JOE CARTWRIGHT, DETECTIVE......AGAIN!
AThe Case of the Sinister Body Snatchers@
by Lori Henry
November 14, 2003
Ben Cartwright stretched and yawned as he came down the stairs to breakfast. He paused at the bottom of the staircase and closed his eyes, his strong, weathered hands planted firmly on his narrow hips. He inhaled deeply, savoring the mouth-watering aroma of bacon, hotcakes and fresh brewed coffee. He glanced toward the dining room table and was pleased to see his three sons were all seated around the breakfast table. Usually his youngest son, Little Joe, had to be roused out of bed by one of his older brothers, a task Adam and Hoss took great pleasure in. ALittle Joe must have finally had his fill of waking up wet each morning,@ thought Ben with a grin. A frown quickly replaced his jovial smile when he saw his youngest son=s nose buried in another one of those dreadful dime novels.
AListen to this, Hoss.....,@ said Joe, his voice raising in pitch with his enthusiasm as he read aloud from his book - AHe gripped the flesh and slipped a rope under the arms of the body. Together the two men heaved the corpse over the lip of the grave. A powerful fetor of decomposing flesh filled the air........@ Joe paused, his eyes growing wide with suspense.
Hoss grimaced and set down his fork, the words Joe read aloud causing him to lose his appetite. He was about to complain to Little Joe about his choice of reading material when he glanced up from his breakfast and saw his pa standing at the bottom of the staircase, a stern look of disapproval etched on his face. Hoss quickly reached across the table and swatted the back of Joe=s book with his fork.
Joe hissed and glared at Hoss over the top of the book. AHey, knock it off! I=m just getting to the really good part.@
Hoss=s cornflower blue eyes grew as wide as saucers as he made jerky motions with his head in the direction of the staircase.
Not understanding the meaning of Hoss=s exaggerated stiff-necked gestures, Joe frowned at his brother=s comical antics. He lowered the book and pointed at his own neck. AWhat=s the matter, Hoss? You got a stiff neck or something?@ Joe=s voice reflected his annoyance at being interrupted from his important novel.
No longer able to save his little brother from their father=s wrath and disapproval, Hoss locked eyes with his pa and swallowed hard. He heaved a deep sigh of resignation then sat back in his chair, ready to watch the fireworks.
Little Joe was so engrossed in his book he didn=t see or hear his father approach the table and stop to stand behind his chair. Ben clamped his hands down on his youngest son=s shoulders.
Joe instantly stopped reading when he felt the firm steady pressure on his shoulders.
The look of excitement on Joe=s face quickly dissolved, replaced by a look of apprehension mixed with a tinge of fear. His eyes widened as he swallowed the lump in his throat.
Adam carefully wiped his mouth with his linen napkin then methodically folded it and placed it on the table beside his plate. With his usual casual elegance he studied his baby brother, a glint of humor in his hazel eyes. A wry smile crept across his lips as he settled back in his chair. He was going to thoroughly enjoy seeing how Joe was going to get himself out of this predicament. The last time Joe and Hoss found themselves knee deep in trouble because of one of these so-called Adetective@ novels, he had been away on business in San Francisco. He was sorry he had missed all the madness and mayhem his two younger brothers had created for their pa and Clem
Foster. When he got home, he heard all about it from Clem, Hop Sing and his pa. Joe and Hoss=s escapade was legendary. How his two younger could always seem to get themselves up to their necks in hot water would always be a mystery to him.
Little Joe slowly tilted his head back, his eyes coming to rest on his father=s imposing form. AUh, good m..m..morning, Pa,@ stammered Joe, quickly shoving the thin paperback novel into his lap. Ben just stood there, as still and imposing as the Ponderosa pines that stood like silent guardians over his land. Joe grinned sheepishly then nervously ran the fingers of one hand through his wavy brown locks. Unable to meet his father=s steely gaze, Joe looked down at the table, his gaze fixed on his plate of cold flapjacks as he fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair.
Ben continued to stand behind Little Joe, staring at the top of his youngest son=s head. Joe shifted nervously in his chair, his father=s silent gaze in direct proportion to his discomfort. The patriarch of the Cartwright clan released his iron grip and folded his arms across his massive chest. His head was tilted to one side, his expression grim. AJoseph!@ boomed Ben=s impressive voice. AHow many times do I have to tell you not to bring books to the table?@ The thunderous sound of his father=s angry voice as it echoed through the house nearly launched Joe out of his chair like a bucking bronc. Even though Joe was an adult, his father=s voice still had the same effect on him as it did when he was a child. He cringed as he waited for his father=s further reprimand.
Ben walked around the table and slowly sat down. Before pouring himself a cup of coffee, he paused to study the look on his youngest son=s face. Though he tried his best to hide it, Ben thought Joe looked like the proverbial cat who had just swallowed the canary.
ABut Pa.....,@ protested Little Joe. AYou don=t say anything when Adam reads books at the table.@
Adam looked at his father, one eyebrow raised. He smiled and said, AHe does have a point there, Pa.@
AYou stay out of this,@ said Ben, a bit to harshly.
Adam acquiesced, raising his hands as if in surrender as he excused himself from the table. AI=ll be out in the barn if you need me, Pa.@
Ben gave a curt nod then turned his attention back to his youngest son. Adam saw the imperceptible twitch at the corner of his father=s mouth before he spoke again to Joe.
AFor your information, young man....the books your older brother reads at the table either pertains to ranching or some other intellectual pursuits, quite unlike the mindless drivel you=ve chosen to fill your mind with!@
Ben reached under the table, snatched the paperback book out of Joe=s hand and read the title aloud, AThe Case of the Sinister Body Snatchers.@ Incredulous, he shook his head and bellowed, AGrave robbing? You can=t find anything better to read about than grave robbing?@
Joe jumped and cringed then slowly began to sink down in his chair. Ben paused then added, AThis better not be one of those Scotland Yard detective stories! I=m sure you and Hoss both remember what happened the last time you read one of these detective books.@
Ben glanced over at Hoss and fixed him with a steely stare as well as Little Joe.
AUh, oh.....,@ thought Hoss, feeling his cheeks begin to flush. That was one fiasco he would prefer to not to remember.
Hoss jumped to his feet and sputtered out the first excuse that came to mind. AUh, excuse me pa, I gotta go finish horsing a shoe.....I mean shoeing that new brood mare.@
Ben shook his head, looking a bit confused. He gave Hoss a quizzical look as his middle son rushed out the door. He couldn=t remember seeing Hoss in such a hurry to get away from the dining table.
Ben still hadn=t forgotten all the trouble Joe and Hoss had caused the last time Little Joe read just such a novel. He was pretty sure Clem hadn=t forgotten either. He unconsciously brought his hand up and pressed his thumb and forefinger against his closed eyelids.. Every time he thought back on the incident, he wished he hadn=t let Hop Sing talk him out of letting those two spend a few days in jail. He had thought for sure Little Joe had learned his lesson concerning these types of books; obviously he had been wrong.
Little Joe nervously glanced around the empty table. He frantically searched his mind for an excuse to get away from his pa as quickly as possible. Joe=s empty stomach growled, reminding him he hadn=t eaten any of his breakfast. He had been so busy reading he had forgotten to eat anything. Not wanting to start his long work day on an empty stomach, Joe grabbed his fork and clumsily shoveled his cold flapjacks into his mouth followed by an equally cold cup of coffee.
Ben watched Little Joe with a combination of curiosity and disgust as his son filled both cheeks to full capacity until he looked like a squirrel with a mouth full of nuts. His mouth threatening to over-flow, Joe mumbled something unintelligible then quickly stood up and pushed back his chair. In his haste to escape, the heavy mahogany chair tipped over backward, hitting the floor with a loud crash. The noise startled Joe and he lost his balance. His arms flailing, Little Joe tried unsuccessfully to regain his balance. Ben calmly leaned to the side and peered over the edge of the table, one eyebrow raised. His face red with embarrassment, Joe clumsily extricated himself from the chair and stumbled across the floor toward the front door. Ben could barely make out Joe=s garbled words of apology as he raced from the room.
Little Joe waited until his father had finished his breakfast and ridden out to the lumber camp up on Prospector Ridge before entering the house again to retrieve his book. He was glad when he found it on the dining room table instead of in the fireplace. He grinned as he tucked the thin paperback inside the breast pocket of his green corduroy jacket. On the way out the door, he grabbed his black leather gloves off the credenza and slipped them on.
AC=mon, hurry up Joe,@ called Hoss from across the yard. AWe ain=t got all day.@
AHold your horses,@ replied Joe as he settled his hat on his head.
Hoss was seated on the buckboard, holding the reins to the horses as he waited for his little brother. Joe was glad to see that Hoss was going to drive, he wanted to spend the long ride into town reading some more of his book.
Joe leaped up into the seat beside Hoss, then with a grin and a twinkle in his eye, he pulled his book out of his jacket pocket.
Hoss frowned at his baby brother when he saw he was still reading that book, especially after their father had expressed his displeasure in Joe=s choice of books.
AI thought Pa told you to ya to get rid of that book,@ chided Hoss.
Little Joe thought for a moment then replied, AWell......,@ he said slowly, APa never actually said anything about getting rid of the book. He just said he didn=t approve of my reading it, that=s all.@ Joe smiled to himself, thinking himself so clever.
Hoss screwed up his face as he tried to remember what their father had said at breakfast. Unable to come up with a reply, he scowled then gave a hard fast flick to the reins. The horses leaped forward like they had been shot out of a cannon nearly flipping Joe backward over the seat.
Joe glared at his older brother, one side of his lip raising in a scornful sneer. AI=ll bet Hoss did that on purpose,@ thought Joe as he opened his book and slouched down in the wooden seat, trying to himself as comfortable as possible on the long bumpy ride into Virginia City.
Hoss never could stay angry at anyone for an extended period of time so it wasn=t long before the two brothers were speaking to one another again. Mostly though, it was Little Joe who did all the talking as he read aloud to Hoss what he considered to be the grisliest and most exciting parts of his book.
Virginia City was buzzing with activity as the Cartwright boys made their way down C Street.
The deep thunder from the stamping mills blended with the sounds of piano music and drunken shouting coming from the saloons.
Hoss carefully negotiated the horses down the crowded street, weaving his way through the constant throng of people, horses and wagons of various sizes. Hoss silently marveled to himself how quickly Virginia City had grown in the last few years. With the announcement of rich silver strikes, thousands of people had flocked to this mountainous region with hopes of striking it rich. Only a handful would prosper and the rest would go home empty-handed.
Joe still had his nose buried in his book when Hoss spotted an unoccupied spot in the alley alongside the mercantile.
AWhoa.....@ came Hoss=s deep voice as he brought the buckboard to a halt.
When Joe felt the buckboard stop, he glanced up from his book briefly then went back to reading again. He continued to remain seated, his face hidden by his book as Hoss climbed down from the seat.
Hoss stood on the street, hands on his hips, waiting for his little brother to climb down and help him load up the supplies.
Joe glanced over at Hoss and gave him a big grin. He nodded and said, AYou go ahead and load up the buckboard, Hoss. I=ll wait here and make sure no one steals the horses.@
A big toothy grin spread across Hoss=s face as he nodded in agreement. Joe=s logic sounded good to him. Hoss turned to go into the mercantile then suddenly stopped. Realizing he had been duped again by his conniving little brother, he spun around on his heel and with one beefy hand, grabbed Little Joe by the collar of his jacket and yanked him off the buckboard.
AOh, no you don=t, Short shanks!@ said Hoss, his voice stern. AI ain=t fallin= for that trick again.@
Joe wiggled and squirmed as he straightened his jacket. With a sigh of resignation, he tucked his book back into his breast pocket then followed Hoss into the store.
Every chance he got, when Hoss wasn=t looking, Joe lingered alongside the buckboard, sneaking in a few more pages of his book. More than once, Hoss had to threaten to tell their pa about Joe and that book if he didn=t get back to work.
With their chores in town finished, Hoss and Little Joe decided to stop at the Bucket of Blood saloon for a beer before heading home to the Ponderosa. The brothers were about to cross the busy street when Sheriff Roy Coffee came around the corner. He smiled and called out to Joe and Hoss.
Joe and Hoss stopped and waited for Roy. AHowdy, Roy,@ greeted Hoss as he shook hands with the sheriff. AIts good to see you.@
Joe smiled and nodded a greeting as he shook Roy=s hand.
Roy pointed at the book in Joe=s hand. ASay, what=ve you got there?@ he asked.
Joe and Hoss locked eyes, both thinking the same thing as Joe awkwardly shoved the book into Hoss=s hands.
Sheriff Coffee clasped his hands behind his back and patiently waited for Hoss to give him an answer.
Hoss looked down at the tattered book, his mind a blank as he searched for an answer. There was no way he wanted to remind Roy of the last time Joe had one of these books.
He hemmed and hawed for a moment then thrust the book into Joe=s chest. Joe staggered from the blow, the wind nearly knocked from his lungs.
Roy began rocking back and forth on his heels, thoroughly enjoying watching the Cartwright boys wiggle their way out of this. He knew darn well what the book was and he also knew how much Ben disapproved of such nonsense.
Joe looked at Hoss, his green eyes pleading for help. Hoss thrust his hands in his pockets and prudently looked away. Finally, Joe thought of a plausible answer.
Joe held up the book for Roy to see. AOh, you mean this......@ Joe stuttered, his voice rising in pitch. AI....I.....I mean we.....,@ said Joe, indicating himself and Hoss, Awe....we found this book on the street.@
AYeah, Roy....that=s what happened,@ collaborated Hoss. He looked at Joe then back to Roy.
AWe were looking for a trash barrel when you came along.@
Joe frowned at Hoss and gave him a dirty look, his lower lip jutting out.
AWell, why didn=t you boys just say so,@ said Roy, his eyes twinkling. He reached out and took the book from Joe and dropped it in the trash barrel behind him.
Joe put one hand up to his mouth, biting the fingertips of his gloves, looking like he had just lost his best friend.
ASay, Hoss....,@ said Roy as he maneuvered Hoss away from Joe. AI wanted to ask you about.....@
Joe didn=t hear a word Roy said. His attention was riveted on the trash barrel. Trying to be as nonchalant as possible, Joe edged his way closer to the barrel. He was about to reach into the stinky container of refuse when a pretty young lady came around the corner. He shot bolt upright and smiled at the young lady as he tipped his hat and politely greeted her as she strolled past.
Before Roy stepped off the boardwalk and headed back to his office, he looked over his shoulder.
The sight of Little Joe=s backside as he leaned over the barrel, digging for his book made Roy laugh. He shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck. AThat boy is in for a whole peck of trouble if his pa catches him with that book,@ thought Roy as he headed down the street.
AC=mon, Joe, get out of there!@ scolded Hoss, looking embarrassed as his little brother pulled out his book out of the trash. Joe held it up and scrutinized the damp pages. A fly settled briefly on the cover then decided to leave when Joe moved the book close to his face to give it a sniff. Joe pulled a face, expecting the book to stink but was pleased to find it wasn=t so bad. Like a child, happy to have found his lost toy, he gave a lop-sided grin then opened the book up to where he had left off reading.
Hoss rolled his eyes and shook his head. ALet=s go get that beer, now little brother.@
His nose buried in the book, Little Joe stepped off the boardwalk and followed Hoss to the Bucket of Blood saloon. Just before he reached the other side of the street, Joe suddenly collided with the Duffy brothers. Both Nate and Frank Duffy were carrying a mountainous armload of clothing and other assorted items, and like Little Joe, they too were not watching where they were going. Hoss spun around when he heard the dull thud and the guttural sounds exploding from the three young men who lay tangled beneath a pile of men=s and women=s garments.
The colorful, thrashing pile of rumpled raiments reminded Hoss of an octopus. Multiple arms and legs protruded from all angles as they madly thrashed about. He had no idea which limbs belonged to his little brother and which to the Duffy boys.
Hoss laughed uproariously as his little brother=s muffled vociferous exclamations filled the air.
A curious crowd had begun to form when Joe=s head suddenly popped out from beneath the pile of struggling clothes. Perched on his wavy brown curls was a tattered black and burgundy sequined lady=s hat with a bent purple ostrich feather protruding from the side.
A raucous round of laughter and finger pointing exploded from the crowd. Looking bewildered, Joe=s eyes swept the small group of Virginia City citizens that surrounded him, searching for the source of their mirth.
AWhat the.....,@ said Joe, suddenly catching sight of the ostrich feather out of the corner of his eye. He yanked the offending hat off his head and cast it on ground as if it were going to bite him.
Joe stood up and squared his shoulders as he straightened his jacket, trying to hide his embarrassment. As the crowd began to disperse, Joe and Hoss helped the Duffy brothers to their feet. Joe offered an apology for running into them as he and Hoss helped Frank and Nate pick up everything that had fallen on the ground.
AWhere=re you boys off to with all this stuff?@ asked Hoss, adding a pair of men=s trousers to the armload that Nate was carrying.
Frank cast Nate a furtive look and responded, AUmmmm....sorry Hoss, but we ain=t got no time to talk. We got a lot of stuff to do today.@
ACan we give you a hand?@ offered Joe, taking note of the thick layer of dried mud that clung to both men=s clothing. AEspecially since its my fault that I ran into you boys.@
ANo, no, no.....,@ answered Nate, a bit too quickly.
Joe shrugged his shoulders and scratched his head as he watched the Duffy boys scurry down the street.
AC=mon little brother,@ said Hoss. ALets go get ourselves that beer then we better head on back home before Pa misses us. And, I don=t want to be late for lunch.@
Joe chuckled to himself as he searched the ground for his book. Unable to locate it, he swore softly then dashed down the street in the direction the Duffy brothers had gone. His book must have gotten mixed in with all the clothes the Frank and Nate had been carrying.
Little Joe slid to a stop, kicking up a cloud of dust, when he reached the end of the street. He glanced left then right, searching the thinning crowd for the Duffy brothers. He was about to give up when he spotted the ghastly lady=s hat he had been wearing lying on the boardwalk in front of the pawnshop. He picked up the hat then glanced inside the shop window. When he saw Frank and Nate inside he placed his hand on the doorknob. He was about to turn the brass knob when suddenly he stopped. He quickly stepped away from the front windows of the shop, pressing his back against the weathered boards on the outside of the building. He crunched the dirty hat against his chest with both hands, his green eyes growing as wide as saucers. The sight of the Duffy boys, their clothes caked with mud, standing before the counter, each with a pile of dusty old clothes, suddenly reminded Joe of scene from his book.
AOh my gosh,@ whispered Joe. AThe Duffy brothers are robbing graves!@
Joe glanced down at the hat in his hand with a look of horror and disgust. A cold shiver stole over Joe=s body as he cast the vile object on the ground. He took off running like a cat with its tail on fire and didn=t stop until he burst through the double swing door of the Bucket of Blood saloon.
AHoss, Hoss!@ cried Joe in a high squeaky voice.
His heart racing and out of breath, Joe bent over and held onto the edge of the mahogany bar, gasping as he tried to catch his breath.
Finally, he spotted Hoss standing down near the end of the bar. With a wild look in his eyes, Joe raced up to his big brother. AHoss, Hoss.....,@ choked Joe, gesturing wildly toward the doorway.
Hoss set his beer down and looked at his little brother. He pushed his hat back on his head and gave Joe a quizzical look. AWhat in tarnation is the matter with you, Joe? You kissed some purdy gal and now her pa=s looking to skin you alive?@
Pleased with his witty reply, Hoss gave Joe a big toothy grin then laughed at his own joke.
Joe shook his head and continued to stutter a series of incomprehensible phrases. The only words Hoss could make out were ADuffy boys@ and something about a book, graves and robberies.
Hoss put his arm around Joe=s shoulders and gently guided him toward the nearest table. In a placating tone he said, ANow why don=t you just simmer down and have yourself a drink, Little Joe.@
Hoss called to the barmaid to bring him two beers then turned his attention to his little brother who was still pointing at the doorway and rambling about dead people, his book and the Duffy boys.
Sally, the barmaid, placed two glasses of beer down on the table then, with a swish of her hips, sauntered away. Joe paused in his ramblings only long enough to savory Sally=s seductive display then quickly turned his attention back to Hoss.
The beer seemed to calm Joe and he was finally able to tell Hoss what he had seen at the pawnshop.
Hoss frowned and pushed his hat back on his head. Incredulous, he said, AWhat? The Duffy boys robbin= graves? You musta hit your head pretty hard out there in the street.@ Hoss paused and shook his head then continued, ANate and Frank grave robbers? That just don=t seem possible. Why, we=ve known the Duffy boys ever since we were in school together.@
A look of concern on his face, Hoss reached over and tried to remove Joe=s hat so he could get a look at his baby brother=s head.
Joe scowled at his big brother and slapped his hand away. AMy head is just fine and I ain=t hallucinating! I know what I saw!@
Joe fumbled around inside his jacket, searching for his book. ADadburnit!@ he cursed loudly, suddenly remembering he had lost the book when he and the Duffy brothers ran into one another. Frustrated, Joe yanked his hat off and slammed it down on the table. He ran both hands through his hair then leaned forward with his head still in his hands, resting his elbows on the table.
Hoss leaned over and as discreetly as possible, tried to get a look at Joe=s head. Little Joe continued to sit with his head resting in his hands so Hoss reached over and poked Joe on the top of his skull.
AWill you cut that out?@ shouted Joe, the anger in his voice matching the fiery look in his green eyes. AI told you, there ain=t nothin= wrong with my head!@
Little Joe=s sudden outburst startled Hoss, making him jump. AAlright Short shanks,@said Hoss in a placating tone, ASupposin= you tell me exactly what you saw and what makes you think Frank and Nate are grave robbers.@
Joe cast a covert glance around the crowded bar then leaned in close to Hoss, gesturing for him to do the same. When their heads were only inches apart, Joe said, AIn The Case of the Sinister Body Snatchers, Detective Trumball follows the body snatchers to a pawnshop and watches them as they sell all the clothes and other the things that they stole off the dead bodies.@
Hoss grimaced and made a face, imagining Frank and Nate digging up bodies then taking the clothes and other personal items off the corpses. The grisly thought made him shudder.
Hoss couldn=t believe what he was hearing. ANow let me get this straight,@ he said, pondering Joe=s words. AJust because Frank and Nate=s clothes are covered in dried mud and they were both carryin= an armload of old clothes down to the pawnshop, that makes them grave robbers?@
Joe nodded at his brother, a smug look on his handsome face. He stood up, took one last drink of his beer then wiped his mouth with his sleeve. AI think we should go down to the sheriff=s office right away and tell Roy so he can arrest them.@
At Joe=s words, Hoss suddenly choked on a mouthful of beer, spewing a fine mist of alcohol across the table.
AOh no you don=t Joseph!@ vehemently stated Hoss. AYou=re plum outta your mind if you think I=m going to help you convince Roy that Frank and Nate have taken up grave robbing!@
Hoss paused then added, AWhy that=s the most ridiculous thing I=ve ever heard not to mention being downright creepy and disgusting! It makes my flesh crawl just thinkin= about it.@
ABut Hoss, it=s our civic duty as law-abiding citizens to protect the sanctity of the grave. Why, how would you feel if somebody dug up Pa and stole all his clothes and left him lying naked in his grave?@
AAh, Joe!@ complained Hoss, trying to erase from his mind the disturbing image of their father lying naked and lifeless in a cold grave.
Hoss pursed his lips and shook his head as he stood his ground. AThere ain=t no way you=re gonna get me involved in this! I=m still smartin= from the last time you convinced me to help you catch those bank robbers. Remember how mad Pa was at us?@
AThat was different,@ countered Joe. AThis time we have solid evidence the Duffy boys are robbing graves. We don=t need to prove it.@
AI don=t care if we,@ - Hoss quickly corrected himself, - AI mean YOU have evidence of grave robbing. There ain=t no way you=re gonna talk me into getting involved in one of your crazy notions.@
Undaunted, Joe decided to try a different tactic. He leaned in close to his brother and made wide sweeping motions in the air. AWe=ll be heroes. The headline in the Territorial Enterprise will read, ACARTWRIGHT BROTHERS - HEROES OF VIRGINIA CITY.@
Joe had an impish look on his face and a twinkle in his eyes as he continued, AWhy, the whole town will be so grateful they=ll throw us a huge parade complete with confetti and a brass band. And who knows, they might even pay us a huge reward for exposing the Duffy brother=s heinous acts.@
ABut, but.....,@ stammered Hoss, his resolve quickly beginning to weaken. He kind of liked the idea of being a hero. Maybe Joe is right, he thought. With evidence to back up their claim, surely Roy would believe them and nothing bad would happen like the last time.
The thought of the last time he and Joe played detective and the unpleasant consequences that resulted from that ill-fated adventure suddenly caused a lump to form in Hoss=s throat. He grimaced and swallowed hard, a look of chagrin on his face.
Joe=s powers of persuasion and his youthful exuberance finally convinced Hoss the Duffy boys were up to no good. It was his and Joe=s duty as law-abiding citizens to see that justice was done, regardless of the fact that Nate and Frank were their friends.
AAll right, then,@ said Hoss, squaring his shoulders and jutting out his chin. ALets go down to see Roy and tell him all about it.@
Immensely pleased with himself, Joe grinned like a Cheshire cat and followed Hoss outside.
His eyes were twinkling as he eagerly looked forward to playing detective again, a roll he thought himself most suited for.
AWhat can I do for you boys?@ asked Clem as Hoss and Little Joe stepped inside his office.
Joe, standing with most of his weight on one leg and his hands resting on his hips, gave Hoss a nudge with his elbow and said, AYou tell him, Hoss.@
Hoss pointed a finger at himself and exclaimed, AWho me? It was your idea Joe, you tell him!@
Even though he agreed with Joe=s suspicions concerning the Duffy boys, Hoss didn=t want to be the one to tell Roy about it.
Clem noted the expressions on the Cartwright brother=s faces, a familiar look that suddenly triggered a warning bell in the back of his mind. He covered his eyes with one hand and shook his head. AWhy do I have the feeling I=m gonna regret whatever it is you two have to tell me?@
Joe knew exactly what Clem was thinking. He leaped forward in his and Hoss=s defense and said, ANo, no Clem, its not like that. It has nothing to do with bank robbers.@
Joe looked over his shoulder, seeking approval and support from Hoss. AThis is really important and we even have evidence this time to prove it.@
Joe grinned at Hoss then gave a quick nod of his head as he stepped back from Clem=s desk.
He folded his arms across his chest, waiting for a response.
Clem tilted his head to one side and eyed the Cartwright boys suspiciously. AThis time?@ he asked tentatively. He raised his eyebrows and continued, AI certainly hope this isn=t anything like the last time you boys had something important to tell me and it better not involve detective dime novels.@
Joe suddenly looked sheepish. He was about to tell Clem about AThe Case of the Sinister Body Snatchers@ then quickly thought better of it.
Clem eyed the Cartwright boys suspiciously. AWell? I haven=t got all day. You boys gonna tell me what=s so important?@
Joe opened and closed his mouth several times, searching for the right words. Firmly squaring his shoulders he said, AWe believe Frank and Nate Duffy are grave robbers.@
Clem=s colorful expletives could be heard all the way down to the end of the street. AWhy, that=s the most preposterous thing I=ve ever heard!@ he shouted.
Having expected a more genteel response, Hoss and Joe both leaped backward in surprise as Clem=s thunderous voice reverberated off the walls. The Cartwright brothers cringed as they waited for Clem to settle down.
When he ran out of curses, Clem finally took a deep breath and asked, AWhat in the devil makes you two think Frank and Nate are robbing graves?@
Before Joe could stop himself, he blurted out, ADetective Trumball......@ He suddenly stopped, realizing he had made a grave error.
Warily, Clem asked, AWho=s Detective Trumball?@
Hoss sighed then nudged Joe with his elbow. AGo ahead and tell him.@
Pretty sure Clem was going to blow up again, Joe quickly explained how Detective Trumball was the main character in this detective book he was reading called AThe Case of the Sinister Body Snatchers.@
Desperately trying to hold his temper in check, Clem bit his lower lip and slowly nodded. AI see.....so this DOES have to do with another one of them detective stories.@
Flustered, Little Joe looked at Hoss, his green eyes pleading for help as he nervously twisted the leather thongs that held his jacket closed. AYep, th...th...that=s right Clem,@ stuttered Joe. AYa see, this afternoon Hoss and I bumped into them, well.....I mean I bumped into Frank and Nate as I was crossing the street. They couldn=t see me cuz they were both carrying a big armload of old dusty clothes.@
Clem slowly strolled over to the window, rubbing the back of his neck. AJust because they were carrying some old clothes you two assumed they were robbing graves?@
Suddenly Hoss piped in, AAnd they was both covered in dried mud like they=d been digging and Joe said he saw them take them clothes into the pawnshop.@
ALet me get this straight,@ said Clem, feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on. AJust because two fellas are covered in dried mud and taking old clothes to the pawnshop, that makes them grave robbers?@
Joe planted his hands on his hips and smiled triumphantly. AYep, that=s right Clem. Do you want us to help you go and arrest them?@
Clem could feel the heat beginning to rise in his cheeks. He clenched his jaw and pointed at the door and yelled, AOut of here, both of you..... right NOW!@
Joe and Hoss both ran for the door faster than cat with it=s tail on fire, tripping and stumbling over one another in their haste to escape Clem=s wrath.
Hoss turned to Joe as the door to the jail slammed shut behind them. AThat was pretty darn rude of Clem,@ said Hoss, his feathers ruffled. AWe were only trying to help.@
Never mind him, Hoss,@ said Joe. AIf he=s not interested in catching some grave robbers then we=ll just have to do it ourselves.@
AAnd just how do you plan on doin= that, little brother?@ asked Hoss.
A sly look in his eyes, Joe asked, ANow just where do you think you catch grave robbers?@
Hoss=s eyes widened as it dawned on him what Joe had in mind. AThe graveyard?@ he exclaimed.
ANo, no, no, Joseph! I agreed to help you tell Clem about the Duffy brothers; I didn=t say nothin= about sneakin= around the graveyard with you late at night waitin= to catch Nate and Frank in the act!@
ADon=t tell me a big guy like you is afraid of the dark?@ asked Joe, grasping Hoss by his massive upper arms to emphasize his point.
AIt ain=t the dark I=m afraid of, Joe.....its what=s hangin= around out there that I can=t see that has me spooked.@
AYou=re afraid of ghosts?@ jeered Little Joe, his distinctive giggle filling the air.
Hoss glared at Joe. AYou cut that out or else I=m gonna pound you good!@
AOoooooooooooo,@ howled Little Joe between fits of laughter as he danced around his big brother, slowly waving his arms. AI=m a big scary ghost and I=m gonna get you.@
AIf you don=t cut that out little brother, you=re gonna be the newest resident up there in on Boot Hill.@
Joe could see he had pushed Hoss far enough so he stopped with the teasing. AC=mon, Hoss, we both know there are no such things as ghosts. And besides, before we spend the night watching the Virginia City grave yard, I want to check out the cabin where Frank and Nate live. We might find some more evidence there so we won=t have to stake out the grave yard and wait for them to commit another crime.@
Hoss like the sound of that and he smiled and nodded his approval. He was about to follow Joe back to where they left their wagon when suddenly he stopped. AHey, wait a minute, Joe. Ain=t that trespassin=? It ain=t proper to go snoopin= around other folks homes. You could get arrested for that.@
AOnly if I get caught and that is where you come in,@ Joe replied. AI need you to keep Frank and Nate occupied while I search their house.@
AHow should I do that?@ asked Hoss.
Exasperated that he had to do all the thinking, Joe gave a short exhale and replied, AInvite them to join you at the Silver Dollar for a beer. Keep them busy drinking and talking.@
Hoss smiled, AOh, yeah....that shouldn=t be too hard. How long should I keep them there and when will I know when you=re done?@
AI=ll come back here and join you in the Silver Dollar when I=m finished.@
Hoss climbed up onto the buckboard and picked up the reins. AWe better head on back to the Ponderosa. Pa will be wondering what took us so long.@
We can=t go back now, protested Joe. AWe have to check out the Duffy cabin now, seeing as how they=re all covered in dirt. They must have been digging in the cemetery last night so they might have something in their cabin that would help prove to Clem that they=re guilty of grave robbing.@
AI don=t know, Joe,@ said Hoss, his voice hesitant. APa sent us into town to pick up supplies and run a few errands. He=s not gonna like it if we come home late. We both still have a whole passel of chores that need doin=.
AWhat=s more important? Finishing our chores or putting an end to these heinous crimes and besides, Pa rode up to the lumber camp on Prospector Ridge this morning. The last time he went up there he didn=t get home until after dark. We should be home long before him.@
Hoss heaved a heavy sigh and reluctantly agreed with Joe. He secured the reins around the brake handle again and stepped back down into the street. A lump began to form in his stomach. AWhy do I get the feeling I=m gonna regret this?@ he thought.
It didn=t take long for Hoss to locate the Duffy brothers. They were more than eager to join him for a beer, especially when they found out he was buying.
As soon as Joe saw Hoss, Frank and Nate disappear inside the Silver Dollar saloon, he swung up into his saddle and rode out of town at a fast gallop.
The Duffy brother=s modest ranch house sat up on a hill over-looking Gold Hill. Joe had to leave Cochise tethered at the base of the hill, hidden in a thick stand of cottonwood trees. Crouching low and scanning the area for anyone who might see him, Joe dashed up to the front door of the two-bedroom clapboard house then disappeared inside. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim interior then began to look around. The small house was badly in need of a woman=s touch, not to mention a good cleaning. Frank and Nate were both bachelors and seemed content to remain that way. Their parents had died several years ago, leaving the house and the land to their two sons.
Joe wrinkled his nose and pulled a face as he gingerly stepped over a rather aromatic pile of what appeared to be dirty socks and undergarments. Taking care not to disturb anything, not that the Duffy boys would even notice, Joe continued with his investigation. The place was such a mess that it took Joe longer than he had thought it would to search the house. He was headed toward the back of the house when suddenly he tripped over a large orange tabby cat, nearly falling on the floor. The indignant animal hissed at Joe then disappeared under the sofa.
ADadburn cat!@ cursed Joe, his veins coursing with adrenaline.
When he felt himself begin to fall, Joe had reached out and grabbed hold of the table where the Duffy=s ate their meals. While he waited for his heart to stop pounding, Joe glanced down at the table and saw a newspaper clipping that read: Medical Universities Willing to Pay Top Dollar for Bodies Donated to Science.
Little Joe=s jaw dropped and his eyes grew as wide as he read the article. AOh, my gosh,@ he whispered. AThe Duffy brothers are body snatchers too!@
Joe hastily wadded up the article, shoved it in his jacket pocket. He burst out the front door, his boots kicking up a cloud of dust as he ran to where he had left Cochise. AWait till Hoss hears about this,@ Joe said to his horse. He hastily mounted the pinto then spurred him forward.
When Little Joe got back to Virginia City, he found Hoss and the Duffy brother=s drunker than a peach-orchard sow. The three of them were seated at a table littered with empty beer glasses and whiskey bottles, belting out the lyrics to a risque Irish drinking song.
Joe shook his head and rolled his eyes. He slowly approached the table, surveying the three inebriated men. He pulled out a chair, sat down then pushed his hat to the back of his head.
AHowdy Hoss, howdy Frank, Nate.@
AWhy, looky who=s here.....it=s my braby buther, Jittle Loe,@ said Hoss, slurring his words. AYou all through snoopin= around?@ He grinned and gave Joe an exaggerated wink.
Joe abruptly shushed Hoss, flashing him the evil eye. Hoss weaved in his chair like seaweed flowing with a gentle wave as he pressed his index finger against his lips, letting Joe know he wouldn=t say anything more.
The Duffy brothers, oblivious to what was going on, offered Joe a drink, their words slow and slurred as well.
ANo thanks,@ said Little Joe, shaking his head. He frowned at Hoss and swatted his arm with the back of his hand. AC=mon, its late.....we better be getting on home.@
Nate stood and said, AThanks for the drinks, Hoss.....we better be gettin= on outta here too. We got some important work to do ourselves.@
AYeah, A confirmed Frank, his eyes half-closed.
The Duffy brothers staggered toward the saloon door then stopped. Frank motioned for Nate to wait a moment then weaved his way back to the table. He reached inside his dirty shirt and pulled out Joe=s detective novel. AOh, I almost forgot.....is this here yurs?@
Joe reached out and accepted the tattered book. AYeah, that=s mine. I must have lost it when we bumped into each other. Thanks for returning it to me.@
Frank nodded at Joe and Hoss then reeled and wobbled, nearly knocking over a table and a couple of chairs as he tentatively made his way back to where his brother was waiting for him.
As soon as the Duffy boys were gone, Joe turned to his brother. AHoss!@ he scolded. AYou=re drunk! I can=t take you home like this. Pa=ll skin us alive!@
AWhy I=m as sober as a muley cow,@ said Hoss, a silly grin on his face.
Joe gasped and waved his hand in front of his face, trying to clear the air. Hoss=s breath was near strong enough to crack a mirror.
Joe felt like his pa as he questioned his older brother. AWhat happened here? How in tarnation did you get yourself drunk?@
Hoss sat quietly as his little brother ranted and raved about what their pa was going to do to them when they got home.
Joe=s steady stream of questions and suppositions were confusing Hoss. Finally, he reached over and placed one large hand over Joe=s mouth. AShhhhhhh......now hold on there Shank shorts...if you hadn=t taken so long..........@
Joe shoved Hoss=s hand aside. ASo its my fault that you=re drunk, is that it?@ demanded Joe.
Glad that Joe was starting to make sense, Hoss beamed and replied, AYep. You told me to keep the Duffy=s here until you got back, and that=s zactly what I done. So its all YOUR fault, Little Brother!@ Hoss gave Joe a nod of satisfaction. AYou took so long gettin= back here and they kept wantin= to leave. The only way I could keep >em here was to keep buying them drinks.@
Deep down, Joe knew Hoss was right but he didn=t want to admit it. As it was, they would be late getting back to the ranch and they were going to be even later now that Little Joe had to sober Hoss up before they even left Virginia City.
Joe decided it would be best to wait until Hoss was sober and home to tell him what he had found.
It was well past supper time when Little Joe and Hoss finally came home. Hoss was sound asleep, sitting beside Joe on the seat of the buckboard, his head thrown back and his mouth wide open. How Hoss managed to sleep like this without falling off the buckboard was a mystery to Little Joe. As soon as they pulled into the yard Hoss came awake with a loud snort and a smack of his lips.
Joe leaned over toward Hoss and took a sniff. He wrinkled his nose and pulled a face. Even though Hoss had drank two pots of coffee, his breath and skin still reeked of whiskey.
Hoss gingerly stepped down from the buckboard, a deep groan issuing from his throat. AOooooooo, my head,@ he moaned.
Joe shook his head and covered his eyes with one hand, silently wondering how they were going to explain this to their pa. Joe silently prayed he wouldn=t be home yet but they still had big brother Adam and Hop Sing to contend with. They might be able to sneak in the back door but he didn=t have to wonder for very long because suddenly the front door opened and Ben and Adam stepped out onto the front porch.
The moment the patriarch of the Cartwright clan heard the jingling of harness and the sound of wheels crunching through the dirt and gravel, Ben knew his two errant sons had finally decided to come home.
Little Joe had a sick look on his face when he parted his fingers at the sound of his pa bellowing his and Hoss=s full name.
Ben paused for a moment, taking in the scene. Hoss had his back to the house, bent over at the waist and holding onto the side of the buckboard for support. He looked like he was going to be sick. Little Joe cringed as his father=s piercing eyes settled on him. He managed a feeble grin as he slowly raised his hand and waved at his pa and brother. Joe tried to speak but the words got caught in his throat. It was pointless anyhow, because nothing he could say at this point was going to save his or Hoss=s hides.
Little Joe closed his eyes and wished himself anywhere else but here.
His hazel eyes gleaming with amusement, Adam folded his arms across his chest and casually leaned against one of the supports that held up the porch roof.
AWhat in tarnation is going on here,@ thundered Ben.
Joe searched his mind for an answer as Hoss continued to moan, wishing someone would put him out of his misery, a feeling Little Joe wholeheartedly shared.
Ben waited for an answer but when none was offered, he gritted his teeth and ordered his two sons to go into the house, NOW!
With a crestfallen look on their faces, Joe and Hoss obediently heeded their father=s command.
Ben curtly told Adam to see to the horses and the buckboard then marched into the house.
The scene that met Ben=s eyes when he closed the front door did nothing to assuage the anger he felt toward his two boys. Little Joe had taken a seat on the settee, his legs stretched out with his dusty boots resting on the heavy pine coffee table.
AJOSEPH!@ growled Ben. ATake your feet off the table!@
Joe=s feet flew off the table so fast, he lost his balance, nearly falling on the floor.
Hoss didn=t even raise his head when his father scolded his little brother for putting his feet on the furniture, again. He continued to sit on the edge of the fireplace, holding on to his head like it was going to fall off any minute.
Ben paced back and forth across the great rom, willing himself to remain calm. He stopped, planted his hands on his hips then spun around. With fire in his eyes, he barked, ABoth of you, stand while I=m talking to you!@
Hoss and Little Joe jumped to their feet like they=d been shot out of a cannon. Ben=s voice and the sudden movement send a sharp jolt of pain through Hoss=s aching head. He winced and moaned as Joe gave him a sympathetic look.
Ben=s eyes locked first on Joe and then Hoss. He slowly and methodically walked over and stood between his two vexatious sons. AI send you two on a simple errand that shouldn=t have taken more than a few hours, leaving you plenty of time to get back home and finish your other chores. And what do I find when I get home?@
Joe and Hoss didn=t have time to give an answer. His question strictly rhetorical, Ben quickly responded, AI come home and find the two of you have not been home all day. And when you finally do decide to return home, one of you comes home drunk!@ Ben paused, the muscles in his jaw tightening. AHoss, how could you? This is behavior I would have expected from Little Joe, but not you!@
Joe opened his mouth and uttered a few words in his and Hoss=s defense when Ben spun and silenced him with a glare. Little Joe hunched his shoulders and shrank away, his father=s angry face uncomfortably close to his own.
ASeems I remember another incident identical to this one only that time, I had to ride into Virginia City where I found both of you so drunk you couldn=t hit the ground with your hat in three tries,@ growled Ben.
Both Joe and Hoss felt the heat begin to rise in their cheeks as the memory of that unpleasantness came flooding back.
AI know I am going to regret asking you,@ said Ben, Abut what in tarnation are you two up to?@
His eyes pleading for help, Joe glanced at Hoss who was slowly beginning to slump over. It looked like he was about to fall asleep.
AHoss, stand up straight,@ roared Ben.
Hoss jumped and grabbed his head, convinced he was dead and he had gone to hell. Joe opened his mouth twice before he got words to come out. AYou see, Pa.....it was like this. We were done picking up the supplies like you wanted so Hoss and I decided to have a beer before we came home.@
Ben continued to stand in front of Joe, his nose inches from his youngest son=s face. His stare got colder and colder. AGo on.@
Suddenly Joe stopped when he heard the front door open. He watched as Adam entered the room and took a seat in their father=s leather wing back chair. He rested one ankle on his knee and tented his fingers, eager to hear Joe=s explanation.
Joe gulped then continued. AI was reading my book and wasn=t watching where I was going as we crossed the street and I ended up bumping into the Duffy boys. They were both carrying an armload of clothes and stuff so they didn=t see me either.@
Ben pursed his lips then stepped across the room to the fireplace. AI thought I told you to get rid of that book this morning!@
ABut, but.....pa,@ stammered Little Joe, pulling the book out of his jacket pocket to show his pa. He enthusiastically pointed his finger at the book and said, AIf I hadn=t been reading this book, we would never have found out about the Duffy boys robbing graves.@
Ben shut his eyes a moment. This was not happening.....AGAIN! The muscles in his throat tightened, the veins in his temples distended.
His words slow and deliberate, Ben asked, AWhat ever made you think Frank and Nate Duffy are robbing graves?@
Joe puffed out his chest, grinned triumphantly and swatted Hoss in the arm. AYou tell him, Hoss.@
Hoss frowned at Joe then quickly regretted it as he was rewarded with a deeper throbbing in his head. His tone sarcastic, Hoss replied, ANo, dear brother, you=re the smart one....you tell him.@
AOne of you better tell me,@ growled Ben, his patience further thinning.
Pleased to share his discovery, Joe said, AAfter I helped the Duffy brothers pick up the things they had dropped, I noticed they were both covered in dried mud and the things they were carrying, they took them to the pawnshop and according to Detective Trumball, that is how grave robbers look and behave.@
Positive his pa would agree with him, Joe crossed his arms over his chest and waited for his father to congratulate him on his clever powers of observation and deduction.
Adam raised a questioning eyebrow but remained silent.
Ben ran his fingers through his thick silver hair. ALet me get this straight. Just because two men are wearing clothes covered in dried mud and take some clothes to sell at the pawnshop, that makes them grave robbers?@ His voice rising with his anger, he continued, AThink for a minute, Joseph! Virginia City is a mining town, full of miners! And what do miners do? They dig in the earth, looking for gold and silver and during that laborious process, their clothes are bound to become dirty!@
Ben leaned in closer to Little Joe until their noses were nearly touching. His penetrating gaze causing Joe to fidget as he mulled over his father=s logic.
Unable to counter his pa=s reasoning or provide further evidence to back up his accusations, Joe stood silent, a sheepish and forlorn look on his face.
Ben took a step away from Joe and pointed his finger at Hoss. AYou still haven=t informed me as to how and why your brother Hoss came to be in this state of inebriation.@
AOh, that......,@ said Joe, turning away so his father couldn=t look him in the eye.
AYes, that!@ said Ben, moving closer to Little Joe again.
Joe looked and felt like a child who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. AI....I....told him to invite the Duffy boys for a drink in the saloon while I went out to their cabin to find some more evidence that would prove they=re robbing graves.@
AYou told your brother to get the Duffy brothers drunk while you trespassed on their land and unlawfully entered their home?@ repeated Ben.
Joe grimaced and swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. AWell, when you put it that way I guess it doesn=t sound like it was such a good plan.@ He paused then added in his defense, AAnd, and....I didn=t tell Hoss to get them drunk, just keep them busy for awhile.@
AAnd just how long were you gone, young man?@ asked Ben.
Feeling a bit brave, Hoss interjected, AHe was gone pretty long, Pa.@
Ben looked at Hoss then turned his gaze back on to Joe. AYou must have been gone quite a long time for your brother to have drank enough alcohol to get him drunk.@
Joe knew his father was right. He had been gone longer than he had planned, and indirectly, it was his fault that Hoss had gotten drunk.
Joe wanted to tell his pa about the newspaper article he had found in the Duffy=s home but then quickly changed his mind. As angry as his pa was, telling him about it would be like adding fuel to the fire. He was in enough trouble as it was.
Joe thought for a moment then said the only thing he could think of. AI=m sorry, Pa.@
AYou=re sorry?@ asked Ben, his mouth set in a stern line. AYou=re sorry?@ he asked again.
ASeems I remember, not too long ago, the two of you telling me you were sorry and promising me this wouldn=t happen again! And here we are now.....having the same conversation again and ironically, its all because of another detective novel.@
Ben reached out and grabbed the tattered book from Joe=s hand and tossed it in the fire. ABoth of you, up to bed, NOW!@
Ben watched his two sons scamper up the stairs then he sighed heavily. In a dramatic gesture, he threw up his hands in resignation and left the room.
AWhere did I go wrong?@ Ben said sharply under his breath.
As soon as Little Joe heard his pa and Adam go to bed he tip-toed down the hall to Hoss=s room. He could hear his brother snoring so he opened the door and slipped inside. Joe put his hands over his ears and made a face. AHow can he sleep while making all that racket,@ he thought. Hoss=s snoring was so loud, Joe was sure it could be heard all the way to California.
Without bothering to be quiet, Joe stepped over to the dresser and lit an oil lamp, the ambient glow from the flame barely illuminating one half of the room. Little Joe reached down, grabbed Hoss by the shoulder and gave him a shake. AHoss, wake up!@ When he failed to get a response, he shook his brother even harder. Hoss grunted and snorted as he swatted the air where Joe=s hand had been. Joe stood for a moment with his hands on his hips then reached over and pinched Hoss=s nostrils shut. The obnoxious snoring sound immediately stopped. Joe waited patiently, a lop-sided grin on his face as he counted off the seconds. When he reached 10, Hoss=s eyes flew open and he pushed Joe=s hand away. Gasping for breath, he shot upright. AWhat in blazes are you trying to do Little Joe? You wanna kill me?@
With an air of casual grace, Joe sat down on the bed. AYou were snoring so loud you could wake the dead.@
AThat=s what you=re gonna be, dead, little brother if you don=t high-tail it outta here right this instant. My head is pounding and you=re not doing anything to make it feel any better.@
AOh, quit your complaining and listen to what I have to tell you.@ Joe handed Hoss the newspaper clipping he had found in the Duffy=s house. AI found this in Frank and Nate=s house. I think we have something more sinister than grave robbing going on here.@ Little Joe=s eyes grew wide as he paused and glanced around the room for dramatic effect. ANate and Frank are also body snatchers and you=re holding the proof right there in your hand.@
Hoss couldn=t believe what he had just heard. He laughed as a goofy grin spread across his face. AI=m dreaming, ain=t I? None of this is real. This is all just a bad dream brought on by too much drinking. Goodnight, Joe.@
Hoss placed the newspaper clipping back in his little brother=s hand then lay back down and rolled over, pulling the blankets up over his massive shoulders.
After several unsuccessful attempts to rouse Hoss, Joe finally gave up and went to bed.
Joe was in no mood to face his father the next morning, so he got up early, before the crack of dawn, had breakfast in the kitchen with Hop Sing then rode out with some of the ranch hands.
Later that afternoon, after lunch, Little managed to corral Hoss in the barn while he was doctoring one of the cutting horses who had injured itself that morning. Hoss was so engrossed in what he was doing that he didn=t hear his little brother approach. Only when the horse whinnied did he look up and see Joe standing beside him.
AAin=t you got anything better to do then pester me?@ asked Hoss, a touch of anger and annoyance in his voice.
Little Joe genuinely felt sorry for what happened the day before. AI=m really sorry about yesterday,@ said Joe. AI hope you=re still not sore at me.@ Feeling contrite, Joe looked down at his scuffed boots and kicked his toe against the stall.
Joe waited for an answer then added, AIs pa still madder than a rained-on rooster at what we done yesterday?@
AI don=t know,@ grumbled Hoss. AHe was gone when I got up this morning. I woke up with a awful headache and I can=t seem to get the taste of whiskey outta my mouth.@
Hoss went back to tending the horse while Joe stood by and silently watched. Finally, unable to contain his excitement over what he found, Little Joe reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the newspaper clipping. AI wanted to show you this yesterday, when I got back to the saloon.@
AShow me what?@ came Hoss=s curt reply.
AThis!@ said Joe, thrusting the clipping in front of Hoss=s face.
Hoss=s eyes crossed as he tried to focus on the small black letters that were only inches from his face. He pushed Joe=s hand away and stood up. AWhat=s so important about a piece of newspaper?@
Joe >s eyes widened with excitement. AThis paper is the proof we need to convince Clem that the Duffy boys are robbing graves AND snatching bodies and selling them to medical schools.@
Incredulous, Hoss whipped around fixed his little brother with his cornflower blue eyes. ABody snatchers?@ he yelled. AWhat are you talking about?@
Little Joe held out the clipping to Hoss again. AI=m talking about this,@ he said, his voice full of conviction.
Hoss couldn=t believe what he was hearing. AFirst you accuse Frank and Nate of robbing graves and now you=re accusing them of snatching bodies! You must be plumb loco if you believe that! And what in the world makes you think they=re stealing bodies?@
Hoss glanced at the paper in Joe=s hand. ALet me see that!@
Joe waited patiently for his older brother to read the article. When Hoss was finished, he didn=t look so skeptical anymore. A deep frown creased Hoss=s face. AYou say you found this in the Duffy=s house?@
Joe nodded, a smug look on his handsome face.
AAre you sure about this?@ asked Hoss, still dubious of Joe=s logic.
AI=m as sure as the nose on my face,@ said Joe. AThe Duffy boys must be digging up bodies from the cemetery and selling them to medical schools.@
ASelling bodies?@ squeaked Hoss, unable to believe what he was hearing. AI can=t believe anyone would do such a horrible thing, especially not Frank and Nate. Them boys just ain=t the type I=d figure on doin= such a thing.@
Feeling more like Hoss=s big brother than his little brother, Joe drew himself up and replied, AYes, Hoss.....they=re doing it and it=s up to us to stop them from committing these vile acts and reveal them to the whole world for what they are.@
Momentarily distracted, Joe rubbed his chin, a far off look in his eyes. AIf the Duffy boys are stealing dead bodies then I wouldn=t be surprised if they=ve stooped to burking as well.@
ABurping?@ asked Hoss. ASince when is burping a crime?@
Joe rolled his eyes and made an irritated sound in his throat. ANo, Hoss! I said burking, not burping.@ Little Joe looked at Hoss, expecting him to understand what he was talking about. When Hoss still looked confused, Joe offered an explanation. ABurking is murdering people then selling the stiffs to medical schools. Detective Trumbull was hot on the trail of some burkers in my book, The Case of the Sinister Body Snatchers. I sure wish Pa hadn=t thrown it in the fireplace. I=d sure like to know how it ended.@
Hoss continued to stand there speechless as ghastly images of the Duffy brothers killing people then selling the bodies tumbled through his mind.
As Hoss continued to mull over what his little brother had just told him, Joe began to devise a plan to catch the Duffy brothers in the act.
A mischievous grin began to snake its way across Joe=s face as he turned to Hoss an said, AI wonder if anyone has suddenly disappeared in Virginia City lately? Let=s go talk to Clem and ask him if anyone has been reported missing.@
A warning bell sounded loudly in Hoss=s mind. AHold on there just a doggone minute! Don=t you think you=ve caused enough trouble around here for one day, little brother?@
ATrouble? Who me? Why I wouldn=t think of causing anymore trouble after yesterday. C=mon, Hoss....it can=t hurt just to ride into town and ask a few questions.@
Wary, Hoss replied, AI guess it couldn=t hurt if that=s all we=re gonna do.@ Feeling a bit relieved, he added, AIt=s not like we=re gonna spend the night in the cemetery waiting for the Duffy boys to dig up another grave.@
Joe grinned and playfully punched Hoss in the arm. ANaw, we=ll do that tomorrow night, now c=mon.@
As Joe strolled out of the barn, Hoss=s head began to pound again with a renewed fury. He slowly shook his head and said to the injured horse, AWhy do I get the feeling that I=m going to regret this?@
Clem wasn=t to happy to see Hoss and Joe back in his office. He was further piqued when Joe began to question him on whether anyone had recently come to him and reported someone missing.
Clem scratched his head and gave the Cartwright brothers a suspicious look. AWhy are you boys so interested in missing folks? What are you up to? And does this have anything to do with the Duffy brothers?@
Beginning to feel as jumpy as a bit-up old bull at fly time, Hoss looked to Joe for an answer.
Joe hemmed and hawed for a moment then said, AWe were just wondering, that=s all.@ He smiled sheepishly as Clem grabbed him and Hoss by the arm and escorted them toward the door. AWhy don=t you boys just go on home and mind your own business.@ Clem=s statement was followed by a very stern look.
Clem stood in the open doorway and watched Joe and Hoss mount their horses and ride away.
AI wonder what are those two up to?@ he thought. With a shrug of his shoulders, he turned and closed the door.
Just as they reached the outskirts of town, Joe reined in his horse.
AWhy are you stopping?@ asked Hoss, anxious to get home before their pa noticed they were gone.
Cochise snorted, prancing around. AI=ll be along shortly,@ said Joe. AI want to go back and get me another copy of The Case of the Sinister Body Snatchers. Pa took it away from me before I finished reading it. I=m dying to find out how it ends.@
Hoss glared at Joe, uncomfortable with his choice of words. AYou just make sure you get yourself home before supper time. I don=t want to have to explain to Pa how we rode into town to pester Clem and then about how you bought yourself another copy of that dad-blame book. You better make sure he don=t catch you with it again!@
True to his word, Little Joe made it back home before his pa and Adam. Ben was glad to see all three of his sons seated around the table for dinner. At least he was assured that Little Joe and Hoss hadn=t gotten themselves into any more trouble. The rest of the evening passed peacefully, a condition that would not be repeated in the Cartwright household for at least a fortnight.
If Ben Cartwright had known what mischief and mayhem, not to mention the scandal his two youngest sons would cause the next night, he would have hog-tied them both then locked them in their rooms and thrown away the keys.
It took Joe several hours to convince Hoss to join him in the cemetery the following night. Hoss reluctantly agreed after Joe reminded him again of how he would feel if someone dug up their pa and sold him to a medical school for dissection.
Escaping from the house without being heard was easy for Little Joe. Unlike Hoss, who had to sneak past their pa and Adam, all Joe had to do was slip out his window which faced the front of the house, then effortlessly drop down to the ground.
Joe heard Hoss long before he saw him. He had his and Hoss=s horses saddled and waiting behind the barn when Hoss slipped out from the shadows. AIts about time,@ chided Joe.
AHey, you didn=t have to get past Pa. He took his own sweet time reading before he finally turned out his light.@
Hoss quickly pulled on his boots then glanced at the shovels tied to the back of the saddles where their bedrolls usually went. He eyed Joe suspiciously. AWhat do we need shovels for? You told me we were just going to watch and see if Frank and Nate try robbing anymore graves.@
AI did say that,@ replied Joe. AI just thought it would be a good idea to bring them along. You never know when you might need them.@
Hoss could hear the warning bells going off in his head again but he chose to ignore them, a decision he would regret before the sun came up again.
The Cartwright brothers left their mounts tethered a quarter of a mile from the cemetery and then covered the remaining distance on foot. When they arrived they saw two shadowy figures deeply engrossed in the task of filling in a grave.
Hoss and Little Joe crouched in the sagebrush, their eyes narrowed in concentration as they watched the two silhouettes digging in the hard ground. The chinking sound the shovels made as they bit into the rocky terrain made an eerie sound as it echoed across the barren graveyard. When they were finished, one of the men took both shovels and laid them beside the canvas covered lump on a large heavy flatbed cart pulled by two horses. Frank and Nate Duffy cast a furtive glance around the cemetery then Frank hoped up on the cart as Nate took hold of the reins of the horses pulling the cart and led them into the darkness.
ASee, what did I tell you?@ said Joe, his voice rising with his excitement.
Hoss removed his hat and scratched his head. AYep, you sure were right about the Duffy boys, Joe. I wouldn=t have believed it if I hadn=t seen it with my own eyes.@
Little Joe slowly rose to his feet and took a few steps forward. ADid you see what was on the back of their cart?@
Hoss shook his head. AI didn=t see anything. It=s too dark and whatever it was, they had it hidden under that canvas tarp.@
AI=ll bet that was a body they had hidden under that canvas. Why else would they have been out here digging in the cemetery in the middle of the night.@
Little Joe stealthily made his way between the grave markers, careful not to step on anyone=s final resting place. He suddenly stopped then whispered over his shoulder, AC=mon Hoss. Let=s check it out.@
Hoss nervously peered into the darkness, expecting a ghost to jump out at him any minute. His heart pounding a furious tattoo in his chest, Hoss stood and hesitantly followed.
When Joe reached the place where the Duffy brothers had been digging, he squatted down on the ground and lit the kerosene lantern he had brought with him.
The Zephyr winds made a ghostly howling sound as they swept across the desert landscape and through the many mine shafts that honeycombed the surrounding mountains.
Hoss felt all the hair on his arms begin to tingle. AUmmm....Joe. I keep gettin= this feeling that somebody or something is watching us.@
AIt=s just your imagination,@ scoffed Joe, handing Hoss a shovel. AThe only thing out here is the two of us.....now give me hand digging.@
Hoss=s eyes bulged out like a tromped-on toad. ANow just hold your horses, little brother! You didn=t say nothin= about digging up no graves! All you said was we=d wait out here and watch for the Duffy brothers then report them to the sheriff.@
Exasperated, Joe stopped mid-shovel and said, AThe sheriff isn=t going to believe us unless we have absolute proof that Frank and Nate are stealing bodies and what could be more incriminating than an empty grave, so stop your fussing and get over here and help me dig!@
AIn-crim-inating?@ said Hoss, turning the word over in his mouth. AJoe, you=re starting to sound just like Adam.@
Joe flashed his brother a steely glare then went back to tossing dirt with a single-minded determination. As awful as it sounded, Hoss had to admit that Joe was right. An empty grave would be all the proof they needed to put the Duffy brothers behind bars. He sighed, removed his hat then added his muscle and sweat to the unpleasant task.
Hoss and Joe had barely dug down three feet through the loose dirt when their shovels struck something hard. The brothers froze then looked up, their eyes locked, a look of apprehension on their shadowy faces.
Hoss gulped and jumped out of the hole as Joe reached down and brushed dirt and gravel off the wooden casket. Little Joe finished clearing the dirt away from the edge of the casket then called to Hoss, AHand me that crow bar!@
His heart pounding with excitement, Joe pried the lid loose from the coffin. Hoss stood beside the grave, his eyes closed tight and his face screwed up in a tight grimace.
The wooden lid creaked and moaned, the nails screeching in protest as Joe fought to loosen it.
A loud grunt burst from Joe=s throat as the lid of the casket finally came free. He veins pumping with adrenaline, Joe called to Hoss and triumphantly pointed down at what he was sure was an empty coffin. AVoila, here=s all the proof we need!@
Hoss slowly turned his head to face Joe then opened one eye just a crack. When he saw what was in the box he rolled his eyes and folded his arms over his massive chest. AUm, Joseph.....,@ said Hoss with disdain as he pointed a finger at the hole.
AWhat?@ asked Joe, still looking at Hoss and grinning from ear to ear.
ATake a look at what=s in the box.@
Suddenly afraid he was wrong and he was about to come face to face with a corpse, Joe slowly lowered his eyes down toward the casket. His heart hammered in his chest and beads of sweat broke out on his face. He gasped and shouted, AA dog! Its supposed to be an empty casket or a naked body, but not a dog!@
Shock, aggravation and disappointment all blended together as Joe stood with his hands on his hips and stared down at the dead animal. He cursed softly as he jumped out of the hole then stomped over to the pile of discarded dirt and gave it a hard kick.
Suddenly an authoritative voice shouted out from the darkness, AYou two, hold it right there! Drop your guns and turn around.....slowly!@
Both Hoss and Joe swore their hearts missed a beat as they jumped then stood as silent and still as a gravestone. Again the voice shouted for them to drop their weapons then turn around. The Cartwright brothers slowly and gingerly slipped their sidearms from their holsters then tossed them off to the side. The guns made a soft thumping sound as they struck the ground.
Hoss and Joe raised their hands and slowly turned around to face Clem and several other citizens of Virginia City, all carrying guns.
When Clem Foster saw who it was, he lowered his rifle and told the others to do the same. AWhat in the devil are you two doin= out here?@ he shouted.
Hoss and Little Joe began to gesture wildly, interrupting one another as they tried to explain what they were doing in the cemetery late at night.
Clem shook his head and took a few steps forward. Joe and Hoss jumped backwards and tried to hide their shovels behind their backs. When the light from Clem=s lantern illuminated the gaping hole in the ground and the pile of dirt beside it, he frowned at the Cartwrights and pushed them aside. Clem felt his head began to pound again as it dawned on him what Joe and Hoss were doing.
AI know it don=t look too good and it ain=t what you=re thinkin=,@ offered Hoss, Abut we can explain.@
The color began to rise in Clem=s cheeks and Joe and Hoss could almost imagine steam coming out of his ears.
AOh, I can=t wait to hear what you two have to say about this!@ said Clem. AAnd I=m sure your pa ain=t gonna want to miss this.@ With a stiff-armed gesture, he pointed toward town and hollered, AMarch!@
Hoss and Joe looked as sad as a tick-fevered doggie as they trudged back to town, with Clem and a few gun-totting Virginia City citizens bringing up the rear.
Adam was in the Silver Dollar Saloon, playing poker and chatting with the new girl named Amber, that Sam, the bartender, had just recently hired, when he overheard two men who had just entered the saloon, laughing and making jokes about how Clem caught two of the Cartwright boys red-handed, digging up a grave in the cemetery. AWait=ll their old man hears about this. I sure as shootin= wouldn=t want to be in their boots tonight,@ snickered the taller of the two men.
Adam closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands then slowly slid them down his cheeks. He heaved a heavy sigh as he stood up and excused himself from the game. AOh, well....,@ he thought. AI was loosing anyway.@
He retrieved what little money he had left then leaned over and placed a chaste kiss on Amber=s cheek.
Adam took his time walking down to the jail. A part of him couldn=t believe what he had just heard, most likely it was all a mistake.....but then again, with Hoss and Little Joe, anything was possible.
The light from inside the jailhouse spilled out onto the wooden boardwalk when Adam opened the door and stepped inside. AHello, Clem....,@ greeted Adam, reaching out to shake Clem=s hand.
From the look on Adam=s face, Clem knew the oldest Cartwright brother had heard about what had happened tonight. Adam=s eyes darkened and his voice had a steely edge as he asked, AWhere are they and can I have a word with my two !@#$% brothers?@
AI=ve got them locked up in back,@ replied Clem. He reached in the desk drawer and withdrew a large metal ring with several keys.
Both Hoss and Joe jumped up off their beds and stood by the bars when they heard the jingling sound the keys made as Clem unlocked the outer door.
Adam strode into the room, a wry smile on his face. His eyes slowly surveyed his two dirty disheveled brothers at they stood with their hands clasped around the bars of the jail cell.
Little Joe grimaced, embarrassment etched in his face. AUh.....hi Adam.@
Hoss grinned sheepishly and added, AHowdy, Adam.@
Clem cleared his throat and said, AI=ll leave you boys alone.@
Adam thanked Clem then turned with casual elegance and arched an eyebrow in the direction of his two brothers. It was dead quiet as he studied Hoss and Little Joe with a look of interest, his eyes glinting with ironic amusement.
AWell, well, well.....what sort of trouble have you two managed to stir up this time?@
Adam suspiciously eyed the detective novel lying on Joe=s bunk. He cocked his head to one side and asked, AAm I to assume that book has something to do with why you two are here in jail instead of at home at the Ponderosa?@
ADadburnit, Adam!@ said Hoss. AWe weren=t do nothin= illegal!@ He paused then added, AWell....we weren=t committing a crime until Joe talked me into helping him dig up the grave where the Duffy boys had been digging before us.@
Adam raised a questioning eyebrow. ASo the whole town is correct and it=s not some kind of nasty rumor that you two are locked up in here for grave robbing?@
AThe whole town?@ exclaimed Joe, his eyes as wide as saucers. He shook his head and sighed deeply then leaned forward and pressed his face between two of the cold steel jail cell bars. AWell, at least we=re safe in here from Pa skinning us alive.@
Hoss=s face fell as a vivid mental picture of what their pa was going to do to him and his brother took shape in his mind. AMaybe we can talk Clem into keeping us locked up in here at least until Pa cools down or until we can figure out where we can hide from him.@
Joe shot Adam an innocent look. ABut we=re innocent, Adam. Sure we were digging in the cemetery but we weren=t going steal anything. We were trying to prove that Frank and Nate Duffy were stealing bodies to sell to medical schools.@
Adam grimaced and raised his right hand, gesturing for silence. AWhatever your reason for what you did, I don=t think I really want to know! Save it for Pa. He=s the one you=re going to have to convince, not me.@
A little electric current of fear mixed with apprehension swept over Joe and Hoss. AAre you going to tell him?@ stammered Joe.
ANo, Clem informed me he going to ride out to the Ponderosa tonight and personally inform our pa of your dastardly nocturnal deed.@
Both Joe and Hoss stepped away from the bars and dejectedly sank down onto their bunks. Adam noted the sick look on both his brother=s faces and felt sorry for them. Because he felt sorry for them, he offered to stay to stay with his brothers and keep them company until their pa arrived.
The loud pounding on the front door brought Ben instantly awake. He could hear Hop Sing shouting what could only be cuss words as he tightened the sash on his robe and stepped into his slippers.
Hop Sing was trying to get whoever it was to leave when Ben descended the stairs, his eyes still full of sleep. He yawned and told Hop Sing to go back to bed when he saw Clem standing in the doorway.
Ben glanced at the grandfather clock that stood by the front door and made a mental note of the time. Almost midnight. AWhat brings you out here so late?@ he asked with a yawn. Ben gestured for Clem to take a seat in the great room then went over to the table by his desk and poured two glasses of brandy.
Clem gratefully accepted the glass of brandy and drank it down. AI hate to be bothering you so late Ben, but Hoss and Little Joe left me no choice.@
Ben=s eyes darkened and he drank down the contents of his glance in one swallow. He could feel the heat begin to rise in his cheeks. He distinctly told Joe and Hoss they were to stay at home tonight after the fiasco in town. The fact that they were in some kind of trouble didn=t anger him as much as the fact that they had deliberately disobeyed him. Ben silently counted to ten then asked, AWhat have those two done now? Busted up a saloon? Got caught kissing some gal and now her father wants to skin one of them alive? Or perhaps they=re both drunk and passed out and you=ve come to tell me they=re sleeping it off in your jail?@
Clem=s long silence before he answered only served to heighten Ben=s uneasiness concerning the nature of Clem=s late night visit.
Clem rubbed the back of his neck and replied, AI wish it were as simple as busting up a saloon or talking some father out of a shotgun wedding, but this time it=s pretty serious. Tonight I caught Hoss and Little Joe trespassing in the Virginia City cemetery.@
AWhat in the world were those two doing in the cemetery,@ thought Ben. Suddenly it dawned on him. He quickly glanced in the fireplace at the charred remains of Joe=s detective novel then looked back at Clem, silently cursing the book as he walked Clem to the door. AThat=s not so bad. I=ll be along shortly to bail them out.@
Once they were outside the house, Clem turned to Ben and said, AOh, yes, there=s one more thing,@ Ben knew he didn=t want to hear this. He merely looked at the deputy, nodding slowly. AI=m afraid it=s not as simple as you think........I caught you boys digging up a grave.@
Ben had worked up quite a head of steam when he arrived in Virginia City and he was feeling about as sociable as an ulcerated back tooth when he walked into Clem=s office. Clem had left the Ponderosa before Ben and was sitting at his desk when Ben arrived.
Hoss and Little Joe promptly jumped to their feet when they saw their pa enter the cell block.
Ben ran his fingers through his silver hair, then shook his head in disbelief. His eyes narrowed.
AMy son=s.......the grave robbers!@ Ben said, his voice deceptively calm.
Joe and Hoss could see the muscles in their father=s throat begin to tighten. His anger came swift and hot as he turned the full force of his displeasure on his two sons. AWhat in heaven=s name came over you two? Obviously it wasn=t common sense or good judgement!@ Ben=s words were like an explosion. The shockwave of his vociferous exclamation propelled the two hapless prisoners backward, a painful grimace on their faces.
Ben didn=t give Hoss or Joe time to answer. ADon=t I pay you two enough in wages that you have to resort to grave robbing?@
Ben=s harsh words stung worse than a spanking. Hoss and Little Joe closed their eyes and groaned, their expressions painful to behold.
Joe pointed toward the outer office, making large gestures with his hands. AUh, um....uh, Pa,
wh..wh....why don=t you get Clem to let us outta here and we can go home and explain it all to you.@ A sheepish smiled tugged at the corners of his mouth.
Ben shook his head like an angry bull. AGet you out of here?@ he thundered. AIf I had any sense, I=d leave you here.... indefinitely!@ Ben grumbled angrily and paced the short length of the jail room remembering the last time this happened and how Hop Sing had refused to serve him anything other than bread and water as long as Hoss and Joe were in jail. He ran his hand through his hair in distraction as their Asian cook=s words came back to haunt him, AWhat=s good enough for sons, is good enough for father.@
Acting as diplomat on behalf of his brothers, Adam rubbed the back of his neck and interjected, ACome on, Pa. What they did wasn=t all that bad. Sure they were caught digging up a grave in the cemetery but it wasn=t a human grave, it was the grave of a dog.@
Little Joe cocked his head and answered with a hopeful grin. AUh, yeah....Pa. All we found in the hole was a dead dog, isn=t that right Hoss?@
Joe reached out and slapped his fellow felon on the chest. Hoss grimaced, embarrassment etched on his face. AThat=s right Pa. We didn=t set out to go digging in the graveyard.@
Ben leveled a finger at his two mischievous sons. ASo instead of reporting to Clem what you saw, you two decided to defile a grave?@
AWhat?@ Joe and Hoss exclaimed together, not liking the sound of the word Adefile.@
Hoss stepped up to the bars and piped in, AIt wasn=t like that at all Pa! The Duffy boys had already gone and done that, and besides.....it was just a dog, not a person.@
Ben shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. AIt doesn=t matter if it was a human or a dog! What you two did was wrong as well as against the law!@
Joe and Hoss had to concede their pa was right. Whether or not the grave belonged to a human made no difference, what they had done was a crime.
AYou=re right Pa and we=re sorry, ain=t we Joe?@ said Hoss, firmly poking his little brother in the ribs. He glowered at Joe with a furious expression. AShucks, we wouldn=t be in this here durn mess if Joe hadn=t been reading this here detective book about grave robbing.@
Little Joe made a small squeaky sound and jumped as Hoss reached under the back of his jacket and pulled the another copy of the detective dime novel out of his waistline. Hoss waved it in the air and declared, AIt was all his idea to go dig up that grave after we saw the Duffy brothers in the cemetery, shoveling dirt into that grave.@
Joe=s mouth dropped open in shock, his green eyes glaring at his big brother. Hoss held the dime novel up in the air, smiling triumphantly as Joe bounced up and down like a rabbit, trying to snatch his book out of Hoss=s beefy hand.
Ben=s mouth twitched at the corners as he slowly extended his hand into the cell. His words slow and measured, he ordered, AGive me that book!@
AYes, sir,@ answered Hoss, handing the book to his father.
Adam arched an eyebrow, waiting for his father=s imminent eruption. Joe had been told numerous times to get rid of that book but for reasons unknown, he had chosen to disobey their father.
Ben struggled to keep his voice and temper under control. He quickly flipped through the pages of the thin novel and said, ASo Joseph.....am I to believe all this embarrassing foolishness is the direct result of this book?@
Joe had no reply. He just looked down at his boots, trying to swallow the lump in his throat.
Little Joe=s silence was all the answer Ben needed. He spun around and thrust the offending book into Adam=s hands. AI trust you can dispose of this trash.@
Adam gave Joe an apologetic look then nodded and stepped out of the room.
Timidly, Joe raised his eyebrows and pointed his index finger up in the air. AUm, Pa....what about asking Clem to let us out of here....huh?@
AYeah, Pa,@ said Hoss. AI=m liable to starve in here if=n I don=t get some of Hop Sing=s cookin=.@
Ben mulled over his choices one more time then turned to face Joe and Hoss. His expression grim, he said, AI=ll go talk to Clem.@
Both Joe and Hoss crossed their fingers and said a prayer that their father could convince Clem to let them out; they didn=t have to wait long. Hoss and Joe sprang to their feet when they heard the sound of keys rattling. Clem reluctantly inserted one large key into the lock and opened the jail cell door. He gave the Cartwright brothers a sharp look then said, AYour pa and I agreed that tonight=s shenanigans was all a misunderstanding and Adam convinced me it wasn=t worth the paperwork or the judge=s time to press charges.@ He paused then took hold of Joe=s upper arm. ABut if I ever catch you in town reading another one of those penny dreadful novels, I swear I=ll toss you back in jail quicker=n an old maid can crawl under a bed!@
Hoss=s eyes grew wide and he ardently shook his head. AOh, no Clem. We promise not to go near the cemetery ever again, don=t we Joe!@ Hoss elbowed Joe in the ribs again. AAnd Little Joe here promises he ain=t gonna be readin= anymore of those detective books.@
AHow about it Ben?@ asked Clem. AYou think I can trust these hardened criminals?@
A small smile threatened to crack Ben=s glacial features. He nodded to Clem as he suspiciously eyed his two mischievous sons. AI think we can be reasonably assured these two won=t be causing you anymore trouble tonight.@
Clem walked the Cartwrights to the door. AFirst thing tomorrow morning, I=m planning on riding on over to the Duffy place to ask them boys some questions about what they were doing in the grave yard last night,@ he said. AIt would probably be a good idea if you, Joe and Hoss met me over there, Ben, and we can all hear what Frank and Nate have to say about these suspicious goings-on. After tonight, I admit there seems to be something fishy going on around there.@
His eyes twinkling, Joe said, ASee, Clem....what did I tell you? Frank and Nate are up to something and whatever it is, I know it isn=t legal.@
Ben spun and silenced his youngest son with a glare.
Little Joe grabbed his hat off the hat rack by the door and disappeared into the night, closely followed by Hoss.
ADon=t worry, Clem,@ said Ben. AWe=ll be there. I wouldn=t miss this for the world.@
The next morning, Little Joe prudently refrained from making any comments concerning grave robbing or detective novels. Although Ben had calmed down a bit, he still had a gruff edge to his voice when he told his sons to saddle up and get ready to ride out to the Duffy ranch.
Clem Foster met the Cartwrights on the road to the Duffy ranch. Hoss and Joe remained silent,
avoiding his gaze, not wanting to remind him any more than necessary of the embarrassing events from the night before.
The Duffy house was quiet when the four men rode up. Usually the Duffy=s cattle dog, Old Blue, would have come tearing out of nowhere, noisily announcing the arrival of visitors.
Clem called out to Nate and Frank as he and the Cartwrights dismounted and tethered their horses to a well-weathered hitch post.
Clem cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered, AFrank! Nate! You in there?@
When they received no answer, Ben stepped up to the door and knocked on the wood.
AHold yer horses!@ came a cantankerous reply from within the house. ADon=t be goin= and gettin= yer britches all in a bunch!@
Hoss covered the smile on his face with one massive hand. He turned and snickered to himself.
That was Frank Duffy for you. There was no way anyone could get him to hurry up when he didn=t have a mind to do so.
Ben and Clem rolled their eyes and folded their arms across their chest. When the door finally opened, Frank stood there, his massive shoulders filling the entire door frame. He held a leather bridle in his hands. A wide grin spread across Frank=s face when he saw Ben, Hoss and Little Joe. Deputy Foster, however, was another matter. He eyed Clem suspiciously as he invited everyone inside for a cup of coffee.
Clem glanced around the cluttered house as he sipped his coffee. AWhere=s your brother, Nate?@ he asked.
Frank dropped the bridle he had been mending on the table and asked, AWhatd=ya want to know for?@
Little Joe studied Frank, noting his rigid posture and the nervousness in his voice. Suddenly, something he had read in his detective book popped into his mind. According to Detective Trumball, a nervous, edgy suspect indicated a man was hiding something. His excitement returning, Joe nudged Hoss with his elbow. He leaned in close to his big brother and whispered, ALook how jittery Frank is acting. I=ll bet he=s hiding something. I just knew I was right about him and his brother being grave robbers.@
Ben didn=t hear all of what Joe said but he did catch the last two words. He spun around and gave his youngest son a sharp look. AJoseph!@ he barked gruffly.
Little Joe=s face reddened when everyone turned around and looked at him. He grinned self-consciously as he turned away, tugging down the brim of his hat so it would hide his face.
AI was just asking, that=s all,@ said Clem as he studied Frank, wondering why he was acting so odd. He rubbed his chin, beginning to wonder if Joe and Hoss were right and the Duffy boys were doing something illegal.
Just then, the door opened and Nate stepped inside. He slapped at his clothes, sending up a cloud of dust into the air. He was about to shake Clem=s hand then stopped and pulled a bandana out of his pocket. Grinning, he wiped some of the dirt from his hand then reached out again and shook Clem=s hand. ASorry about that. I=ve been out diggin= this morning. I didn=t have time to wash up proper like before I came inside.@
As soon as Joe heard the word Adigging@ he again slapped Hoss in the chest with the back of his hand. His eyes twinkling he said, ASee, Hoss....what did I tell you?@ Hoss frowned at Joe, watching his little brother puff out his chest and swagger on over to stand beside Clem, a smug smile on his face.
A puzzled frown settled over Nate=s face. He looked at his brother then at Clem and the Cartwrights. ASomebody wanna tell me what=s goin= on here?@ he asked.
AI was just about to ask that question myself,@ Frank replied, growing uneasier by the moment.
Clem didn=t quite know how to proceed. He knew he had to ask the Duffys what they were doing in the cemetery last night, but telling them of Little Joe and Hoss=s suspicions was something he wasn=t looking forward to.
There was no delicate way of doing this so Clem got right to the point. AFrank, Nate....what were you two doing in the cemetery late last night? Hoss and Little Joe told me they saw both of you with shovels and you were filling in a hole.@
The Duffy brothers stood mute, the two of them exchanging a furtive glance.
Clem firmly planted his hands on his hips. AWhat=s the matter, boys? You got a sudden case of lockjaw?@
Frank suddenly whipped off his hat and thwacked Nate on top of the head, sending a cloud of dust up into the air. AI told ya we shouldn=a buried Old Blue in the cemetery!@
ABut..but....,@ stammered Nate. AOld Blue weren=t just a dog, why he was just like family!@
Hoss and Joe=s mouths dropped open in surprise as Frank continued to loudly chastise his brother. AI know, I feel just like you do about Old Blue!@ agreed Frank. ABut I kept tellin= ya we should have asked someone like Roy or Clem if=n it were okay for us to be layin= Old Blue to rest up there with all them other folks.@
Hoss=s eyes suddenly brightened. AHey!@ he shouted. AI thought that dead do we dug up in the cemetery looked awful familiar. Why it was your dog, Old Blue, lying there in that grave. Hoss turned to Frank and Nate and offered them his condolences on the loss of their dog.
Ben and Clem both started to laugh, relieved to know Frank and Nate weren=t guilty of the heinous crime Joe and Hoss had accused them of. Clem exhaled loudly and proceeded to tell Frank and Nate about how the Cartwright boys suspected them of robbing graves - stealing clothes off the body to sell as well as selling bodies to medical schools.
AUs, grave robbers?@ hooted Frank. AWhy that=s the funniest thing I ever heard! Where in tarnation did ya ever come up with that idea?@
Hoss didn=t know what to say. This whole hair brain scheme had been Joe=s idea. All he wanted to do right now was slip out the door and crawl under a rock. His face reflecting his anger at being laughed at, Hoss turned to Joe. AYOU tell >em little brother!@
Little Joe=s eyes grew wide, his facial features going through a series of comical contortions. He hemmed and hawed a moment, dreading telling the whole sordid tale.
Speaking firmly, Ben said, AGo ahead, Joseph, I=m sure Frank and Nate are eager to hear your reasoning.@
AWell, you see, I=ve been reading this dime novel called AThe Case of the Sinister Body Snatchers@ and......there was this detective in the story named Jonathan Trumball......@
Exasperated, Ben heaved a sigh. AJust get to the point, Joseph!@
Joe looked to Hoss for help and found none. AThe other day, when we bumped into each other on the street,@ said Joe, A both you and Nate were carrying an armload of old dusty clothing. AWe.....@ Joe pointed to himself and Hoss, Athought you boys had dug up some graves and stolen the clothes off bodies to sell because we saw you take them down to the pawnshop.@
Frank and Nate stared at one another, an incredulous look on their faces. Both men suddenly broke out in a round of hearty side-splitting laughter.
Joe huffed and squared his shoulders, embarrassed and a bit angry at being laughed at.
Nate was laughing so hard he began to choke, and had to sit down. Frank pounded his younger brother on the back as he continued to fill the room with his loud guffaws.
The Duffy brothers laughter was contagious and soon Ben, Clem and Hoss joined in the mirthful chorus. Little Joe was the only who still had a serious look on his face.
Frank was the first to finally get a hold of himself. He wiped the tears from his face. AJoe, you and Hoss was sorta right. Nate and I were in need of some money, but those clothes we sold, twern=t what you thought. Ya see, them duds belonged to our ma and pa. We found them in an old trunk out in the barn, not in the graveyard. We needed some money so=s we could pay the money we owed to the mercantile and feed store.@
Little Joe=s embarrassment further deepened. Ben noted his wayward son looked like he was having as much fun as a baby with a bellyache.
Frank noted the look of disappointment on Joe=s face. AI reckon ye=ve smelt out the wrong hound=s butt, Little Joe. Nate and me ain=t done nothin= wrong exceptin= buryin= our dog illegal like in the cemetery.@
Undaunted, Joe reached into his pocket and pulled out the newspaper clipping he had taken from Nate and Frank=s house. Waving it in the air he shouted, AAWhat about this article telling about selling bodies to medical schools? How do you explain this?@
Nate=s jaw jutted forward as he frowned at Joe. AWhatcha doin= with that, Joe?@ he asked.
AYeah!@ added Frank, eyeing Little Joe suspiciously. AWhat were you doin= breakin= into our house and stealin= our stuff?@
Frank turned and looked at Clem. AAppears Little Joe is the one commitin= a crime, not me and my brother.@
Joe looked as uncomfortable as a camel in the Klondike as Frank and Nate rubbed their stubbly chins, a pensive look in their eyes as they decided whether or not to have Little Joe arrested for unlawful entry and stealing.
Joe raised his hands in the air and squeaked, AHey, wait a minute, I didn=t go inside the house to steal anything. I just wanted to see if I could find any evidence to prove Nate and Frank were body snatchers.@
AWhat do you call taking this paper from the house,@ asked Ben. AYou took it from the Duffy=s house without Frank and Nate=s permission. In my book, that is stealing.@
Clem turned his back to Joe then grinned and winked at Ben. AYou=re right, Ben. Guess I=ll have to lock Joe up and hold him over for trial and that could be, oh, at least a couple of months since the circuit judge won=t be coming back this way for quite some time.@
Frank, Nate, Ben and Clem were all enjoying watching Joe sweat and squirm. Hoss looked a little uneasy as well since he was Little Joe=s accomplice.
AC=mon, fellas,@ pleaded Joe. AI=m really sorry.....I didn=t mean any harm. We=re all friends here.....why, we=ve known each other since we were in grade school.@
Frank and Nate couldn=t keep a straight face any longer so they decided to let Joe off the hook.
ADon=t worry yourself none. We ain=t gonna press charges,@ said Frank.
Little Joe breathed an audible sigh of relief.
Clem raised a questioning eyebrow, his gaze fixed on the newspaper clipping in Joe=s hand.. ALet me see that,@ he said.
Joe handed the paper to the Clem and waited while the lawman read it. When he finished reading he gave Frank and Nate a quizzical look. AYou boys want to tell me about this?@
Frank took the clipping from Clem and said, AWe found that article in the newspaper a few months ago when we was in Carson City. We figured we might have use for it someday when the time came for one of us to saddle a cloud and ride it to the great beyond.@
AYeah,@ agreed Nate. AWe figgered whichever of us that lived the longest would sell the other=s body to this here medical school. No point in both of us bein= poor the rest of lives, right Frank?@
Frank nodded in agreement then flashed a toothy smile and folded his arms over his chest, quite pleased with his clever financial skills.
Clem heaved a sigh of relief. AWell, I=m glad to know that=s settled,@ he said. ANow if you boys don=t have anything further to add, I=ll be getting back to town, but before I go, I want to warn you, Frank and Nate.....no more burying your pets or any other animal in the Virginia City cemetery. The graveyard is strictly reserved for the two-legged critters.@
AYes, sir,@ chimed the Duffy brothers in unison.
AAnd, as for you two,@ said Clem, turning his ire on the Cartwright brothers. AI don=t want to see either of you in Virginia City for a very long, long time! I=ve had just about enough of detective dime novels and Joe=s over-active imagination to last me a life time!@
ADon=t worry, Clem,@ Ben answered quickly. AI=m sure I can come up with some jobs for these boys that will keep them occupied with ranch work well into next spring. I assure you, Joe won=t have any time for reading where he=s going to be working the next several months.@
Hoss and Joe faces fell and they uttered a sorrowful groan as they listened to their father=s words. Both Cartwright boys looked as uncomfortable as a horse thief at a hangin= bee as Ben bid the Duffy brothers good day and ushered his two vexatious sons out the door.