Adam and Joe were heading back from the lake to join the rest of the party,
the day after Hoss’ wedding when Stevens intercepted them with news that
drove all thought of weddings from their minds.
Stevens was glad to see the brothers on their own, he had wanted a word in private with one or other of them. He pulled up as he saw them. “I have some news. Can we talk, its urgent.”
“Sure do you want to come back to the house?” Adam asked.
“Quiet here. Maybe you won’t want it to go any further.” Stevens considered the two brothers, both of whom were looking very puzzled. “Preacher Mckenna. He’s dead, about three miles from here, on Ponderosa land.”
Whatever they had expected it hadn’t been that and for a moment they just sat taking in the implications, not needing to be told what trouble it could mean. Joe was the first to find his voice “How did he die?”
“Not too sure, broken neck would be my guess. The buggy is overturned, horse still tangled up in it.”
Adam sighed, “After all the trouble he’s caused he would die on the Ponderosa. We’re gonna have a hell of a job proving we weren’t involved, I wanted him to leave but I meant the man no harm.”
Stevens said, “If I wasn’t sure of that Adam Cartwright I wouldn’t offer, but noone else knows, not yet. Do you want me to bury him, destroy the buggy, let him disappear, like he appeared?”
Joe looked questioningly at his eldest brother but Adam smiled ruefully “Thank you very much for the offer Stevens. I hope that you really believe that none of us were involved and that none of the hands got over enthusiastic in our defence.”
Stevens shrugged “If I weren’t positive I wouldn’t consider it, but this ranch don’t work underhand. He’s gonna do you a lot more harm dead than he ever did alive. Too many folks like to believe the worst and I don’t see how you can prove it was an accident. I don’t reckon you should pay anymore to him for something that’s not true, so I’ll hide it, say a prayer for him.”
Adam shook his head, “No Stevens, we can’t. As I say I am grateful for your offer and the thoughts behind it, but we’ll face the facts as they are. Somehow we’ll prove our non-involvement. We are innocent so we can’t be proved guilty.”
Joe had known his brother’s decision and although Stevens’ offer was tempting he had to go along, they couldn’t live with it any other way, “What do we do next Adam?”
“Let’s go and have a look for ourselves, if you’ll lead the way Stevens.”
Stevens wasn’t surprised at their decision although he still thought they were buying themselves a lot of unnecessary trouble and he led out. Joe murmured, “Pity we can’t take him up on his offer.”
“We couldn’t live with the fear that someone had seen something. Try and cover it up and we’ll automatically be found guilty.”
Very sombrely Joe commented, “We will anyway, even if they can’t prove it.”
“That’s why we have to move fast, try and establish what actually happened before everyone believes the rumours that are inevitable. For a starts let’s see what the tracks say.”
“Noone is going to believe us anyway!”
“Cheer up Joe, those whose opinions matter will believe us. We’ve always found ways to force others to before, why not this time too. Let’s make sure it was an accident for a start.”
Joe nodded, glad of something to do, knowing that at the very least every harsh word aimed at his family, and in particular his eldest brother, would be rehashed over and over again. It didn’t take them very long to cover the three miles to the crashed buggy and as it came in sight Adam pulled up, “Let’s leave the horses here, not mess up the sign. Stevens what did you do before?”
“Left my horse back aways, checked he was dead. I didn’t move anything came straight to find you.”
Adam smiled tautly, “Sensible as always. Thanks Stevens.”
Stevens hesitated as the brothers dismounted but Joe said “Come on Stevens, you know what you’re looking at as well as we do, another opinion always helps.”
The three men circled carefully around the buggy, Adam went down on one knee several times to examine the sign, puzzled by what he saw but he said nothing, letting his brother and Stevens come to their own conclusions. He finally moved over to the buggy and the dead man and horse. The horse’s leg was shattered but Adam couldn’t see how he had done it and from the mess the horse had died there fairly recently, the blood still wet. Adam felt the Preacher’s body but he had been dead quite awhile. Hoss saw his brother get out his knife and cut away some of the mud on the wheel hub, where the buggy’s wheel had dug into the ground. He had been going to do the same and knew his brother was thinking along the same lines, underneath the mud was a slightly drier layer, well pocked by shale. Joe showed it to his brother as Adam lent over his shoulder. “Leave it like that Joe, let’s move back have a talk.”
Stevens hadn’t been looking for sign before but now he was as puzzled as the brothers and backed of. Adam lent against his stallion, “Not as straight forward as I hoped. It may have been an accident but other people have been here and I don’t think he died here.”
Stevens shrugged, “The horse did.”
“Yeah and more recently than the Preacher by my guess.” Joe said quietly “Good job we didn’t take up your offer Stevens, it would have been just the proof they wanted.”
Adam frowned “May be jumping to conclusions Joe. All we can say for certain is that at least two other riders have been here, early this morning. We ought to try and get Doc to have a look at the Preacher, see if he can tell us when the man died, none of us are experts.”
“Come on Adam” Joe expostulated, “That horse died long after the Preacher and that buggy has been moved. Someone is trying to frame us.” He glared at his brother but Adam just grinned. “I’m not responsible for it Joe so don’t lose your temper with me. I don’t say that you’re wrong but we do have to try and prove it. If there was an accident somewhere else and they have reset it here, we need to find out where it actually took place. We also need some independent opinions about what we have here. The one thing we don’t have is time. The weather is holding at the moment, but we need to check quickly.”
Joe calmed down as quickly as he’d blown up and asked “What do you suggest?”
“I think we need to split up.” Adam got out his notebook and started to write a quick note to Roy, explaining what they had found and asking him to come out personally and bring one of his best trackers, preferably someone not too well known by the Cartwrights. He also asked Roy to see if Doc could come and have a look at the body before it was moved. As he wrote Adam said “Stevens, will you take this into Roy Coffee, get him moving and bring him back here to see this before we move anything. Joe you try and back trail the buggy, If we’re right they are bound to have tried to hide the trail but at least try. Anything will help but if we could find tracks of another horse tied on behind the buggy, or even better the original accident site.”
Joe frowned “So you do agree with me.”
“I saw the same signs as you Joe but noone is going to believe us. I’ll get back to the house; get some of the best trackers headed out towards town. José can try and pick up the trail from where he left the buggy. I’ll make sure that noone else knows anything, tell Pa and Hoss and then aim to get back here before Roy arrives.” Joe had no better suggestion to make and so they all mounted up and set out. The brothers were both glad of a few minutes alone to come to terms with this unexpected problem. Adam wasn’t sure if Joe had yet thought of the other reason why time was so critical, with this hanging over them Leland Stanford had the perfect excuse for interfering with the wedding and, whatever Joe’s fears earlier, he was sure that Joe didn’t really want anything disrupting his plans.
Adam was dreading telling his father and even less did he want to disturb his big brother. Hoss had earned his honeymoon and deserved time to enjoy himself, but he knew his brother too well to even contemplate Hoss keeping out of things once he learnt of trouble. Putting it off for a few minutes at least Adam headed for the bunkhouse first. Quite a number of hands were there nursing hangovers after the previous evening’s celebrations. The expression on Adam’s face was enough to tell most of them that there was trouble. In this the number one bunkhouse, the longest established hands lived, three more had been built over the years but here there wasn’t a man that Adam couldn’t depend on. They were all friends and all knew him very well, José moved forward as Adam perched on the table “What’s wrong?”
“Plenty, at least there maybe. Stevens found Preacher McKenna dead. His buggy overturned, about four miles out on the Ponderosa.”
Jess flared up at that, “Well why in hell’s name didn’t he throw the lot in the lake?”
There was a murmur of agreement round the bunkhouse and Adam grinned, relaxed by the instant support. “Easy Jess. He came to tell me first, but he offered to do that or something similar. Luckily he’s not as impulsive as you.”
“Still seems the best solution to me." observed José “Bound to cause talk after all he’s been saying.”
“It’s not that simple. Joe and I went to have a look at the sign. Other people have been there and I don’t think the Preacher died there.” Adam explained rapidly what he’d seen and what he wanted done, sending José and Pio to try and trail from where they’d left the buggy and the rest out in pairs to try and find any other accident site. If he was right there might be a second dead horse somewhere which wouldn’t be easy to hide. As he finished a man moved forward from the back of the bunkhouse and Adam recognised him as one of the men he had hired on the drive in the autumn.
The man Santee had been delighted to find one of his old friends working on the Ponderosa and had come to chat with him. Santee said, “I may be wrong but from where you say you found him, well he wasn’t there last night. Wilson and I came back that way from town, well after midnight, no sign of anything.”
Adam frowned and explained exactly where the buggy was and Santee nodded. “There wasn’t a buggy there last night. We left town just after midnight. It was a full moon don’t reckon we could have missed it. Ask Wilson.” Adam hesitated, not knowing the man that well, unsure if he was telling the truth or just trying to help. Santee realised that and smiled, “Ask Wilson. We weren’t that drunk, couldn’t have missed it.”
Adam acknowledged it and smiled “Thanks Santee. The sheriff may want a word with both of you. I’m not sure how much it helps. I don’t know when the Preacher died, how soon after José left him. What time was that José?”
José shrugged, “About ten. I was back when the cake was cut.”
“It couldn’t have taken him over three hours to get to where we found the buggy. Thanks Santee it all helps.” Then Adam sent them all off and headed inside, no longer able to delay telling his father. To his relief Ben was on his own, Hoss and Sue had gone over to Adam’s house, assuming that they’d find their brothers there. Ben was surprised to see his eldest son and knew that something was wrong as soon as he saw Adam’s face. He had heard from Roy about the trouble the night before and scared for his daughter, he went swiftly to his son, “Is Carole alright?”
To Ben’s surprise Adam’s expression changed and for a moment he forgot all the trouble, recapturing the glow of happiness he had felt earlier, “Carole is fine Pa, fully recovered, in every way.”
Ben relaxed not needing any explanation, delighted for his son. “Thank God, she’s a remarkable woman.” But as Adam went over to get some coffee, Ben frowned “What’s wrong then?”
“Preacher McKenna is dead, here on the ranch.” Adam said baldly.
Ben sat down heavily and Adam passed him some coffee adding a slug of brandy in it before joining his father by the fire and filling him in on everything that he knew and what he had arranged. Ben listened in silence and sat staring into the fire unable to think of anything else Adam could have done but knowing how very hard it would be to clear their name. Adam tried to reassure him “Joe was sure that it was a frame. Chances are he’s right, the sign is easiest explained that way. The only one we know that is connected to the Preacher is Hearst.”
“He won’t have done anything personally.”
Adam smiled, “I know that Pa, but I asked Jim Thomas at the hotel to keep an eye on Hearst for me, a couple of days ago. It’s just possible if someone went to get orders they might have been seen. I thought I’d go into town once I’d seen Roy and got the buggy and body removed.”
Ben got to his feet “I want to see for myself. I don’t see that Hoss can do anything for the moment, so I suggest we send word to Carole that the three of us have to go to town, nothing serious but a problem come up that has to be dealt with. Let Hoss have at least one day in peace with Sue. If either of us appear he’ll see something is wrong. I’ll come to town with you.”
Adam agreed with his father, Hoss should be kept out of it for as long as possible and he wrote a note for Carole, to try and put her mind at rest, going out to find Hank to take it over for him. Ben pulled his boots on and grabbed his coat and gun going out to join Adam, who had saddled Buck for him. The two men rode out in silence both seriously worried by the possible repercussions.
Carole was surprised to get Adam’s note but as he emphasized that Hoss wasn’t to be worried she did her best to do as he asked. Hoss had been surprised not to find his brothers but he was so wrapped up in Sue, still hardly able to believe that she was his, that he accepted Carole’s excuse that they had to go to town on business, even though it was Sunday. Nita was slightly more surprised and Carole showed her Adam’s note, not that it was very informative, just that some legal business had come up and the three of them had to go into Virginia City urgently, not to expect them for meals and not to worry. Nita didn’t worry too much, seeing both Hoss and Carole accepted it calmly, not realising both were so delighted with events over the previous night that it would have taken a lot more to disturb them. With those most nearly concerned not worried by the absence of the three the others all relaxed and enjoyed themselves.
Adam and Ben would have been glad to know that for one day Hoss was enjoying himself, but they had put all such pleasant thoughts behind them and ridden back to the dead body. Ben checked the sign carefully and came to the same conclusions as his sons, it was a frame, the accident set up, the Preacher had died somewhere else. Then they could only wait for Roy.
Roy had been shocked at Adam’s letter, he couldn’t believe the Cartwrights would be involved in anything underhand but, knowing the almost fanatical loyalty they inspired in some of their men, he couldn’t discount the possibility of one of the hands having at least contributed to the accident. For now he could only do as Adam asked and collecting a half breed Indian tracker attached to the army, he asked him to come and give a considered opinion. The man Montegna agreed to check for him for ten dollars and then Roy went to enlist Doc’s help. In the privacy of the surgery Roy let Doc read Adam’s note. Paul put it down sighing heavily and then almost to himself he said “Adam said that he’d have to do something about the Preacher, in this very room, when young Joe got beaten in the saloon.”
Roy was shocked, “Come on Doc. Adam wouldn’t do anything this stupid.”
“I know that Roy. Heavens I have known him since he was a kid but he’s taken all this attack very hard, especially with Carole still so vulnerable and if he said that to me he might have said the same somewhere else. If it gets out, who else is going to believe they’re innocent?”
“Well according to Adam there’s something odd about the whole setup and he ain’t usually wrong, so let’s go check.”
Doc got his bag “Of course but we’re too closely tied to the Cartwrights, who will believe us? They’ll assume it’s a cover up because that’s what they’d like to think.”
Both Roy and Doc were very quiet as Stevens guided them out, not too surprised when Little Joe rode up to join them. Joe was badly shaken by what they’d found and its probable consequences and his old friends recognized that and didn’t question him. Joe just thanked them for coming and quickly led the way to the overturned buggy, glad to see his father and brother waiting there. The three of them stayed out of the way with Stevens sitting his horse quietly a few yards behind them, waiting to see how he could help. Roy and Montegna examined the sign, the buggy and the dead horse, while Doc examined the body once they had checked its position. For a few minutes the three Cartwrights watched then and then Ben turned to his son “I assume you lost the trail?”
“About two miles back, headed towards town but then got onto that shale, hopeless. I scouted around but then saw Roy. Just one thing about half a mile back. It looked as though a horse was tied onto the buggy. I’d bet on it in fact, but as always just a matter of opinion.”
“We’ll show Roy anyway.” Ben decided.
Joe said, “One more thing, the horse has a distinctive plate on his rear off, two nails very close together one must have sheered. We might be able to identify it if we can find it.”
Adam straightened up at that “Show me Joe.” His brother cut over to the trail and quickly found an example. They knelt down by it and Adam frowned “We need someway to keep this for comparison.”
“Can we cut it out put it in a box?”
Adam shook his head “Not here, it won’t hold. Think Joe was there anywhere the trail cut across heavy soil?”
Joe ran over the route in his mind and then grinned “Yeah down by Muddy Bend.”
Adam turned to Stevens and asked him to go back to the ranch and collect some spades and boxes, asking him to hurry as he wanted Roy to oversee the operation.
Doc was the first to come and join them and Ben asked “When did he die? Any sign of a reason?”
Doc shrugged “Broken neck, nothing that wouldn’t fit a pure accident. He just fell wrong, it happens. As for times that’s not so easy, not to be accurate, I’d say about midnight best I can guess but it could be three or four hours either side of that.”
Adam frowned, “Doc, not for swearing on in court but just your personal opinion, how likely is midnight?”
Doc didn’t answer for a minute and then shook his head “I’m sorry Adam at best it’s a guess, about midnight or a little earlier but I could be very wrong. I just don’t know enough and he was such a skinny man. It depends on how cold it was here last night and too many other factors I don’t know.”
Roy joined them and he’d heard Doc’s comment. He had talked it over with the tracker and now he turned to Ben. “It’s going to be awkward to prove. That horse had been dead sometime, could be later than the Preacher, probably is in fact, but then it might be argued that the horse took a long time to die.”
Ben asked “What do you make of the tracks?”
“About the same as you but I can’t swear that the buggy’s been moved, It could have got that mud on it much earlier. Certainly two other riders have been here but noway of saying exactly when. Personally I think you’re right it’s a frame but I couldn’t swear to it in court, everything can be explained away. You need to find the original site to stand any chance of proving it and I can’t even give you very long. I’ll have to order an inquest and at best I can put that off until the day after tomorrow. Whatever else he was, he was a Preacher and feelings are going to run very high.”
Ben accepted that as inevitable, he knew that Roy wanted to help but there was nothing more that he could do. It was only what they had expected. Adam called Santee and Wilson over and they told Roy their story, sure that the buggy hadn’t been there late the previous night, but while it raised questions as to where the preacher had been in the three hours after José left him, it didn’t eliminate the possibility of him dying where they had found him, after they had gone by. There was nothing to say that the man’s death was anything other than an accident but all of them knew Virginia City well enough to know an accident would be considered far too convenient to be true. There were plenty of questions, why was the man in the middle of nowhere, whatever the time and as he was on the Ponderosa, the Cartwrights would be blamed. Adam and Joe went over to have a word with José as he rode in , having lost the trail not far from where he left the buggy. Roy turned to Ben “You realise how nasty this can get? Adam said to Doc that he would have to do something about the Preacher, said much the same to me.”
Ben was tight lipped in anger but his old friend held up a hand in a peace sign “Hold your horses Ben. We both know you all too well. Hell if Adam had arranged an accident and I know it’s not in him, there wouldn’t be a breathe of suspicion. He’s far too clever. Just that if someone else heard him say words to that effect and gets on the stand, with things as they are, good chance the coroner’s jury will bring some charge, maybe even murder, against him or maybe Joe. He’s been pretty outspoken in defence of his brother, or both.”
Ben protested, “There’s no proof that it was anything but an accident.”
“Accidents can be caused, buggy’s chased, horses frightened and juries don’t always make a lot of sense. If they bring the charge I’d have to take the boys in and even if a trial throws it out fer lack of evidence it’ll always hang over them.”
Ben sighed, but Roy was only putting into words some of the black thoughts which had been pressing on him ever since Adam told him. “We just have to prove what really happened. Even if the jury brings an open verdict we won’t be able to walk the streets of our own town in safety. Just because he was a Preacher.” Ben’s voice was bitter but Roy could understand that “Anyway I can help you know I will.”
Ben nodded “The men are searching out here; they all know how important it is. I just wish we had longer. If you can try and keep it quiet for a few hours it would help. Just while we make some enquiries in town.”
“I’ll try but someone else may have other ideas. Its not gonna be safe in town, not for a Cartwright.”
“No choice Roy we have to make a move we only have 48 hours.”
Roy could only promise to cover their backs as best he could. Ben was right they had to try and the Cartwrights had many friends in odd places, who might talk to them but wouldn’t give him the time of day. Ben mounted up and rode over to join his sons. Adam had already passed on orders to José for the rest of the men to search the whole area. Ben told Wilson and Santee to help Roy raise the buggy and get the body into town. Stevens had already brought a fresh horse. Roy rode with them for a while and supervised the cutting out of the hoof print. They managed three good specimens and Adam told Stevens to take one back to the ranch for safe keeping and took the others along to leave in Roy’s office, insisting that Roy mark them so could swear to them later if necessary. Then leaving Roy to supervise the removal of the buggy, the three Cartwrights rode into town. Doc had already headed in. For a while they rose in silence and then Ben said “Neither of you have alibis for last night.”
Joe frowned, “Adam was with Carole.”
Adam laughed wryly “Wives don’t count little brother you know that! With so much coming and going, neither of us could prove we didn’t disappear for half an hour after you ran him of the ranch. Pa, has Roy asked?”
“Not yet but I think he will have to. You do realise just how awkward things could get?”
Adam caught his father’s eye, knowing just how worried he was and his hatred of putting it into words. “With coroner’s juries and a Preacher I should think the most likely verdict will be murder, unless we can prove what happened. Then it will be a toss up who they will name. Me most likely, or maybe Joe. Even both of us little brother. They might leave it open but that won’t help. Anyway your future father-in-law is going to hit the roof Joe.”
Ben was watching his youngest son but to his relief he saw Joe wasn’t shocked, he had already come to the same conclusions, in fact Joe was smiling wryly. He remembered his fears earlier in the day, which now seemed so very long ago. “He doesn’t arrive until after next weekend and our time is rather more limited. I can’t get married if the bridegroom, or even the best man, is in gaol.”
Ben relaxed seeing both his sons facing facts calmly and turned to Adam, “Just what enquiries had you started round town?”
“I tried to do two things Pa, track any connection with Hearst and I had several people watching both Hearst and the Preacher, with luck they may have seen who was doing the dirty work. Then I wanted to know just why Hearst had involved himself at all. John Marye and Roy Naylor both promised to try and track down what he’s been up to in the market and Harris was going to make a few enquiries through his contacts. Adam named another half a dozen close friends of his, who were checking on Hearst’s financial affairs in town and he had people doing the same thing in San Francisco. Ben nodded, his son had been as thorough as he had expected and it could prove very useful now when time was short. “Good job you started things moving when you did, let’s hope we get some news that helps.”
As they rode in Ben warned his sons to be careful, they couldn’t know when the word of the Preacher’s death would reach town. He outlined the checks that were needed, he would see John Marye and Harris himself, leaving Naylor to Joe while Adam checked with Jim Thomas at the hotel and then with the various people he had asked to keep watch on the Preacher and Hearst, many of whom would only talk to Adam himself, repaying favours done quietly over the years.
The three men left their horses at the livery stable and headed down town to carry out their various jobs, arranging to meet at the Palace in an hour and a half. All were tense and had automatically eased their guns in the holster before leaving the stable.
They hadn’t gone a hundred yards before the looks they got and the atmosphere in town got to them and Adam put into words what they all knew. “I’m not sure how but the news is out in some form.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t split up.” Ben queried but sighing heavily he answered his own question, “No there’s no time, we’ll have to risk it.”
Adam was listening to his father and watching the street ahead and the first he knew of trouble was the stunning blow in his back which sent him to the ground and another sharp pain in his side. Ben and Joe both heard the shots and Ben threw himself into cover drawing his gun but Joe just turned, his gun out, and went down on his knees next to his brother, trying to see where the shots had come from. He saw a rifle at an upstairs window just as a bullet caught his right arm, but although well down the street at an awkward angle Joe was accurate enough to put a bullet through the window and the rifle jerked back. Ben ran out to his sons, keeping low, his gun out, very thankful to see Adam struggling to his feet with Joe’s help. Joe eased his brother to his feet relying on his father to keep watch, just wanting to get Adam to safety. The bystanders had all pressed back into cover at the first shot, but as the shooting ceased they came forward to stare. Noone offered to help and the town’s opinion was summed up as one man at the back spat at them “ Bloody Preacher killers, serves you right.”
Neither Ben nor Joe was worrying about the town’s reaction at that moment, scared for Adam. With Joe’s help he had made it to his feet and murmured “Could be worse Pa, let’s get out of here.” Adam felt deathly weak and sick but for the moment there was no pain, leaning heavily on his brother he made it to the side of the road. The only help they could expect was for the men to move out of their way and Ben knew that he couldn’t carry his son all the way to Doc’s. They were only a short distance from Beth’s and holstering his gun Ben said “Let me have him Joseph, cover us. Go to Beth’s.”
Adam tried to insist that he could walk but, as the first pain broke over him in a wave, he staggered and could only just hide the pain from the interested onlookers. Ben picked his son up and cut through to Beth’s, thankful that it was no further. Joe with his gun out again covered them and then ran ahead to open the gate for his father and bang heavily on the door. Beth hurried to answer it, hearing the urgency in the knocking. Joe still had his gun out and the hand he was banging with was red with blood, but it was the fear on his face that sent Beth back as she opened the door. Seeing Ben with his burden Beth opened the door into the lounge and running through to the kitchen, grabbed a large table cloth and covered the sofa. As Ben came in she said “Put him down here, how bad is it?”
Ben shook his head, “I don’t know. We need Doc.”
Beth smiled “I’ll fetch him; you know where things are, help yourselves.” She hurried out with a quiet prayer that Adam would be okay. Adam forced himself to sit up and was trying to get his coat off. “I’m okay Pa.” As his words came through gritted teeth with waves of pain flooding over him, they lacked something in conviction but Ben told Joe to get some hot water and concentrated on helping Adam out of his thick coat.
There was a mess of blood and for a moment Ben wasn’t even sure how many times his son had been hit although he could see that it was mainly on the left side. Joe brought in a bowl of warm water, some rags, gauze and scissors. He knelt down in front of Adam, gripping his brother’s right arm in mute sympathy and doing his best to give some support. Adam was resting his head on his right hand, his elbow resting on the arm of the sofa. He was breathing hard, trying to ignore the pain as his father pulled his clothing away from his useless left arm and he was very glad of his younger brother’s supporting arm. Ben took the scissors and cut the rest of Adam’s clothing away seeing two bullet holes before the blood welled up and obscured them. Joe had heavy gauze pads ready and he passed them to his father. Ben padded the wounds as best he could, trying to prevent Adam losing any more blood. Adam couldn’t prevent a moan as Ben pressed hard on the pads, trying to stop the bleeding but as he took in his brother’s anxious face, Adam managed a ghost of a smile, “Cheer up Joe, I’ll still make the wedding.”
Joe forced a smile, “Sure you will, easy now brother.”
There was very little that Ben could do until Doc arrived, apart from stemming the flow of blood. Adam closed his eyes, fighting to hang onto his senses as waves of pain and nausea kept passing through him, but hearing his father’s anxious voice as Ben queried “Where the hell is Doc?” Adam looked up “Give Beth a chance Pa.”
Joe eased his brother’s boots off, “What are we gonna do, try to get him down to Doc’s or….”
“See what Paul has to say, there’s at least one bullet to come out.” Ben lent over his son “Easy Adam let’s get you lying down.” Between them Ben and Joe lifted his legs up on the sofa and got him lying on his right side, his head resting on some cushions. Joe began sponging away the blood as best he could, taking in the position of the wounds although the actual injuries were covered by thick pads, stained bright red with blood, and he looked up anxiously at his father, wondering just how bad it was. Adam waited for the world to settle and then opened his eyes and focused on Joe’s torn sleeve. He murmured “How bad is your arm Joe?”
Joe had almost forgotten it and he frowned, “My arm works fine.”
Ben sighed, “Get your coat off Joseph; let’s have a look while we’re waiting for Paul.”
“Pa, still short of time.” Adam said urgently.
Ben rested his hand gently on his son’s hair, smoothing it back from his forehead. “Just rest son, once we know how you are, your brother and I will cope with everything.”
“Jim Thomas won’t talk with you, nor will Quinn ….” Adam bit his lip as the pain flared through him again and Ben wiped the sweat from his face. “Don’t worry Adam you’re not indispensable, we’ll manage, try and rest, no more talking.”
Ben was just examining Joe’s arm when Beth came back in with Doc and Dan. He straightened up “Trouble hit rather faster than we expected Doc.”
Doc was already on his knees by Adam lifting the gauze pads; one bullet had gashed its way through his side, damaging a couple of ribs, but at least passing through. The other low in his shoulder had no exit wound and for a minute Doc frowned but there was no sign of lung damage, “Fired from a distance?”
“Fair way.” Said Ben
“Small calibre I’d guess. Odd, best I operate here Ben. Beth get your large dining table covered with old cloths, he’s too low here.” Doc rummaged in his bag for a strong sedative, he didn’t have the equipment to put Adam under ether with him, but to his disgust Adam flatly refused to take anything. “I’m okay. Just get on with it,”
Joe was helping Beth get the table covered and Doc went out to wash up and get his instruments sterilised. Ben knelt down by Adam, holding the drug. “Don’t be foolish Adam, drink this.”
“No Pa. Need my wits about me, no time. I won’t be drugged.”
“Will you forget about that I’ll manage.”
Adam smiled faintly, “Pa I don’t want to convalesce in jail.”
Ben couldn’t deny the possibility and giving way put the sedative down as Joe came back over to say everything was ready. Ben got Dan to help him and lifted Adam up and carried him over to the table. Adam tensed against the pain as he was moved but once on the table he looked over at Ben and Joe. “I’m okay. You two go and make a start, no time.”
Ben frowned not wanting to leave until he was sure that his son was alright but Adam managed a smile “Beth will help Paul. I’m okay Pa, it’s not that serious, go on.”
Ben looked at his old friend who was laying his things out, but Paul smiled and shrugged, “He won’t settle unless he gets his own way! He’ll be okay as far I can see Ben. No news for an hour or so anyway. Deal with young Joe’s arm and then get on.”
Ben nodded and leaving Dan and Beth to help Doc, he got a bandage on Joe’s arm, thankful that it was only a graze and the bandage stopped the bleeding and also glad that it was his son’s right arm. Then he and Joe headed down the street to his friend’s stock broking business. It was an odd feeling to walk down the street in their own town, a tingling between the shoulders, scared of a bullet, knowing someone might want to finish the job they’d started. Ben found it very hard to leave Joe but his son smiled, “I’ll be real careful and Adam will be okay. We don’t have much choice.”
Ben nodded “Join me at the bank when you’re through Joe.” It was a real physical effort to turn away from Joe, but time was at a premium.
Beth was fighting to keep the wound clear so that Doc could see what he was doing as he dug for the bullet while Dan held his friend still, although apart from tensing against the pain Adam held still. It wasn’t the first bullet wound Beth had seen by a long way, nor was it the worst but she was very shaken by the little that Doc had been able to tell her of the reasons behind the attack. Luckily Doc found the bullet fairly easily and it didn’t take him long to clean and sow up the wound. The bullet had wedged against the shoulder bone but hadn’t damaged it. In fact the cleaning of the wound in his side and the removal of some bone splinters tried Adam a lot more and twice he nearly lost control of his senses and couldn’t help the gasps of pain. Eventually Doc had finished and he padded the wounds prior to bandaging him up. Paul wiped his face “Worst over now Adam, I wish you’d take some pain killer.”
“No Doc, no time.”
“You’re not going anywhere Adam. Beth will make up a bed for you.”
“No. Not serious.”
“I’m the Doctor here. It’s quite bad enough; either wound would put you into bed. With the two, its bed for a week and then take it very easy after that and you’ll just about be on your feet for young Joe’s wedding.”
Adam twisted slightly to see the Doc, biting his lip as the pain knifed through his back, “We don’t sort this out and there won’t be a wedding.”
“Leave it to your father. You haven’t any choice.” Paul insisted, concentrating on bandaging Adam up. “You’ve lost too much blood and you try moving around and you’re going to collapse.”
“Nonsense Doc. Nothing vital touched, no bones broken.”
Doc couldn’t deny that, the wounds were crippling, painful and quite enough to confine his patient to bed for the next two weeks but Adam had been very lucky nothing important was touched and, although weak from pain and loss of blood, by some miracle Adam was showing no sign of shock. Still he ignored Adam and told Beth to warm a bed for him. Adam eased himself up and smiled, “Don’t bother Beth. Virginia City isn’t exactly safe. I’m going home.”
“You’re not well enough Adam.”
“Don’t you start Beth. Even Pa will agree he won’t want your place besieged.”
Beth frowned “That’s stupid.” But Dan could only back Adam. “He’s not fit enough but he is right. Things are so awkward in town that it could be dangerous.”
Adam was trying to sit up and seeing the obstinate look on his face Dan and Doc helped him up and back over to the sofa, lifting his legs up so that he could rest on his right side. Adam looked at his torn clothes “Dan would you go and get me a shirt and jacket?”
“Sure but you take it real easy. “ Adam nodded leaning his aching head against the arm of the sofa, fighting to push his aches and pains away, try to get his brain working again. There were certain jobs only he could do, people who wouldn’t talk to anyone else, and somehow he had to get back on his feet. He was realist enough to know that he couldn’t do anything until the nausea and faintness caused by Doc’s work had eased and he did his best to relax. For ten minutes he lay back with his eyes closed while Doc washed up and sorted his instruments. Beth watched Adam for a few minutes and then joined Doc saying very softly “Maybe he’ll sleep.”
Doc shook his head “I wouldn’t bet on it, too damned obstinate and his back and side must be on fire. Go make some strong coffee and if you’ve got some brandy he might take that and it will help a little.”
“I’ve got laudanum.”
“No Beth. It’s his decision and Adam isn’t a child. He’s probably right and he’ll only be safe back out on the Ponderosa.”
Adam was vaguely aware of them talking but he concentrated all his will power on relaxing, forcing the pain in his back away and getting control over his trembling limbs. Slowly the nausea faded and he made one big effort and sat up, the room spun around him but slowly it settled. Doc was there and he gave Adam a brandy “You belong in bed but you know that as well as I do. I know the problems and travelling home won’t kill you, but please rest all you can until your father is ready.”
“I’ll be fine. Sorry to trouble you again Doc.”
“Bed as soon as you get home, and stay there for a couple of days. You should stay there for a week even given your recuperative powers Adam.”
Adam was glad of the brandy and let Doc’s words wash over him, knowing Doc was talking sense but not feeling that he had any choice, there were too many things to do that only he could achieve. Doc had other patients and he had to get on. Leaving Adam to Beth’s care, just telling her to try and get him to eat something and rest.
Slowly Adam sat up straighter and sipped strong coffee gratefully, sheer will power pushing the pain away. When Dan returned he got his old friend to help him slip on the clean shirt and jacket and then settled his useless left arm in a sling, where it didn’t pull so badly on the torn back and shoulder muscles. After that much effort the room was swaying round him again and his face was wet with sweat from the pain. Dan quietly wiped his face and fed him a little water before trying to persuade Adam to lie down. Adam refused to do that but he did ask for another brandy and then demanded to know what the word was round town about the Preacher’s death. Dan hesitated not wanting to upset Adam when he looked so ill anyway. Adam managed a ghost of a smile “I already know that we’re being blamed but how did word get out?”
“Lots of rumours, all agree that he died last night on the Ponderosa. Blame you most of the time but young Joe’s name is mentioned a lot too. How he died and how word got to town depends on who you listen to.”
“We need help Dan.”
“Anything you know that.”
“He died in an accident, buggy overturned, broke his neck. The buggy was about three miles from my house on the Ponderosa but it had been moved. I can’t prove it yet but two men had been there apart from us, moved the body and the buggy onto our land, to involve us. They are the only ones who can have started word in town, rest are all my men and only Stevens has been in, just to get Roy and Doc. We need those men by the inquest.” Even the effort of talking had bathed Adam in sweat again and Dan got a damp cloth and wiped his face. “Easy Adam, you ought to at least lie down. You want me to try and check back, see who started the rumours, who knows more than they should?”
Adam nodded, “So little time.”
“I’ll go and get started, you try and rest.” Dan frowned but he knew he couldn’t force Adam to rest; the only way to help was to do as he was asked. Beth smiled “I’ll look after him and if you see Ben, reassure him Adam will be fine.”
Ben and Joe were at the bank, equally worried about Adam but with a job to do, both had certain information about Hearst’s current preoccupations and Harris had some rumours for them but for the moment it didn’t obviously help. Joe let his father do the talking and found himself praying that somehow they would sort it out, The future had seemed so clear and now he couldn’t be sure of anything, not even their own survival over the next few days.
Meanwhile Jess and José had ridden into town, they had found what Adam wanted, a second accident site, although the horse had been hauled away and had shown it to Roy. Proof was still thin but the odd shoe Joe had noticed showed up in one or two places and there was blood of about the right age and signs of the buggy. The whole area had been so messed up before their arrival that it was difficult to be sure of anything but it fitted Adam’s theory and would have been on the Preacher’s route home, albeit not the most direct route. Reaching town before Roy they quickly heard about the shooting and the general reaction that it was no more than the murdering Cartwrights deserved. It didn’t take long to discover that their friends had taken refuge at Beth’s and the two cowboys, very worried about their boss and friend, hurried over there. Beth was hesitant at opening the door but she knew both of them well and as soon as she recognized them she let them in.
From the stories they had expected to find Adam at death’s door and at first, finding him sitting up fully dressed just his arm in a sling, they both breathed a sigh of relief. Only then did they take in how pale and drawn he was and as though moved by a single string they both turned to Beth knowing they’d only get evasions from Adam, José asked for both of them, “How bad is he?”
“He’ll live, two bullets, one through the ribs, the other wedged against his shoulder blade. Doc has dealt with them both but he ought to be in bed.”
Adam frowned remembering Doc’s comment about small calibre. “Beth have you got that bullet?”
She brought it over and Adam turned it over in his hand. It was very noticeably smaller than the ·45 or ·38 bullets that were usually used. “Beth you used to have a derringer, got any ·22 bullets around?”
Beth nodded “Should have, I’ll go find one.” She disappeared and Jess came over to kneel down in front of Adam, gently wiping the sweat from his face “Won’t you at last lie down?”
“Stop fussing. What did you two find?”
José filled him in and Adam nodded “Thanks, it all helps, but we need more. This town has already made its mind up.”
“There’s nothing you can do so just rest.” José insisted
Adam shut his eyes for a minute, knowing the uproar he was going to cause in a minute as he was proposing to go out, but for now he concentrated on the bullet Beth brought in and passed him. This one looked even smaller than the one Doc had dug out of him and Adam frowned before passing both to his friends and asking what they thought. Jess said tentatively “Could be a ·25, they make some I think.”
“It was a rifle, I saw that much, Jess take it down to Jim Stanek, gunsmith’s. No José you go, you know him. Get him to check the calibre for us and find out what guns take it, especially rifles.”
“Will it help, even if we find the gunman?” José said hesitantly. He wanted the man who had shot his friend in the back but he was even more concerned that Adam shouldn’t have to face a murder charge.
Adam eased his aching shoulder, unable to hide the grimace of pain but he had his voice under control, “Very early for feelings to be running high enough to lead to shooting. If they had attacked us with fists I could understand it, but not back shooting, at least not until they were well liquored up.”
“What are you suggesting?” asked José
“Might have been one of the men who set up the accident, wanting to stop us investigating.” Adam suggested
Jess frowned “Long shot.”
“Maybe less than some of the others we are trying. Go on José get started, time is still short.” Adam wiped his hand across his eyes, sweating again. José got to his feet “I’ll find him, you just take it easy Adam.” As he went out Jess wiped Adam’s face again and then glared suspiciously at his friend as Adam asked for help to put his coat on. “Why? If you’re cold lie down and I’ll get a couple of blankets.”
“No Jess I have to go to the hotel.”
Jess looked at him in blank disbelief and Beth came to sit down by him, “Adam don’t be foolish, Doc said to rest. You’re over doing it even thinking about going home, you should be in bed right now.”
Adam pulled himself to his feet, smiling at them, not swaying through sheer will power. “I know you both mean well but there’s things that only I can do and if I don’t I’ll have plenty of time to rest in bed, in jail. I’m going with or without your help Jess so please don’t make it more difficult,”
They both knew him well enough to recognize the stubborn expression, only partially hidden by the pain and Jess got his coat, he shrugged despairingly at Beth, he had no choice, he couldn’t stop his boss.
Joe had already been into the hotel but Adam was proved right Jim Thomas flatly refused to speak to him. Ben had gone over to the Washoe Club to find out what gossip he could there and had suggested that Joe try and find out what the Chinese knew. Ben had collected a few telegrams which were waiting for Adam but he had put them in his pocket, not daring to relax his attention long enough to read them just now, He resisted the urge to go back to Beth’s at least until he’d finished the first round of checks, knowing that it would only unsettle his son further and trusting Beth and Doc to let him know if he was needed. Ben was in the Washoe club and Joe down in the Chinese section so neither of them saw Adam making his way over to the hotel, leaning heavily on Jess but managing to hide the worst of his pain from the interested bystanders. Roy saw him and headed over. He had been going over to see Adam having heard about the shooting as son as he got back to town. For a minute he couldn’t believe what he saw. He had just left Doc’s needing to check how badly his old friend was hurt. He was furious with Jess for allowing Adam to leave Beth’s and he made that eminently clear as he joined them. Jess frowned “Alright sheriff, but just what was I supposed to do? He is my boss and he was coming either with me or without me!”
“You should have got his father. I’ll find Ben get him to talk some sense into that thick head.”
Adam straightened up and pulled away from Jess. He gripped Roy’s arm “You won’t do that Roy. Leave Pa alone, he’s worried enough. I am not a child and I know what I’m doing.”
“Adam you’re hurt, two bullets.”
“I can cope Roy and it’s my decision.” Adam left Roy then, sure that his old friend wouldn’t go against him and, ignoring Jess too, he walked into the hotel keeping his back straight with an effort. Thomas was surprised to see him having heard about the shooting but however much he avoided the other Cartwrights, he owed Adam and he acknowledged the debt. He opened the door to the small back room and Adam went in and sunk gratefully down onto a hard chair by the desk, resting his aching head on his right hand. Jim looked at him “Didn’t expect you, look as though you ought to be in bed.”
“Probably but would you talk to my father or Joe?”
Jim spat eloquently into the spittoon “You didn’t kill that Preacher did you?”
“No. I doubt anyone did, accidental I think but someone moved the remains onto my doorstep. They might have been here late last night. When did Hearst get back?”
“About ten. He only had two visitors after that. That kid lawyer who works for Sharon
And some guy I don’t know.”
“The kid about half ten, the other guy near midnight. I took him up, rough looking, just didn’t seem a likely visitor for Hearst but he was let straight in.”
“Can you describe him?”
“I ain’t no good at that Adam.”
“Please Jim just try, its important.” Adam began asking detailed questions and finally got a description of a man about 6’ 2’’ tall, heavy built with long greasy hair, no beard but needing a shave, droopy moustaches wearing standard range clothes. It would fit hundreds of men round town and Adam sat back wondering what to do now. Jim was doing his best to be helpful, Adam had gone out of his way to help him in the past and with Adam, obviously weak and in pain the debt seemed even more significant than it had the night before. He poured a brandy and Adam sipped it gratefully and as he did so Jim remembered, “One other thing might help. As he went in he said that the German sent him.”
“The German. Are you sure?”
“Yeah but I don’t know who that would be. I’m sorry Adam I wish I could do more to help.”
“Would you point him out to one of my men if he comes back? I can have someone stationed here.”
“Sure I think I’d recognize him.”
“Is Jess out there?”
“Yeah I’ll get him for you.” Jim opened the door and called to Jess, who was waiting in the lobby. Adam was trying to pull himself to his feet as Jess came in and Jess moved swiftly to help him “Will you come back to Beth’s now?”
“Not yet. Thanks Jim I owe you. I’ll have someone here in half an hour or so.” Adam lent heavily on Jess, but insisted on going down to the Bucket O’ Blood, hoping that he’d find Quinn there. He found the street swaying around him and needed Jess’ support, very grateful to reach the saloon and sit down. Jess helped him to table where his back was protected by the wall. Don McBride brought him over a brandy. “Look as if you need it Adam, should you be walking around?”
Jess answered for him “No he should be in bed, but at the rate he’s going he’s just gonna get drunk.”
“Not a bad idea.” Adam murmured. Then seeing Quinn over in the corner he asked Jess to go and bring him over and then leave them alone. Quinn hesitated but seeing Adam he came over and Adam told Jess to bring a bottle of whisky and a glass, Quinn sat down and considered Adam “You look terrible. Want to hear who the Preacher was meeting eh!”
“It might help.”
“I didn’t see him much after lunch yesterday. Can’t tell you how he died.”
“Didn’t expect that Quinn.” Adam described the man Jim Thomas had seen and asked if he could remember seeing him with the Preacher, or a man called the German. Quinn tossed off a glass of whiskey and poured another, “Don’t know any German but there could be a man looked like that. He was with the Preacher day afore yesterday, handed over some papers. If’n it’s the same one I can tell you one thing about him, he had a new scar right across his left hand. Back of it, it’d been stitched, real neat job. Doc might know him.”
Adam spent ten more minutes getting details of the Preacher’s movements over the last couple of days and then he beckoned Jess over and scribbled a note to Jim Thomas. “Take this back to Jim. It’s a yes or no answer and I think he will even tell you that much.”
Jess hated to leave him but Adam didn’t even look at him again, assuming he would be obeyed, and Quinn went to collect two others, who had been helping to watch the Preacher. Alone for a couple of minutes Adam didn’t dare to relax hearing angry murmurs from a gang of miners. He sat up and pushed his coat back to clear his gun and waited, not realising how frightening he looked, drawn and grim faced, his reputation enough to keep them at bay. Jess came back and to his disgust as Thomas had agreed the scar was there Adam told him to go over to Doc and see if he could remember treating such a man. The other men hadn’t much to add and none of them knew the German but they promised to ask around for him. Quinn had found Red and Adam sent him over to the hotel in case the man reappeared. Then he could only wait for Jess to come back. There was little more that he could do that the rest of his family couldn’t and he was just about running out of strength. He knew that he couldn’t make it back to Beth’s without help.
Roy pushed his way through the crowd, having heard some ugly murmuring and he went to join Adam. The tension in the saloon had got to Adam and he was almost out on his feet, unable to relax, pain stabbing through his back and side and he was very relieved to see Roy. Roy sat down keeping a close eye on the men over by the bar. “Got to get you out of here Adam,”
“I was just waiting for Jess.”
“Getting nasty, Can you walk?”
Adam wasn’t too sure but he didn’t have too much choice and he nodded “Sure, just give me a hand up.”
Some of the men were edging closer and one yelled “You arresting the murdering bastard?”
Roy wished he had some support, unsure that Adam could get two steps without collapsing and needing his gun hand free, he couldn’t help much. Just then the doors swung back fiercely as they were thrown aside and Joe pushed his way in. He hadn’t believed the old Chinaman, who said that he’d seen Adam going into the saloon, but knowing just how stubborn his brother was he had gone to check. The angry murmurs and the gathering crowd bore evidence of its correctness. Scared for Adam he pushed his way through the crowd ignoring the angry comments. Relieved to see Roy over by his brother but also seeing that Adam was on the verge of collapse Little Joe said “Get him out Roy before he collapses.”
Joe’s hand was on his gun and although they murmured angrily the men made way for Roy as he slowly led Adam out. José seeing the crowd ran over to back them up. Joe moved in next to his brother and Roy sighed “The jail is nearest, wish you were Hoss!”
Joe eased Adam along talking encouragingly to Adam urging him to make one last effort. They were all very glad to reach the jail and Joe helped his brother into a chair by the desk where Adam slumped forward only really aware of pain, just about holding onto his senses. Joe very worried, feeling the fever in his brother, felt his pulse but although a little fast it was steady enough. Joe glared at José “Did you know he was wandering around?”
José could see that Joe was furious but he just gripped his friend’s arm, “Easy Joe, I didn’t know either. What do you want to do now?”
“Well by some miracle he doesn’t seem to be bleeding. Find Pa will you, he went to the Washoe club we’ve got to get this fool to bed.”
Adam lifted his head “Easy Joe.”
Joe wiped his face and fed him some water, mingled anxiety and exasperation clear on his face. “You’re a first class fool Adam, just rest.”
“In a minute Joe. Two things Jess is over at Doc’s find him and we need two men, one’s called the German. Jess knows the other one, pass the word to the Chinese, anyone else.”
“Will you stop worrying I’ll do it,” Joe looked up at Roy very harassed. Roy smiled “I’ll make sure that he stays here, you just watch your back.”
As Joe went out he saw Jess and the Doc coming down the street, Jess had had to tell Doc what Adam was up to when he explained what they needed him to do. Doc was scared his patient would push himself into shock and determined to go and see him before he would even consider the question. Joe was glad to see him and hurried over “Are you looking for Adam?”
“Yes, your brother will kill himself, the fool.” Doc saw how white Joe went at his words and he patted his arm
“Sorry Joe it takes rather more than this to kill Adam but I do want to see him.”
“Roy has him at the jail, only safe place. Jess will you fill me in, Adam wants the word spread around, those two men.”
Doc smiled “I’ll look after your brother. Jess he could do with a bodyguard.” Then he hurried into his patient. He ignored Adam’s questions until he had finished checking him over and then read the riot act. He had ordered him to rest not wander around a hostile town asking questions. Adam shut his eyes and waited for the storm to abate, his head throbbing in sympathy with his back. Doc knew that he wasn’t well enough to argue with and after a minute he fell quiet. At that Adam forced himself to sit up “Did Jess explain?”
“The man with a scarred hand? Yes I’ve been thinking, he described him but it could fit a lot of men,”
“May be associated with a man called the German, if that means anything.”
“The German." Doc said pensively “I’ve heard that somewhere.”
“Think Doc it could be important. You’re the first one it’s even vaguely familiar. “ Adam had moved forward to grip Doc‘s arm but he shivered and bit his lip as the pain knifed through him. Doc got Roy to help him get Adam through to lie down on the couch in the back room. Adam was so nearly out he made no protests and lay down glad to relax for the moment. Doc looked up at Roy “I’ll go check my records, might come up with something. Get them, out of town before it gets any worse.”
Roy shrugged “It could get a lot worse if the inquest goes the wrong way.” Doc shook his head as they walked out and murmured “Before the inquest is a problem they have to reach it alive.”
Before Roy could answer Ben and José hurried in. Ben stopped dead as he saw Doc but Paul smiled “Easy Ben all bandaged and for the moment he’s lying down. He’s been walking around asking questions, pushing too hard, when he belongs in bed, but he’s taken no real harm. Nasty wounds but not dangerous. He wants to go home and as far as I can see it’s the only safe place. Let him rest for an hour and take it very easy and he’ll make it.”
“I didn’t know he’d left Beth’s.”
“I’ve already read the riot act, not that it made an iota of difference, and he’s not really up to arguing so take it easy on him. Joe has Jess with him so he should be okay.”
“Adam has got word of a couple of men, one of whom I might have treated. I’m going to check my records. If I come up with anything I’ll tell Roy and get word out to you okay?”
Ben nodded, grateful for the way so many friends were rallying around, more so than he could ever explain. He went through to his eldest son and pulled a chair up by the couch, studying Adam’s face, the lines of pain very clear. Adam opened his eyes and waited for the explosion. Ben smiled, “Just relax. You know you’re an obstinate fool so I won’t waste time telling you.”
The thought that he had come by it honestly flitted through Adam’s mind but he had enough sense not to say it aloud, just saying “No choice Pa.”
“Just rest now. I’ll arrange a wagon to get you home.”
“Much rather ride Blackie,”
Ben shook his head, “You’re not well enough.”
“Please Pa. Doesn’t make my back ache so much, get home faster.”
“Well we’ll see but you rest for a while before we try going anywhere.”
“One more thing, that young lawyer of Sharon’s, the one who tried to buy my Belcher shares.”
“That’s him. Saw Hearst last nigh. He was easy to trick into talking too much then, might talk now.”
“I’ll go and find him, try and get him to talk, if you’ll just rest.”
“No, get Joe to do it; he’s likely to underestimate my little brother.”
Ben smiled “Well at least your brain is still working. You try and doze for a bit while I get it organized.”
Adam grunted and giving way to his overtaxed body he relaxed and slipped into an uneasy sleep. Ben covered him with a blanket and Roy said “He’ll be safe here Ben but you ought to get out of town before anything else happens. Let the rest of us carry on the enquiries here in town.”
“Later Adam needs to rest anyway before I’ll risk moving him home. I’m going to find Joe.” Ben knew that he could trust his old friend to look after his eldest son. It wasn’t difficult to find Joe; a crowd was outside the gunsmith’s, all angrily talking about him. Inside Joe was talking to the gunsmith Stanek after José’s comment about the ammunition. Ben went in to join his son and after reassuring him that his brother was finally resting, he explained what Adam wanted.
It only took Joe ten minutes to track Roberts down in a small restaurant. Luckily it was crowded so it was natural for him to take one of the few free chairs at Roberts’ table. Joe asked for coffee, very glad of the hot drink, while Roberts considered him, recognising the young man but for a moment unable to place him. Joe saw curiosity flare as Roberts placed him and played on it, realising that the other man couldn’t have missed the rumours. He grinned ruefully “No we had nothing to do with the Preacher’s death.”
Roberts hummed and hawed but at least he was talking and he was so busy trying to find out details that he didn’t realise Joe was twisting the conversation round, getting what he thought of as details from the source, he reciprocated easily, not realising how interested Joe was. Joe finished his coffee and went out, wondering if Sharon knew how transparent his lawyer was, somehow he doubted it. The comments on the street soon wiped away the grin and he had a job to keep his temper under control as he heard the accusations against his family. Jess was waiting for him and Joe was glad to have someone backing him but even so both men were very glad to get back to the jail. Roy had all their horses tied up round the back and, although Ben hated having to run out of the town he had done so much to build, discretion was the only possible course He gratefully accepted Roy’s offer of four men to cover them and watch their back trail. Roy promised to send word of any developments and to keep pushing hard but he was eager to get them out of town. Ben had every intention of returning later but for now they had to stop and think and he would be able to concentrate far better when he had his eldest son safely home in bed.
Joe came in and Ben asked “Anything urgent Joseph?”
“Not really I’m not sure if it even helps.”
“Okay leave it for now, let’s get home. Adam’s awake.”
“Shall I go and hire a wagon?”
“He wants to ride.”
Joe glared angrily at his father “Pa! He can’t.”
“Don’t take it out on me son I don’t want him to either but it’s a waste of time arguing, you know your brother. He’ll make out.” Ben went back into his eldest son and helped him to sit up. Adam waited until things had settled before he attempted to get to his feet and his father was there to support him. Blackie was ready and Roy had got a large box over by the stallion which Ben helped his son onto so that it was easier to mount. At first the stallion sidled away at the unusual box but at a word from his master Blackie stood still and Adam was able to mount without pulling too hard on his wounds. Joe had already swung up on Cochise and he moved in close to steady his brother if needed. Ben came up the other side while Jess and José covered their backs and Roy’s four men moved close round them as the cavalcade moved slowly out. Ben wouldn’t push the pace sure that his son was keeping going on sheer will power.
At the house Hoss had been wrapped up in Sue for most of the morning but as she helped Carole lay the table for lunch, he found himself staring at the picture of the Lake in Adam’s study and thinking about his brothers. He was worried about them although he wasn’t sure why, even though their non-appearance had come as a surprise. He couldn’t imagine what could be wrong but as he stared at the picture he became convinced Adam at least was in trouble. Not wanting to disturb Sue, he waited until Carole was on her own after lunch. Carole couldn’t help, Adam’s note hadn’t been explicit but as Hoss wondered aloud if his brother was alright, she blushed as she remembered the previous night. She assured Hoss that Adam had been fine that morning. Hoss looked down at her and maybe his own marriage made him more sensitive, but he read the truth in Carole’s eyes and smiling affectionately he hugged her. “It was Adam’s lucky day when you came to Virginia City.” Pleased at what he’d seen Hoss relaxed and none of the others guessed his unease. He still found himself slightly worried whenever he was on his own, but those moments were few and far between as Sue revelled in her new husband’s company.
Ben and Joe were too concerned about Adam to spare much thought for Hoss as they slowly wended their way home. At least noone interfered with them but Adam had slumped forward in the saddle, not even his willpower enough to keep him upright. He was only really aware of pain, burning up with fever after all his efforts. He was very thirsty and very few minutes Joe gave him some water or wiped his face, but otherwise there was very little anyone could do to help. Ben kept an eye on his son’s pulse while José led Blackie, but although exhausted and in pain Adam’s pulse was strong and he was staying in the saddle without swaying. Ben tried to reassure Joe talking encouragingly to Adam and trying to hide his own fears. It wasn’t until they were three quarters of the way home that Adam lifted his head, “Warn Carole, Hoss can’t burst in on them like this, scare them.”
Ben and Joe met each other’s eyes, neither really surprised that Adam was thinking about those he loved despite his pain. Joe wiped his face again “Easy brother, I’ll ride ahead warn them and get your bed warmed.”
“Hoss, Sue not fair, deserve….” Adam bit his lip as the pain from his back caught him. Ben fed him a little water “It wasn’t exactly our choice Son. Don’t worry, Joe will break it gently and we know Sue is strong just like Carole.” he signalled Joe to go on and Jess moved in closer in case Adam needed support.
Joe wasn’t looking forward to telling Carole or his big brother, like Adam he would have done a lot to stop this interfering with Hoss’ honeymoon. Hoss had earnt a chance to enjoy himself but there was no way to avoid it and it would be easiest coming from him. Somehow they had to clear things up over the next two days and then leave Hoss in peace. Joe remembered one piece of news that he could tell his big brother that might help, knowing how worried Hoss had been for their elder brother. Joe was sure that despite the pain, Carole’s return to him would have given Adam peace of mind that all this trouble wouldn’t be able to disturb.
Joe tied Cochise to the hitch rail and hesitated hearing the laughter coming from inside, but he didn’t have very long before the others arrived so straightening his shoulders he went in. All of them were around the fire with the children and looking up they saw the tension and worry so clear on Joe’s face and fell silent.
Hoss was the first to move and he went over to his brother “I knew something was wrong. I’ve been telling myself all afternoon it was imagination, but I knew it wasn’t. Is Adam hurt?”
Joe nodded slowly, moving over to Carole and gripping her shoulders, “He’s been shot but it’s not too bad. Pa’s with him they’ll be back in quarter of an hour. He’s riding, Doc patched him up.”
Carole bit her lip but hen handing Marie to Laura she got to her feet, “Shall I warm his bed?”
“It’s what he needs Carole, to rest. He’s got a gash in his side and Doc had to dig one out of his shoulder. He’s running a temperature, been doing too much but he’ll be fine.”
Carole nodded and went out to the kitchen to arrange hot stones, glad of something to do and needing a few minutes alone to compose herself. Hoss put everyone else’s thoughts into words as he demanded to know how his brother had been hurt.
Joe sighed heavily, “We hit trouble. Preacher Mckenna is dead, here on the Ponderosa, a broken neck, the buggy overturned. We are getting the blame and as soon as we got to town someone cut loose at us from a window. I’m so sorry it had to be now Hoss, Sue.”
Hoss had his arm round his wife’s shoulders and knew he had her support as he said “That don’t matter Joe, but just how bad is Adam and ‘fer that matter what about you?” Hoss reached out and touched the torn sleeve of Joe’s shirt.
Joe forced a smile “Just a scratch literally and Adam will be fine. He ought to spend the next week in bed but he won’t. We left him at Beth’s to rest after Doc dug the slug out of his shoulder. Pa and I were trying to find out more about the Preacher. Next time I saw Adam he was in the Bucket O’Blood asking questions. Overdone it and a mite feverish, he’s in some pain but not too serious.”
Nita frowned, “If it was an accident why does it matter where it happened?”
“It shouldn’t but after all the hard words people reckon it’s just too convenient for us. Sort of accident which could be caused. Inquest day after tomorrow,” Joe pulled her close to him “Way feeling is running the jury is likely to charge Adam or probably both him and me with murder. Someone is working hard to create just that situation.”
Nita paled, shocked at Joe’s comment, finding it hard to believe and Sue moved closer to Hoss for comfort. Hoss put his other arm round Carole who’d come in from the kitchen and heard Joe’s statement. Carole lent against him glad of his warm strength. Joe went on “Easy all of you. There’s been a lot of odd things happening and we have to make sense of them, but we’ll prove what really happened. Half the town is working on our side. We’ll clear it all up and then we can concentrate on our wedding darling. For now I suggest everyone has a brandy and relaxes. Adam’s hurt and worried but he was still more concerned about upsetting all of you so don’t let him see.”
Hoss nodded “Sense little brother. I’ll get the glasses. Cheer up, we’ve faced accusations before and as we’ve done nothing wrong they can’t prove we have. So even if they should charge Adam or both of them it ain’t disastrous, we’ll prove it weren’t anything to do with us.”
Joe relaxed slightly as Carole forced a smile “Of course we will and Adam will be fine.” He went and fetched the brandy and passed it round, Edwin caught his arm and asked quietly “How bad is he?”
“Bad enough, he’s taken two bullets but no bones broken and nothing vital hit. He ought to rest but he won’t until this is sorted out, all we can do is keep a close eye on him, help where we can.”
Edwin nodded and he was waiting outside as Ben led the way in. He called for Hoss knowing that his great strength was needed to get Adam to bed. Adam was barely conscious but as Blackie came to a stop, he made a determined effort to get control, not wanting to scare Carole or his friends. He was relieved to see his big brother and as Hoss moved close to Blackie, Ben said “Get him down and straight to bed, careful of his left side and shoulder.”
Hoss gently held his brother’s right arm “Easy Adam, let’s get you in, one last effort old son, easy now.” Adam tried to do as his brother asked but as Hoss carried him in there was noway that Hoss could prevent some pressure on his wounds and he felt Adam shudder as the pain caught him. Hoss went upstairs as quickly and smoothly as he could with Edwin opening the doors for him. Carole was waiting for them in the bedroom.
Hoss had vivid memories of the pain from a wound in the same place and knew just how his brother felt, so rather to Carole’s surprise; he didn’t lay Adam down but helped him to sit on the edge of the bed and then moved in front of him and supported his head against his own broad chest. Adam sitting leaning forward with his head supported was in just the position he would have chosen if he could have thought clearly and slowly the pain eased. Hoss smiled at Carole, “He’ll be alright.” He was almost unconsciously stroking his brother’s hair telling him to take it easy, he was home now. Ben had hurried up after them but he made no attempt to interfere until Adam raised his head, fully five minutes later. Although his back was still on fire, he felt considerably better, his brother’s warm strength had warmed him and the world had stopped swaying round him. He smiled at Carole, “I hope we didn’t scare you love, it’s not serious.”
Carole shook her head “Bad enough, you must rest. I’ve seen you far worse but you are not up to wandering around.”
“Bullied.” Adam complained but his family ignored him and while Carole went to fetch him some broth, Hoss and Ben began to ease him out of his clothes and into a nightshirt. Despite all their care it hurt him badly and he was white and shaken by the time they had finished. Hoss helped him to settle in bed and tucked the blankets round him. Ben sat down very carefully on the edge of the bed. “Try and get some sleep Adam. Will you take some laudanum now, ease the pain a bit, you’ve had more than enough.”
Adam opened his eyes and with difficulty focused on his father “We have to talk, sort things out.”
“In the morning, when you’ve had some rest.”
“No! Time’s too short.”
Hoss took his brother’s hand, “There ain’t nothing you can do Adam, so just have somethin’ to eat and then rest.”
Adam forced a smile “Nothing wrong with my brain Hoss, maybe something someone else can do.”
“You must rest.” Hoss insisted.
“I won’t, not until we’ve talked this out.”
Hoss looked up for help to his father for help and Ben could understand his feelings. The ride home had taken a lot out of Adam who had exhaustion and pain written all over his face. As Ben hesitated, Adam pushed himself up on one elbow, “Either you come up here with Joe, Jess and José or I’m coming down.” He meant every word and both Ben and Hoss knew it. Carole had just come back in and she shook her head “You might as well give in, when he gets that expression on his face you know he isn’t going to give in, too stubborn.”
Ben pushed his son’s hair back of his forehead and picking up a damp cloth wiped his face. Adam was running a high temperature but he’d known his son far worse. “You try and eat a little and then rest for an hour. Neither Joe nor I have eaten all day and I don’t expect Jess or José have done any better, Then we’ll talk if you still feel up to it.”
“I won’t doze off Pa.”
“I wasn’t relying on it, as Carole says too darned stubborn.”
“Don’t drug me Pa, not this time.”
“I wasn’t going to. You’re exhausted and in pain, but you’re not in shock, and as you say there is nothing wrong with your brain, so be sensible and relax for a while.”
Glad to get that much Adam tried to do as his father suggested and although he couldn’t manage more than a few mouthfuls of food, the chance to lie still gradually helped and the pain eased to as dull ache which he could ignore. Carole stayed by him, not asking any questions just letting him rest, glad to see a little colour come back to his face.
Downstairs the four men had been provided with food and having got Adam, safely into bed even Ben and Joe relaxed sufficiently to make a decent meal. As they ate Ben filled the rest in on what had happened in more detail. Meg and Laura got the children to bed and then rejoined them.
Joe wasn’t sure if Nita realised the effect on them, “You father will have plenty of ammunition to try and stop the wedding if we don’t clear this up.”
She grinned dismissing her father casually, “He doesn’t matter.”
“”Darling if we can’t clear this up at the inquest we’ll have to postpone the wedding.”
Nita outraged, glared at him “You can’t do that.”
The rest looked at each other wondering whether to leave the couple alone but it was fairly obvious that neither Nita nor Joe was aware of their presence. Joe tried to reason with the irate blonde, “Darling there’s a good chance that Adam and I will be in jail with a murder charge hanging over us.”
Joe looked at her in amazement, “But darling…”
Nita got to her feet and moved over to him gripping his arms “The sheriff is an old friend isn’t he? I’m sure he won’t interfere and I think it would be rather romantic to be married in the jail.”
Joe pulled away “I couldn’t let you…”
“You can’t stop me. I’m marrying you on Saturday week and if you are trying to get out of it you’ll have to come up with something better than a murder charge, a phoney one at that! Actually even if they only arrest Adam we’ll have to get married at the jail. He is to be best man and I am not changing my plans.”
“I love you darling and it’s a sweet thought but I can’t let you. Think what your family would say.”
“Father will cut me off, but I don’t care. This is the family that matters and think what people here would say, that I don’t believe in you, run at the first sign of trouble. I won’t do it. You’re not marrying me for my money anyway.”
Joe held her at arm’s length, searching her face and seeing the absolute implacability there, on this she wouldn’t budge. Very moved he pulled her close and buried his face in her hair for a minute and then capitulating he murmured “Have it your own way.” Then wanting to cover the emotion he felt he said, “Trouble is I’ve still got to clear things up. I want your money always wanted to be as wealthy as my big brother.” Joe’s eyes were sparkling with delight as he looked at her. This first major problem since she became part of the family and she was prepared to meet it head on, support them unquestioningly and calmly. So much more than he could have expected or even dreamt of from his lovely pampered rich girl. She had all the inner strength that Carole and Marie had, finally realising that Joe forgot all his fears for the future, if she could accept this she could adapt to anything. He crushed her to him and meeting his father’s eyes, his pride in her was so very obvious that Ben grinned. Ben and Hoss were equally delighted as she lined herself up, not only with Joe but also Adam and perhaps from that moment Hoss put away his last doubts about his little brother’s second marriage.
Edwin hadn’t missed any of it and he slipped away and went up to Adam’s bedroom, knowing just how much this would mean to his old friend. He tapped softly in case Adam was asleep but Carole told him to come in even though she was rather surprised to see Edwin.
Edwin pulled up a chair, “Easy Adam. I thought you might like some good news for a change.”
Adam opened his eyes frowning slightly “I don’t understand,”
“I know you old friend and I know just how much you worry about that little brother of your’s, but for once there’s no need.” With that Edwin explained exactly what Nita’s reaction had been to a possible delay in her wedding, By the time he’d outlined Hoss and Ben’s reaction too Adam was smiling delightedly. He reached out and gripped Edwin’s arm, “You don’t miss anything do you?”
Edwin got to his feet “You rest now, I just thought you’d like to know, one less thing to worry about, old worrier!” He kissed Carole’s forehead “I’ll leave him in peace.”
Carole smiled equally delighted knowing how much it would mean to Joe and the others “Thanks for coming up, he’ll rest easier. You know him very well.”
Adam couldn’t hear what they were saying but he suddenly demanded to see Nita and Sue. Edwin frowned “I should have expected that, maybe I shouldn’t have come up.”
Carole shrugged “he’s alright as long as he’s lying quiet, just do as he says, he’s not well enough to argue. It was still worth telling him.”
Edwin wasn’t so sure but knowing his friend was quite capable of getting up and going to find the girls if he didn’t get his own way, he went to fetch them, Nita and Sue were both surprised as Edwin told them that Adam wanted to see them, but Joe said “Go on up, he’s pretty weak so let him have his own way.”
As they went upstairs Joe caught Hoss’ eye “Can I have a word.”
Hoss nodded and followed his brother into the study “What’s wrong Little Joe?”
“Daft question Hoss. I wish I saw my way through the next couple of days and nothing is going to keep Adam in bed, away from that inquest. It will be a miracle we can keep him there tomorrow.”
“How bad is he?”
“I think it was only the low calibre of the weapon which saved his life. If it had been a .45, we’d be at least fighting for his survival.”
“Well it wasn’t and even if he’s in pain, he’s well in control.”
Joe frowned and studied his brother “You’re remarkably cheerful.”
“You don’t look too upset yourself considering. Guess with Sue and Nita coming up trumps and Carole of course. We’ll sort it out.”
“You know don’t you?”
Hoss grinned “Did Adam tell you? Yeah I know Carole didn’t exactly say but somehow it was obvious. Adam’s got her back and that’ll outweigh any amount of pain and worry. If he was well enough for Pa to allow him to ride home, he’ll cope.”
“I was going to tell you, as you say it outweighs a lot.”
“I don’t need everything spelled out little brother.”
“You never did.” Joe relaxed slightly with the full backing of all his family and Nita, he was surprised how calm he felt now, somehow they’d sort it out.
Carole went down to get some coffee as Sue and Nita came in, knowing that she could rely on Sue to keep her husband quiet. They could both see that he was running a temperature but after a chance to relax he was able to hide most signs of pain and he smiled at them. Sue automatically checked his pulse and Adam said “You’re not a nurse now Mrs Cartwright.”
“You keep providing me with a patient. You ought to take a strong sedative and get some sleep.”
“Liar Adam, You’ve been doing too much, got quite a fever.”
Adam smiled lazily and then looked up at Nita, “I hear that you want to be married in jail.”
“I don’t want to and I hope I won’t have to, but if necessary I will. It’s the least I can do to make my opinion of this stupidity very clear.”
“Good girl Nita, I bet my little brother is almost bursting with pride.” Adam reached out and took her hand “I’m so sorry for both of you. This shouldn’t have happened interfering with what should be a very happy time, but don’t let it get to you. We’ve had trouble before and we’ll have it again but you’ve both been thrown in the deep end with a vengeance.”
Sue kissed him “Don’t be stupid Adam, it’s nothing to do with you and you’re the prime target. We’re just cross than anyone could believe such a thing about you or Joe.”
“Our friends don’t believe and most of the rest never stop to think and don’t matter. Your family Nita…”
She interrupted “They don’t matter either Adam.”
He gripped her hand a little tighter and the smile reached his eyes, his dimples showing “Both my brothers chose so very well thank God. Nita will you tell Pa to bring everyone up, I want to know where we stand.”
Niota looked over at Sue, she was the nurse but the redhead just shrugged “He’ll have his own way before he’ll rest. Go on.”
Adam smiled at Sue, highly amused by his new sisters, who both seemed to have firm opinions about him already, but he didn’t comment just asking Sue to help him sit up.
Sue did so placing the pillows to support him expertly and pulling his dressing gown round him. “Only under protest Adam. You aren’t well enough but I guess everyone has already told you that and you know it perfectly well so I won’t waste my time.”
Adam shut his eyes waiting for the room to settle again, but his brain was working clearly after an hour’s rest and with Sue’s help he was reasonably comfortable. Carole brought him some coffee and asked just who he wanted to see.
“Might as well let everyone come up darling. Laura and Edwin are doubtless as curious and worried as the rest of us, same goes for Meg and Jim if they want to. Bring some chairs.”
“Are you up to it?”
“I’m okay and they are all old friends, may even have some ideas.”
Carole wasn’t sure but she submitted knowing Adam would work as hard to hide his pain from her as anyone, not wanting to worry her and as he said they were all old friends. Sue got to her feet “I’ll go and tell Pa, sooner we get it done, sooner he’ll rest.”
Ben wasn’t surprised at the message and all of them moved up to the bedroom, After an hour’s peace and quiet Adam looked considerably better than he had since he was first hit and Ben relaxed. “Joe if you’ll take notes. José you start, exactly where and what did you find out?”
José outlined the second accident site, where the same horse had been and Joe headed a list of things to try and do. They needed to track down that horse and to try and find the carcass of the horse from the buggy. José had to sound a note of warning, the sign was all so messed up that Roy’s tracker had refused to accept their reading of events. Then Ben took over and began outlining what he’d learnt in town. Hearst was deeply involved in mining shares as usual but at the moment he was very short of cash with much of his money tied up either in his elaborate mansion in San Francisco or in mines both locally and in Colorado, none of which were performing to expectations at the moment. Although still a wealthy man on paper, he was in trouble and Sharon was pushing him hard to cover a bank loan, with some of his stock bought on margin, he was walking a financial tightrope. Harris and Marye had made that much clear but in fact Joe had got the most useful comment from Roy Naylor. Fair and Mackay had sold out their shares in the water company once they had decided to go ahead with the pipeline and Hearst had bought heavily into it. Roy hadn’t been able to prove it, he was still digging into the cover names for Joe to try and tie it down
Adam was interested by that, it was the first thing he’d heard that explained Hearst’s interest. “Push it Joe, if we can tie him in, a nice money motive will make sense to the jury. Could be we’re messing up his one source of steady income. Edwin will you tell them about the taxes.”
Edwin filled in the story he’d already told Adam, Ben listened quietly “Maybe he just couldn’t afford the taxes and that’s why it was such a crude effort, desperation.”
“If so Pa maybe he’ll break if we could force him onto the stand.” Adam licked his dry lips and Carole poured him out some water “Easy love.”
Ben frowned “We’ll have to get a lawyer.”
“No Pa, I’ll handle it.”
Ben sighed, it was no more than he had expected but he was determined to try and talk his son out of it. “No. At the rate you’re going it will tax your strength even to attend.”
“I’ll manage. It’s my head that’s on the chopping block; I’m not trusting anyone else.” Adam smiled faintly “With luck I’ll get more leeway than I deserve because of this." as he touched his arm.
Ben wasn’t giving way but decided to leave it for now. “We’ll sort it out tomorrow. Let’s concentrate on what else we need to clear before the inquest. Joseph, you saw the gunsmith.”
Joe nodded “He confirmed the bullet Doc took out of Adam’s shoulder was a .25. He doesn’t stock it, neither do either of the others in town, but he had one small gun which was loaded with .25’s so we could compare. The bullets would have to be ordered specially and is must be done direct, none of the three have any record of it. As for the gun, we checked all his records and the only rifle taking that calibre is a European model, lightweight hunting rifle, I’ve never seen one but if we could find one, its owner should have some interesting answers.” The set of Joe’s jaw didn’t auger well for the man if they could lay hands on him. Adam reiterated his conviction that the man must be involved to have started back shooting so quickly. Ben shrugged “Probably but it could be a fanatic. People go wild when a man of God is involved. Either way we want him. If he can shoot you in the back once he might try to finish the job.”
Carole wiped Adam’s face and gave him a brandy and catching her eye Ben asked, “Do you want a rest Adam just for a few minutes.”
“No I’m okay Pa.” Adam drained the brandy and then filled them in on what he’d learnt from Jim Thomas and Quinn. “Must send someone to relieve Red.”
“I’ll see to it. “ Ben promised “Let’s hope he goes back to the hotel, it’s our most direct link.”
“Half the town are looking out for him and trying to find what or who the German is.”
Edwin sat forward “ Joe, you said that .25 rifle was European. Where was it made?”
Joe frowned trying to remember and then smiled “Munchen. That’s Munich isn’t it?”
“It is indeed and in Germany.” Ben said, “Maybe we can guess who was firing at you. All we have everywhere is two men, reporting between Hearst and the Preacher, this German and the man with a scar. We have a rifle and a horse connected to them. We need one of them alive and talking and we have thirty six hours to find them.”
Joe sighed “Sounds simple put like that.”
“It is little brother. Maybe impossible but its simple enough. If we can tie Hearst to the water company and the two men, tie them to the shooting and moving the buggy, we’re free and clear. If I can just get the movement of the buggy proved and accepted we’ll slide out from under, No reason for us to move it.” Adam’s voice was noticeably weaker as he finished and Carole gently wiped his face and fed him a little more water.
Ben took the list that Joe had made “Plenty to follow up and maybe Roy or Doc might have news by morning, or some of the others we have asked for help. I don’t think that there is anything we can usefully do tonight.”
Adam frowned not sure whether that was for his consumption or whether his father really meant it. Ben could read his son and grinned, “Relax. We’ve got half the town running round in circles, only makes sense to let them have a chance to get something definite.” He pulled out the telegrams from San Francisco and Sacramento. “Not much here, .more details of the past tie between hearts and the Preacher and the usual rumours of his cash problems. You can read them later. For now try and get some rest. We’ll try and tie up the ends tomorrow.”
Adam was fighting a losing battle with his weakness, his father’s voice seeming to boom and then fade away so Carole with Hoss’ help got him settled. Hoss fetched a bolster to ensure that his brother didn’t roll over onto his injured back and the other went downstairs. Adam grabbed Sue’s hand before she left, “Sue I’m sorry but I’m going to have to borrow that big husband of yours tomorrow,”
Sue didn’t realise what he had in mind but she smiled, “Of course. He’ll go to town with Pa and Joe, a pretty good bodyguard. He’ll want to do his share in clearing the family name.”
“At least noone could suspect him. Wives can’t give an alibi and be believed but on his wedding night….”
Sue kissed him “Get some sleep.”
“Ask Hoss to come over in the morning before he goes to town.”
“Of course I will.” Adam watched her leave and then took Carole’s hand “I’m alright darling.”
“I know but you must rest.”
“I will now, don’t worry.” Adam shut his eyes still holding onto her hand and quickly slipped into sleep, as he gave way to his aching body. Carole sat by him for a while, but despite his temperature, he was sleeping quietly and she went down wanting a word with Ben before he left. As she came out Laura was there “Do you want me to sit with him?”
“Thanks. I’ll feel happier if he isn’t alone but I think he’s alright,”
“I’m sure he will be but typical Adam, he’s overdone it.” Laura went in to sit quietly by him, tracing the all too familiar lines of pain on his face.
Carole found Ben with Joe and Hoss in the study settling their plans for the following day. She couldn’t hide how worried she was and Ben put his arm round her. “He’s been a lot worse; he’ll be fine in a month.”
“I know that Pa. unless he overdoes it. Can you stop him handling the inquest; he gets in enough of a state about court appearances when he’s fit.”
“I’ll do my best, at the very least bring in someone to back him, but you know your stubborn husband.”
Carole did, all too well, but she slowly calmed down and refused their offers to stay overnight. She had plenty of help available if it was needed and all they could do was leave Adam to sleep. The three of them were going to be pushed the next day anyway; it only made sense to get a decent night’s sleep first. Although they accepted it, none of them could settle quickly when they did get to bed, all worried about the next two days. They were all down early for breakfast and Sue joined them, used to it after years of early rising in her job. In fact she was the only one who looked refreshed, the others all heavy eyed with lack of sleep. Sue passed on Adam’s message and thinking that his son had particular things that he wanted checked, Ben decided to let Hoss go over to see his brother while he and Joe headed for town. This time he was taking sufficient force to act as bodyguards, not risking going around alone, at all times he wanted at least three of them together. Every hand on the place had volunteered to help and Ben had been warmed by their unstinting support. Whatever was being said a great many friends were doing their best to help. Ben expected Adam to sleep in once he’d given into his physical needs and Hoss didn’t hurry over to his brother’s house. He was taking Sue over too; she would help if she was needed.
Ben and Joe headed straight to town, Hoss would be able to tell them how Adam was and anyway Carole had promised to send word if he was any worse or needed to see Paul again. Ben had seen the injuries and spoken to Doc and he wasn’t too worried about Adam, if only his son would be persuaded to rest, he’d recover fairly quickly.
When Hoss and Sue arrived they found the place in uproar. Adam had slept all night without stirring and his temperature had dropped considerably. He was awake early and had managed a decent breakfast. Then he’d asked to see Edwin and Carole had left the two men alone while she went down to get her own breakfast and see to the children. Adam had had quite an argument when he told his friend that he wanted his help to get dressed, but as he just ignored Edwin’s impassioned arguments and waited, Edwin gave way and helped. Adam gave himself five minutes to recover and then went down to sit quietly in the study and await his big brother’s arrival. Carole wasn’t altogether surprised and she didn’t waste time arguing, smiling at the exasperated shrug which Edwin gave, which said it all. She brought Adam some coffee and dared the children to bother their father.
Everyone united in declaring he was a fool but couldn’t deny that he looked better for a night’s sleep and if he preferred to be down with them, he probably wouldn’t take any harm from it. As Carole said they might just as well accept it and combine to send back to bed if his temperature rose.
Adam enjoyed his coffee and then catching Peggy’s eye he called her over and got her to bring him his boots and gunbelt, Peggy just did as she was asked, although not sure that her elders would approve and she was kneeling down helping him on with his boots before anyone else noticed. Nita was the first to see and she touched Carole’s arm “What’s he up to?”
Carole took one look and headed straight over, she didn’t need any explanation “No Adam, you’ll kill yourself.”
Adam was prepared for trouble and took her hand, “How many times do I have to tell you darling, I’m alright, not much more than flesh wounds, no bones broken, nothing vital touched.”
“Just sitting here and your temperature is up. You aren’t going Adam.”
“I wouldn’t if it wasn’t important.”
“Nothing’s more important than your health.”
Adam smiled, “My neck is.”
“It won’t come to that” Carole dismissed it. “There can’t be any proof, you haven’t done anything.”
“No, but probably now is the easiest time to prove it, or none of us will be safe.”
“Your father and brothers can cope, you aren’t indispensable.”
“If there was more time darling but I already have people working some of them will only do it for me. Everyone else has to start from scratch, I have to be in town, Jim will you saddle Blackie for me please.”
“Don’t you do any such thing.” Carole glared at Jim who stood uncertain but Adam had pulled himself to his feet “Darling I love you very much and I don’t want to worry you but I’ve managed when I’ve been a lot less fit than now and this is something I have to do, I’ll wait for Hoss and keep my big brother with me but I’m going, I’m not a child and I’ll make my own decisions.”
Carole said “Hoss won’t agree.”
“He’ll do as I ask." Adam said with complete certainty. “Please don’t make it any more difficult.”
Carole looked round at Edwin and Laura for support but they just shrugged, short of force it would be impossible to stop Adam. Nita came over and tried to persuade him that it wouldn’t help anyone if he collapsed and if he wanted to handle the inquest himself the following day he must rest now. Adam smiled appreciatively “Nice and devious Nita, good try, just about Joe’s standard.”
Just at that point Hoss and Sue arrived and Carole turned to her brother for help. “You’ve got to stop him; he says he’s going to town with you.”
Hoss sighed “So that’s why you wanted to see me, I should have guessed.” He sighed heavily “Adam you’re mad.”
Adam was pulling on is coat and turned to Jim again “Jim will you saddle Blackie or have I got to do it myself,”
Hoss went over to his brother. “We can manage, will you stop frightening Carole, you’re not up to it.”
“I’m going Hoss. If you’ll come with me I’ll stay with you but if not just get out of my way.”
Hoss stared at Adam but he knew that expression and he turned “Go on Jim. Carole I’ll look after him try and make sure he takes it easy but I can’t stop him.”
“Carry him back to bed and lock him in. If he must act like a child treat him like one.” Carole said bitterly close to tears, Hoss put his arm round her “Hey easy now.” he caught his brother’s eye, seeing the pain there at upsetting his wife. “I can understand why he wants to make the effort, might make the difference between recovering here or in jail, he’ll be running a temperature before the day’s out, but he won’t collapse and I’ll stay with him.”
Carole looked up so scared for him and Hoss wiped a tear from her cheek. “Go on kiss him goodbye don’t make it any harder for him, he’s not well enough.”
Carole knew he was right and went over to Adam, “You win, as usual, but please be careful.”
“I will. You can trust Hoss darling. Try not to worry too much.” Adam held her close, knowing that she would but he didn’t feel as though he had any choice. Hoss helped him onto his stallion and moved close to his brother, wondering if he was doing the right thing going along, but not seeing that he had any choice. He knew his brother too well to believe there was anyway of stopping him. Adam saw the doubts on his brother’s face and smiled, “Pa couldn’t have stopped me either, you know that.”
“Yeah Adam I know. You’re a stubborn fool with an over inflated opinion of your own importance.” Adam grinned broadly as he caught his brother’s eye and Hoss grinned sheepishly “Alright I accept you may be able to help but you take it real careful.”
Hoss kept the pace steady but even so before they got to town Adam’s temperature was up. Hoss pulled up just short of town and wiped his brother’s face and gave him the canteen. Adam was glad of a long drink but insisted he was alright. It was no more than Hoss had expected and knowing the depths of his brother’s stamina, he didn’t argue, just offering his brandy flask.
Adam shook his head “No not now, I expect I’ll be glad of some later, but I don’t want to get drunk. What had Pa asked you to do Hoss?”
“Mainly checking my own contacts. Joe thought it might be worth enlisting all the kids I could and get then searching for that horse shoe. Pa wasn’t sure,”
“Sounds a good idea to me. Long shot but with all the kids you usually have around, it might pay off,”
“What do you want to do?”
“Start at the Bucket O’Blood, Quinn and a few of the others will only talk to me. Quinn has seen this scarred man. Find out if Doc or Dan had anything for us. How about Pa and Joe?”
“Joe was pushing on the water company, Pa trying to get proof that Hearst needs money and tying up the links that show he brought the Preacher in. Both checking contacts they started moving yesterday.”
“Well help me down to the saloon and then you can go and get started.”
“I’m not leaving you!”
“Don’t be stupid brother, you have to get on too. We can find someone to hang around, if it’ll keep you quiet.”
“Well maybe but only for a little while and someone I choose.”
As they rode in Hoss spotted Stevens lounging around, one of several hands, who had decided to be on hand just in case of trouble. The man never had much to say but Hoss hadn’t forgotten how he’d backed their fight when Adam was in Europe. He beckoned Stevens over and having checked that he wasn’t doing anything in particular asked him to stay with Adam.
Stevens nodded and then asked, “Your Pa know he’s in town?”
“Nope and he’ll hit the roof. Try telling him we’ve already read the riot act without noticeable affect. Adam’ll keep going and I’ll be around most of the time.”
Stevens moved in next to them as Hoss helped his brother down but Adam pulled away and as a crowd began to gather he cleared his coat from his gun and then walked into the saloon. Quinn saw him and came over as Adam settled at a table in the corner. Adam asked his brother to fetch a bottle of whiskey and a couple of glasses and a beer for himself. Once he brought them over Adam told Hoss to go ahead with his own chores but to be very careful. Hoss didn’t like leaving his brother but he had little choice and began collecting some of the children and getting them to find their friends. He hadn’t got very far when Joe came over to join him. So far Joe’s day had proved reasonably successful. Roy Naylor had proved Hearst’s ownership of the water company at least to his own and Joe’s satisfaction and he was continuing to check. Roy was very willing to spend time and effort helping his old friend who had put a lot of business and help his way over the years, outraged at the accusations being thrown at the Cartwrights. His company had done Joe good, at least one person outside the family was indignantly supporting them and with Jess and Red covering him, Joe didn’t feel so vulnerable to the hatred of the town.
Joe was worried about his big brother and as he joined him said, “Pa told you to keep someone with you.”
“I’m okay, ain’t noone accusing me of anything.”
“You’re still a Cartwright and the hatred may spill over onto you. You’re as vulnerable as Adam to a shot in the back.”
Hoss hesitated and then gripped Joe’s arm “Where’s Pa?”
“I left him at the Washoe Club, then he was going down to see Doc. Why?”
”Adam’s in the Bucket O’Blood.”
“What!” Joe glared at his brother, outraged, “How could you Hoss? He’s not well enough.”
“Easy to say Joe but when have I ever been able to control Adam? Carole and I did try, but he’d have come alone if’n I hadn’t come with him.”
Joe had to acknowledge the justice of that but he’d spent too much time the previous day worrying about his brother, scared he would collapse and now he faced it again. He took a deep breath “Okay since he’s here let’s make use of it. There’s no way we’re gonna keep him away from the inquest tomorrow so let him stay in town, save him two long journeys.”
“Hardly safe. Pa won’t want to risk Beth and the hotel sure ain’t easy to defend.”
“John MacKay’s place should be safe enough if we leave enough hands round it. John and Jim Fair are partly to blame anyway, selling off that damned water company when they knew it was gonna be worthless once the pipeline was built. So if he gets besieged it’s his own fault.”
“Okay little brother, you arrange it and then persuade Adam to go along.”
“He on his own?”
“Nope. Stevens is with him and I’ll get back as soon as I can.”
Joe was about to go and see MacKay when he suddenly stopped “Hoss, Dan reckoned that those rumours yesterday all seemed to have started at Chicksaw’s saloon down on ‘D’ street. You might get the kids to concentrate round there.”
Meanwhile Adam had a lead to the German. Quinn knew a prostitute whom the man used on occasion. She wouldn’t be seen talking to a Cartwright but Adam persuaded Quinn to go and bring her up to the mine office at the Consolidated Virginia, where they could talk in private, promising to recompense her for her time. The office was only across the street and he could leave a message with Don for Hoss but Adam was hanging on hoping that his big brother would be back fairly quickly. Although at a pinch he was sure he could walk across unaided he was trying to husband his strength and it would be a lot easier with Hoss’ help. He was about to give up and head over alone when Hoss came in. Adam explained briefly what he wanted and Hoss went along with him; Hoss told himself that he should be grateful Adam had had the sense to wait for him.
Even with Hoss’ support Adam was trembling by the time he got to the office, sweat pouring off him with the effort as his temperature soared. Hoss helped him in, ignored an outraged Jim Fair, Quinn and the prostitute as he damped a clean handkerchief and wiped his brother’s face before giving Adam, first some water and then some brandy. Only then did he look up and Jim said “He should be in bed.”
Hoss snapped at him, “If you hadn’t sold a worthless water company he’d never have been shot. Now he’s trying to prove he’s no murderer.”
“Easy Hoss I’m okay.” Adam gripped his brother’s arm “Just get me some coffee.”
Hoss calmed down a little but the girl Wanda, who had come very much under protest, couldn’t help feeling sorry for the tall good looking man, flushed with fever and in evident pain, and she was more willing to help than she’d intended. Adam smiled at her “We didn’t have anything to do with the Preacher’s death and we believe a man called the German can help us prove that. You do know him?”
“Yeah. If he knew I’d told on him….”
“He wouldn’t learn from us, but so far he’s just a name. Will you tell me about him? I’ll pay for the information.”
“You just wanna talk to him?”
“That’s all, my word on it.”
Wanda nodded and slowly Adam extracted a description of the man. He’d been around town about two months but she had no idea of where he lived or how he earned his living. Wanda did volunteer the information that he had an odd rifle very light, that he carried everywhere, not wearing a pistol. She had never seen another one like it. When he was sure he had all that she knew Adam gave her twenty dollars and thanked her, leaving Quinn to take her back.
Hoss poured more coffee and Adam drank it gratefully, while he was doing so Hoss passed on what he had learnt form Joe about the saloon and suggested wandering down to see if anyone of the right description appeared. Adam hesitated momentarily but it had to be tried and he pulled himself to his feet, “Okay let’s go see.”
Hoss gently pushed him back into the chair, saying firmly “You ain’t going anywhere. It’s too far you won’t make it. Anyways if he sees you he’ll run a mile.”
Adam smiled faintly, “You aren’t exactly inconspicuous big brother.”
“I’ll stay out of sight; send the kids and a couple of hands in, with that rifle he shouldn’t be too hard to spot.”
“We have to talk …”
“Yeah well we can’t do that in a saloon. I’ll persuade him to come along here for a chat in private. You rest until I get back.”
Adam could think of several people he could talk to but there was no guarantee that he would come up with anything. When Hoss offered to leave Stevens with him to try and bring over anyone he wanted to talk to, Adam gave way and agreed to stay put. He was weaker than he wanted to admit, even to himself. Jim Fair, surprised by Hoss’ attack on him, so unusual for the normally placid big man, promised to get Adam anything he wanted and to keep an eye on the injured man.
As Hoss went down the street his father and José joined him. Hoss knew that he wasn’t going to be popular but to his relief his father said “It’s alright Hoss, I’ve just left Joe. Where is your pig-headed brother now?”
Hoss explained what they had done and learnt and Ben put his arm round his big son’s shoulders “Easy Hoss. Joe’s arranged a bed for him and I doubt if I could have stopped him.”
“He said that you wouldn’t have.”
Ben shook his head but he knew his stubborn firstborn. “Well I just want to see Roy and I’ll go join him. You be careful, José go with Hoss, I’ll be fine with Roy.”
Before Hoss could protest Hank came running over having seen them. He had left Pio at the hotel, the man had come back to see Hearst and Jim Thomas had pointed him out as he had promised. Pio was going to follow him when he came out. Ben at once decided that he would see Roy later and leaving Hoss and José to go down to ‘D’ street, Ben went with Hank back towards the hotel. Ben had agreed with Hoss that if either of them laid hands on one of the two men, they would take them to the mine offices where they could attempt to get them to talk in private. Pio had already left and Ben could only wait at the hotel for word.
Pio followed the man with the scarred hand back to a small disreputable boarding house. He went in and heard him yell “Hey German you here?” Apparently the other man wasn’t around as there was no answer and Pio heard the bedsprings go as the man threw himself down to wait. Within five minutes there were sounds of snoring and Pio risked going downstairs and catching a young Chinese he knew vaguely, asked him to fetch any of the Cartwrights as quickly as he could. The young man had spoken to Joe the previous day and knew all about the trouble, so he was very willing to help. The man Ling Chou found Joe first and after passing on Pio’s message offered to help. Joe was touched but he had Jess and Red with him so he just asked Ling Chou to find his father and tell him what was happening.
Pio was very glad when the three men joined him, but their quarry was still fast asleep. Joe decided to take him while they had the chance with noone else seemingly around the boarding house. He looked at the other three “It isn’t exactly legal. I have no right to take him prisoner and I don’t want to get any of you in trouble with the law. Stay outside and warn me if anyone comes.”
Jess spoke for all of them. “We’re in this Joe, He’s bigger than you, won’t make any trouble when he sees four of us.” Joe looked hard at each of the three men, seeing the total resolve and he grinned, “Thanks.” The man woke up to find a gun under his chin as Joe said “Keep very quiet.” He flinched away but then seeing the others he lay hardly daring to breathe.
“Stand up very slowly.” Joe ordered wondering where to take the man. They obviously couldn’t stay where they were; they were too likely to be interrupted. In lieu of anything better he decided to take his prisoner to John Mackay’s. “We’re going to walk out of here, all very friendly. My friend here, like many Mexicans, is very good with a knife. It will be right at your side, just in case you feel like yelling or doing anything to attract attention.” Pio pulled out his knife and tried the edge against his thumb, ostentatiously.
The man paled and hoarsely swore that he’d do anything they said but he didn’t know nothing. Joe just smiled, although it didn’t reach his eyes colder than the man had ever seen, “You’ll remember quickly or it’ll be very unfortunate.”
Joe was relieved to see his father hurrying down the street towards him. Ben saw that Joe was holding firmly onto the stranger’s elbow and nodded “Well done Joseph, Pio. Take him over to the Consolidated Virginia office. Adam’s there already. I’ll join you as soon as I’ve had a word with Roy.”
Meanwhile Hoss had been as successful as his brother. Before he even got to the saloon two very excited boys ran over to him. They thought they had found the horseshoe that he was looking for, a rather flashy bay, tied up outside the saloon. Hoss went over to check and while he was looking at the horse’s foot, José saw a man suddenly start backing away. José frowned but then he saw the rifle the man was carrying and touched Hoss “Going in the alley. Fits the description.”
Hoss took that in rapidly and moved even faster. Before the man realised there was any trouble, especially from such a big man, a hand clamped on his shoulder as he turned to run away. Hoss took his rifle, “You and I are gonna have a talk. Interesting gun, my brother would like to see it.”
The German blustered that he didn’t know what Hoss was talking about but Hoss had his arm and led the man through the alleys back towards the mine. Hoss stopped once to tell one of the kids that the horse had been found and call of the search. He had just arrived back with his prisoner when Joe came in. His brothers were pleased to see Adam looking better for sitting quietly for an hour even if he was still very drawn.
Adam considered the two men and then said “We’d better keep them apart, make sure their stories match.”
There were two storerooms and he asked Jess and Red to take the German while José and Pio took the other man into the second room. Joe said “Pa will be here in a minute, do we wait for him?”
Adam shook his head. “I’ll take the German, you take the other one. We want to know everything they did after the Preacher left our house. I think we know pretty well but they have to testify.”
“And the shooting?” Joe asked.
“We’ll forget it if they cooperate. Promise not to press charges on that and they haven’t broken any laws yet. If they don’t testify, we can get them on conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and even attempted murder. That gives us a lever and the main thing is to get them into court. Hoss take the rifle over to Stanek, check it’s a ·25, it’s the proof we need.”
His brothers knew that it was a waste of time arguing and begrudgingly agreed, but by the time Ben joined them the two prisoners were still being evasive. Adam and Joe left them for the moment and came out. Ben made no comment about his eldest son’s presence to Adam’s relief, but listened in silence to Joe’s résumé of progress or lack of it. They couldn’t contemplate violence but Ben was prepared to threaten it once Hoss got back. The sheer size of his big son was enough to frighten the men, especially knowing what they had done to his brother. The close relationship between the brothers was well known round town.
When Hoss returned with Stanek’s written statement, confirming that the rifle was indeed a ·25 and as probably the only one in town almost certainly used to shoot Adam, Ben explained what was required. He didn’t like asking his son but with his brothers possibly facing a lynch mob if the inquest didn’t go their way, Hoss was prepared to go a lot further than that.
Ben told Adam to rest for a while and went to talk to the German while Joe went back into the man with the scarred hand, Hoss going with him. Joe sat by while Hoss shook the man bodily until his teeth rattled and then told him to start talking before he began taking him to pieces. Joe considered the frightened looking man and judiciously advised the man to do as he was told as his big brother was quite capable of it especially with their eldest brother shot in the back. At first hesitantly and then almost eagerly the man, who gave his name as Croton, began to talk After a few minutes Hoss left him to Joe and went to join his father with the German.
This one was a tougher nut and fell back on the German language, pretending not to understand English. Ben pushed for a while but getting nowhere begrudgingly called his eldest son through, helping Adam over to a chair. Ben said “As best I can make out he’s claiming to only understand German.”
Adam’s knowledge of German was fairly rudimentary and it was sometime since he had used it, but while in Europe he had spent nearly a month in areas where he had spoken nothing else. At first slowly and then more rapidly as he began to remember, Adam explained that he spoke the language and began framing questions. The rather guttural tongue was well suited for interrogation and as Adam asked question after question the German seemed to deflate, although still refusing to answer. Then as though it was all too much for him he suddenly came out with a long outburst of German, which Adam was pushed to understand. Adam hid his uncertainty, determined not to lose his ascendancy by asking him to repeat it or admit that he didn’t understand. The man gave his name as Frank Bauer and as far as he could judge Adam thought the long tirade was a justification for his own actions and a condemnation of Hearst. Adam pushed hard getting the man to admit the basic facts and then risked moving back into English. Having once given in Bauer no longer hid his knowledge of English and spoke freely, only wanting to avoid an attempted murder charge. Adam decided that he wanted signed statements from both men so that they couldn’t retract their statements in court. He got his father to write it down as he went through everything again and then had Bauer sign it. He put the position plainly, they could prove Bauer had shot him in the back and were in a position to charge him with attempted murder and perjury if he altered his story on the stand. Adam promised that if he testified honestly they wouldn’t press charges. Bauer was a realist and he agreed without hesitation.
Adam went out leaning heavily on is father, leaving Hoss with the prisoner. He was very tired the effort of using a strange language head left him feeling drained and Ben thought he was on the verge of collapse. He offered his son a brandy but Adam just wanted coffee. Adam sat quietly in a chair, leaning forward resting his head on his hands with his eyes closed. His head and his back throbbed in unison and he was so very tired he only really felt like sliding into sleep but here was one more job to be done here and that still left Hearst to deal with. He was cold, shivering and the hot coffee seemed to have settled in a lump on his chest, just making the rest of him feel colder. Slowly he forced himself to sit up “I’d better get the other statement.”
“Joe and I can do that, just rest and we’ll get you to bed shortly.”
“No I’m going into court with it tomorrow, I have to know what problems there might be. Only any good if I do it. If he hesitates today, may change his mind tomorrow. Best if I’m prepared.”
Ben didn’t like it but had little choice and helped Adam in to join Joe. Joe was taken aback by how quickly his brother had wilted. Last time he had seen Adam, just under an hour ago his brother had looked pale and drawn but alright, now he looked on the verge of collapse. Joe met his father’s eye and what he saw there kept him quiet. Ben knew as well as Joe did that his eldest son was close to collapse and it wouldn’t help to waste time discussing it. Adam wanted to cover the same facts with both men and having the questions clear in his own mind it only took half an hour to get Croton’s statement written down and signed. Then leaving Jess with Croton, Ben and Joe helped Adam back out to the main office to rejoin Hoss. Ben said “Right bed for you Adam, you’ve had it.”
“Later. I couldn’t face the ride home yet anyway.”
“Good because you’re not going home.”
Adam looked up at that, “I must. Carole will be worrying and anyway you agreed town isn’t safe.”
Ben sat on the table next to him and took his son’s hand. “Carole will worry a lot less if she knows that you are resting in bed and that I’m with you, than if you push yourself to ride all the way home and then all the way back tomorrow. As for safety Joe has arranged for John Mackay to put us up. We can go in the back way and noone will know that we are there so it should be safe. Some of the hands will stay in town. José has booked four rooms in the hotel across the road from John’s and Roy knows we’ll be there. Any trouble and there is help available.”
“This time you’ll do as you’re told.” Ben insisted
Adam was dreading the ride home, knowing he’d overdone it and his temperature was way up, feeling weak and sick, so he made surprisingly little protest. It was going to take all his strength to get through the inquest the next day and it made sense not to waste any on a long journey. Even so he couldn’t go to bed yet, even if it was all he felt fit for. “Pa, I’ll do as you say, but we still have to decide how to handle Hearst himself.”
Ben had been thinking of that too, “It won’t be easy to prove he gave the orders.”
“Almost impossible legally, the word of Croton against Hearst and you know who will be believed. The rest is just hearsay.”
“He is a dangerous man to make an enemy of. I think we might make it possible for him to slide out from under, in return for the withdrawal of his opposition.” Ben said.
“He won’t stick to a deal.” protested Joe “We ought to nail him, this is all his fault.”
Adam smiled wryly “Personally I’ll settle for some peace and quiet I don’t think we can nail him Joe.”
“We try and don’t make it and he’s gonna be an even worse enemy.” Hoss commented.
Ben could only agree with his big son “I think I’ll try and talk to him at least, nothing to lose and maybe we can come to terms.”
Adam tried to pull himself to his feet “I’ll come with you.” but Ben gripped his arm as he swayed and shook his head. “No. Hoss is taking you to bed. You have had it Adam and I can manage, Nothing will be written down and if necessary you can see him tomorrow, but if you don’t get some rest you won’t make the inquest tomorrow. Joe take José and Pio with you, find Roy. He’s agreed to look after our guests for the night if they were co-operative. Then you can get home.”
“No I’m staying with Adam. If it’s safe enough for him it is for me too.”
Ben wasn’t surprised “Have it your own way. Hoss do you mind telling Carole and the others what has been happening and what we’ve arranged?”
“Of course not Pa. Sounds like pretty good news to me and I’ll bring them in for the inquest.”
“No!” protested Adam, “It won’t be safe, not until this is over.”
“I’ll bring enough men to guarantee they’re safe Adam but you ain’t the only obstinate one in this family. I couldn’t stop Carole or Nita, not to mention Sue, any more’n I could stop you this morning. Singly I don’t do too well and when they gang up ….” Hoss shook his head, with such a lugubrious expression on his face that Joe broke out into giggles.
Ben smiled “Don’t worry Adam they’ll be safe enough. Alright Hoss, once Joe joins you, head on back home to your wife. Some honeymoon!”
“Yeah well after tomorrow maybe I can get back to it.”
Ben took Hank and Stevens with him, leaving Jess to help Hoss get Adam over to MacKay’s. Once Adam was settled Jess promised to get Blackie, Cochise and Buck out of the way in the stables at the back of Beth’s house, as the horses were almost as well known as the Cartwrights themselves. Jess checked noone was around and then leaning heavily on Hoss, Adam moved slowly over to John’s house. It wasn’t far but to the weak man it seemed to take forever. Twice Hoss tried to persuade his brother to be carried but however careful Hoss was he couldn’t help pressing on one or other of the wounds and Adam couldn’t face anymore pain for now. He preferred to walk even if each step seemed to take conscious effort, his limbs reluctant to obey his brain’s orders. Hoss very aware of both the weakness and fever emanating from his brother was very relieved as Jess opened the door into John’s house. The Irishman was there waiting for them. Joe hadn’t minced words when he came by, blaming John for at least part of the trouble and almost demanding help. Even though John knew that Adam had been shot, he also knew that he was wandering around town trying to clear himself and John hadn’t realised how badly hurt his friend was. Now seeing him drawn and exhausted in obvious pain and feverish, hardly seeming to know what was happening, John was so taken aback that he just stood there, blocking the doorway. Hoss said impatiently, “Get out of the way John. Joe said you’d have a bed ready for him.”
“Yes, yes of course, warmed and ready. My God Hoss is he…”
“Later. Let me get him to bed.” As they came to the stairs Hoss said “You won’t make it brother. Come on arm round my neck.”
Adam did as he was asked, the whole scene swirling round him and Hoss lifted his brother taking virtually all of Adam’s weight on his right arm, just steadying him with his left, avoiding the wound. He was more than glad to reach the bedroom and ease Adam down on the bed, the old wound in his back making it clear that while better, such feats of strength were asking rather too much. Hoss straightened up and turned to John and Jess who had followed him up. John was hovering so Hoss asked him to fetch some coffee, Jess would give him a hand. Adam made no protest as Hoss and Jess slowly and carefully helped him out of his clothes and into bed. He settled down on his side and Hoss placed a pillow to protect his back and didn’t even answer Hoss’ query about coffee and food. So very tired, he just threw off most of the covers and shut his eyes, waiting for the pain to ease, then exhaustion had its way and within seconds he was asleep. Hoss was relieved to see it and tucked Adam up again, knowing he was running a high temperature but with luck a long sleep would work wonders. Jess was looking worried and Hoss grinned “You should be used to him.”
“One day he’s gonna push too far.”
“Maybe not. He knows his own strength, other people underestimate him and he’s not been proved wrong yet.”
Hoss spent a while calming John down and persuading him that there was no need to disturb Doc, there was nothing that Paul could do. By the time that Joe arrived, a chance to rest was already dropping Adam’s temperature, so Hoss wasn’t too worried as he rode home. He went straight to the main house and got two hands to go and keep watch around Adam’s house, promising to have them relieved later. He wasn’t going to tell Carole, not wanting to worry her, but he wasn’t prepared to take any risks. Then he went over to join Sue and the rest of his family. He had success to report and Adam was resting from his exertions, not having taken any real harm from over doing it. Carole listened in silence but what Hoss said made sense even if she would rather have been with her husband see for himself. The big man’s face was always so expressive that she could be sure he wasn’t hiding anything from her and if he wasn’t worried about his brother, she had no need to be. Carole thanked Hoss for telling them and promised not to worry and then told him to take his wife home. Hoss arranged to pick them all up in the morning in good time for the inquest but as Sue got her cloak he hesitated, “I can stay if’n you want Carole. You ain’t gonna sit here and fret are you?”
Carole smiled, “I’m fine Hoss, Thank you but you take your wife on home, it’s your honeymoon.”
Edwin clapped the big man around the shoulders “Go on I can look after Carole and Nita. Adam’s my friend.”
“Sure Edwin and thanks. I’m glad you’re here.”
Nita sighed, “These men, mutual admiration society isn’t in it! As though the four of us females can’t look after ourselves. We don’t get into trouble; they’re the ones who need a bodyguard, fighting all the time.”
Laura said “Here, here.” And Carole burst out laughing at the hard done by looks on the men’s faces.
Ben spent two hours with Hearst making it very clear just how many ways they could tie him in, the Preacher, his men, money troubles, the water company, with Croton and Bauer’s statements perhaps even conspiracy to murder if they pushed it hard enough. Hearst was so shocked as he realised that the Cartwrights knew about his involvement, and then all the details that Ben seemed to have, that for a while he didn’t seem able to think at all, not even denying it. When Ben offered a deal he almost jumped at it, he couldn’t afford more scandal. Ben was prepared to let all three men out, if it was proved that the Preacher’s death was an accident and nothing to do with the Ponderosa and on condition that there was no more opposition to the pipeline from Hearst. Hearst was glad to get out from under so easily and professed himself willing, so Ben spent time explaining exactly what he wanted and the provisions he intended making to ensure that Hearst didn’t go back on his word. After the initial shock Hearst got back into control and started trying to haggle about the details but Ben had the whip hand and he knew it. Ben pushed hard and eventually got his own way. It all took time but he was satisfied in the end and very glad that he had dissuaded his son from coming; in his present state Adam just couldn’t have coped.
Mrs Mackay had cooked a meal for Joe and had food ready for Ben and Adam if they wanted. Joe sat by his brother’s bed but Adam hadn’t stirred and his temperature was considerably lower as he rested. When Ben got over to join his sons, he checked Adam and then leaving the door open so that they would hear if he stirred, Ben and Joe moved into the next room. Ben filled his youngest son in on what had happened with Hearst while he ate. Everything seemed to be going their way but it was still essential to show the whole town at the inquest the next morning. Joe was worried, unsure that his brother could cope; he had wilted very quickly during the day. Ben shrugged “All we can do is make sure he gets a decent couple of meals and a good sleep. He’ll be much better in the morning and he won’t have that long ride. You know your brother Joseph, we won’t change his mind.”
Joe could only accept that but he found it difficult to relax and was pacing around, Adam finally stirred just before midnight and Ben went in to him and helped him to sit up, while Joe went and fetched coffee. Adam looked and felt much better and he ate a decent meal while getting details from his father about the meeting with Hearst. He was trying to settle his strategy for the inquest, not looking forward to it. He always got nervous when he had to appear in court even if it was only obvious to those who knew him very well indeed, his own family. This time when he was feeling weak and unsure of his own strength the mere idea made him tense up and the pain in his back and side brought him out in a cold sweat.
Joe wiped his face and offered him a drink but Adam refused. Ben moved in “Come on Son, lie down and get some more sleep it’s going to be a long day tomorrow.”
“I don’t think I can go back to sleep again yet Pa.”
Ben wasn’t having Adam lying around worrying and he had a strong sedative that he had collected from Doc, who had been disgusted to hear that his patient had come back to town. He poured out a dose “Come on drink this and get some sleep.”
“I don’t want drugs.”
“For once you don’t have any say in the matter. Either drink this and get some more rest or you are not leaving this bed tomorrow.”
Adam frowned but on occasion Ben could be as stubborn as he was and he recognised the expression, it wasn’t worth arguing, so he submitted. Within ten minutes he was dozing again but he was very restless, muttering indistinguishably and tossing around in the bed. Ben and Joe took it in turns to get some rest while the other one stayed with Adam to try and ensure that he didn’t hurt his back again.
Adam finally slipped into a peaceful sleep about dawn and with the inquest at eleven Ben let him sleep until nine, not wanting him to have too long to fret, knowing how nervous he always got. Joe had been up early and had organised all the papers that his brother could possibly need, so that Adam could find them easily. With any luck if the two men told the truth the whole thing could be over in less than half an hour. They had both claimed that they had seen the accident, as the Preacher lost control of his horse. Ben was hoping that they would get away with three witnesses, Doc and the two men.
Eventually Ben decided he had better wake his son so he had time to get himself ready without being rushed. Ben had collected breakfast determined that Adam should have a decent meal in him before he got up. Adam wasn’t hungry but once he’d washed and shaved he forced himself to eat, knowing that his father was quite capable of locking him in until the inquest was over if he didn’t. Tensing up as he got nervous, hoping that his strength would last out, caused his wounds to send stabs of pain through him and he was hard pushed to hide the pain. He couldn’t finish the food his father brought him but he managed over half and after two cups of coffee, Ben helped him get dressed. He offered a brandy but Adam refused, still slightly dopy from the sedative, he wasn’t sure how it would react and he needed his wits about him.
The courthouse was down the other end of town and despite Adam’s protests Ben wasn’t having him walk all that way and got Joe to find Jess and José for protection and then go and hire a buggy. They left in plenty of time but the buggy jolting one the rough road, deep with mud hurt Adam badly and he had lost all trace of colour before they were halfway there. Ben would have given a lot to stop right there and forbid Adam to go on but he couldn’t. All he could do was to get to the courthouse as soon as possible and allow his son time to recover. He sent Joe on ahead to arrange the use of one of the small offices and Joe had even managed to provide coffee for his brother. Ben helped Adam in and he sat down resting his head on his arm, only really aware of the pain in his back, already running a temperature. Joe stared horrified at his father “Pa you have to stop him, he can’t cope.”
Adam reacted at that and raised his head, managing a smile for his little brother, “Underestimating me again! Have you got coffee or have I overestimated your organizing ability?”
Joe shook his head in disgust but went and poured coffee. Adam slowly got control of himself, drank two cups of coffee and consciously relaxed until the pain eased. Then he got to his feet “Time to make a move. Are Carole and the others here yet?”
Joe had been keeping an eye out and he nodded “Arrived a couple of minutes ago, José was keeping seats for them. It’s packed out there.”
Adam had expected that. His father had managed to arrange for him to present the case. It wasn’t unusual for a case to be presented by one of the local lawyers and the judge was prepared to accept it but he had warned Ben that he would not stand for any cover up and would be questioning the witnesses as he saw fit. There wasn’t any way to keep Hearst’s name out of it completely but provided they weren’t to be charged Croton and Bauer were prepared to take all the responsibility for their idea of moving the body.
As he went in Adam met Carole’s eye and smiled reassuringly at her and she returned it, not about to worry him but as soon as he had gone past the smile was replaced by a worried frown. Ben slipped in next to her and gripped her hand, “It’s alright. Be over fairly quickly. He’s had a long sleep and two decent meals, he can manage.”
Carole was relieved to see that Doc was sitting over near Adam, due to testify he would also be there if her husband needed him.
Adam called Joe first and took him through the preacher’s visit to the ranch with Joe having him escorted from it and then the word coming of the accident, with their visit to the site to check before sending for Doc and the sheriff. The Judge then took over querying why they had bothered. Joe was quite frank, the Preacher had had a lot to say about his family, none of it complimentary and with his body on their ranch they didn’t want to be accused of involvement and had lent over backwards to do everything by the book, so they couldn’t be accused of covering up anything. The angry murmur from the crowded courtroom was testimony that most people there didn’t believe Joe and Adam tensed a little, hoping that they could convince the hostile crowd by the end of the morning. He could only continue with his plan and he called Doc next. Paul testified that there was nothing about the body which would indicate anything other than accidental death, his neck broken when the buggy overturned.
Needing to lay the foundations for his next witnesses, Adam questioned Doc about the dead horse and the disparity of the time of its death and the probable time of the Preacher’s death. The jury began to sit forward interested by that, sensing that it might be a more interesting inquest than they had expected.
Once Paul left the stand, Adam eased himself to his feet and with all the attention on him, he explained about the two hands who had passed the area late at night on their way home to the Ponderosa without seeing any sign of the buggy. He passed the two signed statements, on the top of the pile Joe had prepared for him, to the Judge, assuring him that the men were there and available to testify if required. The Judge signalled him to go on and Adam explained that although the point where the buggy was found was on the direct route to the ranch for horsemen it was a very rough road for a buggy. Given the place where his men had last seen the Preacher the night of the wedding, there was no reason for the Preacher to be there.
Then Adam called Croton to the stand. He was very tense hoping the man wouldn’t go back on his statement and it was an effort to keep his back straight. Joe had taken a seat just behind Adam and seeing the tension he lent forward, murmuring “Easy Adam.”
Adam took a deep breath and made a conscious effort to relax and then started taking Croton through his story, the signed statement ostentatiously in his hand, Croton said that he and his partner worked for George Hearst and the Preacher was an old friend of Hearst’s, so they sort of kept an eye on him, he wasn’t too good at looking out for himself. They knew he’d gone to the Ponderosa but he had come back faster than they had expected and they weren’t at the meeting place. They saw the Preacher as they headed out towards it and he had lost control of his buggy horse which was running away with him. Adam asked if there was anyone else around but Croton shook his head, he hadn’t seen anyone or heard anything. Croton had no idea what had set the horse running but he did admit that it was well off the Ponderosa. By this time the whole court was listening so intently the only sound the questions and answers, but the position of the buggy was noticed and there was a sudden murmur as everyone commented to their neighbour. Adam waited for quiet again and then asked what else Croton had seen. Croton explained that the wheels of the buggy had caught in the mud; the horse tried to pull on and got caught up in the reins breaking its leg. The buggy had turned over and the Preacher was thrown out. He was dead by the time they reached him. Adam emphasized where and when the death occurred and the Judge began to look very puzzled. Adam went on, bringing out that they had moved the body and set up a new accident site on the Ponderosa. Unable to wait the Judge interrupted demanding to know why they had done such a bizarre thing. Croton wouldn’t look at either the Judge or Adam, staring down at the floor but his voice was clear enough. He explained that he and his partner knew that both the Preacher and his boss disliked the pipeline and they had decided that if the Cartwrights had something else to think about they might give it up. He claimed that they had been drinking as an excuse.
While the Judge was still considering that testimony Adam called the German. The worst hurdles over he had relaxed and for a moment nearly lost control of his sense the whole room seeming to fade away and as the Judge asked him something his voice was just booming, making no sense. Joe came to his feet and steadied his brother, urgently asking for someone to bring some water. Hoss moved over and took the Judge’s water glass that the older man held out to him. He fed it to Adam and Joe asked, "Adam do you need to ask for a break?”
Adam heard his brother’s voice and made the effort to pull himself together, grateful for a drink but he was back in control. He pulled away from Joe and apologised to the Judge for the delay and then began taking Bauer through his story. He kept it short as Bauer’s English was slightly limited but the German backed Croton up all down the line. Having finished with Bauer, Adam sat down and looked up at the Judge. “I think that about covers it.”
The Judge shook his head “Not quite.”
Adam tensed up at that wondering just what the Judge wanted to probe into, maybe embroiling Hearst in it. The pain in his side and back stabbed at him as he tensed and he bit his lip, trying desperately to hide his pain. As though from a long way away he heard the Judge suggest that he take the stand himself and explain how they had tracked down two witnesses, who were presumably reluctant to testify. The Judge seemed almost to suspect that the men had been paid to tell a story and Adam realised that he should have been prepared for that reaction but he couldn’t think clearly. Joe lent forward “Call me again Adam.”
Adam could only do as Joe suggested, it was taking him all his time to keep control and sit upright. Joe gripped his arm and smiled “Take it easy relax, its okay” He took the stand and the Judge reminded him that he was still under oath. Joe was relieved to see Hoss slip forward to sit next to his brother, a supporting arm round him, but then Joe concentrated on the Judge, who had taken over the questioning, seeing Adam was close to collapse.
Joe smiled casually, seemingly totally relaxed as he told the Judge about the horse with the distinctive shoe, indicating the sample in the box which Roy had brought along to the inquest. He explained how they had hunted for the second site, discovered it and again found the distinctive shoe. In town they had traced rumours back to one saloon and with assistance from some of the local kids they had found the horse. Once they had found the bay, it was just a case of waiting for the owner and his partner.
The Judge frowned “What did you offer them to talk?”
“A prosecution for perjury if they lied! Once they realised that we knew exactly what they’d done, they caved in. It wasn’t breaking the law until they lied on oath and we promised that if they did we’d prosecute.”
The Judge grunted but as Joe sat relaxed just looking enquiringly at him he gave up and turned it over to the jury.
The jury didn’t even bother to retire, bringing in a verdict of accidental death. They added that Croton and Bauer might like to leave town before they got run out on a rail and that certain people ought to apologise for things said to and about the Cartwrights. The Judge admonished them that such comments weren’t part of their job but the jury was unrepentant. Hoss was delighted and grinned at his father, the whole atmosphere in the room had swung round, not only the jury had cleared them. Joe had settled on the other side of Adam talking quietly to his brother, telling him to hold on just a few more minutes. Adam was just about managing to keep his head up but he was not really aware of what was going on, not even hearing the jury’s verdict, it was all just noise. As people came to their feet Hoss and Ben moved to stop anyone coming over to try and congratulate Adam. Ben murmured to his big son “Adam’s about out, get him through to the Judge’s room; we can’t move him through this crowd.”
Hoss nodded and carefully picking Adam up, he followed as Joe pushed the door open into the Judge’s room at the rear of the court house. The Judge was just collecting his papers together and looked up outraged as Joe came in. Joe held the door open for his brothers “I’m sorry Sir, but Adam’s gonna pass out with all that noise and bustle.”
Hoss put Adam down in a chair and knelt down in front of him, supporting his brother who didn’t seem aware of where he was. The coroner opened a drawer and got out a bottle of brandy and a glass, he pushed them towards Joe “Here, he looks as though he needs it.”
“Thank you Sir. He needs a week in bed and that’s where he’s going. I apologize for intruding on you but he’d hate to collapse with so many interested spectators and we couldn’t get him through them.”
“I could see that he wasn’t well, the sling for a start but I hadn’t realised how ill he was. He seemed alright when I spoke to him earlier.”
“Just overdoing it. You heard that he’d been shot.”
“No!” said the Judge horrified.
Joe was surprised and briefly outlined the hatred they had found in town and the attack, just why the inquest had been so vital to them, the alternative looking like a lynch mob for something that was nothing to do with them.
The Judge whistled softly “If I’d known I wouldn’t have pushed so hard.”
“I’m glad you didn’t know Sir. We have nothing to hide, now everyone knows that.”
Hoss had fed Adam the brandy and he slowly sat up more in control. He heard Joe’s final comment and asked “Joe, you say they know, what was the verdict?”
Neither of his brothers was particularly surprised that he hadn’t taken it in while in court, even if the Judge was, and they rapidly filled him in. As they did so Ben and Carole came in to join them and Ben added his apology for their invasion but the Judge shrugged “Only sensible things to do.”
Adam had his arm round his wife, vainly trying to convince her that he was fine. Ben wasn’t accepting that either but now he could take time to rest he would recover rapidly. He had done a fine job, as had Joe, and they could forget all about the Preacher. Ben insisted that Adam was going to rest before they attempted anything else and he took a room at the nearest hotel and settled his son for a couple of hours sleep. Then he arranged for a meal before they headed home.
Adam insisted that he was going to ride his black stallion home; he’d had more than enough of a buggy for one day. As the drive over had been so hard on him Ben accepted that his son probably knew the easiest way to travel, knowing that Adam had always avoided wagons and buggies whenever he could, especially with the roads as rough as they were at the moment. Carole argued against it but Ben said “He’ll be better on horseback and we can always stop and change round if we need to,”
Carole gave way consoling herself that after a rest and a meal her husband looked much better. He was very pleased with the way things had gone and Doc had checked him over, lecturing him on overdoing things but having to admit he’d taken no real harm.
Buy the time they were halfway home Adam was wilting but with his brothers close on either side he made the house where Hoss carried him straight to bed. Ben went up to help and Adam was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow and leaving his door open they went on down. Everyone was delighted with the way the inquest had gone and very impressed. Adam hadn’t realised how theatrical he looked, very pale and the white sling showing against his dark clothes, his voice low because of his weakness he had dominated the room until his near collapse. Joe had produced an equally effective performance skirting round the things they didn’t want brought out without making it obvious. Even though Adam was still weak and in pain he wasn’t seriously hurt and would recover quickly now he could allow himself time to relax. They could all concentrate on the preparations for Joe and Nita’s wedding, only ten days off now.
Joe found it almost impossible to imagine how he had got into such a state at Hoss’ wedding only three days ago. It felt like a lifetime away, but as his wedding was threatened so it became more imperative to go ahead as planned and now nothing could stop him.
Even Carole had relaxed, the threat of prison was gone for good and even if it was wrong she was glad the Preacher was dead and couldn’t any longer insult her husband with complete impunity, hiding behind his cloth as a Man of God. Adam would be fine now he could take time to recover.
Much to Adam’s disgust the next day everyone ganged up on him and insisted that for one day at least he was staying in bed; give his body a chance to recover. Very much under protest Adam gave way and had no reason to complain about neglect. When he was awake his room was always full. Edwin talked over his plans for his show opening in three more days and Adam was determined to attend the opening night. Carole made it very clear that he was only going to go if he rested in the interim. It was all he really felt fit for and for once he was an almost model patient, all too aware that he had been overdoing things.
Ben sat back and watched his big son so happy with his new bride, his youngest exuberantly planning his wedding, and his eldest content with his wife and three kids. Life was better than ever and he was the self satisfied patriarch, rather obviously so to the amused gaze of his three sons.