Summary: Well-meaning monks try to protect amnesiac Joe after he witnesses a bank robbery.
Rated: K+ WC 18,500
The monastery had been on the hill since before the town was built. As long as people had visited and worked at and lived in San Pedro, they had shared the streets and businesses with the monks. With their rough brown robes, hoods often drawn up, and their quiet ways, the town folks found the monks to be generally indistinguishable from one another. And even though there were some who might have stood out a bit, like skinny Brother Clarence who was six and one-half feet tall, or round Brother Charles who was only five-foot-nothing but weighed well over two hundred fifty pounds, no one could ever keep them straight. Brother Charles had been called Brother Clarence more times than he could count, if he’d bothered counting at all.
So, it came as no surprise later that, although there were monks in the bank at the time of the robbery, no one was quite certain which ones they were. And for some strange reason, even the monks themselves seemed unsure.
The monks always traveled in groups of two or three. On this lovely morning in June, Brother Thomas and Brother Nathaniel were headed to the bank, while Brothers Andrew, Gabriel and Thaddeus were at the mercantile. The monks kept three cows, several pigs and a herd of goats. They used some of the milk for their own needs, and they sold or made cheese from the rest. They also had a flock of chickens, and they sold all the eggs they didn’t use. Keeping the herb and vegetable gardens watered took constant vigilance in the dry climate, but they managed so well that some in the town claimed that God was showing them special favor. It was their goal to be as self-sustaining as possible, although there some things they just couldn’t quite manage with such a small group. They purchased such items as flour and corn, and they made do with surprisingly little meat for a group of men.
On the morning in question, Brothers Thomas and Nathaniel were on their way to deposit the egg money in the bank while the others used the milk money to purchase flour.
There was a young man in the bank when they entered. He was a very nice-looking man, lean and muscular, wearing a green jacket and a tan hat. He looked at the monks with only slight curiosity when they came in. They nodded to him, and he nodded back.
Just as the young man turned to the teller and opened his mouth to speak, the door was flung open, and three men burst in, guns cocked. Brother Thomas, who was well on in years and had been in the monastery since he was fifteen, was quite taken aback. His watery blue eyes grew round. He’d heard of bank robberies, of course, but this was the first time he’d ever seen one. He couldn’t wait until he got back and told the others all about it.
Brother Nathaniel was in his mid-fifties. Before taking his vows, he worked as a cowhand on ranches all across the west. It was out on the prairie, under the stars, that he first felt the call of God on his life. Eventually, he turned in his six-shooter and spurs for a Bible and a robe. Even so, Brother Nathaniel had not lost his edge. He had an excellent sense of people. And he knew that, although he wasn’t supposed to think this way, these three men were bad clear through.
“Everybody! Hands up!” The leader of the gang was an older man with a squarish face and white hair. Brother Thomas envied him his rich baritone voice; Brother Thomas’ voice had always been a bit wispy, and he wished that he had a deep, authoritative voice like this man. Obediently, though not hurriedly, Brother Thomas raised his hands. He looked around to see whether everyone else had done so. They had, but none of them looked peaceful about it. The two tellers, a pair of wiry young men who looked like brothers, seemed to be terrified. Brother Nathaniel was carefully expressionless, a state which, Brother Thomas knew, meant that he was angry. And the young man in the green jacket was glaring daggers at the robbers.
One of the robbers was nearly as tall as Brother Clarence and probably weighed twice as much. The third was more of a medium size, with dark hair and a permanent-looking sneer. They were much younger than the leader, but they didn’t seem to Brother Thomas to be any nicer.
“Down on the floor! Now!” barked the leader.
Brother Thomas frowned; the floor was dusty, and he did not like to get dirty. He hesitated, and the dark-haired robber reached over and shoved him to his knees. “Are you deaf, old man? He said ‘down on the floor’!” he shouted.
“Leave him be!” snapped the young man in the green jacket. Brother Thomas turned to smile at him. He was horrified to see that, for his trouble, the nice young man was struck on the head with the gun of the biggest robber. In fact, the big man hit him so hard that the nice young man dropped to the floor, unconscious, blood running down the side of his face.
“Are you all right?” Brother Thomas started to get up to go to him, but the dark-haired man shoved him again.
“He’ll do as you say, don’t worry,” said Brother Nathaniel. “Brother Thomas, you need to lie down on the floor now.” The monks had recognized in recent years that Brother Thomas required more and more supervision, although none would have spoken aloud of this development. They simply looked out for him as they would for a small child.
“But that nice young man is hurt!” Brother Thomas was the most innocent and good soul that Brother Nathaniel had ever met. It didn’t surprise Brother Nathaniel in the least that Brother Thomas would believe that the bank robbers should wait while he tended to the nice young man.
“I know, Brother, but you need to lie down now.” As he spoke, gentle but firm, Brother Nathaniel lay down on the floor. He nodded to Brother Thomas to do likewise. With a frown that would have been petulant in a child, Brother Thomas lay down unhappily, still watching the motionless young man.
The large man nudged the nice young man with his foot. “Looks like he’s got prob’ly some money,” he observed. He rolled the young man over and reached into the green jacket for the man’s wallet. Apparently satisfied, he tucked it into his vest pocket. Then, he gestured to one of the tellers with his gun. “Open the vault,” he growled.
Wide-eyed, the teller said, “I can’t. I don’t know the combination.” Which turned out to be the last words he ever spoke.
Cursing with disgust, the large man shot the teller, who fell to the floor. He turned to the other one. “What about you? You gonna play games, too?”
“We ain’t playin’ games, mister,” whimpered the second teller. “Only person who knows the combination is Mr. Samson, and he ain’t here yet. But he should be here any minute,” he added nervously, as if hoping that his helpfulness would save his hide.
No such luck. As casually as he might choose one steak over another, the large man pumped two bullets into the second teller.
“That’s enough,” said the older man. Brother Thomas saw him frown. He opened his mouth to say something to the man, but Brother Nathaniel caught his eye and shook his head.
The dark man kicked Brother Nathaniel in the side. “You think just because you’re men of the cloth, we won’t kill you?” he sneered.
“I think you’ll kill pretty much anybody who gets in your way,” said Brother Nathaniel evenly. “And I know that God will judge you for it.”
“Let Him judge this,” laughed the dark man. He aimed his gun at Brother Nathaniel’s head.
“It’s the sheriff!” The older man shoved him aside, crouching down beneath the window. No sooner were the words out of his mouth than gunfire began from outside, sharp and loud, and the dark man’s attention was distracted from the monks. Brother Thomas was more surprised than anything else. Brother Nathaniel flung himself on top of Brother Thomas. The nice young man was just coming to, but he pushed the monks back against the wall, trying to shield them from the gunfire. Brother Thomas heard shouting, doors banging, guns firing. Then, everything was quiet.
Cautiously, Brother Thomas lifted his head. The three bad men were gone. The nice young man sat up. He pressed his hand to his head as if he were in serious pain. Brother Nathaniel lay heavily on top of Brother Thomas. Blood puddled onto the floor, but Brother Thomas couldn’t see where it had come from.
“Brother Nathaniel!” Brother Thomas hissed. No answer. “Brother Nathaniel!”
The nice young man was breathing heavily as he rolled Brother Nathaniel off the older monk and onto the floor. He pushed back the hood of Brother Nathaniel’s robe and felt the monk’s neck. His green eyes were sad when they met Brother Thomas’. “I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head.
Brother Thomas considered the situation. He knew that Brother Nathaniel was with God, but he liked Brother Nathaniel, and he did wish that the younger monk had remained with him a while longer. “We need to find the other brothers,” he said. “We’ll have to get Brother Nathaniel back to the monastery.”
The nice young man nodded. Blood was still trickling down the side of his face from where the bad man had hit him with a gun.
“Are you all right?” Brother Thomas fumbled in his pocket for a handkerchief and began to dab at the nice young man’s face.
“I’m fine,” the nice young man said. He started to stand up, but he lost his balance and nearly fell, grabbing at the counter.
“You’re not fine at all,” said Brother Thomas, rising. “Didn’t your parents ever tell you not to lie to a man of the cloth?”
The nice young man looked perplexed for a moment before he smiled slightly. “I don’t reckon they ever got that specific,” he said smoothly. “They probably just told me not to lie.”
“And here you’re doing it anyway,” said Brother Thomas. “For shame. Now, you stay here with Brother Nathaniel, and I’ll go and find the others.” He helped the nice young man to sit back down on the floor.
Before Brother Thomas could answer, the sheriff and his deputy came banging through the front door. They looked perplexed to see only the three men. The sheriff’s face quickly became somber when he realized that Brother Nathaniel was dead. “Anybody else?” he asked.
The nice young man shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “I was out for part of the time.” He looked to Brother Thomas.
“There were two lads working behind the counter,” said Brother Thomas. “I believe they were both shot.”
The deputy hustled back behind the counter. “They’re dead,” he confirmed. Coming back to the front, he said, “You two are lucky to be alive.”
“It’s not luck,” protested Brother Thomas. “We’re alive by God’s grace.”
The sheriff looked askance at Brother Thomas, who stood next to Brother Nathaniel’s body. If this was an example of God’s grace, he sure didn’t want to see God’s wrath. “You want me to take him over to the undertaker for you?”
“No, sheriff, we’ll take him back to the monastery,” said Brother Thomas. “We always bury our own there,” he added to the nice young man.
“Who’re you, son?” asked the sheriff.
The nice young man opened his mouth to answer and stopped. He suddenly looked unsure, worried, and a tiny bit frightened. As he struggled to his feet, Brother Thomas offered, “He’s with us. He’s helping us. He’s a very nice young man.” He reached out to steady the nice young man, who was swaying and grabbing for something to hold onto.
“Well, this very nice young man looks like he could use a doctor,” said the sheriff.
“Oh, Brother Dominic will take care of him, no need to worry,” said Brother Thomas, holding him steady. The uncertainty in the nice young man’s face was turning into panic. Brother Thomas knew exactly how he felt, and he knew that, whenever he felt that way, the best thing to do was to go back to the monastery. “Sheriff, if you’d be good enough to find Brother Andrew, Brother Thaddeus and Brother Gabriel—they should be at the mercantile—and have them come back here with our wagon, we’ll take care of getting Brother Nathaniel out of here.”
The sheriff nodded. “Whatever you say, Brother,” he said. He was pretty new to this town and, like most of the townfolk, he couldn’t tell most of these monks apart, but he’d seen this old guy around a lot. Nicest fellow you’d meet in a day’s walk, even if he was a few cards short of a deck.
After the sheriff and the deputy left, Brother Thomas turned to the nice young man. “You need to sit down until the others get here,” he said firmly. The nice young man did not appear to be listening. He looked very, very troubled. Brother Thomas took his arm and pulled him down to the floor so that he was sitting with his back against the wall. Lightly, the old monk ran his fingers over the nice young man’s wound. “You’re going to have a lump there,” he said. “I’ll bet it hurts, too. Well, don’t worry. Brother Dominic is very gifted. He takes care of our animals, and he does a fine job with us, too.” When the nice young man said nothing, Brother Thomas smiled gently. “The rest of it will sort itself out,” he said softly.
The nice young man jerked around as if startled at the comment. Immediately, he put a hand to his head from the pain of the sudden movement. He looked up at Brother Thomas warily. Brother Thomas noticed that he had green eyes and wondered if he’d chosen his jacket to match them.
“Just wait and talk to Brother Dominic,” said Brother Thomas. He knew just how the nice young man felt. Even though he should have been used to it by now, he still found it frightening when he forgot things that he used to know. He didn’t know why the nice young man hadn’t seemed to be able to remember his name for the sheriff, but it didn’t matter. The brothers would take care of him until he remembered again, just the way they always did for Brother Thomas.
* * * * * * * * * *
Ben Cartwright watched as the last person stepped from the stagecoach. For the third day in a row, his youngest son was not among the passengers. His annoyance at the young man’s tardiness was starting to teeter on the edge of concern. Usually, if Joe was delayed, he’d send word. Ben tried not to think of all the things that could happen to a man carrying a bank draft for twenty-five thousand dollars.
The money represented the price of the timber they’d sold to Gus Starr and the price of the land they were buying from Gary Hanson. It had seemed such an efficient method of closing both transactions: have Joe pick up the draft in one town and take it to the other. Simple, but the substantial amount was the whole reason he’d insisted on Joe traveling by stage instead of riding, as Joe had wanted. It had been a tradeoff: send one man alone by stage, or send at least two on horseback. Given how shorthanded they were this spring, the idea of having only one of his boys gone had seemed preferable. Now, Ben wasn’t so sure.
“Pa!” His middle son, Hoss, hustled up the sidewalk. The big man’s face, usually jovial, was creased with concern. Ben’s heart lurched. Of all his sons, Hoss was the one who usually took things in stride.
“What’s the matter, son?” Don’t worry. It’s not time to worry. It’s nothing serious. It’s something that can be fixed. Ben’s face remained impassive as he fought down the sudden urge to panic.
Grimly, Hoss handed his father a piece of paper. “Wire came from Mr. Hanson.”
Ben took the wire. He felt his face grow pale as he read it. “DRAFT HAS NOT ARRIVED STOP PLEASE ADVISE RE REASON FOR DELAY STOP TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE STOP.”
Joe was to supposed to have picked up the bank draft in San Pedro. He and the draft were supposed to have arrived at Gary Hanson’s office in White Springs on the twenty-fifth.
Ten days ago.
But Joe had never arrived.
Ben closed his eyes for a moment. All around him, daily life went on. The stage pulled away from the station. Across the street, three young men loaded sacks of grain onto a buckboard. A cluster of women in soft-colored dresses tried to squeeze past Hoss, and the big man automatically tipped his hat as he stepped aside to let them pass. The cheerful tinny music of a saloon piano provided ironic counterpoint.
Finally, Ben found his voice. “Have Adam wire the bank in San Pedro,” he said. “Find out if Joe ever picked up the draft. Then, meet me at the mercantile. We’ll need supplies.”
Hoss nodded. Nothing more needed to be said. They were going after Little Joe.
* * * * * * * * * *
Brother Dominic looked somber as he entered the dining room to find the brothers gathered at the table, waiting for him. The large, rough-hewn table had been one of the first pieces of furniture made by the brothers for their new monastery, some sixty years earlier. Originally intended simply as a dining table, it had served many other purposes over the years. Some of the gouges in its surface came from its periodic use as a carpenter’s bench. When they held school for the local children, the boys and girls could be spread out around the table, far enough apart to minimize poking and whispering and tugging of pigtails. On more than one occasion, the table, heavily draped with sheets, had served as an operating table, and on one memorable occasion, a young woman had given birth there. The brothers scrubbed the table’s surface very, very well after such uses.
The table also served as the brothers’ central meeting place for discussion of business. It was an unspoken rule that business was not discussed in the parlor; the parlor was for rest and refreshment on the Sabbath. Through the years, many serious matters pertaining to the operation of the monastery had been raised, discussed and resolved at that table. It was an article of faith among the brothers that, however heated the debates might be while at the table for a meeting, such discord was left behind when they rose.
“How is he?” asked Brother Gabriel. A small, slim man in his mid-forties, Brother Gabriel looked as if he would have been quite the dapper dresser, had he had occasion to wear anything other than rough brown robes. He had a fondness for tea that was unequaled in the experience of the other brothers, and even now, he still occasionally extended his pinky when he drank, much to the amusement of the others.
“He’s asleep,” said Brother Dominic, sliding into his accustomed place between Brother Thaddeus and Brother Charles.
“Is it true that he really doesn’t remember anything?” Brother Thaddeus’ hair had been gray since before he came to the monastery at the age of twenty-three, forty years earlier, and it flopped on his forehead when he walked quickly. His blue eyes bulged slightly, giving him the appearance of being awestruck at whatever was being said to him.
Brother Dominic nodded. “Nothing before he came to in the bank,” he said. “He doesn’t know his name, where he’s from, why he was there—nothing.”
“But didn’t he have anything with him that would explain this?” asked Brother Charles reasonably. Brother Charles had, at one time, struggled between a desire to practice law and a sense that God was calling him to join the ministry. His tendency to challenge and question gave the other brothers ample opportunity to practice patience.
“The robbers stole his wallet,” Brother Thomas reminded them. As the only other eyewitness of the robbery, he had already told them what he’d seen. He was a bit disturbed to find that there were parts that he didn’t recall as clearly as he might have expected, but the others did not seem to be either surprised or displeased by this turn of events, and so he did not linger on this failing.
“The only thing he had in his pocket was a picture of a woman,” said Brother Dominic. “He didn’t know who she was.”
The brothers perked up at this information. They had, of course, all taken a vow of chastity upon joining the monastery. Being normal, red-blooded men, they had all had occasion to struggle with their fidelity to this vow over the years, but they supported each other through the struggles. Privately, each felt he was somewhat entitled as a result to live vicariously through the romantic experiences of others, and so the announcement that their guest had a woman in his life whose picture he carried provided the possibility of fresh stories upon which to ruminate.
“What does she look like?” asked Brother Gabriel somewhat tentatively.
“She’s quite beautiful,” said Brother Dominic. “But our young friend has no idea who she is.” He was well aware of which piece of information was more intriguing to the brothers at that moment, but he felt a responsibility to keep their minds on the real question.
“Clearly, she must be important to him, if he’s carrying her picture,” said Brother Clarence. Brother Charles nodded his approval of the tall monk’s analysis.
“I’m sure she is,” said Brother Dominic. “But he doesn’t remember her. She could be his wife, and he doesn’t know it.”
“I would imagine that she probably is,” said Brother Andrew. “What other woman’s picture would he carry?” Brother Andrew’s dark hair and ruddy complexion made him look even younger than he was. In fact, in his early thirties, he was the youngest of the brothers. His wife had died eight years before he entered the monastery. Long discussion and debate had surrounded the issue of whether he would be permitted to keep a picture of her. Brother Charles argued that doing so would constitute Brother Andrew’s hanging onto his old life and would prevent him from wholeheartedly stepping into this new world as a servant of God. Brother Clarence claimed that it was unrealistic to pretend that the man had had no life before entering the monastery and that, since the woman had been his lawful wedded wife, there was no sin in the fact of the relationship which could cause him to stumble. The debate had been fierce, threatening to degenerate into an all-out battle, complete with pounding on the table. At last, Brother Dominic called a halt and asked that they all bow for a time of silent prayer. Fully an hour passed before another word was spoken aloud. When the monks finally rose from the table, stiff from sitting so long, agreement had been reached: Brother Andrew would retain the daguerrotype, but he would not display it.
“If she is, it’s all the more reason we need to see what we can do for him,” said Brother Thaddeus. “Suppose they have children? They’ll be needing him to come home and take care of them.” He looked around the table. “Does anybody have any idea what we would need to do to help him get his memory back?” All eyes turned expectantly to Brother Dominic.
“I have no idea,” the older man confessed. “The animals never seem to have this problem.” Although Brother Dominic had been doctoring the monks, members of the community and passing strangers ever since he’d arrived in San Pedro nearly fifteen years earlier, his training was in animal medicine. His father had owned a livery stable, and young Dominic had trailed after him as he tended the horses and any other animals that people needed to have treated. No one disputed that Brother Dominic had a special gift for healing. From the harvest of his extensive herb garden, he concocted brews and poultices, the effectiveness of which rivaled anything prescribed by the town doctor, who resented him mightily as a result. Last spring, Brother Dominic’s little book of herbal remedies had gone missing. Though none of the brothers would have admitted it, they all suspected the town doctor of having purloined it.
“There is, however, a more immediate problem,” Brother Dominic added. At the raised eyebrows of his brothers, he smiled. “He has no idea what his name is. We need to call him something.”
This was precisely the type of debate the brothers enjoyed most. Brother Gabriel poured tea as they suggested and argued and advocated, flipping pages of the Bible for suitable candidates. James, Michael, Joseph, Peter, and David were all considered and rejected, as were Malachi, Habbakkuk, Abraham, Zephaniah, and Brother Charles’ ironic suggestion that they call the young man Methusaleh. Finally, as the softening of the late afternoon light signified time for evening prayers, they reached agreement. Satisfied, they dispersed to the chapel to ring the bell and pray for the protection and healing of their new friend, Daniel.
* * * * * * * * * *
Daniel leaned his face against the cow’s warm flank for a moment as milk spurted into the pail. The systematic squeezing of the teats, one finger after the other rolling downward again and again, felt so automatic that he knew he must have done it before. He hadn’t needed to have it explained to him, but it didn’t trigger any memories. Nothing did—not his clothes, the picture of the woman that was in his jacket pocket, or even his own face in the glass. It was as if he’d been born at however old he was—he didn’t even know his age or birthday, simple things that a child knows. He wondered if he had any children. His parents might still be alive, or maybe not. The monks seemed to assume that the woman in the picture was his wife, and he couldn’t say one way or the other. She might be a friend, a sister, a mother, or a lost love, for all he knew. He didn’t know if he had any brothers or sisters, or other family members or even close friends, or if he walked this world alone.
He didn’t know where he lived or what he did for a living. He seemed to have an affinity for the animals, especially the horses, but he had no idea whether he’d worked with them before. Maybe he’d owned a livery stable, or worked in one. Maybe he’d been a cowboy. Then again, maybe he’d stood behind a counter in a store, wearing an apron and watching as other men lived those lives.
He knew that the brothers were watching him, trying to piece together clues about him. He wanted to be able to tell them about himself. All he knew were his physical characteristics—slight build, green eyes, left-handed, curly hair a bit too long. He didn’t wear spectacles. The pearl-handled gun they’d recovered at the bank felt natural in his hand, and so he thought it was probably his, but he didn’t know if he’d ever killed anyone with it. He had some scars at various places on his body, but he had no idea what had caused them.
He didn’t resist when they wanted to name him Daniel. It wasn’t his name—of this, he was certain, simply because it didn’t sound familiar—but it was as good as anything else.
Daniel stripped the cow dry and sat back on the stool, patting her flank. “Good girl,” he said, getting to his feet. The cow stepped forward, and her right back hoof landed squarely in the milk pail, spilling it.
“You damn fool cow!” He reached down for the pail just as she kicked her hoof free of it. Hoof and pail connected squarely with Daniel’s right temple, sending him sprawling backward to land flat on the floor of the barn, out cold.
The next thing he knew, he was in bed. A cold, wet cloth was being pressed against his aching head. He forced his eyes open, immediately squeezing them shut against the incredibly bright light. After a minute, he opened them just a tiny bit and saw a blurry Brother Dominic looking serious.
“Welcome back,” said Brother Dominic. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” said Daniel, wondering why he said it even as the word left his mouth. He was far from fine. His head was throbbing, he felt sick to his stomach, and it was hard to focus.
Brother Dominic snorted gently. “I doubt that very much,” he said. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
Daniel squinted. “Two.” It wasn’t quite a guess, and Brother Dominic seemed to be satisfied.
“Do you remember what happened?”
“The cow stepped in the milk,” Daniel said. “I tried to get the pail.”
“And she kicked you,” said Brother Dominic. “You shouldn’t have done that. You could have been killed.” He dipped the cloth into a bowl of cold water, wrung it out and reapplied it to the young man’s head. “Do you remember anything else?”
Daniel considered the question. My name is—, he thought, but he had no idea how to complete the sentence. He started to shake his head in response, but the slightest movement sent jolts of pain through his skull.
“Don’t move,” said Brother Dominic. “Just tell me yes or no. Do you remember anything from before?”
“No,” Daniel whispered. He wanted so much to be able to say yes. “Should I?”
“It can happen that way,” said Brother Dominic. “It’s rare, but it can happen. More likely, some event will trigger a memory, probably when you least expect it.”
“I don’t expect it now,” offered Daniel.
Brother Dominic smiled. The bitter disappointment on the handsome young face was hard to watch. “Give yourself some time,” he said. “You’ve had two head injuries in the space of a few days, and it appears that you have a concussion this time. You need to stay quiet for now. I don’t want you out of this bed before Sunday. That’s four days from now,” he added as Daniel frowned.
Just then, Daniel saw another blurry brown shape approach. “How is he?” asked Brother Thaddeus.
“He’s awake,” said Brother Dominic, as if he weren’t. “Concussion. Sensitive to light. Probably nauseated. How’s your stomach?” he asked, switching his focus to Daniel.
“Not great,” Daniel admitted. It was an understatement.
“Memory or not, he’s going to be with us for a while,” concluded Brother Dominic. “Did Brother Gabriel make the tea I asked for?”
“Water’s boiling,” said Brother Thaddeus. “He was just waiting until Daniel woke up. Didn’t want the tea to steep too long.”
“Bring the tea in, please,” said Brother Dominic. “He’s not going to be up for anything solid tonight.”
I’m still here, Daniel wanted to say, but he was suddenly terribly tired. Without another thought, he closed his eyes and slid back into blessedly pain-free sleep.
True to his word, Brother Dominic managed to keep Daniel in bed until Sunday. By that time, the young man was chafing at his confinement. His eyes were still inordinately sensitive to light, to the point where Brother Charles procured a pair of dark glasses which the younger man initially scoffed at, but ultimately wore. As the days passed, the headaches lessened, but a sudden movement could still cause a shaft of pain to pierce his skull with such intensity as to cause him to double over, gasping for breath.
In an effort to keep Daniel simultaneously occupied and quiet, Brother Andrew commandeered him to assist in preparing dinner. He placed a large pile of vegetables before the younger man and handed him a knife, and they both began chopping vegetables for the soup.
“How long have you been here?” Daniel asked after a few minutes of silence.
“Three years,” said Brother Andrew.
“What did you do before?”
“I was a telegraph operator,” said Brother Andrew. “My wife and I lived in Virginia City.”
Something flitted through Daniel’s brain, but it was gone too fast. Had he, too, been a telegraph operator? Did he have a wife? Mentally, he shrugged. He was becoming accustomed to this feeling that the answers were ever so slightly out of reach. Better not to dwell on it, or so Brother Dominic said. So, he asked, “Your wife?”
Brother Andrew nodded. “Elena,” he said. “We met when we were seven and married at sixteen. She died when we were twenty. Scarlet fever,” he said at Daniel’s questioning look. “I fought God hard on that one. She was the best person I ever knew. It didn’t make any sense at all, and I made certain that God knew I thought so.”
“But you’re here,” said Daniel.
Brother Andrew nodded again. “The funny thing is that, after I’d finished yelling at God for messing up, I started to think about other things, like the fact that He’s the sovereign God of the universe and He doesn’t owe anybody anything, including an explanation. ‘“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.’ Does that sound familiar?” Daniel shook his head, wincing at the pain caused by the instinctive movement. “It’s from the book of Isaiah. I must have read that verse a hundred times. And I spent a lot of time in the last few chapters of Job, where God calls Job to account for having questioned Him. It took a long time, but I started to consider the idea that, just maybe, the God who made the world knew what He was doing when he took Elena and left me in a world that didn’t have her in it. And finally, I understood: God is God, and I’m not. And that was when I started to think about a life where I could focus on serving Him, and praying and studying and meditating. So, I came here.”
“But surely this wasn’t the only place around, was it?” Daniel was trying to be tactful, but he couldn’t understand why someone would choose dry, dusty, sleepy little San Pedro.
“Of course not,” said Brother Andrew. “There are some very large missions in California and Arizona, but I didn’t want that life. I wanted a small community—a family, if you will. I had no family except for Elena. I was wandering from town to town when I came upon this place by accident—if, of course, it can ever be said that a child of God does anything by accident. And I stayed in town and watched, and I talked with the brothers, and they allowed me to worship and pray with them. Eventually, we all agreed, and I took my vows.”
“But—what kind of monks are you?”
“Well, we’re sort of Franciscans, but not really,” said Brother Andrew. “I think that’s how the monastery started, but it’s always been a very independent little place. I’m not at all certain that any order would claim us now, even if we wanted to be claimed. We’re just here, serving and worshipping God as best we can.” He gathered up a large pile of carrots and onion from his side of the table and dropped them into the pot. “Just a few more potatoes, and we should be ready,” he said approvingly. He rose and reached for the chicken carcass that Brother Thaddeus had cleaned and plucked earlier in the day.
“Brother Andrew?” The voice was so tentative that the monk turned back in surprise. Daniel’s eyes were hidden by the dark glasses, and his growing beard further obscured his face, but the furrowed brow evidenced concern.
“Yes?” Brother Andrew said when Daniel said no more.
“If—if I were to stay like this forever—”
“Like what?” coaxed the monk.
“With no memory,” said Daniel, the words clearly costing him. “If I were—do you think that—maybe—”
He sounded so uncertain, so young. Brother Andrew doubted that he had as much as ten years on the younger man, but suddenly, he felt very old and wise. “I’m sure that won’t be an issue,” he said reassuringly, although he was far from certain. What he was certain of was that, memory or not, the brothers would never turn Daniel out. And deep in his heart, he was equally certain that, memory or not, the day would come when Daniel would choose to leave.
* * * * * * * * * *
Hoss walked slowly toward the horses, shaking his head. He didn’t need to say more. Ben and Adam knew. Another town that Joe had passed through and left, presumably intact.
They had been riding for two weeks, stopping in every town the stage went through and asking around. In each town, somebody—usually somebody in a saloon—remembered the good-looking young man in the green jacket. A charmer and a flirt, a bad poker player, a surprisingly good brawler—the comments would have identified Joe Cartwright even if the physical description hadn’t. The sheriffs in those towns all shook their heads when asked if the young man had been involved in any disturbance. As far as anyone knew, he had left each of those towns peaceably, boarding the stage and moving on.
“Best get some fresh supplies,” said Ben. “It’s almost a full day to San Pedro.” None of them looked forward to San Pedro. That was where the trail went cold.
The bank in San Pedro had confirmed by wire that Joe had never picked up the draft. It was still sitting in Mr. Samson’s top desk drawer, as it had been for nearly four weeks. No one, of any description, had asked for it.
Samson hadn’t mentioned the robbery in his wire. It wasn’t as if it had anything to do with the fact that the Cartwright boy had never arrived. Besides, Samson wanted to continue doing business with the Ponderosa, and he didn’t want Ben Cartwright thinking that his bank was not secure. So, he kept mum, hoping that no one else would tell the Cartwrights about the robbery.
In any event, it didn’t matter. There were only two explanations for the draft still being there.
Joe had never gotten to San Pedro.
Or he had never made it to the bank.
* * * * * * * * * *
Brother Daniel looked around as Brother Clarence drove the wagon into town, with Brother Andrew beside him. The street looked vaguely familiar, but he didn’t know if it was because he’d seen it when they’d left the bank after the robbery, or if he was actually remembering something. He felt hot and sticky inside the rough brown robe. He wished that he could wear his own clothes and carry his gun, but the brothers had been adamant. No one knew if the robbers were around, and they weren’t likely to be able to distinguish one monk from another any better than the townspeople. Especially with the dark glasses and his new beard, Brother Daniel was virtually unrecognizable as the young man in the green jacket who had seen the robbers commit cold-blooded murder.
The disguise had come at a cost. Brother Daniel had argued hotly that he was quite capable of defending himself if he should encounter the robbers, and for a while, it looked as if he were going to insist over the objections of the monks. But finally, when they all stopped shouting, Brother Thomas spoke up.
“If the robbers were to kill you, we wouldn’t know how to contact your family to tell them you were dead,” he said gently. “All they would ever know is that you left them and didn’t come back. They would never know why.”
Stricken, Brother Daniel stared at the old monk. His eyes appeared to be filled with tears for a moment, though whether at the thought of his unknown family or of their believing he abandoned them, no one could tell. He swallowed hard and pushed himself from the table.
“All right,” he said huskily. He strode from the room, leaving the others in silence around the table. Brother Andrew started to rise as if to follow, but Brother Dominic restrained him with a hand on his arm.
Now, as the others transacted business at the feed and grain store, Brother Daniel looked around, trying to jog his memory. Each time something seemed to nudge at him, he attempted the same sentence: “My name is—” But again and again, he had no idea how to complete the thought, a fact that left him feeling disturbingly vulnerable. He would never have admitted it, but a part of him was glad for the anonymity of the robe, the beard and the glasses. If he didn’t know who he was, it was just as well that no one else did, either.
After the feed store, they walked along the board sidewalk to the mercantile. Brother Daniel slowed his steps as they approached the saloon. “Hey, Brothers, think we can stop in here for a minute?” As the words left his mouth, he realized that they sounded familiar.
Brother Andrew and Brother Clarence looked puzzled. “Why?”
There were a lot of things Brother Daniel didn’t remember, but he was pretty sure that he’d never heard a man ask why he should stop into a saloon. “Just for a quick beer,” he said. Seeing their faces, he said slowly, “You do drink beer, don’t you?”
“No,” said Brother Clarence. “We don’t drink alcohol of any kind, except for wine when we celebrate the eucharist.”
“None?” Brother Daniel was flabbergasted. He took off his dark glasses, squinting even in the shadow of the overhang as he tried to see whether the tall monk might be joking.
“None,” said Brother Clarence calmly.
“Is that one of your vows, too?” Brother Daniel tried to keep the incredulity out of his voice.
“Not in so many words, but it’s the way we choose to live,” said Brother Clarence. His calm, slightly patronizing demeanor reminded Brother Daniel of someone. He tried to reach down into the recesses of his brain for the memory, but he couldn’t grasp it.
“Besides, how would we pay for it?” said Brother Andrew reasonably. “We do take a vow of poverty, you know.”
“Well, I didn’t take a vow of poverty,” said Brother Daniel somewhat heatedly.
“Then feel free to spend all your money in the saloon,” said Brother Clarence, looking him squarely in the eye.
“Fine.” Brother Daniel bit off the word. “Let’s go.” If there was one thing almost as bad as not knowing who he was, it was not having any money to get out of this place. He hooked the dark glasses over his ears, jammed his fists into the pockets of his robe and stormed past the saloon, unaware that a certain saloon girl was watching him, her jaw hanging as she saw how he was dressed.
“That rotten, no-good, son of a—” She flounced over to the bar. “Carl! I need a whiskey, now!”
* * * * * * * * * *
Adam and Hoss stopped just inside the saloon door to let their eyes adjust after the bright daylight. When they could see in the dimness, they scrutinized the patrons. Lucky for Joe, he was nowhere to be seen. Adam reflected grimly that if they’d come in to see him trying to draw to an inside straight, there probably wouldn’t have been enough pieces left of him to take back to Pa.
The two men got themselves beers and looked around, trying to decide which saloon girl was likely to be Joe’s type. After a minute, they saw her: petite but bosomy, soft red curls, doe-like brown eyes, ladylike attitude. They nodded to each other and approached her.
“Excuse me, miss,” said Hoss. “We’re lookin’ for a feller. Wondered if you mighta seen him.”
“Maybe,” said the girl softly. She adjusted the feather in her hair and pushed the lace trim of her bodice down a bit.
“He’s a good-looking young fellow, green eyes, nice smile,” said Adam. “Very charming. Bad poker player, but won’t give up until he’s tapped out. Probably came through in the last few weeks.”
The girl’s eyes grew wide. “Him?” She spat the word out with venom. “Oh, I remember him, all right. That rotten, no-good, son of a—” The epithets spewed forth with such ferocity that Adam and Hoss almost ducked to avoid them.
“Yeah, that sounds like him,” Adam said when she stopped for breath. “What exactly did he do to get you this upset?”
“He came in here, all sweet and flirty, and he was gonna come back the next day to—well, you know—and not only did he not come back the next day, but it turned out that wretched excuse for a man was lyin’ the whole time! He wasn’t ever gonna come back! I was just his last fling before he went over to that blasted church and took those blasted vows!”
“Before he what?” Hoss’ voice skidded up at least an octave.
“Took. Those. Blasted. Vows!” The girl glared from one Cartwright to the other. “Who the hell are you, anyway?”
“Uh—we’re his brothers, ma’am,” said Hoss.
The girl slapped him with all her strength. “You be sure to give that to your brother for me,” she said. Hoss rubbed his stinging cheek as she turned on her heel and marched across the room.
Stunned into silence, Adam and Hoss stared at each other. “Did she just say what I thought she said?” Hoss said finally.
“She sure did,” said Adam. “Seems our little brother went and got himself married.”
“Without even tellin’ anybody? That don’t make no sense. Unless—” He broke off, and Adam nodded. Together, they articulated the same conclusion.
* * * * * * * * * *
Two hours later, Hoss poured himself another shot. “I jest can’t believe it,” he muttered. “How could he do such a dang fool thing?”
“I hate to say it, Younger Brother, but it was probably just a matter of time,” said Adam, holding out his glass for a refill. “Remember Molly Conway?”
“But they were just kids!”
“They may have been just kids, but they were, shall we say, dabbling in some grownup behavior.” Adam remembered well the day he’d found his little brother hiding down by the lake, looking as scared as it was possible for one person to look. It hadn’t taken much to pull the story out of the boy, who kept insisting that it wasn’t fair, it had only happened once. The notion of his sixteen-year-old brother being dumb enough to get himself and this girl into such a fix made Adam want to punch something, but he put his own feelings about Joe’s possibly being a father on the shelf and concentrated on keeping the kid from falling completely to pieces while they waited three unending days until Molly said that no, it was a false alarm. It had taken some fancy maneuvering to keep the kid away from Pa until they knew—Little Joe was so rattled that he would have spilled everything, and false alarm or not, Pa would have had him marching down the aisle in a heartbeat. Adam would have thought that a scare like that would have put the fear of God into his little brother, but apparently, Joe’s memory was not all it could be.
“This is gonna kill Pa,” muttered Hoss. Normally, drink made the big man even more genial. On occasion, though, it had the opposite effect. This looked like it was going to be one of those occasions. He was starting to grumble threats at Little Joe for doing such a dang fool thing and upsetting their pa.
Adam pushed back his chair. “Let’s go.”
The Cartwright brothers left the saloon. “I’m gonna beat the daylights out of him. In fact, I’m gonna tear that little brother limb from limb,” announced Hoss loudly, weaving slightly and slurring a bit more. “I’m gonna smash that dadburned little turnip into the ground. I’m gonna wring his scrawny neck until his eyes pop out of his skull. Then, you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna put him back together so’s I can do it all over again!”
“Easy, now,” said Adam. Why did it always fall to him to be the voice of reason? “Save some for me. I get to tear him apart him, too. And then Pa’s going to want to have a piece of him.”
“I’m gonna take that dang green jacket of his and string him up with it, and then I’m gonna use Little Brother as a punching bag!” Hoss slammed a fist into his palm. “And when I’m done, there ain’t gonna enough of him left to put in a coffee cup!”
Neither man noticed as they stumbled past the two monks, who were wide-eyed with horror. At the mention of the green jacket, Brother Gabriel and Brother Thaddeus turned and fled down the sidewalk to the mercantile. These men didn’t look as if they were going to go shopping, but Brother Daniel needed to get out of town, just in case.
They hurried along the dusty sidewalk so fast that they nearly ran into the sheriff. “Sheriff!” Brother Gabriel exclaimed. “Just the man we needed!”
“How so, Brother?” The sheriff had long since given up on calling them by name, but they didn’t seem to mind.
“Those bank robbers are back!”
The sheriff’s languid expression vanished. “Are you sure?”
Brother Thaddeus’ head bobbed vigorously. “They were walking down the sidewalk, drunk in the middle of the day, and they were threatening Brother Daniel.”
“They threatened him? Was he with you?”
“No, sheriff, but they were threatening him,” said Brother Thaddeus. “They said the most awful things about what they would do to him, and—well, you remember how, when he got here, Brother Daniel was wearing that green jacket?” The sheriff nodded. You didn’t see a lot of those in San Pedro. “Well, the big one even said that he was going to string Brother Daniel up by his green jacket!”
“Well, that’s good enough for me,” said the sheriff. “Just tell me where they are, and I’ll take them in.”
The monks looked around. “There they are!” said Brother Gabriel triumphantly, pointing. “The big one and the one in the dark outfit.”
“You’re sure it’s them?”
“Positive,” said Brother Gabriel. Now, all they had to do was to find the third one, and Brother Daniel would be safe until he remembered his name and they could send him back to his wife. They watched from across the street as the sheriff approached the two men, who seemed awfully unhappy about being arrested. The sheriff drew his gun and took theirs, and the monks watched, quite satisfied and relieved, as the two men were escorted over to the jail.
* * * * * * * * * * *
“Where are my sons?” Ben Cartwright’s thundering baritone nearly rattled the windows of the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff looked unimpressed. “Your sons,” he repeated.
“My sons,” said Ben. “The two men you pulled off the street and threw into your jail for no reason whatsoever.” He threw onto the sheriff’s desk the note from Adam that the deputy had delivered to the hotel.
“Oh, I had a reason, all right,” said the sheriff. “Would you like to see your sons?”
“I would,” said Ben.
“Then you will,” said the sheriff. He unfolded his lanky frame from behind the desk and picked up the keys to the jail. “This way,” he said. He led the way into the back, where Adam leaned against the bars of the cell and Hoss had flopped onto the cot.
“Pa! Thank God you’re here!” Adam said.
“Watch your use of the Lord’s name, young man,” said Ben.
“You,” said the sheriff to Adam. “Step away from the bars.” Adam did so, and the sheriff unlocked the door, allowing Ben to enter. Once Ben had walked into the cell, the sheriff closed the door behind him, locking it with a smile.
“Sheriff, I’m not going to be here that long,” called Ben as the sheriff turned to leave.
The sheriff turned back with a big grin. “Oh, I think you are,” he said. “I got me three bank robbers, and you ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
“Bank robbers!” Ben was dumbfounded. Adam and Hoss nodded wearily.
“Bank robbers,” smirked the sheriff. He was immensely proud of the way he’d outsmarted the leader of the gang.
“But the bank hasn’t even been robbed since we’ve been in town!” sputtered Ben.
“Not this time,” allowed the sheriff. “This is from when you were here a few weeks ago.”
“But we’ve never been here before!” stormed Ben.
The sheriff was unflapped. “You say you ain’t been here,” he said. “I got two monks who can put you at the scene. Now, I don’t know if you’re a poker player, mister, but I think in this case, a pair of monks beats three bank robbers.”
“Monks?” Ben had a vague recollection of seeing a couple of men in brown robes but, like most of the town, he hadn’t paid them any mind.
“Monks,” said the sheriff firmly.
“Who are they?” demanded Ben. “What are their names?”
“Pa?” Adam said softly. “Why does it matter?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you know any monks?”
“Then why could it possibly matter what their names are?”
“I want to talk to them,” said Ben. He was nearly as frustrated by his eldest son as by the sheriff, who was slouching against the doorway with an insouciant grin.
“You can talk to them at the trial,” said the sheriff. “When you tell ’em why you killed those two tellers and Brother Nathaniel.” He straightened and started through the door. “Dinner’s at five,” he added over his shoulder, chuckling.
* * * * * * * * * *
The lawyer had a florid complexion and a round belly that strained against his waistcoat. His smile, though broad, was unconvincing. He shook hands with the Cartwrights through the bars of the jail.
“Malcolm Albert, at your service, gentlemen,” he said, pulling up a chair to the bars. He shuffled the papers he carried. “Hmmm. Robbery, assault, murder—oh, three counts of murder. And one of them a monk. Ouch. That’s not going to go well for you. The brothers are very well-liked in this town. Been here a long time. They run that little school for the local children. Very good cheesemakers, too.” He read a bit more, the dropped the papers into his lap. “Now, why don’t you tell me what happened?” he said conspiratorially. “What was it? Money was tight, you thought you’d pick up some quick cash, things went wrong and you made a mistake? It happens. If that’s it, I’ll see what I can do.”
“What are you talking about?” demanded Ben.
“No need to shout,” said the lawyer, unfazed. “People are always a little upset at this point. We can try to work something out.”
“Work what out? We’re innocent!” Ben glared for all he was worth.
The lawyer held up his hand. “Oh, no, no, no,” he said. “Please don’t say that.”
“Why not?” asked Adam. “It’s the truth.”
The lawyer waved both hands, as if shooing away gnats. “You have to stop doing that,” he said.
“Doin’ what?” asked Hoss.
“Saying you didn’t do it,” said the lawyer.
“But why—?” The Cartwrights exchanged startled looks.
“Because I can’t put you on the stand if I know you’re going to lie under oath,” said the lawyer. “As long as you’re going to take the stand and say you didn’t do it, I’m honor bound not to put you on the stand.”
“But we didn’t do it!” thundered Ben.
“I’m telling you, you have to stop this,” said the lawyer. He focused on Hoss, apparently deeming him the most reasonable. “I’ve been a lawyer for a long time, and I can tell you, it’s going to go easier for you if you just tell the truth.”
“We are telling the truth,” said Adam.
“As long as you keep up this claim of innocence, we’re never going to get anywhere,” said the lawyer. “Now, tell me what happened when you first entered the bank. There were two monks there, weren’t there? No, wait—it looks like there were three. Brother Thomas, Brother Daniel and Brother Nathaniel. Daniel and Nathaniel—they rhyme! Do you suppose they planned that?” None of the Cartwrights looked at all pleased with the lawyer’s linguistic discovery. His delight faded as he turned his attention from the papers to the men in front of him. “Now, which one of you killed Brother—Nathaniel, I guess it was?” He looked expectantly from one Cartwright to another.
“None of us killed anyone!” Ben’s patience was long exhausted.
The lawyer sighed with exaggerated patience. “Mr. Cartwright, we really do need to move on,” he said. “I need to know exactly what happened in the bank on the morning of June 22nd. Did someone draw on you when you were in there? If so, I can claim that you shot in self-defense. Monks don’t carry guns, do they? I’ll have to check on that.” He made a note. “So—yes or no on self-defense?”
“Get out!” Ben’s voice rattled the bars.
“Get out! You’re fired! Go!”
“Pa, wait a minute,” said Adam in a low voice. “We’re going to need a lawyer.”
“He’s right,” said the lawyer. “And I’m the only one for fifty miles.”
“Then we’ll represent ourselves! Now, get out of here before I come out there and throw you out!”
The lawyer shrugged. “Suit yourselves,” he said, gathering his papers. “No hard feelings, gentlemen. Best of luck to you.” With a wave, he was gone.
Ben’s sons watched as their father flung himself onto a cot. Finally, Adam said, “That may not have been your best idea, Pa.”
“Didn’t you hear him? He thinks we’re guilty!”
“So does everybody else in this town,” said Adam. “The difference is, they know him. They don’t know us. If we go in there without him, we’re just the strangers who robbed a bank and killed a monk. They’ll stretch our necks before the day’s out.”
“Sounds like that’s what they’re plannin’ anyway, if that feller is like the rest of ’em,” said Hoss, sitting down on his own cot.
Adam sat down next to his brother, mulling over what little the lawyer had told them. Three dead people. Two monks had apparently witnessed the robbery. He didn’t know who had been assaulted, whether it was one of the dead people or someone else. As Ben fumed and Hoss watched him, Adam turned over the scraps of information. Again and again, he came back to the same conclusion.
They needed to talk to the monks.
And he knew without asking that nobody in this town was going to allow it.