Word Count: 1857
“Hoss,” said Ben as he came from the house and stood behind his middle son.
Hoss was perched on a chair off the side porch, with his back to his father. Ben peeked over the big man’s shoulder, wondering what Hoss was concentrating so hard on. “What on earth are you doing?”
Hoss glanced up at his father. His face wore a slight frown. “Pa, can’t you see? I’m twiddling my thumbs,” Hoss said in an agitated tone.
“Well, for heaven’s sakes, Hoss, I can see THAT. But why?” Ben said, just as agitated and with a similar frown on his ruggedly handsome face.
For several moments, Hoss appeared to be thinking. His face was scrunched up tightly; the tip of his tongue was sticking out between his lips and his huge blue eyes were busy watching his thumbs move around and around in miniature circles.
Hoss glanced quickly up at his father and then back down at his fingers, as if implying that to take his eyes off the rotating thumbs would mean he might make a mistake. It was obvious to the curious father that his middle son was concentrating extremely hard on what he was doing. But why, for heaven’s sake, was his grown son doing something so…so…childish?
“Hoss, WHY are you twiddling your thumbs?” Ben asked a second time.
“Cause there ain’t nothin’ else to do, that’s why,” Hoss answered, his thumbs working around in circles as fast as Hoss could twirl them.
Ben rolled his eyes and sighed deeply. “Son, are you telling me that, here you live,” Ben waved his arm about in the air, “amid all this — the biggest ranch in the Nevada Territory — and you sit there twiddling your thumbs…simply because you have nothing to do?”
There remained a long pause in the conversation as Hoss continued to twiddle, obviously concentrating on the job.
“That’s right,” Hoss said flatly.
Ben pinched his eyes tightly together and shook his head, catching a movement off to his right side. He turned slightly and saw Hop Sing sitting in a chair, leaning back in a relaxing position. The family servant seemed undaunted by his boss having found him as such — doing nothing, it appeared, but watching Hoss twiddling his thumbs.
Ben placed his hands on his hips, his scowl deepened. “And I suppose you don’t have anything better to do either?” Ben said with a frown.
“Oh, Hop Sing have plenty to do; I doing it now,” Hop Sing grinned, his head bobbing up and down almost as fast as Hoss was making circles with his two beefy thumbs.
“Dare I ask?” muttered Ben, “just what it is you are doing?’
“Oh yes, Mr. Boss, you ask. Hop Sing watching Mr. Hoss twiddle thumbs, make sure he don’t stop for very long time.”
“But why Hop Sing?” Ben’s voice was strained and his dark eyes showed his doubt at his son and his servant’s sanity.
“Mr. Hoss say…”
Hoss jerked his head around to glare at the family servant. Ben noted the deep scowl on his son’s face and how quickly Hop Sing closed his mouth.
“I thought you was gonna fetch the mail, Pa?” Hoss said, redirecting his attention to his father. “Don’t you reckon you best be gettin’?”
Ben had his own disgusted look about him as he turned to go. “I don’t believe this,” he muttered softly as he continued on his way across the yard.
In the barn, Ben found his youngest son, sitting idle on a bale of hay; Joe’s back was propped against the stall wall, his knees were drawn up to his chest. When Ben moved closer, he saw that Joe was actually…
“Not you too!” proclaimed Ben in total disbelief at what he was witnessing.
“Oh, hi Pa; I didn’t see you come in,” smiled Joe.
Ben pointed to Joe’s fingers. “No, of course not; you were too busy,” Ben said, shaking his head.
Ben moved into the stall where he stabled his mount and backed Buck out; he began saddling his horse. As he worked, Ben watched from the corner of his eye what Joe was doing. His curiosity was quickly getting the better of him.
When he had finished with his horse, Ben turned to his son, his hands firmly on his hips. “I’m not going to be so foolish as to ask you what you are doing. It’s plain to see that you’re…”
“Twiddling my thumbs,” grinned Joe, finishing his father’s sentence for him.
Joe looked up at his father and gave Ben a cheeky grin, making him look much as Ben remembered him as a young boy.
But his father failed to smile. “Yes, I can see that, but would you please explain to me why you are twiddling your thumbs?”
Joe took a deep breath and opened his mouth to speak, but his father cut him off.
“And please don’t say, ‘because there’s nothing else to do’,” Ben forewarned.
“Oh, I wasn’t going to say that, Pa,” giggled Joe. “No sir, not me; that’s Hoss’ excuse.”
“Yes, well, I know that; he told me — an impossibility I assure you — but why you, Joe? I can almost — almost, mind you — understand Hoss wasting his time twiddling his thumbs. But you?”
“I’m not wasting my time, Pa, honest,” grinned Joe.
“You’re not? Then what are you doing?”
Again, Joe giggled as he beamed happily up at his father, all the while working his thumbs in the same circular motion that Ben had seen his middle son do.
“I thought you said you weren’t going to ask that question…”
The smile on Joe’s face faded, but the glow remained in his bright, hazel eyes. “Hoss made a bet with me that he could twiddle longer than I could, so we’re having a twiddling contest. Hop Sing is keeping his eye on Hoss, and big brother, over there…” Joe nodded toward the back wall of the barn where Adam sat perched on a bale of hay, silently watching the proceedings, “is keeping his eye on me,” beamed Joe.
Ben spun around stunned to see his oldest son watching the way his younger brother sat twisting his thumbs around and around. Adam looked as if he had nothing else in the whole wide world that needed his attention. He grinned at his father and tipped his hand to his hat.
“Adam…not you too!” proclaimed Ben loudly.
“Sorry, Pa, but I couldn’t resist.”
Ben let out a loud sigh and stepped over to face his eldest son, the one whom he had always believed to be the most level-headed of the trio; now he was beginning to wonder. “Then please, would you explain these shenanigans to me?”
Adam removed the blade of straw from between his lips and smiled in a sly way. “Sure, Pa,” he began. “See, Hoss bet Joe $50 dollars…”
“WHAT?” shouted Ben, spinning around and glaring at his youngest offspring.
Joe’s fingers moved in a steady rotation as he smiled up at his father. “It’s okay, really, Pa. It was Hop Sing’s idea.”
Ben’s mouth dropped opened; he pushed back his hat and scratched his head. “Hop Sing? I knew it! He’s in on this as well, isn’t he?” Ben asked in astonishment.
“Yep. You see, Hoss went into the kitchen and Hop Sing was baking cookies. You know Hoss; he couldn’t resist, so he snatched a couple. Really, he grabbed four or five and it made Hop Sing mad. He told Hoss to get out of the kitchen and find something to do with his sticky fingers other than to swipe his cookies.
“So Hoss and I went outside and Hoss said, ‘I bet I could just sit here all day and twiddle my fingers’, so I said, ‘I’ll take that bet,’ and Hoss said, ‘Okay, little brother, you’re on,’ and I said ‘fine, how much’, and Hoss said, ‘How’s about $50,’ and I said, ‘Okay, I’ll cover that bet,’ and then Hoss said…”
“ENOUGH!” shouted Ben. “My head is pounding!” he moaned.
Ben turned to go but paused and looked back at his two sons, shaking a long finger at both of them. “I will be gone most of the day. When I get back, this little bet of yours had better be settled, do you understand?” growled Ben, rubbing his temple and thinking how childlike his grown sons could be at times.
“Oh sure, Pa. It can’t last much longer; Adam’s going inside in a minute and get the tray of cookies.” Joe snickered in a way that sounded somewhat wicked and the sound did not go unnoticed by his father.
“Tray of cookies? What for? I thought Hop Sing said you boys couldn’t have any.”
“Oh, they’re not for me; they’re for Hoss…to tempt him with. You see, I told Adam if he’d help me win this bet, I’d split the money with him. So he agreed to help me out, and he came up with the idea of tempting our cookie-snatching brother, didn’t you, Adam?”
“Sure did. I’m not above a little deception when it comes to $25,” Adam admitted. “So in a minute, I’m going to get a tray of fresh baked cookies and set them on the table close to Hoss.” Adam moved to sit next to Joe and grinned at the boy as if they shared a secret, “He won’t last long,” laughed Adam, grinning up at his father in that know-all expression that he was so famous for.
Ben shook his head in disbelief. “But isn’t that cheating?”
Joe looked back at his father, his emerald eyes large and round and filled with excitement. “Shucks no, Pa. I wouldn’t cheat, you know that, and neither would Adam. Gosh, I can’t believe you could think that of us,” Joe said, puckering up his face with a hurt expression that kept his father from seeing the smile tugging at his lips.
“Well…” stammered Ben in frustration. He glanced about at one and then the other. “I didn’t mean to imply that you would actually cheat. But if it’s not cheating, what would call it?” he asked as he turned to Adam.
“Strategy, Pa, just like in wartime.”
“But this isn’t war!” Ben declared as he tossed his hands up in the air, exasperated.
“Oh, Pa…” Joe said in a low voice. He glanced toward the door, and when he spoke his voice was low, as if he didn’t want the enemy to overhear. “With Hoss, it is war; part of the bet was that whoever wins the twiddling contest gets the tray of cookies as well!”
“Dear Lord,” muttered Ben as he turned to lead his horse from the barn, “I’ve spent half my life raising my sons, and what do they become? Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum!!
“And just last week, they foiled a bank robbery attempt, captured two wanted men single handedly, saved a damsel in distress and stopped a runaway stagecoach. I was so proud of them. And now this. Where did I go wrong??”