With The Best Intentions

A 2004 Tale


The Tahoe Ladies


Thanks, Lizz, for the research.


Chapter One

If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, second thoughts should be considered speed bumps.


The idea first came to him at the Christmas party. While he stood next to the punch bowl, he watched all the lovely young ladies, their chatter as bright as their clothes on that festive winter night. He even tried a little random small talk with them but after a few pleasantries, they moved on. He left the party early, wishing that there was a Santa Claus who'd leave a young woman in his stocking. But of course, there is no such thing as Santa Claus so Hoss Cartwright's wish went unfulfilled.

Then, during the first part of February, he spent some time in the office of the family's construction business. There the girls didn't exactly run away from him but they sure didn't flock to him the same way they did his brothers. As he stood there in Adam's window-walled office, he'd seen the girls whisking in and out of the room. Sometimes they smiled at him but then turned their attention back to Adam who was doing everything in his power to not pay attention to their womanly wiles. Down the hall, Joe was doing just the opposite and Hoss watched as his baby brother winked and teased with the girls if only to hear them laughing. When that sound got back to Adam's end of the hall, big brother would frown and shake his head negatively.

One particularly cold afternoon, Hoss left that confusing maelstrom and headed for home. The radio in his big blue Ford pick up played a good old-fashioned country song and he sang along with it for a few bars then quit. He scowled at himself in the side mirror and silently reminded himself that in order for the song to make sense, you had to first have a woman to lose. He didn't even have one -much less two - ladies to choose from as the song suggested.

He stopped and pulled the mail from the box at the end of the lane. There were the usual sale papers from local businesses and some envelopes addressed to other members of the family but it was a thin catalog that caught his attention. He sat there in the truck cab and looked the cover over carefully.

What had caught his eye first was the beautiful young girl that was depicted on a computer monitor. She was blonde and smiling at the young man who sat at the keyboard. "Six months free Internet" was emblazoned in large red letters, arching from the monitor woman to the man. The young man, his fingers possessively placed over the keyboard, was also smiling.

"You would smile, you young pup! Got that girl there all to yourself! You ain't even close enough, I bet, to touch her!" he grumbled then put the catalog back into the pile. He pulled away from the mailbox and headed up the hill toward the house. The catalog slipped to the floor of the truck so that when he pulled into his parking spot in the shadowy garage, he didn‘t notice it. He gathered up the rest of the mail and carried it into the house with him.


That night the talk around the dinner table didn't much concern him. His brothers were hot into debating the high and low points of an upcoming construction bid and their father would ask pertinent questions when a lull did occur. Although he sometimes worked in that aspect of the family's enterprises, he was far more comfortable with the ranching and timbering end of it. And, what with it being winter, there wasn't much to discuss concerning it, so he just mostly sat, ate and listened.

But then there came a statement that made him stop and think. It involved one of the other men at the office. The man was a mousy little fellow with thinning hair and a nervous twitch in one cheek. He was a great draftsman, having made the successful step into computerized drafting some time back. It seemed that he had found himself a lovely girl and they were getting married. That wasn't what grabbed Hoss' attention. What made him sit up and take notice was that the guy had met her on the Internet.

His thoughts flashed first to the catalog he'd pulled from the mail then to all the girls at the office. Then and there, the plan launched itself. Hoss told himself that he was just going along for the ride when in truth, he knew he was the one doing the driving.

Two days later, he made the excuse to his family that there was some breeding stock up above Reno that he wanted to take a look at. He would be gone all day, for certain, but it wouldn't be to Reno. Nope, the Cartwrights were known in Reno so he was headed to where his face would be that of a stranger. Hoss Cartwright was headed to a computer store in Sacramento California, some hundred miles distant. As he climbed into his truck, he patted his hip pocket once more, making sure his money was still there because the last thing he wanted to do was leave a paper trail. And paper trails had a habit of embarrassing him.

By mid-morning, he had found a computer store and wandered in. A bright and cheerful young man had approached him and spoken some arcane language that included words like "ram" and "pixels." Hoss had looked into the boy's eager face and told him he didn't understand a word he was saying. The youngster excused himself and left in rather a hurry. A woman, hearing the hurried footsteps, advanced carefully.

"Can I be of some help to you?" she asked, her voice moderated to show no fear of the big man standing in the center of one of the aisles.

"Yes'm," Hoss said, smiling benignly and bobbing his head. "I need me a computer and I don't know nuthin' about 'em. Can you help me?"

            She returned his smile and noted his speech pattern, marking him as a not-too-computer-literate fellow. In the next thirty minutes, she would change her mind about a dozen times as to his capabilities. He was intelligent, she found out, but wary of things mechanical. He had said that he wanted a computer that would give him access to the world of the Internet, maybe deal with a few pictures and the like and that was basically it. The saleswoman walked him through the process and in the end, sold him a system that did far more than he wanted. That was par for the course. The only thing that she had conceded to him was the sale of an outsized keyboard to accommodate his large fingers. She tried to sell him a printer as well but he balked at that. He also seemed genuinely pleased when she told him that the system came with six months' worth of free Internet service. With salesman-like finesse, she also added in small items to help him, she claimed. They were blister-packed items with labels that made no sense to him and looking at them, the only thing he could deduce was that they had something to with a phone hook-up. She eventually totaled up his purchases and expected to be presented with a credit card. The man paid for his machine with cash.

Right down to the correct change. 

Hoss was home by early afternoon, his computer boxes on the far side of his bedroom down beside his bed where they couldn't be seen from the door. He had a quick lunch then, for as much as Hop Sing knew, disappeared.

As he studied the little booklet in his hands, he was forced into a decision he didn't realize he would have to make. Namely, where was he going to put his new computer? If he put it on the desk, out in the open in his room, the family would - or at least Joe would - find a way to tease him about it. What? Hoss finally getting into the computer-age? He could almost hear them laughing and he scowled at the perception. No, he decided. He would keep it his secret . . .  at least for a while longer. Standing in the middle of his bedroom, he turned this way and that, searching for a hiding place for something that had taken three cardboard boxes and a pick-up truck to get home. There was only one place. His closet.

He opened the door and studied the inside. Yes, it was perfect. There was a ledge against the back wall - the one that backed onto Joe's room - where he could put the monitor and when not using it, pull hangered clothes across to hide it. The box-like contraption that was the brains would sit on the floor and be easy to disguise behind his dirty clothes hamper. That left him with the keyboard to place. He looked at the instruction booklet for help but found none there. Shrugging, he concluded to cross that bridge when he came to it.

All through the afternoon, he worked connecting cables. Since there was no electrical outlet close to the closet and he didn't want to run an extension cord across the room - therefore giving away the hiding place - Hoss took matters into his own hands and drilled a hole through the closet wall into Joe's room. He threaded an extension cord, properly surge-protected of course, through the wall. He then went into his brother's room and found an unused electrical outlet just right for his purposes. The dark cord ran along the carpet edge from the corner of Joe's headboard, along the wall to the outlet right behind the corner of his dresser. Hoss only had to move the dresser out, then back and his closeted computer had power. He stood back and looked at it critically. It was nearly invisible. Only if you were looking for it, would you see it. Grinning hugely, he returned to his room.

Only when he had it set up and turned it on did it dawn on him the one thing he was missing. He needed a phone line to make the modem connection to his new life. As he sat on the floor of the closet, his heart nearly broke. He himself had turned down a private line into his room just last spring when the family was putting in a new phone system. Then he had concluded that he could always use the downstairs phone since he had nothing to hide, the way he was sure his brothers - or at least Joe - did. Besides, the phone company had stated plainly that to run another line, they would have to dig up the existing one and replace it with one that had more wires in it. If now Hoss wanted a phone line, there would be more than just a paper trail to follow! There would be men working in the yard and down the lane to the main road. They would be digging and laying new line and there was no way that could be disguised. Questions would be asked and the answers would have to come from Hoss.

He studied the ceiling, his hanging clothes, the monitor on the shelf; the CPU stashed behind the hamper and frowned angrily. He had been so sure!

"Never thought I would be my own undoin'," he fussed aloud and got to his hands and knees, preparing to stand and admit defeat. He paused, seeing the pinpoint of light streaming through the hole he had made in the wall. "That's it!" he crowed.

It only took him a few moments to enlarge the hole and work the modem cord through. Once he had done that, he returned to Joe‘s room and tugged it through. It needed to be a longer cord since it ran behind the bed, opposite the power cord to his brother's desk where Joe's own computer sat, modem connected to a wall plug. Pulling the desk out, Hoss noted with satisfaction that the cord was too long.

"Why, thank you, little brother," he whispered, exchanging the cords so that his was now the longer of the two. Now he figured out the use of one of the little items the saleslady had been so adamant about. If he plugged the little gizmo into the wall jack, two lines could feed off the same connection. He did so then laid the longer cord back along the wall, sorry that it was light colored and showed.

"He'll never notice it!" Hoss said a quick prayer any way. Sometimes a body just shouldn't be so sure of things and it didn't hurt to ask for a little Divine intervention.

            Sinking onto his own bed sometime later, Hoss smiled. He was now connected to the rest of the cyber world, thanks to a little finagling. About to sneak into his secret lair and go for a well-deserved romp on the Internet, he heard sounds downstairs that told him his father and younger brother were home. He looked out the window and was surprised to see that it was getting dark. It had taken him far longer to set up things than he had imagined but as he left the room, he patted the closed closet door. It was worth it.

He would burn the boxes tomorrow.        


          It had been a long day. Joe flopped back onto his bed and studied the nighttime shadows on the ceiling. He sighed and pressed his shoulders into the mattress, glad to be home at last. It hadn't been that today's work had been physically hard. No, with the snow still deep upon the ground, he was forced to spend his time in the main office of the family construction business. He liked the work he normally did, running a project, seeing something built before his very eyes. It made him feel a lot like he was contributing to something more than just a bank account. He was building the future. But today, that future had entailed a lot of arguing with Adam. Sure, his older brother ran the business. After all, who else in the family besides their father had the knowledge? This, Adam would let you know was a knowledge gained, not just by working, but by studying as well.

"Lot of good those books'll do you when that ol' Grissom says he doesn't like the kitchen set up that way!" groused the young man to no one there. He'd seen Adam's plans and knew that the kitchen for the new hotel being designed by Cartwright and Sons, while drawn to Adam's typically exacting standards, wasn't going to work. Yet the only backing to his argument had been that he just "knew" it. Adam had pulled out all the stops in the argument: the OSHA requirements, efficiency studies, the bright colored pamphlets provided by suppliers. In the end, Joe had merely shrugged his shoulders and walked out. It didn't matter, he'd decided. In the end, when it was being built, the owner, Grissom, would have the final say. And Joe, being the one on the site while the hotel was being built, would have to take the heat.

He checked the clock on the corner of his desk. "Supper'll be ready soon so there's no time to catch up with my emails." Again, he groaned. "Some days, it just don't pay to get out of bed."

A tap on his almost closed door made Joe groan yet again.

"What's the matter with you?" Hoss asked as he slipped into his brother's room. There had been a moment of panic when he couldn't find the empty blister pack that the modem connector had been in and he had feared that he had left it in Joe's room. Hearing his brother groaning had given him the perfect excuse. Now, as he stood in the room, he was glad Joe had his arm thrown across his eyes since he was busy scanning the place, looking for the telltale trash. He didn't see it and that made him all the more worried.

"Nothin'," Joe sighed. "Just spent the afternoon arguing with our resident know-it-all."

"That bad, huh?" Hoss eased further into the room and spied what he was after. It was, unfortunately, on the floor beside the bed. How could he lean over and pick it up without being noticed?

Joe sat up, leaning back on his elbows and letting his head drop back even further, stretching tight neck muscles. "You know how it is to argue with him!"

"Maybe you just shouldn't try to argue with him," suggested the other, all the while edging closer to the torn cardboard and plastic. For some reason, the closer Hoss got to it, the larger it got until, standing beside the bed, it seemed about the same size as the tailgate of his truck. How could he move something that size and not be seen?

"I have to argue with him. I'm the one going to be running the show up there and when the owner comes around bitchin' and moanin' and complainin', who do you think is gonna have to listen to him first hand? Yep, me. Hey, Hoss, are you sure you don't want me to help you around the ranch this spring and summer? I can –"

"Nope. You done made your bed on that score. Seems to me, I recall you pestering Pa so bad about workin' construction that he had to give in to you so we'd have some peace in the house! 'Sides, I got my crew." He nudged the trash with his boot toe and was relieved when it proved movable. Quickly he boosted it under the bed but it hit something there and bounced right back out. To him it sounded so loud, like a steer running through the living room, that he wondered why Joe didn't bolt upright at the sound.

Their father's voice called "Supper's ready!" from downstairs. Ever the helpful soul, Hoss helped his brother sit up then guided him to the door, making sure he kept his size seventeen foot in between Joe and the incriminating evidence on the carpet.



Even though he would have to get up early the next morning, Joe religiously checked his email after taking his shower. Sure, he might sit up half the night, instant messaging with friends but he always told himself that he was just going to spend a little time online. That evening as he pulled up his chair and booted up his laptop, he couldn't get a dial tone.

"That blasted Hop Sing! Every time he runs the vacuum in here, he knocks the livin' bejesus out of...huh?" As Joe had leaned down to check the line connection to the wall, he saw the new dual-outlet attachment. Moreover, he noted that there were two lines where just that morning there had been only one. Puzzled, he followed the cream-colored cord until it disappeared behind his headboard.

"What the hell?" he wondered then scrambled across his bed and saw the dark extension cord reaching into the electrical outlet. That, too, hadn't been there before. As he visually ran the line back, he finally found the entry point just above the level of the carpet at the very outside corner of his bed. At a complete loss, he ended up stretched out on the floor, an eye to the hole.

The sight of Hoss' bare shin scared him at first and he drew back sharply. Still curious, he put his eye to the hole again, this time to see the bottom of his brother's foot coming at him. Just before he jerked away, thinking he was about to be kicked in the face for spying, something he saw registered. It was the pale greenish blue light he'd seen.

Joe sat up and leaned against the side of his bed, his chin buried in his hand. There was no doubt in his mind that the body parts he'd seen belonged to Hoss and that they were still attached and very active. But why were they positioned so? He had to have been in his closet, seated on a chair facing the wall. Joe knew this to be true but mulled the facts over once more.

When the whole shebang fell into place, his eyes went wide and he had to bite down hard on his lip to keep from laughing out loud. But, nothing is ever really enjoyable without sharing it so that became his next chore. Who better to share it with than another brother? 


Adam always wondered why Joe even bothered to knock since he always came in without being invited. It was the same way that evening. He had just settled into bed with a book he had been meaning to read when he found himself graced by his baby brother's presence. That wasn't good enough because the next thing Adam knew, Joe was dragging him out of bed, throwing him a robe to put on and hauling him down the hall, all the while with a finger across grinning lips, demanding silence.

Once they got into Joe's room, Adam found himself shoved to the floor, face to face with the wall. He was about to say something rash when Joe pointed to the hole. Figuring that his brothers were up to some shenanigan, Adam tried to stand but was pushed back down. The finger again stabbed at the hole.

"Have you lost your mind? Cabin fever or something?" he hissed.

This time, when Joe pointed to the opening, Adam, shaking his head sadly, looked. Like before, all that was visible was the middle brother's bare legs and feet and a corner of his green and white checkered nightshirt. The first brother reared back and studied brother number three with a quizzical look.

Quick as a wink, Adam found himself manhandled into the farthest corner or the room. As he watched, it became obvious that his brother must be having some sort of attack.

"Are you all right?" he asked, shaking Joe's shoulders.

"You saw it, didn't you?" Once more Joe was attacked by a fit of laughter he was finding increasingly more difficult to stifle. "Now ask yourself this: why would Hoss be sitting in his closet?"

Adam had no answer but felt for certain that the problem lay not with that brother but this one.

"You recognize that shade of green light? That's the shade a computer monitor throws."

"But why–?" The puzzled frown on his face changed to a knowing look as Adam Cartwright figured it out for himself. Especially after Joe pointed out the splitter on the phone jack.

They adjourned to Adam's room because there they could speak without possibly being overheard by the subject brother. A surreptitious glance as they went by showed them that Hoss' closet door was closed. Once in the other bedroom, both of them fell to laughing so hard they were afraid the sound would leak out anyway. When they heard footsteps coming down the hall, both suppressed their merriment long enough for their father to close his own door.

"What in the world do you suppose he's doing?" Adam asked, wiping away a final tear.

"No idea, but, come tomorrow morning, I'm going to find out," Joe allowed, also wiping his face with both hands.

"He's kept it a secret and that says that he thinks he'll be embarrassed by it. I won't stand for it if you intend on hurting him, Joe," warned Adam even though he knew it would be the last thing Joe would intentionally do.

"I promise you, big brother, once I find out what it is, you'll be the first to know. He's probably checking out the price of feed or something. You know Hoss."

They might have been a little more concerned if they'd known then what he was looking at. By hit and miss, he had managed with the help of a search engine, to find just what he was looking for: an Internet connection for dating singles. He'd filled in all of his information, having left out only a picture of himself since he had none available to send over the invisible waves. Describing himself as robust, he shaved a few pounds off his frame and made his hair a deeper shade than his driver's license called out. Happy with it, he pounced on the send button, then, as an after thought, smiled for the monitor's sake.


Despite not normally being an early, or eager, riser, Joe got out of bed the next morning with considerable zeal. He listened with a cocked ear for sounds coming from the other room and heard his brother there moving about like a bear slow to arise from hibernation.

"Three minutes," he whispered to himself. "Three minutes and I can be on and figure out what he's up to. Checking the price of feed grain, my eye!"

The floorboards in the hall creaked ominously under a solid stride then the same heavy tread went down the stairs. With his own bedroom door cracked, Joe heard the exchange of morning pleasantries and knew that, once again, he would be the last one down. But when he left the room, he turned left instead of right and, on tiptoe, went into Hoss' room. Slicker than a cat stealing cream, he was into his brother's closet and, with the door closed, hunting for the on button for the cached computer.


The single word nearly made Joe jump from his skin but the light from the open doorway showed him the CPU down behind the hamper.

"Adam, I swear, you can scare ten years off a body sneakin' up on 'em like that!" he hissed, all the while pushing the top-most button on the bulky box. "Anyway, nothin' yet but," he paused, waiting for the machine as it purred to life.

"If he's got a password on it-" Adam started but by then the dutiful machine was displaying the opening screen. "Never mind. I forgot who we were snooping on."

Hunched over the keyboard he found propped beside the monitor, Joe knelt on the floor. Digging through a pile of sweaters on the same ledge, he found the mouse and maneuvered it, never missing a beat. A different screen appeared and both men recognized it as the home screen for an Internet server. The cursor danced and a list dropped down, showing the tracks of where their brother had been. It was a short trail.

"Do you recognize that site?" Adam asked, one finger nudging the screen's list. "I do."

From below, their father called out, telling them both to hurry up.


With the same grace he had gotten into the secret life of his brother, Joe got out. One, two, three. He shoved the mouse back and propped the keyboard as it had been just as the monitor blinked off. It was all he could do to keep from running up Adam's back trying to get out of the closet, out of the wrong bedroom and into the right one before there came any more directions from downstairs.

"Later," Adam cautioned softly and made his way back to the breakfast table. As he accepted the platter of scrambled eggs from Hoss, he tried hard not to smile. His father made a comment and he had to do a double take to reassure himself that it was their youngest brother being spoken to, not himself.

 Throughout the meal, there was little talk. Behind their father's back, through the window, they could see that a fresh layer of powdery snow had come in the night. Joe made the statement that he would take off that afternoon and maybe get a little skiing in but Adam nixed that idea when he reminded Joe that there was still plenty of work to do on the upcoming bid. In order to bolster his flagging position, Joe tried to enlist Hoss' aide but the big man shook his head slowly.

"Naw. You go ahead, Joe. I think I'm coming down with a cold." Hoss sniffed and wiggled his nose as if to give credence to the lie. In truth, the urge to go back to his new-found link with the world was nearly overpowering that morning. He'd lain awake in the night, thinking of what was in his closet and when he had finally fallen off to sleep, dreamed of finding his new mailbox stuffed with love notes from beautiful women. But first things first, he knew. He had to get the rest of the family out of the house for the day.

With a solicitous hand to his son's mighty forearm, Ben asked "Are you sure? Maybe you need to make an appointment with -."

"It's just a little head cold, that's all, Pa. Head's stuffed up a little. Not a whole lot, just enough that I don't think I should be running around out in the cold for a few days."

"Fine. Joseph, before you head into town, make sure the stock is looked after, will you?" Ben returned to his plate and missed the pulled faces swapped across the table. 


Adam was standing looking out his office window when he saw the bright red speck, made brighter by the new fallen snow that still covered the roads, grow into Joe's Jeep. He took another sip of coffee and watched as his sibling danced the vehicle into the parking lot and cringed as it parked next to his own Jaguar. He shook his head, thinking that some day Joe was going to cut it just a little too fine and that blasted Jeep would plow into his beloved vintage sports car. When that happened, he was sure of two things: his brother would bear the bruises for a long time and he, Adam Cartwright, Vice President in charge of Operations of Cartwright and Sons Construction, would be looking for a new field superintendent. Just how he would manage to ban his brother to some obscure place, he wasn't sure, but he would figure that out should the necessity ever arise.

As he watched, Joe slung open the door, again just missing the Jag, and hopped out into the mushy snow of the parking lot. Leaping from one miniature glacier to another, he saw that he made it to the door but then Adam lost sight of him. Sighing, he turned back to his desk and sat down. It wouldn't be a long wait.

It wasn't. In fact, Joe was still brushing snow from his jeans when he walked into his brother's office.

"Okay, what was that site?" he opened without preamble.

"Close the door and have a seat, little brother. Your big brother is about to introduce you to a world you probably know nothing about." Adam turned in his high-backed chair and clicked keys and moved the computer mouse.

Joe didn't bother with a chair. Instead, he insinuated himself beside Adam, hunkered down within arm's reach of the computer. The modem made its silent connection and with a few more keystrokes, Joe found himself looking into the most beautiful pair of eyes he thought he had ever seen. It took him more than a few heartbeats to realize that there was writing on the screen.

"Welcome to e-dating, Joseph," Adam crooned silkily. He flipped through the cyber-pages of the website slowly, watching his baby brother's expression more than the screen. He wanted to laugh as that expression went from mild interest to downright slack-jawed, hard breathing, eye-glazing amazement. "Are you going to tell me that you have never checked out one of these sites?"

Joe had to swallow hard before he could answer. Even then, his voice sounded a little strained and breathy as he shook his head then resumed looking at the screen. "You forget who you're talkin' to?"

Adam chuckled. He gave his brother a point. If there was ever a male who had to beat girls off with a stick, it was Joseph Francis Cartwright. He had a natural charm that went with his good looks and made women, old and young alike, want to curl around his arm and waltz out into the night. No, Joe wouldn't need the services offered by the website.

"Look, " Joe chuckled and pointed at the screen. His finger ended at the new members listing just below the name of Eric. "Click on it. Bet we know who that Eric is."

They did indeed.

"Business man with lots of free time," Adam read. "Loves animals and the out of doors. Mid- twenties." Both snorted at that since Hoss had made it into his thirties two years ago. "Hey, look. Hoss has lost a few pounds! Says here that he weighs two and a quarter."

"Played football," Joe continued reading. "Guess we are suppose to automatically assume that it was professional ball? Not just read between the lines and know it was high school football?"

"And not that Pa made him quit after the third concussion his junior year? No, I like this here. Looking for a woman who can give meaning to his lonely bachelor's life. Picture to follow." Adam leaned back and rocked in his chair, his arms crossed over his chest. "Oh, I want to see the picture he comes up with! My five to your ten says it looks nothing like our brother."

"No bets," Joe shot back without looking back. He continued to scan the list of members, sometimes snorting with ill-concealed pleasure when he found a name he recognized. "I don't see your name listed here, Adam."

"To quote another Cartwright: did you forget who you were talking to?"

"Well then, how did you know about it? I mean, in Hoss' room this morning it seemed like you knew about it. Does that mean that if I look back in the archives, I'll find -"

"You'll find nothing! I've just heard about sites like these, that's all. Listen, we have a problem on our hands, Joe."

"Maybe you do but I have a date for Friday night and another one for Saturday night."

"That's not what I mean. Will you be serious for a moment?"

Joe shrugged and left his position by the computer, going to sit in the chair beside the desk. "You think that there's gonna be trouble?"

"I know the possibility is there. We've heard the horror stories about men meeting strange women over the Internet. They wind up getting rolled and dumped alongside the road somewhere. Or the women holler rape and the poor guy is left swinging in the breeze. Worse yet, the woman turns out to be some little kid who thought it would be fun to be a grown up and the guy gets himself booked on charges-"

"Enough!" Joe finally yelped and raised his hands as though to ward off the evils Adam had spoken of aloud. "You think Hoss would be that gullible? What am I saying? He would be that gullible. What are we gonna do?"

"Simple," Adam smiled and said, "We have to save Hoss from himself. That's all. Let's see; give me a name, Joe. A woman's name and preferably someone we don't know."

Within twenty minutes, the two bookend Cartwright brothers had created for the middle one the perfect woman. She was shy, she claimed. Late twenties and a high school graduate. Single with no local ties. She liked to go horseback riding and enjoyed the out of doors and animals. As for her physical parameters, they made her a little on the short chunky side with short, dark brown hair and brown eyes. For a name, they christened her "Rose." At minute number twenty-one, they had her set up with a net-based email account and by number twenty-three, she was emailing Eric a hello note.

Satisfied with their morning's work, Joe rose and headed for his own office just down the hall. As was his custom, he greeted everyone with a cheerful "good morning." That included Adam's secretary, Rosalie. Rosalie, a young woman with short dark hair who was sometimes a little on the quiet and shy side but Joe always thought it was because she was a little chubby. Otherwise, she was certainly outgoing. He'd seen her a time or two at the local trail rides and knew she was an accomplished horsewoman but always seemed to be without a date.

Rosalie, who, without anyone else in the entire company knowing it, had recently developed a crush on the middle brother.

Rosalie, who was about to get her prayers answered.. . .


Hoss grumbled to himself as he finished his fifth cup of coffee. It sure was taking his father long enough to decide to leave the house this morning. Hop Sing had been in to the table twice already, wanting to clear away the breakfast dishes but still Ben had sat there, sipping coffee and talking. Adam had headed into his town office an hour before and Joe had been hot on his heels out the door. But still Ben remained.

"Well," he finally stated, dabbing his napkin to his lips then putting aside. "Guess I had better get. The legislature is going to be looking into a proposal concerning lumbering in old growth forests. You might want to sit in and listen to the debate, son."

"How long do you figure they're gonna talk? I already know where I stand on it. Controlled cutting. That is the only thing that makes sense. You either take out some of the old trees that are diseased or damaged or risk a forest fire like there ain't been in this neck of the woods for a long time!" Without meaning to, Hoss had let his vexation change courses. His annoyance with his father's continued presence had transcribed itself into the lumbering issue.

"Easy, son." Ben's brow furrowed at the heat in the words and the tone Hoss had taken. He had no idea that his son felt so strongly about the topic. "Maybe you should pull together some facts and speak before the Assembly," he suggested.

"I always thought you didn't want us doin' that sort of thing. Like it would be self-serving to be in the Assembly and vote on a bill that would put money in your pocket."

"I have always wanted you boys to be able to speak your mind, Hoss. It is just that sometimes, we need to be circumspect about where and when. Speaking before the Assembly on this particular piece of legislation would not, in my opinion, be self-serving. Tell me, if you didn't run the ranch and our timbering operation, if you were in with Adam in the construction field, would feel the same way?"

"Yes, sir, I probably would. I've spent a lot of time in the timberland around Tahoe. Worked on some of the hiking trails and what-not. Always thought a good bit about it. Yes, sir, I would feel the same way: control cutting so that the woods would continue to prosper and be healthy."

Ben smiled and got to his feet. "That's what I mean, Hoss. Seriously consider coming and talking before the Assembly. I can put you in touch with a young woman; she's part of a lobbying group, who could supply you with all sorts of information. So, how about it?"

"I'll think about it," was all Hoss would allow. What he wanted that morning, more than ever, was to have the house to himself.

When his father finally left, Hoss was ready to do his disappearing act once again. In fact, he was half way up the stairs when Hop Sing caught him.

"You promised me that you would drive me into town today. We need groceries." The little Oriental even stamped his foot to show his determination.

"Oh," Hoss mumbled as he turned to face the cook, "I forgot. Listen, Hop Sing, all I got to drive is the truck. We go grocery shopping in it and we'd have to put everything in the back. With the weather like it is, it's liable to get snowed on!" Behind his back, he crossed his fingers for luck.

It didn't work. Hop Sing had been listening to the radio in the kitchen and knew that the weather forecast was sunshine and bright skies for the day. "Besides," he exclaimed, "You have king-cab so there is room behind seats for lots of bags!"

"Well, there's some things I got to take care of. How long before you are ready to go?" Silently, Hoss prayed for at least an hour.

"Ready now. Go now!"

Some days, he thought, it just didn't pay to get out of bed.



By noon, they were home and had the myriad bags unloaded from the truck. Trying to appease Hop Sing, Hoss had hung around in the kitchen and helped him store the groceries they had bought. He thought it had worked somewhat when the lunch he was served proved to be a big bowl of piping hot beef stew, hot biscuits and a double slice of apple pie, complete with a shovel-like spoonful of ice cream on it. With that consumed, Hoss was free to go about his own business and he did so promptly.

He was humming as he booted up the computer and logged on. Careful of what his blunt fingers did, he got onto the Net and, proud of his accomplishment, went to check his email. When the screen opened, he was a little downcast since there were only two messages. The first was from his server, thanking him for the chance to take care of all of his Internet needs.

"Iffen you're gonna take care of me, gimmee one of them ladies you got hidin' in there!" he protested and for good measure, thumped the screen with his index finger, making the monitor rock slightly.

The other email showed nothing in the subject box and he was leery of opening it. He vaguely recalled a dinner table discussion concerning the possibility of Internet bugs running rampant through a computer system, eating everything in sight. A literal man, Hoss envisioned then, and now, a swarm of minuscule insects chomping down on wires and plastic. Back then, he laughed at the mental picture. Now, he wasn't so sure he wanted to expose his beloved machine to the teeming monsters.

Bracing himself for the worst, he clicked the 'open mail' tab. With his eyes squinted shut, he leaned forward, half expecting to hear either the maniacal cackle of some hacker or the crunching sounds of his hard drive being eaten alive. When he perceived none of it, he opened his eyes and saw just a short note.

"Hi," it greeted him and Hoss smiled hugely. "My name is Rose. I saw your bio on the Nevada Dating Singles website." It went on and he studied it carefully. Later, he would be able to quote it word for word but right at that moment, he was lost in the carefully conceived words his brothers had secretly concocted for his benefit. Rose sounded perfect for him.

His fingers cautiously tapping and mousing around, he discovered how to reply to her missive. Then he sat and started at the blank screen, wondering what he should say. He started twice and erased what he had written twice.

"Dadburn it all! Seems my fingers won't write any better than my mouth talks when it comes to wimmen. Come on now, ol Hoss. You can do it!" Even his self-encouragement failed and he slumped in his chair. Frustrated, he punched the button that turned the computer off then, wild-eyed and fearful, cursed his stupidity. He knew better than to do that but he had done it and now he wondered if Rose's letter was lost for all eternity.

"Seems to me I remember some piece of poetry that said somethin' about lost chances bein' a sign of what was supposed to be. Well, that was dumb and if it's gone forever, I reckon I was just meant to be a bachelor. Why couldn't I think of what to say to her? Wish I was as honey tongued as them brothers of mine." With that last thought voiced aloud, he pursed his lips and stared hard at the dark monitor.

"That's it!" he yelped and snapping his fingers turned the computer back on. Even though he had to wait longer for the computer to give him back to the ethereal world, he put that time to good use. "Yep, just make believe that I'm Adam or Joe and answer her like they would. Piece of cake!"

Once again, he was faced with the blank reply screen. "Let's see. Should I be Adam and be real sophisticated? Nah, can't use fancy five-dollar words the way he can. Maybe Joe. Like a puppy cuddling up to a girl, tail just a-waggin'. Nah, that only works when he can turn them green eyes and that pretty smile on 'em and make 'em swoon. Hmmm." He put his hands on the keyboard and as he spoke aloud, typed the words, hoping they read the same way they sounded.

"Hi, Rose," he began, hoping for a degree of friendly informality. "Thanks for getting touch with me. I read what you said about yourself - I did, didn't I? - and you sound like a really nice girl - or should I say she's a lady? Yep, lady. Back up here, little blinkin' bar - a really nice lady. You say that you like to ride horses. Do you own your own horse or what? -Does that sound dumb? Leave it. I don't wanna sound too chummy to start with.- I like to ride over by Lake Tahoe. I know some lovely trails. - is it t-r-i-a-l-s or t-r-a-i-l-s?  Shoot, leave it.- Do you have a place you particularly like? - Think that's enough to start with." He tapped the send button then wished he had written something else entirely.

Just to be on the safe side, he dropped back onto the dating website and looked up Rose's information. It didn't say a whole lot and he breathed a sigh of relief that she did like horses. There also wasn't a picture available of her and that made him think of what he was going to do about his own. He didn't have the equipment as far as he knew, to take his own photo and some how magically make it appear on the computer.

"'Sides, I ain't nothin' pretty to look at!" he groused, running a hand back through his thinning light brown locks. " I wonder..." he asked himself softly then went back to the search block and typed in "Cartwright and Sons Construction Company." Within moments, it gave him the correct location of their website and he pulled it up. He flipped through the pages, hunting for a likeness of himself but the only one he could find, he was in the background of the picture and had his mouth open and his finger pointing off in some vague direction. He remembered that day plainly. He didn't know that there was a photographer there on the jobsite he was helping at. The day had been miserably hot and some fool had just put a load of lumber on the opposite side of the site from where he needed it. The picture had actually been of one of the completed buildings of a casino they were putting up and he had gotten caught by accident.

"What if I use. . . ?" He paused at the screen that showed Adam, dark suited with his hair slicked back as he accepted the Nevada Architect of the Year award. "Better not. But how about. . . ? No, he looks too young." The picture on the screen was his younger brother, shirt open and hair blowing wild as he helped raise a stud wall. "May as well put up a picture of Bugs Bunny." That made him chortle but it also made him think.

He studied the other photos of men, flipping quickly through the gallery. They all looked alike after the first few. If he went ahead and posted a cartoon character, he would certainly stand out from the rest. "Which one? Needs to be recognized as a gentleman, easy going and upstanding. I know! But where would I find it?"

By the time dinner was ready, Hoss had located and posted his cartoon character on the dating website. It was Foghorn Leghorn, the legendary white rooster whose "I say, boy!" had a distinctive southern flare. Even as he looked at his handiwork, he laughed.

"Now go get me a whole coop full of hens, boy!"



Chapter Two


Havoc and chaos are bedfellows of panic. With them, there is no rest for the wicked or the righteous.


All parents know what their offspring are doing all of the time. It may take them a while but they will eventually know. Fathers and mothers, having watched their progeny since birth, have an innate sense of the workings of their young minds. They know, for instance, just before the child reaches for something that he or she may likely look to them for approval before they grasp the object. Another child of the same parentage may not and the parents know this. This is a trait that persists throughout the child's lifetime, whether or not he or she lives under the same roof with his parents. All the elders must do is wait and the offspring will eventually reveal his intentions. As stated above, it may take them a while but the successful parent is patient.

Ben Cartwright considered himself a successful parent. He had raised three sons virtually single-handed and saw that they were reasonably happy, intelligent, well-balanced and well-behaved young men. His main concern that early winter was not on what they were doing. No, he was a little worried that Hoss' cold, while it hadn't seem to be getting any worse - thank Heavens! - it also didn't seem to be getting any better. Over the preceding week, Ben's middle son had repeatedly insisted that he didn't need to see the family doctor. Understanding that he probably should force the issue, Ben repeatedly told himself was that his son was old enough and sensible enough to know if and when he needed professional care 

There was, however, the curious behavior of his oldest and youngest that he'd become mildly interested in. Joe didn't complain when he was fingered to do Hoss' outside chores because of his brother's illness. At first, Ben chalked it up to brotherly compassion. All the same, when he found Joe talking on his cell phone as he laid in the hay he was suppose to be tossing to the hungry cattle milling about the truck, Ben was not pleased. The electronic conversation ceased abruptly, the gadget disappeared into a coat pocket and a pitchfork came to the young man's hands. A wide grin stayed on Joe's face. Ben put it all down to a new love interest for this son was the girl chaser of the lot.

As for Adam, long hours at the office were nothing new behavior-wise for him. Ben was proud of the dedication his eldest son showed for the family business concerns. What caught his fatherly eye was what transpired after a successful bid for a new project. Instead of the backslapping, cork-popping and generally joyous celebration that went on normally until after quitting time, Adam had sequestered himself in his office until nearly midnight. If that wasn't enough of a red flag, he had taken Joe with him! At first Ben was concerned that something had gone horribly awry in the bid and that those two were trying to figure a way either out of the bid or a way to go forward and still bring in a profit. He himself went home to a darkened house just before nine that evening, leaving his sons in that silent office, hunched over their computers.

The next morning, seeing three sets of bleary eyes around the breakfast table, he had asked if there was something he should know about the recent bid.

Adam's head had shot up from where it had sagged over his plate of eggs and bacon. "No, there's nothing wrong with it. I figured in a good ten percent profit on the job. We got good subcontractors who gave us their best numbers and have allocated their finest crews to the project. Besides, with little brother here running it, we'll have a firm hand in the works. Why do you ask?"

"You just seemed a little. . . "Ben floundered, looking for the right word that wouldn't demean his sons' loyalty and commitment. Finally he found it. "Yesterday afternoon, you and Joe just seemed a little distracted. A little worried about something. That's all. I saw Joe come out of his office and snag you then the next thing anyone knows and you two are in the big office with the door closed."

There was a reason that Joseph sat at Ben's right hand. Long ago it had been so that the single father could help his baby eat without spreading food from hither to yon and back again. The seating arrangement had persisted so that he could grab an arm and enforce good manners before that same little boy went dashing from the table. Now, with the boy now in his mid twenties, it was so Ben could watch his features for everything the boy ever felt was telegraphed at light speed to his face. That morning, he caught the sidelong glance that slid down the table to the foot where Adam sat. It gave him the distinct impression that what he had just been told was not the whole truth.

"Oh?" The single word, said with brows raised and with a slight twist of his silvered head, gave his sons the idea that they were not being believed.

"There was a little concern about one of the subs," Adam admitted, his fork playing with his scrambled eggs. "Joe and I got a hold of him, ran his dollars a few times. Tried to figure out how to fit him into the schedule and all. Turns out that the guy was dead on. Little computer glitch. No big deal, Pa."

While he finished chewing his toast, Ben studied the length of the table before him. Joseph was paying too much attention to his plate; Adam was not drinking his coffee even though his cup was held before his face with both hands. Hoss, on the other hand, seemed totally immersed in his syruping of his mountain of flapjacks.

Now, any other parent might have pressed the issue, feeling the little niggling of doubt about the veracity of his offspring. Ben Cartwright was not such a parent. As previously noted, he was patient and knew that sooner or later, the real truth would come out. In the mean time, he would put in more time in his construction company office. It would not be unusual, as the legislative session was over. His time now could be diverted for a while to his business although he would have to give some time to the State's committees he chaired during the off-season. As he used his napkin, he informed his family of the decision.

There was a sharp intake of breath from Joe but Adam, setting his coffee cup down, merely smiled and said he would welcome the help getting the new job off to a running start. Hoss merely plowed into his flapjacks.

Ah yes. There was something wrong. 


"Lunch?" Joe asked, just sticking his head into Adam's office.

"Where you going? Ormsby's?" Adam responded, not looking up from his computer screen. His desk was covered by manila folders, some opened, some closed, but all spread haphazardly.

"No, that steak house out by the shopping center. Heard Pa tell someone he was going to Ormsby's. We need to talk. Private-like."

"Problem?" Adam stood, his attention now riveted to all he could see of his brother: the fingers wrapped around the doorjamb. In an instant, he was moving, snagging his jacket and shrugging it on as he walked to the door.

"Yeah," was all Joe would reply since coming down the hall was Adam's secretary, Rosalie.

"We'll be back later. Anything earth-shattering and you can call my cell, okay?" Adam smiled for her sake but how she was to see it was anyone's guess since, by that time, they were in the elevator with the door closing.

They said nothing until the Jaguar slid across two parking spaces some distance from the steakhouse door and came to a halt, with the driver checking the surrounding area for lurking monsters known for eating expensive paint and pitting the sheetmetal of car doors.

"Don't say it! Just get out and walk. And don't slam the door!" he warned. Long ago Adam had perfected the art of protecting his vintage car from parking lot dings. Unfortunately, he had yet to impress the art of solid door closing without the use of excessive force upon his brother. The windows rattled a little and across the roof of the car, Joe shrugged his apology.

"So what's up?" Adam asked as they walked towards the aroma of sizzling beefsteak.

"He's learned about instant messaging." Joe pulled the door open and the noise of the lunchtime crowd drowned Adam's soft curse.

They took a booth well towards the back of the restaurant, ordered large steaks as all good cattlemen did, with side salads and baked potatoes. Adam requested coffee while Joe, really wanting a beer, went for a soda instead.

"What do you suggest we do?" Joe asked, diving into his salad.

Adam, studying his greens cautiously as though perhaps there was an eavesdropping device hidden in their depths, shrugged his shoulders. "You know more about this than I do. I'm open to suggestions but we have to be careful. Pa wasn't exactly convinced this morning."

"I know, but what were we gonna do yesterday? Leave him hangin'? He always expects Rose to log on about six o'clock. If we hadn't, he might have thought she was out with some other guy!"

"And leave her beloved Foghorn Leghorn alone in the chicken house? Unless you missed something, I think that there are other hens interested in our rooster."

"What makes you think that?" queried Joe, sliding his salad aside as the waitress moved his platter of meat into place. She smiled as she did it and he gave her a friendly wink. As she did the same for his brother, he couldn't help but notice that she had a trim figure and had looked back at him as she left the table.

"While you were still sawing logs this morning and he was downstairs getting ready to assault the world's supply of maple syrup, I checked his computer. He has about fifteen email addresses saved in his address book. Not a one of them was for the feed and grain store, either." The steak knife sliced through the inch thick meat easily, the juice running out to join the melting butter from the baked potato.

Chewing around the mouthful of meat, both brothers considered the problem before them. They swallowed, studied the problem some more and took another pair of beef cubes under scrutiny.

"Now this. Okay, how about - no, that won't work. Pa already thinks there is something wrong about the North Lake Tahoe Hotel project for Grissom. I start staying late at the office and he'll dig deeper." Adam put his knife and fork down and reached for his coffee as he spoke.

"Well, you could always catch Hoss' cold," suggested Joe. That made both of them snort with laughter. They knew that the only reason Hoss had come up with the 'I have a cold' story was to justify the amount of time he was not spending outdoors.

"You catch his cold. I have work to do to get the hotel project off the ground."

Joe signaled for more soda from the cute waitress then went back to the conversation. "Can't. He's got my phone line tied up, remember? I would have to use your line or haul my laptop into -where? Pa's room to use his line? That would look real curious, wouldn't it? Nope, you catch his cold."

"Wait a minute!" Adam yelped softly. "We're going at this all wrong. All Rose has to do is tell Hoss that she has got a job that keeps her too busy to go online for long during the day. She would have time of an evening, though. Say, after seven o'clock?"

"And that's when you or I go to bed? Oh, come on, Adam! Pa ain't gonna swallow that! Jeeze, I haven't gone to bed before midnight since I got out of school."

"You're right. He would think that we were sick or something." Both had the same vision flash before their eyes: a spoonful of gelatinous cough syrup tasting of parboiled leather held by a hand that dwarfed many others and in front of eyes full of parental fear. They shook their heads simultaneously and resumed their attack on their steaks.

The rest of the meal was punctuated by multiple explosions of "how about?", "what about?" and "not in a million years" from the pair of electronic conspirators. When it ended and Joe added to the tip Adam was leaving on the table, they still hadn't come up with a solution.


As Adam directed the low-slung car through the snow-slushy streets, they remained quiet. Not until he was pulling into his parking place did the idea hit him and he smiled silkily.

"I have it." He held up his cell phone and glanced over at his brother. "Your laptop, my cell phone, a mobile modem and. . . " At that point, his idea fizzled out.

"Lemme point out to you a few things, older brother. One, reception sucks when you are in the garage. Which is where we would have to be to not cause suspicion from Pa. It is February and this is still Nevada. It is cold, especially at night even when you're in the garage. Not only that, the accounting department has already been raisin' Cain about our cell bills that have after hour calls on them. Imagine what they would have to say about a bill that has a couple of hours on it."

He hated to admit it, but Joe had a point - several in fact. "Well, think on it this afternoon. Have Rose email him like we said about the timing, work and all that. I trust you can still smooze without my input." Adam swung his door open, barely missing the side of Joe's new red Jeep where it sat, parked close to the dividing line.

"Fine," Joe ripped back. "What are you gonna be up to? I have to get things arranged to get the jobsite trailer up to North Tahoe. Remember? The hotel? Remember?" When he saw Adam stop abruptly, one hand in the process of pocketing his car keys, Joe also halted. "What?"

Adam snapped his fingers. His eyebrows danced and he smiled. With the weight of the world slipping off his own shoulders, he threw a companionable arm across his brother's. "That's it," he whispered, still smiling. "The jobsite office. Hurry up. Get it set up, little brother. You are going to be spending lots of time up there real soon. Forget about telling him that Rose can't get online during the day. In fact, during the day is about the only time she has computer access any more."

"What about Pa? He'll think it's a little strange, won't he? We haven't signed the contract but we're putting men and materials up there?"

"No," crooned Adam, "Just one man and just the trailer and the phones. Trust me, by the time you and I get finished this afternoon, Pa will be glad to see you up there. Ready for a little arguing?"

There was something about the way Adam had said that last word, that 'arguing', that made Joe smile as well. When they did get around to staging it in the hallway just down from the office Ben used, no one in the complex could claim to have missed it. It would prompt Ben to take his sons aside and speak firmly to them and there would be a handshake following apologies earnestly given. The result would be the same: put a little distance between them with Joe in the gray jobsite trailer at North Lake Tahoe and Adam still in his glass-walled office. What no one else was privy to was the long laugh the two shared via their cell phones as Joe tore out of the parking lot.

Hoss was in heaven. On mornings after the rest of the family disappeared, he would retire to his secret computer and check his email. By now, his second week into the cyber-world, he was getting the hang of how things worked. His fingers, while not having changed size, were becoming slightly more dexterous and he made fewer mistakes. Also, his mailbox was becoming increasingly fuller every time he checked it. There seemed to be a remarkable number of ladies out there who appreciated his sense of humor and his gallantry. One, her screen name was just "L", had even referred to him as a chivalrous knight in shining armor when he suggested how she might successfully get her mother to stop running her life. Yes, there was Sue, a secretary from some government installation who never used capital letters. Then had come Angie, who proved to be a little on the snooty side until Hoss mentioned that he raised horses and cattle. Seemed that she loved horses and spelled love with a lot of o's, that made Hoss wonder how much education she had. Some of the girls, like Lydia and Karen, were from out of the area but still liked discussing things with him. His one true love, he thought, was still the first one who had replied to him: Rose. The more he emailed back and forth with her, the more he knew she was right for him and he longed to get up the nerve to ask her for a date.

Then fate had played into his arms once more in the form of a pop-up ad. It mentioned something called instant messaging and he had done a little research and found that it was much faster than emails. "Almost," he whispered to only the monitor, "like having a conversation with someone." So he had asked Rose about it. That, he feared, had nearly been the end of their relationship because she was slow in answering him. Had he committed some cyber-space sin? Was she no longer going to communicate with him because he had shown himself to be forward? Did she now think he was some perverted prisoner, locked away in a jail cell somewhere, who had lied to her repeatedly? Is that what she thought?

As he opened his email that sunny winter morning, he found a quick note from Rose. Briefly she explained that she'd had a little problem with her boss at the same time she was coming down with a headcold. She apologized profusely in the note and said that she would love to IM with him but could only do it during the day since she didn't have the wherewithal on her home computer.

Hoss sat there, his face screwed up. He couldn't understand how she could email him from home like she had some nights but not have what it took to do the instant messaging. That was what IM meant, wasn't it? Scratching his head, he decided that she knew lots more about computers than he did and he would let it go. Besides, if he spent any more time in his room at night, his father was sure to haul him off to Doc Martin's office, figuring his cold was worse than he pretended it to be. "Yep," he said aloud as he responded to her. "I got lots of time during the day. How about we try this IM stuff this afternoon. You did say you were in the same time zone as me. Say about three o'clock?"

Across Lake Tahoe, half way up a slope, his brother Joe yelped. The men leveling the trailer thought he had dropped something. 

"Your brother is on line one," Rosalie's voice drifted through the late morning stillness of Adam's office.

"Which one?" he asked, still studying the computer screen before him.

"Line one," she repeated and Adam thought he detected a bit of heat in her words.

He frowned at the screen and without looking, reached for his phone.

"What?" he flared, his tone hard, flat and demanding.

It wasn't the brother he thought it was. Instead of Joe, it was Hoss and Adam felt a twinge of regret. It didn't last long, though.

"Just wondered if you knew a nice place to have dinner that wasn't in Carson," Hoss said, and Adam could almost see his big lovable brother pulling away from the phone yet leaning into it all the same.

"Thought you knew all the good places to eat within a hundred miles," teased the older of the brothers, scrambling for a verbal toehold on the conversation.

"Well, it ain't necessarily just for eatin'. You know, a place that would be a good place to take a girl."

Instantly, Adam's attention was riveted to the phone receiver. His stomach fell to the carpet and a tight fist grabbed hold of his throat, strangling his response. Cold panic ran up his spine, fighting for hiding space under his collar with the goosebumps his brother's words had created. His mouth opened and closed on its own a few times before Adam said the only thing he could think to say. "A girl?" Even to him, his voice sounded a little higher pitched than normal.

"Yes, I said a girl. More over, a lady, a real lady. You know the nice places to take 'em. I know you do."

He had to stall for time, Adam did. What had Joe, as Rose, been telling Hoss? Leading him on? Quickly forming in his mind was a list of things he would do to his baby brother when he caught up to him next out of sight of the rest of the family. But for right now, Hoss was hanging on the other end of the phone, wanting an answer. Maybe, just maybe it wouldn't be Rose he was thinking about taking out, he silently prayed.

"What kind of menu do you think she'd be interested in?" he asked, reaching for his cell phone where it lodged in its charging station on his desk. He had to get a hold of Joe if only to find out just what was going on and give a little direction if it was Rose.

"Never thought of that," muttered Hoss and once again, Adam could breathe. "I'll get back with you." The line went dead and Adam flopped back in his chair, fighting the urge to pant. He pushed buttons on his cell, willing Joe to answer him and not drop him into voicemail.

"You know, I do have some things that need doing out here," Joe huffed by way answering the call.

"Well, Rose," Adam cleared his throat and whirled his chair around so that he was looking out the window, "we have a problem."

"I do believe I have heard that word problem too damn many times lately. What is it now?"

Adam smiled at the vision his thoughts created. "You want your dress taffeta or something a little more casual? Think you could handle a plunging neckline? A lace edge on it maybe? And shoes. A pair of sling-back heels maybe? Better wear dark stockings. What size pantyhose you suppose you need?" The further he went, the broader Adam grinned, imagining Joe in drag.

"What the Hell are you talking about?" Joe didn't need the phone to be heard, his shout was so loud.

"It's like this. If I have it figured right, Hoss is about to ask Rose out to dinner. Better make the date for later in the week because you have some shopping to do that I don't think you want to do around here."

The sounds now coming through the little earpiece made Adam think that his sibling was drowning. He pressed on, relentlessly, enjoying every nuance. "Good thing that you haven't had a hair cut in a while. That way at the beauty parlor, they can fix it up real nice. I'll ask Jenny about one of those nail places. You know, get you some real claws. What do you think? Red polish? Or is that too daring?"

"Will you make sense?"

"Like I said, Hoss is about to ask Rose for a date. He called here and asked for the name of a nice restaurant in the area to take a girl to for dinner. It has got to be Rose he's thinking about asking out. In effect, Joe, he is calling our bluff."

"You don't know that for sure! Maybe he wasn't going to ask Rose. You, yourself, said he had a whole hen house going. Wait a minute. Oh shit, it's him on the computer. He's asking Rose..." Joe's disembodied voice drifted on the wavelengths between them. From what Adam could gather, he was reading something off the computer screen, muttering aloud." Oh lordy, Adam, he's asking Rose to go out with him. What do I tell him?" There was a brief silent pause, then something Adam had said sank in to its fullest depth. "What's all this talk about me and pantyhose? It was your idea. I suggest that you shave close though. Can't hide a five o'clock with cosmetics."

"Will you be serious a minute? What are we gonna do?" Adam heard the door behind him open fully and turned to see Rosalie standing in the door with a handful of papers. He waved her on in absently. "Tell him the restaurant at The Pines Hotel. Hoss ought to know where it is and he'll need to meet you there. Okay, later." He snapped the phone shut and beamed at Rosalie for a moment. She stood there, a half-questioning look on her round face, so Adam felt compelled to explain. "Setting up a date for my brother Hoss."

"Oh," she said softly and put the papers down on his desk. As she departed, there was something about how she did it that made Adam think there was something going on that he didn't understand.

Who could fathom the female mind anyway, he ruminated, signing his name at all the places she had flagged as he did. 


"I am not dressing up like a woman!" Joe spat the words out as he slammed the door of his Jeep. He and Adam had just pulled into their respective parking places in the garage. "This was your idea. You figure out what to do!"

"I have. And keep your voice down. You make the date? At The Pines?" asked Adam as he gathered his briefcase from the passenger seat of the Jag.

Through the gathering gloom of night, Joe sidled over to the back of the car, his boots crunching in the frozen snow of the yard. Looking towards the house, the yellow glow of the porch light beckoned, offering sanctuary.

"Yeah, that's what I told him. Lord, Adam, this ain't gonna work. He is hooked on Rose. Bad, I tell you. And there is no way that you or I, no matter how we dress up, is gonna pass for a broad, even in the dark corners of a restaurant."

"Remember why we started doing this? Teach him a lesson, right? Well, one of the lessons he is going to learn involves women getting cold feet at meeting some strange man."

They headed across the yard together, heads both bowed and voices kept low. "Man, that's gonna hurt him, Adam. The past week, instant messaging with him, he has laid his soul bare to Rose. He tells her how lonely he is and all." There was real remorse in Joe's words for indeed, he did now feel bad that they had started it.

Before their footsteps would have resounded on the broad wood planking of the entryway, they paused and faced one another.

"That's why, Saturday night, we will be waiting at The Pines," suggested Adam.

"You mean tell him?"

Adam nodded, his own soul twisting the same way he envisioned Joe's. "But look at it this way. We'll be in a public place and he won't beat us up."

"There." Joe groaned, finishing his brother's sentence and making it match his own vision of what their brother would do to them.

"There," Adam agreed.

Together they headed on into the house.

            "You know, I keep thinking how nice Cabo San Lucas is this time of the year. Ought to go down there and relax a little. Drink a few margaritas. Get a little tan back, you know? You are getting terribly pale, Joe."

Just as he swung the door open, Joe shot back over his shoulder, "You too, brother. Your pantyhose too tight?"



Chapter Three


Just desserts are sometimes sweeter than the guilty should have on a diet of crow.


Saturday nights at the Ponderosa were generally quiet nights. That is, they had been since the three sons had gotten old enough to drive. There were very few when Ben's oldest and youngest sons didn't have dates. Hoss would disappear as well, but Ben knew for a fact that his middle son would spend the evening shooting pool down at Virginia City's Bucket of Blood Saloon. Long before midnight, he and his pick-up truck would rumble in, say good night and head up the stairs for bed. Once Joe had passed the magical mark of twenty-one, Ben had stopped staying up, waiting downstairs for the young pup to show his nose after curfew. Now, he didn't bother with curfews. As for Adam, well, he had faith that his eldest would find his way home at a decent hour and if he didn't, there would be a phone call explaining the lateness with the added "don't wait up for me," attached. So, Ben would bank the fire, turn out all but the porch light and the one at the foot of the stairs, and go to bed. There he would lay awake until all of his progeny had returned or called. Just because they were adults did not stop him from being a parent. It merely gave them a little more leeway.

This Saturday night was proving to be no different. Or at least that is what Ben thought until Hoss came downstairs wearing his Sunday jacket. His thin hair was plastered back and his boots had been shined.

"No, Pa, I don't want no supper. Got me a date this evening and I'm taking her to dinner at The Pines. Gotta save my appetite." Hoss chortled a little as he finished.

From his chair by the fire, Ben watched as Hoss again ran a hand back over his hair as he studied his reflection in the mirror by the clock. "Any one I know?" he asked, gently prying.

"No, sir," Hoss began but had to stop himself from saying that she was someone he had met online. Quickly, he came up with, "She's just come into the area."

"You want to borrow my car?" Ben offered, imagining his son pulling up in front of a young lady's home and trying to get her into the high seat of his pick up. "It might be easier on her to get into."

"Thanks anyway, Pa, but I'm meeting her there. How do I look?" He turned and faced his father, straightening his shoulders and tugging on the hem of his suede jacket.

"You look fine, son," Ben replied, a smile breaking loose and running across his face. "Yes, there are going to be three very happy young ladies somewhere tonight."

"Three?" An insane bit of panic ran through Hoss' mind, making him wonder if he had somehow invited too many ladies to dinner and how had his father known about it?

"Oh, Adam and Joe left a while ago."

The last thing Hoss wanted was to find one of his brothers at the same restaurant. Having gotten the directions from Adam, he was sure Adam knew where The Pines Hotel was at but what were the chances that they'd both be there at the same time?

"Did they happen to mention where they was headed?" Now Hoss was gently prying.

"Didn't say but then they never do. Are you sure you're well enough to go out tonight, son? You look a little pale."

Straightening once more, Hoss reassured his father and slipped out the door before his father could ask any more questions. As he cranked his truck, Hoss consoled himself with the fact that should he spot a 1965 Jaguar in the parking lot of The Pines, he would be forewarned enough. After all, there wasn't another car like it in Nevada. As for Joe's red Jeep, there were plenty of them but The Pines was not the sort of place Joe took a girl. He pulled out of the garage and headed down the lane, wondering once more what Rose would be wearing, what she would look like. Her message had only said that she would find him at the table he reserved. 


The Pines Hotel and Restaurant dated back further than any of the younger generation of Cartwrights. It had been built for the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics and had remained much the same way since then: sturdy, dark construction made mostly of pine logs and open beams. Like many of its kind in the Lake Tahoe region on the California side, it featured a spacious dining area off to one side of broad entranceway. Across from the dining area, but blocked from viewing more than just the door, was the L-shaped bar. While the bar would be crowded, it also featured a raised area towards the back that enabled anyone sitting at those tables a view of the entrance to the dining area. Because it was as dark, as all bars usually are, anyone sitting there would not be easily noted from the entrance.

            Sitting at one of those tables that Saturday evening were Adam and Joe Cartwright. Several times they had seen people that they knew and had just nodded and continued sitting as they had: hunched over the table as though conferring on some difficulty. In truth, they were trying to watch the front entrance to the restaurant and not be seen at the same time. Most of their acquaintances figured that they were out on the proverbial prowl and, while that pairing of tomcats was unusual, it would be shrugged off. After all, they were brothers and the brothers had been known to double date before.

"Want something to hold that beer down?" Adam gestured to the second beer Joe had just gotten.

Joe shook his head sadly. "Couldn't hold it down if I did eat something. Oh God, Adam, this is gonna hurt Hoss. Why did we ever-?"

"We did it because we don't want to see him get hurt by some cheap floozy out to make a bundle of money off our name. Think of it this way: it will only hurt him for a while. That's better what some bimbo would do to him."

Joe looked into his brother's eyes steadily. The dark ones across the table wavered then fell to his own beer. "Okay," Adam admitted with a sigh. "I couldn't eat anything either."

Toying with his heavy beer mug, Joe saw her first. He muttered a warning to Adam but even ducking and looking at the wall did not deter her. She slid into the chair that backed onto the wall, facing the door fully.

"Hello, Rosalie. What brings you here tonight?" Joe asked casually.

With her head tilted a little to one side, her short dark hair brushed one shoulder of her cream colored blouse and she smiled at the two men. "Foolishness is what brings me here. I'll have a Virgin Mary," she explained, both to the brothers and the waitress.

"Foolishness, huh?" Adam asked, sucking in his upper lip afterwards, figuring he and Joe were here for the same reason.

"Yep. Male foolishness." She waited until she had sipped her drink then, looking into the eye of her boss, went on. "Can we not be boss and employee for a little while?"

Adam pulled back from the table, suddenly wary of the position he was in. After all, the ink was barely dry on the new policy which, strongly worded, gave no leniency for "office dating". True the original concept had been to deter the younger members of the firm from becoming - aw hell, Adam thought, it was to keep his youngest brother from creating problems of the sexual harassment type. Not that Joe would knowingly create a problem but young women weren't the same as they had been when he was Joe's age. Throughout all of Cartwright and Sons Construction it was referred to simply as "The Edict."

"It depends," he said warily and pushed his chair back from the small table as far as it would go.

"Relax, would you? You're safe. Besides, you have a witness here." Rosalie jerked a thumb in Joe's direction and he merely raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

"Okay. You obviously have something you want to get off your chest so go ahead." Adam's mouth was suddenly dry so he picked up Joe's beer and finished it in two long swallows.

"I know about Rose."

Joe, in the middle of signaling for another round of drinks, nearly gave himself whiplash turning back around to face her. Adam, on the other hand, choked on the last gulp of suds and had to be pounded on the back in order to breathe again.

"I also know about Foghorn Leghorn."

The two brothers glared at one another, each reading the other's thoughts but it was Adam who turned the thoughts into words.

"How do you know about Foghorn and Rose?"

She smiled and it brightened her face and made her eyes dance with glee. "I have been your administrative assistant for a number of years, Adam. There isn't much that goes on in your office that I don't know about." She turned in her chair and poked Joe with a long red fingernail. "And you forget to cover your tracks sometimes. No, rest assured, no one else knows about this but me."

"And you have decided to blackmail us? Rosalie. . . ." Adam's voice faltered.

"No, nothing so crass as that. Well, maybe a little." As she watched, she saw the defensiveness wash over them and, for a brief moment, she was sorry that she had ever gotten involved but then, she alone knew what she could gain out of the situation so she pursued it. "What I want is a little loosening of the "No Dating" Policy. Oh don't look like that, Adam. You're safe. After all, you are a little old for me."

Adam couldn't help himself but he felt as though he had just been slapped. Of course, it didn't help when Joe giggled and snorted across the table at the girl's words. He glared menacingly but stayed silent.

"And you, Joe, well, you just aren't - even in the least - my type of guy."

Now it was Adam's turn to snort and laugh, seeing the pained expression on his brother's face. But Rosalie put a hand out to each and stopped them both.

"But Hoss, he's a horse of a different color, no pun intended. Technically, because he is a vice president in charge of something, he's my boss as much as either of you two are." She paused, watching the mouths drop open on both sides of the table. "He doesn't come around enough to even have an office in the building, so is he really my boss? I don't think of him that way. So, to keep the secret of Rose, I want to be able to date your brother, Adam, without fear or reprisal." When she saw that he was about to make a statement, she raised her hand. "And I understand that if it doesn't work out, it doesn’t work out. I'm a big girl and I can handle a little heartbreak since I've pretty much dealt with it all my life. If it doesn't work out, I'll still be able to be your assistant, Adam. I have never let my personal life get in the way of my paycheck."

"Okay," Adam repeated himself but this time drew the word out. "I didn't realize that you and Hoss…"

At that, she laughed lightly and sincerely. "I like Hoss. Have for a while but he's so shy and with the edict - well, you don't make it easy!"

"How did you find out? Listen at the door or something?" Joe asked, bewildered. He had been trying to recall all the times he had been "Rose" where she could have discovered the fact.

"You remember a guy emailing you early on? A guy by the name of Shelburn? You put him down pretty hard but when you did, you signed it the same way you do all your emails. 'Take care'. When you work with words the way I do all the time, certain phrases just naturally come up again and again, whether you say them or write them. That and this past week, every time I tried to call the new office trailer, the line was busy but your cell phone wasn’t and I could hear sounds in the background that go with being in an office, not outside."

"You were Shelburn?" Joe's voice jumped in pitch and Rosalie enjoyed the squeak.

"How's it feel to be lied to? Shelburn was my mother's maiden name but it makes for a good guy's name, don't you think?" Her tone was so innocent.

"Very good, Rosalie. Remind me to give you a raise. I haven't seen Joe look so distraught in ages. But you are right and that leads us to tonight. Old Foghorn Leghorn needs to learn a lesson or two about meeting people over the Internet. That was why Joe and I started this business; to show Hoss the dangers to be had."

She shook her head and smiled lopsided up at him. "No," she said softly, "not everyone out there on the Internet is a bad person. Some of them, like Hoss, are just lonely and trying to meet someone they can talk with. Most of the time, they aren't fortunate enough to be close enough to meet face to face but when the opportunity presents itself, well, they find that they have a whole lot more to talk about because the ice has been broken by that little blinking cursor."

"You win, Rosalie. But you said two things that you wanted. What's the other?"

Rosalie smiled broadly again. "Simple. I want the password to Rose's email account and the solemn promise from you two that you will never do something like this to Hoss again. He's too nice a guy to be hurt - especially by his own brothers!"

"Piece of cake!" Joe yelped then remembered he was inside and covered his mouth quickly.

"Promise?" she pressed and it wasn't until they both raised their hands and solemnly swore that she was satisfied. "Somehow, I think I am letting you two off the hook too easily."

"Rosalie, or should I call you Rose? If you knew how indebted we are to you for this-" Adam began but stopped when he saw her attention shift. He turned and saw the same thing she did. Hoss had just come into the restaurant foyer and although he hadn't seen them, was looking about.

She stood up quickly and brushed her hand down over her dark blue skirt then patted her hair. Taking a deep and wobbling breath, she swallowed hard then looked at the two men who had stood up as she had. "We have a deal, right? Either yes, or Joe, I want to see you dressed in taffeta and heels really fast."

Laughing, Adam agreed once more. He had to do all the talking because Joe was gaping like a fish out of water.

"Thanks, boss," she whispered and reaching up, kissed his cheek and then Joe's. In the blink of an eye, she left the bar and was out of sight.

Adam waited until he had silently counted to a hundred then grabbed Joe's arm and propelled him from the bar and into the parking lot. Hunching into their jackets, they made their way to where they had left their vehicles behind the building.

"Do you realize just how lucky we got?" he asked once they were clear of the building.

"You?" Joe yelped. "I had horrible visions of what my brothers were going to do to me! One was going to dress me up like a girl and the other was going to pound me into the ground up to my boot tops, head first! But tell me something. Did we just help Hoss? Or Rosalie? Or us?"

"I think this time around, we wound up helping everyone, accidental Cupids that we were. That is it, though. I am never going to infer with my brothers' romantic interludes again. Ever!" Adam swore.

"Hey, Adam! Does this mean I can date that new girl in Accounting?"

Adam looked to the bright star-lit sky as he reached for his car keys to unlock the Jag door. "No, the no fraternization edict still stands! This does not mean you can date anyone -and I do mean any one- in the company. Think of it as a way to bring new blood into play, Joe and I don't mean play that way!" He shook his head and opened his car door, ready to drop into the bucket seat and drive away.

"Good!" shouted Joe as he followed Adam's example and got into his Jeep. "Now I have a good excuse to turn her down with! You seen her? Uglier than the southern end of a north-bound…"

            The rest was lost as Adam cranked the car and let it idle a bit faster than he usually did.

            "Damn!" Adam cursed then laughed. "That was the only time Rosalie has ever called me by my name. Always before it's been 'boss' or 'Mister Cartwright.' Yep, I am going to give her a raise."


Once he was home, Adam explained to his father that his date had had to cut things short. That was why he was home early. He claimed to be tired and said good night then slipped up the stairs. After his shower, he sat down at his desk and pulled out his laptop. Quickly he plugged it in to power and the modem line, humming some nameless tune. He booted up and within moments was connected to the Internet. There were sounds just down the hall that sounded like Joe was also home but he paid them no additional attention. He checked his stocks to see where they stood and, satisfied with their gain, smiled lopsided at the monitor.

"Here it's another Saturday night and I am sitting at home," he murmured to himself then hummed the old Sam Cooke song by the same title. "But I know how to fix that!"

Down the hall, his shower over, Joe plopped down at his computer and, once on the Net, flipped through a few meaningless Spam emails, his disposition going more and more sour as he did. Finally, he leaned back in the chair and scowled at the screen.

"Fifteen girls in Hoss' address book. In two weeks, he gets that many responses? Who'd have thought he'd get that many and wind up with Rosalie! Well, Joseph Francis Cartwright, if Foghorn Leghorn can do it, you can too. What was the name of that site?"

By midnight, the website dedicated to putting lonely single men and women in Nevada together had signed up two new men. At least, it is to be thought they were men since they signed up as Bugs Bunny and the Roadrunner. 

The end

Tahoe Lady Irish

April-May 2004


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