Summary: There’s never a dull moment with Little Joe around.
Written for the 2018 Ponderosa Paddlewheel Poker Tournament. The card “suits” were:
Anatomy (body parts)
What Women Want
Things Found in a Saddlebag
Rated: K+ 2,700 words
A Little Excitement Goes A Long Way
Little Joe scowled and propped his cheek against his fist as he turned the page in his primer. Throat-clearing from Miss Jones prompted him to look up, then adjust his posture to something more proper for the schoolhouse. He thought, “Please let it be Pa” as the door opened. Hope dimmed within when he saw Miss Jones’ face light up like the sun was shining on it.
Slow, deliberate footsteps sounded doom in Little Joe’s ears. First, there’d be a lecture from older brother. Then, there’d be a lecture from Pa. Hop Sing might join in on the lecturing just to have someone to scold.
“Good afternoon, Miss Jones.”
“Why, Adam, I hadn’t expected you.”
Adam cocked an eyebrow. “You sent a note.”
Little Joe rolled his eyes and heaved a sigh of magnificent proportion at Miss Jones’ giggle. He had the decency to look down at his desk at her throat clearing.
“Is your father . . . um . . . busy?”
Little Joe sneaked a peek at his brother. Adam looked like one of the chickens when it realized Hop Sing wasn’t holding it just to give it a pet or two.
“Yes, Miss Jones. I put him on the stage to Placerville a few minutes ago.”
“Please, Adam, call me Abigail.”
He merely fidgeted with the hat in his hands as the silence lengthened.
The teacher cleared her throat again before getting down to business. “You read the note I sent with Hank?”
“Yes,” Adam said.
Little Joe thought his brother spoke too quickly. Maybe ol’ bossy boots will be so eager to get away from Miss Jones he’ll be in a hurry to get home.
“If Little Joe delivered the report he was assigned, I don’t understand why it would have been cause for consternation.”
“What a vocabulary,” said Abigail. She toyed with the pendant on her necklace. “You’re a smart, hard-working man who makes use of his education.”
Little Joe noticed the teacher was all calf-eyed and smiling like Sara did when she looked at Seth. He rolled his eyes but refrained from making kissy sounds.
Adam cleared his throat. “Your note said there was trouble. What did my brother do?”
“The children were assigned to report on a noteworthy incident which included a family member. Most of the children spoke of stolen kisses at dances, their fathers riding with a posse, or cattle roundups. Not Joseph.”
Little Joe met his brother’s gaze with confidence and a smile. Praise was praise as far as he was concerned. He held back a laugh at the sight of his brother’s cocked eyebrow.
“What exactly did Jos . . . Little Joe speak about?” asked Adam.
“A duel.” She said it in a conspiratorial whisper, as if she and Adam were in a crowded room.
Adam’s eyebrows drew together briefly. His mouth opened and closed a few times as if he knew anything he said might sound absurd. “I’m sorry, Miss Jones . . . Abigail . . . but I don’t understand why my brother’s report is so upsetting.”
Abigail walked to the back of her desk in a swish of skirts and pulled a small, metal whiskey flask from a drawer. She set it on the desk and stood ramrod straight with her hands clasped primly in front of her. Her expectant expression left no doubt she demanded a reasonable explanation.
Adam took a deep breath and counted to ten before slowly exhaling through his nose. He looked at Little Joe through narrowed eyes.
Little Joe smiled broadly at his brother, a smile that usually resulted in instant forgiveness when directed at their father. His lips wilted at the fire in his brother’s eyes. I’m gonna get it.
The teacher pointed at the flask and broke the tense silence. “Joseph told the class you were given this flask by General Jackson for services provided in a duel he had with your father, over his . . .” she jerked her head in Little Joe’s direction and whispered, “. . . mother.” Abigail cleared her throat and continued. “Adam, I’ve always thought you sensible—you’re a smart, funny, hard-working man—but really, encouraging your father to participate in bloodshed? Why, you could have been orphaned!”
Little Joe dramatically wiped his nose as if his snort had really been a stifled sneeze.
Adam, still holding his hat tight, rubbed his thumbs within the hatband. His tone of voice cooled and his voice was clipped. “Miss Jones, I assure you neither my father nor I have ever participated in a duel with General Jackson. The flask is mine, purchased above-board during my college days. Was Little Joe’s tall tale the only cause for the note?”
“Oh my, no,” she said. “Several of the children called Joseph’s mother terrible names and even slandered your father. Joseph engaged in fisticuffs during recess with the worst of the boys who’d besmirched his late mother’s name. However, the larger issue occurred when the children returned from recess. I noted several of the boys staggering to their seats and the heavy aroma of whiskey wafting through the air. Why, I feared I’d become inebriated from the smell alone.” Noting the impatient glower on Adam’s face, she continued. “When I demanded to know the source, none of the boys broke their silence. I left Sara in charge and procured the services of Sheriff Coffee to lecture the children on the errors of displays of public drunkenness. It was only after a threat of arrest that Joseph produced the flask of whiskey. So, you do understand why I insisted your fa . . . you come to town?”
“Yes, Miss Jones. My father would not condone Little Joe’s actions, even though he was defending his mother.”
“But the whiskey!” She pointed at Little Joe. “Surely you mean to dole out the appropriate punishment for that transgression!”
“Rest assured, my brother will be punished. Now if you’ll excuse us, Miss Jones, I have to get to the bank before closing.”
Adam stretched forth a hand and Abigail handed the flask to him. He placed it within the breast pocket of his jacket for safe-keeping.
Little Joe slammed his book shut and stuffed it into his satchel. Adam set his hat upon his head and saluted the teacher with a finger against the brim. He held out an arm to usher his brother out of the schoolhouse.
When Little Joe was in reach, Adam steered his brother by the back of the neck and through the door. Little Joe’s horse was tied to the hitching post, so the boy mounted up while Adam climbed into the buggy.
At the sound of the schoolhouse door, Little Joe turned for a look. The teacher was looking at Adam in the same eager way Hoss did at a juicy pork roast at suppertime. Little Joe ducked his head to hide his smile. I bet Adam’s gonna need a slug from that flask, he thought.
Abigail cleared her throat, getting Adam’s attention.
“May I give you a ride home?” Adam asked, stepping out of the buggy.
“You have business to attend at the bank,” she said coyly. “I wouldn’t want to be a hindrance.”
“Not at all,” was Adam’s murmured reply.
Little Joe tilted his head for a sly glance at his brother. He took in Adam’s pained expression and thought, he sure thinks she’s a bother.
Adam assisted her into the buggy then climbed aboard. Once she was settled, he flicked the reins against the horse’s rump.
“Are you escorting anyone to the next dance?” Abigail asked.
“I’ve been too busy around the ranch to think about it,” Adam said.
Little Joe tipped his head back and smirked. His brothers had spent the last week teasing each other about the girls who’d dropped hints but, as far as Little Joe knew, neither one had yet decided which girl they would escort.
“Oh,” said Abigail.
Little Joe could practically smell disappointment in the air.
“Please let me out here,” said Abigail when they reached the far end of C Street. “I’ll walk the rest of the way home. Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” said Adam. He assisted her out of the buggy and gallantly tipped his hat.
Little Joe nearly gagged at her curtsy. She’s gone on that Walter Raleigh nonsense.
Once Adam was certain they were out of the teacher’s earshot, he got the horse moving again and then interrogated his brother.
“Why did you go through my things?” Adam’s voice was sharp enough to cut through a gristled piece of beef.
Little Joe adopted his best look of innocence. “Because your things are easier to find. Pa keeps things he don’t want me to see locked in a trunk and Hoss doesn’t have nothin’ good. You got all sorts of stuff.”
“That doesn’t give you any right to steal into my room because you’re looking for report fodder to impress your teacher or classmates. My journal is personal. That means its contents are none of your business.”
“But I needed a good story for my report. Everyone around here lives on a ranch or rides on a posse. You and Hoss break horses all the time. Nothing exciting ever happens to anyone.”
“Plenty of things happen, Little Joe. It’s not our fault Ponderosa goings-on are nowhere near as exciting as the stories you make up.”
Little Joe thought about that for the span of a few seconds.
“But it’s true Pa dueled with General Jackson?”
“No, it is not.”
“Then how come you wrote it?” Little Joe enjoyed seeing his brother squirm.
The muscle in Adam’s jaw twitched and he mumbled a reply.
“What was that, older brother?”
Adam fidgeted with the reins and his mouth barely seemed to move as he spoke. “I wrote that to impress a friend when I was in college.”
“Who’s stretching the truth now?” asked Little Joe. He raised both eyebrows as his attempts to raise only one had not yet succeeded.
“Are you practicing to be a lawyer?” Adam asked in a sarcastic tone as he set the buggy’s brake.
Little Joe shook his head. Bossy boots is as stodgy and boring as Miss Jones, he thought.
“I’ll be out in a few minutes. Don’t go anywhere,” said Adam.
Adam jumped down and tipped his hat to a couple of ladies passing by on the sidewalk. He shot Little Joe a look over his shoulder then pointed at him in an unspoken command to stay put and went in the bank.
Since Little Joe’s horse wasn’t tethered to the hitching post, he wanted nothing more than to set a course for home but knew he would be in even bigger trouble if he did that. Pa would just get it over with and give him a necessary talk in the barn but Adam would give him a lecture that would go on ‘til bedtime. Given a choice, he’d rather be punished by Pa than Adam.
A gunshot boomed from within the bank and a woman screamed. A man clutching a sack of money ran out of the bank and only stopped long enough to glance along the street in both directions. Little Joe locked eyes with him for no more than a second or two. Before Little Joe could react, the man jumped over the hitching rail, grabbed the horn on Little Joe’s saddle, and swung behind him onto the horse. Grabbing the reins from the boy’s hand, the man yanked hard and kicked the animal’s flanks. The horse fought the bit then sprang into a gallop.
“Adam!” Little Joe yelled. “Help!”
Adam burst through the doorway, gun in hand, but his leg gave way and he fell face-down in the street, blood seeping from a hole in his thigh. “Joe!”
Adam shoved the pain aside and lifted the pistol with a shaky hand. Using his elbows as support, he used both hands to aim the pistol and held his breath as he fired. He loosed a ragged sigh of relief when the robber fell from the horse and didn’t get back up.
Little Joe was nearly pulled off when the man went down, but he clung to the saddle horn with his hands, both feet on the same side of the horse and not touching the ground. His brother’s position reminded Adam of a trained monkey he’d seen at a circus back in Boston. With the pressure off its mouth, the horse kicked up its hooves and whirled in a couple of tight circles before coming to a standstill. Little Joe let go of the saddle horn and dropped to the street, raising a little cloud of dust. Once the boy was on his feet, Adam dropped his head and allowed his forehead to sink into the dirt.
“Oh, Adam! “You brave, dear man!” said Abigail Jones as she firmly pressed her palm against his back.
Adam gritted his teeth and was sure his molars would break against each other. His nose caught the sharp aroma of whiskey and he hoped Abigail had an open bottle with her.
“You deserve a medal for valor,” she said. “I shall speak to Sheriff Coffee about it.”
“Adam!” Little Joe hollered as he ran up the street to his brother. “You got him!”
“He got me, too, buddy.” The bright world dimmed as Adam felt himself rolled over and droning voices saying doctor.
Adam returned to awareness in the doctor’s office. Nausea swirled in his belly from the combination of throbbing pain and the stench of whiskey. He feared the room would be spinning like a top if he opened his eyes.
A damp cloth pressed against his forehead. “He’s awake, Doctor,” said Abigail.
Adam groaned at the sound of Abigail Jones’ voice.
“You’re lucky the bullet didn’t lodge in the femur,” said Dr. Martin. “It simply glanced against the bone and was easy to fish out. You’ll be up and around in a week or two. I won’t tell your father you had a flask of liquor on you—I can’t imagine he’d be pleased to know you’re drinking on the sly. I’ll let Little Joe know he can come in.”
“Oh, Adam, you smart, funny man. You regaled us with jokes while the doctor removed the bullet,” Abigail said.
“I don’t remember,” Adam said.
“Such bravery in the face of danger, rushing from the bank like you did,” Abigail said. “Lucky I wasn’t yet home and saw it all so I could give an accurate accounting of events to Sheriff Coffee. I would be honored to accompany you to the next dance, Adam.”
Adam kept his eyes closed, partly from the nausea and partly from the thought of escorting the teacher to the dance. She’ll cling to me like a burr. He groaned again.
“There, there,” she said, dabbing the cloth against his forehead.
Little Joe burst into the room dragging his satchel and clutching the sack containing the payroll against his chest. He plopped down on the chaise lounge next to his brother. “That sure was some excitement! It ain’t every day a robber takes me hostage.”
“Isn’t, Joseph,” corrected the teacher.
“Yes’m. Just think, Adam, he picked me! You think he wanted to hold me for ransom!?”
Adam didn’t dare open his eyes to test the speed at which the room might be going ‘round and ‘round. “But I saved you, Little Joe. Maybe you can do a new report, if it’s all right with Miss Jones.”
“Oh, yes,” she said, eyes aglow with thoughts of her hero. “You may give a report tomorrow, Joseph, detailing your brother’s bravery when faced with that dastardly robber.”
Little Joe set the payroll sack between his brother’s feet and reached into his satchel for Adam’s journal.
“This’ll be lots better than that duel with the general. Just think—me kidnapped by a bank robber. Seth and Mitch sure are gonna be impressed!”
Adam spoke through gritted teeth. “Maybe you should give an account of it to the newspaper.”
“Oh boy! Wait ‘til Pa reads about this!” said Little Joe.
Adam groaned and hoped for oblivion.
The Poker words/phrases dealt to me were:
A Smart, Hardworking Man
A Flask of Liquor
Other Stories by this Author
- The History Essay (by Patina)
- Troll the Ancient Yuletide Carol (by Patina)
- Big Brother Lessons (by Patina)
- Reputation (by Patina)
- Broken Chords (by Patina)