Windmills & Remembrances (Ginny & Robin)

Summary:  A modern Cartwright adventure (AU).  Crossover story with Dallas
Category:  Bonanza, Dallas, Crossover
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  38,000


 

PROLOGUE

 

“Everyone remembers this photo, much like other iconic images,” Diane Sawyer said to the camera. “It was called ‘Brothers: Portrait in Grief’. It has been almost two decades since this picture was on the front page of almost every newspaper in the country.”

A black and white photo filled the screen, a Pulitzer Prize winner that captured a poignant instant in time. A handsome, dark haired teenager, caught in that instant between boyhood and manhood was cradling a wailing, small boy in his arms. A husky blonde boy, somewhere between the two others in age and size, wept, his face pillowed in his older brother’s back. The teenager was wearing a high school letter jacket, white, with dark sleeves. The blonde boy was wearing an indistinguishable winter windbreaker. Despite the filth and blood on the smallest boy, he was remarkably beautiful, almost angelic. The child’s face was framed with tangled curls and was in the center of the photo, his eyes wide with terror. Faintly, in the background you could make out a husky, mustachioed highway patrol officer. His ham-like hand was over his eyes as he too wept. The light was harsh, contrasted between the dark in the background and bright spots from the glare of headlights on the wet macadam road.

“This was the first time many of us became aware of your work, “Diane turned to an elegant, dark haired woman next to her. “And this was just the start of the career of Faye Franklin, award winning photographer.” The screen filled with flashes of images ranging from flower filled fields to an elderly man standing near the rubble of the World Trade Center and a supreme court justice patting a dog as the wind billowed up his gown, tour de France riders passing the Eiffel Tower and the a young marine sleeping peacefully on the hood of a Humvee in the middle of a desert.

Faye Franklin settled back into her chair, seeming at home in front of the camera. “Yes, I was just getting by on my dreams and working as a free lance photographer selling things to local papers. To be honest, I did mostly high school sports events, American Legion dinners and garden club luncheons. I had just gotten a job at the JC Penny’s doing baby photos to pay the rent. My parents kept urging me to come back home to Boston but I dug my heels in and refused.”

How did you get this shot?” Diane Sawyer asked.

It was just being in the right place at the right time and being ready. I had just finished shooting pictures of a cow.” Faye smiled at the memory.

Diane Sawyer raised her eyebrows inquisitively. “A cow?”

“That’s ranchland there and I had taken a picture of a prize winning cow for the owner’s wife to frame for her husband’s birthday. Like I said, I was doing any thing and everything to earn my way. It was during a late spring storms that had turned into freezing rain up in the mountains. As I came up the road, I saw the station wagon had just skidded off the road. I jumped out just and just started shooting film. A man pulled the little boy free but his mother was killed in the crash. The sheriff came. I just kept shooting.”

“Were the other boys in the crash?” the reporter asked. “This picture is so moving.”

“No.” The photographer shook her head. “The two older brothers were heading home and came upon the accident that killed their mother. It was very sad.”

“But you kept shooting?”

“Yes, I still have all the negatives in my files but this was the first shot I printed; and the best.” Franklin smiled proudly. “Even the shots of the man pulling the child free weren’t as special as this particular shot.”

“Heart wrenching,” Sawyer sighed. “Even all these years later, my heart breaks for these children who just lost their mother. What happened to that little fellow?”

“Oh physically he was basically fine, just bruised and dirty.” Franklin nodded. He was buckled up in the back seat, but the mother was not wearing her seatbelt. She was thrown from the station wagon in the accident and killed.”

“But it was the beginning of your career.” Diane Sawyer prompted. A moment frozen in time.”

“Yes, sad that the mother was killed, but very fortunate for me and my career.”

 

Andrew Lancer reached forward and snapped off the television. “Damn! Fortunate for your career? It could have been the ruin of mine and certainly if anyone gets wind of it now!”

*****

JR Ewing sat staring out his office window at the spectacular nighttime view of the Dallas skyline. With the downturn in the Texas oil industry, Ewing Oil needed to diversify. The three future energy alternatives were nuclear, wind power and solar energy. He had toured a wind farm in California and had his engineers prepare him reams of reports on wind power. It would be feasible in Texas. He had just secretly acquired, through one of his holding companies, a small company in El Paso that made storage batteries for the giant windmills. Secretly, because it wouldn’t be good for the cartel to find out that Ewing Oil was losing confidence in the oil industry.

His chief engineer, Peter Kane, had studied engineering at the University of Pennsylvania with a hotshot named Adam Cartwright. Kane just heard that Cartwright had hit upon a way to improve the efficiency of the storage batteries. JR didn’t understand the details; that’s what he paid his engineering staff for. The storage batteries currently in use could be rendered obsolete; including the ones made at JR’s new factory. The prototype was stored someone on the family ranch in Nevada, the Ponderosa. So far JR’s spies hadn’t been able to locate where, but that little detail didn’t worry JR. Kane knew Cartwright’s best friend and assistant on the project, Ross Marquette. JR smirked wickedly at the thought of this ace in the hole. Kane had told him that Marquette was a gambler, and not a very good one. He was deeply in debt and could be persuaded to do almost anything for money. If JR’s new company could build its own prototype, after an unfortunate accident put Cartwright’s out of commission, JR could be a pioneer in the wind power industry, like his daddy had been in the oil industry.

Cartwright’s father was Ben Cartwright, President and Chairman of the Board of Ponderosa Enterprises in Nevada. He was providing the financing for his son to build the prototype; and if a success, to start production. Success of the project could add to Cartwright’s substantial fortune. Failure could mean the end of Ponderosa Enterprises. Kane’s report contained another interesting little tidbit. Ponderosa Enterprises owned land in Clark County that Ben Cartwright was hoping to lease to Wind Power Ltd. for its proposed Desert Wind Ranch.

JR turned his head to look proudly at the silver framed photo of his daddy on the credenza beneath the wide window. His daddy, Jock, hated Ben Cartwright. Cartwright had worked on Southfork back in Granddaddy Southworth’s day when Mama was young. Ben Cartwright was her first love. Everybody thought it was that no-account Digger Barnes, but Ellie Southworth’s first love was Ben Cartwright, long before Barnes even came on the scene. Granddaddy Southworth would probably have let her marry him, but Mama’s feelings for Cartwright weren’t reciprocated. He was engaged to some fancy Radcliff girl who came from a wealthy shipping family back in Massachusetts. Mama still kept a photograph of Cartwright and her in the bottom of her jewelry box. Daddy knew it was there and claimed it didn’t bother him; Ellie was his. JR knew a picture of his wife with another man had to bother a husband, even a man as secure and powerful as Jock Ewing. There was a newspaper clipping there too about a woman being killed in a car wreck in Nevada; Cartwright’s wife, his third wife, and the third to die. Those wives might be worth looking into. After ruining Ben Cartwright, there would be no doubt who Jock Ewing’s favorite son was; and it wouldn’t be little brother Bobby.

After pouring another Bourbon and branch, JR punched a number into his telephone. The telephone on the other end was answered after only three rings. Not bothering with any niceties, JR barked his instruction into the receiver. “Harry, be in my office tomorrow morning, and pack a suitcase. You’re going to Nevada.”

It would prove convenient to have a powerful state official in his pocket. Andrew Lancer was the head of the Nevada Office of Land Management. JR’s current lover, Laura Dayton Cartwright, had alerted him to Lancer’s secret. Her Aunt Lil had been Lancer’s mistress for years, hidden away in luxury in a condo at Lake Tahoe. There was another little secret that Laura had passed on to her lover. A secret concerning Andrew Lancer and a rain-slick Nevada highway.

“I’ll want you to start digging into Ben Cartwright’s life. He’s high and mighty in Nevada. There was talk one time of him running for governor. He even filed to be on the ballot in the primary, but pulled out all of a sudden. I want to know why. Does it have anything to do with having three dead wives? There has to be something behind that. It’s pretty suspicious, I’d say. You know how to reach me when you find out something”

After hanging up the phone, JR again turned to his contemplation of the Dallas skyline. Yes sir, his daddy was going to be pleased, mighty pleased.

JR took a sip from the glass of Bourbon and branch in his hand and chuckled out loud. Besides making his daddy happy when he destroyed the Cartwrights, there could be another dividend for himself. The Ponderosa was 1,000 square miles of prime Lake Tahoe real estate that could not be developed. Old man Cartwright and his sons were devout conservationists. That oldest son was president of some tree-hugger society he founded himself. JR’s smile widened at the thought of owning 1,000 square miles of prime Lake Tahoe real estate to sell to developers for multi-million-dollar houses and condos and maybe even a couple of hotel-casinos Yes sir, he might keep one of the best home sites for himself. Tahoe was a long ways from Dallas and his wife, Sue Ellen’s prying eyes.

*****

“Hey Joe! Damn cool place!” Clay Stafford looked around admiringly. Drapes made from burlap feed sacks covered the plate glass window of the Bucket of Blood, effectively cutting off the bright Nevada sun. Dim lighting was provided by yellow-bulbed light fixtures made to look like miners’ lanterns. The crack of pool cues on balls came from the pool tables in the far end of the large room. Over all was the din of voices talking, laughing, arguing, even singing along with the Toby Keith song now blaring from the jukebox. Ceiling fans fought a losing battle with the swirling cigarette and cigar smoke.

Joe stopped at a barrel by the bar and scooped a generous helping of peanuts into a small, red, galvanized bucket. He grinned and winked at the cute blond bartender in western garb. Joe then led Clay through the crowd, nodding and smiling at friends and acquaintances.

“Looks like everyone knows you,” Clay observed.

Joe shrugged “Lived here my whole life.”

“Guess everyone knows the Cartwrights,” Clay said. “Must be nice.”

”Not always. Everyone knows your business, too.”

“What about when you were off in college? No one knew you there. How about hitting the road with me and go where no one has heard of the Cartwrights. We can go to Mexico and have a really fine time. You should see the babes in Acapulco”

The brothers settled themselves at a table and Joe signaled a passing waitress.

“Maybe.” Joe nodded.

Like the bartender, the waitress was dressed western-style. A tight denim miniskirt was topped by a formfitting blue plaid shirt. Several top buttons of which were unbuttoned to reveal a tanned cleavage. A silver-studded belt encircled her tiny waist, and her long shapely legs were encased in white cowboy boots.

“Hi guys. I’m Jill. What can I get you?” She smiled brightly at her two customers and tossed her long black hair as she took their order of draft Coors.

“Mmmm-mmmm!” Joe murmured under his breath and rolled his eyes in an exaggerated display of admiration.

Clay admiring gaze never left the waitress as she made her way to the bar, hips swaying enticingly.

Joe snapped his fingers under his brother’s nose to get his attention, and laughed. “I thought you’d like it here.”

Clay put on his best lecherous look. “I like what I see very much, brother. Hey, she didn’t card you!”

“They usually don’t locals, just strangers. That’s why my friends and I hang out here.” Joe tossed a handful of peanuts into his mouth. “By the way, you can admire Jill but I wouldn’t advise any more than that. She’s engaged to a big jealous lumberjack with two brothers. Any one of them makes Hoss look puny.”

“So?” Clay shrugged. “Did you see how she smiled at me?”

So? Are you crazy? Those guys will pound you into the ground.” Joe warned. “Anyway, she smiles like that at any new guy that comes in.”

“I like a challenge,” Clay quickly drank down his beer and signaled Jill to come over to the table. “My brother and I would like another round and I want something special. Hope you can accommodate me.”

Jill smiled warmly “Sure, I’ll try. What special thing do you want?”

”You,” Clay stared deeply into the pretty girls eyes.

*****

”This here is my girl,” the burly man confronted the handsome stranger on the dance floor. He pulled the raven-haired waitress away from Clay. “What’s your name, pal?”
“Stafford, Clay Stafford,” Clay smiled smoothly as he stepped away from the waitress.

“Your first name and your last are the same? I can see your tombstone now, pal. ‘Here lies Stafford Clay Stafford. It didn’t take long… he put his paws where they didn’t belong‘.” Lenny Turkow poured his beer over Clay’s head. “Now get away from my girl and keep away from her or I’ll kill you.” He gave the other man a hard shove.

Clay wiped the Coors out of his eyes and moved in fast, his fists swinging. Drunken, slow witted Leonard Turkow, Jr. knew, as the first punch hit him hard, that he didn’t stand a chance against the quicker man in terms of speed. He laughed anyway. Lenny out weighed Clay by close to a hundred pounds of pure beef and knew his brothers Denny and Kenny would back him up. Unless that pretty boy flirting with Lenny’s girl had a bazooka, he would be pounded into hamburger.

As they had since their days at the Tahoe Nursery School, the three thick necked Turkow brothers fought any opponent as one. The burly Turkow brothers, Leonard Junior, Dennis and Kenneth, were better known around Virginia City as Lenny, Denny and Killer Kenny. The gargantuan lumberjacks were only a year apart in age and totally inseparable. Mrs. Turkow had bragged that her baby boys were three peas in a pod and even she couldn’t even tell them apart.

Adam Cartwright cynically observed they were the damned ugliest peas in the ugliest pod he ever saw. He added that the only reason their mother couldn’t tell them apart was she was blinded by looking at her first born daughter, Jenny’s, ugliness. By comparison to hefty, slack jawed Jennifer, the bullet headed boys were angelically beautiful.

Each of the Turkow boys in turn was the full back on the high school foot ball team and as a senior, each won the state wrestling championship in their weight class, 275 and above. After graduation, they all followed their father, bull of the woods, Leonard Senior to work as lumber jacks.

Not caring that he was severely out-numbered, Clay wrenched his left arm free and threw another punch at Lenny Turkow. Len, off balanced and crashed into two tourists who were drinking at the ornate bar. The taller of the pair, wearing a Notre Dame tee shirt cursed Lenny for spilling his beer and then foolishly swung at him. It never connected.

Huge Lenny Turkow simply stepped back while his brother Denny took hold of Clay’s left arm. Kenny spun around and threw a chair in the direction of the tourists. It bounced off the end of the bar and ricocheted into the back wall. Cosmos brand new bar mirror exploded into sparkling shards.

Kenny hit Clay with a solid blow to his chest, and then leapt on hapless Mr. Notre Dame and his surprised companion. Clay stumbled backwards knocking over the cheerleader’s table.

The shapely girls screeched as their glasses spilled low carb beer and diet Coke all over their laps. Joe dropped Connie McKee’s hand and abandoned the idea of getting one of his old classmates to dance with Clay.

“Guess I better go, girls,” declared Joe as he planted a quick kiss on Jennifer Beal‘s cheek. The former cheerleaders scattered as Joe leaped into the battle.

There was a sudden cry and Clay felt his gut lurch from Kenny Turkow‘s solid punch.

“Leave my brother alone, Turkow!”demanded Little Joe fiercely.

“Your brother? Hell this guy ain’t no Cartwright!” Lenny countered hauling Clay up by the front of his new shirt. “I lived in this town my whole life and I know what Adam Cartwright and Hoss Cartwright look like, Joe. This dude ain‘t neither one. But he sure was messing with our brother’s girl. Weren’t he Denny?” said Kenny.

Denny landed heavily on Joe’s back, driving him face first to the floor. Glass shattered around them and the former cheerleaders scattered. Somehow Joe elbowed Denny Turkow off him and rolled away from the larger man.

Ignoring the mess around him, Joe scrambled to his feet and barreled head first into Lenny knocking him backwards into the bank of video games. Two of them overturned with loud electronic screeches, a flash of blue sparks and the acrid smell of burning plastic. Classic Pac Man blinked his last blink and shorted out.

Suddenly the place was filled with an out of control tornado of flying fists, chairs and pitched whisky bottles. Clay Stafford grabbed a bottle of Rolling Rock and smashed it over Denny Turkow’s bullet-shaped skull. Then he punched the helpless man in the stomach, laughing as the lumberjack involuntarily doubled over and fell face first into a turgid puddle of spilled beer and crushed cigarettes.

Enraged, a bystander gave Denny a shove and somehow was now included in the fight.

Clay staggered back and bounced off the pool table. Kenny grabbed a cue and charged at Clay. Clay gasped for air as Kenny pressed the cue across his throat.

“OK boys! Break it up!” Sheriff Roy Coffee ordered.

Deputy Clem Foster pulled Kenny Turkow off Clay and somehow got Stafford’s fist in his nose as his reward.

*****

“Here’s a quarter, son. Go call your Pa and tell him where you are. Don’t want him worrying about you two,” Roy Coffee said as he wrote up the report. He didn’t even look up at Joe and his companion. Both of them were sporting a variety of lumps and bruises. Clay’s expensive new shirt was torn and stained beyond salvaging and Joe didn’t look much better.

Joe resolutely refused to look at Clay and said not a word. He wondered if there was some way he could convince Roy to let him go with out Pa knowing about any of this. Otherwise, he might just be better off staying in jail. Some how sharing a small cell with all of the Turkows was a bit more appealing than facing an angry Ben Cartwright. If Joe had to hear his father say “I am so disappointed in you, son.” one more time he would jump off of Eagle’s nest.

“Joe? Did you hear what I said? You better go call your Pa to come bail you out. If you ask real polite I am sure Cosmo will let you boys settle up the damages and not press charges. Especially since it was the Turkows who started the fight and busted the mirror.”

“And permanently ruined Ms Pacman,” Clem said with a sigh. He was more upset about his favorite video game being destroyed than his broken nose.

*****

Clay’s father, Jean DeMarigny had been the only son of a wealthy New Orleans family. DeMarignys had been in Louisiana for generations. Marie DuBey’s parents had owned a tavern on the waterfront. Julia Demarigny had used lies and innuendo to break up her son’s marriage. Thinking his wife unfaithful, Jean had left New Orleans and his pregnant wife. A few months later, Jean’s mother received word that he had been killed in a hunting accident in Nevada. The old lady took the baby from the hospital after he was born. The DeMarigny family had contributed a wing to the St. Catherine’s Hospital, and old Mrs. DeMarigny was related to the head of the obstetrics department of the hospital. She had no trouble persuading the doctor to let her take the baby home and telling Marie that he had died. Clay had been told by his grandmother that his parents had been killed in an automobile wreck right after he was born.

When the old lady died unexpectedly when Clay was nine years old, he was left with a complicatedly tied-up trust fund, but no living relatives. According to his grandmother’s wishes, he was raised by her attorney, Cyrus Stafford, whose last name Clay used.

Feeling alone in the world, he searched the New Orleans Parish records for information on where they were buried. He found no evidence of their deaths, but found instead the marriage records of a woman with his mother’s name

Taking his entire allowance for the year from his trust fund, Clay took a trip to Nevada and hired a private investigator. The investigator finally reported to Clay that his mother had indeed been killed in a car wreck, but a dozen years after the date he had been told, and thousands of miles from Louisiana. His father had been killed the year of Clay’s birth, by a bear during a hunting trip, also in Nevada, That was not the only information the investigator had for his young client. Clay had a stepfather, two step-brothers and a half-brother not far away from the hotel where he was staying in Reno.

Not one for timidity, a few days later Clay presented himself at the Cartwrights’ home, and told his story, not expecting to be believed. Due to his resemblance to his father, Jean DeMarigny, who Ben Cartwright had known well, his story was believed. After having his attorney check Clay out, Ben was convinced that the young man was who he claimed to be. Ben invited him to stay and get acquainted with his new family.

Joe was thrilled, but the rest of the family was a little uneasy. Clay could be a likable young man, but in Ben’s opinion was rather wild and undependable. Clay had wanted to take Joe to Acapulco to celebrate finding each other. Just the thought of Joe loose in Mexico with Clay was enough to give Ben a headache for a week. Of course, Ben had wanted to forbid it, but Joe was past eighteen, an adult. He pushed his luck, and forbad it anyway, resulting in quite an argument with the son in question.

*****

“I thought sure your dad would send me packing after that fight.” Clay lounged in the passenger seat of his step-father’s new Buick Rainier beside Joe at the wheel. They were delivering the SUV to Ben after taking it for servicing at Reno-Carson Buick.

“Yeah, well he was going to. Adam was all for it. We have Hoss to thank that he didn’t. He convinced Pa that it would be a good idea for you to stay and work off your share of the bail and damages. Maybe try to get some sense of responsibility into your head. Adam insisted it’s too late for that, but Hoss threw a load of that psychology gobblygook at Pa and overwhelmed him with it. It didn’t hurt that Pa kind of feels that he owes it to Mom to try to straighten you out. She always treated Adam and Hoss like they were her own sons. Pa feels he ought to do the same by you. Course, treating you the same as he does me isn’t always doing you a favor,” Joe laughed.

Clay laughed in agreement. “You got that right! Hey, how about letting me drive? I’ve been wanting to try out one of these.”

Joe quickly shook his head. “Oh, no! This is Pa’s pride and joy. He’d have my hide. Besides, the insurance for this car wouldn’t cover you. Pa’s a stickler for being covered by insurance.”

“Just for a few miles. Nothing’s going to happen in that short a distance,” Clay argued.

Joe gave in. “OK, when we stop at Captain Dick’s to buy the beer, you can take over til we get to the ranch road. Then it’s back to me. I don’t want to chance anyone seeing you at the wheel of Pa’s new SUV.”

*****

“Ye-haw!” Now this is driving”, Clay shouted. “I’m going to get myself one of these when I get control of my trust fund.”

“A Buick? You already said you were going to get a BMW, a Ferrari, and an Aston-Martin”. You’re going to blow your whole trust fund on cars. Anyway, a Buicks are for middle-aged people.” Joe laughed.

“Hey, I got a CD you should hear. I brought it with us. I just remembered it. It’s old time disco. I found some old disco records of Mom’s stored in the attic. The same songs are on this CD I saw at the music store at the Washoe Valley Mall, so I bought it. Damn, it’s under the seat.”

Joe glanced at the speedometer. “Hey, better slow down. There are a lot of deer wondering onto the roads. One jumped right over the hood of Bessie Sue’s Tracker last week before she realized it was there. Lots of smaller critters in a hurry to become road kill too. Anyway, the ranch road is right up ahead.”

“You worry too much, brother.” Clay grinned at Joe, but eased up on the accelerator.

Joe bent down and reached under the car seat, searching for the elusive CD. “Damn, can’t reach it.” Joe grumbled as he unlatched his seat belt.

“What’s that?” A swift-moving shape darted into Clay’s vision. Distracted, he glanced at it, then back to the road; but not back to the road quickly enough. He heard Joe yell “Oh, shit!” just as he felt the left front tire leave the pavement.

Trees and bushes rushed by as the Buick rolled down the slope that boarded the road. As the SUV picked up momentum, small tree branches cracked and glass broke. Clay’s seat belt tightened around him as the vehicle gave a final lurch and came to rest.

Clay felt like he had forgotten to breath. He took a deep breath, shook his head, and turned to the passenger seat to check on Joe. “Hey! You ok, brother? Oh, God!”

Joe sat there, a dazed look on his stark white face while blood poured from a nasty looking gash on his forehead. Clay extricated the two of them from the deployed air bags and staggered up the slope, half carrying and half dragging his brother.

“Oh no, no, no!” Clay moaned. He sat on a log staring unbelievably, wishing fervently that what he was seeing was part of a bad dream. His step-father’s new Buick had come to rest half-way down a slope that led to a small creek. It’s flawless, highly-polished dark blue body was covered with scratches, scrapes, and dents. The left side- view mirror hung by its wires. A small tree branch protruded from the left rear passenger window. The SUV was canted to the left side, its right side hung up on a large pile of rocks, right wheels still spinning. The front end, smashed against the solid trunk of a Ponderosa pine, was a crumpled mess.

Joe sat on the ground propped against the log where his brother sat. Clay pressed a wad of cloth torn form his shirt to Joe’s forehead. The gash was still bleeding heavily, the area around it swelling hideously.

“We have to get some help and get you to the hospital.” Clay continued to press the wad of cloth to Joe’s bleeding forehead while he fumbled with one hand with his cell phone. He held it to his ear, then cursed and flung it to the ground. “Damn thing’s dead! Where’s yours?”

Joe pointed silently to the Buick at the bottom of the slope.

“Try to keep this pressed against your forehead.” Clay tore off a fresh strip of cloth from his shirt and put it into Joe’s hand. He made sure Joe was alert enough to follow his instruction, glanced ruefully down the slope, and with a resigned sigh made his way back down to the battered vehicle.

Clay pushed aside the airbags and squeezed his way into the car. He didn’t see Joe’s cell phone on the seat. Searching through the SUV, he finally found it wedged under the accelerator pedal.

“How the hell did it get under there? Oh, great!” Clay stared at the smashed phone he held in his hand.

“Now what do I do? Leave Joe here alone and walk to the house. We’re at the ranch road, but the house is still a long way yet. He sure can’t walk it. Probably should just stay put with him; somebody’ll come along. The kid looks like he’s about ready to pass out. Oh, God. My goose is cooked for sure. First I get Joe involved in a fight in the Bucket of Blood with those lumberjack jerks, then he has a humdinger of a quarrel with his dad about us going to Acapulco, now this. Not only is Ben going to kill me, Adam and Hoss will pound what’s left of me. Hoss was even starting to like me a little.”

Clay, still mumbling to himself, starting to panic, started to climb back up to the road. He was almost to the top of the slope before he looked up from the ground and saw Adam Cartwright’s familiar black Jeep Grand Cherokee parked beside where he left Joe.

*****

“Hey Joe, I thought you were going to lay down after supper like Dr. Martin told you to, and watch the ball game in your room? The only reason he didn’t keep you at the hospital longer than a couple days was because you promised to take it easy. A concussion isn’t nothing to fool with.” Hoss Cartwright looked from the large screen TV in the corner of the great room to his little brother who was slowly making his way down the staircase. Joe was dressed in his most comfortable old cut-off-sweat pants and t-shirt, a bandage covering the stitches in his forehead.

Joe rubbed the back of his neck and glanced at his family arrayed around the large, masculine room. His father, as usual was seated in his well-worn maroon leather recliner beside the fireplace, the newspaper in his lap. His oldest brother Adam lounged in the blue easy chair on the opposite side of the fireplace, his feet propped on a hassock. He had turned the chair to face the TV, instead of having his nose stuck in a book, as was customary.

Hoss, seated on the maroon striped sofa, his arm around Bessie Sue Hightower, his colleague and on-again-off-again fiancée. He moved closer to her to make room on the sofa for Joe. Hoss longed to set a wedding date, but Bessie Sue got skittish when he tried to pin her down. They were both completing their PhDs in child and adolescent psychology and working part-time at a local clinic. She wanted to wait until they both earned their degrees and at least one of them had a full-time position. At least, this was her most recent excuse.

Joe resisted the urge to plop down between them. There was no reason to yank his brother’s chain tonight. Hoss had been the only one in the family not to get on his back about dropping out of college. He was, also, the one who had protected Clay from their father’s wrath after the wreck.

“San Diego is playing in Atlanta and they got rained out. They’re having bad storms down there. That was the only good game on tonight. I’m all slept out from sleeping all afternoon. What’s the difference if I’m taking it easy upstairs or down here? What are you guys watching?” Joe settled himself on the sofa beside Hoss and plopped his bare feet onto the rustic plank coffee table.

Ben glanced over the top of his newspaper at his youngest son. “Hoss is right about a concussion being nothing to fool with. But you’ve been lying down all day. Joseph! Feet off the table please.”

Joe grinned at the familiar reprove from his father, but hastily dropped his feet to the floor.

Here little brother. Put your feet up on this.” Adam slid the hassock he was using over to his brother. “But don’t get too used to it,” he laughed. “I’m only being nice to you because you’re banged up.”

Joe stretched his achy legs out and leaned comfortably back into his corner of the sofa. “Thanks Adam. I’m not sure what banged me up the most. The wreck or Pa’s lecture after you and Hoss brought me home, and Pa decided I was in good enough shape to listen to it.” Joe sneaked a side-long glance at his father, who “humphed”, and snapped the newspaper he was holding in front of his nose.

Joe didn’t think it prudent to mention that Clay had called him from Los Angeles that afternoon.

Bessie Sue leaned across Hoss to smile at Joe. “You look better than I expected from what Hoss told me”.

Joe smiled back weakly, but couldn’t help bragging, “Because even with stitches in my head, I’m still the best looking Cartwright.”

Bessie Sue laughed and snuggled into Hoss. “Not in my opinion.”

“Faye Franklin is being interviewed by Diane Sawyer,” Adam answered. “Since we’re going to that party for her in Dallas in a couple of weeks, we thought it would be a good idea to watch the interview. Be quiet, everyone. It’s starting.”

*****

“‘Divas’ has always been one of my favorites. You totally captured the glamour of the women in the shot,” Dianne Sawyer said to Faye.

“Boy, did she. Now those are lovely ladies. I once saw Lotta Crabtree perform in college,” Hoss said as the picture of Lotta Crabtree, Ada Mencken, Julia Grant, Liza Minelli and Barbra Streisand. “She put on a fundraiser for the Big Brothers.”

“This picture was used on the cover of Vanity Fair. I was quite honored that all of them agreed to the portrait and gave me free rein on the wardrobe and lighting,” Faye said. “And they were all so cooperative.”

“Even Barbra Streisand?” Dianne Sawyer asked.

“Oh yes. She was the one who suggested the entire thing as a tribute to Adah Mencken winning the Oscar for “Mazeppa”.

*****

“Marie and I saw Barbara Streisand in concert on our first anniversary. She loved to hear her sing ‘The Way We Were’,” Ben added.

”I remember that,” Hoss smiled. “Marie would sing while she did chores and made supper. And in the car.”

Joe nodded. He had vague memories of his mother singing along with the radio in the station wagon. She had a pretty voice.

Adam remembered coming in tired from basket ball practice, doing chores on a cold, damp evening. They must have just turned back the clock and it was pitch dark outside. He was hungry and chilled, and still had a pile of homework to do.

His step-mother was putting the last touches on supper before Pa came home. She had just fixed her hair and was wearing form fitting Calvin Klein jeans and a soft green cowl neck sweater that matched her eyes. She always wanted to look her best when her husband came home.

Marie’s small television set on the kitchen counter. Pa thought Marie watched too much TV, but she would say that living on the ranch, she missed the company of crowds and parties and close neighbors. Maybe, he had teased, she has a new friend named Oprah to keep her company in the afternoons while he worked and the two older boys were in school. Pa had warned her not to fall for Phil Donahue or that slick good looking guy on the evening news as she belonged to him alone. All the boys laughed at Ben‘s joke, even Joe who had no clue what they were laughing at.

Little Joe was very small, sitting in on the kitchen stool singing with her. Hoss played with his new Gameboy and was standing so Little Joe could look over his shoulder at the screen but keep his grubby hands off the precious toy. Marie was singing and finishing the salad. Some old black and white sit com was on the television, The Dick Van Dyke Show. Adam leaned on the door frame and watched. Mary Tyler Moore was wearing tight black toreador pants and pertly pouring coffee for her husband. She was the cordial hostess to their friends at some sort of lively, sophisticated New York gathering. Adam was suddenly warmed to his core and wished he was Rob Petrie with such a smart, pretty wife. He would love to be the Ponderosa Matador to a wife in tight toreador pants. He could be El Toro Grande. He had no idea what Rob and Laura did in their twin bedded bedroom but he had his fantasies.

*****

“Who is this? He looks awfully demonic.” Diane Sawyer asked Faye Franklin. The back ground of the scene was filled with orange, swirling hellfire. In the center was a husky man with intense black eyes glaring straight at the camera. He looked both seductive and viciously deadly at the same time.

“He is the Thunderman”.

“Thunderman?” He looks quite frightening.”

Faye avoided saying how really alarming the man was. She had avoided being alone with him even though he had only acted in the most polite and gracious way. There was something about how he whistled and spoke in a phony, countrified accent that chilled her blood. “Thunderman is a demolition expert named William Poole. He specializes in fighting oil well fires all over the world. He was in the military during the first Gulf War.”

“Desert Storm?” Sawyer asked.

Faye nodded, her smooth dark hair bouncing gracefully. “The army trained him in ordinance and explosives and he now travels around the world putting out oil well fires for the petroleum industry. It is quite a high risk vocation.”

“And I am sure it pays quite well too.” Diane prompted.

“Very well. But the interesting thing is Poole said he would do it for nothing. He claims he loves blowing things up and the million dollar fees just make it more fun. He claims women love men who know how to.”

“He looks awfully demonic,” the blonde haired reporter said once again. It took a lot to frighten the veteran reporter but there was something about the look in William Poole’s piercing eyes that made Diane Sawyer shudder.

*****

“I called this picture ‘Taken to the cleaners’. It was from a series of photos I did in the San Francisco courts.”

“That is a very unusual title. Tell me more about it,” prompted Diane Sawyer.

“Well, the man on the right told me that he stole his cousin’s fiancée. Now she was divorcing him.”

A very beautiful, well-dressed blonde woman sat on one side of the courtroom weeping dramatically into her manicured hands while a round cheeked blonde little girl attended to her. The girl’s sad eyes were not on her mother. They looked longingly at her former step- father on the other side of the court room.

On the other side of the courtroom, the dark haired, mustached man sat clenching a pen in his fist. His mouth was pressed in an angry straight line as the court officer showed him where to sign the papers ending his marriage. The community property laws of the state of California, dictated that half of what he owned now belonged to a woman he had known less than two years

“I don’t believe it!”

“Oh my gosh!”

“Look at that!”

“Well, doggone!”

All four Cartwrights spoke at once as they realized who the couple in the photograph was. It was Ben’s nephew, Will Cartwright and his wife Laura.

Bessie Sue turned to Hoss with an inquisitive look. “Isn’t that your cousin?”

Hoss chuckled and bent towards her ear, whispering, “Yep! I’ll tell you all about it later”.

*****

Diane Sawyer’s voiceover continued. “This picture is called ‘Un-Natural Selection’. It was shot at that tragic fire at the Kapusta Nature preserve, the one that burned 10,000 acres of wet lands about ten years ago.”

The picture on the screen showed a young forest ranger and a vet attempting to bandage the burned paw of a singed bear.

“The fire was started by a young, emotionally disturbed arsonist.” Faye explained. “The bear recovered and was released back into the wild. His name was Peanut.”

“The ranger or the bear?” Sawyer laughed.

“The bear. He loved peanut butter and the rangers gave it to him to keep him calm while they tended to his injuries.”

*****

Hoss Cartwright’s thoughts drifted back to an encounter with a young boy during his Freshman Year in college at the University of Nevada at Reno:

Hoss had initially gone along with the Big Brother Group not thinking much about it, his first year of college. Hoss never would have imagined this involvement would impact him so deeply. As a result of the first camping trip and meeting warm-hearted Professor Harrison, the husky football player changed him major from sports management to psychology. He wanted to learn more about troubled youngsters, and to do everything he could do to help as many as he could. It also helped that Bessie Sue Hightower was majoring in psychology and he could spend time with his girl studying.

“Two years ago the sweet darlings caused a landslide and last year one of them started a fire in a nature preserve. You’ll pull your whole grade point up and not worry about your eligibility if you go with the team and take charge,” Coach Ciampi urged. Hoss Cartwright amazingly had the best grades on the team and was basically carrying all their eligibilities on his broad shoulders. The coach also knew the good-natured Cartwright boy was one of the few on the team who could be counted on to have some sense in a tight situation. Hoss Cartwright also knew how to make a campfire and cook a hot dog with out setting a forest fire or take a keg of beer with him.

It was the final night of the annual Big Brother/ Football team camping trip. One of the major goals of the camping trip was for the youngsters to learn teamwork and share chores and responsibilities as well as fun with the athletes.
The group was scrambling to make camp before dark and start supper. All but one was attending to their assigned task to some fashion. The boys were even getting fairly adept at putting up the tents, chopping the fire wood and starting dinner.
Each football player worked with a few of the youngsters doing the chore Hoss had shown them. It was working quite well and they all were having a fine time.
All except one boy — Chucky.

The sullen twelve year old boy was still hanging on the edge of the group, avoiding all his chores and even doing sneaky spiteful things to disrupt the others. His father, a notorious drug dealer, was killed when his crystal meth lab exploded. The boy was shifted from relative to foster home and had failed to fit in at any of them. He had come along on the camping trip and caused trouble for everyone.

“Chucky, come here a minute,” Hoss called to the boy. He was sure he could break through to the youngster by imitating some of his father’s parenting techniques. Ben Cartwright was a great role model and Hoss was going to use one of his Pa’s best strategies to get a boy to shape up.

“What do you want, Horsie,” the boy purposely mispronounced the football player’s nickname just to be obnoxious. He skulked over to the football player as he sat near the camp fire watching the dutch oven apple pie.

“Hoss. Just call me Hoss,” young Cartwright said patiently. “You need to be pitching in for your share of the chores, Chucky.”

“What for? You gonna make me? I’m going to do what I want on my own!”

“Let me show you something,” Hoss picked up four slender, dry twigs. Then, like his father had demonstrated to each of his sons at various times, Hoss handed Chucky a twig. “Can you break this?”

“Sure I can!” The boy easily snapped the twig. “Horsie. If I sharpen it, I can poke out your eye.”

Hoss swallowed hard and tried not to show the boy how spooked he felt. He just continued on with his story. “Each of us is like that twig, easily broken alone,” Hoss said, trying to say it as well as Ben had.

“So?” Chucky sneered. His blue eyes glared at Hoss with a frightening anger.

“Well, son…” Hoss started. He smiled and put his huge hand on the boy’s narrow shoulder.

“I ain’t your son, fat boy,” Chucky spat out and pulled away from Hoss.

Hoss was taken aback by the boy‘s venomous tone but he persevered. “Well , Chucky, look at this. This is like a team, like friends or family hanging together,” Hoss bundled the twigs together.

“So? Who needs friends?” the boy sneered.
“Try to break this, now,” Hoss handed the boy the bundle. He was going to teach Chucky just like Pa had taught his boys. This was going to be just perfect. Chucky would get the point just as each of the Cartwright boys had and be transformed.

Chucky clutched the twigs in his dirty hands and tried to snap the bunch. “I can’t!”
”See what I mean?” Hoss smiled hoping he sounded as wise as his father. “Each of us is easily broken alone but if we stick together…”

Chucky flung the twigs into the campfire. “We burn up together!” The boy threw his head back and laughed maniacally. Then he grabbed more firewood and tossed it into the flames. Hoss was so shocked at the boy’s reaction that he froze for a minute. The angry boy grabbed the cooler and almost tossed it in too before Hoss grabbed him and restrained him.

*****

The still beautiful woman sat in the middle of the outdoor family portrait. Her blond hair in a casual but smooth flattering comb, a minimum of make up or jewelry was needed to enhance her natural beauty and healthy coloring. Her clear eyed gaze was unwavering and directly at the camera. Laugh lines crinkled in the corner of her twinkling eyes.

Swirling around her, their positions frozen by the quick shutter of Faye Franklin was her family:

Bracketing the family group like book ends were her handsome adult sons, dressed in expensive, custom made suits. The youngest son, Bobby, his hand affectionately and protectively on his mother’s shoulder. The extremely attractive wives of these sons stood decoratively next to their respective husbands. In clear contrast to their lovely mother in law, the two younger women looked more artificial, like perfectly groomed life sized Barbie dolls, appendages to their husbands.

The older son, his father’s namesake, had a wide, false smile on his slightly puffy face. His hand posed on his father’s broad shoulder almost as if he was trying to gain the broad shouldered man’s attention.

The father of the family, still ruggedly handsome, was wearing a western cut suit and a bolo tie. Despite his age, Jock Ewing looked like a force to reckon with both in the board room and in a barroom brawl.

Between her grandparents sat a voluptuous young woman. Her ripe sexuality in contrast with the artificial perfection of her uncle’s wives. A gust of wind rippled sensuously through her long overly-blonded hair. She was only fourteen but was clearly hoping to appear older. She had her orthodontist remove her braces for the portrait despite her grandmother’s protests.

“Now that’s what I call a gorgeous girl!” Joe whistled appreciatively, which earned him a glare from Adam.

“What are you looking at me like that for?” Joe glared back at his oldest brother. “You admire what you like about the photographs, and I’ll admire what I like about them. Anyway, look at the way Pa is staring at the photo,” Joe giggled. “He must see something he likes too.”

When Ben Cartwright glanced up from his newspaper to the TV screen, the last thing he had expected to see was those two faces from his past: Ellie Southworth Ewing and her husband Jock. Neither would he be expecting the trouble that their eldest son would bring to his family in the near future.

*****

“Everyone remembers this photo, much like other iconic images,” Diane Sawyer said to the camera. “It was called “Brothers: Portrait in Grief” and it has been almost two decades since this picture was on the front page of almost every news paper in the country.

A black and white photo filled the screen, a Pulitzer Prize winner that captured a poignant instant in time. A handsome, dark haired teenager, caught in that instant between boyhood and manhood was cradling a wailing, small boy in his arms. A husky blonde boy, somewhere between the two others in age and size, wept, his face pillowed in his older brother’s back. The teenager was wearing a high school letter jacket, white with dark sleeves. The blonde boy was wearing an indistinguishable winter windbreaker. Despite the filth and blood on the smallest boy, he was remarkably beautiful, almost angelic. The child’s face was framed with tangled curls and was in the center of the photo, his eyes wide with terror. Faintly, in the back ground you could make out a husky, mustachioed highway patrol officer. His ham-like hand was over his eyes as he too wept. The light was harsh, contrasted between the dark in the back ground and bright spots from the glare of headlights on the wet macadam road.

*****
“Joe! Little brother! What’s wrong?” Hoss had been half dozing on Bessie Sue’s shoulder and had been startled awake when Joe, who had been slouching beside him on the sofa, suddenly sat bolt upright and grabbed his arm.

Joe gestured towards the TV screen. “The photo of the wreck. I didn’t know that they were going to show the photos during her interview. “

Adam quickly grabbed the remote off the coffee table and switched the TV off. “I never thought of that either. I wouldn’t have insisted we watch it if I had known that.” He looked at the stricken expressions on his father’s and brothers’ faces and his mind reeled back to that long ago evening:

He had reluctantly left basketball practice early because he had to pick up Hoss. Bessie Sue’s mother, a former school teacher, made extra money by tutoring. She was tutoring Hoss in math. He hadn’t wanted to ask the coach to leave practice early and had argued with his step-mother that morning about it. She insisted it couldn’t be helped; she had an appointment with Joe at the pediatrician and Adam had to help out.

Coming home with Hoss, they had rounded the corner at Jensen’s Dairy and had seen the red lights of Patrolman Coffee’s highway patrol car reflecting off the wet road.

Joe stood up abruptly and beat a hasty retreat up the stairs, not saying a word to anyone. Tempted to follow him, Ben got one foot on the staircase, but thought better of it. He decided to wait till Joe calmed down a bit. Shaking his head, he went back to his recliner and the rest of the family who were sitting silently just staring at each other.

Bessie Sue was shrugging into her jacket and gathering up her purse and briefcase. “You probably want to talk about what just happened, so I’ll be going. Thank Hop-Sing for me for such a good dinner, will you? I’ll see you tomorrow, Hoss.” Bessie Sue gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

“No, Bessie Sue, please don’t leave yet.” Ben gently took her arm. “You’re family. I wanted to talk to you about Joe’s behavior at college and since he came home. You’ve know Joe for years, since you babysat him when he was a child. He’s very fond of you, and I know you are of him. Please, stay awhile yet. Hop-Sing went to his cousin’s. It’s their ma-jong night. Why don’t we go out to the kitchen and have some of that cake while we talk. Hop-Sing always leaves us a full pot of coffee in the evenings.”

Hoss and Bessie Sue filed out to the kitchen and Ben turned to Adam who was standing gazing at the now blank TV screen. “Coming, Adam?”

“God, what a jerk I am, Pa!” Adam pinched the bridge of his nose and sank onto the coffee table. “I should have realized that photo would probably have been shown on Ms. Franklin’s interview. She won a Pulitzer Prize for it.”

Ben put his arm across Adam’s shoulders. “Adam, to tell you the truth, when you said we should watch the interview, the thought of that photo never crossed my mind either. But maybe it was good this happened. Those photos are going to be on display at Ms. Franklin’s reception. It’s better this happened here than at the party, among a hundred strangers and all those photographers who will be there.

“Come on, let’s get some of that cake and coffee. I’ll go up in a little bit and check on Joe. I want to give him a chance to pull himself together first.” Ben steered his oldest out of the great room.

*****

“I brought you some things to amuse you,” Bessie Sue said walking into Joe’s bedroom carrying a big cardboard carton.

The morning after watching the Diane Sawyer special with Faye Franklin, Joe had awakened with a splitting headache. Concerned because of the concussion that Joe had sustained in the wreck, Ben had phoned the family doctor, Paul Martin. Dr. Martin advised Ben that it probably wasn’t anything serious to be concerned about, but to make sure that Joe took it easy all day.

However, everyone had intractable commitments. Adam was driving out to check on his windmill project. Ben was scheduled to meet with his accountant to review his quarterly taxes. Hoss was meeting with Professor Harrison to review his dissertation on suppressed memory in traumatized children.

“Too bad Little Joe is your brother,” Bessie Sue said to Hoss that morning when she called to wish him luck.

“Too bad? Thought you liked him,” Hoss answered.

“I do. I love him I think of him as a brother. I just meant with the topic of your thesis and all that happened last night, Joe would be a perfect subject to study. It just wouldn’t be ethical to study your own brother,” she explained.

“I know,” Hoss sighed. “Pa and Adam have been awfully worried about Joe. He hasn’t been himself since he came home from college in San Diego.”

“And you aren’t?” Bessie Sue asked, knowing how upset Hoss was at his bother’s unusual behavior.

“Guess I am. I sure hate to leave that boy alone all day. You know how Joe can get into trouble without him even putting his mind to it.” Hoss sighed. Bessie Sue could sense his next thought would be to cancel his meeting with his thesis mentor. Hoss was so close to finishing and Bessie Sue was not going to allow him to be distracted when he was so close to the finish line.

“Why don’t I go over and keep Little Joe company. Then I can have dinner with all of you and hear how your meeting with Harrison went. I have a few hours between patients in the middle of the afternoon and would be glad to visit with him.” Knowing that Joe would balk at the idea of a “baby sitter”, Bessie Sue came up with the idea of bringing him some things from her mother’s cluttered basement.

“Got one of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders in that box? Bring her here!” Joe let the book he was reading slide to the floor with a thud. He sat up in bed and grinned.

“Not quite Romeo,” Hoss’s girl friend laughed. “Just a few tame amusements for you. ”

“Great! I was getting really bored. Doc Martin told Pa I had to stay off my feet and not watch any more television. Besides, the only thing on right now is soap operas and junk on TVLand. Some old corny western.”

“Gunsmoke?” Bessie Sue guessed. She didn’t have much time for television watching.

“I guess,” Joe yawned. He stretched his arms over his head and flipped off the reading lamp.

She glanced around the large, airy room in the front of the house. It was filled with the clutter of a young man living in his boyhood bedroom. Shelves were filled with books, trophies and souvenirs. A crossed pair of epees hung on one wall over a surfing poster. The swords had been the late Marie Cartwright’s. She had been an amateur fencing champion and had even come close to getting a place on the Olympic team before she met Ben Cartwright.

On the wall opposite the bed was a strange portrait of an Indian chief. When he was about ten and playing hooky from Sunday School, Little Joe had found it in a dumpster behind a liquor store in Virginia City. He made Hoss help him haul it home and much to his father’s dismay insisted on hanging it in his bedroom.

“His eyes follow you no matter where you go in the room. How do you sleep with that thing on the wall?” Bessie Sue pointed to the Indian.

“Chief Winnemucca? Doesn’t bother me. I sleep with my eyes closed,” Joe shrugged. He leaned forward and pulled the carton from Bessie Sue’s hands. “Come on now, what did you bring me? Just this old junk? Anything to eat?”

“Chocolate milk and ring dings. And some Pepperidge Farm cookies. I left them in the kitchen”

“Tahoes?” Joe asked hopefully.

“Lidos. And Geneva’s. And these things. Mom was clearing out for a garage sale. Check out some of these old things to see if I can bring them over to the clinic to use with my patients.”

“Eight Tracks and romance novels? Old bowling shoes? Voodoo dolls for you head shrinkers?”

Bessie Sue laughed and pulled things out of the carton. She stacked items on the rumpled bed around Little Joe. “Fun things to amuse you while you heal up. Comics, a few little cars, a 500 piece jigsaw. I’m not sure all the pieces are here but you can find out. I also picked up some new car magazines and that skate board magazine that you like as well. You can read them and then I can put them in the waiting room. Do you think my teenaged boys would like those?”

Joe fanned out the magazines and winked playfully at his brother‘s girlfriend.. “Sure. They would like Sports Illustrated too, especially the swimsuit issue. And Playboy.”

“Anatomy and physiology lessons?” Bessie Sue shook her head. “Think I’ll stick to these for now.”

“Wow! Look at this! Legos!” Joe exclaimed pulling a red plastic container out of the carton. He rattled it loudly. Then he balanced the container on the edge of his nightstand next to a framed picture of his parents, a dirty glass and half filled cereal bowl left from his breakfast. “Adam had every Lego ever made. A big erector set too. He wouldn’t let me touch any of them. I remember that he made this huge, giant windmill for a science fair. I couldn’t have been more than four or five. It was his idea to try to lease our Clark County land to Wind Power Ltd.”
”Adam is very smart and a terrific engineer. He is going to help revolutionize energy generation and dependence on oil.”
”And just think, it all started with Legos. Pa wasn’t much in favor of getting involved with that windmill thing. Said even though Adam had a good education he couldn’t think very well. They shouted back and forth for a whole day like it was the Battle of Bunker Hill and the D Day Invasion combined.”
“But Adam convinced your father. And his engineering degree gave him the credentials he needed to do the project in reality, not Legos,” Bessie Sue said. She carefully avoided adding any more comments about Joe returning to college.
“Adam sure did, and Pa is mighty glad now,” Joe said proudly. “What else did you bring me?”
“My goodness Joseph! Aren’t you the greedy one? How about this. I saved the best for last. Gameboy! ”
“Wow! Hoss had one of those. I sure wanted one. I would sneak it out of his room whenever I had a chance. He would flip when he realize what I had done because he had bought it with his own money. I always ran down the batteries.”
“The pain of being the baby brother. You want the big boy’s toys and they won’t share with the little guy.”
“Did you bring any?” Joe asked.
“Batteries? Of course. They are in here some where,” Bessie Sue dug into the bottom of the carton while Little Joe fiddled with the back of the electronic game.
“Damn!” Joe exclaimed as his finger painfully jammed on a sharp edge of battery compartment of the Gameboy. He yanked his hand free and the toy flew from his hands. Joe’s elbow collided with the precariously balanced box of Legos. The building set, the dirty dishes and the framed picture all cascaded to the floor with a loud crash of breaking glass.
“Little Joe? Are you ok?” Bessie Sue asked as the young man turned ghostly pale.

 

“Oh geez, Bessie Sue!” Joe got shakily out of bed and started pacing around the bedroom, running his fingers through his tangled curls.

 

Joe stopped pacing and sat abruptly on the edge of his bed. “There’s a lot of stuff I haven’t told Pa or even Hoss. When we had the wreck the other day, I swear I head a woman screaming as the car bounced down that slope. Last night, seeing that photo of us on TV, I heard the screaming again, and a crashing noise and glass breaking. Just now, when those dishes and the glass on the picture frame broke, I heard it again. I’m getting scared, really scared.” He clutched the pillow to his stomach and his voice dropped to a whisper as he looked forlornly at his friend and future sister-in-law. “You’re a shrink, Bessie Sue. What’s wrong with me?

 

Bessie Sue removed a pile of magazines from the chair in front of the desk and pulled it over to sit close to him. “Joe, as a friend and future in-law, I can’t treat you, anymore than your brother can. I shouldn’t be telling you this; your father was going to talk to you about it tonight. But, last night after you went upstairs, Hoss suggested to your father that you go see Dr. Sidney. It should be all right ethically, as long as she doesn’t discuss it with Hoss, and she won’t.

“Now don’t get on your high horse about it, Joseph Cartwright!” Her blue eyes flashing, Bessie Sue laid a restraining hand on Joe’s knee as he threw the pillow down and started to stand up. “You just now wanted me to tell you what’s wrong, but you get all huffy when I suggest that you get some serious counseling!”

Joe plopped back down, and giving Bessie Sue a sheepish grin, admitted,”Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll go along with it. When Pa brings it up tonight, I’ll even act like it’s the first I’m hearing about it so Pa won’t be upset with you for saying anything about it.

“Hey, when is my brother going to get you down the aisle, anyway?’ Joe, ever adept at changing the subject, and eager to lighten the mood, questioned his brother’s reluctant fiancée.

Joe giggled as a well-aimed magazine bounced off his leg and Bessie Sue scurried out of the room.

*****

JR Ewing’s personal investigator, Harry McSween, sat on the opposite side of JR’s desk and reported on his findings in Nevada. “The bad news first, JR. Cartwright is clean as a whistle. Not a thing to connect him to any foul play in his wives’ deaths. Didn’t even have much life insurance on any of them. The first one, Elizabeth Stoddard Cartwright, died of a heart attack right after giving birth to their first son, Adam. The autopsy report showed an unsuspected heart condition. The second wife, Inger Borgstrom Cartwright, was murdered, but nothing to tie Cartwright to it. According to the police report, she was helping a friend escape from a violent husband and the guy shot them both. The second son, Eric, was a baby. The third Mrs. Cartwright, Marie DeMarignay Cartwright, was killed in an auto accident.

“Was old man Cartwright driving?” JR said hopefully.

“No, she was. She was alone in the car with their kid. There were some questions about that, but nothing concerning her husband. It’s common knowledge there that the reason he backed out of the governor’s race was because his boys didn’t like the idea of being in the limelight, and his youngest boy was just starting high school and didn’t want his dad all wrapped up in politics and not have any time for him. Everybody I talked to said the same thing — it was a family decision.”

“I checked out the boys too. Clean there too. The youngest boy has a history of speeding tickets, but no attempts by Cartwright to fix them. He dropped out of college after one year, and I had my hacker friend hack into the San Diego State computer. No drugs or booze problem, just bad grades. He was on academic probation. The kid could have come back the next semester and raised his grades, but quit school instead. The two older ones are so clean they squeak. You know about the oldest one. The other one is working on a PhD. The guy works with delinquents and coaches pee wee football and goes to church every Sunday.”

“Now for the good news. Laura’s information about Andrew Lancer was right on the money. Twenty years ago the good judge bought a brand new luxury condo at Tahoe, but the deed says it’s owned by a Lillian Smith.”

JR nodded curtly. “That’s Laura’s Aunt Lil. She was a B-Movie starlet back in the 50s.

McSween leaned forward in the leather chair. “That’s not all of it. Did you catch that Diane Sawyer special last night about that photographer?”

“Photographer? Oh, that gal that my mother hired for our family portrait. No. What’s she got to do with anything?” JR looked puzzled.

“They had that interview on in the bar where I was having a drink. Some folks were complaining that they were missing the ball game, but the bar tender has a thing apparently for Diane Sawyer, and wouldn’t change the channel.” McSween laughed. “There was this photo of the aftermath of a car wreck that this Franklin woman won a Pulitzer Prize for. Guess who was skulking around the edge of the photo? None other than Andrew Lancer. I haven’t been a cop all those years for nothing. Something just didn’t feel right. They gave the date that picture was taken, so I did some investigating. A station wagon went off the road in a rainstorm and the woman driving was killed. A man pulled a little boy out of the wreck and then handed him over to some other people who had stopped to help and then he just seemed to disappear. I thought it was strange that he didn’t stick around to see of the kid was ok or at least to be thanked. They found some black paint on that red station wagon. Lancer drove a black Buick. Just on a hunch I checked all the body shops in the area. Bingo! Two days after the wreck Lancer had a scrape on his car painted at a body shop in Reno. And it gets even better. The woman that was killed was Mrs. Ben Cartwright.”

McSween settled back in his chair to watch his employer digest this information, and contemplated the bonus that he had just earned.

“Good work. That confirms the story Laura claims Lil told her.” JR took his personal checkbook from a locked desk drawer. He handed McSween a check and glanced at his watch. “I have to meet some people at the Oil Barons Club for lunch.”

*****

“Hey, Joe, I’d have thought you’d be on the tennis court down at the country club on a nice day like this,” Hoss Cartwright remarked to his younger brother as he settled into the rocking chair that sat on the wide porch of the ranch house.

Ben and Adam were taking advantage of the beautiful, late Sunday morning, playing a round of golf at the Winnemucca Country Club with Roy Coffee and Dr. Paul Martin. Hoss was waiting for Bessie Sue to arrive for their horseback ride and picnic at the lake. He had come out to the porch and had been surprised to see Joe at home. The young man was sprawled listlessly on the chaise lounge, barefoot and dressed in an old pair of tennis shorts and a San Diego Padres tee shirt, an opened tennis magazine on his lap.

Joe looked over at his brother, startled. “What’s the big idea of sneaking up on me like that? If it’s any of your business, I’m still too sore to play tennis.”

“Sneaking up on you? With these boots on this plank floor? And there’s no call to bite my head off. I was just making conversation.” Hoss took a deep breath and tried again. “If you’re still that sore, why don’t you go to the club and use the sauna. It’ll be warm enough this afternoon that they’ll be some pretty nice scenery around the pool when those tennis playing girls change into their bikinis to cool off.”

“I’ll tell you what, big brother. You spend your Sunday the way you want to, and I’ll spend mine the way I want to.” Joe snapped at his well-meaning brother.

Hoss was just about to lose his patience with his grumpy brother when a dust cloud on the lane announced the arrival of Bessie Sue in her bright yellow Tracker.

“Ok, little brother, I’ll leave you alone, but you better have that attitude gone by the time Pa gets back this afternoon if you know what’s good for you. We’ll be leaving for Dallas in a couple of days and Pa won’t put up with any nonsense from you there.” Hoss shook his head in exasperation. “Darn it, Joe! We’re trying to help you. Well, see you later.”

*****

“I thought you said Joe told you he would see Dr. Sidney?” Bessie Sue Hightower and Hoss Cartwright had finished their picnic lunch and were lying on a blanket, watching the ever-changing shades of blue in Lake Tahoe.

Betsy Sue looked down at Hoss, who was lying with his head in her lap, and pursed her lips at the snappish tone of his voice. “Now just a minute, Eric Cartwright! He did tell me that! Can I help it if he hasn’t even called her yet? You know the old saying about leading a horse to water, but can’t make him drink.”

Hoss had the good grace to look sheepish. He knew Bessie Sue meant business when she called him Eric. They had known each other ever since elementary school, and she found out long ago that one way to get Hoss’s attention was to call him Eric. “Sorry, Honey. I should be thanking you for talking to him about it.” Hoss sighed. “That’s the way Joe is. He meant it at the time because he was scared. He feels better now, so he’s putting it out of his mind. Or trying to. He’s still not himself this morning. It’s not like Joe to lie around the house by himself when there are pretty girls awaiting at the country club. Or awaiting anywhere. Well, we’ll be leaving for Dallas on Wednesday, so there isn’t any time now to do anything about it. There are some people there Adam wants to talk to about his storage battery, and Pa has some old friends there that won’t be at the gala, so he wants to go a few days early and see them. Joe wanted to wait till Friday and fly out with you, but Pa put his foot down and is making him go on Wednesday with the rest of us. I’ll talk to Pa and see if he thinks I should just go ahead and schedule something with Doctor Sidney for when we get back. He’ll make Joe go if he has to hogtie him and drag him there.”

“And speaking of pretty girls, you look mighty pretty today, Bessie Sue, with your hair down like that. I’m so used to seeing you in that bun you wear your hair in for the office that this sure is a treat.”

“Oh, so you think that is a treat, do you? Well, how about this?” Bessie Sue smiled into her on-again-off-again fiancé’s eyes as her head bent down and their lips met. Joe, Dallas, Lake Tahoe, and the vanilla cupcakes that they hadn’t eaten yet were all forgotten.

*****

The Cartwrights, along with the other guests at the annual Professional News Photographer Association Gala, were enjoying the lavish cocktail hour buffet. Faye Franklin was this year’s honoree, and the subjects of her photos had been invited to the event.

Diane Sawyer’s interview with the award-winning photographer was being shown on television screens scattered throughout the Turtle Creek Club, the Dallas area’s most exclusive hotel and country club.

It hadn’t escaped the notice of his father or brothers that Joe was sitting with his back to the TV.

“Fay Franklin is quite attractive,” Adam observed. He hadn’t realized the photographer was so lovely and not really much older than he. “Doesn’t she remind you of Mary Tyler Moore?”
“Who?” Joe asked. “Mary who?”
“Yes, she does. I always liked Mary Tyler Moore,” Ben agreed.
“She has spunk,” Hoss chuckled.
“Mary, who?” Joe repeated.
“My mom loves that old show with Rhoda and Lou Grant,” added Bessie Sue. “Faye Franklin really does look like Mary.”
“Mary who?” Joe said louder and more insistently. Wasn’t anyone listening to him?
“Mary Tyler Moore. The actress,” Bessie Sue finally answered.
“Faye Franklin really looks a lot like her,” Adam said, not taking his eyes off of the attractive brunette. Bessie Sue noticed both Ben Cartwright and Adam had the same smile every time Faye Franklin was on the screen.
*****
“Look at little brother over there. Not here but ten minutes and he is already snuggling up to some pretty girl.” Hoss chuckled. He stood on the iron railed balcony overlooking the patio where the party-goers were dancing. Candles were floating on surface of the reflecting pool and soft light washed the sculptures lining the courtyard.
“He’s not exactly snuggling up, Hoss. They are dancing,” Ben corrected. He watched Joe smoothly dancing with a voluptuous blonde in a form fitting, low cut purple gown. From the way Joe was moving with his usually smooth grace, the bruises from the wreck must have been fairly healed up.
“What ever you call it, Pa,” Hoss chuckled and took a swallow from his beer. “Never had Chinese beer and it is pretty good. The country club sure went out of their way to serve some unusual food at this party.”
“What happened to Sally or Brittany or what ever that girl’s name was?” Ben asked. He finished his brandy squash and put the empty glass on the tray of the passing waiter. “The sorority girl from Texas. Or is that her?”
“Tiffany, Pa,” Hoss recalled. “Maybe that fine filly is her friend or something. She’s from Texas too and Joe zoomed right on over to her.”
“Well you know Joe, Pa. If he isn’t near the girl he loves, he loves the girl he’s with,” a familiar baritone quoted the old song. Adam approached with a plate of sushi and offered to share them with his father and bigger younger brother.

Hoss laughed and helped himself to a spicy tuna roll. “You need a score card for that boy, Pa.”
“Score card?” Adam laughed at the unintended double meaning of Hoss’s comment. “Or the ‘Idiots Guide to Joe’s Women’,” Adam said as he took a sip from his very dry martini. “Think he’s in love?”
Hoss looked at his watch, a Rolex his father had given him when he received his Masters Degree, “Give him ten minutes. The night is young.”
“I figure Joseph will have at least proclaimed his endless adoration by the time we get called for dinner,” their father added with a wink.
“Pa! I can’t believe you said that!” Adam teased. “You are always telling us not to make disparaging remarks to our baby brother since the reluctant scholar came back from college.”
“Well, Adam, Pa said “to” Little Joe. He didn’t say “about” Little Joe when he isn’t near us,” Hoss explained.
“Well, boys, how many times has Joe told us that “this is the one” in the last year? Four? Five? And since he left college? At least three or four.” Ben shook his head.
”Six, not that I am counting.” Adam offered the plate to Hoss again.
“That boy will be the death of me. First he leaves college and then he flits from woman to woman and now that car wreck,” Ben groused.

“Well, we all can’t be the student that Hoss is,” Adam smiled sipping his martini. While he had done fairly well as an engineering major at University of Pennsylvania, Hoss really was the most academically accomplished of the brothers. He was a clinical psychologist working with disturbed children with his PhD in reach

.”If Joe had applied himself, and not spent so much of his time surfing…” Ben started.

“And comparing the relative merits of pulque and tequila while experiencing aerodynamic qualities of mountain bikes…” Adam interjected. “Purely for scientific purposes of course.”
“Just what I want my son to be doing in college,” Ben sighed.

“Don’t worry, Pa. He’ll settle in once he gets to the bottom of whatever is making him so miserable. He’s hardly twenty,” Hoss reminded his father. “Give him time, Pa, give him time.”

Hoss was the only one in the family who really had any suspicion on what might have caused Little Joe’s academic career to crash and burn. It wasn’t lack of intelligence or too much partying that brought his baby brother back home. Hoss suspected that Joe would prefer folks to think he messed up at college by being an irresponsibly wild party animal, not that he was too homesick to make a go of it. He knew that horrible feeling. Both he and Adam had been homesick when they first left home but they stuck it out. As the oldest, Adam was used to striking out on his own and being independent. He delighted in his new found freedom, and not having his little brothers underfoot. He reveled in the academic stimulation of an Eastern Ivy League college.

Hoss was part of the football team and had a built-in support system from the coach and being part of the Big Brothers. Even better, Bessie Sue was at the same college. She hadn’t paid him much mind back home, thinking that he was a big, dumb jock. Hoss showed her otherwise. She immediately fell for him and encouraged him to change his major to psychology. The first year away from home, Hoss was too busy practicing, struggling with his studies and romancing his favorite girl to have time for missing home very much. Hoss also got to see his family that first fall when they all came to cheer him at football games.

Joe, on the other hand, was further away from the Ponderosa in San Diego. There were no family visits to see him play as Joe was a baseball player, a spring sport. As a freshman, he was competing with upper classmen for both the pool of available girls and the few open spots on the baseball team. Joe failed at both. The only weekend Joe was hoping to travel home for a visit that first semester coincided with Pa having to travel to Chicago for some business meeting. Homesick, Joe didn’t see his father until Thanksgiving. Hoss was sure Joe just missed being on the Ponderosa and being with his family. It was far more manly to claim he had too much wine, women and surf than to admit he was too much of a pitiful homesick baby boy and just wanted to be back home.
“And speaking of misery and time, from what I understand, they won‘t be serving dinner until close to ten,” Adam pointed out. “Thy have to do all the speeches first and introduce all the people who were in Faye‘s pictures.” None of them noticed that Adam was suddenly on a first name basis with the photographer.

“By the way,” Ben interjected, “Joe told me he would rather absent himself during that portion of the program. I agree that it would be an excellent idea. I’ve already had a word with Ms. Franklin and the Master of Ceremonies. Of course I didn’t say anything about Joe’s reaction during the television interview. I just told them that it could bring back painful memories for the boy, in fact, for all of us.”

Ben looked around the table at his family, and two heads nodded in agreement.
“Ten? I’m starving!” Hoss groaned. He snatched the last morsel off Adam’s plate and swallowed it in one gulp. Hoss hadn’t realized it was the extremely hot wasabee and started choking as the fiery condiment singed its way to his stomach. Bessie Sue pounded Hoss on the back as he attempted to pour the rest of his beer down his throat.

By the time the three Cartwrights looked back over the balcony to spot Little Joe, he and his lovely blonde dance partner had disappeared. The young man and the luscious blond had moved to a more secluded location.

*****

“Isn’t it a small world! JR’s assistant used to live in Virginia City!” Miss Ellie told the Cartwrights.

“The one he seems to spend an inordinate amount of time with working late,” Sue Ellen remarked with an edge to her voice. She drained her cocktail and signaled to the passing waiter to bring her another.

“Really?” Adam said glancing around to see if Faye had come back into the room. “From Virginia City?”
“Small world, isn’t it?” Sue Ellen said. The waiter took her dirty glass and handed Sue Ellen a fresh drink. She was a bit wobbly and clutched at Hoss’s arm to steady herself.
”First you and Miss Ellie reconnect after all these years and now we find out JR’s assistant is from your home town!” Pam smiled sweetly.
“Small world, isn’t it?” Hoss agreed. His stomach was growling and he sure wished that dinner was starting before ten. “Ma’am, would you like me to get you a chair?”
Sue Ellen smiled and shook her head. “Oh no! I’m just fine.”
“Small world,” Bessie Sue agreed. “What is her name? I’m from Virginia City too.”
“Sir? Can I bring you anything?” the waiter asked Ben.
“How about a brandy squash? I haven’t had one of those for years,” Ben said. Both he and his oldest son noticed Faye on the other side of the dance floor. Both were hoping to ask her to dance. “Last time I had one was in a little waterfront place in San Francisco.”
“And her name is Cartwright too…” Sue Ellen continued.
“Isn’t that a coincidence!” Pam said.
“Yes, a coincidence,” said Bessie Sue, stepping closer to her boyfriend.
“Cartwright? We don’t have any relatives in Dallas that I know of. Do we, Pa?” Hoss asked stepping away from the intoxicated Sue Ellen. He smiled at Bessie Sue and slid his hand into hers. “Want to dance, Darlin’?” Bessie Sue smiled and nodded.
“Laura Cartwright. Laura Dayton Cartwright,” Sue Ellen said.
“Laura Dayton?” Adam drained his glass and thrust it on the tray of a passing waiter. He took a step away from the group. “Excuse me. I’m going to go see if Faye wants to dance.”
“Is she your relative?” Sue Ellen asked Ben, placing her hand on his arm.

“Oh my! She was briefly married to my nephew!”
“That isn’t all!” muttered Hoss, as he led Bessie Sue to the dance floor.

 

*****

 

They walked hand and hand to the far side of the club swimming pool and around the perfectly manicured plantings. The cool evening breeze was scented with the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle. The young couple walked into the shadowy golf course. As they strolled past a neatly trimmed row of tall hedges, the music of the party was totally buffered. All they could hear was the chirp of crickets and the distant whooshing sound of the lawn sprinklers.
Joe took a deep breath. “Smell that? They must have just cut the grass. It reminds me of haying season.”
“Haying?” Lucy asked, surprised.
“Sure, on our ranch, the Ponderosa. Don’t let my Pa know, but I really do like haying. Its real hard, hot dirty work but I like it for some crazy reason. My brother Adam would pop his cork if he heard me saying I liked doing some sort of hard work on the ranch.”
“You live on a ranch? So do I!” she squealed with exaggerated feminine delight that excited Joe even more. “I live with my grandparents on their ranch. My, my we sure do have a lot in common,” Lucy Ewing squeezed Joe Cartwright’s well muscled arm. “I just love to ride!”
Joe grinned to himself at the fleeting thought of Lucy riding a horse, her long blond hair whipping in the breeze. Joe galloping on Cochise. Lucy naked riding a horse, Lucy naked, Lucy naked riding. He felt the heat rush through his body and the mental image of Cochise rearing on his hind legs flashed in his brain.
“I love to ride, too. I have this little pinto, Cochise. I sure missed him when I was away at college.” Joe hesitated to continue on that subject. No need to admit how terribly homesick he had been in San Diego and how glad he was to be back on the Ponderosa. That certainly wouldn’t do much for impressing a gal.
He glanced about to see they were alone and continued to head toward the golf course. The party in the club house was far away. From past experience, Joe Cartwright knew quite well that an ingenious young man looking for a secluded spot to gaze at the stars with a willing woman was well served to head for the back greens in a golf course.
“They have a nice course here,” Joe said as casually as he could muster.
“Oh? Do they?” Lucy squeezed Joe’s arm and rubbed the back of his hand.
Joe nodded. “I hope I have time to play a few holes before we leave. My father and oldest brother are real good golfers, but I’m gaining on them. I need to work on my putting.”
The night was cool and Lucy shivered.
“Want my jacket?” Joe pulled her a bit closer. Lucy smelled of some sort of exotic flowers and spices. Joe was intoxicated by her nearness. He smiled his warmest heart melting smile and brushed a strand of blonde hair from her pretty face. He thought this night was going too well to believe. Even the moon and stars and the breezes were cooperating for lucky Joe Cartwright.
”Or you can warm me up like this!” Lucy wrapped her bare arms around Little Joe’s neck and snuggled close, very close. Shutting her eyes, she turned her face up to his for a kiss.
Never one to turn down such a desirable invitation or disappoint a willing lady, Joe couldn’t believe how fortunate he was getting that night. He was so glad he had protection in his wallet. Hoss had always warned him “No glove, no love, little brother.” Joe pulled her closer and kissed her soft lips. He smoothed his hand slowly over her cheek and kissed her again, this time slower, longer. Joe prided himself on his kissing skill. Back in the Silver Dollar, one of the waitresses told him he was the subject of lots of flattering graffiti in the ladies restroom.
Lucy reached her arms around Joe’s waist so her hands were inside Joe’s tuxedo jacket. She ran her hands up and down his back as they kissed more urgently.
Joe held her for a moment, and they smiled at each other, neither knowing just what to say next. She leaned her head against Joe’s chest. She could hear his heart beating and he smelled so nice. Aramis was by far her favorite aftershave. It drove her wild.
Joe gazed down at the beautiful blonde woman in his arms. The stars were shining in the night sky but not any brighter than Joe was shining in the romance department.
“Maybe you can come to the Southfork for my Sweet Sixteen. I’m going to have a really big party. It’s going to be for the whole weekend. You can even be my date.” She couldn‘t wait to tell her friend Peggy Dayton about her new boyfriend. Older guys were such great kissers. Lucy decided she would call her from her cell phone later.
Joe’s eyebrows shot up and he swallowed hard. “Your Sweet Sixteen?” He loosened his arms around her like she was white hot. “Just how old are you, Lucy?”
“Almost sixteen. In three months I can get my license and my Granddaddy said he would get me a car for my birthday. What car you think I should get?” Lucy knew boys loved to talk about cars almost as much as they liked kissing pretty girls like her. “Maybe we can shop together.”
As much as he was enjoying this lustful moment, Joe knew he was playing with fire. Here he was a twenty year old man, alone in the moonlight kissing a mere child. One thing Pa had drilled into his sons’ heads was respecting women. And one thing Adam had always reminded his hot-blooded brother was to make sure he wasn’t fooling around with “jail bait”. “Look before you leap, Buddy. No sense having an angry Daddy chasing after you with a shot gun or the brothers beating your head in or the sheriff hauling your rear into jail. Besides, Pa will string you up by your short hairs and Hoss and I won’t go saving your sorry hide if you do.”
Joe tried to extricate himself from the child’s embrace, but Lucy Ewing clung tightly to him. She pulled him closer again.
“Lucy.” Joe dropped his arms and stepped back a few steps. “We had better go back inside to the party or I won’t be able to stop,” he said firmly. No sense being rude if he didn’t have to be. All he needed to do was get the hell out of here.
“Who told you to stop, Joe?” She tried to pull him closer and attempted to kiss the handsome young man again. Joe chuckled to himself despite the pounding ache in his lower body and the heat suddenly pouring out of her.
Joe backed up a few more steps. “I told me. Lucy, you are a really nice girl but you are only fifteen. This wouldn’t be right; you are just much too young for me!” Despite his disappointment in his discovery about the attractive blonde‘s real age, he knew he was doing the right thing. Joe smiled gently and took a step back from Lucy Ewing. “I didn’t realize you were only fifteen.”
His frat brothers back in college would have told him that he was a being a total fool. Here he had a very hot, very willing girl in the moonlight and he was rejecting her. Most of those guys didn’t care what they did or who they did it with.

 

On the other hand, his father would be very proud of his responsible, honorable behavior. Ben Cartwright had raised his sons to be gentlemen and always be respectful of women no matter what the circumstances. Cartwrights did not take ever take advantage of anyone, no matter how tempting the situation. And Lucy Ewing was very tempting and very willing, Joe thought.

 

“So,” Lucy purred, “what does age have to do with anything?” She stepped closer to him and smiled beguilingly.

 

“Everything!” Joe answered. This extrication wasn’t going as smoothly as he had thought it would.
Lucy licked her pouty lips and tugged at the lapel of Joe’s cobalt blue, western cut jacket, trying to pull him closer. He was just too good looking to let go without a fight. The slightly unusual suit was what had first attracted her to Joe Cartwright when she first saw him at the party. Not only was he remarkably handsome, but Joe’s suit was retro cowboy cool. It looked just like the suit worn by the hunky dude on that old cowboy show, Wild Wild West. No other man at the party was wearing anything at all like it. They were all wearing boring, stuffy ordinary black tuxedos.
When Lucy complimented him, Joe had described how he had found the handsome blue suit in a vintage clothing store in his home town back in Nevada. His father had hit the ceiling when he brought it home instead of renting a regular tux for the event. He had ranted and raved that there was no way he would permit his son to attend the gala in such an outrageous suit. Eventually, Joe bragged to Lucy, he had negotiated with his cranky dad that in exchange for being allowed to wear the suit, the small, silver stud that graced his left ear lobe would be left at home. That almost convinced his father that the wonderful blue western suit was quite perfect. The row over the suit was nothing compared to the roar that had been directed to him when he came home from college with a pierced ear. As they had then, his older brothers had smoothed the old man’s ruffled feathers and Joe had worn the unique cowboy dress suit to the party.
“Look, someday we’ll meet again, kid,” Joe started stepping back again. “Let’s just be friends for now and just go back inside.”
“Kid! I’m no kid and I don’t want to be your friend either!” Lucy swung her bejeweled evening purse at Joe.
“Whoa, Lucy!” Joe agilely ducked her blows. He narrowly avoided getting clunked by her attack.
“I hate you! I hate you! And I hate your suit too!” Lucy squealed as the contents of her purse scattered as the chain handle snapped. “I especially hate your suit!”
Joe couldn’t help but laugh at that emotionally dramatic pronouncement. Being a gentleman, he knelt, collected her property and handed it back to her. Just fifteen minutes earlier, the fickle girl had told him how handsome he looked and what a remarkably gorgeous suit he was wearing. No wonder his brother Adam had told him to steer clear of high school girls once he hit college, that older women were far more appealing. Joe had forgotten how volatile and capricious teenaged girls were.
“You’ll be sorry, Joe Cartwright!” she screamed as she tried to slap him.
He quickly grabbed her two wrists to restrain her. “Cool off, Lucy. “

 

“And don’t you dare laugh at me, Joe Cartwright!” she tried to pull out of his clutches.
Joe couldn’t help laughing more at her antics. “Gee, be a nice little girl. Let’s be friends.”
”Friends! I hate you! And I am not a little girl! I hate you and I hate your stupid suit too!” Lucy kicked at Joe and he sidestepped her efforts.
“And my suit too?” Joe laughed harder dancing away from her kicking feet. The heels of her purple silk sandals were coated in mud as she sank into the damp grass of the golf course.
”Let me go!” Lucy shrieked indignantly trying to pull her hands from his strong grasp
“Calm down, Lucy. I’ll let go if you promise you won’t swing at me again, kid. Or kick. Ok?” Joe chortled. Despite her ripe, sexy appearance, Lucy Ewing was just a tantrum-throwing little girl.
As soon as Joe let her go, she turned on her heels and spat at him “You’ll be sorry Joe Cartwright! I’m not going to forget this!”
Joe laughed. “I guess I’m just unforgettable!”
As she rushed off, Lucy stumbled over the exposed head of the sprinkler and fell sprawling on the damp grass. “I hate you!” she cried as he helped her to her feet and tried to brush her off. “Keep your hands off me!”
“Simmer down, Lucy.” Joe lifted Lucy to her feet. “Maybe we should go back to the party? They should be serving dinner soon.”
“You just stay away from me you …you…” Lucy sputtered.
Lucy regained her feet. Hopping on one foot, she furiously yanked off one shoe. The angry girl first heaved one and then the other at Joe. Her aim was terrible. Both evening slippers missed him by a mile and flew off onto the dark golf course. She turned and ran in her stocking feet down the path towards the lights of the hotel.
Overcome by the ridiculousness of the encounter, Joe plopped down on the damp bench nearby and laughed until tears rolled down his flushed cheeks.
Just as he was about to follow her down the path, Joe spotted something glittery on the ground: Lucy’s room key and her compact. He scooped them up and put them in his jacket pocket. “Hey wait up Lucy! You dropped these!” Joe called. It was too late. She had raced ahead and had already turned the path to the hotel.

 

****

 

Ellie Ewing sat alone at her family’s table. Her son’s and their wives were dancing, her granddaughter was who-knew-where, and Jock had declared he needed some air and to stretch his legs. Ellie’s feet throbbed in the unaccustomed high heels Lucy had talked her into buying, so she had declined to join her husband in his stroll.

 

Chuckling to himself about his good luck, Jock’s first stop was the bar, in search of Bourbon and branch and a good cigar. Following a heart attack, he had been forbidden both by his doctor. His wife watched him like a hawk, but there were times a man had to indulge himself.

 

Drink and cigar in hand, Jock stepped out onto a patio overlooking the club’s golf course. He was just about to take a sip when a young woman in a torn purple dress stumbled out of the darkness and pushed past him into the hotel.

 

“Lucy? What the hell?”

 

“Granddaddy! Not now, please?” Lucy ran past him towards the elevator.

 

Jock started after his upset granddaughter, but stopped when he noticed his daughters-in-law emerge from the nearby ladies room.

 

“Pam! Sue Ellen! Go see what’s wrong with Lucy! She’s probably in her room!”

 

His fists clenched in fury, Jock rushed onto the golf course in search of whomever had upset his granddaughter.

 

*****

 

Joe tried the door of the car hoping that it was unlocked. He doubted it would be and was totally surprised when it opened. He slid into the driver’s seat of the Lincoln and tried to figure which knob shut off the lights. He fiddled with the one that should have worked but the headlights remained on.
“That sure didn’t work,” Joe said to himself. He couldn’t figure if he had touched the wrong knob or there was some sort of timer on the lights.
Before the young man knew what was happening, a large, angry man yanked open the car door. “What the hell are you doing in my car, boy? “ Jock Ewing growled.
“Hey! Let me explain, Mister,” Joe started. He started to say how he had been headed back to the hotel and saw the Lincoln’s headlights were on. Before Joe could tell Ewing that he was just trying to shut off the headlights as a neighborly gesture, the husky Texan reached through the half open door and started to haul the boy out. “Get the hell out of my car, boy!”
In his attempt to resist, Joe gripped the steering wheel. The horn blared loudly in the empty parking lot.
“Get out of my car!” Jock ordered. He pounded both his fists on the roof of the car. Something set off the car alarm and the blare drowned his words out. Ewing grabbed the boy and pulled him hard.
“Hey! Mister, let me go. I can explain,” Joe started. He tried to escape the angry stranger’s harsh grip as Jock‘s steely fingers dug into his upper arms. Joe’s head cracked against the door frame. As he resisted, the man lost his grip on him.
Joe’s ears were ringing from both the loud alarm and the blow to his head. He started to get out of the car on wobbly legs.
“Shut up and get out of there, you bastard!” Jock roared above the earsplitting alarm. He swung at the younger man and caught Joe full in his nose.
Joe wanted to get up but everything was spinning around him. Bloods ran from his nose and he gasped for air. The shrill sound of the alarm echoed off the hard surface of the parking lot as Joe crumbled to the pavement.
“Howdy friend,” Jock Ewing straightened up looked up at the tall figure approaching from the dark shadows. The harsh glare of the overhead halogen lights in Jock’s eyes made it difficult to make out the figure approaching from the dark shadows between the rows of cars. “Just finished me off a car thief,” he bragged.
Seeing his son crumpled on the pavement between two cars, Ben Cartwright rushed forward. As he strode closer he could see Joseph lying on the ground, face full of blood. The boy blinked his eyes as he tried to clear his dazed head and sit up.
Jock Ewing reached down and grabbed a hold of the bleeding boy’s midnight blue jacket. He started to haul the boy to his feet but Joe dazedly resisted.
“This one was trying to break into my brand new car. Good thing I came along when I did.” Jock bragged.
“Let him go,” Ben Cartwright growled. The noisy alarm drowned him out.
“What?”
”Let him go!” Cartwright roared
“Let him go?” Jock Ewing shouted. “That kind of talk is going to get you in a lot of trouble.”
”He’s my son,” Cartwright growled, his dark eyes stared ominously.
Ben’s single round house punch to his gut caught Jock by surprise. Ben’s upper cut smashed into his jaw. The Texan bounced backward into the side of his car and the impact shut off the blaring alarm.
Jock slumped forward to the pavement, unconscious.
”Pa,” Joe gasped.

 

*****

 

“Jock Ewing! What were you thinking of? Attacking that boy like that!” Ellie Ewing stood, hands on hips, blue eyes throwing sparks, as she confronted her husband.

 

Jock sat slumped in an easy chair in the bedroom of their suite at the Turtle Creek Club. He threw the ice pack that he was holding to his broken nose to the floor. “He was in my car! I thought he was one of the parking valets trying to joy ride in my car!”

 

“A parking attendant joy riding? I somehow recall you accusing the boy of being a thief!”

 

“Same thing! The kid shouldn’t have been in my car.”

 

His wife picked up the ice pack and thrust it back at him. “Keep this on your nose like that emergency room doctor told you! If you would have given the young man a chance to explain, you would have found out that he was only trying to turn the lights off! Even if he had been trying to steal your car, the club’s security guards would have handled it! This isn’t the wild west, Jock! This is the most exclusive resort in Dallas, and there you are fighting in the parking lot like you were in an oil field brawl!”

 

“I’ve had enough of this. I’m going to bed!”

 

“You just hear me out first, Jock!” Ellie furiously blocked his way. Her Southworth temper was still boiling. “The fighting was bad enough, but the boy you were manhandling was not only a party guest, but a son of my old friend Ben Cartwright!”

 

“Ben Cartwright!” Jock thundered. “So that’s why you’re making a mountain out of a molehill!

 

“Mountain out of a molehill! Jock, you’re twice as big as that boy and took him by surprise! You could have seriously hurt him. That would have been a terrible thing, no matter who he is!” Ellie touched her husband’s arm and softened her voice. “Ben was very worried about his son. He told me the boy was in an auto accident a few weeks ago and had a concussion. I know you, Jock. You would have regretted it if you had hurt him.”

 

“While we’re at it, I’m going to straighten you out about Ben Cartwright and me. We were friends, and that was all. He was engaged to my sorority sister, Liz Stoddard. Daddy was wishing for a romance between us. You know how much he disliked Digger. He wanted Ben for a son-in-law; but then I met you. Daddy thought the world of you, Jock. He wouldn’t have trusted you with Southfork, if he hadn’t. And I shouldn’t have to tell you after all these years and three sons, and staying with you through some of your shenanigans, that you’re the man I love.

 

Jock smiled despite the dressing down his wife gave him.

 

“I had a talk with Pam about Lucy. She confided to Pam that it was Joe Cartwright she had been outside with, and the young man behaved like a gentleman with her. In fact, that was why she was upset with him. You know how Lucy can be. He thought she was eighteen or nineteen. When Lucy told him she’s not even sixteen, he wanted to bring her back inside; and she blew up. She was furious because he saw her as a child.”

 

“She had one of her hissy fits?”

 

Ellie nodded. Lucy’s tantrums were a common occurrence at Southfork. They blew in like a summer thunderstorm and blew out just as fast. Joe, growing up in an all-male household, had probably never seen the likes of a teen-age drama queen when she got wound up.

 

“She told Pam she feels awful about the fight. I plan on speaking to her myself in the morning. Now, I’m going to bed. Are you coming?”

 

*****

 

“Mr. Lancer? JR Ewing here.” He chuckled slyly to himself as he anticipated the outcome of this telephone conversation. “Yes, I thought you might’ve heard of me. I’m thinking about investing in wind power technology, and I’ve heard about the plans for the wind farm out there in Nevada in Clark County. Being an oil man, I’ll need to keep my investment secret, you understand.

 

“What can you do for me? Mr. Lancer, I think there’s something we can do for each other. You know Ben Cartwright? That’s right; he’s negotiating with Wind Power Ltd. for them to lease some land he owns in Clark County. I want you to make sure that doesn’t happen. In return, I’ll make sure that I keep certain knowledge to myself about who caused that wreck that killed Cartwright’s wife. Is there any statute of limitations on vehicular homicide?”

 

JR smiled like the cat that just ate the canary as he listened to the reaction on the other end of the telephone line. “Don’t play dumb with me, Andrew. You know what I’m talking about. Never mind how I know. You just make sure that he doesn’t get that lease. How you do it is your problem. He loses out on that lease and the information I have about that wreck stays safely where it is. He gets that lease and the sheriff out there and the DA both get an anonymous tip about an unsolved case. This Sheriff Roy Coffee is also a good friend of the Cartwright family. He’s going to have a personal interest in solving that case, as well as a professional one. I hear he’s one tenacious bulldog.”

 

“Good, I thought you’d be reasonable. There might even be a little extra incentive in it for you. A man with your expenses can always use some extra income. I’ll be in touch.”

 

JR hung up the phone and strode across the expansive office, rubbing his hands gleefully, to the elaborate bar in the far corner. After measuring out a shot of his favorite Bourbon, he turned to the family photos on the credenza. “Here’s to you, Daddy”. He smiled in satisfaction as he raised his drink in a toast to the one person whose approval he craved.

 

*****

 

“I don’t understand it, Pa! I just don’t understand it!” Adam Cartwright angrily waved the letter from Andrew Lancer, the head of the Nevada Bureau of Land Management. “I personally checked it out with the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Wildlife! Ann Gomez of the Fish and Wildlife Commission assured me that the section that Wind Power Ltd. is looking at to lease is far enough away from those golden eagle nesting grounds that there wouldn’t be a problem!”

 

“Calm down and stop waving that in my face!” Ben took a step back and grabbed his furious son’s arm as the letter in question skimmed past his nose. “I can’t read it while you’re waving it in my face! Have you tried to get ahold of her to see what she has to say?”

 

“She’s on vacation in Hawaii for two weeks. Her assistant wasn’t any help. The best I could do was leave a message that it’s imperative for Ann to call me as soon as she’s back in her office. My contact at the Department of the Interior is on vacation too — on his boat on the Atlantic Ocean. I have a meeting with the people from Wind Power on Monday afternoon. They want a commitment. I’ll have to figure out a way to stall them till I find out what’s going on and get this mess straightened out.”

 

*****

 

Joe looked up from the computer screen as his father approached the desk, two tall glasses of iced tea in hand. “Hi, Pa. I should have these figures all entered by supper time.”

 

“Fast work, son. Hop Sing’s made a fresh batch of iced tea. I thought you might like a glass.” Ben slipped into the chair beside the desk. “We need to have a talk. You can finish entering those tomorrow. This is more important, right now.”

 

“Thanks, Pa. Sure. What’s up?” Joe swiveled the desk chair around and grinned. “Hey, this is different. Usually, you’re in this chair, and I’m over there.”

 

“We’ve been back form Dallas for two weeks, now, and you haven’t made an appointment with Dr. Sidney yet. You promised, faithfully, to do that as soon as we got back.”

 

Joe swung the desk chair nervously back and forth. “You know I’ve been awful busy. With Adam tied up with his wind farm project, I’ve been doing all this bookwork he usually does. Besides, I feel a lot better. Maybe I’m over whatever’s been going on with me. Maybe Mr. Ewing knocked it out of me.” Joe laughed.

 

“That incident with Jock Ewing was no laughing matter, Joseph.”

 

“Sorry, Pa. I know that. But, I really do feel better.”

 

“Well, be that as it may, whatever your problem is, it’s been going on too long for you to get over it just like that. I expect you to keep your promise. If you’re uncomfortable talking to Dr. Sidney because of her association with Hoss and Bessie Sue, I’m sure she can recommended someone. She has an opening tomorrow afternoon she’s willing to hold for you.”

 

“Oh, so you called her?” Joe bounded from the chair, his eyes blazing. “You called and made the appointment for me like I’m a little kid!”

 

His father was on his feet, also. “Watch your tone of voice, Joseph! No, I didn’t call her. She mentioned it to Hoss this morning and he tried to call you. Apparently when you went riding this morning, you either didn’t take your cell phone or you had it turned off. When he couldn’t get you, he called me. Now, what are you going to do?”

 

Ben’s steely tone and clipped words told Joe that the only one answer would be acceptable: that he was going to call Dr. Sidney’s office and confirm the appointment. Sighing under his breath and hoping that it went unheard, he reached for the phone on his father’s desk.

 

*****

 

“When you turn your life to explosives, it takes the gentleness from you,” Poole said. His eyes bored unblinkingly into the attractive blonde as she sat at her desk. The floor to ceiling window behind her was dark with the early dusk of autumn. The overhead track lights were reflected in its mirror like surface.
She looked away, uncomfortable at the explosive expert’s intrusive gaze.
“There is no running from it,” William Poole said evenly. “I am the Thunderman.”
Laura didn’t know if he meant that he couldn’t escape from the harshness of his job or that she couldn’t run from his frightening gaze.
“Is there?” she said apprehensively. She wished JR would come out of his office to greet his intimidating visitor. She buzzed her boss again, and then stood up fretfully. “I better go check on the dinners that JR ordered.”
Poole stepped close to Laura Dayton, too close for her taste. “The nearness of a woman, the soft gentleness of her, is something I miss being Thunderman.” Poole stared at Laura Dayton. “You are a very beautiful woman, Miss Dayton.”
“Thank you,” Laura said nervously. Her stomach fluttered uncomfortably at how the husky dark man looked at her. “Mr. Ewing must be on the phone

 

The Thunderman stepped even closer and reached out to touch Laura’s silvery blond hair. “Lovely hair. So soft, so shiny. So fragrant. You have lovely soft skin too. ”
Laura took a back step away from the strange man but found herself trapped between Poole and the side of her desk. “JR?” she called, hoping he heard her.
“When you are working with explosives, one wrong move and everything can change,” Poole explained. “One wrong move can get someone killed.”
“Mr. Poole?” JR. said as he walked out of his office. He extended his hand in a friendly greeting.
“That’s me!” Poole smiled and pumped the taller man’s hand. “The Thunderman! I am the power of thunder and lightning!”

 

*****

 

There was no email from Clay and no notes from any of his old frat brothers or the guys on the team. The only messages in his mailbox were invitations to purchase some sort of potion to enlarge parts that didn’t need enlarging or to have his soul saved by some missionaries if he sent them his credit card, and a chain letter from one of Hop Sing’s cousins wishing him rainbows, unicorns and long life.

 

Not having much else to do, Joe sat at his desk checking the late scores from the east coast baseball games online. He was tired but not able to sleep. Hearing the floor creak behind him, Joe glanced around to see his oldest brother standing in the doorway.
“Thanks for taking care of all those data entries for me. Pa said you did the whole thing.”
Joe nodded. “Baltimore lost. Toronto beat Tampa Bay. Houston is going into extra innings.”
“What about New York against Seattle?” Adam pulled his tie from his collar. Once again, he had worked late and had dinner at his desk.
”Why do you always go for them, Adam? Who ever heard of a guy out here following the New York Yankees? What are you?”
Adam winked “A Yankee granitehead? I just like them since I was a kid. The Yankees are a dynasty. They are undefeatable, especially with that new pitcher.”
Joe looked for the score on the computer screen. “They won. Seven to zero. Guess they are an undefeatable dynasty.”
“Of course!” The tension cut a bit, Adam stepped over the threshold into Joe’s cluttered room. He bit his tongue rather than comment on the blue western suit crumpled in the corner, the crushed soda cans or the stack of never used college texts collecting dust on the dresser. This wasn’t the time to bring these things up.
“Pa told me you made that appointment too with Dr. Sidney.” Adam said in as casual tone as he could manage.
“She’ll see me Thursday afternoon. Two thirty.” Joe said, not looking up from the computer screen. “Texas Rangers are going into extra innings too.”
“I’m sure it will be fine, Buddy. Putting things off is probably worse than facing things and doing something about a problem,” Adam said gently. “The worrying and the wondering and waiting are probably worse than whatever the problem is, Joe.”
“I sure hope so. I just can’t stand it anymore, Adam.” Joe confessed. “And getting walloped in the car by that old guy. No old dude would have knocked me on my duff six months ago. I just want to feel good like I used to feel. ”
“Want me to give you a ride to that appointment? Keep you company?” Adam offered to the back of Joe’s head.
Joe shook his head, “Don’t worry. I’ll get there. Think I’m going to lie about going, like ditching Sunday school and dragging home the chief?”
His brother glanced up at the framed picture of the Indian staring down at him. Adam shook his head. “No, I believe you, Buddy. I just want you to feel like your old self again too.”
Hoss had recently said something about folks not being willing to go for therapy because the idea of facing their problems was pretty fearsome. You couldn’t force someone to go for help. They might fight it until the pain of those problems out weighed that fright. Clearly, their baby brother had finally reached that point. Joe was in a lot of emotional pain and the sleeplessness and headaches weren‘t getting any better. The turmoil had reached his limit.
Adam shook his head. “No, not this time, Joe. I suspect you are ready. You know we are all here for you if you need.” Adam stood behind his brother and put his hands on Joe’s shoulders. He gently squeezed and for the first time in a long time, Joe didn’t flinch or pull away.
“I know. I’ll be fine.” Joe said, hoping it was true.
”Yeah, I suppose so. What’s the score on that Houston game, now?”
Just then, an IM window opened up on the computer. Hi Joe!
Joe glanced at the box. He didn’t recognize the screen name, SpoiledCowgirl.
Miss me Joe? the box asked. I miss you!
“Who’s that?” Adam asked, leaning over Joe’s shoulder.
“Don’t know.” Joe typed Who R U?
I love you! declared SpoiledCowgirl. Check your mail. I sent you my picture!!!!!!
“Looks like you have a secret admirer. Go check the picture,” Adam urged. He wondered if he should email Faye Franklin and tell her what a wonderful time he had with her in Dallas. Maybe that was too juvenile. Then again, it couldn’t hurt. It wasn’t too often he met such an attractive, intelligent woman. She seemed attracted to him too. With all the excitement of the scuffle Pa and Joe had with Jock Ewing, he never got to say goodnight to Faye.
Joe moved the mouse and clicked on the mail icon. He waited for the picture to download and open up.
“I told Pa we needed to get a faster Internet connection. This is taking too long.”
“Don’t bust your britches, little brother. You sure you don’t know who SpoiledCowgirl is?”
Joe shook his head. “Maybe Connie McKee? Can’t be Amy Bishop. Her screen name is SweetAmy… And Jennifer Biel is going out with some guy who is studying to be a mime.”
“A mime?” Adam asked, “Are you kidding?”
“In Los Angeles. He won’t talk back to her.”
The picture slowly painted in. At first, all the two brothers could see was bare legs and blond hair.
“Nice legs,” Adam observed. Faye had long, shapely legs.
Do you like my picture? SpoiledCowgirl IM-ed.
Didn’t open yet Joe typed. My brother sed you have nice legs!

 

“Hey!” Adam poked Joe. “No need to repeat my comment. Especially if you aren’t even sure who it is.”
”Yeah, it could be Miss Jones,” Joe laughed. Then he typed RU Connie?
No! SpoiledCowgirl replied
Just as the picture became totally clear and the two brothers could see a voluptuous blond girl in a bikini smiling at them, SpoiledCowgirl typed, It’s me Lucy Ewing. I love you!
“Damn!” Joe groaned. He clicked on the upper corner of the screen and disconnected from the Internet.
“Looks like you have a stalker” Adam said.
“A stalker with a crazy grandfather,” Joe shook his head.

 

*****

 

“In my day, a young lady wouldn’t even phone a young man,” Ellie Ewing shook her head. She looked directly across the glass topped wrought iron patio table. “Even a boy who was courting her.” She took a sip of her morning orange juice. “Eat your breakfast Lucy.”

 

It had started as a beautiful morning and Ellie had told the housekeeper to serve breakfast on the patio. Now Lucy was threatening to destroy the tranquility of the day.

 

“Oh Grandma! That was the olden days! Boys like girls to be bold. They think it is hot!” Lucy tossed her hair back and pouted. The girl had bragged to her grandmother how she had just sent her picture to Joe Cartwright.
“Hot?” Ellie helped herself to some blueberry pancakes. She couldn’t understand this younger generation. First Lucy gets into some sort of tiff with that handsome youngest son of Ben Cartwright. Then Jock jumped in and caused a scene and now the girl was all excited about some plot she had to pursue Joe Cartwright. “But Joe Cartwright is too old for you. He told you that.”
“When does Lucy listen to anything she is told,” Sue Ellen laughed. She took the platter of pancakes from her mother in law and served herself a generous portion.
“Penny Davis told me to do it!” Lucy argued.
”If Penny Davis told you to jump off a bridge would you do that?” asked Sue Ellen. Her niece ignored the comment. “That girl has the face of a pig.”
“Besides, Grandma, that isn’t quite how I heard you got Grandpa to marry you!” Lucy challenged. She smiled devilishly. Everyone knew that Miss Ellie had been pregnant with JR when she went after Jock with a horsewhip and forced him to marry her. “You were pretty bold in your day and got what you wanted. Didn’t you?”
“Well, Miss Ellie didn’t phone him!” Pam said. “Or email him her picture in a bikini.” She stirred her coffee and tried to smooth things over. It was a beautiful morning and a soft breeze was blowing. Lucy’s drama was just too much to deal with so early in the day.
“Well, well, what do we have here?” JR said coming through the French doors to the patio. “Good morning! Is little Lucy giving you a bad time, Mama?”
“Lucy was telling us how she emailed Joe Cartwright last night,” Sue Ellen explained.
“Oh?” JR raised an eyebrow. “Ben Cartwright’s boy that tried to steal Daddy’s car?”
“Joe didn’t try to steal that car, JR. It was all just a huge misunderstanding.” Ellie shook her head. She poured her son a cup of coffee and passed it to him. “You know how hotheaded your father can get.”
“Oh? Is that what you think?” JR shook his head. “I still say that boy was at fault. Like father, like son.”
“Little Joe is not a crook! He is wonderful!” Lucy argued. “He is the best looking boy I ever saw!”
“Eat your breakfast!” Ellie reminded the girl.
“So Lucy Darlin’ is chasing after that boy? Sounds like something your slutty mama would do, Lucy.” JR sneered. Could you pass me the butter, Pam?”
“I know it won’t melt in your mouth!” Pam said handing him the dish.
“Like father, like son. Like mother, like daughter. That’s a well known fact,” JR said.
”You leave my mother out of this, JR!” Lucy squealed indignantly. She glared at her uncle

.
“Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That is all I’m saying. Why would you be chasing after that young hooligan?”
“JR! It’s too early in the morning for this!” Ellie warned.
“But Mama! I was just watching out for Lucy’s well being. Don’t want her to wind up like Val, do you?”
Lucy jumped up from her chair and ran inside “I’ll show you! I’ll show you!”

 

It was at that moment that Lucy decided to leave Southfork.

 

*****

 

Peter Kane sat in front of his employer’s desk looking very pleased with himself for the good news he was about to deliver. “We did it, JR. The computer expert, Mr. McSween, hired hacked into Adam Cartwright’s computer and copied everything. All his notes, plans, schematics, everything about Cartwright’s new storage battery is now in my computer. ”

 

“Well, well, that is good news.” JR leaned back in his leather desk chair and rubbed his hands in glee. “I’ll have to see to it that that young man gets a bonus for working so quickly. Now, let’s see what you can do with that information now that you have it. You might just earn yourself that vacation house on the Gulf you’ve been dreaming about.”

 

Kane knew a dismissal from his boss when he heard it, and jumped to his feet. “Yes, sir, JR. I’ll get right at it.”

 

As soon as Kane was out the door, JR reached for his telephone and quickly punched in a number. On the other end of the line, a rugged, blonde-haired man answered on the first ring.

 

“Klaus, JR Ewing here. We know where Cartwright is keeping the prototype for his storage battery. You have that Thunderman fellow there with you like I instructed? Good. Have him ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

 

JR hung the phone up and turned to look at the magnificent view of the Dallas skyline outside his expansive window. Yes, sir, everything was falling into place, he thought with satisfaction.
*****

 

“This building is well over a hundred years old,” Ben explained to Faye. “Some say, the building is the symbol of Nevada government.
“It’s over a hundred and thirty, Pa. The building was completed in 1871,” Adam said flashing his dimples at Faye.
“The dome looks like silver,” the older man started to explain.
“But it is really tin,” Adam interrupted. “The old senate chambers are upstairs.”
Ben shrugged. It wasn’t like his eldest son to correct him publicly. Ben pointed to a row of portraits arranged on the walls down the marble hallway. “And those are all the former governors. A formidable bunch.”
“Look how the light filters through those windows and reflects on the polished marble. I am using high contrast film and hoping for an almost abstract look to the shots,” Faye explained to both men as she zipped close her first equipment bag. “I suppose I should call it a day. They are closing the building at five. It certainly is a remarkable building. ”
“And it is a remarkable coincidence to cross paths with you, Miss Franklin,” Ben said warmly. He gallantly scooped up Faye’s blue nylon bag before Adam did. “We’ll walk out with you.”
“Oh don’t be so formal. Call me Faye! Please.” the photographer tossed her long dark hair. “What brings the two of you here?”
“Adam is working on a project with wind generated power and we seem to have hit some road blocks in the land leases and permits. We had some meetings scheduled here but the folks in charge seem to have forgotten the appointments. It was basically a wasted trip, until now,” Ben said. “Running into you has made the trip totally worth while.”
“I never got to say good bye to you at the party,” Adam said taking the second equipment bag from Faye’s hands. “We had a bit of a problem with my kid brother.”
“I know, I heard. I was hoping to dance with you,” Faye smiled at Ben and Adam.
Neither man was quite sure which of them she meant. Both father and son smiled matching smiles at the lovely woman.
“I’m parked in the lot in back. I’m driving a loaner from the garage. I brought my car in for repairs and they won’t have it ready for me until Tuesday,” Faye explained.
“Tuesday? That seems awfully long,” Adam said.
“It seemed like that to me. They said they had to order some part. A gasket or a hose or a part for the alternator or something,”
Adam held the door open as they left the cool interior of the building. The sun-baked sidewalk reflected the late day heat.
“Gosh, I forgot about how hot it gets here!” Faye exclaimed fanning her face with her hands. “I’m parked over there. That old mustard yellow Chevy Nova. The mechanic claimed it was a classic. I told him I didn’t care, as long as it worked.”
“We are parked in the next row,” Adam smiled, trying to think of something more he could say to prolong his time with Faye. “The Capitol Building was designed by Joseph Gosling of San Francisco. Peter Cavanaugh & Son of Carson City built the Building. Cavanaugh’s $84,000 bid was nearly half of the actual cost of the building.”
“Really?” Faye asked.
Adam nodded and regretted how foolish his remark was. Instead of sounding intelligent, he sounded like one of the old biddies who gave historical tours to bored school kids. Really.”

 

“That’s my car,” Faye pointed as they walked to the middle of the parking lot.

 

****

“Bobbie, I hate to bother you at the office, but I need you to come home. Lucy’s school just called, wanting to know why we she isn’t there. That’s where she should be; she left on time this morning. I’m worried that she had an accident on the way there. She drives way too fast. Could you call Pam and have her come home? Good. Ray’s out looking for her. No, your father went to Ft. Worth today. You know how he feels about cell phones and beepers; he doesn’t care if they are handy in emergencies. Sue Ellen is out shopping somewhere, and isn’t answering hers. JR’s is turned off. Is he there at the office? All right, I’ll see you and Pam soon.”

Ellie peered down the driveway to the ranch road for hundredth time since the high school called that morning, hoping to see her granddaughter’s white convertible appear. Along with the worry that Lucy might have had an accident, was a worry that came with wealth: kidnapping. Remembering Lucy’s actions at breakfast, a thought struck her, and she ran upstairs to Lucy’s room. She was met at the top of the stairs by Teresa, the housekeeper. “Mrs. Ewing! I was just coming to get you! I went in to Miss Lucy’s room to clean, and I’ve never seen it such a shambles! Maybe you should come look at it.”

Ellie entered the room, followed by Teresa. Indeed, Ellie had never seen the room in such a state. Lucy was somewhat tidier than the average teenager, having inherited a need for orderliness from her mother, Valene. Clothes were piled on the bed, shoes were strewn over the floor, and luggage was stacked by the bed. Ellie noticed that the two smaller pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage were gone. Checking the bathroom, she saw that the vanity was clear of Lucy’s cosmetics. Worry abruptly turned to anger at the realization that Lucy had run away from home.

 

*****

Bobby Ewing paced back and forth on the patio, beer in hand. He stopped and turned to his mother and wife sitting silently watching him. “Why would Lucy run away? Pam, you said she was upset this morning and bickering with JR, but, not anymore than usual.”

“She did run away a couple of years ago.” Pam set down the ice tea she had been sipping.

Ellie stared into her untouched ice tea. “That was to find Valene. She had a reason to run away then.”

“She must have had a reason this time, too,” Bobby interjected.

“Miss Ellie, may I take a look in Lucy’s computer?” Pam turned to her mother-in-law.

“Her computer?” Of course, Pam. But why?”

“I think we might find the answer there.”

The trio adjourned to Lucy’s room and gathered around her desk, Pam at the computer keyboard.

“I hope she doesn’t use a pass word.” Pam started tapping keys. Ah, here’s the mail she has received and sent recently. I have a feeling she might be headed to Nevada, to see the Cartwright boy.”

“Joe Cartwright?” Ellie found that hard to believe. “But, he seemed so sensible, the way he discouraged Lucy at the gala for Miss Franklin.”

“From what I can tell by the e-mails, it’s all one sided, on Lucy’s part. She’s mailed his several times, not just the one time she mentioned at breakfast. He’s answered her, once, but he didn’t seem to know who SpoiledCowgirl — ‘SpoiledCowgirl!’ — was. There are no return e-mails from him, after she told him who she was.” Pam moved the mouse around and tapped more keys. “She used her credit card and bought two tickets to Reno. We’ll probably find her car in the long-term parking at DFW.”

Identical puzzled expressions were on each Ewings’ face as they looked from one to another. Ellie asked the obvious question. “Two tickets? Who is the second ticket for? Muriel?”

Bobby was furious with his niece. “That doesn’t sound like something Muriel would do, but you never know what Lucy could talk her into. Pam, will you call Muriel’s mother and see if she’s missing from school? If it is her, at least it’ll stop them worrying that she’s been in a wreck or kidnapped. Tell them that I’m on my way to Nevada to drag them home.”

“No, Bobby.” Ellie laid a hand on her son’s arm. “I’ll go get them. I’ll call Ben Cartwright and tell him what’s going on. I’m sure he’ll agree to meet the girls’ plane and take care of them til I get there. You can explain everything to your father when he gets home, and tell him I’ll call him from Reno.”

 

Back downstairs, Bobby was greeted by an even more puzzled Pam. “Bobby, I just talked to Muriel. She thinks the second airline ticket was for Peggy Dayton.”

*****

“Darn, it, Joe! If you’re going to sit here and channel surf all afternoon, go watch TV in your room! It’s annoying!” Adam looked up from his lap top and barked at his brother. He just couldn’t untangle what was holding up his project.

 

“Maybe that’s why I’m doing it! You’re not paying even paying attention to the TV! Besides, you could play with your computer in your room, just as well as I could watch TV there!”

 

“I’m not playing. I’m trying to check out the criteria for the land leases.”

 

“Maybe you shouldn’t work so much and you wouldn’t be so cranky. And besides, if you are peeved at your project, don’t go taking it out on me,” Joe smiled his most innocent smile. “And me being restricted to house arrest by Pa and Doc Martin. You sure ain’t being fair to me.” Joe swung his bare feet on top of the coffee table.

 

“Fair? Buck up, Joe! And get your feet off the table!” Even though he knew his brother was right about his sour disposition, Adam wasn’t going admit it. “You aren’t supposed to be doing gymnastics or getting into any more bar room brawls, Buddy. It doesn’t mean you have to sit on your duff and watch TV all day and annoy the hell out of me until you leave for that appointment with Dr. Sidney, “Adam reached to take the remote from his brother’s hand, laughing, “Give me the remote, little boy. You can have it back when you grow up.”
Joe yanked the remote away from Adam’s reach and almost knocked over the bowl of apples with his right foot. He continued his mindless flitting from station to station. “Don’t worry, I’m just killing time until I get ready to go.

 

“Hey! Wait! Back up a channel!”

 

“Daggone, you, Adam! Huh? Why? What’s on?”

 

“That fellow that’s being interviewed on “Nevada Today” is the guy that’s holding up the leases to Wind Power. He’s the head of the Nevada Bureau of Land Management. I should watch this; I don’t know much about him. He seems awfully familiar.”

 

“You probably saw him on the news or ran into him at the capital.”

 

“No, not there. Every time I go to Carson City, I’m told he’s out of town, or in a meeting, or given some excuse. I’m getting the feeling he’s deliberately avoiding me. I don’t think it was from seeing him on the news, either. ”

 

“Mr. Lancer, you have dedicated your entire career to public service. You could have had a lucrative law practice, but choose to put your law degree to work in the Washoe County Prosecutor’s Office.”

 

“Well, Helen, I can’t hide the fact that I didn’t need the money. Ha, ha. My father and grandfather were well-known in Nevada and northern California. Seriously, I was eager to follow in their footsteps, and do what I could to help keep our great state crime-free.”

 

“I’m sure Washoe County lost the chance to have an extraordinary District Attorney when you were defeated in your campaign.”

 

“Thank you, Helen. But I’m not one to look back and relive the past. I’ve had an interesting and rewarding career in helping to preserve the God-given natural beauty and the abundance of wild life that God saw fit to grace our wonderful state with.”

 

“I hope you don’t mind, Mr. Lancer, but I happen to have one of your campaign posters from your bid for District Attorney. May I show it to our audience?”

 

“Uh, no, of course not, Helen.”

 

“This is getting more mysterious by the minute. That picture of him on that old campaign poster looks more familiar than the man does now.” Adam muttered to himself, intent on the TV screen.

 

“Maybe from when he ran for District Attorney?”

 

“No, that was in Washoe County. I doubt that I would have paid much attention to the election there. Anyway, that was about the time I was a senior in high school. About all I had on my mind then was basketball and getting into an Ivy League college.”

 

“And girls,” Joe teased.

 

And Marie getting killed, Adam thought to himself.

*****

Lucy looked around the airport concourse. A group of middle-aged gamblers were boarding the shuttle bus for the Lake Tahoe casinos and a woman with over-bleached, big hair was passionately kissing a sleazy looking guy in snakeskin cowboy boots. She set her luggage down and turned to Peggy. “Where’s this friend of yours who was supposed to meet us?”

 

“Oh, I forgot to tell you. He said if he wasn’t here, we should take a taxi. He wasn’t positive he could make it. Come on, the taxi stand is over there.”

 

“Wait! Peggy! I’ll see if I can get us a limo. I’m not riding in a crummy old taxi!”

 

Peggy ignored her and kept on going.

 

Lucy started to speak again, this time to complain, when a blonde haired young man in a long black raincoat emerged from the shadows brandishing a large knife. “Get in the van,” he growled indicating an old white Ford Windstar.
“Peggy? What’s going on?” Lucy asked fearfully clutching her friend’s skinny freckled arm. “This isn’t a taxi.”
“It’s not a limo either.” Peggy giggled. “Right Chuck?”
“Get in! Both of you!” the man ordered.
“Just do what he says. Right, Chuck?” Peggy smiled crookedly at the blonde haired young man. They led the confused Lucy into the middle seat of the van.
“SILENCE!” came a loud angry demand from the driver. In the seat, next to Peggy, Lucy shivered in fear, but there was also indignation beginning to build.
“Do you know who I am, you red haired clown? I’m Lucy Ewing!” the captive shouted.
“HE knows just who you are Lucy,” Peggy Dayton giggled. “Why do you think Chucky let me join his group? You!”
“Me?” Lucy was even more confused. The old van moved faster on the highway, shifting lanes haphazardly.
“Yes, girlfriend. You!” Peggy pointed at the captive. Lucy noticed Peggy had a new tattoo on her ankle of an eagle breathing fire on a pine tree.
“We don’t usually take fifteen-year-olds in the group. Especially girls,” Chucky sneered. “Especially stupid girls.”
“But Chucky said if you came along, it would be worth his while to consider me as a member,” Peggy explained not realizing that Chuck had just insulted her intelligence.
“That’s right. The Ewings will be glad to pay what ever we ask for you.”
“Ransom?” Lucy said fearfully. “Are you kidnapping me?”
“You can say that. A large ransom we can use for our fight for ecology. Don’t you think you are worth a large ransom? Don’t you think your rich grandparents will be glad to fork over the cash so you won’t be hurt? Or killed? Or worse.”
“You just stop this van now and just let me out!” Lucy hollered as he drove even faster and recklessly cut across three lanes of traffic to take the exit.
“You were told to be quiet,” the voice boomed again. “Another sound out of you, and we’ll start cutting your throat.”
“You had better listen up, Lucy,” Peggy warned. “Chucky means business.”
“What do you want from me?”
“It’s not exactly what we want from you. It’s what we want from your family. Ten million dollars.”
“What for?” Lucy gasped.
“Like we said. For you,” Peggy repeated.
“You rich bitch,” Chucky growled ominously.

 

Lucy was shocked into silence this time. Afraid of being seriously harmed, she started to cry.

*****

“Darn, wouldn’t you know it? Got the big-screen TV all to myself, and nothing good on. Wish Pa would break down and get Direct TV. What’s the point of having a big screen TV, but nothing to watch? We could a broadband connection for the computers, too, through Direct TV. Hmm. Maybe I could get Adam to help me work on him from that angle.”

 

Joe stopped grumbling to himself at the sound of tires on the gravel parking area in front of the house. The crunch of gravel was followed by the thunk of a car door closing and light footsteps on the boards of the porch. Joe opened the door just as a petite, trim, blonde women reached for the round brass doorknocker. Joe blinked, not quite believing who stood on his porch. “Mrs. Ewing? Whaa… what are you doing here?”
He quickly recovered his composure. “Excuse my manners, Ma’am. Come in.” As Joe ushered her into the house, he hastily glanced past her to the car. “Uh, is, ah, Mr. Ewing with you? Uh, please, come in, have a seat.”
As worried as Ellie was, she couldn’t help but smile at the young man’s nervousness. “No, I’m alone. My husband is probably just finding out where I went. Is your father home?”

 

“Pa? No, Ma’am. He and Adam are over in Carson City. Hoss is in Reno. He’s got some kind of thing at the university he has to go to this evening, so he’s staying there all night. Uh, what’s going on?”

 

“Did your father get the message I left for him on his answering machine? I got the number from information. Maybe they didn’t give me the right number.”
“Yes, Ma’am. The message light on Pa’s mailbox on the answering machine is blinking. We have that kind of answering machine that has separate mailboxes for privacy. None of us would think of listening to Pa’s messages.”
Joe saw that she was clearly very distressed. “Mrs. Ewing? What’s wrong? Why are you here?”
“Lucy’s not here, then?” Ellie Ewing looked around the Cartwright great room as if Lucy would be sitting on one of the leather chairs bracketing the large stone fireplace.
“Lucy? Here? No Ma’am!” That question took Joe by surprise. “Why would you think she’d be here?”
“She bought tickets for Reno airport for herself and a friend. Lucy doesn’t know anyone else here, and she’s been e-mailing you.”
“Honest, Mrs. Ewing. I don’t know anything about this. She emailed me a few times and I answered, not realizing it was Lucy. I thought it was one of the cheerleaders from my old high school joking around. But as soon as I realized it was Lucy, I…well, um…you know…. Mrs. Ewing. I’m twenty and she is only fifteen. She’s a nice kid but I sure don’t want to get involved with a kid that young. I made it clear that we could be friends, but that’s it,” Joe said sincerely. “Really, Ma’am. I don’t date girls that young.”
“I believe you, Joe. I had left a phone message to your father about what’s going on. I asked him to meet the girls at the airport. When I couldn’t find them there, I hoped that Ben had gotten my message and picked them up, so I rented a car and got directions how to get here. We think Peggy Dayton is with her. You must know the Dayton girl. Do you have any idea where she might go?”
“Peggy Dayton? Laura’s daughter? I don’t know her that well. They moved away years ago when Laura married my cousin, Will. Wait! Laura’s aunt has a condo at Emerald Heights. Will told us about it. He couldn’t figure out how Lil could afford it. Emerald Heights is one of the most exclusive condo developments on this side of Lake Tahoe. Will was guessing that the old girl had some boyfriend footing the bill. Maybe Peggy and Lucy went up there to Lil‘s place.”
Joe glanced through the phone book on his father’s desk and underlined the number and address. “We’re in luck, Lil’s listed.”
“Maybe it would be better if I went there without calling, and took them by surprise. Will you write down the address for me and give me directions?” Ellie Ewing stood next to Joe as he reached into a drawer for a pencil. There were three framed photos of pretty young women on the corner of the desk. She immediately recognized her old college friend Elizabeth Stoddard. Liz was so young and beautiful in the picture. Ellie assumed the other pictures were of Ben’s other wives. “Your mother?” Ellie said picking up one of the pictures. It was easy to see where Joe got his good looks and green eyes. “She was very beautiful.”
“Thanks. She died when I was real little. Killed in a car wreck,” Joe’s hand shook for a minute as he started to write. Joe hastily scribbled the address on a scratch pad, and ripped the sheet off. “I’ll take you myself, Mrs. Ewing. It‘s those roads are pretty tricky if you aren‘t familiar with the area. And it might be dark before you get back.”
“Oh! I couldn’t impose on you like that, Joe. Not after all the bother Lucy was to you,” Ellie Ewing said graciously. Then she added, “And how Jock acted to you as well. That’s far too much trouble.”
Somehow, Joe felt remotely to blame for Mrs. Ewing’s troubles with her granddaughter. He didn‘t really want to go to the appointment with Dr. Sidney that evening, anyway. She was probing a bit too much and pushing a bit too hard about how he felt about his mother and what he remember about her death. “Look, I really don’t have anyplace I have to be right now,” Joe lied straight-faced. “Why don’t I just drive you over? Leave that rental car here and I’ll drive you to Lil’s. Then if Lucy is there, I’ll help you get her no worse for the wear.”
“Are you sure?”
Joe shook his head. “No trouble at all, Ma’am. It wouldn’t be a good idea or very safe for you. Like I said, the roads are pretty treacherous. Besides, what would my Pa say if I abandoned a lady in distress? That’s not how we Cartwrights behave, Ma’am. We’ll both just ride up there and straighten it all out in nothing flat.” He smiled and snapped his fingers trying hard to look casual.
Ellie smiled. She was reminded of another handsome young Cartwright decades earlier. “Thank you Joe. I truly appreciate this.”
“Oh, Ma’am. It’s really nothing. And I honestly didn’t have anything to do with Lucy that you or even Mr. Ewing would be bothered by. Honest. ”
“I believe you, son” Ellie squeezed Joe’s hand. “That is certainly how Ben Cartwright would want you and your brothers to behave.”
“I don’t want to put you out, Joe.” Ellie said standing up. She nervously glanced around Ben’s home, wishing he were there to help her out rather than his son. Even though he though otherwise, Joe was hardly a boy. She would feel far more comfortable to have his father helping her find Lucy.
“No problem, ma‘am. Besides, Pa would want me to help you.” Joe smiled one of his more endearing smiles. “Besides, you don’t want my Pa to be mad at me for abandoning a beautiful lady in distress, would you?”
“No, I certainly don’t”

*****

“Well, Lucy isn’t there.” Miss Ellie sighed. “What do you think we should do now, Joe?”

Joe looked again at the dark condo. They had knocked on the door and rung the bell but there was no sign of anyone inside. “Wonder if Lil is just out somewhere for the evening playing Bingo or on vacation.” He ran his fingers through his hair and tried to figure what to do next. “Maybe Lucy and Peggy are are over at the old Dayton Ranch. No one lives in the house. It is pretty much abandoned. Pa bought some of the land that is adjacent to the Ponderosa and just left the old Dayton house standing unused. It would be really easy for the girls to get in.” He could see Mrs. Ewing was getting upset. “Don’t worry Ma’am. We’ll find her. Bet they are at the Dayton place.”
“Your father bought that property?” Ellie said. Joe waited until she finished buckling her seatbelt before he started his car.
“Just a section… We got a piece of it for cheap as it wasn’t much good to anyone for much. Pa wanted it because it bordered our ranch and could be used to build a fire road. Most of the Dayton ranch was deeded over to the Federal Land Management Department. I think the government got it for back taxes or took it over for right of way when the highway was built. Eminent domain, I think Pa called it. ”
“How much further is it?”
“Not too far. I know a short cut. We used to camp there or ride dirt bikes up on that Dayton land but that’s about it. Just dried out rocks and sand and wind and the fire road. Hoss took some kids camping up there a few times when he was in college. Right now, Adam is using it for some project he is playing with.”
“A project? Something with dirt bikes? Or a camp ground?”
“Oh no, not dirt bikes,” Joe laughed as he drove down the winding unlit perimeter road of the complex towards the highway. “Windmills. My brother is a bug up his…up his…” Joe caught himself and turned red.
“A bug up his what?” Ellie laughed despite herself as Joe expertly drove up the steep grade. He shifted his truck into 4-wheel drive as gravel spun under his wheels on the steep hill. “Goodness Joseph Cartwright, I grew up on a ranch and lived with Jock Ewing close to forty years and raised three boys of my own. There isn’t a word you can say that would shock me. I‘ve heard all of them and can say them myself in English, Spanish and three other languages as well.”
“A bee in his bonnet,” Joe corrected himself. Miss Ellie was so easy to talk to. It was easy to see why Pa had been so fond of her when he was Joe‘s age. Too bad Lucy wasn’t a bit more like her grandmother and a bit less like a hysterical, spoiled brat. “Adam is into ecologically sound forms of energy,” Joe explained. “He wants to lease some land we own in Clark County to a wind power company. At first Pa thought Adam was really insane. He said ‘Adam, sometimes your education gets in the way of your thinking.’ But old Adam wouldn’t let loose of the idea and pretty soon he had Pa really convinced. He even has a working prototype for a more efficient storage battery.”
As worried as Miss Ellie was about Lucy‘s disappearance, she couldn’t help be concerned that Adam Cartwright’s invention could impact on the future of Ewing Oil. “Really? Windmills?”
“Sure. Adam‘s pretty smart. Very smart. Both my brothers are. I wish I was.” Joe expertly drove down the narrow winding road. One side skirted a steep drop off. On the far side the mountainside almost met the road in stretches.
“Oh goodness, Joe. You seem like an extremely intelligent young man. I am sure you are just as smart as your brothers. Just give yourself time,” Ellie said sincerely. She tried to see where they were headed. The car drove on through the blackness, the high beams starkly bouncing off the boulders. “Look how you well you figured out how to handle this mess my granddaughter has created! What would I have done had you not been there to rescue me?”
Joe smiled at her. “I sure haven’t felt very smart recently.”
“Is it far to the Dayton house?” Ellie asked. She prayed Ben’s son was correct about Lucy’s whereabouts and they would soon find her.
“We’re almost at the turn off for the old Dayton place. They used to call it the circle D.”
“It’s fortunate for me that you are driving. I could never have found my way here. This road is so hazardous I could have driven off a cliff.”
Joe glanced to the left and for an instant he felt the hair stand on the back of his neck and his throat catch. “My mother was killed right along here. She drove off the road.”
Ellie shook her head,” I’m so sorry. I remember hearing about it. I didn‘t realize it was along this road.”
“I suppose not. How would you know? You aren’t from around here.”
“It was awfully close to that Lil’s place.”
Joe nodded. “I really never noticed how close until now. Those were new condos then.”

*****

“This was a marvelous idea, Faye” Ben Cartwright said as he pulled up in front of her small Victorian house on a quiet street in the south side of the Virginia City historic district.
“Thanks, Ben. Buffalo wings and pizza and beer in front of my fire place suddenly seemed like a much better choice then waiting a half hour for a table in a noisy, crowded restaurant,” Faye agreed.
“I agree,” Adam said squirming impatiently in the back seat. “I can’t believe there was such a back-up.” He was trying to balance the pizza on his lap without scorching his thighs. He realized that something warm and oily was leaking from the flat cardboard box on his new black Armani suit. “I can’t wait to get inside.”
“Besides, I still don’t think I am dressed properly. I‘m all grubby and dusty from crawling around on the floor of the state capital to get some of those shots,” Fay repeated. “If you two don’t mind, I’ll just throw on something clean and we can eat.” She opened the door and gracefully slid her long denim clad legs out of the car before Ben could run around and open the door for her.
“You look wonderful!” Adam said for the fifth time as he struggled to get out of the back seat without dropping the pizza or damaging himself more than he already was.
“The food smells great!” Ben said. “Are you ok with all that food, Adam?”
“Just ducky,” Adam said, juggling the hot pizza in one hand and the cold six-pack of Guinness Stout. “And your house is charming.” They all looked up at the darkened story and a half wood-framed building with a steeply pitched, gabled roof. The building’s facade sported matching bay windows on either side of the entry.
“How long have you lived here?” Adam asked. They slowly made their way up the steep wooden steps and across the wide wooden porch.
“Well, it depends on how you look at it. Forever or for three and a half months,” Faye laughed. She opened her purse and fished around for her keys as Ben held open the old-fashioned wooden screen door. “Darn. It’s so dark, I can’t find my keys. Did I leave them with the mechanic?”
As they waited, Adam rested the pizza and beer on the seat of the wicker chair. Ben absently rested his hand on the brass doorknob. The door moved. “The door isn’t locked, Faye.”
“Not locked? I always lock the door when I leave. I have all my cameras and dark room equipment set up in the back room. My files too.”
Adam leaned over and looked through the lace-curtained bay window. He saw a light moving inside the house. “Someone is inside walking around with a flashlight! Stay right here, Faye,” Adam cautioned as he pushed open the door and stepped inside the house.
Ben followed close behind him. “Stay here!” he repeated his son’s warning.
“Stay here? It’s my house!” Faye argued.
Adam charged ahead into the dark house, his eyes on the moving light on the far side of the room. He suddenly felt himself loosing his footing as he stumbled over a large upholstered ottoman. He tumbled head over heels and landed sprawled awkwardly on the rag rug as Ben charged past him in pursuit of the intruder.
“Freeze!” Ben roared.
They all heard the thud of a heavy piece of furniture turning over and glass shattering as Ben leaped upon the intruder.
“I got him!” Ben announced.
Faye, a few steps behind the older Cartwright, stopped and flicked on the lights. Then she knelt beside Adam. “Are you hurt?” she asked.
“Only my pride,” Adam said awkwardly getting to his feet. He could see on the other side of the room his father had the captured intruder’s arm pinned behind his back.

 

“Now what the blazes were you doing back there?” Ben demanded over his shoulder. He held fast to the intruder.

 

“I, uh, fell over the ottoman”, Adam admitted sheepishly. “Ow! My knee! I think I wrenched it.” He limped over to help his father with their captive, while Faye went to search for something to use to tie him up.

 

“Here’s some clothesline. I used to get annoyed at my aunt for not using the clothes dryer I bought her. I never thought I’d be glad she had all this lying around. I’ll go check to see what’s missing.”

 

Ben pushed the intruder, non-to-gently into Faye’s desk chair and wrapped the length of clothesline firmly around the man and the chair. Adam Faye a packet he had pulled from their prisoner’s jacket pocket. “You won’t have to check too far. This looks like the only thing he took.” The envelope was labeled with a familiar date and the words Fatal Car Wreck.

 

Faye shuffled, perplexed, through the negatives in the packet. “Why would he take these? She handed Adam negatives of the photos she had taken of Marie’s wreck.

 

The intruder’s eyes bugged out in fear as the bigger, white-haired man angrily grabbed him by the jacket lapels. “Lo…oo…k, mis..ss..ter, I….I….I do…o…n’t know why….why the guy……guy that hi…..hired me wa…waaa…nted those.”

 

“Who hired you?” Ben growled.

 

The frightened little man sucked in draughts of air and got his voice under control. “I don’t know. He said I should call him Sam Wolf, but I knew that wasn’t his real name. He hired me by telephone. He wouldn’t even tell me how he got my name and phone number. I needed the dough. I just got out of the joint. The only thing I can tell you was he had some kind of accent. Sounded like that actor, Schwarzenegger.”

 

Ben relaxed his grip on the man’s jacket. “Well, you won’t have to worry any more about needing money. You’ll be a guest of the city fairly soon now. The city has some fine cells for folks like you.”

 

Faye entered the room carrying an ice bag. “The police will be here any moment. Here, Adam, let’s ice your knee down while we’re waiting.”

 

“Don’t bother,” Adam protested.

 

“It’s no bother.” she said softly. “You got hurt trying to help me.”

 

Adam and Faye settled themselves on the sofa to wait, while Ben paced the room, occasionally glancing out the front window. “Faye, I think you should pack some things and come home with us. I don’t like the idea of you being here alone, right now. And bring those negatives. We can lock them in my safe, ’til we find out what’s so important about them, and to whom.”

 

“I agree with my father.”

 

“Well, fellows, I’ve been through wars, plagues, hurricanes, earthquakes, and even a volcano eruption.” Faye smiled at each Cartwright. “I’m not denying that this has shaken me up more than any of that. I’ll gladly accept your invitation. While I’m there, I can get some photos of your ranch, with your permission. I’ve heard how beautiful it is.”

 

“Wonderful,” Ben beamed.

 

“And if it isn’t an imposition on you, Adam, I could even do an article about your windmills.”

 

Adam leaned back on the sofa and smiled to himself. Maybe I’ll get a chance, after all.

*****

Dusk was falling as Joe’s truck pulled up in front of the old ramshackle Dayton house. Ellie looked around with alarm at the overgrown shrubbery, knee-high grass, and neglected house. “They can’t possibly be here!”

 

Joe gave her a hand out of the truck cab. “Oh, it’s not as bad as it looks. The house is pretty sturdy yet. They built them to last back in the old days. The roof might leak a little when it rains, but there’s no rain forecasted. I couldn’t find anything else on TV, so I was watching the Weather Channel,” Joe laughed. “They should be able to use the fireplace. There’s no electricity, but Peggy might have known that and brought candles or some flashlights. Hey! It looks like they’re here! There’s a light moving around inside. Be careful, the flagstones in the walk are loose.”

 

Ellie and Joe carefully picked their way to the front porch. “There’s a few loose boards, here, watch your step.” The screen door was hanging by its hinges, so he pushed it aside, and banged on the oak door. “Hey! Peggy? Lucy? You there? It’s Joe Cartwright! Lucy, your grandmother’s with me! She’s awfully worried? Can we come in?”

 

Neither Joe nor Ellie heard the stealthy tread of tennis shoes behind them. A hand reached out and grabbed Ellie by the arm, turning her around to stare at a young man, dressed in black camouflage, holding a knife.

 

“Hello, Lucy’s grandma, Joe Cartwright. Won’t you come in?” The knife-wielding man sneered. “Ladies first, grandma.” Ellie stepped cautiously through the door, Joe following. She turned around, to see their captor wallop Joe over the head with a piece of kindling. . Joe grunted softly and toppled to the floor at Ellie’s feet.

*****

Joe’s head thumped and his ears rang. His head was pillowed on something soft. As he struggled to open his eyes, a gentle hand caressed his head and a woman’s voice, with a soft Southern accent, reminiscent of his mother’s told him to lie still. Slowly he forced his eyes open and looked around. He found himself lying on the floor in what had been the living room of the old Dayton place, his head on a musty old sofa pillow on Mrs. Ewing’s lap. Other than a rickety table and a couple of kitchen chairs, what was left of the furniture was shrouded in dusty sheets. Sheets covered the big bay front window, and the small windows flanking the fireplace. The room was dark, except for the feeble glow of a Coleman lantern on the table. Lucy sat huddled on the other side of her grandmother. Peggy Dayton slouched sullenly in one of the sheet-draped armchairs.

 

Moving his head caused a twinge of pain to shoot from the base of his skull. Joe cried out and dropped his head back to the soft pillow.

 

“Lie still, Joe. I’ve got something in my purse that will help.” Ellie smoothed the hair back from his forehead and winked at him, her bowed head hiding the wink from Peggy.

 

“I’m going to get an aspirin from my purse for Joe,” Ellie told Peggy, as she opened her purse.

 

Peggy didn’t even glance their way as she continued sulking.

 

“I’m afraid they’re baby aspirin, Joe. I carry them for Jock. The doctor has him take one a day for his heart, and baby aspirin are easier on the stomach. They’re chewable, orange flavor, so it doesn’t matter that we have no water. Here, dear, four should do it.” She covertly winked at Joe again, as she replaced the aspirin bottle in her purse.

 

What’s with the winks? Joe wondered as he chewed the aspirin and watched Ellie casually dig through her purse. As his head slowly cleared, it came to him that she had something up her sleeve, or in her purse, as the case may be. Sure enough, Ellie pulled out a small cell phone and hid it under the sofa pillow in her lap.

 

The three prisoners sat in their corner waiting for the chance to make use of Ellie’s cell phone. Joe still laid with his head on the pillow in Ellie’s lap. His headache had cleared up some, and he could have sat up, but for the necessity of keeping the cell phone hidden. Lucy was cuddled up close to her grandmother on her other side.

 

“Grandma, I’m so sorry.” Lucy whispered tearfully. “I don’t even know what they want, besides money. That crazy friend of Peggy’s was ranting on about ecology and birds, and nesting grounds, and windmills, and oil wells. I’ve tried to be friends with Peggy; she can’t help what her mom is like. Why is she doing this?”

 

Ellie stroked her granddaughter’s silky blonde hair. “Shhhh, Lucy. It’ll be all right. We’ll get out of this. I’ve got a plan. I haven’t been married to Jock Ewing all these years without learning a thing or two. Let alone what I learned from my daddy. We’ll get Peggy out of this too. She’s just a mixed up little girl right now. And no wonder with what Laura has put her through. We’ll see that she gets the help she needs. It looks like she’s asleep. I’d better call now. It’s hard to tell when that Chucky will get back. Sit up straighter but lean some more this way. It will help hide what I’m doing.”

****

“Hello? Hello?” Bobby Ewing quickly answered the phone in the study. Pam and his father sat near by. They hadn’t heard from Ellie since she had landed in Reno hours earlier. All he heard was crackling and some faint, indistinct voices on the other end. “Hello? Who is this?” Bobby said into the phone as his father looked anxiously his way. The voices flickered and static filled his ear. When no one answered, Bobby hung up.
“Who was it?” Jock asked.
“Must have been a wrong number,” Bobby shrugged hanging up the phone.
“I sure wish your Mama would call and tell us what’s up with Lucy,”
“I hope Lucy is all right.” Pam said anxiously. “Miss Ellie should have called by now.”
“She sure should have! Don’t know why you let Ellie go running off like that, Pam!” Jock growled at his daughter-in-law. “That Lucy will be the death of me, yet.”
“You know that Mama does what she darn well pleases, Daddy. I am sure they all just fine and Mama will call as soon as she makes arrangements to fly back home with Lucy.” Bobby stepped between his father and his wife.

 

“Besides,” Pam added without realizing she was only making Jock more furious. “Before she left, Miss Ellie had called Ben Cartwright to head Lucy off at the airport and give her a hand.

 

“Ben Cartwright!” Jock growled and headed for the bar on the other side of the room. He poured himself double bourbon and downed it in three gulps.

****

“I can’t believe that boy didn’t show up for his appointment with Dr. Sidney!” Ben Cartwright said as he hung up the phone.
“What do you mean, Pa?” Adam asked. He shoved over the open telephone directory on his father’s desk and sunk into the chair beside his father’s mahogany desk. His knee felt better after icing it down all the way home from Faye’s, except for a twinge if he put all his weight on it. Ben had shown Faye to the downstairs guest room while Adam sorted through the mail stacked on the console near the door, hoping for some response from Andrew Lancer in the Bureau of Land Management , but the Cartwright‘s bad luck was holding true.
“Is that who just called? Doctor Sidney?” Adam asked still not realizing how disturbed his father was about Little Joe coming up missing. “He seemed to be making so much progress.”
“Yes. I thought so too. Joe had an appointment for seven O’clock. He didn’t show up at all and didn’t even bother to call Dr. Sidney to cancel either. That boy! He swore he was going to the doctor.” Frustrated by his younger son once again, Ben pounded his fist on the desk rattling the framed pictures and pencils in the copper cup.
“Don’t worry Pa. Joe just probably forgot. Or had one of those headaches and lay down and dozed off. Maybe he is still sleeping upstairs. You know how that kid could sleep through a cattle stampede.” Adam glanced around the dark room as if Joe might be sitting in the corner munching on an apple laughing at the joke he was playing on all of them.
“No, his truck’s gone. The only car in the driveway is that blue Taurus. Whose is that?” Ben asked.
“I have no idea. It has a rental sticker on it from Avis. No letter from Lancer either,” Adam griped. He looked at his father’s worried face and realized the last thing his father was interested in at the moment was the stalled windmill project. “Joe’s fine, Pa. He can take care of himself.”
“Maybe he had car trouble on the way and left a message on my machine,” Ben said punching a few buttons on the machine to start playing back the messages.
The first voice was that of a woman. “Hello? Ben? This is Ellie Ewing. I need a big favor from you. It seems my granddaughter is flying up to Reno airport with a girl friend of hers. I suspect she is going to show up on your doorstep to chase after Joe. Could you meet her plane? They are on the 10:20 flight from Dallas. Please call me at 972-340-8989.” This was followed by three more messages from Miss Ellie, her voice getting progressively more anxious. Finally the last message said “Ben. I suppose you haven’t heard the other messages I left. I’ll be taking the 3:15 flight. Hope I catch you. I have my cell with me. See you soon.”
“Ellie Ewing? Do you think that was her rental car?” Adam asked.
“I don’t know but maybe this has something to do with Joe not making his appointment.”
“Everything is connected. We just have to find out how,” Adam said.
“Who left all this out?” Ben asked noticing the open telephone directory, and scratch pad out of place on his neatly organized desk. He couldn’t help but notice an entry was underlined and a picture of a rearing pinto, the star logo of the Dallas Cowboys and a pot of Easter flowers was doodled in the margin.
“Joe? Who else?”
“Who else uses the phone book as a sketch pad? How many times do I have to tell that boy not to leave a mess on my desk?” Ben sputtered.
“I suppose more than the ten million times you already have? Maybe ten million and two will do it?” Adam shrugged as he picked up the two empty drinking glasses and a set of car keys with an Avis tag. “My tidy baby brother just leaves his trail wherever he roams. By the lipstick on this glass, it looks like Joe was entertaining a lady while we were gone. Maybe that is his motivation for missing his appointment?”
Just then, the phone on Ben’s desk rang.
“That better be your brother with a good explanation of his whereabouts,” Ben said angrily as Adam picked up the phone before his father could. No need for Joe to get yelled at right off if the poor kid really was stuck by the side of the road.
“Hello? Joe?”
All he heard was some muffled, inaudible voices and static on the other end.

 

“Hello? Who is this?”
Adam could hear voices on the other end. A female voice said, “Lie still, Joe”. Then Adam could hear Joe’s voice say something but he couldn’t quite make it out.
“Is it Joe?” Ben said grabbing the phone from Adam‘s hand. “Let me give that boy a piece of my mind!”
Adam swallowed hoping that what he heard was not the accidental result of Joe’s cell phone being squeezed in between him and some willing girl in the back of his truck.

.
“Joe is that you?” Ben asked. “Joe? Where are you?”
The voices flickered, static filled his ear and the line went dead.
Ben angrily punched Joe‘s cell phone number into his phone to try to reconnect with him. “It’s ringing.”
Adam cocked his head and realized he heard some familiar electronic musical tones from the other side of the room. “Pa? Joe’s cell is over on the coffee table.”

*****

Chucky and two more black-clad people, a young man and a girl, strode into the room. Chucky glared at Peggy, asleep in the chair. “Hey! Wake up! You’re supposed to be guardin’ those three!” He shook Peggy violently.

 

Peggy shot awake and snatched her arm form Chucky’s strong grasp. “But Chucky, I’m exhausted. They’re not going anywhere. You all have been right outside.” She was half asleep and confused at the cruel treatment she was receiving from the boy she thought was her friend.

 

“That’s beside the point! I gave you an order, and I expect you to obey it!”

 

“Buu..t, Ch….uuck…y? Why are you treating me this way?” Peggy whimpered.

 

“Geez! What a baby! I should have known you were too young and too spoiled,” Chucky ranted. ‘That’s it! Get over there with your rich friends!” Chucky pulled a sobbing Peggy out of the chair and flung her into the corner, where she lay sprawled against Lucy.

 

 

**********

 

More frightened then she had ever been in her life, Lucy slid closer to her grandmother. Her hip jostled the pillow concealing Ellie‘s cell phone. “I’m so sorry Grandma. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”
“We’ll be fine, darling. Don’t worry someone will realize we are being held here at the… the,” Ellie stumbled trying to remember the name of the place. Under the cushion, she hit the button that redialed her home number. She prayed that someone would hear them on the other end. Shenervously moved the battered pillow a bit to hide the cell. “Joe, what did you tell me this place was called?” Ellie tried to sound innocently helpless to not raise the ecoterrorist’s suspicions.

Joe cautiously sat up a bit and shifted his weight. He rubbed the back of his head. A good-sized lump was swelling there. “Where are we? The old Dayton Ranch. They have us here at the old Dayton Ranch. All of us, Miss Ellie. You and me and Lucy and Peggy Dayton too.” His head still throbbed a bit but not as badly as it had an hour earlier. As long as he didn’t move too much, it was ok. Maybe those candy-tasting aspirins really had helped. “We are all at the Old Dayton Place.”

 

Chucky looked at his prisoners clustered together on the floor. “You sound like a bunch of morons. What are you talking about?”
“Oh leave them alone, Chuck. Let’s finish writing that ransom note. I’ll cut the words out of these old magazines,” Rainbow said sitting cross legged on the floor. One lone dangling light bulb shed a dim light on the scene. Rainbow tossed her long black hair and flipped through a dog-eared copy of People Magazine with the Olsen Twins on the cover.
“Great idea!” exclaimed Ralph. “A recycled ransom note. Give me a scissor, and let me help!” He was skinny and dark with a narrow face like a ferret. Ralph had joined Chucky’s group a year earlier and he was the one who pointed out Adam Cartwright at a seminar on wind-generated energy.
“Just do the note and shut up!” Chucky ordered.
Suddenly they all heard an electronic chirping.
“What’s that!” demanded Snort, the fourth member of Chuck’s band. He was tall and lanky and had a crooked nose. He rushed over to the captives and wrenched the pillow off Ellie’s lap revealing the hidden phone.

 

“Move!” Chucky growled at the captives as Ralph snatched the ringing cell phone from under the pillow. Chuck recklessly waved the gun at them oblivious to how dangerous his action was.
Joe hesitated and glared directly at the yellow-haired leader of their captors. He moved so he was in front of the women. Ellie Ewing touched his arm as if to caution the protective young man from doing anything foolish.
“What are we going to do, Chuck?” Ralph asked nervously. He had Miss Ellie’s ringing cell phone in the palm of his grubby hand. “Should I answer it?”
“Yes! Tell them it’s a wrong number,” Rainbow said nervously. “Disguise your voice.”
“Tell them it’s the Dog Pound or Zen Salad Bar!” yelled Snort from the other side of the room.
“No! Don’t! Let it ring,” Chuck ordered. “If you answer it they might be able to trace the call. Just shut up all of you.”
They all held their breath as the phone stopped ringing.
See. They gave up. The voice mail’ll kick in. And they won’t be any the wiser,” Chucky grinned. “Let’s get that ransom note finished.
Suddenly they all heard the sound of a loud truck engine outside. “Some one is here. Put out that lantern,” Ralph said. He went over to the front window and cautiously peered out. “Can’t see anyone.

****

The heavy tread of boots on the boards of the porch announced the arrival of Hoss, who was proceeded in the door by Bessie Sue. “Hey! Who’s Taurus?” Before anyone could answer, he continued, “I heard that Joe didn’t show up for his appointment with Dr. Sidney. He called my cell phone when he couldn’t get anyone here. That’s funny. Joe told me he was getting a lot out of his sessions, and he was glad we forced him into it. Bessie Sue said she saw his truck heading in the direction of the old Dayton place, and he had someone with him. Why would he be going out there?”

 

“We think the car is Ellie Ewing’s rental.” Ben went on to explain to Hoss about the messages on the answering machine.

 

“Hmm, maybe Hoss and I should take a drive out there.”

 

“No”, Ben answered. “I think all three of us should take a drive out there. Bessie Sue, would you stay here in case Joe calls?”

 

“Am I interrupting anything?” Faye emerged from the guest room and looked around at the puzzled faces surrounding her.

 

“Oh, Faye, you remember my other son, Hoss, and his fiancée, Bessie Sue Hightower?” Ben asked distractedly.

 

“Faye’s going to be staying with us for awhile, Hoss. I’ll tell you about it later. Right now, we should get going.

 

“Faye, excuse us. We’re going to look for Joe. Sorry, we don’t have time to explain, now.”

 

“Wait, I’m coming with you. You came no my aid this evening, maybe I can be of some help. I’ll just run and grab my jacket.”

 

Minutes later, three Cartwrights and Faye climbed into Adam’s Jeep Cherokee and roared down the ranch road.

 

“Let’s head to the old Dayton Place, Adam, ” Ben directed from the back seat where he sat next to Faye.
“The Dayton place?” Faye asked as the dark landscape flashed by.
“Yes, Peggy Dayton is with Lucy. Maybe they’re hiding out there. The house is all boarded up but it wouldn’t take much to pry a plywood panel off one of the windows and get in,” Adam explained.
“Do you think Joe headed up there?” Faye asked.
“I think so. If Ellie Ewing came by for help, Little Joe was more than likely to think of the Dayton place,” Hoss nodded. “Take the cut off up by the cross roads, Adam.”
“Brilliant minds think alike. That’s where we taught Little Joe to drive. Remember that car he bought?” Adam recalled.
“Stay over to the right as we go over the rise. Just watch out for that washed out stretch.” Hoss pointed as the Cherokee’s headlights bounced off the black rocky terrain.
“Don’t worry. I know this stretch well enough. I was up here last week rearranging my workshop and moving equipment around,” Adam said. He shifted to a lower gear. “That car is still sitting there.”
“Little Joe used all his birthday money and borrowed from us and bought some old wreck from Ross Marquette,” Hoss explained to Faye. “Pa had no idea.”
“Joe bought a car and the boys got it running and you didn‘t know?” Faye looked at Ben Cartwright sitting next to her. The rancher shrugged. His gaze was intent on the road ahead as if tried hard enough he could spot his son and Ellie Ewing even in the ebony blackness.
“I knew. The boys just thought otherwise and I wasn’t going to ruin their fun. They would come home covered with grease and borrowed half the tools in my workshop and forget to bring them home. I think the thing was older than Joe and couldn’t go more than fifteen miles an hour.

 

“It was my friend’s grandmother’s car and when she died, Ross tried to sell it for a couple of hundred dollars,” Adam explained

 

“But you know how quick talking baby brother could be when he gets going. He got it from Ross for seventy five and a pair of cracked skis,” added Hoss. “Adam and me helped Joe get it running and we hid it the old hay barn. Joe claimed it was his dream car.”
The Jeep bounced and gravel spun off its tires, as Adam turned right. “What kind of car was it?” Faye asked trying to picture the three Cartwright brothers hip-to-hip leaning over the engine.
“A black and white Ford Pinto,” Hoss said.

****

“Peggy! Stop your blubbering and tell us what’s going on, here! Who are these people?” Lucy swatted Peggy hard on the arm, which only caused her to cry harder.

 

“Come on, Lucy. That’s no way to get her to talk.” Joe grabbed Lucy’s arm to keep her from attacking Peggy, again.

 

“Joe’s right, Lucy. Come here, Peggy.” Miss Ellie helped the crying girl clamber over Lucy and herself, and settled her between herself and Joe. She handed Peggy a wad of tissue. “Now calm down, and tell us everything. We’ll get out of this, and when we get back home we’ll get you whatever help you need.” She smoothed Peggy’s damp bangs back off her forehead.

 

“Oh, Mrs. Ewing. I’m so sorry. I just wanted to belong to something. I thought making the cheerleading squad would be terrific, but the other girls only tolerate me being there because they have to. I met this older girl who introduced me to Chucky. He’s the leader of an ecology group called the Golden Eagles. I admired him so much, and wanted to join. They said I was too young, that they don’t take children. Then they found out that I knew Lucy Ewing. They needed money, so they said I could join if I lured Lucy here. They would let her go after your family paid the ransom. He said since the Ewings are big polluters because of their oil wells, it would only be fair for the Ewings to help pay to save the environment. He said no one would get hurt. I’m so sorry! Please take me home! I don’t expect you to forgive me, but please take me home!”

 

“Shhh. It’s all right, dear. We’ll take you home to your mother, and I intend to have a talk with her, and I can guarantee that things will be different at home. Now, you and Lucy just sit here and let Joe and I handle things. Do you feel all right, Joe?”

 

Joe rubbed his head and grinned at Ellie. “You bet. It takes more than a tap on the head to put me down. Pa’s probably out looking for us, right now, too. By now, he’ll know I missed my appointment…”

****

There was a certain satisfaction Poole got in a meticulously planned project being carried out with flawless precision. This was one of those moments. He had driven from Dallas to Nevada in record time, his polished truck outfitted with the electronics, explosives and high tech tools worthy of NASA. His employer had contracted with him to vaporize a competitor’s barn workshop as well as its contents. There was a bonus for getting the job done within the week and doing a “clean job”. William Poole prided himself on his attention to detail and always giving his customers more than they asked for. This job was going to be perfectly executed at the stroke of midnight. He would be on the way home ten minutes later

****

Suddenly they all heard the sound of a loud truck engine outside. “Some one is here. Put out that lantern.” Ralph said. He went over to the front window and cautiously peered out. “Can’t see anyone.

 

“Snort, give her your gun and you and Ralphie come with me to check if anyone is around here.” Chuck ordered as they herded the frightened captives into the barn. After hearing the sound of a truck engine, he had decided the house was too much in the open. Even though many of the windows were still boarded up, it would be too difficult to defend from anyone searching for his hostages. The barn, he had decided had fewer windows and was more defendable should they have to make a stand off.
“I told you. There isn’t anyone here, “Peggy Dayton pleaded.”It was probably just a truck on the highway.”

 

Lucy Ewing sat down on the rickety wooden bench near the door. She was too frightened to say anything.

 

Miss Ellie said “Sound bounces off the mountains out here and echoes off the hills. That distorts how far off things can be even though it can sound very close.” Ellie hoped that she sounded convincing and prayed the engine they heard was Ben Cartwright hunting for them or the local sheriff. She was wrong on both counts.
It always did,” Peggy agreed. “I used to live right here and I remember. Sounds do travel far distances out here.” She looked around the shadowy barn. She hadn’t been inside the old barn in years, not since Peggy and her mother had left Nevada with Will Cartwright. At that time, the fatherless girl had been sure she would live happily ever after with mom and her kindly new stepfather. Unfortunately, Laura’s selfish childishness had destroyed her second marriage. Peggy missed Will terribly. He still remembered to send her a birthday card every year from where he had settled in the Silicon Valley in California

 

In the corner of the barn, Peggy could see neatly arranged stacks of silvery metal. In one of the unused stalls was stacked with long lengths of pipes and reels of wire. A long worktable on the far side of the barn was filled with power tools and electronic equipment. Cables were strung like spider webs across the barn and eaves.
Looking up toward the loft, Peggy thought she saw a blinking red light, like the digital read out on an old video recorder or microwave. Her Aunt Lil and her grouchy, old codger boyfriend, Andrew, had one of those old VCRs and never knew how to reset the time when the power went off. While they had been held in the house, Joe had mentioned that his brother Adam had been using the barn for some sort of pet project. Peggy just assumed the wires snaking along the perimeter of the barn and up through the rafters were part of Adam Cartwright’s workshop.

 

She was very wrong, dangerously wrong.

 

Sitting towards the middle of the barn, facing the door was a battered, old subcompact car.
“Look at that!” Snort kicked the tires on the old black and white pinto “A gas guzzling polluter.”
Chuck poked the barrel of his gun sharply into Joe’s ribs. “And watch Cartwright, here. He’s really dangerous, like his whole polluting family.”
“Not to worry Chucky, he’s all mine,” Rainbow declared taking the gun from Snort. She smiled coyly at Joe. “I like how he looks, even if he isn’t a vegetarian.”
“You just leave him alone!” Lucy Ewing possessively. She wasn’t quite sure what was going on but she knew Joe Cartwright first. If anyone was going to lay claim to the good-looking cowboy, she was going to be the one.
“What are you staring at?” Joe demanded. Rainbow was looking him up and down like he was some sort of potential prom date to the tofu festival.
“Don’t mouth off, Cartwright!” Chucky warned.
Ralph gave Joe an elbow in the ribs. He grunted as the blow connected.
“Stop it! You are hurting him. Didn’t you say no one was going to get hurt?” Rainbow argued. “We are supposed to be peaceful and saving the world. Isn’t that what you said Chucky?” He had said they were pacifists and for animals and the environment and now he was hurting that good-looking Joe again.
“You all pay attention to what Rainbow tells you all while me and the boys go check around.” Chucky warned waving the business end of the rifle around wildly. The three young men eased cautiously out of the barn door leaving the captives under the watchful eye of their female companion.

 

“I wouldn’t have done that if I was Chuck.” Joe said softly easing himself to his feet. Ellie Ewing reached out a protective hand, hoping the young man wasn’t doing something dangerously risky. Joe shrugged off her hand. He had just figured out Rainbow had been left to guard the four hostages and he could make his move.
“What do you mean?” Rainbow said cautiously.
“If you were my girl, I wouldn’t have put you in this position,” Joe started. He smiled his most heart-melting smile and took a step closer to the disheveled ecoterrorist. “Not a pretty girl like you, Rainbow.”
“What? What do you mean?” Rainbow asked nervously. She brushed a greasy lock of hair out of her eyes. The hand holding the pistol shook.
“Well, if you were my girl, I wouldn’t want to be far away from you. And I sure wouldn’t put you in the position of having to keep track of four different prisoners like us. Why, what if we each ran in a different direction or decided to hit you with something? ”
“Hit me?”

 

“Sure!” Lucy said. She had no idea what Joe was doing. Lucy decided to follow Joe Cartwright’s lead, just as she had followed his lead on the dance floor at that long ago party in Dallas for Faye Franklin.
“What would you hit me with?”
“Oh, what about a length of pipe from over there?” Joe pointed to the left. “Or one of the tools hanging on that peg board over there.” Joe waved towards Adam’s workbench on the far side of the old barn.
“I could just punch you!” Peggy Dayton waved her fist.
“Peggy!” Miss Ellie warned. She also had no idea what Little Joe was doing but didn’t want the freckle faced teenager to disrupt the plan.

 

“We could run in twelve different directions or throw things at you!” Joe said in a pleasant voice.
“Throw things?” Rainbow asked.
“Sure! Like…like…” Joe stammered believably. He could see he was reeling her in with his baloney. He took a few steps over to the low shelf behind Rainbow “Like one of those car magazines, or the jar of pencils or even this!” Joe reached out and pulled the dusty old Gameboy hand held video game off the shelves. “Like this!”
“Oh that is silly! Don’t forget, I have this gun!” Rainbow warned waving the pistol back and forth. “Go sit down!”
“Ok! OK! You are the boss. But if you were my girl, I wouldn’t ditch you like those guys did,” Joe shrugged casually and slowly walked back to sit next to the other hostages on the floor, holding the Gameboy. He had what he wanted and knew if he played his cards right, Rainbow would let him carry out the rest of his escape plan. “Do you think Chuck and the other guys are coming back? Or is that truck we heard is someone coming to give those boys a ride out of here? Did old Chuck get the ransom for us and leave you here holding the bag?”

 

“Sit down!” Rainbow said. Her voice quavered as the suggestions Joe had made started eating at her. Did Chucky and the other guys take off and leave her behind?

 

“Sure! I guess you are in charge and I’m your prisoner,” Joe plopped down next to Lucy, casually holding the Gameboy in his left hand. “I suppose you can say I’m just your prisoner of love. Too bad we didn’t meet under better circumstances. I love feisty pretty girls like you, Rainbow. By the way, did anyone ever tell you that you have really pretty eyes?”

 

“No.” Rainbow hesitated, trying to hear what was going on out side. It sounded as if a different vehicle had pulled up on the far side of the barn. “No one ever told me I was pretty, Joe.”

 

“Well, you sure are a pretty girl,” Joe flirted.
“Very pretty.” Miss Ellie nodded in agreement. “I feel awful that your friends are putting you on the spot.”

 

“Pretty?”Peggy wrinkled up her nose and started to make a comment but Lucy elbowed the other girl in her ribs.

 

“You all just sit there!” Rainbow warned. “And be quiet!” All she heard was some electronic ticks and clicks from somewhere up in the loft. A few of the red blinking lights that were scattered about the barn flickered in a sequence.

 

“Yes, Ma’am,” Joe smiled obediently and kept his eyes on the nervous, dirty girl with the pistol. Holding his breath and looking as casual as possible, young Cartwright cautiously slid the battery compartment cover of the Gameboy open praying silently that his hidden treasure was still there. Reaching inside the small opening, Joe fished around with his finger until he felt something small and metallic. Exhaling thankfully, Joe carefully pulled out the hidden ignition key to the old black and white pinto. He couldn’t help but smile.
“If I was you, I would keep us all in one place where you could really keep track on us.”
“Would you?” Rainbow noticed the red lights blink again in the same sequence. It reminded her of the alarm system in the GAP where she had worked two years earlier.
“Sure! How about sticking us all in that junker over there? You can keep track of us and we could just sit there. Besides, this barn floor is awfully hard and cold,” Joe suggested.” And it is getting really late.”
“Almost midnight,” Miss Ellie said looking at her watch. “It is ten to twelve.”

 

“This barn floor is awfully hard and cold,” Joe suggested. He shifted his weight from side to side as if he was very uncomfortable.
“Yes, my old bones really can’t take sitting here much longer,” Miss Ellie added. “You are such a kind, pretty girl, Rainbow. I would be much more comfortable sitting on a car seat.”
“Even the ratty seat of that old car that doesn’t work would be better,” Joe quickly negotiated. “I thought the idea is to hold us for ransom, not hurt us. Right?”
“I guess so. When Chuck comes back, I’ll ask him,” Rainbow said. “It was only supposed to be Lucy Ewing, not the whole bunch of you. He said no one was going to get hurt.”

 

“Oh come on. Let us sit in the car. Don’t wait for those guys to come back. It is really uncomfortable here,” Joe rubbed his head pitifully. “I’m really not feeling very well.” He looked up at Rainbow with his best hurt puppy dog look. That always worked with the school nurse when he tried to ditch classes when he hadn’t studied for an exam or disregarded a homework assignment.
“Are you ok?” Lucy asked. She squeezed Joe’s arm not knowing for sure if the handsome cowboy was really in distress or not.
“I don’t quite know,” Joe sighed. “My head really is pounding. I can’t really even see straight.”
“Chucky sure hit Joe hard. Was that really necessary?” Miss Ellie said maternally.
Peggy added. “He’s not as nice as you are, Rainbow. He could have killed Joe. He told me he wasn‘t going to hurt anyone either.”
“Well OK,” Rainbow conceded. The girl glanced around hoping that Chuck and the others would quickly return. “Go sit in the car. Peggy, you and Lucy help him over there.”
Joe sighed, “Thanks, Rainbow! It’s not every pretty girl who is as nice as you are. I really appreciate it.” He squeezed the car key in his hand and prayed the old black and white Pinto’s engine would turn over.

****

Adam stopped his Cherokee partway up the lane leading to the old Dayton place. “Someone’s here. I’m sure there was a light in the house as we drove up, but I don’t see it now.”

 

“I have a funny feeling about this whole thing.” Ben tried to spot some sign of Joe “According to Miss Ellie, Lucy has a credit card. Why did the girls come here instead of staying in comfort at a hotel?”

 

“I have a bad feeling about this too, Pa.” Adam agreed. “There’s been too many strange things happening lately. That break-in at Faye’s, that hacker that broke into my prototype files, the sudden problems with the Bureau of Land Management, and now, this. I’m sure glad I put that outdated information into the prototype file and put the real plans in Joe’s computer. Who would think to look for anything there except sports websites and “Playboy On Line”.

 

Sitting thigh-to-thigh with Ben in the back seat, Faye peered out into the darkness. At the same time she tried to distinguish any indication that the runaways were about, she automatically scouted out camera angles. She was glad she always had a camera with her.

 

Adam continued driving slowly up the rutted driveway. “What the ….! Who are they?” He hit the brakes when three figures dressed in black camouflage stepped into the beams of the Jeep’s headlights.

 

As the headlights hit them, the three young men turned tail and ran off into the darkness

 

“Grab them! Maybe they know where Joe and Ellie are!” Ben yelled to Adam and Hoss.

 

Hey you, come back!” Adam shouted. He leaped from behind the steering wheel and charged after them.
“I’ll cut around the other way,” Hoss said jumping out the passenger side. He headed north.
“Faye! Stay in the car,” Ben shouted over his shoulder as ran after Adam. Faye hesitated for an instant, but rather than argue with Ben, stayed in Adam’s car. She reached into her oversized purse and pulled out her camera. Seconds later, she hopped out of the car and ran north.

****

None of them realized that William Poole had stationed himself on the slope on the north side of the barn. He was waiting for the climax of his hard work. Poole had spent part of the afternoon wiring the rafters and loft of the barn to explode at midnight. He couldn’t resist watching the display. Nothing delighted him more then feeling the ground shake and seeing the night sky lit with white-hot explosions that he, the Thunderman, had produced.

****

As the three kidnappers dashed back toward the barn, Chuck could hear the shouts of the menacing strangers pursuing. Who were these men? That damn fool Peggy Dayton had insisted that here shouldn’t have been anyone around the place. It should be a perfect hiding place.
With Snort and Ralph at his heels, Chuck wound his way in and out among the rocks trying to elude Ben and Adam. The three ecoterrorists ran towards the back of the barn.
“Get back inside, quick!” Chuck bellowed making his way through the tangled underbrush. “We’ll hold them off from there!”
“Wait!” Snort almost lost his footing on the rough ground. He stopped for a brief second to catch his breath, glancing behind him to see if the two men were still following. Snort fearfully glanced once over his shoulder. He saw that the younger man had pulled ahead of the older white haired man and was not more than ten yards away from him.

 

.

********

 

“What are we doing?” Lucy demanded as the hostages moved across the barn. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw some tiny red lights flickering on and off in a line around the eaves of the barn.
“Hush, Lucy. Just follow Joe,” Ellie gave her granddaughter a gentle shove as Joe led the way to the old car.
“Get in!” Rainbow gestured with the pistol.
“Ladies first,” Joe said with a gallant sweep of his hand. “Lucy, you and Peggy get in the back seat.” He held open the front passenger side door for Miss Ellie.
“Move! All of you,” Rainbow could here some noises from outside and she still wasn’t sure what was going on. Had the police arrived? Did Chuck and the others take off leaving her in the lurch like Joe Cartwright had suggested? “Cut the chatter and just get in the car.”
As casually as he could muster, Joe quickly strode around the back of the four-door Pinto. He was anxious to get moving before the Chuck and the others returned. With a friendly smile to Rainbow. he slid behind the steering wheel. It was a tighter fit than he remembered. When he was a skinny high school freshman, Little Joe would sneak over t0 drive the old heap around the deserted Dayton place. He hoped the engine started on the first crank. If it didn’t, they were sunk.
“It’s awfully tight back here,” Peggy whined as she squeezed in next to Lucy.
“Just shut up and put on the seat belts,” Joe hissed through clenched teeth. “They’re probably tangled up in the seat.” Joe slammed the car door and hit the door lock with his elbow. “You too, Miss Ellie. And lock your door.”
“What are you doing?” Lucy repeated.
His eyes squeezed tightly closed, Joe quickly made a silent prayer. Then he inhaled deeply and inserted the hidden key in the ignition and turned. The engine sprang to life. Joe quickly shifted into drive and stomped on the gas. “Hang on!” he shouted as the tires squealed and the subcompact lurched forward.
“What are you doing?” Rainbow shrieked.

 

The Pinto crashed through the barn door, Rainbow yelling and running behind, just as Chucky, Snort and Ralph ran into the back door of the barn
Thirty seconds later, at the stroke of midnight, the explosive charges so meticulously arranged by Thunderman went off.

****

Behind a tree, Hoss surveyed the scene in front of him. A fourth man had a struggling Faye tightly by her arms. His brother and father would just have to take care of those other three in their own, he had to help Faye. His head low, Hoss Cartwright plowed into the Thunderman like a football lineman. He hit his opponent’s mid-section, doubling him in half and propelling him backwards into the side of his truck. Poole hit the cold metal with a resounding thud. Hoss hit his head on the protruding side mirror and for an instant was stunned. The combatants stumbled and toppled to the ground. In the fall, Hoss lost his grip on Poole.
“Run Faye!” Hoss bellowed. “Run!”
Poole’s hand grabbed a melon-sized rock and he raised it over Hoss’s head.
Realizing she had held onto her camera, she spun around and aimed the camera at Poole. With swift instincts honed from decades of photojournalism, Faye hit the shutter. The automatic settings on the camera set off a blinding strobe flash. The distraction was enough to give Hoss a momentary reprieve. He pulled back his arm to deliver a solid right to Poole’s jaw.
Suddenly, the Dayton ranch rocked with the solid force of an explosion.

****

Faye peaked through bleary eyes at the clock on her bedside table, “Eleven-Twenty!” She shot out of bed, but sunk back down as the remains of last night’s headache assaulted her. “Ohhh! Well, I guess last night wasn’t a nightmare after all.” She sat on the side of her bed, head in her hands, as memories of the previous evening’s chaos and tragedy flooded her thoughts. It was a shame that those two dumb kids, followers of that Chucky, got killed. At least that girl, Rainbow, was alive. Seriously injured, but the doctor said she would recover, although her convalescence would take place in a prison hospital. Thank goodness that all the Cartwrights, Mrs. Ewing, Lucy, and Peggy came through unscathed. Me too, for that matter! Except for this headache from the explosion. At least the ringing in my ears is gone. Well, come on Faye, get your butt up and at ’em. I have a lot of work to do, and I smell food cooking.

 

Faye emerged from her downstairs bedroom to find Ben seated in front of the TV in the great room.

 

“Good afternoon,” Ben greeted her. “You’re just in time for the noon news show. By their promos, our little war of last night is going to be the featured article How do you feel this morning?.”

 

“I’ve felt better, but there’s been times I’ve felt worse.” She reached for the mug of coffee that Hop Sing handed her. “I can’t believe I’ve slept till noon,” she apologized.

 

“I just got up myself. Ellie was already down here getting organized. She’s already talked to the authorities about letting her take Peggy back to Texas with her and chartered a plane.” He smiled. “She’s not usually that extravagant, but she thought it would be better for the girls. They just left. She didn’t want to wake you. She wanted me to thank you for all you’ve done, and tell you that you’ll always be welcome at Southfork. If you don’t mind, I’ll tape the news and we can watch it after everyone’s up. It’s a good thing neither Hoss nor Bessie Sue had patients to see today. She’s a great girl. I was worried about her driving home so late, but she wouldn’t stay over. She left a message on the answering machine that she got home all right and was going to sleep all day.”

 

“Speaking of messages, I should check my e-mail. Excuse me, I’ll be right back.” Faye set her half empty mug down and retreated to her room.

****

Faye reread the e-mail a dozen times trying to make sense of it. A knock on the bedroom door caused her to slam the laptop case closed. She jumped to her feet from her seat on the bed, and rushed to answer the knock.

 

“Afternoon, Faye.” Adam leaned into the room. “Feel up to some food? Hop Sing has a big brunch laid out.” He stopped as he noticed the alarmed look on her face. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Adam, come read this e-mail I just received!” She pulled him into the room and thrust her laptop at him. He felt his stomach turn over as he read:

 

Police report for crash that killed Marie Cartwright overlooked trace of black paint on door panel. Does this man look familiar?

 

Accompanying the message was a jpg file that when downloaded revealed two photographs. The first was a recent photo of Andrew Lancer, Director of the Nevada Bureau of Land Management. The second was a much earlier candid snapshot of the same man. In the background of the snapshot was a new black Buick.

 

Adam felt like he had been kicked in the gut by a mule. “Whatever you do, don’t show this to my father!”

 

“Of course I wouldn’t! What kind of unfeeling idiot do you think I am?”

 

Adam was instantly contrite. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I know you wouldn’t.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and finger as he spoke. “Roy Coffee is coming by later today to go over some things about last night. We’ll get him off alone and show him this. For now, come see if you can eat something. Hop Sing’s fussing around practically shoving brunch down our throats, muttering in Cantonese.” Adam smiled hopefully, “You don’t happen to understand that language, do you?”

****

“Thanks, Ben, boys, Miss Franklin. That should wrap things up, but I sure wish some trace of that fella that Hoss was fightin’ with had turned up. It’s like he disappeared into thin air.” Sheriff Coffee shook hands all around on his way out the door. “The juvenile authorities here aren’t pressin’ any charges against Peggy Dayton. Mrs. Ewing and I had a long talk about that. She’s gonna try to find Will and see if he’ll take custody of Peggy if her lawyer can swing it. She don’t think Laura’s a fit mama. I told her I’d come to Texas and vouch for Will if need be.”

 

“Thanks, Roy. I’ll do anything I can to help. Will’s a good man, and I know he loves Peggy like she was his own.” Ben clapped his old friend’s back. “I’ll see you next Saturday for the monthly poker game.”

 

Adam followed Roy to the door. “I’ll walk you to your car.”

 

“No need for that, Adam.”

 

“No problem, I can use a breath of air.”

 

“Gentlemen, may a lady join you for some fresh air?” asked Faye

 

Once they were outside, Coffee asked, “OK, Adam, what’s up? I know you and Miss Franklin didn’t come out here for air.”

 

The trio walked toward the sheriff’s car and Faye detoured to hers to retrieve her laptop.

 

“Faye has an e-mail she thinks you should see. No, just wait til you read it. It’ll speak for itself.” Adam cut off Roy as the sheriff started to ask what the message was about.

 

Roy looked up, shocked from the computer screen. “I’ll be danged! That’s true; there wasn’t anything in the report about black paint. I didn’t have anything to do with investigating the wreck. My superiors thought I was too close to the family. You have no idea who sent this?”

 

“No, Adam tried. He traced it back to one of those cyber cafes.”

 

“Adam, I’m sorry, but you know there’s nothing I can do with just this. I’d need something concrete to go on.”

 

“Yeah, Roy. I know. We’re going to keep searching for something. I thought you should be told.”

 

“Glad you did, Adam. Keep in touch with me about this.”

 

Adam and Faye were still standing by Roy’s squad car as the radio crackled to life. Roy listened, then turned to them. “This is gonna interest you two. That Lancer fella that’s the head of the Bureau of Land Management was killed in a car wreck right up here at Lake Tahoe. They just fished his car out of the ravine… It was the exact same spot where…you know ……” Roy couldn’t finish, but Adam knew what ravine he meant.

 

The three exchanged a shocked glance. Was there a connection between the e-mail and Lancer’s death? Was it an accident?

 

Epilogue: One month later

Faye Franklin idly contemplated the small waves lapping against the shore of Lake Tahoe from her perch on the sun-warmed boulder at the water’s edge. It had been a hectic month. She had photographed, it had seemed to her, every inch of the Ponderosa. With Ben’s blessing, she had signed a contract for a photo spread in “Western Living”. Next week, she would be photographing the ground-breaking for the first wind farm in Nevada, on land leased to Wind Farms Ltd. by Ponderosa Enterprises. The permits came through just days after Andrew Lancer’s death. The photos, along with an article on the revolutionary storage battery system, in the process of being patented by Adam Cartwright, would appear in “Nevada Magazine”.

She looked at the month-old newspaper in her hand. She had read and reread the story of the bombing of the unused barn on the old Dayton Ranch. The state police had attributed the tragedy to the activist environmentalist group the Golden Eagles. The investigators had maintained that the group had stolen nitroglycerin stored there. The lone survivor, a girl calling herself Raindrop, had insisted that was untrue, that they had no source of nitroglycerin. Faye found that more believable then the state investigators’ theory that a rag-tag group of young amateurs could get ahold of nitro glycerin. She had wanted to pursue it, but her work left her no time.

Against her better judgment, Faye had spent the past month on the Ponderosa as the Cartwrights’ guest. She had allowed the family to convince her that not having to contend with the hour drive each way to Reno and back every day would make it easier to take varied photos of the Ponderosa: daybreak over the mountains, sunset over Lake Tahoe, even the full moon throwing a silver path over the water. In truth, she grabbed at the chance to get to know Ben better. However, a situation she should have anticipated, but foolishly didn’t, arose. Not only Ben Cartwright, but his oldest son, was falling in love with her.

She slipped off the boulder to stroll along the lake shore, stopping frequently to toss a pebble into the water. Her thoughts spread in a circle like the ripples from the pebbles. “I don’t want these complications in my life right now. I just wanted to have a pleasant interlude with a handsome man. But, I’m falling in love, too. I’m forty years old and falling in love for the first time in my life. I’ve reached the peak of my career, won a Pulitzer. If there was a man I could give it up for, it would be Ben, and he wouldn’t even expect it of me. But what about Adam? At first their rivalry for my attention was a game. When did that change? Was our almost getting blown to kingdom come the catalyst? What was annoyance at his father’s attentions toward me has now changed to hurt. I can see it in Adam’s eyes. I can see the regret in Ben’s eyes at the realization of his son’s feelings for me. These people are so kind to me, made me feel so at home here. Not just Ben and Adam, but the whole family, Hop-Sing and Bessie Sue, included. And that Joe. He’s so sweet. Following me around like a puppy, carrying my equipment, asking questions. Intelligent questions! I was afraid he was developing a crush on me. Thank goodness it’s only photography he’s falling for! That would have been too much! HA!

“Well, there’s only one thing to do. I love this entire family and I don’t want to be the cause of any rift. I’ll take the assignment I was offered this morning. I’ll leave for Florida right after the ground-breaking next week. This is crazy! An assignment any reporter in the world would kill for, and I’m thinking of it as a getaway.

****

Hoss patted his stomach and pushed his chair back from the table. “Great dinner Hop Sing. I’m stuffed. We haven’t had lasagna in a long time. I’m going over to Bessie Sue’s. I might be pretty late, so see you all tomorrow.”

“Oh! Hey, Hoss! Wait a minute! I wanted to tell everyone something!” Joe jumped up and pushed his brother back down into the chair beside his.

“Dadburn it, little brother. Bessie Sue’s waiting on me. We have a lot of work to do!”

“It’ll only take a few minutes, and it’s important!”

“Ok, Short Shanks. What’s your big news?”

Ben folded his napkin and laid it beside his plate and turned his attention to his youngest. “Yes, son, what is it? You’ve been going around all afternoon grinning like the cat that ate the canary.”

Adam leaned forward, his folded arms on the table, and eyebrow raised inquisitively.

Faye, who was in on Joe’s secret, looked at her fellow conspirator and winked.

“Ok. Ahem.” Joe cleared his throat like he was going to make a speech. “I, uh, I’m going back to school.”

Ben stood, toppling his chair over, and clapped his son on the back. “That’s wonderful news, son! When did you decide this?”

“Yahooo!” Hoss followed their father in pounding Joe on the back, nearly knocking the wind from his brother.

“That’s great, Joe! I knew you’d eventually do the smart thing.” Adam shook Joe’s hand, sparing his back from another onslaught.

“Now, before you all get too excited about getting rid of me, I’m not going back to California. I enrolled at Hoss’s stomping grounds, UN Reno. I thought, if it’s all right with you, Pa, that I could get an apartment in Reno. You know, Mitch goes to UNR and he’s dying to get out of the dorm, but can’t afford rent by himself. We were talkin’ about getting an apartment together.”

“We’ll discuss that later, son. OK?” Ben didn’t want to think of the frightening possibilities of that arrangement, quite yet.

“Sure, Pa. Doesn’t anyone want to know what courses I’ve signed up for?” Joe asked, a tinge of disappointment in his voice.

Adam looked puzzled. “Aren’t you going to continue with the business and computer courses you were taking at San Diego State?”

“Nope.” Joe hesitated, but a smile of encouragement from Faye spurred him on. “Journalism and photography. Now, don’t everyone laugh at once!” Joe looked around the table at the stunned looks on his families’ faces. “What’s the matter with you guys? You were all so happy when I told you I was going back to school. What? It’s only good news if I take the courses you think I should? The computer courses were cool, but I hated those dry, boring business courses. You don’t need me to take those anyway.”

“Dr. Sidney said if I’m sure that’s what I want, then I should go for it. I’m positive it’s what I want to do. I know in the past I’ve got all enthused about something, and it lasted a week. But this is different. It’s not a phase a kid is going through. I’m a grown man and I’m really interested in photojournalism. I think I’d be good at it. Wait’ll I show you the photos I took with Faye’s equipment! She says they’re pretty good for an amateur, and she’s going to write me a recommendation!”

“Whoa! Calm down, little brother!” Hoss cut in. We’re just surprised, is all. If that’s what you want to do, Dr. Sidney’s right; go for it.”

“Yeah, Joe; in fact, as nosy as you are, investigative journalism might be right up you alley. Since you’re always sticking your nose in places, you might as well get paid for it.” Adam laughed.

“Go get the photos, son, and let’s have a look at them. I just hope they’re not like the ones you snuck around and took with that little camera you had when you were a kid.” Ben chuckled at the memory of candid snapshots of Hoss emerging from the shower, Adam and an unwary girl kissing by the lake, and one exceptionally undignified pose of himself sprawled on the sofa sound asleep, with his mouth hanging open. He remembered how he had confiscated the camera for a month after Joe took a picture of his seventh grade English teacher, Miss Abigail Jones, sitting, sputtering indignantly, in a mud puddle in the parking lot of the junior high school. The picture appeared on the front page of the school paper. Only Ben’s negotiation skills and Adam’s promise to direct the spring musical had saved Joe from spending the rest of the school year in detention. Disappointingly for the town, the cause of the prim Miss Jones’s plight was never discovered.

*****

Ben and Adam stood with Faye in the main concourse of the Reno airport. The rest of the family has said their goodbyes to her that morning at the ranch. “Well, I’m on my way! Two months from now I’ll be the first journalist in space.

“You have all become special to me. I’ll miss you.” Faye clasped both men’s hands. “Keep an eye on the sky. I’ll wave as the international space station passes over Nevada.”

“Joe’s bought a telescope. He’s disappointed that you couldn’t take an assistant,” Ben chuckled.

Faye smiled, remembering the look on her protégée’s face. “Maybe some day assignments in space will be routine for journalists, and he’ll get his chance.”

 

“Oh, no! Heaven forbid!” Adam groaned. “He gets into enough messes here on planet Earth! Don’t turn him loose on an unsuspecting solar system!”

“My plane will be boarding soon.” Faye hugged and kissed father and son, in turn.

“Don’t forget, we’ll be expecting to see you on the Ponderosa when Scotty beams you back down,” Adam reminded her.

“I’ll be here if I have to hijack the space shuttle and land it in your south pasture.” Faye picked up her carry-on bag, and with a farewell wave disappeared up the escalator to the departure lounge.

Adam draped his arm around his father’s shoulder. “Buy you a cup of coffee?”

“Sounds good to me, son.” Ben replied, eyes still glued to the escalator.

Together, father and son strolled to the airport coffee shop, each lost in his thoughts of his last glimpse of glossy dark hair bouncing saucily as Faye Franklin strode her way towards a second Pulitzer Prize.

 

The End

 

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