Summary: What starts out as an ordinary day in town soon takes an unexpected turn.
Word Count: 5447
“And bear in mind that I don’t want to spend all day in town,” Ben Cartwright reminded his sons as they dismounted in front of the hotel. “I want to get some work done on the ranch today.”
“Yes, sir,” they muttered. When Ben was in a tearing bad temper, as he had been all morning and a good bit of the previous day, it wasn’t wise to cross him.
Without another word, Ben crossed the road towards the bank, the scowl on his face deterring any casual contact with the residents of Virginia City.
“I’m right glad it ain’t none o’ us that’s got Pa so riled,” Hoss commented.
“Come on,” suggested Adam, the oldest son. “Let’s get everything done so we’re back here when Pa arrives. No point in giving him something else to get angry about.”
“I don’t see why we had to come into town anyway,” Joe grumbled. “Pa ain’t gonna allow us to talk to the bank. It’s got nothing to do with us.”
Adam sighed. “I know,” he agreed. “but there are a couple of other things Pa wants done while he’s talking to the bank manager about getting payment from the mine and well you know that.”
“Yeah, but I’m not doing any of those ‘other things’ you talked about,” Joe complained. He had wakened that morning with a thumping headache and stiff neck following a bad fall from a mustang the day before and his temper was suffering in consequence.
“But if your hair gets any longer, Pa might be tempted to take the shears to it himself,” Adam warned him. “And I can’t guarantee that you’ll like the results.”
“I guess,” Joe muttered, although he preferred his hair longer and with the way his head was throbbing, he didn’t fancy a haircut that day.
“So hop to it, boy and then you’ll be back here before Pa is.” Joe threw Adam a dark look, for he really hated it when his oldest brother called him ‘boy’. Adam was completely oblivious to his youngest brother’s ire and headed off to the hardware store to do his errand. Hoss gave Joe a smile before going down the street to the mail office.
Scuffing his feet, Joe headed for the barber’s shop. Any hopes that he had that Frank, the barber, might not be there were dashed immediately and his next hope – that there would be a long queue – was also dashed. The barber’s shop was empty. With a sigh, Joe took off his jacket and sat down in the seat.
Haircut accomplished, Joe walked slowly back up the street. His head felt no better, in fact – Joe winced as he reached up to gently probe a sore spot he had discovered while getting his hair cut. He couldn’t stop a grin quirking his mouth as he remembered Frank asking, “Joe, d’ya know ya’ve got a lump on yer head here?” He had poked the offending lump quite hard.
“I do now, Frank,” Joe replied.
But walking back up the street, Joe’s amusement faded rapidly. He still didn’t feel all that well. He wished he could just go home to bed. He stepped onto the board walk in front of the Silver Dollar saloon and was startled to hear shots fired inside.
Pausing, looking at the saloon doors, Joe wondered what on earth was happening in there. Next moment, the doors opened and four men dashed out and ran headlong into Joe, knocking him off his feet into the dust of the street. One of the men landed hard on Joe, stunning him. Immediately behind them came Roy Coffee, the sheriff and Clem Foster, his deputy.
“Hold it!” Roy cried and aimed his gun at the tangle of men on the ground.
His sore head throbbing harder than ever, Joe was struggling to make sense of what was going on. He was even more confused a moment later when a hand snaked around his neck and a gun barrel nestled against his temple.
“Make a move an’ this guy dies!” a voice growled in Joe’s ear. He almost gagged from the foulness of the man’s breath.
“Don’t be foolish!” Roy replied sharply.
With a disgusted sound, the man took the gun from Joe’s head and calmly shot Roy. As the lawman went down, apparently gut shot, the gun barrel, still hot, returned to Joe’s head. Joe instinctively started to struggle and the arm around his throat tightened. “Now back off, or this guy gets it!”
Arms grabbed Joe and dragged him to his feet. The pressure on his throat didn’t lessen and he continued to struggle until he was punched in the stomach. The wind was driven from his body and for several minutes, Joe was unaware of what was going on around him. He came to his senses as he was thrown to the floor but before he could do anything, Joe felt his hands pulled roughly behind him and bound with what felt like a leather thong. Moments later, his feet were lashed together.
“Now what do we do?” asked a thin voice nervously.
Turning his head, Joe looked at the four men. He didn’t recognize any of them. They were all wearing dirty, threadbare clothes and side arms. The one who had just spoken was tall and thin, with a drooping lower lip. The man just finishing off the knots on Joe’s ankles was smaller and broader. He was definitely as strong as he looked, Joe mused. A third man, peering out into the street, was fat, with several double chins filling the open neck of his dirty shirt. The fourth was of average build, with mean dark eyes. He glanced at Joe.
“He tied tight?” he asked.
“Sure is, Ted.” The man who had tied Joe up rose to his feet and looked down on their captive. “He ain’t goin’ anywheres.”
It was depressingly accurate, Joe realized as he struggled against the thongs. They were on to stay. Defeated for the moment, Joe looked around him and recognized his surroundings with a jolt of surprise. They had traveled very little distance, for they were in the brick-build abandoned store right across the street from the Silver Dollar. Joe could barely suppress a groan. The men had holed up in the only building in town that had no back entrance of any description! He dreaded to think what their reaction would be when they discovered that.
As three of the men started to explore the building, Joe allowed himself a moment to wonder how Roy Coffee was. He had known the older man for most of his life. A man who was gut shot had a slim chance of survival, Joe knew. He cut off that bleak thought. They were in town! Roy could get medical attention promptly. Paul Martin was a good doctor. He would be able to save Roy.
A cry brought Joe from his reverie. “There ain’t no doors or windows back here!” It was the thin man talking and Joe winced. What would they do now? He had only a second to wonder before Ted had yanked him up by the front of his jacket.
“Where’s the back door, boy?”
With scant disregard for the wound, Clem dragged Roy back into the saloon. “Someone get Doc Martin!” he shouted, kneeling by Roy and ripping the older man’s shirt aside. The wound, though deep and bleeding, wasn’t as deep as Clem had expected. He didn’t know what to make of it, but he was relieved that Roy was groaning loudly. At least if Roy was groaning, he was alive!
“What’s going on?” asked a voice and Clem winced.
“Ben.” Clem rose to allow Doc Martin access to the wounded man, and he put a hand on Ben’s arm. “I think you should sit down.”
“What’s wrong?” Ben asked, resisting the suggestion. He glanced down at Roy. “Tell me, Clem!”
“We were tipped off that the Jamieson brothers had arrived in town,” Clem explained. “They’re wanted all across the territory, in Arizona and California, too.”
“I know,” Ben nodded, for the Jamieson brothers were notorious outlaws. Their exploits frequently filled the pages of the Territorial Enterprise.
“Well,” Clem was coming to the difficult bit and he wasn’t quite sure how to explain to Ben. From the corner of his eye, he saw Adam and Hoss come into the saloon through the hotel, as Ben had done and beckoned to them to come over. Better that the family hear it all at the same time, Clem thought. “Roy and I came in here, but they must have seen us coming, for they dived out of the door. We followed, and saw that they had somehow bumped into Joe, and they were all lying in the street. Ben, I’m sorry, but they took Joe hostage and are holed up in the empty store across the road.”
The color drained from Ben’s face and he sank into the seat he had scorned a minute earlier. “Is Joe all right?” he asked.
“He seemed a bit dazed,” Clem replied cautiously. “But he didn’t appear to be injured.”
“What happened ta Roy?” Hoss asked.
“They shot him,” Clem replied, wishing that Hoss hadn’t asked. He hadn’t been going to volunteer that information. The Cartwrights would already know about the Jamiesons’ vicious habits and he hadn’t wanted to bring them to mind if he could avoid it.
“So what are you going to do to get Joe back?” Adam asked. His voice was edged in anger and Clem thought, not for the first time, that Adam was a dangerous man.
“Right now, I haven’t had the chance to do anything,” Clem replied. He wasn’t going to allow Adam to bully him into a rash course of action. “But obviously, I have to talk to them. But first, I’m going to find out how Roy is.” He turned away and took a deep breath. “Doc?”
“He’s been lucky,” Paul replied. “Its bad enough, but he’ll pull through. If he hadn’t had on his watch, he would have died. Look.” Paul held up Roy’s thick gold watch chain. Embedded in it was the bullet. Clem gaped. Now that he thought about it, he had had to pull the chain away from the wound when he opened Roy’s shirt.
“Thanks, doc.” Clem now had something to work with. Roy’s death would not only have affected Clem personally, but would have made negotiating with the Jamiesons more difficult.
Taking a deep breath, Clem looked at the Cartwrights and the other men gathered in the saloon. “Everyone stay here,” he ordered. “I’m going to talk to them.” He met Ben’s eyes and nodded slowly.
Before he could think better of it, Clem walked out into the street.
“There isn’t a back door,” Joe muttered. He hadn’t wanted to say anything at all, but his first attempt at silence had earned him a vicious backhand slap and Joe could still fell the blood tricking down his chin from his split lip.
“There’s got to be somethin’!” Ted insisted. He was glaring at Joe as though this whole situation was his fault. “Windows – somethin’!”
Swallowing, Joe said, “The man who built this place didn’t want to pay for too much glass. So he only put windows at the front. The others are false windows, painted onto the brick work. And since he didn’t want anyone stealing his stuff, he didn’t put a back door in the place.”
“So that‘s the only way out of here?” Ted eyed Joe suspiciously. He shook his hapless captive to remind him who was boss.
“The only way,” Joe agreed wearily. He braced himself for the inevitable drop back to the floor, but not in time. He still hit hard and grunted in pain. What would happen now? he wondered. Somehow, he had the impression that these men, whoever they were, weren’t just going to let him go free.
“How’re we gonna git out a here?” asked the fat man.
“Make a run for it,” announced the one who had tied Joe up.
“Too late,” declare the fourth man laconically. “The sheriff is in the street, comin’ this way.”
At that, Joe lifted his head. Roy was all right? But he had seen him shot! He watched as Ted hurried to the window and looked out, his gun in his hand. Fear shot through Joe. Ted wouldn’t hesitate to shoot, he was sure. What could he do?
“That’s far enough!” Ted shouted, and his voice echoed eerily in the deserted building. “What d’ya want?”
“Just to talk,” replied Clem’s measured tones, slightly muffled through the thin glass of the windows.
“Talk!” Ted scoffed. “Talk about what?”
“Talk about what you’re going to do,” Clem replied. “Talk about releasing your hostage. Let him go.”
Instantly, all four pairs of eyes swiveled round to look at Joe. Ted gestured. “Bring him over, Tim,” he ordered and the fat man waddled over to drag Joe across the floor to Ted. Ted yanked Joe to his feet. “This who you mean, lawman?”
Out in the street, feeling eyes on him from all around, Clem stiffened. Joe looked all right, as far as he could tell, but the windows of the old store were grimy and it was impossible to make out anything clearly. He swallowed. “Yes, that’s who I mean,” he replied. “Let him go before someone gets hurt.”
“I don’t think so,” came the mocking reply. “Now listen here, lawman. We want ta git out a here, jist as much as ya want us out. So ya bring us our horses an’ we’ll leave.”
“What about Joe?” Clem asked.
“He’s quite safe here with us,” Ted retorted. “But he won’t be if’n ya don’t bring us our horses. Unnerstand?”
“I understand,” Clem agreed and backed away. He didn’t like it any, but he understood clearly enough. They were not willing to let Joe go under any circumstances until they were clear of the town.
“So what‘re we gonna do, Ted?”
It was a question Joe wanted the answer to, as well. He had no choice but to remain where he was, balanced uneasily on his bound feet, held up by Ted’s filthy hand on his shoulder. He resisted the urge to look round at his captor, concentrating on projecting an image of someone unafraid, although that wasn’t true.
“Jist what I said, Tom,” Ted snapped at the thin man. He casually dropped Joe to the floor and Joe bit his lip and winced. He knew he would be covered in bruises. “The lawman’s gonna bring us our horses an’ we’re gonna use Joe here ta git us out.”
Instantly, Joe was the focus of all eyes. Ted, Tim, Tom and the fourth man, who’s name Joe didn’t know, all looked at him. Then Tim looked up at Ted. “He ain’t big enough ta shield us all,” he protested.
“We ain’t all as fat as you, Tim,” sneered the unknown man.
“Shut up, Tate!” the fat man snapped and the next moment, they were brawling with each other, stepping uncaringly all over Joe as they threw blows at each other.
“All right, that’s enough, knock it off!” Ted ordered. He and Tom separated them, and they glared at each other. “I’ll take Joe out with me. They won’t try anything when he’s with us.”
“But that ain’t fair!” Tom objected. “How come ya git him?”
“’Cos I’m the oldest brother!” Ted snarled and aimed a blow at Tom that he ducked adroitly.
Recovering from being stepped on, and deciding that he really wasn’t hurt much, Joe perked up his ears at this bit of information. Something was niggling at the back of his mind and he couldn’t quite remember what it was. But the names sounded somehow familiar… Joe frowned as he tried to remember.
He was startled, therefore, when Tom and Tim grabbed him, one by each arm and started to pull. He struggled, but to no avail, having no leverage. He was jerked from side to side as the brothers fought over him and the leather thongs bit painfully into Joe’s wrists. “Let go!” he cried, suddenly scared. The vicious grips on his upper arms tightened and a particularly strong jerk tugged him clean off his feet.
“That’s enough!” Ted snapped, but neither brother heard him. They were too intent on getting hold of Joe to use him as a shield.
Furious, Ted smacked Tim over the back of the head, which definitely got his attention. Ignoring Tom, Ted too grabbed Joe’s arm and pulled. Tom determinedly hung on. There was an audible snap and pop and Joe let out a scream of agony. The startled men dropped him, and Joe let out another ragged cry as he hit the floor.
“What the hell?” Ted frowned as he looked down at his hostage. “What was that?”
“Dunno,” Tom replied, slowly. “Did we hurt him, ya reckon?”
Through the agony consuming Joe’s left arm and shoulder, he barely heard the callous comment. Joe wanted desperately to pass out, for he wouldn’t feel the pain when he was unconscious. But merciful obliviousness didn’t come and Joe bit his lip to contain the groans of pain. He wasn’t entirely successful.
Above his head, the argument went on.
“So what are you going to do now?” Adam asked, his question the very epitome of self-control, but Adam didn’t feel in the least controlled. He wanted to throw something, hit something, scream and shout and rail against the fates. But none of these things was productive, however satisfying they might be and Adam definitely wanted to do something that would get his youngest brother out of the sticky situation he was in.
“I’m going to get them their horses,” Clem replied.
“What?” Hoss snapped. He rounded on Clem, looming over the slighter man.
Clem refused to be intimidated, although an angry Hoss could scare a grizzly bear. “Let me finish,” he soothed. Hoss backed away, aided by a frown from his father, who was no less angry and concerned. “While I bring their horses to the front of the building, I want you to find yourself somewhere where you have a good view of that door. There are four of them and only one of Joe. What I’m proposing is risky, but no riskier than allowing them to ride off with Joe.” Clem looked at his three listeners. “I suggest that what we do is take out the gang members who don’t have Joe.”
“What’s to stop the remaining man from blowing Joe’s head off?” Adam asked, seeing only the risks.
“Nothing,” Clem agreed soberly. “But I wouldn’t give Joe a snowball’s chance in hell if we let them ride away with him. You know their record, Adam. They’ll kill Joe without thinking twice.” He glanced at Ben. “I know it’s not a good plan, but what other choice do we have? We can’t rush the building – there’s only one way in and out.”
There was a pause while the Cartwrights thought around and around the idea. It was risky – very risky. But as Clem said, there really wasn’t much of an alternative. “What about waiting them out?” Adam suggested. “No food, no water. They wouldn’t last long.”
Wincing mentally, Clem wished Adam hadn’t suggested that. He could see the sudden hope on Ben’s face and decided that he would have to tell them the unpalatable truth. “The Jamiesons will take Joe apart a piece at a time to get what they want,” he explained. “They’ve done it before.”
“You didn’t tell us that!” Ben cried, his eyes wide in his suddenly pale face. “What happened?”
“You don’t want to know,” Clem told him, but Ben was not to be diverted.
“Tell me!” he demanded. He had to know what Joe was facing if he was to agree to this decision.
“They took a girl hostage in a bank raid that went wrong,” Clem explained, his voice low so that the other patrons of the saloon wouldn’t hear. “When they didn’t get the horses they wanted, they attacked the girl.” He swallowed and looked away, unwilling to tell the rest. “Trust me, Ben; you don’t want to hear what they did to her. Suffice it to say, she was in a bad way when they left and died shortly afterwards, which was a relief for all concerned.”
If Ben had been pale before, he was decidedly ashen now. He sank down into a seat. He could well understand what Clem was implying. After a time, he gained control of his emotions and looked up at his sons. Both of them were pale, but they nodded at Ben. Clem was right; there was no other choice.
“All right,” Ben said, at last, his voice hollow. “We’ll do it your way.”
It no longer mattered to Joe what the men did. He no longer cared who they were. He just wanted the pain to end. Joe had had a dislocated shoulder before, but recognizing the pain didn’t make it any easier to bear. If he lay absolutely still and didn’t breathe, it was fine. But of course, he had to breathe and so the pain remained a constant. The leather thong cut into his swollen wrist. Joe was quite glad he couldn’t see it, for it felt bad enough. Sometimes, the pain from his wrist dominated the pain from his shoulder, but generally, his shoulder had dibs on being the worst.
“At last!” Ted had been keeping watch out of the windows, while his brothers continued to bicker amongst themselves about who was taking Joe. “Here are the horses.”
Turning, Ted grinned at his brothers, who exchanged glances. While they had been arguing, Ted had made sure that he was standing right beside Joe. The others had no chance of reaching him. “Too late, boys!” Ted laughed, enjoying their disquiet.
“How’re we gonna git out if’n ya got him?” Tim demanded.
“That’s not my problem,” Ted responded indifferently. “You figure it out for a change.”
“Damn you!” Tim cried and reached clumsily for his gun. Ted swiftly and smoothly drew his and shot Tim down. Joe gasped in horror.
For a moment, the other two brothers stood frozen, but as the reality of what they had just witnessed sank in, they looked at each other before starting to back away. But it was too late. Ted, seeing that his brothers might turn on him to have the benefit of the hostage, decided to take matters into his own hands. He shot them both, too.
Out in the street, Clem and the Cartwrights stood frozen, unsure as to what was happening. There was no way out of the store except through the front door, so no one could have gone in without being seen. Were the outlaws shooting at each other? If so, why? And, more importantly, where was Joe?
Before any of them could make a move, the door to the store opened and Joe stumbled through, Ted holding a gun to his head. Joe was as white as a sheet and seemed to be barely conscious. Ben took a step forward, forgetting why he was there, his entire attention focused on his son.
“I won’t be needin’ those other horses, lawman,” Ted called from the boardwalk. “My brothers have decided not ta come along fer the ride.”
“Just take your horse and get out of here,” Clem responded. “And leave Joe behind.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Ted responded. He shoved Joe forward so that they were standing on the dusty street. “I’ve grown real fond o’ Joe here. I reckon he’ll come with me.” He gave Joe a shake and the injured man groaned. “He ain’t much at conversation, but that makes a change from my brothers’ whinin’.”
Gritting his teeth, Clem snapped, “The deal was you got your horses and let Joe go.”
“Wrong, lawman. The deal was I got the horses and didn’t kill Joe.” Ted smiled evilly. “I ain’t killed him yet. An’ I aim ta keep him alive until I get out a this town. So back off!” When Clem didn’t move, Ted cocked the gun at Joe’s head and shook him again, once more eliciting a groan. Slowly, Clem dropped the horse’s rein and started to back away.
Their plan was in tatters. Ben cast around frantically for an idea, but nothing came to him. He couldn’t try and jump the outlaw, for he was in the man’s direct line of sight. A move like that would sign Joe’s death warrant.
Then, from behind Ted, out of his direct sightline, there came movement. In an instant of paralyzing terror, Ben knew that it was Adam. Adam was going to try and rescue Joe and he would lose both of his sons in one cruel blow. He took a step forward and Ted’s gun swung round to him.
In that very moment, Adam hit Ted side on, knocking both he and Joe to the ground, where he started to wrestle with Ted for control of the gun.
It was a desperate move, but Adam couldn’t bear standing around waiting any longer. It was apparent that their plan was obsolete and Adam could see that they had no choice but to take direct action. His brother’s life was at stake.
Equally desperate, Ted fought back like a demon, digging the fingers of his free hand into Adam’s face, drawing blood. Adam didn’t appear to notice. He concentrated on getting control of the gun, or knocking it from the outlaw’s hand.
In a sudden movement, Ted wrenched his wrist free from Adam’s grasp and crashed the gun off Adam’s head. Instantly, Adam crumpled, slumping down unconscious on top of Ted. The outlaw, panting heavily from the struggle, started to push Adam off him.
If Adam had been alone, it was quite likely that both he and Joe would have died. As it was, Hoss was there. Ben was there. Clem was there. All three had moved in as the fight started. Ben had grabbed the semi-conscious Joe and dragged him out of the way. Hoss moved to help Adam and even as Ted started to push Adam away, he found his wrist in an unbreakable grip. Looking up, he saw Hoss’ angry face glaring down at him. Seconds later, he was helpless, as Clem pinioned his arm to the ground.
Contemptuously, Hoss plucked the gun from the outlaw’s fingers. “I don’t think ya’ll need this no longer,” he remarked.
That was when Ted knew it was really over.
From the doorway of the saloon where he had been watching and waiting, Doc Martin hurried out to join Ben. Kneeling, he cast a professional eye over Joe. “Get him to my office immediately, Ben. I’ll need to put back that shoulder at once. I’ll check on Adam.”
“I can… walk,” Joe insisted, weakly. He winced and cried out as Ben finished freeing his hands.
“You probably could,” Ben agreed. “But it’s not going to happen.” He looked up at Hoss, who was hovering over Adam, who was groaning as he regained consciousness. “Hoss?”
Coming over, Hoss smiled at Joe, who lay limply in Ben’s embrace. “Looks like Adam’s gonna be all right,” he reported. “Good thing he’s got the Cartwright thick head, ain’t it?”
“Sure is,” Ben replied, relief coloring his tones. “Give me a hand with Joe, son, and then you can come back and help Adam.”
“Sure thing,” Hoss responded.
“It’s all right, Ben, I’ll bring Adam,” Paul called and Ben took reassurance from that. Adam couldn’t be too badly hurt.
Joe was already lying on the examination table when Paul helped Adam in. The oldest Cartwright son was pale, but there was no blood to be seen, just the beginnings of a bruise along his cheek. Joe turned his head and smiled wanly at his brother. “Adam. You… all right?”
“I’ll be just fine, Joe,” Adam responded.
“Thanks,” Joe muttered. It didn’t seem like enough to Joe, but he couldn’t muster the strength to say anything else. The pain in his shoulder and arm was pretty near unbearable and only the death grip that Ben had on his other hand was keeping Joe anchored to the world. He opened his mouth to try and say more, but nothing came out. Defeated, he closed his mouth again.
But Adam understood. “You’re welcome,” he replied.
“Sit down, Adam and I’ll get to you shortly,” Paul suggested. He leant over Joe, smiling reassuringly as he assessed his patient visually once more. “Can you tell me what happened, Joe?” he asked.
Slowly, Joe told them the whole story. Ben kept his grip on Joe’s hand, lending his son strength and support in the only way he could. Clem joined them just before Joe related the part about Ted shooting his brothers. He exchanged grim glances with everyone. It was a horrid tale.
“So,” Paul said, when Joe had finished, “no head injury for you this time. That makes a change.”
“It’s… Adam’s turn,” Joe joked back and they all took heart from that. Joe was so pale and fragile looking that they had all feared the worst.
In a short time, Paul had Joe slumbering deeply while he set the dislocated shoulder and splinted the broken wrist. Once the swelling was down, he would put a cast on it. He checked for other injuries, but apart from a multitude of bruises, Joe was fine.
With that done, Paul checked Adam out, but he appeared to be fine, with just a nasty bruise on his cheek. “But if he displays signs of concussion, let me know, Ben,” Paul concluded. “You’re certainly going to have a sore head for a while though.”
“Tell me about it,” Adam mumbled. It was throbbing away merrily.
“I’ll keep them both overnight, Ben, just to be on the safe side,” Paul suggested. “But I think you can take them both home tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Paul,” Ben responded. He watched Adam lie down on the big couch in the room, with Hoss tenderly tucking a blanket around him and then his eyes were drawn back to Joe. That morning, just a few short hours ago, he had been worried about a company that hadn’t paid him for the timber he had delivered. He had been short tempered with all his sons. Now, his worries appeared inconsequential. What did it matter, as long as he had his sons, alive and well?
By next morning, Adam was feeling better, but Joe was still sore. However, the pain in his shoulder and wrist had diminished to manageable levels and the swelling had reduced enough that the uncomfortable splints could be replaced with an uncomfortable cast.
“How’s Roy?” Joe asked, as Paul smoothed the last of the plaster over his arm. The previous day he had been too groggy to remember to ask about the older man. Now, though, he was worried, for he hadn’t seen Roy at all.
“He’s doing just fine,” Paul replied. “He went home last night.” He grinned at Joe. “The bullet got caught in his watch chain and didn’t penetrate far at all.” He sobered. “He was lucky.”
“Very lucky,” Joe agreed. He glanced up as Ben came in with Clem. “Hi, Pa.”
“Hi yourself,” Ben smiled. He was relieved to see Joe looking so well.
“How ya doin’, Joe?” Clem asked.
“All right,” Joe replied.
“I just came to tell you that there’s not going to be a trial, Joe,” Clem explained. “Ted Jamieson confessed to murdering his brothers and taking you hostage. But anyway, he’s wanted in so many places that he was going to hang whatever happened.”
“That’s a weight off my mind,” Joe confessed. He hadn’t wanted to relive the experience for others to hear. It had been bad enough telling the story the previous night.
“Well, he’s all yours, Ben,” Paul concluded a few minutes later as he settled Joe’s cast in a sling.
“Thanks, Paul,” Ben replied and helped Joe to his feet. “Adam and Hoss are already waiting in the buggy outside. Hoss brought it in this morning.” He led Joe towards the door, feeling Joe’s weakness. “Did I tell you that the mine paid us this morning?”
“That’s great, Pa,” Joe replied. He grinned slightly. “Did Doc Martin tell you Roy’s gonna be all right?”
“Yes, he did.” Ben looked at Joe suspiciously. “What’s so funny, young man?”
“You know how I always said that Roy’s watch chain was too long?” Joe’s grin grew. “Well…”
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