Summary: Adam has returned home after several years away. However, he has come home not on his own terms but because he has a duty to perform. I wrote this series originally back in the early 2000s. This is a recently updated/edited version.
Word Count: 5,600
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 in once or twice during the previous years, he had been ready to move at moment’s notice. Looking around, he suddenly remembered where he was – his old room at the Ponderosa. Running his hand through his hair, he heaved a heavy sigh and remembered when he had first arrived back home after a prolong absence of several years. He had been slightly surprised and pleased to see that his room had hardly been touched. Except for the obligatory clean, 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 the things he had done during his time away. It was what one of those things he had been doing that had brought him back home. He sighed again and proceeded to get up. As he got dressed, he thought about his family. They were still under the impression that for last few years he had been seeing the world and paying for it by working as a sailor. Well, actually that wasn’t quite right. He had tried life as a sailor for a short time but had realised quickly that it was not the life for him. There wasn’t much he could do or say about it now and 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 a while by the time he appeared downstairs. It was as if things had never changed – his father was seated at the head of the table and his brothers were sitting next to each other on one side of the table. Hoss was, as always enjoying his meal and not really paying attention to the conversion Pa and Joe were having about the latest incident in Virginia City.
“Good morning, Adam,” Ben said as he looked up with a smile. Ben was pleased that his eldest son had finally come home. It did his heart good to see his that family were all together again as there had been times he had thought it would never happen again. He had missed Adam a great deal and he was secretly hoping that his son was home to stay. Ben felt a tinge of sadness when he realised that Adam had yet to say whether he was staying on permanently or not.
“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 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 he 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 as I have a few errands to run.” Adam knew he had no 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 Adam a reason to leave, Ben decided to tell him that it was fine. Ben was about to respond when Hoss spoke up.
“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 he 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, you do what you need to do. You can always 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, remembering 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’re 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 to 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… and not like this.”
John nodded his head in understanding before he gave Adam the details of the case he was to work on in Virginia City. A fellow agent had 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 occurred and he had wasted no time in getting Adam 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 go home.
When the meeting had finished, both John and Adam rose. They shook hands and John 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 important to him. For as long as he could remember he had known that there was and would always be a downside 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 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. Adam shook his head and smiled. Yeah, home had always been the Ponderosa, not just because his family was there but because it was a place that held good memories. 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 as he got up from the table and went to the front door. As he put on his coat he wondered if he should mention to Hop Sing that he would be back in time for dinner. On second thoughts it was best that he didn’t. What he had to do today may take him longer than expected and he couldn’t guarantee if he’d be back for dinner – if at all. He grabbed his hat from the rack, opened the door and made his way to the barn.
Ben turned around at looked at Hoss, “What was that, Hoss?” he said with a hint of irritation 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 behaviour 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 favour of doing something with the family was bothering him. Adam had politely refused to do anything except what was so dadburn important in town. Hoss felt he had to something in order to make everything alright within his family. He hadn’t been sure of what it was until now but now he knew exactly what had to be done. He made a decision then and there.
“Pa. I just remembered. I have to ah…go and check on some new fillies that have just arrived in Virginia City. I said 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 had a good idea of the real reason why Hoss was going into town. 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. On the ride into town, he had thought and was still thinking, about all the things he had missed out on during the years he had been 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 livery stable, he headed for the hotel to check on a guest he had procured a room for the night before. The man was one of the many town drunks that plagued Virginia City and after plying him with more than a few drinks (something he had learnt a long time ago as an effective way of getting information when you needed it), Adam had found out the man had actually witnessed the agent’s murder. After weeks of methodically trying to find out what he could from nearly every drunk in town, he had hit a brick wall. A lot of them were old prospectors who had failed to hit the mother lode and had never bothered to leave. The longer they had been in town, the more they knew about the dark side of Virginia City and Adam was sure that one of them knew something. When this drunk had divulged his secret towards the end of the drinking session, he knew that he had been either lucky or he was extremely blessed to finally find someone who had seen the murder take place. In order to make sure that there was no disappearing act, 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 had gone 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 his 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 as 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. For a moment, he was uncertain of what to do next. Cautiously he stuck his head around the corner of the building to see what was going on and 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 – 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 the day had been already gone. It had been a long ride into town and when he arrived any thoughts of looking for Adam had to be put off temporarily as he needed to get something to eat. After he had lunch, he had begun to look for Adam. The search had been going for a couple of hours 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 his brother turning into the alley where he was now he didn’t expect to see what he had just seen. But then again, what did he expect to see? Eventually, Hoss found the sign and then ever so carefully set off after Adam and Mitch.
As he and Mitch walked to an abandoned house at the edge of town, Adam contemplated what he should do when they arrived there. After managing to wrangle some information out of Mitch, he knew that the man he was looking would be here sometime during the night. There would be some waiting involved but for how long he didn’t know. Assuring Hawkins that he would come to no harm if he cooperated 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 take off at the first opportunity he got. Soon Adam found the best spot that met all the requirements. 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. Adam was already on the edge and he wasn’t about to do or say anything to make him madder then already was…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 been causing him some distress ever since he had come back. 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. 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 would be ready for it. He took up a position where he couldn’t been seen by anybody and prepared to wait it out.
For some time, 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 up and saw that it was going to be a clear night and a full moon. That meant that there would be plenty of light to see what was going on. The waiting had seemed like it had gone on for ages but in reality had only been a few hours. He began to wonder if the man was going to show 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 to see if the old man was still breathing. To Adam’s relief, he was still alive. He 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. For a moment, Adam wonder what the man could 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 only seen the man move his arm and out of pure instinct, he 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.
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 to see if there was anyone else around. What occurred next, was so quick that Adam still wasn’t sure about how it had happened even when he tried to remember 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 and 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, “Nice night ain’t it.”
Adam turned to glance at Hoss, who now stood near the wagon. His brother had been waiting patiently for him while he finished up. Adam then turned back 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 had too, been watching and waiting to see what would eventuate. He had arrived in town a few days earlier with the intention of being on hand if Adam needed it. It was by chance that he seen Adam that afternoon being followed a large man. Knowing that Adam might need his help and he had decided to follow them both.
“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.” John had noticed a difference in Adam. It seemed that Adam was relieved that this investigation had finished, “I’ll bet you’re glad this is over.”
“Yeah I am but you’ve haven’t told me why you’re here.” 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 feeling that something was not quite right. The evidence didn’t quite add up. I’ll tell you the rest later but for now, I have something more important 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? 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 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 no 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 always be coming home, he could live with it. With that thought in mind, he went off down the street with Hoss in search of dinner.