Summary: A Humorous Tale of the Cartwrights
Word Count: 1200
Adam was finding it increasingly difficult to focus on the words in his book. Sleep pulled at him with as much nagging insistence as Hop Sing had ever displayed when dinner was ready for the table but the family was not. Adam’s eyelids were drooping and his shoulders sagging deeper into the red leather chair beside the fireplace. He was just about ready to give in when he heard a horse outside.
“Well, it’s about time,” he muttered to himself, suddenly fully awake.
A few minutes later, his eyes locked on the same page he’d been re-reading over and over again since he’d heard what could only be his wayward younger brother’s return. Adam glimpsed the front door creeping open through his peripheral vision.
“It’s about time,” he repeated loud enough for the newcomer to hear him.
“Adam?” Joe’s voice sounded weak.
Concerned, Adam closed his book and rose, giving Joe his full attention. “What’s wrong?”
“Wrong?” Joe asked wearily. He seemed to be having trouble with the buckle on his gun belt. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m tired.” Placing the belt on the bureau beside the door, he ran a hand through his hair and yawned.
“Joe?” Adam asked warily, approaching his brother with slow, deliberate steps. “What happened?”
“What do you mean ‘what happened?’ Nothing happened. The poker game ran late, that’s all.”
“Um-hmm,” Adam nodded as his gaze slid to the grandfather clock. “It’s nearly two in the morning. What happened?”
“Why do you keep asking me ‘what happened?’ It was just a poker game.”
“No it wasn’t. It’s never ‘just a poker game.’ Something happened. Now out with it.”
“I played poker. I won money. I lost money. I won money again. I lost money again… Adam. It was a poker game. Nothing happened.”
Sighing heavily, Adam placed his book on the bureau beside Joe’s gun belt, and then closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation. A moment later, re-finding his resolve, he crossed his arms in front of him and stared at Joe with all the determination he could muster at two in the morning. Finally, he shook his head slowly from side to side. “That is never going to cut it, and you know it. Something happened. Something had to happen. If nothing happened, there’s no story — and they will never accept that. They expect a story, and it’s up to us to give them one. Now, let’s try this again. What happened?”
Joe’s eyebrow’s shot up in surprise. “Th-they?” He asked. “Who-who are they?”
“You know perfectly well who they are. The readers. The fans. The fanfic folks.”
“Yes, Joe. The fanfic folks.”
“Y-you know about the fanfic folks?”
“Well, I am the reader in the family. As a reader, I see it as my obligation to know what other readers out there are reading. And when they’re reading about us, I happen to take a particular interest. So yes, Joe. I know about the fanfic folks.”
Joe gave him an awkward smile and sagged against the door behind him, seeming defeated, although Adam couldn’t for the life of him figure out why.
“I-I didn’t know you knew.” Joe sounded defensive. “I mean, if I knew you knew, I’d…”
“I-I don’t know. I guess I’d have…played along?”
“Ah-ha!” Adam pointed upward. “Now, tell me, what is it those fanfic folks like to read?”
Another awkward smile had Joe squirming nervously before him. “S-suffering. P-pain. Anguish.”
“Yes, Joe,” Adam nodded. “Suffering, pain and anguish. They want to see us shot, stabbed, beaten to a bloody pulp, and maybe even all at once.”
“Not always,” Joe seemed to gain confidence in a new idea. “They also like humor. Comedy’s good.”
“Why are you still wearing your jacket?” Adam asked then.
“You know. The one you’re always wearing when you get shot, stabbed or beaten to a bloody pulp. How many times have you been shot wearing that, anyway?”
Joe shrugged. “I lost count.”
“Yeah. Me too. Good thing you have a warehouse full of those things. Otherwise, by now, it would be a tattered, blood-stained mess. But look at that. Still looks brand new.” Adam rubbed his fingers across the crisp nubuck leather.
Joe slapped his brother’s hand away from him. “As new as that black shirt you’re wearing.”
“Touché.” Adam smiled.
“So,” Adam went on. “You’re wearing the jacket you always wear when you get…”
“Sh-shot,” Joe interrupted, “stabbed or…or beaten to a bloody pulp. But Adam, can’t we just take one night off? I really am tired.”
“Tired? You can’t get tired! You’re Peter Pan. You’re The Highlander-”
“We’re not supposed to know about The Highlander, Adam.”
“We went off the air long before Duncan McCloud came on. The air, that is.”
“Off the air? Joe, we’ve never been off the air! Not in over fifty years have we been off the air! And for that, we’re even more immortal than Duncan McCloud!”
Joe cocked his head, concerning Adam’s proclamation. Finally, he nodded.
Adam wrapped his arm around Joe’s shoulders. “You and me, we are forever young, and no matter how many times we seem to cheat death, we always come out of it without even a scratch. Do you know why?”
“Because of them.” Adam pointed outward, in an arbitrary direction.
“The-the fanfic folks?”
“You bet. As long as they’re out there, that warehouse will never run out of green jackets, and you, little brother, will always be whole, hale, young and ruggedly handsome. Not quite as ruggedly handsome as your older brother, but ruggedly handsome nonetheless.”
“Hey!” Joe complained. “Who’s the one with all the girlfriends?”
“All the dead or dying girlfriends, you mean?”
Joe shrugged yet again. “Okay. So I’ve had a long string of bad luck…”
“An eternal string, you mean.”
“But that doesn’t change the fact that I am more ruggedly handsome than you.”
“The point is this: They are out there. They expect more from us than a boring, all night poker game. Now what are we going to do about that?”
“S-start over?” Joe’s tone grew weak yet again.
“Exactly! Now, where were we?”
“Y-you were asking me what…what happened.”
“Okay. So, what happened?”
“I-I won,” Joe spat out the words just as he fell into his brother’s arms.
Adam sagged against his brother’s weight, anchoring his feet and wrapping his arms around Joe to keep him from falling to the floor. “Joe!” he cried out, feeling something warm, wet and sticky beneath his fingers. “God, Joe!”
Little Joe had been shot in the back.
“Pa! Hoss!” Adam shouted as he carried Joe to the settee, his own blood running cold…
For the results of the Cartwrights’ efforts to produce a better plot, see the dramatic story, “Loser Takes All”.