A Proper Friend (by Freyakendra)

Summary:  For the good folks of Virginia City, Roy Coffee is a darned good sheriff. For the Cartwrights, he is also a proper friend, as he proves to himself when his job intermixes with a tragic event on the Ponderosa.

(Word Count: 2400; Rating: K)


A Proper Friend


Days like this made Sheriff Roy Coffee hate his job. They also made him realize just how important that job was. Expelling a heavy sigh drawn from the weight of it all, he got to his feet and crossed the room to the window overlooking the front yard.

Yep. Just as he’d figured. Ben Cartwright and his other two sons were finally home.

After a quick glance to the bed showed him nothing different than he’d seen during the past couple of hours, he hurried toward the stairs, cursing his age for the way it delayed his descent. …Or maybe it wasn’t so much his age as it was his burden. How could he stop Ben and his boys long enough to prepare them for what they would find just inside the front door?

“Hey, Pa?” Hoss’s voice called out. “Whose buggy you reckon that is?”

“There’s only one way to find out.” Ben sounded pleased and eager to welcome whomever his unexpected visitor might be.

His mood would change soon enough.

The clatter of boots on the porch lent fire to Roy’s movements. He yanked open the door, stepped through and pulled it shut behind him before he tried to say a word.

“Roy?” Ben’s smile turned to puzzlement, and then to concern in an instant. His mouth worked around more words, but he couldn’t seem to decide which ones he should utter.

“Howdy, sheriff!” Hoss offered up his usual good natured smile. “That your buggy?”

“No,” Roy answered a little too tersely. “I put my horse in the corral.”

“Roy?” Ben found his voice. This time it had a demanding edge to it, even if he was still stuck on that one word.

“Ben,” Roy greeted solemnly. “Boys.” He raised his hands in a gesture meant to say hold on, back up, and it’s okay, all at once. “I need you all to listen to me for a minute.”

“Where’s Joe?” Ben was too quick to follow his own question with a great, big bellowed, “Joseph!” to give Roy a chance to answer.

Keeping his hands raised, Roy didn’t give Ben a chance to wait for an answer. “It’s like I said, Ben, you need to listen for a minute.”

Hoss’s smile fell and his nose wrinkled. “Aw, sheriff! You didn’t throw Little Joe in jail, now did you?”

“No,” Adam replied instead, drawing the word out like it was a whole lot longer than two letters. And there it was: Adam Cartwright’s calculating glare. That boy had always been as perceptive as they come. “Sheriff Coffee wouldn’t be here if that were the case,” he added, directing his supposition to Hoss while fixing his gaze on Roy. “He’d send someone else to let us know. And if he did choose to come himself, he wouldn’t stay long enough to warrant corralling his horse.”

“Joe ain’t in my jail—”

“Then where is he?” Ben snapped back before Roy could finish. Then again he turned his attention to the house. “Joseph!” This time he took one anxious step forward.

Roy grabbed his arm to keep him from taking another. “Please, Ben. Sit down on the porch here.  Just for a couple of minutes, just long enough to let me explain.”

“Explain what?”

“Sit down.”

“Pa….” Adam gripped Ben’s shoulder. Still his gaze was locked on Roy. “Maybe we’d better hear him out.”

Roy remained standing, while Ben and Hoss set themselves down. Adam simply propped one foot on a chair, and rested his arms across his knee. The sheriff knew he should join them. He knew by standing above them, he was only building on their growing worry. But he couldn’t deliver this news on equal footing. He had to try to separate himself from it … to whatever degree he could. “Margaret Kettering came in on today’s stage,” he said after a quiet, expectant moment. “Went straight to the livery and rented a buggy before I could say howdy-do.”

Surprise pulled Ben’s brows up and eased the worry in his eyes some. His lips even quirked upward into a budding smile. “So she came home. What does that have to do with—?”

“There’s something you don’t know about why she left, Ben.”

Ben shrugged. “She was distraught.”

“She was more than distraught. She was unhinged. Seeing her brother get hung was too much for her. When her mother sent her away, she didn’t send her to stay with her grandparents. She sent her to an asylum. Mrs. Kettering asked the doc and me to keep it quiet. We all figured it was for the best.”

“I still don’t see—”

“I talked to her mother today, Ben. Margaret didn’t get better at that institution. She got worse. Mrs. Kettering wasn’t expecting her on that stage. She’s not even sure how Margaret got out. When that girl showed up at home she frightened her mother half to death. Mrs. Kettering came straight to town and told me I needed to go after her.”

“What do you mean, ‘go after her’?”

“Somehow she got it into her head she and Joe got married before she left.”

“Married?” Ben’s brows shot upward and he smiled, if only briefly. “That’s absurd! Joe has never so much as mentioned her name!”

“We all know he never showed any interest in Margaret,” Roy agreed. “Her mother knows it, too. Even so, Margaret insisted she’d already moved in here, and that she was just paying her mother a visit. Didn’t even seem to remember that she’d only just arrived back in town. Pretended like she’d never left.”

“Little brother sure has a way with the fillies.” Hoss snickered. “I reckon Joe had his hands full today.”

“I wish it were as simple as that, Hoss. I really do. But by the time I got here, well….”

“What?” Ben’s eyes made it clear he knew something was very wrong. He just didn’t know what.

And Roy still didn’t quite know how to tell him. The sheriff sighed as deeply as he had back in Joe’s bedroom. That weight of his was feeling mighty heavy just then. “Margaret’s dead,” he said bluntly. “She’s just inside the door there.” He nodded toward the front entryway. “I covered her with a sheet, but I haven’t got around to moving her.”

All three Cartwrights went wide-eyed and silent.

“Dead?” Ben asked. “How?”

Hoss’s eyebrows scrunched down. “You don’t think Joe killed her?”

Adam remained quiet and watchful.

“I don’t think it,” Roy said to Hoss. “I know it. I also know he didn’t have a choice. She would have finished him off if he hadn’t shot her.”

Finally, Adam spoke. “Finished him off?”

Roy gave Ben his full attention. He wasn’t ready to respond to Adam. Not yet. “There was a kitchen knife next to her. And blood, a whole lot of it. It’ll turn your stomach when you see it. It sure did turn mine. I just couldn’t let you walk in on all that unawares.”

Ben did start to look as though his stomach had turned. He glanced up toward that blasted bedroom window. “I imagine Joe’s taking it pretty hard. I appreciate you staying with him, to—”

“Some of that blood was his, Ben.”

“How much of it?” Adam asked as bluntly as Roy had informed them of Margaret’s death … as though he’d known all along his brother was hurt, and had just been waiting for Roy to get to that particular point.

Roy met his gaze dead on. “A good amount. It started in the kitchen, near as I can tell. She stabbed him in the back. She cut him nine more times after that. She must’ve just kept coming at him until he finally reached the credenza where he’d left his gun.”

Ben’s face went ashen. “Paul’s still with him?” he asked softly.

“Paul hasn’t seen him yet, Ben. I left word for him to meet me out here, figuring Margaret would need him. But he must’ve had another patient. He has no idea how badly we need him right now.”

“Who’s with Joe, then? Did Hop Sing come back on that stage, too?”

“No. It’s just been me and Joe for more hours than I like to think.”

There was no holding Ben back after that. Roy didn’t even try. He stayed out there on that porch while Ben and his two oldest boys rushed inside. He closed his eyes and sighed that weighted sigh again when he heard Ben’s “dear God,” and his boys’ more colorful oaths. He knew only too well what they were looking at and why it shocked them so, despite what Roy had prepared them to see. And then he looked up into God’s cloudless blue sky while he gave those three a few moments alone with the young man Sheriff Roy Coffee had spent the better part of the afternoon trying to save.

Trying to save? He wasn’t a doctor; that was for sure. That boy upstairs was still bleeding despite everything Roy had tried to do for him.

He didn’t feel much like a sheriff just then, either. He didn’t even feel like a proper friend. He’d arrived too late to stop the crime. The young woman responsible would never grace one of his cells. And he’d kept Ben away from Little Joe for a few minutes that could yet prove to have been particularly precious, if that boy’s bleeding stopped simply because there wasn’t anything left.

“I done what I had to do,” he told himself. “I did my job.”

His job….

If he’d been wearing his badge, he might very well have torn it off and flung it across the yard at that moment. But he wasn’t wearing it. …Because it had still been pinned on when he’d exchanged his bloodied shirt for a clean one from Ben’s dresser. …Because he’d hated the thought of Ben seeing him wearing Little Joe’s blood.

Another sigh drove Roy’s gaze toward the bedroom window. If it weren’t for that badge, Roy wouldn’t have had any reason to visit the Ponderosa. Ben would have found the boy just as Roy had, on the floor beside the credenza, his blood beneath him … on the wall at his back … and trailing all the way to the kitchen, where Roy had half expected to find another body. Only … Ben might have found Joe too late.

“I done what I could,” he said aloud.

“I know,” Adam said.

Roy turned, startled and puzzled at how Ben’s oldest boy had managed to sneak up on him.

“And thank you for that,” Adam added. “You saved my brother’s life.”

“I wish I could be as sure of that as you.”

“He’s still breathing. That’s more than we could’ve hoped for if you hadn’t come along. It’s pretty clear he would have bled out waiting for us.”

“You ought to know I wasn’t in any hurry to come here. I never figured that little gal could have…. Well, I guess I figured she couldn’t match Joe for strength. I should have hightailed it out here as soon as I saw how scared Mrs. Kettering was. Instead, I wasted time trying to track down Doc Martin, and then I wasted more time breaking up a fight over at the Bucket of Blood.”

“You had to do your job.”

“Maybe so.” With another deep sigh, Roy set his sights toward the corral. “And I reckon I ought to get back to that job, now that you’re home and I know Joe’s in good hands.”  Unfortunately, setting his sights in that direction did nothing to move his feet. “But….” He shook his head and returned his attention to Adam. “I don’t reckon I want to.”

“What do you mean?”

“I ain’t really sure. I can’t seem to make myself inclined to leave here until things are settled.”

“Settled how?”

“Truth be told, Adam, I want to make sure Joe’s gonna be all right. I ain’t thinking like a sheriff right now. You and … your brothers … and … your pa…. I’ve known you a long time, long enough to feel almost like … well, almost like family.” Sniffing loudly, he threw his shoulders back and braced himself to move. He had to leave. He had a job to do. “I’m getting old, I guess. Old and foolish and sentimental.”

“It’s not foolish to think of yourself as family. You should know we feel that way, too.”

Roy avoided Adam’s gaze. “I’d better go track down that doctor. And my deputy; he’ll be missing me by now. And I’m gonna have to tell Mrs. Kettering.” He glanced quickly at Adam before stepping off the porch. “You send word soon as you can, Adam. You let me know how—”

The rest of his words vanished from thought as two horses cantered into the yard.

“Roy?” Doctor Paul Martin called over to him. “I got your message about Margaret Kettering, but there was a shooting back in town I had to tend to. Is she all right? Has something happened?” His dismount was awkward and cautious.

Roy wasn’t used to seeing Doc Martin on horseback. Something must have urged the doc to hurry. Or … someone.

Roy’s deputy.

Roy nodded to himself, accepting that he’d hired the right man for the job when his deputy came to stand in front of him. The doc was still dusting himself off and collecting his medical bag. That deputy was a whole lot like Adam, Roy realized. He was quiet, observant and perceptive. Just by looking into his eyes, Roy saw that he already knew there was more at play than catching up with a woman who’d escaped a lunatic asylum.

“Frankly,” Paul Martin went on behind them, “I’m surprised to find you’re still here. Your deputy told me you left town hours ago.”

Roy met his deputy’s gaze. “Miss Kettering’s just inside,” he said quietly. “I need for you to get her to the undertaker. We’ve got us some work to do.”

The deputy raised an eyebrow, but then nodded without asking questions. Answers would come soon enough.

As the deputy turned away, Adam’s hand landed on Roy’s shoulder. The quick, appreciative squeeze that followed helped Roy to know exactly what sort of work he, himself, needed to do for the rest of that day.

Leaving Margaret in the deputy’s capable hands and Little Joe in Doc Martin’s, Sheriff Roy Coffee went off duty. And then Roy Coffee, the proper friend, set to the most important job he could do right then: cleaning up.



Tags:  Family, RAM, Roy Coffee, SJS

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22 thoughts on “A Proper Friend (by Freyakendra)

  1. The level of tension is just right. Although you never mentioned the deputy’s name, like Cheaux I was picturing Clem. If you were, too, I thought that was a rare and insightful glimpse into his character, as well as an interesting look into Roy’s relationship with the Cartwrights. Well done.

    1. Thank you! I like to think of it as Clem’s first appearance, but I was hesitant to use his name for some reason I’m not even sure of myself. I’m glad you liked this

  2. It is a good story, showing how seriously Sheriff Coffee takes his job and still have feelings for his best friends.

  3. I often enjoy viewing the Cartwrights from an outsider’s POV, and Roy Coffee provides a unique perspective because of his close relationship with them. As a lawman, he maintains his objectivity, but off-the-clock he gives way to personal feelings which run quiet but deep. You make great us of him in this fine story. 🙂

  4. Great story ! Have always liked Roy and you wrote him really well . And some sjs is always a winner with me ?

  5. You have a talent to make “suffering Joe stories” always surprising and new and very inriguing (even for an Adam girl) 😉 . I enjoyed this story very much, your Roy is a real friend and certainly part of the family.

    1. Thank you, Sibylle! I do like my SJS, 😉 but not without also showing how it brings together his family, including Roy, to highlight their caring for one another. I’m very glad you enjoy my SJS, even as an Adam gal! 🙂

      BTW: Adam runs a very close second for me. In fact, I married an Adam! I suppose that’s why I prefer him in the role of protector, rather than as the sufferer. 😉

  6. Another excellent story. I especially enjoyed reading this from Roy’s view. The reader could feel his pain and how he tried to keep his composure when relating what had happened. I also liked the fact that Adam reiterated that Roy is family.

  7. That was intense. Very well described, little by little. The horror revealed word by word. I could feel every emotion. Just like Adam to ‘listen’ to what Roy wasn’t saying and guide the others. Adam and Roy do have a special bond. It’s so special when we get to see depth that Roy cares for the family, even for a moment while he’s being the Sheriff.

  8. Short, intense, and vivid as a nightmare–a wonderful portrait of Roy dealing with the burden of his duty and the anxiety of his friendship. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  9. A great Roy story showing how much he cared, and the bond with Adam showed very well. The depth of emotion was conveyed very well but in the subdued way I would expect among these men. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story.

  10. Wonderful about Roy Coffee, this story gave him the depth that he always seemed to lack on the Show! Love the scene with he and Adam too!

  11. AMAZING! The pain and the grief came through loud and clear. All in all, he did what he had to do, did all that he could do. A remarkable man to be able to step aside as a friend to let the lawman tell the family what happened, and then revert back to being a proper friend; above and beyond the call of duty.

  12. What a vivid, powerful scene you’ve given us. I was right there with the family as Roy told the story. Thanks so much for giving us this look into a character that doesn’t get nearly enough attention.

    1. Thank you! I wanted to avoid giving away too much too soon. The reader had more clues than Ben did, since the story started in *someones* bedroom, but I tried to hide facts like “which brother?” for as long as possible. I’m glad you felt you were with the family hearing the news from their perspectives!

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