My thanks to Allen Bell one of my FB friends for the idea. Second, my apologies to regular fans of Bonanza since I haven't watched the show for years except an isolated episode here and there. I realize how the wives died might have been in the series.
Dragonlots aka Dana Bell
The stack of files hitting his desk caused DiNozo to glance up. "What's up, boss?"
"Special request from General Cartwright."
Gingerly Tony used his thumb to lift a file on the dust covered stack. "What am I looking for?"
"A pattern." Gibbs sat back down at his desk. "It's a priority so get busy."
Tony glanced around the room wishing either Ziva or McGee were around. McGee was off to some sort of SciFi convention in San Diego and Ziva had left about an hour ago to get lunch or so she said.
"DiNozo," He knew Gibb's tone. Time for him to get busy.
With a grimace he opened the first file. Dust drifted up and tickled his nose. He sneezed and then wiped his sleeve across his face.
He peeked over the file at Ziva. She gave him a cheeky grin and sat down, tossing her bag into a drawer. A soda and sandwich lay on her desk top. She unwrapped her meal and took a bite.
"You could help." He pointed at the files.
"He's right," Gibbs agreed.
"Very well." She put down her sandwich and grabbed a few files off Tony's desk. "What are we looking for?"
"A pattern." Gibbs went back to pretending to ignore them.
"Love it when he's cryptic." Tony went back to reading the dated info. He sat straight up as he realized something. "Hey, Boss, this stuff dates back over a hundred years ago."
"Your point is, DiNozo?"
"How are we supposed to find evidence or give anything to Abby?"
"You'll figure it out."
Hours later Tony put the last file done and sent a questioning look over at Ziva. "You find anything?"
"This man Ben Cartwright lived a very interesting life." She closed the file and put it down.
"Other than the fact he had three wives." He glanced over at Gibbs. "We know someone who's had more."
Ziva frowned and pulled a file she'd set aside. "Says here all three died."
"Wasn't uncommon back there." Tony sat back and was tempted to put his feet up on his desk. With Gibbs there though he thought better of it. "All sorts of illnesses and women often died in childbirth."
"So it does not seem strange to you that he outlived three wives, yet his sons survived and he raised them alone?"
He shook his head. "Not really."
"DiNozo." Gibbs looked over at his two agents. "Ziva hit the nail on the head."
"That's what we're supposed to investigate?" Tony couldn't believe. "Why three women over a century ago, married to the same man, died?"
Gibbs gave him a knowing smile.
Hot desert winds rippled over Tony as he stepped out of the rental car. The main street looked like a bunch of touristy type shops all set into the old store fronts, saloons and whatever of the pioneer city. They were back dropped by sandy hills with a modern road running down the middle.
"Not what I expected," Ziva said as she took off her sunglasses. She looked cool and comfortable in her tank top and jeans. Tony envied her. His long sleeved shirt was sticking to his skin.
"We're not here to sight see," Gibbs said. How he kept cool in his suit Tony had no idea. He closed the brown car door. "We here to find out where the Ponderosa used to be."
"How about we ask there?" Tony pointed across the street at a shop promising a walk through an ancient vault and a mine tour.
"I was thinking maybe the town courthouse."
"What about the public library?" Ziva suggested.
"Good idea, David." Gibbs gave her a half approving smile.
They got back into the car and after some searching found the library. Gibbs flashed the older woman a friendly smile. "We're looking for the Ponderosa Ranch or at least where it used to be."
With a slight frown over her horn rimmed glasses, the gray haired woman took them to a locked room. She slipped the key into the lock and turned the handle. "Part of our historical records." She rummaged around a shelf and came back with an old map, laying it carefully on a table. "The ranch used to be here." She pointed to a place a spot. DiNozo used his cell phone to take a picture.
"How do we get there?" Gibbs asked.
"Isn't there anymore."
"Doesn't matter. We want to take a look."
She gave them directions and the group left. Tony slide into the back seat while Ziva road shot gun and Gibbs drove. Beautiful country passed by. There were hills, pines, sage brush and houses.
"What do we hope to find there, boss?"
"Does the general think his ancestor murdered his wives?" Ziva asked.
"Nowadays," Tony locked his fingers and rested his head against his hands, "Ben Cartwright would have been named a person of interest in their deaths."
Ziva looked back at DiNozo. "As you yourself said, they could have died from anything."
"Or maybe he was a mass murderer."
"Here we are." Gibbs pulled the car over.
The three agents got out of the car. A historical marker sat near the side of the road. It said: 'Here is where the main house of the Ponderosa sat. It was the largest ranch in the area and helped settle the city. In 1985 the property was bought by the National Forest Service after all the original buildings were destroyed by a wild fire. All that remains is the family cemetery.'
"Let's go take a look." Gibbs carefully climbed over the split wood fence.
"Isn't that trespassing?" Ziva inquired as she followed.
"I don't see any signs."
Tony tried not to grin at Gibbs response. He trailed behind taking in the sagebrush and the colorful wildflowers. The air smelled funny almost like a soft perfume a woman would wear.
"Here it is." Gibbs stopped by an area surrounded by black metal fencing.
"We're not going to dig up anyone are we, boss?" The idea of looking at an old rotting corpse didn't appeal to him.
"No." Gibbs tried to gate. It opened. He went inside and started looking at the stones. "You two need an invite?"
Tony and Ziva started guiltily and helped search the stones.
"Here's one!" Ziva called.
"What's it say?" Gibb yelled back.
"To my loving wife," the name had eroded off, "Adam's mother."
"Here's another, Boss." Tony kneeled down. "Says something similar only the child's name is Hoss."
"And here's one for Little Joe's mother." Gibbs got up and brushed dirt from his pants.
"That's strange." Ziva examined another stone. "'Hop Sing, for your years of service. I kept your secret'. There's an unmarked stone next to his."
"Interesting. He could have been in the country illegally," Gibbs filled in. "There were quite a number of Chinese settlers in the old west."
"Perhaps," Ziva mused.
"There ain't nothing here, Boss." Tony was ready to leave.
"Nothing but ghosts." Gibbs gave them both a teasing smile. "Come on. Let's head back to Reno."
A week later Tony found himself reading the files again. Gibbs hadn't talked with the general yet. There had to be something here.
"Haunting isn't it?" Ziva sat on his desk corner and picked up a file to leaf through.
"There's a lot about the past we don't know."
She set the documents down. "If Ben Cartwright killed his wives we will never discover the truth."
Tony straightened and frowned. "This is interesting."
"What is?" Ziva leaned forward to see what he'd found.
"Come on. We need to talk to Gibbs."
It wasn't really hard for Tony to figure out where Gibbs was. His first guess was either Abby's lab or else the morgue. Luckily, he was in Forensics.
"I'm swamped," Abby said as he and Ziva entered. The scientist was all in black, as her normal with her dark hair up in pigtails.
"Didn't bring you work, Abs." He held up a piece of paper while balancing the rest of the file under his arm." Found out what happened to the wives, Boss."
"Just from one piece of paper?" Gibbs sounded amused.
"And from what we found in the graveyard."
"Wow." Abby gave them a huge smile. "You were in a graveyard?"
"A small family plot, Abby," Gibbs supplied.
"Those are the best kind."
"Oh, sorry." He paused for effect. "When the National Forest Service wanted to buy the land, they discovered it didn't belong to the Cartwright family." He turned the paper over. "It belonged to Hop Sing." He pointed to spot it said it.
"And, there was a sizable amount of money in Hop Sing's name. It was never claimed because he had no heirs."
Ziva asked, "So how'd the Forest Service buy the land?"
Tony turned the paper back over. "In the event of Hop Sing's death, the ranch would revert back to the surviving Cartwrights."
"That tells us what, DiNozo?"
"That Hop Sing was blackmailing Ben Cartwright. The man murdered all three of his wives."
"Can I see that?" Ziva yanked the file away from him. "Doesn't explain why he returned it to the family when he died."
Abby suggested, "Maybe to protect the children?"
"I kept your secret," Ziva muttered. She began to pace. "I remember reading that all three wives died suddenly."
Tony crossed his arms over his chest. "Like I said, the man murdered his wives."
She looked through the pages again before finally looking up at Gibbs. "The women were poisoned."
"Now how did you come to that conclusion?" Gibbs wanted to know.
"Abby." She handed the file to Forensic scientist.
The young woman pursued her lips. "Ziva's right. They were poisoned. Not a weapon a man would use, Gibbs."
"What?" Tony didn't believe what he was hearing. "Then who murdered Cartwright's wives?"
"I suspect Hop Sing did, Tony." Ziva looked triumphant. "The Chinese knew all about different kinds of plants, which ones were safe and which ones weren't."
"Kind of hard for a dead man to defend himself." Typical Gibbs comment Tony observed. "Doesn't explain why Hop Sing owned the Ponderosa or the money."
"Uh, Gibbs." Abby looked up from the file a stricken look on her face. "I think I found the answer."
"Okay, give it to me."
"Look." She handed the file over and pointed to a paragraph.
Gibbs whistled. Tony wondered what Abby had found and how both he and Ziva had missed it.
"Cartwright had four wives," Gibbs said quietly. "Hop Sing's sister was the first."
"What!!!" Tony and Ziva yelled in disbelief.
"No children." Gibbs closed. the file. "There's no record of her death. I suspect hers was the unmarked grave by her brother."
"Why would Ben Cartwright hide she was his wife?" Tony was stunned.
"Lots of reasons most having to do with prejudices of the time. " He got a look on his face Tony knew well.
"So, she was still alive when he married wives two, three and four." Tony nodded suddenly understanding.
"And she didn't like it so she killed the competition." Ziva also seemed to final get it.
"We might not know for sure what happened to Cartwright's first wife, but I'd bet Hop Sing did blackmail him." Gibbs shook his head. "Of course, we're just guessing."
"I wonder how the general will take the news?" Tony asked.
"He'll be relieved to have his ancestor cleared." Gibbs headed out of the office. "Don't you three have work to do?"
Tony sneaked a glance up to the overlook. Gibbs stood up there with General Cartwright. Their boss hung casually on the black railing while the admiral, an older man with gray hair and clear blue eyes listened.
"At least he knows Ben Cartwright didn't murder his wives." Ziva stood before his desk.
"I wonder if he'll be upset when he learns who did and why," Tony mused.
"Hi, guys," McGee brightly greeted. "Any interesting cases while I was gone?"
"Not really, Probie."
The young man made a face and sat down at his desk. "Who's that?" He nodded toward the general.
"Our case." Tony went back to pretending he was busy. Ziva returned to her desk.
"Okay." McGee signed in on his computer.
Abby rushed up and around to give McGee a hug. "Nice to have you home. Did you have fun?"
"Meet any nubile princesses, Elf Lord," DiNozo teased.
"I'll never tell."
Abby glanced up at the general and got a perplexed expression on her face. "Now that's weird."
McGee looked puzzled. "What is?"
"Well, I got curious about the case and did some research."
"Gibbs closed the case, Abby," Tony reminded her.
"Yeah, I know, but," she looked at the general again. "He looks like the original Ben Cartwright."
"Ben Cartwright is long dead." Tony was sure of that.
"There's no record of his death."
"Could have gotten lost, Abby," McGee said. "Wouldn't have been uncommon."
Tony suspected McGee was just guessing. The Probie hadn't been working the case.
"Not for someone as important as he was." Abby crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot. "Besides, I found out something about his first wife." She grinned. "Amazing what you can find on the Internet if you know how."
Gibbs and the general came down the stairs together.
"This is my team."
"Pleasure to meet all of you," the General warmly greeted, "and thank you all, for researching my case."
"She put a curse on you, didn't she?" Abby looked very sure of herself.
"Abby?" Gibbs tone was both surprised and full of warning.
"Your boys all died childless." She glanced around at everyone. "You didn't check?"
"We thought," Tony began.
Blue eyes grew sad. "She's right."
"What?" Gibbs stared at the General.
"If you already knew the answer, "Abby asked, "why did you have Gibbs, Ziva and Tony investigate your wives deaths?"
"It was the only way to break the curse." Already he seemed to aging. Tony jumped to his feet in alarm. Gibbs grabbed for the general's arm while Ziva got on the phone yelling for Ducky.
In seconds there was only a crumbled uniform and a pile of dust. In the distance Tony swore he heard an enraged scream.