A Piece of the Puzzle (by BettyHT)

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SUMMARY:  This story is a sequel to Almost Lost Two. In this one, someone who wants to destroy Ben Cartwright decides to take advantage of Adam believing that his recent past makes him the weak link in the Cartwrights.

Rating = T  Word count = 19,687

 

A Piece Of the Puzzle

Chapter 1

“Find out what you can. He was a successful businessman in Philadelphia and there was that story that he was about to marry some rich man’s daughter. Then suddenly six months later, he shows up here long after his brother died, and looking terrible. He gives up any thought of moving back east and seems satisfied to be a simple cowboy again. Something isn’t right. You find out what you can about what happened. I want to destroy Ben Cartwright, and the facts I already know tell me that his son Adam might just be the piece of the puzzle I need to do that.”

“It would be ironic, wouldn’t it, boss?”

“What would be ironic?”

“Well, the father destroyed your father, and if you destroy the son, it would be justice, wouldn’t it? There’s nothing Ben Cartwright values more than his sons. To live with that would kill him inside a little bit every day.”

“Yes, it would, wouldn’t it? Maybe I should think about what I’m going to do. You bring up an interesting proposition and less risky than what I was thinking of doing. Yes, if we can find a way to destroy the son and let Ben know it was his fault, that would be perfect.” Lighting a cigar, he leaned back and considered his employee. “Get me that information as soon as you can. I think there’s going to be everything there I need. I have a feeling about this, and my feelings are seldom wrong.”

On the Ponderosa, Joe was feeling something he had never expected to feel. He was sorry for his brother Adam and wanted to protect him. Never in his life had he ever expected to be in a position of having to help his oldest brother the way he was helping him now. Coming back home after a stay in a mental asylum where he had been abused after being placed there for that purpose, his spirit and his mind needed to recuperate. However resilient he had been to injuries and wounds in the past, overcoming what had been done to him in that place was taking everything he had and then some. Joe walked down the stairs and saw Adam sitting at the fireplace bent over with his head in his hands.

Upstairs Doctor Martin was seeing to their father because Adam had injured him. He had fallen asleep reading in the chair where he now sat. Their father had come down to get a drink and saw him there. Forgetting that it could be dangerous to startle Adam or touch him when he was sleeping, he had leaned over Adam and put a hand on his shoulder to gently shake him to wake him. Coming awake, Adam only saw a dark shadow of a man looming over him in the dim light and struck out. It might not have been too bad except Ben had been equally startled and fell backwards into the table and then to the floor hitting his head on the arm of the settee. Knocked unconscious, he had a concussion and a nasty bruise by his right eye.

Sitting on the settee now, Jamie looked over at Joe clearly anxious to know how their father was. Joe smiled to reassure him and then inclined his head toward Adam. Jamie shook his head. It wasn’t good.

“Pa’s going to be all right. Doc says the bruise is just that. It’s only a bruise. No damage done to the eye. He’s going to have a headache.” When Adam said nothing, Joe continued. “Adam, he wants to see you. Jamie and I have been up there, but you haven’t.”

“I suppose he wants to tell me that I should be over all this by now. I know he’s been getting frustrated with me.”

“He wants to see you to tell you he understands. Go on up. He won’t rest easy until he sees you.”

Walking like a condemned man, Adam went up the stairs to face his father and see the damage he had done. Joe waited until he had rounded the corner at the top of the stairs before he said anything more. He turned to Jamie then who seemed to wonder what Joe hadn’t said.

“I get the feeling there was more that Pa said.”

“Not so much Pa as Doctor Martin. He told Pa that he’s expecting too much of Adam. He said that what was done to him happened over three months and that it could take far longer than that for him to heal from it. Pa was upset at first that Adam reacted the way he did. Doctor Martin said that Adam is doing very well when he’s able to control his reactions, but in a situation like last night, he wasn’t able to think. He only reacted. Pa understands better now.”

“So you’re not mad at him any more?”

“I was never mad at him. I was concerned about him. I guessed that what happened was about what Doc said.” Then Joe got a thought about Jamie. “Were you mad at him?”

“I was. I mean he could of killed Pa with what he did.”

“And it would have been an accident, and it would have killed him too at least his spirit. Jamie, you saw how much he’s hurting because of what he did. He can’t control everything yet. There are reactions that he has that are based on what was done to him. You have to give him time.”

“It’s hard. I heard these stories about what kind of man he was. It’s not the kind of man he is.”

“No, but given some help and some time, I think he’ll make it back. Doc is staying upstairs to help Pa and Adam talk.”

That talk started slowly with an apology again from Adam that his father tried to minimize. Doctor Paul Martin told him not to do that.

“The two of you need to understand what happened and to do that, you need to talk. Accept the apology, Ben, so that Adam feels free to express himself.”

Although he wanted to argue and say that he understood that Adam wasn’t at fault, Ben followed his old friend’s advice. “Apology accepted. I am sorry too for forgetting what I should have done.”

“You shouldn’t have to do that in your own home.”

“It’s your home too.”

“But I’ve created quite a disruption here for everyone.”

“Families have troubles. It happens. Then we help each other until it’s resolved. Now we’re glad you’re here. Joe and I have someone to help us run the ranch. Jamie is getting to know his oldest brother. The family feels more whole again. It was the kind of healing we all needed, I think. You shouldn’t feel at all guilty for making us all feel better about things.”

Still adept at being evasive, Adam changed the subject. “Shouldn’t you be resting?”

Doctor Martin answered that though. “He needs to rest and I don’t want him out of that bed until tomorrow. Even then, I want him to take it easy and one of you needs to be with him when he navigates the stairs. However, he doesn’t need to sleep. He can talk or do anything that isn’t taxing.”

“Perhaps we can reminisce or talk about the family or the latest book you’ve been reading.”

When Adam agreed, Paul left the room. The two sat for some time talking about those things. Ben reminded Adam that they had been notified that some of his things from the east had been delivered and were waiting in crates in town. He suggested that perhaps Adam could go to town with Jamie to get them.

“Throwing us together to force the brotherly bond?”

“No, but it can’t hurt for the two of you to have time to talk with no one else around. You can both be completely honest. I know it is something both of you are prone to do.”

“It could be painful.”

“Yes, but he is a kind soul. He only wants to understand.”

“All right. I’ll ask him if he wants to do that. I won’t tell him that you said he should. It has to be up to him.”

“Fair enough. Now, Paul may have said that I don’t have to sleep, but I have to admit I wouldn’t mind a little nap before lunch.”

“I’m sorry, Pa. I should have let you sleep.”

“Adam, you have to stop doing that. I didn’t need to sleep when I asked you to talk with me. I’m telling you now because now I do. There is nothing for you to be sorry for.” Ben had been holding Adam’s hand throughout their conversation. It had seemed to help his son to open up to him. He squeezed it tighter because he had a gotten an insight. “That was something they did to you, wasn’t it? They made you responsible for anything that happened whether you were at fault or not. They beat you and made you say you were sorry. Adam, you only need take responsibility for what you have actually done and not for anything beyond your control.”

“Then maybe I need to get more control of myself.”

“That will come. I know you. You have great strength. As Paul said, if he wanted to drive someone insane, he would have done what they did to you. It is remarkable that you have survived it as well as you did. Now you have to give yourself time to heal.”

To lighten the mood, Adam brought up the point he sometimes made with Joe. “I still think I should have brought that pretty little nurse with me. I could have recovered a lot faster with her around.”

“I don’t know. With your younger brothers, we could have had a whole different set of problems.”

The two men got to share a small chuckle and ended their conversation on a much brighter tone than it had begun. Adam had a lighter step and held his head up when he left. Ben was able to close his eyes and surrender to sleep much easier. His headache didn’t seem so bad either.

Downstairs though facing his brothers, Adam’s confidence waned. Joe saw the change in his demeanor and immediately told him that Doctor Martin had told them everything and that they understood. Adam could see though that Jamie wasn’t as sure of everything as Joe was. Deciding to test the hypothesis, he brought up the idea their father had suggested.

“Pa can’t be too bad. He reminded me that those crates of mine are still waiting to be picked up in town. Would either of you like to ride with me to pick them up?”

After a nudge from Joe, Jamie spoke up. “I guess I could help you with that. You going today?”

“I was thinking I would. It’s late to start any other project and the weather’s good. If Hop Sing would pack a lunch, we could get it all done today.”

When Jamie went to get their lunch, Adam acknowledged Joe’s encouragement of Jamie to go with him. Joe asked why he hadn’t simply requested Jamie accompany him.

“I didn’t want to put him on the spot for something he didn’t want to do. I thought it would be better if it was his idea.”

“Instead of Pa’s? Yeah, this had Pa’s signature all over it, but you used to tell me to do things Pa wanted all the time. Why won’t you do that with Jamie?”

“I don’t know. I did it with you but if I recall correctly got a few swollen lips as a result.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. I was rather hotheaded when I was younger. Kinda went off half-cocked a bit too often.”

“That’s changed?” A smile softened the question.

“A little. Takes longer for me to get up a head of steam now or at least most of the time, it does.” Joe had to smile too. His temper and using his fists to back it up were almost legendary.

By then, Jamie was back and he and Adam headed up to hitch up the wagon. Within a half-hour, they were on their way. Adam told Jamie to drive.

“Why me?”

“We’ll need to switch off. I thought you could take the first run because you’re more used to it. When we’re fully loaded, it’ll take more to control things and we can take turns. All right?”

“All right.

It was the first step in getting them to connect.

 

Chapter 2

For the first part of the trip, they didn’t talk as Jamie concentrated on driving and Adam simply relaxed. After a half-hour of that though, the silence began to make Jamie nervous and he frequently glanced over at his oldest brother wondering why he wasn’t saying anything. The sound of creaking leather, squeaking wheels, and hoofs hitting the dirt in rhythm, which was soothing in its familiarity at first, became irritating in its repetition when his curiosity was getting no nourishment. Finally he couldn’t hold back any longer and had to ask why Adam wasn’t talking.

“I might mention that you didn’t say anything either. I was trying to respect your wishes. I have the feeling that I’m a big disappointment to you and didn’t want to do anything to add to that.”

“Huh? Why’d you say that?”

“I guess I had the feeling that you miss Hoss a great deal and were hoping that I might act more like a big brother and help ease the pain of his loss somewhat.”

“No one can do that. He was the best. There’s never going to be another one like him.”

“No, there never will be.”

“Then why did you say you thought you could take his place?”

“That isn’t what I said, and I’m sorry if you got that impression. No, it’s that sometimes it helps to share grief and to have someone to give love to when you can’t give it to the one you want to give it to. I guess I’m a sorry substitute.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I remember when Hoss’ mother was killed. He was a baby. I’d say tiny baby, but he was never tiny. He was very young though. Pa and I were overcome with sorrow. We loved her so much. But she left us Hoss to love. We poured all the love we had for Inger into Hoss. He helped us get through the loss. He didn’t take her place. We still missed her every hour of every day, but he was there and it did make it easier to bear.”

For several minutes after Adam spoke, Jamie was silent. When he answered, his voice was choked with emotion. “Hoss was more than a brother to me. It was like having another father and a best friend too. He was like a rock I could always lean on. With him gone, it feels like there’s a big open space I could fall into at any time. It’s scary.”

With that, Adam was quiet for a short time too. When he answered, he put his hand over Jamie’s. “I felt the same way and I was alone. I thought I had to get here. I needed the rest of the family or I thought I would be lost. I know what you mean about that big open space that was left and how scary that is. He was such a big part of our lives and now he’s gone. It’s hard to know how to move on after something like that.”

“It must have been even harder for you being alone like that.”

“Yes, and being a little bit crazy didn’t help either.”

With a self-deprecating kind of smirk, Adam shrugged. Jamie smiled. For a time, they were quiet again, but it wasn’t the uneasy silence that had prevailed earlier. It was a time for each to reflect on what was said. It was a time to respect the other’s need to privately consider what had been divulged and what had not been said. There were clearly going to be more questions from Jamie and Adam needed to know the young man’s story too so they needed to keep this channel of communication open. They were learning how it was going to work for the two of them. It was the easy give and take that Joe had with Jamie nor the fatherly counseling he got from Ben. This was a different kind of talking that was going to help them become brothers in more than name.

As they continued the trip to town, Jamie had more questions but wasn’t sure he could ask so that was the next question.

“Can I ask you about that time?”

Without asking, Adam knew what he meant. “As long as you know there may be some things I don’t want to discuss.”

“That’s fair enough. Heck, that’s more than fair. I’m not sure I’d be ready to say that to someone who wanted to ask me questions.” He smiled at Adam in appreciation of the trust he had been given and hadn’t earned. Determined to keep it, he was careful how he phrased his first query. “What was the worst thing they did to you? What is it that makes you act the way you do more than anything else?”

The question surprised Adam and made him lean back and blow some air out rather forcefully.

“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

“No, it’s not that. It’s that I don’t know if there is an answer to that. You know about the tranquilizer chair.” For a moment, Adam was transported back to that memory. Confined to that chair every day for hours with cotton pads over his eyes and ears and with his head encased in a wooden box and leather straps around his chest, arms, wrists, waist, thighs, calves, and ankles, he couldn’t move and even found breathing difficult if he struggled too much. He knew he had screamed but couldn’t even hear himself do that. The sensory deprivation was maddening. Yet that wasn’t the worst and he knew it. He thought about all the other things they had done to him and tried to think of what was the worst. Finally he had what he thought might be the best answer. When he started to talk, Jamie had to struggle to listen because his voice was far softer and quieter than usual.

“Of all the things they did to me: the ice water baths, the beatings, the hydrotherapy as they called it, and the drugs they gave me, the worst may have been when they did nothing. At the end of the day, they strapped me into a strait jacket and dropped me into a cell all alone. Most often, I was on the floor. They didn’t have the courtesy of putting me on the bed that was there. It wasn’t much of a bed but better than the floor. In my condition and in that strait jacket, I often found it extremely difficult to move much less to get up. If I was on the floor, I often stayed on the floor all night, all alone. I was cold. I was hungry and thirsty. I was in pain. That was the worst. Laying there thinking about dying and sometimes thinking it wouldn’t be the worst thing, and that was the worst thing.” He remembered the feel of the cold dirty stone floor against his face and the sound of rats and insects scurrying around. He stayed awake afraid of what they might do to him if he fell asleep. He didn’t explain that part to Jamie. He probably should have and maybe he could banish that part of his nightmares.

“But you never gave up.”

“If you mean, I never died, well then, I guess so.”

“No, I mean, I heard Doctor Martin talking about your injuries and he said you must have fought them right until you got released. He said that’s why you kick and fight when anyone tries to wake you. He said you learned to do that in there.”

“Yeah, I fought them not that it did any good for me. It meant they beat me more. Of course, it did mean that eventually there was no more tranquilizer chair. It clearly wasn’t working. I do think they were driving me crazy slowly though. I don’t know what would have happened if my friends had not managed to get a court order to have me released.”

“It’s good to have friends like that.”

“It’s better to have family.”

“That’s why you came home.” Adam nodded. “I’m glad you did.”

That got a smile from Adam. “Thank you. That may be the nicest thing anyone has said to me in a long time.”

Jamie smiled in response. He hadn’t realized how much he had wanted to hear some praise from this man or some gratitude. Talking with him like this reminded him more of Hoss than of anyone else in the family. There was an easy familiarity about him when he opened up and he remembered Hoss telling him that he would like his oldest brother if he ever got to know him.

Leaning back again, Adam had a question hoping to forestall any more questions from Jamie. He was emotionally exhausted by what he had already said and didn’t want to have to face any more questions right away. “You had an interesting life before you became a Cartwright. Everyone always wants to tell me everything that’s happened with you since you got here, but no one ever talks about your life before that. To start, why don’t you tell me the most interesting thing you remember about traveling around as a rainmaker. Will you do that?”

“Sure. That’s easy. I remember when we were in a little town in Colorado and there was a circus there. There was a giant and a midget. The giant was way bigger than Hoss and the midget was shorter than my hip and I was a lot shorter then. Next to each other, they were so funny. Everyone laughed just to look at them, and they walked around and did all sorts of funny things to make people laugh. Then when the show was over, they went back to their wagons. We had a wagon too that was a lot like theirs. They thought we did shows too and we got to talking. Turns out, they weren’t happy at all. Both of them said they had no real friends other than each other because no one wanted to be friends with a freak. They said they were lonely because no woman would be interested in them either so they would never be able to marry and have a family like normal people do unless they married some other ‘freak’ from a circus show. They didn’t want to do that either. Said they didn’t want to condemn a child to a life like theirs. That always stuck with me.”

“Appearances can be deceiving.”

“Yeah, the things you think you’re seeing aren’t always the truth. Sometimes the real story is behind what you’re seeing.”

“That’s true. You have a lot of wisdom for someone so young. I can see how Hoss would have taken to you so much.”

“How would you know that he did?”

“He wrote letters to me. We never lost touch. I wish I had spent more time writing with my family especially with him. But I’m glad I have the letters I have. At least I have that much of him yet.”

For a time, Jamie was quiet and Adam anticipated the question he would ask next.

“Do you think maybe I could read some of those letters sometime? You know, the ones that talk about me?”

“I think that could be arranged. They should be in these crates. I asked them to empty my desks and files and ship all of it here. The other things will be pictures, books, mementoes, and clothing. I don’t know that I’ll have use of most of the clothing, but when I travel, it will be useful.”

“Travel? You’re not leaving again, are you?”

“No, I only meant to San Francisco or places like that. It will be good to have my more formal clothing then.”

“Oh, good, ’cause Pa would be real upset if you planned to travel again.”

“I think my traveling days are over, Jamie. I think I’m here for good now. I didn’t even want to go back to take care of selling my properties and getting my things.”

“Are you worried that the people who are selling you properties and stuff might cheat you?”

“Not too much. I know that there will be temptation, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. It’s not like I need it all. It would have been a greater risk to go back there. I’m not sure of my legal status seeing as how I violated a court order by leaving, and my former partner is probably fuming at my escaping his version of justice.”

“Do you ever worry that he would try to do something to you here?”

“Not really. I have thought about it. He would need to find someone here to do the dirty work for him, and as far as I know, he has no contacts west of the Mississippi. I should be safe from any more retribution from him. Actually, he could even be in jail after all that I told the authorities before I left.” Musing for a bit, Adam shrugged. “Although with all the corruption, he probably had to pay a lot of bribes instead to make it all go away. That could make him even angrier, but he still would need someone here to actually do something against me.”

“I’m glad we don’t have that kind of corruption here.”

Smirking and shaking his head a bit, Adam had to disagree. “Oh, it’s here. It’s not as egregious nor as pervasive, but it’s here.”

On the one hand, Jamie was pleased that Adam had confidence that he would know what those words meant. On the other, he wished he knew what egregious meant. He was going to have to find out about that one. All in all, he had enjoyed their conversation though and the manner in which Adam spoke with him.

 

Chapter 3

Conversation between the two brothers ended when they were at the outskirts of town then and headed to the freight depot to pick up the crates. After loading the wagon, Jamie told Adam he wanted to get a few things at the mercantile and would be right back. Adam climbed onto the seat of the wagon and told him he’d wait for him.

“You’d better. I’m not walking home.”

As Adam sat on the wagon, a working girl walked by and smiled up at him. “Want to take a little stroll with me, handsome?”

“Maybe some other time.”

Tipping his hat politely, he turned back to observe the people on the street. She continued on her way meeting a cowboy a short distance further on and walking with him into an alley next to the freight office. Two other cowboys followed them into the alley. Adam didn’t like the look of that and liked it even less when he heard a woman cry out. He rushed from the wagon into the alley drawing his pistol ready to defend the woman only to find her locked in a passionate embrace with the cowboy. The other two men were nowhere to be seen.

“What the hell, mister. Put that damn gun away. Can’t a man get a little privacy with a woman around here?”

“I thought I heard her scream.”

“You must be crazy. No one was screaming here.”

As Adam holstered his weapon, the man and woman walked past him and out to the street muttering to a few passersby about what had happened. Adam stared down the dead-end alley wondering too what had transpired. He walked back to the wagon to find Jamie had returned. He didn’t want to tell him what had occurred, but Jamie knew something had gone on while he had run his errand. As they drove home, Adam told him the gist of the story.

“That’s weird. Where do you think those other two men went?”

Relieved that Jamie believed him, Adam had to wonder the same thing and wonder why the facts didn’t add up. On the Ponderosa, Jamie told the story so Adam had no choice except to fill in the blanks. Ben and Joe were as perplexed as Adam had been. Joe thought someone was trying to make Adam look bad on purpose. Ben wondered why anyone would want to do that. Jamie had an idea.

“Maybe it’s the people who wanted revenge before. Maybe they’re here now.”

In town, the two men reported back to their boss. “It worked perfectly. We waited for him to show up in town just like you said. He came into that alley, and you should have seen the look on his face. It was priceless. We were hiding in an empty crate and could see him clear as day. Jace and MaryAnn played it perfectly. The story is all over town now.”

The plot was beginning to unfold. What MaryAnn didn’t know was the starring role she was going to play. It was going to be a tragedy too for her especially. She was enjoying the big payday without realizing how brief her extravagant lifestyle was going to last.

The incident in town was mostly forgotten over the next week as Adam emptied the crates and found his letters and papers as he expected them. Pictures, some photographs, and books were there too. Even some artwork and other mementoes had been shipped to him. He filled his room with those as well as the clothing that had been sent until he had no more room and left the rest in the trunks stacked against one wall of his room. He had looked through everything and knew that the clothing and other items in those trunks would not be needed soon if ever. The first few nights, Jamie was there helping him unpack the crates and put things in order in his room. During that time, Jamie got to read some of the letters Hoss had written to Adam and especially enjoyed the ones where Hoss had tried to describe Jamie to his older brother. The two got a few chuckles out of those letters.

Noticing the time Jamie was spending with Adam, both Joe and Ben were curious about what had happened on that trip to town. Jamie explained it rather simply.

“We talked. Adam was honest with me and told me things man-to-man. He was a lot like Hoss in how he treated me. It made me feel a lot closer to him. Then he asked about what my life was like before I was a Cartwright. Not many people care about that so I got to talk about that part of my life. He didn’t judge. He listened.”

That seemed to be so much like the Adam that they had known that both Joe and Ben were more confident than ever that things were getting better. Late in the week though, Doctor Paul Martin arrived and cast some doubt on all of that. Ben was the one to answer the door when Paul knocked.

“Paul, I’m surprised to see you. Not that I’m not pleased to see you but surprised.”

“Well, with what I heard happened in town, I thought maybe I ought to come out to see how things were going.”

“Happened in town?”

“Ben, what happened with Adam is all over town. People are saying all sorts of things from him hallucinating to being crazy. Now you don’t need to look so affronted. I know they’re wrong, but I wanted to talk with Adam and find out what happened. Roy thought it would be a good idea if we knew more before Adam comes to town again.”

“Why is Roy so concerned about when Adam might be going to town again?”

“Clem is sick with the measles. His kids got them and he caught them from them. So Roy is back on the job temporarily until Clem is feeling better.”

With a bit more grumbling, Ben led Paul to where Adam was working on the corral gate behind the stable. Before Paul said anything, Adam guessed why he was there. Dropping the tools into the toolbox, he leaned against the corral gate and looked angry.

“It’s a good thing I’m out here and not in the east. I guess what happened would have been enough to put me back in that hell on earth. I saw what I saw, and no, I don’t have a rational explanation for why it seems so strange.”

“Can you tell me what happened? All I’ve heard so far are the tales being spread around town.”

“I was waiting at the wagon for Jamie to get back from the mercantile. A lady, which is a polite term in this case, solicited my company but I declined. Not a moment later, a cowboy made an offer to her and they walked into that alley. Two other men walked in after them only a few moments later. It seemed odd to me right there. When I heard a scream, I rushed there only to find her in the cowboy’s arms and no sign of the two other men.”

“And you had your pistol out?”

“Yes, I thought I would be facing three men accosting one woman.”

“Where do you think the other two men went?”

“You know as well as I do that is a blind alley. There’s a door into the freight office, but unless Max was helping them out somehow, they couldn’t have gone that way because he keeps that door locked. There were crates and boxes in the alley which I assumed were empty and could have been used for concealment.”

“You think they were in those?”

Shrugging, Adam didn’t want to say anything more. Paul sighed because he thought he knew why, but it made the situation worse.

“There were people there by that time and you didn’t want to start looking into empty boxes and crates acting like a crazy man when you suspected they might be thinking that already.”

“The cowboy called me that.”

There it was. The cowboy had used the word that would have frozen Adam into inaction and made him leave. To Ben who heard it with a more critical ear now that Paul had added his perspective, it sounded more like a set-up than anything else. He had been somewhat worried when he had first heard the story and was worried more now but for a different reason.

“The question is though why would anyone want people to think Adam is crazy? To do something like this required planning and resources. Someone must have spent some time and money to get this set up and then waited for the opportunity.”

“We know it, but we can’t prove it.” Adam sounded bitter. Once more, he had been victimized and it brought back terrible memories.

“Son, do you think your old partner has extended his reach this far?”

“I don’t know how he could have, but I don’t know who else would want to do something like that to me. I guess I have to fight him all over again.”

“This time you have your family at your side.”

“I think we found out that he waited until I didn’t have anyone at my side. I have to wonder what’s coming next.”

“It’s clear then that you shouldn’t go to town alone or perhaps anywhere alone. No one knows where the next trap is that they will try to spring on you.”

It was clear that Adam bristled at that. It took only a moment for his feelings to be made clear.

“Then he wins. He’ll have me locked up as effectively as he did before unable to go anywhere with my freedom gone again while he works at implementing some other form of torture for me.”

“We can work against him. I’ll talk to Roy when I get back to town and he can check to see who’s new in town. We’ll work from our end to help out.” Paul looked to Adam hoping to see some break in that depressed look.

Putting his hand on his son’s shoulder, Ben could feel how rigid the muscles were there. “You can go anywhere you want. You have your freedom here. I only think it would be safer if you would have someone with you. Meanwhile we will work on your behalf to do whatever we can to help.”

Frowning, Adam was quiet for a moment before speaking softly with the pain of his experience manifest in his voice. “My friends worked on my behalf before too, but I spent ninety-seven days in an insane asylum before they could get me out. It took weeks in a hospital before I could walk normally and anyone here can tell you that I’m not quite right yet. You have to understand that it’s not that comforting to me to hear someone say they’re going to be working on my behalf.”

When neither Ben nor Paul had a ready answer to that, Adam simply asked if they minded that he had work to do and picked up the tools he had been using. Turning back to the corral gate, he began removing the hinge that was there so he could replace it with the one he had made. There was only the squeaking sound of wood and tool as Paul and Ben turned silently and made the long walk to the house.

“He’s right, Paul. What can we do when we can’t see who we’re fighting, don’t know what he hopes to achieve, and don’t know what he might do next.”

“I haven’t known you to give up so easily when one of your sons was in trouble.”

“I’m not giving up. I feel as powerless as Adam described. I think I need to get Joe and Jamie working on this. This needs a younger more imaginative perspective that I don’t have. I’m going to ride out to talk with them.”

After bidding farewell to Paul, Ben did ride out to talk with Joe and Jamie where they were working. The hour ride did little to ease his mind because he couldn’t think of a way that someone cold manipulate circumstances in Virginia City, Nevada unless he was here or had sent some people here. He hoped Roy could find them, but meanwhile he had Joe and Jamie to see to their brother’s safety. Joe had the logical question to that and got it out just before Jamie did.

“How are we going to do that if we don’t know what the threat is?”

“The key has to be to never let him alone. He’s not going to like that so it’s going to be difficult, but any trouble that happens will be when he’s alone. At least, that’s how they got to him this time.”

“You’re right. He’s not going to like it.”

“He already complained to me so be ready for that, but if he’s complaining, then he’s letting out his frustration and less likely to do something stupid.”

Joe grinned then and both Ben and Jamie wondered why. As Joe looked from one to the other, he almost laughed.

“I could hardly expect Jamie to understand, but Pa you should know. Adam is acting more like the old Adam. When he got back here, he was all quiet, and well, there was no real fight in him. Now he’s surly at times and he complains when he doesn’t like something. It’s like he’s got some, some …”

“Spunk?” Jamie supplied the word.

“Yeah! That’s it. He’s got that now.”

“Well, let’s make sure he doesn’t have to fight anyone too directly yet. You two are the best bets to be somewhere near him at all times. We don’t want him left alone.”

“Ah, Pa, didn’t you just leave him alone?”

“Jamie, he’s at the stable working on the corral gate.” Ben paused and looked at his sons. “You’re right. We don’t know what his enemies have planned. I shouldn’t have left him alone even there. I’m heading back now.”

There was no harm done. Adam was still working on the gate when Ben returned. He had replaced the top hinge as well as the bottom one and was working on the latch to make it more secure. Some horses had managed to get out so he had worked out a two-part latch that they wouldn’t be able to force open. However he was working with it to make it work smoothly so that the hands would be able to do it quickly too. He knew if it was cumbersome, they would find a way around it and then they would be back to a simple latch again which would be a problem. When he finished that, he had a new post to put in the corral to help with training the horses and some repairs to do to the chute. Ben went up to him and asked if he needed any help.

“If I’m going to finish today, I need someone to bring the lumber for the repairs to the chute and the tools I’ll need for that as well as the shovel and a post to replace the post in the corral. I didn’t bring it all with me. I thought I could get it when I went for lunch, but Hop Sing brought lunch out to me. He doesn’t think I eat enough so he wasn’t taking any chances on me skipping lunch again.”

“He’s a good man.”

“Yes, he is.”

After Ben got the things Adam requested, he stayed, and the two worked together to complete the tasks. Although Adam knew his father was watching over him, he had gotten over his earlier irritation at the idea and thought about it. The gilded cage of the Ponderosa was certainly a far better solution than being locked up somewhere. Even if he would always be in the company of others, he had his books, his art, his drawing, and the company of those he loved as well as the comforts of the ranch with the soft bed, good food, and warm hearth. It was an acceptable solution to a difficult situation. He admitted as much to his father as they rode back to the house after completing the repairs to the corral. It was a short ride so there wasn’t a lot of discussion but enough to satisfy both men. At dinner, although in fewer words, the same idea was transmitted to his younger brothers who relaxed with the thought that there wouldn’t be an argument every time one of them was his companion.

 

Chapter 4

A few days later though, the concept was severely tested. The three brothers went to town to pick up supplies because Hop Sing had a long list and they needed a number of things for the ranch too. They went from store to store together following their father’s plan. They actually found they had fun doing it that way teasing Jamie about his sweet tooth when they were at the mercantile and teasing Joe about spoiling Cooch when he had to buy him some new doodads when they were purchasing new harness. When they had worked their way through the extensive list of purchases and nearly filled the wagon, they decided to stop for a beer. Well, Jamie was getting something lighter but the two older brothers had beer. As they talked and relaxed, Jace walked in. Across the room, Mary Ann was working and made her way toward him. As Jace walked past the three brothers, he purposefully bumped into Adam causing him to spill his beer, and much of it splashed across Mary Ann’s dress. She began to wail about her new dress being ruined as she dabbed at the wet spots where the beer had soaked the fabric. Jace turned on Adam and spun him around.

“Ya damn crazy fool. Ya done messed up my gal’s dress now. You’re always doing some crazy fool stunt, aren’t ya?”

Adam’s temper rose rapidly not only with the unjust accusation but the use of the words Jace chose to call him again. He wanted to fight, but Joe put a hand on his right arm to remind him to hold back. Although he was breathing forcefully through his nose and teeth as if ready to fight, his words did not include a challenge to one.

“You bumped into me and caused the problem. You’re the one who should apologize.”

“Now you’re saying I’m a liar. You really are a crazy fool. You’re challenging me? Step outside then and back that up.”

“I did not challenge you to anything. I merely stated the facts.”

“Besides being a crazy fool who makes up stories, you’re a coward, a yellow-bellied coward.”

“I’ve been called that by men a lot better than you. Calling someone something doesn’t make them that.”

“You sure talk stupid. You’re a crazy fool coward and you talk stupid too.”

Standing there with his chin jutted out as Mary Ann whined on and on about her dress, Jace cut almost a comical figure. Adam couldn’t help himself. He smiled. Jace had no idea what to do about that.

“Why are you smiling? I called you names and called you a coward. A real man would want to fight.”

“That’s just it. A real man wants to fight a real man. You’re a joke. You’re working for someone, aren’t you? Someone put you up to this? Because I can’t believe a man would do something like this on his own. It doesn’t make sense.”

Completely frustrated by how things had gone, Jace told Mary Ann to shut up and took her arm to lead her from the saloon. She told Sam she would be back after she put on a new dress. Sam nodded but turned to the brothers.

“Seems like she’s got an endless supply of new dresses these days.”

The brothers all had the same thought. They talked about that as they finished their drinks. She must be in on it too. That made sense, but it meant that they had someone that perhaps they could pressure into telling the truth. When Mary Ann returned, the three brothers were about to head home. Jace wasn’t with her so Adam asked her a brief question before they left.

“Who are the two of you working for and why does your boss want me to look bad? You should tell me now because the pressure on you is only going to get worse.”

His questions and comments became more pointed because Adam had seen how nervous she looked as soon as he questioned her. Unfortunately there were others there who heard him question her too. His hostility toward her was all too clear.

As the brothers drove home in the wagon, they thought their outing had gone well. In town, Jace was getting berated for how poorly he had done. The plan was in shambles because of his performance. However, as Jace sat on one side of the room, one of the other men made a suggestion and the boss decided that something could be salvaged after all. He smiled and told them to set it all up. Then he gave Jace some orders.

“We have another plan for tonight. Go to the saloon and drink. Drink enough that anyone there will know you couldn’t possibly do anything. In fact, the best thing would be to get so drunk that the old sheriff has to put you in jail for the night. Yes, that would be perfect. Get rip roaring drunk as some of the men put it and get yourself arrested for it. You can manage that, can’t you?”

“I’m supposed to walk Mary Ann home after she gets done with work.”

“Someone will take care of that. You do what I tell you to do. That’s what I’m paying you to do, isn’t it?”

“Yes sir, it is. What’s the plan?”

“You don’t need to know the plan only what you’re supposed to do.”

“Yes sir.”

So Jace got rip roaring drunk and belligerent, got arrested, and slept in a cell until morning. He walked to Mary Ann’s home when he got out of jail after paying a fine. He had one horrible headache but thought he better apologize if he had any hope of getting lucky with the lady again. When he got to her house though, he thought it looked wrong. It was when he realized her yellow roses were spotted with blood that he knew something was terribly wrong. He found her battered body just inside the door. She had been dead for hours. Sightless eyes stared at the ceiling as the coppery smell of blood attracted insects. Jace backed out of the house and fifteen feet out to the street where he yelled that someone needed to get the sheriff.

On the Ponderosa, Ben was working at his desk when that knock at the door came again. This time it was Sheriff Roy Coffee who appeared unannounced.

“Roy, I heard you were back on the job. Came out here to check up on us?”

“No, Ben, sorry to say, it’s more serious than that.”

“More serious than that? What happened?”

“It’s about Mary Ann, that gal Adam said he thought was getting hurt in that alley and then the one he spilled beer on yesterday.”

“The one he was knocked into yesterday by Jace. Joe and Jamie saw it happen and said Jace did that on purpose. He had plenty of room to walk around Adam but chose not to do that.”

“That’s no nevermind here. Adam accused them of doing that and of her being in on some plot against him. Now this morning, she was found dead.”

“That’s awful, but you can’t suspect Adam. He was here.”

“Can you swear to that, Ben? Can you honestly say you are sure he never left here last night?”

“Roy, what’s this all about? What does it matter if I can swear if Adam was sleeping in his room last night?”

“I hate to have to tell you this but that woman who got killed in town last night only had trouble with Adam. As far as I can tell, she ain’t had trouble with nobody else and nothing was taken from her place even though she had plenty of stuff there including some money so it wasn’t a robbery. Somebody wanted her dead.”

“So that hardly constitutes a reason why you’re here asking me to provide Adam with an alibi.”

“No, but folks heard him and his brothers saying things that amounted to him talking about wanting to ask her some questions. The thing is, Ben, I got two men who say they saw Adam at her place late last night. Now I’m pretty sure they could be lying.”

“Could be lying? Of course they’re lying.”

“It could be that they are only mistaken thinking it was Adam because of what they overheard. Once they get questioned more thoroughly by lawyers, that could get cleared up.”

“If they’re being paid enough, they’ll stick to their stories. Roy, someone has been trying to get Adam messed up in something and this is all part of it, I’m sure. I never thought they would go this far though.”

“What are you talking about?”

So Ben explained all the background leaving nothing out and included their whole theory of what they thought might be happening. “It’s why we asked you to look around for new people in town especially people with money who might be hiring men especially if they don’t have a mine or other business. For example, who does Jace work for?”

“I don’t rightly know, but he does always seem to have money to spend. That Mary Ann always seemed to have new pretty dresses to wear too.”

“Roy, there is a lot more going on here.”

“There may be, but right now I have no choice. I have a murder and two witnesses. Ben, I gotta arrest Adam.”

“Roy, you don’t know what that’s going to do to him. Locking him up could set him back terribly in his recovery from what was done to him. I can make sure he doesn’t leave the Ponderosa. He could be under house arrest here.”

“You know I can’t do that. If it was some simple charge, maybe I could, but this is a murder and it was a woman who was killed. No, I have no choice and neither does Adam. He has to come with me.”

“What? Why would he have to go with you?” Joe had walked in the house with Adam and Jamie. All they caught was the last part.

Roy turned to the brothers and told them the story in as few words as possible. Ben kept his eyes on Adam the whole time seeing him freeze his expression into a mask but his body language said something else entirely. He had gone rigid and then stepped back as if to ward off Roy’s words. Joe put a hand on his right arm and Jamie looked up at him and put a hand on his left arm. Ben’s heart was warmed at the sight of his sons but his worry wasn’t lessened at all. He could see that Adam was trying to be strong, but he was dreading what was to come.

“Roy, I haven’t left the ranch since we got home from town yesterday.”

“I believe you, Adam, but I got two witnesses who say they saw you. Until we can discredit them, I have to take you in. There’s no one here who can swear you stayed in your room sleeping all last night.”

“That’s ridiculous. No one has an alibi then. I could have done it or Jamie or Pa.” Joe was furious.

“But I ain’t got any witnesses who say you did.”

Moving to his son’s side, Ben spoke softly to him trying to reassure him. “We’ll go with you. We’ll get Hiram on this and get you out of there as soon as we can. We’ll do whatever we can.”

Unable to speak, Adam could only nod his head. He turned to walk outside numb with the shock of what was happening. Roy could see it and felt terrible about what he was doing. He had thought it would be better if he did it than to have a stranger bring him in, but now he wasn’t so sure. It must seem like an even greater blow to Adam to have what could only be taken as a betrayal to have an old friend take him in to lock him up.

“Wait, I’m riding in with you.” Ben went to get his hat, coat, and gunbelt.

“I’m going too.” Joe headed out the door.

Ben knew there was no point to saying no to him. He wanted to say no when Jamie walked out with him, but he guessed he would get about as far. Shrugging into his coat, he decided it would be better for Adam if they were all together anyway. Because Joe and Jamie had their horses ready to go, he asked Joe to get Buck saddled and asked Jamie to go get a few things for Adam who had left the house without even thinking about that. Ben assumed he would appreciate having a few familiar things with him and a book to read as well as having his shaving kit in the morning. He told Jamie to bring a clean shirt and a pair of socks as well. Roy only smiled inwardly as he waited for all of them to be ready. However even that faded away to nothing as he turned to look at Adam seated stoically on his horse staring straight ahead as if he was going to his execution and not a stay in jail. At least Roy didn’t insist on handcuffs as they rode. That could have been devastating.

 

Chapter 5

On the ride to town, Adam stayed that way, silent and staring ahead despite any attempts to engage him in conversation. At the jail, he walked to the cell stiffly and stood staring out the window as Jamie put his things on the cot. Ben and Joe touched his shoulder and said they would be back, but Adam didn’t even acknowledge that. It was as if he had slipped into a stone cold emotional state and none of them could reach him at the moment. Ben was worried enough that he sent Joe to Doctor Paul Martin’s office while he and Jamie walked over to Hiram Woods office to see about getting a defense for Adam. It took a long time to explain everything to Hiram. By the time they returned to the jail, Paul had seen Adam and gone already. Joe was sitting with Roy and talking quietly. As soon as Joe saw them, he stood to explain what they knew.

“Paul’s worried. He said he thinks Adam is in shock but it could be something worse. He said it was a good idea to bring the quilt from home. He was cold so we wrapped it around him when we got him to sit down. He won’t lay down and sleep even though Paul thought that might be the best thing for him. Paul thought it might be good to let him alone to try to relax a little.”

Moving to the open door to the cellblock, Ben looked in and saw what Joe had described. Adam was sitting on the cot wrapped in the quilt and leaning against the wall. He looked like he had his eyes closed. Ben moved back and quietly described the scene.

“That’s better than before then. He is relaxing a little and he closed his eyes. Maybe he’ll sleep some.”

About that time, one of the deputies came in with a copy of the Territorial Enterprise. He handed it to Roy who looked at him as if to wonder why he was being interrupted.

“Look at the article on the bottom of the first page.”

There is was for all to see and read. The heading wasn’t a banner but it was large enough: Prominent Nevada Rancher’s Son Returns Escaping Court Ordered Confinement. The whole story was there of Adam being placed in a mental asylum for over three months, of being in a hospital upon his release, and then being ordered to home confinement but leaving not only his home but the state against legal orders when he returned to Nevada. Everything in the story was factual but what was omitted was anything that explained why any of that had happened. Reading the article, anyone would get the impression that Adam was mentally unbalanced and being shielded by his family.

“This is gonna stir things up against Adam. You’re right, Ben. It certainly does look like somebody is trying to make darn sure he’s in the middle of a mess.”

“Yes, they are. I’m going over to that newspaper now and they’re going to hear from me. If they want to avoid a lawsuit, they’re going to print the rest of that story.”

“Pa, Adam won’t like that.”

“Joe, the worst of it is already there. How can it hurt to put in the part of the story that explains the rest? Then Hiram told us to talk to the hands to see if there is anyone who was up late enough to know if Adam left. As he told us, it doesn’t matter if anyone was there when it would have been time for him to return. If he didn’t leave by ten, he couldn’t have been here by midnight to kill her and be seen leaving her house. I know some of our men stay up late enough so if anyone was outside or around at that time and could say they saw Sport in the stable or was outside for long enough to say no one left, that would bolster Adam’s defense.”

“I think someone should stay here too for Adam to know someone in the family was close by.”

Everyone knew that Ben wanted to stay, but he was also the best one to question the hands and that was obvious too. He looked at Joe and nodded.

“You take good care of your brother. We’ll be back as soon as we have news.”

“Pa, I should stay and help Joe. I mean, he can stay here and I can run errands like getting lunch and dinner and things like that.”

“All right, Jamie, you help Joe. I’ll be back later today or tomorrow morning. I don’t know how long it will take me to find out anything and then to get it in writing and get it back here. Some of the hands are out on the range who were in the bunkhouse last night. I may have to ride out there to talk to them if they are the ones who were up late.”

“We’ll be waiting for you, Pa.”

“Don’t say anything to Adam about what I’m doing. I don’t want him to get his hopes up and then get them dashed if no one can help.”

“Let’s not tell him about the story at all then until we make some progress.”

Joe didn’t know how Adam would react to that news but didn’t want to take the chance at this point. Ben agreed to his request as his sons agreed to his. With that settled, Ben headed to the newspaper offices. It didn’t take him long to raise holy hell there and get them to agree to add the rest of the story the next day. They apologized for not coming to him with the story before it was printed.

“We checked the facts though, Ben, and it was all legitimate. We had no idea that there was more to the story. We’ll get right on that. It won’t take long to get the story on his old partner. With you paying the costs of any wire transmissions, we can have that story ready to go by tomorrow.”

“Make sure it is. Who gave you that story in the first place?”

“It came in by wire. A lot of stories come in that way. It did seem odd because it didn’t come from another newspaper and we didn’t pay for it or request it though.”

With that information, Ben headed to the telegraph office and got another investigation started. That was going to cost some money too, but he didn’t care about that. Getting to the bottom of this mystery was more important because it could save his son.

As Ben headed out of town, Joe walked back to the cell where Adam sat. He had moved and was sitting with his head down. He heard Joe come in and looked up at him.

“You’re still here?”

“I’m staying over. So is Jamie. In case you need anything, we’re here even if it’s company you want.”

“Thank you. I’m doing my best not to lose control. All the way here, I wanted to kick that horse and ride away as fast and far as I could. Now everything tells me to fight, to hit back. I’m trying to stay calm, but it isn’t easy. It may not look like it, but I’m fighting every urge here.”

“I believe you. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“You’re doing it. Being alone would make it worse. Don’t let them turn down the lamp. I don’t think I could take the darkness right now.”

“I won’t. I’ll stay here too. Jamie said he’d do the running and get dinner for us. You hungry yet because I am?”

“I wouldn’t mind coffee at least if it isn’t Roy’s.”

“I’ll get Jamie to take care of that. He’ll like having something to do to help.”

In a few minutes, Joe was back and carrying a checkers board and a small table. He set it up outside Adam’s cell. “How about a game? With the shape you’re in, I won’t even have to cheat to win.”

“So, you finally admit you cheat at checkers?”

“No, I only wanted to get a rise out of you. I don’t have to cheat. I’m that good.”

“We’ll see about that.”

A pot of coffee and five checkers games later with Adam ahead three games to two, and Joe asked again if Adam was hungry for dinner.

“I think I could eat something now.”

Once more, Jamie got to run the errand. This time he brought back enough food that Roy was able to join them for the meal. He had been a little unsure about Adam wanting him there, but Adam told him he had no hard feelings. Roy dragged his office chair in and ate roast chicken and biscuits with the Cartwright sons. Jamie said he would go get dessert when it seemed everyone was willing. When he came back though, he had a very serious look at first even though he hid it when he walked back to the cell. As soon as he could, Joe got him to walk out to the office and asked him why he looked so worried earlier.

“Joe, maybe you and Roy ought to take a look at what’s going on out there. It sounded like Jace has got them all riled up and talking lynching. I heard some people say that Adam could get off by being committed. Some others said that shouldn’t happen. Just because he’s crazy he shouldn’t get away with murdering Mary Ann.”

“All right. I’ll see what Roy wants to do.”

As an excuse, Joe said he wanted to stretch his legs and offered to carry the tray and dessert dishes back to the restaurant. Roy said he should make some rounds. Outside, Joe quickly informed him of what Jamie had said. The tray and dishes were set aside as Roy told Joe not to leave the jail. Roy headed toward the saloon to find out what was going on. He returned to the jail less than an hour later.

“Joe, I settled them down some, but that’s an ugly mob. I don’t have enough deputies to stop them if they come. We need to tell Adam. He has a right to know what he might be facing. It could get real nasty here before it’s done. And we need to get Jamie out of here too. He could get hurt if that group comes here.”

When they told Adam and Jamie, Jamie refused to leave until Adam quickly outlined a plan. He looked hopefully at Roy who sighed and shook his head.

“Never in all my days did I ever think I’d agree to such foolishness, but we’re up against somebody who’ll stop at nothing. I guess extraordinary methods are called for. If this don’t work, you do know me and Joe are gonna be sitting inside there with you.”

“What about me?”

“Jamie, ifn you do your part like Adam says, nobody is ever gonna be able to show you had any part in this. Now, you go ahead and go do what we said.”

Almost reluctantly, Jamie headed out. First he went to the livery stable and got his horse, saddled him up and brought him to the sheriff’s office tying him next the building in the shadows to the side out of the way. He walked across the street to the hotel and went directly to the clerk who asked him if he needed a room.

“No sir, I’m heading home, but my brother Joe will need a room tonight. He doesn’t know what time he’ll be coming over here so he wanted you to get a room ready for him. I got a couple of errands to run and then I’m leaving, but you should see Joe soon enough I guess.”

“Very well, Jamie, you can tell Joe we’ll have a room for him whenever he gets here.”

“Thank you. I’ll do that.”

Heading down the street, Jamie stopped at the mercantile and bought a couple of things on a list and had them put on the Ponderosa account. When asked why he needed them, he said they were for Adam and got a reasonably sympathetic response. He had used almost an hour and by the time he got back to the jail, he could hear that the crowd at the saloon was much louder and had spilled out the doors. As Roy suspected, they probably were going to be heading to the jail soon. Almost on cue, Jamie saw them light some torches. He hurried his pace to be sure to get to the jail before they did. Once there, he reported what he had done. Inside, they were ready. All they needed was the raucous mob to approach the jail. They soon did. Joe and Jamie did their part exiting the sheriff’s office as the men approached and drawing their attention. Questions were lobbed at them and they yelled back at the men defending their brother against unjust accusations.

While they were doing that, Adam slipped out the back door and got Jamie’s horse leading him away while everyone was focused on his brothers. Roy closed and locked the door behind him. Then he went to the cell and locked himself in it tossing the keys back across the room. He pulled the gag down around his mouth and then managed to get the handcuffs on himself locking his hands behind his back. It was uncomfortable, but he knew he wasn’t likely to be that way for long.

Out in the street, the crowd harangued Joe and Jamie all the way to the hotel. Joe had told Jamie to stay with him with the mood of the crowd being so ugly. At the hotel, the clerk was surprised to see Jamie.

“I was planning on leaving, but Joe didn’t want to leave me out there alone with that mob acting the way it is. Joe, you think Adam is going to be safe with them out there like that?”

“Jamie, I don’t think they’ll go against Roy. If they do, I’ll go help. I don’t think they’ll go against me either.”

The clerk and the others in the lobby then were the alibi witnesses for the Cartwright brothers. They could call on any of them to show they had no guilty knowledge of Adam’s escape.

“Maybe we ought to stay here in the lobby then until we know what’s going to happen next. I don’t like thinking about Adam all alone in that jail with that crowd outside.”

“You’re right. I don’t like it either, but having us out there only seemed to make them more ornery so staying here might be the best thing. We can keep an eye on them without stirring them up any more than they are. We’ll both stay here tonight if need be.”

So that’s where they were standing when the mob broke into the sheriff’s office to find Roy locked in his own cell and his prisoner gone. There was no lynching in Virginia City that night and no way a posse could go after Adam either because it was already getting dark. They had no idea where he had gone. He may have lived in the east for many years, but he had been one of the best trackers and hunters before he left. The odds were, they weren’t going to find his trail until the morning and when they did, he had a good head start. There were many frustrated men who headed home that night, but none were so angry as the man who had orchestrated it all only to see it fall apart once more.

 

Chapter 6

The next morning, Roy was surprised to find money put up for a wanted poster and wanted posters already posted in town. There was an account at the bank with the money in it when he went to check. Once more it was anonymous. He had no choice but to put together a posse to go after Adam. Ben was in town early and briefed by Joe and Jamie who decided to go with the posse. If by some chance they caught up with Adam, they wanted to be sure that he had some protection. Ben agreed with that and stayed in town to work with Hiram on collecting evidence to use in Adam’s defense.

Late that day, high on a ridgeline and among tall pine trees, hazel eyes watched the posse down below. They had been tracking him for a full day, but late that afternoon, he had gotten to the shale and then to the water. It had slowed him as he worked to leave no trail at all and then worked his way to the top of the ridge. With no tracks to follow, the posse members were forced to use their eyes to find him. It wasn’t working. With all the trees, the men looked left, right, and forward but could see nothing. In the posse, Sheriff Roy Coffee turned to Joe Cartwright and talked loud enough for all to hear.

“All right, you know him best, and you know it’s better we find him before anybody else does. We’ll take him back for trial. A bounty hunter might decide it would be easier if he was dead because he could still get the reward. Which way did he go?”

“I can’t exactly tell you the way he went, Roy. His running off was a surprise so it isn’t likely I can guess what he’s going to do next.”

Turning to Joe’s brother, Jamie, Roy was going to ask but got a shrug before he could get the words out. He looked to his posse and told them to spread out along the tree line and start looking for signs of a rider passing through. The odds of finding anything in the pine needles at this time of day were slight. Even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to follow any tracks as it was getting darker by the minute. At best, they would find the direction he had gone and nothing more. By the next morning, they thought he would most likely be in California and beyond any jurisdiction the posse could claim. After a half-hour of fruitless investigating, Roy told them he had drawn the same conclusion and called off the search. The posse made camp and were resigned to heading back to Virginia City the next morning without their quarry. Joe and Jamie laid out their bedrolls away from the others. Joe spoke softly.

“Jamie, did you see him?”

“Yeah, I did. Figured you did too. The way you answered Roy made me look around some. With those black clothes and black hat, he was hiding in plain sight like blood on a rose.”

“Don’t say it like that. There was plenty of blood on the roses by her house. Somebody killed that lady and made it look like he did it. We have to figure out who that was. Folks are in an ugly mood. They were in a mood to lynch him and likely were going to do it.”

“You figure somebody wanted that to happen, don’t you. Somebody was paying Jace to stir all those people up last night.”

“So does Roy. He never would have let us do what we did otherwise, and he wouldn’t have helped either. Now we have to find out who did it and why.”

“Yeah, and Pa’s upset about this too. The way he looked at us this morning when we told him, I thought his eyes could burn a hole right through me. But if the people in town find out Roy was in on this, he could lose his job.”

“That’s nothing. We could all end up in jail for this if we don’t find out who did it and soon.”

“Do you think Adam has doubled back by now?”

“Probably. He should be at the line shack soon or by morning. It’ll probably be this evening. He’s got an easy ride downslope from where he was. He’ll let your horse go a couple of miles from there after he takes off the saddle and such. Your horse should make his way home eventually.”

“Why are you smiling?”

“Because Adam hates to walk, and he’ll have a long walk back to that line cabin once he lets your horse go. It’ll keep him busy though and he needs that. No one can see him for at least a day because they’ll be keeping a watch on us and Pa thinking we know where he is.”

“Will he be all right alone?”

“A lot better than he was in that cell. He’s free and not locked up. He’ll be fine.”

Except Adam wasn’t as fine as he or they hoped. After getting to the line cabin and unsaddling the horse, he had ridden him bareback two miles away before releasing him so that he wouldn’t be tracked directly to the line cabin. Riding to the cabin and away, he had been careful not to leave tracks and brushed out the ones he did make by dragging brush when he could. He planned to do more brushing on the way back when he was walking and closer to the ground where he could see even if it was getting darker. He still had the sun although it was sinking fast.

However when he got close to the line cabin, he heard sounds and took to cover approaching the cabin stealthily. There were two men there and they were looking around for tracks. Clearly they were looking for him or that was the conclusion Adam drew. He observed them as they poked around but there wasn’t enough light to look for anything useful. Then they moved off to the tree line and got out of sight. Apparently they were going to lie in wait expecting him to return. He had taken a pistol when he left the sheriff’s office and berated himself now for leaving Jamie’s rifle with his saddle in the cabin. He had left his coat too expecting to be back soon enough and didn’t think he would need it. The color was too obvious even from a distance and he had thought the all black clothing a better choice. That part was a good idea, but the temperature was already dropping. He was going to have a cold night. He was hungry and thirsty too, but the key thing was to keep warm. Moving carefully, he headed away from the cabin until it was too dark to travel safely. Then he found a large pine and moved under it heaping the pine needles into a large pile. He burrowed into that keeping his hat over his face until he was completely covered. It wasn’t the most comfortable bed, but he would be reasonably warm.

In the morning, he was awakened by voices and the sounds of horses as the two men came riding uncomfortably close to where he was. They never suspected he was in that pile of debris. They rode back that same way a half hour later and didn’t notice the pile of debris was smaller. Adam was hiding and heard them as they discussed him thinking he had eluded them somehow. They were heading back to town and talked loudly about how the boss wasn’t going to be happy. He wished they would have used a name, but it did confirm that there was someone in charge of this whole operation. He followed them for a time to confirm that they indeed were headed back to town and watched from high above until they were many miles away. By the way they had been so obvious, he suspected they were going to double back so he hurried. He headed to the line cabin to get the rifle and supplies knowing he couldn’t stay there. With everything he could carry, he began to walk further into the wilderness and hoped Joe would guess where he had gone by the simple marks he had left by the fireplace.

That afternoon, the two men came back to the line cabin hoping to surprise Adam. They had left but had circled back assuming he would have watched them leave. With the rifle in the cabin and his coat, they guessed he couldn’t have gone far and thought he would return to the cabin if he thought they were going back to town. So they had talked loudly and headed back that way only to stop and return when they thought they had gone far enough to make their subterfuge work. All they had done though was give Adam enough time to retrieve the rifle, his coat, and supplies and get a good head start. Jace berated the other man for not damaging the rifle before they left.

“Then he mighta guessed what we were doing.”

“He guessed it anyway, you fool. Well, how does Montana sound?”

“Montana?”

“You don’t really want to go back and face the boss, do you? He had Mary Ann killed just to frame Cartwright. What do you think he’ll do to us after all this?”

“I like the idea of Arizona better. It’s warmer.”

“It’s got Apaches too.”

“All right, let’s head to Oregon. It’s warmer than Montana and there ain’t no Apaches.”

They took what was left of supplies and equipment from the line cabin the next morning and headed north toward Oregon. To be safe, Jace thought he would change his name to something plain like James. Their plan was never to be heard from again in Nevada. However, they were on Ponderosa land and had to cross a lot of it heading north. They were stopped by Ponderosa hands and brought to the house because of all the goods they had and some had Ponderosa markings on them. Ben recognized Jace.

“What were you doing on my land?”

“Passing through headed to Oregon.”

“Stealing from me on the way, I see. The sheriff will be interested in that.”

That statement panicked Jace. “Listen, we’ll do anything you want, but don’t make us go back to town.”

“Why not?”

Looking at his partner, Jace knew they were caught between that proverbial rock and a hard place. His partner was scared and looked back and nodded guessing that Jace was going to talk.

“I guess there’s some stuff I could tell you that could help your son. I’d be willing to do that if you don’t take us to town.”

“Bring them in the house. I want to hear what they have to say.”

By the time Joe and Jamie returned home from posse duty, Ben had quite a bit of useful information but not the one thing they needed the most. Joe turned on Jace.

“What do you mean you don’t know his name?”

“Nobody ever calls him by a name. He’s just the boss. Most of the time, I get my orders from one of his men. I get paid by them. They call him the boss too. That’s what we’re supposed to call him.”

“You think one of those men killed Mary Ann.”

“I don’t know who else woulda done it.”

After ordering the two men locked in the tack room and for a guard to be set, Ben sat down to discuss the situation with Joe and Jamie. He had news because two of the men had been sitting outside the bunkhouse that night talking and had not seen anyone leave. They went to bed after ten. Unless Adam managed to race to town in the dark setting a record, he couldn’t have done it. No reasonable person would believe he could have made that ride in record time in the dark. Therefore they had alibi witnesses to counteract the two who said they saw Adam. It should be enough to create reasonable doubt or at least Hiram had assured him that they would. Now they had Jace and his partner to tell what they knew. In addition, Ben had set in motion two investigations to find the name of whoever had sent the information on Adam to the newspaper and who had set up the reward for apprehending him. Neither of those was protected so it was only a matter of time before they would have the names. A defense for Adam was being built piece by piece.

 

Chapter 7

Joe too had information or at least relevant ideas to add to the theory of the case because he had talked extensively with Adam before the jailbreak they had staged.

“Pa, this may sound odd, but this is what Adam needed. This challenge has him acting more like the old Adam at least once he got out of that cell. It’s revived his spirit and got him fighting mad. He came up with the whole plan and then talked Roy into it. I’ve never heard him argue better. That lynch mob over in the saloon helped with Roy, but he still did a great job.”

“I don’t still understand how this helps other than avoiding him being lynched, which is a great outcome. I don’t mean to diminish that.”

“He and Roy both think that whoever did this wanted him lynched or tried and then hanged. Now they finally figured out that it’s not Adam that is the real target which means they’ll either get bolder going after him as part of their plan or change the plan.”

“Adam’s not the real target? Well, then they’ve made a great show of making him look like the real target.”

“No, Pa, Adam hasn’t been here in years so no one here really knows him all that well any more if they remember him or even knows him at all. So why would they be upset with him and about what? No, Pa, it has to be you.” Ben was a little startled by that, but Joe continued. “Everybody knows how much you care about your family. They saw how you were when you lost Hoss. What if you just got Adam back and then lost him too? Plus, you know how he was vulnerable because of what had happened to him. Somebody else knew that too. They wanted to hurt you as badly as you could be hurt and still be alive.”

Pausing to let all of that sink in, Joe waited for his father to answer. When he did, it was about what Joe expected.

“That makes sense, but who could it be?”

“Jamie and I have been talking about that. At first, we had a long list, but then we knew we had too many on the list because there are some who aren’t happy with you but not enough to murder anyone. No we narrowed it down then to men who would be upset enough to possibly be willing to murder and who hate you a great deal. Using those to filter through the names we eliminated them all until there was only one name left: Abel Otis. It has to be him.”

“Yes, his father always blamed me for the loss of his fortune. Nathan Otis said my testimony at his trial cost him those years in prison. I did hear that he made out well enough when he got out but he never regained the fortune he lost. He was still probably cursing me on his deathbed because of that. I had no idea his son harbored such hatred though. I had heard he had made investments locally including the spur line of the railroad, and I’ve seen his name on several boards of directors. Do we have any evidence that it’s him?”

“We have a name, two alibi witnesses, and tomorrow Jamie and I can go get Adam. We can hide him here in plain sight as well as we can at the line cabin especially now that there’s a reward out for him. We’re going to find out who those anonymous sources of reward money and the newspaper story are. We’re going to get some of those men to name their boss. When we get all of that, we’ll have our evidence.”

A great deal of progress was being made, but Adam was in trouble. Men had been sent by Otis to find him and others were after the reward. Adam was being tracked by several and was on foot while they were on horseback. He needed help and was far from any source of aid. If he shot any of his pursuers, his worry was that he would end up in jail because he thought they were part of the posse and were deputized. With no knowledge of the reward that had been put on his head, he didn’t know that there were others out after him and that the posse had turned back. All he could do was hope to keep ahead of them long enough for Joe to get there to help him.

Shocking news hit Joe the next morning when Ben divulged that the two men who had been chasing Adam and caught on the Ponderosa had ransacked a line cabin.

“They what?”

“Exactly what I told you. If they hadn’t stolen from us, the men would have escorted them off the Ponderosa as trespassers. Because of the thefts, they brought them to me and when I threatened to have them taken in to Roy for that, that’s when they told the rest of the story.”

“Pa, Adam was supposed to hide out at the line cabin to the northwest. Is that the area where they were caught?”

It didn’t take any more for Ben to have the same worry Joe had. “Saddle up the horses. Pack extra ammunition and supplies. We may be out there for a while.”

“I’ll get more supplies from Hop Sing.”

Both knew what he meant by that too. Adam could be hurt. Jamie of course wanted to go along, but Ben thought it too dangerous.

“He’s my brother!”

That was probably the only argument that could persuade Ben and it did. “Get your rifle and heavy coat.”

“I left my rifle with my horse so Adam should have it.”

“Then bring Adam’s rifle.”

“Pa, I think we ought to bring some of the men too. If we have enough men, those others out there won’t think of challenging us.”

Although Ben wanted to argue with Jamie’s suggestion, Joe agreed with it and it made sense too. He accepted it and a number of the hands volunteered to go with them so it wasn’t even a problem. They didn’t have to ask nor order anyone to go. Within four hours, they were at the line cabin and as expected found it empty. Joe stepped away from the cabin and fired three shots to let Adam know they were near if he heard them. He had seen the marks by the fireplace and knew where Adam was headed.

“How could those scratches tell you anything?”

“Hoss, Adam, and I hunted up here. Those markings are a road map. Adam is at twin peaks in a cave we used to use as a base when we were hunting. It’s big enough for horses, but of course he doesn’t have one. What’s especially nice though is that you can get deep enough into it to have a fire and no one from the outside will know. The smoke goes up into the mountain somewhere and doesn’t ever seem to get out and give away your position.”

“So those scratching marks were the twin peaks, a fire, smoke, and the cave?”

“Yes. He headed there, and he’ll hide out and wait for us there.”

As the group rode toward where they hoped to find Adam, they passed two groups of men intent on finding him also but never saw them. One group of bounty hunters gave up seeing the larger group working the same task. The other group was sent on a mission and would have liked the reward, but their employer wanted Cartwright caught or killed and that took priority. They followed the larger group thinking they looked like they knew where they were going. With the Cartwrights in the group, it was likely they had inside information. When the group got to a large cave late in the day, the men following them were not disappointed. Joe dismounted and walked into the cave yelling his brother’s name.

“About time you got here. It’s darn cold up here.”

“You could say thank you, you know.”

“Thank you. I see you brought reinforcements.”

“There are a lot of men out there looking for you because of the reward.”

“Reward?”

“Yeah, somebody put up a big reward for you dead or alive. Seems there are some who want to collect.”

By then, Ben and Jamie were there too. “I have men checking into who put up that reward as well as who sent information to the newspaper.”

“Newspaper?”

“Son, we didn’t tell you because you were already so upset. The story of your commitment was printed in the Enterprise. So the only recourse we had was to have them print the rest of the story to explain why that happened. Your whole story has been printed now and people in town know.”

With a deep sigh, Adam turned from them and took a few moments to think about all of that. Worried about spending time in jail, he now worried too how people would regard him. He didn’t want their pity or having people look at him wondering if he had recovered. To be the object of their curiosity was going to be difficult too. However there was no going back. Slowly pivoting back to face his family, he nodded only once to let them know it was all right.

“I suppose the best place for me now is the house. You can tell Roy I’m under house arrest until they have a hearing or inquest of whatever they plan to do.”

“Hiram is working on the case too, Adam. We’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnel here. We have two hands who can swear they didn’t see anyone leave the Ponderosa that night until after ten.”

That got a small smile. “So unless I ride like the wind in the dark, there is no way I could be in Virginia City, visit the woman in question, murder her, and walk away from her house by midnight.”

“That’s right, and Hiram plans to use their testimony to break down the two who say they saw you. If they admit they’re not sure or change their story, you’re in the clear.”

“It doesn’t get to the man behind all this.”

“Well, older brother, the elder statesmen here, Pa with Roy and Hiram have all the ingredients to cook up a plan to do just that. We’ll explain it while we fix some dinner.”

“I hope you brought an extra bedroll too. I’m tired. I haven’t had much sleep in a couple of days.”

Looking at Adam closely, Joe had a question because he could see the dark circles under his eyes and the haggard look. He had taken that as a result of the pressure of eluding his pursuit but knew now that there was more to it. “Did you sleep at all last night?”

“Not really.” Adam told the truth but not the reason. He had gathered firewood and gone deep into the cave. Knowing he was safe, he made a fire and ate some of the food he had brought with him. The fire was small because he had to make sure he didn’t run out of wood before Joe got there and couldn’t risk any more trips outside because he didn’t know if his pursuers were in the vicinity. With horses, they could move so much faster than he had. However, the darkness outside the light of his small fire unnerved him. Transported by memory back to that dark cell in the asylum, he heard noises like rats and insects. He couldn’t sleep wondering what they would do to him if he should fall asleep or worse yet, if the fire went out. Memories unbidden of seeing bodies ravaged by those things kept intruding in his thoughts. Every sound, real or imagined had make him jerk and twist around. So Adam had stayed by the fire tending it obsessively all night long and into the day waiting for Joe. He had paced much of the time glad at least to have the freedom to do that.

As a result, he hadn’t slept for over thirty-six hours. With the physical exertion and the emotional pressure, he was exhausted. Soon after eating, Adam laid down on a bedroll and immediately fell asleep. Ben put an extra blanket over him, and he and the others were quiet until they turned in a couple of hours later.

The next morning, no one in the group was worried but they should have been. The reward was still valid no matter who had custody of Adam. When he walked out with the others and headed to the horses, a rifle shot hit the saddle of his horse. Ducking for cover, he watched as the man next to him got shot in the head. It was all over in the next two minutes though as the eight men quickly overpowered the three who had been shooting at them. One was mortally wounded, one had a slight wound, and one was uninjured. The man with the slight wound looked scared while the uninjured man was defiant.

“We had a right to try for him. He’s wanted dead or alive.”

“He’s in our custody!”

“You’re his father. We figured you was helping him get away.”

“No, and now you’re facing a murder charge.”

The man with the slight wound objected. “I didn’t murder nobody.” Pointing at the uninjured man, he made a declaration. “He’s the one who killed that woman.”

“Shut up, you fool. They’re not talking about that. They’re talking about their man who got shot. Just shut up.”

Neither of the men said anything more, and the other wounded man died without saying anything at all. However, everyone there had heard the declaration by the wounded man and could swear to it. One more piece of the puzzle had been revealed. To be safe, the whole group rode back to the ranch and then Ben sent Candy and some men to town with the two men and the body for Roy to handle. He kept Jace and his partner locked up in the tack room though thinking it best if their foe didn’t know about them yet. Adam spent his time in the house then as they didn’t know if there were any more assassins around and he had agreed to house arrest which is the message they sent to Roy via Candy. On his return, Candy had a message for them. The hearing on the matter was the next day. Roy, their attorney, the prosecutor, and the judge were ready for them.

 

Chapter 8

That night, Joe talked with Adam as they played checkers to try to take their minds off what was going to happen the next day. Adam clearly wasn’t concentrating and Joe won over half the games. Jamie went to bed first and then Ben went up to bed too telling his sons they ought to try to get some sleep. They knew that of course, but Adam sensed that Joe was waiting for the other two to head to bed. He was correct.

“You know, when you first got back and I found out what happened to you, I felt sorry for you. It was a weird feeling. I’m glad not to feel that way any more.”

“I wish you did at least a little and let me win at checkers. You know I’m facing a tough day tomorrow. You could take it easy on me.”

“You see, that’s why I don’t feel sorry for you any more. You used to have that look of defeat around you. Now you’re the same smart mouth you always were. You keep that attitude and tomorrow is going to work out fine. No one can stand against us when we’re together. Remember that!”

“You going to get out that bundle of sticks and ask me to try to break it in half?”

“Oh, Pa did that stunt with you too?”

“Sure, but the time he got to you, he had me and Hoss for practice first. I suppose he uses the same ones on Jamie.”

“He took him on the grand tour, you know.”

“Something I missed. We didn’t have so much when I was that age. Of course, I didn’t need the grand tour like my brothers did.”

“Of course not.” Joe thought for a while. “Why didn’t you? I mean Pa never talks about you at that age as doing the kinds of things I did or even the things Hoss did. Now Hoss was a lot better than me, but even Jamie had his moments. Why not you? Or were you born grown up?”

“Nope, just hid things better.”

Looking at Adam, Joe wondered if he was being serious. Adam saw him staring and decided to be honest.

“You know there had to be a good reason why Hoss said I was sneaky.”

Joe began laughing then. “Does Pa know?”

“Oh, he found out about a lot of it but too late to do anything about any of it. He probably watched you more closely as a result. Sorry about that.”

“Did you ever lie to Pa about things you did?”

“No, I don’t lie. I hid things from him and I didn’t tell him the whole truth when I could get away with that, but no lies.”

“So tomorrow, it’s the truth that will win.”

“I hope so. I’ve spent my life believing in truth. I have to trust that now.”

That night, Adam didn’t sleep well though because he wasn’t so sure that truth would win out. His experience in the past year had left his confidence in the system in tatters. Although he had come out of it in the long run, in the short run, he had been battered by the failures of the system. At the breakfast table, he saw the red rimmed eyes of his family and was oddly comforted knowing no one else had slept well either. Sipping his coffee, he eyed his father and then addressed him.

“Do you have any idea what the plan is in court?”

“Only from the message Candy brought us from Hiram to make sure you got there safely and be armed but to keep it subtle. I’m sure he’s expecting trouble or more likely Roy is and wants us to help. Joe, Candy, and I will stay toward the back of the room. Jamie will sit with you at the front.”

“Won’t it look odd that you’re not with me?”

“There’s not much room at the front if they’re going to have all those witnesses. I’ll make a show of looking for a seat and then tell you I’ll be in the back. Roy will be near the front, and I assume there will be a deputy or two near the back with us.”

It worked out very much as Ben predicted. They kept men all around Adam as they neared town and approached the courthouse. Until Adam was in the room, there were always at least two or three men around him. No one could have taken a shot at him under those conditions. Once inside, they arranged themselves as Ben had said and waited for the show to begin. Clem was back on the job and nodded to Ben as he took up a position at the back of the room. A key element was whether Abel Otis would attend. It was important that he be there, and it was with relief that the main participants saw him walk in with three of his men and take a seat near the back just before the judge entered. Apparently Abel was there for his triumph expecting Adam to be charged and sent to jail to await a trial for the murder of Mary Ann. He couldn’t help taking a look at Ben standing in back. Abel had a smarmy smirk as he turned back and waited for the show to begin. The judge called the court to order and the proceedings got underway. When Abel saw Jace and his partner brought in and seated up front, he frowned. When he saw two of his men brought in next and seated beside them, he frowned more. He leaned over to talk to the men who were with him and stood to leave. Clem told him to sit down.

“I’m leaving.”

“No one leaves now that the judge is at the bench. Until he calls a recess, everybody just sits tight and the doors stay closed.”

The judge banged his gavel and asked why there was a disturbance in the back of the room. Abel was going to say something but the judge said any more talking or standing while court was in session and the person in contempt was going right over to the jail. Abel sat back down. Although furious, he couldn’t leave without having his men shoot his way out. The prosecutor called his first witnesses. The bank officer sat down, swore to tell the truth and outlined the reward for Adam’s capture and that the money had been put up by Abel Otis. Hiram had no questions. The telegraph operator was next and gave the report sent to him by his company, which stated that the transmission of the story on Adam Cartwright had been paid for by Abel Otis.

In the back of the room, Abel was outraged. He had paid money to have that information kept secret. He was planning to make someone pay dearly for that not happening. Things got much worse for him though when Jace and then his partner got on the stand and detailed how their ‘boss’ had paid them to make Adam look like he had reported something that didn’t happen and then for Jace to try to get him in a fight at the saloon. Next up were the two men who claimed to see Adam leave Mary Ann’s house at the night of her murder. When Hiram questioned them, he said they had witnesses who would refute their testimony. After he explained what refute meant and had the judge explain the penalty for perjury, they were scared of the prison time they might be facing if they continued with their stories. Both admitted they had been paid by their ‘boss’ to say that it was Adam who had left her house when they had actually not even been there. That led to a buzz of conversation in the courtroom that got so loud the judge banged his gavel again and called for order.

In the back of the room, Clem and the others moved forward with guns drawn when they saw Otis’ men move to take out their weapons. Those men were disarmed and weapons were kept trained on them and on Otis who was powerless to resist. Then the two men who had tried to kill Adam were brought to the stand. One refused to testify but the other said the two of them had been paid to kill Adam or bring him in. He said his partner had been ordered to kill Mary Ann too. He said he didn’t help but that he had been the lookout to see that there were no other people about while it was happening. There were gasps in the courtroom at that. The judge ordered that man taken to jail on a charge of accessory to murder and the one he implicated on a charge of murder. Roy took both in handcuffs from the room through a side door. That left only one thing to do. The judge looked at all the men who had testified about their ‘boss’ and asked them to identify that man. They all pointed to the back of the room.

“Well, which man is it?”

Clem made Abel Otis stand up. The witnesses all agreed that he was their boss.

“This is ridiculous. I’m a respected businessman. Now Ben Cartwright ruined my father and never paid a penalty for that. His son violated a court order and put people at risk here and his father sheltered him knowing he was a fugitive. They should be arrested.”

The judge wasted no time.

“Ben Cartwright was a witness to your father’s crime or at least one of them. He did what an honest citizen ought to do. As for his son, he was escaping injustice, and no one here can begrudge him that. As for you, Sheriff, arrest that man and charge him with murder for now. We’ll get a list of other charges drawn up as I look over this testimony with the prosecutor and decide which charges are most appropriate for the facts. Lock up these other men too including the ones sitting with him as accessories until we can determine the best course of action to take with each one.”

Hiram addressed the judge then. “Your Honor, I took the liberty of filing a lawsuit on behalf of my client against Mister Abel Otis for the amount of the reward that he put in the bank for my client’s apprehension dead or alive.”

“How much money did he put up for a reward?”

“Five thousand dollars, Your Honor.”

“Judgment for the plaintiff in the amount of four thousand dollars. One thousand dollars to be forfeit to the town and county for expenses related to this case.”

“Thank you, Your Honor. That is a very fair settlement.”

“I like to expedite justice whenever possible. He was going to lose that lawsuit regardless so we simply took care of it quickly. Now, I need to talk with the prosecutor and the sheriff about all these cases unless you have any other concerns.”

“No, Your Honor. Everything is fine.”

Joe, Candy, and the Ponderosa hands had helped Clem’s deputies take all those men to the jail, but Ben came up to congratulate his son. Adam was quiet almost not believing it was over and so quickly.

“Son, you’ve been gone for so long, I guess you forgot how we like to do things out here. There’s no reason to take more time than necessary.”

“I guess so. It’s such a relief. I don’t know how to feel, I guess. Thank you. Thank all of you. I guess I can get back to living a normal life again.”

Over the following weeks, Adam learned though that it wasn’t going to be quite that simple. Even though he still slept with a lamp turned low and had some bad dreams, he was more relaxed and felt safe because he trusted the people around him and knew they would be there if he needed them. However, there was still the matter of that newspaper article and the few who couldn’t seem to forget that story. There were stares at times and some questions that were ill advised at best and rude at the worst. There was one young man who took delight in mentioning it every time Adam stopped in the saloon for a beer. Adam tried to tell him to stop his harassment because he was too young to have much experience fighting and too thin to do well in a fight.

“I’m not crazy though.”

The young man laughed and did his best to be an irritant. That went on for a month with a repeat performance every time Adam was in town. The young man seemed to think it made him a bigger man to be able to taunt someone like Adam and grew bolder when nothing bad happened. Baiting a Cartwright and not having anything happen to him seemed to be a victory of sorts no matter how many times Adam warned him off. To him and to others, it was only words. On the fourth Saturday after the hearing when Adam went to town with Joe, Candy, and some hands, it happened again. The young man began taunting Adam who turned to him and said nothing at first.

“What’s the matter, crazy man, cat got your tongue or maybe you swallowed it during a fit?” Walking up closer to Adam, the young man leaned down as if to peer into Adam’s mouth looking for his tongue.

“All right, school’s out. I’m tired of trying to teach you anything. You don’t listen at all. Sometimes experience is the best teacher.” Adam hit him in the solar plexus then doubling him over before hitting him with a left uppercut that stood him back up again. Then he finished him with a powerful right cross that laid him out on the floor crying for his mother. There was silence for a moment and then a raucous cheer from the assembled saloon crowd who had tired weeks earlier of the young man’s bravado and boasts. Two men picked him up and carried him outside where he was set on a chair to recover enough to walk to the doctor’s office. Clem was there a short time later as Adam was still massaging his sore hands.

“Adam, I got a report that you hit a man in here tonight.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Knocked him out?”

“Not completely. He was crying for his mama. Lucky it was me. Someone else might have shot him.”

“Did you swing first?”

“Yes, and I was the only one who was swinging.”

“I have to fine you then.”

“How much?”

“No damage to the saloon, I guess.” He looked over at Sam who agreed. “We got a small doctor’s bill of one dollar, so twenty for the town and a dollar for the doctor.”

After pulling out his wallet, Adam handed him twenty-five. “A little extra for your office and for Doctor Martin for the inconvenience.”

“Thank you, Adam, that should take care of things.” Looking around the saloon and evaluating how people were regarding Adam, Clem added a little more. “I think it’ll take care of things in more ways than one. Good night, and I trust you won’t be knocking sense into anyone else tonight?”

“No, I think that was about enough for me.”

“It was about enough for him too. Goodnight, boys. Take it easy.”

Adam got invited to join a card game as Joe and Candy finished their drinks.

“You know, Joe, I think it’s going to be a lot easier to have the men following Adam’s orders on the ranch from now on.”

“Yeah, I think so too. Sometimes, a man has to fight to show other men what he’s made of. They saw some of that tonight. I knew it was there, but I don’t think they did.”

“I didn’t. I suspected it after all those stories you and Hoss told me over the years, but I hadn’t seen a sign of it until this. He does have a way about him that’s scary when he wants to be. He didn’t seem mad or anything. That kid never saw it coming.”

“He’s a complicated man. It’s taken me a long time to understand him. There are all these pieces you have to put together to make up the whole of him.”

“And this was one more piece of that puzzle.” Looking at Adam playing poker with that face that revealed nothing, Candy smiled. “I bet he’s good at poker.”

“Yeah, I give them about a half-hour at most before they regret asking him to play.”

“And then they’ll be in a bind. They’ll want him to stay so they can try to win back their money, but if he stays, they’ll likely lose more. This is going to be fun. Let’s get another beer and watch.”

“You have a bit of a mean streak in you, don’t you?”

“Listen, we already have a story to tell your father that’s going to make his eyebrows do that thing where they rise up like a volcano that going to blow and then drop down hard and fast like an eyebrow avalanche. We may as well get a good funny story to tell Jamie. He’ll love this part.”

“He’ll love the last part too.”

“Yeah, but he won’t be able to say that in front of your Pa. This part he can enjoy.”

“I think Pa is going to like what happened tonight even if he doesn’t say so. We’ve been waiting for the old Adam to show up, and now he did. We thought that maybe we had lost him, but we didn’t. He’s still with us.”

Somewhere Joe could swear he heard someone say “Dadburnit, he shur is!

8 thoughts on “A Piece of the Puzzle (by BettyHT)”

  1. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome story. One thing I love about you, Betty (and there are many more) is that when everyone wants a sequel you always come up with a doozey. Thanks for never letting your readers down.

    1. Thank you so much. This one isn’t quite done yet. Now that Adam has recovered, I have to find a way for him to get justice with the man who set this whole thing in motion by getting him committed in the first place. Stay tuned. I’m working on an idea.

  2. Loved the follow up! Glad the old. Adam found his way back. Enjoyed watching Adam and Jamie’s relationship develop into a brotherly bond.

    1. Thank you so much. The conversations between Adam and Jamie seemed to flow so smoothly that those were easier to write than those with Ben or with Joe. I did enjoy writing that last part though. After writing him in such a different mode, I could picture him as he faced the young man who didn’t know any better and imagine the look he had at that point.

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