The Search    
Monette Bebow-Reinhard  

I was disappointed with this episode of Bonanza so have taken some liberties at changing it (quite a bit!) so that Adam and his double could meet.  There are elements, however, that you will recognize from the show.


The stranger limped down the dirt road, his knee and ankle aching from the leap off the runaway stagecoach. Seems his luck was holding up, all right, and all bad.  He got out of prison only the day before and could vividly recall the oath he made to himself - accept nothing less than good fortune from here on. Then came the thwarted stagecoach robbery attempt when the driver was shot and the horses bolted. He wasn't about to risk death on his first day of freedom after so many years. Bad luck being on that payroll stage, but he made his luck knowing when and how to jump off. The stage robbers got whatever was on that stage but they didn't get him.

He had never much traveled this particular part of Nevada on foot before, but had faith he'd stumble across a homestead sooner or later, and sure enough, he heard the whinny of corralled horses even before he rounded the bend and saw the old bachelor's setup. The horses weren't much to look at, either, fed on scrub and mostly swayback, but four feet beat two feet any day.

He walked up to the fence and leaned on it, relieved. He wiped a beige-shirted arm across his forehead and grimaced at the dirt on the once clean new shirt.

"Well, Adam Cartwright, what in thunder happened to you?"

The stranger, ready to embrace good fortune in whatever form it traveled as long as it aided his freedom and survival, used his sleeve to move the dirt and sweat around on his face, as though hoping to reveal whatever countenance this fellow mistook him for.  "Met some trouble on the stage, lucky to get out with my hide intact. Guess I got a little banged up from my fall. Sure glad I stumbled onto your place."

"Stumbled? Well, I been here all along, you know that."

He swallowed hard and rubbed his mouth. "Sure could use some water, if you got some handy." After wetting his parched throat the stranger eyed up the horses with what he hoped was the air of an expert rather than a desperate wrangler. "Mind if I buy that saddlebred over there?"

"That one? One of the oldest, slowest plugs I got. Was thinking of putting him out to pasture. Doggone, Adam, thought you were a better judge of horseflesh than that."

The stranger scratched his head. "Well, I believe I am but you see, I didn't figure you to want to be selling your best horse to someone who's already got one too many."

"Ha! Well, I'll tell ya, since a number of those horses I got coz of your family, I reckon I owe ya."

"Great!" He started forward, but the old timer stopped him.

"Not so fast. $50.00."

"$50.00! I thought you said you owed us."

"Don't mean you can have one of my best horses for nothing."

The stranger grinned at the old man's sudden bargaining prowess. "I reckon not." He felt his pants pockets. "I just don't have any cash on me right now." He affected a melancholy look fitting of a family this fellow held in such high esteem. 

"Well, don't you worry none, coz I know where you live." He laughed a good bit about this one as they saddled up the horse.



Hoss practically leaped down the last two steps in his anxiousness to get to the table before the flapjacks cooled. As he plunked himself down and forked one, he noticed his little brother's plate already dirtied and pushed aside.

Ben looked up from the letter he was writing to grin at his oversized middle son's exuberance for mealtime.

"Joe out already, Pa? Ain't like him."

"He's taking Becca on a picnic today. Told him chores had to be done first."

"Hah! That'll do it."

"Your other brother left even earlier without eating."


"Who else?"

But Hoss didn't match his Pa's grin. "He's got something on his mind, Pa. Don't reckon you know what it is?"

"No, but he'll work it out, whatever it is."

"Mebbe. Or mebbe one of these days keeping to himself will just get 'im into trouble."

"What's on your mind, Hoss?" Ben put his pen down. He knew Hoss didn't get worked up over nothing.

"I ain't sure. Only I don't like the way he's been treating everyone and everything around him. Like we was all diseased or something, I don't know." Hoss didn't slow in his chewing to express his views and for once Ben was more absorbed in what Hoss was saying than in how.

Ben thought back and suddenly recognized something Adam said that was not like him, but thought nothing of it at the time. "Don't know how much longer this can last." Ben at the time thought he was talking about the sunshine, but that wasn't it at all.

"Pa, you think Adam's sick?"

"Not sick, no. You know, Hoss, I've always trusted Adam to settle his own accounts." Ben finished his coffee and wiped his mouth with a napkin before standing. "This time I don't think it'll hurt any to nose around a little." 


"Joe! Over here!"

Little Joe had ridden into town and was headed for the boarding house where he was supposed to meet Becca when he heard her call out behind him in front of the hotel. He steered the buggy around as a cocky grin swept across his boyish face. This was a big day for him and he'd admit to feeling nervous, but he sure wasn't about to show it. He'd been meeting Becca in town every week for a month and finally she decided he should meet her mother. She had met his Pa and brothers a few weeks ago but her ma had been feeling poorly - but then he heard she had gone to a party last week. So Joe felt insecure.  Maybe perhaps Becca was using him.

But finally she relented, and now he was ready to impress both women. He planned to be so charming that Becca would beam with pride and think of nothing but being with him.

He leaped off the buggy with finesse and a grin and tied the horse, sensing as he did that Becca was behind him, reaching up, longing....

"Joe! You should have seen your brother!"

Joe tensed as he turned, his cocky grin faltering. "My... brother?"

"Yes, Adam. Honestly, I wouldn't have expected behavior like that from a Cartwright."

"My brother...." His voice squeaked so he took a breath. "Adam?"

"I know men in these parts take to whiskey any time of day but to get drunk so fast - like he hadn't seen a drink in 10 years! Or like a Paiute even."

"My brother Adam?"

"Joe, is that all you can say?"  Becca flattened her blue bonnet down on her head to keep it from flapping off in the wind. Her hazel eyes snapped angrily but her brown hair drifted softly around her shoulders, as the wind played like an energetic boyfriend with her tresses.

He simply melted in her presence, no matter what her mood.  He wanted to say “forget about Adam and think about me,” but didn't dare. "Well, where is he now?"

"Oh, I don't know, that was yesterday."

"Yesterday? Adam said he had some fencing to check yesterday."

"Well, I don't know about that, but I know your brother when I see him."

"You probably saw someone else."

"Little Joe!"

"My brother doesn't drink. Not like that."

"Obviously. And that's not all, either."

Joe looked to the heavens for support. "What else?"

"Three women, Joe. He took three of those women up the stairs."

"Up the stairs?"

"That's right."


"Oh, Joe, I don't know how I can introduce you to Mother now. Not after the scene a Cartwright made. Joe, it's all over town!"

For what could be the first time in his life, Joe didn't know what to say.

"Goodbye, Little Joe. Take care of your brother. He needs help."

Joe felt his knees go weak as Becca walked away. This was love - the real thing - and there she went. He untied his horse's reins but, instead of mounting, sank down on the wooden walk as the good citizens strolled past him without comment. He could almost hear what they were thinking - “Alas, poor mighty Cartwright, look how hard he's fallen.”

“Well, by golly, I’ve not fallen!” Joe thought to himself.  “Maybe Adam has, maybe that New England sullenness has finally made him crack. But not me, oh no, not Joe Cartwright, full of proud southern blood.”  Joe drew himself up, stepped a left foot on the walk, hitched up his gunbelt and missed the step with his right foot, stumbling into a post.

"You okay, Joe? Too much to drink?"

"I ain't...I haven't had anything!"

The older fellow, one of Pa's friends, Joe supposed, moved on, disgruntled. "Great. Now I annoyed someone Pa's probably doing business with. Will this day ever end?"

He eyed up the saloon across the street, thinking a good card game and a beer would help his troubles, when a horse and rider on the street caught his attention. Not a familiar horse, but something about the rider....maybe because he had Adam on the mind, because the rider wasn't dressed like Adam, didn't sit the horse like Adam, but...


The rider looked at Joe but without a twinkling of recognition.

"He's lost his mind, maybe," was Joe's fleeting thought, but anger over losing Becca took over and he stepped into the street, his voice loud and clear. "Brother, if we weren't kin right now I'd take you down right there in the street!"

But as Joe approached him, the rider spurred the horse and rode off at a fast gallop down the road and out of town.

"Hey! Don't let Roy catch you ripping through town like that!" Joe shook his head, vowing to tell Pa all about this. After a card game and a beer, of course. If he were home right now he'd sulk in his room for half a day to forget a gal.  Here in town, he had to keep up appearances.

Odd that Adam forgot about that. 



The stranger rode hard out of town. He knew he wasn't this Adam fellow, but with most people he could get away with it. Now this last fellow was a little too familiar to chance pulling off this switched identity. Time to stop living on the generous nature of Virginia City residents and move on. At least his rich double ought to be a little appeased by the apology he left at the Cartwright post box.


"I said get away from that stream." Adam had his gun out but not yet threatening.

The two men, with pans out for gold, slowly stood, one tossing his pan down, the other more defiant. "I think we got a right to get ourselves a drink."

"You're not drinking, you're panning."

"So what's your problem?"

"You're on Ponderosa land. If you had bothered staking a claim, you would have found out."

"Look, this is open water. Runs right through to the lake, we checked. You can't own a stream."

Adam climbed slowly off his horse, gun aiming easy. "And you're not standing in the water there, are you.  You know what happens to land that's dug up for gold? You know what could happen to that lake? You're going to have to leave, now. And if I ever catch you here again, I will have you arrested."

"Come on, George, there's nothing in that stream but dirt, anyhow."

"Yeah," George agreed. "Nothing around here but dirt." With a deliberate glare at Adam still pointing the gun he mounted up behind his partner and rode off.

Adam walked up to the stream, sank down on his haunches and splashed water on his face. It had been a long week and he was tired. But he didn't feel like going home yet. He still hadn't figured it out. The worst thing about not figuring it out was not knowing what he was trying to figure out.  He stood, with a slight grimace. Sometimes he wished he were still in that wheelchair. Then he wouldn't have so many decisions to make.

He checked his saddlebag. He's been long out of grub, but it wasn't hunger eating at him. He hated not knowing what was itching at the back of his skull, and didn’t like the thought of going home this way. He'd long thought he could handle anything that came along with just a little extra thought and precaution. Now he wasn't so sure, because he’d been doing nothing but thinking and going around in circles. It was enough to make a grown man weep. He wasn't in the weeping mood.  He was in the traveling mood.  He’d go home, all right, but he wouldn’t stay.

Small movement in the bushes caught his eye. Could be the game he'd need to make the journey home. Adam moved slowly and pulled his rifle. Whatever it was, it wasn't in a hurry to come out. He took aim, but shooting into the bushes could be wasted ammunition. He waited, braced another minute to shoot, jaw clenching.

He finally sighed and lowered the rifle. Probably nothing. He turned to scan the horizon in the direction home. He could make the trek without any food, if he started now. He slipped the rifle back into the scabbard on the saddle, not noticing as a snake slithered from the bush and wrapped itself around the horse's rear foot.

The horse suddenly screamed and reared, knocking Adam backward. Before he could grab the reins the horse bolted off, headed home without him. Disgruntled, Adam pulled his gun and shot the snake as it half-slipped into its hole.  “Seems I’m was going to need some nourishment after all.” 

Adam picked up the snake and started walking.  Chances were he'd find the horse waiting for him somewhere along the walk home.  But he realized he didn't mind this adventure at all.  He wasn't in any rush to get anywhere.


Joe joined Ben and Hoss at the supper table still fuming from his spoiled date with Becca. "Where's Adam?"

"Haven't seen him for a few days - he was going up north to fix fencing and replant some trees that were crowding out." Ben had other things on his mind and paid no note of Joe's temper.

Hoss noticed Joe's troubled look before turning back to Ben. "Yeah, that burnt out patch behind the old corral. Pa, you were going to go looking for Adam today, weren't you?"

"Yes, but I got sidetracked. We got some cows down, don't know what's ailing them. I've isolated them, only hope they don't have to be shot and buried. Waste of good beef. I'm getting McAndrews up here to look at them tomorrow." He reached for the coffee but something in Joe's face stopped him. "Something wrong, son?"

"He ain't where you think, Pa. He must've decided to just go ahead and take that vacation he griped about last week."

"Oh, it ain't like Adam to lie about something like that." Hoss reached for the water pitcher but Joe was too quick and got it first.

"Yeah, well, I saw him today. In Virginia City. Acted real guilty like." Joe laughed, suddenly enjoying the idea of his brother drunkenly playing with loose women. "Maybe had a reason to, too." He winked at Hoss, who didn't get it.

Ben frowned. "Joe, stop teasing, and out with it."

Joe told the whole story, embellishing just enough to get Adam in trouble for making him lose his girl. "Pa, I have never known Adam to take girls up the stairs." 

Hoss threw his napkin down and stood. "I'm going looking for him."

Ben put up a hand. "No, you're not, son."

"But Pa, he could be---."

"I've been giving this a lot of thought, and I'll do the looking. But I'll do it in a certain way. Ever since he lost Laura, he's seemed out of sorts, like he's waiting for something that he knows will never come. Sometimes..." Ben sighed and picked up his coffee cup. "Sometimes I think the Ponderosa isn't big enough for him anymore. I'm going to find him and ask him to run an errand for me over in St. Louis. Get him away from here for awhile, a month or two."

"A month or two?" Joe's face sagged at the thought of losing the extra hand on the ranch.  That wasn't the punishment he had in mind.

"It's either that or lose him for good." 



Ben paced in Roy's office in Virginia City, waiting until Roy got the drunk settled down who'd been shooting up the town. Ben had barely managed to duck a bullet himself. But other people's troubles didn't concern him. He wanted Roy to tell him if Adam was in any kind of trouble. Ben knew full well that Joe's been known to turn a tale by the tail a time or two.

"Ben, wouldja simmer down now, I ain't got the funds to be putting new floorboard down." Roy closed the door to the jail and stood facing him, keys clasped in his hands. "Now what's on your mind?"

"Sorry, Roy, but Joe came home with a rather disturbing---."

"It's about Adam, innit?" Roy had a twinkling grin on his friendly and wrinkled face.

"Yes, Roy, sit down, will you?"

Roy frowned briefly. He wasn't often asked to sit in his own office. "Sure, Ben, sure." He sat. "Did I look near to falling?"

Ben sat on the desk. "No, it's just..." he lowered his voice. "What do you know, Roy?"


"About Adam?"

"Oh. You heard some rumors, huh? That what's got under your hide?"

"Nothing's under my hide, Roy. Have you seen him or not?"

"Ben, I've always envied you your sons. You know that. But there comes a time when you gotta leave well enough alone."

"Roy, something's bothering him. Is there something wrong with me wanting to---."

"And you figure he needs your help?"

"It's been nearly 10 days since I've seen him, Roy!"

"Well, then, I can put your mind at rest.  He's been here in town."

"But if he's getting drunk and causing trouble---."

Roy stood, putting up a hand. "Now, no more than anyone else."

"Roy, he's a Cartwright!" Ben slapped his hat against his thigh and turned to the door.

"And that about makes him a saint, don't it." Roy watched with a grin as Ben tensed. "Ben, I never could tell you how to be a pa to your boys. You always done good by them. Is there a time when your doing is done?" Roy crossed his arms, not expecting a reply and not getting one as Ben grunted and walked out.



"Well, Tom Burns, I'm surprised to see you back. I thought once they let you out of prison you'd be headed east, not back here."

The stranger who had begun to think of himself as Adam stiffened at the sound of the familiar voice calling out to him so soon after he arrived back in Placerville. Finally he turned. "I came back for Valerie. My wife. Don't think I've forgotten everything."

"You think she wants you?" Jason climbed into his wagon, which sat close to where Burns had stopped his horse on hearing his name.  Jason had nearly missed his step because he had taken too many libations with lunch, more than usual but at least his nagging mind had settled. Then he had to go and see Burns ride in - someone he never expected to see again. 

"I guess I'll find out if she does or not." Tom got off his horse and walked to the saloon before turning back with a question burning in his throat.

Jason looked away and gave a loud 'hyah' before Tom could ask. Tom figured Jason knew something about the money that turned up missing, but now was not the time he'd find out. Besides, he might get all he needed to know from Valerie - his lovely wife who came to see him only during the first year. He found out that the rest of the time he languished behind bars unjustly, she was living easily and quite well. He meant to find out why.

The saloon seemed crowded to an ex-convict, but Tom Burns using an alias had made himself very comfortable in a crowd back in Virginia City. As long as his wife doesn't find out how comfortable. Before he rode over to her house he needed to loosen his trail nerves. Jason might know something, all right, but his reaction could have been honest and nothing to do with anything.

Maybe Valerie thought her beloved husband as guilty as everyone else did, even though she said she'd wait for him. But did she wait?   He didn't really think so.  Found herself a lover, was what he thought.

Tom was on his second whiskey when he saw a fetching saloon girl staring at him. He rubbed a hand across his mouth and turned to her, leaning up against the bar. He was no fool - he knew he could catch a girl's attention with no more than a glance and he often glanced. He wondered if his compadre 'Adam' had the same kind of luck with the same kind of dark and intense looks - and not half bad looking either, when he concentrated on not looking so lazy.

"You're new in town," she said. "Mind buying me a drink so we can get acquainted?"

"No, I don't mind. But I'm an old-timer here, so you're the one who's new."

"Ah, giving me the double talk, now. I'm Anne. What's your name?"

Tom hesitated. Everyone knew him here, wasn't any good playing a Cartwright anymore. Besides, Anne seemed like one dame he could be himself with. "Name's Tom Burns. Just got out of jail."

"Aaaah, were you innocent?"

"Of course."

"I've heard that before."

"I was framed. And I'm going to prove it."

"Oh, now there's a new one. Most who get out would just prefer to put it behind them."

"I won't be able to, until I get whoever did it to me."

Anne led him to a table to sit, pushing aside the empty glasses. "You've got nice eyes, Tom Burns. If you're looking for someone to listen, I just might have the time." 


Ben rode slowly into the yard, his body aching more than usual. He knew it was because his mind was stinging from the talking to he got from Roy. Of course he treated his boys like men.  He knew they were grown and could handle themselves. That didn't mean he stopped being their father, just like that. He could still show his concern, no matter how old they got. And not finding Adam anywhere didn't help his temper much, so now his muscles felt stiff all over. Never did the body any good to have too much on the mind while riding.

He heard the noise long before he saw the source of it - Little Joe was actually sawing wood without a reminder.  But then, maybe Hoss dragged him out because Hoss was there too, sitting on the log to steady it.  Ben was tired, nearly too tired to think about it, but managed to offer them a thanks as he walked inside, and once inside, saw his maverick son Adam packing a bedroll. The idea that he was packing didn't register at first - only his delight at seeing Adam again after all the worry. Not even the haggard look in Adam's eyes registered at first.

"Adam! Well, the prodigal son has---."

"I'm leaving again, Pa."

"Leaving?" Then he saw it, the bedroll, the gear packed, and on Adam’s face the frown, the eyes that didn't see what he might be leaving behind. "Where to this time? You've already been gone so long. I thought we could talk---."

"Just a short trip, Pa, a few weeks, that's all. To St. Louis."

Ben breathed a sigh, hoping it didn't sound like relief, and leaned against the settee. "That's not a bad idea, son, I was thinking of having a few papers delivered to a friend of mine there."

"Then send Joe or Hoss. This trip is just for me."

Ben was taken aback, but before his temper could rise Joe came in the house.

"Adam?  Old Abe Jenkins is out front, says he's got to see you right away."

"Abe?" Adam looked puzzled, but shrugged. "I haven't seen him in ages." He left his pa still reeling from his son's attitude, and went outside with his bedroll and gear.

Ben wanted to follow but Joe stopped him, asking what he'd found out in town.   Not much, Ben had to admit to him.

Hoss came in a few minutes later and told them what happened about the horse and the man who pretended to be Adam. "Adam lied to Abe, Pa. Told him he'd been here for a week or more. Why would he lie?"

Joe was more interested in the story about the potential double.  "So that wasn't Adam in town!  Wait til I tell Becca!"

"Where's Adam now, Hoss?"

"He's left again."  Hoss's face drooped, giving him a sad 'Walter' dog expression. "Pa, I done teased him about getting hitched. I was kidding, and then I realized what I said and waited for him to get mad, but instead he acted like he didn't care."

Ben nodded.  "He hides it well."

"Maybe we should go after him, Pa." Joe said, standing. Becca could wait.  She didn't trust the Cartwrights enough to know that wasn't his brother, so she could wait. "This guy who's using Adam's name could be dangerous, especially if he should suddenly find himself confronted with his double."

"Well, I have to admit, Joe, I was relieved at first, too, to hear Adam hadn't lost his mind in town, but something is still eating at him that he doesn't feel like sharing with us.  You said he's going to look for this so-called double, Hoss?"


"Then maybe this is the kind of diversion he needs. He told me he needed to go to St. Louis for awhile, but I got the feeling he just needed some time to himself. He'll likely find it this way."

"Pa, if that man is dangerous..."

"Adam can handle himself." Ben frowned, feeling more like Roy talking than himself. He always trusted Adam to handle things his own way, but this had a different feel, the kind of gut feel that always made his neck itch. "Now go on, back to work."

With the door shut behind them, Ben's shoulders dropped. He wasn't so sure, anymore. The hardest thing a father had to do was let go. Why had he picked up all this land, only to have his sons dissatisfied with their life here?  Because it was sinking into his gut that Adam was beginning to want a life of his own, away from them.  And Ben knew he’d do anything to keep from losing his son – especially back to the east coast.  Having that ‘double’ show up when he did was almost like a stroke of luck.

Ben opened the front door and watched Joe and Hoss arguing whether the ax needed honing. Allowing a small smile to slip over his face, he realized that in a way, Roy was smarter than he was. Of course Adam needed space, and that's why the Ponderosa was so big. Adam had lost a very close chance at having his own family and it still bothered him. Adam needed his own world, and he needed his father to understand that.  Ben thought he might just have a way to give Adam what he needed and keep him close by, at the same time.


"Well, Valerie, how are you?" Tom leaned against the doorway in his wife's bedroom, watching her as she stirred. Just as lovely as ever, even with another man next to her.

"Tom! What are you doing out of jail?"

"You mean alive, don't you? Any idea who hired my cellmate to try and kill me? Come on, think hard. I'll bet you know."

"If you're so sure it was me, why come back here?" She pushed at the man who gaped at Tom without moving. He finally went scrambling, watching his back as he gathered his clothes.

But Tom made no move toward him. "You'd like it if I killed your lover, wouldn't you? Then you'd have something on me for sure."

"Oh, Tom. I can't get over seeing you standing there. Come on, sit down."

He laughed. "You think you can get me in bed now?"

"You know the only reason I would...well, because you weren't here I…I didn't expect to see you again."

He smiled and with some forethought sat next to her. "Well, you know, Valerie, you should always expect to see me again. Because a man only gets fooled once."

"I didn't set you up, Tom. You know I didn't. Not two months ago, and not..."

"No, I don't know it. Why don't you try and convince me?" He grabbed her roughly and kissed her. "I want the truth."

"The truth is..." she ran her fingers through his hair. "I still love you.  Seeing you again, like this, I know it." And, kissing him roughly in return, she pushed him back on the bed.


At that moment Adam was riding into Placerville, following the lead he picked up back in Virginia City.  This double of his was smooth, talkative and fond of spending Cartwright money.  All along the trail he knew he was on the right track because of the way people looked at him.  Following a man who closely resembled him gave him the decided advantage. Why had they never crossed paths before? Placerville wasn't so far from Virginia City.

Adam nodded at the Placerville liveryman as he rode up and alighted. "Got one to loan out? Mine needs some keeping for a day or two."

"Payment up front."

"Hmmm." Adam dug in his pocket and deliberately pulled out a fistful of notes, brandishing a wealth he felt sure Burns never would. "Name your price."

"Well, I declare, Burns." The liveryman scratched his head as he looked it over. "I woulda swore the likes of you would never come up with something like that, not right out of prison. You appeared broke enough when you rode into town." He shrugged. "What you do is not my business. You'll find a fair mount over yonder."

Prison? Made sense, but Adam didn't much care for the sound of it. "I'll be back day after tomorrow. Take care you don't loan this one out," he said sternly as he handed his horse's reins over.

"Yeah, sure."

Adam resisted the urge to grab the man’s collar and demand a little respect. He couldn't understand his own temper lately, why on a moment's notice he felt ready to boil over.  Just because others are now treating him like this other fellow was no excuse for this anger - he felt like a simmering kettle even before he'd heard of this Burns fellow.

With the new horse reined and saddled he walked it over to the first saloon he saw. As he tied the horse up he looked around at the town he usually only rode through on the way to Sacramento - a town of total lawlessness, giving it the name of Hangtown before the marshal arrived and cleaned out the rafters.

Adam turned to walk into the Lucky Eye and found himself the object of a comely saloon girl's attention.

"Tom, where you been? I've missed you."

"Ah, really?" Adam hesitated but she strolled up to him and made herself immediately familiar in a way that was not unpleasant. "Has it been awhile since---." But he didn't get to finish as she tilted her head back, demanding and receiving a long warm kiss, enjoying the way she moved into him, as though she knew every part of him.  And before he let her go, he realized she did.  Or thought she did. This Tom Burns chooses well.

"It's been at least a day." She pulled him over to a table and sat. "Oh, I know I shouldn't let you get so close to me after just that first meeting day before yesterday. But you have a very trusting face, making me believe I could take you at your word. So when I didn't see you again..."

Adam followed her into the saloon, listening intently for as much on this Tom's character as he could get.

" you promised, I began to think you a liar." She ordered them each a whiskey. "And after the way you shared your soul and your troubles with me, too."

Adam toasted her with the shot, and with whiskey still on his lips leaned over and kissed her, finding himself enjoying what he perceived was Tom's character. "You'll have to forgive me," he said softly before pulling away from her. "I haven't been myself lately. Why don't we get reacquainted?" Carefully, watching what he said and letting her lead, he found her to be open, honest, and not in the least suspicious, and got her name quietly when the bartender called her back to work.


"What are you looking at, Tom?"

Tom looked down in the street in time to see Anne walk into the bar with someone who might be on his tail.  He hadn’t thought the character whose identity he adopted in Virginia City had this kind of guts.  The whole time he was there he got the feeling that his 'Adam' was just a bit different than the one they knew. 

He swallowed his broad grin at the thought of a sudden scheme before turning to his wife. "Valerie, I gotta leave town for a few days. But I want you to cover for me, and tell people that I'm in town somewhere, taking care of business, you got that?"

"Tom, honey, have I told you yet how glad I am that you're home? That I'd do anything for you?"

Tom grabbed her hair and forced her backward on the bed. He leaned over her as she fought not to cry out. "Are you glad? You're not just saying it?"

"I know...we've had our problems. And I didn't think...once you left...that you'd trust me again come back. If you could try...." Tears trickled down her cheeks.

"Darling, for you, anything." He kissed her cheek lightly and left.

Tom planned his next 12 hours carefully, keeping out of way of the stranger who would undoubtedly call himself Cartwright once he found out enough about his buddy Tom Burns. Tom stopped in at the sheriff's office and let him know in no uncertain terms that he was back and hinting that he might be looking for revenge for being set up. He found two of Valerie's old friends and picked a fight with one, leaving him needing a doctor. He rented a room at the boarding house to give him privacy away from Valerie. And he kept Anne company after Cartwright left her side, coming on to her as strongly as he dared.

"Tom!" she had said when he walked in shortly after Cartwright left. "I thought you were going to settle for the night."

"I forgot something." And he grabbed her and kissed her, long, slow and with a definite purpose in mind.

"I swear, you are the odd one. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were two different people, having fun with me."

"Now what are the odds of that? Come back with me to my room?"

She at first pushed him away. "I don't like to be teased. I told you that."

"That's why I'm back." Apparently Cartwright didn't know what a jewel she was. As soon as he was through with Valerie he was going to take Anne away from here where they could start fresh, together. "I don't want you getting any mixed messages. So let me lay it on the line clear. I love you." He looked around. "Let's go where we can have some privacy."

"Now here's the Tom I like." She wrapped her arms around him. "I definitely agree that we need some privacy. Come on, I'll take you upstairs."

"No!" When she looked at him quizzically he shrugged. "I need to be away from here, do you mind? I...tend to overdrink if given half the chance. It's why I...sometimes don't seem myself."

She nodded and pulled him close for another of his long and lingering kisses. "I've never had a man do this to me before."

"Do what?"

"If I could explain it, I'd bottle it. Lead the way, darling."


Ben didn't feel much appetite but went through the motions of eating. He couldn't get over the look of the table with Adam's empty chair. It'd been empty on enough occasions but the feel of this emptiness came from somewhere else.  Hoss and Joe were eating quietly as well, as though knowing Ben had something on his mind that he wouldn't share before he was ready. The clinking of silverware began to grate on Ben's nerves until finally he put down his fork and sat back.

"Boys, I've been thinking."

"We could tell, Pa," Hoss said as he reached for his water glass.

"I'm sure you could. With Adam gone, and the temper he left in, it occurred to me just today that maybe I've been unfair to you boys."

"Unfair, Pa? How?" It didn't surprise Ben that Joe asked this. As the youngest Joe would never feel as old as his two older brothers.  Adam had nearly 14 years on him, which, when Ben took the time to think about it, was considerable.

"The Ponderosa has gotten very big, too big for one man to operate effectively. I think the time has come to divide it up."

"You're going to sell some land, Pa?"

"Well, in a manner of speaking, yes. But I have only three specific buyers in mind."

Both sons only stared at him. Ben stood and waved them over to his desk. "The way I look at it, the ranch land can be divided up into four quadrants. Now I've been paying attention over the years to which sections of the ranch each of you would prefer. Joe, I figure to give you the southern section, Hoss you will take this here, and Adam will get the northern most share. I'll retain this area that the house sits on."

"That's not much for you, Pa."

"Maybe not, but at the same time, I'm getting older, too." He waited a second for them to object but for once they didn't. "I know this is coming out of the blue, but I have been thinking about it for awhile. There's no need for all of us to live together like we're all connected to the same cornstalk. There's a lot of land here, and you boys should each manage a portion of it. Your own ideas, your own families..."

"This have something to do with Adam, Pa?" Joe voiced it but Hoss had the same question on his mind.

"Yeah, I guess it does. Your brother is 35 now. Joe, you're 22. For you, the timing is right. For Adam, I'm afraid it may be past time. We may lose him for good. I just don't want to see it happen to the two of you, too."

Hoss and Joe exchanged a glance, and each stood on one side of Ben studying the map as he began to draw in the boundaries. Neither would voice it, but all of a sudden the Ponderosa began to look very small.


Adam didn't know what his next move should be. He felt trapped and restless, like a cougar who'd chased prey into a canyon only to lose the way out. Everyone here now called him by the name of Burns, and Anne felt awfully good in his arms, but she called him Tom, too. It was his own doing. He should have been straight, from the start.

He sensed Tom was close by, maybe watching him, letting Adam pretend to be him the way he pretended to be Adam, but for what reason? Every minute of the day Adam expected to be tripped up by someone, but so far taking on a new identity seemed easy enough, except that every now and then Adam met someone who thought they'd seen Tom only five minutes ago wearing something else. He was getting used to working his way around that, though, with only a mention of having stopped at the barber and/or clothier. People did not consider the idea of two men in town so approximate in appearance, so any reasonable explanation was accepted. Adam found himself intrigued at the idea of running into Tom.  If they were seen together the resemblance would probably fade into imagination.  But so far this Burns was keeping his distance.  Maybe he knew Adam was in town looking for him, and was watching to see what he'd do. As long as Burns was busy watching him, he wasn't out ruining the Cartwright name.

Adam walked past the saloon where Anne worked instead of stopping in. He didn't want to keep leading her on, so it was best to avoid her altogether.


He thought just to keep going, but the sound of her voice reeled him in like an invisible fishing line.  He couldn't help himself around her, and pretty soon, he thought he might 'become' Tom Burns just to make her happy.

Anne ran out of the saloon and slipped her arm around his waist.  "I thought you were laying low for awhile, Tom."  She lifted herself up as Adam bent down, for a moment the two hearts beating as one.

When she finally let him go he looked into her eyes. "Anne, if I'm not mistaken, you're trying to raise our acquaintance to the next level."

Before she could respond two men pulled him away, one delivering a solid blow to his jaw, sending him reeling to the ground. He shook off the stinging surprise and started to get to his feet when a right boot clipped him under the chin, sending him backward. He could feel the blood trickling out his mouth but braced for another blow and when the foot veered to stomp on his head, he grabbed the foot and flipped the man to the ground. He jumped up with an immediate fist to the other man's gut and threw him down into the first man, relishing the sound of cracking skulls when at least one of them got knocked against something. 

"All right, hold on."

Adam, still tensed, whirled around, ready to lash out again as his anger of the past few weeks dictated. The sheriff stood with his gun out at him.

"Well, Tom Burns. I declare. You just don't give up."

Anne ran forward. "Sheriff, it wasn't his fault. These men jumped him."

"Yeah, and I have the feeling it's because of the beating he gave Ed the other day. Come on, Burns. I'm taking you to jail." He looked back at Anne before shoving Adam forward. "You need to learn how to pick men better, Anne."

Adam resisted the idea of being thrown in jail, but figured he could end up dead now as Burns just as easily as anytime. Time to end the charade.  He could feel Anne's eyes on him. She was now an integral part of his only way out of this mess.

What was it he once told Mark Twain, when the conniving journalist printed wild stories in the Territorial Enterprise? "If you always tell the truth you don't have to remember anything."

He stood in the jail cell and leaned on the bars, contemplating what to say to this sheriff, knowing he should have seen this coming.  Will anyone believe him now, when he couldn't even take his own advice? 


Roy ran out of the sheriff's office when he saw Ben riding through town. "Ben, have you heard the news about Adam?"

Ben pulled up short. "I haven't heard a word since he rode off last week, Roy." He jumped down and tied his horse. "Where is he? Does he need help?"

"No, I don't reckon so, that son of yours seems to have things well in hand. Got himself in a speck of trouble and got himself right back out again."

"How's that?" Ben leaned against the hitching post, seeing no need for privacy since the news was good.

"Got himself arrested on a case of mistaken identity. Relief for you to hear the fellow here last week wasn't Adam, eh?"

"What's the story, Roy?" Ben was too tired for long, drawn-out explanations.

"Over to Placerville, Adam got thrown in jail, being mistaken for this Tom Burns fellow.  To prove it was really him, I said to have him give the birth place of Hop Sing. If it was Adam, he's freed by now, probably halfways home. I know the Placerville sheriff real good, he's a fine man."

"Placerville." Before Roy could object to a Cartwright riding in a gun-blazing rescue mission, Ben put up a hand. "Adam made it plain before he left that he could handle things."

"Where are Hoss and Joe, you in town alone?"

"I left them at the land office." Ben looked off toward the road leading back home, trying to remember the argument he'd had with his two younger sons on the way in.

"Picking up more land?"

"No, sectioning what I...what we have, putting up boundaries."

"Whatever for?"

Ben thought maybe he said too much already.  But Roy was an old friend, and he needed to voice this idea out loud to see if it sounded as bad as he thought it did. "I decided to divide the Ponderosa up into quadrants so each of the boys can have their own land to manage."

"An interesting idea, Ben. You don't reckon that to cause any trouble, do you?"

"Well, I've given it enough thought. They need to be in charge of their lives, not cowtow to me all the time. Now that Joe's old enough, well, it's no secret that I picked up all this land with them in mind. There may be some complications when they realize what these boundaries mean, but they're mature men and will find a way to work through - oh, confound it Roy!" Ben took off his hat and whacked it against his leg. "All Hoss and Joe have been doing is arguing. There isn't any one section of land they like enough to be confined to it."


"Confound it! Confined! They have too many memories all across the Ponderosa and are afraid to give any of it up!"

"Well, then, what are the boundaries for?"

"Well, to keep my family together, of course."


By the time Ben left Roy's office, he had a splitting headache. He tried hard not to think, so running into Joe on the walk caught him by surprise. "Joe! Where's Hoss?"

"Do I care? I've always found him difficult to lose, anyhow."

"Enough of that now. I'm not in the mood for your jokes."

"You know what he said!?" Joe gestured wildly back at the saloon. "He said when he has his house built I have to send a messenger ahead when I want to come visit! Hah! Like I'll ever do that!"

Ben looked back at the saloon. "Doesn't sound like Hoss. What did you say to set him off?"

"What did I say? Oh, sure. Blame the youngest. The troublemaker. The one who's still wet behind the ears!"

"Now, come on, Joseph, you've hardly a clean record when it comes to giving your brothers a hard time."

"You know whose fault this is? It's Adam's fault, that's whose. He gets a double and we get cut off from each other.  I don't see why we have to all change our lifestyles for him. Seems to me he can damn well change for us. Or he can find somewhere else to live."

Ben nearly blew his top, but part of what Joe said made sense. "Come on, let's get Hoss and go home. Seems we better give this idea some further consideration."


Anne stood outside the sheriff's office, not too close because she didn't want Adam to think she was waiting for him. She was pretty well mad at him for leading her to think he was Tom.  Worse than finding that out was wondering where the real Tom was, when she was thinking Adam was…

Well, now Anne just wanted answers.  And because Tom has turned up missing, as far as she could tell, this Adam was going to have to take his place.  In more ways than one.

She backed up toward the saloon when Adam came out of the sheriff's office and shook the sheriff's hand. Good buddies now, just because he affected a name change. Just like that. Okay, so she didn't know Tom well enough to tell the difference right off. But how many attractive men with dark brooding eyes and that slow sensual smile could there be in the world? In a different time, a different place, she could fall madly for Adam.  Finding out Tom was married hadn't helped that relationship, nor would allowing an attraction to Adam now, with his resemblance to someone she loved. Yet it was that very resemblance that had her conjuring up a new move in Adam's direction.

Adam approached her and though she turned away, she stood her ground. "Anne. Let me apologize."

"For what, Mr. Cartwright?"

"I could tell you weren't too happy when I admitted to leading you on deliberately. I wasn't sure if there was any other way to find out anything about this Tom Burns. I needed to know what kind of threat he posed to me.  A man who would take another’s identity once would do it again.”

"And that's all that matters to you, isn't it?"

"I don't understand."

"Your own precious life is all you're concerned about. What about Tom?"

"I'm not sure why Tom should mean any more to me than I mean to him." 

"Then it's clear to me that you don't know Tom Burns at all. And that looks don't always make a man." Anne wheeled about on her heels and left him standing in the street.

Inside the saloon she let her shaking legs lead her to a table. She put her head down briefly on her arms but didn't cry as she expected to. She saw something in Adam's eyes, something she didn't expect to ever see in a man's eyes, not since Emil died so long ago. Hunger. Desperation. A man looking for complicated answers in a simple world. If she read him right, he'd still be in town come tomorrow. And by then, if she read him right, he'd be ready to help.


Adam was too restless to stay in town, nor was he ready to leave. He wasn't yet convinced that Tom didn't plan to continue using a name that didn't belong to him, and Adam was more than ready to do the convincing. From what he could tell, the man was keeping to the outskirts of town so that they would never been seen at the same time by any one person. If they were to have a showdown, it would be on Tom's terms outside of town.  No sense delaying it. Adam packed some grub for an overnighter out in the hills.  At least his own horse was rested up and ready for some new adventure.  He liked the advantage a familiar mount gave him.  He always knew what a touch of the heel to the belly would do.

Whatever Burns’s intentions were toward Adam, Adam decided, it was time to find out.  If he wanted a permanent Cartwright identity, he was going to have to fight to get it.

As he mounted his horse, a thought briefly crossed his mind - would Pa know the difference?


Tom sat up in the rocks, watching Cartwright build his campfire. He saw the tense attitude, the quick move to his gun at the slightest sound, and waited for him to let down his guard. He knew Adam was waiting for him, which made it even more important that he get the advantage early and keep it. Tom took his time conjuring a plan. Not usually a patient man, he prided himself this once on taking his time. Because as much as this Adam fellow wanted to know Tom's intent, Tom wanted information about the man whose life he was about to take. He chuckled to himself. "In more ways than one."


Adam dumped his leftover coffee on the fire and kicked apart the remaining embers. When he heard the rocks tumbling, he smiled briefly to himself. He knew pretending to let his guard down would smoke the fellow out. Adam pulled his gun out of the holster on the ground and stood. He knew he ought to let the man come to him, but he was feeling a little impatient to get this over with. A little guilty, perhaps, over the game he played with Anne, and maybe even more over what he left back at the ranch. With eyes darting in every direction he crept along the rock, attempting to sense the direction Burns might be hidden. Was he planning an attack or just a dramatic entrance?

But before Adam could conjure an answer to this question, cold steel connected with his skull and he was down and out.


Tom had a campfire going by the time Adam came to and found his hands bound behind him. "Howdy, stranger." 

Adam grunted in return and struggled to sit up. "Can't understand it at all." He said and spat the dirt out of his mouth. His head throbbed but he'd been hit harder.

"Can't understand what?"

"How anyone could mistake you for me."  Adam wasn't sure what he expected when he first met his 'double.'  This Burns had a much wilder, more uncontrolled look to him.  Sure, he was dark, with a firm jaw that clenched easily and eyes that seemed to look right through a person.  But the nose was wrong, and he was thinner. 

Tom laughed heartily. "Looks are more than just attitude, friend. People see what they want to see." He offered Adam a drink from his canteen, and Adam accepted.

"What now?"

"Now?" Burns paused. "Now I find out a little something about the life I'll be taking."

"Such as?"

"Anything for people to see me close up and still call me Adam, such as that young one who called you brother back in the city.  All I got to do is study your actions, your movements."

Adam swallowed hard. He got the sudden sinking feeling they'd find this fellow an improvement.  "It won't work." That came out with more conviction than he felt.

"If they want to believe I'm you, they will. Especially when you never turn up to foul me."

"Why not just keep your own life? You can't live a lie forever."

"Won't have to. Once they're convinced enough for me to get free access to that bank account of yours, I'll have the whole country to explore." 

"Clever. But not good enough."

Tom laughed. "Somehow, Cartwright, I didn't think you'd go along with it."

"What about Anne?"

"Anne? Who's Anne?"

"The girl who loves you."

"What kind of fat you frying? My wife's name is Valerie."

Adam shook his head. Married? This was all getting too strange. "There's a lovely lady back in town who believes you are worth caring over. I made the mistake of thinking her a good judge of character."

"You talking about that saloon girl?"

"That's right."

"Anne. Hmmmph. Likes me, you say?"

"Can't say as I see why. You've been in prison, beat people up---."

"You don't know anything about that!" Tom grabbed the coffeepot off the fire and yelped at being burnt. "Damnit! I don't like being upset."

Adam caught a flash of what he might look like if he didn't control his emotions, and once that image hit him, made him feel eerily odd but also cautiously hopeful.  Maybe there was a way out of this mess – and he didn’t mean with Tom.  Somehow he didn’t think Tom was a killer.  "So what's the story with your wife?"

"What makes you think there's a story?"

"Obviously something made you turn to Anne."

"All right, I'll tell you. My wife conspired with my business partner to steal funds and pin it on me. She won't admit it, acts like she's glad to have me back. But I'm going to find a way to prove it and clear my name. You just happened along at a good time. With your identity the proving will be easier."


Tom grinned. "I haven't figured that part out yet."

"Does Anne know?"

"You sure are nosy about Anne. You got a thing for her yourself?"

"Curious, that's all."

"Look, the lady means nothing to me. She just happened to be there when I needed someone to talk to. I was feeling vulnerable, and I'm over it now."

"You convinced her she meant something to you."

"Well, she doesn't!" Tom stood and kicked the coffeepot, sending the hot liquid against the rocks.

Adam winced, imagining a poorly doused fire sparking a dry bush close by.  Weird how the mind makes unexpected connections.  That's what his discomfort of the past few months had been, he suddenly realized.  Unexpected connections.  Like living with Pa meant being half a man.  He thought he had to find out who he was somewhere out there, beyond the Ponderosa.  But that isn’t where he is, at all.  Like this Tom here, he was who he was.  And he’d rather be Adam than Tom.

"Valerie taught me a lesson, friend. Women are users, unless you use them first. But what do you know? You ever been married?"

Adam hesitated. "No." He realized he was in control after all. "Never even came close."

"Shame. Good looking fellow like you...." Tom laughed suddenly and put his gun back in his holster. "Damn you, you're nearly as clever as me. If you’re putting on an act I'll never pull off the switch. Well, friend, I expect I knew all along I wouldn't get away with this. Besides, how could I kill someone who looks so much like me?" Tom crouched behind Adam and untied his wrists. "And I think you're noble enough to give me the same consideration."

Tom threw the rope aside and turned his back to Adam, until he heard the click of Adam's gun.

"Turn around and sit down," Adam warned.

Tom put up his hands. "I thought we had us a draw, you get your life, I get mine..."

He drew his gun and Adam pulled the trigger. Tom threw himself to the ground with a yell, and was slow to sit back up, holding his arm and wincing as he did. Blood seeped through his fingers.

"Had to do it, huh?"

"Guess so, when a man draws on me." A small smile drifted across Adam's face. "Now I can tell us apart." Adam took Tom's gun and tossed it over his shoulder. "I think we came to an understanding just a minute ago. You go back to your life and I'll go back to mine. Because if I ever catch you using my name and bank account again I will kill you.  Leaving an apologetic note takes no effort at all."

"Fair enough." Tom accepted the bandanna Adam held out and pressed it against his arm. "Thanks for only winging me."  He turned away.

"One other thing." Adam waited but Tom didn't turn back. Adam picked up his gun, removed the bullets and handed it back. "Tell Anne the truth."

"Anne knows the truth."

"That you don't love her?"

Tom grinned at Adam over his shoulder as he walked away. "You can make her forget me, Cartwright. See, I have this feeling you found out about love the hard way, too. And Anne's a sucker for a sob story." He jumped on his horse, arm still bleeding. "Be a friend and put out the fire before you set the whole territory blazing." He rode off. 


Adam waited in his hotel room for Anne. He knew she'd come even though she seemed to have made it clear she wanted nothing to do with him. He debated at first going to her, but if he did, the news he'd share with her would feel awkward.  But he guessed it would feel awkward no matter how he shared it. Best thing is the truth and have done with it. He always prided himself on his patience, but Anne tried that patience sorely.

He threw on his hat and strode to the door. Anne stood on the other side, as though hesitant. Adam leaned on the doorframe expectantly. "Yes?"

"Adam! I...I need your help. I don't know where else to turn."

"Come on in. Tell me what's wrong."

"Tom's disappeared."

"Disappeared?" Adam hadn't given his whereabouts much thought since their encounter only 18 hours before. He hadn’t done more to Burns than scratch him with a fairly timed bullet. "I suspect he's just lying low until I leave town."

"No, he's gone. I checked his room. His wife is gone, too."

Adam shook his head. "You knew he was married?"

"He told me a lot, Mr. Cartwright. More than you. And the sheriff filled me in on a little more, but one thing is for sure. Tom didn't commit the crime that he was thrown in jail for. His wife and partner did, and he wanted to expose them. Now he's gone, and I'm afraid they've killed him. You have to help me find him."

"Anne, finally I'm getting the whole story, but I don't like the way the pieces are fed. To tell you the truth, Tom's problems are not mine."

"Then why are you still here?"

Adam pulled Anne to his bed and sat her down next to him. "I'll tell you why." Slowly, hesitant at first, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. When she did not resist he leaned in and touched her lips gently with his. He held the kiss briefly, and was about to back away when she responded with the desire that he could feel burning in her ever since he met her. She felt damn good, and even though he had a feeling most of this desire was for another man, he thought maybe he could make her forget him. At the moment it was sure worth a try. When he slowly let her go, he knew her next words were going to make all the difference in the world.

"You will help me find him?"

Adam pushed her arms down to her sides and stood. "Is that all I mean to you?" He was so angry he couldn't face her. Maybe Burns was right. That's all women were - users.

"No, Adam, I'm sorry!" She waited but he didn't turn back. "You're a hard one to figure. You want to steal another man's girl just because you look like him?"

"He's married!" He wanted to tell her how Tom really felt about her but now was not the time.

"But she abhors him!" When Adam didn't respond she stood in front of him and forced him to look at her. "Look, help me find Tom. Help me clear his name. If you don't, there's always that chance you'll get mistaken for a criminal. Tom's a decent man, I know he is. And I know you are. But I need to see things to the end with Tom first." She placed a hand on his shoulder and moved closed, lowering her voice. "You understand that, don't you?"

"I understand you want to use me the way Tom uses you."

"That can be what you think. I don't happen to agree." Anne turned to the door. "Thank you anyway.  I can work this out myself."

"Wait." Adam sat on the bed and waved her over. "What you said before made sense. If he's innocent, he has the right to prove it. I've come this far, I may as well finish it."

Anne sat next to him and wrapped her arms around him. "Thank you so much."

She kissed him and he could feel his own desire returning. When she attempted to push him back on the bed, her hand groping in familiarity, he pushed her away and stood.

"By the time this is over you're going to understand the real difference between me and Tom Burns." 


Ben couldn't find a way to disperse the anger that Hoss and Joe brought to the dinner table. They simply refused to look at each other. He had never given thought before to the idea that eventually he'd want to parcel the land out to them. It seemed now that they equated it with no longer being a family. That just wouldn't happen, not if he had his way, but feeling it was a lot stronger than proving it, especially to the younger, emotional Joseph. Hoss, he felt, would come around easily with just a few well-chosen words and a little time. It wasn't quite so easy for Joe, who always prided himself on being right in the midst of everyone's knowledge that he was the youngest and most prone to making mistakes.

Joe finished eating before anyone else and stood.

"Joe, you didn't ask to be excused."

Joe didn't sit again. "I think I'm old enough to excuse myself."

"Not before I discuss with the two of you the chores for tomorrow."

"Yeah, hah!" Hoss said with a smirk. "But once we got our own places, we can make our own schedules, our own chores and our own mistakes."

"Maybe you will. My ranch will run like a downhill river."

Ben put his hands up. "All right. Here's the plan. I have fifty acres up to the northeast that I was thinking of giving Adam but I don't know if it's any good for cattle grazing or timbering. I also wonder if there's any mining possibilities in the area. I want the two of you to scout the area and bring me back a detailed report."

"Oh, great. You want us to spend a week on busy work for a brother who doesn't even bother letting us know if he's still alive?"

"As a matter of fact, I got a telegram from him just yesterday." Ben hated lying but at this stage of altering the plan already in motion, he didn't know that he had any choice. "He's had some luck locating the...stranger, and is preparing for a showdown. He'll either get the money back that was taken from us, or have the fellow thrown in jail. He'll see us shortly."

"I'd love to see that showdown - Adam against himself." Hoss stabbed another chicken leg. "Come to think of it, Pa, seems like the universe might be telling him something. Maybe he'll come back all in one piece."

"Doesn't mean we have to scout land for him," Joe muttered.

"Yeah, well, at least we can argue over his land for a change and not our own."

Joe threw down his napkin and stormed outside.

"Still didn't get excused, Pa."

Ben shrugged. He could only hope this all worked out in the end. Either he instilled in them the pride in family strength even more than love of land - or he failed. Time will tell.


They had to travel long into the night.  Adam offered to find a good place to bed down but Anne insisted she wasn’t tired.  Adam thought the route Anne chose to follow was an odd one - a cabin Tom told her about where he and Valerie had lived when they were first mining, trying to make some money. The banking operation that Tom had been accused of stealing from was a natural extension of this successful mining venture. Could Tom have lied to him about using Anne? Anne was a sharp woman and she didn't feel used. But then it could be that she and Tom were made of the same cloth, could be they were using each other and unable to be hurt by it. Adam never thought he could be hurt by attitudes of someone else. We are responsible only for our own reactions, Adam thought, a lesson he learned early enough. He would be used only if he allowed it.

Halfway to the cabin - a benchmark Anne used and remarked on because the rock had such a distinct shape - Adam felt they were being followed. He tensed in the saddle, sat up straighter, but not so visibly as to be noticeable even by Anne, especially not at this time of night.

"And then, Adam, my father told my mother that he'd never come west to pan, that since it was her dream she ought to just do it, and he handed her all the mining gear he'd bought back in St. Louis and ran off. We never saw him again." 

Adam grunted sympathetically, wondering who might be on their trail. If Valerie had partners who felt threatened, they could be preparing to attack. At the same time, Anne could be trying to lead them off Tom's trail by using him as a decoy. With clenched jaw he suddenly pulled on the reins, making his horse cry out as it reared back.

"Adam, what's wrong!?"

But Adam jumped down off his horse, his gun drawn.

"Adam, don't! You'll ruin everything!"

"Ruin it how? By saving my own hide?" He ducked into the brush. He knew he'd heard other horses and had a keen sense of their direction. He pushed into a clearing and found the unmistakable hoof marks, fresh and jumbled, under the bright clear sky night, leading up into the hills. They were staying well hidden by the night and the brush, obviously intent on protecting their own necks.

He replaced his gun and turned to go back to Anne, suddenly unsure he'd still find her waiting. He might have been left here as the sacrificial lamb.

He wondered why Tom couldn't just expect him to help out. Seems now his only purpose was as a decoy.  Adam suddenly realized with a stab of pain that since Laura left him he'd begun to question everyone's motives but his own. If he was needed to be a decoy so that Tom could prove his innocence, so be it. Humans have often been used for less noble reasons, and survived.

He pushed through the brush back onto the trail to find Anne waiting for him. She breathed a sigh of relief.

"Did you find anyone?"

"No. Did you think I would?"

"What did you hear?"

"We're being followed, Anne. And what's worse is that you know it."

"No. I only thought we might be."

"I understand that Tom took to dressing like me back in Virginia City. Was he already conjuring this scheme, expecting me to get on his trail?"

"No, Adam, you're wrong. That's not what this is about."

"Isn't it? Isn't there an ambush waiting for me down river? If I'm mistaken as Tom and killed, doesn't that leave him free to get on with his life? As me?"

"I told you, we want to clear his name. Punish those who are guilty. There is only one way to accomplish that. Please just believe me and follow my lead."

Adam took her hand and guided her off her horse and into his arms. "Convince me."  Even embraced in a very passionate kiss he thought about needing to trust again.  Before he let her go, he knew that Anne’s passion was a good place to start. "All right. Take the lead. I'll believe that Tom's plan doesn't include either of us getting killed."

"I believe in happy endings, too, Adam." Anne mounted again. "Come on, daylight's gonna beat us to the cabin." 


Hoss and Joe rode several breasts apart for most of the day. Hoss pretended he was inspecting different territory than Joe, while Joe didn't pretend to be anything but miserable. How was he supposed to get over being mad at Adam when they didn't get to have it out face to face? And now, because of Adam, the whole family was falling apart. Now, because they were considered ‘old enough,’ they had to divvy up the acres of the Ponderosa as though nothing more than cattle hides. But he didn't expect being old enough had a whole lot to do with anything, or Adam would have gotten his own quarter of land years ago.

And even while he was building his house for Laura, they had still considered the land as belonging to all of them. Adam never said anything about putting fencing up to delineate the way Pa was talking now. Since when weren't they a family anymore? Right now he wanted to see Adam more than anything so he could get over being angry.

He saw Hoss get down off his horse to study the ground. Was this good grazing for cattle? As far as Joe could tell, it was good enough. But there was Hoss, peering into the tall grasses like he was naming them. Sure, he was always able to tell grasses apart better than anyone else. But did that naturally make him an expert? Joe rode deliberately away from Hoss over to the pines standing near the creek. From what he could see of the woods beyond, only a few stood tall enough for timbering. The rest wouldn't be good enough yet until Adam had grandchildren, which, in Joe's opinion, was still a considerable time away yet. He chuckled to himself. If ever.

Joe hadn’t thought he'd ever find a time when he couldn’t talk to Hoss about something. This was that time. He had been hoping that he and Hoss could share the favorite southwestern end of the lake even though that section was in Hoss's quadrant. When he made the simple suggestion that they not put up fencing between their lands Hoss seemed quite agreeable. But then Joe asked if Hoss planned to sell any of his land to strangers because Joe didn't care for the idea of other people putting up fencing. And before he knew it, they were coming to blows. Okay, he understood that when they each took a bride they might likely give some of their land out to relatives, and they couldn't exactly deny anyone the right to fencing. But Hoss got so darned ornery about it.

And now here they both were, angry over something that hadn’t even happened yet.

Hoss was still studying the ground. Joe was tempted to ride back to him when he heard the unmistakable sound of wagon wheels - looked like a family of squatters and they were headed Hoss's way. One man pulled a rifle. But Hoss didn't notice, he didn’t even look up, so intent was he on studying the grasses.

"Hoss! Hey, Hoss!" Joe yelled, just as the man fired. 


The cabin wasn't in bad shape for its years of neglect. There was even, in consideration of privacy, a water closet built out the back door. Adam realized, as Anne jumped down and ran for it, how little they'd been apart the past day and a half. He felt closer to her than he ever intended to, and for good reason. She told him, with some emotion, how she came to earn a living as saloon girl. He always thought it a choice that women made freely but she convinced him otherwise. He wanted even more to help her escape that life, making him more determined that she wouldn’t get hurt by the likes of Tom Burns.

"Is that the mine Tom got rich on? Not in a very likely location," he stated when Anne joined him inside the cabin.

"That mine was his primary investment and paid off hugely until his partners' accusations got him in prison. A few days ago he said he didn't think there was anything left to it."

"I think I'll check it out anyway. Come with me?"

"All right."

Inside the mine, Adam first tested the timbers, finding them stiff and hardy, without any sogginess, and the walls of the mine were soft and cool to the touch, but without a trace of mineable ore. "Definitely a going concern at one time. Here, feel this." He took Anne's hand and ran it across the rough gored surface. "Notice how you can feel, even with your eyes closed, where silver had been removed, where granite had been penetrated..."

He pulled her to him and kissed her hard. "Oh Anne, forget Tom and come away with me. Leave this whole past behind you." He kissed her again before she could protest. "Tom doesn't love you, he told me that himself. He was only using you to clear his name." He could feel her body melting into his, her form molding against him as though as anxious to be one with him. He pulled her deeper into the mine shaft, where no light penetrated, where their hands could explore that which remained untouched but screaming with desire. "I can show you love like you've never known before." Anne's hands unfastened his shirt as her lips slid from his cheek to his neck. "Tell me you love me, Anne."

"Oh, I do, I do love you, Adam." And together, as one, they sank to the floor of the mine.


Adam winced into the light as he led Anne back out, both disheveled but otherwise intact, to find three men on horseback waiting for them. Tom Burns was easy to recognize.

"Well, Adam, trying to steal my girl, eh?" Tom slowly stepped down from the saddle. The other two men sat mounted and grinning.

"Didn't expect to see you here, Tom. Rather expected to see the men who wanted you killed. I take it that wouldn't be these two."

"Ah, Adam, still thinking me guilty. Anne, I thought you were going to wait for me. Decided this one is a pretty good imitation?"

"Adam convinced me that you're good at lying, by showing me what honesty is."

"Neither of you know what I'm up against! But I guess we all need to know who our true friends are."

Anne started forward. "Tom..."

But Adam pulled her back again. "Given up on trying to prove your innocence?"

"Come on, you can do better than that. Guess why I'm really here."

"To save my life?"

"Oh, hardly, friend. Instead, since Valerie and her friends could be after us, I thought I would drop your corpse here and let her think, briefly, that she's won."

"No!" But Anne realized she was stuck hopelessly in the middle with nowhere to turn.

"Actually, Valerie is the one who should be feeling pretty miserable about now. I got her to trust me again, and then I let her down. Now she knows what it's like to be used."

“You better be careful.  Some women don’t take kindly to it.  If I had known you were married when I pretended to be you, I might have been more discreet.  What does she know about me?”

“Doesn’t matter.  She’s not smart enough to figure anything like that out.  She’ll find your corpse here, accept it as me, and move on.  I’ll find where she’s hidden the money and get it back.  That’s all that’s important.”

Adam let Anne wrap trembling arms around him as he looked up at Tom. "We came here to help you. And this is the thanks you offer."  He saw movement out behind the trees – whoever it was, Burns didn’t know they were out there.  Did he?

"Well, I would have taken Anne, but I guess you've ruined her for me. Didn't think someone with your stoic nature could win the woman over me, but I guess I was wrong. So tell me, Anne, is he as good a lover as I was?"

Adam's eyes narrowed as he contemplated Anne's expression. "Did you...did you and Tom..."

Tom laughed. "What did you expect from a saloon girl?"

Adam pushed her aside as his gut instinct told him to go for his gun, only one second faster than his common sense told him this was exactly what Tom had been waiting for.


"Hoss! HOSS!" Joe bent over his brother on the ground.  He couldn’t believe it, Hoss looked like he was bleeding out of the bullet hole.  Why would those people shoot at him like that?  Joe pulled off his bandanna and pressed it against the wound, even though his instinct was to run after that wagon now kicking off hard in the distance. He had tried to fire back but oddly enough didn't have any bullets in his gun. And he couldn't go after them and leave his brother to bleed to death. "Why would anyone do that? They looked like simple homesteaders. Come on, Hoss, speak to me."

The bullet tore into his shoulder, not enough to kill him, and besides, maybe it was only a flesh wound by the looks of the blood, but why wasn't he answering? Surely this wasn't another case of someone wanting the land badly enough to kill for it. They were total strangers not involved in a feud at all. "Come on, Hoss, geez, if you die before I get the chance to talk to you again, I'll never be able to live with myself, not on this land or anywhere." Fellow was an awful good shot, too, hitting Hoss from so far off...

Hoss's shoulders started to shake, as though he was having a fit, but Joe was distracted by a little speck of white coming out in the blood, "Oh no, it looks really serious, it looks like..." he sniffed and then licked his finger. "Tomato?" 

Hoss let out a big guffaw. "Yup!" was all he could manage because he was laughing so hard.

Joe jumped away. "Why, you big ox! You did that on purpose? Just to scare me?"

Hoss sat up and wiped his eyes as he tried to stop laughing. "Hey, hey, Joe. We were forgetting something, that's all.  Pa was giving us this land to go off on our own, but that didn't mean we were being expected to stand alone.  This land, that ain't us. We are the land. I think we were forgetting it, that's all."

Joe sat down next to Hoss. "I wasn't forgetting that, Hoss. But doggonit, it seems like Adam always gets his own way, and we can't say anything about it."

"You think so? He's off chasing someone who tried to steal his life. You want him to put up with something like that?  Was it his fault you lost Becca?"

Startled, Joe couldn't hide his embarrassed grin. He was so mad over losing Becca and thinking he'd never get hitched that he'd plum forgot it wasn't Adam's fault at all. "I guess I do tend to act a little too quick against him sometimes. Because he's always tried to act like Pa around me."

"Yup. I figured that's what it was." Hoss stood and shook out the flattened tomato inside his shirt. At first Joe thought he was going to pick it up to eat, but it seemed even Hoss had limits. "Come on, let's go home."

"No, wait, Hoss. I got a better idea."


Adam pushed Anne to the ground and flung himself the other way as he pulled his gun and fired up at Tom. Tom backed up toward his horse and fired one back, and the two on the horses pulled their guns as well but Adam shot one off the saddle as Tom's bullet zinged his ear. Adam shot at Tom again and turned his gun on the other friend who flung himself out of his saddle and scrambled into the cabin. He tried to fire at Tom again but had no bullets left.

Tom stood over him, aiming down. "Isn't easy to shoot yourself, is it? I found it just as hard, but I don't think I'll miss at this range. Not even with my eyes shut." Tom covered his eyes with one hand and aimed, and with a grin peeked through two fingers to aim a little better before covering them again.

Adam braced himself both to roll and grab Tom’s foot but it turned out he didn’t have to do either.

A sudden loud gunshot blasted Tom’s eyes opened wide again.  “Guess one should learn...never turn one's back..." he dropped his gun and crumpled on his knees, turning just enough to see Valerie with the rifle before dying.

"Anne, are you all right?" Adam rolled in the dirt away from his dying double, and stood.

But Anne was gone.


Adam couldn't let her go so easily. What made her run, Tom’s death or Valerie’s appearance?  Maybe she feared Valerie would kill her next.  Whatever else happened, Valerie must have seen him in town and thought, too, that he was Burns. 

Adam rode back to Placerville and had coffee in the saloon, waiting, wondering. She had been in love with Tom, had realized she allowed Tom to fool her, had stopped Adam from making love to her on the pretense that she needed time to think, but had not stopped Tom the same way only days before.  She was only using him.  Nothing else fit.

Still Adam couldn't go back to the Ponderosa without saying goodbye. If there was even a chance that she could see him again and not think about Tom....

Probably very little chance. Adam finished his coffee and turned to walk back outside.


Anne sounded different, a no-nonsense tone in her voice that said games were over. But to Adam, nothing was different at all. He walked outside.

"Adam!" Anne ran outside after him. "Valerie has confessed to everything. She broke down...she really hated him..." but Anne saw little interest in Adam's eyes to encourage her to continue.

"I'm glad your faith in him held up." Adam untied his horse's reins and backed it up a step.

"Adam? That's it, then? Will you at least let me apologize?"

"For what? For loving a man who just happened to look like me?"

"If...If I had only met you first."

"Somehow I don't believe it would have made any difference." He mounted up. "But I'll never forget you, Anne. I'll remember you kindly, I promise. If I had been Tom, I think we could have been happy." He rode off without looking back. That way he could imagine that she shed a tear or two over seeing the right one, the one who survived, get away.


Hoss saw Adam riding toward them but allowed Joe to make the discovery in order to see his honest reaction. Joe had been quiet after telling Hoss he wanted to meet Adam so they could all ride home together, so Hoss didn't really know what was behind this seeming change of heart.

"Hoss! I see Adam! Come on!"

Hoss grinned behind Joe as he followed.  The family, it seemed, had held up after all.


Ben ran out of the house at the first sound of horse hooves, and stopped short when he saw all three sons riding in with big grins on their faces. For a brief moment he flashed back in years to long before any of them had thoughts of leaving home. "Well, look what the wind has blown in. Must have been a real storm brewing to find all three of you at once."

Joe jumped off his horse and ran to Ben. "Pa, wait till you hear the story about Tom Burns. Boy, Adam sure had his hands full with that one."

"Oh, I don't know, I don't think it was much worse than when Hoss had amnesia. Remember that, we almost lost him for good," Adam said with a grin. 

"Hah! Or how about the time Joe almost took to living with ghosts. Now there was a story."

"Oh, you want a story, huh. How about the big bull story? I've never heard such tall tales coming out of the mouths of two younger brothers before."  Adam couldn’t hide a quirky grin, but they didn’t know what it meant – that if he ever does decide to leave the ranch, it will be because he knows what he wants, and not because he doesn’t.

"Why don't we reminisce over some brandy? Adam, I'd love to hear about Tom Burns. And then there are some aspects on the size of our ranch that...I need to talk over with you."  Ben let his boys walk in ahead of him so they wouldn't hear his sigh of relief. The day might come yet when they would divide up the land. But that day was not today.


Author's Note:

Felling of the Sons, 2nd edition, is now available at, Amazon, Fictionwise and through special order at your favorite bookstore.  My email address is


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Monette Bebow-Reinhard

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