Amigos en Vida y Muerte

Little Joe's horse rode like the wind towards town. Just the thought of his brother in trouble frightened him. Anybody who was able to take Hoss hostage must have either been very big or very threatening. Perhaps both. All Little Joe knew was that he had to get to town and get help.

The hour long ride seemed to take forever, even though he was riding faster than he ever had before. Through his mind raced thoughts of Ben and Carlos, of Hoss and Tess, of Adam, even of Isabella. He had heard Margaret say that Isabella was in trouble, that she had been shot, and he was worried about what might happen. So, as he rode, he thought about her also.

In the distance, he could see the outlines of the buildings in town. These outlines soon became solid structures as Little Joe rode towards the Trading Post, screaming at the top of his lungs.

"Help!" Little Joe jumped off of Paint and tied her to the hitching post. He was tired and out of breath, but managed another cry. "Please help!"

In small crowds, people piled out of buildings. Shelby was the first to reach him. "What's wrong?"

Little Joe panted. "Mrs. Greene... she came...they took Hoss, Tess...He shot Isabella."

"Woah," Shelby said grabbing hold of Little Joe's shoulders. "Slow yerself down. Now what're ya sayin'?"

Little Joe took a deep breath to calm himself and then started again. "Mrs. Greene's ranch hand...Jorge... he shot Isabella. Then him and a bunch of others, they took Hoss and Tess. They're headed toward Rocky Point."

Shelby looked around at the crowd that had gathered around her and Little Joe. "What're ya'll waitin' for?" she asked. "You heard what he said, Rocky Point. Let's go!" The crowd began to bustle. "Don't ya go worryin'," she said to Little Joe. "We'll help'em." Shelby ran from him to join the group riding to Rocky Point.

Little Joe looked back at the Trading Post, recalling in his mind what Ben had told him back at the house. 'Joseph,' he had said, 'I need you to ride into town and get some help. Tell them to meet us at Rocky Point.' Little Joe had done that. 'And Joseph,' Joe remembered. 'You are then to stay with Mrs. Orowitz. Do you understand me?'

Little Joe had agreed, but how could he just wait and hope that everyone would be OK? He turned away from the Post and walked towards Paint. He slowly mounted and raced out of town, heading back towards Rocky Point. Little Joe had only been there twice before, but could find his way blindfolded and on foot.

Little Joe rode and soon came to a small stand of pine trees. As he followed the path in his head, Little Joe continued on. Things however, didn't look as he recalled them. they seemed different in some way. Little Joe rode longer than it had taken him to get to town, but he couldn't find his way to Rocky Point. He felt like he was riding in circles, passing the same patch of trees, time and time again.

As frustration began to mount, Little Joe dismounted Paint and hitched her to a tree. "I know this is the right way." He walked to the right, and then back to the left, pausing once again. Little Joe sat down by a tree. He brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. "South East," Little Joe thought. The Cartwright land was vast, but Rocky Point was the south east corner of their property. It shouldn't have been difficult for Joe to find.

As he sat beneath the tree, Little Joe began to rock back and forth in worry for his brother's life. What if the man who took him decided to shoot him? Then, through the silence that surrounded him, BANG! The sound of a gun discharging. Little Joe began to rock more nervously. He knew that now, something was terribly wrong. Whether it was Ben, Hoss or Adam, even Tess, he knew that the shot had hit somebody. The tears began to roll down Joe's face. He wrapped his arms tighter around his legs. He wanted more than anything to go to his father. If only he could find the way.

As he continued rocking and crying, he suddenly heard a voice calling to him. "Little Joe." Joe looked up, his face stained with tears. "What are you doing here?"

"Carlos." Joe wiped his sleeve across his nose. "I heard a shot. Is Hoss..."

"He is fine." Carlos approached him.

"And Pa, Adam?"

"They are all fine." Little Joe sniffled and wiped the tears from his eyes. "Why are you not in town? At the Trading Post?"

"I wanted to help." There was a short pause. "I was scared," he admitted.

"Everything is going to be alright now." Carlos extended his hand and Joe took hold of it and stood. "Come, I will take you home."

Little Joe unhitched his horse and mounted. He and Carlos began to ride. Joe couldn't figure out which was Carlos was leading him, but he rode along anyway, in silence at first."

"Carlos?" he spoke. "What about Tess, is she OK?"

Carlos turned his head. "Do not worry, Little Joe," he said. "They are all fine. I would never let anything to happen to them. You are like family to me."

Joe paused a moment. "And Isabella..."

"I know that she is fine. Mrs. Greene is with her. She will get better,"

They kept riding, traveling north. Little Joe realized this and became more confused. If he had been south, how come he had never reached Rocky Point? "Hey, Carlos?" he said again. "How did you find me? I didn't know where I was and you found me. Weren't you with Pa and Adam?"

"I was with them. They did not need me anymore." Little Joe looked over at him. "I just knew where you were. I can not explain how. I just knew." Little Joe gave him a questioning look. "We are friends, correct? Amigos por siempre. Always." Little Joe smiled. "And amigos help eachother." Little Joe faced forward once again. Carlos pulled on his horse's reigns, bringing him to a stop. Little Joe did the same. "Little Joe," Carlos said to him. "I want you to remember something. It is something my father told me when I was a boy."

"What is it?"

"He told me, Carlos, Recuerde siempre. Tus amigos rea'l van contigo todos los dias de tu vida. No importa que."

"Well, what does that mean?"

Carlos thought for a moment, as if thinking of a way to translate the words. "It means that your true friends are with you everyday of your life. No matter what happens." Little Joe looked at him, absorbing the words. "It is very important for you to remember this."

Little Joe smiled. "I will." They started their horses moving again towards home. They remained silent for the rest of the ride, but Little Joe would periodically glance over at Carlos, in a way making sure that he was still there. And he always was.

Little Joe's mind began to wander once again. He thought back to when he left town. He had seen the direction that Shelby and the posse had rode towards Rocky Point. He had gone in the same direction. Why was it that he had never came upon them? He hadn't seen them once. At first he thought that he had perhaps made a mistake and gone in the wrong direction but now Carlos rode with him, North.

Then there was that gunshot. Carlos had told Joe that everyone was fine, Granted, the shot could have completely missed who it was aimed for. Or, it could have been one of the assailants who was hit. But then again, if Little Joe was so off course, how did he hear the shot in the first place? At first, he thought of hunters, but there would be no hunters on the Ponderosa. Then he imagined maybe Indians, but then added the pistol and ruled out that scenario. The only logical explanation was that the gunshot came from Rocky Point. Nothing made any sense to him.

Soon the house came into view. Little Joe rode up and dismounted his horse. Hitching her to the post, he turned around to see Carlos.

"Hey Carlos," he said. But Carlos was nowhere in sight. "Carlos!" Little Joe walked away from the house a bit and looked around. He could see nothing. Only the slow approach of two horses. As they got closer, Little Joe knew who it was. "Hoss!" Joe ran to meet his brother. Hoss and Ben stopped and dismounted their horses. Little Joe grabbed hold of Hoss, wrapping his arms around his waist. He then looked up at Ben. "Where's Adam?" he asked, a slight quiver in his voice.

"He's with Isabella." Joe's eyebrows raised to Ben's response. "She's fine. They're both fine. Little Joe..."

"I know you told me to stay with Mrs. Orowitz, Pa." Joe explained. " But I wanted to help. But I got lost and then I heard a gunshot. I was so afraid, Pa. I was so glad when Carlos showed up."

Hoss and Ben looked at eachother quickly. "Joseph, Carlos..."

"He rode me home, but he musta left before we got here. Do you know when he's comin back?"

Ben gently took hold of Little Joe's arms. "Joe. Carlos went out to help your brother and Tess. That gunshot you heard..." Ben thought of how to say what he had to, but there was no easy way. "Son, Carlos is dead." Little Joe's eyes watered up. "He was shot, Joe. I'm sorry."

"He can't be dead, Pa. I saw him. He brought me home. I saw him." Little Joe began to cry. The tears ran down his face in streams. "He's not dead, he's not!" Little Joe clutched his father. Ben bent down and put his arms around him. Little Joe held him tightly. "He's not!"


A few days passed. Isabella's wound had completely recovered. But everyone still suffered from a similar wound, the death of Carlos Rivera de Vega. Margaret Greene had been able to finally see Carlos as a man of honor, not just a Mexican. He had saved Hoss and Tess' lives by giving his own and was laid to rest on 'Rivera land'.

As the service came to an end, Little Joe found his way away from the crowd and to Carlos' grave. Alone he stood, with tears in his eyes looking down at it. "I know you were there," Joe managed to say through his tears. "And I know that I went the right way to Rocky Point. Pa says it was a miracle I wasn't killed. that I could've been if I'da found where I was goin'. I know it was you who got me lost and showed me home. 'Cuz we're friends. And friends are always there for eachother no matter what." Little Joe wiped the tears away from his eyes. "No matter what."

"Joseph." Little Joe heard the soft comforting voice of his father coming from not far behind him. Little Joe turned around and walked slowly towards Ben. He knew he didn't have to be afraid to say goodbye because he and Carlos were true friends. And like Carlos had said, tus amigos rea'l van contigo todos los dias de tu vida. Always.

The End