SUMMARY: Adam has had some difficulties with women, and it doesn’t seem to stop. When there are more incidents, he’s ready to give up on romance, but sometimes the darkest days can turn out to have unintended consequences that a man can learn to appreciate. Added the second Adam and Monica story, Not Always, to this one. Adam makes some serious mistakes in trying to extricate himself from trouble until he turns to his family for help.
Rating = T Word count = 22,989
It’s a Bad Day
Walking into the house, Adam was glad once more that he wore a black shirt and black pants. Outside at the horse trough, he had done his best to clean his face and hands, and after divesting himself of his hat and gunbelt, he walked to the dinner table and sat down. Taking one look at him, Hoss apparently decided to stare at his empty plate and meditate on the empty space about to be filled with food there. It was the only way the big man could manage not to break out in loud guffaws. Hoss knew that would bother Adam more than the questions he longed to ask. He didn’t have to ask though because he knew their father or Joe would ask soon enough and wasn’t disappointed. Joe was more obvious staring at Adam’s face with a grin as curiosity was eating at him. Uncharacteristically, Joe wisely waited though for their father to notice Adam’s condition and ask the first questions. Deciding Joe’s interest was too much attention, Adam tried to ignore him and slide his hands down to his thighs to wait for food to be served. After all the worst of the damage was on the side toward Joe so he hoped his father couldn’t see too much. There was no such good luck waiting for him at home any more than there had been anywhere else on this day. Hoss’ avoidance and Joe’s stare were all that it took to make sure their father noticed and began a close inspection of him leaning forward to get a better look at his face.
“Adam, I would like an explanation of why my eldest son has come home from a simple errand to town looking like he has been in a brawl.”
Still avoiding looking directly at his father so he wouldn’t have to show him that the right side of his face was bruised and swollen, Adam tried to answer casually. “I can assure you, Pa, I was in no brawl.”
Now usually Hop Sing was there with food at such a time to save him from an interrogation or at least give him a temporary reprieve, but he had upset the cook that morning. It hadn’t been on purpose, but he had simply told him that he had torn all the buttons off his shirt when he had seen Lucretia Biggins on Saturday evening. Of course, that hadn’t exactly been the whole truth. He hadn’t torn the buttons off at all. Lucretia had grabbed his shirt and tried to remove it rather quickly. He had not wanted her to do that. It had shocked him when she did, and he had made his exit as quickly as possible after her advances. She was attractive, but it wasn’t his style to have a woman take him to bed. Hop Sing however wasn’t listening when he did his best to explain but without saying anything negative about the young lady. His father had taught him to be a gentleman even when it was difficult. Hop Sing though was irritated at having extra work thrown his way and wasn’t listening to him. Adam had hoped to buy something in town to placate him, but other factors prevented that.
The first of those occurred during the first errand. Lucretia found him, and on her heels was the biggest man Adam had ever seen. At least three inches taller than Hoss, he had no reservations about hitting Adam without any preliminary conversation and certainly without warning. Apparently he was disturbed about whatever Lucretia had said about him. Now he hadn’t done anything out of line, but she had been upset with him when he left so abruptly so there was no telling what she had said to the man. The giant’s blow sent Adam crashing into Reverend Miller’s wife and Doctor Paul Martin’s wife which was bad enough, but as the behemoth advanced on Adam once more, Adam attempted to stand and his hand came into inadvertent contact with a part of the anatomy of not one but both women that no man should touch unless he was married to said woman.
In retaliation for said infraction of social norms, Mary Miller hit him with a can of peaches in the side of his face relieving the mountain of a man from having to hit him again. Stunned, Adam rolled over toward Rachel Martin which earned him a solid pummeling by her not so tiny fists and a few kicks as well until he rolled into a ball to protect himself. He stayed there until Sheriff Coffee arrived. Although he thought that was a rescue, the complaints by the other four meant that he spent some time in Sheriff Coffee’s office trying to explain it was not all his fault and he had not meant to touch either lady inappropriately nor had he instigated the conflict with the giant. Although Roy grilled him unmercifully, Adam could swear he seemed to have a small smile the whole time. He endured the ride home on Sport as he discovered he ached in places where he didn’t remember being hit. Then the additional psychic torture began.
At the dinner table as his father did the same kind of questioning as Roy had done, Adam could swear he too had that same damn smile lurking. Of course, Hoss and Joe were not doing a very good job of containing their amusement at his predicament even with the frowns their father threw their way. Although Adam attempted to answer every question honestly while preserving as much of his dignity as possible, he was well aware that Roy Coffee would tell his father and brothers any detail he chose to withhold so he had to include everything. He knew too that as soon as the grilling was over, his younger brothers would roast him with their comments and punish him with their laughter. That was confirmed by their reaction to his rather polite rendition of what happened when he tried to get up and extricate himself from the unwanted position nearly atop the two ladies on the floor of the store. He got up as soon as he could from the dining table dismissing any thought of eating and complaining of a headache which was the truth. He headed to his bed hoping to wake up to find it was a better day on the morrow.
In the morning, Adam found shaving was slightly painful but hoped that his efforts to look presentable would at least make his father more agreeable. When he got to the breakfast table though, he found he was alone. He checked the clock and found he wasn’t late at least not by more than a few minutes. Not even Hop Sing complained so that wasn’t it. He wasn’t sure he could ask the cook about it so remained silent and ate what was in front of him complimenting Hop Sing on the excellence of his cooking and then saying nothing more. Hop Sing couldn’t stand it.
“Why you not ask where father and brothers go?”
“I didn’t want to anger you again by being pushy.”
“Not pushy to ask. Be good son and brother to care.”
Putting up his hands in surrender, Adam asked.
“They get message that guests coming early. They get things ready and already are preparing carriage to go to town.”
“I suppose I ought to hurry with my breakfast and help then.”
Noise from the entry said that wasn’t necessary. Ben was there for some hot coffee and soon Adam’s brothers joined them. Ben said nothing about the discussion of the previous night. Apparently, that was history now and they were moving on to new topics.
“Son, the Jamisons are supposed to be arriving today instead of next week. We got word only this morning. They sent a telegram but no one was there to bring it to us last evening so they brought it out this morning.”
“Yeah, remember, he said he had two beautiful daughters. He even sent that small photograph of his family that was in the newspaper. Me and Joe figure that we should draw straws and the loser has to go ride the fence lines and the other two get to stay here to entertain our guests.”
“No, not happening.” Adam saw Joe’s look and immediately explained. “I’ll ride the fence lines. I’ve had enough of beautiful young women at the moment. I need some time to myself. You two are welcome to them.”
“Are you sure, son?”
“I’ll be packed and out of here before you get back. I assume you may want to use my room for a guest. I’ll get my things out of the way.”
“Hey, thank you, older brother!” Hoss slapped him on the shoulder.
“Yeah, that’s real nice of you.” Joe was all grins. “Should we thank Lucretia too when we’re in town?”
Adam was halfway out of his chair going after Joe before Ben grabbed his arm and pulled him back.
“Adam, when you get back from checking the fence lines, how about some time off? You could take that trip to Salt Lake City you’ve been talking about?”
“Sure, Pa, that would be fine.”
Then with a glare at Joe, Adam shook his arm free and headed up to his room to do what he said he would. By the time he got back downstairs, his brothers were outside putting the finishing touches on the carriage polishing and adding a few touches to make it festive. Rolling his eyes, Adam headed into the stable to get his horse and a packhorse. He wouldn’t be doing any major repairs but would take care of any minor ones that he found. Any big jobs that were necessary, he would record on the map, and when he returned, crews would be sent out with the necessary materials. He expected to be gone for as long as two weeks so he had enough food and supplies for that long a trip. His father suggested an extra pack horse and he agreed so he could take some grain and a few more supplies with him.
“Are you sure you’re willing to do this alone, son? Joe or Hoss could still go with you.”
“No, you need them to help with our guests. I’ll be fine, Pa. I’ve done this before.”
Because Adam was so accommodating, Hoss and Joe started to get suspicious. When their father walked back to the house to change into a nicer shirt, both turned to Adam. Joe voiced his suspicions first.
“Is there something about these two ladies who are visiting that you don’t like so you’re willing to let us have them?”
“Nothing that I know about. I’ve never met them.”
“Adam, you’re being too nice. Me and Joe got a right ta know ifn there’s a reason you’re so willing to let us have the two ladies without a fight.”
Before mounting up to leave, Adam leaned against Sport and looked back over his shoulder. “That’s about it right there. These women come to visit and what does it get us? They always leave, and often in their wake, there’s hard feelings among us. If not that, there’s frustration because nothing happened. At worst, they leave one of us with a broken heart. There’s two of them this time, so double up on what they’re likely to leave behind. So, the big mystery is not a mystery at all. I don’t want any part of it. I had enough with women trying to control me with Lucretia. I need a break from all of it.”
Hoss and Joe shrugged but smiled. Thus began a couple of weeks that seemed like a vacation to Adam. He set his own daily routine. He got up early, worked hard doing things his way, took a leisurely break for lunch and did some reading, and then worked until nearly dark before making camp or using a line cabin, having dinner, and sleeping well until dawn. By the time he rode home two weeks later, he sang as he rode as relaxed as he had been in years and anticipating a nice week or so of time off to boot. He never expected to see two surly almost angry brothers when he arrived at the stable.
“You polecat! You did know that older daughter had the voice of a screech owl and the personality of one. Adam, all she ever wanted ta do was take a nap or go to bed early or sleep late. Nobody could make no sounds neither until she woke up. Ifn ya did, she started talking to ya about it, and, Lordy, nobody wanted her talking.”
“Oh, yeah, well, Hoss had the nice one. Apparently, I have no manners, no morals, and no couth, whatever that is. Anyway, she liked to refer to me as uncouth. I don’t talk right, walk right, or think right which she reminded me of as often as the clock ticks the minutes in there. Now we know why you took off for two weeks.”
“Honest, I didn’t know. I never met them. It was only the trouble with Lucretia that made me want to stay away.”
“Sure, it was. Well me and Joe ain’t hardly gonna say it’s all right for you ta go traipsing off to Salt Lake City while we stay here and do all the work.”
“Yeah, you’re gonna have a fight on your hands if you ask Pa for time to do that.”
With that, Hoss and Joe stalked to the house, and Adam kicked a bucket across the stable. No matter what he did, women seemed to cause him to have very bad days. Here it was again. It had started out so well, but now it was another bad day.
Not Such a Bad Day
Although Adam did request his time off to go to Salt Lake City, the ensuing argument at dinner aggravated a headache that had been building for a day. He had little appetite for dinner anyway and with the headache, he excused himself from the table and dinner thus abandoning both the argument and his request for time away from the ranch. His brothers looked smug with their perception of victory, but Ben Cartwright looked worried as he watched Adam ascend the stairs. Something seemed off with his son but he didn’t know what it was. The next day, he was more worried as Adam had coffee for breakfast or rather asked for coffee but didn’t even finish drinking the cup that was poured. Again, he said he wasn’t hungry and ate only part of a biscuit with preserves passing on the bacon, eggs, and hot fruit compote. His behavior at breakfast got Hoss concerned too.
“Pa, something’s not quite right with Adam.”
“I know, but I don’t know what’s wrong. The first sign was him conceding the argument to the two of you last night. There was no reason for him to do that. I was going to give him the time off. Your arguments against it weren’t logical.” Ben saw them about to object. “Think about it. How could he possibly have known? I didn’t know. Unless he could see something in that picture that we couldn’t, he had no way to know. He did his part and deserves that time off.”
“Do you think he’s mad at us then?”
“No, Joe, if he was, you would have known. Something else is wrong. Pay attention while you’re working today. See if you can pick up on anything.”
That day out in the hot sun, Adam was irritated for multiple reasons. One was still that he wasn’t getting his time off because that rankled him yet. He knew his brothers’ reasons for objecting to it were irrational and also that he should have stood his ground, but then there was the second reason for his discomfort. That headache had not diminished with rest but was even more intense pounding in his temples and at the back of his head like little drummers were up there practicing for some kind of parade. Those two things made him frown as he worked and kept his two brothers at a distance. They were removing brush from a ravine so it wouldn’t impede flood waters from flowing out and it wouldn’t be a fire hazard in drier weather.
However, Adam wondered if there wasn’t something in that brush or if Hop Sing was using something harsh in the laundry. His clothing was chafing at a number of different spots: his neck, shoulders, and wrists itched terribly and he was even going to describe the feeling he had in his privates wishing he had something cool to put there. As he worked, he sweated and that made things even worse. Adam guessed this must be the hottest day ever for June in the area and was about to complain about that when he realized his brothers weren’t near him anymore. Turning to see where they had gone, he saw them leading the horses down to the water. He wished he’d thought of that because he wouldn’t mind being in that water himself or drinking a lot of it because his throat was dry and scratchy now too. Dropping his tools, he wasn’t careful and his axe fell down toward the bottom of the ravine. He swore under his breath and knew he had to go get it. He made about two steps down the slope when he lost his balance.
Down by the water, Hoss and Joe were discussing their brother and his odd behavior that morning.
“Hoss, he seems to be twitching. It’s kind of odd. He moves a shoulder or his arm in funny ways and if you look at him, he stops. It’s like he knows he’s doing it but he keeps on doing it.”
“I know, and he keeps frowning too like he’s still having that argument with us from last night only he ain’t saying nothing ’bout it. Fact is, he ain’t saying nothing ’bout nothing.”
“Yeah, I thought by now we’d have some clues as to why he’s so upset, but I don’t know any more now than when we rode out here this morning.”
“We’ll break out lunch when we go back. Sitting in the shade and having something to eat and drink, maybe he’ll open up some.”
“Maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it.”
With the horses adequately watered, they led them to a new area to graze and grabbed the food sack to take with the newly filled canteens. As they climbed up the slope to sit under the large shade tree there, they didn’t see Adam. Joe called his name, and then Hoss did the same. When there was no answer, they walked to where he had been working wondering where he had gone. There wasn’t much brush except down in the ravine. It’s where they found him sprawled across the slope there and unconscious. Both checked him over for injuries and found nothing.
“He must have bumped his head when he fell.”
“It’s more than that, Joe. He’s burning up with fever. Help me get him up the slope and over to that tree. We gotta cool him down and soon.”
Once they had lugged him to the tree, they laid him on the flattest spot in the grass they could find and put Adam’s hat under his head for a pillow. Joe offered to ride for home and help, but Hoss asked him to help with one thing first.
“Help me get his shirt off. I want to put it under him and then pour cool water over him to try to cool him down more.”
They unbuttoned the shirt, and then Hoss pulled Adam into a sitting position as Joe pulled the shirt from his oldest brother pausing as both he and Hoss were surprised by the rash they saw in large red patches in numerous places.
“No wonder he was twitching. That has to be uncomfortable. I wonder if he has more down lower.”
“I bet he does, and you know what it means, dontcha? Joe, he’s got mountain fever. Some folks die from it. They go up into the hills healthy, and they come back sick like this. You better let Pa know and send for the doc. Adam’s gonna need a lot of help with this.”
When Doctor Martin got to the Ponderosa, he found Ben doing his best with Hop Sing to care for Adam who even semi-conscious was fighting some of their efforts. Watching for a moment, Paul put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Ben, there’s no need for a blanket. Let him have his way. At this point, a sheet would be adequate or even nothing until that rash diminishes with the fever.”
Calming then, Adam was far more relaxed for what Paul had to do. After his examination, he had good news and some bad news for the family.
“The best I can tell you is that this doesn’t look too serious. Yes, he has a fever that needs to be controlled, but other than the rash, sore throat, and headache, I can’t find evidence of any other complications. He’s young and strong. Most patients like him fight this kind of thing off quite successfully.”
Ben was still worried. “You said there was bad news.”
“Yes, the worst news is that the disease cases I’ve had have taken usually two weeks to run their course. Then it was usually another two weeks before the patient was strong enough to be out of bed for any length of time. You’re looking at a bedridden Adam for the next month.”
Silence greeted his pronouncement as all three processed what had been said. Adam was not a good patient. Usually quite agreeable when the injury or illness was bad and he tried to spare his family unnecessary concern, he became less and less agreeable as he felt better. Then he wanted to do things and was prevented from doing so for his own good. He blamed his family instead of his condition. That’s when things got unpleasant. Doctor Martin was as familiar with that progression as the rest of them. He had an idea.
“There’s a nurse in town who could take over some of the care. I know you have work to do, and she is quite good. She has twenty years of experience starting by working with patients of her father. He passed away a few years ago and she decided to come west to continue her work as a nurse.” Ben was reluctant to impose such care on Adam because he knew he would object. Paul saw that too. “You do remember the incessant demands that were only outnumbered by the incessant complaints the last time, don’t you?”
“What’s her name?”
“Monica. She’ll be here tomorrow. I assume you’ll have a room ready for her?”
“We will, and we’ll have Adam as ready for her as much as we can. Ah, Paul, about the coverings then?”
“A sheet will do, Ben. She’s a nurse. Keep him cool. Get him to drink cool drinks when he is able. Put that salve on the rash. It’s about all you can do.”
“Can he have anything to eat?”
“Wait until Monica gets here. She can determine what and when to have him start eating.”
As Ben cared for his son that day, he decided to wait until morning to tell him that he was getting a nurse. There was so much work coming up on the ranch, there was good cause to have a nurse for Adam, and he was going to have to accept it. They could have easily managed his care for a week, but then it was roundup and ten days later, they hoped to start the drive. It was late this year because of the late start to spring so they couldn’t afford any more delays. Adam was going to complain, but no one in his family was going to listen with any sympathy.
When Adam’s nurse arrived in the morning, the family was surprised. Hearing Paul say she had twenty years of experience, they had expected an older woman, but she was much younger than they had thought. She was also blond and petite immediately attracting Joe’s attention. He tried out his charm on her and was soundly rebuffed.
“I’m here to do a job, young man. I don’t have time for your balderdash. Could one of you show me where I’ll be staying and then show me where my patient is?”
They found her business-like as expected, but strong-willed and not afraid to say what she was thinking. After she was shown Adam’s room, Hoss came back down to talk with his family.
“She shur is a feisty little thing, ain’t she?”
“Feisty is one way to put it.”
“Aw, Joe, she’s a mite older than you anyway. She told me she started working when she was fifteen so that would put her at thirty-five now. She’s Adam’s age.”
“Well, he won’t like her. She’s too bossy and she’s got a smart mouth on her.”
“Just because she put you in your place ’cause you was after her when she come here to work don’t mean you got to bad mouth her.”
Before it could go any further, Ben called a halt. “It’s up to Adam to determine if this will work. Now, let’s give them a chance.”
In less than a half-hour, Monica was at the top of the stairs. “Mister Cartwright, Adam would like to speak with you about my employment. I suggested to him that would be most appropriate during the dinner hour. Would that be suitable to you?”
Sitting at his desk in the alcove down below, Ben grinned. “Yes, that would be most convenient.”
“I’ll tell my patient that. Frankly, I don’t know why they call them patients. They seldom seem to have the quality most associated with that word.” With that, Monica turned and disappeared around the corner upstairs.
Although Ben expected to hear some yelling, there was none. He remembered then that Adam’s throat was still sore and he probably couldn’t yell. Hoping that would last for at least another week, he went back to his ledgers and contracts which needed attention. At noon, Hop Sing asked if he should bring food up to Adam’s room and Ben told him to go up to ask Monica what she wanted. Hop Sing was upstairs for a long time. When he came back down, he was smiling.
“Missy Monica is smart lady. She want me to choose teas and biscuits for lunch and make good soup for dinner. She say she eat what Adam eat so he not upset with his meals. Then she smile and wink at me. I know she will come down to get more food when Adam is sleeping. Very smart.”
“Yes, between the two of you, I think Adam is going to get the best of care.” And Ben was relieved to find that Monica had already found a way to get along so well with Hop Sing. He had been worried about how Hop Sing would react to a stranger in the house taking care of one of the family, but she had handled it perfectly enlisting him as her ally. She was, as Hop Sing said, a very smart lady.
However, Monica had a very smart, very stubborn, and very unhappy patient too. He was unhappy with the menu for lunch and told her so grabbing the biscuits and cup of tea. He ate both biscuits against her advice washing them down with the tea realizing that error almost as soon as he completed the small meal. He began looking about rather desperately for a basin, and Monica emptied the washbowl out the window as quickly as she could but not fast enough. A short time later, she had to summon Hop Sing and ask for clean linens, clean cloths, and a pitcher of clean water. It took nearly an hour to get clean linens on the bed, get Adam cleaned up and cooled down, and dispose of the soiled linens. Hop Sing was not happy with Adam nor was Monica.
“Now, are you ready to listen to me? I do have experience caring for people who have had these fevers which you still have should you not remember that.”
Embarrassed not only at his previous behavior but at the humiliation of having had to have her and Hop Sing clean him up like a child, Adam was quiet. Monica wanted an answer though and stood there waiting. His headache was back although not as bad as it had been.
“Good. Can I surmise from your squinty eyes and frown that the headache is back?”
“Then you need to drink some water and lay back. I’ll do what I can to relieve the headache before we address your nutrition.”
“Please don’t talk about that.”
Monica’s expression softened as her patient lay on the pillow with his eyes closed and furrows in his brow showing his pain. His cheeks were still reddened from the fever that was lower but not gone. From the redness on his chest and shoulders, the rash seemed to be getting worse, but Doctor Martin said that might happen. She soaked a cloth in the icy cold water Hop Sing had brought to her and bathed his brow and cheeks. She soaked the cloth again to cool it laying it across his forehead and softly massaging his temples with her fingers. As he relaxed, she hoped he would sleep as she had found it was one of the best ways to fight nausea. When he began to breathe more regularly and his lips parted, she took the cloth from his forehead, soaked it again and bathed his shoulders and chest to cool the areas where the rash probably itched the most and also added to the heat he felt. Then she sat back in the chair and quietly read until she noted him stirring nearly an hour-and-a-half later. When his eyes opened half way, she smiled at him.
“Would you like a sip of water?”
The polite response was a welcome change from some of his earlier more churlish responses. She hoped she was making progress with him. Once he had a few sips of water, she helped him lay back. He regarded her from under those half-lidded eyes and had to ask.
“What were you reading?”
“I’m the nurse. I’m the one who should be asking the questions. But first, it’s that new Jules Verne book I saw on your bedside table. No, I didn’t remove your bookmark. Now, how is that water sitting in your stomach? Any negative response?”
“It’s my bedroom, I should get to ask any question I want to ask. It’s not a bookmark. It’s a card I was making for my father’s birthday. I missed it though so it will have to be for next year. Drawing in miniature is more difficult than I thought. The water is fine. Could I trouble you for something more substantial?”
“My rules this time?”
Adam sighed but nodded. Monica picked up a pillow, motioned for him to lean forward a bit, and placed it behind him to have him be a bit more upright. Then she took a biscuit, broke off a small piece, and offered it to him. He leaned forward and took it from her fingers with his lips instead of taking it with his fingers. She grinned.
“Touché. Are you the Casanova of the Ponderosa?”
“Hardly. I think that title may be more apt for my younger brother, but even he isn’t so crass as that.”
“Not everything he said or did was crass. He did say that It is only necessary to have courage, for strength without self-confidence is useless. I do find that appropriate to some of my choices in life.”
“Surely, you’re not endorsing his views on men, or women, pursuing each other.”
“The sweetest pleasures are those which are hardest to be won.”
What she got in return was the first view of that dimple as he had to grin at her saucy retort. “I don’t know whether you’re serious or bantering with me.”
“At least I’ve got your interest. Now, do you want more biscuit?” She had gotten Adam to delay eating for several minutes so that his stomach could accept the first morsel. She kept him engaged in conversation for a half hour as she fed him that biscuit and gave him small sips of tea in between those biscuit bits. It was a way to avoid the nausea and get him some nourishment which she could tell he needed. When the biscuit and cup of tea were gone, she announced that was enough for at least an hour.
“Now what do we do?”
“Do you like to play games?” That got her another grin but more wicked in nature almost making her blush. She ignored it as best she could. “I mean, checkers, chess, dominoes, cribbage …?” Monica didn’t get to continue.
“You can play cribbage? I haven’t gotten anyone in my family who is willing to learn. I enjoy the game immensely. I learned how to play when I was in Boston, and there are some who play at Piper’s saloon, but it’s a rare occasion that I get to play.”
“I don’t have a cribbage board. I suppose we could keep track on paper.”
“I have a board in my closet. You would have to dig into my trunks in there to find it, but I could direct you to it. Perhaps my father should come to help. He would know which trunk was the one I brought home from Boston.”
Although Monica had intended to have Adam take a nap, she knew she had undermined her own plans by getting him excited about playing cribbage. So, she agreed to go ask Ben to find the cribbage board and a deck of cards. Ben didn’t know what the board looked like so Monica went to the closet with him as he searched the trunk.
“Yes, that’s it. That yellow board with the holes in it.”
“That’s ivory.” Ben stood up and backed out of Adam’s closet. “Adam, this is carved ivory. Where did you get this?”
“It’s actually carved whalebone of some kind. Grandfather Stoddard gave it to me.”
“He played cribbage?”
“Yes, we often played on Saturday nights when I took a break from studying.”
At that point, Ben felt bad about all those refusals over the years to learn the game. It was clearly important to Adam and would have given him a connection to his grandfather. What he heard next made him feel worse.
“Grandfather said he used to play with Mother, but that she lost interest in that when she started seeing you. I think that playing with me helped him in some ways to lessen the loss of Mother.”
“I’m sure it did.” He handed the narrow board to Monica who noted the glistening eyes. “You enjoy the games now, and perhaps I should learn how to play too.”
“I would enjoy that, Pa.”
Although Monica wondered about what had happened, she wasn’t going to pry. She didn’t have to do that as Adam explained because he knew she would be curious. Then he explained that the board was narrow because it was carved from whalebone and they had to peg up and down twice for a game, and showed her where the skunk and double-skunk marks were. Because he was confined to bed, and she had the chair that was higher, she did the pegging on the board although he watched to make sure she didn’t have Joe’s habit of cheating at games. When he saw that she was honest about the pegging, he relaxed back into his pillows and enjoyed the games until she noted his eyes drooping.
“If Doctor Martin is correct, we have a few weeks before you’re strong enough to be back to regular work. We will have many opportunities to play games. Right now, you need to rest again. I’m going to sponge you down again as you look too warm.”
It was evidence of his exhaustion that Adam didn’t argue. He handed cards to her and closed his eyes. “I have enjoyed our games.” Then he grinned but said nothing more.
Monica smiled and shook her head at him even as she put the board and cards away and got the cloth and cold water. He was incorrigible, but this job was turning out to be much more enjoyable than the usual one. However, she didn’t think he was going to like the next thing she planned to do. He didn’t.
“You are not going to give me a bath!”
“I am. It is necessary to your recuperation. You need to be bathed.”
“Then have my brothers bring a tub in here and I’ll take a bath like any man would.”
“You are not any man at this point. You are still fevered and sitting in a warm bath would not be good for that. You also have many areas of rash where your skin is nearly raw as that rash has broken open somewhat. To sit in a bath would aggravate that and invite infection. I will wash each area carefully applying salve as needed and avoiding abrading the skin.”
The raised voices, well Adam’s loud raspy voice, had brought Ben up the stairs to his son’s room to find out what was wrong. He stepped in and asked.
“Pa, she thinks she can give me a bath.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“I’m not a baby.”
“Then stop acting like one. She wouldn’t have suggested it unless it was necessary. She has a lot of experience caring for patients and keeping them alive.” Turning to Monica, Ben was apologetic. “I’m sorry, but he has never been a good patient. I’m afraid I taught him to be so self-reliant and independent that he doesn’t know how to accept help even when he needs it so much.”
“I rather gathered that much. Now, if you would ask Hop Sing to send up more water and some cloths and towels, I’ll be able to take care of this before the dinner hour.”
“Only if I agree.” Adam was still defiant.
“Oh, do I have to ask your father to stay and help?”
Defeated, Adam could only glare at both of them. At least they had the good grace not to smile although for Ben Cartwright, it was difficult. As he walked down the stairs, he was grinning broadly though. Adam endured being bathed as if he was being scraped with glasspaper. He was loath to admit it actually was a pleasant experience, and some of the itchiness disappeared as Monica had said it would. He was much more comfortable when she was done, but again, he wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of admitting that either. Of course, he didn’t have to say it. He wasn’t squirming or attempting to scratch various spots so it was clear she had managed to soothe the worst symptoms of the rash as well as any other skin irritations he had from spending so much idle time in bed and sweating quite a bit now as the fever was breaking. The slightly sour smell was gone too which he noticed as well embarrassing Adam a bit as he realized others must have noticed the odor in the room. He said nothing, and it was his silence that let Monica know what he must have been thinking.
“It’s fairly normal for patients as they begin to recover to realize more about their condition. They should know that those who care for them do not notice such things when there are more serious matters to concern them. However now when they might notice, we have taken care of any situation that might be an issue.”
“How about if I start wearing some clothing too. I’d like to put on a shirt and some other clothing.” He wanted to say drawers but wouldn’t admit that to her.
“Perhaps in a few days, you can start wearing a soft cotton nightshirt. At this point though, even that could be a problem as you still have some rather raw areas on your shoulders and upper back. It would chafe and quite possibly cause some slight bleeding. In your recuperation, Doctor Martin’s instructions were to avoid any possible infection if at all possible.”
Monica didn’t know why she was talking so much. A simple no would have sufficed unless he objected. Instead she had rambled on most likely because she was a bit distracted looking at that chest all day. The thought of looking at it and those muscular arms and shoulders for a few more days was disconcerting at best and downright distracting at worst because there were parts of her mind trying to go places she definitely thought it best not to go. Noticing Adam staring at her, she asked if there was something he wanted.
“No, but you looked like you were having quite a conversation in your head there. What was the topic?”
“Now that is truly none of your business.”
The slight blush to her cheeks and her unwillingness to look at him gave him all the clues he needed. While she kept busy tidying up the room and then going to see about some dinner for him, he thought about how he might have some fun later with what he knew. The opportunity presented itself after he had a light meal of another biscuit, a small portion of mashed potatoes with gravy, and some applesauce. As Monica ate her meal, he complained of being warm. Inch by inch, he edged the sheet down until it was at his waist. Before he could go any further, she sighed deeply and put down her utensils.
“All right, you have discovered a way to torture me in retaliation for me doing my job. Please cover yourself now or I’m not sure I can keep doing this work here.”
With a grin, Adam pulled the sheet back up and to help her out, covered most of his chest and then tugged it up to his chin looking at her with all the innocence of a schoolboy. When she looked over at him, she burst out in laughter releasing the tension that had built up.
“You are terrible.”
“I thought I was being funny.”
“What’s funny?” Ben stepped into the room with two plates. “Hop Sing made some pie. He has a very small piece here for Adam and a regular piece for you, Miss Monica.”
“Thank you, Mister Cartwright. Please thank Hop Sing for me. He is such a wonderful man. You must be so pleased that he works for you.”
“Yeah, thank him for me too but not too much seeing as how I got a sliver of my favorite pie.”
“He knows you can’t eat too much yet, Adam. I’m sure he’ll bake another when you’re feeling better.”
“Would that be after the roundup and cattle drive and you all get back home?”
“Excuse me. You all get back home? Does that mean you are all leaving for some time?”
“Yes, didn’t Doctor Martin tell you? The reason we needed a nurse was because we have a roundup and cattle drive coming up. Otherwise we would have had time to care for Adam ourselves.”
“You will all be leaving? I didn’t know that. He said you would be busy and gone from the house. I had no idea he meant for that length of time. He said something about a roundup and drive. I guess I didn’t realize that wealthy men like you would go along on something like that.”
“It’s a working ranch. We all work here. That’s how Adam got sick. He was up riding fence lines and came down with this mountain sickness that men sometimes get. Luckily he didn’t get a very bad case.”
“I know. Doctor Martin said that some have died from it. None in my care ever did, but I did have some who had permanent disabling conditions as a result.”
Adam had been quiet as his father and Monica talked but paid attention when he heard that. Now he wondered what kind of conditions could result. Paul had never mentioned anything like that to him, and from the look on his father’s face, he hadn’t ever heard that either. Ben saw Adam looking at him and thought quickly of a way to turn the subject back to the original topic.
“Hop Sing has arranged for a cousin to be here to do all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. His English isn’t as good as Hop Sing’s but Adam can speak the basic language with him because Hop Sing taught him quite a bit when he was younger.”
“I don’t know that it’s proper for me to stay here with Adam without supervision. What will people say?”
“Any of them will know that if Adam has been confined to bed by Doctor Martin, he is in no condition to be a reason for them to gossip. Now, I’m sure there won’t be a problem. Do you think Paul Martin would have recommended you for this job if he thought there was an issue?”
“No, I suppose not.”
Ben talked over the situation with Hoss and Joe at dinner. During roundup, one of them found a reason to be back at the house at night. Monica appreciated that they had concern for her feelings. But then it was the drive, and they were all gone and wouldn’t be back for a month. She knew Adam would be recovered before that time enough to be out of bed and taking care of himself, but for perhaps two weeks yet, she needed to be there to help.
What made things far worse in her mind at least was that although she had promised that he could wear a soft cotton nightshirt, it didn’t happen. The weather turned unseasonably hot for June and the rash responded as most were wont to do and became hotter and worse again. So, he was unable to cover himself and she had to bathe the areas more often to cool them and keep them clean so there would be no chance of infection. When they played cribbage, she found that she could mostly concentrate on looking at her cards or at the board as she pegged. That kept her eyes from Adam’s physique and her mind from the ideas that inspired.
However, after a few days, Adam suggested a new activity. As he napped less, he grew a bit jealous of Monica reading while he lay in bed. He wanted to read, but she said it wasn’t the best idea while he still had the rash. She was afraid he would strain his eyes.
“Then read to me, or better yet, help me read.”
They tried all sorts of contortions to make that second option work. The more they failed, the more Adam tried to think of a solution. Monica couldn’t sit by his side because she was too upright compared to his position on the pillows. She couldn’t extend the book for both to see because as a petite woman, her arms were too short and certainly not strong enough to do that for more than a couple of minutes. Finally, Adam suggested what to him was the only practical solution but was one that shocked Monica.
“Why don’t you sit beside me on the bed so we can both see the both equally well?”
Monica stammered, and as Hoss would say, hemmed and hawed, but finally agreed that it was the only solution that would work. She carefully slid onto the bed next to Adam to hold the book so he could see it. Again, those short arms were an issue. Adam raised an arm and put it around her shoulders drawing her closer to him. That put the book in a perfect position for them to read together except Monica found it difficult to concentrate that first time they were there together. Each day it did become easier until it seemed the most natural thing to slide across the bed and have Adam wrap an arm around her shoulders so they could spend a couple of hours reading together. Sometimes they talked too.
“You could start wearing that night shirt.”
“I thought you said I should wait for cooler weather.”
“I did, and it is, but more importantly, the rash is getting better.”
“Do you want me to wear a night shirt, because frankly, I prefer not to wear anything when I’m in bed?”
“Don’t say those things to me.”
“Hmm, does that mean you find me attractive?”
“You know darn well what I mean, and stop teasing me.”
“All right. I don’t want you to be mad.”
“I think you know why. I don’t want you to go away. I never met anyone who liked to play cribbage.”
Monica didn’t know what she wanted him to say exactly, but that wasn’t it. He must have felt her tense up and knew he had been too flippant.
“I like you a lot. When I finally get out of here and all healed up, I’d like to see you. Would you be willing to allow that?”
Now, that was a lot more like what Monica wanted to hear. “Yes, I can’t see a patient, but when you’re no longer my patient, I would like that.”
They had played cribbage for a couple of hours that morning after she had taken care of putting salve on all his rash areas. Then they had an early lunch, and now had read for a couple of hours. Adam was tired. He leaned his head against hers and closed his eyes. It felt so natural and comfortable to be by her side that he fell asleep quickly. Monica didn’t want to disturb him and was a bit tired herself. She closed her eyes to take what she assumed would be a short nap as Adam’s naps had become about a half hour in duration over the past week. It was shorter than that though with some screeches from the doorway. Both Monica and Adam opened their eyes startled to see a contingent of ladies from the church standing at his bedroom door some clearly now praying. One was looking at them with that fire and brimstone stare.
“You should be ashamed. Those who should know about this will be informed.”
With that, the ladies left. Monica wanted to run after them to explain, but she didn’t know how she could in any way that they would believe. Adam said the one thing that wouldn’t make the situation worse because there were many things he could have said that would have done that. Instead he made a single sincere declaration.
“Oh, Adam, what am I going to do. I’ll never get a job after this.”
“You won’t need one.”
“You finish this job, and then we’ll get married.”
“Why not? You like me, you find me attractive, and I’ve been told I’m a good catch. Besides, there’s that other thing.”
“What other thing?”
“I love you.”
No man or no person in fact had ever been able to make Monica speechless. Adam did it at that moment. He guessed it might be the only time in their lifetimes that he would accomplish it, but he felt good about doing it once. He waited for her answer, but instead, she started to cry. Now he had heard women did all sorts of things when men asked them to marry them. Crying wasn’t supposed to be one of them.
“I know I’m not good at this proposal stuff, but I didn’t do it that badly, did I? Monica, I do love you. I want to marry you. Is there anything else I can say that will make you stop crying?”
“I can’t marry you. I’m too old. Oh, why didn’t I meet you fifteen years ago.”
“You’re not too old. You’re my age. We’re not too old to get married. People who are our age or older get married all the time.”
“But I’m too old to have children.”
“I didn’t ask you to have children. If God wants that for us, it will happen, but I know it might not. If I was so all fired sure I wanted children, I would have gotten married fifteen years ago too. I want a woman at my side with whom I can enjoy my life and feel fulfilled. Someone who will be there when I need her and want the best for me, and I’ll do the same for her. And in the evenings, there’s always chess and cribbage.”
“In the evenings, there better be a lot more than that.”
She wasn’t crying any more, and he guessed he had his answer.
“When can I put on some clothes so we can go ahead and do this?”
“You could wear clothing now if it wasn’t tight.”
He never knew a first kiss could be so sweet or that he would regret it ending so much. However, there were no more requests for him to wear a nightshirt, and Monica no longer had to turn away from views of that chest or anything else. In fact, Adam rather liked baths with her now although it seemed to always lead to other activities making her quite glad that his rash was clearing up.
Two weeks later, Ben, Hoss, and Joe arrived home tired and dusty but glad to be back and anxious to see Adam. They walked into the house and noticed several things including that there seemed to be a lot of flowers in vases about the great room. There also was a woman’s hat on the hat rack and a woman’s jacket on the coat rack. The dining table had one extra chair there. Adam stood up from the settee and pulled Monica up beside him. The contrast of the petite, blond lady standing beside the tall muscular man in black was striking, but Adam’s arm was around her waist.
“Hello, glad you all made it back safely.”
“Yes, son, and glad to see you’re healthy and all is well here. Is there anything you have to tell us?”
“Oh, not too much. We had some damage from a storm, but it’s all fixed. Hop Sing’s cousin had to leave because of a family emergency. Oh, and I got married.”
It was what Hoss and Joe were waiting for. They rushed their brother and new sister-in-law as Ben beamed. Dinner that evening was a celebration, and Ben insisted there would be a party. It was then that Adam told the story. He had his brothers in stitches, but his father was concerned.
“Pa, we’re married. It wouldn’t be the first time there was talk about a Cartwright marriage. Who cares? We love each other and nothing is going to stop us from having a wonderful life.”
“Too bad you had to sort through the whole deck to find the ace, hey, Adam?”
Frowning at Joe, Adam knew he was going to have to explain that to Monica. It didn’t take long. Soon she was asking about that deck, but that’s another story.
“You can always come home.” Ben Cartwright had stood next to him with a hand on his shoulder and told him that years earlier. He could remember that clearly as well as many other things but couldn’t remember what had landed him in the hospital and told the investigators as much. The doctors confirmed to them that it wasn’t unusual in such cases for men to remember things from years ago quite clearly even if their memories of current events were blank. So, Adam Cartwright lay in his hospital bed with his right arm in a splint, bandages around his head and chest, and numerous bruises and abrasions on his body. He had visitors but showed no recognition of any of them.
For him, the most painful of those visits had been when Monica was there with some of their close friends. She had tears in her eyes for most of the visit that was almost immediately after he had gained consciousness and had little time to assess his situation.
“But Adam, we’re married.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know you. I don’t know anyone here.”
“You will remember me. I know you will.”
“The doctors aren’t so sure of that. From what they have told me so far, I may never remember what I have lost. They told me I was in a blast and the blast caused a brain injury. I’m seeing double and I don’t know if that will go away either.” He had talked to her clinically and as if she was a stranger. He had to do it because of the amnesia. From the look on her face, he could tell she was devastated not only by the news but by his attitude toward her. He knew the news was grim.
In fact, the doctors had told him he had suffered two brain injuries. One came from the blast, and the other from hitting the street outside as the blast propelled him through the open door where he had been standing on that unusually hot night in San Francisco almost a week earlier. If not for that quirk in the weather, he would be dead as his partner was. In fact, there had been nothing left of their offices or of the papers and other records inside. There had been another body in that room as well, but as yet, he was unidentified. Adam couldn’t help them with the identification because he told them he had no idea why he was at the office and didn’t even know what he had been doing for the previous months. In reality, the only memory he had lost was who the man was who was in the office with him and Matt and of anything they may have discussed shortly before the blast.
Despite his heartless treatment of her, Monica promised to visit again the next day when it was allowed, but when Adam gave a noncommittal answer, she burst into tears and left the room. Adam could hear them talking outside his door. Surprisingly, his hearing had returned with no damage. Their friends were clear in their opinions of the situation.
“Not only does he have no memory of you, he has no job, no assets, and with the rumors circulating about, no likelihood of future employment here or anywhere.”
“He has no future, Monica. He has no prospects. He may not recover from his injuries and then you would be saddled with an invalid besides all else.”
“We know he looked like a good husband only a short time ago, but that has all changed. It is time for you to forget him as he has forgotten you. You should divorce him and find another more suitable husband.”
Those blond curls of hair about her face and that smile had briefly brightened his day and he hated to let her go, but he knew it was the right thing to do. Their friends were mostly correct in their assessment. There was only one thing they got wrong. Adam did have his memory. He was faking the amnesia. Having known enough people who had actually suffered it, he knew what to do and what to say. With enough experience attending the theatre and knowing actors as well as playing roles while negotiating, he had some experience at putting on a show. He was drawing on every talent he had to pull off this charade because his life depended on it, and he could only hope they didn’t try to kill him in his hospital bed. There he had no defense at all.
When he had first awakened, he had been confused and disoriented. The doctors had assumed he couldn’t remember what had happened and had trouble answering even the simplest questions. As he was able to think about things, Adam had decided that for the time being at least, that was the way to play it.
As the hours moved on, he continued to do whatever was necessary to reinforce that original diagnosis. He knew too much, and in some ways, not enough. With no evidence to back up what he said, there wasn’t going to be a conviction, so all he could do was put himself in jeopardy by telling now what he knew. His partner had figured it out first as he was the one who did the ledgers and figured out their finances as Adam handled the negotiations and did the work on the site with their contract. There was something wrong with the billing that was going on and his partner Matt had dug into it until he was sure what it was. Then he explained it to Adam and they began collecting what they needed to bring the whole scam to the authorities. They were only fooling themselves though thinking that no one would notice what they were doing. Clearly, they had been watched as they went about their business. A week earlier, they had sat together in Matt’s office discussing if they had enough material to turn over to the authorities in state government whom Adam knew to be honest. Adam had gone to open the door to let in some fresh air when he heard breaking glass and the next thing he knew, he was in the hospital.
One thing Adam didn’t know was the identity of the other man who was killed, but his guess was that it was probably their foreman from the construction site. He’d been bringing them reports, and he was a smart man and may have figured out too what was happening. That theory fell apart when the foreman visited him in the hospital.
“Hey, Mister Cartwright, it’s good to see you looking so good. From what we heard, we thought you was nearly killed.”
“I guess I was according to the doctors. I got lucky. Now, I sincerely apologize, but although I’m sure by what you’ve said that I should know you, I don’t.”
“No. I can’t seem to remember anything that I’m supposed to know or want to know. There was a pretty lady here who said we were married.”
“Yes. She seemed very upset, but I couldn’t lie and say I remembered her.”
“That must have been very difficult for her.”
“I think it was, but the people with her seemed almost happy and stood out there in the hall where I could hear and told her it was for the best. They told her to find someone better.”
“You can remember that.”
“Yes, I can remember things that happen now. I can remember a lot of useless things from years ago but not what I’ve been doing recently especially these last six months or so. Even from before that time, I have trouble remembering any people. I haven’t known a single one of my visitors. It’s embarrassing.”
“Well, maybe when you get up out of bed and back to work, you’ll remember.”
“The doctors don’t think so, and I don’t know that I’ll be going back to work. I don’t have a partner, and from what the police have told me, I don’t have a business any more either. I’d have trouble doing any drawing now anyway.”
“I’m seeing double. I don’t know if I’ll ever see straight again.”
“So, I guess I have to find another job.”
“I wish I could tell you different, but that’s the way it is.”
The foreman had wished him luck, but Adam had the feeling that he had passed some sort of test with the foreman’s visit. For the next week, he followed his doctors’ orders so he could pass their tests too. It wasn’t that he had suddenly become a compliant patient. He worried that he was too vulnerable in the hospital and that he might slip with the amnesia charade. It was a difficult thing to manage especially as his health improved and he wanted to talk with people. It was the most difficult every time Monica visited. He was thankful for the restrictions the hospital put on visitation with him. He didn’t think he could manage the charade with her much longer, but as difficult as it was to pull of the charade in the hospital, he was certain he couldn’t do it at home with his wife.
The last visit with Monica was the most difficult of all and set him on a new course. She told him the house had been ransacked and that furniture was ripped apart, paintings torn out of frames, and everything strewn about.
“What’s going on, Adam? I came home to find our home in shambles.”
“Perhaps, you need to go live with your family where it’s safe.”
“You are my family. My father died years ago. Well, I suppose you have forgotten that.” Except she had given him that look that said she was skeptical and her voice held an edge of sarcasm. “The only family I have is on the Ponderosa and right here.”
“Perhaps you could take a trip and get away from all this. Maybe my memory will be better in a few months.”
The brush off and rejection hurt her. He knew it, but he was trying to protect her. If anyone was listening, they would know she knew nothing. She walked out with a stiff posture and no look back. He knew she was angry, but he kept the blank look he was perfecting for this scam.
The investigators came back again and then once more that day, and he could tell they were skeptical too of his diagnosis. He worked hard to convince them that he couldn’t remember. They asked questions in many forms trying to trick him. He managed to evade their traps, but it was exhausting. Finally, he was released by the doctors and given permission to go to his home.
With a month left on his lease, he guessed he wouldn’t be able to renew the lease. Although to maintain his cover story, he was going to have to ask his landlord how much time he had left on that lease. The man was a money-grubbing leech but generally honest so he hoped he would give Monica the full month even if the man might want to rid himself of such a disreputable tenant as Adam. Oh, yes, Adam knew there were whispers and rumors about him. When investigators continually show up to talk to you, there were bound to be rumors. Surviving an explosion that kills your partner and an unknown man and then having amnesia seemed too convenient to a local reporter who had made some insinuations in an article that had fed the rumors. Adam had overheard enough in the hospital to know that he was facing some negative reactions when he got out of that bed. So when he saw the landlord, he told him he was leaving town and Monica would be remaining in the house. That seemed to make the man less concerned.
Although Adam managed to get money from his bank to pay his expenses at the hospital, all he had to wear when he left were the damaged clothing he had been wearing when he was injured by the blast. He was lucky that he was able to get transportation to a store considering how he looked. When he walked in the door of the establishment, he got some nasty stares, but when he made a substantial order of clothing and a leather valise to hold it all, they obliged him.
When Adam had clothing to wear, he stopped at a stationery store, bought a compact folio, and composed a letter. It was perhaps the most difficult letter writing he had ever done. Not only did he have to tell his father he was coming home, he had to tell him the story of what had happened, and then he lied to his father and told him about the amnesia. There was little doubt in Adam’s mind that he was being watched. Both sides were most likely interested in him and whether the amnesia was real and whether it would last. He felt he had to lie to his father. What he didn’t know was whether he would keep up the pretense when he got home. He needed help and a place to live, but he was afraid of what he might be bringing down on his family. He made arrangements for travel to Nevada, worked out a deal with the landlord for Monica to stay in their home, and spent a short time at his lawyer’s office and at the bank making various arrangements. Knowing how easy it would be to be killed on his trip, he conveniently forgot how to make the connections at his first transfer and had to make new arrangements. Then he did the same at the next stop. If anyone was following him, he made it as difficult as possible but also tried to make it appear that he was as damaged as the doctors had thought.
When Adam arrived in Placerville, he realized they had figured out that he would get there eventually. He recognized one man waiting on the platform where he was supposed to get off the stage he had taken. Luckily, he had already transformed into his western look. As soon as he could on the trip, he had shaved his beard, trimmed his hair to minimize the gray, and went into a store to buy all black clothing, a black hat, a pistol rig and boots. With a little dust applied, he looked like any cowboy, but more so, he looked like Adam Cartwright from Nevada, not the one who had been doing a construction project in San Francisco for nearly four months. The men pursuing him wouldn’t know what he looked like now even if they guessed that they could intercept him at any number of place.
In Placerville, Adam passed the test when he had to walk past the man he had recognized as that man stood with another man watching men disembark from the stage. The man never gave him a second look as he walked by him. Nervous though so close to home, Adam waited for someone to call him by name. If anyone did, he was ready to fight but concerned that innocent people would be hurt in the process. It was the usual collateral damage from any shooting in town. Not only was there a strong possibility of property damage, but any person who didn’t seek cover immediately was as likely to be shot as anyone actively involved in shooting. Shootouts were too chaotic to control so he preferred that there wouldn’t be one. He took a room for the night but found sleep difficult. The rest was important though as his head was pounding, and he knew his ribs and kidneys needed the break. The next day, he bought a horse and began the trip overland to the Ponderosa knowing it would be difficult and slow. Passage on the stage line without trouble and without being recognized was getting too risky. He had already been recognized by one stage driver but luckily the man had seen Adam’s signal to be quiet and had not said anything.
“I’ll be getting off in Placerville. I told my family I would send word when I got close to home so if you could tell Sheriff Coffee that’s where I left and to let my family know, I would appreciate it.”
“You in trouble, Adam?”
“Not for anything I did but for what I know others did. You keep that to yourself though.”
“All right. I ain’t drove stage for nigh onto forty years without learning how to keep folks’ secrets.”
“I know. That’s why I told you. I had no call to lie to you.”
“Never knew you to be one to lie to nobody.”
“Trying to stay alive makes a man do things he never expected to do.”
“I suppose that’s about right. Well, it’s good to have your company. Want me ta tell ya some of what your brothers been up to that your pappy ain’t likely told you about?”
So, Adam rode on top with the driver and got to forget about his troubles for a time and laugh. He realized that he hadn’t done that in a long time and it felt good. By the time he got to Placerville and climbed down, he was more confident that maybe things would work out all right. Stiff and sore from the ride, he was at least feeling a bit better emotionally but that didn’t last. Even the difficult overland trip and spending a night camping didn’t weaken his feeling that things would work out. But then his good luck expired.
The improved mood didn’t last because it was an angry Joe who saw him first and rode to escort him home and not his father. Joe hardly spoke to him except to tell him what he needed to know or do to get home. When he arrived at the ranch house, he hoped his father or Hoss would tell him what was going on. His father wasn’t there, but Hoss was.
“All right, Joe’s treating me like I’m bringing the plague to the Ponderosa. Pa isn’t here to explain, so maybe you would like to tell me what’s going on.”
“It’s not so much that I’d like to, but I reckon I gotta. Some men took Pa. They’re willing to give him back for the ransom.”
“What do they want?”
Although shocked by that, after a moment’s reflection, Adam knew he shouldn’t have been. They were outmaneuvering him at every turn. Joe stared at him with that angry pout for which he was famous, and Hoss looked hopeful that Adam would have a plan to extricate their father without sacrificing himself. All Adam could do though was to say they ought to go into the house, and he would tell them the truth. Neither brother seemed to notice how stiffly he dismounted or that he nearly stumbled when he first began to walk to the house.
When Adam finished telling his story, Hoss frowned but Joe had questions mostly about why Adam hadn’t told them sooner.
“I was being watched. I didn’t know how to tell you without them finding out. My life wasn’t worth a nickel if I told you what was actually happening.”
“So instead you did that to my father.”
“Joe, it ain’t right for you to talk that way.”
“Why not, Hoss? He leaves for months, and when he comes back, he always brings trouble.”
“Not always, Joe.”
Choosing not to tell his brothers of his physical discomfort from traveling so soon after being injured severely, and refusing too at this point to rise to the bait Joe had thrown out, Adam stuck to the most important matter.
“When is this exchange supposed to take place?”
“As soon as we could find you, we’re supposed to send word. They’ll name the place then and we will need to go directly there, or rather you will. Anything else and they said they’d kill Pa.”
“They’ll be watching.”
“I figured on that.” Hoss paused. “Adam, you ain’t figuring on doing it, are ya? I mean, it seems they mean to kill ya.”
“I’m betting they want to question me first. That should buy some time. Maybe you and our brother here might be persuaded I’m worth rescuing once Pa is free of them? Do you have any idea where they might be holding him?”
“I wish I did. He was on his way back from Carson City. He went there to get some things for the party he was gonna have when you got back and to see if there was any more news about ya. The bank branch there had sent some messages about some business you had done with them there. Pa was gonna talk to ’em about that. I hafta tell ya, Pa was real happy you was coming home. He was sorry about the amnesia thing but purty pleased about the rest. I don’t know what he’s going to think hearing the rest of this.”
“Have you told Roy or let him know what is happening?”
“No, the note said they would know if we alerted the authorities. We guessed that meant that they probably bought off one of Roy’s deputies, but there ain’t no way of knowing which one.”
“Is Clem still working for Roy?”
“Yeah, he is. I think he’ll probably run for the job in the next election. Roy’s about ready to step down.”
“My father is facing another night in the hands of Adam’s enemies, and all you can talk about are Roy and Clem and who’s doing what?”
“Joe, calm down. What me and Adam are getting at is that Clem can be trusted. We need to get word to him so he can let Roy know. There’s not much they can do or say to anybody, but they can start doing something even if it’s checking out who’s new in town. Roy likes to do that anyhow.”
Somewhat mollified, Joe was quiet until Adam offered his next idea.
“Tell them where I will meet them. They can bring Pa there and release him when they have me. That way you will at least know where I started out with them.”
“No!” Joe was outraged and adamant. “You will not play one of your games with Pa’s life.”
“Joe, I’m not playing with his life.”
“You’re betting they won’t kill him and then go to where you are and take you. If that’s not betting on knowing what they’ll do, I don’t know what is. You did it once before and got lucky. How do you know you’ll be lucky again.”
“It’s not luck, it’s logic. They won’t know I’m there unless they come to see me. They won’t dare kill Pa before they do that. They will either bring him with them or leave him where he is. Either way, you will have a lead on Pa. It’s the best way I see to keep him alive.”
“Why not do what they say? They might kill him before they go see you.”
“No, because if I’m not there, they still need him so they won’t kill him outright. But if I go to them, they may kill Pa as soon as they have me, and you won’t know where either of us are at first. It gives them too much time.”
Hoss put a hand on Joe’s shoulder. “It’s the best idea we’ve had so far, little brother. Up to now, we had no idea what we was gonna do. At least now, we kin start getting ready picking a place and figuring out what we’re gonna do.”
Reluctant to endorse the plan, Joe had no specific objections either so he nodded in reluctant affirmation of what had been said and made an offer of help as well.
“Should I go talk to Clem?”
Quick to respond, Adam tried to soften his rejection by asking for his help. “No, they’re watching. It has to be someone they would never suspect. Who would you suggest for that?”
“That’s pretty easy. We’ve got a new man that is trustworthy enough that I’d give him a job like this. Hoss, don’t you think so?”
“I do. I think Candy’s our man for this.”
Hoss took over knowing Joe would likely be too abrasive in the mood he was in. “He’s been a good friend even though he hasn’t been here that long. He’s smart too. He’ figures things out as he goes. If anybody can do this and not get found out, it’s him.”
“All right, then we need to get him in here and tell him the whole thing. Can he remember it all and any more we have to tell him?”
Joe was about to make a remark to that when Hoss held up a hand. “It’s a fair question. He don’t know Candy like we do. Now why don’t you go get him and we’ll all put our heads together and work something out here.”
“I’ll have Hop Sing get him and bring him in through the kitchen.”
“That’s good thinking. I don’t know how many they have watching, but being careful in the extreme like that is the best thing to do. Thank you for thinking of it.”
That did help calm Joe down. Both Hoss and Adam knew how on edge he was any time their father was in any jeopardy. Hoss was glad Adam was still sensitive to that. When Candy came in, he was introduced to Adam and seemed noncommittal. After a short time, Adam looked at him and called a halt to the discussion.
“Listen, if you don’t trust me or want to do this with me, you should say something now before this goes any further.”
“Aw, Adam, I’m sure Candy don’t mean nothing by the way he is.”
“Don’t speak for me, Hoss. I can say my piece without any help. He’s admitted lying to his father and to the two of you. He wrote and told you he had amnesia. That was a bald faced lie. Now he wants all of us to believe he’s telling the truth about things. Why should we believe him?”
“Candy, whatever I may have said about Adam, my brother is not a liar.”
“Joe, he already admitted he is.”
Taking a deep breath, Adam decided to have it out with the three. “All right, I lied once. It is the only time in my life that I told an outright lie to my father. I thought it was the right thing to do at the time. It wasn’t. I could have found another way, but I didn’t trust anyone. I could blame the head injuries, but I think it’s because I have trouble trusting people in general. I could trust Monica but I thought I was protecting her by keeping all of this from her. I’m afraid now of what may happen to her. I thought the only people I could trust were here. I thought I could come here and take care of things and hopefully tell the truth. Then I got here and found that the lie meant my family couldn’t protect themselves from the trouble that had engulfed me. Yes, it is all my fault, and the lie I told is a big part of that. If you think that makes me untrustworthy, then I guess I should ride into town and let them take me. You could follow them then and find out where they’re keeping Pa if they don’t kill him after they kill me.”
The other three were quiet for a time as Hoss and Joe waited to see what Candy would say. Adam leaned back in his chair not sure of any of them. Finally, Candy leaned forward.
“You as good at making plans as you are at making speeches?”
“I hope so for my father’s sake as well as my own.”
“Well, we best get to it then.”
In the way of men, Adam had his answer. Candy was giving him the benefit of the doubt and was willing to work with him. They talked about what was going to happen and how Clem and Roy could help without arousing suspicion. By the time they finished, there was only one concern left and Hoss expressed it first although Candy had been thinking it.
“I see one problem in your planning older brother. Ifn we get Pa back, it’s gonna take some time to figure out where you are. You say they’re gonna want to talk with you. I assume you aren’t going to be willing to talk with them. It could get mighty ugly for you before we find you.”
Candy supported that idea. “Yeah, Adam, depending on who they may have hired, some of these men out here know a lot about how to make a man talk.”
“I won’t talk. I’ll still try to hold onto the amnesia thing as long as I can to try to convince them I don’t remember anything of what they’re worrying about so much.”
“Then Hoss is right. It’s going to be ugly because they’re not going to believe that if they followed you this far and went to this extreme to get to you.”
There was a long silence before Adam answered them. “I know. I hope that means you’ll hurry along in your tracking.”
There was nothing left to say about the plan. Joe walked with Candy to the kitchen. “Your brother is facing a rough time, Joe. Does he know how bad it could get?”
“Your brother is a brave man.”
“I know. Sometimes I forget, but then things like this remind me. He’ll do anything for family, and he’s carrying a load of guilt right now. I didn’t help any with that.”
“Kinda blew up at him and got your frustrations out?”
“Yeah, you know me.”
“You know what to do now, don’t you?”
“Yeah, while you ride to town, I’ll be talking to him. He’ll need to get going soon too to get up to that canyon before we deliver that message.”
“Good luck. I hope when I meet you next, we both have good news to share.”
As Candy rode to town, Adam and Joe made an uneasy peace. Candy also met a lady driving a carriage toward the Ponderosa. He was on a mission and didn’t think a woman posed a threat. There were two men on guard duty so that was an additional precaution that would ensure no trouble. He thought she might even be lost. He never saw the two men riding behind her.
A half hour later, there was a knock on the door of the Ponderosa ranch house and Joe answered. He turned with a smirk toward Adam and Hoss.
“There’s a woman here who says she knows you, Adam.”
When Monica stepped into the room, the surprise overwhelmed Adam and he said her name before remembering he wasn’t supposed to know her.
“I knew it. I knew you knew who I was in the hospital. I knew something was wrong, and now some people are acting so strangely. When those detectives showed up, I was sure you had your memory. Why else would you make arrangements for my protection? I got money together and came out here to see you, and then in town, I saw some of your former employees. Adam, what is going on?”
Although Adam wanted to deny everything she had said, one of the things that had attracted him to her was her intelligence. He thought he had fooled her and had been wrong about that. He couldn’t think of what to say because suddenly things were so much more complicated than he had ever imagined they would be.
“I’m a lot more pleased ta see ya than that, Miss Monica. It’s been too long since you two left. Place hasn’t been the same without you.”
“Thank you, Hoss. I’m glad to be home.”
Monica put a strong emphasis on the word ‘home’ as she looked back at Adam. Joe was the next to welcome her and then they turned to Adam next wondering what he would say now that he had a little time to compose himself.
“I told Monica the same story I told everyone else. I hired some men to protect her before I left. I wonder where they are now.”
There was a knock at the door, and one of the men informed them that they had two men under guard who said they were Pinkerton detectives hired by Adam to protect his wife. Adam told the man to bring them to the house.
“All right, now she says she recognizes some of the people who are in town. This is a whole lot worse than I ever thought.”
“Adam, what are you saying?”
“Only what you must have suspected when you came out here.”
“These men are part of the mess that got you hurt. I’m going back to town to tell the sheriff who they are so he can arrest them.”
Turning to his brothers, Adam was stern. “She can’t leave here and go to town and say anything about this.”
“You can’t keep me here against my will. There are laws against that.”
Turning back to Monica, Adam was just as forceful. “Listen to me. They tried to waylay me on the way here. They failed so they kidnapped my father, and they’ll kill him if they don’t get me. We have a plan, but you saying anything jeopardizes that so it puts our father’s life at risk. I won’t allow that.”
“You won’t allow it! I have something to say about that.”
“No, ma’am, you don’t. Like our brother said, you could make it more likely our Pa gets killed. We ain’t gonna let that happen. You’re staying here ifn we hafta lock you in the cellar.”
Monica reconsidered. “Perhaps there is some way I could help.”
“Best way for you to help us, ma’am, is to do like my older brothers are telling you. Stay put and stay out of our way.”
“How about if I go to town with these two detectives and point out the men I recognized. Wouldn’t that help? Sheriff Coffee would know who is part of the plot then.”
“Adam, she’s got a point there.”
“Well, she can’t go directly to Roy, and she doesn’t know Candy, or for that matter, Clem.” Adam didn’t like involving his wife in this mess. “Who will keep her safe?”
Hoss snapped his fingers. “Hop Sing could go with her. He knows ’em both. She’ll have Hop Sing then and the two detectives you hired to protect her. We can even send word for Candy to stick with her too.”
The plan needed some refining, and when the two Pinkertons and Hop Sing were brought into the discussion, they worked out the details. Adam still didn’t like his wife being at risk at all, but all the others pointed out that she would be far safer than anyone else with at least four men guarding her. The biggest objection of all though came from Monica when she heard what Adam intended to do.
“Oh, no, you are not sacrificing yourself.” Looking at Hoss and Joe, she was furious. “And you were going to let him do that? What is wrong with you two? He’s your brother! He was seriously hurt. He only got out of the hospital less than a week ago.” She saw from their reactions that they didn’t know that, and she knew Adam was good at hiding things.
Hoss didn’t need to know any more though. “You got bandages under that shirt and coat, Adam? I wondered why you ain’t taken that coat off since you been home.”
There was no answer to the question, but none was needed. Hoss and Joe knew the answer, and it required that they make a few more adjustments to their plan. It didn’t take long, and then it was time for Monica to leave. She was impressed most by Hoss’ creativity. Adam gave her a pocket pistol and pulled her into an embrace whispering in her ear so the others couldn’t hear.
“I love you. I’m sorry.”
Monica spoke softly but forcefully in response. “If you think you’re getting off that easy, cowboy, you need to think again, but we’ll talk about that when this is all over. I love you, though, and we’ll get through it.”
Agreeing with her, Adam nodded, and Monica climbed into the carriage. He didn’t have to tell Hop Sing to take care of her because he knew his friend would protect her with his life if necessary. Then it was time for him to go with two men to the designated spot as Hoss and Joe sent the message and got ready to do their parts. The next morning, the whole plan would be set in motion and everyone had to do what was assigned to them to keep both Ben and Adam safe.
The subject of all the planning, Ben Cartwright was hungry, thirsty, and uncomfortable. He had guessed correctly that his captors didn’t plan to release him no matter what they said because if they did, they would be doing more now to ensure that he survived. After they had abducted him, they had tied him up and left him alone. Where he was in the room next to where they met to discuss their plans, he could hear well enough so he knew what they wanted. The only reason he was still alive was they knew they might have to produce him as live bait to get to his son Adam. According to these men, Adam’s amnesia wasn’t real or they didn’t believe it to be real. On one level, that was welcome news and not at all surprising, but on another level, it meant his son had lied to him and that meant he was likely in some serious trouble here. When Ben heard the offer they had made, he was afraid that Adam would do as they asked. His son was far too noble and self-sacrificing at times, but he hoped Hoss would stop him from doing anything so foolish. Although he could hope too that Joe wouldn’t allow Adam to give himself up to these men, Ben knew his emotional youngest son would have great difficulty thinking logically under these circumstances.
Twisting and turning until muscles cramped, Ben worked for two days at his bindings not to get free of them because his guards checked periodically to be sure he was still securely bound. No, he twisted and did all he could to try to get his hands in a position where he could get to the small pocketknife they had not taken from him. They hadn’t even searched his pockets when they abducted him. His plan was fairly simple. If or when he got that small pocketknife, he was going to hide it under himself until the right moment. He guessed the right moment was when the guards fell asleep at night because that was when there were only two of them. He could cut himself loose then and hopefully get the two by surprise and escape. Once free, he could make sure his eldest son wouldn’t die. That was the plan, but first he had to get to that small knife, and he was getting weaker with no food and no water for two days. It was too much. Exhausted, he closed his eyes.
The next sensation Ben had was being shaken rather hard. He heard voices.
“Wake up. Wake up. You ain’t gonna die on us. Wake up.”
Opening his eyes, Ben saw one of the guards on his knees next to him. Although he looked concerned, it wasn’t out of any humanitarian interest.
“Bud, bring some water and maybe a biscuit or something. I know they said not to give him anything, but they said to keep him alive too. It’s been too long. He’s an old man. He needs something.”
A bit resentful at being called an old man, Ben hid that reaction and feigned an even greater weakness than he felt. The thought of getting water and a biscuit buoyed his spirits greatly because that could certainly improve his odds of success. Water was poured down his throat and he gulped eagerly at it. The biscuit was left on the floor next to him.
“You want it bad enough, you’ll eat it.” Seeing him slightly revived, the two guards were back to their nasty attitudes but at least left the biscuit for him.
Although it was revolting to do so, Ben ate the biscuit that lay on the filthy floor. His son’s life might depend on him getting away, and that food however distasteful could be the key to him doing that. Once he had eaten every crumb, he went back to trying to get a hand near his pocket and found that being pulled sideways by the guard had actually helped. He only had inches left to maneuver and spent the rest of the day doing that fraction of an inch by fraction of an inch until he was there. He wished he could yell out his success but instead was exceedingly careful not to drop the knife on the floor. He got it to the floor and then rolled on top of it to wait for the night.
As late afternoon rolled into evening, two men came to the cabin and talked to his guards. He was gratified to hear the news and knew those men weren’t.
“Damn Cartwrights changed the plan on us and there don’t seem to be any way for us to change it back again.”
“What did they do?”
“Adam, the one we want, is back, but changed the meeting place, and he said he’d meet us at some place called Devil’s Hole Canyon. Described how to get there and told us that he’d be there by morning. He wants us to bring this old man there. We sent a man to check out the area and make sure there’s no trap. If it all checks out, we’ll bring this one there and kill ’em both.”
“I thought they wanted to know where he hid the records.”
“At this point, it’s getting to be too long. They want him gone. Records or no, I guess they figure without a witness, there ain’t gonna be nothing nobody can use. We got his partner and the partner’s lawyer. Who else could have been in on it? They only had about a week or so to find out stuff according to the foreman we had on our payroll.”
“After we kill ’em, then what?”
“After they help us tomorrow, we get rid of the local talent by sending them on a job.”
“Send them on a job?”
“We’re sending them to a project we’re doing in Sacramento. They’ll end up in a foundation ditch for a building. No one will ever find the bodies. Then you and Nate head back to the city and get rid of the foreman. And don’t sell him on the docks to someone looking to shanghai sailors. We want him gone permanently.”
“Why the foreman?”
“He only did it for money. We’re not sure he’ll be loyal. What if somebody else offers him money?”
“Yeah, I get it. All right, we know what to do. We’ll have the old man ready to go in the morning.”
The repeated references to Ben as an old man rather than offending Ben were now boosting his confidence. If they thought of him that way, they were unlikely to expect him to free himself and attack them. He guessed that was a significant advantage. They likely had no suspicions of him then either and were thinking he was feeble based on their treatment of him that afternoon. His eyes adjusted to the darkness as it settled in around him. The sliver of light under the door was only enough to show slight shadows in the room and when it dimmed, he knew they were letting the fire die down and had turned down the lamp. Moving slowly, he worked the knife out from under him, rolled until it was under his hands, and picked it up. Carefully, he opened it and began to cut through the ropes binding him. It took quite a bit of time to do it without making noise and without dropping that small knife. Even such a small utility knife could make a loud enough noise at night. When his hands were free, he relaxed briefly and then cut the ropes binding his arms. That allowed him to sit up and cut his legs and ankles free.
Resting for a bit to get his circulation normalized somewhat, Ben stood carefully after removing his boots. He’d learned a lot of tricks over the years, and moving silently at night was definitely an advantage. Moving to the door, he carefully checked the doorknob to be sure it wasn’t locked. Although he doubted it would be, it would have required an alternate plan if it had been. Opening the door as quietly as he could, he noted where each man was and where their firearms were. The waning light from the fireplace was enough to do that. He moved to the easiest target, disarmed him, and kept him between him and the other man before waking him whispering instructions in his ear as he held a gun to his temple and the small knife to his throat.
“Tell your friend to wake up, and if you want him to stay alive and if you would like to do the same, tell him not to shoot.”
The other man was startled and drew, but he didn’t have a good target with Ben crouched behind his partner in the dim light. Ben ordered the man to drop his gun but he hesitated.
“Bud, drop the gun. He ain’t killed me. If he wanted us dead, I would be already and so would you. He coulda cut my throat and shot you with my gun. Now if you shoot, you’ll kill me, and he’ll kill you. Drop your damn gun.”
Bud listened to Nate who clearly must have been the smarter of the two. Once that happened, Ben told him to sit on the chair opposite Nate. Ben got Bud’s gun and turned up the lamp. Then he got Bud to tie Nate securely to his chair before he had Bud sit again. Ben checked the ropes on Nate and then moved over and tied up Bud. Once he had that done, he wrapped extra rope around both. There was no way he wanted them to be able to get free before morning which wasn’t that far away any more. He took all the ammunition and a rifle he found and ate a couple of biscuits, drank some water, blew out the lamp, and then left without saying anything more. Outside, he saddled one horse and let the other run loose. There was nothing more to do there so he rode to where he had heard the men say they were going to go to kill Adam. As close to dawn as it was, he guessed any plans his sons had made were already in motion, and going to the house wasn’t going to help. Going to his son should help so he headed that way.
About an hour later, the man in charge of the operation arrived at the cabin surprised to see it dark. Entering cautiously, he called out to his men who answered telling him that the old man had surprised them. The lamp was lit and the boss stood there furious to see his men tied and the hostage gone.
“Where did he go?”
Nate answered. “Boss, he must have heard you say yesterday where his son was going to meet you. My guess is that’s where he went.”
Spinning around, the man headed out the door. Bud asked the question Nate wished he had never asked.
“Aren’t you gonna let us loose?”
Their boss stopped in the doorway. “You’re lucky I don’t kill you right now. I’ll decide on whether I’m going to do that later depending on what happens next. If Cartwright survives this day, don’t expect that you will.”
Nate expected that answer but Bud had not. He turned to Nate with terror on his face. What they had done to others suddenly was being visited on them, and he didn’t like the feeling. For the first time, he understood why some of their victims had cried because that was what he wanted to do. Unfortunately for them, Ben had tied them very well. No matter how they struggled, they couldn’t get loose.
Many miles away, Ben arrived at Devil’s Hole Canyon. Many years before, a group of miners had thought to enslave some Paiute boys to work a claim for them. The boys had been badly abused with several having the soles of their feet burned with hot irons so they wouldn’t run away. They were whipped for not working as ordered and poorly fed and housed. Several died from the treatment. The miners had done the same in California years earlier with some of the small tribes there. They had no idea though that trying to do the same in Nevada would lead to their extermination in a most extreme act of revenge at the hands of furious warriors who came to rescue the boys when they found out where they were. The grossly mutilated remains of the miners were found days after the boys were rescued. There were stories of a beast who had come into the canyon and torn them to pieces. That was the legend, but Ben and his family knew what had truly happened. Ben didn’t know why Adam had picked such an unholy spot, but he knew he must have a reason for doing so.
Calling for his son, Ben was surprised to see two heads pop out of the ground and quickly silence him. Both pointed at the mouth of the canyon and then dropped back out of sight. It was then that Ben got his first idea of the plan his sons had put together. They were using some Apache tricks that Hoss and Adam had learned when they had been in Arizona once. Ben didn’t know if those were the only two men hidden away, but there would be no way for anyone riding in to see them. It would look like there was a wide-open expanse leading to the canyon when in fact there were men hidden in small bushes along the route to the canyon mouth. When Ben rode into the canyon, Adam stepped from the old mine with a wry grin.
“I see they couldn’t hold you down for long, you old sea pirate.”
“Why is it that everyone insists on calling me old?”
“That’s the part you don’t like?”
“We’ll talk about the other parts later. It’s good to see you boy. I saw a couple of our men out there. What’s the rest of your plan?”
“Well, some of it was to rescue you, but clearly that’s not necessary any more. Monica came home and is in town with Candy and a couple of others letting Roy and Clem know who some of the men are who are in on this so they can be watched and followed. We guessed they would send a man to check out this spot, so Hoss and Joe are following the trail back to where we thought you were being held. I’m surprised you didn’t see them on the way.”
“The men who had me probably had to use a map and marked roads and trails. I came overland to get here as fast as I could. We can set quite a trap for them now.”
“Yes, even better than what we had thought we could when we thought it was an exchange. It’s going to be fun seeing their faces when they see you.”
“Probably almost as much fun as seeing their faces when those two men pop up out of the ground behind them.”
“Yeah, that should be good too.”
“I’m glad that you weren’t planning to hand yourself over to them to free me.” The way that Adam looked when he said that made Ben pause. He knew then that Adam had been intending to do exactly that at some point. “Oh, Adam, what am I going to do about you. You can’t keep taking all the responsibility for things that go wrong on your own shoulders. You have a wife now and you have to think about keeping yourself safe for her sake at least.”
“Pa, I messed this up so badly. I’m sorry. I lied to you.”
“I know, but it wasn’t much of a lie because I knew you didn’t have amnesia.”
“It never rang true right from the start. When Monica wired that you preferred staying at the hospital, that was the final piece of evidence I needed to know you were faking it. I didn’t know why you were, but I knew you were. Then I got your letter that you were coming home and without Monica. Our banker in San Francisco wired me with the strange instructions you gave him. Don’t worry. He did it through the branch bank in Carson City. That’s why I was there. Unfortunately, I never anticipated being kidnapped.”
“I hope that wasn’t too difficult.”
“It wasn’t pleasant, but I learned quite a bit. I think we may have some keys to what happened in San Francisco especially if Hoss and Joe get to the cabin and find the two men I tied up.”
Ben and Adam heard hoofbeats then and took cover. A group of men rode up close to the mouth of the canyon and yelled for Adam to come out to talk. The men were bunched together. Clearly they had little training in the kind of fighting that takes place out in the open. They were probably men who usually did their dirty work in towns and cities ganging up on their victims in alleyways and such. Adam decided to make his counteroffer.
“Instead of me coming out, why don’t you men throw down your weapons before you get caught in a crossfire.”
One of the men laughed out loud as the others chuckled. “We’ve been watching this place since yesterday. The only one who came in here is your old man. Two against six isn’t very good odds for you and hardly a crossfire for us to worry about. Now you can come out and we won’t go in after him. You make us come in shooting and both of you will go down.”
“No, my original offer stands. Throw down your weapons or get caught in a crossfire.”
The six men drew their weapons and prepared to charge. At that point, Adam and Ben aimed rifles at them and the two men in their hidey holes behind the men stood and aimed their rifles too. The sound of rifles cocking behind them made some of the men twist around and suddenly realize the predicament they were in. Out in the open with no cover and with rifles in front and back wielded by men who had cover was a precarious situation. Pistols wielded by six men on horseback against four men with rifles and cover changed those odds over to the other side. Five of the six men dropped their pistols and raised their shooting hand. The sixth bolted. Ben told them to let him go. They could see more riders coming in and suspected it was Roy anyway.
“We can get him later.”
They had the five men secured when the men coming in turned out to be Hoss and Joe with the two men from the cabin.
“It’s real good to see you, Pa. We heard from these two what you did. Me and Hoss would have been here sooner, but you only left one horse behind. They had to ride double.”
“Yeah, Pa, dadburnit, looks like you boys did a right fine job of it here too.”
“Not bad work for an old man, is it?”
Adam shrugged. “I don’t know, Hoss, but he seems to have a problem with being called ‘old’ for some reason.”
“I am not old.”
“I didn’t say you were, Pa. I said you didn’t like being called old.”
“Well, you implied it.”
Rolling his eyes, Adam looked at his brothers but said nothing more. Ben had a question though and finally time to ask it.
“Why did you pick Devil’s Hole Canyon?”
“Nobody including the locals knows much about it because of what happened here. They all stay away. I knew what actually happened, and I’ve been in the canyon a number of times. I knew there was good cover if there was shooting. I knew there was a clear expanse out here where we could catch them in the open. Hoss suggested then that we dig those two holes for the men to hide in. That worked even better maximizing our firepower.”
“Yeah and it made four seem like a whole lot more too.”
Adam grinned at Hoss then for explaining what he had said. “All right, I guess we should get this whole bunch to town and sort things out.”
“Keep them separated so they can’t talk to each other. I have something to say to some of them that may help you in your case in San Francisco and help us take care of the threat here too.” Ben saw Adam’s frown. “They planned to kill me so they were careless about what was said where I could hear.” That made Adam grin.
As they rode to town with the seven men they had in custody, they met Roy riding out with two deputies. He had apprehended the man the others called ‘boss’ and had him in handcuffs. The man was protesting loudly that he couldn’t be arrested for being out riding, but Ben put a quick end to that.
“Roy, I can testify that this is the man who was in charge of me being kidnapped and who was the one who tried to orchestrate my son Adam being killed. He did a lot more, but I’ll tell you all about that when we get to your office.”
“Thank you, Ben. Now, you there, shut up. You’re officially under arrest for kidnapping and attempted murder. You talk too much more, and I’ll be adding resisting arrest and disturbing the peace and anything else I can think to add more time to you being locked up.”
The man was furious but there wasn’t anything he could do at that moment. Roy watched carefully and at one point on the ride, he saw the man nod at one of his deputies and the man gave him a thumb up. Roy had been trying to ferret out who the corrupt deputy was in his employ and now he knew. It was the same deputy who had caused them to delay leaving town. Roy had a plan to catch him in the act of helping these criminals and was ready to do that when they got back to town too. At this point, he was just glad that Adam and Ben were riding back to town with him and there was nary a mark on either one of them.
When Adam arrived at the Sheriff’s Office, he had a reception committee. Candy and the two detectives as well as Hop Sing were there to make sure Monica was safe. Seeing all the men with their hands tied or in handcuffs, and Ben and Adam grinning, they released Monica from their protective custody. She raced to Adam and was ready to throw her arms around him as soon as he dismounted. Swinging down, Adam wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her whirling around in joy which saved both their lives. Rifle shots rang out and would have killed Adam and possibly Monica if they had stayed still. With Monica in his arms, Adam went to the ground down amidst the horses because there was no better cover at that point using his body to cover his wife. The other men began returning fire against the places where the rifle shots were coming and within a minute it was over. Roy and deputies raced across the street and into and behind the buildings from which the shots had come. Ben and Hoss helped Adam and Monica into the office while the detectives, Joe, and Candy protected them. Then they went outside and brought in all of the prisoners.
Sitting on the side of the office, Adam kept his arm around Monica as he leaned down close to her. She was breathing hard but not crying. That would come later.
“Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
“I’m kind of checking. I think everything is all right. I’m a little sore in a few spots and I need to catch my breath. Otherwise, all is well.”
“Not so much with you, older brother though, is it?” Hoss had noted how stiffly Adam was sitting even though he was with his wife.
“It feels like I did get shot, but I only wrenched my back.”
“Oh, you mean like when you fell, oh, I guess that’s none of my business. As long as you ain’t shot, I’ll leave you alone.”
Luckily for Adam, it was then that Roy and the deputies came back with one man. Anyone else who had been shooting had gotten away. This one had fallen going down the stairs of the building where he had been shooting and sprained his ankle and knee. He was complaining that he needed a doctor, but no one was listening. The two who had guarded Ben, Bud and Nate, were put in one cell, and the boss of the bunch was put in another. The complainer was put in with the boss. The other five men were held in the outer office and wondered what was going on. The doors to the cell area were closed at Ben’s request, and then he began to tell a story.
“I was tied up and laying on the floor of the cabin where they were keeping me. It was clear they planned to kill me. In fact, I heard the one you call boss say that. I’m sure you heard it too. Now you may not want to testify against him. I’m sure he has paid you well so far, but you have no idea what the last payment to you was going to be. Yesterday, he told Bud and Nate in there what you were going to do. He called you local talent. He said he was sending you to a job in Sacramento.” Ben saw some of them react to that. He had hit a nerve because it was the truth and now they knew he knew what he was talking about. “Yes, you were going to be sent to do a job related to a construction project in Sacramento except it wasn’t what you thought it was going to be. They were going to bury you in the foundation of that building project so your bodies would never be found. The instructions apparently have already gone out. They’re waiting there to kill you.”
The five men looked around at each other, and it was as if they communicated silently. They nodded and turned back to Ben and Roy. One began talking.
“We never signed on to kill anybody. They said we was gonna be bodyguards. Then it was we was gonna scare some people. Then it was rough up some people. Then when we wanted to back out, they said we’d already broken laws and they’d turn us over to the sheriff if we didn’t do what we were told. It kept getting worse and worse.”
Roy took over at that point. “You willing to testify to all of this in court and everything those men in there did?”
“We will. We never meant to do anything as awful as they wanted us to do. We only wanted some easy money.”
“I’m going to lock you up in a cell away from those others. It won’t be comfortable because the only way to do it is to put all five of you in one cell. I can get more blankets and a couple of extra mattresses, but like I said, it will be crowded.”
“It’s all right. I know you’ll do your best by us. It’s no worse than we deserve. You’ll put in a good word with the judge for us?”
“I’ll do my best for you and see you don’t get charged with anything more than I have to charge you with.”
Once the five were locked up, Roy left one deputy to guard the prisoners and came back to talk with Ben. “You have anything more for me? I think you said something about that one they call the boss.”
“Yes, I do, but it probably won’t make a case here, but it should make a case in San Francisco. At the cabin last night, he told Nate and Bud to go to San Francisco and kill the foreman of the construction project on which Adam was hurt and his partner and his partner’s lawyer were killed.”
“So that’s who the other man was.”
“Yes, and now we know the foreman was in on it, but he was doing it strictly for money so they want him dead. That man they call the boss asked the question what if someone else offers him money. He’s afraid the foreman will talk because it’s only money that makes him loyal.”
Sitting in a chair at the side of the room, Adam wrapped an arm around Monica and hugged her again. A corroborating witness would be enough to take down some of the corruption that had led to his injuries and his partner’s death. When his old college classmate had invited him to spend the winter months in San Francisco helping him with a large construction project, Adam had jumped at the opportunity. Now it looked like more of a tragedy, but at least there was going to be justice and the truth would come out. Informed of what Ben had said, the foreman could probably be convinced to turn state’s evidence and with Adam’s testimony, they would have enough probably. The foreman could help recreate records as could Adam. The original records would have been better, but copies of those were apparently lost.
Before there was any more discussion, Clem came in the office door with one of the deputies and the man they called boss. With a mixture of anger and sadness, he looked over at Roy.
“You were right. Almost as soon as he could, he let him out of the cell and the two of them came out that back door together. At least they didn’t make me wait long.”
“Lock them up together. They’re working together, they can bunk together.
Oh, and now I can add jail-breaking to the list.”
It took a few days, but more good news came in. The foreman turned as they had expected, but once they could tell the family of the lawyer that he had perished in the fire, his lawyer came forward with the records of the corruption. Matt’s lawyer had been having an affair and many had thought he had deserted his wife. When they found out he had been killed, it changed everything. No one had thought that a lawyer would have a lawyer, but of course, it was a sensible precaution. The lawyer had given instructions to his lawyer that if he was killed, the records should be turned over to the state attorney general. He did so, and voila, there were the records of the corruption on the construction project with kickbacks and bribes between contractors and members of the city government which had severely driven up the cost of the project. They didn’t even need Adam’s testimony. With the foreman of the project who had been the overseer of most of the corruption and with the hard evidence of the corruption, some of those involved confessed to get lighter sentences. Then those men testified against others bringing down the whole ring.
The trials in Virginia City proceeded quickly with witnesses and evidence making the cases rather easy. Ben Cartwright was the star witness in most of the cases, but the five men hired locally to help the criminals backed up his story. Guilty verdicts were handed down in all. The man they called the boss turned out to have a name that made many of them laugh: Meriwether Winchell. He got twenty years for the main offenses and another five to be added consecutively and then another five after that. Nate and Bud got twenty each when they refused to cooperate which was a mistake they were likely to regret. The men who turned into witnesses for the state got six months each. The judge wouldn’t let them off completely because of what they had done, but he did understand that they had been pressured into it and they were sorry and cooperative. The five men were grateful because six months looked pretty good compared to twenty years for kidnapping. The man who attempted the assassination got ten years. The deputy working with Winchell got five years which were likely to be unpleasant considering the job he had held. The others who had tried to shoot Adam down in the street were never apprehended. They were likely paid help so they were not considered a threat any longer.
Finally, Adam was in the clear from trouble. At least from criminals: he still had to face his wife, and that started almost as soon as they returned to the Ponderosa. The trip home had been quiet as he rode in the carriage and Monica leaned on him. She cried some releasing the frustration, stress, tension, and fear she had held at bay and then fell asleep. However, she was well rested when they got back, and then he had to explain his reasoning for the amnesia story and admit he was wrong much as he had done with his father and brothers. Like his father, Monica had never believed that story anyway but had been hurt that he hadn’t trusted her with the truth.
“I was trying to protect you. I thought if they didn’t think you knew anything, they would leave you alone.”
“Yes, and come after you with no one there to help you. You can’t keep being this lone wolf. You’re married now. A man with a family has to think differently.”
The way she said family made Adam start thinking. Monica had been acting differently in some ways recently. That evening though she had been as amorous as ever insisting they make love even though he told her his back was hurting from being wrenched so badly that day.
“That won’t matter. You’ve been laying on top of me once today already. I can return the favor.”
So, Monica was resting now looking down at him from her perch on his chest. He frowned and she asked what he was thinking.
“I was thinking that perhaps you have something to tell me.”
Adam waited wondering what she would say and not wanting to put any thoughts out there for her to use. She was as good as he was at evading so he simply waited putting the pressure on her to tell whatever she was withholding.
“How did you know? I was going to wait until everything was more settled to tell you.”
“It’s settled enough.”
“I’m probably only three or four months along. Lots of women don’t say anything at this point but wait until the quickening. Of course, I didn’t even think it was going to happen.”
“Have you talked to Doctor Martin yet?”
“Only briefly. He asked a few questions and seemed satisfied with the answers. He said if I had any concerns, to be sure to call on him.”
“Do you have any concerns?”
“Not yet. I suppose the way my stomach sometimes objects to fried food is an issue, but that’s the only difference I’ve noticed.”
“It’s not the only difference. I’ve noticed that you seem to be more interested in being with me. Whether I’m exhausted or have a wrenched back, nothing seems to deter you.”
“You know, that’s true. I think of being with you all the time. I’ve never been like this before.”
“I rather like it. Perhaps you should be with child all the time.”
“I think you might be missing one big problem with that, cowboy.”
“Just before I have this baby, and then for weeks if not months after, there won’t be any.”
Moving his hands up to caress Monica, Adam decided maybe it was time to bank some lovemaking before they got to that dry stretch. Monica was quite willing and had no cares at all about her husband’s sore back. In the morning though, she had to massage his back to help him stand. Of course, once they did their business, Adam had a suggestion.
“To get through the day, perhaps it would be a good idea to do a more thorough rubdown of my back. It’s still sore.”
The look he had with his eyebrows raised and his dimple showing with that crooked little smile he could have sometimes though suggested that perhaps he wanted more than his back rubbed. With more massaging that developed into touching that went even further, they banked a little more for that future dry stretch. With her desire sated at least temporarily though, Monica had some questions.
“Now, first we were married and had all the things to do to get settled in together and then let your family know. Then it was the big party your father wanted, and then Matt wanted you in San Francisco and we had to move. Then you were so busy with work before you got hurt and there was all this trouble.”
“Monica, where are you going with this?”
“Well, I asked you a question once, and you said you’d answer it when there was time. Seems like now that you have to let your back heal and your other injuries heal, and we’re not going anywhere, you would have time.”
Adam started to get a sickly feeling that he knew what that question was going to be, but he had to ask. “So, what is this question? I’ve forgotten.”
“Oh, I doubt you have, but you probably wanted to forget it. Joe made a comment about sorting through the deck until you found the ace. Now, I’ve heard a lot of things said about women you’ve been with. How many of them have there been anyway?”
“Oh, not that many.”
“Really? Because everyone seems to want to bring up Laura, and then some mention a Barbara, and then there’s Rebecca, and Ruth, and Sue Ellen, and Annie, although no one seems to know if there was really anything there. Then there’s Anne who I assume is another person and not the same as Annie. Of course, there’s some talk of a Margarita but again no one knows what was going on there, and there’s a Senorita de la Cuesta who has a second name, Rosita Morales, and she seemed quite taken with you but left town under mysterious circumstances. The biggest story that’s told after they say everything they can about Laura is about Regina and your tragic love with her and even Hoss chokes up talking about Regina. The other end of the story are the snide remarks about Regan and Melinda as if there is something wrong there but no one ever shares any details. Todd even said that he won his wife Virginia away from you. Now that seems right there like quite a few more than ‘not that many’ that you would like to claim, and those are only some of the ones I’ve heard people talking about.”
“You do have a very good memory.”
“So do you, so, why don’t you start telling me your story, or rather stories, because with that long list, there must be quite a few to tell.”
With a deep sigh, Adam appeared resigned to telling and Monica looked triumphant.
“The first woman I can recall in my life was tall and blond with blue eyes. She had a laugh that could light up a room. I was devastated when she was killed with an arrow in the back right before my eyes.”
Monica started looking suspicious.
“Her name was Inger.”
The shoe would have hit him in the side of the head if he hadn’t ducked. While talking, he had pulled on his boots so he raced for the door and down the hall to get away as fast as he could walk with a sore back. Frustrated, Monica had to pull all those button hooks closed on her shoes before she could chase after him, but that she did. At his desk, first Ben saw Adam rush by him and out the front door. Then not much more than sixty seconds later, Monica raced by with the same brief good morning greeting and out the front door after her husband. Hoss was still at the table finishing his breakfast surprised at the two, and Joe came inside after witnessing first Adam and then Monica heading toward the stable at almost a run and then having an unusual conversation.
“Are those two in a hurry to go somewhere? I would think they’d want to just relax today.”
Ben answered first. “Oh, I don’t think they’re going anywhere.”
Hoss added his observation. “Yeah, they didn’t look like they had plans together. In fact, Adam looked a mite worried, and I wouldn’t want to mess with Monica with that look on her face.”
“I know. I heard Adam say she shouldn’t be outside without her shawl and her bonnet because with her beautiful fair skin, she could burn so easily. I think she growled at him.”
Chuckling, Ben returned to his ledgers.
Hoss and Joe frowned.
“Pa, ain’t ya the least bit worried about them two? After what Joe said ‘specially?”
“No, I’m in rather a good mood about it all.”
Joe frowned and echoed Hoss’ question.
“Yes, I’ve wanted grandchildren for a long time. I’m glad one of my sons finally got around to doing something about that.”
Joe snapped his fingers. “Pa thinks they’re having a fight, and they’re gonna make up and, well, you know.”
“Nah, Joe, he’s too happy for it to be that. That’s been going on for over six months.”
As Joe frowned again, Hoss smiled. He began to remember how Marie was when she was carrying Joe. Although he had been very young, he had asked Adam why Mama was acting so crazy sometimes.
“I’m not supposed to tell you.”
“Is she sick and gonna die?”
“But you ain’t supposed to tell me! So, when you say no, that could be not the truth. And really, she could be sick and gonna die. I don’t want Mama to die, Adam.”
“She’s not going to die, Hoss.”
“But you couldn’t tell me if she was.”
Twelve-year-old Adam had expelled air forcefully and stood with his hands on his hips not knowing how to resolve that dilemma. “All right, but you can’t tell anyone. Marie is going to have a baby. Now, you’re not supposed to know so don’t say anything.”
“I won’t say nothing, Adam. I kin keep a secret.”
The memory made Hoss smile even more broadly, but it made Joe frown more seeing both his father and Hoss looking so pleased when he couldn’t make sense of his oldest brother’s behavior at all. “All right, what’s going on?”
Hoss kept grinning. “Aw, maybe wait a few more months, and you’ll see.”
“Wait a few more months and I’ll see what?” Then Joe put it together with what his father had said. “Adam’s gonna have a baby?”
Ben corrected that statement. “Well, more accurately, his wife will have the baby.”
“When did he tell you?”
“Then how do you know?”
Hoss smiled broadly. “It’s ’cause Pa’s old enough to know.”
“I am not old. I have wisdom and experience.”
“Pa, you’re gonna be a wonderful grandpa! Do we have to wait for Adam and Monica to tell us or kin we congratulate ’em now?”
“Hoss, let them enjoy the news for a time. They’ll tell us when they’re ready.”
For a time at least on the Ponderosa, it was all good news. Hoss looked over at Joe and at their father who couldn’t stop smiling.
“See, Joe, not always.”
Joe knew what he meant. Ben didn’t bother asking. He knew they wouldn’t tell him, but he didn’t care. He was going to be a grandfather, and all his sons were there at home and safe.
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