Summary: A close call for someone…..
Rated K Word Count: 3152
A short short
He wasn’t sure what first alerted him to the fact that something was wrong. It just seemed like one moment he was asleep and the next he was awake. Pushing aside the sheet covering him, Adam Cartwright looked out into the moonlit yard beneath his bedroom window. He saw three saddled horses standing where there should have been none. And just before they slipped from sight under the porch roof, Adam saw three men, one lanky in appearance, another all dark and, of the third, all Adam noted was the fact that the bright moonlight made his hair look nearly white. Then the moon dipped behind some clouds and Adam could hear the small noises the men made entering the house through the kitchen door.
Quickly Adam pulled on his black jeans and shirt, not taking the time to button the shirt before he eased barefoot out of the room and down the hall. At the first bedroom door, he paused. Beyond it, he could plainly hear Hoss’ snores reverberating. Adam thought but a moment about waking him, then decided against it. If he could hear Hoss the chances were good that their visitors could too and if Hoss suddenly quit, it could be a give away that the visitors were not alone. No, let Hoss sleep.
The next door down, Adam quietly opened and tiptoed in. His youngest brother lay sprawled across the bed, sound asleep. Joe was notoriously bad about waking up but Adam had to take the chance.
Leaning down, he whispered into Joe’s ear. “We have company.”
Joe snorted once and tried to roll away from the sound but Adam held him fast and repeated himself.
Opening a bleary eye to the dark figure over him, Joe mumbled “So?”
“This company is wearing guns and masks. Okay, so I am not sure about the masks but we don’t want them here. Savvy?” Adam whispered and saw Joe come fully awake. Quickly Joe rolled to the side of the bed and snagging his tan jeans, pulled them on.
“Let’s go,” Joe breathed and together the two brothers slipped out the door and headed for the top of the stairs, silent as shadows.
Downstairs, Adam saw as he edged around the corner at the top of the stairs, there was someone at his father’s desk across the way in the study. It was the lanky man he had caught a glimpse of and the man was going through the desk drawers. When he felt Joe beside him, Adam gestured towards the study, and felt Joe’s nod more than saw it in the near nonexistent light. Joe slipped past Adam and down the stairs to the first landing. Then light as a feather, Joe dropped over into the stairwell next to the gun rack. The tiny thump drew the attention of the man across the way but when he looked up, he saw nothing. He returned to his searching.
Like Joe, Adam slipped down the stairs, a dark shadow within other shadows. Reaching through the stair railings, Joe handed Adam the first gun he had come across in the gun rack: an old Navy Colt. Adam thought about hitting Joe with it since the old gun weighed a short ton and had the kick of a mule when it went off. That is when it went off. For some reason known only to God, the old piece lacked the reliability generally associated with the Colt name. But Adam decided to keep the gun. If nothing else, just looking down the barrel of the old monster would be enough to scare most men, since up close, Adam was sure it would look more like the bore of a cannon. He hefted it in his hand just once then moved on down the steps.
At the foot of the stairs, Joe, his finger across his lips asking for silence, gestured for Adam to take the man in the study. That man was now turned and trying to open the safe. Small noises coming from the kitchen made them think that the other two were going for the silverware before coming into the rest of the house. As Adam glided across the room, Joe headed for the kitchen.
Adam laid the bore of the Navy Colt against the lanky intruder’s neck, letting the man feel the cold weight. “Give me one good reason and I will blow you to Kingdom come,” Adam warned. Wisely, the lanky man stopped his rummaging and slowly rose to his feet, his hands out to his sides. “You make one noise-“ Adam began but just as he spoke, all Hell seemed to break loose.
From over at the kitchen door, Adam could hear a quick startled shout that was bitten off. Then the sound of gunshots rang loudly through the dark night. He heard the breaking of glass and a curse from Joe. That was all the distraction the man Adam was guarding needed. With a quick slice down, the man struck Adam’s hand, the one holding the gun and the old gun dropped to the floor. The intruder grabbed at Adam’s other arm and proceeded to push him aside. Stumbling against Ben’s desk, Adam hit his hip hard. The other man took a roundhouse swing at Adam’s head but Adam was able to block it but again it pushed him, this time back into the main room. The burglar headed for the open door way but Adam made a desperate lunge for him, tackling him around the legs and taking them both down to the floor. Adam stretched out and grabbed the first thing off the credenza his hand hit and breathed a sigh of relief. It was his own revolver in its holster. With a quick yank, he struggled to get the gun out but proceeded to hit his assailant alongside the head with it still in the holster. The man dropped back like a stone.
Swiftly Adam got to his feet and with the now free revolver in his hand, crept to the corner of the dining room and looked down the wall towards the kitchen door. He could see a body laying in the doorway and for a moment, feared it was Joe’s. But this figure was dressed all in dark colors and Joe had pulled on his tan jeans and no shirt. Adam, his hand readjusting to the weight of his gun in his hand did a fast count: two men down but where was the third? The one with the fair hair?
The sound of breaking glass and falling pots and pans broke Adam’s quandary. Eagerly, he went down the wall and letting his gun precede him, entered into the kitchen. In the flurry of dark movements there, Adam could barely discern the two figures grappling with one another. But one thing stood out: the hair of the third intruder. With a frustrated shout, Joe called for Adam’s help. Stepping behind the man, Adam laid the butt of his revolver against the back of the man’s head. The man hit the floor with a thud.
The moon chose to shed its blanket of clouds and by the wash of light into the kitchen, Adam saw Joe leaning over, breathing heavily, his hands on his knees. Adam stepped over the prostrate form and put his hand on Joe’s heaving back.
“You okay?” Adam asked softly.
Joe panted and, giving a short laugh, said “ Yeah, but Hop Sing’s kitchen isn’t.” And he raised his head to look at Adam. A momentary look of panic crossed his face.
Adam spun on his heel and brought the revolver up, not bothering to sight it on his target for he saw the flash of white as he turned.
Although the gun fired, the bullet did not properly enter the chamber. Instead, what occurred was a hang-fire, that awfulness of moments when Adam was totally defenseless even though he held a weapon in his hand. Only training and practice stopped him from pulling the trigger again. If he had done so, the gun would have most likely exploded in his hand, the second bullet detonating the first before the first had left the barrel. From the corner of his eye, he saw Joe reaching around him, trying to knock the gun from his grip. He heard Joe’s shouted “NO!” but by then the slug had finally left the barrel and buried itself in the floor at Adam’s feet. But it was as though Time had stood still for Adam.
Standing in the doorway was his father.
Later the next afternoon found Adam out by the lake. Following the delivery of the three would-be thieves to Roy Coffee’s office in town, Adam had headed home the long way. He needed time to think. He couldn’t have admitted it to anyone, but his nerves were still raw and he felt as though he were about to explode.
Dismounting, he dropped his reins and allowed Sport to nibble on the grass there at the water’s edge. He pulled a stem himself and stuck it between his teeth before he hunched down. He sat back on his heels and looked out over the blue of Lake Tahoe. Then, lifting his right arm straight out in front himself, he sighted down its length. Slowly but then with increasing rapidity, his hand began to shake. He dropped it to his side and stood up.
I have to know, he thought and pulled out his revolver. Carefully, he spun the chamber, noting that all six bullets sat appropriately waiting. Then, he pulled the trigger. Once, twice, three times. Then a fourth, fifth and finally the sixth. Each bullet screamed from the barrel. Watching his own hands carefully, he reloaded the revolver, looking at the empty shells now at his feet. Again, he fired but this time taking great care and deliberation with each pull of the trigger. The six bullets streaked into the water of Tahoe flawlessly. Again he reloaded. And again he rapid-fired the gun. And again it performed just like it always did for him. Flawlessly.
When he had reloaded for the last time, he stuck the gun back into his holster.
“Any of them fish shoot back?” Joe’s voice came floating across the gentle breeze to him. Adam didn’t turn to acknowledge his brother’s presence. He heard the saddle leather creak then the soft crunch of Joe’s steps coming down the slight embankment to stop just behind Adam.
“I had to know,” Adam said as though those words were all he would need by way of explanation. He heard Joe heave a deep sigh behind him but he didn’t turn to look at the younger man. He simply continued to look out over the Lake.
“And have you got your answer now?” Joe asked, his voice soft with concern.
“I don’t know. That’s what scares me, Joe. How I came so close to killing Pa last night! That’s what gets me! Time and time again, this gun has performed flawlessly. Never a miss fire and God forbid! Never a hang fire like last night. And I stood there so shocked I didn’t even have the presence of mind to lower the gun. So when it did decide to go off, if you hadn’t pulled my arm down, I still would have killed him.” Adam bit off each word, full of self-recrimination.
“Yeah, probably, but you didn’t. And I imagine if his hair wasn’t already white, looking down the barrel of that gun might have given him a few more white ones. But, Adam, you didn’t and that is all that matters.”
“This isn’t something I can pass off lightly, Joe.”
“And I ain’t sayin’ you should, Adam, but I don’t think beatin’ yourself up over it is gonna do you any good either. Maybe you should just look at it as what it was: a close call, a near miss.”
Adam snorted under his breath. So like Joe to simply pass something off so cavalierly, he thought. “I am not beating myself up over it,” he hissed through clenched teeth.
“Then just what is it you are doing?” Joe quizzed, finally coming to stand next to Adam and gesturing at the empty shell casings at their feet. “Target practice? At what? Don’t see a thing out there on the lake to aim at.”
Adam gave his brother a long stare out of the corner of his eye. He was right, Adam knew. He hadn’t been shooting at anything in particular. His hand once again caressed the revolver’s butt. “I had to know. Every day when we leave the house, we strap these things on and trust our lives to them. Them and our reflexes.”
“Yeah, so what?” Joe replied, crossing his arms over his chest as they both stood looking out over the flat turquoise of the lake.
“Both of them failed me last night, Joe. The gun that today and every other time I have used it has never misfired. Never once has it failed me. And if that isn’t enough, my reflexes, as good or better than any man alive I know, failed as well. And as a result, I damn near killed our father!” Adam’s voice had continued to rise in volume until at the end, he was shouting, his face red with self-anger as he finally faced his brother.
Joe remained silent in the wake of the unexpected tirade.
“I almost killed Pa! Can’t you understand that?” Adam shouted again. “If you hadn’t been there, if you hadn’t of reacted as fast as you did, I would have shot him. For God’s sake, can’t you understand that?”
Slowly Joe let his eyes focus on Adam. “Nope! I’ll tell you what I do understand, though. Every time you talk about this, I hear the same two words. ‘Almost’. And ‘God’. Did it ever occur to you, Adam Cartwright, that what you got last night was a lesson from the Man upstairs?”
Adam snorted derisively and stepped away and up the slope from Joe. Everything about his person at that point in time spoke one word: disbelief.
“We ain’t gods, Adam,” Joe continued, and heard his brother’s steps falter. “We’re men and every once in a while, men make mistakes. Even you, Adam Cartwright. That’s where God steps in and makes sure that things go the way He has ’em planned. That’s what happened last night. Whether you want to believe it or not, that’s what happened, Adam. You almost shot Pa but thank God, you didn’t. And I would think you would be standing here thanking God just for that instead of filling up your craw with self-blame.”
“You don’t understand,” Adam spoke, spacing his words evenly as he tried to keep his temper.
“You’re right,” Joe admitted and tucked his thumbs into the back of his belt. For several long moments, neither spoke and Adam simply stared at Joe’s back. Finally Joe turned to face Adam, “I don’t understand and you don’t either, Adam. ‘Cause let me fill you in on a little secret: I never saw Pa until after the gun went off.”
“But you grabbed at my arm. You hollered at me! You had to have seen him!”
Joe shook his head no. Cocking his head to one side, he looked up into Adam’s sun-washed face and saw the disbelief there.” That may be but it wasn’t because of what I saw. I couldn’t see anything. You were in my line of sight. Do you remember what was happening just before you whirled and fired? I do. I was leaning over, winded from fighting with that guy. You were over there beside me and had put your hand on my back to steady me. When you whirled, I was still leaning towards you and nearly got clipped by your gun when you brought it up. I put my hand out to catch myself, Adam, not to stop you from pullin’ the trigger again. Now you want to tell me that God didn’t have a hand in that last night?”
Adam studied Joe’s face, looking for any particle of Joe coloring the story. He wouldn’t have told me if it weren’t the truth. So for now… Adam turned from his brother and continued back up the slope to where his horse now grazed with his brother’s pinto.
Joe threw his head back and looked into the blue cloudless sky. Guess I got to do it for both of us, he thought then aloud said “Thanks, God!” He trudged on up and snagging the reins to his horse, swung in one smooth motion into the saddle. Adam, a little slower and more cautious, had checked his cinch then stepped into the stirrup before swinging on to the chestnut stallion.
“Just answer me one thing then, Joe, if you are so sure about God intervening last night.” Adam suggested as they both turned their horses’ heads back towards the Ranch house.
“Sure,” came Joe’s clipped reply.
“If you couldn’t see what was about to happen, why did you shout at me?”
Joe twisted his mouth to one side then bit his lower lip and Adam saw his brother’s shoulders hunch a little. “I, uh, I sort of, uh, well I-” Joe stumbled through the words and started to move a little ahead of Adam, nudging his horse with his heels.
“What?” Adam interrogated.
“I got caught in one of Hop Sing’s mouse traps,” Joe confessed and Adam immediately began to laugh. “You go ahead and laugh,” Joe’s plaintive whine floated back to where Adam still sat.
Smiling, Adam watched his brother ride up towards the road. When did he get so damn smart? He wondered then decided it didn’t matter and nudged Sport to follow Joe and Cochise.
“I’m not laughing, Joe,” Adam replied, trying to keep the mirth from ringing out.
“You are too! You should feel bad about it. Why, my big toe is swollen so bad I may not be able to do chores for a month or more? It’s a wonder I can even keep my boot on, it hurts so bad. And what does my beloved older brother do? He laughs at me! Ought to serve you right…”
Adam just shook his head as Joe rambled on about his injured toe and after the first few words, had actually quit listening. Instead, he stopped his horse and turning, looked back at the lake behind him. The sunlight dazzled the surface, making him squint with its brightness. He let his gaze stay there just a moment before he looked at the single white, puffy cloud in the otherwise blue sky.
“Thank you,” he whispered and turning back around, urged Sport up the slope towards the road and home.
Other Stories by this Author
- Believe (by the Tahoe Ladies)
- Physics 101 (by the Tahoe Ladies)
- Leaves (by the Tahoe Ladies)
- If (by the Tahoe Ladies)
- Kin (by the Tahoe Ladies)