Summary: Oh goody!
Word Count: 2500
“I think we’ll need to go into Virginia City to do some shopping,” Ben Cartwright said, coming down stairs. “I seem to need some new clothes, and I’m sure that goes for everyone.”
“Shopping!” said the redhead, with a gleam in her eye. “I love to shop!”
“Me, too,” said the blonde. “When do we leave?”
“Oh, first things first,” said the patriarch of the Ponderosa. “I’ll need to look up ‘Joe’s Big Book of Danger’ to see what perils might befall him in the big city.” He went across to the bookcase in the study (which was against the front wall today, while the window was in the sidewall) and took down a thick tome. Joe and the girls went to peer over his shoulder. The book narrated every single misfortune that had ever befallen the youngest Cartwright, both in television and in fanfic. Consequently, it was very large and incredibly detailed.
“You’ll need to beware of bank robberies, fights in the saloon, and being dragged up dark alleyways,” Ben said, turning page after page of beautifully illustrated maims. The sisters could hardly wait to get their hands on that book and savor it very slowly. They could not help noticing that Joe appeared to have had his left kidney removed twice, but as different authors were involved, perhaps this was understandable.
Joe could read their minds perfectly. “You haven’t maimed me in an age,” he said, apprehensively. “Are you going to do that this time?”
“Well, since we have self-inflicted maims,” said the blonde, “it only seems fair to share the angst with you.”
“You told me it didn’t hurt,” Joe protested, admiring the tattoo of Cochise on the redhead’s arm, and having a sneaky peak at Paw, who now immortalized in illustrated form on the blonde’s hip.
“It didn’t at the time,” said the redhead, breathing seductively in his ear. Joe had to concentrate really hard on what she was saying. “But it’s a little tight and itchy now it’s healing. A little kiss better would be nice.”
Ben cleared his throat. “Joe, were you listening?” he asked, although it was clear to them all that Joe had only been listening to the girls. “Stay away from those alleys, whatever you do! Something nasty also seems to happen whenever anyone goes near one of them.”
Adam and Hoss were waiting by the barn with the horses. Hoss looked a trifle perplexed and was scratching his head.
“‘Taint right, no sirree!” he muttered in an abstracted fashion. “Dadburn tree ain’t got no business darting around like that. Plumb confuses a critter.”
Adam leaned against the barn wall laconically and studied his long legs critically. “What Hoss is trying to say is that the tree and shrubbery at the side of the barn appears to have moved.” Joe craned his necked curiously and, sure enough, the awkwardly-placed shrubbery at the side of the barn was gone.
“Well, that’s a definite improvement!” he said cheerily. “It was always a tight squeeze getting past there.” He looked at Hoss, who retorted
“I was accustomed to getting Chubb to skedaddle by there, real careful like. I don’t like it when things change.”
“Why are you wearing a stetson, instead of your normal 10-gallon hat then?” the blonde enquired and a look of horror crept across Hoss’s face.
“Someone’s playin’ tricks on me!” he cried, belting back to the house.
Ben patted Buck on the nose, removing his hand just before the skittish animal swallowed it and then did a double take.
“Where’s Buck’s normal bridle? The one with all the medallions on it? You know I like him to wear that, as it matches my conches!”
Adam rose to his full height and stretched elegantly. “That was the only bridle in his stall, Pa. No doubt the other bridle will turn up somewhere.” He turned to Sport and gracefully swung into the saddle. It was at this point that the sisters began to realize that things were not quite as they should be. Turning around, they observed Ben giving Joe a leg-up onto a small skewbald pony and began to get rather concerned.
“Where’s Cochise?” asked the redhead. “And why aren’t you doing your usual swing mount?”
“And look at his pants!” exclaimed the blonde in tones of great distress. The redhead looked, and saw at once why her sister was upset. “They’re long enough, but they don’t fit your butt at all!”
Joe looked down, and frowned. “I don’t understand this,” he admitted, studying the baggy folds of material with distress. “Where did this pony come from?”
“It’s Smartie,” said the redhead, knowledgeably. “He’s one of the ponies from Ellen’s riding school. He canters brilliantly, but he doesn’t like the whip. Ellen’s too tall for him.” She frowned, because it would be a real disaster if Joe had shrunk enough to fit on little 12.2hh Smartie! However, she realized that Joe’s legs were trailing on the ground on either side of the extremely portly pony.
The sisters looked at Adam, who was sitting Sport in a manner that would warm the cockles of the instructors’ hearts at the riding school. His heels were down, his back was straight, and he had a beautiful line from his shoulder, to his hips and down to his heels. It made a pleasant change from the ungainly way he generally stuck his legs out. “Adam, how did you manage to get your leg over so gracefully?” asked the redhead. Her sister sniggered, and Joe choked.
“My back doesn’t hurt,” Adam said, sounding surprised. He looked at Hoss, who had managed to find his 10-gallon hat, then at Joe and Ben. “Pa, where are your conches?” he asked.
Ben looked down, and sure enough, his vest was completely bare of conches. This was an unheard of occurrence. “Something strange is going on here,” Ben announced, as though nobody else had noticed.
“Perhaps a drink would help?” the blonde suggested tentatively, unable to remember if anything other than beer and whiskey was available in the saloon, but before she could say anything else, the redhead hissed
“Be careful what you say! Some people don’t even want us to mention alcohol in the same breath as Bonanza. Remember how we got flamed the last time!”
“Heck, that’s just plum rude!” Hoss said stoutly, for he was very fond of the sisters and hated to see them upset. “The drinks are on me, ladies!” He swept a low and courtly bow and ushered the girls in. Joe followed them, rubbing his hands together and looking forward to a few hands of poker. He wandered over to the corner table, only slightly perplexed that the usual out-of-tune piano had been replaced by a chamber orchestra. David Rose was obviously on holiday, for the music was soft and mellow, with nary a glockenspiel to be heard.
“Room for another, boys?” Joe asked convivially, drawing up a chair. The cowboys looked up from their cards and then slowly nodded their agreement.
“We play real serious here,” advised one in a blue shirt. “No dealing from the bottom of the pack and pay up your debts at the end of each hand. Understand? We play snap like gentlemen and we don’t take any prisoners!”
Joe looked down in horror and saw that the cowpokes were indeed engrossed in a fiercesome game of snap, using matchsticks as counters. There was a cry of “You hurt me!” and a bleeding hand was cradled to its owner’s chest. Hurriedly making his excuses, Joe joined the rest of the family at the bar, where they were all sipping cups of coffee.
One of the saloon girls came over and accosted the redhead. “No tattoos in here,” she said to the redhead, who had pulled off her jacket. “I don’t approve. And I won’t allow talk about them in this establishment.” Her tone was strident and unpleasant and the sisters blinked in surprise
Blinking at this bit of blatant discrimination, the redhead glanced round. Sure enough, there weren’t any tattooed cowboys in the saloon this particular day. “My tattoo is tasteful,” the redhead pointed out, remembering her manners. “And I don’t have anything against anyone who doesn’t have a tattoo.”
“I’m buyin’ this lady a drink,” Hoss said, obviously annoyed. “So shut up if you don’t want me to do something we’d both regret.” The girls gawped: Hoss was normally such a pleasant and polite man.
The saloon girl, who was dressed in a high-necked, frilly blouse, floor length skirt and what looked like a dozen flannel petticoats, backed off. There was scarcely a single inch of flesh to be seen, other than her face and hands.
“There is something strange going on,” Joe said. “Do you know the cowboys are playing snap?”
“Let’s go and hit the shops,” suggested the blonde.
“Stay away from alleys,” Ben warned Joe again, as they parted company. “Do you think it’s wise to go to the bank, son?”
“It’s easier to shop if I have money,” Joe explained.
A sensation not unlike a frisson of danger shivered down the girls’ spines. Was it possible that at last Joe was going to be maimed? After all, every time he went to the bank, he was either robbed or he was shot/hit over the head or maimed in some other way. It was almost as if the stagehands couldn’t be bothered erecting the sets for the bank unless they knew some gratuitous (but highly welcome) violence would ensue.
But this time was different. They went in and were greeted pleasantly, Joe withdrew some money and then they left. No robberies, no maiming. Something was definitely wrong.
Back out in the main street, they were nearly knocked down by Hoss, sprinting nimbly past and then hurdling agilely over a fully-laden wagon and clearing it by a good three feet.
“Nice style!” commented the blonde, who had been a handy little hurdler in her youth. “Not quite what you’d expect from Hoss, though, is it?”
“I think he had good reason! Look!” Joe pointed to the saloon door, where the over-clad saloon girl was standing pouting amorously. Hoss cast a terrified look back over his shoulder and redoubled his efforts to put as much distance between himself and his admirer.
Adam was waiting for them in the general mercantile and he did not look happy.
“How can you be out of black shirts?” he fumed. For a moment he considered throwing his hat on the ground and stamping on it in a petulant fashion, but decided this would be beneath his dignity.
The shopkeeper advanced nervously, holding a pile of shirts. “Perhaps you’d like to try these on, sir?” Adam picked up a pale green shirt between his thumb and forefinger and regarded it with extreme distaste. Before he could deliver a cutting remark, a familiar bellow rattled the windows of the shop.
“No conches! What do you mean no conches? I always have conches on my waistcoats. Six on each in fact!” Ben emerged from behind the counter where he had been trying on a variety of floral patterned vests. He still had one on, and it looked utterly ridiculous. Pale pink with cabbage roses wasn’t quite his style!
“I don’t know if I want to shop in here,” Joe said. “I certainly don’t want pants that don’t fit my butt. I’d rather not wear any than face that.”
“It’s all right,” said the redhead, peering out of the window. “I see Gap has opened up just across the road. They’ll put you right. Come on.” They crossed the road, noticing that this time they didn’t have to avoid a stagecoach being driven at breakneck speed through the totally unsuitable streets. They didn’t even have to dodge drunken cowboys riding home from the saloon.
“Did you notice the saloon didn’t have any liquor?” asked Joe.
“There weren’t any fights, either,” said the blonde. “And while I’m not averse to a little product placement, Gap seems about 100 years ahead of its time. It’s like this whole town is bewitched. It’s very odd.”
An evil laugh shattered the unnatural stillness that surrounded them.
“You girls are entirely too irreverent, so we thought we’d show you just what life would be like if all the things we treasure about the dear Cartwrights were suddenly changed. Not quite so much to giggle at now, is there?”
For once the sisters were silent. They looked at the imposing figure with some trepidation. The blonde cleared her throat and managed to ask
“Who are you?”
“I am the Keeper of the Flame! It is my duty to preserve everything we hold sacred about the Cartwrights. You two having been enjoying yourselves far too much and I simply won’t stand for it. There are standards we must uphold.” She gestured widely to a coterie surrounding her, with similarly set expressions, “These are my acolytes. You may call them my Vestal Virgins.”
“Wow, that’s big of you!” commented the redhead. “And who appointed you? God?”
The Keeper of the Flame ignored that question. “How do you like it when there’s nothing to laugh at?”
“I wouldn’t say there’s nothing,” ventured the blonde. “And anyway, I’d say we were more sinned against than sinning.”
“No,” agreed the redhead. “Ben in a floral vest is priceless, it has to be said! And Hoss in an ordinary hat was wonderful and his athletic skills were a revelation to everyone. I don’t care what color shirt Adam wears, but green is different from black and that girlie red, and we can easily fix Joe’s pants.” She smiled. “Even the extraordinary has its moments, you know.”
The blonde nodded. She smiled at Joe, who was frowning at the Keeper of the Flame and her Vestal Virgins. “And besides, given how poor continuity is, it’ll all be back to normal tomorrow. Joe will wear short pants with his green jackets and Adam will be dressed all in black. Hoss will have on his huge white hat and Ben will have his beloved conches back.”
“Buck will have his bondage bridle with the medallions on it,” interjected the redhead, “Smartie will have turned back into Cochise, and Adam will have his bad back again.” She gave Joe a sunlit smile. “And we’ll still love Joe.”
The sisters smiled broadly as Ben, Adam and Hoss joined them, closing ranks. “The world would stop turning if we stopped loving Joe,” they chorused. They knew what really mattered was that the Legacy would continue and that was the important thing.