Ben stood in the yard and watched his old friend Sheriff Roy Coffee ride away. He stood their long after the sheriff was out of sight, as if in a trance. Ben was stunned, Roy had described the barbaric killing of Ted Miller, and had informed him of other news which left him in his current state.
The sound of the front door opening awakened Ben from his stupor. He turned around to see his eldest son slowly approaching him with a concerned look on his face.
"Pa, what is it?" Adam asked as he reached out to his father and placed a hand on his shoulder.
Ben let out a long breath, one he didn't realise he had been holding. He shuffled his feet and bowed his head, desperately trying to gather his thoughts. Adam squeezed his shoulder. He looked up into his son's trusting eyes and marvelled at his strong son who had grown to become his best friend with age. He knew that he couldn't handle this alone and made the decision to talk it through with Adam.
"Adam we need to talk…Roy has told me some disturbing news." Ben said grimly.
"Why don't we go for a ride down to the lake and talk there." Adam suggested.
"No no…we can't leave…." Ben cleared his throat and composed himself; he could see his sudden panic had startled his son. "We need to stay here. Come inside." Ben placed his hand on his son's back and guided him into the house.
Ben walked through the door and scanned the room. Hoss was sitting at the table finishing a second helping of breakfast. Ben's eyes went wide. "Where's Joe?"
Adam frowned. "He's upstairs in his room. I asked hi…"
"Good. Hoss! Go upstairs and stay with your brother for a while. I'll call you down." Ben interrupted Adam.
Hoss was about to put a forkful of food into his mouth and stopped halfway. "I haven't finished breakfast Pa." He said dismayed.
"Do as I say….Go on….Upstairs!" Ben demanded. Hoss could see by his father's face and the way he had spoken that he didn't want any argument so he rose, grabbed a couple of biscuits and walked slowly up the stairs. Ben and Adam watched him and listened for the opening and closing of the bedroom door.
"I need a brandy." Adam's eyebrows raised in surprise. His father rarely drank in the morning. Sending Hoss upstairs also meant that whatever he had to say must be very serious.
"Pa what is it?" Adam asked.
"Come sit down Adam." Ben called his son over to the chairs that sat in front of the unlit fireplace. Ben sipped the brandy and gathered his thoughts. Adam sat and waited patiently for his father to speak.
"Roy said they found Ted near the lake. His hands had been cut off and…." Ben took another sip of his brandy. "He was naked and they had disfigured him."
"Disfigured him. How? What do you mean?" Adam asked, confused. He noticed his father's hands were shaking. He quickly got up and poured his father another brandy.
Ben spoke more softly. "Adam they cut off his testicles." Adam almost dropped the decanter of brandy. He grabbed another glass and poured himself a brandy. He threw it down without tasting it. He poured himself another.
"My God!" Adam sat down closer to his father.
"Roy's worried Adam. This has happened in other parts of the country. He's sending some wires off to get more details. There's more." Ben took another sip of his brandy and looked tentatively up the stairs. "Roy suspects the newcomers….trouble is, if hoods were used the other times, he won't be able to prove it was them, but…if the same group was around when these other towns had the same troubles, he can at least tie them in. He'll ask them to leave."
"Pa unless the sheriff's of these other towns can prove these people were involved Roy can't make them leave." Adam told his father.
Ben grabbed Adam's arm. "But he has to Adam…Don't you see…What happened to Ted Miller is only the beginning….and it's not just adults that turn up dead….children disappear….Children who are not white, pure blood in their eyes."
"Pa, what aren't you telling me? I can see it in your eyes. Something's happened." Adam grabbed his father's arm. "Tell me."
Ben sighed. "One of Joe's friends has gone missing. Aaron Friedman didn't arrive home from school yesterday. Because he is Jewish Roy's afraid that Aaron has been taken by the same people who killed Ted Miller."
Adam sat back. "Are you going to tell Joe?" Adam saw a shadow pass over his father's eyes. Ben shook his head. "He's going to find out sooner or later Pa. When you went outside to talk to Roy I asked Joe about Ric Bailey. Joe got upset and said he hated him. He raced upstairs to his room." Adam through down the remaining brandy in his glass somehow the burning sensation helped stop him from focusing on his thumping heart. Ben sat staring at Marie's photo on the small table near the stairs.
"There are other Jewish families in Virginia City…and Mexican…Do we hide them all from these people. We have to stop them." Adam proclaimed.
"For now we let Roy do his job and we need to help him find Aaron." Ben stood and turned towards his desk.
"What do we tell Joe Pa?" Adam asked. "You always told us to tell the truth." Ben swiftly turned around.
"He's eleven years old Adam. He shouldn't know about this. He's too young." Ben argued.
"Pa, he needs to know. He may be able to help find Aaron and besides he should know that there are bad people out there….that not everyone thinks the way we do…the way you have taught him." Ben nodded understanding what Adam was trying to say.
"He's just a little boy." Ben said despairingly.
"Yes but that little boy is a Cartwright. He's a lot stronger than you think." Adam stated with pride.
Ben was sceptical but decided he needed to tell Joe some of what was going on. "I'll go get them Pa." Adam ran up the stairs. He wanted to look into his little brother's innocent green eyes for the last time. Somehow he knew that innocence would be lost once his father told him of the ugliness that exists in the world. Little did Adam know, that his little brother had already been exposed and had been suffering for the last few weeks.
Adam knocked on his brother's door and entered. Joe was sitting on his bed leaning up against the bed head, his knees bent and his arms wrapped around them. His chin was resting on top of his knees. He was staring at the far wall as if waiting for something or someone to come crashing through it. Hoss sat in a chair next to his brother's bed looking miserable.
"Pa wants to talk to you." Adam stated calmly trying not to give anything away. Hoss reacted straight away and ran past Adam. Joe slowly looked up at his brother. Adam's heart skipped a beat; the sadness in his little brother's eyes broke his heart.
"Am I in trouble Adam?"
"No Joe. Pa just wants to talk to you." Adam smiled and held out his hand. Joe slid off his bed and put his small hand into his big brother's larger strong hand. Adam squeezed it affectionately. Joe looked up at his brother; Adam could feel the unconditional trust of his little brother. "Everything will be alright Joe." He only wished he could believe it himself.