Remnants of the Past (by Ginny & Robin)

 

Summary:  A Modern-day Cartwright Story  #5  (AU)
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  33,000


Introduction

Remnants of the Past is the 5th “Modern Cartwrights” story we have written. Most of the action in this tale takes place in the spring and summer of 2000. We have included elements and characters who appeared in a few Bonanza episodes including “The Truckee Strip”, “Rich Man Poor Man”, “The Infernal Machine”, “The Countess”, “First Born”, “Denver McKee” and “The Abduction” as well as characters and plot lines we created for our other modern Cartwright tales.

The first Modern Cartwright story we wrote is Windmills and Remembrances 

The next two modern Cartwright stories are:

Substitutes In The Cemetery

A Quarter’s Worth Of Glory: Joe in the Machine 

A Passing Stranger was the fourth story we wrote about modern Cartwrights.   It takes place in 2001, after “Remnants of the Past” and is based on the Bonanza episode “A Stranger Passed This Way”. (We already wrote a regular Bonanza timeline fanfic based on that episode called Together. )

*****

 

PROLOGUE

Territorial Enterprise

June 19, 1866

GUNFIGHT IN VIRGINIA CITY

 

Yesterday, Virginia City was as surprised as a gang of outlaws attempted to gun down visiting lawman Butch Bishop on its main street.

As a youngster chopping wood, Butch Bishop sustained a wound to the instep that gave him a lifelong limp. Despite this, he and his younger brother, Luther came to Nevada and bought a section of land on the Truckee River, hoping to start a ranch. Ranching wasn’t working out for the brothers, mostly because hot-tempered Butch preferred drinking at the Rusty Bucket instead of working cattle or dealing with timber like his brother. Butch eventually sold his share of the land to Luther for two silver dollars and the promise that Butch could return to visit any time he wanted for as long as he wanted and be paid. Butch left the area. He wandered about and eventually became a deputy sheriff in Placerville. Last month, he captured a rustler, Willie Ward, who was tried and hung for stealing cattle. Ward’s brother Utley swore revenge and then left Placerville.

Bishop returned to Virginia City to visit his brother. One evening, just at sundown, Butch Bishop turned up as usual in a Virginia City saloon, leaving his brother back home. Knowing Bishop’s habits, Atley Ward and ten members of his Placerville gang waited for him. First, one of them went to the sheriff’s office and lured the sheriff out of town, claiming that the Carson City stage had been held up on the road outside of town. Someone overheard the rumpus when the sheriff rode out and went to the Bloody Bucket and told Bishop that the sheriff needed him. Butch Bishop came stumbling out of the Rusty Bucket and was about to climb onto his horse to ride out. From behind a high wagon on the opposite side of the street, Atley Ward aimed and fired at him. Bishop stumbled, fell but quickly regained his footing. The glare of the setting sun was shining in Atley Ward’s eyes and he only winged Bishop in his shoulder.

The lawman fell off his horse, and then quickly scrambled to his feet. Firing over his shoulder at his pursuers, Butch managed to escape by limping down the alley next to the Rusty Bucket to the residential street behind. He took refuge in the nearby house of merchant George Scott and his wife. A standoff ensued, and the gang of eight outlaws quickly attacked the house.

The story has it that the outlaws fired more than 40 rounds into the house; miraculously not one of the rounds hit Bishop or the Scotts, though Mr. Scott was cut by flying glass. During the siege, Bishop, Scott and his new bride killed one of the attackers and wounded two others. In the nick of time, residents of the town and some cowhands who had been in the Rusty Bucket came after the Ward gang from the rear. They overpowered the remaining outlaws, freeing Bishop and the Scotts.

 

Territorial Enterprise

July 20, 1866

BISHOP AND SCOTT ACQUITTED

 

Butch Bishop and George Scott who were charged with the murder of one of the cowboys who had attacked the Scott’s house. Despite protests from community members, the two men were jailed until the trial for murder. They were quickly acquitted after the door of Scott’s house was entered as evidence. It had over 40 bullet holes in it. The jury was out ten minutes.

 

Virginia City Territorial Enterprise

September, 1990

COURT SETTLES LAND DISPUTE

 

The Nevada Supreme Court has unanimously upheld Ponderosa priority to water rights in a conflict with the neighboring Concho Ranch.

The state engineer stated the water rights along the “Truckee Strip” were vested before the state’s water statutes were enacted in 1913 and, therefore, can’t be impaired or reduced legally by the statutes.

The Luther Bishop appealed but then-District Judge Mark Griffin agreed with the state engineer.

Bishop appealed again to the Nevada Supreme Court which on Thursday upheld Griffin, saying the only way pre-1959 vested water rights can be lost is in accordance with the laws in effect before that date, “namely intentional abandonment”.

Ben Cartwright said, “I am glad this matter is finally resolved. It dragged on far too long.”

 

Reno Journal

May 1992

HOSS CARTWRIGHT WINS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR

 

Rarely has a high school junior won this honor but one young man has proven to be a worthy exception. This year’s honoree is one of the most physically impressive prospects in Nevada. He is Virginia City Regional High School junior offensive tackle Eric “Hoss” Cartwright. The massive 6-foot-4, 295-pound road grader possesses an ideal frame for the tackle position to go along with tremendous strength and athleticism. Cartwright’s rare blend of size and agility has drawn the attention of colleges from all over the country.

“Hoss is one of the best players I have seen play in years and one of the nicest young men in the school. He is a member of the Future Ranchers of America and can also be counted on to be a calming influence on his classmates,” said principal Abigail Jones-Meyers. “He comes from a fine family and is a pleasure to have in my student body.”

Young Cartwright modestly said, “I’m mighty proud to get this award but it’s really my coach and my team mates who made it all possible. And my math tutor Mrs. Hightower helped me keep my grades up too. And my little brother, Joe, gets my thanks for helping me work out every day.”

 

Virginia City Territorial Enterprise

January, 1998

VIRGINIA CITY DOCTOR INJURED IN BURGLARY

Doctor Paul Martin was struck on the head when he unexpectedly came upon a burglar in his office. “I had just come home from hospital rounds and hadn’t even turned on the lights when someone struck me from behind,” Dr. Martin said from his bed in the same hospital where he normally sees patients. His wife came home from a meeting of the Virginia City Historical Society and found him bleeding on the floor of his study and called for an ambulance.

“My department won’t rest until we catch whoever did this!” declared Sheriff Roy Coffee.

 

Virginia City Territorial Enterprise

February 1998

YOUNG BURGLAR ARRESTED IN DR.PAUL MARTIN ASSAULT

 

Sheriff arrested a 19-year-old Virginia City man Tuesday evening after they found prescription pads and other items stolen from Doctor Paul Martin’s home office in his possession. The doctor’s office was robbed on Friday evening and the physician assaulted.

Eden Saunders was arrested shortly after 6:15 p.m. after the female owner of a Lake Tahoe vacation residence called the sheriff’s office to report that a suspicious-looking man was walking around on the deck of her neighbor’s house.

“I was up for the weekend with my younger two children for some skiing over winter school break. I knew that the house next door was closed up for the winter so I called the sheriff’s office,” said Victoria Barkley of Stockton California.

An officer spotted a man who matched the witness’s description of the suspect’s vehicle driving erratically and pulled him over. Saunders initially gave a fake name and conflicting information about where he had come from. He also struck Deputy Sheriff Clem Foster.

During a search of Saunders, officers found marijuana, cocaine and various pills and checks in various names in the vehicle. Believing the checks may have been stolen, police began following up in the names listed on them. Saunders was booked on suspicion of burglary and providing a false name to police as well as drug possession, resisting arrest and probation violations.

His parents, Katherine and Charles Saunders, attended Tuesday’s brief bail hearing, held in the County courtroom where bail was denied.

“Let’s all let the judicial process take its course,” said defense attorney Robert M. Speeter.

“That boy was always in trouble, despite his mother and me giving him a fine home. I‘ve washed my hands of him now. Let the courts decide what his punishment will be,” said his father Charles Saunders, local businessman and real estate developer.

 

Nevada State Penitentiary

Early Spring, 2000

 

Eden Saunders followed the guard to the visitation room of the Nevada State Penitentiary. The guard had told him he had a visitor. Eden never had visitors. Eden secretly had hoped that his mother had relented but would never let anyone know that. It wouldn’t be too sharp to have other prisoners think he was a “Mama’s boy”.

Katherine Saunders had visited right after Eden had been incarcerated, to tearfully tell him that his father had died of a heart attack. She said that Eden’s continuous bad behavior and the stress of dealing with him had taken a toll on his father’s health. She felt that the strain of Eden’s trial had been too much for him.

Eden was so enraged by her accusation that he overturned the table and threw his chair at the wall. The guards had to pull him off his mother and he spent a week in solitary confinement as a result. She had never been back. Eden had received a letter from her stating that she could not bear to visit her son if he was going to hurt her. She would not be visiting him while he was in jail but would write to him once a week and hoped he would write to her. Eden never did. If his mother wasn’t visiting, he wouldn’t write.

 

Northern California, November 1999

It was just past 2 am.

 

The wind beat against the walls and the icy rain rattled the windows, as Audra Barkley came through the front door of the darkened Barkley Mansion. Her usually perfectly coiffed platinum blond hair hung limply. Rain dripped off her clothes and puddled on the polished marble foyer floor. Her new lavender silk dress was ruined, her delicate silver Jimmy Chu shoes covered with mud from her brief sprint from the car. Her date had wanted to walk her to the front door with an umbrella but Audra didn’t want him to remain on the property for one second longer than necessary. There was no need to risk her disapproving family seeing her companion and causing an angry scene.

Hoping not to get caught sneaking in, Audra didn’t dare turn on a light. Her ruined shoes in her hand, the drenched girl passed the huge abstract oil painting in the foyer and tiptoed up the wide curving staircase. She held her breath as she made her way down the familiar pitch dark hallway.

Knowing full well the fury that nature’s hand could conjure, Audra’s late father had built his dream home to withstand the worst salvos that a northern California winter storm could throw. The storm raging against the mansion walls was filled with fury, but the storm within the Barkley house held even more rage.

She was almost safe in her own room when a flash of lightening illuminated the wide corridor. As the thunder crashed, the door to her mother’s bedroom swung open and Victoria Barkley stepped into the hallway.

“I see you are finally home, Audra.” Victoria tied the belt on her satin robe. “You are soaked to the skin.”

Audra defiantly flicked on the light. “I have nothing to discuss with you, Mother. I’m going to get ready for bed.”

Victoria Barkley stood her ground. “You are not to see that man again.”

“I will do whatever I want to do, Mother,” Audra said as pulled on her own robe and started to brush her wet hair. Her discarded clothes lay in a sodden heap on the pale oriental rug. “I’m not a child!”

“I’ll not allow it! This man is not appropriate for you. He is too old. I will not permit this affair to continue. That’s absolutely final!”

“I wasn’t asking permission. I don’t need it! I love him no matter what you say!” The words fired from Audra’s mouth like bullets.

“You would disobey me in this?”

Audra drew in a deep breath. “Disobey? I’m not a little girl, Mother.”

“I will cut you off without a cent,” Victoria glared.

“I still have my trust funds from Daddy,” Audra pouted.

“If you disobey me, Audra, I won’t let you have access to a penny! Jarrod will make sure you can’t use your trust funds until you are ready to collect social security.” Victoria’s voice fell in volume but rose in intensity. “He has already drawn up the papers and I will sign them in the morning if I have to do so.”

“You can’t do that, Mother! But what about my college?” Audra countered knowing how important it was to Victoria Barkley for her daughter to graduate from college. Victoria had quit college to marry Tom Barkley and had always regretted not finishing.

“I’m serious, Audra. You will stop seeing this man immediately. If you disobey me, you will have to leave college, move out of the house and support yourself.” Victoria pointed at the messy heaps of clothes around the room. “No more designer dresses to toss on floor for the maid to pick up. You can move out of the house at the end of the week. I’m sure you will make an excellent barista at Starbucks or perhaps you can work in one of those chain dress stores in the mall.”

Audra caught a glimpse of her own reflection in the mirror above the dresser. She looked like a drowned Shih Tzu. No college. No allowance. No servants. “You wouldn’t dare do that, Mother!”

“Wouldn’t I? Stop seeing that man.”

Ponderosa Ranch

Spring 2000

 

I’ll see you in my dreams
And then I’ll hold you in my dreams
Someone took you right out of my arms
Still I feel the thrill of your charms

Lips that once were mine
Tender eyes that shine
They will light my way tonight
I’ll see you in my dreams

 

Ben Cartwright leaned back in his green leather desk chair as the voice of Frank Sinatra came from his Bose wave stereo. The sad song suited his mood. The only light in the room was his desk lamp, the luminosity of his laptop computer screen and the glow from the fire burning in the massive stone fireplace on the opposite side of the huge room.

It was Sunday night and Ben Cartwright was completely alone in his house. Hoss was having dinner with Bessie Sue Hightower and her parents, celebrating their thirtieth anniversary. Ben realized that had Liz lived, they would have been married thirty-five years in the spring.

Joe had rushed off on a date with his latest girlfriend. Her name escaped Ben at the moment. Her family had a vacation home on the lake and Joe knew her when they were growing up. Ben scratched his head and tried to remember. Did he say her name was Barney or Barker? No, that was her last name. It was something with an “A”. Audrey or Andrea. It definitely wasn’t Amy, as Ben would have remembered a girl named Amy.

Adam was at a planning meeting for the Virginia City Arts Festival. It was going to be a big do, with a week’s worth of festivities, starting with an opening parade and a black tie dinner dance that evening. Other events included a baseball game between the high school team and the alumni, an art show, a historic home tour, and a number of fundraising events for the Virginia City Historical Preservation Association. The organizers had even arranged for a group of local old west buffs to re-enact the famous shootout at the old Scott house. The merchant’s association and tourist board was delighted for all the business it would bring to town. As part of the planning committee, Adam was busy dealing with all the details and all the conflicts that were arising like mushrooms after a rain.

At first, when the Cartwright’s old neighbor Katherine Saunders asked for his help, Adam had been reluctant to get involved but he had been lured into the job by pretty, auburn-haired Barbara Scott. She had moved to the area a couple of years earlier after inheriting her uncle’s house in Virginia City. She thought to transform the old, run down house into a bed and breakfast by emphasizing its past and its location near the historic district but it was more than she could manage. She attempted to get a full time job as an art teacher at the high school but there were no openings. She struggled for a while by substitute teaching until she had taken over as the head of the Virginia City Historical Preservation Association. Adam jumped into the project with an enthusiasm Ben hadn’t seen in Adam in quite a while and he was sure Barbara was the reason. He was also giving her a hand with the remodeling of the bed and breakfast.

Ben had spent most of the evening trying to sort through the updated information on the contracts for the proposed development of the land adjacent to the Truckee Strip but nothing much on the computer screen made sense. He couldn’t keep his mind on much since Faye had left on her latest assignment. At least his boys seemed to be happy and constructively occupied.

He took a sip of his brandy squash and tried to analyze his surveyor’s maps and compare them to the latest prospectus the developers had sent from Denver Carrington, the big development corporation. Denver Carrington was trying to convince Ben to invest in a similar resort on Lake Tahoe. The acreage was adjacent to the Truckee Strip, land that Ben had deeded over to the state for a park. Ben Cartwright was fairly sure this was not the direction he wanted to go but was willing to examine the proposal. He was positive Luther Bishop would never permit such a huge development next to land memorializing his murdered daughter. Ben hated to think of an angry Bishop obstructing the development by dragging it all through the courts for years.

Ben had been working on this for three hours and was ready to call it quits when he heard car doors slam outside. Someone was laughing and another voice joined him.

Hoss and Joe were back.

Ben heard his two sons burst into the house chortling over some story Joe was telling about his fraternity brothers. “And the other sailor said ‘Where’s my duck?’” Joe delivered the punch line of a long-winded tale and burst into contagious laughter. Despite himself, Ben smiled listening to their affectionate joshing as Frank Sinatra mournfully crooned “These Foolish Things Remind me of You.”

A tinkling piano in the next apartment
Those stumbling words that told you what my heart meant
A fairground’s painted swings
These foolish things remind me of you

You came, you saw, you conquered me
When you did that to me
I knew somehow this had to be

The winds of March that make my heart a dancer
A telephone that rings but who’s to answer?
Oh, how the ghost of you clings
These foolish things remind me of you

“That’s the oldest shaggy dog story in the world, Little Joe, and if you believe it really happened to that frat boy, I have some swampland near Vegas to sell you. It’s filled with gold and oil deposits.” Hoss laughed despite himself. “And it’s mined by topless show girls!”

“Sure it happened, big brother! Eugene said it did. He said it happened to his brother Nick when he was in Mexico on business,” Joe argued loudly. “He was setting up a beverage factory. Eugene even arranged for us to get a dozen cases of their products for our frat party. Canned pulque! It’s made from cactus juice. Big Valley Fiesta Pulque. ‘There is a fiesta in every can.’ That’s their slogan. A fiesta in every can. Eugene thought that one up.”

“Eugene? Who’s this Eugene?”

“You remember him. Eugene was sort of shy. Good guy but shy.”

“Should I?”

“Sure! They have the house on the lake since we were kids. Big deck on the lake side of the house. Adam was friendly with the oldest brother who became a lawyer.

“Down the road from the turn off to Zephyr Cove? The father died? You used to hang around there in the summer? Real pretty blond girl?”

“That’s the ones. Barkley.”

“Wasn’t someone spreading rumors that Eugene was gay?” Hoss asked.

“Maybe. It never mattered much to me,” shrugged Joe. “He was a real good water skier and his mother let us use the boat as much as we wanted.”

“And his sister was real pretty?

“Yeah, that’s right. Real, real, real pretty.”

“And you whupped Eden a time or two for giving that Gene a bad time.”

“I suppose I did.” Joe shrugged. “He had it coming.”

“And it made his pretty sister take a liking to you too.

“I suppose it did,” Joe said again.

“Now Eden Saunders — that’s another story. He was one mighty damaged kid,” Hoss shook his head.

“Eden bullied Gene all the time then wondered why Audra wouldn’t have anything to do with him,” Joe recalled. “Like you said, Eden was one really warped kid.”

“So now ol’ Eugene Barkley is a pledge in Kappa Iota Sigma Sigma? Hope your pals aren’t giving him a bad time.”

“Everyone is fine. Besides they all know that, as pledge chairman, Joe Cartwright can make their lives life quite miserable if anyone gives him a problem. The poor guy is so nervous. He thinks he could get blackballed, even though he is a legacy. He’s so appreciative, he got me together with his sister too!” Joe chuckled.

“He did? Is he bribing you?”

“Now that’s the kind of bribe I like. Sometimes I do things so very, very well.”

“So very, very well? Now that could be dangerous! You better mind your manners with that girl, Joe,” Hoss teased. “Some pretty redhead with protective brothers?”

“You are wrong, Hoss.”

”Wrong? You aren’t being nice to Eugene because of his red-haired sister?”

“First of all, she’s blonde. Gorgeous and perfectly perfect blond. How could you forget?”

“Is she the gal whose Mama shipped her here to break up her romance with the older guy?”

“That’s the one. Audra said she had a thing with some guy her mother didn’t like and it was war. She agreed to take a break from him and her mom said if Audra still was interested in the guy when she turned twenty-one, her mom would let her see him again. That’s why she transferred out here to college. She’s staying in their house on the lake with Gene. Her mother figured it was too easy for Audra to see the guy in Stockton but out here with her brother and going to college, it would be tougher,” Joe explained. “Besides it’s all over now. Once we reconnected, she was hooked and the old guy is old news.”

“Did she tell her mother that she was right?” Hoss asked.

“Would you tell Pa if he was right about some gal you thought was real hot and turned out to be lukewarm once you met the real deal? Once you met the sizzling atomic blast furnace that made the other guy look like a stale old Denver Omelet on a cold greasy plate?”

“Guess not, Joe, you old blast furnace, you,” Hoss chuckled. “I better step back before I get fried.”

“I even got Audra working on the Festival with The Old West Re-Enactors. Her older brothers are part of the group that is coming in from Stockton. The Kappas are going to be part of it too.” Joe conveniently omitted that he and his fraternity brothers were going to be extras in the filming of the first commercial for Big Valley Fiesta Pulque. “We even have a nice size triple x pair of chaps and a huge ten gallon hat for you, big brother.”

“Oh, thanks! My very own chaps and a real dumb, goofy looking hat! How special for me!” Hoss chuckled. He was positive Joe had some devious plot up his sleeve that was sure to mean Hoss trudged through the mud or lifted heavy loads while Joe sat in the shade sipping some of that cactus juice pulque with his arm around his golden babe, Audra.

“Audra came up with the fantastic idea and even rounded the costumes up. I’m going to be one of the deputies. You get to be an outlaw and get shot dead. “

“How about me being the deputy and you can get shot dead?”

Joe ignored the question. “Come on, Hoss. You don’t really get shot. They only use blanks. Besides, it’s going to be fun and it’s for a real good cause.”

“A real good cause? The Joe Cartwright moonlit rock of love fund?” Hoss laughed.

In an instant Joe stopped laughing and answered in a serious voice. “No, Hoss. It’s for Amy’s scholarship fund. The merchant’s association is making a big contribution, figuring big crowds will come to see the re-enactment and spend a lot of dough for refreshments and souvenirs. ”

“Oh. You are right. It is for a good cause. Count me in,” Hoss said gently.

The two brothers were silent for just an instant. Then, in the beat of a heart, their happy banter continued.

“Bet that pretty gal, Audra, sure has you wrapped around her little finger,” Hoss teased. “Bet you are putty in her sweet hands.”

“Pa must have left the music on when he went out. He’s always telling us to turn stuff off but he sure doesn’t practice what he preaches,” Joe said strolling through the dining room

“Weren’t there three or four brothers in that Barkley family? “

“Four brothers including Eugene. The oldest brother is Jarrod, who palled around with Adam.” Joe counted off on his fingers. “And Nick and Heath who are about your age, Hoss. “

“You better watch your manners, little brother. You may be the blast furnace, but with four big strapping brothers watching over this Audra, they might just shut you down.”

“Not to worry, Hoss. And only three are big. Besides, I have everything perfectly under control.”

“Famous last words, baby brother. ‘Oh don’t worry, Hoss, I have everything perfectly in control’. How many times have I heard that?” Hoss griped, snagging an apple from the bowl of fruit in the center of the dining room table. “What else is going on?”

“What else? Nothing really. Nothing is going on. Nothing at all,” Joe quickly said. He wasn’t quite ready to share his latest money-making scheme until he ironed out all the details with Audra’s brother, Nick.

“Nothing?” Hoss raised one eyebrow and took a bite out of his apple. “Are you sure nothing, Joseph? You don’t sound like it is nothing.”

“Well, Audra is working on the formal dinner dance. I sure have her mom on my side. When Mrs. Barkley heard that I was Ben Cartwright’s son, the rest was smooth sailing, a piece of cake…” Joe grinned. He and his brother walked into the living room.

“Well, don’t you dare go embarrassing Pa with nothin’, Joseph,” Hoss warned as Joe sprawled on the couch facing the fire place.

“Me? Embarrass Pa? Oh, I won’t. With Faye out of town, I just think I’ll make some more points with Audra and get Pa to escort Mrs. Barkley to all those Festival shindigs. She’ll come to town if he does. If Audra’s mom is happy, Audra will be happy.”

”And if your girl is happy…” Hoss rolled his eyes, knowing where all this was headed. He sat down next to his brother.

“Then Joe Cartwright will be very happy.” Joe grinned.

“What makes you think Pa will want to cooperate with this whole dang fool thing?” Hoss asked.

“Cooperate with what?” Adam said coming in the front door. He had an armload of folders and manila envelopes that he stacked on the console near the door.

“Little Joe is using Pa as an escort service for some dried-up old widow lady from Stockton with a pretty daughter,” Hoss explained. “Remember the Barkleys?”

“Mrs. Barkley isn’t old or dried up. She’s pretty good looking for a lady Pa’s age.”

From his desk on the opposite side of the desk, Ben cleared his throat. “Harrumph!”

Hoss and Joe both suddenly realized that their father had been sitting on the far side of the room at his desk and had heard every bit of their discussion. They swiveled their heads around and quickly smiled innocently at their father.

“Oh! Hi, Pa!” Joe called cheerfully. “We were just talking about you.”

“I noticed,” Ben said, glaring at his sons.

“We thought it was a good idea for you to take Audra’s mom to the formal dance,” Joe added.

“We? Which ‘we’?” Hoss poked his younger brother in the ribs with two fingers. “Not me ‘we’! It was you ‘we’ that wanted Pa to go with that dried-up old widow lady to please your new girl! Maybe Pa has other plans.”

”Maybe Pa has other plans!” Ben echoed. He was totally irritated with his sons for interfering with his personal business. “Maybe I just do have other plans!”

Adam stepped forward. This was just too easy, he thought. He was not only going to outwit his brothers but Pa would be in his debt for saving his neck from Joe’s blind date with Mrs. Barkley. Besides, Adam would be proud to do a good deed for a dear, lonely old friend. “That’s right you, two knuckleheads. Pa has other plans. He is escorting Katherine Saunders.”

”Katherine Saunders?” Ben was taken aback. He had heard his old friend’s widow was back in town but this was the first he heard of this. He hadn’t seen poor Katherine since Charles’ funeral, shortly after their son Eden was sent to prison. Eden had always been a handful.

”Just as friends,” Adam added with a smile. His dark eyes met his father’s in a knowing exchange. “Pa is escorting Mrs. Saunders and just can’t take your girl’s mother. Right, Pa?”

”Yes. I’m taking Katherine. As friends. Like Adam said,” Ben stammered. “Just as friends.”

“I brought your tuxedo into the cleaners this morning too, Pa. Just like you asked. It will be ready on Thursday,” Adam called over his shoulder as he headed upstairs.

 

Northern Nevada State Correctional Facility

Carson City Nevada

Spring 2000

 

Someone like the elegant, dark-haired, middle-aged man was a sight rarely seen at the State Prison. Dressed in a perfectly tailored conservative suit, he perched ill at ease on the cheap plastic chair. His cashmere top coat was draped across his knees and his old-fashioned bowler hat placed on the narrow Formica countertop in front of him.

Eden Saunders stood perplexed, staring at him through the unbreakable glass partition. He stood by his chair, unsure of sitting. The man nodded his head at him, gesturing for him to sit.

The guard gave him a shove. “Sit down, Saunders. You know the drill.”

Eden sat, and the guard went to his post in the back of the room.

Saunders picked up the phone. “You are visiting me?” he asked tentatively. “Who are you? Should I know you?”

The man smiled, an icy smile that did not reach his eyes. “No, but I know you. I also know that you are getting out on parole next week, and that you need money. I have a business proposition to make you.” He spoke with a precise English accent.

“Who are you?” Eden asked the strange man.

“That doesn’t matter. Call me Mr. Montague. That’s what I told the gatekeepers. I told them I was sent by your dear Auntie Em from Kansas,” the man said with a clipped English accent. He reminded Eden of the fancy butler in one of those old mystery movies his father used to watch on TV.

Eden stared at the man. “I don’t have any Auntie Em. Who are you?”

“For now, let it suffice. My employer sent me.”

”Your employer?”

“Yes, my employer. My employer is willing to pay you very handsomely for a job well done. If we are satisfied with your work, there is a chance that, after your parole is completed, my employer will be in a position to offer you further work and even world travel. This is no place to discuss business. I will pick you up at the main gate. You can give me your answer then.” He paused before hanging up the phone.

“Wait!” Eden shouted, earning a nasty look from the guard who started forward. “Who is your employer? What if I don’t want this job?”

The man waved the guard back. “I am sure you will want this job. You most definitely will. Good-bye for now, young man.”

As he was led away, Eden looked back to glimpse the elegant figure stride regally from the visitation room.

*****

Ben walked into the office alcove just as Adam hung up the phone. He settled himself into the green leather chair beside the desk. “You look very pleased with yourself, son”.

“You could say that.” Adam grinned. “Remember that I told you about the gunfighter re-enactors having to renege because of a scheduling conflict? Roy Coffee just saved the day. He and a couple of off-duty deputies are going to play the posse. But they’re still one man short. We need one more good guy, the one that went in after Butch Bishop. Luther is playing Butch, by the way. Oh, and Barbara Scott is playing the female hostage. ” Adam narrowed his eyes at his father.

“Oh no! I know what you’re thinking,” Ben protested. He rose from the chair. “The answer is no. Absolutely no. There is no way I am getting involved in this foolish melodrama! None of my ancestors were there. Barbara’s great, great grandmother was there, not mine.”

Adam draped an arm around Ben’s shoulder. “Come on, Pa. It’s for a good cause. Do it for the town and the Historical Society. Do me and Barbara a favor. Please, Pa. It’ll be fun. I’d do it, myself, but somehow I got conned into being the director. And I have to be overseeing the entire thing and coordinate all the action.”

“Why do I feel like I’m talking to your youngest brother? He keeps pulling that ‘good cause’ gambit on everyone. ”

“But it is a good cause, Pa. Besides, Joe said he would donate that awful Indian painting from his bedroom to the art auction if you do.”

“He will? I hate that thing. Did you ever notice the eyes follow you all over the room where ever you go? ”

“And Katherine Saunders said she will donate a painting too.”

“I bet it’s that awful, grotesque modern monstrosity that Charles hung over the fireplace. Katherine used to say she hoped it would fall into the fire one cold winter night.”

“Come on, Pa. I really need your help. Don’t make me beg,” Adam pleaded. “It’s not like I’m asking you to be in Joe’s stupid pulque commercial.”

“All right. I know you’ll get Hoss and Joe to work on me, so I might as well give in and save myself a lot of pestering. Just don’t you ask me to donate any of my Remington bronzes!” Ben sighed resignedly. “Or sing that foolish pulque jingle. What is it? ‘Big Valley Pulque! A fiesta in every can! Oh ho!’”

“We won’t! Thanks, Pa! You’ll do great! I really appreciate this. Hop Sing’s not back from the grocery store, so I was going to fix myself some lunch. Care for a delicious, thick, juicy ham sandwich? I already made coffee.”

“Ham? Real ham? Not some pseudo ham from soy products?”

”Real ham. And real Swiss on real rye. And real high test coffee, not decaf. Cream and sugar too, Pa. Just don’t let Hop Sing and Doc Martin know that I am bribing you,” Adam winked.

“Sounds good”, Ben agreed. He followed Adam to the kitchen.

Adam chatted as he pulled sandwich makings from the refrigerator. “Hop Sing hides all this tasty stuff in the vegetable bin. Hoss discovered that treasure trove about six weeks ago.”

”Leave it to Hoss to sniff out the real stuff,” Ben said, biting into his thick sandwich. He smiled appreciatively. “This is as good as the special in Daisy’s café, Adam! Better! “

“Hey, no one told me we were having lunch!” Hoss strolled into the kitchen followed by Little Joe.

“Help yourself.” Adam handed each of his brothers a plate.

“Real ham?” Joe’s eyes lit up.

“And Swiss cheese!” Hoss built himself a thick sandwich. “Give me one of them lettuce leafs. Got to make it healthy!”

“Pass me another slice of that wonderful cheese. How are you and Barbara doing with all the work on the art exhibition, Adam?” their father asked.

“Fine. She’s quite an expert. She studied art history in college; spent a year living in Paris and working at some galleries and did some sort of research at Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume.”

“Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume?” Ben took a sip of his coffee and tried to remember his high school French. “The tennis court museum?”

“Why the heck would they have a tennis museum in Paris?” Hoss asked, sitting down next to his father.

Adam laughed. “It’s the contemporary art museum in Paris but the building dates back to Napoleon. I guess it was originally a tennis court.”

“Can’t imagine Napoleon playing tennis,” Hoss shrugged.

“Barbara’s thesis was in French Impressionist art,” Adam added. “That’s why she studied in Paris. I think her uncle got her interested in that and helped pay for it. “

“If I recall correctly, Everett Scott served with Patton’s army in the Second World War. Back when you boys were kids, he used to march in the Veteran’s Day Parade in Virginia City.” Ben recalled.

“Was he a hero?” Little Joe asked. He poured his father a second cup of coffee.

“I don’t know about his being a hero. I suppose Everett Scott did what he had to do, like thousands of other men,” Ben said. He took a big bite out of his sandwich. “He never really spoke much about what he saw.”

“I think Barbara said he was around with the Army of the Occupation after the war, with something called the Monuments Men,” Adam said.

“Sounds like they bury the dead and put up grave stones,” Hoss said. “No wonder he didn’t talk about what he did in the war.”

“No, that’s called the Graves Registration Service,” Ben recalled. “Monuments Men was something else. They had something to do with tracking down and returning all the artwork stolen by the Nazis.”

“Didn’t Sixty Minutes have a segment about them last winter?” Joe asked. “It was on after the 49ers game.”

“Mr. Scott was my art teacher in high school He even wrote me a recommendation for college,” Adam recalled.

“I don’t really remember him,” Hoss said, making another sandwich. “Just that he had the old run-own house in town that Barbara inherited. It was chock full of old stuff when he died. When we were kids, they said the place was haunted.“

“I remember Mr. Scott. Amy Bishop used to take painting lessons from him in his house with a couple of the other girls, Connie McKee and Jennifer Beal. She was really proud that he said she was the best artist he ever taught and would go really far if she put her mind to it. “

“She was a very talented girl,” Ben agreed.

“After she was…” Joe struggled to say the words. “After Amy was gone, Mr. Scott said he would paint a portrait of Amy, in her memory. Connie and Jennifer said they saw it. They said it really caught Amy’s personality.”

“There was a portrait?” Ben asked.

“I never saw it. Wouldn’t it be a fine addition to the art show, seeing that some of the money goes to the Amy Bishop scholarship fund?” Adam’s eyes lit up. “I’m sure Barbara would agree.”

“That’s the really peculiar thing, Pa. After Mr. Scott died, no one ever found the picture. I know Mr. Bishop asked.” Joe frowned. “I sure wish I could see it.” He quickly stood up from the table and headed for the door. “I have to get some things from my car.”

“Adam, why don’t you ask Barbara if she knows anything about it,” Ben urged. He swallowed the last bit of his sandwich. “You boys make sure you clean all this up before Hop Sing gets back.”

“No wonder little brother scooted out to his car so quick,” Hoss laughed.

Adam quickly changed the topic. “Speaking of cleaning up and paintings, I saw the list of entrants for the art show when we were cleaning up the paperwork for the Festival. Didn’t you used to know a Linda Lawrence Chadwick a long time ago when I was a kid, Pa?”

“Linda Lawrence!” Coffee splashed from Ben’s cup as he abruptly set it on the table. He pretended to cough to hide his shock at the name from the past as Adam looked at him curiously. “Ahem! Yes, in fact we dated a few times. I think you were about eleven years old. I am surprised you even remembered her name. She got too…too serious. I tried to let her down gently, but she was very upset when I stopped calling her. Then I went on that trip to New Orleans and met Marie, and the rest, as they say, is history. A mutual friend told me that Linda was very angry and went on an extended trip to Europe. Last I heard of her, she married an older man, a titled Englishman with a castle and all the trimmings. I had no idea she was back in the States. She was a strange woman, an artist. Very strange woman.”

“No other woman had a chance with you after you met Marie.” Hoss grinned. He gathered up all the dirty dishes.

“What’s this about Mom?” Joe asked as he strolled in the back door, his arms filled with neon colored flags proclaiming “Big Valley Fiesta Pulque! Big Valley Fiesta Pulque! A fiesta in every can! Oh Ho! Oh Ho!”

“Adam heard that a woman I dated casually before I met your mother may be in town.”

“Well, well!” Joe snickered and waved a banner.

“Or should we say ‘Oh Ho! Oh Ho!’” Hoss teased.

“And I said that after Pa met Marie, no other woman had a chance with him,” Adam quickly interrupted.

For a few seconds, Ben looked wistfully into his coffee cup, then up at his sons. “And Adam is so right about that. Marie made me happy every day we were together. I hope someday you boys find women to love who make you as happy as your mothers made me.”

“Oh I have, Pa!” Joe grinned. “Audra is …

“Audra!” Adam chortled. He handed Joe a damp sponge to wipe up the table. “Little Brother, don’t confuse lust with love.

“Oh ho! Oh Ho!” added Hoss with a sly wink.

Ben laughed so hard he spilled his coffee for the second time in five minutes. “Joseph, give me some paper towels before this drips onto the floor.”

“After Pa met Marie, he didn’t have eyes for anyone else, Joe. Unlike some people who might think they are in love but keep a roving eye,” Adam pointed out. He gathered up the remaining dirty plates and put them in the sink.

“Like this Lawrence Chipwick?” Joe asked, handing his father the roll of Bounty to wipe up his spill.

“Linda Lawrence Chadwick,” Ben corrected. “And I think your brother means you, Joseph.”

Joe shrugged. “Speaking of Chipwick.”

“Chadwick,” Ben and Adam corrected, in unison.

“Chadwick, Chipwick,” Joe repeated.

“Chipwick? Do we have any chips?” Hoss asked. “I’m still a bit hungry.”

“Oh Ho!” Joe grinned.

 

1985

 

Ben had met Linda Lawrence while he was out of town on business. Well-meaning acquaintances had introduced the young single father to Linda Lawrence, an attractive woman aggressively hunting for a husband. At first, Ben enjoyed her company. They went on a few dates, spoke on the phone when he went back home, but as he got to know the woman, he realized she was too volatile, too mercenary for him. Before things went very far, Ben broke off their relationship. Not long after, he met and married Marie.

A few years later, the Cartwrights were invited to a big Labor Day party at the Saunder’s newly redecorated home. Charles Saunders was anxious to show off how the elaborate renovations showcased his extensive collection of abstract art and capitalized on the views of Lake Tahoe.

The day of the party, Ben had come home later than he had planned, having been delayed by some problem with a broken water pump out on the north pasture. As he walked through the door, he was informed that Hoss had out-grown his good trousers as well as his shoes over the summer. “We can’t take him to a party looking like a ragamuffin!” Marie exclaimed. “He was bursting out of the suit he got a few months ago for Easter.”

She quickly pulled together a suitable outfit for her husky stepson. It was important to her that her boys always looked neat and clean and acted respectfully. Adam had dug out a pair of outgrown shoes from the back of his closet while Hop Sing quickly basted up a hem on the new chinos Marie had hastily purchased an hour earlier in the Reno Sears rather than at the finer men’s store she usually shopped at in Virginia City.

With Adam in close pursuit, Little Joe was racing around the house in his underwear, his hair still dripping wet from his bath.

“I’m Batman! Catch me, you bad guy!” Joe shrieked with delight. He raced around the settee and crashed into his father standing near the front door. Ben automatically snagged his youngest and passed him like a sack of potatoes to his eldest. “Get dry, get dressed or get spanked,” Ben ordered without missing a beat. “Thanks, Adam!”

“No problem, Pa. That’s what we bad guys are for,” Adam laughed.

Ben quickly showered, shaved and changed his clothes. He was almost done when he heard yelling from Joe’s room down the hall. Adam was sitting on Joe’s bed and had his little brother pinned between his knees. The older boy was calmly buttoning Little Joe’s freshly ironed yellow sport shirt as the four year old squirmed and hollered. “No, no, no! I want to wear something else! This shirt itches!” Spotting his father glaring in the doorway, the boy immediately stood still and cooperated with Adam.

The Cartwright family finally arrived just as the sun was setting behind the mountains. Ben observed that Marie looked particularly beautiful that night, despite the tension getting out of the house. “All eyes are on you, my darling.” Ben slid his arm around his wife’s bare shoulders and pulled her close. The family was warmly greeted with hugs by Katherine Saunders. Any animosity Marie had faced years earlier when Ben brought his new bride to the Ponderosa was a completely thing of the past.

Earlier arriving guests were inside the house admiring the newest additions to the Saunders art collection or wandering around the lush garden. There was dancing on the new brick patio to a live band. Waiters served all sorts of exotic hors d’oeuvres and drinks while a team of men were manning a huge barbeque grill near the pool house. The evening breezes were filled with the smoky fragrance of steaks and barbequed chicken. Clowns and magicians entertained the boisterous children on the far side of the yard. Hot dogs and ice cream were being served under a brightly colored sign proclaiming “Eden’s Eatables”.

As the sun went down and it got dark, elegant white jacketed waiters lit candles on the tables and in lanterns set around the garden. Strings of twinkly white lights were strung among the trees. Hoss proclaimed that it looked Christmas in the summer time.

“Let me show you where you can put your things and freshen up, Marie. Ben, Charles is over by the bar. He wants to give you the grand tour and get your advice on something or other about building a tree house for Eden. Boys, go over with Eden and the kids, and have fun. We even rented one of those bouncy houses for you to jump in!” Katherine Saunders said.

Hoss and Little Joe took off across the lawn like a shot but Adam begged off, claiming he spotted Mr. Everett Scott, one of his teachers from the high school, and wanted to ask him about a college reference.

“Hoss! Keep track of Little Joe!” Ben called after his boys as they raced towards the children’s party.

Hoss turned around to look for the bouncy house. In the blink of an eye, Little Joe had disappeared into the shadows.

For what seemed like an eternity, poor Hoss ran around looking for his younger brother. Finally Hoss spotted his brother’s bright yellow shirt. He found Little Joe cheerfully sitting with a lady. She was drawing his picture on a big sketch pad and Little Joe was as happy as a clam, chatting away. The lady smiled at him is a sort of strange way and said “You must be Hoss Cartwright. I know your father”

Hoss nodded. The comment didn’t seem odd to the boy as most people around the area knew the Cartwrights. What was disconcerting was when the lady smiled and said to Little Joe, “You know, I should have been your mother, Joseph.”

Something about how she smiled when she looked at his baby brother made Hoss’ shiver on the hot summer evening. Joe was suddenly silent, his eyes wide with fear.

Hoss stammered something to the strange lady about getting something to eat and their Ma wanting Little Joe right away. Hoss grabbed his baby brother’s hand and yanked him away back to where their parents were on the brick patio. Ben and Marie were smiling and chatting with Doc Martin and his wife when the two boys barreled up. Their parents didn’t even notice that they were upset.

“Hoss, that lady’s mouth was smiling but her eyes were spooky mean,” Little Joe gasped. “Is she a bad guy?”

A moment later, Mrs. Saunders led the boys over to a table where Eden and the rest of the kids were making ice cream sundaes. Hoss quickly forgot about the strange artist lady’s remarks or how ominous she appeared.

A couple of weeks after the Saunder’s party, Hoss came into the house to find Marie all upset and Pa trying to calm her down. Hoss overheard them talking about something nasty and disturbing that came in the mail.

Pa said, “Let’s just throw this in the garbage where it belongs.”

After his parents left the room, Hoss looked in the trash can next to Pa’s desk and found a strange drawing. It showed Little Joe dressed in the same bright yellow shirt he had worn to the big fancy party. In the drawing, the boy stood between a likeness of Pa and the spooky lady artist. The caption under the drawing said, “I should have been his mother.”

 

Spring 2000

 

As he turned off the state highway into the side road leading to the Saunders’ ranch, electronic strains of Beethoven’s Fifth filled Ben Cartwright’s car. Without taking his eyes off the narrow, one-lane ranch road, he reached into his jacket and pulled out his cell phone.

“Just leave without me, Pa. Barbara and I are running late. We’ve run into some complications.”

”Leave? I am just about at the Saunders Ranch. I thought you and Barbara would get there before me. Is everything ok, son? Did you get those figures from Hiram Woods for Katherine about those trusts Charles set up?”

“I emailed them to you. I thought you would print them out for her,”

“I didn’t check before I left. No problem, I have my laptop in the back of the car.”

“That should work out fine, Pa. “

“What kind of complications did you run into, son? “ For a moment as the he drove around the curve Adam’s voice broke up. “A ship? What? I can’t hear what you just said.” From the corner of his eye, to the right, Ben saw a black SUV riding over the hill on one of the unpaved ranch roads. It must have been one of Katherine’s hands checking on the few head of cattle and horses she still had remaining on the place.

Charles Saunders always had prime stock, prize winners. After her husband’s sudden death, with Eden gone and much of her husband’s assets tied up in trusts, Katherine sold off most of the livestock to Luther Bishop on the Concho and a couple of horses to Georgio Rossi, the winemaker, for his daughter, Regina, to ride. Knowing Eden’s legal bills had used up a good portion of the Saunder’s liquid assets, Victoria Barkley had managed to buy up a large section of the Saunders land before Ben intervened. He urged Katherine to wait, to hold off for a while. He offered to loan her whatever help she might need to run the ranch but she refused. She just wanted to get rid of the entire place.

”It’s still a big place, even without that Lake Tahoe section I sold to the Barkley’s. I can’t run the ranch the way Charles would want things done. You know what a perfectionist he was,” Katherine explained.

Ben nodded. Charles was a competitive, meticulous man who excelled at everything he did. Saunders rigidly felt there was nothing that couldn’t be done if you worked hard enough. In addition to owning a profitable ranch, he was a champion skier, a wine connoisseur, and had started to collect contemporary art after seeing Tom Barkley’s collection at their Lake Tahoe home. Ben remembered him saying it wasn’t that he particularly liked the pieces but they were an investment. Ben said that he preferred to hang paintings on his walls that he enjoyed seeing everyday rather than collecting paintings he didn’t like as an investment.

That philosophy of being the best often caused a conflict with Eden when he couldn’t excel. Charles would berate the boy and tell him he was lazy and wouldn’t amount to anything.

“All I want to do is get away, right now. I’m going to visit my sister back east and maybe take a long cruise,” Katherine explained.

“At least hold on to the land until you are sure what you want to do,” Ben had told her. “The boys and I will keep check on your foreman, if you want. Don’t rush to make any changes so fast. Take a nice long trip and come back when you are ready. You’ll be glad to be back home. And Eden will come home too. Things will get better.”

As Ben’s dark green Lincoln Navigator went higher up the lane, the reception on his phone improved. ”I said, that the shipment of paintings for the art show just arrived — a gigantic wooden crate that Linda Lawrence Chadwick sent from Europe. We can’t leave until we unpack them and check it all in,” Adam repeated. “Tell Katherine we are very sorry and to start dinner without us.”

”Without you?” Ben struggled to hear what his son had said. “Who is us? You and Barbara?”

“We’ll be there for dessert, Pa. Maybe. Don’t forget to check that email. Katherine needs to file taxes on those trusts or she will run into trouble with IRS. Got to go. Bye.”

Before Ben could say anything more, Adam’s call cut off. He glanced to the right again. The black vehicle had disappeared into the shadows behind a cluster of pines. Ben remembered camping with the boys down there when Joe and Eden were Boy Scouts together. Charles and Ben had taken nine or ten boys there for a couple of nights. Everyone was having a fine time until Charles started in on his son over some small infraction. Was it how the tent was pitched or the fire wood was stacked or a canoe paddled or some business about Eden cheating in a competition the boys had building catapults to shoot rocks into the lake? Ben didn’t quite remember.

Charles always rode that boy too hard. Whatever it was didn’t matter one bit but somehow Charles tossed up that Adam Cartwright had been an Eagle Scout and Eden would never make it if he couldn’t do things exactly right. The outing quickly soured after that. Eden ran off and disappeared. The entire scout troop had to hunt him the rest of the day. It wasn’t until late that night that Joe and another scout found Eden sleeping in his tree house a hundred feet from his own house.

As Ben parked near the house, he could see that old tree house was still there. The structure was a bit dilapidated by years of neglect.

“I thought we could eat outside, here on the patio,” Katherine said as she poured Ben some iced tea. The ice cubes clinked musically against the glass pitcher.

They strolled to the far side of the wide brick patio that stretched out from the rear of the elegant Saunders house. The patio ended at the top of a steep, grassy incline that ran down to the lake. The perimeter was surrounded by tall oaks, aspens and pines. Ben could see Eden’s old tree house sitting high above Katherine’s scraggly, overgrown flower garden. That garden had once been the envy of half of the county.

“I always liked it out here,” Ben agreed as he sipped his cold drink. The wide stone patio stretched out from the rear of the imposing Saunders house and ended at the top of a steep incline. It was surrounded by tall oaks, aspens and pines. As sun set behind the trees and the sky darkened, the two old friends returned to the table.

“Oh don’t sit on that chair, Ben! That leg is loose and makes the chair wobbly. Sit here,” Katherine pointed to the chair next to her.

Ben sat down and took a sip of the tea.

“So many things need to be fixed around here. After the problems with Eden and Charles’ death, I let things go. I just didn’t care. But that visit with my sister Trudy in New York, certainly helped clear my head. I had forgotten how beautiful it is here. The city has so much energy and culture. Trudy’s apartment has a lovely view of Central Park, but when I compared that to what I have here, I just had to come back and set things right. I don’t know where to start.” Katherine sighed. “My flower garden is full of weeds. The barn roof is leaking and half the fences are down. And you have to jiggle the handle on the toilet in the powder room or it runs forever…”

Ben patted her hand. ” This wobbly chair isn’t a very big problem. It is probably just a screw is loose. Do you have a screw driver? I’ll fix it right up,” Ben offered with a smile.

“A screw driver?” Katherine gave his had a friendly squeeze. “Oh Ben. I have no idea. Probably in the shed or in the barn. Maybe in the basement? Goodness, Ben. I didn’t invite you here to work!”

“It’s no bother. Really, it’s not,” Ben took out his pocket knife. “I bet this will do. If not, I’ll come back next time with some tools.” He knelt down, reached under the chair and in an instant tightened the loose screw. “There!”

“That is it? How can I thank you?” Katherine gave him a quick hug when he stood up.

Ben laughed. “How about another glass of that delicious iced tea? All that hard work made me thirsty!”

From somewhere off in the shrubbery, Ben heard a whirring noise and assumed it was the sprinkler system going off to water the back lawn.

“Adam told me all about Faye Franklin. She sounds like a really wonderful person, Ben.”

”She is. She’s a serious photojournalist. I can’t wait until she is back in four months. Faye is on assignment training with a space shuttle crew for a shuttle flight.”

“Oh my goodness! I can’t imagine doing something so dangerous! Aren’t you nervous?”

“A bit, but I couldn’t stand in the way of Faye following her dreams.”

“I would love to meet her.”

“That can be arranged. I’m sure Faye would enjoy meeting you when she comes back. We’ll have you over to the Ponderosa for dinner.”

“Speaking of dinner, the chicken should be done in about fifteen minutes. I thought we could eat outside, here on the patio,” Katherine said. The glass topped wrought iron table was already set for dinner with casual Mexican pottery and colorful glassware. Low candles flickered cheerfully in shiny hurricane shades.

The ice cubes clinked against the glass pitcher as she poured Ben another glass of iced tea. “Would you like something stronger?”

“This is just perfect,” Ben said as he sipped his cold drink. “I always liked it out here. So quiet and peaceful.”

Katherine lifted her glass in a toast. “To you and Faye!”

Ben smiled. “I appreciate that. Especially coming from you.”

 

Concho Ranch, later the same night

 

Luther Bishop looked at the icon on his flickering computer screen, indicating he had two new emails. The first was a note from Abigail Jones with the minutes from the last meeting of the Historical society. The next, judging from the email address, was from Ben Cartwright

Luther double clicked on the unexpected communication and read:

SUBJECT: Truckee Strip boundary

From BCartwright@vcnevyahoo.com

To LutherBishop@concho.com

I beat you once and I’ll beat you again. the concho will be mine. Resurvey will start in 30 days

Ben Cartwright

Ponderosa Ranch

 

Angrily, Bishop hit “reply” and typed:

SUBJECT: RE: Truckee Strip boundary

From LutherBishop@concho.com

To BCartwright@vcnevyahoo.com

Keep your greedy paws off my property! You skunk.

 

Then he hit “send now”.

*****

October 1, 1945

Altaussee, Austria, American Occupation Zone

Dearest, Darling Frieda,

I miss you so very much. Thank you for the boxes of cookies. I shared them with the other guys I am working with and they send their thanks as well. Even the English officer, Chadwick, who I have been told is some sort of Earl or Earl or Count said they were the best he ever had. Even though the war is over and we are in an area that didn’t get too much destruction, it’s awful hard to get sweets and nothing beats stuff from home.

Please send more and also send some more woolen socks as our feet get very cold where we are working. Gloves too if you can because snow is on the way. The muffler you knitted keeps me nice and warm and it’s like having your arms around me.

I am learning so much about art. We have recovered thousands of objects that were pillaged by the Nazis and that is barely the tip of the iceberg. Most have stickers and ink stamps of the Reich on the back like inventory labels stamped with swastikas and such. So much to get back to the rightful owners.

One of our biggest challenges is to keep our troops from helping themselves to souvenirs and dipping into the artwork and sending things home. We have not had success posting “off limits” warning signs to protect the artwork so Monty suggested we start to mark the storage places with white tape which is used by the Allied troops as a warning sign for unexploded bombs. So that snooty English officer he works for ordered up the materials and took credit for Monty’s idea. Just like an officer!

The other day I helped uncrate and catalogue some paintings from an Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt. His work is remarkable, a combination of realistic images and pattern. One portrait was of a beautiful young girl who looked so much like you did in that honey gold colored dress you wore when you were a bridesmaid at your cousin’s wedding. Didn’t we have a swell time at that wedding, Frieda?

The girl in the picture has wavy dark hair like yours too but of course you are far prettier.

The painting had a life of its own and I leaned it up against the wall in our office so all of us could enjoy her company while we worked hauling up things from cold caverns and sorting them out. It’s sitting there decorating our office and making me homesick for you. I’ll tell you one thing, if I was to bring one thing home, it would be that painting, just so you could see it. Soon enough, I’m going to be back home and I won’t have to moon at a painted girl who looks half as pretty as you because I’ll have you, my true love.

I miss you so very much! Regards to all the folks in Virginia City. Maybe I’ll be home for New Years! If things go as planned, I can be processed out and we can get married. GI bill will pay for me to start college in the fall.

All my love,

xxx

Everett

*****

October 1993

The last time Barbara saw her uncle was just after his wife, Aunt Frieda, died. She had come to the funeral and remained for a week to help him clear up the house.

“I can’t believe Aunt Frieda is really gone.” Barbara looked around the familiar, old, cluttered house.

“She really was my better half. I didn’t deserve such a wonderful woman. Wasn’t she beautiful? She made an honest man of me.” Everett stared lovingly at the portrait of his wife hanging over the fireplace in the parlor.

Barbara smiled at her uncle’s sweet, old fashioned comment. “I miss her!”

“I painted this just after we got married. It was one of my first paintings.”

Barbara looked closely at the painting. Her uncle must have struggled when he painted that early portrait. She could see lumpy swirls of paint under the surface of Frieda’s dress and face as if Everett had to rework those areas a few times to get them right.

“It’s a lovely painting,” Barbara said. “I like how you did the background with all the pattern and rich color and gold.”

“I tried to…. to imitate Gustav Klimt.” her uncle stammered. “The Austrian painter. I was fascinated with his work.”

As Barbara packed up her aunt’s clothes, she found a yellowed envelope of photos in the top drawer of Frieda’s battered dresser. She pulled out a jumbled stack of old family pictures taken in Virginia City, a few vacation pictures of Barbara as a child with her parents, pictures of Everett as a boyishly young soldier, Frieda and Everett as a young bride and groom standing in front of St. Mary’s church, a large print of a group of soldiers standing in formation, Frieda’s high school graduation class on the steps of the high school and a few snap shots of parades and church picnics taken in the 1970s judging by the hair styles and bell bottomed pants.

“What did you do during the war, Uncle Everett?”

“I was in the army like all the other fellows.”

“In Europe?

He nodded. “I was with the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives; we called ourselves the Monuments Men. We worked on returning all the art taken in the war by the Germans.”

“Did you know much about art? “ Barbara asked. “Was that why you got the assignment?”

“Not me,” said Everett Scott. “I liked to draw and was pretty good. I had a knack for it but didn’t know much about fine art back then. I was just the quiet kid from Virginia City, Nevada. My dad and my uncles worked in the mines which were petering out by then. I went to school and worked hard and went into the army like all the others. If it hadn’t been for Aunt Frieda’s encouragement and the GI bill, I sure wouldn’t have had the means to go to college and become a teacher after the war. “

“So how did you get involved with retrieving the artworks?” Barbara folded her Aunt’s blouses into a carton.

“My best subject was German because our neighbors were the Schmidts who hardly spoke English.” Everett glanced at the photos, put them back in the envelope and laid it on his nightstand next to some other papers.

“Aunt Frieda’s family?”

Everett nodded. “They had a bakery on B Street and I worked there before and after school from the time I was eleven or twelve. I just picked up the German from them. It was hard times but we didn’t know differently. They let me bring home stale bread and donuts and gave me breakfast before I went to school. A big roll and a mug of coffee.”

“So when did you go into the army?”

“I graduated high school in 1944, just after the D-Day invasion and went straight into the army just a few weeks later.”

Then Uncle Everett told her how he was shipped out to Europe, fighting in the last months of the war, pushing back the Nazis. Somehow he got assigned to the Monuments Men. He explained how the unit ferreted out the stolen works of art, sending paintings, religious objects, antique musical instruments, sculptures and other objects topside for delivery to Allied collecting points in the American zone of Germany to be returned to their country of origins.

“Most of the other soldiers in the group had training in art history or museum work. There were Americans, English, French and a few Russians. One fellow, an English Captain, was even some sort of royalty, a count or an earl, I think. He had a corporal assigned to him that he used sort of like a valet. We called him Monty.”

“Not like your life here, I’m sure!” Barbara said.

“Not very much,” Everett agreed. He held up Frieda’s silk scarves. “Do you want any of these?”

“Yes, thanks! I will think of Aunt Frieda when I wear them. I imagine that lots of things were never reconnected with their rightful owners who got killed during the war,” Barbara said with a sigh.

“I suppose,” Everett said softly. He put the last of Frieda’s clothes in the box they were donating to St. Mary’s church. “You can’t imagine the vast quantities of amazing things that were stacked up and that we had to catalogue. Thousands and thousands of items. For a few months, we worked in salt mines where things had been stored. Even though I hadn’t studied art history, I knew these were the treasures of the world. Vermeers, Picassos, Klimts, paintings by every impressionist… Hitler, who fancied himself a great art aficionado, had planned a huge “Führermuseum” in his hometown of Linz, Austria.”

Everett told his niece how he worked diligently with the art scholars, his mastery of German indispensable, and he had an easy rapport with mineworkers who were helping them. “From September 1945 to July 1946, we worked with a cadre of German workers and sorted through the subterranean treasures. It was a huge cavern, far bigger than the abandoned mines here under Virginia City.”

“This house is on top of some of the mines, isn’t it?”

Everett nodded. “A tunnel from the old Gould and Curry goes right under this entire street.”

“I remember when I was a little girl, I snuck down in the cellar to play. I was pretending I was a silver miner looking for treasure. Aunt Frieda chased me out. “

“There were too many things stored down there for you to be playing there, Barbara. Things that could fall on a little girl or that a careless child could damage,” Everett shook his head. He went back to relating his army experiences. “After the war, thousands of pieces were recovered, in those salt mines and in the palaces of Nazi officials. So many pieces you can’t even imagine. Thousands and thousands of items that we had to catalogue. Things from museums and galleries and from homes of private collectors. Jews.”

“Stolen art from homes?” Barbara sighed. “I never really thought about things being taken from individual people. I just thought it was property from museums. I suppose with so many families having perished in the Holocaust, much of what was salvaged was never reclaimed”

“I suppose…” Everett shrugged. “It was a war. Things happened. What was done was done. After the war, I came back home to marry my sweetheart Frieda, went to college on the GI Bill and started teach art here in my hometown.” He took one of Frieda’s scarves, a green paisley that flattered Barbara’s auburn hair and gently tied it around her neck. “Frieda’s favorite.”

“Ever keep in touch with anyone from those days?” she asked.

“From the war?” Everett quickly shook his head and lied. “No. Not at all. No one. What was done was done.”

Barbara saw him quickly shove a folded map and some letters into the dresser drawer. “We’ve done enough for today, Barbara. Let’s go have some supper. ”

She left the next morning and Everett pushed an envelope of cash into her hands. “Money for your college education, Barbara. Go see the art in Europe. Go see everything you read about in your books. Chase your dreams.”

When she protested that he had given her far too large a sum, Everett refused to take it back. “Who else do I have but you? Take it! I insist. It is what Aunt Frieda wanted me to do.”

It wasn’t until after he died and his estate was settled that she wondered how a retired school teacher in a dying western mining town had managed to save up so much money.

 

U.S. RETURNS STOLEN MASTERPIECE TO RIGHTFUL OWNERS

 

July 18 1993 NEW YORK (CNN) — U.S. Customs officials returned a stolen painting worth $5 million its rightful owners on Tuesday, and marked the act with the formation of a new art fraud investigation center in New York City.

U.S. Customs Commissioner Raymond Kelly turned over the masterpiece, Persephone, a portrait of a young girl by Gustav Klimt to the rightful owners, the heirs of Stella Weiss during a brief ceremony. The painting was stolen more than 50 years ago and was recently returned by a retired teacher who wanted to remain anonymous. He claimed his wife had found it abandoned in a garbage dump in Nevada. Not realizing the value, she brought it home for him so he could reuse the canvas for his own painting.

“This small treasure was appraised recently at approximately $55 million,” Kelly said. “But it carries a lesson more valuable than that. The lesson is that America is not a safe haven for stolen art. We will help find it. No art thief is safe from our pursuit of justice.”

Kelly, a former New York City police commissioner, said the Customs Art Fraud Center, also called the “art recovery team”, will not be staffed with new special agents, but will coordinate outreach programs and set up art fraud training and databases.

Soldiers suspected

Soon after Klimt’s death in 1918, the painting passed into the possession of Stella Weiss. The painting was then housed in her lakeside villa in Bad Aussee until 1941 when the villa and its contents were seized by the Nazis.

During World War II, the Altaussee Salt Mine was used to store stolen artworks gathered to protect them from Allied bombings. The U.S. Army seized the Altaussee Salt Mine at the end of the war. When U.S. troops left, 53 paintings were missing, Blair said. The returned painting, was one of the works stolen from Altaussee in the aftermath of World War II,

U.S. soldiers have since been suspected of stealing the works, but an investigation completed in 1950 failed to determine exactly who stole them, a U.S. Customs official said.

 

Virginia City

June 2000

 

“I don’t believe it! My mother and Ben Cartwright?” Eden Saunders stared with hate-filled blue eyes at the photos spread before him on the table at the Daisy’s Café. “Not my mother!”

The dapperly dressed older man across from him patted his hand with feigned sympathy. “Of course he wants what remains of the Saunders ranch to absorb in the great Ponderosa. My dear boy! Photos don’t lie. As you can see, they are alone and quite intimate.” He pointed at the picture of Ben Cartwright kneeling beside his mother. “I could not hear what they were saying, but why else would a man be on his knees in front of a lady? I would say that he is proposing marriage, and by her reaction, I would hazard a guess that she accepted. They disappeared into the house right after that embrace. Maybe to get an early start on the honeymoon, do you think?

Eden didn’t utter a word but just stared angrily at the photo.

“Doesn’t Mr. Cartwright have three sons? I have heard that the two older young men are as well respected as their father, and quite accomplished. The eldest is a talented engineer and holds a patent for something to do with windmills, and the other is close to receiving a doctorate degree in psychology. He is planning on working with troubled children. Gossip around Virginia City has it that even the youngest, who had flunked out of college, is reformed and doing quite well with his studies and romantically involved with a beautiful, well-to-do girl from a fine California family. He is your age, isn’t he? Did you and he buddy around together? Now you will be brothers. Won’t that be nice? Perhaps he can find you a young lady too? You can bring her to your mother’s wedding to Ben Cartwright.”

Eden angrily ripped up the photo of Ben and his mother. “Never! I’ll stop the wedding! My mother will never be part of that family! ”

“My, my, Eden. Such anger. Your mother sold off most of the Saunders ranch. She needs money to live on. You don’t want her to have to work as waitress here in Daisy’s Café, do you? Of course not! Don’t you like the Cartwrights? I’ve heard that they are well-known and well-liked and can support your mother in a fine style on the Ponderosa.” A sly smile spread across the older man’s lips.

“Most people can’t see through them. But I do! Those phony do-gooders don’t fool me one bit,” Eden boasted. He paused to gulp down half a beer. “I was in school with Joe. All I heard from my father was that I should be more like Joe Cartwright. Both his brothers had been Eagle Scouts. We both quit Scouts long before making Eagle. But of course Joe was excused; he was playing sports. He was a great ball player, all-around jock. I was just lazy. Then he’d start about how Joe Cartwright was getting a letter in baseball at school or a tennis trophy at the country club. He even got a baseball scholarship. Hoss had a football scholarship and Adam all kinds of scholarships because of his grades. Like the Cartwrights needed scholarships! Ben is loaded. Joe even stole every girl I ever wanted to go out with. Every girl! Amy Bishop dumped me for Little Joe. I didn’t even want to go to college, anyway. That really made my dad blow up. When I told him that Mr. Perfect got his share of scrapes at school and he was grounded by his Pa for speeding tickets, he all but called me a jealous liar! I’ll never have anything to do with that family, or let my mother! I don’t know how, but I’ll put a stop to this!”

Why did Madame order him to meet with Eden at such a disgusting place? Saunder’s companion fastidiously spread a half dozen paper napkins on the sticky table before putting his forearms on the surface and leaning close to the young man.

“Our mutual employer can help with your problem.” He handed Eden a slip of paper. “Here is an address in Reno. Be there tomorrow night at ten o’clock. Now, I must be off.”

Montague donned his bowler hat and hurried to his rented black SUV. He couldn’t wait to get back to his hotel in Reno, take a long hot bath and send a few emails. But first he had to phone Madame and inform her that she had judged Eden’s character correctly.

Their young pigeon had taken the bait.

 

The Ponderosa

The next day

 

Sitting at his desk, in front of his lap top Ben shook his head. Why was Luther Bishop sending him such strange emails? Who knows what’s going on with that old coot?

SUBJECT: RE: Truckee Strip boundary

From LutherBishop@concho.com

To BCartwright@vcnevyahoo.com

Keep your greedy paws off my property! You skunk.

 

Ben quickly typed a reply, sent it and shut off his computer.

 

SUBJECT: Truckee Strip boundary

From Bcartwright@vcnevyahoo.com

To LutherBishop@concho.com

Luther, why are you bringing this issue up? The courts will uphold previous decisions. You will only regret bringing this up again.

Ben

 

“Mr. Cartwright! You come to table. Lunch served!” Hop Sing called from the dining room. “Lunch served right now!”

“Coming, coming!” Ben joined Barbara and his sons in the dining room. “I’m glad you are joining us, Barbara. It’s been quite a long time since you came out to the Ponderosa.”

“I know. We all have been so busy with the Arts Festival. Hanging the exhibit is a huge task in itself.”

”How is everything going?” Ben asked. He set down the overflowing platter Adam had passed him.

“It was awful at first but I’m so thankful that Katherine Saunders came back to town and was willing to take on so much of the work. I don’t know what Adam and I would do without her and Mr. Bishop. He’s been such a big help.”

“Luther Bishop is a huge help?” Ben raised his eyebrows. “That’s a surprise.”

Adam ignored his father’s hostile comment about Bishop and poured some wine into Barbara’s glass then filled his father’s.

“Adam is giving me a riding lesson after lunch,” Barbara said after taking a sip of the wine.

“A riding lesson?” Ben asked.

”Yes. When we recreate the shootout, I am playing my great, great grandmother Molly Scott.” Barbara took another sip of her wine and started counting off on her fingers. “Wait, I left out a ‘great’.”

“Left out a what?” Hoss asked as he held up his wine glass for Adam to fill.

“I left out one ‘great’,” Auburn-haired Barbara counted off on her long elegant fingers. “Molly Scott was my great, great, great, great grandmother. Four greats. I’m playing her in the Festival and we all have to ride in the parade. The only riding I’ve done is the carousel in the county fair.”

“Oh you’ll pick it up, jest fine. Adam is a real fine teacher,” Hoss assured her. Joe snickered and Adam kicked him under the table. Joe held up his empty wine glass and Adam ignored him.

“I don’t want to look foolish next to the other riders in the opening parade.”

“You can never look foolish, Barbara,” Adam complimented her. He put down the wine bottle next to his father’s elbow then glanced sideways at his father to see his reaction to Barbara’s mention of Luther Bishop. There was no great affection between the two men since a conflict between them close to two decades earlier over land boundaries between the Ponderosa and Bishop’s Concho ranch.

”Luther Bishop is being helpful?” Ben raised an eyebrow and passed a large platter of food to Hoss. Joe tried to reach for the wine bottle but Adam got his hand on it first.

“Yes, he is. Luther is very appreciative that the proceeds of the art auction are going to his late daughter’s scholarship fund. The Amy Bishop Fund should raise at least ten thousand dollars from the event. You know, he is a descendent of early settlers of the area, Butch Bishop, and has agreed to play him,” Barbara explained as Adam topped off her glass and his. “He really is a lovely man once you get past his crusty veneer. Amy was the apple of his eye.”

Four years earlier, unknown to both Luther Bishop and his father, Little Joe Cartwright had been surreptitiously dating Amy Bishop. They wanted to be able to go to the prom together instead of sneaking around. Amy had picked out a shimmering gold gown that her closest girlfriend Connie McKee had hidden in her house. Sadly, Amy had been murdered by one of the Concho’s ranch hands on the very same day that Joe had confronted Mr. Bishop and had convinced him to allow Joe to take Amy to the Prom. Instead, Joe’s girl was buried in the golden gown that she hoped to wear to her prom.

The Amy Bishop fund had been started at that time to honor the girl who wanted to study art in college and to help a grieving community create something positive out of the gruesome tragedy. Realizing how much the girl meant to Little Joe, Ben Cartwright also gave the land known as the Truckee Strip to the state of Nevada to create a wildlife preserve in Amy’s memory.

Hoss helped himself to the platter of what appeared to be crispy veal cutlets his older brother passed to him. “What is this here tan fried stuff?” Hoss pointed at the golden brown portions with his index finger.

“Broiled. No fried foods!” Hop Sing called over his shoulder as he headed back into the kitchen. “No fried artery blocking greasy food! Eat while food hot!”

“I stand corrected, Hop Sing. What is this tan, broiled stuff?” Hoss asked again.

“Tofu burgers. Hop Sing is trying to lower Pa’s cholesterol,” Adam explained to the lovely, red-haired school teacher. “Joe, eat it while it is hot. More wine Pa? Barbara?”

“It’s better while it’s hot?” Joe suspiciously poked at each tofu burger with the serving fork trying to see which one was the smallest. He reluctantly took a portion and passed the platter to Barbara. “We have company and should be serving our guest something delicious.” Joe reached for the wine bottle again, just as his father picked it up and refilled his own glass. “It sure doesn’t mean we all have to eat this nasty, weird stuff just because Pa is falling apart.”

“I beg your pardon?” Ben said indignantly. “Falling apart, did you say? I can out work any of you boys any day of the week!” He took an appreciative swallow of his wine.

“And out drink us too?” Joe muttered eyeing his own empty glass.

Barbara hid her laughter in her napkin.

“Any and all of you boys!” Ben growled. “Any and all of you boys! I am nowhere near falling apart! And don’t you forget it! Especially you, Joseph.”

“I certainly won’t forget it, Ben,” Barbara said sweetly. “You look wonderful!”

“Thank you,” Ben smiled back graciously.

“Wonderful for a guy who is falling apart,” Joe muttered under his breath as he poked the beige food on his plate with his fork.

Hoss couldn’t help but laugh. He poured a bit of his wine into Joe’s empty glass.

“Falling apart, did you say, Joe? Pa? Did you hear what Joe said, Pa? He thinks you are falling apart.” Adam tried to keep a straight face while he helped Little Joe just dig himself in deeper.

“Well, not exactly falling apart, Pa, but I sure don’t have high blood pressure or high cholesterol or whatever you have,” Joe countered. He swallowed the splash of wine that Hoss had put in his glass and tried to reach for the wine bottle.

“No, little brother, you don’t have no high blood pressure. You are just the cause of it.” Hoss elbowed him. “And ain’t you had enough wine, Shortshanks? Pass me them green peas.”

“They aren’t peas. These are soy beans.” Ben frowned. He unhappily eyed his portion. “Edamame”

“Edamame? High in protein, high in roughage,” Barbara said, trying to be pleasant. “I heard that on Oprah last week.”

“Edamame?” Adam raised one eyebrow. “Just what Doc Martin ordered.”

“If you eat this stuff for a hundred years, you will live a real long time,” Joe quipped. “You are in great shape, Pa, for an old man as ancient as you are.”

”Mmmm…Delicious!” Adam added swallowing a bit without chewing it. He hid the rest under his napkin.

“I think ranchers used to feed this to cattle years ago.” Hoss poked at the offending beans on his plate with his fork. “Or use it for bedding in the stalls.”

“Like mesquite beans? Remember that time we went camping with the Boy Scouts? Eden Saunders tipped over the canoe with all the food in it and his father went ballistic on him. Hoss made us eat mesquite beans.” Joe wrinkled up his face in disgust. He took an extra slice of crusty whole grain bread.

“Old Eagle Scout Adam was sure impressed with our resourcefulness,” Hoss told Barbara.

“He even showed us how to build a snare in case a rabbit came along, and some sort of dangerous booby trap thing with pointy sticks. We made Adam proud,” Joe added.

“Indeed I was,” Adam agreed. “No one dug finer engineered latrines than you two did after that mesquite feast. Even the mosquitoes stayed clear of that campsite.”

“Not half as good as our booby trap, though,” Joe said.

“A booby trap? “ Barbara asked.

“Sort of like MacGyver thing from sharpened sticks hanging off a bent branch. If a rabbit came hopping along it would whomp him…” Joe started to explain. “Remember MacGyver?”

“You boys would kill a bunny?” Barbara gasped and turned pale.

Sensing his guest’s distress, Adam said “I…I…um…just showed them the engineering of it so they could learn about tensile strength and kinetic energy and…”

“Not to worry, Barbara. The boys were so noisy and rowdy that they drove off any critters for miles around. The rabbits were really safe. Completely safe snug in their sweet little bunny burrows,” Ben explained. “If I recall, they also made a few little wooden catapults, and shot mud and pebbles into the lake.”

“Exactly!” Adam nodded. “That’s why the scouts ate all those mesquite beans, and the rabbits were totally safe from all of our weaponry.”

Hoss quickly helped himself to another portion of soy beans. “These ain’t half bad. Maybe if you slathered them with lots of butter and salsa and some mayo?”

“Hot sauce and some hollandaise?” Joe suggested.

“With a side of pulque?” Hoss winked. “Big Valley Pulque! Big Valley Pulque! A fiesta in every can! Oh Ho! Oh Ho!”

“Speaking of pulque, Barbara, did I tell you about a business venture I am involved with?” Joe smiled charmingly at his brother’s lady.

“I think that would be defeating the idea of eating tofu as tofu is high in protein, low in saturated fats and a good source of calcium as well as vitamin E. It is also cholesterol free. It’s called ‘the cheese of Asia.’ And quite healthful.” Adam started to lecture, hoping to silence Joe and Hoss. He knew what his youngest brother was up to and there was no way he was going to let Little Joe and his pulque-producing pals highjack the Arts Festival for the background for a crude commercial.

Joe rolled his eyes and tried to cut off Adam’s lecture. “Speaking of pulque… Did I tell you that Nick Barkley is going to film some commercials for his canned pulque in Virginia City? We’ve really hit it off. He wants to use the Arts Festival as a background. Barbara! Maybe he can put you in the commercial! We can make you a spokesmodel! We can make you famous! Would you like one of our tee shirts?”

“Tee shirts?” Barbara was getting more confused with all the chatter and the wine that Adam kept nervously adding to her glass.

“Sure, my girlfriend, Audra is bringing me a whole bunch of Big Valley Pulque give-aways… balloons, tee shirts, key rings with little pulque jugs on them. We are going to hang cameras all over town and record all the excitement, just like a cutting edge music video! Great stuff! There’s a fiesta in every can! Oh Ho! Oh Ho!”

“There’s a fiesta in every can! Oh no!” Adam shook his head.

 

DIRECTOR OF HISTORICAL SOCIETY INJURED IN FALL FROM HORSE

 

26-year-old Barbara Scott, Director of the Virginia City Historical Society, is recovering from a concussion and broken left leg after being thrown from a horse at the Ponderosa Ranch.

According to Adam Cartwright, “I was teaching Barbara to ride in preparation for the Arts Festival Parade next month. She hoped to be able to ride in the opening parade, but that won’t be happening now.”

The horse was startled by the sudden approach of a car driven by a visitor on the Ponderosa, Audra Barkley. Miss Barkley had a large bunch of helium filled balloons in her car which escaped through the sun roof of her car. This caused the mount to rear on her hind legs, throwing the rider onto a wooden fence.

“I feel awful that all this happened, even though it wasn’t my fault,” said Miss Barkley of Stockton, California. “And I lost all my balloons too!”

Barbara Scott was taken to Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center by Storey County Ambulance. According to Dr. John McIntyre, Chief of Emergency Services, she will be hospitalized for at least a week and is expected to make a full recovery.

“She won’t be riding on horseback in any parades this summer but I suspect she will be fine,” said Sherriff Roy Coffee.

 

VIRGINIA CITY HISTORIC FESTIVAL

The Virginia City Historical Festival Parade features a variety of beautifully restored vintage cars, historic horse drawn vehicles, marching bands, Virginia City‘s Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, equestrian units, costume characters and much more!

“It’s going to be a parade filled with excitement and fun for all ages,” said Mayor Titus Simpson. “Even when the parade ends, the Festival continues with an old-fashioned American hometown picnic and vintage car show at the high school grounds. There will be awards given at the car show for the best classic car entries. Awards will be given to parade entries, Scout competitions and various art displays. “

Following the awards will be a reenactment of the famous shoot-out pitting the outlaw Placerville Gang against Sheriff Butch Bishop, George Scott and his bride Molly.

Festivities will include live entertainment throughout the day — games, food, an arts show, and exhibit booths sponsored by the Historical Society, the Amy Bishop Scholarship Fund and various other community organizations and vendors.

“There will be plenty of food and drink and souvenirs to buy from our local merchants. We even have some out of town firms like London Candy, Oscar Meyer Wieners and Big Valley Pulque sponsoring our food stands,” added Simpson.

 

Ponderosa Ranch

October 1985

 

“Pa said if you two boys want to watch MacGyver with me, you both better wash up right now,” Adam Cartwright told his two younger brothers. “And Hoss, every bit of your homework better be done too.” Adam Cartwright stood on the front porch in the growing darkness.

”It is, Adam! Every bit.” Hoss held up his hand in a three fingered Cub Scout salute. “I swear.”

”Me too!” Little Joe jumped up and imitated Hoss’ stance. “I swear, Adam.”

”Macaroni and cheese and MacGyver! Mmm mm!” Hoss grinned.

Everyone seemed to be finally settling in since Marie was killed in a car wreck the previous winter. There was a new Monday night routine. Hoss had a Cub Scout Den meeting after school. Adam had basketball practice and Little Joe stayed with Mrs. Saunders and played with Eden. Adam picked up his little brothers in the new SUV so their father could go to a Cattleman’s Association dinner meeting with Mr. Saunders. This week Hop Sing had to go visit his ailing uncle so he left a casserole in the oven for the boys.

“And Little Joe, change into your night shirt before the show, not after.” Adam knew that his baby brother would most likely fall asleep on the floor before the show was half over and it would be much easier to tuck him into bed if he was already undressed. “Put all that stuff away too!”

”Not yet, Adam!” Hoss pleaded. “Please!” The husky boy pointed to a series of stakes he had pounded into the dirt between the front porch and the barn. “Five more minutes. We are going for the record! Watch. ”

Little Joe protested. “We ain’t done. Me and Hoss are just lining up for the next shot. When I’m a Cub Scout, will you help me make one too, Adam?”

Adam nodded. “Sure I will. And Hoss will help you too.”

The two younger boys had spent most of the previous two evenings playing with the two miniature wooden catapults Hoss had constructed with Adam’s assistance. By using scraps of wood, rubber bands and a few screws, the brothers had fashioned two working catapults capable of shooting pebbles, plastic army men, legos and checkers close to twenty feet. Once Little Joe saw them in action, he couldn’t resist. After he shot out a window pane with some cats eye marbles, Ben banned the catapults from inside the house. The boys brought them out to the yard.

“Want to take a shot, Adam? I made it bigger and stronger with some old elastic from some of Pa’s underwear instead of the rubber bands.” Hoss offered his catapult.

“You took Pa’s underwear?” Adam sighed.

“Don’t worry, older brother. Hop Sing gave it to me. It was in the rag bin and he cut the elastic off,” Hoss explained. Then the boy got a new idea. “Think we could use them bungee cord tie-downs from the tool shed? That would make it really strong. Maybe it could shoot a big rock with bungee cords! Or a chunk of fire wood!”

Little Joe’s eyes lit up. “C’mon, Adam! You can make it work. Shoot a chunk of firewood over the barn!”

“Go get the bungee cords. Play with us!” Hoss urged. “C’mon!”

Adam hesitated. He still had chores to do, supper to serve his brothers and his college essay to proofread. He didn’t have time for silly toys.

“Go on, Adam. It’s fun. We can us these marbles.” Little Joe held out a filthy hand with three red cat’s eyes in his sticky palm. “They is from the Saunders house.”

“Jeez, Little Joe. You can’t swipe things!” Hoss reprimanded his baby brother.

“Eden gave them to me and told me they were candy and to eat ‘em,” the little boy reported angrily.

“Eden told you to eat marbles?” Hoss gasped.

“That Eden is no darn good.” Adam shook his head.

“But I knew they weren’t. I’m no dope. Mrs. Saunders let me keep them!” Little Joe smiled. “But I got even with Eden. I told him that the pink crayons were bubble gum and he took a bite out of two crayons. He ran down the hall spitted them all over the floor and the wallpaper and the new picture and his mama wasn’t real happy with him.”

“I’m sure she wasn’t.” Adam grinned, picturing Katherine Saunders getting disturbed that her immaculate, elegant foyer with the newly hung grass-cloth walls, expensive paintings and polished oak floors were peppered with chewed pink Crayola and saliva. On the other hand, the spewed crayon might not even be noticed on some of the weird abstracts Mr. Saunders insisted on hanging.

“That’s when Mrs. Saunders said I could keep the marbles if I wanted. She said Eden needed to learn to share and take turns and be a good host when he had friends in the house and we should go play outside.”

“Want to shoot them in the catapult, Adam?” Hoss urged, eyeing the carved jack-o’-lantern on the porch. “It’s just like MacGyver would have. Bet we could shoot a pumpkin over the barn if’n we used them bungee cords.”

Adam hesitated for a minute. It would be fun to play around with the catapult but he had so many other responsibilities to tend to before Pa came home.

“Come on, Adam. We’ll let you go first,” Joe said. “I know how to share and take turns, Adam. It will be fun!”

“Come on Adam, have some fun with us.

Adam grinned. “Hoss, go get the bungee cords. Little Joe, help me with those pumpkins!”

 

Virginia City

1989

 

Little Joe took a sip from his glass of milk and snagged the last Oreo from the plate. Then he adjusted himself on Mrs. Hightower’s wobbly, wooden kitchen chair. He cleared his throat and started reading from the paperback “Barrel of Chuckles: A Joke Book for Boys and Girls” that he had just purchased at the school book fair. “This guy falls in love with a beautiful… beautiful… klepo… klemeno… What’s this word?”

“Kleptomaniac,” read Bessie Sue, looking over the boy’s shoulder.

“What’s a klepto…kleptomaniac, Mrs. Hightower?”

“Someone who steals things because and they have no control over it,” Mrs. Hightower answered.

“Oh. Like a bank robber?” Little Joe’s eyes lit up. Maybe this was going to be a great book — jokes and bank robbers too. Maybe the robbers would steal the barrel of chuckles?

“No… like items they don’t really need. And they can’t control what they do. It’s a mental illness,” she added. Mrs. Hightower looked up from the page of math problems she was checking for the middle Cartwright boy. “Hoss, you got every problem on this page correct. You are finally understanding the quadratic equation. Joe, you keep reading. You still have ten minutes left. You must read fifteen minutes every night.”

“I got them all perfect?” Hoss was still was amazed at his own success. He had been struggling with math since second grade. After studying with Mrs. Hightower, though, all the numbers and symbols made sense. He would have no problem keeping his grades high enough to stay on the high school football team as a sophomore. “Thank you, Mrs. Hightower! Thank you!” He gave her a big hug and then turned red, realizing that he was hugging Bessie Sue’s mom.

“Hey! I’m reading. Everyone listen. Listen to this one,” Joe demanded. “This guy falls in love with a beautiful klepto…klepto…maniac. His proposal was so romantic. ‘Dearest one, you’ve stolen my heart and my wallet….’ Huh?” Everyone laughed except for but Little Joe. The third grader had no absolutely no idea what made the joke funny or what the punch line was about. The boy shrugged and thumbed through his new book for another passage.

“You will do fine on your test, Hoss,” Mrs. Hightower promised. “Just take your time and double check your answers.”

“Wait, here’s another. This one is really good. Listen! A dumb crook walked up to a man and said, “Give me your wallet.” The man said, ‘Okay, but give me the gun.’ The crook gave him the gun and the man gave his wallet. The man used the gun to steal his wallet back. The crook said, “You’re an idiot — there’s no bullets in the gun.” The man replied, “You’re the idiot — there’s no money in the wallet.”

This time, Joe laughed so hard at his own joke that he would have fallen off the wobbly kitchen chair if Hoss hadn’t grabbed the back.

“Are you sure Miss Jones said it was alright to do your book report on a…a joke book?” Bessie Sue pointed out.

“Sure. It’s fine. Besides, it’s not a book report, Bessie Sue. We just got to read for twenty minutes to someone older and my Pa’s at Mr. Wood’s office because Mr. Bishop is being a pain in the…

“Joseph! Watch your language.” Hoss interrupted before his little brother could use rude language in front of Bessie Sue and her mother.

“A pain in the neck. I can say neck, can’t I?” Joe smiled angelically. “I wasn’t going to say any other thing, Hoss. No, sir.”

“That’s good,” Mrs. Hightower nodded.

“And Adam’s away at college and my other brother Hoss won’t listen to me read.” Then Little Joe pouted and dramatically pretended to wipe a tear from his eye. “Hoss is so mean. So mean!”

“Oh you poor little thing!” Bessie Sue said mockingly, patting Little Joe on the head. “Poor Little Joe! Poor, poor Joe! Poor neglected, sweet, darling Little Joe.”

“I’m listening, Little Joe. Keep reading for five more minutes. Don’t forget you need a current event article too,” Mrs. Hightower said, checking Joe’s battered assignment pad just as she promised Ben Cartwright when she offered to mind Joe while Ben met with his lawyer. Everyone in town knew that Luther Bishop and Ben Cartwright were battling out Truckee Strip land issues again.

Joe looked panicked. “Current events too? I’m never going to get done. It’s gonna be dark before I can go outside and play. Didn’t Mr. Hightower need me to help him in the barn?”

“It was me he needed in the barn, not you.” Hoss insisted on repaying Mrs. Hightower’s tutoring by doing chores around the ranch. The boy claimed he wanted to keep everything businesslike and not let anyone know he was just looking to spend as much time as he could with Bessie Sue and her family.

“You better get your nose into your homework, Shortshanks. Mine is completely done.” Hoss said, taking one last proud look at his perfect homework before he packed up all school books into his back pack. “I got all those math problems right? My paper was really perfect?”

“Perfectly perfect, Hoss. I’m very proud of you. I told you that you could do whatever you put your mind to doing,” Mrs. Hightower congratulated him. She had no doubt that the husky boy was not dumb. He was just shy and had no confidence. He was not quick and glib, like his older brother Adam, but Hoss Cartwright was certainly no fool. She was sure the boy was quite intelligent and college material, just like Adam.

“Now, you get back to work, Little Joe.” Mrs. Hightower handed him the Reno newspaper paper and a scissor. “Find an article, cut it out and read it to me. Then you can write up your current event. Then you are finished. And be sure to use my scissor only on that newspaper, not on your hair or clothes like last time.”

“Or my hair!” Hoss glared at his little brother. Bessie Sue giggled remembering the haircut Little Joe had given Hoss when he had dozed off on the Hightower sofa watching Doogie Howser MD.

“That’s all I have to do? One current event article coming right up!” Joe’s eye’s twinkled with mischief. The boy quickly opened up the newspaper to the middle and randomly poked his finger onto an article announcing a wedding “How about this one? ‘Hero Count Marries Artist?’”

“Wonderful choice, Joe. A wedding announcement! How romantic!” declared Mrs. Hightower. Bessie Sue and Hoss simultaneously looked at each other and both turned bright red.

“Romantic?” Little Joe wrinkled his nose. “I’m not so sure about bringing in that article. Maybe there’s one about stuff blowing up or a bank robber. Or maybe something about baseball? Or horses?”

“Miss Jones will be sure to love that one, Joe,” Hoss urged trying not to look at Bessie Sue again. What would he do if she realized how much he loved her? It was her idea that her mom could help him pass math and keep his grades up for football. And Bessie Sue was so pretty and smelled like vanilla pudding and pop-tarts and flowers. “You know how she loves romantic stuff and poetry stuff.”

“Ok,” Joe sighed. “But it’s gonna be your fault if some wise guy like Eden Saunders pokes me in the eye for bringing in a dopey lovey dovey current event article.”

“Read it out loud, Joe,” Mrs. Hightower commanded.

Bessie Sue busied herself preparing Hoss his third cup of cocoa.

Joe cleared his throat and began to read. ‘Hero Count Marries Artist,” Joe read.

 

HERO COUNT MARRIES ARTIST

Earl James of Chadwick, Hero of WWII, Announces Marriage to American Artist Linda Lawrence

Special to the Reno Gazette-Journal

The commitment is now official. Earl James of Chadwick, accompanied by his assistant Montgomery Montague Jr., has officially introduced his fiancée, American abstract artist Linda Lawrence, to the world.

Before a small crowd of international journalists, Earl James of Chadwick recently showed off his bride-to-be at a photo call held in the grand surroundings of Chadwick Manor, his ancestral home.

The Earl is the son of the late Grand Earl and Duchess Foxcroft. He was well known for his service during WWII with retrieving the artworks stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War. Earl Chadwick was a Captain with the Monuments Men, a motley crew of artists, curators and other types who landed on the beaches of Normandy in the wake of D-Day and, hitchhiking from one town to another, battled to protect, rescue and, later, retrieve lost masterpieces.

American born Miss Lawrence grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland. Her late father, Larry Lawrence, garnered his fortune thanks to savvy investments in plastic car seat covers. Miss Lawrence studied at Mount Ida Junior College for a year but left before graduation to pursue painting. She had her first exhibition in the Cuyahoga County Public Library. Eventually she left the United States to study in Europe where she met Earl Chadwick .

The son of the Earl’s assistant, Montgomery Montague Jr., introduced the couple shortly after Monty Sr. died. Despite the substantial difference in their ages, a friendship quickly blossomed between Miss Lawrence and Earl Chadwick.

“We are both interested in painting and art collecting,” explained Earl Chadwick. “I was intrigued by her unique abstract expressionist painting style and her charm. Monty was more than my assistant but a lifelong friend. We even served side by side in the war. Now his son, Montgomery Montague Jr. works for me in the same capacity,” explained Earl Chadwick. “I introduced her to many of my acquaintances in the art world.”

Now the work of Linda Lawrence has been added to the collections of wealthy art aficionados like Donald Trump, performers Wayne Newton and Stevie Wonder, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Barkley of California, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Saunders here in the Lake Tahoe area of Nevada, as well as local musical star Andy Walker. An exhibit of her work is scheduled for next year in the corporate headquarters of Denver Carrington, Trump Plaza Casino in Atlantic City, and Carrington Plaza in Denver.

Now, five years later, that friendship has blossomed into something much deeper. The happy couple announced their engagement with a statement that read: “Earl James of Chadwick and Miss Linda Lawrence have the immense joy to announce their engagement. A spring wedding is planned in Chadwick Manor followed by a honeymoon in the Swiss Alps, Bavaria, and a cross-country trip in the US to be present at Miss Lawrence’s art shows”.

 

Virginia City, 2000

 

Cheerful excitement filled the air. Hard working volunteers were clustered in busy groups and more were arriving to the Virginia City Fourth Ward School Cultural Center. Every organization in the region was represented at the meeting. In addition to the members of the Virginia City Historical Society, the Town Arts Council and the Amy Bishop Scholarship Committee, representatives from every group from the Scouts to the Volunteer Firemen, from the high school band to Senior Center. Representatives from the League of Women Voters, the Little League and the Adopt-a-Pet League sat side by side with merchants, ranchers and the county highway commissioner.

Every chair was filled in the auditorium. Hoss Cartwright and a few of Joe’s fraternity brothers were setting up more battered folding chairs they had hauled in from the basement storage room.

Wooden shipping crates and cardboard cartons filled with art for the show crowded the perimeter of the room. Folding tables surrounded by chairs provided meeting space for the various committees involved with the Festival. Senior citizens sorted stacks of posters and equipment. Students from Virginia City high school assembled and tied stacks of posters to hang all over town and distribute to shops and restaurants around Lake Tahoe.

Katherine Saunders made her way to the platform in the crowded auditorium. Deputy Clem Foster helped her up the steps and handed her the microphone. She couldn’t believe everyone she had invited came, and others she hadn’t thought to ask showed up as well.

“Good afternoon, everyone! Thanks to all of you for coming to the meeting.” She smiled graciously and looked around the crowded room. “Please help yourself to the refreshments donated by Daisy’s Café and The Merchants Association. The Festival will be a wonderful success, totally because of the hard work you all have contributed! Thank you!” Katherine beamed proudly as applause filled the room. “Thank you! And thank you to all our sponsors too! We couldn’t put this wonderful event together without all of you!”

“Big Valley Pulque! A fiesta in every can! Oh ho!” cheered Eugene Barkley and Joe Cartwright. Joe put two fingers in his mouth and whistled shrilly. Everyone applauded enthusiastically.

“Please check in with your committees and make sure you take your blue folders if you are a commercial vendor and the red folders if you are a committee chairman ….or woman,” Katherine continued. She double checked her clip board to make sure she had said everything she had intended and then handed the microphone to Deputy Clem Foster.

“Oh ho! Oh Ho!” yelled Joe and his friends. “Big Valley Pulque!”

“Just one last thing!” Clem said reading off a scrap of paper. “Will the owner of a black Land Rover Range Rover, California plates NB1963 please move your car as you are blocking the mayor’s car.”

“Isn’t that your brother’s car?” Joe asked Audra as he carried an aluminum step ladder into the auditorium.

“He must be unloading the Big Valley Pulque tee shirts and the other give-aways.” Audra smiled and tossed her perfect blonde hair. ”Nick will move it when he is done.”

At the far side of the room, the logistics committee coordinated all the last minute changes to the Festival. The oversized map of Virginia City was rolled out on the table in front of Sheriff Roy Coffee who, along with Adam Cartwright, double checked the specific details. With a red Sharpie Marker, he traced an enlarged area near the art exhibit for the Cub Scout catapult competition. Roy Coffee made a note that they should swap the petting zoo with the senior citizens bocce court and move the start of the square dancing up an hour to make sure the crowds watching the re-enactment of the historic gun fight had time to move down the street at a slow enough pace to spend money at the various souvenir and refreshment stands along the way.

“Let’s double-check the order of the parade,” Adam said opening up the lap top he had borrowed from his father. “I’ll print out a final copy for all of you at the end of the meeting.” He made sure all the horse-drawn vehicles and equestrian units were at the end of the parade, to assure no marching bands or baton twirlers had to sidestep horse manure. “If we have the classic cars lead off, they can all be through with the parade and parked at the car display before the rest of the parade even ends.”

“Make sure the all the fire trucks and ambulances are at the beginning of the line of march,” Doc Martin pointed out, looking over Adam’s shoulder at the screen. “Can’t have them plowing through the parade if they get an emergency call before the parade finishes.”

“They didn’t think of that over in Carson two years back in the holiday parade and a fire truck near ran down two marching bands, the senior citizen carolers and Santa and his elves getting to a house fire,” Roy Coffee chuckled. ”Heard that some poor gal went into labor from all the excitement.”

“And here’s the route of the re-enactors going up to Barbara’s house.” Adam traced out the location of the shootout with his finger on the screen of the lap top. “And here’s where it finishes up.”

“Can’t believe you got your Pa to be part of this whole shebang.” Roy shook his head and pulled out his wallet. “I tip my hat to you boys. Never thought you could do it. Here’s the twenty dollars I owe you, Adam.”

Adam grinned and slipped the bill into his jacket pocket. “I told you I could convince him.”

Doc Martin grinned and shook his head. “I told you not to take the bet, Roy. When Adam puts his mind to something, even Ben is no match. Glad you got Jarrod Barkley to help out with the shootout set-up.”

“He’s going to be a mighty big help. He belongs to a group that does this all the time,” Roy agreed. “I guess when you’re a big deal lawyer, you need to do something to relax in your spare time.”

“And he probably wants to keep track of my little brother’s carryings-on with his sweet baby sister,” Adam joked. The other men laughed heartily. All of them were so distracted they didn’t notice the screen of Ben’s computer flashing a warning that the virus software had been deactivated.

Once again, Deputy Clem Foster took the microphone on the platform. “Will the owner of a black Land Rover Range Rover, California plates NB1963 please move your car as you are blocking the mayor’s car.”

“Maybe you should go get Nick’s keys and move the car?” Joe urged. “You don’t want Clem to start towing it.”

“I suppose that could be a problem.” Audra shrugged and strolled over to Nick’s side.

At a folding table, near the back entrance, Sally Cass of the Merchants Association was handing out individual blue informational folders to each of the commercial exhibitors who patiently waited in line.

“What do you mean we can’t film our commercial during the Festival?” bellowed Nick Barkley. He pounded his fist on the table causing the stack of folders to scatter and Sally’s coffee to spill. His angry voice could be heard across the noisy auditorium. “We are spending thousands to put up banners and booths and hand out coupons and tee shirts and now you won’t let us film? Are you kidding?”

Sally Cass quietly tried to reason with belligerent Nick. “It’s not that we don’t appreciate your contribution but what you are proposing might disrupt the parade and some of the events. I’m really sorry…”

“Sorry! This is supposed to be the kick off for our new product line!” Nick pounded his fist on the table again. “This is unacceptable!”

“Will the owner of a black Land Rover Range Rover, California plates NB1963 please move your car as you are blocking the mayor’s car.” Clem repeated. “Whose car is this?”

“Nickie, calm down!” Audra rubbed her older brother’s arm. “And let me have your keys.”

Nick pulled away from his sister and glared at Sally Cass. “This isn’t the end of this!”

Seated beside Katherine Saunders on the platform, high school principal Abigail Jones-Meyer took copious notes on yellow legal paper. She nervously looked up at the young men trying to hang a vinyl Virginia City Arts Festival banner high above the middle of the room. “Goodness gracious! Don’t you think they should do that after the meetings are done?”

Skittering around the ladders and the crates, Claude Miller refilled the trays of donuts on the refreshment table and checked the coffee pots.

To the left of the platform, Joe Cartwright climbed a tall aluminum ladder and looped a cord around a rusty iron hook that had formerly held some sort of antiquated window shades. He quickly tied a secure knot and threw the rest of the coiled rope over the heads of the crowd across the room to Eugene Barkley. Gene reached out to catch it.

“Be careful!” Audra cautioned as Eugene’s rickety ladder wobbled precariously on the uneven floor.

“Huh?” Claude said, assuming the pretty girl was warning him. He backed into Hoss Cartwright who was carrying an armload of metal folding chairs.

“Watch out, Claude!” Hoss yelled.

Claude Miller spun around and backed into one of the larger crates. It tipped over and fell against the refreshment table which collapsed with a crash of broken crockery.

 

Later that night

 

SUBJECT: Truckee Strip boundary

From BCartwright@vcnevyahoo.com

To LutherBishop@concho.com

I have a grave waiting for you, Luther

B Cartwrite

Ponderosa Ranch

 

SUBJECT: RE: Truckee Strip boundary

From LutherBishop@concho.com

To BCartwright@vcnevyahoo.com

Are you threatening me? What is wrong with you Cartwright? I’ll put YOU in a grave!

Luther Bishop

 

SUBJECT: Truckee Strip boundary

From BCartwright@vcnevyahoo.com

To LutherBishop@concho.com

Tell your friends to send flowers, you son of a bitch.

B Cartwrite

Ponderosa Ranch

 

SUBJECT: RE: Truckee Strip boundary

From LutherBishop@concho.com

To BCartwright@vcnevyahoo.com

It aint gonna be me in there!

Luther Bishop

 

SUBJECT: Truckee Strip boundary

From BCartwright@vcnevyahoo.com

To LutherBishop@concho.com

What are you talking about, Bishop? Quit all this email foolishness and let’s go over this face to face like men.

Ben Cartwright

 

Virginia City, 1997

 

Eden Saunders lurked in the inky shadows near the rickety shed in Everett Scott’s backyard. He was impatient to break into his house. He fished in his jacket pocket for his cigarettes, lit one and took a long drag.

“I wish the old coot would hurry up and get to bed. What’s somebody that old doing up so late? Wonder if Connie McKee and Jennifer Beal really know what they’re talking about. If he painted a picture of Amy Bishop, why would he keep it in the basement? In these old houses, the basements aren’t anything fancy, just cellars. Oh, hell, who knows why geezers do what they do? Bitches! Neither one of them would go out with me, but they both went out with Joe Cartwright after Amy died. They all acted so broke up about it, especially Cartwright, but they sure forgot her fast! I’ll never forget her. She was so pretty and sweet, not like Connie and Jen. She helped me with algebra. She was smart too.

“There’s still a light on upstairs. I’m sick of waiting. Maybe I can sneak in without old man Scott hearing me? I have to see that painting of Amy. Maybe I’ll take it for my own.”

Eden took one last drag of his cigarette. He tossed it down on the cracked cement path and angrily ground it out with the heel of his boot.

 

Territorial Enterprise

May 1997

 

Everett Scott, a descendent of George Scott, was found dead at his home this morning, lying at the bottom of his basement steps. Mr. Scott’s neighbor, Will Cass, stated that he was to drive Mr. Scott to a doctor’s appointment this morning, and when Mr. Scott failed to answer his door or telephone, Mr. Cass used a house key to enter the home. Mr. Cass said that Mr. Scott, being elderly and living alone, had shown Cass where he kept a hidden key.

Mr. Cass said that the cellar door was ajar and that Mr. Scott was lying at the bottom of the steps. 911 was called and Mr. Scott was taken to Carson Valley Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Mr. Scott, a beloved retired art teacher at Virginia City High School, was a direct descendent of George Scott of the infamous Butch Bishop shootout and a local historian. Funeral plans are being made by Mr. Scott’s only survivor, his niece Barbara Scott.

 

1997

 

Eden Saunders tossed the day-old newspaper into the back seat of his car. “Phew! Nothing about anyone being seen at the old man’s house! I thought he was still upstairs. I should have waited longer, but damn, I wanted to see that picture of Amy. I didn’t mean to push him down the stairs. Oh, well, a lot of old people fall down the stairs. Wonder where all those other paintings came from? They were a lot better than that picture of Amy, so I bet he didn’t paint them. He sure went to a lot of trouble to dig that tunnel in that old coal cellar and hide the entrance. If he hadn’t of left that cabinet pulled out, I never would have found it. That must be why he went back down. One thing, with him dead, no one will miss that painting of mountains, and I can keep it.”

 

Virginia City, 2000

 

Adam carefully assisted Barbara down the cellar stairs. “Take it slowly, one step at a time and keep your right hand on that railing,” Adam directed. He was alert to catch her if she lost her balance. “Hold the railing, now put the broken leg down first, and then the crutches.”

Step by step, they made their way down the steep wooden stair case. At the bottom, Barbara took a deep breath and smiled appreciatively. “We did it!”

“Now, that wasn’t so hard. Was it?” Adam grinned.

“You really are an expert at this!” she complimented him.

“Just experienced. I was on crutches a couple of times. Both of my brothers broke their legs at various times, along with sprained ankles and twisted knees. Hoss played football and Joe was a hot-dogger on the ski slopes. Even Pa was on crutches from an accident with a timber crew. He fell over an axe and gashed himself pretty badly and was laid up for almost a month,” Adam explained.

“Goodness! You Cartwrights need your own Emergency Room!” Barbara gasped.

“Pa says he paid for Doc Martin’s last three cars and his sail boat. Now, you sit down and let me start looking for this mythical painting before you get to buy Doc a trailer for his jet ski.” He moved a rusty tool box, a stack of old National Geographic Magazines and a worn-out pair of work boots off the seat of an old kitchen chair. He wiped off the seat with a rag and placed it in front of Barbara. “Your throne, Milady. Sit here while I poke around.” Barbara knew better than to protest. She made herself comfortable and watched Adam search.

“Put on the light.” Barbara pointed towards a long, frayed string hanging from a ceiling fixture, holding a single, dusty forty watt bulb. “Did you bring the flashlight?

Adam nodded and pulled the Maglite LED flashlight from his back pocket. “Voila! I always come prepared.”

“I forgot you were an Eagle Scout.” Barbara giggled. “Watch your head, Adam! There are all sorts of low beams and pipes and wires. I used to be scared to death to come down here when I was a little girl. I had to help Aunt Frieda bring up the laundry.” She pointed to the abandoned clothes line stretched between two rough wooden posts. An ancient wicker laundry basket hung on a rusty hook.

“This house is so old it was originally lit by gas lights.” Adam pointed to the capped off pipes running across the joists above their heads. “The owners of this place must have added the electric wiring years later when the Farad Hydroelectric Plant started up and Virginia City got power. The Virginia City electric distribution system — Nevada’s first — was one of only a handful nationwide designed by genius inventor Thomas Alva Edison. There’s a lot of architectural history in this area.”

“Edison? Really?” Barbara was in awe. “Do you think he actually came into this house?”

“Probably not. I think he just designed the system. Thomas Edison certainly didn’t tack the wires onto the baseboards and screw in these feeble light bulbs. I did a paper on it for an engineering class back in college. I think the house was originally one the mine owners built for the workers,” Adam explained “Most of the houses on this street look like they started off as the same design. They are built right above the mine tunnels. Look.” He shined his light on the wall to their left. Most of it was carved out of one granite boulder

“You are probably right. A couple of years ago, a one of the abandoned house on the end of the street fell through when the tunnel collapsed.”

Adam gazed around the musty cellar. Behind him was the steep wooden staircase that led back up to the kitchen. To the right, there were two small windows in the side wall above his head that probably hadn’t been washed in decades. A dusty shaft of light shined through the one clean spot in the window. On the other side of the cellar was a behemoth of an old rusty coal furnace. The cellar was stacked with years of clutter: boxes, trunks, cartons, abandoned furniture and dried up art supplies.

He handed Barbara the flashlight. “Sit here and shine this where I am so I can see. I need two hands to move this stuff around.”

He reluctantly started moving a rickety table covered with multicolored blobs of dried oil paints. It must have originally matched the chair Barbara was sitting on until Everett used it as his painting table. “Shine that light over here,” Adam requested, pointing to the far wall. “There’s a door over there.”

“Maybe it’s a storage closet? Or the coal bin? Could the painting be in there?” Frustrated with being stuck on the far side of the cellar and impatient to see what might be behind the door, Barbara carefully made her way to Adam’s side.

“Or the other half of the cellar?” Adam suggested, based on the location. Judging by the size of the main floor of the Scott house, this cellar seemed awfully small. It took Adam about fifteen minutes to clear a path through the clutter to the door. He turned the tarnished brass door knob and yanked on the door until it opened with a loud creak.

Adam stood frozen in his place staring at what was behind the door.

“What’s inside?” Barbara asked excitedly. “Move over, Adam. I can’t see. Move over!”

“Well it’s really not what I expected,” Adam said cautiously. He stepped aside so Barbara could see what was behind the door. All she saw was a shallow pantry closet filled with neatly arranged rows of ancient canned goods. Each shelf was only one can deep.

“That’s an awfully strange way to store extra groceries,” Barbara shook her head. She looked at the narrow shelves housing dozens of cans of tuna, Campbell’s tomato soup and Del Monte peaches.

Adam still couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He slowly shook his head. “Based on the size of this place, I expected another room or maybe the coal bin, not this …, this …”

“Stockpile for when Campbell’s quits making tomato soup? Are you getting hungry?” Barbara giggled. She reached out to pick up a can and discovered it was an empty can. She picked up a second and a third and found all of them were empty. They had been opened from the bottom so that the tops remained and the cans gave the illusion of being full. “What the heck is this?”

“Give me the flashlight,” Adam shined the light back and forth, up and down.

“What are you looking for?” Barbara asked. “More empty soup cans?”

Focused on his search, Adam ignored her, momentarily.

“Adam?”

He shined the bright white light of the flashlight on the left upper corner of the cupboard. “This!”

“What is it?” she asked as Adam handed her the flashlight.

“Hinges!” Adam removed some of the empty tuna cans on the right side of the shelves and felt around until he felt a latch and a small handle. “It’s a hidden door.”

“How did you know that?”

“When I was a kid, my brothers were big MacGyver fans.” He gave the handle a firm pull. “Voila!”

The door swung open. Adam shined the flashlight into the gloom. It revealed a room twice the size of the rest of the cellar stacked with dozens of oil paintings in wide gilt frames, statuary, and a large crystal chandelier.

“Wow! This looks like the caverns of the bandits in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” Adam exclaimed. He swung the beam of light back and forth. The white light of the Maglite flashed on a huge portrait of a graceful young woman with upswept hair wearing a flowing golden dress. Swirls of jewel-like colors and geometric shapes swirled around her. It was a remarkable painting. “Amy!”

“Oh my goodness!” Barbara gasped. “This isn’t Amy.”

“Who is it if it isn’t the missing portrait of Amy Bishop?”

Barbara stared at the beautiful painting. Even though she had never seen the original painting before, she recognized it from reproductions in her text books. “It’s the portrait of Lucille Drucker by Gustav Klimt. It was painted in 1905. She was the only daughter of a wealthy merchant family from Vienna who were patrons of the arts. Lucy died not long after it was painted. She had a bad heart and passed away when she was only twenty or twenty-one. Her parents never got over it. The painting was stolen by the Nazis from her family. It’s been missing since the war ended,” Barbara whispered.

 

Lake Tahoe Tribune

CALIFORNIA MAN INJURED IN HIT AND RUN ACCIDENT

 

A Stockton California man, Heath Barkley, was seriously injured in a crosswalk in the Stateline, Lake Tahoe casino district early Saturday morning. The Nevada Highway Patrol is trying to find a vehicle that hit him then left the area.

According to a witness, Heath Barkley, 24, of Stockton was intoxicated as he crossed Interstate 80 at the Interstate 580 interchange, the NHP said. The vehicle hit Barkley at about 12:30 a.m. and left without stopping to help, the NHP said. It was going east and left Interstate 80 to go to the northbound Interstate 580 when the accident occurred. Barkley had come to the area to participate in the Virginia City Historic Society Arts Festival as one of the Old West Re-enactors. He had just accompanied artist Linda Chadwick to her car when the accident occurred.

“We were both involved with the event in Virginia City and bumped into each other in the casino and had a nightcap together,” said Linda Chadwick. “I was a bit nervous walking to my car alone at that hour, and Mr. Barkley graciously offered to escort me. He had just left my side when the truck came from out of nowhere. I’m still shaking!”

The preliminary crash investigation details indicate that the silver Ford was being driven east on the highway. Barkley was crossing Highway 80 from the casinos in the crosswalk, Trooper Daniel Lopez said. The unidentified driver left the scene of the accident in a silver Ford. Barkley was taken by ambulance to Tahoe Regional Medical Center.

 

Virginia City 2000

 

Jarrod Barkley sat at the head of the battered oak table and opened up the rehearsal. “Thanks for inviting me to work with you on the re-enactment of the famous Virginia City shootout. It’s great to be back here. As you know, my family has a house on Lake Tahoe, and I spent many happy summers in the area. Matter of fact, my sister and brother are here full-time, attending college. I got wind of all the fun they are having working on the Festival, so when my old pal Adam Cartwright asked for a hand, I just had to drop everything and come up here.”

The volunteer actors for the shootout were gathered around the conference table in the Forth Ward School meeting room. As Adam Cartwright distributed the scripts to the group, he glanced warily at his father.

“The part you are assigned is listed next to your name.” explained Jarrod Barkley.

Ben eyed his copy. “Adam, Jarrod, could I speak to you both for a minute, privately. Right now.”

Adam nodded, and he and Jarrod silently followed Ben to the back of the room.

“Atley Ward? You told me I was to be a just an extra posse member, not a main character.” Ben glared.

“That’s what Jarrod Barkley told me at first, Pa. “

“At first?”

“At first. But last night, my brother Heath, the fellow playing Atley Ward, got hit by a car near his motel in Stateline. Hit and run,” Jarrod explained. “He was coming back from one of the casinos and probably wasn’t paying attention.”

“Hit and run? Is your brother ok?” Ben was shocked.

“They kept him in the hospital overnight. He’ll be ok in a few weeks, thank goodness. Heath broke his arm and has a mild concussion. Audra is driving him back home this afternoon. Mother insists. You know how mothers are.”

“Audra is going with him? Joe is going to be awfully disappointed if she isn’t around for all the festivities.” Ben tried to avoid the inevitable.

“I’m sure he’ll survive, Pa.” Adam rolled his eyes. “Let’s get back to the shootout.”

“We really need you to step in, Ben.” Jarrod got right to the point.

Adam draped his arm across his father’s shoulders. “We can do with one less good guy, but not without Atley. You’ll be the star, Pa.”

Ben slid out from under his son’s arm. “It isn’t going to do you any good to use your youngest brother’s tactics on me. It doesn’t work for him, and it isn’t going to work for you, Adam. I don’t really want to be in this whole phony shootout at all, let alone be one of the main characters. Besides, I just don’t feel comfortable pointing a gun at someone.”

“I know, but the pistol will be loaded with blanks. It’s all carefully handled, Pa.”

“Absolutely, Ben. We do this all the time, all over the country,” Jarrod agreed.

The more he resisted, the harder the two younger men tried to convince him. Ben shook his head and took a deep breath. Somehow he felt like he was trying to outrun a stampede on a lame horse.

“Come on, Pa. Look at all those movies and TV shows with gunfights. It’s done every day. There is even a shootout re-enactment at that dude ranch outside of Carson City every Saturday. It’s perfectly safe. ”

“We keep meticulous care of all the fire arms and safety is our utmost concern,” Jarrod added. “I’ll be glad to show you how it’s set up. We keep all the firearms in the locked gun case in this office. Follow me.”

Ben sighed. “Adam, you can stop pinching the bridge of your nose like you do when your brothers are being exasperating. I’m a man of my word. I promised I would be in it, and I will. Well, let’s go; we don’t want to be late for the first rehearsal.”

“Thanks, Pa. I knew you’d say that. Don’t worry; they can’t start without the director.”

“Ben, if you are worried about the pistol, I’ll show you the one you will be using and you can get a feel for it in your hand.” Jerrod Barkley unlocked the gun cabinet and removed a heavy, 1870s model Navy Colt. He spun the chamber to make sure the pistol was not loaded and handed it to Ben. “After the meeting, I’ll give you some blanks, and you can try it out.”

“That won’t be necessary, Jarrod, but thanks for the offer. It’s a beautiful weapon.” Ben examined the Colt and weighed it in his hand to get the feel. “What happened here?” Ben asked, examining the ivory handle. There was a rough triangular crack in the grip.

Jarrod answered sheepishly. “No one in our group will admit getting that chip in the handle, but I suspect it was my brother, Heath. We all pride ourselves in the care we take of our weapons and equipment, and whoever did it will just have to foot the repair bill. We just noticed it, so we haven’t had time to repair it before this. Atley Ward was known to use an ivory-handled Navy Colt and this is the only one we have.”

Ben handed the pistol back to Jarrod and followed his son back into the room and joined the rest of the players seated around the long, oak, library table.

“Ok, folks. Let’s take it from the top!” Adam smiled as he took the seat at the head of the table. He opened the script to the beginning.

Immersed in the rehearsal, no one in the room noticed Eden Saunders lurking by the open window.

 

Virginia City

1:00 AM: The Night Before The Re-Enactment

 

The slim figure clad in black jeans, black hoodie, and black Adidas crouched by the window to the Forth Ward School meeting room, waiting for his partner to give him the signal to proceed. He couldn’t help but grin when he thought of how he had underestimated the old English guy. Who would have thought the short chubby man who was at the beck and call of that snooty Countess would know how to disarm the building’s alarm system? Just like MacGyver or those guys in Ocean’s 11. I got to learn how to do that, Eden thought.

His partner’s soft whistle roused Eden from his thoughts, and he jimmied the back door.

Inside the room, Eden made his way to the grey, steel cabinet where the guns for the reenactment were stored.

This’ll be an easy lock to pick. Damn, I can’t do it with these stupid gloves Monty made me wear!

Eden stowed the gloves in the pocket of his hoodie and got to work. He held a small, flickering flashlight in his teeth. The lock took only a few seconds to pick. He hadn’t lost his touch. He quickly removed the reproduction Colt revolver with the tag marked “Atley Ward” from the cabinet and replaced it with the identically-tagged one from the small black nylon bag he carried, switching the two.

What was that noise? I better get outta here! Eden flicked off the flashlight, hurried back to the window and climbed out. The feel of the old wood of the windowsill made him realize that he had not worn his gloves when switching the guns as Monty had told him to. Damn! He jammed a hand into his hoodie and snatched the gloves out. He had to get them on before Monty saw he was barehanded. Hell – there was that noise again! Spooked, he took off at a flat-out run for Monty’s silver Taurus, not noticing the black glove lying under the window. A mangy coyote, the source of the noise, stopped to sniff the discarded glove before it resumed its hunt.

 

Lake Tahoe Tribune

HIT AND RUN VEHICLE FOUND

 

Authorities have found the unoccupied, silver Ford car suspected in the hit and run accident that injured Heath Barkley abandoned in the municipal parking lot in Virginia City. NHP authorities are examining the vehicle for fingerprints. The vehicle was reported missing, three days ago by its owner, Daisy Slade Miller, of Virginia City, owner of Daisy’s Café. Mrs. Miller is not suspected in the incident as she and her crew were closing up the restaurant in Virginia City at the time the incident occurred.

“Drivers who hit pedestrians and don’t help are guilty of a felony. Charges will be up to the district attorney,” Trooper Lopez said.

NHP’s Major Accident Investigation Team (M.A.I.T.) will investigate the accident. Witnesses to the event, or anyone with additional information, should contact them at (555) 689-4623 regarding case # NHP-110730789.

*****

By the time Audra had driven for an hour, Heath was starting to doze off. The doctor who had put the cast on his arm said that would probably happen as he was on a high dosage of pain killers. Audra didn’t mind one bit. She was heading home.

“You should get gas soon,” Heath muttered. “Only have half a tank, Audra. Don’t want to run out before home.”

“Not to worry. Next service area twenty miles.” She read the green and white road sign. “Gas and food.”

Heath nodded and muttered something about calling their mother to tell her that they were on their way.

“I told you, I already did.” Audra sighed. She pushed her foot down on the accelerator and sped down the highway at ten miles above the speed limit. She found her favorite station on the radio, cranked up the volume and sang along with Cher’s hit “Believe”

No matter how hard I try
You keep pushing me aside
And I can’t break through
There’s no talking to you
So sad that you’re leaving
Takes time to believe it
But after all is said and done
You’re going to be the lonely one, Ohh Oh!

As Audra pulled into the gas station, she glanced to her right and smiled. Heath was sound asleep, his chin on his chest.

“Cash or credit?” the gas jockey asked.

“Credit, of course!” Audra smiled and handed him her card. As the attendant filled the tank, Audra reached into her lavender Coach purse for her cell phone.

“Hi, baby. Surprised? It’s me! I miss you too. We’re almost there. I can’t wait. I’ll see you soon. I love you. “

“Talking to Joe?” Heath asked sleepily, opening one eye.

“Joe? Joe Cartwright?” Audra laughed. “I’m done with him.”

“Don’t tell Mom that, Sis,” Heath yawned. He leaned his head against the side window and fell back asleep.

“Of course not.” Audra smiled smugly and put her phone back into bag.

 

Virginia City, 2000

 

“Hey! I’m sure glad this is over.” Joe nodded emphatically at Nick Barkley; the big man drained his third can of pulque in the last 30 minutes. Nick tossed the empty can nosily in the overflowing dumpster on the opposite side of the alley.

“Did you get all those cameras set up?” Nick asked. He anxiously looked around in anticipation for the arrival of the re-enactors who were scheduled to gather in the alley momentarily.

Joe grinned proudly. “Of course! Virginia City is covered from almost every angle. We even gave the entire set-up a test run last night. My buddy Dan Pettibone is a tech genius.”

“Did anyone see you three?” Nick asked, glancing at his Rolex to check the time. Once the mayor and the Virginia City Historical Association had banned Nick Barkley and The Big Valley Pulque Company from filming the Festival for their commercial, he and Joe had decided to circumnavigate the rules. Doing an end run around the authorities, Joe, Eugene Barkley and Dan Pettibone snuck around in the middle of the night after everyone involved was fast asleep. They stealthily hung video cameras around Virginia City. The cameras were quickly connected to a control panel in the cellar storeroom in the Bucket of Blood. Nick gave Cosmo, the bartender, three cases of Big Valley Pulque in exchange for the space and for being prominently featuring the commercial. There was also a promise of three more if he kept silent until the commercial aired. Dan was sequestered at the control panel testing out the angle of all the video cameras.

“Of course no one saw us. Eugene had miles of pennants and a bunch of banners that we could say we were hanging. Even my brothers thought we were out finishing up the decorations for the Historical Association. And we had a few six packs of pulque to spread around. Just in case.”

“Just in case,” Nick repeated. He laughed and slapped Joe on the back. “Good job, Joe!”

Nick glanced at his watch again. “Here come the cowboys! Right on time.” He pointed at the group of gaudily costumed men who neared the mouth of the alley. Hoss was part of the re-enactors who gathered behind the Bucket of Blood with the rest of the posse. He wore a foolishly tall, white, ten gallon hat and a leather vest.

“Shut up about the filming, Joe,” Nick muttered as Hoss came closer. “We don’t want to screw this before we get enough footage for a good commercial.”

“Who does Adam thinks he is strutting around, waving his Ray Bans, pointing, ordering everyone around? Quentin Tarrantino?” Joe quickly tossed out the comment as a distraction.

Hoss chuckled at Joe’s description of their perfectionistic older brother and then quickly defended him. “Aw, Joe. Adam just wants the reenactment to turn out well. It means a lot to Barbara and Mr. Bishop and Mrs. Saunders, and a lot of other folks. Besides, it was your idea for us to run around in these getups as part of the posse.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Joe quickly conceded. He snagged Nick’s arm and dragged him out of Hoss’ earshot. Joe pointed to a window above Hop Ling’s Dry Cleaning. “Everything’s set with my buddy. As soon as I wave at the window, he’ll start filming. He has the perfect angle for most of the shootout and the parade. He can zoom in on all the crowds and pick out any hot-looking girls without anyone knowing.”

Roy Coffee’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers. “Folks, please remain behind the barriers. Virginia City Historic Association is proud to present the re-enactment of Butch Bishop and George Scott defeating the Placerville Gang. For you visitors to town, some of the descendants of the real folks are play acting in this here piece. Ok. Let’s begin. According to the write up in our Virginia City Enterprise back in 1866, and I quote: Butch Bishop returned to Virginia City to visit his brother. One evening, just at sundown, Butch Bishop turned up as usual in a Virginia City saloon, leaving his brother back home. Knowing Bishop’s habits, Atley Ward and ten members of his Placerville gang waited for him. And just another reminder. Please stay behind the barriers! “

Meanwhile, on the other side of the building, Adam Cartwright smiled proudly. All the details were falling into place, just as he had planned. The show was starting. Adam stuck his head out of the front door of the Bucket of Blood and eyed the festive crowd that lined the street. They waited eagerly for the shootout to begin. At his side, somber-faced Luther Bishop anxiously waited for his cue to walk out the bat wing doors, his gun drawn.

“OK, Mr. Bishop, as soon as Cosmo counts to three, you exit the saloon. Pa’s behind that wagon waiting for your entrance.” Adam cued. “As soon as you step on the sidewalk, Pa will shoot you. If you fall towards the hitching post, we have a gym mat under the pile of straw there so you won’t get hurt. Count to ten and then get up and start firing back as you run down the alley towards the Scott House.”

Glancing over his shoulder at Cosmo, Luther Bishop stepped out onto the sidewalk when the bartender said, “Three”.

Ben Cartwright adjusted his hat, rolled his shoulders and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He carefully watched the doorway to the saloon for his cue. He pulled his re-enactors pistol from his holster and slid it back in twice or three times. He felt the weight of the pistol in his hand. The holster seemed a bit tighter than he remembered from the rehearsals, and he supposed it was from the heat or his own nervousness with the unfamiliar gear. He decided that he would just hold the heavy Colt in ready, rather than draw it out of the holster when he had to fire.

Just as the director had instructed, Ben Cartwright leaned out from behind the wagon, gun in hand and pulled the trigger. As the shot reverberated, Ben’s ears rang from the explosion. He hadn’t realized blanks sounded so realistic.

The crowd shrieked and cheered at the Wild West action.

“Go get ‘em, Bishop!” shouted a stout, bald tourist holding his small grandson on his shoulders. The child squealed with delight; his melting ice cream dripped on his grandfather’s head. A few feet away, a buxom young blond in a form fitting “Big Valley Pulque” tank top raised her tanned arms above her head and applauded as if she was at a rock concert.

Luther Bishop sprawled face down and laid motionless atop a pile of straw by the hitching post.

From the doorway, Adam motioned frantically at the prone Luther Bishop “Luther? Luther! Hey, Luther, you’re supposed to make a run for the Scotts’, not fall down in the street and just lie there! Luther!”

Ben Cartwright stood frozen at the mouth of the alley, not sure if he should move or not. Even so, Luther lying in a heap so long didn’t look right to Ben. Luther was supposed to get back up and run for the alley.

Hoss held his breath. He sure didn’t want Adam to get all persnickety that he messed up the show. Adam had warned all the players to keep in character and not deviate from the script no matter what happened. “Luther!” Hoss waved his hat “This way, Luther!”

Suddenly the cheers and shouts of the crowd changed to murmurs of concern and nervous laughter as people began to realize that something had gone wrong in the show. Had one of the performers missed a cue or a line? What was going on? Was this part of the performance or had something happened?

Ben didn’t care if his son, the director, was irritated at his not following the stupid script. Concern drove all thought of the script or his son’s possible irritation from Ben Cartwright’s mind. He bolted from behind the wagon and charged towards the still form of Luther Bishop.

A puddle of crimson blood spread rapidly, poured from Luther Bishop’s chest into the straw as Ben knelt beside him. The six-shooter lay beside the wagon where Ben had dropped it when he ran to the wounded man. “Someone call 911! Quickly! Is Dr. Martin here? Someone find him!”

 

3 pm the same day

 

SUBJECT: Truckee Strip boundary

From BCartwright@vcnevyahoo.com

To LutherBishop@concho.com

I beat you once and I beat you again. The Concho will be mine.

RIP Luther

Ha Ha Ha

B Cartwrite

Ponderosa Ranch

*****

“What are we going to do, Adam?” Hoss looked at his older brother. His blue eyes were wide with fear. “Nevada has capital punishment. Pa can get the death penalty for this.”

“Shut up, Hoss! Pa didn’t kill anyone!” Joe hollered. “He’s not going to get the firing squad!”

“I think they use lethal injection,” Hoss corrected. Joe paled.

Adam’s stomach clenched. His head swam with the idea of Ben Cartwright convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, of life changed forever.

Adam remembered the helpless desperation of nearly drowning as a small boy. It was the first time he swam in the ocean, and an undertow caught him. Pa was swimming right next to him, and suddenly they were both caught in a rip current. Adam started to flounder and go under. His father grabbed him and pulled him to the surface. They were far off shore and hundreds of yards from the beach. Ben firmly told the boy to remain calm, to keep swimming and not to panic. The rip current wasn’t going to pull them underwater but would only pull them away from the shore. All they needed to do was swim parallel to the beach, and they would save themselves. “You can do, it, Adam. You are a good swimmer. “

A few minutes later, Adam weakened and sunk below the wave. His father pulled him up again. The child started to cry and panic and choke. The shore seemed miles away.

Ben immediately took charge. “Stay calm,” he urged Adam. “Climb on my back and hold on around my neck. We’ll keep swimming, and together we’ll make it to shore. Adam immediately obeyed his father’s orders, and after what seemed like an eternity, Ben’s feet touched the sandy bottom. He carried his son to the beach and collapsed in the warm sand.

“What are we going to do, Adam?” Joe repeated loudly. “We can’t leave Pa sitting in jail.”

“Calm down, both of you. First thing…we’ll keep swimming. We’ll keep swimming until we get Pa to shore.” Adam took a deep breath and took charge of the situation.

Hoss and Joe nodded their agreement.

“We have to get Pa a lawyer, a real good one,” Adam declared.

“And get him out on bail,” Joe added. ”We can’t leave Pa sitting in a jail cell eating bread and water.”

“They don’t feed ‘em bread and water no more…” Hoss corrected.

“Shut up, Hoss. You quit correcting me.” Joe raised his fist and shook it in his brother’s face.

“Don’t go threatening me, little brother!” Hoss growled. “I’ll pick you up by the seat of your pants and kick you across the room.”

“You just try!” Joe leaped up. “You just try!”

“Sit down, Joe!” Adam glared at his brothers. “Both of you, shut up. We need to help Pa, not poke at each other! We need to stay calm. Whoever set Pa up would like to see us get caught in the undertow and pull one another under.”

“Pa’s lawyer is Hiram Woods.” Hoss stood up and headed towards Ben’s desk. “His number is in the rolodex.”

“No, Not Hiram Woods.” Adam shook his head. ”Hiram’s a fine lawyer for contracts and real estate closings and the like. Pa needs a real good criminal lawyer.”

“Audra’s oldest brother is a criminal lawyer,” Joe offered. His voice wavered.

“This ain’t no time to try to impress your girlfriend by hiring her brother, Little Joe,” Hoss spat out. “Pa’s charged with murdering Luther Bishop.”

Joe balled up his fists. He struggled to maintain his self-control. “She’s not my girlfriend anymore.”

“Huh?” Hoss was unaware of this bit of information.

“Audra dumped me just before the Festival, when she headed home with Heath. She’s back with that older guy…”

“Sorry, little brother,” Hoss said softly.

“Jarrod’s a good lawyer, even if Audra’s a selfish shrew.” Joe shrugged. “Pa needs a good lawyer.”

“Little brother is right. I’ve known Jarrod Barkley for years. He went to Stanford, and he’s an excellent criminal attorney. Jarrod was the one who exonerated Dick Kimble, and he was barely out of law school then and worked in the prosecutor’s office,” declared Adam.

Kimble was convicted of murdering his wife in 1967. He claimed he was innocent and no one believed him. Jarrod Barkley had discovered misplaced evidence that firmly established Kimble’s innocence. After years in prison, Dick Kimble has been proven right and freed based on DNA tests.

“Call Jarrod Barkley and get him working on Pa’s case,” Hoss agreed. He handed Adam the phone. “You’re the bull of the woods, Adam.”

Adam took a deep breath and dialed the number Joe had scrawled on a scrap of a Big Valley Pulque napkin.

 

The Ponderosa

After the arraignment

 

“Joe, will you stop poking that fire. You’re going to roast us!” Adam growled at his brother. “Do we even need a fire in July?”

“How would you feel if your girlfriend dumped you for some old fart? And she did it with an email?” Joe spat out. “Couldn’t even waste the time using a phone.”

“It’s not about you all the time, Joe!” Adam glared. “Quit being so goldarn self-centered.”

“You quit telling me what to do all the time!” Joe raised the poker as if he was going to swing it at his brother.

“Hey! Watch out, the two of you, before someone gets hurt!” Hoss stepped in between his brothers.

Ben frowned at his oldest and youngest in turn. “Adam, please, no bickering. Not tonight. Joe, sit down. We have a lot to discuss. Hoss, you too.”

Hop Sing silently brought a tray of coffee into the great room and passed steaming cups around to the men gathered there: the four Cartwrights and Jarrod Barkley, Ben’s attorney.

Ben stared at his coffee before he set the cup down on the small occasional table beside his chair. “As you know, we have nowhere near a million dollars ready money. The only thing I could do was put up the Ponderosa to secure my bail, even though it’s worth considerably more than the one million. How are you going to defend me, Jarrod? We have dozens of people who saw me shoot Bishop,” Ben couldn’t imagine how he would extricate himself from this nightmare.

“Pa, it’s worth it to get you out of that jail!” Hoss leaned forward from where he was sitting on the sofa.

“Yes,” Adam looked at Jarrod. “We were surprised that you were granted bail.”

Jarrod smiled at his client’s oldest son. “Frankly, I was surprised, too. It’s unusual for bail to be granted so fast in a murder case, even for a man as established in the community as your father.”

“A million dollars is pretty steep!” Joe complained. “And they asked you to turn in your passport too! What do they think? That you’re going to take off for Mexico or…or…

“Moldavia? Afghanistan? Mongolia?” Jarrod counted off on his fingers.

“Why would I go there?” Ben raised one eyebrow. “I’m glad to be home and stay right here on the Ponderosa. Mongolia? Why would I go to Mongolia?”

“Those are countries that don’t have extradition treaties with the U.S.,” Jarrod explained with a chuckle. He looked at the stricken faces of the four distraught Cartwrights and shrugged. “I guess you aren’t in the mood for any levity.”

“Don’t give up your day job to go into comedy,” Adam muttered cynically.

“Why did they ask for so much money? Pa ain’t running off anywhere,” Hoss asked.

“A million cash is pretty steep,” Joe repeated.

Adam wasn’t sure how Jarrod would get around that.

“Not for a murder case, Joe,” Jarred said. “Like I explained, we are lucky bail was even granted and that we got it processed so quickly and Ben is here at home rather than in jail. Now, let’s get down to brass tacks. Ben, did you notice anything unusual or different about the pistol?”

“Different?” Ben wasn’t sure what Jarrod was driving at.

“Obviously, the weapon was tampered with,” Jarrod pointed out. “Someone loaded it with live ammo.”

“I don’t think I noticed anything unusual. I was nervous waiting for my cue, and all I could think of was not messing the re-enactment up.” Ben laughed ruefully. “I guess I did just that.”

“What about fingerprints?” Joe asked. “Were there any fingerprints on the pistol?”

“The only fingerprints on the gun were Ben’s prints, my prints, and Heath’s,” Jarrod explained, looking at the crime lab report on the pistol that was now locked up in the Sheriff’s office as evidence.

“Heath?” Hoss asked. “What does your brother have to do with this?”

“Remember, Heath used that gun in the last re-enactment. After he got hurt in that hit and run, Ben stepped in to play his part. Even though the weapons are cleaned after each use, it doesn’t mean his fingerprints won’t be on the pistol. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Heath was the one who chipped the handle,” Jarrod said.

“The grip!” Ben leaped up from his chair, nearly knocking the small end table over and dumping his coffee mug. “The grip! It felt different! Smoother! No chip! ”

“Are you sure? Could it be the power of suggestion that made you think of that?” Jarrod had to be sure that Ben wasn’t filling in information that could be tossed aside by the prosecution.

“Yeah, Pa. Sometimes the mind plays tricks on you,” Hoss added

“Almost positive …anyway.” Ben nodded his head. “As I said, I was nervous about missing my cues, and I remember fingering the grip while I while I waited.”

Jarrod scribbled some notes on his yellow legal pad before he stowed it in his briefcase. “Gentlemen, I’ll be at the prosecutor’s office first thing in the morning. However, this information won’t be enough for Miss O’Brian to drop the charges, and she is right. We need to find out who would want to kill Luther Bishop and why. Those emails to Bishop, supposedly from Ben, are part of the frame-up, too. It’s someone who hates both men and knows about the former animosity between the two of them.”

“Everyone in two counties for the last twenty years, plus everyone who reads the Virginia City, Carson City, and Reno newspapers, knows about the lawsuit and the never-ending legendary war between Luther Bishop and Ben Cartwright.” Adam pinched the bridge of his nose, a habit when he needed to think. “Maybe we should hire a private investigator? Or start interviewing the witnesses? Maybe somebody saw something we can use.”

“A few hundred people saw you shoot Bishop. What are they going to say that we can use to help Pa?” Joe asked.

“Folks don’t always remember things accurately. Just last semester, we were studying Munsterberg,” Hoss started thinking out loud.

“Where’s that?” Joe asked.

“It’s not where, but a who,” Jarrod explained. “He was the father of forensic psychology.”

“That’s right.” Hoss remembered Munsterberg’s argument from his class. It stated that if witnesses could not agree on the details of a crime when it was still fresh in their memories, they would not be able to testify in court a few months after witnessing the crime. Munsterberg’s also looked at the reliability of eye witness testimonies. “What can a witness say to get Pa off?”

Joe left his seat on the sofa and began to pace the floor. He stopped and looked at his oldest brother. “We don’t need to start interviewing folks, Adam! Nick and had the whole town covered with video cameras!”

“Video cameras? What? Why?” Everyone in the room turned to Joe and stared at him.

“Well…” Joe’s expression changed from excited to sheepish. “We were hoping that we could get the Chamber of Commerce and the Historical Society to change their minds and let us use the tapes for background for our Big Valley Pulque commercials. It was Nick Barkley’s idea.” At the shocked look on the faces around him, Joe hastily interjected, “We would pay a fee, of course.”

“You had the whole town covered?” Jarrod asked. “All of Virginia City?”

“Well, not the whole entire town,” Joe answered. “But most of it. We had video cameras all around downtown. Mostly by the Fourth Ward School, and the Historical Society, and the Scott house. They were all along the parade route and any place that was important to the reenactment.”

*****

“Here they are.” Joe and Nick each carried a stack of video cassettes into the Cartwright’s great room and laid them on the coffee table.

Each cassette was neatly labeled with a number indicating the location of the camera. Hoss pawed through the stacks reading the labels. “Camera 5, Corner of main and C Street. Camera 2, Front entrance of school. Camera 14, Rear of hotel. Looks like you really did have the whole town covered, little brother. We’re going to watch all of these tonight?”

“We’re going to watch them till we find what we’re looking for,” Jarrod answered.

“Hop Sing! Put on another pot of coffee! It’s going to be a long night,” Hoss called into the kitchen.

Jarrod looked at Joe and his brother, Nick. “How did the two of you manage this?”

Joe answered with a grin. “There is this guy in my fraternity, Dan Pettibone. He’s a real genius when it comes to things like this. You name it, he can do it: video, audio, computers, just about anything. He’s going to end up a billionaire. He’s even figuring out a car that will use alternative fuels. No gas. He’s going to call it the Infernal Machine. He’s designing robots too, all sorts of robots to do all sorts of work.”

Adam quirked an eyebrow at his brother. “How did you manage to pay this genius friend of yours for all this work?”

Joe and Nick grinned mischievously at their brothers.

“He likes our pulque,” Joe explained with a wink.

“There’s a fiesta in every can?” Hoss muttered. “Maybe that’s what Dan will use instead of gas. Pulque.”

“Enough of this bickering all of you. We need to get started,” Ben ordered. Jarrod picked up the first tape on the stack of cassettes and looked at the label. “Where do we start?”

“They’re labeled by location,” Joe said.

“We should start with the likeliest location to make the switch. I figure that would be the Historical Society where all the meetings were and the guns were kept,” decided Jarrod.

“That tape is ‘Video tape #1’” said Adam.

“Good idea.” Jarrod popped the tape into the VCR attached to the large screen TV next to the fireplace. The men stared at the screen.

“There’s everyone leaving the meeting that night,” Joe pointed out at the beginning of the tape. “It shouldn’t be long till dark.”

The six men held their breath as they watched the screen. For several minutes, nothing was visible except the side of the building. Gradually the video grew darker as the sun fell behind the mountains.

“What’s that?” Hoss’ sharp eyes had caught a darker shadow creeping into view.

“Where?” asked Jarrod. He squinted his eyes.

“There, in that corner.” Hoss pointed to a flickering shadow near the huge dumpster.

Adam put the picture on “pause” and Hoss pointed to the spot on the large high definition TV screen. “It’s a man.”

“We can’t see who he is, though, with that hoody on.” Jarrod pointed out.

“He’s got to come out that same window”, Nick said. “Maybe we’ll be able to see his face then.”

“Let’s hope so.” Adam glanced at his father. Ben’s dark eyes were intently fixed on the flickering screen.

Tense with impatience, the men stared intently at the screen for several long minutes. Eventually the same figure reappeared in the window and scrambled out over the sill. His hood hung down his back.

“There’s his face, all right!” Joe yelled in his excitement.

They all stared at the screen.

“Can anyone make his face out? Joe, do you think your friend can enhance this enough to see this fellow’s face better?” Ben asked.

“It’ll be child’s play for Dan. I told you he’s a genius. He has a night class. I’ll get ahold of him first thing in the morning. ”

“I’m not going to wait till morning to call Roy Coffee.” Ben walked over to his desk and reached for the phone.

Jarrod took the phone from Ben’s hand. “That’s my job as your attorney, Ben. You shouldn’t be speaking with Sherriff Coffee about this case. Right now you can’t think of the sheriff as your best friend.”

He silently accepted that Jarrod Barkley was right and shrugged in surrender.

*****

The crunch of tires on gravel drew Ben to the window above his desk where he was half-heartedly doing ranch paperwork. He saw Jarrod Barkley get out of his Infinity and walked onto the porch to welcome him.

Jarrod was smiling. “Don’t get your hopes up, but I think we might have a real break in the case. Sherriff Coffee had a deputy scour the ground around the Historical Society building. They found a glove in the bushes under the window where we saw the man in the hoody enter the building.”

“Did they find any fingerprints?” Ben asked.

“He hasn’t let me know yet. He only just let me know about the glove.”

“Some good news, anyway. Come on in, Jarrod, you’re just in time for lunch, if you can call the low cholesterol stuff Hop Sing’s been feeding me lunch.”

The two men entered the house just as Joe came thundering down the steps from the second floor. “Pa! Jarrod! I’m glad you’re here! I just spoke to Dan Pettibone on the phone. He has a recognizable image from that security tape, and he’s on his way over! He is also going to check out your computer, Pa, to see if he can trace those strange emails the prosecutor claimed you sent to Mr. Bishop.

*****

“Dan, what did you find?” Joe asked impatiently as he ushered his shy fraternity brother Dan Pettibone into the great room where the Cartwrights, Jarrod and Nick Barkley were gathered waiting.

Pettibone pushed the hair out of his eyes and cleaned his thick horn-rimmed glasses. He smiled awkwardly and shifted his laptop case to his left hand as he shook hands with Jarrod and Adam.

“Joseph, we’re all anxious, but let Dan get settled,” Ben admonished. “Help him with his things. Adam, move the fruit bowl and those other things off the table so Dan has room for his things.”

“Oh, sorry, Dan”, Joe apologized. “You can put your laptop here on the coffee table. Let me take your jacket. Sit down!”

Finally Dan pulled a manila envelope out of his laptop case. “After I enlarged and clarified the image on the video tape, I took a photograph of your suspect.” He handed Joe and eight-by-ten photo. Is it anyone you know?”

“Eden Saunders!” Joe answered.

The Cartwrights looked at each other in surprise. Ben shook his head sadly. “Eden a murderer? This will certainly destroy Katherine.”

“Why would he kill Mr. Bishop and frame Pa for it?” Hoss asked the room in general.

“Just let me alone with him for five minutes and I’ll get hi, to tell us.” Joe pounded his fist on the table.

“Let the law handle this, boys,” Ben ordered. He stared directly at Joe.

“That is what Roy Coffee will have to find out,” Jarrod answered.

“Excuse me,” Pettibone interrupted. “Mr. Cartwright, Joe said something about looking at your computer. May I? “

They all watched with rapt attention as Dan Pettibone’s fingers flew over the keyboard as he went from Ben’s email to the mysterious — to them — inner workings of Ben’s computer. The screen flashed black then various numbers and phrases scrolled down the screen. Adam couldn’t help thinking that a picture of his brother’s friend should be in the dictionary beside the definition of “geek”.

“Aha! I thought so!” Dan finally looked up from his task, pushed his heavy glasses back into place on his nose and brushed the hair out of his eyes.

Everyone gathered around as Dan showed them what he found. “Mr. Cartwright, when you opened the first email from Mr. Bishop, you let a Trojan worm into your system. The worm allowed someone to send email from your address remotely and to read your email.”

“Eden? But Eden’s not that smart?” Joe shook his head.

“Maybe he is smarter than you thought or could have been working in cahoots with somebody who knows computers,” Adam suggested.

“Besides, look how the threatening emails are signed,” Dan pointed out. “This one is signed B Cartwrite. C-A-R-T-W-R-I-T-E. Would Mr. Cartwright misspell his own name?”

The men looked at each other in puzzlement, the same question in their minds. Who and why?

“Mr. Pettibone, do you mind going with us to see Sherriff Coffee and explain to him about the computer worm?” Jarrod asked. “After which, I’ll hopefully have a motion to dismiss the case against Ben to write up”.

*****

“Liver and onions? Hop Sings is letting you eat liver?” Hoss’ nose twitched at the tantalizing smell as the Cartwrights set down to dinner. “There’s a load of cholesterol in liver. Not that I’m complaining, mind you.”

“Hop Sing is treating me to my favorite dish to cheer me up,” Ben explained as he spread his napkin on his lap. “I got some discouraging news from Jarrod today. The prosecutor is objecting to dismissal at this point. Unless Roy can positively pin the murder on Eden and whoever he is working for or with, I still have to go to trial. The video tape can’t be admitted as evidence. The glove can be admitted, and Roy’s crime scene technician found Eden’s fingerprints on the gun cabinet. And the prosecutor will let Dan Pettibone testify about the Trojan worm in my computer. All that will help with reasonable doubt, but the ideal evidence would be the pistol with Eden’s fingerprints on it. Jarrod was afraid this would be the case, but he was hoping that it would be enough to dismiss the case against me.”

Joe stopped in the middle of scooping up a helping of buttery mashed potatoes. He angrily shoved the serving spoon back into the bowl. “Can’t use the video tape? Why not? They do all the time on television! What the heck is wrong?”

“Simmer down, Joseph!” Ben admonished.

“This ain’t television; it’s the real world, Little Joe. What’s the reason we can’t use the video tapes, Pa?” Hoss asked.

“The way Jarrod explained it, if they were tapes from official security cameras belonging to the Fourth Ward School, the Historical Society, or any governmental security cameras, they could be used. But there is a technicality about the way the boys obtained the tapes that prevents them from being used, and since they weren’t official, it might be questioned if you tampered with them before we turned them into the authorities.” Ben reached over and touched Joe’s arm in a conciliatory gesture. “Even if the tapes themselves can’t be used, we got some good leads from them for Roy to follow up. Now, let’s enjoy this rare cholesterol-laden meal.”

 

Lake Tahoe Tribune

MURDER CHARGES DROPPED

 

Charges against local rancher and businessman, Benjamin Cartwright were dropped yesterday, according to the Storey County Prosecutor’s Office. Cartwright had been charged with the shooting death of another local rancher and businessman, Luther Bishop this summer during the re-enactment of the shooting of Butch Bishop in 1866. The re-enactment was presented by the Virginia City Historical Society during the Virginia City Arts Festival.

The Prosecutor’s Office stated that evidence pointing to another suspect has been discovered and that it is strong enough to warrant dropping the charges against Cartwright.

The name of the suspect is being withheld at this time pending further investigation.

 

The Ponderosa

 

“How can we ever thank you, Dan?” Ben Cartwright shook the young man’s hand.

“If it wasn’t for your technological skill, we would never have the evidence to clear Pa!” Adam added. “Is there any way we can thank you?”

“Umm…. I can think of one thing you can do, Mr. Cartwright. I have this new invention I’d like Hop Sing to try out here on the Ponderosa. It’s a robot vacuum.” Dan pointed to the sturdy carton Hoss had carried into the house. Hoss opened the carton and pulled the machine out. The mechanism looked like a small antique car. Hoss flipped a switch and the robot vacuum started to chug in circles around the living room.

“And if it passes the Hop Sing test, perhaps you would be willing to invest in the Infernal Machine Corporation?”

 

Reno Gazette-Journal

MURDER SUSPECT AT LARGE

 

Local resident, Eden Saunders, is being sought for questioning about the murder of local rancher and businessman, Luther Bishop. Saunders, 21, is currently on parole from the Nevada Correctional Facility. According to his parole office, Saunders has not reported in as required for three weeks. Saunders has not been seen in the Virginia City, Storey County area since the shooting. Saunders, who has a history of violence, could be armed and dangerous. Anyone seeing him should contact the Virginia City Police Dept., the Storey County Sheriff’s Office, or the closest office of the Nevada State Police.

*****

“I can’t believe it! I just can’t believe it!” Katherine Saunders twisted the tissue in her hands as she paced her living room floor. As she passed the sofa, she collapsed onto the cushions and broke out into sobs. “Who am I kidding? I can believe it!” she confessed to Ben Cartwright who was sitting in a wing chair beside the sofa. “I wanted to hide from it, but I suspected that Eden was capable of killing someone. But I thought it would be in a fit of rage, not a cold-blooded murder. Why, and why Luther Bishop? Ben, I just can’t understand it.”

Ben moved to the sofa and took Katherine’s hands. He shook his head. “I can’t understand it, either. I know that during high school he had a crush on Amy and was jealous of Joe. Joe told me that Eden had told Seth Pruitt that he didn’t think Amy’s father would give her his permission to go to the senior prom with Joe and that he would ask her. He was stunned and furious when Luther let her date Joe, furious at Joe for dating her and furious at Luther for allowing Amy to go with Joe. Maybe that has been simmering all those years? I don’t know. Maybe he planned to kill Luther and frame me to get back at both Luther and Joe. I just can’t fathom the whole thing. I’m just glad it wasn’t Joe he shot or tried to frame”.

Katherine put her hands over her face. “Ben, I’m so ashamed of what Eden did. Luther and you and Marie were such good friends to both Charles and me. Charles was always saying what good sons you and Marie were blessed with. Oh! Ben! Do you think that had anything to do with it? How often Charles praised your boys? He envied your relationships with them. I told Charles time and again it wasn’t right to compare Eden to Joe or his older brothers, but my husband was so disappointed in Eden and couldn’t hide it.”

“You have nothing to be ashamed of.” Ben gently lowered Katherine’s hands from her face. “You were a good mother. You did all you could. I’m not a psychiatrist, but there was something in Eden that neither you nor Charles were responsible for. Don’t blame yourself or Charles for this. Eden made his own choices.”

“Paul Martin suggested I get some counseling.” Katherine dabbed at her eyes with the tissues. “At first I was angry at the suggestion, but I talked to my sister in New York last night. She thinks it’s a good idea, but she wants me to get it in New York where I will be near her if I need her. And I do need her. I’m going to New York for good. My attorney is going to handle the sale of the ranch and the rental property I own in Carson City. I hate to ask, after all that my son has put you through, but would you look after things here till the ranch is sold. My attorney is Hiram Wood. Call him anytime. He’ll add any time he spends with you to the fees I’m paying him. I’ve already bought a plane ticket for the day after tomorrow.”

“Of course I will,” Ben reassured her. “Never hesitate to ask me anything. I hate to see you leave permanently, but you’re right. You belong in New York with your sister and her family. You said day after tomorrow? That’s when Faye is coming back. What time is your flight? I’m picking her up. I’d be glad to drive you to the airport. Depending on the time, maybe the three of us could have a cup of coffee together, and you would get to meet Faye. Ben Cartwright’s airport service at your service,” he quipped, hoping to make her laugh, which succeeded.

“I’ll accept your offer of using ‘Ben’s airport service,’ but I’m afraid I’m not up to meeting Faye or anyone else just yet, even though I would love to meet her. I’m so glad for you. Maybe someday she and you could come to New York for a visit.”

Katherine hugged her old friend and stood. “Thank you, Ben. I’ll call you with my flight information. I’ve a lot to get done, so I better be getting at it.”

 

Reno Gazette-Journal

ROBBERIES INCREASE IN TAHOE AREA

 

Owners of vacation homes on Lake Tahoe and in the outskirts of Virginia City are concerned about crime after reports of at least five home and RV break-ins in recent weeks.

The thief or thieves broke into the vacant vacation home of Victoria Barkley and stole cash and jewelry as well as a laptop. The robbery was discovered by her son Eugene on August 15th when he returned to the house after being at the family home in Stockton for a few weeks. There have been several car and boat break-ins in the area in addition to a garage break-in on Shore Road, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Sherriff Roy Coffee is urging residents to take measures to protect their property. “We are going to increase patrols in the area,” the sheriff added.

 

Lake Tahoe Tribune

DEPUTY SHERIFF ASSAULTED BY ROBBER

 

Deputy Clem Foster was seriously injured when he tried to apprehend a burglar in the rear of Cass’ Grocery Store in Virginia City. Deputy Foster was on routine patrol at 1:00 a.m. Tuesday when he spotted broken glass in the rear door of the store. As he was about to enter the premises to investigate, the deputy was struck over the head by a case of canned goods thrown by the intruder. The intruder escaped.

 

Reno Gazette-Journal

SHORE DRIVE HOME ROBBED

 

A male intruder broke into the lakeside home of Mr. and Mrs. William Fitzpatrick on Shore Drive on Friday. He stole two laptops, a briefcase and a PlayStation. The robber also took a case of beer and two bags of groceries that were on the kitchen table.

“It was a no-effort entry,” Sheriff Coffee said. “Because of warm weather, one of the kids had opened up the screen door to the back porch when he carried in the groceries from his mother’s car. The dog ran out, and while everyone was chasing the pooch, the robber got into the house.”

The robber was seen by Denise Fitzpatrick driving off in dark colored, mid-sized sedan.

“Obviously, it feels like a violation to have somebody come into your home and take things,” Mrs. Fitzpatrick said. “What if we walked in on him?”

 

Northern California

 

Audra Barkley thought long and hard. She had been home less than two weeks and her mother was driving her utterly insane. The first week wasn’t too bad, since Mother was distracted by Heath’s injuries from the hit and run. She hovered over him, fluffed his pillow, drove him to the orthopedist and the physical therapist, rented him videos and cooked all his favorite foods.

Heath soon started feeling better, and Victoria grew bored with being solicitous of him and zeroed in on her daughter’s business like a heat-seeking missile. With the subtlety of a mountain avalanche crashing into a ski chalet, Victoria Barkley scheduled a lunch at Audra’s favorite restaurant, Ame at the St. Regis Hotel, to have a “chat”.

Somewhere between the Sautéed Fois Gras on Duck Confit, Stuffed Chestnut Flour Crepe Appetizer and the Buttermilk Panna Cotta with citrus dessert, Victoria scrutinized, analyzed and critiqued every aspect of Audra’s life. Despite Audra’s best attempts, her mother had realized her time in Lake Tahoe was wasted, her college grades unacceptable, and the romance with Joe Cartwright was clearly a charade.

Audra was at a loss for words. Her mother was not going to be fooled, and she clearly would never accept her daughter’s involvement with a man old enough to be her father. It didn’t matter that Blake was a successful business man, worldly and handsome. He was not going to marry Audra, and her carrying on with him was totally objectionable. Victoria gave Audra two days to figure out what she was going to do next.

“You have two days to reflect and make a plan, or I will make it for you, Audra,” Victoria said as she sipped her demitasse.

The next day, Audra made a quick decision after some surreptitious calls to Blake. He had a brilliant suggestion. Audra could go to Europe in the fall, study art and work as the personal assistant for a painter he knew, Linda Chadwick.

“She’s a widow of a British Earl and a very well-known abstract painter. Did you know that your father was one of her earliest collectors? Did you know that’s how he and I became acquainted? We both were trying to outbid each other on a painting. How can your mother protest this plan? I’ll make all the arrangements with Linda and tell her you will be calling her. She’s just finishing up an exhibition in Nevada and will be arriving in Northern California in a couple of weeks. And you know, I’m working on a development deal in Paris for a hotel complex near Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume. We’ll have plenty of time together.”

Audra smiled. “Mother can invite Linda for dinner and think she is the one who came up with the plan.”

“Victoria Barkley likes to think she is in charge!” Blake Carrington laughed. “But we know she will never be.

******

Barbara sat at the table in her Uncle Everett’s kitchen, head in her hands, staring at the cup of coffee Adam had placed in front of her. She dropped her hands from her face and looked across the table at Adam, not speaking. The look on her face said it all. “I found this letter Uncle Everett wrote to me but never mailed. It’s dated right before he died.” She pulled a folded sheet of pale blue paper out of her jeans pocket and handed it to Adam.

My dear Barbara,

In my old age, I find myself needing to unburden myself of a secret I kept from even my darling Frieda for over fifty years. I am doing this the coward’s way, with a letter. I cannot look you in the face and tell you this in person. As you know, during and right after World War Two, I was part of a unit that searched for art stolen by the Nazis. We attempted to return everything to the rightful owners or their survivors, but it was impossible to trace a lot of the stolen paintings. A few of us found a way to smuggle some of these paintings out of Europe, to ship them to the states.

Almost all of these painting have been hidden in my house all these years. I must confess that I have sold a piece here and there. Not for luxuries, but to make life better for my parents, Aunt Frieda, and your mother.

This old house needed extensive repairs, a donation to the church building fund when the roof was falling in, a donation to the fund for the families of the three Virginia City fireman who were killed when we had that wild fire in 1952, occasional help to your mother after your father left, the money I gave you for college, and Aunt Frieda’s cancer treatments. I kept exact records of each expenditure in the ledger in my desk. I hoped to pay each penny back. I sincerely thought I could pay it back, but the bills for Frieda’s extensive treatments made me realize that was going to be impossible.

I am burdening you with this in the hopes that you will help me make amends by getting these paintings to the people or organizations where they belong. I hope you can find it in your heart to help me and also to forgive me.

Our commanding officer was the Earl of Chadwick. He is long dead, but his wife was young enough to be his daughter, from what I have heard. She is probably still alive and in good health. She is an American from New Orleans, and her maiden name was Linda Lawrence. If you can contact her, perhaps she would be of some aid. She is an artist and knows everyone of importance in the art world.

Your loving Uncle Everett

“What a coincidence that his widow is right here in Virginia City!” Barbara exclaimed. “I wonder if she knows anything about this. Her husband probably kept her in the dark the same as Uncle Everett kept Aunt Frieda. I’m going to tell her what I found and ask her advice. I’m sure she can steer me towards the right people or organization that can help get all these paintings back to their rightful places as Uncle Everett said.

“Poor Uncle Everett! This must have weighed on his conscience all those years. Oh, Adam, I wish he was here so I could hug him and tell him I still love him and that I forgive him and of course I will do all I can to make amends in his behalf. It was what he would want me to do. You know I have to do this. We discussed it. It’s a matter of my family’s honor. You should understand that.” Barbara looked away from Adam.

For once in his life, Adam Cartwright couldn’t think of a word to say.

*****

With Barbara Scott beside him, Adam Cartwright drove his green BMW 328i convertible down Mt. Rose Highway towards Reno Tahoe Airport. He kept his speed just at the legal limit. He was tired, exhausted as much mentally as physically. He had been stuck in the cluttered parlor of the Scott house well past midnight where he had argued endlessly with Barbara about their future.

Neither of them would give in.

“Adam, you know I have to do this. We discussed it. It’s a matter of my family’s honor. You should understand that. My honor too. I went through college on funds from the stolen art pieces,” Barbara shouted above the roar of the engine and rush of the wind. She angrily turned away from Adam as if she were gazing at the mountains. He could no longer see her face, only the back of her head. Her auburn hair was pulled into a pony tail with her favorite silk scarf.

Adam pulled his car off the highway into a scenic view lookout so he could put his arm around Barbara, talk to her face to face. He had to look directly into her eyes.

“I know you feel obligated to resolve this as quickly as possible, but you have no idea how long you will be gone. I thought we had the start of a committed relationship. I know I haven’t said it yet, but, I love you Barbara.” He gently pulled the scarf from her smoothly combed hair and held it in his left hand.

“Oh, Adam, I love you too.” Barbara hugged Adam’s arm and laid her head against his shoulder. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. I don’t want to be away from you any longer than I have to. We can keep in touch every day with email and the old fashioned way, telephone calls. It’s not like our ancestors’ day when they had to rely on letters sent by stage coach and sailing ships.”

Barbara’s referring to telephones as old fashioned brought a chuckle from Adam, and then he became serious again. A gust of wind quickly tangled her long coppery tendrils.

Adam gently ran his fingers through her soft hair, trying to smooth it back in place. “I don’t really trust Countess Chadwick. I don’t know why, but I have a gut feeling. Usually it’s my brother Hoss who goes with his feelings while I think things through.”

“You aren’t Hoss. I think you should ignore your gut and use your brain.” Barbara was getting annoyed.

“Usually his gut feelings are right…” Adam countered. He crushed the soft scarf in his fist.

“You don’t know the Countess well enough to trust or distrust her. Her husband was involved in that mess. Being the unit’s commanding officer, he had to be. That was years before she was married to him. I can’t believe she was involved with all this. I am sure she is concerned about her family’s honor and making amends just as I am. She has the money and connections to do this. Mrs. Barkley is allowing her daughter to accept a position with the foundation and accompany us to Europe. Do you think she would allow her nineteen-year-old daughter to work so far away for an untrustworthy person? I need to make this trip, Adam.”

Adam didn’t want to argue with Barbara. They had so little time left together. “I suppose you’re right. I’ll ignore my unreliable gut and use my renowned intelligence,” he joked, hoping to lighten the moment. He held her for a moment longer and then kissed her gently.

“Give me my scarf back! It was my aunt’s. I want to fix my hair. I must look a wreck.”

He shook his head. “You look lovely.” Then he looped the colorful scarf over the rear view mirror and says “This will be here waiting for you when I pick you up at the airport when you come home!” As he pulled back onto the highway, he mentally resolved to check into the countess and her foundation.

 

Virginia City Enterprise

INTRUDER IDENTIFIED AS EDEN SAUNDERS

 

After viewing mug shots in the sheriff’s office, Denise Fitzpatrick has identified the intruder in her house as Eden Saunders. Saunders is the suspect in the murder of Luther Bishop during the shootout at the Virginia City Historic Society Festival.

“Eden Saunders is armed and dangerous. If you see him call the Sheriff’s Station immediately!” said Sheriff Roy Coffee.

***The End***

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