A Bonanza/Lancer story
"Lord, it's hot!" Joe Cartwright uncapped
his canteen and took a long, slow swallow of the tepid water. It tasted
heavenly. He handed the canteen to his older brother, Adam, who also swallowed
"You said it, Little Brother!" Adam agreed.
"I can't wait to get to Daggett, so that I can wash this trail dust off."
Daggett was a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, but they would at least
have a hotel, and a saloon.
Joe grinned his agreement, and took the
canteen back from his brother. He swept his hat from his head and poured
some water into it for his pinto, Cochise. The black and white horse drank
gratefully, as Joe smiled in delight. When the horse finished, Joe replaced
the hat onto his head, and gave Cochise a friendly rub on the nose. The
horse nickered, and rubbed his head on Joe's shoulder.
"Well, brother, we'd better mount up. We've
still got a long way to go today." Adam chided gently. He smiled as he
watched his brother's interaction with the black and white horse. Adam
sometimes thought that Cochise was Little Joe's best friend as well as
his horse. He stretched , tried to ease the kinks out of his back, and
then swung into the leather saddle.
Little Joe pulled his hat down low over
his eyes, and gave his brother a cheeky grin. "Anything you say, Big Brother."
he said mockingly, and vaulted into his saddle.
Joe, too was eager to get moving. He and
Adam had been traveling from Arizona, heading in the direction of San Francisco.
Their goal had been to negotiate contracts with cattle buyers along their
route. The job was almost complete, but the brothers had been traveling
for well over a month now, and both were heartily sick of trail life. The
negotiations had been successful and it looked like the Ponderosa was going
to have yet another good year, if their luck held. The brothers urged their
horses to a faster pace, eager to reach civilization after many miles of
camping beside the trail with only each other for company.
Dusk was falling as the weary brothers
rode down the single street of the dusty little desert town of Daggett.
With one mind they headed for the dilapidated little building that proudly
proclaimed itself "The Daggett Palace". Swinging down from the saddle,
Adam looked over at his brother. "You find the livery and stable the horses,
Joe, I'll go in and get us some rooms, okay."
Joe nodded, too tired to even open his
mouth for a response. He grabbed the lead reins of the two horses and headed
for the livery stable several buildings down from the hotel. Adam entered
the lobby of the Palace, and tapped on a rusty bell that sat on the ramshackle
table that served as the front desk.
In response to the summons, a rotund man,
wearing an apron liberally splotched with stains, entered, an ingratiating
smile on his face. "May I help you, stranger?" he asked, as he pushed aside
a strand of lank, greasy hair that had fallen over his forehead.
"Two rooms, please." Adam responded. He
signed his name in the register, on the line pointed out to him, and slapped
some coins on the counter.
The desk clerk handed over a couple of
keys and pointed towards the stairs. "Upstairs and to your right, Mister...
Cartwright." he said as he looked at the signature in his book. "Can I
help you with anything else?"
"Yeah, send my little brother up when he
gets here, will you?" Adam replied. He looked back at the entrance to the
little hotel. "And can you tell me if there's a decent place to eat in
this town?" The expression on Adam's face showed clearly that he wasn't
expecting an affirmative reply.
"Well, Mrs. Brown runs a café, just
down the street, or there's the Tin Bucket Saloon." The clerk was almost
hyperventilating to please the tall stranger, clothed entirely in black.
Something in Adam's bearing and manner had impressed on the little man
that he wasn't someone to take lightly.
Adam smiled his thanks and slowly ascended
the stairs. Quickly locating the two rooms assigned to him and his brother,
he chose one and entered. Several minutes later a light rap sounded on
the door, and Little Joe entered without waiting for a response.
"The horses are all taken care of, Adam,"
Joe said with a sigh. He took his hat off and rubbed a tired hand over
his face. "What do you want first, bath or a meal?" Joe took the saddlebags
he carried off his shoulder and threw them to the floor.
"Bath." Adam put a world of longing into
the single word, causing Joe to grin. Adam's fastidious habits were a family
joke, although Joe loved to look his best as well. There had never been
any doubt in Joe's mind which option Adam would choose.
"Let's go then, brother." Joe said playfully,
punching at Adam's shoulder. "I'll race you for the first bath."
He was rewarded by a lighthearted grin
from his brother, and the two men set off to explore the little one-horse
town of Daggett.
Hours later, the Cartwrights sat relaxing
in the saloon. A player piano tinkled in the corner, and several tables
were filled with typical cowboys, and saloon women. A couple of games of
poker were in progress, and Joe was starting to get that speculative gleam
in his eye, when the swinging doors opened and two men entered.
Adam and Joe looked up casually, but returned
to their conversation quickly. They didn't know the men entering. One was
tall, lean, and somewhat more refined looking than his companion. He was
a shorter, dark-haired man, dressed in a vaguely Mexican style. He wore
his gun low on his hip and walked with a casual stride. The tall man looked
around the room, his eye lighting on Adam and Little Joe. When he caught
sight of them, he nudged his companion's shoulder, and the two men made
their way over to the Cartwright's table.
"Mr. Cartwright?" The tall, blond man spoke.
His grey-blue eyes were direct, but friendly.
Adam and Joe looked at each other in surprise,
and Adam responded with a slight narrowing of his eyes. "Yes." he replied
quietly. "I'm Adam Cartwright, and this is my brother, Joe." He looked
questioningly at the two men before him.
"I'm Scott Lancer, and this is my brother,
Johnny." Again it was the taller of the two men who spoke. His brother
stood, an easy half-smile on his lips, his eyes, a startling blue were
creased at the corners, but friendly enough. "We've come to ask a favor
of you, Mr. Cartwright."
Adam again looked at Joe, but received
nothing but a shrug of the shoulders in response from his brother. Joe
tipped his chair back and eyed the two men in a frankly appraising manner.
His action drew a wider smile from the younger Lancer. "How can we help
you, Mr. Lancer?" Adam queried.
"Call me Scott. My brother and I are passing
through town, on our way home to our ranch in Morro Coyo. When we tried
to check in at the hotel they said that all the rooms were booked." A snort
from Johnny Lancer caused Scott to lay his hand on his brother's arm in
a calming gesture. "The desk clerk said that you and your brother had booked
two rooms. We were wondering if we could persuade you to share a room with
your brother, so that I could share the other room with mine." Scott Lancer's
voice was calm, a hint of a Boston accent in his speech.
The Cartwrights conferred silently with
a glance, Adam nodded pleasantly, and said "Certainly, Mr. L...Scott. Joe
and I would be happy to share so that you and your brother had a room as
well." He dug in his pocket, and handed over a room key. "Why don't you
fellas take this one, and we'll take the other."
Johnny Lancer spoke for the first time.
His voice was lower pitched, and sleepier than his brother's. "That's mighty
nice of you boys. Can we buy you a drink in payment?"
"Sure, why don't you pull up some chairs."
Joe responded eagerly. He was a sociable boy and loved to talk to people.
Joe made friends much more quickly than his more serious minded older brother.
He was happy to have a chance to talk to someone other than Adam for a
The Lancer brothers pulled up a couple
of chairs, and Johnny signaled for the bartender. When he had the man's
attention he called out. "Tequila, por favor." He turned to the three other
men at the table, "What'll you have, fellas? Scott?"
The Cartwrights and Scott Lancer ordered
beer, bringing a mocking smile to Johnny's face. "Afraid of a little tequila,
Boston?" he teased his brother.
"Yeah, Johnny, I am." Scott replied with
a smile. "The last time I tried that stuff with you I couldn't remember
my name for three days." He shrugged his shoulders and took an appreciative
sip of his beer. "I'll just stick with this for now."
It was obvious to the Cartwrights that
Scott and Johnny Lancer had a very comfortable relationship and appeared
to genuinely enjoy each other's company. The two brothers looked as different
from each other as Adam and Little Joe Cartwright did, Scott was about
25 while Johnny appeared to be the same age as Little Joe.
The Lancers were appraising the Cartwrights
in return. They could see the teasing present in the relationship between
Adam and Little Joe, in spite of the marked difference in their ages. The
men swapped stories about ranch life in Nevada and California. They discovered
that they had a lot in common. They were especially astonished to find
out that both sets of brothers lived with a father, and had mothers who
had died very young.
Johnny Lancer and Little Joe Cartwright spent some time exchanging view on breaking horses and discovered an equal interest in pretty women and cards, while Scott and Adam spent time discussing life in Boston. It was turning into a very pleasant evening.
Finally Adam pulled a watch from his pocket
and whistled. "It's getting late, we've got to turn in, Joe, if we're going
to get an early start in the morning." He rose and began putting on his
Little Joe frowned. "It's not that late,
Adam. Johnny and I were going to go join that poker game over there." His
face was rebellious.
"Oh, no you're not, Little Brother." Adam
spoke seriously. "I know you too well. If you sit down at that game, you'll
never leave. I'll come back here and find you tomorrow morning still playing,
but with no money in your pockets." He placed a hand on his brother's arm
and tugged. "Come on, Joe."
Johnny and Scott exchanged amused grins.
"We'll walk over to the hotel with you, Joe." Johnny said easily, putting
on his own hat. "It's time we turned in too."
Seeing that his new friend was calling
it a night made it easier for Joe to give in gracefully. The four men left
the saloon together, talking casually. None of them noticed the two men
at the bar who had been watching them all evening. They got up from their
seats in the corner and followed the two sets of brothers into the street.
As unobtrusively as they could, the men followed the Cartwrights and Lancers
to the hotel. They took up stations across the street, and settled in to
wait out what remained of the night.
As Scott Lancer held the door for the rest
of the men to enter the hotel an idea struck him. "Adam, we're going to
be riding out in the morning, as well. Would you mind if we traveled together?"
He grabbed Johnny and threw his arm around his brother's shoulders. "Johnny
and I have been on the trail alone for a while and it would be nice to
have somebody else to talk to. Right, Brother?"
Johnny joined in eagerly, "Hey, that's
a great idea, Scott. I sure am tired of looking at your face every day."
He turned to the Cartwrights. "Why don't you ride along with us?"
Adam smiled, and nodded his agreement but
before he could respond his younger brother interrupted him.
Joe spoke excitedly. "That would be great."
he exclaimed. "It would be fun to ride together. It'll give us more of
a chance to talk. We'll meet you in the morning then."
They had reached the hotel room door, and
exchanged good nights. The Cartwrights entered their room, and the Lancers
followed suit, and retired to the other.
In the morning, four men staggered from
their respective rooms, and met for breakfast and a cup of coffee at Mrs.
Brown's café. Joe sat bleary-eyed and rubbing a hand through his
tousled curls. Johnny looked at him and laughed. "Not a morning person,
are you Joe?"
Adam snickered. "How did you ever guess?"
He tipped his coffee cup at Little Joe. "My youngest brother here is definitely
not an early riser if he can help it."
Joe glared at them all in mock anger, and
then a grin spread across his face. "Laugh now, Older Brother." he joked.
"You'll see, this afternoon, I'll still be raring to go, but you'll be
falling out of the saddle, since you're so much older than me." He ducked
as Adam threw a napkin at him.
The Lancers joined in the general laughter,
and then they all tucked into the generous breakfast that was placed on
the table. An hour later, they were saddled up and ready to leave on the
next leg of their journey.
Each man had two canteens looped over their
saddle horns, as they were due to ride through some rough desert terrain.
The next town was a couple of days ride ahead, and neither pair of brothers
had been looking forward to the trip. The prospect of company was appealing
to Little Joe, and he felt his spirits lift as they cantered out of town.
If he had looked behind him, he would have
seen that the two men who had watched them in the saloon the night before
were now following them out of town. The men had been joined by several
others, bringing their number up to six. They all looked serious, grim
expressions marking their faces. It was apparent that they were not going
on a pleasure trip.
Adam and Joe exchanged small talk with
the Lancers as they rode, details of their lives emerging with every mile.
It wasn't long before they knew about Scott's mother, dying on the long
road back to Boston, and Johnny's mother, running off with her two year
old son. Adam and Joe filled the Lancers in on their life at the Ponderosa,
explaining about Ben's three wives, and three sons was less confusing than
usual in the light of Johnny and Scott's similar circumstances.
The one piece of personal history that
raised both Adam and Joe's eyebrow's was the revelation that they were
traveling with the ex-gunfighter, Johnny Madrid. This led to Joe and Johnny
egging each on to contests with their gun. The two younger men were laughing,
and pulling their guns with ever more blinding speed. While Joe was fast,
Johnny was always just a little faster. Adam and Scott watched the antics
of their younger brothers with smiles on their faces.
The four men decided to stop just before
dusk, selecting the hollow of a natural rock formation as the backdrop
for their impromptu campsite. They set to work establishing camp, and within
a short while, night had fallen and the four men were sprawled around a
cheerful blaze, passing a bottle of whiskey from hand to hand. The latter
had been contributed by Little Joe, who had picked it up in the Tin Bucket
Saloon without Adam's knowledge. As the night passed, the conversation
died down, and the four men rolled themselves into their bedrolls for the
The crack of a twig brought Johnny awake
in an instant. He rolled quickly and reached for the gun that was never
far from his side. He groped frantically in the dark, but couldn't find
what he was looking for. "Hold it right there, stranger." A cold voice
brought him up short.
Johnny looked around to see the little
campsite had been surrounded by six men, all wearing that hard eyed look,
gunbelts low, the guns themselves held with cold confidence in their hands.
The part of him that was Johnny Madrid moved to the forefront, and he stared
at the group with cold, narrow eyes. "What do you boys want?" he drawled
Around him, Scott and the Cartwrights stirred
and sat up, aware of the tension rippling through the air. "He asked you
a question. What do you want with us?" Adam Cartwright demanded. He moved
to stand, and was roughly shoved down by one of the men.
Little Joe tensed to spring when he saw
his brother manhandled, his green eyes flashed, glittering like emeralds
in the moonlight. Another of the men casually clubbed him over the head
with the butt of his gun. Little Joe fell, sprawling in the dirt, a slow
trickle of blood starting to seep down his neck.
"Joe!" Adam exclaimed, and instinctively
moved for his brother. He was held back by the man standing closest to
"I don't want nobody to move!" snarled
the man who had spoken initially. He was a tall man, easily topping six
feet, with a rangy build, and a shock of straight dark hair. His eyes were
the color of cold steel.
Adam froze, but he cast a despairing look
at his brother, who still hadn't moved.
Scott Lancer spoke, his cultured voice
sounding hushed in the moonlight. "We aren't getting any answers from you,
stranger. You mind telling us what you want with us, or are you just going
to make us guess."
Johnny grinned at his brother, but the
smile never quite reached his eyes. His hand twitched nervously by his
side, instinct telling him to reach for the gun that wasn't there.
The big man, obviously the leader of this
pack of wolves spoke again. "We've taken your gun, mister, so spare yourself
the trouble of looking for it. We're also going to take your horses, and
all your money, so start emptying your pockets." He gestured with his gun,
and the five men stationed around the little campsite moved forward towards
Johnny and Scott began to empty their pockets
under the prodding of the gunman and Adam did the same. Suddenly Adam tensed.
One of the men had started towards Little Joe, and had roughly rolled him
over onto his back. Adam lunged forward, only to be grabbed by Scott. "You
can't help him right now." Scott hissed. "It won't do him any good if you
get hurt too."
Adam took a deep breath, but the anger
surged through him, leaving his eyes burning with rage. He watched helplessly
as his brother was searched and his pockets roughly emptied. He sighed
with relief when the men turned their attention toward the saddlebags,
dumping their contents on the ground and searching through them. He kept
his eyes on his stricken brother throughout the search. Scott kept a sympathetic,
yet restraining hand on his arm as they waited.
The leader of the band of outlaws snarled
roughly, "Have you found it yet?" He strode over to the pile of belongings
strewn about from the dumped saddle bags and began to rummage through it.
His men shook their heads negatively and continued to search as well. The
big man walked back towards the Lancers. "Where is it?" he cried, his face
set into a threatening scowl.
"Well, maybe if I knew what "it" was I
could tell you where "it" is." Johnny replied in a mocking tone. "Where
do you think "it" is, Scott?" he asked, rolling his eyes at his brother.
"I don't, know, brother, I think I must
have dropped 'it'." Scott replied, his voice so deadpan that the sarcasm
could have been missed.
The big man erupted in fury, shaking his
fist in Johnny's face. "I want that bank draft that you picked up before
you left Daggett. I watched you go to the bank and get it, so don't try
to tell me that you don't have it."
The Lancer brothers exchanged glances.
Scott opened his mouth to make a reply, when one of the men searching the
saddle bags let out a whoop. All eyes turned to him as he started to wave
a piece of paper around. "Lookee, here, boys!" he shouted. "I found it."
The big man snatched the paper from the
other's hand. Rapidly scanning the paper, a strange look crossed his face.
"This isn't the bank draft we were looking for." he said bemusedly. "This
one is made out to Adam Cartwright. The bank teller told me that these
men are named Lancer." he turned to his prisoners as he spoke, a slow smile
breaking across his face. "I think we've hit the jackpot, boys." he said
confidently. "There must be two bank drafts. These other boys were carrying
A pained expression crossed Adam's face
as he watched the man handle the paper. That bank draft represented the
balance owed to the Ponderosa for 500 head of cattle that had been delivered
to a ranch in Arizona. It was written for a substantial amount of money.
Money that the Cartwrights needed to keep the ranch in operation until
other contracts were completed and paid for. The loss of that bank draft
could handicap the ranch operations. But Adam also knew that his father
would rather lose the money involved than one of his sons. Adam was resigned
to going home without the bank draft, as long as he and his brother were
allowed to go home safely.
The outlaw moved towards Scott Lancer.
He placed his gun against Scott's temple, and held it firmly in place.
"I want the bank draft you picked up in Daggett." he said, looking fiercely
at Johnny. "Or I put a bullet in your brother's brain."
A cold hatred burned in Johnny's eyes,
but he slowly reached inside his shirt and pulled out an envelope that
had been nestled against his skin. He handed it to the outlaw. "It won't
do you any good, mister. It has to be cashed by the person it's been issued
to. It's just a worthless piece of paper otherwise." Johnny's voice was
soft, but the tone sent a trail of goosebumps up Adam's spine. Suddenly
he could see the Johnny Madrid who had earned such a fierce reputation.
The big outlaw spoke with condescension
dripping from his words. "You think I don't know that, you fool. That's
why I intend to take you with me to cash it." He waved both bank drafts
in the air. "I didn't expect this other little bonus. It looks like our
Turning to his men he began issuing orders.
"Billy, tie these boys up. Make sure the ropes are tight, I don't want
no one getting away in the night. Frank, you bed down the horses. We're
gonna be staying here for the rest of the night." The men scattered to
do his bidding.
Adam pulled away from Scott's hand and
headed for his brother. He reached Little Joe and knelt down beside him
before he felt a rough hand on his shoulder. He turned to find one of the
outlaws attempting to pull him to his feet. Adam knocked the man's hand
from his shoulder and turned to the leader of the gang. "I'm going to check
on my brother before you tie me up. He needs to have that head wound looked
at right now." He quickly turned back to Joe, and began to gently examine
the gash on the back of his brother's head.
"What's going on, Billy, I thought I told
you to tie him up." The gang leader appeared at Adam's shoulder. "You get
back where you were."
"He says he needs to look at his brother's
wound, Burton." Billy whined nervously. "I thought..." his voice trailed
off into an indistinct mumble.
Burton's hand cracked Billy savagely across
the face. "That's what you get for thinking, Billy." He gestured to Scott
and Johnny, who were watching the proceedings. "Get those two tied up,
right now." He turned back to Adam, who was holding his kerchief to the
back of Joe's head in an effort to stop the bleeding. "Get away from him,
now." he ordered.
Adam sat back on his heels and looked Burton
straight in the eye. "If my little brother doesn't have help right now
he's going to die. He needs to have that wound bandaged, and I need to
wake him up." Adam's dark eyes bored into Burton's, and he gestured to
his fallen brother. "Now, you let me help him, or you kill me, here and
now. But I'll warn you. If you kill me, that bank draft becomes useless.
It's made out to Adam Cartwright. That's me. If I don't cash it, it's no
good, and you might as well throw it away. Make your choice, Burton."
Burton's eyes fell away from Adam's. "You've
got five minutes, Cartwright." he snarled, trying to regain the upper hand.
"I'm gonna tie you up, personally, in five minutes." He turned, and stalked
back towards his gang, the anger in his eyes causing them to flinch away
from him in fear.
Billy had already secured Scott and Johnny's
hands behind their backs, making sure that the ropes were pulled tight.
He herded them back against the rock face, and forced them to a sitting
position. The Lancer's kept their expressions impassive, but they watched
Adam and Joe with concern.
Adam soaked his kerchief in water from
a canteen, and gently held it to Joe's head. Ripping the tail from his
own shirt he secured the bandage, as tightly as he could. Placing a gentle
hand under the wounded head he patted Joe's cheek softly. "Little Joe."
he murmured. "Joe, wake up, buddy."
At first there was no response from the
younger Cartwright, but just as Adam was beginning to feel a deep sense
of panic, he saw his brother's eyelids flicker, and then open. A soft moan
sounded from Joe's lips, and Adam cradled his brother's head gently in
his lap. "That's good, Joe, wake up now." he crooned.
Little Joe opened his eyes, and struggled
to focus. The worried face of his older brother swam in his field of vision.
His head throbbed, and Joe struggled to reach his hand to the wound. Adam
caught the groping hand in his own, and held it gently. "It's okay, Joe.
Lie still." he whispered.
"A-Adam, .." the word ended in a gasp as
Joe felt a blinding pain sear through his skull. "Are you all right?" Joe
whispered in a shaky voice. "Those men..."
"Are right here, Little Brother." Adam
replied quietly. "Lie still, Joe." he repeated, and he held a canteen to
Joe took a small swallow of the water,
but stopped when nausea threatened to overwhelm him. "No more, Adam." he
choked out, and tried to push the canteen away.
Adam was about to try again, when a rough
hand grabbed his shoulder, and wrenched the canteen from his hand. "Time's
up, Cartwright." Burton growled menacingly. "You and your brother move
over to those rocks. You're going to join your friends."
Anger burned in Adam's dark eyes. "My brother
shouldn't be moved." he said forcefully.
"Too bad, Cartwright." was Burton's cold
reply. "Now, you can help him up, or I'll have one of my men drag him over
to that rock." He gestured with his gun.
Adam didn't bother to respond. He slipped
his arm underneath Joe's shoulders and eased him to a sitting position.
Little Joe cried out, as the movement sent a wave of pain through him.
Adam helped Joe to a stand, and half-dragged, half-carried him to the rocks.
He gently eased Joe to the ground, and helped him lean against the rock.
Joe's face had gone white, and he was gasping for breath. Scott and Johnny
looked on in concern, as Burton approached the Cartwrights.
Burton took great delight in yanking Adam's
hands behind his back, and knotting the ropes tightly around his wrists.
He shoved Adam back against the rock, but Adam simply glared at him, determined
not to give the man the satisfaction of hearing him cry out. But Adam couldn't
hold still when he saw the man turn on Joe.
"Leave him alone, Burton. He's got a severe
concussion, you don't need to tie him up." Adam snarled, when he saw Burton
pulling out another length of rope.
"I ain't taking any chances, Cartwright."
Burton sneered, and he roughly pulled Joe forward. Joe gasped in shock,
and slumped forward as unconsciousness claimed him. He didn't feel anything
when his hands too, were bound behind his back. Burton finally left him
slumped against Adam's shoulder.
Scott kept a wary eye on the outlaw band
and Burton in particular. He leaned close to Adam's ear and whispered,
"How is he?"
Adam, his face marked with lines of concern,
whispered back. "He's got a severe concussion. He needs a doctor, and soon."
Scott looked at his own brother, who sat
with his back against the rock, his face a blank mask. Only his eyes expressed
his rage, they followed Burton's movements unceasingly. "I'll make him
pay, Adam. Don't you worry about him." Johnny said, his voice quiet, but
brimming with his suppressed rage.
Adam smiled grimly, "No, Johnny." he whispered
back. "He's mine."
Scott looked at the two men and shook his
head. "Gentlemen, we need to think about getting out of here, not about
revenge." he counseled, knowing that neither man would listen to him.
"You got a plan, brother?" Johnny asked
"Not yet, but I'll think about it." Scott
replied laconically. He leaned back against the rock, and surveyed the
scene through slitted eyes. Johnny did the same, while Adam turned his
attention to his younger brother.
"Joe," he whispered. "Joe, wake up, buddy."
He moved his shoulder gently, trying to stir Little Joe, without making
him fall. He was rewarded by a soft moan from his brother.
Little Joe felt like his head was going
to explode. He moved slightly, and immediately regretted the action. His
eyes flickered open, and a blurred scene swam into view. Their tormentors
were sprawled in front of the fire, and to Joe's confused mind they looked
large and menacing. He tried to sit up and found that his arms had been
pulled tightly behind his back. His cheek was resting against something
warm, and when he turned his head slightly, gasping at the movement, he
saw his brother's concerned eyes looking down at him.
"Welcome back." Adam said quietly, relief
apparent in his voice. "How are you feeling, Joe?"
"Like I'm going to be sick." Joe gasped
out. He leaned closer to Adam, seeking the comfort of his brother's presence
instinctively. "What's going on, Adam?" he asked.
"Burton found the bank draft. He's also
got one that belongs to Scott and Johnny." Adam shifted slightly, seeking
a more comfortable position. "I think he's going to try to get us to cash
them for him."
Joe grimaced. "You can't let him do that,
Adam. Pa's counting on that money." He attempted to pull himself up, but
quickly changed his mind when the pain in his head intensified.
Adam looked at his brother in sympathy.
"Pa's counting on us to come home safely, Little Joe. That's what we need
to concentrate on, not losing that money."
Johnny and Scott exchanged glances as they
listened to this exchange. Although Joe was the same age as Johnny he seemed
so young and full of life, it made them feel old in comparison. Scott could
sympathize with Adam. He too felt the weight of responsibility. He didn't
think he could face Murdoch if he came home without Johnny. They had so
recently become a family, to have any one of them threatened would be doubly
heartbreaking. As silence descended on the campsite, the four prisoners
tried to sleep.
Morning dawned quickly in the desert. The
sun rose on the horizon, sending out heat filled rays, giving promise of
the scorching day to come. The Cartwrights and the Lancers had spent an
uncomfortable night against the rock. The heat from the fire hadn't reached
them, and the chill desert air had soaked into their bones. Little Joe
had suffered the most, his concussion making his head ache painfully. He
had shivered uncontrollably throughout the night, in spite of Adam huddling
close to offer him the warmth of his own body heat. None of the men had
slept deeply, mostly drifting in and out of a light doze. As they watched
the band of outlaws stirring, they couldn't help but wonder what the new
day would bring.
Burton rose and stretched. He walked around
the remains of the campfire and booted one of the still sleeping men in
the ribs. The man grunted in pain, but sat up quickly. Burton began barking
orders, and the men scattered quickly to follow them. They hastily cooked
and ate a meager breakfast, swilling down coffee and cold beans with little
relish. No one offered the prisoners anything at all.
Adam looked in concern at his feverish
brother, who obviously needed medical treatment quickly. Joe's shivering
continued unabated, even with the rising heat of the day. Adam could feel
the heat of a fever radiating through his shirt sleeve, where his brother's
cheek rested against him. Finally Adam could stand it no longer. "Burton."
he called out, his eyes commanding the big man's presence.
Burton swaggered over casually, sipping
from a tin cup as he came. "Whaddya' want Cartwright?" he asked in an unconcerned
"My brother needs water. He's got a fever,
and is burning up." Adam's eyes were hard. "I'll do whatever you want,
but please give him something to drink." It was obvious that it was hard
for Adam to ask for anything from the outlaw, but for his precious little
brother he would sacrifice his pride.
Burton laughed, a loud guffaw that drew
the attention of his men. They began to drift over to watch the fun. "So,
you'll do anything I want, eh, Cartwright?" He strolled closer to the prisoners.
"What if I told you I expect you to do what I want, even if I don't give
your brother any water?" he paused dramatically. "You really aren't in
any position to be asking for anything, you know."
Johnny Lancer looked at Burton calmly.
"Give him some water, Burton. Or there'll come a time when you wished you
had." The threat was evident in the cool words.
Scott joined in the conversation for the
first time. "It would certainly be a lot easier if you had cooperative
prisoners, Burton. It would help if you let us take care of our friend."
Burton's glance faltered in the face of
the implacable hatred that radiated from the three healthy prisoners. Little
Joe, the center of the little drama, lay in a fog, not really comprehending
what was happening around him. Burton gave a half-hearted chuckle in an
attempt to save face with his watching men. Abruptly tiring of the game,
he hooked a thumb at Billy. "Get a canteen, and give it to them, Billy."
He walked off in disgust, turning his back on the prisoners.
The show over, the rest of the men drifted
off and began dismantling the little camp. Billy came over with a canteen.
He hesitated, not knowing what to do with it. His prisoners arms were all
bound behind their backs, but Burton hadn't ordered him to release them.
Finally, he pulled a knife and quickly cut through Adam's bonds. He tossed
the canteen on the ground and turned to join his comrades.
Adam winced as the circulation started
returning to his numb fingers and hands. He quickly flexed his hands several
times, and then scooped up the canteen, almost afraid it would be snatched
away before he could use it. Holding it to Joe's lips, he whispered softly.
"Joe, take a drink, quickly now."
Little Joe eagerly drank from the canteen.
The cool water sliding down his throat felt wonderful. He could feel the
relief immediately, as his body eagerly took in the life-giving liquid.
Adam wet his kerchief, and placed it gently on Joe's forehead. His brother
taken care of, he turned to Johnny and Scott. He held the canteen up to
each one of them in turn, letting them drink their fill. He then made sure
that he had a long drink as well, before turning back and insisting that
Joe take another drink. None of them knew how much longer they would be
allowed to have the canteen. Adam had just finished giving Scott and Johnny
another drink when he felt the canteen snatched from his hands. Burton
had come up behind him, and taken the container before Adam was aware he
"That's enough, Cartwright." he snarled.
"Billy, tie him up again." He walked off, taking the canteen with him.
Billy scurried over and roughly hauled
Adam's hands behind his back again. When the ropes were secure he moved
back to help with the dismantling of the camp.
Adam turned his back to the rock, and eased
himself against it. He eyed his brother closely, and was gratified to see
that Joe's color looked better. "How're you doing, Buddy?" he asked.
"I'm fine, Adam, don't worry about me."
replied Joe. Adam smiled, Joe would have given him the same answer if one
of his arms had been torn off.
Before the brothers had a chance to talk
further, Burton reappeared. "On your feet, Cartwright." He looked at Adam
with a baleful glare, watching as he struggled to his feet. He turned to
Johnny and repeated his command. Johnny and Scott traded glances, and Johnny
slowly drew himself upright.
"You two are coming with us. We're going
to ride to the next town and cash those bank drafts. If you cooperate,
I'll let you go. If you don't, I'll kill you." Burton smiled at them smugly.
His was the face of a man who held all the cards.
"I'm not leaving my brother." Adam's tone
was deadly. His face remained impassive, but the rage emanating from him
"Me either," Johnny chimed in. "We all
go, or you don't get that bank draft cashed, Burton." Johnny's drawl was
"You boys don't have much choice in the
matter." Burton replied. "You see, I'm leaving Frank to keep an eye on
your brothers. If we don't come back in a reasonable amount of time, Frank
has orders to kill them, but if you get difficult with me, I'll just kill
them now." Burton grinned, his eyes reflecting his arrogance. "It's your
choice, boys. You can cooperate, or you can bury these two fellas." he
pointed to Scott and Little Joe, who watched the proceedings from the ground.
Scott flashed Johnny a grin, and turned
to look at Adam. "I'll take care of Joe, Adam. You keep an eye on Johnny
for me." Scott's smile faded as he looked at Burton. "My brother better
come back in one piece, Burton. You'd better not do anything you're going
to regret. I'm not quite as civilized as I look."
Joe struggled to a sitting position, his
face paling at the effort. "I'll be okay, Adam. You stay out of trouble."
he said reassuringly.
"Aww, this is all very touching, but we
gotta get a move on." Burton sneered. "You two, help these boys get mounted.
I've got to give Frank his instructions."
With a last glance back at their brothers,
Adam and Johnny were escorted to their horses, and thrown up in the saddles.
Burton finished his quiet talk with Frank and mounted his own horse. With
a smile on his lips he gave the order to ride, leaving three men sitting
in the hot desert sun.
An hour after Burton and the gang had left,
Scott noticed Frank pacing by the remains of the campfire. He narrowed
his blue-grey eyes and speculated on the man's actions. Frank had seemed
nervous since Burton had left, but now the pacing had intensified. He was
apparently building up to some action that he wasn't too happy about. Scott
looked at Little Joe. The younger man was propped against the large rock,
sleeping restlessly. His face was pale, and Scott could see the lines of
pain etched across his face. He nudged Joe gently.
"Joe. Joe, wake up." he whispered, trying
not to attract Frank's attention. Scott was rewarded by seeing Little Joe's
eyes flicker open.
Little Joe gazed uncomprehendingly at the
scene before him, his thoughts confused and unfocused. "Adam?" he called
"Shhh, Joe. It's Scott, Adam's not here
remember?" Scott spoke urgently, trying to keep the tension from his voice.
Joe turned to look at the man beside him,
and recognition dawned in his eyes. Joe's head still hurt, making his thoughts
feel sluggish. "Scott, where's Adam?"
Scott's eyes clouded, and he hesitated
momentarily. "Don't you remember, Joe? He's with Johnny and Burton." Scott's
heart went out to the younger man as he watched a look of fear cross Joe's
"I've got to get Adam. They'll kill him."
Joe struggled to rise, but fell back at Scott's next words.
"No, Joe. We can't get to him now." Scott
tried to sound soothing, but some of his own sense of urgency showed. "Sit
quiet for a minute, we've got to try to come up with a plan."
Without warning Frank swung to peer back
at the prisoners. Seeing them awake and talking, he crossed the ground
quickly, and crouched in front of them. "All right, boys, listen up." he
said. "I'm riding out of here now, I've got to catch up with Burton and
the boys. You two are gonna stay right here."
Scott's voice was sharp with anger. "You
can't ride off and leave us here. We've got no food, water or horses. Joe's
got a concussion. That's murder."
Frank laughed uncomfortably. "You think
I don't know that, buddy." he shifted a little nervously. "Burton says
to leave you, so I leave you. I don't cross Burton."
Understanding dawned in Scott's blue eyes.
"He just wanted to keep Adam and Johnny quiet until they cashed those bank
drafts. He never intended to come back for us, did he?"
At Scott's side, Little Joe drew in a sharp
breath. "At least untie us." he commanded. "If you're going to leave us
here to die, give us a fighting chance."
Frank shook his head. "Nope." he drawled
laconically. "I've got my orders. Good luck, boys." he turned and rapidly
walked to his horse. Once mounted he turned back to the two men. "I hope
you don't take too long to die. This desert can be real mean." His spurred
his horse, and the animal took off at a rapid pace, soon the man and beast
were a speck on the horizon.
Scott looked at Little Joe in despair.
"Joe, we've got to work on these ropes. See what you can do with mine,
and then I'll give yours a try."
Turning back to back, the two men struggled
with fingers that were numb with lack of circulation. Joe was additionally
hampered by the concussion, and the spikes of pain that kept his thoughts
a little confused. Time passed slowly, while the sun rose ever higher in
the sky. Scott thought longingly of water, and tried to turn his mind elsewhere.
Water was a long way off, and they needed to concentrate on their bonds
before anything else. He spared a thought for Johnny, and hoped that he
was keeping his temper under control. Burton was a hard man, and he wouldn't
hesitate to take whatever steps he felt were necessary to keep Johnny under
control. Scott's anger returned full force, and he used it to spur on his
efforts with the ropes around Little Joe's hands.
After hours of effort Scott was rewarded
by a perceptible loosening in the ropes that bound Little Joe's wrists
together. He shouted triumphantly, surprised when he heard no response
from Joe. Turning quickly to look at his companion he realized that Joe
was leaning against the rock, his head lolling to the side, unconsciousness
claiming him again. Scott cursed and redoubled his efforts with the ropes.
"We did it, Joe." he cried when he felt
the ropes part at last. He turned, and called to the unconscious man, "Joe,
wake up! Come on, Little Joe, Adam needs you, wake up." Scott was rewarded
by the flicker of Joe's eyelashes, and a pair of green eyes peering at
"Scott?" Joe's voice was questioning, his
gaze troubled. "Where's Adam?" he asked nervously, looking around for his
"He's not here, Joe, remember?" Scott replied
urgently. Joe's confused thoughts were an indication that his concussion
was still severe. "Your hands are free now, Little Joe. Can you untie mine?"
Joe blinked several times and made a visible
effort to clear his head. He stared at Scott in consternation, and then
looked at his hands trying to decipher what he could of Scott's words.
Remembrance flooded his brain, and he gasped, jerking his head up, causing
him to sway with renewed dizziness. "Adam!" he cried out. "We've got to
go after my brother!"
"You've got to untie my hands first." Scott
spoke soothingly, trying to calm Joe's obvious agitation. "Come on, Joe,
you can do it. Untie me, okay?" Scott turned his back on Joe, and presented
his bound hands to the younger man.
Joe nodded as understanding dawned in his
aching head. He fumbled with the knots that held Scott's wrists so tightly,
his numbed fingers shaking with the effort. It seemed to take forever,
but at last the ropes loosened, and finally fell to the ground allowing
the blood to return to Scott's fingers. Scott winced with the pain that
accompanied the returning circulation. "You did it, Joe." he exclaimed.
"Good job! Now let's stop and think about what we're going to do to get
out of here."
He looked searchingly around the area where
they had camped, but the outlaws had been thorough. They had left behind
nothing that would be of any use to two men walking across the desert.
Scott took rapid stock of the situation. He and Joe were several days walk
away from the nearest town, with no food, no water and no weapons of any
kind. Johnny was the expert on desert travel in the Lancer family, and
Scott wasted a few minutes wishing for some of his brother's knowledge.
Added to their lack of supplies, was the fact that Little Joe was injured,
which would make any kind of trek across the desert even more grueling.
And yet, Scott knew that they couldn't just sit and wait. No rescue would
be forthcoming in time to save their lives. Scott sighed. It was time to
Adam glanced at the dark haired man riding
silently beside him, arms still bound tightly behind his back. It was clear
that Johnny Lancer was not a happy man, the deadly anger that radiated
from him made even Adam a little wary of the ex-gunfighter. Adam understood
the rage all too well. The thought of Little Joe facing an unknown fate,
already suffering from a concussion had left Adam's stomach tied in knots.
He knew that if he got the chance he would kill Burton. They had been riding
for several hours, stopping to rest for a few minutes every hour or so
to allow the men and horses to drink from the canteens. Adam had been surprised
when Burton had offered water to his prisoners, but then he realized that
Burton needed them alive, and fairly healthy to pull off the cashing of
the bank drafts. Burton would take no chances with them until he had the
money in his hands.
A drumming of hooves coming from behind
them made all the men in the party turn around in their saddles. Several
of the outlaws surreptitiously checked their guns, preparing to pull them
quickly if necessary. As the rider drew closer Adam recognized him as Frank,
the man who had been left to guard Scott and Little Joe. Horror flooded
through him as he realized the significance of the man's presence. Sharing
a look of disbelief with Johnny, Adam rounded on Burton.
"Why is he here?" Adam demanded. "What's
he done with my brother!"
Johnny's eyes bored into Burton. "You better
answer him quick, Burton." he drawled, his voice deceptively gentle. "I
want to know what's going on."
Burton laughed, his steel gray eyes shining
with malicious glee. "Well, boys," he said when his laughter had subsided.
"I gave Frank orders to join us after waiting an hour with your brothers.
I decided that I couldn't spare a man to take care of them for the amount
of time it's going to take us to get this job done."
"Did you kill my brother?" Adam faced Frank
with flashing eyes, and a snarl on his lips.
Johnny sat quietly, waiting for the answer.
He had already determined that he had a personal score to settle with Burton,
he just needed to know if he should add Frank to that list.
Frank quailed a little in the face of the
rage that roiled in the atmosphere. "I didn't kill them, I swear. They
were alive when I left them." He moved his horse farther away from the
"Whaddya mean, 'you left them'. Left them
where?" Johnny asked, still speaking in the voice he reserved for soon-to-be-dead
Burton interjected. "He left them right
where they were. On my orders! I told you I wasn't going to kill them,
and I didn't. They're gonna be a mite hungry and thirsty, but they should
still be alive, for now at least." A look of triumph spread across his
face. "They won't last long though, and if I were you, I'd pray they go
quick. Dying in the desert can be a pretty horrible thing."
Adam spoke in a fury. "You had this man
ride off and leave two men alone, on foot in the desert, knowing that one
of them was wounded. I'll kill you for this, Burton." He moved towards
the big man. The sound of a bullet entering the chamber of a rifle pulled
him up short. He looked over his shoulder to see Billy aiming a rifle directly
at him. Adam stopped moving, his face clearly displaying his anger.
Burton was clearly enjoying Adam's torment.
"Oh they weren't on foot. Frank had specific orders to leave them tied
up, and sitting by that rock. I don't think they're walking anywhere."
Johnny Lancer's eyes glittered with hatred
and his voice sounded like it had been carved from ice. "I hope you've
made peace with your maker, Burton, cause you're gonna be joining him soon."
The sun continued it's long journey across
the sky, leaving a scorching heat in it's wake. As evening approached the
heat remained unabated, but Scott knew that with the advent of darkness
the air would cool rapidly. The two men staggered through the desert scrub,
moving at a snail's pace. Stopping every fifteen minutes to rest helped,
but didn't alleviate their suffering. Scott was bearing the brunt of the
trek, as he was supporting Little Joe's faltering steps. Sweat poured off
the two men, creating tracks in the dirt crusted faces. Scott felt his
lips burning and cracking and could see the effect the sun was having on
Little Joe's skin and lips. Ahead Scott spied a small cluster of cactus,
and a few scattered rocks. He headed in that direction, step by agonizing
step, Little Joe's arm draped over his shoulder, with Scott grasping him
tightly around the waist. Finally he reached the meager shade afforded
by the natural desert fauna, and deposited his burden gently on the ground.
A pair of intense green eyes opened and gazed at him intently.
"Just leave me here, Scott." Little Joe
gasped out. "I'm slowing you down. You could go ahead and find help, then
come back for me." Joe wiped a shaking hand across his dripping forehead,
leaving a smear of dirt in it's place.
Scott shook his head. "You've got to be
kidding, Joe. I can't leave you out here. I promised Adam that I would
take care of you. How could I face him if I left you here in the middle
of the desert." Scott took a long look around at their surroundings. It
was a depressing sight. "I'm afraid you're stuck with me, friend."
Joe smiled briefly, only to then grimace
at the pain the movement caused to his sunburned skin. "Thanks, Scott,
you've turned out to be a real friend. I'm glad we ran into you." He too
looked around at the arid desert, stretching as far as the eye could see.
"We've got to find some water." he said through gritted teeth.
"I haven't seen any signs of water for
miles." Scott said, shaking his head in despair. "If Johnny were here,
he'd be able to figure something out. I'm sorry Joe, you're traveling with
the wrong Lancer."
Joe reached out and clasped a firm hand
on Scott's arm. "I'm not complaining about who I'm with, Scott. I couldn't
have asked for a better friend the last couple of days." He looked at the
cactus growing near them. "It's too bad we don't have a knife. I've heard
you can drink from a cactus if you're desperate."
Scott began walking around their resting
place, scouting the ground with intent eyes. Joe looked at him in puzzlement,
wondering if the heat had gotten to his friend. "What are you doing?" he
called, his bewilderment reflected in his voice.
"You gave me an idea about the cactus."
Scott replied abstractedly, continuing his pacing. "I'm looking for a sharp
stone to help us cut into that thing." He scuffled through the sandy grit,
kicking aside the sparse undergrowth. A cry escaped his lips when he spotted
what he was looking for. A sharp stone was revealed, lying partially concealed
by some scrub. Scott hastily palmed the rock, and tested it's edge. It
wasn't perfect but it would have to do.
Joe looked on with intense interest as
Scott approached the large cactus and began hacking at it with the stone.
At first he made little headway against the tough skin of the large plant,
but his persistence finally paid off, as he managed to slice into it. Scott
pulled out a chunk of the cactus and carried it back to Little Joe. They
eyed the mass dubiously.
"Which part of this are we supposed to
drink from?" Scott asked warily. He handed the cactus to Joe, who examined
"I think I remember my brother Hoss telling
me that you aren't supposed to swallow this stuff," Joe replied slowly.
"You're supposed to chew it or suck on it, but never swallow it." He hesitated,
but thirst won out and he took a tentative bite out of the mass. A grimace
crossed his face at the taste, but the stuff did slake his thirst. He held
the remaining piece out to Scott. "It's better than nothing," he murmured.
Scott took the cactus and gave Joe as much
of a smile as his sunburn would allow. "Well, here goes nothing." he said
with a devil-may-care attitude, taking a large bite.
Joe laughed at the sight of Scott's face.
"We must look like quite a pair," he giggled, letting loose that distinctive
Scott couldn't help laughing in response.
"You Cartwrights are quite a family," he said in between chuckles. "It's
a pleasure traveling with you, Joe." He laid an affectionate hand on Joe's
Joe's answering smile was quickly dimmed.
"I just wish we knew what was happening with Adam and Johnny. They must
know by now that Burton had us left out here. Adam's not going to sit still
for that." He spat out the cactus pith that he was chewing on, and took
another piece. "I'm afraid Adam's going to get himself killed," he whispered.
Scott stared into the rapidly growing gloom
of twilight. "I know what you mean." he answered grimly. "Johnny's got
such a hair trigger temper, he's going to be spoiling for a fight." He
shook himself out of his reverie, knowing that he was upsetting the young
man beside him. "I'm sure they're okay, Joe. Burton needs them alive, for
now. He's not going to jeopardize that."
Scott stood and surveyed the surrounding
terrain, realizing that dark was falling fast. He turned back to Joe, and
smiled. "Looks like this is home for the night, Joe. We might as well get
Joe gave him a sad smile, but nodded his
agreement. The two men leaned against a tall rock, and prepared to spend
he night in the cold desert air. Neither man could banish the picture of
his brother from his mind. It was going to be a long night.
Many miles away a different pair of brothers
had also been settled in for the night. Adam and Johnny had been placed
back to back and tied together. The bonds were so tight that trying to
free themselves was impossible. They were leaning against a rock overhang
where the gang had stopped to make camp. Johnny never stopped following
Burton's movements through his slitted eyes. His anger had died from a
fierce inferno to a smouldering inner rage. Burton was a dead man, he just
hadn't discovered it yet. Johnny Madrid would avenge his brother's death,
for in his heart Johnny believed that Scott couldn't survive a trek through
the desert. If he wasn't dead already, he would be soon. "I'll make him
pay, Boston." Johnny thought, his rage flaring anew. Behind him he felt
"We've got to get out of here somehow."
Adam whispered. "I've got to get back to Little Joe." He pulled fruitlessly
at the ropes that bound them. "Can you reach the knots?" he asked Johnny
Johnny gave a sarcastic snort. "If I could
reach the knots do you think I'd still be sitting here?" he flashed angrily.
Just as quickly remorse followed rage, and he added, "I'm sorry Adam, I
know you're just as worried as I am. I didn't mean to take it out on you."
He tugged experimentally on the ropes, knowing it was futile.
Adam watched the outlaws sprawled around
the campfire, his worry for Joe tying his stomach into knots. Adam was
desperate to free himself, feeling his need to find his brother almost
overpowering. He refused to allow himself to believe that Joe was dead.
Not his cheerful, lighthearted, and here Adam had to smile to himself,
stubborn, hardheaded little brother. Adam knew that his brother's determination
to live would keep him fighting long after another man might give up. No,
Joe was out in that desert someplace, and Adam was going to go get him.
As Adam's eyes searched the campsite, he
leaned harder against the rock face. He felt the sharp edge digging into
his shoulder and welcomed the pain as a diversion from his worries. A thought
flashed through his mind like lightening. He turned his head and eyed the
sharp edge jutting from the rock face. "Johnny," he whispered, trying to
keep the excitement out of his voice. "There's a pretty sharp edge here.
If you can push back toward me, just a bit, we can rub the rope against
it. It might take some doing, but I think we can cut through these things."
Johnny turned his head casually, trying
to disguise the movement from anyone who might be watching them. He could
just see the edge of rock that Adam was referring to. Without speaking
he nodded his head slowly. It just might work. He pushed backwards a fraction,
while Adam moved with him. Working together as one, they began to abrade
the rope against the rock, masking their movements with their bodies as
much as they could. Neither Adam nor Johnny would sleep at all that night.
Burton had made a terrible mistake when
he had ordered Little Joe and Scott left alone in the desert. He had failed
to comprehend the depth of feeling that existed between the two sets of
brothers. As he had never loved anyone in his life, it hadn't occurred
to him that Adam and Johnny would continue to risk their own necks in order
to try to save the lives of their brothers. He mistakenly thought that
the two men would place their own welfare ahead of anyone else's, including
that of their brothers, because that is what he would have done. Burton
had fatally underestimated his opponents.
The night passed slowly for Scott and Little
Joe. Joe's head still throbbed, and they were both starving. The charms
of sucking on a cactus palled quickly. The two men huddled together to
conserve their body heat, but still they shivered in the night air. With
bleary eyes they watched the first faint colors tinge the sky. As the light
poured over the edge of the distant horizon, Little Joe pulled himself
to his feet. He swayed a little as a wave of dizziness caught him unawares.
Scott hastily stood up and grabbed his shoulder to prevent him from falling.
"Are you okay, Joe?" he asked with concern.
"Sit back down, we don't need to go anywhere right now." He tried to pull
Little Joe back into the shelter of the rocks and was surprised at the
resistance he received.
"We've got to get moving," Joe said urgently.
"We don't have time to waste sitting here." He looked at Scott in exasperation.
"Come on, Scott, let's go."
Adam Cartwright would have recognized that
impatient look anywhere, but Scott Lancer was unfamiliar with it. "Joe,"
he said urgently. "It doesn't make sense to travel in the heat of the day.
We've got shelter here, and the cactus if we need it. Let's stay here until
nightfall, and then we can travel without having to contend with the heat."
Joe gave him a look of pure disgust. "That's
my brother out there, Scott. I'm not going to sit around here and hope
that Burton and his men don't kill him. I'm going to go after him. If you're
not interested in saving your brother, you can stay here in the shade."
Joe stood with his arms folded across his chest, his stance belligerent.
Scott laughed gently and laid his hand
on Joe's tense arm. "I care just as much for my brother as you do for yours,
Joe." he remonstrated gently. "I just don't think it's wise for us to get
ourselves killed out in the desert sun while looking for them." He paced
slowly back and forth. "We know that Burton will be heading for the next
town, and we know that he needs Adam and Johnny alive. That means their
chances for survival are much better than ours are right now."
Joe's jaw tightened stubbornly. "I'm going
after my brother." he said scowling. "If you want to come with me, you
Scott sighed in frustration. "Okay, okay,
you win." he said ruefully. "Let's take some of this cactus with us before
we go, though. It may not taste very good, but it'll help keep us alive."
He reached for his sharp stone and headed for the cactus, reflecting that
younger brothers were not very easy to reason with no matter who's younger
brother it was. A sharp stab of fear for Johnny caught him unawares. He
closed his eyes, and tried to starve off the mental picture of Johnny in
danger. Suddenly he felt much more eagerness to begin the trek across the
Johnny and Adam had spent the night sawing
at the ropes that held them together, pausing only when one of the outlaws
moved through the campsite. The men worked silently, fear for their brothers
driving them on. It was about an hour before sunrise when they felt the
ropes part. With a searching look around the camp, Johnny tossed the ropes
aside. It appeared that most of the outlaws were sleeping, sprawled in
heaps around the dying embers of the fire. He briskly rubbed at his arms
and hands trying to encourage the return of circulation. Out of the corner
of his eye he noticed Adam doing the same. They hadn't exchanged a word
in hours, both feeling the need for silence. Now Adam turned to Johnny
and whispered. "We've got to get a couple of horses. You go to the east,
and I'll circle around the other way."
Adam was jolted by surprise when Johnny
simply shook his head. "Nope," he drawled in a whisper, that still managed
to convey his deadly intentions. "I've got me a date with our friend, Mr.
Burton." he looked straight into Adam's dark eyes. "You go on and find
us those horses, Adam. I'll see you over there as soon as I can."
Adam's hand snaked out and he grabbed Johnny
by the arm. "We can't take the chance of waking these men up, Johnny."
he said in a fierce whisper. "Leave Burton for now. Once we've found Joe
and Scott we can come after these men." A murderous look crossed his face.
"But when we come back, you leave Burton for me to deal with. I told you
he was mine."
Johnny's face showed his surprise. For
some reason he hadn't expected the bloodthirsty streak to be so strong
in Adam Cartwright. He appeared to be such an urbane, sophisticated man,
in spite of his black jeans, and dusty black shirt. Adam's eyes, however,
showed a completely different side of his character to the startled man
standing next to him. "Well, well, well." Johnny shook his head, a ghost
of laugh sneaking from his lips. "You sure are somethin' Adam. Looks like
we're going to have to fight for the privilege of killing that bastard."
Adam's grin echoed Johnny's. "But first
we need to find Scott and Joe." He tugged at Johnny's arm. "If you stop
to take out Burton, we may never get back to them."
Johnny hesitated briefly, his desire for
vengeance warring with his need to find Scott. He was touched by Adam's
faith that their brothers were alive, it somehow sparked his own hope.
His blue eyes softened, and he nodded slightly. "Okay, Chief," he said
in a whisper. "We'll play by your rules for now. But don't get your hopes
up about me leaving Burton for you. That's a fight we'll have a little
later." The two men melted into the shadows and headed for the horses.
When they reached the simple picket line
where the horses were tied they split off from each other. The outlaws
had stationed two guards around the perimeter of the camp, Adam and Johnny
had surreptitiously watched them patrolling all night long. Now they found
one man lounging by the horses while taking deep drags from a bottle of
whiskey. Adam came up behind the man and hit him as hard as he could over
the head with a large rock that he had palmed from the ground. The man
dropped like a stone, sprawled in an ungainly heap at Adam's feet. He quickly
turned to the horses, and untied both his horse, Sport and Johnny's palomino
from the line.
Leading the two horses into the darkness
away from the campsite, he kept a constant watch for his new found friend.
Even with his senses heightened to full alert, he was taken by surprise
when Johnny suddenly appeared before him in the darkness. Adam had to bite
off the yell that sprang involuntarily to his lips. Johnny gave him a wicked
grin, and snagged Barranca's lead rein from Adam's hand.
"Did you find the other sentry?" Adam hissed.
Johnny merely nodded, but there was a satisfied
look playing about his face. "He won't be bothering us none." was his simple
The two men walked a little farther, before
they deemed it safe enough to mount the horses. As they set off in the
direction they hoped would take them to their brothers, Adam hazarded a
look at his new friend. "Would it be too much to hope that you were able
to pick up a gun from the guy you met up with?" he asked in his most casual
manner, a slight smile puckering the edges of his mouth.
In answer Johnny held up a pistol. A smile
showed his gleaming teeth in the moonlight. "How 'bout you?" he asked.
Adam's smile widened, and he also held
up his prize. The two men exchanged knowing glances and spurred the horses
to a faster pace. It wouldn't be long before the rest of the outlaws began
stirring and found their prisoners missing. They needed to cover a lot
of territory before the sun rose and added it's heat to the day.
It didn't take long for Scott to realize
his error in allowing Joe to talk him into walking across the desert during
the daylight hours. Under the grueling glare from the bright orb that rode
the skies, his skin turning crispy on both face and hands, he forced himself
to keep moving forward. Little Joe was in worse shape than Scott. In spite
of the relief offered by the cactus, the men were dehydrating quickly,
moisture being pulled from their bodies by that unforgiving heat. Although
Joe had started out feeling better, his head began to ache within an hour
of beginning their march. He said nothing to his companion, however, not
wanting Scott to call a halt to their progress. He staggered now, leaning
heavily on Scott's arm, which was wrapped around his waist.
"We've got to rest for a while, Joe." Scott
gasped out. He searched the terrain through eyes that burned from the glare.
No sign of shelter appeared in sight. Finally Scott just stopped, easing
his burden to the ground.
Joe sat where Scott had placed him, feeling
the heat radiating up from the desert floor. He could tell the temperature
of the ground was a good deal hotter than the upper air had been, suddenly
remembering his brother Hoss advising him never to sit in the heat of the
desert, unless he was in the shade. He looked at his surroundings in disgust.
It wasn't as if they had a choice of resting spots. Joe felt himself fading,
black spots swirling in front of his eyes.
Scott saw Joe pale, the blood draining from his friend's face rapidly. He watched Joe sway, and moved quickly to grab him and hold him upright. "You hang on, Joe Cartwright." Scott hissed, anger in his voice. "Don't you give up on me now." He shook the younger man gently.
Joe placed his head in his hands, and gave
vent to a soft moan. "I'm sorry, Scott. I haven't been much help to you."
he said in despair.
Scott quickly unwrapped the remains of
their breakfast from the torn strip of shirt that he had wrapped it in.
It looked even more unappetizing now than it had that morning. He offered
it to Joe, holding it insistently under the boy's nose. "Suck on this,
Joe." he commanded, in a tone that brooked no refusal. "It'll do you good."
Joe gazed at the mound being offered and
felt his stomach heave, but he took it knowing that it was necessary to
stay alive. After biting off a bit, and starting to chew on it, he held
the rest out to Scott. "You, too, friend." he said with a ghost of a smile.
"I'm not going to deny you the pleasure of this wonderful meal."
Scott laughed, but stopped quickly when
the skin of his face was pulled taut, the sunburn hurt like hell. "Thanks
a lot, Joe." he said sarcastically. "Always thinking of me, aren't you?"
The two men sat in silence for several
minutes, the heat rising from the ground enveloping them. It seemed to
sap the strength from their bodies and caused their minds to slow. Scott
realized that he was sinking into a dangerous lethargy, but wasn't sure
what to do about it. He glanced at Joe and was shocked to see that his
friend had slumped over and was curled on his side in the sand. Scott sank
to his knees and quickly shook Joe's shoulder. "Joe, wake up." he called
Joe stirred weakly and opened his eyes.
"I'm so tired, Scott." he murmured. "Can't we just rest a little while?"
His eyes began to close again.
Scott shook him again, not as gently this
time. "No, you've got to wake up now, Joe." he insisted forcefully. "Come
on, sit up."
Joe groggily opened his eyes, and felt
the renewed pounding of his head. Scott's face swam in his field of vision
and Joe had to blink several times to bring it into focus. "Okay, I'm awake."
he said tiredly, struggling to sit up.
"We've got to keep walking, my friend."
Scott said gently. "We can't rest until we find some sort of shade. This
sun is burning us alive." He hoisted Joe to his feet, and once again wrapped
his arm around the younger man's waist. "Come on, let's go."
The two men resumed their slow walk across
Johnny and Adam rode as fast as they dared
in the desert heat. Adam had thought to grab a canteen from one of the
outlaw's horses, but they were trying to ration the water. There was no
telling when they would be able to find more. As they rode the two men
kept their eyes in constant motion, searching for any sign of pursuit from
the Burton and his gang, or for their missing brothers. It was an hour
before dusk when they spotted an outcropping of tall rocks in the distance,
standing up from the surrounding desert like a beacon. With one mind, they
headed for the shelter the rocks would provide.
Johnny was in the lead as they approached
the rocks, and he smiled appreciatively when he saw the deep pool of shade
that huddled at the base of the structure. Suddenly his eyes widened as
he saw something move in the shadows. He urged Barranca forward, swinging
off the horse as he approached the base of the rocks, Adam following closely
behind. A startled cry burst from Johnny's throat and he threw himself
forward. "Scott!" His voice was exultant.
Adam reined in sharply and threw himself
from his horse as well. He too had seen the two figures sprawled in the
shade, and he ran to the smaller of the two men, gathering his brother
into his arms. "Oh, Joe," he murmured, looking at the young man before
Joe's skin was so burned it was almost
purple. His eyes were closed and he lay unmoving in Adam's arms. He glanced
over and saw another reunion taking place. Scott didn't look much better
than Joe. He too had been roasted by the sun, and he sat half-sprawled
against the rocks. He hadn't acknowledged his brother's presence, appearing
to be either asleep or unconscious.
Adam reluctantly let go of Little Joe long
enough to grab a canteen from Sport's saddle. He held it to Joe's lips,
all the while encouraging his brother to wake up. A trickle of water spilled
onto Joe's lips, and rolled to the ground. At first there was no response,
but after a few moments, Little Joe ran his tongue over his cracked and
burned lips. The taste of the water seemed to revive him, and he frantically
gulped for more. Adam quickly moved the canteen away, and handed it to
Johnny, who repeated the procedure on Scott.
Adam's attention remained focused on Little
Joe, who squinted up at him through slitted eyes. "Who's there?" Joe demanded
weakly, reaching with a searching hand.
"It's me, Joe." Adam said softly. "Easy,
brother, everything's all right now. We've come to get you." He grabbed
the questing hand and enfolded it in his own.
Adam, my eyes hurt" Joe said, his voice
full of panic. "I can only open my eyes a little, and when I do, I can't
see you very well."
Adam looked at his brother in concern,
"That's just the sun, Joe. It's burned your eyes, as well as your skin.
They'll get better as soon as we get you home." He exchanged a glance with
Johnny, who had been ministering to Scott. "How's Scott?" Adam asked gravely.
Johnny shrugged his shoulders ruefully.
"He'll be okay. He's just exhausted." He forced the canteen to Scott's
lips again, and was rewarded by his brother's eager grab at the canteen.
"Hey, now, brother, go easy on that. Too much will make you sick." Johnny
said softly. Johnny put an arm under Scott's shoulders and eased him to
a more upright position. He watched as Adam did the same for Joe, and then
he jerked his head, indicating a need to talk to Adam privately. The two
men moved back by the horses, keeping a concerned eye on the others as
"Burton'll be along soon, Adam." Johnny
said softly. "We've got to get Scott and Joe out of here, right now." His
eyes maintained a constant scan of the horizon, revealing the depth of
"I don't think they're in any condition
to go back out into that desert." Adam replied in frustration. "We've got
to stay here until nightfall. Joe's just about done in." He winced as he
looked at his brother's still figure.
"Joe isn't going to feel better with Burton's
bullet in him, Adam." Johnny said forcefully. "We don't have the guns to
take on that whole gang. Joe and Scott will be all right, we need to get
them back to Daggett and to a doctor." Johnny's face was set, and his stance
suggested that he wasn't going to be argued with.
Adam looked at him and shook his head slowly.
Johnny's concern for his brother was obviously as great as Adam's was for
Joe, but Adam couldn't help but feel that neither of the two men could
cope with more desert travel. He groaned in frustration. Johnny's point
about Burton catching up with them was valid, in fact, Adam was a little
surprised that they hadn't seen any signs of the outlaw gang. He was fully
aware that their time was running out. Adam peered out at the distant horizon.
As he turned back to the waiting men, he came to a decision. "You're right,
Johnny." he conceded. "It'll be dark within the hour, and so far we haven't
seen any signs of Burton's men. I think we're going to have to risk moving
Joe and Scott or those men will catch us here. We'd be pinned down like
Adam slipped to his knees and placed his
arm underneath Joe's shoulders. He gently urged his brother to stand, taking
most of Joe's weight upon himself as he helped the younger man to rise.
He walked with Joe to the horses, and watched as Johnny helped Scott up.
As Adam began to help Joe mount Sport he felt something whistle past his
shoulder, then heard a ricochet on the rocks. He watched as Johnny swung
with lightening speed, leaving Scott leaning against Barranca's flank.
Johnny's gun was in his hand almost before Adam saw his arm move.
"Get back to the rocks," Johnny yelled
over his shoulder, as he grabbed Scott again and began to propel him back
towards the shelter of the rocks.
Adam, burdened by Joe's dead weight, struggled
back towards the welcoming darkness of the rocks. Another bullet whined
past him, and he flinched instinctively. With a final rush he reached the
safety of the shadows and gently eased his brother down. Crouching low,
keeping his body between Joe and their attackers, Adam maneuvered himself
toward Johnny. Johnny had also deposited his brother by the rocks, in as
sheltered a position as possible. Scott, feeling somewhat revived by the
water and the presence of his brother, tried to stand and join the fight,
only to be pushed back down by the protective hand of his younger brother.
"Stay down, Boston." Johnny commanded.
"You don't have a gun, I do. Let me handle this one." Johnny's look was
fierce, but when Scott smiled at him, his expression lightened a little.
"You're getting a bit bossy, aren't you
brother?" Scott questioned, his eyebrows drawn upwards in a teasing expression.
"Only when I have to be, brother." Johnny
replied, his mood heartened by his brother's lighthearted teasing. "Now
stay down, where I'll know you're safe." Johnny's smile flashed, his white
teeth gleaming in the gathering darkness, as dusk fell.
Adam snaked across the ground toward them,
gun in hand. "Any sign of them?" he asked grimly. "I couldn't tell where
the shots were coming from."
"Me either," Johnny said quietly. "I think
we're going to have to dig in here, and wait to see what happens. They
may try to rush us."
Adam nodded his agreement, and with a quick
glance back at Little Joe, he moved to the concealment of another small
cluster of boulders. Perching behind them, so that he had a clear view
of anyone approaching, he crouched down, keeping his gun drawn and ready.
Johnny moved off in the opposite direction,
positioning himself so that he could keep watch on the other side of their
impromptu fortress. Scott heard a low moan, and keeping himself as low
as he could, he moved towards Little Joe's crumpled figure. A wince of
sympathy creased his features when he looked at the face of his friend.
Little Joe was in obvious pain from the exposure to the sun, as well as
the lingering effects of the concussion. Another soft moan could be heard,
as Joe stirred uncomfortably.
"Easy, Joe." Scott said softly, laying
a gentle hand on Joe's shoulder. "It's okay, stay down." he urged as Joe's
eyes opened and he struggled to rise.
"Adam," Joe gasped. "I thought I heard
Adam.." his voice trailed off in confusion and he looked frantically around
in an effort to find his brother.
"He's right over there, Little Joe." Scott
said keeping his hand on Joe's shirt sleeve, in an effort to keep the younger
man still. "We've got some company right now, and Adam's a little busy.
It would be a big help to him if you just stayed right where you are."
Joe's eyes followed Scott's pointing finger,
and his expression eased when he saw Adam crouched behind the boulder,
his figure blending into the darkness. "He's okay?" Joe asked, his voice
cracked and hoarse from the dehydration.
"He's fine." Scott reassured him, patting
him gently on the shoulder. He located the canteen and held it to Joe's
lips. "Here, Joe, take some more of this. It'll help."
Joe drank deeply, his parched throat gratefully
accepting the cool water. The canteen was withdrawn too soon, and he reached
for it in disappointment. Scott shook his head slightly. "Not too much
all at once, my friend. It'll make you sick." He laid a hand on Joe's hot
forehead, frowning slightly at the evidence of a fever. "How do you feel?"
"I feel fine, now that Adam's back." Joe
responded. He shook Scott's hand from his forehead, his green eyes glaring
with suppressed impatience. "Really, Scott. I'm fine." he insisted.
"Forgive me if I don't believe you, Mr.
Cartwright." Scott replied with a smile. "But somehow I don't think I'm
going to get any other answer out of you." A sudden barrage of bullets
pinging into the rocks caused Scott to throw himself down in front of Little
Joe, while Adam and Johnny fired off a round in return.
A voice could be heard calling into the
sudden silence that followed the hail of bullets. "Give it up! You boys
are trapped in there. We don't want to kill you, so throw down your guns
and come on out."
Adam made a sound of derision and called
back. "We're not coming out, Burton." his voice was calm, but still held
the ring of steel. "You're going to have to come in after us, and I guarantee
you that you'll lose some of your men in the process."
Johnny grinned wickedly and called over
to Adam. "I still say Burton's mine, Adam." He pitched his voice just loud
enough to be heard by the outlaws who surrounded them. His words caused
a murmur to run through the group.
Burton's heavy voice stilled the rustle
of sound that had sprung up around him. "You've got a wounded man in there,
Cartwright. I'll take your brother to a doctor, if you just surrender yourselves
and come with us to cash those bank drafts."
Adam's laughter was harsh. "You left my
brother to die once already, Burton. You lost any chance of my cooperation
when you did that. We aren't coming out."
Burton swore violently, causing a smile
to crinkle the corners of Johnny's eyes. He could see the confrontation
coming, and he was glad. Johnny's rage over the treatment of his brother
continued to burn, and he badly wanted his revenge. He cocked his gun and
waited for his chance to take on the man who had left Scott in the desert
The minutes ticked by slowly, agonizingly
as the outlaws weighed their options. Adam's nerves stretched taut, and
he glanced back at Johnny. The other man appeared calm, his weapon held
in a loose, relaxed way, and yet Adam could tell that Johnny was ready
for whatever happened. There was a subtle sense of power rippling behind
that gunfighter's easy-going facade. The waiting men could hear Burton
issuing low-voiced commands and knew that he was ready to make his move.
Scott crouched nearer to Little Joe, who pulled himself upright, and tensed.
The rush when it came was fierce, a blur
of motion erupting all around the waiting Cartwrights and Lancers. The
attack came from three sides, the outlaws rushing in with guns blazing.
Johnny saw two men approaching from his side of the encampment, their guns
firing repeatedly. Bullets were ricocheting off the rocks around him when
his gun spoke twice. One of the men went down, a bullet penetrating his
heart. He never felt the impact when his body hit the ground. The second
man continued his advance, but it was halted when Johnny's second bullet
ripped into his shoulder. The man sank to his knees, clutching the injured
shoulder, blood streaming from between his grasping fingers, his weapon
dropping from suddenly nerveless fingers. Johnny watched the man fall,
and he ran quickly towards him, catching the man with a swift uppercut
to the jaw, scooping up the man's fallen weapon as a continuation of the
action. He turned just in time to watch Adam defending himself from the
flying fists of a cornered gunman.
When the outlaws had advanced on the camp,
Adam had felt the impact of multiple bullets tearing into the rocks on
either side of him. He crouched low, holding his fire until he had a target
in his sights, not wanting to waste bullets by firing into the dark. He
didn't have long to wait before the bullets were followed by a man, who
launched himself toward Adam, his gun never ceasing it's firing. Adam shot
quickly, and was gratified to see the gun fly from the man's hand, as his
bullet pinged off the weapon. He quickly moved toward the unarmed man,
and allowed his fists to vent some of the rage he had felt on seeing his
brother's battered body.
The outlaw put up a fight, but the sheer
power of Adam's anger allowed him to quickly reduce the man to an unconscious
heap on the ground. He glanced up in time to see Johnny smiling grimly
at him. The two men exchanged looks of deep satisfaction, which were just
as quickly wiped off their faces by the scene that met their eyes. Burton
stood grinning wickedly at them, Scott unconscious at his feet, a gun held
to Little Joe's head.
When the rush started, Scott and Little
Joe looked at each other in nervous anticipation. Neither man held a weapon,
and it made them feel naked and vulnerable. They crouched together, sheltering
by the rocks, waiting for the inevitable flurry of bullets. They didn't
have long to wait, watching helplessly as Adam and Johnny fought off the
men attacking from both sides. A bullet plowed into the ground in front
of Scott's feet and he instinctively moved backwards, closer toward Little
Joe, swinging his fists up in a protective movement. Burton advanced on
the two unarmed men, a savage grin on his face. Scott surged upright and
positioned himself in front of the younger man. Little Joe began the struggle
to stand upright, forcing himself backward against the rock and using it
Burton laughed at the sight and holstered
his gun contemptuously. He advanced on Scott and let loose with a flying
punch. Scott's head rocked back, but he recovered quickly, and swung out
with his fist, connecting with a satisfying thud on Burton's jaw. His satisfaction
was short-lived as Burton responded in a fury, his fists flying like lead
weights. Scott held his own for a brief time, but his fight with the desert
sun had left him in a weakened condition. A hard hit to the jaw sent him
plummeting into darkness.
Little Joe watched his friend fall and
he moved to enter the fray. Burton grabbed him, pinioning his arms quickly
with a great bear hug, drawing his gun and holding it snugly against Little
Joe's curls. "I wouldn't try anything," Burton hissed venomously. "I wouldn't
mind killing you right now."
Little Joe had a ringside seat for the
ensuing action, and he watched with his heart in his throat. He felt grim
satisfaction as he saw Adam and Johnny take out their opponents, but knew
that the trouble was far from over. He struggled against the iron arm that
held him clamped to Burton's side, not wanting to be the cause of Adam
and Johnny's defeat.
Now the four men stood in a standoff. Adam's
face was murderous, and his fists were clenched in rage. "Let him go, Burton."
he snarled, his voice quivering with rage.
Burton laughed and casually rammed the
gun a little tighter against Joe's head, making him wince with pain. "Not
a chance, Cartwright." he replied. "He's my ace in the hole. Now, drop
your guns, gentleman, or I kill the kid."
"No, Adam, shoot him!" Joe cried frantically,
crying out in pain as Burton viciously jabbed him with the gun in an effort
to quiet him.
Adam growled low in his throat, but his
gun arm wavered. His indecision caused Burton to chuckle in satisfaction,
convinced his plan was succeeding. Adam looked at Johnny standing quietly
beside him, the gun still held in the gunfighter's grasp. Johnny shook
his head slightly, indicating that this was Adam's decision. Johnny wouldn't
take a chance on jeopardizing Adam's brother's life.
"Adam!" Joe's voice was strident. "Kill
him! Shoot!" Joe gasped in shock, as he felt the gun strike his head viciously.
Blackness swirled and the scene wavered in front of his eyes, as Joe struggled
to remain conscious.
Adam's jaw tightened at the rough treatment
of his wounded brother. He made a movement as if to drop the gun, watching
with sickening rage as a look of gloating satisfaction crossed Burton's
face. At the last second Adam fired, the shot taking Burton in the exposed
Burton gasped in pain, and he started to
fall, dragging Joe down with him, his gun firing as his finger moved reflexively.
Adam cried out in terror and rushed towards the two men lying in a tangled
heap. "Joe" he sobbed out, as he reached the unmoving men.
Johnny also moved forward, reaching to
help as Adam frantically rolled Burton's body off of Joe. Burton's eyes
were open, but he was in shock, and offered no resistance as Johnny relieved
him of his gun and roughly yanked him aside, blood still pouring from the
vicious wound in his shoulder. Johnny watched, sympathy shining in his
eyes, as Adam cradled the limp form of his little brother.
"Joe, answer me. Are you all right?" Adam
whispered desperately, shaking his brother gently. "Please, Joe, open your
eyes." He wiped away the blood that was trickling from a bullet wound grazing
the side of Joe's head. Burton's bullet had not entered Joe's skull, his
fall had deflected his aim, but the bullet had plowed a furrow across Joe's
scalp, and he was bleeding profusely.
Johnny quickly pulled his shirt free from
his trousers and ripped off a wide strip. "Here, Adam," he said urgently,
trying to break through Adam's guilt and grief. "Use this, let's get that
bleeding stopped." When Johnny saw Adam responding to his command, he turned
his attention to his own brother, gently patting Scott's face, and calling
Scott moaned and his eyes fluttered open.
He looked up at the concerned face of his brother, and a tiny smile flickered
at his swollen, sunburned lips. "Good to see you, brother." he said softly.
"Is everyone all right?" He attempted to sit up, but Johnny's gentle hands
held him down.
"Hey, Boston, lie still, you hear?" Johnny
ordered firmly. "I'm going to get you some water." He moved quickly for
the canteen, and held it to Scott's lips, carefully avoiding Scott's questioning
eyes. When he saw Scott drink eagerly, he smiled in satisfaction. Only
when he felt Scott had had enough, did he allow his brother to sit up.
Scott's smile faded as he saw Adam working
on his unconscious brother. "Oh God, Johnny," he whispered. "Is Joe bad?"
Johnny's eyes were worried. "I don't know,
brother. Adam hasn't let me near him long enough to find out." The Lancers
watched the scene with concern, praying that their newfound friend would
survive this latest ordeal. Johnny moved quietly to grab a coil of rope
and began making the rounds of the fallen outlaws, tying up the ones still
living, starting with Burton.
As Adam labored over Joe, his thoughts
were in a turmoil. Why hadn't he just dropped his gun when Burton had ordered
him too? How could he have endangered Joe's life even further. Adam's guilt
became a crushing burden on his mind, and he almost sobbed with frustration
when he couldn't get Joe to respond to his pleas to open his eyes. A hand
on his shoulder made Adam jerk with surprise. He looked up to see two pairs
of eyes gazing at him with concern.
"How is he?" Scott asked, his voice soft
with concern. He knelt next to Joe's prone form, and examined the wound.
"It's just grazed him," he said in relief, as he probed in Joe's thick,
Johnny crouched next to Scott, and looked
at Adam compassionately. "He's going to need a doctor, Adam. Do you want
to try to move him?"
Adam's face reflected his inner turmoil.
He was having trouble thinking clearly, still torn with guilt at causing
the shooting. "I don't know," he said finally. "Joe isn't in any shape
to cross the desert, and yet he can't stay here. I'm not sure what we should
do." The admission was forced through stiff lips, as Adam tried to clamp
down on his despair.
"Tell you what," Johnny said helpfully.
"I'll ride back to Daggett and get the sheriff and a doctor. You and Scott
can stay here and take care of Little Joe, and keep an eye on Burton and
Adam looked at Johnny in relief. "Thanks,
Johnny. I'd really be in your debt. I don't think Joe could make it back
to Daggett on a horse. If you went for a wagon it would be safer for him."
"No problem," Johnny said simply. He moved
to the horses and mounted one quickly. Looking down from the saddle he
motioned to Scott, who rose and joined him. "Keep an eye on them, Scott.
If anything happens to Joe, Adam's going to be in bad shape."
Scott nodded his agreement. A shadow crossed
his face at the thought of the happy-go-lucky young man losing his life.
"We'll be okay, Johnny. I'm going to go round up Burton's horses. Hopefully
there'll be canteens on them, so that we'll have plenty of water. If we're
really lucky, he'll have some food in his saddlebags." Scott was already
moving off, glad to have something constructive to do. He gave a last wave
to his brother, and watched the golden horse moving off, disappearing rapidly
in the darkness of the desert.
When Scott returned from his quest to find
the outlaws' horses, he found Adam still working over Joe's prone body.
He dumped several canteens on the ground next to the wounded man and sat
back on his heels, giving Adam a concerned look. "Has he woken up yet,
Adam?" Scott asked hopefully.
Adam shook his head, his eyes heavy with
grief. "No, not yet. I'm afraid he's not going to." The admission slipped
out quietly, and Adam hung his head as if ashamed he had voiced his doubts
Scott put a sympathetic hand on Adam's
arm, and then turned to look at Little Joe. The boy's face was swollen
with the burns inflicted by the raging sun, and the long furrow left by
the bullet had caused black and blue bruises to begin on the right side
of his face. Adam had fashioned a rough bandage out of strips torn from
his shirt, and he gratefully accepted the canteen that Scott held out to
him. Using another strip of shirt, he moistened it and began wiping Joe's
forehead with it. Adam then held the canteen to Joe's lips and poured a
small stream of water on them, hoping to rouse his brother.
Joe's head moved slightly to one side,
and then his lips parted and he coughed a little as he choked on the water.
Adam hastily set aside the canteen and patting his brother's cheek lightly,
cried out, "Wake up, Joe. It's time to wake up."
Joe's eyes opened and he surveyed the scene
around him. At first he saw nothing but a vague nightmarish blur, but finally
his vision sharpened and Joe saw the face of his brother come into focus.
He weakly reached out a shaking hand, and touched Adam's face. "Adam?"
he asked in confusion. "Are you okay?"
Adam laughed shakily. "I'm fine now that
you're awake, Little Joe. Don't ever scare me like that again." He gathered
his brother into his arms and held him tightly. "I thought you were dead,
Joe." he whispered brokenly.
Joe struggled to put his arms around Adam's
shaking shoulders. "I was afraid that Burton was going to kill you, Big
Brother." Joe gasped in remembrance, looking around wildly. "Burton, where
is he?" he said urgently.
"He's over by the fire, tied up with the
rest of his men," Scott replied, joining the conversation for the first
time. His smile was tinged by the same relief that was spreading through
Adam. "We don't have to worry about him anymore."
Adam gently laid Joe back on the ground,
and held the canteen for him again. This time Joe drank greedily from the
container, and Adam had to pull it away, afraid that his brother would
choke. "Whoa, go slow, little brother." he said chuckling. "I don't want
you getting sick on top of everything else."
Joe smiled back up at him and then closed
his eyes tiredly. "I think I'm going back to sleep, Adam." he said drowsily.
"Wake me when room service gets here." Joe's voice trailed off, and he
never heard his brother's answering chuckle.
A week later, Ben Cartwright and his son
Hoss rode rapidly towards the large stone gates emblazoned with a single
word: Lancer. As they passed under the great stone arch and rode towards
the large hacienda they exchanged worried looks. They could see that this
was the household of a prosperous landholder, but worry over Little Joe
overrode their curiosity. As they rode up to the front of the house and
dismounted the door opened and a beautiful young girl ran towards them.
"You must be Mr. Cartwright and Hoss."
she cried happily. "Adam will be so happy to see you." She reached out
to shake Ben's outstretched hand, and nodded to Hoss, who smiled back bashfully.
"Oh, forgive me, I'm Teresa O'Brien, Adam's waiting inside for you. He
didn't want to leave Joe." She turned to lead the way into the house.
"Excuse me, Miss Teresa," Ben caught her
arm urgently. "Little Joe, how is he? The telegram said he was in pretty
Teresa smiled happily. "Oh, he's doing
much better, Mr. Cartwright. Please come in and see for yourself. I know
he's going to be so happy to see you." She tugged on his arm, causing Ben
to smile at her enthusiasm.
They walked into the house to be greeted
by a tall, silver-haired man, who matched Ben for a sense of towering strength.
The man rose and shook hands with the visitors, saying "Mr. Cartwright?
I'm Murdoch Lancer, welcome to our ranch."
Ben exchanged pleasantries with the man,
but his thoughts were clearly elsewhere. Murdoch noticed his abstraction
and took pity on his guest. "You must be worried about your sons, please
come with me, and I'll take you up to Little Joe's room. Adam hasn't left
his side since he got here, so you'll find them both in one place."
Ben smiled in relief and was soon being
shown into a spacious room, where he was greeted by the welcome sight of
Adam, who embraced him with a smile. "Pa, you made good time, I wasn't
expecting to see you so soon." he cried.
"We rode through most of the nights as
well as the days, so that we could get here quicker." Ben replied. His
eyes locked onto the sleeping form in the bed, and he drank in the sight
of his youngest son as if he couldn't get enough. "How is he, Adam." he
whispered, not wanting to wake Joe up.
"He's better, Pa." Adam replied, a shadow
crossing his face. "I think he's going to be fine. It was touch and go
for a few days, but the doctor sounds encouraging now."
"What happened, Adam." Hoss said angrily,
looking at the battered state of Little Joe's face. His hands clenched
and unclenched at the thought of a threat to his younger brother.
Adam drew the men into the hallway and
spent some time filling them in on the details of their interaction with
Burton and his men. Murdoch Lancer had withdrawn discreetly, allowing the
Cartwrights some much needed time alone together. Hoss was visibly upset
at Adam's story, and he had a murderous look in his eye. He paced up and
down the hallway as he listened, until Ben reached out a firm hand and
stopped him. Finally he could stand it no longer, and he thrust open the
bedroom door, and went to sit by Little Joe's side. He reached out and
smoothed back a stray curl from Joe's forehead, and then took the smaller
hand into his huge one. Little Joe woke up to be greeted by the sight of
his brother's worried blue eyes boring into his face. Joe smiled, and then
winced as the half healed burns were tugged by the movement. Hoss' eyes
clouded when he saw the small expression of pain.
"Hey, Little Brother." he said with false
cheerfulness. "What are you doing lying up here in bed. Why aren't you
out riding around this pretty countryside with that nice Miss Teresa I
just met." Hoss' hand trembled a bit and he held onto Joe, the thought
that he had almost lost his little brother too much for him to bear.
"Hey, yourself, Older Brother," Joe responded
happily. "It's good to see you." He looked past Hoss an expression of joy
coming onto his face when his eyes found the one he was searching for.
"Hi, Pa." he whispered.
Ben Cartwright crossed the room in two
strides, and he hung over the bed to place a kiss on his son's forehead.
"How are you, Joe?" he asked in concern.
"I'm fine, Pa," Joe responded and then
looked confused when his father and brothers burst out laughing. "What
did I say?" he questioned bemusedly.
"Son, you would say you were fine if you
had both legs removed." Ben answered, a broad smile on his face. "In this
case, though, I think you might mean it."
Ben and Hoss settled in for a long talk
with the youngest Cartwright, and no one noticed that Adam slipped silently
from the room.
At dinner that night, Ben and Hoss were
introduced to Johnny and Scott. They were enthusiastic in their thanks
for the Lancer brothers' help in the rescue from the desert. Adam sat silently
through dinner, earning several speculative looks from his father, as well
as Johnny and Scott. The Lancers exchanged looks, and a slight nod, some
silent communication passing between them. After dinner, Adam left the
group and headed outside through the veranda doors, disappearing into the
darkness. With another look at Scott, Johnny quietly followed their guest
out the door. He finally spotted Adam leaning on the corral fence, watching
the horses move around in the darkness. Coming to stand beside the man
in black, Johnny too propped himself up against the fence.
"Want to talk about it?" he queried quietly,
his hands drumming quietly on the wood of the fence.
Adam smiled a little at the sight of those
drumming fingers. He had learned in the short time of knowing the Lancers,
that Johnny was very like Joe in the fact that he couldn't seem to keep
still for any length of time. "Talk about what?" he finally responded,
taking care to keep the challenge from his tone.
"Why you haven't been up to Joe's room
since your old man got here, when you wouldn't leave his side before."
Johnny drawled. "Scott and I both noticed that you're actin' a little funny."
"I'm not acting "funny" as you put it,"
Adam said defensively. "I spent a lot of time with Joe before Pa and Hoss
got here, and I wanted to give them a chance to see him." He turned his
head to look into the distance, trying to avoid Johnny's blue eyes.
"You're sure that's it?" The question was
simple, but Adam drew in a sharp breath.
"Is it so obvious that there's something
wrong?" he challenged the younger man.
"Only to someone who knows you pretty well,
I'd say." Johnny answered seriously. "And I think I've come to know you
pretty well, Adam. What's eating at you?"
Adam hesitated, something in him wanting
to walk away, but common sense telling him that he needed to get his feelings
out before they ripped him apart. "I could have gotten my brother killed."
he forced out. "I should have dropped my gun when Burton wanted me too.
I didn't and Joe could have died." He laid his head on his arms, and took
a deep breath. "I don't see how I'm ever going to be able to face Joe again.
I've sat with him for a week now, pretending that everything is fine, and
he's been pretending right back at me. But Johnny, he must hate me for
what I did."
Adam's words poured out of him in a torrent,
and he couldn't have stopped them if he wanted to. The guilt had been tearing
him up for too long now, and he wasn't sure he could live with it any more.
"Have you asked Joe how he feels?" Johnny
spoke quietly, almost absently, trying to give Adam the space he needed
to work out his problems. "I don't get the feeling he blames you for anything."
"Of course he wouldn't say anything to
you." Adam spat out angrily. "You're not family. He's probably in there
right now telling Pa how he never wants to see me again for what I did."
Adam turned and started to walk away, but
Johnny reached out and grabbed his arm, spinning the older man around.
"Why are you selling Joe short, Adam? What's he done to deserve that?"
Johnny gazed at Adam in sympathy. "I know something about putting my family
in danger, and I've had to find a way to live with that. Give Joe a chance
to talk to you, Adam. You owe him that." Johnny's hand dropped from Adam's
arm, and he smiled gently . "He might just surprise you."
Johnny walked back toward the house leaving
Adam alone in the darkness. Adam turned back toward the corral and leaned
his arms against the top rail. With a groan he buried his head in his arms
trying to work his way through the turmoil of his thoughts. He stood like
that for a long time.
The morning sun sparkled brightly, shining
into the room through the broad casement windows. It illuminated Little
Joe's face, adding to the sparkle in his lively green eyes. He looked up
as he heard the door open, and smiled when he saw Adam enter the room.
"Where have you been, Adam, I've been asking for you?" Joe cried happily.
"I've been telling Pa and Hoss all about Scott and Johnny. He says we can
invite them out to the Ponderosa for a visit."
Adam couldn't help smile at Joe's enthusiasm.
"That'll be great, Joe. I'm sure we'll all enjoy a visit from the Lancers.
Maybe you can persuade them to bring Miss Teresa along with them." Adam
sat back to enjoy the added animation that crossed Joe's face at the mention
"She sure is pretty, isn't she, Older Brother?"
Joe asked eagerly.
"Yeah, and she's got two protective "big
brothers" in Johnny and Scott, so watch your step, Little Joe." Adam chided
Ben Cartwright smiled at the scene before
him, happy to see his three sons safe and together in the same room. He
had noticed Adam's tension of the day before, and his avoidance of Little
Joe. He realized that Adam needed some time with Joe. "Well, Murdoch asked
me to come look at some of his breeding stock, so as long as you're going
to be here Adam, I think I'll go find our host." he said, preparing to
depart. "Oh, and Hoss, I think I heard Miss Teresa say that she had baked
an apple pie just for you."
Hoss eyes took on a twinkle. "I thought
I could smell something good. I'd better go find that pie before someone
else does." He turned to his younger brother. "You okay, Joe?"
Joe laughed. "I'm fine, Hoss. Go find Teresa's
pie, just save a piece for me, will ya?" He stretched and yawned. "I might
just take a little nap while you're gone." He watched as his father and
brother left the room, turning to take in his oldest brother's unsmiling
countenance. The sparkle left Joe's eyes, and his face clouded with worry.
He reached out for Adam's hand, grabbing it with both his own. "What's
wrong, Adam? What have I done now?"
Adam looked at Joe in surprise. "What do
you mean, Joe? You haven't done anything?" he asked in bemusement.
"You look like a thundercloud, Big Brother,
and you wouldn't come near me all day yesterday." Joe replied quietly,
a worried look on his face. "I thought I had done something to upset you."
Adam shook his head seriously. "You haven't
done anything, Little Joe." he said firmly. "I've come to ask your forgiveness."
He gripped Joe's hands tightly, a look of fear lurking on his face.
"Forgiveness." Joe's voice came out almost
a squeak. "Why on earth are you asking for my forgiveness, Adam." He struggled
to sit up, and Adam instinctively moved to assist him, placing pillows
behind Joe's back, so that he could lean against the headboard.
"I shouldn't have fired on Burton. I'm
sorry. I could have gotten you killed, Joe." Adam forced out, afraid that
if he didn't do it now he would never be able to discuss the situation
with Joe. "I should have dropped my gun like he wanted me too. I would
never have been able to live with myself if you had died." Adam's eyes
dropped from Joe's luminous green orbs, afraid of what he would see in
Joe shook his head in bewilderment. "But
Adam, you saved my life." he cried in frustration. "I begged you to shoot
Burton. If you hadn't we were right back where we started from. Burton
was desperate. He would have killed all of us as soon as you dropped that
gun. You did the only thing you could have done." Joe reached for Adam,
but he avoided his little brother's hands stepping back as if he was going
to leave the room.
"Adam, please!" Joe cried again. "You've
got to believe me. I don't blame you for what happened. It wasn't your
fault." He swung his legs from beneath the covers preparing to leave his
bed to go after his retreating brother.
Adam saw his brother's movement and he
swung back quickly. " No, Joe, you're not supposed to be up yet. Get back
in bed," he commanded.
"Not if you won't listen to me, Adam" Joe
said angrily. "I'm not going to let you beat yourself up about Burton.
You did what you had to do, what I wanted you to do. Don't you dare blame
yourself for what happened, you Yankee granite head."
Adam looked at his feisty little brother,
and laughed in spite of himself. He moved back towards the bed and forced
Joe back beneath the covers. "Are you sure, Little Brother," he said when
he had settled the younger boy in. "I wouldn't blame you if you hated me
for what happened."
Little Joe rolled his eyes. "And people
say I'm stubborn," he lamented. "You're the stubborn one, Adam Cartwright,
not me. I don't want to hear any more about you feeling guilty." Joe settled
back against the pillows. "Yankee granite head." he muttered under his
breath, but his eyes were warm, and his smile sent a shaft of sunlight
into Adam's heart.
"You want me to read to you to help you
fall asleep?" Adam asked fondly, his dark eyes were warm, and a smile played
about his lips. "Unless you'd rather I didn't sit with you?"
Joe's eyes locked onto Adam's and he said
fiercely. "Don't you dare leave me, Adam. Don't you ever leave me. Life
wouldn't be the same without you, you know." He grinned. "Now, why don't
you read to me, and then maybe you could persuade that pretty Teresa to
come up here and play nurse with me."
Adam gave a snort of laughter. He leaned
over and gave Joe a brief embrace. "Sure thing, Little Brother." he said
happily. He picked up a book and started to read, his mellow voice filling
Little Joe with contentment, as his eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep.