Summary: Adam is given a gift. What will he do with it?
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+ 5,740 words
It was a fact that Adam never went looking for trouble.
It was also a fact that Adam found trouble with annoying frequency.
On this day, even though he had taken extra precautions by turning down his brothers’ alcohol-soaked celebration of the successful cattle drive in favor of a solitary, contemplative journey home, it had made no difference. Adam had his mind on homely comforts, but the lessons learned from his frontier upbringing ensured his attention would be drawn to any sign of trouble. In this case, trouble appeared as an odd shape on the horizon. Peering into the dwindling daylight, he was just able to discern a covered wagon tipped over on its side, the contents spilled onto the dusty ground. Once he started listening, Adam didn’t need to strain in order to hear the frantic noise made by draft horses still tethered to the broken vehicle.
Gone were the drowsy daydreams of warm food and soft bed. Trouble had found him again. Adam spurred his horse to the site of the accident.
He assessed the accident scene with a practiced eye. Apparently an axel busted by the rough trail combined with an ambitious rate of speed had pushed the wagon into the ditch. Dismounted, Adam edged toward the harnessed animals struggling to pull free. Carefully, he released them before their agitation made a bad situation worse.
It took only moments to find the driver— the only occupant—lying unconscious beneath the wagon. Adam pushed grey hair, wet with blood from a deep cut, back from the lined forehead. Pressing a folded handkerchief against the flow, he placed his fingertips against the old fellow’s neck. A pulse thumped faintly. Relieved, Adam quickly sorted through the belongings scattered nearby until he found a blanket to cover the injured man. Satisfied for the moment, he considered his next moves.
What were his options? The nearest settlement was miles away. He could hardly expect the poor fellow to walk or even ride in this condition; he needed to be transported as gently as possible. Back of the wagon or a travois? The idea of the travois was discarded immediately as impractical. The wagon it would be then—a decision which presented an obvious difficulty. While Adam was certainly able to repair the vehicle, focusing on the wagon would divert his attention from the old fellow in the first, most dangerous hours. Unacceptable. Making camp for the night and hoping for the best in the morning was the only viable option.
Taking care to keep within sight and hearing of his patient, Adam gathered what was needed for a night of nursing.
Sunrise nudged at the horizon before the old man stirred in his cot. Thoroughly accustomed to the patterns of sick bed vigils (thanks so much for that, Little Joe), Adam recognized the request voiced in the pained gasps and helped the old gent sip cool water. Putting the cup aside, Adam settled the fellow back onto the straw mattress and tucked the blankets securely around the frail body. He had to lean in close to hear the whispered question.
“What happened to me?”
Adam kept the tale short and simple, all the while watching the fellow’s expression for signs of confusion or distress. He was gratified to find quick comprehension and calm acceptance of the situation. By providing additional sips of water and plenty of patience with the faltering voice, Adam learned that he had rescued John Hughes – a man who traveled apparently for the sake of traveling—who lived in the wagon and was responsible only for himself.
They chatted quietly for a few minutes with Adam becoming increasingly aware that John’s gaze was thoroughly assessing.
“Why did you come to my aid?”
Adam huffed a soft chuckle. “Out here, far from civilization or even simple neighbors, we learn to help each other and take it on trust that help will find us when needed.”
“You’re a man that gives more help than asks for it.”
“Well, I don’t know about that . . .”
“None of that mealy-mouth twaddle, son. You believe in yourself.” Adam took the criticism with good humor and nodded his agreement.
John shifted on the cot, legs twitching and fingers clutching the blankets in a white knuckled grip. It took several difficult moments for him to relax back into the bedding and breathe more easily.
When he could speak, John peered up at Adam. “I got something busted inside me, Adam. You’re not going to have to fret about getting me to town.”
“Don’t talk like that, John,” Adam soothed. “You just lay here and rest. I’ll have that axel fixed and us rolling into town before you know it.”
It was John’s turn to chuckle softly. “I appreciate the lie, but there’s no point. You feel bad about what’s happening, but you won’t turn your face from it. You’re a compassionate fella.” When Adam maintained his silence, John spoke up again. “Thanks for not arguing with me . . . letting me have my dignity. You’re a wise man.”
As time passed, John’s condition steadily worsened, the silence between them broken only by his soft moans and labored breathing. The sun was high overhead before the old man seemed to gather his strength and began to speak.
“You’re a strong man if you can fix that axel. Healthy, too, I’d say. You’ve said you have a family . . . people to turn to if you need them . . . you’re a man . . . with many gifts. Adam . . . would you accept a gift from me?”
Adam moved closer to the dying man—determined to ease John’s mind if he could. “I have everything I need, John. Please don’t worry about giving me anything.”
“You don’t need what I’m offerin’ . . . but you’d make good use of it. It ain’ gold . . . or money . . . or anythin’ like that . . . You might even curse me later.” John paused for a long moment, trembling with effort of making his request. “But you’re the right man . . . for this gift and . . . I don’ wanna . . . let it slip away” John reached out imploringly until Adam clasped the frail hand in his own warm grip.
“Will you take it?”
What could Adam say to all of that? “All right, John. If it means that much to you.”
John’s expression relaxed. Yet, his grip on Adam’s hand grew even stronger – becoming quite forceful. He startled Adam by tugging hard enough to overbalance him—nearly causing him to fall over the dying man. With an iron grip, John pulled Adam close enough to hear his final, murmured words. Close enough to press a kiss against Adam’s stubbled cheek. Exhausted, John closed his eyes and whispered.
“Our purpose isn’t to be happy.”
Adam was no stranger to death. He lived in a violent land in which the rule of law, compassion, and sympathy frequently came in dead last when competing with ignorance, selfishness, and outright villainy. Those who escaped misfortune from hostile intentions often found accident and illness tended to make up the difference.
Fastening John into his shroud, Adam admitted to himself that he was profoundly unsettled by what had happened. Perhaps unsettled was too mild a term. Since Adam was only admitting things to himself, he found it safe to admit that he was feeling downright emotional. This state of mind baffled him. He had known John for a very short time. What happened was sad, of course, but it was hardly surprising for an elderly man to succumb to his injuries after a bad accident. Nevertheless, Adam continued to be upset despite reminding himself that John was prepared for death and peaceful in its embrace.
A realization brought him up so short he actually had to stop clearing up the worst of the accident scene and take time to sit down and think.
Adam knew John had no fear of dying, despite the fact the old fellow had felt pain and a bit of anxiety as the end approached. John had accepted his fate calmly. But, how did Adam know it? Falling back on the logic that had never before failed him, Adam decided to consider the variables.
He’d seen the signs that John was at peace—the calm face and steady gaze. He’d heard John’s words of acceptance—no regret or complaints were voiced. Adam had always believed those signs meant a man was ready to meet his Maker. But, what he’d experienced today was different. Adam didn’t believe he understood John’s feelings about his death. Adam knew what John had felt as he lay dying. He knew what John had felt due to the simple fact that Adam had felt physical pain, anxiety, loss and finally, peaceful acceptance along with John until the old man’s final breath had been released.
Adam didn’t believe; he knew. He knew because he’d felt it.
He found himself in something of a panic—not a pleasant emotional state in itself. To combat his alarm, he turned to mankind’s favorite method of dealing with upsetting discoveries about oneself—denial.
The idea that he could have sensed John’s actual emotions was just so outlandish, so unheard of Adam decided that under the stress of the situation he had imagined the “emotional” experience. Of course, it didn’t entirely explain how extremely vivid the experience had been . . . until Adam decided he was simply much better at imagining things than he had ever realized.
This exercise in circular reasoning proved very comforting. Adam was soon able to get his feet back under him and finish the unpleasant task of taking John’s mortal remains on to Virginia City for a decent burial.
Virginia City was often described as a boomtown, and Adam agreed with the characterization. And, if one were speaking of a “boomtown”, one should expect it to “boom” – metaphorically. Adam Cartwright understood metaphors, as well as similes, colloquialisms, idioms, vulgar expressions, and thus and such. That is to say, he understood “boomtown” to be descriptive, not literal.
Adam had never counted how many visits he’d made to Virginia City—perhaps hundreds of trips over the years? However, this was the first trip he had ever made when the incredible noise of the place nearly knocked him out of the saddle. Riding at a dignified pace (out of respect for John), he sensed the commotion long before he saw even the plumes of smoke from the stamping mills staining the bright blue sky.
By the time he was tying the horses to the rail at the sheriff’s office, Adam was visibly shaking. His chest was heaving. His sight swam with a dizzying kaleidoscope of images floating up in front of him and whirling away before he could make sense of anything. Coherent thought fled because everything was just too much, too much, too much . . .
“Adam, are you all right?”
A familiar voice called for attention. Gratefully, Adam focused on that voice, connected it with a face from his memory, and the cacophony receded to a dull roar. Finally, his vision cleared and he recognized Roy Coffee’s weathered face
“You look right peaked, boy. Come on in to the office where it’s cool.”
Thankfully the office wasn’t only cooler than the overheated street, it was quieter and pleasantly dim. Roy helped his young friend to a chair and fetched him water as well as a glass of something a little bit stronger. Adam gulped the glass of a little something stronger a little faster than was wise and ended up sputtering and coughing for a couple of minutes.
The time it took to physically pull himself together allowed Adam to realize that his “imagination” was running rampant again. The roar and pressure of the noise he encountered when entering town resolved slowly into the numerous, but quite distinguishable, impressions of the clearly emotional citizens of Virginia City.
It helped to concentrate on the tangible aspects of his environment—the dusty wood floor, the sticky glass in his hand, the blister on his right heel. When he focused on some detail—really focused–the sea of emotion receded to a relative puddle. For instance, while explaining the body tied across one of the draft animals outside, he focused on the way Roy’s collar was fraying rather than the flood of sympathy and fatherly concern oozing from the law man.
For such a simple story, it took a long time to tell. Adam was exhausted from the effort of keeping everyone else’s emotional baggage at bay while maintaining the appearance of normalcy. He gladly agreed to surrender John’s body and effects to the sheriff’s custody and cooperated readily with the suggestion of a hotel room for the night rather than endure the long ride back to the ranch.
Now, he just had to figure out a way to get himself from the sheriff’s office to said hotel. Collapsing along the way babbling about “feelings” seemed a certain ticket to sedation and a strait jacket. Declining Roy’s kind offer to walk down to the hotel with him, Adam took a moment to focus and made a conscious effort to push aside the emotional onslaught.
He’d never paid as much attention to the mundane details of the town as he did on the short trip to the hotel. He counted the number of steps to his destination, took note of the peeling paint on the bank’s windows, and contemplated the pleasing variety of bonnets and hats adorning the ladies he passed.
When he finally stumbled into the hotel lobby to lean against the polished wood of the front desk, Adam recognized his tone of voice when requesting a room may have sounded a mite churlish to bystanders. A subtle thread of embarrassment and fright emanated from the clerk and curled into Adam’s consciousness, adding personal guilt to the miasma. Being careful to speak more softly and smile while completing the transaction, Adam felt the clerk’s anxiety dissolve. Good, that was good.
On a whim, Adam asked the clerk to fetch him a bottle of brandy and a glass. He had no idea whether alcohol would make things better or worse; but it was time to find out.
As it happened, alcohol did take the noise down a notch. As Adam worked his way through the bottle (not nearly the quality Pa kept on hand), he became by turns either philosophical or resentful of his predicament.
“Good work, Cartwright,” he toasted his own image in the mirror. “Next time a man offers you a gift, ask what he has in mind before saying ‘yes’.”
Shaking his head at his own foolishness, he staggered toward the bed, knocking over the chair in the process. He fussed out loud at his clumsiness—apparently fussing a little louder than he intended since he could tell he’d awakened the lady in the next room. She didn’t make a sound (of course, she didn’t need to make a sound for him to know, did she?), but she did commence to fret so loudly Adam was surprised the entire hotel wasn’t aware of her unhappiness. He clutched the thin pillow over his ears in a vain attempt to block it out.
Was this his life now? Never a moment of peace? If this was a gift, Adam would eat his hat, and he’d vowed to never do that again. No, sir! Adam was not going to be at the mercy of everyone else’s emotional turmoil. He had enough trouble dealing with his own.
He would just . . . ignore . . . the gift. That should do the trick. He’d push it away-bury it deep inside him and never look at it again. He was a man of intellect and logic, not emotion. If anyone thought Adam Cartwright couldn’t ignore matters of the heart, they didn’t know Adam Cartwright.
Morning came much too soon to Adam’s regret. Downing more than a half-bottle of second class brandy on an empty stomach after a stressful day might not have been the brilliant idea it had seemed the previous night. When the sunlight assaulted his eyes and awakened a monster of a headache, his stomach began to object to the previous night’s indulgence. Lying perfectly still and taking shallow breaths quelled the nausea but did nothing for the remainder of the pain. Everything hurt –his head, his stomach, and dear Lord, even his hair hurt. As the town awakened along with him, the emotional racket added to his distress.
Heaven help him, he needed to make it stop. What had he decided to do about this gift? Of course, ignore it, shut it down, and bury it deep. He could do that.
What had he learned so far about this condition? Proximity definitely played a role. The closer he was to someone, the louder their emotions. If they chanced to touch him, the volume increased accordingly. With great effort, Adam had been able to push the turmoil to the background. He assumed with more practice, pushing away others’ emotions would become easier.
So, all Adam needed to do was to stay out of populated areas, keep everyone at a distance, and never touch anyone. Great. Hadn’t John said Adam would want to curse him? Perhaps the man had been a prophet as well as an empath.
Determined to ride out before everyone in town awakened, Adam longed for the hours of solitude between Virginia City and the Ponderosa. And to think he used to complain about living on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. He gathered his gear and eased out of the hotel room. The smell of breakfast being served in the hotel dining room didn’t help his stomach, but Adam knew he needed something to sustain him for the next few hours. He allowed a waiter to lead him to a quiet corner table and ordered toast and coffee.
Adam was good at most things he put his mind to, and he was stubborn enough to keep trying even when the road was hard going. He was having pretty good success with ignoring any errant emotions brushing past him and managed to choke down the toast and coffee with no ill effects. He’d just immersed himself in the newspaper when a wave of profound sorrow washed over him—nearly stealing his breath with its intensity.
This was impossible to ignore. His best option would be to leave quickly and put considerable distance between himself and the suffering individual. Even as he planned his escape, he felt the sorrow intensify–-cresting and breaking into despair like waves against rock. Who could be going through this pain? Adam’s eyes scanned the other diners. Without much effort, he found he was able to understand each person’s emotional disposition, identify their feelings, and then distinguish that person from the rest. When he couldn’t find who he was looking for, he tossed money on the table, grabbed his gear and headed out the door.
All thought of disregarding the gift was abandoned. Someone needed help.
He found her just outside the hotel. Dressed in rumpled saloon attire, Sadie Lynch leaned against one of the porch posts, staring into the street as wagons, carriages, and riders raced past in frantic indifference to any standard of safety and good sense. Miners, cowboys, and business men shouldered past her, caught up in their own affairs.
Adam approached the girl cautiously. Her sorrow was transitioning to something more, a wild desperate feeling that frightened him on her behalf.
She turned red-rimmed eyes to him. The face paint all the saloon girls favored was smeared around her eyes, and the pallor of her skin stood out in stark contrast.
“Oh . . . Adam?” she murmured, her gaze drawn back to the busy street. “I’m sorry I didn’t see you there. Can I get you anything? Sam will put out sandwiches soon. I can bring you a beer if you like.”
“No, thank you,” Adam told her. “Your shift is over, isn’t it? Isn’t it time you went home?”
“That’s just what I was thinking,” she replied. Sadie sagged just a little toward the street as if she were about to step into the fray. Adam touched her elbow, suffering through another surge of her emotion, and tugged her a bit father from the risk she was considering. She twitched out of his grasp, clutching a small wooden box tightly against her chest.
“What have you got there?” He had to keep her talking.
“Just a box of old love letters,” she said, finally turning to him and offering a watery smile. “They’re from Elias. We’ve been sweet on each other since I came to town. But, he didn’t want to get married until we had some money set aside. You understand, don’t you? He’s been working in the mines—it’s good money. I’ve been working, too, and we’ve been saving. We’re so close.” Sadie closed her eyes as tears welled and overflowed, trickling down her cheek.
“Sadie, what’s happened?” Wordlessly, she handed over a note she’d stuffed into the top of her dress. His breath hitched at the news scribbled across the paper. He had to clear his throat before he could speak. “I’m so sorry.”
“I should go to Elias.” she whispered, staring again at the crowd of heedless riders and vehicles churning past them. “If I went . . . home, I’d find Elias. We’d be together, and we wouldn’t have to worry about money or work or nothing else.”
Adam swallowed hard around the lump in this throat. A partner in Sadie’s pain, he wanted to cry himself. But that wasn’t why he’d been given the gift, was it? Gently, he took Sadie’s hand and coaxed her back from the street. He placed a consoling arm around her shoulders and together they walked to the church.
Head down and mind on his plans, Adam maintained a steady pace toward the bank. Elias deserved a decent funeral. The least Adam could do was cover the funeral and allow Sadie to use her hard-earned savings to fund a fresh start. Better pull enough cash out to take care of John while he was at it. So far his experience with this gift was pretty grim.
He had just registered a bounce of cheerful energy behind him before his youngest brother trotted up, clapping him on the back.
“Looking for me?” Joe grinned. The boy was so full of himself he should have been two people.
“Why are you still in town?” Adam asked, genuinely puzzled. The plan had been for Joe and Hoss to head back to the ranch after one evening of celebration.
“Why do you think?” Joe challenged.
Adam scoffed-he could figure Little Joe out any day of the week—empathy or no empathy. But, this was a good opportunity to practice his abilities. But, how? So far, he’d been more occupied with avoiding emotions than seeking them out. Closing his eyes, he imagined opening a door—not too wide—he didn’t want just anything to slip inside. There it was—a thrill of giddy pleasure tied firmly to a ribbon of heated longing finished off with a smidge of sleepy contentment. He could guess at just who had prompted those feelings in his brother.
Opening his eyes again, Adam found Little Joe smirking, certain that he was a puzzle wrapped in an enigma.
“Daphne Jepson—the one who works at The Golden Goblet. Pa is going to nail your hide to a wall, you know.” Joe’s smirk slid right off his face.
“How did you . . .? I mean, you don’t know anything, Adam! And you wouldn’t tell Pa, would ya?” Joe’s swing from elation to desolation was painful for both of them.
Adam considered. Telling Pa about Little Joe’s night of debauchery was probably just what the kid deserved. On the other hand, Joe wouldn’t be the only one suffering the effects of Pa’s temper.
“Fine, I won’t volunteer any information,” he paused when Joe interrupted him with a whoop of joy. “But I’m not going to lie about it if he asks me.”
Joe’s exuberance at being let off the hook spilled over him like foam on a beer glass. “You’re the best, big brother. I owe you one.” The boy trotted off toward the café—no doubt exercising all that emotion had given him an appetite.
“Joe,” Adam shouted after him, “I’m leaving town in an hour, and you’re coming with me.” Joe answered with a jaunty wave. Adam was going to have to take his cooperation on trust.
Wiping a hand over his face, Adam tried to get back on track. Before going to the bank, he ought to stop by “Merle’s Merchandise.” He’d ordered a book before they left on the cattle drive; perhaps it had arrived.
His entrance into the crowded space was announced by the clanging bell. Merle stood behind the counter, greeting him with a smile. Nothing unusual there, it was the coiled spring of admiration and bashful attraction that surprised him. Adam had never realized Merle harbored a crush for him. That was very flattering, but since she really wasn’t his type he’d better let her down easy.
Sidling up to the counter, Adam leaned in a bit, the better to keep the disappointing information confidential. Merle cocked an eyebrow at him in a questioning way.
“Merle,” he began, “You are a lovely woman, and I know you would make the right man very happy . . .” Adam’s speech faded to silence when it became painfully apparent that he didn’t have her full attention. Merle was actually flinging her devotion right at Tom Downey, the man standing directly behind Adam. And from the stream of sentiment connecting the couple, evidently Merle was absolutely Tom’s type.
This was awkward. Hopefully no one had noticed his little display of foot in mouth. Adam strolled away from the counter as casually as he could manage, circling back toward the door idly picking up and putting back odd pieces of china and bric-a-brac to cover his exit.
In his haste to leave, he collided with Dean Smalley who was clutching a couple of boxes of ammunition. Dean was ordinarily such a mild-mannered fellow that the sour resentment enveloping the young man struck Adam as strange.
Dean stalked up to the counter and coldly interrupted the romantic interlude. Slapping the ammunition on the counter, he completed his purchase with such an air of cold intent that Adam almost shivered. With the ammunition in his pocket, Dean turned to go . . . and stopped dead in his tracks.
Adam felt revulsion and fear erupt in the man as Merle’s big ginger cat leaped lightly from one of the shelves down to the floor sauntering nonchalantly toward the counter. Dean was absolutely frozen in place—he barely breathed until the cat disappeared into the back room and then fairly dashed from the store.
How about that? Adam had never known a man to show such a strong fear of cats. Well, if Dean would be good enough to never mention Adam’s embarrassing moment, Adam would forget that Dean got weak kneed around kitty cats.
Before Adam could make his own getaway, Merle finally beckoned him to the counter. It seemed his book had arrived after all.
Tucking his new book into a pocket, Adam had barely stepped outside before being jostled and bumped by various citizens, racing to and fro. He didn’t need to see the restless crowd to understand something disturbing had occurred. Confusion, worry and childish expectation filled the air, stinging his awareness as the crowd rushed past him.
Roy Coffee trotted past him, and Adam fell into step beside him. “What’s going on?”
“Dean Smalley just busted into the café, armed to the teeth, shoutin’ he was mad as fire and not going to take it anymore. He told the women and kids to clear out, but he has a few men held hostage.”
Adam’s stomach dropped. He’d known something was wrong with Dean, and it hadn’t even occurred to him to reach out to the man. Because he failed to act lives were at stake.
“I’m coming with you,” he announced. Roy disagreed.
“I know what Little Joe means to you,” Roy said. “But I don’t need people who can’t think straight about a situation to get in the way. This ain’t the place for your feelings to override your brains.”
Good grief, he’d completely forgotten that Little Joe had gone to the café. Adam was struck by the irony of Roy’s concerns—twenty-four hours ago, he would have heartily agreed. After only a day’s experience with the gift, Adam knew better.
Ignoring Roy’s protests, Adam stuck close. This was exactly the place for feelings.
Clem was waiting for them around the corner from the café. Roy asked him to see that the nosy crowd was pushed down the street out of harm’s way. Adam and Roy crept closer, finally taking cover behind a buck board hitched nearby. They could hear Dean loudly fussing inside—arguing with one of the hostages.
Roy gestured to Adam to keep his head down before he shouted his greeting to the troublemaker.
“Dean, this is Sheriff Coffee. Can we talk?”
Roy hit the dirt as bullets splintered the wood around them. “Guess that means ‘no’,” Roy muttered.
Adam pointed out that Clem was peering at them from the alley. Keeping low, the deputy scuttled over. Clem nodded a quick greeting to Adam before making his report to Roy.
“The cook hid under the back counter when it all started, and Dean didn’t notice him,” Clem whispered. “He says Dean has Little Joe, Mr. Miller, and Mr. Johnson backed up in a corner—lecturing them on whatever’s stuck in his craw. Cook was able to slip out the back window.”
“Did the cook say what Dean wants?”
“No clue,” Clem replied. “Maybe he just wants to make trouble.”
While Roy deliberated and Clem watched the café for any change, Adam attempted to stretch his ability far enough to get an idea of how Dean and his hostages were faring. Dean’s emotions pulsed and burned like a new brand on hide. The two older men inside were mainly composed, if a bit shaken. As for Little Joe . . . drat the kid for not possessing brains or a keener sense of survival. Little Joe was bored. A bored Little Joe was bad news.
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” The café door opened briefly and the two old gentlemen stumbled out into the street with their hands held high. The door slammed with a bang behind them.
“Over here,” Roy called. Miller and Johnson headed toward them and were soon crouching behind the wagon telling their tale.
“Dean’s not makin’ any sense,” Miller said. “Far as we can tell, no one around here has done anything to set him off.”
“Why did Dean let the two of you go?” Adam asked them.
Mr. Johnson explained. “Little Joe talked him into it. Told Dean that one hostage was as good as three and a lot less work. He volunteered to stay. Said hostagin’ don’t bother him none.”
Unbelievable. Adam was going to wring Joe’s neck at the first convenient opportunity.
Roy rubbed his chin. “Could be worse. Little Joe is a good talker—maybe we can wait them out.”
Miller seemed dubious. “I don’t know. Dean seems pretty set on making somethin’ happen. He’s got a lot of ammunition.”
No sooner were the words spoken than they all heard gunfire and whistling ricochets from inside the building. It sounded like Dean was using the fancy plates on the walls for target practice. Adam shut his eyes tightly and reached out—Little Joe wasn’t terrified or in pain so he was all right. Dean’s aura was flaring with excitement as if he was working himself up.
“Sheriff, we need a distraction so we can put a stop to this before someone gets hurt,” Adam said.
“Got any bright ideas?”
“I think I do.”
The open window in the back of the café was a stroke of luck. From his vantage point, Adam could understand Dean and Joe clearly. Dean’s excitable belligerence was veering into cold determination. Adam didn’t like the feel of it. Even Joe’s cocky optimism was cracking under the strain; Adam could tell the kid was no longer confident about how this was all going to end.
Time to move.
Adam set his distraction into motion and waited for the expected response. No telling just how long things would take. Cats weren’t exactly a precision weapon. He felt Dean’s surprise and spike of fear before he heard Joe shout and tackle the man. By the time Adam came through the window, and the lawmen burst through the front door, Joe had Dean flat on the floor with his hands behind his head. The black and white kitten, borrowed from Mrs. Abernathy, was placidly cleaning its whiskers.
“Did Dean every say why he was so fired up?” Hoss asked.
“Nope,” Joe replied. He jabbed a fork into the steak Hoss was reaching for and snatched it off the plate before Hoss could yell. “When Roy and Clem took him off to jail, he didn’t say a word. He looked a little lost, actually.” Joe chewed his food thoughtfully. “Maybe he didn’t think things would get out of hand so quick.”
Adam was inclined to agree. Whatever had set Dean off had dissipated when he’d been thwarted. When Roy and Clem had carried the guy off to jail, the frenzied hostility had burned out, leaving Dean Smalley cold and detached.
“It’s a miracle no one was hurt,” Pa said. “That was good thinking on your part, Adam.”
“What are you doing, son?”
Adam smiled and pushed aside the pile of books he had been scanning.
“Someone said something to me a few days ago that got me thinking,” Adam said. “I believe I’ve figured out what he meant. It’s just what I have been looking for.”
The purpose of life is not to be happy.
It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate,
To have it make some difference that you have lived
And lived well.
The cards (words/phrases) dealt to me were:
Fear of cats
Fear of death or dying
Old love letters
Joker (free pass)
Other Stories by this Author
- Seance (by Belle)
- The Christmas Hostage (by Belle)
- The Adventure of the Antique Opera Glasses (by Belle)
- Enthralled (by Belle)
- Wish (by Belle)