Summary: What Happened In Between for “The Lawmaker.” *No copyright infringement is intended against the script for The Lawmaker written by John A. Johns and Dick Nelson. Portions of their dialogue are used in this story.
Word Count: 6500
Seeds of Doubt
Adam had been suspicious of Asa Moran’s story about the robbery at the Express Office since he first heard the tale circulating in town. Moran was too much of a coward to confront two armed men; he was more likely to shoot them in the back rather than face them down in view of witnesses. Pa may have supported Moran as sheriff in Roy’s absence, but the man was now drunk with power and was far too dangerous. After Lou Palmer, one of the Ponderosa hands, had staggered to the doorstep of the ranch with a face that spoke of a severe beating, Pa began to understand how power had corrupted a man as weak as Virginia City’s acting sheriff.
Moran hadn’t been Roy’s first choice for the job and had only been suggested because Ben wouldn’t accept or volunteer a son, and other men suggested were earning more than they would as sheriff. Ben had had doubts about Moran because of an incident at a stock show several years ago in which Adam’s bull won the blue ribbon; Adam hadn’t given a second thought about that incident, but Moran apparently couldn’t let his grudge drift downstream and forget about it. Roy thought Moran, even though down on his luck most of the time, would make a fine lawman for Virginia City and Ben placed that nagging seed of worry back on a high shelf out of reach.
Ever since the incident at the Express Office two nights ago, and his receipt of the reward for killing those two would-be robbers, Moran had let the power of his office go to his head; he began to strut the streets and intimidate those whom he didn’t care for. Adam had been suspicious of Moran’s story when he first heard it from the man himself at the Silver Dollar. According to the sheriff, he’d had to kill those two men during a blazing gun battle; Adam thought it odd that a man hardly known for bravery had held his courage while exchanging shots in such a tight space as the alley. Even odder was that no one in town seemed to have heard the gun battle.
Then there was Lou. The hand told them that the sheriff beat him for no good reason. Moran’s story was that Palmer had threatened him and he’d had to defend himself from the larger man. If Palmer had actually threatened the sheriff, why wasn’t he in jail?
The key to finding the truth about Moran’s involvement in the events of the last two days lay with Charlie Finch, the deputy. Finch, Moran’s hired hand before being deputized, was a man who could be easily led and manipulated but, unlike his boss, he had a conscience. If those men at the Express Office had been unarmed and if Lou Palmer had done nothing to provoke the sheriff, Adam knew he’d be able to chisel away at the lies concocted by Moran and the deputy would tell the entire story.
Adam sauntered into the Silver Dollar and saw Finch sitting at a table eating lunch. Moran was nowhere in sight, so the deputy wouldn’t be under any pressure to relate the story the way the sheriff wanted. He sat down at the table and the bartender brought over a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. A couple of drinks might loosen Finch’s tongue and help the truth come out. Adam helped himself to the bread as he worked at loosening Finch’s memory.
“I keep tellin’ you I was nowhere near this place last night. So how could I know what happened?” asked Finch when questioned about his boss pistol-whipping Palmer.
“Well Asa didn’t tell you about it, huh?” asked Adam.
“He don’t tell me everything he does. Mr. Moran’s pretty busy. He’s got a lot on his mind these days.”
“Yeah, I bet he has. Those two dead men. You were there when they were killed, weren’t you, Charlie?”
“Sure I was.”
“Right in the middle of all that shootin’.”
“Well I wasn’t right in the middle of it. I was off a ways, but I could see it all good enough.”
Adam was surprised to hear that Moran was the sole shooter in that alley. “Well you could see it but you let Asa do all the shootin’? Why didn’t you help him out? Isn’t that what a deputy’s for?”
“I didn’t expect to do no shootin’. It happened pretty fast.”
“You went to stop two men who were robbing the Express Office and you didn’t think you’d have to shoot.”
“Sure I did; but Mr. Moran, he yelled in and told ‘em to throw their guns outside and they did that and they come out.”
“He told ‘em what?” Adam had been half expecting to hear that Asa shot those men in the back; he hadn’t anticipated hearing that the would-be robbers had exited the Express Office unarmed.
Charlie sounded exasperated. What did Adam not understand? “Mr. Moran yelled and told ‘em to throw their guns out. And to come out.”
“Come out with their hands up?”
“They was tryin’ to fight us. That’s how come he shot ‘em.”
“Well, how? Without their guns?”
“Well, when the first one come out he tripped… and it looked like he was goin’ after that gun right enough…and it all happened pretty fast. Oh, you got me so mixed up!”
Finch admitted that those men had been unarmed instead of going for their guns but then tried to say he was confused. Adam knew he was finally hearing the truth when he heard Moran’s voice behind him.
“Now what are you mixed up about, Charlie?”
Adam slowly turned to see Moran standing behind him and almost gloating. The man was overly confident that everyone in town, including Judge Jackson, believed every word of his version of last night’s events.
“About the two men at the Express Office. About how you shot it out with two men who had no guns. Well, that sounds a little different from the way you’ve told it.” Adam could see the fear in Moran’s eyes at being caught in a lie.
“I told you, Adam, that weren’t the way it was,” said Charlie. Adam had turned back to the deputy, expecting to hear more of what actually happened in that alley.
“Well, I bet Judge Jackson would like to hear from you two how it really was. I bet he’d like to hear about Lou Palmer, too. Yeah, I’m sure he’d like to hear how it really was with Lou,” replied Adam.
“Now wait a minute, you’re not gonna go talkin’…” Moran’s fear turned to anger. How dare a Cartwright dispute a sheriff’s accounting of events? Those Cartwrights, Adam especially, seemed to think that they were above the law and could twist the judge’s ear to smear his reputation. Moran couldn’t let Adam utter a word of what actually happened last night to the judge or anyone else. He drew his gun and laid a savage blow with the butt against Adam’s head; the man immediately passed into unconsciousness.
“You hit him pretty hard, Mr. Moran.”
“He asked for it. Let’s cart his carcass over to the jailhouse.”
The two lawmen pulled Adam to his feet and began to drag him over to the jail. Moran realized that he’d have to put his truth on the table so everyone would see that he was only doing his duty as Virginia City’s protector. Passing Vicki, a saloon girl, on the way out, he told her, “These poor Cartwrights can’t hold their liquor.”
He didn’t see the shocked and suspicious expression on the girl’s face. She knew the truth of what just happened and needed to tell someone with a reputation for honesty before the sheriff struck again. It was one thing to shoot robbers or beat a cowhand; it was another to nearly kill a Cartwright.
Hoss and Joe walked into the Silver Dollar, hoping to find Adam. They hadn’t seen him since they put the horses up at the Livery. Hopefully, he’d found out why Moran had beaten Lou Palmer so severely — Palmer could be loud and a bit obnoxious, yet the man didn’t have a mean streak. They could only figure that Palmer had teased the acting sheriff about something, setting off the man’s temper. How else to explain what had happened?
Entering the saloon, both men looked around for their brother before sidling up to the bar and ordering beers. Adam wasn’t here, so maybe he was with Pa. Moran wasn’t here, either, so hopefully people would feel free to talk without worry of reprisal. Hoss turned from the bar as he sipped his beer and caught Vickie’s subtle nod. With a nudge to his younger brother, the two men walked over to the table and had a seat.
“How is everything?” asked Joe.
Vickie nervously looked around and licked her lips; if word got back to Asa that she was telling the truth about recent events, she might lose more than her job. “Asa’s let that badge go to his head.”
“We know that,” said Hoss. “Lou Palmer staggered up to our place. He was beat something awful.”
“Did he tell you why?”
“He told us Asa did it,” said Joe.
“It was because he was having a beer with me. Asa’s got this idea that I’m his girl, but it’s my job to be friendly with customers. Lou was a customer last night and Asa couldn’t stand that.”
“He couldn’t stand you bein’ friendly with another man or bein’ friendly with Lou?” asked Hoss.
Vickie sipped at a glass of whiskey and said, “Because I was with Lou and he couldn’t keep his mouth shut when Asa came over. “
Hoss took a swig of his beer and thought about all of Adam’s suspicions about Moran. He, Pa, and even Joe thought that Adam was being overly critical of the sheriff. Now…now it was obvious that Adam had been right all along. “Have ya seen Adam?”
Vickie again glanced around nervously and leaned across the table towards her companions. “Adam was in here earlier talking to Charlie about that holdup at the Express Office. Charlie said that Asa killed those two men in cold blood.” She nervously looked around again before continuing. “Adam said he was gonna go to the Judge but Asa lost his temper. He hit Adam — hit him hard — upside the head with his gun. When he and Charlie took Adam outta here, he looked bad off. Asa told everyone that Adam was drunk, but he’s always been able to hold his liquor.” She saw Hoss’ and Joe’s jaws clenching in anger and was afraid of what would happen if they confronted the sheriff, telling him where they heard this news. Placing a hand on Hoss’ arm, Vickie begged, “Promise me you won’t tell Asa that I told you!”
“Where’s Adam now?” asked Joe in a menacing tone.
“In…in jail. Asa and Charlie took him over to the jail.”
“How bad’s he hurt?” asked Hoss.
“I…I don’t know. Your brother looked bad off. Please…please don’t tell Asa I told you.”
Joe patted Vickie’s hand and told her, “Don’t worry.” With a gulp, he finished his beer and said, “Come on,” to Hoss. She watched the two men leave the saloon, worried about what Asa might do to her for telling the truth.
Heading for the sheriff’s office, Hoss and Joe stopped when they heard their father’s voice.
“Hey, Joe! Hoss! Where are ya off to in such a rush?”
“Goin’ to the jail to get Adam,” said Joe.
“What?” asked Ben in disbelief.
“Yeah, Asa’s got him behind bars in there,” added Hoss.
“Asa hit him over the head with a gun,” said Joe, his nostrils flaring with his temper.
“He what?!?” asked Ben angrily.
“What are we doin’ standin’here gabbin’?” asked Hoss. “Let’s go get Adam,” he said heading for the door to the sheriff’s office.
“Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Look — I’ll go in there myself.”
“Pa — you against both of them?” asked Hoss with a touch of worry in his voice.
“I’m not gonna be against anybody. Now we’re gonna stick to the law and that’s all of us. You two wait out here.”
“Pa, I think…,” started Joe.
“I said wait out here. I’m just as mad about this thing as you are but you are too dadblamed hot-tempered. Both of you!” Ben headed for the door and realized he should take off his gunbelt so Moran couldn’t claim that he’d tried to draw down on an officer of the law. Handing the gunbelt to Hoss, he said, “Wait outside.”
Ben went in the office intent on finding out what was going on and getting his son out of jail. “I want to see Adam.”
“Not in my jail,” answered Moran.
There was a familiar voice wafting in the air; Adam tried to remember who it belonged to but the pain was wrestling for control of his mind. The voice became louder and then was joined by other voices. Riding a wave of pain to its crest, the picture of a dark-eyed man with silver hair formed briefly behind his eyes before fading. There was a name for that face. The name Pa formed in the spray of another wave of pain. Pa was here.
Loud noises came from beyond the door. Adam’s mind interpreted the crashes and bangs as part of the sea of pain that he was adrift in.
Hands grabbed at him and pulled him from the depths of the sea. One set of hands was large yet gentle. A name belonged to those hands but he couldn’t pluck it from the wave.
Hoss and Joe were both surprised at their brother’s condition.
“You all right, Adam?”
He opened his eyes and felt that the light was piercing his head and shattering his mind like a window pane smashed to smithereens by a rock. He shut his eyes and trusted in the hands that were supporting him.
“We better get him to the doc quick, Joe.”
“He’s got a crack on the head.”
Joe went to help Pa while Hoss helped his older brother out of the sheriff’s office.
“You’re takin’ him outta here?” asked Moran in disbelief.
“Takin’ him to the doctor,” answered Ben.
“You take that prisoner outta here an’ I’m gonna be after you! I’m gonna be after you with everyone in town behind me!” the lawman growled in warning.
“You come ahead, Asa. We’ll be over at Doc Martin’s house at the edge of town,” answered Ben, his eyes and voice sparking with the flames of anger. “You’ll find us there.”
Any other man would have retreated several steps backwards after seeing that look in Ben’s eyes and hearing that warning tone in his voice. Moran, though, wasn’t going to let someone as powerful as a Cartwright disobey his laws.
Hoss was supporting his brother while he managed to shuffle along just at the surface of awareness. Feeling Adam’s weight shift as his knees began buckling, Hoss quickly scooped him into his arms. “Adam!” The unconscious man didn’t respond — not even a moan. There was a knot of fear in Hoss’ belly as he carried his brother to Dr. Martin’s office; Vickie said Moran hit him hard and the bruising on the side of his head proved that. Thank goodness Adam lived up to that Yankee granite head nickname Joe liked to toss around.
Ben and Joe caught up to Hoss and the elder Cartwright blanched with worry. Adam had been right about Moran all along but he thought his son’s suspicions were unfounded. Neither of them had witnessed the events at the Express Office, yet Adam immediately had a hunch that the acting sheriff created a new truth about what had actually happened. When Lou Palmer said that Moran beat him, Adam reiterated his mistrust about the man.
People on the sidewalk stopped to gawk and whispers were exchanged as the Cartwrights made their way across town. The sheriff and his deputy had dragged Adam over to the jail several hours earlier, saying he was drunk and disorderly. If the Cartwrights were taking one of their own out of jail, that must mean they thought they were above the law. Would Sheriff Coffee have let those Cartwrights get away with something like this?
Dr. Martin was surprised to see Adam carried into his office. “Over here,” he told Hoss, pointing to the couch. Hoss laid his precious burden down and retreated so the doctor would have room to work.
“Who did this?”
“Moran,” said Ben with a snort.
The doctor checked over Adam’s limbs and chest to make sure there were no other injuries; the head wound looked bad enough. The bruising indicated a sharp blow with a blunt instrument, no doubt the butt of a gun since Moran was involved. “How long ago did this happen?”
“At least an hour,” said Hoss.
“That Moran is a menace to this town,” observed the doctor while he checked Adam’s pupils. The man had a severe concussion and was lucky to still be breathing; any other man would have likely been killed by such a blow. He gently wiped away the clotted blood for a better look at the wound and was surprised that the skull wasn’t exposed; there was a good dent in his patient’s head, though. The doctor realized that he’d have to rely on Adam’s constitution to pull him through this.
“Can you do anything for him?” asked Ben as he sat down on the couch by his son.
“I’ll be honest with you,” said Paul, “there’s not much that modern medicine can do in a case like this. Adam’s a strong young man so he stands a good chance of pulling through this. I think it’ll take more than a knock to the head to bring your eldest down.”
Ben looked at the doctor, fear evident in his eyes with a flame of anger sparking to life. The doctor realized that he needed a reason to keep Ben in the surgery and away from Moran. “Try talking to him, Ben. Maybe your voice will get through to him.”
“Should we leave?” asked Hoss. He wanted to go over to the sheriff’s office and beat a pound of vengeance out of Moran, the law be damned.
“No. I think it would help Adam if you all stayed here. If he hears your voices and realizes that he’s with family, he’s more likely to come back to us.”
Ben laid a hand gently on his eldest’s knee and leaned forward to look at the pale, waxy face. “Son? Adam? I’m here.”
After getting warrants from Judge Jackson, Moran went over to the saloon to garner support for arresting Ben and his sons. Everyone knew those Cartwrights believed they were above the law and thought their money and name gave them more rights than the common man.
“Keep your mouth shut, Charlie, and let me do all the talking’.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Moran.”
The two lawmen entered the saloon and Moran adjusted his badge and gunbelt just in case anyone needed reminding who was in charge of Virginia City. A good-sized crowd had trickled into the saloon, so the lawman believed that a few beers would help sway opinion to his side.
“Men! Beers are on me. Bartender — make sure every man gets a beer.”
A cheer went up in the saloon as the bartender placed several pitchers on the bar top. Men filled their glasses and toasted the sheriff. Moran waited until every man had had at least one free beer before speaking.
“You men know that I was asked to fill in as lawman when Sheriff Coffee was injured during that holdup. And you men know that I killed those two no good skunks who tried to rob the Express Office.”
A loud cheer went up from the crowd. Everyone knew the story of how Moran had killed those two men and collected a substantial reward. Their sheriff proved he was a hero who wouldn’t put up with lawbreakers.
“If I let one man break the law in Virginia City, then I haven’t upheld my oath to protect this town. No man is above the law here.”
“That’s right!” shouted out a voice from the crowd.
“You men have probably heard how I had to arrest Adam Cartwright earlier today in this very saloon.” He heard several sounds of agreement from the crowd. “Cartwright got drunk and then tried to assault my deputy. If I hadn’t stepped in, who knows what he would have done to good old Charlie.” He added to his performance with a pat to his deputy’s shoulder. “His father and brothers came over to my jail with their guns drawn and they threatened to kill me and Charlie if I didn’t let Adam out.” The crowd gasped at this revelation. “Sure, the Cartwrights are rich and powerful, but we can’t let jail-breakers, no matter their name, try to run this town!” A loud cheer went up and toasts were made to the sheriff.
Charlie glanced over the crowd nervously — it was one thing for the sheriff to hold a grudge against the Cartwrights but it was another to get everyone worked up enough to want to arrest them all. He knew better than to say anything, though –he could easily end up like that Lou Palmer, or even Adam, if Moran lost his temper.
“Ben and his boys took Adam over to the Doc’s house to hide him there. They figured that they’d drag the innocent doctor into their plot to overthrow the law here. Are we gonna let those jail-breakers try to run this town?”
A shout of “No!” went up from the crowd.
Holding up some papers, Moran gestured for the crowd to quiet down. “I’ve got warrants signed by Judge Jackson for the arrest of Ben Cartwright and his sons. Now who’s with me to bring those jail-breakers to justice?”
Another loud cheer went up as men set down their beers and crowded around the sheriff. Moran smiled in triumph as men patted his back and expressed their support for him.
Realizing that Ben, Hoss, and Joe expected him to do something – anything –the doctor began wrapping Adam’s head in bandages. A low moan escaped Adam’s lips and Ben leaned forward hoping his son was coming around. “Adam? Can you hear me, son?”
“Pa?” he asked weakly, barely opening his eyes.
“Can you see me?”
Adam’s vision was blurred but he could see silver hair. “Yeah.”
Ben placed a hand on his eldest’s knee and tried to will Adam to open his eyes further. He wished he’d talked Roy out of choosing Moran as acting sheriff and he wished he’d given his son’s (and his own) doubts more concern. No one would have thought the seemingly timid Asa Moran would have been capable of the violence he’d done in Virginia City the past couple of days, but the man was using the badge as an excuse for his true nature to emerge from hiding; unfortunately, Ben realized it took his son nearly dying to make that evident.
Hearing Adam’s voice, Paul took a closer look at his patient. His eyes were clear, the pupils were the same size, and his coloring was much better. The doctor finished the bandaging and began to put his instruments away.
Adam squinted at his father’s worried face. “Well, I should have stayed put like you told me but I had a feeling Asa didn’t have to kill those two men at the Express Office.”
“No, Adam, I’ve been a blamed fool. Just couldn’t see Moran for what he really is. Some men, you just can’t trust ‘em with authority of any kind. That was our mistake — picking that kind of man.”
“Well it’s almost worth the headache to hear you admit you were wrong for once,” Adam said with a wink. Hoss and Joe exchanged grins upon hearing that.
Relieved that his son was awake and alert, Ben went over to the doctor and softly asked, “What do you think?”
“He should be all right but only because he inherited that thick Cartwright skull. You know he came pretty close to being killed?”
“I hope we didn’t hurt him none bringing him in from the jail,” said Hoss.
“Oh no, you did right. Probably saved his life, judging from the treatment those prisoners get in that jail.”
Hoss had been watching at the window and saw a crowd moving in the light. “Pa? Here comes Asa.”
“He said he’d have the whole town with him,” said Joe, looking out the window. “He’s got a good part of it right now.”
“Ben, you know there can’t be a ruckus in here,” warned Dr. Martin.
“There isn’t gonna be any ruckus — in here,” said Ben, putting on his gunbelt. “I’m goin’ out there; you two stay here. If they get past me, stop ‘em.”
Adam saw his father leave and wanted to get up. He tried to will himself to sit up, but his body wouldn’t cooperate. A sudden spell of vertigo pulled him down into that dark sea and his eyes rolled back as he passed out.
“Adam!” said Hoss.
Joe, keeping his eye on what was going on outside, shot a quick look over to Adam. He was torn between seeing if Adam or Pa needed his help.
The doctor was gently slapping Adam’s cheeks, trying to bring him back around. “Get me the smelling salts,” he said to Hoss. The larger man handed him the bottle, which he waved under his patient’s nose; Adam groaned but didn’t open his eyes.
“Is he gonna be okay?” asked Hoss.
“He just needs time.”
Hoss and Joe could hear the heated words that were being exchanged between Asa and Pa and they worried that the sheriff would shoot their father in cold blood. Since Adam was in good hands, both young men decided to step outside to support Pa, especially if their guns were needed.
The crowd was beginning to turn on Asa as Ben’s questions planted seeds of doubt in their minds. What if the Cartwrights hadn’t taken the law into their own hands as the sheriff claimed?
Seeing the younger men come out of the doctor’s office, Asa yelled out, “You two — Hoss, Joe — you raise your hands! You’re under arrest!”
Ben saw his chances of getting the truth from Moran slipping through his fingers. Suddenly, he realized the key to unlocking the truth was with the deputy. Charlie’s conscience wouldn’t let him tell Moran’s lies to Adam, so surely he’d tell the truth here.
“Charlie! Charlie, didn’t you take an oath to uphold and enforce the laws of Virginia City according to your ability and your conscience? Didn’t you, Charlie? Isn’t that right?”
“That’s right, Mr. Cartwright,” answered the deputy.
“Well, why don’t you tell us what you told Adam about those two men at the Express Office the other night?”
“Quiet, Charlie!” warned the sheriff.
“What’s the matter, Asa? I think we should all hear what Charlie has to say. You afraid to let him tell us?”
“I don’t have to stand for this. I’m not on trial here. I’m a law officer. I came here to arrest jail-breakers!” growled Moran.
Ben’s voice was rising on a tide of anger. “Why did you arrest Adam? Because he was talking to your deputy or because he found out you killed two unarmed men?”
“That’s a lie!”
“Is it?” snapped Ben.
Moran felt those seeds of doubt germinating in the crowd he’d stirred up at the saloon. “You see what he’s trying to do, don’t ya? He’s twisting everything around so I’m in the wrong and he’s in the right.” Moran lunged as he said, “Judge, you give me those warrants.”
“No,” said the judge, keeping the papers away from the sheriff.
“They’ve got to go to jail and you know it.”
The judge pushed Moran away and growled “Now wait a minute.” Addressing Charlie, the judge asked “Is that the truth? Were those two men unarmed when Moran killed them?” He hoped that he hadn’t supported the sheriff’s behavior the past few days out of a mistaken belief that the man was only doing what he thought was best for Virginia City.
Charlie’s resolve crumbled and he blurted out, “That ain’t the way it was! You tell ‘em, Mr. Moran!”
“Don’t get riled, Charlie!” said the sheriff, hoping that he could get his spineless deputy to shut his mouth.
The deputy was panicking and said, “I told everybody just like you told me to tell everybody!”
“Shut up!” snarled Moran.
Charlie blurted out, “I told everybody how it looked like they were gonna fight… “
“Shut up!” yelled Moran as he swung his fist at the deputy’s face. The judge was stunned by the sheriff’s sudden attack.
“What are you afraid of, Asa?” Ben asked. “Afraid for people to know that you shot down two men in cold blood after they threw their guns down? Afraid for people to know you pistol-whipped Lou Palmer?”
The sheriff reached for his gun but Ben was faster; his bullet struck home, killing Moran. After the sheriff fell, Ben plucked the badge from the man’s shirt. “Never shot at one of these before.”
“You didn’t shoot at the badge, Ben. You shot at the man.”
“Yeah,” replied Ben, even though there was very little comfort in that thought.
The crowd began trickling away and one man stopped to help Charlie up. Most of the men headed back for the saloon, hoping to drink away the feeling that they’d come close to arresting innocent men to cover up the actions of a weak-willed sheriff.
Placing a hand on Ben’s shoulder, the judge said, “See to your son. Make sure he’s all right.” Ben wearily entered the doctor’s office, still holding Roy’s badge.
Hoss and Joe turned to go back inside but the judge stopped them. “Would one of you boys consider acting as sheriff until Roy can return to duty?”
The two men exchanged glances and then looked at the doorway. Virginia City needed a lawman but Adam needed them more.
“I know you’re worried about your brother, but someone needs to keep order here. You boys check with your father.”
“Cain’t you just send a telegram to Roy, asking him to come back?” asked Hoss.
“You know the sheriff needs time for that leg to heal. Talk to your father and then I’ll swear one of you in.” The judge then headed for home, confident that a Cartwright would soon be upholding the law in Virginia City.
Hoss and Joe went back into the doctor’s office to see their father sitting on the couch with a hand on Adam’s knee. “Adam okay?” asked Joe.
“Yes,” answered Dr. Martin. “He’s a strong young man and it’s normal for a person to pass between consciousness and unconsciousness in cases like this. He’ll just need some time for that crack in his skull to heal.”
“I’m gonna go get us some rooms,” announced Joe, heading for the door.
“I’ll stay here with Adam. You two go ahead and get a room. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Joe and Hoss exchanged a glance and said, “Good night, Pa,” as they headed for the door.
Paul tried hard to stifle a yawn after the younger Cartwrights left but he didn’t have much luck. Ben looked up and said, “You don’t have to keep me company. I’ll just sit here with Adam.”
“Do you need anything? How about some coffee?”
“No, no I’m all right. You go on to bed. I’ll get you if anything changes.”
“Get some rest, Ben. Adam’s going to be fine.”
After the doctor retired, Ben was left alone with his thoughts. Moran had fooled them all with that story about the events at the Express Office. When Adam had raised doubts about what happened, he’d reminded his son that they weren’t there to see the robbery unfold. Now, of course, he wished that he’d listened instead of supporting the sheriff. He snorted as he realized that it took one of his ranch hands nearly being beaten to death to see what a menace Moran actually was. The man was weak in both mind and spirit, and being sheriff finally gave him power over others for the first time in his life. It was easy to see that weakness now, in hindsight, yet Adam had seen it from the outset.
Lost in thought, Ben was startled to feel pressure on his arm. Looking down, he saw his son’s eyes half-opened.
“Pa? What’s wrong? Joe? Hoss?”
“They’re over at the hotel. “
“I…I killed him.” Ben sighed heavily with weariness. “I’ve never shot a lawman down, Adam.”
The younger man was surprised to hear that. If Pa had killed Moran, it was only because he’d been forced to do so. “Sorry.”
With a thin smile on his lips, Ben said, “There’s nothing to be sorry about. Asa tried to kill you to cover up his lies. I should have suspected his version of the Express Office robbery from the beginning but I didn’t want to believe that he was that type of a man.”
Adam sighed and closed his eyes. He knew Pa would torment himself for agreeing with Roy’s choice of acting lawman. “Weak.”
“I know, son, but it’s going to take a while for you to get some strength back.”
Opening his eyes, he looked at his father and said, “Asa.”
“He was.” Ben lapsed into thought again for a few minutes and then looked into his son’s eyes. “I guess I’ll have to wear that badge now. Roy asked me and I said no because it would look like we Cartwrights were running this town. If I’d only listened.”
Knowing Pa really didn’t want the responsibility, Adam said, “Joe or Hoss.”
“I don’t know. I got us into this mess; your brothers shouldn’t have to clean up my mistakes.”
Adam hoped he was gripping his father’s arm when he said, “No one’s fault.” Feeling tired, his eyes started to close as he drifted into a natural sleep. Ben was again left with his thoughts about seconding Roy’s choice of Moran as acting sheriff. All of this could have been avoided if he’d just pinned on that badge when Roy asked.
Ben awoke in the morning to the smell of coffee and biscuits. He was pleased to see Adam sitting up enough to drink a cup of coffee. His coloring appeared better and his eyes seemed more alert. Moving his head around to get the kinks out of his neck, he caught a flash from the corner of his eye — Joe was wearing Roy’s badge.
“Joseph, why do you have that on?”
“You know what. Why?”
“It was Adam’s idea, Pa.”
“Joseph,” Ben said sternly.
“My idea,” was all Adam said before focusing on his coffee.
“Adam was awake when I came in this morning and he told me you were gonna wear Roy’s badge. He said I should wear it because I’m younger and have more energy.” Ben glared at his youngest. “Maybe I said that. Anyway, you need to take care of that granite-headed brother of mine so he’ll be healed up and ready to help with the roundup next month.” Joe followed this up with his sweetest smile.
Ben snorted and shook his head. Who was weak-willed now? “I’m going to have a talk with Judge Jackson…”
Before Ben could finish his sentence, the judge walked into Dr. Martin’s office and bade everyone a good morning. Pouring a cup of coffee, he said, “I hope you don’t mind that I swore in Little Joe as acting sheriff. He’ll do a fine job for Virginia City.”
Ben didn’t like having his son selected to serve as sheriff without his permission yet realized that his sons were adults who were capable of making their own decisions. Looking first at Adam and then at Joe, he said, “I’m sure he will.” He glanced around the room again and noticed a Cartwright was missing. “Where’s your brother?”
Hoss walked into the doctor’s office and said, “Mornin’, Pa. I got you an’ Adam a room over at the hotel. Is it okay to move him over there, Doc?”
“If Adam feels up to going there by this afternoon, then sure,” answered the doctor.
“Don’t I get a say?” asked Adam.
“If I don’t, you don’t,” grumbled Ben. Realizing that he shouldn’t take his inner turmoil about the events with Moran out on his sons, he made a short apology and got a cup of coffee.
“What’s gonna happen to Asa’s spread?” asked Hoss.
“Maybe Charlie would like to buy it,” suggested Joe.
Ben was grateful that Moran hadn’t had a wife or children on that scrubby little ranch. The land and cattle could always be sold at auction for the taxes. Maybe he’d buy the place then sell it and use the money for a fund to hire an acting sheriff if Virginia City should be in need again. He shrugged at the thought.
“What are ya thinkin’ ‘bout, Pa?” asked Joe around a mouthful of biscuit.”
“Hmm? Oh. Nothing.” At least Virginia City would have a sheriff she could trust to uphold the law until Roy got back. “Will Charlie be your deputy?”
The judge replied, “Charlie’s in jail as an accessory to attempted murder for the attack on Adam.”
“Why don’t you let him out? I’ll sign an affidavit and he can work for me on the Ponderosa.”
“I don’t know, Ben. Charlie covered up all of Asa’s misdeeds.”
“Charlie was bullied by Moran for so long that he wasn’t sure what to do. The man deserves a second chance, to work for a man who’ll respect him. How about it?”
“You’ll be responsible for him. You do understand that?”
“Of course I do.”
“Well, Sheriff,” the judge said turning to Joe, “let’s go fill out the paperwork.”
After their father and brother left, Hoss mumbled, “That ol’ softy.”
“You and Joe wonder where I got this granite head? He just went out the door.”