Call couldn’t shake the feeling of impending trouble no matter how hard he tried. He’d prowled Curtis Wells from one end to the other time and again. He’d been getting more and more edgy snapping at everyone. Slumped in a chair in front of the general store, Call scowled as he watched people passing by. Deep in thought, he jumped when Luther’s hand slammed down on his shoulder.
Call snorted and slumped back in the chair.
“C’mon,” Luther grabbed Call’s arm and jerked him to his feet.
“Don’t!” Call jerked his arm away. “Just go on and leave me be.”
“What’s with you, Call?” Luther demanded. “You been snappin’ at everybody for the last couple of days.”
Call shrugged. “Don’t know,” he finally admitted. “Just somethin’...” his voice trailed off. Then he glanced back at Luther and scowled. “You got nothin’ better to do than to bother me?”
“You know what you problem is, Call?” Luther asked. “You don’t know how to have fun.”
“I don’t, huh?” Call squinted up at Luther.
“Nope,” Luther shook his head. He suddenly grabbed Call’s arm and began walking him down the street. “Guess I gotta teach you.”
This time Call was unable to pull his arm from Luther’s grasp. “Don’t need no teachin’,” he snapped.
“Think you do,” Luther kept a firm grasp on Call’s arm as he walked him towards the Ambrosia Club. “Twyla’s girls are doin’ business in here today.”
Call thankfully turned to see Aaron Daniels running towards him. “You gotta come! All of ya!”
“What’s goin’ on?” Call stopped the 10-year old who gasped for air.
“It’s Bobby!” Aaron gasped mentioning his younger brother. “We was out playin’ by that old mine of Mosby’s. He fell in.”
“I’ll get the others,” Luther headed off as Call took Aaron towards the stables.
“What were you fool kids doin’ out there?” Call snapped as he saddled Hellbitch.
“Just playin’,” Aaron replied defensively. Then he gasped as Call pulled him up in front of him. Once clear of the stables, Call gave the horse a sharp nudge and they galloped away.
It took the better part of ½ hour to get to the mine entrance. Call dragged Aaron down and stood him in front of the mine. “Where is he?” he demanded.
“We was in the left shaft,” Aaron stammered frightened by the look on Call’s face. “We kept turnin’ left. He just fell in.”
Call quickly fashioned a torch from some discarded material. “You tell the others when they get here,” he grimly ordered. “And you stay here.”
Slowly Call made his way into the mine. After the first turn, what little sunlight that filtered into the passageway disappeared. He glanced at the ceiling uncertainly as he carefully followed Aaron’s directions. He soon heard a child’s whimpering.
“Bobby?” Call softly said.
“Help!” Bobby screamed again.
Call cursed under his breath and stumbled over some rocks. Carefully picking his way down the shaft, he saw the boy. “Fool kid,” he muttered under his breath.
“There’s nothin’ under me,” Bobby whimpered as Call knelt beside him.
“Just don’t move,” Call ordered. “Don’t do nothin’.” He wedged the torch between two rocks and took a deep breath.
Bobby had disappeared through the floor with only his upper body above the floor. Call realized there must be an empty space beneath them.
Call didn’t answer that one. He carefully stood next to the boy trying to feel if the ground beneath him was solid. Reaching down he grabbed the boy under the arms and began to tug.
“Owww!” Bobby yelled.
“Shut up!” Call hissed as he felt dirt from the ceiling falling onto them. He held his breath as he felt the boy move a little. Taking a deep breath he yanked harder pulling Bobby free.
“Owwww!” Bobby screamed again as they fell backwards.
Call looked up to see cracks forming in the ceiling. “Run!’ he ordered shoving Bobby ahead of him. He kept a hand on Bobby’s shoulder to make sure he turned the right way to get to the mine opening.
They almost made it. Call saw the cracks appear in the ceiling above them...outrunning them. Larger pieces of the ceiling began falling. Call roughly shoved Bobby ahead of him. “Go right!” he yelled.
A heavy rock struck him in the back knocking him to the floor. Call panicked as the ceiling collapsed around him. He clawed at the rocks to prevent being buried alive. He stumbled to his feet as he made the final turn towards the mine entrance.
Call saw daylight ahead. Then it was blocked as the ceiling collapsed on top of him. He heard Luther yelling his name then felt something heavy land on top of him. Just as he lost consciousness, he saw the daylight vanish under rock and dirt.
Austin grabbed at Bobby who stumbled out the mine entrance followed by a cloud of dirt and rocks. He shoved the boy into the open space behind him where someone grabbed him and shoved him towards his screaming mother.
“Luther! Call!” Austin yelled as the dust settled. He heard a muffled yell from Luther and ducked inside the entrance.
“Oh, Lord, no,” Josiah closed his eyes then turned to see if he could help Cleese. He couldn’t stand to watch Austin risk his life yet once again.
Austin coughed and waved his hand in front of his face to clear the air. He heard someone behind him coughing equally hard. “Luther!” Austin yelled again.
“Keep that up and it’ll all come down,” Clay said as he cleared his lungs.
Austin ignored him and moved forward where he saw Luther trying to move a heavy rock off him.
“Call’s underneath,” Luther grunted as they approached.
Clay studied the rock and motioned to Austin. “Roll it to the left,” he ordered. “It shouldn’t bring anything else down.”
Austin glared at Mosby uncertainly then knelt with him to roll the rock. Luther grunted as the rock’s weight shifted on his leg. Slowly the rock began to roll and fell to one side.
Austin took one look at Luther’s leg. He turned and saw several other men behind them. “Carry him out,” he ordered. He glanced at Luther. “I think your leg’s broken.”
“Damn,” Luther grimaced. He turned pale as they lifted him.
Clay anxiously scanned the ceiling. “That isn’t goin’ to stay up long,” he warned.
Carefully, Austin helped to lift Call. He winced at the bloody gash cutting across Call’s head. He became more worried when Call made no sound as they moved him out of the mine and into the wagon Cleese had brought.
Austin stepped back as Cleese turned from splinting Luther’s leg and began to examine Call. He heard Mosby’s voice behind him and whirled around.
“This is your mine, Mosby!” Austin angrily seethed. “You should have boarded it up!”
“It was!” Clay yelled back equally angry. “Despite what you think, Austin, I’m not stupid! Don’t you think I knew this would be a magnet for some young idiots?” He looked wrathfully at Aaron and Bobby who were being cradled by their sobbing mother.
“It’s not boarded up now,” Austin hotly pointed out as Josiah stepped between the two men.
“Took us a while to get the boards off,” Aaron spoke up from the safety of his mother’s arms. He looked proud at the accomplishment.
Clay choked back a comment. “Perhaps you’d best take the boys home, Mrs. Daniels,” he suggested after a moment. “And explain just how dangerous playin’ here could be.”
“Next time I throw you both in jail,” Austin promised grimly. “You were trespassing. That’s against the law.”
Both boys gulped and looked at their mother. “I’ll tell them,” she promised pulling them away with her.
“I don’t like that look of that head wound,” Cleese was telling Luther. “Try to keep his head as motionless as possible.”
Luther nodded glancing up at Austin with a worried look.
Austin glanced down at Call’s bloody head. He forced himself to look back at Luther. “He’ll be fine,” he said not realizing how much he sounded like Josiah. He glanced back at the mine where Mosby’s men were boarding up the entrance once again. “That thing’s been nothing but trouble,” he snarled.
Clay watched as his men worked hard to complete the job. He was sorely tempted to dynamite the entrance and seal it for good. “See to it those boards can’t be pulled off by a couple of children,” he snapped. “I want it boarded up properly this time.”
“I can do this, Austin!” Luther snapped as he awkwardly negotiated the steps down from Cleese’s office.
Austin looked down the steps and gave Luther a dubious look. “You want to break your other leg, go ahead,” he shrugged.
Luther gave Austin an angry look over his shoulder and threw the crutch down the steps. It landed with a clatter on the sidewalk. “Just shut up,” he told Austin.
Mattie, standing just around the corner, stared at the crutch in amazement. Cautiously, she glanced around the side of the building and saw Luther slowly and carefully hobbling down the steps by holding onto the railing.
Austin saw Mattie pick up the crutch and smiled to himself. He carefully followed Luther down the steps prepared to grab him if he slipped. When Luther reached the bottom step, he turned to Austin. “Told ya,” he said triumphantly.
“You might need this, Luther,” Mattie said quietly holding out the crutch.
Luther tried to turn quickly and almost lost his balance. Austin reached out to grab him only to have Luther pull away. “You coulda told me,” he muttered angrily at Austin.
“You told me to shut up,” Austin reminded him trying not to smile.
Luther took the crutch from Mattie. “Thanks,” he said shortly. He looked back at Austin. “Let me know ‘bout Call,” he said as he started to hobble away.
“Luther...” Mattie’s voice faded away as Luther ignored her. She watched him for a moment then turned to Austin. “He ain’t spoke to me since we got back from the Waynes’ place,” she said somberly. “How can I apologize if he won’t stop long enough to listen to me?”
Austin glanced at Luther’s retreating form. “Well, with a busted leg, he can’t run far or fast, Mattie,” he reasoned. “Guess you got a pretty good chance to do it now.” He studied her for a moment. “That’s if you want to.”
“Austin! ‘Course I want to,” Mattie frowned. “Why is it that everybody thinks they know what I ought to be doin’?”
Austin smiled slightly. “I guess ‘cause you’re a good person, Mattie, and nobody wants to see you get hurt,” he suggested. He glanced over Mattie’s shoulder to see Mosby and his men riding back into town. “And good people around here are rare.”
Mattie followed Austin’s eyes and sighed. “What’s happened now?” she asked. “Luther’s got a broken leg, somethin’s happened to Call, and you’re lookin’ daggers at Clay.”
“The Daniels kids managed to get into that old mine of Mosby’s,” Austin explained. “Bobby got trapped and Call went in after him. The ceiling came down as Bobby got out. Luther went in after Call.” He shrugged. “Seems Mosby didn’t go such a good job sealing up that mine entrance as he thought.”
Mattie frowned. “I’m sure he did the best he could,” she said. “He wouldn’t want anybody else hurt in there.”
Austin smirked. “You go ahead and think that, Mattie,” he said.
“How bad is Call hurt?” Mattie ignored Austin’s remark.
Austin glanced back up the stairs and frowned. “He’ll live,” he said brusquely. “He got knocked out. Still wasn’t conscious when I left. Father’s with him, though.” He stood silent for a moment then smiled at Mattie. “Better do that apologizing while Luther’s still not moving too quickly,” he advised.
Mattie glanced down the street towards the sheriff’s office and bit her lip.
Call groaned as he tried to open his eyes. The throbbing in his head wasn’t getting any better. He felt someone’s hand on his arm.
“Don’t move, Newt,” Josiah said quietly as he patted Call’s arm. “Just lie still while I get Ephraim.”
Call nodded sending another wave of throbbing pain through his head. He gritted his teeth and tried to relax. “What about that kid?” he mumbled.
“Bobby’s fine,” Josiah said soothingly. “So is Luther. Now stay quiet.”
Josiah opened the door to Cleese’s office. “Ephraim, he’s conscious,” he said quickly before returning to the chair next to Call’s bed.
“Luther?” Call was asking. “What about Luther?”
“He went in after you just as the ceiling collapsed,” Josiah explained. “He’s got a broken leg but kept you from being hurt worse.”
“Shouldn’t have done that,” Call said after a moment. He turned his head away from Josiah. When Josiah patted his arm again, he pulled it away. “Stop fussin’, Josiah,” he ordered.
“Let’s see,” Cleese sat on the side of the bed and began examining Call’s head wound. “You were hit very hard on the head by a very large piece of rock,” he explained. “You’ve been unconscious for a couple of hours.”
“That so?” Call’s voice shook slightly.
“But Josiah assured me you had a hard head,” Cleese said with heavy humor.
“That so?” Call repeated as he tried to turn his head towards Josiah. But Creese kept him from turning it.
“Well, the wound looks clean,” Creese said after a moment. “It should heal nicely.”
“Then get that bandage off my eyes so I can see,” Call ordered irritably.
Creese looked in surprise at Josiah who stared at Call in shock.
“One moment,” Creese quickly said. He struck a match and held it in front of Call’s open eyes. His face took on a concerned look as he studied Call’s eyes.
“What are you doin’?” Call demanded feeling the heat from the match.
“Newt,” Josiah put his hand on Call’s arm but Call shook it off.
“I’m afraid there is no bandage over your eyes,” Creese said hesitantly.
“What are you talkin’ ‘bout?” Call demanded. “There has to be. I can’t see.”
The silence was heavy as Call’s words hung in the air.
“You sayin’ I’m blind?” Call demanded after a few seconds his voice low and deadly.
“It’s entirely possible this is a temporary situation,” Creese quickly explained. “The blow to your head...and apparently this hasn’t been the first hard blow either.” He glanced uncertainly at Josiah.
“Entirely possible,” Call slowly repeated. “Am I blind or not?” When Creese hesitated, he exploded. “I can’t be sheriff if I’m blind! I can’t be nothin’!” He swung his arm in Creese’s general direction.
Creese instinctively moved back and Call’s hand struck the lamp on the table next to the bed. It fell to the floor with a crash.
“It seems you can destroy Ephraim’s lamp,” Josiah said sharply.
“Don’t start...” Call began angrily.
“You are going to calm down and listen to Ephraim!” Josiah shouted angrily. “And you’re going to do it now!”
Call, stunned by both the unusual anger and authority in Josiah’s voice, fell silent and leaned back against the pillows.
Ephraim, also stunned by Josiah’s actions, looked at him. When Josiah nodded, he cleared his throat. “I need to examine you a little more fully,” he proposed. “But I didn’t see any obvious damage to your eyes. That’s why I think this will clear up.”
“When?” Call demanded.
“Newt!” Josiah snapped. “How can he tell you that before he’s examined you? Be reasonable.”
“Reasonable?” Call laughed harshly. “Ain’t you that can’t see, Josiah.”
“No,” Josiah agreed. “But throwing a temper tantrum like a child isn’t helping either.” He watched as Creese gathered his instruments.
“Ain’t actin’ like a child,” Call denied sullenly. “Don’t need to be treated like one.”
“You're acting like a child,” Josiah said firmly. “And I will treat you like one until you stop.”
“Don’t need your help!” Call shouted.
“Too bad,” Josiah smiled as Creese hesitantly set his instruments on the table next to the bed. “Because you’re going to get it until either your eyesight returns or you learn to cope without it.”
The idea of never being able to see again was enough to silence Call. Creese took the opportunity presented by Call’s silence to begin his examination.
Mattie carefully balanced a tray of food as she reached to open the door to the sheriff’s office. She saw Luther awkwardly trying to put his leg up on the desk.
“Best be careful,” she suggested with a smile. “Might break it again if you’re not careful.”
Startled, Luther’s leg started to drop heavily to the floor but he caught it and gently lowered it.
“Luther! Be careful!” Mattie said sharply as she set the tray on the desk.
Luther scowled as Mattie dragged a chair close to him. She carefully propped his leg on the chair then scooted the tray over to him.
“Thanks,” Luther said grudgingly. He reached for the fork but Mattie stopped him.
“Luther, I’m sorry ‘bout what I said at the Waynes’ place,” Mattie said softly when he looked up at her. “I’ve been tryin’ to tell you that for a while but you never gave me the chance.”
“Don’t matter,” Luther said gruffly.
“It does to me,” Mattie continued. “You’re my friend, Luther. A good one.”
“Then why’d ya say it, Mattie?” Luther demanded angrily.
“I don’t know,” Mattie shrugged. “I was tired, scared...just wanted to get away. I suppose I thought I was teasin’ you.”
Luther looked down at the tray not wanting to see the sad expression in Mattie’s eyes. “It’s okay,” he mumbled. “I know you didn’t mean it.”
“Really?” Mattie prodded a little anxiously.
“Yeah,” Luther nodded. “Really. Shouldn’t have made such a fuss ‘bout it anyways.” He shrugged uncomfortably.
“Thanks, Luther,” Mattie leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Nice to know we’re friends again.”
Luther sank back in the chair in astonishment and watched her leave.
“Well, I don’t see anything that looks like permanent damage,” Creese said cautiously as he began packing his instruments in his bag.
“So why can’t I see?” Call demanded.
“It looks like the brunt of whatever hit you in that mine struck you very close to your eye,” Creese explained. He reached out and touched Call on the side of the head. “Here.”
Josiah frowned as Call jerked away from Creese’s touch.
“There’s a lot of abrasions, bruising, and some swelling,” Creese continued as he sat back. “When the swelling goes down, you should regain some eyesight.”
“Some?” Call’s voice rose. “What’s that mean?”
“It means that I can’t tell at this point,” Creese admitted exchanging a nervous look with Josiah.
“Newt, be reasonable,” Josiah interjected. “When you look at a trail, can you tell right then and there if it will turn north or south...east or west? No, you have to follow it.”
“Don’t look like I’ll be followin’ any trail,” Call said roughly. “Don’t look like I’ll be doin’ much of anythin’.” He jerked away from Josiah’s touch. “Leave me alone!”
Creese shook his head as Josiah opened his mouth. “I’ll be outside if you need anything,” he told Call.
“Need to see,” Call retorted sarcastically. “You get out, too, Josiah.”
“My God, Father,” Austin looked shocked. “Blind?”
“Quiet, Austin,” Josiah glanced around at the few people in the Dove. “Ephraim says it’s most likely temporary. But I’m sure Newt wouldn’t want anyone knowing about this.”
“I don’t imagine so,” Austin shook his head. “He’s going to stay with Creese?”
“I don’t think Ephraim can handle him,” Josiah shook his head. “As soon as he’s able, I’m taking him home with me.”
“With Amanda in the office below?” Austin stared at his father questioningly. “And you think no one will find out? As soon as she does, it’ll be all over Curtis Wells.”
Josiah sighed. “Not if I asked her not to tell,” he said. Then he shrugged. “ Besides, I understand she’s going to Denver to attend a stockholders’ meeting of the railroad.” His eyes widened. “You mentioned you and Caroline were going.”
“Not now,” Austin shook his head. “With Luther’s broken leg and Call...”
“I guess Caroline could travel with Amanda and Clay,” Josiah mused not seeing Austin’s angry look. “He’s going as well.” He looked startled as Austin suddenly rose.
“We’ll see,” Austin said tightly. “Let me know when you plan on moving Call.”
“I don’t think he wants anyone seeing him,” Josiah pointed out.
Austin smirked. “He’ll never know I’m there, Father, now will he?”
“Of course I understand why you can’t go to Denver, Austin,” Caroline smiled up at Austin. She sat in a chair carefully mending a shirt of Josiah’s. “You need to be here.”
Austin looked at the window at the street below. “I’ll be working a lot of the time,” he pointed out. “But you can go if you want.” He hesitated. “I hear Mosby and Amanda are going.”
Caroline carefully paid attention to the shirt on her lap. “I’d rather stay with you, Austin,” she said. Looking up, she frowned. “Unless you think I should go.”
“No,” Austin said too quickly. He flushed. “I mean, I suppose you need to go.” He looked over at her and grinned. “You’re the major stockholder. I suppose it would be very awkward for Jason if you didn’t show up.” He recalled the man he and Caroline had backed to become CEO of the railroad.
“We can telegraph him our proxy votes,” Caroline softly emphasized the pronoun. “That way, he has the power to do as he thinks is best.”
Austin frowned. “I know your...you trust him,” he began. “But do you think that’s wise?”
“Mr. Edwards can be trusted,” Caroline said positively. She smiled as she finished Josiah’s shirt then looked up at Austin. “I’d rather stay here with you,” she repeated. “But I’ll do what you think is best.”
Austin unconsciously frowned. After a moment, he reached for his hat. “I need to make rounds,” he said quietly. He stopped at the door and looked over his shoulder. “You need to go,” he said reluctantly.
“This time,” Caroline nodded. “The stockholders meet once a year. Maybe next time we can go and take Josiah with us.” She smiled impishly. “Or not go at all.”
Austin walked to where she was sitting and leaned down to kiss her gently. “Better get packed,” he said heavily.
“Austin, the stage doesn’t leave until day after tomorrow,” Caroline pointed out.
Austin forced a grin. “I know how long it takes you to pack,” he teased.
Clay sat at the back table at the Ambrosia Club. Everyone had left and only the lamp on the table and one by the bar was burning. Clay broodingly looked at the empty bottle in front of him. With a sigh, he stood and walked to behind the bar for another bottle. He knew he wouldn’t be getting much sleep tonight anyway.
A sudden screech and howl from under his foot caused him to jump back and draw his gun. A yellow cat jumped onto the bar and hissed at him.
“For God’s sake!” Clay rolled his eyes. “Who let this cat in here?” he yelled before remembering he was alone.
The cat’s back arched as he hissed again.
“Get out!” Clay ordered waving his gun at the cat.
The cat stared at Clay for a moment, then settled down on the bar. With an insolent look at him, the cat began to lick herself.
“I said, get out!” Clay yelled aiming his gun at the cat. When the cat ignored him, Clay fired a bullet into the ceiling.
The cat jumped to the floor out of Clay’s sight. After a moment, he saw the car peer around the corner of the bar. Clay watched in silence as the cat stared at him for a moment then jumped back up on the bar.
“Problems, Mosby?” Austin spoke from the doorway his hand on his gun.
“Not at all,” Clay holstered his gun. “Merely a philosophical discussion with my guest,” he indicated the cat who had settled back down on the bar.
Austin walked over and leaned against the bar. Absently he reached out and scratched the cat behind the ears. To Clay’s disgust, the cat arched upwards obviously enjoying Austin’s attention.
“Care for a drink?” Clay asked as he reached under the bar for a bottle.
“No, thanks,” Austin studied the cat. “Didn’t figure you to like cats, Mosby.”
“It’s a stray that wandered in,” Clay shrugged. “I’d appreciate it if you’d remove it.”
Austin smothered a grin as he gathered up the cat. “I guess Caroline might like her,” he said.
“My compliments,” Mosby poured himself a drink then glanced at Austin. “Was there anything else?”
“Just heard the shot,” Austin turned to leave. “Evening, Mosby.”
Clay watched as Austin carried the cat out. He shook his head irritably and blew out the lamp by the bar. As he walked to get the lamp on the back table, he didn’t notice Austin carefully open the front door and toss the cat back inside. The cat looked over her shoulder at Austin who pointed up the stairs. The cat looked all around then ran up the stairs. Austin grinned and gently closed the door.
Clay carefully walked up the stairs carrying the lamp and the bottle of scotch whiskey. When he walked into his room, he saw the cat curled on his bed. He stood there for a moment staring at the cat.
“Either Austin let you back in or you outsmarted him,” Clay finally said. He set the lamp on the nightstand. “I’m not sure I like either idea.”
The cat stared up at him blinking slowly.
“I think I’ll call you Mandy,” Clay decided. “You’re as irritatin’ as your namesake.” He reached out and tossed the cat to the floor. “And I am not sharin’ my bed with you.”
Mandy jumped up onto a nearby chair and settled down closing her eyes. Clay shrugged. “Sit on my bed again and I’ll toss you out that window,” he promised as he sat back on the bed and opened the bottle.
Mandy lazily opened one eye then closed it again.
“Is there anything I can bring you from Denver, Josiah?” Amanda asked as she started to board the stage.
“No, not that I can think of,” Josiah helped her into the stage. “But give my regards to Elizabeth, will you?”
“Of course,” Amanda grinned. “I’ve never been to Denver. This should be fun.”
Josiah grinned back. “Just keep a clear head,” he warned.
“Josiah,” Amanda patted his arm as she leaned out the window. “I always do.”
“Try not to irritate Clay too much,” Josiah requested his eyes twinkling. “After all, it is a long trip.”
Amanda smiled innocently then looked over Josiah’s shoulder. “I thought you said Caroline wasn’t coming,” she said.
Josiah looked over his shoulder and frowned when he saw Caroline and Austin approaching. “I thought neither of them were going,” he said.
“Austin and I planned to go together,” Caroline smiled. “But since he can’t leave, we decided I should go anyway.” She carefully gathered her skirts as Austin helped her inside the stage. “Can I bring you anything from Denver, sir?”
“No,” Josiah sighed heavily as Austin shut the door after her. He watched Caroline slide to the other side of the stage and Austin walk around to her. He glanced at Amanda whose eyes were twinkling.
“Are you sure you’d rather not come to Denver, Josiah?” she teased. “I don’t imagine Austin will be very pleasant company.”
Josiah thought not only of Austin but of Call. “That’s very tempting, Amanda,” Josiah admitted. “But I’ll stay here.”
“Please be careful, Austin,” Caroline murmured taking his hand as she leaned out the window of the stage. “Be sure you get some sleep.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Austin grinned. “Have a good time.” He leaned forward and kissed her quickly.
“Ah, Austin, just the man I wanted to see,” Clay said loudly as he approached.
Caroline blushed as she retreated back into the stage.
“Why is that, Mosby?” Austin said with gritted teeth as he turned.
“Since Mandy here seems to like you so much, I’m sure you won’t mind bein’ sure she gets fed and taken care of,” Clay smiled genially as he dumped the cat into Austin’s arms.
“What a pretty cat,” Caroline smiled in pleasure as she reached out to stroke Mandy’s head. “What did you say her name was?”
“Mandy,” Clay said blandly as he sat in the stage. He saw Amanda’s frown and smiled. “The name suits her perfectly.” He nodded at Amanda. “Good morning, Amanda.”
“Hope she hasn’t scratched you too badly, Clay,” Amanda’s eyes glittered.
“Not even once,” Clay assured her with a smile.
Austin leaned close to Mosby. “You take care of Caroline,” he said softly but coldly. “If anything happens to her, I’ll kill you where you stand, Mosby.”
“What kind words of farewell,” Clay grinned as he tipped his hat at Austin.
As the stage rolled out of town, Josiah reached over with a sigh and took the cat from Austin. “There’s no need to squeeze her,” he said mildly.
Austin glared at the cat who licked her lips.
“I’ll take care of her,” Josiah offered.
“Call will kill her in two minutes,” Austin predicted.
Josiah frowned and scratched Mandy’s ears.
“I’ll do it,” Austin snatched the cat from his father ignoring the hiss from Mandy. “She can stay at the office.”
“Luther will kill her in two minutes,” Josiah warned his eyes twinkling. He took Mandy back from Austin. “I’m certain Newt won’t mind.”
Austin shrugged. “Then you can explain why Call put a bullet between her eyes,” he said as he walked off.
“Never mind,” Josiah said soothingly as he scratched Mandy’s ears. “Newt would never do that.”
“We are going to have such fun,” Elizabeth said excitedly.
Robert grinned. “You’re looking forward to having Amanda and Clay here, aren’t you?” he teased.
Elizabeth glanced around her drawing room. “I think the four of us can enjoy Denver properly,” she admitted with a grin.
“And Caroline?” Robert’s face clouded for a second.
Elizabeth waved her hand in dismissal. “She’ll probably be too busy writing tons and tons of letters back to Austin in Curtis Wells,” she guessed. From the corner of her eye, she saw Robert frown for a second. “Oh, I’m sure we can convince her to go to dinner with us a few times. And the three of us will have such fun shopping.”
“I imagine,” Robert replied drily. “Not to mention the dinner party you’re giving for all the stockholders.” He settled back in his chair and watched with amusement as Elizabeth’s eyes sparkled.
“Of course,” Elizabeth nodded happily. “Oh, Robert, you have no idea how much I’m looking forward to this. I’ve always loved to throw parties. Now I can.” She saw something flicker across Robert’s face and frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Robert denied quickly. “I presume no one would dare refuse to attend.”
Elizabeth tossed her head with a pout then leaned over to pat Robert’s cheek. “You’re such a tease,” she accused with a smile. “I think that’s what I like best about you, Robert.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Robert nodded gravely although his eyes twinkled. “Seriously, are all the stockholders attending?”
“Even the new ones,” Elizabeth nodded. She rose and walked to her writing table. “I have the guest list here somewhere.”
Robert waited patiently as Elizabeth shuffled papers back and forth then pulled papers out of cubbyholes then started looking through various drawers. “How do you ever find anything in that mess?” he finally asked.
“I manage,” Elizabeth said coolly. She suddenly clutched several sheets of paper. “Here it is.” She handed it to Robert and sat beside him.
Robert carefully scanned the list silently nodding in recognition of several names. He suddenly stiffened as he stared at one name in particular. “Who is this person?” he asked coldly.
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows at the tone of his voice. She looked where he pointed. “Alexander Wilkes?” she frowned. “He’s a new stockholder. He purchased Evan Ryan’s stock a couple of weeks ago from his widow.” She saw Robert’s cold expression and put a hand on his arm. “What’s wrong?” she repeated.
Robert stood suddenly shaking Elizabeth’s hand from his arm. “What can you tell me about him?” he demanded roughly.
“Nothing as long as you talk to me like that!” Elizabeth said angrily standing as well. “I may have had to take that kind of treatment from Randall Terence, but by God, I’m not taking it from you, Robert Shelby!”
Robert glared at Elizabeth for several seconds then took a deep breath. “My apologies, Elizabeth,” he said shakily. “I hope it’s nothing. I truly hope this is a different man.” He forced a smile. “I’m not angry at you.”
Elizabeth studied Robert closely then nodded. “I don’t know much,” she admitted. “But I’ll find out.”
“It’s important,” Robert stressed. He slowly handed the paper back to Elizabeth then shoved his hands into his pockets and turned towards the window.
Elizabeth heard him mutter, “Please be someone else.”
“Dammit, both of you leave me alone!” Call snapped as they entered the back door of the Montana Statesman.
Cleese eyed Josiah hesitantly. Call was a dangerous man even when in a good temper....which he wasn’t.
“Just how do you plan to get upstairs without our help?” Josiah asked pragmatically. When Call didn’t answer, he took Call’s arm and led him towards the steps. “I’ll go first and Ephraim can follow. You can walk up on your own. There are 12 steps. Six and then a sharp left turn. Then six more.”
Call mumbled something under his breath. Neither Josiah nor Creese asked him to repeat it. At the top of the stairs, Josiah retook Call’s arm and led him into the bedroom. Call’s fingers found the top of Josiah’s dresser and slid his hand along the top for balance.
“Mandy,” Josiah said reprovingly. “Be nice.” He took Call’s arm. “It’s just the cat. We startled her.”
“Cat?” Call snorted. “When did you get a cat, Josiah?”
“I’m...uh...watching her for someone,” Josiah said quickly.
Call, assuming the cat belonged to Caroline, snorted again. “Don’t imagine Austin’s real pleased ‘bout that cat,” he muttered.
“I really don’t know how he feels about it,” Josiah said truthfully. “Now come on.” He led Call to the bed.
Despite himself, Call sighed when he sat down. “You both happy now?” he snapped.
“Why wouldn’t we be?” Josiah said easily. “I’ll keep Mandy downstairs so she won’t be in your way.” He quickly grabbed Mandy before she could jump onto the bed next to Call. “I’ll be back soon with dinner.”
“Don’t want any,” Call mumbled stubbornly.
“Well, I do,” Josiah scratched Mandy behind the ears. “And I always did hate eating alone.” He motioned to Ephraim and started down the stairs. “I’ll leave the door open.”
Call’s hands clenched into fists as he heard them walking down the stairs. He couldn’t immediately find anything to throw so he leaned down, yanked off his boots, and threw them across the room.
Cleese glanced back up the stairs when he heard the sound of Call’s boots hitting the wall. He turned to Josiah. “Are you certain about this?” he asked. “This won’t be easy.”
Josiah shrugged paying more attention to Mandy than to Ephraim’s question. “I suppose not,” he agreed. He glanced up at Cleese. “He will get his eyesight back, won’t he?”
“He should,” Cleese said slowly. “But a lot will depend on how quiet he is to allow all that swelling and bruising to heal.” He glanced back up the stairs doubtfully. “He isn’t going to be a good patient.”
Josiah smiled. “Newt’s stubborn but he can be reasonable,” he said confidently. “I’m sure he’ll cooperate.”
Robert glanced up at Elizabeth his face tight with anger. “Is there anyway to get a message to Clay?” he demanded. “I’ve got to get this to him before he arrives in Denver.”
“Robert, I don’t understand,” Elizabeth shook her head. “You can try telegraphing some of the towns along the rail. But if the train has no passengers to pick up or leave, the train won’t stop.”
Robert crumpled the paper in his hand into a small ball and threw it to the floor. He barely resisted the impulse to stamp his foot on it.
“Will you please tell me what’s going on?” Elizabeth demanded her hands on her hips.
“Alexander Wilkes,” Robert practically spat out the name. After a moment, he asked quietly, “I assume Wilkes knows the names of the other stockholders?”
“Probably,” Elizabeth conceded.
“Then he knows about Clay and me,” Robert nodded absently. “When does Clay’s train arrive? I have to get to him first.”
“Why?” Elizabeth asked. When Robert didn’t answer, Elizabeth put her hands on his arms. “Why, Robert?” she repeated.
Robert took a deep breath. “Alexander Wilkes was a neighbor of Clay’s,” he began slowly reluctantly remembering the past. “He wanted to marry Clay’s sister, but she’d have nothin’ to do with him. Despised him, in fact. As did Clay and I.”
Slowly Robert walked to the window and stared outside. “When the war came, he suddenly developed a bad back that prevented him from fightin’,” he smiled mirthlessly. “Couldn’t ride much let alone walk, it seemed.” He glanced back at Elizabeth. “When the war was over, Clay’s home was destroyed, his family murdered. We...there was nothin’ left of Hatton Willows. So we headed for New Orleans and then west.”
“And Wilkes?” Elizabeth prodded softly after a moment.
“Collaborated with the Yankees and carpetbaggers,” Robert said coldly. “Held onto his land. And even managed to buy most of the Mosby land from some carpetbagger from Boston.” He took a ragged deep breath. “I can understand someone who did what was necessary to keep their old ones, their women, their children from starvation,” he admitted slowly. “But Wilkes did more than that. He took Clay’s home...or what was left of it.”
“Does Clay know?” Elizabeth asked.
“No,” Robert shook his head turning to stare back out through the window. “I never told him.”
“Robert! Why not?” Elizabeth demanded.
“Because he would have gone back and killed Wilkes,” Robert explained patiently. Then he shrugged. “Maybe I should have let him do it. But then Clay would have been caught. He’d have called Wilkes out and then been hung afterwards.”
Elizabeth frowned. “And when Clay finds out?” she finally asked.
Robert laughed harshly. “He’ll kill me first and then kill Wilkes,” he admitted. “It’s all very simple, Elizabeth.”
“What if Clay doesn’t know that you knew?” Elizabeth asked.
Robert shook his head. “As long as it never came up...and, believe me, Clay never talked about it...I could just stay quiet,” he explained. “But now that he does...” his voice trailed off. “I never could lie to Clay,” he finally continued. Then he grinned at Elizabeth. “At least to his face.”
“It’s been a long time, Robert,” Elizabeth put a hand on his arm. “Maybe Clay won’t be so angry.”
Robert stared at Elizabeth in amazement. “Hatton Willows was Clay’s home,” he stressed. “It had been the Mosby home for generations.” He shook his head. “Clay’s gonna kill me for sure.”
“Wonder how that’s goin’?” Luther asked Austin quietly.
Austin turned to see Josiah carrying a tray of food from the Dove towards the newspaper office. He’d finished having breakfast with his father about an hour ago and figured the tray was for Call. He shrugged to answer Luther.
“Think we outta go help?” Luther asked.
Austin glanced at Luther’s broken leg. “Don’t think so,” he answered.
“I know I can’t do much,” Luther snapped. “But you...”
“Call don’t want us there,” Austin interrupted. “He probably knows we know about this. But that don’t mean he wants us in there.” He watched his father disappear inside the newspaper office. “If Father needs help, he’ll tell us.”
Luther watched as Austin walked away. “Sure he will,” Luther muttered.
“Good morning, Newt,” Josiah said cheerfully as he set the tray of food on the dresser.
“What’s good ‘bout it?” Call demanded. “Take that away.”
“You haven’t eaten much in the last two days, Newt,” Josiah said firmly. “You need to eat.”
“Cleese says I’m supposed to say quiet,” Call said stubbornly. “I’m stayin’ quiet.”
“You’re acting like a child,” Josiah looked down at him. “In fact, you’re acting worse than Austin ever did as a child.”
Call flushed angrily. “You’ve developed a mean streak, Josiah,” he finally said.
“Seems I’ve had to,” Josiah stood next to the bed. “Now are you going to sit up and eat or do I feed you?” When Call didn’t answer, Josiah sighed. “Newt, I’m not being mean because I enjoy this.”
“I know,” Call answered softly. “I just don’t feel like eatin’, Josiah.”
“Alright,” Josiah relented. “But you can’t just give up, Newt.”
“Why not?” Call was suddenly angry. “What if I never see again? How calmly would you handle it, Josiah?”
“Not calmly at all,” Josiah admitted.
“Just what am I supposed to do?” Call continued angrily. “Can’t be sheriff if I can’t see. Can’t do nothin’!”
“Newt!” Josiah sat on the edge of the bed. “Ephraim feels there is a good chance you’ll regain your eyesight. It’s just a matter of how much. There’s no need fretting about something that may not happen.”
“Suppose Luther and Austin know ‘bout this,” Call mumbled.
“I had to tell them,” Josiah admitted. “But no one else knows.” When Call turned his head away, Josiah continued, “They’re your friends, Newt. They’re concerned and have been asking every day about how you’re doing.”
“I can just imagine,” Call said bitterly.
“Now you’re feeling sorry for yourself,” Josiah stood up abruptly. “I’m putting this tray next to the bed. Either you eat a good amount of this by the time I get back or I’m going to feed it to you.” When Call opened his mouth, Josiah quickly continued. “I mean it, Newt. And don’t think I won’t, or can’t, do it.”
“If Cleese is right,” Call said through gritted teeth. “And I do get my eyesight back, you and I have some things to settle between us, Josiah.”
“You won’t be able to do much to me if you don’t eat enough to keep your strength up,” Josiah said in a slightly mocking voice. “I’d have more trouble with Mandy.” He lightly trod down the steps. He shook his head as he heard Call muttering. “He’s going to kill me,” he told Mandy.
The cat barely raised her head and blinked.
“Amanda!” Elizabeth yelled as she waved her arms. “Over here, Robert!”
Robert grinned despite himself as Elizabeth began shouldering through the crowded Denver railroad station.
Amanda caught sight of her friend and started towards her. Clay took Caroline’s arm and followed.
“Welcome to Denver!” Elizabeth said happily as she hugged Amanda.
Clay smiled as Elizabeth turned to hug Caroline. He grinned at Robert then sobered as he saw Robert’s expression.
“Robert, what’s wrong?” he asked softly.
“I have to talk with you, Clay,” Robert looked away. “And you’re not goin’ to like what you hear.” He saw Elizabeth looking at him. “Elizabeth, why don’t you take Amanda and Caroline on as soon as we have the luggage. I’ll take Clay to the hotel with me.”
Clay saw Elizabeth slightly frown then reluctantly nod. She smiled, however, when she looked at him. “I expect you for dinner tonight, Clay,” she invited. “Both you and Robert. Seven o’clock prompt.”
Clay’s eyes narrowed slightly scenting trouble. “Of course,” he nodded politely.
Amanda glanced at Elizabeth curiously but didn’t say anything. She watched Elizabeth closely as the luggage was collected and the men helped them into the carriage. She saw Elizabeth squeeze Robert’s arm then remind Clay about dinner.
Once inside the carriage, Amanda nudged Elizabeth with her foot. “What’s going on?” she demanded. “Robert looks like someone’s just died.”
Elizabeth frowned at Amanda’s words. She quickly explained what was going to happen.
“Surely Mr. Mosby can’t blame Robert for trying to protect him,” Caroline looked surprised at the thought. “They’re such good friends. Wouldn’t he have done the same in return?”
“Honey, as far as Clay’s concerned, it just doesn’t work like that,” Amanda assured her. “He can get mad awfully quick. You can’t expect him to act logical when he’s mad.”
“You can’t expect men to think logically under the best of circumstances,” Elizabeth smiled fondly. “They think of everything in terms of their own pride.” She shook her head. “I don’t think Clay will be grateful to Robert. At least not until he calms down.”
“What’s goin’ on?” Clay demanded as soon as he and Robert were settled in the carriage.
Robert hesitated then glanced out the window. “Remember Alexander Wilkes?” he finally asked.
Clay frowned. “From home?” he asked. When Robert nodded, Clay grimaced. “Why?”
“Because he’s one of the shareholders you’ll see at the meetin’ day after tomorrow,” Robert said evenly.
Clay’s mouth thinned as his eyes flashed. “You’re positive?” he asked.
Robert’s eyes narrowed. “Of course,” he nodded. “When I saw the name, I investigated. He purchased the stock from the widow of the original holder. He’s already arrived in Denver.”
“Well,” Clay managed a shrug. “It’s been a long time, Robert.” He gave his friend a sharp look. “Now tell me the rest.”
Clay was surprised to see Robert look away and take a deep breath. “I never told you this because you would have killed him,” he began in a neutral voice. “I found out that he got most of the land around Hatton Willows. He owns it now.” Robert felt rather than heard Clay’s angry tensing. “He didn’t rebuild Hatton Willows though. I’m not sure how much of it he cleared away.”
“How?” Clay sputtered angrily. “How did he...”
Robert shrugged. “He was dealing with the Yankees and carpetbaggers,” he continued looking out the window. “From what I understand he got Hatton Willows from a carpetbagger.” He forced himself to look at Clay. “And now he’s here. No doubt he knows you and I are here.” He watched varying emotions cross Clay’s face.
“You should have told me!” Clay finally said in a quiet rage. “Damn it, Robert! You should have told me!”
“You were lookin’ for a reason to get yourself killed then,” Robert retorted. His voice remained neutral and devoid of emotion. “I didn’t see why I should give you one. You’d have killed Wilkes and then been hung by the Yankees.”
Clay angrily glared at Robert. “What makes you think I won’t kill him now?” he demanded. “My God, Robert! Alex Wilkes owning Hatton Willows!”
Robert shrugged. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “But if you do, I know the fastest way to Canada.”
Clay stared at Robert for a moment then relaxed. “Would you ever have told me, Robert?” he finally asked.
“Probably not,” Robert shrugged. “You swore you’d never go back to Virginia. Why should I have told you?”
Clay shook his head. “I should have been told,” he said with quiet anger.
“Josiah! Come and get this damn cat!” Call angrily yelled. He heard Mandy purring almost contemptuously as he blindly swung his arm attempting to hit her. Call heard the press start up downstairs and cursed. He was certain Josiah ran the press only when he didn’t want to answer Call.
“I swear when I get my hands on you,” Call muttered in Mandy’s general direction. He flexed the fingers that Mandy had scratched. He felt the cat jump on the foot of the bed and carefully reached down to the floor and grabbed one of his boots. Suddenly he flung it at Mandy who agilely jumped out of the way.
Call’s boot hit the window causing the blind to suddenly roll up. Call flinched as a bright sunlight shone through the window. Instinctively, he raised his arm to shield his eyes. Then he stopped realizing what he’d done.
“Josiah!” Call yelled again. He felt Mandy jump back up on the bed. This time he caught her and threw her in the general direction of the stairs. “Josiah!” he yelled again.
Josiah glanced up to see Mandy flying down the steps. She sat at the bottom and stared back up then at Josiah. Then she flicked her tail at the steps and pranced away.
Josiah turned the press off and heard Call yelling for him. He bounded up the stairs two at a time.
“Newt! What’s wrong?” he demanded when he entered the bedroom. He saw Call on the bed his arm shielding his face.
“The sun...” Call mumbled.
Josiah quickly pulled down the shade then knelt on the bed next to Call. “Newt, how much can you see?” he said gently.
Slowly Call lowered his arm and looked at Josiah. “Can’t see you,” he muttered bitterly after a moment.
“But you saw the sunlight,” Josiah pointed out. “It’s a start, Newt.”
“If you say so,” Call said disappointedly.
“I’m going to find Ephraim,” Josiah squeezed Call’s arm. “You have to be patient. But your sight’s coming back, Newt. It’s coming back.”
Elizabeth and Caroline’s relief set out to show the others around Denver the next day hoping to put Clay in a better frame of mind. Elizabeth knew that, as a gentleman, Clay would not explode in anger around them...or at least in front of Caroline. Robert, who joined them in the afternoon, was mostly quiet.
A couple of times, however, Elizabeth saw Clay’s face darken in a silent rage that had nothing to do with what they were seeing or discussing. By the time they reached the Denver Museum of Art, Amanda decided enough was enough. If Clay was spoiling for a fight, she would give it to him.
Robert thought about stopping her, but decided she could take care of herself. Besides, in the mood Clay was in, he wasn’t likely to listen to anything Robert had to say. He carefully steered Elizabeth and Caroline in the other direction.
“You look like you’d like to strangle somebody,” Amanda said teasingly. “Anyone I know?”
“Leave me alone, Amanda,” Clay said evenly. “Or it might be you.”
“Really?” Amanda’s eyebrows raised. “You might not find it so easy, Clay.”
Clay glanced at her then looked away. “I suggest you follow the others, Amanda,” he proposed. “I’ll join you shortly.”
“I like it here,” Amanda said slightly mockingly. She saw Clay’s face darken. “Look, Clay, Elizabeth told us what happened.” She wasn’t prepared for Clay suddenly turning towards her.
“How dare she?” Clay blazed angrily only barely able to keep his voice low. “And how dare Robert tell her?”
Amanda stepped back instinctively as Clay leaned over her. “I suppose Elizabeth thought we should know why you’d be in such a filthy mood,” she retorted waspishly after a moment. “And so we’d know what happened if Robert suddenly disappeared.” She straightened her shoulders and stared back at Clay.
“Don’t be preposterous!” Clay suddenly looked away. “I told you once that Robert and I would never raise a hand against one another.”
Amanda heard him take a deep breath in an attempt to control his anger. She watched with fascination as Clay’s hands clenched and unclenched. “I know it’s hard,” Amanda said softly after a moment.
“Do you?” Clay angrily demanded turning on her again. “Do you really, Amanda? To know your home, a home that had belonged to your family for generations, was now just so much dirt beneath the feet of someone you hold utterly in contempt?”
Amanda stared at him for a moment feeling her own anger rise. “Except for the part about being in my family for generations, yes, I know exactly how you feel!” she replied just as angrily. “Or do you think I’ve forgotten how you took the Dove away from me?” When Clay started to answer, she continued. “It may not have been a fancy plantation, Clay Mosby, but it was mine!”
“You seem to be very happy working at the Statesman,” Clay said after a moment.
“You see to be very happy owning most of Curtis Wells,” Amanda retorted sharply.
They stared silently at one another for a few moments before Amanda turned and walked away.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” she said to Elizabeth when she caught up with the others. “I’m going to take a carriage back to the house.”
“Are you feeling ill?” Caroline looked concerned. “Would you like me to come with you?”
“I’ll be fine, Caroline,” Amanda forced a smile. “You stay with the others.” She caught a glimpse of Clay and hurriedly walked away.
Robert watched her curiously then glanced at Clay as he joined them.
“I apologize,” Clay said evenly as he watched Amanda hurry away. “A slight disagreement.” He forced a smile. “I’m afraid I’ve been very poor company today. I think I’ll return to the hotel and see all of you tomorrow.”
“Can you see anything?” Cleese asked as he held the candle close to Call’s eyes.
“No,” Call answered uncertainly. “I’m not sure,” he finally admitted bitterly.
“But you saw the sunlight,” Cleese reminded him blowing out the candle. “It’s a start. You just have to be careful now. You’re starting to regain some eyesight. Your eyes are going to be extremely sensitive.”
Both Cleese and Josiah saw Call angrily flush. “How much will I get back?” he demanded.
“I wish I could tell you, Call,” Cleese said sincerely. “But from what I can tell, the swelling is going down and the bruising is fading.” He hesitated. “I know you don’t want to hear this but it’s just going to take time.” He leaned away from Call as he saw his hands clench into fists.
“Do you want Ephraim to lie to you, Newt?” Josiah said firmly.
“No,” Call answered brusquely.
“I wouldn’t,” Cleese said faintly. He glanced at Josiah. “It should hurt for him to move around a little.”
“I’m still here,” Call interrupted irritably. “No need to talk ‘round me like I’m deaf. I’m just blind.”
“You are not blind!” Josiah squeezed his shoulders. “You are getting your eyesight back. Now stop being childish.”
Call swore under his breath. “When I get my eyesight back, Josiah, you’ll pay,” he warned.
“Really?” Josiah winked at Cleese who looked a little alarmed. “We’ll see, Newt. We’ll see.”
When Elizabeth and Caroline returned to Elizabeth’s house, they found an amused and exasperated Amanda waiting for them. Also waiting for them were two huge vases of flowers one with a card addressed to Elizabeth and one to Caroline.
Elizabeth flipped open her card and silently read with an amused look. “It seems Clay Mosby apologizes quite nicely,” she remarked glancing at the vase of flowers.
“He wasn’t really in such a bad mood,” Caroline remarked then glanced at Amanda. “I mean to me.”
“Don’t worry,” Amanda said ruefully. “Clay and I seem to do that. And he was in a foul mood.”
“I assume your flowers were equally as eloquent as the apology?” Elizabeth murmured as Caroline went upstairs to change for dinner. “I don’t see them here,” she teased looking around.
“They’re in my room,” Amanda replied blandly. “And, yes, Clay does have a way with words, doesn’t he?”
As they entered the meeting room for the stockholders’ meeting, several of the employees approached Caroline to again offer their condolences at her uncle’s death. Caroline placed one hand on Clay’s arm and the other on Robert’s as she walked to the front of the room. Robert looked a little surprised and even Clay looked at her sideways.
Elizabeth grinned at Amanda as they followed. “I told you she’s not all that soft,” she whispered.
Amanda grinned back. “Poor Austin,” she murmurred with a chuckle.
Clay immediately saw Alex Wilkes. Although they were both a lot older, Clay felt the years fall away as their eyes met. He saw the sardonic look in Wilkes’ grey eyes and turned as he saw Wilkes smirk.
Clay forced himself to concentrate during the meeting even smiling as Robert gave a brief report on the collaborative efforts of the Canadian rail concern. For his part, Robert remained mostly silent and thoughtful.
During the break, Robert saw Wilkes making his way across the room towards them. He started to intercept him, but stopped at Clay’s quiet, “Don’t Robert.” He glanced at Clay then moved aside.
“Well, isn’t this amazin’!” Wilkes said with a smile. “Who would have thought twenty years ago we’d all meet here like this?”
“Certainly not me,” Robert said quietly. “I was sure someone would have killed you long ago.”
“You sound bitter, Robert,” Wilkes chuckled. “Tell me, how do you like Canada?” When Robert didn’t answer, he turned to Clay. “I hear you’re in some little backwater town in Montana, Clay.”
“A charming town called Curtis Wells,” Caroline interjected softly. “Where I now live.”
“Yes, I understand you recently married,” Wilkes nodded. “My congratulations.” He bowed over Caroline’s hand then turned to Elizabeth. “Ah, Miss Lang, I was greatly surprised to learn you had obtained stock in this company. Knowing, of course, how Randall disliked the idea of combining women and business.”
Amanda saw both Clay and Robert tense as Elizabeth’s eyes flashed angrily. “I dare to say there was quite a bit about Randall that you didn’t know,” Elizabeth finally replied.
“I’m looking forward to your dinner tonight,” Wilkes said genially. “I hope it’s no bother, but I’ve brought my son, Michael, along to Denver.” He glanced at Clay and Robert. “He’s fifteen now...a young man.”
“Of course not,” Elizabeth said with a forced smile. “One more isn’t a problem.”
“Excellent,” Wilkes smiled. “Until tonight then.” He smiled again at Clay and Robert before leaving.
“I don’t like him,” Amanda sniffed. “He’s plotting something.” She glanced at Clay and Robert who exchanged looks.
“Newt, I don’t understand why you’re so upset at staying quiet,” Josiah remarked as he set a tray of food next to Call. “I’ve seen you sit for hours at a time on that bench in front of Creese’s.”
“That’s ‘cause I wanted to,” Call replied bitingly. “Not ‘cause I have to.”
“You can come downstairs if you want,” Josiah invited. “Ephraim said you could move around somewhat.”
“And have people starin’ at me through them big windows?” Call snorted bitterly. “Like some animal in the circus?”
“I swear, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you and Austin were twins,” Josiah replied in exasperation. “First you complain you can’t move around. Then you complain when you can.”
“I ain’t like Austin!” Call yelled angrily.
“Well, you both sulk in a similar fashion!” Josiah yelled back as he slammed the door behind him. He heard Call’s voice saying something as he heavily trod down the stairs. He picked up Mandy who was curled at the bottom of the stairs and rubbed her back. “Shouldn’t be long now, Mandy,” he smiled. “He’ll be down soon.”
If it hadn’t been for the tension between Clay and Wilkes, Elizabeth would have counted her dinner party a complete success. As it was, she was very careful to be sure the two were never alone. Robert, usually a cheerful dinner companion, was unnaturally quiet his eyes hardly ever leaving either Clay or Wilkes.
After dinner, the men retired to the drawing room while Elizabeth entertained the few ladies present. However, they soon left collecting their husbands from the front drawing room. Then Caroline excused herself for the night.
“It seems there are a couple of poker games going on in the drawing room,” Elizabeth told Amanda as she watched Caroline go upstairs.
“Good,” Amanda smiled. “I wonder how good they are at cards?” She grinned as Elizabeth smirked.
“Don’t bother to get up, gentlemen,” Elizabeth said as they entered the drawing room. “We’ve decided to join you.”
With smiles and flourishes she and Amanda each sat down and began to play. Elizabeth soon quit after loosing a couple of hands. Poker really didn’t interest her all that much. She busied herself by keeping glasses filled with drinks and eventually having more food brought from the kitchen.
As hours passed, most of the people left. Amanda, having won what she considered a decent amount of money, sighed. She saw Wilkes sit down at the table with Robert and a few others. Michael Wilkes leaned against the bookcase obviously bored.
“Understand you consider yourself pretty good at poker, Clay?” Wilkes said with slight courtesy.
“Gentlemen,” Amanda said quickly. “I think I’ll join you.”
“Not this game, Amanda,” Clay smiled at her although his eyes were cold. He stared at Wilkes. “What do you want?”
“Nothing,” Wilkes denied with a smile. “Just a friendly game.”
“I’m not in a friendly mood,” Clay replied coldly. “Especially to someone who consorted with Yankees and carpetbaggers against his own people.”
“That’s a lie!” Michael shouted angrily. From the expression on his face, it was obvious he’d heard this insult before. “My father is a honorable and honest man!”
“Do you really imagine your father inherited all that land he now possesses?” Clay asked smoothly. “Or is that what he’s told you?” When Michael didn’t answer, Clay continued. “Just what did you tell your son about owning all that land?”
“It was purchased legally, Clay,” Wilkes’ flush had faded. “I have the papers to prove it.”
Clay shrugged elegantly. “I suppose it all depends upon your definition of legal...and moral,” he decided.
“You’re a fine one to talk about morals, Clay Mosby!” Wilkes sputtered. “From what I understand, you’re little more than a cheap cardshark.”
“That’s enough!” Robert angrily stood.
“Robert!” Clay said sharply holding up his hand. When Robert glared at him, Clay motioned for him to sit back down. Then he smiled coldly at Wilkes. “Cardshark? Perhaps. Cheap? No.” He played with the cards in front of him. “Of course, if you’d care to try your luck.”
“Gentlemen, it’s late,” Elizabeth broke in. “I think this has gone far enough.”
Wilkes leaned back in his chair. “I don’t play unless it’s for a large stake,” he boasted.
“Good,” Clay looked at Elizabeth. “Do you have an unopened deck of cards?” he asked.
Elizabeth hesitated then shrugged. She walked to a cabinet and retrieved an unopened deck. Both men watched as she broke the seal and laid the cards on the table.
“Could I trouble you to shuffle them, Elizabeth?” Clay requested politely. As he lit his cigar, he looked at Wilkes. “Well, what stakes did you have in mind?” he asked.
“I understand you have a mine, some land, and a tavern of sorts,” Wilkes smiled. “How about that against what used to be Hatton Willows?”
“Clay, no,” Amanda cautioned putting her hand on his arm.
“Don’t do it,” Robert cautioned his voice tight with anger.
Clay watched as Elizabeth shuffled the cards. “Sounds acceptable to me, Wilkes,” he agreed puffing on his cigar.
“Clay!” Robert grabbed his arm only to have Clay shrug it off.
“If you don’t want to watch, Robert, then leave,” Clay advised coldly.
“Who gets to deal?” Wilkes asked abruptly.
“Why not your son?” Clay suggested with a slight smile. “If he wouldn’t mind?”
Michael glanced at his father who nodded. He sat between them frowning in concentration as Elizabeth laid the cards on the table.
“One hand, two card draw,” Wilkes proposed. “Best hand wins all.”
Clay casually waved a hand as though it didn’t matter to him.
Everyone watched as Michael carefully dealt the cards. Amanda glanced at Clay but couldn’t read his expression. To her annoyance, Wilkes’ face was equally blank.
“Who goes first?” Michael asked in confusion.
“The player on your right,” Elizabeth said gently.
Michael looked at his father. “How many cards?” he asked.
“One,” Wilkes tossed down a card.
Michael dealt one card to his father then looked at Clay.
“Sir?” he asked as coolly as possible.
“Two,” Clay requested throwing down two cards. When Michael dealt him the two cards, he smiled. “Thank you.”
Michael started a little confused by Clay’s politeness. He glanced at his father. “Cards?” his voice cracked.
“I’ll play these,” Wilkes decided smoothly.
Clay stared at Wilkes silently for a moment then laid down one card. “One card,” he requested quietly.
Everyone watched Clay’s face as he studied the new card and slipped it among the ones he held. Everyone then looked at Wilkes.
Wilkes smiled happily as he laid his cards on the table. “Four aces,” he said quietly.
Amanda closed her eyes at the sight of the four cards.
Clay nodded calmly. “Very good hand,” he idly commented. “And on a one card draw. Very impressive.”
Robert’s eyes narrowed and Amanda’s head turned in Clay’s direction.
“However, it’s only the second best hand,” Clay continued smoothly as he placed his cards face up on the table.
Clay looked completely unconcerned. “Care for another hand?” he asked with a cold twinkle in his eyes.
Wilkes’ face flushed. He could hardly accuse his son of dealing the cards falsely. “I’ll see the deed reaches you,” he finally croaked.
“No need,” Clay casually stood. “My life isn’t in Virginia any more. However, I’m sure the good Sisters of Mercy could use the land for a new school, hospital, or somethin’. Just send the deed to them with my compliments.” He smiled with humor for the first time in days. “I’m sure such an honest and honorable man such as your son considers you to be will make certain they get the deed.”
Amanda bit her lip to keep from laughing at the expression on Wilkes’ face.
“Of course,” he nodded abruptly as he stood. “Thank you for your hospitality, Miss Lang.”
“It was my pleasure,” Elizabeth assured him as she escorted him and Michael to the door.
As soon as Amanda heard the front door close, she jumped up and hugged Clay. “That was very impressive,” she laughed.
Clay hugged her back his face showing relief. “Call it luck,” he suggested.
“Luck?” Robert looked up at his friend half in anger, half in relief. “Luck? You wagered everything you have on one turn of the cards and dare to call it luck?”
“Wasn’t the first time,” Clay reminded him.
“You didn’t have as much before,” Robert retorted.
“It doesn’t matter,” Elizabeth said happily as she rejoined them. “Clay won.”
Clay put his hand on Robert’s shoulder. “Let it go,” he advised. “I have.”
“Really?” Robert looked up doubtfully. “All of it?”
“I understand,” Clay nodded. “I hate to admit it, but I’d have done the same. And you were right. I would have killed him.”
Call heard Josiah leave the office below. Then he waited a few extra minutes before slowly sitting up. Despite himself, he’d been thinking about what he would do if his sight didn’t return. The momentary elation at seeing the sunlight had faded when his eyesight hadn’t improved. He’d realized that his hearing at least had improved when he was able to detect Mandy’s intrusion into the room by the soft padding of her feet on the wood floor.
Carefully he stood and counted as he walked. Holding his hands out for balance, he felt the wall as he counted the sixth step. He smiled triumphantly. Josiah had always taken six steps from the top of the stairs to the bed. Creese had taken six or seven.
Remembering his ascent, Call counted six steps and turned sharply then counted six more steps. When he reached the bottom, he stepped on Mandy’s tail as she lay curled at the bottom of the steps.
Mandy howled, screeched, and hissed all in the same breath. Call stumbled slightly and fell heavily to the floor. Enraged, Mandy landed on Call her claws swiping at his arm.
“Owww!” Call yelled trying vainly to grab Mandy who scooted quickly out of danger. He clutched his arm feeling blood under his fingers from her attack. “That’s it! You’re a dead cat!” Call yelled even louder as he stumbled backwards and sat down heavily on the stairs.
“I wish you would just take it easy,” Mattie said lightly as she slowly walked out of the Dove with Luther.
“Can’t just sit all the time, Mattie,” Luther grunted. Then he grinned. “Bet I’m a better patient that Call is, though. Bet he’s givin’ Josiah fits.”
“Don’t see why Josiah don’t want nobody to bother Call,” Mattie frowned.
Luther shrugged uncomfortably. “He’s got his reasons,” he mumbled. He glanced up to see an obviously drunken man being thrown out of the Ambrosia Club. He grinned. With Mosby gone, his assistant had taken the opportunity to keep the bar open all night as well as all day. No doubt he was hoping to impress Mosby with how much money could be made. Luther was sure that would offset Mosby’s anger at how the place had been half-torn apart. As Austin had said, he couldn’t be everywhere at once.
Austin stood in the doorway of the Ambrosia Club. His hat was gone and his hair disheveled. He looked over his shoulder. “I said this place is shut down until tomorrow night! Any more arguments and it’ll be shut down for a week!”
“Austin! Look out!” Mattie yelled.
Austin’s head turned in time to see the man he’d tossed into the street reaching for his gun. Luckily for Austin, the man was so drunk his hand twice missed grabbing gun in his holster. With an angry growl, Austin dived towards the man sending both of them sprawling in the dirt.
Call sat slouched on the steps a little surprised to realize he could see things fuzzily. He smiled coldly as he saw Mandy sitting on Josiah’s chair watching him. “Yeah, go ahead and think I can’t see you,” he muttered. As he rubbed his jaw, he carefully watched the cat.
Mandy confidently jumped to the floor and almost swaggered as she walked across the office floor towards Call. He saw her lick her lips almost contemptuously. As she walked closer, Call suddenly reached out and grabbed her by the scruff of her neck. He held the spitting and hissing cat away fro him so she couldn’t scratch him again.
Call shook the cat triumphantly. “Got ya now,” he said with a laugh. “Not so high and mighty, are you?”
“Newt Call!” Josiah’s voice boomed from the doorway. “Put that cat down! Now!”
“Don’t think so, Josiah!” Call shook his head. “I got a couple of scores to settle with this cat. ‘Specially since she scratched me again.”
“Give me that cat!” Josiah quickly walked over and snatched Mandy from his grasp. He soothed the cat who continued to hiss at Call from the safety of Josiah’s arms. “So you decided to finally come downstairs?” he looked at Call.
“Finally had enough of that cat,” Call replied smoothly. He turned his head as he heard loud voices outside. “What’s goin’ on?”
“Nothing,” Josiah replied a little too quickly. “Just the usual disagreements. Nothing Austin can’t handle.”
“How’s Luther’s leg?” Call asked as he strained to hear what was going on.
“Doing better,” Josiah raised his voice a little. “He’s almost as bad a patient as you are. Mattie’s been having a horrible time trying to keep him from getting around too much.”
Call glanced at Josiah suddenly. “What’s goin’ on out there?” he demanded starting for the door.
For a moment, Josiah stared at him in stunned silence, then followed him. “Newt! You can see!” he said loudly.
“Some,” Newt admitted. He blinked as sunlight struck his face.
“Newt, come back inside,” Josiah said standing at Call’s shoulder. “I’m certain Austin can....oh Lord.” Josiah turned away to avoid seeing Austin being kicked in the side of the head as he struggled to get up.
Call strained to see managing to make out Austin finally wrestling somebody to the ground. “Yep,” he nodded. “Looks like Austin can handle it.”
Josiah opened his eyes to see Austin, his nose bloody and his eye beginning to blacken, drag the man to his feet. “Come back inside,” he urged Call. “I’ll get Ephraim to look at your eyes.”
“Better get him to look at Austin’s face,” Call smirked. “I can walk to the doc’s.”
Call was lounging on his bench in front of the general store as the stage from Miles City rumbled to a stop. He saw Mosby open the door and climb down. He turned around to get the baggage from the driver as Josiah helped Amanda down. On the other side of the stage, Austin was barely visible to Call as he helped Caroline down and gave her a quick kiss.
“Here’s Mandy,” Josiah said proudly thrusting the cat into Clay’s arms. “Safe and sound.”
“Uh, why thank you, Josiah,” Clay regarded the cat doubtfully. “To be honest, I don’t feel I can offer her a very good home.”
“Nonsense, Clay,” Amanda smiled mischievously. “Anyone can see how much you and she adore one another.”
Both Clay and Mandy regarded Amanda with practically the same expression of disdain. Clay curtly nodded towards Josiah and started towards the Ambrosia Club.
Josiah picked up Amanda’s suitcase and started towards the Dove. When he emerged a few minutes later, Call was standing by the door.
“That damn cat belongs to Mosby?” he demanded. “I was cooped up with Mosby’s cat?!”
“I don’t see what you have against Mandy,” Josiah evaded Call’s angry look. “She’s a sweet cat.”
“She’s a cat straight from hell!” Call snapped. “She and Mosby deserve one another!”
“And now they’re back together,” Josiah beamed happily. “Everything’s fine.” He hesitated at the expression on Call’s face. “Isn’t it, Newt?”
“I’ll settle with that cat,” Call promised in a low deadly voice. “Just like I’ll settle with Mosby.” He glared at Josiah. “Told you I’d settle with you, too, Josiah.”
Josiah took a deep breath. “Well, yes, Newt, you did,” he admitted looking around for assistance. “But everything I did was for your own good. You know that.” Not finding anyone likely to help him, he looked back at Call. “Don’t you?”
Call glanced away studying the people around them. “Guess you could call it that if you was a mind to,” he admitted softly. “You eat yet?”
Josiah’s eyes widened in surprise. “No,” he said slowly.
“Come on,” Call took Josiah’s arm and led him back into the Dove. “I’m hungry.”
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