Summary: A Bonanza/Highway to Heaven Crossover story.
Word Count: 5900
Mark Gordon, a middle-aged man with a salt-and-pepper beard, was crouched on the floor in a sparsely furnished motel room with a flashlight aimed under one of the room’s beds.
“What are you looking for?” his friend, Jonathan Smith, asked as he walked into the room after a morning stroll.
“Oh, last time I talked to my sister, she gave me the address for an old friend who lives here,” Mark explained. “He sent me a Christmas card at her address.”
“Jake?” Jonathan asked.
“Yep, Jake. How did you know?”
“You’ve mentioned him several times,” Jonathan explained.
“I wrote it down on a piece of paper, and it’s not here.” Mark stood up, rubbed his beard, then reached down to pick up his “Oakland A’s” baseball cap with his free hand. “Gets further and further down there every year.” He returned the flashlight to its place, a drawer next to the room’s bathroom sink, shoulders slumped in disappointment.
“It’s not in your pocket?” Jonathan asked. “Check your jeans, your shirt, your jacket.”
“Wasn’t there when I got dressed this morning. Unless…”
Jonathan shook his head. “No, Mark, I didn’t use ‘the stuff’,” he answered.
“Wait a minute. It could be somewhere in my suitcase!”
Jonathan laughed loudly as Mark grabbed his suitcase, dropped it on the bed and threw it wide open, flinging clothes every which way. Their original order wouldn’t have mattered, since they were all plaid shirts and jeans just like the clothing Mark was wearing. Worn until the holes had holes, he stopped at a shop selling “gently used” clothing to replace the worn clothes with the same style he’d worn when he met up with Jonathan many years ago. The baseball cap he wore wasn’t so easy to replace, but Jonathan usually found one when the current one was ready to be recycled.
Jonathan, on the other hand, never needed to buy clothes because his jeans, denim shirt, and leather jacket were always Heaven-sent.
What did change frequently was their current destination. Jonathan would tell him what they were going to do, and they would head off in the chosen direction, usually after Mark asked about the new assignment and Jonathan answered, “I don’t know yet.”
Mark was one of the few people who knew that this man who appeared to be middle-aged but still muscular, with a golden-brown mane of curly hair and laughing eyes, was actually an angel sent from Heaven.
Like the few who learned about Jonathan’s secret identity, they met at a time when Mark needed an angel’s help. A former policeman, he needed a new sense of direction, a new sense of hope. Since then, both had been renewed many times.
A piece of paper flew out from the disheveled pile on the floor. Mark grabbed it, yelling “I found it!”
“Great, pack again and we can be on our way.”
“You know what the assignment is?” Mark asked as he started to fold the clothes and stack them back in the suitcase.
“Yep. That advertisement I read to you, remember?” Jonathan answered. He pulled the piece of paper from a newspaper from his jacket pocket and read the advertisement: “Needed: Cattle drovers. We offer travel, wide open spaces, and clean air. Experienced drovers only. See Joe Cartwright at the Ponderosa Ranch for details.”
“How can that be?” Mark asked. “That’s a fictional place. You know, he does remind me of someone. . . Not sure who, though.”
“Figuring all that out isn’t part of the assignment,” Jonathan explained as he easily reached down to help Mark reassemble his suitcase. They repacked in silence, but Jonathan could tell that there were more questions on Mark’s mind, and probably no answers.
“You angels have it made. You don’t have to pack a lot when you go on a trip, except wings. And you never have to exercise to keep your flexibility.”
Jonathan laughed good-naturedly. “And the wings don’t usually go with me.”
“There’s something I’ve been wondering.”
“And what is that?”
“Don’t angels get vacations, time off for good behavior? After all, it’s spring and most people are talking about their next vacation.”
Jonathan pondered the question.
“You don’t need sleep, you don’t eat, and you have this way of knowing what God is calling you to do without spending a lot of time wondering if that’s really what the ‘Boss’ has in mind.”
“I do take vacations, Mark,” Jonathan said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, traveling is one form of vacation, isn’t it?”
“We’re about to hit the road again, so we’re going on vacation.”
“And we’re running late,” Jonathan said.
“Check-out’s at noon. It’s only 10 in the morning.”
“Time flies when you’re an angel,” Jonathan said with a mischievous grin. Almost in the blink of an eye, the digital clock on the wall read “11:50”.
“Was that…” Mark asked.
“That was the ‘stuff’, as you call it,” Jonathan answered. “You know I don’t use it very often, but if it means we have time to stop at your friend’s house, it’s worth it.”
Mark sang “We’re going to Jake’s! We’re going to Jake’s!” as he danced around the room.
“Thought that’d please you,” Jonathan said as they took one last look around the room, making sure they left nothing. Mark headed off to check out of the motel as Jonathan looked heavenward, the door closed behind him. “Little does he know,” he prayed as he turned to follow Mark. A momentary sadness filled his eyes with tears, before he wiped them away and smiled again.
“Tell me more about your friend,” Jonathan suggested as he climbed into Mark’s much-used Ford Thunderbird. “What was his name?”
“Jake. Great guy. We were on the police force together.”
“What did he do after the force?”
“He and his wife moved here, built their dream home. Thought it’d be a good place to live.”
Neither man spoke for a long time as Mark drove and Jonathan studied a map of the area they were driving through, both lost in their own thoughts and plans.
“Why here?” Jonathan finally asked as he re-folded the map and put it in the glove compartment.
“It’s not so far he couldn’t go home to Oakland if he was of a mind to.”
“Home. . .” Jonathan said wistfully.
“Yeah, home,” Mark said with a touch of sadness. Turning toward Jonathan, he asked, “You miss heaven?”
“Sure. You miss anyplace where you have good memories.”
“You’ll get back there someday, Jonathan.”
“We’ll both get there someday. In the meantime, we’ll find Jake and then be on our way to the next assignment.”
But the visit to Jake’s address revealed that he and his wife had moved away. They spoke to a neighbor and discovered that there was no forwarding address.
“Why would I have that address after all this time, if Jake wasn’t there?” Mark asked as they walked back to the car.
“A lot of things in life don’t make sense, Mark.”
“You’re an angel. Don’t you have a clue?”
“I’m an angel, Mark. If I knew all the answers, I’d be God,” Jonathan patiently told his disappointed friend.
“Then please ask Him for a clue,” Mark pleaded, opening his car door.
“Maybe he went back to Oakland?” Jonathan offered as he opened the car door and sat in the front passenger seat.
“That was quick!”
“Only listening to what you said about Oakland,” the angel answered with a shrug.
“I could call the station, see if they know anything,” Mark suggested.
“That’s right,” Jonathan encouraged, nodding in agreement.
“Why go back to Oakland? Look for old friends who aren’t there anymore?” Mark said, wiping his eyes. “You didn’t see that.”
Jonathan said nothing as they rode for several miles, and neither did Mark. They had traveled together long enough to know that sometimes silence was the best response as they figured out what the next step should be.
“What do you suppose we could do for Joe Cartwright, if we were really going to the Ponderosa to work on a cattle drive?”
Jonathan shrugged his shoulders.
“As long as I don’t have to cook,” Mark said firmly. “Give me fast food anytime.”
“We just passed our exit.”
“We did?” Mark asked.
“We did. Take the next exit and circle back,” the angel suggested as he pointed a finger toward the upcoming sign.
As they pulled off the freeway and started to circle back, Mark suddenly stopped the car and stared ahead, right in the middle of the road.
Or where the road was a few moments earlier.
“Why are we stopped?” Jonathan asked.
Mark pointed toward the windshield and once Jonathan saw what prompted him to stop, he grinned.
Greenish-silver, low-growing sagebrush and cacti stretched out ahead all the way to the snow-capped mountains towering over the horizon. There was not another car in sight as they took in the expanse of desert sand, no civilization visible.
After a few minutes of taking in the view, Mark sighed with contentment and turned the key in the ignition. The car didn’t start.
Mark attempted to start the car again, with the same result. After a third try, Jonathan offered to take a look at the engine. As soon as he stepped out of the car, he knew it was not their only concern. “That’s odd,” he said, looking down.
“What’s odd?” Mark asked, before he noticed that Jonathan was now wearing cowboy boots. “Where did you get those?”
“Happened when I stepped out of the car. I don’t even own a pair of boots.”
“Now what?” Mark asked.
“We start walking,” Jonathan answered, closing the car door.
“I’m not leaving my car!” Mark protested from the driver’s seat. Jonathan paused, said nothing. “Well, since you put it that way, let’s go.”
Mark stepped out of the car and found himself wearing boots as well. As they walked through desert country, their clothes changed into the clothing of the frontier. Mark now wore a dark blue cowboy hat and leather coverings, called chaps, over his jeans. His plaid shirt remained the same, and somewhere along their walk he also acquired a black leather vest.
Jonathan wore a dusty tan cowboy hat and chaps. His denim shirt and brown leather jacket remained the same.
“Where are we?” Mark asked after they had walked awhile, adjusting a saddle bag he now carried over his shoulder.
“Well, since we’re supposed to help Joe Cartwright, maybe we’ve gone back in time to the era when ‘Bonanza’ was set.”
“So we’re in the Nevada of the 1860s?”
“How do you expect to convince Joe Cartwright that we’re experienced cattle drovers?” the ex-policeman asked, exaggerating the name for emphasis.
“I have special permission to use ‘the stuff’ for catching steers, riding horses, and other cattle drive duties.”
“In that case, let’s dig in!” Mark exclaimed, excited at the prospect of doing something that was generally forbidden.
“Thought you’d see it that way.”
They continued to walk and the desert turned into a meadow with plenty of grass and grazing cattle.
“This place looks like one of the pastures on the Ponderosa,” Mark commented.
“We were looking for the Ponderosa, remember?” Jonathan said.
“How did that happen?”
“I don’t know, myself,” the angel answered, barely suppressing a grin.
“What in the world…?” Mark asked. He turned his entire body from side to side as a herd of cattle rushed by. He held his nose and continued to look for a way to move away from them and their noxious smell.
“Stampede!” a male voice called out. Which male voice wasn’t obvious, since a group of men appeared to be intermingled with the herd. They were too far in the distance to tell much about them, as the cattle continued to rush past the angel and his friend.
“Does that answer your question?” Jonathan asked before he started to hum a song as if it were a lullaby, standing calmly in the midst of the herd rushing past them.
“Those are real horns and hooves.”
“I know, Mark,” Jonathan said, humming in a soothing tone as the animals started to slow down.
The angel and the ex-policeman soon found themselves surrounded not only by the cattle beginning to calm down but also by cowboys at the business of prodding the cattle along from horseback.
A young man sporting dark curly hair rode a black and white paint horse around the pasture and counted.
It wasn’t obvious whether he was counting men or steers until he asked, “Where’s Jake?”
“He said he didn’t feel too well after lunch, boss. Must have been something you cooked,” a teenage boy teased.
The curly-haired rider laughed as he spotted Mark and Jonathan, then asked them “Who are you?”
“You wouldn’t happen to be Joe Cartwright, would you?” Jonathan responded, stepping closer with his hands stretched out to show he meant no harm.
Mark glanced at Jonathan, then at the rider a few feet away.
Staring at them both and cocking his head, the curly-haired rider asked, “I am Joe Cartwright, as a matter of fact. And yes, I’m hiring for a cattle drive. We leave at the end of the week.”
“Any particular skills you’re looking for, beyond what’s in the ad?” Jonathan asked.
“Like the kid said, we could use a cook,” Joe answered. “Either of you cook?”
“Before we answer that, we should introduce ourselves. I’m Jonathan Smith, and this is Mark Gordon.”
“Where are you fellas from?”
“Here and there,” Jonathan explained, adding “Mark here would love to cook for you. I can handle a rope pretty well.”
Mark scowled at his friend, who shook his head in disapproval.
“Show me how you handle a rope or the chuck wagon and you’ve got yourselves jobs.”
“Jonathan, can I talk to you for a second? Excuse us, Joe, we’ll be right with you,” Mark said as he and Jonathan walked a few paces away, far enough away that Joe or anyone else in the vicinity couldn’t hear them.
“Jonathan, we’re not cattle drovers, and we can’t leave my car where it is until the end of the week, much less however much time it’s going to take for this assignment.”
“For all we know, we may have time to get back for the car before it’s impounded.”
“We need horses, Jonathan. And have you noticed that he looks a lot like you?””
“Leave it to me,” Jonathan said, not answering the second question as he turned back toward Joe, then added, “Oh, and take the cooking job. You won’t have to spend as much time around the cattle there.”
Joe asked “You fellas want the jobs or not?” as they returned.
“That depends,” Jonathan answered.
“We didn’t bring our own horses. Know where we can borrow one?”
“Treat Cochise here nicely, and I’ll let you borrow both my horse and my rope. You have your pick of the herd out there, too.”
“You do have a lot of cattle here, Mr. Cartwright,” Jonathan stated, hands on hips as he sized up the field and where he wanted to start roping.
“Call me Joe. You’re absolutely right. . .”
“Just don’t call us ‘late to supper’,” Mark joked, breaking into a deep laugh. Joe shook his head, then looked at Mark and shook his head again.
“Are you sure you haven’t been out in the sun too long…?”
“You can call me Mark.”
“Sure, er, Mark.”
“Where we come from, there’s a joke about what you call people. If I say ‘Call me Jonathan, or Mr. Smith, just don’t call me late to supper,’ it means you can call me either one, just as long as you don’t call me ‘late to supper’.”
“That’s a good one,” Joe said, laughing as he dismounted and offered Jonathan the use of his horse. The angel spoke to the horse in a soft, soothing voice, then successfully climbed into the saddle. He rode toward the steers furthest from Joe and Mark in the meadow, gathering the rope from the saddle and creating a loop at one end of the rope. The resulting lariat caught a steer’s front legs and the force he used to draw the loop tighter threw it off-balance. Mark ran out to the fallen animal while Jonathan dismounted from the horse to help him release it.
“Your friend knows his stuff.”
“You could say that again,” Mark said.
“Your friend knows his stuff. It’s a deal, if you are still willing to cook for us.”
“Just show me the chuck wagon,” Mark said.
“Camp’s this way,” Joe called out, flicking his horse’s reins to let the animal know he was ready to move. “We’re more than a day’s ride away from home, and with all the cattle being rustled in the area, I decided not to take a chance on losing any more of my herd.”
Mark and Jonathan exchanged a silent look of surprise, then ran to catch up to horses and riders as Joe led the crew of cowhands back to camp across a pastureland that offered plenty of grass for grazing and room for cattle, horses, and people too, to run free for as long as they wished. That is, until they ran into the distant mountains and either started to climb the mountains or follow their baseline toward more open country.
At the edge of camp, Joe pointed out a roped-in area where horses grazed and walked about peacefully, which Joe called the “corral.” At the far end of the clearing, Joe pointed out the “chuck wagon.” A few more of Joe’s crew were already at the camp, mending saddles and other riding equipment for the upcoming drive.
“Hey, fellas,” Joe hollered as he turned to include all the crew in his announcement. “I’d like you to meet Mark Gordon and Jonathan Smith. You can call them anything, as long as you don’t call them late to supper!”
A bewhiskered older man dashed to the covered wagon, pulled out a large metal spoon and a big pan, then banged the spoon around the side of the pan.
“That’s our supper bell,” Joe explained as he broke into an embarrassed giggle.
Jonathan and Mark laughed at the shared joke, and as the men responded with “Great to have you here,” “Where are you fellas from?” and “Does either of them cook?”
“Good to be here,” Jonathan answered.
“Mark here’s going to show us what he can cook, as a matter of fact,” Joe explained.
“I’ll show you where the flour is, or anything else you might need. Last time I checked, the water barrel was getting pretty low,” the bewhiskered man said.
“Jonathan and I’ll get more water,” offered Joe
“You fellas do that, and I’ll put something together. Anyone else here hungry?” Mark asked.
“Starved, as a matter of fact,” Joe acknowledged, smacking his lips. The cowhands whistled in agreement.
“Point me toward a few more pots and pans and I’ll have you a feast!” Mark exclaimed as the hands cheered.
While Mark prepared a “feast” and the cowhands either tended to their horses or watched the new man at work, Jonathan picked up the nearly-empty water barrel, an enormous wooden barrel attached to the wagon. He single-handedly carried it to a nearby stream, Joe running to catch up with his quick steps.
Jonathan turned the barrel on its side to fill it. With the barrel about one-quarter full, he picked it up again and proceeded to place it into the stream. The next time he lifted it, the water level was at the rim.
“How did you…” the cowboy began, as the angel carried the barrel away. Joe attempted to ask his question again, but no words came out.
Back at camp, they found Mark was now covered with flour and carrying on a lively conversation with a couple of cowhands. His rough belly laugh was interspersed with tossing out more of the powder. Jonathan smiled at the spectacle of Mark trying to rub off the powder, only to rub it deeper into his clothing.
The men were laughing at the sight and attempting to help him clean off his clothes. One of them even offered the covering for the wagon, which brought loud guffaws, back-slapping and tears from hearty laughing.
By now, Joe was stomping his foot, nearly doubled over laughing. Jonathan set the water barrel down, then attempted to catch Joe before he fell to the ground, banging his left hand in the dirt as he continued to laugh uncontrollably.
“Seriously, Jonathan…if he can cook…something besides jerky and beans…the job’s a done deal,” the younger man said between breaths as he struggled to stop giggling. “Just wish catching the rustlers was that easy.”
“It’s that bad?”
Shaking his head, Joe replied, “Too many for me to believe it’s a hungry neighbor. They know we’d give it to them for free, because my father’s told them that often enough.”
“Maybe it’s the thrill of the hunt?”
“Too many cattle disappearing.”
Sensing Joe’s frustration and having no solution to the problem, the angel answered, “I’d say he’s cooking something more than jerky and beans.”
“It smells that way,” Joe said, as the smoke and an appetizing aroma drifted toward them. “Now just where are you fellas from again?”
Jonathan’s eyes danced as he responded, “We’ve been maintenance workers, teachers, even bodyguards. Right now, we’re helping on a cattle drive.”
“Wow, that’s impressive,” Joe said with a whistle, then enthused, “I can’t wait to see what he prepared.”
“Me too,” Jonathan agreed. Taking in the horizon in front of them, he continued. “Those mountains really take your breath away, don’t they?”
Joe’s grin was the only answer Jonathan needed to tell him that the younger man did not take for granted the beauty of the place he called home, the place he, his family and his neighbors called the Ponderosa.
At that moment, they heard a “moo,” so soft that no one else heard it over the sounds of meal preparations or the light-hearted conversation in camp. It became louder the further they followed it,
“That’s odd,” Joe whispered, intending not to startle the source of the sound. “None of our cattle should be off in this direction.”
“Maybe it strayed during the stampede?” Jonathan whispered back.
“Or maybe it’s not one of ours,” Joe said, frowning. “That’d be one way to hide them, I suppose.”
“In more or less plain sight, on someone else’s land?”
They continued to follow the “moo” to the edge of a stream, where a pair of cows stood. One stood drinking water while the other let out another loud “moo!”
“Hey there,” Joe said in a calming voice as he stepped closer to the animals. “I’m not going to hurt you, just want to find out where you belong.”
A closer look at their hides revealed that they bore the brand of a nearby ranch, not the pine tree brand that claimed Cartwright cattle after the spring roundup. When the bell was rung in camp calling everyone to the table to eat, the cows hurried away as quickly as they could, leaving the cowboy and the angel standing by the stream.
Jonathan started to chase after them, then Joe grabbed one of his shoulders. “Maybe they’ll wander back where they belong. We can look for them in our last gathering before we leave for the drive.”
Mark carefully opened what appeared to be a very flat pancake on the plate of the first man in line, then spooned beans onto the pancake and folded its edges over the beans.
“I thought you said he’d cook more than beans and jerky,” Joe commented to Jonathan when they joined the line.
“It looks like he made burritos,” Jonathan answered.
“What’s a burrito?”
“You’ll like it, Joe. At least it’s not jerky.”
Joe laughed as the men took their meals, touching the burritos to figure out what they were really eating. They exchanged glances to see if anyone else knew what was on their plates, but hunger overcame their wariness and they all took their first bites.
After Joe’s first bite, he swallowed and immediately took another bite. After almost inhaling his food, he licked the filling from his fingers and commented, “Jonathan says you’ve fixed burritos.”
“Yes, sir. It’s another way of eating beans, but we can fill them with just about anything.”
“Sure, Joe, even beef,” Mark said, chuckling because he knew that beef was a familiar filling in 20th and 21st century burritos.
“Does that mean I’m hired to run the chuck wagon?”
“You’re both hired, Mark.”
“Ya-hoo!!” Mark hollered. Everyone in camp cheered.
Once the cheering stopped, Joe continued. “And I think we should celebrate.”
“More burritos for everyone!” Joe called out.
The men cheered, “More burritos! More burritos!” and Jonathan gave Mark a “thumbs up.”
Later that evening, Joe assigned Mark a horse for the night watch over the cattle, a regular part of the cowboy’s routine during roundups and drives because the cattle could wander off without someone’s watchful eye on them or be attacked by cougars, wolves, and other predators.
“What can you tell me about Jonathan?” Joe asked as he and Mark rode during the watch.
“We met years ago, then decided to travel together, help people.”
“Strong, too. Have you seen how he can carry heavy objects?”
“Leaps tall buildings in a single bound, too,” Mark suggested, laughing.
“Another joke, Joe,” Mark said as his eyes darted from side to side. “Did you hear something?”
Joe cocked his head, listened, then smiled. “That’s the herd settling down for the night.”
“I hear something else,” Mark said. Joe listened again, drawing the gun holstered next to his left hand as a shadow approached them.
“Drop it, Cartwright,” a voice called out from the darkness. Joe complied with the order, but studied the surroundings for possible escape, as did Mark.
“Who’s there?” Joe and Mark asked simultaneously. After a moment’s silence, a large gray-haired man wearing a blue-checked shirt, black neckerchief, denim pants and leather working boots stepped out of the shadow. His weathered face indicated that he had spent years out in the elements, but the gleam of a long knife blade was what caught their attention. “I’m taking my herd outta here tonight and there’s nothing either of you can do about it.”
“Jake?” Mark asked.
“I don’t know you,” the man claimed brusquely. “No more questions and I may just slip out of here without any bloodshed.”
“What herd?” Joe asked. “And where did you disappear to this afternoon? You don’t look very sick.”
“My men have been rounding up cattle all over this valley in preparation for a drive of our own.”
“Don’t worry, Cartwright, no one you’d know. It was all coming together until this one here,” he pointed to Mark, “and his pal came along.”
“We haven’t discovered anything.”
“But you would have. I remember that about you.”
It dawned on Mark that Jake now admitted to knowing him. The surprise of seeing his friend, that friend denying that he knew him, then admitting that he did all within a short period of time momentarily clouded his thinking. Meanwhile, Joe was still watching for a way to escape.
“Whatever you’re planning won’t work,” Jonathan warned as he and another cowhand rode their horses toward the admitted cattle rustler.
Jake threw the knife at Jonathan. Joe immediately spurred his horse into action. To his astonishment, the angel caught the knife with his bare left hand and tossed it aside without so much as a scratch.
“Watch out, Jonathan,” Joe called out as the thief then attempted to knock the angel off his horse.
Jake lunged toward Jonathan, fell, then picked himself up and attempted again to knock him off the horse. Angelic powers kept Jonathan atop the horse each time as the would-be assailant repeatedly fell to the ground.
“You’re under arrest,” Mark yelled. “You have the right to remain silent; you have the right to an attorney. . .”
Jonathan grinned at the way Mark reverted back into being a policeman so easily years after he left the police force.
“What do you care? Just leave me out here,” Jake demanded. He dropped into a heap, exhausted.
“Jake, you’re a thief, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to leave you out here to fend for yourself.”
“Why not? Most people would have finished me off.”
“We’re not ‘most people’,” Joe answered.
“All right, all right. What if I tell you where to find the herd and the men?” the thief asked, rising from the ground under his own power.
“You’ll still go to jail, but the judge may take it into account,” Joe suggested.
“The cattle are in a ravine about twenty miles from here, and the men are camped in an old shack another mile or so beyond that.”
“How do we know you’re telling the truth? You’re a liar and a thief, and who knows what else!” Mark declared.
“Mark, there is a ravine about twenty miles from here, and an old shack there, too,” Joe explained.
“You always were one to jump to the wrong conclusion,” Jake said.
“You still could be lying.”
“Well, I’m not, so just get off your high horse and do what you fellas have to do.”
“We’ll leave at first light, Jake. You can take the next watch, Jonathan. “
Joe and Mark returned to camp with Jake as Jonathan and the other cowhand took their posts for the next watch.
“Why?” Mark asked later in the week as they headed out on the cattle drive.
“Sometimes people fool us, or it’s all there and we choose not to see it.” Jonathan answered. “Maybe he was a wayward angel.”
“A what?” Joe asked.
“Well, maybe he came here with less than honorable intentions.”
“If it’s any consolation to you, I didn’t see this side of him either when I hired him,” Joe offered.
“For right now, we have a cattle drive to attend to.”
“I do have another question for you, Jonathan.”
“What’s that, Joe?”
“How did you carry that full barrel single-handedly the other day?”
Jonathan grinned, shook his head and slyly said, “I’ll never tell.”
Joe broke into a high-pitched giggle, and Jonathan broke into a similar giggle.
Startled, the ex-policeman said, “It’s not just the eyes, Jonathan, it’s the laugh, too. I’d almost swear the two of you are related.”
“I’d like to hear more about that. We have a lot to discuss while we’re on the trail, like why you fellas arrived without horses.”
“Let’s go back to why Mark thinks we’re related,” Jonathan suggested.
“I know what you guys are trying to do, and I appreciate it,” offered Joe.
“Like the saying goes, ‘Make new friends, but keep the old . . .” Jonathan began.
“You know about the Comstock Lode, don’t you?” Joe asked.
“They found it around here, didn’t they?”
“Yep, Jonathan. We’ve got both silver and gold here.”
“That’s some bonanza, then, ain’t it?” Mark teased. Breaking into a belly laugh, he assured both of them that all would be well with him, in time.
Jonathan and Mark returned from the cattle drive to Mark’s car before it was impounded. They found one more surprise as a familiar-looking figure walked toward them down the street where the car sat as if they had only left moments earlier.
Before Jonathan could stop him, Mark left the car and started to run toward the figure approaching them. Jonathan decided to stay back and watch the reunion unfold, until Mark motioned him over.
“Jonathan, I want you to meet someone,” the ex-policeman said as his friend joined the pair. This time, the large gray-haired man wearing a blue-checked shirt, black neckerchief, denim pants and leather working boots did not have to step out of a shadow. His weathered face indicated that he had spent years out in the elements, but the gleam of his smile was what caught Jonathan’s attention.
“It’s wonderful to meet you, Jonathan,” the man said.
“Nice to meet you, too, er…”
Mark’s friends both laughed.
“Leave it to Mark to jump right in there,” Jake said. His grin left no doubt he was enjoying this reunion.
“Yes, he does that,” Jonathan agreed, puzzled. “Didn’t we just leave you back in the old West?”
“Ah, that’s what happened. It wasn’t me, it must have been my great-grandfather,” answered Jake.
“What?” Mark asked.
“My great-grandfather’s name also was Jake. He stole cattle back in Nevada, about 1860 or so.”
The angel and the ex-policeman exchanged glances as Jake continued the story.
“Remember that television show called ‘Bonanza’?”
Both men nodded.
“My great-grandfather went to Nevada to seek his fortune in the Comstock. When that didn’t pan out,” Jake began, laughing at his own pun, “he turned to another way to make his fortune so he could bring my great-grandmother and grandfather West. Unfortunately, he turned to cattle rustling and ended up in jail. My great-grandmother died before he was released from jail and my grandfather ended up in an orphanage.”
“How long have you known all that?” Mark asked.
“Months now. All I knew when I started was that there was some family secret and I wasn’t going to rest until I knew why my great-grandfather never sent for his son. Turns out, he was too ashamed to tell anyone in the family what happened.”
“How did you find out what happened?”
“One of my cousins loves genealogy research, sent me a copy of what turned out to be my great-grandfather’s prison record. He was a model prisoner and never stole anything again, but seeing his — my — name on that prison record. . . I had to find out why he deserted his son.”
“What happens now?” Mark asked.
“My wife’s been visiting in Oakland while I’m doing more research here. I’m heading there now, taking some time to figure out what I’m going to do about what I know.”
“Is there something to do about it?” Jonathan asked.
Scratching his head, Jake asked, “What do you mean?”
“Maybe it’s just something that happened in the past? Is someone trying to blackmail you over this?”
“No,” Jake answered slowly. “Maybe it’s just the ex-policeman asking too many questions, but I found that, if you’re asking a lot of questions, it’s a good idea to look for answers.”
“We’ll take you to Oakland,” Mark offered, then hesitated. “I’ve been meaning to get back there myself, and now’s as good a time as any.”
When Mark turned the key in the ignition this time, it started right up.
After their return to Oakland, Jake realized that there really was nothing to do about his great-grandfather’s prison record except to go back to his new hometown and help youngsters to stay on the “right” side of the law.
Jonathan and Mark left for other assignments after a long visit with Mark’s family. And Joe continued his adventures both on the Ponderosa and away from home. But that’s another story.