Between Brothers
Julie Jurkovich

May 2003

"Listen,Cartwright!  If you donít move out of my way, Iím gonna kick your rear all over this saloon!"

  Joe took a long swill of his beer before he turned around and met his challenger with a hard stare.  Sparks nearly flew from his eyes as he hissed, "And you think you can do it, Sloan?"

  His opponent didnít move, and a slight smile crept across his face as he looked down at Joe.  "Go home, Little Joe," he sneered, emphasizing "little."  "This is no place for a boy."

  Without moving his eyes, Joe took another sip of his drink.  "The way I see it, youíre the one whoís going home."

  "You think so?"  The taller man sneered and stepped closer.  His eyes flickered to either side, and Joe became aware of two men at the bar, one on either side of him, who had their backs turned to Sloan and were studying the bottles on the shelf behind the bar.

  The other patrons began to edge toward the doors.  Only a few remained at their tables or the bar, watching intently to see what would happen.

  "Let me show you what we do to pretty little boys."  Sloanís teeth bared in a snarl as he finally closed in and looked him up and down contemptuously.

  Joe straightened up, but the man still loomed over him.  He watched his adversary carefully, prepared to duck and use his smaller size as an asset.  He was aware of more people scurrying toward the doors.

  Suddenly, Sloan lashed out with his left hand.  Joe ducked.  While Sloan was still off balance, Joe threw his beer in the taller manís face, and kicked his legs from under him.  Sloan gasped and sputtered, then scrambled to his feet.  He glared at Joe without a trace of the smirks and sneers heíd had before, spat on the floor at Joeís feet, then leaped at him.

  Joe dodged out of the way just in time, rolled to the side, and jumped up just as Sloan ran at him again.  Once more, he leaped aside, then grabbed a chair and whacked his opponent across the back just as he was turning toward him.

  "You think youíre fast and smart, donít you, boy?" growled Sloan.  "You know a lot of tricks, like a puppy dog,  but you canít stand and fight like a man!"  He glanced aside and jerked his head toward Joe.  One of the men who had been standing at the bar earlier approached him.  Joe didnít like his smug expression, and thought of telling him so, but decided to save his breath until after the fight.  He glanced from Sloan to his accomplice, wondering if theyíd both jump him at once, or one at a time.

  Suddenly, his arms were pinned from behind.  Too late, Joe remembered the second man at the bar.  The first man was nearly to him now, and was pushing his sleeves above his elbows.  Joe braced himself, and at the last minute, kicked his would-be attacker in the chest.  As he flew backwards, he knocked over Sloan.  Joe heard the man behind him gasp in surprise and grunt as Joe managed to yank his left arm free. He twisted about, pivoting on his right arm, and slugged his captor in the jaw.  The man fell down, and Joe yanked his right arm free, only to be grabbed by Sloan and the other man from behind.

  The man heíd just slugged rose slowly from the floor, holding his jaw with one hand and clenching his other into a fist.  "Boy, Iím gonna beat you into a pulp!  Weíll all take turns!  Then weíll see how pretty you look!"

  Joe struggled wildly, but couldnít break the grip of four hands on him. He tried to kick his attacker, but the man easily dodged, and landed a right hook to his jaw.  Joe tried to brace himself for the beating he knew was coming, yet still tried to break free.  Another punch blackened his left eye.  The room began to spin about him.  He heard another thud followed by a crunching noise,  and wondered why he didnít feel either blow.  Then his arms were yanked nearly out of their sockets, and he yelled and screamed at the pain.  He fell on the floor before he realized he was free.  He tried to look up, but his vision was blurred, and someone fell on him.    He gave a muffled grunt as pain shot through his back and his nose hit the floor, but before he could even think of trying to move, whoever was on him suddenly rose.  He got a glimpse out of his right eye of Adam holding Sloan by the shirt and punching his face.  He tried to look to his left, but everything on that side was blurry. Then a piece of splintered wood hit him in the face, and he ducked.

  He heard wood splintering, glass shattering, thuds, and crashes.  A flurry of boots, chairs, broken glass, and bodies flew past his eyes.  Then, there was silence.  Joe raised his head cautiously.

  "This wasnít your fight, Mister," he heard Sloan gasp.

  "Thatís where youíre wrong!"

  *Boy, Sloan should know better than to say anything when Adam is in that kind of mood.  Just because I beat this guy at poker last night while heís passing through town doesnít mean he can make Adam mad.*

  "What business is it of yours, anyway?" muttered another bloodied bully.

  "Letís just say our family is our business, Mister," said Hoss.

  * Uh, oh.  Hoss, too.  Man, these guys are too dumb to know when theyíre in bad trouble.  Too bad for them they didnít know I had two big brothers.*

  "Come with me, boys."

  *Oh, no.  Roy isnít going to put us in jail, is he?  Pa will kill me!  Why am I always getting into trouble?*

  He struggled to stand.  Suddenly, he felt a strong but gentle hand on his left arm that helped him carefully to his feet.  "Easy, Joe."  Hossís voice and hands had never sounded and felt so good.  "Weíll get you to the doc here in no time."

  Joe looked around him with his good eye.  Sloan and his two henchmen were leaving the saloon along with Roy Coffee and one of his deputies.  Tables were overturned, and chairs and glasses broken all around him.

  "I donít need a doctor," said Joe.

  Hoss tried not to laugh.  "Course you donít, little buddy."

  "I donít!" Joe was insistent.  "They only got two punches in.  I got more than that on all of them combined!"

  Adam looked at Joe, then at Hoss.  "Yeah, Joe, we saw."

  Joe felt a sliver of pain slice through his head from his eye, and a firey throb shot across his back.  He put his hand gingerly over his eye, and tried to talk around his swollen lip and the blood that was trickling from his nose and the cut on his face.  "I was beating them!  I wouldíve gotten away from them.  I didnít need your help!"

  Adam raised his eyebrow.

  "We really werenít helping you, Joe," said Hoss.

  "Then what do you call it?" demanded Joe.

  "Well, see, I thought this here table needed cleaning off, so I used that Sloan feller to help me do it."

  "Yeah, thatís right," said Adam.  "And I thought this end of the bar needed rearranging, so I used one of the others for that."

  "Course, the table broke when I cleaned it off," added Hoss.

  "They helped us out a lot by falling into each other," Adam put in.  "Broke a lot of furniture, though."

  "Woody didnít like this here furniture anyway,  Right, Woody?"  Hoss winked at the owner.

  "Someone had better pay damages," said Woody.

  "Those fellows donít have much money in their pockets right now," said Joe.  "They lost it at poker last night."

  Dead silence.

  *Oh, no.  I didnít say that.  I didnít.  Why didnít I keep my mouth shut?*

  "And you would know this - how?" Adam asked pointedly.

  Joe looked at the floor and wished it would swallow him.

  "Any of their money in your pockets now?" asked Hoss.

  "Uh, wellÖ"  Joe dithered, "it doesnít matter, because now, it belongs to Woody.  I guess."

  "You guessed right, little brother," said Hoss.  He held out his hand.  "Fork it over!"

  "IF he still has any money," Adam said tartly.

  Joe yanked his wallet out of his pocket and handed it to Hoss with a few grumbles.  Hoss paid Woody and stuffed the wallet in his own pocket.

  "Now, letís get you to the doctor," said Hoss.

  "They only got a couple hits on me," protested Joe.  "Iím fine!"

  "All right," said Adam.  "Weíll go home, tell Pa what happened, and let Hop Sing do the doctoring."  Adam and Hoss flanked their brother and helped him toward the door.

  "UhÖ wait a minute." Joe stopped "Do we have to tell Pa?"   His brothers grabbed his arms and pulled him along.  "Ow!" he yelped.  "Quit it!  My arms hurt!"

  "Then move your feet," suggested Adam.

  "Maybe I could go to the doctor." Joe dragged his feet on the floor as they pulled him.  "I donít mind.  Not too much."  They continued toward the door.  "If I go to the doc, do we have to tell Pa what happened?  You know me, Iím always getting into some scrape or other."

  Adam and Hoss stopped and looked at each other.

"Thatís a fine idea, Joe.  Weíll tell him you were in a fight over a girl," said Hoss.

  "I wasnít in any fight over any girl!" protested Joe.

  "Now Joe," chided Hoss, "you said you didnít want to tell Pa what happened.  We have to tell him something."

  "Would you rather tell him this happened because you were gambling, or because of a girl?" asked Adam.

  Joe looked forlornly from one to the other with his good eye. His shoulders slumped.  "Letís go to the doctor," he finally said dejectedly.  "Maybe heíll tell me to spend the night there."  He left the saloon. Adam and Hoss squeezed through the door beside him.  A chuckle ran through the crowd gathered outside the saloon and the few people left inside.

Shaking his head, Woody began to clean up the broken furniture and shattered glass. Just another afternoon in town with those Cartwright brothers. He really was going to have to talk to Ben about those three sons of his. He sighed. Maybe he could get Sheriff Coffee to do it. At least the times with them in his establishment would never be dull.

The End


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