Summary: A crossover story with Gunsmoke and Bonanza, this one brings in Bradley Meredith in a story which eliminates some irritations and explains some later developments.
Word Count: 2432
An alternate version of reality between Gunsmoke and Bonanza
With the way things had gone in the first few hours of his arrival, Bradley Meredith thought that Dodge City was turning out to be a very fine place indeed. He had hardly stepped from the stage wondering how he would pay for a meal and place to stay when a beautiful red-headed lady had wrapped her arms around him and kissed him soundly. She called him Ben, but he didn’t mind. After ushering him to a saloon that it turned out she owned, providing drinks for the evening, dinner, and gushing on about how good he looked, he would have let her call him anything. Seemed she was on the outs with her regular companion and was looking for some male company. He could tell the bartender was not at all in agreement with her behavior but wasn’t going to actually say anything. The venomous stare from the prune-faced employee were enough. Miss Kitty Russell was far too strong a lady to let him get away with saying anything though. Instead, she gave him a good steely look and ordered another bottle to take with them. He wasn’t at all sure where they were going, but when they stepped outside, she asked if he had a room.
“I’m sorry, but when you stopped me at the stage, I hadn’t yet acquired any accommodations, and we have been having such a wonderful time, I hadn’t dared take any time away to do that.”
“You were always the perfect gentleman, Ben. I always liked that about you more than anything else. I’ve heard stories about you and those sons of yours. I knew you had to be doing fine with them too.”
“Thank you. I try to be a gentleman always, and as you said, I have sons and I have to set a good example.”
“Those boys are a long way from here, Ben. I was hoping you weren’t planning on being a good example tonight.”
When they got to the Dodge House, Bradley wasn’t sure how to ask for a room not sure what his last name was supposed to be. Miss Kitty took care of that for him.
“Bert, my friend here, Ben Cartwright, would like a room. Have you got one for him?
“Why, Mister Cartwright, we weren’t expecting you until tomorrow. Yes, sir, we’ll have your room ready for you right away, sir.”
Now Bradley had no idea who this Ben Cartwright was, but he certainly liked being treated like him. He knew it was going to be short-lived. Until that stage or train arrived the next day though delivering the real deal, a man could have a lot of fun especially for that night. He offered his arm to Miss Kitty and they proceeded up the stairs to his room when Bert returned and handed him his key. Miss Kitty took no extra time in letting him know there were to be no limits between them. They did everything they could think to do that night in bed except get a restful sleep. Every time he was sleeping, he was awakened by Miss Kitty who had another idea of something they could do. He was always willing to try out her ideas too. About ten in the morning, he was exhausted though and thought it might be a good idea to get some food and think about his exit before that train or stage that was bringing the other and potentially dangerous Ben Cartwright to town arrived.
“Miss Kitty, is there a chance you might be hungry for something other than me about now? I am famished. You have provided a feast for my other appetites, but my ravishing beauty, you have exhausted my reserves. I do need something to eat.”
“I wouldn’t mind a good solid breakfast myself although it’s probably closer to lunchtime. We’ll head over to Delmonico’s and have a bite.”
She nipped him on the arm though before slipping from the bed. Fully dressed and smiling, they stepped through the door only to be met by a couple emerging from the room next to theirs.
“Cousin Ben, oh, it’s not what it looks like.”
“Oh, Muley, be quiet, of course it is.”
“But, Clarissa, we’re cousins and Ben could tell folks.”
“Nonsense. Ben, Cousin Muley and I couldn’t help ourselves. I’m sure you know what I mean. You wouldn’t want us to be sharing this news back in Virginia City now either, would you?” Ben Cartwright’s Cousin Clarissa gave him her best smile then hoping he wouldn’t be in one of his more famous moods to chastise. His response surprised her.
“Not at all. Live and let live. That’s my motto. Now, Miss Kitty, let us go have that lunch.”
Watching them go down the stairs, Muley was shocked. “Well, I’ll be. That didn’t seem like Cousin Ben at all.”
“You’re right. That could have been his doppelganger.”
“His what? Are you sure you’re supposed to say that if you’re a lady?”
“I think I proved I’m not a lady. Now, let’s get some lunch of our own, and then back to bed. I want to see what else you can do besides sing.”
After lunch, Miss Kitty had to get back to the Long Branch Saloon to open up for the day. She kissed her Ben soundly and said she planned to see him that night and would he please be at the saloon whenever he finished his business in town. He agreed, but as soon as she was out of sight, he headed to the livery stable and rented a horse for two days charging it to Ben Cartwright. He didn’t intend to bring it back, but he guessed Ben Cartwright could afford it.
About noon, Ben Cartwright arrived in town. He headed to the Dodge House where he got what he thought was the most peculiar reception.
“Of course you have a room. Same as last night.”
“But I wasn’t here last night.”
“Of course you weren’t, and I’ll even swear that to the marshal if he asks.”
With a broad smile, the man handed over the key. After getting it, Ben didn’t know what to say. He went to the room and found that the bed had been used and apparently by more than one person by the looks of it. He returned to the desk to ask that clean bedding be put on the bed.
“Yes, sir, Mister Cartwright. After last night, I would guess that would be necessary. Will you be requiring clean sheets every night?”
“No, I will not, but when they look that way, yes.”
Frowning at the desk clerk, Ben didn’t understand, but he was thirsty. Heading outside, he decided to ask someone other than Bert about the best place for a cold beer. The first man he asked sent him to the Long Branch Saloon. Upon entering, he was hugged and kissed quite well by a buxom red-head that he recognized from many years before.
“Miss Kitty, it is so good to see you again.”
“It hasn’t been that long, Ben.”
“Long, it’s been years.”
“I guess it can seem that way sometimes.”
Thinking that people in Dodge City talked rather peculiarly, Ben was even more shocked by what happened next. A tall man with a marshal’s badge walked into the saloon and accosted him.
“I heard what happened last night. Festus told me. Now I know Kitty and I had some issues to work out, but that hardly seems reason for a man to step in and do what you did.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t do anything.”
“It’s worse to lie about it.”
Miss Kitty was in a feisty mood. “We’re not lying. We had a great time last night. He doesn’t mind listening to a lady and giving her a little of his time and his attention.”
“We did? I did? Tarnation, what is going on here?”
“In fact, all night long, and over and over again.”
Furious, Matt did something wholly out of character. He swung and hit Ben knocking him back and into the bar. Taken wholly by surprise and knocked out by the blow, Ben didn’t move. Being a marshal, Matt quickly came to his senses and asked for help to get Ben over to Doc Adam’s office. When they carried him in, Doc told them to put him on the table.
“What happened to him?”
A little sheepishly, Matt had to admit what he had done. “I hit him. I heard he was with Kitty last night, and when I confronted him and Kitty, I lost my temper. I only hit him once, but his head hit the bar.”
Doing a quick examination, Doc Adams looked more upset with Matt than concerned with his patient. “He’s going to be out for a while. He’s got a nasty bump on the head here and a concussion from the looks of it. No skull fracture that I can tell though. You’re lucky there or you might be locking yourself up for murder. What were you thinking, Matt?”
“Well, I guess that’s pretty darn clear. Now you go make things right with Kitty before you do anything else like this.”
When Ben woke up, Doc Adams got a story that didn’t match at all what he had heard. He thought perhaps Ben was confused but thought he would tell Matt later anyway. One never knew when strange things like this could be true.
That afternoon though, before Doc could talk to Matt, he was called to the Dodge House. Many in town had heard the most horrendous singing earlier. It was so awful that glass had broken in a few saloons and several saloon owners and bartenders were fighting mad wanting to know who did it. At the Dodge House, Doc found a woman dead from a very large heavy mirror that had shattered and killed her. One particularly sharp piece of glass had sheared her carotid artery and jugular vein on the side of her neck killing her nearly instantly. The man in the room claimed it was an accident, but the horrific nature of the scene and the death of a woman meant that no one was in a listening mood. Matt hauled the man off to jail.
“Listen, my cousin, Ben Cartwright is in town. He saw us this morning and can tell you that my singing can break glass sometimes when I’m not careful. We was doing things in that room that made me so joyful that I forgot and I sang. I’m real sorry, but if you ask Ben, he can clear me.”
So Matt, in dutiful marshal mode, went to talk to Ben Cartwright who was still groggy, and he got the rest of the story from Doc. He gave the bad news to Muley.
“Ben Cartwright is over at Doc Adams, and he doesn’t even remember being here last night so I don’t think he can help you.”
“At Doc Adams? What happened to him?”
“He got hurt.” Matt didn’t want to explain any more than that.
There was pressure to hold the trial quickly, and with the district judge in town, that happened. The trial was the following day, and the jury didn’t believe Muley at all. The verdict was guilty, and the judge ordered the death penalty. The next day, Matt headed off to Hays City with Muley where he would be executed by hanging. Matt was the only one there as Muley swung on the gallows never to sing and break glass again. When Matt returned at the end of the week with the gruesome task completed, Doc told him that Ben Cartwright had left town.
“He wasn’t a happy man at all. He paid my bill. His bill from the Dodge House was for one more night than he stayed there which was none. He paid for a horse from the livery stable that he never rode. Matt, there’s something fishy about this whole thing.”
“I’ve been thinking about that too. Let me dig into this.”
Within a day, Matt had an answer of sorts and explained to Kitty and Doc at the Long Branch. “Ben Cartwright didn’t arrive the day you thought he did, Kitty. The only man on that stage who isn’t a resident here was a man by the name of Bradley Meredith. I’ve checked on him, and he’s a well-known swindler. Ben Cartwright arrived by train the next day. Now here’s a wanted poster on Bradley Meredith.” Matt showed Kitty who was shocked.
“He looks like Ben!”
“Yes, and it appears he took full advantage of that.” Matt thankfully didn’t add that he took full advantage of her.
“Matt, I feel terrible about all of this.”
“It’s all right, Kitty. We all make mistakes. I’ve got to wonder now about that Muley and whether he was telling the truth.”
“We’ll never know. He and Clarissa can’t tell tales from their graves.”
Epilogue: nine months later-
“Are you sure we’re doing the right thing, Matt?”
“Kitty, you know this baby isn’t mine. That couple from the circus in town want a baby. The man says he went with the circus to get away from his father in Boston because he didn’t want to be forced into the family business. He wants to leave the circus now though. His wife says they have plans to travel the west probably all the way to California. He has enough money now for a wagon and the supplies to get them there. Says he’s got some ideas about starting a business. Claims he knows all about rainmaking. He’ll find out that won’t get him very far though, and I figure he’ll settle somewhere out there and raise up a brood of youngsters. His wife sure wants a bunch of them.”
“What’s his name?”
“Hunter. He says he’ll name the boy, James.”
Holding a little red-haired baby boy in her arms, Kitty smiled sadly. She had wanted a baby, but had wished it had been Matt’s. With a grave look, she handed the baby to Doc who smiled at the baby and walked outside to the Hunters. Missus Hunter took the baby with tears on her cheeks.
“Oh, my little Jamie, how we’re going to love you.”