Laying Tracks (by Shelly)

Summary: My first “little” Joe story. Some of it is about what some friends and I did as kids playing on the tracks and found it ironic that I work for a railroad company now when I think about the things we did. I thought it would be fun to try and write about when Joe was a kid.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  6600


Eleven-year-old Little Joe and his friends were playing on their way home from the last day of school. There was steep bank that had long, thick vines that they could swing on. They would stop there often to see who could swing out the farthest.

Today they saw a bunch of men working, swinging hammers and hollering orders to each other. They could hear the clanging of metal from where they stood a couple of hundred yards away at the bottom of the bank.

Mitch told them they were building railroad tracks that would go from Virginia City to Carson City. He was pleased to share the news that his father had told him the night before. Joe and Seth were fascinated with the news.

The camp was set up along side the rail yard, where they were laying several tracks side by side.

Little Joe’s eye’s were dancing with delight. “Let’s go talk to them.”

“Okay,” Mitch and Seth both agree in unison.

So the three raced toward the working men. The closer they got, the more they could see the tracks they were laying. They slowed down when they got closer to the first two men working on the tracks.

Jack and Dave looked up to see three boy’s looking at them with eye’s the size of a five dollar gold piece. Both Jack and Dave smiled at them.

Dave looked at his buddy. “They probably think you’re a giant,” looking at the boy’s and then back at Jack, “which to them you are,” he said with a hardy laugh.

Jack just shook his head and laughed at Dave; he was always saying something about his size. Jack was a big man of 6 foot 5 inches tall and weighed about 250 pounds. He looked at the boys. “Well now, what would you young’uns be doing down here?”

Mitch and Seth took a step back but Little Joe didn’t even flinch and held out his hand. “Name’s Joe Cartwright, pleased ta meet ya.”

Now Jack was laughing talking Joe’s small hand in his. “Well Joe Cartwright, it’s a pleasure to me you. I’m Jack Rowan and this is my buddy Dave Franklin.”

The three boys assailed them with questions until it was time to get home before it got late. Little Joe couldn’t wait to get home and share the news with his family.

*****

Ben had just stepped out on the porch, frowning, when he saw Joe race into the yard, jumping off his pony before he came to a stop. “Joseph how many times have I told you not to race your pony like that?” he bellowed at the boy.

“I’m sorry Pa, but I got something to tell ya,” Joe said with excitement.

Ben couldn’t help but smile at his youngest; he was absolutely filthy. His white shirt was no longer white, his jeans had a hole in the knee that was not there this morning. There’s more dirt on his face than there was on the ground; oh well, they’re summer clothes now, Ben thought to himself.

Joe was rambling on so fast that Ben only got about half of the story. The “railroad” and “Jack said” was all he heard.

“Little Joe, slow down and catch your breath,” Ben said before he started laughing. “Why don’t you go get your chores done and then you can tell me all about your day?” He shook his head as he watched Joe run into the barn and wondered if he would ever slow down.

Little Joe was just about finished when Adam had come into the barn leading Sport. He didn’t see Joe come up behind him.

“Hey Adam guess what?”

Turning around, Adam picked Joe up and swinging him around in a half circle and set him on the trunk that was next to Sport’s stall as Joe squealed with delight. Leaning forward, he placing his hands on his knees so he could see eye to eye with Joe. “What has you so excited about, little brother?” he asked smiling at Joe. I wonder if Pa has seen him yet? He’s absolutely filthy, Adam laughed to himself.

Joe placed his hands on both Adam’s shoulders and leaned his head down, looking into his big brothers eyes. “This is big news brother,” he said with the biggest smile on his face.

“Oh, is it a secret?” Adam asked.

“Well,” he said scratching his head, “Mitch’s Pa told him and Mitch told me and Seth, so I don’t think it’s a secret, but I ‘spect it could be,” he said thoughtfully.

Adam cringed at the poor language, but decided not to say anything. He was just home from college and he was just getting back into his role as the big brother. “Well, why don’t you tell me all about it then?”

Joe smiled with sparkling eyes, and just like he told his father, he started rambling on. “They’re building a railroad that will go from Virginia City to Carson City and then they’re gonna to have freight and even a passenger train go over it. That means you can ride on it and you can ship freight over it, Jack told me so….”

Just as Joe stopped to take a breath, Adam picked him up and started tickling him.

Ben was leaning against the barn door smiling as he watched Adam tickle his brother until Joe yelled “uncle.”

“Alright, Little Joe, why don’t you go get cleaned up before supper? We don’t want to be late and make Hop Sing mad do we?” Ben said with a smile.

“Okay, Pa.”

Ben and Adam watched as the boy took off like a shot for the house. Smiling, the two strolled toward the house.

Adam gave his father the paperwork from the timber company. They both already knew about the railroad — the Ponderosa was supplying the timber for the ties — but decided to let Joe tell them what he knew about it.

As he and Adam entered the house, they could hear Joe rambling on to Hoss about his day. They both looked at each other shaking their heads. Boy, this is going to be a long night, Ben thought to himself.

*****

The next morning Little Joe was up early; he was anxious to get his chores done and meet Mitch and Seth.

He snuck into the kitchen, grabbed some fresh doughnuts and cookies that Hop Sing had just finished making. Of course, the little man knew who the thief was, even if he hadn’t already seen the curly haired little boy run from his kitchen. He just smiled and shook his head. Numbah three son have too much foolishment! He also knew he would indulge the child more than he should.

Joe met up with Mitch at the lake. They decided to enjoy Hop Sings treats before heading down to the railroad. When Seth didn’t show up, they gave up waiting. They both figured that he would know where to find them.

“Hey Jack, how ya doing this mornin?” asked Little Joe. “Me and Mitch brought some snacks for you guys.”

“Yeah! Hop Sing makes the best doughnuts around, but don’t tell my Mama I said so,” pleaded Mitch.

That earned them a laugh from Jack and Dave. They loved to have the boys there; if anything, they kept them amused.

They both knew the boys really shouldn’t be there, but Jack always made sure he knew exactly where the two were. He had worked on the railroad long enough to know things can go wrong in a heartbeat.

“Well, you boys be careful and stay with Dave and me,” asked Jack. “Here ya go; Mitch, you can carry the pick ax and Joe can carry the sledge hammer.”

“Okay, Jack I’m ready ta work,” said Little Joe.

Joe picked up the sledgehammer and brought it up over his head just like he’d seen Jack do, but when he got it over his head, the weight of the hammer continued backwards and Little Joe lost his balance landing on his backside.

Mitch fell on the ground laughing so hard, and that made Little Joe laugh along with his friend. Jack and Dave had tears in their eyes from laughing at the two.

“So you’re ready to drive some spike, are ya?” Jack asked as he reached down and picked up Little Joe.

“Sure am,” said Joe with a smile that would melt anyone’s heart.

Jack got some spike started and stood behind Joe as he tried to hit the spike with the sledgehammer.

The rest of the day flew by for Joe and Mitch, and before they knew it, was time to go home.

As the crew started to pick up for the day, Sam Briggs watched the two boys leave; he’d been watching them since they stopped the first time.

His buddies Rich and Tom Mason were ready to go to the saloon. Tom noticed the funny look on his friends’ face. “What’s wrong?”

“Either of you know who those kids are?”

Rich answered him, “I heard the dark haired one say his name was Cartwright. Why?”

“Oh, nothing. Let’s go get a beer.” Briggs continued to watch the boys until they both were out of sight.

*****

The saloon was mostly full of the railroad workers. Some of the men frequented the bar since they arrived in town the week before. Briggs, Tom and Rich were three of them. They grabbed the table right by the front doors to the saloon.

Adam and Hoss walked into the saloon. They had been rounding up strays all day and were hoping to enjoy a cold beer.

Cosmo greeted them as they made their way to the bar. “Well, Adam, Hoss, I haven’t seen you Cartwrights in awhile. Your Pa got ya working hard does he?”

“Sure ‘nough has, Cosmo, and I thank ya kindly for the beer,” Hoss said with a big smile.

Dave was sitting at the bar next to the big man. Damn; I didn’t think there was anyone as big as Jack!  he thought to himself. Jack just chuckled; he knew exactly what Dave was thinking.

Jack turned towards Adam. “Excuse me but did you say your name was Cartwright?”

Adam gave a suspicious look. “Yes and you are?”

“Name’s Jack Rowan; this is my buddy Dave Franklin. You wouldn’t happen to be related to curly haired little dynamo named Joe Cartwright, would you?” he said with a smile and shook Adams hand.

Hoss snickered while Adam rolled his eyes. “Yes, that’s our little brother and this is my brother Hoss. What’s the little devil been up to? He hasn’t caused you any mischief has he?”

Dave smiled at them. “Nah; he and his little friend Mitch came down to the tracks just to see what’s going on. They’re just curious little fellas.”

“Yeah well, that curiosity can get that little boy into more trouble than anyone else I know,” Adam stated dryly.

Jack laughed. “He’s a good kid and don’t worry none; he hasn’t caused any trouble. I have three little brothers; trust me, I know what they can do.”

Hoss spoke up. “Just be glad you don’t have three Little Joes for brothers.”

Cosmo heard Hoss’ statement. “Three Little Joe’s! Oh my,” he said with a shiver.

They all laughed as Cosmo went on to tell them about the time Joe came in with Ben and ordered a double whiskey when he was eight. Cosmo chuckled every time he thinks about it; he was sure Ben was going to throttle the boy.

As if on cue, Ben walked in. “Boys, enjoying yourselves?”

“Sure are. Hey Pa, this is Jack and Dave they work for the railroad. We was jist talking about Little Joe.”

“So you’re Jack,” said Ben shaking the man’s hand. “All we’ve heard is Jack this, Jack that and Jack says,” he said smiling. “That boy better not be causing you any trouble.”

“Nah, he ain’t no problem, Mr. Cartwright,” Jack stated.

“You want to have a beer with us, Pa?” asked Adam.

“No thank you, I just stopped to let you know I’m heading back to the Ponderosa. See if I can’t get that little brother of yours settled for tonight. You boys enjoy your evening and don’t be too late; we have a busy day tomorrow.”

Briggs sat there listening to the conversation Ben and his boys and smiled to himself as he watched Ben leave the saloon.

Tom looked up at his friend. “What are you smiling at?”

“I’ll tell you both later,” was all he said and started flirting with one of the saloon girls.

*****

Jack had his section gang moving supplies down the section of track already finished, the first pump car was loaded with ties, spikes, spike drivers, tie tongs and pry bars.

The second car was loaded with rail. He saw Briggs checking chain that held the rail down.

Everything was moving along smoothly. He saw Dave assigning the extra gang at various points on the track.

Jack looked over at Joe and Mitch sitting on the bank; they love it when it was time to move down the finished track to lay more rail. They would pretend they were conductors and start the count down for the pump cars to stop.

He and Dave were getting both the crews settled, and just as they started to get to work, they heard something snap. When Jack turned around, he saw the rail falling off the pump car with a loud crash.

Both crews were running in every direction. They ran towards the scene; Jack was praying no one was under the mess.

Dave was shouting orders at the men to start moving the rail; they were in twenty eight-foot sections and weighed about eighty pounds. He knew it would take several men to move just one section of rails.

Jack was asking if any one saw what happened or if anyone was in the way when it happened. It was only then that he noticed that both Joe and Mitch were no longer sitting on the bank; in fact, he couldn’t find them anywhere.

He started to panic. “DAVE, GET OVER HERE NOW!” he yelled.

Dave ran over to Jack when he heard him yell. “What’s wrong?”

“Did you see Joe and Mitch anywhere? I can’t find them,” asked Jack in a panic.

Dave looked around frantically. “No, the last time I saw them, they were sitting over on the bank over there,” he said pointing to the last spot he saw them and then looking back at the pile of rail on the ground, “Y..you don’t think…” He stopped, not even wanting to say what he was thinking.

Jack closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose “I don’t know; find out if anyone else is missing. I’m going to get this rail moved and right now.”

Dave started taking count of all the workers while Jack started to get the rail moved.

Justin Putnam was inspecting the coupling attached to the chain that was holding the rail down when he noticed it was broken. He also knew it was done on purpose.

“Hey Jack!” he called to his boss, “look at this.” He handed Jack the broken coupling.

Dave came running up to the two. “Everyone’s accounted for except Sam Briggs, Tom and Rich Mason,” he said out of breath.

Jack narrowed his eyes the closer he looked at the piece in his hand. Never taking his eyes off it, he said, “Justin, get the sheriff, tell him there’s been an accident down here and tell him to find Ben Cartwright. I have a bad feeling about all this.”

Dave took the broken coupling from his hand. “You don’t think Briggs had anything to do with this?” When he realized what he just said, he added, “You don’t think they took Joe and Mitch, do you?”

Jack ran his massive hand over his face before answering him. “I’m not sure of anything right about now; they’re the only three missing between both crews, other than the boys, unless they’re underneath that mess,” he said pointing at the rail, “which I don’t think so they were no wh…” He stopped in mid sentence, looking at the broken piece in Dave’s hand and remembered Briggs was by the pump car just before everything went wrong.

They better not hurt those boys if they know what’s good for them, Jack thought to himself.

*****

When Little Joe woke up, he found he could only see out of one eye. He reached up to touch his right eye and found it had swelled shut. He tried to sit up only to wince at the pain that shot through his right shoulder.

It was dark and cold. He knew this cave; he and his friends had had explored it thoroughly. Old Tuckers Cave, he thought to himself.

He heard Mitch’s raspy breathing beside him. “Mitch…Mitch c..can y..you hear me?” he whispered.

“J..Joe?” Mitch choked out, “w..where are we?”

“Old Tuckers cave.”

“A..are you sure? Ohhh, my head hurts so bad.”

“Yeah, I’m sure. We have to get out of here, Mitch.”

“B..but how?”

“Remember when we scared the daylights outta the girls last summer?”

A smile slowly spread a crossed Mitch’s face as he remembered when a bunch of them scared Sara, Missy and Ann.

“Let’s go,” Joe said as he looked around and found they were alone. He and Mitch crawled toward the back of the cave were there was an opening big enough for them to fit through.

“We made it, Joe.”

“So far so good.” He smiled at his friend. “Come on,” Joe said. The pain in his shoulder made it more difficult but he made his way through the opening.

Mitch never heard Tom coming up behind him, and before he could scream to Joe, Tom had his hand clamped over Mitch’s mouth so tight he could barely breathe.

Joe looked up and saw Dave down by the stream, “Da..” was all he got out of his mouth when Briggs tackled him, knocking the wind out of his lungs.

“Well…well where do you think you’re going?” he sneered in Joe’s ear.

Joe tried to struggle, but it was no use. Briggs was just too big and strong.

Dave looked up and saw Joe with Briggs and started to run toward them, until he heard Rich yell, “Hold it there, Dave.” He had no choice but to stop advancing toward Joe.

Briggs raised his gun and fired, hitting Dave in the right shoulder, sending him backwards into the stream.

“Noooo,” screamed Joe and the tears started to fall.

“See what you made me do? You made me kill him,” Briggs hissed in Joe’s ear and carried him back to the cave.

Rich just stared at Briggs; he couldn’t believe he shot Dave. Rich just shook his head. Oh this is not good, this is just not good, he thought to himself as he watched Briggs carry the boy back to the cave.

*****

When Justin returned with the sheriff and the Cartwrights, Jack had him take a group of men to start looking down near the camp; there were several trails that led away from the camp.

“Where the hell is Dave?” Jack thought out loud.

Adam turned toward him. “Where was Dave — the last place you saw Dave when this accident happened?” he said in a suspicious tone.

Jack narrowed his eyes. “Dave was worried about the boys and went to look for them while we waited for YOU!” He did not like what Adam was implying.

Ben held his hand up and quickly apologized for Adam. “Sorry Jack, we’re just worried,” he said giving Adam a look. He knew Adam was upset; he had been his brothers’ protector since the day they both were born. Hoss could take care of himself, but when it came to Little Joe, the boy’s quick temper could get him into trouble at the drop of a hat.

“It’s okay.” Jack was about to say he was sorry for snapping at Adam when they heard a groan.

Hoss looked around. “Did you guys hear that?”

“Yes I did.” Ben turned around and looked toward the stream where he noticed Dave lying on the ground.

Jack was the first one at his friend’s side. “Dave…Dave are you alright?”

“He’s been shot. Hoss, get the buckboard; we need to get him to the doctor,” Ben instructed.

“B..Briggs, R..Rich, g..got the b…boys. T..tried to help Joe. S…sorry, M…Mr. Cartwright.”

“It’s okay, Dave. Do you know where they are? Did you see Joe or Mitch?” Ben asked hopefully.

Dave just shook his head no. “S…sorry.”

Ben looked at Paul Devlin, seeing the anxious look on the man’s face.

Jack was holding pressure on the wound. “You’re going to be okay, Dave, ya hear me?”

Dave smiled at him. “F..find the b..boys” was all he said before he passed out.

*****

Briggs had arrived back at the cave with Joe and Rich. He threw Joe on the ground next to Mitch; Joe yelped when he landed on his already injured right shoulder. “You won’t try that again so soon will ya?” he spat at the boys.

Briggs heard Rich and Tom whispering. “What are you two jabbering about?” he asked.

Rich had been telling Tom about Briggs shooting Dave. He wasn’t going to be responsible for murder.

Tom asked, angrily taking a step toward him, “Why’d you shoot Dave?”

“Don’t worry yaself none about that,” was all Briggs said, opening the whiskey bottle, taking a big swig and handing the bottle out to Tom. “He won’t be telling anyone anything.”

“I’m telling you now, Briggs, I’m not nor is my brother going to go to jail for murder,” Tom yelled at his so-called buddy.

Briggs just smiled, still holing the bottle out for him to take; Rich looked between the two and finally reached for the bottle and took a big swig himself. Boy, I really needed that! he thought to himself.

Tom just shook his head and took the bottle from Rich, taking a drink before handing it back. He looked over at the boys; they were scared to death, and he knew he was going to have to do something fast before anyone else got killed. Grabbing the canteen, he went over to Joe and Mitch. “Here, drink some water.”

Mitch looked at Joe and timidly took the water, drinking greedily before handing it to Joe. Neither boy took their eyes off of Tom. Joe mimicked his friend’s actions and then handed the canteen back to him.

Tom took the canteen back and looked at Briggs, who was hitting the bottle hard.

He caught Rich looking at him, shaking his head no. Not now! he mouthed the words. Rich agreed; he knew his brother would do something.

*****

Once Jack got Dave settled at the doctor’s office, he went back to help the Cartwrights look for the boys. It was getting late and wasn’t sure how much more time they would have tonight to look for them.

Hoss had picked up a trail earlier but lost it when they headed into a rocky area and was desperately trying to pick it up again.

“Dadburnit, Pa, its like they just disappeared,” Hoss said in frustration.

Ben put his hand on Hoss’ shoulder, trying to comfort him. “Don’t worry, boy; we’ll find them.”

“Hey Pa, come here quick,” yelled Adam.

Ben ran toward where Adam and Jack were on their knees looking at something. “What is it, Adam?”

Adam handed his father a piece of clothing he’d found on the ground near a small hole that lead into a cave. Ben immediately knew it was a piece of Little Joe’s shirt.

“None of us is gonna fit through that hole,” stated Hoss.

“No but Little Joe or Mitch could have fit through it; maybe they tried,” said Jack, who was still looking in the hole.

Ben looked up at Hoss and Adam. “Do either of you know where the entrance to this cave is?”

“No but we’re going to find it,” stated Adam.

*****

Tom looked over at the boys; they were both asleep and Briggs was passed out. He turned toward Rich and whispered, “We have to get those boys outta here.”

“How? Briggs is right by the entrance; he’ll wake up if anyone comes in or out.”

“I’m not sure, but I don’t trust him to not harm them, or us, for that matter, once he gets the money,” Tom said as he ran his hand thru his hair. “Get some sleep; I’ll think of something.”

As Tom lay there trying to think of a way to get the boys home, he wondered. He was usually a good judge of character but he never figured Briggs to be so ruthless. Finally he gave in to sleep, hoping he could come up with something to help make the wrong right again.

*****

Most of the men were still camped near the tracks. Jack sat next to the campfire drinking his coffee. He was going to start looking for Joe and Mitch early today, once he got the crews going.

That was the order he got from the railroad officials yesterday — get the tracks laid. Shaking his head, he said to himself, money is all they think about! With that frustrated thought, he got them moving and hour earlier than normal.

Once Justin was all set with the men, Jack started walking toward the stream. On his way there, he saw a boy walking down the bank that led to the tracks. That’s the other little boy who was with Joe and Mitch when he first met the boys, Jack thought to himself.

“Hey Jack, how ya doin?” Seth greeted Jack with a big smile.

“Seth, right? Haven’t seen you around for a while.” Jack smiled at him.

Seth kept his head down, moving the dirt around with the toe of his boot. “Yeah, I kinda got inta trouble with my Pa,” he said looking back up at Jack.

“Got your self a hiding, did ya?”

“Yeah, kinda.” Seth blushed. “I thought I’d see if Joe or Mitch were here.”

Jack looked at him, wondering if he should tell him what happened and then thought maybe the boy could help. “Seth, do you know of a cave anywhere around here?” he asked, hoping the boy could tell him.

“Sure, Old Tuckers cave; we go there all the time. Come on, I’ll show ya ‘cause you’ll never find it if ya don’t know where it is,” Seth stated matter-of-factly.

On the way, Jack told Seth what happened and to be very quiet. Once Seth showed Jack where the opening was, Jack told him to run to the sheriff’s office as fast as he could. With that, Seth took off like a shot. Jack took a deep breath and crept toward the entrance.

*****

Tom whispered to Rich to take one of the boys to the back of the cave. “There’s a hole there where they can get out.”

Rich nodded and grabbed Mitch. “Shhhh, its okay. I’m gonna get you outta here.”

Once Rich found the opening, he helped Mitch out. “You run to the sheriff as fast as you can, ya hear me?”

“W..what about Joe?” stammered Mitch.

“Don’t worry about him; we’ll get him out too. You jist git to the sheriff. Now run.”

Tom started to wake up Joe, keeping his eyes on Briggs the whole time. The boy was exhausted and hard to wake. Once Tom got Joe awake and on his feet, Briggs woke up at the same time.

“What are you doing?” Briggs asked through his clenched teeth. “Where’s Rich and the other boy?”

“He took the boy to relieve himself; I thought this one might have to also,” Tom said with a smile as he noticed Jack coming up behind Briggs.

Briggs narrowed his eyes. “You better not cross me” he hissed at Tom.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” stated Tom.

“No, you have to worry about me,” Jack declared with a violent anger.

*****

Seth was running as fast as he could towards the sheriff’s office when he noticed Adam riding near the stream. “ADAM, ADAM.”

Adam jumped off Sport just in time to catch Seth before he fell to the ground. “Seth, what’s wrong? Where’d you come from?”

Seth was desperately trying to catch his breath. “J..Jack n..n..needs help. Adam, ya g..gotta come quick.”

“Slow down, Seth; here have some water,” Adam handed the boy his canteen. “Now tell me were Jack is.”

“He’s gone after Joe and Mitch; he’s at Old Tuckers cave.” Seth got the words out in one breath.

Ben had just arrived and quickly dismounted when he saw Adam on the ground with Seth. “Adam, Seth is everything alright?” he asked anxiously.

Seth started to pull on Ben’s sleeve. “Mr. Cartwright, ya gotta come quick. Jack needs help; he’s gone after Joe and Mitch.” Seth started to pull him toward the stream. “He’s at Old Tuckers cave. Come on I’ll show ya ‘cause you’ll never find it if ya don’t know where it is,” Seth said for the second time today.

As Seth crossed the stream, he stopped in his tracks pointing to the wood line. “Look, it’s Mitch.”

Ben and Adam looked to see Mitch stumbling, and the three ran towards him. Ben could see the boy was hurt.

Mitch never saw Seth or the Cartwrights coming to help him. He screamed and put his arms up to protect himself when Ben touched his shoulder.

“Easy Mitch, easy, it’s ok, boy, I got you,” Ben said softly.

“M..Mr. C..Cartwright,” was all Mitch could say before he started to cry and collapsed in Ben’s arms.

“MITCH,” yelled Paul just as Ben stood with Mitch in his arms. Paul took his son and held him, thanking the Lord as Mitch wept on his fathers shoulder.

“He needs a doctor; I think he’s got some broken ribs,” Ben stated. “Mitch, is Little Joe all right? Was he hurt?” he asked anxiously.

“He…he hurt h..his shoulder b..but he’s okay,” Mitch said and laid his head on his fathers shoulder as Ben let out a sigh of relief. “R..Rich h..helped me out of the cave. H..he said he was gonna help Joe out,” added Mitch as he hung onto his father tightly.

Paul turned to his oldest son Mark. “I’m going over to the doctor’s with your brother. I want you to go with Ben and his boys to help find Joe. I’ll tell Roy where you guys are.”

“Yes sir,” Mark replied, letting out a sigh of relief now his brother was safe.

Seth showed them where the opening to the cave was; the low brush covered the entire opening to the cave and he was right — unless you knew the cave was there, they would have found it.

Adam scowled. “No wonder we couldn’t find it before.”

Hoss grabbed Adam’s arm. “Listen.” They could hear arguing and then yelling. “That’s Jack.”

Ben narrowed his eyes. “Let’s go,” he said, moving slowly into the cave.

*****

When Briggs turned his attention to Jack, Tom had pushed Joe behind him. Just then, Rich appeared and stopped when he saw Jack.

Briggs narrowed his eyes and threw himself at Jack, knocking him on the ground. Jack stood and doubled his fist, swinging upwards, hitting Briggs square in the jaw and knocking him backwards.

Briggs stood up shaking his head and charged Jack again, driving his head into the man’s stomach, knocking the wind out of the big man.

As the two continued to exchange blows, Tom quickly took advantage of the situation and pushed Joe towards Rich. “Get him out of here now.”

Just as Rich went to grab Joe, Jack landed one last punch, knocking Briggs out cold.

“HOLD IT,” yelled Adam, who stood in the narrow opening with his gun drawn.

Jack stood, shaking his right hand, and turned to see Ben and Adam coming in. Tom and Rich both let out a sigh of relief.

“PA!” squealed Joe and raced into his father’s arms.

“Joseph.” Ben dropped to his knees with his arms open, waiting to hold the boy he hadn’t held in more than a couple of days.

Joe buried his face in Ben’s neck and cried.

“Shhh, it’s okay, baby, it’s okay.” Ben continued to rub Joe’s back, trying to sooth away any pain or fear.

Ben stood with Joe in his arms and looked at Tom and Rich carrying Briggs still unconscious body out of the cave; Jack was right behind them.

Adam made his way over to his father and brother. “Hey buddy, are you alright?”

Joe picked his head up and looked at Adam, trying to be brave and not cry. “I..I’m okay but my shoulder hurts bad,” he said just as a tear rolled down his face. Adam reached out and wiped it away with his thumb and was rewarded with a small smile.

Ben spoke up. “Let’s get this young man to the doctor’s,” said Ben as he and Adam left the cave.

“P..Pa, he k..killed D..Dave.” Joe cried as he choked the words out.

Ben set Joe on his lap and picked Joe’s head up so he could look in his eyes. “No, sweetheart, Dave is alive; Briggs did not kill him,” he said with a smile.

Joe laid his head on Ben’s shoulder and cried; the trauma of the past couple of days had finally taken its toll.

Hoss, Jack and Adam took Briggs, Tom and Rich over to the jail while Ben brought Joe to Dr. Martin’s office.

Roy told the kidnappers the judge would go easier on them if they co-operated. Of course, Tom and Rich already decided to help out in any way they could. They both told Roy everything.

Adam stood out side the sheriff’s office and looked at Hoss and Jack. “Well, should we go see how the two little railroaders’ are doing?” he said with a smile.

Hoss’ face lit up. “You betcha.”

Jack laughed and walked with Adam and Hoss over the doctor’s office; looking skyward, he sent a little prayer of thanks. I think I need to retire; I’m too old for this,” he thought to himself.

*****

The next morning Joe found himself confined to bed. Oh how he hated that. He had dislocated his shoulder and the doctor had to bind his right arm to his chest; his right eye was still swollen but at least he could open it a little. Other than being sore, he felt good and thought he should be able to get up.

Ben had told him that he was not to get out of bed under any circumstances. Ben also told him that Mitch was going to be all right; he had a couple of broken ribs and a couple of stitches in his upper lip.

Joe sat up in bed when he heard a knock on the door and his father came in. “Joe, you have a couple of visitors.”

“Hey Jack, Dave, how are ya guys doing?” Little Joe asked, as his eyes lit up when he saw the two come into his room.

Jack smiled at him. “We’re doing just fine. How are you doing? Does your arm still hurt?”

“Nah, I’m fine, but Pa won’t let me outta bed,” Joe said with a little pout.

Jack and Dave burst out laughing. Ben had to cover the smile that formed on his lips. He just shook his head at his son. This boy never misses a trick! Ben thought to himself.

“Well, Jack and I just came from Mitch’s and thought we’d stop and see how you were doing and brought you a couple of things,” Dave said as he handed Joe the bag.

Jack reached out and ruffled his hair and said with a chuckle, “Mitch said to say hi and he’d be out to see you as soon as his Pa let him out of bed.”

Joe opened the bag. “Wow, Pa, look it,” he said with excitement as he pulled out a conductor’s hat and bandanna. “Now I look like a real conductor.”

Ben watched him put on his hat and said, “You sure do. What do you say?”

Joe reached out with his left arm to give Jack a hug. “Thank you both; this is great.”

Dave gave him a hug and tied the bandanna around his neck and pulled the hat back only to see this smiling, green-eyed little boy’s eyes dancing with mischief.

Jack cleared his throat. “Well, Little Joe, we’ve come to say good-bye.”

Joe looked surprised and asked, “Good-bye? Why? Where are you going?”

Jack could hear the sadness in his voice. “Well, Joe the railroad company lost its backers and can’t finish laying the tracks so they have to stop progress. Dave and I are going back home to New Hampshire.”

Dave spoke up. “But we couldn’t leave without saying good-bye to our favorite little conductors.” He smiled at Joe.

“Do you really have to leave?” Joe asked in a small voice.

Jack carefully picked Joe up and set him on his lap. “Yes, I’m afraid so; we both have family there. So don’t you worry yourself; you just concentrate on getting better. You hear me?” he said, giving Joe a gentle hug, not wanting to hurt his shoulder.

“I’ll miss you both,” Joe said with watery eyes.

Dave got down on his knees and gave Joe a hug. “You behave yourself now.”

“I will. I promise,” Joe said, giving Dave a hug.

Jack got up. “Well, we better get going. Your son Adam said he’d give us a ride back to town to catch the noon stage.”

Ben shook their hands. “I can’t thank you enough for giving me back my boy.”

As they left Ben turned his attention back to Joe, who looked like he just lost his best friends. Well he did!  he thought and pulled the boy into his lap.

*****

Adam waited with Jack and Dave until the stage came in. After bidding good-bye to the both of them, he started for home.

Briggs watched from the jail window as Adam drove away. He hadn’t stopped thinking about the kid since he was captured. Narrowing his eyes, he thought, I’ll get you Cartwright if it’s the last thing I do. You can’t watch that young pup forever!

***The End***

Author Notes: Virginia and Truckee Railroad Company was not built until February 1869 between Virginia City and Carson City.

Foreman/Gang Boss – he’s just what the name says

Section Gang – Section Crews or Section Gangs as they were commonly known, were responsible for a (large) section of track. They typically rode handcars (later motorcars) to look for and replace bad ties, tamp loose spikes, and tighten bolts.

Extra Gang – The crew of track laborers assigned to maintenance work at various points on a railroad right-of-way. These employees may live in camp (bunk) cars where they are provided lodging and meals at a nominal cost.

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