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THE DOUBLE-WALKER

PART 1

"Dadburnit, Adam," Hoss said, "I'm just about plumb starved to death but unless I get a good night's sleep, I'll fall asleep right in the middle of eatin' a meal." Hoss and his brother, Adam Cartwright, had just stabled their horses at the livery and were on their way to one of the town's hotels for a night's sleep. The livery owner had told them that the hotel had a restaurant and that there was a bath on each floor.

"You need a bath more than anything else," Adam said, with an expression of disgust. "You'll put everyone off their food smelling like that."

"You ain't no rose neither," Hoss said stamping up the steps to the hotel.

"Maybe not, but at least I took a whore's baths-you didn't even wipe anything down." Adam gave Hoss a half grin.

"Well, I was afraid that if I did wash and iffen I smelled different, it might've stampeded the cattle."

Adam laughed and shook his head. "I tell you what. Let's get our rooms, take baths and then have dinner sent up to the room. We'll get room service like those cattle barons that everyone thinks we are."

"Sounds good to me, "Hoss said, swinging his saddlebags over his shoulder as they walked over to the clerk's desk, "but you know, after a bath and dinner, I might be awake enough to go to a saloon for a beer and for a pretty girl to sit on my empty lap."

Adam shook his head in disgust. "Hoss, all your appetites are just too big for me. You go to the saloon. I'd just as soon go to sleep."

"You're getting' old, Adam. I noticed that gray comin' in at your temples but didn't know that it was age that was coolin' your blood as well."

The two walked up to the desk and the clerk looked at them suspiciously; they looked like dirty cowhands, fresh off the trail which basically, they were. They had left Texas days ago, paid off their drovers and then immediately headed back to the Ponderosa but Adam had decided that they needed a good, easy night before they rode for the next three days. Hoss leaned on the counter and the clerk stepped back; Adam smiled to himself. He didn't know if it was Hoss' smell of horse, cattle or days of unwashed sweat that caused the clerk to retreat or if it was just Hoss' overwhelming size that intimidated him, but he was amused nonetheless.

"We'd like a room-two beds, please," Adam said, adjusting his saddlebags. The clerk just stared at them and looked peculiarly at Adam.

"A room?" Adam said and stood up straight. That seemed to make the desk clerk nervous and he pushed the register at Adam and then turned to pull a key out of one of the small cubbies in the multi-divided box on the wall behind him. Adam signed and then turned the register so that the clerk could read it.

The clerk handed the key to Adam and then looked at the name. "Cartwright? That your name?"

Adam looked at Hoss and then turned back to the clerk. "I wouldn't have written it if it wasn't now, would I?"

"I suppose not," the clerk said. "How long do you plan to stay?"

"We haven't decided," Adam said, "but you'll be the first to know when we leave." Adam tossed the key up once and caught it, closing his hand around it. "Goodnight." Adam tipped his hat at the desk clerk who just nodded and watched the two strangers as they walked up the stairs.

"What the hell you think's wrong with him?" Hoss said as he trudged up the stairs.

"Damned if I know-maybe they're just not used to cowboys staying here-maybe he just thought you were about the ugliest, most stinkin' cuss he'd ever seen." Adam smiled to himself. Hoss gave him a small shove.

"Iffen he thought anyone was an ugly cuss, older brother, it would be you. You're the one he kept starin' at. Hey, Adam, maybe your irresistibility extends to men. Maybe he done thought you was so purty that he plans to sneak upstairs and ask you iffen you want your back scrubbed whiles you're in the tub. You best lock that door good."

"You're so funny." Adam gave a sardonic grin to Hoss and Hoss burst out in huge guffaws. It wasn't often that he could get the best of Adam.

After they were in their room, Adam pulled out his clean shirt and rolled-up trousers, the extras he had put in before they had left Nevada, and claimed the bath while Hoss lay down on top of his bed.

"Hey, this bed feels nice and comfortable. Why you in such a hurry to get home?" Hoss asked. "You act like you got a fire set under you."

"Every time we dawdle somewhere, you manage to get yourself in some kind of trouble so I just want to get home as soon as possible-the less temptation for you, the better. If I let you wander, why you'll end up gambling away the Ponderosa." Adam stood, one hand on the doorknob.

"Now, Adam, That ain't true. I ain't Joe, remember-he needs a leash. But go take your bath-let me know if someone comes in to help you wash-and if I'm asleep, wake me for dinner."

"I'm not eatin' with you smelling like that. Bathe first."

"Okay, Adam, don't you worry. And don't use all the hot water." And Adam left for the bath.

The next morning, Adam woke up just as the sun was rising. The first rays were starting to strike at an angle across his bed and Hoss was snoring; he had come in late. After they had eaten their dinner that was brought up, Hoss took off for the saloon. Adam had heard him come in and stumble to his bed a few hours later. Adam had heard the bed groan as Hoss sat down and then he listened tensely while Hoss struggled with his boots and let first one, then the other, thud on the floor. Then Hoss gave a few heavy sighs and was soon breathing heavily. And this morning, when Adam looked over, Hoss lay flat on his back, still in his clothes, heavily snoring.

'Well,' Adam thought to himself, 'at least he didn't wet himself like he has before when he's drunk too much.'

Adam woke Hoss and told him to wash up for breakfast and then the two brothers went down to the restaurant. They sat down and the waitress came over to take their order and Adam noticed that she seemed almost surly and didn't look at either of them as she turned their coffee cups back over and poured them coffee. When both Adam and Hoss thanked her, she just gave a small nod and then left. As they ate, Hoss looked around the restaurant.

"Adam, these people keep starin' at us like we're some freaks what escaped from a side-show or somethin'. What you think it is?"

"I don't know. You took a bath so it couldn't be that." Adam grinned.

"Ain't funny, Adam. No, it's kinda, well, it's makin' me feel a little strange. I wanted to stay here a few days but now, I mean even as friendly as those girls were last night, I think we should leave."

Adam sipped his coffee. "The only reason those girls were so friendly, as you say, is because you had money in your pockets. But I think you're right about leaving; even the talk died down when we walked in."

"Adam, look." Hoss nodded toward the entrance to the dining room and when Adam turned to look, he saw the desk clerk standing there with the town sheriff and he was pointing in their direction. The sheriff nodded at the clerk and said something and then walked over to them. He was a tall, heavy-set man with reddish hair and ruddy complexion. He approached them and stood by Adam and looked down on him.

"I'd say it's good to see you again, Driscoll, but I'd be lyin'. I told you that I never wanted to see you in my town again."

"Excuse me," Adam said, "but I'm not anyone named, 'Driscoll.' You have me confused with someone else. My name's Adam Cartwright and this here is my brother, Hoss."

"I don't care what name you're goin' by," the sheriff said, "but I want you out. If you're still in my town in another half hour, well, you'll be in my jail-or dead."

"Now look, Sheriff," Adam said. "My brother and I are just eating our breakfast. We haven't broken any laws and we plan to pay not only this bill, but our hotel bill as well, so as far as I'm concerned, I'm going to stay in town just as long as I like and I don't see that you can do anything about it."

Hoss watched Adam and the sheriff nervously. Adam was too stubborn some times and took insult to his dignity too easily and too quickly. Hoss just wanted to leave as soon as possible.

"C'mon, Adam," Hoss said. "Let's just pay our bill and get shed of this town. The sooner we leave, the sooner we'll be home."

"Now, just a minute, Hoss. I won't let this tin badge here…"

"You just wait a minute," the sheriff said. "I don't want to put any more tombstones in that graveyard-there's already two that shouldn't be there, courtesy of you and your last visit to town. I meant what I said. Get out of my town or I'll throw your sorry ass in my jail cell and just let you rot on principle. Did I make myself clear?"

"You sure did, sheriff," Hoss said. "You done made yourself 'bout as clear as the sky this mornin'"

Adam looked at Hoss and decided not to push it anymore. "All right, Sheriff," Adam said. "We'll go but you had better remember that my name is, Adam Cartwright, not this….Driscoll."

"Well, I heard that you was callin' yourself somethin' else now, but everyone who's ever met you-or your gun knows you and we don't forget. Now you and this…friend of yours had better be gone by the time I check back." And the sheriff turned and walked away.

Adam watched the sheriff say something to the desk clerk who had watched the conversation, and then leave. Adam and Hoss looked around the room but whenever Adam's or Hoss' eyes met theirs, the person would quickly look away and a few people even rose from their seats and rapidly paid their bill in order to leave.

"Let's go and pack up," Adam said as he rose and peeled off a bill to cover the tab and more.

"Right behind you, Adam," Hoss said.

"Good. Watch my back for me. I got a bad feeling about this whole thing and I think that someone else might also confuse me for this Driscoll fellow and want their-revenge. He said there were two graves from Driscoll. People have relatives." And the two men walked up the stairs and back to their room.

In the morning, Adam paid their bill and Adam noticed that the clerk's hands shook slightly as if he suffered from a palsy instead of just fear.

"Aren't you going to ask us to come again?" Adam said. Then he gave a slight snort of disgust and he and Hoss walked out to the street, stopping to look around for a moment.

"Well, we got a beautiful day for travelin'," Hoss said. "Seem like it's a little cooler to you?"

"Mainly in peoples' attitudes, but, yeah, there's a nice breeze comin' from the north. It's about time." Adam looked around. Cottonwood was a nice city as far as Adam could tell, better than Lubbock, Texas where they had delivered the starter herd to a friend of their father's and he would have liked to spend more time in the city but he had a nagging urge to keep moving. "C'mon, let's go." Adam gestured to Hoss to head for the livery stable.

"Shame we can't stay longer," Hoss said. As they walked, he heard someone call out the name, "Driscoll." Whoever it was called the name again and then shouted "You know I'm talkin' to you! Turn around or I'll shoot you in the back."

Hoss turned around and saw a man standing in the street about fifteen feet behind them. "Adam, I think he's talkin' to us."

"Who?' Adam turned around to see where Hoss was looking. Hoss had stopped and was staring behind him.

"You talking to us?" Adam asked. The man who was really almost still a boy in his late teens, early-twenties, stood as if he was ready to draw down on them.

"You know I'm talkin' to you, you miserable son of a bitch. I'm goin' to kill you. I been waitin' and practicin' for almost six years for this day. I been goin' to go search for you but lucky for me, I found you here. I can get it over with now-you killed my two brothers and now I'm gonna kill you. If I haddena been so young then, I would've shot you then but I got my turn now. Turn around and draw, Driscoll."

"My name isn't Driscoll, it's Cartwright. I've never been in this town before and don't care if I never see it again. Now, we're going to leave, understand? So why don't you just back off." Adam turned and started walking again.

"I told you I'd shoot you in the back-and I'll shoot that fat friend of yours too."

"One," Hoss said, turning around. "I ain't his fat friend-I'm his fat brother and as he done told you, our name is Cartwright. Now just back off kid and you'll live a helluva lot longer and stay a lot more healthy too."

"I meant what I said, Driscoll," the young man shouted, his voice cracking slightly.

"He's scared, Adam. He's gonna shoot 'cause he's so scared," Hoss whispered.

"I know," Adam said, "and that's why I'm not turnin' around. I move at all and he'll shoot me." Adam recalled the feeling of being shot, of a bullet exploding into his body, causing the burning pain that took the breath away and made a person forget everything except the intense agony of a piece of metal splitting flesh and muscle and sometimes shattering bone. He waited, anticipating the pain, his nerves tense, waiting to hear the sound of a gun being pulled from leather and then the pain. 'Funny,' Adam thought, 'when you're shot, the sound of the explosion and the pain are so combined that it's hard to separate them. It's like lightning and thunder when they happen at the same time-it shakes you to the core.'

Then Adam heard another voice and this one caused his shoulders to relax a little. "Don't pull it, Rich. I'm warnin' you." It was the sheriff.

Adam didn't yet turn around.

"He killed my brothers-I got a right. A brother's got a right."

"Not accordin' to the law. Now Driscoll's leavin' and you just let him go. Understand?"

Adam couldn't hear a response so with his hands up and away from his body, he slowly turned around. The young man's, still a boy actually, face had screwed up and he was crying, his shoulders shaking. The sheriff walked up beside him and putting one hand on the boy's shoulder, reached across him and pulled out the boy's gun, talking quietly to him the whole time. Then the boy looked at him, nodded, and walked over to the side of the street. Some of the people who had seen the whole incident, went to him and a few women clucked over him and they walked him away and into the hotel to comfort him in the privacy of the lobby.

"Thank you, sheriff," Adam said as the sheriff walked up to them.

"Yeah," Hoss added. "I woulda hated to have to shoot that youngin'."

"I would've hated that too," the sheriff replied, "and that's the only reason I stopped him. I would've liked to see you shot down, Driscoll, killed like a dog in the street. I'm still tempted to do it myself."

"For the last time," Adam said, practically clenching his teeth, "I am not this Driscoll. My name is Cartwright, Adam Cartwright, and it's not an alias. This is my brother, Hoss Cartwright, and we are from the Ponderosa in Nevada territory-all right?"

"Well then, I'm surprised you boys don't recognize me," the sheriff said with a sarcastic tone, ""cause I'm your dear old daddy, Ben Cartwright."

"Very funny, sheriff." Adam readjusted the shoulder bags thrown over his shoulder.

"Anybody can claim to be anybody else and most everyone 'round here's heard of the Cartwrights and his sons, but since I know who you really are-well, don't take me for a fool and try to pass yourself off as someone else to me. If you think I believe you over my own eyes-or even come close to believing you and your lie, well, then you're more stupid than my wife's chickens."

Hoss and Adam looked at one another and then back at the sheriff.

"Now I'm gonna hold that boy under house arrest for six hours-gonna post my deputy at his door and make his momma happy, so I would suggest that you take off out of here and go anywhere else you think you might be welcomed-or not recognized. And don't-and I repeat-don't ever come here again and I mean it. That's my last warnin', understand, Driscoll?"

"Well, Sheriff, I can't get out of your lovely little hamlet soon enough," Adam said and turned to leave. But Adam made certain not to walk any faster than he normally would despite Hoss suggesting they hurry and the two of them paid the livery owner, mounted their horses and left Cottonwood.

Most of the day, Hoss and Adam rode in relative silence; Hoss tried to raise some conversation but Adam's grunts of agreement or monosyllabic answers squelched all of Hoss' efforts so they just rode until dark and Hoss complained about his stomach.

"I suppose we need to rest the horses for a while," Adam said, "so I guess it won't hurt to stop and have something to eat. Just don't unsaddle."

"What d'you mean, 'don't unsaddle.' You planning on pushin' on more tonight?" Hoss dismounted and he swore he heard Chubb give a sigh of relief.

"I want to put more distance between us and Cottonwood. I've got a bad feeling, Hoss. All the time we were riding, I kept expecting to feel a bullet in my back. My hackles have been up all day."

"You think that kid's after you?" Hoss turned his back to Adam and leaning with one hand against a tree, relieved himself. "Even if he is, we got six hours on him and he didn't look like he was a master tracker. He's just a kid. And he'd need a better horse than ours to make up that much time."

"Unless we stop and sleep and he just keeps on coming." Adam pulled a small frying pan out of his saddlebag. Adam examined the fry pan. "Hell, I don't need to cook anything tonight-there's enough food cooked onto this thing that I can scrape off a whole meal."

"He won't be able to track us in the dark and even, as good as I am at trackin', I'd have a helluva time doin' it." Hoss poured some water on his hands and then dried them by rubbing them on his trouser legs. "Can't we sleep for a few hours?" Adam had gathered some kindling and had started a fire.

"I guess for a few hours. Get some more wood, would you, Hoss? I'm gonna start this coffee and open some beans. I think we've got some hardtack left."

"Adam," Hoss said, "Who you think this Driscoll is? I mean I know he must be some gunfighter but you think he looks that much like you? Nobody done mixed you up with him before."

TBC

"Doesn't matter-they have now. And from now on, I'm gonna have to watch my back and I don't like that." Adam kneeled down by the fire and put the coffee pot on. He sat and stared at the flames caressing the metal coffeepot.

"Funny, ain't it, Adam. Your life's just goin' on fine and then in the time of just a few seconds-everything's different. Ain't nothin' the same anymore."

"Yeah," Adam said, "it's funny all right."