Summary: The third Adam and Anne story has clues about her long lost brothers, trouble with a counterfeiting ring Adam is investigating in his new job for the Treasury Department, and a threat to kill one of the Cartwrights, and all of those are tied together.
Rating: T WC = 11,299
Two men watched Adam Cartwright walk down the street with his associates. As frustrated as they were, it took some discipline not to pull a gun and shoot him in the back right there. They had been assigned the job of removing him which was the boss’ polite way of instructing his men to kill someone. However, after a week of following him, they could tell, it was a nearly impossible task.
“How do we get close to him? He’s always got men around him, and that damn rail car is like a fortress.”
“We have to get close to someone who is close to him. They’ll get us in.”
“Now how do we do that?”
“I’ve been thinking. We got that research and remember what it said about the two of them. He’s got brothers, and one is very young and one is easily manipulated. His wife has two brothers she hasn’t seen in twenty years.”
“So, how does that help us?”
“Meet Anne Cartwright’s long-lost brothers.”
“Us, and we’ll get to be friends with those brothers of Adam Cartwright, and then lo and behold, we’ll let slip our story, and then, poof, they will tell the story and like magic, we’ll be welcomed into the family.”
“Just like that?”
“Yes, just like that as long as we don’t do something real stupid. Now we need to get the story straight and the names so she won’t be too suspicious. We’ve only got a short time too to grow full beards.”
“Why do we have to grow beards?”
“Think about it. She hasn’t seen them in twenty years, but she still would remember what they looked like. A full beard conceals a lot. Besides, I think I’ve seen two of those men he’s got watching his back. They do the same kind of work we do far as I know.”
“They might know us?”
“I don’t think they’ll know us that well, but we could look familiar to them when they see us, and that could be enough.”
“We should buy some other clothes too. These bowler hats kind of set us apart in this area.”
“You’re right about that. We need to tell the boss how tough this job is and that it will take a bit more time and some expense money. Considering that Cartwright has been interfering in his business now for nearly a year, a bit more time shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”
“What do we say we been doing for the past twenty years?”
“There’s no way around that. We’re going to have to tell the truth about that. Anything else would get us tangled up in so many lies that we would trip ourselves up.”
“We’re going to tell about all of it?”
“All of it, but we can tell it in a way to make us sound good if that’s what worries you.”
“Just how do you make scalp-hunting and being a gunman for hire who murders men for money sound good to prissy folks like them.”
“I can do it. Trust me. I’m going to make us sound like heroes by the time I’m done with the story we’re going to tell. Besides, the two of them Cartwrights ain’t so lily white now are they. They need to be a bit forgiving considering some of the things they’ve done. Have you forgotten that our ‘sister’ was a saloon girl?”
“Yeah, I wonder what she will have to say about that to us.”
“So, we’ve got a plan and all we have to do is work on getting things done now. I figure Cartwright has about a month to live.”
“This is going to be our biggest payday yet.”
The two men headed to their hotel to check out. They had a meeting to arrange with their boss to get approval for their plan. Because earlier efforts to bribe and later threats to scare off Adam Cartwright had failed, they guessed their plan would be approved. Adam would not be able to say no to them and when successful, their plan was final.
In his railroad car, Adam Cartwright was having a conversation about his safety with the men he had hired to protect him and his family. He asked them what they thought about the risks he might be facing. Once he had turned down the bribes and refused to give in to the threats made to him, he guessed the counterfeiters might resort to more extreme measures. Now he wanted to know what these professionals thought about the situation.
“We think you made a good decision to hire us. That isn’t in our self-interest. We don’t have problems getting jobs. We actually do like protecting men like you though over some who hire us. Now as to the threat as we see it. We think it would be best for you to go home. We can’t protect you if they go after you through your wife or son.”
“What? You think my wife and son are in danger?” Adam had not considered that.
“Yes, sir, we do. You have professional investigators and U.S. Marshals around you much of the time. Now you hired us. It would be highly risky to attempt to kill you in that situation. They might do it, but the odds of getting away would be slim. However, if they go after your wife and son, you would be vulnerable. They could get you to do almost anything by using them. I’m correct in that assumption?”
“Then you should go home and conduct your business from Carson City. It is the center of the trouble you are investigating, and it’s where your family is. Therefore, the investigators will be there as will the Marshals. You will be safer and so will your family. We’ll be there to help make sure of that too and looking to identify who it is they sent after you.”
“Gentlemen, I appreciate that you are honest with me and are committed to keeping me safe. I have additional requests of you then.”
“What are those, sir?”
“First of all, don’t call me sir. My name is Adam or you can call me Mister Cartwright if you have to keep it formal.”
“We can do that. What else?”
“If you really want to keep me safe, would you be willing to explain to my wife what you told me?”
The two men laughed until they realized Adam looked serious.
“She is not going to like hearing that my job has put our son in jeopardy. You’re going to be at our house. Don’t be surprised at what you might hear.”
When the two gunmen were explaining to their employer how they planned to breach Adam’s defenses, Adam was explaining to Anne how he planned to improve the defenses for the family.
“You said you would be investigating counterfeiting and there wouldn’t be the danger of being a Marshal or other jobs where criminals might want revenge. Now you tell me that there might be men who want to kill you and they might come after me and Aaron to get to you. Why is this happening all of a sudden like this?”
Honesty had been a hallmark of the relationship Adam and Anne had built together. From the look Adam had, Anne could tell there was more to the story and that she wasn’t going to like it.
“Tell me, and you better not leave anything out this time.”
“I haven’t left anything out. I haven’t been hiding anything from you. I thought it was my job and not something that affected you. About two months ago, I got a number of offers to ignore things I shouldn’t ignore. Payments increased quite a lot from the first offer when I first said no until I rejected the last offer.”
“And? I know there’s more because what you said wouldn’t give you that look.”
“When bribery didn’t work, they used threats meant to scare me off. I got notes describing ways in which men could be killed and their bodies disposed of in such a way as to never be found.”
“That’s awful. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“In any kind of law enforcement, bribery or the attempt to do it are fairly common. Threats are also fairly commonplace unfortunately. These didn’t seem so scary when seen that way. There was nothing that ever happened.”
“To be safe, I hired two men experienced in protection. They have been with me for a week. They think I may have been followed, and that there is a threat against my life. However, I am well protected.”
“They can’t protect you all the time.”
“Why are you so worried then?
“It isn’t only me that could be a target. They may be coming after you and after Aaron as a way to get to me. Anyone who knows me would know I would do anything I could to protect you and Aaron.”
“Except obviously you didn’t. You didn’t tell me what the hell was going on so I would know what to do. We have a son to protect too, but you didn’t tell me what you needed t tell me so I could protect him too. I thought you promised honesty and treating me like a partner.”
“I’m sorry. I made a mistake.”
“It’s more than a mistake to keep things from me. It’s a lack of trust.”
“You don’t understand. That wasn’t the mistake.”
“It seems like a big mistake to me.”
“No, the mistake was I didn’t think anything was serious enough to even bring up with you. When it all happened, I thought it wasn’t serious enough to bother with. I was naive to think they would give up when bribes and threats didn’t work. I never considered they would go further. To me, counterfeiters weren’t a serious threat like other outlaws. My overconfidence was a serious error in judgment.”
Staring at her husband, Anne wasn’t sure how to react. This was an Adam she had never seen. He saw her look and had a chagrined smile for her.
“I know. I had to swallow my pride on the way home. I have to accept that I can’t protect myself and I can’t protect my family. That was a big step for me to take, and then I had to admit the decision to treat this whole approach lightly was nearly a fatal mistake.”
“They would have killed you?”
“If they could have, they likely would have done it. I’ve been in the middle of planning though with my investigators and the Marshals from the adjoining regions. There were four armed men with me at all times. Then when I hired the two men for protection, there were six.”
“Why did you hire them if you didn’t think there was a threat.”
“The Marshals thought that when we started acting against the counterfeiting operators, they would want to strike against me to stop the investigation. Instead, when we got the two men hired, they wondered why we had waited so long because they had heard of a contract solicitation for two or more men to go after me.”
“They admitted that?”
“They work for a reputable firm, but they move in the less savory circles too to see what kinds of information they can gather that might help them in their assignments.”
“But can you trust these two men? If they move in these unsavory circles and work for money, doesn’t that make them dangerous too?”
“It could except both lost their wives and other family members to raids by outlaws. Some of those outlaws are still out there committing the same kinds of crimes. Each man knows who they are and has vowed to find them. If the two men coming after me knew what these two have done to uphold the law, they would put their hands in the air and surrender now.”
“They want vengeance, and you’re putting them in a position to get it.”
“No, they want justice, and the government is not going to make a huge effort to find the men who committed these murders after all these years so they’re looking for them.”
“How long ago was it?”
“Ten years or so. I haven’t heard the whole story but enough of it. Scalp-hunters were active in that area of California, and wanted supplies but didn’t want to pay for them. They raided two small farms when the men were in town killing those who were home but not right away.”
The way Adam said it let Anne know what those men did. She was disgusted and felt sympathy grow for the men who were protecting Adam. Knowing they were still on a quest after ten years let her know the depth of love the men had for their families. Looking at Adam then, she knew he too would do the same in similar circumstances.
“I’m sorry for what I said to you earlier.”
“It’s all right. I deserved some of that for not telling you what was going on.”
“Yes, for that you did, but not for the rest. I was out of line. Now, I would like to make it up to you. Aaron is already in bed so if you would like to retire early, perhaps I could help you relax and forget the less than pleasant words from earlier?”
“Lady, that is an invitation I will always accept, but there is one thing that will cause a delay.”
“The two men outside need to be invited in, introduced to you, and shown the layout of the house. They will be hiring two more men too to make sure there is always a pair of men here at the house whether I am here or not. Usually, they will be inside.”
“Yes, they can be most effective that way.”
“But, will that be the best situation for Aaron?”
“I have asked that they only consider hiring former law enforcement for the indoor job. They will be with me, but I need to know you will be protected too.”
“All right, I’ll have to trust you on this.”
All went well with the tour. The two men were impressed with the security Adam had built into the house he had designed and built. There were shutters that could be slid across windows and locked into place. Each one had a small firing port. Doors were thick and could be secured too. The first floor could be easily fortified against an assault. The second floor was less secure that way, but there was almost no way to reach any of the windows unless one brought a ladder. Outside, there was a clear view except for the area from the house to the small barn and storehouse. The two men who would act as Adam’s bodyguards were going to be housed in the tack room in the stable. Bunks there and a small stove made it a reasonable billet. The two with house duty would use one of the guest rooms. Overall, the plan was satisfactory to all by the time they finished discussing the plan.
By then, it was late, and Anne thought perhaps there would be no lovemaking that night. When she slipped into bed in her gown, Adam was already there with his eyes closed. Resigned to a night of only sleeping beside him, she was surprised when he reached out to pull her close.
“And she falls into the spider’s web. Now he can have his way with her.”
“I certainly hope so.”
The next morning, a relaxed Adam rode with Anne and Aaron to the Ponderosa ranch house with his two guards promising to remain there until they returned. Surprised to see Adam and his family on a weekday, Ben Cartwright knew something serious was going on and wasn’t surprised at all when he heard the whole story. Hoss, Joe, and Jamie heard the same story at lunchtime. It was almost dinnertime before the two men reappeared to tell Adam that they had two men hired, and he could return home. All were surprised but none more than Joe.
“Adam, you’re going to let these two men tell you what to do every day?”
“When it comes to keeping your family safe, Joe, you’re going to find, I will do whatever I have to do including taking orders.”
However, it was Ben’s reaction that had the greatest effect on Adam.
“Perhaps it would be best if Anne and Aaron stayed on the Ponderosa until this is settled. Your house near Carson City is too far away for us to help.”
“I thought I explained that I didn’t need any help. It’s all covered.”
“It doesn’t sound like it’s covered. Anne and Aaron were at risk. What if there’s something else you forgot to worry about?”
“I’m working with men who know about such things, and I know quite a bit too. It’s better to leave things in the hands of men who know what they’re doing even if they aren’t perfect.”
“Well, it’s my opinion that they would be better off here.”
“Duly noted, and if I get desperate, we’ll consider it.”
By the sound of his voice, Ben was frustrated, but Adam was getting serious and subdued in his responses. To Joe, it seemed Adam might be giving in, but Hoss and Anne had seen this before and knew Adam was seething but holding it in. Ben seemed to realize it too and stopped commenting. Hoss walked over to his brother.
“How about a walk outside where it’s cooler?”
At first, Joe was confused because it was warmer outside than it was in the house. Then he understood and grabbed three glasses and their father’s brandy bottle.
“I think that’s a great idea. Let’s sit on the porch and have some men talk.”
The look on their father’s face as Joe grabbed the brandy and Joe’s statement was enough. Adam relaxed enough to agree to go with Hoss. The three brothers were soon on the porch enjoying glasses of their father’s best brandy and talking about how when they were younger, they never would have gotten away with such a stunt.
“Did you see his face when Joe done that? Lordy, I wish I could have a picture of that face.”
Knowing he was going to have some time when he would be cooped up in his home, Adam knew what his next drawing project was going to be.
In the house, the conversation was centered more on whether Ben should go outside and apologize or not. The consensus was that he would be better off sitting where he was and letting his sons handle things. There was plenty of time to apologize. Anne thought it best for her father-in-law to suffer a bit anyway although she didn’t say it. Ben did say to her that he had promised to stay out of Adam’s life and had done well until that day.
“It’s a poor excuse, I know, but I am trying. I will keep trying not to interfere, and I will apologize for my remarks.”
When the two bodyguards returned and it was time for Adam to leave with his family, Ben did apologize, but he could tell there was some lingering anger. He didn’t push things knowing his son needed time. He had not interfered much, but this was such a sensitive issue with Adam, he knew he needed to be far more careful about what he said and especially what he might suggest. At least Adam smiled and waved goodbye. As the carriage pulled away, Ben turned toward Joe.
“My best brandy?”
“Pa, it was the least you could do.”
There wasn’t much Ben could say to that. Hoss and Joe chuckled as they walked ahead of him into the house. Ben was thinking he should find a way to get even for that, but then again, maybe not. It had worked.
When Adam and Anne got home, they were greeted by their new house guests who were there to keep them safe. By Adam’s grin as they got close, Anne could see he knew the men, and she waited for an introduction although she knew who one man was too as they arrived at the house.
“Anne, Aaron, please meet our house guests. This is retired Sheriff Roy Coffee, and former Deputy Marshall Chester Goode. I think you’re going to have a nice time while these two are visiting our home.”
Entering the house arm-in-arm, Adam and Anne were smiling as Aaron was already peppering Roy and Chester with questions. It wasn’t going to be a problem getting him to accept the two men in their home. Hero worship and curiosity had already done the hard work for them. The two bodyguards had volunteered to take care of the carriage so they headed to the stable with that and their horses. Both had some tears in their eyes remembering the families they once had too.
It had been sobering for Adam to arrive at his home to see his old friend signal to his bodyguards that the house was safe. He had not wanted this kind of life but somehow had managed to get himself into danger again without even trying at all. There was a flood of counterfeit coins coming out of Nevada with lesser amounts coming from San Francisco and Denver. The source of the bullion was the problem they had to resolve. If they only caught those who were passing the fake coins, the issue would only resurface again when those producing the bullion found another outlet. What they needed was an undercover agent or team but at this point they had no idea where to aim such a probe. Their investigation had a list of those who were passing the counterfeit coins. Most likely they did not know the source of the bullion but only the source of the coins. It would be risky to close in on them and hope those who were supplying the coins could give them the information they needed. Whoever was running this operation had set it up in layers that insulated each layer above from detection enough so that no one could detect who was running the operation or benefiting from it.
At a meeting with the Marshals working with Adam on the problem, they suggested he go ahead and insert undercover operatives with those passing the coins. In their estimation, they had nothing to lose because they needed information even if it was minimal because their investigation was stalled.
“Boss, at this point, you could be in danger indefinitely because this thing is stumped. They know if you’re gone, the investigation is over.”
“I agree. You’ve become the focus.”
Pausing in thought, Adam had a thought that was something he had to discuss with Anne before he even brought it up with these men. She would have to accept this plan or he would have to resign his job. Looking at the men at the table, he told them he would have an answer for them the next morning. They would have a path forward or they would be dropping this investigation until they got a lead somehow. The idea of dropping the investigation wasn’t popular, but realistically, they knew it might have to be done. What kind of plan he might have in mind though was intriguing because they had no idea what he might be considering.
For a couple of hours, Adam kept busy with a few reports and then he headed home. His bodyguards had said to keep an irregular schedule so going home at noon would certainly throw off anyone who was watching him. It surprised Anne too who had not expected to see him riding in with his bodyguards. He could see how relieved she was to see he was unharmed.
“You were worried.”
“Of course, I was worried. You can’t tell me that there are men who want you dead and not worry. Now why are you home so early not that I mind because now I don’t have to worry again until you leave in the morning. You are staying home, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am, and depending on what you say, maybe a lot longer. We need to talk.”
“Can it wait for lunch to be done?”
“That would be best. We need time to discuss something serious. I don’t want to rush a decision.”
“You may as well invite the other two inside. Aaron is so impressed by all these men, he won’t mind at all.”
Both Anne and Adam were relatively quiet during lunch. Roy noticed, but the others seemed intent on entertaining Aaron. After lunch, Adam helped Anne clean up and told the men to take their coffee to the main room and that Aaron could go with them. Aaron was quite proud to be included with the men. After Anne and Adam cleared the table and took care of cleaning up, Anne poured two cups of coffee and put them on the kitchen table.
“All right, what are we discussing?”
“I have an idea to find out who is behind this counterfeiting ring and the effort to kill me. It does involve some risk. So, you have to agree or I will resign my job, and we will move some place where we can be safe.”
“Is that an ultimatum?”
“Not at all. It is reality. I don’t think they would trust me simply quitting. They might see it as a ploy. If I quit the job, I have to leave to show I really am done with it or the danger may not end.”
“So we would have to uproot Aaron again even though the plan was to stay in one place for his benefit.”
“Anne, I didn’t expect this. You know I took this job expecting to investigate and leaving the more dangerous work to others. I had no idea that the investigation itself would be dangerous. You know that. This is not something I did in order to trick you or pull you into a life you didn’t want. I didn’t want this either.”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t being fair. I know. Neither of us thought this job would be a dangerous one. Now, what’s your other idea?”
“We continue on and in fact, we make it appear that the investigation is proceeding far better than it actually is.”
“All right, first point: I thought you told me you were frustrated because this whole thing is going nowhere?”
“That’s right. But the men we’re after don’t know that. They think we’re a threat, or more precisely, they think I’m a threat to them.”
“What do we do then?”
“If we act as if we’re doing well, I think we don’t have to do much more. I think they’ll come for me. The plan is, we capture the men who come for me. Unlike the men we know are passing these coins, the men hired to kill me likely know men much higher in the organization perhaps even the one in charge. It would take authorization from the top to send someone to kill a federal agent.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Not that I know or that any doctor has said.”
“Adam, this is not funny.”
“I know. I’m sorry, but I needed to break the tension.”
“Nothing you do will break this tension. You’re presenting me with two choices. One is to give up our life here and the other is to risk your life.”
“We can have more control than that sounds. If you will accept the second option, I will hire more bodyguards, more protection, but they won’t be obvious.”
“How could they not be obvious?”
“We could hire a gardener. We could hire a cook and housekeeper. We could have a driver who could double as a stable-man. I could hire two or three more staff for the rail car, a cook, a servant, a valet.”
Nodding, Anne caught on immediately. “Except each will actually be working to protect you.”
“And you and Aaron. One should be a Marshal but the others will all be hired by me and paid by me. I have enough connections to hire reliable people.”
“So then we would wait for an attack?”
“No, we would continue investigating but some of it would be to identify who might be new in the area and coming after me. Narrowing the list of suspects would help in apprehending them. Once we have them, getting the name of the man who hired them would break the whole thing wide open. It would mean we would be safe and moving wouldn’t be necessary.”
“What about this job?”
“We would talk about that, but seriously, I would have to reconsider whether I want to continue because this is not what I had in mind for my life, for our life.”
“We’ll talk about it. So we have to decide which way to go. I think we should use the second option and draw them out.”
“You seem surprised, but it’s the way to go where we can control what happens. The other way we have to guess how they would think and hope they don’t want some kind of revenge or something. The way you have talked about preparing, I think we can do this.”
“Do you want to take Aaron and go live on the Ponderosa?”
“You want me to do what your father told you to do?”
“No, I want you to consider doing what might be a good idea for your safety and that of our son.”
“All right, but I think we should stay here. We’ll be safe with the protection we have, and it will look more like you aren’t setting things up the way you are setting things up.”
“We’ve got a plan then. Let’s go tell the men who are here and get started on taking care of the rest of it.”
It was going to take almost a week to get everything done, but most of the plan was in place within a few days. With the extra men in the house, Anne found that the cook/housekeeper she had said she didn’t need now seemed a wonderful addition. That the man was skilled with firearms and was capable of protecting the family was a great bonus. By the end of the week, there was one more visit to the Ponderosa to explain what they were doing and why. While there, Adam noticed two men he did not recognize. Hoss told him about them.
“Yeah, well you know we’re short of hands and these two needed jobs. They’re not much help yet working cattle, but they’re good with horses and they learn quick enough.”
“What have they done before?”
“They never said too much in detail except their last job was riding as guards for silver and gold bullion shipments but didn’t like that job and were hoping for something better.”
“Interesting. If you find out anything more, let me know, would you?”
“Sure. Now you don’t think two cowboys could be the ones here gunning for you, do you?”
“Sorry. I guess I’m just suspicious. But let me know anyway, all right?”
As they rode home, Anne wondered at Adam’s quiet contemplation and lack of conversation. Aaron was busy chatting with Roy about all that he had seen on the ranch so normally Adam would have talked with Anne but instead remained silent.
“Did something happen with your father that I missed?”
“No, he was on his best behavior. It was a warning last time so he has been almost extreme in his effort not to offend me. It’s almost funny. I never thought I would see the day when Ben Cartwright would be so worried that I might move away that he would be careful what he said to me. Of course, mostly he might be worried that if I move, Aaron goes with me.”
“Oh, now that’s not fair. He loves you and wants you here.”
“I know. I was teasing you.”
“You were also using your classic ploy. Now what was it about our visit that has you thinking so hard?”
“Two cowboys they hired. Something isn’t right about the situation. I’ve been trying to figure out why what Hoss said seemed wrong.”
“What did he say?”
“I asked about their background, and he said they didn’t say much only that they had been riding guard for silver and gold bullion shipments but wanted a better job so they came out to the ranch to sign on. That was it.”
“I got it. Don’t you?”
“It’s not enough that they were riding guard for gold and silver shipments.”
“No, they told Hoss they wanted a better job so they signed on to make thirty dollars a month. What does it pay to guard a shipment of gold or silver bullion? and you don’t have to work every day. You don’t even have to work a full day if the trip is only to the spur line unless you’re one of the guards paid to ride the rail cars. Ooh, now that’s a difficult job: riding in a rail car.”
“Yeah, you’re right. The pay is so much better, the work is easy, the hours are short, and no one has ever hijacked a shipment of bullion as far as I can remember. Just having the guards there has been enough so there’s no danger either.”
“I think you have two more suspects for your investigators to check.”
On the Ponderosa, the two cowboys being discussed were in turn discussing the couple. They had the feeling that Adam had paid a bit of attention to them, perhaps too much attention. When given the change, they questioned Hoss.
“Some of the hands said the man who was here with his family was your brother. I told Eric here that it couldn’t be because he didn’t look like you at all. I mean, me and Eric don’t look that much alike but we got some things the same. You know, the same brown hair, blue eyes, and things like that.”
“You two are brothers?”
“Yeah, we are, but we don’t say it much. People always say things like we don’t look that much alike. Then we gotta explain. But now that man who was here don’t look like you at all. Hair is different. Eyes are different. Everything about him is different than you.”
“Well, me and Adam, that’s the man who was here, we are brothers. We had different mothers, and I guess we both took after our mother’s side of the family more.”
“So, brothers. huh. So them little guys in the big house, are they your brothers too?”
“Sure are. Me and Joe got different mothers too, and Jamie’s adopted.”
“Well, so your pa has four sons and none look like the others. That is different now, ain’t it. Were you all born here on the ranch?”
“Nah, me and Adam was already here when Pa got this land. Joe was born here, and Jamie only came to us a few years ago. Say, where are you boys from?”
“We were born in Minnesota. Our family got hit with an Indian attack and a few years later by cholera. Weren’t many of us left. Me and my brother decided to head out and try our luck in the goldfields.”
“How many were left behind in Minnesota?”
“Only one. We had a sister who worked in a saloon. The family didn’t have much to do with her, said she was a fallen woman. It was years later we figured out she did it so we’d have food on the table and clothes to wear. Figure she must be dead by now. Saloon girls don’t last that long with that way of living.”
Although Hoss kept his expression as neutral as he could, he was getting darn interested in the story these two men told. Even though Eric did most of the talking, his brother nodded and added in some as they continued their story of signing on to protect towns from Indian attack in California and then doing the same in the Southwest until it got too dangerous. Then they had become guards for gold and bullion shipments and done that for a few years until they heard about the jobs available on the Ponderosa. Wrapping up the story, the two brothers expressed how grateful they were to have a job where they felt at home, got good meals, and had bosses who treated them well and helped them learn the skills they needed for the job.
“Listen, you keep working hard like this and you’ll soon be up to the regular wages of forty dollars a month. We pay the best of any ranch in the area. I think you’re going to like it here.”
“We already do.”
When they finished talking, Hoss was anxious to tell Adam all that he had learned. Eric and his partner too thought it had gone well and according to the plan they had worked out with their boss. They had agreed it would be easier to get close to the Cartwrights by getting hired on the ranch. Their boss was going to send some men to create the illusion that the attack was going to come at Adam at his home. The plan was to get him to retreat to the Ponderosa where he would think he was safe. Eric and his partner would kill him there and be able to get away with the mountains so close. Their payoff would be waiting for them in Placerville and then they would make their way back south to disappear back into the southwest or even go to Texas. They had wondered why their boss thought they should run so far away.
“The government isn’t going to chase us that hard.”
“No, but you kill one of Ben Cartwright’s sons, he won’t rest easy until you’re caught so you best get out of his reach, and he has a long reach.”
Feeling confident, they would have been quite surprised to hear the conversation Adam had with his wife and then with the team that was protecting them. When Hoss brought his news, they had even more of an idea of what was coming next.
Anne was indignant when she heard the story and what the men thought it meant. Looking at Adam for confirmation, she was upset to realize he agreed with the version of the story the men had told.
“So they want me to believe they’re my long lost brothers so we’ll trust them and they can get close enough to us to kill my husband? How do they even know about my brothers?”
“They did some research on you apparently.”
“Adam, you and your family are the only ones I have ever told about that story. How did they know?”
That got Adam’s attention. “You never told anyone else?”
“No, you were the first person I ever trusted enough to tell that story. Then we got married and we told your family. How did anyone else know?”
Quiet for a short time, Adam looked at the men assembled there. “When I was set to get this appointment, someone made a stink in Washington because I married a saloon girl. I wondered who could have leaked that information. I even unfairly blamed my father at one point because I was so angry. I had to apologize profusely for that one, but clearly someone in this organization knows Anne somehow.”
Roy had another theory. “Or they know someone in your family enough to have been able to ask the right questions and get the information they wanted. Now it’s unlikely to be Jamie cause of his age, and Hoss don’t travel too much especially in those kind of circles, if you know what I mean. That leaves your younger brother and your pa. We need to talk to them and see if they can remember anybody asking any kind of questions about Anne.”
“And if they can’t?”
“Then we talk to Hoss and Jamie. Adam, sure as shooting, somebody got to somebody in your family to find out this information. They must have done it recently enough too if they tried to use it to block your appointment. We can follow up on that too asking who told the folks at the Treasury Department about it.”
“What do we do about these two?” Ever practical, Adam was back to the main issue they could face directly. “Play it out and see if there are more we can pick up in this elaborate ruse they have concocted.”
Anne was curious. “Elaborate ruse?”
“Anne, they got hired at the Ponderosa. I would assume that somehow they’re going to want us there so these two can get close to me. I think we play along and wait to see who else is involved.”
“Adam, I can’t embrace these two as my brothers. I’m not an actress. I wouldn’t be able to act like I’m happy to see them.”
“I don’t think you have to be. They abandoned you. I would think you could be angry and resentful when we first see them. That would be a normal reaction. We can see what they have to say.”
That was the plan then. Nothing happened that night. The next night, there was an apparent effort to set fire to Adam’s house. With the guards around, it was unsuccessful of course as the attackers had expected. They had been told only to make a good effort and had been told the house was well guarded. They headed back to town to get their pay for what they had done but there were two marshals following them and two more who saw the pair enter town followed by their fellow marshals. When the two met with their contact in an alley to be paid, the man was going to kill them instead. He never had a chance as there were four men there to stop him stepping from shadows shocking all three men there. Two were relieved and the other was worried.
“Tell us who sent you here to kill these two men.”
“I’m a dead man if I tell you that.”
“We can protect you.”
“No one can protect me from him. I might be a dead man anyway because you’re arresting me.”
“We’re not arresting you.”
The other Marshals were surprised.
“No, we aren’t. He helped us apprehend these two criminals. He’s a free man.”
“Listen, you can’t do that. He’ll kill me. He’ll think I turned on him.”
“Then your choice is clear.”
The Marshal fired two shots in the air to cover for the shooting that was supposed to happen in that alley. Using the cover of darkness, the three men were taken to jail without being observed. There, they had some stories to tell. The Marshals still did not have a name, but they had quite a bit more information than they had earlier.
In the morning, Adam and Anne packed up Aaron and a some clothing to head to the Ponderosa. Roy and Clete rode with them as did their driver. At the ranch, Hoss expected to see them, but the rest of the family was surprised. Soon though as Adam and Anne explained what was happening, Hoss was angry and the others were shocked. Ben was beyond that to outraged.
“They want to chase my son here to our home to kill him. Why haven’t you arrested them already?”
“We want to play this out to see what information we can get. Now that everyone knows, they won’t be able to do a thing. You do all have to be ready for it though. I wouldn’t want a bullet in the back to be our first warning that something was happening.”
“Don’t go anywhere alone then, older brother. We can set up escorts to the necessary if you need them.” Joe giggled at his own humor.
“We don’t want to drag this out. We’ll have the meeting with them and then have them sit on the porch with us until Anne goes inside with Aaron leaving me alone with the two of them. It will be the perfect opportunity so be ready. Roy and our driver, Johnny, will be waiting, but a few more guns won’t hurt.”
“We’ll have lunch, send the men back to work except for those two, and tell them you and Anne want to talk with them?”
“Sounds good, Pa.”
“We still make a good team.”
Nodding, Adam smiled at his father. They had some differences, but they loved each other and when his father remembered he was a capable man, they did work well together. The key to this operation was the placement of men with firearms so that he didn’t get shot before the two men showed their true intent. They spent some time working out the best placement for that and making sure the men had clear fields of vision. It was determined that Adam would not appear to be armed because it would likely make the two men act more boldly if they didn’t think Adam would be able to resist. When it appeared that Hoss, Joe, and Candy rode out with the hands to work, and Roy and Chester accompanied Anne when she went in the house with Ben.
The plan worked reasonably well. After lunch, Adam stood on the porch with Anne and waited for the two men to come talk to them. Ben stayed with them but in the background to offer support. Appearing confident, the two men walked to the porch leading their horses. The two had already discussed that this might be their opportunity and they wanted their horses close if they had to make a run for it. After tying off their horses, they approached Adam and Anne. As usual, the one who called himself Eric did the talking.
“Before he left, Hoss said you wanted to talk to us?”
“Yes, we do. Hoss told me a story you told him. He said you said you left Minnesota about twenty years ago leaving behind a sister who was working in a saloon.”
“Yes, we told him that. I don’t know why that would interest you.”
“Twenty years ago, my wife left Minnesota too. Her father was killed in an Indian attack. Some Indians were hanged for that attack. Her mother and some family died in a cholera epidemic that hit the town, but two brothers survived. She was working in a saloon to support the family since her father’s death. Once her brothers abandoned her, she didn’t need to keep working there. She left too and headed west to get a new start. She had few resources but she did all right, and eventually, she married me.”
Staring at Anne, the two men managed to look shocked.
“Anne? Is it really you?”
“That is my name, but how do I know you are who you say you are. And if you are, how do you say you’re sorry for walking away from me, leaving me all alone, all those years ago. You never tried to find me either.”
“I can’t say enough how sorry we are. We were boys really. By the time we realized how badly we acted, it was too late to go back. We figured you would have married or moved on by then.”
“By ‘moved on’ you mean died, don’t you? It’s pretty callous to talk about your only sister.”
“Anne, we would do anything to make it up to you.”
“I need some time. I’m going inside.”
Looking to Adam, Ben said he would go with her to make sure she was all right. Adam thanked him and turned back to the two men. As soon as the front door closed, the two men pulled guns on Adam. They told him he was about to die and they were going to a big payoff in Placerville. They never got a chance to do more. As they were about to shoot, a number of guns and rifles were heard cocking for fire around them. From somewhere, Adam, who had appeared unarmed, had a pistol in his hand too.
“You can give up now. So far, you haven’t broken many laws so you won’t spend much time in prison.”
“We didn’t do anything.”
“Conspiracy to commit murder, and attempted murder are serious offenses, but if you cooperate, we could likely get a very short sentence for you.”
“It won’t matter. We go to prison and we’re dead.”
Without warning, Eric fired and the guns around them opened up. The two men were never going to shoot anyone again. No one was going to ask them any questions either. Joe went to the bodies and pulled the vests and hats before they were soaked in blood.
“What are you doing?”
“They were going to Placerville to get paid from what we know. Two of us can wear these, use their names, ride their horses, and see if we get approached there.”
“Joe, somebody is going to be there to kill them. They were never going to be paid. This is all about covering up all ties to who’s running this.”
“What? We don’t know that.”
“It’s the most logical thing to assume based on everything else that’s happened.”
Sitting down hard in a chair then, Adam dropped his gun on the floor of the porch. Hoss was the first to get to him checking him over to see where he was hit. There was no bullet hole anywhere on his arms or chest or belly.
“What’s wrong? You ain’t hit.”
“I am. Somebody didn’t have a good field of fire and nicked me from behind.”
Checking Adam then from behind, Hoss saw the furrow in his side.
“Lordy, Anne is going to be upset with us.”
“Not with you so much as with Pa. He’s the one who shot me. Caught my arm too.”
Lifting his left arm carefully, Adam showed the blood dripping from the wound in his forearm. Hoss pulled a handkerchief and wrapped that one.
“Let’s get you inside and take care of those holes in you. I wish I could have a picture of Pa too when we tell him he shot you.”
“Hey this one is still alive.”
Joe and some of the men carried that man into the bunkhouse and got Hop Sing to see if they could save him. If they did, they could get some information from him. Hoss stayed to take care of Adam. When Adam walked in the house leaning on Hoss, Ben had a sheepish look.
“I’m sorry. I was hoping I missed when I saw you standing there talking to the others. I saw those guns in their hands and I never thought about you moving so they wouldn’t hit you if they shot.”
“And I never thought you would shoot unless you had a clear field of fire.”
“You’re shot?” Anne could hardly believe how calmly they were talking about it.
“You’re shot. That’s not minor.”
“Papa is shot?”
Aaron was upset but curious too so they had to let him see what was happening. He stayed with his father talking as Hoss and Anne cleaned the wounds and bandaged them. When Adam grimaced, Aaron comforted him telling him he would be all right much as Adam comforted his son when he got hurt.
“Papa, should Mama and me go punish the men who hurt you?”
“They have already been punished. Uncle Hoss and Uncle Joe took care of that with some of the other men helping.”
Things were a little disorganized for a day until they managed to get the second of the two men stable. He wasn’t talking yet, but it looked like he would live. Joe, a marshal, and several of the men Adam had hired headed to Placerville to see if they could intercept the man who was there to either pay or eliminate the two assassins. The man who was killed was buried in an unmarked grave. No one wanted anyone to know what had happened.
The second assassin, Oscar, died a few days later without revealing who had hired him and Eric. They never knew the actual names of either man. Joe and the others returned too from Placerville with nothing. The contact there must have known the two men well and wasn’t at all distracted by the meager costuming tricks they had attempted. News of the attempted murder of Adam was kept quiet too as they hoped whomever had ordered it would get curious and ask about it. He did but not directly.
The lead investigator for Wells Fargo came to call on the Ponderosa. He wanted to know if it was true that Adam Cartwright had been killed.
“I’m so sorry if that’s true, and I’ve been hearing these rumors. I know he was in danger so it didn’t surprise me but did sadden me a great deal. He had been doing a marvelous job in reducing the amount of fraud we have to investigate in our banking division.”
The investigator seemed most interested in the things blurted out by young Aaron even though his mother shushed him and took him inside immediately after he said them,
“My Papa got shot two times. Did you know when they shoot someone and he’s dead, they bury him in the ground.”
When Anne and Aaron got in the house, they found the men by the open window near Ben’s desk. By their smiles, they had heard what Aaron had said. After the Wells Fargo investigator left, the Marshal came inside and looked like he was thinking about something. Adam asked.
“Yes, I’m thinking about a couple of things that were odd about that visit. He said he heard rumors, but we bottled up information about that shooting. I don’t know where he would have heard a rumor much less more than one. It also seems odd that he knew quite a bit about our investigation from the little that he said. Again, we kept that within our group, and even then, it was on the basis of who needed to know something.”
“Are you saying that he could be involved with our criminal mastermind?”
“Boss, I’m not sure what I’m saying other than it’s all doesn’t fit with the facts.”
“Maybe we need to follow-up on this man.”
“I’ll send a couple of the men he’s not likely to recognize.”
In only a half-day, the men were back to tell them that the Wells Fargo man had gone to meet another man by the name of Dolph Falkenberg. Anne gasped when she heard the name.
“Anne, what is it?”
“Adam, that’s my brother’s name. Dolph was my mother’s maiden name. How many people could have that name. My other surviving brother was Eric, and my father’s name was Oscar. This man could be my brother. He must be my brother.”
“We can’t be sure.”
“Listen, the other men used those names to get close to me. This man doesn’t seem to have any interest in me at all and is using that name. It must be my brother. Someone knows so much about me. It would make so much sense if he is my brother.”
“I’ll go see him.”
“You’re still recuperating. Let someone else go.”
“You know I’m the best one to do this.”
“We’re still trying to make them wonder if you were shot or killed. If you show up at to talk with him, we lose that. And after what Aaron said, he may believe more than he did before that you were killed. I mean that was better than if we had coached him to say it. He said you were shot twice and then he talked about putting someone in the ground if they’re dead. Then, as if on cue, Anne shushed him and took him in the house like she was stopping him from saying anything else.”
“I was. He gets very talkative sometimes so there was no way to know what he was going to say next.”
“Ma’am, your son did a great job for us. If I didn’t know what I know, I would think that boy was talking about his father being killed.”
Although Adam was hesitant to bring it up, he had to do it. “There is another possibility. We could have someone on the inside who is informing them of what we’re doing and what our plans are.”
The marshal and the others were stunned by the scope of the possibilities. Adam put it in perspective for them.
“Without an idea of which of those is true, any plan we make could fail and people could die. Or we would have to make a complicated plan to try to weed out which one is the key problem. Until we know the truth, planning is going to be next to impossible to do without great risks.”
That made everyone quiet as they considered the possibilities. It was Hoss who offered a further possibility.
“What if it’s all true? I mean, what if this is Anne’s brother, this investigator is working for the wrong side, and we got someone on our side who’s a weasel? We could just act like all of them was true and make a plan like they was what we think they might be. One way or another, we’d find out and meanwhile any plan we got might still work.”
Staring at his middle brother for a moment, Adam had to smile. “Hoss, sometimes you are the smartest man in the room.”
“Thanks, Adam. It feels good to hear you say that even if everybody already knew it.”
That got a chuckle but also a few more congratulations on the solution to their dilemma.
“Now we know who two of them are, but we don’t know who the inside man could be. We need to go through the list and give it our best guess.”
Based on date of hire and what part of the plans in which they had participated, the list was narrowed to two. Adam expressed gratitude to the inner circle because he had expected they would have a larger group to watch. Two made it relatively easy and wouldn’t unduly interfere in any plan they formulated. There was nothing left to do except to come up with a plan which they did. Adam would go to town to meet with Falkenberg. There would be two teams set up to protect him. One of the suspected traitors would be in each team and be watched by the others. Anne was still nervous and talked to Adam about it when the other men left to take up assigned positions and one to send a message to Falkenberg that Adam wanted to meet with him.
“Sweetheart, you aren’t the only one nervous about this plan. Hoss wants to meet with me before I go too. I’m not sure what concerns he has, but let’s talk to him.”
In their meeting, Hoss expressed concerns about Adam meeting with Falkenberg alone.
“I have a lot of men backing me up.”
“Adam, that’s another concern. We identified two men who may be on the other side. What if there is another one?”
They discussed that more and then talked with Ben and Joe about it finding they had similar concerns. All of it put Adam and Anne more on edge. By the time Adam headed toward the meeting, he was more nervous than he had been during this whole month. Only a short distance from the Ponderosa, the Marshal met him with a note from Falkenberg. In it, he asked for a change of meeting place because he was worried about a set-up.
“Well, this is cheeky of him. He says he wants to meet at my house near Carson City because he knows I’ll be comfortable there, but he will be too because I won’t have time to set up anything against him because he’s only giving me until two to get there.”
“Adam, don’t go. He’s setting you up. I can’t get the men there in time. They’re all in town.”
“I can handle myself against him. Go to town and tell them what’s going on and then head to my house. By then, it may be settled.”
Riding as hard as he could without bothering the healing wound in his side, Adam made it to his house early. There was a horse tied up outside. It was lathered as if the rider had no concern for the animal. Adam took both horses to the water trough and then put them in the stable to cool down. He pulled the saddles and blankets to help that. When he finished, it was almost two. He walked to the house and stepped inside.
“Are you that stupid or that overconfident? You took care of my horse! Now he’ll be in better shape when I leave after putting a bullet in your head.”
“So, the whole point of this is to kill me. You never intended to even negotiate or bribe me?”
“I knew there was no point to it.”
“What makes you think you can get away with it?”
“Hear that noise back there? That’s my man coming in. He’s the only one who knows you’re here. He’s been telling me everything you’ve been doing ever since I got him on the payroll. It wasn’t going so well until then, but the right amount of money makes everything go better.”
“Can you answer a few questions first if you’re going to kill me anyway?”
“What questions? Oh, I suppose you want to know if I am your brother-in-law. Yes, you poor dope. I am. You are the fool who married my soiled dove sister. You could have done so much better, and you picked her. You knew what she was and married her anyway. I don’t know how any man can respect you.”
“What about your other brother?”
“Eric? Our poor stupid brother is even worse than you. He’s in prison. He went there for something I did. He was trying to save me, the fool. Worked out well for me though.”
“You’re letting him sit in prison for what you did?”
“I left my sister sit in a saloon. I expected her to die there. What’s the difference. I wasn’t about to develop some weakness for family. I take care of myself.” Glancing back, Dolph looked irritated. “Marshal, where are you?”
The Marshal stepped through the door then, but he had his hands in the air, and Hoss was behind him with his pistol out. The brief moment of distraction allowed Adam the chance to draw and for Joe and Ben to come in the front door. Dolph foolishly tried to fight, turned to shoot Adam, and was gunned down by him. A moment later, Anne rushed through the door taking in the scene.
Not knowing what to say after having killed his wife’s brother, Adam stood silent, but Hoss answered.
“Yup, Annie, he was, and he was gonna murder Adam just like we figured. We had four guns on him, and he decided to fight anyway. He was going to shoot Adam who had no choice.”
Turning, Anne walked back out the door. Hoss told Adam to follow her and tell her everything.
“Anne, I know you must be upset with me for killing your brother, but I had no choice. I wanted him to surrender. It really wasn’t what we wanted. It was four to one and he decided to fight anyway.”
“That’s not why I’m upset.”
“Then why are you upset?”
“As soon as the Marshal told you the meeting was here, you knew Hoss was right.”
“Yes, the Marshal had switched sides.”
“He was the one who was setting you up. Knowing that, you came here and walked in there where Dolph could have killed you. How could you have been so damn stupid?”
“That’s why you’re upset?”
“Of course, it is. You risked your life. Why?”
“I wanted to find out why he did what he did, and I delayed until I saw the others arriving out back. I knew I had backup coming in before I went in.”
“That makes it a little better.”
“And this way we found out about your brother Eric.”
A month later, in Stockton, a young man walked out the doors looking unsure and uneasy. Adam and Anne waited for him. Anne walked to him and put out her arms.
“Anne, is it really you?”
“It is. If I had known, I would have come for you sooner.”
“Thank you for getting me out now. I never did what they said I did, but I didn’t want to tell them Dolph did it. I couldn’t do that to our brother.”
“I’ve got some things to tell you about Dolph. Meanwhile, this is my husband, Adam. He’s really the one who got you out. It’s going to be difficult to hear some of these things, but trust me, my husband does not lie.”
It took some time to tell the whole story. By the next day, when Eric had a chance to hear it all, he addressed his sister and Adam.
“A lot of men would want to get revenge on the man who killed their brother. At this point, knowing what Dolph did to me and others and what he planned to do, I can only say I’m grateful. It seems wrong, but I know it’s right. He was starting to do what you told me about when he was here in California. A guard got killed and he got me blamed and sent to prison.”
“So he was guarding bullion shipments here and skimming some off those here too.”
“Yeah, and then turning them into coins. We were going to be rich. That’s what he said, but I ended up in prison instead.”
“Yes, he expanded his operation, and he was becoming rich. He was ruthless too, and people were being killed.”
“Anne, I wanted to take you with us, but Dolph wouldn’t let me even tell you we were leaving. Later, I wanted to send money back to you, but he told me you were dead. I’m sorry I believed him. I’m glad you’re still alive.”
“We have a son, Aaron, too. Do you want to meet him?”
“I would. Then I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“Well, would you like to work on a ranch?”
“I don’t know much about ranch work.”
“We know the man who does the hiring. We think he’ll be willing to take you on, and they’ll teach you what you need to know.”
Later, they climbed aboard Adam’s private rail car. Eric stopped and stared at the elegant accommodations before turning to his brother-in-law.
“Adam, you said your family has a ranch, but what do you do?”
Anne answered for him. “He’s done a number of things, and all of them were legal if you’re concerned about that. His history is actually an interesting but long story. What he will be doing is currently open to discussion.”
“It’s funny, Anne. All these years, and it’s like a big circle with me back in a family with my big sister taking care of me again.”
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Family
Other Stories by this Author
- Sunday School Lessons, and Surprise (by BettyHT)
- Bridges (by BettyHT)
- Silver-Haired Stranger In Town (by BettyHT)
- Margarita (by BettyHT)
- Ghost at Devil’s Gate (by BettyHT)