Blink of an Eye (by Cheaux)

Summary:   A missing scene from Season 7’s “The Fighters” written by Robert L. Goodwin.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  G
Word Count:  792


In “The Fighters,” heavyweight prizefighter Hank Kelly, his manager Ross Dugan, and up-and-coming contender Charlie Powers travel the circuit challenging locals to fights for money.  Powers is looking to raise enough funds to get a match with the current American champion while Hank just wants to earn enough money to buy a chicken ranch in hopes of a better life for himself and his wife Ruby. 

Joe and others persuade Hoss to accept the challenge for the $200 purse.  When Charlie refuses to fight, Hank steps into the ring over the protests of his wife.  Hank proves to be a tough champion and it looks like he will win, but Hoss throws a punch that nearly kills Hank prompting Ruby to call Hoss “an animal.”

At home that evening, with a morose Joe looking on, Ben tries to convince Hoss that he is not to blame for Hank’s condition.  Having said all he can, Ben tells Hoss to go to bed and get some sleep.  As a weary Hoss climbs the stairs, Joe moves up next to Ben and says, “This whole thing started over a silly $200 bet.”  The compassionate gaze Ben cast in Hoss’ direction turns into a hard glare when he shifts his focus to Joe.  And there the scene ends.

Or maybe not—

“This whole thing started over a silly $200 bet,” Joe whispered as he watched Hoss trudge upstairs.  When he turned, he saw the fierce disapproval in his father’s eyes.

“It wasn’t just me, you know,” Joe defended himself.  “There were others who were egging him on as well.  It was just a joke.”

“A joke!  You think what happened is funny?”

“No, Pa.  Of course not.  I mean . . . it just wasn’t meant to turn out this way.  It was all in fun.”

“That’s the trouble with these schemes of yours, son.  They often turn out in a way you don’t expect.”

“We don’t mean them to.”

“Of course not, but Joseph when are you going to learn that people can get hurt?  Remember what happened last year with Bearcat?  Hoss broke the man’s ribs in that wrestling match.  And I’m not talking just about others.”

“What do you mean?”

“Hoss gets hurt, too.”

“A few bruises maybe, but nothing—“

“—but everything,” Ben said, looking Joe in the eye.  “I know Hoss is your big brother and you think he is indestructible.  But inside . . . inside he’s vulnerable.”

“I know.” Joe hung his head and swallowed hard before adding, “I saw what it did to him when Mrs. Kelly called him an animal.”

“Joe!” Ben hissed as he grabbed an elbow and forcibly shoved his son away from the stairs afraid that Hoss would hear.

With a last glance upward over his shoulder, Joe moved into the dining room and sat down in his usual spot.  Almost immediately, Hop Sing appeared with two cups of hot coffee and the pot.

Ben walked behind Joe’s chair and squeezed his son’s neck, lingering a moment before moving on.

“Son, I’m going to ask something of you I haven’t before.”

Joe’s eyebrows knitted together and he waited.

“Normally, it would be Adam to whom Hoss would turn after an incident like this.”

Joe acknowledged the statement with a small nod.  His two older brothers shared an uncanny ability to communicate without words, often just a look passing between them that he didn’t understand.  Probably it had to do with the years they spent together—just the two of them—while Pa was busy eking out living for them and pursuing his dream.

“Adam’s always been there for Hoss; helping him understand what he was feeling and putting things in perspective; helping him cope.”

“What are you asking Pa?”

“Adam’s gone now.  I’m asking you to be the one.”

“The one to what?”

“To listen.  Really listen.  Try to understand what he’s feeling and help him come to terms with it.”

Joe looked doubtful.  “He’ll come to you, Pa.”

A knowing, wistful shadow crossed Ben’s face.  “You would; not Hoss.  Not as a first choice anyway.  It’ll be you to whom he talks . . . if he talks . . . and if he does, I’m asking you to listen carefully and do your best to help him.  Will you do that for me?”

Joe searched his father’s face for some sign that this was a joke, but saw none.  The earnestness of his father’s request hung in the air.  He took a deep breath and nodded his assent even as he wondered how he came to be the older brother in the blink of an eye.

***The End***

December 2013

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