Frederick Kyle’s Return (by Starling)

Summary: A WHN story from the episode “A House Divided”
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  18,500


The smell of liquor and old cigarettes was a smell that signaled the start to a well-deserved rest for Adam as he swung open doors of the Bucket of Blood and surveyed his surroundings. It had been a long time since he had finally managed a little time away from his ranch responsibilities and he intended to make the most of it. Breathing in the strong smell of a saloon brought a mischievous grin to light up his face. Adam was always the level-headed Cartwright son and rare where the nights like this which he could let loose and act like any other thirty-something-year-old rancher.

“Give me a cold one, Sam,” Adam said, propping up against the bar, and turning to take in his night of doing everything he knew he would regret in the morning. It didn’t take Adam long to find one of his favorite reasons to ride into town on a Saturday night — Sally. The beautiful auburn-haired beauty called to Adam like a Siren from Homer’s Odyssey. He shot her a quick glance and she smiled back, making his cheeks take on a whole new hue.

“Here you go, Adam. Long time no see.” Sam broke up the moment with a quick slide of the wrist and promise of a beer.

Adam reached out and caught the glass as it slid down the bar, top landing snuggly in his waiting grasp.” Where’s the excitement at tonight, old friend?” Having finalized his plans for the night with the returned glance from Sally, Adams dark eyes now were free to survey the excitement of a Saturday at the Bucket of Blood.

“Well Adam, all the action seems to be coming from that table over there with the handsomely dressed man from down South.” Sam had pointed to a card table that seemed to be the hub for the entire saloon at the moment. “He’s been cleaning house all night.”

“Umm…” Adam said putting down his money and snatching up another beer. “Well let’s just see what kind of action our southern gentleman is dealing out this fine evening.”

Adam slammed down his last beer and tipped his hat to Sam. “Wish me luck, friend.”

“Adam Cartwright,” Sam thought to himself as he watched Adam charismatically make his way towards the gaming tables. “You already are the luckiest man I know.”

As Adam approached the card table, he recognized several of the men playing cards as some of the more prominent silver mine owners in the Nevada territory. They all seemed so serious studying their cards behind the thick cloud of cigar smoke. The southern gentleman had a glass of whisky in one hand and a rather scantily dressed saloon girl held his card hand as she sat upon his knee. “Straight,” the man said as the young girl giggled and tossed his cards onto the table. “Nice try, gentleman,” the man said in a rather raspy tone. “Care to set them up again?”

Standing behind the man as he watched the game, Adam seemed to notice something vaguely familiar about this stranger. He listened to his voice but he just couldn’t place it. Crossing his arms and stepping to the side, Adam found himself needing to back away and catch his breath. He felt a sudden tightness to his stomach as the man’s voice began to resonate through his head.

“What’s the matter, Cartwright?” the gentleman said pushing the chair back from the table and turning to face Adam.

“Frederick Kyle.” Adam just stood taking it all in as his chest begins to tighten. “I really just didn’t ever expect to see you again.” But there he stood looking right at Adam. It had been at least two years ago since the Southern sympathizer had ridden into Virginia City and brought the rumblings of civil war into the territory of Nevada. Up until then, Virginia City people had only heard about the unrest in papers and people passing through. But Kyle had brought the Civil War not only into the city but the Cartwright house as well, putting Joe and Adam at odds. Brother against brother had erupted just like Lincoln had said, and if it had not been for the haunting words from their Pa about the roots of their family ties being stronger than this unrest, then the Ponderosa would surely have had one less son with them today.

“Don’t seem to remember you not having much to say, Cartwright,” Kyle said, removing the cigar from his cold lips and blowing its smoke into the face of the eldest Cartwright. He seemed to sense the immediate anger that he could erupt in Adam. He knew Adam had resented his past visit and how he had befriended Joe. He realized that he idealized everything that Adam stood against, and he enjoyed watching young Cartwright’s posture tighten.

“Not again, Kyle. You will not bring your one-sided views back into my family again.” Adam slowly brought his hand down to his revolver and stepped back without so much as raising a tone is voice. He lowered his head so that his black hat could hide the uncontrollable animosity that began to fill him. All the hate that Kyle had brought with him before began surfacing immediately and Adam breathed deeply trying to maintain his levelheaded appearance.

“Well, young Cartwright, I see your feelings about me haven’t changed since our last meeting. How’s my good friend Joseph doing?”

“You have no right to mention his name aloud Kyle.” With his hand still steadying the cold hard steel in his hand, Adam looked into Kyle’s eyes with the chill of ice. “I can’t see any good reason for you to be here after the way you left last time.”

“Oh Adam, my friend, but I do have a good reason.” A smile begins to creep across the face of Kyle. “I have come to finish what I started and raise funds as I promised my good southern brethren. They have been so gracious to entrust me with their wellbeing once more. And with all my new-found friends at the table now feeling more apt to listen to what I have to say, I just feel this visit will be different.”

“You know that there is nothing for you here. We made that clear to you last time.” Adam’s fingers begin to lift the string that kept his revolver locked tightly in place against his thigh. Why did he let this man get to him so? Turn and walk out, Adam thought to himself. But he couldn’t. He just found himself standing there, eyeing this man that had brought such hurt to their family. A man that had made the Cartwrights question to which their loyalty was greater — family or country.

“Now son, are you going to shoot a one-armed man right here in front of a bunch of good honest citizens? Why, I thought you were a man who didn’t believe in violence. And certainly one that believed in the rights of other men. Kind of like my right to be here.”

The doors opened swiftly to the saloon as Roy Coffee stormed in and immediately appeared right by the side of Adam. “What seems to be the problem here gentleman?” his voice suddenly breaking the stare between Adam and Kyle.

“No problem, Sheriff; just a friendly little game going on here.” Kyle gestured to the players behind him and wrapped his arm around the saloon girl, pulling her closer. “One that my dear friend Mister Cartwright does not seem to have the stomach for. Right, my friends?” he said laughingly. The group of mine owners seemed to quiet down and back away some from Kyle’s reach. They all knew the Cartwrights and none wanted to be on the wrong end of Adam’s wrath.

“Adam?” Roy asked, turning to place his hand over Adam’s that had rested on the revolver.

Adam slowly began to release his hand from the gun and back away. “No problem here, Roy.” Adam continued to back away, never taking his eyes from the gaze of Kyle.

“You boys got something this serious to discuss, I suggest we do it at my office.”

“You got anything else to say tonight, Cartwright?” Kyle elevated his voice to project to where Adam now stood. “I have all night to catch up with you if you want to.”

Adam’s bit his lip, almost drawing blood from it as he made eye contact with Kyle one more time and said, “Sam, send him a whiskey on me.” With that, he tossed a coin at Sam and walked out.

“Listen up, Kyle; we had this conversation when you first arrived. You tend to your business and leave. You understand?”

“Understood, sheriff.” Kyle nodded his head to the sheriff. Looking past the sheriff’s exit, Kyle shot a glance at two men standing to the side and announced smugly as he turned back to face his fellow card players, “Now boys, where were we at?”

Roy glanced around, and feeling like any trouble for the night had been averted, he headed out the door to find Adam.

*****

“It just doesn’t feel right, Roy.” Adam stood with his arms closed tightly, focusing intensely out the window of the Virginia City jail. “He brought all that trouble with him before. Roy. he almost tore our family apart, playing on little Joe and the mine owners in the city, trying to swindle them out of money to help fund the civil unrest down south. Virginia City played no part in that war then or now. Now he is back.” Adam walked over and placed his hands on Roy’s desk and leaned forward. “Roy, I don’t trust him.”

“Now Adam, I can’t tell him he can’t come here and try to raise money for his cause. He has just as much right as anyone does, that is, as long as he behaves himself and does so legally

“But Roy…”

“Adam, I will keep an eye on him but you can’t go around trying to start any trouble with him. It’s best you just keep your distance from him. Why don’t you just head home and stay there till he winds up his business.”

“Wait, Roy. You are telling me to keep away and he is the one that basically had his wife killed and tried to swindle the mine owners?”

“Adam, you can’t prove he had anything to do with that, even though we all had our doubts. You go on home and I will see that he winds his business up quickly.”

“Roy….”

“No arguing, Adam. Get yourself home tonight and I recommend you stay there.”

Speaking in smooth placid tone, Adam’s eyes narrowed as he once again spoke to Roy. “Can’t you see it’s already started again? You are just going to let him waltz in here and tempt all our miners and owners with promises of future riches that will only lead to bloodshed in the states. Roy, I can tell you that I can’t just stand by and let it happen.” And with that he turned and slammed the door as he left.

Roy stood at the door as he watched Adam swing himself up on Sport and turn to ride out. “Adam, watch yourself, son,” Roy mumbled into the night air as Adam and Sport disappeared down the street.

*****

“What do you mean Kyle is back in town?” Ben Cartwright stood at the end of the table, staring at his oldest son as Adam rested his hands on his hips staring into the fireplace.

“He was sitting right there in the Bucket of Blood just as smugly as you please. And when I questioned him, Roy basically came to his defense, telling me that I was to stay out of town till Kyle’s business was done. Pa…I know this is not going to be good.” Looking around, Adam suddenly realized that Joe and Hoss had not made an entrance yet. “Where are Joe and Hoss, Pa? You know the effect Kyle had on Joe last time.”

“Adam, calm down now.” Ben stepped forward to his son, trying to calm the concern he could see mounting up in him. “They have both been out overseeing the fence repair in the North pasture. I expect them home any time.” Ben couldn’t take his eyes off his son and he watched Adam standing in front of the fireplace with his mind seeming to be 100 miles away. Putting his arm on his shoulder, he felt Adam tense up. “Son, I will ride into town tomorrow and question all the owners at the monthly meeting at the courthouse. I will try and find out where the owners stand.”

“I can tell you where everyone stands.” Adam still had his gaze in the middle of the roaring fire. “They stand beside the almighty promise of a dollar that has-been Kyle has promised to them.” Adam now stood leaning against the fireplace resting his hands against the mantel. “They choose to not see the blood stains on this money that he is promising them. Kyle has got them at a time when the value of silver has hit a low and his promises of a bigger dollar from the Confederacy have them all chomping at the bit. And their workers are sure to follow.” He reached for a poker and prodded the fire making the blaze crackle and pop. “They are just so ready to forget everything they know of this…this possessed man.” Adam ran his hands through his raven-colored hair and looked up towards the ceiling. “Pa, he lost his only son to this war and it also caused him to make choices that took his wife from him as well. But here he stands before us again, so sickened in his mind that he just can’t stop.”

“Son, let’s not rush to judgment until I speak with them tomorrow.” Ben had sat back in his burgundy chair and lit up a pipe. He breathed in the smoke and let his breath carry away his concerns with each exhale. “Adam, why don’t you go to your room and just rest up a bit. Hop Sing will have dinner ready soon and Hoss and Joseph will be back. We’ll talk more after dinner. By then I will have had more time to think.”

“Pa, I don’t know if I have an appetite tonight.” Adam straightened up and turned around to face his father. He walked over to the table and picked up his hat. Dusting it off, he put it back on and reached for his coat. “Think I need to go for a ride and get some fresh air.”

“Adam, don’t be gone long and remember what Roy said: stay out of town for now.”

With his head looking down towards the floor, Adam looked at the dust on his black boots and suddenly he felt like the dust was moving up and into his lungs. He stomped his boots and made the dust clear, revealing the hidden shine underneath. He fastened his gun belt around his waist and pulled it tight, securing the strap to his thigh. “Seems like neither you nor Roy have a lot of faith in my judgment. Now if you will excuse me, I think I need some fresh air.”

“You breathe better with your revolver strapped on?” Ben had risen from his chair and crossed the floor to stand within arm’s length of his eldest.

Adam could not bring himself to look into his father’s eyes. Reaching for his worn yellow coat, Adam threw it on and momentarily rested his hand upon the door knob. “Tonight I do.” And then he turned and walked out.

Sport was still saddled up in the barn from Adams recent return. “Just getting to him, Adam,” Tom said, approaching with a smile upon his face. “Sorry; I had been finishing up stalls and hadn’t got to Sport’s yet.”

“Don’t worry, Tom,” Adam said, reaching up to grab the reins and leading Sport out into the yard. Putting his rifle into the canvas sheath, Adam traced his fingers over the Cartwright crest of the pines. And then grasping the horn of the saddle, he threw himself up without putting a boot to the stirrup. Sport sensed the passion of his rider and began prancing side to side while tossing his head and snorting. Adam allowed the horse to feel his passion and sat solidly upon the steed as Sport finally calmed to Adams touch.

Ben had emerged from the door to look at his son. Adam was right there in front of him. So close but yet looking so closed and in pain. Adam always carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. Ben approached his son and rested his hand upon the leather chap that served as a barrier between his touch to his firstborn. “Adam, riding out alone into the night is not going to solve anything. Stay home tonight, son. We can all ride into Virginia City at first light and see what this is all about.”

“Pa, don’t you see that is exactly what Kyle is wanting. I ….Pa, I just need some time tonight. I will meet you in town tomorrow morning at the courthouse.”

“Adam.” Ben felt that there would be no peace in Adams heart tonight and maybe he needed this. “Be safe, son. See you in the morning.” And with a swift smack to Sports flank, the horse took off into the night with his rider.

*****

“Pa, Adam, we’re home,” Hoss announced as he and little Joe bounded through the door. Hoss’ hat had barely hit the cadenza before he was calling to Hop Sing. “Hop Sing, I hope dinner ready; I am hungry enough to eat two days worth of fixin’s. Little Joe’s been trying to starve me out there.”

The youngest Cartwright threw his brother an elbow and said, “Well, if you’d pretty yourself up a little bit, sometimes maybe you could get you a pretty little wife to do your cooking on overnight trips.”

“Aw Joe, you know I am the prettiest thing you’ve been with overnight in a long time. Now join me for dinner.” And with that, Hoss lifted his little brother over his shoulder and headed to the dinner table.

Letting go of Joe allowed him to hit with a thud as Hoss dropped off his delivery and pulled out a chair. “Why I outta……Pa… What’s up? You look like you’ve got something to say that I am not gonna want to hear.”

Ben had already been sitting at the table when his sons had entered. The arrival of his sons always made Ben smile in any situation, at least a little. Watching them play as they came through the door made him wish he had tried a little harder to have kept his eldest back that night. “Boy…”

“Where’s Adam, Pa? Never known him to miss a chance to rub it in how he’s been sitting at home with you while Joe and I been bunkin up with the steers.” Joe and Hoss knew that this just didn’t feel right.

“Boys…” Ben started again, swirling his glass of burgundy and sinking back into his chair. “We have a familiar visitor in Virginia City. Frederick Kyle.”

After Ben had filled them in on the events of the day. Hoss and Joe felt themselves lose their appetite. “Pa, I am going after Adam right now.”

“No, Joe.” Ben had moved to the window’s edge and was gazing out towards the stars. “We will meet up with him tomorrow. Adam seems to choose to need the quiet under the stars sometimes. It’s medicine for him when he needs to think.”

“Pa, have you thought about what you are going to do if the other mine owners agree to the offer? Do you know how Adam would deal with you having to go along with them?”

“Boys, Adam knows that we are his family and that our blood and sweat has made our home here on the Ponderosa. While I will never agree to the terms or blood money that Kyle is offering, I am afraid of what the others will do. They see no other way out of surviving through the year unless they accept this offer. I was able to convince them otherwise the last time. But unfortunately they are all worse off now than they were. The lure of promises, no matter how empty we believe them to be, seems to be the only hope that they may see.”

“Pa, I won’t let Kyle come between Adam and myself this time.” Joe could not help but remember how Kyle had used the one-time connection that he had with Marie, his mother, to try to sever his ties with Adam. “He tried to force me into choosing between my family and a past I knew only of in my dreams last time, but I have no doubts where my loyalties are this time. You do think Adam knows that, don’t you?”

“Little brother,” Hoss rang in, “our older brother has no doubts to your heart and where it lies. Frederick Kyle stirs up something deep in Adam. There is just something about him that Adam will never trust or understand.

“His unrest worries me,” said Ben. “And Kyle…” Ben began pacing in front of the fire place. “From the way Adam described it, he just seem to be targeting him this afternoon. It sounded just like he knew where to find Adam and just how to set him off.”

“Pa, maybe we should go by Roy’s in the morning before heading to the courthouse. See if he has picked up anything on old Kyle.”

“Yep, Pa, I think Hoss is right. Not too much gets by old Roy. Hoss and I ought to know that much.” Joe’s attempt to lighten his father’s mood hadn’t gone unnoticed.

“You know, Joe, you’re right. Roy has a way of keeping up with you three.” Ben turned up the last little bit of burgundy and sternly sat his glass on the table. “Let’s turn in, boys. We have an early morning.”

*****

A brisk ride at night always worked wonders for Adam. The feel of Sport galloping at full speed through the dark allowed Adam to turn loose and let his mind rest. He trusted Sports hooves to find the right mark with each hit and to carefully maneuver around any dangers which lie before them. Afterwards, he would often be so relaxed that he would find his favorite spot under the largest pine and lie down next to it and watch the stars travel the skies. He found he could talk best to his mothers here. Elizabeth, Inger, and Marie. From here he could see them all. And then he was at peace.

*****

He didn’t know how long he had been laying there when he was suddenly awoken to the cold tip of a barrel at the nape of his neck. “You know, a simple ‘would you mind if you shared your fire with me’ would work better,” Adam smartly remarked without opening his eyes or flinching.

“Oh by all means then, sir? Hey boys, Cartwright wants us to ask if he minds us sharing his fire first.”

Adam could hear several men mulling around. He had not dared to lift his head yet with the barrel still on its mark.

“I tell you something, Cartwright.” Adam could hear the voice lowering itself closer to his ear until he felt the man’s hot breath just inches from his face. “You know we thought about it, and well, we don’t think so.”

Adam begins to sense that this situation was going from bad to worse quickly. “Look, gentleman,” Adam said with a slight twist of his head. “Since you already know my last name, then surely you know that you are trespassing on Cartwright land.”

“Trespassing?” The larger man who seemed to be in control stood back up and started laughing “You are really starting to humor me, Cartwright. Now get on your feet.”

Adam began to slowly move to his feet as he shot the man a smirk to show his contempt for this whole situation. His message must have been clearly received because before Adam could get his feet fully under him, he was met with two powerful kicks to his side. He hit the dirt holding his sides, trying to choke down the sudden taste of bile that began to fill his mouth. Standing over Adam, the stranger reached down and wrapped his hand firmly around Adam’s jaw, squeezing until you could see the discomfort taking shape in his face. Pulling Adam’s face even closer to his, the strange whispered, “Well Cartwright, I guess you are right about us trespassing; however, I think that will be the least of your worries today, my friend.” And with that, Adam felt a hard painful blow to the back of his head and then darkness.

The sounds and lights came to him sporadically as his body tried to force itself to awaken once more. He slowly began to realize that he was tied across the back of Sport like some sort of package. The pressure on his hurt ribs and his now-throbbing head was more than Adam could take as felt the nausea rise up in him again.

“Get him down from the horse and cut his gag off before he chocks,” he heard the leader say. Adam felt himself slide off the back of Sport and hit the ground with a thud. The cold touch of a steel blade popped loose his gag, and suddenly he was able to take in a breath again. A black shiny boot crushed into his ribs once more, forcing him to roll onto his side. “Tie ‘im up against that tree over there, Billy. Make sure the ropes are good and tight; we don’t want our new friend to get any wild notions about getting out of here.”

As Adam felt the ropes digging into his flesh with each pull from Billy, he tried to speak. “What….” Adam was trying to force out a few words but his lips were so dry that it just felt like air coming from his lips.

“Speak up, Cartwright.” The apparent leader of the crew now stood in front of Adam. “I’ve heard that you are definitely one who always has a lot to say.”

“What …do you want…?”

“Oh want from you? Hmm, just to see you squirm a little before I turn you in for attempted murder of Mr. Frederick Kyle.”

Adams eyes opened and met the two cold ones looking back at him.

“Oh yes, you know with everything you tried to take from Mr. Kyle last night? It is but from the grace of God himself that he was able to get away. But you know he might be willing to try and save you from the gallows if that Pa of yours agrees to the mining deal.”

Adam gazed up at the man trying to register what was being said. “Last night… What are you talking about?”

“Adam my friend.” Kyle’s voice and Adam knew it. It was Kyle right beside him. Adams eyes widen as he watched the flamboyant character circle him as he was secured to the tree. “I hate that it had to come to this, young Cartwright, but I am sure your Pa will do the right thing to save his son from the gallows.” Kyle could see Adam’s eyes following as he paced back in front in front of him. “Being as smart as you are, Adam, I am sure that you are on to my plan by now.” Kyle stopped his pacing and now squatted down directly in front of Adam tracing on the ground in front of him with a stick. “You see, son, my friends and I are gonna use you to get your Pa to sign over his mining rights. By the end of today, everyone in Virginia City will believe that the almighty Adam Cartwright let his emotions and alcohol get the best of him and ended up putting a bullet in me.”

“You’re crazy, Kyle.” Adam used all his strength to try to utter these words as close as he could to Kyle. Fighting thru dizziness, Adam fought to keep conscious as the taunt pull of the ropes continued to cut into his wrist. Still, he followed Kyle’s every movement as the man stood in front of him smoking his cigar.

“I want you to liquor him up real good, boys. My poor misunderstood friend just can’t hold his liquor.” Kyle paced in front of Adam as he wove his web of lies. “I was just trying to help poor Cartwright’s oldest son when I came upon him all drunken on the road to Carson City. But you had other plans for me. I feared for my life, and why if Tom over here and the rest of my crew hadn’t happened along… Why, I fear I wouldn’t be here today to tell this tale. Especially when you pulled your revolver on me. I was lucky that you barely scrapped my side.”

“Kyle, this isn’t about anything more than you wanting revenge on me and my family for ruining your plans last time you were here. Leave my family and town out of this.”

Tom had moved over in front of Adam now with a bottle of whiskey. “Gonna take it all down, Cartwright,” Tom said as he waited while one of the men had grabbed Adams head and pulled it back, causing Adam to wrench in pain. Trying to steady himself on his toes again was next to impossible now as the men begin to force his mouth open and force the liquor in. Adam felt himself chocking and gagging as the men continued to bend his head back and pour in the alcohol. He wasn’t sure if the men had taken pity on him for a moment or what, but for a brief second they let go of his head and allowed him to take a breath.

Adam used the moment to look Tom right in the eye. “You son of bitch” and with that, he spit on him.

“Oh Cartwright, you shouldn’t have done that.” With that, Tom took out his knife and walked right up to Adam. He took the blade and put if right to Adams throat.

“Put the knife down.” Kyle had walked up to Tom and placed his hand on the blade, pushing it slowly away from Adam. “Not part of my plan, Tom. I don’t want him dead –just want him to wish he was.” Kyle now found himself standing face to face with Adam as he worked his fragrant cigar between his lips “You know, son, it is going to be a really long night for you. You might want to try and save a little of that spunk for later.”

Adam could feel the hate welling up inside him as Kyle stood in front of him, thoroughly enjoying the suffering that he was causing him. “Kyle, hurting me is not going to lessen the pain that you have caused yourself. You know good and well all this is not about me. Killing me is not going to bring your son back. And it certainly won’t bring your wife back; you had your henchman see to that.”

“Shut up, Cartwright,” Tom said, landing another blow to the face of Adam.

Adam sunk back for a moment and then raised himself back up, wincing as the blood rolled down his forehead into his eye. “You have already lost your wife and son to this horror. All the money from the miners is not going to bring them back or win the war. It’s just going to result in more sons and wives being lost. But then, you have allowed yourself to become too sick from hate to see all this.” Adam could taste the salty blood from the cut as it continued to run down face and across his lips.

Kyle took a few steps away from Adam and looking down at the ground he spat out his cigar and turned to Tom. “Shut him up, will you.”

Tom turned to face Adam once again. “It would be my pleasure, Mr. Kyle.”

Adam gave a dauntless grin and raised his eyes to Tom. “You heard your boss.” In his mind, Adam had already reached a place that another blow could not do him any more pain.

*****

A few minutes later, Tom appeared next to Kyle, who by now had found a nice rock to sit on as he gazed out into the green pines of the Ponderosa. “You know Tom,” Kyle breathed out. “I have to believe what I do is for good of the South and my honor. Because if I didn’t believe so…” Kyle suddenly stood up and removing his hat he smiled and turned to face Tom. “You got Cartwright’s gun?’

“Right here.” Tom leveled Adam’s revolver and gave the chamber a spin.

“Well then, sir; remember to just make it a simple graze.”

“Sure,” Tom said. Then he handed Kyle a small piece of wood. “Might want to bite down on this.”

Kyle put the wood in his mouth and then….

The fire of the gun brought Adam out of his unconscious state as he tried to raise his head and see where it came from. He tried to focus on the two figures as he saw one drop to his knees. Then everything went black again.

*****

Hop Sing had met the Cartwrights as they prepared to mount their horse with some steaming coffee to get them warmed up for their early ride. “I pack something for Mr. Adam, Mr. Cartwright, as well as Mr. Joe, Mr. Hoss and you.”

“Thank you, Hop Sing.” Ben reached down to pick up what he thought to be a rather large bag. “Hope Sing, I know Adam can work up an appetite but don’t you think it’s a little much?” he said, struggling to try and attach the large sack to his saddle bag.

“No, Mr. Cartwright, that is for Mr. Hoss. Yours, Joes and Mr. Adam’s is right here,” Hop Sing said, handing Ben a much small sack.

Hoss just smiled and rode Chub up next to his Pa and said, “Thanks, I got it from here.”

Circling up to the front of Joe and Hoss, Ben said, “Okay, boys, let’s see if we can put an end to this mess before it gets any further.” And with a brisk kick of the stirrup and a lift of the reins, Ben directed Buck to Virginia City as Hoss and Joe followed behind.

*****

“You mean to tell me that Adam Cartwright did this to you?” Paul Martin, the only doctor in Virginia City, was looking at the wound on Kyle’s side as he lay in his office.

“Sure did, doc,” Tom said as he stood to the side in the room while Paul continued to study the bullet wound. “Boy was out of his mind when we came up on him. Seemed hell bent to do a little damage to Kyle.”

Paul shook his head as he tried to picture Adam being pushed to the point of shooting someone, but even more disturbing was for him to do a half-way job if he was pushed. “Consider yourself lucky then, Mr. Kyle.” Paul was starting to sew up the entrance and exit wounds on his very calm and blunt patient.

“And what exactly to you mean by that, doc?” Kyle grunted as he bit his lip trying to dull the pain from Paul’s probing.

“Well Mr. Kyle, the times I have seem Adam Cartwright put a bullet into someone was only when he thought that there was no other way. But I don’t think I have ever seen someone walk away when he did.” Paul finished up his stitching and bandaged his work. “Going to be sore for a few days. Best take it easy. By the way, where is Adam? Kind of hard to believe he would just shoot you and ride off.”

“Now Doc, I can tell by your tone that you still don’t really care for me or my men here. Fact is, as long as you do your job, I don’t really care. I know that you are loyal to your little Cartwright friends — wouldn’t expect anything less from you. But to answer your question, oh I am sure your friend Adam won’t make it too far on the run with my men chasing after him. Now if you would so kindly point me to the sheriff’s office, I need to file a report of attempted murder on me by your friend Adam.”

Paul stood over a bowl, washing the blood from his hands and trying to calm himself before he regretted saying what he wanted to. “Sir, you know where Roy’s office is. Only you won’t find Roy there today; he’s got a stand-in for a couple days while he is in Carson City.”

Kyle raised himself up off the table with Tom’s hand giving him a pull.

“Your boys are not going to do anything crazy trying to bring in Adam, are they?” Paul had suddenly felt a chill run through his body as he pictured Kyle’s henchman catching up with Adam.

“Oh I can assure you, doc, my boys are all truly gentleman.” Kyle turned as he walked out the door and said “Good day, sir.”

Paul watched them walk down the street towards the sheriff’s office then quickly threw on his coat and headed towards the door. Just as he reached to put his hand on the door, it suddenly swung open and there stood Sally.

“Paul,” she said trying to catch her breath, “I think…”

“Come in, Sally; sit down and catch your breath.”

“Paul…I think…” She looked up at Paul with tears starting to stream. “I think some of Kyle’s men are riding in with Adam.”

“Here Sally, drink this and calm down.” Paul handed Sally a glass of water as she began to tell him of the rumors that had already started flying around the saloon about Adam shooting Kyle and Kyle’s men out looking for him.

“Paul, what are we going to do? We can’t let those men hurt him, Paul! You know good and well Adam’s not the kind of man to fly off the handle and target somebody for no reason.”

Paul put his arm around Sally. He knew about how close Adam and Sally relationship was. And while some people might not think it proper for a Cartwright or much less any other man Adam’s age to be frequenting a saloon girl, Paul could only smile, because he knew the majority of their long Saturday evening together and late night rendezvous involved other men as well such as Wordsworth and Shakespeare. Sally completed Adam in so many ways. Paul could see the peace in Adam’s eyes when he was with her. And Paul could never forget how a simple glance from Adam to Sally made the young saloon girl carry herself like a princess.

“Listen, Sally, I am going to wait here in town to see if Kyle’s men ride in with Adam. I need you to take my buckboard and ride out to Ben’s place. You have to warn Ben about what has happened to Adam before things get any worse. Tell him to hurry, Sally.” He grasped Sally’s arms firmly, trying to snap her back into the urgency of what he was asking her. “Sally, do you hear what I am saying?”

“Okay, Paul.” Sally stood up and brushed her long auburn locks away from her tear stained face.

*****

“You talk with the new Sheriff just like we discussed?” Kyle was moving a little slowly as he made his way towards the Virginia City jail with Tom.

“Yes sir! Only cost us $200 dollars to buy a sympathetic Sheriff to our cause. He knows all about our little friend Cartwright and says he is ours for the next two days. But we are on our own when Coffee gets back into town.”

“Good.” Kyle smiled as they stepped up to the door of the jail and gently pushed it open.

“Can I help you, gentleman?” A large dark-haired gentleman got up from behind Roy’s deck wearing a sheriff’s badge, and approached the two men.

“Sure can, sir,” Kyle said as he closed the door. “Seems like I need to file a report.”

The sheriff smiled and said, “Sure, boys have a seat.”

*****

Paul had barely gotten Sally up in the buckboard when he turned and saw the commotion of several horses thundering into town. He slowly walked away from his buggy as he briefly turned towards the group of men riding through town with such vigor. It didn’t take him long to recognize the auburn colored steed with the white socks and strip tossing his head widely among the bunch. Then to Paul’s horror he saw the figure dressed all in black slumped across Sports back. “Adam!” he gasped as the horses raced past him.

Turning back to Sally, he saw the young girl’s face filled with emotion as she too recognized Adam tied across Sports back. “Sally,” Paul called out to her. “Sally.” The second time he called her name, he realized that she had once more turned to look at him. “Sally, I need you to ride and ride fast.”

Sally looked at Paul and said “Paul…please…”

“I know, Sally, but just go will you now…HURRY!” And with that, he gave his horse a stern swat to the hind flank and watched Sally speed off.

Before the men knew what was happening, Paul had made his way passed them all to Adam’s side. “Adam… Adam.” Paul put his hand up to Adam’s face, trying to lift his head to get a response. Adam couldn’t move; he just opened his eyes for a brief moment then let them shut once more.

“Get this man down right now and get him to my office.” Paul was struggling to loosen the ropes that held Adam onto Sport. “Now I tell you he needs immediate attention.”

“Excuse me, doc.” The new Sheriff made his way through the group of men towards doc and Adam. “Names Riley, doc. Sheriff Riley.’

“Nice to meet you, sheriff, but this man is hurt and needs my help right now. So if you would help me get him over to my office, I would appreciate it.’

The sheriff said nothing; he just approached Adam and lifted his head by his raven hair then dropped him back down. “Aw doc, I think this boy is just liquored up. I will get him down but the only place he is going is into the jail till he sobers up and I can ask him about the shooting of Kyle.”

“What?” Paul stepped back and looked at Riley. “Are you blind, sir? Can’t you see this man is tied into the saddle and can’t even lift his head? Look at his face…look at his wrist?” Paul said, raising Adam’s arms out to the sheriff to see the cuts that binding ropes had clearly cut into his arms.

“Doc, I am going to ask you to step away or I will have to arrest you too.” Riley smiled as he cut the ropes tying Adam to Sport, letting him slide down to the ground with a thud. “Oops!”

Paul stepped forward to attend to Adam but stopped when he saw Riley place a boot on top of Adam’s chest. “Now Doc, if you really think this boy is hurt and you care, I am asking you to back away right now.” He began to put more weight on Adam’s chest and Adam dazedly tried to raise his arm and push it away.

Paul looked at Adam and then up at Riley. “If you hurt this boy anymore, I can assure you that you will be held accountable, sir.” Paul looked down at Adam and saw his dark brown eyes slowly close.

Paul stepped back as a couple of Kyle’s henchmen picked up Adam by the arms as they half-dragged, half-carried Adam to the jail.

Kyle stepped off the porch as he and Tom watched Riley grab Adam by the collar and bring him to his feet. “Looks like we got the right man for the job, Tom.”

“There you go, Cartwright” Riley said as he tossed Adam against the back wall of the cell, letting him slide down onto the barren cot. By the way that Adam now laid motionless — half of his body on the cot, the other half upon the hard floor — Riley just smiled knowing that he would have no trouble from that one tonight. “Sweet dreams.”

*****

It didn’t take Ben and his two sons very long to recognize the familiar shape of the buckboard that they saw approaching them as they headed in towards Virginia City.

“Pa, isn’t that Paul’s buggy?” Hoss questioned as he shifted his weight forward in the saddle trying to get a better glimpse at the approaching buggy.

“Sure looks that way, son.”

“Wonder what he is in such a hurry for?” Joe had chimed in.

As the buggy drew closer, all three men suddenly realized that the figure driving the buggy didn’t favor Paul one bit.

“Sally!” Joe called out. “What is Sally doing in Paul’s buggy?” Joe had barely let the words escape his mouth before he spurred Cochise towards the buggy.

“Mr. Cartwright, Joe, Hoss….” Sally had already started jumping out of the buggy before it had come to a complete stop. Getting her heel caught in the step Sally tumbled forward, hitting the ground with a thud.

Joe reined Cochise to sudden stop and quickly bounded to Sally’s side. “Sally, are you okay?”

“Joe…” She looked up with tear-filled eyes and didn’t even seem to acknowledge the blood as it trailed from her lip and nose from the fall.

“Hey, calm down, Sally. You’re hurt.” Hoss had brought Chub to a stop and was down next to Joe trying to comfort the girl.

“No…” Sally screamed out and pushed them both back, trying to get her legs to stop shaking as she fought to stand.

“Sally what is it?” Ben stepped forward. “Why do you have Paul’s…”

“Adam …” She cried out “They have Adam…and oh Mr. Cartwright…” Sally fought to get all the words our as she began to tremble, “they hurt him.”

“Who, Sally “Ben stepped towards Sally and tried to get her to look him in the eye and tell him what was going on.

“Mr. Cartwright. There are men saying that Adam shot Kyle this morning.”

“Shot Kyle, Sally?” Hoss was holding Sally up as he watched her trying to contain her emotions and continue.

“Oh I am so scared…but it’s all about Kyle. His men brought him in this morning with a bullet in him, saying that Adam had tried to kill him last night. Paul was on his way to warn you when a group of Kyle’s henchman rode in with Adam.” Sally looked over at Ben and tried to get herself together once again. “He was tied across Sports back — he didn’t look good. I think they hurt him Joe, Hoss….Ben!”

All of a sudden, Sally felt her legs go out from under her again as Hoss quickly tightened his grip and pulled her to his side.

Joe looked at his Pa and could see the anger filling up inside him.

“Joe, you put Sally back in the buckboard and take her to Paul’s. Hoss, you come with me.”

*****

Tom stepped to the side of the window at the bed and breakfast and gently pulled the curtain back as his eyes began to scan the main street of Virginia City.

“See anyone yet, Tom?” Kyle had propped himself up in the bed, trying to get comfortable. The pain medicine that the doc had given him was beginning to wear off and the pain from his wound was definitely making itself known. “Bring me some of that whiskey, will you Tom. My side is really starting to bite at me.”

“Sure, Mr. Kyle.” Tom had let the curtain fall back into place and turned to get the bottle of alcohol to Kyle. “How do you think Cartwright is going to handle not being able to get his son out?” Tom had put a grin on his face as he leaned against the wall watching Kyle sip at the whiskey from the bottle.

“You know, Tom…” Kyle winced from the burn of the whisky running down his throat. “All Ben has got to do is agree to do is sign the mining contract and I will drop all the charges. Just depends on if he is going to be stubborn and watch his boy suffer or do as I ask.”

Tom had eased over back to the window once again watching and waiting for Ben and his sons to ride into town. “You know, I kind of hope he is stubborn. I like watching that little Union sympathizer suffer — at least a little while longer.”

Kyle closed his eyes and tilted his head back as the whiskey began working it magic. “Don’t really like to see anyone suffer needlessly, though; been way too much of that, Tom. Way too much. Might have to step in and show how kind and forgiving of a man I am. After all, Tom, I am certainly not a monster. Poor Cartwright was just confused.”

Tom smiled and turned to continue watching down the street.

*****

“Looks like we are going to have company,” Riley said, peering out the jail window. “Hey Cartwright!” Riley had elevated his voice so that he prisoner could hear him in the next room. “Looks like your old man and one of your brothers in on the way to pay us a visit.”

Riley turned and walked back towards the cell where he was holding Adam. Glancing in to the cell, Riley couldn’t help but laugh to himself when he saw that Adam hadn’t move an inch from the place that Kyle’s men had dropped him two hours ago. Turning the key to the cell, Riley walked in and stood over Adam for a minute. “You still breathing for me, aren’t you, boy?” Riley took his revolver from his holster and roughly nudged Adam in his ribs where Riley knew it would definitely get his attention. Adam suddenly moaned and drew his hands in towards his chest and side. “There you go, Cartwright. Can’t have you dying on me yet. Heck the funs just beginning. Get some rest right now; we have plenty of time for you and me to get properly introduced later.” Riley put his revolver back in his holster and stepped back through the cell. Turning to secure the doors one last time, he couldn’t help but to wonder how Adam had even survived this long after Kyle’s henchman had had their way.

*****

Riley didn’t even flinch when the door opened and Ben and Hoss walked in. He continued to sit behind the desk with his feet crossed on top of the desk, smoking a cigarette with a rifle laid across his chest. “Help you, gentleman?” he said as he breathed out a puff of smoke in their direction.

“You have my son in there,” Ben stood directly in front of the desk with his hands on the edge looking right into Riley’s bitter grin, “and I would like to see him now!”

“Can’t do that… Mr. Cartwright, I presume.” Riley had moved his feet to the floor and pushed his hat up to show his cold indifferent eyes to his visitors. “You see, it seems your boy in there got a little liquored up and put a bullet in a fine upstanding citizen last night. Now I already told the doc and I am telling you as well…no one is taking this boy anywhere until he sobers up and I find out exactly what happened between him and Kyle.” Riley took the key ring to the cell and tossed it up in the air catching it. “As soon as he wakes up, if I deem he needs medical attention, I will send for the doc. Until then, Mr. Cartwright, you might want to get yourself a good lawyer, seeing your son is being held for attempted murder.”

“What!” Ben shouted out. “You are in no means qualified to tell me if my son needs a doc or not, and secondly my son would never have shot at someone unless someone was threatening him. “

Riley could not help but to notice Hoss as he stood behind Ben “Now son, I didn’t catch your name but I assume you are another one of his sons. You really need to tell your father that I am done talking with him now, and both of you need to turn around and walk out.”

Hoss felt his body beaming with anger as he stepped towards Riley. “Mister, so help me, if my brother is hurt in there and your just letting him lay there….” Hoss reached towards the doors that divided the office.

“Step back, boy, now!” Riley said as he raised the rifle towards Hoss.

Hoss’ face begins to redden as he rolled his hands and tightened his hand around the knob of the door.

“Hoss, stop!” Ben stepped forward towards his middle son as he saw Hoss’ temper rising to a point that he might not be called back from. “Do as he says, son…please.”

“But Pa… Adam…”

“One last time, boy, step back now.” Riley had pulled back the safety and the small click from the catch echoed through the cell.

Adam felt like he was in a dream as he heard the familiar voice of his brother and father. “Pa,” he said to himself as he tried to raise himself up but stopped as he felt his entire body suddenly come alive with pain. He heard the voices continuing to escalate and suddenly began to panic. With all the will he could muster, Adam reached above his head and used the window sill ledge to pull himself up. The splitting pain in his ribs quickly sent him up against the wall as he tried to steady himself and head off the wave of nausea that hit him. Opening his eyes, he quickly recognized his surroundings while bits of the last twenty-four hours came swirling forth in his mind. Even closing his eyes again did not take away the vision of Tom’s powerful blows to his body, Kyle’s sinister laughs as Adam fought to upright himself after each blow, or even most vividly the evil smile of Riley looking down as him as he felt a boot crushing into his chest. He tried to take a couple steps forward but the pain dropped him to his knees. Holding onto his side, Adam gasped, trying to take any little bit of air in without causing more pain. “Pa… Hoss…” was all he could manage to say before he closed his eyes once more.

All three men stopped as they heard a loud thud from behind the doors that separated them from Adam. Ben’s face whitened as he heard what he thought to be the voice of his son call out to him and Hoss from behind the doors. Riley must have heard Adam call out also, because he moved himself into the small area that separated Hoss from the door leading into the cell.

“Sounds like the alcohol is wearing off boys.” Riley grinned. “Now for the last time, I am going to ask you both to leave.”

Turning around with a start, Hoss stood within inches now of Riley. “My brother had best be in no worse shape when we return.”

“Now you’re making sense.” Riley had lowered his rifle and retreated back to his desk with his feet up once more. Lighting up a new cigarette, Riley closed his eyes and savored the smell of the tobacco as it filled the room. “Mr. Cartwright, I can only tell you that I am a lawman. And as a lawman, I am supposed to uphold the law. That boy of yours is said to have put a bullet in someone.” Inhaling once more, Riley held onto the smoke then let it slowly seep through the thin slit in his lips. “If you want to get your son from behind those bars, you might want to try and talk with Kyle.” Riley pulled his hat down over his eyes. “Now if you fine gentleman will be so kind to let yourself out, I am due for a little shut eye.”

“Mr. Riley.” Ben fought to keep the calm in his voice as he watched the cocky sheriff sit at Roy’s desk. “You just see to it that no more harm comes to my boy or I will hold you personally responsible. Riley, do you hear me!”

“Sure, Cartwright,” Riley smiled. “No harm.”

*****

“Hoss,” Ben said as he closed the door behind them and stepped out into the dark, “I need you to go over to Paul’s and check on Sally. Let them know that I am going to talk with Kyle and see if we can make sense of this entire situation. There is no way Riley is going to let us into see Adam tonight.”

“But Pa, I swear I heard Adam call out to us when we were close to the cell door.” Hoss was now standing right in front of his Pa and had placed a hand on his shoulder. “Pa, I just know Adam is hurt, hurt bad.”

“Hoss, don’t you think I know that? I am struggling right now to make since of everything. I know Adam is hurt; Paul saw him with his own eyes and you and I both heard him call out to us. Talking with Riley was not going to lead to anything other than him shooting one of us or lashing out more at Adam.” Ben placed his hand atop of Hoss’. “I have got to get to Kyle and see if I can get him to persuade this sheriff that Adam is of no harm to anyone so that he will let us get him to Paul.”

“Pa, you can’t face Kyle alone.”

“Hoss, I don’t know what other choice I have right now. I need you to go over to Paul’s with Joe. You two stay there with Paul until I get back.”

“Pa, be careful. You know what kind of person Kyle is and what he has done in the past.”

“I will, son.” Ben gave his son a hug and watched him turn and hurry towards the doctor’s office. The greatest gifts he had ever been given in this world were his three sons. And each day he was amazed to see the love that the boys had for each other grow tighter and stronger. He knew Adam would be back with them soon…he had too.

*****

“Got company,” Tom said as he stood as the windows edges watching Ben enter the hotel.

“Well,” said Kyle grinning to himself as he straightened himself up in bed gingerly cupping his side. “If we don’t get Ben’s signature on these contracts tonight, we will have to step up things…if you know what I mean.”

“Already got things in motion.” Tom let the curtains fall back into place as he walked towards the door to answer the knock that they had been waiting for.

“Ben,” Kyle called out as he saw the Cartwright patriarch standing before him when Tom opened the door.

“I am here to talk about my son.” Ben’s face was as if almost set in stone as he stepped through the door coming to s stop only feet in front of Kyle.

“Kind of thought that.” Kyle smiled and raised his eyes up to meet those of Ben. “Brandy?”

Ben shook his head no. “I don’t know what you have over my son Adam but this stops tonight, Kyle.” Ben’s voice suddenly rose to a thunderous tone. “My boy is lying hurt in that jail and whatever monster you have watching over him is doing everything he can to make sure that he doesn’t make it out of there upright.”

“Now, Ben, Riley seems like a lawman just trying to do his job. Surely you see what your son did to me this morning.” Kyle gestured with his hand, still cupping his side.

“I know my son, Kyle, and he would never have done what you accuse him of. If Adam had shot at you, it would have been to protect him and you wouldn’t be sitting here right now. Now stop this little game and tell me what you want.”

“Well Ben, you don’t waste time do you, sir.” Kyle smiled and motioned Tom to light a cigar for him. Breathing out the smoke Kyle looked over at Ben “I want what everyman wants that someone has shot — justice.”

“Justice!” Ben hollered and stepped forward. “My son has done nothing wrong and I am going to prove it, Kyle. You and your sick little plan are not going to take my boy from me, you hear.”

Kyle suddenly sat up in the bed and leaned towards Ben. “No, you hear. I have the upper hand here, Cartwright. Do you understand me! If you want that boy out alive, you will see to it that I have what I came after.” Kyle motioned for Tom to bring him the contract over for the mining rights. “You put your signature here, Cartwright, and both your son and I get what we need.” Kyle took a pen from his pocket and offered it to Ben. “One swipe Ben…one swipe”

Ben stepped back in horror as he clearly understood what this was all about. “Money…Kyle, this is all about me signing the contract on mining rights to support the Confederate states.” Bens face whitened. “You are willing to have my son tried for attempted murder or die in jail so you can have me persuade the other miners to turn over their entire life work for a cause we are not even sided with.”

“Your boys are, Ben. We know were Joe and Adam’s loyalties lay. I have even known Adam to ride with the Union as a scout in the past. Oh yes, Ben, your family is very much involved in this war, just like I warned you once before.” Kyle once again offered the sheet to Ben. “Well Cartwright, what’s it going to be?”

Tom quietly looked over at Kyle and then left the room.

Ben was too caught up in all that Kyle had just told him to even notice that Tom had left the room. “You dare to threaten me and my boys, Kyle. You dare to come to our territory and threaten my son’s life.” Ben put his hand over his revolver and felt the sudden urge to finish what Adam had been accused of doing. “Damn you, Kyle.” Ben removed his hand from his gun and lifted his eyes to meet those empty eyes of Kyle. “I’ll not be blackmailed into doing something that will ultimately suffocate the very livelihood of our territory.”

“Very well then, Cartwright.” Kyle folded the contract and put in back in his pocket. “I only hope your son makes it long enough to go to trial. What am I saying, though?” Kyle tossed his head back slightly and laughed. “He’s safe behind bars, isn’t he?”

Ben turned slowly and walked back to the door; putting his hand on the knob, he suddenly stopped and lowered his head slightly. “Kyle, if anything happens to my boy, I am coming after you.” He then turned the handle and walked out.

Kyle smiled as he lay back against the headboard “Oh Ben, you will be back. I guarantee it.”

As Ben stepped out back into the darkened streets of Virginia City, he became suddenly aware of all the eeriness that now filled the streets. He passed by storefronts and saw the reflections of onlookers as they watched him make his way back down to Paul’s office. As he approached the front of the doc’s office, three figures appeared from the side.

“Ben,” said the tallest of the three gentlemen that now stood between him and Paul’s office.

“Jim.” Ben recognized the first of the three men as a friend of their family and also a big time miner in the area. “Frank…Mr. Morrow.” Ben tilted his hat to all three men. Realizing that they were blocking the entrance to Paul’s office for an obvious reason, Ben spoke out to all three men. “Gentleman, I am in a hurry. Is there something I can help you with?”

Once again Jim stepped forward to Ben and gripped Ben arm is a supportive way as he shook his hand. “Ben, I heard about Adam and I am so sorry. Just doesn’t sound like your boy, Ben, I have known him since you and Adam arrived in the territory 20-something years ago.”

“I know, Jim. I appreciate your support but I really need to get to Paul’s office and see if I can convince him in trying to get in to help Adam once more.”

“Now Mr. Cartwright.” The older gentleman, Mr. Morrow, had also stepped to the side of Ben. “Rumor has it that Adam shot Kyle in a drunken argument over your refusal to sign the mining contract. Is that right?”

“Listen, gentleman,” Ben said breaking free from the grip that Jim had placed on his arm. “I never had any notion to sign that contract. I told you before and you saw with your own eyes what Kyle was all about. My mind hasn’t changed.”

“You mean you are just going to let this city die, Cartwright, because you have a beef about how someone talked to your boys several years ago?” Frank had now joined the conversation.

“It’s not a beef!” Ben roared.

By this time, Hoss and Joe had heard the arguing and rushed down stairs from Paul’s office to join their Pa.

“Pa, you okay?” Joe had now stepped to his Pa’s side, with Hoss placing himself to the side of the three men.

“I am fine, son. I was just explaining to our fellow business men here that Kyle is nothing but a crook and he has no intent other than to basically rob all of us with a contract that he never has any intention of honoring.” Ben looked up to the three gentlemen. “My boy is laying in a cell right now, hurt. He was hurt trying to not only defend our family from this thief but also protect our territory. Now please gentleman, step to the side so I can…” Ben fought to catch his breath and contain his emotion, “so I can get my son some help.”

“Ben.” Jim removed his hat and placed it down alongside his knee. “I hope nothing but the best for your boy…heck Ben, all your boys…” He swallowed and running his fingers back through his hair he returned his hat to his head. “Ben…it’s just… we all have families.”

Ben reached over and pulled his friend too him. “Oh, Jim… We just all have to believe in each other and what’s right.”

“I understand, Ben…but putting food on the table for my family is what I see as being right this moment.”

Ben patted his friends shoulder then turned to head upstairs with his sons.’

*****

Adam was suddenly snapped awake with a cold rush of water to his face. The sudden flinch that the cold water brought awoken every ache and pain that had caused his lapse into darkness just a few short hours ago. His hands immediately went to his sides, cradling his pain filled ribs as he tried to focus on the several pair of boots that met his gaze as he opened his eyes.

“That’s a boy, Cartwright,” Riley chuckled as he reached down and grabbed Adam by the collar and pulled him up to his feet. “Have a nice nap? By the way, your little outburst a while ago when your Pa and brother was here wasn’t very nice. Looks like I might need to show you how I expect my prisoners to act.” And with that, he gave Adam a swift blow to the gut.

Adam felt his knees weaken from the blow but was able to catch himself as he allowed his body to fall against the wall for support. Taking in a big gasp of air, Adam threw his head back against the wall so he could steady himself and look his tormentors in the eyes. Looking past Riley, Adam could see that Kyle’s right-hand man Tom and a couple other of his henchman also stood to the side of Riley. “Looks like a …party.” Adam’s breath came at a painful price as he sarcastically dug at Riley and Tom. “I see you brought your…clowns…Tom.”

Riley stepped forward and grabbed Adam by the chin and squeezed tightly, watching Adam wince in pain but never making a sound.

“Cartwright, when are you going to learn to keep your mouth shut?” Tom had stepped up next to Riley “You couldn’t keep your smart mouth closed years ago when Kyle came to Virginia City looking to gain support for the Confederacy or the other day when we had our little run-in at the saloon, and well sir, here we are again.” Tom laughed. Stepping back slightly, he put his hand under his chin and studied Adam as he struggled ever so slightly against the tightness of Riley’s grip. “Let him go, Riley”

Riley gave Adam one more hard squeeze and then stepped back.

Adam continued to hold his own as he fought to stand on his own. Refusing to give these tyrants satisfaction of knowing what agony he was suffering due to them, he continued to look forward never breaking eye contact with Tom. “My Pa will never sign …that…contract…Tom.” Adam tried to take in small gasp so as not to cause his ribs to rise and fall so sharply. “We can’t be threatened. He is not that kind of man. You tell Kyle that…you…tell Kyle, that my Pa knows what that would do to our town….and friends…”Adam felt his legs give as the nauseating pain fought to bring him to his knees. “You tell him that, Tom…you tell him never.”

“Well Cartwright, I will give you one thing — you all are pretty stubborn. But what you don’t know is that your Pa and Kyle are meeting right now.” Tom took his hat off and slowly began to roll up his sleeves. “Your father was given the option of signing that contract or accepting the fact that he might not ever see you come out of the cell upright again. I am here to see if I can persuade him to change his mind one more time.” Tom motioned for the two men stepping behind him. Each man walked over to Adam and grabbed him by an arm holding him upright from against the wall.

Adam reached inside himself and tried to find the strength to withstand what he knew was coming.

*****

“Pa. I think I need some fresh air.” Joe straightened up from the chair that he had been leaning against. “I can’t just continue to sit here and wait.”

“Joseph,” Ben called out to his youngest as he sat with his head in his hands. “I have one son already in trouble and I cannot lose another one tonight. I need you to stay here with Hoss, Paul and myself until I can figure out what to do.”

“Pa, I feel like Joe.” Hoss stood looking out the window towards the jail. “It’s awful still down there. The streets are empty and the jail looks quiet. Why don’t you let Joe get some fresh air? I’ll go with him.” Hoss shot a glance over towards his little brother. “Heck Pa, maybe we can find out some more info on Adam.”

“Ben, the boys are right. We are not going to be able to try to get in and see Adam until tomorrow anyway, when Roy gets back. That is unless you have changed your mind about the contract.” Paul placed his hand on his old friends back.”

“Paul…I just don’t know. I know that Adam wouldn’t want me to sign that contract. He would never forgive me for caving in to Kyle’s demands for his sake.” Ben put his hands down into his hands and tried to hold back the tears. “I just don’t know if I am as strong as Adam. If Roy is not here first thing in the morning, I am going to do whatever it is I have to do to get my boy out.”

“But Pa, why don’t you just let Hoss and I get some of the hands and ride in there and take Adam.”

Ben rose to his feet. “You will do no such thing, Joseph; you either, Hoss. Don’t you see that is just what Kyle wants us to do? Now if you two hotheads need to take a walk to cool down, you go right ahead but if you are not back in an hour, I am coming after you. Do you hear me?”

Hoss took his brother by the arm and pulled his towards the door. “You got my word on it, Pa. One hour!”

“Boys!” Ben called out as he heard their boots already hitting the stairs. “Please be careful”

*****

“No better place to get info than the saloon, brother,” Joseph said to his brother, playfully smacking him on the arm.

“My sentiments exactly, little brother.” Hoss brought his hat a little further down on his forehead. “And a nice cold beer might not be so bad either right now.”

“Well then, brother,” Joe said resting a kind hand on his older brothers’ shoulder, “I guess we best hurry before Sam closes up. You know he usually does last call around now.”

Hoss smiled. “Now little brother, don’t you let Pa here you talking about last call at The Bucket with Sam”

Walking into the saloon, Hoss and Joe were quick to notice only a couple other men finishing up a card game while a few saloon girls made their way around straightening and counting their night’s take-home.

“Joe… Hoss,” Sam called out to the boys as they made their way to the bar top. Sam had watched all three Cartwright boys grow into fine men and was proud to say that he had given each one their first sip of the coldest brew in Virginia City. “Just in time, boys. Get you a cold one before I close it down tonight.”

“Yep Sam, that would be great.” Hoss had taken off his hat and placed it on the bar as he reached into his pocket and tossing a couple dollars on the bar.

Sam poured his friends to beers and one for himself before perching up next to Joe and Hoss. “Boys, how’s Adam doing? I know this whole mess is killing your Pa.”

Joe turned towards his old friend “Sam, this will all be over soon I guarantee you.”

Hoss tossed his beer back. “Sam, one more please, and I promise we will call it a night. Just had to get Short Shanks out for a little air.”

“Sure Hoss except this one is on me.” Sam smiled and went to draw up two more beers.

“Sorry gentlemen, we are closing,” Sam called out as he heard the doors swing open.

“Oh just need one night cap to end the day,” came a familiar voice at the entrance.

Hoss lowered his head to the bar and slammed his fist to the top. “Riley!”

“Well Cartwright, I thought you boys and your old man would be busy trying to round up some law-abiding, easily-bought judge to buy your brother’s way out of jail.” Riley had a cynical look on his face.

Hoss’ face began to redden as he saw the duo stroll through the bar as if almost trying to antagonize both Joe and himself. “Thought you needed some shut eye, Riley,” Hoss uttered without even turning to face the two men.

“What business is it of yours if the sheriff and a friend want to enjoy a beer at the end of the day?” Tom had stepped in right alongside of Riley and seemed to be rather pleased to have stumbled upon the other two Cartwright boys.” Or do we have to always get the almighty Cartwrights’ permission for that too in Virginia City.”

Hoss could see Joe clenching his teeth and he quickly reached out and grabbed him on by the shoulder. “Cool it, Joe. Now is not the time.”

“Look, Sheriff.” Sam had already drawn two beers and was heading their way. “Don’t need any trouble in here tonight. You just let the boys finish their beers and go, and I would appreciate it if you two would do the same.”

Tom couldn’t help but focus on Joe as he realized the effect that his mere presence was having on him. “You know, bartender…” Tom had propped his feet up on the table and gingerly lifted his fist and began to rub them, “you wouldn’t happen to have a little damp cloth or antiseptic I could attend to my knuckles with.

Joe and Hoss both raised their eye towards Tom and couldn’t help but to notice his busted up knuckles and splatters of blood lining his white shirt.

Tom smiled at the two brothers and continued on to Sam. “Seems I had to help my friend Riley here straighten out an unruly prisoner tonight.”

Joe spit out his beer and tore off towards Tom before Hoss could even try and stop him. Tom hit the floor on his back as Joe practically jumped across the table, landing full force atop of Tom. Tom never had time to react as Joe grabbed him by the collar and delivered a powerful blow to his chin.

Hoss reached for his gun but stopped short of doing anything else when he felt the cold steel of revolver at the base of his neck.

“Now why don’t we just let these two work out their little problem amongst themselves, big fella.”

Hoss slowly recoiled his hand from his gun; he knew that Riley was a hothead and would welcome any opportunity to put a bullet into any Cartwright.

As Hoss watched Joe seemingly take out all his rage out of the past day on Tom, he did nothing to hide his grin of satisfaction from Riley’s sight. “Looks like your friend Tom isn’t that good of a fighter when somebody is not behind bars or tied up now is he.”

Riley let Joe get in a few more punches on his accomplice before he finally pulled off a round in his gun sending the bullet whizzing closely in the direction of Joe. “Alright boy, you’ve had your little bit of fun. Now I am going to have to ask you to turn loose of my friend over there and step away.”

Joe still had his fist gripped around Tom’s collar as he heard the round whiz by his ear. Even though he could hear Riley speaking, all he could see was the images of the roughed up knuckles on Tom’s hand. “This isn’t over,” Joe whispered under his breath to Tom as he began to loosen his grip and back away. “I said this isn’t over!” he barked out loudly as he suddenly turned to face Riley and released his grip from Tom. “So help me, I will see to it that you both are dead when this is all over if you lay another hand on my brother.”

Riley put a smirk on his face as he looked at Joe. “Boy, are you threatening me? Because I have another cell right next to that smart mouthed brother of yours if you are.”

“Joe!” Hoss called out “Joe, don’t let these cowards get to you. We can’t help Adam if we get locked up too. Joe…think.”

“Smart brother, you’ve got there, Cartwright,” Tom chimed in as he whipped the blood running from his lip.

“Alright,” Joe said walking away from Tom without turning his back on him. “We’ll finish another day. “

Hoss walked over toward Joe and handed him his hat, which had been knocked off during the scuffle. “Let’s go, brother.”

*****

“You did what?” Ben snapped at both Joe and Hoss at they stood in Paul’s office.

“Pa, you don’t know you weren’t there,” Joe blurted out as Ben turned in anger and swept his hat alongside his leg.

“I know I have a couple of hot-headed sons that don’t always think twice about the consequences of their actions. How could you get into a fight with Kyle’s assistant right in front of the very man that has your brother locked up behind bars in who knows what kind of shape?”

Pa!” Hoss raised his voice and stepped in closer towards his father hoping to put some distance between Pa and Joe. “Pa, you didn’t see what Joe and I saw.”

“Well for heaven’s sake then, Hoss, please tell me what you saw that made you think trying to start a fight with these thugs was a good idea.”

“His fist…Pa… His fist.” Joe felt his eyes began to fill up as the picture of Tom’s hands came to his mind again.

Ben looked past Hoss as he was suddenly quieted by the raw emotion in Joe’s voice.

“Pa, his fist were bruised and raw…Adam …Pa. They were battered from Adam.” Joe lowered his head and closed his eyes trying to get the picture out of his mind of how Tom’s fist had gotten in the shape they were.

“Hoss, Joe, are you sure?”

“Pa, they didn’t even try to hide the fact.” Hoss looked at his Pa as if almost just waiting to hear him give the okay to rush the jail and break out their brother.

Ben put his hands down by his hips and looked up towards the ceiling almost ask if asking for some sign or some guidance from up above him. Then quietly he whispered, “Paul, be ready…Joe and Hoss stay here. I am going to get your brother.”

“Then I am going with you, Pa,” Hoss said as he put his hand on his revolver and tightened his jaw.

“No!” Ben put his hand up to stop the barrage of questions before they started. “I know what I have to do. I just need to know that you two aren’t going to try and do anything crazy while I am out.”

“Pa, you can’t just waltz in there alone. You know what Riley is capable of.” Joe tried to sell himself to Ben. “Let me go with you. Besides if Adam is hurt like Paul says, you won’t even be able to get him out on your own.”

“Ben, your boys are right. Adam couldn’t even stand when those men rode in with him. And if what Hoss and Joe are saying is the truth, about how Tom’s fist got in the shape they are…well, Ben you and Adam are both going to need help.”

“Alright…alright” Ben mumbled. “Alright, Hoss you come with me. Joe you stay here with Paul.”

Joe started to argue with his Pa why he should go as well but was quickly quieted when Ben reminded him that every one of Kyle’s hired guns would be pointing right where they stood if anything went wrong. “Joe, I need you here to keep Paul safe so he can help Adam.”

“What about me, Ben?” Sally had stepped out from the room she had been resting in since Joe had brought her in. She moved her hand gingerly across her cheek bone remembering how she had fallen out of the buckboard in her hast.

“Sally…” Ben started to get frustrated with the small entourage that had suddenly started forming. “Listen Sally, I know you care for Adam and we appreciate what you have already done…” Ben saw how Sally was already gathering herself like she already had her mind made up. Standing there straightening her skirt and pushing back her auburn locks that had fallen across her face, Ben couldn’t help but smile to himself. “You know, Sally, I think the best thing for Adam to see when we bring him into Paul’s is you.”

Sally raised her blue eyes up towards Ben’s glance and through the tears that slowly began to flow across her face, she smiled at Ben “Thank you, Mr. Cartwright….thank you.”

“Now Hoss, lets hurry.” Tightening the strap to his gun belt, Ben headed towards the door. “One stop before we head to the jail.”

Hoss grabbed the door behind them and pulled it shut hard.

*****

“Kyle…It’s me, Ben Cartwright. I need to see you.” Ben stood outside the door of Kyle’s room. Knocking more fierily. “Kyle, open up. I need to speak to you right now.”

Tom smiled as he heard Ben knocking on the door. He had seen Ben and Hoss walking towards the hotel and was sure they were on their way to see Kyle and accept his offer. “Well Boss, should I let them in?”

Kyle swung his feet down from the side of his bed carefully and carefully walked over towards the door. “Nope Tom, I’ve got this one.”

Swinging the door open easily, Kyle backed up and just grinned at Ben as he stood before him. “Well if it’s not the almighty Cartwright. Have you changed your mind, Ben? Have you decided that my generous kind offer to drop my charges against your son in return for you signing a piece of paper which will only serve to help your fellow Virginia City citizens is the right way to go?”

Ben’s eyes were set on Kyle with a burning stare that even Tom felt from across the room. “I am doing what I have to do to save my son, Kyle, to save my family. All of which is something that I recognize that you would or could ever relate to.”

The grin on Kyle’s face seemed to disappear as Ben’s words brought back memories of his deceased son and wife. “Cartwright…I was kind enough to make you this offer. I am warning you I can take it away just as fast.”

Hoss put his hand on his Pa’s shoulder. “Pa, let me handle this.”

“No, Hoss!” Ben snapped as he once again brought his glare up towards Kyle. “Just give me the paper and let me go get my son, Kyle.”

“Sure, Cartwright; I just so happen to have it on the desk already for you to sign. Kind of figured you would be back. Didn’t seem like the kind of man that would needlessly let his son suffer, nor his town as well.” Kyle gingerly walked back towards the desk motioning for Ben to follow him. “Just sign here Ben, and Tom and I will accompany you over to the jail to avoid any issues.”

Ben reached in his pocket and pulled out his pen, avoiding the one that Kyle had laid out for him. Hoss still stood at the door waiting and almost hoping for Tom or Kyle to make some kind of move so he would have yet another reason to shoot them both where they stood.

“There,” Ben said as he stood back and looked at his signature on a piece of paper that would free his son from jail but ultimately bring more misery to his desperate neighbors. “You’ve got what you want, you bastard; now let’s get my son.”

“Well Cartwright, I would have thought you’d been a little more appreciative of such an offer. Humbling, isn’t it, to have to eat your pride…Ben” Standing back with a seemingly victorious grin upon his face, Kyle quickly reached down and admired Ben’s signature upon the Mining contract. “Finally, Ben finally.”

“Look Kyle, I have done what you have asked of me; now I need you to honor your part of the deal and drop those nonsensical charges against Adam.” Ben stepped towards Kyle one more time. “You know what your men did to my son tonight.” Ben pointed at Tom as he watched Kyle’s lead henchman smirk as he carefully messaged his bruised fist. “I can’t waste any more time. My son needs a doctor. Now, for God’s sake man…now.”

“Give me my coat, Tom.” Kyle reached out and took the coat from Tom and winced as he uncomfortably pulled the jacket over his wound. “Feel as if there is a slight chill in the air tonight, don’t you, gentleman?” Then motioning towards the door Kyle spoke to Ben “After you, sir.”

*****

Riley had felt the chill in the air to and had just stepped up to close the window to the jail when he saw the four men approaching through the dim lighted streets. Not sure of what to expect, he closed the window and reached around to grab one of Roy’s rifles that he kept in the rack on the wall. Positioning the rifle behind the desk, Riley once again took a seat, making sure the rifle was pointed at just the right angle to stop anyone trying to cause trouble this time of night.

“Sheriff” A voice came from outside the door. “Sheriff, it’s Kyle. I brought Ben Cartwright and his son with me. I would like to speak to you about young Adam that you have locked up, sir.” Kyle turned with a smile as he looked towards Ben. “That sounded cordial enough, don’t you think. I mean, to justify such an early morning visit.”

Ben ignored the sarcastic remarks from Kyle. “Look Riley, Kyle wants to speak to you about dropping the charges against my son. Now please let us in.”

“Sure, Cartwright. I saw you all coming. Doors open come on in.”

Once again Ben entered the jail to be greeted by the arrogant so-called sheriff sitting behind Roy’s desk. Wasting no time, Ben went directly to Riley. “Look Riley, Kyle is willing to sign whatever paper he needs to so he can drop the charges against my son.”

“That true, Mr. Kyle?” Riley asked, reclining back further in Roy’s chair with his arms crossed against his chest. “You want to let the man go that you say put a slug in you and tried to take your life?”

“Well now Sheriff, it does sounded kind of hard to believe when you say it like that, but you see, the Cartwrights and myself have a little history, and well, I am willing to let bygones be bygones.” Kyle reached into his chest pocket and brought out a pen. “Now what do I have to sign?”

Riley’s face began to grow pale as he looked into Ben and Hoss’ face then turned to see the sadistic smiles planted across Kyle and Tom’s. “You know, Kyle, this entire thing is starting to sound and looks like a set up to me.” Riley pushed his chair back from the wall and stood up still clutching the rifle to his side.

Ben looked over at Kyle as he suddenly noticed a nervous look run across his face. “What is Riley talking about, Kyle?”

Hoss put his hand across his revolver. “Yeah Kyle, what thing is Riley talking about?”

“Now everyone just needs to calm down,” Kyle said as he brushed the beads of sweat off his forehead. “Sheriff, you just need to keep your thoughts to yourself.”

Tom began to take a little more interest in Riley’s sudden change in behavior and quietly laid his hand upon his pistol too as he positioned himself where he could good a clear look at Riley.

“Calm down! Calm down? Oh I am as calm as I am going to get.” Riley was bearing down upon Kyle with a glare that brought a deafening silence to the room. Slowly he rose from his chair and began to fumble through his pockets, looking for the key to unlock the doors that separated Adam from his family “You and your boy Tom know exactly what I am talking about. Kyle gave me some long tale a day ago about your son Adam trying to kill him last night on his way into town. Said Adam had ran off and joined the Union as a spy a few years back and was back trying to stop Mr. Kyle’s important work for the South. Said Adam would never be convicted because of his name being Cartwright. Once he discovered that I had fought in the war on the Confederacy and lost everything I had — my wife, my son, my land — everything…” Riley put his head down for a moment before he continued. “Well he bought me; he bought me for $200. I should’ve known.” His voice suddenly escalated. “Mr. Kyle, no one…no one would ever let someone like the type of man you described as Adam being walk out so simply as you are.” Suddenly he twisted the key in the door and swung open the doors leading to the cell. “You lied to me, didn’t you, Kyle? You and your little friend Tom behind you. It’s all been a lie.”

Stepping forward, Ben pleaded to Riley as he tried to see past him into the cell where he knew Adam was. “Sheriff, my son rode with the Union but only as a scout. He did what he had to protect the families of this territory from thieves and worse.” Stepping towards the door Ben raised his voice towards Kyle. “Let me see my son, Kyle.”

“Your lies and deceit stop here, Kyle. I sold my soul to you for $200.” Riley lowered his eyes as he looked towards Ben and saw the pain on his face as he struggled to get a glimpse of his son. “I am sorry, Mr. Cartwright. Go to your son; he needs you.”

“You’ve said quite enough Riley.” Kyle raised his voice over Ben’s, trying to calm the furious Sheriff. “Now you mind your own business and…”

Before another word came out of anyone, Riley’s body jerked back against the wall as a loud boom echoed through the jail. Ben stared in horror as he saw the look on the young sheriff’s face as the gaping hole in his chest began dampen his shirt with the unmistakable color of crimson. “Riley!” Ben hollered out as he started to approach the wounded man.

“Hold it right there, Cartwright.” Kyle had quietly pulled his gun and now positioned himself perfectly to abruptly put an end to any move that Ben made.

“Do as he says, Pa,” Hoss called out to Ben as he now stood with Tom’s rifle shoved directly into his back.

Tom’s rifle still carried the strong smell of freshly fired gun smoke as he stood smirking behind Hoss. “See Kyle, I told you Cartwright had at least one smart son out of the three.”

“You hurt any of my boys and I’ll see to it that there is nothing left of you that even the buzzards would want. Do you understand me?” Ben was beyond all thoughts of his own survival now. He only knew that he had a known killer with a rifle pressed into one son and who knows the condition of his eldest confined behind the cell bars lying just out of his sight.

“I told you already, Kyle, you have everything you wanted. You have my signature on the piece of paper granting you my mining rights. Now let me get my son some help.”

“But now Cartwright, I not only have your signature but I have a dying sheriff laying on the floor in his own jail with a distraught father willing to do anything and everything to release his eldest son from behind bars.” Kyle placed his arm atop his revolver once again as he looked at Tom. “Unfortunate wasn’t it, Tom, that we got here too late to save the sheriff from the Cartwright’s and their attempted jail break.”

“Jail break….Kyle, you have finally gone mad.”

Tom pulled back the lever on his rifle and Hoss closed his eyes.

*****

Adam had stirred slightly when he heard familiar voices on the other side of the cell door. “Pa… Hoss…” Pushing him up from the cot, Adam winced as he felt every bone and muscle in his body come alive with pain. He threw his head back in agony as he tried to get control of the shock that was going through him. Biting his lip, he finally managed to pull himself to an upright position. “Pa… I am in here…Hoss…please.”

With the sudden loud blast of a rifle, Adam felt himself automatically recoil back against the wall as the wooden doors tore open and his saw Riley hit the floor. Confusion began to flood his mind as his eyes focused on the crimson overtaking the floor beneath Riley. Adam swore he saw Riley turn his eyes towards him and fill with tears of sadness and regret as he brought his stare directly in towards Adam.

As the voices continued to escalate from outside the door where Riley laid, Adam could see the familiar outline of his Pa. He closed his eyes once more as he listened to the vices from outside the room continue to grow louder and get sharper. Adam knew that his Pa and Hoss were in trouble. His mind began to race. “Adam, you have got to…think.”

Then… clank — the sound of metal keys sliding across the floor towards Adam.

“Cartwright…here.”

Adam looked down towards Riley and saw the dying man use his last bit of strength to slide his revolver from his belt and push it towards Adam.

“Take it…it’s your only chance.” Riley bit his lip as he tried to ride out the wave of pain that shot through his body. “Cartwright…I was wrong…I am… sorry…” His eyes focused on Adam one last time, trying to ask forgiveness from what he had done.

Adam pulled himself away from the wall and quietly forced his legs to move forward the sheriff as the man lay dying before him. Wrapping his arms around his ribs, Adam lowered himself along Riley and slowly picked up the revolver.

“Two bullets…” Riley quietly mouthed,

Adam returned to his feet and looked down at Rile. “I’ll make them count.”

*****

“Kyle, you have finally gone mad from all the hate you have in you. Turn my boys lose and you can do whatever you want with me.”

“Cartwright, this is now way beyond any chance of you and your two oldest ever making it out of here. You are all witnesses and well…” Kyle laughed as he motioned to Tom to move Hoss over towards his father, “we just can’t have any of those, can we, Tom.”

“You want me to take them outside or should I finish them right where they stand?” Tom stared at Hoss as he played with the trigger on his rifle smiling the whole time.

“Oh, wait one minute. It seems I have one piece of unfinished business that I insist on you witnessing, Ben, before you die. I promised you that I would get your eldest some help, didn’t I, Ben. Tom why don’t you bring our prisoner in here and let his Pa see me lessen his pain.”

Ben felt his body go numb as he realized exactly what Kyle’s intentions were. “Don’t you dare, Kyle! I have done everything you have asked. Just please stop this all, right now.” Ben’s words quieted as he saw Tom disappear behind the cracked doors. “Kyle…please.”

The sight of Adam as he appeared from behind the cracked doors brought both Bens and Hoss’ heart to a stop. His face was deathly white and unmarked, aside from the thin trail of frothy crimson that trailed from the corner of his mouth. Tom had a tightened grip upon the upper part of his right shoulder, and by the way that Adam seeming dragged his feet underneath him Ben could tell that his son had been through hell.

“Adam…son, it’s me.”

Adam heard his father’s voice and he tried to hold back the tears that began to swell in his eyes. Keeping his head down, he pretended to not notice the familiar voice of his Pa calling out to him. His left hand was tucked under his black shirt cradling not only his broken ribs but the revolver that Riley had slipped to him as well.

“Patience…wait…wait…” Adam said to himself over and over in his head.

“What have you done to my brother?” Hoss started to feel the anger in him rise beyond all control as he saw his beaten brother struggling to stay on his feet. “You’ve busted his ribs, you son of a ….”

Hoss never saw the butt end of Kyle’s revolver as it was brought down hard upon his head, bringing him to his knees and sudden darkness.

“Well I thought it was going to be Adam firs, Ben but it seems like the big boy wants to go first.”

“Hold it right there, Kyle.” A familiar voice echoed through the jail towards Ben and Adam.

Suddenly the jail door swung open and in stepped Sheriff Roy followed by Joe and both with guns drawn and ready.

“What the…” Kyle tightens the grip on his gun pushed it further into Ben’s side.

“You heard me, boys; put your guns away right now.” Roy never blinked an eye as he stood focusing directly into Kyle’s gaze.

Tom grabbed Adam and shoved his rifle barrel into his ribs, causing Adam to holler out in pain and he felt his legs going out from beneath him again. “Boy’s half dead; I can finish him now Sheriff if you don’t walk away.”

“Roy, please,” Ben called out to his old friend as he stood at gunpoint with Hoss injured lying on the floor and Adam fighting for each breath with a rifle wedged into his side.

Suddenly Joe caught a look from Adam’s eyes that directed him to notice a glimmer of a pistol from under his shirt. “No, Adam” Joseph quietly mouthed towards his brother as he realized what Adam’s intentions were. Adam smiled back towards his brother and mouthed back, “One…two…” and suddenly shouted, “Now!”

With his last bit of strength, Adam reached down within himself and bound to his feet, catching Tom off balance. As Tom fell back, Adam pulled the revolver from under his shirt, and without blinking, fired straight ahead past Ben directly into the chest of Frederick Kyle. Before Kyle hit the ground, he felt Adams second bullet enter into his chest again and then nothing….

Joe’s bullet hit its mark just as quickly and deadly as Tom lay dead on the floor behind Adam with his eyes still open.

The silence that filled the room came as sudden as the gunfire had erupted just seconds before. The small jail was filled with the smell of gunpowder as the smoky aftermath from the shoots began to clear.

“Pa….”

Ben suddenly snapped too from the past few moments and looked over towards Adam.

“Pa…” Adam managed to utter one more time as he raised his blood covered hands from his side.

“Adam” Screamed Ben as he rushed towards his son catching him just as he collapsed. “Joseph, go get doc Martin quickly.”

No one had heard Tom’s rifle go off.

*****

Ben sat in utter silence with his eyes closed as he tried to make sense of the entire last 48 hours. How could such a short time bring with it so much trouble and pain?

Two days ago, his firstborn, who was always so driven, had allowed himself the rare pleasure of a day of rest and relaxation. The one that Ben always worried about for taking life to seriously had let his guard down for one minute and now he lay fighting for his life.

“Pa… he’s going to be alright.” Hoss was standing by the window watching the noonday sun creep down the unusually quiet daytime streets of Virginia City. The light breeze felt good on his bandaged wrapped head as he gingerly rubbed his temples. “He just has to be,” Hoss followed up quietly too himself.

Joe sat with his head tilted down as he twirled the barrel of his revolver round and round. “Seven hours,” he said, pushing back into his chair and looking towards the ceiling.

“Patience, Joseph. Paul is doing his best and you know your brother is a fighter.” Ben wasn’t sure if he was reasoning with Joe or himself. Ben raised his eyes up towards the ceiling and said a small prayer. “Please, God! Please help my son.”

“Mr. Cartwright.” A soft tired voice called out as Sally appeared from the room where Paul had been working on Adam since early that morning. Sally had never left Adam’s side since he had arrived. And she had stood right next to Paul, doing all that he asked as he worked over Ben’s eldest, never stepping away from the horror that was before her. A few times Adam’s had awoken, and only Sally’s caring eyes and soft voice had allowed his to calm and Paul continue on with his work

Ben stood up as the young lady made her way over to where he stood. Her auburn locks hung loosely against her face as she tenderly reached out and took his hand. “Ben…”

*****

You could feel the coolness in the air as Ben stood in front of the Virginia City mercantile. His hands rested upon his hips as he still found it difficult to look down the dry dusty street that ran in front of the Virginia City Jail. Six months had come and gone, but for Ben, the memories of that horrible day were still fresh in his mind.

“That’s it, Pa,” Hoss said bounding out of the mercantile with the last of the monthly supplies thrown over his shoulder.

“Watch it, big brother,” Joe said, ducking as his brother tossed the burlap bag into the back of the cart. “You almost made me drop my lemonade.”

“Drop your lemonade… Why, Joe, I ought to …” Suddenly Hoss dropped the bag right next to Joe, throwing off the weight on the cart and causing Joe to hit the ground,

“Calm down, you two.” Ben couldn’t help but smile when he saw his two sons giving each other a hard time. It was good to hear them laugh again.

Joe looked up at Hoss and let out a laugh and a smile as his big brother extended his hand and pulled him back up right.

“Pa, you sure you don’t mind if we stay in town for a little while?” Joe had knocked the dust off his back side and turned his attention towards his Pa.

“Pa, we can go with you if you want us too.” Hoss had wiped the smile from his face and looked into his father’s eyes with love and concern.

“No boys, you’ve already done enough. Go enjoy yourselves.” Ben reached forward and patted his youngest on the shoulder. Ben suddenly turned his eyes down the street towards Paul’s office. “Just one last stop and I’ll head home.”

Ben watched his two sons’ turn and make their way down the street towards the saloon.

“Ben, it’s been a long time.” Roy had come up behind Ben and stood watching Joe and Hoss disappear behind the swinging doors.

Ben turned and grasped his old friend hand tightly “Roy…old friend, it’s great to see you.”

“Sure is good to see you and your boys back in town, Ben. I tell you for a while I didn’t know…” Roy had to step back a minute and catch his breath.

Ben put a hand upon his old friends shoulder “Roy, it’s okay — I understand.”

“Seems like Miss Sally is glad to see you and your boys back in town too, Ben.”

The young lady stood at the saloon door looking prettier than usual, waving towards both men.

Ben and Roy both blushed as the young lady stepped down from the steps and started towards them.

“Now are you two old gentleman going to stand here all day and block the road or will you kindly part and let me make my way over to a certain beautiful young lady I know?”

Neither man had noticed the handsome young man with the baritone voice as he sneaked up behind them and rested his hand upon both their shoulders.

“Adam Cartwright!” Roy called out. “I swear you are part cougar, the way you sneak up on folks.”

‘Cougar… Wow Roy, I kind of like that sound. Now if you two will excuse me, I have a date with a certain young lady.”

Adam had barely taken two steps when Sally rushed up to him and met him with a soft kiss and tight hug.

Adam wrapped his arm around Sally’s waist and looked down into her eyes and then back up at his Pa’s with a smile that showed all that, for once, he was at peace. “You know, Pa… I think I must be the luckiest man alive.”

Ben felt emotion overflowing as he reached forward and grabbed his son pulling him in tight to his chest. “No, son…I am the luckiest man alive.”

***The End***

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