Rating:  PG-13 for violence
A Dish Best Served Cold

Laura Brodie

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.
And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.


This story is a gift. A gift to a dear friend who was in so much hurt when I told her the idea I had to write the story. She wanted a distraction. My gift, to give it. This is for you. You know who you are. I know you have your own Stranger to stare down. I let you know I’ll give you courage to fight. I have become so much richer knowing you. You truly define a friend.

I thank my husband for being my editor, supporter and friend. He knows it is an obsession and has put up with so much. Baby, I see what you do!

To my Posse - you watch my back, make me laugh and I’ve shared a cry or two. I have found deeper friendships, new friendships and long lasting friendships.


Adam Cartwright, son of local cattle baron Ben Cartwright, almost single-handedly brought down the empire of Mr. Cyrus Baxter. Baxter, originally a Pennsylvania strip mining mogul, has substantial holdings in the Nevada territory and throughout the West. In this news story it is learned that Adam Cartwright is due to testify sometime this month regarding Baxter. Cartwright has made allegations that Baxter has stolen money from the investors of his Lone Pine Mine by falsifying ore reports and producing salted samples. Rumor has it Mr. Cartwright, a local investor in mining, set up the mining legend for a fall and was able to show the investors and the public that Mr. Baxter had taken them for fools. Mr. Cartwright will be scheduled for a full day’s testimony and seating will be limited. It is suggested that those wishing to attend arrive early. It should prove to be interesting. Can a man from the local ruling family take down a man from a well-known empire? Watch and read.


Joe Cartwright sat at the Reno livery, reading the lead story to an old Virginia City Press Enterprise he had found laying around, waiting for a shoe to be replaced on his horse. The past few weeks had been full of tension for the Cartwrights, as Joe’s brother Adam prepared to testify against one of the most ruthless men in the West. No one had been able to touch the corrupt businessman until Adam became wise to one of his schemes, set the man up for a fall, and in turn, possible prison time. Adam also had known the man would not go to prison willingly, and there was significant danger to him in testifying. In fact, several others who initially agreed to testify against the man had backed out of their obligation to the prosecution, so much of the case now rested on Adam’s shoulders.

Knowing of the danger, the prosecution, Sheriff Roy Coffee, and the Cartwrights had all worked together to hide Adam, so he would be safe until after he testified. There had been rumors that Baxter had placed a price on Adam’s head, and in a place such as the Nevada Territory, it would not take much for men to attempt to gain the blood money.

Joe had been sent to Reno by his reluctant father to sign the annual timber contracts. This was normally Adam’s responsibility, but it was far too dangerous for Adam to be out in the open until after the trial. The Ponderosa had to have the timber contracts in order to meet financial obligations elsewhere, or Ben would have simply let the contracts lapse. Even with the financial need of the ranch, it had taken quite a bit of persuasion on Joe’s part to talk his father into allowing him to sneak away from where they were hiding and ride to Reno.

Joe completed the transaction easily enough. He enjoyed getting to experience the feel of being a businessman on behalf of the Ponderosa. He had negotiated horse contracts in the past, but those felt old, with the prices rarely varying. The timber contract required negotiations and bluffing. Joe had watched and learned from both his father and Adam and believed he had gotten them the best contract possible. He had wished his father and Adam had been there to see how well he had done, and he looked forward to telling them once he saw them again.

Joe had tied up his business a day earlier than expected. Usually contract negotiations were as much a social affair as a business deal, with meals being served, and time spent discussing politics and current events. However, the man with whom Joe was meeting had pressing business elsewhere and had asked that he and Joe hammer out the details in one day, rather than doing it over a period of days. Joe easily agreed, having been rather nervous about discussing politics and current events with the man. He saw this area as something his older brother and father excelled at and knew he had more to learn as far as pulling off smooth social talk with men. Joe socialized primarily with cowboys and girls and had no problem pulling off interesting conversation with them, but he tended to get quiet and blend into the background when the social talk was with businessmen.

Joe realized he would be returning earlier than his father expected and thought to himself, "Hey now there’s a switch, me being early for a change." He had briefly entertained the idea of staying in Reno and playing the extra day, but he wanted to get back to help guard his brother to make sure Adam was safe. Joe saw the blacksmith was no where ready to replace the shoe on Cochise, as he had several other horses waiting ahead of the black and white pinto. He decided that he would take a look around town briefly, rather than reread the paper he had just finished. He stood and told the blacksmith he would be back in an hour and then headed off to explore.

While walking down the wooden sidewalk, Joe looked into the storefronts. He also enjoyed himself by looking at the ladies he passed, every so often turning totally around to watch them walk by. He tipped his hat in true gentleman fashion and smiled brightly. He would wink at the ones he viewed as the most pretty and chuckled to himself at how fun it was to be in Reno.

Eventually, Joe walked into a saloon and stood at the bar. He ordered a beer and had just taken his first sip when he felt something jab him in the ribs. He heard a man’s voice say in a low tone, "Don’t move, Cartwright. Don’t even breathe. I want you to walk slowly out of this place, turn to your left, and go down the alley."

Joe tried to look around him to see if he could easily get away. When the man spoke, he thought he recognized the voice, and if he was right, he knew he was in trouble - big trouble. He started to walk forward slowly, as he caught a glimpse of the man behind him in the saloon mirror. It was a man he had known only as Doyle, and he knew things had suddenly gotten very dangerous. Doyle was one of Baxter’s lieutenants and followed orders well.

Both men walked slowly out of the saloon and around the corner into the alley. There stood two other men, one Joe recognized as a man named Wells, and the other he did not know. The man he did not recognize spoke; his voice deep and heavy, "Mr. Cartwright, you need to come with us quietly if you wish to live. If you don’t, then make a sound, and my friend with the gun will kill you."

Joe scanned the area looking for some escape. The alley was narrow and the two men in front of him were standing in such a way as to block movement forward. There was also the man behind him, the gun securely in his ribs. He knew he had no choice at the moment, but told himself he would look for some way to escape at the first opportunity.

The Stranger walked towards Joe, looked him in the eye, and took Joe’s gun from his gun belt. Joe felt a cold shiver go down his spine, as he saw no life in the eyes that stared back. They were hard and cold and seemed to look right through him. He wanted to panic, but told himself to keep calm and try to keep the fear from his eyes. The man smiled an evil smile. "This is gonna be fun."

Joe’s heart jumped, but he said nothing. The man behind him shoved him forward, and they steered him to a cellar entrance at the side of the saloon. Wells opened the double doors and stepped aside. The Stranger spoke, "I’ll take it from here." As he put the gun to Joe’s ribs and cocked it.

"Go ahead Pretty Boy, walk down the steps." The man ordered.

As Joe looked to where the man wanted him to walk, he could see nothing but a wall of darkness. He realized he would be at a great disadvantage if he were taken out of public view and his only chance would be to somehow not allow himself to be taken down into the cellar. He prayed someone would soon pass by who could help him, but doubted it would occur. He also knew there was a gun in his side that, if fired, could easily kill him if he tried to resist. He had a choice to make.

Moving quickly, Joe shoved the man with the gun away and dove to the ground to be out of the line of fire. He rolled away and kicked the feet out from under Doyle, who was standing next to him. Doyle fell, dropping his gun. Joe reached for it but suddenly felt a strong kick to the stomach. He lost his breath and then a face was in front of him.

"Cute maneuver there, Pretty Boy, and now you’ll die." The man put the barrel of the pistol between Joe’s eyes and cocked it. Joe tensed, waiting for the trigger to be pulled. He maintained eye contact with the Stranger, although it was very difficult, given the fear he felt. He told himself if he was going to die, then he would go bravely. The two stared at each other, neither with expression then the Stranger pulled away the gun and stood looking down on Joe. He kicked Joe again in the stomach. "I still want to have some fun with you boy, so on your feet."

Joe had just breathed a sigh of relief when he felt the second kick. The pain radiated through him. He was trying to stand, but apparently was moving too slow for the Stranger. The man grabbed him roughly by the arm. "I said stand, boy! When I tell you to do something, I expect you to do it that instant!"

Joe scrambled to get his feet under him. "Go to hell!"

The Stranger broke out laughing. "Well, well, seems to me like you got some spunk to ya. That’ll be good. I was told you were a cocky one, and I’m glad to hear it’s true. Will make for much more interesting, uh, shall I say, conversation? I do hate it so when they just roll over and die so easily, not at all fun for me. You know though, you really should watch your mouth. It ain’t polite to swear, and so I’ll just help teach you a little lesson. Now before I do this, I want you to remember one thing. I have your life in my hands, and whether you live or die is totally up to me. Now I expect you to treat me accordingly, and we will get along just fine."

As Joe looked at the man talking to him, the coldness surrounding him was eerie, as it seemed to suck at the warmth around. Joe tried to keep himself from shaking or showing any other form of fear. He instinctively knew the man would enjoy seeing it and he knew he did not want to please the man. He did nothing to acknowledge the Stranger.

The Stranger very calmly walked Joe to the top of the stairs and said in a tone of voice that was almost pleasant, "Let this be a lesson. When you are told what to do, you do it, and don’t talk back." With that the man pushed Joe down the stairs.

The stairs were steep, and Joe had no way to protect himself from the impact as he fell down them. He rolled and pitched, being flung around each time a part of him made impact with the wood of the stairs. He came to rest at the bottom of the stairs conscious, but dazed. It took a moment to register what had happened to him, as he tried to clear the stars from his eyes. He tried to stand, as the pain wracked his body. He felt nauseous, as his head began to pound. He reached up and touched the blood coming from his scalp. There was more pain coming from his legs where his knee had hit the wooden stairs hard, and the pain was intense. He found a post to pull himself up and made it to his feet. He then leaned against it, trying to help his throbbing head.

Everything hurt, as he attempted to gather himself together. He heard the Stranger laugh as he descended the stairs followed by Wells and Doyle. "That looked like it hurt. Did it?"

Joe looked at the man but did not answer. The man immediately backhanded Joe across the face. "You’re a slow learner, Pretty Boy. I asked you a question, and I want an answer. Tell me, did it hurt?"

The slap sent Joe’s head reeling, and the nausea increased. He said quietly, "No."

The man laughed again and then kicked Joe in the groin. "Don’t lie to me boy. Tell me true."

Joe doubled over and threw up. The pain was enormous, and he was unsure if he would pass out.

"Now that was disgusting, Pretty Boy. You wanna answer me, or you want another nudge?"

Joe moaned and said through gritted teeth, "It… hurt."

"See boys, he learns! He’s just slow." The Stranger walked to Joe and pulled him by the hair, so he stood straight. It was hard for Joe to breathe, and his stomach churned. He took short breaths trying to keep the pain at bay.

"Awe, keep breathing. It’ll pass." The Stranger said, offering false sympathy.

"What… do… you… want… with… me?"

"I was gonna get to that eventually. I understand you have a brother. Name’s Adam, I believe. I want you to tell me where your brother is held up."

"There’s no way… I’m gonna tell you." Joe tried to sound strong, stronger than he felt.

The Stranger laughed again, a deeply wicked laugh. "They all say that at first. They all end up telling. You’ll be no different."

Joe looked at the Stranger and gathered all of his resolve. "I won’t tell you. You can do what you want to me, but you’ll never get it from me. I’ll die first."

"That just may be, but I’ll give it a try first. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll say to stop from hurting. You may think you’re strong, but you really aren’t. I can see it in you. You’ll break. Okay, time to limit our friend’s freedom. We don’t need to have him wandering around."

The Stranger shoved Joe towards the two men. Wells and Doyle grabbed him, and he immediately started to struggle. He had gotten his breath back and was more coherent. He knew he was going to be in a worse predicament if he allowed them to tie him up, so he stomped hard on Wells’ foot, and Wells let go. He then pivoted around and punched Doyle in the face. The Stranger moved towards him, and Joe kicked him hard. The kick did little to deter the Stranger, as he continued to advance. The Stranger punched Joe in the face, and that, combined with the head injury from the fall, was more than Joe could take. He collapsed onto the floor unconscious.

The Stranger turned to Doyle and Wells, "You two are more a hindrance than a help. Get him secured, and don’t just gag him. Shove a rag in his mouth. When he screams, I don’t want him heard. I’ll be back shortly. And if you mess this up, I’ll do to you what I have in mind to do to him." With that The Stranger walked into the darkness and left the room.

Both Wells and Doyle were intimidated by the Stranger’s handling of their young hostage. Mr. Baxter had told them he had hired the Stranger to get certain information from the youngest Cartwright and was giving the Stranger free rein to do as he pleased with their prisoner. They were beginning to wonder what else lay ahead for their charge and thanked their lucky stars it was Joe and not them that was at the mercy of the Stranger.

The Stranger had given the men handcuffs to restrain their prisoner, and they cuffed Joe’s hands behind his back and tied his feet. They opened Joe’s mouth, shoved a rag into it, and gagged him. After rechecking the restraints they left their prisoner, and walked off in the same direction as the Stranger.


The situation in which the Cartwrights found themselves with Adam made them opt to chose a location for hiding him that was secluded and remote. There was a mining shack to the north of the ranch house that had often been used by line riders. It seemed an ideal location to keep Adam safe. The only problem was the shack was small and between the four Cartwrights, some loyal ranch hands, and some of Roy Coffee’s men, the atmosphere was tense, as individuals could find little privacy.

The claustrophobic environment was particularly getting to Adam who tended towards being a very private person. Having others around him constantly was agitating, but he continued to tell himself they were there to protect him, and the real source of his irritation was Cyrus Baxter. Adam had not thought twice of going up against the amoral businessman, but he was feeling guilt that he had placed his family in possible peril and had put the Ponderosa operations behind schedule. Adam and his father shared several long and heated discussions regarding the practicality of all four Cartwrights stopping work to protect him. He had simply wanted to stay at the ranch and keep a low profile, but Ben would not hear of it. Ben believed the Ponderosa house was too difficult to guard effectively, and it would prove easier to hold up in a secret location. He would not risk his son’s life.

Because of the need for secrecy, no one traveled out of the cabin except at night, and only then when it was absolutely needed. Roy remained in town, but kept a close ear out for rumors and gossip pertaining to Adam’s location, or for individuals who appeared to be strangers in Virginia City.

The group had been successful in keeping Adam hidden for over a week when their luck ran out. Joe had left the previous day for Reno when the guards around the area became aware of a lone rider passing close to the shack. One of the guards approached the rider attempting to make it appear as if he was merely working on fences, and the sole occupant of the shack. However, the rouse was not successful, as that evening shots began to be fired. The men positioned around the shack were able to easily kill the man who had found their location, but it was soon agreed that the location had been compromised, and they would have to move.


Joe moaned several times before he woke. His arms were behind him, and there was something in his mouth. His head felt as if it would explode, and he felt nausea. He tried to look around, but it was extremely dark, and he saw very little. He heard the tinny music of the saloon above him, as well as the talk of people as they enjoyed their time gambling and drinking. It was hard to think clearly through the pain in his head, but he knew he was in terrible trouble. His father would not miss him for at least another day or two, so there was no one who would come for him. He thought over what the man had said and done to him, and he had to admit he was scared. The man seemed devoid of emotion and looked at him as if he were a speck of dust. He knew the Stranger was taking pleasure in his pain.

Joe began thinking over what they wanted from him. He knew where Adam was and also knew he would never willingly tell them anything regarding his brother’s whereabouts. He told himself he would hold fast and endure what ever it was that the man could do to him. He would never betray his brother. He knew that about himself. He realized he might have to die for his loyalty.

As Joe lay on the floor, he felt something scurry over him, and he shuddered. He hated dark places since he was little, and where he was currently being held made his childhood fears emerge. He continued to tell himself he was eighteen and was not a little boy any longer. It was just darkness, nothing more. He felt his breathing increase and continued to talk to himself. "Stop it. You’ve been in worse. You can handle this."

Just then, Joe saw the flicker of a lamp come around the corner. He welcomed the light and felt his spirits lift until he saw the Stranger was the one who was transporting it. "You’re back amongst the living I see." The Stranger sat the lamp down on an overturned crate, pulled the gag off and then pulled the rag from Joe’s mouth.

Joe did not answer, as he looked at the man. He knew he was expected to answer, but he could not make himself do it. There was something in him that kept him defiant, not wanting to bend at all to the man. He wanted to hold strong. The man walked over and looked him in the eye. "You truly are gonna be fun. I like your spunk, but I’ll break it. You need to know that one. Listen, you don’t have to be so brave. I’ll just tell Baxter I got the information somehow, and you can go about your merry way. Kid, you can’t win up against me. You won’t win."

"I will. I’ll win or die. You won’t make me tell you." Joe said, holding fast.

The Stranger tipped his hat. "You got guts, kid. I’ll give you that. I’ll make you talk though. You’ll say anything I want before it’s over. You ever felt a bullwhip, kid? I’m told it is quite painful. I’ve seen what it reduces a man twice your size to. You won’t hold up."

As the man spoke, he produced the black snake-like instrument, making sure Joe’s eyes caught sight of it. The Stranger laughed. "What’s wrong kid? You look ill."

Joe saw the whip and knew it caused pain. He also knew he would endure that pain because the man’s face showed him he would if he held out on Adam’s location. He was filled with terror but did not allow himself to entertain the idea of revealing his brother’s location. He knew he would let himself die for Adam. He responded, "Nothing’s wrong. Do what you have to do."

"Oh, I do like your spunk. I think you and I could be friends if things were different. But, since we play the cards we’re dealt, I’ll just have to finish my job. I’m gonna ask you real nice. Where are they keeping your brother?"

Joe looked at the man and then looked away. He did not respond.

"Thought you’d be that way." The man roughly lifted Joe to where he was standing; his balance off due to his ankles being tied. The man then pulled back and punched Joe in the stomach, resulting in Joe quickly losing his balance and falling to the ground. The man again asked the question, and Joe’s response was the same. He was punched again on his body and fell to the ground. He tried not to let any noise come from him, as he endured the blows. He prayed the man would tire of him and stop the beating. He had no idea the type of man he was dealing with.

The abuse continued for several more minutes and then it stopped, just as quickly as it had started. Joe was lying on his side his legs pulled up to protect himself. He tasted blood in his mouth and wanted to spit it out, but did not want to do it in front of the man. He knew it would show weakness.

The man looked down on Joe and shook his head. "Oh Pretty Boy, you’re not looking so pretty. It’d be a shame to get you all messed up. I hear tell you’re quite the ladies’ man around town. Now, I know you’d hate it if you were so messed up the ladies screamed when they saw you. That’d just be down right awful, I guess. You’d have to settle with two dollar whores for your fun then."

Joe continued to hold his gaze on the man, as he spoke. He was trying to focus on anything he could in order not to think of his pain or the power the man held over him. He briefly wondered how the situation he was in would end, but he then became despondent and afraid. He made himself move his thoughts back to fighting against the Stranger’s demands.

"Not feeling like talking, Pretty Boy? You know I was thinking. It sure is right cowardly of your brother to hide out rather than holdin’ his head up like a real man. I bet he’s been shaking in his boots all hid away begging to be protected."

Joe could not resist responding to the man’s insults of Adam. "My brother’s no coward. He’s gonna walk into court, tell the truth and put Baxter away. He’s much more of a man than you. You’re such a man to tie me up, and then hit me? What kind of man is that?"

The man laughed at Joe’s words and then pulled back and kicked Joe hard. Joe rolled away and closed his eyes tight, waiting for the pain to lessen. The man then said, "I told you about being respectful. You need to know every time you decide to disrespect me you will feel pain. You need to learn that I’m in complete control. You’re defending a brother who’s not here, and it’s costing you to do it. He isn’t here to hear it, and I just find it tiresome, so save it."

The man bent down so he was next to Joe’s head. He saw Joe was in pain, and it made him smile. He was impressed with the young man’s spirit and knew that if he could get him to talk at all he was going to have to completely break him down. To do that would mean he would have to escort Joe right up to death’s door, and with a little luck, keep him there long enough to get his answer. He sighed loudly, "Do you understand?"

"Go to hell!" Joe said through gritted teeth.

"All right. Up ‘til now I’ve been nice. Well, no longer, on your feet. You’re a bit too comfortable lying there. I wish you didn’t have to make me do this, but I have no choice. You’re the one who isn’t playing by the rules. Just remember that. You brought this on yourself."

The man pulled Joe to his feet by the handcuffs. He produced a knife from his pocket and cut the rope that had tied his feet together, allowing Joe to stand easier. The man then pulled out Joe’s gun and pointed it at him.

"Now walk." He shoved Joe back into the darkness. The man held the light he had brought with him, but it did little to illuminate the dark cellar. Joe had no idea where he was going and tripped over things as he went. Each time he went to fall, the man jerked violently back on the handcuffs, pulling Joe upright. Finally the man spoke once more, "Stop." He jerked Joe back to him. Joe saw he was standing in an open room with several posts around and beams above his head. The man produced the key. "Kiddo, you don’t want to move if you know what is good for you when I take off the cuffs. You want to stand right there and do nothing. You move one inch, and you will regret it. I promise."

The man undid the cuffs, and Joe instinctively brought his hands around to the front. Just then, the man punched him hard in the back. Joe pitched forward and fell. He tried to stand, and the man kicked him again. He finally lay on the ground, not moving. The man finally said in a calm voice, "What did I tell you? I said don’t move. You don’t listen. Now say you’re sorry."

Joe knew the man was toying with him. He tried to get his breathing under control and to think of the smartest way to handle the situation. He wanted to tell the man how sick he thought he was, but knew he would endure more pain for an outburst. He was not sure he could hold up to another kick without passing out. "I’m sorry." He whispered.

"What? I didn’t hear you."

"I said I was sorry!" Joe snapped.

"Now don’t take that tone with me. I expect you to be courteous." The man dragged Joe to a standing position once more. As soon as Joe was standing, the man slapped him hard across the face.

"I would appreciate it if you watched your tone next time. Now say, yes sir."

"Yes sir." Joe said quietly.

"Much better. Now reach up and grab that beam above you."

Joe looked at the man but hesitated. A bad feeling came over him, as he realized what the man wanted him to do. His pause resulted in him being slapped again, and his face burned. He slowly lifted his arms and grabbed hold of the beam. Every impulse in him wanted to fight, but knew he had to simply give in. He felt despair.

The man quickly handcuffed Joe’s hands to the beam above him. He had enough room to be able to slightly bend his arms at the elbow, while his feet remained free. The man then took the light and walked away. He stood hoping the man was actually leaving, but he hoped wrong.

Joe listened carefully to the sounds around him. The music upstairs went on, as did the laughter. He tried to make himself think of another place, another time. His mind did as it always did when he wished to feel safe. It took him to the Ponderosa and to Lake Tahoe. He was thinking of riding around the lake on Cochise when he heard the man return and saw the bullwhip in his hand. His heart began to race.

"Okay son. I’ll ask you again. Where are they keeping your brother?"

"And I told you, I’m not gonna tell you." Joe said with more courage than he felt.

"So be it." The man walked behind Joe, roughly grabbed the collar of his shirt and pulled down hard. The buttons gave way and the shirt tore, exposing Joe’s back to the man.

"I’ll give you one more chance. Where is he?"

"Go to hell." Joe closed his eyes and bracing himself for what would come next.

The man cracked the whip several times next to Joe, and the sound made him shudder. He thought, just get it over with, as he stayed braced.

The whip then connected with his body. His legs buckled, his head flew back, and he pulled down hard on the cuffs. It was a cutting, tearing pain that seemed to go down to his very soul.

"You want to tell me now?"

Joe momentarily could not breathe. His eyes were watering, as he tried to get the pain under control. His lack of response was noticed. "I’ll take that as a no?" The man pulled back again with the whip.

The lash burned as it cut, and Joe screamed out. "Oh God!"

"Sorry kid. He can’t help you right now. Only I can. All you need to do is tell me where you brother is, and it will all stop. I promise."

"I… uh… I…" Joe tried to speak, but the pain was intense.

"You what? Come on tell me. Tell me, and it stops."

"I… wo … won’t." Joe said breathlessly.

"Suit yourself." The man said shaking his head and striking Joe once more with the whip.

As the whip connected, Joe’s mind could take no more. He felt the impact and passed out.


Joe noticed pain before he became fully awake. He realized he had passed out as he slowly opened his eyes. The gag was back in his mouth, and the room was dark. His back stung and burned if he made any movement, and it throbbed constantly. He realized he was hanging by his arms and could not feel his hands. As he stood to relieve the pressure, he felt the blood move back. He let out a moan as the pain moved through him.

Breathing was difficult, and Joe knew he had broken ribs. He hurt so badly, as he stood in the dark. He tried to think of other things once more to distract himself, but his mind turned to his family, and he found himself begging for them to know something was wrong. "Pa, I need you. Oh Pa, please! Hoss, Adam, come get me, please! I need you! I don’t know if I can hang on! It hurts so bad!"

Joe knew his pleading would not be heard, and he felt desperation. Every move he made caused more pain. He listened to the music drifting down from upstairs and tried to hear the conversations. Nothing was clear, and he felt very alone. The tears started to roll down his face as he felt his body’s pain, and then his own fear as the thought of the man returning to continue to hurt him filled his mind. He knew he would die with the Stranger the only one to be with him as he took his final breath.

As he stood in the darkness, Joe was unaware of the passing of time. He had no idea how long he had been in the cellar, but prayed time would pass quickly. He heard a door open and saw a light approach. He thought, "Oh no! God no! Please! I can’t! Please just make him go away!" The tears were falling, and he tried to make them stop. He could not let the man see him crying. He rubbed his face on his arm, but the tears remained.

He looked to see it was Wells and Doyle standing looking at him. They had a look of shock on their faces as they saw the condition Joe was in. They moved towards him and Doyle spoke to Wells. "Oh boy, that looks like it hurts! I knew he was gonna get hurt, but ouch! That looks bad. Awe, look Wells, he’s cryin’! The brave man is cryin’!"

"Ain’t that somethin’! Poor baby! Want your mama?" Wells continued the taunting.

Both men laughed, as Joe stood looking at them. He felt the despair leave and anger return. He knew the two in front of him were not as dangerous to him as the Stranger, and he calmed. As he relaxed once more, he experienced his body’s pain and closed his eyes. He listened to Doyle. "You know? I owe you one for making me look bad in front of everyone. I didn’t appreciate that at all!"

Joe opened his eyes just in time to see Doyle pull back and kick him in the groin. Joe coiled in and felt nausea. He choked it down, knowing he could not be sick with the gag in his mouth. The pain hit hard, and he wanted to scream. He tried to keep breathing through the hurt, but it was difficult. His ribs protested with bolts of pain.

Wells laughed loudly as he watched Doyle. "Oh geez! You know how to hurt a guy, Doyle. Here, let me have a go at it!"

Joe knew he would not let himself be kicked again. He waited for the man to approach, and once he was within range, Joe kicked hard. The man crumpled. Wells rolled around on the floor, as Joe looked down on him silently happy he had been able to at least fight back a little.

Doyle laughed at his friend, "Oh boy! He got you! Hey, Wells! I bet you’ll be glad when that stops hurtin’! Hey kid, you’re gonna pay for that one, I’m sure."

Joe knew he would pay in pain for what he had done, but it felt good for the moment, and he told himself he could tolerate any pain these men could inflict upon him. He kept watching the two before him to make sure he knew what they were doing and where the blows would come from. He wanted to brace himself and prepare for the attack he knew would come.

Eventually Wells stood. He looked at Joe and sneered. "You think you’re clever don’t you. Well, we’ll see who’s so clever. We’ll see who can really handle the pain."

As Well’s started to walk around him, Joe kept a close watch. Wells stayed a distance from Joe as he moved to avoid another kick. He ended up behind Joe. "Hey Doyle, look here. You see the kid’s back. Oh that looks painful! Kid he really did a number on you. Does it hurt?"

Joe tried to move so he could position himself between the man and his back, but he was unable to turn around and knew he was exposed and weak which would make what was coming very painful. "Kid, you’re really messed up back here. I bet it would hurt if I did this." Wells reached up and slapped Joe hard on the back. Joe pitched forward and held back a scream. The pain was excruciating as he felt his body explode. His eyes watered as he tried to focus.

The men laughed together as Doyle joined his friend behind Joe. Joe became more nervous, knowing the men had found his greatest vulnerability. He knew they would capitalize on their knowledge, and he would feel pain. He prayed it would pass quickly. Doyle and Wells took turns hurting Joe as he remained helpless, unable to retaliate. He was fading back into unconsciousness when he heard a voice. It was the Stranger. Upon hearing the voice he felt himself lose all hope and prayed for death to come quickly.

"What the hell do you two think you’re doing?" The Stranger’s voice boomed and Joe realized it was the first time he had heard anger from the man.

"We were helpin’ s’all." Doyle explained.

"I told you two imbeciles to check and see if he was awake. That’s all I asked you to do. Get away from him."

Joe breathed a sigh of relief. He could not believe the Stranger had saved him from pain. Although he soon was in despair once more as he heard the Stranger. "You two are fools, and you’ve delayed me. I use the pain to make him talk you idiots. You wasted an opportunity for me to get what I need. Now I’ll have to wait ‘til he comes around again."

It was surreal as Joe listened to the Stranger speak. He had been thankful the Stranger had made them stop, but now heard the reason the man had done so was to do the hurting himself. Joe felt woozy, and his body screamed. As he drifted again into unconsciousness, he prayed never to wake.


Joe felt his face slapped several times as he returned back to consciousness - back to hell. If he had not been gagged, the Stranger would have heard the moan he released. His shoulders throbbed from his own weight, and he felt every inch of his body. The pain was beyond words, as he felt it take his mind and consume him. As the gag was removed from his mouth, he struggled to breathe. It was getting harder to fill his lungs as the time passed, and his body became more hurt, more broken. He found himself having to pull hard on his hands to take a deep breath, but his desire to live was strong, and he would feel the pain in his hands before he would stop breathing. He would fight until it was over.

"You ready to talk? You want to tell me where your brother is?" The Stranger calmly asked.

"I… won’t!" Joe said defiantly.

The Stranger punched Joe in the face several times. His head flew back with each blow, but he made a point to return to look the Stranger in the eye after each hit. He spoke through the pain with gritted teeth, "You… know… you’ll have… to… uh, kill me… If you… don’t… I’ll find…you. I’ll… kill… you."

The Stranger saw the young man’s resolve, and he admired the kid’s strength. He knew the kid would not talk, and he would die. He shook his head but proceeded. "Pretty Boy, you won’t survive unless you talk. You know that. Just tell me what I want to know, and you live."

"No!" Joe managed to yell. "My brother… he’d die… for… me… I know… he would."

"Are you so sure? Everyone is in it for himself in the end."

"Not… Adam… Not… any… of… ‘em … I’ll… die… but… they’ll… be… okay And… you’ll… be… with… out… your… answer." Joe struggled to speak.

The bullwhip emerged once more by the man’s side. Joe’s words unnerved the Stranger. The manner in which the young man had held fast was admirable. It would be disappointing to kill the kid, but he would. He had killed before. "Well, I really wish there was someone here who cared about what you said - all that noble stuff. I know it took a lot of energy to do it. It’s hard to breathe isn’t it? Looks to me like you’re fading away, Pretty Boy. You gonna die for your brother? You gonna do it?"

"Uh... yeah… Adam… he’d do… it … for me." Joe spoke his words in gasps.

"Would he take this kid? Would he?" The Stranger struck Joe’s back yet again with the bullwhip.

Joe felt the lash, as he recoiled in pain. He knew Adam would never give him up, and he would remain faithful. Joe spoke through clinched teeth, "Go… to… hell!"

"Kid, you don’t have to do this. You can live if you want to. Just tell me."

"NO!" Joe screamed with his remaining energy. It was hard to breathe as his lungs struggled over the weight of his own body. His arms were out of socket, as he felt the pain in so many ways. He longed for a gun to shoot the man dead, to keep shooting him until it was all gone-the man and the pain. He hated more than he ever had before, and he told himself he would remember everything if he lived. He would make the man pay. As the Stranger slashed him yet again with the painful whip, he passed out, but his mind became set on revenge.


He was awake, but things were fuzzy and distant. His breaths came in gasps, as he hung in the dark. It took all of his energy to remain focused on breathing. He thought of his family and the last time he had seen them. Adam had given him last minute advice on the contracts for which Joe had acted outwardly as if he was annoyed, but had been secretly grateful. Hoss had asked him to pick up some sweetening in Reno. His father had looked at him with concern, giving him the look his father always seemed to give him when he was going to be away for a few days. Joe had casually replied, "Awe Pa, I’ll be fine. It’s Reno you should worry about." And with that he had hopped on his horse and was away.

As he hung in the darkness, Joe tried to recall his ride to Reno as a way of keeping going. He made his mind take him on the ride and time passed. He was far off in his head when he thought he heard a loud noise. It made no sense. He then heard the door open and felt terror. The Stranger was back, and he would now die. He knew he would not survive much longer. His lungs were weak, and he was not able to take in much air. He could no longer see out of one eye, so as the figure approached him, it was fuzzy and in shadows. The figure grabbed him and was talking to him, but it made no sense. Being touched was excruciating, and Joe felt himself gasping a scream in his head, "Just… kill… me!"

He tried to move, but his body stayed frozen. He waited for the whip again, as he waited to let go of his life. He had no idea how much time had passed when he heard a noise above him. Something was happening that did not make sense. The handcuffs suddenly gave way, and Joe collapsed into the figure’s arms.

As he felt the pain of being held, Joe screamed. He wanted to struggle and fight to get away, but he was far too weak. He felt the gag taken from his mouth, and he said through gasps, "You… won’t… win."

"Joe! Little Joe! It’s me, Hoss! Joe, it’s me! I’m here now buddy! You’re gonna be okay."

"No… no… don’t… hurt… more."

Hoss held Joe and continued to speak, "Joe, it’s me. You’re safe. I’m not gonna let anyone hurt you. Joe listen, it’s Hoss!"

In a whisper, Joe asked, "Hoss?"

"That’s right Joe. It’s Hoss. Let’s get you outta here now." With that, Hoss lifted Joe into his arms. Joe screamed as he was moved. "Sorry, little buddy! I have to do it."

Joe tried to grab hold of Hoss’s shirt but was only able to pull on it with his fingers. Hoss could see his little brother wanted to tell him something and heard Joe whisper, "Hoss… tell… tell… Adam… I… didn’t… tell."

The words were painful for Hoss to hear, as he realized his little brother was more concerned about protecting his family than his own life. He saw the amount of pain his brother was in and how difficult it was to talk or move. Hoss knew that from the shape Joe was in, things were very dire. Joe’s breathing was raspy, and he could tell his brother had been suffering for quite a while. The body he held felt very cold, and he knew that was a bad sign. Hoss started to pray.

Hoss walked through the saloon from where he had entered and was quickly outside. People passing by on the street gasped at the large man with what appeared to be a dead man in his arms. "The doctor! Where’s the doctor!" Hoss screamed.

A man pointed the way across the street. Hoss ran with his brother to the doctor’s office, nearly braking the door down as he entered. "Doc! Doc! Ya gotta help me!" Hoss yelled into an empty room.

A distinguished looking man appeared, about to chastise the owner of the yelling voice, when he saw a large man with a smaller one in his arms. He saw that the smaller man was very badly injured. "Here, bring him in here."

Hoss carried Joe into the room and reluctantly laid him on the table. He wanted to keep holding his little brother - his desire to somehow give him all of his strength. The doctor came along side of Hoss and was taken aback by what he saw. "My God what happen to this boy? Who did this to him?"

"It’s a long story, Doc. You just gotta help him. He’s gonna be okay huh, Doc?" Hoss prayed to hear Joe would be fine.

"Let me look at him. Step aside."

Joe spoke again in a whisper, "Hoss… Hoss… I’m… I… gotta… see… Pa… Adam… Don’t… wanna… go… with… out… seein’…"

"Doc, do somethin’!" Hoss felt his tears, as he feared the worst. Joe was dying. "Joe, buddy, hang on. You gotta hang on!"

Joe felt very weak and speaking took so much of his energy, "Hoss… take… me..."

"Mister, this boy cannot be moved. It would kill him. You cannot take him anywhere."

"Can you save him? Please Doc, do somethin’!"

"If you got family you want to see him, I suggest you get them here. I’ll do what I can."

"I can’t leave him! He’ll be all alone! Joe, buddy, I’ll stay with ya!"

"Hoss… go… I… need…" Was all Joe was able to emit. It took too much from him to say more.

The thought of Joe dying alone tore at Hoss, but Joe wanted his family, and Hoss knew he would have to try and bring them. "I’m gonna go get ‘em. You don’t leave me, Joe! You don’t go, buddy! Hang on! Pa and Adam’ll be here soon. I promise ya, Joe! Now you be here for us!"

Joe asked very quietly, "Where… would… I… go?"

Hoss rubbed Joe’s head and looked down on him the tears flowing. "Joe, you promise me? Promise me you’ll be here? You won’t… die?"

Joe gathered his strength. "Go… I’ll… be… here."

Hoss reluctantly left his brother at the doctor’s office, but did not leave Reno before stopping to see the Sheriff to apprise the lawman of the situation he had found his little brother in. He demanded guards for Joe and his brother protection. The Sheriff himself went to the doctor’s office with three of his best men. He had been aware of the upcoming trial of Cyrus Baxter, as well as the Cartwrights involvement in bringing down the businessman. He would do his job well.

Hoss rode Chub hard to the camp that held the Cartwrights and at least a dozen guards. He was careful to hide his tracks and doubled back on himself several times. He had two brothers in danger and wanted them both safe and alive. He cursed Cyrus Baxter, and the peril his family faced due to the man. He prayed he was careful in not putting one brother in danger for another. He loved them both and needed them equally.

Hoss dismounted and was quickly through the door. He was inside and speaking before anyone had a chance to react. "Pa, Adam, its Joe. He’s hurt real bad, real bad. Pa, he’s askin’ for you and Adam."

Ben and Adam were shocked to see Hoss standing before them, looking pale with tears falling down his face. Both quickly ran to Hoss, as Ben asked, "Son, what’s wrong with Joe? Where is he?"

"He’s been beat. He’s been worse than beat. He’s real bad. It was Baxter’s doin’ for sure. He don’t even look like him. He’s back in Reno. Pa, the Doc said we’d better get there quick."

"Let’s go." Adam was the first to the door.

"Adam! You can’t! It’s far too dangerous! This could be some kind of a trap!" Ben felt himself full of fear and concern. He had two sons in trouble, and he needed to protect them both. One had already been harmed, and he did not want to have the other hurt as well.

"Pa, we’re not even gonna discuss this one! Joe is… he’s wantin’ me there, and I’m gonna be there. Now lets go." Adam’s tone indicated there would be no more discussion.

"Well at least lets be sensible." Ben quickly formed a plan. "You shouldn’t ride Sport, and here, trade clothes with one of the hands. We’ll have a group of us ride to Reno. Adam, I want you in the middle. Joe wouldn’t want you taking unnecessary risks. He needs you, but he needs you alive."

"We’re wasting time here. I’ll do as you ask, but lets go." Adam was anxious to get to Joe.

The men were quickly away, riding to Reno. The new location had been an hour’s ride from the city, and the men pushed their horses fast. As they rode, Hoss told how he found Joe…

Ben became concerned about notifying his youngest after they had to move Adam to another location. He decided to send Hoss to Reno to intercept Joe on his way home and bring him to the new location. Hoss was more than happy to retrieve his little brother and rode fast to Reno. He expected to meet his brother on the trail and was surprised when he made it all the way to the city without seeing him. Hoss rode to the livery with the intent of stabling his horse. He looked over to an adjoining stall and saw a paint pony blissfully tearing off hay from a pile. He walked over, checked the brand to be sure his assumption was correct, and confirmed it was Cochise. He looked at a pile of things next to the stall and saw Joe’s saddle, saddlebag, and jacket.

The liveryman saw Hoss looking at the pinto. "You know where the guy who owns that horse is? He was here the day ‘fore yesterday waitin’ for a shoe for that pony. He told me he’d be back in an hour but never showed. He owes me money for the board and the shoe."

Hoss immediately felt uneasy. Joe would not go off without tending Cochise, nor would he leave things such as his saddlebag lying around in the livery stable. It was obvious something was wrong. His gut warned him. Joe was in trouble. Hoss paid for Cochise’s care, as well as for Chub, and then headed out onto the street to try and find his little brother.

He decided to try the hotel they always stayed at while in Reno on the off chance Joe was still there. The desk clerk informed him that Joe had checked out two days prior after having settled his bill and leaving a generous tip. Hoss now was passed worry. His brother was missing.

The big man walked the streets of Reno hunting for any clue that would lead him to Joe. He had no idea where to look, and as the hours ticked away, he grew more concerned. If Joe had disappeared soon after he had left the livery, then he had been gone for days. He knew that kind of time would give someone quite a lead on him, and Joe could have been taken anywhere. He was about to go to the sheriff when he spotted a man that he recognized from Virginia City. The man worked for Baxter, and Hoss knew he was trouble. He held back and followed the man he knew as Wells from a distance. Wells went into the Mercantile and then re-emerged. He then walked to a café and sat and ate a meal. Hoss resisted the urge to go up to him and confront him regarding Joe. He had no idea if it was mere coincidence the man was in Reno, or if he was somehow involved in Joe’s disappearance.

Wells finished his meal, and Hoss remained in pursuit. Wells strolled down the street, but eventually came to stop at a saloon. As he walked, Hoss held back. He saw Wells walk to the back of the saloon, look around to see if anyone noticed him, and then opened a door and disappeared. Wells’ behavior appeared suspicious, and Hoss began to believe he might have stumbled on something. Hoss entered the saloon and walked to the same door he had seen Wells enter. He put his hand on the door and pushed it. He breathed a sigh of relief when he realized it was not bolted. Hoss slowly pushed the door open after having drawn his gun. He was tense and ready for anything.

The door opened to a blind corridor. The hallway turned; the end not visible. Hoss heard men talking as he sneaked closer and listened to the conversation.

"Boy, you see how that kid looks? Not such a high and mighty Cartwright no more. I don’t think he’s gonna last much longer. You think he’s gonna spill it?" Voice number one asked.

"Geez, he’s all torn up. It’d probably be better if he just up and died. I’ll bet ya five dollars, he croaks soon. I don’t think he’ll say nothin’ though." Voice number two answered.

"How soon’s, soon? I think he’ll stay ‘live ‘til we know his brother’s location one way or ‘nother, then he’ll croak, or we’ll just kill ‘em. I’ll take that bet. I say we gotta put a bullet in his head."

The two voices laughed, and then voice number one said, "I’m just glad it’s that stupid kid and not me. Boy, oh boy he’s bad off. Wouldn’t ‘cha just love to see his family when they get a look at him. I think ol’ Adam Cartwright may just find out he crossed the wrong man. Hey, after we finish up here, you wanna go to Frisco for a while? I wanna spend that money we earned livin’ a little high on the hog."

Hoss was livid. He knew they had his little brother and were betting on his life. He rounded the corner to see the two sitting on crates playing a card game. He had been able to surprise them, catching both unaware. Both men went to stand, as Wells reached for his gun. Hoss fired one shot, hitting Wells squarely in the chest. Doyle dropped his gun, while watching his colleague fall. Hoss quickly aimed his gun at Doyle, "Where is he! Where’s my brother!"

"Hey look. I didn’t have nothin’ to do with any of this ‘cept to guard the door. Just put the gun down, and we can talk."

"I ain’t in no mood to talk! Where’s Joseph!"

"Now, now. Calm down. I didn’t hurt your brother. I didn’t do it."

Hoss exploded, punching the man in the face. "Where is he! I’m warnin’ you! I’ll kill you with my bare hands!"

Doyle was recovering none too quickly from the punch. He knew the big man would indeed kill him if he tried to hold out. He sheepishly pointed to the door that the men had been sitting in front of. Hoss then punched the man once more, and the man lay flattened on the floor. He immediately jumped over the body and opened the door to find stairs that lead down to darkness, and he knew he needed a lantern. He saw one sitting by the crates, picked it up, and lit it. He hurried down the stairs hoping to find his little brother.

The image Hoss saw before him would be forever burned into his mind. The room was cold and damp, the only light coming from the lantern, as he stood momentarily unable to move. He heard the saloon above him so festive and gay, but he knew at that moment he was standing firmly in hell. He saw a man, hanging from his hands, his legs bent and useless. From the manner in which the man hung, it was obvious he was very weak, if not already dead. The man was covered in dirt and blood, and it was hard to make out any identifying feature. Hoss let out a moan, as he looked upon the man hanging so battered and bruised. He was finally able to move, as the shock passed him, and he rushed to his baby brother. "Joe! Oh God, Joe! Be alive! Please be alive! Joe, buddy! You gotta be alive! You just gotta!" As Hoss begged, he heard a muffled moan come from Joe. Hoss knew had to get his brother out of there and quickly. He looked up and saw the handcuffs knowing they would pose a problem. "Joe, buddy, I’ll be right back. Hold on, buddy!"

Hoss then ran up the steps and picked up a semi-conscious Doyle. "The key! Where’s the key to the cuffs! Tell me, or I’ll snap your neck!"

"I don’t have a key." Doyle groaned.

Hoss ran out to the saloon and yelled to no one in particular. "Someone get the sheriff or a deputy or someone. Get a handcuff key. A man’s dying here!"

Hoss turned and ran back downstairs. He saw Joe’s eyes were closed, but he was still breathing. He heard someone call from above; a deputy was there with a handcuff key. An unknown man appeared at the top of the stairs, and Hoss ran to him, grabbed the key and was down the stairs to Joe in an instant. As he un-cuffed Joe’s hands and his little brother collapsed in his arms, Hoss thanked God he had found Joe and prayed he would live…

Hoss completed telling of the events in the cellar and what he had found, as the men reached the doctor’s office. All three ran into the office and were quickly looking around. Hoss knew where Joe was and took the lead. He stopped at the closed door, but turned to Adam and his father before they could enter, "Pa, Adam, I wanna tell you, he don’t look like him. He’s all… he’s, just be ready ‘cause it’s bad." Hoss did not want to add, and "be ready if he’s already gone."

Hoss opened the door, and all three entered the room. They heard Joe’s gasps before they saw him. The doctor was working over his patient, and the men had to move around to where they could see Joe more clearly. There was nothing Hoss could have said that would have prepared them for what they saw. Adam moaned, "Oh God no! No, little buddy!" And was immediately by Joe’s bedside. As he went to take his brother’s hand, he saw the deep cuts around Joe’s wrists. He closed his eyes and said, "Joe, I’m so sorry."

Ben stood back in utter shock. He was looking at his son, but the only way he knew it was the color of his child’s hair, and the shape and size of the individual on the table. He eventually was able to move towards Joe and knelt beside Adam. "Joe, we’re here. We’re all right here. You’ll be okay, son."

Joe heard his father and brother’s voices. He felt himself calm some but found most of his focus had to remain on his breathing. "Pa…Where’s… Adam… Need… talk… Adam."

"Son, he’s right here, but keep your strength. You don’t need to talk."

Joe ignored his father and continued to gasp out the words, "Adam… I… I didn’t… tell."

"Joe," Adam started to speak, as he felt tears on his face. "Joe, I know what you did for me."

"I… would…n’t."

"I know. You did an incredible thing, but now you have to be quiet, buddy. You gotta get better."

Joe’s breathing was disturbing to listen to, and as the men watched, they saw how difficult every breath was. Hoss had been standing back, away from the scene, praying hard for his brother. He anxiously watched his brother breathe, so afraid Joe would stop and then be gone.

The doctor looked up at the men as they entered. He had been spending the time since the young man had been brought to him, trying to keep him alive and breathing. The constant hanging Joe had experienced had caused his lungs to become weakened, and he was unable to take much of a breath. The doctor had propped up his head, but doing so put pressure on Joe’s back. The pain he was experiencing was excruciating. The doctor tried to give him a painkiller early on in tending to him and Joe had as adamantly as he could, refused the relief telling the doctor he needed to wait.

"Excuse me, but I need to speak with you all outside for a moment." The doctor finally spoke.

"Oh, uh, yes." Ben said. "But I don’t want my boy alone."

"Pa, I’m with him. You go." Adam was not about to leave Joe’s side.

Ben walked out of the room, and Hoss followed behind. Adam was soon alone with his little brother, "Joe, Pa’s just gone to talk to the doctor, and he’ll be right back. You gotta be okay, Joe. You gotta make it. I promise you buddy, I’ll make Baxter pay. I just need you to be okay."


"No, Joe. Don’t talk. That’s an order from your big brother. Now I know how much you hate listening to me order you around, but this one you better do, or you’ll have me to deal with."

It was hard to tell any expression on Joe’s face given how swollen and battered he was, but Adam thought he saw a smile. He hoped that was what he saw.

Ben and Hoss stood next to the doctor as he spoke to them. "I’m not going to lie to you gentlemen, he’s in grave condition. The biggest thing he’s up against is the damage he has experienced to his lungs. He’s struggling to breathe, and there’s very little I can do to help him with it. Propping him up helps some. He needs to stay quiet and not talk. He was in shock when he was brought in, and we need to get plenty of fluids into him and keep him warm. The rest, well once we see if he… if he pulls through and calms, then we can clean him up more. Mr. uh? I’m sorry in all the chaos I didn’t get any names."

"It’s Cartwright, Ben Cartwright. This is my son, Hoss, and my other son Adam is in there with Joseph. Joseph’s a fighter. He’s very tough." Ben said his words to himself as much as to the doctor. He was trying to remain positive regarding Joe’s ability to survive, but he was so very afraid.

"I’m Peter Green." The doctor extended his hand, and the men shook. "Mr. Cartwright, your son has been tortured, and it’s obvious whomever did this wanted him in extreme pain. Now what I don’t understand is why your son is refusing any pain medication. Can you help me get him medicated? It can help him breathe easier."

Ben thought for a minute and thought he knew why Joe had refused the medication. "Certainly, let me go talk to him, and you get it ready." Ben was immediately back through the door to Adam and Joe. Adam was softly talking to Joe, but quieted when his father approached. "Adam, let me get there a minute. I need to talk to Joe."

Adam moved out of the way, and Ben took his place, "Joseph, listen to me son. I want you to take the medicine that the doctor wants to give you. It’ll help you breathe. We’re here now. It’s okay. You don’t have to wait for us."

"Bu… no… don’t…"

"Son, listen. It’s okay. I’ll make sure it is. I promise. We’re all here now, and you can let yourself not feel the pain. Now I want you to do this. We’re here now." Ben reached out to the doctor and took the medicine. "Here son, now I want you to take all of this."

Joe looked into his father’s eyes and knew to trust. He took the medicine slowly and lay back, waiting to feel the relief. Adam moved back to where Joe lay and began talking to him once more. The men held vigil as they listened to Joe breathe. Eventually, his breathing came a little easier, and he quieted some.

The doctor spoke, "That medicine needs to get in him real good before we do what we have to do for him. I want him to not have to feel much due to the shock and all, but we need to get his clothes off and check him over real good. I didn’t see any wounds that were needing immediate attention, and with him so beaten I wanted to wait ‘til he could be more comfortable."

Eventually the doctor determined Joe was heavily medicated and began to continue to treat him. He pulled back the blankets, and they undressed Joe. As they worked, the men saw some of the price Joe had paid for his silence, and a collective gasp passed between them.

"Oh dear God! Joseph!" Ben was beside himself with horror. He could not believe what had been done to his child.

Hoss looked away, unable to remain focused on what he saw. He felt rage building and was grateful he had killed one of the men who had done this to his little brother. Hoss looked to Adam and saw his older brother’s jaw tightly clenched and his hands in fists. He knew he was not alone in his rage. It was obvious the suffering Joe had endured. Both of Joe’s shoulders were out of socket, as his arms lay in an awkward fashion. His body was purple where fists and feet had connected.

The doctor spoke softly, knowing the men were seeing a loved one in a shape one would hope no one would ever have to endure. "We need to turn him over. I need to look at his back." The doctor did not know if the family was aware that Joe had been whipped and prepared for their reactions.

The doctor and Ben slowly rolled Joe over on his side. Joe moaned and his breathing became more labored. Ben started to speak, "It’s oh…" But he stopped. He closed his eyes, as he saw his youngest son’s back. "Joseph! My boy!" Ben’s hands too went to fists, as he felt so helpless to see his son had endured agony.

Adam had been standing on the other side of his father, so when Joe was rolled, he did not see his back. He saw his father trying to maintain his composure as a look of great pain clouded his face. Adam rushed around to where he could see what his father was looking at. There was so much blood, both fresh and dried, and it was obvious what Joe had endured. Adam saw his brother had been whipped. Rage overtook him, and he screamed "HE’LL DIE FOR THIS! I’LL MAKE SURE OF IT!"

Hoss could not bring himself to look at his brother’s back. He had felt it as he had carried Joe to the doctor’s office and knew it was very bad. He looked at his brother so small and realized his bravery. He thought of Joe alone during those countless hours that he had endured so much pain. He felt the rage that had begun to infect them all.

Even with the medication, Joe was moaning in pain. He felt every touch, every breath. Things were foggy, but the pain was ever present as his body was moved. He was confused as to where he was and associated the pain with the Stranger. "Nuh… no… go… way… no… tell… die… no… no…"

Everyone in the room heard Joe’s pleas. It was so painful to see him, and then the pleas became almost more than any of them could bear as they took on a tone of desperation and despair. "Joseph, listen it’s Pa. You’re okay. No one’s gonna hurt you, son, never again. Never." Ben was reduced sobs.

Adam stepped in to talk to his little brother, "Joe, its Adam. I’ll never let this happen again. You’re gonna be safe, Joe. Pa’s here and Hoss is here, and I’m here. We’ll keep you safe, Joe."

Joe was unable to associate anything or anyone else with the pain other than the Stranger. He was back in the cellar, and it was starting again. Joe moaned a low and long "no" as the tears fell from his eyes. His breathing became raspier, and he tried to do as he had done in the cellar, to pull on his hands to breathe. It did not make sense to him how he was now positioned, but he continued to try what had worked before when the pain was at it’s worst.

"Try to keep talking to him." The doctor ordered.

"Joe, you’re safe. We’re all here. Hoss, come here. See Joe, Hoss is here too." Ben was trying desperately to get Joe away from his fear and away from the torture.

"Joe? Short Shanks? It’s Hoss. Calm down now. ‘Member I got you away from that place? You’re with all a us, and no one’s gonna hurt you."

Joe continued to fight. He would not give in to the pain or the Stranger. He remained in the cellar and in the nightmare. Eventually the doctor conceded they could do nothing more to help him than to relieve the pain, or they would lose Joe to his own panic. The doctor stepped away from his patient and told them to roll Joe onto his back. They quickly responded, and then the doctor moved Joe to an almost seated position to help him breathe.

As breathing became somewhat easier, Joe quieted. Everyone remained focused on every breath Joe took and saw as he calmed, he breathed more evenly. The doctor watched his patient for a while and then said, "Gentlemen, we have a big problem. Joseph is at great risk for infection if we can’t get him cleaned up, but he cannot tolerate the pain in order for me to properly clean those wounds. I’m cautious to give him more painkillers, because it can make it harder for him to breathe. I can give him a bit more chloral hydrate and see if we can get him calm. It is really up to you."

"Doctor, I want my boy out of pain, but I won’t risk his life to do it." Ben was frustrated. He did not know this doctor, and he had to trust someone who did not know the real value of sons to him. He prayed the doctor truly knew what was best.

"Let me see if we can give him a little more of the chloral hydrate and see if we can’t keep him calm." The doctor suggested.

"Doc," Ben said, grabbing the doctor’s arm. "He’s my boy. He’s gotta be okay. We need him to be okay."

The doctor looked at the man before him and saw the worry and pain of a father. "Mr. Cartwright, I will take the very best care of your son."

The doctor walked to the cabinet and then returned to Joe. He went to give Joe the medicine, but Adam intervened. "Here doctor, mind if I do it?"

"Certainly, just talk to him and let him know what’s going on." The doctor instructed.

Adam did as he was told, and Joe took the medicine with little resistance. The men sat back and waited. Adam had stayed next to Joe’s head after he had given Joe the liquid. He had an idea. He began humming very quietly a lullaby he knew Marie had sung to Joe when his little brother was a baby. It was old and French, and Adam had forgotten many of the words, but he knew the tune, and he knew his little brother did as well.

Ben heard the song and remembered a time long ago and smiled. Adam briefly looked to his father, all the while continuing to hum the song. Then Ben and Adam’s eyes locked, and both men shared the memory and a hope. A hope that Joe would hear and be comforted. It seemed to work as Joe breathed easier, and his body relaxed. Adam reached out and took Joe’s hand in his. He knew how fragile the hand was, given the deep cuts to Joe’s wrists, but he wanted his brother to know how appreciative he was of the price he had paid. He also wanted his little brother to know he was not alone any longer, nor was he in further danger.

Joe calmed considerably and the doctor decided to try and get Joe’s wounds cleaned and sutured if needed. He saw the interaction between brothers and said, "Adam, you need to just keep doing what you’re doing. Mr. Cartwright and Hoss is it? I may need you to help me with Joseph."

Each man set about with his own task to help Joe overcome the suffering he had endured. The eye Joe had not lost to swelling was open but unfocused, and he looked around the room as if he were lost. Adam made a point to be where Joe could see him if possible and continued the soft humming. He held Joe’s hand until the doctor requested it to sew up the deep cut the handcuff had made. Adam immediately took Joe’s hand back as soon as it was bandaged. He took it carefully in order to not cause pain to his brother and he held it firmly, but gently.

The most painful parts for Joe were still to come, and all of the men held their breath at the thought of what Joe was yet to endure. The doctor instructed yet again, "His shoulders can wait, but I have to tend to his back. We are risking infection that could kill him if we don’t get it cleaned. It’s obvious that some of the wounds are older than others are, and he’s already taken on a redness and swelling. Now even if he can tolerate this and be able to continue to keep breathing evenly, he will still feel it. Talk to him and get him through it. Keep up the humming, anything to distract some for him. It will help him, and to be honest, it will help me."

Once more they rolled Joe onto his side. Adam hummed louder, as he heard his brother’s discomfort increase. Ben spoke softly, "Joe, I’m here, son. We’ll do it. All of us will do it together. Joe be strong, son. Hold on to us, and we’ll get you through."

The doctor took a deep breath and then began to clean the wounds on Joe’s back. Although he was very weak, Joe screamed loudly when the doctor began the painful process. Hoss, Adam, and Ben worked harder to keep their loved one focused on them and their love of him. Joe was openly crying as the doctor worked, but was medicated to the point where panic stayed at bay. He tried to grab hold of those closest, but grasping caused pain and he screamed once more. The doctor tried to work quickly, but it took time and his patient felt it. It was so hard for Joe to talk, and the words remained in his head as he begged and pleaded for all the suffering to end.

Ben joined Adam by his son’s head, and he took his youngest’s hand from Adam. Ben looked at the hand of his child and remembered when he had seen them for the first time. He had counted fingers just as Marie had, and delighted that his son had a strong grip. Ben had thought at that time it was a sure sign of a Cartwright. He returned to the present and looked at his boy’s hands. He saw the bandages and felt his son pulling against the pain. He hurt for his child and knew there was pain Joe had endured he would have yet to hear about and help his son overcome.

The doctor worked to clean the wounds out but it seemed to take too much time. Ben finally snapped as he watched his child cry and scream in pain. "How much more! He can’t keep this up forever!"

"Mr. Cartwright, hold on. I’m doing what has to be done. It’s very bad, and we have to make sure he is properly cared for."

"Hurry!" Ben said, returning his attention to Joe. He looked at the bandages around his child’s wrists and felt anger. Someone had restrained his child and deliberately hurt him. Ben felt as if he could kill in that instant. Someone had pitted one of his boys against the other. He knew his boys would die for each other, and this was the price being asked of his youngest. "No!" Ben Cartwright thought. "I will not allow the person responsible make one of my children pay that price. I’ll see to it that the one responsible pays." He prayed he would not lose his boy in the process. But if he did, Ben knew he would kill Cyrus Baxter with his bare hands. He would do it for Joseph, and he would take whatever the punishment. He loved his boys, and no one would harm them and get away. Ben vowed that a long time before Cyrus Baxter. He prayed to keep Joe with him, but he vowed revenge if he lost him. His boy deserved it.

The doctor finally finished cleaning Joe’s back, and the group gave a collective sigh of relief. Ben moved his son back to lying on his back, as Joe moaned. He comforted his child and stroked his hair. Joe continued to breathe shallow gasps, and looked aimlessly around the room. He was aware his family was with him, but he felt as if there was a lurking presence; any time the door could open, and he would be once again with the Stranger. He was not thinking clearly as he felt a strong need to protect himself. He was groggy, but the pain kept him from sleeping - that and his fear.

"Pa…" Joe whispered.

Ben found it painful to hear his son try and talk. "Hush Joe. Don’t try and talk."

"Pa… need… I… need…" It took great strength for Joe to speak, and the words were slow in coming.

"What son? Tell me."

"Gun… need… gun."

"No son. You don’t need a gun. We’re all here, and we’ll protect you. Just rest."

"No… no… gun… need… gun"

"Joseph, you don’t need one son. I promise."

Several minutes passed with Joe not speaking. He felt the terror, as he remembered the cellar and what had happened. He believed the Stranger could return at any moment to end his life. He wanted to be ready and to make the man stop.

The doctor interrupted the silence in the room, "Here, we need to get this into him. We’ve got to keep giving him fluids. He needs them to battle the shock."

Ben took the liquid and tried to give it to Joe. His child was very weak, so he could do little to protest, but what he could do, he did. He looked at his father and clinched his jaw. Ben finally said, "Come on Joe. You’ve got to drink this."

Joe continued to look at his father. "Gun."

Hoss and Adam looked at each other and could not resist a smile and a shake of their heads. They had seen the battle of wills between their father and Joe many times, and it was amazing how long each could hold out on giving in to the other. Hoss commented quietly, "Stubborn little cuss, ain’t he?"

"That’s the truth." Adam said and pulled his pistol from his holster. He turned away from Joe’s view and quietly unloaded the gun. He looked to make sure the gun was truly empty of ammunition, and then he turned back. "Pa, here. Give it to him. If it keeps him calm what does it hurt?"

Ben looked at his oldest in surprise. Adam motioned with his eyes for his father to look at his hand. Ben saw six bullets and knew what Adam had done. "Okay fine. Here Joseph, you win this one. Now you drink all of this, and I don’t want any more foolishness out of you." With that Ben placed the gun under Joe’s left hand. He realized in Joe’s condition he was so weak and hurt he could not even lift it if he wanted. He said more for his son’s benefit, "But son, I don’t want you waving that around. Someone may think you’re aiming at him. Just keep it there."

"’Kay..." Joe felt some of the terror leave, as he felt the weight of the gun on him. He would be ready for the Stranger, and when he showed, he would kill him.

As Joe lay calming the pain, both mental and physical, Ben motioned to Adam to step outside with him. The two men gathered in the hallway, and Ben spoke, "Adam, we still have your safety to worry about. I’m sure Baxter knows where you are now. Thank God the room where Joe is has no windows, but we could be taken pretty easily here."

"Pa, after what that man has done to Joe, let them come! I’d love nothing more than to have a go at his henchmen!" Adam again thought of what his brother had endured as he spoke and he felt the anger rise. He soon felt rage.

"Adam, I know exactly how you feel, but we have to be smart in this. We have to keep our heads. Believe me, if Little Joe… if Joe… if he doesn’t make it, I’ll kill the man myself. Right now we need to get you another weapon." Ben smiled momentarily as he said, "Thank you for doing that for him."

"Pa, I can’t stop thinking about what he went through. Joe held out for me." Adam spoke and his anger rose. He was soon yelling. "What kind of man tortures another like that! And a kid! What did Joe see and go through with those monsters! I have never felt what I’m feeling before, Pa! I want blood! I could ride into Virginia City tonight and kill Baxter!" Adam yelled to the man he knew could understand more than anyone else.

Ben saw the amount of anger in Adam, and he knew his son was struggling. Adam had always preferred to be reserved and logical in his encounters. What Ben saw in his son was something more base and primal - his son was fighting to maintain control of rage. "Adam we’re all angry, but it won’t help Joe or even you right now. We have to make sure we’re all safe here, all of us. Now, I’m gonna make sure guards are posted and we’ll get you a pistol. I want you to stay in that room with Joe and not show yourself to anyone."

"Pa, please don’t worry about me. I’m fine, really."

"Adam, I need you safe, son. I need all of you boys safe."

Adam suddenly saw his father looking older than he had ever seen him. He saw that the ordeal was weighing heavily on the man who had raised him, and he knew he had to comply with his father’s requests. "I’ll make sure I’m safe, Pa. Listen, I’ll go sit with Joe, and you and Hoss can make sure the place is secure. But Pa, you don’t take any chances either. You and Hoss stay down and let the men do their job."

Ben smiled at his son and placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder. He knew they were all in danger and would have to be very careful until Baxter was behind bars. "I will son. We’ll all come through this together."

Adam and Hoss traded places, and Adam sat by Joe’s bedside. He found himself listening to his brother breathe, and the rage quickly returned. He saw his gun on his brother’s stomach and knew Joe had to have been so afraid of what had happened to him. He knew his little brother was brave, he had seen it before, but he had also seen his brother very scared. He hated it that it was because of him that Joe had been hurt so badly. As he sat watching Joe, he was unable to tell if he was asleep or awake. He found himself wanting to tell his brother some things he had been feeling, but he was unsure if he could or would.

As the minutes passed, it soon was time once more for Joe to drink the liquid the doctor had concocted. Without speaking, Adam reached over and touched Joe to lift his head off of the pillow. Joe startled and let out a "no". Adam saw his brother’s hand try to grab the gun, but Joe had no strength, and he could not grab hold. "Joe, it’s me, Adam. You’re okay. I’m right here. I was the one who touched you. "

"No… no… hurt…" Joe moaned, and Adam knew Joe was somewhere else.

"Buddy, you’re okay. It’s me Adam."

"No… hurt"

"Joe, listen it’s Adam. I won’t let it hurt again like it did."

"Ad… am?" Joe asked, as he realized his brother was there.

"Yeah Joe, it’s me."

"Ad… am… I… did… n’t… tell… I…"

"Joe, buddy, I know that. I know."

"No… lis…ten… Ad… am… I… not… do… it… I… need… know… I… would…n’t"

"I know that buddy. I know" Adam said, as he felt tears form.

"No… no… Ad… am"

"Joe, stop now! Stop and rest!" Adam was feeling the hurt and rage so strong.

"Ad… am… you… would… n’t… me… you… you… my…" Joe’s speaking required so much of him physically. He wanted to tell Adam what was in his heart, but he was exhausted.

"Joe, stop now buddy. You’re so tired. Take this. Here drink it, all of it and then you sleep. Remember Joe? You slept with Hoss or me when you got scared? That’s just what we’re doin’ now. You’re in my bed, and you’re safe, buddy. Remember?" Joe’s hurt was tearing at Adam.

"Need… be… here…. Pa… Hoss."

"Joe, they’re just outside. Go to sleep, now."

"No…" Joe was getting more and more agitated. Joe knew he wanted those around him who were safe and who loved him. He was so frustrated he could not talk, and frustration lead to tears.

Adam saw what was happening to Joe and knew to call his father. He rose from his position and made it to the door, he opened it and called. "Pa, Joe needs you. I think he wants Hoss too. I tried to calm him, but he just got more upset."

Ben and Hoss ran in and were quick to talk with Joe. Joe calmed as he heard from each member of his family. He wanted them close, as he was scared and did not want to be alone. Their voices made the Stranger move away from him, and he was then able to settle down and once more focus on breathing.

None of the men wanted to risk upsetting Joe again by leaving, so each found a place to try and make them comfortable. All three of the men focused on Joe’s breathing and they each found themselves breathing along with him. If there was a way to will someone healthy, then the Cartwrights could do it.


The knock on the door stirred the men from their thoughts. Ben drew his gun as he asked, "Who is it?"

"Sheriff Baker." The voice behind the door responded.

Ben had met the sheriff when he and Hoss had gone out to check the security of their location, and he recognized the voice. Ben opened the door, but kept his hand on his pistol. He did not know the lawman personally, and given what had happened to Joe and the contract on Adam, Ben trusted few

"’S’cuse me, Mr. Cartwright. I don’t mean to bother you good folks, but I wanted to introduce myself and to offer you all something to eat. I’m havin’ one of my men bring you all some food from the best place in Reno. Mr. Cartwright, I’m sorry this happened in my town. I know you folks are good people, and your boy went through hell. I wired your sheriff in Virginia City about the problems you folks are having here. I got a wire back, and I know Roy Coffee from way back. He told me to take the best care of you people. I plan to do just that. I also know you folks should be wary of me, and I’m just fine with that. I’d do the same if it were my boy layin’ there. Mr. Cartwright, we’re good folks here, and the people of Reno will do what we can to help. We don’t like what happened to your boy, and we’ll help your family."

Ben remained leery, but optimistic by what he had heard from the sheriff. He was encouraged that maybe he would get some help from those around them, and the family would not have to protect themselves alone. "I thank you for any help you can give us. My boys and I’ll be staying here with Joseph."

"I completely understand. I have a boy about his age, and I’d be doin’ the same thing myself. I’ll make sure you folks are made to be comfortable, and I have my men all around you folks to make sure you’re safe. You all need anything else?"

Ben looked at his boys and Adam and Hoss shook their heads no. He looked at Joe and wished he could see his youngest doing what he did so often. Joe usually claimed he was fine and would minimize any need for help. What he saw instead was his youngest son struggling to live and desperately needing help. "Thank you for the help. I want my boys to stay right here, so any help you can give would be appreciated."

"Well Mr. Cartwright, you ask for it, and we’ll get it for you." The Sheriff offered. "Please let me or one of my men know if you need anything. And, uh, I want you to know too, I’m prayin’ for your boy."

Before Ben could answer, the doctor was next to the sheriff and moving him out of the way. "’S’cuse me Dan, I wanna get by you, and to my patient. And Mr. Cartwright, Dan’s been our sheriff for goin’ on fifteen years. You and your boys are very safe with him in charge. He’ll make sure of it, won’t you Dan?"

"Sure will. You folks take care." The sheriff said as he left the doorway.

The doctor walked into the room and over to Joe. He looked at his patient and decided he could not postpone the next step in tending Joe any longer. "Gentleman, Joseph looks like he’s breathing a little better, and I think he’s holding his own. Now, we need to get his arms back in place. I wanted to wait a while, but I don’t want him in any more pain than necessary. He’ll be heavily sedated for this, and then we’ll set them. He’s gonna feel it, believe me." With that the doctor walked over and mixed some powder in water. He then turned and looked at the Cartwrights. "He’ll probably take this best from one of you. It’ll help knock him out." The doctor instructed.

Ben took the medicine from the doctor and leaned over his son. He spoke softly, "Joseph, come on now and take this son."

Joe heard his father and looked at him with trust. He obeyed the request as he took the medicine, all the while holding his father’s eye. Ben laid his son’s head back on the pillow and felt concern regarding what was awaiting his child. He prayed the medicine would block the pain, and his boy would not feel what they were going to do.

The men sat back and watched Joe be overcome by the sedative. Once it was evident that Joe was fully under the influence of the medication, Ben, Adam and Hoss took hold of him. Each looked at the other with a look of dread, as they knew Joe would once more endure pain and hurt. The doctor watched closely and eventually said, "Let’s get it over with. He seems to be out of it."

Hoss spoke abruptly, ‘Pa, do we have to? It’s gonna be bad."

"It’s okay Hoss, we gotta do this. You just hold on for Joe. He needs you." Ben comforted his middle child.

The doctor spoke up, "Okay, we need to do this while he’s medicated. Joe, I don’t know how much you can understand of what I’m saying, or if you even hear it, but I’m going to set your arms. Now I need one of you three to get back behind him and hold him."

"Okay Doc, tell me what to do." Adam immediately volunteered and moved towards Joe.

Ben and Hoss looked at Adam and knew he needed to do this for his little brother. They could see he was struggling due to his own feelings of being responsible for Joe’s condition. They let him do as he needed.

"Okay, Adam, sit him up and get behind him. Put your arms around his chest and hold on tight to him. Mr. Cartwright, you and Hoss may want to just help hang on to his legs ‘cause he is going to want to come off the table." The doctor instructed.

Adam spoke to Joe the entire time he was near him. He first took the gun from under his brother’s hand and placed it next them on a side table. Then he gently moved behind Joe and propped him up. He heard his little brother moan and cry out, as he took the gun and then moved him. Adam closed his eyes as he heard the pain. He then laid Joe slowly back on him as he propped himself against the wall. He winced, as he knew his brother’s back would be so very painful for him to lay back on, and he continued to talk softly about the ranch and the things they would do once they returned home.

Hoss and Ben grabbed Joe’s legs gently and waited for the doctor to proceed. "Adam, you ready?"

He wanted to say no, he would never be ready for it, but Adam shook his head yes, as he braced himself for the pull.

With Adam’s response, the doctor put his leg on Joe’s chest for counter-pressure. He then instructed, "Hang on to him. It’s going to be a jolt. Okay, on three, one, two, three." The doctor had Joe’s right arm in his hands and pulled it out and towards him with a jerk until the arm popped back in. Ben, Hoss and Adam watched the doctor work and each felt the need to cringe.

As soon as the doctor pulled, Joe screamed. "NO!" It was obvious Joe was in agony. He was trying to move, but each held tight to him and waited for Joe’s screaming to quiet.

The pain took Joe immediately back to the cellar and to the Stranger. He believed the Stranger had once again returned, and he would die. "DIE… JUST… DIE!" Joe screamed.

Adam leaned down where his mouth was next to Joe’s ear, "Listen buddy, its Adam. You’ll make it. I got a hold of you, and you’re gonna be just fine. We gotta do this for you. We’re all here and it’s gonna stop soon. I promise you, Joe. It’ll be over soon." Adam had felt ill at what he had to watch his brother endure. As he looked around to Joe’s face he saw tears, and he wiped them away. He looked up to see both his father and brother suffering as well. He wondered how much more Joe could take.

"NO… PLEA…SE…" Joe could see the Stranger before him in his mind and could not get away from the man. The pain was unrelenting as Joe struggled unaware that his family was trying to help him. Adam held on to his brother and felt him struggling to breathe and moaning loudly.

The doctor sighed as he walked over to Joe’s left. "I hate to do this, but we’ve got one more to do."

Ben spoke, "Wait, let me talk to him a minute. Hoss you can hold his legs yourself." Ben moved close to Joe’s head, making sure his son could see him. "Son, its Pa. You gotta hold on and be real strong. It’s going to be over soon and you can sleep." He saw Joe recognize him, and then Ben motioned for the doctor to continue.

Ben and Adam kept speaking to Joe as they saw the doctor place his leg on Joe’s chest once more. They heard the doctor count, "One, two, three. Now." The doctor performed the same maneuver he had previously, and Joe’s left shoulder was once again in place.

Joe continued to scream, "PA… NO… HURT…OH… GOD…" Joe was writhing in pain as his brothers held on.

Ben was praying the pain in his son would leave soon. "Joe, it’s over. We’re all done now. It’s over. It’s all over."


"Doc, do somethin’!" Hoss ordered and tried not to grab hold of the doctor.

"I’ve given him what I can give him for pain. I know it’s hard to see, but anything else could compromise his breathing too much. I’m sorry."

"He can’t stay like this! It ain’t right!" Hoss was unsure to whom he was speaking, but he could not stand to see his little brother in agony.

"Ssh, Joe it’s okay." Adam spoke quietly. He had not released Joe after the doctor had replaced Joe’s arm and could feel the tension in his brother’s body. Adam again began humming the lullaby hoping to break through to Joe. He also motioned for the gun back and made sure it was again placed under Joe’s left hand.

It was more exhaustion that stopped Joe from moving than relief from the pain. He could move no more and lay back against Adam. He was sweating heavily, and his breathing was raspy and shallow. He held his jaw clenched and waited for any relief. As he was unable to move around, the pain dulled slowly and the sedative gained power. Joe tried to listen to the humming and focus solely on it. He eventually allowed himself to relax his jaw and slowly he faded into a restless and light sleep.

The doctor put his hand on Ben’s shoulder and squeezed. He spoke quietly as to not disturb his patient, "Gentlemen, I’m guessing there’s dinner here for you, and I’ll make sure it is brought in, and you’re all made comfortable. Joseph should be kept warm and quiet in the meanwhile. He needs to remain propped up, and I’ll have some more fluids for him soon. I don’t want anything to disturb him for a while, so lets just let him sleep. He has to be exhausted."

Ben saw how compassionate the doctor was with his son and with his whole family. "Thank you for what you’re doing for him doctor."

"Please, call me Peter. We’ve been through too much for formalities." The doctor smiled at Ben.

"Thank you Peter, and please call me Ben. We’re so thankful to you and what you’re doing for Joe. We love him so much and this is really a very difficult time for all of us."

"I know it’s a hard time, and like the sheriff said, please tell us if there’s anything you need. Now let me go check on your supper and you folks keep him quiet."

"We’ll take care of him." Ben said, walking the doctor to the door. He then turned back and looked at his three boys. They had their share of differences Ben knew, but he also knew they had always pulled together in a crisis and would do anything for each other if it were required. He had never visualized the types of crises his family had undergone in their lives, but he remained proud of his family’s strength and their love.

Ben moved back over to the table where Joe lay. "Adam, you want help in moving him off of you?"

"I’m just going to stay here." Adam whispered. "He needs to sleep, and I don’t want to disturb him anymore. I’m okay the way I am, and I want him to know he’s not alone."

Ben nodded to Adam and looked at his youngest. Joe was asleep and out of pain for the time being, and Ben felt some relief. His mind returned over and over to what he wanted to do to the man responsible for the pain. He watched Joe have such difficulty simply breathing and wanted the one responsible to pay. He felt rage and the need for his child to be avenged. He knew he would struggle with the feelings inside of him. He also knew he would act on them if he had to bury his boy.

Hoss stood looking at his brothers, seeing one physically broken and struggling to take each breath, and the other, emotionally in such pain, feeling guilty and responsible for his brother’s condition. Hoss knew who was really to blame for the pain in his family, and he wanted revenge. He wanted his youngest brother to be alive and healthy, and his oldest brother to know he was not to blame. He wanted both to know they had done their family proud.

Adam lay with Joe in his lap holding his brother lightly. He realized he felt relief with every breath his brother took. He was enraged as he thought of the torture that Joe had endured as he felt his brother’s gasps to simply breathe. Joe had offered to die for him. It filled him with love for his brother, but guilt for what he had undergone. Adam vowed to be there for Joe for whatever he needed, and vowed to make them pay for harming him.

Joe slept lightly, so aware of his body and the pain. He had grown more secure as he laid back and felt a loving presence. He believed it would keep the Stranger away, and he could rest for a while. The pain would continually intrude on the peace, and he struggled to fall into deep sleep. As the Stranger moved away and sleep overtook, he felt himself able to protect himself, but when the pain returned, as it did often, he was again so very afraid and felt too vulnerable. He wanted the Stranger and the pain gone from him. He would do what it took to make it happen.

The doctor returned with a meal along with bedding and other comforts as the family held a watchful eye over their loved one. The men settled in for a long wait and each was in his head, thinking of their fear, their concern and their rage.

Evening turned to night and each settled into sleep. Throughout the night the doctor faithfully returned to his patient to treat and evaluate his progress. Every time the doctor entered, the sleeping family woke to assist, and Joe was lovingly tended. Each would quietly talk to Joe as they helped him, as Joe was easily startled and quick to panic. As Joe slept, he fought his battle with the pain and the Stranger. He dreamed of dark places and shadowed people standing out of sight not touching him, but always there and always lurking. He felt trapped in the darkness, but unable to cry out or move until he was awaken and told to drink.

Adam had fallen asleep with his little brother still in his lap. By doing thus, he hoped Joe would feel as if he was little again and sleeping with his big brother. Adam fell asleep remembering Joe as a little boy asking him all kinds of questions at bedtime regarding the presence of monsters and things that could get little boys in their sleep. Adam would patiently listen to the questions and reassure his brother that there were no such things as monsters. As Adam thought of his brother’s questions of the reality of monsters, he realized he was wrong in what he had told him and there were indeed monsters. Not the type of monsters little boy fears create, but more foreboding, unidentifiable and real monsters. It was this type that had held and harmed his little brother. Adam whispered softly to Joe, "I’m sorry about the monsters, Joe. I’d never have gone after Baxter if I’d known this would’ve happened to you. I love you little buddy, and I’ll help you any way I can. I’ll be here for you." After speaking quietly to his brother, Adam slept.

Sometime in the early morning hours, Adam woke to pain in his legs from them having fallen asleep and was feeling uncomfortable. As he tried to move, Joe stirred and moaned loudly but was not brought out of his dark dreams as he continued to wrestle inside his mind. Adam remembered where he was and what had happened as he fully woke. He patted his brother and spoke softly to him. Joe quieted. Adam laid there a while longer enduring his legs asleep as long as he could and then knew he had to get up. He tried to slowly lift Joe but as he tried to move him, Joe immediately was awake and screaming.

The screaming woke up Ben and Hoss who were up, out of bed, and to Joe and Adam immediately. Adam had known the movements had scared Joe and had started trying to comfort him. "Hush, now Joe. It’s okay." Adam tried to explain as he saw Hoss and his father. "Sorry. I moved him, and I guess it scared and hurt him. I was trying to get up. Can’t feel my legs."

"Here Adam, we’ll help." Ben said. As Hoss lit a lantern and helped Adam, Ben talked to Joe. "Joseph, I’m gonna pull you forward and let Adam move around some. You’re just fine. You go back to sleep. I want you to sleep now."


"Yes son, its Pa. Now you need to sleep. You’re so tired, and I want you to rest now. It’s not time to get up. I’ll let you know when it is. You close your eyes and rest. You do as I say now, Joe." Ben was moving his son as he spoke. This had been something he had done so many times over the years with his youngest. As a child, Joe would fall deeply asleep in his father’s arms after having spent time talking with his father in the evening or in various places such as a buggy on a ride home, on the sofa, or in Ben’s room, trying to fight sleep. He eventually would need to be moved to his own bed. Ben had found with practice he could talk to Joe while he was moving him and was able to keep him asleep if he spoke quietly to him, telling him the same words he was saying this night and so many others prior.

"It’s… ‘kay?" Joe asked very quietly, already drifting away.

"Yes, son. Adam just needs to move. You sleep now, and I’ll wake you in the morning." By the time Ben had spoken the words, Adam was free, and Joe was again lost to sleep.

"Sorry to wake you both. I just had to move. I hated to bother him. Any movement is just so painful for him." Adam said, the concern showing as he looked at his little brother.

"He’s okay now, Adam. Here come over here and lie down. You’ve got to be pretty tired yourself." Ben gestured towards a cot next to his own.

Adam moved over, and sat. It was obvious he was deep in thought and wide-awake. Ben asked, "Need to talk?"

"You can always tell." Adam said as he looked at his father. "Can I talk to you and Hoss? I’ve got a lot on my mind and maybe you two can help me sort it out."

Hoss and Ben sat ready to listen. Adam took a deep breath and began. "Pa, Hoss, I know we’re all feeling something very similar, and I feel responsible…"

"No son, I’m proud of you for what you want to do." Ben tried to ease his child’s guilt.

"Pa, listen please. I just need to do this. I knew when we were all in the shack I had put a lot on all of you regarding the running of the ranch. I also knew Baxter needed to be brought down and made to pay for what he had done to all those people. I never in my wildest dreams, thought he would do what he has done to us. We could have easily lost Joe in that cellar. It’s still so much a possibility. That’s on my shoulders." The anger began to build again as he spoke and heard the words he had been thinking. "Joe was tortured. He was tortured! As many times as I tell myself that, it’s still just so unreal. As we talk here, all of us so comfortable, listen to him breathe! Listen! He’s fighting for something I’ve taken for granted! I want to go into that courtroom and kill Baxter! There, I said it. I want him to suffer and hurt and beg and plead like Joe was made to do. That’s what I really want. I want to do to him what he did to Joe. Pa, Hoss you both know what I’m sayin’, don’t you?"

"Adam, I want him dead too." Hoss commiserated. "I think of what I saw in that cellar. Our Joe there so scared and hurt. I know Joe’s tough, and he’s been through it, more than we probably know, but I just want to protect him. I know what your sayin’ Adam, but I want you to know too, I’m proud of you and what you’re doin’. A lot of good people lost money ‘cause of what Baxter did to ‘em."

"But Hoss, money isn’t worth Joe’s life! How much would we pay for him? You see, Baxter deals in dollars, we deal in something more substantive. He knew that, and he used it. I have to look at Joe and know that he went through hell for money? For people’s savings?" Adam shook his head at the thought.

"No Adam. Son, you’re making Joe’s sacrifice something it wasn’t. Joe did it because of his brother. He did it because of you, Adam. He loves you. He told you and he told Hoss he didn’t tell where you were to the people hurting him. It’s you he loves, and you he wanted to protect. He wasn’t doing it for the lost money, he was doing it for our family and for you, Adam."

"But Pa, I’m supposed to do that for him! I’m older, and I want to watch for him. I’m so angry that they asked him to do what he did! He’s so young and… uh… Pa, what will this do to him? Let’s be honest and ask it, right? What will it do if he makes it!" Adam asked, hoping his father saw the future, and knowing he did not.

"I don’t know son. I’ve asked myself that, but your brother’s so unpredictable, but he’s also resilient. The one thing I do know for sure is we’ve got to be here for him, all of us. He needs us, and he has got to be afraid. We didn’t go through what he did, and I’m worried for him, but Adam, I’m concerned about you too. Tell me what you’re doing to yourself."

"Pa, I have to testify, I’ve known that, but now I want the man dead. I know it’s not my place to do it, but I want it, and I know when I have to look at him and say what I have to say, I’ll do it not only for those faceless investors anymore. Joe’s there now. He’s the first and foremost I will testify for. I want Baxter to die and with what I know the man is charged with, he’ll not die. I want him dead!"

"Adam we all do, but we have to believe in the law. You’ve even told me that before when I was running off half cocked demanding to take the law into my own hands." Ben reminded his oldest.

"Pa, somehow it is different when your little brother lies a few feet away trying simply to breathe! Pa, Joe did nothing! He’s a boy! He gets a thrill out of pretty girls and making us proud of him! He had nothing to do with this! They tortured him!" Adam was furious each time he returned to his brother’s pain.

"Adam, I know! I saw Joe’s body! I saw what he endured! I saw my youngest son battered and bruised! I see him trying to breathe!" Ben said, meeting his oldest’s intensity. "You have to ask yourself why he did it, and what you are to do with it! You have always wanted to teach Joe about life. Okay, teach him! Teach him what you want him to learn, Adam! Do it! He’s a boy who risked his life for his brother! Show him why he did it! Show Joseph the right way to do it, cause if you do anything else Adam, Joe did it for nothing! You have told him over and over that he needs to know the right way! He only knows what he sees!"

"Pa, that’s not fair! What I started out to do in this case is GONE! It left when Baxter decided to torture my baby brother! He made the rules, and now all bets are off!" Adam was so very angry as he spoke to his father.

"No Adam! You decided all bets were off! A while back, you and I sat by my desk and you told me what you thought was going on regarding Baxter. At that time you said you would pursue it to the end and see justice served. You didn’t make it conditional. You said you’d do it. Joseph needs that lesson! If Joe lives…" Ben paused at the thought, then continued. "He has to know he did it all for a reason! If he doesn’t live Adam, it is out of your hands. I will take care of it. I’m the father, and no one will take one of my boys without me having justice! I’ll take Baxter’s life as a father! I saw Joseph born, and if he leaves us, the one who does it pays! I vowed that a long time ago and would do it for any of you! Joe will not have to pay the ultimate price without me stepping in! My boy will not die without vengeance! Anything else son, you have control of! Joseph needs you as his brother, and he needs you to make it through this just as he does! Damn it, Adam! Don’t you see! You have such a chance! You and Joseph! You make your own rules! You decide the scenario before it is played! You’re the leader Adam, and you already have your brother dead, and Baxter having gotten away with it! I’ve always taught you that you do what you can. You put him away and in that way you tell Joe what is right."

"Pa, you know I want to do what is right, but look at him! Look at Joe! He’s so torn up I can’t see passed it!" Adam looked upon his brother and felt such rage.

"Adam, he’s my son, and I’m asking something of you no father wants to ask! To turn away from it for their hurt child! Believe me, I could kill! But, I don’t want to lose Joe, and I don’t want to lose you! Adam, you could do things that are un-fixable, unchangeable! I want all three of my boys happy and safe! I won’t lose any of you. If you do what you want to do, then you pay a price that is too high! I won’t have you hung for that man! I won’t let you do it, and Joe can’t have you do it! He’d never be able to handle that!"

Adam continued to look at his brother as Ben spoke. He wanted revenge more than he had ever wanted in his life. He heard his father and believed that logically everything he had said was true. He also knew that this would be an enormous challenge for him, and he was uncertain that he could hold in the rage to do what he knew was right.

"I’ll not promise you anything but to think about what you said. I do know there is a place in hell for Cyrus Baxter, and I’d love to help him get there."

"Adam," Hoss spoke after having quietly listened to the exchange. "I’m also askin’ you. Don’t do nothin’ to make us lose you. You heard it would hurt Pa and Joe, but it would hurt me too. I don’t wanna lose either you or Joe. You have to know that. We all need each other."

Adam looked at Hoss and tried to smile. "I hear you. I just need to think about it. You two get some sleep. I’ll be fine."

The three sat a while longer, then Ben and Hoss turned in for the remainder of the night. Adam laid awake listening to Joe breathe, thinking of the previous conversation. He felt heavily conflicted between what he knew was the right thing to do and what he wanted to do. He realized that no more sleep would come that night and he lay listening and waiting for morning.


Upon waking, Ben stood, walked over and checked on Joe. Seeing Joe still asleep, he looked around and saw it was apparent that Adam had not gone back to sleep after they had talked. It concerned him because he knew his son was to testify in a few days in Virginia City and was afraid of where Adam’s mind was taking him. He stood watching his oldest, silently praying Adam would do what was right.

The men were eventually disturbed by the doctor’s entrance. "Good morning. I know you all didn’t get much sleep, but I hope what you did get was restful. There’s some breakfast in the other room my wife made for you and water to clean up. We’re going to need to get some food into Joseph as well."

The doctor moved over to the table and felt Joe’s forehead. He frowned slightly as he felt warmth. He stood looking at his patient a moment longer than he meant to and was immediately noticed by the three others in the room. They moved over to Joe, and Ben questioned, "What is it?"

"Hmm, he’s started running a fever. It seems slight now, but I’m going to need to keep a close eye on it. I want to make sure we avoid further problems. I’ll need to get a few things to address the fever, and then I’ll be right back. In the meantime, eat breakfast and get cleaned up folks."

Ben did not move from Joe’s side, and he felt his son’s forehead as well. The touch caused Joe’s eyes to flicker and open. The swelling of his left eye continued to make it difficult for him to see much. His father came into focus, as did the pain. He grunted, "Pa… what’s… wrong?"

Ben did not realize the expression he had on his face and quickly changed it to a smile. "Nothing’s wrong. Just was thinking about something. How’re you feeling?"

"Hurts… little"

"A little?" Ben’s smile broadened at his son. It was so typical of Joe to respond as he had done. "Well, you stay still and quiet. The doctor’s got you something to eat and then more rest for you."

"Get… some… thing?"

"You need something, son?"

Joe shook his head yes, and Ben continued, "What do you need?" Given Joe’s last request of a gun, Ben had no idea what his son may want, but he was determined to make him happy if he could.

"Sad… sad…" Joe continued to be frustrated at his lack of strength to talk.

"Are you sad, son?"

Joe shook his head no and continued, "Sad… dle… bag" He felt relief he had gotten the words out.

"You want your saddlebag?" Ben was confused.

Joe shook his head yes. Hoss had overheard his brother’s request and volunteered, "Joe’s stuff’s still at the livery, I guess. I saw it all there when I first got to town. After I found Joe, I didn’t take care of the other stuff. Buddy, I’ll go get it for you."

"No Hoss," Ben interrupted. "Send one of the sheriff’s men. I’m sure there’s one in the waiting room out there. Get him to go." Ben wanted all of his boys in the room and safe. He did not want any of them exposed and vulnerable.

"Sure thing, Pa. And Short Shanks, I’ll make him hurry. I know how you hate to wait. And I’ll bring in the food ‘cause you know I hate to wait."

Hoss left the room as the doctor entered. "Oh, I see my patient is awake. How are you Joe?"

"Fine" Joe said but noticeably winced when he said it.

The doctor broke out in laughter at Joe’s response. He had noticed that from the beginning the young man was strong and courageous. Peter was relieved his patient had strong traits, because he had a fear that they were not out of danger yet. "Well I have a couple things you need to drink. First though, I want to listen to your chest a minute."

The doctor pulled out his stethoscope and listen to Joe’s breathing. He heard the rales and knew what had started. He reached up, felt Joe’s forehead once more and frowned. He decided to treat Joe without discussing his findings in front of his young patient. He knew Joe had been through enough and wanted him strong, determined and believing he was getting better. The doctor was unsure what a potential setback might do. "Okay Joe, you need to get some things into you. I’ll give you the pain killer first to make you comfortable, and when it has done it’s thing, then I want you to take all of this chicken broth, and then this egg flip here."

The doctor gave Joe the painkiller, and he took it without comment. He then laid back and waited for it to enter his system and dull the pain. As they waited, Hoss returned with their breakfast. "This looks mighty good. Adam, Pa, eat up."

Hoss’ mention of food made Joe look at his own. As he looked at the tray of liquid and egg he thought to himself, "Why is it when I’m sick I get the worst food. I hate that stuff when I’m feelin’ good, let alone feelin’ as bad as I do now. What is it with that stuff?" Joe finally felt the painkiller start to work as the intensity of the pain lessened and moved away. His muscles loosened, and he felt his body become lighter.

As Joe relaxed and his breathing came easier, Ben took over. "Here, I’ll help with this." Ben stepped in, knowing getting Joe to eat would be a battle. He carefully spooned the egg mixture into his son and immediately saw the reaction. Although Joe’s face was badly swollen, Ben saw a frown and a scowl. "I know it doesn’t taste very good, but you gotta eat son."

Everyone tried to keep light conversation going as they ate their own breakfast, and Ben helped Joe. Joe was a picky eater to begin with, and they had to admit what Joe was having to eat did not appear at all appetizing. He moved slowly and had to take breaks to gather his strength. He found the food to turn his stomach and fought back gagging. He tried to stop his father several times by turning his head away and resisting, but Ben simply waited him out, and Joe knew his father was not going to go away. In what felt like an eternity, the meal was finally over, and Joe breathed sigh of relief. He laid his head back and wanted to drift off to sleep when the doctor spoke. "Joe, you’ve got two more things here we need to have you take, and then you can go on to sleep."

Joe thought to himself, "Oh geez, what’s now? At least nuthin’ can be as bad as that last stuff."

The doctor motioned for Ben to join him over in the corner. Once there, he spoke in a low voice, "We’ve got a medication to give him that he isn’t going to like it at all. We need to start giving him ammonia suspension. It is bad tasting stuff, and he is going to hate it, but we have to do it."

"Ammonia suspension? Isn’t that a medicine for pneumonia?"

"Yes, Ben it is. I didn’t want to talk to you about it in front of him, but he is showing definite symptoms of his lungs filling. I’m hoping we are catching it early enough that it won’t be life threatening. This will hopefully allow him to cough and clear his chest."

Ben could not believe what he heard. It was obvious Joe was so weak and now the doctor was saying there were further obstacles in front of his son. "But he’s so weak already. Tell me honestly, can he fight this off?"

"I don’t know, but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure your son is given every chance possible. We will need to keep him sedated so his body can fight. Our biggest challenge is getting this into him. We have to have him breathing deeper than he is now. His inability take deep breaths is exacerbating his condition. You all will need to keep a close watch on him and remind him to breathe deep. If needed, I may have to bind his chest to help him. I don’t want to do it because of how much pain he is in, but if he can’t do it himself, then I’ll need to do it for his own good. Do you want to give him the medicine or do you want me to?"

"I’ll do it. I’ve been wrestling with that young man for eighteen years, I think I’ve gotten good at it." Ben tried to keep his mood light, though the news he had just been given scared him more than he would admit.

"Very well. I’ll get it, and you give it to him." The doctor and Ben moved back over to Joe. Ben looked at Hoss and Adam and the expression on his face told them that something was wrong. The doctor handed Ben a glass. "He needs to take all of this."

Ben took a deep breath and lifted his son’s head, "One more to take, son." Joe smelt the liquid and turned his head. "Come on, Joe. You need to take this. It’s to help you get better, son."

Joe thought to himself, "Nothing that smells like that is gonna help me do anything but get sick."

"Son, you have to take it. You don’t have any choice."

Joe shook his head and resisted. He knew he would eventually lose and have to take the vile smelling liquid, but he could not bring himself to do it without a struggle.

"Son, you’re making too big an issue of this. You’re too weak to do this fussing, and you know you’re going to end up taking it, so lets just do it and get it over with." Ben didn’t blame his son’s resistance. He himself had experienced pneumonia and had been given the same treatment. He vividly remembered the medication and how uncomfortable it was to take. "Here son, real quick. Just drink it quick."

Joe looked at his father and sighed. "Don’t… need"

"Well son, when you become a doctor you can tell me what you need. But until then, you’ll let Dr. Green here do his job. Now open."

Joe and Ben were in a stand off, and Ben waited for Joe to give in. "Son, I don’t want to have to force this, but if I have to, I will."

Once Joe heard his father speak those words the battle was over, and he had lost. There had been times when Ben had forced medicine down his youngest son’s throat, and Joe knew when it came to the health of one of his children, his father did exactly as the doctor ordered. Joe gave a sigh to make sure he let his father know he was unhappy and opened his mouth. As he started to drink, the fluid burned his mouth. He instinctively spit it out and let out a strong, "ugh."

"Son, I know it’s bad, but you’ve got to take it. It’s going to make you better."

"Mean… kill… me." Joe muttered.

Ben looked to Hoss and Adam who were standing watching the exchange, and all three shook their heads. "Joseph, you’re going to do this now and get it over with. I’m finished playing with you." Ben did not want to scold Joe, especially in the condition he was in, but he knew that unless he took a hard line with his son, they’d be going round and round for hours.

Joe was not quite ready to admit defeat with his father, "Spit… out."

"Fine, son. You keep spitting, and I’ll keep pouring, but one way or another you’ll take this!"

Joe knew he was going to have to take the liquid. He dejectedly opened his mouth and drank. The liquid burned, and it took all he could not to spit it out, but he drank. He made sure he gave his father the best thing he could come to as a glare to let him know he was unhappy. He was angry, tired and frustrated. It seemed everything he did required such energy, and the pain drained him quickly. There was no comfortable position he could find, and his arms lay useless in front of him. Joe felt himself retch as the burning liquid entered his stomach. The doctor was soon beside him giving him water and chloral hydrate. He then laid back and stared at the ceiling, but was soon overcome by coughing and felt the sharp pains in his ribs. He closed his eyes and hoped he would calm the pain and avoid the coughing.

Ben, Adam and Hoss had learned from experience a long time ago, after a battle of wills with Joe it was best to move away from him and give him space. Joe would eventually settle down and be more hospitable. If he was not given the space, each knew they would be snapped at, and Joe’s mood would be prolonged.

A knock on the door revealed a sheriff’s deputy who produced a saddlebag with the initials JC tooled into the leather, a bedroll and a green jacket. Ben thanked him for his efforts and then moved over to Joe. He held up the saddlebag so his son could see it. Joe thought of ignoring his father and closing his eyes. He was so angry at having had to take the vile liquid, but he also knew there was something in the bag he really wanted to share with his family. His need to please them outweighed his anger, and Joe calmed. He spoke very quietly, "Op… en… con…tracts" and was then overcome by coughing once more.

Ben realized what it was that Joe had wanted from the saddlebag. He had stored the signed timber contracts inside the leather bag. Ben was touched by his son’s desire to complete the task he had been given, but knew Joe’s energy was fading fast, and he looked so pained as he coughed. "Son, we don’t need to do this now. You rest, and we’ll talk about it later."

"No… want… you… Ad… am… look." Joe was breathing heavily, but was determined.

Ben opened the leather bag and saw a rolled up piece of paper tied with a ribbon lying on some wadded up clothes. As he pulled it out and untied it, Hoss and Adam moved to read over their father’s shoulder. After Joe had left for Reno, Ben and Adam had pounded out the numbers to determine how much of a loss they could take from the previous year’s profit on the contracts. They decided they could lose fifteen percent from the previous year’s contract and still run the ranch without feeling the pinch. Both knew Joe was young and had no experience negotiating the prices on his own, although Joe had sat in with his father or brothers on several of the ranch’s contract negotiations since finishing school. Ben and Adam knew that the negotiation process could be ruthless, and Joe was up against a shrewd businessman in Reno. They just hoped he could keep them within a fifteen percent loss, and they would be fine.

The first page of the contract Ben looked at was the buyers request in board feet of timber. The amount requested was an ambitious, although certainly an obtainable amount of Ponderosa timber. Ben held his breath and turned to the final page, the payment the Ponderosa would receive for the timber produced. He pointed to the numbers and smiled. Not only had Joe not lost money on the deal, he had gained them twelve and a half percent over the previous year’s price.

Adam looked at the figures and let out a whistle. He walked over to where Joe lay and smiled as he said, "He’s Cartwright through and through, Pa. Great job, Joe. I’m proud of you. You were listening in those meetings."

"Ad… am… I… just… did… it… like… you… Ask… high… num…ber… you… al… ways… say."

Adam practically beamed at Joe. He realized he was sharing something very special and rare with his little brother. They both clashed at times due to their strong temperaments, but Adam saw Joe looking up to him and wanting to make him proud. He saw how Joe was struggling to talk, but how important it was that his little brother got to see his reaction. "Hey Joe, next one of these I have to do let’s go together. Between you and I, we could get an incredible profit."

"Want… to" Joe said trying to smile, but it hurt and came across as a grimace.

"Hey Joe, you better watch it. You’re gonna start turnin’ into Adam and readin’ all them books." Hoss teased.

"Nah… only… one… Ad… am. You… miss… me… too… much."

"Well you are right about that one." Hoss quickly agreed.

Ben looked over the contract once more and felt himself fill with pride. He saw the unmistakable backward slanted writing of his youngest, signing on behalf of the Ponderosa ranch. Ben’s dream had been to build a place for himself and his boys that they would soon take over and run with the same pride he had felt when he first signed the deed for the vast land. He had seen his two oldest negotiate on behalf of the Ponderosa and now Joe had done something for which he could truly be proud. His youngest had made quite the business deal, and Ben knew in a few years he could stand next to his oldest brother as demonstrating a unique business savvy. "Joseph, I’m so very proud of what you’ve done. With the extra money we can buy that Texas bull I have been eyeing and I do believe there is room for that stallion you’ve been going on and on about in Carson City. We may even have some to set aside. Son, you did a wonderful job, and we’re all so proud. But now you need to rest. You look very tired, and you’ve done too much talking."

Joe had more to say, "Thanks… for…lettin’… me."

Ben felt the tears form, but held them back. "Son, you’ll do so many more of these you’ll be fussing that I’m making you do it. But right now I want you to sleep."

Joe was looking groggy and it would not take much to make him sleep. The only thing that kept him from surrendering to sleep was the frequent coughing that made him hurt so badly. The doctor, who had been present, but standing out of the way, stepped forward. "Okay enough, young man. I need you to start breathing deeper than you are right now. You need to make sure you take a full breath, and you need to try and rest so no more talking. I’ve got something here for you to take, and then you need to close your eyes."

Joe was leery of taking anything else from the doctor. "What?"

"It’s brandy to help you breathe."

Joe did not quite trust the doctor and smelled the liquid first. Satisfied it was what the doctor had said it was, he drank it. Joe soon felt his eyes grow heavy, and he tried to rest.

The doctor gave final instructions to the family before leaving the room. "You’ll all need to keep close watch on him. He needs to stay quiet, but you’ll need to watch him closely. He needs to be checked every thirty minutes or so and reminded to breathe deep. He’s in a lot of pain, so he isn’t breathing as he should. You’ll have to help him with that. He’ll keep coughing since he’s had the suspension, so he is going to be stirring anyway. I’ll leave you folks for a while." and with that Doctor Green left the room.

The Cartwrights listened to the doctor as they watched Joe fade away to rest. They then moved over to the cots and sat. Adam was the first to speak, "Joe did great didn’t he?" Adam’s thoughts returning to the contract negotiations.

"He sure did." Hoss agreed. "Ya know he’d have my hide if he knew I told ya’ll this, but he was real nervous before leavin’ that shack. He told me he couldn’t eat and kept wakin’ up the night ‘fore he left. He done real good though. I told him he would. He kept tellin’ me he didn’t think he’d ‘member what he learnt. I told him just think of you all’s voices, and it’d come. This deal was real important to him."

"He did great." Ben said as he smiled, but both Hoss and Adam saw the worry.

"What is it? What did the doctor tell you?" Adam knew there was something more to Joe’s condition.

"Boys we gotta keep positive for him. He can’t see the worry, but Joe’s getting pneumonia. His lungs are so weak, I guess." Ben could not hide his worry as he talked to Adam and Hoss. It was written all over his face.

"Pa, is the doctor gonna save Little Joe?" Hoss asked wanting reassurance he knew was not there.

"Hoss, he’s gonna try. He’s doing everything he knows to do."

Adam had sat back quietly thinking over his little brother’s desire to make him proud and the conversation he had shared with Hoss and his father. He was so torn. "Damn it!" Adam whispered. "Does Joe’s torture just continue ‘til he’s dead? He’s done enough! He’s hurt enough! He’s just a kid!"

"Adam, I know. I know." Ben saw his family hurting and it tore at him. He was so afraid to lose Joseph, but knew he had to be strong. "You can’t give up. Joe’s as strong as they come. He’s a Cartwright. Look at what he negotiated for us. He has so much strength. Don’t let him go yet. Adam, hang on to him."

"Pa, we can’t lose him. It all of us together." Adam was feeling very vulnerable and afraid. "Joe’s part of that. He has to be okay."

"We pray for him and protect him." Ben tried to guide his children. "It’s all we can do now. Adam you’re so tired yourself. You need some rest."

"Pa I want to sit by him. I want to just be close to Joe in case he needs anything and help wake him like the doctor told us to do." Adam said moving next to his resting brother. He looked down at Joe and saw the struggle to breathe. He knew it was a struggle for Joe to live, and it scared him.

Joe drifted in and out of sleep. He was awakened as he was overcome by a coughing fit, or by a family member as he was told to breathe deeply. When he slept he dreamed of the cellar as his body cried out from the pain in the doctor’s office. The present blended with the recent past, and Joe could not tell if he was safe or in danger. He mumbled frequently, but no one could make out what he said. In both dream and foggy awake times, Joe had a strong desire to live and he fought hard.

Time passed slowly for everyone as they waited and watched Joe fight for breath and life. Eventually, the doctor returned with the ammonia suspension. "He needs to take this again."

Hoss, Adam and Ben all looked at each other wondering who would wrestle with Joe to have him take the medicine. Adam spoke up. "I’ll do it."

Adam took the liquid and spoke softly to his brother, "Joe, you need to take this now. Wake up."

Joe’s opened his right eye but was unable to open his left. "Uh… wha…"

"Joe, open and drink this."

Because he was groggy, Joe responded to the command and was drinking before he realized what it was he was ingesting. As soon as he felt the burning sensation, he fought the liquid, and Adam had to react quickly to countered his brother’s resistance. The liquid made it into Joe. He felt the burning and again wanted to retch. The doctor soon followed the harsh substance with a glass of water laced with chloral hydrate.

Joe was fully awake after having felt the burn of the liquid and being once again to be overcome by a coughing fit. He immediately became angered as he felt he had been tricked. He looked at Adam with rage and then looked away. He felt so very bad, and it now seemed to him as if his family was trying to hurt him as well. He wanted to be away, safe, and without pain.

Adam saw Joe’s glare. "Joe, I’m sorry. You have to take it. We want you better. And oh, listen Joe, I got a book they gave us here to keep us entertained. I think you’d like it. You want to hear it? It’s one of your favorites."

Joe looked directly at Adam. He made sure Adam saw his look, and then Joe deliberately shut his eye. He wanted Adam to know he was mad and did not like it that he had been given the medicine that hurt his mouth, his stomach and made him cough.

Adam knew Joe’s actions meant he was very angry. He felt bad he had made his brother mad after the price Joe had already paid, but he knew Joe had to have the liquid if he was going to be able to make it through the pneumonia. He found it almost funny that Joe would show his anger, even though he was so sick and weak. He hoped that maybe it showed Joe’s resolve and determination, and his brother would fight hard. He eventually decided to ignore Joe’s anger and read the book aloud anyway. He knew his little brother would listen because he loved the story. Adam read aloud from The Three Musketeers, and although Joe tried not to listen, he was soon caught up in the story and listened in spite of his anger. He coughed often and felt the pain, but he also let his mind drift to being D’Artagnan, running through France in the heroic tale. In Joe’s mind, the countryside of France looked very similar to his home on the Ponderosa, and D’Artagnan’s mount looked very much like a certain black and white pinto.

The family spent much time listening to Adam read. Each found himself engrossed in the tale, and it made the tension in the room decrease. Joe would fade in and out, but Adam kept reading all the while. Time seemed to pass more quickly, and soon it was again time to disturb Joe to eat. As Adam noted the page he was on and closed the book, Hoss said, "Gee Adam, that story’s got me all hooked. You gonna keep reading later? I wanna know what happens next."

Adam smiled at Hoss and chuckled. "Sure Hoss, after Joe eats, we’ll see what’s in store for the Three Musketeers."

Joe’s meal was a repeat of breakfast with broth and egg flip. He ate slowly as his father helped him. Ben had placed the tin bowl on Joe’s lap to make it easier to feed his son. Joe did little to resist. He was weaker and had resolved himself to the fact that he would lose the battle in the end, and he wanted to save his strength. He would periodically cough and feel himself losing energy with each bout. Joe began to hope the food would help him fight. He had started to be concerned about how much harder it was to breathe, to move, and to tolerate the pain.

After Joe had finished, Ben left his side to get him a drink of water. When he returned, he saw his son staring into his lap, looking at the tin bowl. "What are you doing? Is something wrong?"

Joe looked from the bowl to his father, and Ben saw he was crying. "What is it?" Ben asked with concern.

Joe looked down again, and Ben moved to see what his son was seeing. As soon as he realized what it was, Ben’s heart broke. Joe was able to see his reflection in the tin bowl. The image was distorted, but still clear enough that Joe had seen the battering that his face had taken. As he looked at himself, he thought back to what the Stranger had said to him regarding the reaction of people to seeing him beaten. He closed his eyes and tried to make the image go away, but knew he would see it again as soon as he reopened them.

Ben reached for his son to comfort him. "Joseph, it’s going to be okay. It’s a lot of swelling and bruises. I know it scares you son, but I know you’ll be back to your old self soon."

Joe looked at his father and said, "Mirror."

"Son, no you don’t need to do that. Not now. You wait ‘til you’re all healed up, and you’ll see you’re just fine."

Joe shook his head no, as he looked at his father feeling fear at what he would be left with when his body had healed. He already knew he was going to have to face the fear in him from what the Stranger had done. He had known that his face was swollen, simply by the fact he could not see out of one eye and it hurt to talk or make any expression, but until he had seen his reflection, he had assumed it was the type of bruising he experienced before from fights. He had not allowed himself to entertain the idea that there might be more significant damage. He whispered once more, "Mirror."

Ben looked at Hoss and Adam. Both brothers had pained looks on their faces. They had known far too well how their brother had looked and what seeing himself would do to him. "Uh, Joe, don’t you want to hear Adam read more of the story?" Hoss asked trying to get Joe’s mind off of what he had seen.

"Want… to… see… now." Joe gasped as the tears ran down his face. "Mirror."

"Joe, son, really. Not now." Ben said.

Joe summed all of his strength, "NOW!" He screamed and fell back on the bed into a coughing fit. He was not going to be put off by his family’s distractions nor comfort.

Ben was at a loss as to what to do. He knew Joe seeing himself clearly in a mirror would upset him, but Joe was escalating in his panic. "Son, you can’t do this. You need to stay quiet and save your strength. Calm down now, Joseph."

Joe looked at his father with pain in his expression. He was so afraid and was becoming angry that his father was withholding what he had requested. He again spoke though it was obvious that is was a struggle, "No… Pa… let… me… Mirror… I… want… see… No… wait… No… "

Ben saw Joe was going to keep pushing and trying to talk. He knew his son was weak and needed to save his strength for a much larger battle that possibly lay ahead of him. He was caught in a bind. With a mirror, Joe would see more clearly what he looked like, and Ben realized it would be very difficult for his son. Joseph was a very handsome young man, and Ben knew his son at times hid behind his looks as a way of appearing arrogant and self-assured. Ben worried what would happen to his child if he suddenly lost that. He did not know how his youngest would handle the change in appearance.

Ben looked at his oldest boys. "Could one of you go get a mirror?"

Neither brother thought the decision was easy, and they felt for Joe and their father. Hoss agreed, went the door, opened it and requested a mirror from the man he saw standing in the hallway.

No one spoke as they waited. Joe felt the tears roll down his face, and he wanted to wipe them away and be alone. He was unable to do either. He felt such fear and had no idea if he would ever feel he was himself again. He wondered if he would look like himself ever again. He told himself as he lay there to remember. He wanted to remember the fear and rage for when he struck back; for when he sought his revenge. He told himself he would have it, and the rage kept him going.

A mirror was brought to the room, and Ben took it in his hands. He slowly walked to his son and said, "Joseph, I want you to know this is not how it will be. You are going to be better and back to your old self."

Joe was determined, "Pa… show… me… I…. gotta… know… I… wanna… know."

Ben closed his own eyes as he showed his son his reflection and waited for Joe to react. He heard a moan as Joe saw himself and was overcome. His youngest had tears flowing down his face as he took a long look and then turned away. Ben tried to help. "Joseph, it’ll all be fine. You’re upset about something that may not be. It’ll take time, son. All of this just happened to you."

"Leave… ‘lone" Joe refused to look at his father.


"NO… ‘lone."

It was obvious that Joe was finished speaking and the tension was heavy in the room. Ben, Adam and Hoss felt helpless. They knew Joe was hurting and had no idea what to do to help him. Finally Ben broke the silence. "Adam why don’t you start reading again? It’ll do us all good."

The story of the Three Musketeers once more came alive in the doctor’s office, and the men settled in. Joe laid unable to listen to Adam as he could not stop thinking of what had happened to him. His mind wanted to return to the cellar and the beatings, as he continued to see how he looked in his mind’s eye. He could not stop replaying the torture and he found himself begging for it to stop. He coughed hard and felt the sharp pain in his chest. He was miserable and wanted relief. The medications eventually worked to relax him and Joe moved in and out of consciousness as his body fought to live.


The crisis started early that evening. Joe had been sleeping restlessly and his family checked on him often, reminding him of deep breaths. It was during one of the checks that Ben felt his son’s forehead and noted he was quite warm. He felt himself saying a silent prayer, "No God, please. He’s been through enough. Please let this pass from him. He’s so weak. I need him to be okay. I really do."

Both Hoss and Adam saw their father standing looking over Joe. "Pa what is it?" Hoss asked.

"He’s really warm. I think he’s getting sicker." Ben said in a dejected tone. He felt concern and fear as he looked at his boy. Not taking his eyes off of his child, he spoke, "One of you go get the doctor."

Adam went to the door and called the doctor. Dr. Green entered immediately and moved over to Joe. He saw the flushed face and sweat apparent on his patient. He felt disappointed at the turn of events. The doctor knew the young man had been through hell, and he needed relief. Doctor Green felt Joe’s forehead and knew he was indeed in danger. "I’d like to get some vapor going for him, and I think we’re going to need to bind his chest. I didn’t want to do that, but he isn’t breathing deep enough because he is in so much pain, and although waking him is helping, I don’t think it’s enough. Binding will help manage the pain for him, but we need to keep a close eye on him. He’s becoming a very sick young man. We have to do it now to save him."

"We’ll do what’s needed. Tell us and it’s done." Adam spoke.

Assistance was needed as the doctor began binding Joe's chest in an effort to help him breath more deeply. Hoss and Adam took hold of Joe and sat him forward. He was groggy from the medications, as well as from fever. He felt himself being moved and the pain was sharp. He wanted to beg them to leave him alone, but it was hard to speak through the pain. He felt the tightness moving around him and screamed out, but his words were unintelligible. The pressure hurt him, as he tried to use his hands to fight off what the doctor was doing to him, but he immediately felt pain and could not lift his arms.

Adam and Hoss kept looking at each other as the doctor worked. They would hear Joe moan and knew that once more Joe was going through torture. The doctor told Joe exactly what he was doing as he worked to keep him from panic. In his weakened condition, it was very difficult for Joe to remain conscious and fighting the pain. Prior to the onset of pneumonia, Joe had been determined to fight to stay conscious, but this time as he felt the pull to let go he gave in and passed out. This allowed the doctor to quickly finish with his patient, and Joe was laid back once more to rest.

"What more do we have to endure?" Ben silently asked himself as he watched his son tended. He had prayed ever since the doctor had first told him Joseph was developing pneumonia that his son would be able to rally and fight off the illness. It was quite obvious that his son was becoming worse, and the risk to his life even greater. It seemed to Ben that they had to put Joe through more and more pain and discomfort the sicker Joe became. This went against every instinct he had as a father. He wanted the pain to stop.

The fear and desperation set in strongly the next time Ben went to wake his son to give him the ammonia. It took great effort to bring Joe around to a level of consciousness that would allow him to take the liquid. He deliberately waved the pungent solution under Joe's nose as a way of reviving him. This seemed to work, and Joe returned to partial consciousness.

The smell of the ammonia broke through the dreaming. Joe had been caught in a dream where images were distorted and confusing. He had thought he was at home when he heard his father's voice, but as he became more awake, he saw he was back in the doctor’s office. He heard the now very familiar command to drink, and he did with no resistance. Again it was followed by another solution and he simply surrendered. His stomach now had a constant burn, but he was not able to do anything about it. His coughing would come over him in fits, and he felt his ribs with each breath.

As he thought of his discomfort, Joe decided he would feel better at home in his own bed. Although it was not a logical conclusion, and Joe was on the verge of delirium, it made sense to him. He thought he would stop hurting then. "Pa?" He whispered.

Ben moved close to his son so he could hear what Joe was saying. "Yes, Joe. What is it?"

"Pa... wan... na... go... home."

Ben closed his eyes to the words he heard. He wished nothing more than to be able to have Joe in his own room and his own bed. Ben reached out and stroked Joe’s hair as he spoke, "We’ll go home soon, son. You need to get all better, then we’ll take you home. All of us are going to go there just as soon as the doctor says you can travel, but right now, we’ll need to stay here so you can get good and strong."


"Well, I'll tell you what. You do everything the doctor says to do. You get lots of sleep, and before you know it, we'll be packing you out of here. You know, I bet if you just rest, the time will go by real quick. Did you want to hear something read to you? Would that help?"

"No... talk... to... me." Joe found comfort in his father’s strong voice and wanted to hear him most of all.

"Sure son. Did I ever tell you about the time I was at sea, and we came upon a bunch of whales? I don't think I told you this one. Well you see, Joseph..." Ben went about telling his tale, and his youngest was soon asleep once more. Ben remained next to Joe a few moments more, his head bowed in prayer. Adam and Hoss moved over to their father and both placed a hand on his shoulder.

The waiting was long, and little was said the remainder of the evening. The room was muggy from the vapors, which helped Joe breathe a little easier. Each was lost in his own thoughts as to the outcome of Joe's illness. There were fleeting thought of Joe dying, but no one allowed himself to stay there long. They would be positive and strong to will Joe back to them. Eventually they turned in for the night and all was quiet for a while except for the constant raspy breathing of Joe, and each man silently thanked God it still continued, and Joe was alive.

The fever rose throughout the night, as Joe fought to breathe. Soon his mind left for a place where he was trapped in thoughts and images that had him agitated and confused, but unable to return. He was in the cellar, but the Stranger no longer stayed away from him. He was taunting him with the whip and asking him over and over where Adam was being held. Joe was screaming in his head that he would never tell. In the delirium he was running away, but the Stranger was always just behind him. He could not escape, and he could not hide.

His cries became audible and woke everyone in the early morning, and they moved over to Joe. Each knew what they were seeing was very bad. Ben tried to rouse his child, "Joe, son, wake up. It’s a dream, wake up now."

It was quickly evident that Joe was beyond reach. He talked out loud to the Stranger attempting to keep him at bay. He was trapped in a fog where his words made sense to him, as he felt he was defending himself against the Stranger. "Won’t… tell… Get… away… No… don’t."

"Hush now, son. It’s okay. You’re safe. That’s all over. No one’s going to hurt you. I promise son."

"No… don’t… Please… God… Leave… ‘lone."

There was nothing that would comfort Joe, and the three were left to hear his cries. The doctor was sent for once more and was again soon attempting to relieve Joe’s suffering. He soaked rags in cold water and placed them on Joe attempting to cool down the fever. Joe was cold from the fever rising, although he was sweating. The feel of the water sent him shaking uncontrollably.

"No… don’t… hurt."

The cries were tearing at those in the room. The doctor decided to intervene in Joe’s turmoil. "I’m going to give him a stronger sedative. This isn’t helping him to be so distraught. You speak to him and try and rouse him. You’ll have to be forceful. I need to pinch him. I know it looks bad, but pain will bring him around."

As the doctor pinched Joe, Ben spoke loudly. "Joseph, wake up now. Son wake up!"

Joe moved towards the voice and the pain, as he felt himself leave the cellar. He was groggy and confused, but as he saw his father, he became more coherent. "Pa… uh… Pa… I… don’t… feel… good… Some… thin’… wrong… Wanna… go… home"

"I know you don’t feel good son. We’re trying to get you well. The doctor’s gonna fix you up in no time."

It… I’m… cold… want… be… home… Take… me."

"Ssh, it’s okay. You’ll be home soon. The doctor wants to give you something right now. So you stay awake a little longer, then you can go back to sleep."

"Pa… where… am… I?" Joe felt so confused and things made little sense. He would remember parts of what was happening to him, and then the confusion would hit once more.

"Don’t you remember, son? You’re in the doctor’s office."

"Huh… doc… oh… Ad… am… where… Ad… am."

"Joe, I’m right here. I’ll stay right here with you."

"Ad… am… watch… Bax… ter."

"Hush now, Joe. I know he’s bad. You just need to get better."

"No… I… know… bad… watch… him."

The words Joe spoke pained Adam. He knew his brother did indeed know Baxter was a bad man. His brother had experienced the man’s malevolence first hand and was struggling because of him. Adam fought to keep himself under control as he looked on his little brother trying to take care of him. "Joe, I’ll be careful. I promise."

"I… help… ya"

"Joe, son, you gotta be quiet and save your strength. Hush now." Ben continued to try and comfort his son.

"No… go… with… Ad… am… help… him."

"Oh buddy, you don’t know what that means to me for you to want to help me, but you are so tired. You have to rest first."

"You young man are doing nothing but drinking this right now." The doctor interrupted the family’s conversation and held the liquid up to Joe.


"No, buts. No more. You drink it, and no more talking. You have done too much already. I am beginning to think you’re a difficult patient."

Hoss, Adam and Ben smiled at the last comment the doctor had made. How they knew the difficulty of being with Joe when he was sick. And now how they all longed for the griping of a cranky Little Joe who was always horrid to be around when he was feeling bad. Joe usually was only his worst when he was on the mend. To hear that now would seem a good sign from him.

Joe slowly drank the liquid. When he finished, he immediately started to talk again. "I… sleep… then… Ad… am… we…get… ‘em"

"Yeah Joe you sleep now, and then we’ll get him. That I do promise."

"Wait… for… me… Wan… na… be… with… you."

Adam’s eyes were clouding with tears, and he closed them briefly. When he opened them again he said, "You have to be with me Joe. You have to be with me a long time."

"I… will…" Speaking had taken the remainder of Joe’s energy, as he drifted off once more asleep.

Once Adam had watched his brother fall asleep, he moved away from Joe and sat on a cot with his head in his hands. It had been an emotionally grueling few days, and he was exhausted. He looked up at his father and Hoss and saw their fatigue as well. Adam was so afraid Baxter would win and claim Joe’s life as his revenge for him having revealed the business con. He had no idea what they would do if Joe were gone from them. Adam for one did not think he could bear the loss. He had lived through too many already, and this one he believed was solely his responsibility. He could not even attempt to think what the loss would do to Hoss or his father.


There was a knock on the door early in the day. Hoss went to it, his hand firmly resting on his pistol. "Who is it?"

"Hoss, that you? It’s Roy Coffee. I’ve got the territorial prosecutor with me."

Hoss recognized the familiar voice of the Virginia City lawman and opened the door. "Hey ya, Roy. Come on in."

As Roy Coffee entered the room, a grave sight accosted his senses. The air in the room was muggy and thick. He saw his friend and two of his boys looking warn and haggard. Roy had received the telegram from the Reno sheriff and had been made aware of the circumstances that had kept the Cartwrights in Reno. However, there were no words to describe the state of the family as he looked at them. Fear and fatigue were so evident. He finally spoke, "Ben, Adam, Hoss, how’s Joe?"

Ben tried to smile at his old friend, but there was only worry on his face now. "Roy, it’s very bad. Joe’s hurt real bad."

Upon hearing the young man’s name, Roy looked at the table where Joe lay asleep. He could not believe the figure he was looking at was Joe Cartwright. It was far worse than he could imagine. Roy knew Ben would need his friendship to help him through whatever happened to his child. He feared it would be in helping his friend bury his son. "Ben, is there anything you need?"

"Roy, I’m afraid I need a miracle." Ben tried hard not to break down.

"Well if anyone will make it through this, it’s your Little Joe. He’s tough, Ben."

"Yeah." Ben said quietly and looked back to his child. "Joseph’s very strong. He’s fighting hard. I feel it. I just pray he can hold on." Ben could not talk further. He touched his son’s arm lightly and felt the fever. He cursed the fever and the one responsible.

No one spoke for a few moments, but eventually the man who had joined Roy cleared his throat. This reminded Roy of the reason for their visit. "Oh, uh, folks this here is Thomas Baldwin, and he is the territorial prosecutor. Adam, he’s here to speak with you."

Adam looked up, the fatigue apparent in his eyes. "Mr. Baldwin, you’ll forgive me, but I’m not wanting to discuss things with you right now as my little brother lays there fighting to live."

"I’m sorry, Mr. Cartwright. We’d received a telegraph about your brother, but I had no idea it was as serious as it seems to be. I just need to discuss this case with you at some time. We all want Baxter put away."

"Discuss the case? You want to discuss it? Take a good look at my baby brother there. That is what that monster had done to keep me from discussing this case!" Adam was moving quickly to rage.

Ben moved to his oldest son. "Adam, it won’t help to just strike out at this man. He is trying to help. He wants Baxter like we do."

"Pa, no he doesn’t! He couldn’t! That’s our family lying there! That’s your son and my brother! Joe is ours, and everyone else has far less to lose than we do!"

"Son, calm down. You remember what we talked about. You do what you can. Joe’s still here, and you have to do what you set out to do. Son, it’d do you good to go and discuss this case. Let’s find you someplace safe and you and Mr. Baldwin go talk."

Adam’s face showed resistance, but he saw resolve in his father’s face and knew he needed to do what his father had asked of him. "Fine. Mr. Baldwin you and I will discuss this case, but I want you to do something first. I want you to look at my brother lying there. Look at him and remember what you see, because it is why I am now doing this. And if you do not get a conviction I’ll tell you something more. You will be prosecuting me, because I will kill Cyrus Baxter. Now that we understand things, I’ll review the case with you."

Adam headed for the door and Ben stopped him. "Son, don’t be foolish. Let’s get you set up somewhere safe to talk. Let me arrange it. You sit tight." Ben was out the door before Adam could resist.

Ben quickly returned with directions and several deputies. "Adam, you need to go with these men. There’s a room similar to this one across the corridor. There are no windows and they will guard your door. You let them lead and cover you son."

"Pa, really, I’ll be fine. But listen… if Joe’s condition were to change…" Adam paused, not wanting to say what he was thinking. He took a breath and continued. "If he needs me, uh… if I should be here Pa, you come get me."

"I promise you son. Go, make sure you do what you have to do against Baxter." Ben replied trying to appear upbeat. He was unable to accomplish the task, as everyone in the room knew things were tenuous at best for Joe.

Roy chimed in. "I’ll get him across the hall and then be back, Ben."

Soon Adam was settled with the prosecutor and Roy returned to sit with his friend and Hoss. Ben was next to Joe talking softly and stroking his hair. He felt the fever burning into his child, and his own helplessness.

Ben’s touch stirred Joe and he began mumbling once more. Ben immediately wished he had not disturbed his son and tried to quiet him. "Hush, son. Just sleep."

Joe was out of his head as he mumbled, "Gotta… get… it…. done… Trouble."

Ben could not figure out where his child’s mind was but continued to give him comfort. "Oh son, don’t worry about anything right now. It’s all okay."

"Book… lost… it… Miss… Travis… don’t know… where."

Ben realized Joe was back in school in his mind. Miss Travis was his son’s teacher when Joe was thirteen. He smiled as he thought of how many books and assignments his youngest had lost, or homework he simply had not done. The tug-of-war he had gone through with his child seemed so meaningless now.

"Joe, son, you can take care of it all later. I’ll help you find the book. Now you need to sleep. Hush now. You sleep."

Joe fell back into the fog, once more quiet. Ben shook his head as he looked at his child. He knew instinctively that things were growing to crisis. He thought over all he had endured as a father with his boys. They were his joy and also his weakness. One had no further to go to get to Ben Cartwright than his boys. He thought of his youngest. His boy had brought such joy to him as well as such fear. Joe’s adolescence had been rough, but Ben would not trade the experience for the world. He certainly would have spared his boy from some of the pains he had endured, but in the last year or so, he was finding a friend in his youngest. He so much wanted to experience a full life with his child. He felt it would be so very cruel to let him see the glimmer of the man Joe would become and then have it snatched away.

The next time the doctor checked his patient, he too felt despair. Joe’s temperature continued to remain high, and he was not coming around. Dr. Green knew they would soon lose Joe if it continued. "Ben, I need to speak to you."

"What is it? Tell me." Ben was full of concern.

"I need to send some men to the ice house. We have to try and drop the fever. I’m afraid we will lose him if we can’t get it down soon. This is the only thing we really have left."

The words hit Ben hard. The doctor was telling him there was one final thing to be tried and then that was it. It was over. "No!" He said in his mind. "I will not let Joseph go! He has to be here! HE’S MY BOY, GOD! PLEASE! DON’T MAKE ME SAY GOOD BYE TO HIM!" Ben stood frozen in his thoughts.

"Ben, you okay?" Roy asked, seeing the look on his friend’s face.

"Huh… uh… oh yeah. I’m here. Dr. Green do whatever is necessary for Joseph." Ben stated and then grabbed the doctor’s arm. "Dr. Green, don’t give up on my boy! Please!"

"Not a chance of that happening, Mr. Cartwright. Now, I’ll have the men get the ice."

Ben sat by his son talking softly, "Now Joseph. You’re my boy, and you have to be okay. You have to just get real determined, and you’ll do it. Joe, please hang on. Please don’t leave us. We have so much more to go through together. Please son, get stubborn with this one. If you do that, I know you’ll be here."

While they waited for the men to return with the ice, Dr. Green filled in the family as to what to expect. "Okay folks. You need to know a few things. This is going to be extremely uncomfortable for Joseph. It is very painful to have done and given how battered and bruised he is, it is going to be excruciating for him. He’s delirious and probably won’t understand what is going on. I’ll definitely need your help."

"Say no more, Doc." Hoss said, waving off any questions the doctor may have regarding their helping Joe.

The men eventually returned with the ice. Dr. Green set them about chopping it up from the large blocks, and then the doctor instructed the men to bring in the bathtub that he used in his residence upstairs. The tub was then filled with cold water. Doctor Green carefully wrapped a sheet around Joe and then said to Hoss, "Can you place him in the water? He’ll need to be there about ten minutes."

Hoss picked up his little brother, and as he placed him in the cold water he heard a scream come for Joe. "NO!" Joe yelled as the cold water assaulted his body. "NO! HURTS!" The pain went throughout his body as the coldness hit. The feeling of being lifted was enough to make him cry out, and then the placement into the water made him feel pain. He panicked to breathe and to get out of the cold. He was gone from them mentally, but his body fought hard. "NA… NO… HELP… ME!" Joe was unable to use his arms and hands, or he would have been up and out of the cold bath from sheer reflex. "GOD… HELP… ME!"

Hoss felt awful for what he had done. He knew it was best for Joe to have the procedure the doctor had prescribed, but his little brother was in agony. He tolerated it poorly. "Doc, he’s not doin’ good. He’s hurtin’ too much. I’ll get him outta there."

"No Hoss." The doctor spoke. "He has to stay there for a little while. His fever is too high for any other way."

"But Little Joe’s not gonna be able to stand this. Please doc. I’ll just get him outta there, and we’ll do somethin’ else. Joe’s real bad like this."

"Hoss, we have to do it. There’s nothing else for him. I’m sorry, and I know you’re having a hard time. It’s hard to see, but your brother’s only chance is for the cold to lower the fever."

As the doctor talked, they all looked at Joe and saw his teeth had begun to chatter. Ben moved to the tub and once more talked to his child. "Joe, you’re gonna be okay. We need to get your fever down. That’s all we’re doing."

"Pa… Pa… pl… pl…pl… ease…. Co… Co… Cold. Help… m…m… me. Pa… pl…pl… please…." Joe was shivering uncontrollably. He continued his pleas, and they wore on his father. "Got… got…got… ta… go… help… Ad… am… sleep… fir… st… can…n’t… sleep… Pa… help… co… co… cold…"

Ben heard his boy and the cries tore at him. As he watched, and he listened, he heard words that sent him into a panic. Joe was delirious and did not know what he was saying, but his words made his father extremely afraid. Joe said, "Pa… Pa… I… c-c-c-can… n’t… d-d-d-do… it. C-c-c-c-old. Pa… I… w-w-w-w-want… Ad… am… H-h-h-hoss… en… y-y-y-you… know… l-l-l-love… y-y-y-you… Pa… c-c-c-old… Save… m-m-m-m-me. Pa… too… c-c-c-old… Pa… I… c-c-c-can’t…"

"Doctor stop it now. He’s suffering! My boy is in misery! This is killing him!" Ben was shouting out his fears.

"No, it’s not Ben. It’s his only chance. Now here, we need to hold this on his head." The doctor said handing Ben a rag with ice in it.

As Ben placed the rag up to Joe’s head, his son moaned loudly. Suddenly the door opened, and Adam was through it and to his father. "What’s going on? I heard the yelling." Adam looked down to see Joe in the water shivering. "Pa? What are you doing to him?"

The doctor interrupted. "Your brother’s fever is too high. We’ve got to get it down. This is very uncomfortable for him, and I admit it that it’s very hard to watch."

"Pa, why were you yelling?" Adam continued to question.

"I’m not sure at all if this is right. Joseph is being tortured in all of this." Ben was exhausted himself and was finding it difficult to cope. He was tired of seeing his son endure all he had and simply wanted Joe out of pain.

"Adam, Joe is just hurtin’ so bad. We gotta end this. I think we should try something else." Hoss added.

"Listen folks! There is nothing more to try! This is it! Joe will be dead if that fever does not come down! I am sorry, but there is nothing else to try! I wish there was, but this is it." Dr. Green was frustrated at the situation as he chastised the Cartwrights. He felt for the family and understood what he needed to do for everyone involved. "Now I think all of you need a break from this. I’m going to tend to Joe, and I want all of you out of here. I need to focus on helping him, and he can get more upset if he hears all of of this."

"I’m not leaving him." Ben said, digging in his heels.

"Ben, listen I am telling you to go now. I’ll get you if you are needed in the slightest. I have to do this for him, and you folks don’t need to watch it."

Adam looked at his father and Hoss. They had such fear on their faces. He then looked again at Joe, and his heart broke. He wished it was him lying there suffering and not his baby brother. Adam was also torn. He wanted to be there for his brother to make sure Joe knew he was not alone, but it seemed to be almost more than any of them could bear to watch. "Uh, Pa, you need a break from this right now. We all do. The doctor has to do this, and he’s right, it is terrible to watch."

"Adam I am not leaving him!" Ben yelled.

Joe heard his father’s yelling. Everything was so confusing in the fever, and he thought his father was upset with him. As he feared his father’s anger and he felt the assault his body was taking from the cold water, his fear, frustration and hurt became too much. As he concluded he would be forever trapped in pain and torment, Joe began to cry.

Ben saw the tears and moved next to his son. "Joseph? It’s okay son."

Joe was wracked with coughs as he cried, and the pain increased his frustration. "N-n-n-n-n o-o-o-o…" Joe shook his head and continued to cry. He was becoming distraught as it felt to him as if he would never feel anything but afraid and hurt. He was having a more difficult time breathing and was gasping.

"Okay everyone out now! He has to settle down!" The doctor said forcefully as he steered the room’s occupants to the door.

Ben was going to protest, but Adam grabbed him by the shoulders. "Pa, it’s best. Joe has to get through it, and I don’t think we are helping matters." Ben reluctantly allowed himself to be lead out of the room.

As Hoss was leaving, the doctor called to him. "Hoss, I need you back in about five minutes to help me move him back onto the table."

"Uh... yeah I’ll be here. You hear that, Joe? I’ll be right back."

Adam, Hoss, Ben and Roy joined the prosecutor across the hall. The attorney sat taking notes from his discussion with Adam and few words were spoken as they waited for Hoss to go back in and move Joe. They each took a seat and prayed hard for Joe and the doctor.

Meanwhile in the room they had vacated, Joe lay violently shaking and crying. The doctor walked over to the counter, poured some liquid and walked back to his patient. "Hey there, Joe. I know it’s bad, but here you need to drink this. It’s some wine that will help with the breathing and calm you down a little bit. You don’t have much longer to go. You know, you’re a very brave young man, and I want to get to talk to you after this is all over. I bet you give them all fits with that spirit you have in you. You just keep on fighting, Joe. Hang in there."

The doctor gave Joe the liquid and then felt his forehead. Joe’s head was initially cold to the touch because of the ice that had that had been there. But eventually the fever broke through. The doctor thought to himself, "Damn it! Come on kiddo fight hard. You’ve come this far. You keep it going and make it through. There are three people out there who need you."

The doctor walked to his medical books and looked through them hoping maybe there was something he had missed. He knew the standard treatment for pneumonia-ammonia suspension, alcoholic beverages, chloral hydrate and get the fever down. He asked himself, "Is there anything else?" He felt the anger at the limits of his abilities. Dr. Green turned and looked at the young man who was suffering. He felt he wanted to apologize to him, because he could do nothing more than what he had already done. He saw Joe’s courage and wanted to match it with medicine. He knew Joe had far surpassed him.

The door came open at the precise five-minute mark, as Hoss was ready to help his brother. Ben could not resist following but stood back out of the way. He had instructed Adam to stay put in the other room. Hoss spoke to Joe before he touched him. "Hey Short Shanks, it’s ol’ Hoss. I’ve come to get you outta there." As Hoss reached in the water he felt how cold it was and cringed. He quickly scooped up Joe and could feel his brother’s shaking. He lovingly held him while the doctor fixed the table for Joe to be laid upon. Joe was still crying and would moan and say things Hoss could not understand. Hoss very gently laid Joe on the table and went to cover him with blankets.

"No Hoss you can’t do that." The doctor said, stopping Hoss.

"But he’s plum near froze to death in that water."

"He has to still be cooled down. We need to place ice around his head and chest. You can cover his legs there. Here prop him up some for his breathing."

"Doc, you sure you know what you’re doin’? Ain’t his fever gone?"

"No Hoss, I’m afraid it isn’t. Now help me here, and then you and your father go on out of here so I can help him, and he can stay quiet."

Hoss did as he was told and then he left the room. Ben paused and walked to Joe. "Son, its Pa. I’m here for you. Remember we are all doing this together. I love you so much, Joseph. You keep remembering that."

Joe said very softy, "P-p-p-p a… l-l-love… y-y-y-y-you."

Ben started to cry as he heard the words from his child. As a little boy, Joe was open in telling everyone in his family how much he loved them, but as he had gotten older, he had not said it as much. Ben knew it was not because Joe’s feelings had changed, it was much more because his son seemed to get more embarrassed saying the words. Something Ben chalked up to adolescence. He knew when he did hear them from Joe, it was heart felt and very precious.

"Joe, you rest now son. You need your sleep. I’m right here for you."

"P-p-p-p a… s-s-s-stay… w-w-w-with… m-m-m-me… S-s-s-s-scared…l-l-lone."

Ben looked at the doctor, and Dr. Green nodded to him. "Okay Joe, I’m right here. I’ll stay as long as you need."

"T-t-t-talk… t-t-t-ta… m-m-m-me… T-t-t-tell… ‘b-b-b-bout… th-th-the… s-s-sea… ‘g-g-g-gain"

All Ben needed was Joe’s request, and he was off talking of his adventures on the high seas. He always maintained some type of physical contact with Joe as he told him the tales. Ben knew Joe had heard them many times before, but thought that maybe that was what gave his son comfort, the familiarity of it. He would look to Joe’s face remembering so many times before he had told his son tales, and Joe would sit captivated, asking what seemed like hundreds of questions. Ben tried to think of the questions Joe would want to ask and would say in the middle of recounting something, "And I bet you wanna know about…" as he would try and guess his youngest’s question and answer it.

Joe noticeably calmed as he listened to his father, and the cold bath faded from recent memory. The ice kept him shivering, but he felt the warmth of his father’s presence, and it helped him. Adam and Hoss had both stuck their heads in to check on things and saw their father knelt over Joe, talking softly. Both knew it was exactly what Joe needed and left their father to comfort their brother.

Ben would every so often reach up and stroke his son’s hair or face, and it comforted his child. He thought over his boy’s life and the happiness his child had brought him. Joe was so full of life, and he would never want that gone from him. As his son matured, Ben had seen some of the impulsiveness settling, but he also knew Joe was very young, and his youth brought on wildness that was yet to be completely channeled. There were days where Ben would look at Joe and see the man he would fully become, and then other days where he would see a little boy, the child he had known prior. It depended so much on his son’s mood and the situation as to which part would be present. Ben recalled several weeks before having watched his son when Joe thought no one was around. He saw Joe climbing up to the rafters of the barn as he done many times as a boy. It was as if he was watching Joe caught again in a fantasy game, and he was once more a little boy climbing mountains, or whatever it was a little boy did in his head. Ben had loved watching it, because there were times he missed the little boy, but he was feeling so proud at the man he was seeing emerge in the child’s place.

As Ben reminisced on Joe’s growing up, he realized that in a few weeks his youngest would be having a birthday. Ben thought to himself, "Joseph, could you really be turning nineteen?" He spoke to his child, "Hey Joe. I just realized something. Your birthday’s coming up. We need to have a big party now don’t we. I bet you’ll have a list as long as my arm of the girls you want there. I wonder what I should get you for it."

Ben was teasing Joe, because he had known for months what Joe had wanted for his birthday. Joe had been none too subtle in his hinting. He had wanted a saddle he had seen at the mercantile, one Joe just knew was the best for Cochise and for himself. Ben had not told Joe he had bought the saddle soon after the first hints and had almost felt guilty when Joe had come home and told him in a dejected voice the saddle was gone from the store. Joe had been quick to add though, that he thought a new one could be easily ordered.

Ben knew at the time he had bought the saddle he was going to overindulge his child, but on any of his boys’ birthdays he liked to make them happy. Ben had added to the saddle with a new bridle, halter and breast strap to complete the ensemble for his son’s beloved Cochise. He thought back to when he had given his son Cochise. He knew he could never top that gift to his child, but he would try and come close. The pinto was his boy’s pride and joy, and Ben loved seeing Joe ride her. He wanted his son to live; to be able to have his birthday and to ride his beloved horse.

"P-p-p-pa… c-c-c-can…g-g-g-go… h-h-h-home?"

"No son, not now. Why are you in an all fired hurry to get home anyway? You anxious to get back to work?" Ben tried to keep it light with Joe.


"Oh Joe. You’re very safe here. You know I won’t let anything hurt you."

"W-w-w-want… l-l-like… ‘f-f-fore. A-a-ad… a-am… ‘k-k-k-kay… an-an-and… m-m-me… ‘k-k-k-kay… B-b-bad…m-m-man… p-p-p-pa… n-n-need… h-h-h-help Wh-wh-where’s… g-g-g-gun?" Joe was becoming agitated as he realized somewhere in what he had been through he had lost the weapon that made him feel safe.

Ben looked around Joe and saw the gun sitting on the table beside his child. He grabbed it and placed it under Joe’s hand. "The gun’s back Joseph, you feel it?"

"P-p-p-pa… I-I-I … g-g-g-gotta… k-k-k-keep… w-w-w-watch…h-h-help… A-A-Adam."

" No young man, you have to rest now. You’ve done too much. It’s my watch for Adam now. You have to sleep. You already did yours."

Dr. Green had stood back listening to father and son and knew the bond was tight. He also knew Joe needed to rest. He prepared the ammonia suspension and the chloral hydrate, as well as a healthy dose of brandy. He was hoping to knock his patient out.

Dr. Green administered the medicines and Joe drank. He was soon exhausted and said very quietly. "P-p-p-pa… w-w-watch… f-f-f-for… b-b-b-bad… m-m-m-man… I-I-I…c-c-c-lose… eyes… now."

Ben told his son, "Joe you sleep, and I’ll keep us all safe. You rest now my boy. You’re tired."

In a whisper as he faded to sleep Joe said, "P-p-papa… s-s-stay… r-r-right… h-h-here… h-h-hold… m-m-my… h-h-hand."

Ben felt tears again as he reached for his child’s hand. He knew that whatever Joe needed he would so gladly do for him. He stayed next to Joe talking again to him of the sea as his son drifted to sleep and was quiet.

Ben knew he would stay next to his son, holding Joe’s hand forever if that was what was needed. He stopped talking of the sea once he heard Joe’s breathing change and knew his boy was asleep. He began to talk of other things he wanted to say to his child. "Joseph, you are so strong son. You amaze me with your strength. What you did for Adam was truly incredible, and I know he is so touched by it. I’m so worried about you. You went through hell, I know, and I want it all taken away from you. I want you to not be afraid. It is really so hard to see you of all people afraid. You seem most of the times to not fear anything. You do things that sometimes I wish you did have some fear inside you about. But Joe, I know this isn’t right. You should not have to feel like you do. It angers me so much that someone would hurt that part of you. You know, when you were little, you’d take off and be in the middle of the street with a wagon barreling down on you and just believe some how you’d not be touched by it. I know you have had some things happen that have made you realize it isn’t that easy, but I know you always felt safe. Son, will you be okay with all of this? Will you be able to not be so afraid again? I hope so, son. I do know I’ll help you. I’ll be right here."

Adam and Hoss returned to the room where Ben sat next to Joe. They were both relieved to see their little brother asleep. They saw their father was talking to Joe, so they moved over to the cots and out of the way.

Adam sat down and watched his father so carefully tending to Joe. He saw his father stroking Joe’s hair and the tears that were in Ben’s eyes. Adam saw the love present between father and son and knew his father was an amazing man. He had raised three boys well, and had developed special and unique relationships with each. Adam then looked at his baby brother. Joe was still so much a mystery to him. He would often find himself understanding how Joe felt about things, but unable to understand his actions. He wanted to have the easy closeness that he had with Hoss and Hoss had with Joe, but it seemed he and his little brother were oil and water. Adam knew he was impatient at times with Joe’s youth and also at times longed to be as playful as Joe. He loved his little brother deeply and he was finding through this latest ordeal that he was learning to respect and admire Joe as a man and not just as a little brother. He wanted Joe to live so he could some day tell him how he felt.

Soon Ben was actually falling asleep himself as he sat next to his son. Hoss moved over and spoke to his father, "Pa, you’re real tired. You go lie down and I’ll sit with Joe. I wanna be with him some anyhow and you gotta get some sleep."

Hoss accepted no resistance and helped his father stand. Ben acquiesced and allowed himself to be moved. As Ben moved to the cot, Hoss took his place next to his brother. From the day Joe was born Hoss knew he had a best friend in Joe. Sure Joe would anger him and get him into trouble, but Hoss just saw Joe as wonderful. Closest in age, the two would share secrets and stories together. Hoss sat looking upon his almost grown little brother and remembering the child Joe had been. He thought of the time that Joe, at age nine, had sworn him to secrecy at the gold mine he had found. It turned out to be simply a cave he had found and explored, but to Hoss, he remembered his little brother’s excitement. Now Joe was rich, and the rest of the family would have to ask him for money for things such as candy at the mercantile instead of the other way around. Hoss looked on Joe and knew he would never be the same if Joe left him. He just could not be Hoss without Little Joe.

The family remained waiting as father and youngest son slept. Adam thought over the impending trial and his desire to shoot Baxter dead in his tracks. He kept an eye on Hoss and found comfort in Hoss’s quiet talking and Joe’s breathing. Hoss watched over his baby brother, vowing no one would ever harm Joe again. He talked quietly to Joe of their adventures together and how much he wanted them to return to Joe’s gold mine for a night of camping and hunting.

Joe was lost to dreams and nightmares as the fever raged on, and the medicines fought back. He could see the Stranger’s face, but then Hoss would intercede, and the Stranger would move away. The dream would repeat for him, and he wanted the Stranger gone from his mind. He would yell and scream, but no one heard him. He was trapped.

Ben woke to see his sons very much as he had left them. Hoss was quietly talking to Joe, and Adam sat on his cot lost in thought. Ben spoke, "Adam, what’re you thinking about?"

"Uh? Oh, I need to be in Virginia City day after tomorrow. I guess I should leave tonight."

"What? I thought we had more time. What happened?"

"Well the prosecutor wants me going now. I don’t know. They wanna ride out tonight."

Ben looked to Joe and then back to Adam. "Damn it!" Ben thought. "Both boys need me." He sat a while longer thinking and then said, "Son, I’m going with you."

"Pa, you stay here with Joe. He needs you."

"No Adam. I want both my boys okay, and I know it looks like choosing, but I’m not. Joseph has Hoss and the doctor to keep him going along with our prayers. I cannot let you do what you are gonna do by yourself. Baxter is far too dangerous and I need to make sure you don’t do anything foolish."

"Pa, I won’t do anything foolish. You have my word."

"But Adam, I also want to see this man put away for what he has done. I need to be there as well. I have to believe we won’t lose Joe. He is far too precious and strong. I need to be with you to support you, son. I have made my decision. I’d like to not leave here until we absolutely have to though."

"I just don’t think you should, Pa. Joe needs you."

"Adam, whether you want to admitted it or not, you do too. And you know your little brother. What would Joe want? He did what he did to support you, and I will do the same. We will go together. End of discussion."

The phrase ‘end of discussion’ always frustrated Adam, but he knew his father would not budge once those words were spoken. He did not want to leave Reno and his little brother’s side, so he knew it had to be tearing at his father. He stared at his hands secretly longing for Baxter to do something the next day that would get him killed. It would make things so easy; he believed he would feel better.

Ben stood and walked over to Hoss and Joe. He looked at his sick child and saw the fever was still present. Joe was sleeping rather soundly, and he prayed it would continue. He knew his boy had to be so worn out and rest would help him fight. He squeezed the shoulder of his middle child and asked softly, "You okay?"

"Yeah, I’m holdin’ up just fine. I’ll take care of Joe while you and Adam are gone. Ya know that, huh?"

"Yes, I sure do. I know Joseph is in good hands with you son. You just keep doing what you’re doing, and Joe’ll be fine." Ben prayed the words he was saying were true. He wanted Hoss to believe it, and he wanted Joe to as well.

The time eventually came where Adam and Ben needed to pack up to head to Virginia City. They had stalled as long as they could and knew leaving was going to tear their hearts out. Ben was having a very difficult time leaving. Joe had slept the rest of the day, but the fever remained ever present. He knelt beside Joe and spoke softly, "Son, I need to go with Adam and watch him like I told you I would. I want to you to sleep and get lots of rest. I know you’re so tired. Joseph, you hold on now. You be here when we get back. We’re going to get the man who did this to you." Ben was starting to break. "But son, I need you here when we get back. You don’t go. You don’t leave us."

Hoss closed his eyes as he heard his father’s words, and Adam turned and looked away. They all knew that while Adam and Ben were gone, Joe could die. Hoss knew he would try and hold on to Joe; to keep him there for his father and brother when they returned. "Pa, Joe’s gonna stay here. He promised me he would hold on, and he will. I’ll tend to him. I promise, Pa."

"Son, I know you will. But Hoss…" Ben did not even want to say the words. "Hoss, if Joe… goes… make sure he knows we love him. And don’t let him go… alone. He needs you right there."

Hoss’s eyes welled with tears, "Pa, he ain’t goin’! Not Little Joe! He’ll be here. I’ll make him be here Pa!"

The words Hoss spoke touched Ben so deeply, and he smiled at his child. "That’s it Hoss. You don’t let him do it. You tell him what to do." Ben could say no more and turned and walked towards the door. He paused before leaving and looked once more on his son. He thought, "I love you so much, Joseph. I love you." And he left the room.

The ride to Virginia City was a sober one. Roy and the prosecutor rode ahead of Ben and Adam as Roy’s men surrounded the group. Rifles were drawn and ready to hold off any would be attacker. Ben felt the desire to turn his horse and ride back to Reno numerous times, but fought the urge and kept Buck facing south. He thought of his youngest son and the struggle that continued. He could never imagine his life without one of his boys and prayed hard for his son’s recovery. He knew in his heart that he had a connection to his child and he channeled strength and love into that connection. He would not let his child go. His heart ached as he rode, but never allowed himself to fully believe he would return to Reno only to claim his child’s body.

Adam felt a similar urge to simply abandon his agreement to the prosecutor and go back to his primary obligation and love, his family. As he rode along, he thought of his little brother and remembered how he felt at the arrival of the third heir to the Cartwright fortune. He looked upon the small baby and was awed and amazed at what he saw. He remembered so much of his little brother’s early years. He had been twelve when Joe was born, and because of the age difference, had struggled with his role with Joe throughout his life. He started to ask himself questions he did not want to entertain. Would it all end there? Would it be his brother would have been born to live such a short life? Would his brother make the ultimate sacrifice for his own life? He prayed it would not be so. He wanted more time with Joe to get to know his brother and for his brother to get to know him. He cursed himself that he had not done more to narrow the gap between himself and Joe and prayed he would still be allowed to do it.

In Reno things remained dire. Hoss had settled into sitting and reading The Three Musketeers to himself and keeping watch over his little brother. He had not wanted his father or Adam to know how much he had longed for them to stay. He did not want to pressure them, but Hoss was afraid. He did not know if he could watch Joe give up his life if that was what was going to happen. He felt he could not watch it, but knew he would have to for Joe. He wished he had said something, but also knew he would not speak because Adam had to face Baxter and make him pay for the people he had hurt and especially for Joe. He prayed to be as strong as his two brothers, to face what lay ahead with courage.

The doctor entered the room with food for his patient and Hoss. Dr. Green knew Hoss had to be nervous regarding what possibly could happen, so he wanted to support the man, and to help him as the rest of his family had done. "Hoss, lets wake him and get some food into him if we can. Now Joe may not wake up, but we need to try."

Hoss found comfort in the mannerism of the doctor and followed his lead. "Okay. Ya want me to wake him? That job at home usually falls to me. See Joe ain’t a mornin’ type person, and I’ve had the job of waking him for a long while."

"Sure Hoss, I bet he’d want to hear your voice."

Hoss tried to pretend he was back at the ranch, and Joe was late again to the breakfast table. "Joe, up and at ‘em. Time to get up. Pa wants you awake."

Joe mumbled and stirred but did not come conscious. The doctor closed his eyes, afraid Joe was slipping further from them. Hoss did not lose faith. "All right, you got your extra sleep. Now you wake up, Joe. I ain’t got all day to mess with you. I got my stuff to get done too."

Joe’s mumbles were becoming more coherent, "Q-q-q-quit… l-l-l-leave… m-m-me."

"Nope, can’t do it Joe. You got a full day’s work, and you best get awake and downstairs before Pa gets real mad."

Joe opened his eyes as much as he could and looked at Hoss. His body hurt so badly, and he felt the need to get down to his father and breakfast to avoid being in trouble. He was freezing from cold he did not know the source of, but wondered if he had left his window open. "H-h-h-h-hoss… c-c-cold."

"Yeah buddy. I know you’re cold, and I kinda tricked you. Pa’s not mad, and you don’t have to go downstairs, but ya gotta have supper now. I had to wake you to eat, buddy. Now, I ain’t taken no guff from ya, Joe. I want you to eat all I give you."


"I know it don’t look real good Joe, but you’re gonna eat it, even if I’ve gotta force it down ya. I told Pa I’d take good care of you."

Hoss raised the spoon to Joe’s mouth, and Joe opened. He tasted what had become his every meal and surrendered without fight. He hated the taste, but the fight was so far from him he had nothing more to do but swallow. He kept his good eye on Hoss as he ate, knowing he was safe and away from the Stranger. His stomach burned, and he wanted to tell Hoss all that hurt and scared him, but there were no words to express, and he was trapped in fatigue, coldness and pain. He could not summon the strength. He tried hard to take all Hoss gave him in food and love, because he knew somewhere inside his body needed it.

Hoss was able to give Joe all of his supper without resistance, and that alarmed him. He knew Joe was very weak to not fight back, and as he looked at his brother he knew Joe was barely hanging on. He talked to Joe throughout the meal and again told him his desire to camp and hunt at Joe’s old gold mine. He saw Joe try to smile at the idea of a time for the two of them to go away. Hoss spoke, "Joe, you gotta hold on for us to do that, ya know. Ya gotta be here for me buddy."

"H-h-hoss… I-I-I-I… a-a-ain’t… g-g-g-gonna… g-g-g-go." Joe looked at his brother, needing him to believe. He felt if Hoss believe he would not die, then he would not die. He would hold to that. Hoss’s face came alive, and Joe saw and believed. He would fight and win. He would let Hoss rescue him once more. This time, the draw from his own mind and the desire to give in. "H-h-h-hoss…h-h-h-hold… t-t-t-tight."

Hoss was unsure what Joe was asking for, but he made sure he covered everything he could. First, he physically held tight to Joe. Secondly, he held tight to his thoughts of a well Little Joe, and thirdly, he held tight to his prayers for Joe. He would make sure all of it was covered. He would leave nothing left to chance where Joe was concerned.

Dr. Green felt Joe’s head and realized they had to subject Joe once more to the pain of the submersion in cold water. The fever was persistent, and the doctor knew it was the only thing to do. He hesitated, but finally spoke, "Hoss, we need to do the bath again. The fever isn’t braking."

Hoss was much calmer this time. "Okay Doc, we’ll do it cause Joe ain’t leavin’. He’s gonna be here, I know it. He wouldn’t say what he did and then leave. Joe wouldn’t do that. He was tellin’ me to hold on, and he would too. I’ll help you."

Once more Joe was lifted and placed in the cold water to reduce the fever. He screamed, moaned and cried as before, and Hoss allowed himself to feel his brother’s torture. Tears came to his own eyes as Joe passed into delirium and begged to be relieved from a torture he did not understand. Hoss remembered Joe’s words to hold tight. Something in him knew Joe needed him to believe, and he would. He pulled out The Three Musketeers and read out aloud to his shivering brother. As Joe continued to scream and cry out, Hoss read louder through his own tears. He was determined to will Joe through the torture of cold, and he would not give up. He would be there and make Joe be there too.

Ten minutes felt like ten hours, but Hoss held on to the belief that Joe had told him what he had needed. He knew Joe was having a hard time and wanted to call a stop to all of it, but bit hard on his lip and held back the plea. His little brother was still there and alive, and the doctor remained ever present. Dr. Green gave Joe alcohol and several medicines as he once more soaked in the cold water. Joe had gone to somewhere else in his mind as he tried to cope with the cold and fear. He was again in front of the Stranger, cursing him and trying to hold the evil presence away from him.

"P-p-pa, h-h-help!" Joe called out.

"Joe, Pa’s gone to Virginia City with Adam. You remember Adam’s gonna testify ‘gainst Baxter." Hoss tried to explain to his brother.

"N-n-n-no… s-s-supposed… t-t-ta… b-b-be… t-t-there. G-g-gott… a-a-a-a… h-h-help."

"No Joe, you need to stay here."

"N-N-N-NO!" Joe screamed. "B-B-BAD… H-H-H-HOSS!"

"Joe, it’s okay. Really, Pa is there with Adam and everythin’s fine."


"Joe stop it. Pa will take care of Adam, and you’ll stay right here. Pa left me in charge, and you’ll do as I say." Joe was crying hard, and it hurt Hoss to have to be forceful with him, but he knew his brother had to calm down. "Joseph, Pa told me you were to behave, and you’ll do it!"

"P-p-p-pa…w-w-w-want… t-t-talk… p-p-pa. Joe said as he cried.

"Oh buddy, I know you do, and he’ll be back real soon. You’re okay. Pa told me he knew you were gonna be fine."

"P-p-pa!" Was all Joe emitted as he was overcome by the cold and pain and gave into the desire to pass out. Hoss waited until the doctor gave the signal, and once more lifted his brother’s cold and still body from the water. He cradled Joe, as he hoped his little brother knew how much he was loved. Hoss would not let go. As he laid him once more on the table, he talked quietly to Joe about how much he was loved and needed. Hoss could not quite let go of his brother even after laying him down. He held tight, and Joe felt it. Joe knew he could not let go, and he held fast in his heart and mind. He had fought for Adam and now he did it for Hoss. He loved them all and would never willingly leave them. He believed Hoss believed, and he would not let go of it. He was loved and needed and he would hold on to help and protect the ones he loved. They were his blood and his life. He fought the fever and the unseen demons. He would not go without a fight. He would sleep a while and be back, stronger and more determined. The Stranger would not win, as Joe told himself the same thing he had told himself in the cellar-he would not lose to the Stranger. He would hold out and win.

Hoss was terrified as he saw a very still Joe, passed out from the shock of the cold and the medicines. He could not know what was in Joe’s mind. He feared his little brother had given up. He talked to Joe, but there was no response. He could not turn loose of Joe and eventually fell asleep sitting next to him, holding onto his beloved brother.

Joe maintained his own as he was lost to sleep and the fever and the night passed rather quietly. Dr. Green continued with the ice on his forehead and chest. The doctor felt somewhat encouraged because the fever, although it did not decrease, did not seem to have increased. He deliberately kept Joe heavily sedated to allow his body the ability to fight off the illness. They would wake Joe for the medications in the night, but he would never fully return to consciousness. Hoss lightly dozed but was awake and assisting the doctor whenever the doctor entered the room.

Morning came and Hoss began tending his brother once more. He tucked in blankets and patted Joe’s arm in an effort to help. His brother lay quietly sleeping when the doctor entered the room. The doctor walked to Joe, removed the ice from his head and placed his hand on Joe’s forehead. He waited to feel the fever breaking through the coolness of Joe’s skin, but Joe’s head was only warm to the touch. The fever had broken. He felt relief and something more. He was elated. Dr. Green had found himself easily mixed up in the love and drama of the family he had only met several days prior. He had been drawn into the support they had shown and had realized he saw his patient as more than a patient. He was a vital part of an incredible family with each needing the other for wholeness. He stood with his hand on Joe’s head until he finally believed what he was feeling in his hands regarding the young man. "Hoss, I don’t want to jinks anything, but I believe Joe’s fever has broke."

Hoss had been carefully watching the doctor, but the words he spoke did not register at first. He saw the smile on the doctor’s face and replayed the words in his head. Did he hear what he had thought he had? "Doc, you sayin’ Joe’s gettin’ better?"

"Hoss, his fever is definitely down, so yeah, that’s what I’m saying."

"You mean Joe’s better? He’s better, Doc?" Hoss asked unable to hide the joy he felt. He slapped the doctor hard on the back and let out a yell. "Hot diggity, Joe’s gonna make it!"

"Well Hoss, he’s very weak and tired, but he has a shot now. He definitely has a shot. You keep doing what you’re doing in taking such good care of him. I want him to sleep. He is worn out, and the fever took its toll on him. You just keep it up Hoss, and I think you may have your little brother back."

"Oh Doc, I’ll take the best care of Joe. You can count on it! Joe and me are already gonna go huntin’ together, so I gotta get him strong." Hoss said and winked at the doctor.

"Hoss, we gotta keep him fed and quiet. We do that, and he just may have licked this illness. Your brother, he’s a strong kid. Almost amazing."

"Yeah, he is. There’s just one Joe, Doc. And he’s tough as they come."

"I’m learning that. Your whole family is tough. Listen, you watch over him and keep him quiet and I’ll go tend to some sick people."

"I’ll do it, Doc. I’ll make sure Joe’s got all he needs. I’ve been lookin’ after my little brother for years, and I ain’t gonna stop now." Hoss then turned and spoke to Joe. "Little buddy, you’re gonna be okay. Boy Joe, ya scared me. I gotta have ya with me. Ya know that? I’m gonna make sure you’re just fine. You’re gonna be sick of ol’ Hoss botherin’ ya with stuff, but you’re gonna behave and cooperate. You got that?" Hoss knew Joe was asleep, but he was practicing for when he would make his speech for real, and he would show his little brother who was boss. He knew Joe would fight him, but he would not allow it. His little brother would do as he said. And at that moment he was ordering him to get better.


The men on the trail to Virginia City rode under guard and cover of darkness. The tension in the group was evident, and no one wanted to stop to rest unless absolutely necessary. They arrived in Virginia City in the late afternoon and quickly moved Adam to Roy Coffee’s home to hide him until the following day’s testimony. Neither Ben nor Adam could relax, as they were often pacing and moving about to occupy their time. Their thoughts remained back in Reno.

The passage of time was slow for everyone except Joe who remained quietly sleeping. Hoss sat wondering how his father and Adam were fairing, and Adam and Ben wondered about Joe. Ben also worried about the following day for his oldest child. Adam was wound tight, and Ben feared he could go off at any time. He wanted to avoid Adam making a serious mistake and doing something that would ruin his life. He saw his oldest cleaning a pistol and decided to try and head off a potential problem once more. "Adam, are you thinking of doing anything to Baxter tomorrow other than testifying?"

Adam was conflicted. "I know you’re worried. I don’t see how that man should live after he had done to Joe what he did. I just don’t understand it. Why are you so quick to forgive?"

"Oh Adam, I have forgiven nothing! What he did to Joseph will be avenged, but legally. We have to believe that."

"And what if it isn’t? What if he walks? You thought of that, Pa?"

"Yes I have, and I will not like it, but Adam we have to wait and see. You cannot go in there ready to kill the man."

"Pa, I’ll ask you again. You saw Little Joe! You saw his back. Baxter had someone whip Joe. Whip him! I’m supposed to just let that go? You know how Joe is right now. He should NEVER have to be like that. I see Joe’s face in my mind. I saw him look at himself. It scared him! He didn’t deserve the beating. If he doesn’t heal, you know and I know Joe will have a real bad time. He’s a good lookin’ kid who may have it all taken away. Then I see his beaten back. They did that because of me. It turns my stomach to see Joe as he is! He’s a boy!"

"Adam, I know what you saw! I was there. Joe doesn’t need this son! He needs you with him!"

"But what if he’s dead? What if Joe isn’t here? What then?"

"No! I won’t even entertain that thought. Not Joseph, he wouldn’t leave us!"

"He may not want to, but it so easily could happen. Joe could leave us! I know we don’t want to think about it, but Joe is very sick and just hanging on."

"Stop it Adam! You need to focus on what is right here and do what you agreed to do. You’re scaring me with this kind of talk."

"Well I don’t know what to say. This is one of the hardest things I have had to decided in my life, Pa."

"Son, I’m begging you! Please don’t do anything foolish."

"If something happens Pa, it will be because Baxter deserved it."

Ben shook his head, but knew Adam had to work it out for himself. He would not broach the subject again, but rather prayed hard that his son would be given wisdom for the situation he faced. Adam as well prayed for wisdom and for his little brother.

The courthouse was bustling as armed guards through a back entrance escorted Adam. Roy had remained vigilant to Adam’s safety and had men positioned throughout the room. Guns were not allowed in the courtroom except for the sheriff or his appointed men. Adam had his gun with his father’s just outside the room. He knew if he were to kill Baxter, it would have to be outside the courthouse.

Internally, Adam was struggling. He believed in the law and how the legal system operated, but he had never had to test his faith until Baxter’s attack which had hit home. Adam wanted to believe that the legal system would take care of Baxter, but he wondered if simply sending the man to prison was justice. He had seen Joe suffer and knew Baxter would never reach that level of suffering with what they were going to do to him.

The door opened and Baxter was escorted into the room. He walked to his attorney and exchanged a few words. Ben and Adam had to pass by Baxter on their way to their own seats. Baxter saw them coming and stepped in their path. "Adam, I would have thought you would have reconsidered slandering me by now, but I shouldn’t be surprised. I heard someone hurt that young pup brother of yours. Huh? You’ve proven your cowardice in hiding and letting that boy suffer because of you. Really Adam, I would think your kid brother’s screaming, while you sat back hiding would haunt you. How’s the brat doin’ anyway?"

Adam clinched his jaw and fought hard not to lunge forward and put his hands around the man’s neck and squeeze. He knew he was being baited as he felt rage move through him like a lightening bolt. Ben could see Adam struggling and grabbed Adam by the arm to lead him to their seats. Baxter continued speaking with a sneer on his face, "Oh, and Ben, you should thank me really. I’ve heard your youngest was spared the rod. Maybe he’ll be better behaved now."

Adam reacted. He jumped forward and placed a solid punch across Baxter’s jaw. With that, the room broke into chaos, as Ben struggled and was finally able to pull Adam off of Baxter. "Adam, no!"

The rage had overtaken him, and Adam felt the release as he hit the man. He soon though felt his father’s grasp pulling him off of Baxter, and being pulled away, allowed Adam to refocus. "Let go, Pa. I’m fine." Adam said as he pulled away from his father. He walked over to a corner and tried to gather himself together. He could not believe how the rage had overcome him, and he closed his eyes to regroup his thoughts.

The prosecutor was soon next to him, "What the hell was that! You’re going to fool around and lose this case. You’re making this a personal vendetta, and the other side is going to eat that up. Now you get yourself under control."

Adam knew he had allowed Baxter to get to him, and he had behaved much more like his little brother than himself. At that realization he smiled and thought, "Hey Joe that one was for you." He looked at the prosecutor and said, "I am under control. You do your job, and I’ll do mine." With that Adam walked over to his father and sat down and waited to be called to testify.

Adam was called as the first witness of the day, and the morning’s testimony consisted of direct testimony of the prosecutor leading Adam through the facts of the case. The entire time Adam told his story he looked Baxter in the eye. Late in the morning as Adam was talking, he watched the telegraph clerk walk into the courtroom and hand his father a piece of paper. Adam watched as his father opened the paper and read it. He then saw his father’s eyes close. Adam’s heart jumped, and he stopped in mid sentence. "No, please, no!" He thought. He kept his eyes on his father and saw Ben open his eyes and look at Adam. His father had tears in his eyes and was smiling broadly. Ben shook his head, yes. Every fiber of Adam’s being wanted to hop off the stand and go to his father. He knew they had gotten word about Joe, and the word was good. He answered the remaining questions of the morning, and when the judge called the lunch break, Adam was off the stand and to his father.

Ben put his hand on Adam’s shoulder and was smiling broadly. He handed his son the telegram. Adam quickly opened it.

Ben Cartwright (stop)

Fever broke (stop) Joe sleeping now (stop) Asking for you both (stop) Hurry back (stop) Be careful (stop)

Hoss (stop)

Adam sighed big as he read and reread the telegram. Joe was alive, and the fever had broke. It was the best news he had ever received. "Pa, how ‘bout I buy you lunch, and we enjoy this news?"

"Well son, lunch will probably be sandwiches in the back room, but I’m all for enjoying the news."

"Sounds good to me. I want this to finish, and us to get back to Joe."

Ben and Adam enjoyed the first lighthearted meal in a while and smiled throughout. They longed to be done in Virginia City and back to Reno. Adam thought he could now get through the testimony without reservation, because now he would return to his brother who was still alive.

The afternoon’s testimony proved more grueling as Baxter’s attorney attempted to paint Adam as a potential business rival of Baxter’s who wanted him shut down to decrease competition in the mining business. The attorney attempted to imply that the fisticuffs in the courtroom earlier in the day were due to Adam’s anger at Baxter was having bested him at business and that Adam wanted revenge any way he could get it. The rules of evidence were such in court that Adam was not allowed to discuss what had happened to Little Joe, and he felt frustrated.

Court ended at five in the evening, and Adam and Ben were both exhausted. Both looked at each other and said at the same time as they walked out of the building, "Race you to Reno." They laughed out loud and headed towards their horses.

Roy was following them out of the court. "Ben, I’m not too sure Adam’s out a’ the woods yet with ol’ Baxter. Me and my men are gonna go with you. When you leavin’?"

Adam quickly spoke for his father and himself, "Oh, uh Roy, we want to get back to Hoss and Joe as soon as possible, so we were going to ride most the night, rest a little and then go on in. You and your boys are tired. You really think we should keep worrying?"

"Adam, I think Baxter’s about capable of anything." Roy said as he looked between Adam and Ben. "And after what he had done to Joe, I think you both know that too. No, I’m not gonna be responsible for anything bad befallin’ either of you. Now we’re ridin’ with both of ya, the same way we rode here. We’ll get some supplies and meet you here shortly. I know you’re both anxious to get back to Reno."

As the traveling group left Virginia City to once more return to Reno, Hoss kept watch over Joe. He spent his time reading quietly or helping the doctor when he came to check on his little brother. The doctor and Hoss made it a point not to stir Joe anymore than they had to, and Joe slept quietly, although his breathing was an ever-present raspy sound. Dr. Green diligently checked Joe’s forehead, and although it was warm, the burning temperature remained at bay. It had been after the doctor had checked Joe’s fever several times and felt more certain the fever had broke that Hoss sent the telegram to his father. He had been overjoyed at being able to send the good news.

It took great determination for Hoss to wake Joe for his evening meal. Joe had been heavily medicated and continued to remain deep in sleep. Hoss however kept his father’s direction foremost in his mind and was determined Joe would eat. He was finally able to stir his little brother and once more presented the broth and egg flip. Joe was groggy, but as he smelled the familiar meal, he grunted and curled his lip.

"Oh no! You ain’t gonna do this to me, Little Joe. You’re eatin’!" Hoss said smiling, glad to see some resistance on Joe’s part.

Joe felt so very tired, and although he wanted to struggle with Hoss, he was unable to do much. He acquiesced soon after his initial protest. Joe ate slowly as Hoss fed him. He eventually finished and looked around the room. "Hoss… where’s… Pa… Adam?"

"You remember, Joe? I told ya they went to Virginia City, so Adam could testify ‘gainst Baxter."

Joe had a look of fear come over his face when he heard where his father and Adam had gone. He thought, "No, they can’t go there. Baxter will get Adam! I was gonna help him! I gotta help him!" Joe tried to explain to his brother in a voice a little louder than a whisper, "No… I… there… ta… help."

"Joe, you can’t go buddy. Anyway, they’re already there and probably on their way back. It’s all okay."

"Hoss… man."

"No Joe, you’re not supposed to talk. Be quiet and go on back to sleep. By the time you wake up, Pa and Adam will probably be back."

"Naugh… listen… man… cell..."

"Joe, no stop! Hush up ‘fore I get real mad. You gotta save your strength. Now no more talkin’."

Joe was frustrated. He was trying to tell Hoss of the Stranger, but it took so much energy to form the words. Joe had fears of the Stranger harming someone in his family, and he wanted Hoss aware of the danger. "Cell… ar… Hoss"

The word cellar had not registered with Hoss, so he was unsure what Joe was talking about. "Joseph! You say one more word, and I’m gettin’ the Doc and gonna have him knock you out. Now hush! You tell me all about it later, after you’re better. You want me to read to ya?"

"Pa… tell…"

"All right, that tears it! You are the stubbornest thing I ever did see! I ain’t playin’ here Joe! Hush up right now!"

Joe felt his frustration, but the fatigue of trying to talk soon wore him out. He scowled to show his displeasure at Hoss’s insistence that he be quiet and then closed his eyes. It was not long before Joe was back asleep.

Hoss watched him doze off and then said quietly, "That’s just fine with me, you givin’ me that look. Ain’t gonna change one thing, Joe. You just behave and do as I say. Pa left me in charge anyway. Now where was I?" And with that Hoss was once more reading his book and watching over his brother.

Night passed without incident as Ben and Adam moved closer to Reno, and Joe and Hoss slept. Morning brought a beautiful day and with daylight the men could quicken their pace. As the streets of Reno came into view, Ben kicked Buck hard and rode in a full gallop to the doctor’s office. Adam reacted almost as quickly, and Sport slid to the hitching post next to Buck. Both were off their horses and through the door of the doctor’s office without a look back to Roy or his men.

They hurried into the office, but slowed to a quiet pace, as they reached the door to the room where Joe was resting. Ben quietly turned the handle and opened the door. The sight he saw before him touched him deeply. Joe was propped up asleep, and Hoss was quietly reading aloud to his little brother. Hoss stopped as he saw movement at the door, and his face lit up when he saw his father in the doorway. "Pa! You guys are back! How’d it go?"

Ben and Adam moved into the room and closed the door. "Son, it went just fine. Adam made us all very proud. How’s Joe?"

"Awe Pa, he’s gettin’ better. He was stubborn as ever last night. Doc’s got him sleepin’ lots, but I know he’d want to see you. He’s worried about Adam."

"So Adam, why don’t you wake him and let him know you’re fine." Ben said as he put his hand on Adam’s back.

"Oh yeah, and if Little Joe is feeling better let me get griped at." Adam said joking as he moved to his little brother. He knelt down close. "Hey Joe, its Adam, wake up."

There was a grumble and a sigh, but Joe did not initially wake. Adam persisted. "Come on Joe, open your eyes and wake up."

Adam’s voice broke through to Joe, and he was unable to tell if Adam was calling for him as if he needed him. Joe fought hard to break through his sleep. What Adam saw was Joe woke suddenly looking as if he had been startled awake. "Ssshhh… Joe’s it’s okay. Just wanted to let you know Pa and I are back, safe and sound, and I think Baxter’s going away for a while."

It took a moment for Joe to get his bearings, and he looked confused. He saw Adam before him and then felt relief. "Adam… you… ‘kay?… Pa?"

"Yeah, I’m just fine, and Pa’s right here. See?"

Joe let out another sigh and closed his eyes for a minute. The Stranger had not won. His family was safe. Now he could place all of his energy on keeping the Stranger from himself if he knew everyone else was not vulnerable. Joe called, "Pa?"

Ben moved over to Joe so his son would not have to strain to be heard. Ben could not hold back the grin as he saw the feverish look on his son’s face that had been present when he had left Reno was gone. "Hey there. You look like you’re doin’ better, son."

"Go… home… now?"

Ben laughed. "When you want something you just keep at it don’t you, son?" Ben was grateful for this trait in Joe, because he knew it was what had sustained his child’s life. "You rest up, and we’ll get out of here just as soon as we can."


"I promise son. Just as soon as we can travel, you’re on your way home. But that means you do just as the doctor says. You eat everything we give you, take ALL of the medicine given and rest. You do that, and you’ll be out of here before you know it."

Through out the next few days, Joe spent much of his time sleeping. Ben, Adam and Hoss took turns tending to Joe, and the days passed quietly. It was obvious Joe was gaining strength as time passed and his body rested. The medication was heavy so much of his sleep was dreamless and quiet. When he was awake, the medication held off the pain if Joe laid still. He was able to talk more and more, although he was easily winded and tired. It was on the third day since Adam and Ben had returned to Reno that the Cartwrights knew Joe was well on his way to being ready to return to the Ponderosa.

Joe had begun to become fussier and found something wrong with almost everything he was offered to eat or made to take. He was very groggy and would appear slow in his thinking and reacting, all product of the medication that kept the pain away. Joe was beginning to try and stay awake more. He actively fought falling back into sleep until the fatigue became too great and he could no longer keep his eyes open.

All three men noticed Joe’s improvement and were relieved to see the youngest Cartwright’s fight and spirit. The doctor approached Ben late in the afternoon. "Ben, I’m thinking, Joe has been chomping at the bit to go home, and I do believe you all need to start planning to take him. He’s doing real well, and if he keeps it up, I think maybe you could look at the day after tomorrow to take him on home. There’s just one more thing that you need to know. The sheriff would like to get a statement from Joe before you leave. He’s asked me to let him know when Joe may be up to it. He seems to be getting stronger, so I told the sheriff maybe tomorrow."

The need for a statement from Joe had been something Ben had been dreading. He knew Joseph was going to have to relive the events he had experienced in the cellar. He looked at his son and wondered if Joe was strong enough to endure the recalling of what he had been through in detail. Ben then looked to Hoss and Adam and saw they were thinking very similar thoughts.

"Pa, why can’t my statement be enough?" Hoss asked. "I was the one who shot the one and hit the other. I was the one that found Joe any ways. Couldn’t that be enough?"

"We can ask the sheriff son, but I doubt it. I think he’ll wanna hear from Joe. Boys, we’re gonna have to help him with this. I’m afraid he’ll have a real hard time. We’re gonna have to be here for him."

"That’s a given, Pa. Whatever he needs." Adam said his expression showing his worry.

"Adam, you must stop blaming yourself. I’m sure Joe doesn’t."

"Well I do, Pa, and I’m gonna make it up to him somehow. I’ll do whatever it is he needs."

"He just needs you to be his big brother. That’s all, Adam. That’s all Joe needs from you."

"Well Pa, I’m not sure that’s all he needs from me, but I will help him any way I can. I promised him that."

"Pa… What’s wrong?" Joe had awakened and had heard what was being discussed.

Ben walked over to Joe and smiled at him. "Son, there’s nothing wrong. You’re doing wonderfully well. The doctor’s really happy. He said we can take you home in a couple of days."

"Can’t we go… today?"

A laugh escaped Ben as he answered. "No son, not today. Day after tomorrow."

"Uh geez… Pa, I can’t stand it… much more."

"Yes you can, Joseph. You’ve come through so much and done so well. Just a little longer." Ben thought of his son’s strength and found it ironic Joe could endure incredible agony, but had a hard time simply laying still and resting.

The doctor entered with a tray of food for Joe and sat it next to the bed. Joe looked at it a groaned loudly. "Nah… not more a that."

"Come on son, you need to eat. You know the agreement. You cooperate, and it will get you home sooner."

"No more a that… I ain’t eatin’ it."

"Yes you are, Joe."


"Why are you doing this son?"

"Taste it… you’ll see. It hurts my stomach."

"But it is good for you."

"If it’s so good… you eat it."

Ben would normally have sternly corrected his son’s attitude, but knew Joe was irritable because of how bad he felt. "Son, you need to stop this and eat."

"I don’t mean to interfere, but Joe, if you’d eat something willingly what might it be?" Dr. Green decided to help out in the struggle between father and son.

Joe answered quietly, but without hesitating, "Hop Sing’s rice puddin’."

"Joe, we can’t go home yet, I told you that. Now quit this and eat what’s here." Ben corrected.

"Well, my lovely wife Karen makes a wonderful rice pudding, and I bet she’d just love to make some. I think she’s as tired of making that ol’ egg flip and broth as you are of eating it, Joe."

Joe looked at his father with a "see" expression, and Ben simply shook his head. He spoke to his son, "Now if Mrs. Green is going to go to all that trouble Joseph, you will eat every drop. You understand?"

"I’ll try… Hey… uh, Pa what was it you… were all talkin’ ‘bout earlier? Why… does Adam have ta… help me?" Joe wanted to return to what he had heard upon wakening because he was concerned what was happening out of his awareness. It bothered him to fade in and out of sleep, as he felt things happened while he was away that were beyond his control. It was starting to become very important to him that he knew what was happening around him. It felt as if he had to watch out for things so that he could feel better able to protect himself.

Ben was unsure what would be the best thing to tell Joe. He wondered if it would be better to give Joe some time to get ready for the statement he needed to give, or should he just have the sheriff show up and ask Joe for it. He thought over what his son had endured and decided Joe would probably not respond well to surprises after what he had undergone. "Son, the sheriff is going to come by tomorrow and get a statement from you about what happened to you in the, uh… when you were hurt."

Joe swallowed hard. He felt afraid as he listened to his father and knew what was being asked of him. He looked at Hoss and Adam and saw their concern. He looked back to his father, the fear evident on his face. He said nothing.

"Son, if you don’t feel up to it or need more time, then we can postpone it I’m sure. It doesn’t have to be tomorrow." Ben could see Joe was afraid and it concerned him.

"I have to?" Joe softly asked and Ben thought he sounded very young.

"I am going to try and get you out of it, but son, I think they need your statement to charge the man they have in the jail."

Because of Joe’s condition when Hoss found him, and his battle to survive the ordeal in the cellar, Joe had been unaware of what had happened to the men that had hurt him. "Who’s in… jail?"

"A man who goes by the name Doyle. The other man that was there, I think he was called Wells, is dead." Ben explained.

Hearing the words his father spoke made his heart jump. What had happened to the Stranger? Where was he? "That’s all… they got?" Joe asked.

"Son, what do you mean that’s all? Were there more people there? Those were the men, weren’t they?" Ben was confused. He had simply assumed that Doyle and Wells had been the men that had hurt his child.

The panic was increasing inside of Joe. The Stranger was somewhere around. His dreams were becoming true. He was still amongst an evil presence. He was more scared than he had ever felt, and neither his family nor the gun, quelled the fear. He tried to hold it in, but it was obvious to those in the room Joe was terrified. Joe began shaking as he thought of the Stranger able to come and take him any time back to torture and back to pain. Breathing was becoming more difficult as he felt his fear. It was washing over him, and his heart began to race.

"Son, what is it? What did you mean when you asked if that was all?" The panic on his son’s face scared him. Adam and Hoss moved closer to their father and Joe as all three saw sheer terror in Joe’s eye.

The panic was strong and Joe was afraid he could not breathe. He felt lightheaded and could not calm himself. He wanted to scream, but no words came. How could he escape the images in his head or the fear that overwhelmed him? As he thought of the Stranger, he wanted him gone. He wanted the man to suffer, to hurt and then to be dead. Joe tried to think of shooting the Stranger over and over, but the panic was too strong, and he could not stay with the image of killing the Stranger in his mind.

"Joseph, look at me son." Ben took Joe’s hand in his and continued to talk. "Look right here. You’re okay. Calm down now and tell me what is it that is scaring you so much."

Joe tried to focus on his father. He wanted his father to remove the fear from him and make it as if it had never happened. He knew what he wanted was impossible, but he was not far enough away from boyhood to not want to still believe somewhere inside of him that his father could take any hurt away. "Pa." Joe started his voice shaky. "There was…" Joe stopped and questioned himself. What would he tell them? No one knew of the Stranger but himself, the man in jail, and the one that had hired The Stranger. What would The Stranger do if he talked? Would the Stranger come after him, or worse after his family? What would happen if the Stranger were caught? Would the punishment he received fit what he had done? These questions raced through Joe’s mind, and he had no answers. His panic did not allow clear thought, and he was unsure what to do to answer his father. He was so very afraid as he made his decision regarding what he would reveal to his family. "Pa… um, there was… a uh, man, but I never saw what he looked like."

As Joe told his lie, he saw The Stranger’s face in his head. He would never forget the man’s image; it was burning into his mind. He feared the man and what power he held. Joe respected the power and wanted nothing to do with challenging it. He felt the price was too high.

"Son, there was another man there?"

"Uh, yeah… but uh, he um, he didn’t do much. Sounds like they, uh got the uh, worst ones." Joe wanted to cry as he thought of how he had betrayed himself in letting the Stranger go with his words. He knew if he were able, this would have been a conversation he would have somehow found a way to walk away from. He hated his fear as he hated the Stranger.

Each person felt the intensity in the room. No one had entertained the idea that there was yet someone else out in the world, living free, who had participated in Joe’s torture. That person also had a large head start on disappearing, and there was a strong likelihood he would never be caught. Joe saw his family’s faces and knew they were concerned. He believed even more strongly that he would keep the identity of the Stranger a secret. He would protect his family from their own need for revenge and from their exposure to the evilness of the Stranger.

There was a knock at the door, and Hoss moved towards it. He inquired who it was and was greeted by the soft female voice of Dr. Green’s wife. Hoss opened to see an attractive woman standing with a tray and a broad smile across her face. "I’m sorry to disturb, but I understand there is a young man needing some rice pudding."

"Uh, yes ma’am. You’ll be friends for life with my little brother if you brought some." Hoss said, moving aside to allow the woman entrance.

Ben stepped forward and took the tray from the woman. "Hey Joe, look what Mrs. Green brought."

Joe had heard the woman’s voice at the door and suddenly became very self-conscious. He had resigned himself to the fact that his family and the doctor would see his face battered and bruised, but he was very uncomfortable with Strangers seeing him, especially a woman. Joe saw the woman out of the corner of his eye and then quickly turned his head and tried to roll away. It was far too painful to roll over, and he was trapped. He cursed inside and then desperately wished he could have use of his arms to pull the blankets up to where he could just disappear.

Joe’s discomfort was noticed by all, and Mrs. Green stayed back to give the young man privacy. She had heard her husband talk at length about the brave patient he was treating and the incredible family that surrounded the young man. As she caught glimpse of the patient, she saw he had been so badly beaten. Her heart went out to the young man. She kept her distance. "Joe, I hope you like it. There is extra cinnamon in it for you, and I went to the icehouse and got you some ice cream too. I know that stuff you’ve been taking is hard on your stomach. I hope it helps."

The desire to disappear remained, and Joe said nothing. Ben looked from Joe to the woman and knew the situation was awkward. "Son, what do you say?"

"Thank you." Joe mumbled as if his voice would reveal his embarrassment.

"Well I’ll leave you folks, but Joe, you can have all you want. You just tell the doctor and you got it. You’re very brave, and I think you’ve earned it." With that Mrs. Green left the room.

The embarrassment remained with Joe, and he did not speak for a long while. He allowed his father to feed him, as he avoided eye contact. In his head he felt so many things. All feelings he traced back to the Stranger. He blamed the Stranger, and his hatred grew.

The remainder of the evening began quietly. Joe was trapped in thoughts of fear and felt anxious and tense. He was unable to relax since he had realized the Stranger was truly free to return and harm him. The doctor had given Joe the medications to relieve pain and make him tired, but he was fighting it hard. Hoss had taken over reading for Adam and was trying to keep them entertained. Joe had been half listening when he suddenly snapped, "Would you please pronounce his name right! You’re driving me crazy! It’s Richalieu, Reesh-a-loo, not Rich-Lou!"

No one had expected Joe’s outburst, and they were taken aback. The room was quiet for a moment, and Ben walked over to Joe. "Joseph, you’re feeling very badly I know, but that is no reason to be hateful."

Hoss tried to defend Joe, "Awe Pa. He don’t mean nothin’ by it."

"No Hoss, what he said was just mean, and he owes you an apology. Well Joe, we’re waiting?"

Joe looked to his father and then to Hoss. He knew he had been mean to Hoss and should apologize, but he was upset, hurt and afraid. He was so full of emotion and unsure which he would express. He looked back to his father, and seeing his father’s stern look he said in a quiet voice without emotion, "I’m sorry."

After he spoke, Joe immediately flashed to another time recently when he was made to say he was sorry and was hurt when he had not said it correctly. He hated how his mind returned so easily to the cellar. He then closed his eyes and tried to shut out his thoughts, his feelings and his family. Ben stood looking at Joe a while longer. As he watched, he saw a tear fall from Joe’s eye and down his cheek. He knew not to say anything, but simply stood by his son, knowing he was hurting deeply. Ben knew there was so much more ahead of them.

Joe did not talk the remainder of the evening, and night eventually came. The family settled into sleep, and as the lamp was blown out, Joe opened his eyes. He had laid in thought as his family had quietly talked. He was thinking of the statement he would give the sheriff and wondered what was the punishment for lying to a lawman. He knew the punishment he could be given would pale in comparison to the torture he had endured. He was not afraid of the law.

Sleep was not coming for Joe, and the night passed slowly. He tried to distract himself from his mind and even allowed himself to focus on the breathing and snoring of his family around him. He tried to let it comfort him, but it seemed to only make it harder to sleep. He could find no comfortable position, and as he tried to move, he seemed to only increase his suffering. He tried to tell himself his body was healing, and he would be able to be comfortable again soon. As he thought of this his mind went to his face and how he had no idea if he would ever be the same again. So much had changed in a very short time.

Joe coughed and felt everywhere his body hurt. He was so tired of it all. The more he allowed his mind to think, the further away sleep became. He knew it was deep into the night, and he was going to lay trapped in his body and in his thoughts. He wanted it to stop-all of it. Nothing allowed escape, and frustration eventually led to despair. He wanted to be home, to feel better and to be himself again. As he dwelled on his situation, he determined it would never be the same again. He knew he did not want to sleep because sleep made him vulnerable. He started to cry softly. He became mad at himself for crying over his situation. He thought, "Come on, stop it. You’re pathetic. You’re grown, not some baby." Joe’s talking to himself only made him feel worse and the tears flowed.

Joe’s coughing awakened Adam, and he listened to make sure Joe was not in any distress. The room remained quiet for a few minutes, and Adam was just about to drift off once more when he heard sniffling. He knew it was Joe, and what he heard was crying. Adam quietly got out of bed and moved over to his brother. "Buddy, you okay?"

Joe was crying hard and had not expected anyone to bother him. He had not heard Adam approach and jumped when he heard the whisper. This made him more afraid and frustrated. He could not speak.

"Joe, you okay?"

"Go away." Joe finally was able to choke out the words.

"Hey, buddy, you hurting?"

"Go away."

"What is it, Joe? What’s wrong?"

"Nuthin’s wrong. Go away."

Adam knew Joe was in a bad place. He was unsure if he should pursue it or leave Joe to himself. "Can I get you anything?"

Adam’s offer made Joe cry harder. Joe was so frustrated at having to rely on everyone to help him perform the simplest of tasks. He wanted to walk out of the room and find someplace private to face what he was feeling. Joe let out another coughing fit, which woke his father as well. Ben saw Adam next to Joe and was immediately up and next to his oldest. "What’s wrong? Joe, you okay?"

"I’m fine. Leave me alone." Joe was feeling as if everything was closing in on him. He could not stop the tears and was feeling exposed.

Both men were concerned. It was obvious Joe was getting more upset. Ben lit the lamp to check and make sure Joe was truly okay. As the flame was lit, Joe groaned. He could not believe he had to simply lay there and let them watch him. He used all of his strength to try and roll over. He felt intense pain as he put weight on his shoulder. "Oh, God!" Joe said through tears and then turned to his brother and father. "Is this what you want to see! You wanna just sit there and watch this!"

"Oh no son, no." Ben said as he turned down the lamp until the light was dim. "It’s not like that. What’s wrong. Tell me. Are you in pain? Do we need to get the doctor."


"Joseph, calm down. You need to settle down now. We’ll leave you alone if I know you’re okay. Now tell me what has got you upset."

"YOU HAVE TO ASK! REALLY PA! LOOK AT ME! JUST GO AWAY!" Joe could not stop crying and it angered him further. He hated the dependency he felt and he hated the exposure. He was tired, but sleep would not come, as he was overwhelmed. He was gasping for breath and his ribs were on fire. "Mmm," Joe moaned as he felt the pain. "I DON"T… WANT TO… TALK! GO AWAY!"

Dr. Green appeared in his nightshirt to see what the commotion was all about. He saw Joe almost hysterical and Ben and Adam next to Joe. Hoss, who had been awakened earlier, was standing back with a worried look on his face. Dr. Green asked, "You need some help?"

"NO… GO… AWAY!" Joe screamed.

"He’s really upset, and we can’t get him to calm down." Ben expressed his concern.

The doctor walked over to the counter and poured a healthy dose of something into a glass, motioned for Ben and Adam to move away and then walked to Joe, "Okay Joe, you gotta stop this now. You’re going to hurt yourself. Your ribs have got to be hurting something fierce. We’ll all go away as soon as you take this. I want you to drink all of it."

Joe looked at the glass. He just wanted it all to stop and leave him. He was angry and scared. He also felt very alone in his hurt. As he cried, Joe willingly drank the liquid. He wanted everything gone and decided maybe what the doctor was giving him would calm him, and he could sleep. After Joe finished the liquid, the doctor moved away and reassured Ben and Adam it was okay for them to keep their distance from Joe. No one spoke as they heard Joe trying to cry softly and trying to breathe without gasps. Eventually Joe’s breathing slowed, and the men listened as Joe finally surrendered to sleep.

The remaining Cartwrights stood by with worried looks on their faces as they watched Joe. Dr. Green spoke softly, "I know that is disturbing to see, but sometimes it happens when someone is watched as closely as we have all watched Joseph. He seems like a real independent young man and the constant lack of privacy and the extreme dependency sometimes get to people. I think that’s what was happening. Tomorrow, or uh, I guess later today rather, we need to get him up and give him a change of scenery. It can help him cope better. And going home will probably do wonders for him. You men get some sleep, and I’ll see you in the morning. If he wakes again, you can give him another shot or so of brandy."

Dr. Green left and the Cartwrights returned to their beds and tried to sleep. Adam laid tossing and turning, thinking of his little brother and the grief he had seen in Joe. He had no idea how he could best help, and he hated he was at a loss. Adam wondered how his relationship with Joe would fair after the ordeal his little brother had undergone. He wondered if the precarious relationship he held with Joe would weather the current storm. After seeing how he was coping, Adam worried.


Joe slept late into the morning. Everyone remained quiet as to not disturb him. Ben watched his child sleep, as he wondered if he should not allow the sheriff to take Joe’s statement. He hated to see his son upset and knew that when the sheriff did speak with Joe, it was going to be an extremely difficult time for his youngest. As if Hoss read his mind, his middle son asked, "Pa, don’t ya think it may be too much for Joe to have to talk to the sheriff? He gets so upset right now. Maybe we should wait."

Ben smiled at how protective Hoss was of Joe, especially when Joe was sick or hurting. "I’ve been wondering that same thing, son. I’m very worried about Joe. He’s been through enough."

Joe grumbled and stirred. He reluctantly opened his eyes and felt disappointed that he remained in the doctor’s office. As the room came into focus he saw his father and Hoss looking at him. He looked back for a moment and then finally asked, "What?"

"Good morning, son. How are you feeling?"

The situation appeared strange to Joe, and he wondered why they had been looking so intently at him. "I’m fine. What’s with you two?"

"Nothing, we were just waiting for you to wake up." Ben tried to be nonchalant.

"So you’ve been standin’ there all morning watching me? I know it’s boring around here, but I bet you could find something better to do than watch me." Joe did not like the feeling of being watched and was wondering what it was they had really been discussing. He knew it had to do with him, and he liked that even less.

Ben decided to ignore Joe’s question and moved on to other things. "Your breakfast is already here, rice pudding as ordered, and as soon as we get you fed, we are going to try and get you dressed and up into a chair. How does that sound?"

"Exhausting." Joe thought, but said, "Fine."

Hoss took over and fed Joe, as Ben went to the mercantile to buy some clothes for him to wear. Adam held back, feeling more reserved after the events of the previous night. He felt awkward with Joe and was unsure what to say. He kept looking over at Hoss and wished for the easiness he saw between his two younger brothers. Adam was beginning to have serious doubts if he would ever feel that close to Joe.

When Ben returned, he sent Adam and Hoss out of the room as he helped his youngest sit up and then dress. Dr. Green had given Joe a strong painkiller in anticipation of trying to get him up and about. The doctor had also placed Joe’s arms in slings to hold them still as Joe was moved. Joe was lightheaded as he sat up, but the pain was tolerable for him. He was unable to do much to help his father, but Ben was able to maneuver in such a way as to get his son’s pants on. Joe actually let out a chuckle as he watched his father struggle. "Sorry Pa, I ain’t much help."

Ben shared the laugh and said, "Joseph, I thought you and me fighting over getting you dressed was over a long time ago." As Ben struggled he realized he had guessed Joe’s size wrong. Joe mostly bought his own clothes, so Ben had been at a loss to determine what size his youngest wore. Oops, I got the size wrong. I can’t ever keep it straight with you. These are a little big on you."

Joe looked down and shook his head. "A little? Pa, these look like they’d fit Hoss. I need my belt, or I’m gonna embarrass myself."

Ben was glad Joe could be more easy going than he had been the previous night. They laughed between them, and the mood quickly sobered, as Ben thought of putting a shirt on Joe. "Uh son, you want to put on a shirt? I can put it around your shoulders if you’d like."

Joe thought of his back and knew he did not want anyone seeing how it looked. He had not seen it himself, but knew it was bad. The thought of anyone knowing what had happened to him made Joe cringe. It would show too much of what he had been through, and he was vulnerable. "Uh yeah Pa, give me a shirt."

As Ben placed the shirt around his son, he once more looked at Joe’s back. The doctor had painstakingly cared for the wounds several times, and although they looked better than they had when Ben first saw the whip marks, he still felt rage at what was done to his boy.

"Well son, I think we’ve got you about as dressed as we can right now. You ready to stand up and try to walk?"

"Now’s as good a time as any, I guess." With that Joe allowed his father to assist him, and he took a few steps. His knee almost buckled and hurt him greatly, as it felt stiff to bend. "Oh boy, it’s hard to move. Everything kinda hurts."

"Well lets get you a chair and sit you down. How ‘bout we go outside and sit on the porch?" Ben suggested.

"No!" Joe quickly snapped, but then corrected himself. "Uh, I uh, just think I need to stay in here, just in case."

Ben saw his son’s reluctance and was momentarily caught off guard with the quickness of Joe’s reply, but decided to let his son take the lead in what he needed. "Okay well, the doctor thought maybe you could use a change of scenery to kinda help you get through waiting to go home."

"No Pa, just sittin’ here will be fine with me." Joe said in a calmer tone. There were two reasons Joe did not wish to go outside. The adolescent in him was extremely self-conscious about his appearance and did not want to have people looking at him as they walked by. The second reason was hidden deeper inside of him; a reason that was primal and came from the need to survive. It was the feeling the prey feels in regards to the predator. The vulnerability he now experienced was animalistic. The predator salivated at his exposure, and Joe felt it deep in his gut. He had never felt the type of vulnerability he now experienced. He was afraid of being in the open where the Stranger could see him. As he thought of being outside, he thought of all the places the Stranger could hide and watch. The thought of the man being able to see him scared him. If he were seen, then there was always the possibility he could once more be taken away to torture and to pain.

As he was maturing, Joe was learning to open up to his family. He was gradually allowing them to learn who he was and how he thought. It had been slow in coming for him due to Joe’s own make up, as well as certain life events he had experienced, but he was actively trying to allow his family to know him as more than a son and more than a brother. The growth had required him to be vulnerable, but he had been relatively safe in his exposure. He had shown himself to those who loved him and had experienced protection and acceptance as he did so. The threat of the Stranger also threatened this new found and healthy vulnerability in Joe. He wanted desperately to protect himself and was unsure if he could risk exposure to anyone, even those he loved most.

As he sat thinking, urgency developed inside Joe. He needed to know those around him were of no threat. He felt himself noticing things around him much more and it kept him on edge. The things noticed were things that before he would have simply ignored. Now he felt it would be far too dangerous to ignore anything. It felt to him as if the threat was all around him and persistent. He needed to be on guard constantly to keep the Stranger away and keep himself alive.

Ben kept a watchful eye on his son as Joe settled into the chair. He noticed how tense Joe appeared. "Joe, you look worried. You need to talk?"

"Oh, uh, no just thinkin’."


"Nuthin’ important. When’s the sheriff comin’?"

"Well son, I’ve been thinking, and I’ve decided maybe now isn’t the best time for you to talk with the sheriff."

"Why not? I wanna get it over with." Joe had worked out with himself what he was going to say to the lawman. He hoped by making his statement, he could close the book on what had happened to him and allow himself to forget the cellar. He knew that until he talked to the sheriff, he would feel anxious. He had no idea his emotional turmoil was only beginning.

"Well, after last night I think maybe all of this is too much on you right now. We can get the sheriff to come out to the Ponderosa once you are settled and feeling better."

"Actually Pa, I’d rather get it over with if it’s okay with you."

"But son, I really think it’s too much. You’ve been through enough."

"No Pa, I need to go ahead and do this. I wanna be able to just go home and be done with it all."

Father and son held each other’s look. Joe knew his father was feeling protective of him, and although he understood it, it made him feel confined. He also knew he would not be able to ease his father’s mind. He had learned a long time ago that his father was going to be over protective with him, and he would have to assert himself if he were going to be treated as an adult.

Ben admired his son’s courage, but knew under Joe’s firm resolve he was only eighteen and had a fragile quality to him that needed protection. Ben was unsure if he should assert his authority as a father and make the decision for his son regarding when his statement would be given, or if he should allow his son to decide what he needed. As Ben looked at Joe he wished he could see up under his son’s exterior to know what was truly best.

Joe could see his father’s hesitance, and it made him more anxious. He did not feel he could allow the impending statement to hang over his head. It would leave things too open, too unfinished. "Pa, I’m sorry ‘bout last night. Things kinda got to me, and I’m fine now. I just was real tired’s all. I really need to do this."

There was a look on Joe’s face that Ben interpreted as his son very much needing his father to acquiesce. As much as he hated to do it, Ben said, "Okay son. We’ll do it your way, but I want you to know you can stop at any time."

Joe thought to himself, "No, Pa. I really can’t." He said, "Pa, you worry too much. I’ll be okay. It won’t be that big of a thing. You’ll see."

It was after lunch when the sheriff arrived at the doctor’s office. The Cartwrights had enjoyed a quiet meal and the mood was relatively light. The doctor had given Joe his usual medication with his meal, but also added a nerve medicine in hopes that it would help Joe in the upcoming discussion with the sheriff, and he would not be overtaxed. Each man felt his own nervousness at the thought of Joe telling of his experience in the cellar. Joe was quiet, both from the medication and from him being deep in thought. He sat and slowly reviewed over and over what he would tell the sheriff. He felt a twinge of guilt at what he was going to do but knew there was not any way he would expose his family to the Stranger, nor would he allow the law to handle the situation. To Joe what he had experienced at the Stranger’s hand had been personal, and as such, he would handle it his own way, in his own time.

The doctor escorted the sheriff into the room and greetings were exchanged. Joe looked at the lawman and then lowered his head. He was uncomfortable with someone he did not know in the room, and his posture showed it. The sheriff saw Joe’s discomfort and knew they were in for a grueling discussion. The sheriff had carried into the room a cloth bag, paper and a pencil. He took the chair immediately across from Joe and spoke, "Joe, oh, do you go by Joe or Joseph?"

"Either." Joe said quietly.

"Okay. Well Joe, I know this is a hard thing for you to talk about, but I need to get your statement regarding what happened to you. Now I need you to know I will need as much detail as you can give me, but if you don’t know something-just say, I don’t know. I will be writing down what you say. Usually I’d have you do that, but I know you’ve been hurt real bad and won’t be able to do it. Son, I want you to tell me if you need to stop to take a break, okay? And uh, finally, would you prefer you and I talk by ourselves, or is it okay that your family is here?"

Joe thought a moment. He did not want to be alone with the sheriff, but he was unsure he wanted to tell what happened to him in front of his family. He decided to not choose. "I don’t care. Either way’s fine with me."

None of the Cartwrights wanted Joe going through his recall of the cellar by himself, so no one moved. Everyone settled in to listen to Joe’s story. Ben sat the closest to his son, as if wanting to be ready to physically pull Joe away from the ordeal if needed. Hoss settled in where he could keep a watchful eye on his little brother and stay far enough back as to not intrude. Adam stood leaning against the wall. He was dreading hearing what Joe had been through and knew the next minutes would be agony for his little brother and for himself. He prayed it would pass quickly.

"Joe, before we get started with your statement," Sheriff Baker began, "I have a couple of things my men found in the cellar, and I was wondering if you could identify them for me?"

"Uh, I’ll try."

The sheriff open the cloth bag and pulled out what at first appeared to be a tattered rag. As he spread it out, it became obvious what it was, a shirt with blood on it. Joe looked at the shirt and swallowed hard. He took a deep breath and said, "Uh, that’s, uh, that’s my shirt. He, um, uh, they pulled it off before uh, before they used the uh, whip." The last word of the sentence Joe spoke was almost whispered.

The sheriff wrote something down and then reached in again to the bag and pulled out the handcuffs. Joe looked fleetingly at them and then at the floor. He was beginning to realize that the process was going to take more out of him than he had expected. He started to dread having agreed to speak to the lawman. Ben, Adam and Hoss were also increasing in their nervousness as they watched Joe and the struggle going on inside of him. Joe said very softly, "Um, those were used to, um to tie my, uh hands."

As the sheriff placed the handcuffs down so to write Joe’s identification of the item, Adam saw that there was blood on the cuffs. He looked to Joe’s wrists and then closed his eyes. The image in his head sickened him.

The sheriff knew the next item would be very distressing for his witness. He had no idea how to prepare Joe for what he would see. "Son, I have one more thing for you to look at and then we are done with this. You okay?"

"Uh, yeah, I’m okay." Joe said, forcing himself to breathe evenly. He could tell the sheriff was reluctant to show him the final item. "Let’s get it over with."

The sheriff pulled out the bullwhip that had been used on Joe. Again Joe looked quickly and then diverted his head. He closed his eyes to gather himself back together. He felt lightheaded and was unsure if he would faint. Ben intervened. "Okay stop this now. He can’t do this right now. It’s too much."

The sheriff put the whip back in the bag and was beginning to pack his things when Joe spoke in the same soft manner he had previously, "That looks like the whip used, to uh, to uh, get me to uh, talk. If it has a mark all the way around the handle, an uh, wide band, then that’s it. It was uh, held in front of my face, so I saw it pretty good."

Everyone held their gaze on Joe as they tried to determine how he was fairing. Joe continued, "Let’s uh, let’s keep goin’. I only wanna do this once. I just want it over with. What’s next?"

"Joseph, are you sure?" Ben asked his voice full of concern.

"Yeah, I’m sure. What now?" Joe asked, but held his head down not wanting to look at anyone.

"Now I need you to tell me what happened to you and who did what. You think you can do that?"

"Here we go." Joe thought, but said, "Uh, yeah, where do you want me to start?"

"You pick where the best place to start would be."

"Okay…" Joe took a deep breath and began to recount the events for the sheriff and his family. "I uh, Cooch threw a shoe, so I had to get that taken care of before I could ride out. There were a couple of horses ahead at the blacksmith’s, so I decided to go for a walk and see a little of Reno while I waited. I walked down the street and went into a saloon. I don’t know the name of it, but I think it is the one where I was kept. Well, I ordered a beer, and I felt a gun in my side, and Doyle had the gun on me. He told me to walk outside and around the corner. Um, uh, Wells was there when I turned the corner. They um, told me to uh, cooperate, or they would kill me." Joe was having a difficult time mentally staying in the room as he told what happened to him. He was drawn back to the cellar. He believed he had to remain diligent to his mind so he would not say the wrong thing and let them know he had seen the Stranger’s face and could describe him. He was losing the mental battle to stay in the room.

"There was a struggle when I realized that they wanted to put me in the cellar. I knew it would be bad if I was out of sight, so I fought them. I uh, kinda lost the struggle, and cause he was, uh they were mad, they threw me down the stairs."

Ben, Adam and Hoss were having a difficult time listening to Joe talk and knew they had only begun to hear what Joe had undergone. As they watched and listen to Joe, they noticed he was drifting away from them, and it seemed he was reliving the events. He was once more in the cellar as he spoke. "They wanted to know if it hurt to be thrown down the stairs. At first I said, no. But they slapped and kicked me ‘til I told him it hurt. That’s when I found out what they wanted from me. They wanted to know where Adam was being held. I told them I’d never tell." Joe took a deep breath and told his lie. "Um, there was an, um, uh, another man there, but he stayed in the shadows. I never, uh, saw what he uh, looked like. He was there, but Doyle and Wells did most of it. I guess I passed out, cause next thing I know I’m handcuffed on the floor."

Adam turned away from Joe. He could not watch his brother tell of what he had been through. It was getting harder and harder to listen and he desperately wanted to take away the memories and leave Joe in peace. Hoss had his head in his hands listening to Joe and trying not to react to what he heard. Ben sat his eyes closing at times as he heard his youngest recall being tortured. He wanted to hold his boy and make it all better, but he knew it would not be that simple.

As Joe continued to talk, he became more entranced in the ordeal as he relived the events. He stared at nothing, but it was very obvious he was watching the events in his mind. "When I came to, I was in the dark, and I could hear the music upstairs and people talking. I laid there a while and, uh, then he came back, and they kept asking me where Adam was, and um, every time I refused to answer, they hit me. They hit and hit and hit. I don’t know how many times. I made them mad, and that is when they walked me into the other room and uh… they uh…" Joe stopped talking. He paused a long moment, and then asked as if he were in a casual conversation, "Pa, is Cochise okay?"

The question came out of the blue for Ben, and he was caught off guard. He opened his eyes to see Joe looking at him waiting to be answered. "Uh son, Cochise is fine. Are you okay?"

"Good. I think she’s been stuck in that barn for a while now. She’ll need to get out and get exercised."

"I’ll make sure that happens son. Are you sure you’re okay?"

"Uh, yeah… just fine…" Joe trailed off to silence and the room had an eerie feel to it. Just as suddenly as Joe had changed topics, he started talking again of the ordeal in the cellar. "I was walked into a uh, different room ‘cause he was mad and um, was hit a couple a times and uh, then I was told to, um reach up and grab the beam above me, and uh, I uh, I uh, I did it, and uh, I was handcuffed to it. Um, that’s when my, uh, shirt was, uh, torn off, and uh, I uh, told them no, and they said I could uh, not have it happen if I just uh, told and uh, I didn’t, and uh, then I was hit with it, and uh, I could, could, couldn’t and uh…" Joe was lost in the memory. He was trapped with the Stranger once more ready to whip him. He was beginning to violently shake as his breathing came rapidly and he stared into space.

Ben hopped up and was immediately in front of his son. "Stop Joseph. It’s okay now. Just stop."

Joe’s recounting continued. He was no longer able to hear his father, as he was at the mercy of the Stranger. "I couldn’t breathe to an-an-answer him, and he hit me ag-again. Hurt so bad, cou-couldn’t stop him. He-he-he"

"Joseph, stop son. Look at me and stop! No more! You don’t have to say anymore." Ben instinctively reached to hug his son, and the touch scared Joe. He let out a scream like none they ever heard and started fighting against his father. "Joseph, no it’s Pa. You’re okay. You’re okay. I’m here, and you’re safe."

Ben could feel his son shaking and the gasps to breathe as he held him. He knew the physical contact would cause his son pain, but he hoped maybe that it would bring Joe back to them. Joe’s screams turned to moans and then sobs. He was returning to the room, and as he did so, he began begging over and over, "Make it stop! Please make it stop! Make it go away! He won’t go away!"

"Hush, Joe Ssshhh, it’s okay. I’m here and you’re safe. It’s all over now, son."

Although the words were meant to comfort, Joe could not calm down. He could not get the flashes and images out of his head. As Ben tried without success to quiet Joe, the sheriff stood and went to the door of the room. He called the doctor who was waiting nearby. Dr. Green saw upon entering Joe’s state of mind and walked over to where he had a glass of liquid sitting. He had prepared for such a reaction in his patient, although he had hoped it would not happen. He was soon at Joe’s side and handed the liquid to Ben. Ben needed not ask what the substance was and simply made his son drink it. Joe fought with the liquid, but most of it made it into him. Ben sat holding his son until he felt the medication take effect, and Joe’s muscles loosened. The medication hit hard and soon Joe had stopped struggling and was very groggy.

"Son, I want you to let me move you over to the bed, and then you need to lay down and sleep."

"I’ll finish. I can do it." It was obvious Joe was heavily medicated, and his words were slow and slurred.

"No, son, not now. It’s too much for you right now. You need to just relax and rest. I shouldn’t have let you do this right now anyway. It’s too soon."

"But, I don’t wanna do it ‘gain. It’s real bad, and it’s in my head, and gotta get it all out and gone." As Joe spoke it was obvious he was drifting away to sleep, but was fighting the medication.

"No one is going to hurt you, son. You’re safe now. It’s all gone. No one here will let anything happen to you. Now lets get you over to the bed and get you to go to sleep. You sound really tired."

"Can’t sleep. Gotta watch out. Gotta make it safe."

"Well let’s have you do that over at the bed. Come on now, can you stand up?" As Ben started to help Joe stand, Hoss and Adam moved towards their father and brother to help. Joe was unsteady and his family helped him. He slowly lay down and then spoke, "Gotta finish it. It’s not over."

"Yes it is son. It’s all over. Now you close your eyes and rest and everything will be okay."

As Joe lay down, he was one step closer to surrendering to the medication as his eyes would close and he would slowly reopen them. His family watched and knew he would be asleep soon if he was given the right distraction. Ben decided to try. "Joe, I wanted to tell you about that new string of ponies we have coming in. I need you to start thinking of which you want working them. You’re going to have a full crew, and you need to decide all of the hours for the men. I need you to help me with that right now, and we’ll worry about the other later. Can you help me with that?"

"Uh huh, I’ll try, Pa." Joe found as he tried to think of what his father had asked of him, his mind was confused, and it was to hard to think. He decided he would sleep a while and then figure out what his father wanted from him. Joe finally stopped fighting and slept.

No one moved until it was certain Joe was deep in sleep. The doctor had reassured them all that the medication Joe had been given would keep him asleep and unaware for many hours. Ben prayed his boy’s sleep would be peaceful.

The sheriff had remained in the room watching the family tend their loved one. He knew there was one thing left for him to do, and then he could leave them in peace. "Mr. Cartwright, Dr. Green is going to give me a statement regarding your boy’s injuries, and I’ll need a statement from your other son there if I may, regarding the shootin’ and him gettin’ that Doyle fellow. I also would like to take a look at your son’s back if you wouldn’t mind. I know you folks are gonna be takin’ off soon to go back to your ranch, and it’s pretty obvious your boy there is gonna need some time before he’s up to testifyin’. I need to have some documentation of his injuries, and this will allow me to do that."

Ben looked from the sheriff to his son. He knew the lawman was only doing his job, but he felt annoyed. He believed his boy had been through far too much, and he was not happy at disturbing him. The sheriff noticed his pause. "I know how you feel, Mr. Cartwright. If it were my boy I’d want him left alone too, but I need to get all of this so the man who did this can be prosecuted. This will be all I need from him for a while."

Ben sat on the side of the bed where Joe lay and unbuttoned the shirt he had put around his son’s shoulders. Adam and Hoss assisted their father and they moved a sleeping Joe so that he was sitting up. Ben moved in close so Joe’s head was on his father’s shoulder. The sheriff moved over so he could get a good look at Joe’s back. As much as everyone wanted to look away they seemed drawn to watch the lawman. As they watched they each felt sickened and angered that Joe had been harmed in the manner he had. They saw Sheriff Baker silently count the whip marks on Joe’s back and write down a note on the paper. Each Cartwright felt his rage, but each kept it to himself. They vowed the man responsible would pay and they would protect Joe from further harm. As they mentally reviewed Joe’s recalling of the events he had endured each one also knew so much damage had already been done.

The sheriff finished and said quietly, "Thank you, Mr. Cartwright. I’ll leave you folks now. And uh, Hoss, why don’t you just come on over to my office a little later and give me your statement."

Hoss readily agreed, and the lawman left. Ben remained holding Joe for a few moments, remembering how many times he had carried a small, sleeping little boy to his bed over the past eighteen years. Joe’s head on his shoulders was such a familiar feeling, and he smiled to himself. Before moving Joe back to where he had previously lain, he ever so gently hugged his boy and told him how much he loved him. He wanted his son to know he was safe and to sleep as he had as a boy. He promised his son he would keep a diligent watch, and Joe could sleep in peace.

Late in the day, Hoss made his way to the sheriff’s office. He saw there was a commotion in front of the office and pushed his way through several people to see what was happening. As he entered the room and looked towards the barred walls, he saw a body laying inside one of cells with a sheet over it. Hoss heard the men speaking and was shocked at the news. Doyle was dead. The sheriff was talking to a man who stood next to him when Hoss decided to interrupt. "’S’cuse me sheriff, but did I hear right? Doyle’s dead?"

"Oh, Hoss. Yeah, ya heard right. It happened while I was talking to your little brother as a matter of fact. My deputy stepped out for a meal, and when he came back, he found Doyle had hung himself. Imagine that. Guess his conscience got to him about what he did to your brother. That or he just got tired of living. Looks like your brother won’t have to testify now. I’d imagine that’d make you all breathe easier."

"We’ll I’d be lyin’ if I said I ain’t glad that man’s dead. I think my little brother deserves to live in peace. You still need me then sheriff?"

"Well let me just get your statement as a formality, but you tell your family it’s all over now, and your little brother has nothing to worry about. Tell him he can just be concerned with gettin’ better."

"I’ll do that sheriff. Now what is it you want to know?" And with that Hoss Cartwright gave a statement to the Reno sheriff about two men, both dead and both no longer a threat to his little brother.

After finishing with the sheriff, Hoss was anxious to return to his family. Once he arrived back in the doctor’s office he was quick to tell his father and Adam the news. "Pa, Adam, you’re not gonna believe this. That Doyle fella’s dead. He hung himself in the jail."

A look of concern crossed Ben’s face as he looked over at Joe to make sure he was still asleep. Ben lowered his voice to a whisper and asked, "When did this happen?"

"When the sheriff was here talkin’ ta Joe, his deputy was outta the office. I think this could help Joe feel lots better, don’t you, Pa?"

Ben looked at Adam and saw the same worried look on his oldest son’s face that he had on his own. "Uh, Hoss. I’m not sure how Joe will handle this. Let’s wait some before we tell him. He has been through too much and needs some time to just have some peace and quiet."

"Oh, okay, Pa. You don’t think it’d hurt Joe to know it, huh?"

"I don’t know, Hoss. I just don’t know. Joe has been through such an ordeal, and he’s going to need time. Son, Joe’s more fragile than sometimes he lets on. We need to remember that. He tries to be so strong, but you saw how he had such problems talking about what he went through. Hoss, Joe’s just eighteen, he’s gonna need time. I want to protect him from anything else right now. He’s a lot more scared than we might think, or he’d want us to believe."

Each Cartwright settled into what had become their routine since they had taken up residence in Reno. Joe remained quietly out of awareness as his body rested and his mind stayed away from the cellar. He slept hard as the evening passed and night fell. Before turning in for the night, Ben walked over to his youngest. He stood watching his child sleep and remembered so much of his son’s life. Ben thought to himself, "Oh son. I want you to be as peaceful as you look right now. You’ve been through so much already, and I’m so worry about you. You’ve grown up so much, but I know this has got to scare you. You don’t need to be so brave. I was there you know? When things scared you and you needed me. Son, I hope you’ll tell me what you need. Please let me know. I’ll be there. I promise. You won’t have to go through this alone." Ben eventually moved away to sleep, but he wished Joe was home in his own bed and among familiar things. He knew that is where his child could become strong and feel safe once more.

The medication remained heavily in Joe’s bloodstream, and he slept quietly until deep into the night. He had been in dreamless sleep until the nightmare hit and he was lost in it…

Joe was sitting in the great room listening to his father and Adam speak of the ranch. He felt safe and happy as he heard of the day’s events and his family’s obligations. There was a knock on the door, and as Joe looked at his father and brother it was obvious they had not heard the knock. Joe walked to the door and opened it. He looked around but saw there was no one at the door. He was confused. As he turned around, he saw where his father had been there was now a shape of a man with no face. He looked to Adam and saw his brother was there, but he was fuzzy and difficult to see. Joe was again confused. What was happening? He called out to his father and saw the Stranger in front of him. The Stranger spoke, "You’ll tell me what I want to know. You can’t last." As Joe realized what was happening he saw the Stranger had his father so that his father’s head was in the Stranger’s hands, and the Stranger held a knife to his father’s throat. Which should he choose? He knew he could not make the choice. It was too much. He would not choose. "NO! I won’t do it! You can’t make me choose! Pa! Adam! NO! NO GOD NO! PLEASE!" He watched as the Stranger ran the knife blade over his father’s throat and blood poured from the wound.

Adam was the first to his little brother and was about to wake Joe when Joe bolted upright into his brother’s arms. "NO! PLEASE NO!" ADAM, PA, NO! PA!"

"Joe, wake up. Wake up." Adam said, as he held his trembling brother in his arms.

"Huh? Uh, what?" Joe said as he tried to regain his senses.

"Joe, buddy. It’s a dream. That’s all it is, a dream."

"A dream? Huh?

"Joe it's just a dream, buddy. You're okay."

"Wha... what? A dream? Oh geez." Joe was slowly coming back around as he opened his eyes and saw Adam standing before him.

"You okay?"

"Um, uh, yeah. I think so. Uh, yeah, I'm fine." As Joe thought back to his dream, he shuddered. Adam felt Joe's movement and knew he was shaken by whatever it was he had dreamed. He knew Joe was far from being fine.

"You wanna talk about it?" Adam offered.

"Uh, it was just, uh..." Joe was not wanting to recall all he had dreamt, rather he hoped by quickly dismissing it, the dream would remove itself from his head. "Just stuff from the uh... you know. It's better now. I'm okay.

"It could help to talk about it. You sure?"

"Yeah." Joe said, lying back down. He was trying to slow his breathing and remove the images from his head. "I'm fine really, Adam. Sorry I woke you."

"Hey, no need to apologize." Adam said as he started to walk away.

As Joe felt panic at the thought of being alone in the dark, he blurted out, "Uh, Adam? Could you, uh maybe light the lamp and just turn it down low?"

The request reminded Adam of when his brother was little and a lamp lit low was often the request of Joe to be comfortable at night. He smiled at his little brother. "Sure thing, Buddy. You need anything else? Want me to sit with you a while?"

"Uh, no... I'm okay"

Adam sensed the hesitancy and thought he would help Joe out some in his fear. "Well, I think it's probably going to take me a while to fall back asleep, so I'm just gonna sit up and read a little. Do you mind?"

"No... That’s okay by me." Joe said, feeling a relief he was too embarrassed to share.

Adam went about lighting the lamp and looked over to his father and Hoss. He saw both men still in bed but sitting up, watching and ready to help. Each knew of Joe's proclivity towards nightmares from time to time and had at times offered comfort to him. Adam gave a nod to both men, letting them know everything was under control. He saw his father's worried look change to a small smile as his father mouth the words "Thank you".

The room settled once more as Adam sat up pretending to read, all the while watching over his youngest brother. Joe lay awake for a long period thinking and rethinking how he would keep the thoughts of the Stranger from his mind. Eventually though, sleep over took him and he was gone to the night.


Joe woke to see his father and brothers talking softly in the corner of the room. As he shook off the heaviness of sleep, he overheard them discussing if they should return home that day. He immediately felt frustrated they were even thinking of not leaving for the Ponderosa. "Pa, we are going today, aren’t we?"

Ben walked over to his son as soon as he heard him speak. "Son, the more I think about it, the more I feel we should stay another day or two and let you get stronger."

"But Pa, the doctor said I could..."

As Ben listened to the protest he knew would come from his son, he held up his hand to stop him. "Joe, that was before yesterday and how difficult it was for you."

"But, I’m fine. Really."

"That is what you said yesterday and you weren’t fine, Joseph. You need to take it easy, and the trip home’s gonna be hard on you."

"Pa, please? I’ll be okay. That yesterday was ‘cause of talkin’ about that stuff. I won’t talk about it on the ride home, so I’ll be just fine." Joe knew the ride would be difficult, but he felt it was very important that he leave Reno. He wanted the cellar to be gone from memory, and believed that being out of the city where the torture had occurred would help him greatly. Feeling the way he did made him persistent.

"No I don’t think so. You’ve just been through such a difficult time, and I’m not gonna risk your health to take you home. You need to realize son, you’re body has a lot of healing to do, and you have to take it very slow." Ben's primary concern about Joe’s recovery was not the physical recovery, but rather the emotional one. Watching his son, he knew Joe was emotionally damaged and he wanted to help insure that no further harm came to him.

"Pa, that’s not fair! I want to go home and the doctor said it was okay. I’ll take it easy, I promise. Please let’s get out of here. I really need to be home. I need to be away from here."

Ben heard Joe getting upset and was struck by the last thing he had said. He thought he would try and see if he could get Joe to open up some and talk about his fears. "Son, is it bothering you to be here because you were hurt here? Are you afraid of something?"

"No, some one." Joe thought and then slightly shuttered. He said, "Uh... well... I, uh, don’t really like bein’ here. It bothers me some I guess."

Ben could see that it bothered Joe more than "some". He was torn as to what was best. "Well, I can understand that, but do you feel safe here with us?"

"I don't know if I’ll ever feel safe." Joe thought. He knew he definitely felt better with his family around, but the uneasy feeling of being on edge and needing to remain alert was always present regardless. He had found himself looking over the room often as if he needed to attend to the most minute of detail. He answered, "I’m okay with you guys here. I think I'd be better if I were home."

Ben was at a loss as to what to do. He knew Joseph would feel better being at home, but he was so concerned as to the journey. He saw the pain in his son’s eyes and knew if he denied Joe, he would add to his son’s misery. But the trip home would be a rough one. They would have to take the trip much slower due to Joe being unable to ride a horse. He shook his head at his own indecision.

Joe saw his father’s head shake, and became more desperate. "Pa, please! You can’t say, no. I need to get outta here, and I wanna go today. You gotta get me out of here. I just can’t do it no more."

Adam and Hoss were pained with what they were hearing. They looked at each other and knew that whatever was decided, it would prove difficult and painful. Adam suggested, "Pa, why don’t we get the doctor and ask his opinion. Maybe let the doctor take a look and see how Joe’s doing." Adam thought that if the decision were left up to Dr. Green, then whatever was decided could be pushed off on him, and Ben could avoid the conflict with Joe.

Ben realized what Adam was trying to accomplish. "Hoss, could you go get the doctor? Adam’s right, it may be a good idea for the doctor to take a look at Joe and give us his opinion. Son, how ‘bout we do just what the doctor says? Will you agree to that?"

Joe continued in his frustration but decided to take a chance on the doctor keeping his same opinion. "Okay, but I wanna go home."

"Yes, son. You’ve made that very clear."

Hoss went to retrieve the doctor and filled him in on Joe’s desire to go home and his father’s hesitancy to allow it. Dr. Green realized why he was being called in, entered the room and soon decided it may be best if he talked to his patient alone. "Folks, why don’t you step outside and let me take a good look at Joseph and see how he is doing."

Hoss and Adam immediately left the room, but Ben was more hesitant. He knew Joe was able to be very persuasive at times and hoped the doctor would not allow it to influence his decision of what was truly best for his youngest child. Dr. Green saw Ben’s reluctance and was quick to reassure. "Ben, don’t worry. I’ll be sure and check him over real well. You go on and get some fresh air. Joe will be fine."

Ben haltingly left the room, and Joe was soon alone with the doctor. "Doc, you said it was okay for me to go home, and I really need to get out of here. I feel just fine, and Pa worries too much any way."

"Now Joseph, I’m the doctor, and I need to take a look and see how you’re really getting along. You had a rough time yesterday talking to the sheriff, and you need to realize something, young man. You’re gonna have a tough time for a while, and you certainly aren’t fine right now. You’re body is very weak. You’ve been lying around here saving your strength, so you may indeed be feeling better. Once you start moving around though, you are going to find yourself feeling tired quickly, and you’re going to feel much more of the pain. Your lungs are weak, and you’re not going to be able to do as you have been used to for a while. You’ll notice that you’ll feel winded easily. Young man, you have been through an ordeal where many would not have survived, and you need to take very good care to ensure you’ll get back to your old self. You understand all of this?"

As the doctor gave his lecture, Joe half listened. He was trying to think of a convincing argument to persuade the doctor to allow him to leave Reno. He was deep in thought when he realized the doctor had stopped talking. He returned his thoughts to the room and saw the doctor looking at him as if waiting for a response. He looked back with a blank expression.

"Joseph? Did you hear anything I said?"

"Uh, yeah, I did. I know I need to be careful, and I will, but I know I’ll get better a lot quicker if I’m home. No offense, I just do better there."

Dr. Green grabbed his stethoscope and listened to Joe’s chest. He was pleased that Joe seemed to be recovering nicely and believed the young man would continue to improve physically, if he were careful in his recovery. Just as Joe’s family worried about how he would handle the emotional aspects of the ordeal he had endured, the doctor also worried about Joseph’s mental state and knew that would be the greatest challenge for his patient. "Son, I know it was very hard for you yesterday recalling what you went through. How are you doing with that?"

"Uh, I just try not to think about it, really." Joe was uncomfortable with the doctor’s question and knew talking about it would take him back to the cellar. He spoke words he did not know if he really believed. "I know it's gonna take time for all of it to go away. I know the worst is over, though and getting home will just help me forget sooner."

The doctor stood and looked at Joe a few moments. "If I let you go, are you going to follow your father’s instructions and do exactly as you are told? I’ll give you something that will knock you out for the trip and that should help you some."

Joe felt encouraged. "Yeah, I’ll behave."

"Let me go talk to your father. I’m going to let you go young man, but you can easily end up just as sick as you were."

Joe rolled his eyes. "I know. I know. I’ll be good. I promise."

Dr. Green laughed at Joe’s reaction and left the room to speak with his father. The doctor informed Ben, Adam, and Hoss of his opinion regarding the family taking Joe home and gave careful instructions on how to make the trip safely, as well as how to keep Joe on the road to recovery. Although Ben remained hesitant, he knew he had told his son he would abide by the doctor’s decision, so he would take his son home.

When Ben returned to Joe and told him they would indeed be returning home, Joe could not hide excitement. Joe immediately felt his spirits lift and breathed a sigh of relief. He believed that the return home would return him to his old life and to safety. Ben admitted he enjoyed seeing Joe happier than he had seen him since being injured.

The doctor gave Joe a low dose of chloral hydrate to allow them to help him get ready for their travel and gave more for Joe to take once they were ready to get moving as well as for use on the long ride home. Joe’s arms had previously been placed in slings and the doctor knew what he needed to do to make Joe’s travel less harmful on him would bother the young man. "Joe, I need to bind your arms to your chest so that as you travel home your shoulders don’t move back out of socket."

"What? What’re you gonna do?" Joe became quickly anxious and a look of concern appeared on his face. He instinctively knew he would not like what the doctor wanted to do.

"I’ve got to wrap your arms to your chest, sorta like we bound your ribs. Your shoulders are not strong enough to keep you from becoming re-injured as you bounce around."

Joe’s eyes darted around and landed on his father. Ben saw his son’s fear. Joe in turn saw his father’s concern and became more anxious he would change his mind about them leaving unless he allowed the doctor to tend him the way he wanted. He mumbled, "Do what you have to do."

The doctor began to bind Joe’s arms, and as he worked, Joe tried to keep his breathing even. He felt his heart racing and made himself think of saddling and unsaddling Cochise. His mind wanted to go to the cellar, and he actively fought it. As the binding became tight, Joe felt the restriction of his movements and wanted to scream out, but held it down telling himself over and over, "It’s not the same. It’s not the same. I can do this."

Ben, Adam, and Hoss also flashed to thoughts of Joe being restrained in another manner as they watched Joe intently. Joe’s face held a blank expression and it seemed almost strange Joe was not talking. Out of their own nervousness, the three began to make small talk to distract. As the doctor finished, everyone found himself releasing their breath. Joe eventually felt the effects of the chloral hydrate, and it brought about emotional relief as his anxiety decreased.

After the doctor finished, Ben once more helped Joe dress, wrapping a shirt around his shoulders and putting on his boots and hat. Given the extent of Joe’s injuries and his bound arms, he required much assistance to be moved. He found the help frustrating, but soon realized it was greatly needed. As he stood, he was rapidly aware once more of how much his body hurt and how painful the process of returning to the Ponderosa would be for him. He tried his best to hide the degree of pain, again fearful that if his father saw him hurting, he would change his mind, and Joe would have to stay longer.

Eventually the family was ready to move from the doctor’s office to the livery stable. Ben suggested Joe stay in the office while they prepared the horses and a wagon. At the mention of a wagon, Joe balked. "Pa, I wanna ride Cochise. I can do it."

No one was shocked at Joe’s statement. It was typical Joe. It did not seem to bother him that he was unable to move his arms and his body was so battered and bruised. Ben shook his head. "Son, there’s no way you’re going to ride Cochise. You’ll ride in the wagon, end of discussion."

"But Pa, the doc gave me somethin’, and I don’t need the wagon. I’ll let one of you lead Cooch even." Joe hated the idea of being weak and having to ride along in a wagon. It would make him feel the vulnerability that would lead to the fear. Ben gave Joe a look that told him he was pushing and his father would tolerate no more. Although he knew his father was right, the dread of vulnerability was stronger, and Joe silently sulked. Ben decided moving Joe with them to the livery would help appease his child some and avoid a full out emotional explosion.

As they went to move Joe outside, Joe’s nervousness increased, but the chloral hydrate kept him from full panic. He knew he did not want to be seen by anyone on the street, both because of his injuries and his fear. He was walking very slowly being helped on either side by Hoss and Adam. His brothers heard him ask very softly, "Uh, could one of you pull my hat down. The sun’s bad."

Both Hoss and Adam knew that was not the reason Joe wanted his hat pulled down, but Hoss reached up and willingly helped his little brother. They then saw Joe lower his head further and seemed to keep his eyes focused on his feet as they moved. The brothers felt the need to protect their loved one strongly and seemed to almost close in around him. They held a look on their face that told the people they passed they dared them to harm Joe in any way.

The family arrived at the livery, and Joe knew he needed to sit down. He was exhausted and realized it was indeed going to be hard for him to do the most basic of movements. Joe saw several hay piles stacked to the side of the livery and headed towards them. Adam and Hoss helped him move over to them and sit. Joe sighed heavily as he sat, and then leaned against the rails that were behind him. Ben walked to the liveryman and briefly discussed something before moving over to his sons. He pulled out the medicine and knelt next to his youngest. "Joe, the doctor said to give you some more of this. He said you’d then be falling asleep soon after. Here ya go. Go ahead and take it. The ride home will be rough, and I don’t want you hurting anymore than necessary."

Joe sat forward and willingly took the medicine. He then once again leaned back against the rail and waited for the medication to continue its effects. Ben asked Adam to accompany him to saddle the horses and told Hoss to stay with Joe. As Ben and Adam moved away from them, Hoss sat down next to his younger brother. Joe was feeling himself become groggy as he sat quietly. He was drifting off when he suddenly realized he was without Adam’s gun and had no idea where he had left the weapon. "Uh, Hoss?"

"Yeah, Joe?"

"Where’d I leave Adam’s gun? I don’t have it with me, and I'd kinda like to have it. You know where it is?"

Joe’s need for a weapon concerned his older brother. Hoss wanted Joe to feel safe and was willing to do anything to help him. "I don’t know where it is Joe, but I’ll go find it. Will ya be all right if I leave ya for a minute?’

"Sure, I’m fine. It’d help me out if you could go get me a gun. I just don’t really like bein’ without it right now. Kinda silly I know, but I think I’m just used to havin’ one."

"Hey, it ain’t silly, Joe. I’ll go get ‘cha one. You sit tight." With that, Hoss walked away towards his father and Adam to inquire about the weapon.

Joe’s head rested against the railing that separated him from the stall located behind him. He sat, eyes closed, and was falling away from consciousness when he heard a voice and a gun cock.

"Hello, Pretty Boy. Now you know I’ve got a gun and just to let you know it’s right behind your head. Feel it?"

As Joe heard the voice, he felt terror rise in him. His heart started pounding, and he felt faint. He knew he could not pass out, or he would be at the Stranger’s mercy. He had to stay alert and fight against the desire to panic. He looked over to where his family stood so close to him, but he knew if he cried out, he jeopardized his own life and perhaps his family’s as well. He tried to keep his voice steady, but it was evident there was a shake in it. "What do you want?"

The Stranger laughed a wicked laugh. "Ah, ah, ah! Now Pretty Boy, how quickly you forget. I’m in charge, and I’ll always be in charge of you. You know that don’t you kid? I’ve been visiting in your sleep, haven’t I? I know that one ‘cause I’ve been told I’ve done that to a lot of men." The Stranger laughed again, as he saw Joe start to shake. His reaction confirmed that for the Stranger he was correct.

Joe wanted to scream and not stop, but his desire to live was stronger. However, he could not control his mind as it left the livery and was in the cellar once more. He told himself to just survive the torture. He told himself to simply hang on.

"Now Pretty Boy, you’ve done a right fine job of keeping that mouth of yours shut. I can trust you more than that ol’ Doyle fella. He just had to have his neck stretched because he was weak. Now you stay strong, and you’ll do just fine. If you feel weak though and have the need to talk, here, use this, and you’ll keep it shut, I’m sure." The Stranger produced the gag that had been used while Joe was in the cellar. He took the cloth and stuffed it down one of the slings, and it came to rest next to Joe’s arm.

A low moan was released from Joe, as he saw the gag and felt the Stranger’s touch. He was shaking uncontrollably and staring straight ahead. He could not move as he prayed someone would return to him and make the Stranger leave.

"Pretty Boy, you’ll come to hate me if you don’t already. You know hate will destroy you if you let it burn hot. You need to let it go cold. Let it fester, and let it become a part of you, and then let it go cold. When that happens, then you’ll be ready to come to me, and we’ll settle this. I know you want to ‘cause I know the type of man you are. You and I are now connected forever ‘til we settle this. When you’re ready you can find me in Salt Lake. I’ll wait for you, because I know you’ll come."

The thought of being connected to the Stranger was terrifying, but Joe knew it was true. The dreams and the memories were powerful and vivid. It was hard for him to know where he really was when the images hit him. The Stranger was inside of him, he knew it, and he did not know if he could tolerate the connection. Joe was moaning softly, but it was getting louder as he shook and started to rock back and forth.

Ben, Adam, and Hoss heard the moaning and ran over to him. Joe had tears streaming down his face as he rocked. "Joseph!" Ben called to his son as they all moved toward him.

Hoss made it to Joe first and was beside him. "Joe, I’m sorry I left you little buddy. I’m really sorry. Is that what’s upset ya? I’m sorry."

Joe could not talk. The terror was a massive presence, and he could not see nor hear anything else. He knew he was with Hoss once more and was out of the cellar, but he could not stop his reaction. The tears and moaning were the only expression he could release as he tried to calm himself. He was so afraid the Stranger was still in the livery, and he had placed the rest of his family in peril by them coming to tend him.

"Son? What is it? What’s got you so upset?" Ben sat down next to Joe and pulled him close. "Ssshhh... It’s okay. Whatever it is Joe, its going to be okay. Calm down now, and tell me what’s got you so upset."

Adam knelt down in front of Joe so that his family surrounded him. What Joe really wanted most though, was for one of his family members to be behind him to protect him from the Stranger. The panic was strong, and his mind raced with fear. As he tried to calm himself and stay in the room with his thoughts, he realized he no longer felt the gun at the back of his head. "Pa?" Joe asked quietly as he tried to stop shaking, but the tears still flowed.

"What is it? Tell me." Ben said, moving in close to listen.

"Move me to the wagon. I wanna go home. I... want outta here. Please, Pa?" Joe had begun to stand but was weak and felt his legs buckle. He fell back against his father, but Ben reacted quickly and caught him. Ben put his arms securely around his son as he helped him walk towards where the horses were being saddled. He felt his child’s shakes and his own confusion. He had no idea what had scared his son so much.

"Steady son. We’ll get you over there." Ben comforted. As Ben started to half walk-half carry his son towards the wagon, Joe turned back and looked over his shoulder towards the place where he had been sitting and more so to the stall beyond. The expression on his face showed his incredible fear. Slowly he turned back around and leaned heavily against his father. He felt more secure but knew the images in his mind would stay there regardless of who was with him.

Adam saw where Joe was looking and was confused. It seemed as if Joe was looking for something or someone. He knew his brother was terrified and wondered what it could be that had him so upset. The last time he had seen Joe in the same emotional state was when he had given his statement to the sheriff. A puzzled look came across Adam’s face as he tried to determine what it was that could be so disturbing.

Adam looked around the area where Joe had been sitting, and then walked around and entered the stall behind. He moved slowly, unsure what it was he was looking for. He noticed the outside door to the stall was cracked open, so he opened it further to look around. The streets of Reno were bustling with activity, but Adam saw nothing unusual -not that he necessarily knew what would be out of the ordinary. He soon finished his inspection and returned to the rest of the family. His gut said there was something there Joe had been reacting to, but he was unable to figure it out.

The saddling of the horses was completed, as well as the hitching of the wagon. Joe stood leaning, his back to the wall, with Hoss’s arm firmly around him, supporting his full weight. Joe tried to ensure himself the Stranger would not be able to get to him once more, but it was difficult, and he felt terror. The excitement of the conversation with the Stranger had caused the sedative to stop working, and Joe felt wide-awake and hyper-alert. He found himself wanting to help his family move faster to get them gone from Reno, but he stood back feeling afraid and useless. He craved to feel safe.

Eventually, the horses were saddled, the wagon was hitched, and it was time to leave. Ben approached Joe and spoke softly, "Son, you ready to go? Let’s get you into the wagon, and we’ll get going."

"Yeah I am, but I wanna ride up front." Joe was shaky and scared, but it seemed the closer he was to someone he knew and trusted, the better he thought he would feel.

After the occurrence in the stable, along with the emotional events of the previous day, Ben wanted to keep Joe as calm as possible. He decided not to do anything to make things harder for Joe unless he absolutely had to in order to make sure his son did not do further harm to himself. Ben nodded his head to acquiesce, moved Joe over to the wagon, and helped him get up into the front seat next to Hoss. The wagon had already been prepared so that Joe could lay down and be more comfortable in the back if he would need it on the long trip home.

The family finally moved out with Cochise and Chub tied to the back of the wagon, and Ben and Adam on horseback. Joe sat next to Hoss and found himself feeling watched as they rode out of town. He painfully turned in his seat and looked behind him. He saw nothing but the street, the doctor’s office, and the saloon where he had been held. He turned back around and closed his eyes. He started saying quietly to himself, "It’s back there, and it’s gonna stay there. It’s all gone. I don’t have to go to Salt Lake, and I don’t have to ever go to Reno if I don’t want to. I’m goin’ home, and that’s all that matters. That’s all. It’s safe there, and I can just let it all go."

As the family traveled, Joe began to feel a little safer. Wanting to help his little brother, Hoss talked about the upcoming round up and then started to reminisce with Joe about prior round ups they had shared. Joe allowed his thoughts to go to the memories as Hoss recalled them, which in turn allowed his mind and body to begin to relax. Hoss’s voice was of great comfort, as Joe told himself he would close his eyes and just listen. Joe’s calming allowed the medication in his system to begin to relieve the pain and cause sedation. As the wagon moved along the road to the Ponderosa, Hoss felt his little brother’s head come to rest softly on his shoulder. Hoss spoke in a low tone, "That’s right little buddy, you sleep now, and Ol’ Hoss’ll get ‘cha home safe and sound."

Both Ben and Adam had been silently pondering what had occurred in the livery as they rode along. In his gut, Adam believed there had been something there in the barn that had caused Joe to react. He continued to look at his brother as he tried to reason what it was that could have upset his little brother so much. He knew it had something to do with the torture, as he kept asking himself, "But what?"

Ben and Adam saw Joe’s head come to rest against Hoss, and they both felt relief that Joe was once more calm enough to sleep through the painful journey. Ben noticed as time went by, his youngest did not move from Hoss’s shoulder, and he felt it was safe to move him to the back of the wagon. Ben wanted Joe to rest and to be without discomfort as much as possible. He called for his boys to stop moving forward and then added, "Hoss, Joe, would rest easier if he were laying down. Let’s move him to the back of the wagon."

Hoss felt protective. "But Pa, Little Joe wants to stay up here. He said it in the livery."

"I’m gonna tie Buck onto the wagon, and I’ll sit there and be with Joe. He won’t be alone. He just needs one of us with him. I want him to lay down and be comfortable. Son, you did a fine job of helping him rest, and now all I want is for it to continue."

Ben settled in and sat next to his youngest. He wanted Joe to sleep without fear. He prayed for peace for his child, and for healing. He looked at Adam and saw his oldest’s pain as well. Ben knew Baxter had injured the entire family, and they would have to rely on the love they held to heal them and restored them to their former selves. Ben believed the love his family held could do it. They would survive the ordeal.

The family was once more on their way, and travel was slow. Joe slept through the trip, only stirring to take more of the chloral hydrate offered by his father. It was dark before the family finally reached the expansive ranch house that each called home. Ben smiled as he woke his youngest child, knowing he was going to tell Joe something his child had desperately wanted to hear, "Joseph, wake up son. You’re home now."

Joe came awake to hearing his father say the word ‘home’. He was groggy but opened his eyes to familiar surroundings. He was indeed home and could not help but smile. "Pa, could ya help me outta here? I wanna get in the house."

Ben, Hoss, and Adam were quick to help, and Joe was soon slowly walking into the house. Before the men could reach the door, it sprung open and standing in the doorway was Hop Sing, a big smile on his face. Joe had been holding his head down looking at the ground as he walked, but he looked up when he heard the door open. Hop Sing then caught sight of Joe’s face so battered and beaten, and his smile disappeared. He could not hide the shock he felt. He thought to himself, "No! My boy! My poor boy! Who did this to my boy?"

Hop Sing rapidly gathered himself together and replaced the look of shock with another smile. "Welcome home, Mr. Joe. Mr. Ben, Mr. Adam, Mr. Hoss, you sit, and Hop Sing make supper for family."

"Thank you, Hop Sing." Ben said, so accustomed to the cook’s offerings. "I think we’ll get this young man upstairs, and then we’ll take you up on that meal."

Hop Sing graciously bowed and then turned and left the room. He stopped in the doorway to the kitchen where he could watch the family move Joe upstairs. He closed his eyes and shook his head. He looked once more to see the youngest Cartwright-the one who usually ran up or down the stairs-move so very slowly, only able to take a step at a time. Hop Sing said aloud to no one, "It bad. It very bad."

Joe had seen Hop Sing’s expression change, and it hurt him to see the reaction. He did not blame Hop Sing for the look, because he himself had felt shock over his appearance. Joe told himself he should get used that kind of reaction, as he believed he would see it often throughout the rest of his life. Moving into the house and into his own room increased Joe’s feeling of safety, although there remained an ever-present hesitancy to let his guard down. He looked over his room as if inspecting to see if anything was out of place. Finding nothing amiss, he sat down on the bed.

Ben sent Adam and Hoss to tend to the horses, and he was finally alone with Joe. He had seen the expression change on Hop Sing’s face as well and knew Joe had not missed it either. He stood wondering what his son was thinking and hoping that now Joe was home, he could begin to put the events in Reno behind him. "How’re you doing, son?"

"Uh, I’m okay, Pa. That stuff you gave me makes me real tired, so I think I could probably fall right to sleep."

"Well, how ‘bout I get Hop Sing to make you some supper, and then you can go on off to sleep? What would you like to eat? The usual?"

"I’m not real hungry, Pa. Just tired." Joe’s face did indeed look tired, but he looked sad as well.

"Son, you sure you’re okay? You look like something’s on your mind."

"Pa, I ah, I don’t wanna… I know I should talk about it, but I’m tired, and I just don’t wanna talk about it now. But Pa… I wanna thank you. I’m glad to be home. I needed to be here."

"Joseph, you know I’m here, and your brothers are here. You know you aren’t alone."

"Yeah, I know that. I just need to get some sleep. I’m really tired, and, uh… I don’t think I can, uh… Can you help me, Pa?"

Ben was quick to assist. He helped Joe remove his clothes, but left his arms in the slings. As his father grabbed for a nightshirt, Joe said quietly, "Uh, Pa… shirt’s kinda hurt. I’ll just pull up the blankets, and I’ll be fine."

Ben smiled at his son, but felt anger that someone had hurt his son to the point where a simple shirt would cause pain. He helped Joe prepare for bed, put him under the covers, and then sat down next to his child. "Joseph, you’ll let me know if you need anything?"

"Sure, but don’t worry. I’m just glad to be home. I’m really happy to be in my own bed. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry, Pa. You know I’m gonna be okay."

"Okay Joe. I’m going to get Hop Sing to make some rice pudding for you. You rest up here, and I’ll be back soon."

"Okay, Pa. Could you have Hop Sing put cinnamon in it? I kinda liked that." Joe tried to smile at his father, but both knew Joe was trying hard to act as if nothing were wrong, and Ben was acting as if it were any other night at the ranch. They looked at each other and knew it would be a long while until Joe would feel safe.

"Sure, son. Whatever you want." Ben said, leaving the room.

Joe watched his father leave and shivered. He was alone and truly vulnerable, but the draw to sleep was also strong, and he longed to let go. He felt safe that the light was lit, and he knew his family was near. He thought back to the last times that he was in his room, so carefree and happy. It had been before the Stranger and before the pain. He had gone to sleep that night thinking of how happy he had been that his father had noticed he had broken several more horses than expected. As Joe lay in bed remembering, he laughed at himself. "Oh, Joe." He thought. "How easy it was to make you happy."


After his brother had found the kid, the Stranger had taken to watching the doctor’s office. He had expected his prisoner to die from his wounds rather quickly and was actually surprised as the days past, and the undertaker remained without business. Lawmen surrounded the area nearest the kid and his family, making it too risky to approach the building, but he relaxed, as he knew he would not be seen as suspicious. He blended in quite easily. He had stayed in Reno off and on during other jobs and knew he would have a quick explanation if he were to be questioned, not that he expected it. He thought over the events in Reno, critiquing his performance, as one would a play. He believed he had performed some scenes quite well, but others he felt did not measure up to the standard he held for himself. He was most angered by having to work with the two incompetents Baxter had given him. He had needed them for the initial capture, but realize he should have disposed of them soon after. He told himself not to dwell on that issue though, since the kid’s brother had taken care of one of his irritants and he would take care of the other.

He prided himself in being professional and always cleaning up the ‘messes’ left after a job was completed. He had only a few more loose ends, and he would be able to take another job, in another town. He waited for the right opportunity and was eventually able to make it into the jail and silence a potential problem. As he had released Doyle from his existence he looked upon him with disdain. Doyle had cried and begged and wet himself for his life-behaviors he found pathetic and cowardly. As he strolled out of the jail wiping his hands with a white handkerchief, he shook his head and thought, "So unbecoming in a man."

He reflected on the lives he had released from their earthly bondage, reviewing over and over each encounter, interaction, and conclusion. He found most of the men not up to his challenge, as they quickly succumbed or begged to die. There were a few he held in greater respect-they had held on longer before they had talked. He found them more worthy of his admiration. He held his highest admiration for the ones who never talked regardless of the pain. He had dealt with a few such men. They were rare, and he found them his most worthy opponents. They interested him, and he wished to study what made them different from the others. He wondered if they were not more like him, and he longed to test his hypothesis.

He thought of his latest captive, a kid who had held out and had been freed from his clutches. The encounters he had experienced with the young man had made him respect the kid. He had been amused by the kid’s spirit and wondered how long it would have continued until he would have watched the light leave the kid’s eyes as he drew his last breath. He had every intention of ending his prisoner’s life, and felt cheated he had not been able to accomplish the deed. He believed seeing the kid die would, in a way, give him a preview to his own death.

He had originally thought he would simply take aim on the kid the next time he was exposed and shoot him as he would any other menace. However, the more he thought of this, the more he realized what a waste it would be to rid himself of such a worthy opponent without allowing the game to run it’s course and complete itself. A bullet was worthy of the men who so easily talked after feeling the least amount of pain. The kid was stronger than that. When he discovered that the kid had not told the sheriff much about him, even covered for him by not revealing him as a major player, he realized then, the kid was a natural at the game. He found that impressive and wondered if the kid had plans for him, just as he was forming plans regarding the kid.

He had come to decide he wanted more from him. He wanted to see what the kid was really made of, and what it would take for the kid to either break down or become just like him. The torture of the kid had been business, nothing more for him. It had now turned to pleasure as he began to wonder how the kid would manage their previous encounter in his head as well as how he would resolve their unfinished business.

He had watched the family escort his opponent down the street. The kid was very weak it was obvious, but he had survived the ordeal. He tipped his hat to the kid, though he knew the kid had no idea where he was at that moment. "Very good, Pretty Boy. You are a fighter."

He watched them walk into the livery, and he followed. He saw his chance when the kid asked his brother to get him a gun. He thought, "Ah, Pretty Boy, you do still have fight in you. I’m impressed. You want to come for me, don’t you?"

After he had spoken to the kid in the livery and had seen the kid’s reaction, he evaluated it. "Not bad, Pretty Boy. You’re shaken, but you still stay quiet. Yes, indeed there will be more with you. I feel it and so do you." As he watched the wagon leave with the kid and his family, he said to the departing figure, "Heal up Pretty Boy, and we’ll meet again soon. And this time, we’ll finish it."

End Part 1


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