Summary: In an alternate universe where Ben is dead and the boys grow up separated, will fate brings the Cartwrights back together once more?
Rated: T (72,638 words)
The Wheels of Fate Series:
The Wheels of Fate
Memories. They’re like an old injury that flares up just when you think you’ve gotten past it, usually right before a storm. He spun the cylinder of his gun and slipped the bullets in each slot with a metallic slither. He put the extra pullets into the loops on his belt and slung the leather contraption over the back of the hard wooden chair. He kept a hold of his gun though. The weight of it in his hand was reassuring, and he spun it around in a practiced maneuver that came without thinking. As he twirled the gun, his mind spun too, taking him out of his tiny hotel room in San Francisco. He aimed his gun and squeezed the trigger without cocking it, taking down an imaginary foe.
Always in the present, never the past. It was how he’d lived for the past fourteen years. For him there was no future, no past, just the here and now, and whatever man he had to kill next.
He slipped the gun back into the holster and stretched out on the flat bed. After spending nearly two weeks sleeping on the ground, he’d been looking forward to sleeping in a real bed, but this one made the ground seem comfortable. Still, he hadn’t really expected much. Cheap hotel rooms rarely included comfort in their cost, but ironically the fleas came for free. He kicked the blanket on the floor and lay on his back on the bare mattress, staring up at the cracked ceiling. The person sleeping above would probably come crashing down on top of him in the middle of the night. He closed his eyes. Outside, he could hear the sound of the rain that had welcomed him to the city still coming down. Adam welcomed the sound as it distracted his mind from images of the first time he’d come to San Francisco.
It had been spring, no rain, just pure blue sky, clear and shiny as a lake. The only cloud around had been over him as he’d dismounted in front of a saloon that he was too young to go into. He’d gone anyway, needing the information and had gotten a black eye for his troubles. It had been the last time anyone had called him a kid though, at least the last time they had done it without learning just how wrong they were.
He reached over and pulled his gun out of the holster without opening his eyes. The grips were smooth and fit into the grooves of his hand as if they were the mold from which the gun had been cast. He rubbed his thumb along the butt and concentrated on the pressure on his thumb from pushing down. Here and now. His thumb traced the edge, and he slowly exhaled. Memories were like snakes, poised and waiting to strike. The only chance was to stay frozen in place and wait for them to decide you weren’t a threat and move on. Just stay still and focus on the present until the past drifted back to the shadow it had emerged from.
It was still raining the next evening when he entered the saloon. The man he’d been looking for was there, like he knew he’d be. Adam took off his hat, ran his hand through his hair, and put it back on again. Then he sat down beside Carl Reynolds.
Reynolds looked up from his drink and narrowed his eyes. “So the first of how many?”
“I don’t count the men who are behind me, only the ones ahead of me.” Adam answered. He motioned to the bartender, appearing relaxed, but every nerve was tense, waiting for Reynolds to make the first move.
“Well since you’ve been tailing me the longest, I guess the honor is yours.” Reynolds lifted his glass in a toast to him, but Adam knew that a viper was waiting to strike behind his nonchalance. “How long was it?”
“Right, Billings. Nice little town.”
“It was before you killed three people there.” Adam said. He wondered how long Reynolds would draw the conversation out.
“So,” Reynolds tipped his chair back so that the front two legs hovered in the air. “how do you want to do this?”
“Your poster says dead or alive. You pick.”
Reynolds laughed. Quicker than sight, he reached for his gun, but Adam was faster. Reynolds’s gun fell to the floor and he gripped his right shoulder.
“Not bad.” he spat.
“No, not bad at all.” Adam narrowed his eyes. Right handed holster, but he’d been holding his drink with his left hand. Something wasn’t right.
Then he saw his left hand creeping toward the inside pocket of his vest. Instinct pulled the trigger before his mind could process anything, and Reynolds slumped forward as another gun clattered to the floor. Adam holstered his own gun.
“You shouldn’t try a left-handed trick like that on me.” he said to the dead body.
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