LOST AND FOUND – PART V
By D. G. Fisher
Everyone was gathered around the table in the meeting room of the regional
office when Adam entered. The four men were surprised when he came
and took a seat at the foot of the table instead of the head. He smiled.
“I’m not conducting this meeting today. Thea is. She wants to
go over some conclusions she has come to after going over her notes from
the physical examination she did on the children’s bodies.”
He had no sooner finished speaking than the woman in question came in.
The men stood and Adam came to hold the chair at the head of the table for
her. Then he went back to the foot.
Thea had not brought any notes or paper of any kind with her; she just clasped
her hands together and let them rest on the table. She looked at each
man for a moment then began to speak.
“When I read the report about the deaths of the Albrecht children I was bothered
by some glaring physical discrepancies from what I had written down when
I examined the bodies myself. So I arranged to see them again, but
this time I did a more thorough examination, and you all need to know these
facts.” She paused for a moment and looked at her husband then smiled.
“One fact we know for sure is that Karen was seven years old, but when I
examined the body identified as her I found it to be of a much older female.
The body had signs of adolescent development, which tells me the female in
question was at the earliest eleven years old, not seven. It is possible
for this to occur in a child of seven, but judging by the pictures I have
seen of Karen I very much doubt this was the case.”
She glanced at Adam again and noted his surprised expression as she continued.
“Now as for Timothy I understand that the picture of him was very recent
and as you can see he had some front teeth missing. The body I examined
did not.” The men were watching her intently now and she started to
feel just a little uncomfortable, but kept going.
“The most glaring error involves the body identified as the five-year-old.
I can’t understand why anyone would think this child was David - the body
was female. Please understand that this can be difficult to determine
when so much of the flesh is burnt away, but I feel reasonably certain my
conclusion is correct even without an autopsy.”
The four deputies were shocked by this revelation and their expressions showed
it. Adam’s expression, however, had become unreadable; Thea’s uneasiness
“Now the last child, little Grace, was small for her age according to the
statement the Nanny gave. This body was very badly burnt and impossible
to identify by any recognizable features. But judging by the measurements
I took of the limbs and the torso and the true facts we know about her it
is plain to see that the last body was of a child taller than Grace, by at
least three or four inches.”
Thea paused again and surveyed the faces around the table. Every single
man was staring with narrowed eyes, almost as though they didn’t believe
her. She continued anyway.
“A few other things about the report bothered me too, things that didn’t
involve the bodies. I was wondering why the nanny was fully dressed,
why she had no signs of smoke suffocation, and why she did not show a single
burn or any other injury you would expect her to have after narrowly escaping
a building that burned so quickly and hotly that the entire structure was
“I also want to know why almost the entire staff was out that night, just
how firm their alibi’s really are, and why the Nanny didn’t make any attempt
to take any of the children with her when she escaped.”
She looked at Adam again and his expression was still unreadable, but he
nodded for her to continue.
“I have worked in two hospitals and have seen many more around the world
and a fact that is not known by the general public is that bodies do disappear
and for many different reasons. Some have been cremated in error, some
are misidentified, some are never claimed, and some are stolen. I had
heard a lot of gossip about bodies going missing when Adam and I were in
San Francisco no more than two weeks before the fire occurred.”
“Now when I put the discrepancies in the physical characteristics of the
bodies, the suspicious actions of the nanny, the absence of the rest of the
staff, and the father’s reputation, I’ve come to the conclusion that dead
bodies were substituted for the live children and I believe the person responsible
for this is the nanny.”
“I also think that the staff cooperated with Simon in the arson because it
seems clear to me that one person could not have done this alone. Maybe
they all cooperated or maybe only a few did, but I am certain that the Albrecht
children did not die in that fire. Where they are now I don’t know,
but if I were investigating this case I would check to see if anyone saw
the Nanny leaving town with four boys. It’s much easier to disguise
a female child as a male than it would be the other way around.”
She fell silent then and swallowed nervously, wondering if they felt she
had stepped over the line and was interfering in their investigation.
Adam cleared his throat and the deputies turned to him. Thea could
see that some unspoken communication was going on among the five men.
Then her husband said, “Well gentlemen?” and she was astounded when they
all stood and began to applaud.
She smiled in relief and then blushed when she saw the pride, approval, and
love in her husband’s expression. The admiring looks she was receiving
from the deputies made her turn even redder.
The applause ended when the men laughed briefly at her embarrassment and
they all sat down again, still amused.
“Hey Adam,” Nate said, “Too bad she can’t work with us full-time.”
Dylan and gave her one of his charming, dimpled smiles, “I’m impressed.”
John was shaking his head and looking a little stunned. Then he turned
to say something to Thea but stopped and just shook his head again as he
Mike was sitting on Adam’s left and everyone watched as he stood, walked
up to Thea, and held out his right hand. She took it and they shook
hands, “You’ve got more brains than most of the men I know,” he said and
turned to the rest of the men. “Present company included, of course!”
making them all laugh.
He smiled at Thea then went back to his chair as Adam stood. “I want
you four to go over Thea’s conclusions while I walk her home,” he said.
“Be prepared to go over every point when I get back.”
“Yes sir!” Nate said and the others just nodded as Thea tucked her hand in
the crook of her husband’s elbow and the four men watched the two of them
They glanced at each other and sat there quietly for a moment until John
finally said something that broke them up – “Lucky bastard!”
The couple didn’t speak on the walk home, they simply strolled along and
when they reached the house Adam drew her over to the swing. He put
one arm around her, set the swing in motion, and then said, “Why did it take
you so long to tell me?”
Thea sighed. “I knew that’s the first thing you were going to ask.”
He chuckled softly. “Well?”
“Now, don’t get angry, but I have to admit I have been struggling with this
for a while. When I knew the children hadn’t died in that fire I couldn’t
help but think they were safer where they are. Then I realized if the
father was tried and convicted for their murder and the children showed up
he would be set free. I wasn’t sure, but I thought he couldn’t be tried
for attempting to murder them due to double jeopardy. So I knew he
had to be convicted for the right crime - attempted murder.”
Adam had been nodding his head while she spoke and now looked down at her
with a serious expression. “You are absolutely correct, love.
That man must be charged and convicted of the right crime so he never is
free to try it again. In my book, attempting to murder his own children
is just the same as actually murdering them.”
He sighed. “I understand how you felt about them, but Thea don’t ever
hold anything back from me again. That’s something I just cannot tolerate.
No matter what you think the consequences may be you just have to trust that
I’ll take care of it to the best of my ability. Worrying about such
things is my job not yours.”
Thea nodded against his shoulder. “I’m sorry. But aren’t you
glad I’m not perfect? Perfect people are impossible to live with.”
Adam chuckled. “Nice try, but you’re still in trouble woman.
Swear you won’t ever withhold information like that from me again.
God Theadora, why can’t you learn to trust me?”
“Because I’m stupid?”
“No, you’ve never been stupid a day in your life,” he said exasperated.
“You’re getting closer.”
“And closer yet.”
“Because I’m…too independent?”
“Bull’s eye! We are in a partnership here - you have your job and I
have mine. Swear to me you will never do that again.”
“I swear,” she said with her head down.
He turned toward her and nudged her face up with a hand under her chin.
“Thea don’t ever forget how much I love you. And I was incredibly proud
of you today. But you know as well as I do there can only be one person
in charge. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it – and that’s
“I know. Just remember it’s hard for me to curb that independence.
I never would have survived the process of becoming a doctor without it.”
“Thea, it’s appropriate for you to be like that in some situations, just
not this one. I know you can tell the difference.”
She nodded and he put his arm around her shoulders again as they continued
“Aren’t you going back now?”
“No, they can wait.” He tightened his hold on her, drawing her closer
as he sighed.
Thea looked up at him quickly and her gaze sharpened as she sat up straight.
“Whoa, wait a minute! You don’t actually think I would ever leave you
over something like this, do you?”
Adam let his head fall back. “Well, I have to admit that thought has
crossed my mind.”
“Now you’re being stupid,” she said with some heat. He looked down
at her in surprise.
“You listen to me now. If I didn’t want to be in this marriage I wouldn’t
be. I knew what you were like when we got married and I’m in this for
the duration, mister, because I want to be. Dear Lord, I would never
He stared at her for a moment then slowly smiled. “Never, huh?”
Thea reached up and cupped his face in her hands and drew his head down until
they were actually nose-to-nose. Her eyes narrowed. “Never,”
she said in a tone of voice he had never heard from her before – a voice
that echoed what he had always suspected – the core of steel that was her
She let go of his head and sat back again. “Besides,” she continued,
“questioning my love for you like that is an insult to me as your wife.
Don’t ever question it again.”
Adam started to laugh, “Very clever, using the same words I said to Alex
against me! Touché’” She grinned. “Wait a minute.
You weren’t there, so who told you?”
Thea gave him a wry look, “Now who do you think told me?”
Adam shook his head, “I swear Joe is the worst gossip I’ve ever known.”
They swung silently for a while, each lost in their own thoughts. Then
Adam broke the silence by sighing with contentment.
“Those sweet children did not die in that fire,” he said quietly.
“No, they did not,” Thea answered him firmly and smiled. She knew that
fact had lifted a terrible burden from his heart. “But that doesn’t
make any difference to your plans for their father, does it?”
“Oh no,” he said in a frigidly furious voice that made her shiver.
“Don’t you worry about that monster. I’ll get him.”
Thea nodded and when she looked up at him she saw that faraway look in his
eyes again. She knew that coldly calculating part of his mind was taking
all the information he had and weaving it into a net that would trap Simon
She shivered again and just continued to swing while watching the shadows
lengthen – patiently waiting for Adam to come back.
Annalise was busily sweeping up wood shavings on the side of the front porch
next to his office when Adam quietly came around the other side of the house.
She didn’t hear him approaching and when he said her name she jumped, badly
startled and lost her grip on the broom handle. It clattered loudly
when it hit the floor.
She turned around slowly and hung her head, looking up at her father through
her lashes, knowing what was coming.
Adam looked down at her with a frown and a sigh of exasperation. “Inside,
young lady. Go get Alexander then I want both of you to go to the kitchen
and wait there for me.” He had a hard time holding onto his stern expression
when she sidled past him and disappeared through the front door.
After pausing to think for a few moments, he made up his mind how he would
handle this situation and followed her inside. When he walked into
the kitchen both children were sitting in chairs at the table while Thea
was busy at the sink. He stopped and quietly said, “Both of you – front
and center.” They hurried to come and stand in front of him.
Adam crossed his arms and looked down at his two older children narrowly.
He shook his head. “I am sick and tired of this disobedience from you
two. How many times have I told you Alexander, that your mother and
your sister are not your servants? When you make a mess I expect you
to clean it up. And as for you Annalise, didn’t I warn you what would
happen if I caught you doing it again?”
The little girl nodded her head and Adam could see her lower lip start to
tremble as it pouched out. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from
smiling at her pout, and then continued. “Since you two have decided
to cooperate in disobeying me, you will continue to do so in your punishment.
Annalise, if I catch you cleaning up after Alexander again, you will both
be punished, and if I see that you’ve left a mess anywhere Alexander, you
will again both be punished.”
Alexander looked up at his father, shocked. “But that’s not fair, Pa!”
“It isn’t? You two decided to disobey me in this together, so now you
will share in the punishment together. Do you understand why?”
Annalise quickly nodded, but Alex paused, staring at his father with a faint
hint of defiance creeping into his expression.
“Do not start with me Alexander,” Adam said quietly. “You will not
win.” He continued to stare coolly into his son’s eyes, so much like
his own, until Alex hung his head and said a reluctant “Yes sir.”
“You also need to be warned, Alex, that your mother will not be cleaning
up after you either. She will also report to me if you leave a mess
lying around for any length of time. Do not wait until right before
I come home. Understand?”
Both children were looking at the floor now as they nodded.
“Good, now go to your rooms and stay there until I come for you.”
Turning away from him quickly they both sped from the kitchen as fast as
they could without actually running. Adam stayed where he was and listened
to them scamper up the stairs. Then he heard Annalise shut her room
door quietly while Alex banged his shut in a temper.
Adam sighed and looked at his wife who still had her back to him. But
he could tell from the way she was shaking that she was laughing. “And
so the dance begins…” she managed to choke out before turning toward him.
She was still smiling when she said, “Would you like some coffee?”
“Yes, please,” he said as he sat down in the chair at the head of the table.
Thea poured it for him then came to set it in front of him before sitting
down in the chair to his right.
“I told you things had been too quiet for too long. The lull before
the storm is over,” she chuckled and her husband gave her a sour look.
“That was very clever of you, appealing to his protective nature. I
expect he will think twice before doing something that will get his sister
“That’s what I’m hoping. That boy is just like me in that physical
punishment doesn’t mean anything to him. It’s forgotten as soon as
Thea’s expression became serious. “I know, and that’s what’s so difficult.
He has Joe’s careless nature and your thick hide.”
He shot her a dark look out of the corner of his eye then reluctantly nodded.
“I know you’re right and I can’t think of a worse combination as far as discipline
She nodded her head and put her hand on his right forearm. “But cheer
up! You’re not in this alone like your father was. You have me
and I can also be a force to be reckoned with.”
“So you agree with me on this sharing of the punishment?”
“Yes I do, but even if I didn’t I never would have said anything in front
of them. That’s the worst thing parents can do – argue in front of
their children. Especially about discipline issues.”
Adam looked at her smiling face and finally smiled back. “I am so thankful
you’re not an overprotective mother.”
“Me? No, never. I’ve always believed a parent’s job is to prepare
their child for the outside world, not to make them happy.”
He thought about that for a moment then nodded. “I like the way you
put that. It’s true too.”
She gave his forearm a squeeze and stood. “Just remember, I’m behind
you in whatever you think is best. All I ask is that you listen to
me if I have a differing opinion,” she said as she moved over to the sink
again. “I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
“No, it’s not,” he answered her as he stood and started for the stairs.
“Good luck and remember, only thirteen more years to go!”
Adam groaned, “Thea, that is just not funny.”
She listened to him go up the stairs and she could tell that he went to Annalise’s
room first, aware that he’d never had to give his daughter a spanking before.
“Oh, you poor man…” she said to herself, “it’s only going to get much, much
worse before it gets any better.” Then she turned her thoughts toward
dinner and preparing herself for the irritable mood he would no doubt be
in for the rest of the day.
All four deputies and Joe were seated around the large table in the meeting
room early one morning when Adam strolled in. The deputies looked at
his wide smile and started to laugh while Joe looked on, puzzled.
“Looks like Thea sent him off in a good mood again this morning,” Nate told
him. Joe just stared at him for a moment then turned bright red.
Adam laughed at him. “Get your mind out of the gutter, Joe, that’s
not what they’re talking about,” he said as his deputies laughed harder.
“Then what are they talking about?”
“Well...let me ask you a question first. Have you ever seen Thea and
I having a fight?”
Joe thought about that for a bit then shook his head. “No, can’t say
that I have.”
The deputies had quieted down now and were looking at their boss in anticipation.
“We don’t fight like other people do. If you ever hear us being sarcastic
to each other, we’re fighting, and it usually starts first thing in the morning
when Thea wakes up in a bad mood,” he said then chuckled. “We have
a lot of work to do this morning, so if you’ll excuse us Joe, we better get
“Come on, boss, it’s not fair to leave us hanging like that. Tell us
about it,” Nate pleaded.
Adam gave him a narrow look. “If I do will you all promise to stay
focused for the rest of the day?” He couldn’t help but smile at their
eager nods. “God I see that expression on my kids faces when they want
me to read them a story.”
All he got in response to that was grins and John saying, “Yeah, tell us
a story.” Adam rolled his eyes and sighed.
“Alright then. It all started when I made the mistake of saying ‘Good
morning.’ To which she replied ‘If you say so.’”
He looked around at the wide smiles they were all sporting. “Then I
asked her if she got up on the wrong side of her web.”
John snorted, “What did she say to that?”
Adam shook his head at their eager expressions, “She said, ‘As a matter of
fact I did and was immediately dubbed Queen of the Witches.’ So I asked
her if the judging had been done by popular vote or purely on natural talent.”
He was laughing himself now – John was rolling in his chair. “She said,
‘Natural talent, of course.’” He paused for a few moments then Nate
gasped out, “What did you say next?”
“I told her she was almost as funny as Joe, sorry Joe, and for some reason
she seemed to take offense at that.”
“Hey!” Joe said while still shaking with laughter.
“Sorry again Joe, but she said I had no call to be getting nasty. I
almost lost it right there, I wanted to laugh so much. So I told her
it wasn’t even six o’clock yet and she’d already gotten in three good shots
at me. Then she asked me if I was going to be sitting around the house
all day telling her what time it was.”
“Oh God,” Dylan gasped out with his head down on the table as he laughed
“I guess she had had enough of my irritating presence because she told me,
as my Queen, to get the hell out and not come back until I had a civil tongue
in my head.”
Mike was wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, “Don’t take this the wrong
way, boss, but I love that woman.”
“What did you do then?” John managed to ask.
“What do you think I did? I said ‘Yes, your Majesty’ and got the hell
out of there!” At that, Joe fell out of his chair and the rest cracked
Adam was the first to settle down. “I love the way that woman’s mind
works, even though it’s still a complete mystery to me. I was laughing
so hard I couldn’t think.”
“Hey Adam,” Nate said, “do you remember the first tiff Jerry had with her?”
“I’ll never forget it. He was trying to goad her into an argument and
she told him she refused to have a battle of the wits with an unarmed person.
He practically worshipped her after that.”
When his audience has settled down he gave Joe a pointed look. “We
have a lot to go over today, Joe so if you don’t mind, I’d like to get started.
We leave for San Francisco tomorrow.”
Instantly Joe’s expression sobered. “You’re going after Albrecht then?”
“Just one question before I go…did Thea win?”
“Definitely,” Adam grinned. “We’re about 50/50 on that score, but if
I don’t stop laughing so hard she’s going to pull way ahead.”
Joe gave him a smart-aleck grin. “I never thought I’d see the day when
a woman could beat you like that.”
His older brother just shook his head, “You should know by now that Thea
is a very special woman. And I know what you’re thinking - don’t go
over to the house. She’ll leave you on the floor bleeding from open
wounds.” Then he closed the door in his younger brother’s outraged
All five men boarded the private car early the next morning and when they
reached San Francisco a coach was waiting to take them to the hotel.
Adam always kept a private suite available that had three bedrooms as well
as a sitting room. He took over the sitting room to use as an office.
After stopping to eat in the restaurant downstairs they all scattered.
Adam went to seek out some of his informants, to see what rumors were circulating
on the streets. Dylan went to the site of the fire to poke around and
speak to the neighbors. John went back to the train station to show
pictures of the nanny and the children to everyone he could, hoping someone
would recognize them while Mike was doing the same thing on the docks, in
case she had left by ship. Nate had been assigned the stagecoach companies.
By late afternoon the four deputies were tired, but felt like they had left
no stone unturned. They each made their way back to the hotel and had
just gathered in the sitting room when Adam returned. He looked around
at their tired faces and grinned.
“Well, what have you got?” he asked as he leaned back against the front of
the table he was using as a desk.
Dylan spoke first. “There’s no doubt in my mind that some sort of flammable
was used in that fire. I can’t tell you what it was because the site
has been rained on several times in the last couple of weeks. But that
kind of destruction also had to involve incendiary devices.” He paused
to stretch. “I talked to every neighbor I could and they all agreed
that they heard a muffled explosion around the time the first flames were
seen. So it’s pretty clear that Albrecht wanted to make sure that nothing
would be left standing. In my opinion the explosion occurred at the
sub-level, in the cellar.”
His boss was nodding, listening to him closely Dylan grinned. “Now
I also talked to those in service in the surrounding houses and picked up
a little bit of information that is especially damning. A housekeeper
told me she had seen some men delivering a wagonload of barrels to the Albrecht
residence about two weeks before the fire. Then she told me they were
making deliveries in the neighborhood this afternoon. I found them
and asked them what was in the barrels. They told me grain alcohol,
but not to say I had heard it from them – they’d deny it if questioned by
the police. I guess Albrecht has them badly intimidated.”
Adam grinned, “I’m not very concerned about that – a reward will be offered
soon and believe me, that does wonders for loosening tongues.”
Dylan laughed. “I guess someone delayed the reward offer so we could
complete our investigation first.”
“Yes, someone must have,” Adam answered him and turned to Mike. “Any
luck?” he asked and Mike shook his head no. So did John, but when he
turned to Nate the tall man smiled and nodded. “Got her,” he said quietly
as his fellow deputies turned to stare at him intently.
“This woman is very smart,” he continued. “She picked one of the smallest
companies and was not alone – a man went with her and they split the children
up so each one had two ‘boys’.” He chuckled, thinking how on target
Thea’s assessment of the nanny had been.
“Come on, spill it Nate! Where did they go?” Mike said impatiently.
“You’ll never believe this. They went to San Francisco. Of course
that was after a two-day stopover in San Mateo.”
The other deputies stared at him blankly for a moment before starting to
laugh. Adam just smiled as he shook his head. “You were right
Nate, this woman is smart.” He picked up the woman’s picture.
“Smart, but she overlooked one important detail. I think she was so
intent on no one recognizing the children she forgot to disguise herself
– this face people remember.”
His men were lounging back in their chairs still smiling when he said, “Well,
I think we’ve done a good day’s work, so you’re all free to do whatever you
want this evening.” He smiled when every sign of tiredness seemed to
vanish like magic. They were all rushing for the door when Adam’s voice
stopped them and they turned around to eye their boss suspiciously.
He bit back a smile.
“Just one more thing…all I ask is that you don’t end up in jail. Alright?”
“Whatever you want, boss!” Nate said and the others nodded as he opened the
door. They were all gone in the blink of an eye and the door banged
shut behind them. Adam smiled to himself – they had all forgotten to
ask him about his afternoon, but then his expression fell. He couldn’t
believe that not one single bit of information had been found out about this
mysterious woman. And he was sure that his informants had tried their
best. They were puzzled too.
He sighed, the silence in the room seemed to ring in his ears pleasantly
as he stood and moved toward the smallest bedroom that only had one bed.
The deputies would be doubling up in the other two. He walked in, closed
the door behind him, turned the lamp down until the light was only dim, then
stretched out on the bed. “No wife, children, deputies, friends, or
relatives,” he said to himself. “God, how long has it been since I’ve
had any time alone?” Sighing with pleasure, he stacked his hands behind
his head, completely relaxed, and for once didn’t think about much of anything
Adam was sound asleep when the other men staggered to their rooms about three
o’clock in the morning, so he had no idea what time they got in. But
he was sure they would all be feeling more than a little bit rough.
Resisting the wicked urge to wake them all at five o’clock, he waited until
six to leave the room and go have breakfast with Wes and Dulcy. They
had just returned the evening before from a short trip they had taken to
visit her family.
He took one look at Dulcy’s pale, slightly green face and recognized morning
sickness. He was about to ask when the baby was due, but stopped.
Somehow he was pretty sure Wes didn’t know about it yet, so he said nothing.
Although he did have a hard time holding back pleased smiles.
Taking pity on his deputies, he didn’t return to the suite until about eight,
but when he did he banged on their doors to wake them up. The chorus
of groans he heard in response made him laugh.
When he still hadn’t heard any movement in either room ten minutes later
he banged on the doors again. The groans were louder this time and
he heard the distinct thumping sound of someone falling out of bed.
More sounds of movement began in both bedrooms, so he left to go to the kitchen
and have someone bring plenty of strong, hot coffee up to the suite.
He didn’t make it back as quickly as he wanted to because daytime employees
had reported for work and he was stopped many times by people asking about
his family. But when he did, he was pleased to see all four men awake
and dressed, although looking like “the dearly departed.”
“Good morning,” he said loudly as he strode into the room and slammed the
door shut behind him. They all flinched. He chuckled, “And you
four pitiful specimens have the nerve to laugh at me when I choose not to
Nate groaned and slid down in his chair as he carefully cradled his head
in his hands. “Boss please, have mercy,” he croaked then flinched again
when someone knocked on the sitting room door.
Instead of calling out “Come in,” as he normally would, Adam decided he had
tortured his deputies enough and went to open the door instead. A member
of the kitchen staff wheeled a cart in that had pots of coffee, pitchers
of ice water, and a rack of dry toast. “Thank you, Dale,” he said quietly
and the young man took one look at the seemingly animated corpses scattered
around the room and smiled. “Glad to see you again Mr. Cartwright,
” he almost whispered then left the room as quietly as he could.
Adam filled four large mugs only half way with the hot coffee and handed
one to Nate first. The young man’s hands shook so badly he was thankful
for his boss’s foresight. After delivering the other three, Adam came
back to sit on the table and watch with amusement as his deputies came back
to a reasonable semblance of life. After each one had come up to the
cart for a refill, he hopped down from the table and poured them tall glasses
of the ice water. He delivered one to each man saying, “Trust me drink
He went back to the table and leaned against the front edge to wait some
more. Nate was the first to seemingly recover enough to sit straight
up. When he finally looked directly at Adam, the older man just shook
his head. “Son, your eyes look like bacon baseballs.” Nate had
to smile at that, in spite of how miserable he felt.
The other walking dead finally came to carefully sit in the chairs that were
grouped in front of the table. Adam looked them over and decided he
had given them enough time to recover.
“Alright, we need to start thinking about what our next step should be.
I put the word out to my informants through Wes before we came here asking
for any information on the nanny. To my surprise they haven’t been
able to turn up a single fact about her. We have absolutely nothing
to go by – nothing about her family, previous employment, or even where she
came from. What do you think that is saying about her?”
His four deputies tried to sit up straighter and concentrate on this challenge.
The minutes ticked by and Adam was about to answer his own question when
Dylan looked up. “She’s hiding something.”
Adam smiled at him. “Of course…but what is she hiding? It seems
to me she’s hiding her identity. But why? The quickest way to
get yourself fired is to lie to your employer. That says to me that
she wasn’t particularly worried about losing her job. Again, why?”
John answered him, “She must not have needed the money.” His boss was
nodding in agreement when Mike spoke up.
“Adam, do you have her picture there? I’d like to take another look
at it.” When Adam pulled the picture from a file Mike stood a little
unsteadily then came to stand next to him.
“See,” he said to his boss, “how many nanny’s do you think can afford the
expensive jewelry and clothing she has on.”
The other deputies came to look, too. Then they exchanged knowing glances.
“Hmmm…” Nate said, “Do you think she was really Albrecht’s mistress?”
Adam and John shook their heads. “That would make sense except for
the elaborate scheme to save the children. I just can’t see a mistress
Nate frowned, “Why?”
“It just doesn’t,” John said. “I can’t tell you exactly why, it just
doesn’t seem to add up for me.”
All four men looked at Adam for his assessment.
“I agree and disagree,” Adam said. “John, I think you mean what woman
would be the mistress of a man who was planning on leaving his children to
be killed in a fire. And if she didn’t care, she wouldn’t have saved
them. But on the other hand she could have become his mistress before
she knew about his plans and just stayed for their sakes. So I don’t
think that’s a valid point.” He paused to look at John, “However, I
don’t think she was his mistress for another reason. A man like Albrecht
would not have a mistress that he knew nothing about.”
“Also,” he continued, “I don’t think he’s lying about not knowing anything
about her. It seems obvious to me that what she was hiding she was
hiding from him. Not from the other staff or from anyone else.
That fact alone says to me that her identity would have made him suspicious.”
The deputies went back to their chairs while Adam stared at the young woman’s
image for a few moments. “Now let’s put these facts together:
she wore expensive jewelry and clothing; she was not Albrecht’s mistress;
she was hiding her identity from him; and she had the help of someone who
was in a position to procure the bodies. What do you think this adds
Nate grinned, “Of course, she’s a member of the upper class!”
“Right!” Adam said. “And that is why we haven’t been able to find her.
We’ve been looking in the wrong places.”
The other deputies nodded in agreement and were smiling.
“What bothers me is how she got involved in this to begin with,” Dylan offered.
“I mean this whole thing is deliberate on her part. First getting the
job and then concocting this elaborate plan to save the children. She
had to have had some sort of previous, but distant connection with Albrecht
to know about it without him knowing her.”
Adam was nodding and his eyes narrowed as he stared over their heads at the
wall. “Excellent point and that brings up some interesting questions.
And the most important one is why did Albrecht have to hire a new nanny?
Does anyone remember anything about that from the reports? Was an explanation
“If I remember correctly, I think they said the former nanny just took off.
They assumed she had eloped with another member of the house staff,” John
answered. “But no names were given.”
“I think you’re right,” Adam said then looked at Nate and Dylan. “I
want you two to go back to that neighborhood and talk to the staff in the
surrounding houses. Find out everything you can about those two people,
particularly if anyone knows their families.” He turned to John and
Mike. “You can say I have a suspicious nature, but I want you two to
go to the morgue and go through the records for the last six months looking
for unidentified bodies. Write down the particulars on each one that
could be this man and this woman.”
“What are you going to do today?” Nate asked as he hauled himself to his
feet with a faint groan.
Adam smiled his half-smile and raised one brow, “I think it’s time for our
dear friend Simon to receive a visit from me.”
The other men glanced at each other. “By yourself?” John said anxiously
and his boss chuckled as they all began moving toward the door.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to rattle his cage. I just want to get
a look at him – to get a better idea of just who this man is.” They
were standing in the hallway now. “You four go ahead, I need to have
Wes put the word out for information to my informants in service. It’s
no wonder nothing came up with the other group,” Adam said laughingly and
turned away from them and toward the offices.
His deputies stood there watching him walk away for a few moments then they
reluctantly turned toward the stairs. “I know he can take care of himself,
but I still don’t like him going to see Albrecht by himself,” John said worriedly.
“He’ll be fine,” Nate said, but his tone sounded like he was trying to convince
himself. Then he suddenly stopped and the other three men almost ran
into each other. “He’s going to tear my head off, but I just have a
bad feeling about this.” He paused to think for a moment.
“Oh well, I never used my head very much anyway,” he said cheerfully, “I’m
going to follow him.” Without looking back at the other three he nodded
emphatically and took off down the stairs.
His friends remained standing in the hall, each one feeling both relieved
and guilty – relieved that Adam would have unseen backup and guilty that
Nate would be facing Adam’s wrath alone if he got caught. Then they
went down the stairs, out of the hotel, and hurried off to complete their
Adam was standing on the sidewalk in front of a large, brownstone row house.
He was watching a second floor window without tipping his head back, only
his eyes were raised. Someone was in that window, watching him too.
Even though all he could see was a man’s silhouette, he knew it was Albrecht.
“Take a good look,” he thought. “By the time this is over you will
come to loathe the sight of me.” He smiled to himself, then went up
the steps and knocked on the door. It immediately opened to reveal
a tall man dressed in traditional butler’s livery. Adam wanted to roll
his eyes at the pretension.
“May I help you?” The butler said in a deep, rumbling voice then his
eyes widened when he saw the badge pinned to Adam’s suit coat.
“Would you please inform Mr. Albrecht I am here to see him?”
“Yes, sir. Please come in,” the butler said and stepped back to let
He closed the door and turned to say, “May I take your hat?”
“No, thank you,” Adam said as he removed it.
“May I have your card, sir?” The butler then seemed surprised when
Adam took one from his breast pocket and handed it over. He almost
laughed at the butler’s assumption that he wouldn’t have one. But he
kept his _expression suitably serious.
“Please wait here, sir.” The butler intoned and walked off down the hallway
at a stately pace. Adam took the opportunity to look around.
The entry hall in this house was very similar to the one in the gray stone
mansion he used to live in. He shook his head at all the wasted space
even while acknowledging the beautiful craftsmanship of the construction.
But he still preferred his own house that was truly a home.
He was admiring a beautiful painting of a seascape when the butler returned.
“This way sir,” he said and seemed to be twice as nervous as he had been
when he saw the badge. Adam followed the man at the same stately pace
until they reached a pair of pocket doors. The butler pushed them apart
saying, “Please be seated, sir. Mr. Albrecht will be with you in a
Adam gave the man an appraising sideways glance then moved into the room
and sat down. As soon as the butler pulled the doors shut, he stood
and began to survey the room slowly. He knew Albrecht would be keeping
him waiting for some time.
Everything in the room seemed expensive and tasteful, yet he got the impression
that something was not quite right. He had been in many homes owned
by true aristocrats and this place seemed like a poor imitation. Shaking
his head, he continued to look around.
Almost an hour later he heard footsteps coming so he hastily sat down in
the nearest chair. The doors opened and Simon Albrecht strode in, a
harried look on his face. Adam stood.
The other man hurried toward him, but his visitor quickly took stock of Simon’s
physical characteristics. The man was slightly more than average height
with a large frame. He no doubt had been muscular at one time, but
now was rather soft and becoming fat. He was almost bald on top and
what hair he had left was a non-descript brown. His facial features
were crude and the only outstanding thing about him was his eyes. They
were cold and dark gray as they looked disdainfully at his unwelcome guest.
The man opened his mouth, but Adam deliberately cut him off by speaking first.
“Please accept my apology for disturbing you at such a time, but I only have
a few days in the city and we would like to get this investigation concluded
as soon as possible.”
That neatly stole Albrecht’s momentum and the man stopped in mid-stride as
he arranged his features in a suitably sorrowful expression.
“Yes, all this has been extremely difficult for me. Do you have children
Adam nodded, “Yes,” he said and tamped down his fury at this man.
“Then you must have some idea what it would feel like to lose them.”
“Yes, I think I do,” he responded softly while desperately holding on to
his neutral _expression. “I only need a few points clarified before
the investigation can be closed.”
“Please, be seated,” Albrecht said as he lowered himself into a large, overstuffed
Ignoring the invitation Adam remained standing. “There are a few small
holes in the information we have gathered and we hope you will be able to
help us. I believe your entire staff, except for the nanny had the
night off. Did this happen frequently?”
“Yes it did. I am often away and saw no reason to keep the house fully
staffed in the evening. The nanny was perfectly capable of caring for
my children by herself,” he paused for effect. “They were quite young.”
Adam nodded, “Yes, I know. How long was the current nanny in your employ?”
“I believe about four months.”
“I see, not very long then.”
“Did she produce any references when you hired her?”
“I did not hire her myself. My housekeeper takes care of such things.”
“Ah…I understand. The reports say you were out of town that night,
but are not very clear as to where.”
“I was visiting a friend.”
“And this friend’s name would be?”
Albrecht shifted in his chair and cleared his throat. “Considering
that we are both men of the world I’m sure you can understand if I would
rather not give you a name if doing so would tarnish the reputation of a
lady. She is a widow and I have been seriously considering marriage.”
He arranged his features in that sorrowful _expression again. “I had
felt it was time for my children to have a mother again.”
Adam turned away as he clenched his teeth, but quickly re-gained control.
“I just have one more question,” he said as he turned back to hit him hard
with what he knew would be unexpected. “What do you think happened
The other man blinked and Adam could almost see him sorting through possible
scenarios as the seconds ticked by. Then Albrecht put on an _expression
of righteous anger. “The only thing I can surmise is that the fire
was possibly set by someone bent on revenge.”
“Revenge? For what?”
“A man of my wealth and position has to expect he will make enemies in the
business world. I have been threatened before.”
“You have? Did you report any of these threats to the police?”
“No. I had no proof, just my word against theirs.”
“I see…” Adam said while mentally acknowledging the other man’s shrewdness
in proposing an unknown party to have set the fire. “Well I believe
I have everything I need now and I apologize again for disturbing you.”
Albrecht quickly stood. “Then I may assume that this investigation
will be finished soon?”
Adam smiled his half smile while intently looking the man in the eye.
“Yes, very soon.”
They had gone through the pocket doors and the butler was there, waiting
to see the visitor out.
“Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions,” Adam said and the
two men shook hands.
“You are welcome,” Albrecht said and retreated back into the drawing room.
“I’ll have to scrub this hand thoroughly when I get back to the hotel,” Adam
said under his breath as he followed the butler to the front door.
“I beg your pardon, sir. Did you say something to me?” the butler asked
as he opened the door.
“No,” Adam simply answered and strode through. The door immediately
shut behind him. Smiling, he could have sworn he heard the butler heave
a sigh of relief.
He took his time going down the front steps and when he was standing on the
sidewalk he stopped to put his hat back on. Albrecht was at the second
floor window again.
“Feeling a little nervous Simon?” he said and smiled a satisfied smile as
he walked away in the Hotel’s direction.
He reached the first corner and was about to step around a street lamp and
down into the street when he heard someone shout his name from behind – and
then the pounding of galloping hooves. His instincts told him to turn
and look, but instead he jumped up, grabbed the metal arm of the street lamp
that stretched out over the road and swung himself up.
When he looked down he saw a wagon streak past and looked right into the
startled eyes of the man driving. One of the back wheels almost clipped
the lamppost. Adam watched from his perch as the wagon continued to
speed down the side street then turned onto another and was gone. He
took a deep breath, held it, then let it out slowly to steady himself and
slow his thudding heart. Then he looked down again when he heard someone
on the ground laughing.
“Nate! What the hell are you doing here?” he said as he swung himself
down and landed in front of his friend. Numerous people on the street
were staring at this odd display, especially a short, stocky young man in
a badly fitting suit. Adam ignored them.
“God! The look on that man’s face was priceless!” the other man sputtered
out as he continued to laugh. “I swear, when he saw you swing up there
his mouth opened so wide I thought his jaw was going to just fall right off!”
“I’m sure it was hilarious,” Adam said tightly. “What are you doing
“Well boss, remember how you’ve always told us to trust our instincts?
I had a bad feeling about your going to see Albrecht by yourself so I followed
you. It’s a good thing you had me watching your back or we’d be scraping
you up with a shovel right now.”
Adam stared at him darkly for a moment his lips in a grim line. Then
he relaxed. “Alright, you’ve got me on that one, but I can’t have you
four ignoring my direction.” The corners of his mouth turned up slightly,
but his eyes were still hooded and annoyed. “The next time your instincts
are screaming something to you, please tell me beforehand.”
Glad that he still had a head on his shoulders, Nate quickly agreed.
“Sure boss, whatever you say.”
His expression turning skeptical Adam said, “Why is it I get more tense instead
of less whenever I hear those words coming out of your mouth?”
“Beats me!” Nate said and gave his friend a wide-eyed, innocent look.
“Knock it off, that's just as bad,” Adam was laughing reluctantly now as
they both crossed the side street and started the long walk back to the hotel.
The two men didn’t make it back until close to six o’clock. The other
deputies were gathered in the sitting room, anxiously waiting, but they all
relaxed when Adam and Nate walked in. Three pairs of eyes were staring
at Nate’s face, and when he gave them a quick wink they knew all was well.
“Well?” Mike said. “What’s Albrecht like?”
“Not quite as intelligent as I thought,” Adam said as he went into his room
to take off his suit coat and vest. When he came back he half sat on
the front edge of the table to face his men. “Alright, you go first
“Piece of cake,” the handsome young man chortled. “Former nanny’s name
is Katherine Bell. Her family lives locally and I went to see them.
They haven’t heard a word from Kate since the night she disappeared, and
according to her sister she was not romantically involved with anyone.
Now, the man who supposedly eloped with her was a gardener by the name of
Ambrose Harte. I went to talk to his family and guess who should happen
to open the door.”
“He was there!” John’s voice almost squeaked.
“Yep. Claim’s he doesn’t know anything about Kate disappearing and
I couldn’t shake his story. He told me he left his job for a better
one, but was reluctant to give me any details. In fact, the entire
family seemed to not want to say anything at all. I caught a lot of
significant looks passing back and forth and I’m sure if we go back tomorrow,
or even right now he’ll be long gone.”
“I’m sure,” Adam said. “Is that everything?” The young man nodded.
“Very nice work,” Adam continued, “even though you had to do it by yourself.”
Nate ducked his head, but smiled to himself wondering when Adam would tell
the others about his close call.
Adam turned to Mike and John with an expectant expression.
“Well,” Mike said, “I guess we don’t need to tell you about the unidentified
men now.” He grinned at his boss. “But we found four unidentified
adult female bodies in the records.”
“Dylan, did you remember to get a description of Kate?” Adam asked.
“One better,” Dylan said and pulled a small picture from his pocket and leaned
forward to hand it to his boss. “She was about five foot seven.”
Adam took a quick look at it and held it out to Mike who looked at the picture
briefly, then quickly flipped through his notes. “This must be her,”
he said as he quickly went over the description he had copied down.
“Nasty, the cause of death is listed as strangulation, but nothing about
how or where the body was found.”
“The police report will have that information. One of you can go down
there tomorrow morning while I’m visiting the orphanage,” Adam said as he
moved around the table to sit down behind it. “Well, it is six-thirty
and I think we are finished for the day.”
“Aren’t you going to tell them what happened?” Nate was grinning.
“You thought it was so funny, you tell them,” his boss answered with a sour
Nate turned to the other three men. “Our fearless leader here almost
got trampled by a runaway wagon practically right in front of Albrecht’s
Adam broke in, “That’s why I said he’s not as intelligent as I thought.
That was a clumsy attempt and hastily planned. He might as well have
slapped me in the face with his glove.” Adam smiled, “I believe the
battle lines have now been drawn. And you can be sure he’ll be trying
again,” he finished as he leaned back in his chair.
“Yeah, but what actually happened?” Dylan insisted.
Adam eyed him irritably, “The wagon came at me from behind as I was just
about to cross a side street. Nate warned me, so I swung up onto a
street lamp to get out of the way. Alright?”
Mike and Dylan managed to keep their expressions neutral, but Nate was laughing
without restraint. “I swear you all would have just died…” he sputtered.
John, however, was not amused. “Don’t you think that’s a poor choice
of words Nate?” he said without a trace of his usual bashfulness as he frowned
at his friend.
Nate stopped laughing. “You’re right Johnny,” he said but continued
to grin as he turned to Adam. “Sorry, boss.”
“Considering the fact that you probably saved my life,” Adam answered, “I
guess you can be let off the hook… this time.” He grinned back and
“If you are so positive that Albrecht is going to try again, you shouldn’t
be staying by yourself,” Nate insisted. “So come with us. There’s
safety in numbers, right?”
“Sure,” Adam said mockingly, “there’s safety in numbers until you all fall
into the same hole.”
Nate grinned. “You’re never going to let us forget that are you?”
Adam slowly shook his head, never taking his eyes off Nate’s face.
“Come on, come with us Adam,” John pleaded and the other two deputies joined
in, urging him to go out and have some fun.
He looked around at their eager faces and sighed, “All right, I will go with
you on one condition. Do not try to drag me into one of those ‘houses’
Four voices rose in protest, but he shook his head. “Did you really
think I was going to sit in the parlor among the ‘demi monde’ and wait for
you? God, if Thea had heard even a whisper about me just being in a
place like that there’d be hell to pay – and I will hand you four over to
her mercy without a moment's hesitation.” He smiled, “Any of you willing
to take that risk?’
All four men vigorously shook their heads. “Good, then we understand
each other,” Adam said and went back into his bedroom for his suit coat.
The four deputies quickly put their heads together and decided where they
wanted to take their boss on this rare occasion. Usually he refused
to go along.
When Adam came back out the four were waiting by the door. He looked
at their faces, each one grinning in anticipation. “Why do I have the
feeling I’m going to regret this?” he said as he shrugged into his coat.
The other men just glanced at each other, smiled, and dragged him out the
The cab pulled up in front of a large, flat building that had the raw appearance
of having just been built. Adam was the last to climb out and when
he did he burst out laughing. “What the hell is this?” He said
as his friends started laughing too.
The building had been constructed to look like a circus tent and was imaginatively
named “The Three Rings.” Adam was still laughing as the other men started
pushing him toward the door.
The inside was a cross between a saloon and what you would expect to see
in the circus. Sawdust was thick on the floor, circus-like acts were
performing on a stage across one end of the room, and trapeze-like swings
suspended from the ceiling held young women in acrobatic costumes who lazily
swung back and forth.
The five men found an empty table in a dim corner and Adam automatically
took the seat where his back would be up against the wall, yet was still
closest to the door. An attractive young woman dressed in a ringmaster’s
costume appeared in front of their table to take their orders. When
she moved off, the four deputies watched her intently then turned to see
their boss’s reaction. They were surprised to see he was surveying
the room with narrowed eyes and hadn’t even given her a second glace.
He seemed especially interested in the acrobatic dog act that was currently
performing on stage.
Other performers wove in and out among the tables, some with well-trained
small animals, some juggling various items, some doing floor acrobatics,
and one woman who definitely qualified as a contortionist. John stared
at her with his mouth open until Mike reached out and pushed it closed.
One man came to stop in front of their table, did a handstand, then lowered
himself until his head almost touched the floor, then raised himself again.
He did this five times, bowed when they applauded then moved on to the next
table. John turned to Adam. “Can you do that?” he asked.
“Sure,” his boss replied, shrugged out of his suit coat, and proceeded to
prove his claim, except he did ten “push-ups” instead of five. When
he flipped himself back up his deputies applauded, as well as people at the
surrounding tables. His friends were delighted that he seemed to be
having a good time and looked relaxed for the first time since they had started
this maddening investigating.
The contortionist stopped in front of them, used Adam’s knee to step up on
the table, and proceeded to twist herself into a human pretzel. She
winked at him, untwisted herself, and slid into his lap. After twining
her arms around his neck, she pulled his head down to whisper in his ear.
Adam shook his head. She whispered again. He whispered something
back and her eyes opened wide with what looked like fear. Slipping
quickly from his lap she stood and hurried off.
The other men roared with laughter. “What did you say?” Nate asked.
Adam smiled his half smile while shooting a dark look at his friend.
“None of your business,” was all he would say, and even though they continued
to harass him, he refused to answer.
In between being entertained by the acts the five men spent most of the evening
talking about past cases, past blunders, and the first time Adam had taken
Thea out to dinner when she somehow managed to set the table on fire.
“Come on! You never told us about that,” Mike said while the others
were still having a good time laughing at Adam’s embarrassment.
“She did a lot of things like that while we were courting.”
“What else?” Dylan demanded.
“Poked me in the eye with her sunshade. That wouldn’t have been so
bad, but we were walking down by the river and when I jerked away I slid
backward down the bank and into the water.”
His deputies were laughing so hard they looked like they were in pain.
“You would have thought I’d have learned my lesson from those first two times,
but no – I took her fishing.” He looked around at their incredulous
faces. “Yes, gentlemen I took her fishing and ended up having to cut
the hook out of my ear myself.”
John’s head was down on the table as he gasped for air, Nate had slid halfway
out of his chair, and Dylan’s face was bright red. Mike was making
a funny, almost squealing noise as he shook his head and tried to speak.
“And you married her anyway?”
“Yep. I knew she’d settle down eventually.” He smiled that special
smile. “See, I went after her single-mindedly and I think that would
be enough to make anyone nervous. So these things were really my fault
because her hands were shaking all the time. Thank God she got over
that,” he laughed along with his friends as he pulled his pocket watch out
to check the time.
“What time is it?” Nate asked.
“Midnight,” Adam answered as he stood. “I’ll go out and flag down a
cab,” he said, picked up his coat and left.
He had taken about ten steps away from the entrance when he sensed someone
coming at him from behind. Instinctively, he dove to the left, tucked
his shoulder in and rolled to his feet. Turning, he saw a heavily muscled
man skid to a stop, then turn to come at him again. Adam’s eyes fastened
on the knife his assailant was holding in his right hand.
“Oh for God’s sake,” he said in furious exasperation and just waited for
the man to come in reach. When he did, Adam stepped to the side at
the last second, grabbed the man’s forearm in both hands then slammed it
down across his raised knee.
The man’s scream almost drowned out the sickening snapping sound of the bone
breaking. He dropped the knife and fell to his knees as he cradled
his broken arm against his chest. Adam kicked the knife away, stepped
up to the man and grabbed him by the hair to yank his head back. His
eyes, full of cold rage locked with his attacker’s. “Don’t ever pull
a knife on me. I hate knives,” he ground out through clenched teeth
then looked up as he heard people running toward them. He let go of
the man’s hair and straightened up.
“What happened?” Nate almost shouted. “Adam, are you hurt?”
“He came at me with a knife, and no I am not hurt,” his boss said and seemed
to be making a conscious effort to calm down as he was still shaking with
“You broke his arm?” John asked as his eyes moved to Adam’s holster.
“Why didn’t you use your gun?”
“Because if I had, he would be dead right now,” Adam answered tightly while
eyeing John with annoyance. “And I wanted him alive so he can tell
us who his employer is.”
“Oh,” John said as he nodded his head.
“Nate, flag down a cab and go to the police station. Have them send
the wagon down here and make sure they know a doctor will be needed.”
“Yes sir,” Nate took off and was quickly gone.
Adam leaned over the man still kneeling on the ground. “Who sent you?”
The man looked up at him with wary eyes, but didn’t speak. Adam leaned
further down. “Look, we can do this the easy way or the hard way, but
you will tell me what I want to know. Who…sent…you?” When their
eyes locked again the man flinched then looked down as he mumbled something.
Adam yanked his head back again. “What?”
The man on his knees winced with pain. “Albrecht alright? Albrecht
sent me!” he cried out then groaned as Adam let him go and nodded with satisfaction.
“Well boys, now we at least have something to haul Albrecht in for.
I wish it wasn’t too late to get a warrant so we could pick him up tonight.”
The three deputies nodded and stared at the man on the ground with hostile
eyes. No one noticed the short, stocky young man who was near the entrance
and listening to their conversation intently. When Adam turned away
to glance down the street he slipped back inside to wait until he could safely
The wagon soon came and by the time they finished at the police station and
reached the hotel it was almost three o’clock. The deputies went to
bed, but Adam didn’t even try. He knew he wasn’t going to be sleeping
again until Albrecht was safely behind bars.
Simon Albrecht was not in a good mood; he was having a bad day. Both
attempts to remove that thorn in his side had failed, but he was determined
that he would not end up taking his own life like his former business acquaintance
had. Cartwright had to die – it was the only way to keep him from tearing
Simon’s life apart, layer-by-layer, until he uncovered the truth for the
world to see. He shook his head thinking about how hard it was to find
competent help these days. And where did that tall blonde come from?
His informant at the hotel had told him Adam Cartwright was coming alone.
He reached the street and the shorter of the two coachmen who were waiting
jumped down and opened the door for him. Albrecht was half way in when
he saw someone sitting on one of the seats. He turned his head to say
something to the man behind him and was punched in the side of the head.
Then he was pushed inside, landing in the seated man’s lap.
Shaking his head to try and clear it, he looked up and realized the man was
dead and he tried to scramble back, but the false coachman landed on top
of him. Then he felt a cool, sharp blade at his throat and he found
himself making a whimpering sound - it shocked him.
“Listen to me very carefully,” a hoarse voice whispered and he shivered with
revulsion at the warm breath sliding past his ear. “If anything else
happens to Adam Cartwright I promise you I will hunt you down and gut you
like a fresh kill.” He felt the knife blade start to cut into his skin
slightly. “Do you believe me?” the voice continued.
“Yes!” Albrecht managed to choke out.
“Good. Now just so you know I mean business, I’m going to leave you
with a souvenir of our little chat.” The knife blade left his throat
and he felt a terrible white-hot pain as it smoothly slid into and up his
cheek. He started to scream, but a hard, gloved hand covered his mouth.
“Remember, Simon,” the voice hissed in his ear and suddenly his attacker
was gone, slamming the coach door shut.
Albrecht reached for his handkerchief and tried to staunch the blood dripping
from his cheek. When he realized his attacker was truly gone, then
he began screaming.
At five o’clock the next morning Adam was sitting at the table, going over
the reports again when someone began knocking on the sitting room door.
When he heard Wes calling his name he hurried over to let the big man in.
“What is it Wes?” Adam said, the taste of fear in his mouth as he automatically
thought something had happened to his family.
“You’re not going to believe this, someone attacked Albrecht last night,”
Wes said as he moved into the room and dropped into one of the chairs in
front of the table. Adam came to lean against it.
“Albrecht was coming out of one of his ‘houses’ on Peachtree and when he
got to his coach his attacker pushed him inside, held a knife to his throat,
then carved up his cheek.”
“Cut his face?”
“Laid it wide open.”
Adam looked at him blankly for a moment. “Did this person say anything?”
Wes nodded. “Whomever it was said that if anything else happened to
you Albrecht would be hunted down and gutted.”
“What time did this happen?”
“About one o’clock.”
“Good. All five of us were at the police station then.” He shook
“What did he mean by ‘anything else’?
“Oh. I was almost run over yesterday afternoon and almost knifed last
“So you had a very busy day,” Wes smiled.
“You could say that,” he grinned back at his friend. “But at least
we have proof that it wasn’t one of us.”
“Yes, thank God,” Wes sounded relieved. “Oh,” he continued, “I forgot
to tell you – Albrecht’s attacker also killed the two coachmen.”
“Damn, I guess that means the man was serious. He will come back and
“That’s what it looks like. But who could it be? I can’t think
of anyone you’re friends with who would do something like that.”
Adam shook his head, “I don’t either. The only people I know who could
kill like that would definitely not be interested in keeping me alive.
This just doesn’t make any sense.”
“Yeah…it sure doesn’t,” the big man agreed and stood. “Well, I just
thought you would want to know as soon as possible.” He started toward
the door. Adam followed.
“Thanks Wes,” he said while clapping his huge friend on the back and the
man stepped out into the hallway, but turned back. “You be careful.
This case is the most dangerous you’ve had to deal with so far. Jackson
was stupid. Albrecht isn’t.”
“I know. I’ll be careful Wes.”
The other man nodded, hesitated then grabbed him by the shoulders to pull
him into a bone-crushing hug. Then he let go, turned, and sped off
down the hallway. Adam smiled – Wes had never done anything like that
before. He thought again about how thankful he was that the huge man
had accepted his offer to help him go straight as he closed the door and
moved back to the table.
An hour later he was just about to wake his deputies when he heard a slight
sound at the door. When he turned his head he saw a white square lying
on the floor. He ran to the door, pulled it open, and heard footsteps
racing away to his left so he took off after them. Rounding the first
corner, he almost ran into a plain, elderly-looking woman. He slid
to a stop.
"Pardon me, but did you see anyone go by here?” he asked.
She looked at him with startled blue eyes. “No, I heard someone go
by, but didn’t see them. I just came out of my room,” she said in a
high tremulous voice.
“Thank you and sorry again,” he said and took off, but didn’t see or hear
anything else. He walked back to the suite and had just turned the
corner when the room door the woman had been standing in front of opened
silently. A heavily muscled man of average height came out, went to
the corner, and poked his head out only far enough to watch Adam go into
the sitting room. As soon as he saw the door shut he stepped out into
that hallway, quickly walked down its length, and hurried down the stairs.
Adam was opening the envelope. He pulled out a heavy card and quickly
read the message that was written in bold, black letters. “I’ve taken
care of this one. Be more careful in the future. Hunter.”
By the middle of that afternoon Adam was at the point of screaming with frustration.
No matter which way he turned, the process of obtaining the warrant to arrest
Albrecht was being stalled, either by incompetence or by the right people
not being available. He wasn’t exactly sure why, but he was filled
with a sense of urgency, that time was running out. Having long ago
learned to trust his instincts, he sent Mike, John, and Dylan to watch the
brownstone – the three men would take turns watching and reporting in while
he and Nate cooled their heels waiting outside various official offices at
They had finally reached the last step – obtaining a judge’s signature –
and Adam was pacing impatiently outside. Both men turned when Dylan
rushed in. He must have run the whole way to the courthouse and up
the five flights of stairs because he had to take a moment and bend over
with his hands braced on his knees to try and catch his breath. Adam
was trying to be patient, but was not succeeding very well so his deputy
tried his best to speak.
“Albrecht…visitor…” Dylan gasped, “followed….reporter….activity at house…”
He breathed deeply a few times, then finished in a rush, “Wethinkhe’sgoingtorun.”
He waited for his boss to explode. He didn’t. Adam merely turned
around, knocked on the judge’s office door and opened it at the same time.
The door shut and his two deputies could hear his deep voice speaking low,
but forcefully. Strangely, no answering voice was heard, and seconds
later Adam came out with the warrant in his hand.
“Let’s go,” he said and was already on his way down the stairs by the time
Dylan and Nate managed to catch up to him. The coach was waiting for
them outside and the three men piled in after Adam shouted, “Albrecht’s house,”
to the driver. When they pulled up in front of the brownstone John
was standing there alone. He ran up to open the coach door.
“Albrecht’s gone,” John was saying as Adam jumped out. He nodded at
John in passing, ran up the steps to the front door, and pounded on it.
The butler opened it and Adam just brushed past him. He was back and
running down the steps in a few moments.
“David!” he called up to the driver, “get us to the docks as fast as you
can!” Then he practically threw John into the coach and dove in after
him. The coach took off at top speed.
They were just entering the street that was parallel with the waterfront
when the driver spotted Mike and managed to pull the horses up and stopped.
Mike didn’t stop for explanations; he just climbed up next to the driver
and started to give him directions to the right dock.
When the coach skidded to a stop Adam was the first one out and his four
deputies winced when they heard his shout of fury. The ship was already
on its way and their boss was at the very edge of the dock staring intently
and seething with hatred. Albrecht was standing at the rail, directly
across from them and waving mockingly. Adam didn’t move a muscle as
his deputies came to stand two on either side of him. He just continued
to stare at the man while waves of rage they could all almost feel washed
over them. A voice speaking behind them broke the silence.
“Mr. Cartwright? I have Mr. Albrecht’s statement about the investigation.
Would you care to counter with your own?”
Adam stiffened and slowly turned around. When the short, stocky young
man standing there saw his expression his blue eyes widened and he took a
“That’s him, the reporter I told you about,” Dylan said tightly.
The next thing the young man knew Adam had moved forward, grabbed him by
the front of his suit coat, and lifted him off the dock.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY TO HIM?” Adam growled in a harsh voice, his face right
in the smaller man’s.
“Hey!” the reporter instinctively protested but then began to shake with
fear as he looked into the other man’s hostile eyes. He tried to swallow
the lump in his throat and answer, but all that came out was a whine.
Adam gave him a shake.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” he barked.
The young man desperately tried to think – what had he said? “I asked
him if he thought there was any truth to the rumors that he was going to
be arrested soon!” He blurted out, hoping that answering the question
would appease the furious man.
Adam closed his eyes for a moment and just stood there, still holding the
reporter off the dock. As the seconds ticked by, his deputies glanced
at each other, unsure of what to do, but were quick to move aside when Adam
turned, strode to the edge of the dock, and threw the young man over.
His shriek of surprise seemed to last an unbelievably long time and they
were all watching when he hit the water. He disappeared in a huge splash,
then bobbed to the surface and started toward the nearest ladder.
“Oh good, the imbecile can swim,” Adam said calmly as his deputies turned
to look at him in disbelief. “When he gets up here, use the coach to
take him to the station and have him put in holding.”
Nate cleared his throat. “Uh…on what charge?”
“Obstruction of justice – he tipped that bastard off,” his boss answered
then turned and walked away.
Hours later Adam returned to the hotel after finally making the visit to
the orphanage he had intended to make in the morning. His deputies
were assembled in the sitting room, all wearing long faces. They were
badly disappointed that Albrecht had gotten away and were feeling as though
they had failed.
Adam strode in and sat on the table while taking in their expressions.
He got right to the point.
“Albrecht’s escape is not your fault. You did everything you could
to bring that monster down and YOU are not responsible. I am.”
Four voices started to protest his statement. He raised a hand to silence
“It is my responsibility and I’ll tell you why. I could have managed
it – there are many ways to bring someone in without a warrant. But
I did everything by the book because I was concerned that he would get off
through a mistake in procedure. Bad choice on my part.”
“But we have to go by the book!” Dylan argued.
Adam chuckled, “You don’t understand.” He shook his head, “Most people
are not aware that the law is fluid and constantly changing. Don’t
you realize that almost every time a judge writes a decision the law has
been changed? The law is only just interpreted and is never clear-cut
or black and white. In fact, a good trial lawyer can convince a jury
that black is white!”
John spoke up, “He’s absolutely right.”
“Of course I’m right,” Adam chuckled and his deputies smiled at his arrogant
attitude, which they all admired as one of his best qualities.
Mike sighed, “Well, I guess this investigation is over and we’ll be going
Adam hopped off the table and moved around it to sit in the desk chair.
“We will be going home tomorrow, but this investigation is far from over.”
His friends glanced at each other then turned back to him for the explanation
they knew was coming.
He leaned his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “You mark my
words, gentlemen, that man is going to come back and when he does we’ll be
ready for him. He won’t get away again.” He grinned at their
varied expressions; John already believed, Mike was dubious, Nate plainly
did not agree, and Dylan was keeping his opinion to himself.
“Meanwhile,” he continued, “I want you four to clear out of here, I’m sick
of looking at you.”
All four smiled and when John opened his mouth, Adam cut him off. “No,
I’m not going with you again. I’ll be having dinner with Wes, Dulcy,
and Charlie. But I’m warning you. If you all can’t get up in
time in the morning I’m leaving you here and you can find your own way home!”
A chorus of “Yes sir’s” was his answer as they quickly moved toward the door.
Nate was the last and he paused with the door open.
“Are you sure?”
“Oh yes, very sure.” Adam answered and Nate gave him a wide smile saying,
“Be careful yourself.”
“Yes mother,” his boss said sarcastically and he laughed as he hurried after
the other three.
Adam sighed and leaned back in his chair, looking forward to going home and
thinking about what he had found at the orphanage. He had to decide
just how much he was going to tell Thea.
When he returned from dinner with his friends Adam was surprised to see a
tall man about to knock on the sitting room door.
“May I help you?” he called down the hall and the man jumped a bit as he
turned. Adam’s brows rose when he recognized the man as Albrecht’s
The man calmly waited and when Adam reached him he said, “May we speak privately,
“Of course,” was the answer and the two men went into the sitting room.
Adam sat down behind the table and the butler took the chair directly opposite.
“First let me introduce myself. My name is Charles Atwood and I have
worked for Mr. Albrecht for close to a year and I must say that was a year
too long. I had no idea what type of man he was at first. None
of us really did until young Katherine disappeared.”
Adam nodded to him encouragingly.
“The rest of the staff who played a part in this evil farce and I have decided
you deserve to know exactly what happened now that that heartless bastard
is gone. We are aware of how hard you worked to put him behind bars
where he belongs.”
He paused to gauge Adam’s reaction. He could see none so he took that
as a good sign and continued. “When Katherine overheard a conversation
that revealed the plans Albrecht was making to murder his children she immediately
went to her best friend for help, the woman who eventually became the next
nanny.” Adam was about to ask him for the woman’s name, but was interrupted.
“I must make clear to you that none of us knew the nanny’s real name.
Katherine only ever referred to her by a nickname – Fairy. We know
absolutely nothing about her and we preferred to keep it that way.
She came up with the plan and the house staff agreed to cooperate.
Unfortunately, Katherine told someone she shouldn’t have and disappeared
a few days later. I believe, but have no proof, that the man responsible
is the gardener, Ambrose Harte.”
“No proof at all?”
“No, but I did become suspicious of the man suddenly showing an intense interest
in her after they had worked together for years.”
“I see…please continue.”
“When the news of Katherine’s disappearance became known, her friend appeared
at the house a few days later when Albrecht was away. She told us she
had come to take Katherine’s place as the nanny because we could not be sure
another would cooperate. So the plan continued.”
“When did Albrecht ask for your help?”
“He didn’t. We approached him and in effect extorted him.”
“Very clever, he would naturally not be suspicious of what he would see as
greed,” Adam said.
“Correct. That was part of the plan from the beginning. The rest,
I’m sure you have surmised. We all helped in setting the house on fire
and substituting the dead bodies for the live children.” He paused
again, seemingly choosing his next words with care. “I also must tell
you that I have no idea where the children were taken. We thought it
best that only she should know since she could disappear without a trace
and we could not.”
Adam was watching Charles carefully as he said, “That doesn’t matter – I
know where the children are.” He decided the other man’s surprise and
concern were genuine.
“Don’t worry, they will be moved and placed under protective custody tomorrow.”
Charles sighed in relief. “Good. I’ve always worried about them.”
He stood. “I’ve told you everything I know, Mr. Cartwright, so I believe
I will be on my way.”
Adam stood and came around the table to shake his hand. “I appreciate
your taking the time to come see me and confirm what I had surmised.”
Nodding, Charles turned toward the door, but Adam had not let go of his hand
and now tightened his grip. “I just have two questions before you go.”
The other man waited silently, not resisting at all.
“I can see you are an intelligent man. Do you really expect me to believe
that you know absolutely nothing about this young woman we’ve been trying
Charles smiled. “Perhaps I am also intelligent enough to make sure
I did not learn anything about her.”
“Very well said,” Adam chuckled as he let go of the man’s hand.
The two moved toward the door and Adam pulled it open.
Charles stopped before stepping out into the hallway. “And the other
Adam looked at him narrowly. “You must know Albrecht reasonably well
by now. Do you think he will return to San Francisco eventually?”
“Oh yes, yes he will return although I can’t specifically say to San Francisco.
He will return and you can be sure the first place he will show up is wherever
you may be.”
Smiling wolfishly Adam said, “Good. I’m glad you agree with me and
quite frankly I’m looking forward to seeing him again.”
The other man looked at that smile and had to smile himself. “I didn’t
think anyone would ever be able to bring that man down, but I now believe
if anyone can, it will be you. But I will still wish you good luck.”
“Thank you, and the same to you.”
Charles gave Adam one last smile, shook his head, then stepped out in the
hall and walked away.
Adam closed the door then moved into his bedroom to begin packing.
His deputies may have thought he was joking, but he was serious. He
was anxious to get home to his wife and children and would leave the four
of them behind if necessary.
When someone came to take him out of the holding cell late that evening the
reporter – Brett Bierce – had hoped he was going to be released. But
he realized that was unlikely as he was being led further into the warren
of rooms and cells.
They stopped in front of a door that had a square window set too high up
for Brett to look in. The jailer knocked and a deep voice said, “Come
in.” Unhooking a ring of keys from his belt the jailer unlocked the
door and opened it. The reporter took one step into the room, but when
he saw who was waiting for him he tried to back up. The jailer gave
him a hard shove and Brett stumbled up against the table that was sitting
in the center of the room.
“Sit down, Brett,” Adam said quietly and the young man quickly dropped into
the chair on the opposite end of the table. He nervously clasped his
hands together on the tabletop and stared at Adam with wary eyes. The
tall, dark man was sitting in a chair set at an angle to the table and his
casual posture belied the intensity of his gaze.
Adam was taking stock of the young man and considering what action he should
take. Coming quickly to a decision, he leaned forward and pinned Brett
with a cold stare. “You will no doubt be relieved to hear that I have
decided to not press charges against you for Obstruction of Justice,” he
said, watching the young man relax somewhat.
“But you need to know that if you ever tip-off a suspect again, or interfere
with an investigation in any way I will press charges and seek the highest
penalty possible. Do you understand?”
Brett nodded quickly, his mouth gone dry and his heart thudding in his chest.
“Good,” Adam stood and came around to lean over Brett with his hands braced
on the table. “I’m letting you off this time because you are young,
inexperienced, and obviously stupid.” He leaned even further down to
speak low into Brett’s ear. “Never get in my way again.”
He straightened up, moved to the door, and knocked. When the jailer
unlocked and opened the door, “Release him.” was all he said and then was
Brett suddenly found he could breathe again. The jailer came in and
took him by the arm to escort him out. As they walked through the halls,
the reporter vowed to himself that he would find out everything he could
about Adam Cartwright. The man was not only frightening, he was fascinating,
and Brett could smell a story of epic proportions just waiting to be told.
That is, if he could somehow manage to get the information he needed while
staying out of Adam’s way. Brett thought about how furious Adam was
going to be when he became nationally known, when the details of his life
were printed in serial form. He smiled in anticipation as he left the
police station and headed for his office to work on the story proposal he
would turn in to his editor in the morning.
The first of May had finally arrived and Dante would be leaving to go on
tour in a few days. The ranch house was packed full of friends and family
gathered together for his going-away party. Impromptu performances
by members of Dante’s opera company rang out now and again to the amusement
of everyone. Especially when those who should have known better joined
In the middle of the celebrations Adam went up the steps to stand on the
landing. He stood there quietly for a moment as everyone fell silent
and turned in his direction.
“Ladies and gentleman,” he said in a voice that carried easily across the
room. “Although we are all sorry to see Dante leave us, we also have
a reason to rejoice tonight. I have been given the honor of announcing
the engagement between my brother Hoss and Dante’s sister, Dorathea.”
The room erupted with excited voices and people rushed to congratulate the
couple. Hoss was actually blushing a bit, but Dora was smiling her
happiest smile and leaning her head against Hoss’s shoulder.
Adam had been watching Dante carefully as he made this announcement and frowned
with concern when the man’s eyes narrowed and his face tightened. He
hurried down the steps to stand next to Hoss, hoping there wouldn’t be a
The crowd around the couple parted as Dante made his way toward them and
they all fell silent again when he stepped right in front of Hoss.
The two men’s eyes were on the same level and Hoss’s narrowed too.
They stood there for a moment until Dante startled everyone by throwing his
arms around Hoss and shouting, “Thank You God! My prayers have been
answered - she’s no longer my responsibility!” He stepped back, grabbed
Hoss’s hand and shook it vigorously saying, “Thank you, Hoss! Thank
you!” as the crowd erupted with laughter.
Thea came to hug and kiss both of them then went to stand in front of Adam
as she slowly surveyed the room looking for Joe. She spotted him slipping
out the front door. Adam leaned down to whisper something in her ear.
Thea nodded her head in agreement, worked her way through the crowd and went
out. Shivering slightly, she quickly walked toward the barn and went
in, thankful to be out of the chilly wind. She stood there looking
around until she heard a rustling sound coming from the second stall on her
Moving quietly down the aisle she hesitated a second then stepped into the
stall opening. She stood there for a few seconds before he noticed.
“Thea,” Joe sighed, “Please just go away, I want to be alone.”
She said nothing, didn’t acknowledge what he had said in any way, and just
came across the length of the stall to stand next to where he was sitting
on a bale of hay. He looked up at her and was surprised to see that
her eyes were wide and dark with pain – and the pain was for him.
He turned his head away from her; he couldn’t stand to look at her sympathetic
face without losing control. But Thea would not have it. She
put a gentle but firm hand on his right cheek and began to turn his head
back toward her. He reached up to push her hand away, but let it fall
when he felt and saw a tear splash on the back of his hand. That did
him in and he couldn’t hold it back anymore.
Thea pulled him to her and cradled his head in her arms against her breast
and cried with him as he wrapped his arms around her waist. She put
her head down to rest her cheek on the top of his head and kept murmuring
choked words of sorrow and comfort as she held him tightly.
Neither of them noticed when Adam stepped into the stall opening and stood
there for a second. He put his head down and a hand to his chest when
he felt his heart clench in pain for his brother. Then he quietly moved
away and left the barn.
Eventually Joe felt completely drained and hollow, but gave a small snort
of laughter when Thea let go of him, tipped his face up, and began to dry
his face with a handkerchief. He turned red with embarrassment and
she tightened her grip on his chin.
“Don’t you do that, don’t you ever be embarrassed about anything with me,”
she said firmly. “I love you, Joe.”
He shook his head, “I can’t for the life of me figure out why,” he said in
a muffled voice as he pressed his hot face against her again.
She hugged his head tightly saying, “Because you’re my brother now and you’re
He shook with nearly silent laughter for a bit, then pulled away as he moved
over on the bale and tugged on her hand so she would sit next to him.
When she did, he put an arm around her shoulders.
“You feel like this is all your fault, don’t you?”
Thea nodded then laid her head against his shoulder. “She is my cousin
and Adam brought them here for me.”
“It’s not your fault, Thea. I did this to myself with my arrogant attitude.”
She lifted her head and leaned back to look him in the face.
“It’s true, I never thought for one minute that any woman would prefer Hoss
over me. Isn’t that stupid? Why shouldn’t she care more for Hoss?
He’s a better man than I’ll ever be.” He smiled down into her solemn
“It doesn’t have to be that way, Joe,” she said softly. “You have three
wonderful examples of the best that men can be. Now it’s up to you
whether or not you use your whole potential instead of getting by on just
“Do you really think so?”
“I know so. That’s always been your problem. You’ve never really
had to work at most things, especially relationships with women. But
it’s time to grow up now Joe. If you ever want to have what Adam and
I have it’s going to take some real work and effort on your part.”
He nodded as he rubbed his face with his free hand and yawned.
“And the first thing you have to learn is to stop judging women by their
looks alone. That’s the quickest way to get your heart stomped on.
I find that most women who believe they are beautiful have a tendency to
be pretty selfish. Remember that.”
“You mean they’re like me.” That made her smile.
Joe gave a startled look then laughed fully this time. He stood with
a hand out to help her up.
She put her hand in his and looked up into his face with a serious expression.
“Time to be a man, Joe, and go congratulate your brother?” she asked softly.
His face tightened with determination and he nodded as he tucked her hand
into the crook of his elbow. “Will you help me?”
“I’ll be with you every step of the way,” she said and gave his arm a firm
He sighed deeply then smiled down at her again. “Then let’s go.”
They left the barn, hurried across the yard, and went in the front door together.
Adam moved quickly down the board sidewalk heading for his office.
He walked along with a half-smile; his family was well, the organization
of the new office was shaping up, and it just happened to be a beautiful
When he reached the building he turned down the side street and went up the
short flight of stairs that led to the private entrance to his office.
He unlocked the door and started to push it open when he sensed movement
in the room. Quickly, he stepped to the side and flattened himself
against the outside wall and drew his weapon.
Almost immediately he heard his father’s voice saying his name from inside
He sighed deeply and his brow furrowed in irritation as he stepped in, still
holding his gun, but keeping his arm straight with the weapon pointing to
the floor. Always a professional, he surveyed the room with just his
eyes before turning his attention to the people.
Ben, Joe, and Hoss were standing in a group behind one of his leather wingback
chairs, and all three were looking at him anxiously. Then he turned
his gaze to a petite, blonde woman who gave him an uncertain smile.
He smiled back as he nodded to her, leaned back against the front of his
desk, and looked at his father for an explanation as he holstered his weapon.
The three men glanced at each other, looked at Adam who was still watching
them expectantly, and then at each other again.
Joe figured it out. “He doesn’t remember,” he said low to Ben and Hoss
so the woman in the chair couldn’t hear. Adam’s brows rose as he watched
The other men glanced at each other again then Hoss came around the chair
to take Adam’s arm and lead him out into the hallway.
Those still in the office listened to Hoss speaking for a bit then heard
Adam loudly say “What?”
Hoss must have been explaining because he spoke for a while. Then there
was silence in the hallway for a moment that was eventually broken by Adam’s
deep laughter, which was quickly muffled.
Laura looked at Hoss nervously when he came into the room alone, not sure
what Adam’s absence meant. The big man was quick to reassure her.
“Adam wants us to wait ‘bout five minutes and then go to the meetin’ room.
He said Joe knows where it is.”
The younger man nodded.
“He also said to give the keys to his office back to Marie and if you ever
take ‘em again he’s gonna tan your hide. Pa, we ain’t supposed to be
in here. Adam said no one is without him.”
“Joseph!” Ben said while glaring at his youngest son. “I don’t care
if you get yourself into trouble with Adam, but don’t drag Hoss and I into
“Come on, Pa. He knows we wouldn’t mess with anything in here.”
“That is not the point. This is a federal government office and no
doubt what we’ve done is against the regulations. You could cause Adam
and Marie to receive a reprimand.”
“I never thought of that,” Joe turned red with embarrassment.
“Of course not, if you had actually thought at all you wouldn’t have done
something this stupid,” Ben said in exasperation.
Joe just nodded and glanced at Laura out of the corner of his eye.
The woman was sitting back in the chair now, looking very tired, confused,
“What does all this mean? Is Adam willing to help?” she said, looking
at Hoss with a frown. The big man nodded.
“He’s getting’ his deputies together.”
“I think the five minutes is up,” Ben said. “Joseph, go give the keys
back to Marie and meet us in the hall.”
Still embarrassed, Joe hurried from the room.
Ben offered Laura his hand to help her up saying, “Don’t worry, if anyone
can find Will, it’s Adam.”
“He seems to have changed a great deal,” she said, still uneasy about asking
her former fiancé for help.
“Yes he has, and no he hasn’t,” Ben said cryptically and the three left the
office, making sure the door was locked behind them.
All four of Adam’s deputies had been right where he expected them to be,
already in the meeting room. As usual, the four were going over paperwork
and good naturedly arguing about something. But when Adam came in they
all sat up and gave him their full attention.
“We don’t have much time, so I’ll make a long story short. Seemingly,
I was engaged to a woman named Laura who dumped me to marry my cousin, Will
Cartwright. She showed up at my father’s ranch earlier today looking
for help because Will has disappeared.” He resisted the urge to chuckle
as his deputies looked at him as though he was demented.
“But here’s the interesting part. I don’t have a single memory of her
and can barely remember my cousin.”
The four men seated around the table glanced at each other and grinned, realizing
Adam was highly amused by this situation.
“Now, my father and brothers are bringing her down and that should be in
a few minutes. From what I understand the couple was on their way here
by train for a surprise visit, but had a long stopover in Bentwood Junction.
Then according to Laura, Will was arrested by a deputy sheriff and accused
of trying to pass counterfeit bills. Does any of this sound familiar
to you? I could swear I heard something similar to this before.”
Three of his deputies shook their heads, but Mike nodded.
“I’ve been hearing some rumors about high quality counterfeit in connection
with that area. Bentwood is about forty miles east of here, isn’t it?”
His boss nodded. “But the story gets a little strange after Will was
arrested. They claim he was already released and have no idea where
he went. She asked to see the sheriff, but they told her he was out
Adam watched their reactions carefully and saw what he expected. Dylan
smiled wryly, John shook his head, Mike rolled his eyes, and Nate gave his
boss a shrewd look.
“So you’re all thinking the same thing I am, they’re trying to pull a jailhouse
All four men nodded and Adam was about to speak again when they heard a knock
at the door. He hurried over to open it for Ben to escort the woman
into the room. He met his father’s eyes as the two passed and nodded
toward the empty chair at the head of the table.
Ben led her over and held the chair for her to be seated. The deputies
had all stood when she came in and now resumed their seats. Adam then
motioned for his father and brothers to join the others then moved to stand
at the foot of the table.
“Laura, these are my deputies; Nate, Mike, John, and Dylan.” Each man
made eye contact with her and each man nodded when his name was spoken.
“Now,” he continued, “please tell us everything that happened from the moment
you arrived in Bentwood. Don’t leave out a single detail.”
Laura looked down the table at this man who seemed so different from the
man she had known then opened her mouth, but was at a loss as to what to
say. “I don’t know where to start,” she said staring.
Smiling, Adam answered, “Usually the best place to start is at the beginning.
What time did the train arrive?”
She blinked and gathered her scattered wits together. “About nine o’clock
in the morning. We arrived on schedule and had a two-hour wait to board
the next train.”
Adam had slowly moved to stand to the side of the table, directly behind
his father. “What did you do then?” he continued to prompt her as he
moved slowly until he was standing behind her.
“We went to a restaurant called The Toll House.”
Adam nodded at his second-in-command, indicating he should take over.
“And then?” Nate said. She turned her eyes to the tall, blond man and
seemed to relax somewhat.
“We had breakfast, Will paid, and we left to go back to the train station
to wait.” Nate just looked at her with his brows raised, so she continued.
“We had only been at the station for about fifteen minutes when the cashier
from the restaurant and a deputy sheriff came in to arrest Will. When
he asked on what charge the deputy said for passing counterfeit currency.
Will didn’t even get a chance to argue. Another deputy came in they
dragged him away. I started to follow, but Will told me to get on the
train and come here for help – but I couldn’t do it, not right then because
the train was delayed about two hours. I went to the sheriff’s office
and they told me Will had already been released and they had no idea where
he had gone.”
She paused as her lower lip began to tremble and looked down at the table
until she had herself under control again.
Nate looked at his boss who nodded again.
“I think you’re leaving out some details,” he said. “Were you near
Will when he received his change at the restaurant?”
“Yes, I was standing right beside him.”
“Did his manner or expression seem odd or different to you right then?”
Laura closed her eyes for a moment to think. “Well, I believe he did
give the cashier an odd look right before we left.”
Adam and Nate exchanged a quick glance before the deputy continued.
“After you left the Toll House did he do or say anything else that was different
in any way from what you would usually expect?”
“Yes,” she said promptly, “he handed the bills he received in change to me
and said to hang on to hem.”
“Do you have them with you and may we see them?” Nate asked, his expression
brightening. Counterfeit currency was one of his areas of expertise.
“Yes, I do,” she opened her reticule and handed him one five-dollar and four
Nate held the five-dollar bill up to the light first then rubbed it between
his thumb and index finger before handing it to Adam, who had come silently
to look over his shoulder.
Adam pulled a jeweler’s loupe out of a vest pocket and went over the bank
note thoroughly. Then he handed both to Nate.
The blonde man stood and laid the bill flat on the table. He bent down
and put the loupe to his eye. When he had finished examining both sides
he stood and whistled.
“Beautiful work, don’t you think?” he said as he handed the loupe back to
“Some of the best I’ve ever seen. Does it look like Nick’s work to
Nate nodded and sat down as he handed the one-dollar bills back to Laura.
“These are genuine,” he said then fell silent as Adam walked down to the
end of the table. He had heard everything he needed to be reasonably
sure about what had happened. Everyone looked at him expectantly.
“Well, Laura, it looks like Will just fell into this by accident. I
think he recognized something was wrong with that five because of the way
it felt. That’s the hardest thing for a counterfeiter to fake.
The engraving is almost perfect, but the weight and the texture of the paper
is off.” He paused to laugh. “These people have a great set-up.
Hundreds of people move through Bentwood Junction every week, and I believe
many of them leave with at least one counterfeit bill mixed in with the genuine.
And from what you have told me I think they panicked when Will gave the cashier
that odd look so they arrested him. Not a particularly intelligent
thing to do, they should have just let him go.”
Joe spoke up, “But how could they just let him go?”
“Look Joe, if they had let him go Will might have gone to someone to see
if the bill was counterfeit. On the other hand, he might not have.
Either way, it would be impossible for anyone to prove he got the bill at
the Toll House. All they would have had to do then is shut down operations
for a while until it was reasonably safe again. Arresting him and holding
him illegally has now opened up a whole can of worms they really don’t want
anyone taking a close look at. Bad mistake.” His four deputies
nodded in agreement.
“Who’s this Nick you mentioned?” Dylan asked.
“Nicholas Teyssier,” Adam and Nate said together then Nate went on to explain.
“One of the best forgers and engravers in the business, but I don’t see how
it could be him since he died about five years ago.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Adam answered, “who knows how many sets of plates he made?”
Laura impatiently interrupted. “But where is Will?” she almost wailed.
Adam shook his head at her. “He’s there, right in that jail in Bentwood
Junction. Believe me, I’ve seen this before. The sheriff probably
is out of town and they don’t know what to do with him so they’re keeping
him until the sheriff gets back. What a bunch of idiots!”
The four deputies chuckled and Laura went red in the face. “How can
you laugh when Will’s life is in danger like this?” she snapped then dropped
her eyes when Adam gave her a chiding look.
“His life is not in danger, at least not yet. Besides, he’ll be out
of that jail by noon tomorrow.”
Her head snapped up, “How?”
He laughed again, “Simple, we’re going to go get him.”
Her mouth fell open. “But how can you do that? He’s under arrest,
what if they refuse to turn him over to you?”
All of the men in the room, except Adam, laughed at that.
“Laura, I am a Federal Marshal of a special division of the Marshal’s office.
That means any state, territory, possession, or protectorate of the United
States is my jurisdiction. They can’t tell me ‘no’.”
“But what if they still do?” she persisted stubbornly.
Adam smiled a smile she had never seen on his face before – it made her turn
“Then we’ll go in and take him,” he said quietly and she finally believed
“Hoss? Joe?” he said turning his attention away from her. “I’d
appreciate it if you would come along tomorrow to help make a show of strength.”
His brothers nodded eagerly.
“Good, consider yourselves sworn in,” he said. “If you will all excuse
me for a moment I need to discuss something with Marie.” He quickly
left the room.
The other deputies, Hoss, and Joe stood to come and cluster around Nate who
was holding the counterfeit bill up to the light again. Ben came to
sit down in the now empty chair to her right.
“Don’t worry, Laura, Adam knows what he is doing.”
“What happened, Ben? Why is he so different now?” she asked.
“Are you thinking he became this way because of what happened between you
two? No, that’s not the reason.” Ben chuckled then took a deep
breath and tried to be brief. “About seven years ago Adam left to go
to Chicago to help an old friend from college. This man’s name was
Allan but he was no friend at all. He was being threatened with death
by some vicious criminals he owed a lot of money to, so he brought Adam back
with him to take his place.”
She gasped, but didn’t speak as he continued.
“Allan hired someone to kill Adam and planned to put his identification on
him and dump the body somewhere. Unfortunately for him the people he
was trying to avoid caught up with him before they managed to kill my son.
He was barely holding on to life when a doctor in the morgue examined him
and realized he was alive. He died on the table right in front of her,
but she managed to bring him back. The she spend the next six months
helping him to heal. But Adam had no idea who he was; he couldn’t remember
anything about his past except his first name. We didn’t see him again
for six years until Joe happened to run across him in San Francisco.
Adam’s only been living in Virginia City for less than a year now.”
Laura was openly staring at Ben now, a mixture of horror, awe, and fascination
showing on her face. He was about to continue his explanation when
his eldest son returned.
“Everything has been arranged for tomorrow so I think it’s time to go home.
You are still coming to dinner aren’t you?”
The deputies nodded, but Ben, Hoss, and Joe hesitated.
Adam laughed at them. “Thea, Dora, Cassie and Barbara have been cooking
all day. If you three don’t show up I’m warning you now – don’t come
to me for protection.”
Everyone except Laura laughed at that then Ben gave his son a questioning
look. Adam just winked at him and went to hold the door open.
“Let’s move it out, folks.”
“We’re not going back to the ranch?” Laura questioned Ben in surprise.
“No, we’re going to Adam’s home, it’s very close to this office.”
They paused in the front hall where Adam offered Marie his arm. She
tucked her hand under his elbow and said good night to the large young man
who had been hired to lock up and guard the offices overnight.
The group spilled out of the building and good-natured chatter flew back
and forth as they made their way across and down the street to Adam’s house.
They all hung back when they arrived to let Adam and Marie go in first.
Laura looked up at the unusual house with her mouth hanging open. Ben
noticed her staring and chuckled. “If you think this place is something,
you should have seen the house he had in San Francisco,” Ben said as they
came through the door and into the hall.
Adam helped Marie out of her coat and hung it up for her as the black woman
hurried down the hall to the kitchen. She was greeted by an outburst
of female voices and laughter.
Ben helped Laura as the deputies, Hoss, and Joe stood around still talking,
deeply engrossed in their own conversations. That’s when she noticed
Adam quietly making his way to an open door on the right of the hall that
had a wooden gate blocking the lower half. The sound of children’s
laughter reached her ears even though they were still standing just inside
the front entrance.
He stopped at the side of the door and quickly poked his head around the
edge to take a look. When he turned around he was shaking his head
and motioned for his father to come over. Laura still had her hand
on Ben’s arm so she came with him.
When they reached the door Adam nodded for her to look in. She saw
a young, black-haired boy on the floor with three babies sitting in front
of him. The boy was making hideous faces and the babies were laughing
so hard at him they’d occasionally start to fall over backward. But
a young, black-haired girl sat behind them and was busy keeping them upright.
Laura gave Ben a puzzled look after he had taken his peek into the room.
He was chuckling, but was going to explain when Adam stepped into the doorway.
All five children noticed him at once and the twins yelled, “Pa’s home!”
at the top of their voices. They quickly scrambled up and dashed over
to the door while the babies called out in their own way as they came crawling
at top speed.
Adam bent over and picked the twins up when they reached the gate.
He gave each one a squeeze and a kiss on the forehead before setting them
down in the hall. They immediately scurried over to latch onto their
grandfather’s legs while laughing up into his face. Ben went down on
one knee to put his arms around them and looked up at Laura.
“Laura, this is my granddaughter Annalise and my grandson Alexander.”
The children turned to smile at her and she was shocked when she realized
there was no doubt they were Adam’s. Ben laughed and nodded when he
saw her expression, then the twins shrieked with laughter when he stood with
one under each arm and headed toward the kitchen.
She turned to see Adam still standing in front of the gate. The three
babies had pulled themselves up and were standing clutching the wooden bars
of the gate in their little hands. One just stared up at him with a
sweet smile; another was babbling what sounded like “Pa!” over and over again,
while the third was bouncing up and down on his little feet and grinning.
Adam laughed again, crouched down and unlatched the gate to carefully swing
it open. The three babies quickly fell on him then laughed as he wrapped
his arms around them and stood. They waved their arms and kicked their
legs as he kissed each little face then Hoss and Joe came to carefully take
Turning to Laura, Adam held the remaining baby out to her saying, “This is
She quickly took the baby from him and cuddled him close while Adam watched
her carefully. When she finally looked up again he caught a brief flash
of yearning in her eyes.
“This one is yours too?” she said, looking a little dazed.
“Laura…all of them are mine,” he answered and smiled at her expression.
“Joe took Matthew, Hoss took Thomas, and you met Annalise and Alexander before
my father carried them off.”
She hesitated before speaking. “So you’re married?”
He held up his left hand to show her his wedding ring. “More than six
years now,” he said and took the baby back. He nodded toward the kitchen
as he shifted Benjamin to his shoulder and they started moving in that direction.
Something hilarious must be happening, judging by the laugher they could
hear spilling out the doorway.
Adam chuckled. “I have a feeling more than cooking has been going on
in there today.”
“What?” She said, completely overwhelmed at this point.
He shook his head with a grin. “You’ll see,” was all he said and motioned
for her to go in first. Laura took three steps into the room and stopped
to stare, trying to take everything in.
She spotted Hoss and a tall woman with wavy chestnut hair to her right.
Hoss was holding the baby he had taken from Adam while the woman was making
the child giggle by tickling him.
Joe was seated at the foot of the table with Matthew in his lap. The
deputies where gathered around that end and the four men were having a lively
discussion. Then she noticed a petite strawberry-blonde sitting in
a chair at the side of the table, but her head was resting on her folded
arms and she seemed to be asleep.
The twins went running past then and a huge black dog followed them as they
headed for Hoss. She heard Adam laughing behind her and when she turned
in his direction she saw Ben standing there too.
Adam was still laughing helplessly and couldn’t answer his father immediately
when he asked, “What is going on with these women?”
“Don’t you see it Pa?” he finally managed to say. “They’re drunk.”
“What?” Ben said shocked.
His eldest son nodded. “Considering they’ve been cooking Italian food
today, I imagine you will find Chianti instead of tea in those cups.”
Ben looked around the room and when he turned back to Adam he was smiling.
“Well, I guess they do need a chance to let their hair down occasionally.”
Adam nodded, still chuckling and held Benjamin out to him. “Would you
mind? I think Cassie needs to go to her room.”
The older man took his namesake and settled the baby on his shoulder.
Laura tugged on his sleeve and he leaned down so he could hear her.
“Which one is Adam’s wife?”
“You can’t see Thea, she’s on the other side of the room by the stove with
Adam had helped Cassie up and was passing them on the way to the back stairs.
He heard what Laura said and stopped to yell, “Theadora!” Only Laura
jumped, everyone else was used to his bellows.
People moved out of the way and soon Laura found herself watching a short,
black-haired woman coming toward them. Her heart-shaped face was flushed
a becoming pink and her almond-shaped hazel eyes sparkled as she looked up
at her husband. She reached up with both hands and pulled Adam’s head down
to kiss him. Laura was shocked when she saw the scorching look he gave
“Hoss! Dora!” he called over his shoulder, “Give me that child and
you two take Cassie up to her room – she’s had too much ‘tea’.” The
two quickly came and took charge of the young woman while Adam tucked the
baby in the crook of one arm while putting the other around his wife.
“Thea, this is Laura my cousin Will’s wife.”
Thea turned her beautiful, intelligent eyes to Laura and gave the other woman
her usual wide smile. Taking her hand, Thea tugged her forward and
said, “I’m so glad to meet you, but you look so tired. And it’s no
wonder, I know we can be a bit much for some people.” She looked up
at her husband then and nodded. Adam immediately whistled his loudest
piercing whistle. All conversation stopped.
“All right people, let’s keep it down to a dull roar, we’re giving Laura
a headache,” he called out. Everyone laughed then continued their conversations,
but in much softer tones. Thea smiled at the blonde woman again and
pulled her by the hand over to the table to an empty chair. “Sit down,
I’ll get you some coffee. You look like you need it.”
Laura thankfully sat down and closed her eyes, feeling as though her nerves
had been stretched to the breaking point. Her hostess was back in a
moment with the coffee and she murmured a faint, “Thank you.” Thea
patted her on the shoulder then turned to Joe, who was sitting in the chair
at the foot of the table, with a pointed look. The young man instantly
stood, handed over Matthew and went to find another place to sit.
When Thea was seated she smiled at the other woman, but Laura seemed to be
avoiding making eye contact. “Relax,” she said quietly, “I know you
and Adam were engaged years ago. Joe told me the whole story.”
“Does everyone always do what you tell them to do?” Laura blurted out without
Thea narrowed her eyes into a wicked look. “Only if they know what’s
good for them.”
That startled a quick laugh out of Laura and her hostess smiled with satisfaction.
Mission accomplished – making her guest feel more comfortable.
Matthew decided he had been ignored long enough and claimed his mother’s
attention by reaching up and pressing both of his small hands across her
lips. She chuckled and lifted the child to hold him standing up in
her lap. They both leaned forward until their foreheads met and Matthew
chortled with glee.
“You don’t like not being the center of attention do you?” she said and the
baby burbled in response as he bobbed up and down in her lap.
“He’s a beautiful child,” the other woman said wistfully and Thea immediately
held him out to the other woman. Laura instinctively took the child
and sat him in her lap. The two stared at each other blankly as Thea
stood, gently stroked the boy’s hair back from his forehead, and said “This
is Matthew. I’ll be right back.”
“Matthew,” Laura said softly and he grinned at her showing two small white
teeth in the front. She shifted her hold on the child to one arm and
turned her head to the left to look for Thea. She spotted the black-haired
woman on the other side of the room just walking up to Adam.
Thea put a hand on his shoulder and he leaned down so she could whisper in
his ear. He straightened abruptly, thrust the child into her arms and
turned away to dash up the back stairs. When she turned back Laura
could see she was laughing and continued to laugh as she sat down again.
She turned the baby in her lap to face the other woman. “And this is
“How old is he?” Laura asked as she reached out to touch his cheek with the
tips of her fingers.
“Six months, and so is Benjamin – they’re triplets and were just born on
Laura blinked in surprise, but at the same time wondered why she was – it
was obvious they were all the same age.
“The twins turned five on New Year’s Day.” Thea continued as she wrapped
her arms around Thomas and leaned down to kiss him on top of his head.
“I’ve never seen eyes that color before,” the blonde-haired woman said, staring
at him intently.
“He has my grandmother’s eyes,” Thea responded then nodded toward Matthew.
“Now Matthew has his father’s eyes and Benjamin’s are exactly like his grandfather’s.
Laura nodded, she had noticed. “Why did Adam rush off like that?” she
said, wanting to change the subject.
“Well, he sent Dora and Hoss to take Cassie up to her room, but it’s been
a while since they did.” She grinned, “I just reminded him that it’s
not a good idea to leave the two of them alone for very long, even though
they are engaged.”
The other woman’s eyes opened wide. “You mean Hoss…” she couldn’t seem
to finish that thought.
“On no, Hoss is a gentleman. Dora, my cousin, is the problem.
She’s been after that poor man ever since she first laid eyes on him.”
Thea paused to chuckle and kiss her son again. “After all, a man can
only take so much. I think we all will be relieved when they get married
in two months.” She glanced toward the stairs and put a hand over her
mouth when she saw Hoss and Dora enter the room with red faces and downcast
Laura leaned forward to look too, just as Adam followed them through the
doorway. He gave his wife a dark look from across the room and shook
Thea still had her hand covering her mouth, but shook with muffled laughter.
That made him grin and he started toward her, only pausing for a second to
give Hoss a quick, disgruntled glance as he passed.
When he reached them, Thea was still trying to stop laughing and only nodded
when he said, “Thank you for reminding me.”
“I guess you made it in time then?”
“Yes,” he said shortly.
“No,” Adam shook his head again, “but I will be so glad when those two are
married and I can stop being Hoss’s bodyguard.” Thea laughed again
and Laura couldn’t help but smile at that image too.
Adam chuckled briefly – it was hard not to respond to Thea’s laugh – and
observed, “Matthew is down for the count and Thomas looks like he’s ready
for bed too.”
Laura hadn’t noticed the child had fallen asleep in her arms and she reluctantly
held him out to his father.
Thea stood and followed her husband, but paused to ask Barbara to look after
the food in the oven and their newest guest.
The blond-haired woman was watching the couple as they stopped to collect
Benjamin first, and then the twins who began to protest against bedtime.
Adam only had to give them a stern look to make them stop complaining and
hurry toward the stairs.
Sighing, Laura leaned back in her chair, and couldn’t help but compare the
Adam she used to know to the man he had become. The change in him was
not only startling it was fascinating. Then her thoughts naturally
turned to comparing him to Will.
Her high hopes for her marriage had not been realized, and the past year
had been the worst. No matter what she did or how she tried to please
her husband, he just kept becoming more critical, colder, and remote.
And she had no idea why.
A hand settling on her shoulder made her jump in her chair. She turned
to her left and found herself looking into a pair of lovely blue eyes, heavily
lashed in gold and warmed by a faint touch of green. The woman smiled
at Laura, making her already high cheekbones stand out even more.
“Anytime I see that look on a woman’s face it means some idiot male is making
her life miserable,” she said as she reached up to tuck a stray strand of
honey-blonde hair back into the chignon that nestled at the nape of her neck.
Her over bright, only slightly inebriated eyes shone with sympathy for the
“Husband trouble?” she asked and Laura nodded reluctantly, not wanting to
Barbara patted her hand. “Don’t you worry, dear. There’s never
been one born yet that didn’t get his long johns in a twist about one little
thing or another.”
“No truer words have ever been spoken,” a voice said to Laura’s right.
She turned to see Marie sitting in the chair Thea had just left. The
black woman smiled her sweet, sweet smile. “It doesn’t matter who or
what they are child. Tall or short, fat or thin, handsome or ugly,
rich or poor, they all act like children sometimes.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Barbara chuckled and stood. “Well here comes
the happy couple so we better start getting this show on the road.”
All three women looked across the room to see Adam and Thea coming down the
Thea hurried over to them as Adam went to inform their guests it was time
to take their seats. Laura sighed – she could tell it was going to
be a long evening.
The clock in the hall struck twelve times and Laura gave up trying to sleep.
Throwing back the covers, she was about to light the lamp when the sound
of a door closing down the hall reached her hears. She hurried over
to open her door a crack and saw Adam’s broad back clad in a red shirt moving
away from her toward the front stairs.
Laura retreated to the bed to sit there for a while in the dark, thinking.
Coming to a decision, she pushed her feet into slippers and shrugged into
a robe before following him. Thea had taken her on a brief tour of
the house after dinner so she knew where Adam’s office was. She assumed
that was where he was going.
By the time she was standing in front of his closed office door her hands
and feet felt icy and her nerves were almost screaming. She took a
deep breath and knocked softly. There was a pause, then Adam’s voice
quietly said, “Come in.”
Adam stood as he watched her walk into the room and he gestured to two overstuffed
chairs in front of his desk that sat with their backs up against the back
of a large sofa that faced a fireplace.
“Can’t sleep? Are you worried about Will?” he asked as she sank into
the first of the two chairs.
She looked at him mutely, her eyes huge in her pale face.
“Trust me. He is in that jail and I promise you’ll have him back tomorrow,”
Adam continued as he sat down behind his desk again. She did not respond
and only continued to silently stare at him.
His eyes narrowed. “What is it?”
“I think I married the wrong man,” she blurted out.
“What?” he said genuinely surprised.
“I think I married the wrong man. If I knew then what I know now, I
never would have gone with Will…”
Adam held up a hand to stop her flow of words. “Laura,” he said quietly,
“stop. I don’t want to hear it.”
“But it’s the truth! I must have been insane to choose him over you…”
“Stop,” Adam said then sighed. “I didn’t want to tell you this, but
you leave me no choice.” He paused and shook his head. “Laura,
I don’t remember you.”
She stared back at him stunned. “You don’t?”
“I don’t have one single memory of you. But don’t take that personally,
I didn’t remember Pa, or Hoss, or Joe for six years either.”
Her face turned red with embarrassment.
“I’m sorry if that hurt you, but you and everyone else need to understand
one thing – nothing and no one will ever get in between me and my wife.
I will not tolerate it. Thea is my best friend, my wife, and the mother
of my children. I not only love her I respect her and she is now the
heart of this family. I don’t think we could survive without her.”
He smiled then said, “Isn’t that right, Theadora?”
“Actually, I think it’s getting pretty deep in here,” Thea’s voice came from
behind the back of the large sofa where she must have been the whole time.
Adam laughed and Laura gasped as she stood to flee the room, but stopped
when Thea said, “Freeze woman, don’t you take one more step,” in a hard voice.
Thea stood and came around the end of the sofa, never taking her eyes off
Laura. “Adam, would you please go to bed now? We need to have
a little chat in private.”
“Well, you did use the magic word, so I can’t refuse you. Just promise
me one thing – don’t hurt her, she is still family.”
“Believe me, if I had wanted to hurt her she’d be toothless and bald on the
floor right now.” She glanced at Adam then turned her gaze back to
the woman standing with her head down and her hands covering her face.
“No,” Thea continued, “I actually feel some sympathy for her. After
all, she married a Cartwright and that’s enough to severely confuse any woman
and make her do foolish things.”
Laura dropped her hands and looked up at Thea astonished as Adam chuckled.
“Alright, on that note I think I will take my leave. Good night, ladies.”
Adam was still chuckling as he left the room.
Thea moved forward to settle in the chair closest to her as the other woman
watched her warily. She pulled her feet up under herself to sit partly
sideways and leaned one elbow on the arm of the chair. Nodding toward
the other chair she said, “Sit, we need to talk.”
Laura reluctantly came to sit down stiffly; ready to take off running
Smiling at the other woman’s obvious fear Thea said, “First of all, I am
duty bound to say if you ever try anything like that with my husband again
I will be forced to hurt you.”
The other woman’s posture stiffened even more.
“Now,” Thea continued, “I want to also say that taking up with another man
won’t solve your problem, it will only make things much, much worse.”
She paused to let that sink in. “So tell me everything.”
“Everything?” Laura echoed, not understanding.
“Yes, everything from the first moment you realized something was seriously
wrong with your marriage.”
And so Laura did, surprised that everything came pouring out so easily to
this woman she barely knew and was actually afraid of. But when she
was finished unburdening herself she was sitting back in the chair, emotionally
Thea’s expression had been impassive at first, but the longer she listened
the angrier she became. Somehow her expression managed to combine both
that anger at Will and her sympathy for Laura. She remained silent
for a few moments, thinking as she reached into a pocket and pulled out a
handkerchief, which she absently handed to the other woman.
Laura wiped her face dry and sat up, not sure what would happen now.
She glanced at Thea then looked quickly away, not wanting to break the silence.
“Well,” Thea finally said as she turned her head to look at Laura,
“it’s crystal clear to me what a large part of your problem is.”
“What?” Laura said eagerly, turning in her chair to face Thea.
“You married a Cartwright and as wonderful as they are they still have this
one little flaw they all share without exception.” She paused and turned
to look at Laura. “Woman, they will walk all over you if you give them
“What!” Laura’s mouth dropped open.
“It’s true. I know you thought you were doing the right thing, being
a good little obedient wife, but that’s the worse thing you can do with a
Cartwright.” She shook her head, “Dear Lord, you might as well have
been wearing a sign that said ‘Doormat – please wipe your feet on me’.”
Laura continued to stare at Thea in disbelief for a while, but the more she
thought about it, the more she could see that the other woman was right.
Her eyes narrowed, her face turned red, and her fists clenched in her lap.
“Damn him!” she almost shouted, making Thea burst out laughing.
“Good girl!” she finally said. “That’s the first step. Now, listen
to me carefully because this is what you are going to do tomorrow when Adam
brings that man back to you…”
The seven men dismounted in front of the sheriff’s office in Bentwood Junction
close to eleven o’clock the next morning. They had made good time and
were glad to get down and stretch their legs for a bit.
“Is everybody displaying a badge?” Adam said as he surveyed the group.
He sighed, “Joe, where is yours?”
Joe moved his jacket aside to show the badge pinned to a vest. “Either
put that on your jacket or take the jacket off. Your choice.”
Adam said, a little irritated.
His youngest brother quickly moved the badge to his jacket. “Where’s
yours?” he shot back with a smart-aleck grin.
“I don’t want to display mine yet,” was Adam’s curt reply as his deputies
and Hoss grinned. They knew he always had a good reason for everything
“Ready? Now I want you all to line up behind me and try to keep a straight
face. No smiling and for God’s sake, no matter what you hear don’t
They all nodded as Adam turned to the door. He gave them one more glance,
this one over his shoulder to check their expressions. Then he turned
the knob, pushed the door open forcefully, and strode through with the rest
right behind him.
A stocky, dark-haired young man wearing a deputy sheriff’s badge looked up,
badly startled by the sudden appearance of the seven men.
Adam walked up to the counter and started speaking first. “I’m here
to take custody of a prisoner – his name is Will Cartwright.”
The deputy just stared at him blankly for a second then seemed to find his
voice. “We don’t …” he started to say, but Adam cut him off.
“You don’t want to be lying to a federal marshal son, so stop right there.
Now go in the back and bring him out.”
“But…” the young man’s voice almost squeaked. Adam briefly clenched
his teeth to keep from laughing.
“I told you not to lie to me. Either bring him out right now or we
will go back and get him.”
At this point the deputy was looking around frantically for help, but realized
he was on his own. He tried another tactic.
“The sheriff is out of town right now and I can’t release anyone without
his authorization,” he looked at Adam hoping he would buy that excuse.
Adam gave him a menacing smile as he pulled some folded papers from a pocket
inside his suit coat. “Nice try, but here is all the authorization
you need.” He dropped the papers on the counter and the deputy finally
stood and came toward him reluctantly. The young man reached out, staying
away from the counter to pick up the papers. When he looked at them
his mouth dropped open again as he looked first at Adam and then at the six
men backing him up.
He jumped when Adam abruptly pulled out the wallet that held his badge and
his identification, opened it, and dropped it on the counter too. The
solid gold badge made a heavy thudding sound when it hit the wood, unnerving
the deputy even more.
“So what’s it going to be son?” Adam said in a quiet, but hard voice.
“Are you going to be sensible and cooperate or do we have to go bring him
out ourselves?” He bared his teeth in what could possibly be considered
That broke the deputy’s resistance. He grabbed the ring of keys from
his desk and hurried through the door that led to the cells in the back.
They could all hear two voices then, one plainly the deputy urging the prisoner
to get moving and a deeper voice asking questions.
Adam glanced over his shoulder at his men and shook his head. But he
turned quickly back and everyone wiped the smiles off their faces as they
heard footsteps approaching.
Will came through the door first and he almost stopped walking when he saw
the men waiting for him. The deputy was behind Will so it was safe
for Adam to shake his head and put a finger to his lips. Will got the
message quickly and just kept going.
Turning his head to look back at his men again, Adam made an impatient gesture.
Dylan and Hoss instantly moved forward to each take one of Will’s arms in
a firm grip.
“What are you waiting for? Take the prisoner outside,” Adam said irritably
so Will was led outside by the two men with the other four following closely.
Adam turned back to the deputy and picked up the badge wallet and tucked
it away. “When the sheriff gets back in town you can tell him you had
no choice and that federal warrant will back up your story. You can
also tell him that if he wants to take issue with me about this he can find
me in Virginia City at the regional office.”
He paused to see if this was sinking into the badly intimidated deputy’s
brain. “And I have a bit of advice for the genius who thought this
little scheme up – you can’t pull off a jailhouse shuffle with only one jail.
It just doesn’t work.” The other man’s face turned red so Adam knew
he was the one behind this mistake.
He began to turn away and the deputy had just started to relax a little,
but then Adam turned quickly back, startling the young man again. “One
other thing you can tell your boss,” he said in almost a whisper as he leaned
across the counter, getting right into the other man’s face. “You picked
the wrong man to pull this on. And because of that I will be watching
all of you in this quaint little town. So it might be a good idea to
either go straight or close up shop and move on. And if I hear even
the faintest rumor that you have been holding anyone illegally again I’m
going to come back and shut you down myself.” He kept staring intently
at the other man who was staring back in horrified fascination.
“Understand?” Adam barked and the deputy nodded quickly and almost couldn’t
seem to stop. “Good,” he said shortly then turned and strode out the
The deputy stayed at the counter, nervously waiting and trying to be prepared
for the tall, dark man in black to come back and threaten him some more.
He didn’t move away from the counter or relax for almost half-an-hour, but
when he did he hurried off to report to the others what had happened.
The eight men had ridden away quickly to the west and Adam kept up the fast
pace until they were far enough away from the town to be out of sight.
Raising a hand to signal they should stop, he stopped his own horse and turned
around to face them.
“Here is where we start riding to the east again,” he said and they all stared
back at him surprised.
“You don’t think they’re just going to let us ride away with Will, do you?
That deputy must have regained his wits by now and I’m sure the other idiots
he’s working with are scrambling to come after us. No, we’re going
to skirt the town and keep going east until we reach Unionville. Then
we’ll be catching a train back to Virginia City.”
Not waiting for any discussion or questions he urged his horse forward and
the rest fell into line.
They reached Unionville quickly and after they dismounted Adam went into
the depot and came back with a small, wizened man who lead them toward a
box car that had bales of hay stacked around the inside walls. The
men watered their horses as the little man went to get some help after a
quick conversation with Adam. He came back with four huge men who were
hauling a ramp that was normally used to load cattle.
The horses were loaded into the car without too much trouble and Adam was
the last to lead his up and in. The horses fell to munching the hay
on one end of the car while the men went to sit on the bales on the other
Will sat down with a deep sigh and looked around him with a dazed expression.
He turned to Adam. “What the hell was that and where the hell have
you been?” he said shaking his head.
Adam looked back at his cousin impassively then yawned. “Sorry, I was
up way too late last night,” he said and yawned again. “Both of those
explanations are long and they can wait until we get to Virginia City.”
He turned and stretched out across three bales, tipped his hat over his eyes,
folded his arms and crossed his ankles. “Keep it down, boys,” was all
he said and seemed to immediately fall asleep.
The rest of the men moved as far away from him as they could and sat down.
Will looked at Hoss saying, “Well, how did you get me out of there?”
“We didn’t,” Hoss answered him quietly. “That was all Adam’s doin’.”
“Alright, but how?”
“He’s a federal marshal now,” Joe answered him with a grin. “I wish
you could have seen it Will, he almost made that deputy wet himself.”
“I’m completely confused. When did he come home? Where has he
been? Who are these other men, and how the hell did he end up being
a federal marshal?”
Joe introduced the deputies then quickly told his cousin about Adam leaving
with Allan, how he had been beaten and stabbed to death, and saved by Thea.
Then Nate took over, filling him in on Adam’s time with Pinkerton, taking
the last name of Eden, marrying Thea, and the moves to Chicago, then San
Francisco. The other deputies threw in a few anecdotes about working
with the man.
Then Joe told him how he actually just stumbled across Adam while walking
down the street, the time they spent with the family in San Francisco, and
how they had all been pulled into the shutting down of Jackson’s organization.
Will laughed when Joe described the kidnapping and how Adam had neatly turned
the tables on his enemy.
Hoss took over then telling about the happenings during the family’s visit
to the ranch and everything that had happened since they moved to Virginia
City. Will was shaking his head in wonder when Hoss finished.
“That has to be the strangest story I think I’ve ever heard,” he said.
“If you think it’s strange hearing about it, you ought to try living it.”
Adam said from the other side of the car and they all jumped a little.
He flicked the hat off his face and sat up to twist his back to loosen the
muscles. “Is story time over? We should be pulling in soon,”
he said and stood to go over and pull the door open a crack. Staring
out at the familiar countryside he said, “Yep, and in a few minutes I would
Will came over to stand next to him. “Thank you for getting me out
of there,” he said low.
“Don’t thank me and don’t thank my deputies either,” Adam said giving his
cousin a cool look. “We were just doing our jobs,” he said brusquely
and turned his gaze back to watching out the door.
His cousin stared at him in surprise for a moment then turned back to the
other men who were looking just as puzzled. Hoss shrugged his shoulders
and Joe shook his head. They had no idea why Adam was treating Will
with barely concealed hostility. None of them believed it could possibly
be because of Laura. Adam was happily married, deeply in love with
his wife, and didn’t even remember the woman – It just didn’t make any sense.
“We’re about to pull in Will, so either sit down or grab onto something,”
Adam said in a neutral tone of voice. His cousin quickly sat back down.
As soon as the train came to a stop Adam pulled the door open further and
jumped down, no doubt to go find another ramp for the horses.
The other men just sat there and waited for him to come back, which he did
fairly quickly. Adam jumped up, grabbed the door and pulled himself
in. Then he dragged the door back the whole way and motioned for the
others to come and collect their horses as the ramp was being put in place.
He had been the last one into the car and he was the last one out of the
car, as usual making sure everyone else had been taken care of first.
They all swung up into the saddle and in a few minutes they had reached the
front of the house. Nate pulled up beside Adam. “Why don’t you,
Hoss, Joe, and Will go ahead on in. We’ll take care of the horses.”
His boss turned to him and smiled. “Thank you,” he said and they all
dismounted. Each deputy then led two horses around to the barn at the
back of the house.
Adam had already opened the gate and started up the walk while Will was still
on the front sidewalk staring up at the house. Then the front door
opened and Thea came running across the porch and down the steps to throw
herself into her husband’s arms. He laughed and swung her around before
setting her back down.
Will turned to Hoss. “You mean to tell me that little woman is Thea?
The doctor-surgeon-wife you were telling me about?
Hoss nodded and grinned at his cousin, “Yep, couldn’t tell just by lookin’
at her, could you?” He turned back to the house when they heard the
door open again. This time Dora came rushing out.
“Here comes mine,” Hoss said and chuckled at Will’s expression as the beautiful,
tall woman almost knocked Hoss over when she ran up to throw her arms around
Will frowned then; expecting Laura to come hurrying out, too, but was surprised
when she didn’t. Instead, Ben came out to greet Will as Adam and Hoss
went in with their ladies.
Ben shook Will’s hand and the younger man nodded when asked if he was all
right. The two started up the steps and went in, closely followed by
They were moving down the hall toward the kitchen when Will was distracted
by Adam’s deep voice mingled with children’s voices. He turned toward
the door with the gate and walked over to look in.
Adam was sitting cross-legged on the floor and almost buried under his children
while Thea sat in a chair laughing at their antics. She seemed to sense
Will standing there because she quickly turned her head toward the door then
gestured for him to come in. He stepped over the gate and came toward
Thea stood and held her right hand out to the man when he reached her.
Will automatically took her hand in his and shook hands without thinking.
She looked up at the tall man carefully and he could have sworn for a second
that she was sizing him up. But that look vanished as quickly as it
had come and he found himself staring down into a truly lovely face and exotic
Thea smiled saying, “Welcome, cousin.”
Adam had put a finger to his lips and the twins had plopped down to sit one
on either side of him while the babies had managed to cram themselves into
his lap. The children had remained quiet while their father closely
watched the brief exchange between his wife and his cousin.
He grinned when he saw Will shake her hand, knowing that was what Thea had
intended. She wanted to establish herself in his mind as more than
just another woman and his cousin’s wife. But he quickly assumed a
neutral expression when the two turned toward him then.
“Will,” he said with quiet pride, “this is my daughter Annalise and my son
Alexander.” The twins looked up at the tall man and gave him small
smiles, responding to the coolness in their father’s tone.
Adam looked down at the babies in his lap. “And these are my sons Benjamin,
Matthew, and Thomas,” he said, indicating who was who by dropping a quick
kiss on the top of each little head after saying each name.
Will looked down at the three grinning boys in surprise. “Triplets?”
he asked, envy plain in his voice.
“Yes they are,” Adam answered. “Annalise and Alexander are twins,“
he added as his two older children looked up at Will proudly. “Kids,
this is my cousin, Will Cartwright,” he added.
Thea gave the two a look that plainly said to remember their manners, so
they got to their feet then Alexander bowed and Annalise curtsied as they
said, “Pleased to meet you,” in unison.
Will nodded to the two children with a wide smile and quietly said, “You’re
a very lucky man, Adam.”
“Yes, I know and I try to remember that,” Adam responded and narrowed his
eyes, watching Will’s expression closely. He saw that same flash of
yearning cross his cousin’s face that he had seen on Laura’s the afternoon
before. He mentally nodded – his assessment of the situation and the
problems between the two people had been correct, at least so far.
Thea had seen the look too, and her heart softened toward the tall man just
a touch. Adam’s, however, had not. He was still just as furious
with his cousin right then as he had been early in the morning when Thea
had filled him in on what Laura had told her.
They all heard the deputies coming in the back door and the sound level in
the kitchen increase. Then Marie came to look in and ask if anyone
wanted coffee and some of the apple pies she had just taken out of the oven.
Thea laughed and hurried to link arms with the other woman. “Thank
you Marie, I swear I don’t think I gave those pies another thought after
I put them in.” The two turned and moved off toward the kitchen.
Adam looked at the twins and nodded toward Will, so they scampered up to
him and each took one of his hands in both of theirs to tug him out of the
room and down the hall.
All three babies had their heads tipped back to look up at their father.
“Well boys,” he said seriously, as though they could understand, “what’ll
it be? Stay here or go eat pie?“
“Pie!” Benjamin crowed and Adam started to laugh as Thomas clapped his hands.
Matthew just continued to stare up at his father. “Sorry son, majority
rules and you’ll just have to grin and bear it.” He looked up to see
Joe and Hoss come into the room.
“Thea sent us,” Joe said and came forward to collect Matthew. Adam
handed Thomas over to Hoss and stood after shifting Benjamin to his shoulder.
The three men walked into the kitchen and Adam gave Benjamin to his grandfather.
Then he moved over toward the sink where Thea was standing washing dishes.
He reached into a drawer, pulled out a dishtowel and began drying them.
She gave him a bright smile and he leaned down to speak low in her ear.
“What do you think now that you’ve met Will? Is it going to work?”
Thea nodded and the two exchanged a conspiratorial look then continued working
quietly while listening to the conversations going on at the table behind
Will was puzzled. When he had entered the kitchen with the twins Laura
had smiled at him and asked if he was all right. After he nodded, she
came over to hug him, but then moved quickly away to let Hoss introduce him
to Dora, Marie, and Cassie. After that he looked around for his wife
and spotted her sitting next to Joe, trying to help the young man feed some
apple pie to Matthew with a spoon as he sat in Joe’s lap. The two of
them were laughing because it was plain to see the baby had more of it on
him than in him. Will frowned and came around the table so sit in the
empty chair next to her.
Laura turned to her husband and smiled at him as she asked if he wanted pie
and coffee. He nodded and she rose to get it for him. He watched
as she moved toward the sink and stood there chatting with Thea and Adam.
The two had finished the first batch of dishes and Adam was sitting on the
counter with Thea standing in between his knees and facing the table.
He had his arms around his wife and she was holding on to his forearms with
both hands as she leaned back against him. Laura quickly cut a piece
of pie, placed it on a plate, poured Will’s coffee and collected a fork,
spoon, and napkin. Then she hurried back to the table to set them in
front of her husband.
He expected her to sit down next to him again, but she continued on to walk
around the table and began collecting empty dishes, which she carried over
to the sink. “Break’s over,” he heard Adam say with a laugh, so Thea
stepped up to the dishpan and he hopped down from the counter.
“I’ll dry,” Laura said, taking the dishtowel off of Adam, so he just leaned
against the counter and the three talked quietly. Will’s eyes narrowed
in ill temper as he watched his wife laughing and having a good time without
Finally his temper got the better of him when the dishes were finished and
Laura stayed, leaning back against the counter next to Adam with Thea standing
in front of her husband.
Will abruptly pushed his chair back, stalked around the table and came up
to the three of them. Without a word he grabbed Laura by the arm and
dragged her behind him as he came back around the table. He pushed
her down into the chair next to his and sat down again, his face tight with
No one except Adam and Thea had paid attention and the couple glanced at
each other before turning their eyes back to Will.
Laura sat there with her lips pressed into a thin line and her eyes flashing
with anger. “What is the matter with you? You just embarrassed
us both,” she hissed.
Will’s eyes opened wide in surprise at the tone she was taking with him and
his face turned red. “The least you can do is keep me company since
you’re completely useless at every other wifely duty,” he said angrily so
his voice was a little too loud.
All the other conversations at the table stopped and everyone turned to look
at him. His face turned even redder with embarrassment.
Thea’s back stiffened and her eyes narrowed to mere slits. She turned
and sped away so quickly Adam didn’t even have a chance to make a grab for
her. Will was looking down at the table and trying to get his temper
under control so he didn’t see her coming. No one did, so they were
shocked when she stopped behind him and slapped him in the back of the head
as hard as she could. Adam winced at the sound the blow made and thought,
“Now it’s going to get nasty,” as he hurried after his wife.
Will stood and turned to look down at Thea, astonished by her daring to hit
him. She glared up at him with her hands on her hips and her face a
mask of righteous fury. “I’m warning you, if I ever hear you say something
that awful to her again I will climb up there and strangle you!” she shouted.
The tall man put his hand to the back of his head and grimaced with pain,
a lump was already starting to form. Thea was a strong woman and had
clocked him a good one.
Adam had reached them by then and pulled Thea back by the shoulders and stepped
in front of her. Will looked at him in amazement. “Are you going
to let her get away with that?”
“Yes I am, you deserved it,” Adam said calmly while struggling to keep Thea
behind him and prevent her from attacking Will again. He gave Hoss
a pointed look and the big man came to put his arms around his sister-in-law
and gently pull her away. “Calm down,” he whispered in her ear, “Adam
doesn’t need to be worryin’ about what you’re gonna do right now.”
That seemed to get through to her so she stopped struggling, but still stood
there in Hoss’s arms, practically vibrating with rage.
Will put his hand to the back of his head again and this time his fingers
came away with a smear of blood. Thea’s blow must have split the skin.
He stared down at the blood on his hand and said, “I can’t believe that bitch
The room became deathly quiet – everyone froze and held their breath, knowing
what was coming as Adam’s face went dark with fury.
“What did you say?” he said in an ominously quiet voice.
Will was still looking at the blood on his hand and hadn’t noticed the change
in Adam’s expression or heard the menacing tone to his voice. “I said
I can’t believe that bi…” He never got a chance to finish.
Adam grabbed the taller man by the front of his shirt, dragged him away from
the table, and toward the back door. “Hey!” Will protested and tried
to loosen the other man’s grip, but couldn’t and that both surprised and
unnerved him. The inner back door had been left open since the
day was only a little cool, but sunny. Adam didn’t bother opening the
screen door; he just threw Will right through it. Then he kicked the
frame open before hurrying down the stairs his cousin had just rolled down.
The tall man had landed on his back on the ground at the bottom of the steps
and he lay there stunned for a moment before turning over. He had just
gotten his feet under him and was about to straighten up when Adam reached
down, grabbed his right arm and twisted it up behind his back. Clamping
his other hand on the back of his cousin’s neck, Adam pushed him toward the
barn. The sliding door was partway open so he shoved Will through,
stepped in, and pulled the door shut behind them.
Will had stumbled into a slatted stall wall and was lying on his back again.
Adam came to stand over him.
“Never say anything like that about my wife again Will. The next time
I won’t be so nice,” he said quietly.
His cousin stared up at him, stunned, but beginning to feel his anger flare
to life again. He made a grab for the other man’s legs to pull him
down, but Adam simply stepped back and continued to look down at Will with
“You coward,” he said calmly. “You ignorant, selfish, bastard,” he
“What are you talking about?” Will said, genuinely not understanding why
Adam was calling him names.
“Right there is the problem with you, Will. You have absolutely no
idea why I am so furious - and it’s not just because you referred to my wife
as a bitch.”
“No, I don’t understand!” his cousin said and used the stall wall to pull
himself to his feet. “What the hell is the matter with you?”
“What’s the matter with me? You that’s what’s the matter with me, you
make me sick. Who do you think you are, treating Laura that way?”
“Oh, so that’s it,” Will said, “you’re trying to break us up so you can have
Adam rolled his eyes in disgust, “Sure, that makes sense. I want to
mess up my marriage, the best thing that ever happened to me and run the
risk of losing my children all for a woman I don’t even remember.”
Will looked at him in surprise.
“That’s right, I have absolutely no memories of Laura and barely remember
you. The only interest I have in your wife is as a female member of
this family who needs protection, and right now she needs protection from
“Yes, you. I’ve seen this before, Will, over and over again.
That little display of physical strength you showed your wife is just the
beginning. Your self-pitying anger is going keep increasing.
You’ve been blaming her for something that is not her fault for years now
and you are getting dangerously close to becoming a wife beater. Is
that what you want?”
“You’re wrong,” Will said stubbornly.
“No, I am not,” Adam answered him firmly.
“How can you think I would ever hurt Laura, I love her.”
“Yeah, that’s what all wife beaters say. They say that before they
do it, while they do it, and after they do it.”
“No….no,” Will shook his head vigorously. “That’s impossible, I would
never do something so disgusting.”
Adam sighed deeply and shook his head.
“What?” the other man said impatiently.
“I’m sighing because you’re refusing to be sensible and forcing me to beat
the crap out of you now. In my experience, it’s the only way to get
through to men like you.”
Will smiled down at his cousin. “Do you really think you can take me
in a fair fight?”
“I know I can.” Adam’s confident attitude wiped the smile off the other
“So what’s it going to be, Will?” he continued as he cracked his knuckles
and rolled his shoulders. “Are you going to stand up, be a man, and
face this problem of yours honestly? Or are you going to keep hiding
your head in the sand? Make up your mind, I don’t have all day and
I’d like to get your beating over with while we still have some daylight
That last comment made the other man’s temper snap, just as it had been intended
to do. Will rushed Adam with a roar and the two crashed through one
of the large shuttered windows that faced the house.
The two men rolled across the barnyard until Adam managed to pull one foot
up and flip his cousin over his head. Will hit the ground hard as Adam
rolled to his feet and just stood there waiting. Neither of them noticed
the rest of the family spilling out the door.
“Finished already?” he said to the man on the ground and Will felt another
wave of fury break over him as he scrambled to his feet. He rushed
his cousin again, but this time Adam didn’t just stay there waiting.
He stepped to the side at the last second and Will kept going, unable to
stop so he stumbled into the fence with a loud thud. He quickly turned
and took a powerful, stiff-knuckled blow to the side of his neck. He
went down like a ton of bricks, almost unconscious.
Adam went down on one knee next to his head. “Ready to admit it yet?”
he asked. Will shook his head then closed his eyes against the dizziness.
“Too bad,” Adam said as he hauled the other man to his feet and let go before
backing away. He watched his cousin sway for a few seconds then regain
Will came at him quickly, but not in a rush this time and started swinging
wildly. Adam easily evaded the uncontrolled punches for a while, not
making any attempt to hit the other man – he was waiting for Will to tire.
The other men, Dora, Thea, and Laura were watching this odd display from
the back stairs while the children were still inside with Marie and Cassie.
Laura lifted one hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp and started to go down
the steps. She only got down one more before Thea grabbed her from
behind with one strong arm around the other woman’s neck.
“Stay out of it, Adam knows what he’s doing.”
Laura struggled for a moment, but then gave up – she was no match for Thea’s
still burning anger. The rest of the family heard what Thea said and
relaxed now that they knew this was more than just a fight. Adam must
be up to something again.
Adam was still watching Will closely as he backed away and saw the first
signs that the man was running out of energy. That’s when he connected
with his first real punch that snapped Will’s head back and made him stagger.
But he still kept coming so he gave Will a powerful blow to the gut that
doubled him over.
“Admit it,” Adam said as his cousin straightened up painfully but shook his
head. “Alright, be stupid,” he said and lashed out with a right cross.
Will staggered to the side.
“Come on, give it up and I’ll stop.”
“No, you’re wrong,” the other man persisted.
“God you’re stubborn…”
Will shook his head and seemed to regain his wits. He dug his heels
in and came after his cousin more slowly this time. He circled a few
times then tried to connect an uppercut. Adam leaned back and shifted
to the side then staggered Will again with a left cross that had all his
weight and power behind it.
The other man almost went down.
“Say it, Will. Say it!”
“NO! Damn it! I’m not like that!” He was bent over and
wiping away the blood that was running down his chin.
“Coward,” Adam said softly, “poor, pitiful you.”
Will’s face turned beet red and he rushed his cousin, slamming his shoulder
into his opponent’s midsection. Adam staggered back a few steps, then
kneed the other man in the stomach while bringing both fists down on the
back of his neck – he went down again.
Will rolled onto his back, breathing heavy and shaking his head.
“God, Will, you can’t even fight worth a damn anymore,” Adam said.
“Get up, you gutless wonder. I’m not finished with you yet.”
That had the affect Adam had wanted – Will staggered to his feet and tried
to lunge at him, but was barely able to stand.
Adam sighed and just shoved his cousin instead of punching him this time.
Will almost went over once more.
“Admit it,” Adam shouted into his dazed face.
Adam shoved him again and this time Will did go down, hitting the ground
hard. He went down on one knee next to the man again and pulled him
up by the front of his shirt until they were almost nose-to-nose.
“Stop being such an idiot, admit it and I’ll leave you alone.”
Will just stared back with dazed eyes so Adam shook him, hard. “Say
it!” he insisted.
His cousin’s eyes finally seemed to see him. “Come on, Will.
A real man doesn’t deny the truth, a real man stands up and faces it.”
That finally broke the other man’s resistance and the painful knowledge of
what he had been doing for years filled his eyes. He put his hands
over his face and cried out, “You’re right, oh my God, you’re right!”
Adam sighed with relief and put his arms around Will as the other man shook
with pain. “Damn, Will, did you have to be so stubborn?” he said low
then raised his head to look at Laura. He motioned for her to come
to them so Thea let her go and the woman ran up then dropped to her knees
next to her husband. Adam let go as she slipped her arms around Will.
He stood stiffly and walked over to Thea, leaving the couple alone to say
what they needed to say in private. Putting his arms around his wife
“Happy everything worked out?” Thea asked and he shook his head. “No,
I was just thinking that I’m getting too old for this foolishness,” he said
and smiled as his wife laughed and squeezed him tightly.
“What the hell was that all about?” Ben asked his eldest son.
“Let’s go back inside and I’ll explain it to you,” he answered his father,
then groaned slightly as he stretched his back before putting his arm around
his wife’s shoulders. They followed the rest back inside.
Thea stopped Adam partway into the kitchen and gently took his hands to lift
them up get a close look - she shook her head, “You’re going to need a couple
stitches this time, come on.” She held him by the wrist and started
tugging him out of the kitchen and toward her office.
Adam jerked his head to the side, telling his father to follow without the
others noticing. Ben did.
When the three entered the examining room Thea let go and Adam automatically
sat down in the chair next to a small, draped suture table. She went
into her office to retrieve her bag and Ben sat down on the only other available
seat – the examining table.
When Thea came back in she smiled at Ben feeling comfortable enough in her
presence now to do something like hop up on the table without a second thought.
She put her bag down on a tiled counter and pulled the drape off the table.
A tray of instruments for suturing was waiting and she glanced at her father-in-law
who was watching with interest.
“I learned a long time ago to have a suture set ready at all times.
I think I’ve put more stitches in him than a quilt!”
Ben smiled as he saw Adam grin and shake his head.
“So, what happened out there?” he asked his eldest son.
“Well,” Adam said as Thea turned back to open a cupboard door and take down
a large bottle filled with a clear liquid. “Thea and Laura had a long
talk last night, don’t ask why…” he paused to chuckle, “and from everything
she said I could see that Will was getting closer and closer to the point
of actually beating his wife.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“I know, it’s always hard to believe, but I’ve seen it happen hundreds of
times and you’d be surprised at how many men you know who are guilty of it.”
“In this town?”
“Yep. It always starts the same way, with self-pitying anger, then
little things until it grows to the point where they finally start using
their fists.” He turned back to Thea when she cleared her throat –
she was ready, so he laid his left arm on the table, palm down. She
began to clean his knuckles.
“I have to tell you that the only way I know of to deal with men who have
fallen so low is to force them to admit what they’ve been doing.”
“I see,” Ben said. “Are you absolutely sure about this?”
“Yes,” Adam gave his father a sideways, slightly irritated glance.
“If I hadn’t been sure Pa, I never would have provoked him into attacking
Thea broke in, “And I’m sure you are aware that your son here definitely
has a natural talent for provoking people.”
Adam grinned as his father chuckled.
His expression turning serious, Adam turned his attention to his wife who
had finished with his left hand and had begun on his right.
“Speaking of provoking people, what the hell did you think you were doing
by hitting Will in the back of the head like that?”
“I’m sorry, but I just lost my temper,” Thea answered him then picked up
a pair of long tweezers from the tray. “Hold still, you have a tiny
bone chip here I have to get out before I can finish.”
“Don’t try to change the subject.”
“I’m not, you DO have a bone chip in here. I’m trying to get it out
without having to cut.”
She looked up at him impatiently, “All right! I promise I won’t go
around hitting people anymore. Happy now?”
Adam nodded and she turned her attention back to her task. When he
turned his head to look at his father he saw that Ben was definitely amused.
“Ah, there you are,” Thea said and pulled out the small chip. Two more
stitches and she was almost finished. She carefully swabbed the open
abrasions and stitches with her usual carbolic acid and water mixture then
dried his hands with a clean, linen cloth.
“I better go see what kind of shape Will is in,” she said as she stood, and
quickly left the room.
Both men watched her go and Ben spoke first. “That was smart.”
“What?” Adam asked, even though he knew what his father was referring to.
“Taking her to task for hitting Will while she was concentrating on you,”
Ben chuckled. “You get less of an argument out of her then, don’t you?”
Adam nodded. “Yep,” he said and laughed. “I’m not stupid, I’ll
use any advantage I can get. It’s hard to handle her sometimes.”
“Sometimes?” his father said and a look of understanding passed between them
as they both stood and headed back to the kitchen.
When they entered, Will and Laura were just coming in through the back door.
Will looked at Adam, chagrined.
“I’ll fix that door for you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Adam answered then smiled at his cousin.
Startled, Will blinked at him and relaxed as he tried to smile back, but
winced at the pain in his jaw.
Thea came forward, took Will by the wrist and started to pull him out of
the kitchen saying, “Come on, I need to look you over and make sure you’re
Will followed reluctantly. “You’re not going to hit me again are you?”
She paused and her eyes narrowed. “Not if you watch that mouth of yours.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said meekly and the two left. Laura started to follow,
but stopped when Adam stepped in front of her.
“Stay here, Thea won’t appreciate your presence when she’s working.”
Laura looked up at him with a red face, embarrassed that he now knew everything
about her marital problems. Then Adam smiled down at her. She
found herself smiling back.
“Thank you,” she said quietly and he just nodded.
“You might as well sit down, Thea is very thorough when she examines someone.”
While Laura found a seat at the table Adam went to sit next to Joe and held
out his arms for Benjamin. His younger brother handed the baby over
He settled his son in his lap and the child looked up at him with a delighted
grin, but when Adam rested one hand on the table Benjamin’s eyes opened wide.
He turned his head to look at his father’s face then reached out to place
one small hand on the back of Adam’s hand.
“Pa!” the child said. Everyone at the table interrupted their conversations
to turn and listen.
“What?” his father asked him.
“Boo-boo!” Benjamin said seriously.
Adam smiled. So did everyone else.
“That’s right, your mother had to put some stitches in my hand.”
Benjamin glanced back at his father’s face again then patted his wrist.
“Owie!” he said in a sorrowful tone and everyone chuckled while Adam lifted
his son and gave him a hug.
“That’s alright, Benny, it doesn’t hurt all that much.”
The baby leaned back to look at his father’s face. Reassured by his
expression the child grinned then laid his head back down on Adam’s hard
chest and yawned.
Will came back at that moment and everyone watched as he came to sit in the
empty chair next to Adam. He cleared his throat then looked around
“I want to apologize to all of you for my behavior. I’m sorry for being
so thoughtless and rude.” He swept his eyes around the table again
and was surprised to only see smiles and nods in return.
When everyone resumed their conversations he relaxed, beginning to understand
that they were used to this sort of thing. He was right.
Will turned to Adam, embarrassed, “I don’t really know what to say to you
- besides ‘Thank you’.”
Adam looked back at his cousin impassively for a few moments, “You’re welcome,
but understand this…admitting you have a problem is only the beginning.
You have to learn how to control your temper and stop placing blame where
it doesn’t belong.” He paused to rub Benjamin’s back when the child
The other man dropped his eyes and stared down at his hands while he thought
that over. Raising his head he forced himself to look Adam in the eye.
“Will you help me?” he asked in a low voice.
Taking his time, Adam stared back at his cousin, assessing his sincerity.
Then he smiled.
Will relaxed, relieved that he wouldn’t be facing this problem alone.
His gaze dropped and he looked at Benjamin with a pained look. “May
I hold him?”
Adam carefully handed the child to his cousin while watching him closely.
The other man took Benjamin in his arms, treating him as though he was fragile.
When the baby was snuggled up against his chest Will sighed with regret then
dropped a quick kiss on the top of the boy’s head.
Adam leaned toward him. “There’s one more thing we need to get straight
between us before all is forgiven and forgotten,” he said low enough so no
one else could hear. His cousin stiffened.
“I expect to hear you apologize to Thea for calling her a bitch.”
Will nodded. “I know and I’m sorry for calling her something she isn’t.”
“Oh no, my wife is a bitch and I’m proud of her for it.” His cousin
just stared back, shocked. Adam smiled at his expression.
“Thea doesn’t take any crap off of anyone…except me,” he paused to pat his
astonished cousin on the shoulder. “You would do well to remember that.”
Will was still staring at him, not believing what he was hearing. But
when Adam raised his eyebrows and gave him a cocky grin he started to laugh.
Thea came back to the kitchen then and she paused in the doorway to smile
at the scene before her. If not for the state Adam’s hands were in
and Will’s battered face anyone looking on would have thought they were all
the best of friends and had been for years.
She moved to stand behind her husband and slipped her arms around him as
she leaned down to whisper in his ear. “I really am sorry for what
I did and I meant it when I promised not to put you in that position again.”
Adam quickly looked up at her over his shoulder, pleased that she understood
the true reason for his anger. He took one of her hands, tugged her
over and to the side before pulling her into his lap. She smiled up
into his face.
“I’m glad you understand. I don’t need to be worrying about what you
are going to do during a confrontation, Theadora. Being distracted
can cause me to make a mistake and possibly get killed in a really dangerous
situation. Remember that.”
Thea nodded, her expression both serious and contrite. She leaned close
to whisper, “I promise.” He hugged her tightly. “Thank you.”
They stayed that way for a few moments until the clock chimed the hour.
“Four o’clock!” Thea exclaimed and jumped up from her husband’s lap.
“I haven’t even started dinner yet. Who is staying?” she asked the
room at large.
A chorus of voices saying “me!” made her laugh and the other ladies rose
to help. They all gathered around her to receive orders then scattered.
Benjamin stirred in Will’s arms at the commotion and leaned back to take
a look at the person who was holding him. He looked up into Will’s
battered face and his wide eyes filled with tears. “Ooo owie!” he cried
then turned to hold his arms out to his father.
Everyone else, including Will, laughed, but Adam just shook his head and
took his son back into his arms to hold him close and comfort him.
Later that evening Adam had escaped to his office, seeking a little peace
and quiet. But no more than a half hour later he heard a knock at the
door. He sighed then called out, “Come in!”
His eyebrows rose when his father, brothers, and Will trooped in. They
remained silent and just stood in a row in front of his desk for a few moments.
Adam let them stand there silently, his expression neutral, and waited for
one of them to speak first.
“We’ve been talkin’ and were wonderin’ if you would answer some questions,”
Hoss said cautiously, not knowing what kind of mood his older brother was
Adam took the time to look at each face and then grinned. He stood
and waved the men over to the furniture grouped in front of the fireplace.
When everyone else was seated he moved over to a wingback chair and sat down.
Placing one ankle on the opposite knee, he smiled and said, “Alright, what
do you want to know?”
Joe, of course, was first. “Charlie told me about you snapping that
knife blade off the handle when that man was trying to kidnap Alexander.
How did you do that?”
Laughing softly Adam shook his head. “First let me tell you that a
lot of what I do are tricks and a perfect example is that knife. I
picked it up and looked at it first. I could see that it was a cheap
knife and not very well taken care of. The tang was very narrow and
rusting. Thea could have done it. But I used that to my advantage
to un-nerve that man. Luckily, it worked.”
His youngest brother was nodding and smiled, now that his curiosity was satisfied.
Will spoke up next.
“Joe told me about the papers you handed to that deputy and he said it was
a federal warrant. Do I really have a warrant out against me?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Answer a question for me Will.
How are you now?”
“Sore as hell.”
“Alright, now you don’t have to worry about that warrant. The warrant
was to bring you in for questioning. You’ve been questioned by a federal
agent and the terms of that warrant have been fulfilled rendering it null
and void now.”
Will smiled and shook his head. “That’s all you needed to get me out
“Well, it helped, but what got you out of there was the fine art of intimidation.”
Adam nodded, “Things went very smoothly. We were lucky.”
“Could you teach me how to do that?” Joe asked with a grin.
“No, Joe. You have to have the right attitude to intimidate someone.
It also helps to have the reputation of being able to do what you are implying
you will do if they don’t cooperate. Everything I was throwing at that
deputy was to keep him off balance and you six backing me up had him seriously
worried about his physical safety. He folded, that’s all there was
to it.” Then Adam laughed. “I am so thankful you were actually
there, Will. I was reasonably certain you were, but it would have been
horribly embarrassing if you hadn’t been!” He smiled when the others
laughed, and then he looked at Joe.
“That comment you made to Will about me almost making the deputy wet himself
was funny, Joe. I almost laughed out loud.”
“Hey, I thought you were sleeping!”
“No, I wasn’t asleep.”
“But didn’t you say you were going to…”
Adam gave him a look that said he was being dense. “Did I? No,
you all just assumed that.” He chuckled, “Have you forgotten already?
I just told you that a lot of the things I do are tricks, things that I use
to my advantage.”
Will broke in, “Just like those things you said to make my temper snap?”
“Correct. Rage will tire you out more quickly than actual physical
activity. I played you like a fiddle, Will - it was necessary.
For me to get through to you, you had to be both physically and mentally
exhausted.” He noticed his father giving him a suddenly sharp look,
but he didn’t respond to it.
“Dang Adam!” Hoss said, looking at his brother almost as though he didn’t
know him. “How did you learn all that?”
“The hard way, by making mistakes and getting my butt kicked. Plus
I never missed an opportunity to listen to the older Pinkerton agents and
marshals. Their experiences were fascinating and I learned twice as
much from them.”
Hoss thought that over for a moment. “Is that how you got to be successful
so quick like?”
“Pretty much. Some of my employees were experts in finance. Unfortunately,
they usually went to prison for swindles and embezzling. But I listened
to their advice on legitimate business deals. I learned a lot from
“But how did you get started?”
“Oh, you mean start up money?”
Adam quickly glanced at his father then grinned. “Bounty hunting.”
“What!” Hoss wasn’t the only one who was shocked.
“You heard me,” Adam laughed, “bounty hunting.”
The other men were silent for a while. “How long did you do that?”
“Actually only once, but Nate and I carted in a whole gang, so the rewards
added up nicely.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Ben said while shaking his head.
“Well, I wanted a lot of money in a short amount of time and that was the
best way to get it.”
“Yeah, but how?” Hoss asked.
“We went down south, became members of the gang, knocked them all out with
doctored whisky, loaded them into a locked boxcar and shipped them back up
north. It was childishly simple, and Nate thought I was completely
insane, but it worked. That’s how I met Pinkerton and started working
for him. I had to share the rewards after that, but the information
and resources provided by the agency made it worthwhile.” He paused
and yawned. “And that’s when we met up with Jerry, Mike, and John.
None of them had any family, and I only had Thea at that point so we naturally
fell in together.”
They all fell silent then, thinking about what they had heard until the clock
over the fireplace chimed ten times. Hoss, Will and Joe stood, said
“Good night,” and filed out of the room. Ben, however, stayed.
Adam stayed in his chair, looking at his father with narrowed eyes, remembering
the sharp look he had received from him earlier. “OK, Pa, now what
do you want to know.”
Ben just stared at him for a bit before responding. “It’s all about
power, isn’t it?”
His eldest son’s face tightened and his eyes darkened and his father realized
he was looking at a face he hadn’t really ever seen before.
“Correct. That is what all this has been about. I have been at
someone else’s mercy twice in my life now and that’s two times too many.”
Adam was staring intently into his father’s eyes.
He continued. “What are the elements of power, Pa? Money
of course, physical and mental strength certainly, knowledge, and position
or influence.” He raised a hand with his thumb folded in. “These
four elements are what constitutes power. I have pursued them and made
them my own.”
He paused for a moment. “Believe this - I will never be in someone
else’s power again. Never. I will kill before I’ll ever let that
Ben cleared his throat so he could speak. “That’s why you became a
marshal too, isn’t it? To protect other’s from being in that position.”
“Yes. No one is going to get away with doing that to me, my family,
my friends, or even anyone that I know.” He shook his head, “No, never
again. I will do whatever I have to and use whatever or whomever necessary
to prevent that.”
“That’s a heavy load, son.”
Adam’s expression finally began to clear and he gave his father a half smile
as he laughed ruefully. “I know. Believe me, I know.”
They both stood and moved toward the door, but Adam stopped in front of his
desk. “Go on up to bed. I’ll be working for a while.”
Ben stopped to look back at him when he reached the door. All he could
think of to say was, “Good night.” He started through the door but
Adam’s voice stopped him.
“Pa? I didn’t ask for this burden, but it belongs to me now and I will
continue to do my best with it. Good night.”
When the door closed behind his father he went to his desk and sat down.
He had just turned his thoughts to the problem of Bentwood Junction when
the door opened again. He smiled when Thea came in.
She looked as though she was already asleep as she came up to him, cupped
his face in her hands, kissed him, then tottered off toward the sofa to lay
As usual, she was asleep in seconds and as usual, he came over to tuck an
afghan around her. She murmured softly and he smiled again as he smoothed
her hair back from her face. “Thea, sometimes I wonder if you’re ever
aware you married a nut,” he said softly then had to laugh when she opened
one eye. “That’s ok, so did you.”
Adam quickly came through the front door of the Sage Brush and hurried up
to his father and brothers. He started speaking even before he reached
“Have you seen Thea?” he asked urgently.
Ben felt his heart clench painfully in his chest with instinctual fear for
his daughter-in-law. “No,” he answered his son while Hoss and Joe shook
“Has anyone seen her?” he said loudly. Everyone else in the room turned
to look at him, but no one had.
“Damn it!” he said and turned toward the door when his four deputies rushed
John, Mike, and Dylan reluctantly shook their heads as Nate said, “No one
in town has seen her since Matt did early this morning. He said she
went to make some house calls, was driving the buggy, and headed south.”
Adam’s eyes darkened with fury, “I specifically told her not to do that,”
he ground out through clenched teeth then he abruptly turned and stalked
out the door. His family and friends hurried to follow.
When they came out the door they saw him swing up into the saddle and take
off at top speed heading south.
Nate looked at Ben. “Do you think we should start organizing a search
party? I know Adam believes he will find her by himself, but you never
The older man nodded, “Let’s get as many men together as we can. That’s
a lot of open country to cover.” The younger men scattered, but Ben
stayed where he was. He went cold when he thought of what could have
happened to her traveling around the countryside by herself. “Dear
God,” he breathed and started down the board sidewalk toward Roy’s office.
Adam knew, deep down that something was very wrong – this was not like Thea
at all. She was never late and always kept him informed as to where
she was going and when she would return. But lately he could tell something
was bothering her deeply and he knew she would not discuss it until she was
His fury had ebbed and now all he felt was sheer terror. He pulled
his horse to a stop and sat there for a moment thinking about which direction
he should take when he felt an urge to continue heading south on the main
road. Trusting in his gut instinct he urged the horse forward and continued
down the road at a breakneck pace.
He almost missed seeing the buggy, he was moving so fast, but he caught a
glimpse of something square and solid black in the dark shade of a stand
of trees beside the road. His heart rose in his throat and he turned
the horse in that direction, jumped from the saddle, and ran the last yards
to the buggy. Thea was not in the front seat and when he looked in
the back seat he gasped and closed his eyes choking out, “Oh my God!”
Quickly shrugging out of his coat, he carefully wrapped Thea’s limp body
with it and went back to lead his horse to the buggy and tie it to the rail
in the back. He didn’t want to move her to the front seat so he went
to get the blanket he knew was in the boot. He spread it over his wife
and pulled the one edge through the gap between the seat and the back.
Then he tied the corners together tightly under the seat to keep her body
as motionless as possible. Then he climbed in, picked up the reins,
and urged the horse to go as fast as possible.
When they reached the south end of town he kept the buggy speeding down the
street and when he approached the other end he saw a group of men gathered
in front of the Sage Brush. He spotted Matt and yelled his name as
he pulled up in front of the office the young doctor shared with Thea.
Matt came running as Adam jumped down, untied the blanket, and gathered his
wife into his arms. He entered the office with the doctor right behind
him and the two men went into the treatment room with Thea and shut the door.
Adam’s family and friends had come running and now stood in the front room
and looked at each other with bleak expressions. They heard the two
men speaking in the other room, but couldn’t understand what they were saying.
The men they had gathered to form a search party were standing on the board
sidewalk in front of the office and as time went on more and more people
came to join the group.
Thea’s father-in-law was anxiously pacing but he came to an abrupt stop and
flinched when they all heard her scream in agony. He put his head down
and a hand over his eyes as he tried to calm down. At least they now
knew she was alive.
Some time later they heard Adam speaking, then Thea’s voice answering him.
But they still couldn’t understand what was being said. They heard
the two voices go on until they plainly heard Thea, as she shouted “NO!”
Then Matt raised his own voice to order Adam from the room. The door
opened and he came out.
Ben could see that his son was shaking so badly he almost staggered as he
walked toward them. At first his father thought it was in reaction
to Thea’s scream, but then he realized the younger man was shaking with fury.
Adam stopped where he was for a moment and took several deep breaths, as
he seemed to calm down somewhat.
“What happened?” Ben said quietly, not wanting to feed his son’s rage by
showing his own anger.
“She was attacked,” Adam said as he moved to Thea’s desk and leaned a hip
on the side and folded his arms.
Ben flinched again, “Did he…?"
“He tried to, but she laughed at him. So he beat her until he thought
she was dead,” he said and put his hands over his face for a moment as the
rest of the men in the room gasped in shock. Then their expressions
“Who did it?” Nate said in a voice that none of them had ever heard from
Adam dropped his hands from his face and turned to his friend. “She
refuses to tell me. She says I’ll go find him and kill him if she does.”
He shook his head as he looked down at her desk.
Hoss cleared his throat, “How is she?”
“She has a broken nose, three cracked ribs, a concussion, and she had a dislocated
shoulder. You have to put something like that right as quickly as possible
so we had to. That’s why she screamed,” he stopped and clenched his
jaw. “And that’s not even the worst of it. The bastard crushed
her hands,” he choked out and looked at his father, his face etched with
“Her hands, Pa! They’re such a mess she may not even be able to use
them at all again, let alone perform surgery,” he said in anguish and bent
over to cover his face with his hands again.
His friends and family looked away then, unable to stand watching his stark
agony, so no one saw him straighten up and flip open a leather-bound book
that was on the top of Thea’s desk. He quickly ran his eyes down the
rows until he found the last entry. “Gretchen Mueller,” he read and
his fury burst back into full life again.
Matt came out of the treatment room then and the men all turned toward him.
“She’s still in a lot of pain, but holding her own right now,” he said in
answer to their unspoken questions.
He glanced around the room and said, “Where’s Adam?”
The other men instinctively looked toward the spot where Adam had just been,
then glanced around until Matt spotted him through the office window.
The other men turned their eyes in that direction to see Adam entering the
saloon while the group that had been standing outside followed.
“Oh God,” Matt said and stepped up to Thea’s desk and saw the open appointment
book. He turned to Hoss.
“You better go after him, I think he’s figured out who did it.”
Nate opened the door and started running after his best friend. The
rest of the men, except Matt, hurried after him.
Adam burst through the front door of the saloon and made a beeline toward
a tall, stout, middle-aged man with dark blonde hair. Without saying
a word he came up behind Abraham Mueller, grabbed him by the shoulders and
yanked backward. The man was still sitting in the chair as it crashed
to the floor on its back.
He looked up, stunned, as Adam grabbed his arm and pulled it up so he could
get a close look at his hand. The man’s knuckles were badly split and
black bruises had already formed all over.
The man on the floor shifted, trying to get up when something metal fell
out of his pocket and landed at Adam’s feet. He looked down to see
the pink diamond ring he had given Thea for Christmas. Adam’s eyes
went wide with pure hatred and he reached down to haul the man to his feet
then kneed him in the groin. Abraham crumpled to the floor only to be hauled
Grabbing the groaning man by his throat, Adam pulled him forward until they
were almost nose-to-nose. “Do you realize how easy it would be for
me to just squeeze a little harder and you would never take another breath?”
he said in the coldest voice anyone there had ever heard. Then Nate
and the other men rushed in, but had to fight their way through the crowd
standing by the door.
“I asked you a question!” he roared in the other man’s face. Abe nodded
as best he could and stared back at Adam with terror in his eyes.
“But that would be too easy and quick.” He let go of Abe’s neck, shoved
him up against the wall and began to beat on him with every bit of strength
and skill he possessed.
He had already inflicted some major damage on his wife’s attacker before
his friends and family finally managed to break through the crowd and rushed
to get a hold on him and drag him away.
“Let me go, damn it! I’m going to kill that son-of-a…” he shouted as
the seven men struggled to keep a hold on him. He kept managing to
knock them down so finally they had to drag him to the floor and sit on him
to hold him in one place. But Adam’s fury had not cooled at all and
his body was still tensed, ready for any opportunity to go after the other
Ben stepped back from the pile of men on the floor and turned to look at
Abraham. The man was curled up on the floor by the wall and lay there
groaning, his face covered with blood. He stared at the man with cold
black eyes then turned away. He looked at the six men still holding
Adam down and nodded toward the table they usually gathered around, then
he bent down to pick up the ring.
As soon as the weight was off him Adam began to struggle wildly to pull free.
Hal and Larry hurried to help. They dragged him over and shoved him
down into a chair behind the table and up against the wall. He immediately
sprang back up, but was pushed back down again. He kept struggling
for a while, but eventually seemed to get himself under control as he suddenly
They cautiously took their hands off him, but still leaned over him, ready
to pile on top of him again if necessary. Adam looked away and raised
his hands in a “back off,” gesture. Then they finally relaxed.
Roy came through the door then and Ben hurried up to him to explain as Adam
slowly tensed again. He watched closely as men hauled Abraham to his
feet. Roy took him by the arm and started leading him out of the saloon.
Adam’s eyes, seething with hatred, followed Abe as they passed the table,
but then he looked away and put his head down. No one was prepared
when he suddenly jumped up on the table, ran across it, and leapt onto Abe’s
Roy was knocked aside as the two men crashed to the floor and Adam only had
the chance to turn the other man over and punch him in the face a few times
before he was dragged away again.
“Get him out of here!” Ben shouted and Hoss put his arm around Adam’s neck
and began to haul him out the door and across the street to the doctor’s
office. The deputies and his family followed so they were there to
prevent breaking free again.
Nate put a hand on either side of his friend’s head and forced him to make
eye contact. “Stop it, Adam or I’ll be forced to cuff you and I don’t
want to do that!”
That finally got through to him. He stopped struggling and just stood
there quietly until Hoss let him go. Adam immediately turned, walked
the rest of the way to the office, and went inside.
The seven men just stood in the street for a bit, staring at each other and
feeling drained as well as deeply shaken. They had never seen Adam
like that before and each man knew he would have killed Abe if they hadn’t
Nate took a deep breath then blew it out as he looked around the group.
“Hoss, Mike, I want you to stay by the office front door and make sure he
doesn’t get away again.” The two men nodded and went inside to stand
on either side of the door.
“Dylan,” Nate continued, “you and John guard the back door, we have to assume
that in his furious state we won’t be able to trust Adam to act rationally.”
They turned and quietly went in.
He turned to Adam’s father and other brother next, “Mr. Cartwright?
Joe? Would you two go in and see if Thea is conscious? We need
to have her identify Mueller as her attacker as quickly as possible.”
Ben looked in the tall man’s blue eyes for a moment, his expression plainly
saying he didn’t want that man anywhere near his daughter-in-law again.
Then he nodded and went to do as Nate asked.
Joe started to follow him, but Nate stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“If she is, I need you to go back to the saloon and tell Roy to bring that
monster here.” Joe steadily looked the other man in the eye and nodded
before he turned away.
He was back in a moment, but didn’t say anything as he went past and headed
for the Sage Brush. Nate winced at Joe’s expression understanding that
the younger man had just seen what condition Thea was in and was sickened
Matt and Ben were in a corner of the office, deeply involved in a hushed
conversation as the Deputy Marshal went in, then paused to mentally brace
himself before going into the treatment room. He had assumed that Adam
would be with his wife and he was. Nate hesitated in the doorway, watching
Adam gently bathing Thea’s face with a soft cloth and cold water.
“Come on in, Nate,” he said without looking up from his task. “I’ve
regained most of my sanity now so it’s safe.” The corners of Adam’s
mouth actually turned up a little when he glanced at his deputy.
“I imagine you’ve already sent someone to Roy, asking him to bring that bastard
here so Thea can identify him.”
Nate nodded his head and looked down at Thea. He stifled a gasp when
he saw how bruised and battered her face was and said, “I thought she was
“I am,” Thea said and opened her swollen eyes as far as she could.
Nate couldn’t even see them through the narrow slits, which was all she could
“Nate?” she said in a muffled voice and tried to turn her head, but winced.
He stepped closer to the table to lean over her, “Yes it’s me, Thea.”
“Oh, there you are,” she said then gasped when he brushed one of her hands
with his hip.
“God, I’m sorry!”
She actually tried to give him a reassuring smile, but her lips were so badly
split and bruised she couldn’t. He looked down at the hand he had brushed
and blanched. It was a raw, scraped, swollen mess. He took the
time then to catalogue the injuries he could see and turned even paler when
he saw finger marks around her throat and wrists.
Adam was watching him and smoothed Thea’s hair back from her forehead as
he said, “Nate’s going to be the lead on this Thea and he has to see what
was done to you.”
“I know,” she said and closed her eyes.
Adam came around to shut the door and then gently moved the blanket aside.
Nate took one look and had to close his eyes and swallow hard to resist the
urge to vomit. Then he clenched his jaw and opened his eyes again to
note each abrasion, finger mark, cut, and bruise. He nodded to Adam
and he covered her quickly.
“She must have fought him like a wildcat,” Nate said.
Adam nodded, “That’s my girl,” he said and they both heard Thea clear her
“I suppose the beating would have been less severe if I had let him rape
me,” Thea said in her hoarse, muffled voice. “But I’d rather die first.”
“What I don’t understand is why? Why did he do this? Just because
he’s vicious and insane?” Nate asked.
“Yes and no,” Thea answered him and tried to open her eyes again, “he is
vicious, but he’s not insane. He knew exactly what he was doing.”
She stopped and coughed a little so Adam brought some water to her.
He carefully put a hand to the back of her head and helped her take a drink.
“This seems familiar,” she said then continued with her explanation.
“When I arrived his wife was having a miscarriage and there is no doubt whatsoever
that it was the result of a beating. I actually saw a boot imprint
on her abdomen. Seemingly he likes to keep the fun going by stomping
when he gets tired of punching. That’s what he did to my hands.”
Nate was turning a little green at this point and Adam actually gave him
a small smile. “I know this is hard, but you have to hear it all.”
His deputy nodded as Adam helped his wife take another drink. “He came
back just as I finished with Gretchen and was making her as comfortable as
I could,” Thea went on. “One look at my face and he realized I knew
what he had done. So he tried to kill me and make it look like a random
attack by someone demented.”
She sighed then and fell silent, letting her eyes close.
Adam came around the table to open the door and the two men stepped out.
Hoss said his older brother’s name and came over to hand him a package.
“Marie, Dora, and Cassandra brought some clothes for Thea a little while
ago. They wanted to see her, but I sent them home.”
“Thank you,” Adam said and put a hand on his older brother’s shoulder to
give it a hard squeeze. He started to turn away, but stopped and turned
back. “I’m sorry I lost control like that. Did I hurt you?”
Hoss’s face lit up, happy that Adam was himself again. “Only my reputation
for bein’ smart,” he said with a grin. “You pulled a dirty trick on
us jumpin’ up on the table and runnin’ across it like that.”
Adam looked up at Hoss, “I lost my mind. All I could see was what he
did to her and I just could not stop myself, so thank you for stopping me.”
The big man just looked back at him for a moment with solemn blue eyes.
“Everyone needs someone to stop them from doin’ somethin’ stupid now and
again, even you.”
His older brother grinned at him and softly said, “You do understand, don’t
Hoss nodded, “I kept thinkin’ about how I’d feel if it was Dora.”
Their eyes met in perfect understanding and Hoss reached out to pull Adam
into a brief, hard hug. Then he let go and turned quickly to take his
position next to the door again. Adam went back into the treatment
room to carefully help Thea into the long-sleeved, loose robe the women in
his house had brought.
He had just finished when he heard the front door open, Roy’s voice, and
the sound of hurrying feet. Sighing, he looked at his wife. “Are
you sure you want to do this?
“Yes,” she said calmly. “But I don’t want him in here, I’ll go out
there.” She slowly sat up and swung her legs over the side of the table.
“You can help me down, but that’s it. I have to do this by myself.”
She gasped when her feet met the floor and she leaned back against him for
a minute. Then she walked slowly, and painfully through the door with
her husband following closely behind. When they saw her coming almost
every man in the room instinctually took a step forward to come help her,
but Adam waved them back. “She wants to do this herself.”
Thea didn’t stop until she was standing right in front of her attacker and
she looked up at him through the narrow slits the swelling would allow.
She turned her head from side to side taking a good look at him then shocked
them all by spitting in his face and saying, “That’s him.”
She took a few steps back as the man glared down at her, “Lying bitch!”
Thea actually managed a rusty laugh as he tried to lunge toward her, but
he was being held firmly by Hoss and Dylan. Then Ben came to step in
between them. “I believe that’s all you need to lock him up Roy,” Adam
said as his father turned around and put his hands on Thea’s shoulders and
gently began to guide her back to the treatment room. But she resisted
as much as she could saying “Wait!”
“Adam, rip the cover off of one of those composition books behind you and
bring it to me,” she said and he quickly did as she asked. When he
brought it to her she leaned forward and opened her mouth as much as she
could. It took a second for him to understand what she was doing, but
then he did, so he carefully placed a corner of the square in her mouth.
She bit down on it as hard as she could then let go.
He looked down at her with admiration as he asked, “Where?”
“His left shoulder,” she said and turned in Ben’s arms to look at her attacker
“Let’s have a look at his left shoulder Hoss,” Adam said and the two men
holding Mueller tightened their grip as Adam unbuttoned the man’s shirt and
shoved it aside. He held the cardboard up to the teeth marks on Abe’s
left shoulder and they matched perfectly. “Roy?” Adam said as he stepped
back and handed him the cardboard. Roy compared them too, and then
looked at Adam.
“Perfect match,” the Sheriff said.
“I marked him on purpose so there’d be no doubt,” Thea said in a surprisingly
strong, but hoarse voice, even though her knees had started to shake.
“Help me up to him, Pa,” she asked and Ben reluctantly did so. Looking
up at Mueller again she said, “You thought I was dead, but I wasn’t.
You thought you destroyed my hands, but you haven’t.” She raised her
devastated hands and slowly began to clench them into fists as she whimpered
from the pain. “See?” she choked out against the agony and let her
“You deserve to hang for what you’ve done and if I had my way I’d be the
one on the scaffold to pull the lever,” she spat out at him and suddenly
went limp in Ben’s arms. He swung her up and carried her into the treatment
room where Matt was already waiting for them. He had known that Thea
would be passing out from the pain eventually.
“You’ll definitely be going to prison, Mueller.” Adam said from where he
was leaning back against the front of Thea’s desk with his arms crossed.
“Nate, charge him with manslaughter, attempted murder, attempted rape, assault,
and grand larceny,” Adam said and Nate nodded.
“I understand the attempted murder, attempted rape, and assault charges,
but not the manslaughter and grand larceny.” Roy said.
“Oh he killed someone today, it just wasn’t Thea. He beat his wife
so badly she miscarried. Thea saw a boot print on the woman’s abdomen
– that’s why he tried to kill her. The grand larceny is for stealing
her ring, it’s worth more than five hundred dollars.”
Hoss instinctively squeezed the man’s arm harder and Mueller groaned in pain.
“I know how you feel Hoss, but you better ease up or you’ll break his arm,”
Adam said and Hoss did so, but his jaw was still clenched and his normally
mild blue eyes sparked with rage.
“Roy, I want him locked up in one of your cells and you keep the keys with
you at all times. I don’t want any access to him because if I do, I
can’t guarantee you he won’t be dead by morning.”
The Sheriff nodded and motioned for Hoss and Dylan to follow him out the
door and they did, dragging the badly beaten man between them.
“Mike, John, let’s go get started on the paperwork,” Nate said and opened
the office door. The other two deputies went out and Nate was about
to follow when he heard Adam say, “Make sure you do it right.”
Nate looked back at him and gave him a wide smile. “Yes, boss,” was
all he said and left.
Adam stood and went behind Thea’s desk to wearily drop into her chair.
He leaned back, stretched his legs out in front of him, and stared at the
ceiling with his hands lying limply in his lap. For a while he went
over every event of the day, then his thoughts turned to what could happen
if Mueller filed charges against him for assault. Not only could he
lose his badge, he could possibly do some jail time himself.
He searched his heart, looking for any feelings of regret and found none.
“Damn it,” he said softly to himself, “I’m not sorry, and I would do it again
in a heartbeat.” He smiled remembering the satisfying feeling of his
fist crushing Mueller’s nose. Shaking his head at himself, he stood
up and started for the treatment room where Thea was arguing with Matt because
she wanted to go home and he wanted her to stay at least one night for observation.
Pa was staying out of the argument.
Taking a deep breath Adam opened the door and went in to settle the question.
TO BE CONTINUED…
RETURN TO LIBRARY