What Happened Next: 

The Flapjack Contest    
Kathleen O'Neill  

Joe stumbled backward into the saloon, keeping his eyes fixed on his father and Adam, standing with Hoss at the stage. His father was sharing a laugh with his brothers, probably at his expense. But then Joe saw Ben glance over at the saloon, his face a grim mask. Joe’s heart leapt to his throat when Ben took a stride toward the saloon, but relief flooded over him when Clem approached Ben, and after some brief discussion, they walked toward the sheriff’s office. Joe craned his neck and watched his father until he disappeared with the sheriff.

“Help ya, Joe?” Sam raised his voice, startling Joe who nearly fell out through the doors.

Regaining his balance, Joe turned wide eyes to the bartender, “Huh? Oh, uh, yeah. I, uh, need to buy another window pane.” Joe’s face grew pained in anticipation of Sam’s reaction, and his hands grasped each other in worry.

“Another one?” Sam hollered. “Ain’t that four now? And two of ‘em today!” The man had his feet planted apart and his hands on his hips were fisted.

“Yeah.” Joe said quietly, his mouth pulling into a small bow. His large, sad green eyes looked up and regarded the man.

“Oh all right!” the man said in exasperation and threw his bar rag down. “But that means rent on another room for a week, at least!” Sam pointed a thick finger at Joe.

“I know, I know already.” Joe blew out his cheeks with a sigh and his eyebrows lifted in relief.

“You’re sure working hard at stayin’ outta trouble with your Pa!” Sam joked as he brought the reservation book from behind the bar.

“Yeah, but I’m not so sure it’s workin’.” Joe said nervously. He cast a nervous glance at the swinging doors and paid Sam three dollars and fifty cents. He eased over to the doors and peered over them toward the sheriff’s office. Nothing. He looked over at the stage where his brothers were unloading Adam’s baggage. Joe’s face took on a pale, sickly expression as he turned and made his way up the stairs to remove the windowpane.


Joe stepped carefully down the stairs, carrying the prized sheet of glass. Perspiration beaded his face, more from nerves than heat. He saw an older man talking to Sam.

“What do you mean you ain’t got a room for me?” the old man exclaimed.

“Just what I said.” Sam gave Joe an angry look over the old man’s shoulder. “I’ve rented all but one and that one’s taken!”

“Well, I’m gonna go call that old man out there an out and out liar! He told me there’s always plenty of rooms to rent here. Low cost, decent food and plenty o’ liquid refreshment!” The old man cleared his throat. “Let me see your rental book!” Sam reluctantly gave the open book to the irate man. He quickly looked at the name and shook his head, shoving the book back at Sam.

Just then, Ben walked into the saloon. Joe’s eyes widened and he started talking a blue streak to his father again. “See, Pa! I already got the windowpane!! Pretty as you please! Come on Pa, let’s get home, so I can take care of puttin’ it in, okay Pa?” Joe resisted the urge to pull at Ben’s sleeve.

“Good, Joe. Just a minute son, alright?” Ben said, frowning at Joe’s hand that seemed to be grasping at him. I said, just a moment, Joseph.” Joe nodded and tried to smile through his suffering.

“Well, Ezra, didn’t I tell you the rooms here were clean, affordable and all the comforts a man could want?” Ben said proudly, slapping the man on the back. Joe looked at Sam with worried eyes.

“I don’t KNOW about the rooms...., what’s yer name? Ben? They’re all RENTED! And you, you old goat are an OUT AND OUT LIAR!” And the old man, grabbed his satchel and left the saloon in a huff. Ben stared in shock at the swinging doors. He looked at Sam questioningly, who shrugged his answer. He turned to look at Joe, who met his father’s gaze with an ingratiating grin and the familiar look of innocence. Ben didn’t know what this was about, but he was pretty certain his youngest knew something. His eyes narrowed as he nailed Joe with his gaze. Joe wilted underneath the scrutiny and examined his boots

Ben made a low sigh, which sounded for all the world like a growl. “Let’s go home!” Ben jerked his head in the direction of the door. Joe scooted past him quickly and walked ahead of his father. As they began to step off the sidewalk, the old man started up his complaint again. This time to other passengers just off the stage.

“That’s right! No rooms! Four rooms rented to one man, named ..... uh......Joseph Cartwright....I believe!”

Ben stopped in mid-stride, as did Joe. Ben slowly turned around and fixed his son with a deadly black countenance. Joe froze. He attempted a smile, but it faded quickly. “Joseph, you wanted to talk about this later? Well, we suuuure are.” Ben took a death-hold grip of his son’s arm above the elbow, which made Joe’s eyes water. Joe swallowed hard and held onto the pane of glass for all he was worth as he and his father made a quick walk to the wagon.

“Adam, I’m going to stay in town for a while longer. See that this young man gets that window fixed and doesn’t disappear.” Ben looked at Joe. “I want to talk to him when I get home.”

Joe’s eyes half closed and he looked at his feet. ‘This is bad. This is very bad,’ he thought to himself. 

“Hoss,” Ben said, “I’m going to pick up the contest money, and the reward money. We’ll sort it all out at home.” Ben made a circle with his hand between all of them.

“Yessir.” Hoss fiddled with the team’s reins. He looked at Joe and at Adam. Hoss’s face showed how much he hated conflict in his family. He climbed up in the wagon seat to avoid as much of it as he could.

Joe watched his father walk to Buck, mount up and ride to the Sheriff’s office. Adam looked from Ben to Joe and back twice more, settling on Joe. Adam tilted his head at his youngest brother.

“Well, well, well!” Adam clasped his hands and rubbed them together in delight. “I was disappointed that I missed out on whatever has been going on for the last two weeks, but I’m sure glad I got back in time for the finale!” Adam smiled a broad, white smile at Little Joe, who returned an angry stare.

“Oh, Lordy,” Hoss said under his breath. He clucked at the horses and flipped the reins to urge them forward. Joe sat in the back with the windowpane and tried to avoid the gleeful smiles Adam cast his way.



Ben walked his horse up to the hitching post in front of the sheriff’s office and dismounted. He flipped the reins twice around the rail and stepped onto the walk. Within two long strides he was at the sheriff’s door and he walked in without knocking.

“Clem.” Ben offered in greeting.

“Hello, Ben. Coffee?” Clem said, holding the coffee pot.

“Sure. Thank you. Clem, about that …. bank robber you have locked up here.”

“What about ‘im?” Clem asked.

“Mind if I talk to him?” Ben asked, standing tall and looking directly into Clem’s eyes.

“No, I don’t mind, Ben. Ya ain’t gonna make any bets with him are ya?” Clem smiled.

“No. I’ve seen enough wagering for a while.”

“He’s right in through there.” Clem motioned to the door.

“Thanks.” Ben opened the door and went in to the cell area. Once he saw Cunningham, Ben closed the door behind him.

“Mr. Cunningham,” Ben stated.

“Yeah, that’s right.” Cunningham turned and looked at his visitor. “Hey, you’re that fellow….”

“Ben Cartwright.”

“Yeah. Joe’s daddy.”

Ben nodded.

“How can a I help the likes of Mr. Ben Cartwright?”

“I just have a question for you. How much money were you willing to take off my son?”

“All he would offer.”

“How much did he offer?”

“One thousand dollars, all tolled.”

Ben’s face flushed red and then the color drained from his face. “One…. thousand dollars?” he almost whispered. “Got any proof?” Ben said quickly.

“Ask the sheriff. He’s got all my marks,” Cunningham said lazily.

“Thank you, Mr. Cunningham,” Ben said as he left the cell room.

“Clem, Cunningham says I can look at his record book. May I see it?”

“Sure, Ben.” Clem rummaged around in the middle desk drawer. “Here it is.”

Ben opened the book and turned three pages. He scanned down the list and found the first bet Joe had made for one hundred dollars, payoff of five hundred if he won. A little further down he saw the second bet. Slapping the ledger shut, Ben thrust the book at Clem. 

“Thank you, Clem. That’s all I needed,” Ben said. “Wait, I need to collect that reward money and the contest money.”

“Oh, sure Ben. I can help you with the reward money. But you’ll have to see the banker for the other reward, that’s from the bank trustees, and you’ll have to visit Sam for the contest money.”

Ben grimaced. “Alright.” Clem handed him ten fifty-dollar bills. Without counting it, Ben placed the money in his billfold and left the sheriff’s office. Looking across the street, he noticed the banker was in, so he stepped down into the street intently focused on his second errand.



Hoss pulled the horses to a halt near the porch. Joe scrambled out of the back of the wagon and drew the windowpane glass toward him. He took it up in a protective grasp and wordlessly headed for the house.

“You know, Hoss? If I didn’t know him better, I’d say that Joe is showing a lot of responsibility, hustling to get that window fixed.”

“Shut up, Adam.” Joe said as he entered the house.

Adam raised his voice. “Watch your tone, boy!” His remark was met by a ferociously slammed door.

“Aw, Adam, lay off will ya. Poor fella’s got enough problems already.”

“And only himself to blame, I am certain.” Adam smiled and patted Hoss on the shoulder.

Hoss shook his head and led the horses to the barn.



Adam looked up as Hoss entered the great room and then returned to his reading.

“Joe upstairs?” Hoss asked.

“I imagine, haven’t seen him come down.” Adam said without looking up.

Hoss silently mounted the stairs. He walked down the hall to Joe’s bedroom and knocked on the door. “Joe?”

“Yeah, come in.” Joe answered

Hoss opened the door and saw Joe struggling to set the windowpane in the window.

“Here, let me help ya.”

“Thanks!” Joe smiled.

Joe quickly applied the putty to the glass and they slid it in place. Hoss pressed and pulled on it to make sure it seated properly.

“Well, that ought to do her, Joe.” Hoss wiped his hands on his pants.

Joe smiled slightly in response.

Hoss dragged a chair from the desk and turned it around. He eased his bulk onto the too-small chair and folded arms in his lap. Joe sat on the bed and raised troubled eyes at his big brother.

“Joe……you got yourself a peck a trouble don’t ya, boy?”

“Yeah.” Joe said despairingly.

Hoss squinched his face up as he made an effort to understand his brother.

“Why didn’t you do like I told ya Joe? Ya shoulda laid it all out to Pa, the whole truth, the whole miserable story!” Hoss looked at his brother earnestly.

“Hoss, remember we went over this before. Imagine what Pa would do if I told him the truth?”

“Little brother, it looks like you’re gonna have to tell him that truth anyhow, plus fessin’ up to some outright lies!”

“Stop talkin’ like that, you’re making me upset again.”

“Well, you better plan on stayin’ upset for a while, Joseph. I don’t see no way out a this for ya!”

Joe stayed silent.

“Well, I’m gonna go downstairs and get started on cleanin’ those rifles.” Hoss said and left the room.

Joe finished cleaning up the floor around the window, thinking over what Hoss had said.



Ben crossed the street to the bank. The bell tinkled as he drew the door open and closed again. Looking around, he only saw the assistant banker and approached him.

“Mr. Hennessey, I’ve come to pick up Joseph’s reward money.” Ben smiled.

“Oh, yes, Mr. Cartwright. It was left in an envelope for you. Here you are! And tell that fine son of yours we are deeply grateful for his unselfish act today.”

Ben cleared his throat. “Uh, yes, yes. Unselfish. I will tell him.” Ben didn’t try to hide the aggravation he felt. “Thank you.”

“Good day, Mr. Cartwright!”

“Yes, Good day.” Ben replied flatly.

Ben left the bank and decided to walk down to the saloon, rather than ride. He didn’t mind having to come back for Buck after his final errand. The stretching would do him good; clear his head. He tipped his hat at the ladies he met on the way. He also overheard whispers about Joe’s bravery, heroism and Hoss’s appetite. It was putting him in a fouler mood than before. Finally, he arrived at the saloon. He fairly burst through the swinging doors. Sam nearly dropped his bar rag when he saw the formidable figure of Ben Cartwright standing before him.

“Sam,” Ben said with not a little authority. “I’ve come to collect Hoss’s contest money, if you please.”

“Oh, yes, Ben! I’ve got it all ready. The boys hurried home, eh?” Sam laughed a little too readily, as he handed Ben the cash.

“Yes, … they’ve … gone … home,” Ben growled.

Sam chuckled and then concentrated on polishing the wooden bar. Ben didn’t leave however.

“I understand that you were helping Joseph out with some windowpanes. You ….. startin’ a general store, too, Sam?” Ben’s wry smile did not ease the barman’s discomfort.

“Uh, no, Ben. Ha, ha, ha, that’s right funny there.” Sam laughed.

Ben just leaned on the bar and looked at Sam.

Sam cleared his throat. “Oh, dang it, Ben. What was I gonna do? That son of yours was tryin’ in the worst way to stay outta trouble and he was just in a real fix and I didn’t just give ‘em to ‘im, you know. He paid me for ‘em, fair and square, Ben.” Sam worried a little that he sounded like he was babbling.

Ben smiled. “Is that all?” He narrowed his gaze and his eyebrows dropped low.

“Shoot, Ben. The glass was already set in the windows! I couldn’t rent the rooms without windowpanes, could I? So, Joe offered to pay for the windowpanes and one week’s rent!” Sam sputtered.

“On how many rooms?” Ben questioned.

Sam squirmed under the interrogation. “Four.”

Ben didn’t look surprised. “Got a receipt, or a record?”

“Sure. Wrote it all down in ma book!” Sam produced the green leather cashbook and pushed it toward Ben.

Ben opened the book and read in Sam’s round hand, ‘Joseph Cartwright, one room, $3.50’ four times in a row. Ben pursed his lips and his brow furrowed. “Thank you, Sam.”

“Any time, Ben. A real pleasure.” Sam called as Ben strode out of the saloon.

Sam rolled his eyes heavenward and went back to polishing the bar.

Ben crossed the main street to avoid the gossip regarding the morning’s events. Gratefully, he reached Buck without one single encounter or overheard conversation. He checked the cinch, tightened it and was just reaching for the reins, when he felt a velvet glove rest on his hand.

“Oh, there you are, Benjamin! I’ve been looking all over town for you!”

Ben tipped his hat and smiled. “Well, Miss Hanson, how are …”

“I just can’t get over Little Joseph and his wonderful, heroic feat this morning! Why, you have raised such a valiant young man, Benjamin! So much like his father!!” Miss Hanson broke into a delighted giggle.

“Yes, thank you, Miss Hanson. If you’ll forgive me, I really need to….”

“Oh Benjamin, won’t you and your delightful sons come to dinner next Sunday?” She nearly jumped up and down in anticipation.

“Yes, of course, Miss Hanson. But I really need to get back to the ranch, if you don’t mind!” Ben desperately collected the reins and quickly shook hands with the woman. Mounting, he tipped his hat again and urged Buck into a trot.

Miss Hanson waved her handkerchief at Ben as he rounded the corner near the International Hotel. He raised his hand in acknowledgement and rode away.

Ben loosened his neckerchief and opened the top button of his shirt. He slowed Buck to a gentle walk and took several deep, slow breaths. Why did he feel as if he’d had the wind knocked out of him, he wondered. Soon, the cool breeze off the pines and their scent eased his mind.



Hoss came down the stairs, crossed to the gun rack and took two rifles down. He set them on the coffee table and crossed back to the gun rack, opened a drawer and took out a rag, some oil and a metal cleaning rod. Adam’s eyes followed his younger brother as he crossed back to the settee, set his materials on the table and sat down.

“Cleaning those rifles finally?” Adam queried.

“Yep.” Hoss answered without looking up.

“How’s the kid?” Adam asked as he read.

“He did a fine job on that window.” Hoss wasn’t giving.

“You know what I mean. How’s his mood?” Adam pressed.

Hoss examined the gun and said, “About what you’d expect, I guess. If you’re so worried about ‘im, why don’t ya git up there and see for yourself?”

“You coddle him enough, without my help,” Adam replied

Hoss was silent as he continued working.



Joe stood up and moved his chair back to the desk. He looked around the room, and smoothed the back of his hair as was his habit. Walking to the newly installed window he looked out onto the yard. Joe chewed on his lower lip as his mind worked overtime. Pa would be riding up soon and Joe wondered what his mood would be by then. He didn’t know what to do with himself. Go downstairs where Adam was? Go talk to Hop Sing?  The cook would probably give him an earful too. Sighing, Joe sat down on the bed, then lay back with his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. He swore he could hear his heart beating through his shirt.

The sound of a horse trotting into the yard, roused Joe from sleep. He didn’t need to look out the window. He knew it was his father’s horse. Buck had a funny way of “paddling out” his right foreleg, which produced an unusual gait. 



Hoss looked up at Adam. “Pa’s home.”

“Get ready,” Adam said quietly.

One side of Hoss’s mouth raised in a half-scowl. “Yeah.”

Soon, strong footsteps were heard on the porch and then the front door latch opened forcefully and the door swung open and closed as Ben came in. He hung his hat on the peg, slid the knot on his neckerchief and drew it over his head, then hung it around the crown of his hat. Ben unbuckled his gun belt, rolled it and set it on the sideboard, careful to not scratch the wood with the gun.

Looking around the room, Ben asked, “Where’s Joseph?”

“Upstairs,” Hoss offered.

“Would you get him please,” Ben said, more than asked.

“Yes, sir Pa. I’ll get ‘im.” Hoss scooted to the edge of the settee and then heaved himself to a standing position. His eyes darted quickly to Adam, who raised one eyebrow in reply. Hoss mounted the stairs quickly.

Ben cast a look at Adam, then walked to the fireplace. He picked up the poker and jabbed at the fire a little, as Hoss, followed by Little Joe, came down the stairs.

Ben turned around. “Joseph, please sit down, Hoss? Adam? I’d like you to stay too.”

The three brothers exchanged glances, signs of the silent communication that they shared and which amazed Ben, usually. Today, the charm of it was lost on him. He felt old.

“Now, as you know, there has been a fair amount of money made, spent and loaned between the three of you. As I told you I would, I have collected the rewards and the contest money in town. Joseph, due to your, uh, heroic actions this morning, you won, as you know, five hundred dollars from the bank for capturing a bank robber and another five hundred dollars reward from the sheriff for turning in a wanted man.” Ben’s face almost smiled. “Here is your money.” Ben handed a thick group of bills to Joe.

Joe’s face brightened. ‘Maybe things are going to go a lot better than I thought today.’ He mused to himself.

Adam’s face took on a suspicious expression as he watched Joe fold the money into his billfold. Joe returned a gleaming, open-mouthed grin at Adam.

“Hoss,” Ben said. “As the champion flapjack eater in the territory, you are the deserving winner of five hundred dollars.” Ben laughed, patted Hoss on the back and handed him the five one hundred dollar bills. Hoss counted the money and then counted it again, enjoying the feel of the large bills. His smile quickly turned to a frown when he saw Joe staring at him expectantly.

“Uh… Hoss,” Ben cleared his throat. “I understand that you were going to loan your five hundred dollars to Joe, am I right?” Ben asked. “He would pay you back and it would teach him a lesson, as you said.”

“Phssshhhh.” Hoss complained. “Yeah, that’s right, Pa. I’ll never git it back though.” He handed the money to Joe, who seemed insulted by the comment. Adam rolled his eyes.

“Now. Joseph, I believe you owe your brother Adam fifteen hundred dollars for the ruby,” Ben said sternly. Joe was about to holler about the gem being fake but one look from Ben, extinguished that thought. He looked at his father sorrowfully.

“Here you go, Adam. Use it in good health.” Joe mumbled unhappily.

“Thank you, little brother, and ….. tough luck, huh?” Adam’s face was split by a huge, wide grin as he held the money.

“I do have one concern though, boys,” Ben advised.

All three looked at him intently.

“Adam.” Ben rubbed his index finger across his lips and then held his finger up. “It seems to me that it isn’t ‘quite’ right for you to make a five hundred dollar profit on a fake ruby.”

“FAKE?” Adam hollered.

“Yes, it was made of glass and quite destructible, I’m afraid, son,” Ben told him.

Adam’s mouth hung open in shock. He didn’t move for a while. Then he slowly counted out five hundred dollars in fifty-dollar bills and handed them wordlessly to Joe.

“Joe?” Ben nodded toward Hoss. Joe grimaced and then handed the five hundred dollars back to Hoss, who quickly stuffed the money into his vest pocket.

“As a matter of fact, Adam, I am of the opinion that it isn’t right for Joseph to pay one thousand dollars,” Ben’s voice started to raise, “for a broken ruby that his eldest brother was stump-brained enough to buy, without PROOF OF AUTHENTICITY OR APPRAISAL!!!” Ben’s voice echoed off of each beam in the large room’s ceiling.

Adam pursed his lips and looked off to the right and gazed at the fire, after the berating. Ben kept his eyes on his eldest. Adam, stunned, drew the one thousand dollars out of his billfold and held it out to Joe.

Joe reached out tentatively and took the money. “Really, Pa? Heck, I…”

“I AM NOT FINISHED YET!!” Ben hollered. Joe startled at the roar of Ben’s voice. Ben slowly stalked over to Joe. “Stand up. STAND UP!!”

Joe leaped to his feat.

 “It hasn’t gone unnoticed by me that you have, for the last seven weeks, stayed out until three or four in the morning more nights than not … GAMBLING! You said nothing about the ruby for three days.” Ben held up three fingers in Joe’s face. “THREE DAYS! While I continued to check the post office for Adam’s valuable PACKAGE!” Ben looked up and fixed Adam with a dark glare.

Adam looked at the floor.

Turning his attention back on Joe, Ben continued. “AND, I know all about the FOUR rooms you rented at the saloon in order to get more windowpanes! And while I’m at it, young man, I am well aware of the bets you made that you could NOT even ATTEMPT to pay if you had lost. Something tells me that I would have had to pay for them!! So, your money, your one thousand dollars will go in the bank to help pay off any future destructions you cause on the ranch or in town! I must have re-furnished Sam’s saloon fifteen times in the LAST FIVE YEARS! And finally, on top of all of this, you lied to me. At the stage, you said ‘I don’t bet, Pa. You know that.’ Well I DO know, Joseph. I know that you DO BET and you have lied to me to save your skin. And I am here to tell you that IT DID NOT WORK!” Ben was now within inches of Joe’s face, towering over him.

Joe slowly brought the money up between his and his father’s face. “Um….here you go,..Pa.” Joe smiled sickly, his voice quavering with uncertainty.

Ben took the money from Joe. “Thank you.” Ben growled without removing his gaze from his youngest. “Now, you take yourself to the Sheriff’s office and speak to Clem. He has all the bets that were collected by Cunningham. You will go with him and distribute back to the citizens of Virginia City, ALL the money they wagered on that contest. Understood?”

Joe smiled broadly. “Oh, yes sir, Pa! I’ll go right now!”

Ben nodded in Joe’s face. “I’m not finished with you, young man. When you return from town you wait for me in the barn.”

Joe quickly ducked away and to the door, looking behind him as he slipped out of the house.

Hoss shook his head. “That danged, Little Joe, he gets in more scrapes than any ten people I know.”

Ben turned to Hoss. “And YOU! When are YOU going to learn to not follow him INTO those scrapes?”

Hoss’s eyebrows raised in misery as his eyes looked down at his fingers, his mouth turned into an unhappy grimace. “I keep askin’ mahself the same thang. Well, ah guess I better git started on evenin’ chores, Pa,” Hoss said, and lifted his large frame. Tucking his hands in his front pockets, he walked to the door with his head lowered.

Adam watched Hoss leave the house. He fully realized it was no mistake he and his father were now alone in the great room. He had been looking everywhere BUT at his father during the “conversation” between all of them. Now, it was impossible to avoid the man. Without looking up, Adam knew that his father, still standing, was staring at him. The discomfort played across his face, Ben noticed and tried not to smile. Adam raised his head and looked up at the stout image of his father before him. Ben held his gaze for a moment, then walked to the coffee table and sat on it.

“Let’s hear it,” Ben stated with just the slightest bit of amusement in his voice.

“Hear what?” Adam asked cautiously, then remembered how his father did not appreciate questions for answers.

Ben’s eyebrows lowered and he sighed. “Hear how my college-educated, world-wise, level-headed, ELDEST son managed to spend one thousand dollars on a worthless ruby!”

“Oh. That.” Adam smiled and scratched the side of his neck. “Well, Pa, it’s a….

“Wait!” Ben held up a hand. “It’s a long, sad story?”

Adam chuckled uneasily. “Yeah, it is, as a matter of fact.”

Ben continued to look at him.

“Well, you remember how I wrote you that I had run into that old friend of mine, Aaron Smyth, who wanted to sell the ruby?” Adam questioned.

“Yes, the Clipper Captain, go on.”

“Well, it wasn’t exactly the Captain.”

Ben gave Adam an impatient puzzled look and started to say something.

“Listen, Pa. It wasn’t the Captain who wanted to sell me the ruby. It was his sister, Diana.” Recognizing increasing impatience in his father, he continued in a hurry. “Aaron, she and I had dinner that night. Aaron asked me to walk her back home because he had a meeting after dinner. On the way home, she asked if I was interested in buying the ruby. She said Aaron had given it to her.  She…well….she was in a fix.”

Ben raised his eyebrows.

“Apparently, she and Aaron were behind in their property taxes. Aaron hadn’t told Diana, but she found out. She knew Aaron was worried about it and was working hard to catch up on the payments. She wanted to pay it off, so she decided to sell the ruby. She showed it to me and the next day I withdrew the money from my account in San Francisco and gave it to her.” Adam fixed a firm gaze on his father, proving to him that it was the absolute truth.

“And between the three of you, none of you knew the ruby was a fake?” Ben asked.

Adam didn’t answer him.

“Am I to assume that by not answering my question, it means that you DID know the ruby was a fake and that you were going to sell that ruby, AT A PROFIT, to some poor, unsuspecting fellow on the stage?”

“There was no fellow on the stage offering me fifteen hundred dollars for the ruby. I made it up.”

“WHY?” Ben barked.

“Well, as soon as I saw Joe standing there saying he wanted to buy the ruby, I knew it was gone. I figured it wasn’t your fault or Hoss’s fault. And with that guilty as sin expression on Joe’s face, well, I knew he had managed to lose it somehow. I…..thought I’d scare the pants off him a little.” Adam tried to suppress a smile.

“I see. No harm done, I suppose,” Ben offered.

“Yeah.” Adam smiled, satisfied. “I’ll, um, go out there and help Hoss, since Joe will be in town during evening chores.”

Ben pursed his lips and nodded as Adam stood and walked to the door.

“Adam.” Ben called. “Tell me the truth. Did you know the ruby was a fake?”

Adam opened the door but paused. “Let me put it this way, Pa. I’m glad I could help a friend.” Adam smiled over his shoulder to his father. Ben’s started to say something, but smiled instead. Adam went outside and softly closed the door behind him.

Ben stood up and looked at the door. Shaking his head, yet smiling, he crossed the room to his desk. ‘She sure must have been a beautiful woman to snooker Adam like that.’ Ben thought to himself. He sat down to organize his letters and mail, but the sight of the photographs on his desk caught his attention as they did each day. He gazed at the portraits in turn, Elizabeth, Inger, Marie and warmth flooded through him as he thought about each of his sons.

Adam stopped on the porch. He had closed the door behind him, but his hand still rested on the doorknob. He shook his head. “I’m glad I could ‘help’ a friend,” he sighed to himself. “Oh, I sure helped a friend alright. Helped her to one thousand dollars!” Adam let his hand drop from the doorknob and he slapped it against his leg in disgust.

“Fake! I can’t believe I bought a fake ruby!”


The End.


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Kathleen O'Neill

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