Adam Knows a Secret (by BettyHT)


Summary:  Camp In the Pines 2015 challenge story.  Adam holds a secret but can’t tell because of injuries so it is up to his brothers and father to try work out who hurt him, why, what they might do next, but most importantly, how to stop them.  It’s his youngest brother who proves to be invaluable in working out what they have to do until the oldest can recover enough to tell them what he knows.

rating = T  WC  = 13,018

Adam Knows a Secret

Chapter 1

In the softly lit patient room of Doctor Martin’s office, the words were spoken softly and were nearly unintelligible. “Clover. Danger. Thom. Kill sons.”

“Hoss, what’s he saying?” Joe had been leaning as close to Adam as he could but Hoss had his ear near Adam’s mouth limiting Joe’s access.

“I don’t know. Sounds like lover and anger or something like that. Then he says thumb. I don’t know what that last word is at all. Sounds almost like Wilsons but them Wilson brothers been dead for years. Cain’t have anything to do with Ann Wilson or her uncle now can it? She got killed a long time ago and he died of that stroke.”

“No. Clover. Danger. Thom. Kill sons.” Adam was trying so hard to say the words but his lips were puffed to twice their normal size and his eyes were swollen nearly closed. He felt a huge weight on his right side and guessed that his right arm was either heavily bandaged, splinted, or both. He had trouble breathing and his chest felt tight. Before he could make another effort to tell his brothers what he knew, he slipped into darkness. His head injuries made staying conscious much too difficult. His brothers heard him softly grunt and were worried until they heard his breathing become regular again.

“He’s just sleeping again. It’s so hard to understand him. He’s mumbling so bad with his lips like that. I wish Pa was here.”

“It ain’t his fault, Joe. Somebody done nearly beat him to death. It was dang lucky you decided to ride home when you did. Ifn you’d stayed like you said you was gonna, they mighta finished the job.”

“Hoss, I wish I would have gone with him when he said he wanted to go home. Then I got this funny feeling that something wasn’t right. You know how it is sometimes when things seem odd. Too many men left the saloon just after Adam left. By the time I got Cooch and rode after him, I knew there was trouble. I could hear noises where it should have been quiet. I had my gun out as soon as I cleared the edge of town, and they had him down on the ground and they were kicking him. Who ever would have thought that a simple trip to town could end up like this?”

“But you don’t know who any of ’em were?”

“It was too dark to know. Adam probably knows. He keeps trying to tell us. Maybe when Pa gets here, he’ll be able to understand what he’s trying to say.”

Doctor Martin stopped any further conversation. “If the two of you want to sit with him until your father gets here, you can, but you need to be quiet. Adam has some severe head injuries. I want him to be completely still for the next twelve hours at least.”

When Hoss said he would take the first turn to sit with Adam, Joe followed Doctor Martin from the room. Paul didn’t want to have to say anything more but Joe insisted on knowing the worst that might happen. He was shocked when Paul told him that Adam might have trouble surviving until their father got there from Carson City the next morning.

“But he was trying to talk with us. How could he be dying?”

“Joe, I didn’t say he was dying. I said that I don’t know what’s going on inside his head. He’s probably got at least one skull fracture. He’s probably got some bleeding inside his skull. If that bleeding doesn’t stop, he could have some very serious problems. It could interfere with breathing and other necessary functions. He needs to be kept very still. That’s why I wouldn’t let you question him. Twelve hours of being quiet and still may help to make the bleeding stop. I can only hope that it’s enough. There’s nothing I can do about bleeding inside a man’s head. Even then the blood that’s there will have to dissolve away without causing any more problems.”

“How long before we know if he’s going to make it?”

“It could be several days before we know. Anything that keeps him quiet, comfortable, and resting is a good thing. I’m hoping that when he hears Ben’s voice tomorrow that he will rest easier. He certainly seemed to calm a bit when he heard Hoss’ voice. Somehow hearing both of you did seem to help, but don’t question him at all.”

“We didn’t question him. He tried to tell us something when he must have heard our voices. That’s a good sign, isn’t it?”

“It is. It’s the most hopeful sign of all. I only hope that he is that lucid by morning.”

“Why wouldn’t he be lucid in the morning if he is now?”

“If there’s bleeding in his brain, then the increasing pressure that puts on his brain could cause problems. He could have trouble waking up, remembering, thinking.”

Joe sat down heavily in a chair. He remembered how it had been when Hoss had a nasty head injury and suffered total amnesia for a long time.

“Please, no talking in there tonight unless he calls out for either of you or your father. Then only reassure him and do your best to keep him calm and tell him that all of you are safe. Were you able to get a telegram off to Carson City to let you father know to come here as fast as he can?”

“Roy said he was going to roust Bill out of bed, but it may not do any good if no one is on the other end to receive it. If they can’t send it tonight, they’ll send it as early as they can in the morning. Pa’s there to testify against hydraulic mining, but he’ll skip that when he knows how badly Adam is hurt. I wish I knew why those men attacked Adam, but Adam’s probably the one who knows, and he’s not in any shape to tell us.”

In the patient room of Doctor Martin’s office, Adam was dreaming and remembering. The vivid images of that night swirled in his mind. He had wanted so much to get up and fight those men but there had been too many of them. He couldn’t even defend himself or protect himself. When he had left the saloon, he had felt uneasy and that increased as he rode from the livery stable and had looked around for a threat but had seen none. He had stopped to talk with Rosie because he thought she might know something about what was going on, but she had refused to speak with him and had continued on to her home. As he rode out of town, the feeling grew stronger, but by the time the threat manifested itself, he had no way out. Men surrounded him in the darkness and pulled him from his horse disarming him with ease. He was hit multiple times, shoved to the ground, and then the kicking began. They mocked him with the truth because they expected to silently kill him there in the road to be found by his youngest brother.

Your old man’s gonna come on back without testifying. He’s gonna be all broke up about his oldest being six feet under. He’s gonna know that you died hard too. That’s when he’s going to get the message that he better not oppose us any more or he could lose another son. We did our homework. There’s only one thing that old Ben values more than the Ponderosa and that’s his sons. Well after tonight, he’s gonna have one less. Our boss don’t like competition and he don’t like opposition. Everyone’s going to know that after tonight.

Information and ideas had flashed through Adam’s head as the men had first confronted him and before he had been struck in the head and kicked so unmercifully. He had seen the insignia on their belts and vests. It was the clover of the Lucky Seven Mining Corporation, the hydraulic mining company that was setting up operations in the Washoe and the eastern Sierras in general. But there was something else. They weren’t Lucky Seven men. They were men from town who hired on and did odd jobs for whatever outfit needed rough work done. They often worked for the most ruthless of the mining barons, Thom Weatherford. Then Adam had heard Joe yelling and heard him ride in with his gun blazing and the men had left without being sure that they had finished the job. He couldn’t move or speak and Joe had thought at first that he was dead. He had heard Joe’s sobs but couldn’t respond. He felt Joe’s hands on him and his arms around him. He wanted to tell him that he was alive and to thank him for that, but he couldn’t respond at all. The gunshots though brought others with lanterns and the realization that he was still breathing. He heard the shock in their voices but couldn’t say anything to them either. When they moved him, the pain had overwhelmed him, but he had awakened in the doctor’s office and tried to tell them what he knew, but they couldn’t understand him.

Now he lay on this soft bed and every time he awoke, he couldn’t open his eyes, and he didn’t have the strength to say what he wanted to say any more. In fact, he was having trouble remembering what it was that he wanted to say. He saw an image but couldn’t remember the word for it. Then he was so tired, he thought that he would rest a while and try to remember again later.

Hoss sat by Adam and occasionally saw a flicker of movement in his swollen eyelids or a grimace as he must have roused enough to feel the pain from the numerous injuries he had. There were so many. If Hoss didn’t already know that was his older brother there in that bed, he would never have recognized him. The bandage around his head, the swollen eyes, nose, and lips, and the bruising and abrasions made him unrecognizable. He shuddered to think of the pain of those injuries and of the others he had: the broken arm, the damaged ribs, and the severe bruising all over his body from being kicked as well as the possible internal injuries. He hoped that Adam could rest easy for the night and perhaps in the morning, tell them who had done this to him because Hoss wanted a chance to go tear them limb from limb himself.

As Hoss watched over Adam, Roy came to the office to talk with Paul and Joe. There were some disturbing developments and he needed to question Joe about them. Rupert Davis’ son, Dawson, had been found with a bullet wound in his arm. He was dead. Apparently, the bullet had nicked an artery, and Dawson had not realized the severity of his injury in the darkness. He or someone else had tied a bandanna around it that had done little to stop the flow of blood. He had most likely died within minutes of being shot.

“Joe, Rupert Davis is saying that it was a wild shot by you that hit his son who had come out to see what all the ruckus was. He says you were a wild man shooting all around, and he’s got about five or six men who say the same.”

“Roy, I told you earlier. I only shot at one man and that was because he shot at me.”

“Joe, now don’t you get all mad at me. I need your official statement to get this all taken care of. Describe it all to me again, Joe, please.”

Angry, Joe sighed but complied. “I couldn’t see much of anything as dark as it was. I saw men in the darkness and I saw the flash of a pistol as one of them fired at me. I fired at the flash. Then it was gone and they were gone. I rode to where they were and that’s when I found Adam.” There was a catch in Joe’s voice then before he could continue. “I thought he was dead. But some more men came out. They told me that dead men don’t bleed so we got Adam here, and I asked them if they would send someone out to the Ponderosa to get Hoss. I stayed here with Adam. You know the rest.”

“That’s all I needed to know. I had that in your statement, and you just backed it up fine. I got a shopkeeper who saw Dawson with a group of men heading out of town. I got a saloon gal who backs up your story too. She’s living in a ramshackle place out on the edge of town. She gave me the same story as yours. Seems that Adam give her some cash to take care of herself after her ma died last year. He came to her tonight asking about stuff that she didn’t want to talk about, and she says he left her as she walked into her place but she heard a commotion and come outside to see men attacking him and you riding in just after. She says how one man shot at you and you shot back. She says she knew it was you cause even in the dark she recognized that horse of yours. I’m thinking maybe she knows more than she was letting on. Now I need to know more about what that was Adam wanted to talk to her about. She couldn’t help him tonight, but she says she wants to see justice done.”

“Roy, if she knew it was Adam, then she knows who those men are. Roy, she knows more than she’s saying.”

“Joe, I think you’re right. I guess I was so darn happy that she backed you up that I plumb didn’t think that if she recognized you and she recognized Adam then she knew those other men too or at least she could describe ’em.”

“Roy, did you send that telegram to Pa?”

“I did, but Joe, I don’t know that he’s gonna get it till tomorrow. Now I got a witness and I oughta go get her statement afore she goes to sleep. I got that first part down on paper and all signed legal, but I want to get everything down on paper especially if she’s got the names of the ones who did that to Adam. What I got so far is she said that she saw you come riding in and only shoot at the one who shot at you. She backed up everything you said. Ifn that Dawson boy was mixed up in this, I want to make sure we got a witness that you was only shooting in self defense.”

“Roy, thank you. Who is this saloon girl and do you think she’s safe now if Davis knows you have a witness that says I was only shooting in self defense?”

Roy looked worried at Joe’s question. He hadn’t had any sleep and that had interfered with his thinking apparently. He had questioned her after getting her statement to make sure he had all the information he needed from her and then had taken that to his office. From there, he had checked with Bill to make sure the telegram had been sent and received. It had been sent but there was no return receipt yet. Finally he had thought he would check Joe’s story one last time and see how Adam was doing. Joe’s question though made him remember that he had meant to send a deputy to watch over Rosie, the saloon girl.

“It’s Rosie from on over to the Silver Dollar. Dang, I forgot to send Mort over there to watch over her. I’ll go see to her myself now. Maybe I’ll put her up in the hotel where it’ll be easier to keep her safe.”


Chapter 2

As Joe went in to see how Adam was doing, Roy left to see about Rosie. When he got to her place, she didn’t answer his knock on the door. One of her neighbors was coming back from using the necessary.

“She had quite a row with her man an hour or so ago. Got quiet right away so maybe they’re sleeping right sound now.”

“Who’s her man?”

“Don’t know his name but he’s a big man with red hair. I seen him around town now and then.”

Roy pounded on the door then and called her name. She didn’t answer so he tried the door and it opened. He looked in carefully and saw that it was a one-room dwelling and everything seemed in good order as far as he could see by moonlight. He found that very surprising if this was the scene after she had a fight with her man. He called her name and stepped in and lit a match to see better when there was no answer. He saw a lantern on the small table and lit that and turned it up. The bed was neatly made and everything seemed to be in place. Roy walked around the room slowly and noted that nothing seemed amiss except that there was a strong odor of bodily functions in the place. Then he noticed a thin stream of fluid had flowed out from under the bed and dried. He knelt down and looked under the bed and stared directly into the lifeless eyes of Rosie. He stood and shook his head at the terrible waste of a young life. There was going to be another funeral now for the saloon girl he had found under the bed apparently after the fight she had with her man. Then he had another terrible thought and rushed out of the shack and to his office. He burst in the door startling Norm and Clem. He pushed past Clem who had some questions and looked at his desk. Rosie’s signed statement had been right there a few hours earlier, but now it was gone. He had severely underestimated Rupert Davis. He swore he wouldn’t do it again.

“You two get on over to Doc Martin’s office and make darn sure nothing happens to them Cartwright boys. I got some work to do. I’ll be there soon as I can. Then I’ll talk to you about all of this.”

Roy’s first stop was the livery stable where he woke Jimmy and sent him out to the Ponderosa to tell the men there to hurry to escort the stage from Carson City to Virginia City so that their boss arrived alive and healthy because at this point he didn’t know who was gunning for the Cartwrights or why, but he had to assume they were all in danger. Adam had been beaten nearly to death, and shots had been taken at Joe. Then he walked to the undertaker’s office to tell him he had another body to retrieve and bury that day. He went to tell Sam that Rosie wouldn’t be coming to work any more and knew that Sam would likely be the one to tell Rosie’s friends so that she could have some people at her service. He told Sam that he wanted to talk to them first and soon. He woke the minister and told him about Rosie. Rosie didn’t have any family in town to pay for embalming. With the heat they had been having, the funeral and burial would take place very quickly.

With those tasks completed, Roy returned to the saloon to talk to the friends of Rosie that he had asked Sam to assemble so that he could question them to find the name of the man Rosie had been seeing. Even with the sleepy and sorrowful women, he quickly found out the man’s name or at least his nickname. Everyone knew him as Fat Cat. He was a tall man but very wide. They told Roy he couldn’t miss him because he had a big shock of red hair and probably weighed three hundred pounds. He worked at odd jobs around town but lately they thought he had been working for the Lucky Seven outfit or at least he was hanging out in the saloon with some of those men at night so maybe he was angling for a job with them. Usually he worked for Thom Weatherford but hadn’t seemed to have any work or any money lately. Roy was somewhat familiar with him even though he had caused no trouble to this point. He headed out to see if he could find him when he realized he was walking in the wrong direction. He headed to the office to get some sleep. He planned to hire a few extra temporary deputies the next morning so that he could send Clem to find Fat Cat but then remembered that Clem would have to get some sleep. He was going to have to find Fat Cat himself.

By eleven the next morning, as the stage rolled into town with four Ponderosa hands acting as outriders, Roy was waiting to escort Ben to Doctor Martin’s office. As it was, he practically had to run to keep up with Ben who left the stage before it came to a complete stop so that he could rush in that direction. He rushed into the office and Hoss pointed him in the right direction as he poured a cup of coffee and then followed his father into the patient room. Joe was seated beside Adam but gave up the seat for their father. Doctor Martin was on the other side of the bed checking vital signs. Adam appeared to be sleeping. Ben was in shock. If Hoss hadn’t pointed to that room and if Joe had not been sitting by that bed, he would not have know that was his eldest son. The grotesquely swollen and discolored face and the splinted and bandaged arm as well as the thick bandages across the chest that didn’t cover all the horrible blue and purple bruising left his son unrecognizable. He wanted to touch him, to soothe him, to hold him, but there was no place to do that without causing more pain. As Paul finished his examination, he signaled Ben to move to the other side of the bed.

“You can hold his left hand. Somehow it escaped being damaged. Talk to him softly. I think he’ll like hearing that you’re here.”

With tears rolling down his cheeks, Ben leaned toward Adam. “Son, I’m here. Adam, if you can hear me, I’m here. I’ll stay by your side until you’re ready to go home.” Ben felt a slight pressure on his hand. It was the only indication that he had that Adam could hear him. Hoss stepped next to him and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Pa, he ain’t said nothing since last night. He kept saying words that sounded like lover, anger, thumb, and Wilsons. We ain’t figured out yet what he meant.”

“No. Clover. Danger. Thom. Kill sons.”

Doctor Martin was dismayed at the energy it took for Adam to say those words and tried to get him to stop. He wouldn’t. He was as stubborn as ever. He squeezed his father’s hand as much as he could will his father to understand. He could do no more. Ben sat silently doing his best to think about what Adam had said. Joe and Hoss remained silent remembering the warnings they had gotten from Paul the night before and how Adam had to remain calm.

“Ben, we need Adam to be calm and still. His recovery depends on it.”

“Paul, I know my son too. He won’t be calm and still unless he knows that I understand him. Let me think a moment please.” Ben closed his eyes and prayed for help. He thought and tried to empty his mind of worry so that he could concentrate as he replayed the words that Adam had so painstakingly spoken to him. They had to be extremely important for him to have endured so much to say them. He thought he had most of it. “Adam, squeeze my hand once for yes. Is it clover as in the Lucky Seven Mining Corporation insignia?” He smiled gently with the squeeze he got. Hoss and Joe nodded in relief. “Is it danger that we are in?” Again there was a squeeze. “Does someone want to kill my sons?” With that squeeze of his hand, Ben could see Adam visibly relax. Roy was standing nearby and knew that he had guessed correctly. No one knew how Adam had that information but it made sense. “Adam, I don’t know yet what that last word means.”

Joe intervened at that point. “Pa, maybe I do. Adam, is it Thom Weatherford?”

Adam squeezed his father’s hand as Ben turned to look at Joe. Like everyone in the room except Adam, he was surprised at that question. Joe began to explain.

“Pa, while you were thinking and then talking, I decided to try to think like Adam. I should have done it last night, but I was too worried to think straight. I wondered why Rupert Davis would have Adam attacked like that and send his son along. It didn’t make sense to do that and be so obvious about it. He would certainly end up in a lot of trouble. Then I remembered that he and his son have been at odds for six months or more over that girl that Dawson wanted to marry but Rupert paid her off and sent her out of town.”

Snapping his fingers, Hoss looked to Joe and backed his logic. “Oh, yeah, she’s off in Denver or someplace, ain’t she? I remember that now. You’re right, Joe. Dawson ain’t even been living at home. He wouldn’t be doing his pa’s dirty work for him. Those men weren’t working for the Lucky Seven last night. It was somebody wanted us to think that. The only one who would want that is Thom Weatherford, ain’t it?”

“You’re right. I was thinking who would want Pa not to testify and want Rupert to be blamed for it. Who hates Pa and hates Rupert enough to do that? The only answer is Thom Weatherford. He wants the two of you to destroy each other and then he could come in and take over especially if Adam is already dead. Pa wouldn’t rest then until Rupert was dead, and Rupert wouldn’t rest until Pa was dead. Hoss and I would fight to the death to protect Pa so the last one standing would be Thom.”

“But Adam is alive.”

When Hoss said those words, all eyes had turned to the bed, but Adam had not reacted at all. With Joe’s explanation, Adam had succumbed to sleep. He no longer felt any need to force himself to try to communicate. He could rest because there was nothing more that he could do. They had understood the few clues he had been able to give them. He was resting and that was all he could do at the moment. Paul told them to leave if they wanted to talk any more.


Chapter 3

For the next hour, Ben sat by Adam’s side as Joe and Hoss walked with Roy into the office to talk about how they would keep Adam alive because now they had a dilemma. They needed to explain the whole thing to Rupert and get him on their side without letting Thom know that they had uncovered his scheme. They also somehow had to get Rupert to cooperate with them even though they were at political loggerheads on the hydraulic mining issue. They were finally able to draw a few conclusions.

“Pa needs to testify. Hydraulic mining is wrong and has to be stopped. It would ruin the water that we need. Rupert would be financially ruined though if that happens. I can’t see him helping us if it means that he gets ruined in the process.”

“Joe, Thom Weatherford must have had his boy killed. That’s got to mean something to him. Besides, if Thom gets brought down by all of this, then Rupert can move in on his claims.”

“But he won’t have any money to do it. He paid way too much for those one-year leases because he thought he could get hydraulic mining. He knew Thom wouldn’t oppose hydraulic mining because he wants to use it too. Pa is the only wealthy man here opposed to it. He needs the hydraulic mining to make money on those leases. Without it, he’s got no money to go after Thom’s claims.”

“Oh, yes he will.” Ben had walked out of Adam’s room leaving Paul to sit with him and tend to his needs. He wanted to know more of what was going on and how they were going to keep Adam safe. “If he helps us keep Adam alive by defeating Thom Weatherford, and he helps us end this threat of hydraulic mining, the Ponderosa will finance him taking over Thom Weatherford’s holdings. Thom Weatherford tried to have my son murdered. He’ll pay a price for that. He’ll pay a dear price for that.”

“Ben, far as I know, Thom ordered the murder of two people. He’s gotta pay for that too. The problem is getting the evidence on him for those things. How we gonna do that is the real problem. I think I know how we can get you and Rupert Davis together to hammer out the rest of it, but how we gonna make sure that we get enough evidence to tie Thom to all of this?”

“You haven’t found anyone who had anything to do with attacking Adam?” There was a hint of accusation in that and Roy heard it.

“Now Ben it was dark, and the only witness I had is dead. I got to go talk to people and try to follow up on leads but the first thing I had to do was keep your boys safe. I had Mort and Clem outside this office all last night.”

“I’m sorry, Roy. I know you sent word to the ranch so that the men knew to come protect me too. By the way, I asked those four men to stay in town to help. They’ll be available to help protect Adam here. Two will be here all day and all night if need be. They’ll work four-hour shifts. I told them to take rooms at the hotel. I’ll get rooms there for me and Hoss and Joe too but I expect we’ll spend most of our time here.”

“Good, then Clem can help me with the investigating. I’ll leave Mort over at the jail. You let me know if you come up with a plan to deal with Rupert. I’ll be back soon as I know something.”

For the rest of the morning, Roy tried to identify the men who had been in the saloon the night before and had left after Adam had left. Getting information from men who had been drinking and were tired wasn’t very reliable however, and the saloon girls weren’t much help either. Men had left over a period of time and no one seemed to have a good idea of the order in which they had left. There was no sign of Fat Cat nor were any of his friends helpful as to where he might be. When Roy met with Clem later at the afternoon, he found that his deputy had met with the same lack of success. It seemed the rats had run to their holes to hide out. Fat Cat’s friends were no longer available either. As word of Adam’s survival spread through town, it became apparent that there was going to be a showdown of some sort and those most likely to be caught in the crossfire were scurrying from the potential danger like cockroaches from the lantern’s light at midnight. Roy hired more deputies and had six on temporary status by the time he went to talk with Ben and his sons. He had two of them on the each of the main exits from town with lists of men he wanted to question. He hoped to have at least a few men in his office by the end of the night. When he got to Doctor Martin’s office, he was surprised to find that Ben wasn’t there.

“Hoss is sitting with Adam. We have two men outside watching out for any danger. We expect there will be some kind of attempt on Adam’s life tonight, but we have a plan for that. We can’t do anything while it’s still light though. I’ll tell you about it while we walk.”

“Walk? Where we going, and what in tarnation is going on?”

“I got Pa to go over to Hiram’s office. He sent a message for Rupert Davis to meet him there. We’re going to go in and surprise him. You’re going to be there to be sure he doesn’t shoot me before I get a chance to explain what I think happened and what I think we ought to do next. We got a plan.”

“Joe, who thought up this plan?”

“Roy, you sound worried. I did, but Pa and Hoss made me tone it down some so don’t worry too much. We’ll talk it over with Rupert, and then we can talk more when we get back to Doc’s office. Most important of all right now is keeping Adam safe. We can’t do that unless we all agree on the rest of it though. Come on. Now, who’s watching your office?”

“Mort. Now don’t look like that. He may not be too smart, but he won’t let anyone in there who doesn’t belong. The boy’s brave as they come. I put the statements I have into my safe, and I told him not to let anybody in there. He won’t neither.”

“Did you make copies of the statements?”

“Right here in my pocket. I got the signed ones just in case Mort got overpowered. The copies are in the safe, but I got the signed ones. I figured nobody would figure on me carrying them statements around with me.”

Grinning, Joe bounded up the steps to Hiram Woods office but paused as he thought about it. “Roy, maybe you ought to walk in before me. I don’t know if Rupert carries a pistol, but his boy is laying in the parlor of his home ready for burial. He might be in the mood to shoot me on sight seeing as how he thinks I killed him.”

Nodding, Roy walked in the door and greeted Rupert, Hiram, and Ben as he entered Hiram’s office after passing through the outer office through the open door. When Joe followed him, Roy had to forcibly restrain Rupert who jumped to his feet and wanted to rush Joe and probably try to kill him.

“I wanted you to arrest him, and instead you walk in here with him. He’s still carrying the gun he used to murder my boy. How dare you protect that murderer?”

“Now you better just simmer down, Rupert. There’s a lot you don’t seem to know. We got a lot to tell you, and I want you to listen. When they’re done talking, then you can say your piece. You got that? Ifn you don’t stay quiet, I may have to arrest you for disturbing the peace and lock you in my jail where you ain’t gonna have a choice bout listening. Am I making myself clear enough for ya?”

“You can’t arrest me for expressing my opinion!”

“Maybe or maybe not, but I can ifn you’re interfering with me carrying out my duties. Then it would be up to a judge as to whether you’re obstructing a peace officer. You’d be sitting in jail until the circuit judge got here in say a week or so. So which is it gonna be?”

“I’ll listen, but it’s under protest, and don’t think I won’t remember this the next time you’re running for re-election. You better believe I won’t forget this.”

Roy released him then but made sure that he backed away and was seated. Roy sat beside him as Ben and Hiram relaxed. Taking the floor, Joe started talking then, and slowly Rupert’s demeanor changed. Joe started with the story from the beginning and continued all the way through to the theory they had as to why Dawson had been killed. He included everything that he saw, everything that Roy had learned, and everything that had been logically deduced.

“So you think that Thom Weatherford had one of his men deliberately shoot my boy in a way that wouldn’t leave a bullet in him so there would be no evidence. They tied a bandage around his arm letting him think it was a minor wound in the darkness when he couldn’t tell, and then they let him bleed to death? He wouldn’t have known how serious it was until it was too late and they just let him die?”

The three men there nodded. There was no other explanation that had occurred to anyone. All the witnesses concurred that Dawson had been with about six other men. When he had started to get dizzy and weak, they had apparently let him die. The only logical explanation was that they wanted him to die. None of that was lost on Rupert.

“So they wanted me to blame Joe so that I would want to go after the Cartwrights. They expected Adam to be dead, so that left only three. They wanted us to destroy each other. You wouldn’t testify against hydraulic mining because you would be here trying to protect your other two sons, and I would be seeking vengeance for Dawson. Even though we didn’t see eye to eye recently, he was my only son. Ben, no matter what I ever did in business, you know I never deliberately have caused another man’s death. Men have worked for me for twenty years or more because I pay a fair wage and never expect men to die on my behalf. Accidents have happened, and we have been attacked on occasion and have had to defend ourselves, but this is an atrocity. My son is dead. How is Adam?”

“He should survive, but we still can’t be sure. He may have some lingering problems. It’s very serious. We’re worried too that Thom is going to try to kill him because of what he may know about his attackers.”

“Ben, what are we going to do?”

“Rupert, my youngest son, Joe, has some ideas on that too.”


Chapter 4

“Pa is going to make what appears to be a deal with you not to testify against hydraulic mining if you agree not to press charges against me. That will ruin part of Thom’s plans and he’ll have to do something else to get you and get Pa. We’ll be ready for him when he does. Meanwhile we’ll protect Adam and hope to catch the men who come for him. Adam will be safe and the men we get will be offered amnesty if they didn’t kill anyone. We may have to let some of the men go who hurt Adam but not the ones who killed Dawson and not the ones who killed Rosie. We’ll get the worst of them, but most importantly, we’ll get Thom for hiring them and sending them after Adam, and for ordering the deaths of Dawson and Rosie.”

“I don’t like the idea of letting any of them go, but I can see why we have to do it. All right, that part I’ll accept. But what’s this about Ben appearing to agree not to testify against hydraulic mining?”

“Rupert, I will testify against it, and it will be prohibited. I have already sent a telegram to the governor’s office to reschedule my testimony. I will take some of the other ranchers with me and we’ll present a solid front against it. Now before you blow up and ruin the whole plan, hear me out. Once we have Thom behind bars, I’ll finance you to buy up as much of his property as we can afford. I know you’ll lose those leases and take a beating on those, but you can more than make up for it with good sound investing in conventional mining on some of the richest mines on the Comstock and working with established legitimate mining corporations.” Ben sighed deeply before continuing because the next part was very emotional for him. “If Adam has recovered sufficiently by that time, he can help you decide which properties would be the best investments. He’s very good at that kind of thing.” Ben had to stop talking at that point. All he really wanted to do was to go back to the doctor’s office and sit with his son and comfort him, but he knew that Adam’s long-term safety and that of his other two sons was going to be determined by the outcome of this meeting.

As Rupert looked from Ben to Joe to Hiram, he had only one question. “Are we here because you thought I would need this in legal papers in order to cooperate?”

“We thought you might.”

“Ben, your word is good. If you say that’s what you’ll do, I’ll accept that. I’m in. That bastard is not going to get away with murdering my son. I’ll have to tell my wife and my daughter so they understand my change of heart. Anyone else can attribute it to grief and mourning. I have to bury my son, but by tomorrow morning, I’ll be ready to do whatever you need me to do.”

“All you have to do is tell people of the deal we have supposedly made. Once you start talking about that, Thom Weatherford is going to have to do something. We have men waiting to see what that will be. By tonight, we hope to have undercover agents from the Attorney General’s office here in town. They’ll help and collect evidence as well. Roy is going to swear all three of us in as deputies. Then if Thom tries to buy us off, it’s bribery.”

Joe snapped his fingers. He had another idea. “That’s it. I knew there was another idea I had, but forgot it with all the other ideas I had. What if the two of you offer money to Thom? Wouldn’t that be bribery?”

For that kind of issue, all turned toward Hiram. “No, that would be collusion. If someone offers payment to effect an illegal act, than the charge would be collusion.”

“What’s the penalty?”

“About the same as bribery.”

Satisfied with that answer, Joe looked smug until his father asked what they could pay Thom to do that was illegal. Rupert and Roy looked equally concerned until Ben said perhaps instead he ought to ask Thom to pay him not to testify against hydraulic mining. They discussed that and tweaked their plan then for a while until they realized that this was going to be more difficult and require more acting talent than they probably possessed. They were going to need a more straightforward plan so they began discussing what that might be. Ben was most concerned that they protect Adam and said that he couldn’t wait any longer. He wanted to return to see how Adam was doing. It was getting late too and they had to carry out the next part of their plan as soon as it was dark if Doctor Martin said that Adam was strong enough for them to try it. If Paul said no, they would have to try something else and had precious little time to do any more planning.

At about midnight, there was an all out assault on Doctor Martin’s office. Had anyone been inside, they would surely have died. They were a number of shots fired into the windows before four men rushed inside and fired more shots into the figure wrapped in blankets in the bed. The assailants were momentarily perplexed by the lack of any other people in the building but decided to retreat as quickly as possible expecting the sheriff to be there soon. Sheriff Coffee’s voice greeted them as they exited the office and then they heard pistols cocked behind them as they thought to retreat back into the building. Men had entered the building from the rear as they had started to exit from the front. They had no choice but to surrender although one of the men chose to draw and shoot. The shooter was shot and killed, but Roy had three men to question and told his deputies to take them to the jail and keep them completely separate until he got there. He walked around to the back of the doctor’s office and told the Ponderosa hands that it was safe again. They walked to the doctor’s small stable and yelled to Ben Cartwright to open the doors. After a moment, the doors swung open to reveal three armed Cartwrights and one Doctor Martin tending to Adam who had been carried to the stable in his bed. With great care once more, the men carried him back to the doctor’s office. Adam was completely unaware of the move and of the great effort that had been made to keep him safe. Roy left the four Ponderosa hands on guard and promised to send a couple of his temporary deputies back to help. This time lanterns were left burning all around the building so that there could be no more stealthy approaches.

When Roy returned to his office, he found his deputies very upset. He didn’t know why until he looked behind his desk. Mort lay there with his dead eyes staring at the wall. He had a knife in the back of his neck that had been shoved up into his brain so forcefully that his assailant had been unable to pull it out and had left it. The safe was standing open and papers were scattered about. The copies of the witness statements undoubtedly were gone. Roy had suspected that they might come for those, but he had never thought they would murder for them. Now this case had gotten even more personal for him. He rushed to the back of the jail where Clem had been standing guard worried that he had lost his protégé. When he saw him lying on the ground, he feared the worst but found that he had a head injury and a knife wound in his side. Apparently he had attempted to fight off his attackers and one had hit him in the head to subdue him. Fighting back had saved his life. Roy had two of the biggest deputies carry Clem to Doctor Martin’s office. In a foul mood, he returned to his office with the two remaining deputies. When the two larger men returned, one of them carried Mort to the undertaker’s office.

One-by-one, Roy questioned the men he had in custody, and by the early hours of the morning, he had a list of suspects, had a good idea where he might find Fat Cat, but had no direct link to Thom Weatherford. These men had been hired by Fat Cat or by another man named Tink Morrissey. He knew he needed to get Fat Cat and Tink if he hoped to get Thom. According to the three men he had, there was a hired killer who was brought in from Carson City. He was a professional by the name of Turpin. No one knew his full name as he went only by that name. Roy had descriptions of those three. The man killed at Doctor Martin’s office had been the leader of the crew that night and was another hired killer who had been brought in to do the dirty work for Weatherford. His name was McGee and he had been the one who shot Dawson Davis if these three men were to be believed. News that Thom had such a well-developed criminal hierarchy surprised and worried Roy. He wondered how many other men like those four killers might be working for him that the three in his cells didn’t know. He decided that Ben needed to know this information as soon as possible so without getting any sleep, he returned to Doctor Martin’s office for one more meeting before sunrise. Then he headed home for some much needed rest.


Chapter 5

While Roy was sleeping, Clem’s wife pulled up in front of Doctor Martin’s office in her surrey. Observers saw two men carry Clem on a stretcher out to the surrey and lay him in the back on a soft mattress covering him carefully with a blanket. Then she drove the surrey very slowly back to her house with the two men following on horseback. When she arrived there, the two men dismounted and very carefully carried the stretcher into the house. Once inside the house, the two men removed their coats and hats revealing Joe and Candy. Hoss came down the stairs to help them carry the stretcher bearing Adam up the stairs to a bedroom. With a bag of medical supplies, Hoss had arrived in the darkness so that no one would know he was there. After a short time, two men arrived from the general store with supplies in a buckboard. One carried an empty carton up the front steps and into the house collapsing on a chair almost as soon as he entered. Clem’s wife was so relieved to have her husband home that she kissed him there in front of the Ponderosa hand who carried in the extra supplies she would need with extra men in the house. Hoss and the two Ponderosa hands would be staying. Joe would leave by the back door to help his father. Clem was helped up the stairs to his bedroom where his wife helped him into his bed. Adam was across the hall in a bed where Hoss would tend him. Candy and the other hand would remain downstairs to protect them. Joe had worked out the whole plan once Roy had told them of the killers working for Thom Weatherford. Luckily, Clem’s wife had been willing to help because she liked the Cartwrights and knew that Clem had a lot of respect for them. Clem and Adam were about the same size and coloring so that from a distance, no one would question that they were carrying Clem out of the doctor’s office when it had in fact been Adam on that stretcher. Clem had been taken from Paul’s office in the buckboard that was already loaded with supplies. So the two wounded men were safely tucked away at Clem’s home with three guards and hopefully no one knew they were there.

Paul was concerned that there would be another assault on his office so a dummy was loaded into the back of the Ponderosa wagon and Ben and Joe took it to the Ponderosa with the two remaining Ponderosa hands. Sport was tied to the back of the wagon. It was an unexpected maneuver so they hoped they could pull it off without any attack on them, and they were successful. As far as anyone knew then, Adam was on his way back to the Ponderosa. The story began circulating that he was in a coma and was unlikely to ever wake up. If he did, he was not expected to have much of a mind left as he was severely brain damaged. People in town who were known to be good at spreading gossip were told the story first by Roy with his saddest demeanor because he of course loved Adam like a son. With a deep sigh and a shake of his head, he moved on each time, and the news spread rapidly as people expressed their condolences but couldn’t wait to repeat the news. It was sure to reach Thom Weatherford quickly.

Meanwhile the search for Fat Cat, Tink, and Turpin was in progress. Roy had requested help from the Attorney General’s office, and Ben had brought more of his men to town rather quietly and had them ready in case they were needed. Joe had a scheduled meeting with the agents from the state government at the Silver Dollar saloon. They were going to have drinks and appear to engage in a marathon game of poker in the back room as Joe apparently would be drowning his sorrows in alcohol and a bout of gambling but would in fact be discussing strategy for dealing with Thom Weatherford. Ben would return to town the next morning to haul him off to the hotel to recuperate but they would of course compare notes and Roy would be there to bring them up to date on what he had discovered as well. Rupert was meeting with Hiram who would also meet with Ben at the bank. It was a complex method of communication but would not arouse any suspicion. Roy could stop in at Clem’s house to check on him of course to let the men there know what was going on.

As planned, Fat Cat, Tink, and Turpin were located but not arrested. The men from the Attorney General’s office who were not known by the people in town closely monitored them. Thom Weatherford’s movements were watched by Ponderosa hands who were situated in a number of places throughout the town. The hope was that they could be caught together so that Thom could be implicated in the crimes that they knew the three men had committed. Otherwise, it was going to be difficult to convict Thom of anything. However Thom knew that Adam had a secret that could send him to the gallows. He wanted to be sure that Adam was as brain damaged as he was hearing, but he was afraid to meet with any of the men he trusted to find that out. He knew he was being watched because he had noticed as he went through town that there were men looking at him no matter where he went. He had no idea how he was going to manage to get rid of Adam Cartwright under these conditions. As it turned out, Fat Cat pushed the whole thing into a crisis so that he didn’t have to do anything nor could he do anything. At his favorite house that night, Fat Cat paid to take a woman to a room and paid for a bottle of the house whisky. He drank too much and insisted that the woman drink as well. They both ended up talking too much.

“I only do this with you because I’ll lose my job here if I say no to any customer, but you’re too fat and you stink.”

“You better be nice to me or you could end up like Rosie.”

“You did kill her then, didn’t you? That’s what the sheriff said you did.”

“The sheriff said I killed her? Then why didn’t he arrest me?”

“They been watching you and the rest of them men you hang out with. You all gonna be arrested and then you gonna be swinging in the wind. I’m gonna be there to watch too. You can bet I’m gonna be there to watch. All those nights you knocked me around. I’m gonna laugh when I see you swinging in the wind.”

Suddenly sobering up despite the large amount of whisky he had consumed, Fat Cat slapped the woman knocking her across the room and into a wall. He rushed from the room them not bothering to take his shirt. He rushed out into the night heading for the livery stable and his horse planning to ride out of town. Seeing him heading that way, the men watching him alerted Roy who got a deputy and headed to the stable to arrest him. Arresting a drunken three hundred and fifty pound man is not an easy task and required reinforcements, but it was done. The commotion alerted Turpin and Tink who realized that the gig was up and also tried to flee. They were apprehended as well. Ben and Joe were at the jail once all the men were in the cells. Ben was furious.

“So Weatherford gets away with it?”

“No, Ben, I’ve sent men to his house to arrest him. We’ve got enough for that, but Ben, I gotta tell ya, I don’t think we got enough to convince a jury. These three we arrested tonight are likely gonna hang, but I can’t see them turning on their boss cause there ain’t nothing in it for them. They’re not gonna get mercy from the court for cold-blooded murder that they done for money.”

About that time, Rupert Davis arrived at the jail and had the same reaction Ben had but with more vehemence. There was nothing that they could do about it though. Ben and Joe were very disappointed but they walked to Clem’s house wondering if anyone was awake there so that they could tell them that at least Adam was now safe. Thom Weatherford wouldn’t be able to reach out to hurt him from jail especially with his hired killers behind bars with him. When they got to Clem’s house, they were surprised to see lights on in the kitchen and in a bedroom upstairs.

“Pa, that’s the bedroom where Adam is staying.” Joe began to rush forward almost running now that he thought something had happened to Adam.


Chapter 6

Hearing those words, Ben felt his heart speed up even before he launched himself into a run toward the house. Following Joe, he went up on the front porch steps behind Joe where Candy who took a moment to recognize them in the darkness immediately challenged them.

“You two ought to let a man know who you are before you come running up to a house you know is guarded. What the heck do you think you were doing, anyway?”

“Why are there lights on in the middle of the night?”

“Now, Mr. Cartwright, you know it isn’t polite to answer a question with a question, but I’ll tell you this time. Adam woke up. Hoss stepped out to tell me so I would know why the lamps are lit, and he’s in the kitchen right now fixing him some broth.”

“He woke up? He’s all right?”

“Well, I don’t know how all right he is, but Hoss said he was making sense and said he was hungry.” Candy moved back and opened the door. He called out softly to Hoss who answered after a moment.

“Pa, Joe, what you doing here? Something bad happen?”

“No, not exactly. All the men we were watching are locked up. Adam’s better?”

“He sure is, Pa. Why don’t you go up to see him? I’ll bring the broth up soon as I get it cooled some. You can give him some of the cool water I got ready for him.”

Ben didn’t need any encouragement. He took the water, spoon, and napkin, and headed up the stairs with Joe with him. When they got to the bedroom, the door was open. Adam opened his eyes when he heard them enter the room. With his battered and swollen face, it was difficult for him to smile, but what he did showed that was exactly what he was trying to do. He was glad to see them safe and sound. As he lay there, he had been worried, but seeing them, he was relieved to know that Hoss had told him the truth. He was hot, in pain, and hungry, but at least he could feel good that his family was safe and unharmed. He struggled a bit with what he wanted to say but at least he could be understood now.

“Tell me what happened.”

“Son, I will, but you need to have some fluids, so you drink this, and Joe and I will talk and tell you what happened.”

For the next fifteen minutes, Ben spooned water into Adam’s mouth letting him swallow small amounts as he and Joe explained what had happened since Adam had been brought to Doctor Martin’s office. Adam had only vague memories of what had happened since Joe had found him in the street and couldn’t recall Ben being there the morning after the attack. He had no memory of being carried in his bed to Doctor Martin’s stable and then being carried back into the office nor of the ride to Clem’s house and then up the stairs to this bedroom.

“I guess you were pretty shocked to wake up tonight in this bedroom.”

“Hoss was here.”

“Yes, I’m glad that he was here for you. At least then you knew that you were safe.”

About that time, Hoss walked back in with a cup of thick broth. Adam smiled as well as he could, but after just two spoonfuls of the broth, he refused any more.

“Now, son, you have to have something. You need to rebuild your strength.”

“Of course, he needs something, but you men don’t seem to have any idea what a man needs when it’s hot and he’s tired. Now, you two take off your boots. I made Hoss do it. Adam doesn’t need all that noise of you clomping around in your boots. You woke me up and woke up Clem too. Now the cool water was a good idea. Did you put some sugar in it to sweeten it up for the man?” Seeing Hoss’ chagrin at her question, Clem’s wife, Anne, knew the answer. “Give me that broth. You talk softly and kindly to Adam now and let him relax. I’ll be back in ten minutes or so with something he’ll want to eat. You could take that wet sheet off of him, and sponge him down while you’re all sitting around. Maybe change a few of those wraps too. Might make him more comfortable and make it smell better for all of us. There’s dry sheets in the wardrobe right there. Hoss knows where the cloths and such are.”

Once she left, Hoss pulled the sheet back, and Ben and Joe could see what she meant. The light bandages wrapped around the abrasions on his legs and his arm were wet with seepage. Hoss handed them light cloth bandages and they removed the soiled ones and wrapped clean ones around his legs and arm where the abrasions were not yet healed. Hoss wrapped the soiled bandages in the sheet that was damp with sweat and set it by the door. He got a dry sheet and with Ben’s help spread it over Adam up to his waist. Then they wet some cloths and wiped his chest, neck, and face and dried him with a soft towel before pulling the sheet up to his chest. Then a bit louder than necessary, Hoss announced that they had done all that they could. Anne stepped through the door with a tray as soon as he finished the statement. She had a small pitcher of cold sugar water and small sugar cookies and a small container of preserves. She broke the cookies into small bite-size pieces and topped a piece with a generous dollop of preserves. She gave Adam a spoonful of sugar water and then gave him the piece of cookie.

“Now don’t try to chew. Let it kind of dissolve a bit in your mouth first. When it gets soft, then you can chew a bit and swallow. There’s no rush. You can take all the time you need.”

Anne fed him two more pieces of cookie and then asked Ben if he thought he could handle the job. He was about to look affronted but saw her smile and thanked her for her help instead. Sitting beside Adam, he finished telling the story of what had happened in more detail because Hoss didn’t know quite a bit of it either. When he finished, Hoss asked the question that Ben had hoped not to discuss with Adam still in such a weak state.

“So Thom Weatherford is likely to hire some high-priced attorneys and he might just walk out of that courtroom a free man?”

Refusing the cookie that Ben was offering him, Adam said only one word. “No.” All three looked at him and wondered what he meant. Slowly because it was difficult to speak, he explained what he knew. His secret could put Thom Weatherford on the gallows. Joe snapped his fingers and said that he knew how to best use this information and explained his idea to the others. The next day, Hiram confirmed that Joe’s idea was probably the best way to handle it. If the prosecutor didn’t know it, he didn’t have to tell the defense attorney about it. Adam would be called at the last minute to testify when Doctor Martin declared him fit to get out of bed that he certainly would not do at this time. It was the best way they had to keep Adam alive. When Ben and Joe came back to the Clem’s house to tell Adam that, he smiled at Joe who had to lean down to hear what Adam had to say.

“Proud of you, little brother.”

At that point, Joe wished more than anything that Adam was healthier because he wanted so much to throw his arms around him and give him a big hug, but he knew he couldn’t hug him because it would hurt him. Adam must have sense Joe’s need though. He put out his left arm and when Joe came close, he pulled him closer into a partial hug.

“Adam, I have to tell you something. You taught me a lot. I started figuring this out by doing something you might do. I tried to think like those men would think. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I understand now what you were doing when Farmer Perkins was in jail. You put yourself in Sam Bryant’s shoes. I get it now.”

Standing there watching, Ben was proud of both of his sons. In two weeks, the trial would begin and hopefully all of this would be worth it. He had to leave to testify against hydraulic mining. He had thought to postpone it again, but when he had mentioned that to Adam, the look of dismay on his son’s face was all the answer he needed. He was packed and ready to go. All he needed to do was to say goodbye. When Joe stood, Ben moved next to Adam.

“Now, I wish you could go home, but we need to keep you here so that no one realizes that you’re recovering. Once the trial is concluded, you can go home. We’re going to have a grand party once this is all done. We’re going to let everyone know that you’re healthy and that your mind is as sound as it ever was.”

“Or as unsound as it ever was.”

Ben smiled. Adam’s sense of humor was returning as was his cheekiness. It was a sign that he was feeling better. Hopefully in two weeks, he would be able to walk into that courtroom and face the men who had nearly taken his life. Ben looked forward to that confrontation.

Chapter 7

Two weeks later, Ben sat with Hoss and Joe in the first row of seats in the courtroom and listened to testimony in the trial of Fat Cat, Tink, Turpin, and Thom. The three men who had given testimony in order to win amnesty gave damning evidence. However there was that glaring weakness in the case that had been anticipated.

“Your Honor, the prosecution has presented a case that has targeted the other three defendants who were at times employees of my client. However, that fact does not make my client guilty of any crime. There is no crime to employ people who commit crimes of which you have no knowledge. Defense moves to have all charges against Thom Weatherford dismissed with prejudice.”

Just that morning however, Doctor Martin had said that Adam could get out of bed. He was resting at that moment on a couch in the judge’s chambers. Hoss and Joe had helped him in there about an hour earlier before rejoining their father in the courtroom. The judge had allowed it after the prosecutor had brought in Doctor Martin who had explained why Adam had not been previously available but now was. He also certified that Adam was of sound mind and body and capable of testifying. When the defense made their motion, the judge turned to the prosecutor who had his answer ready.

“True, we do not convict on the basis of association, but in this case, Thom Weatherford not only associated with these three men, he was the only one who directly benefited from the overall impact of the actions taken by these men in the conspiracy they planned and carried out. We have a witness too who can testify to the leadership role that Thom Weatherford played in this conspiracy making him an accessory to each of the criminal acts and therefore equally responsible for the murder of Rosie Johnson, Mort Tillson, and Dawson Davis as well as the vicious attack on Adam Cartwright and the wounding of deputy Clem Foster as well as the burglary of the office of Sheriff Roy Coffee. I would like to call Adam Cartwright to the stand.”

A ruckus broke out at the defense table then as Thom Weatherford turned on the other defendants. “You said he was feeble minded. You said he might never wake up and if he did, he wouldn’t remember anything. You can’t do anything right.”

Before he could say anything more incrimination, the lawyer got Thom to shut up and sit down, but some damage had already been done. Hoss and Joe went to the judge’s chambers and helped Adam to walk to the stand and sit there. There was quite a shocked response in the courtroom not only to the fact that Adam was capable of testifying and in far better health than people had been led to believe, but his appearance was anything but what they were used to seeing in the oldest son of the Ponderosa. He was noticeably thinner, and although the blue and purple bruising had faded, his face was still a rainbow of yellow, brown, and green shades giving testimony to the condition his face must have been weeks earlier. His eyes were no longer swollen and his lips were back to normal but they were in a tight line as he walked slowly across the courtroom to the witness chair. Adam didn’t like having to accept help to walk but would have been more embarrassed to stagger or especially if he had fallen. Even when he sat finally, he was dizzy and had to take a moment to get the room to stop spinning. The judge asked him if he was all right, and he asked if he could have a moment only to close his eyes. After less than a minute, he opened them and smiled.

“I’m ready.” The prosecutor asked him one question and that was to explain what he was doing and what he had heard on the morning of the day he was beaten. It was a leading question but it didn’t matter. The information was going to be told anyway. “I was in the Mineowners Association meeting because I still own shares in one mine. I was one of the last to leave, and Thom Weatherford and the three men at the defense table stopped me and told me that I had to tell my father not to testify against hydraulic mining. We had a spirited exchange and some less than complimentary words were spoken that don’t need to be repeated here. But the most important words were the last ones he said. I told him to get his three goons out of my way. He said I didn’t have to worry about them then but that I would see them later. Dawson Davis was leaving about that time too. He walked out first. Thom put his hand on my shoulder to hold me back. He said I had sealed that young man’s fate and my own too. Those three men stepped aside then. That night, they were there with Dawson and with the three men who testified earlier.” Then Adam repeated what those men had said to him that night before they beat him so badly that he could remember nothing more. Adam had a near photographic memory and everyone who knew him knew that. He repeated the things that he had heard as he was first assaulted.  He had held that memory for so long.  He repeated it just as he heard it in his mind over and over again as he pictured the men looming over him and beating and then beginning to kick him.

Your old man’s gonna come on back without testifying. He’s gonna be all broke up about his oldest being six feet under. He’s gonna know that you died hard too. That’s when he’s going to get the message that he better not oppose us any more or he could lose another son. We did our homework. There’s only one thing that old Ben values more than the Ponderosa and that’s his sons. Well after tonight, he’s gonna have one less. Our boss don’t like competition and he don’t like opposition. Everyone’s going to know that after tonight.

The emphasis on competition and opposition made it clear to everyone that the assault was aimed at not only Ben Cartwright but business competition. The logical answer was Thom Weatherford.

From the defense table, everyone could hear Thom’s complaint. “Do something.”

His attorney’s answer was just as easily heard. “Mr. Weatherford, I can’t work miracles.”

Thom Weatherford was used to getting his way. He stood and bellowed at his attorney, and then at the judge. He screamed insults at Adam who remained calm and quietly sat waiting to see if Thom meant to try to do him any harm as he also noted that both Hoss and Joe had quietly made sure that their firearms were ready to be drawn if necessary. Roy had let them take them into the courtroom just for such a possibility. Roy moved toward the defense table with a deputy and made sure that Thom sat down. The judge ordered that he would be handcuffed and gagged if he did not. It really didn’t matter. The outcome was decided once Adam testified to what Thom had said. There might be those who didn’t like Adam or were jealous of him, but even among those men, there was a grudging acceptance that Adam Cartwright did not lie. If he said that Thom said those things, then every person in that courtroom believed that he had. Thom Weatherford knew it too and knew his fate had been sealed when he had failed to have Adam killed.

There were no questions from the defense table because it was hopeless. The jury never left the room but conferred among themselves. The unanimous verdict was guilty on all counts for all defendants. The sentence was death by hanging for all four at sundown the following day. Additionally Thom Weatherford was fined the value of his estate with half to be divided equally among the families of his victims and half going to Virginia City to pay for the cost of his prosecution and for the damages he had caused as well as for improvements to the city. Hoss and Joe helped Adam to walk outside the courtroom to the family carriage which had brought him to the courthouse from Clem’s house.

“Son, would you like to spend the night in town and go home in the morning? It’s already late. You could stay for the hanging too if you were so inclined. You could see justice done. These men did a lot of evil.”

“No, Pa, I’d like to go home so I can sleep in my own bed tonight, and hear Hoss snoring and hear Joe complaining about how his room is too cold. I want to smell Hop Sing’s breakfast in the morning. I want to be home.”

“All right, son. I understand completely. I’ve never been one to want to see anyone hang either even when they most certainly deserved that fate. Home is where we’re going then. I know Hop Sing will have a good meal and a soft bed waiting for you.”

“Pa, you don’t know how good that sounds right now. That sounds like heaven on earth.”

“When we’re all there together, son, it’s the closest thing on earth to heaven that there is.”

Hoss helped Adam to climb into the back seat of the carriage and no one was surprised when Ben climbed in beside him. Hoss tied Chubb to the back of the carriage and Joe did the same with Cochise before the two of them climbed into the front seat. It was crowded but they felt the need to be together as family at that moment. In the back seat, Adam smiled, and as they rode out of town, he leaned on his father’s shoulder and closed his eyes.

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