The Way Things Are
Adam bolted up. What the heck was that? Adam shook his head and was disoriented for a moment. Thinking that he was still at one of those seedy hotels that he had had the so-called pleasure of staying at once or twice during the previous years, he sat upright, ready to move at moment's notice. Looking around, he suddenly remembered where he was. He was in his old room at the Ponderosa. He ran his hand through his hair and heaved a heavy sigh. When Adam had first arrived back home after a prolong absence of several years, he was slightly surprised and pleased to see that his room had been hardly touched. Except for the obligatory cleaning, everything was pretty much where he had left it.
As he got up to get dressed, he thought about the places he had seen, where he had been and what he had been doing during his time away. It was what he had been doing that had brought him home after all these years. He sighed again. As he proceeded to get dressed, he also thought about his family. They were under the impression that for most of the time he had been away, he had been seeing the world and paying for it by working as a sailor - which was far from the truth. Well, actually that wasn't quite right. He had tried life as a sailor for a short time but had realized rather quickly that it was not the life for him. Well, there wasn't much he could do or say about it now. With the way things were, he couldn't for some time. It was also quite possible that he may never be able tell his family the complete truth.
After he finished dressing, Adam went downstairs to join his family for breakfast. The others had already been there for some time by the time he appeared downstairs. It was just like old times - his father seated at the head of the table and his brothers sitting next to each other on one side of the table. Hoss was, naturally, enjoying his meal. Pa and Joe were having a discussion about the latest incident in Virginia City.
“Good morning, Adam.” Ben said as he looked up and smiled at Adam. Ben was pleased that his eldest son had come home after all these years. It did his heart good to see his that family was all together again. There were times he had thought it would never happen again in his life time. He had missed Adam a great deal and was secretly hoping that his son had come home to stay and that his wandering days were over. However, Ben felt a tinge of sadness every time he realized that Adam had made no mention of staying on permanently during the few weeks that he had been home.
“Morning Pa.” Adam responded. Turning to Hoss and Joe, he nodded, “Morning.”
Hoss managed to get out a greeting as he continued to eat his breakfast. Joe just nodded and repeated the greeting he had just received.
As he sat down and began his breakfast, Adam inquired about the noise that he had heard earlier. Joe told him that it had been Hop Sing and then related the story of how some chickens had gotten into the kitchen. Hop Sing had been chasing them out with a broom, when he accidentally knocked over some pots and pans that were stacked near the door. Adam was about to ask how the chickens had gotten inside in the first place, when Ben spoke up.
“I was thinking that today we could all go down to the south pasture and check the herd. I want you all to help me to decide and plan which ones we should send to market.” Ben looked at his sons hoping that all three would join him. He had contrived this plan in order to get them all to spend a day together which to his regret, had not occurred yet. Ben knew he could count on Hoss and Joe, but he wasn't so sure about Adam.
Joe and Hoss quickly agreed, but the request had caused Adam to shift uncomfortably in his seat. “Pa.” Adam hesitated for a moment. “Pa, I was actually planning to go into town today and do some things that I need to do.” Adam knew he had no other choice, but he still regretted the words as they came out. He could see the disappointment in his father's eyes.
Ben felt the frustration and the sorrow all at once. He wanted so badly to ask Adam what was so important in town that it had kept taking him away from his family. During the time Adam had been home, he had spent more time in Virginia City than he had at the Ponderosa. Knowing it would not be wise to ask him why and risk the chance of perhaps giving him a reason to leave, Ben decided to tell Adam that he could go and do whatever he had to do.
Ben was about to respond, when Hoss began to speak. “You're goin' into town again! What's so dadburn special in town that makes you wanna keep goin' in there anyway?”
Joe jumped into the conversation. “Wouldn't have anything to do with someone of the fairer sex, now would it?” He winked at his oldest brother.
“What?” Hoss responded, not missing what Joe had done. “Adam's got a gal! Then why didn't you say so.”
Adam grimaced. “No Hoss. It has nothing to do with a woman.” Adam looked at Joe and could see that Joe was smiling. “I just got some things to do that I can only do in town. That's all.”
Ben abruptly rose up from the table. “Ok Adam. That's fine. You can come another day. Come on, Joe and Hoss, it's time we were leaving.”
The three of left without saying much more. Adam watched as they walked out the door. He turned back to the table and threw the napkin, which he had been holding in his hand, down in frustration. His appetite had now gone completely and he pushed his plate away. Damn. He wished things didn't have to be like this but there was no going back now. What was done was done. He had heard the disappointment in his father's voice and it was killing him. It was too late now - he had made his choice all those years ago and he wasn't about to go back on his word. He sat there for some time and began to remember the events that had resulted in his return home.
“You're one of our best men, Adam. You're also the most logical choice to do this job. We want you to go to Virginia City. You've got family there so no one will suspect the real reason as to why you are there.”
Adam looked across the desk to his superior, John Wells. The man was making sense and he knew it.
John could see the conflict in his face and knew what Adam was thinking. He, himself had gone through a similar situation. “Yes it's going to be hard deceive your family. It's one of the hardest things that we will ever have to do. But who said being a Secret Service agent was easy and regrettably it is the nature of our business.”
“I know,” Adam replied. “I just wish...I just wish that I wasn't going home under these circumstances. I had always hoped to go home when I was ready and when I wanted to...but not like this.”
John nodded his head in understanding. He then proceeded to give the details of the case that Adam was to work on in Virginia City. A fellow agent had ruthlessly been murdered and they needed to get someone out there as soon as possible before the trail dried up. It pure coincidence that Adam had just returned from a mission when this tragedy had happened and they had wasted no time in getting him to come in. Adam listened intently as he was told the details but still couldn't shake off the fact that this wasn't the way he wanted to home.
When meeting had finished, both John and Adam rose. They shook hands. John then wished Adam good luck on his mission. As he left the office, Adam began to think about what he had to do. John was right and he was glad the man had been sympathetic to his worries. Even though he knew there would be a lot of guilt and pain to come, he also knew that there was a job that needed to be done and it was too important to ignore. Upholding the law had always been a matter of major importance to him. For as long as he could remember, he had known that there was and would always be a down side to keeping the law. He had experienced this on many occasions, and now it was happening again. He shrugged his shoulders. Oh well, there was nothing he could now but to notify his father that he would be returning home.
As he crossed the street, to go to the telegraph office, Adam tried to think of what his father's reaction would be to hear from him after all this time and to find that he was on his way home. He had not been a frequent writer during his absence due to his circumstances and his work. As his thoughts turned to home and his family, he experienced a rare bout of being homesick. Home, what a funny thought. Adam shook his head and smiled. Yeah, home had always been the Ponderosa, not just because his family was there but because it was where he had many good memories of growing up and living life there. All the times he had been away from there, especially during the lengthy years of college and these last few years, he couldn't get rid of the hold that the Ponderosa had on him. He didn't know what it was exactly but it was there all the same and it had never left him.
“You finish breakfast, Mistah Adam?” Hop Sing asked, as he looked at him strangely.
Adam came out of his reverie. “Yeah, I'm finished.”
Hop Sing shook his head. “You big boy. You should eat all breakfast. Not good when you don't.”
Adam smiled at Hop Sing and got up from the table. He went to the front door, taking his hat and coat from the rack near it. As he put on his coat and hat, he wondered if he should mention to Hop Sing that he would be back in time for dinner. No. On second thought, it was best that he didn't. What he had to do today may take him longer than he expected it to. He couldn't guarantee if he'd be back for dinner - if at all. He opened the door and proceeded to walk to the barn.
Ben turned around at looked at Hoss “What was that, Hoss?” he said with a hint of sternness in his voice.
“Ahh...sorry Pa. Just thinkin' out loud.” Hoss smiled apologetically at his father. Ben nodded and turned back to face the direction that they were heading in. Hoss breathed a sigh of relief, thankful his father didn't question him any further. His thoughts returned to what had been bothering him. It had been eating at him for days now, maybe even weeks. Ever since Adam had come home. Adam's strange behavior was really worrying him. Hoss was plum sure at times, or at least he had gotten the impression, that Adam wasn't exactly happy about being at home. Adam's constant trips into town and his father's disappointment every time Adam went there in favor of doing something with his father or the rest of the family was bothering him. Adam had politely refused to do anything except to do whatever it was in town that was so dadburn more important than spending time with his family who hadn't seen in him years. Hoss wanted to do something so badly in order to make everything right within his family. He hadn't been sure of what it was until now and he knew exactly what he had to do. He made a decision then and there.
“Pa. I just remembered. I have to go to Virginia City. I promised to do somethin' and I promised I would do it today.”
Ben stopped his horse and turned to face Hoss. He saw the look of determination on Hoss' face and knew that his son was set on going whether or not he approved of it. “Ok. Just try and be back in time for dinner,” Ben said with a note of reluctance in his voice.
Joe looked at Hoss. He knew what Hoss was going into town for. Joe couldn't tell how he knew it but he knew it. He just knew. He deliberated for a moment about joining his older brother but when he gazed at his father, he knew that he had to stay. “See you when you get back, Hoss”
“See you, Joe. Bye, Pa.” Hoss turned his horse around and started the long journey to Virginia City.
Ben watched as Hoss rode off in the distance. Now, Hoss was being all mysterious just like his older brother. Deep down, Ben had an inkling of what Hoss was up to and he knew no matter what the consequences were, he needed to know what was going on too. He turned to face his youngest son. “Let's get going, Joe.”
By the time Adam reached Virginia City, it was late morning and he decided to leave his horse to the livery stable. On the ride he had thought and was still thinking about all the things he had missed out on during the years he was away. He shook his head. Now was not the time to become caught up in a wave of melancholy. Time was rapidly running out. He knew he had to act today or lose the chance to get his man for good.
Shortly after Adam had left his horse at the stable, he headed for the hotel. He needed to get the man, who had happened to be the only witness to the killing of his fellow agent. The man was a drunk and he had found out what the man had seen after plying him with drinks. Adam had found this to be an effective way of getting information of people. He had methodically gone and done this to nearly every drunk that he could find, and in a town the size of Virginia City, there were plenty. A lot of them were old prospectors who had failed to hit the mother lode and had never bothered to leave. When this drunk had divulged his secret towards the end of the drinking session, Adam knew that he had been either lucky or he was extremely blessed to actually find someone who had seen the murder take place. That had been last night and Adam had left the old drunk in a room at the hotel to sleep it off.
When he reached the hotel, he went inside. He was about to walk up the stairs to the room to where he had left the old drunk, when the desk clerk called out his name.
“Mr. Cartwright.” the desk clerk said a bit nervously. Adam walked over to the front desk.
“Mr. Cartwright. That man you took upstairs last night. He ain't there anymore. Took off about an hour ago.” The desk clerk tugged at his collar in a gesture of nervousness. He didn't want to make this man angry. He was new in town and was under the impression that the Cartwrights could be downright inhospitable if they were riled.
“Great. Just great,” Adam said in frustration. He had thought this drunk would sleep it off till at least lunch time but it was obvious that he hadn't. Looking at the clerk, Adam asked whether or not the clerk knew in which direction the old drunk had gone. The clerk said that he had turned left when he went out and didn't see where he went to after that. Adam also asked if the drunk had said anything as he left. The desk clerk looked at him with a little fear in face.
“Well?” Adam stood there with his hands on the desk. The desk clerk gulped and answered, saying that the man had been mumbling something about getting a drink and opening his big mouth. Adam paid for the room and left the desk clerk feeling extremely relieved that he hadn't upset a Cartwright.
For the next few hours, Adam purposely strode down every street of Virginia City, checking every single saloon in town for the old drunk. He was getting very frustrated and annoyed. He chided himself for being so stupid and leaving the drunk alone in the hotel. It had been a risky move, but he had wanted to go home because he knew that he needed to spend as much time as he could with his family. He may never get the chance to again. As he turned the corner into an alley, he saw the person he had been looking for. The old drunk was seated on the ground near a water trough drinking out of what looked like a bottle of whiskey. Adam walked up to the drunk and jerked him up off the ground. It was at this precise moment that Hoss came sauntering around the corner.
Hoss quickly stepped backed around the corner. He stood for a moment uncertain of what to do next. Cautiously he stuck his head around the corner of the building to see what was going on. As he watched his brother interact with the drunk, Hoss became confused. What the heck was Adam doin' with Mitch Hawkins, roughin' him up like that anyway? Hoss knew Mitch and had even bought him a couple of meals and once even tried to help him get back on his feet but to no avail. He couldn't make out what Adam was saying but he could tell his brother was rapidly losing his patience with Mitch. Every time when it seemed Adam was going to look in his direction, Hoss quickly ducked his head back around the corner. However on the last occasion he did this, he stuck his head around the corner to see what was happening and found, to his dismay that there was no one there. Adam and Mitch had disappeared into thin air.
Hoss waited for a few minutes before making his way slowly to where Adam had been standing with Mitch. He looked around the area for any tell-tale signs that could help him determine the direction they had gone off in. As he looked, he thought about how long the day had been already. It had been long ride into town and when he got here, he was so hungry that any thought of looking for Adam had to be put off temporarily so that he could get something to eat. After he had lunch, he had begun his search for Adam. The search had been going for some time, when by chance he saw Adam coming out of one of the town's many saloons. Hoss followed Adam at a discrete distance, and when he saw Adam turning into the alley where he was now, he had followed. What he saw wasn't what he had expected to see but then again what did he expect to see? Eventually, Hoss found the sign he had been searching for and then ever so carefully set off after Adam and Mitch.
As he and Mitch walked to an abandon house at the edge of town, Adam contemplated what he should do when they arrived there. He knew there would be some waiting involved but for how long he didn't know. All he knew was that the man he was looking for was going to meet Mitch here some time that night. Adam had managed to wrangle this information out of Mitch after some convincing. Assuring Hawkins that he would come to no harm if he helped had been slightly difficult, but nevertheless Adam had accomplished the task.
When they got to the house, Adam began to look around for a convenient spot to wait. He had to keep a tight rein on Mitch, or the man would most likely take off given the chance, without even a second thought. Soon enough Adam found the best possible spot. He told Mitch to sit in front of a pile of timber situated outside the front of the house. Adam then arranged the timber so that he could hide behind it. Mitch looked perplexed and in much need of a drink. “Now what do we do?” he asked nervously.
“You sit right here,” Adam said as he indicated the spot where he wanted Mitch to sit down. “I'll be right behind you with my gun aimed at your back. One false move and I'll have no hesitation in shooting you.”
Mitch looked at Adam and immediately sat down. He believed it when Adam said that he would shoot him if he moved, maybe he’d even get killed in the process. Mitch had no doubts that taking off would be the last straw as far as Adam Cartwright was concerned. He shivered at the thought. The man was already on the edge and he wasn't about to do or say anything. At least not for the time being anyway.
Adam took his place behind Mitch and prepared himself for the wait and for what could come after it. If he succeeded in catching the murderer, the question that was most foremost in his mind, was what would he do afterwards. This thought had caused him some distress, as he contemplated the future. Would he go? Would he stay? He really had no answer; there too many what ifs. Part of him wanted to stay so much that it hurt. Adam shook his head in order to get out the state of mind he was in. This was not the time to think about. He had been thinking about it too much lately. There were more important things to be concentrating on at this moment in time.
A little while later, Hoss came upon the scene. He hid behind a wagon that was parked across the street from the house. From this vantage point, he could see that Mitch sitting down, wringing his hands and looking nervous. Hoss was bothered that he couldn't see Adam anywhere in sight but suspected that his older brother wasn't too far away. It was obvious they waiting for something or someone. Whatever it was, Hoss was going to make sure that he was there for whatever it was that they were waiting for turned up. He made sure that he couldn't be seen by anybody and prepared to wait it out.
So Adam, Mitch and Hoss sat in their respective places watching and waiting. Adam was oblivious to the fact that Hoss had followed him. His mind had been too preoccupied with other things and with the task on hand to notice or even suspect that one of his brothers would take the initiative to try and find out what he was up to. In fact, the thought had never crossed his mind.
However, all three men were unaware that there was another person on the scene. He too, was watching and waiting to see what would happen.
Day turned into night. Adam looked around. It was going to be a full moon tonight. There would be plenty of light to see what was going on. He had been waiting for what seemed ages but in reality had only been a few hours. He began to wonder if the man would ever turn up and if Hawkins had given him the old runaround when he heard a voice.
“Hawkins! Hawkins! Where are you, Hawkins?”
Mitch stirred. He knew who belonged to the voice and began to get very nervous. Adam once again reminded him about the gun pointed at his back. As Adam told him to calm down and take it easy , Mitch's thoughts began to run at a hundred miles per hour. Take it easy, he thought. Take it easy! How can I take it easy with a gun pointed in my back and a killer looking for me? He wiped his arm across his forehead which was now streaming with sweat. He nervously answered the man who was calling his name back, “Over here. I'm over here.”
The man approached Mitch but keep his distance. Mitch had a hard time seeing his face as it was in the shadow of the house. Mitch cleared his throat. “You got it? You got my money? You won't hear another peep from me once I get it.”
The man lifted up his arm to show that he had a bag. Mitch wanted to get out of there so badly that he was unprepared for what happened next. As he stepped forward to grab the bag, the man swung the bag at Mitch's face, knocking him down in the process.
The mystery man walked over to Mitch, towering over him. Adam could see that he had taken a gun out of his coat pocket and was now pointing it down at Hawkins. “You old fool,” the man said as Adam made his way ever so carefully out his hiding spot.
Once Adam had gotten into a secure position, he let the man standing above Mitch know that the old drunk hadn't come alone. “Hold it right there. Drop your gun slowly to the ground and step away from Hawkins.”
The man did what Adam said, and raised his hands in the process. Adam stepped to where Hawkins was and checked the old man was still breathing. To Adam's relief, he was still alive. Adam got up and faced the man opposite him. Adam couldn't quite make out his face in the moonlight but he was sure he could see a smirk on it. Adam wondered what the man would have to smile about. Just then the man quickly flicked his right arm and produced a small pistol from under the sleeve of his coat. The man was obviously very adept at this movement, and had done it so quickly that it had happened in a blink of an eye. Adam had seen the man move his arm and out of pure instinct, Adam fired his gun just as the man in front of him let go of a shot. The shot from the man's gun narrowly missed Adam, flying past his left side. Adam breathed a heavy sigh of relief, thankful that he had gotten out of the way quickly enough or he too, would be lying there on the ground. Adam stared at the man who was now on the ground. The shot from his gun had somehow hit its mark and the man looked like he was dead.
Adam walked over to the man and squatted on the ground next to the body to make sure that the man was dead. As he was checking, Adam felt the point of a rifle in his back. He stiffened and cursed softly at his stupidity for not checking if there was no one else around. What occurred next, so quick that Adam wasn't sure about how it had happened even when he remembered it later on. One minute he was feeling the rifle in his back and the next minute he had heard a loud thud behind him and the rifle going off in the air. Adam cautiously turned around. To his great surprise, there was Hoss lying on top of the man with the rifle some feet away. Hoss looked up at his brother and grinned. “Hey Adam.”
Adam turned to look at Hoss, who now stood near the wagon. His brother was waiting for him patiently while he finished up. Adam then turned to look at the man he was talking to.
John Wells looked at Adam and placed a hand on his shoulder. Adam had gotten another surprise when he saw John step out of the shadows shortly after Hoss had tackled the man with the rifle. John too had been watching and waiting to see what would eventuate. He had come to town a few days earlier and with the intention of being on hand if Adam needed it. He knew Adam had the situation well in hand. It was by chance that he seen Adam that afternoon, and when he saw a large man following Adam at a distance, he had thought Adam might need his help and had decided to follow.
“So he's your brother then?” John said, looking at Hoss and back again to Adam.
“Different mothers,” Adam replied with a grin.
“Ahh. Ok. I'll bet you’re glad this is over now.” John had noticed a difference in Adam. It seemed that Adam was relieved that this investigation had finished.
“Yeah but you've haven't told me why you're here, yet.” Adam was a little worried that Wells had come to check up on him. He suspected that Wells might have had doubts about how he was handling the investigation.
“I came because after going over the evidence that we had already gathered, I had the suspicion that something was not quite right. The evidence didn't quite add up. But enough of that for now. I have something else to say to you and I'll let you be on your way. Your brother seems to be getting anxious.”
Adam glanced at Hoss and smiled. “He's probably getting hungry. He's a growing boy and needs his food.”
John laughed. “First of all, I will be expecting your report on this case before I leave town in a few days time.”
“I thought I would give it to you in a few weeks time when I returned to Washington.” Adam was already starting to feel a little sad at the prospect of having to leave again.
“Leaving? Who said anything about your leaving here? We need someone here now. Someone who knows the lay of the land and can use this town as his base of operations.”
It slowly began to dawn on Adam what John was saying. Adam took John's hand and shook it. “Thank you.”
“You've earned it. Now you best be going. I'll see you before I leave.” With that, John motioned Adam off in the direction of his brother.
Hoss looked up and saw Adam making his way to him. “Well?”
“Well what?” Adam grinned. “Time for dinner I think.”
“Now you're talking big brother.” Hoss grinned. As he looked at Adam, he immediately noticed that his brother looked a lot better than he had for a while. It was like the weight of the world had been lifted off Adam's shoulders.
As they began to walk, Hoss asked Adam about what he had been up to. Adam looked at Hoss. “I can't tell you, Hoss. I'm sorry. It's the way things are and have to be. I hope you can understand that.”
“Ok Adam I understand. You can't tell us about it. So long as it legal-like.”
“It's legal-like. Hoss...there's another thing. We can't tell Joe or Pa or anyone else for that matter about what happened here tonight. It's something to do with what I've been doing while I was away. One day I’ll tell you all about. Just not right now.”
Hoss nodded. “I understand Adam. You can count on me to keep this quiet.” Hoss hesitated, “So what are you going to tell Pa?”
“I'm telling Pa that I have come home to stay. There will be times, however, when I will have to go somewhere without a word as to where I am going. But, I can guarantee you, Hoss, that it will never be for any longer than a few months.”
Hoss put his arm around Adam's shoulder. “That's fine with me, big brother. It's good to finally have you home.”
Adam understood what Hoss had said. All the worry, pain and guilt had finally left him and it showed on in his face. Sure there would be times when he wouldn't be able to explain his absences but if his family understood that it would never be permanent and that he would be returning home, he could live with it. With that thought in mind, he went off down the street with Hoss in search of dinner.
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