Rating: T WC 6100
Summary: WHI for Death at Dawn
Disclaimer: I do not own Bonanza or the Cartwrights. No copyright infringement is intended on Laurence Moss’ wonderful script for Death at Dawn. All original plot situations are property of the author. This story is for entertainment purposes.
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Farmer Perkins sat in the cell, hoping his boss, Sam Bryant, was going to get him out before dawn. He still couldn’t believe that he’d been found guilty of killing that shop keeper and that he’d been sentenced to hang. The pounding going on outside to build that gallows would hopefully be for nothing.
He heard dainty footsteps passing through the sheriff’s office. Was that the shopkeeper’s wife? If he could get that piece of information to Mr. Bryant, he’d surely go free. There was no way Mr. Bryant would let that mealy-mouthed woman shut down his control of Virginia City.
The sheriff went out back to check on the gallows’ progress. With Mrs. Cameron in his room, there shouldn’t be any trouble beyond an attempted jailbreak. Luckily, he’d deputized the Cartwrights; that didn’t exactly even the odds, but it might make Bryant think twice about trying anything. A bandana-wrapped rock landed near his feet; it contained a note he had to show to Ben’s sons.
Entering his office, he asked, “Where’s your dad? What’s keepin’ him? He should’ve been here a half hour ago.”
“I know. I’m getting worried about him,” said Adam as he paced.
“The judge has prob’ly trapped him into some long-winded discussion of the law or somethin’,” observed Hoss as he moved the pieces around on the checkers board.
“No, not tonight,” replied Joe as he checked his gun.
“I just wanted to make sure this was no crazy man’s idea of a joke,” said the sheriff. “Read that,” he said as he offered the note to Adam.
“Hang Farmer Perkins and we hang Ben Cartwright,” Adam read aloud. Joe and Hoss, not believing their ears, went over to their brother to see the note for themselves. “Set Farmer Perkins free, give him a horse, and a half hour head start, and we’ll send Cartwright back to you.” The sound of Perkins’ laughter could be heard in the office.
“Shut up, Perkins!” ordered the sheriff. “You’ll still hang,” he said as he looked into the cell from the door that separated the cells from the office. “Or will he?” the lawman asked as he shut the door and returned to his deputies. Sitting heavily on the corner of the desk, the sheriff said, “I don’t wanna rub it in, but you boys got us inta this, and if you’ve got any suggestions for getting’ us out.”
“Have you?” asked Adam.
“Just this. Before you three go off half-cocked, let me give ya a little advice.” He paused for a brief second and then went on. “There’s only one sensible way to get out of this mess.”
Adam and his brothers looked at the sheriff. Both Hoss and Joe, extremely worried, hoped the sheriff would suggest going after Bryant. Adam, fearing for his father’s safety in his heart but not showing it on his face, asked, “What’s that?”
“Let Farmer Perkins go.”
Adam shot a brief glance at Joe, who was looking at him for guidance. Hoss took a deep breath and hoped Adam had a solution. “We don’t see it your way, Sheriff,” was Adam’s reply.
Joe left his oldest brother’s side and went to the door of the sheriff’s room. Weakly, he said, “No, we don’t.” He then leaned against the doorframe, hoping for a support he didn’t feel he was getting from his oldest brother.
“All right. You boys think you’re a match fer ole Sam Bryant—one of the toughest, smartest gunmen to shoot up a mining camp?” Joe could only glare at the sheriff. “Him and his men outnumber us five-to-one. He’s got this whole town in his grip they’re so scared of him.”
Joe stepped away from the door and towards the sheriff. He knew action, not words, was needed now. “He got you scared, too, Sheriff?”
“I got just one life, Joe. It’s against my principles to bet it wildly.” Adam felt fear’s icy grip squeeze his heart. Pa had lived his life by a firm set of principles; would he want his sons to treat his life like a chip in a tense game of poker?
The sheriff looked at his deputies and said, “An’ if you boys wanna play games with your father’s life as the prize, you got the authority.” He tapped the star pinned to Joe’s vest for emphasis. Adam took a deep breath and looked at the note again. Hoss glanced at the note in his older brother’s hands and scowled. What would Pa want them to do? Surely he wouldn’t want them to trade his life for a murderer like Perkins. Joe could only glare at the sheriff. “Now let’s see if you can come up with a practical plan,” said the sheriff.
Joe and Hoss both glanced back at the clock ticking on the wall. “We got six hours; we oughtta be able to come up with something,” said Joe.
“Like what?” asked the sheriff with exasperation in his voice.
Adam crossed an arm over his chest in a half hug. His other hand went to his face to wipe the beads of sweat from his upper lip. He knew he was going to have to remain calm and collected even though he wanted to draw his gun, go in the street, and issue a challenge to Bryant. Glancing over at Joe, he knew that his youngest brother was going to be the wild card tonight. Their father’s life might hang on a balance weighted by Joe’s rashness.
Looking over to his older brother, for confirmation, Joe suggested, “A search. Search every house ‘til we find Pa.” Neither of his brothers met his glare.
“How do ya know he’s in town? Mebbe they’ve got him hid in a mine someplace. ‘Sides, we’ve got neither the time nor the men for the search.” Adam glanced at the floor while Hoss began to think.
“Sheriff, let me ask ya something,” said Hoss as he began to pace. “What would happen if we went right ahead with the preparations for the hangin’ jest like nothin’ happened? They never would know whether we got that message or not.”
Joe thought Hoss must be coming up with a plan. Why wasn’t Adam? Why didn’t Adam know what to do?
“They’d just send another messenger,” said Adam.
Joe stole a glance at his oldest brother. Was he shooting down Hoss’ idea before he heard it?
“That’s right,” said Hoss, “and we’d be waitin’ for him.”
With excitement, Joe said, “And we’d jump him.” He was grateful that Hoss at least was thinking.
Adam looked over at Joe in disbelief. Did his younger brothers think Bryant was going to make things easy for them?
“No,” replied Hoss, “we’d follow him. We’d follow him right to where they’re holdin’ our Pa.”
The sheriff had been looking between the brothers and noticed that none of them looked sure of what should be done. Hearing Hoss’ plan, he said, “Now that’s the first good suggestion I’ve heard tonight.” He got up from the desk and went to grab his coat. “Adam, you stay here. I’ll take the boys. Stake ‘em out so we can keep an eye on anybody that might come around.” As the three men exited from the office, Adam was left alone with his thoughts.
Stepping into the street, the sheriff greeted the armed men near the office. “Howdy, Doc.”
“There’s some of us you can count on, Sheriff,” replied the doctor. “We’re spotted around, watching the jail, in case Sam Bryant and his men try to rush it.”
Joe and Hoss looked over the men. These were friends and fellow law-abiding citizens of Virginia City. Would they support their plan to get their father back from Bryant?
“Well, that’s not Sam Bryant’s way of thinkin’ but I’m much obliged to ya anyway,” the sheriff told the doctor. Hoss and Joe looked at the sheriff in surprise. Why wouldn’t Bryant and his men try to shoot their way in to free Perkins?
“All right,” replied the doctor with a nod.
As the physician turned to leave, the sheriff said, “Hey, Doc?”
“We’re expectin’ a caller. Don’t stop him, just keep outta sight.”
“We’ll do that,” reassured the doctor as he walked away. Joe took a deep breath and hoped the plan was going to work.
“Hoss, go over there by those stairs,” ordered the sheriff with a jerk of his thumb to the area he wanted the man to cover. “Joe, go back there in the alley. Keep yer eyes sharp.” The sheriff crossed the street to hide in the shadows, Hoss settled in under the stairs, and Joe hid behind some crates in the alley. Now they’d have to wait for Bryant or one of his men to appear.
While the sheriff and his brothers waited in the shadows, Adam paced the office. Would Pa want them to trade his life for Perkins’? Was the life of a cold-blooded murderer truly equal to that of an upright, moral man? What if they released Perkins and Bryant killed Pa anyway? He took a deep breath and tried to let it out slowly and evenly to clear his head of doubts. He’d seen Pa make what seemed risky gambles many times and come out the winner. How could he ever forget Pa’s gamble of giving into Drummond’s demand to sign over a portion of the Ponderosa in exchange for his own life? Pa had signed that paper with complete confidence that Drummond would keep his word and honor their agreement. There may be honor among thieves, but Sam Bryant seemed to only honor his own desires.
Adam’s pacing was interrupted by Beth Cameron. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with the sheriff. I’m so sorry your father has been taken to force you to free Perkins.”
He placed his hands on her shoulders and said, “Thank you. We’ll find a way to get our father back.”
Looking at the floor, she said, “I’ll understand if you decide to let Perkins go. Two men shouldn’t have to die because Bryant is a bully.”
Adam felt as if he’d been punched in the gut. How could he, his brothers, and the sheriff even think about letting Perkins go? Freeing Perkins would be an injustice to Mr. Cameron and his widow. The whole town would know that Bryant truly could get away with murder; no judge or lawman could stop him.
With a squeeze to Mrs. Cameron’s shoulders, he said, “Perkins is going to hang as scheduled. You should try to get some sleep.”
Softly, she said, “Thank you, Adam. Your father should be proud of you.” She then slowly returned to the sheriff’s small room.
Outside, the sheriff and his deputies saw a man sauntering confidently up the sidewalk toward the jail. He casually looked around but didn’t appear nervous to be a plain target. Stepping onto the porch of the sheriff’s office, he withdrew a note from his vest pocket; with the butt of his gun, he tacked it to the door and quickly left. He hid in the shadows to make sure the note was retrieved.
Hearing the knock, Adam quickly went to the door with his gun drawn. Warily stepping onto the porch, he looked up and down the street; not seeing anyone, he turned to go back inside. Noticing the note, he plucked it from the door and returned inside.
Seeing his mission accomplished, Bryant’s man headed to tell his boss he’d followed the instructions. The sheriff, Hoss, and Joe quickly left their hiding places to follow the man to Bryant’s lair. In the dark, Hoss bumped into a small keg outside of the mercantile. Bryant’s man, alerted by the noise, nervously looked back. Realizing he was being followed, the man tried to calmly continue his progress down the sidewalk.
Noticing the man resuming his pace, Joe eagerly nudged the sheriff and said, “Let’s go.”
“I’m still the sheriff here,” the lawman replied as he gently pushed Joe back into the shadows. The sheriff then quickly headed down the sidewalk after Bryant’s man.
Reaching an alley, the man glanced back and then ran into the darkness to lie in wait. Seeing his quarry disappear, the sheriff raced down the sidewalk in pursuit. Stopping in the shadows at the alley, the sheriff peered around the corner of the barbershop. Not seeing his man, the sheriff drew his gun and stepped into the alley; the man stepped from the shadows and shot the sheriff.
Unable to stay where told, Joe had been following the lawman. Hearing the shot, he drew his gun and raced in the direction of the sound. Reaching the barbershop, he caught a glimpse of the man and dropped into a roll as a shot was fired at him. He then quickly emptied his gun, firing at the man, fanning the hammer of his pistol. The man dropped to the ground, dead.
Hoss, gun drawn for trouble, came tearing around the corner as Joe fired his pistol. Seeing the dead man, he said, “We sure needed that one alive.”
“Well, there was nothing I could do, not if I wanted to stay alive myself.”
They turned their attention to the sheriff. Realizing he was alive, Hoss sent Joe for the doctor while he carried the wounded lawman to the doctor’s house.
Hearing the shots, Adam wanted to rush from the office and to his brothers’ assistance; that, though, would leave Mrs. Cameron unprotected and possibly allow someone to help Perkins escape. All he could do was wait patiently until the sheriff and his brothers returned.
Mrs. Cameron heard the shots and tried to look out the small window. She couldn’t see anything in the darkness, but hoped Bryant’s men weren’t trying to set Perkins free. Returning her attention to the Bible she had removed from the nightstand, she took small comfort in the familiar words of Matthew—“Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth”—and didn’t bother to finish the verse.
After delivering the sheriff to the doctor, Hoss and Joe returned to the office. Glancing at the clock, Hoss noted that the time was 2:00. All they had left was three hours, three short hours, until the hanging. Now that they had killed one of Bryant’s men, Pa was probably going to hang for sure.
“I sure hope the sheriff makes it,” observed Adam to no one in particular.
“The doctor’s doin’ everything he can for him, Adam. Besides, it’s our Pa we oughtta be worried about.”
“Well, we’ve already tried one scheme and all we did was kill the messenger that might’ve led us back to him,” replied Adam.
“You talk like we might as well give up. What are you figurin’ on doin’—just sittin’ there?” Hoss was annoyed that he and Joe had tried to follow Bryant’s man while Adam now sat there on the sheriff’s desk and criticized.
“Well now, if you’ve got any ideas, I’d like to hear ‘em.” Adam was trying to keep a tight rein on his temper. Didn’t his brothers understand that the future of their family, and Virginia City, rested in their actions in the next three hours?
Joe had been pacing but now confronted his oldest brother. “Well I’m with Hoss; we gotta do somethin’.”
“But just exactly what?”
Hoss’ temper was rising, too. “Well, we could at least go around to the saloons and see if we couldn’t pick up somethin’.”
“Look, Sam Bryant’s got his spies all over the place. You’ll only pick up what he wants you to pick up.” How could he make his brothers understand that Bryant wasn’t going to make things easy for them? Not when his power had been challenged this way.
“You sure think he’s smart, don’t ya?” said Hoss in disbelief.
“Yes I do because he is!” said Adam. Hoss looked at the floor and Joe stopped his pacing. Bryant wasn’t some petty criminal who just ordered people around. He was a smart man who knew how to hold a town under his thumb through terror and bullying tactics.
Adam took a deep breath to calm himself. Then he said, “I’m beginning to feel the key lies in Bryant’s mind.”
“Whaddya mean?” asked Joe. He was interested but wanted to physically do something to get Pa back. Sitting around talking wasn’t going to find their father.
“A couple of hours ago when the sheriff was all set to let Farmer Perkins go, you were both against it. Now do you still hold to that?”
Hoss and Joe exchanged an uneasy glance. “Well Adam, that was a couple of hours ago. We still thought we could find Pa by now.”
“And now you’re not so sure,” observed Adam.
Joe felt his temper beginning to increase from an ember to a flame. All it needed was more fuel to become a fire. “Well you’re not makin’ it any easier the way you’re goin’ about it.”
Adam felt his own temper beginning to flare. “Look—all I asked was if you’re still intent on hanging Farmer Perkins.”
“I don’t know!” said Joe angrily. “I don’t wanna stand here and play question and answer games! They got my father out there and they threatened to kill him!” That calm look on Adam’s face only added fuel to Joe’s temper. “Maybe you forgot that, Brother, but I haven’t!”
Hoss decided to intervene. “Joe, I feel the same about way it you do; I done tole ya that. But Pa sure wouldn’t want us all fightin’ among ourselves.”
Joe glared at Adam and said, “Right. Then let him start makin’ sense.”
Adam glared back. “Well, if you give me a chance, maybe I will.” Both men took deep breaths and Joe began to pace again. “Now look at it this way—what would Bryant do if, say come dawn, we simply went ahead and hung Farmer Perkins?”
Joe turned to face his oldest brother again and his eyes narrowed as the small flame of his temper was stoked. “Regardless of what Sam Bryant said he’d do to our Pa?”
With a slow nod, Adam replied, “Regardless.”
The temper’s flame began to catch the kindling that it rested upon. Joe took a step forward and asked, “And what would you do if you were wrong, Adam?” Realizing the dangerousness of Adam’s thinking, Hoss looked at his older brother in wary anger. Joe asked, “Would you go out to my father’s grave and say I’m sorry, Pa, I made a big mistake?!?”
Trying to remain calm, Adam replied evenly, “Joe, he’s my father, too.” Joe could only glare at a brother who was willing to sacrifice his father.
Taking a breath as he rose from the desk, Adam squeezed each brother’s shoulder as he passed between them. “Look, if we let Farmer Perkins go then Sam Bryant has proved that you can get away with murder in this town. And he’ll have no qualms about goin’ ahead and hangin’ Pa anyway.”
“You still haven’t told me how you’re gonna get Pa away from him,” replied Joe.
Adam looked at his youngest brother and continued, “On the other hand, we go ahead and hang Farmer Perkins and we show that we punish murderers. Sam Bryant’ll see that his only chance will be to let Pa go.”
Joe couldn’t believe his ears. When had bargaining with a criminal ever worked? “Oh come on, Adam! First, ya stand there and tell me how smart Sam Bryant is and then you say he’s gonna back down. He’s never been afraid of the law in this town!”
“No, but he’s never been charged with murder either. Once Sam Bryant knows he’s facin’ a murder charge, I figure he’ll be smart enough to back down.” Adam then passed between his brothers again and sat on the desk. “And that’s why we gotta go ahead and hang Farmer Perkins.”
Joe looked to Hoss for guidance but his older brother only looked at the floor. He noticed that Hoss looked torn between him and Adam. If he could convince Hoss to see the situation his way, they could follow their course of action whether or not Adam agreed. Softly, and calmly, Joe said, “I’m sorry, Adam, I can’t go along with it. It’s too big a gamble.”
Hoss looked at his older brother and said, “Adam, you go right ahead thinkin’ like that if you want to, but you’re gonna have to do it alone. We’re gonna go find Pa.” With a pat for his younger brother, he said, “Come on, Joe,” and they headed for the door.
Adam had gambled and lost; his brothers had no confidence in his plan. Before his brothers could reach the door, he said, “I saw plenty of bullies like Sam Bryant on the way out here as a boy. It was always the same—they did what they wanted because people always backed down and gave in. Mama was killed because everyone in the wagon train tried to protect a man who wasn’t worth it. If they had….”
Hoss’ temper finally burst into flame. “Don’t you bring my mother into this!” he said with a jab to Adam’s chest. “You can’t compare a wagon train trying to defend itself from attacking Indians to Sam Bryant. My mother died trying to give me a future. You’ve let that badge go to your head and you think that fancy education of yours can make you outsmart another smart man. I ain’t gonna let you gamble Pa’s life away to prove that you’re smarter than everyone else!”
Adam put a hand against Hoss’ chest to brace himself so he could punch his brother. A glance past him by Hoss made Adam turn his head, but before he could look behind him, he saw an explosion that was followed by intense pain.
Joe put his gun back in its holster as Adam crumpled to the floor. He hadn’t wanted to hurt his brother, but he wasn’t going to let Pa’s life be tossed away because Adam thought he knew everything. “Put him in the other cell,” he told Hoss.
“His head’s bleedin’,” said Hoss as he slung Adam over his shoulder. No matter, they’d take him to the doc’s after they got Pa back.
Reaching the cells, Hoss glared at a laughing Farmer Perkins. “Took him bad-mouthin’ your mama to make you see that lettin’ me go is the only way to get your daddy back.”
“Shut up!” said Hoss with a glower. “You ain’t got nothin’ to do with this.”
“But I got everythin’ to do with this. If your brother wasn’t so dead set for hangin’ me, ole Sam wouldn’t be holdin’ your daddy.”
Hoss got Adam settled on the bunk in the other cell. He tucked the blanket around his brother’s still form. Hopefully, this nightmare would be over soon and Pa would be pleased that he and Joe and made the right decision. He came through the office and said, “I’m goin’ over to the saloon to announce a trade. I’ll be back.”
Beth had been peeking through the cracked door when Joe hit Adam with his gun. Seeing the youngest Cartwright alone, she came out of her room. “Joe, you can’t trade Perkins for your father. Perkins isn’t worth it.”
“My Pa’s life is worth the trade.”
“By letting Perkins out of this jail, you’re saying that my husband’s life was worth less than his!” She angrily pointed towards the cells to emphasize her point.
“What do you want me to do?!? Let my father die? You’ve already paid the price for standing up to Bryant. No one else should have to pay that.”
Perkins’ laughter could be heard from the cell. “Your father insisted that I testify in order to bring that man to justice. Now you’re saying justice doesn’t matter. Hanging Perkins won’t bring my husband back and letting him go won’t either.” She took a deep breath and wrung her hands. Softly, she added, “Your father said if I didn’t testify, then my husband died for nothing.”
Hoss returned to the office fifteen minutes later and announced, “Trade’s to take place on Main Street at 4:00.” Looking at the clock, Joe noted that the time was 3:50. Reaching for a pair of cuffs, Hoss said, “We’d better get Perkins ready.”
Beth returned to the sheriff’s room and sat on the bed. The Cartwrights were some of the most upstanding citizens in the territory. How could Ben’s sons support Sam Bryant this way? The message would be loud and clear that he ran Virginia City any way he pleased. She couldn’t allow her husband’s death to go unavenged.
Peeking through the cracked door, she saw Hoss and Joe escort a handcuffed Perkins out. She quietly went to the cells and checked on Adam; he was still unconscious and there was blood on the pillow. She felt torn between getting the doctor and preventing the trade; her need for vengeance won out and she returned to the sheriff’s room.
Hearing the office door open slowly, her heart leapt into her throat. Slow, quiet steps could be heard heading for the sheriff’s room. She stood as flat as she could between the wall and the door so as not to be seen. The toe of a boot entered her field of vision and she held her breath. The boot retreated and she could hear the sound of steps going to the cells.
“Well, what do we have here?” asked a masculine voice. She could hear the sound of dragging and assumed that Adam was being removed from the cell and office. Joe and Hoss had made a poor gamble, indeed.
She peeked into the office from her hiding place and saw no one else around. Crossing to the rifle rack, she selected a gun and checked to see if it was loaded; luckily it was. Going to the office door, she steeled her courage to do what she knew had to be done.
Out on Main Street, Hoss and Joe stood on either side of Perkins, who was happily humming to himself. “It shouldn’t be long now,” said Hoss to no one in particular.
Since word had spread quickly about the exchange, the sidewalks were lined with armed men; one side for Bryant’s, the other for Virginia City’s citizens. Watches and guns were checked as everyone waited.
Bryant stepped from the shadows leading several of his men; Ben was being shoved along by several underlings. Here was his opportunity to prove that no citizen, lawman, or judge could break his hold on Virginia City. The town would be his like a beautiful woman—only those he deemed worthy would be allowed to get to know her charms. He would control all business transactions and could now expand his power to encompass the mines and surrounding ranches. All would come to see him as a benevolent protector, unless he was crossed.
“How are you, Pa?” yelled out Joe.
“I’m okay, Son. Where’s Adam?”
“He’s back at the office,” said Hoss. He thought that really wasn’t a lie since they had left him in a cell.
“No he ain’t,” a voice yelled out. Two of Bryant’s men came forward supporting Adam between them. One had the barrel of his pistol pressed under Adam’s jaw; the exchange would go smoothly with a Cartwright for a hostage.
Adam was having a hard time seeing clearly in the dim light, especially since he was seeing double. His hands were cuffed behind his back and if it weren’t for the support of the two men, he doubted he could stand on his own. The bandana tied around his mouth assured that he couldn’t make an attempt to talk his brothers out of this exchange.
Joe was stunned to see Adam being held by Bryant’s men. He hadn’t thought that his oldest brother would be used as a bargaining chip. Instead, he thought that Bryant would keep his word and trade Pa for Perkins. That was what he wanted, wasn’t it?
Hoss now regretted overpowering Adam with violence. If they hadn’t hit him upside the head, Bryant’s men wouldn’t be using him to make sure their boss got whatever he wanted. He hadn’t thought that Bryant would stack the deck in his favor. Even the sheriff had said that the only way to get Pa back would be to let Perkins go; now Hoss wasn’t so sure.
Ben couldn’t believe that his sons were trading Perkins for him. Beth Cameron had risked her life to testify against her husband’s killer and this was how she was repaid for her courage? More shocking was seeing Adam being used to up the ante. His sons had obviously disagreed on what to do when they learned that he was in Bryant’s clutches. How could they turn against each other? Didn’t Hoss and Joe understand that there could only be justice if the law was followed?
Bryant bellowed out, “We’ll go forward with the exchange when everyone drops their guns. I wouldn’t want Ben here to get hurt because someone had an itchy trigger finger.” Hearing grumbling from both sides of the street, Bryant added, “Go on. Set your guns down. Phil, you keep that gun on Adam Cartwright so everyone will comply with my request.”
Beth was in the shadows behind the mercantile. She couldn’t believe that everyone was obeying Bryant. Even Joe and Hoss had dropped their pistols.
Chuckling, Bryant reached for Ben and drew him forward. “Go ahead to your boys.”
Seeing their father walking forward, Hoss gave Perkins a rough shove to send him over to Bryant. Perkins began laughing with glee.
Beth thought it was now or never. She stepped into the street and raised the rifle. With a cry of “Justice!” she pulled the trigger. All hell broke loose on Virginia City’s main street.
Men on both sides of the street grabbed up their guns and began firing. Adam dropped to the ground and one of his captors fell over him. Joe and Hoss rushed to protect their father who tried to yell over the sound of the guns.
The gunfire only lasted a few seconds, but the sound seemed to echo for minutes. As the smoke cleared, men on both sides of the street were down—the living were writhing in pain. Beth Cameron, Farmer Perkins, and Sam Bryant were all dead. Joe had been grazed along the right arm and Hoss had a bleeding gash along the side of a thigh. Ben was miraculously unscathed.
Helping their father up, he asked, “Where’s Adam? Adam! Go find your brother.” He knew Hoss or Joe would obey him.
Joe ran down the street to where he’d last seen Adam. Seeing that his brother’s body was covered by a corpse, he used his foot to roll the dead man off. Adam was face-down with his hands cuffed behind his back. Kneeling down, Joe noticed dried blood on the back of Adam’s neck; however, there was no fresh blood on his back, arms, or legs. Gently, he rolled his brother so his head was resting in his lap. He lightly slapped Adam’s cheek and was rewarded with a soft moan.
Hoss led Ben to his brothers. Joe looked up, relief written in his eyes. “He’s all right, Pa. He must not have been able to stand unsupported when the shooting began. Should we take him to the doctor?”
Looking around, Ben said, “The doctor is going to be busy enough today. Let’s take him over to the sheriff’s office.” Ben hooked his hands under his eldest’s arms while Joe took his legs; together they carried Adam down the street.
Entering the office, Hoss looked through the desk for the handcuff keys. Finding them, he went back to the cell and unlocked the cuffs; Ben removed them from his son’s hands and then pulled his eldest back so Adam’s head was in his lap. After a tender look for Adam, Ben looked from Hoss to Joe. Breaking the silence, he asked, “Why did you decide to give Perkins to Bryant?”
Joe scuffed a boot on the floor and Hoss jammed his hands into his pockets. Hoss thought it was obvious why they freed Perkins.
With another look to Adam, Ben said, “I take it your brother disagreed with your decision.”
Joe’s eyes flashed as he said, “What were we supposed to do—let you die?!? Bryant said he’d kill you if Perkins was hanged. We made the only decision we could.”
“What about the decision Mr. Cameron made to defy Bryant? He paid the ultimate price for standing by his decision.”
“That’s exactly why we couldn’t chance hanging Perkins, Pa,” said Hoss.
“Look what happened out there—complete lawlessness. If there’s no respect for the law, then people have no respect for each other.”
Joe pleaded, “Pa—Bryant said he was going to kill you. Even the sheriff said we should let Perkins go.”
“I heard gunshots at one point. What happened?”
Hoss answered. “I said we should follow any messengers Bryant sent. The sheriff was followin’ him but must’ve been seen. Joe had to shoot Bryant’s man or get killed himself.”
Ben took a deep breath and looked at the ceiling. A moan from Adam brought his attention back to his younger sons. “Why did Adam want to hang Perkins?”
Joe replied, “He said Bryant would back down when he realized that he would be charged with murder for killing you.”
Ben sighed, relieved to know that Adam had intended to see justice delivered. “Bryant was used to other people doing his killing for him. He would have backed down when he realized that he would be charged with murder. A man who abuses power is only as powerful as his supporters will allow him to be. If they knew Bryant was going to hang, they would have left him like rats on a sinking ship. You boys made a bargain with the devil by giving Perkins back to Bryant.”
Adam moaned and opened his eyes. “Pa?”
Ben looked into his son’s eyes with relief. “You’re all right, Son. It’s all over.”
“Are you okay, Pa?” asked Adam, reaching his hand towards his father’s face.
Ben clasped his son’s hand tightly and said, “I’m fine, Son. Bryant didn’t hurt me.”
“There was gunfire…”
“That’s over now.”
“Hmph,” was Adam’s only response.
“We’re sorry for not trusting your judgment,” said Hoss.
“We should have listened to you,” said Joe weakly.
“Nice to hear every once in a while,” answered Adam.
“Do you feel up to going home?” Ben asked his eldest.
“As long as I don’t have to ride or drive. There’s two of everyone.”
Hoss and Ben helped Adam to stand. “Go rent a buggy, Joseph.”
Joe started out but stopped to look back. “We couldn’t risk losing you, Pa.”
“I know, Son,” was Ben’s soft response. “Let’s go home.”
Other Stories by this Author
- Principium (by Patina)
- Respect (by Patina)
- Seeds of Doubt (by Patina)
- Under Mesmer’s Spell (by Patina)
- Hoedown Showdown (by Patina)