Summary: Hoss/Adam are stuck in a cabin waiting for the bad guys to finish the job. A: 24, H:18, J:12
Rating and Reader Alerts: PG-13 for Western-style violence (13,550 words)
November 2008, updated February 2012
Feedback is appreciated
Disclaimer: The characters and general situations in this story are the property of Bonanza Ventures, Inc., however I reserve the rights to the specific details. It is not my intention to infringe upon their rights; this story is purely for the enjoyment of fans. Please do not redistribute in any form
Another Fine Mess
“Adam? You asleep?” Hoss Cartwright asked into the dark, the heavy downpour that had caused their current predicament having finally slowed to a constant drizzle.
“Yeah,” came his brother’s soft answer drawing a grin from Hoss.
“I jest wanted ta thank ya.”
That statement made Adam open tired eyes onto the small fire they had going in the makeshift fireplace. “For what?”
“Oh, jest about everythin’,” Hoss answered with a shrug.
Now Adam was confused. Of course, the fact that he’d been shot, had a dislocated shoulder and was pretty sure he’d banged his head good on the muddy ground when Sport took a tumble, made him immensely aware that he was not firing on all cylinders so he just had to say the first thing that came to him.
“What?” He felt more than saw Hoss shrug since they were leaning against each other under the window near the door of this rickety old cabin. Then a thought suddenly occurred to him. “This doesn’t have anything to do with your birthday on Saturday does it? Turning 18 gotcha worried or something?”
“Nah. Nothin’ like that,” Hoss was quick to add.
“How about the reason we’re on this little trip?”
“No, not that either.”
Adam’s brows furrowed. “Then what?” he asked looking up at his bigger brother.
“Well . . .” Hoss drew out that word and Adam waited. It wouldn’t do to rush him not when he had something to say. “You done took care o’ me growin’ up, taught me things, made me a good man. I jest . . . I jest wanted ta thank ya is all.”
Adam sat silently for a moment looking about the room they found themselves in and understood. A small smile tugged at his mouth. “So the fact that we’re both shot up and fending off gunman in the middle of nowhere doesn’t play into your feelings at the moment?”
Hoss chuckled. “Oh, maybe a little. I wanted ta make sure ya knew in case . . .” His voice trailed off and he felt a hand on his arm.
“We’ll make it home, Hoss,” Adam said confidently.
“Ah, yer always sayin’ stuff like that.”
“Have I ever been wrong?”
“Well, there was that time in Yuma,” Hoss reminded his brother.
“That was almost six years ago,” Adam quickly interjected, “and I seem to recall seeing the inside of our rooms since then.”
“Okay, I’ll give ya that,” Hoss laughed. “How about that one time we went after Joe when he ran away and we got caught in that flood. I thought we was goners then.
“Yeah, me, too,” Adam admitted as a sudden onslaught of water and mud whooshing up his nose and down his throat passed through his head making him shiver.
“But ya said we was gonna make it.”
“We’re sitting here aren’t we?”
Hoss nodded and sighed. “Jest tellin’ me tales,” he harrumphed.
“No. Making you believe in yourself like I believe in you.”
Adam couldn’t keep his mind from moving back to that river when the only thing keeping both he and Joe alive was the strength behind the rope – Hoss. He shook his head to rid himself of the memory and coughed then gave out a painful gasp at the movement. Hoss immediately covered his brother’s trembling arm with his hand and held on until it eased.
“You okay?” he asked watching as Adam leaned back against him to catch his breath.
“Just . . . just a twinge,” he managed. “I’ll be fine.”
“Shore ya will. I cain’t feel my right arm and my leg’s about ta fall off and yer bleedin’ all over the place. We’ll both be fine.”
Adam ran a hand across his brow and looked back toward the fireplace. “How do we get into these things anyway?”
“Pure luck I guess. It weren’t my fault that big horse o’ yourn cain’t keep up with my Chubb. If’n he could you’d a been up front and outta harms way.”
“Oh, no,” he said wiggling his finger at Hoss. “Don’t go blaming this on Sport. All that mud and then the water rushing off that hill, bullets flying past his head. He spooked is all.”
Hoss sniggered. “That horse’d spook at his own tail whippin’ ‘im in the face wonderin’ who smacked ‘im.”
Despite the disparaging remarks about his faithful mount, Adam gave him a slight nod. Sport was still learning and he had faith he’d turn out fine. “Well, I don’t see ol’ Chubb standing around waiting for you. Seems to me the last time I saw him he was hightailing it home . . . without you, I might add.”
“Ah, shucks, Adam, that boy went ta git help. Ain’t no use waitin’ when we cain’t even move out in the open. ‘sides he had ta show Sport how ta git home. It’s dark ya know. The boy cain’t find his way home without a lantern tied ta his head.”
“Hey, now . . .”
“I’m jest glad Joe ain’t here,” Hoss quickly added, “’cause he’d be tellin’ us how his pony would run clear home, bring back Pa and then go get Roy all without breakin’ a sweat. Ya know how that boy likes tall tales.”
“He does at that. Can’t get enough of those Dime novels. I just wish he’d read something better, something with depth and poetry that would stick with him.”
“He’s still a kid, Adam. He ain’t gonna like the same stuff you do. Heck I don’t even git what ya read half the time. Don’t understand all that lovey stuff. Most of it’s purty, especially when ya read it, but I guess I’m not cut out for that sorta thing.”
Adam patted Hoss’s arm. “It’s okay, Hoss. Not everyone likes the same stuff I do unfortunately.”
“Sometimes I wish I did,” he answered looking over at his brother, seeing the firelight pick up sweat trailing down his muddy face.
“You have your own kind of poetry, big brother,” Adam added leaning his head back against the wall as a wave of lightheadedness caught him and he closed his eyes so as not to throw up.
“You see it in the stars and the mountains and the animals. When you describe a place to me I can see your joy in the words you use. It’s beautiful.”
Knowing Adam the way he did, he wasn’t joshing in what he’d just said. He’d meant every word and it lit up his world. “Thanks, Adam. That’s truly nice.”
“I mean it, Hoss.”
Silence reigned for a few moments as a raindrop fell into the fireplace sending up a shaft of sizzling steam into the air breaking their train of thought and refocusing it back on why they were stuck in a cabin without help in sight.
“Do you suppose they’re still out there?” Adam wondered casting a glance up at the covered window above their heads. “Maybe they decided we weren’t worth it.”
“They done chased us all that way from Tasco. Don’t think they’re gonna give up so easy. But then I ain’t heard nothin’ but rain for the last five hours or so.”
“You don’t suppose you got them all?” Adam asked. “That we’re sitting here waiting for ghosts to get us?”
“Nah. I’m guessin’ someone’s out there waitin’.”
“Wonder how many.”
“Well, there was five o’ them in town and I got two.”
“We could take three,” Adam suggested as Hoss laughed.
“Shore thing. We’s all shot up with only one gun between us and ya want us ta jump three outlaws. Ya runnin’ a fever, boy?” he asked, his hand fumbling around until he managed to slap it across Adam’s forehead. Concern crossed his face as he straightened a little. “Ya are a little warm.”
“Of course I’m warm,” he argued moving away from Hoss’s hand. “You put out enough heat to light a fire.”
“But the temperature’s been droppin’ for the last hour. Ya shouldn’t be so warm.”
“I’m hot blooded,” Adam quipped wincing a bit as he tried to get closer to Hoss’s warmth; tried to ignore the shivering that was running through his body and the fact that he was having a hard time keeping the streaks of pain that flashed through him at bay, his body trying to decide whether he should shout out or pass out.
“Ha! I’m thinkin’ it’s more like shock,” Hoss gave him. “We’ve been chased, jumped and shot. Then the ground gave beneath ya and down ya went leavin’ me ta drag us both ta this here cabin, the owner of which I’ll be thankin’ in my prayers from now until the end. That there’s enough ta make anyone warm. Ain’t that right? Adam?” It was then he realized his brother was leaning heavily against him and not making a sound. “Adam, wake up. Come on, brother, wake up.”
Hoss’s voice and gentle prodding slowly penetrated the fog that surrounded him and he pushed his head back and blinked his eyes. “What . . . what happened?”
“I found myself talkin’ ta myself. I ain’t gonna face all them bad guys alone.”
From somewhere a grin spread across Adam’s face as Hoss wrapped an arm about him to pull him close. “You know,” he began forcing himself to stay in the conversation lest he nod off again, “this is your fault.” Hoss’s jaw dropped open but Adam chose to ignore it.
“Now why in tarnation is this my fault?” How could his brother say something like that after all he’d done? His fault. How could it possibly be his fault?
“You made fun of his hat,” Adam reminded his brother.
Hoss’s mouth froze open at that and he turned his gaze toward the fire trying to remember exactly what went on that morning.
He drifted back to waking up in a lumpy bed just about 6:00am with nice memories of the day before flitting about his head, then rousted his brother from between the sheets and the both of them headed down to the saloon for breakfast. Everything seemed fine as they both listened to the young lady who’d brought them their bill telling them about her upcoming wedding, when five toughs came in and bellied up to the bar.
Hoss’s eyes lit up. “It was that tall one weren’t it?” he asked scrunching up his nose. “The one with the eye that looked around ya.”
Adam nodded. “Yep.”
Hoss frowned. “I didn’t say nothin’ about his hat.”
“Yeah, you did,” Adam answered as he bent a leg to take some pressure off his back, grimacing at the effort. “I believe it was ‘that shore is a God awful lookin’ hat’.”
“You did,” Adam gave him.
“Why didn’t ya stop me?” Hoss asked looking over at his pale brother who rubbed at his eyes trying not to notice how the darkness around him seemed to want to suck him into its depths.
“That was a bit difficult since you’d already said it.”
“Oh, yeah,” Hoss acknowledged remembering the tall man with the God awful hat come toward them as the young lady scurried away. In fact, the other patrons, few though they were, moved away as well . . .
“What’s the matter with my hat?” the man asked, spreading the words out like they were surrounded by molasses.
Both Hoss and Adam looked up in time to see the other four men sidle up to the tall one, making a semi circle about the table.
“Huh?” Hoss said trying to find out which eye was looking at him.
“Ya said this was a God awful hat,” he said pointing to the dirty, torn, sweat stained aberration on his head. Hoss swallowed. “This here was my grandfather’s hat who wore it in the French and Indian war and I take pride in wearin’ it. So ya wanna apologize fer makin’ fun of my grandfather?”
Hoss traded glances with Adam who merely sat back in his seat, arms across his chest. Well, he’d be no help, Hoss surmised and looked back at the man. “I’m right down sorry, mister. Didn’t mean ta make fun o’ no one. In fact I didn’t even know that I said that out loud. How ’bout we shake on it.” Hoss held out his hand, plastered a smile on his face and waited.
The tall man’s glare shifted from Hoss’s face to his hand and back again and then, without even a moment’s hesitation, he lobbed a giant glob of spittle onto Hoss’s large white hat that sat in the open chair in front of him. Adam shifted slightly in his seat in preparation for the onslaught that was sure to follow.
Waiting a beat, Hoss looked at his hat then leaned closer to his brother. “Tell me he didn’t jest do that,” came his whisper.
“He did,” came the whispered answer as Adam watched his big brother slowly rise from his chair, noting even at 17 Hoss was almost as tall as the spitter.
“There was no call ta do that, mister,” he said to the man. “I apologized. That shoulda ended it.”
“Well, where I come from that was only the beginnin’.”
Faster than Hoss could say dadgumit, a fist came flying his way and made contact with his chin, tossing him backwards a step as Adam shot to his feet keeping an eye on the other four men, hand hovering near his gun. He caught his brother’s eye but Hoss held up a hand for him to wait then rubbed at his chin before stepping forward to eyeball all five of the men before settling on the tall man and that God awful hat.
“I’ll be glad ta give ya a fight, mister. One on one or five on one, don’t matter ta me none, but maybe we should take this outside so’s we don’t mess up this nice place.”
“Fine with me,” the tall one said as they all made their way outside, Hoss and Adam bringing up the rear a number of paces behind.
“Hoss, you sure about this?” Adam whispered to him as they cleared the saloon doors seeing the tall man hand off his God awful hat and gun to one of his men then begin rolling up his sleeves. “Maybe we should hightail it outta town.”
“Now, Adam,” Hoss began, placing a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “I ain’t had a good fight in ages. ‘sides Joe ain’t here ta git in my way. So’s I want ya ta take the sidelines lessen ya think they’s cheatin’ then come in with full barrels.”
“You sure?” Adam whispered. “They don’t look like they fight fair.”
“Better yet,” Hoss smiled handing Adam his gunbelt then his hat as he turned toward the tall man. “What’s yer name, mister?”
“Why?” he spat.
Hoss smiled. “I wanna be sure ta tell the Doc so’s if’n ya die they git it right on your tombstone.”
“Baker. Clayton Baker. You?”
“Cartwright. Hoss Cartwright,” he answered balling his hands into fists. “And that’s with a ‘w’.”
“Huh?” Baker questioned as a ham sized fist caught him across the cheek making him stagger back a step or two before stumbling to the ground.
“Cartwright. C-a-r-t-w-r-i-g-h-t,” answered Hoss as Adam leaned against the hitching rail trying hard not to smile.
Fists flying, curses flinging through the air and dust rising soon followed until a crowd gathered and money exchanged hands. It wasn’t much later that the crowd dispersed when all five men were laid out flat on the ground. Hoss dunked his head into the water trough next to where Adam leaned and ran a hand through his wet hair. All seemed right with the world . . . at least then.
“What say we head on home, brother?” Adam asked slapping Hoss on the back. “We’ve had a mighty interesting couple of days.” He winked at him then handed over his big white hat. “I cleaned it off for you.” Nodding, Hoss placed it gently on his head and the two of them strolled toward the livery. “Feel all right?”
“Bit sore is all,” Hoss gave him rubbing his knuckles. “Ain’t done that in a coon’s age. Felt good.”
Adam nodded then rotated his right arm. “I’m a bit sore as well,” he said catching Hoss’s attention.
“Why? Last time I looked ya was jest standin’ there.
“I beg to differ, brother,” Adam began. “I had to clean that disgusting bit of drool off that big hat of yours then I had to hold it while you dispatched those ruffians. Thing weighs a ton.”
Adam’s quick reflexes saved him as he ducked the hand that came his way as they disappeared into the livery . . .
Hoss smiled at the memory but then cast a leveled look at Adam. “I may have started it, older brother,” he began, “but I thought I’d stopped it until ya said somethin’ about the color of that fat man’s shirt. Char . . . Char . . .”
“Yeah, that’s it. Now what made ya say somethin’ like that?”
Adam shrugged remembering too late his sore shoulder. Grasping his arm, he held it close and bit his lip as Hoss’s own arm tightened around him. “In my defense I thought they were unconscious,” he said with a grimace.
Hoss shook his head. “Haven’t ya always told me not ta assume nothin’? Never assume they’s outta bullets or dead ’til ya find out for yerself. Ya’ve always said that.”
“Well I . . .”
“So what do ya do? Pick on the color of his shirt.”
“Well I couldn’t believe a tough would wear that color,” Adam tried to explain.
“Well next time keep it ta yerself!” Hoss nearly shouted hastily pulling his arm from Adam’s shoulder as the memory of walking their horses from the livery produced a direct line to that fat man in the chartreuse shirt and the gun he’d pointed right at them.
Fortunately blood from the heavy gash across his forehead impeded his sight and the bullets went wide as they’d raced down the street and out of Tasco, touching the brim of their hats as they passed a pair of ladies standing on a porch at the edge of town, a lovely previous day remembered by the both of them as they quickly left.
“Sorry,” came from Adam knowing that his brother was just worried about things.
“I’m sorry,” Adam repeated as Hoss looked away and silence followed once again. He fidgeted with his pants and glanced about the dark space they sat in. “How’s your leg?”
“Hurts like the devil,” Hoss grumpily gave him then relented. “How’s yer side?”
“Same as you.” They both sighed. “It’s raining heavy again,” Adam offered moments before a drop fell on his boot.
“Yeah, I can see that,” Hoss answered hearing it hit against the porch and the window above.
Adam eyed the window. “Thanks for hauling my ass outta the mud.”
“Sport’s usually more sure-footed than that. Hope he’s all right.”
Hoss looked over at his brother noting the worried look. “Ah, ya know he is. He’s as ornery as you.”
“He fell pretty hard.”
“You, too. Dislocated yer shoulder ya know.”
“I know,” Adam said moving a bit and biting off a harsh breath.
“Sit still or it might slip out again,” Hoss admonished reaching over to make sure the belt was tight enough across Adam’s chest to secure his arm. “Ya scared me ya know,” he said as he worked.
“When you and Sport went down and didn’t get up. It scared me,” Hoss admitted trying not to think on it but finding his mind wouldn’t let him off that easy . . .
The sun had shone brightly as they made their hasty retreat out of town then the clouds began to roll in and flashes of lightning could be seen far off with ominous sounds of thunder echoing their way. Their spirits weren’t dampened though as they continued on in hopes of beating the storm pretty sure their pursuers had given up the chase. But to be on the safe side they continued to crisscross through densely wooded areas and up and around rocks and crags, their looks over their shoulders coming less and less as the afternoon wore on.
Deciding that tired horses and men might start making mistakes, they began to look for a place to camp, preferably an area that could be well defended . . . just in case. Their choices became severely limited when a bullet sailed over Adam’s head.
“Holy!” he shouted as another bullet creased his arm. “Run, Hoss! They found us!”
And run they did hell-bent as the storm finally caught up with them and the ground turned to mud beneath their horse’s flying hooves, Hoss spying what looked like an old cabin nestled within a small group of trees ahead of them. Turning to point the way, he felt a hot flash of pain in his thigh seconds before he heard a sharp cry coming from behind him. He would always remember how his heart dropped to his stomach at the sight of Sport going down in the mud and taking his brother right along with him.
“ADAM!” Hoss yelled pulling Chubb up so fast he thought he might slide out from under him but managed to keep upright.
Fear swept through him as he jumped from the saddle and hurried toward his silent brother as Sport slowly regained his footing. He grabbed a hold of Adam and draped him over his shoulder taking off as fast as he could manage with a bullet hole in his leg and mud sucking at his boots.
Heading for the cabin, he slammed through the door and slipped landing heavily on his back. Sounds of hooves slapping through water filtered into the room and he rolled over and scrambled toward the door to toss it shut, pulling his gun and waiting, listening intently for any sound, any movement.
“There go their horses!” came to him through the pelting rain.
“Couldn’t’a gone far on foot! Spread out!”
“Damnation,” Hoss whispered knowing they’d see the cabin and the muddy footprints left on the steps before too long.
Glancing over at Adam lying still on the floor, Hoss braced himself against all the morbid thoughts that raced through his head; all the dark worrisome notions about death and dying. He had to protect his brother; had to bring him home to their Pa. He had to be the responsible one now. But what did he know about protecting his brother . . . or himself for that matter? He wasn’t the one who was smart about things like this. That was Adam who now lay senseless on the floor.
He swallowed hard as he looked at his older brother realizing it was up to him, up to him to get them home in one piece. And the only way that could happen was to use the gun in his trembling hand. He blanched. He was going to have to do more then lob a few bullets over their heads to stop them. He was going to have to kill someone and that just made his stomach bunch up into knots.
Squeezing shut his eyes he tried not to think on it; tried not to think on taking a life no matter that that person was trying to take his. He remembered the time Adam told him about his first time, how he felt, how he still felt but that it needed to be done. ‘And you just get through it’ Adam had said.
“You jest get through it,” he muttered looking once again at Adam then willing himself to be strong.
Glancing up he spied the window to the left of the door and maneuvered himself toward it, thankful for the bit of light still coming through. A quick look showed him it was the only window in the cabin to protect and if those men were coming they’d only have one way to come in – straight through the front door. He’d be ready.
Peeking through the dirty glass he moved quickly back then peeked again as he spied two men dismounting and sneaking toward the cabin, their posture bent as they skirted the trees leading up to the porch and he grasped his gun tighter and deliberated with himself. Should he wait until they came inside or just shoot them from here as soon as they came within range?
His decision was made for him when he heard a creak and scared eyes shot toward the door as it began to swing open, the edge banging against Adam’s foot and catching the man off guard, giving Hoss time to take a quick but well aimed shot. He was rewarded with a yelp then the man dropping to the floor, dead eyes seeing nothing else this day. He recognized him as one of the men from town knowing for sure who was after them and how many there were and he couldn’t help the shake in his hand and kept telling himself that he was fighting for their lives as he heard something else over the rain – a footstep on porch.
Eyes moved quickly back to the window and a flash of color met his eyes and he recognize the man in the chartreuse shirt. It took but a second to let loose with a shot that plowed through the corner of the glass and nailed the man right between the eyes. He dropped from sight and Hoss collapsed back to the floor taking deep breaths. He’d just killed two men; just taken two lives. ‘A gun is for protection’ came to him in his father’s deep voice. ‘Don’t ever worry about using it if you have no other choice’.
“I didn’t have no choice, Pa,” he whispered.
Two bullets gone and three men were still out there. He’d have to be careful with what was left.
A slight moan caught his attention and he crawled toward Adam thankful for something else to think about, eyes falling on the dead man and the open door. Pushing the man out and shutting the door, Hoss pulled Adam toward the diminishing light of the window noticing the trail of blood left behind. His heart nearly stopped at the sight and he immediately ran hands all over his brother finding the crease in his arm then the dislocated shoulder. He slipped hands under his jacket and stopped as soon as he came into contact with a warm sticky wetness. Rolling him he spied the hole in his back and reached around the front – the bullet had gone clean through.
Adam’s bandana was gently tugged from around his neck and tied with Hoss’s to wrap about his brother’s middle making him gasp as it was pulled tight. Eyes popped open and a hand shot out, Hoss quickly grasping it.
“It’s all right,” he comforted as Adam’s breath came in quick painful gasps. “We’re safe for now, brother. I got me two’a them and that leaves only three.”
“Horses . . .” came out through clenched teeth and Hoss shook his head.
“They’s probably already back home by now,” Hoss gave him as Adam squeezed shut his eyes against the pain that wafted through him.
“Where . . . where are we?” he finally managed after a minute or two.
“I got us ta that ol’ cabin. Mighty lucky findin’ it out here in the middle o’ nothin’ if’n ya ask me. At least we’s outta the rain and dry.” He looked down at his clothes. “Muddy but dry. Them boys could drown afore mornin’ comes what with all this rain.”
“Always . . . hope,” he quipped opening his eyes again.
As soon as the words left Adam’s mouth a big fat raindrop plopped right on Hoss’s head followed by another. “Well, at least yer dry,” Hoss said as he maneuvered himself over his brother, grabbin a hold of his right arm.
“Hoss?” came from Adam as the pain mounted, his body tensing at what was to come.
“On three. One . . . two . . .”
Before three arrived Hoss pulled and twisted and felt Adam’s shoulder slip back into place, grimacing at the loud cry coming from his brother’s lips and the thunk of his head falling against the floor as he blacked out. Pulling off Adam’s belt, he strapped his arm to his chest to try and keep it in place and could feel the worry build and build in his chest. His brother was hurt. There were still three men out there waiting to kill them. There was no one to help.
This must be how Pa feels all the time.
That had been five hours before. The day had flown and they were deep into the night with a storm making a racket around them . . .
“I got scared when ya fell,” Hoss admitted. “It made me worry about all sorts a things.”
“Like what?” Adam asked wondering what was on his brother’s mind now.
“Like what?” he repeated strongly. “What do you think?”
Raising brows at the tone, Adam looked at him. “Well, it . . .”
“Like I might be losin’ my best friend,” Hoss stated harshly.
Adam blanched a bit. “Oh.”
“Sorry,” Adam apologized again, a satisfied feeling running through him. He’d always thought of Hoss as his best friend, always thought of him as the one he could go too for anything. It was nice to hear the sentiment tossed back at him.
“What ya grinnin’ about?” Hoss asked despite himself.
“I’m glad you’re my brother,” he gave him as Hoss’s stern features melted into a slow grin of his own seeing Adam picking at the mud that covered them both then heard him chuckle.
“What?” he asked.
“I was thinking,” Adam began, “about the story you were telling right before we were ambushed – the one with Joe dragging Pa through the mud and Hop Sing pitching a fit.”
“Ol’ Hop Sing was fit ta be tied,” Hoss said with a laugh. “I ain’t never heard so much hullabaloo comin’ from that man when he run both o’ them out the door afore they tracked mud all over the house.”
“He tossed Joe into the trough and threatened to do the same to Pa. That was the only time I’ve ever seen someone stare Pa down.”
“Hop Sing was shore firin’ that day. And when Pa voluntarily stepped into the trough,” Hoss said around a laugh, “well, I jest about fell over I was laughin’ so hard.”
They both laughed at the memory then slowly sobered as another round of lightning and thunder rattled what was left of the window pane and reminded them of where they were.
“How do we always seem to find ourselves in these messes, Hoss?” Adam asked. “We don’t go looking for stuff like this do we? I never thought we did.”
“Nah,” he answered with shake of his head. “Jest plain bad luck. Always seem ta be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And we cain’t even blame Joe this time.”
“That just makes it worse,” Adam said. “Joe’s always dragging either you or me into one of his schemes and always seems to get off scott free. This time we don’t have anyone to blame but ourselves.” He looked at his brother. “Maybe we should stay on the ranch; never go anywhere. Do you think that’ll keep us out of trouble?”
Hoss thought on that a moment then shrugged. “Don’t rightly know. We’ve gotten inta trouble on the ranch afore. Remember when ya fell through the roof tryin’ ta fix the treehouse?”
Adam nodded. “And you got your head stuck in the pig sty trying to coax out that mama pig. What was her name?”
“Bertha,” he said with a smile. “She was a big’un all right. Mean. Thought she was gonna eat me. And all I remember is you standin’ there laughin’.”
“I couldn’t get you out and I tried to ward her off,” Adam gave him.
“Ya didn’t try very hard.”
“She bit me!”
“Jest a scratch,” Hoss reminded him with a wave of his hand.
“I couldn’t sit down for a week.”
“Yer a big baby that’s all. I was lookin’ at bein’ eaten alive by a pig the size o’ the barn.”
“How’d you get out? I can’t remember.”
“I had an apple in my pocket and managed ta mis-direct her attention so’s I could wiggle on outta there. Chased ya around the barn a time or two.”
“Yes you did,” Adam yawned around a smile wondering if they would share any more memories or would those men shoot their way in as soon as the rain stopped or morning came. Didn’t matter much they’d still be dead and Pa and Joe would be alone. Well, at least they’d die together shooting their guns until they were empty.
“Do ya think we’ll see home again?” Hoss asked in a quiet voice startling Adam from his wandering thoughts.
“I do,” he firmly said with a nod.
“Yer telling me tales again.”
“Nope,” Adam firmly said. “I won’t ever give up on purpose.”
Hoss nodded back, Adam knowing that he relied on him as did Joe in situations like this; relied on him to be strong and creative even when he wasn’t at his best . . . like now. His breath suddenly caught in his throat at a stark pain that washed through him and he felt his brother holding him as he pressed himself against the wall.
“Hang on, brother,” Hoss gave back. “It’ll pass. Jest keep breathing.” He waited a moment feeling him begin to relax. “That’s it. It’s okay.” He patted Adam’s good arm and settled back. “Wonder what time it is?” he said trying to take his mind off things. “Think it’ll keep rainin’? Adam? Adam?”
“Hmm,” came the muffled response.
“Don’t ya go sleepin’ on me now,” Hoss said pushing against his brother until he managed to open his eyes and blink back the fuzziness that surrounded him.
“I’m . . . I’m awful tired, Hoss.”
“I know ya are,” he said checking his brother’s bandages and pulling back bloodied fingers. “But ya cain’t sleep. Ya gotta help me come up with a better story for when Joe asks how we got ourselves inta this mess.”
Adam squinched up his nose. “What’s . . . what’s wrong with the truth?”
“’cause I can already tell ya what’s gonna happen,” he started pulling at his sleeve. “He’s gonna giggle his head off and say we’re holding back and Pa’s gonna put hands on his hips and glare at the both o’ us then yer gonna take the brunt o’ it ’cause yer the oldest.”
“I never thought that was fair,” Adam whispered trying to ignore the warm wetness sliding down his side as Hoss pulled back his jacket. “I can’t help that I was born first. Doesn’t . . . doesn’t mean I can watch all of you all the time.”
“But yer supposed ta set an example,” Hoss stated as he ripped his sleeve in two and wadded up both pieces.
“You were the one that . . . started it,” Adam reminded him again as little stars flashed before his eyes.
“I know so’s ya obviously let me down at some point in our relationship or why would I do that?”
Adam’s mouth dropped open at that and Hoss couldn’t help but snort. “You’re really rotten you know?”
“I know,” Hoss laughed again finally drawing a slight smile from older brother. “Now hold on tight ’cause I’m gonna havta cause ya some pain.”
Before Adam could respond, Hoss pressed his wadded up shirt sleeves against both sides of the wound and held on as he tried to squirm out from under the pressure.
“Hang on, Adam. Hang on.” He watched his brother’s eyes start to roll up and gently slapped him a couple of times until some sort of clarity came back to him. “We already had this discussion about ya checkin’ out and leavin’ me ta deal with them bad guys alone.”
“. . . bad guys,” Adam whispered as he shook his head.
“That’s right. They’s right outside the door, waitin’ ta jump on our unsuspectin’ selves. Cain’t be the only one holdin’ up the Cartwright name ya know.”
“Cartwright . . . with a “w”.”
Hoss smiled. “We don’t go leavin’ a brother ta fend for hisself not while there’s breath left in ‘im.”
“Together . . . ’til the end.”
“Exactly. Now, let’s get back ta that story we gotta come up with ta please Joe,” he said pulling closed Adam’s jacket and buttoning it.
Adam shook his head slowly. “I’m not . . . gonna make up a story, Hoss,” he stated as firmly as he could which didn’t sound firm at all to his own ears. “We were . . . minding our own . . . business when we were jumped and barely made it to this cabin where we defended ourselves then made it home . . . practically unscathed.” Winded, Adam coughed and tried to collect any breath he could find.
“Unscathed?” Hoss exclaimed. “I gotta bullet hole in my thigh and I wrenched my arm haulin’ you outta the mud. Ya dislocated yer shoulder and got shot in the back. I’m thinkin’ that’s pretty scathed.
“Then that should be enough.”
“Joe’ll need more action.”
“More action?” came the question as he blinked sweat out of his eyes trying to keep the room from spinning.
“Ya know . . . for the story,” Hoss said with a slight shake of his head. “How about we was tryin’ ta save a stage full of orphans and we run off the bad guys only ta have them chase us down and try and kill us.”
Carefully finding a more comfortable position without passing out, Adam thought on it a bit. “Did we save the orphans?”
“How many were there?”
Hoss began to smile. “Three girls and a boy.”
“Who’d they have with them?”
“Ah, a nice older woman . . . at least that’s what it looked like as we flew past the stage and drew off the bad guys.”
Adam glanced toward his brother with a half smile. “You’ve got this all figured haven’t you?”
Hoss nodded. “Gotta be prepared ’cause ya know Joe ain’t gonna believe the truth. He’ll pester us and pester us ’til we punch ‘im out or make up somethin’. Might as well be prepared. What do ya say?”
Adam gave slight shake of the head and rubbed his face. “What the hell.”
“Good,” Hoss said with a big smile. “Now, if’n ya can stand me leavin’ ya for a bit, I’m gonna check on our visitors ta see what’s goin’ on.”
“I’ll do my best,” he answered feeling the cold as Hoss moved away from him and tried not to think how far from home they were and how as each hour passed it was getting more and more difficult to see a positive endgame to their situation. This trip started out so well. What the hell happened? “What do you see?”
“Nothin’ but dark,” he said flinching back as a bullet nicked the side of the window. “Dadburnit! Can they see in the dark?” he asked the air around him. “How many bullets ya got? I only got four.”
Slowly reaching for his gun all he found was an empty holster.
“Must’ve fallen out when I hit the ground.”
Hoss cursed under his breath and ran a hand across his face. “Well I got two o’ them,” said Hoss. “We should be able ta pick them off once mornin’ comes.”
Adam looked at his brother, his almost 18 year old brother, and suddenly realized he’d had to take lives to protect them. He shuddered remembering what it was like for him when that time came. Didn’t matter he was protecting his father. Didn’t matter they were trying to kill him. All that mattered was he’d taken another life and it had weighed heavily upon him.
“Yeah?” he answered looking back at his brother.
“About those men . . .”
“Had ta be done, brother,” came the quick answer. “Ain’t no use talkin’ about it now.”
Adam nodded at him. “If you ever need too.”
Hoss’s gaze lingered on his brother, so very grateful for his presence. “I know where ya live.”
Adam watched Hoss look away then and sighed. “Think they’ll make a run on the cabin?”
“Didn’t seem too bright ta me in town. Why should it be any different out here?”
“True,” Adam answered hearing more water drops plinking off the floor around them. “Of course we might be flooded by morning.”
“Well, we needed ta get all that mud offa us anyhow.”
“Yeah,” Adam said. “I hate being dirty.”
Hoss looked over at his brother leaning forlornly against the wall. “Ya’ve always been like that.”
“Clean clothes and a clean body makes me . . . I don’t know . . . think clearer.”
“Nope. Makes me sleep better, too. Tonight though I could sleep through anything.”
“What’d ya think caused that? Wantin’ ta bathe all the time.”
Adam gave out a short laugh. “You make it sound like a bad thing.”
“I jest always wondered is all.”
Adam smiled. “I think it’s because when Pa and I were on the wagon train the only time we got to take a bath was when we crossed a river or found a lake. Sometimes that was few and far between. I love Pa but both of us stinkin’ up the wagon just wasn’t my idea of a good thing.”
“Then I come along and was always gettin’ dirty.”
“You and dirt did seem to gravitate toward each other. But before that, when Mama came to us, she made sure we bathed, even if it was merely a quick wash every day. She said ‘I won’t travel with a bunch of dirt balls’.”
“She said that?” Hoss laughed.
“She did,” he answered with a grin of his own at the memory. “Now, Pa didn’t think it was funny but I couldn’t stop laughing. I got the ol’ Pa glare for that and Mama smiled. But he bathed every day after that.” Adam looked back down to his soiled clothes. “I sorta got into the habit and never stopped. Never wanted too. Never wanted Mama to think I forgot even the smallest thing she taught me.”
Hoss watched his brother seeing a sadness cross his sweaty face that was instantly gone. It always happened when he mentioned their Mama and it always made Hoss miss her more knowing that this woman meant so much to his older brother. He turned back to the window.
“Cain’t see nothin’ out there.” Slipping his gun into its holster, he moved back toward Adam not liking that he’d suddenly become quiet again and sidled up close. “Adam?”
“I hope . . . Sport’s okay,” he mumbled finding it ever so difficult to keep his eyes open, thoughts of his horse intruding on other things. “He’s still young . . .”
“He’ll be fine,” Hoss answered worry filling him again at the unfocused glaze that seemed to fall over Adam’s eyes.
“So did you and yer jest fine.”
“Sorry about . . . about the mess.”
“Don’t worry none. Ain’t no mess we cain’t get around. Ya said so yerself plenty o’ times. Why I remember that time in Reno when ya was runnin’ down the street with them four women chasin’ ya,” Hoss smiled. “Seemed like ya got yerself into a heapin’ mess that time.”
He knew Hoss was trying to keep him awake and so he put a little extra effort toward connecting the dots and was finally rewarded with this particular memory. “That was Mrs. Bumbridge’s tea club. And they were well into their 70’s.”
“I’d’a been surprised if’n ya didn’t snare them with yer fancy talk. Older women seem ta take ta ya like a duck ta water.”
“I’m charming to all ages,” he answered trying to focus on something other than the throbbing of every part of his body that seemed on the verge of leaping on him. “It was . . . pleasant enough in the beginning, but when Mrs. Bumbridge herself laid a hand on my knee, well, it was time for me to skedaddle.”
“Purty spry for 70 year olds what with all them bustles and fabric held tight in their hand as they lit out after ya, callin’ yer name as they flew down the street. I ain’t never seen ya run faster, brother.”
“That was Pa’s fault you know. Talked me into . . . into comin’ with him.” Adam tried to sit up a bit straighter but stopped as soon as a numbing ache began to spread across his back again.
“Sit still now,” Hoss ordered as Adam’s breath came to him in short gulps.
“Pa said . . . that he wanted to . . . to show me off.”
“I remember. Ya’d jest come back from school . . . the first or second week if’n I recall, and he wanted ta show them ladies what an educated man looked like. Seemed they’d never seen one west of the Rockies and were achin’ ta lay their eyes on one. Course once they gotta gander at you all bets was off.
“I was comin’ up the walk,” Hoss remembered, “ta git ya both when the door flew open and out ya raced. All I could see was a flurry o’ lace and shawls and Pa sittin’ on the floor covered in tea and cake, a stunned look on his face,” he barely finished as he began to laugh.
“I ran like the Devil was . . . was chasing me and made the mistake of turning down an alley that was a dead end,” Adam said with a coy grin. “Well, sorta a dead end.”
“Yeah,” Hoss said with a gleam in his eye. “That was a mighty nice hidey hole weren’t it?”
“It was,” he nodded with a knowing grin. “Those girls saved me from a fate worse than death. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay . . . well, not that day anyway.”
“Ya ol’ dog,” Hoss said with a sly grin.
“Which reminds me,” Adam said looking his brother square in the face. “You liked it didn’t you?” he asked of him not able to see Hoss clearly in the dying firelight but knowing he was blushing.
“I ain’t never had a better time,” he quietly answered. He turned then. “I’ve thanked ya for that ain’t I?”
“A number of times,” Adam smirked as he thought on what started their odyssey to Tasco.
The town was small and was much like any other except for one small offering, an offering that led to a promise made to his brother before he’d left for college. He smiled then. It had all started so simply as they rode into town . . .
“Wild Horses,” Hoss said aloud as he read the sign. It was made of cherry wood and the two words drifted across the top in a fancy script with a nice carving of a beautiful horse rearing, its mane and tail billowing out behind it. “That’s a mighty fine carvin’,” he said not realizing Adam had dismounted and was patiently waiting for him next to Sport.
“While I appreciate that you can admire a fine carving hand,” he began, “we’re here to admire something else.”
Hoss hesitantly pulled eyes from the sign and landed them on his brother. He swallowed, so nervous he wasn’t sure his legs would hold him if he ever decided to get down out of the saddle.
Adam peered up knowing exactly how he felt and wouldn’t dismiss his misgivings for the world. All men suffered through them more than once during a lifetime, of that he was sure, but the first time was always the hardest . . . no pun intended.
“If you’d like to wait . . .”
“No, no,” came Hoss’s quick answer as he fiddled with the reins. “I come here ta do this . . . this thing. I been waitin’ for ya ta come home ta take me and now we’re here so’s I might as well take advantage o’ it while the offer’s on the table.
“The offer will always be on the table, Hoss. Never worry about that.”
“I know, I know.”
“Want to get a beer first?” Adam asked pointing down the street. “Loosen you up?”
“No, no,” Hoss repeated trying to get his leg to cross over the saddle and reach for the ground with no luck. “Jest give me a minute.”
Adam held up his hands and turned away to hide a smile and leaned against the hitching rail thinking back to when he’d ventured here on his own a few weeks before leaving for school. He’d been so nervous he threw up on the trail then wondered why he was making such a fuss after he got started. His smile grew bigger then as a memory of Vallon’s light touch stroking across his . . .
“I’m down!” came triumphantly from behind him and he turned to see Hoss on the ground but still holding onto the saddle.
He nodded encouragingly back toward his brother not wanting to push. Everyone moved at their own pace and this brother liked to think long and hard (oh there’s that word again) about things as world shattering as this might be for him.
“Do you want me to go ahead . . .”
And he was, leaving his arm to stretch out full length before finally letting go of the saddle, swallowing again and pulling at his shirt collar even though it was already unbuttoned. Finally he came to stand next to Adam.
“Do we, ah, need ta do anythin’ for the horses?” he asked.
“Nope. They’ll be taken care of by the staff.”
“Okay.” Hoss fidgeted some more then ran a hand down his shirt. “Do I look all right? Should I go have a bath or somethin?”
Adam dropped a hand on his brother’s arm and offered up a warm smile. “You look great and you smell great. Relax. This is supposed to be fun.”
“Easy for you ta say. Ya been here afore.”
“And I was just as nervous as you. But once you get started . . .” He waggled his brows then stopped as Hoss began to blush. “This is a natural thing, Hoss.”
“I know. It’s jest that . . . well, I can barely talk ta a girl let alone do . . . do that.”
“You’ll see. I bet you’ll be talking her ear off before you’re through.” Hoss tried not to grin then hid his face as Adam’s hand patted him on the back. “You ready?”
“Now remember. If, for whatever reason, you need to leave let me know and we’ll go. No questions. Got it?”
Hoss looked into his brother’s serious face and nodded. “Got it.”
“Okay then. Here we go.”
Adam kept a hand on Hoss’s back and took the first step, then the second as his brother reluctantly followed until they found themselves outside the door. He grabbed the doorknob and turned it feeling his brother tremble even more as they stepped inside, both doffing their hats as they closed the door behind them . . .
“Yessiree. Wild Horses,” Hoss whispered then glanced over at his brother. “Thank you, Adam. I really mean that.”
“I had to do that all by myself, Hoss. Couldn’t very well ask Pa to come with me. So I thought it would be nice to have someone to offer . . . offer moral support if nothing else.”
Hoss grinned then. “I did ya know,” came Hoss’s whispered voice near Adam’s ear, drawing a quizzical look to his face. “I had a good time. Miss Vallon was very . . . well, very . . .”
“I know,” Adam interrupted to save his brother some embarrassment. “Sometimes I’d like to stay there forever,” he wistfully added, “and never leave that room.”
Hoss chuckled and shook his head, his line of thinking running parallel with his brother. Adam smiled, thinking on the sweet smell of Vallon’s perfume and the soft touches that followed his first time, the spell broken by a loud clearing of the throat.
“Ya ain’t in no shape ta be thinkin’ about that woman,” Hoss announced in no uncertain terms, “so move them thoughts somewhere else.”
“But, Hoss,” he began finding thoughts of Vallon captivating him enough to at least keep him awake for a little bit longer.
“Ain’t no buts about it. Ya’ll jest be nothin’ but grumpy if’n ya cain’t finish what ya start and this shore ain’t the place ta start somethin’.
Well, when his brother was right he was right. But then that left him with conversation that was slowly drifting in and out and becoming more and more difficult to follow. At least with Vallon he could . . .
Adam was sure he hadn’t heard that correctly. “What?”
“Come on now. Lemme hear that sweet voice of yourn.”
Adam slowly shook his head. “Don’t have enough . . . energy to carry a tune.”
“Sure ya can,” Hoss prompted. “I’ll start and once I do ya won’t be able ta stay quiet.”
A warble filled the cabin and Adam knew his brother was right. He couldn’t let his brother sing alone and began to pipe up, low at first then finding strength from somewhere, becoming louder as the two worked their way through song after song until only one voice remained.
Hoss’s voice trailed off as he looked down at his unconscious brother wrapped tightly in his arms. Deciding to let him sleep because dawn was only a few hours away, he thought it might be easier for Adam to meet the new day without knowing it came at all being that those men would probably storm the cabin and he wasn’t sure he could make those four lonely bullets count. Wishing the same oblivion for himself, he closed his eyes and almost instantly fell asleep as the rain continued to fall, drops beating out a tune by themselves on the floor around them.
“HELLO THE CABIN!” Hoss flinched a bit and moved his head. “YER SURROUNDED!” He flinched again. “COME OUT WITH YER HANDS UP!”
Hoss’s eyes shot open as those words filtered into his pounding head and he looked around disoriented for a moment then the memory came flooding back. They were still in that cabin, holed up and waiting for the end to come. The fire had burned out and it seemed the rain had stopped leaving behind small puddles all about them.
“AIN’T GOT ALL DAY! COME OUT!”
Thoughts of letting his brother sleep through their massacre flew out the window and he shook him then slapped him none too gently once then twice. He didn’t relish the idea of facing all of this alone.
“Adam!” Hoss urgently whispered. “Adam! Come on! Wake up!” Repeating the process he was finally rewarded with those long lashes fluttering then slowly parting. “Adam, ya with me?”
“. . . what . . ?” came the mumble, the word thick and slow.
“We got company.”
Grabbing his gun from where he’d dropped it on the floor, Hoss carefully propped it up on his knee to face the door, glad he wouldn’t have to meet his maker by himself even if it meant both he and his brother would leave Joe and Pa to make their way alone in the world.
“I AIN’T GONNA WAIT ALL DAY!” came the voice again, closer this time.
“This is it, Adam,” Hoss said without looking at his brother. “Are ya ready? Adam, ya with me?”
“Sorta,” finally came to Hoss as Adam coughed and shook his head to try and clear his vision, barely maintaining a grasp on reality. Brothers fighting to the end. As it should be.
“Good. Now I know I don’t say this often but . . . I love ya, brother. Don’t ever forget it.”
Adam glanced at his middle brother and coughed again then smiled. “I’ve always loved you, Hoss,” he began in a raspy voice, “even when you get me into these . . . fine messes.”
Hoss grinned again and nodded settling in to wait; wait for the end to come; wait for the last thing they would see and hear on this earth. It wasn’t what they expected.
“YA AIN’T GOT ANY WAY TA ESCAPE SO COME ON OUT, BOYS!”
Two sets of breaths were sucked in and eyes opened wide in disbelief as those words, in that particular voice, left their signature on the air around them.
“NOW COME ON! WE AIN’T GOT ALL DAY TA WAIT FER YA TA MAKE UP YER MINDS!”
“Hoss?” Adam began gripping his brother’s arm. Right now he wasn’t sure of much so he must be hearing things.
“Nah . . . cain’t be,” came from Hoss with a sharp shake of the head as he felt his own forehead just to be sure he hadn’t started a fever.
“COME ON OUT BEFORE IT STARTS RAININ’ AGAIN!”
“I think I’m hallucinating,” Adam whispered leaning his head back against the wall.
“Then me, too,” Hoss said. “Can that happen?”
“Yeah, but about the same thing?” Adam gave him.
“Maybe we died in the night and this is all a dream,” Hoss suggested as Adam shook his head.
“If I’m dead how come I hurt like hell?” he asked feeling himself break out in a cold sweat at the possibility.
“Yeah,” Hoss agreed. “Yeah, my head’s poundin’, my leg’s on fire and I’m so thirsty I could drink up Lake Tahoe. If’n we’s dead that shouldn’t be happenin’ right?”
Adam shook his head knowing he’d never ventured out of life to know and didn’t really want to find out. “Then this could be real and that could be . . .”
“ALL RIGHT! WE’RE COMIN’ IN!” came the first voice they’d heard and before the two of them could draw another breath, the door shot open to pound against the wall, morning light spilling into the dark room.
Squinting against the harshness of the glare, neither of them had enough wits about them to rationalize what was going on let alone pull a trigger so they quietly sat there, mouths open, their attention focused on the second man in the doorway and not on the one doing the talking.
“Put down that gun, boy,” came from the first man, a squat wiry fellow with a shiny Sheriff’s badge on his vest as he pointed a gun directly at Hoss.
“Is it . . ?” Adam started dumbfounded by the scene before him, completely ignoring the gun and the man speaking.
“Shore is,” Hoss whispered as the second man stepped through the doorway, his own face registering shock.
“Good Lord,” they heard in his distinctive voice as he slowly approached them. “Stand easy, Phil,” he said to the Sheriff who traded glances with him.
“These men are part of the Baker gang,” he stated brusquely not bothering to take his finger from the trigger.
The man sighed. “No they ain’t,” he said as he knelt in front of them. “Howdy, son,” he said to Hoss with a smile seeing the surprise slowly dissipate from the young man’s face.
“It is you ain’t it?”
“One and only,” came the answer as he glanced over toward Adam who looked the worse for wear, his surprise still apparent on a pale and dirty face.
“Roy?” was all he said, blinking as if that would clear up this vision before him.
“In the flesh, Adam.”
“Roy, what’s goin’ on?” the Sheriff asked wondering why the respected lawman of Virginia City was conversing with bad guys like they were long lost kin.
“Sheriff Philbert McCoy I’d like ya ta meet Adam and Hoss Cartwright, sons of Ben Cartwright.”
McCoy’s brows flew up his forehead in shock. “The Ponderosa Cartwrights?”
“None other,” Roy gave him.
Now shock turned to confusion for McCoy. “Now what would the Cartwright’s be doin’ with the Baker gang?”
“I’m guessin’ bein’ in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Roy said eying both boys who vaguely nodded.
“What’re ya doin’ here, Roy?” Hoss asked still trying to believe that they weren’t going to die this day.
“Been chasin’ the Baker gang nigh on a week now. They tried ta rob Henry Gardner’s General Store on my watch. Manhandled Mrs. Gardner a bit ’til Henry took a rifle ta ’em. They ran fer the hills and I took out after ’em. Hooked up with Sheriff McCoy here two days ago. Seems the Bakers robbed the bank outta Hayseed last week and he’s been chasin’ ’em ever since.” He sighed and rubbed his neck but knew he had to ask this question. “No how’d you boys get inta their bad graces?”
The brothers traded glances then Adam spoke up first. “Hoss made . . . made fun of a hat,” he gave to Roy feeling the euphoria of rescue starting to settle into his muscles, relaxing them to the point of collapse.
“A hat?” McCoy asked as he scratched his head. Hoss had the decency to look sheepish and Roy shook his head.
“Did ya catch ’em? The Baker’s I mean?” Hoss asked trying to move the conversation off of him.
“Well, that’s where the story takes an interestin’ turn,” Roy began, slowly reaching for the gun still in Hoss’s hand. “What with them bein’ such hooligans and all, attackin’ women and robbin’ banks, it seems kinda silly ta find ’em the way we did.”
“What do ya mean, Roy?” Hoss asked not feeling Roy’s hand on his own trying to release his death grip on the gun.
“Found ’em buried under a mound o’ mud out front . . . accept fer the two that’s dead near the door.”
“Huh?” Hoss was sure he’d heard wrong as Roy finally managed to ease the cold metal from his stiff hand.
“The rain done soaked the hillside. Guess they was waitin’ ya out and it come down on top o’ ’em. Didn’t have a chance.”
Adam glanced over to Hoss, the ringing in his ears becoming way too loud for his liking. “Did he say they were dead?” This situation was simply coming at him too fast.
“Ah, I reckon that’s what he’s sayin’,” Hoss confirmed hearing Adam’s head fall back against the wall.
“Yep, that’s what I’m sayin’, boys,” Roy answered, seeing what little color remained in Adam’s face slowly seeping away.
“. . . good . . .” was all he got out as he lost his precious hold on his will to stay awake and began to slide sideways, Roy easily catching him before he hit the floor.
“Easy now, son,” Hoss heard Roy say, his voice coming at him as if through a thick cloth. He squinted at his friend watching him gently pull open Adam’s coat and shirt, mutter an ‘oh, boy’, then turn back to him.
“I’m right here, Hoss,” he answered patting his arm. “Adam’s jest passed out. Ya sit tight and we’ll get ya two fixed up and home afore ya know it.”
Heavy steps echoed in Hoss’s head as he watched McCoy head back for the door and shout out ‘we’ll need a wagon’ to someone outside then felt hands on his leg sending shards of pain through him followed by a wavering scene as Roy seemed to be speaking to him, trying to calm him. But it only sent him tumbling into the beckoning darkness that narrowed his vision; a direction he took with pleasure now that he knew they were safe and he was no longer responsible.
“There ya are,” came Roy’s soft voice. “Thought fer a moment ya might check out on me and then what would I tell Ben?”
Hoss didn’t have to see Roy’s face to know he was smiling – he could tell from the words spoken that seemed to hang together once again. He took in the scenery moving past then looked down to find his hand draped over Adam snuggled next to him. It was then he saw blank eyes staring up at him from under his brother and nearly yelped.
“It’s okay,” he said laying a hand on Hoss’s good leg. “We only had one wagon and we had ta transport the Baker gang and the both o’ you all together. They’s dead. Cain’t hurt ya no more,” he quickly told him seeing the uncomfortable look cross Hoss’s face.
“What about Adam?” he asked pulling at the blanket that covered his brother.
“I ain’t been able ta git a rise outta ‘im,” Roy answered, worry dropping over him at the admission.
“We gotta stop then,” came Hoss’s answer, fear filling him. “This bouncin’ around ain’t doin’ ‘im no good.”
“Cain’t,” Roy gave him.
Hoss’s head snapped around. “What do ya mean ya cain’t?” he nearly bellowed bringing Ben to Roy’s mind as he remained calm in his answer.
“He needs doctorin’ . . . ya both do and we cain’t git that out here.” Roy held up a hand as he saw Hoss about to protest. “We’re headed toward Hayseed ’cause Tasco ain’t gotta a good doctor. Should be there in an hour or two then we’ll see ta ya both. So jest settle and try ta keep Adam warm. Yerself, too.”
Hoss held Roy’s eyes for a moment then turned toward his brother to draw him closer still, thinking this was going to be the longest couple of hours he’d ever spent.
“Dr. Blintz?” came to the rumpled man from the person filling the doorway of his office.
Rubbing sleep from his eyes, Dr. Hadrian Blintz looked a little closer at the tall silver haired man whose stern glare bored into him with anxious intensity. “Yes,” he finally answered, grasping tightly to the gun hidden behind his back.
Even though he was a doctor and expected late night calls, ever since the bank robbery he’d been less willing to open the door to anyone who came calling.
“I’m Ben Cartwright,” was all he said and the doctor’s anxiety fled. “This is my son, Joseph.”
“Please come in,” he said tucking the gun into his waistband and holding wide the door.
“My boys . . .”
“Are asleep in the back so try and be quiet.” Ben nodded and stepped through the door, Joe dragging in after him. “Follow me.”
Tagging after the doctor down a short hallway, they followed him into a room with two beds and two very important patients resting upon them. Slowly Ben approached, the soft lantern light sending deep shadows across his boy’s faces. It had been two days since he’d gotten Roy’s telegram; two fearful days of thinking on what he would find when he got to Hayseed. Tentatively, he reached out for Hoss’s cheek laying the back of his hand there noting the warmth then repeated the process with Adam thinking he seemed warmer still.
“How are they?” was all Ben asked as he sat on the edge of Hoss’s bed.
He’d had to ask that question a lot over the years and it always filled him with dread for there was always the possibility that the answer would be the one he didn’t want to hear.
“Doing remarkably well,” Blintz began, “despite the state they were in when they arrived. Hoss was shot in the leg and badly strained his right arm. Adam was shot in the side and lost a lot of blood. He was also nicked on the arm and dislocated his shoulder. They both have fevers and any infection they had is reducing itself. They were extremely lucky, Mr. Cartwright.”
“You call this lucky?” Ben asked grimacing as he lifted Adam’s blankets to see him wrapped in bandages.
“I do. There’s only so much blood in the human body but they were found in time to replace what they’d lost. It’s infection that takes the stuffing outta you but that is under control as well.”
Joe giggled a bit at the thought of Adam and Hoss having stuffing then stopped at the stern look from his father.
“Have they been awake at all?” came Ben’s next question.
“Adam’s been unconscious since they brought him in two days ago but Hoss assures me he was awake and making sense after he took that tumble from his horse. He should be coming around soon. Hoss has already regaled Sheriff McCoy and Sheriff Coffee with what happened. I’m sure you’ll be able to speak with the both of them in the morning.”
Blintz watched this man tenderly straighten his boys’ blankets, making sure he kept a hand on both of them as he stared intently at their sleeping faces.
“Everything looks good, Mr. Cartwright. Just give them some time.” Ben sighed then nodded. “It’s late and you look tired,” Blintz continued. “Why don’t you head over to the hotel and come back in the morning.”
Ben nodded again. “You’re right, Doctor,” he began as he tossed his hat onto a side table and stood. “It is late and we are tired and my son and I will be staying the night.”
“I can assure you . . .”
“We will be staying the night.”
The tone was well known to anyone who knew Ben and the doctor seemed to understand it right away and pushed himself away from the wall.
“I’ll find some extra blankets and bring in two cots. Coffee’s in the kitchen if you feel the need,” he said over his shoulder as he left the room, Joe sitting on a chair next to Adam’s bed carefully taking his hand in his own.
“So they’re gonna be okay, Pa?” he asked in a quiet voice looking intently at his father’s face, feeling completely helpless.
“Sturdy, that’s what these boys are,” Ben said with a shake of his head. “A bullet won’t faze them anymore than a fever. They’re going to be fine.”
He smiled at Joe then turned away not wanting his youngest to see the unease present there that wouldn’t leave until he’d spoken with the both of them.
“They’ll be fine.”
Warmth filled him by first touching his face then traveling down his body until he couldn’t help but open his eyes. And who should he see as those baby blues cleared but his father perched in a chair to his right reading, his little brother stretched out at the foot of his bed sound asleep. He must’ve moved or groaned because suddenly his father was sitting on the bed, his hand wrapped about his as another draped itself over his forehead.
“Hello, son,” Ben said with a loving smile.
Each moment that had passed since they’d arrived left Ben time to replay the doctor’s words of how battered his boys were; how Adam wasn’t awake yet and how he’d lost so much blood. He replayed the story Roy gave him as they met for breakfast of them being trapped in a cabin with only four bullets between them and a gang of cutthroats waiting for them outside. And his gentle boy who had to protect himself and his brother, forced to take not one but two lives just so they could make it out alive and back to him. Ben shivered. He could’ve lost them.
“When did ya git here?” Hoss asked having no clue what day it was or how long he’d been here, dragging Ben back to the present.
“A few hours ago. We came as soon as we got Roy’s message.”
“Oh,” was all Hoss said as he rubbed his eyes suddenly jerking to attention. “Where’s Adam?” he nearly shouted waking Joe with a start. “He okay?”
“He’s going to be fine,” Ben said softly as Hoss followed his father’s gaze toward the next bed to see his older brother asleep, glimpses of a bandage wrapped shoulder and arm peeking out from under the covers.
Hoss looked closely at him, noticing his hair was clean and shiny in the sunlight that filtered into the room and he grinned.
“What?” Ben asked as Hoss caught his eye.
“Adam’ll be happy ta know he ain’t covered in mud no more. I think that riled ‘im more than those people shootin’ at us.”
“Yes,” Ben began. “He’s always been a bit persnickety about bath time.”
“I ain’t never seen no one take to soap and water like he does,” Joe said as he sat up and yawned. “Ain’t natural.”
“Isn’t,” Ben corrected.
“Hey, Pa,” Hoss started. “Is it true mama called you both dirtballs?”
Joe snickered and Ben’s brows rose as his gaze shifted back to Adam. Slowly a smile moved across his mouth then reached his eyes as the memory rose before him.
“Yes, it’s true,” he admitted with a sigh. “And she was right.”
“Pa, that ain’t true,” Joe said with a shake of his head.
“Isn’t true, Joseph, and yes it is. See we didn’t have access to water for much of anything but making sure the animals and ourselves had enough to drink. Taking a bath was low on our list. But when Inger came into our lives . . . well, things were different.” He turned and looked at his boys. “A woman doesn’t take kindly to things that smell whether it be the animals or their men and if you’re that man it could be a lonely existence unless you do something about it.” Hoss nodded sagely and Joe was confused. Ben smiled over at him, giving him a low chuckle. “You’ll find out one day, son, and then taking a bath won’t seem so bad.”
“I ain’t never taking a bath just ’cause some girl wants me too.”
“Aren’t,” Ben corrected with a shake of his head.
“Oh, little brother,” Hoss commented, new knowledge recently gained coming to the forefront. “Ya’d be surprised what ya’ll do for a girl once yer old enough.” He caught his father looking at him strangely and swallowed relaxing back into his pillow to close his eyes hoping he hadn’t given anything away.
“Roy tells me he found you two outside Tasco,” Ben began. “What were you boys doing up that way? I thought you were going to Stockton?”
“We did,” Hoss answered keeping his eyes closed. “We was jest takin’ the scenic route home.”
“And those men just happened to want to kill you?” Ben asked.
“It was jest a miscommunication is all, Pa,” Hoss assured his father, pulling the blanket up about his neck not wanting to think about what he’d had to do to get them out of there in one piece. “What with the stage and them orphans,” he threw in instead.
“Stage? Orphans?” Joe said his interest instantly piqued. Ah, successfully diverted.
“Orphans?” Ben said as confusion set it. “But Roy said . . .”
“I’m awful tired, Pa,” Hoss hastily added. “Can we talk more about this later?”
Another question rested on Ben’s tongue but he could see Hoss needed sleep and simply patted his arm. Orphans and a stage wasn’t the story he’d heard and he couldn’t wait to hear the rest . . . but later would do.
“All right, son,” he finally said. “Joe and I are going to go clean up, get some lunch and send a telegram to Hop Sing. We’ll be back soon.”
“Take yer time, Pa,” Hoss answered feeling himself already drifting back into dreams of Wild Horses now that he could relinquish his role of protector back to his father.
“The stage was movin’ at a mighty clip when them thugs came outta nowhere and began firin’ on them hapless citizens inside. What were we ta do but try and protect them poor orphans inside. We couldn’t live with ourselves if’n anythin’ should happen ta those . . . those . . .”
“Those what, Hoss?” young Joe excitedly asked as his brother’s story trailed off.
“Give me a minute now,” Hoss said desperately trying to remember how many orphans there were. “It was mighty excitin’ and I don’t wanna lose my train o’ thought. Remember I’ve been shot.”
“Oh, right,” Joe said hanging on his every word.
“Now, let’s see . . . oh, yeah. We couldn’t live with ourselves if’n anythin’ should happen ta those two girls and a boy.”
“. . . three girls . . .”
Hoss’s mouth split into a grin as his head spun toward his older brother still in the same position as that morning except this time his eyes were slowly opening.
“That’s right,” he answered. “Three girls and a boy.”
“. . . saved ’em from . . . from the bad guys,” Adam mumbled as he tried to will more strength into his voice.
“Was there a reward?” Joe asked. Well, that voice sounded familiar.
“Don’t rightly know,” Hoss answered. “Sheriff McCoy woulda said somethin’ if’n there was.”
“You could give it to the orphans,” Joe suggested.
That prompted Adam to try and focus bleary eyes onto the smiling face of his . . . little brother?
“Joe?” he asked to the face hovering near him. Was this another hallucination?
“Hi, Adam,” came the smiling response, happy to see his brother awake and alive. He could put his worry away now that both of them were back among the living.
Adam dragged a heavy arm up to his eyes to brush away lingering cobwebs and looked slowly about the unfamiliar room. This definitely wasn’t Paul Martin’s office or his own room.
“How’d you . . . how’d you get here?” he asked of Joe. “Where’s Pa?”
“Right here, son,” came Ben’s deep voice sending a current of safety through him that made tense muscles relax as he watched his father come through the door. “We came in late last night. Both you and Hoss were sound asleep. Didn’t think it was right to wake you just to say hello.”
“Glad you’re here,” Adam gave his father, coughing at the dryness of his throat. He soon found his head lifted and cool water trailing across his tongue and down his throat.
Ben eyed him closely noting some color returning to those pale cheeks as he gently returned him to his pillow. Hastily he felt Adam’s forehead noting his fever must’ve broken while they were off having lunch.
“Can’t seem to let any of you out of my sight for a minute,” Ben chastised as he pulled his hand away reveling in the slight grin on Adam’s face before turning back to Hoss.
“What happened after . . . after Roy surprised us?” Adam asked in a quiet voice not wanting to provoke the pounding in his head anymore than necessary.
“Well, I’ll tell ya,” Hoss gave him. “We’re in a little town called Hayseed,” he started with a slight laugh. “Ain’t never heard o’ it either but they got themselves a Doc and we was both in need o’ some tendin’ . . . you especially. Roy got all flustered when he couldn’t wake ya and was shore not gonna be the one ta havta tell Pa that he lost ya on his watch so piled us all inta a wagon and here we are.”
“With the dead Baker’s?” Joe asked curling up his nose.
Hoss nodded. “We hadta sit on top o’ them. Ol’ Adam didn’t know it but I did. Turned my stomach,” he admitted.
“So, Adam, did ya really draw off the gang by shooting their hats off?” Joe asked excitement pouring from everywhere at the mere thought his brothers might be heroes.
“Ah . . .” was all Adam got out before Joe responded.
“Wow!” he said. “That’s just . . . Wow! I can’t wait ta tell Mitch and everyone at school!”
“Joe, simmer down now,” Ben scolded. “Your brother’s need quiet.”
“But, Pa, they shot it out with that gang and saved those orphans.”
“And got all shot up for their efforts,” Ben reminded him cooling a bit of his enthusiasm. “Here,” he said handing Joe a few dollars. “Go down to the General Store at the end of the street and get us some candy to celebrate.”
“Really, Pa?” Joe was flabbergasted. Nowhere in his short twelve years did he recall his father purposefully telling him to go buy candy.
“Go on before I change my mind.”
“Thanks, Pa!” he shouted. “I’m glad you two are okay,” he said before racing out of the room, all cringing at the slamming of the front door.
Ben turned back to his two injured sons and eyed the both of them. “How long do you think you can keep up that story?” he asked skewering them with a look. “Orphans indeed.”
Hoss swallowed and Adam grinned, closing his eyes again.
“Well?” Ben asked.
“. . . do you know . . . what this is, brother Hoss?” came Adam’s quiet question, thinking that the oblivion of sleep would keep him out of this conversation.
Hoss looked at his brother then sighed. “Don’t tell me . . .”
“. . . another . . . fine . . . mess.”
“Ain’t that right,” he mumbled, glancing toward his father who waited impatiently, crossed arms about his chest, waiting for a clarified explanation. He looked once again toward a now sleeping Adam and realized he was all on his own for this one.
Hoss cleared his throat. There was no way he’d begin this story at the beginning and the promise Adam had fulfilled for him. Oh, no, so he opted for the next best thing – the middle. It just seemed safer.
“Well, Pa, ya see it all started with a hat.”
Thanks, BJ2, for requesting this to be posted. It made me smile that you remembered it from Bonanza World. I hope you still enjoy it. More Bonanza to follow when I get two seconds to rub together. 😀
Other Stories by this Author
- Come the Morning (by Calim11)
- He Was Laughing (by Calim11)
- In the Middle of the Dark (by Calim11)
- Seven Words (by Calim11)
- Benita Watson (by Calim11)