Summary: How exactly do the boys end up in jail during a trip to San Francisco? Ben isn’t sure whether he wants to find out or not in this short comedic fic that includes a pickpocket, saloon girls, one crazily jealous fiance, and naked Cartwrights in a brothel.
Rated: T (2,655 words)
It Was Like This Pa…
The sheriff’s eyes looked tired as they glanced up at Ben Cartwright. He could understand that; it was nearly four in the morning, and Ben had already had a pretty sleepless night himself.
“You’re the father then?” the sheriff asked.
“That’s right.” As he spoke he couldn’t help but wonder exactly to what he was admitting.
“Right this way.” The sheriff led him out back and unlocked the cell door. Ben stepped inside and surveyed the occupants with his arms crossed over his chest. His three sons sat side by side, with guilty grimaces on his face. Ben knew the look well; it meant he was in for a story.
“Last I knew you three said you were going back to the hotel room – directly back, I believe were your exact words.” He finally said.
“We were.” Adam spoke.
“When I got back from dinner with Colonel Riker you weren’t there. And when I asked, they said you hadn’t been in all night. Then I get a visit from the sheriff saying that you three were locked up down here. He didn’t say why or what had happened, just that you were in jail. Now will one of you please explain to me what this is all about?”
Joe and Hoss instantly looked to Adam. It was a habit really; Big Brother was always good at smoothing down Pa’s feathers. Adam sighed and began the story, sincerely doubting his ability to calm Pa down this time. But if his chance was doubtful, Hoss’ and Joe’s chance was downright nonexistent.
“Well, you see Pa, it was like this: we were on our way back to the hotel room when we ran into Jerry Howe. You remember Jerry; he worked a few drives a couple years ago.”
“Well we figured you’d be at the Colonel’s for a while, so we had time to go to the saloon and get a drink with him.”
Ben nodded again. So far so good, but he was still waiting for the story to take a turn for the worse. But Adam seemed a little hesitant to go on, so Hoss picked up the story.
“There was a saloon girl in there that kept looking over in our direction.” He said. “Joe and Adam thought she was real perty.”
“I still say she was looking at me.” Joe muttered.
“In your dreams.” Adam said.
“Sorry Pa. So while Joe and Adam were distracted, Jerry and I went out to look at his horse. The livery stable was right across the street.”
“Leave it to Hoss to be more interested in piece of horseflesh than in a piece of…”
Hoss frowned at Joe and then looked back to his father. “Anyhow, when I came back to the saloon, they were gone.”
“I thought I told you boys to stay together.” Ben said.
“We hadn’t gone far, just around back. See, while we were… distracted, someone managed to steal out wallets.”
“She must have been quite a girl.” Ben mused.
“Oh she was.” Joe smiled.
Now it was Adam’s turn to glare at Joe. “He was a professional pickpocket. And the only reason we figured out he’d robbed us was because Joe finally got up the nerve to ask the girl for a drink. Only when he went for his wallet, it was gone.”
“He’d shuffled against us earlier, so when we saw him slip out the door, we followed him into the alley. He didn’t realize it was a dead end.”
“And then you arrested him?”
“Well, not exactly.” Joe shifted uncomfortably.
“Then what?” Ben looked from one son to the other, making note of their matching black eyes. “Don’t tell me that one man managed to get the best of both of you?”
“Yes, sir. But he was a big man!” Joe added.
“One hundred and fifty pounds soaking wet.” Hoss said, smirking.
“Well he was fast!” Joe retorted. “He was at Adam and I before we could even blink, and then he was out of that alley like a cat.”
“So he got away with your wallets.”
“Not exactly.” Adam glanced at Hoss. “He sort of ran into a problem.”
“Literally.” Hoss said. “Smashed right into me and fell to the ground. We got him picked up and took him over to the jail.”
“That was when we found out he was a professional.” Joe added.
“I see.” Ben looked at his sons. “So how do we get from you boys putting a man behind bars to being behind them yourselves?”
“The sheriff turned out his pockets and found not only our wallets, but the purse of the girl at the saloon.” Joe explained. “So we went back to the saloon, only she’d gone home for the night.”
“And you couldn’t have just left her things with the sheriff?” Ben knew the answer to that question. The boys couldn’t have turned down a chance to play hero to a young lady. They were his sons after all.
“We thought she’d be worried.” Joe said. “So we asked at the saloon, and this one fella, Carl, said that he knew where she lived and that he was going that way.”
“And you all three went with him.” Ben looked from one son to the other and read the answer in their uncomfortable faces. “Didn’t I teach you boys any common sense?” He looked desperately at Adam, the one who he would have thought would have had some suspicions about this man. But Adam looked away.
“She really was quite a girl, Pa.” he muttered.
Ben sighed in resignation. “What happened next?”
“He didn’t lead us to her house.” Hoss answered.
“Really?” Ben asked in mock disbelief. Hoss glanced down, abashed.
“No, sir. He led us a ways away from the, uh, better part of the city to where he had some… friends.”
“More thieves?” Ben guessed.
“They didn’t get our wallets!” Joe piped in. “Just the reward money we got for capturing the pickpocket.”
“And how did he know you had reward money?”
Joe’s face fell. “We might have mentioned it in the saloon a couple of times.”
“A couple of times?”
“But we put up a fight.” Hoss added. “Sasha said it was one of the best fights she’d seen.”
“The girl Adam agreed to walk home at the end of her shift.” Hoss scooted a little farther away from the smoldering look his brother gave him.
“Another girl, Adam?” Ben glanced at his son. “What happened to the other one?”
“She had to go a ways and it was late, Pa. I figured she’d be safer with us.”
“Yes, she’d be much safer with a group of young men who can’t even hold on to their wallets and go trooping off into a city with a stranger after bragging about having a large sum of money in their pockets.”
“We did get her home, Pa.” Joe protested. “Nice and safe, even with her fiancée shooting at us.”
Joe suddenly looked sorry that he’d said anything at all. Maybe he was still slightly drunk. “It was nothing. He just wanted the watch back.”
“He’d taken it from her when they were engaged, but now that the engagement is off, she wanted it back.” Hoss explained.
“And why did you feel that this was any of your business?” Ben waited for several moments. “Well?” He demanded.
“Well, you see, it was kind of our fault that they called the engagement off.” Adam said carefully.
“Now wait a minute…”
“Why am I not surprised?” Ben interrupted Joe. “Well? Tell me what happened.”
“It was like this, Pa: when we went back to the saloon and the other girl was gone, I figured we might as well spend a little of the reward money. So I bought drinks for the house. And then a few for me.” He added the last part quickly. “And that’s how we met Sasha; she was the girl that took over for the other girl at the end of her shift.”
“But you were walking her home. After her shift was done.” Understanding dawned on Ben. “So you tell me you spent the next few hours drinking with this young woman?”
“We wanted to celebrate capturing the criminal.” Joe said sheepishly.
“She didn’t stay the whole shift, Pa.” Hoss said. “When Clay, her fiancée came in and saw her with Joe, well, he got a little jealous. That’s how they broke the engagement off.”
“And that’s how you got your bloody lip?” Ben asked.
Joe nodded. “I wanted to be done after that, but Adam wanted to find the first girl and give her back her purse. That’s when we met Carl. When we left, Sasha asked Adam to walk her home.”
“So then Clay decided to follow and shoot the lot of you?”
“Not exactly.” Adam muttered.
“Then what?” Ben followed Joe and Adam’s looks to Hoss, who was turning bright red. “Hoss?”
“The watch had been given to her by her grandmother, Pa.” he blurted out. “She just wanted it back. And I felt bad that we’d all been misled by Carl, so I offered to go with her to get it back. Only Clay didn’t want to give it to her. That’s why he was shooting at us.”
“So you robbed a man for a watch.”
“Legally speaking it was hers.” Adam put in.
“Legally speaking, you boys could all be admitted into an asylum for the lack of thinking that has occurred tonight.”
The three exchanged squirming looks, each waiting for the other to speak. Finally Adam gave in.
“Sasha knew where the other girl lived, so she offered to take us there. She just wanted to stop by her house and drop off the watch. She lived in a more… questionable part of the city.”
“Questionable? And where was that exactly?”
More squirms. This time it was Joe who found his tongue. “A brothel.”
“I see.” Ben reflected that maybe it was a good thing the boys had lost all their money.
“We waited outside, Pa!” Joe added quickly. “Except, well, then Clay turned up. So we ducked inside the closest door.” He didn’t have to say anything else; the rapidly rising blush on his face said it all. Hoss looked like he’d swallowed an eel with the way he kept squirming. Only Adam was composed enough to continue the story.
“We apologized and asked if we could hide there for a while. The girls didn’t seem to mind.” He said. “Then Clay started yelling for Sasha.”
“We didn’t want to shoot at him because of all the women around. So we hollered down to him…”
“Hollered down? I thought you were on the first floor.”
“We were. Then we went upstairs to look for Sasha. We thought maybe if she went out and talked to him, he would cool down, only…”
“She was gone.” Ben finished the sentence for him.
Ben didn’t sa1y anything. First of all because he couldn’t decide between the millions of things that he wanted to say and secondly because the look on his sons’ faces said it all. So he just waited for one of them to continue.
“We ended up sneaking out the back door.” Adam finally said. “Clay had gone on to look somewhere else.”
“So why didn’t you come back to the hotel?”
“We tried. But then we had to hide again.”
“I thought you said Clay had moved on.”
“So why were you hiding?” Ben’s gaze moved from Adam, to Hoss, to Joe, and then back to Adam.
“We didn’t want anyone to see us, Pa.” Joe said in a small voice.
“And why not?”
Joe looked away. Adam cleared his throat, and Hoss suddenly became very interested in the hem of his shirt.
“Why not?” Ben’s tone was raised to a dangerous level that made their heads snap up by habit.
“We didn’t have any clothes on, Pa.” Joe finally said.
“What happened to them?” Now the tone was low, low and deadly. Joe snapped his mouth shut.
“It was their idea.” Adam said. “The girls at the brothel. They figured the easiest way to hide from Clay would be to pretend to be customers.”
Ben didn’t know whether to yell or laugh. He somehow managed to keep his voice level as he asked, “And did it work?”
“Oh it worked.” Joe said. “Only we didn’t get our clothes when we snuck out because he was still in the front. I guess he wanted to forget about Sasha.”
“So you ended up sneaking naked through the red light district of San Francisco in the middle of the night.”
“But we weren’t being shot at anymore.” Hoss chimed in.
“Where did you get the clothes you’re wearing?”
“The sheriff got them for us after he arrested us for the fire.”
Ben rubbed his forehead. He should have known this couldn’t be a simple matter of his sons running down the street naked. “How does the fire figure in?”
“We went inside another brothel to avoid some people.” Hoss said. “Only it looked like they were coming in, so we ducked inside a room. But the room was…” he stopped and looked to Adam.
“Occupied.” Adam supplied. “Very occupied.”
“And the occupant was angry.” Joe added. “Very angry.”
“He hurled a lamp at our heads.”
“And started a fire.” Ben finished.
“Turns out the perfume they drench everything in is flammable.” Adam said. “Very, very, very flammable.”
“But we got it put out.” Hoss said. “Then the sheriff brought us here.”
“Is that the end?” Ben asked. “Or is there more to it? Maybe a fight with a professional boxer or a run in with a wild bull? How about a travelling circus?”
“No, that’s the end.” Adam said. Then they waited. Ben knew what they were waiting for. He stood, and automatically they all flinched. But instead he turned away.
“Go back to the hotel, boys. I’ll sort things out with the sheriff.” He whirled around. “Directly back to the hotel. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir.” His sons scooted out of the cell like three mice around a cat. Ben watched them go and waited for the door to close behind them before allowing himself a smile. Then a small chuckle. It certainly had been a night, one that they wouldn’t forget for a while, mostly because he wouldn’t let them forget it. They’d be working hard to repay him after he forked over money to pay for the damages.
Ben smiled again. Boys would be boys, and he supposed he should just be glad the only damage was a couple of burned houses and some ruined nights for a few brothel customers. Actually this was small potatoes compared to some of the things he and his brother had pulled off when they were young. There was nothing he could say that would make the lesson sink in any more than it already had. He went out and paid the sheriff and then instead of going back to the hotel went across the street to the saloon. There was time for him to get a drink before going back to the hotel.
He could picture the boys sitting in the hotel wondering what he would say or do to them when he got back. He’d let them sweat it out a bit before he let them off. After all, he couldn’t be too easy on them.