A Passing Stranger (by Ginny & Robin)

Summary:     A Modern Cartwright Story (#4).  Based on the episode “A Stranger Passed this Way.”
Category:  Bonanza (AU)
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:   46,600


 

May, 2002

The Ponderosa, Nevada

 

Ben Cartwright slowly pulled his car into the garage and eased it into the space between the red pickup truck and the canvas-covered wreck. Under the canvas was the ancient black and white Ford Pinto that Joe had insisted on keeping. It had become obvious to Ben that the Pinto would never be restored now. Like many other plans, much of their lives had become dust in the wind this year.

The Pinto had been Joe’s first car. He had purchased the ancient wreck for $35 and had hidden it in an outbuilding near an abandoned mine. Adam secretly taught his kid brother how to drive it out on some back roads crisscrossing the Ponderosa. How old was Joe then? Thirteen? Fourteen? Ben shook his head wondering what secret the boy had blackmailed Adam with to get his way. Perhaps Adam knew Joe would do what he wanted and decided protectively that the risk of Joe breaking his neck or crashing into some of the livestock would be lessened if he watched out for the boy.

Ben sighed and wondered if Hoss had been involved in that long ago brotherly conspiracy. His sons were good boys, close brothers, despite their age differences.

In the dim light of the garage, Ben lifted the corner of the canvas and looked at the old Pinto. Then, he remembered Hoss was the one who got the engine running for Little Joe. Hoss even searched the junk yards and found the replacement fenders and bumper for the car. The Pinto was rusty black and the fenders were shiny white which gave the Pinto a strange two-tone look but Little Joe didn’t much care as long as his car ran.

The rancher had spent another unproductive day riding around the Ponderosa ostensibly checking the cattle and seeing to the men who were extending the irrigation lines in the south pasture. Neither the cattle nor the digging crew needed his attention but the tasks gave him an excuse to be out of the house and exercise his late son’s neglected horse. He was trying to take an interest in the activities on the ranch for the sake of his two surviving sons, but most days it was completely impossible. He knew from sad personal experiences that passing time would eventually sand the harsh splinters off his fresh grief if he could just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

After eating a quick early supper alone, Ben had driven all the way into Virginia City for a meeting with the Cattleman’s Association. That was equally a waste but filled his time. Friends and neighbors greeted Ben and said the usual cliché sad words of condolence A few shook his hand and smiled those awkward smiles people had when they didn’t know what to say to a heartbroken man who had outlived his beloved son. They had moved on with their lives. They all wished that he had as well. Instead, he was the living reminder of that awful day.

At the meeting, Ben paid little attention to a drawn-out discussion that ran on endlessly on the scholarship fundraiser. He tried to focus on the xeroxed flyer about anthrax threats that the Federal government had distributed. During the discussion, George Devlin mentioned that their favorite home town boy, Andy Walker, had agreed to perform the highlights from his Broadway show and donate all the proceeds to the memorial scholarship fund. The only hitch was Andy refused to fly. He insisted on coming back to Virginia City by train instead. Ben’s stomach lurched.

Just as Ben was trying to figure how he could sneak out the back door of the meeting room without anyone noticing, Charlie Hightower from the Circle H ranch reminded them all it was pushing on past ten, and last fall the Association had voted to halt all their meetings by ten-thirty for security reasons. Jigger Thurmond quickly made motion to adjourn that was swiftly seconded. The meeting concluded, none too soon for Ben, who elbowed his way out the door before anyone could invite him out for a drink or ask for a picture of his late son for the posters advertising the memorial scholarship.

As he automatically drove the winding road back to the Ponderosa, Ben realized that he couldn’t remember the association making any policy to end meetings by ten- thirty. As he turned into the ranch road, it hit him that Charlie had said they had voted on it the previous fall. It must have been the meeting at the end of September.

*****

Stretched out on the rubble, he choked and gasped for air like a trout that had been yanked out of the lake. Then he tried to catch his breath but his chest hurt even more. All he knew was he was trying to fill his lungs with air instead of choking dust and smoke, and he couldn’t get a good breath. Lying on his back on hard broken ground and some rocks, his ears were filled with screams and shouts and ear piercing wails. His eyes burned and he tried to wipe them with his hands but realized he couldn’t lift his arms. He couldn’t see for all the dirt in his eyes. His left arm wouldn’t move but he was able to wiggle his fingers. He struggled to figure out where he was and why his head hurt so much.

He realized someone was holding fast to his right hand, and a voice was saying, softly, “Squeeze my hand if you can.

He did and the other hand squeezed back.

“Good,” said a soft, gentle female voice. The woman had some sort of European accent. “You are alive! That was quite a fall.”

“I’m alive?” he whispered hoarsely. His mouth was filled with dust and blood.

“Yes, you are alive, thank goodness.”

No one holds your hand tighter than someone holding on to life and Hoss Cartwright was holding on fast to his quickly fading life

“Thank goodness!” she repeated. “Hang on; help is on its way, son,” the voice said.

“Looks like something hit him in the back of his head.” This time, a man’s voice.

Another harsh voice directed firmly, “Get him out of here. We have plenty more to take care of besides him.”

Suddenly, another explosion shock everyone and the ground rocked beneath them

*****

Perhaps, if there had been a body to bury, grieving would have been less painful and more defined. His family could have had a conventional funeral.

“Maybe he really isn’t dead Pa…” Joe blurted out. This wasn’t the first time Joe gave voice to the idea that haunted him. It kept him distracted from his college classes during the day and gave him nightmares many nights.

“Not dead? It is not logical. Tell him, Pa. I’ve been repeating the same answer since just after dinner. I was trying to have a civil discussion with your son about his college plans for the fall, and before I knew it, we were on this. Again, Now you can tell him,” Adam said angrily. He had gone over this time and time again in the days since they last heard from Hoss. Fed up with repeating the same discussion once again, Adam stood up and grabbed the jet-black wrought-iron poker and jabbed the tower of logs in the hearth. One near the top fell over sending an eruption of orange sparks up the chimney. “Like it or not, Hoss is dead. We have the reports. He was there and people saw him there and they found his jacket and his wallet.

”He is dead, Joe. I know it’s hard for you to accept it. It’s hard for all of us to accept Hoss is dead,” Ben said wearily. He squeezed Joe’s shoulder, wishing he could do more eliminate some of the pain his son was feeling, to eliminate some of the pain they all were feeling.

“But we’re not completely sure, Pa. No one knows for sure where he went after he turned around. Maybe he is alive. Maybe he is Pa.”

“Joe, it’s almost a year. If Hoss was alive, he would have come home,” Ben reminded him again.

“Hoss is dead. He would have contacted us if he was alive,” Adam repeated firmly. He stared into the fire, his back to his father and Joe.

“Maybe he couldn’t contact us,” Joe suggested. His voice was louder and had a strange brittle edge to it. “Maybe he … maybe he is being held prisoner by one of the group who did this. You yourself said that soulless evil knows no limits.”

“Joseph….” Ben started. He was at a loss for words. This wasn’t the first time in the last year that Ben or Adam had to deal with Joe’s nightmares or irrational panic or moodiness or conspiracy theories. “I’ll always grieve for your brother and what we all lost, for the whole future we won’t have with him, but he is gone.”

“Soulless evil knows no limits,” Joe repeated.

Adam’s eyes met his father’s. The raw pain the Cartwrights felt was unimaginable. “Soulless evil knows no limits,” Adam growled. “Joe, he is dead. Turned to ashes and dust and…”

Joe nodded. Ben could see he had a manila envelope and some papers spread out in front of him on the desk. Ben sincerely hoped his youngest was finally getting it together, registering for the fall semester of college, but that probably just triggered this argument with Adam.

“He’s dead but your brother wouldn’t want us to continue like this. Is that clear?” Ben said firmly. “Joseph? Is that clear?”

Joe didn’t answer. For a moment, he didn’t even move. Then he picked up a piece of paper from the manila envelope that sat on the coffee table and stared at it. Ben had assumed it contained registration information from Joe’s college.

“I said, is that clear, Joseph?” Ben walked over to Joe and put his hand on his son’s shoulder and turned him around to face him. “Joe? What’s going on? What are you looking at?”

“Adam said I shouldn’t tell you about this but I ‘m going to. It’s my fault that Hoss is gone. It was all my idea. I killed my brother,” Joe confessed to Ben.

”Joe, don’t.” Adam sighed and shook his head. As if his legs could no longer hold him up, Adam sunk into the blue chair next to the fire place. He hunched over, his elbow on his knees, and rested his chin braced on his clenched fist. “I agreed it was a great idea, and sprang for his plane ticket.”

Perplexed, Ben looked from one son to the other. “What are you two talking about? Why is Hoss going to New York to see Andy on Broadway your doing?”

“I asked Andy to invite him! “ Joe choked out. “I…. I called Andy and told him about Hoss and Bessie Sue breaking up and her going off to England to study with that British psychologist she admires so much, and how hard Hoss was taking it.”

“Listen to me.” Ben hated to be stern with his two remaining sons, but he had to snap them out of this shared delusion that they had any responsibility. “The trip you arranged to New York for your brother was an act of love. You wanted to help heal his broken heart. He told me how much he appreciated it and how glad he was that you forced him to go. Am I guilty because I was happy he was going? Is poor Andy guilty because he invited Hoss to breakfast at Windows on the World? Are you also guilty of Andy being injured because it was your fault that Hoss was in New York visiting him? The blame belongs to the perpetrators of that horrible act. To them, and them only.”

Ben softened his tone. “Now, let’s have coffee and some of that pie Hop Sing made today. I have something I want to discuss with you.”

Hop Sing served the pie and coffee in the great room where the three men gathered around the sturdy coffee table.

After a sip of coffee, Ben hesitated before speaking. “Andy emailed me that there will be a memorial service at Ground Zero on September 11th. I would like all of us to attend.”

Ben looked compassionately at his youngest son’s stricken face. “Joseph, we need to do this for Hoss. It will be hard for all of us, but, together, we will get through it. I believe it will help us come to terms with what’s happened to our family.

Joe glanced at his brother and was answered by a slight smile and a nod. Not trusting his voice, Joe responded to his father in the same way.

“Another thing,” Ben continued. “Joe, I think you should consider sitting out this coming semester. Now, don’t say anything till you think about it.” Ben held up a hand as Joe started to protest. “Because of your inability to concentrate and your trouble sleeping since last September, your grades slipped quite a bit. I would hate to see them slip any farther, and I don’t think you would like to see that happen either. Hopefully, by the following semester you will be pulled back together and able to handle a partial course load, if not a full one. “

Ben forestalled his older son before he could speak. “Adam, stay out of this. This is between your brother and me! Remember who is the father here and who the older brother is.”

Then mentioning his dear friend, photojournalist Faye Franklin, Ben added, “Faye has a proposition for you, Joe. You can talk to her about it tomorrow. She is doing a series on how the survivors and the families of the victims are coping after a year. She is offering you an unpaid position, a sort of internship, as her assistant. It’s up to you if you want to take this on, of course. It might be too close to home emotionally, but she thinks, and I tend to agree, that meeting others who are going through what we are and hearing their stories might help you in some way.”

“It might help all of us. Faye included,” Adam added.

“Faye included,” Ben agreed.

As usual, close to tears at any mention of the tragedy of the past year, Joe could barely get out, “Yes, sir. I’ll think about both of these tonight and I’ll call Faye tomorrow. Good night.”

Ben and Adam didn’t take their eyes off the stairs until they heard the sound of Joe’s bedroom door closing.

*****

A few days later, as Adam Cartwright was negotiating a particularly tight series of turns on the road to Virginia City, his cell phone rang. He was expecting a call from his brother, who was meeting with his college counselor about working with Faye for school credit.

“How did it go, Joe?”

The phone hissed and crackled.

“What?” Adam asked. “Joe? I can’t hear you, Buddy. Can you hear me?”

All he could hear was someone saying, “Adam?” and more hisses and crackles as the reception broke up.

”Joe? “ Adam shouted into the phone as the road now wound down a steep incline with very little shoulder on the side of the two-lane road. “Joe, I’ll have to call you back when I get into town.”

It took longer than Adam expected to get past the dead spot. As he shoved his phone back into his pocket, he could see the few cars ahead of him slowing as they approached a construction crew resurfacing the road. A burly flag man in a fluorescent plastic vest held up both lanes of vehicles while a dump truck slowly tipped a load of steaming asphalt onto the road. It took at least fifteen minutes for the traffic to inch past the construction crew and be on its way. A few minutes later, anxious to call Joe back, Adam pulled into the first empty space on C Street and pulled out his phone. He would have no trouble getting reception now. Not sure if his brother was calling from his cell or from the house, Adam looked at the number of his last call.

His eyes couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The last call his phone had received was not from Joe’s number. It was a complete impossibility. The call was from Hoss’ phone.

Adam‘s hands trembled as he looked at the screen of his phone. He swallowed hard and looked up at the brick front of the tourism office on the corner of C and Taylor. He focused his eyes on the brightly colored banner stretching across C Street advertising the upcoming Memorial Day Parade and Picnic.

Hoss was gone, dead, vaporized in an instant, along with over two-thousand other people.

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Adam flipped open his phone and looked at the screen. There it was — Hoss’ number. He hesitantly pushed the redial button.

“Hello, Adam?” a man’s voice answered. “Is this Adam?”

“Who is this?” Adam demanded.

“Is this Adam?”

“Who are you?” Adam shouted.

“Is this Adam?” the voice repeated.

Then, through the phone, Adam heard a female voice say, “Ralph, let me have the phone”.

“Who is this?” Adam demanded once again, loud enough for his voice to be heard beyond the closed windows of his car. Loud enough that the two heavy-set women walking into the tourism office turned around and stared at him.

“I’m sorry to bother you. My name is Millie Marsala. I have this cell phone and I am not sure… It was broken and we just got it working and…” Her voice trembled. “I’m not sure what to do. The phone was broken. I was at the World Trade Center that day and he gave me his phone to hold and… I don’t know what happened to him or how to get it back to him. But I wanted to.”

Adam grasped the steering wheel and sucked in his breath. “It’s my brother’s phone. You have my brother’s phone.”

“Is your brother a big man? A very big man? Blonde? Is he?”

“Yes, a big man. My brother, Hoss, was a big man.”

“Was? Did he… Is he ok?”

“We…we…lost him that day”, Adam told her. He felt as if he were drowning.

“I’m so sorry. He saved me. Your brother saved me and some others. I…I wanted to thank him”

Millie started to cry and then Adam heard Ralph’s voice in the background and a baby crying.

“Adam? This is Ralph, again. Hold on a minute.”

Adam heard him trying to calm Millie. Then he came back on the phone.

“This is Ralph Marsala. He saved my wife, Adam. And our baby. My wife was pregnant and she had a broken ankle. She had fallen over Labor Day weekend when we were putting the nursery together. She was on crutches and… I told her to be careful. I wanted her to stay home from work, but she insisted she was fine. She didn’t like to miss work anyway, and wanted to work up until the last minute so she could have more time off.”

“She couldn’t get down the stairs. Your brother helped her, Adam. He carried her down all the way from the fifty-fifth floor. He stayed with her until they got out. The baby was born September fifteenth. A month early. A girl. Your brother saved my wife and our daughter.”

Then, taking back the phone from her husband, Millie told Adam how when the power went out and the terrified people were trapped on the stairs in the pitch blackness, Hoss had led the frightened group to safety by using his cell phone for a flashlight.

“He kept us all calm and showed us the pictures of his family he had on the phone. He said his mother was dead and it was just his father and his brothers. He said he would have a good story to tell them when he got home.”

Adam smiled and remembered how he had put some old family shots on Hoss’ new cell phone before he left. He told Hoss that was so he wouldn’t forget them while he was having his wild time in the big city.

“Some guy punched your brother and tried to grab the phone. It fell and cracked but he got it back. Then your brother gave me the phone to hold so he could carry me. I couldn’t walk anymore. He carried me piggy back. He said he used to carry his brother around like that all the time. And when he was practicing for the football team, he would run carrying his brother to build himself up. His brother would time him and he was able help his team win the state championship even though he had a concussion because of that. Was that you?”

Adam took a breath and answered, “No, Ma’am. It wasn’t me. I’m older than Hoss. It was our other brother, Joe. He helped Hoss train and…” Adam swallowed hard. “It was Joe. Not me.”

”He carried me all the way down and saved my life,” she repeated.

Sitting alone in his car on C Street, as ordinary people continued to live their ordinary, normal lives, Adam Cartwright listened as the Marsalas told him about the last day of his brother’s life.

When the call finally ended, Adam Cartwright’s heart had been through a meat grinder. He leaned his head on the steering wheel of his car and wept, not caring which ordinary person living their ordinary life saw him.

 

December 2001

She was barefoot, holding her Nikon in one hand and her jogging shoes in the other. It wasn’t until she stepped outside the Marriot that she realized there was shattered glass everywhere and quickly put her shoes on. She looked around and noticed people on the other side of the street staring above and behind her, pointing and screaming. What was going on?

“Get out of the area and don’t look up! Don’t look back! Run!” These words rang in her ears as she ran.

Faye Franklin wondered if she would turn into a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife, if she looked back to snap some pictures.

As she crossed the street, she turned around and looked up at the World Trade Center – unspeakable horror loomed above her. Flames were bellowing out from the top floor windows of the first tower. Bodies were plummeting from the blazing towers. People screaming, the sound of enormous breakage, the smell of smoke. The smoky, dusty air was filled with sirens and screams and she realized the screams were hers.

As she crossed the street, Faye turned and looked up at the World Trade Center. Unspeakable horror loomed above her. Flames were billowing out from the top floor windows of the South Tower, and bodies were plummeting from the blazing towers. The air was filled with the smell of smoke and burning kerosene and the sounds of sirens and screams.

Awakened by the sound of her own shrill screams, Faye sat bolt upright in bed, her heart pounding. The room was pitch black and she wasn’t quite sure where she was, if it was day or night. It took only a moment before she was sufficiently awake to remember that she was in her third floor room at the Shiba Park Hotel in Tokyo.

The Newsweek editor hadn’t argued when Faye insisted that she would not stay in any room above the fourth floor. She had also insisted that she would need internet access as well as a brand new laptop and cell phone before she agreed to take on the assignment.

Faye was in Japan to photograph the newborn Princess Aiko, heir apparent to the Japanese throne. After seeing so much death and destruction, it was a comfort to be in such a tranquil setting photographing a brand new baby, especially a long awaited royal princess.

Alone and still trembling, she wished that Ben was beside her in bed. Faye desperately wanted to hear his reassuring velvet voice telling her that she was safe, that everything was all right. Then she could snuggle up next to him and fall peacefully asleep with her cheek on his chest, his arms wrapped around her.

For a moment, she hugged her pillow and tried to calm her racing heart. Then she focused her eyes on the glowing face of the digital alarm clock on the sleek nightstand. Despite the darkness of the hotel’s black-out shades, she could see that it was ten-thirty in the morning. That made it the middle of the night in Nevada. Faye wouldn’t phone the Ponderosa at his hour. After all Ben had been through this fall it would be utterly selfish, and Faye Franklin was not a selfish woman.

Faye and Ben had compromised on the colossal issues that had been huge stumbling blocks in their relationship. Ben would never leave his beloved Ponderosa and she would never give up her career wandering the world with a camera. Somehow, through it all, they were bonded because their love for each other was stronger than any of the immovable obstacles.

She slipped her feet into the new slip-on Puma sneakers that she kept instantly accessible beside her bed and walked to the desk where she had left her laptop set up the night before. She would email Ben. That would make her feel better.

All the experts had kept on saying that nothing would improve if she kept things bottled up inside her. She wouldn’t move on with her life. Ben had continually begged her to tell him about that day. She couldn’t bear to tell him, to verbalize the terror of the day, or to see the anguish on his face if she did. That was much too hard for Faye. They had compromised on this issue too. Ben finally said he would listen when she was ready.

She wouldn’t refuse Ben’s request any more. He had given her so much of himself and had asked so little from her in return. Faye would write it all down and email it to Ben. That way, each of them could carry on through this healing. She could write in her own time and he could read as much as he needed to of her story in privacy. And she wouldn’t have to see his tears or let him see hers.

She took a breath and started to type:

My darling Ben,

It is morning here in Tokyo.

I want to tell you that you are the first one I think of when I awaken and the last one I think of at night… I love you so.

You asked me what my experience was that day and I refused to tell you. I just couldn’t tell you, though I knew I should. It is mid-morning here and before I go out to the shoot, I am writing to you.

Last night I was reading the information the royal public relations folks sent me about the baby. Do you know what I learned? Aiko is the princess’s personal name. It is written with the character for “love” and “child” and means “a person who loves others.” The name was chosen by her parents, instead of by the emperor. They still did that, you know? I think it was a very good choice, Ben. Aiko means, “A person who loves others and will be loved by others, and a person who respects others will always be respected by others.” That was your Hoss. That is what he meant to me, Aiko.

The person who loved others and was respected and loved by all.

So, that said, you can read the rest of this now, or whenever you are ready or just delete it.

Just know I love you more than I can say, Ben. And I will never, ever forget Hoss.

Never.

As you know, I was staying at the WTC Marriot. I was halfway dressed when the building shook. At the time, I figured they must have been doing some sort of remodeling in the building and didn’t really get concerned. It was NY, after all. Something is always going on. A few minutes later, someone banged on my door and said we had to leave the building and something I didn’t quite catch about a fire nearby. I was pretty annoyed for the inconvenience. I grabbed my shoes and my camera, figuring I would have to hang around the lobby for a while or maybe I would go for a walk on that perfect blue sky fall morning. Then I would just go back up and finish dressing. I had that little leather clutch you had given me with my wallet and my cell phone. That’s all I took from my room. I figured I would get some breakfast nearby. Anyway, we got into the lobby and by that time, some of the staff said we had to leave the building, which I did.

I turned to the right and saw the first building was on fire.

That perfect blue sky September morning wasn’t so perfect anymore.

The cops signaled for our group to run across the street. As we started running, my fear kicked in. I have been all sorts of dangerous places and never, never felt that sort of fear. I hope I never will again.

A man in uniform — I think an EMT — screamed “don’t look up, run” and then ran himself. A huge noise came — we ran across the street. That was when I heard and saw the second plane hit the building directly above where I was standing. There it was, the concrete evidence that my fear was justified.

I started shaking terribly. I just can’t explain the explosion — other than comparing it to that atomic fireball that I read about in Hiroshima. Absolutely terrifying.

Everyone was stunned, petrified.

It seemed like minutes, however I’m sure it was just seconds, that the hundreds of people in the street were scared stiff, all staring up at two burning buildings.

Just frozen, strangers together frozen in the minute.

Frozen.

This is when we, a frightened group of strangers, all witnessed the people jumping out of buildings afire and falling to their death. A uniform sigh of terror came from the crowds as people jumped alone, in groups, people holding hands and jumping — such an unimaginable sight to see. Some speculate that these people were too hot to withstand the fire on the upper floors of the towers.

Whatever the case, it was awful to witness. I am sure the sight of this broke many minds.

As afraid as I was, I ran towards the street and kept shooting. My instinct led me to do so. I don’t know if I did the right thing but I just did it. Could I have helped someone instead of taking pictures? I don’t know. I won’t ever know.

People were grabbing each other. I grabbed people and people grabbed me but somehow I kept shooting. I was screaming but somehow kept shooting as I ran. I suppose old habits kick in even when you think this will be the last roll of film you will ever shoot. Funny, I sent those pictures to the lab but never looked at the prints. I can’t, not yet. Not alone.

Someday I will.

I was just on automatic pilot at that point, running and shooting. Everyone was screaming. I ran. As I approached the corner of Broadway, I heard a tremendous rumbling. Debris from the plane and building started hurling in all directions. It was an avalanche of choking yellow gray dust and debris coming at us like a tidal wave.

I looked to the right and the tower was falling. I looked to the left across the street and saw an open doorway on Broadway. It was a coffee shop.

I made it inside just in time, with about a dozen other people, and I’m not quite sure why but I held hands with a few strangers in those awful moments. I guess no one wants to die alone, Ben, surrounded by chrome trimmed latte machines, and polished granite counters and total strangers.

I tried to use my cell phone to call you, Ben, but all connections were busy. It was impossible. That was that moment I realized how much I love you. You were the only one I wanted right that minute. The only one I needed to talk to, the only one in the entire universe that I knew would care if I was alive or dead or scared or hurt. The only one I wanted to say good bye to if this was my last moment of my life.

Ben, I want to call you right now, but I know it is the middle of the night in Nevada and I can’t wake you after all you have been through these last months. I wish I could hear your voice tell me the nightmares would go away. I wish you were here so you could lie down beside me, wrap me in your arms and hold me close. I miss you so.

So, now you know.

I love you,

Faye

Faye took a breath and hit send. She hadn’t even reread what she typed. She knew she couldn’t look at the words again.

Suddenly, she felt much better, calmer, just as if her Ben was next to her and some of her agony was eased She sincerely hoped his reading her email didn’t shift any of her pain to his broad shoulders.

 

September 11, 2001

Andy Walker had told Hoss to meet him and his Uncle Thaddeus and some of their friends for breakfast at nine at a real special fancy place, Windows on the World. Andy explained that they had to take a different express elevator to the 78th floor sky lobby and transfer to a local elevator to reach the 107th floor. Hoss looked confused about the mammoth building having so many entrances and elevators and how they would find each other.

When Hoss seemed totally confused by the complications of taking a variety of elevators, Andy laughed and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll meet you on the 78th floor and Thad will go up and join the others. Just follow the signs. I have a new cell phone and just call me if you have trouble.” He showed his friend his fancy new phone and then waited while Hoss entered the new number his own phone.

“I’m taking you to the most impressive restaurant you ever will see in all your born days.” Andy smiled; he was thrilled to share his success with his old friend.

”Andy, its only breakfast. Are you sure it’s worth all this trouble? They serve a mighty fine breakfast in the hotel.”

Andy laughed. “It’s not just the food, Hoss. It’s the way they serve things. And the view will take your breath away. The place is higher than a mountain. You will be sitting above the clouds. The weather is supposed to be clear tomorrow so you will have a fantastic view of everything for miles around.”

Andy’s Uncle Thaddeus, who was also his agent, laughed and added “Windows on the World reported revenues of thirty-seven million dollars, making it the highest-grossing restaurant in the entire United States.”

”Thirty-seven million dollars? For a restaurant? Daisy’s café sure don’t come anywhere near to that and she makes terrific food. What kind of food do they serve there?” Hoss was amazed. Everything in New York was bigger and more expensive than anything back home. “It will certainly be something to write home about.”

“Cost is no object, Hoss,” Thaddeus bragged. He spent every last dollar Andy earned like it was a leaf and Thaddeus owned the forest. “If it’s the last breakfast you ever eat, you have to join us. “

Later, when Andy thought about this last conversation, he shuddered at the ironic choice of words his Uncle had used. He doubted if Uncle Thaddeus even had a cup of coffee before the first plane hit the tower.

When he woke up that blue sky morning, Hoss had examined the pull-out map in the slick-covered New York City guidebook that Adam had given him as a gift for the trip. It looked like only a couple of miles from his hotel to the World Trade Center. He was going to walk, as the weather was really fine, but the desk clerk at the hotel told him it would be much better to take the subway.

Hoss left the hotel at eight-thirty. How long would it take to go a couple of miles? After all, Hoss, if he looked all the way down Broadway from his hotel, could see the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center tall above the rest of the buildings in lower Manhattan.

Everything took much longer than Hoss had anticipated. First, as the burly young man exited the revolving door of the hotel, he set off in the wrong direction. Then he couldn’t find the entrance to the subway that the desk clerk had described to him. He retraced his steps and asked a well-dressed businessman for directions; he was toting a shiny leather brief case and was wearing a dark suit. The man chuckled and said, “You must be a tourist! “

Hoss nodded and wondered how the fellow figured it out so fast. He was wearing his brand new leather jacket and freshly pressed gabardine slacks that Joe had helped him pick out for the trip. Then the man pointed at the stairs leading into the subway about ten feet in front of them. Before Hoss could thank him, the New Yorker had disappeared into the crowd. One thing Hoss had noticed was how fast New Yorkers did everything. They walked fast, they talked fast and they ate fast — too fast for Hoss.

Finally, on the subway, Hoss nervously kept an eye out for the Chambers Street Station — the World Trade Center stop — just like the desk clerk in the hotel had explained. He got off with a few dozen other people, hitting the stairs in front of him. All those New York people sure looked like they knew where they were going, moving fast, not looking around. Not wanting to get lost again, he asked the clerk in a newsstand which way to go. Squeezing his way through the crowd, Hoss was so preoccupied with not getting lost again that he didn’t even notice that the skinny red-haired boy who bumped into him also lifted his wallet.

*****

Andy was positive that his uncle had already gone up to meet the others in the restaurant. It didn’t much matter. His uncle Thad could use the time before he and Hoss arrived to finish off the schedule for the publicity appearance and not bore Hoss with all that stuff. Andy never realized how much was involved with getting a Broadway show up and running. Suddenly, just as he stepped off of the subway, all hell broke loose. People were dashing for the exits and shouting, “Get out of the station! Get off the trains! Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center!”

As he got closer to the stairwell, Andy could smell it. Smoke can smell all sorts of ways. This was the sort of smell that told you something was seriously wrong — an acrid, oily sharp odor filled his lungs.

He stepped onto the sidewalk and turned west. Huge billowing plumes of smoke and orange fire were pouring out of the top of the North Tower of the Trade Center. The flames and the smoke spoke volumes.

He frantically pulled out his fancy new cell phone. He desperately needed to reach Uncle Thad and Hoss again, to know see if they were ok and find out where they were. Andy immediately found out that it was totally impossible it is to get a network connection when tens of thousands of frantic people in the same twelve square block area were all frenziedly trying to make a call at the exact same time.

Andy looked back up at the North Tower, and then remembered the shouting about both towers being hit. He had to move half a block to see the South Tower. Time seemed to stop as well. The crowd just stood there and watched as the wind pulled two enormous columns of smoke out flat and to the east.

He had to try to call his uncle. Where was Hoss? Where was Thad? Were they trapped?

It was just a little after 9:30 am. Andy still couldn’t get a signal on his new fancy phone, so he started anxiously walking away from the area.

That new cell phone of his probably saved his life — without his hunt for a network connection, Andy probably would have been standing at the corner of Fulton and Broadway when tower two collapsed. Footage of that corner after the buildings fell showed the area coated in white, with chunks of debris everywhere.

As the tower crumbled to the earth within a minute’s time, the deadly remnants hit the ground and began rushing toward Andy like shrapnel in a debris-laden brown and yellow cloud. Andy and a policeman turned and ran up Broadway. When Andy gestured to the policeman that they should get behind some concrete barriers that they were passing, the cop shook his head not to. He didn’t think that they would stop the debris. The two ran hard to escape the debris. Andy ran as fast as he could and probably beat the best time his friend Hoss ever made doing sprints at football practices.

They finally reached safety at City Hall and saw people emerging from the cloud crying and covered in yellow ash from the collapse. One soot-covered businessman emerged in a suit that looked like it had been blasted on him. Everyone who had made it past the debris turned back to help those who were emerging from it.

Andy looked up at the huge expanding cloud and wondered where his uncle and Hoss were. If they were.

*****

The New York City flower district stretches from 26th to 29th Street, north of the World Trade Center. In vivid contrast to concrete and bricks, splashes of lively color spill from the storefronts. Gold and ruby chrysanthemums, bowers of golden sun flowers and bright red geraniums were stacked in profusion. Flats of familiar blooms, vibrant exotic flowers lined the curb in double rows as far as the eye could see. Rows of soaring tropical palms, shiny leafed rubber plants and fragrant Norfolk Island Pines crowd the sidewalk in oversized pots. Windows were filled with sparkling glass vases and orange clay flower pots stacked in towering pyramids.

The flower district is an urban neighborhood that ran on green thumbs, back-breaking work and family pride.

For block after block, the streets are lined with older buildings housing concentration of wholesale and retail florists. Some businesses sold their goods wholesale, only to those in the trade, offering the finest quality at competitive prices to generations of fussy, demanding customers. Others sold retail to any customer who strolled in looking for a floral bouquet or single small house plant.

Anyone walking down the narrow, crowded sidewalks could hear music blaring from most of the open doors except one. At Vandervoort and Son Flowers, the owners preferred to work in relative quiet, especially since their son Heinrich had died. Heinrich was the one who liked to hear the blare of Reggae or heavy metal or even country music on his boom box as he worked. The boom box had been knocked off the shelf a couple of months after he died and the grieving Vandervoorts never bothered to replace it

As a school boy, Heinrich Vandervoort decided that he hated his name. He didn’t mind that it sounded foreign. Living in New York City, he was surrounded by people from every part of the world and his classes were filled with students with names like Cariba and Pedro and Ivankas, Chong Wa and Antonio. To the boy, Heinrich sounded so odd, so strange and old fashioned. He just didn’t want people to think he was boring, and Heinrich sounded old and boring.

From the time he turned twelve and started working in the family business, Heinrich Vandervoort introduced himself to people as Rick, like the popular cool boy in “Silver Spoons“ on TV or Humphrey Bogart‘s character in “Casablanca“. By the time he graduated from high school, no one but his parents ever referred to him as anything but Rick Vandervoort and few even knew his legal name was Heinrich.

Before dawn, the floral district bustles with caffeine driven, crack-of-dawn kind of energy. By 9 a.m., the flower district business was winding down. The work day was half over. There were even some parking spaces, as the last few shiny vans loaded up and headed uptown or towards the bridges to the outer boroughs and New Jersey. That morning, in Vandervoort and Son Florist, the sweet, wet smell of flowers permeated everything. The floor was littered with discarded leaves and greenery, and snips of packing material. Most of the battered shelves were already empty after their last wholesale customer, a florist from Bayside, Queens, had picked up an elaborate order of dozens of champagne roses, snow white orchids and pale waxy calla lilies that he would use for centerpieces for the children’s hospital’s black tie fundraiser.

While her husband Klaus swept up the mess, Kristina Vandervoort climbed the narrow staircase to their apartment above the store. She fixed a midmorning snack of coffee and toasted Thomas’ English muffins with orange marmalade. She always had Thomas’, no other brand, as they had been Heinrich’s favorite.

A few years earlier, the neighborhood was re-zoned to allow for residential buildings. Building owners had sold off their aging properties to real estate developers who tore down the ancient commercial buildings and replaced them with luxury high-rise apartment buildings. With most of their profits were being eroded by the competition of internet florists and rising rents in the booming New York City real estate market, many of the neighboring floral wholesalers had closed or moved elsewhere where the overhead was substantially lower. Enterprises that had been run by one family for generations went out of business.

For months, as he fought pancreatic cancer, Heinrich Vandervoort had urged his parents to sell their property and retire, to go to the farm in Holland, Michigan which had been in Klaus’s family for generations. Now, with his only son gone, Klaus Vandervoort was urging his wife Kristina to sell their property and move to Michigan, just as Heinrich had advised. With their son gone, there was no reason to struggle to keep up Vandervoort Florists. There was no one to take on the business they had built. The old building was worth more than the business it housed. Kristina stubbornly refused. She missed her son too much to leave the place where he grew up and where they had worked together every day.

*****

That blue sky day in early September, the floral district was a strange oasis of beauty in the middle of Manhattan in sharp contrast to the horrific events unfolding in lower Manhattan. Looking north, the sky was still clear and sharply blue. To the south, the dust cloud was ten stories high.

The cloud came down the street for blocks faster than it could be outrun. Like many of their neighbors, the Vandervoorts stood frozen in the street, watching the incomprehensible tragedy unfold. While ambulances and fire trucks and more police cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring raced down town, the streets of the Flower District were soon filled with a surge of frightened crowds trying to escape.

The Vandervoorts stood in front of the store, trying to help as best they could. Klaus hooked up a hose and helped dust-encrusted victims rinse their faces. Kristina passed out paper cups of water and sandwiches until she ran out of food. It was close to noon when the dusty, big man with a bloodied head and ripped clothes stumbled and fell down, unconscious at her feet.

It was his last high school game and the team was battling for the state championship against a team he couldn’t quite remember. Was it South Tower High? All he knew was that he was running as fast as he could, just as he had trained for and practiced for years. He was running like his life depended on it.

When the ball was snapped, Hoss drifted backward away from the opposing fullback, who was closing in like Jigger Thurmond’s raging bull. He squinted and quickly sized up the opening in front of him. He managed to make his break on the uneven field with a quick side step. Strangely, dusty snow was falling all around him and shrieking fans were throwing all sorts of confetti and garbage onto the field from the stands. Running for all he was worth, Hoss barely avoided someone diving at him and a flying player almost landed on him.

He pivoted and leaped over the sprawled body of someone who was down. Then Hoss made his break. The quarterback threw a perfect pass, off-balance, spinning and twirling, but perfect. With someone’s’ hand right in his face, Hoss caught it and ran down the opening for all he was worth. Five yards, then ten, then twenty; his heart was going to explode in his chest as he tried to suck for more air. He heard the crowd roar and screams of the cheerleaders from the sidelines. The badly-maintained field was wide open in front of him and he was almost to the goal when something hit him from behind and he went down hard. His helmet flew off and his head hit the pavement. Why did they have a sidewalk right in the middle of a football field? The air whooshed from his lungs as two burly players fell on top of him. Hoss was at the bottom of the pileup and everything went black.

The next thing he knew, Hoss was looking up at a glaring bright light shining in his eyes. He was blinded and struggled to get up.

”Whoa! Fella, lay still here,” a strong hand pushed him back onto the gurney.

“Let me up, coach. I can still play,” he argued futilely.

”Just close your eyes and lay back, fella. You ain’t at any game. This is real. You are hurt. Hurt bad. ”

Hoss closed his eyes for a moment and a wave of pain washed over him. His family came to every game. “Get my Pa. He’s in the stands.”

“Your Pa? He’s in the stands? Do you mean the van?” The ER triage nurse at St Vincent’s Downtown Hospital had no idea what this man was mumbling about. Maybe he meant his father was in the florist’s van that he had arrived in? That is what he must have said. His father was in the van. He didn’t look critically injured, and with all that was going on, she couldn’t take too much time on him. The disaster plan had just kicked in throughout every hospital in the New York metropolitan area in response to the horror at the World Trade Center. As each minute passed, the place was filling up with an army of injured, with more expected. Two more ambulances backed into the ER entrance and started disgorging more injured people. “I’ll be right back.”

“Pa?” he groaned. “Pa?” Hoss struggled to stay conscious but couldn’t figure out where he was. The pain in his head was intense and everything was swirling around him. He realized someone was holding fast to his right hand, and a voice was saying, softly, “Squeeze my hand if you can, son.”

He did and the other hand squeezed back.

“Good,” said a soft, gentle female voice. The woman had some sort of European accent. “You are alive! That was quite a fall.”

“I’m alive?” he whispered hoarsely. His mouth was filled with dust and blood.

“Yes, you are alive, thank goodness.”

Hoss closed his eyes, hoping that someone had gone to fetch his father. “Pa?”

He felt a gentle touch on his brow and a hand squeezed his. “It’s not Papa. It’s Mama, son. Everything will be all right.”

”Is this your son?” the frantic clerk with a clipboard asked. They had sent her down from her usual job in billing to help out in the disaster. She had been trying to sort out people in the crowded Emergency Room for the last three hours and it looked like more were coming. What were they going to do? Where were they going to put everyone?

”My son?” Kristina Vandervoort asked. She had no idea who this man was. He had collapsed in a bloody heap on the sidewalk outside side her store. She and Klaus had helped him stagger into their delivery van and took him to the overcrowded hospital.

“We can’t do anything for him if your son doesn’t have insurance. Does your son have insurance? What’s your son’s name?”

”Heinrich. My son’s name is Heinrich,” Kristina said automatically. Then reaching into her purse, she pulled out her dead son’s wallet. After Heinrich had died, Kristina had put his wallet in her purse and somehow couldn’t bear to put it away. She got some comfort from having it there. “Here is his insurance card.”

“Take it easy, Heinrich,” the overwhelmed clerk said as she quickly copied Heinrich Vandervoort’s insurance data onto an admission form.

“Heinrich?” Hoss said rubbing his head in confusion. He couldn’t quite remember where he was or even who he was. “Is that my name? Can we go home, Mama?”

It was just that simple. On September 11, 2001, along with over 2000 other people, Hoss Cartwright disappeared. Only he hadn’t died; he just became Heinrich Vandervoort.

 

November 2001

Cambridge University, England

 

Bessie Sue Hightower sat in the oversized, drafty lecture hall trying to focus on the presentation by Doctor Addison Hickman. He was a world renowned expert on amnesia but was a terribly boring speaker.

“Making and storing memories is a complex process involving many regions of the brain, including the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes. Damage or disease in these areas can result in varying degrees of memory loss. In order for short-term memory to become long-term memory, it must go through a process known as consolidation. During consolidation, short-term memory is repeatedly activated — so much so that certain chemical and physical changes occur in the brain, permanently “embedding” the memory for long-term access. If, during this repeated activation, something interrupts the process — let’s say a concussion or other brain trauma — then short-term memory cannot be consolidated. Memories can’t be “stored” for long-term access. This may be what’s going on in anterograde amnesia,” Dr. Hickman droned on in a pompous monotone. He seemed to drag on for hours, even though he was only about twenty minutes into the class. Focusing on her classes had been difficult for Bessie Sue since September.

“Instead, people with amnesia — also called amnestic syndrome — are usually lucid and know who they are, but may have trouble learning new information and forming new memories.” Hickman pointed to a slide projected on the old-fashioned pull down screen behind him with a bit too much vigor. The screen rolled up with a loud snap. The dedicated graduate students in the lecture hall couldn’t help but break into gales of laughter — all but Bessie Sue Hightower, who found it hard to laugh at much these days.

She looked up and realized her friend Enoch McWilliams had slid into a seat behind her. He was a short, chubby, bearded, doctoral student from London. He leaned over and whispered, “You have a package slip in your mail box. I tried to get it for you but the desk manager refused, even though I tried to convince her I was Bessie Sue Hightower.”

Bessie smiled and whispered back, “Thanks. I’ll go run over right after Doctor Hickman finishes.”

“Don’t forget,” Enoch teased. “You might catch amnesia from the horrific trauma of listening to Hickman’s self-aggrandizing blather. I would certainly hate to miss out on one of your mother’s CARE packages. I bet it’s all those things she promised for your feast –- or a birthday trinket from Prince William?”

“Bet it’s the things Mom promised,” Bessie whispered. “I already got all my birthday gifts, except yours.”

“My gift? Didn’t I promise to up the round of drinks in the pub when we take you out to celebrate? I’ll buy you a pint! Chips too.”

“That’s true.”

“And don’t forget, I’m invited to your jolly Thanksgiving party!” He leaned over and whispered, “I got the room at the graduate student union for you, so you have to include me in with all the displaced Americans. And I’ll bring the ale and some wine. No haggis!”

“I hope so,” Bessie whispered. Bessie Sue had neatly printed a long list of tasks that had to be completed for the Thanksgiving dinner. Almost everything had been done. Bessie Sue Hightower, her roommate Cassie, and eleven other homesick American graduate students were trying to throw together a real American Thanksgiving dinner in the graduate dormitory. She hadn’t realized how hard it would be to find the fixings in England at such short notice. The closest thing to cranberries they could find was lingonberries, and they were forced to substitute chickens for the turkey — it was either that or try to figure out how to deal with preparing a goose. When Bessie Sue spoke to her parents via Skype, Mrs. Hightower insisted that she was going to immediately mail her melancholy daughter a package containing more than enough cans of cranberry sauce, the fixings for Campbell Soup string bean casserole, homemade chocolate chip cookies and a copy of Grandma Hightower’s famous stuffing recipe.

Doctor Hickman shot a warning glance in their direction. “Da Costa’s syndrome. The condition was named after Jacob Mendes Da Costa who investigated and described the disorder during the American Civil War. It is also variously known as cardiac neurosis, chronic, which was colloquially known as soldier’s heart. It is a syndrome with a set of symptoms. Who can list them? How about you, Mr. McWilliams? Or are you too distracted by Miss Hightower?”

Enoch scrambled to his feet. “Yes sir, no sir. I mean, yes, I can list them, but no, I’m not too distracted. Just a little distracted. Miss Hightower just promised to share some of her goodies with me.”

The entire lecture hall broke into hysterical laughter. Both Enoch and Bessie Sue turned bright scarlet. “I’m sure this is far more information than any of us need to hear, Mr. McWilliams. Now, what are the symptoms Dr. DaCosta described?”

“Da Costa’s syndrome has a set of symptoms that are similar to those of heart disease, hence, the misnomer of Soldier’s Heart. The soldier, after a fierce battle, found that he could not keep up with his comrades in the exertions of a soldier’s life as he could previously. He would get out of breath, and he would get dizzy and have palpitations and pains in his chest; yet upon examination some time later, he appeared generally healthy,” Enoch quickly gave the spot-on answer.

“Correct. In modern times, Da Costa’s syndrome is considered the manifestation of an anxiety disorder. Treatment is primarily behavioral, involving modifications to lifestyle and daily exertion and return to familiar routines and surroundings.”

Relieved, Enoch collapsed dramatically into his seat, making the class break into laughter once again.

“And the recommended course of treatment? Miss Hightower?”

Bessie Sue stood tall beside her chair. “Keeping the patient away from familiar, comfortable places and routines is detrimental to recovery and contraindicated in treatment for Da Costa’s syndrome as well as PTSD and other similar disorders. It is vitally important for the patient to have the support of family and friends in his customary, recognizable environment and to reintegrate into his previous life.”

“Correct, please be seated, Miss Hightower. Well done. If the patient is not given this opportunity, the memory loss and confusion will increase.”

Bessie Sue turned around and playfully reprimanded her friend. She shook her head and waggled her finger in a comic imitation of Miss Jones, her strictest teacher back home in Virginia City. “You are the class clown, Enoch McWilliams! What are we to do with you, young man? Should I send a note home to your parents?”

He leaned forward to whisper in Bessie Sue’s ear “I might be the class clown, my friend, but I’m smart enough to give old Doc Kay the right answers and get away with it. And my boyish charm and wit will melt everyone’s anger too! Besides, my parents are worse clowns than I. They have run off to join the circus leaving me in your care until they return.”

“You remind me of a boy back home. He was the younger brother of my … my … my late boyfriend.” Despite her grief, Bessie Sue couldn’t help but smile at the thought of Little Joe Cartwright. He, too, was the class clown whose quick mind and engaging charm usually kept him out of trouble.

“And don’t forget that package!” Enoch reminded her. “You promised me your goodies!”

 

December 2001

Back in New York

At the sound of the door buzzer, Heinrich Vandervoort looked up from the display of poinsettias he was arranging. He quickly glanced toward the back workroom for one of his parents to emerge. His mother thought it best that he not wait on customers for now. Heinrich could not remember which exotic flowers were which or how to write up large orders and would get rattled putting any arrangements together. His mother said it was due to the shock to his mind and body from the injuries he sustained on 9/11, and it would eventually fade.

When neither parent appeared, he hesitantly approached the young woman.

“Shoot, why not?” he thought to himself. “It’s been over two months, and I feel a lot better; my headaches are almost gone. Dad might be mad if we lose a sale, especially with business being so slow.” The fact that she was a very pretty girl, strawberry blonde hair waving over her coat collar, helped him decide to disobey his mother’s strict order.

Just as Heinrich asked what he could do to help her, she gasped and burst into sobs, a stricken look on her face.

“Ma’am? What is it? Are you in some kind of trouble? Did I do anything wrong?”

Heinrich looked around. He desperately hoped desperately hoping his mother would come in to take charge of the situation. “Can I get you a glass of water?”

The woman’s sobs subsided to snuffles, and getting herself, together she retrieved a handful of tissues from her purse.

“I’m so sorry,” she managed to stammer through sniffles. “You look so much like my late husband. It’s so uncanny. Again, I’m sorry. I thought the grief counseling was helping me keep control of my feelings, but I guess the therapist is right. I’m trying to rush it.”

Heinrich pulled a stool from behind the counter. “Ma’am, why don’t you sit down a minute, and I’ll get you that glass of water.

“Oh, no thank you. I’ll be all right. I work a few doors down at City Medical Billing Services. I stopped in to buy a Christmas arrangement for my apartment. I can’t stand the thought of putting up a tree alone on what should have been our first Christmas as a married couple, but my group therapist wants us each to do something Christmassy for ourselves. I thought if I got a candle arrangement, I could burn a candle for Roy during the holidays.”

“We have real pretty arrangements. Those over there are artificial, but we sell some scented candles to go with them that smells kind of like pine. And we have real pine too.” Heinrich picked up a circle of pine with pinecones and took in a deep breath. “I like those better. It smells real homey. You have to water it so it doesn’t get dried out if’n you’re going to have it near the candles, but it’s worth it in my opinion.”

Kristina Vandervoort strode into the store and interrupted, “Heinrich, you are waiting on a customer? You are being too chatty!” She smiled at the young woman. “My son was injured in the 9/11 attack. He had a head injury, and he is still suffering from a bit of amnesia. We think waiting on customers would be too much for him for a while.”

“Oh, no! I hope my meltdown didn’t cause you any distress.”

The guilty look in the girl’s green eyes caused Heinrich to involuntarily twitch. “Uh, no, don’t worry, Ma’am.” He started to reassure her, but his mother stepped between them, efficiently taking payment for the real pine arrangement and hastily stuffing it into a bag. Kristina Vandervoort practically shoved the girl out of the shop.

Heinrich went about his chores the rest of the day thinking about the encounter with the pretty young woman and his strange reaction to her green eyes. She worked close by, so he would make it a point to look her up. He wondered to himself if this would be the first time he kept something from his parents.

*****

It wasn’t until the week after New Year that Heinrich got a chance to look for the young woman. The flower shop’s books were a complete mess. It was close to tax time, so both his parents were tied up at their accountant’s office. Heinrich, feeling a little uncomfortable, closed the shop early for lunch and went down the street to the billing service office in search of the strawberry blonde customer.

Standing in front of her office building, he wondered what he would do if she didn’t leave for lunch. He would cross that bridge if he came to it. That bridge didn’t appear; she trailed the first rush of employees out of the building, pulling on her gloves as she walked.

Heinrich approached the woman hesitantly. “Uh, ma’am, do you remember me? You bought some Christmas things in our family’s flower shop, Vandervoort and Son. Could I talk to you for a minute, ma’am?”

The woman nervously dropped her glove. Quickly, Heinrich retrieved it before it got trampled by the lunch time crowd surging out of the building.

“Thank you.” She smiled as she reached for the glove. “Sure, I remember you. Of course, we can talk. I was just going across the street to the deli for lunch. Do you want to join me? But on one condition,” she laughed. “Please, please stop calling me ma’am. You’re making me feel like an old west school marm.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Heinrich smiled. “I mean, yes. What should I call you? I don’t even know your name.

“My name is Abbey, Abbey Jones.”

“That’s a nice name. I’m Heinrich Vandervoort. Nice to meet you, Miss Jones.” Heinrich awkwardly shook her proffered hand.

In the crowded deli, they settled into the only empty booth and quickly ordered. Abbey folded her arms on the table. “Now, what did you need to talk to me about, Mr. Vandervoort?”

Heinrich shifted in his seat. “Call me Heinrich. I’m sort of uncomfortable being called Mr. Vandervoort. In fact, for some reason, I’m even uncomfortable with Heinrich. I, uh, just wanted to apologize for the way my mother acted when you were in the flower shop. I don’t know what was wrong with her. She always insists on politeness and good service to all our customers, and then she goes and treats you so rude.” He looked down at his coffee cup, embarrassed.

“Oh, no, Heinrich. No need to apologize. It’s totally unnecessary. Everyone is so on edge these days,” Abbey reached across the table and patted his arm. “I can understand your mother being protective of you under the circumstances. My family and friends have been just like that with me. At first, I really appreciated them keeping the world at bay, but now, to tell the truth, it’s getting kind of annoying. I have to keep telling them that my therapist says I have to get on with living my life. I go to one of the 9/11 survivor support groups. It is nice having people who care so much about you, isn’t it?”

Heinrich shook his head. “My parents don’t really show any affection. My mother hugged me at the hospital, but hasn’t since then. My dad doesn’t even say much to me, doesn’t even look me straight in the eye. I do catch him looking at me funny sometimes. I think they used to be more affectionate, maybe when I was a kid. At night, when I’m almost asleep, sometimes I remember I used to get hugged a lot by my pa….my dad.”

“I’m sure both your parents love you very much. It sounds like you might be reliving childhood feelings. Sometimes it’s harder for parents of grown children to know how to show their love than it was when they were children. Like you said, you are still sorting things out from getting hurt. Give yourself time. Everyone keeps telling me that time is a great healer,” Abbey looked at her watch. “Speaking of time, I’ve got to get back to work. And if I’m to call you Heinrich, you call me Abbey. I’m so enjoying talking to you. It’s been such a long time since I made any new friends. I need to make some that didn’t know Roy.”

“Coffee?” the waitress interrupted.

Heinrich looked confused. “Roy Coffee?”

“No, bud. I asked if you wanted more coffee. Regular or decaf? Not Roy. We don’t have those fancy mocha java things. Just regular or decaf.”

He shook his head. “No, just the check. It’s on me, Abbey.”

“Oh that’s not necessary!” she protested, reaching for her purse.

“Please, it’s my way of saying sorry for the mix up in the store… and in Roy’s memory.”

“Thank you, Heinrich. I think you and Roy would have liked each other, though. He would have talked your ear off about skiing and Lake Tahoe. We did a lot of research on it for our trip. We were going to go there on a delayed honeymoon to a part of Lake Tahoe called Heavenly. We had a ton of brochures. We even bought a DVD called ‘Travel Tahoe’. Have you ever heard of the place?”

Before Heinrich could answer, Abbey looked at her watch again. “I really have to get back to work. I had to quit St. Vincent’s and change jobs after… It was too much to be in the same place. City Billing is a new job, so I better not be late.” She looked at Heinrich as she bundled into her coat. “Do you know that this is the first time I’ve talked about Roy without crying?”

“I’m glad of that Mrs. Jones, uh, Abbey. Could we have lunch again sometime? I’d really be interested in hearing about this Heavenly place if you want to talk about it. It sounds like somewhere I’d like to go.”

They walked together as far as the entrance to Abbey’s office building. Then Heinrich whistled all the way up the street to the flower shop, the paper napkin with Abbey’s phone number tucked into his pocket.

That night, as Heinrich was falling asleep, the feeling of warmth returned. In his dreams, he sat in a classroom behind another strawberry blonde girl. She wouldn’t turn around so he could see her face.

 

December 2001

The Ponderosa

 

Ben Cartwright was the first to admit that each of his sons at some occasion had insisted he loved another brother more. Each was unique, and he loved them for the boys they were and the fine men they had become. There was no favorite — just three different sons who were loved for themselves.

His eldest son was logical and dependable, the next predictably generous and earnest, the third dynamic and frustrating. Ben’s three sons loved and hated each other with fierce devotion. When they disagreed, they fought like rabid animals among themselves. But let an outsider intrude or attack one of the boys, the other two would defend their brothers to the death. They were stronger together than apart — unbreakable, invincible, his legacy. Together, the three brothers formed balance, like the three legs of a milking stool. Now, one son was gone forever, and the other two struggled to find a new equilibrium between them before they tipped over and the Cartwright family shattered into pieces.

Ben knew that Christmas 2001 was going to be unbelievably difficult for all of them. The family had developed certain traditions and rituals for the holiday over the years, and without Hoss, Ben wasn’t sure what they would do, how they would get through the season.

He and his two sons had eaten a quiet, subdued Thanksgiving dinner with Doc Martin and his wife, and everyone had managed to get through the day, but as Christmas approached, Ben wasn’t sure what he should do.

One evening over supper, Ben asked Adam and Joe what they would like to do for Christmas. Both of his sons were suddenly tongue-tied.

“Maybe we all should go on a cruise or a ski trip instead of staying home this year? What do you boys think? Or maybe San Francisco?” Ben questioned as Hop Sing carried in a steaming platter of fried chicken. “Roy Coffee said we might enjoy Disney World. He and Clem have a time-share we can borrow.”

“Leave the Ponderosa?” Joe shook his head. He looked first at his father, then at Adam. “I’m not spending Christmas anywhere but right in this house. And you can’t make me.”

“Don’t worry, little brother. Do you think Santa won’t find you? You’ll have plenty of toys under the tree and lots of mistletoe and holly,” Adam quipped, but the awkward joke fell flat. Then he muttered something about being responsible for the children’s choir and how he might have considered skiing in Switzerland, but it was probably too late to make reservations with all the plane schedules in flux. “Besides, I’m really backed up in the paperwork, and…the ledgers aren’t really up to date with the new computer software.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Joe interrupted Adam’s lament. He looked down at his plate, suddenly fascinated by separating the peas from his carrots. Ben waited for his boys to say more, but the rest of the meal was eaten in total silence.

Hop Sing stood silently in the door way watching, thinking. He had a perfect solution. If his employer was annoyed with his interference, he would deal with it, just as he had dealt with many other things over the years. Finally, the decision was made for the Cartwrights.

Later that night, just as Ben was about to head upstairs, Faye Franklin phoned from her hotel in Tokyo. She said that she was hoping to come in for a visit for the week between Christmas and New Year’s. She had just made her plane reservations. “It was lovely of you to have Hop Sing make the call, Ben. I can’t wait to see you.”

 

July 2002

New York City

 

The dining room in the NYC apartment was crowded with cameras, a computer and video monitors. The long glass and chrome table was covered with stacks of papers, newspapers, baskets of labeled video recordings and file folders. A window air conditioner rattled noisily as it cooled the humid August afternoon.

Faye had sublet the huge, high ceilinged, pre-World War II apartment at One Fifth Avenue from her friend, Leo McCullough, who worked for The NY Times. He had been assigned to be the assistant bureau chief in the Peking office and was glad Faye was going to “apartment sit” and keep track of his wife’s elderly poodle, Zsa Zsa. She moved into the master bedroom. Ignoring Emily McCullough’ pink and lavender flowered room, Joe bunked in bigger room normally shared by the teenaged McCullough twins. The guest room was more spacious, but somehow, being in the boy’s room with the view of Washington Square Park made the Nevada boy feel more comfortable and at home in the big, unfamiliar city.

Joe had helped Faye rearrange the McCullough dining room to serve as their office. Leaning against the largest wall, Faye placed an oversized cork board. She had quickly filled it with a neon rainbow of post it notes creating a shooting schedule in bright pinks and sherbet oranges, and a timeline of the 9/11 disaster in purple, aqua, and Kelly green. Each person they interviewed for Faye’s book had lost a family member on 9/11. At this point, the majority of Joe’s work involved operating the video camera as Faye interviewed the subject. Then Faye would play back the interview and transcribe the parts she wanted to include in the book’s narrative. Later, Faye would take portrait photos of the person in some appropriate setting — their home or a place that was meaningful to them and their lost love one.

“I remember it like yesterday,” the sweet voice said on the recording. “I was on my way to work when I heard of the attack. Actually, I was waiting for the bus. It felt like the longest bus ride in the world. When I got to my desk at St. Vincent’s Hospital, I called my husband’s station. We had been married for only three months and were supposed to leave on a delayed honeymoon the Sunday before Christmas. Skiing out west. Roy really loves to ski,” the young widow corrected herself. “I mean, Roy loved to ski. We got married in June, on my grandparent’s anniversary. His name was Roy Jones. I couldn’t wait to become Mrs. Roy Jones. Abby Jones.” She touched her own cheek with her forefinger as if she was tracing the spot he had last kissed her.

“Go on,” said Faye’s off camera voice.

Joe started to chuckle.

Faye paused the video and glared at him. “What’s so funny, Joseph Cartwright? “

“Sorry, Faye. It’s just… It’s just her name,” Joe blushed.

“Abby Jones?” Faye was getting a bit annoyed. Perhaps having Joe assist her wasn’t going to work as well as she and Ben had hoped. “What’s funny about that?”

“Well, “Joe began. He took a long swallow from the mug of coffee beside him. “Just, Abby Jones was this really strict teacher I had in school. Eighth grade English. Miss Abigail Jones. I guess it’s not that funny. She was like those old maid teachers in a cartoon. Come to think of it, she probably wasn’t even that old. She acted real old. Real old fashioned and strict. Hoss had her too. It was probably her first year teaching. She would make her class memorize long passages of Shakespeare and sappy romantic poems and recite them in class. Poor Hoss was so shy then he almost failed English for the year because of all that. Poor guy couldn’t stand up in class and recite foolish love poems without having a panic attack.”

“What happened?” Faye asked. She reached behind her and quickly flipped on one of the cameras, hoping it recorded Joe’s story about his late brother.

Joe smiled. “Well, Hoss worked real hard to get it right. He had his head set on playing football and wouldn’t be able to if he flunked or even got a poor grade. Pa studied with him every night. Adam did too when he came home for spring break from college. Even I did, even though I was only in second grade. I sat and listened to him practice. Boy, did he work hard. I think he got so he was reciting Romeo in his sleep.” Joe made a loud snorting noise through his nose imitating Hoss’ snoring. “ ‘Oh Juliet! See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand! O that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek!’ I listened to Hoss so much that, by the time I had old Abigail Jones, I knew all the recitations perfectly even though she figured I was daydreaming in class. Miss Jones was so sure I was cheating somehow that she wanted Pa to come in for a conference. She didn’t believe me when I said he was out of town on business and insisted that Adam had to come see her in Pa’s place.”

“She did?” Faye laughed.

“Oh, she sure did. But that’s a whole other story, Faye. Let me tell you, she was more interested in my poor brother Adam than she let on and probably set the whole thing up. Let’s finish this piece of tape.” He hit the button and the interview continued.

“I worked in billing, and the supervisor had this little TV in his office. He said that he brought it in to watch baseball, the playoffs and the World Series… but we all knew he was crazy about ‘Days of Our Lives’. No one let him know that we knew. As we all crowded around, we watched the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, hit the South Tower at 9:03 am,” Abbey became increasingly distraught as she told the story. She nervously brushed back a tendril of her wavy hair and twisted the rings on her left hand.

“Then the telephone rang. It was him, my husband, Roy calling me, and I was like, ‘Thank God!’,” she said. “It was 9:24 a.m. I remember looking at the clock on the wall. He said, ‘I love you very much.’ I said, ‘You just need to get out of there!’ and he goes, ‘I have to do something!’ ”

“Tell me more about Roy,” said the off camera voice. “What kind of person was he?

“Oh, he was the best. What should I say? Ummm. He was my brother’s buddy from high school. They were on the football team together. He was a big guy. Blonde hair and blue eyes, real sweet. Crazy about football. He went to the Navy for two years and came back and took the test for the police force and became a cop, and we started going together. He was going to go for twenty and retire. He joked and said he would become a ski bum then. And we would teach our kids to sing like the ones in Sound of Music, and they would ski and sing. That was pretty funny because neither of us can sing.”

Faye’s voice played over the montage of pictures of the couple that Joe had assembled. “Roy told Abbey that he was going to try to save people trapped in the North Tower. It would be the last conversation between the couple.”

“He sounded very, very confident,” Abbey recalled. “I said ‘Just be quick. I love you. I’ll see you at your mom’s for dinner tonight.’ And I thought I was going to see him. I really did. The hospital was getting really busy, so they had me go help out in the Emergency Room, checking people’s insurance and filling out forms and such. It was so chaotic. It was part of our disaster plan for me to do that. So many people looking for their family members and friends. Real chaos.”

She started to cry, and Joe, off camera, handed her a pink box of Kleenex. She took one and wiped her eyes. She tearfully told how, half an hour later, she watched the towers collapse, live on television. Then, after being at the hospital for two shifts, she made her way to her mother’s house in Staten Island and waited for Roy to call again. He never did. Her husband died inside the North Tower when it fell. His body was discovered in the rubble in January.

“We never got to go skiing out west,” said Abbey.

 

July 2002

The Ponderosa

 

“I just had to come see you when I came back home, Mr. Cartwright. I had to come over to the Ponderosa and speak to you in person. I couldn’t possibly have this conversation over the phone.”

Adam noticed that the young woman was no longer the tomboy who used to hot-dog down the ski slope, racing his brothers or ride along the range on her Appaloosa. Bessie Sue was now a stylishly dressed, polished, professional woman. Her blonde hair was stylishly coiffed, and she was even wearing makeup.

Bessie Sue Hightower slipped off her chic new leather jacket. She automatically hung it on the hook near the door, just as she had hung her scruffy denim jacket for years when she came to visit Hoss. It was as if she lived in this familiar house.

“You look wonderful, Bessie Sue!” Adam said, giving her a brotherly peck on the check.

“I’m just delighted that you found time to join us for dinner. When do you have to get back to England?” Ben asked as he led her towards the living room.

“I’m not at Cambridge any more. I’m finished with my class work.” She took a lady-like sip of the sherry had Adam poured for her.

“What’s the next step?” Adam asked handing his father his drink. “Your thesis?”

“I’m doing a clinical internship and then finishing my thesis based on the data I collect there. Then, after that is approved, and only then, I graduate.” She purposely omitted mentioning who she was working with and where the internship was. “It has been a very long haul.”

“I’m sure it was. But anything worth doing is worth doing well,” Ben advised. “And you have always been an excellent student and set high goals for yourself. A PhD in psychology is a very lofty goal. We are all so very proud of you. ”

“What is your area of concentration? What’s your clinical area?” Adam asked.

“I’m specializing in PTSD and TBI.”

Ben raised his eyebrow. “Tee bee eye? Tuberculosis of the eye?”

Bessie blushed realizing she was so accustomed being with others in her profession she automatically spoke in medical jargon. “Oh no, Mr. Cartwright!” She smiled. “PTSD is post-traumatic stress disorder. TBI is traumatic brain injury. Head-injured patients. Patients who were in car wrecks or the battle injuries soldiers get in wars. Maybe you heard it called battle fatigue or shell shock back in the old days?”

“Yeah, Pa. You remember back in the old days,” Adam teased. “Pa remembers the Civil War, like it was yesterday.” They all laughed.

“You aren’t far off, Adam. There are descriptions of PTSD and TBI way back then, too. It was called ‘Soldiers Heart’.”

Hop Sing brought in a tray of hors d’oeuvres. “Good to see you again, Miss Bessie. Dinner ready soon.” The cook quickly scurried back into the kitchen to baste the roast chicken. He hoped Mr. Cartwright didn’t notice he had substituted tofu in place of the cheese in cheddar puffs. Doc Martin had put a reluctant Ben on a low fat diet, and the man was complaining every inch of the way.

“Where is Little Joe? Will he be back soon?” she assumed Hoss’ younger brother was somewhere on the Ponderosa doing chores or in class.

“Joe is working in New York.” Adam explained. He shoved the crudités toward his father who pointedly ignored the artfully arranged platter of fresh cherry tomatoes, carrots and celery sticks, and eyed the steaming platter of hot tidbits.

“In New York? Little Joe is in New York?” Bessie Sue hadn’t realized that Hoss’ younger brother wouldn’t be joining them for dinner. “What is he doing there?”

“He’s working with my friend Faye Franklin as an assistant on interviews for her book of photographs,” Ben explained. He took a bite of his cheddar puff, wrinkled his nose and tossed the remainder into the fire place. It quickly ignited and turned to ashes.

“Interviews of families who lost someone on 9/11.” Adam added softly.

“Oh.” Bessie Sue looked down at the oversized Gucci tote bag she had rested on the floor near her feet. Her friend Enoch had given it to her when she left Cambridge.

“We all thought Joe needed to take some time out from college. He really took Hoss’ death extremely hard,” Ben added.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Cartwright, Adam. I’m so sorry about everything. You know how much Hoss meant to me and always will.”

“I know, Bessie Sue. The letter you sent us after Hoss died was beautiful,” Ben said.

“It meant so much to us all,” Adam added. He glanced toward the kitchen, not sure why he was so anxious for Hop Sing to serve dinner. It wasn’t that he wanted to sit at the desk unraveling the mess he had made of the Ponderosa accounts. Somehow he couldn’t focus on familiar paper work but wasn’t going to admit the problem to his father. Pa had enough to worry about with Joe.

She nodded. “Words couldn’t say what I was feeling. I’m so sorry.”

Ben hugged her. “Your father said he refused to let you give up your studies and come back home when you wanted to. You should be very proud of your tenacity.”

“When I heard, I wanted to rush back home, but you know what things were like then. It was totally impossible to get on a flight to anywhere in the US, especially to make connections to Reno. I was sort of marooned. I was fortunate that my friends were there for me to lean on, even though we had barely met.”

“Sadly, tragedies have a way of bringing people together,” Ben sighed.

“Or ripping them apart,” Adam muttered. Having Bessie Sue in the house was a reminder of how excruciatingly raw his grief for Hoss still was. He also terribly missed having his kid brother Joe around. Adam knew his father’s decision for Joe to leave college and go to New York with Faye really was in Joe’s best interest. There was no way the kid could focus on college in any productive way until he got over his irrational idea that Hoss wasn’t dead. “Tragedy does make people examine their priorities.”

“Very true, Adam, very true.” Bessie Sue leaned back on the settee. “I did a lot of thinking about my life that fall. Had I started to forget the value of important things, like everyone else? Had we all become so busy getting ahead, rushing and pushing and making plans for tomorrow and next year, rather than enjoying today? Had I forgotten what was really important, what I had right in my hand and let fly away? Life for me had changed and would never go back to what it was.”

Then, Bessie Sue Hightower told the two Cartwrights her story. It was the end of November, the first semester of her graduate study at Cambridge. Her friend Enoch found her in Doctor Kaye’s class. He told her that a message came to her box in her residence: a package had arrived. It was also Thanksgiving week. There she was, away from home in a country that didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Bessie Sue Hightower explained to Ben and Adam how she and a few other lonely American students had decided to put together a Thanksgiving dinner and had gather all the fixings. It was also her birthday the next day; the first one since 9/11.

“It was the first birthday I ever had away from my family. Here I was, far from home at Cambridge. I was so dreadfully homesick. Did you know it’s more than five thousand miles from Virginia City?” Bessie Sue suddenly stopped. She took a deep breath.

Ben nodded. Adam wasn’t quite sure his father was nodding because he knew the mileage to Cambridge or just because he was gently encouraging the girl to continue.

“It was the first birthday since I was eleven years old that I wasn’t going to see Hoss at my party.” She paused for a minute to collect herself, took another sip of her sherry. Then she slowly continued with her story. “Did you realize Hoss came to my birthday party every single year starting in sixth grade, Mr. Cartwright? That year, my birthday came after Thanksgiving, the way the calendar fell. My mother made me invite him because he was in my class and knew you and Joe’s mom. None of the other boys came, but Hoss did. He was so brave.”

Ben smiled at Bessie Sue Hightower. It had been almost two years since Ben had seen Hoss’ sweetheart. In that time she had bloomed from a lovely, full-figured, blonde college girl to a statuesque, polished young professional. “I knew you two were friends for years but didn’t realize how far back it went.”

Adam leaned against the fireplace without saying a word. He hadn’t thought of that particular incident in years. He remembered how nervous his younger brother was about going to a little girl’s birthday party, this little girl in particular. He begged Adam to show him how to dance. Adam recalled Marie rushing to Virginia City with Hoss to get new trousers and shoes after discovering the boy had outgrown everything that had fit him only a couple of weeks earlier when the Cartwrights had visited New York City. Adam had an interview at the admissions office at Columbia University, and his father decided that the entire family should go along and enjoy Thanksgiving in New York.

“Hoss brought me a Breyer Pony,” Becky Sue recalled.

“What kind of pony?” Ben had no idea what she was talking about. He couldn’t imagine that Hoss could have given livestock to another child without him knowing it.

“A toy horse that all the girls collected.”

“Oh! A toy!” Ben smiled.

“Hoss told me he saw it in a great big, fancy toy store in New York City and thought of me. He knew I would like it. He was so sweet.”

“FAO Schwartz,” Ben smiled remembering where he and Marie had taken the boys. “It’s a big, luxury toy store filled with more things than any child could imagine. Little Joe couldn’t believe I wouldn’t buy him the half-size Ferrari car that could go 30 miles an hour. I think it cost about twelve thousand dollars. It was the kind of thing Donald Trump or an Arab sheik bought for their sons, not a Nevada rancher.”

“I think I convinced him to settle for a few Hot Wheels and a fine case of Legos that would build a model of the Empire State Building,” Adam recalled.

“It was the first Breyer Horse I ever had. I still have it on the shelf in my parent’s house. I think that’s when I decided I would marry Hoss Cartwright. He was so brave and so sweet. Only he would have been thoughtful enough to bring me something so special all the way from New York. I truly loved him, Mr. Cartwright. I miss him so.”

“We all do, sweetheart, we all do,” Ben squeezed her hand. “What were you saying about your birthday? About a package when you were in Cambridge?”

“Enoch said a message came to my mail box that there was a package for me in the mail room. When I went to the mail room, it was closed. I was sure it was from my mother… that she had sent me some Thanksgiving fixings that we couldn’t get in England. Do you realize how difficult it is to get a decent turkey and a can of cranberry sauce in England? I lost my patience and went out into the lobby and banged my fist against the reception desk. When the mail room manager finally gave the package to me, I saw the writing on the package and clutched it to my chest. I couldn’t believe it. I sobbed and wailed. I howled like a wounded animal. Everyone in the lobby stared at me and asked what was wrong. They couldn’t believe the scene I was making, but I couldn’t speak. It wasn’t even the contents of the package I wanted; it was the label. The writing, the salt from his hand….. ”

Ben didn’t quite understand what Bessie was describing. “The writing? What are you saying.”

“Something from Hoss, his handwriting,” she said.

Adam knew immediately what Bessie Sue Hightower was talking about “The package was from Hoss.” Adam whispered hoarsely.

Ben downed his drink in one gulp.

“More than a month later?” Ben’s jaw dropped. “A month after he was killed?”

“Six weeks. Exactly six weeks and two days. I looked at the postmark, and Hoss mailed it from New York City exactly six weeks and two days after 9/11.

“After he died? How? That’s impossible!” Ben paled. Could Joe have been right? Hoss was still alive!

“There has to be some rational explanation? Do you have the label?” Adam quickly asked.

Bessie reached into the Gucci bag and pulled out a neatly folded piece of brown paper wrapping that she had stowed in a clear plastic bag like a piece of evidence from a crime scene. She handed it to Ben who immediately recognized his dead son’s familiar handwriting.

“What was in the package?” Adam asked.

Bessie Sue took a sip of her sherry.

 

July 2002,

New York City

 

Unaware that Faye Franklin had entered the high ceilinged living room of the borrowed apartment from walking Zsa Zsa the poodle, Joe Cartwright quickly ripped something out of the newspaper and shoved it into the pocket of his jeans. He folded the newspaper and laid it aside.

“Joseph! Get your feet off the coffee table, and put that awful newspaper down! How can you read that rag! Goodness! The Daily News? The doorman is hailing a cab. I don’t want to be late to our appointment with Millie Marsala!” Faye Franklin flew around the two-bedroom apartment gathering up her purse, laptop and LL Bean tote. “If you want a newspaper, read The NY Times when we get back. It’s over there on the couch. And keep your feet off the table!”

“Yes, ma’am”, Joe suddenly smiled artificially at his father’s friend. “But don’t worry, Faye. I don’t have my shoes on!” He quickly forced a laugh and wiggled his toes at her before swinging his legs off the glass-topped table. Then Joe shoved his feet into his Nike’s and quickly tied the laces. “You’ve been around Pa so long that you’re starting to sound just like him. See, I‘ve got the camera equipment all ready to go and sitting in the foyer by the door. All I have to do is grab it on the way out.” The forced smile left his face as fast as it had appeared.

Faye had known Joe long enough to notice that the young man’s bantering was only half-hearted. She wrongly assumed Joe’s strange demeanor was because they were off to interview the woman Hoss had saved just before he was killed.

 

NY Daily News

July 15, 2002

 

Sometimes a happy ending and a crappy ending are the same thing.

Watching lots of John Wayne movies or TV westerns as a kid must have paid off for husky Heinrich Vandervoort in saving a handsome cab horse in Midtown Manhattan.

Vandervoort, a wholesale florist, had just made a delivery to Tavern on the Green on Saturday with a new employee, Manolito Montoya, when they noticed a problem. A horse pulling a handsome cab had slipped on a pile of manure, and its back legs had gone into a storm drain hole in Central Park West Drive. A crowd had gathered, and the trapped horse became even more agitated.

Native New Yorker, shy Heinrich Vandervoort, quickly took charge. In a New York minute, the creative florist, who looked like he could play fullback for the Giants, snapped into action. He pulled his delivery truck to the side of the traverse road and jumped out. With Montoya by his side, he pointed at the distressed driver of the handsome cab, and the two cops.

“The big guy in the truck just took over,” said tourist Norman Fugleman of upstate Syracuse. He and his wife Terry were passengers in the handsome cab when the mishap occurred. “He said ‘You and you take hold here. Then he calmed down that terrified horse’.”

Vandervoort quickly came on the idea of using manure as a lubricant to free the frightened animal. Following the florist’s direction, the men managed to slide the terrified horse back out of the sewer grate.

“Heinrich seemed like such a quiet guy when he’s been making deliveries. Hardly says more than ‘yes sir’ or ‘no sir’ and hauls in his delivery. I know him about six months, and he hardly said a word, but when he saw that horse in trouble, he turned into a totally different guy,” said William Zambrotto, general manager of the Tavern on the Green. “You never know who someone is in an emergency.”

“All that manure was underneath the horse, so that kind of made like some grease that helped slide him back out of there,” described Police Office Francis Muldoon of the 22nd precinct which patrols Central Park. “That guy sure knew what he was doing and got that horse calmed down before anyone got hurt.”

The horse walked away without a scratch.

Montoya said, “The crowd gave us the biggest applause and stuff when we got the horse out of there. It was really cool. It was only my second day at work for Vandervoorts and I never thought it was going to be at all like a cowboy movie.”

Unfortunately, Heinrich Vandervoort was completely covered in horse manure. That didn’t stop William Zambrotto, general manager of the Tavern on the Green restaurant, from welcoming him and the others inside for free drinks and dinner. The modest hero shyly turned down the invitation. Zambrotto quickly offered a rain check to Heinrich, which he accepted.

“Can’t come into a fine place like this stinking like I spent the best part of a day raking out the barn for my Pa,” said Vandervoort as he quickly drove off with Montoya.

 

The Ponderosa

July 2002

 

Bessie Sue explained “When the mail room manager gave it to me, I saw the writing on the package and clutched it to my chest. I couldn’t believe it. I sobbed like an animal. Everyone in the lobby stared at me and asked what was wrong, but I spoke to no one. It wasn’t even the contents of the package I wanted; it was the label. The writing, the salt from his hand….. ”

Ben didn’t quite understand what Bessie was describing. “The writing? What are you saying.”

“Something from Hoss, his handwriting.”

Adam knew immediately what Bessie Sue Hightower was talking about “The package was from Hoss.” Adam whispered hoarsely.

Ben downed his drink in one gulp.

“More than a month later?” Ben’s jaw dropped. “A month after he was killed?”

“Six weeks. Exactly six weeks and two days. I looked at the postmark and Hoss mailed it from New York City exactly six weeks and two days after 9/11.

“After he died? How? That’s impossible!” Ben paled. Could Joe have been right? Hoss was still alive!

“There has to be some rational explanation? Do you have the label?” Adam quickly asked.

Bessie reached into the Gucci bag and pulled out a neatly folded piece of brown paper wrapping that she had stowed in a clear plastic bag like a piece of evidence from a crime scene. She handed it to Ben who immediately recognized his dead son’s familiar handwriting.

“What was in the package?” Adam asked.

“A few things.” Bessie wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. She looked down at her bag.

“Bessie Sue? What was in the package?” Adam repeated, this time more firmly. He stared at the girl who broke his brother’s heart.

“Hoss sent me a gift for my birthday. Another Breyer horse from that big toy store in NYC. An Appaloosa. A beautiful Appaloosa. You know, that is my favorite breed.

“I know. And the Hightower’s Appaloosas were always the finest in the state. What else was in the package from Hoss?” Ben asked gently.

“What was in the package?” Adam demanded.

Bessie Sue reached into her tote bag and pulled out two tee shirts and handed them to Adam. He held them up so his father could see them. A pink shirt proclaimed “I Love New York” with a big red heart in place of the love. The second one was vivid yellow and featured the sunshine logo of Andy Walker’s Broadway Show, “Early One Morning”.

“The two tee shirts and a mug and key chain and a poster from Andy’s show. And sox,” Bessie Sue told the Cartwrights.

“And sox?” Ben asked.

“From Andy’s show. Like we got,” Adam said softly. “The same show souvenirs Andy’s publicity people mailed us. Bessie Sue, the package wasn’t mailed by Hoss. It was sent by Andy’s publicity people.”

“How do you know?” Bessie Sue asked. Her hands were trembling as she reached for her glass of sherry.

“Andy called me to verify your address at the end of September. Maybe it was the middle of October by then. I don’t really remember. His people packed up Hoss’ things from his hotel and sent them off to us. Andy knew my brother had bought you a gift for your birthday.”

“I think Andy and Thad took him shopping. They wanted to be sure you got Hoss’ gift,” Ben added.

“Andy called me to check your address and said he would make sure it was sent off. They sent us a big package of tee shirts and things from the show. I guess they meant well.”

“Sox. Sox and tee shirts and autographed pictures of Andy Walker. The same things that were in your package, Bessie Sue. Andy’s secretary sent off the package that Hoss had addressed to you and left in his hotel room before he died,” Ben sighed. He put his arms around Bessie Sue and held her close as she wept for her lost love.

 

July 2002

New York City

 

In the taxi on their way back to the apartment after the Marsala interview, Faye reviewed her notes and left Joe to his thoughts. Millie and Ralph Marsala had repeated the same story they had told Adam weeks earlier over Hoss’ cell phone. Having heard the information from Adam, Joe was able to retain his composure during the interview. He even admired their sleeping baby and took some pictures of her before he packed up the equipment.

As the taxi rode down the FDR drive, Joe held Hoss’ battered cell phone and quietly went through the pictures. The first pictures were the shots Hoss had taken in New York: the airport, Andy, Times Square, Macys, FAO Schwartz, the Statue of Liberty, a few shots of his hotel and the view from his window at night.

Then there were the images that he and Adam had downloaded to the phone before Hoss left. There were a few shots of Hoss with his brothers and father around the Ponderosa, the three brothers skiing past a cluster of pine trees, Hoss riding Chubb, the high school football team at the state championships, Hoss and his brother cheering at the camel races, Hoss at his college graduation standing beside his very proud father. There was a very old photo of the three brothers building something with Legos beside a gigantic Christmas tree. Others showed Adam playing his guitar, Joe doing a handstand near Lake Tahoe, Hop Sing carrying a huge, elaborately decorated birthday cake and another one of a sweet-faced, blonde woman.

“This is Inger. Hoss’ mom,” Joe turned the cell phone so Faye could see the picture.

“She was lovely,” Faye said softly. She recognized the picture as the one Ben had on his desk along with the pictures of Elizabeth and Marie. “Hoss had her eyes”.

“Has her eyes,” Joe corrected. “Hoss has the same blue eyes as Inger.”

Joe tried to look through the pictures a second time, but this time the battered cell phone malfunctioned. The pictures wouldn’t cycle through properly, and no matter what Joe tried, the only picture that would appear was the picture of Inger. Irritated, Joe just turned off the phone and shoved it into his pocket.

Later, back in the apartment, Faye and Joe laid out a take-out order of Chinese food on the breakfast bar in the kitchen. Perched on her stool, Faye ate her Kung Poa Chicken and watched Joe use his chopsticks to move the sweet and sour pork and fried rice round on his plate but not eat anything. “You did very well today, Joe. You handled everything quite professionally. Your father will be proud of you. I know I am.”

Joe didn’t respond to Faye’s complement. He silently pulled the folded newspaper clipping from his jeans. He unfolded, smoothed it, and laid it out in front of her between the white cardboard carton of lo mein and the waxed paper bags of fortune cookies. “Read this article. It was in the Daily News.”

Faye sipped her glass of Tsingtao beer while she read. After finishing the article she looked questioningly at Joe. “What’s this? A guy saved a horse? The News loves this sort of story. Dog bites man. Man bites dog. Everything happens in New York City! Tomorrow a horse will save a guy. Or the city will give this hero a fine for leaving manure in the street when he saved the horse and there will be a protest march in Central Park. Why are you showing me this? ”

“I saw Hoss do exactly the same thing!” Joe poked at the newspaper article in agitation. “Exactly! A couple of years ago, at the Camel Race Parade in Virginia City. My brother had volunteered for shovel duty. A horse in the parade got his hoof stuck just like that in a storm drain! Hoss used manure from the cart to free the trapped horse! Just like in that story! “

Faye starred at him, not knowing what to say.

“Think about it, Faye. How would a guy from New York City know to do that? And did you read the description they gave? A big guy, like a football player!” Joe was so wound-up that he started to stammer, “And . . . And. . . . What he said about raking out the barn for his Pa! Would a New York City guy say that? No!”

Joe grabbed Faye’s arms. “We need to find these people, Faye! It’s Hoss! I know it is! I don’t know why he’s still in New York and hasn’t gotten hold of us, or using that name, Heinrich Vander…what was it… Vandervoort? But it’s him! It’s Hoss. He’s still alive!”

Faye stared, flabbergasted at Joe’s face as he started to cry and laugh at the same time. She feared that the son of the man she loved was close to a nervous breakdown.

Faye hurried to the liquor cabinet in the dining room where she had seen a half-full bottle of Glenfiddich Scotch whisky. She poured two fingers of the Scotch into a glass and set it in front of Joe. “Drink this”, Faye ordered. “You have to calm down and get ahold of yourself so we can discuss this rationally.”

“But Faye! We have to do something! I’m going to call Pa!”! Joe started to reach for the phone on the kitchen wall.

“Joseph Cartwright! Stop right now. Calm down right now! Calling your father is the last thing we should do!” Faye gently pushed him away from the phone and against a kitchen bar stool. “Now you just sit and shut up and listen to me.” Faye’s authoritative tone of voice shocked Joe into silence. Wide-eyed, he half-sat, half-leaned against the stool, clutching the heavy-based glass of Glenfiddich in both hands as if he didn’t trust himself not to spill it.

Faye needed to pacify Joe without encouraging his irrational hope. “Ok, now, the biggest question is why Hoss would stay in New York? Uh, don’t say it — your amnesia theory. Ok, I guess that could be possible. But neither one of us knows a thing about amnesia nor about how the brain works.”

“Bessie Sue does!” Joe interrupted. “She’s at Cambridge! Damn! But I don’t know how to get ahold of her in England!”

Thank goodness! Faye thought to herself. Or Joe would be calling her now, in the middle of the night in England, saying insane things.

“Ok, I grant you that mysterious occurrences happen, and I’ll even grant you that miracles happen. I’ve seen too much in my career to not to keep an open mind. Here’s what we’ll do….” Faye’s manicured nails clicked off her points on the marble countertop. “We’ll talk to the manager of Tavern on the Green, Officer Muldoon, the New York News reporter, and track down the handsome cab driver. But, keep in mind that we are here in New York to do a job. We have photos to take and interviews to do. And do not, I repeat, do no, call your father or Adam or anyone about this. If, after we investigate, if I agree that there could be something to this, then, and only then, will we consult Adam first. Not your father, Adam. I know you agree that you don’t want your father upset more than he already is.”

“Now, why don’t you finish your drink and try to eat some more dinner and then turn in? I’m going to review these notes from Millie’s interview then go to bed myself. We’ll start in the morning. Is that clear, Joe?”

Joe raised his head from his hands and nodded. “Yeah. You are right. I…. I just want it to be possible. I sure don’t want to get Pa upset until we get more information.”

“Like I said, I’ve seen so much that I have learned that nothing is impossible.” Faye squeezed Joe’s shoulder. “See you in the morning.” She watched as Joe made his way down the hallway to his bedroom then took a deep breath.

Later that night Faye tossed and turned in her bed. Her weary mind was in turmoil.

Could Joe be right?

No, it’s impossible, no matter what she had said to Joe to calm him down.

Hoss Cartwright couldn’t be the man who rescued the horse outside the Tavern on the Green.

It was totally impossible.

Or was it?

The next day, Faye woke up, as always at seven. Zsa Zsa had to get her walk. As she took the poodle’s leash off the hook in the kitchen, she spied a note leaning against the Cuisinart grind and brew coffee maker. Her heart skipped a beat as she read it.

Sorry Faye. I couldn’t wait. Went to Vandervoorts florist to find Hoss.

Be back soon with my brother.

Joe

 

December 2001

“I think that should do it, Ben,” Faye Franklin said. She took one quick look around the dusty but orderly attic. Then she scooped up the last small box of Christmas ornaments and started down the steep wooden stairs from the attic. She had convinced Ben to put up the tree with her while Joe and Adam were out of the house. There would be no need for any discussion or debate between Ben and his sons if the task was completed by the time Adam and Joe came home.

“No, there’s one more bin, Faye. I have it.” Ben hefted a heavy large green plastic tub and followed after her.

“Just how many ornaments do you Cartwrights put on your tree? That tub is gigantic, Ben,” Faye asked, following him down the second set of wider stairs leading to the high ceilinged great room. The room was perfumed with the fragrance of the freshly cut pine.

That morning, after Adam left to straighten out some problems with their bank and meet an old college friend for lunch, Ben had taken Faye up into the hills. By then, Joe was long gone; at dawn, he had headed out to campus for a make-up final exam in French. When the exam was originally given a week earlier, Joe had neglected to set his alarm, and after another restless night, he had slept through until noon. Joe was able to charm the usually inflexible professor into giving him a second shot at the exam.

Ben and Faye had selected a fine pine tree not too far off the ranch road. It was huge compared to any tree Faye had ever seen in a home, but Ben said it was half the usual size the Cartwrights were used to setting up. Ben swung the axe and easily cut it down. He knocked off most of the snow and bound up the branches with rope. Together, their boots crunching on the frozen crust of snow, they hauled it to the pickup truck.

“It’s just you and me, Faye. If we are going to surprise Joe and Adam with a completely decorated tree, there is no sense in trying to take on a bigger job than we can manage. Next year will be easier. We just have to get through this year.” Ben spoke from sad experience, having been widowed three times. Ben took a deep breath and looked off into the distance. He stared at the bright blue of Lake Tahoe shimmering in the distance — blue as the eyes of his lost son, blue as Inger’s eyes. Now they were both gone, and all he had was memories.

“The first time you do anything after someone dies is horrible. That empty chair at the table. The first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, the birthdays… A man isn’t supposed to outlive his children, Faye. You never forget, but the pain is less sharp. The pain of loss never goes away completely, but it diminishes enough that you can live with the ache. We have to make our best efforts to remember his life, not just how Hoss died. That’s what Adam and Joe need to understand.”

“We have to remember Hoss for his life, not just his death. My aunt used to say ‘As long as someone remembers you in their heart, you are still alive’,” Faye observed. She started to help Ben load the tree.

“I’ve got this, Faye. No need for you to get scratched up or get pine sap on your jacket.” Ben smiled as he swung the trussed-up tree into the back of the truck. She still was having terrible difficulty moving on after her own experiences on September 11. “Next year will be better for all of us. You included, Faye.”

She stood aside and let him deal with loading the tree in the back of the pickup. “Are you sure about next year being better, Ben?” Faye asked.

“I’m sure.” Ben smiled reassuringly.

“Do you promise, Ben? I don’t know how much longer I can manage,” Faye said, her mood suddenly grim. The sun disappeared behind a bank of smoky gray clouds, and a cold wind blew up from the lake. Beyond the pines, the sliver of Lake Tahoe looked more leaden gray than bright blue. More snow was on the way.

“I promise. It’s only been three months, Faye. You’ve been through an awful lot. You can’t keep running. Give it time. Light in one place. Take it easy. Let someone else do the heavy lifting.” Ben sincerely hoped she would come back to Virginia City, to the house she had inherited from her aunt, but Faye was like a skittish mare. He wouldn’t push the idea on her so quickly. He would take things slowly and ease into the suggestion of her remaining as her visit continued.

“That’s what my boys need to remember — how Hoss lived, not how he died. Adam and Joe can’t get over that instant the plane crashed into the tower and we realized that Hoss was going there to meet Andy. I know they keep picturing that he was there in all that chaos and violence and death. And they are thinking about that minute Roy Coffee drove up and said….” Ben paused and swallowed. “When Roy said the New York police found Andy, but not his uncle and not Hoss. They couldn’t find my son anywhere. In our own way, each of us realized that Hoss was gone forever, without a trace. Not even a body to bury. Both of my boys are trapped in that moment of loss.” Ben firmly slammed the tail gate of the pickup. The first icy flakes of the new snow started to fall.

“It’s how all of those people lived, not how they died. All that might remain of so many of them is just the memories of those who knew them,” Faye said. Suddenly, she was very cold and started to shiver.

Ben pulled her close and held her in his arms. Then he kissed her gently. “Next year will be better than this one, Faye. Let’s go back to the house and get warm. I’ll make a fire.”

Faye nodded in agreement. “A fire would be just wonderful, Ben.”

“As long as someone remembers you in their heart, you are not gone,” Ben said helping her into the cab of the truck. “I like that.”

Neither of them spoke during the brief drive back to the house; both were lost in their own private thoughts but comfortable in each other’s silent company. Ben thought about Hoss and how to best help his two surviving sons deal with their immense grief.

Faye reflected on what Ben had just said. Perhaps this should be her next project? She could preserve the memories of those whose loved ones were lost on 9/11 and find some purpose in all this pain.

“Poor Joe is having such a terrible time accepting Hoss is gone,” Faye said gently.

“He is. Adam won’t ever admit it, but he’s having a far worse time than Little Joe.” Ben opened the bin of ornaments.

“Adam? How can you say that, Ben?” Faye was astonished. Adam seemed so put together. “I thought he was doing so well, considering.”

“Only on the surface. My first born never complains. He holds things in. He always did. Adam puts on a good face, but it’s eating him up inside. It’s like he doesn’t want to disturb anyone with his problems. I know he can’t do his work but won’t let anyone give him a hand. He says he is managing, but he’s not. Yesterday, when he was in Carson City checking some deeds for the grazing leases, I looked through the ledgers, and they all were in complete chaos. Complete and total chaos. Adam says it’s the new computer software, but I know he can’t stay focused. That’s why he’s meeting with the bank this morning. He thinks I don’t know, but he needs them to help him unravel the mess he’s made of our accounts. He forgot to pay all the bills and record deposits for most of October. Then in November, paid things twice and didn’t enter anything in the ledgers. The payroll is even more of a mess.”

“His mind was on Hoss.”

“Of course it was. How could it not be? But Adam would never admit he needed a hand or that he is completely devastated at the loss of his brother. It’s as if he thinks he will disappoint the entire world if he isn’t perfect and strong.”

“I don’t think he’s worried about disappointing the entire world, just disappointing you, Ben. You are far more important to Adam than the rest of the world.”

Ben sighed and silently busied himself adjusting the Christmas tree stand.

***********

Faye looked at the bins standing near the tree. “That’s an awful big bin. And you said the tree isn’t as big as you usually do. Are you sure we need any more ornaments?”

“These aren’t ornaments. They’re Legos.

“Legos?” Faye laughed. She couldn’t imagine what Ben Cartwright was going to do with a huge bin of Legos.

“My boys’ Legos.” Ben pointed to the side of the bin. Written in a childish hand was “Property of Joe, Hoss, and Adam Cartwright. Ponderosa Ranch. Nevada. USA. Planet Earth. Private Property. ”

Faye smiled and gently touched the label on the bin. “Hoss wrote that?”

Ben nodded. “How did you guess?”

“Look how big he wrote his own name,” she smiled.

“You are right, Faye. I never noticed that,” He traced the letters of his lost son’s name with his finger. “You have sharp eyes.”

Faye smiled. “Guess that’s a good thing since I’m a photographer. Tell me about the Legos, Ben.”

“It’s Cartwright tradition. They have to go under the tree. We do it every year since…since…” Ben paused and scratched his neck. He could not quite remember when the tradition started. “Goodness, Faye! I honestly don’t remember how long, but we just always do it. Maybe we started it when Joe was real small, to keep him from climbing up into the tree to play with tinsel and lights and from unwrapping the gifts that belonged to everyone else? That’s probably it. I bet Hoss thought of it.”

Faye chuckled. “That sure sounds just like Hoss. He was so patient and thoughtful.”

“He certainly was. All I know is my youngest was a handful. The older two never thought to do half of what Little Joe did in a flash if no one kept their eye on him. In a flash!” Ben laughed.

“They are all individuals, Ben. Each different and special in his own way.”

“From the time they were born, my sons were completely different from each other.” As he twined the lights through the branches with a practiced hand, Ben explained. “Even when he was really small, Adam would sit in one spot if I told him to sit there. Obedient to a fault. I think I could have come back two days later, and Adam would have been sitting in the same spot. No problem with Hoss either. He would just do what I asked, and Adam would watch out for him, and he was content with whatever he had. Easy going. Joe was …”

“Lightening in a jar?” Faye suggested.

Ben nodded. “Lightening in a jar, full gasoline looking for matches.”

“He wanted to light up the world,” Faye said as she evened out the string of lights Ben had had looped on the far side of the tree.

“That’s Little Joe,” Ben laughed. “He still wants to light up the world.”

“He has such a way with people. But I bet that sweet face melted you every time you reprimanded him, Ben. Just like that French professor who gave him a second chance on the exam. My goodness! My professors would have said “Sorry, Miss Franklin! You shouldn’t have overslept. Too bad. You fail.”

“Really?” Ben asked. “I can’t believe that.”

“Really. Or more likely they would ask, ‘Why is a pretty girl like you filling your head with French! You should be hunting for a husband, not studying so hard. Why don’t you just get married and let your husband speak for you when you go traveling or dine out in chic French restaurants?’ “

“Really?” Ben hesitated, started to say something, and then seemed to think better of it. Rather than saying, “I agree. Maybe you should be settling down and getting married to me”, Ben remained silent. He quickly knelt down behind the blue arm chair and plugged in the lights.

“They all work! Bravo!” Faye applauded. “Bravo!”

“Thank you!” Ben smiled and bowed deeply as if he were taking a curtain call at Piper’s Opera House.

“Now, finish telling me about the Legos, Ben,” Faye quickly changed the subject. She handed Ben the end of a snarled garland. They untangled it together and started to twine it between the boughs of the tree.

“The Legos. We have this big bin of them.” Ben rested his hand on the bin.

“Did each boy hand them down to the next brother?” Faye tried to draw Ben out. He had suddenly become very quiet.

“Yes, sort of. They started out as Adam’s. He took fastidious care of everything he ever had, even as a little guy. He meticulously followed the detailed directions in the instruction booklets and made elaborate reproductions of the Eiffel tower, the Golden Gate, the Empire State Building and huge, precisely built aircraft carriers, battle ships and working catapults. He was a real whiz. Even as a small boy, he would neatly put the pieces away in a huge compartmentalized plastic case. Never lost a single piece. He had a precisely arranged binder where he stored all the directions in plastic sleeves. I bet that binder is in there. Look in the bottom of the bin when we finish this.”

“I will,” Faye said, stretching out another garland on the floor in front of the fire place. “Should we put this on the railing? It looks like it will be long enough.”

“Nice idea.” Ben nodded at her suggestion and continued with his story. “Certain creations were preserved, neatly arranged on the high shelves in his bedroom between his books and his trophies. Woe be it if Hop Sing moved one a millimeter while dusting or one of his younger brothers decided to climb up and play with it.” Ben smiled as he climbed on the small step ladder he had brought in from the kitchen. Faye handed him a shiny silver ball, and Ben placed it on the highest branch. “Find me a couple of more so I can put it in that empty space over there.”

Faye handed him a small tin guitar and a miniature artificial wreath with a fake candle in the middle.

“The summer before Adam left for college back east, he packed up his vast collection of Legos and generously gave them to Hoss and Joe, claiming he had no need for such childish things,” Ben explained. “No need to hang on to childhood toys when you are a mature college man.”

“That sounds just like Adam.”

“With Adam back east, things changed between the two younger boys. Hoss was now the older brother and sort of came into his own while Adam was away. He and Joe got closer than before. Hoss read to Joe. Joe came home from school with dozens of drawings of Hoss fighting monsters and bank robbers and smashing rocks with his hands. They brought each other goodie bags from parties and split the last piece of pie between them. Hoss taught Joe how to throw a baseball and Little Joe sat for hours keeping track while Hoss trained for football. Did you know that boy would get up before dawn to run with Hoss when he was in training?”

“Joe? That night owl got up before dawn?”

Ben smiled and nodded. “He did. For months. For his brother Hoss. Adam was really proud too. He even sent Little Joe a sweat shirt that said ‘coach’. And a tin whistle on a braided lanyard.”

“A whistle?”

“A horribly loud, shrill whistle with an ear piercing tweet that Little Joe blew continually. Continually! It stirred up the livestock something fierce and drove Hop Sing completely insane. Gave me a huge headache. I think somehow that whistle got lost. And it got buried in the manure heap on the far side of the barn,” Ben winked. “Accidentally, of course.”

“Of course, accidentally.” Faye laughed picturing her beloved Ben finally losing his patience with Little Joe and wrenching the whistle from the boy’s mouth to heave it over the barn.

“It was only when Adam returned home on his first Christmas vacation he regretted his gift of his Legos to his brothers. My hot-shot college man was beside himself to discover his prized models had been dismembered and re-combined into his younger brothers’ less traditional attempts.”

“Less traditional?” Faye took a sip of the cocoa Ben had made when they returned from cutting the tree.

“Adam’s carefully constructed structures had been pulled apart, totally dismantled. The laser weapon on the top of Little Joe’s space ship was reconstructed from the top of Adam’s precious Eiffel Tower; the base was recycled into a windmill on Hoss’ Lego ranch. The two of them, Hoss and Joe, would sit in front of the fireplace and build for hours. Or they would have wild running battles, jumping on the furniture, throwing pieces at each other until Hop Sing threatened to quit. Of course, they never stowed things away like Adam did. Joe would fling a few pieces in the bin and then fall limp on the rug pretending he was sound asleep. Poor Hoss would just gather up the rest as best he could. Invariably, I would wind up stepping on some stray Lego with my bare feet when I snuck downstairs for a midnight snack.”

Faye laughed at the image he was creating. “That’s what you get for eating in the middle of the night, Ben.”

“I suppose so. Poor Adam couldn’t believe his brother never referred to his meticulously organized notebook of plans.”

“That they didn’t do things the way he did things?” Faye hung a few shiny colored glass balls on the lower branches.

“You know, Adam hates if anyone sees him being sentimental or foolish. He still does. He vehemently claimed he didn’t really mind that his childhood toys had been dissected, but Hoss immediately knew Adam was lying. Hoss could always see through to the heart of things and tried to set things straight.”

Then, with a smile, Ben explained how two days later, on Christmas morning, among the mountain of gifts under the tree, there was large gift-wrapped box addressed to Adam. The tag was signed “Santa” in Hoss’ handwriting. When Adam tore it open, it was a brand new set of Legos. “Hoss must have busted open his piggy bank and got someone to drive him into town. Another box tagged for Adam contained a replacement Eiffel Tower that Hoss and Little Joe had managed to completely reconstruct. They needed to use a few red and blue bricks when they ran out of black, but the two of them had done a fairly good job following the directions from the binder. A third package was all lumpy and lopsided. Joe had insisted on wrapping it himself, and he must have used two rolls of tape and wrapped his gift in toilet paper and cotton batting so it wouldn’t break.”

“What was in it?”

“Oh! It was a huge package but inside it was about yay big.” Ben put his hands about a foot apart. “It was this wobbly, rectangle with a pointy top constructed of all the odds and ends of Legos. This little frayed plastic monkey from some birthday party goodie bag was taped to the pointy top. ”

“What was it?” Faye asked.

“Little Joe said ‘It’s King Kong on the umpire stay building. And the umpire said you should stay safe at home.’ Safe at home,” Ben’s sighed. “So, that’s how we began the Cartwright boys’ tradition of hauling out the big Lego bins when we all set up the Christmas tree. The boys played with those Legos together for hours, even years later when the first two were really far too old. Adam and Hoss joined Little Joe with the huge bin that had been handed down to him, claiming that they did it for Little Joe, but they all still did it when even Joe was too old. You can’t wrap your boys in cotton batting and keep them safe at home.”

“No, you can’t. And you wouldn’t even if you could, Ben. That’s not the kind of man you are.”

“I suppose you are right,” Ben nodded. He sat down on the couch close to Faye.

“It’s a given,” Faye smiled. “Each generation does better than the previous. Maybe I’ll tell you about my parents and grandparents when we have a few free hours. “

“Each generation is supposed to outlive their parents.” Ben sighed. “You aren’t supposed to outlive your children. We just have to make sure our kids understand that after we’re gone, they’ll have each other. My three boys would have each other when I was gone. That was the plan. My three boys would have the Ponderosa and each other when I was gone.” Ben stared at the fully decorated tree.

“Hoss dying destroyed your plan, Ben,” Faye said softly. She took his hand in hers. “Man plans and God laughs,”

“Man plans and God laughs?” Ben asked.

“It’s a Yiddish proverb. Man plans and God laughs…. “

“Man plans and God laughs and the Cartwrights play with Legos at Christmas.” Ben smiled. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. “Thank you for coming here, Faye. I don’t know how I could have managed all this without you.

 

Carson City, Nevada

December 2001

 

“I can still feel that weight on my chest, sitting there, threatening to suffocate me. Do you think I’m having a heart attack?” Adam asked nervously. He was reclining on a gurney, wearing a blue paper hospital gown. A white sheet covered him to his chest. He hadn’t expected to wind up in the Emergency Room of Carson Tahoe Hospital after having lunch with his old college friend, Edwin Booth. Ed had been attending a medical conference at Lake Tahoe, and the two old friends took advantage of the situation to spend the afternoon together. When Adam, who never complained about his health, described how he was feeling, Ed immediately insisted on bringing him to the emergency room.

Dr. Booth shook his head. “I didn’t think so, but I had them give you that cardiogram to be sure. I’m a neuro-psychiatrist, not a cardiologist, and I sure wasn’t going to shrug off something and let my oldest friend die from my negligence.”

“So what did the other sawbones say?” Adam asked.

“You heart is perfectly fine. We can go.” Booth pulled the curtains of the cubical closed and handed his friend his black trousers. “Let’s get out of here and get something to eat. You still owe me lunch, and it’s getting closer to dinner time.”

“But why am I feeling so awful?” Adam whispered so softly that Ed had to lean closer to hear him.

“No, you didn’t have a heart attack. I guess the poets might say losing your brother broke your heart. Here’s my diagnosis, my friend. It’s grief and stress and working far too hard. Stop trying to make everything perfect and pay more attention to what’s happening to you,” Ed said gently

“To me?” Adam asked pulling on his clothes.

“Yes, to you, Adam. You. Take some time off to mourn your brother’s death. Take some time to heal your broken heart. Ride your horse. Go skiing. Read some poetry and play your guitar. Give yourself time to grieve. Why don’t you come spend a few days with me back in San Francisco? Or Vegas?”

Adam ignored his friend’s suggestions. He started to get up off the gurney. “If nothing is wrong with me, I’m going to leave. I should be heading back home. It’s getting late. I don’t want my father worrying. He’s had enough to deal with these last few months.”

“You don’t want you father worrying? Are you kidding?” Ed reached into Adam’s jacket pocket and handed Adam his own cell phone. “I’m sure Ben Cartwright isn’t too frantic about you being a few minutes late for supper, but if you think he is, call. Tell him where you are.”

“And tell him I’m in the hospital? I don’t think so.” Adam snatched the phone from the other man’s hand and shoved it back in his own pocket. Then he tried unsuccessfully to yank off the plastic name bracelet the emergency room nurse had slapped on him when he came through the door. “How do I get this damn thing off my wrist?”

“Don’t ignore me. I’m not just your friend, Adam. I’m a doctor. Give yourself a chance to grieve for your brother and quit trying to tough it out. Adam, you were there for me when everything happened with my brother John. I couldn’t have managed without you, and now you have to let me help you too.”

Adam sank back on the gurney and closed his eyes. He knew Ed was right. Adam sincerely wished he wasn’t.

 

New York City

July 2002

 

“3192 Twenty-Seventh Street,” Joe Cartwright told the driver. As he scrambled into the back seat of a Yellow Cab, he elbowed past a man in a suit, causing him to drop his leather briefcase into a puddle from the overnight rain. Joe ignored the man’s shout and dirty look as the cab nosed into the heavy traffic.

*****

Something didn’t strike Kristina Vandervoort quite right about the young man who entered the flower shop. He was pleasant enough looking with his curly brown hair, neat tan and green Rugby shirt and jeans, and clean white Nikes. They never had any problems with gang members in that neighborhood. No, he didn’t look like danger, but as he looked around nervously, she sensed trouble, nonetheless.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Uh, my name is Joe Cartwright. I’m from Nevada and just got into New York. My….my brother’s been missing ever since 9/11. He was here on vacation and was supposed to meet some friends for breakfast at Window’s on the World. I, uh, I’ve been showing his picture around, and I was wondering if you would mind taking a look at it.” He started to hand her the cell phone he clutched in his hand.

Thinking that her feeling of trouble had no basis, that this slight young man’s brother couldn’t possibly be her “Heinrich,” Kristina looked at the picture on the phone he held out to her. After all, millions of tourists breakfasted at Windows of the World, and New York was full of people looking for lost relatives and friends.

“No! It couldn’t be!” Kristina’s felt numb as she looked at the familiar face on the screen. “I have got to get him out of here!”

“No, no. I have never seen this man. I am very sorry. I have to return to my work, now. I am a very busy woman. Again, I am sorry.”

She scurried into the workroom in back of the store.

“Ma’am? Is there anyone else here I could ask?” Joe started to inquire, but the woman had already disappeared through the folding door.

Kristina Vandervoort glared at Manolito Montoya. She hadn’t realized he was in the back of the shop. He should have been out with Heinrich on the truck. Heinrich shouldn’t be driving alone.

“Is everything ok, Mrs. V?” Manolito asked his employer.

Kristina had to think fast. If that boy came back with a picture of his missing brother, Manolito might tell him that it was Heinrich. Manolito would give her son back to this Cartwright family. She would do whatever needed to be done to hang on to her Heinrich.

“I’m not sure, Manolito. I think that young man worked for Immigration. He was asking about you.”

Montoya went pale. “Immigration? But I have a green card, Mrs. V! I’m not illegal! Why would he be asking about me?”

Kristina smiled. “That is what I told him. But you know with all that is going on since 9/11, who knows? Maybe you shouldn’t come in for a few days. You don’t want to have any trouble and get sent to one of those terrorist jails and disappear before you family can get it straightened out, do you, amigo?”

Montoya shook his head. He quickly took off his apron and hung it on the hook near the door. He scrawled a phone number on a scrap of paper. “I’ll go visit my uncle Don Domingo in Jersey for a few weeks until this guy stops nosing around. Here’s his number. Call me there.”

“It sounds like a good idea, Manolito. I’ll call you when I think it is safe for you to come back.”

Manolito cautiously slipped out the back door. Looking up and down the alley, he didn’t see Kristina toss his uncle’s phone number in the trash can.

Joe stood on the sidewalk in front of the flower shop looking around. He hoped to find a coffee shop or bar or someplace where he could sit and keep an eye on the door of the florist shop. Not seeing a likely place close by, he shrugged and walked down the street. He remembered passing a Starbucks on the way there. It wasn’t really close enough to the flower shop to serve as a lookout. Joe entered, ordered a large cappuccino to go and left to walk uptown to the apartment. The long walk would help him calm down and figure this thing out.

Maybe Faye was right? He was making something out of nothing because he wanted to find Hoss. Maybe it was only a coincidence that the florist saved the trapped horse? The guy’s mother said that she had never seen Hoss. Why would she lie? Adam would tell him he was chasing stardust and moonbeams and not being logical. Maybe his granite-head brother was right?

Suddenly Joe wished he could talk to his father. Pa would know what to do. Pa would make him feel better. He pulled out his cell to call home. Then he realized that it was not even five a.m. in Nevada. He couldn’t call his father at that hour and wake him up to tell him some crazy story about a florist rescuing a horse. He shouldn’t tell him that story at all, like Faye said. He had given his father enough trouble the past year on top of his grief over Hoss. Poor Pa.

Faye was right when she told him not to bother his father with his crazy idea. And Faye — she had had a bad year too. She loved Pa, and it hurt her to watch him grieve. And she could have been hurt or killed too that day. She was right there when the Towers went down and had to run for her life. In addition to a son, his father could have lost a fourth woman he loved. No, Joe Cartwright was a man. He needed to act like one. He would do the job he came here to do with Faye, and he would try to help her deal with her own issues. The shock of watching it all happen must be indescribable.

As Joe continued his walk north, Heinrich Vandervoort entered the front door of the flower shop. He was surprised to see his mother sweeping the back room. “Hi, Mama. Where’s Manolito? He’s supposed to be doing that, not you.”

“Manolito quit. He said his uncle in Jersey needed him. He just left.”

*****

Faye was at the breakfast bar drinking coffee when Joe sheepishly entered the apartment carrying a package behind his back.

“What’s that, Joe?” Faye asked

“Sorry about how I acted last night, Faye,” he said, swinging the overstuffed bag onto the granite kitchen counter. “I brought breakfast and even got you some black and white cookies from Lilly’s. It’s a peace gesture.”

“Glad you are back.” Faye gave him a quick hug. “To be honest, I was starting to get worried. Did you speak to the owner of the flower shop?” She set some plates and silverware out and poured Joe a mug of coffee.

“I guess you’re starting to know me pretty well.” Joe spread cream cheese on a bagel and flashed a smile. “I spoke to a woman. I asked her if she was Mrs. Vandervoort, but she didn’t say. I showed her Hoss’ picture, but she said she had never seen him. But, Faye, I have a feeling she did. She cut me off in the middle of what I was saying and practically ran into the back room like the devil was chasing her.”

“You probably scared the poor woman. This isn’t Virginia City or even Reno where you smile at everyone and have a neighborly chat. A store keeper in New York would think you are some sort of escaped maniac from the sex offender list or a scam artist trying to rip her off. Everyone in New York City is on edge since 9/11. Maybe she thought you were Osama Bin Laden’s henchman? “

“Maybe.” Joe shrugged. He decided he’d go back to that Vandervoort shop later on and poke around. No sense upsetting Faye any more than he had.

“I‘ll call Tavern on the Green and ask if that William Zombrotto is working today. If he is, we‘ll have lunch or dinner there and see if he’ll talk to us. “

“Whatever you say, Faye,” Joe quickly agreed. “How about we go through those prints the lab made for you? From the pictures you took on 9/11? I’m really curious to see them”.

Faye shook her head. “I. . . . I don’t think I can, Joe.”

Joe put his coffee mug down. “Let’s give it a try. I’ll help you out if it gets too hard. And, if it gets to awful, we’ll just stop and. . . . “

“Go have dinner at Tavern on the Green?”

Later, Joe sat cross-legged on the living room floor, photos spread around him. He was going through some photos that Faye had taken the day of 9/11. She had told him that she had snapped them off, randomly pointer her camera into the chaos. Afterward she couldn’t bear to look at them and just sent the film to her publisher’s lab. They had processed the film and sent her a disk and one set of prints in a big manila envelope. She had filed it away unopened.

Now, they were going through them to see if any could be used in her book. After two hours, Faye had spent as much time as she was able and needed to take a break. She had taken a shower –- as if she could rinse her distress down the drain. Joe could hear the sound of the blow dryer coming from her bathroom.

Something caught his eye in the photo he had just laid down, so he picked it up again for a closer look.

No, it can’t be,” he thought. “Get a grip, Cartwright.” A woman resembling Kristina Vandervoort was bending over someone lying on the sidewalk. He couldn’t see his face, but he could tell that the person was a big man.

 

New York City

July 2002, later the same day

 

“Heinrich, we need to buy the Legos for my sister’s twin’s birthday tomorrow. Let’s get going.” Abbey Jones tugged Heinrich Vandervoort’s arm to urge him past the display of Breyer Horses that had caught his eye. “We don’t want to be late for our reservation at Tavern on the Green. It was so nice of the manager to give you that gift card for helping that stuck horse. You know,” she mused, “after 9/11, people seem to be more appreciative of acts of kindness.”

“I didn’t need any thanks for helping the horse. All of a sudden I just seemed to know what to do, so I did it.”

Abbey picked up a small, realistic horse. “I think Elizabeth Marie would love this! A Breyer pony! Isn’t it cute? Which one do you like? The brown one? The black and white? What’s that called? A pinto? Or look at that one with the cowboy. The packages say Cowboy Ben and his Buckskin.”

Heinrich pointed at a palomino in the display of toy horses. “Bessie Sue would like this. She’s always been fond of palominos.”

“Bessie Sue? Who’s Bessie Sue?” Abbey asked.

Heinrich didn’t seem to hear her. He had picked a black horse with a white blaze and one white stocking. He ran a finger gently down its back and frowned. He was strangely drawn to this horse.

“Heinrich? What’s wrong? Do you feel alright? Who’s Bessie Sue?” Abbey tugged on Heinrich’s arm again, this time harder.

“Bessie Sue? I . . . . I don’t know. That thought just popped into my head.” He put the black horse back on the shelf.

The store was quite crowded, and he wished he could go outside and get a breath of air. He blinked his eyes and suddenly felt queasy. “I guess I’m hungrier than I thought, Abbey.

“We should be done in a minute. Didn’t you have lunch today?” Abbey knew Heinrich and his father would never refuse anything his Mrs. Vandervoort requested. She was the boss of both the family and of the business.

Heinrich nodded. “I think I did.”

Abbey looked at him with concern “Goodness! Don’t tell me your mom had you work through lunch again. You work much too hard. I think I might have some candy or a bag of granola in my purse from when I took the kids to the movies. Would that help?” She dug into her purse and came up with a bag of trail mix and a few Jolly Ranchers. “Which do you like?” she asked holding them up.

Heinrich pointed at the candy. Abbey playfully tossed them to him “Catch!” He easily caught them with one big hand. “Great catch! You tagged the Jolly Rancher out at home!” she teased. “Hope that holds you until dinner at Tavern on the Green. If not, you can have the granola too. I can’t believe we are playing catch in the toy store.”

“Playing catch.” He smiled weakly. He remembered throwing a ball back and forth for hours in a big yard outside a big garage. He could smell the fragrance of fresh cut hay and hear the whinny of horses. It was wide open like the sheep meadow in Central Park, even bigger. It was a field near a barn, not a garage, and horses were in a corral nearby. When he played catch with Little Joe after supper, his fastballs stung his palms through the mitt.

“We can get him a baseball glove. Little Joe will be a great pitcher!” Somehow Heinrich knew this as fact. He popped a candy into his mouth and quickly devoured it. “A great rider and a great pitcher.”

“Horseback riding? In Brooklyn? You have to be kidding. Baseball pitcher? Oh no, Heinrich. Joey hates baseball. He’s a wild basketball fan. And his mother would kill me if I got him another basketball. The kid plays so much he is wrecking his knees, the doctor said. Besides why do you keep calling him Little Joe?”

Heinrich shook his head and massaged his temples. “Little Joe? That’s his name, isn’t it?”

“Not really. My nephew’s name is Joseph Francis Calcagno.”

“Joseph Francis? “ Hoss raised an eyebrow.

“If anything, he would be called Big Joe. He’s the tallest boy in his class.” Abbey laughed as she squeezed past a slender, well-coiffed woman pushing a noisy child in an expensive double stroller. She dug into her large tote bag and pulled out a leatherette folder of snapshots. “Isn’t he cute? This is his latest school picture,” Abby showed Heinrich the school photos in her wallet of a dark skinny boy with a wide grin and twinkling dark eyes. His straight black hair was cut short in a bristly crew cut. Elizabeth Marie had the same dark coloring and long dark hair. “He is really Joseph Francis the third. But we call him Joey, and his dad is Joe Junior and his grandfather is Joe. It’s a family thing. My sister had no choice so she got to name Elizabeth Marie after her favorite actress, Elizabeth Taylor and our grandmother Marie.” She put the photos away in her overflowing purse. “Maybe we should get him a puzzle or some blocks or something like that for when the weather is bad and he can’t go outside? What did you like when you were a kid?

“Like you said, we’d better get the Legos and get going.” He ignored her question about what he liked as a child and looked around at the signs. “Where would they be?”

“They’re this way.” Abbey pointed to the next aisle. She knew that now was not the time to pursue the matter of Bessie Sue and the horses, but she would bring it up after she had time to think of a way to do it that would not alarm Heinrich. “Could it be that his memory is returning?” she asked herself silently.

“Ah, here we are.” Abbey looked over the Lego sets. “Hmm, the Legos in the sets for boys are different colors than the Legos in the sets for girls. Kind of sexist, but a good way to keep Joey and Elizabeth Marie from fighting over whose Legos is whose. But then, the twins are still at the age where they want the same things. I think I‘ll get them the town building set and the vehicle building set for them to share. What do you think, Heinrich? Heinrich? Oh no! Should I buy you a set too?” Legos?”

Heinrich nodded. His head started throbbing, and he crushed the cellophane wrapped granola in his hand and shoved the wad in his jacket pocket.

“Oh honey, are you getting another one of your headaches?” Abbey frowned.

Abbey turned to Heinrich, who was staring intently at an architectural set of Legos with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on the front. She started to giggle but stopped when she saw that Heinrich’s face was white, and he was trembling. She clutched his arms. “Heinrich! Heinrich! What’s wrong? Are you sick? Oh my God!” She looked franticly around for help and spied a clerk. “Can you help me?” She accosted the clerk. “My friend’s been taken ill suddenly. Is there a place he can sit down? Please.”

The young clerk rushed to help. He didn’t want to make a scene on the sales floor and have the customers disturbed. “We can take him to the manager’s office. He isn’t here right now, but it will be all right. Sir, this way. You can sit down in the manager’s office.” Each taking an arm, Abbey and the clerk led Heinrich to the office and sat him in a chair. The clerk got him a cup of water from the water cooler in the office. “Ma’am, should I call 911?” he asked Abbey with sincere concern.

She was about to agree when Heinrich, who was coming back to himself, interrupted. “No! Don’t call them! I’m all right now. I’m just fine.”

“Heinrich, are you sure. Maybe we should.” Abbey persisted.

Heinrich gulped down the water. “No, just let me sit here for a few minutes. I’m feeling better.” He held out the cup. “May I have some more? “ This time he sipped slowly. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. ”

Abbey wasn’t happy with Heinrich’s decision, but had no choice. “All right. We’ll grab the Legos and then call a cab and go back to my apartment. We can go to Tavern on the Green some other time.”

“No. Whatever happened is over, and I feel a lot better. Really. We’re going to go to dinner like we planned. You look so pretty in that blue dress. I know you’ve been looking forward to this, and I’m not going to disappoint you.”

“It’s all right. You aren’t going to disappoint me,” Abbey countered. “Let’s go another night. I can wear this same dress then, if you like it.”

“We’re going this evening. Now, let’s go get the Legos and get going.” He turned to the clerk and held his hand out to shake hands. “Thanks, very much for your help. We really appreciate it.”

The clerk looked a little relieved that the situation had turned out all right and that the man and woman were leaving.

Abbey sighed and murmured something about “stubborn men” and followed Heinrich out of the store manager’s office.

*****

A sudden torrential downpour hit the city just as their cab pulled away from the curb at One Fifth Avenue and drove uptown in the evening traffic toward Central Park. Weary from the long, emotional day, Faye sat quietly beside Joe. She was almost mesmerized by the swish-thud rhythm of the cab’s windshield wipers.

She couldn’t help thinking that the bright lights of New York City through the rain-streaked windshield of the taxi were strangely beautiful. They were not as beautiful as the stars in the night sky over the Ponderosa but beautiful in their own way.

The shower ended just as quickly as it had begun. By the time their taxi reached the 66th Street entrance to Central Park, the heavy, humid heat of the day quickly turned into a cool, breezy evening.

The yellow cab slowly turned into a traverse road that led to the front of the restaurant. Taxis, private cars and limousines crowded the narrow horseshoe shaped driveway that led to the entrance of Tavern on the Green. Two police cars with blinking lights were parked on either side of the driveway, and a pair of National Guardsmen at alert stood near the low stone wall, their automatic weapons by their sides.

“What’s going on?” Faye asked, nervously eyeing them. She pulled her cardigan close around her despite the summer heat. Faye still wasn’t used to the constant police and military presence in the city since 9/11. Joe protectively squeezed her hand in his for a moment.

“Just the usual. I think they just finished some sort of practice drill. Homeland Security, NYPD and the Fire Department,” the driver explained. “It screwed up traffic cross-town most of the afternoon. Tomorrow they are in Queens. That will screw up all my airport runs.”

As the cab inched forward, Joe Cartwright was able see the sprawling Tavern on the Green. It was not what he had imagined. The brick building resembled an old, slate-roofed Normandy chateau. It was festively lit up and surrounded by flowers and trees. It looked nothing like the small, urban bar he had imagined.

“You folks here for the fundraiser?” the cab driver asked in a friendly fashion.

Anxious to get inside, Joe shook his head.

Ignoring the fact that his passengers were just eager to finish the ride, the driver chattered on. “Heard Rudy Giuliani might be coming, and a bunch of Broadway people — the cast of ‘Cats’, and that new show ‘Early One Morning’. The one that couldn’t open last fall. Regis Philbin too and some of the Mets,” the driver added. He inched the cab between a police car and a Dodge minivan with New Jersey license plates. A tall, stout woman in a sequined dress tried to cross the drive, shoving a skinny girl in a matching outfit in front of her.

“We’re not here for the fundraiser,” Joe repeated. As the sequined pair crossed in front of the cab, Joe got a closer look at them in the headlights. He quickly realized it wasn’t a tall, stout woman and a skinny girl but two men in drag. “Jeez, Faye! That’s two guys! Look at their Adam’s apples! The taller one needs a shave.”

“The shorter one too,” the driver added. “But they have nice legs.”

“Nothing is what you think it is in New York.” Faye couldn’t help but laugh at Joe’s shocked face.

“And I bet you a quarter that old guy near the door with the young girl is not her father. The one with the bad comb over.” Faye nudged Joe with her elbow.

The driver stuck his head out of the window to try to get a closer look just as the couple went into the restaurant. “I think that guy with the chickie was Donald Trump. Well, folks, we are here! Tavern on the Green!”

“So that’s the Tavern on the Green. It looks pretty crowded,” Joe said eyeing the happy knot of cheerful people gathered in the entrance under a large, red awning. The huge windows were brightly lit from within, and he could see the glittering restaurant was filled.

“There’s always a crowd here,” the cab driver observed. Then, in true New York fashion, the driver leaned on the horn in an attempt to get the cab in front of him to move faster. “Move over! Do you have your head up your butt? Go back to Jersey and learn to drive, lady!”

Faye completely ignored the cab driver and just continued her conversation with Joe. “Tavern on the Green is a very popular place for weddings and parties and for couples on romantic dates. I think on Valentine’s Day they give away free honeymoon trips to the Caribbean to the first dozen couples who get engaged that night. One evening I was here at a birthday dinner for my editor when two different guys, at two different tables, proposed to their girlfriends, within fifteen minutes of each other. One of them had the ring in the cheesecake he ordered for dessert,” Faye explained.

“Two? In one restaurant in one night? Gee, only in New York! What happened?” Joe was amazed. The driver slowly inched his way up the line of traffic as the meter clicked the rate higher.

“Oh, the girls both said ‘yes’, and the other diners applauded, and the management sent over champagne. It was pretty hokey but very sweet. The couples were happy.”

“Did you take their pictures?” Joe asked.

Faye nodded. “They were good pictures, too.”

“Maybe you should tell Pa to take you here?” Joe teased. “I know he likes cheesecake a lot.”

“Joseph Cartwright!” Faye blushed and quickly tried to change the topic. “To be honest, you come to Tavern on the Green for the décor and the atmosphere more than the food. The food is decent, but real New Yorkers insist there are far better places to eat. ”

“I’m not a New Yorker, real or pretend,” Joe shrugged. “And we are not really here for the food, Faye. We are here to talk to the manager,” He just wanted to get inside and get that manager to tell them about Heinrich Vandervoort.

“I know, sweetheart.” She squeezed his arm. “We are almost there.”

“Here we are, folks!” the driver announced as he finally made his way to the curb in front of the restaurant. Joe quickly settled the fare with the cab driver by handing the driver a twenty dollar bill.

“Thanks, pal! Watch out for those puddles,” the driver said as he quickly pocketed Joe’s overly generous tip. He reached behind him and flipped up the handle on the back door in a lazy but polite show of appreciation.

Joe had been expecting change from his twenty, but, rather than arguing, let it go. He slid out of the back seat and helped Faye out of the cab. “Let’s go find that manager, Faye.”

“I think his office is on the other side of the building. Let’s go around the outside of the building through the court yard. I think I can remember how to get there through the service area,” Faye said. She led Joe through the knot of people loitering around the entrance and around the side of the building.

Overhead, the wet, dripping trees were hung with glittering, white twinkle lights. The lower branches were strung with illuminated paper lanterns much like the multicolored ones the Cartwrights used at parties. Joe’s head turned as he looked around the fairy land. “Wow, Faye! We use lanterns like this when we have outdoor parties on the Ponderosa, but they must have hundreds strung up! Thousands! Look at that big one!”

“Wait until you see the inside, Joe. Some people think the place is a bit touristy, but I love it. It’s so over the top and fun.”

Joe looked through the brightly lit windows and observed, “This place looks sort of like something that old piano player might do. You know – the one who played in Vegas. What was his name? The one with all the glitter and the candelabras?”

“Liberace? “

“Yeah, this place is like Liberace and someone’s rich, crazy, old granny collaborated on the décor. Look at all the mirrors and crystal chandeliers and stained glass and bronze statues.” Joe had never seen anything quite like Tavern on the Green.

“Eccentric,” Faye corrected.

“Huh?”

“You said rich, crazy, old granny. If you are rich, you are eccentric. Poor people are crazy.”

Joe pointed at a huge elm tree decorated with twinkling lights. “Look, they built the room right around that tree. Bet some drunks think they are outside when they are in,” Joe said, skirting a shimmery puddle. “Watch your step, Faye! You don’t want to get your feet wet.” Just as Ben Cartwright had taught him, Joe graciously extended a helping hand to the lovely lady he was escorting.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the restaurant, Abbey Jones and Heinrich Vandervoort were waiting for their reservations near the maître d’s desk in a crowded foyer.

 

Virginia City

3:45 PM

 

Ben Cartwright sat opposite Roy Coffee in the back booth of Daisy’s Café in Virginia City. The two weary men were finishing a late lunch after driving in from Carson City. Most of their day had been spent there in an intense meeting with the regional head of Homeland Security. Sheriff Coffee had represented the law enforcement officials of the Comstock region while Ben represented the Cattlemen’s Association. After a few recent incidents of anthrax-laced letters sent to government officials, upgrades were being made in the system for preventing bioterrorism. Since anthrax was, for the most part, a cattle disease, it was vital to network with U.S. Postal System, the FBI and Centers for Disease Control.

All the rest of the tables in Daisy’s Café were empty. The television droned on in the background as Claude, Daisy’s scrawny, balding husband, mopped the floor before customers started to come in for dinner.

“You gents want some dessert?” Daisy smiled. She poured more steaming coffee in the sheriff’s empty cup.

“Think I’ll have me some pie. What about you Ben?” the sheriff urged. His friend’s attention was on the television where a square-jawed man was being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey.

“Got a fresh blueberry that just came out of the oven, cherry and chocolate cream. And apple of course,” Daisy said as she stacked the dirty dishes.

“Give me some of that blueberry, Daisy,” Roy Coffee quickly decided. “Nothing like hot blueberry.”

“Nothing like it with ice cream on the side,” Daisy suggested with a warm smile.

“Sounds good. Add some ice cream and wrap up one for Clem too,” answered the sheriff. “He’s been working double shifts for the last week so I could go to all these dang fool meetings in Carson City.”

“And one for me too, please. And don’t let Hop Sing know. He thinks he is keeping me on a diet that Paul Martin requested,” Ben added. He couldn’t help but look up at the TV screen on the other side of the room.

“That means the final World Trade Center death toll will drop no lower than about 2,750, not including the 10 hijackers. Counting the 233 killed in Washington and Pennsylvania, it will remain the second-bloodiest day in United States history, behind the battle of Antietam in the Civil War,” said the man to Oprah Winfrey.

“Can you beat that?” Sheriff Coffee sighed and shook his head.

“From the earliest hours after the destruction of the World Trade Center, one of the most painful and complicated tasks has been determining precisely how many people died and who exactly they were,” explained Oprah. “The enormous task was made difficult by the scale of the losses, the chaos that followed the collapse of the towers, the reluctance of some grieving families to give up hope, and the thousands of unfounded or duplicate claims that poured in from around the world.”

The screen was filled with a close up of the same serious man Oprah Winfrey had been interviewing. Under his image, white letters said Chief Frank K. Chambers, NYPD. The camera followed him as he and Oprah walked down the corridor of some sort of official building. “After close to a year of tireless labor by a legion of police detectives, medical examiner’s staff members, lawyers and even city diplomatic affairs staff members, the city is finally on the verge of establishing the final death toll,” explained Chambers.

“And what is that?” asked Oprah. She looked directly into the camera as if she could see right into Daisy’s Café and straight into the heart of a grieving rancher sipping his coffee.

“Well, after surging as high as 6,729 in late September and dropping below 3,000 in January, the final list of victims should end up at 2,800 or just below. The remaining number of unresolved cases now stands at 78, and investigators will report on a late push on those cases by Wednesday. At least two people who died of injuries weeks after the attack will be added; they were missed because they had been moved to hospitals out of state before they died.”

Her hands filled with the dirty dishes, Daisy tried to catch her husband’s eye and get him to turn off the TV or at least change the channel to something else, something less upsetting.

“The job, undertaken around the world on behalf of heartbroken families and in pursuit of historical accuracy has been like no other. The city officials involved in compiling the final list for the September 11 ceremony are trying to whittle down the list of 78 before re-releasing a final count to be read at the ceremony. When the work is finally completed — and that will be after September 11 — probably no more than 50 of the 78 will have been removed from the list, officials predict.”

“You and Adam going out to that ceremony?” Roy gently asked his friend.

Ben nodded, his eyes still fixed on the TV on the other side of the cafe. “Joe will meet us there. Faye said he’s really doing well. He’s been a great help to her.”

“Glad to hear that.” Sheriff Coffee smiled. “Send him my best. Faye too.”

“A loss of one person is a terrible tragedy,” said Chief Charles V. Chamberlain, “but the loss is at least diminished somewhat by the knowledge that so many people were saved and so many families have been reunited.”

Hoping to avoid distressing the grieving rancher any further, Claude abruptly shoved his mop into the galvanized bucket. Sudsy water sloshed onto the worn linoleum floor. He quickly scrambled behind the counter and grabbed the remote, changing the TV channel to a rerun of “Happy Days”.

On the screen, Fonzie walked into Arnold’s and slapped the silent juke box. 1950s rock and roll music started to play. “AAaayy!” Fonzie grinned. He threw his arms wide embracing the world. On the laugh track, the audience broke into gales of hysterical laughter.

“Hoss always liked that show,” Ben sighed.

 

The Tavern on the Green, NYC

The same day

 

Abbey Jones and Heinrich Vandervoort were patiently waiting for their reservations in the midst of the hustle bustle around the maître d’s desk in a crowded main foyer of Tavern on the Green. The mirror-lined foyer was decorated with elaborate flower arrangements, potted palms and gilded statuary. Overhead, sparkling crystal chandeliers were filled with flickering light bulbs that simulated candles.

“Go ask the maître d’, Heinrich,” Abbey nudged her date.

With Abbey hanging on his arm, Heinrich nervously threaded his way through the press of people. He made his way up to the tall mahogany desk. A slender, bald man in a perfectly tailored tuxedo was the gate keeper in the busy restaurant. His engraved name tag said “Claudio”.

“Umm, you have reservations for us? “

“Are you here for the fundraiser, sir?” He turned pages in his oversized, leather bound book. “It’s in the Crystal Room. Down the hall to the right.”

“Fundraiser?” Heinrich wasn’t sure what the gentlemen meant. A chubby woman backed into him as she tried to take a snap shot of her grandchildren, who were posed next to a colorful stained glass window.

“Well, excuse me!” she declared indignantly as if Heinrich had bumped into her.

“What’s your name?” the bald man asked as the shiny black phone on the desk rang. He picked up the receiver and answered. “Tavern on the Green. Claudio speaking. How may I help you?”

“Umm, my name?” Heinrich was distracted by seeing his own reflection being reflected an infinite number of times in the dozens of mirrors surrounding him. He was wearing the new yellow shirt his mother had bought him and, somehow, seeing his own reflection in multiples was disconcerting. He didn’t look like himself. He looked like a huge bumble bee.

“Tell them your name, honey,” Abbey urged. “For the reservation.” She slid her hand into Heinrich’s.

“Oh, my name. Vandervoort, Heinrich Vandervoort.” Heinrich smiled shyly. He squeezed Abbey’s hand affectionately.

The maître d’ hung up the phone. He smiled at Heinrich and Abbey, immediately recognizing the husky Heinrich Vandervoort as the hero who cleverly rescued the trapped handsome cab horse. “Oh you are the guy with the horse!”

“Horse? No Hoss! Just H-O-S-S,” Heinrich said automatically. He pulled on the suddenly tight collar of his new yellow shirt. “Hoss.”

Abbey looked at him curiously; she wondered what Heinrich was talking about.

“Mr. Vandervoort, your table is in the Chestnut Room, sir. It’s down the hallway to the left and then the first right and to the left again, past the garden entrance. Your table’s not quite ready, though. Why don’t you go into the bar, and someone will call you there when your table is ready. The bar is down the right and to the left past the big fountain, to the right of the Park Room. Then you go straight ahead.” The telephone rang again and the maître d’ turned his attention to the call.

“Which way did he say to go? He spoke so fast,” Abbey asked. “This place is like a maze.”

“I think this way,” Heinrich said, heading down a narrow hallway to the right. The corridor went off at an angle and opened into another crowded foyer lined with cheerful paintings in ornate frames. The couple continued walking down the corridor.

“Wow! Look at this place. It’s gorgeous! Like a fairy land,” Abbey exclaimed. She was enchanted by the romance of the summer evening. “Look at the wonderful view outside, Heinrich!” The pair stopped next to a row of multi-paned French doors that looked out on the garden. “The rain made everything sparkle in the garden like the diamond counter in Tiffany’s. If I didn’t know better, I would never guess we are right in the middle of the city, except you can see the police car over there by the gate. Do you think we can eat outside? There are plenty of little tables.”

Heinrich shuddered when he saw the flashing blue lights of the parked NYPD patrol car reflected in the numerous puddles in the court yard. “It’s much too wet.”

Abbey watched as a handsome, young man with curly hair offered his hand to a chic, slender woman with a cardigan draped over her shoulders. He gallantly helped his lovely companion step over a wide puddle. “I guess you are right. Those people look like they are headed back inside, too.” Abbey smiled. ”Maybe we’ll come back here for brunch and eat out there on the patio. We have to come back another time, honey.”

“Another time, honey,” Heinrich echoed. His head started throbbing again. He rubbed his eyes and wondered why he had the sudden urge to go out and embrace the pair of passing strangers.

Abbey watched as the couple quickly made their way down the path to the rear of the Tavern on the Green, and she got a better look at the woman. “Do you know who that was?”

“Who are they?” Heinrich asked hopefully. He rubbed his temples.

“You know the woman who interviewed me about Roy? The one doing the book about 9/11? That was her, Faye Franklin. She’s a famous photographer. And the cute, young guy? He’s her assistant. I can’t think of his name.”

“Joe?” Somehow the name came automatically to Heinrich. “His name is Joe.”

Abbey assumed he remembered the name from her excited accounts of being interviewed by Faye Franklin.

Heinrich and Abbey head down another corridor. This one had emerald green carpets and paintings on the ceiling of clouds and cherubs. At the bend in the corridor, the pair saw a cluster of well-dressed people socializing. Waiters strolled around serving drinks and passing silver trays of hors d’oeuvres. “I think we headed the wrong way, Abbey. That sign says ‘Crystal Room’. That’s where that fundraiser is tonight.”

Hearing music, Abbey was suddenly emboldened and clutched Heinrich’s hand. “Let’s peek in. Maybe we can see some celebrities.” Before Heinrich could protest, she pushed open the door to the Crystal room, and they slipped inside. The darkened room was crowded with tables, and a brightly lit stage was on the far end of the room. Near the door, a trio of young women sat selling raffle tickets. They were wearing name tags that indicated they were part of the 9/11 family fundraiser committee.

“Look! It’s Regis Philbin up on the stage. He must be the MC. Oh my goodness! My sister watches Regis every day. I wonder if I can get his autograph, Heinrich. And Andy Walker is going to sing! He’s just so wonderful. Did you know Andy almost got killed on 9/11? His uncle did and his old friend who was on vacation. Don’t you just love him?”

Heinrich nodded as Andy Walker stood in the middle of the stage in a bright white spot light. “Sure, he’s like one of the family…” Heinrich pictured himself sitting in front of a massive stone fireplace singing with Andy Walker and a friendly guitar player in a black shirt, but that didn’t seem quite right. The Vandervoorts lived in an apartment over the store. They didn’t have a fireplace. He must be picturing something he saw on TV or in an old movie.

“Let’s stand here a minute and listen to Andy do his song,” whispered Abbey. “I don’t think anyone will notice.”

The rest happened so fast that, later on, it was nearly impossible for anyone to explain. Just as Andy Walker started to sing the show stopping ballad from his Broadway hit show, “Early One Morning,” one of the young ladies wearing the committee tag walked over to Abbey and Heinrich. Assuming they were invited guests, she intended to welcome the late coming couple to the fundraiser and sell them some of the raffle tickets. Instead, Bessie Sue Hightower took one look at the husky man in the yellow shirt standing in the doorway and started to shriek. Andy Walker abruptly stopped singing and tried to figure out what was going on in the rear of the Crystal Room. As the door to the darkened room opened, he was quite positive he spotted a fair-haired young woman pull his late, beloved friend Hoss Cartwright through the door. Shocked, Andy lost his balance fell off the edge of the stage right into the lap of Mayor Michael Blumberg, knocking him to the floor.

 

Ponderosa Ranch

Late Afternoon

 

NY Times

Struggle to Tally All 9/11 Dead By Anniversary

Lawrence Lipton

 

The need to settle on a solid list of 9/11 dead is given urgency by the approach of the first anniversary of the attack and the city’s plans to read each victim’s name during the main ceremony at ground zero. If a sign were needed of just how difficult it has been to establish the number with confidence, it might be the city medical examiner office’s recent experience in listing the victims.

On Aug. 19, it released a list of 2,819 names, and this week it will reissue its list with additions and subtractions discovered only in the last two weeks.

Six names will be deleted, because they turned out to be alive, even though they had been designated as missing for almost a year. Four more names are being removed from the count after investigators concluded that the reports of their death were fraudulent. One woman will be removed because her death was recorded twice, under her married and maiden names.

Bill Cleary’s brother, Jack, who sped to the site with Ladder Company 132, is presumed to have died in the attack. The Cleary family had been in no rush to have him added to the list of confirmed. Mr. Cleary knows that his 26-year-old brother, whom he considered his best friend, is among the dead, but he and his parents have not wanted to take the final step of applying for the death certificate, waiting, perhaps, for his remains to be identified. The medical examiner’s office plans to continue the identification effort, mostly through more DNA testing, until at least early next year.

“If you have that piece of paper in front of you and if it has your brother’s name on it, it just hits home; it drives the nail in the coffin, so to speak,” Cleary said. “He is gone and he is not coming back. I guess it is just nicer to think he is only missing,” he said of his brother, “It is nicer than saying that someone you knew for 26 years is gone and there is nothing left of him.”

Adam Cartwright knew exactly how that fire fighter’s family felt. He sighed, neatly refolded the Times and put it in the recycling bin. No need for his father to read this when he got home from a long day of Homeland Security Meetings.

Adam quickly decided the legal forms the Cartwright’s attorney Hiram Wood had sent could wait to be completed at some other time. Adam Cartwright had never been one to procrastinate. That was Joe’s nature, not his. Since 9/11, a lot of things had changed for Adam Cartwright.

He sauntered across the living room to the desk and picked up a thick folder that he and his father had assembled in the last few months. In it were pictures of Hoss, his birth certificate, dental records, the DNA reports on Ben, Adam and Joe and the one made from the hairs left in the comb on Hoss’ dresser and the abandoned tooth brush in the bathroom. Adam decided they could postpone taking the legal action to declare Eric Cartwright legally dead for a few more weeks, a few more months. They could complete it after Christmas or when Joe came back home from New York. It could wait until all of them were together and all of them were ready to sign off on declaring Hoss Cartwright legally dead.

Adam wound a sturdy rubber band around the manila folder and shoved the entire thing into the bottom drawer of his father’s desk. He decisively slammed the drawer shut. Suddenly the phone rang.

“Hello! Hello!” Adam Cartwright barked impatiently into the phone on his father’s desk. The caller ID showed a familiar number with a New York City area code.

“Joe? Are you there? Faye?”

“Adam! Is Ben there?”

“No, he won’t be home till supper. Faye, what’s wrong!”

“Oh my God! I just don’t know how to tell you this.” Faye Franklin’s voice came unsteadily out of the phone, and then stopped as a sob caught in her throat.

Adam’s stomach clenched and lurched at the sound of her soft weeping. “Joe.” he thought. “Please don’t tell me that something’s happened to Joe.”

Seconds later, relief washed over him as he heard his brother’s voice in the background. “Give me the phone, Faye! Geez, you’re going to scare Adam to death.

“Joe, what…..”

“He’s alive, Adam! I told you! I told you!”

“Joe, who are….”

“Hoss, of course! Hoss! We found him, and he’s alive! No, it wasn’t anyone else! Don’t you think I know my own brother when I see him? Faye saw him, too, and Bessie Sue and Andy Walker! Now, just listen to me!”

“Adam,” Faye cut in. “I know it sounds impossible, but it’s true. There’s quite a long story behind it. Please, you and your father get the first flight to New York that you can, and let us know which airport you’ll be flying into. It’s too complicated to explain over the phone. Please, Adam, trust me.”

 

New York City

The next morning

 

“Klaus, come into the back room and sit down, we must talk.”

Klaus Vandervoort, busy bringing the sidewalk flower displays onto the sidewalk for the day, stopped and looked at his wife. Instead of counting the money in the cash register and going over the day’s schedule as she always did at opening, she was bustling around boiling water in the electric teapot.

“I have a few more pots to pull out before I can open up.”

“That can wait. It is important that we talk before Heinrich wakes up. He was out late last night with that girl.” She pointed to the small table where she had set out tea bags and cups. “Sit.”

Shrugging, Klaus sat. He nervously dunked a teabag up and down in his cup. Kristina insisted that the sidewalk displays must always be brought in on time, and she never parted from routine. He had known her from childhood when they both lived in a small village not far from Amsterdam. She had always been bossy and secretive, as was her whole family. After the war, he had understood why when it became known that her uncles had been involved in the Dutch Resistance. Despite her bossiness and stubbornness, he loved her with all his heart. Ever since they had taken in the young man they had found on 911, he had been worried about her actions concerning the young man. He had thought of going to the authorities, but he had a fear of them from his childhood spent in a Nazi-occupied country. Also, he was afraid that Kristina would fall back into the depression that plagued her after their son died if this surrogate son was taken from her. He was torn — hoping, on one hand, that the young man’s family would find him and he would regain his memory, and, on the other hand, that the young man could stay with them forever.

Kristina Vandervoort slipped into the chair opposite her husband. She sat poker straight, her hands clasped on the table in front of her. “Klaus, it is time to go back to the old country. I have been thinking very hard on this. I have had several commercial real estate agents come look at the shop at times you and Heinrich have been out on deliveries, and they all have said that we can get a good price for the business. We can live cheaper in retirement in Holland than we can here. We have enough savings to live on there until the shop is sold, so we can go right away. In fact, we could even buy a small flower shop there.”

“Kristina, what . . . . !” Klaus dropped the tea bag he was dunking into his cup. “You want to go back to Holland? After all you had been through there? When we came to America, you said you never wanted to set foot anywhere in Europe again! And what about Heinrich, I mean the young man we took in? We cannot leave him here alone while he has no memory.”

“We will take him with us, of course”, Kristina answered matter-of-factly. “He is our son, now. He will go where we go.” She calmly sipped her tea. “He might never get his memory back.

Klaus leaned across the table and took her hand. “Kristina, he is not our son. He could be anyone’s son, or someone’s husband, or even some child’s father. Someone somewhere might be looking for him. What if his memory returns? We cannot just take him out of the country like he was a stray dog we took in.”

“Klaus, we can do it.” Kristina clasped the hand touching hers. “He can use Heinrich’s birth certificate to get a passport and visa. I renewed Heinrich’s driver’s license with a new picture and we have Heinrich’s Social Security card. We have all the necessary documents that show him to be Heinrich Vandervoort. It has been almost a year, and no one is looking for him. If his memory returns, we can give him the money to go home.”

Klaus shook his head. “Kristina, it would not be right. Can’t you see that?

Opposite him at the table, his wife sat rigid, tears streaming down her face.

“No, Kristina, do not cry. Please. Do not cry. I cannot stand to see you so heartbroken again.”

Sighing, Klaus patted her hand. “We will do it. We will put the shop up for sale first thing tomorrow morning. Please, please, don’t cry anymore.”

 

Delta Airlines flight 1959

 

It was a clear, cloudless night. Lights were scattered across the vast middle-American plains thirty-six-thousand feet below Ben and Adam Cartwright’s feet. Ben glanced past a dozing Adam out the airplane window at the clusters of stars. When his sons were children, he had told them that each of their mothers’ souls had become a star. He had also told them the same thing last fall when the two grown men mourned their brother.

Ben supposed that he should take advantage of the boredom of the cross-country plane trip to grab a quick nap, also. But, his head still spun from everything that had transpired since he arrived home at six o’clock — Adam’s tale of his disconcerting, surreal conversation with Joe and Faye, hurrying to pack while Adam found them a flight, Hop Sing muttering in Chinese in the background about them leaving without touching the nutritious supper he had prepared. Even with skipping supper, neither he nor Adam touched the rubbery chicken and gluey rice airline meal.

Ben’s stomach was tied in too many knots to hold any food, and he imagined that Adam’s was the same. After a double scotch and soda, Adam had managed to drift off. Ben’s brandy squash sat untouched on the fold down tray in front of him. Whatever awaited them in New York, one thing was certain: his total trust in what Joe and Faye had to tell them.

 

Greenwood Cemetery
Brooklyn, NY

 

Each time Klaus visited his son’s grave, the ritual was always the same. He parked his florist truck on the narrow road dividing the sections of tombstones. Klaus looked around the wide rows of graves and sighed. A few spaces that had been unused when Heinrich was buried now were occupied. In the middle of the week, in the middle of a work day, Klaus Vandervoort was pretty much alone in the vast Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. The only other people he could see were the cluster of mourners at a burial five or six sections away, and two slender, blond women visiting a grave a few rows in the other direction.

He walked past the dun-colored mounds of sandy earth beside several empty graves toward the stone cross marked with the name of his son.

Heinrich Vandervoort

Beloved son of Kristina & Klaus

1972- 1998

He touched the granite marker, ran his finger across the top, traced each letter of the name. He removed his blue wool cap and stood in silence. What would his son think of his parents taking in a passing stranger and giving him Heinrich’s name? His son was a good boy, a gentle soul, kind to a fault, hard working. The stranger was gentle and hardworking too.

Klaus used to visit every Sunday after his son died. Then it became once or twice a month, then less frequently. But since 9/11 and the passing stranger being taken into the Vandervoort’s home and given the name of their son, Klaus started coming to visit his son’s grave once a week. He couldn’t tell his wife where he was going. She would get too agitated, too depressed. As a result, he squeezed in his visits when he had to make a solo delivery to a wedding hall in Brooklyn or a funeral parlor in Queens. If Kristina questioned him about his whereabouts, he would claim there was bad traffic on the FDR drive or that the cops had shut the Queensboro Bridge because of a suspicious car.

Throughout the year, Klaus brought his son flowers. Heinrich’s favorite color was yellow, and Klaus would consider that in his selection. Pots of gold and white chrysanthemums were left in front of the marker in the autumn, bright tulips and daffodils in spring. In December, there would be a Christmas blanket, an elaborate tapestry of evergreens woven with yellow ribbons. On his son’s birthday in June, the grieving father brought fragrant Gold Rush roses. Now in summer, Klaus brought bright sun flowers. Heinrich was a big tough guy, but he loved sunflowers.

Soon, Klaus was on his knees, tending the grave that, like the others, was surrounded by carefully trimmed shrubs: bristly yews or neat green privets. He pulled a few weeds and flicked a dry leaf off the tombstone. Then, he wiped his forehead with his handkerchief and sat on the battered cement bench to the left of Heinrich’s grave. In the cool shade of a broad sycamore tree, he slowly ate the salami and cheese sandwich and drank the icy cold bottle of Snapple iced tea he had brought with him in a brown paper bag.

Three sections away, Abbey Jones and her sister stood by the grave of Roy Jones, Abbey’s late husband.

“Thanks for coming with me, Patty,” Abbey said as she put her small bouquet of daisies on Roy’s grave.

“How could I not, sis? You sounded so upset. Let’s go have some lunch. As long as we get home by the time the kids get dropped off from day camp, I’m all yours,” Patty gave her sister a gentle squeeze.

“I always feel better when I visit Roy. Maybe it’s too soon for me to be going out with someone?” Abbey sighed. “Mom said I should look for a sign.”

“A sign? Oh no! Roy wouldn’t want you to be alone. It’s not that you are going out. Maybe it’s just the wrong guy. Shop around a bit. This Heinrich seems sort of strange…” Patty started protectively.

“Heinrich Vandervoort is not strange. He’s very sweet. Hardworking, devoted to his parents…just like Roy. He works so hard in their florist store. You just need to get to know him more. He’s just quiet and shy. He wasn’t feeling well last night, that’s all. It must have been the heat. And all that chaos at the restaurant.”

“Maybe. Maybe not,” said Patty.” Are you sure he isn’t married or hiding something? Or maybe he’s a terrorist?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Abbey shook her head. “He got hurt on 9/11. I told you that, Patty. He’s still recovering. ”

“He’s not the only one.” Then her sister tried to change the subject to something lighter. There was no sense arguing. “I can’t believe you were at Tavern on the Green last night when all that stuff happened and left without seeing all the celebrities! They said Andy Walker swore he saw his dead friend, and people fainted. Good thing the mayor wasn’t hurt, either. Can you beat that? Did you know it made the front page in the Daily News? ‘Ghost Disrupts 9/11 Fundraiser’! I have the paper in the car. You should see the dress that Lissa Rinna wore! Cut down to her belly button. And Harry Hamilin looked gorgeous as usual.”

“Really?” Abbey was shocked. “We just missed it! We were peeping in the room, and people started screaming and running around, so we just left. Heinrich will have to use his free dinner another time.”

“It was on the news, too. The ghost, not the dress. Regis talked about it on his show, and Andy Walker was on the Today Show. Joe said it was just a publicity stunt to get people to go to Andy Walker’s show, but I don’t think so. Mom doesn’t either. Everyone loves Andy Walker, and ‘Early One Morning’ is one of the few shows that is getting big box office. Joe says it’s corny and hokey, but I think that’s why people are going. No one wants to see a sad show or anything serious this year,” Patty chattered on. “Even Oprah recommended it.”

Abby nodded, even though she wasn’t paying much attention to her sister’s comments. Her mind was on her late husband. Would he really approve of her dating Heinrich? Patty thought he would, but her mother said wait for a sign. What was the right thing to do?

“Maybe we should get tickets for Mom for her birthday? To a matinee? She loves Andy Walker,” Patty continued fanning herself with her hand. “It’s hotter than hell today.”

“Tickets to what?” Abby asked.

“To ‘Early One Morning’ on Broadway. The show Andy Walker is in. Maybe that ghost will show up again? Wouldn’t that beat all?” Patty laughed. Then, gazing across the rows of tombstones towards the left, she noticed the florist van parked on the boundary road. “Look, Abbey! Vandervoort Florist.”

Abbey gasped and grabbed her sister’s hand. “Maybe it’s a sign from Roy!”

“Maybe Heinrich is making a delivery? Let’s go over and say hello.” The two sisters started towards the truck. But before the women could make their way through the endless rows of tombstones to where the Vandervoort truck was parked, Klaus climbed in and drove off. Anxious to get back to the store, he didn’t see Abbey waving.

“That was Mr. Vandervoort, his father, not Heinrich,” Abbey said. “Let’s go look at the flowers he delivered. We’re almost there.”

“OK. Besides, there’s a bench under that tree. I need to sit down for a minute. This heat is killing me. I shouldn’t have worn these shoes. Joe said I would regret it, but I wore them anyhow. Too bad Mr. Vandervoort didn’t see us.” The two sisters made their way to the battered concrete bench where Klaus Vandervoort had eaten his lunch. Patty sat down, pulled off her sandals and started rubbing her feet.

“Wow! Aren’t the flowers pretty?” Leaving her sister on the bench, Abbey walked closer to the grave where Klaus had left the huge pot of vivid sunflowers blocking the tombstone. She was curious to see who was buried there and gently pushed the flowers aside to read the inscription. “Oh my God!” she screamed.

“What’s wrong?” Patty didn’t bother putting on her shoes. She raced barefoot across the sun baked path to her sister’s side.

“Read the name,” Abbey gasped, staring at the grave where Heinrich’s father had delivered sun flowers. “Read the name, Patty!”

“Heinrich Vandervoort! Heinrich Vandervoort, beloved son of Kristina & Klaus. 1972- 1998,” Patty read. “Who the hell are you going out with, Abbey? A ghost?”

*****

“Pa, pacing and scowling at your watch isn’t going to make this three hour lay-over go any faster.” Adam Cartwright pinched the bridge of his nose. His carry-on bag dug into his shoulder. “There’s a Starbucks.” He pointed across the concourse. “I need something to eat. I’m getting a headache. And you’ve eaten even less than I have. We’ll get some coffee and some breakfast and watch ‘Good Morning America’. It will help pass the time, and we can check out the weather forecast for New York.”

Adam was biting into his Bacon, Egg & Gouda sandwich when the name “Andy Walker” caught his ear. He gestured to Ben to look at the TV screen on the Starbuck’s wall. “Regis Philbin is talking about Andy Walker. Something about some commotion at a 9/11 Fundraiser at the Tavern on the Green in New York.”

“Andy was on stage and a pretty young woman who was part of the fundraiser started screaming about a ghost and fainted. It startled Andy so much he fell off the stage right onto Mayor Bloomberg’s lap,” Regis explained to Diane Sawyer, as the video tape of the performance started to play.

Adam’s sandwich dropped to the table as, on the TV screen, Bessie Sue Hightower pointed, screamed “Hoss!” and fainted into another young woman’s arms. The back of the big, sandy-haired man she had been pointing to could be seen as someone, a young woman, pulled him out of the room.

Ben clutched his coffee cup so hard his knuckles were white, and the lid popped off, spilling coffee on the shiny table top. Father and son stared at each other, stunned.

*****

Faye Franklin’s own anxiety was raised by Joe’s nervous pacing back and forth in the apartment. After his tenth trip up and down to the lobby of the apartment house to see if his family had arrived, she finally suggested that they ride out to LaGuardia Airport in a cab to meet Ben and Adam when their plane landed.

Joe immediately agreed and rushed down the hall to get his wallet and cell phone. He came out of his room carrying his Nikes and plopped onto the sofa to pull them on.

“Send her up, Carlton,” Faye said into the apartment’s house phone.

“Yes, Miss Franklin. And don’t forget that the electricians are going to be upgrading the wiring in the building for the next few weeks, so we might be having some temporary power outages. And, don’t use the elevators when they are working, or you might get stuck. I sure wouldn’t want that to happen to you. Tell that to Mr. Cartwright too. ”

“Yes, Carlton. You told us ten times; the management sent us a memo, and we saw all the signs posted around the building. Please just send our visitor up.”

“She’s on her way up. The electricians haven’t started, but you might want to walk down the stairs because the elevators are being sort of temperamental again. And the electricians might start working this afternoon if they show up then. Or tomorrow.”

“Faye! We’ve got to get to the airport! I just called the airline again, and the plane is right on time. Why did you tell the doorman it was ok to send someone up now?” he said, shoving his wallet into his jeans.

Faye put down the house phone. “That was Abbey Jones. Remember her? She was newlywed, and her husband was killed at the World Trade Center? “

“Yeah, but we have to get Pa and Adam at La Guardia,” Joe protested. “Carlton is hailing a cab for us. We have to go.”

“Trust me. My gut tells me that we need to talk to her before we go. Reporters’ hunches are not just a cliché for movies. I’ve had a couple that turned into something. In fact, one saved my life on a jeep ride through Beirut. She wouldn’t come by without a good reason. That’s not like her.”

Before Joe could say anything else, the apartment doorbell buzzed harshly. Faye opened the door and ushered in a very nervous Abbey Jones. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I have to talk to someone about this. Faye, I think you’re the right person. My sister wants me to go to the police, but my story sounds too crazy, and, oh, I just didn’t know what else to do.”

“Go on, Abbey. Tell us what’s going on,” Faye urged their visitor. She led Abbey to the leather sofa in the living room where she sat nervously, clutching her purse like a security blanket. Faye and Joe sat on each side of her. Abbey started haltingly. “Do you remember my friend that I told you about? I told you about a man I met who had been injured on 9/11. We became friends. Good friends. He confided that he couldn’t really remember much of anything from before he was hit on the head.”

“Yes, what about him?” Joe nodded encouragement but quickly glanced at the clock on the opposite wall.

Faye could tell Joe was itching to leave.

“I don’t think he is who he thinks he is. Or who his parents are telling him he is. I have no real proof –- just things he says at times and some things he’s done. Supposedly, he is a native New Yorker, but I was born and raised here, and I’ve never met anyone like him.”

“New York is filled with all sorts of different people, ma’am. What do you mean?” Joe asked, checking the clock again.

“Well, for one thing, he doesn’t talk like a New Yorker. He sounds like he’s from some other part of the country. I just can’t figure out what kind of accent he has.” Abbey paused and tried to describe her other experiences. “Memory loss might explain why he isn’t familiar with things a man living here all his life would know, but he has knowledge of things that he shouldn’t. Did you see in the news about the man who got the handsome cab horse’s leg unstuck from a grate over by Tavern on the Green? That was him. How would he know how to do that? He doesn’t know how he knew. He said he just knew. “

At the mention of the stuck horse, Joe glanced wide-eyed at Faye over Abbey’s head. “Mrs. Jones, is your friend a florist named Vandervoort? Joe asked. “Were you with him last night at Tavern on the Green when all that trouble started? “

“Trouble?” Abbey hesitated.

“When Andy Walker swore he saw a ghost during his performance, when that young lady started screaming…” Faye explained.

“Faye and I were just walking into the manager’s office when everything happened. What a scene!” Joe added. “Cops, EMTs, security, waiters. Everyone but the Marines.”

“The staff and the cops brought Andy in there until the EMTs checked him out. The mayor too. No one was badly hurt.”

“I heard on the news,” Abbey said softly. “I’m glad.”

“Is that where you were last night?” Faye inquired.

When Abbey answered that it was, Joe pulled his cell phone from his pocket and scrolled through the pictures stored there. “Is this him?” Joe showed her a picture of Hoss taken at the Reno airport as he departed for the fateful trip to New York.

“That’s him! How do you know Heinrich? Where was this picture taken? When?” Abbey looked back and forth at the people on each side of her. She was startled when the two leapt up from the sofa, hugged madly, whooped and began jumping up and down with joy.

Joe Cartwright immediately found his voice. “Mrs. Jones, that’s my brother, my brother Hoss! We thought he was dead! We found him for sure! Oh, my God, we found him! You found him”

Faye grabbed her purse. “The doorman is getting us a cab. Abbey, please, can you go to the airport with us. We’re heading out to LaGuardia to pick up Joe’s father and brother, Adam. They have to hear this from you. You can use my cell if you need to call into work.”

A few minutes later Abbey followed in a daze as they piled into a yellow cab. “La Guardia Airport! American Airlines!” Faye told the driver.

“I told Adam he was alive,” Joe said under his breath. “I told him.”

*****

“Amnesia? Hoss has been alive and been living as this Heinrich Vandervoort all this time? Why would these people tell an injured, frightened stranger that he was their dead son? Why didn’t they call the authorities? Didn’t Hoss have identification on him?” Ben had repeated these questions numerous times in the past few of hours. He was still trying to come to grips with the news. It was wonderful, miraculous news that his middle son was alive, but incredible that he was living as someone else. And now Abbey Jones told them that the man she knew as Heinrich was suffering from amnesia.

Ben, Adam, Joe, and Faye had been joined at Faye’s apartment by Bessie Sue Hightower. Bessie Sue fought tears as she told them of Dr. Hickman’s lectures on amnesia and the risks of telling the truth to amnesiac like Hoss. “The shock could cause irrevocable damage.” When she finished, she hastily excused herself and retreated to the guest bedroom to pull herself together.

“Can’t tell him?” Joe asked angrily. “We can’t go get him and tell him he isn’t this Vandervoort guy that he’s Hoss Cartwright? Why not?”

“I don’t like it either, Joe. Hoss is alive, and I want him back home where he should be, where we can help him recover from this ordeal.” Ben tried to remain in charge. “It scares the hell out of me that we might damage Hoss mentally for life if we try to force this information on him. From what Mrs. Jones said, Hoss is refusing to go to the Netherlands with Mr. and Mrs. Vandervoort. He insists on staying in New York with her,” said Faye.

“We need to speak with these people, and explain that we are Hoss’ family. We need to find out why in God’s name they are doing this. If they know the jig is up and we’ve found him, they have no reason to hide him in another country. We can reason with them to stay in New York and look after him until his memory returns.”

“But, Pa…”

“No ‘buts’, Joseph!” Ben snapped. “I will not endanger your brother’s mental health! We want him back but back whole and healthy. Do you want to bring your Hoss home from the dead only to chance that he is permanently damaged and has to be committed to a mental hospital? I’m his father, and I miss him terribly, but I love him too much to see that happen. I wouldn’t let that happen to any of you!”

Joe looked across the room to where Adam sat at the granite breakfast bar, his cell phone within reach. “Pa, what this Dr. Hickman says doesn’t sound quite right to me. I know, I know, I’m not a doctor or psychologist.” Adam raised his hands to ward off any objection from his father. “How old did Bessie Sue say this professor is? What current experience does he have with patients? Medical knowledge is constantly updated, especially knowledge of the human brain. Sometimes these old professors don’t keep up, or they won’t admit that what they have believed for years is outdated.”

The ringing of his cell phone saved Adam from the pithy comment Ben was about to make. Dr. Ed Booth was on the other end. Fortunately for the Cartwrights, Dr. Booth was now an eminent psychiatrist who practicing in New York.

“Ed? Thanks for returning my call so quickly. Yes, you heard me right. Hoss is alive and here in New York. Yes, the whole family is here, too. Apparently he has a form of amnesia since 9/11. It’s a long story, but we don’t know all the details yet. One thing we do know is that my brother thinks he is a Heinrich Vandervoort who has lived in New York his whole life. Some people took him in and have him convinced he is their son.

“Have you heard of a Dr. Addison Hickman? He’s an older gentleman, an American doctor, who is a guest lecturer at several universities in Great Britain.” Adam quickly explained about Bessie Sue, her long term relationship with Hoss and what she had related to the family about Hickman’s treatment of victims of amnesia. “Abbey Jones, the woman who knows him as Heinrich, said that Hoss seeming to have ‘flashes’ of memories that brought on violent headaches.”

“You don’t agree?” Adam listened to what his friend had to say, a look of hope on his face. “Yes, we’ll do that. Thank you, Ed. This means an awful lot to me.”

As soon the conversation was finished, Adam called Bessie Sue back into living room. He wanted her to hear Ed Booth’s comments along with everyone else. Joe had calmed down and perched on a bar stool next to Adam while Ben and Faye sat side by side on the sofa , Faye’s hand rested gently on Ben’s arm. Bessie Sue quietly entered and returned to the lounge chair she had been sitting in earlier.

Adam stood up as if he were about to make a speech or deliver a lecture. “Well, you heard my end of the conversation. Ed has heard of Dr. Hickman, and while he has great respect for him, he completely disagrees with his treatment methods. And the prognosis. At one time, Hickman’s treatment was the accepted standard among doctors. But, as psychiatrists gain more knowledge of the way human brains work, other treatments have developed.”

“What do you think, Bessie Sue? You are studying to be a psychologist,” Ben probed. He had watched Bessie Sue Hightower grow up over the years with Hoss and was confident she would want the best for his son.

“I’ve heard of Dr. Booth. He is quite well respected. I didn’t realize you know him personally, Adam.” Bessie Sue hesitantly interrupted. “I had doubts about what Dr. Hickman said myself, but he’s well known and respected in his field, too. I’m just starting out, still learning, and children are my real specialty. I don’t want anything worse to happen to Hoss. I really don’t know what we should do.”

Ben sighed and leaned forward, his head in his hands. “I don’t know, Adam. I just don’t know which path to take. The wrong thing could destroy Hoss’ mind forever.”

Adam strode across the room to sit beside his father. “Pa, Ed says that it sounds as if Hoss’ brain is trying to ‘remember’ his real life. On the other hand, people he has come to trust and rely on are telling him something completely different. It sets up an internal conflict that makes Hoss fight to suppress his real memories. He needs to be in surroundings and with people who were part of his original world. In time and with encouragement, it is possible that he will get everything back.”

According to Ed, it is imperative that we tell Hoss the facts: who he really is, what happened to him, and who we are. He must be immersed in familiar surroundings with people he knows and resume his normal routines. And take him home. If we want, he’ll see Hoss before we leave, and he has recommend a wonderful doctor in Reno, right at the university. Ed thinks that not only does Hoss have amnesia, but he is suffering from being brainwashed.”

“Brainwashed?” Ben gasped.

“Like the POWs in Korea?” Joe shivered thinking of an old movie he saw on cable late one night when he couldn’t sleep. Frank Sinatra was a brainwashed soldier trying to prevent another brainwashed guy, his buddy, from assassinating a politician. It all ended horribly for the buddy.

“Yes, or people who have been in cults,” Adam said. “Ed said it’s really important we don’t let this go on too long. Hoss might get psychotic or even suicidal or homicidal.”

“Remember all those poor people in Jonestown who killed themselves and the followers of David Koresh at Waco? Oh my God!” Faye gasped. “We can’t let that happen.”

*****

Sitting in the rear workroom of his store, Klaus Vandervoort stared at the number he had just copied from the phone book. It was the listing for the Marquis Theater where Andy Walker’s play, “Early One Morning,” was being staged.

“Good Morning America” had just finished, and the credits were rolling on the screen. He reached up and snapped off the small TV on the top of the bookshelf. He needed some quiet to decide what he should do next.

During the show, Diane Sawyer had interviewed Regis Philbin about the commotion at Tavern on the Green the previous evening. The video tape of the incident showed a young woman pointing at Heinrich and screaming “Hoss” before she fainted dead away. She fell noisily, knocking over a table of glasses and dishes.

Someone had finally recognized the young man his wife had brought into their family to fill their son’s shoes. Kristina’s bizarre attempt to replace Heinrich with this passing stranger had failed miserably. Now this video was being shown over and over on national television. Certainly more of this man’s friends and family would see him and uncover the Vandervoort’s despicable deception.

Kristina might hate him for what he was about to do. It might mean the end of their long marriage. It could drive Kristina completely over the edge, but he had to do it. He had to do what was right for this young man who had been lost to his family. Vandervoort’s conscience demanded it of him. Slowly, he lifted the receiver on the phone and punched in the phone number.

When the box office told him that Andy Walker had not yet arrived in the theatre, Klaus took a deep breath and said, “Please have Andy Walker call me about an extremely important personal matter. It’s about the ghost he saw last night at Tavern on the Green. It is vital that he calls back as soon as possible. It’s about… It’s about Hoss.”

*****

The group in Faye’s apartment was surprised when the doorman announced that Andy Walker was downstairs.

“Shouldn’t you be at the theater?” Faye asked as she ushered the singer into the living room where the Cartwrights and Bessie Sue Hightower had been trying to sort out the situation.

“I have to hurry back, but this was too important for just a phone call. I had to tell you face to face, Mr. Cartwright, Joe, Adam…” Andy looked back and forth from each of them as he told of what he had just learned. “When I got to the theater, Sam, the theater manager, gave me a phone number to call. He said the guy that called said that it was urgent; the man mentioned Hoss. I called the number, thinking I was going to get some information about him and Uncle Thad. Maybe they found their remains. Or maybe it was some crackpot, or a reporter wanting an interview. But I couldn’t take the chance of not calling. So I called, and the man said his name was Klaus Vandervoort.”

“Vandervoort!” Joe gasped when he heard the name. Faye’s eyes widened.

The Cartwrights, Faye, and Bessie Sue listened incredulously as Andy repeated Vandervoort’s story. He explained to them how, on the chaotic morning of 9/11, the Vandervoorts found an injured young man outside their shop in the flower district. Vandervoort had explained that his troubled wife told the stranger that he was their son, and now, he finally hoped to set things straight.

After a long stunned silence, Faye was the first to speak. “This jibes with what Abbey Jones told us.”

“I know exactly where that flower shop is!” Joe exclaimed. “I went there and showed the woman Hoss’ picture. She said she never saw my brother. Let’s go and confront them and find Hoss! We can force our way in and then call the police, Pa, and tell them these people kidnapped your son! They are holding him against his will.”

“Joseph, calm down!” Ben cautioned him. “In the first place, they didn’t really kidnap Hoss.”

“And I don’t see how they are holding him against his will if he was out at Tavern on the Green the other night with Abbey…” Faye reminded them. “Hostages don’t usually go out on dinner dates.”

“Also, we don’t want to involve the police. Roy already looked into that. There is nothing legal we can do right now if Hoss is staying with them willingly,” Adam added.

“Mr. Cartwright, sir.” Andy interrupted the arguing by going directly to the man he knew was in charge. “Mr. Cartwright, the man wants to bring Heinrich, or Hoss to meet with you. Vandervoort appealed to me to make the arrangements for him to talk to you first. Then he’ll tell Heinrich that they are making a big flower delivery that will take both of them –- just the two of them. This way Mrs. Vandervoort won’t be involved or know what he is arranging. According to what Mr. Vandervoort said, his wife is going over the edge. He wants to keep this from her till after it is completely resolved. Poor guy.”

“Poor guy!” Joe exploded. “How in the world can you say that, Andy? After what we went through this year! What about that? What about us!”

“Joseph!” Ben commanded. “In a way, I can sympathize with the man. He lost a son, and I thought that I had lost one. But mine has been found, and in bringing him back to me, Mr. Vandervoort is, in a way, losing his son all over again. And not only that, but he could possibly be losing his wife. He’s wanting to do the right thing, but it’s going to be at a terrible personal cost.”

“What should I tell him, Mr. Cartwright? “ Andy asked.

“Andy, call him back and tell him to be here this evening,” Ben firmly directed. “Make it happen.”

*****

They all sat in the living room of the borrowed apartment at One Fifth Avenue trying to sort out the stunning news of the last two days. Andy Walker had reluctantly left an hour earlier to make his way back to the Marquis Theatre for his evening performance. Faye went into the kitchen to make some more coffee.

“Do you know the story of the Fisher King?” Klaus Vandervoort asked in a soft voice.

Adam nodded. “In Arthurian legend, the Fisher King is a mighty warrior who once received a wound that, while not lethal, could never be healed.” He wanted to strangle this man who had tried to brainwash his brother.

Adam thrust his hand into his jacket pocket where he had Hoss’ old, battered cell phone — the phone that he had used to light the way out of the burning World Trade Center tower on 9/11. Somehow, holding something that belonged to his brother calmed him and gave him courage to maintain his illusion of self-control.

“That’s right,” Klaus Vandervoort nodded. “To outlive your child is to receive just such a wound — painful, but it does not kill you. You know that wound will pain you throughout your days and eventually might be the true cause of your death. I am already wounded, like that Fisher King in the legend. It is only a question of timing when I will die from the pain of losing Heinrich and the endless suffering of his mother. I have dreams about the son I lost two years ago, but I never see his face. I see the back of him, and he is always running away from me in the street.”

“I don’t think any parent ever really gets over the death of a child,” Ben Cartwright began.

Vandervoort held up his hand to stop Ben Cartwright from continuing. “One day, another son came to me. A passing stranger ran to me. I saw his face. For an instant, he looked like my Heinrich.”

“But that’s no excuse for what you and your wife did! No excuse at all!” Joe shouted as he leaped from his seat on the couch. “You stole my brother!”

“Let him finish, Joseph.” Ben glared darkly at his youngest son. The rancher completely agreed with what Joe was saying but knew that, for Hoss’ sake, the Cartwrights had to get Mr. Vandervoort on their side. His eyes met Adam’s. They had to keep Vandervoort as their ally or lose Hoss forever.

Adam instantly stood up from his seat and tried to rein in his youngest brother. He knew Roy Coffee and Pa’s lawyer had checked with all the law enforcement agencies. All of them said that they had absolutely no legal right to take Hoss back if he wanted to stay with those Vandervoorts. Hoss Cartwright was over twenty-one and was free to go wherever he wanted. If his family tried to fight it, or to have him declared incompetent, the matter could drag through the courts for years, and by that time, Hoss would be lost to them. He would have completely transformed into Heinrich Vandervoort by then. Or worse yet, according to Bessie Sue, he would have become insane from the two different personalities warring in his brain.

Adam knew Pa was right. Negotiating with Mr. Vandervoort was their best shot at getting Hoss back home as fast as possible.

Laying a heavy hand on Joe’s shoulder, Adam yanked him back onto the couch beside him. He dug his fingers into Joe’s bicep, squeezing him almost painfully tight. “Shut up and listen to what Pa says, or I’ll break your damn arm,” he breathed huskily into his brother’s ear. “If we don’t bring Hoss home now, it might be too late for his mind to heal. Let Pa get the old man on our side. It might be our only chance

Sitting next to Adam, Joe sat silently, his jaw clenched tight, glaring at Vandervoort. Adam relaxed his painfully tight grip on Joe, but kept his hand rested on his brother’s arm. His other hand reached into his jacket pocket to grip his good luck talisman, the cell phone.

“Go on, please,” Ben urged gently. Of all the negotiations Ben Cartwright had dealt with over the years, resolving this agreement was the most important one he had ever faced.

“I don’t think any parent ever really gets over the death of a child,” Vandervoort repeated. “Some just learn to live with it. It becomes part of us. The hurt gets muted somehow, processed and tucked into a dark, buried corner. With me, it surfaces at the oddest times and feels like yesterday, even though its years ago that I lost my son, Heinrich. I go visit him in the cemetery, and I talk to Heinrich… Do you know how that is, Mr. Cartwright?”

Ben nodded.

“I go to the cemetery and bring flowers, yellow flowers. Heinrich loved yellow. I bring flowers and talk, and then the pain recedes again until the next time. But Kristina, she lost so many already. She was so young and never really recovered from what she saw during the war. She could not even bear to go to the cemetery with me. She could never accept her only son was gone forever. She was in the hospital for months after Heinrich died, and then for months, she couldn’t get out of bed and only cried. It was cancer. She lost everyone in the war, and now she lost Heinrich to cancer. Right in front of her, they killed them all — her parents and the uncles and her brothers. It was only because the neighbor swore Kristina was her child and too addled to know what was going on that the Germans let her go. She never got over that, and she never got over losing our Heinrich. Heinrich was her father’s name and her brother’s too. I don’t know what will become of her if you take your son back.”

“But he’s not yours!” Joe leaped forward before Adam could grab him. He stood within an arm’s reach of Vandervoort. “Hoss is my brother!” Both his hands were clenched into fists.

“Joseph!” Ben leaped to his feet and swiftly stood between his son and Vandervoort.

“He’s my brother too, Joe,” Adam said softly.

“We know what it is like to long for someone who is lost, Mr. Vandervoort,” Ben said gently. He slid his arm around his youngest boy and pulled him close. “We know what it’s like, I assure you.”

Adam tried to stay as calm as he could but couldn’t remain silent any longer. He had promised his father to remain quiet, but Ed Booth’s warning about Hoss’ dire prognosis rang in his brain. He took a deep breath. “Mr. Vandervoort, please. We want to bring Hoss back home to the Ponderosa. My father and my brother miss him so much. Hoss needs to be back on the Ponderosa, not here in New York, not far off in Holland, if he is going to recover. Please.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry isn’t going to bring my son home,” declared Ben firmly.

“I know, I know. But what am I to do? I am an old man, and Kristina is all that I have.” Vandervoort sunk into the arm chair and started to weep.

“Please,” Adam whispered. He put his hand in his pocket and touched Hoss’ battered cell phone. “Let my brother come back home.”

*****

The broken-down window air conditioner wheezed cool air into the darkened apartment. Adam walked over to the window. He set both hands flat upon the protruding edge of the air conditioner fitted into the guest room window. As he leaned against, it cool air blew onto the front of his open shirt. Exhausted, Adam stared through the sooty window into the darkened streets below.

Even at this late hour, the streets were busy with cars, buses and yellow cabs. Pedestrians walked on the wide sidewalk with a quick New York step. A young couple strolled hand in hand, oblivious to the hustle bustle around them.

The arch in Washington Square Park a few blocks away was awash in white light. Adam remembered spending a few summer evenings strolling in that park with a lovely NYU student. Pa had wanted him to come home that summer, but Adam had convinced his father that taking a couple of summer school classes in New York City would enhance his education. It did, but not the way his father had assumed.

At the time, he was sure Tara adored him as much as he adored her. Years later, when he heard Whitney Houston warble that awfully, sappy, theme song from ‘The Bodyguard” — “I Will Always Love You” — or ate pepperoni pizza, he thought of Tara and their sleepless nights in her dorm room that smelled of sandalwood candles. Tara quickly tired of a Nevada man who preferred horses to the yappy Chihuahua she carried in her designer purse. Before the summer had ended, she had dumped Adam for a guy who didn’t like poetry and certainly didn’t make her swoon. The guy she married became a stock broker like his father, and bought her a huge house around the corner from her parent’s home in Connecticut.

Adam wasn’t used to the oppressive heat and humidity of a New York City summer anymore and couldn’t imagine how anyone managed. How did Hoss manage? Was he happy? How could he risk losing his brother again now that Joe and Faye had actually found him?

*****

“Joe?” Adam whispered from the doorway of Joe’s room. He didn’t want to wake up his father and Faye sleeping on the other side of the apartment.

“Huh?” Joe rolled over in his bed on the other side of the dark room. “What’s up?”

“Are you sleeping, Little Joe?” Adam whispered into the dark room.

“No, not really. I can’t. I’m worried about trusting these Vandervoorts to do the right thing for Hoss,” Joe said, gesturing for his brother to come into the bedroom. “When I went there and showed that woman Hoss’ picture, she acted like he was a stranger. Meanwhile, she knew exactly where he was. Why aren’t you sleeping, older brother? ”

“I don’t agree with Pa about his choice to follow this Hickman’s way of handling amnesia.” Adam flopped on the second narrow bed across from Joe’s. It creaked under his weight.

“You don’t?“

“That’s why I called Ed Booth. I think his opinion is the way we should go with Hoss. We can’t let this go on any longer, Joe.”

“You heard what Bessie Sue said. It might be too much for Hoss to handle and break him completely. He won’t come back at all. He thinks he is Heinrich and has lived as Heinrich.”

” I’m taking Ed’s advice. What do you want to do, Joe? Are you in or out?”

“You are going to defy Pa?” Joe propped himself up on his elbow. As dark as the room was, Adam could see the shock on his youngest brother’s face.

“It won’t be the first time I defied our father. It’s just the first time I’m pulling you along with me instead of your dragging me into something.”

“Do you think those Vandervoorts will give Hoss back with no problems?” Joe asked.

Adam shrugged. “I don’t know. I think Pa is hoping they do.”

“Maybe they will,” Joe whispered optimistically. He still had total faith in his father’s abilities to do the impossible.

“Somehow, I think if we were both convinced that this was going to be simple and easy, both of us would be sound asleep and not having this conversation.”

Joe sighed and rearranged the pillows under his head. He finally had found Hoss alive, miraculously, just as he had hoped, just as he had dreamed and prayed. Somehow, he thought that once his father and oldest brother arrived everything would be easily resolved. They would take charge and everything would go back to normal. Joe had been quite positive all of them would be backing home on the Ponderosa with Hoss like nothing had ever happened on 9/11. He had been horribly wrong. “Maybe the Vandervoorts will agree with Pa with no problems.”

“Maybe they will.” Neither brother spoke for a few minutes and just sat in the darkness. The air conditioner rattled and wheezed.

Just when Joe was sure his brother must have fallen asleep still in his travelling clothes, Adam said, “I do know what we’ll do if they give us a problem.”

“What?”

Then Adam proceeded to tell his brother what he planned. “First we need some CDs of Andy’s music, especially the one Hoss played over and over until he drove me crazy. That first big CD he made.”

“Andy Sings Wayne Newton’s Hits?”

“That one. And some ribs and fried chicken…and to get this up and running.” Adam reached into his trouser pocket and held up the damaged cell phone that hadn’t worked properly since Hoss used it to light his way out of the burning World Trade Center.

*****

He looked into Abbey’s tear filled eyes and squeezed her hand. “What I do know is that I’m going to tell them tonight that I’m not going. I know my parents have been through a lot with me, and I appreciate it. But I’m a grown man, and I need to live my life my way, and I feel like I was spared for a reason, and that I’m supposed to be in New York. I’m gonna ask them, too, if this” — he gestured with his head towards the tombstone with his name on it — “has anything to do with the move, and what is going on.”

He smiled down at the woman beside him. “I’m not going to bring you into it. I’ll tell them I stumbled onto it while making a delivery.”

“It’s alright. You can tell them I saw your father here.”

“No. No. I’m not involving you in this. We don’t know what’s going on.”

The couple sat there a while longer, silent, his arm protectively around her, her head on his broad shoulder.

*****

Klaus Vandervoort had never lied to his wife before and despaired over starting now. He knew he had no choice. The passing stranger had to be reunited with his family. He went into the back of the shop where the husky young man they called Heinrich was sweeping the worn tile floor while Kristina examined the inventory in the walk in flower cooler.

“Heinrich! “ Klaus Vandervoort called. “I just got a call to deliver some plants down town and need you to give me a hand with the big dracaena…and…and the palm tree and the two small rubber plants.”

“Plants now? A delivery down town? I didn’t hear the phone ring, Papa,” Kristina said, emerging from the cooler. She had a clip board in one hand and a sharp yellow pencil in the other.

“You were in the cooler and didn’t hear it ring, Mama,” Klaus responded nervously. He couldn’t bear to look into his wife’s eyes. He turned away and took the oversized metal dust pan off its assigned hook and handed it to Heinrich.

Heinrich knelt and scooped up the pile of stem trimmings and leaves. He looked up at the pair. He hadn’t heard the phone ring either, but this wasn’t the first time he hadn’t heard the phone or the doorbell or a customer when he was lost in his thoughts.

“Where? Who ordered the plants?”

A distressed man who is not used to lying to his wife doesn’t think quickly when challenged “Where? One fifth. A woman.”

“One fifth? This late? It’s rush hour. That is all the way down near Washington Square Park.”

“A woman who takes pictures wants them right away. A photographer. She is taking portraits in her apartment. It’s a big order, Mama. The big dracaena and two palms and a small rubber plant. For backgrounds for the pictures.”

“Four plants? Klaus take the two rubber plants from the front shelf.” Kristina stepped back inside the cooler to finish her end of the inventory.

Heinrich started to go into the front of the store to get the rubber plants, but Klaus wanted to leave as fast as he could “The truck is loaded. Just get into the truck, Heinrich, and we’ll go now, right away.”

Heinrich shrugged. He neatly hung up the dust pan and broom on their hooks, took off his apron and obediently followed Vandervoort into the florist truck that was parked in front of the store.

Klaus and Heinrich had barely left when Kristina went into the front of the store to put her clipboard away. The rubber plants she had wanted her husband to take were still on the shelf. What was wrong with that man?

She heard the bell on the front door ring as a familiar person entered.

“Mrs. V? ¿Cómo está usted? How are you, Mrs. V? How are Mr. V and Heinrich?” Manolito Montoya smiled warmly as he came into the shop. He had his green card and all his paper work secure in his pocket. There was no need to worry if the curly- haired young man from immigration was still snooping around. He was legal and could prove it. “Do you need any help? I’d like to come back to work if you want me, Mrs. V. You know I’m a good worker.”

“Manolito!” Kristina smiled warmly at her former employee. His timing couldn’t have been better. “Mr. V and Heinrich just left to make a delivery and left half the order behind. My husband would forget his head if it wasn’t attached to his neck. See that rubber plant?”

Manolito grinned. He was delighted to help. This favor could insure the Vandevoorts took him back. “I have my uncle’s car. Do you know where they went?”

“Where did Klaus say?” Kristina tried to remember what her husband had said. “Downtown. One Fifth. A photographer’s apartment.”

“Hand me the plant, Mrs. V. We’ll bring them down in my uncle’s car. It will fit in the back seat.”

“Thank you, Manolito! You are a life saver.” Mrs. Vandervoort followed him out to the borrowed car.

*****

“Pa! Adam look! Quick!” Joe Cartwright shouted from where he was perched on the window sill in the living room. “They just drove up! They are getting out of the van!”

Ben and Adam both rushed over to the window and squeezed in, almost knocking Joe from his lookout post. They caught a momentary view of Hoss following Klaus Vandervoort under the forest green canopy that sheltered the front of the building. It was their first glimpse of Hoss since he left for New York almost a year earlier. The Cartwrights all rushed to the apartment foyer to open the door for Klaus Vandervoort and Hoss.

None of them saw Mrs. Vandervoort enter the building carrying the stray rubber plant. All of them were shocked to discover her at the apartment door with the doorman carrying the rubber plant.

*****

“So, if nobody minds, I suppose we should leave. My head is throbbing, and I’d better turn in at home.” The husky man rubbed his forehead.

“No! Please, sit down, H…h…Heinrich. I’d like to talk to you for a minute.” Ben took a seat on the ottoman facing Hoss, who sat on the oversized leather sofa. Out of the corner of his eye, Ben saw Adam stare directly at his brother. He silently prayed that both of his sons stayed quiet as he made his next attempt to draw Hoss back to his genuine family.

“Mr. Vandervoort told me that you had a quite blow to your head when the towers fell. He said that you have lost your memory, that you don’t quite know who you are.”

“I didn’t know who I was at first. I really didn’t have any idea until Mama told me. I still don’t remember a lot of things…” Hoss started to shyly explain.

“What if someone could tell you all this, exactly who you are, exactly where you come from?” Ben cautiously began.

“Mr. Cartwright! He is Heinrich Vandervoort! What are you saying?” Kristina screeched. “What are you telling my son?”

“Kristina! Hush. Let the man talk,” her husband demanded sharply. She was stunned by his orders.

It didn’t take long for Heinrich’s headache to overwhelm him.

“I, I don’t rightly know, Mr. Cartwright. I don’t reckon I’ve thought about it. When I try to remember anything, I get a sick feelin’, and my head aches something fierce.” Hoss’ face screwed up in pain as he spoke. He put his head in his hands. “Talkin’ about it now is bringin’ one of those bad headaches on.

Ben’s heart lurched at the distress reflected on his beloved son’s face. The rancher felt like he was being wrenched in half. He was positive that this was his final chance to break through to this stranger who was his middle son. But, seeing the pain in those blue eyes, so like his mother’s, Ben couldn’t do it. He couldn’t inflect such suffering on his son. No matter what the reason, he couldn’t hurt Hoss.

Bessie Sue Hightower’s ominous warning echoed in Ben’s mind. “Doctor Hickman would say not to push Hoss too far or too fast. He’s suffered a terrible physical and mental trauma. He has been living as another identity for all these months. He completely believes he is this other individual. He is sure that he is Heinrich Vandervoort. The shock of finding out his reality was a lie might be more than he can handle if it is thrust on him too abruptly.”

Could this acute pain Hoss was experiencing be what Bessie Sue and Hickman had warned against? Adam said that Hickman’s theory was wrong, but what if it was correct? Could he take the risk of destroying Hoss’ mind? The apprehensive father hesitated for just an instant, fearful of hurting his son beyond rehabilitation.

Ben sighed and whispered gently, “It’s all right, son.”

“How about if H…H…Heinrich lies down in Joe’s room for a bit?” Faye quickly suggested. Like Ben, her tongue stumbled over that name.

“Heinrich needs his own bed at home. Don’t you, Heinrich?” Mrs. Vandervoort glared at Faye. “I don’t want to impose.”

Faye wasn’t going to back down, not when the Cartwrights were this close to their goal.

“It’s absolutely no imposition! He can use any bedroom in the apartment, the guest room, my room, Joe’s… Whatever suits Heinrich! You have your choice. No problem.”

Adam quickly added, “A couple of aspirin and some food and that short nap will make your son feel much better.”

“I don’t have any aspirin in the apartment. I’m so sorry.” Faye wasn’t absolutely sure whose strategy was proper: Ben’s siding with Bessie Sue and Doctor Hickman, or Joe and Adam wanting to follow Dr. Edwin Booth’s techniques. All she knew was she wasn’t going to run from this fracas between the Cartwrights and the Vandervoort. She was going to stand by Ben and his sons no matter what. If there was a tug of war, she was putting her muscle in with the Cartwrights bringing Hoss home.

“And how about a cold drink.” Faye smiled. “Bet this heat is getting to you…. Heinrich.”

“I really don’t want to be a bother,” Hoss said softly. His head throbbed, and he squeezed his eyes shut.

“Oh it’s absolutely no bother. Adam, there’s some fresh lemonade in the kitchen,” Faye directed. “Or ice water. Whatever you like. We have it. Just no aspirin.”

This was the exact opportunity Adam Cartwright had been waiting for. He and Joe had run out first thing in the morning and come back with all of Andy’s CDs and some groceries, as well as a sack of assorted cell phone chargers and a tool kit from Radio Shack. Adam quickly jumped in and took charge. “Joe, take our guest to your room and let him lie down. It’s getting hot in here. Maybe play some soft music for him and crank up the air conditioner. Play some of Andy’s music.”

Joe quickly followed Adam’s lead. “We even have Coke in glass bottles like Hop Sing gets us back home. You don’t usually find that in New York. We also have Big Dog beer brewed right in Nevada…..it’s a real favorite of us Cartwright brothers. Adam and I got some just this morning when we went out. How about a cold beer?”

“Beer? Heinrich shouldn’t have beer for a headache!” Kristina spat out.

“It’s amazing what you can find in New York,” Ben added, shooting Joe and Adam a warning look.

“Don’t make a fuss for me,” Hoss muttered. “Just some lemonade is fine.”

“Just lemonade, not too sweet. Just how you like it.” Adam grinned and jumped up. “Why don’t I run out and get some aspirin and some food?”

“I don’t want to be a bother,” Hoss answered.

“Oh it’s no bother, brother.” Joe assured him. Before the Vandervoorts could protest any further, Joe grabbed Hoss’ arm and led him towards the bedroom he had been using all summer. “Want some nice soothing music to listen to? I have some new CDs I just got. Andy Walker. Bet you know him. Just close your eyes and relax and listen to some music.”

“How about some dinner, too?” Adam quickly suggested. “You all must be hungry. I sure am.” For some reason, Adam insisted on ordering food from some place further downtown, in Greenwich Village. He explained that he had first eaten in the place years earlier when he was a student visiting New York on his own. He claimed that Urban Cowboy Grill had fried chicken and ribs just like Hop Sing, their housekeeper back on the Ponderosa, prepared them. He wouldn’t compromise, even if it meant a taking a cab up and back to pick up the food. “I insist! And if you don’t agree I’ll … I’ll…”

“Eat your hat?” Joe suggested, coming back from settling Hoss in the bedroom.

“Great idea! I think dinner would be a fine idea. Urban Cowboy Grill is world famous,” Faye added with her most charming smile. ”I’ll go out with you and get it.”

“Dinner? Now?” Mr. Vandervoort didn’t know what to make of the sudden flurry of activity around him.

“Dinner?” Ben looked back and forth between his family and the Vandervoorts. He had no idea what was going on between Joe and Adam.

Faye quickly leaned over and whispered to Ben. “Dinner. If Hoss remembers anything, it might just be the kind of food he got back home. Let Adam have a chance. Besides, the fewer of us around, the better chance you have to broker an agreement with the Vandervoorts. I know you can do it. The key is getting Mrs. Vandervoort to let go of Hoss and allow him go with you.”

Despite his misgivings, Ben wearily nodded his silent agreement. He prayed that the Vandervoorts would be willing to break bread and continue to hash out a peaceful solution rather than bolt with Hoss in their clutches.

In a flash, Ben took on the role of genial host in this borrowed apartment. “Please, Mr. and Mrs. Vandervoort. Let Heinrich take a bit of a nap, and then we all can have some dinner together and keep talking,” Ben Cartwright urged, trying to sound cordial. He hoped that they didn’t sense the desperation in his voice.

Klaus Vandervoort sat silent and frozen in his seat. He looked first at his wife, and then at Ben Cartwright. Taken by surprise by Kristina’s unexpected appearance at the apartment, Klaus Vandervoort had quickly weakened. It looked to Ben that, despite Mr. Vandervoort’s initial attempt at straightening things out for Hoss, he might go along with whatever his domineering wife wanted. Klaus Vandervoort clearly didn’t approve of what his wife had done by attempting to replace their dead son with Hoss, but he was torn between doing the right thing by returning Hoss to his family and protecting his unstable wife. He still feared his wife’s ability to deal with another loss if her Heinrich left with the Cartwrights. He desperately wanted to see his wife happy again, perhaps even at the Cartwright family’s expense.

“I don’t know… Heinrich is not feeling well, and we should just go home,” Kristina protested. She stood up. “Klaus, go get Heinrich and let’s leave. Now.”

Ben wanted to make another attempt at reasoning with Kristina Vandervoort. Faye was right; the fewer people around, the better chance Ben had at success. Joe could lose his temper and send the Vandervoorts out the door. He even doubted that Adam could remain calm and control his tongue in negotiating with this vile woman.

Faye quickly jumped in and made the decision for all of them. “You will all stay right here. We are going to go get some food and a bottle of aspirin for your son. Some Tylenol too.” She squeezed Ben’s hand, but Katrina Vandervoort thought she was referring to the Vandervoort’s son.

Then the photographer gave Mrs. Vandervoort her most friendly look, her most charming smile. “Besides, things always look better after a nap and on a full stomach. And I’ll be extremely insulted if you aren’t here when we get back. Please, stay. Please!”

Adam quickly added, “We’ll be back before you miss us with the tastiest food you ever had.”

“Ben, make sure you offer our guests something cold to drink while we are gone. That lemonade Adam made is in the refrigerator and the glasses are in the cabinet over the sink. And there is some brandy on the sideboard if you want that.” Faye, Adam and Joe quickly departed before Kristina could argue.

All of a sudden, Ben sat alone in the living room of the apartment with the Vandervoorts, an awkward silence between them. The only sounds were the rattling of the window air conditioner and “Scarlet Ribbons” from Andy Walker’s first album playing in the in the adjacent room.

“Please, sit down. We need to talk some more about this.”

Mrs. Vandervoort tried to brush him off. “Ach! Please, Mr. Cartwright. You agreed that you want the best for Heinrich.”

“Hoss,” Ben corrected.

“We call him Heinrich,”” She stood up as if she were about to leave. “Mr. Cartwright, I promise you. If your son regains his memory, we will make sure he has means to get back home to you.”

Her husband stood and motioned to the couch. “Kristina. Sit down here and listen to what Mr. Cartwright has to say. How can you be so cruel as to not even listen?” He didn’t raise his voice to his wife, but his stern tone left no doubt that, for once, he intended to be obeyed. She stopped in her tracks, and dropped onto the couch facing the television.

Ben had started to go sit on the leather ottoman in front of Mrs. Vandervoort, but thought better of it, and kept his distance from her. He found himself leaning forward as he spoke.

“Mrs. Vandervoort, I really hope we can agree to work this out peaceably. But I’m imploring you to let my son come home with us, to give Hoss a chance to maybe recognize something. At least let him spend a few days with us here, in this apartment in New York. I don’t think that’s being unreasonable when we’re talking about a young man’s life, his future.”

Mrs. Vandervoort nervously smoothed her skirt as she listened to Ben Cartwright, then clutched the material, as if she needed to hang onto something. “What if a few more days don’t help? Then what will you do? Ask for another day, then another?” She fixed Ben Cartwright with her cold stare.

They were interrupted when the apartment door suddenly opening. Only minutes after he had left, Joe hurried back in. He glanced around the room and opened his mouth as if to say something, but his father caught his eye. Ben held his breath, praying that his youngest son wouldn’t blurt out some angry, confrontational remark to the deceptive woman.

Instead Joe was cheerful and smiling. “Bet everyone’s getting hungry! Adam and Faye left in a cab to get the food,” Joe clearly had more on his mind then food. He looked away from his father and ran his fingers through his tangled curls. Then he fished a familiar battered cell phone from his pocket. He held up the broken cell phone that the Marsalas had returned to Adam. Joe tried to avoid looking at the Vandervoorts. “This phone still won’t work, Pa. I’m going to try to charge it up. I got a different charger from the doorman. Maybe that will get it to work.”

“That phone? The one Adam had in his pocket, Joseph?” Ben started. Ben’s heart raced. Why was Joe charging that phone? What was going on?

“Oh! Pa, the doorman said they’ll be turning off the power for a few hours to work on the elevators. Carlton said it might be off until nine or ten tonight. Maybe later.” Desperate to get into the room and work on the cell phone, Joe quickly cut his father off. He nodded curtly, and without so much as a glance over his shoulder, Joe rushed into the room where Hoss was resting He needed to tinker with the phone and get the charger to fit in the broken case then charge it up. Maybe he really could get that battered cell phone working but then what?

“Mr. Cartwright…” Mrs. Vandervoort started. “I would like to leave now, if you are finished.”

“Just one day. Just one. That’s all I ask,” Ben pleaded again.

Throughout the conversation Klaus Vandervoort hadn’t said a word; he just sat there silently. He glared sternly at his wife, but the words he was about to say were left unspoken. Vandervoort was torn between supporting Kristina and returning Hoss to his family. Having this pretend son replace their lost Heinrich had brought his wife back from her depression, but how could he do this to another family? How could he steal another man’s son and let him grieve a second time?

Ben and the Vandervoorts could hear Joe rustling around the other room, banging on something over the sound of Andy singing “Danny Boy”. Back on the Ponderosa, Hoss had played that the sentimental song over and over to the irritation of his brothers. Joe had finally grabbed the CD and used it as a Frisbee with Adam while Hoss gave chase.

“We have aspirin at home, Mr. Cartwright. I think Papa and I should take Heinrich home right now.” Mrs. Vandervoort stood up and gathered her purse to her. “Papa?”

For a long moment, Klaus Vandervoort remained silent, looking first at his beloved wife, and then at the face of Ben Cartwright, the man who asked only for the return of his missing son. “Mr. Cartwright? I think I would like that glass of lemonade you offered earlier.” Klaus Vandervoort leaned back in his chair. “A very tall glass.”

*****

Just as the yellow cab pulled up in front of the apartment building, a flash of lightening slashed through the darkened sky, a clap of thunder rumbled and the down pour started. As Adam Cartwright paid the driver, Faye rushed under the forest green awning carrying the shopping bags filled with fragrant fried chicken and steaming ribs from Urban Cowboy Saloon. Adam followed, carrying two more bags of delicacies that he hoped would wake up his brother’s buried memories.

Meanwhile in the borrowed apartment, Joe scrambled around the dining room arranging chairs and setting the table for dinner. “I’m starving! How about you?”

In the darkening living room, he Vandervoorts sat in total silence. A torrent of rain pelted the windows with violent fury.

Hoss had nearly finished washing up when Ben Cartwright tentatively tapped on the bathroom door and opened it part way. His stomach was tied in knots. Ben didn’t want to see his son as upset as he was just before he went into Joe’s room for a nap. Hoss’ mental and physical anguish had torn his father’s heart out.

Hoss looked up from the wash basin, puzzled. “I’m just washin’ up, Mr. Cartwright. That nap really was what I needed.”

“Wonderful. That storm they were predicting all day is a regular deluge. Food will be here in a few minutes. The doorman said Adam and Faye are on their way up. How are you feeling? How’s your head, Hoss?” Ben made his voice as hearty as he could manage.

“What was that you called me?” Hoss smiled shyly and ducked his head to splash more cool water on his cheeks.

“Hoss. It’s a mountain term for a big man, a friend. We use it back home,” Ben rushed to explain the slip of his tongue. That seemed to please “Heinrich Vandervoort” that his host would refer to him as a friend.

“Home? Where’s that? Nevada?”

Ben’s heart raced. Was his son’s memory returning? “You know we are from Nevada?”

“I think your son said…” Hoss tried to remember what his host’s younger son had said about where they were from. “When he was telling us about the beer he had bought this morning. The younger one. Joe? Didn’t he say you all were from Nevada? “

“Yes, Joe said that.” Ben was on the verge of saying something he could regret, when, thankfully, Hoss changed the subject.

“I’m sorry I’m takin’ so long. That storm woke me up. I was so comfortable just listening to that music and sipping lemonade I hated to get up, but I sure didn’t want to be rude to you folks.”

“Oh, you weren’t rude,” Ben said from where he stood in the door.

“You folks were right. All I needed was to lie down in the air conditioning with some nice quiet music. I sure do like that CD. Andy Walker is one of my favorites.”

“He is? “ Ben smiled. He handed his son a towel.

“Sure. For a long time.” Suddenly the lights flickered. The air conditioners stopped humming for a minute then resumed with a noisy clatter. From the other side of the apartment, Zsa Zsa barked a warning.

“We should go into the dining room and have some supper. The Vandervoort are probably up and eager to be on the way.”

“Comin’, Mr. Cartwright. Just let me finish wiping my face.” He neatly hung the fluffy towel from the bar near the sink as the lights flickered again, and the apartment was plunged into total darkness.

Without the music on the CD player and the rattle of the air conditioners, they could hear the sound of sirens in the street below. A pair of fire engines roared down the street, their lights reflected crazily in the mirror over the sink.

*****

“Oh great! Just what we need, a power failure! Ouch! Darn chair! I can’t see a thing!” The chair skidded across the polished wood floor and crashed into the wall with a loud thud as Joe stumbled his way through the shadowy dining room into the totally dark kitchen.

Zsa Zsa, the elderly poodle barked and ran off to hide under the guest room bed.

“This could be a good thing. It will keep the Vandervoorts here, at least until the rain lets up, and they can walk out to where their van is parked without getting soaked their skin,” Faye remarked. Adam and she were blindly searching the drawers and cabinets in the unfamiliar kitchen. “Joe, do you remember seeing any candles and matches or a flashlight?”

“Not offhand. Hey! I’ve got an idea!” Joe pulled his cell phone from his pocket and opened it. The light from the phone glowed green on his face. “Instant flashlight!”

Adam used the light from Joe’s phone to locate his own phone, which he had left on the breakfast bar. “I’ll use mine for a flashlight to find some candles and matches. Maybe we’ll have dinner by candlelight. Joe, you take yours and round up everyone and bring them to the dining room. Faye, we’ll probably need yours, too.”

“I put Hoss’ phone in my room when he went to lie down. It’s open to that picture of Inger he keeps on there. I got it working enough that it turns on and stays on. That will give him and Pa some light in there even with all the scratches on the screen.”

“Him and Pa?”

“Yeah”, Joe answered Adam’s question. “Pa went in there right before you got back. I think he wanted to just be around Hoss, watch him sleep. He told me to stay out here, though.”

In the darkness, Adam smiled. “More likely he wasn’t quite sure what you would do, little brother.”

“Me?” Joe opened one of the lower cabinets. Some cast iron pots and pans tumbled out and crashed noisily to the tiled kitchen floor.

“Pa isn’t sure who you were going to side with — Pa taking Dr. Hickman’s plan or Ed Booth’s and my suggestions,” Adam explained.

Joe reassured Adam. “I’m with you. You know that.”

“Let’s hope for all of our sakes that our strategy works.” Adam shined his phone into the narrow cabinet next to the refrigerator. He felt uncomfortable ransacking a stranger’s home, but he had no choice. ““We seized our courage in both of our hands and made the decision for Hoss’ sake.”

“For Hoss’ sake, “Faye softly reminded the two brothers.

“For Hoss,” Adam whispered.

“Candles!” Joe shouted as he found some abandoned waxy tapers in the top of a cupboard. He waved them over his head. “All we need now is matches.”

“Ouch!” Faye shrieked as she caught her shin on the open dishwasher door. A clap of thunder rattled the windows.

“Voila!” Adam turned on a burner on the gas range and used the flame to ignite the candle.

Ben had followed Hoss into Joe’s room from the bathroom, chatting aimlessly, just to be near his son. He could hear the hubbub from the other side of the dark apartment as the others crashed about trying to find a means to light the place. Ben was concerned because the commotion and the storm seemed to be upsetting Hoss. Thunderstorms had never bothered the Hoss he knew, even as a child. A sharp flash of lightening and a deafening boom of thunder caused Hoss to close his eyes and cover his ears with his hands. The lights flickered on again for an instant and went out.

Ben noticed the unnatural electronic glow from the cell phone sitting open on the night stand. “Ah, we can use this for light.” He took a step towards it, his arm extended.

Hoss had seen the phone as well, but it was the image of the pretty blonde woman on the screen that attracted his eye, not the light. Both men reached at the same time, and scrabbling fingers knocked it to the hardwood floor. In the dark, Ben accidentally stepped on it, and they heard the screen crack.

Suddenly, all the lights came back on to reveal Hoss’ stricken face. He held the broken phone in his hand, staring at the crack across his mother’s face. “You ruined it. For years I’ve had this picture of my mother on every phone I’ve had. You ruined it. You stepped on my mother’s face!”

“Hoss, I…” A flash of lightning lit the room for an instant as rain rattled the windows.

“Pick it up. You pick it up now!”Hoss growled ominously. He pulled his arm back, his beefy fist aimed at Ben’s face.

Frozen in time and space, the blow stopped inches from the older man’s jaw.

“Pa? I, I was going to hit you. Why would I ….? ” He looked around the strange room. His legs were rubbery. “Where ….?”

Ben gently squeezed Hoss’ shoulder. “It’s all right, son. Everything is all right now.”

“But Pa, I almost hit you. I could have hurt you. That’s not all right. I never raised my hand to you. I‘m sorry, Pa.” Hoss was taken aback at what he almost did.

“It’s ok, son.” Ben pulled Hoss down, and the two sat side by side on the rumpled bed. “Take my word for it, son. It is really all right.”

Hoss, confused about what he almost did, shook his head to clear it.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” Ben asked gently. “Do you remember going to New York to visit Andy Walker and to see his play?”

“Is this Andy’s apartment? When did you get here?” Hoss asked, totally confused and disoriented. He looked around the unfamiliar room just as the air conditioners went back on.

There was a knock on the bedroom door followed by the entrance of Joe. “Dinner’s ready. Luckily, the electricity wasn’t off long. Feeling better, Heinrich?”

“Joe, you in New York too? Heinrich? That’s a new one, Joseph. Where’d you get that? Who’s Heinrich? You fooling around, Joseph? My name is Hoss.” The words rushed out of his mouth in eager confusion.

Joe whooped, threw his arms around his husky brother and grabbed him in a bear hug as Adam rushed into the small bedroom. Faye Franklin lingered in the hall, joyously watching the reunion of Hoss with his family.

“Everyone’s here?” Suddenly the small, unfamiliar bedroom was jammed with jubilant people hugging and kissing. “What’s going on? Adam? Faye?” Hoss asked, recognizing them as they ruffled his hair and pounded him on his back. Everyone’s here? What’s going on? Why are you all acting like crazy people?”

“We’ll explain in a little bit. Trust us, Hoss and everything will be all right,” Ben reassured him.

“Sure, if you say so, Pa. You know I trust you. I always did and always will.”

On the other side of the apartment, the Cartwrights heard the loud sound of the front door slamming. By the time all the Cartwrights and Faye made their way down the hall into the living room, it was completely vacant. The Vandervoorts had left without a word.

 

NY Times

WTC Victims List Revised

 

Three more names are being removed from the count after investigators concluded that the reports of their death were in error. In addition, one woman will be removed because her death was recorded twice, under her married and maiden names.

The city’s original estimate of victims exceeded 6,700, due in part to the large volume of mistaken missing person reports.

Three more names have been removed from the World Trade Center victim list, according to the New York City medical examiner’s office, after a New Jersey salesman, a newlywed Florida man, and a Nevada tourist reported missing were found to be alive.

The number of dead now stands at 2,795, but this figure is expected to fall further as investigators continue to wade through missing person reports.

Law enforcement officials say the people erroneously listed as victims are Lester Peterson of Camden NJ, Stanley Vildechaya of West Del Ray Beach, Florida and Eric Cartwright of Nevada.

The discovery comes almost a year after the three were listed as victims of the September 11th terror attacks.

In a telephone interview, Peterson said that he was “shocked” to find out his name was on the list. He added that his mother had reported him missing as she thought a hardware convention he was attending in Atlanta had been in Manhattan.

Stanley Vildechaya was reported missing by his in-laws when he did not return to his home in Florida from a visit to New York City. Instead, he had spent an extra week visiting Atlantic City after a tiff with his bride.

After months of confusion, Eric Cartwright was recently reunited with his thankful friends and family after he was discovered alive and well in NYC.

 

EPILOGUE

August 2003

 

Hoss Cartwright politely helped the middle aged blonde woman down from the cab of his truck.

Dr. Leiberman looked around her, taking in the distant mountains, the lush meadow and the pine forest. “Beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful here, Hoss. I can see why you call it ‘Hoss Heaven’ and why you want to build a house here someday.”

“Yes, it is beautiful. You should see it in spring, filled with little yellow wildflowers, yellow bells.”

Fritillaria pudica. I minored in botany, undergrad,” she explained when Hoss looked astonished at her comment. “I bet it is extremely beautiful.”

Hoss smiled at her and continued his explanation. “Pa deeded this section over to me on my twenty-first birthday. Adam has a section of land, and Joe will get the deed to the land he chose in October, on his birthday.” He leaned against the hood of his Chevy pickup truck. “I appreciate you taking me up on my invitation instead of us meeting in your office. “

“My pleasure, Hoss. It’s good to see you doing so well and to get to see the places you talk about in person.” Lillian Leiberman smiled. “Besides, it’s too nice a day to be stuck inside an office in Carson City when I can be out here.”

“We should have brought a picnic.” Hoss easily lifted two folding chairs out of the back of the truck and set them up under the shade of tree.

“Lemonade?” she offered taking a thermos from a canvas tote.

Hoss nodded. “Yes, Ma’am. We should have brought a picnic.”

“Another time. Tell me how things are going this week, Hoss,” she asked gently, bringing the conversation to the purpose of their meeting.

“I got a letter from Abby Jones. I hated the way it hurt her when I left, but she said in her letter that she sees that I was right. She’s dating — no steady guy, but she’s opening up, and she credits me with helping her get on with her life.”

“What else?” She took a sip of her lemonade. She set the plastic cup on top of a flat rock near her chair. “You’ve been back home almost a year now.”

“Bessie Sue and I are seeing each other. We’re taking it one day at a time. I kind of pressured her into the engagement a few years ago. I put the ring away and maybe, someday.”

“Maybe someday. That’s right, just take it slow. You have been through a lot and need to get your bearings before making any big changes in your life. But, it will come.

Hoss sighed and watched as a hawk slowly circled overhead in the bright blue, cloudless sky.

“What else? How are you sleeping?”

“Better now. For so many nights, I couldn’t sleep. I thought of all the anguish Pa and Adam and Joe went through during the months I was missing. How they thought I was dead and gone. And how Bessie Sue and all the other folks who knew me must have grieved for a man who wasn’t really dead”

“Hoss, you didn’t purposely disappear or purposely set out to hurt them,” Lillian said gently. “You know that don’t you?

“I can’t take suffering away from them.” Hoss nodded. ”I know…. But it still sits in my head.”

“What else sits in your head? What else do you think about?”

“Well, yesterday when I was tending to some chores around the barn, I got thinking about Abbey and me, and how she lost her Roy and found me. You know, that poor gal fell for a passing stranger who wasn’t real and lost that guy too.”

“I know. Life isn’t always fair.” Dr. Leiberman poured her another cup of lemonade. “And at night?”

“Then, in the black of nights, I think of Mrs. Vandervoort and how desperately she must have loved her real son to do what she did to me and how much Mr. Vandervoort loved her to let her do what she did. But you know what the worst is, Ma’am? The thing that really keeps me from sleeping at night? Do you know what I remember?” Hoss took a sip of his lemonade and paused. Then he took another sip and looked out on his meadow.

Dr. Leiberman shook her head. “Hoss?”

“Late at night, when the house is real quiet and I can’t sleep, I remember the faces of the passing strangers. I see everyone going up the elevator that morning, the ones who never came home, ever, and I cry. I cry about them. I finally came home, and they didn’t. They never will. That’s what I remember of 9/11, Ma’am. I remember the people who never came home.”

***The End***

Thank you to Gwynne for being our dedicated beta reader for all these months and pages.

Return to Ginny’s homepage

 

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