Nothing is What it Seems
“It’s those low-down, gutter-sniping killers,” Jubal Hadfield said as he looked outside. “It’s time they got what’s coming to them.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Alonzo McFadden nodded. “Keowa Flats don’t need scum like that around here.”
The two men grabbed their rifles and started to make their way outside to face the Big Jake and Shorty Jim, the notorious Slade brothers. They nodded to each other as they…
“Hey Joe! You in there!”
Joe frowned. How on earth was he supposed to finish this book if he kept on getting interrupted all the time? Earlier he had tried to read in front of the fireplace but Adam’s constant teasing about what he was reading had finally gotten to him and he had high-tailed it out to the barn. Up here in the loft he had been quite content and had become absorbed in the story being told but it looked like that was all over now. Hoss had come looking for him.
“Joe? Joe?” Hoss paused for a moment. “Maybe he isn’t here, Adam.”
“Oh he’s here alright. We’ve looked everywhere else. Only place he could be.”
Gazing upwards and shaking his head, Joe sighed heavily. He should have known that his two brothers would come for him eventually. He had no doubt that they only wanted him for one reason. There was no choice in the matter. It was better to get it over and done with.
“I’m up here,” Joe shouted. He made his way down from the loft to the barn floor.
Adam smiled as he watched his youngest brother come down. He was in the mood for some light-hearted fun and had recruited Hoss soon after Joe had left the house. Hoss had eagerly agreed and the two of them had just spent the last ten minutes trying to find Joe.
Hoss grinned as Joe approached. He could see that Adam was right and that Joe indeed had one of those dime novels he loved to read. Every time he thought what had happened to him whenever Joe had got a hold of some silly notion from one of those books, he shuddered. When Adam had told him what he had planned for Joe, he had no hesitation in agreeing. Joe had to be stopped before he came up some new scheme.
The three brothers stood in the middle of the barn. One of them warily eyeing the other two and slightly dreading what was to come. Joe casually looked over at Adam. “Well?”
“I was telling Hoss about the book you brought home from town this morning.” Adam put his arm around Hoss’ shoulders. “And poor ol’ Hoss here thinks that no good will come from you reading it.”
“Really Hoss?” Joe stared pointedly at Hoss. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
“Well Joe, I’ll tell you what gave me that idea.” Hoss grimaced. “I just have to think of all those times that I got into trouble after you read one of those silly detective novels.”
“Hah!” Joe smiled triumphantly. “It seems our older brother has misinformed you. It isn’t one of those detective novels. In fact it’s a historical novel.”
Adam looked sceptically at Joe. “A historical novel? I’ll believe that when I see it. Why don’t you just show us?”
“Yeah Joe. Just show us.”
“Ok Hoss. I’ll show you.” Joe handed the book over to him.
Hoss slowly read the title and frowned. He looked quite perplexed as he opened the book up to the first page. After he had read the first couple sentences, Hoss slowly shook his head. “Dadburnit, Joe why do you want to read about this? Heck we were there and I can tell you, this book ain’t gonna to tell it like it was.”
Adam took the book off Hoss and casually flipped through it. He raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Ahh a classic, I see.”
Joe grabbed the book back from Adam and returned his gaze to Hoss. “Yeah I know we were there but this fills in all the gaps. I always wanted to know what happened after we left.”
As he placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder, Hoss nodded. “I can understand that Joe, but this book ain’t the way to find out. All of them dime store novels are just pure hogwash.”
“Hoss is right about that. Why don’t you try reading something more worthwhile?”
“By worthwhile, I suppose you mean one of those books you’re always so fond of reading. Thanks but no thanks Adam. The few I’ve read already were okay but I like something that has a little more meat to it. More feeling. More action. More excitement.” Joe smiled dreamily.
Adam smirked. He knew he wasn’t going to get to Joe today. “Ok I get your point. You win. Do me one favour though.”
“What?” Joe’s face showed that he was pleased with the fact that Adam had decided to give up.
“Try to read something a bit more substantial in the future. I hate to see you get fiction confused with reality.” Adam patted Joe on the back. “Now, gentlemen if you will excuse me, I’m heading into town.”
“Want some company?”
Stopping briefly, as he walked towards his horse, Adam turned around and looked at Joe. “Sorry not this time around. Got things to do that…well you know.”
Joe nodded. “Yeah I know.” He thought about it for a minute or so and then handed his book to Hoss. “Here have a good look through and let me know what you think.”
Hoss stared blankly at the book he now held. “Ok Joe, but I already done told you what I think…” Frowning, he was not all surprised to see that Joe had gone over to Adam.
Adam, by now had started to saddle his horse and only looked up briefly to see that Joe had joined him. In a way he felt sorry for Joe. He knew his brother wanted to come with him on an assignment but he wasn’t about to let him. Ever since that tricky situation when Hoss came to his rescue shortly after his return, he had become determined to make sure that his family didn’t get involved in his Secret Service work. The unfortunate affair with Mallard and the trip he took with Hoss to find the counterfeit notes had been the only exceptions to his rule.
Joe stared solemnly at Adam. He wanted to know more about Adam’s life. No, that wasn’t quite true. The fact was that he wanted to be a part of his oldest brother’s other life. Every time he had made an attempt to get himself involved with Adam’s Secret Service life, he had been thwarted. This time around he wasn’t going to be that easily deterred. Adam was on a case. He was sure of it.
“Why won’t you let me help? I’m just as good as any man.”
“I know you are.” Adam paused for a moment to think about what he was going to say. He had an idea that Joe was of the view that his life was all action and thrills. Adam couldn’t blame his brother for thinking that based on what Joe had seen so far. His brother craved excitement. It was time to set him straight on a few things about his work.
Adam rubbed the back of his neck and smiled. “Look Joe. I know you think that being a Secret Service agent is an exciting profession. I suppose those books you read might give you that impression but the truth is that for the most part all you do is sit around and wait while you pick up the odd bit of information. In fact at times it is rather sedate. You’d get bored rather quickly.”
“So you say but I’m not sure that you’re telling me the truth. Maybe you’re just saying this to get me to lose interest in what you do.”
“You’re right Joe. I am hoping that you will lose interest.” Adam sighed. “I’ve told you as much as I am going to tell you about what I do. If you don’t believe me then I don’t know what I can say that will make you.”
Hoss came over to them and put his hand on Joe’s shoulder. “Listen to Adam, Joe. I’ve been noticin’ lately that this interest you’ve developed in his work is gettin’ mighty unhealthy.”
Abruptly, Joe flung Hoss’ hand off his shoulder. “I haven’t finished with you yet, Adam. If you won’t tell me what you’re up to, I guess I’ll just have to find out for myself.” Joe stormed out of the barn without as much as a backward glance at his brothers.
After Joe had departed, Hoss lowered his head. “I guess Joe didn’t like me mentionin’ his interest in your work as bein’ unhealthy.”
“No he didn’t but it was about time that someone did.” Adam glanced briefly at Hoss. “I wasn’t too worried about his interest in what I do at the start but in the last month or so…I’m afraid that it has developed into an obsession.”
“I wonder how it happened.” Hoss raised his head and looked questionably at Adam.
“I have no idea. It could’ve been a number of things. Joe’s always been the one wanting to be part of the action and there hasn’t been much of that around here lately. Maybe that’s why he fixated on what I do. I’m the only one who seems to be doing something remotely exciting.”
“Yeah. I can understand that. You come and go more than anyone else around here.” Hoss grinned slightly. “Too bad Joe gets too many hair-brained notions from those books of his.”
Adam smiled. “Yeah those stories can’t be helping much. I just hope Joe snaps out of it before he goes and does something stupid.”
Hoss nodded. “Same here, Adam. Same here.”
For the next couple of days, Joe watched Adam as he went about his usual business at the ranch. Things around the Ponderosa had been rather slow for weeks now and Joe was getting bored with the same old routine. Even Virginia City seemed to be dull lately. It was as far as he was concerned a case of been there and done that. The only thing he hadn’t been there and done that with was to go with Adam on a case.
The mystery of what Adam did had all of a sudden become very alluring to Joe. He wanted to experience the adventure and the excitement of what his oldest brother did. Joe could only see that Adam was living the life he had dreamed about and he was determined to be a part of it.
On this particular day, Joe had volunteered to go into town to get some supplies and to collect the mail. As he walked out of the post office, he was surprised to see Adam coming out of the Red Dog Saloon. Knowing that the Red Dog was not a place that the Cartwrights or their ranch hands frequented, Joe naturally came to the conclusion that Adam was in town on Secret Service business.
Smiling, Joe knew he had been presented with the opportunity he had been waiting for. Adam hadn’t obviously seen him, for if he had, his brother would’ve come straight over to him. Keeping at discrete distance, Joe began to follow Adam through the streets of Virginia City in the hope that the action he craved for would happen.
One hour later, Joe was still hot on Adam’s trail. He was very pleased with the fact that Adam had no idea that he was being followed by his youngest brother. As he walked across the street from Adam, Joe kept an eagle eye on his brother and what he was doing. It was due to this occupation of keeping watch on Adam that Joe failed to see where he was going and walked straight into the former sheriff of Virginia City, Roy Coffee.
Startled, Joe looked to see who he had bumped into. “Ah – Hi Roy. Sorry about that. Wasn’t watching where I was goin’. You ok?”
Roy straightened his vest and stared at Joe. “It was obvious you weren’t watching where you were going now is it? I’m fine – I think.”
Joe smiled innocently. “I’m real sorry. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“No there isn’t.” Roy studied the younger man’s face. “I was just headed across the street to see your brother Adam.”
Joe began to feign innocence. “Adam? Adam’s here in town? Imagine that. Where is he?”
“He was just over there.” Roy pointed to a place on the other side of the street. “You sure you didn’t see him?”
“Nope. I guess I was just too busy thinking.”
Eyeing Joe suspiciously, Roy snorted. “Thinking? I find that hard to believe Joe Cartwright.”
Taking a defensive stance, Joe nodded once. “Yeah thinking. I think just like everybody else.”
Knowing he had hit a nerve, Roy smiled apologetically. “Look, son. I’m sorry for what I just said. I guess I’m still a bit shaken by our run in.”
“That’s fine Roy. No hard feelings. Guess I’ll be going.”
“I still find it hard to believe that you didn’t see your brother.”
“Oh well, it happens that way sometimes. Now if you’ll excuse I’ve got to get back to the ranch.”
“Take care Joe,” Roy shouted as he watched the young man walk quickly away. He was almost one hundred percent sure that Joe had seen Adam. For some reason Joe didn’t want him to know that and he wondered why.
As far as he was concerned there was something mighty fishy going on with Adam Cartwright. He had been watching the oldest Cartwright son for weeks and the incident with Joe just now added to his suspicions that somehow Adam had turned bad. What sort of lawman and friend was he if he didn’t go about finding out what was really going on? With that thought in mind, Roy set off down the street in the direction he had seen Adam go.
That night just before dinner, Joe came to the conclusion that he needed some assistance and since he had a feeling that Hoss wasn’t going to help him, there was only one other person that he could go to. Surely his best friend wouldn’t mind coming along with him on a little adventure.
Going up to Candy’s bedroom door, Joe paused before he knocked. He had to have the right words to say in order to convince Candy that he needed his help to find out what the case was that Adam was working on.
After he had knocked on the door, Joe waited patiently for Candy to open it. When Candy finally opened the door, Joe grinned. “Hi. Mind if I come in?”
Candy eyed Joe suspiciously. He could immediately sense that Joe was here for more than just a friendly chat. Against his better judgement, he let Joe into his room. Since Joe was his best friend the least he could do was to hear him out before he told Joe that the answer was no.
Joe casually scanned the room and his eyes fell onto a book that lay on top of the dresser. Going over he picked it up and began to flip through it, paying little attention to what the book was about as he continued to find the right words to say.
He turned his head slightly towards Candy and smiled. “Interesting reading?”
Shifting nervously, Candy answered in the affirmative. He hoped that Joe was paying too much attention to what he was looking at in the book. If Joe found out where he had gotten the book from, he would have a lot of explaining to do.
A few awkward seconds past by as Joe continued to turn the pages in the book. He had come up with the best way to ask Candy for his help. As he was about to put the book down, Joe opened the front cover. A look of surprise crossed his face as he silently read the words “Property of the Virginia City Lending Library”. Joe turned to Candy, held up the book and looked questionably at him. “I thought this was one of the books from Pa’s library. It seems that I was mistaken. The Lending Library isn’t usually the sort of place you go to when you’re in town, now is it?”
“No it isn’t.” Candy went up and snatched the book from Joe. “What’s wrong with expanding my horizons?”
Joe raised up his hands in protest. “Nothing. It’s just that I’m surprised to see that you are.” All of a sudden Joe paused and then a sly grin crossed his face. “Oh now I get it. Your sudden interest in expanding your horizons wouldn’t have anything to do with the owner of the library now would it?”
“So what if it does?” Candy sighed in resignation. “Ok, so it does. After you told me that story about what happened to Adam there, I got curious. I wanted to see for myself the girl who had the gumption to whack a Cartwright on the head.”
“I told you that story nearly a month ago. Don’t tell me that you’ve been…”
“Yes I have and it’s none of your business who I see and who I don’t see.”
Solemnly nodding, Joe conceded that Candy had a point. His friend had the right to see whomever he wished to. “Since I only just found out now, I can safely guess that Adam knows nothing about it.”
“As far as I know he doesn’t but what your brother knows and doesn’t know is anybody’s guess.” Candy smiled. “Besides he doesn’t like Jane Talbot all that much anyway. He’d probably say that I’m welcome to her.”
“Yep, you’re probably right about that one.” Joe grinned.
Candy thought for a few moments. He had only just started to get to know Jane and wanted to take his time in learning all about her. His wariness came due to the fact that he had been burnt too many times in the past. Taking a deep breath, he looked at Joe. It was time to change the subject. “What can I do for you?”
Knowing that Candy had said all he was going to say on the subject of Jane Talbot, Joe nodded once. “I need your help.”
“My help?” Candy wondered for a moment why Joe would need his help. The answer then came to him. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that you’ve been itching for weeks to find out what Adam’s been up to lately, now would it?”
“Alright it is.” Joe mumbled. “How did you know?”
Grinning, Candy went up to Joe and placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “We’ve known each other for a long time. I can tell when you get that look in your eye. You’re scheming about something.”
“I guess there’s no foolin’ you, Candy. So how ‘bout it?”
Shaking his head slowly, Candy smiled apologetically. “Sorry – got too much to do around here.”
Joe nodded begrudgingly. “There’s no harm in trying. I suppose this is something that I’ve got to do on my own.”
“Well good luck and happy hunting.” Candy smiled as he escorted Joe to the door.
After he had opened the door, Candy turned to look at Joe. “By the way you won’t mention anything to anybody about me seeing Jane Talbot?”
As he placed his hand on Candy’ shoulder, Joe smiled. “Your secret’s safe with me but I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes if Adam ever finds out.”
“No, I wouldn’t want to be either,” Candy said grimly.
“What do you think he’s been up to lately then?”
Hoss frowned. “I don’t know Adam. Your guess is as good as mine.”
Adam nodded and took a deep breath. The night air was clear and crisp. Seated outside on the porch after enjoying another delicious meal prepared by Hop Sing, he had begun to speculate on what Joe had been doing for the last couple of days. His youngest brother had been rather quiet and it worried him.
“You’re right, Joe’s been too darn quiet lately.” Hoss glanced at Adam. “When Joe’s quiet you know he’s up to somethin’.”
The front door opened just as Adam was about to answer. Candy and Joe walked out and joined the other two.
“Hey don’t stop talking on my account.” Joe smiled. “Nice night isn’t it?”
“Yup sure is.” Hoss nodded and looked cautiously at Adam.
Joe frowned. Moments before he came out he could hear voices and he knew that Hoss and Adam were discussing something. “So what were you two talking about?”
“We were talking about you.” Adam said calmly. “You’ve been rather quiet lately.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Joe smiled innocently. “You know how it is. You get busy and you keep your nose to the ol’ grindstone. Ain’t that right Candy?”
Candy raised his eyebrows. “Keep me out this, Joe.” He gazed over towards the bunk house. “If you want me I’ll be with the boys.” He walked off.
Adam smirked. “Well Joe, looks like you’ve lost your only ally.”
“Yeah it sure does, doesn’t it?” Joe shrugged his shoulders casually.
“So what have you been doing lately, Joe?” Adam asked, emphasising the word have.
“Oh a bit of this and a bit of that. Nothing that would interest you two.”
Hoss grimaced. “That’s what we’re afraid of.”
Joe grinned widely and looked at his two brothers. “Don’t you think I’m too old to be getting into the sort of trouble I use to get into?”
“Yeah you are too old to get into the sort of trouble that use to get into but that hasn’t stopped you yet,” Adam said casually.
“Look…you fellas have got nothing to worry about.” Joe smiled warmly. “I’m not planning to get into any trouble.”
Adam and Hoss gazed knowingly at each other. They both knew they wouldn’t find out what Joe was really up to until he was well and truly ready to tell them. The only other way they would find was if and when Joe got into trouble.
The three of them sat quietly for a few minutes. Adam was the first to break the amicable silence. “Speaking of trouble. I have to warn you two about something.”
Joe looked questionably at Adam. “Warn us about what?”
“Stay away from the Red Dog Saloon.”
“Huh? Why the Red Dog?” Hoss asked curiously.
“Let’s just say if any of us go in there, there could be trouble.”
Accepting what Adam said at face value, Hoss nodded. “Yeah sure.”
Pondering what Adam had just said, Joe nodded his head. He contemplated the idea that Adam may be warning them to stay away from the Red Dog due to the nature of his work. The longer he thought about the more he was sure that Adam was working on a case at that particular saloon. Didn’t he see his brother walk out of there a few days ago?
Joe smiled innocently and turned to walk back inside. “Thanks for the warning, big brother.” He yawned. “Time I was getting to bed. Night fellas.”
Adam watched with concern as Joe went back inside. “You know Hoss I get the feeling that Joe didn’t take my warning too seriously.”
“Yup. I think you’re right about that one.” Hoss paused. “How come you didn’t tell us why we shouldn’t go to the Red Dog?”
“I have my reasons and it has nothing to do with my work. Suffice to say that the Cartwrights have a few enemies who frequent that place.”
“Ahh…I thought so.” Hoss had heard something a couple of weeks ago and this confirmed his suspicions. Frowning, he continued, “I just hope Joe understood that too.”
Adam grimaced. He now regretted holding off telling Joe the reasons why he shouldn’t go to the Red Dog. The fact was that he didn’t want his brothers to know that it had to do with the incident at the Lending Library a month ago. Having already suffered a sufficient amount of embarrassment he wasn’t ready to face some more and he hoped that Joe was wise enough to take his advice seriously.
Candy wiped his brow. It was an unusually warm day for this time of year. Winter would be here in about two months and there were still plenty of repairs to carry out before the snows came. His attention was diverted from the job at hand by the sound of a horse approaching.
Grinning, Candy watched as the familiar rider and horse came nearer. It looked like Joe was on his way to town. Fence repair could be a lonely job at times and he would be glad of the company for a few minutes.
“Hey Candy!” Joe shouted as he pulled up next to where Candy stood. “I see that you’ve started on this side. I’d like to help but you know – got business in town today.”
“Yeah I know.” Candy laughed a little. “How many horses do you reckon you can sell to that man from rodeo?”
“Plenty I hope. Got a few good ones I’m sure he’ll like.” Joe nodded once. “You want me to do anything for you in town?”
Eyeing Joe suspiciously, Candy shook his head. “No. Nothing that I can think of.”
“Are you sure? You don’t have a message that you would like me to deliver to a certain lady?”
“Definitely not,” Candy snapped back at him. “I’ll handle that on my own, thank you very much.”
Joe laughed. “I understand perfectly.”
“What else do you have planned?”
Shrugging his shoulders, Joe looked thoughtful for a moment. “I might go and get a beer or two. Might try some place new.”
“You’re bored with the Silver Dollar now?”
“Not really. Thought I check out the Red Dog. I’ve heard that it’s an interesting place.”
Candy raised his eyebrows in surprise and nodded. “The Red Dog. Haven’t heard much about it.”
“Well it’s high time I visited the place.” Joe turned his horse around. “I’ll be heading off and it’s time that you got back to work. See you when I get back.”
“Yeah see ya.” Candy watched Joe ride off for a second and then went back to repairing the fence.
Two hours later Candy had finished the repairs on the fence. It was time to head on back to the ranch house for some lunch. Just as he was about to get on his horse, he looked up to see Hoss riding towards him.
“Hey Candy,” Hoss said cheerfully as he pulled up alongside the man. “I’m lookin’ for Joe. You haven’t seen him, have you?”
Candy nodded. “Yeah I’ve seen him.”
“You gonna tell me where and when?”
Grinning, Candy continued, “I saw him about two hours ago. He was headed into town to do some business.”
“Ahh…now I remember. There’s that buyer in town lookin’ to get some broncs for the upcomin’ rodeo in Carson City.”
Getting onto his own horse, Candy looked at Hoss. “Say, why don’t we head back to the house and get some lunch. I’ve built up big hunger fixing this fence.”
Hoss smiled as he agreed and the two of them began the ride back to the ranch house. They had only been riding for a few minutes when Hoss stopped his horse abruptly.
Turning to look at Candy, Hoss frowned. “Candy? Did Joe say anythin’ ’bout what else he was plannin’ to do while he was in town?”
“Yep. He said something about going to get a beer from the Red Dog.”
“Dadburnit!” Hoss shouted. “I just knew I shoulda kept an eye on him. I thought he had more sense than that.”
Puzzled, Candy wondered what the matter was. “Hey there’s nothing wrong with getting a beer now is there?”
“No there ain’t but the Red Dog sure isn’t the place to go and get it.”
“What’d you mean? I’ve heard nothing bad about the place.”
“Adam done warned him ’bout not goin’ in there.” Hoss thought for a moment. “We’ve gotta go and get ‘im before it’s too late.”
“Hang on a minute. I don’t understand…”
“Haven’t got time to explain it to ya. It’s just that the Red Dog don’t welcome the Cartwrights or our friends.”
Candy blinked twice. “Oh heck! How come I’m always the last to know?”
“Like I said, I ain’t got the time to explain it to ya. We’ve gotta go now!” Hoss spurred his horse into a fast gallop and headed towards Virginia City.
Shaking his head in bewilderment, Candy followed Hoss’ lead and hoped that they weren’t too late.
Joe walked inside the saloon and scanned the room. It looked like a nice enough place. All the trimmings were done in red that kept with the name of the saloon. The furnishings didn’t seem too old or too shabby. All in all the Red Dog seemed to be a pleasant place to sit down and have a drink. He went up to the bar and ordered a beer.
When he received his beer, Joe began to sip it as he carefully studied the other patrons, trying to work out who would be the type to get Adam’s interest. He soon became absorbed in his task and thus he failed to notice the group of men, who confidently entered the saloon a short time later.
Fred Jones and his cohorts had found the Red Dog to their liking and had made it their regular meeting place. They came together at this time nearly every day to have a drink, usually staying well into the evening.
As he looked around the room and acknowledged the other regulars, Fred’s eyes fell upon a new customer, wearing a green jacket. He couldn’t see who the man was, as the fellow had his back turned to him. Deciding that it was his duty to welcome the newcomer, Fred went up to him and smiled as he tapped the man on the shoulder.
Joe whirled around to see who had tapped him on the shoulder. He looked at the man and was mildly surprised to see the smile that the man was wearing quickly disappear.
Thinking nothing of it, Joe smiled. “Hi. I’m…”
“I know who you are,” Fred spat out. “You’re one of those high and mighty Cartwrights. I thought I told your brother that none of you were to show your faces in here.”
Putting up his spare hand in a stopping motion, Joe frowned. “Hang on a minute. I don’t even know who you are.”
“I’m Fred Jones.” Seeing a look of confusion on young Cartwright’s face, Fred was momentarily taken aback. “Your brother Adam’s told you about me hasn’t he?”
Shaking his head, Joe smiled apologetically. “No, ‘fraid not. Am I suppose to know you?”
So Adam Cartwright hadn’t told them about that day in the Lending Library. If it weren’t for Cartwright knocking him out in front of her, he would’ve seen what the delectable Miss Talbot had to offer a gentleman like himself. Fred grimaced. “Well it don’t matter. You Cartwrights aren’t welcomed here. If I were you I’d get out of here right now.”
Not liking being told what he should do, Joe half-smiled. “I ain’t going anywhere. Not until I have at least finished my beer. Besides, I kind of like it here. I might stick around for a while.” Joe turned and faced the back wall behind the bar.
“I’m telling you to get out now!” Fred shouted as he knocked the beer from Joe’s hand. He was sick and tired of how the Cartwrights always turned up where they weren’t welcomed. It was time he sent a clear message to the whole lot of them.
Silently fuming, Joe wiped the excess beer off his jacket sleeve. He glared at Fred. “You want me to leave do you?” Having already sized up the man as no threat, Joe continued, “Come and make me.”
“Oh…I’ll make you alright,” Fred said with venom, as he motioned to two of his friends, who by now had moved to stand behind Joe. “Alright fellas. Show him how we deal with unwanted guests.”
Joe watched as Fred stepped out of the way and a burly man came towards him. The next thing he knew was that he had been grabbed by the two men standing behind him. They each took hold of his arms. It was then that Joe knew he was in trouble. Taking a deep breath, Joe prepared to defend himself the best he could under the circumstances.
For the next few minutes, the burly man pummelled Joe with his fists. At the start, Joe had managed to kick the burly man a couple of times but that didn’t seem to stop him. Joe could feel the pain a lot by now. He had taken a terrible beating to his face and stomach and it showed no signs of ending in the near future.
All of a sudden the two who had held him by the arms, let go. Joe fell to the floor in a crumpled heap. He had the feeling that they weren’t finished with him yet and that they would soon probably start to kick him where he laid. One of the men then started to do so but after the first kick it had abruptly ceased.
In a dazed state, Joe gazed upwards and was surprised to see Hoss dealing with the man who had been moments ago pounding the life out of him. The sound of chair crashing caught Joe’s attention and he was grateful to see that Hoss hadn’t come alone. He could see that Candy was there and felt comforted with the knowledge that for the time being it was over. Feeling slightly out of sorts, he slowly closed his eyes.
“C’mon Joe. It’s time you woke up.”
Joe groaned. He wanted to stay where he was for just a little while longer. “Go away,” he mumbled.
“Joe you know we can’t do that. We’ve got to get you home and it would be good if you were awake.”
“Ok Hoss.” Joe opened his eyes and as they came into focus he could see that he wasn’t in the Red Dog anymore. “Where am I?”
“You’re in Doc Martin’s office.”
“Oh…thought the place looked kinda familiar.” Joe grinned slightly and after a few minutes, slowly attempted to get up. He clutched his sides as the pain shot through.
Hoss and Candy moved to help Joe into a sitting position on the edge of the bed that he had just been lying on. “Well Doc, what’s the verdict?” Joe asked.
Paul Martin smiled. “You’ll be fine. You’ve been badly bruised and thankfully that’s it. It could have been a lot worse.”
“Yeah I know.” Joe half-smiled. He turned to look at Hoss and Candy. “Thanks for coming to my rescue.”
Candy shrugged his shoulders. “It was nothing. I’m just glad we got there before they did any real damage to you.”
After a few moments, Hoss spoke up. “Dagummit Joe. Why the heck did you go there when Adam warned us not to?”
Joe snorted. “I had my reasons. I know I didn’t take Adam’s warning all that seriously. I thought the reason he wanted to stay away was because of…” He paused, looked quickly at Candy and then back at Hoss. “Because of you know what.”
“Hmm…I pretty sure that it wasn’t that. I gotta feelin’ that what happened had somethin’ to do with a more recent incident.”
“You know I think you could be right. Now that you mention it, it could have been that other incident.” Joe shook his head slowly. “I guess we’ll find out when we get home.”
“Speaking of home.” Candy faced Doc Martin. “Is it ok that we went now?”
“Yes it’s fine. Just take it easy on the way back to the Ponderosa.” Paul paused for a moment. “Don’t forget Joe, for the next few days or so just stick to light work while you recover.”
Joe smiled. “Sounds good to me.” He slowly stood up and gingerly walked a few steps. When he found a walking position that he was comfortable with, he turned around. “Ok fellas. Let’s go home.”
Hoss and Candy grinned as they followed Joe outside the doctor’s office.
Ben frowned. “I still don’t understand why those men at the Red Dog would do this to you.”
Lying down on the settee, Joe sighed. “I didn’t know either until Hoss reminded me about something. It kinda makes sense now that I think about it.”
“Well Hoss?” Ben turned to face his middle child. “Care to enlighten me?”
“Umm…Pa…well it’s only a guess but I think it has somethin’ to do with that incident at the Lending Library.” Hoss half-smiled. “I kinda heard some stuff in town about it a couple of weeks ago.”
A look of mild surprise crossed Ben’s face. “You heard some stuff in town? Why didn’t you tell us this earlier?”
Hoss shifted nervously. “I kinda knew Adam was embarrassed by what happened that day. I didn’t want to make it worse for him. Then when Adam said that he had reasons other than his work for us not goin’ in there…well I just put two and two together.”
Joe lifted his head slightly. “He told you that his reasons for us not going in there weren’t related to his work. When did he tell you this?”
Once again Hoss shifted nervously. “Just after you went to bed last night. I guess he never got around to tellin’ ya.”
“I guess he never got around to telling me,” Joe said in a slightly distressed voice. “Boy if I ever get my hands on him.”
Just then the door to house opened and Adam came in. It had been a long day at the timber camp and he looked forward to dinner. He took off his hat and placed it on the peg near the door. After he took off his gun and placed it on the sideboard, he faced the other occupants of the room. He was surprised and slightly shocked to see his father staring intently at him and Hoss nervously standing next to the settee.
Noting that there was an awkward silence, Joe slowly lifted himself off the settee and stood up. As soon as he saw Adam, he let loose. “So when were you going to tell me about the Red Dog? I coulda been killed in there today. If I weren’t so banged up I would…”
Adam put up his hands in protest. “Hang on a minute, Joe. I thought I told you not to go to the Red Dog.”
“Yeah you did.”
“Well why did you go in there?”
Hoss looked intently at Joe. “Tell ’em what you told me.”
“It’s doesn’t matter now,” Joe said quickly. He wasn’t about to let the rest of his family know that he had thought that Adam was on a case and that he had been there to find out what it was. “What matters now is that you neglected to tell us the full story as to why we shouldn’t go there.”
Adam could see that Joe had been in a fight of some sort. “Tell me what happened.”
Hoss could see that Joe wasn’t going to say a word and so he elected himself to tell Adam the story as he knew it. When he had finished, Adam frowned and went over to Joe. “I’m sorry, I should’ve told you that I had just cause for us not going in there. Hoss understood that perfectly. Why didn’t you?”
Knowing there was no way out and wanting Adam to understand, Joe half-smiled. “I saw you coming out of the Red Dog a couple of days ago. When you told us not to go there, I naturally assumed that you didn’t want us there because of your Secret Service work. I was curious and I wanted to help so…”
Adam smiled knowingly, “So you went in there to see what you could dig up on your own. I should’ve realised that you would go and do something like this.”
Ben went over to Joe and placed his hand delicately on his son’s shoulder. “This obsession you’ve had with Adam’s work has gone on long enough.”
Raising an eyebrow, Adam looked quizzically at his father. “You noticed it too?”
“Yes I did. I hoped that it would die a natural death but it hasn’t happen that way.” Ben shook his head slowly. “Its times like these that I still find it hard to believe that you are all grown men.”
Embarrassed, Joe nodded his head in defeat. “Yeah, the beating I took today kinda helped me come to my senses. I guess I did get a little carried away with my interest in your work, Adam. It’s just that the stories I’ve read made it seem exciting.”
“I told you before Joe. Those books make our jobs out to be more than they really are. Basically all we do at the Treasury Department is just investigate any illegal dealings against the government. I do admit that sometimes it can be dangerous but nine times out of ten it’s pretty tame. In fact at times it can be rather boring.” Adam smirked. “Sorry.”
Joe grinned. “I’m sorry too. I can see that I was making it out to be something more than it really is. I kinda fell in love with the idea of what I thought you did. Give me some time and I’ll get over it.”
“That’s good to hear Joe.” Adam grinned as he suddenly came up with an idea. “However, I do think that it’s high time that you started reading something else. I assume that Doc Martin gave you orders to take it easy for the next couple of days.”
“Yeah he sure did.” Joe looked worriedly at Adam. When his brother grinned like that he knew that he was hatching a plan of some sort.
“Good. Now if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’ll be back with a book I know you’ll find interesting.” Adam left them and went upstairs to his room.
Ben, Hoss and Joe looked at each other in bewilderment. They all took their seats as they waited for Adam.
Hoss looked thoughtful. “I wonder what book Adam thinks you’ll like. I know some of his books are interestin’ – I’ve read a few myself.” The look of disbelief on Joe’s face, made Hoss smile. “Yeah I’ve read some of his books and I know that you have too, little brother.”
Laughing, Ben gazed proudly at his two sons. “Well I’m glad that at least you two have read some of Adam’s books. I do have to admit that he does have a good choice of books.”
They were then distracted by the sound of Adam coming back down the stairs. He held a non-descript brown-covered book. Joe sighed with relief, as he noted that the book wasn’t that thick.
Adam walked over to Joe and smiled. “Here you go. I know that you like some of Shakespeare’s plays, so I think this one will do.”
Joe looked questionably at Adam as he received the book. There was no title on the cover, so he opened the book to the front page. He groaned as he read it. “Very funny, Adam. Very funny,” he said with a mixture of sarcasm and warmth.
“What is it Joe?” Hoss itched to know what the name of the book was.
Holding the book in the air, Joe grinned. “It’s called Much Ado About Nothing.”
Ben burst out laughing and Hoss quickly followed suit. Adam stood there smugly and smiled at Joe. “I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m going to get ready for dinner. It smells like Hop Sing is cooking up a storm tonight.”
At that moment, Candy walked in and was slightly confused by the light-hearted atmosphere in the room. It wasn’t what he had expected to be happening right now. He had no idea what was going on and just added it to the growing list of things he didn’t understand about this family. “Everything ok?” he asked hesitantly.
“Yeah, everything’s ok,” Joe said happily. Then Joe looked over at Adam and nodded. When Adam nodded back, Joe grinned. He felt much better about what had happened and realised that it was his own fault for believing all the stuff that he had read.
The desire he had for wanting to be part of Adam’s Secret Service work had now started to wear off and he was glad. Content with the knowledge that it would be out of his system soon, Joe went about enjoying the life he had.
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