A Moment Feared – 4 (by Calim11)

Summary: What Happened Next for the episode “Vengeance”
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  6200


The sun was just beginning to shed its remaining heat as it made its way slowly toward the mountains, its last rays shining on the citizens of Virginia City who piled out of the courthouse. Their voices were muffled and their shifting eyes averted from the Cartwrights within their ranks whose faces spoke volumes about what had transpired this stifling day in a room stuffed with people and a twelve man jury.

Yes, today began Red Twilight’s trial and it had begun well enough until thoughts of a speedy decision soon evaporated when his attorney, one Mr. Harold Pinsett, opined on the sanctity of truth and justice in his opening remarks, drawing the jury toward him like a bee to honey for the better part of two hours. It took everything prosecutor Brian Yancy had to get their attention away from Pinsett’s loud tone and long words and return them to the present and more important issue at hand: was Red Twilight guilty of murder and attempted murder?

The day lingered and the heat rose as witnesses took the stand, as stories were retold again and again, as sweat rolled off everyone like they were standing in the rain. It wasn’t good. Ben Cartwright tried not to notice the closing eyes of one or more of the jurors while others swatted at the flies that crowded the room, all making him believe that the truths being told today were no more than the buzzing of those flies to these twelve men. He’d harrumphed aloud and drew a disapproving head shake from Adam, instantly regretting it. If Pinsett caught him making that particular sound, no telling what he could do with that.

They’d sat through all sorts of testimony this day, including Paul Martin’s about Willie Twilight’s heart condition, then Adam and Joe’s of Red’s entry into the house, and finally Hoss’. Brian Yancy desperately tried to keep his questions short and to the point, focusing on the time Red came into the house and not on Willie’s demise, but Pinsett wasn’t so kind and dredged up that whole business on the street for Hoss to relive. By the time they were all done, the declining sun was streaming in through the opened windows showcasing a fidgety jury. Judge Jeremiah Walstrom raised his gavel to call it a day when Pinsett flew to his feet with great noise. There was one more witness that needed to be heard; one more to shed some light on what actually occurred – Mary Wickham1.

As she walked to the stand, Hoss remembered telling Adam that Mary’s testimony would spell the end for Red Twilight. He remembered feeling it in his bones, in his heart, that no one would be able to discount her story.

But no one had bargained on Harold Pinsett.

Hoss followed his father out into the late afternoon sun, feeling Adam so close to him he thought they were connected at the hip. Joe took up the same position opposite, and he smiled. It was like they were creating an invisible net of security about him, daring the world to do or say anything or risk being blown away. And he knew why they were protecting him. Pinsett practically accused him of hunting down Willie Twilight and killing him in the street, and his heart cringed at the words. Just yesterday Adam tried to convince him that he’d not killed Willie, that he’d been at the wrong place at the wrong time, and, for a moment, he thought he might believe him. But now, in front of God and everyone, Pinsett brought it up, pointed it out, mashed it in his face and made him wonder all over again.

Adam had met his brother’s anguished gaze as they sat in the courtroom and gently grabbed his hand. ”Can hold a newborn kitten,” he’d whispered, his belief written across his face. Hoss gave him a half-hearted grin then let himself release Pinsett’s words, knowing that above all else, his brother would always tell him the truth.

And now the family stood shoulder to shoulder as the citizens began to clear, leaving them standing in the fading sun, spying Paul Martin moving past Mary as she made her way through the remaining crowd, head bent. Someone stepped in front of her and she looked up, catching sight of the Cartwrights standing sullenly to her left. Offering Hoss a simpering smile, she turned and hurried away, eyes glistening with tears.

Ben’s jaw clenched. He had nothing against Mary. She’d been a great help with Adam and Hoss when they’d needed it. But today . . . today was different. Today may have proved disastrous for his family, and it hadn’t been Adam or Joe’s testimony but Mary’s. Her testimony had thrown something into the mix that is never welcomed at a trial, something that could turn a murderer loose – doubt. Now they had to wait, wait for twelve men to decide whether or not Red Twilight was guilty. They had to wait!

It burned in Ben’s craw that these twelve men — twelve men he’d known for years — didn’t seem to believe his sons and were making him wait! Couldn’t they see what Pinsett was doing? Couldn’t they hear what Mary said? Red Twilight admitted to ambushing Hoss; Adam was an eyewitness to his own shooting, had heard Red tell him he was going to ‘finish the job’, and yet they still made him wait.

Normally, he held the law as close to his heart as the Bible; he was not one to take it into his own hands. But today, today when he’d heard Pinsett pull apart Mary’s testimony, he’d wanted to draw his gun and blow Red Twilight away before another moment passed. Even now he fought the urge as movement by the courthouse door pulled his eyes from Mary’s retreating form to see Roy Coffee, hand on Red’s shoulder, asking folks to make way while he led the prisoner back to jail.

It would be so easy.

The brothers followed their father’s gaze and Joe’s breath caught as he watched the man who’d nearly killed both his brothers come onto the courthouse steps, arms cuffed behind his back, Roy waiting patiently for people to clear a path. Suddenly, he was back in the barn, hands wrapped in Red’s hair, gun buried in his cheek and it all would’ve been so simple to just pull the trigger. Adam’s words harkened back, reminding him that he shouldn’t stoop to his level and, right now, he didn’t care.

It would be so easy.

Hoss grabbed Joe’s sleeve hoping to move his thoughts, so evident upon his face, away from what he was thinking, to keep him steady. It wouldn’t do to have him complete what he’d started in the barn out on the street for all to see. He wouldn’t let his brother ruin his life just for a sidetracked version of revenge. He was alive and well and Joe’s promise was no longer valid.

Adam watched the interplay between his brothers and knew Hoss had everything in hand with Joe. But, even so, his own hand inched closer to his gun as Roy walked Red past them, the man casting out a look so different from the one of pure panic in the barn three weeks before. This look was something akin to triumph, of a great secret known only to him flashed upon that wide grin thrown their way. Adam’s own heart worked double-time as anger flirted with common sense. Wrestling it back into place, he knew it wouldn’t do to commit cold-blooded murder in front of the entire town. No, the dark of night in the middle of nowhere proved much more enticing.

It would be so easy.

A slight movement broke Adam’s concentration and moved it toward his father. Brows rose as he watched Ben’s hand flex toward his gun, the intent quite clear, prompting Adam to touch his father’s wrist ever so slightly, stopping him mid-motion. There was no telling what twelve men would come up with when much was expected from them, but laying it wide open with a massacre in the street wouldn’t help. Doubt was ugly but blood on their hands was worse.

It would be so easy but not very bright.

Adam cleared his throat. “What say we get something to eat while we wait for the verdict,” came his suggestion, his deep voice permeating the silence as none could take their eyes from Roy as he dragged Red across the street to the jail. “I’m buying.”

“That’ll be the day,” came Joe’s response without humor as Hoss finally felt comfortable letting go of his brother.

“I guess we should,” Ben said exhaling loudly. “The jury may not be back for awhile.”

Decision made, they remained stock-still, waiting until Roy closed the jail door, waiting until only they stood on the street. A passing wagon’s jingling harness sprung them from their trance and, not looking at each other, they made their way slowly down the street and away from the jail, telling themselves that the bigger the distance, the easier it would be to lose themselves in a well-made meal. Yeah right.

*****

Roy Coffee pulled open the door of the International and stepped toward the restaurant, his eyes scanning the full room and falling on his intended targets. Watching them for a moment, he hesitated. The news he had wasn’t good but it had to be delivered. He didn’t much like his role as Sheriff at the moment. Rubbing his chin, he stepped forward.

“Howdy, Ben, boys,” he said with a nod, each Cartwright fixing him with a hopeful look as he approached.

“Is the verdict in?” Adam asked, apprehension settling in when Roy shook his head.

“Sorry, son, not today. Seems they’ve tabled their talkin’ for the evenin’ and won’t resume until 9:00 am tomorrow. Might as well ride on home and come back in the mornin’.”

“What’s their problem?” Joe began, anger surfacing. “The evidence is there, our testimony was there. What is there to deliberate?”

“Now, Joe,” Roy began, “these men are decidin’ on a man’s life – whether to end it or send him to prison. That’s somethin’ that shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

“But he confessed!” Joe blurted.

“Joe,” Ben began as his youngest turned back to him.

“I can’t help it, Pa. I was there. So was Adam. Red Twilight killed Tandy2 then came into our house to kill Hoss, and went after Adam while he was there. What’s there to deliberate?!”

“Joseph, keep your voice down,” Ben admonished, glaring at him and ignoring everyone else’s looks. Aggravated, he merely grabbed the side of the table and turned toward the Sheriff. “Thanks for the information, Roy. Maybe we’ll stay the night in town.”

“Suit yerself. Evenin’,” the sheriff said, touching his hat and leaving thinking that went better than he expected.

Ben looked at each of them. “Well, shall we stay in town or go home?” he asked, tossing his napkin onto his plate with a little more heat than necessary.

“I think we should go home,” Adam spoke up, wiping his mouth and taking a sip of water, casting a sidelong glance at Hoss. “We could all use a good night’s sleep and I’d rather do it in my own bed.”

“Yeah, maybe that’s a good idea,” Joe added sullenly.

“Hoss?” Ben asked, noting how quiet his boy had been since they’d left the courthouse.

“Whatever ya’ll want’s fine with me.”

Adam peered at Hoss and squeezed his shoulder. The testimony today had been difficult for him, especially when Harold Pinsett had singled him out as the reason Red Twilight was in town.

“Come on, brother,” Adam pronounced as he moved to his feet. “The sooner we get home, the sooner we can have some of that apple pie Hop Sing was making this morning. I could sure use some of that right about now.”

Hoss gave him a slight nod and rose slowly to his feet.

“Let’s leave these two to pay the bill,” Adam whispered conspiratorially.

“Hey . . . hey, wait just a minute!” Joe called, Adam’s words catching up with him. “You were gonna pay.”

Adam flung a smile and a wink over his shoulder toward Joe as he pushed Hoss out the door.

Ben conjured up a small grin of his own as he pulled out his wallet. “Go on, Joe, and get the horses. I believe we’ll have to hurry to catch up with those two if we want any pie.”

“I’m on it,” Joe answered hurrying out the door.

Laying money on the table, Ben donned his hat and walked out, trying to push aside any worry that still lingered. Let them all have a good night’s sleep to face whatever came their way in the morning. They’d need it if things went cockeyed.

*****

“So he confessed to you that he’d shot Hoss Cartwright and was planning on killing him?” asked Harold Pinsett, looking cool and collected.

“Yes, sir,” answered Mary Wickham confidently smiling at Hoss who returned the gesture from his seat between Adam and Ben in the front row of the courtroom.

“And did you go to the Sheriff with this information?” Harold asked wiping off some imaginary lint from his lapel. 

She began to answer then stopped, her eyes shifting back to Pinsett. “Well… no… I….”

“And why didn’t you go to the Sheriff, Miss Wickham?” Pinsett interrupted. “According to your statement, Red confessed that he’d tried to murder a man and was going to complete the job. Why didn’t you go to the Sheriff?” 

Her gaze shifted back to Hoss then to Ben. She would never forget the expressions on their faces. “I hurried as fast I could to the Ponderosa to warn Hoss that Red was going to kill him.”

“Hurried, you say?”

“Why, yes.” She watched him pull a piece of paper from his briefcase and straighten it out with a grand sweep of his hand.

3“Didn’t you wait until the next day?” Pinsett asked pinning her with a look. 

Nervous, she fumbled then continued. “No, no . . . it was the same day.”

“Then why does Mr. Lyle Bellows show you renting a buggy and horse from his livery on Wednesday instead of Tuesday?” he asked holding up the paper.

“I…” She closed her mouth, seeing her signature written there.

“And if what you say is true, Miss Wickham, my client could’ve killed Mr. Cartwright that evening and there you were with vital information. So now, not only have you not informed the Sheriff but you haven’t informed the Cartwright’s either.”

“I just thought….”

“I’m guessing you weren’t thinking, Miss Wickham. I’m thinking it was all a story.”

“No….”

“I’m thinking that my client didn’t confess to you at all.”

“But he did…”

“I think you made it all up.”

“Objection!” called Brian Yancy as he leapt to his feet. “It’s already been established that Red Twilight was at the Ponderosa later the next day.”

“But that doesn’t mean he was there to kill Hoss Cartwright?” Pinsett countered.

“Then what reason would he have for going to the Ponderosa,” Yancy continued, “the place Hoss Cartwright lived, the man Red thought killed his brother?” 

Mary cast a glance toward Hoss, seeing him wince at the words, his father comforting him.

“Enough, gentlemen,” Judge Walstrom spoke then looked toward Mary. “Miss Wickham, why didn’t you get Sheriff Coffee or his deputy?” 

She eyed him nervously and looked down at her hands fidgeting in her lap. She really had no answer except she hadn’t even thought about it. She cast an apologetic eye toward him then toward the Judge. “Mr. Pinsett is correct. I wasn’t thinking. I never thought about going to Sheriff Coffee. It never entered my mind. It hadn’t actually occurred to me to warn the Cartwrights until much later that evening, and, as early as I could, I hired a buggy and drove out to the Ponderosa. I tried calling out to Joe Cartwright when he rode past but he didn’t hear me.” She looked toward Joe, who gave her a confused look. “My timing may have been delayed but I know what Red told me,” she added, a new strength to her voice. “He told me flat-out he’d bushwhacked Hoss. He’d found out Hoss was still alive and was planning on finishing the job before he left town. He wanted to kill the man who murdered Willie.”  

“But Mr. Cartwright wasn’t accused of murdering Willie Twilight,” Pinsett said to her.

“Those were his words not mine.”

“But didn’t you tell Mr. Cartwright, as you held Willie’s cold body in your arms, that he’d killed him?” Mary hesitated looking toward Hoss.

“Yes… but I realized later that that wasn’t true.”

“Did you ever tell Mr. Cartwright that?”

“Well… no, not until I rode out to the ranch.”

“Why did you wait so long, Miss Wickham? You knew Mr. Cartwright had been shot and wasn’t doing well. Why didn’t you at least tell his father?”

“I don’t know how many times I have to tell you I wasn’t thinking!” she spat, feeling her body quake. It was bad enough she’d waited but now the whole town knew her shortcomings.

“But you did think that at one time? That Mr. Cartwright killed Willie?”

“Objection,” Yancy called shooting back to his feet, getting a relieved look from Mary.

“Neither Miss Wickham nor Hoss Cartwright are on trail here. Please ask Mr. Pinsett to keep his questions case related.”

“Mr. Pinsett,” Walstrom said, eyeing the defense attorney who gave the Judge an appeasing smile.

“Of course, Your Honor. Please forgive me. Continue with your story, Miss Wickham. You were finally on your way to the Ponderosa . . .”

A series of loud barks startled Mary out of her distressing dreams and she opened frightened eyes onto the gloom of her dark bedroom, the tree outside her window shifting slightly in the evening breeze to send eerie shadows onto the far wall.

Today had been wicked. She shuddered as Pinsett’s words flowed over her again, those over eager, piercing words that twisted everything she’d said to turn her world upside down. She’d embarrassed herself up there in front of the town, proved herself to be a worthless saloon girl with nothing on her mind but . . . well, nothing, as he’d pointed out over and over again. So certain of her testimony, her words became poison in Harold Pinsett’s mouth and she half believed she was guilty of pulling the trigger herself.

Why hadn’t she gone for the Sheriff? Why hadn’t she thought of going to the Cartwrights sooner as in right when Red confessed? She’d nearly caused the death of two young men because her brain apparently left on vacation.

Dropping her head into her hands, she let the tears fall, those tears that had threatened all day. Her memory flashed on Red standing in the great room of the Ponderosa, seeing her with a gun in her hand and then hitting the ground as he struck her, unable to get up. It would be her fault if those twelve men let him go. How could she live with herself then? How could she face the Cartwrights if Red walked free? Tossing herself onto her pillow, she gave in to her fears and let emotions overtake her.

*****

Adam rubbed gritty eyes as he tiptoed toward the stairs, intent upon getting himself some warm milk. It used to help him sleep when he was younger . . . why not now?

His foot barely touched the first step when he felt someone had beaten him to it. Even in the dark, it didn’t take long to figure out who it was. Pulling closed his robe, he continued down, changing direction from the kitchen to the glass decanter on the small table opposite his father’s desk.

“Brandy?” he asked into the dark.

“Hmm? Ah, no . . . no, thank you,” came Ben’s tired distracted voice.

Deciding he didn’t want one either, Adam returned the glass to its holder and headed for the blue chair. Easing down and running a hand through his disheveled hair, he peered into the darkness as his eyes adjusted, seeing his father staring into the darkened hearth, chin resting on his hand. Both sat silently contemplating what was to come.

“Can’t sleep?” Ben finally broke the quiet, both appreciating the foolishness of the question.

Adam answered anyway. “Nope. I keep going over my testimony, keep running it over and over wondering if I failed to impart the seriousness of the situation or the truth or . . . something.”

“You did fine.”

“Then why are those twelve men still debating what should be an obvious outcome?”

“They’ll find it. Just give them time,” Ben stated with a sigh, wondering exactly the same thing.

“Harold Pinsett had them all turned around. You saw what he did to Mary. He’s a good lawyer, good at pulling the wool over people’s eyes.”

“He’s a snake!” Ben cursed drawing a raised brow from Adam. “What difference does it make whether or not Mary went to the Sheriff? She told me.”

Adam paused a moment. “Well . . . I thought that was kinda odd myself, Pa.”

“Adam…”

“If Joe and I hadn’t been following Red, there wouldn’t have been anyone here. You were gone and Mary was alone. Hoss wasn’t in any shape to protect himself. If Mary had brought the Sheriff…”

“And if Pa had just killed Red when he sat next to him in the saloon, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Joe stated bitterly as he came down the stairs.

“No, Joe,” Adam began before his father could chime in, “we’d be having another conversation like when Pa’s neck-tie party would be.”

“Boys,” Ben interrupted, glaring at his youngest who, even though it was dark, could feel the burning gaze directed at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said running a hand over his face. “But it shouldn’t matter who told whom or who didn’t tell someone. What’s past is past and that moment is gone and forgotten.”

“But can twelve men forget what was said today in that courtroom?” Adam asked of his brother. “It’s all a question of her word against Red’s. No one heard his confession to her; no one heard his confession to me. You couldn’t hear him in Hoss’ room. That’s where doubt comes from, Joe, and it can be damaging.”

“And don’t forget how he accused me as well,” Hoss said as he, too, made his way into the great room.

“Hoss…” Adam began.

“I know, Adam. I know,” he said with wave of his hand toward his brother as he sat next to Joe on the settee. “I’ve had time ta think on it and I know it’ll always be a little somethin’ tucked away in my head that I’ll never be able ta shake, but I reckon I can put it into some sorta perspective now. What you said ta me, well, sunk in finally and I’ll always be grateful for that.”

Inwardly, Adam grinned, pleased he’d been there for his brother after all and helped him find a place to put his worries. At least he’d fulfilled part of his promise to Inger. “You’re welcome, little brother,” he answered pushing aside feelings that suddenly welled up in him.

Ben and Joe looked at them then each other as the darkness began to give way to pre-dawn gray.

“Look… we know what happened,” Joe started, trying to keep his emotions at bay. “We know what Red is and what he did. We told them what happened. That should be enough for the jury.”

“But will it be enough for us if Red’s set free?” Ben asked, looking at each of them. None would look back. “I had a moment outside the courthouse when I forgot that laws are in place for a reason. It keeps people, or most people, in line and I almost crossed that line. My hand was reaching for my gun as Red passed. It would’ve been so easy to rid the world of that madman.”

“You don’t want to know what I was thinking,” Adam confessed with a smile.

“Nor me,” Joe added as he traded looks with Hoss.

“It won’t be enough for me if they decide to let him go,” Ben stated. “I can’t imagine…” His voice trailed off and he leaned forward placing elbows on his knees.

“I believe those twelve men will do what should be done, Pa,” Hoss added, looking toward his father. “I’m thinkin’ someone like that Harold Pinsett can talk purty and twist what people say, but that folks generally know the truth when they hear it.”

“You’ve more faith in them than I have,” Joe answered as he rubbed his neck and yawned.

“Well, here’s the thing. I havta have faith ‘cause if ya ain’t got faith in somethin’, what is there? You believe in the law, well, so do I. It’s just gotta work.”

“But you’ve seen when it hasn’t, Hoss,” Adam said.

“I have but then I’ve seen other times when it does and I’m proud ta be a law-abidin’ citizen. That’s the only way I’ll be able ta get through this and get my head around what’s happened. So I believe the more people believin’ may just turn the tide.”

“How can you, of all people, not be bothered by what’s going on?” Joe asked looking hard at his big brother. “Red bushwhacked you and shot Adam then came after you again?”

“Oh, don’t think just because I’ve faith in people don’t mean I’m not bothered, Little Joe,” Hoss confessed. “I’m worried what’ll become of this family if Red walks free. I’m worried that you’ll finish what Adam stopped you from doin’ and I’m worried I might toss everything ta the wind and shoot ‘im myself. But I ain’t gonna dwell on it like older brother here.” He threw Adam a grin, getting one in return. “And I ain’t gonna jump up and down and waste precious energy like you. I’m just gonna ride it out and hope for the best. Those twelve men will make the right decision. I can almost guarantee it.”

His long speech done, Hoss looked to each family member, seeing Adam nodding his head and Joe fiddling with his pants while Ben gave him a smile of pride.

“Breakfast ready five minutes,” came Hop Sing’s voice, startling them all.

“How does he do that?” Joe whispered to Adam, who merely shrugged.

“Yes, Hop Sing,” Ben piped up. “A good substantial breakfast might do us some good.” Rising stiffly from his chair, he made his way to the stair, stopping near Hoss to place a firm hand on his shoulder, then continued on. “I’m going to clean up. Might I suggest the same of you boys?”

Mumbled ‘yes, Pa’s’ found him and they all followed him up the stairs just as a distant clap of thunder made itself known. They all stopped, each harboring thoughts that ventured far from it just being a rainstorm. With the rain rushed in the doubt Hoss had so successfully washed away and they slowly continued to their rooms and their own private thoughts.

*****

The rain fell fast and furious, driving against the windows of the courthouse, its echo resonating throughout the short hallways that, moments before, had been empty but now crawled with the citizens of Virginia City. Muffled voices and grumbles about the weather followed as they stepped out onto the street making their way home. The trial was over; the jury had made a decision and now life could move on.

Harold Pinsett slipped on his hat and coat and shook Brian Yancy’s hand, both sharing a laugh and promise to do breakfast next week; Paul Martin hurried toward his buggy with young Tad Gary pulling him onward to see about his mother; Mary Wickham’s face was just now beginning to regain some of its color. She’d hidden herself in the back of the courtroom near the door, the first to flee if everyone turned on her and accused her of letting a murderer go. She thought she’d faint when the twelve men came into the room, her blood rushing soundly through her veins enough to deafen her to the verdict, having to ask what they’d said.

And, to the side of the room, stood the Cartwrights, their faces impassive as they watched Roy Coffee move to stand silently in front of Red. Lounging in his chair throughout the trial and the five minutes prior to this morning’s verdict, Red now sat upright, tense and surprised, staring after the judge as he left the room.

“Ya gonna sit there all day or stand up and let me take ya back ta jail?” Roy asked as he tired of waiting. Red looked at Roy, bravado replaced with fear. Roy leaned close. “At least they ain’t gonna hang ya. Now, let’s go.”

Not fighting Roy’s iron hand on his arm, Red stood, the rattling of his cuffs setting his teeth on edge, and he let himself be hauled toward the exit. It was then he spied the Cartwrights standing at the side of the room, their eyes boring in on him like a heavy weight.

“Whatcha lookin’ at?!” he yelled, sweat rolling down his face.

Ben pushed away from the wall and slowly approached, seeing Roy’s free hand hovering near his gun. Looking at this mouse of a man who reeked of fear, Ben pulled himself to his full height and narrowed darkening eyes. “I’m looking at an animal masquerading as a human being,” he began in a menacing tone. “I’m sorry they aren’t going to hang you, Red, ‘cause I’d be willing to come to that and make a day of it. Instead, I’ll have to live with the fact that you’ll still breathe the same air as my sons, something you don’t deserve. I hope you enjoy prison and all that goes with it.”

For some unknown reason, the sounds of vehemence in those well-chosen words lessened Red’s fear. Cartwright was expecting this to be last time he’d see him. It almost made him laugh. He had other plans. Swiftly, his face changed and he stood a bit straighter as he returned the look. “Oh, I’ll get you, Cartwright,” he began in an even voice. “Ain’t no one gonna keep me from killin’ all of you. No one. Not this Sheriff or a prison warden. I’ll get you if it’s the last thing I do.”

“Then may you not last very long in your new surroundings,” Ben added with a malicious grin, “because if you come within spitting distance of my family, I’ll kill you.”

Red’s eyes widened a bit and he turned toward Roy. “You heard him, Sheriff. He threatened me.”

“I heard him; now let’s go. I ain’t got time ta stand here all day. Move!” Roy shoved his prisoner away from Ben, trying like the devil to keep him facing the door as he tossed curses back toward Ben.

“I’ll get you!” Red yelled, his previous calm slipping. “I’ll get you, Cartwright! You can count on it!”

Ben watched Red struggle in Roy’s grasp and followed their progression out the door, visibly relaxing as they disappeared from sight, finding his sons suddenly around him.

“You know,” Adam said, placing his hat on his head and turning up the collar on his yellow coat, “it might not have been wise to threaten him like that. There’s always that little thing called parole.”

Ben chuckled. “You think whether or not I threatened him would make a difference? Besides, the Judge gave him fifty years. I’ll be gone by then and won’t have to worry about it,” he finished as he buttoned his coat and started for the exit.

“Pa!” Joe exclaimed, following after his father and catching Adam’s smile out of the corner of his eye.

“Thanks a lot, Pa, leavin’ him ta us,” Hoss grumbled as he followed behind. “Just like ya to up and die on us so’s ya wouldn’t have to deal with this.”

“Well, it seems like a plan,” Ben answered with a short laugh, surprised that he could find something funny in all this chaos.

“Pa, stop talking like that,” Joe complained.

“I’m thinking I don’t like your plan,” Adam added, noticing it’d stopped raining as they stepped out into the fresh air.

“Me either,” Joe added, standing with hands on his hips.

“Oh?” Ben asked pulling Buck’s reins from the hitching post.

“Well, Red doesn’t have it in for you,” Adam said wiping off his saddle. “He’s after Hoss and me.”

“And me,” Joe added leaping aboard Cochise. “Don’t forget me. I beat the tar outta him.”

“And Joe. You, ah, don’t seem to be on his list,” Adam finished, easing into the saddle and giving his father the eye.

“Well, then, maybe I’ll just stick around to see how you handle it. That might be a better idea at that.” Hiding his smile, Ben stuck a foot in the stirrup and lifted himself up. “Well, boys, shall we go for an early lunch or head home and do our chores.”

“Let’s eat!” Hoss eagerly supplied, the idea of doing chores not to his liking right at the moment.

“I’m not even offering to buy this time,” Adam stated holding up a hand. “I don’t have enough for me, let alone the rest of you carnivorous bunch.”

“I think he just insulted us,” Joe whispered to Hoss who gave him a grin.

“My treat,” Ben added when they gave him a look. “Well, being that I’m not on Red’s list, I should be magnanimous and help you boys out as much as I can.”

“Gee, thanks, Pa,” Adam quipped with a raised brow.

“Last one there’s a rotten egg!” Hoss called, urging Chubb down the street, Cochise following close behind. Adam was surprised when Buck sailed past him and he hurried Sport along.

The meal was grand and their stomachs were full as they made their way home a few hours later. Spirits were high now that the torment known as Red Twilight was gone and their lives could move on. Hoss could finally forgive himself and Adam and Joe could feel comfortable giving him some space without constantly looking over his shoulder. Life was returning to normal, at least as normal as it ever was on the Ponderosa.

*****

Red Twilight rubbed his wrists, jumping slightly at the clang of the closing cell door behind him. Glancing as he did every day at his current home, he sat himself down and pulled at his gray wool shirt, wondering briefly who came up with the idea of using wool in the first place.

It was a gray existence he currently found himself in – gray walls, gray clothes, gray food. It matched the gray clouds that had ranged above these last three months, dropping rain like sheets to pound against the leaking cells. He stretched out on the squeaky bed and placed hands behind his head and let his thoughts wander.

His anger raged daily at the injustice of his brother’s murderer walking free while he was incarcerated for attempting to make good on a promise. But that rage got him nowhere. No, he had to think on other things, other ideas that soon brought a smile to his lips and a chuckle to his throat, easing the nervous tension that resided within.

Oh, he’d pictured it many times in many gruesome ways but it always ended the same – Cartwrights stretched out in pine boxes with that old man grieving over his lost boys.

A short bark of laughter escaped him as he held onto that vision, that vision that would keep him sane as he waited, waited for his chance.

“I’ll get you, Cartwright. I’ll get you if it’s the last thing I do. You can count on it.”

***The End***

1 Mary wasn’t given a last name in the episode so, for now, she’s Mary Wickham.

2 Tandy – the hand that was killed by Red in the yard prior to Adam being shot in the original episode.

3 In viewing the episode, I was surprised at Mary’s lack of interest in saving the Cartwrights. Let me explain. The scenes air as follows:  Red confesses to Mary at the Salem House; Adam/Joe/Ben are in the great room when Joe accuses Ben of not doing anything to Red as he sat next to him; a lantern is then taken to Hoss’ room by Joe – it’s obviously night at this point and the end of the day that Red confessed to Mary. Where is that girl? Daylight comes and Joe has vamoosed, riding past Mary as she FINALLY comes out to the ranch. (She’s in the same outfit as the day before.) Mary makes it to the ranch as Joe/Adam are chasing after Red. She walks into the house and up to Hoss’ room. That woman waited a day to tell anyone Red was coming. Someone needs to shoot her!

*Vengeance, written by Marion Parsonett. The storyline of this episode is used within this fictional piece.

Author’s Note:  The idea for this story was based on reviews I received by Patina, Melissa, Iziemba and Laurie on my previous story ‘A Moment Later (WHN Vengeance’). Thanks!

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