The Company You Keep (by DJK)

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  1280



Roy Coffee stood and looked through the bars of the cell at the boy sitting on the bunk. The sixteen-year-old’s elbows were braced on his knees, and his head was buried in his hands. The sheriff sighed almost imperceptibly as he unlocked the cell door and swung it open. “Come on out, son.” Roy saw the shudder that traveled through the youngster’s body before he raised his head. He shook his own head slowly. Ain’t like I never done this kinda thing before. Ah, but this is different ‘cause it matters more that I do it right, that I get it through his thick head, and I know how thick that head can be. Well, best get her done.

“Pa’s here already?” The boy’s voice was tentative and came out of his pale face with little force or volume.

“No. I think we should talk, and I prefer the front office.” Roy gestured with a sweep of his arm. Knowing he would be obeyed, he walked to his desk without a backward glance. His prisoner followed. Taking a seat behind his desk, the sheriff motioned toward a straight-back wooden chair. “Sit down.” The boy obeyed settling his gaze on the floor before him.

So you can’t even look me in the face. Maybe you are ready to listen then. “Tom Bonner came for his boys already. That old man always bails them boys out quick and without a word of reproach. You know, Adam, neither of them gave you a thought. They went out of here laughing.” Roy watched Adam Cartwright’s eyes come up. “They even made a joke or two about how different it was gonna be when your pa came for you.”

Adam swallowed and then replied, “I heard.”

“I’m glad you did. There ain’t gonna be any comeuppance at their house. Never has been and never will be. They think what you’re facing is just a joke. I don’t think you or your pa are going to be doing any laughing, are you?”

“No, sir.” Adam’s head dropped again.

“The thing is, son, those Bonner brothers ain’t bothered by a few hours in jail nor a few days neither. They ain’t never going to be, and it’s a sure thing that there’s plenty more jail time in their future.”

Adam opened his mouth to protest.

“You know that’s the truth, boy!”

Adam sighed. “We didn’t mean any harm,” he said instead.

You didn’t mean any harm, boy. Those two just plain didn’t care.” Roy’s uttered the last sentence in a harsh voice filled with contempt.

Adam’s eyes dropped once again to the floor. “Pa’s going to kill me!” It was a softly exhaled utterance of despair.

“Your Pa expects more of you than Bonner expects of his boys. He expects you to think more of people than to bedevil them with pranks, prod ‘em with insults, and laugh at their embarrassment. He expects you to have more thought of a man’s business than to start up a brawl that busts up his property.” Roy’s voice was not harsh now, only firm, yet Adam winced as if the words had been a lash. “Now, have you asked yourself why them boys with two and four years on you are so eager for the company of a kid?” Roy waited for Adam’s reaction.

He bristled automatically. “I’m no kid!” he snapped back.

Thought that would get a rise out of you. Roy leaned back and fixed the boy with a stare. “You acted like one today and one without much sense to boot!”

Adam’s arms crossed his stomach and drew inward as his chin dropped. “Pa’s going to think so.” Roy Coffee heard the rest of Adam’s thought even though the boy did not so much as mutter it, “And punish me like a kid too.

That he is, that he is. Roy’s fingers drummed his desk. Then the flat of his hand slapped the wooden surface. “Boy, you’ve been raised to know better, but if you keep hanging with the likes of them Bonner brothers. . .”

“I’m won’t!” The exclamation burst from Adam’s mouth. “I’m done with them,” he said more softly, “truly done.”

The sheriff leaned forward and studied Adam’s face. That’s what I’m hoping, son; that’s sure what I’m hoping. He caught Adam’s eyes with his. “One of the most important choices a man makes is who he spends his time with. I’ve seen plenty of good fellows behind steel bars because they chose wrongly.”

“I’ll… I’ll choose better from now on.” Adam fixed his gaze directly on the sheriff’s face. “I promise I shall. I’ve learned my lesson; truly I have.”

I’m thinking maybe you have; hope Ben takes time to see it before he lights into you. “Well, now, I’m glad to hear that, and you being such a scholar I expect the lesson to stick.” Roy rose to his feet. “Where’s your horse?”

“Over behind the boarding house.”

“Well, I’m going to walk you over there to get it.”

“But Pa isn’t here yet.” A puzzled look settled on the young man’s face.

“I didn’t send for your pa.” Ben’s gonna light into me for that one sometime or nuther. Still, I think maybe he’ll see the why of it after a mite of reflection.

“But. . .”

“Some things, especially concerning young ones, are up to my discretion. The Bonners paid their share of the damages and a fine.” Roy paused, and Adam spoke quickly.

“I haven’t got that kind of money, but Pa. . .”

“Won’t be paying for you. I expect you to work off your share. You’ll be making the repairs this Saturday…and Sunday afternoon, if need be.” Roy’s tone had become steely. He reached for his hat. “You can explain things to Ben as you see fit.”

Adam blinked and then gulped. “You’re not going to talk to him?”

“Do I need to, son?” I will iffen you don’t think you can, boy, but I’m hoping it can come from you.

Adam shook his head. “No, no, sir, I’ll tell him. I’ll tell him all of it. I won’t lie.”

Now, you saying all of it is what I needed to hear. Roy nodded. He knew how hard the telling would be for the boy, but still he saw a measure of relief in the hazel eyes. They both knew Ben would go easier on his son if the confession came from Adam. “I know you won’t. Now come on before Ben and Marie start fretting over where you’ve got to.”

He walked with the boy through the streets, his eyes always scanning the area around him for any sign of trouble.

Adam did not say a word until he had untied his horse’s reins. Then he turned toward the man beside him. “Sheriff Coffee, I just, well, thank you for letting me be the one to tell Pa, to tell him in my own way.”

The sheriff turned and landed a stern stare on Ben Cartwright’s eldest. “Don’t make me regret it, Adam.”

“I won’t.” The statement was unequivocal.

Roy placed a hand on Adam’s shoulder. “If I ever catch you up to any shenanigans like today, I’ll blister your hide myself before I turn it over to your pa.” I mean it, and so help me you better believe it!

All that Adam saw in the man’s eyes was simple sincerity. “I know.”

Good! Roy smiled. “Go along then.” He watched Adam mount and ride away before beginning his rounds. After a few steps, he began whistling as he walked the streets of his town.

***The End***

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