The Wrong Side of the Law (K.K. Shaulis)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  G
Word Count:  8100


 

 

Looks like another peaceful afternoon, Adam Cartwright observed yawning as he stepped out of the Virginia City jail into the bright sunlight. Things had been really quiet the last two days. That was all right with him, though. He didn’t mind taking on the sheriffing duty for Roy Coffee but, for the most part, it was a boring job and he really didn’t get a whole lot of sleep during the night there. He would be glad when Roy would get back on the four o’clock stage this afternoon. Then, he could get back to the million little things he had to do for himself like get some rest. Well, time to make a go-round, he decided yawning again. He readjusted his hat on his head, straightened the deputy sheriff’s badge on his vest and pasted a serious look on his face all so that he looked “dangerous.”

 His preparation for looking “dangerous” was all for “naught,” however. No sooner than he stepped off the sidewalk to cross the street, he spied little Miss Joan coming out of the mercantile trying to carry a package that was twice as tall as she was. He chuckled to himself as he approached her. No wonder her nickname’s peanut. He then smiled down at her, tipped his hat politely and came to her rescue, helping her carry the package that not only was twice as tall as she was but it turned out was twice as heavy as he was – he thought, anyway — three blocks back to her house.

“Dangerous” was not called for either in his next challenge. After he left Miss Joan’s, Adam came across Patches, little Johnny Griffith’s black and white rat terrier, causing a ruckus with Miss Martha’s cat Fluffy while Johnny and his buddies tried to intervene. When he saw an opening, he reached down and grabbed the little dog by the collar allowing Fluffy to hightail it up a tree in Miss Martha’s front yard. He then handed over Patches to the little red-headed boy, told him and his friends to take the dog home and continued on his way — he hoped, anyway – to the jail.

A shortcut was definitely in order, Adam decided checking his pocket watch. He headed down the alley near Miss Martha’s picket fence but stopped short when he heard his littlest brother’s voice among a group of men at the end of the alley.

“Your point’s six, Hoss. Ya can make that easy,” Little Joe grinned confidently at his older brother, winked and slapped him on the back.

“Double or nothing that you can’t make it the hard way, Cartwright!” Sam Gordon, one of the latest wranglers to sign on at the Ponderosa, held out a fistful of bills.

“I’ll take some of that action,” the youngest Cartwright already had his wallet out.

“Piece of cake,” Hoss chortled haughtily pulling a wad of money out of his right pants pocket. “Here, Lefty,” he handed it over to another ranch hand as did Joe. “You hold the cash.” He then held up the dice for his little brother to blow on them for good luck and he blew on them too.

In the meantime, Adam had moved silently toward the men and was actually standing right behind his younger brothers when Hoss bent over to ‘shoot.’ Hoss rattled the dice around in his big hand for a while, reached back almost hitting Adam who leaned back slightly to avoid the contact and was just at the point of releasing them when Adam let out with a loud, “Gambling in the streets again, brothers?”

Caught totally off guard, Hoss lobbed the dice into the horse trough they were using as a backstop. “Dadburnit, Adam!” he growled. “Look what you made me do…” He frowned back at back at his now “dangerous”-looking older brother who returned the frown.

“Thanks a lot,” Joe folded his arms over his chest and glared up at Adam.

“Hey, Hoss!” Lefty peered into the water and grinned. “Look at this! Six the hard way!” he laughed handing all the cash to Hoss.

“Let me see that,” Sam pushed past Hoss and Little Joe and gazed at the dice in the bottom of the trough. His face fell which verified to all that what Lefty had said was so.

“Yippee!” Little Joe threw his hat and his arms up in the air, linked elbows with Hoss and did a Virginia reel turn.

“Oh, I wouldn’t celebrate if I were you two,” Adam tapped his younger brothers on the shoulders and handed Joe his hat that he had caught on its way down to the ground. “Let’s go,” he said and turned them both so they were headed with him in the direction of the Virginia City jail.

“What?” Both Hoss and Joe gaped at him in disbelief.

“We ain’t doing nothin’ illegal, are we, Ada…er…deputy?” Lefty paused as he noticed the star that was pinned to the right side of Adam’s black leather vest.

Adam cleared his throat. “Not unless your last name’s Cartwright. Go ahead and have a good time. We’ll see you back at the ranch.”

“But, Adam, we were on a roll…” Joe whined as Adam continued to herd them both forward.

“Yeah, what are ya doin’ anyway? Tin badge go to your head or sumthin’?” Hoss growled back at him.

“Wait ‘til we get inside,” Adam hissed at them through clenched teeth and then smiled as two members of the women’s social league approached them. “Afternoon, ladies,” he nodded acknowledging Miss Sarah and Miss Carolyn as did Hoss and Joe. He then opened the door to the sheriff’s office and with his right hand motioned for Hoss and Joe to go inside.

Hoss gulped and looked at Joe and Joe gulped and looked at Hoss. Nevertheless, both shuffled past their oldest sibling into the jail.

Adam sighed deeply, stepped over the threshold and shut the door sharply behind them. He moved behind Sheriff Coffee’s desk, put his hands on the desk top, leaned forward, and looked up into his little brothers’ faces. Before he could say anything, however, his baby brother did.

“What’s the big idea?” Joe raged at Adam. “We weren’t hurtin’ anybody!” he put his hands on his hips and glared at Adam.

“Listen, Joseph, didn’t Pa give you a lecture just the day before yesterday about carousing in the street like a common saddle tramp?” Adam tried to keep his voice on an even keel.

Joe was stunned but recovered. “Yeah, but he didn’t say anything about gambling, did he?”

“Yeah, that’s right, Adam,” Hoss folded his arms over his chest and assumed the stubborn mule look. “He didn’t say anything about gambling.”

“Oh, and just because he didn’t tell you the day before yesterday not to gamble, it’s okay huh?” Adam couldn’t believe his little brother’s logic. “Especially when he’s been telling you not to gamble every other day for the last three years?” he yelled in spite of himself and slammed the desk with his hand. He took a deep calming breath, closed his eyes and tried to control his temper. He then grabbed the keys off the hook on the wall behind him. “Come on,” he opened the door to the cell area and looked back to see if his brothers were following him.

“You’re going to lock us up?” Hoss looked at Adam in disbelief. “Why?”

“To keep you out of trouble, that’s why!” Adam put his hands on his hips and growled. “I can’t do Roy’s job and baby-sit you two at the same time. Now don’t argue with me. Pa’s gonna be mad enough about this when I tell him.”

“Humph!” Hoss shook his head sadly. “Never figured ya fer a tattletale, Adam.”

“It’s my job,” Adam smirked and pointed to his badge. “Gentlemen?” he again motioned for them to follow him.

Joe and Hoss looked at each other again. What’s the use? Hoss shoved his hands in his pockets and ambled toward Adam. Joe grumbled something about “Yankee granitehead” but obeyed his big brother.

Adam muttered something to himself, turned and marched into the other room and right into one of the cells. He assumed they would follow him inside. Boy, was he wrong!

CLANGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!

Adam was absolutely stunned when the cell door slammed shut behind him.  He took a deep breath and slowly turned around hoping above hope that what he thought he heard he hadn’t.  To his dismay he found he had.

Before he left on the stage to pick up a prisoner in Fallon yesterday morning, Roy had warned him that the locking mechanism on the right cell was not working properly and he should be really careful about using it. Also, the door had developed “a most unfortunate habit of closing itself.”

Adam patiently listened to Roy’s explanation about the lock not unlocking and promised that he would block the door so it couldn’t close as soon as he got back to the jail.  He then waved goodbye to the lawman and started back to the sheriff’s office fully intending to take care of the door right away.  Little things — like little ladies with packages, little boys with little dogs and his little brothers — just got in his way, however.

“I thought we were supposed to be on the other side of the bars, er…Mister Deputy Sheriff,” Joe observed matter-of-factly smirking at an obviously upset Adam.

“No! No! No! No!” Adam angrily shook the cell door in an effort to dislodge the lock.

“Ah, shucks, Adam, t’weren’t our fault,” Hoss Cartwright rubbed the back of his neck and leaned in to look at his older brother behind bars. “You’re the one that got yourself stuck on the wrong side of the law. Not us,” he put his big hands on the bars of the cell door and shook it with all his might.  “No dice,” he chuckled at his own joke.  “Let me try something else,” he pulled his knife out of his pants pocket and stooped down to attempted to jimmy the lock.

Little Joe tried to look sympathetic at his oldest brother’s plight but couldn’t help but giggle. “What kind of stupid lawman gets himself locked up in his own jail?” he howled holding his sides.

“I hardly think this is funny,” Adam gave him a withering look. “It was an accident…plain and simple.”

“Sure,” Joe wiped his eyes but continued to chortle while Adam fumed. “Everybody’s gonna believe that.”

“I’ll just have to go get Henry,” Hoss finally decided to give up, stuck the knife back in his pocket and turned to go. “He’ll be able to get ya out in no time… Deputy,” he teased his blue eyes sparkling.

“Hey, hold your horses there, big brother,” Joe snapped his fingers as he suddenly realized the tactical advantage that they had at the moment. He quickly jumped in front of Hoss to block his way. “Let’s think about this for a moment.”

“Joe…” Adam said angrily sensing that Joe was up to no good.

“Now, listen, Hoss,” Joe put his arm around his middle brother and steered him so that their backs were away from Adam. “You know, now that the big important deputy sheriff here is indisposed, what’s say we go and see if we can get back in the game?”

“Don’t listen to him, Hoss,” Adam growled pulling is pocket watch out and looking at the time. “Pa…”

“Why, deputy,” Joe interrupted Adam turning to look at him again. “You told Lefty and the boys that they weren’t doing anything illegal now, didn’t ya?”

“True, but Pa …” Adam frowned at Joe.

“Sheriff Coffee wouldn’t lock us up for shooting dice, now would he, deputy?” Joe continued his cross examination of his big brother.

“No, but Pa…” Adam again tried to say something.

“We don’t want to hear about Pa and what he said. This is Virginia City,” Joe told him emphatically. “So… if Hoss and I want to go back to the crap game, what Pa said doesn’t matter at least where the law is concerned,” he used his hands to emphasize each word.

“Yeah, that’s right, Joe,” Hoss nodded. “We’ll be back later, Deputy. Now don’t ya go anywhere,” he laughed heartily shaking his index finger at his older brother while Joe giggled. They turned and left Adam standing in the locked cell still repeating, “But Pa …”

If Joe and Hoss would have let Adam finish his “But Pa…”, however, they would have learned that their Pa was in town to have lunch with Mr. Johnson the banker and was coming directly from there to see Adam. In fact, given where the crap game was located, Pa would have had to be deaf and blind not to come across them on his way from the International House where he was dining to the jail.

Adam smiled and stretched himself out on the cot in the cell to catch a little nap before the fireworks involving his family began. He knew that given his father’s propensity for being “dangerous” when his sons directly disobeyed his orders, his little brothers were going to get exactly what they deserved for leaving him trapped there. He yawned. As for him, he was never so happy to actually be on the “wrong side of the law.” Within a few minutes he was out….well…not “out”…he was still trapped but he was asleep.

*****

Ben Cartwright’s smile couldn’t have been bigger had he married off all three of his sons! He had just had a very delicious not to mention fruitful meal with Mr. Hiram Johnson of the Virginia City Bank. He patted his inside vest pocket that held the packet of papers that was going to allow him to expand the mining operations on the northern section of the Ponderosa. This was surely going to make everyone else in town smile too since it meant more jobs for men who hadn’t earned a dollar since the No. 5 Thunderhead petered out last spring. Yep, all was going right for a change, he thought to himself stepping off the boardwalk.

“Oh, Mr. Cartwright!”

Ben stopped in mid-step and turned back in the direction from which he came to see four women hurrying toward him. “Why, good afternoon, Miss Joan, Miss Martha, Miss Sarah and Miss Carolyn,” he nodded to each of them. “Is there something I can do for you lovely ladies?”

Joan, the shortest woman in all of Virginia City, stepped back up on the boardwalk so she could look the rancher straight in the eye. “Mr. Cartwright, I’m afraid that we have to talk to you about …um… your sons.” Her tone was quite serious as was the expression on her face.

The alarms started going off in his head. “Is there something wrong with my sons?” he asked, his happy mood of a minute ago now gone. “Adam is…?” The first thought that leaped into his head was that something had happened to his oldest who was standing in for the town sheriff, Roy Coffee.

All four of the ladies realized immediately how Ben could be concerned for his offspring’s safety, given the responsibility he had taken on.

“Oh, my gracious, no,” Carolyn spoke up from Ben’s left side. “There’s nothing wrong with Adam. He’s such a fine young man and he’s doing a simply marvelous job here in town substituting for Sheriff Coffee.”

“That’s right,” Martha smiled up at Ben and put her hand on his arm in a reassuring way. “He even rescued my cat Fluffy today single handedly from the jaws of a killer dog and a group of young scalawags.”

“And he helped me carry a really heavy package all the way back to my house,” Joan chimed in, bobbing her head up and down.

“No, we want to talk to you about your other two sons, Eric and Joseph,” Sarah decided to pick up the story. “And before you jump to any conclusions, Mr. Cartwright, they’re fine except…well…”

“Except?” Ben leaned over so he could look directly at her eyeball to eyeball.

“Except…,” she hesitated again and looked at the other ladies for support in saying what had to be said.

“Except what?” Ben snapped at her a little harsher and louder than he intended.

All four jumped back startled at his tone and volume.

“Sorry,” he apologized for scaring them. “Now what about my sons?” he inquired a bit softer but with just as much sharpness.

“Well, we just don’t think its right for them to be teaching those young scalawags to…” Martha continued wringing her handkerchief in her hands.

“What?” Ben demanded in exasperation. “Please tell me, ladies. What are they doing?”

Joan took a deep breath and motioned for him to lean in. He complied and standing on tiptoe, she whispered “what” in his right ear.

Ben drew back and looked at each of them skeptically, obviously rolling the information supplied by the little lady over in his head. “You’re sure about that?”

“We’re afraid so,” Carolyn nodded solemnly and crossed her heart. The other three nodded and looked at Ben sympathetically.

“Hmmm….well, thank you, ladies,” he touched the brim of his hat. “You can be sure I’ll take care of this right away.” He spun on his heel and stalked away from the four women. Anyone looking at him could tell he was on a mission.

“I hope he’s not too hard on them,” Martha frowned watching Mr. Cartwright disappear around the corner.

“Oh, I would worry about that, Martha,” Carolyn smiled at her friend and stepped up on the boardwalk beside Puchi. “Ben Cartwright is a fair man and he’ll deal with his sons appropriately. Everything will be fine.”

“I hope you’re right,” Martha still looked concerned. “I’m really quite fond of Joseph and Eric.”

*****

Sam Gordon, the newest wrangler on the Ponderosa, sighed heavily as he leaned against the hitching post outside the sheriff’s office and shoved his hands into his front pants pocket. “I ain’t never seen anyone so lucky in my whole life,” he sighed again.

“And for someone so young,” Lefty Johnson added from his position beside Gordon. He and John Castleman, another cowhand, looked as dejected as Sam did. “A whole week’s pay in a matter of minutes – gone.”

“I don’t know what I’m gonna tell my girl,” John shook his head sadly. “I told her we were goin’ out for a fancy dinner on Sunday after church.”

“Maybe ya could ask the boss for an advance,” Sam suggested. “Here he comes now!” he pointed to Ben who was charging up the street like a speeding locomotive.

“Hmmmm,” John looked up and quickly assessed the situation. “I don’t think it’s the time, ‘specially with the steam that appears ta be comin’ out of his ears right now.”

“Have you seen my sons?” Ben asked no one in particular as he passed by.

“South alley on C,” was Lefty’s short answer since it was clear from his employer’s voice that a short answer was all that was needed.

“Thanks,” was Ben’s short response.

“Do ya think we ought to warn Hoss and Joe?” Sam glanced over at John.

“Ain’t ya mad that you lost all your money?” Lefty looked at him incredulously.

“Yeah,” Sam straightened up from his leaning position and nodded his head slowly.

“Then, why would you want ta warn them?” John stared at him in disbelief.

“Ya know, anything we could do to them can’t possibly be as bad as what he could do to ‘em,” Lefty added laughing.

Sam thought for a moment. “Good point,” he decided chuckling himself. “Let’s go for a beer.”

“So who’s buying?” John looked at both of his companions.

Lefty sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “I guess since you fellas are tapped out,” he took off his hat, pulled a dollar out of its lining and held it up for them to see, “I am.”

“Sounds good to me,” Sam clapped Lefty on the back and three headed toward the Bucket of Blood intent on drowning their sorrows with as much beer as one dollar could buy.

*****

“Seven come eleven… Baby needs a new pair of shoes,” Joseph Cartwright usually known as Joe was stooped down, rattling the dice in his left hand. He then stopped, opened his hand and looked down at the two ivory cubes in his palm. “Listen, fellas,” he addressed the dice. “I sure could use an 8 …I don’t care how you do it, just do it…er…please?”

“Come on, Mr. Cartwright,” Johnny Griffith whined. He was having a tough time holding on to Patches, his rat terrier and incidentally the “killer dog” that attacked Miss Martha’s cat Fluffy. “My ma’s gonna be wondering where we are.”

“Just shoot, Joe and get it over with,” his older brother Eric alias Hoss Cartwright sighed shaking his head.

“Don’t rush me, Hoss,” Joe growled impatiently up at his older brother. “I’m not the one that crapped out three times in a row.”

“Don’t remind me,” Hoss rolled his eyes toward heaven. “But hurry up, please. We really ought to check on old Adam. It’s been purt near an hour…”

“He’s not going anywhere, you know,” Joe cackled.

“Please, Mr. Cartwright,” Tommy begged tugging on Joe’s green jacket sleeve. “I gotta git home.”

“Oh, all right,” Joe grumbled at the seven year old. He got himself back in a crouching position again, closed his eyes, said a little prayer, opened his eyes and let the dice fly against the horse trough.

The dice obviously weren’t paying any attention to Joe’s little pep talk for when they stopped they came up on…

“Snake eyes!” Annie grinned as the other “scalawags” cheered.

Joe was stunned. “Again?”

“Dadburnit!” Hoss broke the stick he was holding in half in frustration and handed a wad of bills over to the pigtailed little blonde. “Are ya sure you’re only 10, gal?”

“No-o-o-o-o-o-o! No-o-o-o-o-o!” Joe cried in frustration. He fell flat in the alley and covered his face with his hands. What happened?

“Pleasure doin’ business with ya, Mr. Cartwright,” Annie quickly divvied up the money between the five kids.

“Don’t spend it all in one place,” Hoss advised as the children scampered in five different directions. He then looked down at his distraught little brother lying in the dirt, sighed and was ready to reach down and get him up when…gulp…

“No-o-o-o-o-o-o! No-o-o-o-o-o!” Joe was still prone on the ground oblivious to what was going on, mourning the fact that his luck had run out. Boy, if he only knew how far it had run!    Suddenly he felt one large hand grab him by the back of the collar…

“Heyyyyyyyyyyyy,”

And another grabbed him by the seat of his pants…

“Hosssss!!!!!”

…and then hoist him to an almost standing position so that he was looking directly into a pair of really “dangerous” dark brown eyes.

You know how your life’s supposed to flash in front of your eyes before you pass on? Well, Joe was pretty sure that he saw his, Hoss’ and Adam’s all at the same time. “Oh…er….hi, Pa!” he smiled in the most charming way that he could muster given that he was suspended a good three inches off the ground. “We didn’t know you were in town.”

His smile disappeared when Ben snarled like a grizzly at him and then said in a very soft, very measured voice, “Joseph, the three of us are going to the jail to see your brother …”

Hoss winced recalling his imprisoned sibling.

“…where we will discuss in detail whatever you have been doing here. If you know what’s good for you, you will not say one more word. You either, Eric,” he turned his head and directed his snarl toward his middle son. “Or so help me, even though it’s been years, I will tan both of your hides right here and now. Do you understand me?”

Hoss nodded but felt he had to say something. “Pa, about Adam…”

“Hoss…!” Joe pleaded since it would be real easy for their father to carry out his threat on him first since he was still in their father’s clutches.

“What did I just say, Eric?” Ben’s tone indicated that his patience was hanging on by a thread.

Hoss gulped. “Pa, I know you don’t want to hear from us…”

“Very true,” Ben set Joe back on terra firma, crossed his arms over his chest and glared at his middle son.

“But we have to stop by Henry Bergermeister’s before we see Adam…” Hoss closed his eyes and waited.

“Why?” Ben fought to keep his voice under control but it was getting hard.

“Because Adam needs Henry’s help, Pa,” Joe readjusted his clothing that had been dislodged by his father.

Ben spun to look at his youngest suspiciously. “Why does he need the blacksmith’s help?”

“Because Adam’s…Adam’s…Adam’s…” Joe stammered as his father advanced toward him.

“Joseph!” he growled putting his hands really close to the buckle of his belt. “I swear if you don’t…”

“Adam’s locked up in one of the cells,” his youngest miraculously cured from his stammering, spit it out as fast as he could while not taking his eyes off his father’s hands.

Ben was taken aback. Then his dark eyes narrowed and he seethed, “You locked your brother in a cell?”

“No, Pa,” Hoss laughed nervously. “Ya see, it was an accident…”

“An accident….? How does one accidentally get STUCK IN A CELL?” Ben’s voice got away from him so much so that both of his sons jumped back.

“Well, Pa….we ain’t really sure,” Hoss winced.

“Never mind,” Ben spun on his heel. “We’ll get Henry but,” he spun back to look at his youngest sons. “Adam better be locked up in that cell or…” he turned back and stormed off in the direction of Bergermeister.

Joe and Hoss looked at each other. He better be, they simultaneously thought running to catch up with their father.

******

Adam was crouching on the other side of the locked door watching the blacksmith twist the wire into a hook shape, insert it in the lock and wiggle it around. Hoss and Joe sat quietly on two chairs that Ben had them drag into the cell area so he “could keep his eye on them and not let any more children talk them into letting them shoot dice!!!” All three sons were grateful that their father had not said too much about any of their missteps of the day in front of Mr. Bergermeister. For all the blacksmith knew, Adam had only been locked up for a very short time.

“Yep, Roy’s been having trouble with this self locking mechanism for a couple weeks now,” Henry Bergermeister, screw driver in hand, was kneeling down working on the lock of the cell door. “In fact, I’ve been spending more time in this jail than I’ve been at home which is not so good,” he began to look around for something he needed. “My Annie’s getting so completely out of hand that I don’t know what to do with her….Give me that, Ben,” he spotted what he wanted and indicated to Ben that it was a piece of slender wire.

“Your sweet little daughter?” Ben asked as he complied with Henry’s request.

“Yep, my sweet little 10 year old daughter. You know, just before you came, I had to heat up her britches but good for shooting dice with some older boys. Took all their money from what she said.”

Older boys, huh?” Ben shot a meaningful look across the room to the older boys that he knew were shooting dice with Annie and the other scalawags thanks to Miss Martha, Miss Puchi, Miss Carolyn and Miss Sarah. The look was all it took for the older boys to squirm in their seats as if their britches had been heated up but good too. “Any idea who these older boys might be?”

Hoss and Joe held their breath and waited.

“No, I ain’t got a clue,” Henry continued to probe the lock. “Too bad, too. I was gonna give ‘em back all their money that Annie won. She was usin’ a pair of loaded dice she got from my no-account brother-in-law.”

“Loaded dice?” Joe jumped to his feet.

“Always come up snake eyes,” Henry laughed. “She can sneak them in a game slicker than ya please.”‘

“That little gal was playing with loaded dice?” Hoss too found he couldn’t stay in the chair upon hearing that.

“Why do you care…?” Adam stood up and looked quizzically over at his little brothers. “Oh…,” he suddenly remembered what they were up to right before he was — “accidentally, honest, Pa” — locked in the cell. But they were playing with the Ponderosa ranch hands, not ten year old g… “Oh? Oh-oh,” he finally realized who the older boys were and laughed a very evil little laugh. This was too good to be true. He parked his backside on the bunk behind him and began to howl while Joe and Hoss fumed at him through the bars. “These older boys couldn’t have been too smart…”

“It ain’t funny,” Hoss glared at his oldest brother.

Ben cleared his throat sharply causing his oldest son’s laughter to cease. “I don’t think it’s funny either especially since it wouldn’t have happened if our deputy sheriff here had been out there doing his job.” He gave Adam a look that clearly indicated that he had a thing or two to say to him too.

“Well, he’s out now,” Bergermeister announced getting to his feet and swinging open the door.

Adam grabbed his hat and high-tailed it out of the cell before the contrary door decided to once again close. Of course, he like his brothers took great care to steer a wide course around their father.

“About that money, Henry,” Ben bent over to pick up a sledge hammer and handed it to the blacksmith. “These older boys’ father might think it’s a good idea to donate the money to the town… maybe to get this cell door fixed.”

Hoss and Joe gasped while Adam fought hard to control his laughter again.

“Oh, the new lock is supposed ta be on the stage this afternoon,” Henry pulled on his coat and put his hat on his head. “Kind of fittin’ since Roy’s supposed ta be on it, too,” he chuckled and began moving to leave. “But I think you’re right. I’m just gonna donate the money to the town, Ben. That’ll be a good lesson for her, too.”

Ben smiled at Henry from the doorway of the cell area. “It’ll be a good lesson for those older boys too, I bet,” he winked at Hoss and Joe as he walked past them. “Thanks for coming to help, Henry,” he clapped the blacksmith on his back. “We really appreciate it.”

“I’ll send ya the bill,” Henry nodded and was gone.

Ben grabbed the sides of the door frame and stood there for a minute or so contemplating his next move since he was now alone with his three sons. Any sort of prolonged discussion should really be had back at house, he decided. He heaved a heavy sigh and turned around to confront them. “Well?” he walked over to where they were standing.

“Well, I really ought to be going to check on the town…” Adam sniffed, looked at his family members and tried to slip past his father and out the door but Ben thwarted his escape, snaring him by the back of his shirt collar.

“You’re not going anywhere, deputy,” his father pulled him back in line with his other two sons and glared at him, “Before I get a few answers to some questions. Your brothers here already know that I’m very furious about them leaving you locked up while they went off to play dice with some other children who — lucky for them — were more corrupt than they were,” he looked angrily at Hoss and Joe, “But you, my college educated oldest son,” he poked Adam in the shoulder, “I don’t understand how you got yourself locked in this cell in the first place, but I really don’t understand how is it that you didn’t try to get some help to get out of this cell.”

“Well, Pa,” Adam smirked. “I thought it might be a good opportunity to take a little nap. After all, I have been up pretty much all last night and…”

“You took a nap?” Ben was incredulous. “You took a nap?!?!?!” he hollered in Adam’s ear.

Adam cringed slightly at the volume of Ben’s voice –after all these years he was more or less used to it but this was really loud. He tried to maintain his composure, as best as he could.

“What if something would have happened while you were sleeping? Roy trusted you to take care of his town – his family — and what did you do? You take a nap!!!!” Ben paced back and forth in front of his boys but his dark brown eyes never left his oldest. “Do you know how many people must have walked by this jail in the last hour or so?” he turned and angrily strolled into the cell. “Almost everyone in town walks by here at least once a day! In fact, I walked by here and three of our hired hands were just outside this window,” he emphasized each word –outside, this, window – by jabbing his index finger at the window, “Within earshot of you and could have gone for Henry to get you out!” He approached the window and looked out into the street. “All you had to do was shoot your gun or yell or even whisper!” Although his last word was “whisper,” he was far from whispering.

“Sorry, Pa,” Adam shrugged his shoulders and tried to look contrite. “I guess I was so tired I wasn’t thinking straight.” He tried to sound as apologetic as he could.

Ben wasn’t buying it. He shot out of the cell like he was shot out of a cannon right up into his eldest offspring’s face.

“That’s no excuse for your lack of diligence,” Ben snarled putting his nose almost on Adam’s. “I’m sure Mr. Johnson would have loved to know that my son the deputy sheriff was locked in the jail taking a nap! He wouldn’t have loaned me a plug nickel! And here’s another thing,” he backed up slightly so he could see more than Adam’s nose. “You knew I was coming to see you here after my lunch with the banker and you never mentioned it to your brothers, did you?” he looked suspiciously at his oldest.

“That’s right,” Adam smiled trying to change the subject. “How did it go with Mr. Johnson?”

“Better than it’s going with you, young man,” Ben’s tone was ominous. He was not about to be diverted from getting to the truth of the matter. “Now, did you or did you not tell your brothers I was in town?”

“I tried to tell them, Pa, but they wouldn’t listen to me,” Adam stated innocently, crossed his arms over his chest and gave a superior look to his younger brothers who were both giving him dirty looks.

Joe and Hoss immediately recognized Adam’s tactic. He was shifting the focus from himself to them. Well, that wasn’t going to happen as far as they were concerned.

“Dadburnit, Adam! You didn’t try all that hard and you know it!” Hoss hissed back at him.

“He wanted us to get in trouble with you, Pa,” Joe frowned furiously up at Adam. “He didn’t tell us on purpose.”

“Yeah, he didn’t tell us on purpose, Pa,” Hoss echoed Joe’s accusation. “And that’s the God’s honest truth!”

“Oh, please,” Adam glared at them. “I have better things to do than get you two in trouble with Pa!”

“Like taking a nap, huh?” Hoss reminded him.

Adam moved so he was toe to toe with Hoss. “I didn’t have a choice,” he said very slowly. “Ya left me locked in the cell!”

Joe stepped in front of Hoss and shook his finger in Adam’s face. “You could have yelled for help like Pa said!” he told him emphatically.

“Why you….,” Adam, having had enough of his baby brother, reached out and grabbed Joe by the front of his shirt while Hoss reached out and grabbed Adam’s.

Before any blows could be struck, their father who silently had been watching them regress about twelve years in age in the last half minute, stepped in to do his own grabbing. He grabbed his two oldest sons by the shoulders forcefully flinging them apart and, as a bonus, dragging Joe along for the ride. “Quiet before I take my belt to you all!!!!!” he bellowed so loud he shook the pictures on the walls in the other room.

Well, you could not have found three bettered behaved sons anywhere on the planet immediately after that threat. Joe, Hoss and Adam froze. They didn’t move, speak or even breathe lest they not obey their father’s command to be “quiet.”

“I give up,” Ben released Hoss and Adam-Joe, threw up his hands in exasperation, turned so his back was to them and counted to ten. He knew he needed some time to calm down and about the only way he could accomplish that was to have them…

“Get your things and the three of you get your tails home to the ranch while you still can sit down on ‘em,” Ben turned and glared at his boys. “I’ll watch things here until Roy gets back in,” he checked his pocket watch. “The stage is supposed to be in an hour or so.”

“But, Pa, you can’t unless you’re deputized,” Adam cleared his throat and made the mistake of giving his father the same superior look that he gave his brothers a minute ago. Big mistake!

“Give me that star,” Ben growled and held out his hand impatiently to his oldest.

“You’re deputized,” Adam obediently put the badge in Ben’s hand and jumped back out of his reach.

“Now,” Ben pinned the badge on his vest, “Tell Hop Sing to hold dinner until eight. I should be back by then,” he told them as he herded them toward the front door.

“Yes, sir,” his middle son nodded.

“And tell Jonesy to have Buck ready to go when I get there,” Ben added putting his hat on the desk as they all filed by.

“Yes, Pa,” his eldest answered for the three this time as they stepped out into the warm afternoon sun.

“And boys,” their father’s tone clearly indicated that they had best stop and look at him, “You all better be home when I get there,” Ben wagged his finger at them.

“Yes, sir,” his youngest sighed as his two older brothers mumbled a farewell and the three headed off for the livery stable to retrieve their horses.

Ben shook his head wearily and stepped back into the empty sheriff’s office. Well, he had an hour or so to kill before he went to meet the stage so why not try to find something to do. Upon inspection of the desk, the files and the mail, he found everything to be shipshape. Pencils were sharpened, the wanted posters were in alphabetical order and even the trash can and the spittoon were clean. Ben smiled to himself. Adam had his faults but you could never fault him for being disorganized. He just hoped that Roy wouldn’t have too much trouble finding things.

Hmmm, maybe he ought to take a look at that cell door or at least block it so it couldn’t close on anyone else. He searched the room with his eyes and found a fairly large log that he calculated would do the job. He picked it up, hefted it a few times to make sure his assessment of its sturdiness was correct, and then casually strolled back into the cell area and into the right cell.

“Humph,” Ben leaned forward to get a better look at the hinge of cell door. “How in the heck does this thing close…?” He wondered to himself but the door decided to show him itself.

CLANGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!

Ben stood there dumbfounded. “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh, my God!” he threw down the log and tried to shake open the door. It wouldn’t budge. The darn thing was as solid as a rock. Not a bad thing if he was a bad guy but… he was the law for now any way and here he was trapped on the “wrong side of the law” just as Adam had been!

He sat down on the bunk to think about this and to beat himself up for giving Adam such a hard time. Well, it was Adam’s own stupid fault and his own stupid fault, he concluded getting to his feet. But he couldn’t just sit here. He went to the window and looked as best he could for someone, anyone who could summon the blacksmith. Not a soul. It was as if Virginia City was a ghost town.

Of course, Ben thought, did he really want the town to know that their deputy sheriff was locked in his own jail? He began to understand why Adam might not have considered alerting too many people to his plight.

“Damn,” he moved from the window back to the door, rummaged through his pants pocket and pulled out his knife. Now how did Henry do this? he thought poking his knife into…

“Hey, I’m back!” Roy Coffee’s distinctive voice echoed in the outer office much to Ben’s relief or was it his dismay? How was he going to explain this…?

“The stage was early… Adam!!!!!!!” the sheriff called again.

“Doesn’t look like anyone’s here, Roy,” a bass voice that Ben knew to belong to none other than Hiram Johnson of the Virginia City Bank observed, obviously not noticing Ben’s hat on the desk.

Ben put his hands over his eyes. This couldn’t be happening.

“That Adam,” the sheriff chuckled glancing around the room. “He’s got this place so clean, I’ll probably have to wipe my feet before I go into a cell,” he continued to laugh as he moved to inspect the cells. He stopped dead in the doorway and stopped laughing too when he spotted his old friend standing there behind bars.

“Something wrong, Ro…” the banker moved to investigate. “ Well, well, well, I thought I’d never see the day.”

“Just don’t say a word,” Ben warned crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at the two men.

“What’s my deputy got one of the town’s leading citizens, not to mention his daddy, locked up for?” Roy chuckled setting his bag down on the floor outside Ben’s cell.

“It was an accident….” Ben mumbled. “And I’m your deputy now…” he pointed to the star on his vest.

“What happened to Adam?” Roy and Hiram sat down in the chairs that Ben had had Hoss and Joe drag in and continued to chortle.

“It’s a long story,” Ben frowned at them.

“Well, you’re not going anywhere, are you?” Roy howled slapping his knee. “Take your time.”

“Roy, I’ve just about had enough…”

“Gee, Ben,” Hiram interrupted him, chuckling, “I don’t know if the stockholders are going to be happy that I loaned money to a jailbird,” he teased. “They might think it’s too big a risk….

“Hiram, I am in no mood for jokes…just go get Henry, please…” Ben was trying to hold on to his temper and his dignity but it was really hard.

The banging of the front door signaled to Ben anyway that unfortunately more people would know about his predicament. And even more unfortunately, the people were his three sons.

“Howdy, Roy, Mr. Johnson,” Adam nodded at the sheriff and the banker. “Ya having a welcome home party?” he chuckled, then turned and spied his father behind bars. He paused and walked over toward Ben. “Or maybe it’s a coming out party,” he smirked at his father. “What happened to you?”

“Pa?” Hoss couldn’t believe his eyes.

Joe didn’t say a word. He couldn’t. He was giggling too hard.

“Didn’t I tell you three to go home?” Ben growled looking at each of his sons.

“Well, Pa, Miss Martha invited us all to dinner because the brave deputy here saved her cat,” Hoss motioned to Adam. “She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer so we sent Lefty back to tell Hop Sing not to bother with dinner. You’re supposed ta come too, Roy, since Martha thought you might be hungry after your long trip.”

“We had to be polite, Pa,” Joe explained now that he recovered from his giggling fit. “And we just thought it wouldn’t be right to tell her we couldn’t come.”

“That’s right, Mr. Cartwright,” Miss Martha and her cat Fluffy elbowed their way through the crowd to also view Ben. He really was beginning to think he was on exhibit at the New York City Zoological Society especially with Fluffy looking at him too. “I insisted that they come back with me to change your mind so don’t be angry with them, please.”

“Thank you for the lovely invitation, Miss Martha,” Ben smiled remembering his manners, “But could someone please get Henry Bergermeister to get me out of here?”

“Only if you say “yes,” to dinner,” she looked hopefully at him through the bars. “I’m making fried chicken and my prize winning peach cobbler.”

Upon hearing “fried chicken and prize winning peach cobbler,” Hoss adopted the same hopeful expression as Miss Martha had.

What was the use? Ben finally saw the humor in the whole situation and began to chuckle himself. “Yes, Miss Martha, we’ll have dinner with you. In fact, if you get me out of here, I’ll cook dinner.”

At the thought of his father cooking, Hoss’ expression turned from “hopeful” to “horrified”, making Ben laugh harder.

“Well, that’s splendid, but I’ll do the cooking,” Martha’s face lit up with a big smile. “Come by at about six. I also expect you, Roy, and you’re invited too, Hiram,” she said as she and Fluffy turned to leave.

“Wait, Miss Martha,” the banker jumped to his feet and offered his arm to her. “I’ll go with ya. Maybe I can help with the cooking or something. See you later, Ben, maybe,” he laughed and departed with Miss Martha and her cat.

“And I’m gonna check on my horse,” Roy also disappeared leaving only the Cartwrights and, in the boys’ minds, no witnesses as to what might happen between them and their father.

Oh-oh, they thought looking at each other.

“Well, Pa, I guess we better go look for Henry,” Adam said before Ben could decide to growl at them again about not obeying him or something or other.

No such luck.

“Hold on a minute there, boys!” Ben said sharply stopping them in their tracks. His angry tone seemed to have returned.

Gulp. They slowly turned back to smile innocently at him.

“We still have a few things to talk about, you know,” Ben said sternly trying to sound very serious. Then he winked at them and laughed.

Hoss, Joe and Adam heaved a collective sigh of relief. “We’ll hurry back, Pa,” they promised and were gone.

Well, the boys weren’t exactly able to “hurry back.” Ben like Adam managed to take a short nap during the two hours it took for the boys to locate the blacksmith who was hot on the trail of his miscreant brother-in-law. It then was another ten minutes for the blacksmith to stop laughing at Ben being stuck in the cell and half an hour more to free him after that.

Of course, ever true to his word, Ben still lectured his sons about gambling, civic duty and “a few other things” when they returned home later that evening but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The boys attributed their father’s improved attitude to Miss Martha’s prize winning peach cobbler and company. Oh, and as for the unpredictable door? As soon as the lock was opened, it was removed from the cell so that no one else – especially a lawman, temporary or otherwise — would unintentionally be caught on the “wrong side of the law” at least due to the unpredictable door.

***The End***

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