The Sprained Wrist
Little Joe finished his school work and grinned proudly at his older brother. He waited a moment in that pose, then his smile faltered and faded as he realized that it had gone unnoticed. After waiting a few more minutes, he stood and walked over to where Adam sat at the desk, doing paper work.
"Adam?" Joe asked. No response. Joe knew there were only two reasons why his big brother might not have answered. Adam could be too angry at him to respond, but Joe couldn't think of any reason that Adam would be mad at him...not that had happened today anyway. That meant that Adam was probably just in the zone. It fascinated Joe that Adam could get so into paperwork that he would not notice the world around him.
"What else won't he notice?" wondered Joe, a grin slowly spread across Joe's face and he scampered away.
Adam sighed and blinked rapidly; his eyes were tired from staring at the page for so long and his back was killing him. At least the books were finished for the day, he thought, but how much day was even left now? He glanced at his pocket watch and winced; he'd been there a long time. It was well past dinner time. Since Hop Sing was away visiting relatives and Ben and Hoss were gone for the day doing business in San Francisco, it was Adam's responsibility to make sure Little Joe got dinner. He felt a twinge of guilt at how late they would be eating, but Joe was fifteen now, maybe he had already eaten by himself.
"Where is Joe anyway?" wondered Adam, looking around and not spotting him. He stood slowly, about to call upstairs for his brother when BOOM he crashed to the floor. On the way down, his elbow slammed into Ben's desk. His hands immediately went up to catch himself and he landed on his right wrist badly, feeling it twist beneath him. After taking a moment to gather his senses and assess the damage, Adam sat up. His wrist was throbbing and his elbow stung, but he was basically fine. After feeling along his wrist, he decided that it wasn't broken, just badly sprained. He could already see the wrist beginning to swell and flinched again. This was going to be a fun next few days.
Adam glanced around now to see what had tripped him and when his eyes fell on the answer he felt his anger building quickly.
"Joe!" he yelled, "Joe! Get down here now!"
Joe had waited at the steps almost an hour for Adam to finally get up, but his boredom eventually won out. He went to his room and began reading a dime novel.
Adam's shout drew Joe from his book and for a moment he hesitated, unsure exactly why Adam would be so angry, then it clicked and Joe paled. Why did Adam sound so mad about such a little joke? He sighed, stood, and put on his most innocent face as he walked out the door and started down the stairs.
When Joe saw Adam, still on the floor from his fall, struggling to untie the rope around his ankles, he couldn't help himself from letting off a snigger. This was the wrong move. Adam looked up at him and Joe could see the fury in his face.
"Joe, you rat! Why did you do this?" shouted Adam.
Joe flinched and remained silent.
"Look at my wrist, Joe! Do you think I'm going to be able to write with this? Or shoot? And how am I supposed to help round up strays if I can't even throw a rope?"
"I'm sorry, Adam. I didn't think you'd get hurt. I just thought it would be funny."
Adam hesitated. He could hear the regret in his brother's voice and see it in his eyes. Adam sighed. He could never stay mad at his little brother for long.
"Okay Joe, come over here." When Joe looked at him in fear, Adam gave him a smile.
"It's okay little buddy. I'm not mad anymore."
Joe surveyed Adam's face. He didn't want to get tricked into going too close to his brother and end up getting a tanning, but Adam didn't look like he was going to do anything. It was always hard to tell with Adam. You never knew exactly what he was thinking. Adam was a master at controlling his face and making it unreadable so Joe walked slowly and cautiously over to his brother, stopping just out of range. His eyes then connected with Adam's wrist for the first time and his eyes widened.
"Let me go get the doctor for you," Joe said and spun around to head towards the door.
"No need. It's just a sprain. I'm fine."
Joe stopped walking and turned towards Adam again. "You sure?"
Adam nodded. Suddenly, Joe knelt next to his brother and Adam's heart twanged when he saw the regret in his brother's eyes.
"I really didn't mean for you to get hurt Adam. I just thought it would be funny since you didn't even notice that I tied them."
"I know little buddy. It's okay."
Joe studied his brother's face and saw that he was, indeed, forgiven. Then a smile slowly spread across his face.
"It was kinda funny though, wasn't it?" asked Little Joe. "You sure did fall hard!"
Adam read the telegram again and shook his head in frustration. Hoss and Ben were going to be gone for another full week. Apparently a new business opportunity had opened up and they had to take it now. Normally that would be alright but, with his wrist sprained so badly, Adam was having trouble doing all the work that needed to get done. Joe helped as much as he could when he got back from school each day. Adam would do the math for the books in his head and tell Joe which numbers to write.
Even with Joe's help, there were things that Adam simply couldn't accomplish with his bum wrist. He had to rely on the hands to do the dirty work. The older hands didn't mind this so much, but some of the newer ones were starting to get ornery.
"Hey! We've got to finish this! Get back to work!" Adam heard Joe's angry shouts from the distance and started his horse towards them.
"I ain't listening to a kid no more. Now get outta my way!" It was Bill. He was one of the new hands and he had been whining about the extra work constantly for the past few days.
Adam rode into the clearing just in time to see Bill slam his fist into Little Joe's face. Joe obviously had not been expecting the blow. Surprise flickered across his features as fell to the ground, hard. Joe tensed, getting ready to throw himself at Bill, who was about twice Joe's size.
"Stop!" shouted Adam, not wanting his brother to get hurt in a full-on fight. Joe and Bill both glanced at Adam and then glared at each other. Joe was trying to gauge the distance between him and Bill and whether he could make it to him before Adam got there. He really wanted to get a punch in himself. It didn't seem fair that he was the only one to take any punishment. He was about to throw himself at Bill despite Adam's shout, but his brother could see the thoughts playing across his mind and quickly dismounted from Sport and put himself in between his brother and the hand.
"Calm down Joe," he said gently, looking at his brother.
"Just let me get one hit in and then I'll be calm!" Joe tried to dive past his brother and he almost made it too. His hand was mere inches from Bill's smug face before Adam got a hold of him and pushed him back.
"I said stop, Joe. Now what's this all about?" he asked, turning to face Bill with a death glare. If Joe was just a little larger or Bill was just a bit smaller, Adam would've let them have at it. Joe could handle himself in a fair fight and Adam would get almost as much satisfaction watching Joe beat Bill as Joe would get doing the beating, but this fight would be anything but fair if he let it happen. He wasn't about to let his little brother get hurt. The punch the boy had taken to the face was already enough to make him see red.
"The brat keeps a shoutin' out orders like he's some sort o' king. Thinks I work for him! I know mountains more about ranchin' than that twerp'll ever know. Just tell 'im to stay out of m' way and go back to playin' with his li'l friends!" Bill was getting mad now. As he spoke, his arms flailed agitatedly around. Adam's temper was also raising, hearing these words about his brother. He had half a mind to slam his fist right into the man's face. He was just about to too, when, with a sudden chill, he felt the pain from his swollen wrist. He couldn't fight Bill. Not with that injury. Adam suddenly found himself wishing that he'd sent more hands to help mend the fences. It was just the three of them; Adam, Joe, and Bill. No one else was even near. If things got out of hand, Adam worried he wouldn't be able to protect the boy. Joe didn't have a gun and Adam could barely hold onto his, let alone pull the trigger. He decided to try and calm the man.
"I understand Bill. Why don't we go back to the ranch and talk this over?"
Bill's eyes widened. This wasn't the reaction he was expecting. You don't call the boss's kid a brat and get away with it. He knew that. Adam meant to fire him as soon as they got within calling distance of the other hands. Not likely! Bill wouldn't take that lying down. He was smarter than this high-headed rich boy realized. He put on his most sincere face and nodded to Adam.
"That sounds like a right sensible thing to do sir." Bill started walking resignedly towards his horse, which was tethered next to Joe's. Adam let out a sigh of relief and turned around to start walking towards his own horse. Suddenly, he heard a commotion behind him. When he spun, his heart filled with dread. There stood Bill, glaring defiantly down at Adam from his immense height. That glare alone had been known to turn grown men into cowards, but Adam didn't even notice it. All he saw was the gun pointed right at his baby brother's frightened face. In that short span of time, Bill had somehow bridged the gap between himself and Joe, grabbed Joe's wrists, pinned them together inside one of his massive hands, and put the gun in the perfect intimidating position with the other.
"Now, I don't really want to hurt this here boy, though he is a headache if I've ever felt one," at that, he tightened his hold on Joe's wrists, making him flinch, "but, right now, I need money more'n anything. More e'en than I need this boy to hurt. So I'll give ya two days to bring me 5,000 dollars down to the canyon by the Shadow Rock and, if'n you bring that money in time, the kid don't have to have nothin' unpleasant-like happen to him."
Bill began to back up, cautiously pulling Joe along with him. Joe meanwhile, was looking at his brother, at first pleadingly, and then a strange look, which Adam recognized as Joe's idea face and his heart fell into his stomach. Joe was about to make a move, what is was, Adam couldn't be sure. He only prayed that whatever his brother did, neither of them wound up dead because of it. He tried to warn Joe off by a slight shake of his head, but that stubborn brother of his wasn't to be put off. Joe took a deep, calming breathe, and then ducked his head underneath the gun and kicked at Bill's legs. Bill wasn't expecting such a move. His gun went off and sent a bullet flying towards the woods as he plummeted towards the ground. He was angry and though surprised, made sure to keep a firm grasp of Joe's wrists, causing the boy to fall down alongside him. Joe was struggling fiercely against the restricting hand, but Bill was much stronger than him. It looks like I'm going to be kidnapped after all, thought Joe with a sigh.
Just then, another shot boomed into existence. It brought both Joe and Bill's attention from their own personal struggle over to where Adam stood nearby, gun pointed right at Bill. Joe stared at his brother, not sure if he could actually shoot again with that wrist. Was he bluffing? The gun did seem to be shaking more than Adam's steady hands usually allowed. Shaking too much? Adam wouldn't fire if he thought that it might hit Joe and, with the bum wrist, it looked like he couldn't hold the gun steady enough; he couldn't shoot, Joe concluded. Now they both just had to pray that Bill didn't realize it.
"Bill, you'd be making the right choice if you let go of my brother and ride out of here right now," Adam said calmly. Joe was amazed at how well he could keep the pain out of his voice.
"Well, Mr. Adam, that be a temptin' proposition, but, I heard about what this littlun did to yar wrist. I kin see the gun a-shaking like it t'where the middle of a storm. Don't think you'd want ta be shootin' that thing with your baby brother's head so close ta mine now would ya?." Adam paled and Bill grinned, "Looks like I guessed right. Now, I'll be a-takin' the boy like I planned. Come on lad" He gave Joe a fierce tug upward, causing Joe to cry out a little, being lifted by his wrists in such an awkward way was definitely not pleasant.
Now Joe began to truly recognize the predicament he was in. For an instance, the fear escaped from him and he looked towards Adam in terror before he was able to push it back down into a determined expression again. That was enough for Adam; he couldn't bear the thought of that being the last face he saw on his brother. He brought the gun up as quick as any gunslinger that Joe had ever seen and fired even quicker. In a split second, Bill fell dead to the ground and Joe, having no one supporting his weight, also fell to the ground.
Adam ran to Joe and looked over him quickly to make sure there was no damage before carefully helping his brother up.
"You shot. With that wrist! That was amazing brother." Joe said, sighing in relief that he was no longer in danger.
"I had to. Couldn't let you get out of chores tonight." Adam grinned.
"Uh oh. I think my wrists are a little too sore. I'm not sure I could manage chores in this condition. Sorry brother." He quickly rode away before Adam could reply, smiling the whole while.