respectable job, too."

"So you are."

"Do you think she’d marry someone like you?"

Call stopped laughing. "No, I don’t."

Austin took out a cigarette and struck a match. "I mean, I could get her to marry me. If I wanted to, I could."

"Do you?"

"No," he said. He lit the cigarette and took a savage puff. "But I could."

"Sure you could."

"Damn right."

* * * * * * *

The news about the fight spread like wildfire. It didn’t take long to reach Mosby’s ears, and when he heard about it, from Ned, he had a hard time believing it wasn’t a joke.

"Why in the hell would Eliza Monahan go down to the 10 just to pick a fight with Amanda?" he asked, more to himself than to Ned.

They stood outside the Ambrosia, smoking cigars. Ned puffed thoughtfully for a bit, then said, "My best guess, a man is involved."

"What?" He turned and looked at Ned. That was even more ridiculous.

"Well, it’s the only reason I know of for women to fly at each other tooth and nail. Can you think of another?"

The truth was, he couldn’t. But what man?

Call? Though he knew he and Mrs. Monahan had formed some sort of odd friendship, he couldn’t imagine that making Amanda jealous in any way.

Just as he was chewing this over, he spied Mrs. Monahan leaving the hotel and making her way to the front of the sheriff’s office, where Austin was standing. He was surprised to see her stop and speak to him. Even more shocking was seeing Austin remove his hat in her presence. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Austin make such a gallant gesture to a lady, if ever!

He almost choked on a laugh when he wondered if the object of contention between Mrs. Monahan and Amanda could be Austin. Yet he couldn’t ignore the fact that Amanda and Austin had been lovers for some time now. And now he was being mighty friendly to another lady . . .

These thoughts were interrupted by a commotion coming from inside the Ambrosia. Zeke suddenly shot out the door.

"Mr. Mosby, you’d best come upstairs and see what’s goin’ on."

"What is it, Zeke?"

"It’s that Malone feller. He’s gone plum crazy."

Mosby and Ned followed Zeke. When they entered his office, they found an appalling sight. Malone was being held by two of Mosby’s men, struggling and swearing at them. On the floor was Robbie Monahan, unconscious, his face cut up and and reddened from some vicious blows.

"My Lord," muttered Ned.

"What the hell happened here?" Mosby demanded, kneeling by the boy. He touched the child and was relieved to find that he was breathing. But when his mother saw him in this state she would likely lose her mind. When no one answered he yelled, "Don’t just stand there, get Cleese!"

"We’ve already sent for him, sir," said Zeke.

"What happened?" he asked again, looking at Malone. He could see cuts on the man’s hands, and knew he was the one who beat the boy.

Malone said, "Nothin’ the little bastard didn’t deserve, Mosby. He’s been spyin’ on us. I told you—"

Mosby was on his feet and across the room in a flash. He punched Malone in his soft belly as hard as he could. The man’s breath came out in a long whooshing sound and he doubled over, alternatively groaning and gasping.

"You’ll—pay—for—that—Mosby—" he sputtered.

"No, you’re the one who’s goin’ to pay, you—" He was about to land another blow, but felt someone grab his arm and stop him. It was Ned.

"Don’t, Clay. Let the sheriff take care of this. The sheriff."

He said this in such an insistent tone that Mosby reluctantly lowered his arm and signaled for Zeke to get Austin. He knelt by the boy again and took him in his arms, then picked him up and carried him to his own bed. Ned followed him. The boy moaned a couple of times as he lay him down, but still did not regain consciousness.

Mosby sat by the bed and covered his eyes. "What a mess. What an unholy mess. What am I goin’ to tell his mother?"

"It’s all right, Clay," said Ned. "I think I know a way to fix this problem."

"How’re you goin’ to fix that!" he said, indicating the boy’s battered face.

"I mean Malone. I think we can get rid of Malone."

"Don’t talk to me about that now—"

Just then Cleese walked in. A silence fell over the room as he began tending to the boy.

After a bit, he turned to them and said, "It seems no bones are broken, thank God. These cuts look nasty, but they’re not that serious."

"Then he’ll be all right?" asked Mosby.

"Most likely. Has anyone sent for his mother?"

He got his answer immediately, because just then she came through the door. Her first sight of the child elicited a gasping sob. Cleese walked over to her and said, "He’ll recover, Mrs. Monahan. There’s nothing to distress yourself over, I assure you."

"Nothing to distress myself over—look at him!" she cried. She ran to the bed and sat next to the child, reaching for him, but not touching him as if afraid by doing so she might injure him further.

"Oh, my baby," she said softly. She closed her eyes. "Please, God, I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to him, too."

The boy stirred, then his eyes flew open. "Ma," he whispered.

"Don’t talk, dear." She took his hand in hers and held it to her cheek.

"I wasn’t doin’ anything wrong, Ma," he said in the same whispering voice. "I wasn’t—"

"Shhh. It’s all right." She gathered him up in her arms and kissed him several times. The boy sighed, closing his eyes again.

This tender moment was interrupted by shouting in the hallway. Mosby and Ned stepped outside to see what was happening. Austin was dragging Malone away, but the man, though shorter, fatter and older managed somehow to resist going along.

"Mosby!" shouted Malone. "You tell this bastard sheriff to let me go!"

"I will like hell," said Mosby.

Malone glared at him and said, "I thought this was your town."

"Nobody tells me who to arrest and who not to arrest," said Austin. "I ain’t lettin’ no child-beater out on the streets of my town, I can tell you that."

Mosby gave Malone a look filled with loathing. "You heard the man. There’s nothin’ I could do, even if I wanted to. And I don’t."

Austin hauled Malone away, who shouted and struggled the whole way. Mosby said to Ned, "You’d better go, too. Take one of my boys. Make sure that son of a bitch is locked up tight."

Ned nodded and descended the stairs with Zeke.

He went back into his room. Cleese had finished his ministrations and was packing up his medical bag. Mrs. Monahan held one of the boy’s hands in her own and stroked his hair with the other.

He paid Cleese and the man quickly left. When he was gone he cautiously approached Mrs. Monahan, bracing himself for the inevitable accusation that what had happened to the child was somehow his fault.

"Mrs. Monahan, I don’t know what to say to you. I’m so sorry this happened."

He was relieved to see only sorrow in her eyes, no anger. "This is my fault. I am the only one who bears the blame."

"You? But how could that be?"

She turned to face him. He could see her trembling, and realized it was not merely from being upset about the boy’s condition. She was afraid of something.

"When I tell you," she said in a soft voice. "You will turn us out."

"Oh, never! Never, Mrs. Monahan."

"You will, and I won’t blame you. I should have told you about it right away, but I was so afraid—"

"Tell me what?"

She swallowed. "He was spying on you. I found out about it. Amanda was paying him to do it."

"Amanda?" He was shocked at the new low she had sunk to, using a child to further her vendetta against him. When he’d recovered somewhat, he asked, "Is that what that fight you had with her was about?"

She nodded. She seemed to collapse inside, hunching over. "I’d already told him he couldn’t come back here, but he said he’d forgotten something when that Malone caught him in here—I try to teach that boy the difference between right and wrong. I try so hard, and still—"

He knelt by her and took her hand in his. "It’s not the boy’s fault. You know it isn’t. She knows the child resents me and manipulated that feeling in him."

She nodded, then slowly withdrew her hand from his. "It’s kind of you to be so understanding, but just the same I wish you all wouldn’t involve me and my boy in your—feuds, or whatever they are."

"You’re quite right, and I will make sure it doesn’t happen again." He stood up. "I will also make sure Mr. Malone is out of this town and away from your boy as quick as I can arrange it."

"But he’s your partner in business, isn’t he?"

"Not anymore."

She raised a doubtful eyebrow. "Really?"

"You’re always ready to think the worst of me, aren’t you?"

She looked taken aback, but then she said, "You make it difficult sometimes to hold any kind of steady opinion about you."

She turned away abruptly and began busying herself by smoothing down the blanket covering the boy.

He left her like that. Instead of heading for the sheriff’s office, as he’d originally intended, he went to the No. 10. He went straight behind the bar and grabbed Amanda by the arm.

"Hey! You let go of me, Clay!"

He ignored her protests and managed, after a good deal of struggling, to get her outside. Luckily, the patrons were too drunk or too uninterested to interfere.

He took her around to the side. She wrenched away her arm and gave him a deadly look.

"Who the hell do you think you are, treatin’ me like that?"

"You’re lucky I don’t do a lot worse. If you weren’t a woman, I swear I—"

"What? What are you on about, Clay? I got to get back to work."

"I should make you come to the Ambrosia with me so you can see the results of your handiwork."

She looked at him blankly.

"Malone decided Robbie Monahan was spyin’ on us, so he beat him unconscious."

He had to give her credit for something. The stricken look on her face did not seem the least bit phony.

"God, I’m sorry to hear that," she said. "But I don’t know what that has to do with me."

He grabbed her by the arms. "Don’t lie to me! I already know it was you who paid him to do it."

"That’s ridi—"

"His mother just admitted it to me."

She shook him off and looked at him defiantly. "All right, so maybe I did."

"How could you do somethin’ so—"

"I never thought the boy would get beat up!"

He grabbed her by the chin and forced her to look straight at him. "I swear, if that boy suffers any permanent damage because of this, I’ll hold you personally responsible. And if I ever hear of you usin’ him or his mother as a way to get to me, I’ll make you sorry. Understand? What’s between you and me is between you and me. You don’t get innocent people involved in it."

She wrenched her face away, but said nothing.

"Have I made myself very clear?"

She grimaced and nodded.

Now for that bastard Malone, he thought.

He let Malone stew in the jail overnight. Eliza and the boy spent the night in the Ambrosia, as she did not care to move the child in his current state.

He slept, badly, in his office and was just getting up when Ned arrived, with a damn cheerful smile on his damn face. Everything was falling to pieces, how could the man remain so optimistic?

Ned grinned and opened his briefcase. "I told you, Clay, we’ve got Malone right where we want him."

"What do you mean?" he asked as he looked in a mirror and tied his tie.

"You’ll see. Come with me to the jail."

"After I have coffee."

"All right, I’ll meet you there."

Ned left. He finished getting dressed, then as he passed his room he couldn’t resist pushing the door open slightly and peering in. They were both asleep in his bed, Eliza still dressed except for her shoes.

He decided not to disturb them. He skipped having coffee and headed out for the sheriff’s office.

He was accosted outside the door by Call. Just what he needed.

"What do you want?"

Call pointed a finger under his nose. "You ain’t lettin’ that man outta jail, Mosby. Not after what he done. I don’t care if he is your crony."

"The only reason he’ll be let out of jail is so he can be run out of town."

This statement seemed to deflate Call, who was puffed up and ready for an argument. He said nothing, but did follow him into the office.

"Mosby!" shouted Malone when he saw him. "Why’d you let me stay in this stinkin’ cell all night, why—"

"I told you, I have nothin’ to say about it."

"That’s damned right," said Austin, who was sitting at his desk and drinking coffee. Ned sat on the edge of the desk, shuffling through some papers he’d extracted from his briefcase.

"How long you goin’ to keep me in here, then?" asked Malone.

"I’d like to keep you there till you rot," answered Austin. "Maybe then you’ll learn to pick on people your own size."

"How long?" Malone asked again.

"Till I can get you to the circuit judge, I reckon," said Austin.

"Mosby, you can’t let him—"

"Oh, yes I can," said Mosby.

Ned stood up and walked over to Mosby. "I’ve got a plan, Clay. A plan that might just fix up this problem and please everyone else besides."

"Now, hold on," said Call, stepping forward. "You ain’t gettin’ no fancy-pants lawyer to wriggle him out of this."

"Stay out of it, Call," said Austin.

Ned turned to Call and smiled easily. "Oh, Mr. Malone will not get out of anything, I assure you." He turned to face Malone. "Mrs. Monahan would have every right to sue you, Mr. Malone. In fact, I plan to advise her to do just that."

A steady stream of curses flowed out of Malone’s mouth.

"Of course, I could negotiate a settlement on her behalf. One of the conditions would be that your status as partner in the mining venture be silent. And absentee."

Malone jerked his head up. "Why would that woman care about somethin’ like that?"

Ned grinned. "She doesn’t. But I think it’s safe to say that just about every citizen in this town would like to see the back of you. Isn’t that right, gentlemen?"

No one answered him, but a tremor went through the room in reaction to his plan.

"You agree to pay Mrs. Monahan one thousand dollars—"

"What!" shouted Malone.

The thought struck Mosby, and probably Austin and Call at the same time, that with that sort of money Mrs. Monahan could pick up and leave Curtis Wells for good.

"Ned—" began Mosby.

"What is it, Clay? Not enough?"

"No, no. I’m certain Mrs. Monahan would find that more than satisfactory." He could say nothing else, he realized. He suddenly felt very depressed.

"And if I say no?" said Malone.

"You’ll not only face serious criminal charges, but you’ll have to fight off a nasty, nasty lawsuit. It will be nasty because I will make it so," said Ned. "You sign here and you’re free to go—at the sheriff’s discretion, of course—anywhere you like, except the town of Curtis Wells."

Malone cursed all lawyers into eternity, then snatched the papers and pen that Ned was pressing through the bars and savagely signed them. When he was done, Ned took them back and offered them to Austin to witness, who after a few seconds of hesitation, signed them, too.

When it was done, Mosby said, "So what do you plan, sheriff? Is he to be let go?"

"Stage leaves today. I guess he can stay in there till it’s ready to go. Then it can haul his sorry ass out of here."

"Does that make you happy, Call?" asked Mosby.

Call said nothing at first, but finally nodded slightly. "I reckon."

A gloomy silence settled on the room.

* * * * * * *

Amanda fumed and fussed at Ned when she’d heard the outcome of this incident.

"What the hell were you thinkin’?"

"Why, I did it for you mostly, sweat pea. You did want to get rid of Eliza Monahan, didn’t you? Well, she’ll be on her way as soon as Mosby gives her the money."

"I thought you were so hot for her. I meant for you to make her miserable, make her sorry for what she done to me, not rich and happy."

Ned became almost serious. "I know you did. But it’s funny, somehow I just couldn’t after I saw her and her little boy when he was hurt. I don’t want to cause her more pain."

She simply could not believe what she was hearing. What the hell was it about that woman? She turned men into spineless, useless creatures. Amanda had never seen anything like it in her life. "Give me the money you owe me, then."

"I will not. I won the bet, you owe me."

"The hell you did!"

"She’s leaving town, isn’t she?"

"You didn’t get her into bed, so you lost."

"I guess you could say it was a draw, and neither of us owes the other anything."

Amanda grumbled but finally agreed. At least that bitch was out of her life for good.

* * * * * * *

Mosby found that Cleese was just leaving the boy and his mother when he returned to the Ambrosia. After getting a favorable report on the child’s condition, he went to his safe and took out one thousand dollars and shoved the notes into an envelope. No sense in putting it off, he’d get Malone to reimburse him before he left town.

When he went to his room he found the boy was just finishing some breakfast that his mother had spoon-fed him. She was trying to persuade him to take a few sips of milk, but the boy wasn’t having any of it.

"Well, I see Cleese wasn’t exaggeratin’ about his improvement."

She turned around and nodded. The pain and turmoil that had furrowed her brow the previous evening was all smoothed out and she even managed to smile. "He’s much better. Dr. Cleese says it all looked a lot worse than it was."

"That’s a relief." He took a chair from the corner, brought it close to the bed and sat near her. "I want to tell you what’s been decided about Malone."

"Oh, Lord—I just never want to see that man again as long as I live."

"You don’t have to. He’ll be in jail until the stage leaves, then escorted out of town."

"Good."

"Also," he said, holding out the envelope. "He has agreed to give you this."

She hesitated, then took the envelope out of his hand. When she opened it her eyes widened. "Why, there must be—"

"A thousand dollars. That is what he agreed to give you in compensation."

She immediately thrust the envelope back in his hand. "I can’t possibly take this."

"But—you know you need it. For you and the boy."

"I want absolutely nothing from that horrid man. Nothing."

"Why, don’t be foolish. With this money you could—you could leave here."

He could see that tempted her briefly, but she shook her head decisively. "No. It isn’t right. I won’t take it."

"I’ll keep it for you, if you like. If you should change your mind—"

"I won’t."

"You could at least pay for any doctor bills out of it."

"Very well. For that, but nothing else."

"Whatever you say." He rose out of the chair and left them. When he closed the door behind him, he let out a long sigh of relief.

* * * * * * *

Mosby, Larkin, Call and Austin watched as the stage departed with Malone in it.

"I’ll bet you never thought we’d get rid of him so easy, did you, Clay?" said Ned, looking mighty pleased with himself.

It was all a little too easy, Mosby thought. He doubted he’d seen the last of that bastard. "I would have preferred it hadn’t taken a little boy getting beaten to a pulp to accomplish it."

"Of course, of course. But the point is, he’s gone."

"Yes, he’s gone." Somehow, he wasn’t as overjoyed as he thought he’d be. Maybe after the sour taste in his mouth over the incident receded, he’d feel more like celebrating.

Call strolled over to where they were standing. "What’d Mrs. Monahan say when you gave her the money, Mosby?"

"She wouldn’t take it."

"No?" said Ned in a shocked voice. "How could she not? A woman alone, raising a boy—she must really need that money."

"She’s a proud woman," said Call.

"Yes, she is," said Mosby.

"There is such a thing as foolish pride," said Ned.

Just then, Zeke ambled up to Mosby and held something out to him. "This just came from the telegraph office for you, sir."

Mosby took it and opened it.

It said:

U. S. Marshal arriving in two days to make arrest in fraud case. Will follow soon after to conclude our business.

Lucinda

There was no indication in the message who would be arrested. Mosby appreciated Lucinda’s discretion, but he suddenly found himself terribly curious to know who it was who tried to defraud him and his mine.

His mine. He suddenly realized that without Malone around, it was as good as his again. If the fraud problem was cleared up, there was nothing in this world to stop him from getting everything he wanted.

He folded the paper up and tucked it in his pocket.

"Good news, Clay?" asked Ned.

"You have no idea, Ned."

THE END

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