Whatever it Takes series – #2 – Absolute Faith (by Wrangler)

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Summary:  Absolute Faith is the second story in this series.

Rated: T  WC  32,000

 

Whatever It Takes Series:

Whatever it Takes
Absolute Faith
A Part of the Main
Mustard Seed
To Help a Stranger

 

Absolute Faith

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes.

I all alone beweep my outcast state.

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

And look upon myself and curse my fate.

–       William Shakespeare

It had been a long harsh winter and now the oncoming spring was a welcomed sight. The Ponderosa ranch was alive with much work to be done in preparation for spring round up. There were fences to be mended, new stock to break, and a hundred other chores that had to be accomplished in a very short period of time.

But, today all of that took second stage to the importance of finishing the plans for a surprise birthday party. Ben Cartwright studied the last of his many lists. He had already crossed off food, music, and decorations. The last of the invitations sat on his desk in the study and Ben checked over them carefully.

Hoss walked in from the kitchen and sat down next to his father. “Hop Sing ran me out, Pa! He sure is excited about Joe’s party.” Hoss grinned.

“Well, he’s been trying to do most of his cooking out of the sight of your brother!”

“So far so good. I don’t think Joe is on to us yet.”

Ben handed his son the rest of the invitations and said, “Okay, this is the last of them. You deliver them today and be sure—” Ben was cut short as Hoss broke in.

“I know! I know! Remember this is a surprise party—and remind the guests!”

Hoss laughed as Ben’s face flushed. “Yeah—I guess I have told you that about a million times now, haven’t I?”

Hoss grinned and patted his father’s shoulder. “Actually I think it is a million and one now, Pa.”

Just then, the two men heard the front door turn to open and they quickly stashed the invitations in the desk drawer. Joe Cartwright tossed off his hat at the door and sauntered in to the study. “Hey! Am I the ONLY Cartwright working today?” He teased and plopped down on the corner of his father’s desk. Ben tried his best to don a stern countenance. “You can’t possibly be done with that fence already, Joseph!”

“Oh yes I am!” Joe grinned reading his father’s face and enjoying the clever acting job Ben was doing. “And I even got the poles stripped and ready for the other section before coming back!”

Hoss and his father exchanged surprised glances at Joe’s unusual work performance.

“Well, ain’t you the working fool!” Hoss kidded.

“So, what are you two doing?” Joe asked suspiciously and raised his eyebrows for effect.

“Young man, we are working on the books. Something you seem to resist doing as I recall.”

“Oh.” Joe nodded and once again stood. “Well, guess I’ll go get cleaned up. Oh—yeah—I do have to check my suit to see if it’ll be ready for tomorrow.” Joe stated and moved toward the staircase.

Hoss and his father shared confused expressions and finally Ben called over to Joe. “What do you need your suit for, Joseph? Are you going somewhere tomorrow?”

Joe paused at the bottom stair and gave an eloquent shrug of his shoulders. “Now, Pa—you haven’t forgotten my surprise birthday party is tomorrow have you?” He laughed and Ben and Hoss shook their heads highly irritated.

“Never fails, Pa! It’s impossible to hide anything from Little Joe!” Hoss sighed.

Ben stood and walked over to his youngest son. “Okay, Joe. When did you find out?”

“Just now.” Joe smirked. “I wasn’t absolutely sure—but you both just confirmed it!”

“Joseph!” Ben boomed just as Joe charged the stairs.

“Sorry, Pa! Gotta go check on that suit now!” Joe chuckled escaping his father’s wrath.

Ben stood at the bottom of the staircase shaking his head in both disgust and amusement. “Well, Hoss, go deliver the invitations. As usual Joseph has made us look foolish. One of these days—”

Ben’s voice trailed off as he headed for the brandy decanter. Joseph had a way about him that could drive anyone to drink.

The Ponderosa ranch house was decked out in her finest attire the next evening. There were colorful Chinese lanterns, balloons, and a birthday banner, which stretched the entire length of the front porch. It would seem as though Virginia City must surely be a ghost town that night, as almost all of her inhabitants were there on the ranch. Invitations were only a formality, as everyone was invited at this, Joseph Cartwright’s, twenty-second birthday party.

The music was lively and the food and drink were plentiful. All four Cartwrights looked handsome as they mingled with their many guests. Adam walked over to his youngest brother who was taking a break from his many dance partners and getting some punch.

“Having a good time?” Adam asked pouring himself a drink.

“Yeah—looks like everyone is having a great time! I’ve even seen Pa out there dancing it up!”

Adam looked at Joe’s eyes. “You haven’t been spiking the punch again have you?”

Joe laughed. “Haven’t had the time yet! But you know I will!” Joe grinned devilishly and Adam rolled his eyes.

“You never cease to amaze me, Little Brother! You have been spiking the punch bowls at parties ever since you were tall enough to reach Pa’s brandy!”

“Tradition.” Joe smiled as a beautiful blonde guest grabbed his arm.

“C’mon, Joe—I haven’t had a chance to dance with you all night!” She protested.

Joe winked at his oldest brother. “Sorry to leave you, Old Man, but duty calls!” Joe turned and made it back to the dance floor.

Adam stood there shaking his head in amusement as Hoss approached him. “Hey—don’t feel bad, Adam!” Hoss patted him on the back. “There’s still a few fillies who want to dance with us old men!” Hoss laughed and Adam put down his drink.

“Speak for yourself, Brother! I am not old!” Adam headed out to the dance floor.

Before the party was over that night, Ben drew the crowd together for the customary birthday toast to his son. “Here’s to my son Joseph! Happy twenty-second birthday, Joseph! I wish you health, happiness, love, and everything your heart desires—-” Ben paused and shot Joe a peculiar smile. “Within reason—of course!” He laughed and they all drank to the occasion.

In Virginia City that night, there were still a couple of cowboys who hadn’t made it to the Cartwright celebration. Two men stood at the bar in the Silver Dollar Saloon.

“Maybe we should have gone to Cartwright’s party, Travis.” One of the men said hoisting a shot glass up to his mouth.

“Why? So we could see what lavish presents the kid gets this year? God knows he’s got everything in the world already! If you wanted to go so badly then why didn’t you, Pete?”

“You kidding? Are you forgetting how Joe stole Katie from me last summer? Not that he wanted her for himself—naw—he just wanted to show me up! He ended up dropping her the very next week!” Pete spat back angrily. “There’s no love loss between Joe and me. Oh he pretends to be a friend but he’s been back-stabbing me ever since we were in school together!”

Travis took his drink over to a table and Pete followed. They drank more whiskey and Travis finally spoke out. “Joe’s the reason my sister left town. She was real strung out on him but he didn’t even give her the time of day! She never would have moved back to Virginia to live with our aunt if it weren’t for Cartwright! Guess he thought my family wasn’t good enough to associate with his!”

“You know—” Pete paused and reached for another shot of whiskey. “I sure liked it when Joe was gone a year ago! It was great to be able to go to a dance and not have to watch as all the girls fawn all over him!”

Travis thought for a moment and then he remembered all about Joe Cartwright’s long absence.

“Yeah—how about that? Joe goes and gets all crazy on morphine—goes away to San Francisco and comes back like he’s a war hero of something! I couldn’t believe it!”

“Me neither! I wish he never had come back.” Pete said finishing another drink. The alcohol was now taking over his senses. The whiskey had only fueled the two men’s hatred for Joe.

“I think I have a way we can fix Joe once and for all.” Travis replied cryptically.

“How?” Pete was now anxious to do something, anything, to settle the score he had with Joe.

“Give me a few days to think it all out! Then you and I are gonna have some real fun at Joe’s expense!” Travis smiled and lifted his glass to toast his friend. “Here’s to Joe Cartwright! Happy Birthday!” Pete laughed and touched glasses with his friend.

Later that same night, after all of the guests had left and the clean up had been completed, Ben walked up the stairs and to Joe’s bedroom. He knocked on the door and Joe let his father in.

“Just hanging up my suit, Pa.” Joe said turning back to his chiffonier.

Ben walked across the room and sat on the bottom of Joe’s bed. “Did you have a good time?”

“Sure did, Pa! It was a great surprise party!” Joe grinned and took off his string tie and tossed it on the bureau.

“Yes—BIG surprise, Huh? “Ben laughed. “I think I’ll throw your next party in December —maybe that way it WILL be a surprise!”

“You should know by now you can’t get one over on me, PA!” Joe smiled and walked over and sat down next to his father.

There was a brief silence between the two of them, which Ben finally broke. “I have one more present for you.” Ben said and handed his son a small gift-wrapped box.

“Another one?” Joe asked confused. “Pa, you already have done enough! The new holster and the saddle—not to mention the party!” Joe protested.

“Now YOU of all people are not turning down a present are you?” Ben teased.

Joe raised his hand in gesture. “No! I would never do that! I’m much too greedy!” Joe reached for the package and began opening it. When he finally opened the lid to the box Joe was shocked to find a gold pocket-watch. He looked up at his father with a bewildered look on his face. “Pa, this is your watch! The one your father gave to you!”

Ben nodded. “Yes, and now it is yours, Joseph.”

Joe handed it back to his father. “Pa—I can’t take this—” Joe started but Ben cut him off.

“Yes you can. I want you to have it! My father gave it to me on my twenty-first birthday.” Ben paused and put his arm around Joe’s shoulder. “I wanted to give it to you on your Twenty-first birthday. But, I couldn’t do that —.” Ben’s eyes met Joe’s and his son’s countenance changed.

Joe’s mind thought back to the previous year. He remembered sitting in his hospital room in San Francisco. He remembered the horrible feeling of being so all alone last year. So detached from his family as he had struggled to get over his addiction to morphine, Joe had tried his best to push all thoughts about his addiction and recovery out of his mind. And, any time it was mentioned by a family member, Joe would abruptly change the subject.

“Joe?” Ben called trying to shake Joe out of his daze.

“I don’t deserve this, Pa. You need to give it to Adam or Hoss.” Joe replied looking away.

“No.” Ben answered adamantly and turned Joe’s face to look at him. “This is for you. I have given your brothers other special things on each of their birthdays.”

“But your father’s watch—why me?”

“Open it up and read what is on the inside.” Ben instructed his son.

Joe looked to see a single word imprinted on the inside of the watch’s cover. “Faith.” Joe spoke aloud.

“Yes, faith.” Ben nodded. “My father had that one word engraved to let me know he had faith in me. He knew that I would always do my best and he told me he had faith that I would make him proud!”

Joe shook his head sadly. “That was you, Pa. I haven’t exactly done such a great job making you proud. I’ve cause a lot of heartache in twenty-two years!”

Ben smiled broadly and patted Joe on the back. “You sure have!” He exclaimed and Joe looked up at him. “But, the joy you have brought me far surpasses any of the heartache along the way!”

Touched with his father’s words, Joe held the pocket watch in his left palm. His heart swelled knowing the love, which it represented. “I don’t know what to say, Pa.”

Ben ruffled Joe’s hair affectionately. “Don’t say anything then.” Ben stood up. “Well, I’m for bed.” He said and turned toward the door.

“Pa—” Joe called and walked over to his father. Joe gave him a hug “Thanks.” He whispered.

“Happy Birthday, Joseph.”

Joe smiled as Ben opened the door to leave. He stopped and turned back to face his son.

“I’m going to turn in now. I think I have a headache coming on—-”

Joe looked at his father puzzled. “Headache?” Joe asked.

“Yes—I have a feeling that someone in this house spiked that punch bowl.” Ben’s eyebrows narrowed and Joe gave a guilty smile.

“Now who would do an awful thing like that?” Joe laughed.

“Goodnight, Joseph.” Ben grinned knowingly at his youngest son.

“Goodnight, Pa.” Joe said as he stared down at the watch he held tightly in his hand.

Three days after the birthday celebration the Cartwright family gathered in the living room. Hoss and Adam knew what was coming. Assignments would be made for the upcoming workweek. And that would mean the yearly two week stay at Oblivion. Oblivion was the name that the two oldest Cartwright brothers had given to a line shack, which stood remotely out in the dense forest on the northwestern border of the Ponderosa. It was a lonely and boring assignment, which both Cartwrights had come to dread! It meant riding the fence line, making repairs, and returning to the dismal cabin each evening. There were never any visitors and it was too far for a trip into Virginia City.

Adam turned and looked at his brother Hoss. He was hoping that it would be his brother’s turn this year. Even though Adam had been pegged as the loner of the family, still, the intense solitude of Oblivion was more than he could handle. Ben stood by the fireplace adding a new log to the blazing fire as Joe stretched out on the settee. Joe could see his brother’s squirm knowing what one of them was about to be handed to do. He gave a handsome and somewhat smug smile just as his father turned from the fireplace and cleared his throat for attention.

“Okay, Pa.” Adam began. “Who is the poor stiff this year? Hoss or me?”

“Well, “ Ben stopped and looked amused at the dread displayed on his two oldest son’s faces.

“Oblivion—as you boys so eloquently named it—belongs to Joseph this year!”

“What?” Came Joe’s strained voice. Adam and Hoss laughed as Joe sprang up from the settee.

“Pa—-what did I do?” Joe protested.

Ben walked over and patted Joe on the shoulder. “Remember our little talk the other night? I told you I have faith in you. Faith that you are old enough to handle anything—even Oblivion!” Ben chuckled at the pained expression, which covered Joe’s face.

“Glad it’s you not me!” Hoss teased his little brother and Adam had to jump in.

“Yeah, you better take some books to read or you’ll end up having conversations with the walls!”

Joe sneered at his two highly amused brothers. Ben stepped in between the three of them before animosity heightened into a fist fight.” Don’t worry about your brothers, Joseph. Believe me—they will have lots to do to keep them occupied!”

Joe folded his arms across his chest and muttered, “I think I liked it better when you didn’t trust me, Pa.”

Ben shook his head and sat down in his blue chair by the hearth. “Don’t look so gloomy! I planned to give all three of you the day off tomorrow. So, you have one day to enjoy yourself before you leave for Oblivion.”

This perked Joe up! A day in Virginia City to play poker, flirt with the girls, and hoist a few drinks. “Okay, Pa.” Joe resigned himself to the job he had been given.

“We’ll give you a good send off, Little Brother! I’ll even buy the first round of drinks!” Hoss said trying to cheer Joe.

“Okay—you buy the first round and Adam can buy the second round!” Joe responded glaring at Adam.

Adam finally broke the stare. “Alright, Joe, —but the third round is on you! That is if you’re still standing by then!”

Ben broke in on the conversation. “I’d advise you three to come back sober!” He said sternly—doubting it would have much effect. He then reached for his newspaper as the three brothers exchanged gleeful smiles at the thought of a day off and what they would do in Virginia City.

The next afternoon Hoss, Adam, and Joe Cartwright stood at the bar at the Silver Dollar Saloon. “Here’s to our little brother—” Hoss paused and raised his beer as Adam followed suit. “Two weeks in Oblivion—lots of luck!” They all touched beer mugs to toast the thought.

Joe shortly left them as he sought a poker game, itching to take some money home with him for his next visit to town.

Later that afternoon, after Joe had played several hands of poker, he once again joined his brothers who were now at a table in the saloon. “How’d you do?” Hoss asked.

Joe gave an egotistical grin and put his silver coins on the table. “I’m about ten dollars ahead.”

Adam reached over and took away half of the stack of coins. “Not quite, Joe.”

Adam grinned and signaled for the bartender. “It is your turn to buy!” Joe gave a defeated frown and rolled his eyes as he noticed how the coins on the table had diminished.

Bruno brought the next round of drinks over to the Cartwright’s table where they sat relaxing as they sipped their beers. “Well, Joe, guess this is the last time we’ll be seeing you for two weeks!” Adam rubbed it in. “I know you are looking forward to two weeks of peace and quiet.” He laughed.

“Yeah—well, it’s better than listening to the two of you run your mouths! Besides, two weeks isn’t so long.” Joe replied hoping he would eventually believe the statement he had made.

Hoss reached over and playfully smacked his brother’s arm. “Joe, that line shack can make you plum crazy—I’m telling you!”

“Oh? So THAT”S what did it to you and Adam, huh?” Joe let loose with a string of laughter.

“No, actually we were driven insane by a pesky little brother!” Adam retorted.

“Well, you two don’t worry about me! Two weeks of solitude don’t seem too bad right now! And mending fences has gotten to be my specialty of late!”

“You’ll see, Little Brother, Oblivion is just that—total oblivion! And you’ll have all the solitude you can get for the whole two weeks!”

Joe frowned at Adam’s statement and the thought of his assignment was beginning to become very real in his mind.

Across from the Cartwright’s table, amidst the crowded saloon, two men listened intently on the Cartwright brother’s conversation. Travis signaled his friend Pete to follow him outside. Once they met in the alley behind the saloon, Travis spoke. “This is just what I’ve been waiting for! It’s our chance to fix Joe once and for all!”

“You got a plan figured out?” Pete was excited at the thought.

Travis’ face took on a sadistic expression, his eyes like two pieces of burning coal glowed at the thought of revenge. “Meet me tomorrow morning —first thing—over at Twin Fork’s Ridge. I’ll have everything we need ready by then.”

“Sure thing!” Pete nodded as his friend hurried off down the alley way. Pete did not know what Travis had in mind, nor did it matter. He only knew that whatever it was would mean trouble for Joe Cartwright. Big trouble.

The next morning Joe woke early and readied his saddlebags for the two week stay at Oblivion. He included among his things a deck of cards and a favorite book, along with clothes, ammunition and food. He bid a quick farewell to his family and mounted Cochise. Then he turned and rode out toward his assignment.

Travis Brodie and Pete Conn sat on their horses and watched from their vantage point up on the ridge over looking the path they knew Joe would shortly be taking. Their presence was totally unnoticed as Joe galloped by.

“Now—do you have any questions?” Travis asked after he had explained to his friend exactly what they were going to do.

“You sure Joe is gonna be alone the whole time?”

“Yes. Two weeks. More than enough time to do what we have to do—before they come and get him!”

“Okay, let’s ride!” Pete nodded and they turned their horses down the path to follow their victim.

Joe made it out to the line shack by mid-afternoon. As he dismounted his eyes caught on the cabin. Above the doorway hung a hand carved sign. One that his brother Hoss had made during one of his long stays there. “Welcome to Oblivion”

“Yeah—Oblivion!” Joe said aloud, removed his saddlebags from the back of his horse, and brought them in to the cabin.

That afternoon had been spent cleaning up the one room cabin so it would be fit for the long two weeks. Joe had washed off the table, made up the bunk, and brought in wood for the wood-burning stove. There wasn’t even time before dark to check any of the fence line, but he fed and brushed Cochise before letting her loose in the small corral.

Joe next tried to make something to eat. He was hardly the best cook in the world, but he did make beans without burning them and had been given a sack of biscuits from Hop Sing before he had left that morning. Joe settled in and ate his meal and then lit the two oil lamps. He drew from out his saddlebags a book from home. It was a much beloved book of poems. Joe had made it a point not to be seen reading it in front of his family as he figured it would ruin his image. But, in times of trouble he had reached for it and found comfort in the words. The fact that it had been given to him by his oldest brother was also a reason he found comfort in it, though he would never let Adam know. This time the book was not meant to ease his pain or trouble, but, instead was for something to do as boredom had already set in.

Just before Joe was ready to turn in for the evening, he heard a noise outside. He had already turned toward the bunk to retrieve his pistol when the door to the cabin flew wide open. “Hold it right there, Joe!” Pete said pointing his weapon at Joe’s stomach. Joe stopped in his tracks as the other man walked over to retrieve Joe’s gun and holster.

Joe’s mind flashed wildly. Pete he knew! They had even been friends back in school but of late he had many run-ins with him, usually over a girl. He was still stunned to see Pete hold a gun on him, as all fights in the past had been fists only.

Now Travis was another case all together! Joe never could put his finger on it, but had a gut feeling that the man was bad news. He had been around Virginia City for about five years, and he had a sister that had left town abruptly. He knew Travis’ father was a drinker but was also on several important town committees along with Joe’s father. He knew Travis never had to work for money, and it was rumored that his father just handed him what ever he wanted just to rid himself of him. Travis was a trouble-maker and it now looked like that trouble had brought with it a friend.

“What the Hell are you two doing?” Joe’s anger didn’t stop even with a gun pointed at his vital organs. Travis smiled and replied, “Ain’t you glad to see us, Joe? I heard tell that you were gonna be here all by your lonesome and thought for sure you’d like some company!”

“I’ll watch him, Travis. You tie his hands!” Pete said still keeping a safe distance between him and Joe in case Joe had plans of rushing him.

Travis grabbed Joe’s hands from behind and yanked them hard. Joe’s instincts said to fight but his mind knew of the danger of the gun pointed at him. He thought maybe he could talk Pete out of what was going on. “Pete—you know there’s gonna be real trouble when my family finds out about this! You want to go to jail?” Joe tried to reason.

Pete laughed, as did Travis. “He’s worried about us going to jail!”

Travis tied Joe’s hands behind him tightly and then shoved him down on the bunk. “Cartwright, don’t worry about us! You need to worry about yourself!” Travis walked over to the table and took off his coat. He then reached inside one of the pockets and drew out two items. Joe could not see what Travis was doing as his vision was obstructed by Pete. Travis worked on something for a minute and then turned back toward Joe on the bunk.

“I brought an old friend of yours with us, Joe!” He grinned sadistically.

Joe’s face filled with confusion. “I don’t see any friend of mine here.” Joe returned angrily.

“Here he is!” Travis exclaimed and held up a syringe, which he had just filled with morphine.

Joe’s eyes fell upon the syringe in front of him. A flash of an old pain shot through his mind. Then it was like watching his life displayed in front of himself. He saw old wounds both physical and mental open up like an ocean of despair. “No!” Joe’s shout filled the night air.

Travis walked closer to his victim. “Oh, it will make you feel so much better!”

“Stick that needle in me and I swear to God I’ll kill you! One way or the other I will kill you!” Joe cursed at his captors.

Travis shook his head. “Well, Pete, looks like Joe wants it the hard way—seems like he doesn’t appreciate our kindness. Better come help hold him still!”

Pete pushed Joe down on the bunk—his arms still tied behind him. Joe fought with all his strength to avoid what was happening but it was no use. Travis pulled Joe’s shirtsleeve up and plunged the syringe into Joe’s flesh. Joe screamed in pain.

Yes, the needle hurt—but the most pain was caused by what Joe knew would be a descent into the addiction he had previously fought.

It wasn’t long before the morphine had slowed Joe’s senses and he settled down into a quiet state of acceptance. The two men watched as their prisoner closed his eyes.

“You sure you didn’t give him too much, Travis? I mean—hey—I don’t want to kill him.” Pete worried at seeing the fight go out of Joe so quickly.

“I told you before—my Dad use to be a medic with the army—he showed me how to do it years ago. I ain’t gonna kill him—that would defeat our plan!”

“Well, I’ll go take care of the horses.” Pete turned to leave as Travis sat at the table and finished what had been Joe’s cup of coffee. He lifted the bottle of morphine and smiled at himself and his perfect plan.

Just as dawn broke the following day Joe struggled to return to reality. He was stiff and sore from the ropes, which still bound his wrists and had a dull headache from the morphine. There was a sharp pain in his right arm where the syringe had been roughly administered, and Joe cringed upon realizing what had taken place the previous night. His eyes then focused on the two men asleep on bedrolls on the floor of the cabin. For the life of him he couldn’t understand what their plans were for him. He wondered what he could have done to have invoked such hatred.

Joe’s thoughts then turned on what was to become of him. Tears formed in his eyes as he thought back to the previous year and how extreme his withdrawal from morphine had been. He remembered the violence that had taken over his nature when his body craved the drug. Joe remembered the hurt the anger and the loss he felt after being committed to the hospital in San Francisco.

He also thought back on the devastating rift it had caused between his father and himself. Joe looked again at the two men, he hoped they would tire of their game and maybe let him go. Then he wondered if the morphine would once again take over his person—and he felt the most intense anger he had ever felt coming to the surface. Joe decided he would rather be dead than to become addicted for the second time in his life!

It was not in the cards for Travis and Pete to give up with their game! They were enjoying what it was doing to their victim as each time he begged them to leave him alone. By the third day of his imprisonment Joe just stared down at the food they had brought him. “You better eat, Cartwright!” Travis warned. “If you’re planning in starving yourself it won’t work. I’ll stuff that food down your mouth if I have to!”

“What did I ever do to either of you to hate me this much?” Joe asked the same question he had asked for three straight days without response. Each time it was met with pure laughter and one time it caused Travis to spit in Joe’s face.

“You know damn well!” Travis finally responded. “You know you caused my sister to leave town! You broke her heart!” He shouted.

Joe shook his head in disbelief. “I never even knew your sister! I spoke with her maybe once or twice in passing—that’s all! If she left it wasn’t on the count of me!”

“Yeah right!” Travis said disgustedly and drank of his whiskey.

Pete came in the front door and Joe then turned to him. “Okay—Travis thinks I ran his sister off—which I didn’t—so what imaginary thing did I do to you?”

Pete sat down, grabbed Travis’ whiskey bottle, and poured a drink. “What about Katie, Joe? You DO remember her don’t you?” Pete responded bitterly.

Joe thought for a minute and then spoke. “She wasn’t your girl, Pete. She was seeing three other guys when I started dating her. That’s why I broke up with her! I hardly stole her from you!”

“It wasn’t JUST Katie! All our lives you have been back-stabbing me—all the times you didn’t defend me in school—all the fights —everything!”

“I defended you when you were right about something—but not when you were wrong! I never got myself in trouble defending some rotten thing that you did—but I did bail you out when you were in the right and you know it!”

Pete laughed again bitterly. “Stop trying to defend yourself—it’s too late, Joe!”

“You know my family will be coming to check on me!” Joe warned.

“Don’t think so! We were right behind you at the Silver Dollar the night you were there with Hoss and Adam—you are here for two weeks alone!” Travis countered.

“Look.” Joe shifted his weight trying to sit up straighter. “If you are going to shoot me up with morphine for two weeks then I would rather you kill me! So let’s just get it over with!” Joe’s eyes spoke that he was serious about his statement.

Travis filled another syringe with morphine and walked back over to Joe. “No—that’s not the plan—guess you haven’t figured it out yet, huh? Well, I’ll tell you.” Travis sat next to Joe on the bunk as Pete walked over for back-up.

“By the time we leave here, you will be begging us for this stuff. I can see it in your eyes already, Joe. The first couple of days all I saw was fear when I injected you. Now I see gratitude! So, we are going to fix you up! Then when we leave you will be right back where you started—you know—when your Pa sent you away! I know it ALL, Joe! Do you think no one talked about why you were gone for all those months? The gossips in town had a field day with it! I know about you stealing drugs from Doctor Martin, I know about you getting the stuff from your good friend Mitch—I even know about you slugging your Pa!”

Joe’s eyes closed as he realized he must surely be in Hell. No other place could cause this much pain or torture! The two men could not be reasoned with and in his state, Joe knew there would be no way to escape. His mind filled with muffled voices. He could hear the nurses in the hospital as he fought from the restraints that had been placed on his wrists. He heard the yelling from the orderly that he had kicked trying to be set free. He could also hear the quiet, patient voice of Dr. Harold Peele as he coaxed him into trying harder and harder to recover.

But the voice that stood out most in his mind was that of his father. He could hear him as he had pleaded with Joe to stop fighting the restraints, which he had placed on Joe’s wrists. Then Joe saw in slow motion the fight he had with Ben and saw his father fall as he reeled back from the punch Joe had thrown.

Travis pulled Joe’s sleeve up again and found no resistance on Joe’s part. Joe sat there stone faced and did not even wince from the stab of the syringe. In his heart he had given up, there was nothing left to fight for. He hoped that Travis was a poor doctor and would give him too much morphine and end his life.

The first week had gone just as Travis and Pete had planned. They didn’t have to keep a constant guard on their prisoner any more as he spent most of his time in a dazed condition. They had untied his wrists so as not to give the appearance that Joe had been in any way abducted, should his family return earlier than planned. As much as Joe fought not to eat or drink, he eventually did. And the old addiction was back now in full bloom. Both men could see the eagerness in Joe’s dull green eyes as they brought out the morphine.

By the time the second week was almost done, they played a new game with their prisoner. Having made him crave the evil drug they now insisted he beg for it before receiving an injection. The night before they were to leave they continued with their game.

“Okay, Joe, now ask me real nice.” Travis laughed. Joe looked with glazed eyes at both men.

“Please—” Joe said in a whisper. “Please—I need it.”

“Nope! Got to ask louder and nicer!” Travis insisted. Pete was getting annoyed at Travis by now. “Just give him the damn stuff, Travis! Stop messing with him—you know he’s already crazy for it!”

Travis shot his friend a harsh look. “This is our last night—let me have my fun—”

Joe tried to reach for the syringe and Travis pulled it back. “Oh—you want to do it yourself this time?” Travis smiled at the thought and filled the syringe all the way, making it the most morphine he had given Joe in any one injection.

Joe looked pathetically at Pete. “Please, Pete—let me have it!” Joe begged.

Travis handed the syringe to Joe and pulled up the sleeve for him. “Go for it, Joe! Show us how an expert addict does it!” He said sadistically. Joe plunged it into the fold of his elbow and pushed the plunger in releasing the full contents of the syringe. He fell back on the bed.

“Travis—I think you gave him too much! He’s never gone out that fast!” Pete was now very worried. He didn’t want a murder hanging over his head.

“Naw—he’s just feeling no pain! Let’s clean things up so nobody can tell there was ever anyone but Joe here!”

“Yeah, bet they’ll come out here looking for him when he doesn’t make it home!”

Pete said straightening the cabin up and removing all evidence of their presence.

“I’d give a million bucks to see his family’s faces when they see how poor old Joe has gone back to his morphine using ways!” Travis grinned thinking of what that would do to each Cartwright but especially Joe.

Ben Cartwright stood in the Ponderosa living room having spent a sleepless night. It was early in the morning and he had just consumed his third cup of coffee trying to ease the dull headache he was experiencing. Joe had not come home the previous day. It was now fifteen days since he had seen his youngest son, and the worry was building. Ben could think of no reason that Joe would not have returned after completing the two week assignment. In fact, Ben had suspected that his youngest would appear even before the fourteen days had passed, out of boredom if not loneliness. But that had not been the case.

As Ben began his routine of pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace both Adam and Hoss appeared dressed in work clothes coming down the long staircase.

“I told you he was already up!” Hoss said to Adam as they made it to the bottom landing.

Ben turned toward his sons. “What are you both doing up so early? It’s not even six o’clock yet!” Ben wondered.

“We thought you’d be worried cause Joe wasn’t back yet!” Adam replied and neared his father.

“He’s probably just taken a detour into Virginia City—you know how Joe is!” Hoss tried to lighten the foreboding mood in the room.

Ben shook his head. “I don’t think Joe would do that, at least not until he had a chance to get cleaned up and had some fresh clothes. No, I think something is wrong.” Ben sat stiffly down in his chair and folded his hands trying to get a grip on his emotions.

“We’ll head on out and bring him home. He’s never been good with numbers—maybe he just forgot what day it was.” Adam said as both brothers walked over to the door to retrieve their coats and guns.

“Well, I guess it wouldn’t do any harm you boys going to check on him—we haven’t done that the whole two weeks—” Ben’s voice trailed off wondering if he was just a tad too over-protective of his youngest son.

“We’ll be back soon—and stop worrying!” Hoss smiled and the two men left in search of their brother.

It was noon by the time both Adam and Hoss had reached the cabin known as Oblivion. Hoss saw Cochise in the corral and was surprised that there was no sign of his brother. He hadn’t mentioned it to Adam, but Hoss noticed quite a few fences on the way up to the cabin, which were in ill repair. If Joe hadn’t fixed those, he wondered just what Joe had been doing for the two weeks. The two men dismounted and walked up the steps to the cabin. Upon opening the door, they could see a still figure laid out on the bunk.

“Gee—that boy can sleep!” Adam announced as they started toward Joe. “Rise and shine!” He all but shouted. Joe remained still. Hoss approached his little brother and stared down at his wane face. “Joe—hey—Joe! Wake up!” Hoss’ voice took on a pleading sound.

Adam reached down and pulled up one of Joe’s eyelids, he turned back to Hoss with total confusion spelled out on his face. “Hoss—he isn’t asleep—he’s unconscious!”

Hoss lightly slapped Joe’s face and he never as much as stirred.

“You think he’s sick?” Hoss asked as dread started to remind him where he had seen this look on Joe before.

Something caught Adam’s eye, he noticed the glint of glass laying just along side the bed on the floor. He reached down and lifted it to view what it was. He read aloud the label. “Morphine.” It was then that he saw the syringe laying just under Joe’s right shirt sleeve.

“Oh, God, no!” Hoss’ voice cried out in horror. “Not this—he wouldn’t—”

Adam pulled up his brother’s right sleeve and looked in disgust at the many injection sites on Joe’s arm. “We’ve got to get him home—he needs a doctor. Looks like he has overdosed on the damn stuff!”

“But- WHY! Why would he do this!” Hoss was distraught as memories from Joe’s previous addiction flooded his head. “This is gonna kill Pa!”

Adam grabbed Hoss’ huge shoulders. “Snap out of it, Hoss! We don’t have time to wonder the where’s and why’s of this now! We have to get the kid home! We don’t have time to get a wagon up here—can you hold him on your horse the way back?”

As if to answer, Hoss grabbed his little brother up in his arms and headed toward the door. Adam made a quick survey of the room and found several more empty bottles of morphine and more than a dozen syringes. He pocketed one of the bottles and headed out to help Hoss.

Once outside, Adam held Joe as Hoss mounted his horse. “Lift him up to me.” Hoss said steadying Chub. Adam lifted his unconscious brother up to the strong arms of Hoss. Hoss placed Joe between him and front of his saddle. “You go get a bridle on Cochise—I’ll start out—you’ll catch up with me—I’ll take it slow.” And with that last statement Hoss secured one massive arm around Little Joe’s chest, turned his reins with the other hand, and started for home.

Ben heard horses approaching as he sat out on the front porch. He had been working on some inventory sheets trying his best to shake himself out of his apprehensive state of mind. First Adam’s horse came into sight followed closely behind by Hoss. The first strange thing Ben noticed was the rapid way Adam had dismounted and then he saw the figure of Joe slunk down in the protective arms of his brother Hoss.

Ben did not take the steps down the porch one at a time, he all but jumped down them and made his way over to his three sons. “What happened!” He shouted as he saw Adam reach for his brother’s limp form as Hoss passed him down.

“We can talk about it inside—let’s get Joe into his bed first!” Adam responded hastily, stalling, with the hope he could figure out a way to explain Joe’s condition to his worried father. He dreaded that chore! How could he tell him what Joe had done? And, since it didn’t make any sense to Adam, he knew it would make even less sense to his father.

By the time Joe was brought up to his room a million thoughts had already passed through his father’s worried mind. He assumed Joe had fallen victim to some illness or injury. They removed Joe’s boots and spread him out on the bed, and yet this caused no motion on Joe’s part.

Ben checked his son’s head for fever and found none. Nor did he find any visible cause for his condition. “What happened to him?” Ben asked turning to look at his two other sons. They both stood with blank faces wondering exactly what to say. Ben noticed especially how Hoss had dropped his head down to prevent Ben from looking into his eyes. If he had seen Hoss’ eyes at that moment he would have seen the blueness of them being shadowed by the welling of tears. Hoss could not stand the notion of what his father would soon be hearing them say to him. He could not stand the thought of the pain this would surely invoke in Ben’s heart. Part of Hoss wanted to shake the daylights out of his baby brother for having done this to the family, but especially to the father he loved so dearly. And then there was the other part of Hoss that ached at the pain he assumed his brother must have been in to ever have touched the morphine again. It was that part that wanted to gather up his brother in his arms and keep him safe.

Adam brought up the blanket to his brothers chin and took a deep breath. He had to tell his father the truth, there was nothing he could do to further delay it. Adam wondered if his father would be able to handle it. Though he had not been present during the previous bout with Joe’s addiction, both Ben and Hoss had told him of the whole ordeal. Adam hoped that he would be able to share the burden this time. Medically he knew all about addiction to morphine, but mentally he could not make sense out of the dependence it created. He turned from the bed and finally faced his father. “Let’s go downstairs, Pa. Maybe it would be better—”

Ben cut his eldest son off, “What is wrong with your brother—I want to know NOW!”

Adam looked at Hoss for help, but he offered none, the words were stuck in his throat. Realizing it would be on him and him alone to explain, Adam drew out an empty bottle of morphine and handed it to his father. Ben looked down at the bottle and read it’s label.

Time froze, caught in the remembrance of the sights and sounds of many horrendous pictures that pulsated through Ben Cartwright’s mind. He could feel the pulse in his neck beat harder and harder as his heart pounded with a combination of fear, sorrow, and anger. He could not comprehend how this could possibly have happened. How could his son renew his addiction to the drug, and why?

After watching Joe for over a year, showing no signs of falling back into the deadly habit, Ben was sure his son had beat his addiction and would never even consider touching morphine again! Now, here, the young man lay, in an unconscious state. Ben had seen this scene before, back when he had found his son injecting himself out in the barn over a year ago. He had taken a large dose and had been unconscious for over a day.

Adam and Hoss joined around their father for support. Adam touched his father’s shoulder. “We’ll get through this, Pa. He beat it once before—he can beat it again.” Adam insisted.

“Why?” Ben repeated over and over again. “Why would he do this?” Ben fought off bitter tears.

Hoss and Adam stood in silence. There was no answer to the pleading question their father had asked. The three men stood gazing upon the unconscious Joe, each caught up in their own personal memory of the young man.

Adam remembered the small mischievous boy who he chased around in his youth. Always trying to irritate him in some way to get his oldest brother to pay attention to him.

Hoss thought of the youngster he had taught to ride a horse and helped with his bully problems in school. He had always been able to rescue Little Joe no matter the trouble, with the one exception—his morphine addiction.

Ben walked over to the head of the bed and reached out to touch his son. His hand brushed past the soft brown curls on Joe’s forehead and found it’s way down to his cheek. The cheek that now was so cold and lifeless. Ben’s thoughts were of a tiny infant he cradled in his arms so worried he would drop him when Marie had first handed Joe to the nervous father. Ben remembered staring in awe at the small baby. So much tinier than his previous two sons and yet with a grip that showed immense strength. That was the day of his birth and the reason he had been deemed as “Little” Joe. There was even speculation by Doctor Paul Martin that the premature infant would not survive his first night. But, just as it would later prove, through countless life threatening injuries and illnesses, Joe was a survivor! With the irrepressible strength of mind and body, even the infant Joe clung on and proved all skeptics wrong.

Ben wondered what had happened to that fighter. What could have made Joe succumb to the irrational need for the morphine? Most of all Ben wondered how he had failed his youngest son. For, he was sure, that Joe falling back into his addiction must have been due to the lack of something he had missed at home. The sudden and powerful idea came upon Ben as he thought of how he had given Joe the task of going to Oblivion.

He cursed himself inside for the two-week absence he had forced on his son. That had to be it! Joe must not have been ready for a long absence from his family, perhaps maybe thinking of it as some form of banishment. Joe had deemed his stay at the hospital in San Francisco as a punishment for his deeds, or, at least that was how Joe explained it to his father on the long trip home the previous spring.

Ben was shaken from his thoughts once again by Adam. “Pa, we ran into Clint and he is riding out for Doctor Martin. Why don’t you go downstairs and we’ll get Joe cleaned up before the Doc gets here?”

“I clean Little Joe—you all go!” Came Hop Sing’s insistent voice from behind the three men. “You go now!” Hop Sing was adamant. He had stood in the doorway and listened to all that had transpired between his American family. Ben needed to leave the room, he thought if he stayed any longer he would go insane with the guilt he was starting to feel.

“Okay—Hop Sing, “ Adam paused turning toward the door. “We are going to get something to calm us down and we’ll be back up in a minute.” Adam ushered his father and brother out of the room and closed the door.

Hop Sing set about the business of getting Joe’s clothes removed. He washed him down with soap and water and dried him off before carefully pulling the nightshirt over his head and straightening it down to his legs. Then Hop Sing pulled a chair over to the bed, reached for Joe’s hand, and took it into his own.

Hop Sing’s dark eyes gazed lovingly at the young man he felt at least partly belonged to him. Joe would be as close to a son as Hop Sing would ever know, and seeing him in this state upset him deeply. He knew what the others had said about Joe, but his heart would not believe it. There had to be something else, something that they were all missing. Nothing would make Little Joe do this again.

The first time had not been his fault. No one in the family believed it was, as the original addiction had occurred as they tried to keep Joe alive to treat a massive burn he had received in trying to save a young girl’s life. Joe could not be faulted for that. But, if it were true, and Joe had indeed caused his own falling back into the use of morphine, Hop Sing was terrified for him. He worried as to what would happen to his beloved family.

Hop Sing had watched in horror as the previous time it seemed to have split apart all of the Cartwrights. It had been weeks after Ben had taken Joe to San Francisco before Hop Sing could bring himself to even talk to the other Cartwrights. So mad that his Little Joe had been sent away, Hop Sing had almost left himself, and returned to San Francisco once and for all. Had it not been for the talk he had with Doctor Martin, he would have done just that! But, the doctor had relieved Hop Sing’s mind in telling him they would get Joe back, and everything would be fine. Had the doctor lied? Hop Sing wondered about that now. For, how could Joe be fine if he still craved the morphine enough to be in the state he was now in?

Hop Sing pulled up the covers and pushed back the hair on Joe’s forehead and whispered words that were only for Joe. He prayed, as he had in the past, that his ancestors would somehow intervene and bring the Cartwright family peace.

Doctor Paul Martin pulled up to the Ponderosa ranch house shortly before six o’clock that evening. He grabbed his black medical bag from the back of his carriage and hurried into the house. He never knocked, never had to. He had become as integral to the family as the Cartwright’s beloved housekeeper Hop Sing.

The three Cartwrights shifted from their positions in the living room and welcomed their friend. “Thanks for coming so quickly, Doc!” Hoss was the first one over to him. Paul freed himself from his black cloak and laid it on the back of the settee.

“What’s happened? Clint said Joe was sick?” The doctor asked.

Ben exchanged hopeless looks with his sons and then answered. “Joe is upstairs—he’s unconscious—” Ben paused, choking on his final words. “Morphine—Joe must have—”

Ben was cut short by the doctor. “Take me to him!” Paul’s request came off with an unusual tone of anger in it.

The room was dark and the pale figure on the bed a poignant reminder of the previous year’s battle to save Joe from his serious injuries. Doctor Martin made his assessment of Joe’s condition and then turned to face Ben squarely in the eyes.

“What in God’s name could have made him do this, Ben? Didn’t you detect anything? Had he been upset or anxious?” Came the doctor’s series of harsh questions.

Ben shook his head at a loss for a true reason for this to have happened. “He had been up at a line-shack we have for the past two weeks. Unless my sending him there—”

Adam jumped in at this point. “That’s not true and you know it, Pa! Joe was not upset about going there! He was in good spirits the day before he left. Even joked with Hoss and me about getting away from other chores!”

“Adam’s right, Pa!” It was Hoss’ turn to dispel his father’s assumption that somehow the assignment to Oblivion was the cause.

Ben shrugged his shoulders wearily. “Then I just don’t know, Doc. He hasn’t showed any signs—none at all for the past year! He doesn’t even talk about it, trying to forget it ever happened!”

The doctor checked Joe’s pupils for the second time. “Well, he really gave himself a dose this time! He’s in a coma. No telling how long it’ll be until he comes around.” The doctor pulled up the right sleeve to Joe’s nightshirt. “He sure has a lot of puncture marks—must’ve been injecting himself the entire two weeks.”

“He will come around, won’t he?” Ben surveyed his son’s unchanging face.

The doctor rested a hand on Ben’s shoulder to try to give him some form of reassurance. “I think so—but I have no idea how much morphine he used!”

Adam stepped along side his father and Doc Martin. “I found four bottles—four empty bottles.” He added.

Doctor Martin checked Joe’s pulse again and shook his head. “Somebody stay with him. Maybe if you keep talking to him—maybe it’ll help bring him around. Unfortunately, there is not much I can do for Joseph right now. But, I am going to send a telegraph to Dr. Peele—he’d want to know what’s going on. Maybe he can advise us?” Doctor Martin turned and closed his bag. “Adam—walk me down—I want you to check a loose cinch on my carriage.” The doctor looked directly at Adam and gave him the impression he wanted to speak to him privately.

“Sure thing, Doc.” Adam nodded his understanding.

“I’ll be back tomorrow—maybe with news from Doctor Peele. Ben—” The doctor paused as he could come up with no further words of encouragement for his dear friend. “Well—you know what to do if you need me!”

“Thanks, Doc.” Ben said almost half-heartedly. He sat down at Joe’s bedside and put his head in his hands as Adam and the doctor left the room.

Once outside the doctor spoke of his concern to Adam. “You weren’t here last time, Adam—I have to warn you this is not going to be easy! Your Pa and Hoss went through Hell with your little brother last time—I can just imagine what is going around in their heads right now!”

“I’m here now, I’ll help them deal with it.” Adam took on the coveted role of eldest and most responsible son.

“But can YOU deal with it? You didn’t see how it changed your brother. That kid you grew up with was so violent he left bruises on your father’s face! It might come down to sending Joe back to that hospital!” The doctor warned.

“One step at a time, Doc. First we’ve gotta find out what pushed Joe to do it again—then maybe we can help him here.”

To that statement, the doctor gave up his lecture. He could see in Adam’s handsome face, the same fierce determination that Ben had shown during the previous round of the addiction. And, it was that determination that had caused so much pain when finally the family had to resign themselves to the fact that Joe had been beyond their help all along.

“I’ll be back tomorrow.” The doctor said to end what he thought was a no-win conversation. The Cartwrights were a fiercely tight family, one that always had to try to help themselves before allowing others to intercede.

The noon rounds were finished and Doctor Harold Peele walked down the long corridor to his office.   It had already been a very busy morning with numerous patients to check on and medical charts to attend to. St. Francis Hospital was steadily becoming the most active hospital in the western part of the country. Dr. Peele had been on the board of administrators and had joined in the decision to approve a new addition to be added to the main body of the building. It would mean extra work and planning but the need of the community had grown greatly in the fifteen years he had been on the medical staff.

Now it was time to review charts in his office and maybe have time for some coffee before once more checking on his newer patients. Doctor Peele sat behind his formidable desk and glanced briefly at the newest stack of paper work that had built up over the morning. There came an impatient knock on his door and he called for the visitor to enter.

“Sorry to disturb you.” The nurse said as she walked to the desk and handed the doctor an envelope. “Thought you would want this right away. It was just delivered.” She turned and left the room.

Doctor Peele read the telegraph.

“Urgent need of your assistance. Joe Cartwright was found in a drug- induced coma yesterday. His family has no idea as to why he took the drug. Has been away for two weeks with obvious signs of continued drug use. Your advice would be greatly appreciated in this matter.

Most Cordially Yours—

Doctor Paul Martin, Virginia City, Nevada.”

The doctor sat dumbstruck by the terrible news. Of all the patients in recent years, he had taken a particular interest in Joseph Cartwright. He was absolutely positive that Joe would not have gone back on the drug. The doctor wondered what could have caused the change in Joe’s determination to stay away from morphine.

Harold stood from his desk and reached over to a picture he kept on the oak shelf behind his chair. He gazed at the picture; it was a picture of his son. It wasn’t the first time that he had linked the two young men together in his mind. The similarity in their appearance was uncanny! Harold had thought about mentioning this fact to Ben Cartwright some day but changed his mind not wanting to cast doubts on why he had tried with such fervor to save Joe’s life.

With a sigh that came from years of personal grief, he set the picture back down and turned once more to his desk. There was the matter of a response, which he needed to immediately focus his attention on. He drew out his pen and started to carefully compose a telegraph to be sent to Doctor Paul Martin.

“Has there been any change?” Doctor Martin asked on his next visit to his patient.

Ben Cartwright stood from the bedside chair and shook his head. “We’ve been talking to him all day and night. Still nothing. I’m beginning to wonder if he will ever come to.” Ben’s voice had a desperate sound in it.

The doctor checked Joe’s pupils again and felt of his pulse. Then he turned as Hoss and Adam appeared in the room. “I got a response from Doctor Peele .” He said and handed a piece of paper over to Ben, who read it eagerly.

I need more information. I don’t believe Joseph would do this.

When he becomes conscious please contact me immediately with the details.

Do not give up on him! I will be waiting for your reply.

With Regards,

Doctor Harold Peele.

 

Ben glanced over at the doctor.

“I guess he is having as hard a time with this as we are. I only wish that—” Ben stopped in mid-sentence as Joe started to move in the bed. All four men rushed over to the bedside.

Joe slowly became aware of his surroundings and the muffled voices he had heard became louder. He had the feeling he was in some kind of dream state, he had heard many conversations during his unconsciousness. It was like a dense fog, but certain statements hung around in his mind. He kept hearing the words “how could Joe have done this!” and “I never thought he would purposely go back on the morphine!” But the statement that had troubled him the most was a brief mention of sending him back to the hospital in San Francisco!

Doctor Martin placed a hand on his patient’s shoulder and tried to further rouse him. “Joe—come on—open your eyes!” He called and shook the shoulder gently. Joe opened his eyes with great effort. He saw all the faces come slowly in to view. He noticed the expressions on those faces and reality told him that the muffled voices had been no dream! They had indeed been talking about him!

Ben stood on the opposite side of the bed and it was his face that troubled Joe the most. He could see his father’s sad countenance and couldn’t help but notice a glimmer of disappointment in his eyes. “Joseph—can you see me?” Ben asked and Joe gave his answer in a slight nod of his head. Ben could control his emotions no longer! He sat on the bed next to his youngest son and took hold of both of his shoulders, holding on tightly. “WHY! Why did you do this? What made you take the morphine? Were you mad that I sent you to Oblivion? Was that it?’ Ben questioned unrelenting.

“Ben! Take it easy!” Doctor Martin tried to calm his friend. He had wanted to get Joe a little more stable before asking him what had happened. Ben would not stop.

“What did you think you were doing? Were you trying to kill yourself? Answer me!” Ben was now yelling. Hoss and Adam saw what little light there had been in their brother’s eyes smolder as tears filled them. Joe had the saddest look on his face, one that spoke more than his words could ever say.

Joe looked up at his father, then over to his brothers who had the same doubting looks on their faces. He couldn’t believe what he was witnessing! It was just as he recalled that Travis had said would happen. They all believed Joe had done this to himself. It was that revelation that broke Joe’s heart and left him without words to defend himself. Tears poured out of his pleading eyes and rolled down his cheeks. In his heart, he felt that if he had to explain himself, that they never really had any faith in him or his ability to control his addiction. That hurt. He had fought the demons before. Demons that had ripped him apart physically and mentally, but he had triumphed over them and had come home no longer a victim to their wrath. Why couldn’t his family see that, Joe thought to himself. Why couldn’t they have waited before making their opinions known and branded him an addict again?

“Answer me now, Joseph!” Ben demanded. He had waited long enough; he needed some answers. In fact, at the moment, he needed something to make sense out of the whole terrible ordeal. Instead of answers, Joe simply closed his eyes and tried to go back to where he felt safe. That did not stop his father. “I need to hear it from you, Joseph! I need to hear why you would do this to yourself and to this family!” Ben did not release his grip on Joe’s shoulders.

“I didn’t do this!” Joe finally snapped back, he had taken all he could of his father’s anger. He tried to pull himself up in bed but his strength had left him. “How could you—how could ALL of you think I did this? Do you really think I wanted to go through that Hell again?” Joe’s eyes reopened and they turned on his family full of both despair and humiliation.

All four men looked bewildered at what Joe had said. It had never even dawned on them that Joe would flat out lie to them. Somehow, they thought there would be a confession of guilt and then a plea for forgiveness. “What are you saying? How do you explain this?” Ben fired back as he pulled up the right sleeve of Joe’s nightshirt Joe never let his eyes fall from his father’s harsh gaze.

“I’m saying I didn’t do this. Why is that so hard for you to believe?” Joe’s voice gave way and he began to cry. He looked over at the night stand and had just enough strength left in his body to turn slightly and retrieve his pocket watch. He handed it to his father and said simply, “This has no meaning to me now, you take it.” He placed it into his father’s hand and turned onto his side and buried his face into his pillow away from the staring faces of his family and Doctor Martin.

Ben stared down at the watch that had been placed in his hand and realized the significance in his son’s statement. He was obviously referring to the engraving inside the watch. Joe felt his family no longer had faith in him. Ben still could not fathom there being any other way for Joe to have ended up in the condition he now was in, other than by his own hands. But, then there was the matter of faith, or the lack thereof, that made him reach out for his son. This time Ben placed his hand to the side of Joe’s head and brushed through his hair gently. “I’m sorry, Joseph, I shouldn’t have acted as I did. I’m ready to listen now. Please tell me what happened to you.” Ben spoke softly now and after a few moments pause, Joe slowly turned back to face his father.

“The first night up in the cabin—” Joe tried to steady his voice, still partly afraid that he would not be believed to be speaking the truth. “Two men burst in. It was Travis Brodie and Pete Conn—”

The oldest Cartwrights exchanged surprised expressions, as did Doctor Martin as Joe’s story began. “They were mad with me—mad for stupid reasons—none that were justified. They had heard Hoss and Adam and me talking at the Silver Dollar the day before. They knew I’d be up at Oblivion by myself. They wanted to hurt me—they wanted to hurt me in a bad way.

Travis brought with him the morphine. They injected me with it. They laughed and said that by the time you all found me you would think that I had gone back to the way I had been before—” Joe paused again and purposely looked at each of his family member’s faces one by one. “And they were right! You all just were so sure I had done this—-” Joe started to cough from all the quick emotion that had been brought forth and Doctor Martin handed him some water. Joe drank of it as he noticed Hop Sing was now in the room. He wanted to go to Hop Sing, wanted to feel like there was someone who would believe him. He felt if anyone still had any faith in him it would be his long time friend.

Hop Sing stood just inside the doorway looking more like a guard than a family member. He wanted to clear all the other men away and go to his young friend. But, instead, he just kept a watchful eye out for anyone who would even think of hurting Little Joe. Hop Sing watched as Ben made a vain attempt to comfort the heartsick young man. Joe was having no part of it and had pushed his father away. Ben stood and walked over to the doctor.

Doctor Martin decided it was his turn to enter the conversation and raised a hand toward Adam and Hoss who were ready to jump in to the questioning. He signaled them to stay quiet. “Joseph, you have to try to see it from our perspective. You were unconscious, just like we had seen you before with the morphine. Your right arm is all eaten up with injection sites—just like you had done it before—” The doctor was cut off by Joe this time.

“Yeah—and I’m a liar and a thief—just like I was before—right?” Joe asked bitterly.

“I’m just stating facts, Joe. I’m not saying we don’t believe you!”

Hop Sing’s mind flashed with something he hadn’t thought of before. Something that had hung in the back of his mind trying to fight it’s way out. He was mad for not having thought of it earlier, but figured it was because he was so worried about Joe he wasn’t thinking clearly. Hop Sing pushed past Adam and Hoss and reached to move Doctor Martin aside. The doctor shot the cook a strange look but Hop Sing made it to the head of the bed and took Joe’s left arm.

All the other men stood perplexed at the sudden urgency that Hop Sing had shown. He met Joe’s eyes and Joe read reassurance in them. Hop Sing slowly pulled up the left sleeve of Joe’s nightshirt. “You see? Has marks here too! Hop Sing notice when I take care of Little Joe when he brought home!”

Doctor Martin studied the injection sites on the left arm. He previously hadn’t even thought to check there, under the total presumption that the injections had been done by the left-handed Joe. “Little Joe not do this—not give shot in best arm—not be able to do this!” Hop Sing protested.

With that brief scene doubt started to flake away from each member of Joe’s family along with the doctor himself. A sudden guilt hit each man between the eyes. They had not even thought about the possibility that Joe hadn’t caused the over-dose. Doctor Martin finally spoke. “Hop Sing that is a very good argument. Joe possibly could inject himself in the left arm—but it would make no sense to do so. He never did that before, and an addict will go for the easiest and fastest place to inject themselves.” He nodded at the housekeeper and Hop Sing patted Joe’s head and moved back again into the doorway. He had purposely moved to give Joe’s father ample room to get to his son. Hop Sing knew there was going to be a need for forgiveness, and this time it would be Joe’s place to have to forgive the others.

Ben sat back down on the bed and pulled Joe into his arms. Joe resisted at first, not wanting to allow the exchange to happen. He wanted Ben to feel some of the hurt that he had caused. But, once he was in his father’s arms he gave way to the security he felt there. He sobbed as his father stroked the back of his head and whispered to him. “Please forgive me, Joseph. I am so sorry—so very sorry! I should have known in my heart that this was not your doing. It was bad enough that you had to go through this terrible ordeal—but then coming home to us—-”

Ben stopped feeling his own tears streak down his face. “We’re sorry, too, Little Joe.” Hoss called over to his brother and Adam joined in. “I don’t know how we’ll make it up to you—but I can promise you that we will make them all pay for what Travis and Pete have done to you!”

“I’m so scared, Pa.” Joe said just barely audible. “I am so afraid I’m not going to make it through this time—-they gave me so much of it—-I’m already starting to feel it gnawing at me.”

“I know. Son.” Ben consoled as he reached for Joe’s face and took in into both of his hands. “You will get through it—you are so strong, Joseph! And I DO have faith in you!”

Joe’s eyes filled with fear again and he struggled with the question he was about to ask. “Pa—you’re not——you’re not going to send me away again—are you?” Joe said with a tremble in his whisper.

Ben read his youngest son’s face once more; he was terrified. Ben imagined that his son thought that if he was sent away again that maybe this time he wouldn’t be coming back—ever!

Ben pulled Joe back into his embrace and reassured his son. “You won’t be going back there, Joseph. I will promise you that. No matter how bad it gets—no matter what—we will handle it here.”

Joe wiped his eyes on the sleeve to his night shirt and looked to Doctor Martin for some answers. “Will it be as bad as—you know—as it was before?”

The doctor pulled over the chair and sat to discuss the situation Joe was now in. “Joe, I don’t know if I can answer that. I know that from the amount of injection sites you have on both of your arms and the number of empty morphine bottles your brother Adam found, you have had a great deal of the stuff the last two weeks. Will it be as bad? Maybe not, but you will experience withdrawal again—there’s no getting around that. But, you know what to expect this time—and you know how to fight it. I know you will beat it, and there’s another doctor who is behind you all the way!” Doctor Martin tried his best to encourage Joe, even though he knew the young man had some serious pain ahead of him once more.

“Doctor Peele? Did you tell him? Oh, God! He must hate me now!” Joe exclaimed ashamed that he had somehow let the doctor down by getting in the shape he was now in.

“No, Joe, as a matter of fact his telegraph said that he didn’t believe you would go back on morphine and he asked us for more information. Whatever strength in character you showed him in San Francisco obviously played a part in his belief in you!”

“Pa—I don’t like to interrupt—” Adam started. “But, before Travis and Pete have a chance to get too far, we need to get out after them!” At this, Ben looked in the faces of his eldest sons and knew he would need to speak to them privately, especially not in front of Joe, to receive instructions on exactly what he expected them to do about the two men. “Joseph—I’m going to go down and heat you up some broth—you talk with Doc for a minute—I’ll be right back!” Ben bent down and kissed his son’s forehead still trying for the forgiveness, which had not totally been offered yet. Ben’s eyes signaled his other sons to follow him downstairs.

Once downstairs, the objections to Ben’s orders began. He had told both sons that they could not inflict any bodily harm on either Travis or Pete, regardless of how much he, himself wanted to do so.

“Those bastards! They are not going to get away with what they’ve done to Joe!” Adam spoke viciously.

“I ought to go get some of that morphine and do the same thing they did—see how they’ll enjoy having to go through withdrawal the way Joe has to go through it!” Hoss jumped in.

“Calm down the both of you!” Ben responded angrily. “You will get Sheriff Coffee and you will get some men together and you WILL bring them in to the jail for prosecution! Have I made myself clear?”

Adam shot Hoss a look that he knew meant to give up the cause, if only temporarily. “Yes, sir. But just let them put up a fight—then we’ll see what happens!” Adam spoke out deadly.

“I have enough trouble on my hands now,” Ben paused and stared up toward Joe’s room. “I’m asking you now—please don’t make this any harder on me than it already is.” Ben was now calmer, having made his point. Adam and Hoss both frowned. They could see the intense anguish on their father’s face and knew he had to now contend with somehow getting through to Joe that they were all sorry for what they had been thinking and saying about him. That was indeed difficult enough. They both decided to ease the worry from their father.

“You just see if you can get through to Joe—we’ll get Travis and Pete into the Virginia City jail.” Adam spoke reassuringly and noticed his father’s face soften some.

“Thank you.” Ben nodded and Adam and Hoss left for town.

Ben had Hop Sing make some broth to carry up to Joe. Later, he met the doctor coming down the stairs. Hop Sing passed them both and made his way up to Joe’s room as the doctor and Ben spoke in the living room. Both men sat by the fireplace and Ben could tell Paul had news to tell him. “I tried to get through to him again, but he’s still very upset. You are going to have a hard time getting him to believe that you know he was telling the truth.”

Ben nodded and tried to think of something he could do to right the wrong he had done to his youngest son.

“He’s worried about something else now, Ben. We need to talk about it. He’s scared that once the withdrawal hits that he will get violent. He even asked me to take him into town and lock him in my spare room!’

“What!” Ben could not believe what he was hearing. “Is he that afraid?”

“You DO remember what he did last time, don’t you?” Paul’s statement gave way to the intimation of Joe’s past behavior and foremost the fight where Joe had knocked Ben out.

“He’s worried about hurting me—or his brothers?” Ben asked incredulously.

The doctor nodded. “Even though right now he’s mad at you, he still loves you and is worried about what he might do once the craving starts back.

“I’ll talk to him—I’ll somehow get through to him.” Ben’s statement came off with an uneasy sound to it.

Up in Joe’s room Hop Sing cajoled Joe into finally drinking his broth. Afterwards, Joe sat staring blankly toward the door wondering when his father would return and what was happening with his brothers. Hop Sing couldn’t help but noticing the young man’s sad eyes. “You will be fine—Little Joe—Hop Sing sure of it!” He insisted.

Joe looked at his life-long friend and responded. “Hop Sing—they don’t look like they believe me! Do you?” Joe asked pitifully.

Hop Sing gave a smile that reminded Joe of a sunrise, warm and peaceful. “Hop Sing has unshakable trust in you—never think different—make Hop Sing vely mad! Give family time—they worry so much—not think straight—mind too full. They love Little Joe—with love come much faith. You trust Hop Sing?” He asked and Joe nodded.

“You know I do. You have been there for me always. Remember how you doctored me up when I got burnt so bad? In the hospital they couldn’t believe that the scars went away! They said you must have used some kind of magic!” Joe finally had a brief smile on his face.

“Magic is love—you like my son—don’t tell Mr. Ben—he get mad—think I take his place.” Hop Sing grinned at the twenty-two year rivalry that continued to that day between Ben and the Chinese family member.

“You don’t need to take Pa’s place.” Joe reached out and touched Hop Sings hand. “You have your own place in my heart—always will.”

Hop Sing stood as Ben entered the room. He was alone this time as Doctor Martin had returned to town for the evening. “Little Joe eat all broth—I go get more!” Hop Sing said knowing that father and son needed to talk to try to patch up the wide gap in their relationship.

Ben sat down in the chair next to the bed and Joe turned his face away from his father’s stare. “You know we have to talk about this don’t you?” Ben started and could just barely make out a slight nod Joe had given in response. “I know that my telling you that I am sorry for not believing in you is not enough. Give me time, Joseph. I’ll prove it to you. I’ll prove it to you that I have faith in you. I am your father, but I also suffer the terrible affliction of being human as well. I jumped to the wrong conclusion—and I can’t change that right now.”

Ben detected a grimace flash across his son’s face and Joe grabbed at his mid-section.

“Damn!” Joe winced at the pain that had come so suddenly on him. “It’s starting already.”

Ben moved to sit near Joe on the bed. “Do you want me to get the doctor back?”

Joe laughed a seemingly sarcastic laugh. “Why get him? It’s not like you and I haven’t gone through this before, right? You remember don’t you, Pa? The throwing up—the yelling—the whole bit!” All he had fought so hard to keep from coming back in his mind tortured Joe. For a whole year, he had fought back the memories to try and lead a normal life—and now it was back again and he had to relive it along with the physical pain.

“Yes—Joseph—I remember.” Ben whispered caught in his own memories. Memories of a cabin, memories of restraints he had been forced to place around his own son’s wrists. Memories of watching as his son writhed in pain. “Lean back now—go on—straighten out your legs—there. That will help, Son.” Ben eased Joe back into a reclining position.

Joe had fought real hard to not let his father completely off the hook for having mistrusted him, but now he was ready to forgive him. He could see the hurt as it took over his father’s face and he knew the hurt was in having to also go through this again. “I forgive you, Pa.” Joe whispered and took his hand in his own. “I guess it did look like before to you—me being out cold and all—”

Ben’s tenseness faded some with his son’s words. “Thanks, Joseph—I really needed to hear that right now. And, don’t think for a minute I’m not going to make the men who did this pay for it! I promise you I’ll see to it.”

Joe’s thoughts temporarily were not on seeking his revenge on Travis and Pete. He was much more worried about the onslaught of the withdrawal. He stared at Ben’s face and the shadow caused by the lamp to the right of him caused a dark shade to his father’s right side of his face. It was like a reminder of a bruise, which once fell there, a bruise that had been caused by Joe’s left fist. The memory of that started the tears to flow again down Joe’s cheeks.

“Pa—I’m so scared—not just of the pain—but what if—”

Ben cut his son off. “Doc told me you wanted him to take you into town. I’ll have no more talk of that, Young man! We are in this together—and this time is different—I told you—you know what to expect—we all know what to expect.”

“But—Pa what if—”

Once again, Ben cut Joe off on purpose. Joe was getting so upset that he wasn’t sure how much it could escalate. Then Ben remembered how he had eased a difficult situation between his youngest and himself once before. Humor.

“Joseph—I want you to listen to me—listen to me real good. I’m gonna make you a promise.”

“What promise?” Joe asked waiting for some words of comfort.

Ben lifted Joe’s chin to look him directly in the eyes and replied, “I promise you—that if you hit me again I WILL hit back!” Ben grinned and detected the sight he longed to see return in the form of a smile across his son’s face. For, even in the face of what they both new would be a horrendous process, there was the bond between the two of them, which continued to be unbreakable.

Joe thought for a moment and then countered with, “Remember you said the last one wasn’t much of a hit as I recall.”

“I lied—you have a powerful left hook, Joseph.” Ben kidded.

Joe looked over at the clock, it had been about ten minutes since the last stab of pain to his gut and he could feel it starting again. He reached for the extra pillow at the head of the bed and pulled it to his stomach as if the pressure of it might somehow relieve some of the pain. Ben watched as Joe made his move for the pillow, he dreaded what they were soon to be experiencing. “You know how proud I am of you don’t you? I told you before, remember? When we were on our way back from San Francisco?” Ben hoped talking would help take Joe’s mind off what was going on.

Joe pressed the pillow tighter and grimaced as a wave of nausea gripped him. “I wonder how proud you’d be if I told you how bad I want some morphine right now?” Joe asked earnestly.

Ben pulled Joe to him. “I’d be very proud—because I know how hard that was for you to tell me. I also know that you aren’t going to get any this time.” Ben said determined and felt Joe’s tenseness ease as he allowed his father’s own strength to take over the problem this round.

Adam and Hoss Cartwright slowly rode down the main street in Virginia City. Their hearts were not in going to the sheriff, they wanted to seek revenge on the two men who had caused the whole family so much pain. As they passed the Silver Dollar Saloon, Hoss pulled at his reins. “Look, Adam! That’s Travis’ horse—and it looks like Pete’s is next to it! They are in town! Not even trying to hide or anything!” Hoss exclaimed, more than angry now at the thought of the two men he knew were inside the bar.

Adam reached for his brother’s reins. “Now, Hoss—I know what you want to do—so do I! But we promised Pa we’d get the law first!” Adam had a hard time with saying those words, his personal feelings ran along the same lines as Hoss’.

Hoss frowned and the two men rode to the Virginia City jailhouse. Once they made it inside, they were surprised to see Jim Bennett and not sheriff Roy Coffee.

“Jim—what are you doing here? Where’s Roy?” Adam asked surveying the room.

“Roy’s over in Carson—had to take a prisoner up there. He’ll be back in the morning.”

“What about Clem Foster? Ain’t he here either?” Hoss was starting to get anxious now.

“Clem busted his leg two days ago—won’t be doing any deputy work for a month or more. That’s why Roy called me in here—and believe me I was none to happy with the idea!” The man sat back down at Roy’s desk with a cup of coffee. “What’s going on?”

Adam turned to his brother and flashed a brief smile of total contentment at the situation. After all, he reasoned—they HAD tried to do as their father had requested. It wasn’t THEIR fault the law did not actually exist in Virginia City that night! Jim, a rancher by trade, was merely watching the place until Roy’s return.

“We got to go bring two men in. They hurt our brother Joe and we want them arrested.”

Jim looked more than worried. He didn’t want any gunplay happening on his watch. “You ain’t gonna use those guns are you?” Referring to the Colts both Cartwrights carried.

“Naw—.” Hoss reassured. “Them two are at the saloon—we’ll just go get them and you can lock them up. It won’t be no problem. Then Sheriff Coffee can handle it in the morning.”

Jim nodded, glad in the fact that he wouldn’t have to go along. He trusted the Cartwrights, maybe he trusted them too much that night. “Okay—just bring them in and you can press the charges in the morning. You will be sticking around, right?”

Adam smiled, “Oh—yeah—we are going to stick around for Roy so we can fill him in. C’mon, Brother—let’s go get them.” Adam turned and winked at Hoss enjoying what was to come.

Each Cartwright brother had the same exact thought in his mind as they strolled over to the Silver Dollar. They hoped that Travis and Pete would put up some resistance to being taken out and herded to the jail. They wanted to at least inflict SOME damage to them—never being equaled to what suffering their little brother was enduring.

Travis nor Peter noticed as the two men stood behind them. They were enjoying their second round of whiskey and having a laugh over some inside joke. Suddenly, and without any spoken plan, both Adam and Hoss reached for their targets and spun each man around. Travis spilled his drink and was quick to reach for his weapon. He was surprised to see it was no longer in its holster, nor was Pete’s. Each gun was now in the hands of the two Cartwright brothers.

“What are you doing!” Pete yelled as he looked at the two men. “You got no call to pull a gun on us!”

“Oh? Don’t we?” Adam said sarcasm in his tone. “Well, maybe we should handle this with our fists—huh?” Adam shot Hoss a look and he returned it smiling broadly. Both Cartwrights took off their guns and handed them along with their brother’s tormentor’s weapons over to the bartender for safekeeping.

Travis lunged at Hoss and he responded with a right upper cut to the man’s jaw. Then Adam stood back as Pete made a play toward him sending him flying over one of the tables. The few customers in the bar fled knowing this was going to be a real free-for-all! Adam came up from the floor just as Pete threw a whiskey bottle within inches of his right ear. Adam lunged forward and knocked Pete to the ground. Adam’s unrelenting fists were more than Pete could take and he reeled in pain.

Meanwhile, Hoss had Travis in a bear hug and was squeezing the man so hard Travis thought his lungs would surely collapse. Adam stood over Pete, who was no longer a problem and headed to his brother’s side. “Okay, c’mon Hoss—let him go!” Adam pleaded knowing that Hoss was moments away from crushing the man to death. “This won’t help Joe—Hoss stop!” He begged.

Finally, Hoss remorsefully let the man loose and he fell to the floor gasping for air.

Bruno, the barkeep, handed the Cartwrights back the guns. “I don’t know what’s going on here—but guess you two better get them over to the jail before this gets any worse than it already is!” He suggested as he started to clean the place up.

“On your feet!” Adam yelled at both Travis and Pete. “You two are under arrest.”

“For what?” Travis retorted trying to get up off the floor. He shot Pete a look, which told him to keep his mouth shut.

“You know damn well what for!” Hoss yelled and had to fight the urge to knock them both out. “For what you did to our little brother that’s what!”

“I have no idea what you are talking about. We haven’t even seen your brother!”

Adam drew his gun and pointed it at the two men. “Save it for the judge—now let’s go!” And in his voice there was still the threat of more violence if the two men didn’t start walking down to the jail.

The next day upon arriving back at the Ponderosa ranch house, Hoss and Adam had brought along with them Sheriff Roy Coffee. The sheriff needed to have a talk with Ben. There was the matter of the circumstances of Joe’s alleged abduction to go over. Ben studied his son’s faces as they walked into the house. Hoss looked tired, Ben noticed, but unharmed. Adam, however, sported the beginnings of a rather nasty black eye.

“I gather you found them?” Ben said referring to Adam’s eye. Hoss and Adam took seats by the fireplace, as did Roy. “Yeah—they had been calmly having a good time in the bar when we showed up.” Adam explained and then Roy jumped in.

“I was in Carson City, Ben, when these fool hardy boys of yours decided to bring Travis and Pete in to the jail. I told them they should have waited instead of going up against them. You know my position on taking the law into their own hands!” Roy admonished the Cartwright brothers who then just turned and rolled their eyes amused at what they had done.

Ben shot back a warning look at them both and then asked. “Well—what have Travis and Pete got to say about it?” To that, Roy took a deep breath. He knew Ben would not relish what he had to say in response to the question.

“They claim they have been together chasing down wild stallions for the last couple of weeks. They are alibiing each other. They said they’ve been no-where near that cabin where you found Joe. They say you are trying to pin Joe’s addiction on anyone other than him”

“What!” Ben was furious. “They are lying!”

“Are you sure?” Roy asked quietly, because he had to. “You sure Joe didn’t do this to himself?’

“I am positive! Ask Doctor Martin—Joe has injection sites in his left arm! Now he never did THAT before!”

“I understand that, Ben. But Adam said Joe also had those same marks in his right arm too—and he DID do that before! I am just getting you prepared for all the trouble this is going to cause—I know Little Joe, and personally, I don’t think he’d do this either. Unfortunately, as sheriff, my personal beliefs are supposed to stay outside of my law duties!”

Ben sat down and groaned, nothing was ever simple anymore. He wondered why he had even toyed with the notion that the two men who had injured Joe would tell the truth. “What now?”

“Well, the circuit court judge won’t be here for three more weeks. But, sounds like that is kinda good as from what Doc Martin told me Joe will need that much time to get better. By the way.” Roy paused and handed Ben an envelope. “He said to give you this. Said he had already gotten back a reply from that Doctor in San Francisco. He telegraphed last night about what really had happened to Joe.” Ben held it in his hand and decided to wait awhile before opening it. He would need to go over it before going back up to Joe’s room where Hop Sing now kept a vigil.

“Yes—three weeks will help! Can you keep them in jail that long?” Ben asked.

“They’re not in jail now, Ben.” Roy hated to give his friend that piece of bad news.

“Why! How could you just let them go?” Ben demanded.

“Travis’ dad posted bail for both of them. Ben, I set it as high as I was legally allowed. But, you know Clay Brodie—he has clout in Virginia City! He wasn’t going to let his kid stay in that jail!”

Ben stood once more and paced back and forth. “They had best stay away from us if they know what’s good for them!” Ben warned. Roy stood and nodded.

“You ain’t gotta worry about that, Ben. That IS something that I can see to! Well, I need to talk with Joe and he will also have to speak to the District Attorney about this.”

“You may have to wait a few days, Roy.” Ben replied sullenly with reference to Joe’s illness.

“I can do that—but, you let me know the soonest I can, okay?” Roy walked to the door.

“I will—thanks for what you’ve done already.” Ben tried to sound grateful.

Roy nodded and left for town.

“Pa, how’s Joe doing?” Came the first question from Hoss.. Ben sat back down and folded his arms across his chest thinking of what to say to both his concerned sons.

“It’s bad. Real bad. And it’s only just the start of it I’m afraid. You remember, Hoss? Remember how sick he was before?”

Hoss nodded sadly as his thoughts went back to Joe’s first few days of his earlier bout with withdrawal. “Sick to his stomach—stomach cramps—but what about his attitude? Has he gotten violent yet?”

“No, but I think he feels it coming on—I do too. We have to give him as much support about this as we can. We have to understand he can’t help what his body and mind are doing to him.”

Adam walked toward his father and put his hand on his shoulder. “Let me stay with him awhile, Pa. You look like you could use some rest!”

“Yeah—there’s four of us this time! Us and Hop Sing—we can handle it!” Hoss was insistent.

Ben was touched by the display of affection the two men had shown for their youngest brother. It was some family! He never doubted the strength that the Cartwright’s all had when after the same common goal. “Okay, Adam. You go up for awhile and spell Hop Sing. Hoss you look like you could use some rest yourself! You and I need to grab some sleep—I think tonight will be a long one!” Hoss nodded and Adam started up the stairs to his brother’s room.

Hop Sing opened Joe’s door hearing Adam’s approach. “Mr. Joe vely sick—Hop Sing go and fix some tea now. Help him keep quiet, Mr. Adam.” Hop Sing left the room and Adam made it over to his brother who was laying on his side on the bed, holding a protective grip on the pillow still pressed to his stomach. Joe could see Adam’s black eye as he sat down in the chair next to the bed. “Well, I hope they look worse than you, Big Brother!” Joe tried to sound in control even though he felt deadly sick to his stomach.

Adam smiled and touched at his sore eye. “I can promise you that they do! I can also promise you that Hoss and I enjoyed what few licks we got in before taking them to the jail.”

Joe chose not to ask any more questions about Travis or Pete. He wanted to stay focused on the situation at hand, and that was surviving the withdrawal pains. Joe shut his eyes suddenly as another wave of searing pain shot through his body. He had already been violently sick to his stomach and had not even tried to eat or drink anything, knowing it would come right back up.

“Tell me about it, Joe.” Adam asked in a calm soothing voice. “Tell me what you are feeling.”

Joe opened his eyes wondering what his brother wanted from him. Did he want all the horrible details? And if so, why? Couldn’t he see what was happening?

“If you want to know what I’m feeling—why don’t you have Hoss punch you as hard as he can in the stomach? That would be about one-tenth of how it feels.” Joe spoke out in humiliation. He wasn’t happy about displaying his emotions or sickness to any of the family, but especially not Adam! He felt Adam judged him more harshly than anyone in the world. His oldest brother had always had a way about him that made Joe feel inferior to him. He knew Adam was smarter and more responsible than he would ever be in his life. Joe also felt that Pa trusted Adam more than he would ever trust him. Adam read Joe’s thoughts; he knew the rift that seemed to always hang over them. It was the difference in their ages and more so, it was a difference in their natures.

“Joe—I gotta tell you something—but once I’ve said this if you ever repeat it I will deny it!” Adam grinned and Joe stared at his brother bewildered. He wondered what revelation Adam was going to tell him.

“I think that you have more strength than anyone in this entire family. I think you have also endured more than anyone in this family. I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye, you are my little brother—and I doubt I will ever really think of you as grown—even when you are sixty years old! But, I wanted to tell you that I am proud to have you as a brother. And no matter how bad what you are going through gets—I’m here—and I’ll do anything I can to help you.”

Joe’s eyes misted with sudden tears. He never thought he would hear such words out of his brother’s mouth! Maybe Adam really DIDN’T look down on him! Maybe he just didn’t know how to show the open affection that Hoss and Pa so readily offered. “Thanks, Adam.” Joe paused trying to clear his throat. “Don’t worry—I’ll never tell anybody you said such nice things about me—-they wouldn’t believe it anyway!” Joe tried for a brief smile but another stomach cramp stopped that in a hurry.

Adam looked on and reached for Joe’s arm. “What can I do? What can I get you, Joe?” He asked desperately.

“Some morphine would help a great deal.” Joe replied clutching his stomach. Adam wondered if that was a joke or a real request and his eyes showed that confusion in them. Joe looked at his brother and eased the tension. “I’m really not kidding, Adam—but I know that none of you are gonna give me any of the stuff. I also know that this is gonna get a lot worse before it gets better—so if you are going to hang around awhile—just ignore my request for morphine—no matter how bad I beg for it! Just because I didn’t get addicted on purpose doesn’t mean I don’t crave the damn stuff, you know?”

“What does it feel like? What does the craving feel like?” Adam had to know, and also wanted Joe to work through this in his head to keep a handle on reality.

Joe thought for a while, and then tried to put into words so that his brother would understand.

“If you were suffocating—and your body needed air—you had the feeling that you were gonna die if you didn’t get to take a breath—that’s what it feels like. Only instead of air—you crave the morphine—it doesn’t matter how you get it, who you hurt to get it, just as long as you get it!”

“I understand, Joe. Sounds like you understand it yourself. Going through this before—don’t you think it will help this time? Remember you learned a lot from that doctor in San Francisco! Pa told me how close you and Doctor Peele became. Try to think of the things he told you!”

Joe closed his eyes again and could see Doctor Peele in his mind. He had been such a comfort even though he was also a very demanding doctor and not all of the therapy had been without pain. Joe wished he could see him in person—but not at the cost of being committed again! He remembered saying goodbye to the doctor and how it was almost like saying goodbye to a surrogate father.

Joe had grown to have that close a relationship with Dr. Peele. “Adam, he told me before I left that he took pride in what he had accomplished in my recovery. What would he think of me now?” Joe’s question came out tinged with regret.

Adam patted Joe’s arm. “He’d think the same way I do right now. That you are one Hell of a fighter—and that nothing in this life can bring you down!”

Joe wiped at his eyes, his heart feeling somewhat full at the moment. “Okay—Brother—since we are being honest with each other. And since we agree that no matter what we tell each other that we will each deny it was ever said—I have something to tell you.” Joe pulled himself into a seated position and thought for a moment, keeping Adam in suspense before finally continuing.

“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state, and trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries, and look upon myself and curse my fate!”

Adam’s eyes glowed with recognition of the poem by his favorite author, William Shakespeare.

“Ah ha! You DID read it!” Adam gleamed. “And so well memorized!”

“Yeah—your stupid book did help me through a lot of loneliness—and what you would call desperation!” Joe returned after finally giving in to his secret that he not only read the book of poems Adam had sent during his injury a year ago, but that he had memorized it cover to cover.

“You will never cease to amaze me! All this time I thought you were illiterate!” Adam teased.

Joe waited for the next round of nausea to stop before he continued. “Adam—do you think I’ve gone through the suffering I have because I’m a bad person? Or do you think I am cursed by something or someone?”

Adam was taken aback by Joe’s question but looking into his eyes, he could tell that Joe was dead serious and wanted and needed an answer. “No, Joe. It’s nothing you’ve done in either this life or a past life, if that’s what you’ve been thinking. And as for curses, I don’t think so either. I can’t tell you why it seems like so often you have been tested by fire—I have often wondered that myself about you! I think we all have wondered that about you at times. Maybe God knows that you are strong enough to survive these things—things that would probably have killed someone with less strength of spirit.”

Joe sat thinking about his brother’s answer and had to be content at the time with it and no other answer. He had to stay focused, he had to try and stay on top of the battle to take over his soul that he felt the morphine was now waging against him

Ben and Hoss had slept most of the day in preparation for what would be a long night of caring for Joe. Adam had been glad when Joe had finally drank some of the tea Hop Sing had brought up to him and seemed to at least be able to keep most of it down. Before Joe finally dosed off he had an urgent request of his brother. “Adam, I need you to do something for me! You probably won’t understand, but I need you to do it just the same!”

“Just ask.” Adam had already agreed to help his brother in any way.

“I know there’s a key to my bedroom door somewhere in this house. I know from past experience as I remember Pa having locked me in here when I was little and disobeyed him.”

“Yeah—I kinda remember that happening pretty regular—what about it?”

“I want you to get it. I also want you to get some long nails and fix it so that my window won’t open either!” Joe was insistent.

“What!” Adam exclaimed. “You want us—or rather—you EXPECT us to lock you in here and nail your window shut—like you are some kind of prisoner?” Adam was shocked at the request.

“Adam—I need this from you. If you’ll do it then maybe Pa will be okay with it. I don’t want ANY of you with me tonight! I’m very serious about this so don’t try to talk me out of it! I can feel the rage building up inside me—I’ve been fighting it all day—but can’t take too much more. If any of you sit with me tonight it’s gonna get ugly. I know you know what I did to Pa last time—figured Hoss told you—I’d rather die, and I mean it, than to hurt any of you.”

Adam shook his head still in disbelief. “Don’t you think we can handle it, Joe?”

“Sure—you all could handle it—by tying me up like Pa did! But, I couldn’t take that either—and I couldn’t stand to see Pa hurt from doing that to me again!” Joe had panic now on his face.

Adam stood and sighed, a promise was a promise. He had to show Joe that he was really behind him. “Let me go find the damn key then!” Adam sounded upset at the thought of how this would go over with the rest of the family. “Guess I gotta find those nails and a hammer too! I think you’re just doing this to get me in trouble with Pa!” Adam winked at Joe and left the room.

Hoss and Ben had just finished eating their dinner when Adam walked through the living room later carrying a hammer. Ben stood from the table and called to him. “What’s that for?” Adam froze in his tracks wondering how he would explain his promise to Joe to his father.

“Pa—I know you are not going to like this—I don’t either—” Adam started and both Ben and Hoss approached him. “Joe wants us to stay away from him tonight.

Wants me to lock him in his room and nail his window shut. He thinks tonight will be the worst of it—and he’s afraid of hurting any of us.”

“Absolutely not!” Ben yelled. “We are not caging him like some animal! How could he even think this!” Ben started for the stairs but Adam caught his arm and he stopped.

“Pa—you have to understand his mind set now. The worst thing he remembers from the last time is hitting you and you having to tie him up to stop him from leaving! He doesn’t want to chance that this time. And I think we should respect his wishes.”

“And you?” Ben turned to Hoss. Hoss thought for a few moments and replied.

“Maybe Adam is right. Joe is such a proud person, Pa. Having us watching him when he’s kinda out of his head is humiliating to him. He remembers that from before. Maybe—just this one night?”

Ben took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Three against one, he was outnumbered. Not that that would have stopped him from putting his foot down as it never had before. But, this time he felt he had to give Joseph what he had requested. If for no other reason but to try and win back Joe’s trust. He turned toward his desk. “Go and fix his window, Adam. But I’m going to come up and see him before we lock that door!” Ben gave in.

Later that evening Joe sat in his room content in having gotten his request granted. Adam had nailed the window shut, now he just waited for the key to be brought up. His father then entered his room. Joe sat in the chair by his window dressed in a robe and nightshirt. He looked awful. Ben thought the boy couldn’t possibly have the strength to flee the ranch anyway, as he looked so weak and tired. Ben then remembered how he had thought that same thing up in the cabin and had lived to regret his error in judgment.

Ben sat down next to Joe. “I won’t ask you how you are feeling, Joseph. Right now that would be a pretty stupid question I think.” To that Joe simply nodded. “I do have something to show you though.” Ben handed Joe the telegraph that Roy had brought out that morning.

“It’s from Doctor Peele. Doctor Martin wrote him yesterday to tell him that Travis and Pete had done this to you.” Joe opened the envelope, walked to his bed, and sat on the side by the lamp. “I’d like you to read it out loud, Joseph.” Came his father’s request.

Joe frowned. He didn’t feel up to any more emotion and was worried as to what the telegraph would say. He finally began,

 

“Just as I had earlier suggested, I knew Joseph would not do this to himself. Please let him know that my thoughts are with him and that also are my prayers. Remind the boy that I have absolute faith that he can over-come the addiction and that I will help in any way I can.

Most Sincerely,

Doctor Harold Peele

 

Joe looked up at his father. “Absolute faith. How can anyone have absolute faith in ME?”

Ben sat down next to Joe and put his arm around his shoulder for comfort. “Because you have shown that you can beat even the worst odds, Joe.” Ben handed Joe a stack of letters. “I am against you being locked up in here—figured I didn’t have to tell you that. But, if you insist on it, I will abide by your wishes. I brought you some letters to read if you need some extra encouragement tonight.”

Joe looked at the stack of letters, they were all from San Francisco and all bore the return address of the hospital where he had stayed. “What are these?” He looked up at his father confused.

“Doctor Peele kept me updated weekly on your progress. You will find sixteen letters there. One for each week you were gone.”

It was then that Joe totally lost all composure and turned to lay face down on the bed, his face buried in his pillow. He began to cry softly. Ben reached down and rubbed his shoulder. “Why does this upset you so, Son?” Ben asked not expecting this kind of a reaction.

“Because I thought—I thought—” Joe stammered and Ben finally had a revelation as to what was the problem. “You thought I didn’t care? You thought I had just abandoned you? That I left you at the hospital and never looked back?” Ben was incredulous.

Joe shook his head to affirm Ben’s questions. Ben gently forced Joe over to look into his eyes. “Joseph—leaving you there was without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life! You will never know how much it hurt me! And these letters—” Ben paused and lifted the stack for effect. “These letters were my only ties to knowing you were safe—and that you were getting better. Abandon you? Never—not as long as I’m still alive!”

Ben pulled Joe toward him and the smallest of gap that still existed from the previous morphine addiction finally closed in their relationship. It had been there for over a year, with Ben never knowing why.

Joe took the letters from his father and looked at him with tear-filled eyes. “Pa—as much as I want you to stay—as much as deep down I wish you could stay—you need to leave now.”

Joe could feel the shakes starting and the sight of the door was starting to tempt the demon in his head. “I need you to lock that door. Adam already took care of the window. Don’t let me out until morning—maybe by then the worst will be over—I want morphine so bad right now—”

Joe trailed off still fighting for control of his body. “I want it so bad that I don’t know what I’d do—”

Ben brushed the hair back that had fallen down on his son’s forehead and nodded that he understood. He would give Joe whatever he needed, and if this was what it was for the moment then he could not deny it. “I will see you in the morning, Joseph.” Ben turned for the door his heart anxious at leaving the boy. Joe sat on the bed waiting to hear the sound of the key in the door. He finally heard it along with the sound of his father’s boots as they went down the stairs.

The night was going according to Joe’s worst fears. He started the evening by being violently sick to his stomach, and then he had what he thought was the worst case of shaking that a person could have and still stay conscious. Joe paced the room hoping that the motion would settle the rage that was starting to come from within his soul. It wasn’t working. He then sat on the floor and started to try to read some of the letters his father had given him.

Joe read each letter in the order they had been mailed. What he longed for was some kind of hope, some kind of answer that maybe Doctor Peele had written of to his father. The first letter had been a summary of his condition and what kind of immense struggle they had in controlling Joe once his father had left. The second letter spoke of small gains in Joe’s recovery and that the restraints had finally been taken off of him. Each letter ended on a hopeful note, and Joe felt Doctor Peele was somehow trying to ease Ben’s mind to prevent him from coming back to San Francisco. By the time Joe had read the tenth letter, the tone had changed and Doctor Peele was beginning to speak fondly of his patient. He spoke of Joe’s courage and his struggle to beat his addiction. He noted that Joe’s injury to his back had finally healed and that they were hoping that now they would be able to heal Joe’s mind.

Joe closed his eyes as an intense wave of anger permeated his veins. “Why the Hell do I have to go through this AGAIN!” Joe yelled out—and had no-one there to answer his plea. Joe threw the letters against the wall and stood. He walked to his wash bowl and rinsed his face hoping to try and gain the control he was readily losing. His face was reflected in the mirror above the bowl and it caught him by surprise.

Joe realized he looked terrible, and even he could notice the eyes that were usually bright green had taken on a dark coal look to them. It was as though he was looking at the demon that was in his mind. “Go away!” Joe shouted, turned, and punched his fist into the wall with all his might. Joe reeled back in pain, but it was not the pain from the skinned knuckles, it was the pain of withdrawal. Joe sat down on the floor once more and skipped reading in sequence; instead, he opened the last letter from Doctor Peele.

“—and though I will miss him greatly, I am sure that he will soon be able to return home to you, Mr. Cartwright. I have no doubt whatsoever that Joseph will do fine once he is home with you.”

 

Joe read aloud and then laughed loudly. “Oh—yeah—I’ve done FINE!” Joe yelled addressing the letter. “Just look at me now, Doc! I know you would be so very proud!” Joe spoke out in humiliation. “You thought I’d never touch the stuff—and here I am wanting it more than I did before!” Joe grabbed his stomach and bent forward in acute pain. He glanced over at his nightstand and saw his book of poetry. Joe remembered in his darkest hours having turned to it before. Joe inched his way over to the book in a hunched over fashion. He didn’t want to straighten up, he wanted to stay the pain that was attacking his stomach.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or to take arms against a sea of troubles. And by opposing end them. To die: to sleep; no more—-”

Joe read the verse he so often had read and was loud in his recital, not caring at this point who heard his madness and what they would think of it.

That night Joe, indeed, struggled with the thought of taking his own life. He felt it was time for his agony to be over and wondered if it would ever truly go away. Joe even thought of ways that he could kill himself, but fortunately, either the hand of reason or the hand of God reached out to prevent him from doing it. He sat against the wall long into the wee hours of the morning. He was covered in profuse sweat and was drained of any emotion. It wasn’t until almost daybreak that anger ended and the sweet peace of sleep came to take him away from his suffering.

Even though the other three Cartwrights had not been present in Joe’s room that night they did not sleep. Each noise, each anguished cry, rocked their souls as well. Adam and Hoss almost had to physically restrain their father, who, upon hearing the commotion that had gone on in Joe’s room wanted to go to him. They reasoned with him and finally made Ben aware that this was their way of renewing Joe’s faith in them. They had to give Joe the chance to get through the withdrawal, or at least the worst part of it, by himself. Above all, Joe wanted to be sure that no harm would come to his family, and the seclusion of being in the room by himself, guaranteed that!

Ben Cartwright turned the key in the lock to his son’s room early that morning, half afraid of what he would find inside. The room was in shambles, items having been knocked off the bureau and nightstand. A book laying in the corner, giving the appearance that it had been thrown there. And there was Joseph! He was sound asleep, curled in a ball in the farthest corner of the room. Ben made his way over to the boy. He kneeled down and tried to rouse him to make sure he was okay. Joe opened his eyes briefly and mumbled to his father. “It was one Hell of a night, Pa!” And then sleep fell back upon him.

In one swift move, Ben gathered his son up in his arms and carried him over to the bed. He covered him with a quilt and pushed the hair from his forehead. Ben imagined by the look of both his son and the room, that Joe’s instincts had been absolutely correct. Joe might have harmed someone if they had stayed with him the previous night. Instead, Joe had decided to harm only himself. Ben sighed and shook his head amazed by the strength he saw coming back in his youngest son. He grieved for having ever thought differently. “One Hell of a night!” Ben whispered and nodded his head in agreement.

Two weeks passed by slowly since Joe’s night of torment, he had spent by himself. It had been the worst night of the withdrawal and slowly Joe was fighting his way back out of the deep tormenting pit the morphine had dropped him into. The nights since had been spent with at least one other Cartwright present in his room either reading to him or talking with him, or sometimes just being they’re if he needed a shoulder of encouragement. He no longer worried about the violence taking over and had started to find some of peace he had prayed for.

When both Ben and the doctor had determined that Joe could stand the rigor of questioning by the prosecutor, they asked him to speak there at the ranch. The prosecutor was in his mid-thirties and had been in his position for two years since the retirement of the elderly attorney who had previously held the job, Benton Hill. The prosecutor now was Randolph Hill, the former prosecutor’s son. He was a thorough man and, with having had a father as his mentor, had gained more knowledge of legal procedures than most attorneys his age.

It was early in the evening when the prosecutor made it out to the Ponderosa. Joe sat in the living room with the rest of the family and Hop Sing led Doctor Martin and Randolph Hill into the house. The Cartwrights welcomed the man and he sat down in the wing-back chair by the fireplace. Mr. Hill drew out paper from his briefcase and was ready for the story to begin. “Okay, Joe, just tell me everything in your own words. I’ve already heard Roy Coffee’s brief description so I have some idea of what you went through.”

Joe looked down at the floor knowing it would be hard to allow those memories back into his head, having tried to suppress them in order to fight back from the withdrawal. He slowly and quietly began. “I was going to spend two weeks up at Oblivion and—”

The prosecutor stopped Joe’s statement. “Oblivion?” He asked perplexed. Joe realized that no-one other than family members knew the line shack had that ominous name. “Sorry—that is the name my brothers gave the line shack. It’s because it sits in the middle of no-where and is a very boring assignment. We go there each year to ride the fence line and make repairs.”

Randolph nodded his head and commented, “Maybe we should just call it a line-shack from now on! It may confuse the jury if we call it Oblivion!”

“Well—I think the name suits it—especially now!” Joe countered. “Or I guess we could just name it Hell—that would probably be more fitting.”

“Go on with your story, Joe.” The attorney put the conversation back on track.

Now Joe stood and began pacing and each of the other Cartwrights watched as they saw Joe go back to the cabin in his mind. “The first night I was there, Travis Brodie and Pete Conn burst in and tied me up.”

“Did they tell you why?”

“Days later—-Travis said he blamed me for his sister having left town. I told him I only talked to her a few times—we never even dated! But, he still blamed me cause he said she had a crush on me or something.”

“And Pete—what about him?”

“He was sore that I dated a girl he thought was his. Kate Bishop. I dated her—sure! But, she was not his girl and we only went out a few times! Then he said that I backstabbed him in school when we were younger—a bunch of nonsense! We had been friends off and on and had several run-ins—but nothing to make me believe he would be so angry with me that he’s do anything like this! I think Travis kinda led the show. He was the one who did the injecting.”

“Tell me about that.” Randolph said continuing to write Joe’s comments down.

“The first night—after they had tied my wrists together—Travis injected me with morphine. I fought as hard as I could—” Joe paused and looked at his father’s face to make sure he saw belief in his eyes. It was there. Joe continued, “I begged them not to do it! I told them I would rather be dead then get on that stuff again. But, they didn’t stop. Every day—several times a day they shot me with the stuff. Later, before they left, when they knew I would be expected to come back home, they told me what their motive was.” Joe sat back down and put his head in his hands feeling the grief pouring back into his soul.

“And what was their motive?”

Joe didn’t raise his head; he took a deep breath and let it out trying for the will to get the rest of the story out. “They wanted my family to think that I had gone up there and purposely got started on the morphine again. They said they would remove all the evidence that they were ever there so my family would be sure to think all this was my fault! They said they knew all about what I had done in the past —stealing morphine—getting my friend to get the drug for me—even hitting my father in a violent rage.”

Mr. Hill stopped writing at this revelation. “You stole morphine before?”

Joe nodded. “When I was on it the last time—when the Doc and my father gave me the morphine so they could treat me for a severe burn.”

“I know about the burn—the fire—you saving Mitch Devlin’s sister—but you need to fill me in on the rest of this. I’m sure it will come out in the trial—and we’ll need to know how to handle it.”

“That was over a year ago—what has that got to do with what they did to me?” Joe protested.

“Joe, they are going to hit us with whatever they can to try to keep those two young men from going to prison. You do know who Clay Brodie has hired as a defense attorney for his son and Pete don’t you?” The prosecutor looked at all the men in the room and Adam finally asked what they all wanted to ask. “Who, Randolph?”

“Aaron Mosley. Only the best defense attorney in the state! He has freed more criminals than any attorney I know!”

“Great.” Joe whispered shaking his head. Ben moved to sit next to Joe on the settee. “You almost make it sound like Joseph will be the one on trial!”

“Ben—in some ways that is an accurate assessment. It is up to us to provide an airtight case against those two. And, quite frankly, I don’t think we have one. The defense is going to spend its time attacking your son’s character!”

“The Hell with it!” Joe yelled standing. “I’ll just go get a gun and kill the two of them—then Pa can hire Mr. Mosley to get me off!”

“Joseph! You will do no such thing! We will take them to court and we will win!” Ben insisted.

Joe frowned at his father and couldn’t understand how in the world he could be so optimistic.

Randolph cleared his throat to gain the room’s attention. “Now—tell me about when you stole the morphine and any other facts we are going to have to counter.”

“Why don’t you tell him all that, Pa? You know the story probably even better than me! You know I was crazy at the time! I’m gonna get some air!” Joe stormed out of the house. Ben signaled Hoss to follow his brother.

“Joseph has had a very trying time—you have to forgive his outburst.” Ben apologized. “As for what happened back then, Joe did get addicted to morphine due to his back injury, and when we finally got him off of it, he somehow got some morphine out of Doc’s medical bag. He also paid Mitch Devlin to get morphine for him. I didn’t find out about that until I came back from San Francisco. I had taken Joe there for treatment and he was released four months later after having been given a clean bill of health by Doctor Peele.”

“What about Joe’s violence—he mentioned that he had hit you?”

“That was my fault—I tried to help Joe get off the morphine, but it turned out I just didn’t have that type of capability.”

“Neither did I, Ben.” Doctor Martin jumped in. “Anything Joseph did under the influence of morphine should not be held against his character. It is one of the most addictive drugs there has ever been. It took that hospital in San Francisco to get him over it. And I believe he was completely over it until those two men forced it on him! Let’s not lose sight of that!”

Randolph stopped writing and looked up at the three men. “Don’t confuse my questions with the question of my doubt in Joe. If I didn’t think he was assaulted, I would never have come here. I believe what he says happened did indeed happen. My job is to get the jury to believe it too! There is very little physical evidence from what Roy said. No tracks at the cabin after he checked the place—no sign that anyone else was there other than Joe’s brothers when they found him.

“Are you saying that this whole trial will be a waste?” Adam asked with hostility in his voice.

“No—I am not saying that, Adam. I am saying that we have to have our answers ready when they come after Joe’s previous addiction. And you are all going to have to get through to him that he has to do a better job of holding his temper in that court!”

“I’ll set him straight on that.” Ben promised. “When will the trial start?”

“I’ve heard from Roy that judge Wheeler will be arriving in a week. It will begin the day he gets into town. That doesn’t give us a whole lot of time, but I’ll get right on this. I will come back tomorrow—maybe then Joe will be in more control.” Mr. Hill stood and reached out to shake Ben’s hand. “Mr. Cartwright—I know this has been a terrible ordeal for your entire family. I’m looking to see justice done—but I will need all the cooperation I can get!”

Ben shook the attorney’s hand and answered, “I promise you will have it.”

After the prosecutor left for Virginia City, Ben spoke at length with Doctor Martin and Adam. They went over some of the finer points that they wanted to bring out at the trial. Joe stayed outside with his brother Hoss and tried to gain his composure.

“Hoss—I don’t want to do this anymore! I don’t want people thinking the worst of me. When I think about what might get said at the trial —-” Joe stopped and put his head in his hands to cover his face. Hoss sat next to him on the porch step.

“That was a different you, Little Brother. You can’t help what happened—but you toughed it out and got better! You know we gotta go after those bastards! We can’t let them get away with it! I will not stand for it and neither will Adam or Pa! We are behind you, Joe—and we’re an unbeatable team you know?”

Joe shook his head once more. “Is this all worth it?” He whispered.

“Damn right it is!” Hoss exclaimed. “They need to go to prison—those two are crazy—if they could do this to you, then no telling what else they could do to harm someone else!”

“Okay—I’ll try.” Joe replied without much emotion left.

“I’m with you all the way!” Hoss smiled and put his arm around his little brother.

The next day the prosecutor made his way back to the ranch once more. He wondered how he would break more bad news to the Cartwright family. It seemed to him that the deck was starting to be stacked against the case for the prosecution. Ben opened the front door and led Randolph Hill inside. “Would you care for some coffee?” Ben asked as the man followed him over to the living room.

“Yes, that would be nice.” He responded and set his briefcase down. Ben poured a cup for the attorney and for himself just as Joe made it to the bottom of the staircase.

“Joseph—” Ben called and Joe joined the two men. “I believe you have something to say to Mr. Hill?” Ben’s eyebrows narrowed as a reminder of a conversation he had with his son the previous night after the prosecutor had left. Joe rolled his eyes remembering having had a round with his father over his behavior the night before. Joe thought in his head how annoying it was to be admonished as if he were a child, even if he had indeed acted badly.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Hill. I guess I just have been a little touchy lately. “ Joe said and shot his father a peculiar look. “I don’t know WHY I have been that way—maybe because people keep getting me hooked on morphine!” Joe spoke out in sarcasm.

“Joseph!” Ben neared his son to which Joe held up his hand in protest.

“Okay—okay—I’ll act right.” Joe conceded his defeat, he was still no match for his father.

Randolph shuffled through some papers and commented. “First of all, Joe I have to tell you what I told your family last night. I told them that I believe you one hundred per cent.”

To which Joe simmered down and nodded his head. “Thanks for that much.” He replied.

“But, if we are going to win this one, we have to keep our wits about us—and you need to watch the temper and the sarcasm!”

“I’m doing the best I can.” Joe took the attorney’s statement as another attack.

“Do better.” Randolph reiterated. “Now, I have some more news. I’d like to tell you it was good, but it’s not. I have just found out that there are several subpoenas about to be issued by the defense.”

“Who?” Ben asked fearful of the answer.

“Doctor Martin, Mitch Devlin, and you, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Why in the devil would they subpoena me?” Ben was exasperated now.

“I believe Joe’s previous addiction is the likely reason. And the three of you, Mitch, Doc Martin and yourself were direct witnesses to what happened.”

“So, I guess by proving how rotten I was back then, it means I had all this coming to me and they should get off!” Joe blew up again. Ben shot Joe a stern warning look, he expected more resolve in his son’s behavior than he was showing.

“What are we going to do about it?” Ben asked quietly.

“I already had planned on Doctor Martin being our witness so we’ll have him first. I’ll be going over with him what I plan to bring out in favor of Joe’s determination to get off of the morphine. Also, we will suggest that neither bout with the drug was actually caused by Joe himself. As for Mitch—all he will say is what Joe did to get the drug the first time, he has no relevance to this time.”

“And what about Pa? What are they going to go after him about? I mean other than being unfortunate for having me as a son to begin with!” Joe said in jest, but it came off like an admission of truth.

“I think they are going after what happened between you and your father when he tried to get you off morphine the first time, Joe.” Randolph responded sullenly and waited for another of Joe’s famous outbursts. That did not happen. Joe sat on the couch and his face gave the impression that it was suddenly frozen in time.

The one memory that had been the hardest to recover from and now Joe knew it would be spoken of, and worst of all in front of strangers. Joe thought of how it would sound—a son having hit his father? He closed his eyes and wished that he had never survived the injections of morphine that the two men had given him up at Oblivion.

Ben noticed his son’s sudden withdrawal from the conversation. He dreaded what was going through Joe’s mind, for he knew what damage the fight between the two of them had caused. Ben fought for something to bring Joe back out of the anguished daze. “Does all of this have to come up?” He finally asked the prosecutor.

“I’m afraid it does. But, I think we can turn it around and make the jury see that the first time all this happened was totally different. I am sure we can make them understand that Joe was held against his will and forced back on to the morphine. I believe Doctor Martin will be a valuable witness to that, as will you, Mr. Cartwright. You can speak of how well Joe has done in the past year.”

It was at that moment that Adam came in from the kitchen. He had not wanted to interrupt the conversation, but he had listened to the whole thing. Adam had an idea but he wanted to talk in private to Mr. Hill about it. When Randolph finally closed his briefcase and turned to leave, Adam approached. “Randolph —let me see you out.” Adam offered and the two men walked outside.

Joe sat on the settee. He hadn’t spoken a word for the last fifteen minutes of his father’s conversation with the prosecutor. Ben walked over to him and sat down next to him. Joe still wore the same pained expression he had ever since Randolph had mentioned what would be said about Ben and Joe and the fight. “You want to talk about it?” He asked softly.

Joe just shook his head; he wasn’t ready to talk. He felt if he talked about it anymore that the hurt and anger of it would invite his craving, for the morphine, which still existed. “I’m tired.” He simply said and stood up and headed for the staircase. Ben’s troubled gaze followed his son as he walked up to his room.

“It has to be this way, Pa!” Adam argued as he stood outside the barn later that night. “I have to go and I don’t have time to do a lot of explaining!” Adam tightened the cinch on Sport, readying the horse for the ride into town.

“Adam—you do realize that in six days your little brother will be in court trying to get back some kind of honor—some kind of justice? It will take ALL of us to make sure he doesn’t break down on the witness stand! We have to keep him together—and I need YOU there!” Ben followed his eldest son as he kept preparing to leave.

Adam finally stopped and put his hand on Ben’s shoulder. He spoke with great compassion, “You know how I feel about Little Joe—I don’t have to tell you! He’s my baby brother—and God knows he drives me crazy—but I love him! That’s why I have to go and try to find something that’s gonna help his case. I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for—but I will find it! I will be back by the time the trial starts.”

Ben shook his head and frowned. “And exactly what am I supposed to tell Joseph when he asks why you left?”

Adam smiled and reached for his reins and threw himself up into the saddle. “You tell him that if he wants me to have faith in him—then he has to have faith in me too!” Adam turned his horse and rode off. Ben walked slowly into the ranch house. He felt as though his burden had just been made heavier now that his eldest was gone.

Six days of preparation having been completed, it was time for the trial and all three Cartwright’s stood outside of the Virginia City courthouse. Ben grabbed Joe’s arm before entering the building and pulled him aside. “Joseph, I just wanted to say—” Ben was cut off by his youngest son. “I know—I know—I’ll act right, Pa.” Joe frowned at the thought of another lecture on his attitude and behavior.

Ben smiled and replied, “That is NOT what I was going to say!”

Joe looked at the ground embarrassed. “Okay—what?”

“I was going to tell you how very proud I am that you have the guts to go in there and do this! I was going to also tell you that I love you very much.” Ben responded quietly.

Joe looked into his father’s eyes and for the first time in many weeks smiled at him. He then looked over at his brother Hoss. “Same goes for me, Little Joe.” Hoss grinned.

Deeply touched by their words Joe nervously pulled up the collar of his green jacket and removed his hat. “Well—-let’s go get this damn thing over with!” He said and reached for the door.

 

Inside the large courtroom, the Cartwrights were somewhat surprised to see so many spectators. It seemed as though all of Virginia City was there. They walked past where Mitch Devlin sat and Joe nodded to him to let him know he understood why he had to testify.

They took their seats behind Randolph Hill just as Judge George Wheeler walked in. The customary call came out to rise for the judge and then everyone was seated. Joe looked over to where Travis and Pete now sat on the other side of the room. Joe’s anger at them festered and he had to fight back all instincts to go and attack them for what they had forced on him.

Judge George Wheeler was a man in his sixties, but he gave the appearance of being much older. He had seen and heard just about every kind of case in his thirty odd years of being a judge. He was well respected and known to be firm but fair and above all a no-nonsense judge.

“Are both of you ready to bring forth this case?” He asked of both attorneys.

“We are Your Honor.” Mr. Mosley and Mr. Hill responded.

“Then we will hear opening statements.” The judge said and nodded toward the prosecutor.

Randolph Hill approached the front of the courtroom and turned toward the jury. “Ours is a simple case, one I am sure that the defense will make more lengthy in their rebuttal, but simple nonetheless. We will prove that with malice the two defendants Travis Brodie and Pete Conn willfully abducted Joseph Cartwright and sadistically injected him with morphine almost to the point of causing his death!” The prosecutor walked over to where Joe sat. “I am sure that you all are aware of the fact that morphine is a highly addictive drug, and to cause someone to become addicted to it is a cruel and immoral thing to do. This young man has suffered from this type of addiction before, suffered from it and had overcome the addiction. And those two men—” Randolph pointed at the defendants. “Those two men tried their best to make it look like Joseph Cartwright had once again fallen victim to that addiction.

We will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that not only are they guilty of the abduction and holding Joseph against his will, but they are also guilty of assault with intent to cause great bodily harm. They will be proven guilty and we will see that they are sent to prison for their horrendous deed!” The prosecutor walked back to his table and sat down.

Next came the defense attorney, Aaron Mosley. He was well known and his prowess to free his clients was also well known. He casually approached the jury. “The prosecutor and I share the same opinion of morphine addiction. He is absolutely correct in the fact that morphine is highly addictive! But we will prove it was the original addiction Joseph Cartwright had to the drug that caused him to once again inject himself! We will provide testimony to the fact that when he is under the influence of morphine he lies—not only to the authorities but to his family as well.

This time, when he realized he was caught using morphine again, he lied once more—and this lie led us to be here today! My clients will prove they were nowhere near Joseph Cartwright and him pointing the finger at them came as a complete surprise! We will prove that the only one who caused Joseph Cartwright’s addiction was in fact, Joseph Cartwright!”

The defense attorney walked back to the defense table just as there began some commotion in the court. The judge struck his desk with his gavel and admonished the court. “There will be no talking in this court or I will remove all spectators! Now, let’s get on with it! Mr. Hill you may precede with your case.”

“I call Doctor Paul Martin as my first witness.” Randolph said and the doctor was sworn in.

“Tell me about your opinion of Joe’s progress in fighting the addiction he had a year ago.”

Doctor Martin looked toward Joe Cartwright and gave a reassuring smile. “Joseph Cartwright is one of the most aggravating patients I have ever had!” He began and Joe shifted in his seat wondering where the doctor was going in his statement. “He has always been head-strong, and believe me I have had a time in doctoring him! But, now that I have said that, I will also tell you that Joseph is one of the strongest men I have ever known. His resolve to get over his addiction last year was totally amazing! To even survive something like that is a miracle, but to conquer it is a tribute to his character.

I have personally known men who buckled under the addiction and died falling victim to the drug’s intense power. It is my opinion that his father and I caused his first bout with the addiction. We did that to save his life. It was not in his hands then to get started on the drug, and I believe it was not in his hands this time either. It is my professional opinion the second bout with the addiction was forced on him.”

“And, Doctor Martin, did you notice any sign of confirmation that Joseph did not cause the injections to his body this time?’ The prosecutor asked.

“Joseph is left handed. Even in the past he never injected himself in his left arm. The first time he was using morphine he injected himself in his right arm and right thigh. It is most difficult to inject yourself using another hand that has less control, in his case his right hand. A person so strung out on a drug like morphine would most likely try to inject themselves as rapidly as possible and that would not be by using the opposing hand.”

“No further questions.” The prosecutor walked back to his table and the defense countered.

“Doctor Martin, would you say that a person is ever truly free of his addiction? Or do they carry the addiction with them their whole lives?”

“I’m not sure what you are asking me.”

“Let me rephrase it then. Do you know for a fact if Joseph Cartwright is still addicted to morphine?” The defense attorney questioned harshly.

“If he were to use the drug again, then, yes he would still be addicted. But, he wasn’t using the drug until it was again forced on him!”

“How do you know? How do you know that Joseph Cartwright wasn’t hiding his addiction from all of you this whole time?”

Doctor Martin looked into the faces of the three Cartwrights and said with remorse, “To the best of my knowledge he was not using morphine until they found him up at that line-shack.”

“To the best of your knowledge—but you are not absolutely sure now are you? Can you tell this court positively that he hasn’t used morphine at any time this past year?” He persisted.

Paul Martin thought for a moment and then said, “I can’t say that positively, I can only tell you that I have noticed no signs of the addiction during the past year.”

“We have nothing further of this witness now, Your Honor, but reserve the right to call him at a later time.” Aaron Mosley said and the judge dismissed the doctor.

“I call now the defendant Pete Conn.” Randolph said and Pete was sworn in.

“Where were you between March thirteenth and March twenty-sixth of this year?”

Pete looked over at Travis and replied, “Me and Travis were chasing down wild stallions.”

“Oh?” The prosecutor paused and then continued, “And how many of those wild horses did you both bring back after your two weeks of chasing them?”

Pete looked down at the floor and away from the attorney’s eyes. “We didn’t bring back any. But, that don’t prove nothing! We ain’t caught any before and gone out for even longer a time!”

The attorney got closer to the witness chair and asked, “You don’t like Joe Cartwright do you?”

Pete laughed and replied, “Never lost any sleep over him! Sure don’t think too fondly of him now trying to get me in trouble for something I didn’t do!”

“Did you tell Joe that you were mad at him for taking your girlfriend Kate from you?”

“No. I never told him that.”

“But that is how you feel, right? You think Joe took her—and you were sore at him—so you and your friend over there decided to get even with him! Isn’t that true!”

Pete looked toward Travis and replied, “I don’t like him—never have—but I didn’t do nothing to him!”

“And what about Travis? He hates Joe doesn’t he?”

“He don’t like him—that’s for sure.” Pete smiled at the thought of his friend’s hatred of Joe.

“He hated him enough to stab him with a syringe over and over again! Isn’t that true?” Mr. Hill yelled for effect.

“I told you we was after those horses—don’t know what happened to Joe—don’t care either!”

Randolph Hill was persistent in his questioning of Pete but was getting nowhere. He called Travis next and got even less out of his testimony.

“You are saying that you harbor no ill feelings toward Joe Cartwright?”

“Well, I do now—he’s why I’m here now you know! But, I couldn’t care less what happens to him. He’s never been a friend of mine.”

“Because you blame HIM for your sister leaving town! Isn’t that true?”

Travis’ face said more than his testimony, after that statement he took on a very angry countenance and said only, “He never gave her the time of day! But, I can’t do nothing about that!”

“Oh—yes you can—you can go get morphine—then you can tie him up and inject him and put him through Hell!” Randolph shouted. Travis just stared over at Joe and seemed to be enjoying the venomous stare Joe was giving him.

“Well—I don’t have to do all that now do I? Seems like Joe has fun doing it all by himself!”

“No further questions.” The prosecutor told the judge and walked back to the table. He had hoped he could somehow make one of the defendants crack, but it didn’t work. He figured that Aaron Mosley had done his usual wonderful job of coaching them. He decided it was time to call Joe to the stand. Joe walked toward the witness chair after pausing a moment to shoot the defendants an evil grin.

“Tell this court in your own words, Mr. Cartwright, what happened.”

Joe looked toward his father for support and found it in his eyes. Ben nodded reassuringly.

“I was up at a line-shack on our ranch. Late the first night Travis Brodie and Pete Conn broke into the room. They tied me up, and then Travis filled a syringe with morphine and injected me with it. They held me against my will for two straight weeks.”

“How did they know you’d be up there?”

“They overheard my brothers and me talk about it the night before I left. They told me they heard I’d be there two weeks by myself, I guess that’s when they planned out this whole thing.”

“Did they tell you why they did this to you?”

“Yeah,” Joe stopped and looked at them wishing his stare would send them the message of how bad he hated them. “Pete said he was mad cause I started dating Kate Bishop when he thought she was his girl. He also said I hadn’t been such a good friend when we were kids. Travis said he blamed me for his sister moving away! Another thing I didn’t do!”

“And what did they hope to accomplish by doing this to you?”

“They wanted to force me back into my addiction. They wanted everyone to assume that I did this to myself. That’s why they got rid of the evidence, to make it look like it was me all along.”

“What do you want from all of this, Joe? I know this has got to be a truly awful thing for you to go through. First, having to go through the extremely painful withdrawal process—and now to have to hear the past brought back to life.” Randolph was soft in his questioning hoping to bring out the best in Joe this time.

“What I want?” Joe paused and looked first at his father and brother and then over to the defendants. “I want them to be punished! No one should be allowed to do this to anyone and get away with it! I want them to hurt like I have hurt—but I doubt they will ever hurt that bad! To have to handle the pain—to have to watch your family hurt as well—nobody should have to go through this! What do I want? I want justice, I want them to go to prison for what they did.”

“No further questions.” Mr. Hill sat down and Aaron Mosley approached Joe.

“Mr. Cartwright, are you addicted to morphine?” He asked casually staring directly at Joe.

Joe looked down at the floor and away from the stare. “If you are asking me if I am using morphine then the answer is no.”

“That was not the question—are you addicted? You understand the word don’t you?” He tried to get Joe to lose control.

Joe straightened up trying to remember what his father had said when he was going into the courthouse. “Yes, I am addicted to morphine! If I get injected with the stuff I will suffer from that addiction, if I stay away from it—which I have for a year—I will be fine. If your clients hadn’t put it in me we wouldn’t be talking about this now would we?”

“So, you admit to being an addict? Isn’t it true that you have never really stopped craving the drug? Isn’t it true that when you are using that drug you are full of rage? Isn’t it true that in the past that addiction caused you to lie and steal and even hit your own father?” Aaron shouted.

This was what Ben, Hoss, and Randolph dreaded! They knew that there would be an explosion caused by Joe’s temper! They all braced to hear what would come next. It never occurred to them that Joe would handle the browbeating with grace and control, but he did.

He sat up straight and replied, this time looking directly at the jury. “If you are asking me about my addiction to morphine a year ago then you are absolutely right! I lied, I stole, I did all kinds of awful things! I was out of control—so out of control that I did something I have been paying for each day of my life—I hit my father. I will never forgive myself for that, and never forget it either! And that is why I refuse to touch morphine again. That is why I begged Travis and Pete to kill me instead of injecting me with it. I didn’t want to go through this again, but most of all I didn’t want to put my family through it again. To see them suffer along with me is more than I can take. I will always be addicted to morphine, Mr. Mosley, and that is why I will never touch the stuff again.”

The defense attorney frowned at the control that Joseph Cartwright had shown, Joe had the reputation for being quick-tempered and it was with remorse that Aaron said, “No further questions.”

Joe stepped down from the witness stand and looked into the confused eyes of Randolph Hill. As he passed him, Joe smiled a conceited smile and winked at the prosecutor. Randolph felt as if somehow he had been taken! Joe always had the power to control himself, Randolph reasoned, it was just that the young man didn’t always choose to do so!

The defense started their case and brought forth Mitch Devlin. The only thing he brought out in his testimony was what a great friend Joe had been and how he had saved Mitch’s sister. He did admit to getting morphine for Joe, but the prosecutor had countered with the fact that it had nothing to do with the current case. The final witness for the defense was called and it was Ben Cartwright. He was sworn in and the defense took their best shots.

“Your son has proven to be untrustworthy, hasn’t he? Isn’t it true that he lied about using morphine in the past? Isn’t it true that a year ago you discovered he stole morphine from Doctor Martin? “

“Joseph was addicted to morphine and he overcame that addiction. I see no point in addressing what happened over a year ago!” Ben insisted and the defense attorney walked over closer to him and said, “Answer the questions! Did your son lie to you before about his addiction?”

Ben paused and then nodded reluctantly, “Yes.”

“And did he steal morphine and get his best friend to also get him the drug?”

“Yes.” Ben stated flatly.

“And isn’t it true that he struck you? That he knocked you unconscious in a drug crazed rage?”

Ben stared over at his youngest son who had dropped his head down to his chest.

“Answer the question!” Aaron Mosley yelled.

“Yes.” Ben replied with great remorse.

‘One more question, Mr. Cartwright—if you didn’t know your son had been injecting himself the first time—a year ago—then how do you know whether he was THIS time?”

“Because I have faith in him.”

“Oh—you didn’t have faith in him before?”

“Yes—but this time I have seen what he has done all by himself to get off the morphine—to go through withdrawal—to overcome it all. I know he is telling the truth.”

“Seems to me that you trusted your son before—and all it got you was a bruised jaw!” Aaron laughed and dismissed the witness.

“That will be all for today, “ The judge said and paused. “We will hear closing statements tomorrow. This court stands adjourned until noon tomorrow.” The judge stood as did the rest of the courtroom and walked to the doorway in the back and disappeared.

 

The Cartwrights stayed seated as the prisoners were taken away and the crowd filed outside. “You did real well, Joe.” Randolph commented but noticed Joe had a sad countenance.

Ben moved next to his youngest son. “Let’s go home, Joseph.”

Joe shook his head. “You and Hoss go on ahead—I need some time by myself, Pa. I’ll be home in a little while.”

Joe turned to leave and Ben caught his arm. “Joseph, I’d feel a whole lot better if you’d come home.”

“You are just going to have to understand this time, Pa. I need you to use some of that faith you said you had in me. I’ll be okay.” Joe broke his father’s grip and walked out of the courthouse.

“You want me to follow him?” Hoss asked worried at his brother’s state of mind.

“No, Son. Let’s give him some space. This has been tough on him, he’s trying to work it out in his mind. Let’s go home.” Ben sighed and though he wanted to go after Joe, he allowed him what he had requested.

The evening was a long one and Ben sat in a troubled state wondering many things. First, he was worried about where his youngest son had gone and why he hadn’t yet returned. Secondly, he worried about his eldest son, Adam, and where he had disappeared to. He had promised to be at the trial and still there had been no word from him. Ben began to pace the floor and stared continually at the grandfather clock. It was now after midnight and he felt very alone. He had told Hoss to go to bed over an hour ago telling him Joe would be fine. If only he believed his own words!

An hour later Ben heard someone ride up and stood from his chair by the fireplace just as Joe walked in. Joe looked very disheveled as if he had been in a fight. He slowly undid his holster and tossed it on the credenza by the front door. It didn’t exactly stay there and crashed to the floor. “Oops!” Joe laughed and tried it again as his father approached him. Then Joe took off his hat and made an attempt to hang it on the coat rack and it, too, fell. Ben looked at his son hard. He wasn’t acting quite right. Joe turned and smiled at his father seeing his worried stare.

“Now don’t you go worrying again about me, Pa!” Joe started toward the fireplace with a noted stagger to his walk. “Joseph!” Ben exclaimed and Joe gave another laugh.

“It’s okay—I haven’t been injecting anything——I’m just a little drunk is all!”

Joe replied and plopped down on the settee. Ben walked back over to him. “I’ve been worried about you.”

“Well don’t—I’ve decided that I have had enough! I’m not going back in that damn courtroom tomorrow. If I want to hear bad things said about me I can listen to myself!” Joe leaned his head back on the neck of the couch.

“What? You are quitting the cause? You don’t want to know what happens?”

“Oh, I think I know what happens next, Pa. They get acquitted and I look like dirt—that about sums it up you think?”

“That’s the whiskey talking, Joseph!” Ben reprimanded.

“Yeah— maybe, but I’m right. Tell me the truth—when I came in a minute ago you thought that I had gotten into the morphine again—didn’t you?” Ben paused and shook his head madly.

“No I didn’t!” He insisted.

Joe searched his father’s face and responded, “You don’t lie as good as me, Pa.”

“Joseph—I told you I trust you and I do. Why can’t you get that into that thick head of yours?”

“Yeah—you all have faith in me—I keep forgetting!” Joe said sarcastically. “Why even Adam has so much faith in me that he couldn’t even wait to see me through this trial!”

“Your brother told me to tell you not to doubt him or his intentions, where ever he is, he is trying to help you in some way.”

“He probably was too embarrassed to stay and see me make a fool out of myself!”

“You are doing an excellent job at making a fool out of yourself right now, Young man!”

“Practice makes perfect.” Joe muttered.

“That’s it!” Ben shouted. “Now you are going to go up to your room and sleep this off! In the morning you are going to get yourself together and we are going to get this over with once and for all!”

“And what if they go free? Then what—then will this be over for you? It won’t be for me!”

“What will you have me do, Joseph? If they go free do you want me to get a gun and shoot them? Is that what you want? Will THAT end it for you? Because if that is what it will take then consider it done!”

Joe looked at his father and even in his own slightly drunken state. he read total honesty in Ben’s remarks. He honestly believed his father would do just that, kill the ones who had hurt him so.

Joe fought back tears and said, “No, Pa. That’s not what I want. I just want it all to go away—I want it to never have happened.”

Ben held his son close and replied, “We can’t change any of this, Joe. We can’t change the past month—we can’t change what happened a year ago—all we can do is go on with our lives and not let it destroy us!” Joe let the tears out and they came with all the emotion of the day’s trial. He knew his father was right; they would somehow have to go on, no matter what the jury decided.

 

The next day the courtroom was again full of people wanting to see for themselves what was happening with the Cartwrights. The gossip mill had been busy and all night the rumors spread as to what had happened on the previous day. Joe and Ben spoke briefly with the prosecutor and then the judge came back in and addressed the court.

“Are we ready with closing arguments?” He asked.

Randolph Hill was just getting ready to affirm that he was when he turned to see Adam Cartwright coming down the aisle. He listened as Adam whispered something in his ear and then said to the judge, “Your Honor—begging the court’s indulgence—but I have one more witness before closing. I was not sure if he would be able to be present and he has traveled a great way to be here.”

“Any objections?” The judge asked Aaron Mosley.

The defense attorney shrugged his shoulders, he was not worried, he had figured that they had done a good job at casting enough doubt to prevent his clients being found guilty. “No objections, Your Honor.” He said smugly.

Joe, Hoss, and Ben exchanged confused glances and then saw Adam smile as he sat down.

“I call Doctor Harold Peele.” The prosecutor said as the doctor appeared from the back of the courtroom.

Joe’s mouth dropped in surprise as Harold made his way past him. The doctor paused briefly and winked at Joe enjoying the young man’s surprised face.

Ben reached out and touched Joe’s hand. “This will be good!” He assured Joe.

Doctor Peele was sworn in and Randolph began, “Please state your name and your position.”

“I am Doctor Harold Peele, assistant director and physician at Saint Francis Hospital in San Francisco California.”

“And are you familiar with this case?”

“I have been briefed by Adam Cartwright as to what this is all about.”

“And are you familiar with Joseph Cartwright?”

Doctor Peele nodded his head toward Joe. “I am very familiar with Joseph Cartwright! He was my patient for four months over a year ago. I was directly involved in his treatment.”

The defense attorney wasn’t sure where they were going with this line of questioning but he wasn’t happy with the professional stature that Doctor Peele had shown, nor the receptive way the jury was looking at him. “Your Honor! I object! I don’t see where the relevance is to this line of questioning—we have already had a doctor testify on this matter—”

“Your Honor!” The prosecutor stepped forward. “It was Mr. Mosley who originally brought up the relevance in Joe’s prior addiction. Now we can at least hear from the doctor who actually treated that addiction!”

“Over-ruled! Let’s hear from the doctor.” The judge directed.

“Tell me about Joe’s addiction and tell me about his treatment for it.”

“Joseph was very addicted to morphine when he was first brought to me at the hospital. He struggled through a terrible bout of withdrawal. For anyone who is less knowledgeable about this subject let me tell you what it’s like. You feel as though your body is turned inside out—you suffer some of the worst pain known to man. And the only way to stop the pain is by feeding the body more morphine!

The morphine takes over your thoughts, your actions, everything! And it is a slow process out of it! That is what Joseph endured. I have treated more than a hundred cases of morphine addiction, “ The doctor paused and met Joe’s eyes across the courtroom. “I have never seen anyone so determined to beat the addiction! I have never known another patient who showed as much strength of character!”

“In your professional opinion do you think Joseph Cartwright inflicted that addiction, the addiction you say he fought so hard out of, on himself? Do you think he injected himself with the morphine this time?”

“I am aware of the fact that it was not just Joseph’s right arm that was injected. I understand from what Doctor Martin wrote me, and from what Adam Cartwright told me, that there were other injection sites on his left arm as well. That is more proof for you that he didn’t do that to himself. But—” The doctor paused once more and looked past the prosecutor and stared directly at the jury. “But, I don’t need that kind of evidence—some of you might need it because you do not know this young man the way I was able to get to know him. Professionally I believe Joseph did not do this, I believe the facts prove that it was forced upon him by the defendants. And personally I do not believe it either.”

Randolph wanted one more point brought out; he neared the doctor and asked, “So you have faith in Joseph Cartwright—faith that he did not do this?”

“Faith?” He questioned ironically and smiled. “No—I have ABSOLUTE FAITH—that he didn’t do this.”

Both sides, prosecution and defense then rested their cases. Aaron Mosley thought better of the idea of cross-examining Doctor Peele—he was worried that it would cause even worse damage to his clients. After the two sides finished their closing statements, the jury was sent out and the Cartwrights formally welcomed Doctor Peele. They all shook hands and the doctor sat down next to Joe. “Well—let’s have a look at you!” Harold smiled at Joe.

“I can’t believe you came!” Joe exclaimed still in disbelief.

“I believe I wrote you to tell you that I would help in any way, Joseph!” He reminded.

“Well—I think you did that already! What —did Adam kidnap you or something?”

Adam grinned and said, “I would have, Little Joe, but he was a willing hostage.

Sorry we didn’t get here yesterday—the stage was delayed. Joe looked at his brother and now it was his turn to apologize for having lost faith in him. “Sorry Adam—I thought—” Joe stammered and Adam just laughed, “It’s okay, Kid, we’re even now!”

“How long do you think it’ll take?” Ben asked Randolph.

“Hard to say—at least they went in there with a better idea of how things were than if Doctor Peele hadn’t shown up!” He tried for some encouragement but truly couldn’t even venture a guess at what the outcome would be.

A little over an hour later the jury returned. All eyes were on them as the judge asked them if they had reached a decision. “We have, Your Honor.” The foreman said.

“As to the count of kidnapping—how do you find?” The judge asked.

“We find the defendants guilty as charged.”

Joe turned to his father and smiled and then reached over and patted Doctor Peele’s arm.

“And the second count—assault with intent to do serious bodily injury—how do you find?”

“We find the defendants guilty as charged.”

The courtroom was full of commotion and the defense attorney frowned and shook his head in defeat. The judge brought it back into control with his gavel. “Will the defendants please rise.” He said and Travis and Pete reluctantly stood, they were still in denial that they had indeed lost.

“I sentence each of you to five years on count one—kidnapping, and for count two—assault with intent to do serious bodily injury—I sentence you to five more years! Both sentenced to run together—and so gentlemen, you will be enjoying the next ten years in state prison! And I would like to add something else. Joseph Cartwright—please stand up!”

Joe looked around confused but followed the judge’s instructions. The judge looked at Joe who looked rather nervous. He finally addressed the young man with the words, “I would like to say that it took a whole lot of courage on your part to sit in this courtroom and listen to some of the things that were said about you. You have helped to get these two off the streets for awhile and the court and I both thank you for doing it.” The judge rose, as did the rest of the court and then the spectators and witnesses filed out of the courthouse.

Randolph Hill closed his briefcase and shook the Cartwright’s hands and also Doctor Peele’s. “Thank you for everything.” Ben told the attorney.

“Don’t thank me, it’s my job!” He smiled and then walked over to Joe. “You really had me going yesterday, Joe! I thought for sure we’d have to get you out of a contempt charge—but you held up real well!” Joe grinned sheepishly; he wondered what the prosecutor would have thought had he seen him the night before when he was intoxicated.

“Well, how about showing me the great Ponderosa now? I deserve some reward for coming all the way out here!” Harold teased.

“You got it, Doc!” Hoss assured. Harold turned toward the big man.

“You must be Hoss!” He smiled.

“How’d you guess?” Hoss laughed.

“Your brother was very descriptive in telling me all about you and your brother and the ranch.”

“Well, let’s see if it meets with your expectations!” Adam said and they all turned to leave.

“I’ll be along in a little while.” Ben said and paused. “I have a little errand to run and I’ll meet you all back at home.” Ben walked away leaving them all wondering what he was up to.

 

That evening was spent in celebration of the Cartwright’s victory in court. They also spoke about the sights they had shown Doctor Peele on the way back from Virginia City that afternoon and about the Ponderosa and her history. Harold listened intently and enjoyed the time he had spent getting to know the rest of the Cartwright family. They were just as Joe had described to him during his hospital stay.

Ben and Harold sat in the living room enjoying some brandy when Joe entered the living room. “Guess I better turn in.” He said and paused looking at the two men who had both been with him in times of terrible defeat and also great triumph. “I wish you didn’t have to go back tomorrow, Doc.” He said remorsefully. Doctor Peele smiled at Joe and laughed.

“You know what that hospital is like, Joseph! Now how long can it stay in one piece with me away?”

Joe shared Harold’s smile and replied, “Okay—okay—I’ll stop bugging you about staying—but promise you will come back and visit?”

Harold nodded. “I promise I will be back—there’s still a lot you have to show me.”

“Goodnight, Pa. Goodnight, Doc—and thanks for coming to my aid again!”

“It was my pleasure.” Harold nodded and Joe walked up the stairs.

Both Harold and Ben watched Joe depart and they shared the same feeling of admiration for the young man. Ben poured some more brandy and said, “I don’t know how to thank you either. I didn’t think those men would be convicted—your being there was the saving grace.”

Harold took the brandy and sat back in thought. Finally he spoke. “I have some selfish reasons in all this, Ben. I once knew someone like your son.” Harold reached into his vest and took out a small locket. He opened it and handed it to Ben. Ben studied the picture with a bewildered look on his face. The picture inside looked exactly like Joe.

“This looks just like Joseph!” He exclaimed.”

Harold smiled, “Yes—it does, doesn’t it? He had dark curly brown hair and bright green eyes and a smile that would make you forget all your troubles! That was my son Daniel. He died five years ago.” He said sadly. Ben felt a deep sadness for the man who had done so much for Joe.

“I’m so sorry—” He tried to find the words.

“Daniel had an incurable illness—he suffered for quite awhile. And, me, being a doctor, well—it made me feel so helpless! I couldn’t save my own son!” Harold spoke with grief in his words.

“But, you saved mine!” Ben nodded. “Is this why Joseph’s recovery meant so much to you?” He asked quietly.

“All my patients matter to me, Ben. But, yes, I guess you can say I did take Joe’s recovery a bit personally. It was almost like God was giving me a second chance to save Daniel!”

“Well—you did do that—you saved Joseph! And not just the one time, either! You saved him in San Francisco and you saved him again today. I don’t know what would have happened it those men had been found not guilty! I think it would have destroyed Joseph!”

Harold nodded, “I think he’s going to be okay now. I see the light back in his eyes. Though he will always remember what has happened—the pain of it all will eventually fade away.”

Both men sat quiet for a while, each caught up in their own thoughts of their sons. Finally, Ben lifted his glass and called for a toast. “I would like to drink to Daniel—and to his father!”

Ben smiled and Harold lifted his glass and replied, “And also to Joseph and his father!”

“Do you want me to tell Joseph about Daniel or do you want to tell him?” Ben asked after finishing his brandy.

“Emotion is a bit much for him right now—having gone through this ordeal. I’ll keep in touch and some day I will have a talk with him about it.”

“You know he’s going to hold you to that visit, don’t you? And Joseph can be very persuasive!” “Oh, you don’t have to tell me that, Ben! I was with him for four months remember!” The doctor laughed thinking about the many times Joe had tried and succeeded in getting his way at the hospital. “I’ll visit—just as I promised.”

“Good! And our business takes us to San Francisco often—I’ll make sure Joe visits you as well.” Ben said wanting in someway to give something back to the doctor.

“I’d like that. Well, if I’m going to catch that early stage out of Virginia City in the morning I’d best get some sleep!” Harold turned toward the stairs.

“Goodnight, Harold—and thank you!”

Harold smiled and nodded and left for his room.

 

The next day Joe drove the doctor into town while Ben followed behind on his horse. He wanted to give them both a little more time together, knowing both of them still in some way needed each other. As the stage pulled up Joe turned to the doctor and gave him a brief hug. “Thanks, Doc!” He said sad to see the man he had come to know as his friend leaving.

“No sad goodbyes, Young man!” The doctor admonished Joe.

“Okay.” Joe replied and gave his famous smile. “Just see you later, then!”

“That’s better!” Harold laughed and entered the stagecoach and it pulled away.

Joe stood staring at the departing stage, he hoped the next time he saw the doctor it would be under pleasant circumstances. Joe was deep in thought when he felt his father’s hand pat him on the back. “He’s a fine man—isn’t he, Joseph?” Ben referred to Doctor Peele and his son’s obvious affection for him.

“Yeah—kinda reminds me of you in a way.”

“Me?” Ben laughed.

“Yeah, of course when you were MUCH younger!” Joe teased. Ben shook his head and cleared his throat. “Did it ever occur to you that YOU are what is aging me?”

“All the time, Pa—all the time!” He nodded and walked back to the buckboard. I’ll meet you back home, Joseph. I have another errand.”

“You have had an awful lot of errands lately.” Joe said suspiciously.

“You mind your own business, Young man—and how about actually doing some chores for a change? There’s firewood waiting for your attention at home.”

Joe frowned and got in the buckboard. “Back to normal.” He muttered and sent the team forward.

Later that night, after all the Cartwrights had gone to bed, Ben walked down the hall to Joe’s room and knocked on the door. Joe opened it surprised to find his father still awake.

“Pa? Something wrong?” Joe asked yawning.

“No—I just wanted to talk to you a minute privately.” Ben said and walked past his son and sat down at the bottom of the bed. Joe wondered what this would be about.

“Did I do something?” Joe asked. “There you go—always thinking I’ve come up to lecture you about something!” Ben teased.

“Well—what ever it is—I didn’t do it!” Joe smiled and sat down next to his father.

“Here—” Ben said and handed Joe a box; it looked familiar. It looked just like the box he had been given on his birthday. It was the first time in weeks that Joe had thought about the pocket watch. He then remembered giving it back to his father in anger, when he thought that Ben didn’t believe his story about the morphine.

“Well—you gave this back to me—I was wondering if you wanted it now?”

Joe opened the box, took out the watch, and looked at it. “Never should have given it back in the first place, Pa. I’m sorry.” Joe apologized.

“Open the cover.” Ben whispered.

“Huh?’ Joe wondered why his father was so insistent—he knew what it read inside. He slowly opened the cover and noticed a difference. The word “faith” was still engraved as it was before, but now, appearing above that word was the word “absolute”.

“Absolute Faith!” Joe called out.

“Just remember that from now on, Joseph!”

Joe looked at his father and smiled. It was a smile that would make you forget all your troubles.

 

The End

Next in the Whatever It Takes Series:

A Part of the Main
Mustard Seed
To Help a Stranger

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

 

 

Tags:  addiction, Family, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright, Recovery

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Author: Wrangler

6 thoughts on “Whatever it Takes series – #2 – Absolute Faith (by Wrangler)

  1. Another emotional and great story. More tissues on hand. Pa’s Absolute Faith was a great ending to this story. Thanks

  2. A great follow-up to your first story. I think I felt as much rage as Hoss and Adam did when they found out what that pair had done. I think I might have ended up in Roy’s jail! On to the next part.

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