Word Count 1000
“I don’t know what got into him, Roy,” Ben Cartwright shook his head wearily as he and his sons Adam and Hoss followed Sheriff Coffee into the Virginia City Jail.
“You’ve got to catch this sort of thing early, Ben,” Roy snagged the cell keys from their hook. “You know that. If we don’t get through to him now… well, it will only be a matter of time before he’s robbing stages and rustling cattle.”
“Did you really have to put him in that cell?” Hoss, ever the defender of his twelve year old little brother, spoke up.
“He’s got to learn, Hoss. You and Adam never did anything like this when you were his age, you know.” Ben put his hat on Roy’s desk, and began to remove his gunbelt.
While their father was preoccupied, Adam and Hoss looked at each other and smiled clearly communicating the message between them, what Pa didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. The clunk of Ben’s gun against the top of the sheriff’s desk brought them back to the matter at hand in time for Hoss to make a plea for Joe. “But, Pa, it’s not that…”
“Listen, son,” Ben sighed heavily and looked Hoss straight in the eye. “It’s one thing when he’s doing it at home but it’s a whole different story when he’s doing it to other people. It’s for his own good,” he patted his middle son on the back. “He’s got to learn a lesson about honesty and fair play. You of all people should not be trying to defend him in this since he’s always doing it to you.”
“Yes, sir,” Hoss sighed and followed the sheriff, his father and his oldest brother to the cell where his forlorn looking sibling was imprisoned. Little Joe was sitting on the bunk, elbows on his knees with his chin resting on the heels of his hands, eyes counting the number of knotholes in the floorboards. He was a pitiful sight.
Ben cleared his throat and glared at his baby son. “Stand up, Joseph,” he barked, causing his youngest to leap to his feet with a nervous, “Yes, sir, Pa?”
“What do you have to say for yourself, young man?”
The look his father gave Joe could have and should have melted the metal bars that held him prisoner. He gulped. “Well, er, Pa…” he stammered, wringing his hands. “It’s like this…”
“It’s not like anything,” Ben interrupted putting his hands on his gunbelt. “How could you do this to the sheriff?”
“I’m sorry, Pa.” Joe tried to look contrite. “I’m sorry, Sheriff Coffee. It’ll never happen again.”
Ben wasn’t buying it. He cleared his throat. “Is that another empty promise? Like ‘I won’t steal any more kisses from Mary Beth or Janey or Bonnie Lou’?”
Joe blushed appropriately. “No, sir. I mean it this time.” He smiled and then sobered as he noticed his father did not appear to be amused.
In fact, Ben had now placed his hands on his belt really close to the buckle, a gesture that all of his offspring knew only too well. He studied Joe critically, considering if he did “mean it this time.” He frowned. What was he going to do with this boy? Suddenly it came to him. “Open the cell up, Roy.”
“But, Pa…” Again Hoss was ready to defend his little brother’s hide as Sheriff Coffee moved to comply with Ben’s request.
“Hoss, he has to learn,” Ben said patiently stepping through the now open cell door and catching hold of Joe’s right arm. “He’ll thank me for this someday.”
“But, Pa, I …” Joe, who was definitely sure he wasn’t going to “thank him for this” if “this” was what he thought it was, protested as he was literally dragged by his father out of the cell and through the sheriff’s office.
“No, buts, Joseph,” Ben stopped in front of Roy’s desk. “I’m going to do something I’ve never done before,” he growled and, to Joe’s and for that matter his other sons’ astonishment, plopped him down firmly in the chair facing the sheriff’s desk. “This may be extremely difficult for you but you’re going to sit here and play a game of checkers without cheating.”
Joe looked up at his father in amazement, then noticed the playful glint in his eye. Hoss heaved a very loud sigh of relief and Adam covered his mouth with his hand to conceal a chuckle.
“Red or black?” the sheriff sat down in his desk chair and fixed the boy with a glare that really didn’t hide the merriment in his own eyes.
“Red,” Joe grinned, “…Er, please,” he added quickly and sank back in his chair overjoyed that he was still able to sit with what had just transpired.
The whole family laughed and settled down to watch the youngest trounce the sheriff 3 games to 2, no cheating allowed but there may have still been a questionable move or two by the youngest.
“Some habits are just hard to break, don’t you know,” Joe would tell his brother Hoss years later after an impressive 25 game winning streak.
“We should have left you locked up in that dad-burned cell,” Hoss mumbled frowning. “I might win a game and the ladies might be a whole lot safer.”
Joe giggled and put the checkers in the drawer. Whose turn was it for him to kiss this time, anyway? Aah, Annie………..
Some promises are just meant to be broken.