The Rewards of Kindness (by Barbara)

Summary:  Adam’s been kidnapped; is it up to him to rescue himself?

Rating:  T  (8,840 words)

 

The Rewards of Kindness

He laid on his bedroll and used his saddle as a headrest. He was quite comfortable considering he was in the middle of nowhere. A cup of coffee was balanced on his chest and he laboriously chewed on a particularly tough piece of beef jerky. Eating was a chore. Yes, he was hungry, but he’d been riding since dawn. Fatigue engulfed him but it felt good. The fire was warm and consoling and the canopy of stars that hung over him made him feel like he was underwater. It was soothing. He closed his eyes as he continued to eat and released a long, indulgent sigh. He grinned impishly, carving deep dimples in his cheeks.

 

His trip to San Jose had been very successful. His father had sold a prize stallion to a breeder there and Adam was appointed to deliver him. He’d gotten almost twice the amount of money his father had asked. Adam drove a hard bargain. It was a hard trip after all. He’d been on the trail for three weeks and was anxious to get home to his two younger brothers and father not to mention Hop Sing’s cooking and his wide, overstuffed, feather bed. The Ponderosa was still a week away.

 

The only uneasiness he felt was the fact that he was carrying two thousand dollars. He’d been robbed several times before – twice with most unpleasant results. The first time he was left out in the desert to fend for himself and ended up in the company of a madman that just about worked him to death. When his family finally found him, purely by luck, he’d been laboring for two weeks straight and was out of his head from dehydration and exhaustion. The second time, he had his clothes stolen right off his back by two escaped prisoners, one of which accused Adam of being the convict. Unpleasant indeed.

 

No, carrying large sums of money wasn’t exactly one of Adam’s favorite past times, so he engineered a safe place on his tack. He manufactured the cap on the horn of his saddle to act like a cork in a bottle and placed the cash in the cavity. It had been fool proof so far. It was just one of Adam’s many scathingly brilliant ideas. He was a clever fellow.

 

He began to slip into dreamland and the coffee he’d placed so carefully on his torso began to teeter. As his head slowly fell to the side the java spilled onto his coat making Adam bolt upright.

 

“Ahhh!” He hissed.

 

Again, he sighed but this time it wasn’t one of satisfaction.

 

“Serves you right.” He scolded himself aloud.

 

As he reached for his canteen to clean himself up, he was surprised by a visitor to his humble camp. Adam wasn’t sure if he was friend or foe. Facing him, sitting quietly was a small brown dog. He had short hair and batlike ears. Adam had not heard the animal arrive and was not sure how to react. He seemed harmless enough.

 

“Hello boy.” He greeted warmly. “Where did you come from?”

 

Adam’s gentle voice made the dog wag his tail.

 

“Are you hungry?”

 

The dog cocked his head brightly and his ears perked as Adam held out a piece of dried meat. Approaching cautiously, the dog timidly took the food.

 

“Well, aren’t you a polite one. I should know better than to feed a dog though, eh boy?” Adam tousled the dog’s ears roughly. “I’ll never get rid of you now, will I – no I won’t.”

 

In truth, Adam was glad for the company. He literally had not seen a soul for over four days. He was starting to wonder if he could speak. The dog curled up beside Adam like a cub to a mother bear.

 

“Oh no you don’t.” Adam protested.

 

The dog looked up soulfully which made Adam reconsidered.

 

“Well, alright then.” He submitted as he stroked the animal’s neck, “But, just for tonight.”

 

Adam lectured the little creature as if he could understand.

 

“We can keep each other warm, but tomorrow, after breakfast, that’s it… away you go.” He insisted.

 

But the little dog ignored the threat and tucked his nose into Adam’s armpit. He’d found a friend whether he wanted one or not. Adam turned on his side, let out yet another breathy sigh and fell fast asleep.

 

***********

 

The sun poured over Adam’s body like warm milk. He’d over slept and when he opened his eyes he’d forgotten where he was and looked around to orient himself. He sat up only to find that his companion was nowhere in sight.

 

“Here boy.” He called and then whistled. “Don’t you want some breakfast?”

 

But, the dog was gone. Adam shrugged and yawned loudly. He allowed himself an extended stretch but eventually got to his feet to check on Sport. His horse was always his first concern. He fed the handsome chestnut and gave him a rub on the shoulder and returned to camp to prepare his morning meal.

 

He stopped in his tracks when he realized the dog was gone because the food was gone.

 

“Why… that little thief!” He said exasperated. “You just can’t trust anybody anymore.”

 

As Adam rummaged through the empty sacks, it became painfully obvious that he’d been absolutely cleaned out by the little varmint. Even the coffee was gone.

 

“What kind of dog eats coffee grounds?” Adam muttered with disgust.

 

With his stomach rumbling and his bloodstream in dire need of caffeine, he had no choice but to take a detour – one that would take him another day out of his way.

 

“Aaaaah.” Adam seethed, throwing an empty bag to the ground angrily. “Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be kind… aaah well, I’ve never been to Sutter Creek. It’s probably beautiful this time of year.” He resolved, now standing with hands on his hips.

 

He gathered up his bedroll and what was left of his stuff, saddled up his horse and headed east toward the town of Sutter Creek, California.

 

***********

 

Adam arrived in Sutter Creek just as twilight began to soak the dusty buildings with a veil of pink. There were very few people about. Adam expected the town to be somewhat more cosmopolitan.

 

He’d watched for the dog the entire day, wondering if he was being followed but he never sited him. He was glad and sad all at once. Even though the dog had robbed him blind, Adam still had a soft spot for him reasoning the poor thing was probably starving. He wasn’t sure how he’d react if their paths ever crossed again.

 

Adam lazily rode Sport up to the hitching post outside the saloon. If there was one thing he missed while on the trail it was the luxury of a cold beer or a good hit of whiskey. He’d have a drink before getting supplied for the rest of his trip and then find a place to sleep.

 

The saloon doors creaked loudly as Adam pushed through them drawing the attention of the patrons that lingered inside. His striking physical presence immediately caught the eye of the saloon girl as he cleared his throat of trail dust and sauntered up to the bar. She could tell he was more than just the usual non-descript cowboy that passed through this sleepy town.

 

“Ev’nin.” He said pleasantly to the man behind it.

 

“Ev’nin.”

 

“Is the beer cold?” Adam asked.

 

“Nope,” came the simple reply from the bartender.

 

“Oh. Well, then can I have a glass of water and a bottle of whiskey please?’

 

“Yep.”

 

“How about food? Do you have any food?

 

“Nope.”

 

“Is there a place in town where I can get some supper then?”

 

“Hotel.”

 

“Oh… okay, thanks friend.”

 

“Ahuh.”

 

Adam raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips, stunned by the scintillating conversation offered by the barman. He shook his head slightly. He’d leave well enough alone and take a seat to drink his booze in peace.

 

He downed the water in one, continuous gulp, placed payment on the bar top, grabbed his bottle and glass and set himself wearily behind a table. When he looked up from pouring himself his first shot, he saw the saloon girl walking seductively toward him. Adam grinned.

 

“Hello cowboy.” She said as she hovered over him hoping he’d invite her to sit down.

 

“Hello.”

 

“I’ve never seen you before. It isn’t often we get a handsome man like you in here.”

 

“Well. Thank you. It isn’t often I’m complimented by a lovely lady like yourself.”

 

“A smooth talker too, huh? Good looks and charm to boot – a double threat. My mother warned me about men like you.”

 

“No need to worry. I’m harmless.” Adam winked. “Would you like to sit and have drink with me?”

 

“I surely would.” She accepted brightly. “Thank you.”

 

Adam poured the lady a drink, picked up his glass and leaned back in his chair. He balanced skillfully on its back legs.

 

“So… ah… why’s it so quiet around here? From what I’ve heard Sutter Creek is supposed to be a bustling town.”

 

“Used to be. Gold’s almost gone. I guess most people have picked up and moved on to the next dream.”

 

“Aha…I see.” Adam chuckled. “And what about you?”

 

“What about me?”

 

“Got any dreams you want to chase?”

 

“Sure. Doesn’t everyone?”

 

“I guess so.”

 

“You mean you don’t have any dreams?” She flirted.

 

“Sure I do.”

 

“Well, tell me all about them.”

 

“It’s a secret.” Adam teased.

 

“Oh you can tell me.”

 

“I don’t know if I can trust you with my inner most thoughts quite yet.” Adam commented with a wink. “I’ve already been betrayed once today. Besides, I don’t even know your name.”

 

“Amy.” She introduced herself and held out her hand for Adam to shake. “Amy Quinn.”

 

“And you would be…”

 

“Adam.”

 

“Adam…?” She pried.

 

“Let’s just leave it at plain ole Adam for now.”

 

“Well, aren’t you the mysterious one?”

 

“Yep, that’s me.”

 

“Well, plain ole Adam, you don’t have to worry about me… if that is, in fact, your real name.”

 

“Yes, yes it is.”

 

“Are you planning on staying in town for awhile so we can get acquainted?”

 

“Nope,” Adam answered and smacked his lips after finishing his drink. “I’m heading home first thing tomorrow morning.”

 

“Home? And where might that be.”

 

“Up north. Nevada – Lake Tahoe.”

 

“Really?” Amy’s interest was peaked. “I’ve heard about a big spread up there called the Ponderosa. Do you know of it?”

 

“Oh yes.” Adam replied dryly. “I know of it.”

 

“I’d love to see it. A couple months back a ranch hand who worked there told me all about it and the lake and well, it just sounds so beautiful.” The girl gushed. “Not like this God forsaken place. I’d do just about anything to get out of here.”

 

“What was the ranch hand’s name?”

 

“Rick Smyth.”

 

“Ah, yes. I know Rick. He was a good man. We were sorry to see him go.”

 

“We?”

 

“Seems I’ve given myself up.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“My father and brothers and I own the Ponderosa and when ever you’re in the neighborhood Amy, you are more than welcome to visit.”

 

“You’re one of the Cartwrights?”

 

“Yep, I’m a Cartwright. But, don’t hold that against me.” Adam chortled as he forced his chair back on all fours and stood. “Can you point me in the direction of the hotel?”

 

“Sure.” Amy answered awestruck as she watched Adam rise from his chair. “It’s… it’s just down at the end of the main street.”

 

“Thanks… and thanks for your company too Amy, I enjoyed our talk. I hope your dreams come true… someday.” He said as he tipped his hat to her.

 

“Good-bye Adam, and don’t be surprised if I take you up on your offer. We’ll meet again. I can guarantee it.”

 

“I’ll look forward to it.”

 

Amy watched Adam leave the saloon, then rose from her chair and swaggered back to her usual table. She was deep in thought.

 

“What’s his story sis?” Asked a rugged man who sat at Amy’s table.

 

“His story, my brother, is going to make us rich.”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“That cowboy is our ticket out of here.”

 

************

 

A small, old man had begun his daily ritual of lighting the town’s street lamps as Adam left the saloon. He took Sport’s reins and led him toward the hotel. As he walked slowly down the street he was surprised to see his old friend the dog sitting at the corner of an alleyway. Adam stopped abruptly.

 

“Hey. There you are.” Adam moved up to the dog hoping he wouldn’t bolt. “Come here boy. I’m not going to hurt you. Come on. Come on boy.” He coaxed.

 

But, as soon as he got within reach, the dog turned tailed and disappeared back down the alley and out of sight. Adam stood there for a moment to see if the dog would come back. When he didn’t, he shrugged and carried on to the hotel and checked in.

 

After he’d safely stowed his saddlebags in his room, his stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten since the previous evening. Adam was so empty; it hurt. He smiled to himself, thinking of his brother Hoss. If his younger sibling had accompanied him, he would have never heard the end of losing all his food to a dog. Hoss loved animals, yes; but food was precious. Adam still had to bed down his horse and only then could he have dinner. Patting his abdomen as if giving it reassurance that it would be filled eventually, he locked the door to his room and returned to the lobby.

 

“Excuse me.” Adam said.

 

“Yes sir?” The desk clerk replied. “What can I do for you?”

 

“Where’s the livery stable?”

 

“It’s right across the street. Jarrod will take good care of your horse.”

 

“Thank you. I’m sure he will. Is your dining room open?”

 

“Yes sir. Our kitchen closes at eight o’clock. We serve a lovely prime rib, if you’re interested.” The clerk tantalized.

 

“Sounds good. I won’t be long.”

 

“All right, Mr. Cartwright.”

 

Adam was somewhat surprised at how civilized Sutter Creek actually was. He certainly misjudged the place. At first glance, it looked like just another down and out town. You can’t judge a book by its cover, Adam pondered as he crossed the street and entered the stable.

 

“Jarrod?” He called. “Hello? Is anybody home?”

 

“Yeah, yeah. I’m here. Hold your horses,” Jarrod replied as he emerged from the back room.

 

“Actually, I’ve only got one horse to hold.” Adam quipped, but Jarrod did not see the humor.

 

“I’d like to bed down my horse just for tonight. How much?’

 

“Two bits git’s ya a stall, hay and grain.”

 

“Well, here’s four bits and take good care of him okay?”

 

“Thanks mister. I will. I’ll get his saddle off and find him a nice warm stall.”

 

“It’s okay. I’ll take care of my tack. Which stall?”

 

“The one on the end is the biggest. You can have that one.”

 

“Okay. Thanks.”

 

Adam led Sport to his stall and uncinched his saddle. He glanced around the barn to make sure he wasn’t being spied when he uncorked the horn of his saddle and pulled out the two thousand dollars – twenty, one hundred-dollar bills. He rolled up the bills and stuffed them in his boot. He gave Sport an appreciative slap on the neck for a good day’s work and went back to the hotel to finally have supper.

 

On the way he ran into the dog again, and this time he came right up to Adam. He stretched up, placing his front paws on Adam’s thighs.

 

“You stole all my food you little scamp. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here.” Adam said as he crouched to pat the dog’s head. “I’m not sure if I should be mad at you or not.”

 

The dog licked Adam’s face as if apologizing and Adam couldn’t help but forgive.

 

“Okay, alright.” He chuckled. “Stick around and I might just give you my table scraps. Would you like that?”

 

The dog barked.

 

“I’ll take that as a yes.” Adam remarked as he made his way into the dining room.

 

He did have the prime rib and it was good. So were the roasted potatoes, biscuits, green beans and two helpings of blueberry pie. Adam finished his meal with a cup of coffee and a toothpick. More than satisfied he paid his tab and placed two rib bones in a napkin to sneak out to the dog who was waiting patiently for him.

 

“Here you go fella. I’m leaving tomorrow, so I guess this is good-bye. You be a good boy from now on and no more stealing okay?”

 

Adam gave the dog one last pat on the head before he retired to his room. He walked up the stairs and unlocked his door and entered into pitch darkness. He felt his way across the room toward the lamp but before he could reach it, an intruder struck him on the head.

 

The first blow didn’t knock him out, but it did bring him to his knees. It felt like someone had split his head open with an axe and Adam let out a breathy howl. He tried to stand to defend himself, but he was smashed squarely on the forehead. Adam lost consciousness and crashed to the floor with a thud.

 

***********

 

When he opened his eyes all he could see was darkness. At first he thought he was blind. The sensation sent waves of terror through his body and his heart pounded with shear panic. He tried to rub his eyes but his hands were tied behind his back to something solid. It was only then he realized he was blindfolded. Now his accelerated heartbeat was thumping from anger rather than alarm.

 

“Hello?” He forced the word from his lips. “Is anybody there?”

 

The sound of his own voice shot sparks of pain through his forehead like a ricocheted bullet and it made him wince. When his cheeks crinkled, he could feel the dried blood that had congealed on the side of his face. It made his skin feel as tight as a drum.

 

“Hello?” He tried again with more force.

 

But no one was there. He sat up right against what felt like a post. Judging from the smell, he knew he was in a barn. The combination of the sweet scent of hay and the fresh odor of horse manure was a familiar one. Judging from the chirping crickets, Adam knew it was night.

 

He struggled to free his hands from the ropes that cut into his wrists. They were numb from lack of blood flow and felt like they’d been injected with seltzer. He rubbed the back of the blindfold against the post trying to remove it. He was eventually successful but there was no way to escape the tethering. He growled with frustration.

 

“HEY!” He yelled angrily. “HEY! SOMEBODY! HELP – I’M IN HERE!”

 

But, his shouts only added to his headache. He was alone.

 

“Well, this is a fine mess you’ve found yourself in Adam Cartwright.” He chastised himself aloud. “Just how do you propose to get out of this one?”

 

The crickets continued their song and Adam resolved himself to waiting. For exactly what, he wasn’t sure.

 

***********

 

Little Joe arrived home from Virginia City just in time to sit down for supper. He blasted through the front door and slammed it behind him. He removed his gun belt and tossed it on the credenza. After taking off his hat and jacket and throwing both on the settee, he clapped his hands together loudly and asked what was for supper.

 

“Joseph.” Ben looked up from the dinner table at his youngest son impatiently.

 

“Yes sir?”

 

“Must you insist on entering the house like a wild mustang?”

 

“Well, no Pa. I don’t insist on it.” Little Joe jabbed, winked and smirked at his older brother Hoss. He chuckled like a deranged chipmunk at his own sauciness.

 

“Sarcasm does not become you Joseph. One smart Alec in the family is enough.”

 

“Sorry Pa.” He knew his father was referring to Adam. “Hey, when is older brother due home anyway?” Joe asked to no one in particular.

 

“You always late for suppa!” Hop Sing ranted as he entered the dining room. “Little Joe always late.” He pointed.

 

“I’m not late Hop Sing. I’m sittin’ here, aren’t I?”

 

“I cook all day to make nice dinna for Cartlights and …”

 

“Oh Hop Sing.” Ben interrupted with irritation. “Could you just serve, please. Joe’s here now. There’s no need to carry on.”

 

Hop Sing went back into the kitchen to get the food, mumbling complaints under his breath all the way. Hoss sat at the table oblivious to all the fuss. The banter was routine. He had one thing on his mind and one thing only – roast beef and potatoes with gravy. Joe placed his napkin on his lap and waited for Hop Sing to return.

 

“Did you pick up the mail Joe?” Ben asked nonchalantly.

 

“Oh. Yeah. Here you go Pa.”

 

“Anything interesting?” He asked as he looked through the several envelopes that Joe had passed to him.

 

“Don’t know. I didn’t even look at it.”

 

“Huh. What’s this?”

 

“What’s what?” Hoss’ asked curiously.

 

“A wire from California. Pinecrest.” Ben looked over the letter suspiciously. “Do we know anyone in Pinecrest?”

 

“No sir.” Both Joe and Hoss replied as they watched Hop Sing place the food on the table.

 

Ben opened the envelope and noisily unfolded the letter and began to read.

 

“No.” Ben uttered in disbelief.

 

“What’s the matter Pa?” Hoss asked as he shoveled a fork full of potato into his mouth.

 

“It’s a ransom note.”

 

“A ransom note?” Joe commented with alarm. “For who and for what?”

 

“They have Adam and they want $10,000 for his safe return.”

 

***********

 

Streams of light beamed through the cracks in the barn boards creating a glowing contrast of stripes. A single shaft of sunlight hit Adam squarely in the face awakening him. Again, he was blinded. He squinted and adjusted his head to avoid the discomfort.

 

He wondered how long he had been there. Judging from his thirst and full bladder, he assumed a day – two at the most. He had no idea where he was, who had done this to him or why. All he knew was that he had to free himself or he would either die of dehydration or humiliation.

 

Adam began to struggle. Pulling his wrists from side to side making the ropes dig deeper and deeper into his flesh. It hurt, yes, but he had no choice. The strain pulsed in his temples sending more pain through his head. He gasped with frustration and gave up momentarily. Taking several deep breaths to collect himself for his next wrestling match with the ropes, he was distracted by movement in the corner of the barn. When he investigated – there was the dog. His dog!

 

“Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes. Here boy.” He coaxed. “Come on boy. Come here.”

 

But, the dog simply cocked his head and seemingly grinned at Adam’s gleeful tone. Adam tried again and eventually the dog crossed the barn floor and centered himself in front of Adam. The dog sat primly waiting for more attention – hopefully food.

 

“What a good boy!” Adam praised. “What’s this boy? Wanna play? Come on. Let’s play.”

 

Adam started moving his hands again trying to get the dog to see what was behind him. Curious, the dog stood and meandered around the back of the post where Adam flung hay in the dog’s face trying to induce a game. The dog barked and wagged his tail. He bowed forward and stuck his butt in the air and barked again. He seemed to get the gist of Adam’s rough housing. The dog mouthed Adam’s hands and Adam tried to grab the dog’s nose until eventually the dog started to chew and pull on the ropes that where so tightly wrapped around Adam’s wrists.

 

“Good boy. Atta boy… pull… that’s it.” Adam encouraged, “What a good dog!”

 

The dog tugged and gnawed until finally they were loose enough for Adam to escape. Now free, he stood unsteadily. He leaned on the post to gain his balance. His head throbbed. When he felt secure, he let go of the support and opened his arms to the dog. Adam was taken by surprised when the dog leapt from the ground and into his arms. Adam hugged him enthusiastically and tussled the dog’s ears making him growl playfully.

 

“You’re such a good boy! You are getting a nice steak dinner when we get home… oh yes you are!”

 

Adam placed the dog on the ground and tiptoed toward the barn door. The dog pranced happily beside his new best friend – gazing up at him in anticipation of more fun. Adam glanced down at the pup, putting his forefinger to his lips and shushing him. He peered through the crack.

 

Pushing the door open slowing, Adam tentatively made his way outside. Unarmed and vulnerable, he stayed on guard until he realized, in fact, there was no one around. He was finally able to see where he was and that was – absolutely nowhere. The terrain that surrounded the small barn was desolate. He slowly spun three hundred and sixty degrees to see if there was any sign of civilization.

 

“Well, boy. Can you show me the way back to town?” Adam looked down at his animal companion with his hands on his hips then sniffed a chuckle. “I must be out of my head. Here I am, in the middle of nowhere, talking to a dog.”

 

Adam looked at the position of the sun in relation to the mountain range on the horizon and decided to go east. Sutter Creek was east. He slapped his thigh to encourage the dog to follow him and the pair set out on foot to find who was behind all this and why.

 

***********

 

“Mr. Cartwright!” The hotel clerk asked when Adam wearily walked into the lobby of the Sutter Creek Hotel carrying the dog under his arm like a package. “Where have you been?”

 

“I got tied up.” Adam replied snidely.

 

“You’re bleeding!”

 

“Not anymore. I was bleeding, but it’s stopped now.” He retorted casually. “Do you have a key to my room?”

 

“You can’t bring a dog in here!”

 

“My key, please.” Adam replied ignoring the man’s protest.

 

“Yes sir.” The clerk submitted realizing Adam was in no mood to argue.

 

Adam took the key and painfully started up the stairs. He stopped and leaned over the railing.

 

“By the way, what day is it?”

 

“Well, it’s Saturday Mr. Cartwright.” The hotel clerk answered quizzically.

 

“Spread the word round town that I’m back.”

 

“Back?”

 

“Just do it.”

 

With Adam’s stern order hanging in the air like a storm cloud, he continued up the stairs. He’d already bought himself another gun with the money he had stowed in his boot. He’d checked on his horse and was not surprised to see that he was gone.

 

That fact that Sport was nowhere in sight upset him. Their relationship was not one of love per say, but rather respect. They knew each other like the back of their respective hand and hoof. They’d built a foundation of trust. They were partners and had shared a great deal together. Adam’s stomach tightened with concern for his steed.

 

When he finally reached the landing and down the hall to his room, he opened the door with trepidation. He peered inside before entering. The coast was clear. Letting out a muffled sigh of relief, Adam put the dog down and sat heavily on the edge of the bed and rested his forehead between his thumb and forefinger. He massaged his eyebrows roughly, as if trying to erase the last few days. He and the dog had traveled twenty miles on foot and the fatigue just added to his throbbing head.

 

He peeled off his boots and then his socks revealing a set of nasty blisters. Again, he exhaled, wondering what this day might bring next. With a forced burst of energy he rose to check out his injuries. He hobbled across the room to the mirror, poured a jug full of water into the basin and began to wash.

 

After freshening up, he lay out on the bed with his new gun in hand and draped across his chest – at the ready. With the dog curled up beside him, Adam placed his other hand behind his head and took several deep breaths of cautious relaxation. He knew whoever had ambushed and kidnapped him would return once the clerk had put the word out on the streets that he was back. Adam waited.

 

************

 

Ben, Hoss and Little Joe thundered into the town of Pinecrest like a cavalry brigade. Their showy arrival drew aggravated stares from pedestrians. The Cartwright’s path opened up like Moses’ parting of the Red Sea. They came to an abrupt halt in front of the telegraph office. They dismounted.

 

“Hoss, Find the sheriff.” Ben ordered with a swipe of his arm as he and Joe entered the small, non-descript building.

 

“Can I help you?” The clerk asked, sounding somewhat intimidated.

 

“I need to track a wire that was sent three days ago.” Ben commanded.

 

“Sure thing, mister. From whom to whom?”

 

“Well, the sender was anonymous. And it was sent from here to Virginia City – Cartwright… The Ponderosa.”

 

“Doesn’t ring a bell with me. And, an address like that surely would. What did the wire say?”

 

“Here it is.” Ben passed the note to the clerk and the man scowled at its contents.

 

“I didn’t send this wire sir.”

 

“Does anyone else work here?”

 

“Nope. I’m it, I’m afraid.”

 

Joe leapt across the desk and grabbed the man by the vest, squeezed and pulled him nose to nose.

 

“If anything’s happened to my brother, I’ll kill you.”

 

“JOE!” Ben barked as he yanked his son away from the clerk and held him back. “JOSEPH. Settle down, that’s enough!” They both regained control. “You’ll have to forgive my son. His youth sometimes gets the better of him.”

 

The terrified clerk straightened his clothes and stared at Joe who stared right back. Joe’s breathing accelerated and his shoulders rose and fell like the arm of a well pump.

 

“Now listen.” Ben continued. “My son has been kidnapped and is in grave danger. All we know is that a ransom note was sent to us from this office. So, if you didn’t send it, then who did?”

 

“First of all… ah sir,” the clerk spoke unsteadily, “don’t you think it would be unwise for a kidnapper to send a ransom note through a third party such as myself? Why would they use someone who could identify them? And, second of all… this office was broken into three days ago. It was strange because nothing was taken. Just the lock was broken. It all makes sense now. Might I suggest the kidnapper sent the wire himself?”

 

“Oh.” Ben said simply as Joe continued his daggered gaze. “Well, have there been any strangers in town? Or anyone you might suspect as… out of the ordinary… suspicious.”

 

“Mister, we get strangers in this town every day of the week and they’re all out of the ordinary if you ask me. They’re all suspicious just by being strangers.”

 

“Yes, I guess your right.” Again, Ben replied deflated.

 

“I’d go see Sheriff Adler. He can probably help you more than I can… and, I’m sorry about your son. I really am.”

 

“Ah… yes, thank-you, my other son is there now. I’m sorry for… well, I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s okay. I understand. If I can help in anyway, I surely will.”

 

Ben steered Joe out of the office and out into the street. He gave him a disapproving side-glance. Hoss approached them just as they walked into the sunlight.

 

“Sheriff ain’t there Pa. Deputy says he left this morning for Stockton. Won’t be back til next week.”

 

“Well, what about the deputy? Did you tell him about Adam?”

 

“Yes sir. All he said was that the telegraph office was broken into three days ago. Other than that, it’s been quiet.”

 

The threesome stood in a circle seemingly at a dead end. Ben put his hands on his hips and took a deep breath, then released it slowly. He looked around as if, miraculously, a clue to Adam’s whereabouts would appear.

 

“What should we do now Pa?” Joe asked sheepishly.

 

“I guess we’ll have to try and pick up Adam’s trail.”

 

“But, where do we start?” Joe inquired.

 

“We start in San Jose…that’s where.”

 

“But, Pa, There’s no way to cover that much ground.” Hoss argued. “He coulda taken any route. You know Adam. He takes a different way every time he goes someplace. He could be anywhere. He could be right here in town or a hundred miles away.”

 

“I don’t care if he’s ten thousand miles away. We’re going to find him” Ben insisted.

 

“Why don’t we just pay the ransom and follow whoever picks it up?” Hoss added.

 

“Hoss is right Pa. Who ever took Adam will have to check the telegraph office to see if we’ve replied.”

 

“Let’s go have another talk with our friend.” Ben advised as he turned to reenter the office.

 

“Excuse me.” He asked the clerk politely.

 

“Oh. Back so soon?” The man replied with a gulp. He gave Joe the eye to make sure he wouldn’t lunge at him again.

 

“Yes… hmm, tell me.” Ben said thoughtfully. “Has someone been in this office asking for a reply or checking messages often? A stranger, maybe.”

 

“Come to think of it, there has been a man in here the last few days waiting for a message from Virginia City. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. Yes. He comes by at least three times a day. As a matter of fact, he’s usually in here around this time. I could let you know when he comes back and… THERE HE IS!”

 

Just as the words left the clerks lips, a man came into the office. He took one look at the Cartwrights and knew they were Adam’s family. He tore back out of the building with Hoss and Little Joe fast on his tail. Ben went into the street to observe with the clerk beside him.

 

It was Joe that caught the kidnapper first and wrestled him to the ground. Hoss got to him seconds later and lifted him up by his shirt collar. The man struggled to get away from Hoss’ grip so Joe threw a left upper cut to his abdomen that dropped the man to his knees.

 

“Where’s my brother?” Joe shouted angrily.

 

“You better tell’em. He gets real angry when someone ain’t nice to his family. Come to think of it… so do I.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about mister.” The man defended himself.

 

“Let me explain it to you then.” Hoss said calmly as a crowd gathered around the fracas. “You sent a ransom note to my Pa three days ago asking for $10,000 for the safe return of my brother. Now, if he’s been harmed in any way you’re gonna be real sorry you were even born, big shorty.”

 

“All right, all right,” The man begged. “You’re brother’s fine. I wouldn’t hurt him. Me and my sister just needed the money, that’s all. We were never going to hurt him, honest.”

 

“Where is he?” Joe spat.

 

“Sutter Creek. In an abandoned barn about twenty miles out of town.”

 

“You’re gonna take us there.”

 

The man did not answer until Hoss intensified his strangle hold on him.

 

“Yes. Yes, I’ll take you there.”

 

“That’s awfully neighborly of you mister. Where’s yur horse?”

 

“Over there.”

 

Both Joe and Hoss glanced across the street where they saw Sport standing casually; his back foot tipped with relaxation.

 

“A kidnapper and a horse thief,” Joe sniffed. “I sincerely hope, for your sake, that I don’t have to add murderer to that list.”

 

The boys dragged the man over to Sport and set him on top. Then they lead him back to their horses where the three Cartwrights mounted up and continued their search.

 

***********

 

When Adam awoke, again, he was engulfed in darkness. He bolted up right and exhaled a grunt of alarm. The dog let out an alerted bark. There was someone at his hotel room door. The knob turned slowly. Adam quietly got out of bed and crept across the room and up against the wall. He held his gun to his temple ready to confront the intruder.

 

A crack of light from the hallway slivered its way across the hardwood and widened slowly. Adam’s heart thumped and he was afraid its sound might give him away. The person entered cautiously and when they were clear of the door Adam slammed it closed, cocked his gun and pointed it.

 

“All right. Who are you?” he demanded.

 

“No need to get upset, sugar, it’s just me Amy.”

 

“Amy?” Adam replied with shock. He lit the lamp by his bed only to find Amy standing in the middle of the room. “What are you doing here? You could have gotten yourself killed sneaking up on a man like that.”

 

“I heard you were back and hurt and I came to make sure you were alright.”

 

“Why now? It’s got to be two or three in the morning.”

 

“I just now got off work. What happened?”

 

Adam lowered his gun and sat on the edge of the bed relieved.

 

“Somebody ambushed me the other night, took me to a barn in the middle of nowhere, tied me up and left me there.”

 

“Oh dear!” Amy gasped as she held her hand to her lips. “Who would have done such a thing and why Adam?”

 

“That’s what I intend to find out. I don’t know why. I’m hoping they’ll try again. That’s why I pulled a gun on you. I thought you might be them. I’m sorry Amy.”

 

“No need to apologize. Are you hurt?”

 

“I got hit on the head pretty hard… twice. I think I’m okay.”

 

“Let me take a look at it.”

 

She approached Adam and he allowed her to examine his head. Her touch was soft and soothing. He appreciated it. She gently pushed him back and into a lying position. She dampened a cloth and sat on the bed next to him and tended to his cuts and bruises. A sense of peacefulness enveloped him and he closed his eyes.

 

“That feels nice.” He whispered.

 

“What a cute little dog.” She said, finally noticing the canine that’d tried all along to get her attention and maybe a pat on the head.

 

“That’s my dog.” He murmured, still relishing her tenderness.

 

“Shhh. Go to sleep Adam. I’ll take care of you.”

 

Within moments Adam was asleep. Amy groped for a small bottle of ether hidden in her cleavage. She quietly soaked the cloth with the liquid and placed it over Adam’s nose and mouth. She’d wire her brother in Pinecrest, that she needed him here; that their plan had failed. Amy would stay with Adam and keep him sedated until her brother returned. Only then, could the brother/sister team regroup and move into plan “B”.

 

With Adam under control for the time being, Amy searched the room for something to tie Adam to the bed with as well as a gag in case he awoke. It was then she saw it. On the dresser by the water basin was a roll of money as thick as a fence post. It made her loose her breath momentarily. It actually stopped her in her tracks. She decided then and there that this money would be enough for her and her brother to get out of the dead end town she’d longed to escape. It wouldn’t get her where she wanted to go in style, but it would have to do. At this point, she rationalized, the ransom was not guaranteed and this was better than nothing for her troubles.

 

She picked up the wad of money, gave the little dog a rub behind the ear and Adam a peck on the cheek. Amy would wire her brother as soon as the telegraph office opened for business and the pair would go east. They’d start a new life in Chicago.

 

***********

 

It was the wee hours of the morning when Ben and his boys along with the kidnapper arrived at the abandoned barn. A full moon had light their way like a gigantic oil lamp. They anxiously dismounted and rushed inside. When they discovered that Adam was not there they confronted the man.

 

“Where is he?” Ben raged, grabbing the kidnapper by the front of his shirt.

 

“I swear. I left him here three days ago.”

 

“Without food or water? Where exactly did you put him?”

 

“I tied him to that post over there.”

 

Ben threw the man aside in disgust. Joe found a lantern and lit it to investigate the area. He picked up a set of ropes that lay on the hay-covered floor.

 

“Take a look at this Pa.” He said as he walked toward his father and brother carrying the tethers. “Looks like Adam got away… somehow.” He shrugged.

 

“Yeah, looks like they’ve been chewed up or something, don’t they.” Hoss analyzed as he eyed the ropes. “How do you suppose he did that?”

 

“He must have walked back to town.” The kidnapper figured.

 

“Walked back? You said we are twenty miles out of town.”

 

“We are.”

 

At his wits end, Ben lead the way back to the horses and the foursome remounted their horses. In a cloud of heifer dust, they rode on to Sutter Creek.

 

***********

 

The men entered the town just as the sun cast of glow of violet across the sky. Tired and hungry, they rode in much more sedately then their stampede into Pinecrest the day before. The streets were abandoned except for a woman who scampered across the road just ahead of them.

 

It was Amy, who had not recognized her brother in the shadows of dawn and amongst the three strangers. He saw her but did not utter a word to alert her. He would try and keep her out of it now if he could. The men came to a halt in front of the sheriff’s office.

 

“I’m going to get us a room at that hotel over there Pa.” Hoss announced. “You need to get some rest, we all do or else we ain’t no good to nobody.”

 

All Ben could do was nod wearily as he dismounted his horse Buck. Little Joe got down too and he and Ben escorted the kidnapper into the jail. Hoss trotted down the street and hitched Chub to the post outside the hotel. He went inside.

 

“Morn’in.” Hoss greeted the clerk. “You got a room or two we can rent for a couple hours?”

 

“Sure do. You traveled through the night?”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“A little dangerous don’t ya think?”

 

“Well, we’re in a bit of a hurry. But, we just c’ain’t go anymore.”

 

“Oh, I see. Trouble?” The clerk asked nosily as he spun the register around so Hoss could sign-in.

 

“Yeah. We got our troubles. My brother’s been kidnapped and we think he may be in the area. Maybe you’ve seen him. He’s a fairly big feller, dark hair, wears black shirt and hat. Rides a handsome sorrel with four white socks.”

 

“What’s your brother’s name?” The clerk inquired.

 

“Adam Cartwright.”

 

“Adam Cartwright?”

 

“Yeah. You seen him?” Hoss replied hopefully.

 

“Seen him? He’s right upstairs in room 204 fast asleep. Came in here yesterday after a few days away. He said he was alright but he had blood running down his head and was limping a little. Had a dog with him. Got a visit from a young lady, too.”

 

Before the clerk could finish with the details, Hoss was on his way up the stairs and down the hall to room 204. He didn’t knock, but rather hurled himself through it. The door ripped off its hinges as Hoss ploughed into the room like a bull through a matador’s cape. The dog, that was asleep beside Adam, sprang to its feet and bark furiously. It growled at the intruder as if protecting his new master. Adam, still under the influence of the ether, didn’t move a muscle.

 

“It’s alright little feller. I ain’t gonna hurt’cha.” Hoss said calmly.

 

But, the dog stood guard. Hoss approached slowly, stretching out his hand for the dog to sniff. Hoss placed his massive hand on the dog’s head and rubbed his neck.

 

“There you go. It’s okay. He’s my brother, little guy. I’m just trying to help him.”

 

With the dog now tamed, Hoss went to the head of the bed to check on Adam. He was afraid he was dead. But, when he got closer to him he could see he was breathing quite steadily. It settled him a bit.

 

“Adam?” He said strongly. “Adam. It’s me Hoss. Wake up.”

 

Adam did not respond. It was then, that Ben and Joe entered the room as well. Ben rushed to his eldest and sat on the bed next to him. He carefully curved his hand around Adam’s jaw and gently pulled his face so Ben could get a better look.

 

“He seems to be just fine Pa.” Hoss assured. “I think he’s just asleep. Like he’s been drugged or something’.”

 

“Joe.” Ben said. “Get me some water.”

 

“Right Pa.”

 

Ben cupped some water in his hand and lightly slapped Adam’s face. The dog stood at the foot of the bed watching the operation.

 

“Adam? Adam, wake up son. It’s you father and brothers.”

 

He finally opened his eyes and gazed up at his family quizzically.

 

“Pa?”

 

“Yes. It’s me.” Ben answered.

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

“We got a ransom note that said you’d been kidnapped.”

 

“Ransom note?” Adam said as he propped himself up on his elbows. “So, that’s what that was all about. How much am I worth?”

 

“Never mind that. Are you alright?” Ben inquired, still anxious about his son’s welfare.

 

“Yes, I have a bit of a headache, and my feet are pretty blistered up – but other than that, I’m fine.” Adam assured. “Who kidnapped me?”

 

“We caught the man. He’s in jail.”

 

“But, who was it?” Adam asked still puzzled about the whole affair.

 

“A man named Owen Quinn.”

 

“Owen Quinn? Who the heck is Owen Quinn… Amy!” Adam said as the pieces finally fell into place.

 

“Amy? Who’s Amy, Adam?” Hoss asked as he helped his brother up.

 

“I met her a couple of days ago when I arrived in town. Saloon girl.” He answered rubbing his head to try and clear it of the ether. “She said she’d do just about anything to get out of this town. I made the mistake of telling her about the Ponderosa… and well, I guess she was desperate enough to try and extort money out of you. I’m sorry Pa. Is Owen Amy’s husband?”

 

“Brother.” Ben corrected.

 

“Well, the money’s gone.” Adam sighed as he searched the dresser for the roll of cash.

 

“Money?”

 

“The money I got for the stallion. I was so careful too. It was two thousand dollars.”

 

“Two thousand? I thought we agreed on only twelve hundred.”

 

“I got more.” Adam smirked wickedly and shrugged.

 

“You sure did.” Ben smiled warmly as he grabbed Adam’s shoulder thankful that he was, in fact, all right.

 

“Well, never cry over something that can’t cry over you.” Hoss stated.

 

“How about my horse? Can I cry over him? I noticed he was gone when I got back into town yesterday.”

 

“Not to worry older brother. We got him too. Owen used Sport to take him to Pinecrest.” Joe grinned.

 

“Pinecrest?” Adam asked, again confused by the order of events. “What does Pinecrest have to do with anything?”

 

“The wire was sent from there. I guess they thought it would throw us off your trail.”

 

“How’d you end up in Sutter Creek, anyhow?” Hoss inquired. “I mean, it ain’t exactly on the way home.”

 

“Yeah. We know you like to take a different route every time but this is ridiculous.” Joe lightly quipped.

 

“The dog.”

 

“Dog?”

 

Adam reached down and picked up his canine friend and stroked his head gently.

 

“Pa, Joe, Hoss… this is Shylock. And, if it weren’t for this little guy, I’d still be tied up in an abandoned barn outside of town. I fed him out on the trail and then he repaid me by robbing me blind.” Adam scowled playfully. “That’s how I ended up here. I needed supplies to get me the rest of the way home.”

 

“Well, welcome to the family Shylock. I guess kindness does reap its rewards…eventually.” Ben chuckled.

 

“Yes it does Pa…yes it does. Speaking of being kind, I think I’m going to catch up with my friend Amy.” Adam announced.

 

“Do you need any help?” Hoss asked.

 

“Nope. I think Shylock and I can handle it. Right, boy?” Adam said as he placed the animal on the floor.

 

Adam painfully pulled on his boots, slapped his thigh to get the dog’s attention and the pair left the room. After breathing a sigh of relief over Adam’s safety – Ben, Joe and Hoss settled in for a nap and waited for Adam to finish his business.

 

 

EPILOGUE

 

After asking around town Adam found out where Miss Amy lived. He walked to the house on the outskirts of town and made his way up to the front door. He quietly opened it and entered the tiny, one roomed building.

 

There was Amy, engrossed so furiously in packing her clothes that she didn’t even notice Adam standing in front of her.

 

“Going somewhere?” He asked calmly.

 

“ADAM.” She gasped. “You scared the life out of me.”

 

“You know Amy. You could have just asked for help. You didn’t have to go to all the trouble of kidnapping me. It’s been quite painful you know. I thought we were friends.”

 

“What are you talking about Adam? Kidnap you. I didn’t kidnap you.”

 

“No, but your brother did.”

 

“My brother?”

 

“Yes. Owen. It’s all over. My father and brothers caught him in Pinecrest. They convinced him to tell them where I was. He’s in jail Amy.”

 

“Oh.” She said simply.

 

The dog sat primly right beside Adam’s leg and stared at Amy as if she should divulge an explanation for her behavior.

 

“Where’s the money?” Adam inquired patiently.

 

“Money?”

 

“Aaaammmy. The two thousand dollars you stole from my room when you drugged me.”

 

“Oh, that money.”

 

She pulled it out of her boot and passed it back to Adam who stood over her with his hands casually crossed behind his back.

 

“Here you go.” She said sheepishly. “I was just going to borrow it Adam.”

 

“Borrow it? Were you going to ‘borrow’ the ransom too?”

 

She didn’t respond.

 

“How much was the ransom anyway?” Adam’s curiosity was getting the better of him. “I’m just wondering how much you think I’m worth.”

 

“$10,000.” She answered with her head down.

 

“That’s it huh. All this for $10,000.” He sniffed. “Was it worth it Amy? Was it worth risking being sent to prison or even hanging?”

 

Again, she did not answer as she held out the roll of money for Adam to take.

 

“Keep it.” He said to Amy’s astonishment.

 

“Keep it?”

 

“If you need it that badly that you’d go to all this trouble then… keep it.” He shrugged nonchalantly.

 

“But…”

 

“These last few days have been trying to say the least, but it hasn’t been without its rewards.”

 

“What about my brother?”

 

“I’m not going to press charges and you are free to go.”

 

“After all we’ve done to you. How can you be so forgiving?”

 

“Who says I forgive you.”

 

“Well, you must have if you’re willing to give up two thousand dollars and give us our freedom as well.”

 

“Just take it and get out of here before I change my mind.” Adam warned as he smiled crookedly at Amy.

 

“Thank you, Adam. Thank you so much. I’ll never forget you.”

 

“Just don’t forget to send me a postcard.”

 

Amy grinned widely and kissed Adam as she passed him and right out the front door. Adam sighed and looked mildly down at Shylock.

 

“Well boy. I’m only worth $10,000. Not very much is it. But, I guess it hasn’t been all bad. You’ve taught me a valuable lesson through all this.”

 

The dog looked straight up at Adam and tilted his head as if asking what that might be.

 

“Never feed a strange dog.”

 

*****END*****

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