Summary: Ben’s life is in danger and so the boys devise a plan to get him out off the ranch without him knowing the real reason why. The task falls upon Hoss and Candy, who both realise that it’s going to be hard to keep Ben safe and in the dark. (18th story in the series)
Word Count: 6,711
A Moment in Time
The door to the barn closed and the three men left inside breathed a collected sigh of relief as they began to relax. Hoss thumped the saddle he was standing next to and grunted, which brought a brief smile to the faces of his brothers. He gazed at his brothers thoughtfully for a moment before he himself broke out into a small grin. “Pa’s still got that knack of knowin’ when to pick the right time to turn up.”
“Yeah, he sure has. Poor ol’ Clem.” Joe shook his head briefly before he continued, “For a moment there I thought he was going to tell Pa.”
“Same here.” Adam ran his hand through his hair. This was something that none of them had expected. Time was of the essence. “What we’ve got to do now is come up with a believable excuse to get him to leave the Ponderosa for a few days.”
Joe moved over to an upright barrel and sat down on it. “It has to be a good one.”
Hoss nodded. “Yup and one that’ll keep him busy while he’s away.”
“The way I see it, we gotta figure out which one of us will be the one to talk Pa into taking this little trip.”
Adam adjusted his position against the post he now leaned against. “You’re right Joe and it has to be someone who has a good reason as well as the time to go with Pa.” He cast a sideways glance to Joe and then to Hoss, who just stared at the floor as his right foot shifted back and forth. Adam then returned his glance back to Joe and raised one eyebrow.
After a quick nod, Joe cleared his throat. “If that’s the case, it can’t be me. I just bought a hotel and it would look pretty suspicious if I were to suddenly drop everything to go on a trip.”
“And there’s no way that I can go since Tom starts school next week.”
“Hey, that’s right Adam. I’d forgotten all about that.” Joe frowned briefly as he looked at Hoss, whose head was still lowered. Whatever it was that was down there must be mighty interesting, Joe thought to himself, but now was not the time to ask Hoss about it – there were more important things at hand. Just as he was about to open his mouth to speak, he was caught by surprise as Hoss quickly raised his head and spoke.
“Alright you two, there’s no need to railroad me into this. I kinda figured it was goin’ to be me, so I’ve come up with a plan.”
Joe’s eyes flew wide opened in mock surprise. “You have?”
“I have little brother.” Hoss began to pace the floor. “I’m just going to have to go on my research trip earlier than I expected to.”
“Your research trip?” Adam stood up straight. “Is this the one you were telling me about the other week that you’re thinking of going on next year?”
“Not bad. Not bad at all.” Adam walked over to Hoss and patted him on the back. “Thanks.”
Hoss nodded. “No thanks necessary. I’ve got the only legitimate excuse to leave town at the moment. You two will have your hands full just helpin’ Clem out.”
“But your job won’t be easy either. Pa’s still hard to fool and then there’s the problem of keeping an eye on him.”
“I’ve thought about that too Adam.”
Joe smiled as he got off the barrel and made his way over to his brothers. “Seems you’ve got everything worked out. Is there anything you want us to do?”
As he placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder, he nodded. “Yeah, there’s one thing I want you to do. Convince Candy to go along. He won’t listen to Adam and there’s a chance that he won’t listen to me.”
“Yeah, I’m about the only one he’ll believe at the moment.” Joe sighed. Everything was now even in a bigger mess ever since Jane Talbot had returned. Candy was under the impression, as was most everybody else, that Adam was just biding his time before he declared his intentions where the woman was concerned. However, Joe knew that Adam had no intention of pursuing his interest in her for a very long time if ever and somehow, he would have to let Candy know that without giving anything away.
“Uhh.” Joe smiled briefly at Adam. “Sorry, was just thinking of how I was going to tell Candy that he has to go on a trip.”
“Alright.” Adam frowned a little. He could understand why Joe needed to give some thought to breaking the news to Candy. Two days earlier, Candy had confronted him down near the lake. Candy had let Adam know in no uncertain terms that he planned to fight for Jane. Adam had had to give the impression that he was still interested. The conversation had ended with Candy declaring that the best man was going to win.
A quick snort escaped as Adam remembered the way Candy had looked. Candy was deadly serious of that there was no doubt. It would have been intriguing to see what would have happened if he was at liberty to pursue Jane. His current assignment and Leslie had put an end to any ideas that he had had about the lovely Miss Talbot.
“If you two have finished whatever it was you were doin’, I think we should set this plan into motion. The sooner we get Pa out of here the better.”
Both Joe and Adam shot an apologetic look at Hoss. Adam was the first to speak, “You’re absolutely right, Hoss.”
Joe nodded in agreement. “There’s only one thing I need to know before we embark on our plan.”
Hoss, who had already started for the barn door turned around and looked at Joe. “And what would that be, little brother?”
“Would you one of you kindly tell me what, exactly is this research that you plan to do is?”
The three of them laughed. As they walked outside, Hoss and Adam told Joe all he needed to know.
Candy pulled his horse to halt and took his hat off. He wiped his brow with his right forearm before putting his hat back on. As he gently kicked his horse, to continue the journey, he wondered for the umpteenth time how he managed to let Joe talk him into taking this trip with Hoss and Mr. Cartwright.
A slight chuckle escaped as Candy remembered that every objection, he had put up had been successfully countered by Joe – even the one about Jane. Now that was a puzzle. Joe had seemed so certain that Adam wouldn’t go anywhere near Jane while he was away. How could Joe be that certain when he himself knew that Adam would most likely take the first opportunity, he had to make a move?
Hoss shifted in his saddle and looked over his left shoulder at Candy. It had taken some doing but he had never doubted Joe’s knack for talking anybody into anything and everything. He shifted his gaze to his father, who rode next to him on the right. Pa seemed to be in deep thought and that worried him. After clearing his throat, he spoke, “How you doin’ Pa?”
Ben frowned a little. An odd question given the circumstances. “I’m fine, son.”
“That’s good. I just thought for a moment that you might’ve been regretting comin’ on this trip with me.”
“No. No. I don’t regret spending time with any of my sons. We haven’t been able to spend much time with each other since you got married. I’m glad you asked me to come.”
“I’m sorry Pa. It’s just that you seemed to be in deep thought and it kinda worried me.”
To avoid the real reason why he was worried, Hoss paused for a moment as he thought of a plausible answer. “Well in the past when you’ve been quiet it’s because of some sort of trouble so I was hopin’ that there wasn’t any.”
A warm smile appeared on Ben’s face. “You’ve got nothing to worry about. I was actually thinking about why you decided that you wanted me to come along on this particular trip. I know that you’re perfectly capable of deciding whether or not Saul Shepard’s cattle will be good breeders or not.”
“Thanks, Pa but I wanted you to come ‘cause since they’re gonna be mixin’ with the Ponderosa’s best – and you are still in charge of the Ponderosa – that I shouldn’t do this without makin’ sure that you approve as well. Besides, you haven’t been off the ranch for a while now and I thought that a trip like this would do you good.”
Before Ben could reply, Candy rode up to his left side. “Yeah, Mr. Cartwright it was ‘bout time you went away.”
Ben cocked his head to the left and in a voice that held a bit of sternness, he answered, “Really?”
“Yeah. The hands were beginning to think that your tough boss act was for real.”
Hoss let out a loud laugh. He was soon joined by both Ben and Candy.
Simon Wright left out a huge sigh of relief as he spied the old miner’s cabin located a couple of miles outside of Virginia City. It hadn’t been hard to get away from the rest of the Ponderosa hands. Most of them were too oblivious to the fact that he had taken this opportunity to part ways with them. His job was done and now all he had to do was give the information to his employer. The payment he was about to receive would help wipe away the two months of dirt and pain that came with being a ranch hand.
As he stepped up onto the landing that was situated at the front of the building, a loud creak heralded his arrival. He winced as he hoped that it hadn’t annoyed his employer. The littlest thing could set the man off at any moment these days.
The front door to the cabin flew open, taking Simon by surprise. A light then appeared. “’Bout time you got here.”
“Well, I couldn’t just take off whenever I felt like it,” Simon said with a hint of displeasure in his voice, as he made his way past the big man who held the lamp.
Before the big man could answer back, another voice came from the dimly lit corner of the room. “Now Parker, our friend Simon here is right. To just take off would have aroused suspicion.”
“That’s right.” Simon smiled as he went over to the other man in the corner. “I got the information you wanted.”
“And did they leave like I predicted they would?”
“Yep but two of them stayed behind.”
“Those don’t matter as long as he was one of the ones to go.”
“Ben Cartwright was one of them.” Simon shifted his stance. The clothes Simon was wearing weren’t the type he was used to. He preferred the best that money could buy and not these poor excuses. All that these clothes had given him was a damn rash that made him itch like crazy.
His eyes moved over to Parker. The buffoon stood near the wall to the left of him in his usual state of disrepair. For the life of him, Simon couldn’t understand what his employer saw in the man. The smell alone was enough to turn him off. Still, Parker probably served his purpose – you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him.
After a few moments, Simon rubbed his hand through his thick brown hair. That was another thing he hated about this job – his hair felt like grease. It was time to go and since his employer wasn’t going to ask, he would have to tell the man the rest. Simon cleared his throat. “Cartwright, his son Hoss and the ranch foreman, Canaday are on their way to Reno. They should be there for a few days.”
“Good. That will give me plenty of time to do what I have to do.” The man looked Simon up and down. “I suppose you want what’s due to you.”
Simon nodded. “I do.”
“Well then, I won’t keep you waiting.” The man motioned to Parker, who placed down the lamp on a nearby side table and then moved to a position behind Simon. The man smiled. “Deal with it.”
Parker grunted as he grabbed both of Simon’s arms. Simon suddenly began to realise what was about to happen. He began to struggle but Parker tightened his grip and lifted him off the ground. Pleas of mercy began to spew from Simon’s mouth as Parker turned around and proceeded out the front door.
The man, seated in the corner, closed his eyes and turned his thoughts to the matter at hand. A moment in time was all that it would take. Just one moment and Ben Cartwright would know the years of pain and sorrow that he had brought down upon her.
“That makes two in a row. You know we should do this more often.”
“No, we shouldn’t.” Hoss’ brows knitted in frustration as he watched Candy scrape in the pot in the middle of the table.
Ben laughed as he looked up from the book he was reading. “I thought that you would have learned your lesson years ago Hoss after that incident with that racehorse.”
“I for one, am glad that he didn’t,” Candy said with a hint of satisfaction in his voice, “Want another hand?”
“No!” Hoss stood up and stuffed his hands into his pockets. Candy had taken all his spare cash and the bank wouldn’t be open again until Monday. He walked over to the window of the hotel room and looked down onto a street that was full of Saturday night revelers. They had arrived in Reno yesterday afternoon and spent today checking out Saul Shepard’s stock. It was only about eight o’clock and already his night had ended. As Hoss turned back to face the interior of the room, he saw a chess set on a table in the corner. He smiled a little. “Hey Pa, how ‘bout we play a game of chess?”
Once again, Ben lifted his head from his book and gazed for a moment at the chess set. He didn’t really feel like a game and now that he had been interrupted for what seemed like the hundredth time, he didn’t feel like reading his book either. Closing the book, he placed it on the table next to the armchair he was seated in. What he wanted to do was to get out of this hotel suite and getting some fresh air. “No son. Not tonight.”
Hoss nodded reluctantly. “Okay, Pa.” He paused for a moment before quickly speaking again, “How ‘bout a game of cards?”
A frown appeared on Ben’s face. “No, not that either.” He stood up, stretched, and then made his way to the sideboard near the door. As he picked up his gun holster, he smiled. “I’m going out for a walk. I’m sure you two can find something to do without me.”
Candy shot a quick look of concern to Hoss, who did likewise in response. The two of them walked over to the sideboard and grabbed their guns.
“And just what do you two think you are doing?”
“Thought you might like some company, ain’t that right Hoss.”
“That’s right. You’d have more fun if we came along with you Pa.”
“Actually, I’d have more fun without the two of you.” Ben picked up his hat and placed it on his head. He couldn’t understand the sudden interest Hoss and Candy had in his social life. After a quick shrug of his shoulders, he made his way to the door and grabbed the handle. “Well, I can’t wait for you two all night.”
Seeing that Ben was serious, both Hoss and Candy grabbed their hats and continued to buckle their gun belts as they followed Ben out the room and down the hall. They failed to see the smirk that appeared on Ben’s face.
Once they had made it out of the hotel, Candy suggested that they go to the saloon across the street. The Two Trees looked impressive enough on the outside and they could hear the laughter and music that emanated from it. Ben and Hoss nodded once in agreement and the three of them made their way to the saloon.
Upon entering the establishment, they had to wait for a moment while a small crowd dispersed from the bar. Hoss had begun to get pre-occupied by all the different things that were happening in the room and so that when Candy called him towards the bar, he failed to see a man, who had at that exact moment had turned from the bar with three beers in his hand. Before Hoss realised it, there were three beer glasses on the floor, and they were both covered in beer.
Hoss wiped some of the excess beer of himself, as he began to apologise profusely to the man and offer to buy some more beers. The man, who had his head lowered as he attempted to wipe himself dry as well, stopped in mid-swipe as soon as he heard Hoss speak. “Of all the places…”
A confused look appeared on Hoss’ face. The voice sounded familiar. As he watched the man raised his head, Hoss’ eyes got wider and wider. “Oh Lordy, why here?”
Candy and Ben, who had both found a spare spot at the bar, were oblivious to what had just occurred. Upon Hoss’ exclamation, they both turned around to see who Hoss was speaking to. Neither of them could work out why Hoss had reacted in this way until they saw Hoss’ face get a look of grim determination as he uttered the words “Fred Jones.”
“Oh great. Just great.” Candy walked over to stand beside Hoss. “Look we don’t want any trouble. We’ll pay for the beers and we can all be happily on our way.” He began to reach into his vest pocket.
“Trouble is all that you Cartwrights have ever been to me since the day we met,” Fred grated out. He pointed his right index finger at Hoss’ chest, “Because of your brother I had to leave town.”
“Look, Fred, any trouble was brought on by yourself.”
“That’s what I expect you, Cartwrights, to say. You all stick together like bees in honey. If it weren’t for that interfering brother of yours, I would have had Jane Talbot and the witch would have been begging for more.”
Before Hoss could respond, Candy grabbed Fred by the collar with both hands and lifted him off the ground. “I’ll thank you not to ruin that good lady’s reputation.”
Fred smiled. “Oh, I see how it is. Well was she good as she pretends to be?”
“I warned you,” Candy said vehemently as let his right hand go of Fred and used it to make a connection between it and Fred’s face.
Some of the other men in the saloon, affected by the amount of alcohol they had consumed, took this as a sign to start a free-for-all fight. Within moments the sounds of laughter and music had been replaced by the sound of furniture being broken and glassware smashing to the ground.
The sound of keys jingling bought Candy out of his deep slumber. He winced as he felt the pain that came from his lower jaw and left eye. Boy, he hoped that wouldn’t last long. As he slowly opened his eyes and began to look around, he realised that he was in a jail cell. “How?”
Hoss grinned as he turned around. “I’m surprised that you don’t remember. After you took care of Fred and his glass jaw, you backed up into that miner.”
“Miner?” Candy gingerly sat up on the bunk he was on and placed his feet on the floor. He rested his elbows on his lap and lowered his head into his hands. “Oh…I remember. Where were you?”
“I was set upon by two brothers.” Hoss rubbed the left side of his jaw with his right hand. “They got in a couple of good ones before I ended it.”
“So how did we end up in here?”
“Well, those two brothers had another brother and he happens to be one of the deputies here. When he turned up and seen what I had done, he promptly arrested me for disturbin’ the peace. He then remembered his civic duty and asked who had started the fight in the place. Someone said that you did and since you didn’t object, the deputy arrested you too.”
Candy sighed. “Do you know when they will be letting us out?”
“Soon, I hope. The sheriff just released a few of the others they took in last night.”
For a few moments, they both remained silent. Candy rubbed the back of his head with hand. “How did your father fare in all of this?”
A frown appeared on Hoss’ face. “I was hopin’ that you could tell me that. I lost sight of him the moment those two brothers started up on me.”
“I lost track of him way before that.” Candy stood up and walked over to where Hoss stood near the bars at the front of the cell. “Your Pa’s probably over at the hotel dining room enjoying a peaceful breakfast without us,” he said with a hint of humour in his voice.
Hoss grimaced. A part of him knew what Candy said could be true but another part of him feared the worse. All he wanted to do was to get out here and make sure that his father was fine. “Yeah, I hope you’re right.” He paused for a moment and then said solemnly, “I hope you’re right.”
Ben shook his head again. Those cobwebs in his mind were still there but they weren’t as bad as they had initially been. As he focussed his eyes, he became aware that he was seated in the middle of a dingy room that seemed to have no windows. Except for the shafts of light streaming in through the cracks in the timber wall, the room was dark.
He had no idea how long he had been here for but as his head began to clear he realised that this was a place he didn’t want to be in. Abruptly he tried to stand up, only to find that both his feet and hands were bound tightly and that any quick movements would bring a rush of pain.
After the pain had subsided, Ben moved his head slowly around the room. The shafts of light were the only way of seeing what was in the room. Maybe just one them would illuminate something to give him a clue to where he was.
Suddenly a door burst opened. The sudden rush of full light blinded him for a moment but as his eyes adjusted, he could make out a shadowy figure. As the figure approached, Ben had the feeling that there was something familiar about it. Before he could have a chance to work out who it could be, he felt a sickening blow to the head. The blackness that he had experienced earlier descended once again.
“We’ve exhausted every possibility.”
Hoss nodded, “Yeah we have. They must have gotten him sometime during the night.”
“I agree.” Candy grimaced. They had arrived back at the hotel to find that Mr. Cartwright hadn’t been seen by the hotel clerk since last night, so both Hoss and he had initially assumed that Mr. Cartwright was still asleep in his room. When they got up there and found that his bed hadn’t been slept in, they began to think the worse. Now after a few enquiries, their fears had been confirmed.
With a lowered head, Hoss studied the ornate pattern of the rug that he stood on in the middle of the hotel lobby. He needed to push aside his worry and get to the business of locating his father. Problem was that his father would have been taken at any time last night and could be miles away by now.
Candy placed his hand on Hoss’ shoulder. “I’ll start on the east side of town. We could be lucky, and he might still be here.”
“Yup,” Hoss said quietly as he raised his head. He swapped his hat from his right to his left hand and then ran his right hand through his hair in frustration. “I wish that this one-time Pa had told us what had happened instead of keepin’ it to himself. Maybe, then at least we’d have something to go on.”
“You know what they say – beggars can’t be choosers,” Candy replied in a half-light tone. Hoss needed to keep his hopes if they were ever gonna have some chance of finding Mr. Cartwright alive and well. “Besides from what I know of the man, he isn’t likely to take your Pa too far away now is he?”
Hoss’ brows knitted together for a moment. Candy had a point. The man who had Pa had spent most of his life at sea – he would have no chance out there in the wilderness. “You’re right. Time we got started.”
The pain in his head was back – bigger and stronger than it had been the last time around. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut for a moment before slowly re-opening them.
“Aah…So you’ve decided to rejoin us again Benjamin. I was afraid that Parker had done his job a bit too well.”
Even though he still felt groggy, he knew who the voice belonged to. “Why?”
“Why? Yes, why indeed.”
Ben lifted his head slowly and stared at the face of his captor. The room was illuminated by a kerosene lamp that had been placed on a table and Ben could almost make out the man’s features. “Look, Matt…”
Matthias Kendall raised his hand and stopped Ben in mid-sentence. “No, no Benjamin. This time around I’ll do the talking. I don’t want to hear your lies again.”
“Yes, your lies,” Kendall snapped back. “Last time around you nearly had me convinced that you knew nothing but we both know that isn’t the truth.”
“I’m sorry Matt, but I told you the truth.”
Kendall grunted and then began to pace around the room as he tapped the fingers of his right hand on his chin. This moment had been a long time coming and it seemed that his old friend, Benjamin was still intent on playing the dumb fool.
As he watched the man pace, Ben noticed that Kendall seemed to have grown much older over the last couple of months. Kendall’s gait seemed to be a lot slower than it used to be and every now and then the light would highlight his white hair, which looked like it hadn’t seen a brush in a long time. Ben lowered his head and shook it slowly. Whatever it was that was eating away at Kendall, it seemed to be eating away at the man physically as well.
After a few more minutes, Kendall abruptly stopped and faced Ben. “Alright, for the time being, we’ll have it your way and therefore it is my solemn duty to remind you of what you did.”
Ben nodded and waited for Kendall, as the man motioned to Parker. Parker grabbed the chair near the table and placed it in front of Ben. Kendall took his seat and waited for Parker to leave. When Parker had done so, Kendall turned his attention back to Ben.
“Do you remember what she was like all those years ago?”
A frown appeared on Ben’s face. So, this had something to do with a woman in their past. Ben was one hundred percent sure that it had nothing to do with Elizabeth – at least he hoped that it didn’t.
“I see by your reaction that you’re still pretending that you don’t know who I am talking about,” Kendall stated in a tone that hinted at some of the anger that he held. “Did you know that when you met her in New Orleans that it wasn’t the first time, she had seen you.”
New Orleans? Ben stared questionably at him. “Look, Matt, what does this have to do with Marie?”
“Marie?” Kendall abruptly stood up and, in the process, knocked the chair he had been sitting on, which then fell to the floor. “Still you play games. Whatever my lovely Linda saw in a fool like you I will never know.”
At the mention of the woman’s name who was at the centre of all this, Ben began to search his memories to work out who, Kendall had referred to. The realisation of who it could possibly be began to dawn on him. His eyes slowly widen as he gazed up at Kendall. “You’re talking about Linda Chadwick.”
“Finally,” Kendall said with relief in his voice, “Yes my beloved Linda.”
“I didn’t know that you knew her.”
“Of course, I knew her. How could I not? She is my sister after all.”
“Yes, my sister.” Kendall bent halfway to stare Ben straight in the face. “You remember what you did to her don’t you?”
Ben silently remembered his last encounter with Lady Linda Chadwick. The woman had nearly ruined him and in the end, had gone mad to the point of slashing that painting of the two of them. The whole affair had left a bitter after taste that he still felt from time to time and was feeling right now.
“I can see by the look on your face that you do remember.” Kendall stood straight up again. “She fell in love with you from the first moment she laid eyes on you.”
Confusion swept over Ben once more. “How can she be your sister? When I first met her, her name was Lawrence, not Kendall.”
Kendall nodded. “Yes, I suppose I can understand why you might not have made the connection. Linda was the result of an unfortunate affair my father had with her mother. When I first found out about her, I wanted nothing to do with her. However, after I met her, I changed my mind. She was a very beautiful and charming woman,” he paused for a moment and a brief smile flickered onto his face. “Don’t you agree?”
“Yes, she was beautiful and charming.” Ben took a deep breath. The memories of the way it had been when he had first met Linda came flooding back. He had loved her then but in hindsight, not the way she had deserved. How could such a woman, with so much potential, end up the way she did? The thought saddened Ben and he knew that he was partially to blame. Now all he wanted to do was to find out more. Maybe in some way, Kendall would help him get rid of some of the guilt he felt. He gazed up at Kendall’s face. “You said that New Orleans wasn’t the first place she had seen me.”
“It wasn’t.” Kendall briefly squeezed his eyes shut and then re-opened them. “The summer before you were married, she came to visit me. I decided to take her to that ball that the shipping company was holding and fully intended to introduce her to you then.”
For a few moments, Kendall seemed to be lost in another world. Ben stared solemnly at the man and watched the emotions flicker over his face. As Ben continued to watch, part of him wanted to help make restitution and resolve the situation but another part of him knew that it was too late. What was done was done and nothing he could ever do was going to fix it.
Just as he was about to speak up, Ben was stopped with a quick hand motion from Kendall. “I’m sorry. Now, where were we? Ah, yes. Linda had insisted that I introduce you to her. She had spotted you the moment you arrived. However, just before I could, we saw you dancing with Elizabeth Stoddard. There was no denying that you were in love with Elizabeth – the look on your face showed it clearly. Poor Linda was devastated, and I took her home immediately. A few days later she apologised and told me that it was only a mild infatuation. I thought nothing more of it until I found out years later that she had managed to meet you.”
Ben half-smiled and took a deep breath. “I did care very much for Linda, but I realised that it wasn’t meant to be. I was on my west to fulfil my dream and I knew that Linda would never take to it. I had thought that she had come to the same conclusion and that’s why she encouraged Chadwick.”
“She only encouraged Chadwick to make you jealous. By the time she knew she had made a mistake, it was too late.”
A frown appeared on Ben’s face. “I’m sorry…”
“No, you’re not. Chadwick, for the most part, cared deeply for her but alas you had a grip so tight on her heart that it was closed off to others – including me.”
Before Kendall could continue, the door to the room suddenly came crashing to the ground. Hoss rushed towards Kendall and grabbed him by the collar. “If you’ve done anything to my Pa, I’ll make you regret it.”
“Hoss!” Ben shouted.
Hoss swung his head around slowly and meet his father’s gaze. Without a moment’s hesitation, he let go of Kendall and bent down to start the process of untying his father.
Kendall, seeing that Hoss was busy, took this as an opportunity to make his escape but just as he reached the door, two deputies grabbed him by the arms and dragged him back into the room. They were followed by Candy, who slowly walked in. Candy looked around the room briefly before setting his eyes upon Hoss and his father.
As soon as Hoss had finished untying him, Ben stood up and rubbed his wrists. He smiled warmly at Hoss. “Thanks.”
“No thanks needed Pa,” Hoss said with a hint of relief in his voice. To him, his father looked for the most part okay on the outside, but Hoss knew that what was going on inside was the thing that mattered the most. He placed his hand on his father’s shoulder and with a look of concern on his face, spoke in a soft voice, “How are you feeling?”
“Except for a headache I’ve got from the bump on my head, I feel fine.” Ben then turned his attention to Kendall, who was still being held by the two deputies. Kendall had the look of a man who knew that it was all over, but Ben knew that it wasn’t quite that way.
For a moment as Ben approached him, Kendall straightened up. Kendall’s head then darted around the room very quickly. “Where’s Parker?”
Candy stepped forward. “If you’re talking about that big fella that was on guard outside – I’m sorry to say that he resisted, and the deputies had to shoot him.”
“So, he’s dead then?”
A slight moan escaped from Kendall’s mouth before he answered, “So be it.” He looked at the two men who held him. “Gentlemen, my time here is over – I shall take my leave.”
“Wait a minute,” Ben shouted. As he made a move towards Kendall and the deputies, Hoss held out his arm and grabbed him.
“Pa, you need to rest. You can talk to him in the mornin’.”
Ben stared blankly at Hoss for a moment. There were so many questions that needed to be answered but he knew his son was right – he would need to have all his wits about him before he went another round with Kendall.
Hoss shrugged his shoulders briefly. “Now you know the story as I know it.”
“And Pa hasn’t said a word about it since?”
“Not a single one. Joe tried to get him to talk about it, but Pa just brushed him off.”
Adam gazed at the front door. “He’s probably outside thinking about what happened and in some way blaming himself.”
“I guess I’ll just go out and get some fresh air myself,” Adam said as he began to rise off the sofa.
Hoss smiled. “Adam, do whatever you need to do to get him to open up.”
“I’ll do my best.” As he made his way around the sofa, Adam stopped briefly to give Hoss a reassuring pat on the shoulder. He then made his way outside.
After he had closed the front door behind him, Adam looked around the yard and spotted his father over near the corral.
Ben cocked his head to the right as he waited for Adam to approach. When he had heard the front door close, he knew it was his oldest son. He also knew why Adam had come out.
When Adam reached his father, he glanced upwards. “Nice night.”
“It is.” Ben took a deep breath. “I suppose Hoss told you.”
“Then there’s not much more to add.”
“We all know that there is.”
As he turned to face Adam, Ben snorted. “I guess there’s no escaping it. All three of you will keep trying until I let it all out.”
Adam smiled warmly. “You’ve got that right.” He paused for a moment before he continued. “Look Pa we know that Kendall left you with a lot of unanswered questions. He was a very troubled man and taking his own life in the jail cell that night just proved it. Maybe it was a last-ditch attempt to make you pay for whatever it was he thought you had done.”
“I have a feeling that it was.”
For a few minutes, there was silence between the two men. Adam put both of his hands on the fence and gazed out over the corral. “Remember that story you used to tell us about the sticks? How one stick by itself can break easily but together in a group it’s unbreakable. Kendall was only one man. He was all alone in his misery and his hate for you. He had no-one to turn to and look what it did to him.”
“I know but I just can’t help blaming myself for what happened. I keep looking for the answers, but I can’t find them.”
“You know it doesn’t have to be this way.” Adam pointed to the house. “You have me and two others in there. Together we can help you find the answers you’re looking for.”
Ben gazed at the house and then back at Adam. What Adam said had somehow made sense. He could feel the tears starting to well up in his eyes. “You know son, I think we should go inside and talk this thing out with your brothers.”
Adam touched his father briefly on the arm. “You know Pa, there’s one thing you can be sure of.”
A slight frown appeared on Ben’s face. “And what’s that?”
“Joe and Hoss won’t stop until they’ve come up with an answer – and neither will I.”
“Thank you,” Ben replied in a soft voice as turned to face Adam. He placed both of his hands on his son’s arms and gave them a squeeze. After this gesture had been completed, Adam lifted his right arm and placed it around Ben’s shoulders. “C’mon Pa.”
Ben responded and placed his arm around Adam’s shoulders. As they made their way inside, Ben’s thoughts took him back to Kendall and all that had happened. Deep down he knew that things will be all right but a part of him also knew that there would be times where he would stop and question Kendall’s actions. However, Ben knew that after tonight he would have a ready answer.
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