Word Count: 3500
Hoss Cartwright pushed through the doors of the saloon and plowed his way to the bar, his brothers following close behind. It was Saturday night and the Bucket of Blood was at its noisiest.
Little Joe grinned. “It sure is rowdy tonight!” he exclaimed, having to raise his voice to be heard above the throng.
“Sure is,” Adam agreed, sidestepping a drunken cowboy who’d slipped from his chair. His friends were either too drunk to notice or just didn’t care so Adam hauled the boy up from the ground and deposited him back in his chair, plunking his hat back on his head.
Joe looked on with amusement while Hoss tried to find a spot at the crowded bar. Holding up his hand, he signaled Sam for three beers.
“You sure you boys don’t want to go to the Silver Dollar?” Adam asked, already knowing the answer. Nothing was gonna lure his brothers away from this boisterous crowd.
Little Joe lifted his brows in disbelief. “Yer kiddin’, right?”
“Yeah, what’sa matter with you, Adam? You gettin’ old or somethin’?” Hoss teased, a smile on his face.
Adam shook his head in amusement and angled up to the bar, gratefully drinking down the beer Hoss pushed in front of him.
Not to be out done, Hoss and Joe traded a smile and drained their own glasses. “There’s nothin’ like a beer to quench a man’s thirst!” Hoss declared in satisfaction as he signaled Sam for three more.
Little Joe wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and pushed away from the bar. “You said it, brother…and now…if you fellas will excuse me…there’s one whale of a poker game goin’ on and I am to get in on it.” It was the first of the month, his pockets were full, and he was feeling lucky.
“Hey!” Hoss called, waving him back. “Don’tcha want this?”
With a grin, Little Joe came back for his beer, and then hurried off with a gleam in his eye. Adam sipped his own beer thoughtfully as he watched him work his way through the crowd. “Pa’s gonna blow his top, if he loses his pay again.”
“Yeah,” Hoss said, thinking on it. “That’ll make for a downright unpleasant breakfast, won’t it?” Adam chuckled into his beer. Leave it to Hoss to think of his stomach.
Hoss shrugged. No sense worrying about it, he was out to have a good time tonight too. Draining his beer, he slapped Adam on the back and headed for the arm wrestling match going on at the other end of the bar. “I’ll see ya, Adam…Big Mike’s takin’ on all comers and I aim to be the one to take him down.”
Leaning sideways with an elbow propped on the bar, Adam surveyed the crowd. It wasn’t long before Nannette came over and slipped an arm around his waist. “Hello, Adam. I was hoping you’d come in tonight; I’ve missed our…ah…talks.” she said with a soft smile.
Adam put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a quick hug. He liked Nannette. Aside from being an attractive young lady, she was witty and charming. “I’ve missed you too” he said with a slow smile. He was tempted to disappear for awhile, but thought better of it. Knowing his brothers, they’d probably get into trouble and he’d be the one having to do some fancy explaining.
“I could fix that,” she said with a sparkle in her eye.
“I’m sure you could,” he replied, his own eyes twinkling. “Unfortunately, I’m on big brother duty tonight.”
“Adam!” she exclaimed. “Little Joe is nineteen and Hoss is in his twenties, not to mention he’s bigger than you and strong as an ox.”
“I know…I know,” he replied, “and ordinarily I’d agree with you, but with a crowd like this, I think I better keep an eye on things.”
Nanette smiled in understanding. “It sure is a rough crowd,” she agreed, letting her gaze travel around the saloon. She frowned when she spotted Little Joe at the poker table. “Adam? Do you see that man in the silver vest? The one sitting across from Joe at the poker table?” she asked with apprehension.
“Yeah,” he replied, looking at the man intently.
“His name is Mr. Sloane…Sam thinks he’s a card shark…he’s pretty sure he’s dealing from the bottom of the deck but hasn’t been able to catch him at it yet.”
Adam’s eyes narrowed. Sooner or later there was gonna be some gunplay and Little Joe was gonna be in the thick of it if he didn’t get him out of there. It wasn’t gonna be easy though, from the looks of it he was on a winning streak. Adam took a deep breath. “Thanks for the tip, Nannette; I appreciate it,” he said giving her a quick peck on the cheek.”
Little Joe looked up from his hand and saw Adam making his way over to him. He noted the serious expression and the tightly clenched jaw and his own back stiffened. Pa had given him a stiff lecture about gambling and he figured Adam was coming over to check on him like some wet behind the ears kid!
“Adam,” Joe said with a curt nod. “You plannin’ on joining’ us?”
Adam groaned inwardly at his brother’s tone, but kept his own voice even. “Uh no, as a matter of fact, I was hoping you’d join me for a drink,” he said with an ever so slight, but meaningful jerk of his head.
Little Joe caught on but chose to ignore it. “I’d love to, big brother, just as soon as my luck runs out,” he said in a seemingly pleasant tone of voice, as he pulled his winnings from the center of the table.
“Don’t you think it would be better to quit while you’re ahead?” Adam suggested, his tone leaving no doubt he expected to be obeyed.
Joe bristled. “No, as a matter of fact I don’t!” he snapped. He was nineteen-years-old and didn’t need a babysitter!
“Fine,” Adam replied, hanging on to his temper. “But if you don’t mind, I’d appreciate a word with you.” He placed a firm hand on his brother’s shoulder and waited, coolly returning Sloane’s interested gaze. He didn’t care what Sloane, or anybody else thought, so long as he got Joe out of there.
Joe pushed away from the table and stalked a few steps away. “Look, Adam! I don’t want to stand here and have an argument in the middle of the saloon!”
“Good, then we agree,” Adam said calmly, just before he clipped Joe on the jaw and hoisted him over his shoulder. Returning to the table, he collected his brother’s winnings and nodded pleasantly to the men at the table. “He changed his mind,” he stated in explanation, “we’re gonna have that drink after all.”
Hoss watched in wide eyed amusement as he caught sight of Adam making his way to the bar with Little Joe slung over his shoulder. Now what? He wondered just before overpowering Big Mike with a sudden burst of strength. Smiling, he gave him a pat on the back and then turned and gleefully rubbed his hands together. Two newcomers in town had bet against him and it was time to collect. “Thanks, fellas,” he said taking the money they begrudgingly handed over. Shrugging at their unfriendliness, Hoss went in pursuit of his brothers.
“Doggone you, Adam!” Little Joe was saying as he arrived. “You had no call to do that!”
“Hey what’s goin’ on?” Hoss asked, interrupting his brother’s tirade.
Adam glanced at Hoss, not the least bit ruffled by Little Joe’s outburst. “Baby brother here got mixed up in a crooked card game but refused to get out gracefully,” he explained glancing at Joe, “so I was forced to take matters into my own hands.”
Little Joe shot Adam a doubtful look. “Oh come on. Adam! Sloane’s no card shark; he’s just…” he began but got no further; the sudden crack of a gun shot interrupting him. Dropping to the ground in quick reaction, they escaped out the door as more shots were fired.
Outside and away from trouble, Adam turned and faced his brothers, his arms folded across his chest. Quirking a brow at Little Joe, he waited with a smug smile on his face, while Hoss watched in amusement. Joe pushed his hat back and shrugged his shoulders, giving Adam a sheepish grin. “Sorry Adam…I…uh…guess you were right.”
Adam gave a slow nod, his smug smile replaced with an affectionate one. “Thanks, but how ‘bout trusting me next time, all right?”
Joe rubbed his sore jaw in regret. “Yeah, I guess I better; you got a mean right hook older brother.”
Hoss chortled, giving Adam a hearty slap on the back. “Well, I guess we’re goin’ to the Silver Dollar after all, huh Adam?”
Hey yeah!” Joe chimed in, before Adam could answer. “No sense letting that tinhorn gambler ruin our whole night.” With a yank on Hoss’ arm, the two of them set off toward the saloon, leaving Adam no choice but to follow. Chancing a look back, Hoss caught the grin on Adam’s face and relaxed, glad he was agreeable. Adam shook his head. He didn’t know why his brothers always assumed he wanted to spoil their fun; he enjoyed a night out just as much as they did, he just wasn’t stupid about it.
The Silver Dollar was a lively place but no where near as rowdy as the Bucket of Blood. It smelled a might better too, Adam noted. Taking a bottle and three glasses from Cosmo, he made his way to the table where his brothers already sat. Pouring them all a shot, he raised his glass and smiled, downing it in one gulp. Hoss and Little Joe gamely did the same.
“Thanks, Adam,” Hoss said in contentment as the warmth spread down to his toes.
“Don’t thank me, thank Joe.” Adam said with a grin.
Joe shot Adam a questioning look. “Huh?”
“Your winnings,” Adam replied simply.
“Oh,” he said flatly. With a doleful expression, he wondered if Adam would give him the rest.
Adam’s grin widened at the expression on Joe’s face. Deciding to put him out of his misery, he tossed the remainder of his winnings on the table. “It’s all yours, Joe, but if you’re smart you’ll steer clear of the poker games,” he said unable to resist a little brotherly advice.
Little Joe pocketed the money with a twinkle in his eye. “Don’t worry, Adam, poker isn’t the only thing that attracts my attention,” he declared, letting his gaze settle on the pretty girl eyeing him from the bar.
Adam and Hoss followed their brother’s gaze. Spotting the girl, they smiled at each other, not the least bit surprised. Maybe I oughta rustle me up a pretty little filly, Hoss mused, casually glancing around the room for Marge. He liked Marge; she was real nice and not as intimidating as some of them other gals. Unfortunately, his search was brought to a sudden halt by two men with fire in their eyes.
“We got a bone to pick with you,” one of them stated in a menacing tone. Adam and Joe traded confused looks, but Hoss got to his feet, recognizing these two jaspers from the Bucket of Blood. He didn’t know what their problem was, but hoped he could settle it over a glass of whiskey.
“Howdy boys,” he said with a smile. “How ‘bout a drink?”
“Keep it!” the second man spat out. “We came for our money.”
Hoss’ face took on a hard look. He didn’t like what these fellas were implying. “Now look! I won that money fair and square and you know it,” he said firmly, “so I suggest you two get outta here before ya make me mad!”
As Hoss spoke, Adam and Joe slowly eased out of their chairs and casually moved behind the two men. Half drunk and caught up in their own anger, they took no notice; but Hoss did and silently applauded his brothers.
“Yeah, well, we don’t see it that way mister,” the first man said, speaking again. “We think you and Big Mike tricked us into bettin’ against ya.”
“That’s right,” his friend growled. “And we want you to set things straight, right now!” Making a reach for his gun, he came to a sudden stop at the sound of a gun cocking and the feel of a barrel in the small of his back.
“I wouldn’t,” Adam advised in a cold voice.
“That goes for you too, mister,” Little Joe said, his gun pointing at the other man.
“Now wait a minute,” he said, nervously pulling on his neckerchief. “I don’t know who you two are, but—”
“We’re his brothers,” Adam replied calmly, “and we don’t cotton to people calling him a cheat…and neither would a whole lot of other people in this town mister.”
Sobered, the two men exchanged worried glances. They’d gotten drunk and had stupidly lost their money and apparently tangled with the wrong people. Realizing their foolishness, they did some fast talking.
“Yeah, well, we’re sorry mister,” the first man said to Hoss, “it appears we made a mistake.”
Hoss gave the men an appraising look before addressing his brothers. “Whaddya say, brothers; ya think we ought to let them go?”
Adam nodded slowly and put up his gun. “Like the man said, it appears they’ve realized their mistake.”
Joe shrugged and nodded, holstering his own gun. “Guess so.”
With a jerk of his head, Hoss sent them on their way. “Go on, get outta here,” he said, smiling as the men made haste to obey.
Joe shook his head, unsure if they’d done the right thing. “Maybe we should’ve turned them over to Roy; after all, they did make a play for their guns.”
Hoss sat back down at the table and shook his head. “Aw Joe, they was just drunk, and the click of Adam’s gun sobered ‘em up real fast. I don’t think they’ll cause no more trouble.” Pouring himself a drink, he passed the bottle to Adam.
Taking a seat, Adam filled his own glass before passing it on to Joe. “Yeah, they’ll probably hole up someplace till morning,” Adam mused, sipping his whiskey.
Shrugging again, Joe started to pour himself a drink but was halted by a firm grip on his arm. Lifting his head, he found Cosmo giving him and his brothers a hard look. “All right, you three, I want you out of my saloon.”
“But why?” Joe asked, taken completely by surprise, as were his brothers.
“Why?” Cosmo exclaimed. “I’ll tell you why…you almost shot up my saloon a minute ago…that’s why!”
Hoss scrunched up his face in disgust. “Aw, Cosmo! We didn’t do no such thing!”
Refusing to be swayed, Cosmo pointed a finger to the door. “You drew your guns and that’s close enough…now get…before I get Sheriff Coffee.”
Seeing it was pointless to argue, Adam angrily pushed away from the table and stalked out the door, his brothers hot on his heels.
“How do ya like that!” Joe exclaimed, slapping his hat against his thigh. “A couple of drunks try to draw down on Hoss and we’re the ones that get thrown out!”
“Yeah!” Hoss exclaimed, his temper flaring.
“Forget it, you two; there’s no point in stewing.” Adam reasoned; his own anger replaced with resignation. “Why don’t we just head home?”
Hoss gave a half-hearted nod. “I s’pose you’re right,” he said unhappily.
“Aw c’mon…the nights still young…why don’t we check out the Sazerack?” Joe said, giving his brothers a hopeful look. It was the first time in weeks they’d made it to town on a Saturday night and he wasn’t about to cut it short.
Hoss eyed Adam trying to get a read on his older brother. He’d back Adam up if he still wanted to head for home, but to be honest, he felt like checking out the Sazerack too.
“All right,” Adam said seeing he was outnumbered, “but this is out last stop.”
“Sure, Adam; whatever you say,” Joe said with a grin as they started up the street.
Rounding the corner, Sheriff Coffee smiled in relief when he spotted the Cartwright boys. The saloons were buzzing with a lot of hot-headed talk about some fellas out for revenge and it had him more than a little worried. From what he could gather, the boys had a run-in with a couple of drunks at the Bucket of Blood and apparently all their badmouthing was stirring up a ruckus. Roy figured it would die down come morning but in the mean time he aimed to make sure the boys were safe.
Picking up his pace, he quickly caught up with them. “Evenin’, boys,” he said, greeting them warmly.
“Evening Roy,” Adam replied while his brothers tipped their hats. “Making your rounds?”
“No, as a matter of fact, I was looking for you three,” he replied, filling them in without delay. Listening intently, the boys exchanged grim looks.
“Doggonit!” Joe exclaimed. “I knew we should’ve turned them in.”
Ignoring Joe’s outburst, Adam questioned Roy. “You want us to help you track them down, Roy?”
Roy shook his head. “Nope, I don’t want you boys anywhere near them fellas.”
Adam nodded. “All right then, we’ll just get our horses and clear out.”
Once again Roy shook his head. He knew this next bit of news wasn’t gonna go down easy, but that was just too bad. “No, that’s not exactly what I want ya to do either,” he replied. “I don’t want ya gettin’ bushwhacked between here and the ranch.”
Hoss gave Roy a curious look. “Well what do ya want us to do, Roy?”
The stubborn look in Roy’s eye put Adam on point. He had an inkling of what he was planning and didn’t like it one bit. Folding his arms across his chest, he narrowed his eyes and waited for Roy’s pronouncement.
“Well boys,” the sheriff said firmly, “for your own protection, I’m gonna lock you up till morning.”
“What?” Hoss and Joe exclaimed simultaneously.
“You can’t be serious,” Adam added.
“I couldn’t be more serious; now get going,” Roy said pointing his rifle towards the jail.
“Roy…” Adam began, but got no further.
“Now you listen to me, boy. That wasn’t a request; it was an order,” Roy said sternly, effectively halting his protest, “and if I hear one more word about it, I’ll keep the lot of ya locked up for thirty days and don’t think I won’t!”
Stunned by the turn of events, the three of them exchanged looks, knowing they had no choice but to comply. Roy was not only the sheriff; he was their father’s best friend and deserved their respect.
Rolling his eyes in exasperation, Adam led the way to the sheriff’s office followed by Joe and Hoss with Roy bringing up the rear. He couldn’t help but smile as the boys stalked angrily in front of him.
Safely locked in their cell, Adam and Joe slumped on one cot while Hoss stretched out on the other.
“I can’t believe the string of bad luck we’ve had tonight,” Joe muttered as he shifted uncomfortably on the lumpy mattress.
Putting his hands behind his head, Hoss stared thoughtfully at the ceiling. “I don’t know Joe…the way I see it…we were pretty lucky tonight.”
“You gotta be kidding,” Joe said in disbelief. “Adam, did you hear that?”
“I heard,” Adam answered, casting his middle brother a curious look. “Would you care to elaborate?”
“Well,” Hoss began, voicing his opinion. “The way I figure it…it was just plain lucky you got Joe outta that card game when ya did…and it was just plain lucky those two fellas didn’t pay no attention when you snuck up behind ‘em…and even though we’re a might uncomfortable…it was just plain lucky we ran into Roy and didn’t get blindsided.”
A slow smile spread across Adam’s face as he listened to his brother’s words. “You’re right,” he said marveling at Hoss’ perception, “thanks for reminding us.”
Joe smiled in agreement and took it a step further. “Yeah and when Pa’s yelling at us tomorrow morning for worrying him, we should just consider ourselves lucky that he cares, right?”
Picturing the unpleasant scene, Hoss made a sour face. “Unfortunately, little brother, I think that’s where our luck runs out!”
Chuckling softly, they shared a brotherly look and settled in for the night, each knowing how lucky they truly were.