The Lady Lawyer Series – #1 (by pjb)

Summary: The Cartwright brothers vie for the affections of a beautiful lawyer.

Rated: K+  28,300

The Lady Lawyer Series:

The Lady Lawyer
Fugue
To Know the Truth

 

                                                 The Lady Lawyer

 

The brisk spring breeze ruffled the hems of the lady disembarking from the stagecoach.  It was one of those lovely early-spring days when the snows have been gone long enough for the mud to dry, but not long enough for the dust to fly.  Even the horses on the streets of Virginia City had an extra spring in their steps.  People greeted each other with an energy that had been lacking all winter, when they’d huddled in their cloaks against the bitter winds.Adam, Hoss and Joe Cartwright were among those enjoying the day.  The youngest Cartwright brother had a special fondness for spring, as the ladies’ heavy, shapeless cloaks gave way to lightweight shawls and colorful dresses that revealed much more about the wearers’ womanly charms.  It could come as no surprise, therefore, that he was the first to spy the lady in the sapphire dress as the stage driver offered her his hand.”Allow me, ma’am,” Joe said gallantly, taking her hand to assist her.  Adam and Hoss rolled their eyes.  Their little brother never changed.”Thank you, sir,” said the lady, smoothly withdrawing her hand upon reaching the sidewalk.”The pleasure’s mine, ma’am,” Joe replied, touching the brim of his hat and favoring her with one of his special smiles.

Generally, women were quite taken with Joe Cartwright’s debonair manner.  Most of the young ladies in Virginia City would have swooned to be the focus of such attention.  This one, though, had a glint in her blue eyes that suggested that she just might be finding him amusing, rather than charming.  Joe seemed to be oblivious to the distinction, but Adam and Hoss exchanged glances and immediately stepped up.

“Welcome to Virginia City, ma’am,” said Adam, tipping his hat.

“Welcome,” Hoss echoed, doing likewise.

The lady surveyed the three men.  Her dimples showed just a bit, but other than that, she kept a straight face.  “To what do I owe the pleasure of such a welcoming committee?” she inquired.

“To our good fortune in being present upon your arrival in our fair city,” said Adam, smoothly usurping Joe’s position next to her and earning a glare from his youngest brother.  “I’m Adam Cartwright, and these are my brothers, Hoss and Little Joe.”

“Just Joe, ma’am,” said Joe, deflecting Adam’s attempt to cast him as a mere child.

“Well, Just Joe, I don’t suppose you or your brothers are acquainted with Efraim Zelner, are you?” the lady inquired.

“The lawyer, ma’am?”

“Yes, the lawyer,” she replied.  “He was supposed to meet me here.”

“Well, ma’am, I don’t see him, but I would be happy to escort you to his office.  Before I do that, may I offer you some refreshment?”  Joe offered her his arm.

The lady’s smile was definitely one of amusement, a fact that was clearly passing Joe by.  “You’re most kind, but I’d simply like to claim my luggage and meet with Mr. Zelner,” she said graciously.

“As you wish,” said Adam.  “Hoss, get the lady’s luggage.”

Hoss looked a bit nonplussed at being so ordered about, but he simply said, “My pleasure.”  He moved to the front of the coach.  “Hey, Jake, gimme Miss-I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t catch your name.”

“Simmons.  Anna Simmons.”

“-Miss Simmons’ luggage.”  As Hoss took down her trunk and suitcases, Adam and Joe told her what a pleasure it was to make her acquaintance.

“Anna, my dear.  There you are.”  The elderly lawyer strode up the street, arms outstretched.

“Uncle Efraim!  It’s so good to see you!”  Deftly extricating herself from the Cartwrights, she held out her arms to Efraim Zelner, who embraced her and then stood at arm’s length, appraising her.

“My dear, you look more beautiful than ever,” he said.  “And how is Henry?”

“Henry is marvelous,” she replied.  “He has three new students, and he’s as happy as I’ve ever seen him.”

“Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if he could have come with you.”  It was less of a question than an a musing.

“Wonderful, but quite impossible,” Anna agreed.  “Uncle Efraim, have you met the Cartwrights?”

The men all agreed that they had met.  “Well, my dear, we must be going,” Zelner said, offering her his arm.  The fact that she took it was not lost on any of the Cartwrights.

“Ma’am?  Where would you like your luggage?” Hoss asked.

“I’m so sorry.  Uncle Efraim, where am I staying?”

“There’s a little house, not far from here.  I’ve arranged for you to lease it until we find you a place of your own.  Hoss, you know the Palmer place, don’t you?”

“I sure do.  Ma’am, I’ll get your luggage down to the house for you lickety-split.”

Anna smiled at him-a smile of gratitude rather than amusement.  “Thank you so much, Mr. Cartwright,” she said, reaching for his hand with her free one.

Hoss took her hand.  “It’s my pleasure, ma’am.”

As Anna and Zelner walked up the street, Joe mimicked, “‘It’s my pleasure, ma’am.’  Can you believe that?”

“Believe what?” Adam said grumpily.

“Believe that she’s with Efraim Zelner!”

Hoss’ brow furrowed.  “Joe, she called him ‘Uncle Efraim.’  That don’t seem to me like she’s with him like you mean.”

Joe shook his head.  “Big Brother, let me explain something about women.  She comes into town and she doesn’t know anybody.  She’s not going to tell them the truth about Zelner.  If he really was her uncle, why wouldn’t she be staying with him?  Look at him-he’s older than Pa, and she’s young and beautiful.  They’re going to pretend there’s nothing going on until the ring is on her finger.”

“And why are you all het up about it?”

“Didn’t you see her?  What is a beautiful woman like that doing with an old coot like him?  What she needs is a dashing young man to sweep her off her feet, not some doddering old lawyer who spends every night reading his law books until he falls asleep.”

“And do I presume that you believe you’re the one for the job?” asked Adam archly.

“I do believe I am, Older Brother,” replied Joe smugly.

“Well, I guess we’ll see about that,” said Adam.

“But what about Henry?” asked Hoss?

“Who?”  Adam and Joe turned to him.

“Zelner asked her about Henry.  Who’s Henry?”

“Somebody who ain’t here,” said Joe.

* * * * * * * * * *

The next morning, a pudgy young man, about Adam Cartwright’s age, tapped on the door of Zelner’s law office.  “Good morning,” he said, smiling genially.  Sunlight glinted off his thinning, slicked-back hair.  His complexion was so ruddy that he appeared to have applied face paint.  The buttons of his suitcoat strained at the buttonholes over his round stomach.

Anna looked up from the stacks of documents she was sorting.  Her desk was in the front room of the office; her uncle’s desk was in the larger room at the back.  “Good morning,” she replied, rising.  “May I help you?”

The man’s smile widened.  “Miss Simmons, I presume?”

“And whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

“Ralph Widmark, at your service, miss,” he said, bowing low.  He extended his hand, but when Anna reached out to shake it, he swiftly brought her hand to his lips and planted a wet kiss on it.

“How do you do, Mr. Widmark,” said Anna, withdrawing her hand and subtly wiping it on her skirt.  She was not going to ask what she could do for him; she had a feeling that she already knew.

“It’s a delight to welcome such a comely member of the profession to our fair city,” said Widmark.

This, Anna knew, was her cue to inquire into Widmark’s profession and to express surprise at the coincidence of his also being an attorney, but she simply smiled.  “You’re too kind,” she said, resuming her seat without inviting her visitor to do the same.  Her uncle had already told her all about Widmark.  Young, inept, hugely self-impressed and fiercely ambitious, he was the prototype of the lawyer who would do anything to win a case.  Zelner had had cases against him, and he had been annoyed, but unimpressed, with the younger attorney’s tactics, which had included staging a fight on the street so that the sheriff and the doctor, both necessary witnesses, would be unavailable to testify at various times.  Widmark had attempted unsuccessfully to use the delay to convince Zelner that it would be in everyone’s best interests if the matter were to be settled, rather than sending it to the jury.  When the jury came back in favor of Zelner’s client, Widmark had stormed out of the courtroom without so much as a pretense of civility.

“I look forward to becoming better acquainted with you while you’re here,” said Widmark.

“I’ll be working very closely with Mr. Zelner, so I’m certain that we’ll see a fair bit of each other,” Anna replied.  “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I do have some matters which require my attention.”

Widmark tipped his hat.  “Of course,” he said smoothly.  “I have a great many urgent matters on my own desk, but I did want to come and welcome our newest lawyer to Virginia City.  If I may be of service in any way, please do not hesitate to send for me.”

“Thank you, Mr. Widmark,” said Anna, dismissal clear in her voice.  She held his gaze, saying nothing more.  Finally, he looked away, tipped his hat again, and left.

No sooner had Widmark left than a young boy entered the office.  “Are you Miss Simmons?” he asked.

Anna sighed inwardly.  Perhaps they should have sold tickets to her first day as a lawyer in this town. “I am,” she replied.  “And who are you?”

“I’m Jacob,” he said.  “I have a message for you from Mr. Cartwright.”

She smiled.  She had expected as much.  At least this was more interesting than someone coming in merely to gawk at the lady lawyer.  “Which Mr. Cartwright would that be, Jacob?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” the boy said.  “They was all together.  Mr. Adam gave me the note, though.”

“I see.”  Anna opened the note as the boy watched.  She read it, pondered it, and sat down at her desk to write something on it.  When she had finished, she fished her in purse and found a nickel, which she handed to the boy with the note.

“Jacob, would you be good enough to deliver this to Mr. Cartwright?” she requested with her most dazzling smile.

“Yes’m, I surely would,” Jacob said, his attention torn between the smile and the nickel.  “But-which Mr. Cartwright, ma’am?”

Anna considered the question.  “The one who gave you the note for me,” she decided.  As Jacob ran from the office, she resumed sorting documents.  A few minutes later, when Zelner returned, she said, “Guess what, Uncle Efraim.  We’ve been invited to dinner at the Ponderosa tonight.”

Zelner grinned.  “What the devil took them so long?”

* * * * * * * * * *

As soon as the buggy had arrived in the Cartwrights’ yard, Adam and Joe were there to greet them.  Zelner was amused to see the two men subtly jostling for position.  Ben and Hoss came outside as the other two tried to outdo each other in helping Anna down from the carriage as if she’d never gotten out of one before.

“Efraim, how are you?” Ben greeted his guest warmly.  Hoss shook the lawyer’s hand, and Zelner smiled.

“It looks as if the others are well-occupied with my niece,” he said.

“Your niece?” repeated Hoss.

“Well, my niece by affection,” said Zelner.  “Her father and I were close friends in law school.  I was the best man when Norman married Anna’s mother.  Two of the most strikingly attractive people I have ever seen, and look what a beautiful daughter they had.”

“She is quite lovely,” Ben agreed.  “And it appears that she’s already made some conquests here.”

“Hopefully, that will pass,” said Zelner.  Ben and Hoss exchanged puzzled glances, but the lawyer changed the subject.  “Ben, is that the mare you bought from Wickham last month?”  He gestured with his walking stick toward the corral.

“It is,” Ben said proudly.  He’d gotten the palomino for an excellent price, and her bloodlines were superb.

“Ain’t she a beauty?” Hoss said.  He petted the horse’s neck.  “She’s gonna produce some of the finest horseflesh this ranch has ever seen.”

“Do you have a stallion in mind?” asked Zelner.

“Several,” said Ben.  “At the moment, we’re leaning toward one that Hoss found in Texas last September.  The horse didn’t look like much when he brought him home, but Hoss nursed him all winter, and he’s a magnificent specimen now.”

“You nursed him all winter?”  The men had not heard Anna approach, her suitors behind her.  “Why did you do that?”

“Because he needed it,” Hoss said simply.  “I knew when I saw him that he was special, but he’d been treated kinda harsh, and it just took a little work to make him see what a fine horse he is.”

“Hoss has always been one for bringing home strays,” Adam interjected.  “You should see the barn in the fall, after he’s had all summer to find them.  Remember the raccoon with the broken paw?”

“Only Hoss would try to splint a raccoon’s foot,” said Joe.

“But he did do it,” Ben pointed out.

“How did you do it without being bitten?” asked Anna.

“You just have to be real gentle, and let ’em know you’re not gonna hurt ’em,” Hoss said.  “You just hold the leg right, and-”

“We don’t actually need a lesson in how to do it,” said Adam.

Hoss blushed.  “Sorry,” he mumbled.  He stepped aside as Adam wrapped Anna’s hand around his arm and escorted her into the house, followed closely by a fuming Little Joe.

Conversation over dinner was lively.  Joe and Adam were seated on either side of Anna, and each did his best to attract the lady’s attention, much to the amusement of Ben and Zelner.

“So, what brings to Virginia City?” asked Adam of Anna.

“I came to work for Uncle Efraim,” she said.

“You came all the way from Chicago to work in a lawyer’s office?” said Joe.

“He was the only lawyer I knew who would hire me.”

“But why did you want to work for a lawyer?” Adam asked.

“Because I am a lawyer,” Anna replied.

“You’re a lawyer?”  Joe was incredulous.

“That’s what I said.”

“Well, I know, but-”

“But what?”  Anna barely showed how much she was enjoying his discomfort.  Zelner made no effort to disguise his amusement.

“Well-you’re a lady!”

“Thank you.”

“No, I mean-”

“What do you mean?”

“Well-ladies can’t be lawyers!”

Zelner burst out laughing, and the other men followed suit, if less enthusiastically.

“Why not?” asked Anna innocently, eyes wide and dimples flashing.

“I think that what my little brother is trying to say is that it’s an unexpected choice for women from this area.  However, I think that a woman who is intellectually gifted would find the practice of law to be most interesting, and if she wishes to do it, she should do so.”  Adam sat back, clearly pleased with his speech.

“How gracious of you,” Anna said.  It occurred to Adam to wonder if he was being mocked, but her eyes were innocent with just a hint of a sparkle.

“Anna has one of the best legal minds I have ever encountered,” said Zelner.  “Her father was one of the most brilliant jurists of his generation.  Perhaps you have heard of Norman Simmons?  No?  Well, you missed a great deal.  Norman once defended a Negro man on a murder charge.  The jury was out for nearly three days.”

“Did he win?” asked Hoss.

“Sadly, no,” said Zelner.  “But there was a certain victory in the fact that he kept a jury of twelve white men out that long, deliberating.  That jury had to work powerfully hard to convict that man.”

“Did you get to watch your pa in court?” asked Hoss.

Anna shook her head.  “Not in that case,” she said.  “Daddy wouldn’t permit it.”

Zelner chimed in, “It wasn’t a case that was properly heard by a lady.  I was there, though, and Norman was brilliant.”

“He did let me prepare documents, though, so I did know what the case was about,” Anna pointed out.

“He let you do what?” Zelner was shocked.

“He never told you?” Anna countered.  “My father treated me like a lawyer,” she explained to the Cartwrights.  “He couldn’t have me in court with him for that case, but he never treated me as less of a professional than he was.”

“Have you attended law school?” asked Adam.

“Regretfully, no,” Anna admitted.  “Nearly everything that I know about the law, I learned from working for my father.  Since he’s gone, I expect to learn a great deal more working with Uncle Efraim.  And now,” she added brightly, “I hope to practice law here in Virginia City.”

“But why?” blurted Joe.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question,” Anna said.

“Why would you want to practice law?  Don’t you want to get married and have children?”

Zelner had recovered from his shock and was again enjoying himself.  “Yes, my dear, don’t you want to marry and have children?”

“Of course,” she smiled, batting her eyelashes at Little Joe.  “But who says I can’t do it all?”

“Not I,” said Adam, leaping gallantly into the abyss left by his youngest brother, who was stunned into silence.

“Nor I,” said Ben.

“Miss Anna, if you want to be a lawyer, you should just go right ahead,” Hoss said.  “I reckon you’ll be the best lawyer this town’s ever seen-after your uncle, of course.”

On the trip back to town, Anna and Zelner laughed aloud about Joe’s reaction.  “My dear, you must realize that young Joe Cartwright represents the rule around here, not the exception,” warned Zelner.  “Your desire to work for me and to practice law is not likely to be embraced by the good people of Virginia City.”

“Perhaps not,” said Anna.  “But I have at least three Cartwrights who think that I should be able to do this.”

“And I feel quite certain that you’ll easily convince the fourth,” Zelner said.  “He already appears to be quite smitten with you.”

“Blond hair and blue eyes can get a woman very far,” Anna said.  “But this time, I’m looking for much more than a pretty face and a smooth line.”

* * * * * * * * * *

The next morning, as Anna reviewed a bill of sale, Jacob came into the office.  “Good morning, ma’am,” he said.

“Good morning, Jacob,” Anna said.  “What can I do for you today?”

“Mr. Cartwright sent these,” said Jacob, drawing a bouquet out from behind his back.

“How lovely,” she said, taking the flowers.  “And which Mr. Cartwright was this?”

Jacob thought for a second.  “Little Joe,” he said finally.  “He wrote a note, too.”  The boy dug in his pocket, withdrawing a crumpled piece of paper.  “I wasn’t supposed to mess it up,” he said, trying to smooth it out on the desk.

Anna took the note.  “We just won’t tell him, and next time, you won’t put it in your pocket,” she said.  Jacob looked relieved.  She unfolded the note.  “My dear Miss Simmons-Please accept this paltry offering as a token of my deep apologies for last night.  I have nothing but the highest regard for the legal profession, and I apologize if you felt that I was questioning your ability to practice law.  Would you do me the honor of joining me for dinner tonight so that I may continue to express my deep regret for my gauche comments?  Joe Cartwright.”  Anna smiled.  The man was nothing if not persistent.  She took a sheet of paper, wrote her response, and handed it to Jacob with another nickel.

It was late afternoon when a man appeared in the doorway.  Anna looked up, unsurprised, from the deed she was evaluating.

“Are you still upset with me?” asked Joe.

“Not at all,” Anna said.

“Then why won’t you have dinner with me?”
 
Because you’re too pretty and too charming and too accustomed to getting your own way, and I’ve already been down that road.  “Because I’d like to spend some time unpacking and putting my house in order,” she said.

“I’d be happy to assist you,” he offered.  “I’m very good at opening boxes.”

“I’m sure you are, but I must decline your kind offer,” she said firmly.

“I’m also quite good at hanging pictures and putting china away,” he persisted.

Anna laid down the deed in her hand.  “Mr. Cartwright-”

“-Joe-”

“-Joe, I thank you for your offer, but I have said ‘no.'”  There was nothing flirtatious in her eyes or her voice.  She was calm and polite, but she was not inviting further discussion.

“I apologize for disturbing you, ma’am,” he said.  He was barely out the door before her attention was refocused on the deed.

* * * * * * * * * *

“What’s with you, Little Brother?” Hoss asked when Joe missed his third opportunity to jump Hoss’ king.

“Zelner’s niece is something else,” Joe said.

“Didn’t succumb to the Joe Cartwright charm, did she?” said Adam as he tuned his guitar.

“Not yet,” said Joe defensively.  “It’s just a matter of time, though.”

“Well, Little Brother, you weren’t terribly supportive of her career plans,” Adam pointed out.

“Just because I don’t lie as well as you do doesn’t mean that I wasn’t supportive,” said Joe.  “You know perfectly well that you wouldn’t want your wife being a lawyer.  I was just honest enough to say so.”

“That honesty may have cost you the wife,” Adam smiled.

“You think that’s really what she wants?” asked Hoss.

“Well, she seems to feel strongly about it,” said Ben.  “In my experience, if a woman feels strongly enough about doing something, the man who gets in her way isn’t going to be happy for very long.”  All three of his sons turned to him, startled.  “Adam, your mother worked in her father’s ship’s chandler before you were born, and she quite enjoyed it.  In fact, she wasn’t all that happy when she had to stop, as much as she wanted to be a mother.  And Hoss, you remember how your mother held up an entire wagon train because she was helping one of the mares deliver a foal, and no one was going anywhere until she was satisfied that all was well.  And Joseph, your mother was a whirlwind, managing the kitchen and the books and all the business end of the Ponderosa so that Adam and I could be out with the cattle and the men-and all while taking care of a house, a husband and three sons.  So, I suggest that you three might want to reconsider the idea that a woman cannot have a profession and a family.”

Hoss and Joe returned to their game, and Adam began to strum softly.  “But-can women even be lawyers?” asked Joe finally.

“Anna Simmons appears to think so,” Ben replied.  “I don’t know what the law says about it-but I’d be willing to bet that she does.”

“Y’know, I’ll bet she’d be good at it,” said Hoss.  “I don’t rightly know what they do besides go to court, but somethin’ tells me that you wouldn’t want t’fight that little gal.”

“Amen to that,” said Joe glumly, and Hoss jumped three of his pieces.

* * * * * * * * * *

The next morning, Anna was in Zelner’s office, sifting through disorganized stacks of documents on his desk, when she looked up to see Hoss Cartwright in the doorway.  “Where’s Jacob?” she inquired.

“Ma’am?”

“I thought he was the Cartwright family messenger,” she said.

“No, ma’am, but he did ask if I had a note for you,” Hoss said.  “He seems to like coming here.”

“I think he likes the tips,” Anna said.  “So, Mr. Cartwright, what can I do for you?”  She sat back in Zelner’s chair expectantly.

“Y’know, ma’am, when you do that, you look just like you belong there,” Hoss said.

“That may be the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me,” Anna said.  “Please, won’t you have a seat?”

“I can’t stay, ma’am,” said Hoss.  “I just wanted to let you know that Joe really is sorry about the other night.  He felt powerful bad about the notion that you might think that he didn’t think you should be a lawyer.”

Anna considered this.  “And why are you here saying that instead of him?” she asked.

“He don’t know I’m here,” Hoss said.  “I’m just tryin’ to help.”

“That’s very sweet of you,” Anna said.

“Well, he’s my little brother,” said Hoss.

“And is that what you do for little brothers?”

“Ma’am?”

“I never had any brothers or sisters.  I don’t know how it works.  If I had a sister, would she be expected to approach a man for me and tell him how I felt?”

“Oh, no, ma’am.  It’s different for a woman.”

“Why is that?”

Hoss considered the question.  “I don’t know,” he said finally.  “It just is.  Now, if you had a brother, he might go and talk to the man for you, but your sister prob’ly wouldn’t.  I guess it’s just the way things go out here.  People are used to things bein’ a certain way, and it takes them some time to get used to change.”

“What if I had a friend?  Could he do that?”

“A friend?  You mean like your uncle?”

“Maybe.  Or maybe like my friend back home.  He’d talk to a man for me if I wanted.”

“You mean this man would go to another man and tell him that you liked him?  Why wouldn’t he just keep you for hisself?”

Anna smiled.  “You don’t know Henry,” she said.  “Henry is my best friend, but we’ve never been-like that.  He’s the closest thing to a brother I’ve had, and we’re closer than many brothers and sisters.  I truly think that I could tell him anything, and he wouldn’t judge me or criticize me.”

“That’s a special kind of friend to have, all right,” Hoss said.  “My brothers are like that for me.  They get ornery, and we fight sometimes, but in the end, I always know they’re gonna be there for me, and I’ll be there for them.”

“What would happen if you all wanted the same thing?”

“It’d depend on what it was, I reckon.”

“What if you all wanted the same girl?”

“Well, that’d prob’ly be easy,” Hoss said.  “Little Joe, now he’s a smooth talker.  The girls in town just fall over when he comes by.  You should see him at the dances.  He’s a mighty fine dancer, and they’re just about lined up for him.  So I reckon he’d prob’ly be the one to get the girl.”

“What about Adam?”

“Well, Older Brother likes different type of girl.  He’s more likely to have the ones who want to read and talk about poetry and listen to music.  He’s got a guitar, and many’s the night he’s gone courting with that.  Does almost as well as Little Joe with it.”

“And what about you?”

Hoss blushed.  “I’m not like them,” he said.  “Most of the girls around here ain’t lookin’ for a big galoot like me.  They’re lookin’ for men like Adam and Little Joe-the kind who can take ’em and show ’em the moonlight and talk purty to ’em.  I ain’t much on sweet talkin’.  I’m just a plain-spoken sort.  I get my hands dirty when I work, an’ I ain’t much on books.  That don’t set all that well with the gals who are lookin’ for a fancy life.”

“The fancy life isn’t all that much to look for,” Anna said.  “I had it.  And now I’m here.”

“If you don’t mind my askin’, ma’am-why did you leave Chicago?”

“I told you-to work for Uncle Efraim.”

“I know that’s what you said, ma’am.  But weren’t there any other lawyers in Chicago you could have worked for so that you could have stayed at home?”

“There probably were,” Anna admitted.  “My father had some colleagues who would have hired me, I imagine.  But I wanted to leave Chicago.”

“Even without your friend?”

“Even without Henry.  Of course, he was the one who told me that I should go.”

“He wanted you to leave him?”

“He wanted me to have an adventure,” Anna said.  “You’d have to understand.  Henry wasn’t just my best friend.  He was my only real friend.  I spent time with the other girls, but Henry was the only person, other than my father, whom I could really talk to.  Neither one of us fit in with the other children when we were growing up, but we fit with each other.  We always planned that someday, we would go and have adventures.  We planned to go to Europe, and to Africa, and even to China.  We’d read stories about these places, and we’d plan journeys and map out routes and work out the details.”

“But you never went?”

Anna shook her head.  “Henry-isn’t able to travel.  And I made the mistake of marrying quite young, and my husband had no interest in anything that couldn’t be entered in a ledger or found on the society page.  So, I stayed, and Henry and I would have tea and plan our adventures, and my husband would snicker at us and say that we should grow up.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am-I didn’t realize that you were married.”

“I’m not-anymore.”

“I’m so sorry, ma’am.  When did he pass?”

“He hasn’t, as far as I know.  He’s still living in Chicago.  He disapproved of my wanting to be a lawyer.  So, while I was learning the law in my father’s offices, he took up with the organist at our church.  Fortunately for him, she came from money.  So, he left me and married her, and now he’s almost wealthy enough to make up for the fact he can’t stand his wife.  And I have Henry and Uncle Efraim, and for the moment, that’s quite enough.”

Hoss was stunned at Anna’s matter-of-fact delivery of the story of her life.  “Ma’am, I am so sorry, I did not mean to pry into your private life.”

“You didn’t pry.  I didn’t tell you anything that I didn’t choose to.  You’re very easy to talk to, Hoss Cartwright.  Has anyone ever told you that?”

“Yes’m, they have,” Hoss said.  “Seems like sooner or later, ever’body tells me their stories.”

“Whom do you tell your stories to?”

“My horse,” Hoss chuckled.  “My brothers.  Sometimes my pa.  But mainly the critters I tend.  They’re good listeners, and they don’t laugh.”

“What do you tell them that would make them laugh?”

“Oh, things I think about sometimes,” said Hoss.  “Dreams, mebbe.”

“Like what?”

Hoss blushed.  “I should get goin’,” he said.

“You won’t talk to me?  After I told you all about Henry and my marriage?  Come on now.  You owe me at least one story after all that.”

“All right, jes’ one, but I can’t go longer, ‘cuz Little Joe’s waiting to hear what you said.  He’ll think I was in here courtin’ you for m’self if’n I’m not back soon.”

“Then you have to make it a good one, if I only get one.”

“Lessee.  Little Joe’s ma died when I was eleven-”

“-Little Joe’s ma?”

“Yes’m.  See, Pa married my ma when he was on his way west with Adam, after Adam’s ma died.  I was born on the trip west, and my ma died before we got to Nevada.  I was just a baby, and I never knew her, even though Pa tells stories about her.  When I was about three or four, he went to New Orleans on business and came back with a new wife.  She was the purtiest thing I ever seen, and so sweet.  She treated me jes’ like I was her own, me and Adam both.  I was about six when Little Joe was born.  She died when I was eleven.  She was the only ma I ever knew.  I used to wonder how my pa won a lady like that.  Not that he ain’t handsome or smart, but she was so-so beautiful, and full of life and laughter, and jes’ made ever’thing better by being there.  After she died, I used to wonder if I might be able to find someone like her someday.”

“And did you?”

Hoss shook his head.  “I reckon God only makes one of each of us.  But I was lucky, ‘cuz I got to live with her, even if it was just for a little while.  I wish you could have met her.  I think you’d have liked her.”

“I think I would have, too,” Anna said.  “I suppose you’d better get back to Little Joe now and report in.”  She smiled.  “Just tell me one thing.  If he didn’t know you came, why is he waiting to hear what I said?”

Hoss flushed.  “Dang, I messed up,” he said.  “You weren’t supposed to know that he knew I was here.”

“Why didn’t he come himself?”

“He thinks you don’t like him,” Hoss admitted.

“Why would he think that?”

“Because of what he said about bein’ a lawyer and having a family.”

“But that has nothing to do with whether I like him.  He’s entitled to his opinions, same as anyone else.  And I’m entitled to disagree with him.  You can like someone and still disagree with him.  My father always said that if two people agree on everything, one of them isn’t necessary.”

“So, does that mean that you like him?”

Anna laughed.  “Tell him the jury’s still out.”

* * * * * * * * * *

When the next day passed without a visit from any Cartwright or Cartwright emissary, Anna was mildly surprised.  It occurred to her to wonder if Hoss had relayed her stories to his brothers and their ardor had been dampened, but she rejected this notion as soon as it surfaced.  Hoss wasn’t the type to blurt out confidences; of that she was certain.  Still, the fact that she’d been married and offloaded could be something that he would feel his brothers ought to know before courting her.  It was the type of thing that might make a difference to a man.

When she arrived at the office the next morning, however, there was a vase of flowers by the door.  She looked around for Jacob, but he was nowhere in sight.  She unlocked the door and took the vase inside.  A note was nestled among the flowers.  Her beauty and intelligence were proclaimed in mediocre poetry which was, apparently, an Adam Cartwright original.  Ah, well.  She’d never heard it said that poetry writing was a reliable barometer of a man’s character.  To the contrary, Seth had been an excellent poet.  She checked to be certain that the flowers had adequate water, set them on the table, and opened a file about a border dispute.

An hour later, Jacob came trotting into the office.  “Don’t you have to go to school?” asked Anna.

“I sneak out,” Jacob announced proudly.  “I can make more money if I’m out of school.”

“And you think that that’s a good thing?”

“Well-Ma’s been sick, and Pa works over at the livery stable, but her medicine costs a lot.  Doc Martin don’t make Pa pay right away, but he’s gotta pay sometime.  I heard ’em talkin’.  So, I skip school and take stuff to people, and I can make money to help.”

Anna’s face burned with shame at her presumption.  “You’re right,” she said.  “It sounds as if you’re a big help to your parents.  But you still need to get your schooling.  So, we’ll do this fast, and then you can get back in time for some of your lessons.  What do you have for me today?”

“Mr. Cartwright sent this.”  Jacob produced another note and a small box.

Anna didn’t bother asking which Mr. Cartwright.  She opened the box and saw four small, exquisitely molded chocolates nestled inside.  She beckoned for Jacob to draw closer, and his eyes grew wide when he saw the candies.

“This is going to be a big secret,” she whispered.

“Okay,” he breathed.

“Really.  If you tell anyone, I’ll say you’re a big fat liar, and you won’t get to deliver any more notes for the Cartwrights.  Cross your heart and hope to die you won’t tell?”

“Cross my heart and hope to die.”

Anna held out the box.  “Pick one.”

“For me?”

“For your ma.  So she’ll feel better.”  Jacob surveyed the chocolates for several minutes before he selected one.  Anna wrapped it in her handkerchief.

“Now, you stop on the way to school and give it to her so it doesn’t melt before you get home,” she said.

“Yes’m.”

“Oh, and Jacob?”

“Yes’m?”

“Pick one more for yourself.  And then hurry up so you can get to school.”

“Yes’m!”

After Jacob had left with his chocolates and his nickel, Anna opened the note.  Joe Cartwright.  She wondered what he would think if he knew that half his chocolates had gone to the messenger boy.  He would probably not be thrilled.

That afternoon, Jacob brought her more flowers.  This time, Zelner was in the office.  After the boy had left, Zelner looked quizzically at Anna.

“The Cartwrights are having a competition,” she said.  She opened the note.  Adam again.  At least it wasn’t poetry this time.

“You could do worse,” Zelner commented.

“I beg your pardon?”

“They’re good men, all of them,” Zelner said.  “I’ve known them since they came to this area.  Ben’s a fine man, and he’s done an excellent job raising his sons.  They’re all fine, upstanding young men, and they’re handsome and well-to-do.  You’d do well with any of them.”

“And how many of them do you think would be happy to have their wives working in your law office?”

“You must have it all, musn’t you?” Zelner mused.  “You’ve always been that way, ever since you were little.  You and Henry, planning all your adventures.  How is Henry?  Have you heard from him?”

“Not yet, but I have only just arrived,” said Anna.  “Besides, I get enough mail from the Cartwrights to keep me well occupied.  What do you suppose would happen if I were actually to choose one of them?”

“I expect that the others would be quite put out for about five minutes,” said Zelner.  “They’re a very close family, and in the end, all they want is the other’s happiness.  You really can’t go wrong, no matter which one you choose.”

“Really?  And how do you suppose they would feel if I were to choose their father?  After all, he’s available, isn’t he?”

Zelner laughed.  “You do love to create a scene,” he mused.  “That would be interesting-being stepmother to your suitors.”

“Especially when at least one of them is older than I am,” Anna pointed out.  “I know that Adam is older, and I suspect that Hoss is about my age.  How odd would that be, to have sons older than their mother?”

“Very,” pronounced Zelner.  “Perhaps you should reconsider that notion.”

“Why?  Do you think that they would be upset if I were to inherit the Ponderosa?”  The thought caused them both to double over in laughter.

“What on earth would you do with a ranch?” Zelner gasped between guffaws.

“Milk a cow?”  Anna wiped her eyes.

“With your delicate little city hands?  Face facts, my dear.  There are people who are only fit to sit in an office, and we are they.”

Anna caught her breath.  “You know, sometimes I think that it might not be so bad to have a little bit of land,” she admitted.

“You have a little bit of land,” Zelner said.  “It’s called your front yard.  Believe me, that’s enough land for you.”

“Well, I would like very much to see some of the countryside around here,” Anna said.  “Do you suppose that I could persuade one of the Cartwrights to take me for a drive sometime?”

“I’m sure that could be arranged, ma’am.”  Anna and Zelner both jumped; neither had heard Hoss enter the office.

“You’re too kind, Mr. Cartwright, but I was simply being silly,” said Anna, recovering her poise.  “I couldn’t dream of taking you away from your obligations at the ranch simply to drive me around.”

“Not at all, ma’am, I’d be happy to do it if’n you could wait ’til Sunday,” Hoss said.  “I’ve got a mess of chores between now and then, but I’d be obliged if you’d let me take you out for a drive after church.”

Anna was touched.  “I’d like that very much,” she said.  “But won’t your brothers mind?”

Hoss considered this for a moment.  “Frankly, ma’am, I don’t reckon they really need to know, do you?”

Anna smiled broadly.  “I don’t reckon they do, at that.”

* * * * * * * * * *

As Anna and Zelner exited the church on Sunday, Adam and Joe jockeyed for position beside her.  “Good morning, gentlemen,” she said smoothly, smiling impartially at each of them.  “Good morning, Mr. Cartwright,” she added over her shoulder to Ben.

“Good morning, Miss Simmons,” Ben said.  “And how are you settling in?”

“Just fine, thank you,” she said.  “I’ve had a few people come to the office to gawk at the lady lawyer, but mostly, everyone’s been quite pleasant.”

“Have you had the opportunity to get out of the office?” inquired Adam.

“Not all that much, no,” Anna replied.

“Perhaps a drive in the countryside would be enjoyable,” Adam said.

“That’s a lovely suggestion,” Anna said.  She saw Hoss driving up in the buggy.  “I believe I will do precisely that.  Uncle Efraim, I will be home later.”  She stepped to the edge of the sidewalk as Hoss drove up.

“Miss Anna, you jes’ wait a minute, I’ll be right there.”  He jumped down from the seat and, with surprising deftness, assisted her into the carriage before resuming his seat.  “See you later, Pa,” he called as they drove off.

Adam and Joe stood, open-mouthed.  Finally, they looked at each other.  “What just happened?” Joe asked finally.

“I think our brother may have gotten the jump on us,” Adam said.

“Well, not for long, he ain’t,” said Joe.

Ben placed a restraining hand on Joe’s arm.  “Let them go,” he said.  “They’re going out for a drive, and neither one of you will disturb them.  I mean it,” he added, seeing the look that his sons exchanged.

* * * * * * * * * *
“This place is unbelievably beautiful,” said Anna.  Hoss had spread a blanket on the ground just a few yards from the edge of the lake, and the picnic that Hop Sing had prepared was arranged between them.

“I reckon it’s jest about the purtiest place in the world,” Hoss said.  “Not that I’ve seen that much of the world, but I can’t figger anyplace purtier than this.”

“I’ve seen some of the world, and I agree with you,” Anna said.  The sunlight sparkled on incredibly blue water, almost blinding in its brightness.  Ponderosa pines reached up, straight and tall, as if they would shortly touch heaven.  Different birds sang different songs, all mixed together, as the waves lapped at the shore and the breeze rustled the branches.  She could not recall ever being in a more peaceful, more beautiful spot.

“Where have you gone?”  Hoss handed her glass of sweet tea.

“My husband enjoyed traveling, so we spent a fair time away from home,” she said.  “He was never much for staying in one place.  We went to Boston and New York, Washington and Charleston, and rounded back through Atlanta and New Orleans before we got back to Chicago.  And that was all in the space of a handful of months.”

“New Orleans?  Little Joe’ll be mighty jealous,” Hoss said.  “His ma was from New Orleans.  He ain’t never been there, but he always talks about goin’ someday.”

“It’s quite a place,” Anna said.  “To be honest, though, it wasn’t for me.  I’m not all that much on night life.  I’d rather have a lovely, quiet evening with someone I enjoy talking to than loud music and raucous company.  But don’t misunderstand me-many people think that it’s the finest city on earth, and I’m not saying that they’re wrong.  I’m just saying that it’s not for everyone.”

“I ain’t never been back east,” Hoss said.  “I been all the way to San Francisco, but I never seen the ocean on the other side.  My pa used to sail out of Boston back before Adam was born, so he’s been all the way from one edge of the country to the other.”

“Did you ever want to go back east?’ Anna asked, spreading jam on a roll and handing it to Hoss.

“Not really,” Hoss admitted.  “I hear it’s nice, but I don’t feel like I need to go there.  ‘Sides, I ain’t never heard tell that they got purtier lakes than this one, so there ain’t much point in goin’.”

“Henry and I always talked about traveling overseas, just to see what was there and to meet all the different people,” Anna said.

“You’re mighty fond o’ Henry, ain’t you?”

“I am,” said Anna.  “He’s like the brother I never had.  He’s someone who would have enjoyed New Orleans.  Too bad I couldn’t have sent him in my place.  That might have worked out well for everyone.”

“Has he ever been there?”

Anna shook her head.  “Henry is crippled,” she said.  “He’s always been small, and his bones are sort of twisted.  He can’t really walk, and he’s usually in pain.  He might go a few steps with a walking stick and someone to hold onto, but he needs a wheelchair to travel any distance.  He also tires easily.  But, he has enormous dreams, and he’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met.  Even with his condition, he tutors, and his students always love him.  They start off being afraid of him, and they end up thinking the world of him.”

“Ain’t there nothin’ they can do for him?”

“We used to write to doctors all over the place, asking.  The answers were always the same:  probably not, but you’ll have to come to our offices in Atlanta or Sacramento or wherever so that we can be certain.  And while he’s brave as a bull for me, he couldn’t do that.  He couldn’t travel that far for such a slim hope.  And so, he sits in his room in Chicago, and a few gifted students enjoy the enormous privilege of studying with him, and that has to be enough.”  She fell silent, her eyes clouded over.  Hoss surprised himself by reaching over and placing a hand on hers.  She looked up, startled.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t mean to presume,” he said.  He started to withdraw his hand, but she held it.

“No, you didn’t presume.  Thank you.  You’re very kind.  You keep listening to my stories as if they were interesting.”

“They are,” Hoss protested.  “I ain’t never known anybody like you.  Around here, the gals all want to git married and have babies.  I ain’t never known any gal who wanted to do nothin’ else.”

“The girls who want to get married and have babies are probably smarter than I,” Anna said.  “I thought that that was what I wanted when I married Seth.  It was definitely what he wanted.  Even when we did all that traveling, on our honeymoon trip-Hoss, I was bored.  I wanted to be doing something, not just being entertained.  I think that, perhaps if I’d been doing something during the day, I might have enjoyed going out in the evening, but it wasn’t like that.  Everything was about keeping him entertained, visiting these people or dining in that restaurant or attending this show or that party, until I wanted to scream.  Everywhere we went, we seemed to be with the same people, saying the same things.  It didn’t seem to matter to him that he was just skimming through the world, doing nothing to change it.  I remember when we were in New York.  We’d just gotten out of a carriage, and a young woman-she couldn’t have been any older than I-approached us, asking for money.  She had three little children with her.  She started to tell us that her husband had died and they were hungry, but Seth just brushed her off, grabbed my arm, and hustled me into a building.  Hoss, my husband was able to see a hungry family and just walk away as if they meant nothing.  As soon as we got inside, I gave the butler all the money I had and told him to take it out to the woman.  He came back and told me that they were gone.  I think that that was the first time I realized that my marriage was a mistake.  How on earth I had married a man with no humanity, I’ll never know.”

“Miss Anna, I surely don’t mean to presume, but it don’t sound like he was good enough for you,” said Hoss.  “D’you mind if I ask-why did you marry him?  I’m sorry, that ain’t right.  I shouldn’t’ve asked that.”

“No, it’s all right,” Anna said.  “I’ve asked myself the same question a thousand times.  Henry tried to tell me not to do it.  I think it may be the only time in my life when I didn’t listen to him.  I didn’t listen to my mother, either.”

“She said not to marry him?”

“Her advice on marriage was very simple.  She always said, ‘Marry your best friend.  If he’s not your best friend, don’t marry him.’  Seth wasn’t my best friend, but he was charming and suave and made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world, and my stomach flipped over when he came into a room.  I thought that was enough.  I knew Seth wasn’t my best friend, but I figured that since Henry was, and I couldn’t marry him, it was enough to have the spark.  Turns out, I was wrong.”

Hoss pondered this.  “I ain’t never heard anyone put it the way your ma did, but it makes sense,” he said finally.  “I come close to gettin’ married a few times, but it never took.  Maybe they warn’t my best friends.”

“I think my mother oversimplified it a little,” Anna said.  “I think you have to have the spark, too.  Otherwise, I’d probably have tried to marry Henry at some point.  But as much as I love him like a brother, there’s no spark.  No magic.  And if I were to get married, I’d want it all-a best friend who makes my stomach flip over and my heart beat faster.”

“If that’s what you want, then that’s what you should have,” Hoss pronounced.  “Now, I think Hop Sing put some cake in here somewhere.  D’you see it?”  They bent their heads over the basket, looking for dessert.

“So, how was your drive?” asked Adam at dinner.

“It was nice,” Hoss said, tucking into his steak.

“Nice,” said Joe sarcastically.  “He steals the most beautiful woman in Virginia City right out from under his own brothers’ noses, and all he has is a ‘nice’ time.”

Hoss shrugged.  “I don’t know what else to tell you,” he said.

“What did you do?” asked Adam.

“We went for a drive, and had a picnic, and talked,” said Hoss.

“What did you talk about?”

“All sorts of stuff.  She’s been to New Orleans.  Didn’t really like it.”

“She didn’t like New Orleans?”  Joe was flabbergasted.

“Clearly, a woman of grace and elegance,” stated Adam.

“I don’t think she liked Boston or New York much, neither,” said Hoss.  “She don’t really seem to like traveling.”

“What else did she tell you?”

“She talked a lot about Henry,” Hoss said, reaching for another steak.

Joe and Adam exchanged exasperated looks.  “Henry again,” Adam said.  “Why doesn’t she just marry Henry?”

“I don’t think Henry’s the marryin’ kind,” said Hoss.  “She said he’s real smart, though.  Smartest man she ever met.”

“She thinks that, does she?” mused Adam.  This time, it was Joe and Ben who exchanged looks.  Hoss focused on his dinner, oblivious to his older brother’s scheming or his younger brother’s frustration.

The next morning, Jacob delivered a note to Anna.  It was more poetry from Adam Cartwright.  Anna tipped Jacob and sat back.  This was beginning to move from amusing to annoying.  She knew what would eventually happen.  Adam and Joe would tire of the chase, and they would move on to women who were less trouble.  After that, the also-rans would take their shots, and when they failed, she would be left in peace except for the occasional new man in town.  It seemed almost a rite of passage, this need to try to court the beautiful blond lawyer.  Ironically, the only man in town who didn’t seem to feel the need to compete for her or with her was Hoss.  She wondered if he would be her new friend.  He hadn’t Henry’s intellect, but there was a sweetness, a gentleness about him that she trusted.  God knew, she’d certainly told him much more about herself than she’d told anyone in a long, long time.  It would be nice to have a real friend here in this rough, masculine town.  Besides, she had the sense that he knew just as much about not fitting in as she did.

Later that week, as she was walking to the post office, she came upon the four Cartwrights.  It occurred to her to wonder how on earth they ever tended to their ranch, considering how much time they seemed to spend in Virginia City.

“Miss Simmons,” said Ben, tipping his hat.  The boys followed suit.

“Gentlemen,” she responded, curtsying slightly.  “What brings you all into town today?”

“Well, the others came in for supplies and errands,” said Joe, moving smoothly to the front of the group.

“And you?”

“I came to see the most beautiful woman in town,” he said.  “And now I’ve done that.”  He reached for her hand and brought it to his lips.

“How charming you are,” she smiled, smoothly reclaiming her hand.

“Perhaps you’d join me for dinner, and I could show you how charming I am,” Joe responded just as smoothly.  She had to give him this:  he was good.  Unfortunately for Joe, he was just a bit too good; he reminded her of Seth.

“I’ve a better idea,” she said.  “Why don’t the four of you come for dinner on Saturday?”

The Cartwright men exchanged glances, and Ben spoke for the group.  “We’d love to,” he said.  “What a delightful invitation.”

“Not at all,” Anna said.  “Now, I must return to the office.  Hoss, would you be kind enough to escort me?”

“Certainly, ma’am,” said Hoss, offering the lady his arm.

As they moved down the street, Adam muttered to Joe, “She just does this to annoy us, doesn’t she?”

“I think she does,” Joe muttered back.  “Playing hard to get.”

Once they were out of earshot, Anna said, “Hoss, I need your help with something.”

“Anything,” Hoss replied.  “What can I do?”

“That depends,” Anna said.  “Can you cook?”

“Can I cook?”

“I just invited your entire family to dinner, and I can’t cook.  I have no idea what possessed me.  I don’t cook, Uncle Efraim doesn’t cook, and his cook is visiting her grandchildren in Sacramento.  We’ve been eating out most nights since she’s been gone.  I’m lucky I can fry an egg, but I surely can’t cook for a dinner party.”

“Well-if’n I can ask-why did you invite us?”

“I didn’t just want to say ‘no’ to Joe right there, in front of your entire family, so I needed a diversion, and that was all I could think of.”

“You didn’t want to have dinner with Little Joe?  He’s mighty fine comp’ny.”

“To tell the truth, he’s just a little too charming for my tastes,” Anna admitted.  “I’m sure he’s wonderful, but I need to get past his attempts to woo me, and I haven’t managed that yet.  So, what do I do about dinner?”

“Well, that’s a problem all right, ma’am,” Hoss agreed.  “But don’t you worry ’bout nothin’.  Ole Hoss’ll take care of everything.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Just after lunch on Saturday, Hoss opened the kitchen door a crack and peered out.  Seeing no one around, he said, “Okay, let’s go!”  He grabbed two large boxes and ran out to the buckboard.  Hop Sing followed close behind, carrying pots and pans.  They flung their treasures into the back of the buckboard, climbed aboard, and took off.

“Why we go to the lady’s house, Mista Hoss?” demanded Hop Sing, his hand on his head to keep his cap from flying off.

“‘Cuz she invited us!” said Hoss, his attention on the racing horses.

“She no invite Hop Sing,” Hop Sing pointed out.

“But she needs you,” Hoss said.

“She say that?”

“Hop Sing, she needs our help.  Now, nobody can know that you’re there.  I tole Pa I was going into town and I’d meet him there.  We’re gonna go early and help her fix dinner, and then you can go and see all your relatives in town while we eat dinner.”

“How Hop Sing get back to Ponderosa?”

“We’ll figger somethin’ out,” said Hoss, who hadn’t actually thought that far ahead.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Well, Anna, that meal was simply wonderful,” said Ben.  “I don’t think Hop Sing could have done better.”

“I wouldn’t tell him that if I were you,” said Anna, carefully avoiding Hoss’ eye.  He and Hop Sing had taken over her kitchen, giving her simple jobs like setting the table while pans clanged and pots boiled and the Chinese cook threw tantrums.  “But I do appreciate your kind words.  Having had dinner at your home, I consider that there is no higher praise.”  She also avoided Zelner’s eye; he had not actually witnessed Hoss and Hop Sing in the kitchen, but he knew his niece’s culinary abilities, and he knew that she had run some sort of a scam with dinner.

“And may I reiterate, gentlemen, that the flowers are beautiful, and the wine was delicious,” she added.  Joe and Adam had brought still more flowers, and Ben had brought a bottle of burgundy.  Hoss’ family had glanced askew at him when he opened the front door to let them in, but he simply mumbled something about having arrived earlier than he’d expected.  In fact, he’d barely caught his breath after shepherding Hop Sing out the back door and Anna up the stairs to change.  As Ben had walked past him into the parlor, he’d reached up to straighten Hoss’ tie, but said not a word.  Hoss wondered what his father thought had transpired before their arrival.  He didn’t dare ask.  It was bad enough that Adam and Joe both glared at him for having been in her house before first.  He did not need anyone thinking things about Anna that simply weren’t true.

After dinner, Anna and the men congregated in the living room for coffee and brandy.  Not for the first time, Efraim observed how comfortable she appeared to be in a roomful of men.  He had seen her in a roomful of women, and she appeared to be piteously out of place amid talk of sewing and cooking and babies.  Here, however, she seemed to be in her element.  Of course, having the two Cartwright boys perched on either side of her, competing for her attentions, couldn’t hurt.  The middle one seemed to be her new friend, but the others clearly wanted more than friendship from her.  Efraim sighed inwardly.  Eventually, the suitors would fall away.  Hopefully, when they did, her friend would remain her friend.

* * * * * * * * * *

The following Saturday, as Adam passed Joe’s room, he noticed his younger brother tying his tie.  That little rat.  Anna had declined his invitation to dinner on the grounds of a previous engagement.  So the previous engagement was Little Joe.

“So, big plans for tonight?” he asked, lounging in Joe’s doorway.

Joe ran the brush over his barely-contained curls.  “Dinner with Anna Simmons,” he said casually, although he felt anything but casual.  Truth be told, his primary feeling was triumph.  For once, he’d succeeded in getting in front of Adam.

“And just what do you plan to discuss over dinner?” asked Adam, one eyebrow raised.

“What do you mean?  It’s just dinner.”  Joe adjusted his collar and surveyed himself in the mirror.

“Joe, this isn’t Daisy Murphy we’re talking about,” Adam said.  “This is a very intelligent, ambitious woman.  You can’t get away with small talk and flowery speeches.  You have to be talk to her on her own level.  Have you even read a newspaper lately?”

“Sure I have!”  Depended when “lately” was, of course, but Joe was not about to admit to his brother that he hadn’t properly prepared for his date.

“That’s fortunate,” Adam said.  “You’d hate to be sitting there with nothing to say.  I’m sure she’s tired of topics like how she likes Virginia City or why she decided to become a lawyer or what her most interesting cases are.”  He leaned against the doorway, suppressing a smirk.  He felt confident that he had just disposed of every subject, other than the color of her eyes, that Joe was qualified to discuss with Anna Simmons.

“Well, sure, I knew that,” said Joe.  He focused on his reflection, fervently casting around his brain for some other topic that they might be able to discuss.

“Sounds as if you’re all set, then,” said Adam.  “Have fun.”  He strolled down the hall, satisfied that he had his little brother sufficiently unnerved.  Anna, just wait until you spend time with a man of your own caliber, he thought, whistling as he descended to the living room.

* * * * * * * * * *

“I’m finding Virginia City to be quite enjoyable,” Anna said.  She couldn’t put her finger on the difference, but Joe’s charm seemed to have given way a bit, not unlike the cake she had attempted to concoct that afternoon.  She found the slight wobble in his presentation to be much more pleasant.  “You’ve been here your entire life, haven’t you?”

“The whole time,” Joe said.  “Now, how did you know that?”

“Oh, I have my ways,” she smiled.  The rain that was gently tapping against the windows was creating a much more intimate and romantic atmosphere than she was quite comfortable with.  She noticed Ralph Widmark sitting at a small table across the restaurant.  He was with a pale young woman, and he seemed to be far more interested in his meal than his dining companion.  She looked away quickly, before he could catch her eye.

“You do.”  Now, Joe was on much more familiar ground.  Flirting was one of his talents.  He couldn’t have realized that, as the suave, charming Joe returned, his attractiveness to Anna diminished.  He reached for her hand, and she smoothly drew it away and reached for her water glass.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Widmark watching them.

“You’re a very challenging woman to win over, aren’t you, Anna Simmons?” Joe asked, reaching again for her hand as she set the glass down.

“Some would say so,” she replied, withdrawing her hand again.  She recognized that Joe thought she was simply playing hard to get.  Widmark probably thought the same.  Games were so tiresome sometimes.  She couldn’t help comparing this dinner to her picnic with Hoss.  How curious that two brothers could be so different.

“You and Hoss aren’t at all alike, are you?”

Joe looked surprised.  “Hoss?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-it’s not a criticism.  I was just thinking how very different you two are.  Are you close?”

“Yes, ma’am, we are.  Hoss is probably my best friend.  You see, Adam was so much older, so he was running the ranch with Pa when Hoss and I were still little kids.  Hoss was always patient with me, even though I was so much younger.  He went along with all my harebrained schemes-still does, in fact, and I have to admit, I’ve come up with some wild ideas.  He goes along with them, but he’s never hesitated to stomp on me if he thought I needed it.  I could probably live with just about anything other than having Hoss mad at me.”

“And what about Adam?  Are you close to him?”

“Not really,” Joe admitted.  “Too much of an age difference, I think.  Plus, in some ways, I think Older Brother and I are enough alike that we seem to butt heads a lot.  Hoss is the peacemaker.  It upsets him when Adam and I aren’t getting along-which is a lot of time, I guess.”  He debated for a second before confessing.  “I think Adam was a little bit put out that you and I were going out tonight.”

“Why should he be?  If he had invited me first, I’d have had to tell you I was unavailable.  He has no one to blame but himself.  Did Hoss mind?”

“He didn’t seem to.”  To be honest, Joe hadn’t really paid attention.  Adam had had him so flustered about conversation topics that he’d barely noticed Hoss and Pa as he’d left the house.

“Then it doesn’t sound as if you have anything to worry about,” Anna said.  “As for Adam-it’s well known that he who hesitates is lost.”

Joe grinned.  “You’re really something,” he said admiringly.  He took her hand.  “So, if I ask you now to have dinner with me next Saturday. . . .”

She shook her head and withdrew her hand.  “I’ll not be the prize in a brotherly competition,” she said.  “I’m not interested in going out with someone who simply wants to win.  If I wanted that, I’d have dinner with a lawyer.”  She sipped her wine.  She was not going to tell Joe Cartwright that, in truth, there was no lawyer in town, other than her uncle, with whom she would voluntarily dine-especially not the one who was now openly ogling her instead of paying attention to his own dinner companion.  Impulsively, she added the challenge:  “If it’s me you want-and not simply to beat Adam-you’ll need to come with a much better plan than simply booking up all my Saturday nights.”

Joe’s green eyes glowed.  This was definitely the most interesting woman he’d been with in a very long time.  “I think I could do that,” he said.

* * * * * * * * * *

It came as no surprise to Anna that, as she and Zelner left church the next day, Adam Cartwright drove up in a carriage.  Part of her wanted to brush him off and go home, but she could feel Little Joe’s gaze upon her, and it was not her intention that he feel he had somehow won her.  She was serious about not being a prize in the brotherly competition.  And so, she agreed to go for a drive with Adam.

Half an hour later, Anna found herself regretting her decision.  While Adam was clearly his brothers’ intellectual superior, his consciousness of this fact, and his willingness to flaunt it, were distinctly unattractive.  He rambled at length about various current events as if he alone had ever read a newspaper and she were in need of his insights.  While he appeared to be fairly informed as to legal matters, he was not as well-versed as he seemed to believe.

Anna had enormous patience with those who knew that they did not know the law.  However, she had very little patience with those who tried to convince her that they knew as much, if not more, than she, unless they demonstrated a basis for such a belief.  After listening to Adam talk, she finally said, “You seem to be well-versed in the law for a layman.  Do you read the law very much?”

“When I get the opportunity,” Adam lied breezily.

“I see,” Anna said.  “You must have read Scott v. Sandford, then, didn’t you?”

Scott v. Sandford?  No, I-I don’t believe that I did.  Is it a recent decision?”

“Not at all,” Anna said.  “It was released in 1856.  How unfortunate that you missed a decision of such importance.  I believe that it framed many of the issues in the war.”  If he missed this clue, he wasn’t nearly as intelligent as he thought.

“Oh, the Dred Scott decision,” Adam said, disguising his relief.  “Yes, I recall that decision.”  A bit of an overstatement, but it would do.  He remembered that the decision had something to do with a former slave seeking to sue the man who claimed to be his owner, but it had been so long since it had been in the news, and so much about slavery had changed since then, that he could not recall what the court had decided.

“Did you agree with it?”  Anna knew that she was baiting him now, but she was curiously unconcerned.  She was so tired of men who felt the need to compete with her.

“Uh-well-the Supreme Court is made up of some of the best minds of our generation,” he hedged.

“Our generation?  Aren’t most of the justices much older than we are?”

“I meant ‘our generation’ merely as a figure of speech, of course,” Adam said hastily.  How on earth had Joe and Hoss managed with this woman?

“Of course,” she said.  “But are you saying that you agree with the court’s analysis of Mr. Scott’s position?”

“I don’t actually remember the details,” Adam admitted.  “It’s been several years now.”

Anna was tempted to let him off the hook, but she resisted the impulse to be too soft-hearted.  “Still, a decision of that significance isn’t easily forgotten,” she said.  “Personally, I thought that the Scott court was entirely incorrect, and I was most delighted that the Kentucky court’s recent decision in United States v. Rhodes acknowledged the effect of events in eviscerating Scott.”

“I’m not familiar with Rhodes,” Adam admitted.

“Perhaps I can get a copy for you,” Anna said.  “I think that you’d find it illuminating.”

“I’m sure I would,” said Adam, calculating how much longer politeness required him to drive before returning Anna Simmons to her uncle.

* * * * * * * * * *

Anna’s lingering frustration with the competitiveness of the Cartwrights distracted her Monday morning until a small, round woman walked in, wringing her handkerchief.  “Please, come in,” said Anna, offering the woman a chair.  “May I help you?”

“Please, miss, is Mr. Zelner here?”

The woman was distraught.  Anna retreated to Zelner’s office in the back without further comment.  “Uncle Efraim, there’s a woman here to see you.”

“Ah, Mrs. Carver, is it?”

“I don’t know.  Who is Mrs. Carver?”

“Danny Carver’s mother.  Danny was arrested for murder yesterday.  I’ve been expecting a visit.”

“You never mentioned this to me.”

“You were sufficiently irritable when you returned from your drive with young Cartwright that I chose not to bother you with such details.”

“How would you know whether I was irritable?  You were over at your own house.”

“And you did not stop by,” said Zelner.  “Had you enjoyed yourself, you would have come over for tea and tales.  And if you’d done so, you’d have found Adam Cartwright’s younger brother at my table, and you’d have had a most enjoyable evening.”

“I already saw Joe Cartwright on Saturday, thank you.  I didn’t need a second dose.”

“Not Joe-Hoss.”

“Hoss?  What was he doing there?”

“I’m not quite certain.  Either he was investigating for Joseph, or he wished to see you for himself.  Matters of young love are simply too much for me to keep track of.  In any event, he reported the news of Sara Folsom’s murder and Danny Carver’s arrest.  See what you missed by being obstinate?”

“Well, in any event, I assume that’s Mrs. Carver, and she’s waiting for you.”

“Waiting for us, my dear,” said Zelner.  “I want you to work with me on this matter.”

“Is Mrs. Carver going to want a woman lawyer working on her son’s case?”

Zelner smiled.  “I’m the best lawyer in town, and she knows it.  She’ll agree to you, because otherwise, her son will be in the incompetent hands of Ralph Widmark.  She’d rather have a woman lawyer than a hangman, I assure you.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Danny Carver was as scrawny as his mother was soft and plump.  His dirty blond hair looked as if he hadn’t washed it in months.  The matching mustache was desperately in need of a trim.  His watery blue eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot.  As Anna and Zelner approached the cell, the stench of tobacco, whiskey, and body odor was nearly overwhelming.  Roy Coffee eyed them suspiciously.

“Miss, you ain’t goin’ in there,” he said flatly.

“I’m his lawyer,” Anna said.

“I thought you were his lawyer,” Roy said to Efraim.

“We both are,” said Zelner.

“I ain’t havin’ no lady for a lawyer!” whined Danny.

“Danny, you hush now!” said his mother, still wringing her handkerchief.  Anna couldn’t help but wonder how a woman with such a blindingly white handkerchief had produced such a filthy son.  “These people are goin’ to help you.”

“No lady lawyer’s gonna help me!” said Danny.

“Son, she’s one of the best lawyers I’ve ever seen,” said Zelner.  “She and I work together.  If you want me, she’s part of the deal.”

“Danny, honey, you listen to the man,” said Mrs. Carver.  “He’s gonna get you out of jail.  If you don’t do what he says, why, you’ll-”  Tears filled her eyes.

“Oh, Mama, don’t cry.”  Danny reached a bony hand through the bars.  “It’s gonna be okay.  I didn’t do nothin’.  I wasn’t even there.  You’ll see.”

“Where were you?” Anna asked.  If she couldn’t go into the cell, she’d just conduct her investigation from outside it.

“I was walkin’ down the street,” said Danny.  “Next thing I knew, somebody said I was a killer, and I was here.”

“What were you doing before you were walking down the street?” asked Zelner.

“I was in the saloon,” said Danny.

“Oh, Danny, no, you weren’t,” protested his mother.  “Not again.  We talked about this.  You weren’t going to go there any more.”

“Please, Mrs. Carver,” said Zelner.  “Let Danny tell his story.  Danny, did anyone see you in the saloon?”

Danny shrugged.  “I guess whoever was in there,” he said.  “I ain’t real sure who was there.  I was-I was there for a while.”

“We’re most interested in who was there when you were leaving,” said Anna.  “Close your eyes, and try to picture the room just before you left.”  Somewhat to her surprise, Danny closed his eyes.  “Now, who do you see there?”

“Lessee.  Jake Buhler, Matt Donovan, a couple of fancy poker players.  Bert the bartender.  A couple of the girls-Angie and Sue Ellen.”

“Anybody else?”

“I think-mebbe Hoss Cartwright.  No, mebbe he left ‘fore me.  Or mebbe I saw him outside.  I ain’t sure.”

Only someone who knew Zelner as well as Anna did would have realized that the older man was startled by this statement.  He shook his head slightly at Anna’s questioning glance.  Hoss hadn’t mentioned this.  “Anybody else?”

Danny opened his eyes.  “There was other people, but I ain’t good with names.  I seen some of them before, though,” he said.

Zelner looked as if he were suppressing a sigh.  “Is there anything else you remember?”

“Nope,” said Danny.  He looked sideways at his mother.  Anna and Zelner exchanged glances.

“Mrs. Carver, may I speak with you for a moment?” asked Anna.  Smoothly, she drew Danny’s mother away from the cell and out of earshot.  As she manufactured questions, she watched over Mrs. Carver’s shoulder.  Danny was hanging his head, and Zelner was clearly trying to encourage him about something.

“What did he tell you?” Anna asked after Mrs. Carver left their office some time later.

“Seems the reason he’s not so sure about everything is that he was drunk,” said Zelner.  “He’d been in the saloon since about lunchtime, and the murder was after midnight.”

“After midnight?  I thought Hoss told you about it when he came over Sunday evening,” Anna said.

Zelner nodded.  “Saturday night was the murder,” he said.  “They didn’t arrest Danny until Sunday afternoon.”

“That’s odd,” said Anna.  “I wonder why it took the sheriff that long to arrest him.”

“I don’t know,” said Zelner.  “What I find more interesting is how they knew to arrest him at all.  Sara Folsom was strangled.  From what I have learned, no one was obliging enough to leave behind a monogrammed handkerchief or a note identifying himself as a killer.  Since there was no shot, and apparently no one heard a scream or a struggle, someone must have known that Danny was in the area at that time.”

“So we need to know who accused Danny,” said Anna.

“Correct, my dear,” Zelner smiled.  “A lovely chat with Sheriff Coffee is first on the list.  Then, I believe it may be time to have another conversation with Hoss Cartwright.”

“You don’t think Hoss is involved in this?”  Anna’s stomach lurched with horror.

“Of course not,” said Zelner.  “Not that way.  I’ve known Hoss Cartwright since he was a boy.  If ever a man was incapable of harming another person except in self-defense or in the defense of another, it is Hoss.  No, Hoss has the opposite problem.  He tends to be one of the world’s caretakers-anyone, anywhere, needing help and protection may find it in our young friend.  And in this case, I suspect that, by failing to mention himself as a witness, Hoss may think that he is helping and protecting Danny Carver.  We need to persuade him that he is incorrect.”

“But what if he’s right?  What if whatever he knows is harmful to Danny?”

“Then, my dear, we need to know it before the prosecutor does.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“The apple pie was superb, Sallie Ann,” said Zelner.  The plump woman who ran the little restaurant beamed.  The elderly lawyer was one of her favorite customers:  he praised everything, and he tipped lavishly.

“More coffee, miss?”  Sallie Ann held the pot, ready to pour.  She hadn’t quite made up her mind about Zelner’s niece.  The girl seemed nice enough, but she just couldn’t figure out why such a pretty thing would want to be a lawyer.  It didn’t make sense, especially when everybody knew the Cartwright boys were all trying to win her.  She should just pick one and settle down and forget all this nonsense about trying to be like her uncle.

“No, thank you, Sallie Ann,” said Anna, smiling.  “We need to get back to the office.”  She folded her napkin and laid it beside her plate as Zelner counted out the cost of their lunch and a generous tip.  They bid their hostess farewell and left, strolling up the street in the warm spring sunshine.

At the corner, Zelner said, “I need to stop over at the land records for a few minutes.  I’ll see you back in the office, and we can start on our direct examination of Sheriff Coffee.”

“Fine.”  Anna’s mind was already outlining the questions for the sheriff as Zelner stepped off the curb.  Moments later, she heard the neighing, the rattling of the wagon, and the scream.

When she turned, she saw Efraim Zelner lying in the middle of the street, unmoving.

That evening, as she sat by his bed, Anna tried to recall what she had been told about the accident.  Something about the horse harnessed to someone’s rig bolting, just as her uncle had been walking past.  No one seemed to know why the horse bolted, only that the wagon had somehow struck and threw the lawyer.  Doc Martin said that he was very, very lucky.  His leg was broken, and that was serious in a man of his age, but it was the only injury of any significance.

Zelner smiled weakly at Anna.  “Well, this certainly presents a situation,” he murmured.

“What are you talking about?”

“I can’t try the Carver case from my bed,” he said.  “We have only a week before the circuit judge arrives.  If we don’t go forward then, it’ll be another three months before he comes back.  We can’t leave Danny Carver to sit in jail that long.”

“I know.”  Anna straightened the blanket across the old man’s chest.  “And we’re not the only ones who know that.  Ralph Widmark has already been here.”

“Vulture,” said Zelner.  “Did he want you to sit as second chair, or did he want us out of the case entirely?”

“He wanted it all to himself,” said Anna.  “He did offer to split the fee.”

“How generous,” said Zelner drily.  “Two-thirds for him, one-third for us?”

“Three-quarters, one-quarter,” said Anna.

Zelner laughed and gasped, holding his bruised ribs.  “Don’t make me laugh, it hurts too much,” he said.  “He actually tried that?”

“He probably thought that we’d be thrilled to be rescued from our dilemma,” said Anna.

“Where did he want to take you for dinner?”

It was Anna’s turn to laugh.  “Were you eavesdropping?”

Zelner chuckled.  “Widmark is eminently predictable,” he said.  “It is entirely in keeping with his character that he would choose to celebrate cheating fellow members of the bar by requiring the beautiful one to spend time in his company.  Simultaneously a bonus for himself and an extra kick for the vanquished.”  He fell silent for a moment.  Then, he smiled.  “But, my dear, we will not be vanquished,” he announced.

“What are you saying?”

“I have made a decision,” the elderly lawyer said.

“And what might that be?”

Zelner took her hand.  “Trial will go forward on Monday as scheduled.”

“And how to you propose to do that when you can’t even get out of bed?”

“Simple, my dear.  I’m not going to try the case.”

“You mean-”

“Yes.  The case of the people versus Daniel Carver is going to be tried by one Anna Simmons.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“Are you ready, Anna?”  Hoss stood protectively beside her table.  The satchel he had carried over from her office was on the floor beside her, and she had several stacks of papers arranged on the table in an order only she understood.  He’d done all he could for her in the week since Zelner’s accident, including helping her move into her uncle’s house so that she could tend to him and work with him.  Still, it didn’t feel like very much.  He wished he could have done more.

She took a deep breath and forced a smile.  “I wish Uncle Efraim could have been here,” she whispered.  And my father, she thought.  Both men deserved to see this, on so many levels.  No one but her uncle would have given her this opportunity.  His faith in her was nearly overwhelming.  Zelner was able to spend short periods in a wheelchair, but he lacked the stamina to sit up for more than an hour or so.  Even so, they’d spent hours upon hours preparing for this trial, with Zelner playing the roles of the judge, the prosecutor and various witnesses as she honed her questions.  Last night, he’d pronounced her ready.

Her large friend smiled.  “He’d be so proud of you right now,” Hoss said.  He knew he was.

Just then, Joe came in, carrying an envelope.  “Is this the one you wanted?”

Anna opened it and scanned the document.  “I’m sorry, but it’s not,” she said.  “There should be another one on Uncle Efraim’s desk.  I know the desk is rather disorganized, but I haven’t had a chance to sort through everything yet.  If the other envelope isn’t on the desk, it’s possible that it’s in one of the drawers.  Would you mind terribly-”

“Not at all,” said Joe gallantly.  He headed out of the courtroom just as the baliff intoned, “All rise.”

“Here we go,” Anna whispered.  Hoss patted her hand quickly and took a seat in the front row.

The first witness was Bert, the bartender from the Bucket of Blood.  He testified about Danny Carver being in the saloon for hours on the day of the murder and how typical this was of Danny.  Danny didn’t seem to care, but Hoss felt sorry for his mother.  Then, Bert testified about how somebody had coming running inside, claiming that there was a dead girl in the alley, and how he’d sent someone for the sheriff and the doctor.

The bartender had been easy and open with the prosecutor.  His response to Anna on cross-examination was different.  She felt certain that he didn’t actually dislike her.  After all, he didn’t know her.  Still, he seemed skeptical, as if he didn’t feel she belonged there.  She knew that it was probably just her imagination, but she felt that he was looking at her as if she were some little girl who should be playing with dolls instead of asking him questions in front of a jury.  She took a moment to sort through her notes.  Approaching the witness with a confidence she didn’t feel, she began, “Mr. Cavanaugh, when you were-”

The explosion cut her off.  For a moment, she thought the room was going to fall apart.  Everyone was startled.  Even the judge looked around, as if he expected someone to explain.  After a minute, he pounded his gavel to silence the spectators, all of whom were asking each other what had just happened.  Anna looked to the bench for permission to continue.  The judge looked to the bartender, who shrugged, and the judge nodded to Anna.

She began again.  “Mr. Cavanaugh, when you were-”

“Excuse me, Your Honor?”

All eyes turned to the back of the room.  Sheriff Coffee’s new deputy stood in the doorway, breathless.

“Yes, young man?  What is it?”  the judge demanded.

“Please, Your Honor-I’m sorry to interrupt, but-that explosion-it was Miss Simmons’ office.”

Anna’s hand went to her throat.  Hoss moved quickly to her side.  No sooner had he reached her, though, when their eyes met, and the same thought went through both their minds.

Joe.

“Your Honor, may the defense take a recess?”  She was amazed that she had the presence of mind to ask.  Hoss had already run out the back door.

“Of course.”  The judge banged the gavel.  “Court is in recess.  Take the prisoner into custody.”  The baliff took Danny’s arm as Anna ran out of the room after Hoss.

For such a large man, Hoss was surprisingly swift.  Now, with his brother’s life in jeopardy, he was even faster.  He heard the fire wagon racing down the street from the other direction as he ran to Anna’s office.  “Joe!”  he yelled as he approached.  He didn’t see his brother anywhere outside the building.

The front part of the office was on fire.  The doorway was blocked by the flames.  Without thinking, Hoss propelled himself through the plate glass window.  The fire was largely contained near the door, but the rest of the office was a shambles from the impact.  “Joe!”  he yelled.  “Joseph!  Where are you?”  Coughing, his eyes stinging from the smoke, he barreled through the office, shoving bookcases and desks aside.

“Joseph!” he bellowed.  “Where the dickens are you?”  He coughed again.  The smoke was thickening.  He headed into the back office, Efraim’s personal space.

Then he saw it.

A boot protruded from beneath a tall oak bookcase that had fallen against the desk.  Thick, heavy law books had tumbled from the bookcase, falling on the desk, the floor, and the man who lay, unmoving, in the space behind the desk and underneath the bookcase.  Frantic, Hoss heaved the bookcase back against the wall.  He knelt, flinging the books aside, and turned Joe on his back.  A large lump was already rising on the younger man’s temple.  Hoss slapped his brother’s face.  “Joe!  Wake up, boy!”

No response.  There was no more time.  The front office was no longer passable.  Flames licked at the doorframe.  In a matter of minutes, the entire space would be consumed.  Hoss gathered his brother in his arms and stood helplessly for a moment.  Then, giving thanks for his knowledge of Anna’s office, Hoss ran down the tiny hallway to the back entrance and out the door.  There, he emerged into the fresh air of the back alley, coughing and choking.  He didn’t take the time to rest.  Instead, still cradling Joe in his arms like a child, he raced down the back alley to the mercantile and burst through the back door into the store.

“Hoss Cartwright, what on earth-”  Laurie Ann Miller was indignant until she realized what the large man carried.  Quickly, she moved a barrel of flour out of Hoss’ way as he charged through the store and out onto the street.  Behind him, she watched as he raced down the street to Doc Martin’s.  She followed him as far as the street, where she watched with pride as her husband, one of Virginia City’s firemen, threw buckets of water on the lawyer’s office.

* * * * * * * * * * *

“How was the trial going before the explosion?” asked Zelner.  He and Anna sat in his room, sipping tea from bone china cups.  Hoss was upstairs with Joe.  The doctor had been and gone, diagnosing the young man with a serious concussion and a large lump on his head where the heavy oak bookcase struck him, as well as smoke inhalation and various bumps and bruises from the law books that had landed on him when the bookcase fell.  Anna had taken dinner up to them, broth for Joe and chicken for Hoss.  Hoss seemed barely to notice her, so focused was he on coaxing his brother to take a few sips of the broth.  Leaving the tray, she’d returned downstairs to her uncle’s bedside.

“Not well,” Anna admitted.  “All we’d had were opening arguments, and the bartender was the first witness, but I could see it already.  They don’t trust me.  I could see it in their eyes.  Anything Robinson said, they took at face value, even though it’s ridiculous.  They were nodding during his opening argument.  Then, when I spoke, I could tell that even the bartender thought I was just a silly girl who’s making everything up and who should just go home and darn socks like all the other ladies.”

Zelner lay back on his pillows.  His countenance was grim.  If only he could have been at the table with her.  But that wasn’t the answer.  The jury would have wondered why he was letting her try the case, and they’d have held it against Danny Carver.  “You have to find a way to convince them that they should believe you,” he said slowly.

“I know,” said Anna.  She and Zelner sat in silence.  Finally, she said, “I’m going to have to put Hoss on the stand.”

Zelner raised an eyebrow.  “Are you certain you want to do that?”

“I don’t have a choice,” said Anna.  “They know him.  They like him.  He’s a Cartwright.  He’s a kind, honest man.  They’ll believe whatever he says.  And if I’m the one to put him on the stand, hopefully they’ll believe me because they believe him.”

Zelner considered this.  “It’s a gamble,” he said at last.  “Is he going to say what you need for him to say?”

Anna nodded.  “He’ll say exactly what I want him to say.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Someone was in the room.  Joe struggled to open his eyes, to focus.  His head was pounding.  He squinted.  A figure was silhouetted against the window, just standing there.

“Who’s there?”

His voice, raspy and weak, was little more than a whisper, but the figure turned.  “Jest me, Little Brother,” said Hoss, crossing the room as silently as he’d entered.  “Sorry.  Didn’t mean to wake you.”

“What time is it?”

“Dunno, but it’s late.  Nobody out on the street.”  The upstairs guest room at Zelner’s house afforded an excellent view of Virginia City’s business district.  Anna had insisted that Joe be moved there after Doc Martin had said that his head injury was too serious for him to be moved all the way out to the Ponderosa.  With Ben, Adam and Hop Sing all out of town, Hoss had reluctantly conceded that it would be easier to care for Joe in town, if only to be nearer to the doctor.

“Who’d you think would be out there?”  Joe managed.

Instead of answering, Hoss laid his hand on Joe’s forehead.  “Not too bad,” he said.  “Close your eyes a second.”  He lit the lamp on the bedside table, turning the flame down low.  “Okay, open your eyes.”  Joe obeyed, flinching even at the dim light, reflexively shading his eyes with his hand.  Hoss frowned.  “Too bright?” he asked.

His brother started to shake his head, but the movement exacerbated the pounding in his skull.  “Nope,” Joe whispered, keeping his hand over his eyes.  “It’s okay.”  His entire body ached, but the pain in his head was excruciating.  The doctor had said that concussions could be like this and that he was lucky it wasn’t worse.  At that moment, he couldn’t imagine how that could be possible.

Hoss regarded his brother for a moment.  Then, he poured water into the china bowl and dipped a cloth into it.  Wringing the cloth almost dry, he laid it across his brother’s eyes.  “How’s that?”

“Better,” Joe admitted.  The coolness was nearly as soothing as the darkness.  Hoss settled into the chair next to the bed, and the brothers sat in silence for a few minutes.  Finally, Joe asked, “What’s the matter?”

“What?  What makes you say that?”

Joe snorted softly.  “Oh, nothing,” he said.  “Except that I’ve known you my whole life, and you can sleep through anything.  So if you’re up at this hour, something’s the matter.  What happened?”

“My little brother almost got hisself blown up this morning,” said Hoss.  And nobody knows who did it or why, or if they’re gonna try it again.  Or if Joe’s the one they really meant to blow up.  But at least Roy Coffee was looking into that.  Hoss wished that finding these answers was his only problem.

“That ain’t what’s bothering you,” said Joe.  “Doc says I’m fine.”

“He said you’re gonna be fine,” said Hoss.  “That’s different.”  He wasn’t about to point out that they were both misquoting:  Doc had said that Joe would probably be fine.  Outside Joe’s hearing, Doc had allowed as how head injuries were tricky, and sometimes they didn’t heal the way a person might think, so it was important to be very, very careful to keep the patient quiet and still.  “‘Sides, I got a right to fuss if I want,” he added.

“You would anyway,” said Joe.  “But that ain’t what’s botherin’ you.  Now, tell me what’s the matter, or I’m gonna get up and pound it out of you.”

Hoss chuckled.  “You couldn’t pound one of Hop Sing’s little chicks,” he said.

“You wanna try me?”  Joe started to struggle to a sitting position, and Hoss pushed him back with one finger against his shoulder.

“If’n you promise to lay still and don’t move, I’ll tell you,” said Hoss.

Joe was silent for a moment, as if pondering the deal, as if his throbbing head and fierce dizziness would allow him any choice.  “All right,” he said.  “But this had better be good.”  The compress prevented him from seeing his brother’s smile, but he knew it was there just the same.  “Now, talk to me.  What’s the matter?”

“It’s Anna,” said Hoss finally.

“What about her?”  Maybe Hoss was finally going to admit that he liked her as more than a friend. . . .  As tired as he was, even with the stabbing pain in his head, Joe could barely contain his grin.  This was almost worth getting blown up for.  Adam would be furious that he missed this moment.

“She wants me to testify.”

“Testify?  About what?”  The urge to grin melted away.

“About what I saw.”

“But you didn’t see nothin’.”

“I saw Danny comin’ out of the alley that night.”

“Why would she want you to testify about that?”

“Close your eyes.”  Hoss lifted the compress and dipped it in the water to cool it.  He wrung it out and replaced it on his brother’s eyes.  “I don’t know,” he said finally.

“If you get on the stand and say that, Danny’s gonna hang,” said Joe.

“I know,” Hoss said miserably.

“So, why would she want you to testify?”

“I don’t know.  It don’t make sense.  Unless. . . .”

“Unless what?”

“Unless she thinks I’m gonna say somethin’ else.”

Joe lifted the compress, trying to see his brother’s face.  “Dang, you’re blurry,” he said.  Squinting improved nothing.  “Come here.”  He reached for Hoss’ shirt and tugged.  Obligingly, Hoss leaned closer, a move which had the added advantage of blocking out the lamp.  Bleary green eyes searched troubled blue ones.  “Do you think she thinks you’re gonna lie for her?”

“I don’t know.”

“She’s gotta know you better than that by now,” Joe insisted.

“But it don’t make no sense,” said Hoss.  “If’n I tell the truth, an innocent man hangs.  There ain’t no reason for me to testify about what I saw.”

“Are you sure he’s innocent?  Really, really sure?”

“Joe, I can’t explain it, but I’m sure Danny Carver didn’t kill nobody,” said Hoss.  “But if’n I say what I saw, there ain’t nobody on that jury’s gonna believe he didn’t kill that little gal.”

“Did you tell Anna what you saw?”

“I tried,” Hoss said.  “She just kept sayin’ not to worry, I should just do the right thing.  But, Joe, I don’t know what she means by that.  Does she mean the right thing that keeps a man alive, or the right thing that follows the law and don’t lie under oath?”

“Hoss, you wouldn’t lie on the stand, would you?”  Joe squinted, trying to focus on his brother’s troubled face.

Hoss removed Joe’s hand from his shirt and replaced the compress over his brother’s eyes.  It was easier to talk about this without Joe looking at him.  “I can’t picture lying in court,” he said.  “But if’n I tell the truth, Danny’s gonna hang.”

Joe could hear something else in his brother’s voice.  It took a moment before he identified it.  When he did, he snatched the compress away and pulled Hoss close again.  “You’d do this for her, wouldn’t you?”  He searched his big brother’s face.  “Are you in love with her?”

“Me?  What would a gal like Anna Simmons want with a big ugly galoot like me?  Now, you jest leave this on,” he insisted, replacing the compress and holding it firmly in place.

“That ain’t what I asked,” said Joe.  “Ouch!  That hurts!”

“Sorry, Little Brother.”  Hoss released the pressure.  Immediately, Joe flung the compress away and grabbed Hoss’ collar.  Frustrated, Hoss began, “Dadburnit, you little-”

“Listen to me.”  Joe cut him off.  He ignored the pounding in his skull and the sensation that the room was spinning.  His breathing was ragged, but he pressed on.  “I may be younger than you, but I know you, and I know a thing or two about women.  You can’t do this, even for her.  You just can’t.  Even if it means she loses her case and you lose her.”  He took a moment to regain his breath before he pressed on.  “If you lie on the stand, you’ll never be able to live with yourself, and you’ll never be able to live with her.  Don’t do it, Big Brother.”

“She ain’t asked me to!”

“Maybe not in so many words, but-‘do the right thing’?  What else could she mean?”

“She could mean, ‘Tell the truth and trust that the law will get it right,'” said Hoss.

“D’you really think that’s what she means?”

“Don’t you?”

“For cryin’ out loud, Hoss, you were standin’ in here in the middle of the night, in the dark.  If you thought she was askin’ you to get on the stand and tell the truth, you wouldn’t be half so bothered.”

“Yeah, Little Brother, in this case, I would be,” Hoss said.  “‘Cuz if I get on the stand and tell the truth, an innocent man hangs.  And I don’t think she understands that.”

“She’s a smart lady, Hoss.  Maybe she understands just fine.”

“But she can’t, or she wouldn’t want me to take the stand!”

“And you still don’t think she wants you to lie?”

Hoss shook his head.  “I don’t think she’s like that.”

Joe tried to focus on his brother’s face.  It was true.  Hoss didn’t think Anna Simmons would ask him to lie.  Joe, on the other hand, had no problem believing it.  The witch.  How dare she manipulate his honorable, innocent, trusting brother this way.  At that moment, if there had been any way for them to leave this house, Joe would have gladly taken it, even if it meant bouncing in a wagon all the way back to the Ponderosa.  But just the thought made his stomach churn and the thumping in his head increase.  He closed his eyes.  His hand fell from Hoss’ collar to clutch the mattress, bracing himself against the spinning sensation, waiting for his stomach settle down so that the broth he’d eaten earlier wouldn’t reappear.  He had to protect Hoss from that conniving witch somehow.  The harder he thought, though, the worse he felt.  The throbbing in his temples wasn’t subsiding, and his stomach was becoming more agitated.  “Hoss, I’m gonna-”  He was unable to finish his sentence before his stomach emptied itself into the basin his brother had somehow known to grab for him.  Exhausted, spent, Joe lay back the pillow, eyes closed against the pain in his head.

“Here, Little Brother, jest take a little bit of this,” Hoss murmured, sliding his arm under his brother’s shoulders to lift him slightly and holding a glass of cool water to his lips.  Joe took a couple of sips before turning his head away.  “I’ll be right back,” Hoss promised, laying him back on the pillows.

Joe heard Hoss pick up the basin and leave the room, returning a few minutes later.  Eyes still closed, he felt Hoss’ hand on his forehead.  He smiled weakly.  “Where’s that danged compress?” he asked finally.  Hoss fetched it, resoaked it, and replaced it on his brother’s eyes.  Joe wouldn’t have admitted it, but the coolness felt good.  When the pounding in his head had receded a bit, Joe asked, “When are you supposed to take the stand?”

“Probably Wednesday.”  The day after tomorrow.

“I’m gonna be there when you do.”

“Joe!  You ain’t gonna be out of bed by then!”

“I will be if you’re testifying.”

“That’s silly, boy.  You’re talkin’ nonsense.  ‘Sides, it’s gonna be broad daylight.  You can’t even handle lamplight right now.”

“I’ll be fine,” said Joe.  He groped for his brother’s hand, found it, and held it.  With his other hand, he moved the compress from his eyes.  He did his best to focus on Hoss’ blurry face.  “Come here,” he said impatiently.  “Closer.”  Hoss leaned closer, until they were almost nose to nose.  “Now, you listen to me, Big Brother.  I trust you.  You are gonna do the right thing.  And I’m gonna be there when you do it.”  Hoss started to speak, and Joe cut him off.  “I don’t care if I have to go in dark glasses and a wheelchair, I’m gonna be there.  Whatever you do, you’re gonna do it lookin’ me in the eye.”

“But, Joe-you’re pretty banged up-”  Hoss knew that Joe hadn’t looked in a mirror yet.

“I know,” said Joe.  He hadn’t seen his face, but he knew from the way it felt that there was a fair bit of swelling and probably lots of black and blue.  Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have gone out in public until the swelling was down and the color had faded, and he could do it on his own two feet without help.  For once in his life, though, Joe Cartwright was willing to disregard appearances in favor of something much bigger and more important.

Hoss couldn’t speak past the lump in his throat.  The notion that his vain little brother would go out in public looking so far less than his usual handsome self, and even admit physical weakness in the bargain, spoke volumes.  He squeezed his brother’s hand.  “You don’t have to,” he whispered.  “I’m gonna do the right thing.”

“I know you are,” said Joe.  “But I’m gonna be there.  And when you’re done, you and I’ll go back to the Ponderosa.”  And that’ll be the end of Anna Simmons, Joe thought.

Hoss slid his hand from his brother’s without speaking.  He poured cool water into the bowl, dipped the compress, wrung it out, and replaced it over Joe’s eyes.  “We’ll talk about that in the morning.  Now, you get yourself some sleep.”  He blew out the lamp to punctuate his directive.

After a few moments, in the darkness, he reached for Joe’s hand again.  He felt Joe’s fingers curl around his.  He sat next to the bed, holding onto his brother, long after the sound of steady breathing told him that Joe had fallen asleep.

Anna set the tray on the bedside table.  “Joe?  Are you awake?”

“I’m awake.”  He’d heard her light footsteps.  It couldn’t have been anyone else.

“I brought you some breakfast,” she said.  “Hot tea and dry toast.”  She waited for a comment.  None came.  As Hoss had instructed, she drew the draperies tightly against the morning sun.  Then, she lifted the compress from Joe’s eyes and laid it in the bowl of water.

The green eyes that looked back at hers were hard and cold.  Truth be told, he couldn’t see her very well, between the dim light and his inability to focus, but that didn’t stop Joe Cartwright from glaring for all he was worth at the woman who was manipulating his kind-hearted brother.  If she noticed, she wasn’t admitting it.

“Would you like some tea first?”  She reached for the cup.

“I don’t want anything,” said Joe.  Not from you.

“Hoss said that I was to make sure you ate,” Anna said.

“Where’s my brother?”

“He had some things to take care of,” Anna said.  “He’ll be back later.”  Hoss had asked her not to tell Joe that he was riding out to the ranch to oversee things for the morning.  He was worried that, if Joe knew, he would insist that they leave town and head back to the Ponderosa to make things easier for Hoss, and Doc was clear that Joe wasn’t up to traveling yet.

“Where is he?  What have you done with him?”  Did he tell her he won’t lie?  Did she do something to him-

“I haven’t done anything with him,” said Anna, trying to soothe his agitation.  “Just rest, and he’ll be back before you know it.”  She proffered the cup, and Joe pushed it away, spilling tea on the bedclothes.  “Joe, I don’t understand.  What’s the matter?”

“Oh, that’s rich.  You know perfectly well-oh, God!”  A fiery bolt of pain shot through his head like a bullet.  He shut his eyes, tensed against the agony.  His breathing was ragged.  He fought the nausea that welled up and threatened to overflow.

“Joe, what is it?  What’s wrong?” Anna reached for him, but he pushed her hand away, rolling onto his side, away from her, and curling into himself.  She ran to the doorway.  “Hoss!  Hoss!  Are you still here?”

Heavy footsteps, barely audible over the roar in Joe’s ears, raced up the stairs and down the hall.  “I was just leaving.  What’s the matter?”  The footsteps crossed the room, and a gentle, familiar hand rested gently on his shoulder.  “What is it, Little Brother?  What happened?”  Joe tried to speak, but only a low moan escaped him.  Quickly, Hoss positioned the basin in case it was needed.  “Now, you just take deep, slow breaths, okay?  You’re gonna be all right, I promise you.”  Over his shoulder, Hoss directed Anna to fetch the doctor while he poured fresh water into the bowl and soaked a clean cloth.  He held the cool compress against Joe’s eyes, rubbing his brother’s back and murmuring quiet, soothing reassurances.  By the time the doctor arrived, Hoss had succeeded in relaxing Joe slightly.

Anna waited in the hallway while the doctor and Hoss attended to Joe.  Finally, the men came out, closing the door behind them.

“What happened?” she asked.  “Is he all right?”

Doc Martin cast a quick glance at Hoss.  “Head injuries can be very serious,” he said.  “As I said yesterday, this is a bad concussion.  He needs to be still as possible, and he needs to be kept absolutely quiet.  What happened in there?”

“I don’t know,” said Anna.  “He seemed upset about something, but I don’t know what.  One minute, he was asking for Hoss, and the next, he was screaming in pain.”

“Well, I’ve given him something for the headache, and it’s pretty strong stuff,” said the doctor.  “I expect he’ll sleep most of the day.  When he wakes up, just keep him as quiet as possible.  Don’t tell him anything that might upset him.”  Guiltily, Hoss looked down at his boots.  “Hoss, when do you think your pa and Adam will be back?”

Hoss shook his head.  “I sent a wire that caught up with them at Turner Crossing.  They’re on their way back.  Mebbe tomorrow or Thursday.”  He regarded the doctor carefully.  “Do we need them sooner?  I can send somebody after them.”

The doctor shook his head.  “Not that urgent,” he reassured the large man.  “I’m just thinking of someone to help keep your brother calm and quiet.”

“I’ll take care of him,” said Hoss.  He and Joe had some talking to do.  He knew exactly what must have happened.  Joe was never any good at hiding his feelings.  If he thought Anna was doing something wrong to his brother, Joe would never have held back.  He was going to have to convince Joe that everything was all right about the trial and Anna.

Even though it wasn’t.

* * * * * * * * * *

The knock at the front door was barely audible in Zelner’s study, but it made Anna jump just the same.  In light of everything that had happened on Monday, the judge had called a recess for the day.  Trial was to resume the next morning.  Anna planned to put Hoss on the stand that afternoon, and she was composing draft after draft of questions.

She paused, unsure whether she had heard something.  Her nerves were frayed after the events of the past several days.  Everything-her uncle’s accident, the trial, the explosion, the incident with Joe this morning-everything was ganging up on her.  She was doing her best to maintain control, but it was difficult to manage, this sense that everything rested on her.  For a bizarre instant, she envied Joe, sleeping through all this chaos, secure in the knowledge that Hoss was keeping watch over him.

Another knock confirmed her original suspicion.  She waited for Mrs. Gibson to answer the door, but she did not hear the housekeeper.  Sighing, Anna rose and went to the door herself.

Ralph Widmark stood before her, his hat in his hand.  “Good afternoon, Miss Simmons,” he said.  “May I come in?”

“Yes, of course,” she said wearily.  Perhaps the break would be good.  Her questions were all beginning to sound alike.

She led the way into the parlor.  “Would you like some coffee, Mr. Widmark?”

“No, thank you, I can’t stay long,” he said, settling himself on the loveseat.  “I only came to inquire as to the health of Mr. Zelner and Mr. Cartwright.”

“My uncle is doing much better, thank you,” said Anna.  “Mr. Cartwright was seriously injured, but it appears that he will recover.  I’ll let know them both that you were asking after them.”  She sat back, waiting.  Widmark did nothing without a reason, and she was certain that the reason was not a social call.

“Well, I should get to the point,” said Widmark.  Anna refrained from comment.  “Miss Simmons, it appears from yesterday’s incident that someone is quite eager to get you off this case.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Your uncle is not participating in the trial,” said Widmark.  “You are the only person from that firm who is defending Danny Carver.  Now, you and I both know, as lawyers, that it’s not our place to judge the guilt or innocence of our clients.  Our job is simply to present the best defense possible and let the chips fall where they may.  Apparently, however, there is someone in our community who feels differently.  Perhaps it is someone with a grudge against Mr. Carver, or someone who liked Sara Folsom-or someone with a particular disdain for female lawyers.  In any event, Miss Simmons, I have a proposition for you.”  He paused dramatically.

“Yes?”

“What I propose is this.  I will take over the defense of Danny Carver.  Clearly, this is in your best interests.  There is no way to know when the next little problem will arise.  It is quite fortunate that you were in court when that explosive was detonated, but you cannot assume that all of your enemies will be equally careless.”

“Whoever did it was careless indeed,” said Anna.  “It would have taken no time at all to determine whether anyone was in the office.  If the goal was simply to destroy the office, the perpetrator took an enormous chance by not investigating.  If Joe Cartwright had died, the perpetrator would be facing a murder charge.  Likewise if I had been the one in the office.”

Widmark’s eyes grew round, presumably at the thought of defending the perpetrator.  “If, however, the perpetrator is one who learns from his mistakes, you cannot expect to escape him so easily the next time,” he pointed out.  “That is why I think that it would be in your best interests for me to take over this case.  You needn’t worry about the money, either.  I shall be fair with you.  Because you have done so much work, I will split the fee with you.  As trial counsel, I will take two-thirds, and you will take one-third.”  He stopped short of pointing out that this was a far more generous offer than the one he’d made before trial began.

Anna’s face was carefully impassive.  She looked down so that he would not see the fire in her eyes.  The man gave new meaning to the word “macabre.”  Barely holding her temper, she rose.  “I thank you for your offer, Mr. Widmark, but we will be retaining this matter in our office,” she said.  “I appreciate your concern for my safety, but I’m quite certain that my protectors are capable of taking proper care of me throughout this trial.”  She did not allow herself even the slightest smile when his eyes got round at the thought of protectors.  Let him think that she meant a dozen large men with fast guns and no compunctions about using them.  If he’d known that she meant her uncle and Hoss-two of the three men in this world whom she trusted absolutely-he would have laughed himself senseless.

Widmark rose.  Clearly, he had not expected his offer to be rebuffed a second time.  Anna led the way to the front door and stood beside it, her hand on its knob.

“Fine,” said Widmark huffily.  “I do hope that no harm comes to you, Miss Simmons.  It would be such a pity if more incidents were to cause additional injury.  Good day, miss.”

A chill ran down Anna’s spine.  His last words sounded vaguely like a threat.  Then, she shook her head.  She was just seeing ghosts.  She needed to focus.  As she had told Widmark, she was trying this case.  And so, resolutely, she locked the door behind her unwelcome guest and returned to Zelner’s study to work on her cross-examination of the bartender.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dusk was turning to darkness, and the lamp cast more shadows than light, when Joe finally stirred.  Immediately, Hoss leaned over the bed, stroking his brother’s forehead.  “‘Bout time you woke up,” he said softly.  “Done slept the day away, jest like Pa always says you will.”

Joe tried to open his eyes, but the lids were so heavy.  He could barely keep them open enough to see his brother’s form, silhouetted against the dim light.  “Hey, Brother,” he murmured.

“How’re you feelin’?”

“‘Member that time when we were kids that you ‘n’ me found that bottle of rotgut down by the lake?”

Hoss remembered.  He had been fifteen, and Joe was nine, and Pa had never let them taste liquor before.  He didn’t remember which of them had the bright idea to try it, but he remembered to this day the massive hangovers they’d suffered after their experiment.  They had been so miserable that Pa had decided they’d punished themselves sufficiently, and he hadn’t even tanned their hides.  “That good, huh?”

“Almost.”  Joe reached toward the night table.

“What do you want?  I’ll get it.”

“Just some water.”

Hoss poured a glass and reached behind his brother to hold him upright enough to drink.  After a few sips, Joe moved his head away from the glass, and Hoss laid him back on the pillow.  “We’ll try and get some food into you in a little bit,” he promised.

“No rush,” said Joe groggily.

For a few minutes, the brothers rested in companionable silence.  Finally, as gently as he could, Hoss asked, “Did something happen this morning, Joe?”

“What do you mean?”  He blinked hard, but focusing was still beyond him.

“Anna said you got upset right before that headache hit.  What happened, Little Brother?”

Joe considered the question.  There was something, just beyond the far edge of memory, but he couldn’t quite reach it through the fog.  “Dunno,” he said finally.  All he knew was that, whatever it was, it had made him angry and scared and fiercely protective.  He just didn’t know about what.

Hoss debated for a moment about reminding his brother of their conversation the night before.  He decided against it.  If Joe had forgotten, reminding him would only agitate him, and he wasn’t going to do that.  He wasn’t telling Joe anything else that might disturb him.  He certainly wasn’t going to tell him that Roy Coffee had been there, demanding to speak with him.

“Hoss, if Joe heard or saw somethin’ at Miss Simmons’ office, I need to know about it,” Roy insisted.
 
“Roy, Doc said he ain’t to be upset, and you askin’ about that is gonna upset him,” said Hoss firmly, stepping in front of the staircase.  He’d always been raised to be respectful of the law, but it seemed to him that the law was taking just a few too many liberties these days.  First, this whole thing with Anna Simmons and the trial, and now Roy wanting to wake up Little Joe to ask about the explosion.  They were all going to have to wait.  Hoss’ little brother needed his rest.
 
“Hoss, if’n you don’t let me talk to him, the man that done this might get away,” argued Roy.  He knew it was probably pointless, but he tried anyway.  He could get around practically anybody, any time, but he knew better than to think he could get between Hoss and Little Joe.  Without Ben there to run interference, those two were solid as a piece of oak.  Especially now, with the little one hurt, no way that his big brother was gonna let anybody do anything.  Still, Roy had a job to do, and he wasn’t about to let Hoss Cartwright push him around. 
 
“Roy, it’s up to you to see that he don’t get away,” said Hoss.  “That’s your job.  Mine is to see that Little Joe’s kept quiet, and I aim to do it.”  He eyeballed Roy as only Hoss Cartwright could, respectful of the law and Roy’s age and status, but making it clear all the same that he’d break every bone in the older man’s body before he’d let him upset Little Joe.  
 
Roy started to bristle.  Just as the discussion seemed to be about to degenerate into a shouting match, a calm voice cut through.
 
“Sheriff Coffee.”  Zelner wheeled his chair into the front hall.  “Perhaps I may be of assistance?”
 
“I gotta talk to Little Joe Cartwright about the explosion,” said Roy.  
 
Zelner regarded the sheriff and then Hoss.  Thoughtfully, he said, “Hoss, have you been given any instructions by Dr. Martin as to your brother’s care?”
 
“Yessir, I have,” said Hoss.
 
“And what are those instructions?”
 
“He’s to be kept quiet, and he ain’t to be upset,” said Hoss.  “And right now, he’s sleepin’ anyway.”
 
“Not to be upset,” Zelner mused.  “And asleep.”  He turned to Roy Coffee.  “It appears, Sheriff, that I am in the most unfortunate position of not being able to grant you license for an audience with Joseph at this time.  I certainly recognize that this puts you in a difficult position, and I do regret any inconvenience that you may experience as a result of this apparent obstruction of your investigation.  Please believe me when I say that at the instant when Dr. Martin alters these instructions and Joseph awakens, you have my solemn covenant that you shall be the first person we send for.  At the present time, however, it appears to be the physician’s orders that my young houseguest remain undisturbed.  I’m certain that you understand in light of the nature of the young man’s injuries.  I’m most grateful for your efforts at locating whoever caused such terrible harm to young Cartwright and destroyed my office in the process.  If, at any subsequent point in your investigation, you determine that I may be of assistance to you in some other fashion, I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to provide such service.”  Throughout this convoluted speech, Zelner had maintained eye contact with the sheriff even as he slowly wheeled himself to the door.  As a result, a bewildered Roy Coffee found himself at the door, with the lawyer bidding him farewell.  Zelner closed the door behind the sheriff and turned the chair.  Meeting Hoss’ eyes, he allowed himself a faint smile and a wink.
 
Now, hours later, Hoss smoothed the hair back from his brother’s forehead, trying to avoid touching the bruises.  “Well, you jest take it easy now, there’s nothin’ to worry about,” he promised.  “Everything’s all right.  You’re gonna be just fine, and we’ll be goin’ home as soon as you’re up to travelin’.  Doc thinks maybe just a few more days.  Mebbe even by the time Pa and Adam get back.”  He smiled.  Joe’s eyes were taking longer and longer to open with every blink.  “You jest go back to sleep,” he whispered.  “Don’t you worry about a thing.  Ole Hoss has everything under control.”  He watched until finally, Joe’s eyes closed and didn’t open again.  Only then did his smile fade.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Anna?”

Anna looked up from the desk in Zelner’s study to see Hoss in the doorway.  She smiled, pushing a strand of hair back from her face.  “What time is it?”

“Late,” he said.

“How’s Joe?”

“Asleep.  I got a little broth into him, but he fell asleep before he ate much.”

Anna watched Hoss shift uncomfortably from one foot to the other.  She knew why he had come downstairs.  She was going to have to be very, very careful.  “Is something wrong?” she asked finally.

“Well, I-I don’t think I can testify tomorrow,” said Hoss.

“Why not?”

“I can’t leave Joe alone.  He ain’t ready for that.”

“He won’t be alone.  Mrs. Gibson will be here with Uncle Efraim.  If Joe needs anything,  she’ll be able to take care of it.  Besides, I don’t think you’ll be on the stand all that long.  I’ll try to put you on right after lunch so you can know just what time you’re starting, and as soon as you’re done, you can leave.  I’ll make sure the judge knows that you can’t stay around.”

“But what if something happens like this morning?”

“We could always stop at Dr. Martin’s and let him know what’s going on so that he’s ready if he’s needed.”  She watched the big man carefully.  As she provided answers to his concerns, his countenance fell farther and farther.  She wondered if he would raise his true concern.  She wished that she could tell him everything.  It would be so nice just to sit him down and confide exactly what she wanted him to say and why.  It would be even nicer to sit on the loveseat next to him and lean against his wide chest and feel his arms around her, strong and comforting.  Just the thought made her heart beat faster.  Resolutely, she pushed the thought away.  She couldn’t, she knew that.  And if she talked to him about what he was going to say, she would lose the ability to ask him one of the most important questions in her entire examination.

Hoss started to turn to leave.  Then, he turned back.  “Anna, about what you want me to say-”

Anna held up her hand.  “Hoss, I can’t talk to you about that.  All I’m asking is that, when you’re on the stand, you just do the right thing.  If you do that, it’ll all be fine.”

“But-I don’t think you know-”

“Hoss, I know.  I promise you I do.  And I appreciate your doing this, because I know that you’re not happy about it.  But it’s what needs to happen.  Just trust me, please.  Trust that I know what I’m doing, just the way I trust you to do the right thing when you take the stand.”

Hoss regarded her soberly.  The unhappiness in his eyes was evident.  Anna steeled herself against it.  When it was all over, she could explain.  For now, she had to keep moving ahead.  A man’s life depended on her.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Hoss tried not to fidget.  He sat in the front row, next to the table where Anna and Danny were established.  He resisted the urge to turn and look at the crowd he could hear entering.  He wished his family were here.  Joe had been so upset that he wouldn’t be able to come.  Hoss smiled, remembering.
 
“I told you I was coming, and I’ll come.  I just need a little help, and I’ll be fine.”
 
“Little Brother, you need more than a little help here.  You can’t look at daylight and you can’t get out of bed.”
 
“I told you-dark glasses and a wheelchair, and I’ll be fine.”
 
“Even if you had those-which you don’t, by the way-you can’t even sit up without gettin’ sick to your stomach.”
 
“Doc’s probably got somethin’ for that.  Just give me a hand.  I told you, I’m coming.”
 
“And I told you, you’re stayin’ right here.  I ain’t gonna be that long.  ‘Sides, it’s just gonna take longer if I have to worry about you fallin’ over or gettin’ sick in the middle of court.  You jest wait here and take a nap, and I’ll be back in no time.”
 
“Hoss, I’m fine, really.”  Fine might have been an overstatement, but the pain in his head was slightly less excruciating than it had been two days earlier.  Joe struggled to sit up.  Hoss stood back, watching, as his brother swung his legs over the side of the bed.  As Joe started to sway, Hoss stepped forward, laying a bracing hand on his brother’s shoulder.  Joe’s eyes widened.  “Hoss-the basin-”  Hoss held the basin with one hand and Joe with the other as his brother emptied his stomach and then doubled over with dry heaves.  
 
“You done?”  When Joe nodded weakly, Hoss set the basin on the floor and helped his brother to lay back against the pillows, tucking the blankets around him.  He tried to hand Joe the water glass, but Joe’s hand was unsteady, and so Hoss held it for him.  When Joe was finished, Hoss poured cool water over a fresh cloth, wrung it out, and laid it over his brother’s eyes.  “Now, you just rest,” he said softly.  “I’ll be back before you know it.”
 
“Hoss?”  His brother’s voice was barely a whisper.
 
“What is it, Little Brother?”
 
“I’m so sorry.  I wanted to be there with you.”  Joe’s voice trembled.  He was so tired, so dizzy, and so frustrated.  He could barely keep back tears at the thought of Hoss all alone on the stand, dealing with that wretched woman.
 
Hoss patted his brother’s shoulder reassuringly.  “I told you before, there’s nothin’ to worry about.  You have yourself a nap, and I’ll be back before you wake up.”
 
Joe reached up, groping for Hoss’ hand.  Hoss took his brother’s hand.  “You’ll do the right thing,” Joe whispered.  “I know it.”
 
Hoss squeezed Joe’s hand.  “I’ll make you proud.”
 
Joe managed a small smile as he returned the squeeze.  “Always,” he whispered.  

“Hoss?”  Anna’s voice broke into Hoss’ reverie.  “Are you ready?”

Hoss swallowed.  “Yep.”

Anna smiled.  Before she could speak, the door opened, and the baliff called, “All rise.”

The judge resumed his seat and pounded the gavel.  “Be seated,” he growled.  To Anna, he said, “Your witness, miss.”

Anna rose.  “The defense calls Hoss Cartwright.”

A murmur ran through the room as Hoss took the stand.  He held up his right hand, laid his left on the Bible, and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God.  Not a loophole anywhere in that oath.  Hoss braced himself.  There was no going back.

“Mr. Cartwright, where were you on the night of June 17th?”

“I was at the Bucket of Blood,” Hoss said.

“Were you there for the entire evening?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.  “I got there about eight o’clock, and I left about eleven.”

“Did you leave the saloon at any time during those three hours?”

“No, ma’am, I didn’t.”

“To the best of your recollection, Mr. Cartwright, who else was present in the saloon when you were there?”

“Objection,” called out the prosecutor.  “At what time?”

“I’ll rephrase the question,” said Anna.  “Who was present in the saloon at the time you left?”

Hoss thought.  “Jake Buehler, Matt Donovan, Ralph Widmark, Elmer McDonald-they was all playin’ poker.  Zeke Anderson and Paco Rodriguez were there.  I think that’s all the men I knew.  There were some I didn’t know.  I don’t rightly recall which girls were workin’ that night.”

Anna nodded.  “You didn’t name Danny Carver,” she commented.  “Is there a reason for that?”

Hoss could read nothing in her eyes.  It was as if she had no idea what he was about to say.  He wished so much that it could be different.  After this, she’d probably never want to see him again.  He’d need to move Joe to the International House; the boy was nowhere near able to handle the trip back to the Ponderosa.  If only Pa and Adam were here. . . .

“Mr. Cartwright?”

Hoss started.  He’d been so busy thinking about how she’d feel about what he had to say that he’d forgotten to say it.  “Yes’m,” he said.  “I didn’t name Danny Carver, because he wasn’t in the saloon when I left.”

“Was he in the Bucket of Blood at any time while you were there?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“When did he leave?”

“I ain’t quite sure.  I know he was there around ten, ’cause there was a big fight a little before then-somebody said one of the miners playin’ poker was cheatin’, and there was a big ruckus.  Danny kinda got caught up in it, even though he wasn’t playin’.  Afterward, he was sittin’ there with a nosebleed for a little while.  I didn’t notice when he left, though.”

“But you’re certain he was gone before you were?”

“Yes’m.”

“Did you see him at any time on the night of the 17th after you left the Bucket of Blood?”

There was no room to wiggle.  The question was too precise.  “Yes’m, I did.”

“Would you please tell the jury when and where you next saw Danny Carver?”

Hoss looked from Anna to Danny.  Neither one looked nervous.  He tried to telegraph an apology with his eyes.  She didn’t seem to notice.

“Mr. Cartwright?”

“When I left the Bucket of Blood, I started up the street to the livery stable. . . .”

“What direction was that, Mr. Cartwright?”

“Right,” said Hoss.  “North on C Street.”  He wasn’t certain what she was asking for, but she seemed to be satisfied.  She nodded at him to continue.  “Just as I came to that little alley next to the Bucket of Blood, Danny came out.”

“You’re certain that it was Danny Carver?”

“Yes’m,” said Hoss with a heavy heart.  “There was plenty of light from the saloon.”

“Was there anyone else around?”

“No, ma’am.”

“No one else walking by?”

“No, ma’am.  It was just me and Danny on the street.”

Anna nodded.  “Did you see Mr. Carver from the front or the rear?”

“He was walkin’ toward me-so, the front.”

“Please describe Mr. Carver’s appearance to the jury.”

Hoss thought for a moment.  “He was all wet, and his clothes were pretty muddy,” he said.  “It had rained most of that night, and it was still raining a little.  He had mud all over his face.”

“Was there anything else about his appearance that you noticed?”

“He looked like he’d just wakened up-he was rubbin’ his eyes and yawning.  I figgered he’d had hisself a little nap in the alley.”

“Was there anyone else on the street besides you and Mr. Carver?”

“No, ma’am.”

“You’re certain?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What happened next?”

“I told him it was time for him to get on home.  He just kinda looked at me, like mebbe he was still sleepy, so I walked him down to his house and saw him inside.”

“Starting from the Bucket of Blood, which direction is Mr. Carver’s house?”

“If you come out the front, you go left-I guess that’s south-down C Street, about four blocks.”

“While you were with Mr. Carver, did you encounter anyone else?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Did Mr. Carver say anything at all to you that night about Sara Folsom?”

“No, ma’am, he didn’t.”

“Did he say anything to you that night about any woman?”

“No, ma’am.”

“How long did it take you to walk Mr. Carver to his house?”

“About twenty minutes, ma’am.”

“Is that how long it usually takes to walk that distance?”

Hoss glanced at Danny, who had bowed his head.  Danny’s mother sat behind him, ramrod straight.  He didn’t want to get Danny in more trouble, but . . .  “No, ma’am.”

“How long does that distance usually take?”

“‘Bout half that time.”

“Why did it take longer this time?”

Hoss tried to catch Anna’s eye to let her know not to ask this, but she seemed oblivious.  Danny refused to look up, but his mother was glaring at Hoss for all she was worth.  “Danny was-a little under the weather,” he said finally.

At last, a reaction from Anna:  a flash of impatience.  “Mr. Cartwright, are you saying that Mr. Carver was drunk at the time you encountered him?”

“Objection,” said the prosecutor.  “Leading the witness.”

“Sustained.”  The judge banged his gavel.

Anna nodded.  “If I may rephrase the question, then.  Mr. Cartwright, please tell the jury why it took longer for you to escort Danny Carver home than it normally would have.”

“He was drunk.”

“And why did that cause the trip to Mr. Carver’s house to take longer?”

Hoss sighed.  “He was having a hard time staying standing.  I ended up having to sling him over my shoulder and carry him the last couple blocks.  Got mud all over me, too.”  The jurors chuckled.

“Thank you.  And when you and Mr. Carver reached his house, you said you saw Mr. Carver inside?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“How long were you at Mr. Carver’s house?”

“Not long.  Mebbe five minutes.  Long enough to get the muddy clothes off and him in bed so his ma wouldn’t have to do it.”  A snicker ran through the jury.  Mrs. Carver remained stone-faced.

“What did you do after that?”

“I went back up C Street to the livery stable, got my horse, and went home.”

“How long did that take?”

“‘Bout fifteen minutes-ten from Danny’s house to the saloon, and five beyond that.”

“Was it still raining?”

“No, ma’am.  It had stopped before we even got to Danny’s house.”

“Did you see anyone between the time you left Mr. Carver and the time you reached the livery stable?”

Hoss thought for a moment.  “Not exactly,” he said.  “When I went past the Bucket of Blood, I could see there was another fight goin’ on, but I didn’t go in.  Somebody got tossed out the doors in front of me, but he went right back in.  I didn’t see anybody else.”

“Mr. Cartwright, one last thing.”  She paused.  “Has anyone discussed with you the testimony you gave here today?”

“No, ma’am.”

“You and I never discussed what you would say?”

“No, ma’am.”  Not for lack of trying, he thought.  “Do the right thing” don’t hardly count as discussing it.

“Thank you, Mr. Cartwright.  I have nothing further, Your Honor.”  Anna returned to counsel table.

“No questions, Your Honor.”  The prosecutor looked quite satisfied.  In fact, he looked as if he’d gotten an early Christmas present.  Well, he had:  Hoss’ testimony placed Danny squarely at the scene.  Hoss looked away from him, grimly amused by the fact that, had Joe been in his place, he would have glared mercilessly at Ed Robinson.

“You may step down,” said the judge.

Slowly, Hoss rose from the witness stand.  Only then did he allow his gaze to rest upon the spectators.  The room was packed.  It seemed like most of Virginia City had turned out to see the lady lawyer’s first trial.  Even Ralph Widmark was there.  His pudgy face showed displeasure as he peered at Anna.  Maybe he really did like her after all.  Maybe it upset him to see her lose her first case.  Watching the woman you loved lose her client to the hangman wasn’t easy.  Or maybe Widmark just thought he could’ve done better.  Hoss couldn’t read these lawyers at all sometimes.

Relief washed over him when he saw the familiar form standing at the back of the room.  He nodded slightly, and Adam nodded back.  Thank the Lord.  If Adam’s here, that means Pa’s with Joe.  For the first time in days, Hoss felt his load lighten.  Joe was in good hands now.  The best.

Anna stood and surveyed the room.  Turning to the bench, she said, “Your Honor, my next witness, Dr. Paul Martin, does not appear to be in the courtroom.  May I have a brief recess to send someone for him?”

The judge pounded his gavel.  “Five minutes,” he said.

“All rise,” intoned the baliff.  The judge departed the bench, and Anna turned to Hoss.  Before she could speak, Jacob pushed through the crowd and handed her a note.  Only someone who had watched her as closely as Hoss had for the past several weeks would have seen the change in her expression.  Wordlessly, she handed the note to Hoss.  The large man read the note, threw it on the table, and shoved through the crowd.

“Adam, Doc’s with Joe,” he said, not even pausing as he passed.  The two brothers ran up the street, arriving at Zelner’s house out of breath and frantic.  They took the stairs two at a time, nearly colliding with Mrs. Gibson and her bundle of soiled linens, and burst into the room as Paul was closing his bag.  Ben stood beside the bed, his hand on Joe’s shoulder, visibly shaken.

“What happened?” demanded Hoss.

“Hey, Brother, how’d it go?”  Joe was groggy, his eyes barely open, and his voice little more than a whisper.

“It went fine.  What’d you do now?”  Hoss’ gentle tone belied his anxiety as he moved to his brother’s other side.

“The usual.  Had a few drinks, danced with some pretty girls, got into a fight.”  His words were slurring as if he had indeed been drinking.  Truth was, he had no idea what had happened.  One minute, he was trying to convince Pa to send Adam to court, and the next, Pa was holding him and crying and saying everything would be all right.

Hoss forced a smile at Joe’s attempt at levity.  “I just can’t leave you alone for a minute, can I?”  He stroked his brother’s forehead, watching as the green eyes closed.  Then, he turned to his father, the question in his eyes.  In response, Ben gestured for Hoss to follow them out to the hall and for Adam to stay in the room with Joe.

“What happened?” Hoss asked again as soon as the door had closed behind them.

“Your brother had a seizure,” said Doc Martin calmly.  “It may be an isolated occurrence, or it could happen again.  To be safe, I want someone watching him at all times, at least for the next few days.  If it happens again, send for me at once.”

“A seizure?”  For the first time, Hoss saw how pale his father was.  “Pa, what happened?”

Ben shook his head.  It was horrible enough to watch his son suffer the seizure; he couldn’t make himself describe it.  One moment, Joe was awake and talking; the next, he’d lost consciousness, his body rigid.  Before Ben could know what to do, the convulsions began-rhythmic, violent, terrifying.  Helpless, Ben shouted for someone to fetch the doctor.  He tried to cram a rolled-up cloth between his son’s jaws to keep him from biting his tongue.  He watched, horrified, as Joe lost control of his bodily functions, his skin turning dusky.  He tried to hold the boy still, to keep him from falling off the bed or hitting his head against the headboard.  It lasted only minutes, but it felt like hours.  Then, as suddenly as it began, the seizure ended.  His son went limp in his arms, and Ben felt Joe’s neck frantically for a pulse.  Finding it, he gathered his son close and sat on the bed, rocking him like a child, tears in his own eyes, not releasing the boy until Paul Martin gently laid his hand on the father’s arm.

“I don’t understand,”  Hoss looked from the doctor to his father.  “He said he felt better this morning.”  Panic was rising in the big man.  He’d thought it was all right to leave Joe alone.  He’d had no idea this could happen.  He didn’t know there could be a seizure.  He’d never seen one.  He didn’t know what happened when people had them.  He didn’t know whether people died from seizures.  Joe could have died, maybe, and it would have been his fault.

Ben reached up and laid a hand on the back of his son’s neck, gently kneading the tight muscles.  Hoss felt himself relax into his father’s warmth.  He’d seen Pa do this to Joe a thousand times.  He’d do it when Joe was upset, or angry, or agitated in some way, and it almost always calmed the boy.  Now, Hoss understood.  It was the touch, the caress, the comfort that let him know that he wasn’t alone.  Ever since the explosion, between Joe and the trial, he’d felt like he carried such heavy burdens, and he’d carried them alone.  Now, with his father’s touch, he was reminded that he could share some of them.

“It might well be that Joe was feeling better,” the doctor was saying.  “The two aren’t necessarily linked.  And as I said, there may not be another seizure.  With an injury of this severity, though, there’s no way to know.  That’s why I want him watched.  He’ll likely sleep for a while now, but he still shouldn’t be left alone.”

A thought occurred to Hoss.  “When-when did it happen?”  Please, not before Pa got here.  Not while Joe was alone. . . .

Ben patted his son’s broad shoulder.  “Not too long after Adam and I arrived,” he said gently.  He understood the question.  “He was fine when we came in.  In fact, he was worried about you.  He insisted that Adam go over to the courthouse so that you wouldn’t be alone.”  Joe hadn’t had the opportunity to explain why he was so concerned.  He was too groggy and in too much pain.  Rather than becoming embroiled in typically convoluted Joe-style explanations that wouldn’t make much sense anyway, Ben had simply sent Adam over to the courthouse without knowing why.  Now, he looked to his middle son for the answer.

Hoss ignored the question in his father’s eyes, turning to the doctor.  “Is that why he had the seizure?  Because he was worried?”

Paul sighed.  If ever there was a family that would turn themselves inside out worrying about each other, it was the Cartwrights.  “I doubt that there was any connection,” he said.  “Seizures sometimes happen after severe head injuries.  There’s no explaining why.  On the other hand, I don’t think you can go wrong keeping him quiet and making sure that nothing upsets him, at least for now.”

“We’ll do that,” promised Hoss.  Ben smiled.

“I know,” said the doctor.  “If anything changes, send for me.  And now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I’m due in court.  You two go on back inside.  I know my way out,” he added as Ben and Hoss exchanged the briefest of glances.

“Thank you, Paul,” said Ben.  As the doctor departed, he turned to Hoss.  “What happened at court?”

Hoss shook his head.  “It don’t matter,” he said.  “Right now, nothin’ much matters ‘cept Little Joe.”  He started to open the door, and Ben laid a hand on his son’s.

“Your brother’s asleep now,” he said.  “Why don’t you go and get yourself some rest, and you can sit with him later, when he’s awake.”  At Hoss’ hesitation, Ben added, “It’s all right.  Adam and I’ll be with him.”

Hoss nodded.  “I just need to see him for a minute,” he said.  His father was right; he needed the rest.  The past few days had worn him out.  More than that, though, he needed to reassure himself that Joe was all right, that all this foolishness about this dadburned trial hadn’t somehow made him worse.  At his father’s smile, Hoss opened the door.  He stood at the foot of the bed, watching his little brother sleep, the weight of the world laying heavy on his shoulders.

* * * * * * * * * * *

“Are you going to tell Hoss what you were doing?”  Zelner asked.

Anna shook her head.  “I can’t yet,” she said.  “I may have to recall him to the stand.  It’s bad enough that we’ve been living in the same house throughout this trial.  If they believed him, it’s only because he’s Hoss.”

“Bad enough?”

“You know what I mean.  Appearance of impropriety, that sort of thing.  I’m living in the same house with my star witness.”

“But you are properly chaperoned.”

“That we are,” said Anna.  “By you, Mrs. Gibson, and the Cartwrights-even Joe.”  Hoss had barely left his brother’s side since Joe’s seizure yesterday afternoon, even though his father and older brother kept urging him to take a break.  No one had actually said it, but Anna was certain that she felt the Cartwright family closing ranks against her.

“Not to mention the case.  You’re the only people I’ve ever known to be chaperoned by a trial.  And yet, you see a problem?”

“If I have to recall Hoss to the stand, and I don’t ask this time about whether he’s discussed his testimony with me, you can be certain that Robinson will ask him.  If Hoss says he did talk to me about it, that’ll be the end of everything.”

Zelner regarded her thoughtfully.  “Are you all right, my dear?”

Anna was startled.  In all the chaos since the Folsom murder, he had never asked her this.  No one had, except Hoss.  “Of course, I am,” she said automatically.  At his skeptical look, she said, “I’m responsible for a man’s life.  I don’t have the freedom to not to be all right at this point.”

Zelner laughed.  “Oh, my dear child, you don’t actually believe that, do you?”  He reached for her hand.

“I don’t have a choice,” she said stubbornly.

“Of course, you do,” said Zelner.  “I’ve been practicing law for more than forty years, and I guarantee you that you do indeed have a choice.  You have more choices than you realize.  And I suspect that one of them involves a certain young man.”

Anna was silent for a long moment.  “There may have been a time when that was true,” she admitted.  “But that time has passed, and I have no one to blame but myself.  Whatever choices I may have had, I made them all when I put Hoss on the stand the way I did.  And if Danny Carver is acquitted, I expect that that will have to be consolation enough.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

The courtroom was bustling when Hoss wheeled Zelner down the aisle.  “Not at the table,” Zelner said.  “Anna’s tried this case on her own, and she’ll finish it on her own.  I’m just a spectator today.”

Hoss positioned the chair in the aisle behind the rail and sat down beside the elderly lawyer.  He wasn’t given to nervous habits, but he fidgeted with his hat as he waited for the baliff to open court.  He didn’t know why Zelner had insisted that he come today.  He wanted to stay back at the house with Joe.  Even though there hadn’t been another seizure, and Joe said his headaches weren’t as bad, and Pa and Adam were both there-even with all that, Hoss still didn’t want to leave his brother.  Look what happened the last time he left him alone.  He knew it was silly, but it felt as if somehow, when he was watching over Joe, he was somehow keeping all the bad things away from his little brother.  He’d spent a lifetime protecting the boy, and he would continue to do so until he drew his last breath.  Besides which, he definitely didn’t want to be in this room again, remembering what had happened when he took the stand and how Anna had barely spoken to him since.

Anna edged past Zelner’s chair.  “Good morning, Uncle Efraim, Hoss,” she said, barely pausing on her way to the table.

Zelner smiled.  He knew the feeling.  There was nothing quite like it.  A part of him wanted to step in and finish the trial, just for the sheer exhilaration.  Another part looked forward to seeing Anna work.  He had the feeling that her father would have been proud.

“All rise!”

The judge took his seat on the bench and pounded his gavel.  “Court will come to order.  Miss, you can start.”  Zelner suppressed a smile at the judge’s manner of addressing Anna.

“The defense would like to recall Sheriff Coffee to the stand,” said Anna.  The prosecution had put the sheriff on the day before, leading the sheriff through the discovery of Sara Folsom’s body and Danny Carver’s arrest.  The two men had had dozens of trials together, and their routine was as well-worn as that of an old married couple.

“No objection,” said the prosecutor.  The judge nodded, and Sheriff Coffee resumed the stand.

“You’re still under oath,” said the judge.  Only Roy Coffee’s sense of courtroom decorum kept him from rolling his eyes.  If he didn’t know that much by now, with all the trials he’d testified at, they should have taken away his badge for sheer dumbness.

“Sheriff, you testified earlier about finding Sara Folsom’s body.  Would you please explain to the jury when you found her?”

“Little bit after midnight, I reckon.”

“Sheriff, please describe the alley where you found Miss Folsom.”

Foolish question.  “It’s just an alley,” he said.

“Is there a roof over it?”

“‘Course not,” said Roy impatiently.  Danged lawyers with their brainless questions.  This one seemed smart enough when you talked to her outside court, but in here, she was just as bad as the men, asking these silly questions and taking up his time when he had real work to do, like catching the man who blew up her office.

“Would you please describe what you saw when you went into the alley.”

Roy barely suppressed a sigh.  “I saw Sara Folsom.  She was propped up like she was just sitting up against the wall of the saloon, but she was dead.”

“Was there anything unusual about her appearance?”

This time, Roy did roll his eyes.  “She was dead.”  The jury snickered, and the judge pounded his gavel for order.

Anna fixed Roy with a steady gaze.  She didn’t seem unsettled by him.  She was almost challenging him.  He had the sudden feeling that something was going on that he’d completely missed.  “Please describe precisely what you saw when you first laid eyes on Sara Folsom’s body in that alley.”  She’d said “please,” but right then, it didn’t feel anything like a request to the sheriff.  He wasn’t at all intimidated by her, but somehow he knew that he needed to pay close attention.  Something was going to happen.  He could feel it.

“She looked just like she usually did,” he said.  “She always wore those starched white blouses.  Her hair was curled like she’d do when she went to a social or something.  Her boots was all shiny.”

Anna had been standing behind counsel table, holding her notes in her hand.  Now, she laid them on the table and walked almost casually toward the jury box.  All eyes followed her.

Just like her father.  Zelner wondered if Norman had taught her this trick or if her instincts were simply that good.  He leaned over to Hoss.  “Watch this,” he whispered.

She stood beside the foreman.  When the sheriff answered her, he would be addressing the jury as well.  Her voice was clear and confident, as if she already knew the answer to her next question, and the one after that, and the one after that.  “Sheriff, was Miss Folsom’s clothing wet when you found her?”

Roy considered the question for a moment.  “No, ma’am,” he said slowly.  “Like I said, her blouse was starched.”

“Was her hair wet?”

“No, ma’am.”

“When you saw Miss Folsom’s body sitting in the alley, did you see any mud on her?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Not even on her boots?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Not even on the soles of her boots?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Sheriff Coffee, did there ever come a time when you saw mud on Miss Folsom’s clothing.”

The realization dawned.  “Yes, ma’am,” he said.  “When we went to move the body over to Doc Martin’s, there was mud on the back of her skirt.”  Behind her, the jurors shifted as they, too, began to understand.

“But the front of her wasn’t wet or muddy?”

“No, ma’am.”

“And is it safe to say that, if she had walked into that alley, she would have had mud on her boots?”

“On the soles, anyway.”

Anna turned to look at each of the jurors, as if to be certain that each man understood.  Slowly, she turned back to the gallery.  She fixed her gaze on Hoss for a moment.  Then, she directed her full attention to the sheriff for her final question.

“Only the back of her skirt was muddy, and her hair and the rest of her clothing were dry.  Sheriff, would this be consistent with Sara Folsom’s body being moved to the alleyafter the rain had stopped?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Thank you, Sheriff.  I have nothing further, Your Honor.”

The judge turned to the prosecutor.  “Any cross-examination?”

The prosecutor watched the sheriff.  For all that they were both on the side of law and order, he knew better than to try to get Roy Coffee to say something that wasn’t a hundred percent correct.  That was one thing you could say for this sheriff:  he didn’t take sides.  The facts were what they were, and he wasn’t going to shade them to help either side.  Robinson considered trying to shake Roy Coffee off his testimony, and then he thought better of it.  Knowing Roy, all he’d do would be to dig in his heels and repeat, over and over, what he’d just said.  Between that and Hoss Cartwright’s testimony about Danny Carver being drunk and when the rain had stopped, the prosecutor knew that the less said, the better.

“No questions, Your Honor,” the prosecutor said finally.

The judge turned to Anna.  “Any more witnesses?”

“Actually, Your Honor, I do have one more question for Sheriff Coffee, if I may.”

“Go ahead.”  The judge waved his hand impatiently.

“Sheriff, why did you arrest Danny Carver for the murder of Sara Folsom?”

Roy had been waiting for this question ever since Hoss had testified.  “I was told that somebody saw him comin’ out of that alley right before Sara Folsom’s body was found.”

Anna met the sheriff’s gaze levelly.  Neither of them smiled, but both sensed that the moment was here.  “Sheriff, can you identify the person who told you that he saw Danny Carver coming out of the alley that night?”

“Yes’m, I can.”

“Who was it, Sheriff?”

The sheriff nodded to his deputy, and the young man stood in front of the door, hand on his pistol.  Then, he looked around the room until his gaze rested on the man whose name he would announce.

“Ralph Widmark.”

“The defense rests, Your Honor.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

The cork popped, and everyone applauded.  Zelner poured champagne into the glasses, and Adam began to distribute them around the room.  With a sideways glance at his father and Hoss, Adam slipped a glass to Joe.

“Thanks, Brother,” Joe whispered, shielding it from his father’s view.  It had been enough of a job to persuade Pa that he should be allowed downstairs for the celebration.  There hadn’t been any more seizures.  His eyes remained sensitive enough to light that the dark glasses were necessary, but his headaches and dizziness had let up enough that he could sit up.  He could even stand, albeit with a lot of support.  He’d had to lean pretty heavily on Hoss, but he’d gotten downstairs on his own two feet.  He didn’t know if he’d be able to get back up the stairs the same way, but he wasn’t about to worry about that right now.  Besides, Doc had said that these problems would likely all fade away in time.  In the meantime, Joe Cartwright had no intention of sitting on the side, waiting for that day to arrive.  Especially not if it meant missing a party.

“To Anna Simmons, the best lawyer in Nevada!”  Zelner raised his glass, and everyone did likewise, cheering.  Anna sat next to her uncle’s wheelchair, blushing.

Danny Carver took a sip.  He knew this stuff was fancy, and probably expensive, but it didn’t do nothing for him.  Give him whiskey every time.  His mother, on the other hand, found it delightful.  She’d never had anything so fizzy.  She drank down the rest of her glass.  A woman could get used to this.

The champagne flowed as everyone talked and laughed.  Anna, the queen of the hour, answered questions and told stories about the trial.  Adam peppered her with questions about her trial strategy.  When she finally was able to look past him, she noticed that Hoss was no longer in the room.

“Where did your brother go?” she asked Adam quietly.

“Joe?  He’s right over there, on the loveseat.”

“I meant Hoss.”

Adam shrugged as if unconcerned.  “Oh, I’m sure he’s around somewhere,” he said.  Frantically, he tried to dredge up more questions about the trial.  He’d already learned far more about the law than he’d ever wanted to know, but he had a job to do tonight.  He’d promised Hoss.

The doorbell interrupted the festivities.  “Who on earth could that be?” said Zelner.  “Anna, dear, will you get that?”

“Of course, Uncle Efraim.”  Anna rose.  The room fell silent as she crossed the room to the entry hall.  They heard the door open.  Quietly, most of them moved to the doorway to watch.  Joe craned his neck, trying to see from the loveseat.

“Special delivery, ma’am,” said Hoss’ deep voice.

Everyone in the parlor heard Anna gasp.  “Oh-oh, my-oh-”  And Virginia City’s newest lawyer burst into tears, right there in her uncle’s foyer.

The two men laughed as Hoss wheeled the chair through the door.  “Anna, darling,” said the little man in the wheelchair, clasping her hands.  “You’re more beautiful than I remembered.”

“I can’t believe you’re really here,” she said.  She looked around helplessly.  Hoss handed her his handkerchief, and she dabbed at her eyes and nose, laughing and crying all at once.  She turned to the group standing in the parlor.  “Everyone-this is Henry.”

Once Henry was ensconced in the parlor, Anna asked, “How on earth did you get here?”

Henry smiled at Hoss.  “I had a bit of assistance,” Henry said.  “Our friend, Hoss, arranged for excellent accommodations on the train to Denver, and again on the train from Denver to Carson City.  From there, it was a bit more challenging, but not nearly as difficult a trip as I’d have expected.  I had a traveling companion throughout who saw to my every need.  We have engaged another traveling companion for the remainder of the trip.”

“The remainder?  Where are you going?”

Henry drew a deep breath.  His eyes glowed as he looked at Hoss.  “I’m going to Sacramento,” he said.  “I have an appointment with a Dr. Marsh.  Apparently, he is both a family friend of the Cartwrights and an eminent physician.  We forwarded my medical records to him, and he appears to be under the impression that he can help me.”

Anna’s eyes were round.  “He thinks-he can-”

“One step at a time, my dear,” said Henry.  “We won’t know anything until he has the opportunity to examine me.  He has suggested, though, that there may be an experimental treatment available.  It has apparently been promising in laboratory trials.  If all goes well-I might even walk.”

Anna clapped her hand over her mouth.  Tears welled up in her eyes.  Before anyone could speak, she jumped to her feet and ran from the room.  Henry caught Hoss’ eye and nodded.  Joe elbowed Adam to follow their brother, but Adam shook his head firmly.  Not this time.

Hoss found Anna outside the back door, weeping.  For a moment, he watched her, his heart pounding.  Then, summoning every scrap of courage he possessed, he gathered her into his arms.  She burrowed her head against his chest, and he held her close, stroking her hair.

Finally, she looked up.  “You did all this,” she breathed, her voice filled with wonder.

It wasn’t a question, but he nodded.  “Yes’m,” he said.  He and Henry had been corresponding with each other and the doctor for several weeks, setting everything up.

“But why?”

“Because I knew how important Henry was to you,” Hoss said simply.  “So, I figgered that if I could do something to help, I should do it.”  Sure.  That’s the only reason.  Well, mebbe she’ll believe it anyway.  He’d done it to make her happy, pure and simple.

“I thought you were angry with me after the trial,” she said.

Hoss was startled.  “I thought you was mad at me,” he said.  “You kept sayin’ to do the right thing, and I got up there and put Danny plumb at the scene of the crime.”

Anna reached up and laid her hand on his cheek.  “I knew you were going to do that,” she said.  “That was precisely what I wanted you to do.”

“It was?”

“If you hadn’t said what you did, Roy Coffee’s testimony wouldn’t have made any sense.  His testimony only worked because you had already told how Danny was drunk when you took Danny away from there and the rain was stopping, an hour before the body was found there.  If you hadn’t testified about all that, the jury wouldn’t have understood how important it was that Sara Folsom wasn’t wet or muddy from being in that alley.”  And Roy wouldn’t have figured out that Ralph Widmark was the one he was looking for, she reflected.

She didn’t know how they’d all missed it.  Her uncle’s accident, designed so that Widmark could take over the case and make sure Danny hung for the murder.  The explosion at Zelner’s office, intended to scare her off the case so that she’d turn it over to Widmark.  Roy had charged Widmark with attempted murder for that one, even though the pudgy lawyer claimed not to have known Joe was in the office at the time.  The second fight at the Bucket of Blood, staged to provide Widmark with a cover so that he could move Sara’s body into the alley.  Poor Sara.  Anna remembered seeing them that night she’d had dinner with Joe; she just hadn’t known the name of Widmark’s dinner companion.  Nor had she known, until Doc Martin’s testimony, that the young woman had been with child.  Widmark’s child, as it turned out.  Widmark had told Anna all this, begging her to represent him.  She’d declined.

Hoss held her close.  “But how did you know I’d say what I said?  How did you know I wouldn’t try to help you out and say somethin’ else?”  He didn’t want to admit how hard he’d fought with himself about that question.

She smiled up at him.  “Because I know you, Hoss Cartwright,” she said.  “Because I knew that, in the end, you could never do anything but the right thing.  If it had been anybody else, I’d have worried.  But not you.  I knew I could count on you to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  It had been the one certainty in this whole wild ride of a trial, the fact that she could trust him completely to do what was right.

Hoss looked down at her.  “You want me to tell you the truth now?”  She nodded.  His heart pounded.  “All right, Miss Anna.  You want to know the truth.”  He took a deep breath.  Finally, he found his voice.  “The truth is-I’m in love with you.”

“You?  In love with me?”  Her stomach flipped, and her heart pounded.

“Yes’m,” he said, searching her eyes for some hint that she might feel the same way.

For the second time in the same hour, Anna’s eyes filled with tears.  “I don’t know what I did with your handkerchief,” she sobbed.

“I’ll get you another one.”  Hoss started to move for the door, but she held fast to him.

“Don’t you even think of going anywhere,” she whispered.

Hoss chuckled, holding her close.  He kissed the top of her head.  She looked up at him, teary-eyed and red-cheeked, the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, and he leaned down and kissed her, long and deep.  “I love you, Anna Simmons,” he whispered.

“And I love you, Hoss Cartwright,” she murmured.  She nestled into the arms of her best friend, the one who made her stomach flip over and her heart beat faster.  She knew that eventually, they would need to go back inside, but not yet.  Of all the amazing, wonderful things this day had brought, nothing surpassed what she had right here, in the moonlight on the back steps of her uncle’s house.

Next Story in The Lady Lawyer Series:

Fugue
To Know the Truth

8 thoughts on “The Lady Lawyer Series – #1 (by pjb)”

  1. Though I’ve read this story before, I can’t believe I haven’t read it in the new library, which isn’t so new anymore. I must be slipping! I love this series and the ending brought tears to my eyes, but I won’t say anything more here. We get to know the OCs well enough that we care what happens to them. That’s not always the case. Well done, Jo. Another great read!

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