***Mid winter of 2005***
“Grab him Bo! Hold onto him!” Luke Duke’s deep voice carried over the crowd in the Boars Nest. “Hold on! Hold on!”
A strong Duke back thunked as it hit the wall in the bar and restaurant, boots scrapped and scuffed as they moved over the hard wood floors in aggressive movement. Three heavy Duke men hit the floor in a heap, a twist of arms and legs flailing in every direction.
“GET OFF ME!” A deep cold voice growled from beneath two of the three bodies. “Get off, let go, damnit!”
Chet Duke shoved at his uncle and father trying to get there pinning weight off him, his boots ground against the floor causing his spurs to jingle. He bared his teeth gritting them as his left shoulder and hip screamed against the strain and more blood stained his dark blue wrangler shirt.
“We’ll get off when you COOL off!” Bo Duke held onto his rogue son with all his strength, keeping the younger man pinned down as best he could.
Across the room Rosco and Enos were in a similar situation, a short stocky man was bent over a round table, Enos held him down with all his strength while the Sheriff struggled to put hand cuffs on him. The struggle with the gruff stranger was over as quickly as it started, the cuffs closed tightly around his wrists and he was hauled out.
With a growl of annoyance and disdain Chet gave a hard push with his legs straitening them out and rolling his blond father off him in the process. Luke Duke’s eyes narrowed slightly and he shifted his boots digging against the floor as he tried to overpower the younger Duke man. Chet cranked his neck around turning cold mismatched eyes on him his front teeth bared, with a hard shove he loosened the older Duke and shook him off.
Luke rolled away and got to his feet pulling Bo up with him, he was very aware of what the younger man was capable of and didn’t want to be in the path of his wrath. They both stepped back to watch Chet get up and make sure he wasn’t looking to fight more.
Pressing his lips Chet shifted onto his knees, his hip screamed and he clamped his hand down over the bleeding wound as he got to his feet. He stood for a long moment before he scooped his cowboy hat off the floor and tucked it down on his head. Without a word he left the Boars Nest, glaring at Enos on his way out, his mismatched eyes narrow on the deputy, daring him to try and arrest him.
Luke dusted himself off letting out a heavy held breath, brushing the dirt and dust off his shirt and jeans mumbling to Bo. “He’s about as friendly as a diamond back in cold weather.”
Bo nodded. “Yeah, he reminds me of a coy dawg, half wolf, half domestic dog, and you never know which half your gonna get. ” He sighed and paused looking down at the smear of blood on his hands. “An he’s hurt pretty bad.”
Luke glanced at his cousins hands and passed him a bar towel that Daisy kindly brought over. “He’ll be alright, I watched the fight he had the upper hand on the knife the whole time. Besides we’ve seen him take a bigger lickin’ then that, shake himself off like a big bull and walk away.” He patted his cousin on the back reassuringly. “He’ll be fine.”
***Five Days Later***
A pair of well-aged blue eyes scanned the Boars Nest, years as Hazzard County’s Sheriff made it easy for Rosco to pick everyone he knew out on a Friday night. There was the Dukes, Luke, Bo, Breyer, Jessie Mae, Daisy was working, Enos was off patrol and enjoying a buttermilk at the bar with Cooter who was in for dinner.
The Sheriffs brow creased a little, a face was missing, as much as he didn’t welcome the young man and the trouble that came with him. Chet was still a regular and he hadn’t seen that black Stetson sitting at its usual corner table in the room in five days.
“No Chet since the fight, unusual, very unusual.” Rosco mumbled to himself making his way towards the lot of Dukes sitting around a pair of adjoining tables.
There was laughter at the table and popcorn flew from one younger generation of Dukes at another. Breyer and Jessie Mae laughed and giggled pausing to look up at the Sheriff with suspicion as he approached.
“Naughty, naughty, no throwing popcorn in the Boars Nest, floors don’t clean themselves ya know.” The Sheriff chuckled and pulled his heavy gun belt up lingering near the table, his eyes fell on Bo.
Bo’s brow creased immediately, the unusual down cast look of the usually light hearted Sheriff concerned the Duke man. “Whats the matter Rosco?”
Rosco cleared his throat. “Have you seen Chet lately?”
It was Luke’s turn to raise his brow, he met a quick glance from Bo and waited to let his cousin answer.
“No I ain’t. I ain’t seen him since the other night when he was in here brawlin’.”
The lines in the Sheriff’s face creased deeper and his mouth turned down tighter before he responded. “That was five days ago Bo, I been in here every night this week taken care of county business and I ain’t seen him.”
Daisy approached the table at that moment to place more sodas and beers on it, she paused to listen seeing that the laughter had abruptly ended. Bo looked at her his brow creasing deeper.
“Daisy I saw you in town earlier today, have you seen Chet around by any chance?” Luke asked before Bo could.
“No sugar, I haven’t seen him.” She paused a moment as well and her brow raised. “I haven’t seen him since Sunday nights brawl as a matter of fact.”
“No one else has seen him around either.” Bo frowned and looked back at Luke then Rosco. “You think something has happened to him?” He looked between them now, he could remember looking at the blood on his hands from the wounds Chet sustained in the brawl.
“Jit, I don’t know Bo, much as none of us like or trust him he still usually comes around for supplies and female company. Its colder then usual, it would be real easy to freeze to death out there if someone was injured.” Rosco shifted his weight, he didn’t like the idea of going looking for the young cowboy, but it was his official duty to look after the folks of Hazzard County, no matter who they were.
“Well, none of us really know where he goes, or stays rather.” Luke started. “But I’ve seen him ride out Razor Back Ridge when I been up there hunting, my guess is he hides out in the old ghost town.” Luke offered the information but didn’t move to offer help finding his rogue nephew, it was one thing to brawl with him on neutral ground but another to venture into his territory.
“You be careful if you go lookin’ for him Rosco, he… just ain’t like the rest of us.” Bo’s Duke’s brow creased tightly, it was no secret to anyone his son could be a dangerous man to cross. No one really knew what had transpired in his past, but there was no doubt there was blood on his hands and darkness in his heart.
Rosco frowned but nodded just the same, he appreciated there concern for his safety, without another word the Sheriff left the Boars Nest, it was too late in the evening to go about his task. It would have to wait until morning.
By the break of dawn the next day old Sheriff Rosco was already awake, rubbing sleep from his eyes and brewing his second pot of coffee. The creases around his eyes were deep, evidence that he hadn’t really slept much, his heart ached with a terrible dread. A bad feeling had consumed him during the night and now his guts twisted, he feared his trip up onto Razor Back Ridge would turn out to be a recovery mission. Drawing a deep breath he downed another cup of oil like coffee and warmed the police cruiser up that sat in front of his family’s age old farm house.
Rosco paused by the outdoor thermometer on the wall of the old house. “Twenty Five degrees, ooohoo thats cold… too cold.” His frown tightened.
The trip seemed longer than usual to Razor Back Ridge, the roads were not well traveled and the ruts had frozen with the unusual cold making the trip all the more difficult. As he peeked the highest part of the Ridge the tops of tattered and wind beaten buildings came into view, a lone standing wind mill turned lazily in the distance.
Heeding Bo and Luke’s warning the Sheriff slowed his approach, if a terrible fate had not befallen the younger Duke then his sudden appearance would not be warmly welcomed. As the cruiser eased into the streets of the Sleepy City ice blue eyes scanned the surroundings and slowed to a halt in front of what was once a prospering livery stable.
A pair of horses nickered and rattled around at the back of the old livery barn door, Rosco ventured into the barn immediately noting that the water trough was empty and the animals had no feed in there pasture. His stomach sank, there was only one reason the cowboy wouldn’t take care of the big red gelding and the little mustang mare, only one thing would keep him from taking care of his animals.
Swallowing hard Rosco opened a bale of hay and pitched it over the fence to the hungry horses, working the handle on the pump into a well he watered them before making his way down the dusty, windswept street of the sleepy city. He shivered as the cold wind blew down the collar of his uniform jacket, it was a relief to step into the Lucky Lady Saloon. His relief was cut short as a mouth full of wolf teeth met him, guarding the base of the stairs leading into the hotel part of the saloon.
“Jit!” Rosco stepped back eyeing the big timber wolf, the dogs big paws were planted at the base of the stairs. “Nice doggy… be nice now.” The sheriff’s eyes landed on the leather collar around the timber’s big neck and he swallowed digging in his pocket, he produced a dry biscuit left over from yesterday’s breakfast.
Experimentally he tossed one to the dog’s feet and it was immediately gobbled up, the food brought the hungry wolf forward to sit down in front of Rosco and beg with one paw. The sheriff gladly handed the second biscuit over and held his hand out to be sniffed. When the sheriff passed inspection the wary animal hurried back up the steps, Rosco followed suspecting the loyal canine would return to his master.
The Coltrane’s suspicions proved to be right, he followed the dog down a narrow hallway and watched the animal disappear through an open door into a room. Rosco slowed and paused outside of the hotel room door, his hand lowered and he removed the tie down on his pearl handled revolver. He had expected that he would have come across trouble before now if he was going to, but just for good measure.
Drawing the pistol he supported it with both hands and nudged the door open further with his elbow gently. His breath left him at the sight before him, his gun shook in his hand as it was lowered and returned. Rosco’s ice blue eyes stared at the young man laying flat on his back on a small bed for a long moment, comparing the color of his skin to the sheets and the blanket that covered him up to his chest.
A bloody bandage lay over the young cowboys left shoulder covering the knife wound he had sustained in the brawl. The boy didn’t stir when Rosco’s boots crossed the wood floors approaching the bed side, his throat constricted clenching a knot of dread there. The timber wolf’s eyes watched him as he rounded the bed and came up beside it, never wavering in there vigil. The sheriff hesitated before lowering his hand to ever so lightly touch the young man’s throat to seek a pulse.
Chet’s hand shot up from under the blanket to grasp Rosco’s wrist, the sudden movement startled the Sheriff and he stepped back with eyes peeled wide. The cowboys eyes cracked open in narrow slits, there mismatched appearance watery and unfocused.
“Easy… “ Rosco had to take a deep breath to completely find his voice, his arm shook alittle in Chet’s weak hold on his wrist, the boys hand was burning hot. “Easy… I-I came to help.”
Chet’s eyes narrowed and he blinked repeatedly trying to clear his vision, letting out a heavy breath that wheezed he released his hold on the old man’s wrist. He grimaced moving alittle to get comfortable again.
“Leave me alone.” His voice came out a rasping whisper and he settled back into the bed weakly.
Rosco frowned, his eyes returning to the bloody bandages. “I can’t do that.”
After some mild arguing Rosco lifted the young Duke off the bed, he had no choice and proved to be too weak to fight about it. The timber wolf followed as his master was carried out and laid in the back seat of the cruiser, by then Chet panted in pain and laid on the seat nearly limp in fatigue.
Against his better judgment, Rosco drove back to his own farm and laid the boy in a warm bed in his own house. He made a quick call to a local doctor who still did house calls, the grandson of Doc Appleby had taken over the old clinic and kept with his grandfather’s tradition. The physician came out to the Coltrane homestead. After only a short time the doctor had Chet’s wounds disinfected and carefully bandaged, a dose of antibiotics and a pain killer found the young man resting easy.
“Thank you doctor, your grand pap would have been proud.” Rosco shook the man in the white coats hand in appreciation.
“Thank you Sheriff.” The young doctor looked back at the outlaw laying in the Coltrane’s bed, a well-known criminal… in Rosco’s house? “My grand dad would have been proud… but he’d also ask if you were feeling alright?” The doctor paused. “That there is Chet Duke a…. a…. criminal… under this roof?”
“Jit, I know who he is, I got my reasons.” Rosco assured, he paid the physician and helped find his way to the door.
Once the doctor had left the Sheriff returned to stand by the bed where the young Duke rested, his old blue eyes watched him breathe easy now. He could remember last summer like it was yesterday, the very same outlaw had appeared out of nowhere and saved his life. After a simple traffic stop turned ugly, he could remember the four thugs taking hold of him and pummeling him. Just when it seemed like his life would end this rogue had come to his aid, seeming to come riding out of hell itself, Chet had evened up the odds making those very thugs eat dirt, fighting them right beside the Sheriff.
Rosco nodded to himself, he’d repaid the young man by looking the other way instead of arresting him, but the more the old Sheriff thought about it the more he felt like he owed the boy his life. More recently Rosco could recall hearing about incidents from folks around town, Chet had turned the tables on a teenager trying to rob the Market on the corner, the teen had no more than cleared the door only to find himself roughly tossed back into the store. On two other occasions Rosco had gotten reports of the same situation, a youngster caught breaking into the bakery and another stealing money from the snack stand at the Theater. Both times Hazzard civilians had reported the mischievous plans coming to an end with similar results, each time Chet had been the one to spoil their plans. Had he been there by coincidence? Maybe if it had happened once, but to be there for all three incidences, not a coincidence, he was clearly watching the town for small time crime. Hazzard had become the young mans home and he was protecting what was his.
The Sheriff pulled a chair up by the bed and watched Chet as he rested, no one really knew much about him it seemed, not even his family. Most townsfolk feared or avoided him to the point that it was probably impossible for the young man to hold down an ordinary 9-5 job. Feeling old Rosco sighed and left the room going down stairs and into the kitchen to start on an early dinner, he’d eat alone tonight but have a guest tomorrow.
Chet opened his mismatched eyes and turned his head slightly to look around, the room was semi dark but a lamp in the corner gave off a warm soft glow. He knew immediately that it was no place he was familiar with, too warm, too comfortable and homely. Nervous he started moving around on the bed, pushing the blankets down he hissed as his shoulder lit up in pain. The rest of him felt stiff, heavy and empty, he couldn’t remember the last time he ate.
“Good to see your awake. Could ya eat?” Rosco leaned in the bedrooms door way announcing his presence.
Chet’s head came up abruptly and he blinked hard. “Where am I?”
“Well your at the Coltrane homestead, welcome to it.” Rosco nodded.
Shaking his head Chet moved to sit up, a strong hand on his back aided him and he winced at his hip.
“Nice an slow now, Doc said your gonna be stiff for awhile. That infection was a real doozy… another day and you’d been buzer’d bait.” Rosco’s eyes lowered to the young man to make sure he was steady and his hand yanked away abruptly from the boys back.
The Sheriff stifled a gasp as his old blue eyes landed on Chet’s bare back. The scars there were horrendous, they covered the young mans back in quick short lines, deep and ugly. Rosco’s throat clenched, he’d only ever seen scars like this in old western movies, but he knew they were made by a bull whip. Someone had beaten the young man, lower on his back lay a deep dark mark branded into his skin by hot iron in the shape of a horse shoe.
His eyes shut tight and he stepped away, Chet wasn’t just mean and ornery for sport, he had every right to hate people. This was exactly why the young man didn’t trust a human soul, it was known that he trusted only animals. He had no reason to love his own kind, clearly they had beaten and tortured him. Rosco knew there had to be more scars on the inside of the boy, he had a feeling not all were physically evident.
“Th-theres… bacon, grits n… uh orange juice on the table. Biscuits be out in a few minutes. C’mon down an eat… ain’t a ree-quest.” Rosco walked away before Chet could answer and while he could still find his voice, his heart bled.
“Looks like you’ll never go hungry Sheriff.” Chet nodded to the food on his plate, doing what he could to break the ice at the Coltrane’s kitchen table.
He helped himself to another biscuit and continued to eat the bacon and grits on his plate, he wasn’t picky as long as it didn’t eat him first. Rosco nodded in response, finishing his own mouth full of breakfast before wiping his mouth with a fabric napkin.
“Most of the time I eat at the Boars Nest, don’t get much company out here.” The Sheriff sipped his coffee sitting back in his chair a little to look at the young man sitting at his table, for the life of him he couldn’t remember the last time a Duke was under the Coltrane homes roof.
“I didn’t exactly plan this visit.” Chet attempted some mild humor, wiping his own mouth and enjoying some of the hot coffee as well. His eyes lowered to the thick black liquid in the warm mug and he cleared his throat a little. “I am in your debt Sheriff, I knew my wounds were infected, if not for you comin to find me I would probably be dead by now. Thank you. I can pay you whatever I owe you for the doctor call and the medication, but I owe you for my life, I can’t repay you for that.”
Rosco smiled, he’d never heard anything this sincere out of the young mans mouth. “Khee, your welcome.” He was quiet a moment. “I do have a little something in mind as a way you could repay me. Khee-khee, I’m not getting any younger and if I don’t get the roof on this old house patched, welllll its liable to start falling in around me. Now Cooter says you’re good with a hammer and nails, suppose you could do some repairs for me?”
Chet nodded. “I’d be happy to, soon as I’m healed enough you let me know what needs to be done.”
The Sheriff smiled and continued to sip his coffee gazing out the kitchen window into the early cold morning. “I heard from some folks in town that you’ve been spoiling the plans of some local teenagers. Am I to assume you’re gonna stay and call Hazzard your home?”
“Maybe.” Chet made direct eye contact with the Sheriff.
“Hazzard is a good place to be in.” The old Coltrane smiled into his coffee cup, he knew what the boy wouldn’t say aloud.
Chet watched the Sheriff for a long moment, raising his right eyebrow slightly and taking in the Sheriffs features. “It’ll be a safe place to be in, long as I have anything to do with it, this is where I was born and this is where I’ll die.”
Rosco’s smile widened and his blue eyes landed on the young Duke. “Just remember, One Good Turn, Deserves Another.”
THE END [Written January 2014]