Summary: In the Scottish Highlands the Loch Ness has Nessie. In America, Lake Champlain has Champ and Lake Tahoe has…Tessie.
Rating: T (8,020 words)
Little Joe Cartwright was riding at a leisurely pace along the East Side of Lake Tahoe. He’d spent the earlier part of the day supervising the timber operation on the south end of the lake, making sure that everything was proceeding on schedule. He’d finished up early and headed for home.
The timber operation had consumed most of his time since the last cattle drive and he’d seen very little of his family in the past month. He had been gone from the house for days on end but it finally seemed that his crew was going to make their deadline. He was looking forward to finally spending a leisurely evening eating dinner with his family and perhaps playing a nice round of checkers with his two brothers. Joe smiled to himself; he would enjoy beating his brother Hoss at checkers.
From the corner of his eye Joe saw a movement on the lake and reined in Cochise to get a better look. Man and horse had similar expressions when they saw a long snake like neck emerging from the lake topped by a lizard like head. Hearing Cochise’s nervous whicker the head swung to gaze at them, two yellow eyes gleaming. Joe could feel his mouth hanging open and his eyes growing huge. He had never seen anything like it.
Cochise was the first to break free from the paralysis that gripped them both. Cochise suddenly rose up on his rear legs. Joe, who had loosened his grip on the reins, was flung backwards out of the saddle. His head struck a rock behind him and he blacked out. Cochise saw Joe’s still body lying on the ground but bolted when the thing in the lake gave a long low moan.
Ben sat at his desk finishing up the paperwork for the week. He was looking forward to a relaxing evening. Joe had sent word the day before that operations were proceeding smoothly and he might be home that evening. Ben contemplated the thought of his youngest son. Perhaps Joe was working a bit too hard. Joe had been the one to negotiate the deal with the company in San Francisco and he was the one who was leading the whole operation. Ben wondered how he could offer assistance without offending his son’s sense of pride.
The sound of footsteps on the stairs made Ben look up to see both Hoss and Adam coming down, freshly scrubbed and ready for dinner. Hoss and Adam had spent most of the last month working on getting the ranch ready for winter, closing up the various line shacks and laying in supplies for the herd for winter.
“Hey Pa. Joe here yet?” Hoss asked. He didn’t like to admit it but he’d been missing his little brother quite a bit in the last week. Adam was good company but Joe was the one who could somehow make life a bit more interesting at times.
“Not yet Hoss.”
“Wonder if he’s still planning on coming?” Adam inquired.
“Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Cartwright,” Ray Sutterbee burst through the front door, shouting.
“Ray, what is it?”
“Cochise just came in sir. He’s in a terrible state and Joe ain’t with him.” The three men raced out the door following the hand.
Cochise stood in the yard, prancing and tossing his head frantically. He was coated in a lather of sweat, his eyes wild and terrified. Two of the hands were attempting to catch his reins but Cochise kept shying away.
Hoss waved back the other men and slowly walked towards the terrified animal. Softly whispering and coaxing, Hoss finally was able to catch Cochise’s reins. He carefully examined the animal and finally turned to his father and brother. “He ain’t hurt and there’s no sign of blood.”
Ben and Adam nodded.
Hoss tried to calm the frightened animal and finally handed the reins over to Ray. “Take him in and clean him up Ray. Take it nice and easy. And have the men saddle up our horses plus a spare. We gotta go find Joe.”
“Adam, get some lanterns. Hoss get the first aid supplies.” Ben gestured to each of his sons, his brow creased with worry. Joe was a good rider, one of the best. What could have happened?”
Joe came to several minutes after he’d been thrown. Groaning he sat up and clutched his aching head. He put his hand behind his head, feeling it gently. He could feel a lump swelling and some dampness where the rock had grazed his scalp. What happened? Suddenly Joe’s eyes widened as he remembered what he had seen. He leaped to his feet, looking wildly in all directions.
“What was that thing?” Joe said out loud. He drew his gun and carefully walked over to the side of the lake. He leaned over and peered cautiously into the lake, seeing nothing but the reflection of himself and the sky above his head. He pulled off his hat and scratched his head. He frowned in thought. Cochise was gone and Joe supposed he should start walking towards the house. He took a few steps in the direction towards the house but quickly spun around thinking he could hear something behind him. He looked around carefully, scanning all around the lake. Finally he decided he would wait, at least for a while to see if whatever it was came back.
Joe settled himself down with his back leaning on a large boulder. He stared out at the lake intently, waiting for it to reappear.
Ben, Hoss and Adam rode slowly from the ranch house towards the lake road. They were all scanning the side of the road, hoping they would find Joe, but terrified of what they would see.
“Pa, look.” Adam pointed towards the lake. Ben squinted and followed the direction of Adam’s finger.
There sitting on top of a rock with his legs crossed before him was Little Joe. He was intently staring out at the lake, his elbows resting on his knees and his chin resting in the palm of his hands.
“Joseph.” Ben yelled and urged Buck forward.
Joe was staring so fixedly and with such single minded focus he failed to hear the thundering hooves that signaled the arrival of his father and brothers. He first became aware of his father when a hand descended on his shoulder. Joe let out a wild yell and leaped off the rock, directly into the water beneath him. He landed on his feet but abruptly fell backwards into the water. He stared up wildly at his family and gaped.
Ben, Hoss and Adam were all staring at Joe in amazement. Finally Ben leaned over and held his hand out to his son. “Son are you all right?”
Joe reached up and grasping his father’s hands allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. Ben put his hands on Joe’s shoulders and looked him over carefully. Ben frowned as he noticed there was blood on the back collar of Joe’s shirt. “Joe, what happened to you?”
“I’m fine Pa. Cochise threw me and I just banged my head.”
Adam moved behind his brother and carefully checked the back of his head. Hoss stuck in a finger and poked the goose egg that they could both see.
“Ow, dadburnit Hoss don’t do that.” Joe knocked away both his brothers’ probing hands.
“Can you make it back to the house son?” Ben asked, putting his arm around Joe’s waist.
“Sure Pa.” Joe agreed but as they moved towards the horses he kept casting glances back at the lake, intent on catching one more look at whatever it was he had seen earlier.
An hour later the four Cartwrights were sitting at the dinner table. Joe was dressed in dry clothes and his father had checked out his head and decided that there was no need to call the doctor.
“How are things down at the camp Joe?” Hoss asked.
“Fine Hoss, everything is right on schedule.” Joe responded almost absentmindedly. He was simply picking at his dinner, eating very little of it.
Adam leaned forward and waved his hand in front of Joe’s eyes. Joe lifted his head and raised his eyebrows. “Hmmmm.”
“Joe, wake up. Look something’s obviously troubling you. What is it?” Adam smiled at his younger brother, trying to hide his worry. It wasn’t like Joe to be this introspective.
“Nothing Adam.” Joe innocently widened his eyes and looked at his older brother.
“Joe, what made Cochise buck you off?”
Joe did a small double take and got an expression on his face that his father and brothers knew all too well. Something was up.
“Wh, wh, what made Cochise buck me off?” Joe stammered ever so slightly.
“Yes Joseph, exactly how did you come to be sitting by the lake instead of walking home?” Ben suddenly became very curious about the cause of his son’s accident.
Joe frowned but then realized that he would have to tell sooner or later. “Well Pa ya see. I was riding Cochise by the side of the lake. When suddenly this thing rose up out of the lake and scared Cochise. Well we was both so surprised that I plum fell off when he reared. I hit my head and when I came to I thought I would just, just, just rest a while before walking home.” Joe leaned back satisfied with his answer.
“What kind of a thing Joe?” Hoss inquired.
“What kind?” Joe squirmed slightly in his seat. “Well it was a thing Pa.” Joe shrugged his shoulders.
“Joseph, kindly tell us what exactly this thing looked like.” Ben fixed his son with a piercing glare. He was becoming very suspicious of his son’s behavior.
“Well, Pa.” Joe scrunched up his face then finally appeared resigned. “Pa, it well it looked like a big snake with a lizard’s head. It was about 15 feet tall.”
His gaze roamed over his family’s faces. All three were gazing at him in astonishment. Suddenly as if a wire had snapped releasing them all three threw back their heads and howled with laughter.
“It’s not funny.” Joe protested. Joe’s lip stuck out in a pout. He was not enjoying his family’s amusement.
Ben stopped laughing, wiping his hands at his eyes. “Joseph, you come up with the damnedest things. Now Joe, tell the truth, what made Cochise throw you?”
“Pa, I’m telling you. It was like this really long snake rising right out of the water. It had big yellow eyes and it was like a lizard’s head. I’m telling you Pa, it disappeared while I was knocked out. I was waiting for it to come back when you rode up.”
“Joe, are you sure you saw that before you were knocked out. Most likely it was after you were knocked out.” Adam put forth reasonably.
“Adam, it was the reason Cochise threw me. I’m serious.” Joe felt himself going red. He knew he shouldn’t have told them.
“Joe, I think you are a little confused. Why don’t you go get some rest and we’ll talk about this tomorrow.” Ben watched his youngest son rise and head up the stairs. He shook his head, sometimes that boy was just out of control.
Joe joined his family at breakfast but remained relatively silent. “Joseph, Joseph.” Ben leaned forward and gripped his son’s arm. Joe had literally not moved in several minutes.
“Yes Pa?” Joe looked at his father blankly. “Did you say something Pa.”
“I asked what your plans were for today.” Ben was feeling somewhat concerned about his son.
“I’m going to ride down to the camp and just see how things are going. I’ll be back well before dinner.” Joe nodded to his father agreeably.
Ben leaned back and eyed his son thoughtfully. He considered sending one of Joe’s brothers with him but he decided not to do it. “We’ll see you later then Joe.”
Throughout Joe’s ride down the Eastern Shore of the lake he kept his eyes peeled for any sign of the monster again. He paused periodically and surveyed the horizon. He could see nothing.
Work continued as expected at the logging camp. Joe spent a good portion of the day just walking the logging site, making sure that everything was going smoothly. He ate his lunch with several of the workers and foreman. Joe found himself speaking with Charlie Mantooth; a half-breed Indian who worked year round for the Cartwrights monitoring the lumbering operation and insuring that the necessary reforestation of the Ponderosa took place.
“Charlie, are there any Indian legends about the lake?” Joe inquired innocently.
“Yeah, have you ever heard of any?” Joe smiled at his friend.
Charlie thought for a moment. “Joe there are many legends about the lake, it is a mystery to many. It is so deep that no one has ever been to the bottom. Many have disappeared on the lake, boats sink mysteriously. Monsters. Mysterious storms.”
“Monsters?” Joe leaned forward. “What kind of monsters?”
Charlie surveyed his friend’s face, the hazel eyes intently staring fixed him in his place. “There is one legend of a monster that lives in the lake, part snake, part lizard, part giant. Legend has it that the monster lives in the lake and guards it from all evil. To survive an encounter a man must be pure of heart. Woe to anyone who threatens the monster’s children, he will disappear and never be seen again. They call the monster te ha say, you might say Tessie.”
“Has anyone you know ever seen it?” Joe asked wide-eyed.
“No Joe,” Charlie laughed. “That’s why they call it a legend.”
Joe nodded and smiled half-heartedly.
Later that afternoon Joe and Cochise moved steadily back up the shore of the lake. When he reached the same point that he had been thrown the day before he reined Cochise to a halt. He carefully dismounted and holding her reins he walked towards the shore. Cochise began to blow through her nostrils, whickering nervously. Joe turned back to comfort her when a large shadow fell over the two. Cochise turned and fled, jerking the reins out of Joe’s hands.
Joe spun around, immediately drawing his gun. He gaped in astonishment as he turned to face a large barrel shaped gray wall. As Joe tilted his head back he followed the wall up to a slender snake like neck. His head went all the way back as he saw the neck end in a large lizard like head. Two small horns pointed from the top of the head and the lizard looked down on the man. Joe’s hat fell off and he stood there dumfounded as the creature slid back into the water and slowly receded from view.
The lizard looked back at him just once then completely submerged. Joe stood frozen for what seemed like hours, watching the water ripple and tiny waves come up on the shore. Finally he decided to wait and he simply sat where he had stood and continued to gaze at the water.
“Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Cartwright.” Charlie Morgan burst in the front door just as the Cartwrights were sitting down at the dinner table.
“What is it Charlie?”
“It’s Cochise again sir. Just like yesterday.” Charlie shook his head in bewilderment.
Ben threw down his napkin and rose in disbelief. “No Joe?”
“No sir, there’s no sign of him.”
Ben sighed, “Charlie have the men get our horses. Hoss get the lanterns.”
The three men rode out together, not saying very much. Hoss started to speak several times but decided it would be better to remain silent. He couldn’t help but wonder what would happen when they found Joe.
Adam did not have the same hesitation, “Pa, what are you going to do?”
“Yes Pa, it looks like something’s wrong with Joe. This is just not like him.”
“We’ll see Adam, we’ll see.”
As they rode down the lake road Ben motioned them to come to a halt. There sat Joe, just as they had found him last night, sitting cross-legged on a large rock, staring out at the water.
They quietly dismounted and came up on all sides of Joe. To prevent Joe leaping in to the water as he had done the night before Hoss and Adam each grabbed an arm and pulled him backwards off the rock.
“Let me go Pa. Let me go.” Joe struggled furiously.
“Joseph, would you mind telling me what you are doing here?”
Joe set his jaw firmly. He was not going to make the same mistake as he had last night. “Cochise got away from me Pa. I just thought I’d sit here and rest a while.”
“Joe,” Ben looked at his son doubtfully. “Let’s get you home.”
Later that evening Joe was sitting in his room with a pad of paper and a pencil from his desk. He was attempting to draw something when his father and two brothers entered without knocking. He tried to shield the paper from their eyes but he was too late, Adam grabbed the pad away. On it was a rough sketch of the creature Joe had seen. Wordlessly he passed it to his father and brother.
“Joseph, just what is this all about?”
Joe decided he couldn’t lie to his father. “Pa, I saw it again today. Same place, same time. Cochise bolted Pa. She was huge, I’ve never seen anything like it. A huge gray body, long neck and a lizard’s head.” Joe nodded towards the pad of paper in his father’s hands.
“She?” Adam asked. He turned to Hoss, “Figures, if Joe finds a sea monster it would have to be a girl.”
Ben was beside himself. Joe looked normal but was obviously suffering from some kind of delusion. He leaned forward and placed his hand on Joe’s forehead, “No fever,” he said to Hoss and Adam.
Joe knocked his father’s hands away. “I’m fine Pa. I’m telling you I saw that thing. Charlie tells me the Indians call it Tessie.” Joe nodded earnestly at his father. “They have a legend about it.”
“Joseph, a legend is all it is. I’m worried about you. There is no monster living in the lake, believe me.”
“But Pa, I saw her.” Joe glanced at his brothers. For some reason both Hoss and Adam were finding the whole thing amusing and were having a hard time suppressing their chuckles.
“And what’s so funny?” Joe exclaimed.
“Joe, you think a sea monster is living in the lake. You know Adam, I think I saw a monster living in the water trough last Tuesday, did I tell ya that?”
“No Hoss you didn’t. But I did see a giant fly living in the back pantry. Must of been about this big.” Adam stretched his arms out wide and smirked at Hoss. Hoss began to laugh out loud.
Joe stood up and ushered his family out the door of his room, Hoss and Adam protesting loudly, Ben silent but concerned. Ben faced his two older sons with a stern expression as they both continued laughing. “Well I hope you two are happy? Now we aren’t going to be able to find out what is really going on.”
“But Pa, Joe’s just joshing us. Can’t you tell? Sea Monsters in the lake. Next thing you know he’ll be running around telling people that there are giants in the pine trees and scare off all the workers.”
“No, I think he believes it boys. I’m really worried about him. Maybe he’s been working too hard.”
“Pa, if you can believe that Joe is working too hard then you can also believe in sea monsters.” Adam smiled. “I still think he’s playing some kind of a joke. Let’s just ignore him. He’ll stop all this when no one pays him any attention.”
Ben frowned thoughtfully.
Joe left early the next morning going back to the lumber camp. He had risen early to avoid his father and brothers. He scanned the lake as had become his habit but didn’t really expect to see anything as he rode to the camp. He simply expected to meet the monster at the same time as usual.
Ben rode into town that day to visit with Doc Martin. When he arrived at the Doctor’s office he found Paul Martin and Roy Coffee with their heads together talking intensely.
“Ben, is this a social call or business?” Doc Martin started to rise.
“A bit of both. Finish your talk and I’ll tell you what’s going on.”
“I’ve just been telling Paul about a series of robberies we’ve had in the area Ben. There have been two stage robberies and two stores have been robbed. The strange thing is we can follow the trail but it seems like these folks just disappear up by the lake. I’ve been meaning to come see if you all have noticed anything strange going on out at the Ponderosa.”
“Strange?” Ben tilted his head slightly and winced slightly. “That’s what I came in to see you about. We’ve been having something of a problem.”
“With what Ben?”
“It’s not so much as with what, it’s with a who?”
“With who Ben?” Doc Martin studied Ben’s face carefully. He could see that Ben was reluctant to share his worries with him but knew with time it would all come out.
“It’s Joe. It seems to be, well, that he’s seeing things.”
“What kind of things?”
“Sea monsters in the lake.” Ben said it flatly and was greeted with a stunned silence.
“Ben, I reckon you should be calling them Lake Monsters then.” Roy said with a straight face. Roy then began to cackle and was soon joined by Paul and shortly afterwards by Ben.
“Ben you can’t be serious. Joe is the most levelheaded kid I know. I mean he does love trouble but seeing things?” Paul was surprised.
“Paul, he insists he’s seen it, not once but twice. He got a bump on the head the first time and we thought maybe he dreamed it. But it happened again yesterday. Can you come out to the ranch and have supper with us tonight and take a look at him?”
“Will he let me examine him Ben?”
“I don’t think so but maybe he’ll tell you what’s bothering him.”
The two rode out to the ranch together that afternoon. At about 5:30 Ben, Hoss and Adam adjourned to the yard to await the arrival of Cochise. Paul followed them out, puzzled by their conviction that Joe would not be arriving with his horse.
At 6:00 Joe arrived at the house on Cochise. He had arrived at the lake at the usual time but this time he had made sure to carefully tie Cochise well away from the lake. He had waited for over an hour but the monster had failed to arrive. Finally he had decided to go home and get something to eat. He would go again the next day and make a day of it.
“Hey Doc, what are you doing here?” Joe climbed down off his horse and shook hands with the doctor. “No one’s sick are they?” Joe’s eyes scanned his father and two brothers.
“No Joe, I just had some things to discuss with your father. He’s invited me to stay for dinner.” Paul looked Joe over carefully. He seemed fine, relaxed and happy. Paul cast a look at Ben and Joe’s brothers. The three of them seemed very uneasy, Ben was a bit pale and Hoss and Adam were eyeing their brother suspiciously.
As they settled in at the table, Ben asked Joe how work was progressing at the camp.
“Just fine Pa. It looks like we may finish a few days ahead of schedule.”
“Been by the lake Joe?” Hoss asked.
“Well I had to ride along the shore to get back and forth to the camp Hoss.” Joe smiled at his brother. He knew quite well why the Doctor was here. He had to make sure that he didn’t say anything to make the doctor feel there was something wrong. Joe was convinced that he would see something again tomorrow.
“See anything interesting?” Adam chimed in.
“No.” Joe dug into his food and ate a forkful of the stew Hop Sing had served. “Did you?”
“Did I?” Adam raised his eyebrow at Joe.
“Yeah, didn’t you say something about seeing a giant fly in the pantry?” Joe gazed at his brother innocently.
“Well yes Joe but I was only kidding.” Adam shifted uncomfortably as Paul swung a suspicious glance at Adam.
“A giant fly Adam. How big was this giant fly?”
“I was only kidding.” Adam protested again, slightly louder.
“Methinks he doth protest too much.” Joe suddenly quoted and began to chuckle as his brother favored him with a baleful glare.
“Since when do you quote Shakespeare?” Adam asked belligerently.
“When you started seeing giant flies.” Joe threw back his head and laughed and Hoss joined in, enjoying seeing his little brother put his older brother in his place.
Dinner conversation became more general. After dinner Paul asked Joe how his head was feeling. Joe let him take a look and Doc Martin pronounced him to be mending well.
“Is there anything else bothering you Joe?” Paul asked. For a moment Joe longed to tell him everything but he knew that it would only make Paul think he was crazy too. At least right now he had the doctor on his side.
Joe leaned towards the doctor seriously. “Yes sir there is. But I don’t like to talk about it.”
“Joe you know you can tell me anything.”
“Well Doc, Pa, Hoss and Adam are behaving kind of funny. All they seem to talk about is monsters and giants. I know I’ve been away at the logging camp most of the last month but it’s like, well like…” Joe let his voice trail off.
“Like what Joe?” Paul leaned in.
“Well Doc, it’s like they’re getting kind of nutty.” Joe had dropped his voice as he was talking to the doctor. “They keep talking about the lake. I don’t know what’s wrong with them.” Joe shrugged, keeping the expression on his face serious and concerned.
Doc Martin patted Joe comfortingly on the shoulder. “You know Joe, when I was in Scotland when I was a young man there was a lake there that had the same kind of effect on people.”
“Really Doc?” Joe’s interest was piqued.
“Yup, they call it Loch Ness Joe. It’s something like Tahoe; it is a large, clear and extremely deep lake. There’s rumors there of a monster that they call Nessie. Many people have seen it but no one has any real proof it exists. Sometimes you just have to decide to have a little faith.”
Joe came closer than he thought possible to telling the doctor what he had seen at the lake but refrained. “Hey Doc. I’ve got to be away for at least another two weeks most of the time. Can you keep an eye on them for me?”
“I’ll do my best Joe.” Joe beamed at the doctor, his hazel eyes sparkling.
Ben walked Doc Martin to his buggy. “How is he Paul?”
“Joe’s just fine Ben. The one I’m worried about is Adam.” Doc Martin climbed into his carriage. “How long has he been seeing giant flies?”
“He was just kidding Paul.” Ben protested. Docs Martin cast a doubtful look at Ben and motioned his horse onward.
Ben went back inside to find Hoss and Adam playing checkers and Joe nowhere in sight. “What’d the Doc have to say Pa?”
“He says Joe is fine. He thinks we’re the crazy ones.”
“I told ya Joe was joshing us Pa. Just let him be and ignore him and he’ll stop all this nonsense.”
“I guess you are right boys.” Ben could not overcome a small feeling of concern, that there was more to what’s going on than they all knew.
Joe got up early the next morning. He planned to spend the day down by the lake and he knew that if he left early everyone would assume he was at the logging camp.
He tied Cochise up carefully and moved down to the rocks by the side of the lake. He sat down on the rocks and crossed his legs carefully. He rested his chin on his hands and prepared to wait.
As the day wore on, Joe became restless. He was so tempted to get closer to the water. Finally he pulled off his boots and socks and rolled up his pants. He picked his way across the sandy beach and slowly walked into the water. He looked down into the water, and then laughed at himself for expecting Tessie to materialize right in front of his eyes. Joe walked along the shoreline, enjoying the icy feeling of the water on his toes. When his feet got too chilled he would edge away from the water and let them warm up on the sand.
Joe was contemplating ways of proving he was right to his father. He realized that the best method would most likely be to rope the creature and tie it off then ride for his family. He couldn’t help but feel that it would be the wrong thing to do somehow.
Joe ambled around a small bend and stopped in surprise. There was a small cove with a rowboat tied up in it. He walked through the shallow water towards the rowboat and leaned in to take a look. He heard a click behind him and turned around to face two men, both holding drawn guns on him.
Joe backed up a half step but stopped when one of them fired his gun right past his ear. Joe flinched but remained standing still. He turned his head as he heard Cochise whicker and the pounding of hooves. He rolled his eyes; there he goes again. Joe’s only comfort was that Cochise would go home and his father and brothers would come for him. The question was what they would find.
“Get over here kid.” Joe moved through the water.
“Who are you?”
“Question is kid, who are you? What have you been doing here the last few hours?”
“You’ve been watching me?” Joe felt uneasy. He hadn’t expected that.
“Yeah, you sure are a funny kid. Now what’s your name?” The man roughly jerked Joe’s arm.
Joe remained silent. The other man had been studying him then snapped his fingers, “Joe Cartwright, that’s who you are. I seen you in town with your father and brothers. He’ll make a good hostage.”
“What are we going to do with him?”
“Tie his hands.” The older man gestured with his gun. The second man jerked Joe’s hands behind him and tied them together tightly. “Put him in the boat. We’ll hide him in the cave till we make sure the coast is clear.” The two men helped Joe into the boat and pushed him into his seat. Joe watched helplessly as they both climbed in and the smaller man picked up the oars and began rowing.
“Where are we going?” Joe was suddenly frightened. The thought of being out in the middle of the lake with his hands tied was terrifying. If anything were to go wrong he’d drown for sure. As the Eastern Shore receded Joe became more and more concerned. Finally the boat came to rest at a sheer cliff on the western side of the lake. Joe was confused until he saw that there was a cave well hidden in the cliff’s face. The two men pulled him out of the boat and marched him into the cave.
He was shoved into the cave and he found that it was a large spacious opening. There were piles of bags on the floor and the two men pushed Joe into a sitting position and tied his ankles together. Joe looked around him in despair.
The two men carried in three more bags of loot and put them on the floor of the cave. “Let’s get back to town. Once the ruckus dies down we’ll come back and get everything and head to San Francisco.”
“What about him?”
“Leave him here, he can’t get away and when we get back if there’s nobody after us we can get rid of him. If there is we got a hostage, the richest kid in the territory.”
Joe watched as the two men left him in the cave. There was plenty of daylight in the cave and Joe tried to figure out a way to escape. Finally his eyes rested on a sharp edged rock on the other side of the cave. Seizing his only hope Joe rolled and pushed himself across the cave floor to get to the rock. He levered himself up onto his knees and began to rub the ropes that bound his wrists.
As Ben, Hoss and Adam sat down to lunch they were interrupted by Brandon White, their newest hand, rushing into the house. “Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Cartwright, Cochise just come in alone.”
“Thunder and brimstone, what has that boy done now?” Ben stormed out of the house followed closely by Hoss and Adam. Cochise stood in the yard. The three men examined the horse, puzzled.
“Pa, he ain’t like he was the last couple of times. He ain’t all wild eyed or nothing.” Hoss patted the animal fondly.
“I’ve a mind to let him walk home this time, I’m sick of going to fetch that scamp.” Ben threatened both his sons.
Adam merely raised his eyebrow at his father and turned to Brandon. “Go fetch our horses will you Brandon. And saddle an extra one for Joe.”
The three rode down to the lake, fully expecting to find Joe sitting on his rock. They stopped in surprise when they approached the rock and Joe wasn’t there. The three dismounted and carefully tied the horses. “Spread out and look for him boys.” Ben commanded.
After only a few moments Ben and Adam heard Hoss shout for them. “Hey Pa, Adam come quick.” The two ran and found Hoss standing by the side of the lake looking down at the ground before him.
As they came up beside him both stopped short. Joe’s boots and socks were on the ground and there were footprints leading straight out into the lake. “Pa, you don’t think?” Hoss gulped, Joe couldn’t have drowned himself.
“Adam, go back to the house and get some more men. Hoss you ride south, I’ll ride north and we’ll check everywhere. Maybe he just went for a walk.”
Adam and Hoss regarded each other steadily for a moment then went into action.
It took Joe several hours but he finally managed to get himself free from his bonds. His wrists were raw and chafed and his ankles ached where the ropes bit into them. When he finally got free he began to examine the walls of his prison. He examined the bags of loot carefully. There were seven or eight bags, each filled with money and one was filled with gold coins. Joe’s eyes widened briefly when he found that bag. He went to the opening of the cave but he had realized that he was not going to find a way out that way. The cave was set into a sheer cliff face that extended for at least a mile in each direction. The lake water was so icy cold that Joe would never be able to make it without freezing to death.
Finally Joe squared his shoulders and began to examine the actual walls of the cave. He quickly discovered that the cave went much farther back than he had suspected. Joe found a lantern in amongst the various bags of loot and lighted it. He inched his way along the back passage, being careful of where he was placing his bare feet. The passage narrowed and Joe had to squeeze through several places before the passage widened again into a large chamber. Joe looked down and could see a deep pool of water in the center of the chamber. Another entrance to the cave. He edged around the pool and suddenly stumbled over a small piece of wood. Joe looked down at it in puzzlement, wood in a cave?
He raised the lantern and realized he was standing at the edge of a giant nest. There were four large eggs in the nest and for a moment Joe felt elated. Here was the proof he needed, all he’d have to do is take one of these eggs and show it to Pa. He’d have to believe him about the monster. Joe’s elation quickly faded as he realized the terrible trouble he was in. He was deep in a cave; his family would never find him and those two robbers or whatever they were would be coming back soon. In a way he needed them, or more specifically he needed their boat, if he was going to escape.
He cast a final glance at the giant nest. Sudden insight struck him, the reason for seeing the monster was apparent, she felt her babies were in danger. She must have been roused to go out and do something. But why him, what was it that made her come to him?
Joe edged back down the passage, stepping carefully over the rocks on the floor. He crouched near the entrance of the cave and saw that there was very little light left. He could see the sun going down and for a moment tears rose in his eyes. His father and brothers would be worried. As the sun disappeared Joe settled in to rest. He laid out the bags of loot on the floor and laid down to sleep on them, thinking he was sleeping on a fortune and he’d trade all of it for his own room at the ranch.
Ben and his men searched the lake perimeter for hours. Finally as the sun began to set they gathered at the place where Hoss had found Joe’s boots that morning.
“Pa, we can’t do much more tonight. There ain’t enough light. We’ll search again tomorrow.” Hoss put his arm around his father’s shoulders.
“Pa, I’m sure Joe’s all right.” Adam came up to the two of them. “How do you know?” Ben turned to his oldest son. “We wouldn’t listen to him, he was trying to tell us something and we wouldn’t listen.” Ben shook his head.
“Pa, he’s just too stubborn. I know he’ll be back. Let’s go home.” Adam led the way to the horses and the three men mounted up. Just as Joe had done the first day he saw his monster all three kept looking back to the lake as they road away, as if expecting Joe to reappear from the lake.
Next morning Joe was awakened by the sound of oars in the water and murmuring voices. The sun was just starting to peak over the horizon. He scrambled off the loot and dove behind an outcropping in the wall of the cave. As he hunkered down he prayed fervently that the element of surprise would carry him.
The two men tied off the boat and stepped into the cave. They quickly noticed that he was gone, he had carefully left the ropes in the middle of the floor.
“He’s out.” The taller of the two men scanned the cave.
“Where is he?” The shorter man carefully checked behind them to make sure Joe wasn’t sneaking up.
“Either he’s hiding or he tried to swim out. Either way he’s a dead man. Let’s get the loot. We’ll go back and get the horses and get out of here.” The two men stooped to gather up the bags of loot. They quickly moved the first load into the boat and Joe changed his position quickly. When they came back for the second load Joe waited until they rose with their full hands and launched himself from his hiding place. He crashed into both, knocking them to the floor. He scrambled quickly to his feet and raced out the entrance of the cave. He jumped into the boat, inadvertently knocking one of the oars out of the boat. The two men were right on his heels. The first man jumped into the boat, knocking Joe flat. As the two struggled the second man lowered himself into the boat, accidentally knocking the mooring loose and setting the boat adrift. As Joe struggled the man pulled his gun and took aim carefully at Joe’s back. At the last moment Joe swung around and the robber shot his partner dead center in the back. The man collapsed and Joe stood alone staring in terror as the gunman took aim at his chest.
Suddenly something hit the boat and the gunman dropped his gun as the boat lurched. Joe leapt at him and the two men struggled fiercely. Joe stepped backwards and tripped over the dead body in the bottom of the boat and the two struggling men fell out of the boat.
They hit the water with a splash and Joe gasped as he hit the cold water. He drew in a lung full of air and was suddenly submerged as the killer grabbed him by the throat and pushed his head under the water. Joe fought to get free frantically. His one advantage was the fact that he was not wearing his boots, while the killer was weighted down. Suddenly something crashed into the killer loosening his grip. Joe kicked free and suddenly the gunman disappeared under the water. Joe tread water, turning around, waiting for the man to reappear. He never did.
Finally Joe caught sight of the boat, now drifting away on the tiny waves of the lake. Joe was already exhausted but he struck out after the boat. Less than halfway there he began to falter and he knew he wouldn’t make it. As Joe began to give himself up to the icy cold embrace of the lake and the exhaustion in his arms, he was nudged from behind. He spun around, the adrenaline suddenly flowing again.
The sea monster, Tessie. She nudged him again and Joe suddenly realized she wanted him to hang onto its neck. Joe wrapped his arms around her neck and the creature moved through the water rapidly, taking Joe up to the boat. She stopped next to the boat and Joe let go of her neck and grabbed onto the side of the boat. He tried to pull himself up and into the boat but he was too exhausted. The creature came up from underneath him and boosted him, using her head, up and into the boat.
Joe smiled thankfully at the creature. She returned his steady gaze for a moment then she began pushing the boat towards the east side of the lake. A half an hour later the boat was gently nudged up onto the shore. Joe had struggled to stay awake during the trip, his fascination with the creature more than anything else helping him do so. He reached down to stroke her head and she looked up at him and something passed between man and beast. The beast slowly slid back from the beach.
Joe got up from the boat and looked around the beach, wondering where his boots had gone. Finally he moved over to the rock and leaned up against it and went to sleep.
Roy and Doc Martin had joined Ben, Hoss and Adam at the house in the early morning hours. Roy quickly updated the three men on the most recent robbery. “I don’t know Ben, it seems like these crooks just vanish next to the lake, just like…”
“Just like Joe.” Ben filled in the rest of Roy’s sentence.
The five men rode down to the lake, to the spot where they had found Joe’s boots the day before. They all stopped in surprise; there on the beach was a boat with a body in it. They dismounted and raced to the boat. Roy turned over the body and they gaped in horror at the dead man, shot in the back. “Ben, I think it’s one of the men who robbed the bank. The clothes match the description.”
Ben turned away and stopped in surprise. There just a few yards away was Little Joe, stretched out sound asleep in the sand. Ben went to Joe’s side and knelt down.
“Joe, Joe, wake up.” Ben shook Joe firmly.
Joe’s eyes blinked open and he yawned hugely. “Hey Pa.”
Hoss, Adam, Roy and Doc Martin all gathered around. “Hey everybody” Joe murmured as he looked around.
His eyes fixed on Roy, “Roy, most of the loot’s in the boat. Some’s back in a cave, I’m not sure exactly where it is but I suppose we could go look for it.”
“Joe, are you hurt son?”
“Nope, just a little tired. Boy that is one cold lake Pa.” Joe looked around the group again. “And where are my boots? I left them on the shore and when I got back they were gone. How was I supposed to get home huh?”
Ben was taken aback. Joe seemed almost cocky to him. “Joseph would you mind telling me where you’ve been for the last 24 hours?”
Joe sighed and launched into an explanation, carefully omitting the parts about the nest and the creature. He knew that if he told them the truth they’d never believe him. As he concluded his tale they all stared at him with a combination of awe and doubt.
“Well Joseph, let’s get you home where you can get some rest.” Ben helped Joe to his feet.
“Thanks Pa.” Joe walked ahead with Doc Martin over to Cochise.
Roy, Ben, Hoss and Adam went to check out the boat. “Ben did Joe’s story seem funny to you?” Roy asked seriously.
“Why do you ask Roy?”
“Well he said he was over on the West Side of the lake didn’t he?”
“Well how did he get back Ben?”
“In the boat Roy.”
“But Ben, there’s no oars in this boat.”
The three Cartwrights stared into the boat then turned of one accord to look at the youngest, standing talking to the doctor.
Ben finally shrugged, “Roy, there’s no way he’s going to tell us anymore details than we’ve already gotten from him. I’d still like to know what he was doing down here yesterday morning without his boots and socks on.”
The others nodded, “And how if he ended up outside the boat how he could fight off the other guy and get back to the boat Pa. That water’s ice cold. No way can anyone swim in it for as long as he’d have to.” Adam added.
Finally, the group mounted up, Roy and Adam were carrying the loot on their horses. Roy planned to get some help and come back for the boat and body.
Ben and Roy fell into the lead followed by Adam and Doc Martin. Joe and Hoss brought up the rear. Joe lagged slightly behind Hoss and turned to look back at the lake. The creature’s head rose up out of the lake and nodded at Joe. Hoss had noticed Joe was lagging and turned to look. He saw Joe’s cheerful wave and froze in place when he caught sight of the creature as it nodded at his brother and then slowly slid into the lake. Joe turned to face Hoss and caught the frozen look on Hoss’ face.
Joe smiled fondly at his brother and nudged Cochise to move forward. Hoss waited for him and looking at his brother began to speak. Joe simply shook his head. He leaned over and whispered to his brother, “Just forget about it, they’ll never believe you.” Joe smiled and moved ahead.